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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Holi break in Morcha ‘court arrest’

TT, Darjeeling, March 1: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has decided to continue with its movement of courting arrest and threatened not to sign the personal recognition bond in future so that police are forced to send the protesters to jail. The agitation was suspended today because of Holi but will resume tomorrow.
Hundreds of Morcha supporters courted arrest across the area they want as Gorkhaland yesterday but with the police picking them up only as a preventive measure, they had to be let off immediately after they signed the PR bonds.
The Morcha had launched its “jail bharo” agitation to press for an end to alleged police atrocities in Sukna and the removal of the CRPF from the hills. The Morcha supporters were arrested under Section 151 of the CrPC when they assembled in police stations across the hills. The arrest was to “prevent the commission of cognisable offence without an order from the magistrate and a warrant”.
Under this section, the police have the discretionary power to let arrested persons off on PR bonds without producing them in court.
Pemba Tshering Ola, the president of the Darjeeling subdivisional committee of the Morcha, said: “We submitted a memorandum to the government yesterday, demanding an end to police atrocities in Sukna and removal of the central forces. We signed the PR bonds but if the government does not heed our demands, we might even refuse to sign the bonds in future.”
A mob demanding the arrest of a youth implicated in a murder case torched a police outpost along with vehicles parked on the compound in Sukna on February 21. Eighteen people had been arrested for the arson. The Morcha had been agitating for their release.
Lawyers said if the Morcha supporters refused to sign the PR bonds, the police could face major problems. “They will have to be produced before a judicial magistrate and if the supporters continue to refuse to sign the bonds, they will have to be taken to jail,” said a lawyer in Darjeeling.
With the jails already overflowing, the administration would be in a fix to accommodate so many Morcha supporters.
“If the situation demands, we will go to any jail the police take us to as we know that the prisons in the hills cannot accommodate so many of us,” said Ola. In Darjeeling alone, 813 people courted arrest at the Sadar police station yesterday.
Roshan Giri, the Morcha general secretary who led the court arrest agitation, said: “Pawan Chamling (Sikkim chief minister) must make his stand clear now. On one hand he maintains that he supports the demand for Gorkhaland, but on the other he is conspiring to get the paramilitary forces (central forces) in the region to crush our movement.”
Giri was referring to a recent meeting that Chamling had attended in Delhi on internal security where he pointed to the repeated closure of NH31A, the only road link between Sikkim and the rest of the country, because of bandhs and agitation in Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts. Following the meeting and instructions from the Supreme Court to the Centre and the government of Bengal to keep the highway free of blockades, CRPF personnel had been deployed along NH31A from Tuesday.
On Friday, Bengal chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti assured his Sikkim counterpart in Gangtok that no stones would be left unturned to keep the national highway open.
“We assure you that we will try our level best so that the directive issued by the Supreme Court to keep NH31A open is followed. Any group that flouts the order will face legal action and everybody has to cooperate with the order of the apex court,” Chakrabarti had said.
In Kalimpong, the Citizens’ Forum has demanded the immediate withdrawal of the central forces from the town. In a letter faxed to President Pratibha Patil on Thursday, the forum said the situation in the hills was not “potentially explosive” to justify the deployment of the CRPF. “If anything, such premature deployment is likely to provoke a negative reaction among the people,” the letter reads.
However, K.L. Tamta, the inspector-general of police of north Bengal, had said the CRPF company posted in Kalimpong was meant to be stationed on the highway in Rangpo on the Sikkim border. “Because of lack of adequate accommodation there (Rangpo), they are being kept in Kalimpong. Once the accommodation is arranged, they will be shifted to Rangpo,” he had said.
Work resumes in Birla tea garden- Labourers and Balasun management strike deal qDooars estate pays promised instalment
TT, Darjeeling, March 1: The Balasun tea garden of the B.K. Birla Group resumed operations today following a settlement between the management and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s labour union in Darjeeling on Saturday.
The management had suspended work in the garden after S.K. Chowdhury, the assistant manager of the estate and his family members, had been assaulted following the death of four-year-old Sikshit Gurung on February 13. Sikshit was the daughter of a garden worker, Ganesh.
Ganesh and other labourers had alleged that the delay in issuing permission to use a garden vehicle to take Sikshit to hospital had led to her death. The girl had died while being taken to the Sonada primary health centre.
In a similar incident in August, Tata Tea was forced to shut down one of its gardens in the Dooars, Nowera Nuddy, after workers had beaten up the medical officer and confined him for 11 hours when he refused to grant maternity leave to a woman labourer. Normality returned in December.
The management and the labourers, who were represented by the Morcha’s Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labourers’ Union, reached a settlement at the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) office here.
“It has been agreed that the workers would ensure the safety and security of the management people and that action will be taken for any breach in law and order situation in the garden. It has also been agreed that all grievances of the workers will be addressed through the predominant union in the garden,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, the secretary of the DTA.
Sources said the proposal to hear grievances only through the Morcha’s union had been placed by the management to avoid interference by the functionaries of the hill outfit’s other wings in the garden.
After the girl’s death, the workers had demanded that the management suspend Chowdhury, provide 24-hour ambulance services and proper compensation for Gurung family.
The garden manager, Ajit Rai, had agreed to the demands on February 13, but the management refused to accept them, saying the assurances had been extracted from him under duress.
Suraj Subba, the general secretary of the union, said: “Our primary aim was to get work resumed in the garden. Everybody has agreed to maintain discipline and improve work culture on the estate.”
Asked about the condition laid down by the workers, Subba said: “Once the garden starts functioning smoothly, these issues will be included in the worker’s charter of demands for 2010.”
The garden, 45km from here, has 600 employees and produces about 1 lakh kg of tea annually. Jayshree Tea Company, which owns the estate, has six more plantations in the hills, while the parent company, the B.K. Birla Group, has estates in Assam, south India and Kenya.
Chinchula gets Holi dues

TT, Alipurduar, March 1: Over a thousand workers of Chinchula Tea Estate celebrated Holi with the second and final instalment of dues that they received on Saturday, five years after the garden was shut down.
The Chinchula management is the only one among six other gardens in the Dooars that have reopened in recent times to have settled the dues as promised.
Unlike Chinchula, closed since January 2005 in Kalchini block (although the production was stopped at the end of 2003), the other six gardens are either yet to clear the workers’ dues or start manufacturing. The estate management has also installed new machines in the factory.
The dual move have helped restore faith among the workers in the new management after initial hesitation.
Anjulus Minj, the garden unit secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers, said: “At the time of reopening the garden, we were apprehensive about how long the new management would stay. Now that they have cleared both the instalments of wages and set up new machines, it has increased our faith (in them).”
In Bharnobari garden, also in Kalchini block that was reopened on April 28, 2008, the workers are yet to get their dues and resorted to a road blockade recently. The factory is also yet to be functional. The situation is similar in Mujnai.
On July 9, 2009, Merico Tea Company Ltd reopened Chinchula with its strength of 1,335 workers. In the tripartite meeting, it was decided that workers would get 65 per cent of their dues in two instalments — one before Durga Puja 2009 and the other before Holi 2010. The workers had agreed to forfeit the rest of the amount.
Sajal Biswas, the manager of Chinchula, said: “According to our promise, we have cleared the workers’ dues in two instalments. The workers are helping us a lot to improve the condition of the garden. We have purchased modern machines and hope to start manufacturing with the first flush leaves within 15 days.”
P.K. Agarwal, the principal secretary of the state land and land reforms department, during his visit to the garden a few days ago, has appreciated the initiatives.
“The management has done beyond my expectation ,” he said over the phone from Calcutta.
Sikkim soccer club makes it to I-League Division II

Gangtok, March 1: A Sikkim club has secured a berth in the second division of the ONGC I-League to be held from March 26 to April 25 in Delhi, Bangalore and Tripura.
Denzong Boyz’s entry was confirmed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) after a green signal from the Asian Football Confederation, according to Sikkim Football Association (SFA) general secretary Menla Ethenpa.
This is the first time in the history of Sikkim football that a club from the state will be playing the I-League which is the top tier league in the Indian football system. It was started by the AIFF in 2007-08.
“It was the hard work put in by the SFA as well as the executive body of the Denzong Boyz that resulted in getting past the entry procedures, eligibility and criteria to the I-League,” said Ethenpa.
Twenty-one teams will take part in the qualifying round and they have been divided into three groups. Denzong Boyz have a berth in Group C. The top two teams from each group will meet in the final round along with Mohammedan Sporting and Vasco SC, who were relegated last year to the I-League Division II.
The two top teams from the final round will qualify for the I-League Division I next year.
Formed last year, Denzong Boyz (in picture by Pema Leyda Shangderpa) have performed well and also reached the semi-final of the Governor’s Gold Cup Football Tournament last year.
Officials of Denzong Boyz, jubilant over the entry, described it as a big achievement. “Our goal has always been to make our club play India’s top league and groom local talents to represent our country in the years to come,” a communiqué from the club said.
Do not involve state police, says Ray
Jayanta Basu, TT
Former Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s handling of the Naxalite movement in the 70s may have been controversial but few questioned the effectiveness of his methods. The Telegraph asked him in Calcutta how he would have dealt with the Maoist menace had he remained chief minister, his assessment of the Shilda massacre and its fallout, and the challenge of policing in Bengal then and now. Excerpts from the interview:
SS Ray model
You cannot go in for an armed solution to a social problem. By waging an armed battle against so many people (the tribal population of the Maoist-infested districts of Bengal), you are actually further marginalising these poor people and pushing them towards the Maoists. I do not support the armed struggle of the Maoists but the fact remains that tribal people in this country have been historically exploited. Despite living in an area that has a large concentration of natural resources, they have never received the fruits of such resources. I have to accept that this was the case even when I was the chief minister, and it has continued through the Left Front’s rule.
We need to start a development process through credible non-government organisations like the Ramakrishna Mission and Bharat Sevashram Sangha as the people of the Maoist-infested districts (West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia) have lost trust in the state government.
In fact, all political parties should stay out of the process along with the administration. An apolitical fact-finding body comprising credible NGOs, social service organisations, independent professionals and technocrats may be formed by the Centre. This organisation, after ascertaining the immediate development requirements of the area, should execute the work.
One or two senior central ministers should oversee the process, and the Centre should fund all projects. Once the development process sets in and people start to realise the fruits of such initiatives, then an armed counter to the Maoists can be initiated with central forces by declaring the entire Maoist zone spanning four states (Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand) as a disturbed area. The state police should not be involved in the process in any way.
In the meantime, if the Maoists agree to talk, a dialogue can start. This model, I feel, will also allow the Centre to perform its role under Article 355 of the Constitution, under which it is the mandatory duty of the Union to protect the states against internal disturbances. I have spoken and written about this model to (P.) Chidambaram (the home minister), and he has promised to get back to me after examining the proposal. I await his response.
Shilda mistakes
In Shilda, 24 policemen lost their lives because of complete lack of co-ordination between various police units of the state. The bane of Bengal is that the CPM, during its over three-decade rule, completely eroded the quality and credibility of our policemen by trying to control them for political reasons. They, if allowed to work with freedom, can be among the best in the world. However, I have to accept that given a chance, not only the CPM, but all political parties try to control the police force.
What happened after the Shilda incident was completely uncalled for. The (special) inspector-general of police (Benoy Chakrabarty) showed immaturity by attending a news conference with his face masked, though most of his allegations (about the Shilda camp being set up against his advice and non-cooperation by certain police officers) were correct. However, the government’s appointment of a committee to probe the matter is absurd, laughable and completely contrary to the prerequisite of natural justice. How is it that the people alleged to have committed or facilitated the wrongs have been given the responsibility to probe (the incident)? I feel the government should have approached the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court to get the incident probed through either a sitting or a retired judge.
Naxalite movement
The way the Naxalite movement was countered by the police in the 70s was the requirement of the time. You have to understand the difference between the two situations (the Naxalite and Maoist insurrections). While the Naxalite movement was within a limited boundary and hence easier to control through police operations, the current movement has spread over a vast rural — and difficult — terrain. Thus, it is strategically difficult to contain it through an armed operation.
Moreover, in the 70s, I had to order police action when they were easily succumbing to the Naxalites…. Arms were being looted but they were hardly countering (the offensive). The Naxalites were even killing traffic policemen. Not only were traffic policemen given arms, they were ordered to chain the guns to their bodies to prevent looting. There was complete anarchy.
I told the police three things: follow the Constitution to act, don’t see any political colour while you act and, finally, do not succumb meekly while you have a gun in your hand because you may be killed otherwise. But only bullets did not salvage the situation; there was a lot of backdoor manoeuvring and counselling. Every day after office hours, parents would come and seek protection for their sons. I arranged for so many of them to go out of the state or even the country so that they could be saved.
As for the “mass cleansing”, an allegation the CPM used to make regularly, I recently chanced upon an inquiry report compiled by a commission instituted by the Left Front government. The report says that during that period, 3,000 Congress workers lost their lives against 1,600 CPM workers. At least I cannot be accused of cleansing the Opposition; I actually became quite unpopular with the Congress!

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