Govt fast-tracks Kalimpong plan before panchayat and civic elections in hills

Rush to start building infrastructure for proposed district before panchayat and civic elections in hills
The government has fast-tracked its plan to create a Kalimpong district, appearing to keep on hold measures to carve out four other districts announced earlier, the choice signalling an intent to fulfil a promise and build infrastructure before the panchayat and municipal elections in the Darjeeling hills early next year.
At a meeting in Nabanna yesterday, finance secretary H.K. Dwivedi is believed to have told engineers that the government would implement its infrastructure development plans for Kalimpong on a war footing. The government had announced its plan to carve out the districts of Asansol, Jhargram, Sunderbans and Basirhat before it made public its decision to create the Kalimpong district.
Trinamul has been making inroads into the Darjeeling hills while the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's performance in the Assembly elections earlier this year suggests that its support base may be eroding. The hill party's vote share in the Assembly elections dropped by 67 per cent in comparison with the 2011 polls.
On the other hand, the government's move to create development bodies for various hill communities has helped Trinamul get a toehold in the hills. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee is reported to be keen on elections to the two-tier panchayats and the four municipalities of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Mirik as soon as possible to cash in on the gains. The last time rural elections were held in the Darjeeling hills was in 2000.
Government sources said if the promise of creating the Kalimpong district could be fulfilled soon and allied infrastructure put in place, it would boost the chances of the ruling party in the elections. A good showing in the rural and municipal polls, which could be held in February, would stand Trinamul in good stead in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration elections, scheduled to be held in July. The Morcha's hegemony in the GTA has been unchallenged so far.
The proposals to create the districts of Kalimpong, Asansol and Jhargram are awaiting the clearance of Calcutta High Court. The government is yet to seek permission for the formation of the Sunderbans and Basirhat districts.
The sources said the government's eagerness to get off the blocks as soon as it can on Kalimpong even though the court's nod is awaited pointed to Trinamul's plan to strike when the iron is hot.
"As Trinamul has been focusing on emerging as a force in the hills and end the monopoly of the Morcha, the creation of the Kalimpong district has become crucial to the ruling establishment," an official said.
When the district is created, it will have its own headquarters and residents will no longer have to travel to Darjeeling town.
"Travelling in the hills is costly. If the district headquarters are set up in Kalimpong before the elections, people could lean towards the chief minister," another official said.
That Mamata was aware of the local sentiments became clear when she announced during a visit to Kalimpong in September that the credit for creating the new district would go to her government alone.
Sources said the chief minister made the comment to counter hill leader Harka Bahadur Chhetri's claim that he was the first to demand the new district. Chhetri, who was the Kalimpong MLA, quit the Morcha before the Assembly elections and floated a party that supported Trinamul in the polls but later ran afoul of the ruling establishment.
"Developing infrastructure for setting up a new district is a huge task and involves crores of rupees. It appears that the government wants to start work on infrastructure projects before the local elections even if the new district cannot be made functional by then," a finance department official said.
To convert a sub-division into a district, the sub-divisional court has to be converted into a district court and the sub-divisional officer's office has to be upgraded to a district magistrate's establishment. In the blocks and sub-divisions that the new district will have, administrative infrastructure, including offices and residences for SDOs and BDOs, have to be built.
"The entire infrastructure could be ready by June if work starts now. It is clear that the government wants to showcase the work it has done to create the Kalimpong district when the elections are held in February," a source said.
"If we win some seats in the rural polls, we will be able to put up a strong fight in the GTA elections, which will put an end to the Morcha's dominance," a minister said.
A section of government officials said that ideally, the Asansol district, which will be named Burdwan Industrial, should have been the first district to be carved out.
"The main idea behind creating a district is that it helps the administration to monitor government projects and law and order better. Going by that logic, Burdwan should have been split first because it is a much bigger district than Darjeeling and West Midnapore," an official said.(TT)

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