GORKHA ADIVASI POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE: Storm in a Teacup – Bengal taps the anti-GJM viewpoints for their upcoming response to the centre

[PHOTOS & UPDATES TO BE ADDED LATER AS THE NET IS STILL DOWN]
Nothing unusual in Bengal ?!!

GORKHA ADIVASI POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE: Storm in a Teacup – Bengal taps the anti-GJM viewpoints for their upcoming response to the centre – united in their ultimate objective of ‘separation from Bengal’ but divided on ‘ways & means forward’, the DDF returns with a lukewarm response to their demands and a directive to submit comments ?!!

Anti-GJM Darjeeling Democratic Front (DDF) members in Kolkata on Wednesday - Aug 3, 2010 - not disappointed in the least at being stonewalled by Bengal, expected anything more ?!! (Darpan)

From our Himal News Special Correspondent

Kolkata: Aug 3, 2010: In what can be seen as a lukewarm response to the demands put forward by the Darjeeling Democratic Front (DDF), an anti-GJM coalition the Bengal State Government asked the 4 hill parties that attended the ‘much hyped bilateral talks’ with the Bengal State Government,  to submit their written comments by the 6th of August 2010 on the Bengal State proposed draft of the ‘Gorkha Interim Authority’ (GIA) to be handed by the State to the Centre by the 9th of August 2010.

At the meeting that continued on for more than two hours,  the Bengal Government . presented a draft of their proposed ‘Gorkhaland Autonomous Authority’ (GAA) to replace the present ‘Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council’ (DGHC) before the hill leaders and sought their response over the subject.

The DDF team consisted of :

Dawa Sherpa and Tribhuan Rai of ABGL,
Shankar Hang Subba and LD Lepcha of SDEM,
DK Pradhan and Shrawan Rai of GNLF(C),
DK Bomzon and Amar Lucksom of GRC.

The Bengal Govt. was represented by:

Ashok Narayan Bhattacharya, Urban Development Minister
Suryakanta Mishra, Minister of Health Services
Samar Ghosh, Home Secretary.

The other two hill outfits that were invited but did not attend the meeting were the GNLF and CPRM.

Representatives of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Trinamool Congress came to the Writers’ Buildings but were not allowed to take part in the meeting.

The talks with political parties from Darjeeling were held here prior to the political-level tripartite talks among the Centre, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), and West Bengal government scheduled for August 17.

Health Minister, Surjya Kanta Mishra and Municipal Affairs Minister Asok Bhattacharya, who convened the meeting, told reporters that the opinion of non-GJM Hills parties was essential before the next round of talks, since the Centre has so far been talking only to the GJM.

Mishra said that the parties were told to submit their views in writing before August 6, which would be communicated to the Centre by August 9.

According to the Bengal Government representatives, to avoid any misunderstanding in the future, it desired to consult all the political parties in the hills on the proposed draft.

The hill delegates unanimously sought an early arrest of the killers of late Madan Tamang, ABGL leader first, and to then only talk about other proposals later.

In reply the Bengal representatives assured that all the culprits of the murder case would be apprehended within  a month.

This assurance however rings hollow as although several people have been apprehended and are in police custody, no conclusive developments into the murder investigations have not yet been revealed by the courts.

The hill delegation also demanded restoration of  ‘democracy and peace’ in the Darjeeling hills before taking any major decision about the interim arrangement, they stated that that is the priority of the hill people.

This stand is however debatable as the concerned DDF members freely hold press conferences and the ABGL is currently on an ongoing peaceful relay hunger strike in the heart of Darjeeling’s Tourist Spot, Chowrasta.

Meanwhile some other points put forward to the Bengal State and ignored were:

D.K. Bomjan, President, Gorkha Rashtriya Congress placed his proposal of merger of Darjeeling and Sikkim which was turned down by the Govt. side as it was out of context to hold discussion on the issue.

D.K. Pradhan of GNLF(C) pointed out that the DGHC which was also formed in the similar manner in the late 80s was a total failure. He suggested the Govt. to make efforts to bring a permanent solution to the hill problem which is possible only by way of carving out a separate state. His proposal was ignored and not heard by the state representatives.

ATTACHED ALSO ARE REPORTS BY VARIOUS OTHER NEWS AGENCIES

Writers’ lends ear to anti-GJM voices – fair enough, like a good and democratic State ought to do ?!!

Surya Kanta Misra, Ashok Bhattacharya and Samar Ghosh with representatives of political parties from Darjeeling at Writers’ Buildings on Tuesday - obdurate Bengal as usual with nothing new to offer ?!! (Partha Paul)

From The Times of India

KOLKATA / DARJEELING, Aug 4, 2010, 01.39am IST, TNN: No interim arrangement right now, restore democracy first. That’s the stand being taken by the new voices in Darjeeling.

And the state government is making all attempts to make their voices be heard loud and clear.

At a time when the Centre is trying to broker peace with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) by floating an interim autonomous council with more legislative and financial powers, the state government wants Delhi to hear all other political parties in the Hills, whose representatives want no such arrangement at least for the time being. The state government will now write to the Centre giving its opinion on the proposal.

On Tuesday, urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya and health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra met representatives of political parties from Darjeeling other than GJM at Writers’ Buildings to discuss the interim arrangement.

“When there is no democracy in the Hills, what is the point discussing interim arrangements? Darjeeling needs a permanent solution, not painkillers to temporarily overcome problems. No temporary arrangement is feasible or acceptable,” said Dawa Sherpa, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL) and convener of Democratic Front, an umbrella organisation of six regional parties. He also demanded immediate arrest of those accused in the killing of ABGL president Madan Tamang on May 21.

A 10-member team of the Front (with representatives of four Hills parties) sat for the talks. Apart from ABGL, there were representatives of Gorkha National Liberation Front (C), Gorkha Rashtriya Congress. Trinamool Congress, BJP, GNLF. Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxist (CPRM) skipped the meeting.

With the tripartite talks going on only with GJM, pressure was mounting on the Left government, which led to this effort to hear these “other voices” opposed to the GJM. “We have told the Centre that GJM is not the only voice in Darjeeling, and today we have called them to hear their opinion. Now the Centre should hear them too,” said Bhattacharya, also the Siliguri MLA.

The government handed over the draft proposal of the interim arrangement and asked for feedback within August 6. The state government has to give its response to Delhi by August 9. GNLF (C) maintained that nothing short of a separate state was acceptable. To this, Bhattacharya said: “That it is not achievable”.

During the fourth round of talks on December 21, the Centre had proposed the Gorkhaland Autonomous Authority (GAA). GJM had rejected this, and instead had submitted its own proposals during the fifth meeting on March 18, which included judicial powers along with financial, administrative and legislative ones.

On May 30, GJM had said that the interim set-up was a closed chapter and announced Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh (GAP), including parts of Dooars and Terai. Later it backtracked and said only those areas dominated by a Nepali population would be included.

GJM leaders said party president Bimal Gurung would give the party’s views on August 4.

R B Rai, general secretary of CPRM, which did not attend the meeting though it is part of the democratic Front, said the meeting was pointless as the government had lost its credibility in the Hills.

Legislative power for Hills – trying to turn ‘interim’ into a more permanent solution through the ‘GAA’ & not the ‘GIA’ ?!!

From The Times of India

KOLKATA, Aug 4, 2010, 01.36am IST, (TNN): The Gorkhaland Autonomous Authority (GAA) the arrangement proposed by the Centre to replace the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) moves a few paces ahead of the council in terms of autonomy, with some legislative powers apart from financial and executive authority.

Under the new set of rules, the GAA doesn’t have to approach the state Assembly to frame laws pertaining to as many as 54 subjects. The GAA will legislate on its own and send them directly to the Governor for approval. “The GAA shall have legislative powers in respect of the subjects transferred to it,” reads the proposal for the interim arrangement.

The 54 subjects include important areas like roads, forest, agriculture, education and higher education (excluding the ones run by the state government already), sericulture, floriculture, and so on, but not police or the district administration. The deputy commissioner and SP would function outside the control of GAA.

The GAA is also being given executive, administrative and financial powers on these subjects’ or departments. GAA will have control over staff and be able to transfer them. Its jurisdiction would cover the DGHC area. The Governor though can obtain a report on GAA’s functioning and ask for it to be tabled in the assembly along with his recommendations.

The GAA will be a 20-member authority in which 15 members would be nominated by political parties in proportion to the number of seats won by them in the gram panchayat and panchayat samitis. The remaining five members would be nominated by the Governor from the unrepresented communities of GAA area. Once the interim arrangement is in place, elections would be held within 12 months and the term of the members would be five years. (not till 31 Dec 2011 ?!!)

Govt move to corner GJMM – while it is itself in a limbo ?!!

From The Statesman News Service

KOLKATA, 3 AUG, 2010 (SNS): The state government would take the opinion of the Democratic Front (DF) into consideration before announcing its own views on the “interim set-up” for Darjeeling suggested by the Centre.

The decision is considered a move to corner the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha and step up pressure on the Centre to include DF partners in the ongoing tripartite talks over the Hills imbroglio.

It may be mentioned that in the last tripartite talks, the Centre had proposed an “interim set-up” for the Hills to give more powers to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC).

State urban development minister Mr Asok Bhattacharya and health minister Mr Surjya Kanta Mishra today met representatives of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League, Sikkim Ekikaram Mancha and GNLF (C) ~ three DF constituents ~ at Writers’ Buildings and sought their views on the interim measures. However, no representative from either the GNLF or the CPRM attended the meeting.

“We would inform the Centre of our views on the interim measures on 9 August after taking opinion from the DF partners,” Mr Mishra told reporters after the meeting.

“The parties of the people of Darjeeling are of the opinion that an interim measure can not be the final solution to the crisis. They want peace and democracy be restored first,” Mr Mishra said.

When asked if the state government will request the Centre to invite the DF partners to the next round of tripartite talks, Mr Mishra said: “It depends on the Centre”.

The DF partners have been asked to communicate their stand on the interim set-up to the state government before 6 August, Mr Mishra added.

“Those who participated in the talks today made it clear that the interim set-up will not bring a permanent solution to the Darjeeling impasse,” the minister maintained.

“To break the deadlock, a democratic environment should be created in the Hills first. To create democratic environment, the murderers of Madan Tamang should be arrested,” said Mr Dawa Sherpa, working president of the ABGL. “Not even a single person named in the FIR in the Tamang murder case could be arrested. We raised the issue today. The home secretary said police would try their best to arrest them. We told the ministers that our views on the interim measures would be communicated to the state government by 6 August,” he maintained.

Representatives of the BJP and the Trinamul Congress came to Writers’ Buildings but did not take part in the meeting.

To a question, Mr Bhattacharya said the Centre should listen to the voice of the common people regarding the impasse in Darjeeling.

Hill parties reject ‘pain-killers’, seek ‘solution’ – that Bengal just can’t & won’t give ?!!

From The Indian Express

Kolkata, Aug 04 2010, 02:24 hrs (ENS): All the political outfits that came to participate in the talks convened by the state government to find a solution to the Darjeeling problem rejected the Central government’s proposal on the contours of the Gorkhaland Autonomous Authority that is supposed to replace the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC).

The outfits that sent their representatives to Tuesday’s meeting included the All India Gorkha League (AIGL), Darjeeling Sikkim Ekhikaran Mancha, GNLF(C) and Gorkha Rashtriya Congress.

Representatives of the Trinamool Congress and BJP who came to attend the meeting as part of the Democratic Front, however, did not join it after receiving instructions from their leadership. The outfits that were invited but did not attend the meeting included the GNLF and CPRM.

The organisations that were given the proposals were requested by the state government to submit their reply by August 6. “We have distributed the proposals on the interim arrangement for Darjeeling among them and have requested them to get back to us within August 6, as we will have to submit our reply on the proposals to the Centre within August 9,” Health and Family Welfare Minister Surya Kanta Mishra, who led the state government team, said after the meeting.

However, the Darjeeling parties turned down the proposals, saying they amounted to a mere ad hoc arrangement and could not meet the aspirations of the people of Darjeeling.

“We rejected the proposals as they were not acceptable to us. We want a permanent solution and not a temporary one. When somebody is seriously ill, you do not give him just pain killers. You need to administer a holistic treatment to him. We have told the government that the situation in the hills is not conducive for talks. There is no democracy, no peace. It is just hooliganism and goondaraj prevailing there. Unless that situation ends, there cannot be any talks,” Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League Working President Dawa Sherpa said after the meeting.

Some of the parties also raised the demand for Gorkhaland, which the government said was not possible. “We have told them that Gorkhaland is a sentiment of the people of the hills and we do not deny it. But is it feasible?” asked Ashok Bhattacharya after the meeting.

The AIGL also demanded that the culprits involved in the murder of their president, Madan Tamang, must be arrested soon. ‘We named 34 people in our FIR after the murder but none of them has been arrested. It is unfortunate,” said Sherpa.

Gorkha groups’ views to be sought on ‘interim setup’ – but will they all be presented to the centre without bias ?!!

From Yahoo News

Kolkata, Tue, Aug 3 11:18 PM (IANS): The West Bengal government would consider the opinion of the anti-Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) Democratic Front (DF) before announcing its own views on the ‘interim setup’ for Darjeeling suggested by the central government, a minister Tuesday said.

Briefing media persons after a meeting with representatives of the anti-GJM parties here, Health Minister Surjya Kanta Mishra said: ‘We will inform the centre about our views on the interim measures Aug 9 after taking the opinion of the DF partners.’

Besides Mishra, Urban Development Minister Ashok Bhattacharjee was present in the meeting attended by the representatives of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL), the Sikkim Ekikaram Mancha and Gorkha National Liberation Front-C.K. Pradhan (GNLF-C) – at the state secretariat Writers’ Buildings.

Darjeeling has been on the boil for years following the demand from some hill outfits for carving out a separate Gorkhaland state out of Darjeeling and parts of its neighbouring Jalpaiguri district in the northern part of the state. GJM has been leading the Gorkhaland agitation for the last two years after cornering the Subash Ghising-led Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF).

The government sought the views of the participating parties on the interim measures by Aug 6. However, no representative from either the GNLF or the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM) attended the meeting, said a senior state official.

During the previous round of tripartite talks, the central government had proposed an ‘interim setup’ for the hills to give some more power to the hill governing body, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC).

‘The parties said people of Darjeeling are of the opinion that an interim measure can’t be the final solution to the crisis. They want peace and democracy be restored first,’ said Mishra.

Asked if the state government will request the central government to invite these parties in the next round of tripartite talks, the health minister said ‘it depends on the centre’.

‘To break the deadlock, a democratic environment should be created in the hills first. To create a democratic environment, the murderers of ABGL president Madan Tamang should be arrested,’ ABGL working president Dawa Sherpa said. ‘Not even a single person named in the FIR in the Tamang murder case could be arrested. We have raised the issue today. The state home secretary said the police would try best to nab them,’ Sherpa maintained.

Representatives of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Trinamool Congress came to the Writers’ Buildings but did not take part in the meeting.

Gorkhaland: WB Govt holds meet with Non-GJM hill parties – and learns ?!!

From The Press Trust of India

Kolkata, Aug 3, 2010 (PTI): With the Centre keen on an interim arrangement to replace the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council which runs the administration in the district, non-GJM Hills parties today held parleys with the West Bengal government on the tripartite talks.

The talks with political parties from Darjeeling were held here prior to the political-level tripartite talks among the Centre, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), and West Bengal government on August 17.

Health Minister Surjya Kanta Mishra and Municipal Affairs Minister Asok Bhattacharya, who convened the meeting, told reporters that the opinion of non-GJM Hills parties was essential before the next round of talks, since the Centre has so far been talking only to the GJM.

Mishra said that the parties were told to submit their views in writing before August 6, which would be communicated to the Centre by August 9.

All India Gorkha League leader Dawa Sherpa, however, ruled out an “interim arrangement” until law and order and governance was restored in the Darjeeling hills.

“Interim arrangement or any temporary measure is no solution. The Darjeeling issue needs a permanent solution. We don’t need a pain killer for this major issue, because such a measure is neither feasible nor acceptable,” Sherpa said.

The GJM has now settled for an interim council which, the party demanded, should also include the Dooars and the Terai in neighbouring Jalpaiguri district.

The meeting was also attended by state Home Secretary Samar Ghosh.

Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) chairman Subhas Ghising, who recently recently met Union Home Secretary G K Pillai in Delhi, did not attend the meeting.
The meeting was attended by eight representatives of four political parties in the hills — All India Gorkha League (AIGL), Darjeeling-Sikkim Ekikaran Mancha, GNLF(C) and Gorkha Rashtriya Congress.

Shankar Hang Subba and P D Lepcha of Darjeeling-Sikkim Ekikaran Mancha, Vishnu Pradhan and Col D K Pradhan of GNLF(C) and D K Bomjan of Gorkha Rashtriya Congress also echoed Sherpa’s view.

Hill front frowns on ‘interim’ – Temporary measures not a solution: Dawa Sherpa – but definitely a political step forward ?!! No solution found, simple – just divide & rule ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU

Aug. 3: The state government’s effort to seek a consensus on the interim set-up for the Darjeeling hills has met with resistance with the CPRM backing off from a meeting called to discuss the proposal and the other regional outfits reluctant to back any authority supported by Bimal Gurung.

The CPRM is the second largest party in the hills after the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha that is spearheading the statehood movement. Any objection by the CPRM might be a rerun of the Sixth Schedule fiasco, the government fears.

Dawa Sherpa, the convener of the Democratic Front, said after the meeting with state representatives at Writers’ Buildings: “The state has handed us a proposal on the interim set-up and has asked us to make observations. We told them that we could comment only after consulting our friends back home.” Besides the front, a six party anti-Morcha conglomerate in the hills, the GNLF, too had been invited to the meeting, but had refused to attend it.

The government is expecting a reply on the proposal by August 6. Minister Asok Bhattacharya, who represented the state along with Surjya Kanta Mishra, said: “We want to consider the opinion of all parties from the hills before the next round of talks.” Bhattacharya was referring to the next round of tripartite talks that the Centre is expected to convene with the Morcha and the state on August 17.

Today’s proposal to the front was the one prepared by the Centre to set up a Gorkhaland Autonomous Authority and provide legislative powers on 54 transferred subjects. The same draft proposal had been placed at the political-level tripartite talks between the Morcha, the state and the Centre in New Delhi on July 24.

However, with the CPRM categorically saying that it would not support an interim authority, the exercise is expected to be futile. “We will support the interim authority only if the government guarantees to create a separate state on the expiry of this authority (on December 31, 2011). And the authority should also include areas from the Dooars and Terai,” said Taramani Rai, spokesperson for the CPRM. The state is unlikely to give any commitments on these two demands.

The front, too, might not want to endorse any arrangement which the Morcha is trying to work out with the governments for fear of politically losing out to Bimal Gurung’s outfit. “Temporary measures are no longer a solution… Such interim measures are neither feasible nor acceptable,” said Sherpa.

The state on the other hand is desperate for a consensus, as it does not want a repeat of the Sixth Schedule fiasco. Both the Centre and the state had negotiated only with Subash Ghisingh, the president of the GNLF, the then predominant party, to confer special status on the hills. “Since there was no political consensus, the GNLF rivals repeatedly criticised Ghisingh leading to the formation of the Morcha,” said an observer.

Sikkim status spurs hills – the longstanding PTG demand highlighted only  now ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY RAJEEV RAVIDAS

Kalimpong, Aug. 3: The Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association has said it would continue its efforts to secure the inclusion of the community in the primitive tribe group (PTG), the announcement coming amid allegations that the Centre was in no hurry to add the community to the list of 75 most backward tribal groups in the country.

Reacting to the decision of the Sikkim government to issue primitive tribe certificates to the 40,000-odd Lepchas in the state, ILTA president Lyangsong Tamsang hoped the Centre would grant similar status to the community. “We have been fighting hard (for inclusion in the PTG), but we are yet to achieve success. As long as such a policy exists (of identifying PTGs), we will continue to fight,” he added.

Tamsang said the Bengal government, as far back as 1986, had recommended the granting of primitive tribal status to the Lepchas of Darjeeling.

“From our interaction with central authorities over the years, we get a sense that the government (in Delhi) is not too keen to add the community to the 75 PTGs,” he added.

The PTGs were identified for the first time in 1975-76 and the list was subsequently appended in 1993.

In all, 75 tribal communities spread over 17 states and one Union territory have so far been identified as PTGs. Most backward groups from among the larger ST population are PTGs. The criteria for granting PTG status are pre-agricultural level of technology, very low level of literacy, and declining or stagnant population.

Tamang said even though the 2001 census pegged the Lepcha population in the state at over 34,000, the more realistic figure, according to the ILTA estimate, should be over 80,000, mostly spread across the Darjeeling district. The Lepcha population in neighbouring Sikkim is considered to be over 40,000. The ILTA has been fighting for primitive tribal status not just to ensure the development of the community, but also to preserve its distinct identity.

The Lepchas claim they are the original inhabitants of the Darjeeling hills and Sikkim. “PTGs do not get separate or special job reservation, but what they do get is access to special Central schemes earmarked exclusively for them,” said an ILTA member.

Tamang also thanked the education department for considering the introduction of Lepcha language in primary schools. “This is the result of our many years of effort.”

Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya had said in Darjeeling on Sunday that the state government was actively looking to introduce the Lepcha language in primary schools, and a formal announcement would be made soon by the education minister.

Cong on SMC – refuses to say when and if ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Siliguri, Aug. 3: The new president of the Darjeeling district Congress today refused to say when his party would form an alliance with the Trinamul Congress at the Siliguri Municipal Corporation.

“It is wrong to assess that elected representatives of the Congress are running the SMC without consulting with Trinamul leaders. Mayor Gangotri Datta and others who hold positions at the civic board always remain in touch with leader of Trinamul councillors Gautam Deb and take decisions only after consultations,” said Uday Dubey, who was recently appointed the district Congress president by PCC chief Manas Bhuniya. “However, it is always desirable to have a formal alliance and that is why discussions are going on at different levels.”

Trinamul had decided to back the Congress at the civic board on March 30, but no deal has been worked out yet to offer some posts to Mamata Banerjee’s party at the SMC.

Rain and forest prolong NH55 repair – Landslides and potholes hit traffic on highways – and the blame naturally goes to the morcha for Bengal’s mismanaged and unplanned tourism woes ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Siliguri, Aug. 3: A meeting convened by the Darjeeling district magistrate today resolved to intensify efforts to restore NH55 that was damaged by a landslide on a stretch of 500 metres on June 16.

But officials present at the meeting hinted that the highway could not be opened for traffic soon as the monsoon was hampering the repair and a central clearance was needed to make forest land available for the work.

The meeting was attended by officials from the NH division of the public works department, forest department and Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the Kurseong subdivisional officer.

Around 500 metres of the highway had caved in after a landslide at 14th Mile near Paglajhora, 35km from here, on June 16.

“We have discussed the matter with the departments which were affected by the damage of the highway. Their suggestions will be sent to the appropriate authorities for necessary steps,” Surendra Gupta, the district magistrate of Darjeeling, said after the meeting at Siliguri circuit house this morning.

However, PWD officials said after the meeting that possibilities of immediate restoration of the road link between Siliguri and Darjeeling through NH55 were bleak because of the vulnerability of the damaged stretch.

“The impact of the landslide on the highway was massive as about 500 metres of the road were completely washed away. We had tried to start the repair at the spot soon. But continuous slides caused by the rains disrupted the work,” said Nirmal Mondal, the executive engineer of the NH division of the PWD.

“As the monsoon will stay in the region till September 15, we have decided to wait till then to start the work again,” he added.

The landslides have disrupted the toy train service between NJP and Kurseong also as the track is parallel to the highway. “We are continuing our train service between Kurseong and Darjeeling. But because of the landslide near Paglajhora, 500 metres of the railway track were damaged, affecting the train service between NJP and Kurseong. Once the road connectivity is restored, we can run the train service,” said P.P. Roy, the director of the DHR.

N.C.Roy, the additional divisional forest officer of Kurseong, said: “The slide had eroded five hectares of forest. The PWD now requires a portion of the forestland in our division to re-start renovation. We have told them to approach the Union ministry of environment and forest for the permission.”

After the meeting was over, members of the Darjeeling Truck Drivers’ Association demonstrated in front of the circuit house and threatened to call an indefinite strike if steps were not taken by August 15 to restore traffic on the highway.

“As the highway is completely shut, we have to take vehicles to Darjeeling via Mirik or Mungpoo, putting extra burden on fuel and time. Today, we asked the Kurseong subdivisional officer to allow all good carriers to ply through Rohini and restore the highway with agencies like the GREF,” said Hari Pradhan, the president of the association.

“If the administration fails to take necessary measures by August 15, we will call an indefinite truck strike from the next day,” he added.

The demonstrators numbered around 500 and had come from Ghoom, Kurseong, Jorebunglow, Sonada and Sukhia. NH55 is not the only national highway that is in dire straits in north Bengal. The pathetic condition of NH31 sparked protest from the people of Falakata on Sunday. They blocked the traffic for eight hours, demanding its speedy repair.

The condition of NH31A is worse between Bagdogra and Siliguri with accidents a regular feature.

“It takes almost an hour to reach Bagdogra these days. Even though the distance is only 15km from Siliguri, the pathetic road conditions lead to accidents, damage of vehicles and congestion. The average speed of a vehicle on the highway is as low as 20kmph,” said Tanmoy Goswami, who travels regularly between Siliguri and North Bengal University.

The NH31D that connects Siliguri with Jalpaiguri via Mainaguri and Dhupguri is also unsuitable for travel. Throughout the 80-85-km-long stretch between Siliguri and Dhupguri, the bitumen cover has completely eroded with huge craters all along the highway.

MEANWHILE FROM BELOW THE SILIGURI CORRIDOR PLAINS OF DARJEELING

Trains carry Bangla enclave plea to Pranab – cross-border problems to arise ?!!

OUR CORRESPONDENT

Cooch Behar, Aug. 3: The India-Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee today pasted stickers on long-distance trains passing through Cooch Behar, urging Pranab Mukherjee to take up with Dhaka the exchange of enclaves between the two countries.

The Union finance minister is scheduled to visit Bangladesh on August 7 for two days to discuss the sharing of the Ganga waters and other bilateral issues.

The assistant secretary of the committee, Diptiman Sengupta, said 4,500 stickers and leaflets highlighting their demand had been printed and pasted on all Calcutta and Delhi-bound trains today.

“We have already plastered them on the Guwahati-New Delhi Rajdhani Express and the Calcutta-bound Uttarbanga Express,” Sengupta said.

Similarly, the leader of the committee in Bangladesh, Mizanur Rahman, said the members were plastering the stickers on all Dhaka-bound trains from today, highlighting their demand and urging the Bangladesh Prime Minister to keep the enclave issue high on the agenda in her discussion with the Indian delegation.

“We have stuck posters on trains at Nageshwari station in the Kurigram district of Bangladesh,” Rahman, an enclave dweller, told The Telegraph over the phone.

According to Sengupta, the Indian delegation does not have the enclave issue on its agenda.

“So, we are appealing to them to raise the subject with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as this has been a long-pending issue with the two countries. The enclave-dwellers are prisoners in their own country having no rights at all,” the committee leader added.

The enclaves here are Bangladeshi territory landlocked within India (which has 131 enclaves inside the neighbouring country). Although the 93 Bangladeshi enclaves in Cooch Behar district are not fenced in, their residents can be arrested under the Foreigners Act if they are caught on Indian soil.

Residents of Bangladeshi enclaves often hide their real identities to avail of medical and other facilities in India. They are dependants on the mercy of the Indian administration and the same is also true of the Indians landlocked on the other side of the border.

The stickers will help citizens of the two countries realise the plight of the people living in the enclaves and create an awareness, Sengupta said.

“For many years now, we have been meeting ministers in Delhi and highlighting the problems of the enclave dwellers, but nothing has been done yet. Maybe there was some shortcoming on our part. Now we hope Pranabbabu will notice our plea and take up the issue,” Sengupta said.

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