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Darjeeling’s uplift

Editorial |

Having brought about a measure of stability in the Hills of Darjeeling, it is pretty obvious that Mamata Banerjee is anxious to blunt criticism that she may be pursuing a policy of “divide and rule” by setting up as many as 15 development boards in the potentially volatile region in addition to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration.

In a deft balancing act, as evident in Kalimpong on Tuesday, the Chief Minister has pledged equal support to the GTA as well as the other boards in the task of development. In effect, the purportedly flagship entity, now helmed by Binay Tamang, who took over after Bimal Gurung was removed, ceases to be what they call the “first among equals”, not least the board for the Lepchas, the original settlers and who preceded the entry of the Gorkhas.

It bears recall that the 15 boards had not lent support to the West Bengal government when the statehood agitation had roiled the hills for the better part of last year. On the contrary, the chairpersons of the boards for two ethnic groups ~ Khas and Rai ~ had resigned as did many members of other boards. “We will extend additional support to whichever board does better work,” was Miss Banerjee’s assurance at a public meeting in Kalimpong ~ now hived off from Darjeeling and upgraded to a district.

The nub of the matter must be that growth and development are holistic concepts, and call for a comprehensive ~ as distinct from competitive ~ pursuit of the development paradigm in the hills as a whole.

The task lends no scope for piecemeal development ~ a quirky endeavour based on regions and ethnic groups. This is bound to foment discord. Darjeeling has witnessed enough and more of ethnic strife, and the time now is for united action with a comprehensive perspective. The hills comprise a cross-section of tribes; hence the pronounced ethnicity, often forbidding. The carving out of a new district and sub-division (Mirik has been carved out of Kurseong) are at best matters of administrative exigence. Development of the Hills is a different kettle of fish, and ought not to be influenced by ethnic and/or administrative compulsions.

Ergo, it is imperative for the state government to craft an agenda for comprehensive development, in league with the GTA and the other development boards. And the agenda ought to be pursued not in a spirit of competition, but on the Benthamite doctrine of the greatest good of the greatest number. Miss Banerjee’s presentation makes it plain that she has placed the 15 development boards ~ and the GTA ~ on alert. Which makes it still more imperative for the GTA ~ a loose experiment in federalism short of statehood ~ to contribute its mite substantially to the effort. Sad to reflect, it wasn’t even given a try since its inception. No wonder the Hills remain backward, even exploited by the plains for all the tea and tourism.