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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bundh gets an apolitical highway ride...Gangtok gets 1st Mayor...Dooars bundh

Stay-away plea flies against SC order
TT, May 12: An “apolitical” outfit supporting the Gorkhaland cause has appealed to people to stay away from the national highway to Sikkim on May 15 and 16, the two days on which the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has called a bandh.
The “appeal” is expected to hit Sikkim-bound traffic despite a Supreme Court directive to the Bengal government and the Centre to keep NH31A, the lifeline of the Himalayan state, free of blockades.
However, keeping in mind the apex court order, the Morcha had announced that it would not picket on the highway during its two-day bandh.
But the National Highway Protection and Welfare Association, which claimed it was apolitical but supported the Morcha cause, today said it would “appeal” to all concerned to refrain from plying vehicles on the road during the strike.
The apex court order had come on a petition filed by a Sikkim resident. Frequent strikes called in Bengal by those supporting and opposing the Gorkhaland agitation had been affecting traffic on the busy highway.
This time too, despite the court directive, owners and drivers of vehicles, especially those ferrying tourists, are reluctant to ply on NH31A during the bandh. Moreover, the three companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) that arrived on February 23 in compliance with the apex court order to keep the highway free of blockades left the region on May 4.
“On February 18, four vehicles on way to Siliguri were vandalised by an unidentified group during a general strike called by the Gorkha Janmukti Vidyarthi Morcha. After the incident, all vehicles bound for Siliguri returned to Sikkim,” said a Gangtok-based tour operator.
The general secretary of the Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim, Lukendra Rasailly, said there was already a shortage of vehicles in the Himalayan state. “There could be more shortage as vehicle owners will not take the risk of plying them on the strike days,” Rasailly said. He added that the Darjeeling strike had caused overcrowding in Sikkim with tourists cancelling their bookings and moving to the Himalayan state.
The secretary of the Siliguri Taxi Owners’ Association, Kamal Khawas, however, was non-committal about the “appeal”. “About 200 vehicles run between Siliguri and different destinations in Sikkim. Let us see what happens when the strike begins,” he said.
Despite the Morcha keeping NH31A out of its protests after the court intervention, there were instances in the past when stones were thrown at vehicles plying the highway. Under the circumstances, it is unlikely that anyone will drive their vehicles on NH31A, especially with an apolitical organisation backing the shutdown call.
“We are an apolitical organisation consisting of educated youths living along the stretch between Mungpong and Rangpo. We fully support the Morcha’s statehood agitation. We, therefore, appeal to all concerned not to ply their vehicles along NH31A during the strike,” said Ajay Diyali, the general secretary of the association.
Diyali, however, said they would not picket on the highway. “It’s only an appeal. We are confident that everyone supporting the statehood demand will heed our request,” he said. On February 26, then chief secretary of Bengal Asok Mohan Chakrabarti had assured his Sikkim counterpart T.T. Dorji that the highway would be kept open at all times.
K.L. Tamta, the inspector-general of police, north Bengal, while confirming that the CRPF had left, said: “With the agitation being renewed and given the state of affairs, we have asked for four companies of the CRPF to be deployed in the hills and the highway.”
The police chief, however, ruled out the use of force to clear blockades on the highway during the Morcha strike. “In case any blockade on NH31A is reported, we will approach the agitators and remind them of the Supreme Court verdict and tell them that it should not be violated under any circumstances,” he said. “There is no question of applying force to clear the road.” 
Ex Civic Councillor attacked
KalimNews: Tikaram Chhetri Ex Kalimpong Municipality Councillor and a GNLF supporter was seriously injured and hospitalised in Siliguri. Ransacking his house Chhetri was attacked by some miscreants and later taken by them. After a few hours he was found in an unconscious condition by his family members. and taken to Siliguri as his condition is critical, family sources stated. No  FIR is lodged , Kalimpong Police confirmed. 
Several cases of abduction and attacking is being heard in Kalimpong since the poster incident of 8th May, but so far only 5 cases have been registered in the Kalimpong Station against unknown miscreants and no significant police intervention and safeguarding or arrest is made by the Police. 
Bimal Guring President of GJMM is in Kalimpong since tuesday night and will be staying till this week. He met Hari Dahal Secretary of JSTO injured during an intra party attack on 8th May. He is still under treatment .
MK Narayanan Governor  of the state is visiting Darjeeling on 16th May.
Dooars joins strike race
TT, Siliguri, May 12: The Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad has called a 72-hour strike from May 17. The bandh comes close on the heels of another strike — a two-day shutdown called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha from May 15.
The Parishad strike — in demand for recruitment of Hindi-speaking teachers in the primary schools of the Dooars immediately — has nothing to do with its bete noire, the Morcha.
Besides, the Morcha bandh on May 15 and 16 is limited to the hills. But the back-to-back shutdowns have left the tourism sector and the business community jittery. Added to this is a 24-hour strike called by the Bangla O Bangla Bhasha Banchao Committee on May 14 to protest the decision to form an interim set-up for the hills.
Raj Basu of the Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association said the nature of the strikes was such that it would affect an entire circuit for six days. “Cancellations of bookings has already begun in Darjeeling but we had managed to shift some tourists to the Dooars. But now that the 72- hour strike has been called in the Dooars, there is hardly any option left for us.”
Biswajit Das, secretary of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, North Bengal, said transport of goods would be affected the most. “It is true that these strikes will affect specific areas at a time but trade is inter-linked — from the plains to the hills to Sikkim.”
About 5,000 supporters of the Parishad arrived at the Sports Complex in Jalpaiguri a little after noon.
“We had written to the district primary school council on May 5 that those who have studied in Bengali medium schools cannot teach students in the Dooars. We need Hindi-speaking teachers,” said John Barla, president of the Dooars-Terai regional unit of the Parishad. “We have called a three-day general strike throughout the Dooars from May 17 to 19.”
With the Parishad members agitating at the Sports Complex, police asked the DPSC officials to meet the protesters. They arrived after three hours at 3.30pm.
Kaushik Roy, the district inspector of schools (primary) of Jalpaiguri, said he would inform the school education department about the Parishad demand.
Late entry to stop JEE switch
TT, Calcutta, May 12: Universities have decided to start admissions to first-year classes in colleges after the joint entrance exam results are announced, in an attempt to ensure that seats in science courses do not remain vacant or are filled up with less-deserving candidates.
Admissions to undergraduate colleges usually begin in the first week of June, immediately after the results of Class XII board exams are declared. This year, the board exam results are expected to be declared between May 18 and June 4. Admissions to colleges will take place in the third week of June and forms will be distributed as usual at the beginning of the month.
JEE results are likely to be declared in the first week of next month, followed by counselling, which concludes around the third week of June.
Apprehending that many students who enrol for science courses may not finally join first-year classes after cracking the JEE, Calcutta University, West Bengal State University, Kalyani University, Vidyasagar University and Burdwan University have directed the principals of their affiliated colleges not to start the admission process before the JEE results are declared.
“Colleges should start admitting students only after JEE results are announced. However, we have asked the colleges to start the process of giving out admission forms immediately after the Class XII results are announced,” said Swapan Paramanik, the vice-chancellor of Vidyasagar University.
Calcutta University has decided to start the admission process for first-year classes in its affiliated undergraduate colleges on June 21.
“It is a common tendency among many students to take admissions to undergraduate courses before the JEE results are declared to keep both options open. Once they crack the JEE, the students switch to the engineering and medical courses, leaving the seats they had already occupied in the colleges vacant. This problem is faced by many of our colleges. This time, I will ask the principals of the colleges to start the admission process to first-year classes a bit late,” said Alok Banerjee, the vice-chancellor of Kalyani University.
The universities have also requested the state joint entrance examination board to start the counselling process earlier this year.
Sidhartha Dutta, the chairman of the West Bengal Joint Entrance Examination Board, said he was aware of the problem. “We understand the problem faced by the colleges. We are trying to complete the counselling of the JEE students early,” Dutta said.
Gangtok gets first mayor
TT, Gangtok, May 12: K.N. Topgay of the SDF was today unanimously chosen the first mayor of Gangtok Municipal Corporation. The 51-year-old Topgay represents Chandmari ward. Shakti Singh was nominated his deputy.
Topgay said his priority would be to tackle the issues of sewerage and drainage and make Gangtok cleaner. The civic body has 15 wards and all were won by the SDF. The councillors were administered oath by the Sikkim East district collector today. The SDF has also won the 32 wards of Namchi Municipal Council and the nagar panchayats of Rangpo, Singtam, Mangan, Geyzing and Jorethang.
Court query about slow road widening in Sikkim- Suo Motu Notices to border roads organisation and union ministries
TT, Gangtok, May 12: Sikkim High Court has issued suo motu notices to several Union ministries and the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and has sought responses on the bad condition of three strategically important roads in the Himalayan border state.
The roads are NH31A, the only link between Sikkim and the rest of the country, North Sikkim Highway and Jawaharlal Nehru Marg that leads to the India-China border. The Union ministries of surface transport, home, defence and finance, the director-general of the BRO and the Sikkim chief secretary have been given 10 weeks to file their responses.
The court in its order on May 3 has fixed July 16 as the date for the next hearing.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Barin Ghosh and Justice S.P. Wangdi acted on recent media reports on the inferior widening work and poor maintenance of the three roads, posing a threat to the Sikkim residents and tourists.
The judges have pointed out the strategic and security aspects of the three roads passing near the borders with Nepal, China and Bhutan.
Observing that the condition of North Sikkim Highway appeared to be worse, Justice Wangdi said the widening of the road had begun more than seven years back and “surprisingly, the work is yet to be completed and its progress is manifestly slow”.
The bench also noted that the widening of NH31A and Jawaharlal Nehru Marg had commenced a year back, but the speed and manner in which the work was being undertaken did not appear to be satisfactory.
“The progress of work is much below the desired extent considering the huge amount of public money sanctioned for the purpose,” said the bench.
The court said the North Sikkim Highway was used by the defence personnel to reach the passes of Sesela and Thankarla, leading to the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China.
“In the event of an external aggression taking place now, this region of the country would be a sitting duck to be easily overrun in minutes due to the road conditions,” remarked Justice Wangdi in the suo motu public interest litigation. He went on to say that this perception gained more force in view of the reports of the highly developed roads and transport system created on the other side of the borders by neighbouring countries.
All the three widening projects are looked after by Project Swastik of BRO. While Rs 600 crore has been earmarked for the widening of 180km-long North Sikkim Highway, the 66km-long Gangtok-Nathu-la road’s work entails a cost of Rs 495 crore. According to the BRO schedule, both the projects will be completed by 2015.
For NH31A’s widening, the BRO is spending Rs 73.9 crore on the Sikkim side. Survey has not been completed for the 96km long road’s Bengal side.
At least two vehicles had been hit by boulders slipping from hill sides at 13th Mile and 17th Mile while road widening was going on last week. Three tourists and two customs officials were injured in the accidents.
Acknowledging the problem, the outgoing Project Swastik chief engineer, Brigadier R.K. Patyal, called upon his men to ensure that the Gangtok-Nathu-la road was clear during summer and October-November when tourists flocked the state.
“The rain came bit early this time. We have to do stone soiling and take care of drainage system,” said Brigadier Patyal on the Gangtok-Nathu-la widening.
Brigadier Patyal is being replaced by Brigadier Rajiv Sawhney as the new chief engineer of Project Swastik.
4 children freed from clutches of ‘sadhu’

TT, Alipurduar, May 12: Four children aged between 11 and 17 years were rescued from Hasimara railway station yesterday after a “sadhu” accompanying them stoked the suspicions of a policeman.
Bandhan Lakra, who was masquerading as the “sadhu” with a long beard, has been arrested.
Around 8.30am, Niloy Jha, an assistant sub-inspector of police of the Hasimara outpost, was patrolling the station area, 40km from here, when he noticed Bandhan moving around with the children, one of them a girl.
Jha started grilling Bandhan who after disclosing his name, said he was taking the children to Delhi. Suspecting foul play, Jha took the man along with the children to the police outpost, about 300 metres away.
Bandhan, a resident of Samuktala, later told the police that he was about to board the Mahananda Express to Delhi and he was taking the children there to give them jobs in a private factory Bandhan also said that he had taken permission from their parents.
During interrogation, the police found that two children, including the girl, were from Jainti Tea Estate, one was from Simlabari near Samuktala and the other from Rangamati Tea Estate near Kalchini.
Hasimara police contacted their counterparts at Samuktala who informed the parents. They identified their wards at the outpost yesterday.
Magra Kujur, the father of one of the rescued boys, said: “We had been looking for our son for the past three days. We were very worried and contacted all possible places. Yesterday afternoon, Samuktala police informed us that Hasimara police have rescued a few children. I was very happy to see my son. This man never talked to us and we do not know him.” After verification, the children were handed over to their parents on personal release bonds.
Samir Majumder, assistant public prosecutor at the court of the additional district magistrate, said Bandhan has been remanded in police custody for 10 days. Bandhan later confessed that he sold children in Delhi in the guise of a “sadhu”. The man has been booked under sections 365, 363 and 366(a) for kidnapping the children.

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