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Friday, July 30, 2010

Back on strike track to keep off rival - Bimal Gurung’s party calls bandh today to thwart ABGL meeting at Sukhiapokhri ... DGHC blames Morcha... Tribal disapproves map

GJM strike to thwart ABGL meeting at Sukhiapokhri
TT, Darjeeling, July 29: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has called a 12-hour general strike in Sukhiapokhri tomorrow to coincide with the ABGL’s scheduled public meeting there, indicating that it is unwilling to allow space to the opposition to function in the hills.
Earlier, too, the Morcha had prevented the ABGL and other hill opposition parties from holding public meetings. However, in recent times, faced with a backlash after ABGL chief Madan Tamang’s murder, the Morcha had relented and allowed the rival party to hold political programmes.
But today’s announcement of a strike in Sukhiapokhri made in the “interest of the law and order situation” makes it clear that the Morcha led by Bimal Gurung is once again hardening its stand.
Buddha Tamang, the media and publicity secretary of the Morcha’s Sukhiapokhri unit, said: “It is not that we are trying to stop the ABGL from holding a meeting at Sukhiapokhri (about 20km from Darjeeling). Since the majority of the residents in the area are Morcha supporters and since it is a haat (weekly village market) day tomorrow, people from the town and far-flung areas may not take the ABGL’s speech kindly and are likely to create law and order problems. We are calling the strike to ensure peace in the area.”
The ABGL said it would push ahead with its meeting. “The strike is a political programme of another party and our plan is to hold a public meeting. The meeting will start at 11am as scheduled,” said ABGL working president Dawa Sherpa.
Observers believe that the Morcha would not go out of its way to create trouble at the ABGL venue given the backlash it faced following Tamang’s murder. “The Morcha leadership is aware that a repeat of the May 21 incident will spell doom for the party at this juncture. It is unlikely that there could be a major law and order problem at Sukhiapokhri tomorrow,” said an observer.
Police sources said they were fully aware of the situation and proper security would be put in place for the meeting. “Chances cannot be taken and adequate security will be arranged,” said an officer.
The strike call, however, is likely to deter many ABGL supporters from attending the meeting even though party supporters from Maneybhanjyan said they would attend the rally. Maneybhanjyan is known to have a sizeable number of ABGL supporters. The meeting at Sukhiapokhri will be the third in two months by the Morcha rival. The two earlier meetings were held at Kaijalya near Bijanbari and Darjeeling.
The decision to hold the public meeting reaffirms the ABGL’s determination to create a base in the rural areas. For long, the ABGL had failed to mobilise public support at the grassroots level even though Madan Tamang had played a significant role in opposing the Sixth Schedule status mooted by GNLF leader Subash Ghisingh.
Even though public resentment against the GNLF was swelling, the ABGL had not been able to take advantage of the hill sentiment, which was later successfully exploited by Gurung who formed the Morcha.
“Madan Tamang concentrated merely on holding public meetings which were constantly disrupted by the GNLF that did not lose an opportunity to call strikes in areas whenever he was to make a public appearance. However, the ABGL seems to have learnt its lesson well and has started holding meetings and mobilising support at the grassroots at the same time,” said an observer. “The ABGL, however, still has much to do.” 
DGHC blames Morcha for  tourism spanner
The DGHC lodge at Tribeni occupied by Gorkhaland Personnel. File picture
TT, Siliguri, July 29: DGHC administrator B.L. Meena said today that the council could not take up any tourism project in the hills, barring the repair of a few huts for trekkers on the Sandakphu route because of frequent strikes by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
“Funds for the improvement of tourism infrastructure are lying with us. But we could not launch any project for tourists visiting the hills as DGHC offices are closed because of agitation by the Morcha,” said Meena. “However, some minor repairs were carried out at some locations.”
According to him, several people, including foreigners, travel every year to Sandakphu and Phalut — two popular destinations for trekkers in the Darjeeling hills. “The DGHC had built huts for the trekkers on the Sandakphu route, but they took a lot of wear and tear over years. Although political problems in the hills are posing a hindrance to the execution of projects, we could start the repair of the huts to make them suitable for the tourists to stay. We expect the work to finish soon,” said the administrator.
DGHC officials said there were proposals for the introduction of rafting and angling on the Teesta at Tribeni in Kalimpong and improvement of roads to tourist spots like Tarkhola, Relli and Deolo in the subdivision.
“Similar proposals are pending in Darjeeling and Kurseong subdivisions also. The projects could have helped boost tourism in the hills. However, officials found no point in giving a thought to a single project as they had faced a lot of opposition from the Morcha whenever they came forward to discharge their duties,” said an official.
He also alleged that the Morcha was standing in the way of tourism promotion by occupying seven DGHC properties. “After the administrator had filed FIRs, Gorkhaland Personnel vacated five DGHC properties. But two are still occupied by them. By turning DGHC lodges into camps for GLP, the Morcha left tourists disappointed as they could not find lodges at idyllic places like Deolo and Tribeni,” he said. While the GLP left Deolo lodge, the building at Tribeni is still their camp.
Tribal front disapproves State Map
TT, Siliguri, July 29: A new forum of the tribals today protested the map proposed by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha for the separate state it wants.
“As the tribals are the majority in the Terai and the Dooars, they (Morcha leaders) are trying to create a rift in the community by sketching a map that covers certain portions of the Dooars and not the entire area,” said Suman Ekka, the general secretary of the Adivasi Democratic Front here.
The front was formed about a month ago comprising members of the political parties like the Congress and the RSP.
“The Dooars and Terai population have always been together and there is no question of separating these areas for the sake of the Morcha,” Ekka said.
After bringing out the map, the Morcha leaders had said they had included only the Gorkha-dominated areas of the Dooars in the map. “But we want to make it clear that there is no area in the Dooars where the Gorkhas are a majority. We have nothing to say if the Morcha continues its agitation for a separate state while keeping its territory limited to the three hill subdivisions.”
Ekka, who introduced himself as a Congress leader, said the tribal population of the Dooars and the Terai would prefer to stay within the administrative ambit of Bengal instead of the Morcha’s separate state. “We would be a minority then if the entire Dooars is not included in the territory (proposed by the Morcha).
Samuel Gurung, a Morcha central committee member in-charge of the Dooars, denied any intention to create a rift among the tribals.
“We have no such intentions. The territory of the proposed separate state that has been demarcated by our party leadership is based on certain facts and not something quirky,” Gurung said. 
Tallest & oldest tags on Sikkim trees- Contenders many but hunt still on for heritage giants
TT, Gangtok, July 29: Who is the oldest giant of them all? It is yet to be found out. A Sikkim government project launched last year to hunt for the most towering of the trees, as well as the oldest in each species, remains an ongoing process with more contenders coming up for the heritage status.
“We have received reports of around 35 such trees of various species, and 20 have been shortlisted so far. Some more reports are coming in which will be verified,” said Usha Ganguli-Lachungpa, a senior research officer (wildlife) of the state forest department.
The search for Sikkim’s tallest and oldest trees, launched in the first quarter of 2009 as part of the forest department’s centenary year celebrations, is an ongoing process which includes incentives for the searchers.
“The heritage trees and sites in the forest areas of Sikkim will be identified and local stakeholders like the joint forest management committees, who protect such trees, will be felicitated by the department at appropriate programmes,” said Anil Mainra, the additional principal chief conservator of forests said.
Mainra said villagers had been involved in the protection of such trees and sites in the forest areas for generations. The objective of the search mission is to generate awareness about protecting the trees as an integral part of Sikkim’s diversity, he said.
The hunt has yielded some results and searchers have cited several trees that could be contenders for the “heritage” status. These include nine trees including a juniper with a girth of about 42 feet at Sevo reserve forest, Lachung, in North Sikkim. It was honoured as the “first proposed heritage” tree during International Rhododendron Festival this year.
Thirteen trees from South Sikkim including a fig with a girth of 29ft and a height of 95ft have also been put on the list. The searchers also found 10 trees in East Sikkim including a ficus with girth 33ft and height of 150ft. Three pines have been shortlisted by the department in West Sikkim. One of them has a girth of 21ft and a height 120ft.
“Can we find any tree bigger/older than these? We must find out and document such old giants so they can be formally recognised as biodiversity heritage trees and given due status,” state forest secretary S.T. Lachungpa had written in the department’s centenary celebrations souvenir magazine. The forest department while launching the hunt had highlighted the need to locate and identify all such trees, collect their history from the local villagers and generate a photo documentation. There is also a need to document biodiversity heritage sites like the wetlands (taal) and water sources (boudha), the department said. 
School turns 150 without pomp- Jenkins alumni cry for jubilee celebration
Main Uddin Chisti, TT, Cooch Behar, July 29: Jenkins School has stepped into its 150th year but there seems to be no effort on the part of the authorities to celebrate the occasion, leaving its alumni disappointed as well as angry.
Located in the heart of town, the government-run institution has been declared a heritage property. The school is among the most beautiful edifices in the town renowned for its architectural marvels left behind by the erstwhile princes of Cooch Behar.
The former students blamed the school authorities for taking no initiative to celebrate the 150th anniversary.
“I passed my Madhyamik and Higher Secondary exams from Jenkins School and I am proud to have studied in an institution that is a shining example of the education scene in Cooch Behar 150 years ago. I am really disappointed that no one is inclined to celebrate such a landmark year. Along with some former students, I had approached the present headmaster, but he did not seem to be interested in the matter,” said Debabrata Chaki, a writer.
Headmaster Binoy Krishna Bhadra admitted that some former students had met him. “We are thinking of contacting our higher authorities in this regard and plan something to mark the school’s 150 years of existence,” he said.
The initiative to establish the school was taken by Maharaja Shivendra Narayan during his reign from 1839 to 1847. 
“He wanted to set up a modern institution to teach English and began working on his plan and in 1841, wrote about his wish to Captain F. Jenkins, who was looking after education for the British government,” said Chaki.
The maharaja, however, could not realise his dream and passed away. The school was opened by his son and successor Maharaja Narendra Narayan in 1861 and named after Captain Jenkins who had retired from the service two years earlier.
The institution had first come up in the Debibari area of the town, but the building was ravaged by a fire. A new structure was built by the rulers on the east side of Sagardighi in 1879, but that, too, was destroyed in an earthquake in 1897. The present building was built at the same spot in 1905.
“We the former students will not let next year go without any celebration and we will arrange for something on our own,” said a determined Chaki.
Nirmalendu Chakrabarty, now 67, recalls how his alma mater had organised the centenary celebrations way back in 1961.
“I was in Class X. It was a grand affair with Maharaja Jagadddipendra Narayan sending a message to the school from Calcutta. Rabindranath Tagore’s personal secretary, Anil Chanda and noted Sanskrit scholar from Calcutta University, Gournath Shastri, were present on the occasion. We have written to the President and the Prime Minister about the school and have also applied to India Post for a commemorative postal stamp,” said Chakrabarty, who heads the philatelic society here.
Sold girl rescued
TT, Malda, July 29: Harishchandrapur police today brought back a 13-year-old girl who had been trafficked to Mumbai by her neighbour Sabir Ali on July 17. Ali, 38, has been arrested.
Motiur Rahman of Tejpura in Harishchandrapur had lodged a complaint on July 18 saying that his daughter had been kidnapped. Police learnt that Ali and his men had lured away the Class VI student to Mumbai with the promise of a job.
A police team was sent to Mumbai which rescued the girl. The girl was handed over to her parents through the court. Ali had sold off the girl to a brothel. “We are interrogating him to find out the names of the others involved in the trafficking,” an officer said.
Prisoner flees
TT, Siliguri: Punit Tamang, an undertrial prisoner from Banarhat in Jalpaiguri district, escaped from the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital on Thursday. Matigara police said Tamang had been arrested for a theft and admitted to the hospital on July 25 with a stomach ailment. A search is on. 
Embankment demand
TT, Siliguri: Congress workers submitted a memorandum to the sabhadhipati of the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad on Thursday, demanding embankments on the Panchanoi river at Debidanga, Methibari and Salbari areas under Champasari gram panchayat. The protesters have threatened to start a movement if no steps are taken. 
One injured
TT, Jaigaon: A resident of Mainaguri was injured in a road accident near Lataguri on Thursday. Officials at Metelli police station said Gana Chaki while going to Chulsa on a motorcycle rammed into a bus that was parked beside NH31C. He has been sent to NBMCH for treatment.
Repair plea
TT, Jalpaiguri: The DYFI’s district committee submitted a memorandum to the subdivisional officer (sadar) here on Thursday, demanding immediate repair of national and state highways.
3 Days vehicle strike in the state
IE, KOLKATA: Private operators have called a three-day transport strike across the state from August 10-12 after their demand to hike bus and taxi fares was rejected by the government. The operators have sought the chief minister’s intervention to work out an amicable solution.
But with the government refusing to budge on Thursday, Kolkatans seem to be staring at what has now become almost a monthly routine — flash strike calls with no regard for their crippling effect on the city and the largescale inconvenience they cause to its residents.
State transport minister Ranjit Kundu said there was no way the government would buckle under the pressure tactics from transport operators. "What can I say? They met me on Wednesday and called a strike on Thursday. But we are not going to change our stand," Kundu said.
So, as things stand now, 35,000 buses and mini-buses, 30,000 taxis and 16,000 luxury taxis will be off the roads for three busy weekdays in hot and humid August.
Kundu said the state government would deploy more buses so that commuting woes were eased during the strike days. "We will try our best," he promised. But the government will not take any initiative to start talks with the operators. "If they want to talk, it’s fine. But we will not ask them to come forward for discussions," he said. 

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