Darjeeling, Feb. 17: The Jan Andolan Party started an indefinite dharna on the premises of the Darjeeling district magistrate's office today to demand land rights for people living in tea gardens and cinchona plantations in the hills.
The agitation signals the launch of a campaign by the nascent political party formed by Kalimpong MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri to mobilise support ahead of the Assembly polls. The dharna is the first political activity by the JAP in Darjeeling town. The party's activities have so far been Kalimpong-centric.
The dharna is being organised by the Parja-Patta Demand Committee, an apolitical forum started on November 23, 2015, with the blessings of the Kalimpong MLA.
"We started as an apolitical front and on December 14, we requested the chief minister to call us for talks. The request was made through the district magistrate's office. Later, Kalimpong MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri also raised the matter with the state government. We are now a frontal organisation of the JAP," Sudip Karki, the convener of the demand committee, said today.
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The dharna started after Amar Lama, a member of the JAP's bureau, reached the DM's office premises around 11am today. "Once the GTA was formed, we thought issues like land rights would be raised and addressed. This has not happened. The issue has been raised by various political parties for years but none has pursued it seriously," said Lama.
Eighteen men and 11 women from Teesta Valley, Bara Pubung and Takdah tea gardens are sitting on the dharna.
Anurag Srivastava, the district magistrate, Darjeeling, said: "The demand of the agitators will be taken up with the authorities concerned."
Around 70 per cent of the nearly 8.75 lakh hill people live in tea gardens and cinchona plantations.
Tea gardens' land is leased out by the state government to individuals or companies and the lease has to be renewed every 30 years. The state is the owner of the tea gardens' land. However, the workers and their families who have been residing in tea plantations for generations since the 1850s do not have land rights.
The cinchona plantations are under the directorate of cinchona and medicinal plantation, which is a state undertaking. Like in tea gardens, the workers of cinchona plantations have no land rights.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha general secretary, Roshan Giri, termed the dharna a political drama. "This is nothing but a political stunt for elections. They have kept aside the Gorkhaland demand and are working at the direction of the government. On one hand, they say all issues can be solved by having a close relation with chief minister and on the other hand, they have started a dharna even without sitting for talks with the government," he said.