Darjeeling, March 7: The state government has decided to deploy central paramilitary and state forces in the hills from tonight, the first time in the hills since 2010.
The announcement has come a day after suspected Yuva Morcha activists attacked two Trinamul leaders in Kalimpong but officials in Writers’ Buildings in Calcutta said last night’s attack had no bearing on the state’s decision.
The Morcha, which is scheduled to hold its central committee meeting tomorrow to decide on the fate of its agitation, has said the deployment of forces in the hills was “unnecessary”.
The hill party has called for the closure of all government offices from March 9 to 27. It has also announced two-phase 48-hour general strikes on March 14-15 and March 21-22.
Kunal Aggarwal, the Darjeeling superintendent of police, said today: “Two platoons of the Indian Reserve Battalion and a platoon of the Rapid Action Force will move into the hills today evening. A platoon each of the forces will be stationed in Kalimpong, Kurseong and Darjeeling.” One platoon has 33 personnel. The RAF and IRB are state forces.
Aggarwal did not comment on the deployment of central paramilitary forces but sources in the police department confirmed the deployment will start from Monday evening.
“The Morcha delegation camping in Delhi seemed to have convinced the Centre that there is no need to deploy central paramilitary forces in the hills at the moment. However, the Centre had a change of mind following the attack on Trinamul leaders at Kalimpong yesterday. The Centre has given the nod for deployment of six companies of central forces to Darjeeling,” the source in the police department said. A company of central paramilitary force consists of 120 personnel.
“A large number of the central force personnel is being deployed. Two companies each will be deployed in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. The department has already started making preparation to house the personnel,” the source said.
The last time the CRPF, a central paramilitary force, was deployed in the hills in July 2009 to keep open the NH31A, the arterial link between Sikkim and the rest of the country, following a directive from the Supreme Court when the Morcha had called general strikes.
A stretch of NH31A passes through Darjeeling district and following the Morcha’s frequent closure of the highway, .P. Bhandari, a resident of Gangtok, had filed a petition before the Supreme Court highlighting the problems the people of Sikkim face.
At that time, the CRPF was deployed on the NH31A stretch and not in other areas of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. The forces were withdrawn after three months.
The earlier Left Front government kept to a no-confrontation policy with the Morcha since the party started the Gorkhaland agitation on October 7, 2007. It relied on the West Bengal Armed Police to maintain law and order in the hills.
The IRB and RAF, which are stationed in Siliguri, were only sent to the hills for a specific duration during the four-year agitation after the attack on the Kurseong police station in February 2010.
At Writers’ a home department official said: “Maintenance of law and order and keeping the road to Sikkim open are the main concerns. The additional forces are not being sent because of any fresh threat perception. They are being deployed just to keep a grip in law and order.”
Binay Tamang, assistant secretary of the Morcha, said: “The central committee meeting will be held at Kurseong at 1pm tomorrow.” Gurung, along with senior Morcha leaders who are in Delhi, are expected to land at Bagdogra airport by noon tomorrow and go to Kurseong.
Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the Morcha said the deployment was unnecessary. “The deployment of forces is unnecessary as there is peace in the Hills at the moment.”
The Morcha’s meeting has been called to rethink on their future course of agitation after President Pranab Mukherjee and Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde requested the Morcha to withdraw its prolonged agitation. A similar request was made to the Morcha delegation when it met Union finance minister P. Chidambaram in Delhi today.
“With the deployment of additional forces, the Morcha will have to handle the situation delicately. Continuation of the strike would have a bearing on the law and order situation in the region in the days to come,” a hill observer said.
Morcha meets PC
A delegation of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, led by party president Bimal Gurung today met Union finance minister P.Chidambaram in Delhi today. Roshan Giri, general secretary of the Morcha speaking over the phone said: “We told the Union finance minister that the Centre had only released Rs 65 crores of the promised annual grant of Rs 200 crore to the GTA. We have requested the finance minister to release the outstanding amount by March end. The minister has assured us that the flow of funds would not be a problem.”