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Monday, April 5, 2010

‘Rest’ over, now agitation - Morcha call to shut down subdivisional & block offices

TT, Darjeeling, April 4: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has announced that it will shut down the subdivisional and block offices in the hills from April 7, the party’s back-to-agitation call being seen as a tactics to force the Centre and the state into accepting its interim proposal that includes a redrawn territory map to be covered under the new set-up.
The next round of tripartite talks on the interim set-up is expected to be held before the middle of May.
Party sources also said the subdivisional officers of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong and the block development officers would not be allowed to use their official vehicles. As an immediate effect many of the rural projects like the 100 days’ work scheme and the Pradhan Mantri’s Gram Sadak Yojna are likely to be affected.
The announcement to go back to agitation was made yesterday by Morcha president Bimal Gurung at Gayabari in Kurseong subdivision. “We have had rest (from the agitation) for a couple of months now. I will announce an agitation from April 7. We will continue to fight until we achieve Gorkhaland,” Gurung said.
However, today, Amar Lama, a Morcha central committee member, said the party would shut down the subdivisional and block offices from April 7. “We have found that they are levying a lot of taxes on our people. The allocation of 100 days’ work has also not progressed smoothly,” said Lama.
Even though no major instances of the subdivisional and the block offices levying taxes can be immediately cited, there were some opposition to the Darjeeling municipality increasing the monthly water tax about a fortnight back. The three hill municipalities have been headed by the subdivisional officers since last year when civic elections could not be held because nobody had filed nominations.
Palden Lama, secretary, Janmukti Hotel Owners’ Association, which had protested the new rates, said; “We found that the Darjeeling municipality had increased the water tax by almost 225 per cent. We have already told our members not to pay the revised taxes.” However, Palden, could not provide the new and old figures on the basis of which he had claimed the 225 percentage hike.
With Sunday being a government holiday there was no confirmation from the Darjeeling municipality officials either.
However, the Morcha’s agitation could not merely be because of the municipality’s water tax.
“The party wants to step up the agitation to put pressure on the state and the Centre to agree to the proposed territory that the Morcha wants under the interim set-up. A stand-off between the state and the party on the territory issue is expected,” said an observer.
While submitting the “secret document” on the interim set-up, the Morcha felt it had made some concessions by leaving out areas in the Dooars where there is no significant Nepali-speaking population. The party has made it clear that no further “concessions” on territory will be made.
A second school of thought believes that the Morcha wants to ensure that the GNLF has no space to have a toehold in the hills. Of late the GNLF had started forming village committees in the Terai. “If the Morcha steps up its agitation the atmosphere would not be conducive for the GNLF to form units in the hills,” a political observer said. 
Bench in Centre’s court
TT, Siliguri, April 4: Bengal law minister Rabilal Moitra has said the opening of a Calcutta High Court circuit bench in Jalpaiguri now depends on the Centre.
“The state government has readied the infrastructure for functioning of the bench and has accordingly informed the Centre. The matter now rests with the central government and it is for them to proceed further on the subject,” said Moitra, who was here yesterday to address a conference of state public notaries’ association.
However, this is a U-turn from what the minister had said in the Assembly on March 29. In reply to a question from CPM MLA Lakshmikanta Roy, Moitra had said the circuit bench could start functioning once the high court gave its final clearance. “The administration of the high court had detected 15 minor deficiencies in the infrastructure in the infrastructure that had been put in place by the government for the proposed circuit bench. Most of the inadequacies pointed out by the court have been removed. We are now waiting for a final round of inspection by the court.”
The setting up of the circuit bench has been pending for long in Jalpaiguri. Several initiatives have been taken by the district administration that had also hired a Dak Bungalow of the zilla parishad and readied it for the bench. Also, the irrigation department bungalow and an annexe of the circuit house have been converted into suites to provide accommodation to judges about five years ago. But despite all this, no decision has been taken to open the bench.
Moitra said the government had decided to develop the court in Malbazar in Jalpaiguri district. To improve the infrastructure of the Siliguri court, Moitra sought proposals from the lawyers. 
Leander to kick start projects
Siliguri, April 4: Ace tennis player Leander Paes will visit Siliguri on April 9 to lay the foundation stones for the upgrade of three sports facilities here.
“Leander is currently at Miami in USA for a tournament. He had confirmed his visit here last month,” urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya told a media conference here today.
The centres will be upgraded with the area development funds of Bhattacharya, who is the MLA from Siliguri. The minister said he has sanctioned Rs 9 lakh for the projects.
“Earlier, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza had visited the town. But this is the first time that Leander will be coming. During his visit on Friday, he will first go to the Ramakrishna Bayam Shiksha Sangha where he will lay the foundation stone for the construction of a wooden floor for the club’s indoor badminton coaching centre. After that he will lay the foundation stones for halls in Deshbandhu Sporting Union Club and Young Men Association, the two table tennis coaching centres here. He will return to Calcutta the same evening,” Bhattacharya said.
The minister added that he had given Rs 3 lakh to each of the clubs to upgrade their facilities. “Leander will also hand over the cheques to the officials,” Bhattacharya said. “From 2006 to 2010, I had spent Rs 1.80 crore on several development projects in my constituency. Some times government funds do not reach on time and it is during that period that such funds help to continue the work,” he said, as part of his canvassing groundwork for the Assembly elections that are only a few months away. 
Absence of food outlets spoils feast for eyes
TT, Siliguri, April 4: The toy train journey is a feast for the eyes only, not for the taste buds. On the 88-km-long journey from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, the passengers, mostly tourists, do not get a proper lunch. The reason — most of the stations on the more than six-hour journey do not have proper food joints.
Currently, the tourists have to remain content with snacks like momos and tea served at roadside stalls by the local people.
Although Darjeeling Himalayan Railway that runs the toy trains refused to speak much, the other stakeholders have perceived this drawback of the World Heritage railway.
“The regular service from NJP to Darjeeling (1D) departs at 9am and reaches Darjeeling around 3.30pm. However, barring NJP and Siliguri Junction, no other stations from Sukna onwards in the entire length of the journey has a proper eatery where tourists can enjoy a meal,” said a Darjeeling-based tour operator.
“The situation is similar for the regular down service from Darjeeling to NJP (2D) that departs the hill town at 9.15am and reaches NJP around 4pm. Tourists are very fond of taking these rides but we have received a lot of complaints about the lack of eateries at the stations,” he added.
The same goes for the chartered rides that are usually conducted from Siliguri Junction to Tindharia (30km away) or from Tindharia to Darjeeling (a 50-km-long stretch) which take not less than three to four hours.
Members of the UK-based Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society (DHRS) who make regular trips to the hill town, too, have voiced the need for refreshment outlets.
“Well-run, attractively priced refreshment outlets along the DHR would significantly improve the journey experience for travellers. Franchising the outlets could bring in welcome extra revenue to the railway authorities. The outlets could also sell railway-related souvenirs items and handicrafts, perhaps made by local people,” Paul Whittle, the DHRS vice-chairman, wrote in an email to The Telegraph.
According to DHR sources, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a Government of India enterprise, was supposed to establish food outlets at Kurseong and Darjeeling stations. A few years ago, Glenarys — the landmark bakery of Darjeeling — had opened an outlet in Kurseong but it was closed in 2008. “We operated on a contract for the IRCTC for nearly three years but had to close the outlet as it was running in losses,” a Glenarys representative said.
However, DHR authorities have allowed NGOs to run tea stalls in Darjeeling and Ghoom stations. “There are two tea stalls at Darjeeling and Ghoom stations where some snacks are available but there are no outlets where proper meals are available,” a DHR source said. The DHR director could not be contacted.
A buzz after the whirr- Private plane lands in Cooch Behar
TT, Cooch Behar, April 4: A private chartered plane that landed and took off from the airport here yesterday created quite a buzz among residents long awaiting the resumption of commercial flights.
Even though there was plenty of excitement with people thronging the airport to catch a glimpse of the plane and its occupants, the arrival and departure of the aircraft were fraught with anxiety and sadness for those who were instrumental in bringing it.
Seventy-three-year-old Lakshmi Narayan Agarwal, a businessman from Jaigaon in Jalpaiguri, had been admitted to a private nursing home here with heart problems on March 31. According to sources in his family, the doctors here were concerned about his condition and they had been told that Agarwal was in a critical state.
“We did not give up hope and contacted, through our relatives, a private hospital in Delhi and they agreed to fly in a team of doctors to see our ailing relative and if need be, fly him out of here for better treatment. After they arrived here on a plane, they drove to the nursing home but he died in their presence,” said Bijoy Agarwal.
Even though the Agarwals went into mourning, and the nine-seater plane took off within an hour of landing, the aircraft rekindled hopes that flights were indeed viable from here and commercial operations would begin soon.
The airport officer here, S. K. Biswas, said the plane had come to transport a patient from here to Delhi and had been granted permission to land.
Standing in front of the aircraft after landing around 3.25pm yesterday, the two pilots, Captain Patrik and Captain Gautam, said the flight from Delhi to Cooch Behar had taken three hours and that it had been a smooth ride.
The presence of the two pilots had generated tremendous enthusiasm. “I and many others had at first thought that commercial flights had resumed, but we were wrong. However, it is very encouraging to note that the airport can be put to use,” said Rajib Alam, a medical representatives in town.
The re-introduction of commercial flights from the airport — built by the erstwhile princes of Cooch Behar and in commercial operation till 1992 — has been a strong demand of the residents of the district. In fact, last September, officials of Northeast Shuttles visited Cooch Behar to look into the feasibility of operating flights to and from Calcutta. However, the company did not follow-up the visit.
According to sources in the Airports Authority of India, the 1.100-metre runway of the airport had been renovated and repaired about two years ago. A lounge that can accommodate about 30 people was also ready. 
Plaza plan and more for Siliguri visitors
TT, Siliguri, April 4: The state government has embarked on new projects that will change the way tourism is promoted in north Bengal, the tourism minister has claimed.
As a first step, the foundation stone of Tourism Plaza that will act as a one-stop facility for visitors to north Bengal was laid by state tourism minister Manab Mukherjee here yesterday. Besides, the government also plans to convert 10 tourist lodges in the state into “three-star” facilities, with five of them being in north Bengal.
“We often refer to Siliguri as the gateway to north Bengal and the Northeast, but there is hardly any infrastructure here to offer to the visitors. So, the state tourism department has decided to create an integrated facility for people visiting this part of the state as well as the stakeholders of the industry,” said the minister after laying the foundation stone of the plaza. The plaza will come up on the premises of Mainak, a tourist lodge run by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC), where a bus bay will also be built.
The plaza will consist of two buildings. One will have a banquet hall with a floor area of 13,200 sqft. The other will be a two-storied building, where an office of the WBTDC and a banquet hall of around 1,400 sqft will come up. The building will also offer space to tour operators to open offices.
“The large hall will be used for exhibitions, fairs, conferences, workshops and likewise,” said T.V.N. Rao, the WBTDC managing director. “We will also invite Sikkim and other north eastern states to put up their stalls at the plaza.” Mukherjee said the plaza would provide a better ambience to tourists. “In the new facility, tourists can take rest in an air-conditioned lounge with a cup of coffee and plan their itinerary. The tour operators and our employees will extend all necessary services to the visitors,” he said.
Mainak is among the five lodges in north Bengal, which will be upgraded into “three-star” facilities. “Renovation of Mainak has already started and the work is likely to finish by the end of this year. The plaza and the bus-bay are expected to be ready by next year,” said the minister. According to WBTDC officials, the cost of the work to be carried out at Mainak — the renovation and the constrictions — will come around to Rs 5.20 crore and will be borne by the central government.
The other tourist lodges which will be developed as “three-star” facilities are in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Malbazar and Madarihat. According to sources, the tourism department will put in place infrastructure at two sites in the Dooars — one in Gajaldoba, a forest area near the Teesta barrage known for migratory birds and the other in Kunjanagar near Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary.
Talking to journalists, Mukherjee criticised the railway ministry for being non-responsive to a proposal to operate special trains to the Dooars. “We had also proposed renovation of the Rajabhatkhawa station located amid dense forests. However, there has been no response from the ministry.”
Bison strays out of forest, gores two
TT, Cooch Behar, April 4: A bison that had strayed out of Patlakhaoa forest ran amok at Putimari, goring two persons, one of them seriously, before being driven back into its habitat.
Local people said they had spotted two bison outside the forest around 4.30am today. One of them was a female, which after roaming around for a while, returned to the forest. The other, a male, crossed the dry bed of the Torsa and entered Putimari, about 30km from here.
Ghoksadanga police said Nirmal Barui, a 50-year-old farmer, had been working in his wheat field when the animal gored him.
The farmer was first brought to the MJN Hospital in Cooch Behar, where doctors referred him to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in Siliguri as his condition was serious. Doctors attending to him said Barui had suffered deep wounds inflicted by the horns of the animal on his stomach, back and the neck.
Jyotsna Barman was the second person to be gored by the bison. She was given first aid at the district hospital and released.
Conservator of forests, north Bengal, Manindra Biswas, said: “Two additional divisional forest officers of the Cooch Behar division, Amitava Banerjee and Subodh Barui, led a team of forest staff to chase the animal back to the forest.”
Biswas said the forest department was bearing the medical expenses of the injured people under the rules laid down by the government. He added that the officer-in-charge of the Ghoksadanga police station, B. Sarkar, had also been present in the village till the animal was driven back into the forest around 11am.
Sources said the number of animals in the 17-sqkm Patlakhaoa forest was on the rise. They said animals from the Chilapata forest, about 7km away, were entering Patlakhaoa.
Last October in the same area, two bison had killed two persons and injured several people, including foresters and policemen, who were trying to drive the animals back into the forest.
Forest minister Ananta Roy said Patlakhaoa had seen an increase in the number of deer, bison and even leopards.
“The forest tract has become an ideal habitat for the animals as there is enough food for them with vast grassland for the herbivores,” said Roy.
He said the bison attack was unfortunate and steps were being taken to prevent further intrusions of the animals into human habitat.

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