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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Switch to GNLF on foundation day meet

Bireswar Banerji, TT, Panighata, April 5: Demanding the separate state of Gorkhaland and opposing the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s proposed interim set-up, about 500 GNLF supporters celebrated the party’s 30th foundation day at Panighata today.
The celebrations received a fillip as Kanchan Chhetri, the former president of Gorkha Janmukti Yuva Morcha’s Panighata branch, joined the GNLF ranks with his supporters.“Bimal Gurung (party president) and other leaders of the Morcha always invoke Gandhism and claim that they are organising the movement for a separate state in a non-violent manner. But they attacked the house of GNLF leader Rajen Mukhia several times and threatened the Opposition in the hills, which is completely opposite from the ideology of Mahatma Gandhi. When I opposed it, I was suspended from the party and immediately I decided to leave the Morcha,” Chhetri said. Today, he claimed that he had deserted the Morcha with more than 50 supporters.
The Morcha, however, said that it was hardly bothered about the erosion in its support base in Panighata. Tikaram Pradhan, the convener of Morcha’s Panighata-Terai zonal committee, said Chhetri had joined the Morcha to fulfil his own interests and he was expelled from the party because of some financial irregularities.
“We had expelled him earlier for his involvement in financial irregularities and if such persons leave our party, our support base will not be affected,” Pradhan said.
Throughout the day, more than 50 personnel from Panighata and Garidhura police outposts, cadets of the district commando force and the Indian Reserve Batallion were present at Panighata, 40km from Siliguri.
“When we formed the party about 30 years back, our aim was to achieve the separate state of Gorkhaland. Today, once again, we have assembled here to take an oath that we will achieve statehood at any cost. We have spearheaded the movement earlier and will do it again with the goal being single, that is, Gorkhaland,” Dawa Pakhrin, the president of the party’s Kalimpong branch committee and also a former councillor of the DGHC, said at the meeting.
Asha Gurung wife of GJMM Chief addressing a rally organised by GJMM as Dhikkar Diwas in Kalimpong. Photo: Samiran Paul
Facelift hope for Morgan House
TT, Kalimpong, April 5: The state government’s decision to develop the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation-owned tourist lodge at Chandralok as a “three-star” facility is expected to give a new lease of life to Morgan House, the popular name for the building from the British era.
The 80-year-old building, 3km from the town, originally formed part of a huge property of a British businessman. But the area has been encroached upon and reduced to nearly 10 acres.
What has not changed is the scenic beauty of the place where the building stands. It should be the most picturesque among the five WBTDC tourist lodges in north Bengal that the government has chosen to upgrade to give a fillip to tourism in the region.
On Saturday, tourism minister Manab Mukherjee announced in Siliguri the government’s plans to convert 10 WBTDC-run lodges in the state into “three-star’ facilities, with five of them in north Bengal. Besides Mainak in Siliguri, the other tourist lodges that will be upgraded are in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Malbazar and Madarihat.
According to the Union tourism ministry, a hotel has to fulfil at least 10 criteria to bag the “three-star” status. Some of the criteria are bilingual staff in the reception, availability of Continental dishes, bar, swimming pool, telephone, Net access in rooms and heating arrangement in washrooms. In fact, renovation of five of the six bedrooms of the Kalimpong lodge has already been completed. Other details of the makeover plan, however, are not available either with the manager of the lodge or with the WBTDC regional office in Siliguri.
“Since the start of the renovation in September we had not had any guest. However, now that the renovation of the rooms has been completed, we have started bookings,” said Kiran Thapa, the manager of Morgan House.
Ensconced in the hills of Durpindara, Morgan House faces the Kanchenjungha range and offers a beautiful view of the valley below. The nicely manicured golf course in front of the lodge, maintained by the nearby army station, provides a visual treat to guests staying at the lodge.
In keeping with Kalimpong’s reputation of being a town rich in floriculture, Morgan House, too, has a wide variety of flowers. The lodge has paved pathways that lead to the gardens with numerous flowers and foliage. “Visitors are mesmerised not just by the sight of Kanchenjungha but by the rich flora that they get to see in our gardens also,” said Thapa.
Storm kills woman, damages 2000 homes
TT, Cooch Behar, April 5: A woman was killed and over a hundred people were injured when a hailstorm hit several parts of the district last evening.
According to a preliminary report prepared by the district administration, over 2,000 houses were destroyed in the storm that was accompanied by large hailstones in the Cooch Behar subdivision and Tufanganj and Mathabhanga blocks around 7pm.
Sources said a housewife, Kalpana Mali, 25, died when she was struck by lightning at Putimari village in Baneswar. Her two minor sons also suffered injuries and were admitted to the MJN Hospital.
Ruki Barman, a resident of the Gheghirghat area, among those rendered homeless, said the tin roof of her house was blown off when the storm struck last evening. “We scrambled outside but a tree branch fell on me, bruising my arms. Within moments, the roofs of all the houses in the area were blown off,” she said.
“We do not know where we can take shelter,” added Barman. The chairman of the Congress-run Cooch Behar municipality, Biren Kundu, said Wards 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 19 and 20, had been badly affected by the storm.
“Over a hundred people were injured in the storm and they have been released after treatment at the district hospital,” said Kundu.
Hundreds of displaced people have taken shelter in school buildings in the affected areas. Sources in the administration said the estimate of loss of crops like jute, watermelon, corn and boro paddy was yet to be made.
The additional district magistrate (development), Pannalal Mahapatra, who toured the affected areas this morning, said about 10,000 people had been rendered homeless in the storm. “However, the full report is not yet ready. The process of preparing a list of the people affected by the calamity and estimating the damage caused by the storm is going on,” Mahapatra said.
As power poles were uprooted, many areas in and around Cooch Behar plunged into darkness yesterday.
The sabhadhipati of the zilla parishad, the CPM’s Dilip Biswas, said he had not seen such a storm in Cooch Behar in recent times.
“We have asked the agriculture department to submit an estimate of crop damage and we will place it before the state government for compensation. We have started distributing relief material to the affected families,” said Biswas.
The power department restored electricity in the town this morning.
Vast areas in the rural belts are still without power, said the sources in the district administration said.(Visual treats like a hoopoe in the lawn of Morgan House are common. Picture by Chinlop Fudong Lepcha)
Parking block on arterial roads
TT, Siliguri, April 5: Finding a parking space in Siliguri nowadays is no less than scaling Mount Everest with all the arterial roads choked during rush hours, a contribution of an ineffective civic body that has failed to develop dedicated areas to park vehicles.
“Sometimes, it is by sheer luck that you find space along Hill Cart Road and Bidhan Road and a portion of Sevoke Road to park your vehicle,” says Tanmoy Goswami, an IT professional who regularly uses his car in town. “Most of the times, we need to run from one place to another on Hill Cart Road in search of space. Even if we find a spot, it is usually half-a-km away from the place, where we need to go, and we have to walk with our belongings.”
It is difficult to drive a vehicle above 20kmph on these roads, along which main markets are located, during rush hours in the morning.
“The roads are congested with hundreds of vehicles parked on both the sides. Vehicles parked on the Bidhan Road, blocking traffic, is a common phenomenon. Added to it are rickshaws, which make the situation miserable. Of late, it has been taking more than 10 minutes to cross a one kilometre stretch on these roads,” said Rinchen Bhutia, an employee of an insurance company.
The scene in the other part of Hill Cart Road, that is across the Mahananda, is the same, but with one difference. It is not small vehicles but numerous long-distance private buses bound for Calcutta, Bihar and Assam, which are parked on the roadside. Traffic congestion is common till 9.30pm when the buses leave for different destinations.
There are some dedicated parking spaces developed by Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA) but they are filled by small vehicles plying between the hills and the plains.
Santanu Chowdhury, a resident of Pradhannagar, said: “It is surprising that authorities have failed to shift the private buses parked on the roadside at Siliguri Junction to a full-fledged terminus built at Sevoke Road (PCM Bus Terminus).”
The SJDA had announced more than a year ago that it would build a multi-storied parking space at the mela ground of Kanchenjungha Stadium in Bidhan Road to reduce traffic congestion on Hill Cart Road. However, the project planned in association with the Siliguri Municipal Corporation has not yet taken off.
The SMC authorities, on their part, said they had taken some initiatives to clear the roads.
“Earlier, several army vehicles used to be parked on Bidhan Road near the stadium, causing traffic congestion. We have made an arrangement and nowadays these vehicles are parked under the Mahananda bridge,” said mayor Gangotri Datta. “Widening of Bidhan Road is in progress and we hope once the work is over, traffic on the route will be easy. However, there is no denying the fact that the situation on Hill Cart Road is pathetic. We plan to ease the congestion by changing the routes of three-wheelers and with some other measures.” 
Hiked fees paid for report cards 
- Parents relent, cough up fines too
TT, Siliguri, April 5: Members of the Guardians’ Forum of North Bengal have cleared long overdue fees with fines “under compulsions”, almost a year after they launched a movement against the hike in tuition charges by six English-medium schools in and around Siliguri.
The parents, who had been on the warpath all these months for the rollback, decided to pay the revised fees so that their wards were issued the report cards for the next academic session.
“All the parents have paid their overdue fees to the six schools for the 2009-10 academic year. We paid the fees that the schools had revised in April 2009,” Sandeepan Bhattacharjee, the forum president, said today.
“We paid the fees under compulsions because the schools would not give the report cards of our children if the dues were not cleared. The Don Bosco School had issued a notice in mid-March saying results of annual exams would be published on Internet and report cards would be mailed to students only if the overdue fees were paid. The other five schools kept announcing in the assemblies that students would get the report cards only if the dues were cleared. When our agitation was at its peak in January and February, pressure on our children increased. Moreover, some schools said they would not accept the annual fees payable at the beginning of the new session unless the dues were cleared,” said Bhattacharjee.
The other schools against which the forum had launched the agitation were St Joseph’s High School (SJHS), Matigara, New St John’s School, Nirmala Convent, Auxilium Convent and Jermel’s Academy. The parents refrained from paying the increased fees — they said the hike was more than 85 per cent in most schools — and filed petitions in the Siliguri and Jalpaiguri courts in August last year, seeking a stay on the revision.
“We will pursue the case and if the court issues a stay order, it will be applicable to the schools with retrospective effect from April 2009. Whatever extra money we have paid will be reimbursed then,” said the forum president.
During the agitation, the forum mounted pressure on the government to get the schools revise the fees. But on March 3, the state directorate of education said it could not interfere since the matter involved the minority schools and the decision could be taken only by the Central Board of Secondary Education and the Council for the Indian School of Certificate Examinations.
Bhattacharjee alleged that barring SJHS, all schools had charged hefty fines. “There were more than 500 parents who had to pay overdue fees. All the schools, except SJHS, charged hefty fines. At Don Bosco, one had to shell out Rs 19,080, of which Rs 660 was fine.”
M.A. Joseph, the principal of Don Bosco School, said: “All the guardians who had not paid fees for the last academic session cleared their dues. The charge that we had exerted pressure on the students is baseless.”
Rebuilding houses, a distant dream 
- Hail hits Cooch Behar
TT, Alipurduar, April 5: The people of Kalchini block who lost their dwellings to a violent hailstorm on March 31, turned to the administration for shelter after a shower last night, some of them even queuing up at the houses of panchayat functionaries demanding to be taken in.
Most of those affected are yet to receive tarpaulin sheets as the administration had remained inactive because of the long weekend — Good Friday followed by Saturday and Sunday. The worst hit are the residents of the two closed tea gardens, Kalchini and Raimatang.
This morning, while an all-party meeting was going on at the Kalchini block office, 35km from here, members of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad forced the block development officer and the sabhapati of the Kalchini gram panchayat to inspect the damage caused in the two closed estates. The Parishad, along with representatives of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, took part in the meeting that began around 11am.
At 12.45pm, the three-member Parishad team stood up and demanded that BDO R.S. Sundas and sabhapati Atul Subba should inspect at least one of the closed gardens. However, the officials visited both Kalchini and Raimatang. 
“The administration has been sitting idle ever since the storm caused such devastation, and instead of holding meetings, we demanded that those who are responsible for sanctioning the relief see for themselves the condition of the people,” said Rajesh Lakra, the president of the Parishad’s Kalchini block committee.
He said the Parishad would demand that all the damaged houses be repaired by the district administration. “No one comes to visit the closed gardens, not even after a major natural calamity. Where will the people go when they have lost their homes?” Lakra said.
Panchayat functionaries, on the other hand, are living in fear of reprisals. Last evening, at 6.30pm, a strong shower that lasted for about three hours made people scurry out of their roofless homes and knock on the doors of panchayat members, demanding shelter.
“Hundreds of people came to my home and demanded they be let in. They used filthy language against me. I think I will have to leave the garden and stay elsewhere, as I can do nothing for the people. We need at least 5,000 tarpaulin sheets and we have received only 40,” said Sambhu Jaiswal, the deputy pradhan of the Dalsinghpara gram panchayat. Jaiswal is a resident of Dalsinghpara tea estate and one of the rural functionaries to be at the receiving end of the villagers’ wrath.
The block development officer, after visiting the closed gardens today, said Rs 2,000 would be provided to repair partially damaged houses and Rs 4,000 to rebuild fully-damaged ones.
“I am also expecting a large consignment of tarpaulins tomorrow that will be distributed immediately. For people belonging to the BPL category, we can also distribute funds under the Indira Awas Yojana,” Sundas said. He added that the financial assistance to the workers of closed gardens, that has not been paid to Kalchini and Raimatang since last October, would also be released soon. (BDO RS Sundas comes out of a damaged house- Pic Anirban Choudhury)

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