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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Polls before Interim setup- Buddhadeb

- Votes will show party strengths
TT, Calcutta, Nov. 30: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today ruled out the formation of the “interim committee” in the Darjeeling hills before local body elections in the region, declaring that only polls could show the strength of the political parties.
The chief minister urged the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to first agree to the elections to the panchayats and the municipalities in the hills. “We have already made it clear to Delhi that we are not going to accept any interim committee in Darjeeling. They (Morcha) should first agree to the elections to the panchayats and municipalities. In such a case, the verdict will make it clear whose strength lies where,” Bhattacharjee said at a public meeting at the Metro Channel here this evening.
“How do we know whether the people want them (Morcha)? Besides, we want to hear out all the organisations in the hills. That only you (Morcha) will form a committee and run the hills is unacceptable to us.
“We will never let them (Morcha) occupy the seat of power in Darjeeling without an election. They must face the verdict of the people,” he added, stressing that he would not allow Darjeeling district to be divided.
The chief minister also appealed to the Morcha not to stall work in government offices and bring life to a standstill in the hills. “They have threatened to shut down government offices from December 6 and bring everything to a halt from December 20. I am pleading you: Please don’t do this. Who will suffer? The hill people.”
The Morcha has set a deadline of December 20 for the Centre and the state to establish the interim set-up in the hills, failing which it will shut down the region for 48 hours from the next day. To keep the momentum going till then, the party has also decided to organise rallies and meetings across the hills from December 5 and shut down all government offices from December 6.
The chief minister reminded that, in the event of a shutdown, tourism, hotel and transport businesses would be severely hit, leading to revenue loss for the hills.
Bhattacharjee also hauled up the Morcha for demanding Siliguri. “Mamarbarir abdar! (a phrase indicating audacity, which is allowed only in the maternal uncle’s house). This (inclusion of Siliguri) will never happen. In north Bengal, there is an effort to create a rift between the Nepalis and the Adivasis. Similar things are happening in Cooch Behar as well. What will happen to Bengal if everybody separates? We will not allow the division of Bengal.”
Bhattacharjee also criticised Mamata Banerjee without taking her name. “That person, she suddenly went off to Darjeeling but till now she had not made her stand clear: whether or not she wants Darjeeling to be divided. She has never said she did not want Gorkhaland to happen. The Trinamul Congress wants the hills to be in flames. And that is why she held secret talks with that hill party.”
On the situation in Jungle Mahal, the chief minister said the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) does not require it to be banned. “We can tackle them politically and drive them out of Bengal into Orissa and Jharkhand,” he said.
Bhattacharjee said the Jnaneswari Express probe by the CBI and the subsequent chargesheet against 23 persons had revealed their identity and corroborated the Left Front version that Maoists were behind the attack.
“Just take a look at the chargesheet against these 23 persons. What will the Trinamul leader say now? She is not saying anything today because she had been lying earlier.”
Trade in Nathula concluded

Prabin Khaling, KalimNews, Gangtok, Nov 30The annual border trade through the historical silk route at Nathu La on the Sino-India border on Tuesday concluded with Indian traders making an impressive turnover of about Rs 4,02,54,107 lakh, nearly doubling the last year's business.
The state commerce and industries department officials and traders of the two countries attended a formal function at Nathu La this afternoon to mark the conclusion of the trade.
Traders of two countries offering khadas
While, the Indian traders have done a business of Rs 4 corore 2 lakh 54 thousand and 1 hunsred and 7 rupees through export, the import from across the border was nil , according to superintendent of costume department T W Sherpa.
Utensils and woollen clothes were in great demand at Sherathang mart as the traders from Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) reached in good numbers on most of the trading days to purchase these goods from India, he said.
The Indian traders, on the other hand, did not evince interest in buying the Chinese goods apparently due to lack of demand for them in markets of Sikkim as the traders are required to sell Chinese goods in the local markets only, the officials said.
The turnover of the Indian traders could have been much more if the Centre had not imposed ban on export of non-basmati rice as the cereal was said to be in great demand from the buyers of TAR, they said.
The officials also stressed on the need for revision of the goods on the trade list of both countries in order to make the bilateral border trade more meaningful as most of the items of the list at present appeared to be outdated and did not have demand in the market.
Toy train group bags 2nd prize -UK award for school work
TT, Siliguri, Nov. 30: The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society’s Education Group has been awarded the second prize by the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) for education-related services at schools along the toy train tracks.
The five-year-old group has bagged the prize in the international category.
“We were delighted to receive this award and share the honour with our hard working partners in India who contribute so much to our work with children and young people. Special thanks go to the ladies of the Inner Wheel Club of Darjeeling and to the DHR India Support Group who help us to implement our education-related activities in the Darjeeling hills,” Paul Whittle, the chairman of the DHRS Education Group wrote in an e-mail to The Telegraph.
“The certificate was given to us at the ACoRP’s annual prize giving ceremony held on September 24 in the presence of two hundred representatives of community rail groups and the wider railway industry,” he wrote.
Based in the UK, the ACoRP is funded by the transport department of the country. It has 60 community railway partnerships and promotion groups as its members. The association works for the betterment of facilities at the railway stations in the UK.
Every year ACoRP distributes awards in different categories. The DHRS had received the Best International Achievement Award from the association for welfare projects along the DHR tracks in 2009.
The five-member Education Group that also includes Whittle was formed in 2005 as a sub-committee of the DHRS with the aim to spread awareness of the Unesco World Heritage Railway, its history, its conservation and its relevance to the economy. The group has published post-cards, colouring and riddle books, jig-saw puzzles and quiz on the DHR and has been distributing them in schools across the hills.
It also organises annual drama, quiz, art, singing, dancing and model making contests for students. “Since its formation in 2005 the DHRS Education Group has sponsored annual competitions for children in schools alongside the DHR tracks. The competitions are specifically designed to increase awareness about the DHR, its history, heritage and its continuing importance to tourism and the local economy,” Whittle wrote.
This year, 800 students from 53 schools in Makaibari Tea Estate and the adjoining areas, and Kurseong, Ghum and Darjeeling, participated in the contests. “All the participants in the different competitions were awarded badges, certificates and treated to Chinese food and chocolate cakes. Little Angels School of Ghum bagged the Championship Trophy for their achievement in sit-and-draw competition,” he wrote.
Cops axed for custodial death
TT, Siliguri, Nov. 30: An assistant sub-inspector of police and a constable have been suspended for dereliction of duty in connection with the custodial death at the Pradhannagar lock-up yesterday.
The role of two others, a constable and a member of the National Volunteer Force, are under the scanner, police sources said. Those suspended are ASI Yukta Sarkar and constable Kameshwar Prasad Singh. “Based on preliminary investigations, two policemen have been suspended for dereliction of duty,” said D.P. Singh, the superintendent of police of Darjeeling.
The district police chief also said the post-mortem reports have confirmed suicide. “We have received post- mortem reports from the NBMCH wherein it has been suggested that he has committed suicide.”
Yesterday morning, Gautam Pal, a 30-year-old youth and a resident of Prakashnagar, was found dead at the lock-up of Pradhannagar police station. He had been in the police custody for three days and had reportedly hanged himself from the ventilator of the bathroom in the lock-up.
The death had led to daylong protests, demonstrations and road blockades, which were withdrawn after police and administration officials promised the agitators that action would be taken against the guilty cops.
Jiten Pal, Gautam’s brother, had filed a police complaint alleging that his brother had been tortured to death in custody. Gautam and two of his friends, Jaswant and Rajkumar, had been in custody since Friday when they were produced in court. They had been accused of motorcycle theft.
Yesterday, the additional chief judicial magistrate’s court here ordered a probe after Gautam’s custodial death was brought to its notice. “Bibhuti Khesang, the ACJM, has ordered Santanu Dutta, the judicial magistrate, first court, to carry out an investigation,” a court source said.
The protests over the custodial death continued even today. A delegation of the CPI-ML (New Democracy) submitted a memorandum to the SDO, demanding investigation and action against the policemen found guilty. Congress leaders, who had demonstrated throughout yesterday and had set a 24-hour deadline for the police to act, today said they would watch out for more developments.
“He was not a criminal or a thief. The police could have easily sorted out the issue but instead brought him under remand and resorted to torture,” said Shankar Malakar, an AICC member and former Darjeeling district Congress president.
Forest failed to stop wild straying

TT, Siliguri, Nov. 30: Forest minister Ananta Roy today admitted his department’s inability to keep animals confined to the jungles, attributing it to the burgeoning population of the wildlife.
Roy, who was here to attend a programme, said: “We feel the elephant population in north Bengal will cross the 550-mark after the recently concluded census data is collated. There has been a steady growth in elephant population over the past few years. Same is the case with gaurs (Indian bison) and leopards, whose figures are 3,500 and 3,000 respectively in north Bengal.”
According to the 2008 census, there were 350-400 elephants, about 2,500 gaurs and around 2,750 leopards in north Bengal.
“Considering the rise in wildlife population, it is definitely a problem for the department to keep the animals, particularly the herbivores, within the forest areas,” the minister said. “These animals are bound to enter the fringe areas. We are contemplating improving the vegetation to provide them with ample fodder as well as increasing the forest cover. The number of wildlife squads and other infrastructure will also be increased.”
The existing forest area in north Bengal is around 3,100sqkm.
According to the minister, the increase in animal population is a key concern of foresters worried about frequent elephants deaths on train tracks. “Unless the railways adopt alternative proposals like double-laning the New Jalpaiguri-Falakata-Cooch Behar route and halt movement of goods trains on the Dooars route at night, elephants and other animals will continue to die,” he said.
Asked about the steps taken against the railways, Roy cited a verdict from a Dehradun court and demanded the intervention of the judiciary.
On Friday, a Dehradun court convicted Vijay Pal, a train driver, of violating speed restrictions on the Dehradun-Haridwar route that led to the deaths of three elephants, including a calf, 12 years ago. He was sentenced to three years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,000.
The minister said in north Bengal, his department filed FIRs against the railways after every elephant death. “We want the judiciary to attach similar priority to these cases. As the railways are not listening to us, there is no other alternative but to seek judicial intervention.”
Roy, who has opposed the railways’ move to extend lines to Bhutan through the Dooars forest and suggested construction of flyovers to avoid track deaths, said: “We know that the construction of elevated tracks or flyovers involves a huge cost but there is no other alternatives. We are also bound by our commitment to save forests and conserve wildlife.”
Test shows HIV spread-- Patients to take part in AIDS Day rally today
TT, Gangtok, Nov. 30: The number of HIV patients in Sikkim has reached 199 in 2010, 15 years after tests for the disease began in the state.
There were only two HIV patients in 1995 when the tests were introduced in Sikkim, categorised by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) as one of the lowest prevalence states in India.
V. Singhi, the project director of the Sikkim State AIDS Control Society, said 28 persons had died of AIDS after 1995.
“According to our records, the number of surviving AIDS patients in Sikkim is 111 and they are in different age groups. Most of the patients are in the age group of 20-39 and they total 106,” said Singhi.
The project director said there were only two HIV patients in Sikkim in 1995.
“Fourteen persons tested HIV positive in the state in 2005 when the Sikkim society was established in Gangtok. But today, the number is 199. Three patients are below 10 and 152 are aged between 20 and 39,” said Singhi.
He added that Sikkim falls under the low HIV prevalence group of C & D categorised by the NACO.
The project director claimed that HIV/AIDS patients in Sikkim did not face social stigma. “But the patients themselves are not ready to come out in the open,” he said.
On the occasion of World AIDS Day tomorrow, the society will hold a candlelight rally in Gangtok in the evening. “People infected with HIV/AIDS will take part in the rally from Titanic Park to Star Hall Cinema. This will be for the first time in Sikkim that AIDS patients are coming out in the open,” said Singhi.
The society has been working extensively with NGOs, the STNM Hospital in Gangtok and four district hospitals to provide counselling and assistance to high risk group-commercial sex workers, intravenous drug users (IDU) and migrant labourers.
“We have roughly 700 commercial sex workers registered with six NGOs under us in Sikkim. They are provided with general counselling and free condoms along with medical treatment for sexually transmitted diseases,” said Singhi.
He added that actual number of commercial sex workers in Sikkim is much higher than those registered with the NGOs.
The number of IDUs in Sikkim is estimated to be between 1,400 and 1,500.
“The NGOs working with us have drop-in-centre facilities where the IDUs can get new syringes. We want to encourage one time use of syringes as they may spread HIV,” Singhi.
The society estimates that Sikkim has migrant labourers between 14,000 and 15000 and most of them are employed at the sites of different mega hydel power projects under construction in the state.
With maximum number of people contracting AIDS through unprotected sex, the society observed that modern lifestyle, easy communication facilities and economic prosperity have led to the demand for commercial sex workers.
Singhi said after a person tested positive for HIV, the society provided free medicines through its anti-retro viral therapy centre in Gangtok.
Small tea growers unite to setup factories
TT, Jalpaiguri, Nov. 30: Small tea growers in north Bengal are making an effort to form self-help groups and later co-operative societies to set up their own bought-leaf factories to ensure higher price for their produce.
“The state government is delaying the issuing of no-objection certificates to thousands of small tea plantations in north Bengal. As a result, we are not getting government funds and assistance from the Tea Board. So, we have decided to form self-help groups,” said Bijoy Gopal Chakrabarty, the chairperson of the United Forum of Small Tea Growers Association.
There are about 28,000 small tea growers in north Bengal and they produce 225 million kg of tealeaves.
The Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Plantation Management (IIPM) and the Tea Board organised a workshop for the small growers here today. The workshop is part of an all-India project taken up by the two bodies to organise small tea farmers in India.
Chakrabarty said a self-help group formed by 256 small planters had already sent a proposal to the Tea Board for assistance to set up a factory. “It will cost about Rs 80 lakh to build the factory that has a capacity to produce 5 lakh kg of tea annually.”
Samaresh Mondal, the deputy director of the Tea Board in Jalpaiguri, said 47 self-help groups had already been formed in north Bengal.
“Tealeaves grown in small gardens are tender. So, the quality of tea is good. We are working towards forming the self-help groups and then co-operative societies which we think will help set up bought-leaf factories,” Mondal said.
An associate professor of IIPM, Ananda Dasgupta, said the average age of tea bushes in large gardens is 60 to 90 years and their yield is not good.
“We are following a Kenyan model where self-help groups build factories for small growers. As small growers in north Bengal sell tealeaves to garden factories and bought-leaf factories, they don’t get a good price,” said Dasgupta.

Villager trampled to death
TT, Jalpaiguri, Nov. 30: A 35-year-old resident of Targherabusty in the Baikunthapur forest division was trampled to death by an elephant today.
Foresters said a tusker attacked Swami Minz around 4.30am when he had gone to a field near the Targhera forest to relieve himself. Minz’s family has been given Rs 20,000 as immediate compensation. The forest department will later pay Rs 80,000. The foresters have started patrolling the area.
Body found
TT, Balurghat: The body of Hiralal Burman, a former pradhan of the Rampur gram panchayat, was found on SH10 at Baul, about 20km from here, on Tuesday morning. Police suspect that 52-year-old Burman was run over by a vehicle while returning home from the market on Monday night.
Science meet

TT, Siliguri: A science lecture on Plants: Turning Air to Oil will be organised at the North Bengal Science Centre (NBSC) in Matigara on Wednesday. Eve Syrkin Wurtele, a professor in the department of genetics at Iowa State University of the US, will be the keynote speaker. On Thursday, the NBSC will organise a nature study camp at the NBSC in association with the West Bengal Biodiversity Board, organisers said.

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