Why Gorkhaland ? - The Economic Viability Justified by the Economist, Mr Mahindra.P.Lama

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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