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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Test-fired: Morcha and central plans for hills..Morcha chief blames Asok for absence

Breaking News: JSTO withdrew its programme of boycotting HS invigilation duty and examining Madhyamik examination answerscripts.
Bimal Gurung at Deolo during the disclosure of the content of the proposal letter of GJMM 
Pix: DK Waiba

Rajiv Ravidas & Vivek Chhetri, TT, March 15: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the Centre have placed their bargaining chips on the table, irreconcilable at first glance but etching the contours within which talks are expected to be held.
The Morcha has virtually demanded a state within a state, refraining from using the word statehood but seeking powers and institutions that symbolise such a status. It has also agreed to exempt some areas in the plains from the proposed “regional authority”. (See map)
The proposals are part of a secret document the Morcha had sent to the Centre earlier and made public in Kalimpong today — three days before the scheduled fifth round of tripartite talks in Delhi.
The Morcha took the veil off another document, too – a plan apparently proposed by the Centre in December when talks were held in Darjeeling.
The “central plan” — sources in Delhi privately confirmed such a proposal had been made — moots another authority with more autonomy than the much-maligned Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.
The proposed authority will have legislative powers on matters such as culture, management of cremation grounds, minor minerals, land and town and country planning, and will be under the direct control of the Bengal governor. (See chart)
The Morcha did not allow the plan to be tabled in December but the Centre forwarded it again through its interlocutor, reflecting the Union government’s eagerness to push the proposal.
The Bengal government refused to comment. But its extremely guarded response and signals from Delhi suggested that the Centre would not have made such a proposal without sounding out the state that may find some of the features unpalatable.
However, the central plan will be far more digestible to the Bengal government than some of the demands made in the Morcha’s own blueprint unveiled today.
For the regional authority it has mooted, the Morcha plan wants powers on subjects ranging from law and order to judiciary and an institution structured like an Assembly and headed by a Speaker. There is no place for the Bengal government in the proposed dispensation — either to be named the Gorkhaland Regional Authority or the Darjeeling and Dooars Regional Authority.
The only concession the Morcha has made is the exclusion of a large part of the Dooars from the geographical ambit of the Gorkhaland it wants. However, Siliguri and the Terai still figure in the demand.
According to the Morcha, the new dispensation will be an interim arrangement and will in no way compromise the demand for a separate state.
Bengal municipal affairs minister and Morcha bete noire Asok Bhattacharya, who will represent the Bengal government at the talks in Delhi, said: “The positive thing is that the Morcha has redrawn its map and left out several areas it had demanded. There is no question of statehood…. But everything is subject to discussions….”
“It may require three or four more tripartite meetings before a settlement is reached. We will tell them (the Morcha delegation) what they can compromise on and what they can’t,” Morcha leader Bimal Gurung said.
Gurung to skip meet, Giri to lead hill team

TT, Kalimpong, March 15: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president will not attend the first round of the political-level tripartite talks scheduled in New Delhi on Thursday because Bengal municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya will be part of the state government delegation.
“Since Asok Bhattacharya is attending the meeting, I will not be present in Delhi. How can I sit with a person who had called us foreigners,” Bimal Gurung said.
Instead, an eight-member team headed by Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri will attend the fifth round of tripartite meeting which is largely expected to centre around a dispensation proposed by the party.
However, the biggest surprise in the composition of the Morcha team is the omission of Anmole Prasad, a lawyer and the spokesperson for the Morcha’s delegation in the past four rounds of tripartite talks.
Prasad has been replaced by Amar Rai, a former vice-principal of Loreto College, now renamed Southfield College. When The Telegraph caught up with Prasad, who was not present during the release of the Morcha’s “secret” proposal at Deolo Tourist Lodge this evening, he said: “I have a number of hearings scheduled during that period and hence I would be busy with my professional work.”
Asked whether he was aware of the Morcha’s “secret proposal” to the Centre, given the fact that he has been the party spokesperson at the tripartite meetings, Prasad answered in the negative.
Gurung disclosed that “only two people” were aware of the secret proposal that was sent to the Centre.
“It is only this morning that I told Amar Lama (central committee member), Binay Tamang (assistant general secretary) and Harka Bahadur Chhetri (party spokesperson), about the details of the proposal. Even the central committee leaders were unaware of the details,” said Gurung. He, however, did not disclose the identity of the two people who were in the know of the document.
Apart from Giri and Rai, the Morcha team includes Amar Lama, Harka Bahadur Chhetri, L.B. Pariyar, a former principal secretary of the DGHC, Rohit Sharma, a member of the Morcha study forum, Suryanarayan Pradhan, a member of the study forum of the Dooars, and P. Arjun, a member study forum from Siliguri.
The Morcha president said the March 18 meeting was expected to be long as the party did not want to compromise on territory. “There are other issues also and it could take three-four rounds of talks for an agreement to be reached,” Gurung added.
Talks on hill teachers’ demands
TT, Siliguri, March 15: Bengal school education minister Partha Dey and the teachers’ wing of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha will hold a meeting in Calcutta tomorrow to discuss its demands, but the union said its threat to abstain from supervising the Higher Secondary exams would be reconsidered depending on the outcome of the talks.

The invitation to the talks came after the Janmukti Secondary Teachers’ Organisation had announced that it would not evaluate the answer scripts of the Madhyamik candidates and boycott the invigilation of the Higher Secondary exams starting on March 17 to protest the government’s delay in fulfilling their demands.

The demands include the formation of an adhoc panel to recommend the regularisation of contract teachers, appointment of headmasters and the recognition and the upgrade of junior high schools in the Darjeeling hills.
The JSTO members did not collect the answer scripts of the Madhyamik candidates for the evaluation.
“The state school education minister, Partha Dey, wrote a letter to the JSTO on Friday, requesting them to abstain from any activity that might affect the interests of students,” said a senior official of the West Bengal Council for Higher Secondary Education. “The JSTO representatives replied on Saturday, asking the minister to convene a meeting to discuss the demands so that they could reconsider the decisions.”
A formal letter inviting the JSTO to the talks was today handed over to the union by the district magistrate of Darjeeling, Surendra Gupta.
The agitating teachers are, however, not ready to relent immediately. “I will lead a seven-member delegation to attend the meeting in Calcutta tomorrow,” said Bijay Pradhan, the JSTO general secretary. “It is good that the minister has listened to us. However, we cannot say if we will reconsider the decisions till the meeting concludes.”
With 48 hours left for the Higher Secondary exams to begin, officials of the council are keeping their fingers crossed. “We have come to know about the meeting and are hoping to hear that the JSTO has withdrawn its decision to refrain from the invigilation,” said Mukta Narjinari, the deputy secretary of the north Bengal regional office of the council.
A total of 5,802 candidates will appear for the Higher Secondary exams at five centres in the hills.
GNLF ups ante for arrest
Siliguri, March 15: The GNLF has threatened to launch a movement from Wednesday if police fail to catch Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters responsible for organising an attack on Rajen Mukhia’s house at Panighata yesterday.
“We have filed a police complaint immediately after the incident, specifically naming Morcha leaders who masterminded the attack on my house,” said Mukhia, the Terai committee convener of the GNLF, today. “However, no one has been arrested till date. We will wait till tomorrow and if there is still no development, we will have no other option but to launch a movement.”
Mukhia had alleged that a group of 40 to 50 Morcha supporters had attacked his house and damaged his Maruti Gypsy yesterday.
This morning, around 500 GNLF supporters from Panighata and neighbouring areas took out a rally to the local panchayat office. They submitted a memorandum to the block development officer of Mirik demanding the arrest of the attackers.
Local Morcha leaders, however, denied the charges. “The GNLF is trying to spread tension before the tripartite talks,” said Tikaram Pradhan, a Morcha leader of Panighata who has been named in the complaint by Mukhia. “None of us were involved in the alleged incident and have been falsely framed.”
State urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya of the CPM urged all political parties to maintain peace for a congenial environment before the March 18 talks. “Whatever has happened in Panighata is not desirable,” he said today. “I would request the political parties to refrain from any activity that might deteriorate the law and order.”
Adivasi support for interim facility
TT, Siliguri, March 15: The Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad, which has so far been opposing the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s statehood movement, today extended “conditional support” to the interim regional body that Bimal Gurung has proposed to the Centre.
As a reciprocal gesture, the Morcha cancelled its rally to be held in the Dooars on March 18, the day of the fifth tripartite talks in Delhi. In the past, supporters of both the parties had clashed several times in the Dooars over the inclusion of the region in Gorkhaland that the hill outfit wants.
“We are not opposed to a regional authority, but to a separate statehood demand,” said Kiran Kalindi, an adviser to the Dooars-Terai regional unit of the Parishad. “If this means that the Dooars will benefit from this move in terms of development, we have no problems with the Morcha’s proposal.”
This afternoon, a four-member Morcha delegation met Kalindi and some other Parishad leaders at a resort in Chulsa, 60km from here, and apprised them of Gurung’s proposal. Today’s meeting was the first between the two parties ever since the Morcha began its statehood movement in 2007.
“We spoke in detail on the features of the proposal and also displayed the new map of the proposed Gorkhaland wherein certain areas in the Dooars have been left out,” said Harka Bahadur Chhetri, the Morcha spokesperson.
“The Parishad leaders gave us a patient hearing and on being told of the regional authority, they supported the proposal,” Chhetri said.
Morcha leaders said they would hold dialogues with the Parishad on a regular basis. “During today’s discussion, we found that the rift was widening between the two communities because of communication gap,” Chhetri said. “So we have decided that after the March 18 talks, we will convene such bipartite meetings at regular intervals to clear misunderstandings.”
Babulal Kujur, an executive member of the Dooars-Terai regional unit of the Parishad, who attended today’s meeting, echoed Kalindi. “We have made it clear (to the Morcha) that if they raise the issue of Gorkhaland seeking to include the Dooars, we will continue our opposition,” he said. “However, when the proposal of a regional authority was discussed, we told them that we would support any move aimed for development of the tribal population living in the Dooars. So our support is conditional.”
Police track militant’s Kurseong stay
TT, Siliguri, March 15: The Manipuri militant leader arrested near here yesterday along with three women had been staying in Kurseong for the past four-and-a-half years, Darjeeling police have said.
Ningthoujam Tomba alias Koireng, the 57-year-old self-styled commander-in-chief of Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), was picked up from Khaprail Bazar, around 50km from here.
The three arrested women have been identified as Saraswati Rai, a resident of Dumaram in Kurseong, Sorokkhaibam Memcha and N. Ramacharu. The police suspect that Memcha and Ramacharu are members of the terror outfit.
“Tomba was staying at Dumaram in Kurseong with the three women, two of them suspected to be the cadres of the KYKL,” D.P. Singh, the superintendent of police of Darjeeling, told journalists here this morning. “We hope to obtain more information from the four once we get them in remand after producing them in the court today.”
He, however, refused to say if Rai was a part of the outfit.
Later, the arrested persons were remanded in 10 days’ police custody by the additional chief judicial magistrate’s court here.
Singh said Tomba was wanted by Manipur police in more than 50 cases. “It is a trend noticed in the Northeast that leaders of insurgent groups live outside their areas of operation. We think that Tomba also adopted the same strategy and stayed in Kurseong to run his outfit.”
Tomba is from East Imphal and is a graduate. He can understand English and Hindi, but cannot speak the languages fluently.
The police have also recovered a laptop, a satellite phone, six cellphones and some documents from Tomba. “We have also come to know that the militant had bought 18 cottahs of land at Iskon Road in Siliguri in the name of Ravi Kumar and operated four bank accounts,” said the police chief.
“We have information that he visited Malaysia while staying in the hills, but we are yet to verify it. A team from the Criminal Investigation Department in Calcutta will reach here tomorrow to interrogate Tomba.”
The KYKL, one of the 34 outfits banned by the Union home ministry under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, is mainly active in four valley districts of Manipur — Imphal East, Imphal West, Bishenpur and Thoubal. It is a Meitei terrorist group formed in 1994 with the objective to “rebuild Manipur”.

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