Kolkata: Mamata Banerjee has won a point she made yesterday against the Centre, with the High Court agreeing that paramilitary forces cannot be withdrawn at this moment from the trouble-torn Darjeeling hills of Bengal. The court today put a freeze on the Centre's plans to withdraw seven of the 15 companies of paramilitary forces that have been stationed in the hills since June, saying there must be a "good reason" for both deployment and pullout of troops.
Yesterday, alleging the decision is politically motivated and aimed at destabilizing the state, Ms Banerjee had shot off angry letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
The Centre said the withdrawal is in view of the coming assembly elections in other states. But Ms Banerjee said it is a bad decision at this point in terms of both administration and politics. "I don't think it (the decision) was taken by Mr Rajnath Singh, who is a good man. It must have been taken in the headquarters of the BJP just because we oppose the party," she had said.
Over the last few months, the hills have been rocked by continuous protests by the GJM, which has been spearheading the agitation for statehood. As the unrest peaked on June 12 - with widespread violence and arson during the indefinite strike called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha or GJM -- the Centre rushed 10 companies of paramilitary forces to the hills. Two days later, the high court had ordered that four more companies be deployed in the area.
On October 15, the home ministry had informed the Bengal government that it intended to withdraw 10 of the 15 companies of paramilitary troops. The figure was later revised to seven.
At her press meet yesterday, Ms Banerjee said on October 13, a police inspector had been shot dead in a gun-battle between the police and supporters of the GJM's discredited" chief Bimal Gurung. Maoists and northeast insurgent groups were probably linked with Bimal Gurung and Darjeeling was close to the "chicken neck" -- the strip of land connecting the Indian mainland to the northeast. Yet, at a time like this, the Centre was withdrawing forces from there.
"Are we paying a price only because we are politically opposed to them?" she asked, listing the deployment of central forces in BJP ruled states like Bihar and Chhattisgarh, among others.
This morning, the state went to court, challenging the Home Ministry's order. When the court asked for reasons for troop withdrawal, the Centre's legal team said the forces were needed for maintaining security in states where assembly elections will be held shortly.
The advocate representing the state argued that there was only one election due at the moment in Himachal Pradesh and the pullout of forces from Darjeeling was not called for. Justice Harish Tandon said there must be good reasons for deployment and withdrawal of Central forces and ordered an interim stay till October 27.