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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hills hemmed in by concrete...President in Sikkim

Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, April 15: Once a health sanatorium for the tired British working in the plains, Darjeeling has now turned into a “glorified slum” with every infrastructure starting to crumble because of population explosion.
There are no provisions for residents to take a stroll around the town and if one owns a car, it is virtually impossible to drive around — thanks to lack of parking space and contracted pavements most of which have been narrowed down by encroachments.
Darjeeling today is the most densely populated hill town in the world. According to statistics compiled by the state government in 2001, this tourist destination has the highest human density among all mountainous regions of the world with a population of 1,266 persons for every square km.
“There is no space to breathe in town. Darjeeling is now a glorified slum,” said Deepak Singh, a resident.
Traffic snarls are nothing new. “On all the 10 roads managed by the Darjeeling municipality, vehicles line up along one side narrowing down the thoroughfares further,” admitted a senior official.
Cars line up bumper-to- bumper for a stretch of more than 2km along 18 Lebong Cart Road at any time. “There are more than 40 taxi syndicates which operate from the town but there is no single parking space apart from Motor Stand which is too small to handle the volume of almost 1,000 vehicles a day,” the official said. The residents, too, are to be blamed. “People just do not go to Motor Stand to board taxis. They hop on to the vehicles at any part of the town they want.”
The one-way route introduced by the traffic department has not helped much. “The traffic is so huge that there is no space for them to move about freely. So let us not talk about the predicament the pedestrians have to face as they, too, have to use the same road because of lack of pavements,” said Rajesh Subba, another resident.
The municipality has recently identified three places — Dali, Old Bus Stand and the vegetable market — in town to set up parking lots. “We have just made a proposal, which will be placed before the state government in May. We are hopeful that the projects will be approved or else there is no solution to the traffic problem,” said Amal Kanti Ray, the subdivisional officer of Darjeeling Sadar and also the head of civic body.
Many believe that since Darjeeling cannot expand — it is hemmed in by tea gardens and forests on four sides — long term traffic solution can only be arrived at if efforts are made to set up a satellite township.
“Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had promised to study a proposal to set up a township at Lapchajat (about 20km from Darjeeling) but then nothing has come out of it,” said an official who was present when Bhattacharjee made the announcement in 2003.
All government offices, schools and hospitals are confined within a 2.5km radius from the heart of the town. It would make sense if all government offices are relocated to a single complex outside the town. This would largely streamline traffic and space too would be available to set up parking zones, the official added.
The municipality has submitted a proposal to the government to dismantle the residential and market complexes it owns to come up with parking spaces on the ground floors. “The proposal has not yet been sanctioned,” he said.
Morcha Strike
TT, Siliguri: Few shops were open and most vehicles kept off the road during a 12-hour strike called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in Mirik block on Thursday, demanding that the GNLF supporters, who had allegedly attacked its activists on Tuesday, be arrested. The Morcha will not allow any government vehicle to ply in Kurseong subdivision for 24 hours on Friday as part of the protest. The GNLF has threatened to call a two-day strike at Panighata from Friday to protest the Morcha’s move to close the block offices in the three hill subdivisions.
Sleep under sky, eye on succour Spotlight on police barracks construction
TT, Raiganj, April 15: More than 50,000 families who had lost their houses to the storm on Tuesday night prefer to sleep out in the open or take shelter on the balconies of school buildings rather than making any attempt to rebuild their dwellings. The reason: they fear the repair could deprive them of compensation.
After the devastation, the villagers have been scouring the ruins for anything they can salvage pulling out tin roofs entangled in uprooted electricity poles and extricating useful items.
The inspector-general of police of north Bengal, K.L. Tamta, said action would be taken against the contractor who had constructed the barracks that had been levelled by the storm.
Chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti said at Writers’ Buildings in Calcutta that the death toll had risen to 42 and nearly 70,000 houses had fully or partially damaged in North Dinajpur.
He also said Rs 2 lakh each would be given from the calamity relief fund for the families of the deceased and Rs 10,000 to those whose houses had been destroyed completely and Rs 2500 for partially damaged homes.
According to estimates made by the district administration so far, about 1.5 lakh people were rendered homeless.
“We have been camping in a field near our village to ensure that household items buried under the rubble are not stolen. Today, I could take out some utensils and rice. We are surviving on corn stalks (which are generally given to animals as fodder). None has come to our aid,” said Pamitra Jadav, a resident of Rampur in Raiganj block.
People like Jabbar Sheikh, too, are waiting for compensation. “About three years ago, many houses, including mine, were completely destroyed in a hailstorm. We carried out repairs ourselves. However, we came to know later that we would have been paid compensation, had the repair not been carried out. This time, I am waiting for someone from the administration to come and make a list of people who lost their homes and to pay compensation to rebuild them,” said Jabbar Sheikh of Rasakhaoa village in Karandighi.
He added that for the past two days, he and others had been spending the days on the veranda of a primary school. “I do not know where we will go when the school reopens tomorrow,” said Jabbar.
Civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee said the relief department had released Rs 5 lakh to rebuild houses. “We are trying to arrange for more funds. Work under the Indira Awas Yojana will also be taken up, but it will take some time,” he said.
Around 300 police constables who had a lucky escape when the storm ripped off the tin roof of their barracks and flattened the wall in Raiganj took shelter in vacant government flats in the district administrative hub of Karandighi.
However, they are reluctant to return even if the barracks are repaired. “The barracks were built in 2007 and the storm proved the quality of the work. It was the only pucca structure that came down crashing in the storm,” said Pratap Mitra, the district president of the West Bengal Police Association. He added that if the constables in the barracks had not been awake watching an IPL match, there could have been casualties.
Tamta today visited the barracks. “That the tin roof can be blown away by a violent storm can be accepted, but how could the concrete wall be damaged? It is evident that the construction was of poor quality. If the contractor has dues, they will not be paid. If he has been paid in full, we will file an FIR against him,” said Tamta.
Leopard mauls five in replay
TT, Siliguri, April 15: A leopard mauled five persons in a Jalpaiguri village this morning, four days after another big cat was gunned down in a fringe hamlet of the same district where it had attacked 11 persons, triggering panic.
Today, the leopard sneaked into the Baroghoria-Rajadanga area of Kranti in Mainaguri block from the nearby Kathambari or Apalchand forest. It first attacked Rashit Roy, 34, and took refuge in a bamboo grove. Three more persons were mauled as the villagers approached the animal to chase it back to the forest. They were Lalit Oraon, 45, Proloy Oraon, 18, and Gautam Basu, 24.
Later, the leopard injured another person who had gone near it. He is yet to be identified.
“The wildlife squad stationed at Malbazar has reached the spot to prevent it from causing any further injury,” said Tapas Das, the divisional forest officer (wildlife-II). “They are in search of the animal but are yet to spot it.”
While Rashit, who had suffered injuries on legs, hands and cheek, was sent to the Jalpaiguri District Hospital, the other four are under treatment at the subdivisional hospital in Malbazar.
The guards, who were ready with nets and tranquillisers, will find it difficulty to spot the carnivore after sunset.
Pix & News: PIB, Gangtok
Ranka (East Sikkim), Apr 15 (PTI) Describing Sikkim as "a hidden paradise", President Pratibha Patil today said the state has immense tourism potential for revenue generation and employment opportunities for locals.
"Sikkim is a land steeped in legend and tradition as a land of hidden paradise because of its scenic mountains, valleys and forests which have been blessed with lakes and waterfalls," Patil said after inaugurating the state-of-art Khangchendzonga tourist villa-cum-socio cultural amusement park at Ranka, about 14 kms from here.
The state also has immense potential for mountaineering, trekking and adventure sports and religious and eco-tourism, she said.
She asked the state government to develop a sustainable model for tourism for generation of revenue and employment opportunities for the local people.
Youths should be given proper training for inculcating managerial skills for benefiting from employment opportunities being generated through the tourism industry, the President said.

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