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Monday, September 13, 2010

Off-shops open for festival season - Tour operators welcome month-long relief .. Fest indicator for bandh-free pujas.. Fire rages in the hills

Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, Sept. 13: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has decided to organise a month-long tourist festival in the Darjeeling hills, indicating that it will be a strike-free pujas this time.
Coinciding with the party decision, all liquor off-shops in the hills opened today after almost two months.
Confirming the decision to hold a fest, Morcha assistant secretary Binay Tamang said: “The festival will be held from October 7 to November 9. We are working out the details and the final plans are expected to be announced on Sunday.”
The fact that the party is taking the onus to organise the festival essentially means that there will be no disturbances during the coming tourist season.
The hills are largely a seasonal destination, even though there is a constant trickle of visitors throughout the year. However, the two major tourist seasons are from March to May and from October till November end.
“This is a welcome relief for us. Even though there are a lot of enquiries for the season we could not assure our clients a hassle free stay. We can now sleep in peace,” said a hotelier in town.
Another indicator of a strike-free season was the Morcha announcement last week that all liquor off-shops would open today. For the past two years, the Morcha, as part of its non-cooperation movement against the state government, had often stopped the off-shops from selling liquor. It had even asked restaurants not to sell alcoholic beverages unless they were locally made to stop the flow of revenue to the state exchequer. The off-shop shutdowns were in stages, often stretching for months and coinciding with the tourist season. This year, the off-shops opened today for the first time since July 6.
Agitation in the hills had always had an adverse impact on the sensitive tourism industry, which is one of the backbones of the regional economy. The other sector that brings cash to the region is education. The hills have a number of famous schools, whose students come from across the country and abroad.
Travel agents say Darjeeling can accommodate 8,000 visitors on any given day, while around 2,000 enter the hill town daily during the peak months. A tourist, on an average, spends around Rs 1,250, a day, tour operators claim.
People involved with the tourism industry claimed that before the recent agitation, the hills used to get anything between 3.5 and 4 lakh domestic tourists along with 30,000 to 40,000 international visitors annually.
The inflow of domestic visitors has taken a beating even though the number of foreign tourists to the town has gone down marginally, said an agent.
Madan murder case
Seven persons accused in the Madan Tamang murder case were today remanded in judicial custody for 14 days by the court of the chief judicial magistrate in Darjeeling.
Defence lawyer Taranga Pandit said: “We moved an application before the court seeking statements given by the 60 witnesses. The court has accepted our application and we will receive the statements soon. The trial is expected to start within a couple of months.”
Fest indicator for bandh-free pujas - Trinamul chief hints at early hill tour
TT, Siliguri, Sept. 13: Mamata Banerjee today said she would soon visit the Darjeeling hills and talk to the people there to sort out the problems.
The Trinamul Congress chief attributed the current turmoil in the hills to “lack of development” and said the region should continue to remain a part of Bengal.
“We cannot think (of Bengal) without the hills and we feel that whatever is happening there is because of lack of development. I have decided to visit Darjeeling soon and will talk to the local people there. Some of them have met me earlier. Now it is our turn to work for Darjeeling. Till date, north Bengal has fallen prey to politics with no development. We want peace by means of development,” Mamata said at the newly built outdoor stadium of the railways at New Jalpaiguri.
Although the Trinamul leader did not specify any date for her hill visit, party insiders said she would be back in north Bengal on September 26 and 27 and was likely to visit Darjeeling then.
Mamata said Trinamul wanted to keep a cordial relation with “everybody” and was “ready to talk to any political party of the hills”.
“We want people from different castes and creeds — be it the Rajbangshis or the tribals or the people of hills (Gorkha) — to stay together in north Bengal,” she said.
The Trinamul leader refused comment on the tripartite talks on the hills describing it as “exercises on the part of the governments”. “I will not speak on this,” she said.
Mamata made it clear that Trinamul councillors would not join the municipal corporation in Siliguri unless the Congress formally severed its ties with the CPM.
“Citizens of Siliguri had voted us for our anti-CPM stance and under no circumstances we will join the civic board unless those running the board sever ties with the CPM,” she said referring to the Congress.
Although the Congress and Trinamul had contested the Siliguri civic polls together in September last year, a lack of consensus over the posts of mayor and chairperson led both the parties to file nominations for the two posts. Finally, the Congress secured the win with the help of the Left councillors. However since March 30, Trinamul has been rendering informal support to the Congress from outside.
The Congress has taken exception to Siliguri mayor Gangotri Datta not being invited to the railway minister’s programme at New Jalpaiguri.
“It’s unfortunate that the first citizen of Siliguri has not been invited by the railways. We condemn it. If she is ignored in a similar manner in future also, we will lodge our protest at the appropriate quarters,” said Uday Dubey, the Darjeeling district Congress president. 
Dipankar bose, SNS, NEW JALPAIGURI, 13 SEPT: Trinamul Congress chief and railway minister Miss Mamata Banerjee today sought to make inroads in north Bengal where the Congress is the dominant Opposition political force, announcing a slew of railway projects and new trains for north Bengal.
She also expressed her keenness to find a solution to the problems in the Darjeeling hills passing through political turbulence. She will meet the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha chief, Mr Bimal Gurung, on 26-27 September.
“Give us a little more space to set foot here. I am not a fair-weather friend. I am consistently working for north Bengal. Apart from what I have announced today I will give more to north Bengal,” she said at a programme here.
Miss Banerjee laid the foundation of a rail axle factory for which Rs 300 crore was sanctioned and announced a number of trains and the beginning of gauge conversion work for two lines, among other projects.
She said the railways planned to partner with SAIL to help accelerate the axle project which would generate employment for a few thousand youths.
Miss Banerjee said she was against dividing the state into north and south and was trying to join the two through development. “I know there is long-standing trouble in the hills. We can't keep that continuing, nor can we keep Darjeeling isolated. A delegation from Darjeeling had met me some time back and I assured them that soon after the monsoons, I would visit the hills. We have to have a peaceful atmosphere for any development and I will ensure that there is sustained peace in Darjeeling” she said.
“I am aware of the lack of basic infrastructure in the hills like acute shortage of drinking water, lack of job opportunity.
1 held at airport for metal sign
TT, Siliguri, Sept. 13: A passenger was arrested at Bagdogra airport this evening as a metal detector run on his body beeped, although no suspicious object was found on him.
Police conducted X-Ray tests on Dibar Roy, reportedly a resident of Shillong, and are awaiting the results to unravel the puzzle.
“A passenger who was scheduled to board a Guwahati-bound flight was disqualified during security check. He was later handed over to police,” said K.K. Bhowmik, the airport director.
Sources said the 30-year-old man was standing in queue for security check. He was to board a Guwahati flight at 4.45pm. “As his turn came, CISF personnel searched him with a hand-held metal detector. As the device beeped, the jawans frisked the youth, but still, they could not find anything on him,” said an airport official.
“The passenger was taken to a nearby room and checked thoroughly again. As the metal detector beeped even then, he was handed over to Bagdogra police,” added the official.
The incident has left the police confused. “Till now, we have no clue as to from where the metal detector is getting the signal while coming in contact with his body. He could not say anything about the presence of metal in his body,” said Gaurav Sharma, the additional superintendent of police of Siliguri.
Cop money for widow after 10 years
TT, Siliguri, Sept. 13: Darjeeling police today deposited Rs 1.75 lakh with the court as compensation to a Siliguri woman whose husband had been run over by a police vehicle 10 years ago.
Sources in the second court of additional district and session’s judge said Narayan Sarkar, an employee of a travel agency, was mowed down by the vehicle of then deputy superintendent of police of Siliguri on Hill Cart Road on March 26, 2000.
“After the accident, his wife Ranu filed a motor accident case in the second court of the additional district and session’s judge against the superintendent of police of Darjeeling. On September 3, 2003, the court directed the superintendent of police to pay the widow a compensation of Rs 1.75 lakh in two months. The police were also told to pay an interest at the rate of 9 per cent per annum if the compensation was not given in two months,” said a court source.
The police, however, did not make the payment for more than seven years and on March 17 this year, the court ordered the attachment of the office articles of the additional superintendent of police, Siliguri, and the official vehicles of the inspectors-in-charge of Pradhannagar and Siliguri police stations.
An appeal filed against the attachment was also dismissed by Calcutta High Court. “Still, the SP did not pay the money and the writ of attachment issued by the court was recalled. The court said on August 23 that if the payment was not made by today (September 13), it would not only attach the property but might also refer the issue to Calcutta High Court to initiate contempt proceedings against the SP,” said the source.
Finally, the SP, through his lawyer Nripen Das, paid the court Rs 1.75 lakh. The court directed him to pay an additional amount of Rs 1.1 lakh as interest by October 4.
Sarkar’s son Sanjoy said: “Our loss was irreparable and we had to struggle for more than 10 years. The district legal aid forum members helped us a lot in this case.” 
Fire damage
TT, Siliguri: A fire broke out at a carom board factory in Siliguri Industrial Estate on Monday evening. Two engines from the Siliguri fire station doused the flames. The cause of the blaze and loss are yet to be ascertained. The Siliguri fire station will issue permission to Durga Puja organisers in town from September 20 till October 12. U.N. Adhikary, the deputy director (north Bengal) of fire services department, said on Monday that the organisers would have to follow directives like limiting the height of the pandals up to 40ft and making separate exits and entrances.
Body found
TT, Jaigaon: Birpara police recovered the body of a resident of Lankapara Tea Estate near Lankapara post office on Monday. The police said multiple injuries on the body of 35-year-old Rajesh Rai suggested that he had been murdered. On September 4, the body of another youth, identified as Palden Lama of the same locality had been recovered. The police were trying to find out whether there was any link between the two incidents. 
Ganja Haul
TT, Islampur: Officials of the Islampur division of customs seized eight quintals of ganja worth Rs 25 lakh from a truck near Panjipara on Monday. A.K. Das, the superintendent of customs, said they had intercepted the vehicle on NH31. Three persons have been arrested. Initial investigations revealed that the narcotic was loaded somewhere in Assam and was on way to Uttar Pradesh.
Kshiti monitor fails to break ice- Strike continues, road blockade adds to troubles
TT, Siliguri, Sept. 13: State PWD minister Kshiti Goswami has instructed his junior to monitor the repair work on the potholed national and state highways even as private bus owners who had taken their vehicles off the roads 13 days ago continued with their indefinite strike. They even set up a road blockade in Jalpaiguri for five hours today, disrupting traffic on NH31D.
Junior minister Dasrath Tirkey told The Telegraph over the phone: “I am in Calcutta now and will move to north Bengal tomorrow as our minister Kshiti Goswami has asked me to go to the region and monitor the progress of the repair works. He has specifically mentioned that there should be no delay in the repairing and the initial tasks like filling up the potholes and levelling the roads should be finished as early as possible.
“Accordingly, I have decided to meet the PWD officials and check out the progress of work. It is true that the progress of repair is slow and is inconveniencing people. But consistent rainfall is also another deterrent to the repair.”
While the minister of state plans to monitor the work to make certain that the repair is finished early, private bus owners, under the banner of North Bengal Passenger Transport Owners’ Coordination Committee set up a road blockade at Haldibari More on NH31D in Jalpaiguri. It continued for five hours on the 14th day of the strike.
“Despite assurances by the state PWD minister and officials of the NHAI, nothing has improved so far and we would rather say that the road condition has deteriorated in the past fortnight,” said Pranab Mani, the secretary of the committee. “We had thus resorted to the road blockade today so that the government and the administration wake up.”
The blockade started at 11.15am and continued till 4.15am, when Nabakumar Burman, the subdivisional officer of Jalpaiguri, reached the spot and assured the protesters that action would be taken. “He has told us that a meeting would be convened at the district magistrate’s office tomorrow. Officials from the PWD, NHAI and all other departments concerned will be present at the meeting,” Mani said.
“We have nothing against the government but simply want the roads to be motorable. We are hopeful of a positive outcome tomorrow.” In the past fortnight, two persons were killed in road accidents that occurred when drivers tried to negotiate potholed highways. The bus owners have alleged that they have to incur additional costs to maintain their vehicles on the crater-filled roads.
Today’s strike led to congestion as trucks, private vehicles and government buses remained stranded on NH31D and could move only after the blockade was withdrawn. Passengers travelling by road had to face inconveniences and many of them could not make it to their destinations on time.
In North Dinajpur, as a mark of solidarity with the movement, private bus owners observed a one-day token strike today. Members of the North Dinajpur Bus and Minibus Owners’ Association announced that they would resort to an indefinite strike from tomorrow over a number of issues, one of them being the movement of buses registered in neighbouring Bihar on non-stipulated routes in the district.
Fire rages in the hills
The Pioneer Edit Desk, Darjeeling talks founder on GJM obduracy,September 13, 2010:  Performing a balancing act requires dexterity and concentration; the three parties to the ongoing talks with the excitable Gorkha Janamukti Morcha over the eventual fate of Darjeeling have shown a certain clumsiness. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the negotiations for a solution have fallen through after reaching a point where it seemed that an agreement was almost final. The point at which things have come unstuck is illuminating. It indicates a deeper malaise. Free and fair elections of the multi-party kind that is the hallmark of India’s vibrant democracy cannot be held in Darjeeling — according to the obstreperous GJM. Nor can the two other parties to the negotiation ask for the inclusion of persons in the proposed council of the Gorkha Regional Authority who are not approved by the GJM. In other words, the GJM is claiming for itself squatters rights — just as the Gorkha National Liberation Front had done earlier. Any exercise undertaken thereafter to make the Gorkha Regional Authority representative of the multiplicity of opinions and voices and groups becomes infructuous because the GJM has declared that it will not allow it. The strong-arm methods of the GJM have been on display for a long time now — banning the GNLF, sending Subash Ghising, the founder the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, into exile, disallowing his wife’s cremation in Darjeeling, driving out former municipal councillors and DGHC members of the GNLF from the hills, denying to other parties the right to be politically active, the murder of Gorkha League chief Madan Tamang. The list is longer and includes GJM members taking over the properties of those who have been hounded out of the hills.
The two sticking points to any discussion on restoring normalcy in Darjeeling are these two issues — territory and elections. While the territorial claims of the GJM are inadmissible in their entirety because it includes the Terai and the Dooars as well as Siliguri as part of the proposed ‘Gorkhaland’, the interim arrangement that was being hammered out for constituting the Gorkha Regional Authority created space for non-GJM persons. The interim arrangement also planned for holding elections to elicit the mandate of the people. In the wake of recent events, which are clearly indicative of the erosion of Mr Gurung’s popularity though not his capacity to exert menacing authority, his unwillingness to share power is further affirmation, if one were required, that the legitimacy of the GJM to negotiate as the sole representative of all the people in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong is in doubt. Power without the mandate of the people is in grave violation of the Constitution that promises to respect the right of every citizen to elect his or her own representative. A denial of that right at any point for any reason is unacceptable. 

Inflation is the gravest economic concern which has gripped India into its jagged tentacles. Inflation can be defined as the rise in overall price level in the economy, i.e. rise in prices of all the goods and services. When prices rise, each rupee buys less goods and services than it had been before, consequently eroding the purchasing power of money. It is measured through inflation rate- the annualized percentage change in a general price index (Consumer Price Index and Wholesale Price Index) over time.
India has been plagued by the disease of inflation since the 1950s but it has started showing its prominently harmful symptoms and ill effects since 1991, post liberalization. Kick started by the fiscal crisis of 1991, marked by deficits in government finances and devaluation of the rupee, a whopping inflation of 13.66 per cent took its toll on the Indian economy. Though later controlled, average inflation rate has been stubborn at a 9.3 per cent per year till the end of the 19th century. Since last year’s global meltdown somewhat crippling the Indian economy, the inflation rate has been steadily rising to surpass the double digits. At present, it is around 11 per cent.
Causal Factors:
The puzzle haunting the Indian economists is simply this- Why is inflation rate in India so high as compared to the other emerging and overheating market economies, like China, Korea and Indonesia where inflation just touches a mere 3 per cent?
There are a couple of explanations for this-
Firstly, India has been very much underinvested as compared to China whose rate of investment for the year 2009 was 45 per cent as compared to India’s 37 per cent. This has been the key to China’s development, (currently fastest in the world) free from all scars of inflationary pressure.
India has always been subject to uncertainty of the monsoons, particularly last year, which led to a sharp fall in agricultural produce, declining supply and thus shooting up the prices. This is called the Supply shock factor or the cost push inflation.
Another reason, intuitively named as the Policy Shock is responsible for inflation. Hike in fuel prices, subject to the discretion of OPEC, increases the manufacturing cost of a number of industries, which in turn shoots up the prices of their respective commodities.
Apart from the above, there is another explanation, namely overheating: the supply capacity falls short of demand. Now, overheating in India is a serious cause of worry because it certainly implies that the economy’s current growth rate of 8.4 per cent surpasses its potential or trend growth rate. In this scenario, how can anyone in India dream of China-type-double-figure growth rates unless and until infrastructure development is given some serious thought?
Microeconomic distortions causing an increase in land prices accompanied by various macroeconomic factors such as surging capital inflows in the real estate and housing sector are very much responsible for the rising cost of production in the economy. Apart from agriculture and manufacturing, service sector which contributes the highest (54 per cent for 2009-2010) also bears dire consequences of galloping prices of land.
Excess of short-term borrowings and speculative activities are majorly responsible for a steady inflation in the Indian economy. Highly volatile, these short term borrowings lead to a vicious cycle of speculation, which ends up causing serious depression in the economy, sometimes insolvency.  Increase in speculative activities leads to a rise in domestic price, thus making the exports expensive. This ensues in the deficit in the balance of payments which forces the government to pump in money into the economy by printing currency notes. This, along with the adjustment of the BOP, plays havoc with the demand capacity of the economy. Since people own more money now, their demand for goods and services accelerates like anything and this further leads to a rise in prices.
The dire consequences of this phenomenon are levied upon the aam admi.  Of course somebody like you and me, or someone less well off than us cannot be considered as aam aadmi. Aam aadmi clan is that 70 per cent of the population of India who spend less than Rs 20 on themselves every day. Right from the rickshawallas in Delhi, to the daily wage earners in Bihar, these people struggle to make ends meet. Prices of food items like vegetables, fruits, pulses, oil, wheat, rice, etc, conveyance, education and healthcare have soared up to no extent, thus causing the cost of living to increase.
The RBI has been implementing the only monetary strategy it knows, increasing the interest rates to squeeze liquidity. According to the forecasts of the Bloomerag News survey, the RBI will increase both the repurchase and the reverse repurchase rates by a quarter points each. This has led to an upsurge in agitation among the opposition parties who are stubborn against any rise in interest rates.
However, the government needs be careful lest it ends up hampering the growth of the economy with such a tight credit policy. A balance needs to be maintained between the credit liberty for growth on one hand and tightening liquidity for tackling inflation on the other.
Wages, in the country are on a high rise these days. World leading mobile phone supplier Nokia Pvt Limited and IT companies such as Wipro and Infosys have taken a step ahead and raised the wages of their employees to retain them.
Future Predictions:
The RBI predicts that it will be able to pull down inflation rate up to 6 per cent by the end of this year.
If in future inflation is not curbed, it will not only deprive the aam admi of basic amenities but along with it, also deprive the Indian economy of its growth of all the sectors.
(Nikita Dhingra, The Viewspaper)


With only a few days left for the commonwealth games euphoria to begin, the capital is still under last minute clean up. A clean up which is not only restrained to debris of the city but also to the makers of this so-called “global”& “world-class” city. It’s been 7 years to the bid that concluded with Delhi chosen as the venue for the commonwealth games 2010. But looking at the preparations, it seems as if we have been hibernating all these years. So far, the city has dealt with a lot of censure from all sides. Be it about the infrastructure, transport, security or the mastery of the officials. The aim of my article here is not to disbelieve the ability of Delhi to hold such exalted games but to share a few facts on the height of corruption practiced and secreted in our country. Facts, I personally dealt with or came across over the period of time. From the very “original” Astroturf grass in the stadiums to the pockets of the officials, everything carries a mark of corruption, frivolity & ignorance. A mere round around the metropolis will be enough to establish how much ‘dilli hai tayyar’ for the upcoming event.
From the beginning, the commonwealth games project has promised a new epoch in Delhi’s account, employment opportunities, volunteership, intensifying sporting spirit in the country and facilities that’ll touch every inhabitant of the city. But by far, it all seems a far-flung dream.
In the name of employment, workers have been exploited. They have only been paid 1/3rd of the wage promised. The unhealthy conditions at the construction sites have led to untimely deaths of workers and the mistreatment still continues. About 40,000 volunteers were promised a task in the games but so far only 22,000 have been allotted the work. Rest were never registered or informed about their status quo despite a month long training and qualifying exam conducted for short listing the deserving candidates. The issue has still not been raised let alone assuring students a place in the games. As far as the plight of the students currently volunteering at chief venues is concerned, only they’ll be able to tell it best. I wonder what did the OC had in mind while announcing a post games party for all the volunteers when giving incentives to volunteers.
The much awaited sporting essence seems to be dying down much before the commencement of the event. With most of the world famous athletes opting out, unhappiness of the Indian athletes over the preparations and many athletes failing the doping test recently, the city might miss the cheers from its people. Comparing with the vuvuzela roar of South Africans in FIFA’10, Delhiites holdup far behind in showcasing their keyed up spirit. Well, the reason doesn’t lie in India’s languid & robotic nature but with the much hyped statistics of corruption and the amount of money dumped in unnecessary constructions. Getting a closer look at these constructions we find public toilets with automated doors and split A/Cs. These are single-storeyed buildings including a coffee shop and a florist standing upright with MCD notices hung straight, apologizing for the service remaining unavailable. About hundreds of such structures are planned and are probably accompanied by the hundreds of the above mentioned notices also. The list doesn’t end here.
The feet over bridges erected all over the city are futile. They carry more than thirty stairs each side with no escalator facility for the disabled. Why would one even prefer climbing up such bridges over crossing roads which we are matchless at?  A huge sum of money has been wasted on these. A lot of stuff has been rented on thrice the amount of its cost. Even then the equipments are not up to the required standards. Wouldn’t that be called the mastery of the masters? About umpteen times the estimated amount has been spent on games and the work is still not up to the mark. If the same money would have been utilized for the training of our athletes, India would have at least made it to the list of top sporting nations. But now, in spite of such huge expenditure our ability as an organizer is also in doubt.
The BRT in the city is serviceable at a few places but with onset of the games they have been made functional at more places now. A city where public transport is considered the last option to travel in. How do you expect the failed BRT system to help with smooth running traffic and connectivity during the games?
All the major flyovers, specially the Barapullah one are being completed at the last moment which makes safe commuting one of the biggest issues.
The whole of the city is still lying naked and dug up with a large number of people who have been displaced in the wake of commonwealth games. Monsoons are on an all time high. An hour long rain submerges the city roads, underpasses, bridges and waterlogs areas in and around the games venues. It makes it unimaginable to travel around the capital. Even after a month heavy downpour, we still haven’t thought of tackling the rains that are expected to prolong till the month of October. Delhi has been hit by a number of water borne diseases which have still not been taken care of. There might be travel advisories being issued for the same, have we thought of dealing with the shame associated with it?
Crores of money has been spent on the games, only a certain part of which is used for basic sports infrastructure. Rest is ruined in buying an Rs35 toilet roll at a cost of Rs4, 138, a treadmill originally of Rs7 lakh is rented at Rs9.75 lakh, each chair has been rented at Rs8, 378 and a 100-litre refrigerator is lent for a shocking Rs42, 202.
I doubt if the success of the event will be able to fill up these potholes. So let’s just keep our fingers crossed and hope that the greed of some doesn’t become woes of a billion.
(Shelly Mahajan, The viewspaper)

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