Kolkata, Dec 20 IANS | 2 years ago

Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) president Bimal Gurung Friday said he will take the oath as chief of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration - an autonomous development council in northern West Bengal's hills - on Dec 26.

In a meeting with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee here, Gurung pressed for the release of arrested GJM leaders and requested that the panchayat elections be held in the hills next July.

The demand for the separate state of Gorkhaland, the main plank of the GJM's emergence and popularity, was, however, not discussed.

"There will be an oath-taking ceremony on Dec 26 at the Raj Bhavan (in Kolkata) and after that GTA will be functioning," Gurung told reporters here after meeting Banerjee.

The first chief executive of the GTA, Gurung resigned from the post July 30 to step up its movement for Gorkhaland - to be formed out of Darjeeling district and parts of Jalpaiguri district - following the Congress-led UPA's endorsement of Telangana.

The outfit then also announced that the GTA has outlived its utility and would be repealed.

However, the Banerjee government hit back by arresting a large number of GJM leaders and workers, besides its principal fund providers.

Buckling under the massive crackdown, the GJM has been sending out feelers for quite some time to the government that it wished to return to the negotiating table and carry out development of the Darjeeling hills.

It also returned to the GTA and seems to have put the Gorkhaland demand on the backburner.

Armed with more powers than its predecessor, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council formed in the late 1980s, the GTA was created July 18, 2011 via a tripartite agreement between the GJM and the state and central governments.

The GJM swept the GTA's maiden elections last year.

Asked about its demand for Gorkhaland, Gurung said: "This is not the issue right now ... it is for later."

"We talked about the growth and development of GTA and also about the panchayat system because there has to be a panchayat election there immediately.

"I requested for the panchayat vote because for many years there hasn't been any election."

He said: "Given the panchayat situation there needs to be an election urgently. We have requested if it could be held in July next year. Since the three-tier system would need amendment ... we have to follow up the two-tier system immediately to sort out the panchayat system."

On arrests of GJM's leaders he said: "Whether to arrest or not ... I have told the CM that the situation is good and normal in the hills. So what is the need to keep them under arrest?"

He also urged tourists to visit Darjeeling.

"I want tourists to come to Darjeeling ... the situation is not bad," he said.

(Posted on 20-12-2013)