Wednesday, June 18, 2008

GJM shutdown cuts off Sikkim, paralyses entire Darjeeling

Gangtok: A key highway NH 31-A, which is lifeline to Sikkim, was blocked and normal life in the Darjeeling Hills was paralysed on Tuesday, day two of the indefinite shutdown called by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) fighting for a separate state of Gorkhaland.
There were no reports of any untoward incident, but private and public vehicles did not ply and offices remained closed in the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong, as the latest phase of the GJM’s indefinite shutdown stretched into on Tuesday. The streets were deserted, with only police and army vehicles moving around as GJM activists assembled at various points. Kalimpong Additional Superintendent of Police K.V. Dorji said GJM activists put up a blockade on National Highway 31A, connecting Sikkim with the outside world, at the Bengal-Sikkim border of Rongpo. “We are sending reinforcements to remove the blockade as the highway is the lifeline of Sikkim,” Dorji said. Tea gardens, cinchona plantations and school and college examinations have been kept outside the purview of the protests by the GJM, which has also exempted the plains of Siliguri, Terai and Dooars from the shutdown that began 6 p.m.on Monday.
The GJM’s plans for a relay hunger strike in Siliguri, Dooars and Terai met with stiff resistance from the administration which extended the night ban on the assembly of more than four people in the areas to the daytime. Police sources said groups of GJM supporters arrived at various points of Siliguri and adjacent areas on Tuesday morning for the hunger strike, but were not allowed to hold the protests. Troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) deployed in Siliguri since June 13, following clashes between GJM activists and Bengali-speaking activists opposed to the Gorkhaland demand, are being moved to potential flashpoints in the sub-division to prevent any breach of peace.
“Come what may, we will hold the hunger strike,” said GJM Sukna branch committee president Bishal Chhettri. GJM president Bimal Gurung has asked the people in the hills to stock up food and essential supplies that could last up to 45 days. The GJM had last week on Tuesday called for the indefinite shutdown in the hills, but gave a 60-hour relaxation Wednesday to enable thousands of stranded tourists reach the plains. The party then deferred the agitation to Monday evening. With the Gorkhaland demand triggering violence in the Darjeeling Hills, Siliguri and the Jalpaiguri district area of Dooars in the past few days, tea and tourism - the bread and butter of the region - have been severely hit.
According to DIG (Range), Sikkim police, Mr. Akshay Sachdeva, the GJM supporters are picketing along the National Highway 31-A. Sikkim police is trying to talk to GJM leaders as well as West Bengal administration to secure the highway for Sikkimese people. “We have started talk with the agitators and concerned IG of Bengal”, the DIG said, adding, “some headway will be certainly made through dialogue”. (With Agency input)