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12 hour Strike across Darjeeling Hills ended

The 12-hour general strike called today across the hills by the GorkhaJanmuktiMorcha-affiliated Darjeeling TeraiDooars Plantation Labour Union to demand the reopening of 21 tea gardens ended peacefully without any untoward incidents. In Darjeeling, picketers manned the streets since early morning to ensure the bandh was adhered to. Markets and business establishments including banks and offices of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration remained closed as were vehicular movements in the three sub-divisions of the hills. Students giving their examinations, however, were allowed to enter their respective schools. Government offices remained open, but attendance was on the lower side throughout the day.
The 87 tea gardens located in the hills also remained closed although only a few in the plains observed the strike. In the plains, the agitation is being spearheaded by the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) led by Adivasi leader John Barla, a GJM ally. Panighatta tea garden in Kurseong sub-division has remained closed since October 9, while 20 others in the Terai and Dooars region, of which 14 belong to the Duncan group, are also under shutdown. Although the trade union has not organised any agitation in the plains, Panighatta workers have held relay hunger-strikes to pressurize the management and the state government.
A 72-hour relay hunger strike staged in front of the SDO office in Kurseong ended today. “Today’s bandh has been 99 per cent successful, we feel. This is the first time a bandh called by a trade union has got such a positive response. We would also like to thank opposition parties’ trade unions for supporting today’s bandh called for the welfare of garden workers,” said PrashantPradhan, assistant general secretary of DTDPLU. The trade union leader threatened to intensify the agitation if today’s bandh failed to get the required response from themanagement and the state government. “We have demonstrated and even staged hunger strikes. But if we do not get a positive response, we will stage an indefinite hunger strike with the participation of garden workers and central committee leaders and even call a 72-hour bandh in the days ahead,” Pradhan warned. The union’s central committee has called an emergency meeting on Friday in Darjeeling to discuss the effect and outcome of today’s bandh and also to deliberate on future course of actions.
Later in the day, GJM president BimalGurung issued a press statement appreciating the people’s support to the bandh and asked the state government to take proactive steps to resolve the tea gardens’ issue. “I thank the people for supporting the bandh that was supported fully by our party. It is sad that even in this age, people have to die of starvation. I request the state government to immediately solve the garden problems or give us a separate state so that we are able to take care of things on our own,” the GJM chief said in his statement. Meanwhile, Additional District Magistrate U. Swarup, who was in his chamber throughout the day, said the strike had very little effect and that all state and central government offices remained opened. “There was no incident of picketing or obstruction of work in government offices. Adequate security forces were deployed in government offices and market areas. But transportation was a problem, which forced many employees to turn up late,” he maintained, adding a show-cause notice would be served to those employees who failed to report to work if they fail to provide a satisfactory explanation. Today’s bandh, called by the DTDPLU and supported by the GJM, comes after two years, the last being the nearly 40-day-long strike for a separate state in September-October of 2013.(EOI)

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