Hills afire in ’80s replay

The Telegraph

VIVEK CHHETRI

Darjeeling, Aug. 2: A forest bungalow where Mamata Banerjee spent a night last year was among several government properties set on fire in the hills last night, in a throwback to the GNLF’s Gorkhaland agitation of the late eighties.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has denied any hand in the attacks, which took place around the same time — 11.30pm. Four persons have been arrested but police have not said anything about their political affiliation.

Five Morcha leaders left for Delhi today, hoping to meet Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, some Union ministers, UPA allies as well as BJP leaders to discuss the statehood demand.

Roshan Giri, who is leading the team, denied any Morcha role in last night’s arson. “None of us is involved in these incidents,” he said.

Three of the five rooms at Takdah forest bungalow, which was refurbished on the chief minister’s orders so that it would draw tourists, were gutted by the time fire engines arrived from Darjeeling, 35km away.

Called Takdah Club, the planters’ bungalow built in 1911 was converted into a forest department guesthouse, but fell into disrepair. Following renovation, it was opened in August 2012 by Mamata who also spent a night there.

Suraj Pandey, the Takdah range officer, said: “A guard posted at the guest house… woke up and found that the property had been set on fire. When he came out, he saw people fleeing.” The men were wearing masks, Pandey said.

A police camp at Pokhriabong, 45km from Darjeeling, a forest range office at Rimbick, 115km away, and a vehicle parked outside the NHPC guest house in Mungpoo, a destination 40km from here that Rabindranath Tagore had visited four times between 1938 and 1940, were also set ablaze. A constable sustained burn injuries in the police camp.

Bir Man Baraily, who is admitted to the Darjeeling district hospital, said “around 11.30pm, we heard a knock on the door”. Asked to identify themselves, “some voices said they had come to file a report. When we opened the door, the group sprinkled kerosene and immediately set the place on fire. They also beat me up.”

B.R. Sewa, divisional forest officer of Darjeeling, said the fire at Rimbick was doused quickly.

During the GNLF’s statehood agitation, activists of Subash Ghisingh’s party had set several state government bungalows ablaze across the hills in June 1987.

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