Army on alert in Siliguri, West Bengal calls all-party meet(Third Lead)

June 13th, 2008 - 12:04 am ICT by IANS  


Kolkata, June 12 (IANS) The army was kept on stand-by and the West Bengal government convened an all-party meeting on the Darjeeling district issue as the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) activists clashed with Bengali-speaking groups opposed to the separate Gorkhaland demand. Assembly of more than four people was banned in parts of Siliguri town after the two rival groups fought pitched battles, hurled crude bombs and set afire police vehicles, besides injuring nine police personnel as the disturbances spread to the plains.

The district administration clamped the prohibitory orders (under section 144) banningh assembly of more than four people in parts of Bhaktinagar and Siliguri and the entire Pradhannagar police station area in Darjeeling district.

Expressing “greatest anxiety” over the continuous turmoil over the last few days, Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi asked everyone concerned to desist from any activity that might provoke violence.

In a statement, Gandhi urged leaders of “public opinion and civil society” to try to maintain communal harmony “even as the administration performs its duties to maintain law and order”.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who held a high-level meeting at the state secretariat Writers’ Buildings, said: “An all-party meeting will be held on June 17 to discuss the situation.”

Bhattacharjee, who earlier in the day said the army has been asked to stage a flag march in trouble-prone area of Siliguri, announced Thursday evening that the military would be on stand-by as the situation had improved.

The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) personnel have been called to patrol the area. Six companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) would be deployed in Siliguri.

The state’s ruling Left Front (LF) has also called an emergency meeting Saturday to take stock of the situation.

Tourists continued to be at the receiving end of the GJM’s ire. A group of activists of the party, which is fighting for a new state of Gorkhaland to be carved out of the Darjeeling district, attacked a tourist vehicle in Jalpaiguri Thursday morning while it was returning from the hills. Eight tourists were injured.

The GJM leaders called an indefinite shutdown from Tuesday in the Darjeeling hills, demanding a separate Gorkhaland.

Tourists had a harrowing time as transport kept off the roads and food became scarce during the shutdown. The government opened several guest houses to provide shelter to hundreds of tourists in the hills, which was also lashed by heavy rains.

Thousands of tourists were also stranded in Sikkim as the national highway no. 31-A, linking the state with Siliguri railhead, remained cut off because of the blockade by GJM activists.

Tea gardens too were hit because of the indefinite shutdown in three hill sub-divisions - Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong - and some portions of Dooars in Jalpaiguri district.

“All tea estates in northern Bengal are incurring an accumulated loss of worth Rs.20 million everyday because of the shutdown,” Siliguri Tea Traders Association secretary Rajiv Lochan said.

The GJM, led by its president Bimal Gurung, has been spearheading a movement in the hills for a separate state, besides opposing the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling district.

The central government in 2005 conferred the Sixth Schedule status on the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF)-led Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) that ensures greater autonomy to the district’s governing body.

The DGHC was formed in 1988 through an agreement between the central and state governments and the GNLF after the hills witnessed violence for about two years.

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