GTA to move apex court over Tiger Hill construction project
Opposing the ongoing construction work by the state government of lodges for tourists at Tiger Hill in Darjeeling sub-division, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration has decided to move the Supreme Court, asserting the work was being done without taking into consideration the environmental implications on the area and the religious significance of the place.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which runs the GTA, has even threatened to call a 24-hour general strike in the entire hills in protest. The state tourism department has pumped in Rs40 crore for the project at Tiger Hill, 12km from Darjeeling town, to build four cottages, a 20 double-bedded lodge and a 20-bed dormitory.
The GTA has objected to the state government’s decision to construct the tourist lodge at Tiger Hill saying the project flouted environmental guidelines and norms and was a danger to the flora and fauna of the area. The place is also revered for the Ma Senchel Dham (Durga Temple) by locals and tourists.
Today, GJM assistant secretary Binay Tamang said the land measuring 31.85 acres in Tiger Hill where construction work was taking place, belonged to the GTA. To drive home his point, Tamang showed official documents and said, “The total area (31.85 acres) was handed over to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 2002 as per a state government order. In addition to the land, property comprising two damaged buildings and seven staff members were also transferred to the DGHC."
As per order No. 1217-DT/5T-28 dated June 13, 2002 of the directorate of tourism of the West Bengal government, the property under the name and style of Tiger Hill Tourist Lodge located at Senchel Pasture (catchment area) of Tiger Hill, Darjeeling, on an area of 31.85 acres of land, out of which 02.0 acre belongs to the tourism department, and the remaining 29.85 acres under the administrator of Darjeeling Improvement (DI) Fund, has been handed over to the DGHC.
The order also states that two damaged structures - a Club House and Chalet and seven staffers of the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC) posted at Tiger Hill lodge had also been transferred to the DGHC.
“As per chapter II (serial number 26) of the GTA act of 2011, the management and settlement of land including markets and market shed controlled by the DI fund come under the new council since it is a transferred subject. So how has the state government taken an unilateral decision without consultation to start construction on the Tiger Hill land that belongs to the GTA?” asked Tamang.
He also said the earlier proposal for a nine-hole golf course at Tiger Hill estimated to cost Rs27.92 crore, which had the state tourism department's approval, and the foundation stone for which was laid by chief minister Mamata Banerjee in 2013 in Darjeeling, had to be shelved because of opposition from the Darjeeling Forest Office, Wildlife Division.
“The proposal for the golf course was opposed by the wildlife DFO on the argument that Senchel was notified as a wildlife sanctuary under the Wildlife Protection and Reserved Forest Acts of 1972. Our question is how is the state government now undertaking heavy construction work, which is also a catchment area?” Tamang questioned, who is also the GTA Sabhasad in-charge of the information and cultural affairs department.
The GJM leader said GTA chief executive Bimal Gurung today sent a letter to the chief minister in this regard seeking the state government's response. “The GTA chief executive has written to the CM and copies have also been sent to the Union environment and climate minister and the Darjeeling MP. If we do not get any reply from the state government, the GTA will file a case in the SC. And if required, our party will also observe a 24-hour bandh,” warned Tamang.
The state government’s decision to construct the tourist lodge at Tiger Hill has also met opposition from various schools, NGOs and social organisations including senior citizens of Darjeeling, who have taken to social networking sites to vent their annoyance. (EOIC)