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Tuesday, March 2, 2010



TT, New Delhi, March 2: Union home minister P. Chidambaram today announced that the fifth round of talks — this time at the political level — on the Gorkhaland demand would be held on March 18.
The talks, the venue of which is yet to be decided, will be held between the Centre-constituted political committee and representatives of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the outfit spearheading the Gorkhaland movement in the Darjeeling hills.
Chidambaram did not elaborate on the names of the committee members. Sources at the home ministry, however, said minister of state for home affairs Ajay Maken would head the four-member political committee. Other members of the panel include Trinamul Congress MP and minister of state for health, Dinesh Trivedi, and two ministers of the Bengal government. One of the Bengal ministers is Siliguri MLA Asok Bhattacharya of the CPM and another is from the RSP whose name has not been disclosed.
Union home secretary G.K. Pillai will also attend the meeting. Names of Morcha representatives who will interact with the committee could not be known.
In its meeting on February 22 in New Delhi, the cabinet committee on political affairs (CCPA) had asked the Union home ministry to constitute the political committee to take forward the talks with the Morcha.
There have been four rounds of tripartite talks at the bureaucratic level between the Centre, the Bengal government and the Morcha. In the last round of discussions held in Darjeeling on December 21, the Morcha had been vociferous about the demand for talks at the political level. The representatives of the state and the Centre had then told the party that its demand would be conveyed to the respective governments.
“However, a separate state of Gorkhaland is not an alternative that we are even looking at. All that can be conceded is more executive powers to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, or to a new body that replaces it,” said a home ministry source.
At the February 22 CCPA meeting, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had vehemently opposed a separate Gorkhaland state. Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has also consistently expressed his views against a separate state, as have senior officials in the Union home ministry.
Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri has welcomed the announcement of the next round of talks. However, the Morcha is waiting for Bengal government to announce its political representatives for the talks before making any further comments.
The hill outfit had been demanding that the political-level talks be held at the “highest level” indicating that the Union home minister and the Bengal chief minister interact directly with them.
However, Morcha leaders today indicated that they were satisfied with the Centre’s choice for the political-level talks but refused to say much.
In Calcutta, Subesh Das, principal secretary to the Bengal chief minister, said: “We will definitely take part in the tripartite talks. But since it will be at the political level, we are yet to decide on who will lead it. But state government officials will also be there.”
Teesta takes brunt of Kalimpong garbage Truckloads of trash dumped in rive
Rajiv Ravidas, TT, Kalimpong, March 2: Ignoring environmental concerns, the Kalimpong municipality continues to dump garbage in the Teesta river. And, in the absence of any concerted campaign to stop the river from being polluted, the civic authorities are happy playing dumb, refusing to entertain any queries on the matter.
The trucks make their way to the Teesta bank through a small stretch of dirt track off NH31A and deposit the filth, including medical wastes, in the water. Even though the dumping has been going on for over six months now, the villagers living along the river have been surprisingly mute in their protest. Some residents of Teesta Bazar and Tribeni, which are very close to Labarbote, however, said their cries of protest had fallen on the deaf ears of the authorities.
“You please come forward and help us stop the dumping. I have actually seen a kid chewing on a syringe that she had collected from the riverside,” said a resident of Tribeni. While the municipality authorities refused to speak to The Telegraph, a source revealed that the Teesta would continue to be used for the dumping till the solid waste management facility was readied at Lower Bhalukhop.
The civic body is in the process of setting up the facility on a 10-acre plot which it had acquired a year-and-a-half back. “Lack of funds is the main reason behind the delay in the construction of the solid waste management plant,” said the source. The cost of setting up the solid waste management facility was estimated to be around Rs 2 crore, the source said.
The municipality had struggled to find a suitable place to dump the trash generated in the town after the forced closure of the old dumpyard at Bhalukhop on June 5, 2008. People living in and around Bhalukhop stopped the civic body from using the dumpyard after landslides had started taking place rather too frequently in the area.
The Bhalukhop protests sent the civic body looking for a suitable dumping ground. It got permission from the army to use a plot of land in Durpin, 2km from Kalimpong town. But there too, the residents of two adjacent villages of Chalisa and Chivvo Busty protested and the municipality had to stop dumping at the site in December, 2008. The army had granted permission to use the site till January 31, 2009.
The civic body has been storing the waste at a vacant garage space under the municipality building and loading them into trucks only to be dumped in the Teesta.
The caretaker of the Kalimpong municipality, A. Tshering, who is also the subdivisional officer, could not be contacted.
The subdivisional officer has been running the municipality since August last year, ever since no nominations were filed for the civic elections in the four hill municipalities of Kalimpong, Kurseong, Darjeeling and Mirik.
Siliguri cracks down on plastic bags
Siliguri, March 2: The Congress-led Siliguri Municipal Corporation (SMC) today launched a crackdown on plastic by seizing 125 kg of carry bags and collecting Rs 3,300 as fine from residents and shop owners.
Along with the raids, the civic body has started a campaign among the traders and the residents to make them aware of the perils of plastic use.
“We will continue with the drive to implement a ban imposed by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) on plastic carry bags in Darjeeling district comprising the SMC area,” Sujoy Ghatak, the member-mayor-in-council (conservancy) of the SMC, said this afternoon.
According to a circular issued by the WBPCB, all types of plastic carry bags are banned in the ecologically sensitive areas of the state like the Sundarbans, coastal regulation zones, hilly areas of Darjeeling district, Siliguri subdivision and the area under the SMC in Jalpaiguri district.
The plastic carry bags are restricted at all government offices, including Writers’ Buildings, as well.
The violation of the order will lead to the imposition of a fine of Rs 50 on a customer and Rs 500 on a shopkeeper.
Today, civic officials held awareness campaigns and recovered the carry bags from across the town. They visited a number of places, particularly commercial areas like Subhashpally, Bidhan Market, Haidarpara and Mahabirsthan.
“As part of the implementation of the WBPCB directive, we are initially trying to restrict the use of the plastic carry bags in the civic area. Later, we will talk to the manufacturers of the bags,” said Ghatak.
“We are aware that the earlier board (led by the CPM) had taken up the drive but did not continue with. On our part, we will carry out the drive consistently and not in a half-hearted manner,” he added.
The Congress took charge of the municipality on October 1.
Ghatak also said unlike the previous dispensation, the present board would curb the plastic use by involving everybody.
“The previous board had involved only the civic officials. But this time, we will continue the process by including all borough committees and ward committees in the city. Once the ward masters become parts of the process, our staff will find it easy to intensify the drive.”
Storm rips Madhyamik Center
TT, Hasimara, March 2: A violent storm accompanied by hail ripped through parts of Kalchini and Alipurduar blocks at 1.30am today, leaving behind more than 400 damaged structures — among them a school that is a Madhyamik examination centre — and two injured persons.
Samiran Sikdar, the headmaster of Hasimara Hindi High School, about 45km from Alipurduar in Jalpaiguri district, said he had rushed to the school as soon as he heard about the damage early in the morning. “I could not believe my eyes. Nine rooms were damaged, three of them completely. I have sent information to the block administration,” Sikdar said.
The headmaster said about 300 boys and girls of Satali High School and Madhu High School were appearing for their Madhyamik examinations at his institution.
“About 70 students were supposed to write their exam in the three classrooms that are now completely damaged. However, we opened two other rooms to accommodate them. The examinations went on without a hitch,” the headmaster said.
Sikdar said it was sheer luck that no other classrooms had been damaged.
“If it had been, we would have had to set up pandals before the exams began at noon, to accommodate the candidates. They could not have been shifted to other schools as they are also centres for examination,” Sikdar said.
According to sources in the district administration, more than 300 houses in the Beech, Kalchini and Satali tea gardens were damaged. The storm that was fierce but brief also uprooted a large number of shade trees in the gardens, damaging the bushes.
In Kalchini, 35km from Alipurduar, strong winds flattened the 120-feet boundary wall of the police station and snapped power lines. Electricity supply was restored after 16 hours after 6pm.
The factory wall of the Chinchula tea estate and the roof of the garden hospital were also damaged.
Abhiram Siu, a worker of the Malangi garden, said that he and his family had a narrow escape when a tree fell on their hut.
“What happened was in the blink of an eye. We heard the winds howling and the sound of trees being uprooted. The noise was so close that I, my wife and our five children cowered under the bed and a tree adjacent to our house came crashing down on the roof, narrowly missing us,” Abhiram said.
He said he and hundreds of others were left without a roof over their head.
Sahaj Biswas, the manager of Chinchula, said the factory wall, garden hospital and labour quarters had been badly damaged.
“We are concerned that new tea leaves that were emerging were also damaged in the storm and by the falling shade trees and hail. The first flush will be delayed by at least a month and production is bound to be hampered,” Biswas said.
R.S. Sunder, the block development officer of Kalchini said, over 300 houses had been totally damaged.
“I have visited some of the affected areas and we are making arrangements to distribute 500 tarpaulin sheets and 65 quintals of foodgrain,” the officer said.
18 monkeys found dead in army swimming pool
TT, Siliguri, March 2: The carcasses of 18 rhesus monkeys were found floating in an army swimming pool in Bengdubi today, sparking concern that the primates may have died of poisoning.
The swimming pool is in the 111 Sub-Area of the Indian Army, around 15km from here. The pool is not used in winter and had stagnant water in the bottom. The army is yet to provide details on the pool — its exact measurements including the depth — to the forest department.
[Forest+workers+sit+beside+the+bodies+of+monkeys+at+an+army+cantonment+area+on+the+outskirts+of+the+eastern+Indian+city+of+Siliguri_02032010.jpg]“The army informed us this morning that bodies of monkeys were floating in the pool,” said Y.T. Aden, the divisional forest officer of Kurseong. “Our officers and members of the wildlife squad stationed in Sukna fished out the carcasses. Post-mortems have been conducted.”
“The viscera samples collected will be sent to Calcutta for forensic tests and so will be the water of the pool. Only after we receive the reports, can we specify the cause of death,” he added.
Other foresters said they had a strong suspicion that the rhesus monkeys had died of poisoning.
“We found blood in their mouths and rectum, which happens in case of poisoning,” a forest officer said. “The monkeys may have consumed something. Like any other animal, they seem to have jumped into the pool for water when the poison started working.”
Another forester said the vets who conducted the post-mortems, too, suspect poisoning to be the cause of the death. “We are waiting for reports of the confirmatory tests,” he said.
Herds of rhesus monkeys are found in Bagdogra and Bengdubi. “They stay in groups and live on trees and areas adjoining forests. The pool and nearby water sources are known to them,” the forester said.
Rhesus monkeys usually live for 15-20 years and are found in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand and Afghanistan.
Animesh Bose, programme-coordinator of the Siliguri-based Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation and a member of the state board for wildlife, described the deaths as “mysterious”. After post-mortem, the carcasses were taken to Taipoo forest near Bagdogra and burnt. “The carcasses were burnt so that other animals do not consume them and get poisoned,” a forest officer said.(Photo: Reuter)
Lawyer & wife held for lensman murder
Chanchal Sarkar and his wife Papiya cover their faces while being taken to Raiganj police station on Tuesday. Picture by Nantu Dey
TT, Raiganj, March 2: A lawyer with the district court and the vice-president of the North Dinajpur bar association and his wife was arrested from a house here this afternoon in connection with the murder of the photographer of a local cable channel in November.
Chanchal Sarkar was picked up from his in-laws’ house in the Birnagar area of town along with wife Papiya by a CID team at 2pm.
Police sources said the CID that had taken over the investigation in January had information that the couple on the run since the murder of Biswajay Ghosh on November 27, had taken shelter in the house recently. Posing as salesmen of free pre-paid mobile connections of a private cellphone company, three CID men entered the house and arrested the couple from one of the bedrooms.
The team took the help of Raiganj police who had surrounded the house to prevent the couple from giving them the slip. Sarkar told reporters that he did not know Biswajay and he had been falsely implicated in the case. The couple will be produced in court tomorrow.
With these two arrests the investigators have arrested all six persons named in the complaint lodged by Biswajay’s wife at the Raiganj police station.
The CID made the first breakthrough by arresting Biplab Chhetri on January 3 from Chandernagore in Hooghly district. Chhetri had 21 cases pending against him, including five murders, police said. Following Chhetri's interrogation, another gang member, Mahadeb Das, was picked up on January 9 from a construction site in Goalpokhar, where he was working as a security guard.
The CID team then tracked down two of Chhetri’s henchmen and accused in the same case, Babon Das, a sharpshooter, and Biplab Roy, his accomplice to Gurgaon in Haryana on February 7. They were working as security guards at an office of a construction company and were arrested.
Sources in the CID said that Sarkar’s wife was the main partner, along with Chhetri, in a rival cable channel and wanted to scare its owners by brutally killing Biswajay. The photographer was first hit with stones and then shot dead near Sarkar’s house in Rabindrapalli.
Naba Kumar Roy, the president of the bar association, said legal aid would be given to the arrested lawyer and his wife. “We are not going to comment on the charges, let the law take its course,” Roy said.
Safety Measures against Earthquake discussed
PTI, Gangtok, Mar 2 The need to spread safety awareness in the construction of buildings in and around the state capital to avoid earthquake damages was discussed at a function here today.
The Disaster Management and Development Department Secretary, K T Chankpa said Sikkim was located in the seismic zone IV of the Indian Seismic Zonic Mapsand had witnessed several earthquakes.
" There is a need to spread safety awareness and make sure that the buildings are constructed in such a manner to withstand the aftereffects of tremors,"he said at the two-day training programme on disaster management.
Stating that the most of the casualities in the earthquakes were caused by the structural damages in the buildings, he said that there should be a comprehensive strategy for disaster mitigation by ensuing earthquake resistent planning, design and construction of buildings.
Prof. Chandan Ghose of the National Institute of Disaster Management also emphasised on the safety standards and the need for vulnerability and risk mapping of the areas lying in the seismic zone to avert the collateral damage in the event of an earthquake.
Naga Talks Back on Track 
IE, New Delhi:In an attempt to revive talks aimed at ending the decades-old insurgency in the Naga hills where a ceasefire has been in place since 1997, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram today met NSCN-IM general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah who is said to have indicated that his outfit is serious about finding a lasting solution to the issue.
Muivah, who came here from Amsterdam with four other leaders, again raised the demand for a Greater Nagaland but the Centre made it clear that the demand for bringing the Naga-inhabited areas of the region into a single administrative setup was not possible in view of the strong opposition from Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
But the Centre, sources said, could suggest granting more autonomy to the area. Sources told The Indian Express that the Centre’s new interlocutor, former Petroleum Secretary R S Pandey, will unveil a series of measures to try and break the deadlock.
The interlocutor, the sources said, could propose setting up an autonomous Naga territory with some sort of constitutional backing.
At an “informal” meeting with Pandey at an undisclosed location, the NSCN-IM team handed him a charter containing 30 demands. Sources said formal talks will begin tomorrow.
The NSCN-IM leadership was initially opposed to Pandey as interlocutor, saying he was close to former Nagaland Chief Minister S C Jamir.
Asked about Pandey, Muivah said: “The Government of India has confidence in him. So we will talk to him. But if the talks do not yield any result, then we will say no.”
Chidambaram refused to disclose anything on the issue, only saying that he hoped the talks would “lead to an honourable negotiated settlement”.
Muivah with outfit chairman Isak Chishi Swu had last visited India in 2006 and held talks with the Centre.

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