Army on stand-by in Siliguri after clashes (Second Lead)

June 12th, 2008 - 10:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, June 12 (IANS) The army was kept on stand-by and assmbly of more than four people was banned in West Bengal’s Siliguri town Thursday after a group demanding a separate Gorkhaland state clashed with Bengali-speaking groups. Some tourists were injured in the attack. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee called the army to stage a flag march in Siliguri and its adjacent areas as the town turned into a battle field between the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) activists and an outfit of Bengali-speaking people, Amra Bangali (We are Bengalis), who oppose creation of a separate Gorkhaland in Darjeeling hills.

Considering the gravity of situation, the district administration banned congregation of five or more people at Bhaktinagar and Pradhannagar areas in Darjeeling district.

However, Home Secretary Ashok Mohon Chakraborty said the situation has been brought under control and the government has decided not to deploy the army in the violence-hit areas.

“The situation in Siliguri is better now. The review committee, comprising top officials from the army, Darjeeling district administration and the police, have decided to keep the army on stand-by,” Chakraborty told reporters here.

He said a large contingent of the police has been deployed in all trouble-prone zones in Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts.

“We have asked the army to be prepared. If there is any trouble we will call the army immediately to tackle the situation,” the home secretary added.

A violent clash broke out between the GJM supporters and the Amra Bangali outfit. Police vehicles were torched by GJM supporters in Siliguri and nine police personnel were injured in violence at Champasari.

“We had to lob four teargas shells to disperse the crowd. We have deployed a huge contingent of police. The Rapid Action Force is currently patrolling Siliguri town,” state Inspector General of Police (North Bengal) K.L. Tamta said.

A group of GJM activists attacked a tourist vehicle in Jalpaiguri Thursday morning while it was returning from the hills. Eight tourists were injured in the attack.

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

Thousands of 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 tourists in the hills, which was also lashed by heavy rains.

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

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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