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Saturday, April 10, 2010

PC meet, a territory snub to Morcha...Morcha returns without promise...Tuesday strike put off ...

TT, April 9: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today failed to get any assurance from P. Chidambaram on its demand for the inclusion of Siliguri, the Terai and parts of the Dooars in the interim authority that is being sought to be put in place to replace the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.
Ministry officials said at the brief 10-minute meeting in Delhi between a four-member Morcha team led by its president Bimal Gurung and Chidambaram, the home minister heard the demands of the hill outfit, but refused to make any commitments.
Instead, home ministry sources said, Chidambaram told the Morcha leaders to talk to the Bengal government as well on their demands.
“The home minister’s plate was too full today and he had a packed schedule,” a ministry official said. “The meeting was too brief to discuss anything meaningfully.”
The Centre’s stand is not unknown — that it is opposed to the inclusion of the areas that the Morcha has been demanding — and has been evident for some time from the tripartite talks both at the bureaucratic as well as the political levels.
However, after the meeting today, the Morcha claimed that Chidambaram had expressed his willingness to consider its demand for additional territory for the proposed interim authority if the Bengal government agreed to it.
“The home minister sounded very sympathetic towards our demand for inclusion of the entire Darjeeling district as well as parts of the Dooars in the interim authority and maintained that the Centre had no major objections to increasing its jurisdiction,” Amar Lama, a central committee member of the Morcha who attended today’s meeting, told The Telegraph.
Lama claimed that Chidambaram had also told them that the Centre would speak to both the Bengal government and the Trinamul Congress on the issue.
But a senior home ministry official dismissed such claims. “The Morcha leaders can claim whatever they want to,” the official said. “Our line has been consistent: no additional territory.”
The official said the Centre had promised sufficient development funds for the interim authority. The Centre may also concede more executive powers to it, but more territory was “not negotiable”, he added.
Ministry sources said Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamul is the second largest partner in the UPA, was “totally opposed” to giving additional territory to the interim authority and so the Centre would not even consider agreeing to the Morcha demand.
Jaswant Singh, expelled BJP leader and MP from Darjeeling, was also present during the meeting that home ministry officials described as nothing more than “a courtesy call”.
TT, April 9: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today failed to wangle any assurance from Union home minister P. Chidambaram on its demand for the inclusion of Siliguri, the Terai and parts of the Dooars in the interim authority being planned to replace the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.
Home ministry officials said at the 10-minute meeting in Delhi between a four-member Morcha team led by its president Bimal Gurung and P. Chidambaram, the home minister heard the Morcha demands but refused to make any commitment or give an assurance that he would consider them.
But the known stand of the Centre, as has been evident in the tripartite talks at the bureaucratic and political levels, is that it is opposed to the inclusion of the areas that the Morcha is demanding.
After hills, time for Adivasi map
TT, April 9: The Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad today unveiled a map of areas that it wants to be accorded the Sixth Schedule status, a little more than a month after Bimal Gurung had marked out his demand on another map.
The unveiling of the Parishad map comes on a day a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha delegation led by party president Gurung met P. Chidambaram to discuss the jurisdiction of the proposed interim set-up for the hills.
Copies of today’s map — that covers parts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and North Dinajpur districts — were distributed at a meeting of the Dooars-Terai Regional Unit of the Parishad at Chulsa in Jalpaiguri district.
“Tribals are a majority in the areas that we have put on the map. Towns like Siliguri, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar, however, have not been included,” said Tezkumar Toppo, the state general secretary of the Parishad. “We have not specified administrative blocks or subdivisions but have named areas that form the outline of our map.”
“Only areas with a majority of tribals have been included in the map. We want the Sixth Schedule status to be conferred on those areas for comprehensive socio-economic development of the tribal people,” he added.
The map extends from Barobhisa (on the Bengal-Assam border near Alipurduar) in the east to Chopra (in North Dinajpur) in the west. The southern points of the map are Karala Valley Tea Estate and Denguajhar garden (on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town). In the north, the map extends till Jaigaon and covers tea estates like Jiti and Kumai.
“There is no denying that tribals are the most deprived lot in north Bengal which is why a special status is needed to ensure their development,” said John Barla, the president of the Dooars-Terai Regional Unit.
The Parishad has also lined up a series of programmes from April 13 in support of its demand. From April 13-15, there will be gate meetings in tea estates after the day’s work and from 17-20 of this month there will be bicycle rallies followed by street corners throughout the region from April 21-30.
“We want the state and the Centre to sit with us across the table for dialogues by June 30 or else face intensive movement,” Toppo said.
The map has drawn much flak from the RSP and the CPM in Jalpaiguri. Samuel Gurung, a central committee member of the Morcha who looks after the organisation in the Dooars, however, said: “We have not yet seen the map, it is not possible for us to comment.”
The district secretary of the Jalpaiguri CPM, Manik Sanyal, however, labelled the Parishad map a “conspiracy to alienate people and create rift”.
Monohar Tirkey, the RSP MP from Alipurduar, said: “We don’t want the Sixth Schedule but we want the development of the tribal population. It seems the Parishad is trying to compete with the Morcha. Within a month of Bimal Gurung publishing a map, the Parishad brought out another,” he said.
Plains outfit protests Delhi meeting
TT, Siliguri, April 9: The Bangla O Bangla Bhasha Banchao Committee today set up a blockade here for more than 30 minutes to protest the meeting in Delhi between the Centre and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the proposed interim set-up for the hills.
“Whether it is the issue of granting autonomy or statehood to the hills, it is related to Bengal. We condemn the way the Centre is trying to impose its decision on the state’s residents by overlooking their protests and holding frequent talks with the Morcha,” said Mukunda Majumdar, the president of the Bhasha Committee, an apolitical outfit opposed to Gorkhaland.
The Bhasha Committee members in a procession reached Panitanki More on Sevoke Road around 11.30am. Soon, they blocked the road, protesting the meeting and the alleged attack by Morcha supporters on some residents of Malbazar on Tuesday. The blockade continued for 30 minutes after which they burnt an effigy of Morcha president Bimal Gurung and dispersed.
“How can the Centre turn blind to the atrocities and violence unleashed by the Morcha leadership in the hills and sit with them across the table? We want to make it clear that under no circumstances can the Terai, Siliguri or the Dooars be included in the so-called interim set-up,” Majumdar said.
The Bhasha Committee proposed the bifurcation of the existing Darjeeling district into two. “The three hill subdivisions could form the new Darjeeling district, while Siliguri and the rest can be the new Siliguri district,” said Majumdar.
Morcha leaders have come down heavily on the Bhasha Committee’s protest. “Such activities (protests) are aimed to derail the talks,” said Harka Bahadur Chhetri, the media and publicity secretary of the Morcha. “These outfits are always creating tension and rift between the hills and plains but they will not succeed in their intention.”
The CPM said it did not believe in statehood, but at the same time was reluctant to comment on the divide-district proposal. “Given the present state of affairs and progress that has been made to form an administrative set-up for the hills, we prefer not to comment on this proposal (of the Bhasha Committee),” said a CPM leader. 
Rollback follows shutdown spree - Civic body succumbs to Morcha pressure
TT, Darjeeling, April 9: The Darjeeling municipality has decided to roll back water taxes with immediate effect following the closure of the subdivisional offices in the hills by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
The municipality had increased its annual water tax from Rs 380 to Rs 1,000 for a domestic connection and from Rs 1,500 to Rs 5,000 for a commercial supply. One can get a domestic connection for a one-time fee of Rs 17,000, while those who want a commercial supply have to pay Rs 50,000.
The Morcha, while announcing the shut down of the subdivisional offices in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, had said the party was against the levying of high taxes in the hills. Even though the Morcha had not specified what it meant by “high taxes”, it was presumed that it was against the increase in water tax by the Darjeeling municipality as this was the only tax increased by the SDO.
In the three hill subdivisions, the SDOs are currently heading the civic bodies.
Amalkanti Ray, the subdivisional officer of Darjeeling and the chairperson of the civic body, said: “We decided in the Darjeeling municipality’s board meeting today that we will roll back the water tax to the previous rate. The decision was taken following representations by the hotel owners’ association and also by some local people.”
The municipality also decided to stop the special tatkal scheme in which instant connections were provided against a certain fee. “We are no longer in a position to issue new connections through tatkal scheme,” said Ray.
According to the tatkal scheme, one can get instant connections for Rs 35,000 for domestic and Rs 75,000 for a commercial line.
“In fact, in today’s meeting we have decided not to increase any taxes for the time being,” said Ray. The municipality levies tax for mutation of building and house tax among others.
Following the rollback, the Morcha is likely to withdraw its call for the shut down of the subdivisional offices. The subdivisional offices issues important documents like Gorkha certificate (needed for recruitment in the armed forces), caste certificate and affidavits, besides playing a major role during the census.
Asked whether the Morcha will withdraw its strike following the tax roll back, Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said: “I have just heard about it. We will discuss with our party president and then decide.”
Sukna rally
Around 500 members of the Gorkha Janmukti Bhutpurba Sainik Morcha from the hills assembled in Sukna today to mark the second anniversary of the police and CRPF lathicharge on a group of former soldiers at Darjeeling More in Siliguri in 2008.
The gathering in Sukna, 70km from Darjeeling, decided that a nine-member delegation of former soldiers would meet chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Calcutta this month to know the fate of the report filed by the one-man inquiry committee that had probed the lathicharge.
“Today being the second anniversary of the police atrocities, we wore black badges in protest and held a meeting,” said Suren Pradhan, the secretary of the Siliguri zone of the Sainik Morcha. 
Students offer ‘bribe’ for school- Children occupy block office for 2 hours
TT, Kalchini (Alipurduar), April 9: More than 300 students aged below 12 descended on the Kalchini block office today and offered the officials liquor, cigarettes, chicken and nuts as bribe to sanction a junior high school in their village located on the border with Bhutan.
The children, most of whom study in the three primary schools in Buxa Dooars, said they need to walk 15km through dense forest to reach the nearest junior high school. They sat in the office for two hours, sloganeering and yelling at the BDO, R. Sun Das.
Buxa Dooars consists of 11 forest villages in the Rajabhatkhawa gram panchayat of Jalpaiguri district, where children are forced to discontinue education after Class IV for lack of junior high schools. The nearest junior high school is at Jainti.
The students wearing school uniforms reached the block office about 11.30am under the leadership of Ramkumar Lama, an RSP zilla parishad member. The agitators first blocked the main gate of the office and entered the BDO’s chamber. They were shouting slogans and yelling at Das, who was asked to summon Goutam Sarkar, the sub-inspector of schools, Kalchini, to the chamber.
“Few schools were recently sanctioned in the district, but not a single one for Buxa Dooars. We came to know that the BDO office had not sent any proposal for a high school in Buxa Dooars.,” said Rajesh Dorji, the secretary of the Kalchini block committee of the Progressive Students’ Union, an affiliate of the RSP.
Although a police team reached the spot, the children continued the protest. About 1pm, they poured liquor into glasses and gave it to Das and Sarkar, seeking a school in their area. Chicken and nuts were also offered to the officials.
Finally, the children gave the BDO 10 days’ time to look into the demand and dispersed.
“The bribe offer was a mock at the way the block office is being run,” said Dorji.
Das said the students’ demand was justified. “I had sent a proposal to set up a school in Buxa Dooars, but I can’t say why it has not reached Jalpaiguri. What the students did in my chamber was very unfortunate.”
The BDO filed an FIR with the police, naming the leaders of the RSP student wing for barging into his chamber without permission.
Citu cites Bharat bandh possibility and offers respite
TT, Calcutta, April 9: The Bengal unit of CPM labour arm Citu today decided not to go ahead with its transport strike on April 13 because another bandh may be round the corner and the party could not risk back-to-back shutdowns close to the crucial civic elections across the state.
CPM state secretariat member and Citu state president Shyamal Chakraborty, who had announced the strike on Wednesday, today said it was deferred in view of a proposed “Bharat bandh” by the Left and other non-Congress, non-BJP parties.
“(While announcing the strike,) we were not aware of the proposed Bharat bandh on price hike and other issues,” Chakraborty said.
Since the party was stung by successive election defeats, its labour arm in Bengal has been cautious about calling strikes that cripple life. Unlike its Kerala and Tripura units, Bengal Citu had not called a strike after the recent fuel price hike. Even the April 13 strike had been decided taking into consideration the fact that board exams would end by April 12.
During a Left Front sit-in outside central government offices yesterday, CPM state secretary Biman Bose had announced the possible Bharat bandh to mount pressure on the Congress-led Centre over price rise.
At its weekly meeting yesterday, the CPM state secretariat discussed the pros and cons of holding two strikes on the same issue and their possible impact on public mood before the polls to over 80 civic bodies, including the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.
“It would have been difficult for us to justify two successive strikes,’’ a secretariat member admitted.
According to a CPM state committee member, the party can ill afford back-to-back bandhs. “We will be facing a big test in the end-May municipal polls. We don’t know whether there will be a repeat of the Lok Sabha debacle but we need to guard ourselves properly and go to the people. Given this, going ahead with the transport strike and following it up with a bandh may have alienated a large section of the electorate from the CPM. We need to be cautious at this juncture,” the CPM leader said.
The secretariat had also factored in the troubles that rural people, particularly traders, would face because of the strike two days before the Bengali New Year. “Traditionally, the Bengali business year begins on Poila Baisakh, particularly in rural Bengal. A lot of year-ending activities would have been affected,’’ said another secretariat member.
The Left parties and their allies will meet in Delhi on Monday to decide about the nationwide bandh. Citu will take a fresh call on its transport strike if the bandh is deferred.

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