THE DEMAND for a separate state, comprising Darjeeling district and the adjoining Dooars,
is over a century old now. This region has a distinct political history and
socio-cultural background, far away from the complexities of Bengal’s
politico-economic structures. Two phases of intense agitations during 1985-88
and 2008-2012 led to violence, killing hundreds of people. This region has
little to do with West Bengal in terms of geographical
features, natural resources and livelihood. Merely focusing on its size and terrains,
a fabricated discourse is floated to question the region’s economic viability.
In fact, as a state, it will be most economically viable. It is possibly for this
reason the West Bengal government would not
like to part with it. The new state could also bring comprehensive security to India. Despite
the setting up of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988 and the Gorkhaland
territorial Administration in 2012, people have now realized that the state
government is inclined to neither making substantive development interventions nor
putting right its conscious historical injustices.
 Once celebrated as the
“Queen of the Hills”, Darjeeling
district and the Dooars (D&D) today are in a state of total ruin. The
forest resources, cinchona plantation, tea industry, opulent biodiversity,
water resources,
human resources and, most importantly, the traditional
institutions, have all been systematically plundered. This smacks of an international
colonialism practiced from the Writers’ Buildings in Kolkata. People in the
hills have suffered from this planned manipulation and organized alienation by
successive regimes in West Bengal. The hunger
deaths in the tea gardens of the Dooars and the massive demographic change in Darjeeling district are
only the tip of the iceberg. A separate state will be a viable entity on five significant
grounds.
First, this new state will be the only one with four international
borders – Bangladesh, Bhutan, China
(a little beyond, inside Sikkim)
and Nepal.
Even if it undertook cross-border trade, including through land customs, within
a regulated framework it could make a fortune and generate a huge development
multiplier. As the regional trade scenario becomes more liberal and
cross-border connectivity improves, these trade routes are likely to become
robust in the near future, triggering a wider sub-regional cooperation and
integration. Unlike in the past, trade
Linkages can now count not only on goods and products but
also on services like tourism, health, education, communications, energy, banking
and insurance.
Second, this would be the only state with two
topographically varied plantations (agricultural) and social systems. The
direct access of tea, cinchona, floriculture, horticulture and other farm items
to both national and international markets, mostly in Southeast and East Asia through
ports like Ctrittagong and Mongla in Bangladesh
and Sittwe in Myanmar
could have no parallels. For instance, D&D together constitute 20 per cent
of the total land under tea cultivation in India. They contribute almost 7 percent
of the total world tea production. Interestingly the auction centre and tea companies
are all located in Kolkata and other places, there by taking the cream of
development to the cities.
Third, the entire region is one of the 25 biodiversity
hotspots in the world. D&D alone have Singalila and Mahananda national parks,
as well as Sinchel, NeoraValley, Gorumara and Jaldapara water and game
sanctuaries. Given this and the mountain ranges, this would be the only state
where biodiversity and scenic beauty led eco-tourism could be blended with
educational and health services. If Sidrapong powerhouse -the first hydel power
project in Asia, built in 1897 – and the tea industry, mostly initiated in the 1860s,
are included as heritage items, Darjeeling will be the only district where, in
such a small geographic location, there would be three such sites, including
the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway built in 1881, which is already on the UNESCO World
Heritage list. With magnificent 19th century churches, temples and monasteries,
this could lead to a huge foreign tourist influx. If a Central University,
IITs, IIMs, disaster and natural resource management institutions, and others
are set up, D&D could be a major education hub in Northeast and eastern
India. The global market linkage between folk medicine and the rich biodiversity
could lead to massive revenue and income mobilizations if these are scientifically
and institutionally harnessed. Folk knowledge-related intellectual property like
those of Jhankris, Phedangmas, Dhami, Bonbo(in Gorkha community),
Pow and Nejum (Bhutia), Bumthing (Lepcha) and similar
ethno-medicine practitioners among Bengalis, Biharis, Rajbongshis, Muslims and
Adivasis, could brine a large number of licenses and patents. It has been a
colossal national loss that all these practices are steadily vanishing and has
been a colossal national loss that all these practices are steadily vanishing
and also surreptitiously making their- way into Chinese, European and American laboratories.
Fourth, this would be a state where hydel power resources
have not been commercially harnessed systematically. There is a range of local,
national and international rivers (including Teesta, Mechi, Rangeet, Balasun,
Relli and Soonkosh) that flow through this region. The
power generated could be sold to both national and
cross-border grids.
Finally, the new state and the ” Chicken’s Neck’ will
be a smooth gateway to the North east and an instrument of harnessing opportunities
triggered by India’s
“Look East” policy. It will build a sound production base and business
opportunities for Bangladesh,
Bhutan
and Nepal.As a separate state, this region will complete the definition and
geographical configuration of the Northeast. If Assam
and Sikkim
are a part of the Northeast, why not the intimately contiguous adjoining D&D?
People have irreparably lost faith in the West Bengal
government’s commitment and capability. They are worried about the rift it is
creating between the hills and plains. In a highly strategic location, such attitude
of the government has triggered national security complications. A separate state
is intrinsic to the human security of the Gorkhas, Bengalis, Biharis, Marwaris and
tribals, such as the Adivashis, Bhutias, Lepchas and Rajbongshis, and religious
minorities like Buddhists and Muslims who abound in this gifted land of the Eastern Himalayas.
Mahindra p.Lama 
-The writer is the founding vice
chancellor of Central University of Sikkim

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