Klimpong District Formation Underlines the Case for ‪‎Gorkhaland‬ Statehood

New Districts Formation Underlines the Case for ‪Gorkhaland‬ Statehood

Writes Upendra

In a welcome move, the Bengal government has, of late, understood the need for forming smaller administrative units to ensure a more equitable and fast-paced development. More often than not, large administrative units, be they a state, a district, or a block inevitably end up leaving the regions further away from the headquarters less developed and less cared for.

Let us take Bengal state as a case in point. If you look closely you will notice that Bengal has a distinct divide, between the North and the South. While southern Bengal has received largess in terms of funds, infrastructure development, education, healthcare and everything else, north Bengal has been completely ignored.

Education is the hallmark of how just and equitable a state is, and educational stats in Bengal are abysmal. Currently there are 20 districts in West Bengal, out of which 7 are in the north and 13 are in the south. Population wise, it is roughly divided along the lines of 1:2, i.e. for every individual in the north, there are two people in the south. However, out of 25 Universities in West Bengal, only 4 are in the North, while a whooping 21 are in the south, and it includes the only Central University in West Bengal – Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan.

Celebration of the announcement of Kalimpong district in the hill town on Friday.
Celebration of the announcement of Kalimpong district in the hill town on Friday.

This shows how lopsided development has been in favour of the places closer to Kolkata than those who are further away. Every political party that came to power in Bengal has been blatantly and unabashedly Kolkata-centric, at the cost of districts that are away from the power center. This has led to a huge socio-economic disparity in the state.

In particular the predominantly Gorkha, Adivasi and Kamtapuri communities dominated districts of Darjeeling, Cooch Behar, Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri have faced the most traumatic impact of neglect and apathy by the Bengal government. This is reflected in the fact that thousands of people working in the tea gardens, majority of whom belong to these three communities, have starved to death in the past 20 years, yet the Bengal government has not taken any step to rectify the situation. There have been rampant abuses of human rights of these tea garden workers, yet none of the Bengali intellectuals or media or social workers have spoken out against the atrocities that these workers have to face.

Every year Bengal rakes in thousands of crores in revenue from tea, tourism, hydro-development, trade, cross-border trader and agriculture in North-Bengal, yet only 450 crores were sanctioned for the development of the entire North-Bengal region in the 2015-16 budget. Such is the apathy, that there were no budgets sanctioned for the planned development of Darjeeling district, and it was only after hill representatives pointed out the fact, Bengal government hastily designed a “State Plan” and allocated Rs 178 crores for Darjeeling region under the “Hill Affairs” heading [Details: http://on.fb.me/1OeZkwd ].

It is through these instances of apathy, indifference, neglect and discrimination, we come to realize how deprived the people in North-Bengal really are.

Thus the decision to form new districts, for easy implementation of government schemes and better provisioning of government facilities is a welcome move. At least there is a hope that each new district will foster a more even distribution of various development initiatives.

Personally, I welcome the formation of newer districts and in particular the formation of Kalimpong as a new district. The hilly terrain makes it difficult to govern and provide equitable distribution of resources, thus smaller administrative units will ensure that even the remotest corners of a district are not neglected. There are numerous places in Kalimpong that are yet to get connected with basic infrastructural needs, Todey-Tangta for example doesn’t have road, water or electricity connection even 68 years after independence; and if the formation of a Kalimpong district expedites the process of bringing such places to the 21st century, then we should all welcome it.

What I find stupid however, is the fact that our politicians are jostling over one another to take credit for the formation of a new district. Last year Alipurduar was made a new district, did you see any Bengali politicians fighting amongst themselves to claim it was they who made it possible?

Along with Kalimpong, five other new districts have been announced, have you seen CPIM and TMC go hammer and tongs at each other to claim they were the 1st to propose it? Why do our moronic politicians have to be so unashamedly “Credit Khors – someone who likes to claim credit for things that happen naturally?”

While the hill parties are rejoicing the formation of Kalimpong district and Mirik sub-division, I am not sure if they have properly analyzed the repercussions of such a move. If  Kalimpong deserves district status, then next in line to deserve the same is Siliguri sub-division. I wonder how those who celebrating the formation of Kalimpong district today, will react, when eventually and inevitably Siliguri is formed a separate district?

A new district brings with it numerous possibilities, as the state and central government allocations increase significantly for each district, with a complimentary rise on job prospects and investment opportunities. This will definitely benefit the locals and if the new districts function properly, then it will allow for more economic opportunities for the locals, as well as a prospect of a more nuanced socio-political development of the communities.
However, with the new district comes the apprehension of its negative impact on Gorkhaland demand.

As far as I am concerned, I do not see any such negative impacts, as long as the people in Darjeeling, Siliguri, Kalimpong, Alipurduar realize that a state of our own will benefit us more than a mere district.

Often one of the primary arguments against Gorkhaland statehood is that, “we cannot form a state out of one district,” well soon we will have two and if Siliguri is made a district too then we will have three districts and if Alipuduar joins the cause then we will have four districts vying for a separate statehood. So I feel more districts will only make our cause and case for Gorkhaland stronger.

However, one of the most worrisome part is the role politicians may choose to play going forward. Mamata has done all she can to divide our community, along the lines of development boards, and those running the boards have directly or indirectly pledged their allegiance to Mamata and thus Bengal. There is genuine fear that these people and also the unpredictable GJM leaders may in-turn sway the general public to support Mamata and not Gorkhaland statehood.

So district or no district, what really matters is the fact that we all need to stick together and remember that our one and only goal is Gorkhaland statehood. As long as we all are clear on that goal, Mamata may create 20 more districts, but all she will be doing is making the case for Gorkhaland stronger.

Just as how the formation of a new district helps in better administration and governance prospects within a state, formation of smaller states does the same nationally. All the new states that were formed in the recent past – Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, and Chattisgarh are today performing much better than their parent states in each and every sphere, be it the GDP, Male : Female ratio, Literacy rates, Employment opportunities and so on. Moreover, some of the fastest growing states and most roundly developed in India are smaller states like Sikkim, Goa, Himachal Pradesh and so on.

Just as how a news district will ensure a more equitable and holistic growth in a region, a new state will do the same for each and every citizen living there.

Hence here is an appeal to Ms. Mamata Banerjee and everyone who champions a new district – please extend your logic further and you will see that formation of a new state of Gorkhaland is not only desired, but also much needed.

Article was first published in The Darjeeling Chronicle as an Editorial

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