Kolkata, June 8 West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Tuesday claimed that the issue of a separate Gorkhaland has been resolved and an agreement signed. The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, spearheading the agitation in the northern hills, however said it has not gone back on its demand and called the pact the "foundation of a separate state".
"I want to inform you that the Darjeeling problem has been solved. We are very happy. An agreement has been signed," Banerjee told mediapersons here after a two-day discussion between government officials and a seven-member GJM delegation.
"Darjeeling matter has been settled today. I congratulate the people of Darjeeling for their long movement. I have also informed union Home Minister P. Chidambaram that the Darjeeling matter has been solved and I have also told him that the agreement has been signed at the official level," she said.
"The deal has to be formalised at a tripartite meeting involving the central government, state government and people of Darjeeling (GJM). We will visit Darjeeling very soon. As soon as possible as we want to do the final agreement on the soil of Darjeeling only," said Banerjee, with GJM leaders, including its secretary general Roshan Giri, by her side.
The chief minister said the central government has been requested to make arrangements for the tripartite meeting in Darjeeling.
"Everything has been done keeping in mind the interests of both sides," said Banerjee when asked to spell out the breakthrough formula.
At the core of the agreement is the formation of a new autonomous elected Hill Council, which is armed with more powers compared to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) formed in the late 1980s.
The new council to be formed through enactment of a law in the state assembly, would have administrative and financial powers and can also frame rules related to the hills. The council members will later be chosen through election, but the body cannot enact any law.
A nine-member high powered committee, comprising four members each from GJM and the state government and one from the central government, will be formed to study GJM's demand on demarcating Gorkha majority areas in the Terai (plains of Darjeeling) and Dooars (foothills of the Himalayas) for inclusion in the council.
The committee will give its report in six months.
"On the basis of that report, whichever area has a Gorkha majority will be transferred to the council," said GJM spokesman and MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri.
"Today's meeting has resolved some matters regarding the issues such as territory of Dooars and Terai, reserved forest, issues of casual employees of DGHC (Darjeeling Gorkha Hill council). Overall we are happy," Giri told reporters.
But the GJM leaders asserted that it has not gone back on its demand for Gorkhaalnd.
"This is the foundation for Gorkhaland. We believe we will form Gorkhaland on this foundation," said Chhetri.
"We will cooperate with the government for a period before we come up with our demand (for Gorkhaland," he added.
However, both the leaders saluted Banerjee for her political will to make a breakthrough on Darjeeling.
"We will give her a rousing reception when she comes to Darjeeling," said Giri.
But Chhetri also struck a note of caution.
"We have not signed any pact today, though we have reached an agreement with the major issues settled Now it remains to be seen whether the agreement is only one paper or can be implemtned in letter and spirit," he said.
The demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland covering parts of northern Bengal gained momentum during the 1980s under the leadership of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) supremo Subash Ghising.
But the reins of the movement were later taken over by the Bimal Gurung-led GJM which forced Ghising out of the hills.