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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Morcha agrees to rural polls - Village election nod clears set-up hurdle for hills

Light at the end of Darjeeling tunnel
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha accepts idea of elected local body
Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay, IE, Kolkata, Dec 23 2010:The Darjeeling problem appears to be heading for a solution at last.
On Wednesday, a delegation from Gorkha Janmukti Morcha led by its president Bimal Gurung, accepted a Central proposal on elected local body.
The meeting, held in Delhi, was attended by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and the parliamentarian from Darjeeling, Jaswant Singh.
According to the formula, elections will be held for all panchayats and municipalities of Darjeeling. The elected representatives will then elect the people who will comprise the Gorkhaland Regional Authority. “It will be the way the Rajya Sabha is constituted,” said Harka Bahadur Chhetri, Morcha spokesman, who was part of the 5-member team that met Chidambaram.
Now that the proposal has been accepted by the GJM, it will be placed at a meeting of Cabinet Committee on Security, which will be convened soon. Thereafter the election for the local bodies will be started.
It was the issue of nomination or election of members of the interim council that had been the stumbling block. The Morcha had been insisting on nominated members. But at a rally in Kolkata last week, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made it clear that the state would never accept a council with nominated members.
The same proposal was mooted earlier by the state government, said Ashok Bhattacharya, Minister for Urban Development, who represents the state in the talks.
“At first we asked why a temporary body should have elected members. But then we realised that the state government was using this ploy to defer the interim council,” said Chhetri. “So we accepted elections because we knew will win elections hands down.”
Chidambaram said he has already had a talk with the chief minister and the MHA has prepared a proposal, said Chhetri.
Regarding two other issues , inclusion of Terai and Dooars in the Council , the Morcha leaders said this would be sorted out through talks. The state was guarded in its reaction. Bhattacharya, who claimed the breakthrough was his idea, said he was waiting for full reports. “I have heard from the media about today’s developments and I will convey my reaction when I get the full report,” the minister said.
Village election nod clears set-up hurdle
VIVEK CHHETRI, TT, Darjeeling, Dec. 22: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has agreed to allow rural elections to be held in the hills, a decision that has cleared the path for signing an agreement on an interim set-up for Darjeeling within a fortnight.
This means the board of the interim authority will now be formed through proportionate representation depending on seats won in the panchayat and municipality elections, as demanded by the Bengal government.
Led by its president Bimal Gurung, a Morcha delegation conveyed its decision to Union home minister P. Chidambaram in New Delhi today.
Harka Bahadur Chhetri, media and publicity secretary of the Morcha, said over the phone from New Delhi: “The home minister told us that the report (on the set-up) would be forwarded to the cabinet committee on security after which the agreement (on the interim authority) would be signed.”
According to Chhetri, the committee could sit for a meeting “even tomorrow or day after or at the latest within a fortnight”.
“It is mandatory for the cabinet committee to meet once in two weeks. The agreement will be signed the very next day of the committee meeting,” said Chhetri, hinting that the nod from the panel is merely a formality now. “Everything has been agreed upon; even (chief minister) Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has given the nod.”
About the local body elections, Chhetri said: “The board will be formed through proportionate representation after elections to the municipality and the panchayats are held.”
The deal could not be firmed up earlier, as the Morcha had demanded that all 48 members of the board of the Gorkhaland Regional Authority (as the interim body will be called) would have to be nominated. The state had shot down the proposal saying it wanted either a direct or indirect election to the interim authority.
Asked about the reason for Morcha volte-face on the election, Chhetri said: “Our stand (on the election) was being misinterpreted by the state government as our inability to face elections in the hills. This is not true as we have always enjoyed popular support.”
With an agreement having been reached on the core issue, other contentious subjects like transfer of legislative powers, territory and the tauzi department are also expected to fall in line.
The controversy on conferring legislative power on the new body was automatically solved when the Morcha agreed to contest the elections.
“Legislative powers can only be exercised by a body elected directly or indirectly through elections. Since the Morcha has agreed to contest the elections, the board will function like a Rajya Sabha with elected members of the panchayats and municipalities forming the electoral college,” said an observer.
Panchayat elections in the hills have not been held since 2005 because of the whims of the parties holding sway in the region at that time — first the GNLF and then the Morcha. The hill municipalities, too, are being run by a board of administrators from 2009 when the Morcha refused to contest the elections and nobody filed any nominations.
“As far as territory is concerned, there will be a mention of a joint verification committee to look into the demand for inclusion of Nepali dominated areas of the Dooars and the Terai,” said Chhetri. This essentially means that the panchayat elections will largely be confined to the present DGHC area.
The development has come as a major relief to the Morcha as there were enough indications that it was desperate for the interim set-up, as any delay would have pushed it beyond the Assembly elections. A new government would mean a fresh start altogether.
KalimNews: For the formation of GRA before the forthcoming Bidhan Sabha election in 2011, a bill in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly is to be passed a Govt source said.
Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad has called a 24 hrs Dooars strike on 28 December. It is in protest against the State Adivasi conference organised by the state government on 28 December in Mal Bazar and Adivasi Festival to be organised from 15 January 2011 to 24 January by the Government in Alipurduar. 
Untold hill tales on record
VIVEK CHHETRI, TT, Darjeeling, Dec. 22: Three-hundred students of Sikkim University have fanned out on a unique mission to study different aspects of the region and record untold stories for posterity.
The varsity’s Winter Sojourn is unique in more than one way. “We have formed eight teams, each comprising around 30-35 students studying different subjects at the varsity. We have identified eight themes which the students will look into from different perspectives for a proper understanding,” said Sohel Fridas, a geography teacher and the leader of a team.
The issues identified are as varied as Gorkhaland agitation, oral history, demilitarised international border studies, social space, cardamom cultivation, tea industry and water.
“For example, a team is on a 10-day visit to the Darjeeling hills to study the tea industry. While chemistry students are looking into the organic and inorganic aspects of the garden, physics students are studying the tools used in the industry,” said Fridas.
“We are looking at documenting a comprehensive profile of the industry, focussing on market constraints, pricing, labour acts, welfare schemes, productivity and owner-worker relations among others,” he added.
The team, which is currently in Darjeeling, has already spent five days in the Makaibari tea garden in Kurseong. They have been staying in the labour quarters, where stakeholders were asked to fill up a questionnaire.
While one group is in Darjeeling, other teams are visiting the Indo-Bangladesh and Indo-Nepal borders. “These teams will study the socio-economic and culture-related issues in border areas,” said Fridas.
Every group is being accompanied by a teacher from the varsity’s history faculty, who along with the students are recording the “oral history” of the region.
“We have come across various people and they have many stories to say. We have recently met a 103-year-old woman who turned out to be a treasure trove,” said Sangmu Thendup, history lecturer at the varsity.
SSP staged Dharna
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Chicken rate fixed 
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Dead baby found
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Drug addict arrested
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Moral development necessary- Dalai Lama
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Gajmer receives AMBEDKAR AWARD
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Comrades kick BDO, staff call strike 
- Cops accused of inaction during CPM rampage
TT, Itahar, Dec. 22: The block development officer of Itahar was slapped and kicked around by CPM members this evening when he alighted from his car in response to a request by the party representatives that he personally receive a charter of demands from them.
The attack on Sheikh Jaher Ali in front of the block office has created a sense of insecurity among the employees who have decided to go on a pen-down strike from tomorrow till the culprits are arrested.
The Itahar zonal committee secretary of the CPM, Habibur Rehman, called up the BDO yesterday and sought an appointment with him around 12.30pm today. Rehman told Ali that a party delegation would meet him to complain about irregularities in the 100-days’ work scheme and rampant corruption in the Congress-run panchayat samity.
“I told the leader yesterday that I had to attend an important meeting at the district headquarters (in North Dinajpur) and that industrial development officer Subhanu Dhar would meet the delegation,” said Ali.
Today, a group of about 700 CPM supporters, led by Rehman, arrived at the block office at the scheduled time and demanded that Ali meet them. “There were murmurs among the crowd that the BDO had fled before they came and tension began to rise. We tried to reason with the CPM leaders that the BDO was attending an important meeting and he had deputed the industrial development officer to meet the delegation. But the party workers were not listening to us. So, we called up the BDO and told him about the situation,” said Pallab Mukherjee, the panchayat development officer.
Ali said when he had been told about the situation in his office, he sought the permission of Raiganj subdivisional officer, Aditi Dasgupta, to be excused from the meeting.
“I rang up the zonal committee secretary. He told me that the party supporters wanted me to be there and assured me that the meeting would be peaceful. I then called up the Itahar police station and the officer-in-charge told me that the circle inspector, Tapas Banerjee, was present at the spot with his men,” said the BDO.
“No sooner had I alighted from my car than a group of about 50 men shoved me and started beating me up. They tore my sweater and when I fell to the ground, they kicked me. My spectacles were smashed and the police did not do anything to rescue me. Some staff members managed to take me to safety inside the office. A few demonstrators even locked up doors so that the staff could not come out,” Ali said at the Itahar block primary health centre where a doctor was checking him.
The doctor said the BDO was lucky that he was not injured in his eyes when the spectacles were broken. “He has no external injuries, but his blood pressure has shot up because of the trauma,” the doctor said.
Ali later filed an FIR naming seven CPM leaders, including Rehman, at the Itahar police station.
Contacted, Rehman said he regretted the incident. “It should not have taken place. The crowd was restless. Some outsiders had intruded into the delegation and they carried out the attack.”
Cry for accused teachers list- lock on school office
TT, Jalpaiguri, Dec. 22: The Youth Congress today locked up the office of the district inspector (DI) of primary schools, demanding that the names of the 423 newly appointed teachers blacklisted for alleged anomalies in their recruitment process be made public.
An 18-member Youth Congress delegation arrived at the school inspector’s office on PWD More around 12.30pm and asked the staff to leave and locked up the room.
Three hours later, DI Kallol Roy called the demonstrators to the Jalpaiguri district primary school council office, of which he is in temporary charge, and showed them the list of 423 teachers to be showcaused. He had received the list yesterday from the school education department.
“We were shown the list but not given any copy by the chairperson who also failed to explain why the names of 22 newly appointed teachers — serial number 26 to 48 — were missing from the list. We will not leave the premises till an explanation is given and the full list is made public,” said Saikat Chatterjee, a district Youth Congress leader.
However, acting chairperson Roy allowed the agitators to copy the names on the list.
When the delegation demanded that he reveal the names missing from the list, Roy pleaded helpless. “The school education department has not sent the names and I can do nothing,” Roy told the delegation.
The Youth Congress alleged that these 22 names had been omitted from the list because once exposed, it would cause immense discomfort for the ruling party.
“We are sure that these names belong to family members and those close to top CPM leaders of the district and the school education department has been instructed by the ruling party not to expose them. We will wait for a day and after that we will initiate legal action against the school education department,” Chatterjee said.
The maximum number of names are those of candidates who appeared for the July recruitment test from 11 schools in Jalpaiguri town. This number stood at 147, including the missing 22 names.
The inquiry committee of the education department that was formed in August to probe the allegations of nepotism and anomalies had found that many candidates had copied answers from each other and there were also gross anomalies in the scripts like the absence of candidates’ signatures or the invigilator’s signature. In some cases, the signatures of the examiners were also missing. The report also found that copies of fake Madhyamik marksheets had been submitted by many candidates.
Centre to clear jumbo corridors - Forest cover to be increased to arrest man-elephant conflict
TT, Siliguri, Dec. 22: The Centre has decided to clear encroachments from 183 elephant corridors in the country to stem the rate of man-animal conflicts arising from the rise in jumbo population.
“Considering the steady rise in elephant population across the country, it is imperative that elephant corridors are restored and those who have encroached on the animal’s path are evicted,” said Union minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh.
“We will remove encroachers in tandem with respective state governments. Funds will be sanctioned for the work on the basis of the proposals we have received from the states,” he added.
Over the years, many elephant corridors, including those in north Bengal, have shrunk to a few metres following the mushrooming of human habitats, tea plantations and agricultural land, leading to frequent man-elephant conflicts.
Of the 183 elephant corridors, 28 are inter-state and 17 international. Bengal has 14 corridors, three of which are shared with Jharkhand and one with Orissa.
While six international corridors are spread across India and Bangladesh, four each are shared with Bhutan and Myanmar and three with Nepal.
According to data available with Project Elephant, Meghalaya has the highest number of elephant corridors, that is 26.While elephants roam over an area varying from 2,300-2,800sqkm in north Bengal, the area is 1,500-1,800sqkm in the south of the state.
Foresters in north Bengal are worried over the rise in the number of jumbos. The animal’s population in the region is expected to go up from 350-400 in 2008 to 500-550 this year after the data collected during the recent census are collated and published.
“The trend of rise in the jumbo population is likely to continue in the coming years. The only way to curb the man-elephant conflict is to increase the forest cover,” said state forest minister Ananta Roy. 
“It is good to learn that the Centre is focussing on the restoration of elephant corridors which will help to keep the animal within the forests. On our part, we have started developing vegetation in forests so that elephants don’t have to intrude into villages in search of fodder,” said Roy.
242 More beds in NBMCH
TT, Siliguri, Dec. 22: The state government has decided to add 242 beds to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, the only referral hospital in north Bengal.
“The existing number of beds at the NBMCH is 600 and we have got confirmation from the state health department that another 242 beds have been sanctioned for the facility. This will help to accommodate the patients who come here from different parts of north Bengal,” said J.B. Saha, the principal of the NBMCH, today.
“We will increase the number of beds in medicine, gynaecology and surgery departments where the rush is high,” he added.
The chief minister while attending a programme at the NRS Medical College in Calcutta yesterday announced that the number of beds would be increased in many referral hospitals across the state including the NBMCH.
Sources at the NBMCH said about two months back the hospital authorities had sent a proposal to the state health department asking it to increase the number of beds in the facility.
The Junior Doctors’ Council (JDC) of the NBMCH had also demanded the increase in the number of beds at the hospital.
“Though we do not have any official information about the increase in the number of beds, we have learnt from different sources about the decision taken by state health department. We welcome the decision because this has been one of our key demands,” said Prasanta Sarkar, the state vice-president of the JDC.
Saha said on an average around 1,800 to 2,000 patients are examined at the out patients department everyday.
“Of them around 100 are admitted. It was becoming difficult for us to provide them with beds. The decision to add more beds will help us,” he said.
Saha added that it would also help to increase the number of seats for the MBBS course.
“According to the rule of the Medical Council of India, it is necessary to have at least 750 beds at a medical college hospital to increase the number of seats in the MBBS course. Now that the beds have been increased, the number of seats for the course is likely to go up from 100 to 150,” he said.
Dooars garden closed
TT, Jaigaon, Dec. 22: The Ambari Tea Estate in Nagrakata was shut down last night by the management citing lawlessness and indiscipline by workers.
Sources, however, said there had been tension in the garden over the management’s decision to deduct Rs 300 from each worker’s wages for October and November to pay electricity bills. “Although the collection totalled Rs 7 lakh, the management has not paid the power bills yet. This led to resentment among workers,” said Parasnath Baraik, the Jalpaiguri district secretary of the Progressive Tea Workers’ Union.
Ambari, owned by the Diana Tea Company Limited, is the sixth garden to be closed in the Dooars. The estate is spread over 587 hectares and employs 1,311 people.
Arrest plea
TT, Siliguri: Members of nine forest protection committees under Panighata range of Kurseong forest division submitted two separate memorandums to Panighata and Naxalbari police on Wednesday, demanding the immediate arrest of people who had ransacked the Lohagarh beat office on December 15. The vandalism occurred when a mob protested an elephant raid on a village. The committees have also threatened a movement if no arrest is made in the next few days.
River death
TT, Balurghat: Ranjit Mondal, 35, drowned when he was taking bath in the Atrayee river at Chakbhrigu here on Wednesday evening. Police suspect that the youth did not know swimming and drowned while taking a dip in the river. The body has been recovered and sent for post-mortem.
Garment haul
TT, Islampur: Customs officers seized garments worth around Rs 3 lakh smuggled out of Nepal from a pick-up van near here on Tuesday night. Sources said acting on a tip-off, the customs had intercepted the van on NH31 and recovered the garments. Three persons have been arrested.

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