The allegation of historical exploitation of Darjeeling by the state of West Bengal does not hold water because Darjeeling has the country’s best social development indicators.
According to the West Bengal Human Development Report, 2004 prepared under the supervision of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Darjeeling was ranked 2nd and 4th in terms of gender and human development indices respectively, among all the districts of West Bengal. If indeed underdevelopment and exploitation of Darjeeling can be cited as a justification for statehood, then the Hills ought to be far behind in the queue for promotion to statehood as there are many more regions in the country which would have the first claim.
Whether it is income, literacy rates, educational attainments, nutritional status, percentage of BPL (below poverty line) population, longevity, infant and maternal mortality, overall health status and infrastructure, Darjeeling fares much better compared to most parts of the country or the districts of the state of West Bengal.
For more than three decades, it has been under such autonomous local self-government entities as the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) and GTA. If the proponents of statehood believe that Darjeeling could do with more development, then statehood is definitely not the solution. Development in some of the states is pathetic, to say the least.
Jharkhand became a state against the same background of alleged underdevelopment, but even after a lapse of more than a decade, it is yet to realise the developmental goals it had set out to achieve way back in the year 2000. Jharkhand today fares very badly among the newly-created states. The fact remains that the likes of Gurung should actually be talking of good governance and administration rather than anything else.
Statehood without good governance will achieve nothing but zilch. Given its size, both in terms of demography and geography, Darjeeling already receives a disproportionate per capita share of resources compared to many other parts of the country.
And a substantial share of these resources are from the state of West Bengal, implying that this state has traditionally been providing disproportionate resources to Darjeeling, often at the expense of the more backward and deserving areas . The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration’s revenue from all sources is assumed to be not more than Rs.3 crore annually.
If we also include the revenue received by the state government from such sources as land, excise, transport, professional and sales tax, then the figure is likely to go up to around Rs.30 crore. Even after tapping all the potential sources of revenue, it can barely go up to Rs.100 crore annually. In the shorter run, however, a Rs.50 crore annual revenue appears to be a more practical figure.
Moreover, GTA reportedly has a non-plan expenditure of around Rs.600 crore at the moment; with Plan and schemebased expenses it will come to around Rs.1400 crore. If at all the three hill sub-divisions become the cherished Gorkhaland state, the combined plan and nonplan expenditure is likely to shoot up to, at least, Rs.2000 crore factoring in the expenses for general and police administration, not to speak of various attendant expenses which come with the formation of a new state. So, if a region which has the best of developmental indicators and which has the revenue generation potential of only around Rs.50-100 crore, why should it receive a disproportionate Rs 2000 crore at the expense of the more deserving parts of the country, particularly those areas of Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and other states reeling under extremism? Gurung should have done his homework better to show that Darjeeling is in a position to bear all the non-plan and, at least, a portion of the plan expenses of the proposed Gorkhaland state before demanding the same.
If such a new entity expects to be spoon-fed by Central government’s doles, there are bound to be similar demands from different parts of the country. And if we allow the concessiion for one particular region, can we deny the same to others? We ought to understand that an eponymous Gorkhaland state is not just about the emotional people of Darjeeling, but has far-reaching and insidious implications for the rest of the country.
If Telangana has today become a state, it is because of its geographical compactness, a suitable demographic size, administrative viability and selfsufficient resources. But the same does not apply to such demands elsewhere, including Gorkhaland.
Our state-building process shall never come to an end, not to speak of the nationbuilding process. Gurung should have actually aimed at making the GTA work successfully. It was put in place through a tripartite agreement between the Central Government, the Government of West Bengal and the dominant hill party i.e. Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) on 18 July 2011.
GTA is an autonomous and empowered body which can be suitably harnessed to fulfill the development aspirations of the local people, if development is what they are looking for. In an article published on 4 August 2012 in The Statesman, this author had strongly recommended that the GTA “should avoid the ‘Big Schemes-Big Projects’ focus of the erstwhile DGHC and should, instead, target such schemes and programmes that have wider outreach and directly impact the quality of life of the hoi polloi, an advice not heeded by Gurung to his own chagrin, thereby bringing about his comeuppance.
It would be in the fitness of things that GTA be afforded an opportunity to become the bellwether of Darjeeling’s development to ensure a peaceful and progressive life for the people. Darjeeling needs an enlightened leadership with vision, one that understands the needs of the local people. It should be able to synergize the energies and interests of the motley interest groups in the hills to bring about better governance and development in accord with the interests of the nation.
One would expect the incoming leaders of GTA to focus more on correcting the basics including repairing the damage done to the hill economy because of the agitprop at the behest of Gurung. Well-planned development and good governance are imperative for Darjeeling and its new administrators.
The country is waiting for the Queen of the Hills to smile.
(The writer is a former District Magistrate of Darjeeling and presently working as CEO, KMDA. The views expressed are personal and don’t reflect those of the Government)