Darjeeling unrest: Calcutta High Court asks Centre to explain delay in ending agitation

Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court on Friday sought to know if the Centre did not think the Darjeeling hills stir for a separate Gorkhaland needed to be quelled quickly, given the strategic location of the area.

"Given the geopolitical area in which it lies, doesn't the Centre think this agitation be quelled immediately?," asked acting Chief Justice Nishita Mhatre while hearing a plea for restoration of normalcy in the Darjeeling hills.

 Darjeeling unrest: Calcutta High Court asks Centre to explain delay in ending agitation

File image of the ongoing Darjeeling unrest. PTI

The court posed the query amid the Indian Armed forces being locked in an eyeball to eyeball standoff with the Chinese army at Dokalam at the Bhutan tri-junction, not too far from Darjeeling.

The division bench of acting Chief Justice Mhatre and Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty directed the West Bengal government officials to sit with the Ministry of Home Affairs to sort out the requirements for para-military forces on the basis of ground conditions.

Expressing displeasure at the state and the Centre sparring over the requirement of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) in the restive Darjeeling hills, the bench observed, "The situation can improve only if both of you sit together and sort out the issues."

The court asked the Centre and the state government to reach a meaningful understanding over CAPF requirement before 11 July, when the matter would be heard next.

Normal life has been affected severely in Darjeeling and Kalimpong due to the ongoing indefinite shutdown enforced by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and some other hill parties since 15 June over a separate statehood demand.

Incidents of arson have been going on in different parts of the hills since June eight.

Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Kaushik Chanda told the court that 11 companies of CAPF have been provided for Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts in the hills.

Stating that the CAPF deployment was sufficient for the two districts, Chanda said maintaining law and order was primarily the state government's responsibility.

He said eight companies of CAPF were sent to Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district of the state, which has been facing communal strife since last Monday.

"There are requirements of CAPF in other parts of the country also for various reasons, including for the ongoing Amarnath Yatra," Chanda said.

Appearing for West Bengal government, Advocate General Kishore Dutta submitted that the state had not asked for any additional force, but only sought replacement of six CAPF companies for operational reasons.

The state government through a communique to the Centre on 30 June had sought replacement of three women companies of the CRPF with three male companies and replacement of three SSB companies with those of the CRPF or RAF.

No lawyer represented Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung or his party, which is spearheading the movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland to be carved out of West Bengal.

The bench also asked as to why the CBI has taken no steps to ensure that Gurung, his wife Asha and several others accused in the killing of All India Gorkha League leader Madan Tamang was made to stay in Kolkata from the date of framing of charge in the case until completion of the trial, as was directed by another division bench of the high court.

While granting bail to these accused on 19 December, 2016, a division bench of Justice Asim Kumar Roy had directed them to stay in Kolkata police area during the said period.

Counsel Indranil Roy submitted that Gurung had appeared before the trial court in January when hearing in the matter commenced but did not appear before it on eight dates after that.

The ASG submitted that the magistrate had allowed his plea for not appearing in person on those dates. At this, the acting chief justice asked, "How is it that CBI did not oppose it ... this man is not available in court and CBI doesn't bother?"

The trial in the case had been transferred from Darjeeling to Kolkata by the Supreme Court on a plea by Tamang's widow that the accused persons could influence witnesses.

Hearing on framing of charges against the accused persons, who have also prayed for dismissal of charges against them, is fixed before the trial court on 24 July.

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Updated Date: Jul 07, 2017 18:20:28 IST