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Friday, January 21, 2011

Entry to Dooars stopped again for the third time...Morcha sets 3-day deadline - Forcible entry threat from hill outfit... Bengal drivers harassed... Calcutta High Court Asks CBI to file report on Nicole Tamang's disappearance....

Morcha marchers cross a rail bridge at Sevoke as they head for the Dooars on Thursday. (Kundan Yolmo)
KalimNews, Kumai, 20 January, 4.00 pm updated at 9.12pm: Gorkha Janmukti Morcha is still trying to enter the Dooars. On the third day GJM procession headed by Bimal Gurung, Dr Harka Bahadur Chhetri and Kalyan Dewan tried to sneak their route from Kumai forest by the river bank of river Jaldhaka but a big barricade of police compelled the team to return back for the third time.
Yesterday Bimal Gurung and Dr. HB Chhetri tried to fool the Jalpaiuri police by trying to enter Jalpaiguri district in two different teams but both were stopped by police near Khumani of Kumai, an inter Darjeeling Jalpaiguri district border area. The whole contingent of GLP and GJYM accompanied by some GJNM members were forced to stay at Khumani while the leaders stayed back in Jholung. 
Today, in the morning Bimal Gurng came from Jholung and was joined by the other GJM, GJYM members and at around 11am they left for Dooars through Khumani forest  towards Nagarkatta but on their way in the jungle a heavy contingent of armed police force posted for obstruction stopped and compelled the entire team to return back. Later arguing to the District administrative Officers Dr. Chhetri said that so far we have not tried forceful entry, if we do so no force can control us but still we are patiently requesting the administration to allow us to walk through the Dooars and hold meetings. He further said we will patiently wait and request again and again but will nor return from here. Several camps have been made to accommodate all the party members including Bimal Gurung who is staying with other members at Khumani. Binay Tamang is not feeling well and had been staying away from the camp. 
A group of 45 GJYM members from Salbari joined by another 100 GJYM supporters of Sevoke and other units also have been on Long march to join Bimal Gurung's party and arrived at Washabari and stayed in Bagrakote in the Jalpaiguri district after forcefully crossing a small barricade at Ellenbarie TE, the Darjeeling Jalpaiguri border. So far no arrests have been made for violating 144CrPC. Tomorrow, this group will pass through the Oodlabari, Damdim, and Malbazar to join Bimal Gurng's group.
Morcha sets 3-day deadline - Forcible entry threat from hill outfit
TT, Jan. 20: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today issued a three-day ultimatum to the state government to allow its contingent of marchers to enter the Dooars, failing which they would make a forcible entry.
The ultimatum starting tomorrow came even as Morcha chief Bimal Gurung with nearly 1,000 marchers dropped anchor at Kumai on the fringes of the Dooars.
In Darjeeling, the party’s youth wing threatened to bring out rallies across the areas it wants to be part of Gorkhaland. The Yuva Morcha is banking on the fact that the government may find it difficult to set up as many barricades as rallies.
Till today, the Jalpaiguri district administration has successfully managed to confine party president Bimal Gurung’s padayatra or “long march for Gorkhaland” within Darjeeling district.
Jalpaiguri district magistrate Vandana Yadav said one company of CRPF would be deployed in the Dooars tomorrow. A senior administrative official said the details of the deployment would not be divulged.
Nearly 1,000 marchers had started from Gorubathan in Kalimpong sub-division on Tuesday for Jaigaon on the Bhutan border (see map). But the district administration had imposed Section 144 on the Dooars, halting their march.
Morcha spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chhetri said repeated attempts of the administration to block the entry of its marchers were undemocratic but the party preferred to show restraint.
“Ours is a perfectly democratic and constitutional movement but the government has been creating unnecessary hurdles. The government should not think that our democratic ways are our weakness. It should allow us safe passage (through the Dooars) under police protection. If it fails to do so within three days, we should not be held responsible (for whatever happens),” said Chhetri over the phone from Kumai, 20km from the nearest Dooars town, Malbazar.
Sources said the strength of the Morcha supporters at Kumai had swelled to over 10,000 during the day. But most of them were from neighbouring Samsing, Gairibas, Jholung and Jaldhaka and left late in the evening.
“We have not allowed our president within half a kilometre of any police barricade. Once he does that, there will no stopping our supporters (from breaking the barricade). We already outnumber the police force by 20 to 30 times. Even if the police resort to lathicharge and firing, our supporters will make their way to Jaigaon,” Chhetri warned.
Intending to join Gurung, another padayatra from Salugara in Siliguri reached Bagrakote in Jalpaiguri district today. Tomorrow, another group will march to Sonada from Darjeeling, the Yuva Morcha said. “Similar rallies will be brought out by the youths from Kalimpong too. Actually such rallies can be taken out from different parts of the Dooars and Terai tomorrow,” said Priyabardan Rai, general secretary of the Yuva Morcha’s central committee.
“We have taken out the rally to impart the message of peace and harmony and not to create any trouble in the Dooars,” said Shankar Adhikari, convener of the Morcha’s Terai unit who led the Salugara rally.
Adhikari said police had stopped them near Elenbarie Tea Estate, one of the entry points to the Dooars via Sevoke. However, the Morcha supporters broke through the barricade and headed for Bagrakote. The intention of the Salugara rally is to join Morcha chief Gurung in the Dooars.
Darjeeling shutdown continues
TH, KOLKATA, Jan 20: The shutdown in the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal continued on Thursday with the seven-day bandh called by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) in the second phase of its on-going agitation entering its third day.
The GJM leadership is seeking clarification from the Centre about its stand on the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state comprising Darjeeling district and certain areas contiguous to it in the north Bengal plains.
There was no sign of any easing in the stand-off between GJM activists led by its president, Bimal Gurung, and the police at the border separating Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts with the former determined to go ahead with their ‘padayatra' into the Dooars region. The police have made all arrangements to prevent them from doing so.

‘No processions'
The Jalpaiguri district administration has made it clear that no processions or rallies will be allowed in those areas in the Dooars which it considers sensitive in the wake of clashes in Jaigaon on Sunday between GJM supporters and activists of local outfits opposed to the formation of a separate Gorkhaland state. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 have been imposed in the region.
Even as the administration deployed police personnel to prevent Mr Gurung and his supporters from their ‘padayatra' to Jaigaon, the GJM leadership served an three-day ultimatum on the local district authorities to lift the prohibitory orders failing which its supporters would break through the barricade set up by the police and enter the Dooars.
“We will defy the prohibitory orders if they are not withdrawn within three days and are ready to face the consequences. We are being denied our constitutional rights by not being allowed to take out a peaceful procession in the Dooars”, Harka Bahadur Chettri, senior leader of the GJM and a member of its central committee, told The Hindu over the telephone from Kumani More near the border between Kalimpong subdivision and Jalpaiguri districts.
GJM activists have, over the past three days, assembling at various points along Kalimpong sub-division's border with Jalpaiguri district in an attempt to hoodwink the police and enter the Dooars region.
Life in the Darjeeling hills remained paralysed. Shops, commercial establishments and offices remained closed. There was virtually no traffic on the roads.
Bengal drivers harassed
TT, Siliguri/Gangtok, Jan. 20: Drivers of several Bengal-registered taxis were allegedly harassed by local people at the Gangtok taxi stand today. The cars returned empty from Gangtok.
“This will only serve to strain the good relations maintained by the two states for so many years. If more such incidents occur, we will be compelled to stop all (transport) services from the Siliguri Nationalised Transport terminus in Siliguri,” said Samrat Sanyal, the president of Eastern Himalayan Travel and Tour Operators’ Association.
Some tour operators termed the incident as a “repercussion” of the blockade set up yesterday at the entry to SNT terminus in Siliguri to protest the sending back of about 30 vehicles with 600 passengers from NH31A. The protesters said alleged Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters had forced the Sikkim-bound Bengal registered cars to return to Siliguri.
While Sikkim tourism secretary K.T. Chankapa said “it is highly unlikely that this (today’s) incident took place in Gangtok”, East Sikkim police chief Mandeep Singh Tuli said he has received a faxed complaint from the Siliguri-based travel association.
GJM strike remained peaceful along NH 31A
Prashant Bajgain,, Gangtok, January 20: The third day of phase II Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) strike in demand of separate statehood Gorkhaland, remained peaceful with the deployment of CRPF jawans along NH 31A that resulted normal plying of taxies, private vehicles and SNT buses without any reports of untoward incidents. The private buses which provide daily transportation services between Siliguri and Gangtok disrupted their services even today while trucks loaded with food grains and fuel including LPG gas tankers entered Rangpo this afternoon.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that some picketers blocked vehicles at Lohapool on Wednesday while posters appealing to support ongoing strikes were noticed at Melli and surrounding regions under Darjeeling hill district.

Refrain driving along NH 31A to support Gorkhaland demand, says HTDA
Prashant Bajgain,, Gangtok, January 20: Himalayan Truck Drivers Association (HTDA) has made an appeal to all concerned for supporting the ongoing GJM Gorkhaland statehood demand and refrain from driving vehicles along NH 31A in ongoing strike days.“We request all people to support our final statehood demand. Movement of trucks carrying food supplies is necessary but plying of taxies and private vehicles seemed unjust. Those still continuing with their driving along NH 31A in strike days are anti- Gorkhaland. We certainly stand by to avoid any untoward events but if any incidents followed we should not be held responsible for it”, informed HTDA president, Uttam Rai.
Calcutta High Court Asks CBI to file report on Nicole Tamang's disappearance
PTI, Kolkata, 20 January: The Calcutta high court today asked the CBI to file a progress report within four weeks on the disappearance of Nicole Tamang, prime accused in the murder of Gorkha leader Madan Tamang.
The CBI informed the court that it has already taken up investigation into Nicole's disappearance.
All India Gorkha League chief Tamang was murdered in Darjeeling on May 21 last year.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice JN Patel and Justice AK Roy directed the CBI to file the report on its investigation after four weeks.
The West Bengal government had told the high court that it had issued a notification on November 26 last year handing over the investigation to the CBI.
But during a hearing on January 13, the court was informed that the CBI had not begun investigation into the case.
After being informed that the CBI was yet to receive the go-ahead by the central government in the form of a notification under Section 5 of Delhi Police Special Establishment Act, the court had directed the Centre to explain the delay in giving the clearance.
Nicole, a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha central committee member, absconded after the murder and was arrested by the CID on August 15 last year from a hideout at Bijonbari in Darjeeling town.
He then disappeared from CID custody in Pintail village, near Siliguri, on August 21 last year.
While the CID had claimed that Nicole had fled from its custody, his wife Prema Tamang filed a petition in the high court alleging foul play by the state investigating agency and prayed for a CBI probe.
Prema had filed a habeous corpus petition in the high court seeking production of her husband by the police.
Snow wasted in tourist slump
TT, Gangtok, Jan. 20: The snowfall in Sikkim has been a waste with the number of tourists dropping to as low as 3,000 till mid-January compared to the 40,000 this time last year.
With the landlocked state suffering from tourist deficiency because of political uncertainty in the neighbouring Darjeeling region, there were hardly any visitors to enjoy the snow.
The high altitude tourist hotspots of Yumthang in North Sikkim and Chhangu Lake and Nathu-la in East district has been witnessing heavy snowfall up to six inches since Sunday.
Closer Gangtok, areas in and around Tashi View Point and Ganesh Tok have reported moderate snowfall.
“We did not have snowfall in the past couple of winters. But this time, there has been good snowfall and this winter would have been nice for promotion of these places. At Lachung in North Sikkim, there is a 4-inch snow and at nearby Yagshey, it is almost 6-inch snow carpet. There was snow in Chhangu Lake and Nathu-la as well but we don’t have tourists. It was the right time for tourists,” said senior tour operator Paljor Lachungpa and the managing director of Blue Sky Tours and Travels.
According to tourism department figures, there were around 40,000 domestic visitors and 984 foreign tourists in Sikkim in January last year.
This time till mid-January, tour operators said, there were probably around 3,000 visitors. The slump is because of the political disturbances in the neighbouring region, which affects NH31A, the only road link to Sikkim.
Sporadic incidents of vehicles being vandalised and drivers being threatened were reported during the first phase of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s strike from January 12 to 15.
“We got plenty of snowfall to attract tourists but the bandh affected us. The highway (to Sikkim) is a matter of concern and for tourists security and safety are first priorities. The tourism industry here is suffering losses though Sikkim offers peace, security and lot of happiness. There are more than 700 hotels in Gangtok alone and they are empty. Drivers are sitting idle,” said Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim (TAAS) president Lukendra Rasaily.
“Only five per cent of the expected number arrived this time,” he added.
Rahul Tangri, the vice president of the Essel Group based in Mumbai who had come to Sikkim on a business trip, had taken a helicopter.
“I took a chopper from Siliguri to reach Gangtok on Monday as I did not want to travel along a disturbed road. I wanted to bring my family as well but when I heard about the situation, I did not bring them along. Ten of us were supposed to come but only three of us came,” he said.
TAAS general secretary Sonam Norgay Lachungpa said hotel bookings made two-three months ago were cancelled because of bandh-induced fear.
“Whatever bookings we had from Calcutta, Mumbai and other places were cancelled and we had to refund the advance money. The tourist groups were reluctant. We could not insist much because of the circumstances and we had to refund the money,” said Lachungpa.
State tourism secretary S.B.S. Bhadauria expressed his fears that the ongoing bandh in the neighbouring region could hamper the target of 8 lakh footfalls for this year.
In 2010, according to figures available with the tourism department, more than 7 lakh domestic tourists and 20,757 foreigners had arrived in Sikkim.
“Tourist arrival (figures) were projected to cross 8 lakh by the end of this financial year but the bandh in the neighbouring region could affect our projection. Tourists who booked two-three months have cancelled their trips and the new groups will not do it now until the situation returns to normal,” said Bhadauria.
Sikkim prepares itself for Darjeeling Bundh
PTI, Gangtok, Jan 19: The Sikkim government has lined up 50 supply trucks to meet any emergency in transportation of essential commodities, that may arise during the Darjeeling bandh.
While the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has exempted Sikkim vehicles plying on NH-31A from the purview of the bandh, private operators of passenger and public carriers have been hesitant to ply towards Siliguri.
"The Sikkim Nationalised Transport will be regulating the movement of these extra vehicles," transport secretary K T Chankapa said today.
The transport department has been meeting the supplies sought by the food and civil supplies department which requires more than 50 trucks per week to maintain balance at various food godowns in Sikkim.
All the vehicles will ply on the West Bengal side of NH-31A under police escort in a convoy, officials said.

SC verdict on CBI's plea for awarding death sentence to Dara Singh
PTI, New Delhi, Jan 20: The Supreme Court would tomorrow pronounce its verdict on CBI's plea for awarding death sentence to Dara Singh, main accused in the killing of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in Orissa's Koenjhar district in January 1999.
A bench of justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan had on Decembber 15, 2010, reserved its judgement after hearing at length the arguments of CBI's counsel and Additional Solicitor General Vivek Tankha and counsel for the convicts.
Senior counsel K T S Tulsi and Ratnakar Dash, besides counsel Sibo Shankara Mishra, appeared for the 12 convicts.
Appearing for CBI, Tankha told the bench that Dara Singh deserves death sentence as the murders were committed in a most "diabolic and dastardly manner" which warrant exemplary punishment.
New migrants in Teesta barrage - rise in Water level attracts more bird
TT, Jalpaiguri, Jan. 20: A waterfowl census that was conducted in the Teesta barrage and adjoining waterbodies concluded recently with officials spotting several species of migratory birds which have flown in from as far as Europe and Siberia.
Around 2,000 birds were counted during the survey and some species were spotted for the first time in the area.
The bird count is part of the Asian Waterfowl Census conducted under the aegis of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the International Bird Conservation Network.
The weeklong survey that ended on January 8 was carried out by the Jalpaiguri-based Society for Preservation and Awareness of Wildlife and Nature (SPAWN).
The Secretary of the SPAWN Uttiya Routh, said the sluice gates of the Teesta barrage had been kept open this year, resulting in the rise in water level that attracted a large number of waders, ducks and waterfowls like darters, cormorants and grebes to the area. “We have also recorded a pair of Baikal teal, probably a first in the 700-hectare barrage at Gajoldoba (75km from Jalpaiguri). It was an exciting spotting,” Routh said.
The Baikal teal breeds in northeastern Siberia during summer and migrates to south Asia in winter. According to Routh, a pair each of black-necked grebe and falcated duck which summer in the Ladakh area were also spotted during the census conducted by a seven-member team. “The birds are still here because of the harsh winter in the western Himalayan region,” Routh said. He added that a pair of common goldeneye, a species of duck which migrates from Europe, was also seen at Gajoldoba after a gap of five years.
Routh said 17 species of ducks, including local migrants like common teals, gadwalls, shovellers, pochards and pintails, were also among those counted.
“Gajoldoba teems with birds during the winter with wagtails, plovers and lapwings adding to the long list. Once the winter is over, the place is deserted save some local herons and egrets dotting the side of the waterbody. This is the largest waterbody in the district,” he said.
The members conducting the survey followed a checklist provided to the census teams all over India by the BNHS. “We have compiled the report and we will be sending it soon to the BNHS in Mumbai along with photographs that we have managed to take. They will do the final compilation of all the reports from all over the country for the census,” said Routh.
Bagdogra gets land for night landing
BIRESWAR BANERJEE, TT, Bagdogra, Jan. 20: The stage is set for the introduction of the instrumental landing system at Bagdogra Airport after the government handed over 12 acres to the Airports Authority of India.
The AAI had given green light to the development of the ILS long time back, but the project could not be implemented because of the delay by the Darjeeling district administration to transfer the land.
The ILS helps planes land and take off at night and in poor visibility caused by inclement weather.
“We received a letter dated January 17 from the district administration, informing us that (Phansidewa) block land and land reform department had been directed to hand over 12.91 acres to the AAI. The land will be used to extend the existing runway wherein Category 1 approach light will be installed to guide planes during the landing,” Bagdogra airport director K.K. Bhowmik said this afternoon.
Long runway and approach lights are integral parts of the ILS. The length of the existing runway at Bagdogra is around 9,000ft. The new plot will be used to extend the runway by another 3,000ft.
Night landing facility is another key feature of the ILS. “If the facility is in place, planes can operate even if the visibility ranges from 800 metres to 1.2km only. Otherwise, visibility of 2.4km is needed for flights to land,” said Bhowmik.
The director hoped that once the night landing facility was put in place, the number of flights operating out of Bagdogra would go up.
Presently, nine services are available every day on an average.
The airport, a civil enclave located inside the Air Force Station, was handed over to the AAI in 1962. Even though half a century has passed, the airport is yet to be equipped with modern sophisticated facilities like the ILS.
“We got no objection from the India Air Force in 2009 to use around nine acres to install the ILS and approached the district administration for the rest of the land. The entire land needed for the ILS will soon be with us after the demarcation of plots,” said Bhowmik.
Bhowmik also said Air India had introduced direct flights between Bagdogra and New Delhi five days a week.
“Air India has started operating the flights from January 18. The services will be available on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The flight will depart at 10.10am and reach Delhi at 12.05pm. Apart from that, new flights on Paro–Bagdogra-Kathmandu sector will be operated by Druk Air on Mondays and Fridays from May 15,” he said.

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