The smiling Hills of Darjeeling are waiting for the gracious presence of West Bengal Chief Minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee yet again; this time there with eager anticipation. After a series of debacles and agitation by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha(GJM) for the past few months, the citizens of the Hills found themselves in a soup; finally it came down to Didi to restore peace. Currently, the Chief Minister is on a 5-day visit to the district and is to hold several meetings with different administrative bodies.
Darjeeling Himalayan region consists of the major part of the District of Darjeeling of West Bengal. It covers the three hill subdivisions of the district - Darjeeling Sadar, Kalimpong and Kurseong. The area covered by Darjeeling Himalayan is about 1721 Sq Km while the total area of the district is about 3149 Sq Km.
Timeline of the formation of GTA :
July 18, 2011: The Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) was formed at Sukna, in presence of the then Union Home Minister and the West Bengal Chief Minister.
September 2, 2011: The GTA Bill was passed in the West Bengal Assembly.
February 11, 2012: The Chief Minister held another meeting with the GJM at Siliguri on the GTA Bill.
February 22, 2012: The Chief Minister had a discussion with the Prime Minister of India at New Delhi and discussed issues regarding the GTA.
March 7, 2012: The GTA Bill was formally signed by the then President of India, H.E. Pratibha Devi Singh Patil.
March 14, 2012: The State Government formally issues notification of the GTA Act.
The Developmental Surge :
In June 2011, the State Higher Education Minister had submitted a proposal to the then Union Education Minister to set up an IIT or an IIM in Darjeeling ``for the people of the hills``.
On October 10, 2011, at a programme in the Darjeeling Mall, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced a slew of projects for the Hills, targeting the tourism potential of the region.
``Darjeeling will be Switzerland and everybody`s dreamland. The master plan for tourism development is underway, and once completed and implemented, the region will turn into Switzerland,`` she said at the government programme while announcing the `Destination Darjeeling` project.
``Under the project, from installing street lamps and signage on the roads, to sanitary development and garbage disposal, all will be done to make the city better. Eco-tourism policy for Darjeeling is ready. The funds have been sanctioned,`` she said. She unveiled six railway projects, including a modern printing press and basic training centre at the neighbouring hill town Kurseong; a filter manufacturing plant and a multi-functional complex building at Siliguri was also on the cards. A tourist information centre (TIC) will be set up in the picturesque Mall, the tourist hub of Darjeeling town, she announced.
She informed the people that an international research centre named after Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore and a Nepali Academy named after poet Bhanubhakta will also come up at Kalimpong`s Mongpu. Electricity and drinking water would reach all schools in the next two years, she said, adding that two model schools would be set up at Kalimpong and Sokhiapokhri.
``In addition to the beautification of stations, tourist lodges will be renovated and upgraded. A trekking route will be created from Moniganj to Sandakphu. With private participation, four ropeways would also be installed,`` she said. A Tea Tourism festival and an Orange festival were also held at Darjeeling. Besides, a grant of Rs.28 crore for the construction of a parking lot and a fund of Rs.3 crore for building a stadium were also sanctioned. Air-conditioned buses will soon connect Darjeeling to various important centers.
The Chief Minister said that the state government would provide Rs.56 crore for developing drinking water facilities in the region and establish 100 primary and upper-primary schools. The government will also upgrade hospitals and health centers in the area, she informed.
A Closer Look at the GTA :
>> The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Act, 2011 has come into force with effect from 15.03.2012 and the election to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Sabha has been held on 29th July, 2012 and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Sabha (GTA) has been formed with effect from 4th August, 2012.]
>> Status to the Chief Executive, Deputy Chief Executive, Chairman, Deputy Chairman and the Executive Members of GTA has been determined.
>> Almost all the Departments have already issued Notifications regarding transfer of their offices & establishments to GTA in consultation with the Committee of Secretaries.
>> Additional Central Assistance of Rs. 65 crore has been allotted during 2012 - 2013 to Gorkhaland Territorial Administration for this purpose.
>> A total amount of Rs.63.69 crore under Plan Sector and Rs.244.18 crore under Non-Plan sector had been sanctioned to GTA during the financial year 2011-2012. An amount of Rs. 194.11 crore under Plan Sector and Rs. 351.28 crore under Non-Plan Sector had been allotted during the financial year 2012 - 2013 under different sectors for development of hill areas of Darjeeling. Various schemes under communication, education, rural electrification, Irrigation & Waterways, fisheries, sports & youth welfare, tourism, health &family welfare, minor irrigation, public health engineering sector etc. have been undertaken with the fund allotted to Gorkhaland Territorial Administration under State Plan.
>> Major schemes like the construction of new roads connecting villages with block, sub-divisional and district head quarters, upgradation of major roads in different municipalities, construction and repair of school buildings, rural electrification, construction and improvement of community halls, river bank and jhora protection works, improvement of water supply in rural as well as urban areas, improvement of district hospitals and primary health centres, improvement of Mink Lake, renovation and improvement of different tourist lodges etc. under Gorkhaland Territorial Administration area have been taken up for execution under Special Central Assistance Sector. Under RIDF, different schemes like construction of Rural Roads, Minor Irrigation, Social Sector projects like construction of new school buildings and reconstruction of old school buildings, construction of bridge etc. are being implemented.
Other Developmental Projects :
On May 15, 2013, The West Bengal Chief Minister inaugurated three IT hubs, one each at Kurseong and Kalimpong sub-divisions and one at Mirik. She also inaugurated a fair price medicine shop at the Darjeeling district hospital along with an auditorium at the Gorkha Ranga Manch Bhawan, and the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) Sabha office.
Thanks to the initiative of the Chief Minister, closed tea gardens have been reopened; the region got power plants, polytechnic colleges, new schools and modernized hospitals. A holistic initiative was taken by this government to bring development in Kurseong, Kalimpong and Darjeeling.
In July 2013, a high-level meeting was convened at the State Secretariat to discuss the scope of promotion of tea tourism in North Bengal, and especially in Darjeeling. Most of the tea estates in West Bengal are under private ownership. The land, which belongs to the state government, is leased out to private parties for tea cultivation.
Several new tourist spots such as Lamahata or Sandakphu had been developed to attract more tourists. The Chief Minister proposed developing 9th Mile, before Teesta Bazar, as a tourist destination. Three new tourist destinations at Dalgaon, Bijonbari and Rimbik have been identified. Helipads, airports and other world class facilities will be made available to tourists from all over the world to encourage them to visit Darjeeling. The CM also announced that Rs.80 crore had been sanctioned for maintenance of the National Highway 55, connecting the Hills to the plains. She also said that two hydro-power projects will soon come up at Teesta and Rimbhi.
Current Situation :
Armed with a Calcutta High Court order to maintain normalcy in Darjeeling hills, West Bengal Chief Minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee, on August 10, 2013, gave a 72-hour deadline to the GJM to call off its indefinite bandh or else face action. The bandh that lasted 42 days caused a great damage to the normal life in the Hills.
``Darjeeling is a part and parcel of Bengal. Darjeeling is my heart. I will not leave Darjeeling. There must be a limitation to everything. I have to maintain the dignity of the constitution and I am bound to do so. Let our State be happy with the development, peace, prosperity and progress``, said the Chief Minister.
On September 3rd, the newly constituted Mayel Lyang Lepcha Development Board conferred the honorary title ``King chum Daarmit`` (Goddess of Fortune) on the Chief Minister at the Mela Ground in Kalimpong for playing the pivotal role in the formation of the Board. The solidarity of the Lepcha people against the politics of bandh was spectacular.
The Chief Minister said that she would preside over a meeting of the Gorkha Territorial Administration, the hill council, on October 25, during her on a five-day visit to the district. The politics of bandh had not only stalled the developmental works in the Hills, but also affected the common people badly. It endangered livelihood of the poor and those who are solely dependent on the tourism. Thanks to Didi, the sun is all set to smile on the Kanchenjangha, again.