GJM demands “backward area” status for Darjeeling hills

Writes Vivek Chhetri

Darjeeling, Aug. 12: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today demanded that since the state government had decided to bring the entire population in the Darjeeling hills under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, the Mamata Banerjee administration declare the region a “backward area”  and provide other benefits.

The Morcha, however, said the state government would not do so and the “hidden agenda” of covering the entire hills under the AAY was to cut down on the foodgrains it had promised the people of the region before the Assembly elections.

Under the AAY being implemented by the Centre through state governments, a financially backward family is entitled to 35kg of foodgrains at Rs 2 per kg a month.

The Morcha had assigned members of the party’s Study Forum to “find out the real motives of the state government” in implementing the AAY in the entire hills.
GJM demands “backward area” status for Darjeeling hills
Morcha leader DK Pradhan in Darjeeling on Friday. Picture by Suman Tamang
D.K. Pradhan, convener of the Study Forum, today said: “According to a notification issued by the directorate of district distribution, procurement & supply, food supplies department (memo no: 335(19) FMR/IIS-01/16) dated January 22, 2016, the hill population was included in Hill PDS category. As per the HPDS provisions, 11kg of foodgrains would be distributed per person per month in the entire hills.”

The provision in the notification reads: “The existing population in the hill will now be allotted 6 kg of rice and 5 kg of fortified atta per heard per month @ Rs 2.00 per kg in both cases.”

According to Pradhan, the 11kg of foodgrains were to be drawn under the Centre’s National Food Security Act and the special scheme of the state government.

The January 22 notification regarding hills reads: “The entire population of the hill subdivision will be treated as NFSA plus state special package of for hill (NFSA-Hill) and allocation of 2 kg of rice and 3 kg of atta will be given from NFSA quota. The balance amount of 4 kg of rice and 2 kg of atta will be given as top up over and above the NFSA quota and the expenditure will be borne by the Govt. of West Bengal. Accounts shall be maintained accordingly.”

After the Assembly elections, Pradhan alleged, the state had decided to implement only the AAY under the National Food Security Act in the entire hills so that it didn’t have to bear the additional expenditure of 4kg of rice and 2kg of atta.
Under the AAY, a backward family is entitled to 15kg of rice and 20kg of fortified atta at Rs 2 per kg per month.

“This basically means that a family of four and above will now be getting less amount of foodgrains than what the state government promised. According to the special package announced before the Assembly elections, a hill family of five is entitled to 55kg of foodgrains. The hidden agenda of getting the hill population under the AAY is to ensure that the state government does not have to bear the additional cost of supplying 6kg of foodgrains per person a month,” said Pradhan.

The Morcha central committee member said it was fine for the Morcha if the state provided 35kg of foodgrains to a family under the AAY and the remaining 6kg per head per month.

“We also demand that since the hills have been brought under the AAY, which is for the financially backward families, the state declare the hills a backward area and give benefits for the backward region like exemption from income tax, subsides in transport, fuel, gas connections and electricity,” said Pradhan.

Via Telegraph

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