West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced a slew of developmental projects in the Darjeeling hills on July 12 during the oath-taking ceremony of the newly elected members of the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA), the regional autonomous administrative body in the hills.
In the GTA election held on June 26 after a gap of 10 years, the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM) won 26 of the 45 seats, Hamro Party won eight, Trinamool won five and six seats were won by independent candidates.
At the ceremony, Mamata Banerjee said: “The hills want development. The hills want peace. That is why this election took place.”
After more than three decades of political uncertainty and a prolonged violent movement for a separate Gorkhaland State, the GTA election indicated a shifting of priorities among the hill people.
Appealing to the people for peace in the days to come, Mamata Banerjee said: “I want you to promise me that you will not allow any opportunistic politician to foment trouble in the hills. If there is peace in the region, the economy will improve.”
She pointed out that in the last 10 years, the State government had given Rs.7,000 crore to the GTA, but there was hardly anything to show for it. The Chief Minister announced plans to set up industrial hubs in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and Kurseong and an eco-tourism project in Mirik. She listed tourism, education, information technology, medicinal herbs, food processing, and horticulture, as sectors that had immense potential for growth.
The State government is also looking to amend certain rules to allow homestays in the tea gardens in order to provide people with more opportunities to earn an income.
Mamata Banerjee also announced four skill training institutions in the hills to help youths find employment. “We have imparted skill training to 30,000 boys and girls as per requirements of various industries. They will be absorbed by the industries. We want to do something along those lines here as well.”
She also promised a Hill University at Mungpoo and a Presidency College campus in Kurseong.
The Chief Minister’s speech suggested that for the first time since the Gorkhaland movement started in 1986, the State government and the ruling power in the hills will not be taking an antagonistic stance against each other and will be working together towards development in the region.