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Monday, March 7, 2011

Norm reminder on tea wage talks.... Varsities postpone exams

Books vs bullets: Stir hits Darjeeling boarding schools
IANS, Darjeeling, March 8: The violent agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland in north Bengal has taken its toll on the internationally famed boarding schools of Darjeeling, with some considering shifting to safer areas or closing down altogether.
The 50-odd major boarding schools in the three hill subdivisions of northern West Bengal's Darjeeling district draw around 15,000 students mostly from well-to-do families in various parts of India and even foreign countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand and South Korea.
These schools are worried about the recent spurt in violence, including the death of three supporters of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), which is spearheading the stir, in police firing in the Shipchu area of Jalpaiguri district early February.
Enraged GJM activists torched tourist lodges, forest bungalows, fire service stations, a checkpost, two police outposts and other government offices. The supporters allegedly also looted rifles and ammunition in the hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.
'The recent uproar has created a fear psychosis among guardians. They are reluctant to send their wards to school. As a result, the attendance of students in schools, mainly in Kalimpong, has come down drastically. We are finding it difficult to run the school,' said Rabondra Subba, director of the Himali Boarding School in Kurseong.
He said most of his school's students come from SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries like Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh, apart from India's northeastern states.
'The guardians are scared because of the ongoing agitation by GJM and they are pulling out their wards from the schools. A large number of withdrawals has been reported in several schools this year,' he said.
Like Subba, the principals of other schools also admitted that guardians were withdrawing students, but blamed the media for creating a hype.
'Most media outlets came out with the story that the firing occurred in Darjeeling and GJM supporters have torched government properties and vehicles, though it occurred near the Bhutan border. They also published that there was no rule of law in the hills. That's why parents from outside Darjeeling are scared of sending their wards here,' said Chetan Tiwari, principal of St. Anthony's School.
'With the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, the salaries of teachers have increased; so have the establishment costs; and if the student strength goes down day by day, we have to close down our school,' said Tiwari.
'Either we have to sell out our school here and move to the plains or shift to another business,' he said.
However, students in Class 10 and at the plus two level have started coming back.
'Our school opened a week ago; students have started coming. Five to six students have taken transfer, but others are yet to come,' said Subba.
The principal of a reputed boarding school in Kalimpong said: 'The schools in Kalimpong are badly affected. Because of close proximity, students from Sikkim and Bhutan crowd these schools, but most of them are not attending classes due to the agitation. The student strength in reputed institutions like Rockvale Academy has come down by 60 percent.'
The Sacred Heart school has opened its branch in the plains of Siliguri in Darjeeling. And they are toying with the idea of shifting the entire school to Siliguri, said the principal.
He, however, hoped: 'Things will change and we will get back to our full strength in the near future.'
Interestingly, the principals said GJM's leaders are going out of their way to help them in running the schools.
'During indefinite shutdown calls, they allowed us to import food, medicines and other essential goods for the boarders in our schools. Not a single student was harassed or suffered from hunger during the indefinite shutdown period,' said Subba.
GJM spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chetri said: 'We are well aware of the situation. It's an economic blockade conspired by opposition political parties and the ruling Marxist government against the Morcha to tarnish our image. We have nothing to do with it. If the schools close down, we will do something else to boost the economy.'
He urged guardians to come and visit the hills and talk to school principals to understand the situation better, rather than take a decision based on media reports.
Since the late 1980s, voices in Darjeeling demanding a separate Gorkhaland state to be carved out of the district and parts of neighbouring Jalpaiguri have grown louder. For the last three years, GJM has been spearheading the movement and called several indefinite shutdowns which have brought life to a standstill in the hills.
(Sabyasachi Roy can be contacted at
Influencing voters to invite strict action: Zutshi
UNI, Siliguri, Mar 8: Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi has warned that those found attempting to influence voters during the West Bengal Assembly elections would be booked under non-bailable sections.
Interacting with mediapersons here yesterday, Mr Zutshi said, ''Strict action awaits those trying to influence the electorate. They will be arrested and booked under non-bailable sections.'' Mr Zutshi also asked the political parties to refrain from putting their symbols into the voters' slips prior to distributing them among the electorate before polling.
Arrangements would be made to ensure a free and fair election in Darjeeling as well as in the rest of the state, according to him.
Meanwhile, IGP (North Bengal) Randhir Kumar said 33 companies of para-military forces, including ITBP, GRPF, SSB and BSF, had arrived in Darjeeling district, adding the number would be raised to 42.
The security forces would be pressed into service during elections at the booths and efforts were on to arrest those against whom warrants were pending, Mr Kumar informed.
Urban Development Minister Ashok Bhattacharjee and CPI(M) state committee member Jibesh Sarkar informed that the CPI(M) would be fielding candidates in Darjeeling and Kurseong while a CPI candidate would test his electoral fortune in Kalimpong.
Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) sources said the organisation was likely to put its candidate in the fray for the coming Assembly election

Morning Headlines:
Tea producers refused to talk only with GJM.
Voter slips to be distributed by EC itself this time.
Filing of nomination begins from 24 March in the hills. Security money doubled for nomination.
EC directed Darjeeling police to arrest all having arrest warrants.
Sikkim police in Kalimpong to investigate on extortion threat by GJM supporters to Sikkim businessmen.
CBI announced Rs 2 lakh award for informer to trace Nicole Tamang.
Norm reminder on tea wage talks
VIVEK CHHETRI, TT, Darjeeling, March 7: The apex body of tea producers’ associations in India today almost rejected the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s demand for talks on garden workers’ wage revision, saying the matter could not be discussed with only one union by flouting established norms of the industry.
Members of the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations sat down for a meeting in Calcutta today to discuss the embargo on the first flush of Darjeeling tea by the Morcha to press for the fulfilment of a charter of demands, including hike in the workers’ wages.
Members of the Committee include the Darjeeling Tea Association, Indian Tea Association and Terai Indian Planters’ Association.
The Committee said in a press release after the meeting that there had been a practice of holding parleys with all major trade unions in a composite manner on demands for wage hike and others. “The union (Morcha-affiliated Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union) has departed from these established norms threatening to completely disrupt operations of the Darjeeling tea industry,” said the Committee.
The associations want the Morcha to provide time for negotiations.“Our associations received the charter of demands on March 3 but they again issued a threat of blockade without providing any time for discussions,” Monodeep Dasgupta, the secretary-general of the Committee said over the phone from Calcutta.
Conmen held with ‘anti-corruption’ car
TT, Malda, March 7:Four youths who disguised themselves as the officers of a non-existent anti-corruption agency and went on diddling traders out of money in a car sporting a “Govt of India” board have been arrested and charged with cheating and extortion.
The car sporting the board of the
 bogus anti-graft agency in Gajole 
on Monday. Picture by Surajit Ro
The arrest of the four conmen from Gajole yesterday afternoon with the car sporting “All India Anti Corruption and Crime Cell, Govt of India” was made possible by an alert Gajole block development officer, who had received reports on the movement of a suspicious vehicle in the area.
The four are Rabiul Islam from Baishnabnagar, Shakti Roy of Gajole, Azizur Rehman of Malda and Sanjib Dutta from Calcutta.
The car with the semi-circular board in blue and red was parked in front of the Gajole block office yesterday. “I had been told that a car bearing a Government of India sign had been roaming around in the area for the past three or four days. I saw the car parked near my office with a person at the wheel yesterday,” said BDO Ajmal Hossain.
The official countered the occupant of the car with questions about his credentials. “But he did not give me a satisfactory answer. Three more persons reached the spot and when they, too, could not give satisfactory replies, I called the officer-in-charge of the Gajole police station,” said the BDO.
Sources said the quartet had been taken to the police station where they were quizzed. But none of the youths could give an answer as to why they were using the Union government’s tag in the car. The four told the police that they belonged to an NGO, Swadhika. “However, we arrested the four and seized the car bearing a Calcutta registration number,” said Asom Goph, the officer-in-charge of Gajole police station.
A preliminary investigation by the police has established that the youths were targeting illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, who were doing business in Gajole.
“The four would approach these traders and warn them of “stern legal action” if they did not part with money. However, the police have not received a single complaint from any quarter against the youths,” said a police source.
According to Hossain, there is no agency called “All India Anti Corruption and Crime Cell” attached to the Central government.
The police are yet to determine how many people had been fleeced and the amount involved in the racket.
However, Malda police chief Bhuban Mondal said the youths had been arrested before they could dupe the people by claiming to be the officials of a bogus anti-graft wing.
“The arrested men have claimed that they belonged to an NGO. We are investigating the youths’ motive and whether or not they have fleeced anybody. We are yet to complete the investigation,” said Mondal.
The BDO said a youth had been arrested last year while posing as a CBI official and extorting money from a number of traders in Gajole.
The youths were today remanded in 14 days’ judicial custody.
Varsities postpone exams

TT, Siliguri, March 7:North Bengal University has postponed Part I, II and III examinations of undergraduate courses in view of the Assembly polls. Gour Banga University also deferred Part III exams of UG courses for the same reason.
The new dates, however, have not been announced yet. The undergraduate exams in the honours and general courses under the NBU were scheduled to start on April 1. Varsity sources said since north Bengal would be voting on April 18 and some of the colleges would be used as camp offices, the exams had been rescheduled. They are likely to begin after May 13 when the counting is over. The controller of examinations of Gour Banga university, Sudipto Mukherjee, said the Part III (honours and general) exams would be held after May 20.
President visit
TT, Siliguri:President Pratibha Patil will confer President’s Standards or Colours on two squadrons of the Indian Air Force at Bagdogra on Wednesday morning. The two are Nagpur-based 44 Squadron and 110 HU, also known as Vanguards, stationed at Kumbhigram in Assam. The awards are given to those units which have completed 18 years in the force or have received the President’s appreciation for outstanding performance in operations. Patil will reach Siliguri on Tuesday evening and stay at the Circuit House.
Road mishap
TT, Alipurduar:Samir Roy, a Class-IX student of Jateswar High School, was killed when a truck knocked him down at Khagenhat Chowpathy near Falakata on Monday. The 14-year-old boy was crossing NH31 when the vehicle hit him. Angry residents of the area ransacked the truck. The driver has fled after the accident.
Robbers held

TT, Islampur:Five robbers were arrested from Khudirampur Palli here on Monday morning. One pipe-gun, nine cartridges, seven live bombs and four stolen cellphones and a motorcycle were seized from them.
To support Bimal Gurung GDNS, held peace rally of non-political bodies in Kalimpong today. The rally was joined by Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh also.
Police to arrest suspected intimidators before poll. This was instructed by the visiting Dy Election Commission to Siliguri today to all the police supers of North Bengal.

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