Darjeeling hills on fire before strike

The Times Of India

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Darjeeling hills on fire before strike
Police said raids were on to nab the vandals.
DARJEELING: Government employees began leaving the Hills on Friday after a series of arson attacks on state-owned properties in Darjeeling, precipitating an administrative crisis on the eve of the indefinite strike.

Fears of a spurt in violence also fuelled the panic as GJM youth activist Saroj Tamang was found murdered in Phoobsering, the tea estate in Darjeeling Sadar, and a Trinamool Congress activist was identified as the prime suspect. The government has already sent five companies of central forces to Darjeeling anticipating trouble as the GJM enforces the indefinite strike from Saturday to renew its Gorkhaland movement.

The GJM, which sent a delegation led by general secretary Roshan Giri to New Delhi on Friday for statehood talks, denied any involvement in arson attacks that defaced the exquisite forest bungalow in the picturesque Takdah cantonment, where chief minister Mamata Banerjee stayed earlier this year while on a trip to Darjeeling. A VIP room and the dining hall were gutted.

The guest house and range office in nearby Rimbick were also set ablaze but officials managed to put out the flames before they could cause serious damage. A police camp at Pokhriabong was burnt down, leaving a constable with serious burn injuries. Complaints of vandalism in the tourist retreats of Rangli Rangliat and Rimbick-Lodhoma were also filed with the police. A GJM supporter was arrested. Miscreants also torched a vehicle in which NHPC officials were travelling at Mungpo.

The panic exodus on Friday morning after the overnight attacks prompted Writers’ Buildings to issue a diktat to officials to stay put. Home secretary Basudeb Banerjee ordered district magistrates and police chiefs in the region to provide security to government employees and step up vigil around state-owned properties and installations.

“I was informed about some miscreants setting fire to Takdah guest house at 12.30am yesterday. I immediately informed the fire brigade and police station and reached the guest house. A VIP room and the dining hall were completely damaged but we managed to save other infrastructure,” said B R Sewa, the Darjeeling DFO.

Police said raids were on to nab the vandals. “We have arrested one person in connection with the torching of the police camp, who has confessed to the crime. We are interrogating him,” said Kunal Agarwal, the Darjeeling SP.

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