Interview with D.T. Tamlong, Principal Secretary, DGAHC.
D.T. Tamlong has been the Principal Secretary of the Darjeeling Gorkha Autonomous Hill Council (DGAHC) since February 2002. Tamlong has long been involved with various developmental works carried out by the DGAHC. In an interview he gave Suhrid Sankar Chattorpadhyay, Tamlong spoke of the DGAHC's efforts to regain Darjeeling's earlier position as the most popular hill station of tourists. Excerpts:
What are the DGAHC's thrust areas of development?
We give importance to several areas of development, but the Darjeeling Gorkha Autonomous Hill Council (DGAHC) since its inception in 1988 has laid particular emphasis on road communication. As you know, having a good road infrastructure is very important, particularly in the hills. Even as late as 1988, the more remote areas of the region were not covered with roads and because of that people living in those areas had to face a lot of hardships. Now almost all the villages are covered with a road network. Interior areas such as Samthar, Todey, Kagey and so on in Kalimpong; Lodhoma, Sirisey, Mangmaya and so on in Darjeeling; and Rohini, Bunklung, Sivakhola and so on in Kurseong, are among the many places that are today well connected but were not so15 years ago.
Darjeeling town itself was choking, but with the DGAHC completing the new INA bypass between Darjeeling and Ghoom, the town got some breathing space. The DGAHC has also moved the Centre for an alternative highway from Bagdogra via Panighata-Dudhia along the bank of the Balason river to Ghoom. With this route available, the already congested NH-55 can be avoided. Besides, the new road will take shorter time for the journey to Darjeeling.
We also lay a lot of stress on tourism, and have built lodges, wayside inns, amusement parks and gardens, rafting centres and so on in all the subdivisions. To assist tourists, we have set up information centres at Siliguri and Bagdogra. Of course, other development needs such as water supply, education and rural development are also given equal importance.
Although Darjeeling has a steady inflow of tourists every year, a common complaint of those involved in the tourism sector is that Darjeeling is losing out to Sikkim as far as attracting "quality tourists" is concerned. Your comments
It is true that the government of Sikkim is aggressively promoting tourism in the State, but we are not lagging far behind. Any quality tourist going to Sikkim is almost certain to visit Darjeeling too. Even from Sikkim, the Kanchenjunga is not as beautifully visible as it is from Darjeeling.
To attract quality tourists, the DGAHC has built amusement parks such as the Shrubbery Park, Gangamaya, Rohini and Relli. We have built numerous lodges and inns at scenic locations. We are actually intensifying our tourism work outside the main town of Darjeeling. Tourists come here to be close to nature - to the mountains and forests. By encouraging rural tourism, we are also giving the tourists what they really came to Darjeeling for. We also organise festivals and cultural programmes, highlighting our own unique traditions along with ethnic food.
But will not the scarcity of water and electricity deter "quality tourists"?
Scarcity of water and electricity will no longer be a problem for Darjeeling. The Rungdung Khola project for supplying water to Darjeeling town is being executed. Under this project the water capacity of the town will increase by 150,000 gallons a day. The Balason pumping scheme, with a capacity of 18 lakh gallons a day, is likely to be sanctioned by the Government of India, and soon there will be no problem of water in Darjeeling town. Similar augmentation programmes for other areas are also being implemented.
For electricity, with the NHPC [National Hydro Power Corporation] already launching the Teesta Hydel Project of 290 MW near Rambi, the entire north Bengal region will benefit.What lies in the future for Darjeeling?
Well, the DGAHC sees Darjeeling as a major tourist zone not just in the eastern region, but in the whole country. We have a lot of things going in our favour; one of the chief attractions, as I have mentioned, is the magnificent front view of the Kanchenjunga, the most beautiful and majestic of all mountain peaks, from Darjeeling. The place also has a lot of historical value; in fact, it is actually a heritage site. Darjeeling used to be the summer capital of the British in pre-Independence days. It was chosen as a health resort by the colonial masters. In that sense, this place is steeped in history. We basically have everything here - flora, fauna, lush tea gardens, rivers, trek routes.
Moreover, we have the famous toy train of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways and the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. Everybody knows about the Chowrastha, the Mall Road, and the sunrise view from Tiger Hill. With new parks and resorts coming up, tourists will want to come and visit us again and again.