Charge of WB Police excesses & demand for freedom

APDR and the Parisangh taking reports (Photo by Himalaya Darpan)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Siliguri, Feb. 26: The Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) and the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh today alleged that police had rampaged through Sukna after a police outpost there had been torched on February 21 and demanded action against the law enforcers responsible for the excesses.

A team comprising members of the APDR and the Parisangh — an apolitical body of Gorkhas — today visited Sukna, 10km from here, and demanded the release of all those who had been arrested in connection with the arson.
Eighteen people were arrested from Sukna after a mob demanding the arrest of a murder accused had set the outpost on fire.

“We went there today to verify the allegations levelled by several residents that police had resorted to indiscriminate arrests and ransacked houses and shops on Sunday night,” said Abhiranjan Bhaduri, the Darjeeling district secretary of the APDR. “The team spoke to the family members of the arrested people and found that after the arson, the police had picked up men and women indiscriminately.”

He alleged that innocent women had been dragged out of their homes and thrown into police vans. “They were beaten up when they tried to protest. This is blatant violation of law. We demand that the arrested people be released immediately and action be taken against policemen responsible for the incident.”

Bhaduri also alleged that the police had smashed windowpanes of the houses, ransacked shops and damaged vehicles. “An 80-year-old woman named Chandrakumari Rai told us that her daughter, son, daughter-in-law and employees serving at an eatery run by the family had all been picked up by the police.”

Bhaduri also said even patients had not been spared. “Damayanti Thapa, who had been operated on 10 days back and was recuperating, was also arrested.”

He said the office-bearers of both the organisations, armed with photographs and other evidence of police excesses, would meet senior district officials and demand the release of the arrested people.

Sukhman Moktan, the secretary-general of the Parisangh, echoed Bhaduri. “After the raids and random arrests by the police, Sukna has been shut down with life being far from normal. The men have left their homes to evade arrests, while the women are too fearful to open shops.”

The police, he said, should free all the arrested and refrain from targeting others at Sukna.

Poster game after death in (Bengal) MLA family

Posters in Kurseong (By Himalaya Darpan)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Darjeeling, Feb. 26: A poster signed by “Gorkhaland loving people” appeared in town this morning, announcing that loyalists of the separate state movement would not attend the funeral of the Kurseong MLA’s husband who died last night.

Deo Chandra Karki, 53, had been ailing for sometime and breathed his last at the Kurseong subdivisional hospital.

The poster that appears to have been put up at 6am reads: “Yesterday, Deo Chandra Karki, husband of anti-Gorkhaland MLA from Kurseong, Shanta Chhetri, died. We, the Gorkhaland loving people, will not attend the funeral.” It was signed by “Gorkhaland loving people”.

After fingers were pointed at the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha which had chased away most of the GNLF leaders from the hills, including Chhetri, Gurung’s party put up a counter-poster at 9am, “protesting” the one plastered by people “trying to derail our Gandhian movement”.

“We protest the poster plastered by Gorkhaland loving people. These are people who are merely trying to derail the Gandhian movement,” the poster put up by the Morcha’s Kurseong sub-divisional committee read.

Chhetri’s house had been torched and the Kurseong police station attacked on February 18. Chhetri had blamed the Morcha without naming Bimal Gurung’s party. The Morcha had denied the allegations.

Shanta Chhetri’s house in Kurseong that was set on fire after 77 Morcha supporters were arrested during a bandh on February 18 (Photo by The Telegraph)

After the arson, Chhetri had spent the night at the hospital along with her son and daughter-in-law, before moving in to a relative’s house. “The last rites could not even take place at my house. They torched my house. I have lost everything now,” a sobbing Chhetri said over the phone.

The body was taken to Gauri Shankar tea garden below Giddepahar, about 8km from Kurseong, which is Karki’s native place. By 2pm, when the funeral took place, about a thousand people had visited Chhetri family to express their condolence.

Karki, an employee with the Public Health Engineering department, was also an All India Radio-approved singer and a tabla player.

On August 18, 2008, GNLF chief Subash Ghisingh could not bring his wife’s body to the hills for cremation after she died at a private nursing home in Siliguri. Even then fingers had been pointed at the Morcha. The party had denied the allegations and had said it was the “public” who did not allow Ghisingh to come to the hills.

Bengal assures Sikkim of smooth traffic – Flout groups to face action for blockades – Security Assured ?

TT Dorji (left) and Asok Mohan Chakrabarti at the meeting in Gangtok on Friday. (Photo by Prabin Khaling)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Gangtok, Feb. 26: Bengal chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti today assured the Sikkim government that no stones would be left unturned to keep NH31A open at all times under instruction from the Supreme Court.

The national highway is the only arterial route linking the Himalayan state to the rest of the country.

“We assure you that we will try our level best so that the directive issued by the Supreme Court to keep NH31A open is followed. Any group that flouts the order will face legal action and everybody has to cooperate with the order of the apex court,” Chakrabarti told The Telegraph during the tea break in the three-hour session with Sikkim chief secretary T.T. Dorji and senior officials at Chintan Bhavan today.

Replying to queries on security on NH31A to ensure smooth connectivity, Chakrabarti iterated that the directives of the apex court not to allow disruption on the highway had to be followed in principle. “If anybody violates the Supreme Court order, they will have to go to jail,” said Chakrabarti.

Promise of hassle-free ride: NH31A leading to Sikkim – Security Assured ? (Photo by The Telegraph)

In recent times, frequent bandhs and agitation by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in Darjeeling district have hit traffic on NH31A. For that matter, any agitation in the Bengal district adjoining Sikkim, affects traffic on the national highway.

“The Union and the Bengal governments are rather disturbed over the fact that in the last five to six months there have been incidents of traffic disruptions on NH31A which is the lifeline of Sikkim,” Chakrabarti said.

“Sikkim gets its essential commodities by road and people travel to Siliguri to catch flights and trains. Disruptions along the highway cause immense problems for the Sikkimese,” he said. He added that all security arrangements were in place to ensure that there were no traffic disruptions. Three companies of the CPRF have been deployed from Tuesday at various points along NH31A passing through Bengal to Sikkim.

The Bengal chief secretary said a decision had been taken on February 3 in New Delhi to hold a meeting in Gangtok to discuss NH31A and three projects related to the highway. The projects include the widening of the national highway and construction of an alternative road from Rhenock in East Sikkim to Chalsa in Bengal.

“These road projects were delayed in certain areas and a lot of time was taken for forest clearances. We have discussed them and some decisions have been taken to expedite the projects,” Chakrabarti said.

Every Tuesday, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and the forest and the land acquisition officials will meet in Siliguri to resolve the bottlenecks of the projects. The BRO would send its representatives to Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri district magistrates regularly to pursue the formalities for forest clearance.

“The meeting was to expedite the process by achieving proper co-ordination at all levels,” Chakrabarti’s counterpart Dorji said. He said the BRO’s top priority was to tackle the troublesome spots hit by constant rock falls and sinking zones on NH31A. Once these spots were attended to, the remaining areas would be taken care of, he added.

The Bengal delegation also comprised the inspector-general of police, north Bengal, K.L. Tamta, the Darjeeling superintendent of police, D.P. Singh, and the district magistrates of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, Surendra Gupta and Vandana Yadav.

Representatives from the Union ministry of surface transport and forests also attended the meeting. The Sikkim side included the director-general of police, C.M. Ravindran, the inspector-general of police (law and order), S.D. Negi, principal secretary (home) Jasbir Singh and BRO Project Swastik’s chief engineer Brigadier R.K. Patyal and representatives of the army.

‘Ban’ on vehicles off

The Gorkha Janmukti Vidyarthi Morcha has decided to lift its “ban” on movement of police and government vehicles from tomorrow, reports our Darjeeling correspondent. “We have decided to lift the ban taking into account the Sukna episode. The police and administration have to move around. Moreover, the parent party (Gorkha Janmukti Morcha) has already called for a jail bharo agitation,” said Amrit Yonzone, the vice-president of the Vidyarthi Morcha.

The students had imposed the “ban” on February 5 after a gathering of Youth Morcha supporters was lathicharged. The Morcha members were demanding permission to hold a public meeting in Siliguri. On February 21, a mob demanding the immediate arrest of an alleged murderer, had set on fire the Sukna police outpost.

Sikkim pay hike bill tabled

Salary of the CM to Rs 80,000

FROM THE TELEGRAPH

Gangtok, Feb. 26 (PTI): The Sikkim government today tabled an amendment bill in the Assembly proposing an increase in the pay and perks of the chief minister, his cabinet colleagues, Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

The Sikkim Ministers, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Members of Legislative Assembly (Salaries and Allowances) Amendment Bill, 2010, tabled by parliamentary affairs minister D.N. Takarpa, proposed to increase the salary of the chief minister to Rs 50,000 and an additional sumptuary allowance of Rs 30,000.

The Speaker’s salary has been raised to Rs 45,000 in addition to sumptuary allowance of Rs 25,000, while the ministers and the Deputy Speaker will get Rs 40,000 each and sumptuary allowance of Rs 20,000 each.

The revision of the salaries and allowances has been made after nine years keeping in view the rise in the consumer price index and high inflation, Takarpa said.

The pay hike will cost Rs 1.23 crore per year from the Consolidated Fund of Sikkim. The bill will be discussed in the Assembly tomorrow.

The government has also proposed to increase the pension of ex-legislators from Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000 per month and Rs 8,000 to any member having served in the House for more than five years.

While tabling a separate bill, Takarpa said the government felt that the existing pension was inadequate. The pension of former MLAs was increased last time in 2004.

BUDGET 2010 – Petrol tops Rs 51 & Diesel near Rs 38

Inflation Trigger ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

New Delhi, Feb. 26: Petrol will cost Rs 2.83 more and diesel Rs 2.66 more a litre in Calcutta after Pranab Mukherjee raised customs duty but signalled a temporary burial for a panel’s suggestions for steeper hikes.

In Calcutta, petrol will sell at Rs 51.15 a litre. Diesel will be retailed at pumps at Rs 37.73 a litre. Although the budget proposals have not been passed, the new prices were brought into force from Friday night itself to prevent hoarding.

The hikes stem from a three-fold increase in customs duty on petrol and diesel to 7.5 per cent. Excise duty on non-branded petrol and diesel has also been raised by Re 1 a litre.

“The customs duty was withdrawn when the prices of petroleum reached as high as $122 per barrel. Now it is much softer and there is no reason to continue the same concession. I have not imposed any duty which was not imposed earlier,” Mukherjee said later.

Kaushik Basu, the chief economic adviser, said the fuel price increase would not have much of an impact on inflation. “In the long term, the hike would have a minuscule impact on inflation. We had to reduce the fiscal deficit, which would have a ramification in the long term,” Basu said.

Mukherjee also imposed 5 per cent import duty on crude oil, a move that will impact private refiners like Reliance Industries and Essar Oil.
Today’s hike virtually puts the Kirit Parikh recommendations, which called for higher price increases of Rs 4.94 per litre for petrol and Rs 3.20 a litre for diesel, in the freezer for the time being.

But government sources have suggested that the issue can be revisited when inflation subsides.

BUDGET 2010: Balloon bet – Mukherjee has tried to win hearts but the price prick may puncture the mood

Pranab's Baloon

BY THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU

New Delhi, Feb. 26:From balloon boy to rocket scientist, Pranab Mukherjee made most people happy today with a budget that cut income tax, though mothers with small — or large — children would have flashed sweeter smiles if he had held out hope for cheaper sugar.

The finance minister rolled back stimulus measures announced in the wake of the slowdown by putting excise duty back at 10 per cent across the board and coupled it with higher levies on petroleum products, fanning price worries.

Industry greeted the budget as “positive”, having expected the stimulants to be withdrawn with growth picking up. There was a grumble about the minimum alternate tax, which companies that do not pay a levy on profits have to bear, being raised from 15 to 18 per cent. But the cut in corporate surcharge from

10 to 7.5 per cent brought the grins back. V. Srinivasan, president of the Confederation of Indian Industry, said: “Growth will continue with this budget.”

Although Mukherjee intended the waiver of central excise on “toy balloons” that “are a source of joy to millions of children… to bring a smile to their mothers’ faces”, it was the stock market that whooshed like a rocket.

The Bombay Stock Exchange index — the sensex — shot up by 420 points but ended the day closer to Earth with a gain of 175.35 points or 1.08 per cent over its last close.

Economists experiencing fiscal nightmares for the past year over the government’s ballooning deficit — the gap between income and expenditure — were happy to see the finance minister return to the “path of prudence”.

The fiscal deficit as a percentage of the GDP has narrowed to 6.9 per cent (including oil and fertiliser bonds) in the current year, down from 7.8 per cent in 2008-09. For the coming year the projection is 5.5 per cent.
By giving some away in income tax and taking more by way of excise and customs duty and service tax, the minister expects to collect an additional revenue of Rs 20,500 crore. Mukherjee earned a pat on the back from the Prime Minister for “a job well done”.
The Opposition, however, showed him their combined back by walking out of the House in protest against the higher duties that are raising petrol and diesel prices by over Rs 2.50.

BUDGET 2010 – Seeds of revolution

Heavy Load for "Aam Admi"

FROM THE TELEGRAPH
By G.S. MUDUR AND ANINDYA SENGUPTA

Feb 26: Pranab Mukherjee has proposed a Rs 400-crore plan in the budget to extend the green revolution from the once-arid northwest that is now the country’s grain basket to the underperforming east, including home state Bengal.
Mukherjee said the initiative, which comes four decades after the seeds of the green revolution were sown elsewhere, needed the active involvement of farmers from all six states — Bengal, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and eastern Uttar Pradesh — to succeed.

The finance minister didn’t elaborate but M.S. Swaminathan, the architect of the green revolution in Haryana, Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh, said he thought “it can be done, just as it was in the northwestern states, in five years”.

“I’ve always seen eastern India as a sleeping giant in agriculture,” said the scientist who helped bring high-yielding wheat varieties to the northwest during the late 60s. “We will need five important ingredients to take the green revolution to the east,” he told The Telegraph, pitching for a “soil health card” for every farmer in the east.

A soil card would assess the conditions in each field, determine the nutrient and fertiliser requirements and allow farmers to manage different crops better.

Gujarat has already introduced soil health cards in a bid to increase the efficiency of fertilisers, Swaminathan said.

Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta welcomed the finance minister’s proposal, terming it “a statement of positive intention”. Agriculture minister Naren De said his department intended using the money — as and when it comes — on increasing land productivity and implementing a slew of irrigation schemes.

“For this, both canal irrigation and rain water harvesting will have to be done. A survey by the land department found around 11 lakh small ponds and water bodies spread across the state. We will try to increase their depth by five-six feet so that rainwater can be stored and used for irrigation. If this is done, land productivity will increase and help raise the output of vegetables and paddy in our state. But we have yet to know how much of the Rs 400 crore will come to our state,” De added.

Apart from the promise of a green revolution, the budget held good news for Bengal’s coastal region in the form of a proposal to set up an alternative port facility on Sagar island. The state government had been planning to set up a deep sea port either in East Midnapore or Sagar island.

Schemes for the protection of embankments along the Bhagirathi and Ganga in parts of Murshidabad, Malda and Nadia have been brought under the purview of the centrally-sponsored flood management programme.

Funds have also been earmarked for the Keleghai-Kapaleswari-Baghai basin drainage scheme in West Midnapore and the Kandi master plan irrigation and drainage scheme in Murshidabad.

The agriculture-specific proposals in the budget include a Rs 300-crore plan to increase the productivity of dry-land farming areas through water harvesting and better soil management. The budget has also proposed a Rs 50,000-crore increase in the bank credit target for farmers to Rs 3,75,000 crore.

Swaminathan warned against accepting a suggestion by the finance minister that wastage in storage and the existing agricultural food supply chain could be reduced by opening up retail trade. Mukherjee had said in his budget speech that opening up retail trade could help reduce the difference between farm-gate, wholesale and retail prices.

“A policy to open up retail [for farm products] should not be introduced without a study of the impact of such a move,” Swaminathan said, calling for an “employment impact analysis” to assess the possible fallout of such a policy.

“We should not do anything to create more unemployment,” he said. “Opening retail trade to large companies, whether national or multinational, needs to be taken up only on the basis of an employment analysis impact,” he said, arguing that mini-retail and small-holder farming make up the largest employment enterprise in the country.