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Friday, April 2, 2010

Morcha hand prompts fee refund.. Hailstones hit brew belt hard...Heat wave in south, snowfall in Sandakphu

TT, Kalimpong, April 1: St Jose ph’s Convent was today compelled to return a part of the fees to some of its outgoing Class X students after the Janmukti Secondary Teachers’ Organisation protested the “extra charges” on the basis of complaints, it claimed it had received, from the parents.
The convent, a premier school for girls here, has also reportedly agreed to accept the reduced fees from other outgoing students who are yet to pay.
The institution had charged Rs 5,200 from each student of the outgoing ICSE batch as the last payment. It includes Rs 3,900 as tuition fees for January, February and March; Rs 600 as building fees; Rs 500 as charges for transfer certificates, character certificates and miscellaneous; and Rs 200 for the school’s alumni association.
The ICSE wing of the JSTO, an affiliate of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, however, argued that since the outgoing students had already paid their tuition fees for the 2009 academic session, it was not fair to ask them to pay tuition fees for the first quarter of 2010 when they were mostly at home preparing for the board exams.
The academic session in the hills is from February-March to November-December. Since the session ends in December, the outgoing students attended schools only during the ICSE exams.
“If the outgoing Class X students are to pay the fees for the first quarter of this year, they will effectively be paying for 15 months. As regards the fees charged by the school other than tuition fees, we have suggested that the levying of building fees be made voluntary,” said E.B. Sherpa, the president of the JSTO’s ICSE wing, Kalimpong unit.
Following their meeting with the JSTO team today, the school authorities agreed to withdraw the tuition fees. In fact, according to some parents The Telegraph spoke to, the school returned Rs 3,900 to those who had already paid Rs 5,200.
The school authorities, however, were not available for comment.
Tshering Tamang, the chief coordinator of the Morcha’s education monitoring cell who was also present at the meeting with the school authorities, said they had received similar complaints last year as well, but it was a little too late for them to act.
“We acted today after we got calls from the parents and representatives of the senior citizens. We condemn the charging of extra fees from Class X students as a matter of policy,” he added.
Morcha threatens fast over Tea dues
TT, Darjeeling, April 1: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has threatened to launch an indefinite hunger strike here from April 7 to protest the failure of the managements of the Dooteria and Kalej Valley tea gardens to clear the workers’ dues. The party has also asked the Centre to take action against the two estates.
According to Amar Lama, a Morcha central committee member, Dooteria has not cleared provident fund and gratuity of Rs 2 crore, while the amount defaulted by Kalej Valley is about Rs 1.4 crore since 2008. “Workers in these gardens have also not received rations since October that year,” he alleged.
The two estates, located in the Darjeeling subdivision and owned by the Alchemist Group, are among the 87 gardens that produce Darjeeling Tea.
A Morcha team that had gone to Delhi on March 29 on the Centre’s invitation also apprised central officials of the problems the tea workers have been facing in the brew belt of Darjeeling, the Terai and the Dooars, and particularly in the two gardens. “In Delhi, we met Ashok Kumar Mangotra, additional secretary, ministry of commerce and industries (tea garden), and S.K. Srivastava, additional secretary, ministry of labour and employment, and have submitted details of the dues by the two gardens. They have assured us that they will direct the Tea Board of India to start a fact-finding probe soon,” Lama said.
The Morcha claimed that the two gardens topped the list of defaulters in Darjeeling.
Deepak Pradhan, the legal adviser to the Morcha’s trade union in the two gardens, said: “The assistant labour commissioner in Darjeeling has called a meeting on April 5. If the meeting fails, we will start an indefinite hunger strike in front of the district magistrate’s office from April 7.”
The garden managements could not be contacted. 
School head held for kid torture
Imphal, April 1: A school headmistress here was arrested last night for torturing children, including a six-year-old boy from Sikkim, who had been working as domestic helps at her house.
Narmada Rana was arrested after the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Imphal West, had lodged a complaint with police yesterday afternoon.
Rana, charged with cruelty to juveniles and wrongful confinement of children, was today remanded in police custody till Saturday.
Childline Imphal, an NGO, had rescued the six-year-old Jack from Sikkim and five-year-old Anjali of Ukhrul district in Manipur from the house of the headmistress here during a raid on March 27.
The raid followed the rescue of a seven-year-old girl, Rai (names of all children changed), Anjali’s sister, from the Nongmeibung area of Imphal East the previous day.
Rana, 51, runs a private school called Narmada English School in the locality. She originally hails from Sikkim and has been staying in Manipur for 30 years.
During interrogation, Rana revealed that a Sikkim police inspector, Vishal Rai of Renauk, East Sikkim, had sent Jack to her three years’ back.
“The child has forgotten the names of his parents and the place where they live in Sikkim,” N. Jibanmala Devi, member-secretary of Imphal West CWC, said today.
The three children were medically examined at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences here yesterday. The examination showed evidence of several forms of cruelty.
“There are several scars and wound marks on their bodies. Anjali had a fractured left forearm, while Jack bears burn injuries on his buttocks,” Mala Lisam, centre co-ordinator of Childline Imphal, said.
The police have decided to get in touch with their Sikkim counterparts to trace the boy’s parents.
3000 houses roofless, 2 hurt, bushes bear brunt 
Alipurduar, April 1: A hailstorm that lasted for 20 minutes last night wreaked havoc in the brew belt in Kalchini block, damaging at least 3,000 houses and rendering families homeless.
Two persons, one of them five-year-old Sanjeev Rai from Dalsinghpara, were hit by hailstones. Sanjeev got two stitches on the forehead.
The worst damage were in four gardens, where houses as well as tea bushes bore the brunt of the hailstones that the affected people claimed were larger than tennis balls. Two of the tea gardens, Kalchini and Raimatang, are currently closed. The two others affected are Dalsinghpara and Chinchula.
Angry tea garden workers today blocked the road to Bhutan from 11am to 1pm at Dalsinghpara Chowpathy, 45km from here, to protest against the administration allegedly dragging its feet over the distribution of relief.
The blockade was lifted after staff from the block development office promised to distribute by evening tarpaulin sheets to those whose homes were damaged.
The storm and the accompanying hailstones caught everyone by surprise.
“It was just after 8pm yesterday when suddenly the storm lashed out. We thought it was usual for a storm during the dry season. But, within moments, the hailstones began thudding down on the tiled roofs of our houses and broke through them. We were lucky to remain unhurt as we took shelter under the bed,” said Sanjib Tamang of Raimatang. He said he as well as many others spent the night in the open with their families.
The same was the case at the closed Kalchini tea estate. “At least 2,000 houses have been damaged, many of them completely. The condition of the workers of the closed garden is very bad. The garden has been shut for the past 15 years and no one from the administration has come to our aid,” said Chandre Lama, the pradhan of the Kalchini gram panchayat.
He said most of the workers in the closed gardens had renovated their homes, saving money from the funds given under the Financial Assistance to Workers of Locked Out Industries by the state government. “Now the investment has gone to waste,” the pradhan said.
Chinchula, one of the affected gardens, had reopened in August 2009. The management had cleared all its dues, according to an agreement, about a week ago. “We have deposited Rs 1.26 crore as provident fund dues last week and installed new machinery,” said Sajal Biswas, manager of the estate.
He said besides workers’ houses, the hailstorm also damaged the factory shed and tea bushes.
Sambu Jaiswal, the pradhan of Dalsinghpara gram panchayat, said more than a 1,000 huts had been flattened. The 58-year-old Maila Lama, who was hit by a hailstone, lives in Gopalbahadur Busty near Dalsinghpara.
“The storm last night was accompanied by hailstones weighing not less than 400 grams. Just when the new leaves of the first flush were emerging, we suffered heavy damage and production will be less by about 20 per cent this year. There is damage all over the garden,” Biswas said. He added there was a hailstorm on February 27 this year, but that had only damaged the tea bushes (and spared the houses).
Anurag Srivastav, the subdivisional officer of Alipurduar, said relief had already been despatched to the affected Kalchini block.
“We have sent about 2,700 tarpaulin sheets, rice and dry food to the affected areas. An assessment of the loss is being done by the block office. If further relief is required, we are prepared to send it,” the subdivisional officer said.
Heat wave in Plains and snowfall in hills
TNN,Kolkata, 2 April: The campaign against global warning may have lost its intensity after a couple of flawed predictions by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change led to a global outcry, but extreme weather conditions in the state sounded the warning bell and pointed to the need for action to mitigate the impending crisis.
While the city and rest of south Bengal reeled under a heat wave, rain in widespread areas of Darjeeling district in north Bengal and snow in the higher reaches of Sandakphu and Phalut, triggered a cold wave. The sub-zero temperature at the two Himalayan locales is in sharp contrast to the extreme heat in south Bengal with West Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum and Burdwan recording temperatures well over 42 degrees Celsius.
The Meteorological Office at Alipore has issued a heat wave warning for the five south Bengal districts. Over the next 48 hours, the maximum temperature will simmer well over 40?C. "The heat wave condition will persist in south Bengal. Though there is no such warning for Kolkata, temperature in the city will hover around the 40 degrees Celsius mark for at least two more days," said GC Debnath, director of the Regional Meteorological Centre in Kolkata.
On Thursday, the mercury read 39?C in Kolkata, a shade below this year's highest (39.6?C) recorded in the city this year a few days ago. High humidity created a pressure cooker situation, jacking up the discomfort factor.
In north Bengal though, the weather is expected to improve as rain recedes. Though the weather will remain cold over the next 24 hours, officials at the Met office in North Bengal University said it would get more pleasant in the days ahead.  
Several parts of the Darjeeling district has been lashed by heavy rain in the past two days in north Bengal. The temperature in Darjeeling was around 10 degrees Celsius. The rain, coming after a severe drought that began in October, has been welcomed by tea growers.
But the inclement weather on Wednesday brought life to a standstill in Darjeeling. Cyclonic winds uprooted trees, blocking roads and triggering powercuts as electricity lines were disrupted.
In the upper reaches, hailstorm and snow was recorded at Sandakphu and Phuket. The four inches of snowfall recorded is rare at this time of the year.

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