Darjeeling: Normal life was hit hard in the hills of West Bengal Saturday following a 12-hour shutdown called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) demanding creation of a Gorkhaland state.
The GJM is also protesting against the manner in which the government formed the proposed Lepcha Development Council (LDC). Lepchas are the indigenous tribals of Sikkim and surrounding hills including Darjeeling.
The shutdown was total but peaceful in the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseyong -- now under the new hill development body Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) run by the GJM.
Shops and commercial establishments remained closed and vehicles mostly kept off the roads.
But vehicles plied on the vital National Highway number 31 A - connecting Siliguri in Darjeeling district with Sikkim`s capital Gangtok.
The GJM supporters allowed vehicles with Sikkim number plates while stopping those with West Bengal number plates in the border town of Rangpo under Kalimpong sub-division.
Additional Superintendent of Police Sangmit Lepcha said: "The National Highway 31A is open.
"There is an intense police patrolling. No untoward incidents have been reported."
Meanwhile, North Bengal Development Minister Gautam Deb arrived here Friday night with what he called "a mission for peace, development and dialogue".
He is likely to go to Kalimpong Saturday and hold talks with members of the Lepcha community who are on hunger strike since Thursday under the banner of the "Lepcha Rights Movement" demanding creation of the Lepcha council and protesting against the GJM-sponsored shutdown.
GJM assistant general secretary Jyoti Rai said: "We are not against LDC (Lepcha council). We have no objection if the government forms the council. But it should be formed under the GTA. The state government is trying to divide the people of the hills."
On Tuesday, the state government decided to form the LDC in an apparent bid to put pressure on the GJM which recently revived its demand for a new state of Gorkhaland to be carved out of parts of north Bengal.
The dragging campaign for Gorkhaland has led to the loss of many lives over the past two decades, besides hitting the region`s economic mainstays - tea, timber and tourism.
On July 18, 2012, a tripartite agreement was signed between the GJM and the state and central governments for setting up a new autonomous, elected GTA -- a hill council armed with more powers than its predecessor, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council formed in the late 1980s.
The GJM now runs the GTA after sweeping its maiden territorial elections in July 2012.