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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

WB Gov asks GJM to continue talks with state, centre...Seminar on WTO agreement...Hill rivals pin hopes on Raj Bhavan ...Morcha to meet governor today

PTI, Kolkata, May 19 : West Bengal Governor M K Narayanan today asked the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to continue dialogue with the Centre and the state government after it recently walked out of a tripartite talks over the Gorkhaland issue.
The Governor, who is at his summer retreat in Darjeeling, told a GJM delegation which called on him "to see that peace and tranquility in the hills is not disturbed in the interest of the people."
The GJM on May 12 had walked out of a meeting with officials of the state government and the Union Home Ministry after refusing to budge from its stand on inclusion of Siliguri and Dooars in the interim set-up proposed by the Centre for administration of Darjeeling and surrounding areas.
Seminar on WTO agreement
IPR,Gangtok,19 May: The Centre for WTO Studies, FACSI and FICCI held a Seminar on “Promoting Awareness on WTO Agreements: Towards Capacity Building of Stakeholders” at a local Hotel, in the State capital today i.e. 19 May 2010 .The seminar was organized in cooperation with the Commerce & Industries Department, Government of Sikkim and Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India. Ms. Neeru Sewa, Minister for Commerce and Industries, graced the occasion as the chief guest.
 Addressing the  Seminar, Miss Sewa congratulated the FACSI and FICCI for organizing this outreach programme on World Trade Organization and greatly appreciated the interest shown by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India and Centre for WTO Studies to support this capacity building project in the State. “WTO is new to our State and it is our endeavour to create awareness so that our people could also take advantage from it”  she added.
Ms. Sewa further said that the “Look East Policy of Government of India has ushered in a lot of opportunities in the North-East region and helped in dealing with economic backwardness, lack of economic awareness, amongst other important issues. Further Sikkim is in the globalization process and the Government has adopted clear strategies for the sustainable development of the State by playing the roll of a facilitator .The State Government has adopted an investor friendly policy and liberal Labour laws. Ms. Sewa also highlighted on the Capacity Building and Skilled Development schemes of the  State Government to enable the local youths to meet the requirement of Industrial ventures and other sectors.  
She further stated that World Trade Organization is a multilateral, rule-based trading system and the importance of having a multilateral trading  system in this global scenario has increased manifold. The main overall motto of WTO is to promote and ensure the international trade in member countries with the mantra of Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization, besides trade without discrimination.   Since WTO deals with trade in goods  and services and also IPR issues, there is a need to have better understanding of the impact of these WTO agreements. We also need to learn about their implications on our resource-poor population dependent on agriculture, small and medium enterprise, handicrafts, and service-providers and make our domestic policies compatible with the WTO rules, she added.
The Seminar was also attended by Commissioner-cum-Secretary Industries Mr. M.G. Kiran, Director Industries Mr. K.K. Kafley, Mr. Sukhendu Bikash Ghose, President, FACSI, Mr. H.K.Guha  Vice President FACSI,  and other officials.  
Mr. R.S. Ratna, Professor, Centre for WTO Studies also made a power point presentation on “ Overview of WTO Studies; The Institution & Agreements” 
Hill rivals pin hopes on Raj Bhavan
TT, Darjeeling, May 18: A delegation of the Democratic Front, a seven-party coalition in the hills, met the governor here today and sought his intervention to end the current imbroglio in the Darjeeling hills and the high-handedness of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
The Morcha will meet him tomorrow, its general secretary said.
The front claimed that the governor, who is here on a vacation, has taken a keen interest in the Darjeeling issue and has promised the outfits another audience.
Governor M.K. Narayanan is no stranger to the Gorkhaland issue and many in the hills consider him one of the key backstage players in the negotiations that led to the signing of the DGHC Accord in 1988. He was then the chief of the Intelligence Bureau.
Recently, Vijay Madan, the interlocutor of the talks between the Centre, state and the Morcha, had met him at the Raj Bhavan in Calcutta and briefed him on the situation in the Darjeeling hills.
On Sunday, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had said the governor could always take the initiative to solve the Darjeeling impasse, but had also added that he was not aware of any such move.
“The talks went on for more than an hour and he wants to meet us for another round. We discussed all issues concerning Darjeeling and he showed a great deal of interest,” said Dawa Sherpa, the state secretary of the BJP and the convener of the front.
Elaborating on the discussions, ABGL president Madan Tamang said: “We apprised him of the water problem, lack of democracy, corruption and the state government’s role in fuelling the Darjeeling fire. The talks were very fruitful.”
The front also consists of the CPRM, the second largest party in the hills. “We need Gorkhaland but before that we need democracy,” said R.B. Rai, the general secretary of the CPRM, referring to the Morcha’s “muscle-flexing” in the hills. “We also told him about the recent death (of the GNLF leader Tikaram Chhetri) in Kalimpong and how the family is being pressured to withdraw the FIR,” added Tamang.
Chhetri succumbed to his injuries two days after he was beaten up by a group of youths on May 13. The GNLF alleged that the Morcha was behind the attack.
The hills are, however, looking forward to the Morcha meeting with the governor. Party general secretary Roshan Giri said: “We will meet him tomorrow at 3.45pm. Banks will be allowed to remain open on Monday, Tuesday and Friday.” The Morcha has shut down all government offices in the hills.
Tomorrow’s meeting is significant as the current negotiations between the Morcha, state and the Centre on the interim arrangement for the hills have virtually fallen through on the territory issue. The Morcha wants Siliguri, the Terai and parts of the Dooars to be made part of the interim set-up. According to the Morcha, the territorial jurisdiction of the interim set-up will later form the boundary of the separate state of Gorkhaland. The government, however, wants the interim set-up to be limited to the hills.
Asked if the front had raised the interim set-up issue at the meeting, Sherpa said: “The people who are demanding the set-up should be raising the issue. It seems that they (Morcha) too are giving up on the set-up.”
Tamang added that the set-up would be an alternative to the DGHC and that only the board would be interim (till the Assembly elections are over). “I do not think that the set-up will be interim. The set-up will be an alternative to the DGHC and the board will be interim, which virtually means that there would be no election but only a selection to run the set-up.”
The front has already “rejected” the interim set-up and has maintained that Gorkhaland cannot be compromised. 
Cops cajole tribals to return
TT, Siliguri/Alipurduar, May 18: The Dooars remained closed today as the 72-hour strike called by the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad entered its second day.
Police could successfully persuade bandh supporters out to hold rallies to return to their homes at two places.
Around 10am, about 1,000 Parishad supporters of Denguajhar Tea Estate and nearby gardens started marching towards Jalpaiguri to demonstrate at the District Primary School Council (DPSC) office. The strike has been called to demand a reduction in the cut-off percentage for tribal students appearing for the recruitment test for primary schoolteachers.
The police stopped the procession at Gosala More near Jalpaiguri by raising a barricade. The Parishad members shouted slogans and tried to break the barricade, but were stopped by a patient force.
“We were stopped by the police while on way to Jalpaiguri town to voice our protest against the recruitment process of the DPSC,” said Budhuram Oraon, the president of the Parishad’s Jalpaiguri Sadar block. “As we are carrying out our movement in a democratic manner, we did not resort to violence and held a meeting on the road.”
Around 1.30pm, the Parishad members began returning to the tea estates, much to the relief of the police.
A similar incident was reported at Kranti in Malbazar block, where around 3,000 Parishad members had assembled to hold a rally. The police intervened and stopped the protesters.
The strike was total in Malbazar, Metelli, Nagrakata, Birpara-Madarihat, Kalchini and Kumargram blocks.
A few shops opened at Damdim, Banarhat and Shamuktala, but in most places, traders decided to wait till 6pm when the 12-hour relaxation began.
Like yesterday, admit cards for the primary schoolteachers’ exam could not be distributed from the 10 branches of Uttar Banga Kshetriya Gramin Bank in the Dooars.
“We decided to distribute the admit cards from our Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar branches on May 24 and 25,” said a senior bank official.
Kiron Kalindi, the adviser to the Parishad, said: “Hundreds of ST youths have been deprived of jobs by the DPSC which has fixed a high cut-off percentage. A meeting will be held on May 20 to decide on further course of action as we are not going to give up the issue.” 
Tourists risk night trips to flee Dooars
TT, Siliguri, May 18: More than 400 tourists rushed out of the Dooars last night although the 12-hour relaxation from 6pm announced by the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad was meant for today.
Most of them — especially those stuck at Phuentsholing, the border town of Bhutan, 200km from Siliguri — were not ready for the “night safari”, but took little time to pack up when news trickled in that many vehicles were being allowed to pass.
Many tour operators said they had taken a chance last night. “As soon as the news of a relaxed vigil (by bandh supporters) reached the tourists here, there was a scurry to check out of hotels and hire vehicles. The movement of vehicles continued throughout the night. Tonight, we expect a similar rush and more,” said B.K. Prasad, a Jaigaon-based tour operator. “More than 400 tourists left the Dooars last night.”
Ramesh Rudra, who had come with his family of 12 from Burdwan, was among those who had been forced to make the night safari.
“It was a night safari, but unwanted. We had no clue about the routes, the forests were dense and at regular intervals, we could see coloured flags, which the driver told us were of the tribal organisation that had called the strike,” he said, after reaching New Jalpaiguri early this morning. The family had started from Jaigaon around 11.30pm yesterday. Dinki Chajjar from Rajasthan had to sit at New Alipurduar station with his family throughout yesterday as the tour operator he had contacted in Jaigaon, could not send any vehicle.
“Finally, the vehicle reached the station at 9pm and we started for Jaigaon,” Chajjar said. “After the train journey and the day long wait, we could not move to Thimphu today and decided to stay back in Phuentsholing. For this, we have to cut short our tour of Bhutan by a day. We might take a direct flight from Paro on our return journey to avoid inconvenience.”
“We have some tourists coming to New Jalpaiguri and Bagdogra today. As our vehicles could not run during the day, we will ply them after 6pm,” Prasad said.
Raj Basu, the president of the Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association, said the Parishad had promised safe passage to tourists during the day.
“But they were stopped at several locations. We had a group which started for Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary from Jaigaon this morning banking on the commitment of free passage but could not make it as the bandh supporters stopped them on the road,” he said.
Most of the reserve forests like Gorumara, Chapramari and Jaldapara did not have any visitors today. “Only a handful were there in the forest resorts,” said Kamal Bhowmik, the secretary of the Lataguri Resort Owners’ Association.
More rallies, says chief
TT, Kalimpong, May 18: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has decided to intensify its street campaign in the lead-up to second round of political-level tripartite dialogue which is expected to focus on an interim arrangement to administer the Darjeeling hills.
Today, the Nari Morcha, the party’s women wing, started its three day rally — but tomorrow’s meeting has been suspended because of the homage to Father Burns — in the hills and the Dooars and Terai.
Immediately after the women’s rallies, the two affiliates of the party, the Janmukti Karmachari Sangathan and the Janmukti Asthai Karmachari Sangathan, will take over the agitation for the next three days. They will be followed by similar programmes by the Yuva Morcha, the youth wing, from May 24 to 26.
Members of the Nari Morcha took out a rally through the streets of the town in the morning, shouting slogans in favour of Gorkhaland, and denouncing the alleged atrocities being committed against the Gorkhas in Meghalaya. In fact, the women wing had organised its three-day protest to condemn the police firing that left four Nepali-speaking persons dead on the Assam-Meghalaya border and also subsequently the “quit notice” served on Gorkhas living in a particular area of Shillong.
Morcha president Bimal Gurung, who is camping at Deolo, about 5km from here, said the extended protest programme was being held to intensify the movement for Gorkhaland. “All the people must come forward and provide strength to the movement. The opposition, too, should focus on the main issue.”
Gurung was talking to reporters at a programme to announce the induction of P.K. Chhetri, a subdivisional leader of the ABGL, into the Morcha.
The Morcha chief had recently entrusted the responsibility of overseeing the functioning of the Kalimpong unit of the party with general secretary Roshan Giri and assistant secretary Binay Tamang. He had also replaced the office-bearers of the Nari Morcha’s Kalimpong branch with a five-member committee to stem the infighting among the unit leaders.
Move to Supreme court for Highway disruption
Prabin Khaling, Gangtok, May 18: Advocate OP Bhandari today said that he will be filing an urgent contempt of Court petition with the Supreme Court in view of recent disturbances along the NH 31A where around eleven Sikkim bound vehicles including a government vehicle were vandalized along the highway during the two day Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) sponsored bandh in the neighbouring Darjeeling hills.
The bandh had taken place on May 15 and 16.
I will be leaving for New Delhi tomorrow and ask my counsel to file the contempt of Court petition on an urgent basis with the vacation bench of Supreme Court, said Bhandari to media here.
Bhandari said that he had filed a contempt of Court petition earlier when around six vehicles had been damaged by unknown groups along the highway in February 18, the day when GJM had called a bandh in the hills.
The earlier contempt petition was on an ordinary petition but this time I would be filing an urgent contempt petition with additional documents over the NH 31A being disrupted again, said Bhandari.
Bhandari had collected information on the action taken by the Sikkim government during the recent two day bandh in the Darjeeling hills to ensure an undisturbed highway. He had, through a representation, collected details from East district police and administration and State home department.
“I have got the details and I will be filing the contempt petition on basis on these documents”, said Bhandari.  We will be praying that the directives given by the Supreme Court over the highway should be implemented and Sikkim remains free from highway blockades, he said.
Bhandari who is also the Officer on Special Duty (legal) attached with Chief Minister’s Office asserted that he is filing the petition on a personal capacity as a Sikkimese. It is a personal petition as the people of Sikkim will not allow to be suppressed, he said. He added that he expects support from the Sikkim government as the petition is in the interests of Sikkim.
It may be recalled that Bhandari had approached the apex Court in 2005 seeking that the NH 31A, Sikkim’s lifeline, be kept free from all bandhs and blockades.
Bhandari had again filed a fresh petition in 2008 in the court where GJM, organizations based in Siliguri like Amra Bengali, Centre, West Bengal government and others had been made as respondents.
The Supreme Court on January 25 earlier this year had warned political parties not to block the NH 31A.
Though there was no picketing along the highway during the bandhs in February and May, violence against vehicles plying along the highway was enough to scare off traffic movement.
A rally organised by GJNM in Kalimpong  Pix: Samten Kabo
Hill hamlet buries murky past- Green brigade takes over village
Abhijit Sinha, TT, Siliguri, May 18: Chatakpur has almost all the ingredients of a fairy tale, a picture-perfect scenery and a happy ending.
From the infamous village known for illegal felling, Chatakpur, 7km from Sonada, has now transformed itself to a tourist destination where visitors make a beeline for the lush greenery, wooden cottages, forest trails, trekking routes, and overall, a getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Foresters said the revenue earned from the project goes to the villagers. The charges are Rs 2,800 for Indians and Rs 3,800 for foreigners on twin-share (of a room) for 24 hours. It includes food, boarding, guide’s fees and charges for cultural events. Bookings can be done through travel agents or from the Senchal west range office in Jorebunglow.
“The transformation of Chatakpur is simply unbelievable. It was a notorious village with illegal felling and timber smuggling. We had to raise a separate camp for our staff to check the felling,” said Sumita Ghatak, the divisional forest officer who was in charge of wildlife-I till yesterday and who was behind the Chatakpur project.
“Through our consistent intervention we succeeded in changing the people who are now associated with eco-tourism as well as conservation of nature and wildlife.”
During the switch from a timber smuggling den to a tourist haven, the forest department electrified the village and brought drinking water to the hamlet inhabited by 80 to 100 people. Arrangement for sanitation was also made in each household.
“We developed the forest watchers’ camp into four cottages, and some ancillary infrastructure. We also made it clear to the villagers that their children would have to go to school,” the DFO, who has taken charge of wildlife II from Tapas Das, said.
Besides the four cottages, Chatakpur, 70km from Siliguri and above 3,000ft, has homestay facilities in five houses. The forest department has also introduced organic farming and tourists can handpick vegetables from the field for cooking.
Once a tourist reaches Chatakpur, he is flooded with a number of options. “He can enjoy the folk dance, climb up to the watchtower for a view of Sandakphu and the sunrise, spend time at the water body or pokhri or choose one of the trekking routes leading to different destinations, both uphill and downhill,” Ghatak said. “There are also rock faces to climb.”
The department has also trained seven youths of Chatakpur at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling who work as guides now.
“In short, Chatakpur is an ideal model of community tourism,” said Raj Basu, a stakeholder of the tourism industry in north Bengal and in the Northeast.

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