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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Resolution of Hill impasse depends on state’s will: GJMM ...GNLF to raise force to counter Morcha

SNS, SILIGURI, 17 MAY: A day after the state urban development minister Mr Asok Bhattacharya blamed the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) for the latest deadlock in the Darjeeling negotiation process, the GJMM today hit back saying that a solution to the Darjeeling impasse now completely depends on the political will of the state government.
“The Centre is in total conformity with our demand for attaching the Gorkha-dominated areas of Siliguri, Terai and the Dooars in the proposed ‘interim’ administrative set-up for Darjeeling. But the ball is now in the state's court. The state government makeup its mind whether it wants a solution to the Hill imbroglio or was eager to extract political mileage by succumbing to the popular Bengali sentiment,” the GJMM spokesperson Mr Harka Bahadur Chhetri said today. Adding, the GJMM leader further said that it was the Centre and not the GJMM, which had proposed the ‘interim’ set-up for Darjeeling before the creation of Gorkhaland in future.
“The Centre had first put forward the proposal and after much deliberation, we had agreed to accept the ‘interim’ set-up, provided that more powers and areas are bestowed in it. But if the state government is adamant not to concede us new areas, then we too are not ready to go for a settlement and rather would carry forward the Gorkhaland agitation in a more vigorous way,” Mr Chhetri warned.
The GJMM leadership is also blaming the urban development minister for “indulging in anti-GJMM propaganda campaign.
Security force of GNLF
TT, Siliguri, May 17: The GNLF has decided to raise a 10,000-strong voluntary force to “protect its supporters from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha”.
Rajen Mukhia, the convener of the GNLF’s Terai branch committee, said the decision to create a force had been prompted by the death of the party’s Kalimpong branch leader Tikaram Chhetri in an attack last week. The party alleged that the Morcha was behind the murder.
“Keeping in view the current state of affairs in the hills and the state government’s ineffectiveness in controlling the law and order situation, we have decided to raise a voluntary force. We will wait till May 30 to see what steps the government will take to ensure the safety of opposition workers in the hills. We will set up our own force, which will work for self-defence. We have already spoken to our branch committee members in all the three hill subdivisions and the process has already set in motion,” Mukhia said today.
GNLF supporters today organised a silent rally at Panighata, about 40km from here, in memory of Chhetri who had been attacked on May 13 and succumbed to his injuries at a nursing home here two days later.
The GNLF had formed the Gorkha Volunteer Cell (GVC) in mid-80s when the party had first spearheaded a movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland. “We will create a force with 10,000 members who will be picked up from the age group of 18-45. It will be similar to the GVC,” said Mukhia.
At present, the Morcha and the CPRM — the first and second largest parties in the hills — have voluntary forces. The Morcha’s Gorkhaland Personnel has been active for more than a year, engaging themselves in traffic regulation and crowd control during rallies and at times acting as a parallel police force. The CPRM unveiled its Swyam Sevak Bahini during the recent May Day celebration.
GNLF sources said the party chief, Subash Ghisingh, had not initially supported the formation of such a force. But Ghisingh gave his consent to the idea when members from the Terai and the hills met him at his rented house in Jalpaiguri on May 13.
“We have told him about our plan and I don’t want to divulge much about our future programme,” Mukhia said when asked if he had informed Ghisingh about the plan.
K.L.Tamta, the inspector general of police, north Bengal, said: “I have heard about the GNLF move to create a force and we are keeping a close watch on it. But regarding their grievances against police, I would like to say whenever we receive complaints, we investigate and act accordingly.”
Gardens plead for June relief
TT, Darjeeling, May 17: The Darjeeling tea industry has appealed to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to exempt the gardens from the 10-day strike scheduled to begin on June 12.
The appeal comes at a time when the production of Darjeeling Tea has hit an all time low. The Tea Board of India has said the hill gardens produced only 8.3 million kg of made-tea in 2009 compared to 14 million kg in the early 1980s. Further, the strike period covers the days of second flush plucking.
“The drought has already played havoc with the industry. After October 9, the hills received a substantial amount of rainfall only on April 14. Production of first flush, which accounts for 20 per cent of the annual production, has already come down by 40 per cent,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, the secretary of the Darjeeling Tea Association.
He added that a mere shower would not help the industry, as the bushes required sustained and uniform water for better yield.
“Conditions were so bad that large sections of bushes were destroyed in fires in gardens at Soureni and Phuguri (Mirik),” said Mukherjee, adding that the production would be hit hard if the June 12 strike included the tea estates.
The planters are most worried about the timing of the strike. “It is between the first and third week of June that the plucking of second flush takes place. We do not mind if the tea despatched from the gardens are stopped during that period but if the plucking is affected, the leaves will become useless and the production will be hit hard,” said Mukherjee.
The first two flushes, which account for 40 per cent of the total annual production, fetches the premium price. “The rest of the flushes (monsoon and autumn) are sold at lower prices. Export prices have already been hit by the global meltdown,” said Mukherjee.
The production cost per kg of tea is estimated to be between Rs 240 and Rs 310 for organic gardens and Rs 170-180 for non-organic estates. Of the 87 registered gardens in the hills, which can sell their produce as Darjeeling Tea, almost 60 per cent are already organic or are on the verge of conversion.
“In the past two years of the agitation, the industry has been largely kept out of strikes’ purview. The scheduled 10-day strike has been badly timed as far as the industry is concerned. We will write to the Morcha and request the party keep the tea estates out of the strike’s purview,” said the association secretary.
The hill gardens spread over 17,500 hectares employ about 55,000 permanent workers and 1 lakh temporary labourers. “The strike will hit the workers as well since bonus is given to them depending on the total wages they receive annually,” said Mukherjee.
Bimal Gurung, the president of the Morcha, was not available for comments. 
Climate focus on eight core areas- Less rain & receding snow line spur Sikkim action plan
TT, Gangtok, May 17: Receding ski slopes and a rise in mercury level have prompted the Sikkim government to frame an action plan for climate change.
Minimum temperatures have risen by 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the past five decades, affecting the annual snowfall in the high-altitude areas of Yumthang Valley in North district.
The president of the Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim, Paljor Lachungpa, who has been promoting skiing in Yumthang since 2008, had to call off this year’s itinerary because of low snowfall.
“We usually have heavy snowfall during February and March every year in Yumthang, which has high potential for skiing sports. But this season, there was less snowfall. Hopefully, we will have good snowfall next season so we can introduce skiing on a commercial basis,” said Lachungpa. However, the flowering season in Yumthang this year was phenomenal because of the low snowfall. “I had never seen such blooming of rhododendrons in the valley ever in my life.”
According to the Met office in Gangtok, 2009 was the warmest in the century for Sikkim.
Citing the Indian Meteorological Department records, state science and technology secretary M.L. Arrawatia admitted an increase of 0.2 to 0.3 degree Celsius for Sikkim every 10 years. So in the past 50 years, temperature in Gangtok has risen by 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius, he said.
After a two-day brainstorming workshop for preparing the action plan, Arrawatia said eight priority areas — forests, wildlife, eco-tourism, water resources, energy efficiency, urban habitats, agriculture and horticulture and communities vulnerable to climate changes — have been identified.
Winter rainfall has already reduced to a great extent, which has resulted in low water availability in the springs in rural areas, said the secretary. The action plan will include recharging water resources by way of plantation and rainwater harvesting.
The state government will notify various “working groups” from departments to study each priority area. “We are trying to finish the action plan draft by October and initiate pilot projects,” said Arrawatia.
The secretary said the German Development Bank was already in touch with the DoNER ministry to implement the pilot projects for the Northeast .
Arrawatia said the Sikkim government, in the past two decades, has taken several exemplary measures to protect ecology in the Himalayan state. “The action plan will further strengthen our steps towards protection of the environment.” 
Burns passes away: 
Father Burns , a Canadian Jesuit and a well-known social worker who had set up Burns Gram and established Hayden Hall, passed away on Monday evening. He was 86.The funeral will take place on Wednesday.
All Banks, and LICs Offices in Darjeeling Hills will remain open on Monday, Tuesday and Fridays declared GJMM. 
ABGL will observe its League day on 21st May.  
Quit notice to the Gorkhas of Langpih situated in the border of Assam and Meghalaya is withdrawn. 
GJMM wrote a letter to the Home Ministry regarding the atrocities against Gorkhas of Langpih
Situation in Langpih -
Sentinel, SHILLONG, May 17: The Meghalaya Cabinet today ratified the State Home Department’s decision to deploy more police personnel to Langpih, besides deciding to ask the Union Government to put pressure on Assam to accept the proposed independent inquiry into the May-14 firing incident at Langpih.
With the situation in the State taking a volatile turn after the firing incident at Langpih on Friday last, Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma held four marathon meetings with different groups at State Secretariat today.
A meeting with the Meghalaya Gorkha Association was followed by an all-party meeting, a Cabinet meeting and parleys with representatives of agitating NGOs, church elders and members of the civil society.
Speaking to reporters, Sangma said the Cabinet had decided to send adequate forces to Langpih till the vexed inter-State boundary issue is resolved amicably.
Referring to the decision to send more State police personnel to Langpih, Sangma, however, hinted that it should not be viewed as a “confrontational attitude” even as he said “the firing by Assam Police personnel is a clear violation of the status quo agreement between by the two States with regard to all areas of dispute”.
“We will send adequate State police force in order to ensure return of normalcy and to instill confidence and security in the minds of the people,” said the Chief Minister. 
The State Cabinet also decided to pursue with the Union Government the issue of making Assam accept Meghalaya’s demand for an inquiry into the firing incident by independent agencies.
“We will take up the matter in right earnest to ensure that the erring policemen are brought to book”, said Sangma. He said his government would leave no stone unturned to resolve the inter-State border row at the earliest possible time.
“The first step has been taken. I am taking up this matter with all the concerned parties to expeditiously resolve the differences,” said Sangma.
Stating that he had a telephonic chat with Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi after which they agreed to initiate early steps for a dialogue, Sangma asked the NGOs and members of the civil society to be patient and help the government to pursue the matter.

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