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Monday, September 27, 2010

Mamta's 'mamta' to Gorkhas of Darjeeling... I will give my blood for Darjeeling .. Tripartite talks may defer ..Dr. Graham's Homes on expansion path ..

TT, 27 September: Mamata Banerjee has promised to revive a British-era decentralisation gesture in Darjeeling and appealed to the people of the plains and the hills to work together. She said in Darjeeling on Monday that a secretariat of the state government would be set up there when she “is in a position to give more”. The lieutenant governor of Bengal used to shift his office to Darjeeling every summer during the British Raj. When Siddhartha Shankar Ray was chief minister, his office was also shifted to the hills for a brief period every summer. Mamata announced a package of railway projects for the region, fulfilling most of the “development” demands made by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
Kalimnews (SHEEM) : On the wake of forthcoming assembly polls scheduled to be held in early 2011 Ms Mamta Banerjee, Railway Minister opened the pandora's box for the people of Darjeeling. In an official function organised in Railway Museum, Darjeeling today Ms Banerjee promised the hill people many more things including long cherished demand of the unemployed youths i.e. to open Railway Recruitment Board Examiniation Centre in Darjeeling hills. She not only promised starting this employment generating office here but also assured to render local candidates a chance to write their examination papers in their own mother tongue Nepali. 
Starting a ropeway is also in the pipeline if Ms Banerjee's words are to be believed. She also promised modernizing railway printing press located at Kurseong. Ms Banerjee's another perk is to start a special tourist train from Siliguri to Darjeeling in a month or two and name it 'Darjeeling Ki Raani' or queen of the hills. Expressing her unhappiness over the deteriorating economic and developmental situation of Darjeeling hills Ms Banerjee viewed that the real state of affairs of the hills should be observed by the President of India and she (Ms Banerjee) would try to draw the attention of first lady of the country in this regard and make efforts to bring her here to understand the problem facing by the people. In the function held today Ms. Banerjee named the Railway Museum after Nepali poet Bhanubhakta.
The local educated circle has viewed that such promises are made everytime in the wake of elections and when the interests of the leaders are fulfilled they forget everything all the time. A section of the hill people also viewed that firstly Ms Banerjee should try to sort out the problem of drinking water facing by the hill people since a long and which has so far not been solved b by any national or regional leader though it is not her subject and department but a prime need.
Careful but determined to woo- Mamata key to hearts: Public, Nepali & salute
TT, Vivek Chhetri, Darjeeling, Sept. 27: Mamata Banerjee today did what she is best at: she worked the crowd to their delight.
Starting with, the “public” is the most important, and that the hill people had the “glaze” of the Kanchenjungha, Mamata had the crowd cheering her as she listed the projects that she had on her mind for the hills.
The Trinamul Congress chief’s first move to “reach out” to the people occurred at Darjeeling railway station this afternoon when she broke the security cordon and walked across the stage to clear a posse of security and media personnel.
“I think you are obstructing my view of the public,” she said much to the delight of the 1,000-odd people assembled there.
She immediately took the microphone and directed Union minister Mukul Roy to make arrangements so that the chairs on the dais were pushed back further to make space for the dancers. “I can understand the stage is small and I apologise for the inconvenience,” she said directing the media personnel who were obstructing the public’s view to come up to the stage and “stay still and quiet here”.
Mamata gifted Rs 500 to a group of Bhailo dancers according to hill tradition. During Diwali, Bhailo performers visit houses where people give them money as a goodwill gesture.
The end of an early Diwali and two more dances, Mamata struck the chord, and rightly so in Nepali. “Mato mero atyantai pyaro/Pahar mero sapna/Darjeeling ko bhai bhaini haru ramro rahun/Theyi cha mero kamana (My land is my love and the hills are my dream. My best wishes to the brothers and sisters of Darjeeling).
“I am learning Nepali and this is what I could learn within a day. I need to come here frequently,” she added promising to return to the hills after two-three months again.
She sealed the hill bond when she offered a “salute” to the members of the Gorkha Regiment.
Before announcing her intention to provide jobs to the families of eight Kargil martyrs and special preferences for ex-servicemen for jobs in the railways, Mamata said: “I salute their achievement and contributions to their nation.”
“We are proud of Darjeeling and I love Darjeeling,” she kept repeating. In fact, she used at least eight qualifying words in one sentence to describe the hill people in English. “The youths of Darjeeling have great potential. They have integrity, compassion, loyalty, honesty, sincerity, devotion, commitment and credibility. You have the glaze one finds in the Kanchenjungha,” she said, before promising to set up a “watch factory, soft toy manufacturing units because of suitable weather and invest in IT”.
“There has been no development here,” she said to empathise with the people. “Schools have not been upgraded, teachers have not been recruited, tea industry is in doldrums, there is no electricity, food prices are high, tourism has not been exploited and there is shortage of drinking water.”
Constantly interacting with the crowd, she said: “These are the projects I have announced. Have you understood it fully? Are you happy with these announcements?” she constantly asked.
Someone from the crowd shouted if a sports facility could be set up by the railways. Pat came Mamata’s reply: “Why not? The railways don’t have much vacant land in the hills. We will identify a space and why not, we can always set up a sports facility.”
Around 3pm, Mamata attended an event celebrating World Tourism Day at the Mall and boarded a toy train for her ride to Batasia Loop from where she made off to Siliguri in a car.
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, Sept. 27: Mamata Banerjee today announced a bouquet of projects for the Darjeeling hills including a secretariat in the hill town, accepting almost all the demands made by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha — even adding to them — but insisting that “the hills and the plains work” together.
She underlined her stand to keep the state united — a message aimed at both the hills and her critics in the plains — while accepting most of the development demands of the Morcha (see chart).
Addressing a gathering at the Darjeeling station this afternoon, Mamata, who was on a two-day visit to the hills, said: “Right now I am only looking after one small place (railway ministry). If I happen to be in a position to give more, I will give more. Trust me as I trust you also. I am ready to give my blood for you.”
But aware of the adverse fallout that any hint of support for a separate Gorkha state could have on her vote bank in the plains, Mamata made it clear that the people of the hills and the plains would have to work together for Bengal.
“There should be no fighting, no divide between the hills and the plains,” Mamata said at the meet, packed with Morcha supporters.
“The people of the hills and the plains have to work together. I am ready to negotiate for the hill people at any forum. Today, in Darjeeling, as a Bengali I am a minority, but I will be a majority in Calcutta. Similarly, there are other minorities in the state like Biharis and Punjabis. But this is a heritage of the country and we believe in integrity. The hill people also believe in integrity. No one wants violence.”
Mamata said she had her “own plans” to make the hills and the plains interact in harmony.
“I have a lot of idea for Darjeeling in my mind but since I am not in a position right now, it is all locked up in my brain. But when I get the place (the state government) I will tell you all the ideas. A secretariat of the state government will be set up in Darjeeling.”
In making her announcement of a secretariat in Darjeeling, Mamata has gone a step ahead of Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who as chief minister used to shift his office to the hills for a brief period every summer.
“Siddhartha Shankar Ray had picked up from where the British had left off so as to strengthen the ties between the administration and the common people in the hills,” said former PCC chief Pradip Bhattacharjee, who used to be the minister of state for labour in Ray’s cabinet. “Every summer senior officials of the chief minister’s secretariat would shift to the hills for a brief period, which could be from a week to a fortnight, sometimes even longer, and even cabinet meetings would be held there.”
Although some attributed the shift to the cooler climes in the hills, others pointed out that the move did ensure interaction between the local populace and some wings of the administration.
However, no permanent secretariat used to be set up in Ray’s days, which Mamata has promised to do in case she becomes the next chief minister.
The lieutenant governor of Bengal used to shift his office to Darjeeling every summer during the British Raj.
Promising a “special package” for Darjeeling, Mamata said she would meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the Commonwealth Games and request him to put the package in place.
“Here, the people have suffered a lot but they should not suffer any longer,” Mamata said. “Bundelkhand, Telengana, Darjeeling, Jangal Mahal, all these places need a special package.”
She also assured the hill people that they would be entitled to their rights.
“People here are agitating for jobs, industry, development and creation of better infrastructure. The people are agitating for their rights and you will definitely get your rights.”
The railway minister opted not to take any sides while dealing with issues concerning the hill’s political parties. While she maintained that she wanted the murderers of ABGL leader Madan Tamang to be arrested, she also backed the demand that “an arrested person” should be produced in court. She was referring to the Morcha’s demand that Nickole Tamang, a prime accused in Tamang murder, who allegedly fled from CID custody, be produced in court. The Morcha suspects that Nickole died in custody and the government was trying to cover it up.
It was only the CPM which was in Mamata’s line of fire. “While coming up from Siliguri I read a few CPM posters which said that I was going to the hills to foment trouble. But it is they who foment trouble everywhere.”
In Calcutta, CPM state secretary Biman Bose today said Mamata is “hobnobbing”' with the Morcha that was demanding statehood for Darjeeling was proof of her party’s tilt towards a division of Bengal.
“We now find the Trinamul leader visiting the hills to hold talks with the Morcha,” Bose said today. “All this makes it clear that the Trinamul Congress is in favour of a division of Bengal.”
Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said his party was “happy” with Mamata’s announcements. 
IANS, Darjeeling, Sep 27: Trinamool Congress chief and union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee today promised a job to one family member of each of the eight martyrs of the Kargil war from Darjeeling.
"The railways have decided to provide job to one family member of the eight soldiers from Darjeeling who laid down their lives in Kargil war. They will not have to appear in interview. They should submit their bio-data to the general manager of the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR)," the railway minister said here. "The railways have also decided to offer employment to a family member of each ex-railway servicemen from the region," Banerjee said. The minister announced a slew of projects for infrastructural development of the hills providing employment opportunities to at least 10,000 local youths. "After the Commonwealth Games, I will request Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit here and submit a report to him seeking a special package for hills," she said. "We have also decided to set up an office of the Railway Recruitment Board at the Darjeeling Railway Station soon and the candidates will be able to appear examination in Nepali language," she said. She said the railways would take all possible steps to promote tourism in Darjeeling. Banerjee flagged off a new toy train - 'Pahari kanya' (daughter of hills) between Darjeeling and Ghum and also laid the foundation stone of a multi-functional complex at Darjeeling railway station today afternoon. However, Banerjee refused to comment on the Gorkhland issue and said: "I will not speak on the political issue as tripartite talks are going on." The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) is spearheading the movement for the creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland comprising three subdivisions of the hilly areas of Darjeeling district - Kalimpong, Kurseong and Darjeeling.
Tripartite talks may defer
TT, Siliguri, Sept. 27: Bengal chief secretary Ardhendu Sen today said the tripartite talks with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha scheduled for September 30 in Delhi would “probably” be postponed but did not cite any reason for the postponement.
However, both the state home secretary and the Morcha’s central leadership have not yet received any official intimation about the decision.
“The tripartite meeting which was supposed to be held on September 30 has been probably been postponed. We have, however, no information as to why it is being postponed or the future date when it will be held,” Sen said after inaugurating a multi-facility kiosk at the district magistrate’s office in Jalpaiguri.
In Writers’ Buildings, home secretary Samar Ghosh said he was not aware of the postponement. “It could be, but we have not got any intimation from the Centre about any decision,” Ghosh said. According to sources in the government, Sen is scheduled to hand over charge to Ghosh on September 30 when he retires from service.
Although Sen refused to speak much on the issue, Morcha leaders said they were yet to receive any communication from the Centre. “Only two days are left before the meeting and we have not yet received any formal intimation of such postponement from Delhi,” said Harka Bahadur Chhetri, the party’s media and publicity secretary. “It could be that the present chief secretary (Sen) would retire on that day and would hand over the charge to Ghosh, who usually attends the talks at the bureaucratic-level.”
“We feel the handing over the charge can take place in the morning or in the evening and this issue should not come in the way of holding the talks,” Chhetri said.
The kiosk will help residents receive various data, forms, receipts and certain documents, officials said. “We are initiating the e-governance project from Jalpaiguri and Bankura today and gradually all the districts will be brought under the system,” Sen said.
I will give my blood for Darjeeling: Mamata
Nirmalya Banerjee & Deep Gazmer, TNN, DARJEELING: It's nearly impossible to avoid Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in the Darjeeling hills these days. Mamata Banerjee couldn't either on Monday.

She had earlier cancelled a planned public meeting with GJM's help during her two-day stay in Darjeeling. On Monday, she delayed her visit to a tourism programme at Darjeeling Chowrasta to avoid sharing the dais with GJM leaders. Instead, she chose to make her speech at a railway programme. But, GJM supporters turned the occasion into their own. Mamata, too, tapped into the mood, starting her speech in Nepali and promising to learn the language. "I will give my blood for the people of Darjeeling," she said to thunderous applause.
They were present in large numbers at the venue Darjeeling railway station particularly women belonging to the Gorkha Janmukti Nari Morcha, wearing their traditional faria-choubandi'. They carried GJM flags and festoons and waved them merrily before Mamata's arrival and danced to the tune of Nepali folk songs. When Mamata came, they folded up the party flags, but a lone flag was waved vigorously when the railway minister began her speech.
Mamata tried to address all the political issues in the hills, but was careful to avoid giving an impression that she was looking for an understanding with GJM. "I have come here to make you our own, not to ask for votes. I don't need that." She emphasized that the purpose of her visit was to understand the problems of the hills and to build a bridge between the hills and the plains. "I did not ask for help during the Lok Sabha elections. I could have got a Lok Sabha seat here. But if you have a political grievance, I can negotiate," she said, obviously addressing GJM. But she said she could not intervene in the ongoing tripartite meeting as it was the preserve of the Union home ministry. "I know that after I leave CPM will try and stir trouble over my trip."
She stayed mum on the "ideology and pattern of the GJM agitation," nor did she refer to the Gorkhaland issue, except pointing out that GJM leaders in the course of their meeting with her on Sunday had not raised it. "The Hills and plains must stay together," she said, hinting that she did not approve of a separation of Darjeeling from Bengal.
Trying to maintain a balance between GJM and its rival Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League, she condemned the murder of Madan Tamang but also echoed GJM's demand that Nicole Tamang, missing from CID custody, must be produced in court. She held the state police responsible for Nicole Tamang's disappearance.
Making an effort to win the sympathy of the people of Darjeeling, Mamata made an emotional reference to how Gorkhas were sometimes referred to as "foreigners" and emphasized that this must stop.
But, the undertone of Mamata and GJM trying to strike a friendly relationship was also unmistakable in the course of her two-day visit. While Mamata accepted many of the demands relating to the development of the hills that GJM leaders had raised in their meeting with her, GJM general secretary Roshan Giri indicated that his party was keeping its options open for the coming assembly elections. 
TNN, DARJEELING: If the mood on Monday was any indicator, Mamata Banerjee would consider half the battle won. As she showered sop after sop on Bengal's "neglected" terrains, revelling in her status as one of the few heavyweight Cabinet ministers to visit the Hills, the Trinamool Congress chief churned out a mix of promises and politics to accomplish what she had set out to do — win hearts and gain mileage.
At a public function organized by NF Railways at Darjeeling station and cheered on by a capacity crowd, Mamata offered to bring the Prime Minister to Darjeeling with a development package.
And with her eyes firmly on the assembly elections next year, she also outlined her plans for the Hills if she became CM.
"If I become the CM, there will be a seat of the state secretariat in Darjeeling (like in the British days when Darjeeling was the summer capital of Bengal)," she promised, and went on to add: "After I go back, I will give my recommendations to the Prime Minister. I'll tell him, please come here with a special package. There is need for it in Darjeeling."
She also promised to recommend to the Union finance minister a tax holiday for setting up industries in Darjeeling, like in other hill areas.
In an attempt to win over the people there, she made a special mention of the problems faced by ex-servicemen in the Hills and unemployment among youth. 
Mamata vows development, but says no to Gorkhaland
Amitava Banerjee, THT, Darjeeling:Ruling out any chance of agreeing to carve Gorkhaland out of Bengal, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee promised a bouquet of development for the hills on Monday that ranged from a special economic package including tax holiday and 10,000 new jobs for the local youth. The Trinamool chief emphasised the ongoing agitation was for developmental needs only.
“The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leadership met me on Sunday. They did not talk of a separate state, rather all their demands pertained to developmental issues. You all are agitating for development, for employment and for civic amenities,” said Banerjee at\dressing a public rally on the second day of her two-day trip.
“After the Commonwealth games I will meet the PM and recommend that he should visit Darjeeling with a special package,” said the Railway minister.
The package she outlined featured a tax holiday to attract industry, 10,000 new jobs, a central university, new schools and educational institutes, infrastructure development including drinking water, roads, setting up IT industry and those relating to the power sector.
She admitted that Darjeeling and its people have been given a raw deal, but ruled out any possibility of creating a new state.
“Darjeeling is a part of Bengal. We have to stay together and work together for the benefit of the state and country at large...,” said Banerjee.
Welcoming the package for the hills, GJM spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chettri said, “We are grateful that a leader from Bengal has finally seen for herself the true condition of the hills.”
But Chettri tried to downplay her stand on Gorkhaland. “She is the Railways minister and it is not within her purview. She is wise and steered clear of it.”

Cautious Mamata steers clear of statehood issue
Soma Mookherjee, SNS, DARJEELING/KOLKATA, 27 SEPT: On the second day of her visit to the Hills railway minister, Miss Mamata Banerjee, steered clear of the contentious issues of the Gorkhaland and the inclusion of the Terrai-Dooars region in the Hill council’s interim set-up. She, however, promised the people that she would impress on the Prime Minister the need for announcing a special package for Darjeeling. She would also request Dr Manmohan Singh to visit the Hills after the Commonwealth Games are over.
If the Trinamul Congress comes to power in the coming Assembly polls, Miss Banerjee promised she would set up a second secretariat at Darjeeling.
In an oblique reference to the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha’s demand for Gorkhaland, Miss Banerjee said: “You are asking for something. May be I have a difference of opinion, I may not agree with it.” However, state minister for urban development Mr Ashok Bhattacharya, claimed in the city that Miss Banerjee had been in the hills to clinch a deal with the GJMM for seven Assembly seats in the hills and the plains as a quid pro quo for her support to the Gorkhaland demand. A section of the Nepali Press, he complained, had reported to this effect.
The railway minister said there was no enmity between the people of the Hills and the plains. “Some people are deliberately creating it to gain political mileage. I have come here not to ask for votes, but to ensure that peace prevails in the Hills and once there is peace, development will follow. Have faith in me,” she said at a programme at Darjeeling railway station.
Referring to some hoardings she had seen on her way to the Hills put up by the CPI-M accusing her of creating trouble in the hills, Miss Banerjee said: “I know people of the Hills are peace-loving. But be careful, the CPI-M may create trouble after I leave Darjeeling.”
The railway minister said that she would request the Union Finance Minister to declare “tax holiday” for different hoteliers so as to boost investment in the hills. Today being the World Tourism Day, she gifted a toy train to boost tourism in the Hills and announced a luxurious toy train ~ to be christened Darjeeling Queen ~ on the model of the heritage train would be inaugurated in the next two to three months. It will run from Siliguri to Darjeeling and take tourists from Mirik to Kalimpong.  Sukna will be connected to Siliguri by a broad gauge line.
Hundreds of people who had gathered to attend the programme applauded, cheered and whistled as she announced the new projects for the hill people.
She said the the PM's special package should comprise job opportunities for at least 10,000 youth in Darjeeling. To enhance recruitment in the railways, she would ask the Railway Recruitment Board to set up an office in Darjeeling and hold the examinations there so that the hill people do not have to go down to Siliguri.
The railways would provide jobs to family members of soldiers belonging to the Gorkha regiment who had been killed in the Kargil war, she said. A filter spot diesel unit and a nursing unit for girls will be be set up, while the railway printing press in Kurseong wold be modernised.
The Railways will grant Rs 5crore to set up a museum at Ghum named after the famous Nepali poet Bhanu Bhakta. She said  Darjeeling station would be made into a multifunctional station where shops and budget hotels would  come up. The ropeway, sponsored by the PWD, which has remained defunct for years together, will be reconstructed by the RITES. She said budget hotels would be constructed near it.
Miss Banerjee declared Rs 10 crore for modernising  Tindharia Railway hospital. Old coaches will be painted and used as multifunctional kiosks for the unemployed youth for Ghum, Sukna and Darjeeling, she added. 

Homes on expansion path- Alumni walk to celebrate 110th anniversary
TT, Kalimpong, Sept. 27: The 110-year-old Dr Graham’s Homes has decided to embark on an expansion drive by almost doubling the number of students and turning the institution into a university of excellence in the long run.
The school has currently 1,300 students and the management’s immediate plan is to increase the strength to 2,500. “The short-term plan is to increase the primary and junior school base by adding more sections. This will require the construction of more classrooms and hiring of more teachers,” said Anmole Prasad, a member of the managing board of Homes.
The managing board of the school was recently reconstituted with Lt Gen. (retd) J. Mukherjee taking over as the president from M.J. Robertson. The new board members deliberated on ways and means to expand and improve the school during the course of the week-long celebration to commemorate the institution’s 110th anniversary. The celebrations concluded here yesterday.
Prasad said the new board would work on a multi-pronged approach to improve the education delivery system in the school. “The long-term vision is to turn Homes from a school into a university. Homes has the infrastructure, assets, heritage and importantly, the brand equity to turn itself into a premier institution of higher education,” he added.
Ex-students of Homes, many of whom gathered here in good numbers from different corners of the world over the last week, were unanimous in welcoming the plan. “Why not, why not. The school has the space and assets for expansion,” said Ganesh Mani Pradhan, an alumnus of 1957 and a floriculturist of the town.
On the concluding day of the anniversary celebration, the Kalimpong chapter of Old Girls and Boys (OGBs), as the alumni association of Homes is called, organised a sponsored walk in which the present and past students took part. More than 120 participants walked 19km, from Homes to 17th Mile via 11th Mile and then back to the school through another route.
Most of the participants collected roughly Rs 1,000 each to take part in the walk. “Part of the money will be used to sponsor a project in the school. We organise such a walk when there is a good gathering of ex-students during an important school event like this year’s 110 anniversary celebration,” said Hiranya Mani Pradhan, the president of OGBs’ Kalimpong chapter. 
Wild breeding for red panda 
TT, Darjeeling, Sept. 27: Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park has decided to conduct the breeding of red pandas in the natural habitats to make the endangered species more adaptable in the wild before their release in forest.
A.K. Jha, director of the zoo, said: “We have already made a proposal to start breeding programmes at Tiger Hill in Darjeeling, Dow Hill in Kurseong and in the forest of Lava in Kalimpong. We will ensure minimum human interference for the animal’s breeding in natural surroundings.”
The move is aimed at honing the animal’s natural skills, which could be restricted when bred in closed enclosure as is being done currently at the Darjeeling zoo. Experts believe the new initiative will facilitate the release of the animal in the wild.
The hill zoo was the first in the country to release captive animals in the wild successfully. So far, the zoo has sent four red pandas to Singalila National Park.
Jha said 74 red pandas had been spotted in the Singalila forest. “But the number is in decline across the world. We have been told that the Centre will take up the issue of red panda conservation with authorities in Nepal and Bhutan,” said Jha.
The Indian government believes that it is necessary to take up the issue of conserving the red panda habitat in Nepal and Bhutan as human interference in its corridor is resulting in the animal’s inbreeding.
“The red panda area in India is contiguous with Nepal and Bhutan. The animals will not mingle if there is human interference in its corridor, leading to poor genetic strain of the species,” said Jha on the sidelines of a workshop on the red panda in Darjeeling last week.
The Darjeeling zoo is currently classified as a co-ordinating zoo for the breeding of red pandas and other animals like Tibetan wolf, Satyr Tragopan, grey peacock pheasant, snow leopard and Himalayan salamander. The animals born at a co-ordinating zoo will be exchanged with participating zoos, which will act as a back up for the species (in case of epidemics) and also to ensure their healthy genetic strain.
The Darjeeling zoo presently has nine male, three females and two infant red pandas. The zoo will also be framing up guidelines on the conservation of the red panda to be followed by other zoos in the country, especially those in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
Animal experts believe it is desirable that there should be an equal ratio of male and female animals in captivity for better breeding.
“Since we have more males, one of them will be sent to Auckland zoo in New Zealand on September 30,” said Jha. The New Zealand zoo will in turn send a female red panda for Darjeeling.
Track control flak for forest
TT, Alipurduar, Sept. 27: The forest department is yet to send an employee to the railway control room here to liaison between the two departments, although a couple of days have passed since such a decision was taken at a joint meeting to tackle deaths of wild animals on tracks.
On Saturday, a meeting in Gorumara National Park decided that a forester, probably a beat officer, would be posted at the railway control room here. He would remain in constant touch with the divisions, beats and the ranges through which the tracks pass from Siliguri to Alipurduar junction to keep watch on elephant movement.
Today, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee sent a letter to Union minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh to take “urgent action” to stop the deaths of wild animals, particularly elephants, on railway tracks.
Concerned over the deaths of seven elephants by a goods train on Wednesday, Bhattacharjee asked Ramesh to make the railways stop the running of trains between 6pm to 6am on 147km-long Gulma-Rajabhatkhawa stations.
Dilip Bhattacharya of Malbazar Nature Club said he along with the members of Alipurduar Nature Club, Jana Jagaran Nature Club and East-West Corridor Movement Committee arrived at the divisional railway manager’s office here in the morning to request the railways to take steps after seven elephants had been run over by a goods train on Wednesday.
“We were surprised to hear that the forest department was yet to send an employee to man the control room along with the railway staff. If they were serious, they should have followed what was agreed at Saturday’s meeting,” Bhattacharya said.
The DRM of the Alipurduar division, S.N. Singh, who was present at Saturday’s meeting, said: “It was decided that a forest staff would be in our control room at all times by rotation from Monday. But till late afternoon, no one has come.”
V.K. Sood, the conservator of forests (wildlife) north Bengal, said they needed three persons to maintain a round-the-clock vigil. “We had never committed that the manning would be done from today. It will take a few days.”
The chief minister in his letter to Ramesh said: “The trains that run through these tracks during the day time should have a speed restriction of a maximum of 20kmph. Such drastic steps are needed as the tracks run through four wildlife sanctuaries and across 20 identified elephant corridors.”
Bhattacharjee pointed out that from 1974 to 2003, 26 elephants had died after being hit by trains. “In contrast, during the short span of seven years, from 2004 to 2010, after conversion to broad gauge, 27 elephants have been killed on the railway tracks.”
In Jalpaiguri today, state chief secretary Ardhendu Sen said the government was taking up the issue with the Union forest ministry. “A number of recommendations were made in relation to running of trains on the track, including speed limits. However, the railways have not followed the norms that have led to these accidents. The state government has decided to take up the issue with the Centre and seek intervention of the ministry.”
Chamling digs past to slam tourism critics
TT, Gangtok, Sept. 27: Chief minister Pawan Chamling today chided the Sikkimese civil society for leaving the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) government alone to fend off criticisms invited by its tourism-centric policies in the past 16 years.
“We started eco-tourism first in the country in 1994. We took hard, risky and unpleasant political decisions to start eco-tourism in the state by banning grazing, commercial felling of trees and removing yak sheds from forest areas. But that time, we had received only criticism and verbal abuses from people, some of whom even filed a case against us. Efforts were also made to destroy our rural vote banks,” Chamling said during the World Tourism Day celebrations here.
The Chamling government in 2005-2006 had removed yak sheds from forests in West Sikkim district, leading to resentment among the affected people. Yaks are found in higher altitudes of West and North districts and have been a source of livelihood of the indigenous tribes for generations.
“Today the people of the same areas who opposed the removal of yak sheds and the ban on grazing are launching websites on eco-tourism promotion after realising that the removal of the sheds was a correct decision,” said the chief minister, who also launched a website on eco-tourism at Utteray in West Sikkim.
Chamlingdid not spare the business community either.
“The beautified MG Marg today is one of the main tourism attractions in Sikkim. But when we started the renovation work and removed taxis, we were abused by all, including traders who claimed that such steps would erode their business,” said Chamling.
The 1km MG Marg stretch located in the heart of the state capital had been renovated from scratch in 2008 with cobbled stones and benches, flower pots and fountains. The entire path has been declared a no-vehicle zone, allowing tourists and people to walk leisurely listening to music from Bose speakers hanging from lampposts.
However, Chamling feels that he was let down by the public when his government was criticised during the beautification of MG Marg.
“Although my government was cornered, everyone knows today how the value of MG Marg has grown. The civil society does not come forward in support of our policies. Despite the people’s neutrality, we surpassed all hurdles,” he said.
Laundry fire
TT, Siliguri: A roadside laundry shop was gutted in a fire at Sevoke Road on Monday evening. One fire engine from Siliguri fire station doused the flames. Nobody was injured.
Maoist poster
TT, Islampur: Four posters purportedly written by Maoists were found at Daspara market near Chopra on Monday afternoon. The posters were written in Bengali in red and had slogans against the Congress and the CPM. Chopra police seized the posters and started a probe to find out who had pasted them.
TT, Islampur: People of Islampur organised a blockade on NH31 in the Old Bus Stand area on Monday to protest traffic congestion in the town. The hour-long blockade was lifted around 11am after the intervention of Islampur police.
TT, Jaigaon: Workers of Bharnobari Tea Estate in Jalpaiguri district confined the garden manager to his office for seven hours on Monday, demanding 20 per cent puja bonus. The labourers said the management had reduced the rate of bonus to 8.33 per cent. The agitation that started at 10am was withdrawn after Sukra Munda, the chairman of the Progressive Tea Workers’ Union, told the management to convene a meeting at the assistant labour commissioner’s office in Alipurduar on September 29 to sort out the issue.
Koirala, a CNN hero
CNN, Kathmandu, Nepal : Geeta was 9 when she began wearing makeup, staying up until 2 a.m. and having sex with as many as 60 men a day.
"I used to be really sad and frustrated with what was happening in my life," she said.
The daughter of Nepalese peasant farmers, Geeta -- now 26 -- had been sold to a brothel in India by a member of her extended family. The family member had duped Geeta's visually impaired mother into believing her daughter would get work at a clothing company in Nepal.
"The brothel where I was ... there [were] many customers coming in every day. The owner used to verbally abuse us, and if we didn't comply, [she] would start beating us with wires, rods and hot spoons."
It was not until Geeta was 14 that a police officer rescued her and brought her to a safe house compound run by Anuradha Koirala. The 61-year-old woman and her group, Maiti Nepal, have been fighting for more than 16 years to rescue and rehabilitate thousands of Nepal's sex trafficking victims.
"Families are tricked all the time," said Koirala. "The trafficking of the girls is done by people who are basically known to the girls, who can lure them from the village by telling them they are getting a nice job. It's a lucrative business."
By raiding brothels, patrolling the India-Nepal border and providing safe shelter and support services, Koirala and Maiti Nepal have helped rescue and rehabilitate more than 12,000 Nepali women and girls since 1993.

According to the U.S. State Department, some 10,000 to 15,000 women and girls from Nepal are trafficked to India and then sexually exploited each year.
Koirala's own history in an abusive relationship led her to her crusade. For most of her young adulthood, she taught primary school English in Nepal. But when her relationship took a violent turn, her life's "purpose and responsibility completely changed," she said.
"Every day, there was battering. And then I had three miscarriages that I think [were] from the beating. It was very difficult because I didn't know in those days where to go and report [it], who to ... talk to."
After the relationship ended, Koirala used a portion of her $100 monthly salary to start a small retail shop to employ and support displaced victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence.
By the early 1990s, an increasing demand for help and persistent cases of violence against women compelled Koirala to do more. Maiti Nepal was her brainchild for giving voice, legal defense and rehabilitation to victims of sex trafficking.
Roughly translated, Maiti means "Mother's Home." The group has facilities throughout Nepal and India, but most of the rehabilitation work takes place at its main campus in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Koirala said girls from the brothels arrive empty-handed, sick, in many cases pregnant or with small children, and "psychologically broken."
"When the girl first comes to Maiti Nepal, we never, never ask them a question. We just let them [be] for as long as they need. We let them play, dance, walk, talk to a friend," Koirala said. "They are afraid at first, but eventually they will talk to us on their own."
The group also takes in rape and domestic violence survivors, as well as abandoned children.
"I cannot say no to anybody," Koirala said. "Everybody comes to Maiti Nepal."
Accommodating its population of close to 400 women and children requires a large staff of teachers, counselors and medical personnel -- and dozens of bunk beds. Many of the staff are sex trafficking survivors now committed to helping rehabilitate other girls. The work is funded by grants and donations from around the world.
Post-rescue recovery is comprehensive. Maiti Nepal provides medical treatment, psychological and legal counseling, formal court filings and criminal prosecution, all for free.
While some of the girls are able to return to their families, many of them -- particularly those with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases -- become socially stigmatized and are no longer welcome in their home communities. For these girls, Maiti Nepal becomes their new, and possibly last, home. A hospice on the compound's grounds houses terminally ill patients.
"The hardest part for me is to see a girl dying or coming back with different diseases at an [age] when she should be out frolicking," Koirala said. "That's what fuels me to work harder."
The group's ultimate goal is to help girls become economically independent and reintegrated into society.
"We try to give them whatever work they want to do, whatever training they want to do, because when you're economically empowered, people forget everything. People even forget [she is] HIV-positive or was trafficked," Koirala said.
Koirala and at least 50 trafficking survivors also participate in what she calls social preventive work outside the campus. Their community awareness camps educate families in rural villages and city slums about the dangers of sex trafficking, and a daily patrol at crossing points along the India-Nepal border successfully rescues an average of four Nepali girls a day.
"Our girls are border guards who have been trafficked themselves. They easily recognize a girl that is being trafficked or will be trafficked," Koirala said. "The girls need no motivation from me. They know the horrors of the brothel, and they are here to save their sisters."
Some girls who are trafficked choose to remain prostitutes for life because their home villages will not accept them. But Koirala says that among those rescued by Maiti Nepal, there isn't a single case when a girl has returned back to the streets.
Geeta's recovery is one of the group's success stories. Today, she works at Maiti Nepal as a peer educator and also helps with the group's awareness camps. She credits Koirala and Maiti Nepal for the strength to keep living and the confidence to join the fight against sex trafficking.
"Anuradha is a hero. ... She's courageous," Geeta said. "She gave me my faith back. ... If Maiti Nepal wasn't there for me, I would be dead by now."

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