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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Limping hill railway...Shutdown threat to Tata gardens,...Bengal polls not before 2011

Hill Train Thrown off tracks
TT, Siliguri, July 6: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s call for indefinite closure of government offices from today has dashed the hopes of tourists looking forward to rides on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway that has been suffering from an annual average loss of Rs 4 crore for the past few years.
“We had come to Darjeeling hearing that the indefinite strike had been called off. A ride on the world famous toy train was first on our itinerary. So, we thought that we would book our tickets for a ride to Kurseong, realising little that the closure of offices included the DHR too. But at the station we were told that all toy train services have been suspended,” Tulika Sahay, a tourist from Patna, told The Telegraph over the phone from Darjeeling. The Sahays arrived in Darjeeling on Sunday on a week-long vacation.
A group of five tourists from the UK who had experienced rides on the other two world heritage railways of India — Nilgiri Mountain Railway and Kalka Shimla Railway — had planned to wrap up their trip to India with a DHR ride. “We arrived in Siliguri today and got to know of this office strike which includes the DHR too. We are staying here throughout this week and hope the strike is withdrawn so that we can enjoy a ride in the toy train,” Evie Hone, a girl from the group, said.
The heritage hill railway service was limping back to normality after the indefinite strike called by the Morcha for four days from June 19. Of late, the tourists were availing themselves of the rides but the sudden call for closure of offices has suspended the toy train services completely.
The DHR locomotive shed at the Siliguri Junction station
" The occupancy of services was around 60 to 70 per cent, if not full, in the past week. It means around 60 passengers took the trains in the Kurseong-Darjeeling sector, while around 40 availed themselves of the joyride between Ghoom and Darjeeling. Some people have also made advance bookings. Now we have no option but to refund their money. The DHR is incurring a loss of Rs 4 crore a year,” a DHR source said.
Shutdown threat to Tata gardens
- tribal trade union wants suspended workers back
TT, Siliguri, July 6: The Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad has threatened to shut down the four gardens of Tata Tea in the Dooars if eight suspended workers of one of the estates are not reinstated in the next few days.
The threat comes amid the growing clout of the tribal outfit, which has been making inroads into the Dooars and the Terai displacing the older trade unions like Citu and Intuc, and the garden management’s determination to stick to its decision.
Leading a group of 50-odd workers, the leaders of the tribal outfit and its trade union, the Progressive Tea Workers’ Union, today demonstrated at the deputy labour commissioner’s (DLC) office in Jalpaiguri, demanding immediate discussions. They denied that the suspended workers — six of them women — had assaulted the medical officer of Nowera Nuddy garden in August last year.
“We have requested the DLC in writing to arrange for a tripartite meeting (between the labour department, trade union and management),” said Suresh Oraon, the tribal trade union’s garden president. “The accused workers, including six women, had been suspended in a biased manner. We want them to be reinstated immediately.”
Uttam Lohar, the unit president of the Parishad at Nowera Nuddy with 922 permanent workers, said the outfit would launch a movement if its demands were not met.
“During the inquiry conducted by a one-man panel appointed by the management, the accused workers did not get a chance to present their case,” Lohar said. “If they are not reinstated in the next few days, we will launch a movement against the management and close down the garden.
“We will ask the workers of the other tea estates owned by the same management (Tata Tea) to support us. We might stop work in these estates, too, if our demands are not met,” he added.
On August 10 last year, the management of Nowera Nuddy in Jalpaiguri’s Malbazar had suspended the eight workers on charges of assaulting the garden’s medical officer R.K. Ratan Singh and ransacking the dispensary. The doctor had not issued maternity leave to a pregnant worker, the workers had alleged. The management had cited lawlessness to shut down the garden, which opened on August 28 after a tripartite meeting between the workers, garden officials and the labour department in Jalpaiguri. But the eight workers were suspended for organising the attack and an inquiry was started against them. The tribal trade union had at that time not yet been recognised by the labour department although its popularity had started rising. Rather the August talks were attended by both Citu and Intuc and the West Bengal Cha Mazdoor Sabha.
But contrary to the decision arrived at in the meeting, the suspended eight forcibly joined duty under the leadership of the Parishad. This prompted the management to close down the garden once more on September 14. After several rounds of talks, work resumed on December 12 and since then, the garden had been functioning normally. The tribal union had not participated in the December talks either, as recognition was yet to come but its parent organisation, the Parishad, continued to support the accused workers.
“The inquiry was conducted by someone who never heard the workers. He submitted the report on April 10 this year which reached us on June 18. The management, on the basis of this report, upheld the decision of suspension which we want to be withdrawn immediately,” Lohar said.
The garden management, however, is determined to keep the workers under suspension till necessary action is taken against them.
“The decision to suspend them was taken on the basis of a consensus at the tripartite meeting held in December last year,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary of the Dooars Branch of Indian Tea Association of which Tata Tea is a member. “According to the rules, the accused workers had been suspended during the inquiry. Now that the report is with the management, it is for them to decide what steps would be taken against those found guilty of assaulting the medical officer and ransacking his office.”
Sources in the tea industry said measures against the workers could range from sacking them to stopping their annual increment and obtaining written undertakings.
Suncane invite for Sikkim band- Girish ‘N’ The Chronicles off to rock europe
TT, Gangtok, July 6: Girish ‘N’ The Chronicles are ready to rock the Adriatic Sea front.
The Gangtok-based five-member rock band flew out this evening from New Delhi to participate in a three-day music competition at Herceg Novi on an invitation from the organisers of the Suncane Skale festival.
The Montenegro consulate general’s office in the capital had said in its invitation that Girish ‘N’ The Chronicles is the first Indian rock band that has been given the opportunity to showcase its talent in the Suncane music fest held every summer.
The festival begins from July 7 and the Sikkim band has been selected to compete in the Best Summer Song category on the final day.
Media manager Shyam Pradhan said the band had been selected for the Suncane fest during a nationwide talent hunt organised by the consulate of Montenegro at Guwahati a couple of months back. Only original compositions had been allowed to compete for entry to the fest.
Girish ‘N’ The Chronicles’s Angels beat the others and was short-listed. The lyrics had composed by band frontman 24-year-old Girish Pradhan (lead vocalist and guitarist) and put to tune by brother Yogesh Pradhan (keyboards). For the fest, Angel’s Angel has been composed. Noel Karthak Lepcha, 29, (bass guitar), Suraj Karki, 22 (lead guitar) and Nagen Mangarati, 23, are the other members of the band.
“Elated over the selection, the band is looking forward to broadcast Sikkim and its appeal as a tourist destination to the audience in Montenegro,” said Pradhan. The organisers who are allowing only a maximum of 3.45 minutes for each song have given a special relaxation for Angel’s Angel which runs over 6 minutes.
The letter from the Montenegro consulate general’s office says the Suncane Skale festival has over 200 hours of live broadcast on radio and television and is watched in over 50 countries in Europe and around the world.
Throughout the years, over hundred music hits have been broadcast and more than thousand songs have been performed by singers of 30 countries, the letter to the band states. Ever since Girish formed the band in October 18, 2009, the Gangtok singers have become a hit in the regional rock circuit.
The band has been keeping a hectic schedule since its selection, performing live on Doordarshan recently.
Pradhan said though the band’s stay in Montenegro will be taken care of by the organisers, the travel cost is being borne by the band. “The group is a collection of young performers who have only recently started their professional journey in rock music and although they have won many contests, finances are still not strong,” he said.
The overall expenses are coming to around Rs 4 lakh, the media manager said adding that the state cultural affairs department has chipped in with Rs 1 lakh.
The band members are confident that they will not only do well in Montenegro but also upon their return, will be able to put up a string of performances to recover their costs for the trip, the media manager said.
Tableaux, human chain for baton 
TT, Siliguri, July 6: Colourful tableaux and a human chain will welcome the Queen’s Baton when it arrives in Siliguri on July 19. A walk for Commonwealth Games is also being planned as an awareness campaign to receive the baton.
The baton for the 19th Commonwealth Games will reach Bagdogra on July 15 and will be kept in an army establishment in Siliguri for the night. Next morning, it will be taken to Gangtok and will reach Darjeeling two days later, sources in the Bengal Olympic Association said. The baton will come back to Siliguri on the return leg.
“Mantu Ghosh, a sports personality, will receive the baton at Sukna on July 19. She will be accompanied by other sportspersons who have played for the country,” urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya told reporters here today.
The minister held a meeting with the officials of the district administration, representatives of the BOA, Siliguri Municipal Corporation and the Siliguri Mahakuma Krira Parishad to discuss the arrangements.
“We are expecting the baton to be handed over to us at Sukna around 2.30pm. The sportspersons in small groups will carry the baton from Sukna to Kanchenjungha Stadium via Dagapur, Darjeeling More, Mallaguri, Air View More and Venus More, covering 15km. Tableaux and human chain will greet the baton on both sides of Hill Cart Road,” said Nantu Pal, the deputy mayor of the SMC. Students, teachers and sports-lovers of Siliguri will participate in the walk for Commonwealth Games to be organised in town on July 10.
“At the stadium, a programme by members from different communities depicting the rich cultural heritage of the region will be held to welcome the baton at 5.30pm. The baton will be kept in an open space in the stadium so that the people can see it,” Pal added.
Kamalesh Chatterjee, the general secretary of the BOA, said the baton would go to Guwahati on July 20. 
Bengal polls not before 2011
TOI, KOLKATA: Election commissioner S Y Quraishi on Tuesday ruled out holding assembly elections in West Bengal before schedule. “There is no possibility of advancing polls," Quraishi said at Kolkata airport, putting to rest speculation among the opposition and a section of the Left Front that the Election Commission may hold the state elections in January, well ahead of its likely dates in mid-2011.
"No such proposal (to advance polls) has reached the Election Commission from political parties. Neither do we have it in mind. We come into the picture six months before the elections," Quraishi said. Rumour mills began working overtime after Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee recently said the assembly elections could be held during the pujas. Mamata even claimed she had talks with the Union government.
The Election Commission has a constitutional obligation to consult the state government before finalising assembly election dates. Mamata’s assertion, hence, can come true only if the state is brought under President’s rule — a possibility CPM state secretary Biman Bose had hinted at while coming out of the party politburo meeting in New Delhi on Saturday. Quraishi, however, didn’t entertain such a surmise.
Quraishi and election commissioner V S Sampath came to the city on Tuesday to take stock of the state’s electoral roll revision, maintenance of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and issues like surrogate publicity by politicians in a meeting with the state’s electoral officers. The commissioners will also hold video conferences with district magistrates on Wednesday besides meeting state electoral officer Sunil Gupta, chief secretary Ardhendu Sen and home secretary Samar Ghosh.
The EC wants 100% EPIC distribution among voters before the assembly polls. The electoral roll revision in the state gets under way from July 9. Calls and SMSs can be routed to the voter’s helpline at 1506 from July 9. 

Teenager arrested for water poisoning
TT, Malda, July 6: A teenager who was expelled by a high school four months ago for allegedly putting vermilion on the forehead of one of his classmates was today arrested on the charges of poisoning the water of a tube well of the institution. A Class VI student fell ill after drinking water.
Sushmita Mondal, the Class VI student of Ramakrishna Sikshaniketan High School at Chitkol in Gajole, 35km from here, has been admitted to the adjoining Hatimari block hospital in a serious condition.
The headmaster of the school, Sudipta Mitra, said the teenager who was studying in Class X had been handed a transfer certificate in March for putting vermilion on the forehead of one of his classmates. He mixed poison to the water pipeline of the school apparently to avenge his punishment.
Today, Mitra said he had noticed a hand-written chit near the tube well that read: “I am Kulesh Mondal. I have mixed poison with the water pipeline to kill all the students to avenge the insult on my daughter.”
The headmaster grew suspicious and alerted the students by ringing the school bell and announcing that no one should drink water from the tube well. “But before the alert was sounded, some of them might have taken water,” Mitra said.
Mitra compared the hand writing of the chit with school records and became sure that the mischief was committed by the expelled student.
By then, the villagers rushed to the teenager’s house. Sensing trouble, the boy tried to flee by catching a train, but was caught at the Gajole station, police said. The mob locked him for more than five hours in a classroom of the school. When the police arrived, the mob heckled the law enforcers and gheraoed them also. Block development officer of Gajole Azmal Hossain and a police reinforcement later rescued the boy and the men in khaki.
The BDO said the villagers were angry with the boy. “We managed to pacify the crowd by assuring them that exemplary punishment would be meted out to the boy.”
Additional district superintendent of police Kalyan Mukhopadhyay said the boy had been arrested. “We are trying to ascertain the age of the boy. If he is a minor, we shall send him to a juvenile court.”

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