West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh not to pull security forces out of Darjeeling hills and accused the Centre of “conspiring to destabilise” the state. Banerjee said she had sent letters to Modi and Singh on the withdrawal of the Central forces.
“I have written to the prime minister and the home minister and asked them not to withdraw the forces from the hills. I hope we will receive a positive response…If something untoward happen in the hills, the Center will be responsible for it,” she told a press conference at the state secretariat in Kolkata after an all-party meeting on the Darjeeling situation.
Describing the withdrawal decision as unilateral and unfortunate, Banerjee said, “The central government is being run from the BJP party office. It is really unfortunate that the central government has taken such a bad decision unilaterally to withdraw forces from the hills.”
She accused the Centre and the BJP of hatching a conspiracy. “They are conspiring to destabilise Bengal so that violence keeps on occurring,” she said.
Later, the Centre allowed continued deployment of 800 paramilitary personnel in Darjeeling to maintain law and order.
As of now, 15 companies of paramilitary forces were deployed in Darjeeling and the central government wanted to withdraw 10 of them for deployment in other places for duties during festival season, a Union home ministry official said in Delhi.
However, as the state government wanted to deploy the forces for more time, the home ministry, after a fresh assessment, decided to withdraw just seven companies and allowed the remaining eight companies to remain in the hill areas. A company of paramilitary comprises around 100 personnel.
“Union Home minister Rajnath Singh told me seven companies would be withdrawn. I want to ask why this step- motherly attitude towards Bengal when huge numbers of central forces are deployed in other states,” the West Bengal chief minister said.
Accusing BJP’s Darjeeling MP and Union minister S S Ahluwalia of helping fugitive GJM supremo Bimal Gurung foment trouble in the region, she said the BJP was allowing the hills to “burn for the sake of a seat”.
“They (BJP) are willing to talk to those few people who have cases under UAPA against them. But they are not willing to talk to other hill parties who are genuinely trying to restore peace in the region. We condemn such double standards,” Banerjee said.
Asked why the state has failed to nab Gurung despite the presence of a huge number of central forces and state police in the hills, the chief minister said, “It is because he (Gurung) is getting help from certain neighbouring states and northeastern insurgent groups. The MP from Darjeeling is also helping him.”
On the issue of tripartite talks with the Centre on the statehood demand, Banerjee said nothing has been decided as of now.
An all-party meeting decided to work together for the restoration of peace in the hills. It was attended by several hill parties excluding the Jan Andolan Party (JAP).
Banerjee said the next such meeting would be held on November 21 at Pintail village in Darjeeling district.
Briefing reporters about the all-party meeting, chairman of Board of Administrators for Darjeeling Binay Tamang said it discussed the issue of compensation for those who died during the three-month-long shutdown.
“It was decided that the previous decision to break the service of GTA employees who were absent during the strike will be superseded and there will be no break of service for them,” he said.
Tamang said he had requested the state government to withdraw all police cases against GJM leaders and workers except Bimal Gurung, facing cases under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act — UAPA.
Tamang stressed on tripartite talks to solve the impasse in Darjeeling and said the state government should initiate the process.
He also demanded that the West Bengal government immediately release the state plan budget funds for 2017-18 and the outstanding balance for 2015-16 and 2016-17.