Kolkata: A long cherished dream came true when Kalimpong became West Bengal's 21st district on Tuesday.
Carved out of Bengal's northernmost hill district of Darjeeling, Kalimpong district is spread over 1,056 square kilometers and with a population of just under 50,000, is also densely populated Bengal's least populated district.
The dream for a separate district for a region that was for 152 years under the Bhutanese rule and then annexed by British during the Anglo-Bhutanese war of 1864, gained momentum after former Gorkha Janamukti Morcha leader Harka Bahadur Chhetri formed his own party Jan Andolan Party (JAP) on January 27 last year that came close with ruling Trinamool Congress. Kalimpong was made part of Darjeeling district in 1866.
Though the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) did not openly oppose the new district, party insiders revealed that GJM chief Bimal Gurung is worried over the weakening of the party in the new district, which is a bastion of JAP. The JAP defeated GJM in student council election held in Kalimpong college recently.
The two parties may also come face to face over JAP demands for implementation of three-tier panchayati raj in Kalimpong. One-tier panchayati raj is prevalent in areas under the Gorkha Territorial Administration, of which Kalimpong is also a part.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, while announcing formation of the new district at Mela Grounds in Kalimpong on Tuesday, promised new water projects and said that February 14 would now be known as 'Kalimpong Day'.
"People in remote rural areas of Kalimpong subdivision had to travel to district headquarters Darjeeling for any official work which caused hardships to them. Now, those works could be done in Kalimpong town itself," she said amid roars of applause.
Incidentally, Kalimpong is also the headquarters of most of the 15 ethnic boards that the Chief Minister created for upliftment of various backward ethnic groups of the hills. Amid accusations of graft, GTA chief Bimal Gurung alleges that more money is pumped into the ethnic boards than in GTA itself. An estimated Rs 300 crore has been given to the 15 ethnic boards of the hills.
Kalimpong was an important gateway between India and Tibet due to its proximity to Nathu La. However, that changed with the 1962 Indo-Sino War. The region was also once a hotbed for Gorkhaland statehood agitation.