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DGHC casual staff start indefinite fast

Posted by Ramesh Khati on September 15, 2009

Casual workers on fast outside the subdivisional office in Kalimpong

Casual workers on fast outside the subdivisional office in Kalimpong

Darjeeling, Sept. 14(The Telegraph): Over 6,000 employees of the DGHC today began an indefinite hunger strike across the hills, squatting on the premises of almost every government office and even the little alleys that dot the hill towns to demand regularisation of their jobs.

In Darjeeling town, hundreds of DGHC employees had been pouring into the district collectorate from early morning. With the collectorate premises holding only around 500 employees, the rest marched into the DGHC-managed Gorkha Rangamanch Bhavan and occupied every available space in the six-storied building.

Even then, the Rangamanch could house about 2,000 employees only and the others went to the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club where 390 women stationed themselves at the Rink Hall. The rest went to Hari Mohan Hall.

 Inside the Gorkha Rangamanch Bhavan in Darjeeling on Monday.

Inside the Gorkha Rangamanch Bhavan in Darjeeling on Monday.

“According to preliminary figures, 6,286 employees are taking part in the hunger strike,” said Deepak Sharma, the spokesperson of the Janmukti Asthai Karmachari Sangatan (JAKS), an affiliate of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which is spearheading the movement for Gorkhaland.

Hunger strikes are being held at Pintail Village in Siliguri, Gorkha Bhawan in Calcutta and also the Gorkha Welfare Centre in Delhi besides Kalimpong and Kurseong, said Sharma. In Kurseong, 1,041 men and women undertook the fast at six locations. Around 1500 temporary staff are participating in the protest in Kalimpong. While about 300 of them occupied the town hall, others sat in makeshift shelters in front of the sudivisional office and the municipality where they will spend the night.

Machendra Subba, the president of JAKS, said: “On June 9, the additional chief secretary had promised to start the process of regularisation of jobs within three months. The three-month period has passed and the government has done nothing. We have been betrayed by the government,” said Subba.

Even though the Morcha had demanded that the DGHC be dissolved, the party wants the contractual workers who have been working in the hill council since its inception in 1988, to be made permanent.

In Darjeeling, Morcha president Bimal Gurung visited the protesters in the morning.

“We had asked all our members to join the strike and most have. Those who have not participated are doing it at their own risk. We have exempted only those who are very sick,” said Sharma.

Members of the Janmukti Asthai Karmachari Sangatan on hunger strike at Pintail Village.

Members of the Janmukti Asthai Karmachari Sangatan on hunger strike at Pintail Village.

Unlike previous hunger strikes, this time almost every individual, irrespective of their physical condition, has participated. A protester claimed that he was diabetic and joined the strike despite the doctor advising him not to go without food for more than six hours.

“We are working on meagre salaries. We are now determined to get our demand fulfilled,” said Premala Rai, a participant in the hunger strike at Gymkhana Club.

The monthly salaries of the casual staff of the DGHC range from Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000. There has been no increment in the past 20 years. Not only that at one point of time, the salaries had been reduced too.

With Group C and Group D employees participating in the fast, the strike is likely to hit major services — health, education, forestry, tourism — in the hills. Ranajit Ghosh, superintendent, Darjeeling district hospital, said: “Hospital activities have been affected as most of the contractual employees are taking part in the strike.”

For example, the blood bank at the hospital has seven technicians. Of them, only one is a permanent employee. “ I have got staff for the emergency department but the blood bank is functioning with only two persons,” said Ghosh.

Holidayers trying to book DGHC guest houses in the coming tourist season will not be able to do so as administrative work in the council has come to a total halt.

B.L. Meena, the DGHC administrator who is currently in Calcutta, said over the phone: “Today, I met the home secretary and apprised him of the situation. I am confident that some positive message will come from the government in a day or two.”

Vehicles off road

No vehicles will be allowed to ply in Darjeeling town from 9am to 1.30pm tomorrow as the All Hill Transport Joint Action Committee will hold a rally in support of the statehood demand. The rally would also be held to protest the alleged harassment of drivers who have not paid road taxes as part of their non-cooperation movement.


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