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Friday, April 16, 2010

Centre to decide on interim set-up: Morcha chief

TT, Bagdogra, April 16: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today said the Centre would have to take a call on the party’s proposal for an interim administrative set-up for the hills and iterated that it would not drop Siliguri subdivision from the proposed map for the separate state it wants.
On his return from Delhi with four other leaders, Morcha president Bimal Gurung said: “We have placed our proposal for the interim set-up to the central government and now it is for them to decide. The ball is in their court, we’ll wait and see how they play it.”
According to Gurung, it is the Centre — and not the Morcha — which will take the subject (of the proposed set-up) further. “We have made necessary submissions on the set-up that we want to the central government,” Gurung said surrounded by 100-odd supporters who had reached the airport to receive him. “The central government may hold talks with the state and any other organisation, if necessary, before finalising the set-up. The Union home minister had told us that the issue would be discussed in detail at the next round of tripartite talks scheduled in mid-May.”
The hills are agog with rumours that GNLF chief Subash Ghisingh would be called by the Union home ministry to know his mind on the proposed set-up. GNLF leaders here have been insisting that other political parties in the hills should be called by the Centre for discussions. They said, if called, Ghisingh would ask the ministry to either confer Sixth Schedule status or carve out the separate state of Gorkhaland.
The Morcha president, however, refused to admit that the GNLF leader had much chances of a comeback. “Subash Ghisingh has become irrelevant for the hills now. His comeback is nothing but an imagination,” Gurung said. “We have no clue why the media is resorting to this hype as it (news) hardly has any base.”
Gurung ruled out leaving Siliguri subdivision out of the proposed map from the set-up. “Siliguri is an integral part of Darjeeling district which is why our demand is pertinent. There is no question of leaving it outside the scope of the set-up or Gorkhaland,” he said before heading for the hills in a convoy.
The five-member team had left for the capital last week and had meet Union home minister P. Chidambaram on April 9. The minister had refused to make any commitment to the Morcha demand on territory and had instead suggested that the party discuss it with the state government.
Repair cry in Tagore heritage home
TT, Kalimpong, April 16: Had Rabindranath Tagore been alive, he might have been moved to pen an elegy on the approaching death of the bungalow from where he had recited his poem, Janmodin (Birthday), live on the national radio more than 70 years ago.
Almost four weeks short of another anniversary of the recitation (that took place in 1938), it is difficult to imagine that Gauripur House on Hill Top used to be one of the favourite summer destinations of the Nobel Laureate.
The two-storied bungalow, owned by B.K. Roychowdhury of Calcutta, is on a scenic hill, near here, and is surrounded by lots of greenery.
Tagore had visited the bungalow three-four times and stayed as a guest of the Roychowdhurys.
However, the building is in need of serious repair.
Thick foliage has grown all over the house, the windows are broken, and the interiors are in a bad shape too.
Even the unmetalled approach road, which is part of the property, had seen better years. Wild growths have all but hidden most of the stretch.
“We had requested the government to take over the house and convert it into a museum on many occasions, but to no avail,” said M.K. Bhattacharya, a professor of political science at Kalimpong College.
Biswanath Paul, principal of a cooperative training centre that ran from the ground floor of the bungalow from the fifties to the late nineties, said he had approached the former chairman of the DGHC, Subash Ghisingh, with a request to acquire and preserve the building as a heritage property, but without much success.
“The bungalow can be revived as a heritage home (read hotel). It should get a good number of visitors,” Paul said over the phone from Siliguri.
There is no dearth of tourists to the place even now. It is a must-see, especially for the Bengalis.
“Tourists keep coming here frequently. Most of them go back with bitter-sweet memories of the place,” said Sangita Sharma, who lives with her husband on the first floor of the bungalow.
Her family has been the caretakers of the building for three generations now.
Sangita’s 80-year-old mother Krishna, who lives in a house just below the compound of the bungalow, recalled meeting Tagore as a child.
“I remember him as an old man with a khadal (wooden slippers). I was very young then. We were scared of going near the bungalow,” Krishna said.
Whatever could have been the reasons for little Krishna’s fear all those years ago, for people like Bhattacharya, Paul and his wife Bani, a retired professor of Sanskrit of Kalimpong College, the fear is that their efforts to preserve the place might never bear fruit.
Leash on hill cable operators
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, April 16: The Centre has decided to rein in cable operators airing Chinese, Pakistani, Bhutanese, Nepalese and Bangladeshi satellite channels in the state.
Ragu Menon, the secretary of the information and broadcasting ministry, in a letter (No 9/22/2009-BP&L) to state chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti, which is in the possession of The Telegraph, said: “It has been observed that Multi-System Operators/Cable operators in the country are carrying illegal and unauthorised television channels on their Cable TV service networks…..It has also been stated that contents on these channels are not conducive to the security environment in the country and immediate action is necessary to curb the carriages of such unauthorised channels.”
A Chinese channel in Tibetan language — XYZ TV — popular among the Tibetan community in Dareeling and its surrounding areas has also been included in the list of “illegal and unauthorised” channels. Some others on the list are Pakistan-based QTV, Madni TV and Geo TV, Dubai-based Peace TV, Bangladesh-based NTV, Nepal and Kantipur channels, UK-based Ahmedia Channel and also the Bhutan Broadcasting Service. Most of these channels are aired in north Bengal, Sikkim and in the Northeast.
Ramesh Pradhan, the proprietor of Milkyway, a Dareeling-based cable network, said: “As soon as I received the letter from the home (political) department of the state, I stopped beaming the Chinese, Nepalese and the Pakistan-based channels. The Chinese/Tibetan and Nepal channels are very popular in the region.”
Surendra Gupta, the district magistrate of Darjeeling, said: “We have simply forwarded the letters we have received.”
Menon in his letter said: “As per Rule 6 (6) of the Cable TV Networks Rules, 1994 a cable operator is permitted to carry only those channels which are registered with this ministry under the policy guidelines for downlinking of TV channels in India.”
Tea scarcity shuts factories
TT, Siliguri, April 16: More than 75 per cent of the bought-leaf factories in north Bengal have closed down because of acute shortage of tea leaves triggered by low rain and pest attacks during the time of first flush when the best quality brew is produced.
To tide over the crisis, BLF owners have sought government intervention.
“Since the beginning of the season, supply of leaves from small growers remained on the lower side. But in the past couple of weeks, the inflow has drastically gone down, leaving hardly any option for our members other than closing down the units,” said Sanjay Dhanothi, the president of the North Bengal Tea Producers’ Association, today. “We have to bear losses as certain recurring payments like EMI (equated monthly instalments) for bank loans, electricity bills and salaries need to be disbursed despite no production and no sales.”
North Bengal has 84 BLFs, spread over Jalpaiguri, Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling and Islampur subdivision of North Dinajpur districts. Of them, 65-70 factories have closed down. “Those running now, are carrying out production far below the optimum capacity,” Dhanothi said. “We apprehend complete shut down of production any day as we thrive on supply of small tea growers.”
In a tough situation like this, when a small factory has to shell out Rs 50,000 as electricity bill every month, the BLF owners are seeking assistance from the government and the Tea Board of India. “We want the government and the tea board to help us in this crisis. They can either announce assistance in the form of subsidy or provide us relief,” the association president said.
Small growers — there are around 25,000 of them in north Bengal — spoke on similar lines.
“After loss in production last year because of inclement weather, we were expecting a good season this year,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the chairman of the United Forum of Small Tea Growers’ Associations. “However, the trouble continued as it rained only for two-three days, that, too, this week, after four-five months. The tea leaves have dried up because of the dry spell, added to which is the pest attack.”
Assault and raids after fresh shower Relief-starved villagers vent ire on pradhan 
TT, Raiganj, April 16: Homeless villagers today beat up a panchayat pradhan and raided several rural offices for tarpaulin sheets after three days of waiting for relief in the storm-ravaged blocks of North Dinajpur where almost 1.5 lakh people have been spending nights out in the open.
Yesterday, too, more than 1,000 villagers stormed a panchayat office in Karandighi, 40km from here, and snatched away tarpaulins.
Last night’s rain only added to the existing frustration. Police sources said angry crowds raided the panchayat offices in Raiganj and Domohana this afternoon looking for tarpaulin sheets. The pradhan of Karandighi I, the CPM’s Badal Singh, was thrashed in front of the panchayat office by irate villagers around 12.30pm. The villagers have accused him of nepotism while distributing relief.
Most of the 1.5 lakh people — homeless since the violent storm ripped the district on Tuesday night killing 42 persons — are yet to receive any tarpaulin or plastic sheets to build makeshift shelters.
Panchayat pradhan Singh was rescued by the police, and a large force, along with the RAF, led by Islampur’s subdivisional officer Sudip Moitra arrived at the spot to defuse the tension. Even then, the mob refused to budge and when they tried to enter the office again, the police lathicharged.
Nirmal Singh, one of the affected villagers, said he could not control his rage when the pradhan came to the panchayat office last night.
“Yesterday, I had managed to grab a tarpaulin sheet, but the police beat me up and snatched it away. My hut has been completely destroyed and when I saw the pradhan, we beat him up as he was distributing the sheets only to his party supporters. I will beat him up if I see him again,” Nirmal said.
The pent-up anger of the affected people was also evident at the block development office in Hemtabad this afternoon when villagers laid siege to the building demanding relief and forcing the shops in the locality to shut down around 1.30pm. They also blocked the Raiganj-Balurghat state highway for 30 minutes.
Nirmal Barman, a resident of Gomordha in Raiganj block, said last night’s rain had drenched whatever clothes, mattresses and blankets that the villagers had been able to salvage. In Karandighi block where 19 people have died in the storm, the villagers had stored whatever they could salvage under their beds. “We have no roof over our heads and last night when the rain came, we used plantain leaves and the foliage of yam shrubs to shelter ourselves from the rain,” said Sunil Sarkar of Pichla village in Karandighi.
Karuna Dasgupta, the karmadhakshya in charge of relief at the Karandighi panchayat samiti, said over 50,000 houses had been completely damaged in the block.
“We have received 15,000 tarpaulin sheets which are far less than the requirement. But we are distributing them on a priority basis with the help of the police as the people have become restive for the delay in the distribution process,” she said.
Civil defence minister, Srikumar Mukherjee, who is virtually running the show in the absence of the district magistrate and the police chief who are out of station, claimed that 57,000 tarpaulin sheets had been distributed.
“We are also going to give 12kg of rice to each affected family. The governor is scheduled to visit the affected areas tomorrow.”
Masked cop moved out- EFR boss who blew whistle will now build bridges
TT, Calcutta, April 16: Benoy Chakraborty, the Eastern Frontier Rifles special inspector-general who had masked himself fearing Maoists while addressing the media days after some of his personnel had been massacred, was today transferred in “public interest”.
“Chakraborty has been transferred in public interest…. It will be good for him for he will be back in Calcutta,” state police chief Bhupinder Singh said.
Chakraborty will become the special inspector-general of the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC), which builds roads and bridges, barely four months after he took charge of the EFR headquarters at Salua near Khragpur.
Sources said the government’s displeasure at his “un- professional” conduct in wearing a hood for “personal security” and then blaming the West Midnapore superintendent of police for “poor infrastructure” at the camp where the 24 personnel had been butchered was apparent in the move.
Singh refused to elaborate on what he meant by “public interest”. He said: “All transfers are done in public interest.”
However, another officer said what Singh really meant was that Chakraborty’s removal had become “essential” after his outburst against the lower-ranked district police chief that tarnished the government’s image and hit the functioning of the force.
Home secretary Ardhendu Sen had said that if an officer felt so insecure about himself he had wear a mask to hide his identity, how could he ensure others’ security.
“Action against Chakraborty was imminent,” an officer said today. “It should have come earlier. No IPS officer behaves in the manner he did. It is bad for the image of the force.”
Chakraborty, who was not directly recruited to the IPS, had been promoted to it.
Government sources said he had not been transferred immediately after the news conference because of the fear of a “revolt” in the EFR ranks.
Tempers of the EFR personnel were “inflamed” after the Shilda camp attack and transferring Chakraborty in its immediate aftermath, especially after he heaped praise on his force before the media, would have “aggravated” the situation. “So the government waited for the situation to normalise to a certain extent before taking action against him.”
Although it was expected initially that he would be suspended, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had instead opted for a departmental inquiry against him. That probe is still on.
A police officer said while what Chakraborty had done was unacceptable, some of the things he had said were true. “The infrastructure was lacking at the Shilda camp. It also should not have been set up in the heart of a crowded locality, compromising security.”
Chakraborty refused to comment on the transfer. “I have not been informed about it,” he said. “In any case, I shall not utter a word on it.”
In the HRBC, sources said, he is likely to play its mediator with the police. An organisation under the state transport department, it was established in 1969 to oversee the construction of the second Hooghly bridge.
A police source said the new job would be “far simpler” for Chakraborty.

West-bound flights off air
TT, Calcutta, April 16: Closure of much of the airspace across northern and western Europe following a volcanic eruption in Iceland has hit hundreds of Europe-bound passengers from the city.
Flights from Europe from across the country and connecting flights from destinations abroad were cancelled throughout the day.
“Everybody is confused. A number of passengers are already cancelling or deferring tickets,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman, Travel Agents Federation of India (East).
On an average, more than 100 passengers from Calcutta fly to Europe everyday. Sources said hundreds of passengers bound for Calcutta were stuck at various airports in Europe.
“Air India has suspended all west-bound flights to the US, Europe and Canada in the next 48 hours,” an airline spokesperson said today. “The flights already re-scheduled for April 16 will be operated on a delayed basis, as and when the European air space opens up. Passengers have been asked to contact the airline before leaving for the airport.
An Air India flight from Calcutta to London, via Delhi, was cancelled at Delhi today. Lufthansa will announce tomorrow whether it would operate its scheduled Sunday morning flight from Calcutta to Frankfurt.
“Lufthansa is complying with the directives issued by various ministries and air traffic control and hence, has cancelled all scheduled flights from India to Frankfurt,” said an official of the airport.
Jet Airways has cancelled all its flights from Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai to London and Brussels. “We are monitoring the situation closely and will resume flights once Heathrow and Brussels airports reopen,” a Jet official said.
The series of cancellations has left all parking bays at the Delhi airport booked, prompting the authorities to divert to Calcutta a British Airways cargo flight from London.

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