GJM intensifies Gorkhaland stir by setting a Sikkim-bound truck on fire along with its driver in Darjeeling Hills

GJM intensifies Gorkhaland stir by setting a Sikkim-bound truck on fire along with its driver in Darjeeling Hills

Kolkata, June20:The violent stir in the Darjeeling Hills took a macabre turn on Monday, the 12th day of the indefinite agitation, with Gorkha Janmukti Morcha cadres setting a Sikkim-bound truck on fire along with its driver. Aniket Chetri, the driver, suffered 70% burn injuries and is fighting for life in hospital.

As GJM members went on the rampage blocking arterial roads from daybreak, tourists heading from Gangtok to Siliguri were forced to turn back and state transport buses from Siliguri to Darjeeling were held up for nearly 12 hours on the way.

Around 1.30pm, Chetri’s truck, ferrying bricks from the plains to Sikkim, was stopped at Kalijhora on National Highway 10. Chetri, a resident of Teesta Bazaar, was prevented from alighting while the GJM activists poured petrol and then set fire to the truck. It was only when locals stepped in that the GJM workers relented. But by then, Chetri had suffered severe burns.

“The attack was without provocation. The GJM workers were livid that the driver had dared to ply the truck defying the bandh,” a local said.

Chetri was pulled out of the burning vehicle and rushed to Siliguri district hospital in a police ambulance. As his condition deteriorated, doctors referred him to North Bengal Medical College.

Tourism minister Gautam Deb, who visited Chetri at the hospital, called it a barbaric attack.

At Rongpo, around 45km from Kalijhora, a bus full of tourists returning to Siliguri from Sikkim was stopped by GJM cadres.

Though the Sikkim administration and the Hills parties in Darjeeling have a tacit understanding since the mid-1980s that vehicles from the Himalayan state would be allowed to ply during strikes in the Hills, the GJM cadres refused to let the bus enter Bengal. The bus was forced to return to Gangtok. NN 10, which connects Sikkim with Siliguri, is its sole lifeline for transport of people and goods.

At a subsequent meeting held between the Sikkim and Bengal administrations, it was decided that Bengal police would escort all vehicles bound for Sikkim from Siliguri to Rongpo, from where Sikkim police would take over.

At least 50 buses carrying tourists left for Siliguri from Gangtok in the afternoon. They were provided police escort by Kalimpong district administration to ensure safe passage. Notwithstanding the breach in agreement, chief minister Pawan Chamling’s SDF on Monday extended support to GJM on its Gorkhaland demand.

At Kalimpong, 77km away, five Bengal state transport buses were held up by nearly 5,000 GJM supporters for nearly 12 hours. The buses had started off for Darjeeling from Siliguri. The buses had started at 5am intending to reach Darjeeling well before 11am, when agitators usually hit the street.

But the attempt to slip through was foiled when 5,000 GJM supporters from four villages blocked the road at Kurseong Zero Point. All six buses had police protection, but with GJM cadres outnumbering cops by a huge ratio, the buses stayed put till the evening. The journey resumed after police and Army sent reinforcements.

CM Mamata Banerjee, before departing for The Netherlands, said at the airport: “I would like to appeal to everyone in the mountains to maintain peace. Solution can be reached through meetings and dialogue only when peace is maintained.”

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