Ending two decades of uncertainty in the Darjeeling hills, a historic tripartite agreement for a new council with more powers was signed today even as the West Bengal ruled out any division of the state.
The agreement for Gorkhaland Territorial Administration was signed in the presence of Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung here, about 8 km from Siliguri. A 48-hour bandh was observed in the adjoining Terai and Dooars in the plains against the signing.
The agreement was signed by West Bengal Home Secretary G D Gautama, Union Home Ministry Joint Secretary K K Pathak and GJM general secretary Roshan Giri here.
A discordant note was struck by Bimal Gurung's wife Asha just before the signing saying that she was happy at the inclusion of the word 'Gorkhaland' in the GTA agreement and the 'ultimate aim' was to achieve a Gorkhaland state.
However, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who kept her pledge to resolve the Darjeeling hill crisis within three months of coming to power, said there was no question of bifurcating West Bengal.
Assuring that a complete economic package would be given to GTA, she said that the agreement sought to confer to the maximum possible autonomy within constitutional framework and within central and state acts.
Describing the occasion as historic, Chidambaram said the Centre and the state government would fully back the GTA, which replaced the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council formed in 1988.
"Today I stand witness to the historic events when years of conflict have been brought to an end by the vision of two people - Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and my good friend of two-and-a-half-years Bimal Gurung," Chidambaram said.
"I compliment them both. They have shown great will, sagacity and farsight and above all, love and compassion," he said and also thanked local BJP MP Jaswant Singh, who was present.
Noting that India was a "mosaic", he said, "Both the government of West Bengal and the government of India will stand by you and hold your hand. The task before you is stupendous. There will be many hurdles, but there is no hurdle that cannot be solved through dialogue, determination and spirit of give and take."
Pointing out that the area under the GTA jurisdiction had a pluralistic society, he said that the GTA would cover entire range of development -- agriculture, education, forests, industry, women and child development, culture, land and land revenue, panchayat, sports.
The formalities for the accord were finalised at a bipartite meeting here on June 7 where contentious issues, specially of the territorial limits of the GTA, were discussed and it was decided to form a nine-member committee to look into the demands of including Gorkha-dominated areas of Terai, Dooars and Siliguri in the new hill body.
It was then decided that the new council would be set up under a state act. The council would not have the power to legislate and levy tax.
The chief minister categorically said GTA would have jurisdiction only in the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.
Banerjee also referred to the committee of experts to go into the Morcha demand for the inclusion of Gorkha-dominated areas in the GTA and said that it would submit its recommendation in six months.
"There has been a hue and cry over the formation of a panel to explore demand for inclusion of the Morcha's demand for Gorkha-dominated areas of Dooars and Terai in the new Hill body," she said.
She also announced that elections to the GTA to elect 45 members would be held within six months with the poll process to start shortly.
Banerjee said that the agreement would mark the end of uncertainty, violence and underdevelopment in Darjeeling and that both the state and the Centre were extremely sensitive to the development and aspirations of the people.
Lashing out at the CPI-M and some regional outfits for objecting to the nomenclature of the GTA, she said, "They are indulging in politics over a name. They are indulging in false propaganda to create confusion among the people. They could not do anything (to resolve the Darjeeling problem) in the last 35 years. What's in a name? Let us do our work."
Without naming CPI-M, she said, "They are trying to pit Bengalis against hill people. But this will not happen. We will remain together. Darjeeling is not outside Bengal.
"The memorandum of agreement is the outcome of several rounds of tripartite discussions in the past and we hope that the new administration will put the region on a mode of accelerated growth and Darjeeling will once again be a favoured destination of tourists," she said.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose said, "We feel that the outcome of the agreement being signed on such a sensitive issue through unilateral discussion may not be good."
CPI-M leader and Leader of the Opposition Surya Kanta Misra, who was invited to the signing ceremony, did not go with the party holding that the contents and details of the agreement were not known.