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Saturday, July 2, 2011

PMO promises support for hills....Wanted: pill for hill hospital ills.... More rain forecast for north - Teesta rises, alert on banks..... Tax relief for Darjeeling?

PMO promises support for hills
TT, New Delhi, July 1:The Prime Minister’s Office today assured the Bengal government that full support would be extended for the all-round development of Darjeeling after a high-level meeting to review and speed up existing schemes and undertake new ones in the district.
The assurance comes close on the heels of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s visit to Delhi to press for central assistance to bail out Bengal from financial crisis.
The principal secretary to the Prime Minister, T.K.A. Nair, today held a meeting with secretaries and senior officials of the departments of industrial promotion and policy, health and family welfare, drinking water supply, higher education, road transport and highways and tourism.
A statement from the PMO said the Centre has promised the state government support to set up industrial infrastructure and clusters, a second medical college in the district, improve roads and drinking water facilities, and strengthen the polytechnics and the tourism in the region.
The release said Rs 4 crore had already been approved for “permanent restoration” of damaged national highways in the district. It also said the two-laning of NH55 or the Hill Cart Road that connects Siliguri to Darjeeling was expected to be completed in three-four years. “The detailed project report for two-laning of NH55 will be prepared within a month and the project will be taken up under the aegis of the World Bank.”
Stressing the need to develop the tourism sector, the statement said Rs 32 crore had been sanctioned and projects were underway.
“Darjeeling (district) has one 100-seat medical college (North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in Siliguri). Government of India will support all efforts of the state government or any private agency which decides to set up another medical college in Darjeeling, ” the release said.
Acknowledging the drinking water scarcity in Darjeeling, the PMO said the Centre would sanction grants for all schemes under which safe drinking water could be supplied to the region. The PMO also promised “partial financial assistance” to strengthen and upgrade the two polytechnics in Kurseong and Siliguri.
Wanted: pill for hill hospital ills
VIVEK CHHETRI, TT, Darjeeling, July 1: Twenty-three new ambulances were pressed into service across the hills today but surgeons continued to wipe blood off their hands with only spirit in the absence of water in the hospitals of the region.
The Darjeeling district hospital has been without a dedicated 24-hour water supply for years. “Things are fine during the rainy season. But when it is the lean period, the situation is such that surgeons have to wipe their hands with only spirits as at times there is no water even to wash their hands after operations,” said Subir Bhowmick, the chief medi-cal officer of health, Darjeeling.

“We need about 60,000 litres of water daily. During the lean season, we get water for only about two to two-and-a-half hours every day. Ideally, there should be continuous supply for seven hours if not 12,” said Ranajit Ghosh, the superintendent of the Darjeeling district hospital.
Tamal Das, the subdivisional officer and chairperson of the board of administrators of the Darjeeling municipality, claimed the civic body was doing its part of the job. “A fortnight back, I had sent our engineers to look into the matter. They have given the hospital a connection from a new line, as there were problems with the earlier link. However, the hospital also needs to check their lines for leakage within their complex.”
But in the monsoon, there is a problem of a different kind. Water seeps in through the roof. “Patch works are done continuously but a constant overall maintenance is the need for the district hospital,” said Ghosh.
Although the district hospital was reconstructed in 2003 for Rs 7 crore under the World Bank’s State Health Project, there had been instances in the past of the ceiling falling off supposedly because of monkeys thumping on the terrace. There were also complaints of defunct lifts. Cracks that appeared within a year of reconstruction had been then stubbornly explained by the authorities as a result of expansion.
The hospital, which was said to be expanded to a 500 bed facility under the World Bank scheme, ultimately ended up with 308 beds. “Ideally, a thorough investigation should have been conducted into the construction and the funds utilised,” said a doctor.
Hospitals across the hills are short-staffed with doctors from the plains reluctant to come to the region. “There are around 10 posts of doctors vacant in the district hospital and around 20 across the hills. Plains doctors have a notion that they cannot work in the hills because of language problem and other factors. But this is not true,” said Bhowmick.
The 114 bedded Kurseong hospital and the Kalimpong facility, which has 320 beds, does not have radiologists. There is a lack of radiologists, anaesthetists and surgeons across the hills.
The district hospital, because of funds crunch, has not been able to clear dues of around Rs 1 crore for water-supply (through private trucks), scavenging, supply of food, generator and security — some of the services that have been outsourced to different agencies.
Bhowmick , however, said the Matri Yaan Prakalpa, under which the ambulances were introduced today, is one of the initiative that is expected to give a boost to hill healthcare.
“Expectant mothers, irrespective of their economic background can avail themselves of a free transport to the hospital for delivery. They will also be dropped after recovery and the family can use the transport for a check up for another month,” said Bhowmick.
To utilise the facilities, the patients will have to enrol themselves at a government health centre. “They will be given an enrollment card after which they can call up a toll free number (102) for the free transport,” said Bhowmick.
“Many other initiatives are also being undertaken to strengthen the health services across the hills. We are in the process of constructing 24 more sub centres in various gram panchayats. The government is also planning to set up diagnostic centres and a dental surgeon is also expected to join the Darjeeling hospital soon.”
More rain forecast for north - Teesta rises, alert on banks
TT, Siliguri, July 1: The weather department has forecast heavy rain for the sub-Himalayan Bengal and Sikkim in the next two days and asked the government to be prepared to meet any eventuality.
The warning has been issued at a time a large number of villages in north bengal are under water because of incessant rain for the past two-three days. Murti in Jalpaiguri district recorded 270mm of rain in 24 hours till 8.30am today (see chart).
According to sources in the Indian Meteorological Department, more than 75 per cent of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts and Sikkim could receive heavy rain from tomorrow onwards.
“There is a strong presence of low-pressure trough at the sea level till Assam. Besides, convective clouds are hanging over the sub-Himalayan Bengal, Sikkim and some parts of adjoining Bihar, where the south-west monsoon is active. Heavy rain has been forecast in some areas of the region and a warning has been issued,” said Indranil Sengupta, the assistant meteorological officer at the Regional Met Office in Jalpaiguri.

The IMD has asked government departments like irrigation, railways, telecom and public works to be on their toes and tackle any situation arising out of the heavy rain.
Weather officials said Kalimpong had recorded the highest rain in north Bengal in the current season, while Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri received the lowest. This year, Kalimpong has so far received 3,430mm of rain, higher by 3,000mm from the normal amount of precipitation during the initial days of the monsoon.
The incessant rain has swelled up rivers. As the Teesta is flowing above the extreme danger level, the North Bengal Flood Control Commission declared a red alert at Domohoni, which is an unprotected area on the left bank of the river.
“In protected areas on either bank of the Teesta, a primary or yellow alert has been declared right up to Mekhliganj where the river enters Bangladesh,” said a flood control commission official.
The Jaldhaka, Mahananda, Atreyee, Punarbhava, Tangan and Kulik are also rising.

NH55 on path of revamp- Survey to widen ‘bullock cart road’
Rajeev Ravidas, TT, Kalimpong, July 1: The Union government has commissioned a consultancy firm to prepare a detailed project report on the widening of NH55 that connects Siliguri with Darjeeling via Kurseong.
The highway was constructed by the British in the 1860s for bullock carts, which is why it is also called the Hill Cart Road.
Lea Associates, a Delhi-headquartered firm, has been authorised by the Union ministry of road transport and highways to conduct the survey on the 77km-long highway. It has already submitted a draft feasibility report to the ministry.
D. Sarang, the regional officer of the ministry, told The Telegraph over phone from Calcutta that the road would be widened with loan assistance from the World Bank.
“The preliminary study basically looked at the traffic forecast, socio-economic profile of people living along the highway and topography of the area through which the road passes. The agency is expected to submit a detailed project report in six months. After that, we need to get the approval of the ministry of environment and forests and other departments concerned for acquisition of land,” he said.
Given that the toy train tracks are laid parallel to NH55 for a good stretch of the route from Siliguri to Darjeeling, the railway ministry, too, will have to be kept in the loop before embarking on the road-widening exercise. “The consultancy firm will look into the rail track factor before preparing the draft project report,” said Sarang.
Road construction engineers said it was well-nigh impossible to widen the highway without disturbing the rail tracks.
“In most stretches of the road, the rail lines pass beside the hillsides. It is obvious that in major stretches of the road, the widening can take place only by cutting the hills. So, it is evident that the rail tracks have to be disturbed before the authorities embark on the widening. Above all, I doubt if the widening of NH55 is feasible, given that many areas in the Darjeeling hills are vulnerable to cave-in and landslides,” said a public works department engineer.
In fact, the highway has been closed to traffic for close to a year following landslides near Paglajhora. Sarang admitted that Paglajhora fell in a sinking zone and the existing road at that spot would have to be realigned.
A study commissioned by the PWD (NH division 9) has said that the sinking zone of Paglajhora is beyond redemption and the highway will have to be realigned in the area.
“The report prepared by the Netaji Institute for Asian Studies has suggested the construction of a 2km suspension bridge to avoid Pagla Jhora, but that we feel is not technically feasible,” said Nirmal Mandal, executive engineer, PWD (NH division 9).
A number of engineers The Telegraph spoke to said the better bet would be to strengthen NH55 with proper construction technology to ensure year-round mobility.
“Look at the condition of the road now. It is a misnomer to call it a national highway. The road is actually fit only for bullock carts as originally built. The authorities will be better off to turn the existing road into a modern highway with the ability to take the vagaries of nature, mostly the unrelenting rain during the monsoon,” said an engineer.

Democratic front revived
KalimNews: CPRM and ABGL two hill parties have unitedly formed Democtaric front for joint move to revitalise the movement of Gorkhaland. In a meeting held in Darjeeling itnproposed to oppose the interim setup for it is not the consensus of the people.
Tax relief for Darjeeling?
SNS, KURSEONG, 1 JULY: For the Hills people who had long been in a dilemma over their unpaid taxes accumulating since the past three years due to the non-cooperation movement against the government, the decision of settlement of tax has come as a huge relief.
The GJMM assistant secretary, Mr Binay Tamang said all the various taxes which have not been paid so far will be settled when the three parties sit for the next tri-partite talks to sign the papers for a new autonomous authority and once it is signed taxes will be paid henceforth. He added that all the unpaid taxes during the period of the non-cooperation agitation will not be paid. Mr Gurung had also earlier declared that all forms of taxes must be exempted by the government if a settlement is reached. He also demanded that all court cases be dropped which had been filed during the GJMM-led Gorkhaland agitation.
Notably during the agitation, the GJMM had started a non-cooperation movement against the government from April 2008 and electricity, vehicle, telephone, internet tax and other taxes started to be unpaid by the general public which has now reached into crores of rupees.
Presently the Hills people's main fears and anxieties are whether they will have to bear the burden of paying the accumulated taxes which would be very hard for many like electricity tax, telephone tax, internet tax and vehicle tax.

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