September 3, 2011

Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Bill passed by Bengal Assembly

Kolkata, September 3, 2011: The West Bengal Legislative Assembly on Friday passed the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Bill with 54 amendments, overruling a demand by the Opposition to send it to a select committee for further discussions.
Amid charges by the Treasury Benches as well as the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) legislators that this amounted to delaying tactics, Leader of the Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra said that peace and development go hand-in-hand and there was need to further discuss matters in a peaceful environment. He said peace might have returned to Darjeeling, but there was tension in the Dooars and Terai regions. He later told reporters that the government was confused and doing things that might be ultra vires of the Constitution.

Out of 54 amendments, 53 were moved by the government, accepting the demands of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. The government also accepted an amendment moved by opposition leader Surjya Kanta Mishra, relating to provision for reservation of seats in the GTA Sabha for SCs and STs and women. The government, however, didn't accept the amendment for reservation of women.
The state buckled under pressures from the GJM that wanted it to transfer financial and administrative powers along with executive powers to the GTA. It was incorporated in the amended version of the Bill that GTA would strive to establish ethnic identity of the Gorkhas as well as expediting their socio-economic, educational, cultural and linguistic development. The unnecessary mentions of the word 'Sabha' (the elected body of GTA) was dropped from the draft.
The mention of a zilla parishad was incorporated in the Bill.
Speaking on the Bill, chief minister Mamata Banerjee explained that the Centre would carry out the necessary constitutional amendment to make provision for a zilla parishad in Darjeeling. GJM member Harka Bahadur Chhetri explained that earlier the zilla parishad in Darjeeling had been abolished because the outgoing DGHC was functioning as zilla parishad.
Accepting GJM's demand, the amended Bill dropped the provision of the governor nominating two members to the Executive Sabha. All the 14 members of the Executive Sabha would now be nominated by the chief executive of GTA. The presence of one-third of members of the GTA Sabha would form the quorum for holding its meetings.
The principal secretary of GTA would not be transferred for a period of two years after assumption of office without consent of GTA. While the government in the draft Bill had agreed to delegate to GTA the power to make appointments only in Group-D posts, in course of the debate the CM agreed to GJM's demand and the amended version delegated to GTA also power to make appointments in Groups-B and C posts.
In a significant step, the government accepted an amendment moved by the leader of the opposition providing for reservation of seats in GTA Sabha for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and OBCs. "The reservations will be as per constitutional norms and the provisions of the agreement with GJM," minister Partha Chatterjee told TOI later. It appeared that GJM agreed to the amendment with reluctance. "We are prepared to accept whatever is the constitutional provision," GJM leaders Roshan Giri and Harka Bahadur Chhetri told TOI.
The CM also said that the governor who could nominate five members to the GTA sabha could also give nomination to representatives from these categories. Observers said this would pave the way for reservation of seats in the GTA Sabha for smaller communities like Lepchas and Bhutias as well as for adivasis who live in Dooars and Terai, where GJM has demanded areas for inclusion in GTA.
The chief minister announced that a development board would be set up for the Lepchas of Darjeeling under the state government. Lepcha groups are agitating in the streets of Kolkata for the past one month with this demand.
She said the government was taking steps to ensure that there was no discord between Gorkhas and adivasis in the process of identification of additional areas in Dooars and Terai for inclusion in GTA. She said Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikash Parishad which had held agitations against such inclusion had been misguided by vested political interests. She accused the previous Left Front government of not being serious in addressing the problem of Darjeeling.
GJM member Harka Bahadur Chhetri later explained that the process of GTA formation and the expert committee on identification of areas in Dooars and Terai submitting its report would proceed in a parallel process. "The holding of the election will not depend on the submission of report by the committee, which has six months' time," he said.

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