Darjeeling shutdown relaxed, tourists get reprieve (Lead)June 12th, 2008 - 1:07 am ICT by IANS
Kolkata, June 11 (IANS) The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), which called an indefinite shutdown in the Darjeeling hills to press for a separate Gorkhaland state, Wednesday relaxed its blockade for 60 hours, though normal life came to a halt for two consecutive days. “We have relaxed the shutdown for the next 60 hours, from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Saturday. The decision has been taken to facilitate tourists who were stranded in the hills because of the shutdown,” GJM general secretary Roshan Giri told IANS over telephone.
Asked if GJM supporters were facilitating tourists who were left in the lurch, he said: “Our partymen are trying their best to help them out.”
Shops, markets and government offices remained closed and normal life came to a standstill as the three hill sub-divisions - Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong - and some portions of Dooars observed the indefinite shutdown.
Tourists had a harrowing time as transport kept off the roads and food became scarce.The state government opened several guest houses to provide shelter to tourists in the hills, which saw heavy rains.
Tea gardens too were hit after the indefinite shutdown began Tuesday.
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 a blockade by GJM activists.
“We expect now tourists would be able to come down from the hills easily. We are open for bilateral talks and the state government wants to sort this issue out at the earliest,” West Bengal home secretary Ashok Mohon Chakraborty told reporters here.
Darjeeling was the summer capital of British India till 1911, when the capital was shifted to Delhi from Kolkata. The verdant hills and the Himalayan toy train service are a prime tourist attraction, particularly during the summer.
An exodus of an estimated 40,000 tourists started as the indefinite shutdown began Tuesday morning in Darjeeling.
“All developmental activities in Darjeeling came to a halt in Darjeeling. Our Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee already expressed interest to exchange dialogue with the GJM leaders,” Chakraborty said.
Bhattacharjee earlier offered more financial assistance and administrative control to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) but clearly rejected the GJM’s demand for a separate Gorkhaland state in the region.
West Bengal Pradesh Congress president Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi also opposed the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state, but asked the state government to convene an all-party meet to arrive at a consensus on the issue.
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 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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