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Giri says Partha called voluntary, para teachers for discussion, but minister seems to differ

hunger strike by the agitating teachers in front of Lal Kothi in Darjeeling
The GTA executive sabha member, Roshan Giri, today said state education minister Partha Chatterjee had invited agitating voluntary and para teachers in the hills for a discussion in Calcutta but the latter seemed to suggest that the talks were subject to the withdrawal of the ongoing dharna.
There are 515 voluntary and para teachers in the hills and they have been holding demonstrations for more than three weeks demanding regularisation of their jobs under the banner of the Janmukti Insecure Secondary Teachers' Association (JISTO), an affiliate of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
Today, Giri, who is in-charge of secondary and higher secondary education at the GTA, led a delegation of JISTO members who met Chatterjee at the Circuit House here. They sought the minister's intervention to fulfil the teachers' demand.
Immediately after the meeting, Giri told reporters that the minister had called the JISTO for talks in Calcutta while appealing to the teachers to withdraw the agitation. However, the minister later seemed to suggest that the Calcutta talks invitation was subject to the withdrawal of the agitation by the JISTO.
Giri said: "The education minister has called us for talks in Calcutta. He has also appealed to the JISTO to withdraw the agitation. I will also appeal to the JISTO to withdraw its dharna."
Chatterjee, on the other hand, said while he had invited the JISTO for talks, he would also want it to withdraw the agitation.
Asked if the talks offer would stand in case the JISTO did not withdraw the dharna, he said: "I will certainly believe good sense will prevail."
The minister prefaced that by saying the 515 teachers couldn't hold the fate of thousands of students to ransom. "I told them I am a different man. Don't put pressure on me. What the last government started (the appointment of voluntary and para teachers) cannot be the responsibility of this government. But we are sympathetic towards them and under no circumstances can the quality of education be sacrificed... I have told them to come to Calcutta to discuss, but first they should withdraw their strike as the fate of students cannot be wasted."
JISTO secretary Vivek Newar, who was part of the delegation which met Chatterjee, said it would not withdraw the dharna, but would hold classes so that the students didn't face inconvenience. The JISTO has been holding dharnas at different places in the hills since October 29 demanding that the teachers be made permanent. From today, its members began a relay hunger strike at Lal Kothi in Darjeeling on the demand.
Kalimpong MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri was present at the meeting between the minister and the delegation led by Giri.
While Giri said Chhetri didn't utter a word, the MLA said he did not participate in the discussions.
Chhetri had earlier claimed that he would facilitate a meeting between JISTO leaders and the minister, but the JISTO functionaries said they would call on Chatterjee on their own.(TT)

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