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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Interim ‘open’ with territory in tow Morcha plans reverse march

Rajeev Ravidas, TT, Kumani, Feb. 14: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today hinted that it was open to the proposed interim administration only if the Gorkha-dominated areas of the Dooars and the Terai were included in the mechanism — a condition unlikely to be met by the government.
In a challenge to the state government, Morcha chief Bimal Gurung said in Kumani today: “Territory is the main issue, not Gorkhaland or the interim set-up. We will first have to settle the issue.” Asked if he would take part in the tripartite dialogue for the set-up, he said: “I have neither said no nor have I said yes.”
In fact, just to underscore the importance of territory, the Morcha president announced that thousands of party supporters in the Dooars would begin a march from Jaigaon on the Bhutan border to Kumani from February 17. “I will not take a step beyond Kumani because it will hurt the government; they will lose votes. I had embarked on my padayatra to brief my supporters on 11 rounds of tripartite talks. Now 40,000-50,000 of my supporters will start a padayatra from Jaigaon to Kumani to meet me,” he said.
The padayatra will reach here on February 27 and culminate in a public meeting. “If the government does not allow my supporters to meet me, then I will go to the Dooars with 3 lakh supporters,” he said.
But the administration made it clear that no marches would be allowed as Section 144 was still in force in the Dooars. “Prohibitory orders are still in place and we will not allow any illegal assemblies that might create law and order problems in the region,” said Ranveer Kumar, the inspector-general of police, north Bengal, today.
The Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad, a strong anti-Morcha forum which is vehemently opposed to the inclusion of the Terai and the Dooars in the interim set-up, also made it clear that Morcha marches would only attract problems. “Adivasis form 80 per cent of the population in the Dooars while there are only 8 per cent Morcha supporters. We have told the administration that it would be responsible for any breach of the peace if the Morcha marches take place,” said Birsa Tirkey, the Parishad state president.
The Morcha leadership, including Gurung, has been camping here on the fringes of the Dooars for close to a month, making occasional attempts to enter the Dooars. By refusing to budge from the Dooars border, the party is sending a clear message that it was not willing to compromise on territory.
“Subash Ghisingh made a huge blunder by compromising on the territory, but our president is not the sort to make such a mistake. He has been living in jungles of Kumani for nearly a month now to drive home the point that territory is non-negotiable for him,” said a senior party leader.
KalimNews: Roshan Giri and Dr RB Bhujel has left for Kolkata on oranisational visit to meet members of GJM Kolkata Unit.
ABAVP has threatened to call indefinite strike in Dooars from Thursday the 17th February.
6 member Election Commission's committee is arriving Siliguri today to visit the areas of Darjeeling for its report on the forth coming Bidhan Sabha election.
Relief lifted for ‘pressure’ 
VIVEK CHHETRI, TT, Darjeeling, Feb. 14: Hours after Bimal Gurung announced a daylong relaxation in the indefinite strike, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha reversed the decision saying it was bowing to “public pressure”.
Around 11am, during a media conference at Kumani on the Dooars border, Gurung announced that the shutdown in the hills that had started on February 9 would be relaxed for 24 hours from 6am tomorrow.
The party’s decision was conveyed a little after noon over the public address system to a huge gathering of Morcha supporters at Chowk Bazar, about 100 metres from the Darjeeling Sadar police station where they were courting “mass arrest”.
“The moment we announced the relaxation, we were flooded with requests from the general public not just from Darjeeling but also from Kurseong and Kalimpong expressing displeasure over the relaxation. We immediately conveyed the mood to our party president at Kumani and after a round of consultation, he decided to reverse the relaxation decision,” said Ishamani Pakhrin, the president of the Morcha’s Darjeeling town committee.
When Pakhrin made the new announcement two hours later, the crowd at Chowk Bazar started clapping and cheering. The Morcha maintained that they were aware of the hardship that the common people have to go through during a strike. “We are aware of the hardship and we appeal to all to bear (with it) as we have started an agitation. Moreover, we cannot work against the sentiments of the people and our supporters,” said Pakhrin.
The Morcha’s claim is debatable but given the number of people, who are coming out on the streets to take part in party programmes, it is evident that for the time the Morcha has the momentum going. “This probably is a reason why the Morcha was willing to withdraw its relaxation,” said an observer.
Many believe that the death of Neeta Khawash on Saturday, which took the toll of those killed at the Sibchu firing to three, has further cloaked the hills with emotion. Also, the decision of the anti-Gorkhaland outfits to call a strike in Siliguri tomorrow during the bandh relaxation in the hills seems to have fuelled the passions further. “The moment we called a relaxation, the Siliguri outfits called a strike and our people are now more determined to carry on with the agitation. From today our supporters have also started a fast-unto-death in Terai and Dooars,” said Pakhrin.
Hundreds of party supporters today courted arrested across the hills. In Darjeeling, 1,567 people courted arrest while the figure for Kalimpong is 794. At Kurseong police station, 1,367 people participated in the mass arrest programme while in Mirik it was 2,187.
According to district officials, the Morcha supporters were booked under Section 151 of the CrPc, which essentially is a preventive arrest. “The section empowers the police to make preventive arrests without a magistrate’s order. Those arrested under this section have to be released within 24 hours,” the official added.
Party general secretary Roshan Giri and central committee member R. Bhujel today left for Calcutta to meet the party’s unit there. “We are trying to finalise protest programmes in Calcutta to condemn the killing of our supporters and to demand statehood,” said Giri.

Hills bandh on, off, on again
SNS, JALPAIGURI/KOLKATA, 14 FEB: Raising eyebrows in political circles, the GJMM today changed its decision on tomorrow's Hill shutdown relaxation within a few hours. The party president, Mr Bimal Gurung, said at Kumani in the Dooars that they would relax the indefinite Hill shutdown for 14 hours tomorrow in view of the inconvenience to the people. But a few hours later, Mr Gurung said they would not relax the bandh tomorrow. “The people are against any relaxation in the movement right now,” he said.
Mr Gurung said around 11 a.m. that his party would go for a 24-hour relaxation tomorrow. Toning down the strident rhetoric, he further announced that if the district administration allowed his party's rally from Sankosh to the Dooars he, along with his party members, would return to Darjeeling, winding up the camp at Kumani. But taking a U-turn, he declared a couple of hours later that there would be no relaxation regarding the bandh for the time being. “We would rather go for a fast unto death in the Dooars to press for a CBI probe into the Sipchu killing,” he said.
Explaining the somersault, the GJMM leader said the party central committee members had counselled him against relaxing the bandh. “They told me that the paramilitary forces and police have unleashed a reign of terror in the Hills. The innocent people are being tortured. They are raiding houses belonging to the Nepali-speaking people in the name of investigation. We would not relent even a little till the atrocities on the common people are stopped,” Mr Gurung said. “The second decision is not mine. I decided to go for conciliation apart from giving a 24-hour reprieve to the common people. But the people forced me to change the party stance.” An EC team is likely to visit three Hill subdivisions tomorrow. Meanwhile, state urban development and municipal affairs minister Mr Asok Bhattacharya said the situation is not conducive to holding polls in the Hills.
JSTO takes over, board on backseat
TT, Siliguri, Feb. 14: The teachers’ wing of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today distributed admit cards among Madhyamik candidates in the Darjeeling hills, unheard of in the history of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education which usually holds camps for such purposes.
The Janmukti Secondary Teachers’ Organisation (JSTO) has also announced that it will organise car pools for students appearing for Madhyamik, ICSE, ISC and CBSE exams.
“We enquired with schools in the three hill-subdivisions and found out that almost 60 per cent of admit cards had been distributed among students. The cards were given to the school representatives from the designated schools in each subdivision today. We had already delivered the admit cards to schools in distant locations like Gorubathan and Mirik on Saturday. The authorities in turn had asked the students to come and collect the cards from their respective schools today. The distribution was carried under our supervision and went on smoothly,” said Bijay Pradhan, the general secretary of the JSTO.
Students from far off locations were permitted to come in vehicles with an “on exam duty” sticker pasted on them to collect the cards. Pradhan said the remaining admit cards would be distributed tomorrow.
The JSTO had taken the admit cards for the students in the hills from the regional office of the board in Siliguri on Friday.
Normally, the board opens a camp in the each subdivision on a particular day and admit cards would be distributed to the representatives of each school.
The board had refused to admit that the JSTO had been provided with the cards and an official said they had been sent to the hills “through an alternative procedure”.
The Morcha affiliate said it would arrange for car pools to bring students and teachers to schools on exam days.
“The schools are not located at walking distance for all students. So, for those living far away, we have plans to arrange for car pools which will ferry students and teachers on exam duty to their respective schools. The fares, however, have to be borne by the students,” said Pradhan
While ISC exams began today, Madhyamik will commence on February 23. ICSE exams are scheduled to start on February 28 and CBSE (Classes X and XII) exams will kick off on March 1.
Pradhan said the treasury offices which stored Madhyamik question papers would function on exam days. “The question papers have already reached the treasuries in the hills from the board regional office in Siliguri. The Morcha has decided to allow the treasuries to function only for the smooth conduct of the exams,” he said.

GJM retracts, bandh to continue- Jalpaiguri officials prevent Gurung's ‘padayatra' anticipating ethnic confrontation- Gurung says he is for Assembly polls in Darjeeling hills
TH, KOLKATA: Just hours after announcing that the indefinite bandh in the Darjeeling hills will be relaxed for a day on Tuesday, the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) leadership retracted and asserted that the bandh, which entered its sixth day on Monday, would continue.
The bandh has been called by the GJM in protest against the police firing at Sipchu in the Dooars that resulted in the death of three persons last week. It is demanding a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the incident.
“A decision had been taken to relax the bandh for the convenience of the people but we withdrew it following reports of police atrocities on our supporters and misbehaviour with our women workers,” Benoy Tamang, GJM assistant general secretary, told The Hindu over telephone from the Kalimpong sub-division.
The GJM leadership, however, said it was amenable to talks on the demand for a separate Gorkhaland State.

“Solution on table”
“The problem can be solved only on the table, not with guns,” GJM president Bimal Gurung said at Kumani near the border of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts, where he has been camping for the past few weeks.
Mr. Gurung decided not to take out the ‘padayatra' to the Dooars that he had been planning on the condition that his supporters, spread across the Dooars, are allowed to come to Kumani where he will be camping between February 17 and 27.
“I will not move a step forward from here because if I do it will make things difficult for the State government… But I will take out the ‘padayatra' to the Dooars with 3 lakh GJM supporters if those wanting to come to Kumani are stopped from doing so,” Mr. Gurung threatened.
He has been prevented by the Jalpaiguri district administration from marching into the Dooars on grounds that any ‘padayatra' by the GJM in the region that has a large population of tribals could heighten tensions and even result in an ethnic confrontation. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 Cr.PC have been imposed in parts of the Dooars.
Mr. Gurung said he was in favour of Assembly elections being held in the Darjeeling hills where officials belonging to a special team of observers sent to the State by the Election Commission are scheduled to go to for an assessment of the situation there.
But Urban Development Minister Ashok Bhattacharya, who belongs to Darjeeling district, said here that the situation in the hills was in not in the least conducive for the holding of Assembly polls. He said the GJM leadership had links with certain militant outfits of the north east from whom it was procuring arms. He also did not rule out the involvement of the Maoists in the recent violence in the hills.

EC team in Siliguri today - Assessment on hill situation before ‘special plan’

MEGHDEEP BHATTACHARYYA, Calcutta, Feb. 14: A six-member observer team of the Election Commission is reaching Darjeeling tomorrow for a “thorough” assessment of the situation in the hills, which will go a long way in determining the panel’s “special plan” to hold polls in the troubled region.
“We are sending the entire team to Darjeeling because we need a special plan for electioneering in the hills. Darjeeling is a new challenge for us. Their thorough assessment, to be filed in a report by this weekend, will determine our course of action for the hills,” election commissioner H.S. Brahma told The Telegraph.
Jitender Prasad, the inspector-general of CID, Andhra Pradesh, B. Shivdhar Reddy, the deputy inspector-general of Andhra Pradesh intelligence bureau, P.S. Ranpise, the deputy inspector general of Orissa’s armed police, D.K. Pandey, the additional director-general (law and order), Jharkhand and P.R.K. Naidu, the joint director of the National Crime Records Bureau are the members of the team which is headed by Bihar chief electoral officer Sudhir Kumar Rakesh. They are scheduled to take the 1.05pm flight from Calcutta for Bagdogra tomorrow.
Commission officials said the team would hold meetings with political parties and Darjeeling district officials through the evening in Siliguri tomorrow.
On Wednesday, the team will split up into three groups to visit the troubled areas in Bijanbari, Sonada and Kalimpong.
“Besides the three subdivisions (places), they might also visit the tea garden areas of Garidhura. These places had been pointed out by the Left Front in its memorandum and they have also been on our list of places to watch out for,” said a commission official from New Delhi today.
The team is expected to leave Darjeeling for Delhi by Friday so that it can submit its report before the weekend.
A Left Front delegation comprising CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury, CPI secretary D. Raja, RSP secretary Abani Roy and Forward Bloc MP Barun Mukherjee had submitted the seven-page memorandum to the poll panel on February 7. A page of the memorandum was dedicated to Darjeeling, where the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has “unleashed a reign of terror in the name of agitation for a separate Gorkhaland state”.
The Left had alleged that during the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, which saw the victory of BJP candidate Jaswant Singh with support of the Morcha, polling in the three hill subdivisions had “degenerated into a farce”.
“Most of the booths were physically captured by the GJM (Morcha) workers with all EVMs being taken under the virtual control of local GJM/BJP election machinery… more than 90 per cent of the polled votes was secured by the BJP candidate while no others were allowed to campaign,” said the Left.
Hill schools extend holiday
VIVEK CHHETRI, TT, Darjeeling, Feb. 14: The Anglo-Indian schools here have deferred the reopening of their institutions by nearly 10 days following an appeal from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
All the 13 Anglo-Indian schools in the Darjeeling hills will now reopen after winter vacation on March 1 instead of February 21 or 23 as was scheduled earlier. The boarder students of these schools are mostly from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand, Bihar and Calcutta,Father Kinely Tshering, rector of St Joseph’s College (North Point), who is also the president of the Association of Heads of Anglo-Indian Schools in Darjeeling, said: “Following a request from the party, we decided to reopen in March. We believe that our decision will save the parents from uncertainty.”
The academic session in the hills starts from February and ends in November.
“We are making this announcement well in advance so that the parents can adjust their flight tickets and plan their itinerary,” said Father Kinely.
North Point, which was scheduled to open on February 21 after a three-month winter vacation, will now start classes from March 1. “The boarders will have to report to school on February 27,” said Kinely.
Mount Hermon, another well-known institution, will reopen on March 1 instead of February 23. “Following a collective decision by the heads of the schools we have decided to defer our opening date,” principal George Fernandez said.
St Paul’s School in Darjeeling, however, will reopen on its scheduled date, that is, March 1.
Other private institutions that are not Anglo-Indian Schools have also delayed their opening. Instead of February 21, the 25 schools will reopen on the 26th.
Robindra Subba, director of Himali Boarding School in Kurseong, said: “We are closely monitoring the situation. We will reopen on February 26. But boarders can come on February 26, 27 and 28.” Himali has around 360 boarders, many of whom are from Calcutta and the rest of Bengal, Thailand and Bangladesh.
SC path plan to save tourism
TT, Siliguri, Feb. 14: Stakeholders of tourism have decided to appeal to the Supreme Court to keep the sector out of purview of strikes and blockades, which they claimed have become regular features in north Bengal.
Office-bearers of seven-eight associations representing the tourism stakeholders, from transporters to hoteliers, met here today to discuss the common problems they faced ever since the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha launched an agitation for Gorkhaland in 2007.
“We had approached political parties and officials many times and requested them to ensure that the tourism industry does not suffer during strikes,” said Raj Basu, the chairman of the advisory body of the Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association (EHTTOA).
“However, nothing has been done so far and all stakeholders, right from drivers to tour operators, are incurring huge losses. We fear that if the situation continues, many of us will be forced to leave the industry.”
Those who eke out a living from tourism met under the banner of the EHTTOA.
The EHTTOA will also file a petition in the Supreme Court, seeking safe passage for vehicles on NH31A. The court had directed central and Bengal governments to ensure smooth traffic on the highway during strikes.
“However, several vehicles were attacked and drivers assaulted during the ongoing movement,” said Samrat Sanyal, the president of the EHTTOA. “So, we have decided to file a petition in the Supreme Court.”

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