State will decide on forces' pullout from hills: Bengal government
Asserting that the West Bengal government is taking all steps to maintain peace and order in the north Bengal hills, the state administration on Thursday appealed to agitators to abstain from shutdown and violence. The withdrawal of security forces from the region will depend on the state's assessment of the situation, a senior official said.
"The state government cannot abdicate its constitutional obligation to maintain peace and order. State's decision to remove the security forces will depend on its own assessment of the situation," Home Secretary Malay Kumar Dey said at the end of state government-convened all-party meeting in Siliguri.
"The state government is doing its constitutional duty to maintain law and order in the hills. However, if someone is facing trouble or has any misunderstanding, then we are open to discussion," he said referring to the ongoing indefinite shutdown in the Darjeeling hills for the past eight days.
Ruling Trinamool Congress' Secretary General Partha Chatterjee stressed that the state government would restore peace in the hills at any cost and appealed to the local political parties to shun the path of violence and shutdown in the area.
"The peace has to be restored in the hills at any cost and the development of the locals in the hills would be given priority," Chatterjee, who was present at Thursday's all-party meeting, said.
"We would appeal to the agitators to stop treading the path of bandh and violence and agree to solve the issues in a peaceful and democratic manner," he said.
Stating that they would keep the peace process rolling, Chatterjee, also the state Education Minister, said that the government was ready to have discussions with everyone once peace was restored in the hills.
However, he refuted the idea of bringing in the central government to the discussion table. "This is a state subject. We will solve the issue in a constitutional manner," Chatterjee said.
Fourteen political parties in the hills, including Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which held a meeting on Tuesday, claimed that the indefinite shutdown could be lifted if the security forces were withdrawn from the region.
They also unanimously decided to boycott the state government-convened all-party meeting on Thursday.
Home Secretary Dey, however, described the discussions in the meeting as "positive" and assured the people that the state government was in favour of bringing back peace and normalcy in the hills.
"This was an unconditional meeting. We called everyone in the meeting with the sole motive to maintain peace in the hills," he said.
Stating that two hill development boards and three political parties attended the state government meeting, Dey also appealed to all the other stakeholders to come to join talks.
"We hope that the people in the hills are in favour of peace and they would do their bit to bring back normalcy."
Criticising complete shutdown in the hills, the Home Secretary on behalf of the Bengal government assured of providing security to the people "who are willing to work".
"The state government has put necessary security measures in place in Darjeeling. We assure to help out everyone who is willing to carry on with the normal activities," he added.