GORKHA ADIVASI POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE: Panel to probe Aila funds misuse in hills – Scanner on Morcha, contractors – or all hill contractors, all because Bengal did not get the “Lion’s Share” of the disaster pie ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY VIVEK CHHETRI
Darjeeling, June 15: The DGHC has set up a committee to probe charges of embezzlement of funds provided for development projects in the hills after the devastation caused by Cyclone Aila in May last year.
DGHC administrator B.L. Meena had accused the leaders of the frontal organisations of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha of conniving with contractors awarded the tenders, taking up the projects themselves and then doing sub-standard work across the hills.
Meena had alleged that only 30 to 35 per cent of the Rs 70 crore disbursed by the council had been used to execute the projects. The rest, sources close to him indicated, had been embezzled.
Today, Meena told The Telegraph from Siliguri: “I have formed a committee which has started probing all the projects that were undertaken by the DGHC after the devastation caused by Cyclone Aila.” Meena himself is heading the committee.
DGHC sources said the committee would make a detailed inspection of the projects, assess the costs involved and then submit a report. “This will make it clear if inferior material had been used, whether the work done was shoddy or not and if all the terms and conditions of the contracts had been adhered to,” a source said.
The committee will not have on it any engineers who are working with the council.
“All engineers (on the committee) have been brought from outside the DGHC. Some of the engineers are retired and others are still working (with the state government),” said Meena.
Sources said the idea was to ensure that anyone who had a hand in the irregularities committed was not part of the probe team.
However, the exact number of engineers entrusted with the inspection is not yet known. “We are using the engineers as and when we require. So, a precise figure (of engineers involved in inspection) cannot be said,” the source said.
Asked about alleged involvement of the frontal leaders of the Morcha in the development projects, Meena said: “I do not want to make any comment on this issue. I have already given my statement, there is no point in repeating it.” (How about a copy to the press for analysis of facts vs fiction ?!!)
In April this year, when Meena was asked if funds had been embezzlement while executing the development projects, he had said: “I had better not comment on this…because everybody is aware of what is happening in the hills.”
Expressing dissatisfaction with the quality of work executed by the contractors in the DGHC area, Meena had also said: “In many cases, we have found that organisations like the Gorkha Janmukti Nari Morcha and the Gorkha Janmukti Yuva Morcha are executing the projects (instead of the contractors who had been given charge).”
Meena had also specifically named two projects in Sukna which the Nari Morcha and the Yuva Morcha leaders had allegedly taken over.
The assistant secretary of the Morcha, Binay Tamang, today said: “The Morcha has not been elected to the DGHC. It is Meena who is running it and he is also the signing authority. So he should be held responsible if any irregularities have been committed.”
Earlier, Morcha president Bimal Gurung had refused to get drawn into the controversy. While addressing a public meeting at St Joseph’s grounds on May 30, Gurung had said: “Everything is being blamed on the Morcha. Are we in control of the DGHC? We are not signing the DGHC cheques. Those who are signing the cheques and issuing payment should be held responsible.”
Vacate order to Gorkha squad – why, because it “belongs” to Bengal ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Kalimpong, June 15: Police have told the Gorkhaland Personnel to vacate the seven DGHC properties they have been occupying illegally in the hills in three-four days or risk being evicted forcefully. (By Bengal Police or the CRPF ?!!)
The move came in the wake of FIRs lodged by the acting administrator of the DGHC, B.L. Meena, accusing the GLP of illegally occupying the council’s buildings in Darjeeling, Gorubathan, Deolo, Tribeni, Kafer and Relli.
“The illegal occupants will be given three-four days to vacate these buildings. The legal process has started. We have registered a case under Section 448 (of the IPC). People occupying these properties can be arrested without warrant,” K.L. Tamta, the inspector general of police, north Bengal, told The Telegraph.
Accompanied by Meena, Tamta today visited Tribeni Tourist Lodge, one of the seven properties occupied by the GLP.
“I had lodged the FIRs at Gorubathan, Kalimpong, Rongli-Rongliot and Darjeeling Sadar police stations last Friday, requesting the police to take necessary steps to evict the so-called GLP from these places,” said Meena.
Apart from Tribeni lodge, the other properties are Deolo Tourist Lodge, Gorkha Huts, Kafer Tourist Lodge, Parijat, Dalim Fort and Roy Villa. The GLP was raised by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in 2008. Even Morcha president Bimal Gurung sometimes stays in some of these lodges under the protection of the GLP.
The Morcha has recruited around 4,000-odd boys and girls from the hills and the Dooars for the GLP and pays them a monthly remuneration ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000.
“I have instructed the officers in-charge of the police stations, which have jurisdiction over these properties, to visit the places and record the names and addresses of the people occupying them,” said Tamta.
Meena said it was difficult to say how many GLP cadres were staying in these lodges. “In the past, over 500 cadres used to stay in the Tribeni lodge. Now, the number has perhaps come down to about 60,” he added.
Apart from providing security to Morcha chief Bimal Gurung, the stick-wielding personnel are also seen patrolling the streets in uniform.
The GLP is made up of volunteers raised initially —according to party claims — for crowd management during public programmes. Later, the party had tried to make it function like a parallel police force, checking cars to seize “illegal liquor”. The administration had then announced that the GLP seizures went against the law.
Meena and Tamta visited the Tribeni lodge to see for themselves the existing facilities there. The administration has plans to shift a company of CRPF from Reang on NH31A to Tribeni, 18km from here.
The Morcha warned that forcible eviction of the GLP cadres could lead to law and order problem. “Tamta and Meena will have to shoulder the responsibility if any law and problem arises. We may even take recourse to indefinite strike if they go ahead with their plan,” said Binay Tamang, the assistant secretary of the Morcha.
CM meets governor – to let our people go ?!!
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today called on governor M.K.Narayanan at the Raj Bhavan in Calcutta to discuss the situation in the hills.
Raj Bhavan sources said the governor, who had returned from Darjeeling on June 8 after a month-long stay, had expressed his desire to share his concern over the situation in the hills with the chief minister.
“During the meeting, the governor discussed the Darjeeling situation at length with Bhattacharjee, besides last month’s civic polls,” said a source close to the chief minister. The source added that Bhattacharjee had also told the governor that there was “no violence before and after the polls”.
The meeting that began at 5.30pm lasted for an hour.
Narayanan was in Darjeeling when ABGL president Madan Tamang was murdered on May 21. Tamang had called on the governor and complained to him about the absence of democracy in the hills four days before the assassination. The governor had also visited Delhi a week ago to brief the Centre on the situation in the hills.
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, June 15: Tucked away in the Terai on the border with Nepal, Naxalbari, might be known more as the epicenter of India’s ultra Left movement, but the block has other things to offer in terms of tourism.
The area offers everything that a tourist wants: forests, rivulets, hilly tracts, tea estates and as an added advantage, a glimpse of history. But the residents feel that the authorities are yet to tap the block’s tourism potential.
“Our area is no less attractive than the Dooars. What is needed is a concerted effort as witnessed in the Dooars in the past 10 years or so. The Dooars has marched much ahead of us with the backing of the state government, particularly the forest and tourism departments. Naxalbari can be developed as a tourist circuit, added with some nearby areas like Panighata, Lohagarh and Putung in Kurseong subdivision,” said Ritesh Biswas, a Naxalbari resident.
“Some eateries have come up along NH31C that connects Panitanki on the India-Nepal border with Naxalbari. But more needs to be done to lure tourists to the Terai,” he added.
According to local people, if the state government, in association with stakeholders of tourism, drafts a comprehensive plan and executes it, the Terai can emerge as an ace destination for tourists in north Bengal.
“Making arrangements to visit tea estates, jungle trails or short trips to small hillocks like Panighata and Putung are no big deal,” said Ajoy Das, a businessman. “Moreover, there are several people interested in knowing the history of Naxalite movement that originated here.”
The block is known to be an elephant corridor with the forest stretching till the bank of the Mechi that marks the international boundary with Nepal.
“There are at least 20-25 tea estates on either side of the highway. Like in the Dooars, jungle safaris can be organised in forests like Tukuria, Kalabari and Panighata,” said resident Dinesh Rai.
Another attraction in Naxalbari is the Dhimal community, a tribe living in Dhimalbusty. “Tourists can experience and learn about the Dhimal culture. We have dance troupes and singers who can perform to entertain the visitors,” said Garjan Mallick, a senior member of the community.
While touring Naxalbari, the visitors can make a “foreign trip” also. “They can hire a cab and visit Kakarvitta in Nepal and even move to Dhulbari, famous for foreign-made goods,” said a Naxalbari resident.
Raj Basu, associated with the Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association, said: “The block showcases nature, has an international border and has everything from forests to tea estates to rivers. We feel the residents should moot a proposal for Naxalbari’s development as a tourist hub. From our side, we can definitely help them move further and develop the circuit. State government departments like tourism and forests also have a role to play here.”
HOW TO REACH NAXALBARI
Buses ply on NH31C that passes through Naxalbari and Khoribari and connects Panitanki on Nepal border
Take taxi or autorickshaw to reach Siliguri, 4km away, and then take a bus to Naxalbari
From Bagdogra airport
Taxis ply to Naxalbari, 20km away.
Stadium on lines of ‘English county’ – note: the political timing, with funds earlier withheld, finally moved to action with a parochial, communal political agenda, while nothing for Darjeeling & Dooars ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, June 15: The Bengal Ambuja group is constructing a cricket stadium of “international standard” on a 25-acre plot on the Uttarayon Township premises near here.
“It will be a natural green stadium, and not a concrete junk, with all modern amenities essential for an international cricket stadium,” said Asok Bhattacharya, the state urban development minister.
“Work is in progress and we would like to iterate that it will be set amid lush green surroundings, as seen in the English county and the cricket grounds in New Zealand.”
Deputy mayor of the Siliguri Municipal Corporation Nantu Paul said the decade-old demand of a cricket stadium of international standard was raised in a meeting with Bhattacharya at the Siliguri Mahakuma Krira Parishad office on June 12. “He listened to us and said work has been started by Calcutta-based realtor Bengal Ambuja on the Uttarayon premises.”
Currently, Siliguri’s Kanchenjungha Stadium with a capacity of 35,000 is used both for football and cricket matches along with other sports like athletics. However, except for a few Ranji Trophy and Deodhar Trophy matches, Siliguri has not hosted any international games.
“Last week, Biswarup Dey, the joint secretary of the Cricket Association of Bengal, visited Kanchenjungha and told us that it lacks the infrastructure to host big cricket events,” said Paul, who is also the SMKP secretary. “This prompted us to take up the issue with the minister, who then confirmed the construction of the new stadium.”
The SMKP is focusing on development of infrastructure at Kanchenjungha Stadium as well. “Floodlights will be installed at the stadium soon as the state finance department sanctions Rs 3.50 crore. The PWD will do the work,” Bhattacharya said. “Tenders will be invited shortly by the department.”
Lauding the SMKP’s efforts, Paul said: “It (setting up floodlights) was a longstanding demand. Once the lights are installed, we will have the opportunity to organise football matches and other events at night and the sports-lovers of the town can enjoy the games in the evening.”
Fire probe ordered – quick action at last, but no hospitals yet for the hill towns and Dooars – everything focused on just Siliguri, wonder why ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, June 15: The health minister today ordered a probe into the fire that destroyed the emergency OT of the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital.
Surjya Kanta Mishra, who was in Jalpaiguri today, said the PWD had been told to start repairing the damaged OT. “We want it to be restored as early as possible and have given necessary instructions to the PWD,” the health minister said. “A probe has been ordered by our department and accordingly NBMCH authorities have been engaged to collect information on what led to the fire and the damage.”
Fire officials said a magisterial inquiry would begin soon. “Possibly a deputy magistrate will be asked to probe the matter. He will be assisted by a fire official and an NBMCH representative,” said an official of the fire department.
The fire had started from the AC of the OT on Sunday, damaging it completely. Thirty patients from the two adjoining male and female casualty wards had to be shifted in a hurry. The blaze has put pressure on the main operation theatre of the hospital, which now may have to deal with almost 30 surgeries a day.
AND JUST BELOW DARJEELING PLAINS
Protest over road project – Land acquisition stalled – development, Bengal style ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Malda, June 15: The widening of NH34 in Malda district has been stopped after villagers protested the acquisition of land by the National Highways Authority of India.
Hundreds of villagers from Kaliachak led by district Congress president and MP from Malda South Abu Hashem Khan Chowdhury today demonstrated at the district collectorate during a meeting between the NHAI project director and the district land and land reforms officer.
The protesters were objecting to the “manner” in which the NHAI was trying to acquire land on a 1.5-km stretch in Sujapur, 1.8-km in Jadupur and 1.2-km in Jalalpur to widen the highway that connects Calcutta with north Bengal. About 600 families living on the 4.5-km stretch in the three areas will be affected if land is acquired, a villager claimed.
Following the protest, today’s meeting was postponed to June 23. It was decided that a team of the NHAI officials and people’s representatives will visit the areas on that day.
Abu Hashem said the NHAI was acquiring 60 metres along the existing highway to convert it into a four-lane road. “We want them to acquire 57 metres instead. Otherwise, several mosques, houses and shops will have to be demolished.”
Md Esharuddin, a mango grower and a resident of Sujapur, dubbed the compensation “inadequate”. “I had bought eight cottahs of land by the side of the road for Rs 2.40 lakh per cottah. But the NHAI has been offering Rs 53,000 per cottah now. This is inadequate,” he said.
Project director of the NHAI Ram Narayan Chowdhury could not offer any solution. “The Union cabinet has decided to widen 251km (including 72km in the district) stretch of the highway from Krishnagar to Malda. But the villagers are obstructing the acquisition. We will inform the Centre,” Chowdhury said. On the compensation package, he said the decision had been taken jointly by the state government and the Centre.