FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Darjeeling, May 2: The Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM) has used its May Day rally to announce the decision to sever its ties with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and to send a message across the hills that only it can stand up to Bimal Gurung’s party.
Nearly 4,000 workers of the CPRM took out a rally in Darjeeling yesterday and unveiled its voluntary force, the Swyam Sevak Bahini, (trained by ?!!) which is being seen as a challenge to the Morcha’s Gorkhaland Personnel (GLP).
“We had been unconditionally supporting the Morcha for the past three years to attain Gorkhaland but they only tried to derail our agitation and attack our members. Bimal is acting as if he is the son-in-law of the state government. Today, we announce our decision to sever all ties with them (Morcha),” said R.B. Rai, the general secretary of the CPRM.
The rally started from the Darjeeling railway station around 11.30am, an hour after the Morcha-affiliated Janmukti United Labour Welfare Organisation had taken out its May Day procession from the same spot. Although members of the GLP and the Bahini were on the streets to control the rallies, there was no confrontation by either side.
Sources in the CPRM said the party was drawing a pool of about 1,000 people for the Bahini, though only 200 of them, wearing red caps, had been brought here yesterday. The party, however, remained tight-lipped about the training and other activities of the Bahini. (wonder why, Bengal’s hand or no hand ?!!)
While the supporters of the Morcha went up to Chowrastha to attend the public meeting addressed by the general secretary, Roshan Giri, the CPRM cadres assembled at Chowk Bazar.
Rai, who is also a former Darjeeling MP, surprised many when he openly came out against the Morcha. In the past, the CPRM had drawn flak from different quarters for its soft approach towards the predominant party in the hills, whether it was the GNLF or the Morcha. Rai had even supported the Sixth Schedule status mooted by the GNLF but later provided unconditional support to the Morcha. (Habit of Betrayal ?!!)
But the picture was different yesterday. “We are not promising Gorkhaland before next May Day. However, people must support us,” said Rai, ridiculing Gurung’s earlier statement that he would achieve the separate state by March 10, 2010.
“They seem to have forgotten Gorkhaland and are now settling for an interim set-up. Gurung is seen carrying lakhs of rupees while attending public meetings and is throwing money everywhere. Agitation is not about money and the CPRM has no funds,” said Rai. (Back to Ghising’s DGHC with no Siliguri or Dooars ?!!)
The CPRM also demanded the resignation of Darjeeling MP Jaswant Singh. “We had also supported Jaswant Singh but now we want his resignation,” said Rai. (So, who will open parliamentary doors in Delhi ?!!)
The CPRM’s May Day meeting was attended by leaders of all parties, including the ABGL, BJP, Sikkim National Front and the Gorkha Rastriya Congress. (What about CPIM, TMC, GNLF & Congress ?!!)
Observers believe the May Day celebrations gave the CPRM an opportunity to show that it was the sole force that could take on the Morcha in the hills. (Just for contracts ?!!)
The ABGL president, Madan Tamang, said from the very beginning, he had no faith in Gurung, while Dawa Sherpa, the state secretary of the BJP, accused the Morcha of forgetting the issue of Gorkhaland.
At the Morcha’s May Day meeting, Roshan Giri declared that the party would never abandon the Gorkhaland agitation and accused “the opposition of hatching a conspiracy to defame the Morcha”.
Case, dharna to stop college shift – Bengal continues dirty politics ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Kalimpong, May 2: The protest against the shifting of the Kalimpong People’s (Janata) College is set to intensify with different social organisations threatening to take the matter to court and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha deciding to stage a dharna here from tomorrow.
The Gorkha Dukhi Niwarak Sanmelan, the Citizens’ Rights Forum of Kalimpong and assorted community associations have come together to form a pressure group called the Janata College Bachao Committee.
The committee in separate memoranda submitted to the subdivisional and district administration has threatened to file a writ petition in Calcutta High Court to stop the shifting of the college from here to Siliguri.
“If the administration continues to ignore our demand, we will file a writ petition in the high court. The alibi of administrative turmoil offered by the directorate of library services for the shifting of the college does not hold much water since other schools and colleges have been functioning normally in the hills all this while,” said Sonam Bhutia, the co-ordinator of the committee.
A letter sent by the director of library services to the secretary of the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad and the district library officer, Jalpaiguri, reads: “The government has decided that one training course may be organised at additional district library, Siliguri instead of Kalimpong People’s (Janata) College, due to present administrative turmoil in Darjeeling.” (or in Bengal ?!!)
Even though the opening paragraph talks only about one course (library science), the subsequent content of the letter states that “the courses” may be organised in Siliguri “until and unless the situation of DGHC area of Darjeeling becomes normal.” (Siliguri presumed to be ‘out of Darjeeling District’ ?!!)
Sources said four frontal organisations of the Morcha — Janmukti Secondary Teachers’ Organisation, Gorkha Primary Teachers’ Organisation, Janmukti Karmachari Sangathan and the Janmukti Asthai Karmachari Sangathan — have decided to stage a joint dharna in front of the subdivisional office here from 11am tomorrow.
“We will review the development everyday and then decide on the next day’s programme,” said a source.
The Morcha has already enforced a shutdown and organised rallies to protest the shifting of the college.
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Alipurduar, May 2: Supporters of the Citu-affiliated Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union and those of the Progressive Tea Workers Union clashed in a garden here this morning, allegedly after a section of workers attended a meeting called by the recently formed labour union of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad.
Ten persons were injured, two of them seriously, in the violence.
Parishad members blocked NH31 near Malbazar for over four hours till around 12.30pm, demanding the arrest of those who assaulted their members in Tunbari tea garden, 115km from here. Police said trouble had been brewing since yesterday when the Tunbari workers attended a Parishad meeting. However, senior leaders from both sides had intervened and the matter was settled.
This morning, fresh trouble broke out at 7.30 when Citu members armed with lathis allegedly attacked a group of Parishad supporters. The Parishad filed an FIR against 15 Citu supporters accusing them of assault.
Tej Kumar Toppo, the general secretary of the Parishad, said the Tunbari workers were being exploited by sellers of country liquor.
“We cracked down on them. Most of the workers’ wages went into paying off liquor dues. We had stopped this to a large extent and yesterday a large number of garden workers attended a meeting organised by us at the Saili tea garden,” Toppo said. He avoided comments when asked if Citu, the CPM’s labour wing, was involved in the liquor racket.
Toppo alleged that Citu workers beat up the Parishad supporters after they returned from the meeting. Kismat Oraon and Parameswar Oraon have been referred to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital from the Malbazar subdivisional hospital.
“The Citu support base has been severely eroded and they are trying to terrorise the workers,” Toppo alleged.
Usha Rautia, a member of the Citu’s Jalpaiguri district committee, said it was the Parishad that was involved in the violence.
The SDPO of Malbazar, Nikita Phaning, said a force was patrolling the garden. “Ten people were injured.”
Border market blaze destroys 22 shops – Bhutan distressed ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Jaigaon (Alipurduar) May 2: Six fire engines fought for five hours early this morning to bring a market blaze under control, but not before 22 shops had been razed to the ground. Till noon, smoke was emanating from the burnt shops whose owners pegged the loss at Rs 10 core.
A team from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Calcutta is coming to investigate the cause of the fire that started half an hour after midnight, a police officer in Jaigaon said.
The people of Jaigaon have demanded a fire station in the area where the population is nearly 2 lakh.
Md Taher, a worker at a construction site adjacent to the Jaigaon Super Market near the Bhutan border, had first spotted smoke coming out from a shop that sold bags. He alerted those who were sleeping in their shops.
Bhutan to the Rescue – Bengal asleep, as usual – no Rapid Action Force, no helicopters ?!!
A fire engine from Phuentsholling in Bhutan — 500 metres from the market — was the first to arrive in 15 minutes followed by fire tenders from Hasimara and Alipurduar, 57km away.
Bhutan allowed all the fire engines to fill up from its reservoirs in Phuentsholling. Otherwise, the market would have been burnt completely as there are no waterbodies within 20km.
One fire engine arrived at noon (from ?!!) to spray water on the ashes giving out smoke.
Ramprit Sha, who was sleeping inside a garment shop adjacent to the bag shop, said Taher’s shouts had woken him up. “A few minutes after I came out of my shop, the roof of the bag shop blew off and then the fire spread very fast.”
Jhantu Jaiswal, the president of the Jaigaon Merchants’ Association, said as soon as news of the fire reached him, he had contacted the electricity office asking them to cut off the power supply to the market that had more than 500 shops.
“But nobody arrived. We had no option but to do it ourselves. Had the wind fanning the flames not stopped and the two pucca buildings not been there, the flames would have reduced the market to ashes. As it now stands, the loss is not less than Rs 10 crore as the shops belonged to wholesalers. None of the shops had any fire insurance. Jaigaon has a population of nearly 2 lakh but there are no fire stations. We told Debasish Sen, the principal secretary in the municipal affairs department during his recent visit to Jaigaon, to set up a fire station here because the nearest one (in Hasimara) is 24km away.”
Jaiswal recollected the fire in 1987 when all 522 shops in the market were gutted. “Foam had been sprayed from the helicopter but all the shops were burnt.”
Pradeep Sarkar, the officer in charge of Alipurduar fire station, said had Bhutan not provided with a continuous supply of water, there would have been more problems. “Preliminary investigation reveals that negligence was the cause of the fire,” said Sarkar hinting at faulty electricity lines and appliances.
Litan Ghosh, the owner of six shops — all of them were burnt — said his six-member family depended on the shops and he had no other sources of income.
Job scheme blow to BRO labour flow – Centre bogged in a dilemma ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY BIJOY GURUNG
Gangtok, May 2: At a time when the Centre is pumping in nearly Rs 1,200 crore to improve the road infrastructure along the India-China border in Sikkim, the implementing agency is facing labour shortage because of another central project, the NREGA.
So much is the shortage that Border Roads Organisation officials here are apprehending that the strategically important road projects may get delayed.
Project Swastik of the BRO, which looks after the highways of the state, has three widening projects at hand — 180km-long North Sikkim Highway (Rs 600 crore), 66km-long Gangtok-Nathu-la road (Rs 495 crore) and 96km-long NH31A (Rs 73.9 crore for the 41km-stretch in Sikkim, while the survey has not been completed on the Bengal side). The first two projects are scheduled to be completed by 2015.
Besides local people, the BRO relies heavily on migrant population from Jharkhand, Orissa and parts of north Bengal for its labour force working in the high-altitude projects.
However, according to the Project Swastik officials, the migrant labour component has dried up following the implementation of the central job scheme under the NREGA. Currently, the organisation is grappling with 20-25 per cent shortage of labourers in Sikkim. They are also not getting workers from Nepal in the expected number at this juncture.
The BRO engages around 3,000 workers a day on an average for its projects in Sikkim.
“The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has done well but the labour component has gone down because of the scheme. It has become a major problem across the country,” a BRO official said. “As a result, many labourers have stopped coming to Sikkim also. We don’t get our labour resources.”
The BRO official also said the hydel power projects under construction in North Sikkim have also wooed maximum labourers by offering better remuneration.
Sources said the BRO has sufficient machinery to overcome a percentage of labour shortage. “We have machines but labourers are also required for a host of manual work,” an official said expressing fears that the road widening projects may get delayed.
The state rural development department has, however, offered a different view on the national problem of labour crisis.
“The central scheme has brought an alternative opportunity of employment to the labourers who have now the capacity to bargain and negotiate. Labour force is available if you are only willing to give them a better package than the scheme offers. Employing labourers at low prices is not possible now,” said Sandeep Tambe, the additional secretary of the department. The scheme is like a safety net that provides a minimum of Rs 100 a day to a labourer.
Speaking in general on the labour shortage in the country, Tambe said as more semi-skilled and skilled labourers were required for mega construction projects, one should probably look at the aspect of using high-tech machinery to replace the labour force.
The official admitted that the labour market has totally changed because of the implementation of the central scheme. Earlier, opportunity was not available in villages, so men used to migrate to far away places, leaving their families behind.
“The NREGA has provided the opportunity and right to get employment in villages now, giving the rural people an option to stay at home and earn money rather than migrating to urban areas. So we need to go for more mechanised ways of construction, so that manual labour is required less in these mega projects,” said Tambe.
(And, employment from the storm devastated areas of the Siliguri Corridor and the Maoist belt of Bengal or expensive, specialised mechanisation training ?!!)