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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bengal wants ‘others’ in hills talks

TT, May 5: Bengal wants all stakeholders in Darjeeling and the Dooras and Terai to participate in the next political-level talks to bring an end to the hill impasse, sources in the Union home ministry as well as the state government said today.
This is likely to delay the resolution of the problem and the setting up of an interim authority since the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which is leading the agitation for a separate Gorkhaland state, is bitterly opposed to the idea.
The next round of political-level talks is scheduled for the end of this month. In the last round held in New Delhi in March, the state and central governments and the Morcha were involved.
However, Subash Ghisingh’s GNLF and the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad as well as Left Front partner RSP have been demanding that they, too, be included in the talks as they have a stake in the areas that the Morcha wants to be brought under the interim set-up.
The Morcha has been demanding that not only the entire Darjeeling district — including Siliguri with a predominantly Bengali population — but also parts of the Dooars where Gorkhas are in a majority be included in the interim set-up. The geographical boundary of the interim set-up would define the shape of Gorkhaland, the Morcha had said.
According to sources in the government, the administration now not only wants the GNLF and the Adivasi Vikas Parishad, but also the ABGL, CPRM and the RSP, to be included in the talks.
Sources in the home ministry said the Bengal government had conveyed to it that a solution to the Gorkhaland problem could not be reached without including all the stakeholders.
“So far the state and central governments have only talked with the Morcha,” said an official. “But there are other political formations and groups, which have a significant presence, in the hills and the Dooars. For instance, the CPRM is the second largest hill party after the Morcha, and the RSP as well as the Adivasi Vikas Parishad have a far greater presence in the Dooars than the Morcha. So it is only fair that their views are also factored in, otherwise there will be no consensus.”
State urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya, who represented the state government in the last meeting, spoke on similar lines.
“Our intention is to tell the Union government that we want to take into account the views of all the political parties on the Darjeeling issue before the final agreement is signed,” Bhattacharya said. “We want a consensus to emerge before signing the pact. But there’s no question of ceding the Dooars, Terai or Siliguri.’’
However, this runs contrary to what the interlocutor for talks, Vijay Madan, had said recently. He had specifically said on a recent visit to Sukna that other than those involved in the last round of talks at the political level no other party would be invited for the next round of talks.   
1. Prof.A.C.Sinha renowned Historian and analyst said in Gangtok that formulation of Interim Setup is not the solution for the remedy of Gorkhas' agony and injustice towards them. Gorkhas too should create a national level leadership to materialise the goal  of Gorkhaland.
2. Jaswant Singh is now in Kalimpong till tomorrow.
GLP of GJMM stationed at Algarah for the last 6 months are accused of smuggling logs from the nearby Forest.
3. Anti Gorkhaland posters are seen in Kalimpong. 
MP to buy hills hears, ambulance Jaswant empties coffers
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, May 5: Darjeeling MP Jaswant Singh has promised his constituency an ambulance and a hearse as his personal contribution, as his Local Area Development (LAD) funds are almost exhausted.
Singh’s gesture is in sharp contrast to more than Rs 1.7 crore of the LAD funds unspent by two hill MLAs.
“As far as the MPLAD funds are concerned, there are limitations. There is only a certain amount. I want to provide an ambulance, not from my MPLAD funds. I have also been told that there is no hearse here and I intend to offer that also,” Singh told The Telegraph.
Having already sanctioned 18 projects together worth Rs 1.9 crore, Singh has very little left in his kitty, which is Rs 2 crore a financial year.
The Darjeeling MP might have done his bit for the constituency, but the people are still losing out on public funds because of the ongoing turmoil in the hills.
According to official sources, Shanta Chhetri and Goulan Lepcha, MLAs from Kurseong and Kalimpong respectively, have not been able to utilise their LAD funds.
“Around Rs 70 lakh of the Kalimpong MLA’s funds is lying unutilised, while Shanta Chhetri has around Rs 1.08 crore unspent,” said an official who did not want to be named.
An MLA gets an annual grant of Rs 50 lakh.
“About a year ago, the MLAs changed the executing agency (for the projects undertaken using the funds) from the DGHC to the Darjeeling district magistrate’s office, where the unspent amounts have accumulated,” said the official.
Observers believe that given the current political situation in the hills, most people are unwilling to go to the MLAs with proposals. “Not many people are forthcoming to use the MLA funds,” said an official.
Chhetri, who is a three-time GNLF MLA from Kurseong, was forced to flee her hometown after the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had forced her party chief Subash Ghisingh to resign as the DGHC administrator in March 2008.
On the other hand, Lepcha had resigned from the GNLF as soon as the Morcha started gaining popularity in the hills, along with the Darjeeling MLA, Pranay Rai.
However, both Lepcha and Rai have not joined any political party since, but they frequently raised the issue of Gorkhaland in the Assembly while remaining unattached members.
The duo were also able to gain public sympathy for relentlessly raising the issue in the Assembly. Even the Morcha has taken a non-confrontational attitude towards Rai and Lepcha.
However, the same cannot be said of Chhetri. The Kurseong MLA’s house was torched and she was allowed to enter the hill town only when her husband was on the death bed, almost two years after being forced out of the hills.
Although Chhetri had pointed finger at the Morcha for the arson, the hill party denied any role and said the incident was the result of the public’s spontaneous outburst.
Officials said the MLAs’ funds would lapse if the amount remained unutilised till the end of their five-year term.
Chhetri, speaking over the phone from Calcutta, admitted that she could not release a large amount of money from her funds.
“It is sad that the public funds cannot be utilised. Given the present situation in the hills under the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, nothing is moving. However, I have been able to utilise some funds at a few places,” added Chhetri.
However, unlike the Kurseong and Kalimpong MLAs, Rai has sanctioned many projects and released funds.
Some of the MPLAD schemes which have been sanctioned by Singh include the setting up of a vocational training and sewing centre at Simkuna, 3rd Mile, construction of community halls at Rose Bank and Upper Rajbari in Darjeeling; and an auditorium for the Gorkha Dukha Niwarak Sammelan, development and construction of Swami Vivekananda Primary School and the establishment of a Himalayan Museum at the Manjushree Culture Centre in Darjeeling.
“I am still amazed that there should be shortage of drinking water in Darjeeling. This is because of mismanagement by the government and water mafia,” said Singh.
36 students promoted on MLA ‘request’
TT, Jaigaon, May 5: Thirty-six students of Hasimara High School (Higher Secondary), who had failed in the Class XI annual exams, were promoted by the teacher-in-charge on the “request” of the local MLA today.
A total of 111 students in the arts stream had appeared for the Class XI final exams, but only 75 of them managed to pass.
“We did not promote the 36 students, as they could not meet the guidelines of the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education. However, after the results were published on May 3, they approached me and sought promotion to Class XII. I rejected their plea,” said Ashok Bhattacharjee, the teacher-in-charge of the school, located about 30km from here.
Bhattacharjee said according to the council guidelines, it is mandatory for a student to score minimum 30 per cent marks in first and second languages and pass in other exams. “These students had failed in more than one subject, including the language papers,” he said.
This morning, the students locked the entrance to the school and started a demonstration, demanding promotion. But Bhattacharjee and other teachers entered the school through the back door.
As a number of anxious parents waited outside the gate, the Kalchini MLA, Wilson Champramari, reached the school.
“He came to my room along with 15-20 students and asked me to promote them. I told him clearly that I did not have any intention to retain them in any class and I am simply following the council guidelines,” said Bhattacharjee. “The MLA then called up the deputy secretary of the council’s north Bengal regional office in Siliguri. I also had a talk with the deputy secretary who told me to settle the matter on our own. As the MLA persisted with the request, we decided to promote all the students to Class XII.”
Mukta Narjinari, the deputy secretary, could not be contacted.
Champramari said: “I went to the school and requested the teacher-in-charge to promote the students. We had a discussion and finally, he agreed to promote them.”
Stop-rally threat to Gurung
TT, Siliguri, May 5: The Bangla O Bangla Bhasha Banchao Committee today threatened to stop Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung from holding a public meeting on a school ground in Sukna on May 8.
The anti-Gorkhaland forum has also threatened to call a general strike in Bengal on May 14, the day the political-level tripartite talks on Gorkhaland is supposed to be held. However, the Centre-appointed interlocutor for the talks, Vijay Madan, later said the meeting was likely to take place at May-end because of the Parliament session.
The Morcha chief has been staying in Salbari near Sukna for the past six days, holding meetings in the Terai and also leading a campaign to consolidate a support base for his party and the statehood movement.
“We have been repeatedly requesting the administration not to allow Bimal Gurung or the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to hold any meeting or rally (in the plains) but the administration seems to be sleeping,” said Mukunda Majumdar, the Bhasha Committee president. “Our organisation does not support such activities by a person who has been grossly violating laws over the past two-three years.”
Majumdar said they had launched a Darjeeling Chalo march a few months ago but were intercepted by police at Dagapur on the outskirts of Siliguri. “Now since Gurung is moving freely in the plains and campaigning in favour of Gorkhaland, we plan to intensify the anti-Gorkhaland campaign. We will resume our protest march on May 8.”
Protesting the tripartite meeting on Gorkhaland, the Bhasha Committee president said: “It is unfair on the part of the central and state governments to hold talks only with the Morcha and prevent us from articulating our views. If the Centre still goes ahead with the plan (of holding tripartite talks), we will have no other option but to observe a general strike on May 14 in Bengal.”
However, sources in the Union home ministry as well as the Bengal government said today that the state wanted all stakeholders in Darjeeling and the Dooars and Terai to participate in the next political-level talks to bring an end to the hill impasse. “The administration now not only wants the GNLF and the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad, but also the ABGL, CPRM and the RSP, to be included in the talks,” a source said.
Morcha leaders, however, are not ready to attach any importance to the plains outfit’s announcement of the protest march. “We are a democratic political party and have the right to hold a public meeting,” a central committee leader of the Morcha said. “It is the responsibility of the police and the administration to tackle those people (the Bhasha Committee).”

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