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Gorkhaland shutdown cuts off Sikkim, tourism hit

Posted by Ramesh Khati on July 15, 2009

WRITING IS ON THE WALL: A woman walks past a graffiti demanding state of Gorkhaland in Darjeeling on July 13.

WRITING IS ON THE WALL: A woman walks past a graffiti demanding state of Gorkhaland in Darjeeling on July 13.

Siliguri (West Bengal): Pro-Gorkhaland activists blockaded a crucial highway linking Sikkim to the rest of the country while tea, timber and tourism sectors suffered on day two of an indefinite shutdown called by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) in the three Darjeeling hill subdivisions of West Bengal on Tuesday.

The central government has convened a tripartite meeting August 24 with the state government and the pro-Gorkhaland parties to discuss the issue, state Chief Secretary Ashok Mohan Chakraborty said in Kolkata.

“A tripartite meeting has been called by the centre on August 24 and the union home secretary has already informed the GJM leaders about the scheduled talks through the office of the district magistrate of Darjeeling,” Chakraborty told reporters.

Demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland in the northern part of West Bengal, hundreds of GJM activists squatted on National Highway-31A, the only road link between Sikkim and rest of the country, cutting off road connectivity with neighbouring states.

The tea gardens were closed, timber movement was stalled and all tourists came down to the plains from Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong sub-divisions, which wore a deserted look as vehicular traffic kept off the road.

Kalimpong Additional Superintendent of Police Krishnabahadur Dorji said: “GJM activists put up a blockade on National Highway 31A since today (Tuesday) morning at the Bengal-Sikkim border of Rongpo. They also staged blockades on two other national highways, NH-31 and NH-55, which pass through Darjeeling.”

Normal life has been affected since the indefinite shutdown began Monday noon. Schools, shops and offices remained closed as hundreds of tourists and students moved down to the plains.

Members of the Gorkhaland Police – a voluntary force raised by the GJM – were seen patrolling various areas of the hills and also taking part in the blockade.

Ambulances and vehicles belonging to the army or carrying essential items like cooking gas have been kept out of the purview of the GJM protest.

Meanwhile, the district administration has alerted police stations and other government establishments in the hills and asked them to take measures to prevent any untoward incident during the shutdown.

“We have asked for six companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Police are on vigil at vulnerable points. We will move in if there is any breach of peace. If we are obstructed we will inform the higher authority,” said Darjeeling district police superintendent Rahul Srivastava.

The GJM, spearheading a 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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