GORKHA ADIVASI POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS: Gurung confident of successful talks – Morcha refuses to discuss strikes as ‘government will play on announcement’ – any more excuses left for Bengal and Asok (sic*) ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY VIVEK CHHETRI
Kurseong, July 20: Bimal Gurung today insisted that a “successful” tripartite discussion would be held as scheduled on July 24 despite the state government conveying its reservations about the meeting to the Centre.
The hills, however, are still in a state of uncertainty as derailment of the meeting could lead to a spate of strikes that the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had already announced.
Playing his cards close to his chest, Morcha president Gurung refrained from announcing any decision on the strikes, which he had threatened to call from July 25 and will culminate with a 40-day shutdown from the first week of August.
“I will not say anything about the agitation now, as the government will play on the announcement,” said Gurung, while addressing a public meeting at Kurseong that was virtually shut today. Even the schools were closed. Local people said posters had appeared in town saying all teachers should attend the meeting.
Gurung said the meeting would not only be held but “would be a success also. We will send a big delegation to the meeting this time”.
“There is peace in the hills and the Centre must not derail talks because of the letter from Bengal,” said Gurung. “The talks will take place whether the Bengal government or other political parties write to the Centre or not.”
Such was his confidence that Gurung even said one of the items on the talks agenda — apart from statehood — would be to press for the release of Chattrey Subba and his aides, who have been in jails since 2001 for an alleged attempt on GNLF president Subash Ghisingh’s life.
“If Chattrey Subba is guilty, he should be punished but if he is innocent, why has he been languishing in jail for the past 10 years? The Bengal government scuttles Gorkhaland voices by sending them to jail,” he alleged.
Launching an attack (verbal ?!!) on the rival camps, Gurung said: “If they want to attend the meeting, they can request us. We will include them in the delegation. If they want to become the next MLAs from the hills they can even write to me and we will ensure their victory but they should not derail our movement,” said Gurung on a sarcastic note.
Gurung even dared the government to arrest him. “If they have any records of phone conversation where I have categorically instructed people to kill Madan Tamang, then they should come up with the proof after which they can arrest me. If I am a murderer, I will not tell my supporters to agitate for my release. I have always believed in a democratic agitation,” said Gurung.
Morcha assistant secretary Binay Tamang alleged that the state urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya had formed the Democratic Front along with ABGL chief Madan Tamang and the party’s working president Dawa Sherpa.
“On May 3, Asok Bhattacharya went to Sikkim suddenly (hinting that he had allegedly held a meeting with chief minister Pawan Chamling) and returned to Siliguri to hold talks with Madan Tamang. Later Bhattacharya also held parleys with Dawa Sherpa and with R.B. Rai of the CPRM in Siliguri. The investigators should also probe these meetings,” said Tamang.
Tripartite talks – postponement request letter not to cut much ice at the Centre ?!!
From the Statesman
KOLKATA/KURSEONG, 20 JULY: The chief minister’s letter to the Union home minister over postponement of the tripartite meeting has not cut much ice with the Centre.
The chief secretary, Mr Ardhendu Sen today said that the tripartite meeting will be held on 24 July as announced earlier and the urban development minister, Mr Asok Bhattacharya and health minister, Mr Suryakanta Mishra along with the state home secretary are expected to attend the meeting as state representative.
However, Mr Bhattacharya said: “I have heard that the Centre is insisting that the tripartite meeting should be held on the announced date but I can say this much that I am not going to attend the meeting under any circumstances.”
The state government had taken the stand that the situation in the Hills is not conducive to holding tripartite talks.
Meanwhile, GJMM president Mr Bimal Gurung said at a rally in Kurseong that the tripartite dialogue would be held as scheduled on 24 July. SNS
Asok blasts Centre over hill meeting – classic question of tail wagging the dog syndrome, no idea of Gorkha Adivasi consensus or sentiments ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, July 20: The Centre has “ignored” the sentiments of the hills by convening tripartite talks involving the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya today said, a day after the state government wrote to Delhi to defer the meeting.
Bhattacharya, who had represented the state government in the last round of political-level talks, said he would not be able (or willing ?!!) to attend the tripartite meeting on July 24, the date announced by Delhi for the parleys, as he had to attend the party’s state committee meeting that day. (sorry excuses ?!!)
“By announcing the date of the next round of tripartite meeting with the Morcha on July 24, the central government has ignored the sentiment of the people of the hills. Moreover, the Centre did not bother to consult the state government or other political parties with a presence in Darjeeling,” Bhattacharya said at a media conference here. “Before finalising any date, the central government should have considered the fact that the Morcha has lost its support in the hills and no longer enjoyed the absolute right to decide the future of the hills. Keeping this in mind, the Centre should have called all other political parties and organisations of Darjeeling to the meeting,” he said.
Such announcement will only encourage the Morcha leaders, who have created an environment of terror in the hills by violating law and order, to resort to many more unlawful activities, the CPM MLA from Siliguri alleged.
In Writers’ Buildings, chief secretary Ardhendu Sen said the home secretary would attend the talks on July 24.
When pointed out that the discussions are supposed to be at the political-level and the presence of ministers is a must, Sen said health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra or minister for hill affairs Asok Bhattacharya would take part in the talks.
The chief secretary pleaded ignorance about reports that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had written to Union home minister P. Chidambaram to defer the talks. “I have no idea about such a letter,” Sen said.
According to a source in the chief minister’s secretariat, such a letter was sent but the state government doesn’t want to make it public to pre-empt the Morcha from misleading the hill people that the administration is averse to dialogues. (but it vehemently is ?!!)
Bhattacharya said he was not aware what the state government’s stand would be if the meeting was held. “I cannot say whether representatives from the state will attend the meeting if the Centre goes ahead with it,” he said. “All I can say is that I won’t be able to attend the meeting as I have to attend our party’s state committee meeting the same day.”
The ball is now in the Centre’s court and it is for Delhi to decide, the minister said on whether the Union government would pay heed to the state’s request.
The CPM MLA took a dig at Congress and Trinamul Congress leaders for remaining “silent” over other hill outfits not participating in the talks. “When leaders from different political parties are vocal on the subject, it is unfortunate that Congress and Trinamul leaders are silent,” Bhattacharya said.
Rival unions join hands for tea fight – letting the wider truth be finally revealed ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, July 20: Trade union leaders from the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad today met their counterparts from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and agreed to carry out a joint movement in the interests of tea workers, much to the chagrin of the tribal state committee top brass.
“We had invited all tea trade unions but only three, including the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union of the Morcha, attended today’s meeting,” said Sukra Munda, the chairman of the Parishad-affiliated Progressive Tea Workers’ Union. “Elaborate discussions were held and finally we agreed to form a joint committee. We will sit again on August 2.”
Today’s meeting came 10 days after regional leaders of the Parishad held parleys with the Morcha at Gorubathan in Kalimpong. The meeting had been disapproved by the tribal state leaders who had iterated that they would not join hands with the hill party.
On the meeting held at Pradhannagar here, Suraj Subba, the general secretary of the Morcha union, said: “The PTWU leaders proposed a joint committee which we agreed to. But we need to discuss it further, so another meeting has been fixed next month.”
“We want to form a separate platform with the PTWU and other trade unions. Let the apex bodies like the Defence Committee of Plantation Workers’ Rights or the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers continue their movement,” Subba said.
Parishad state president Birsa Tirkey, however, ruled out a joint movement with the Morcha union. “Theirs’ is a political party and we are a social organisation. Our stand of not joining hands with the Morcha is applicable for our trade union also,” he said.
Leaders of most of the trade unions said they had not received any invitation for today’s meeting. “We had not received any invitation letter,” said Samir Roy, the DCPWR convener. Aloke Chakraborty of the intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers echoed him.
Chitta Dey, the CCTPW convener, said he had received the letter. “But I had to attend a meeting at the assistant labour commissioner’s office in Birpara and so I could not make it.”
Cashew without cash yield – the classic incompetence & mismanagement of Bengal ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Balurghat, July 20: Ten years ago, the state government had decided to replicate a piece of Digha’s hinterland in the Tapan block by planting cashew nut trees that are used to dry spells of weather.
However, down the line, the government seems to have abandoned the trees planted on about 12-acres of arid land in Malancha gram panchayat. The cashew fruits are looted each year by local youths and children, causing nuts worth lakhs of rupees to go to waste without being processed.
The trees were planted on the two-pronged idea of generating employment and making the area green.
The chief agricultural officer of South Dinajpur, Lakshmikanta Mardi, and divisional forest officer Apurba Sen are not sure about the status of the project, but the trees continue to flourish with whatever little rainfall the area receives.
Both the officials said they did not know exactly which department had launched the project.
“The initiative was a success but we do not know whether it was taken up by us. I will speak to the forest department so that cashew plantations can be developed in Tapan, where the average annual rainfall is only 16mm,” said Mardi.
On the other hand, Sen said such a project should not be allowed to fail. “I will make enquiries to know whether it was a forest department initiative or not. However, I shall try and not let such a successful project to go to seed,” he said.
The average rainfall in Bengal a year is 160mm and only Digha is known to grow the cashew nut traditionally in the state.
According to Tuhin Shubhra Mondol, a teacher of geography and an environmentalist, the project was a glaring example of lack of seriousness on the part of the government. “This was a project that would have helped the arid region of Tapan a lot. The idea was good since the area is arid and is suitable for cashew cultivation. The project was a success as the trees are still thriving,” said Mondol.
He said since there was very low rainfall in the panchayat and the farmers were using submersible pumps to draw water, the ground water levels had also fallen.
“If people had been encouraged to take up the cultivation of cashew nut trees, the environment would have been saved and the entire block would have got the much-needed green cover. Also, the people would have increased their incomes by cultivating the cashew nut that fetches high prices in the market,” said Mondol.
Local people said the use of pumps in the area had caused a shortage of drinking water.
“The authorities raid the areas sometimes and seize pumps being operated illegally by hooking power. But they go back to these illegal activities when the administration looks the other way,” said a resident of Patharghata in the Malancha gram panchayat.
Staff crunch prompts drug misuse – the after effects of long neglect ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Balurghat, July 20: The acute shortage of staff at the only drug control office here has prompted medicine dealers in South and North Dinajpur districts to resort to unfair means.
The drug control office in Balurghat monitors nearly 2,000 pharmacies in both the districts. Even though West Dinajpur had been bifurcated into two districts in 1992, no separate drug control office had been set up for North Dinajpur.
To make matters worse, the post of the deputy director of drug control has been lying vacant for more than 10 years, so has been one of the posts of three inspectors. As a result, the lone clerical employee and two Group D staff members have been calling the shots at the drug at the Balurghat office.
On the other hand, the number of medicine shops has doubled during the past one decade. According to sources, 1,847 licensed medicine shops exist in the two districts at present.
But in the absence of a strict mechanism like checking the quality and sample of drugs sold in the market, a number of unlicensed medicine shops have been mushrooming in the districts.
Local people alleged that the drug control office hardly conducted the mandatory inspection every six months on the registered medicine shops to judge the quality of medicines, not to speak of the mushrooming of unlicensed shops.
“Even the grocery stores in the rural areas sell medicines. The quacks also take advantage of the situation,” said Debasis Sen, a primary teacher of Buniadpur. “The administration should take strong step against it.”
To protest the administration’s lackadaisical attitude, the North Dinajpur unit of the Bengal Chemists’ and Druggists’ Association had gheraoed the drug control office at Balurghat in the beginning of the year. The protesters had demanded a separate office at Raiganj for North Dinajpur.
Secretary of the association’s South Dinajpur unit Ramendra Narayan Roy said the business of the genuine and licensed medicine shop owners had been suffering because of the unscrupulous dealers who had been running shops without license.
Roy alleged that no steps had been taken against unlicensed dealers despite repeated complaints lodged with the drug control office here.
“Since there is no scope for punishment, a section of dishonest traders deal in spurious drugs,” Roy alleged.
Trinamul Congress leader Debasish Majumder wondered if the state health department was at all serious about controlling the quality of medicines in the two districts.
“The health department should fill up the vacant posts at the drug control office immediately. Besides, a separate drug control office should be opened at Raiganj,” Majumder said.
Assistant director of the drug control office Aloke Ghosh Pal admitted that inspections were seldom done as they were running acute shortage of staff.
Ghosh Pal, however, said a move was on to open an office at Raiganj.
Storm-struck blocks suffer funds shortage – not at all surprising under erstwhile Bengal ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Raiganj, July 20: The district administration has received less than a third of funds required to repair and rebuild houses damaged in a storm, three months after half a dozen ministers, the governor, and disaster management officials visited the affected sites.
The administration had demanded Rs 103 crore, against which they received Rs 30 crore from the state government two weeks ago.
The devastating cyclone-like storm on April 13 had claimed 42 lives in Raiganj, Karandighi, Goalpokhor and Hemtabad blocks of North Dinajpur district.
It had flattened 93,621 houses, and damaged another 96,710 partially. The storm had also destroyed standing crops on 15,365 hectares.
“We are in a fix. We do not know how we shall disburse the money among the affected villagers,” said Sunil Dandapat, the district magistrate.
According to him, the administration had demanded Rs 103 crore. But the state government has sent only Rs 30 crore.
Dandapat said with the amount they have received, it was difficult to give the block development officers (BDOs) any guidelines on how to distribute it among the villagers .
Dandapat said he has asked the BDOs of the nine affected blocks to discuss the matter with the panchayat samities concerned and disburse the funds on a priority basis.
“We are not sure when the rest of the money will reach us. We have made a fresh appeal to the government to send us the balance amount at the earliest,” he said.
A team of six ministers from north Bengal — Srikumar Mukherjee, Biswanath Chowdhury, Narayan Biswas, Paresh Adhikari, Murtaza Hussain and Anarul Haque — had visited the affected blocks following the storm and supervised the relief and rescue operations.
Governor M.K. Narayanan had also visited the storm-hit areas on April 27. Later, disaster management officials from Delhi had toured the affected blocks.
Asked about the problems of disbursal, none of the BDOs were willing to talk. The relief karmadhaksha of Karandighi panchayat samiti Karuna Dasgupta, however, admitted that they were facing “some problems”. But the official said she expected the remaining amount to reach the district headquarters soon.
Blockades spur ‘action force’ plan – Asok (*sic), blame that on the Morcha too, no CRPF deployment here ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Islampur, July 20: Frequent blockades of the two national highways passing through this North Dinajpur town have prompted the district administration to think of raising an “action force” to tackle such forms of protest.
Political parties had assured at a meeting convened by the local administration two weeks ago that they would never disrupt traffic on NH31 and NH34.
But police said there had been five prolonged blockades on the highways in the past week, causing tremendous harassment to passengers of long-distance buses and daily commuters.
“There is not enough force at the disposal to clear the roads occupied by the squatters. However, we are in talks with the district administration and are seriously considering raising an action force to keep blockades at bay,” said Milon Kanti Das, the superintendent of police of North Dinajpur.
Traffic is disrupted on the highways on issues like power cuts, road accidents and compensation for an electrocuted buffalo.
While NH31 links north Bengal to the Northeast, NH34 connects south and north Bengal with Bihar and other parts of north India.
Utpal Dey, a resident of Calcutta and an employee of a private firm, said he had to travel regularly to towns like Malda, Raiganj and Siliguri in north Bengal for work. “I face frequent blockades in Islampur and we are held up for hours. Even after the blockades are lifted, it takes a lot of time for the traffic to normalise. I could have understood things better if demonstrations and blockades had been announced in advance. But these spontaneous actions should be avoided.”
The business community, too, has complained about losses they incur because of protests by political parties, mass organisations and local people.
The spokesperson for the Islampur Merchants’ Association, Damodar Agarwal, said the disruptions often caused the trucks laden with merchandise to stop for long periods, jeopardising delivery schedules and deadlines.
“How long will this go on? The traders who deal in perishable items like vegetables and fish are the worst sufferers,” said Agarwal. He added that blocking national highways was a non-bailable offence under the national highway act.
The Islampur subdivisional officer, on his part, has asked the district administration to intervene and find a solution to the disruptions.“We had sat with all the political parties recently; they had given us an assurance that they would leave the highways out of their protests. I have communicated the problem to the district administration and have asked for special measures to keep traffic flowing,” said Partha Ghosh.
The Congress and the CPM, however, blamed each other for the chaos on the highways.
“Blocking highways is not correct and such practices should be avoided on humanitarian grounds. It is the CPM that started this trend. It is up to the police and the administration to wake up,” said Kanhaialal Agarwal, the Congress chairperson of the Islampur municipality.
The CPM’s Islampur zonal committee secretary, Swapan Guha Neogy, accused the Congress of reneging on the assurances given at the all-party meeting. “The Congress has gone back on the promises given at the meeting. We have told our cadres not to block the highways,” he said.
Protest forum for July 24 – the season for mushrooming forums and anti-GJM parties, all united but without consensus nor understanding of mass sentiments ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, July 20: Several outfits from the plains and the hills have formed a common platform to oppose the tripartite talks and request Delhi to defer it.
Two Naxalite outfits, the CPRM, the ABGL, the SUCI(C), the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh, the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Gorkhali Adivasi Welfare Samiti, Sikkim Darjeeling Ekikaran Mancha and a few other outfits are part of the forum that is yet to be named. (*?!!)
“We might differ on issues like Gorkhaland or separate statehood but have come together since we have a consensus on some basic issues related to the hills,” said Abhijit Majumdar, the Darjeeling district secretary of the CPI-ML (Liberation).
“All of us want the Centre to postpone the tripartite talks immediately. We demand arrest of all the culprits responsible for the murder of ABGL chief Madan Tamang and the state government to take concrete measures to restore democracy and peace in the Darjeeling hills.”
This is the second anti-Morcha forum in Darjeeling district, the other one being the Democratic Front in the hills. Some of the front constituents like the ABGL are also members of the new forum.
“We have heard that the state government has written to the Union home minister, asking him to postpone the meeting. In Siliguri, the urban development minister has harsh words against the Morcha,” said Taramoni Rai, the spokesperson for the CPRM.
“However, as no step has been taken against the accused including Morcha president Bimal Gurung who have been named in the FIR, we feel the state has a tacit understanding with the party. The so-called letters and harsh statements in front of the media are mere lip service.”
The forum, CPIM(L) leaders said, has already sent memorandums to the Prime Minister, Union home minister, chief minister and the governor, mentioning the demands. “Tomorrow, a delegation comprising leaders from all these parties will meet the district magistrate at his office in Darjeeling and submit another memorandum to him,” said Majumdar.
“On July 23, we will organise a public meeting at Hashmi Chowk in Siliguri and on August 14, there will be a general convention in Siliguri on these issues. Similar conventions would be held in Darjeeling and Dooars but we are yet to fix the dates. We are also keeping a watch on hills and on the moves of the state and Centre. Accordingly, we will plan our programmes.”