National

After lull, Darjeeling agitation intensifies

PRATIM RANJAN BOSE ABHISHEK LAW Kolkata July 9 | Updated on January 11, 2018

gjm   -  PTI

Tea industry’s revenue from lucrative second-flush teas takes a beating

A month after trouble erupted in Darjeeling, the agitation for statehood is only gaining momentum. After a temporary lull early in the last week, the agitation turned violent again on Saturday over alleged the killing of four agitators by security forces.

While the State administration is yet to admit any police action, Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), the largest of two dozen hill-based parties, alleged that four persons were killed by security forces on Friday night at Sonada, Darjeeling Chowkbazar and Singmari. Security forces in the past were accused of killing at least three agitators.

An angry mob had set a number of police stations and government properties on fire on Saturday. The Lepcha Development Board, one of the 15 created by the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal, allegedly to divide the hill polity in caste and community lines, was also set on fire.

CM’s appeal

Responding to the situation, Banerjee on Saturday promised an enquiry to probe into the reasons behind the killings.

Addressing a press conference at the State secretariat, on Saturday, Banerjee appealed both to the administration and the agitators to exercise restraint. “I am open to talks in the next 10-15 days, if they shun violence,” she said and blamed the BJP for provoking the agitators. GJM is an ally of the BJP-led NDA.

The appeal signals a shift from her confrontational approach in the past. Soon after the agitation broke out, Banerjee declared it “illegal” and launched a raid on Gurung’s residence followed by police firing on agitators.

The State’s actions, however, failed to dampen the morale of the agitators. On the other hand, it only gained momentum, with the hill-based parties joining hands. Even the Trinamool cadres and leadership joined the agitation for Gorkhaland in a hurry.

An all-party meeting was called on June 22, which was neither attended by Banerjee nor the hill parties.

It is questionable if Banerjee’s appeal will cut much ice with the hill-based parties, as the mood there is completely against further negotiations with the West Bengal government.

“The situation in the hills is unprecedented. Our workers, who haven’t earned a single penny for last one month, are showing little signs of remorse or concern. They think it’s their last chance to win Gorkhaland,” said a source in tea industry. On July 6, the hill-based parties joined an all-party meeting near Darjeeling and decided to continue the agitation at least till the next such meeting, scheduled on July 18.

This effectively narrows the chance of them turning up to meet Banerjee in next two weeks.

The hill parties have already evinced interest on entering discussions with the Centre. While the Centre had maintained a distance on the issue; the common buzz in the hills is that the ongoing stand-off will force the Centre — tentatively after the Presidential election on July 17 — to call a tripartite meeting.

Tea industry in ruins

Meanwhile, the famous Darjeeling tea industry is set to seek a one-time grant from the Centre to mitigate the unprecedented loss.

The industry was closed for 40 days in the non-productive winter season from February 10 to March 31, 1988, during the first agitation for Gorkhaland. Since then it hasn’t faced any major disruption.

For the first time in the history of the industry, plantation activities have come to a standstill in Darjeeling during the most important, second-flush plucking season, which will end in next two days. Second flush teas fetch 40-45 per cent of the revenues for Darjeeling.

“In terms of production (8-10 million kg), Darjeeling contributes barely 0.5 percent of national tea production. But half of our teas are exported and the unit price realisation is the highest. And, second-flush produces the best teas,” a planter said.

According to him, the loss is not limited to crop and revenue loss. Work stoppage in the growing phase converts bushes into trees.

Heavy pruning would cause de-biotic stress of the tree. And, bringing the plantation back to the production phase will take nearly an year.

Also there was no insurance for such political unrest.

Published on July 09, 2017

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