GORKHA ADIVASI POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS: Strike put off after Delhi talks gesture – Blame state if meet fails: Morcha – so Bengal ready to take all blame just to derail talks, yet again, Statesmanship an alien concept ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Darjeeling, July 22: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has deferred its shutdown starting tomorrow, the gesture a result of party president Bimal Gurung’s hope that the July 24 tripartite meeting will be fruitful.
Strikes have also been withdrawn from all government offices, except the DGHC, whose administrator B.L. Meena has in recent times come down heavily on the Morcha by filing FIRs against its lathi-wielding squad of volunteers for occupying the council’s tourist resorts.
At a public meeting attended by thousands of people at Darjeeling Motor Stand, the Morcha president painted the Centre a Good Samaritan and vilified the Bengal government. “The Centre has thought good for us and I am confident that something positive will come out of the talks. The fruits (of the meeting) should be good. If the talks turn out to be a failure, the state government must be held responsible and its results will be evident in August (hinting at a renewed agitation). For now, the strike in the hills has been deferred,” said Gurung.
Announcing the decision to lift the strikes in government offices, he said: “The DGHC will, however, remain closed. We will open the offices only to disburse salaries at the end of the month.”
Speculation is rife on the success of the meeting, as Gurung told the media: “Another delegation will leave for Delhi tomorrow.” Asked if he would be in the team, he said: “I might go.” During the previous five rounds of tripartite talks involving the Centre, the state and the Morcha, Gurung had not been part of the delegation.
The Morcha has already sent a 12-member team led by party general secretary Roshan Giri to Delhi for the meeting. “The final delegation will include around 16-17 people,” Gurung said.
Even though the Morcha chief said the talks would be on “Gorkhaland”, he did not rule out discussions on other issues as well. “We will also talk about the regularisation of the 3,472 causal workers of the council,” he said.
At a meeting in Kurseong on July 20, Gurung had said he would raise the issue of Chhatrey Subba’s release too. Subba had been accused of masterminding an assassination attempt on GNLF chief Subash Ghisingh 10 years ago and has been in a correctional home in Jalpaiguri since then.
However, it is clear that on the core issue of reaching a settlement on the hills, the Morcha is relying more on the Centre than the state. “When the Bengal government opposed the talks, the Centre clearly sent a message by convening the talks. A message has also been sent to the other hill parties. They have not been involved in the talks. The ABGL and the CPRM should take note,” he said. Gurung’s statement is an indication that he has been in touch with the Centre all along.
While condemning the murder of ABGL leader Madan Tamang which put the Morcha on the back foot, Gurung said: “If one has not swallowed poison it will not affect you. I have told Roshan Giri to attend the talks without worry.” Home department sources said police had transcripts of phone conversations between Giri and local cadres before and after Tamang’s murder, which could nail the Morcha top brass.
The ABGL has decided to start a relay hunger strike in Darjeeling tomorrow to demand the arrest of Tamang’s murderers.
Tamang’s widow Bharati Tamang, who is currently the president of the ABGL, will take part in the fast.
The Bangla O Bangla Bhasa Banchao Committee has announced a 12-hour strike in Siliguri subdivision on July 24 to protest the tripartite talks involving the Morcha. The Rashtriya Shiv Sena has also called a 12-hour bandh in north Bengal the same day.
“We consider it unethical on the part of the Centre to sit across the table with the Morcha leaders accused of murdering Madan Tamang,” said Bhasha Banchao Committee president Mukunda Majumdar.
Another anti-Morcha outfit, Amra Bangali, will observe “black day” throughout the state on July 24.
11-member GJM team to participate in tripartite talks – now upto 14, with 3 more joining today ?!!
FROM THE PRESS TRUST OF INDIA STAFF WRITER
Siliguri, July 22, 2010, 19:28 HRS IST (PTI): A 11-member Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) delegation, led by its general secretary Roshan Giri, left for Delhi today to participate in the sixth round of political level tripartite talks on the Darjeeling issue.
Talking to reporters at Bagdogra airport, Giri said he was hopeful about the July 24 talks and something “positive might come out in the discussions”.
GJM press and publicity chief Harkabahadur Chhetri said the invitation for the talks was itself a victory for GJM as the state government had opposed the parleys vehemently.
The issue of setting up of an interim authority in Darjeeling for the Gorkhas and its territorial jurisdiction is likely to come up for discussion at the talks, to be attended by representatives of the Centre and the GJM and West Bengal Home Secretary, official sources said.
Our Himal News Special News Correspondent adds: Party sources mentioned the names of the 11 member GJM team as:
- Roshan Giri,
- LB Pariyar,
- HB Chhetri,
- RB Bhujel,
- Binay Tamang,
- Raju Pradhan,
- Dr Rohit Sharma,
- P Arjun,
- Santosh Rai,
- Pradip Pradhan
The following additional members would join the team today in Delhi the GJM source added:
- LB Rai,
- Trilok Dewan, and
- Wilson Champramari MLA, from Kalchini, Dooars
Furthermore, in a TV press interview, Dooars Area GJM President and member of the GJM Central Committee, Samuel Gurung stated that the Adivasi Parishad members had not been included to go to Delhi this time around as they were “still to make up their minds on whether to join hands with the GJM on the ‘separate state’ demand”.
Explaining the confusion over the ‘Gorkhaland’ and ‘Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh’ names, Samuel Gurung explained that because the Adivasi Leadership had earlier expressed some reservations over the ‘Gorkhaland’ nomenclature, in that it would not clearly reflect the broader Adivasi presence, the name had been re-adjusted to ‘Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh’ as announced by the Morcha President, Bimal Gurung in Darjeeling on May 30, 2010.
This was done with the larger concept to win the wider consensus of the people of the Dooars, Mr Gurung explained and added, “whether or not the said name is adopted after developments unfolded, the concept of ‘separation from Bengal’ is the ‘more important issue’ than the finalization of the name itself. So if the Adivasis want to join our joint constitutional struggle of ‘separation from Bengal’ then we welcome that and look forward to their response”.
Writers’ tea meet ends without hike – Adivasis still barking up the wrong tree, haven’t learnt a thing since Independence ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, July 22: The daily wage of a tea worker will continue to be Rs 67 as a tripartite meeting on the demand for an interim hike failed to reach an agreement today.
The three-hour meeting at Writers’ Buildings, chaired by principal secretary of the labour department T. Kumar, could not arrive at a decision after management representatives vetoed a hike proposed by trade union leaders, citing price rise. Today’s development left around three lakh workers in 307 gardens in the Dooars and the Terai and the hills disappointed.
Over the past six months, the tea trade unions have been pressing for an interim hike till the current wage agreement expires in March 2011. The newly formed Progressive Tea Workers’ Union, affiliated to the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad (ABAVP), has demanded that the daily wage be raised to Rs 250.
“The management refused to raise the wages as the present agreement is yet to expire. We then asked for the reintroduction of variable dearness allowance and a revision of extra leaf price — an incentive paid to a worker who plucks extra leaves — as these could supplement the present income,” Samir Roy, convener, the Defence Committee for Plantation Workers’ Rights, said over the phone from Calcutta.
A management representative said the planters were against a hike till the present wage agreement expired. “We have agreed to sit again at a bipartite meeting to discuss two other means of supplementing the income on August 10,” he said.
A worker of Dagapur tea estate said the trade union leaders had been threatening to start a movement if the management ignored their demands. “But in today’s meeting, the issue seems to have been sidelined.”
The issue of safe drinking water in the gardens was also discussed. “By August 31, the management of all tea estates will apply for the implementation of the Sajal Dhara scheme and provide electricity connections to all workers’ houses,” said Alok Chakrabarty, the Darjeeling district Intuc president.
The management had also been asked to reveal the number of vacancies in gardens so that an agreement to employ 10,000 additional workers, inked in 1999 in the presence of Jyoti Basu, could be taken up, Chakrabarty said.
ON THE OTHER HAND
Flood fear shifts 200 families – 250 metres of embankment breached, irrigation department plans ring bund – depressing weather woes exasperating problems ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Ratua (Malda), July 22: Around 200 families from Debipur have taken shelter on the embankment of the Fulhar after water started seeping into adjacent villages through a 250-metre breach late last night.
However, according to irrigation department officials, as the level of the river was below the breach, there was no cause for immediate concern.
Additional district magistrate of Malda Tarun Sinha Roy said about 200 families from Debipur had shifted to the embankment of the Fulhar. “They are not feeling safe there and have been demanding to be moved elsewhere. The situation is turning grave with the breach having taken place last night.”
Abdul Jalil, a resident of Debipur who moved to the intact portion of the embankment with his family, said: “When the bundh gave way last night, we took no chances and left our home with our belongings. Water has begun seeping in, we are afraid that we may lose our homes.” He and the others have made make-shift shelters with plastic sheets given to them by the district administration.
Yesterday, police fired two rounds in the air to disperse angry residents of Debipur who were opposing the repairs on the embankment citing that the work was too little and too late. Sinha Roy and Chanchol subdivisional officer Shubho Mukherjee, along with a huge police force, were at the spot till 1am. Earlier in the day, two irrigation officials were beaten up by a mob when they had gone to supervise the emergency strengthening of the embankment.
Even though officials have ruled out any immediate danger of inundation, the gram panchayat pradhan of Debipur, the Congress’s Gokul Chandra Mondol, said it was only for the indifference of the department that an imminent disaster was staring at the villagers. “For the past one year, the department had been sleeping. Just when the rain began, they woke up. The villagers are protesting the work because they believe that throwing bags of sand onto the embankment is nothing but a waste of funds. We want the embankment to be repaired with boulders.”
The irrigation department has decided to construct a “ring bundh” with earth (a protection wall) about 500 metres from the breach on the embankment. Senior district officials held a meeting with representatives of political parties at Debipur High School in this regard.
Malda district magistrate P.K. Samanta who visited the affected area this afternoon said the villagers were apprehending widespread flooding because of the breach. “The three gram panchayats of Debipur, Kahala and Bhado are particularly vulnerable and over a lakh people will be affected in case of a flooding.”
The breach has stopped the supply of arsenic-free water in the area as the pipeline drawing water from the river has been washed away. The public health engineering department is looking at alternative avenues to supply the water, the district magistrate said.
The irrigation officials blamed the villagers’ fury for not being able to complete the repairs. “We were not allowed to work and that is why the embankment could not be saved. We are trying to construct a ring bundh and if that is also not allowed to be built, I am afraid that the entire Ratua block will be inundated,” said Nirmal Barman, the executive engineer of the irrigation department’s Mahananda division.
Water level comes down in five rivers – and now the same depressing cycle of rehabilitation restarts ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Kalchini (Alipurduar), July 22: The water level in five rivers of Alipurduar subdivision have decreased today prompting the authorities to bring down the alert, even as Jalpaiguri divisional commissioner A.K. Singh visited the affected areas in Kalchini block.
The red alert in the Kaljani and the Torsha has been lowered to yellow, while the alert issued earlier in the Basra, Raidak and the Sankosh has been withdrawn, irrigation officials said.
In Mendabari. people are going back to their houses. However, the 42 families in Nimti Jhora Tea Estate in Kalchini block are still living in a camp. People from Kalchini and Hamiltangunj areas are forced to travel an extra 30km to reach Hasimara and Jaigaon because of the Basra bridge which was washed away on Tuesday.
Singh visited old Hasimara, Uttar Mendabari, a weak bridge on NH31C and the remains of the Basra bridge. “I tried to visit Shikari Bund but could not as a stretch of the road in the Churapara tea garden (4km from the spot) is washed away.”
Irrigation officials said almost 300 metres of Shikari Bund had been washed away by the Pana river on Tuesday night, cutting off the central Dooars and Radharani Tea Estate from the rest of the world. “The bund is the most affected area of Kalchini and I will visit the area tomorrow,” Singh said. He said he would talk to PWD officials on what could be done on the Basra bridge.
When Radharani workers urged Singh to visit the bund today, Singh asked sabhadhipati of Kalchini panchayat samiti Atul Subba to construct a temporary bamboo bridge over the damaged portion of the road at Churapara so that he could visit the embankment tomorrow.
Nishad Hussain, the manager of Chuapara Tea Estate who met Singh said: “I have told him that if it rains five inches in the hills, the Pana will wreck havoc on my garden. The Shikari Bund has to be protected otherwise Bhatpara, Chuapara and Mechpara gardens will be damaged badly.” He said he had written to the administration repeatedly on Shikari Bund, but nothing had been done.
Power blow to business – getting worse and worse ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY RAJEEV RAVIDAS
Kalimpong, July 22: Prolonged power cuts in the hills over the past couple of months have sent tempers soaring and tongues wagging. The frequency and duration of load-shedding has left residents here wondering whether the electricity department is getting back at consumers for not paying their power bills.
People are not only losing their cool but also cash because businesses have taken a downward spiral with the hills having to go without electricity for four to six hours every day.
Many businessmen said they have suffered losses as high as 75 per cent over the past couple of months because of frequent power cuts.
“My income has come down by over 75 per cent since the past two months because of load-shedding. How can I run my gaming business when the electricity supply has become so unreliable?” asked Falathiel Lepcha, owner of a gaming store at the super market here.
James Tamang, who runs a cyber café at Jopa Shopping Complex, too, said his business has been affected. “Even operating the computer is not without risks when the power fluctuates so much,” he said.
The scenario is no better in Darjeeling and Kurseong subdivisions.
“Since we do our business mostly through correspondence, frequent snapping of electricity supply along with regular breakdown of Internet connection has affected us badly. Other businesses, too, are suffering. I have friends in merchant banking who have similar complaints,” said Ajay Sashankar, a tour operator based in Darjeeling.
The sufferers feel there is more to the power cut. “I think we are being victimised because of non-payment of the electricity bills. We are caught between the rock and a hard place,” said a resident of Kalimpong.
In 2008, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had asked the people of the hills not to pay their electricity and telephone bills along with other taxes as part of its non-cooperation movement for the realisation of Gorkhaland.
Since then, the three hill subdivisions have not paid monthly bills of more than Rs 2 crore to the power department.
Morcha president Bimal Gurung had said the hill people would rather live in the light of dhibri batti (makeshift kerosene-fed lamp) than pay their bills.
Pradip Dey, general manager of West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited, north Bengal, however, said there was a shortage in power generation.
“Load-shedding is happening everywhere. In smaller towns (like Kurseong and Kalimpong), we supply power through a single subscription grid. But in Siliguri, we have three such grids. If there is load-shedding in one grid, areas that receive power from it will have no electricity. But places that get power from the other two will not have to go without electricity. That is the reason why people in the hills might be feeling that power cut is taking place only in their area and not in Siliguri,” he added.
NBU second campus gets first funds – no bigger picture planning in Bengal for the entire region, only parochial interests displayed ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, July 22: The first tranche of funds for the construction of the second campus of North Bengal University in Jalpaiguri has been sanctioned by the state higher education department. The amount, Rs 28 lakh, will be used to erect the boundary wall around the 38.18-acre plot for the campus.
“We had sent a proposal to the higher education department with the estimated cost of constructing a boundary wall as soon as the land was transferred to us from the Jalpaiguri Government Engineering College. For the purpose, Rs 28 lakh was sanctioned and we received the intimation about two weeks ago. We have instructed the Jalpaiguri PWD’s construction division to take up the work and the process of transferring the funds to them is in progress,” said P.N. Basak, the joint chief engineer of the varsity.
The campus was approved by the state government in November as there was a growing demand for PG courses from the students of Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts .
The varsity plans to introduce courses from the new campus in the next academic session (2011-2012). However, sources said the government was yet to sanction the estimated funds of Rs 77.16 crore.
“A committee comprising the NBU executive council members, engineering college authorities, and MLAs and MPs from Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts was formed to chalk out a detailed project report (DPR). On February 2, the DPR was sent to the state higher education department with the estimated cost of 77.16 crore. Five months have passed since then and we are yet to receive the state government’s nod,” said a source.
According to Basak, the nod is being delayed as the higher education department has transferred the DPR to the State Planning Commission for approval.
“The higher education department approves funds up to Rs 25 crore and amounts higher than that are sent to the State Planning Commission. We have requested the state government to sanction the funds in three phases of Rs 32.8 crore, Rs 11.34 crore and Rs 33.67 crore. These will be used for infrastructure development and salary grant for academic and non-academic staff. Apart from classrooms, there will be an administrative building, a separate library and quarters for the staff on the campus,” said Basak.