Court asks GJM why it should not pay for shutdown

    By IANS,

    Kolkata: Normal life came to a standstill Wednesday in West Bengal’s Darjeeling hills on the second day of the “public curfew” imposed by the GJM, which faced the ire of the Calcutta High Court that asked why the party should not pay compensation for infringing upon the fundamental rights of the people.

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    Hearing a public interest litigation seeking prevention of shutdowns, a division bench of Chief Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Joymalyo Bagchi asked the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) to file an affidavit explaining its position.

    Streets, markets and tourism hotspots continued to be deserted Wednesday as people remained indoors in the three Darjeeling district hill sub-divisions — Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.

    The government ran some buses, but there were hardly any commuters.

    Continuing its crackdown on the GJM, the government picked up 29 of its leaders Tuesday night and Wednesday, including Subhomoy Chatterjee, councillor of Darjeeling municipality.

    Chatterjee was picked up in connection with organising road blockades and blocking police vehicles, said Darjeeling Superintendent of Police Kunal Agarwal.

    The total number of arrests has gone up to 350.

    Two state ministers – Gautam Deb and Jyotipriyo Mallick – reached Kurseong with food supplies, as part of rations being distributed from 11 centres in the hills.

    The court order comes in the wake of the GJM-sponsored indefinite shutdown in Darjeeling hills, demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland. The shutdown was called soon after the decision favouring a separate state of Telangana was announced.

    The court said the “public curfew” clamped by the Morcha was a “kind of illegal bandh (shutdown), and no one can give such a call”.

    Following a 72-hour ultimatum by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to withdraw the shutdown, the GJM in retaliation clamped a two-day public curfew from Tuesday.

    The state government, which submitted a status report on the shutdown, was directed by the court to make an estimate of destruction and damage to public property on account of the call by the Morcha.

    The court also asked the GJM to reply in its affidavit as to why it should not be made to compensate for the damage caused to public property during the shutdown.

    The matter will come up for hearing Sep 5, by when the GJM will have to submit its affidavit.

    Reacting to the court order, GJM chief Bimal Gurung said his party would “examine all evenues in accordance with law”.

    “We will respond appropriately after we have been served an authentic copy of the order of the Hon’ble High Court, whose orders we are naturally bound to respect and honour,” he said in a Facebook post.

    Trouble started afresh in the hills after the GJM stepped up its movement for Gorkhaland following the United Progressive Alliance’s green light to a separate Telangana. There have also been two self-immolation bids by Morcha activists with one of them succumbing.

    The Gorkhaland movement for a separate state – to be carved out of parts of Darjeeling and its neighbouring Jalpaiguri district – has left many dead over the past two-and-half decades, besides affecting the region’s economy based on tea, timber and tourism.