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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

State asks Delhi to defer hill talks...ABGL dent in Morcha turf...Cloud on talks, relief for hydel projects

Nishit Dholabhai, TT, New Delhi, July 19: The Bengal government today asked the Centre to defer the tripartite talks with the Gorkha Janmutki Morcha. The home ministry, as a result, is unlikely to convene the negotiations on July 24, a date announced earlier by Delhi.
A fax from Writers’ Buildings has requested the ministry to defer the talks, sources told The Telegraph.
The probable postponement comes in the wake of evidence collected by Bengal police, which could nail top Morcha leaders in the Madan Tamang murder case. Phone conversations between Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri and cadres were reportedly recorded by the police before and after the murder on May 21. “We told the Bengal police to arrest (them) if they have the evidence,” said a home ministry source.
The Bengal government’s predicament is that it would be difficult to take action against Giri and others, who could be accused in the Tamang murder case, after sitting across the table with them. Moreover, the Darjeeling unit of the CPM — the party that heads the Left Front government in the state — is opposed to the talks. In Delhi, officials believe that Bengal would not like to go ahead with the meeting before the Assembly elections.
The meeting was to discuss the Centre’s proposal for an interim authority for the Darjeeling hills on the lines of the DGHC, which earlier was an elected body.
For the Morcha, the fear is that the interim body could be equated with the Sixth Schedule status proposed by GNLF chief and former chairperson of the DGHC, Subash Ghisingh.
“Right now, it is the internal dynamics of the Morcha and the Bengal government’s worries that are important,” said a source.
Voice transcripts are admissible in court after tests at a forensic lab. But for the CPM-led government, elections are a priority and the talks may be conveniently pushed over to next year. North Block, however, would ideally like to continue its engagement with the Morcha, the source said.
SC on highway
The Supreme Court on Monday again directed the Centre and the Bengal government and parties agitating for and against Gorkhaland to stop blocking NH31A, the highway that links Sikkim with the rest of the country.
The top court order came just days ahead of a proposed 24-hour bandh by the Morcha on July 25. The court was acting on a PIL filed by .P. Bhandari, a resident of Sikkim, who said bandhs cut off the landlocked state completely, snapping supply of essential commodities.
ABGL dent in Morcha turf
TT, Darjeeling, July 19: The ABGL has started fanning out across the hills, claiming that it has formed committees in areas known to be in the grip of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
Dawa Sherpa, the working president of the ABGL, today said: “In the Relli-Jephi area, 39 families owing allegiance to the Morcha have joined us. Similarly, 29 families from the Rimbick-Lodhama area have also enrolled in the party under the leadership of Rajen Rai.” Buoyed by the support — this is the first time that any Morcha rival has claimed that supporters of Gurung’s party have switched loyalties — the ABGL has started forming units across the hills.
The party has also revived Tarun Gorkha, its youth wing, and has made Chewang Bhutia and Binod Gurung the presidents of its Kalimpong and Darjeeling units respectively. G. Sharma will be in charge of Kurseong.
Cloud on talks, relief for hydel projects  Strike lifted after tech college promise
TT, Darjeeling, July 19: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has decided to withdraw its 70-day-old strike at two NHPC project sites from tomorrow following an assurance from the central power agency that it will set up an engineering college in the hills.
The Teesta Low Dam Project Stage III (worth Rs 768.92 crore) which is coming up at Kalijhora and the Stage IV (worth Rs 1,061.30 crore) at 27th Mile in Kalimpong subdivision have missed the deadline because of bandhs and agitation. The project costs are according to 2002 pricing.
Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the Morcha, today said: “We had submitted a memorandum to the NHPC with four demands 86 days ago. Since they did not come up with any assurance after a fortnight, we had called a strike. We have now received a positive letter from the NHPC and have decided to lift the strikes from tomorrow.”
The Morcha had demanded that the NHPC should set up an engineering college in Darjeeling, provide free electricity to people living within 1km radius of the project, carry out local development work and an MRI unit.
“The NHPC has written to the district magistrate seeking his help to find a location to set up the engineering college and the MRI unit,” said Giri. An NHPC official substantiated the Morcha claim. “Whatever Giri has said is correct,” he said without elaborating.
The TLDP III was set to be completed in December 2009, while the TLDP IV was commissioned for December 2010.
Jumbo calf killed on track
TT, Siliguri, July 19: A male elephant calf died when a train engine rammed into it in Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary last night. It is the 17th wild elephant to die on the Dooars track since it was converted into broad gauge in 2004.
The elephant was crossing the tracks at Choplangkhola near here when the engine on way to Siliguri Junction hit the animal and dragged it for several metres.
“The calf was alone with no herd nearby. It suffered injuries on the chin, skull and the brain has multiple lacerations,” said Tapas Das, the divisional forest officer (wildlife I). “The incident occurred around midnight and the calf was around three-four years old.”
The track connects Siliguri Junction with Alipurduar Junction via Sevoke and Malbazar. The foresters were informed about the incident by the residents of Choplangkhola, 15km from Siliguri. The engine knocked down the animal 2.5km from Gulma station.
The guards took vets to the spot and a post-mortem was conducted on the carcass. The calf was cremated in the afternoon.
Moloy Maiti, one of the vets who conducted the autopsy, said: “There were multiple injuries on the elephant, which had turned into a mangled mass of flesh and blood. We will hand over the post-mortem report to the forest department.”
Ever since the Dooars rail track was converted into a broad gauge in 2004, there have been several incidents of animals, mostly elephants, being mowed down by speeding trains at night. Frequent animal deaths on tracks prompted the forest department and wildlife NGOs to hold a number of meetings with the railways to regulate trains’ speed and to mark areas used by elephant to cross the track.
No such measures have been proved fruitful till date and elephants continue to be run over by trains on the tracks.
“The last elephant death on tracks occurred at Rajabhatkhawa in Buxa Tiger Reserve a few weeks ago. Again, another elephant was run over by a train last night. Apart from elephants, gaurs (Indian bison) and snakes have also died on the same track in the past six years,” said Animesh Bose, the programme co-ordinator of Siliguri-based Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation and a member of the state board for wildlife.
“With repeated killings of elephants on the tracks, it has become impertinent for the railways as well as the state forest department to sit together and find out an early solution,” he added.
Bose said they had sought the help of Darjeeling district Trinamul Congress president Gautam Deb to meet railway minister Mamata Banerjee and to seek her intervention to end this kind of mishaps.
“We had talked to Deb last month and he took up the matter with Mamata Banerjee. Our organisation has been told to compile a report on the animal deaths on the tracks in the Dooars,” said Bose. “We are in the process of making the report and it is expected to be submitted to the railway minister soon.”
“Animals are knocked down by trains running at night. Unless the speed is regulated, elephants will continue to die on the tracks in the Dooars,” he added.
Save-garden plea as rivers go on rampage
TT, July 19: The managements of three gardens in the Dooars have asked the irrigation department to help them evacuate the labour quarters since the rivers in spate are eating into the estate land.
The southwest monsoon has already led to the rise in water levels in the Teesta and the Jaldhaka for which primary alerts had been sounded for the past two days.
“In the past 24 hours, there had been substantial rainfall in the catchments of Teesta river. Sevoke received 172mm while Gajaldoba got 47.8mm, Domohoni 65.8mm and Jalpaiguri 52mm,” said an official at the Regional Met Office in Jalpaiguri. “It rained 51.4mm in the area where NH31 crosses the Jaldhaka, whose level has risen.” The rainfall recorded in the areas is much above the monsoon average of around 30-50mm a day.
In Siliguri, it rained 54mm in the past 24 hours while in Darjeeling, the rainfall recorded was 25.8mm. During the same period, the rainfall in Cooch Behar was 18mm, Alipurduar 16.4mm and Gangtok 16.2mm. Lava in Kalimpong subdivision received 82.3mm of rain. “We have a forecast of heavy to very heavy rainfall throughout the region in the districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar in the next 24 hours,” the Met official said.
With the downpour consistent, the managements of Nimtijhora, Atiabari and Madhu tea estates have written to the district irrigation department for protection against erosion. The Kaljani, Basra and the Dima — rivers that skirt the estates — are eating into the garden land, posing a threat to the plantations and even the labour quarters.
“It is a tough situation as the swelled rivers are gobbling up earth from the banks and coming closer to the garden boundaries by the hour. We suspect that if the trend continues, our plantations and labour quarters would be eroded away. Added to this, is the threat of inundation as it is raining heavily every day. We want the irrigation department to take some measures that will stop the erosion,” said Amitangshu Chakraborty, the secretary of the Dooars Branch of the Indian Tea Planters’ Association.
In Jalpaiguri town, low lying areas on the right bank of the Teesta continue to remain under water with more than 200 people staying in makeshift shelters. “Unless the rain stops, the water in the Teesta will not recede. And even if the water goes down, nothing much of our dwellings would be left,” one of the residents of the town’s fringe areas said.
Suncane Silver for Angel's
TT, Gangtok, July 19: Girish ‘N’ The Chronicles has won the silver trophy at the Suncane Skale music fest.
The Gangtok-based five-member band, the first Indian rock group to participate in the music festival held every summer at Herceg Novi in Montenegro, returned to New Delhi on Friday after rocking Europe.
The band had been selected for the Suncane fest during a nationwide talent hunt organised by the consulate of Montenegro in Guwahati a couple of months back. Only original compositions had been allowed to compete for entry to “best summer song” event, which was held on July 9, the final day of the three-day fest.
Competing against more than 50 bands from across Europe, The Chronicles had belted out its self-composed Angel’s Angel, which bagged them the second position and a silver trophy, said manager Shyam Pradhan.
The band’s performance struck a chord with the audience and the organisers requested the band to do an encore, which also brought down the curtains for the fest.
Montenegro foreign affairs minister Milan Rocen, who was in the audience for the finale met the Sikkim band members backstage and congratulated them, said Pradhan.
“The band members are currently in New Delhi, getting over the fatigue of the three-day contest and jetlag. They are scheduled to be back in Sikkim this week,” said Pradhan.
Ever since Girish Pradhan formed the band in October 18, 2009, it has become a popular name in the regional rock circuit.
The band — with Girish as vocalist and guitarist, Noel Karthak on bass guitar, Suraj Karki, the lead guitarist, Nagen Mangarati on drums and Yogesh Pradhan on keyboards — had been keeping a hectic schedule even before its selection to Suncane Skale fest.
It had performed live on Doordarshan in May, and in concerts in Guwahati, Jorhat, Guwahati, Patna and Calcutta before.
“Once the band members come back by Saturday, we will sit down and then plan our future performances,” said Pradhan.
The letter from the Montenegro consulate general’s office inviting the band to the fest had said the Suncane Skale music fest has over 200 hours of live broadcast on radio and television and is watched in over 50 countries in Europe and 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 in the fest, the letter to the band had said. 
Chamling corruption report to Sonia
PTI, Gangtok, July 19 : The Sikkim Pradesh Congress Committee (SPCC) has submitted a report to party president Sonia Gandhi on alleged corruption of state Chief Minister Pawan Chamling.The report, containing documents of"corrupt"practices by Chamling, was submitted to Gandhi during the meeting of all the state committees with the party president at New Delhi, a state Congress release said today.Stating that the documents have been submitted to CBI for investigation, the release said the SPCC requested Gandhi to initiate action against the chief minister and other 'corrupt' ministers.

Mangled horrors
Vananchal Express accidentKalimNews: Excerpt from agencies: For the information of families of passengers of aboard the ill fated Bananchal and Uttarbanga Express a control room was opened at New Jalpaiguri station, railway officials claimed.
“No casualty of any resident of Siliguri or its adjoining areas has been reported. People who had boarded the Uttar Banga Express have been taken to Sealdah from the accident site by another train,” an official said. 
Madhusudan Chisti, TT, Cooch Behar, July 19: Rabindranath Ghosh fears that the sight of two drivers trapped and dead in the mangled train and a youth hopping out of a compartment with one of his legs severed knee down will haunt him forever.
The Cooch Behar Trinamul Congress president was aboard the Uttar Banga Express that had rammed into the stationary Vananchal Express in Sainthia after 2am today.
“I will not be able to erase from my mind the two scenes. The trapped bodies of the engine driver and his assistant inside the mangled remains of the locomotive of our train and a youth hopping out with one leg severed from the knee downwards,” said Ghosh over the phone this morning. By then, he was on the train again, on his way to Sealdah from the accident site.
Ghosh said he remembered watching aghast as the youth hopped away — helped by local people — from the mangled remains of the coach of Vananchal Express, screaming incoherently. “There were cries all around and I tried to make sure that all our party supporters on the train were accounted for,” Ghosh said.
He, along with other leaders and party supporters, had boarded the express yesterday afternoon on their way to Calcutta to attend a Trinamul rally on July 21.
According to Ghosh, it was the presence of mind of the driver and his assistant that prevented more casualties. “I remember — going by the jolts before the crash — the driver had put on the brakes twice. Otherwise all the bogies of the Uttar Banga Express would have climbed on to the other train. It would have been another Gaisal,” Ghosh said.

The day after, some baffling questionsNearly 300 people died when the Avadh-Assam Express and the Brahmaputra Mail collided at Gaisal on August 2, 1999, at 1.45am.

Ghosh said he and other Trinamul leaders like Alizar Rehman, Solomon Miyan and Siddhartha Mondol had boarded the AC two-tier bogie of the express that left New Cooch Behar station at 3.15pm. In the same coach was Trinamul MLA from Dinhata Ashok Mondol, and CPM’s MLA from Natabari Tamsher Ali who had defeated Ghosh twice in the Assembly elections.
The day after, some baffling questions
“We had dinner after 11pm at Malda. I lay down on the lower berth numbered 29 and had fallen asleep, when there was a heavy jolt and I rolled off the berth. I tried to realise what was happening and I heard people falling from their berths and shouting in pain and terror. It was then that I realised that we had met with an accident. I managed to climb off the train in darkness, my head throbbing in pain. But all of us began walking towards the front of the train,” said Ghosh, whose coach was in the rear of the train. But there were hundreds of Trinamul supporters in the compartments ahead.
He said Ashok Mondol had suffered a deep gash on his waist, but he was given first aid and was in the coaches that had been detached from the train and left Sainthia at 9.30am to be taken to Sealdah by another engine.
The Natabari MLA did not wait for the train to be detached. Minister of state for mass education Tapan Roy, who visited the spot, had provided a car for him. Ali was driven to Suri — an hour’s drive from Sainthia. He then hired another car to resume his journey to Calcutta.(GRIM TALE: A victim's hand is seen among the remains of a compartment of the Vananchal Express after it was hit by the Uttarbanga Express at Sainthia station in West Bengal. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury, TH)
GRIM TALE: A victim's hand is seen among the 
remains of a compartment of the Vananchal Express after it was hit by 
the Uttarbanga Express at Sainthia station in West Bengal. Photo: 
Arunangsu Roy ChowdhuryWhen contacted over the phone, Ali said: “It is a horrific incident. I somehow managed to hold on to a rod after I was thrown off my berth. I was not seriously injured. The locals started the rescue operation. Till 7am there was no sign of any railway official. I saw 45 bodies being taken out of the coaches of the Vananchal Express. The incident is a glaring lapse on the part of the railways.”
He said passengers were not only inconvenienced by the accident, but also by the hundreds of Trinamul supporters who had crowded the reserved compartments. “They caused immense hardship to the genuine passengers who had reserved seats,” Ali said.
Locals engaged in rescue work in the accident site at Sainthia 
station in Birbhum. Photo: PTIGhosh, on the other hand, hinted that the incident was a sabotage. “There is a section of people working to ensure that our party’s July 21 rally in Calcutta is spoilt and also to bring discredit to our leader and railway minister Mamata Banerjee,” he alleged. (photo: IE, the globe and mail, PTI)
Cutter, generator? No, just cellphone light
SOUMI BHATTACHARYA, TT, Sainthia, July 19: A gas cutter could have saved the two-year-old girl whom local resident Tinku Shaw saw die slowly before his eyes, trapped in a mangled coach.
If the railways had sent a few generator lamps in time, Tinku and the 50-odd others who had rushed to help after the 2.02am crash would not have had to try to locate the dead, trapped and injured in cellphone light.
A couple of railway ladders would have helped the rescuers reach the Vananchal’s rear compartment, flung across the railway overbridge, a little quicker. generators never came. A relief train brought ladders and gas cutters at 5.45am, almost four hours after the collision, by when all those trapped had been rescued and all the injured sent on their way to hospital. And the little girl was dead.
“We had spotted her lying next to her mother’s body. We tried our best to break in but there were no gas cutters…. Her death broke our hearts,” said Tinku, a man in his 20s.
The girl died even before district officials arranged for two gas cutters to be brought from a local iron grille factory, around 3.45am.
The cellphone lights were supplemented with “a few torches that the Government Railway Police gave us at least two hours after the accident”, said Saurav Bardhan, 28, a small-time trader.
To Bardhan, who had climbed into a coach, the darkness was the biggest obstacle, preventing him from telling the unconscious from the dead. “Whoever I dragged out was dead. I pulled out at least 15 bodies,” said Bardhan, who had to depend on the dim light from his mobile.
Chitta Malakar said: “We eventually found a ladder but it broke when we tried to mount it. Then somebody found another one, which we could use.”
A middle-aged passenger, bleeding profusely, grabbed Tarun Pal’s feet and begged for help. Pal, 35, lifted him and took him to the platform where the man passed out.
“I got him into the first car that we could arrange, around 2.30am,” Pal said.
Salim Mian, who is in his 40s, found a briefcase lying open next to a body with bundles of cash. “I tried my best to locate the owner, then handed it over to a GRP officer. I told him the owner, if he was alive, must get the money. If not, his family must receive it.”
Police said the briefcase contained Rs 1.5 lakh and that they were trying to find the owner or his family members. (Photo:AP)

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