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Bandh paralyses hills; GJM sets conditions
Published on 16 Jul. 2009 1:00 AM IST
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Life was paralysed in three hill subdivisions of West Bengal's Darjeeling district on day three of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM)- sponsored indefinite shutdown, as the pro-Gorkhaland agitators Wednesday set two conditions for participating in the tripartite talks convened by the central government. Gorkha Janamukti Morcha activists took out a rally in Darjeeling town and squatted on three National Highways and other important roads which wore an empty look as vehicles did not ply. Tea gardens remained shut, timber movement was stalled while road connectivity between Sikkim and rest of the country got snapped as the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha workers blockaded the crucial National highway 31 A, the lifeline of the tiny Himalayan state. Schools, colleges, shops and offices in the hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong were closed, but the district court in Darjeeling town functioned. A day after the central government convened the tripartite parleys in New Delhi Aug 24, Gorkha Janamukti Morcha assistant general secretary Benoy Tanmang told reporters that the missive has reached his outfit. However, he expressed anguish at the letter having no reference to Gorkhaland, a separate state demanded by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha and some other hill outfits in the northern part of the state. He demanded that the tripartite discussion be held centring the Gorkhaland issue before the budget session of parliament came to an end. "Secondly, the discussions must be at a political level. Last time it was at the secretaries' level. We will take part in the meeting only if it is at the political level," Tamang said. However, he refused to call off the ongoing shutdown on the basis of the letter. "August 24 is far off. They should have opted for an early date." A senior police officer said the situation was peaceful. "Our men are patrolling the highway. If we receive any complaint of harassment, we will step in," said Kurseong sub-divisional police officer Rakesh Singh. Meanwhile, the state's ruling communists have demanded the return of the rule of law in the hills. "The police must be allowed to function properly. And we are for more regional autonomy to the hills. Gorkhaland is neither feasible nor desirable," said Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) state committee member Jibesh Sarkar. Ambulances and vehicles belonging to the army or carrying essential items like cooking gas have been kept out of the purview of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha protest. The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, spearheading the movement in the hills for a separate Gorkhaland, organised indefinite shutdowns twice in the hills last year and also in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls this year, severely hitting tea and tourism - the bread and butter of the region. Tripartite talks held last year in New Delhi had failed to break the deadlock.

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