West Bengal

[Interview] “Bengal Government Has Exploited Darjeeling And Looted Its Resources, BJP Will Fix This By 2026”: Raju Bista

Jaideep Mazumdar

Apr 19, 2024, 06:50 PM | Updated Apr 20, 2024, 12:27 PM IST

Darjeeling Lok Sabha MP Raju Bista (X)
Darjeeling Lok Sabha MP Raju Bista (X)
  • Raju Bista, incumbent MP for Darjeeling, addresses key issues and solutions in an interview with Swarajya.
  • Darjeeling’s incumbent Lok Sabha MP, Raju Bista, has been carrying out a spirited campaign all over his diverse constituency that spreads over Darjeeling Hills and down to the plains extending to the India-Bangladesh border.  

    Mirroring the diverse geographical spread of the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, the problems that the constituency faces are also diverse. But the common, and overwhelming, issue is the acute neglect that Darjeeling, and the rest of North Bengal, have been subjected to by successive governments in Kolkata over the last 77 years since Independence. 

    And that has, naturally, bred a lot of resentment among the people of the constituency, especially the Gorkhas in the hills. Articulating the aspirations and issues faced by his constituents on the floor of the Lok Sabha and at various forums has been a difficult task that the 38-year-old Bista has carried out with rare aplomb. 

    Bista took time out of his hectic campaigning to speak to Swarajya about the primary issues and problems faced by his electorate and how he proposes to solve them. 

    Swarajya: What are the major issues facing Darjeeling?

    Bista: Darjeeling in particular and North Bengal in general has always been exploited and discriminated against by successive governments in the state, and this has become more pronounced since the Trinamool Congress came to power. 

    There has been no development here and the state government has not implemented any projects. The (Darjeeling) tea industry has no future and neither does tourism because of lack of infrastructure. 

    Leave aside spending on infrastructure and development here, the Bengal government has been taking away all resources from this region. 

    Darjeeling hills are the prime tourist destination in Bengal and the state earns a lot of revenue from tourism. The state earns a lot of revenue from other sources as well, like the hydropower plants on the Teesta River.

    But none of it is invested in the region. People of the hills who suffered during last year’s Teesta floods received nearly nothing from the state government which earned more than Rs 600 crore from hydel projects on the Teesta. 

    The Bengal government has destroyed our forests, our cinchona plantations, our rivers and our environment and kept the people of Darjeeling in poverty and backwardness. 

    So lack of development and the state government's apathy is the major issue facing this region. 

    Swarajya: What have been your achievements over the past five years as an MP?

    Bista: While the state government has done nothing for Darjeeling and North Bengal, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this region has witnessed a lot of development. A slew of infrastructure projects is changing the face of this area. 

    Over Rs 50,000 crore of development projects are being implemented, and all at a very fast pace. A 12-kilometre elevated highway from Siliguri to the outskirts of the city is coming up very fast, and that will be extended to the highway to Sikkim.

    Work on a new Rs 3,000 crore terminal at Bagdogra airport has started, and the construction of a 110-kilometre-long Siliguri ring road is progressing. 

    This area has three Vande Bharat trains now, and the Union Government has made massive investments in health infrastructure. A new super-speciality ESI Hospital is coming up. The state government’s healthcare institutions and facilities in North Bengal are third rate, and I have succeeded in getting investments from the Union Government in creating new facilities. 

    A number of other projects have been implemented, or are in various stages of implementation. Many more are also in the pipeline.

    Swarajya: The ‘Gorkhaland’ issue has been hanging fire for a long time. How do you propose to bring about a resolution to it?

    Bista: Yes, the issue of a permanent political solution to the demands and political aspirations of the people of the hills is a long-pending one. There has been some movement on it, and I can say with full confidence that this solution will be arrived at within the next three years. 

    There is also the issue of enlistment of all Gorkha communities as Scheduled Tribes (ST). Progress has been made on this front also and it will happen soon. We, the BJP, are committed to this. 

    Swarajya: What will be your priorities over the next five years?

    Bista: There are a few that I plan to focus on. The topmost is to get public and private investments in improving the dismal healthcare infrastructure and facilities in Darjeeling. 

    As I said, the existing healthcare institutions are in poor shape and there is a 50 per cent shortage of doctors in public healthcare facilities here. 

    I will also strive to get investment in setting up good quality educational institutions for postgraduate, technical and cutting-edge fields in Darjeeling. I also want to restore the glory of Darjeeling as an educational hub. Darjeeling was once famous for its schools and colleges and used to draw students from even other countries. 

    The economy of this area has to be rebooted and given a new direction. Jobs have to be created. 

    Another priority for me is the effective management of the India-Bangladesh border. There is a lot of cross-border crime and infiltration happening and my resolve is to stop all that. 

    Huge quantities of drugs are coming in through the border and destroying the lives of many youth. 

    Largescale illegal infiltration of Bangladeshis and Rohingyas is causing major problems and posing a grave security threat in the sensitive ‘chicken’s neck’ region. This has to be stopped immediately. 

    The tea industry is faced with a dark future and I will take the many issues facing this sector with the Union Government to bring about a comprehensive solution. Here, my foremost priority will be to get the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, changed and ensure that labour laws are enforced to increase the wages of tea garden workers and ensure that they get their dues. 

    The tourism sector also needs a re-think and given the fragile ecology of this region, we need to head towards sustainable tourism. 

    Connectivity is also a major issue facing my people and I will get more projects — new roads and highways as well as ropeways — to allow easy movement of people in even the remotest areas. 

    Since the Trinamool government in Bengal is apathetic towards this region, I will get direct funding from the Union Government for major projects and also get private investments. 

    Swarajya: The state government claims that the people of Darjeeling have benefited from its many welfare schemes. What do you say to that?

    Bista: None of the state’s schemes have been implemented properly and honestly in Darjeeling. You see, double loot happens here. It is not just corrupt Trinamool Congress functionaries, but also those of its younger brother in the hills — the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha — which syphons off funds meant for projects and welfare schemes in Darjeeling. 

    As a result of this double loot of the exchequer, nothing has actually ever reached the people. 

    I will pay full attention to this in my second term and ensure that funds provided by the centre for centrally-sponsored schemes are not looted and they are implemented honestly. I will stop this loot of central funds. 

    To discourage further loot, it is important to start probes by central agencies into endemic corruption in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and civic bodies here. GTA’s books of accounts have never been audited. I will ensure this stops and everyone is held accountable.

    Accountability, transparency, and honesty are the hallmarks of good governance and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brought about this change in the country. But the people of Darjeeling have been deprived of good governance. I will change it. 

    Swarajya: Do you have a timeline in mind for resolving the most important issues facing Darjeeling?

    Bista: I’m confident we can achieve a lot by the end of 2026. The next Assembly elections in Bengal (in mid-2026) will see the ouster of the Trinamool Congress from power. A permanent political solution and inclusion of Gorkha communities in the ST list can be achieved by the end of the year. 

    This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on themes and topics that are often overlooked or looked down. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as ₹2999. Click here for more details.

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