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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Deosi observed in low profile...Suspension bridge conversion ruled out - Survey to check state of walkways...Rs 150 cr project for road development in the Hills...Asok: GJMM wants to provide Indian citizenship to nine lakh Nepalese...Spinal injuries bind three to bed...Army fair for the fun-starved - ‘Toy train’ chugs on with revellers in Gangtok...Wild threat to pet shelter - Fences around kunki sheds lie defunct in Jaldapara

Deosi observed in low profile
KalimNews: The people in general did not show much interest in the festive occasion of Tihar this year obviously due to two major incidents that shook the whole of the Darjeeling hills within 40 days. On 18th September the devastating earthquake measuring over 6.8 in Richter scale took 5 lives in the hills of Darjeeling and more than 5 dozens in neighboring state of Sikkim with damages to a larger extent. Within 40 days of the tremor an incident of suspension bridge collapse claimed lives of over 3 dozen innocent residents of Bijanbari and nearby areas. A countless number of victims of the incidents are still fighting for their life and death in various hospitals across the state of West Bengal. On 22 October they were returning home after enjoying a cultural performance by famous singing duo Manila and Udai Sotang in Bijanbari immediately after witnessing the foundation stone laying of a degree college there.
A deosi group enjoying the festival of Tihar in Kalimpong
Owing to these two unforgettable accidents the residents of Darjeeling hills did not show more charm and zeal during the festivals of Dashera and Diwali. However, a low key Diwali seen being observed by the hill people. The number of Bhaileni group was very low in comparison to that of last year. Similarly, a negligible number of youths took part in Deosi this year. The night of Lakshmi puja, when the Bhailani women use to visit door to door to bestow the blessings, witnessed frequent power cuts and also a heavy rainfall which reminded all of the recent earthquake. It may be the reason of decrease in the number of Bhailani group. The next day, which is called Goru Tihar, a very few young chaps come out of their homes and visited door to door of the Gorkha Hindu followers to give blessings as per customary.
Suspension bridge conversion ruled out - Survey to check state of walkways
VIVEK CHHETRI, TT, Darjeeling, Oct. 27: Nearly 40 suspension walkways in the Darjeeling hills will stay in the present form as the administration has ruled out their conversion into concrete bridges because of huge financial costs and technical problems.
The state of the suspension bridges was under the scanner after a walkway collapse killed 32 people and injured over 100 at Bijanbari on Saturday.
Anil Verma, the administrator of the DGHC, said even though some suspension bridges had been replaced by concrete structures in the past, it would be difficult to undertake similar task again.
“We cannot build 85 to 100 feet long concrete bridges overnight. Each bridge will entail a cost of around Rs 8 to 10 crore and moreover, given the terrain of the hills, it is very difficult to build concrete bridges. The fast moving streams and the deep ravines make construction difficult,” said Verma.
The DGHC looks after most of the 39 suspension bridges across the hills.
Verma noted that the footbridges was meant only for pedestrians as the name suggested.
“The Bijanbari-Chungthung Tar footbridge over the Little Rangit river was meant only for pedestrians. Just one and a kilometre downstream at Pulbazar, there is a concrete bridge for vehicles. But I have heard that local people used to ride motorcycles on the footbridge,” said the administrator.
The ill-fated bridge at Bijanbari, 40km from Darjeeling, was fit to hold 15-20 pedestrians, but was packed with 150 people when it gave in.
The huge traffic was because of a cultural festival organised by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha at Bijanbari which had been teeming with revellers on Saturday.

“Most of these bridges have a static load of 50 persons. Not more than 50 persons can stand on these bridges at a any given point of time. Twenty-five is the maximum number of people allowed to cross the bridge at a time as the movement causes the structure to swing from its cables. More weight can spell disaster as was seen on Saturday,” said an official in the DGHC’s engineering cell.
Another reason behind the authorities’ reluctance to convert all the suspension bridges into concrete structures is the fact that most of them are meant to be for short-cuts between various hillocks.
“We have to see how many people use a footbridge. It does not make sense to convert the footbridge into a concrete structure if it is used by a limited number of people,” said Verma.
Also, many of the suspension bridges do not have asphalted roads at either end of the bridges. “If we were to invest around Rs 8-10 crore in a single bridge, there has to be a guarantee that it benefits vehicles. For this, a new road has to be constructed over a long distance to connect villages. This aspect has to be looked into before concretising the suspension bridges,” said another DGHC official.
Most of these suspension bridges are made of wooden plank. Local people complained that the wooden planks, too, were not repaired by the authorities concerned on a regular basis.
The DGHC engineer, however, denied the charge. “We have been repairing the footbridge on a need basis. Over the past few years, we had repaired seven to 10 bridges.”
The authorities have, however, started a survey on all the 39 suspension bridges.
“The survey will be completed in a few days. We will find the state of the bridges and then put up a notice board in front of them, stating the maximum number of people who can cross the bridge at a one given time and whether it can be used by vehicles or not,” said Verma.
The engineer said the survey would reveal how many of the 39 bridges were used by light vehicles. “Even if vehicles pass through any of the bridges, their number should not be more than one,” he said.
The board of administrators of the DGHC, which includes the MLAs from Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, is expected to sit for a meeting on October 29 to discuss various issues in the aftermath of the September 18 earthquake and the collapse of the Bijanbari bridge.

Rs 150 cr project for road development in the Hills
Rajib Chatterjee, SNS, KOLKATA, 27 OCT: In a move to improve the road network in Darjeeling and some other border districts, the state government has decided to spend Rs 150 crore over the next year under a Border Area Development Programme (BADP).
The Thirteenth Finance Commission will provide the funding for the project, said a senior official.
The chief minister Miss Mamata Banerjee had previously expressed annoyance at the poor condition of roads and national highways passing through districts in North Bengal. The state government will take up a road project connecting Sepi and Daragaon via Srikhola in Darjeeling, a senior Public Work Department (PWD) official said. The first four km stretch of the road will be constructed in the first phase at a cost of Rs 18.43 crore, while the remaining portion will be constructed in the next few phases, the official maintained. According to a PWD estimate, the entire project will cost Rs 48.57 crore. The finished road will connect several villages in the Hills, and benefit 7,500 people from several areas including Sepi, Srikhola, Gurdam, Bijgaon, Musherpakha and Daragaon. Eight bridges, four of them large, will be built to link Sepi and Deragaon. The road will be 6 m wide, while the carriageway will be 3.8 m wide. The 11 km road carriageway will cost Rs 480 lakh, while the four major bridges will cost Rs 13,609 lakh. The four minor bridges costs another Rs 420 lakh. A total of 54 culverts will be constructed at a cost of Rs 42 lakh. A number of other roads in bordering districts like Coochbehar, North Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad and North 24-Parganas, will also be renovated and repaired, the PWD official said. In Cooch Behar, the state government will soon start two road projects costing Rs 35.11 crore. The Adabarighat-Sitai Road in Cooch Behar, Hasimara Joygaon Road in Jalpaiguri, Barduary-Bindol Road in North Dinajpur, Hilli-Balurghat Road in South Dinajpur, Gazol-Bamongole Road in Malda, Chunakhali-Bhagwangola-Lalgola Road in Mushidabad, Paikpara-Sutia Road and Basirhat-Ghojadanga Roads in North 24-Parganas will also be repaired under BADP. “We plan to connect all of the blocks that are located close to international borders; this project is a part of the plan,” the official said.
Asok: GJMM wants to provide Indian citizenship to nine lakh Nepalese
SNS, SILIGURI, 27 OCT: Echoing the apprehension voiced by the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad (ABAVP) leadership regarding the alleged GJMM stratagem to provide Indian citizenship to the Nepalese inhabiting the Dooars, the former urban development minister and a senior CPI-M leader, Mr Asok Bhattacharya, today said many such Nepali people had already managed Indian citizenship in the Dooars-Terai region by fraudulent means.
The ABAVP leaders have lodged a complaint with the chairman of the state government-appointed land verification committee, retired judge Mr Shyamal Sen recently, alleging that the ulterior motive behind the GJMM's land clamour in the Adivasi-majority region was to provide the nine lakh Bhupalese with the Indian citizenship by proxy. Lakhs of Nepalese settled in Bhutan, known as Bhupalese, were forced to move out of Bhutan in the 1980s after the kingdom-government tightened citizen rules in the country. Most of these people have settled in several areas across the Dooars over the years.
Mr Bhattacharya said many such people had already managed Indian citizenship over the past few years. “They have managed ration cards and voter’ identity cards by fraudulent means,” he said. “Recently I went to Nepal. I discovered that getting into Nepal is difficult. But it is too easy to obtain everything, including Indian citizenship,” he said.
Expressing concern over the trend, the president of a Bagdogra-based voluntary organisation, Jana Chetana, Dr DP Kar, said that apart from the Bhupalese, thousands of Nepalese were migrating, settling and managing Indian citizenship by various means.
“And the most amazing part of the story is the lackadaisical attitude of both the Centre and the state government over the matter. We are not demanding scrapping of the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty. We just want the Centre to implement the international treaty in its right spirit,” he said.
Another Malbazar-based voluntary organisation, Jana Jagaran, which has also lodged an objection with Mr Shyamal Sen regarding the GJMM’s land clamour in the Dooars, has challenged the legality of the land verification on the ground of the Extra Ordinary Gazette Notification issued by the Union home ministry in 1988.
“The state government’s decision amounts to negating the Notification which has clarified the status of the 1950 treaty beneficiaries as distinguished from the genuine Indian citizens,” said the outfit’s spokesperson, Mr Santanu Sarkar.
“This apart, the state government should have sought permission from the ITDP (Integrated Tribal Development Project) commissioner before moving to form the committee concerned,” he added.
Spinal injuries bind three to bed
MRINALINI SHARMA, TT, Siliguri, Oct.27: Roma Limbu had entertained visitors with a Nepali folk dance at the cultural programme in Chungthang Tar on Saturday.
But the 21-year-old has not been able to move her lower limbs since Saturday’s tragic fall when the suspension bridge over the Little Rangit river at Bijanbari collapsed, claiming 32 lives.

Dil Bahadur Chhettri, a 33-year-old carpenter of Lower Kolbung and Sabin Kami, 30, a tea garden worker of Chungthang, too, are unable to move their lower limbs because of the spinal injuries they suffered in the mishap.
All the three are undergoing treatment at the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital
“I had just finished performing a Nepali folk dance with my friends at the cultural programme when we were informed that a vehicle had arrived at Bijanbari to take us back to my village. I was crossing the bridge with six of my cousins to board the vehicle when we heard a huge sound. I found myself slipping down. Within seconds, heavy metal rods and wooden planks fell on me and I felt a surge of pain all over my body,” said Roma, lying on the hospital bed.
“My lower limbs have gone numb and I have not been able to move them after the mishap.” She was rescued by local people and taken to the Darjeeling district hospital. She was shifted to the NBMCH on Sunday.
The cultural programme where Roma performed had been organised by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
Eldest among five siblings, Roma financially supported her father by selling vegetables grown in their kitchen garden at the local market.
“Roma gave up her studies at a very young age to look after her younger siblings. She used to manage all the household chores and help fund the education of her younger brothers and sisters by selling vegetables and milk at the local market,” Indra Limbu, Roma’s father said.
Like Roma, Chhetri and Kami are also the sole earning members of their families.
As Chhetri’s family members had crossed the bridge a little ahead of him, they escaped the mishap. But Kami lost two of his friends accompanying him on the bridge.
Doctors at the NBMCH said while Roma’s injury was “very serious”, the two men might recover with medical treatment and adequate bedrest. “We have a reputed neurosurgeon to look after the patients. They are of the opinion that Roma’s injury is severe and she may be taken to Calcutta. As for Chhetri and Kami, we are hopeful they will recover with medicines and bed rest,” said Saibal Gupta, the NBMCH superintendent.
Siliguri MLA Rudranath Bhattacharya said necessary arrangements would be made to get the patients operated on in Siliguri and if required, they might be shifted to Calcutta.
Post-Bijanbari: PWD dept to examine condition of bridges
SNS, KOLKATA, 27 OCT: Following the Bijanbari Bridge collapse mishap that claimed 34 lives, the state public works department has decided to use automated mobile machines to assess the condition of bridges in the Darjeeling Hills.
A delegation of the Assembly Standing Committee on Public Works and Public Health Engineering will visit Siliguri and Jalpaiguri to undertake a study of some of the surface water schemes that have already been commissioned.
During the four-day visit that will start on 15 November, the Committee members will visit the sites of Jayanti Water Supply Scheme, Totopara Water Supply Scheme, Siliguri Comprehensive Water Supply Scheme and Siliguri Added Area Water Scheme, said an official.
Following the visits, the members will meet district magistrates, superintendents of police, sabhadhipatis and officials of Siliguri-Jalpaiguri Development Authority. The members will leave for North Bengal on 14 November. It may be recalled that chief minister Miss Mamata Banerjee had directed the state public works department to carry out inspection of other bridges following the Bijanbari incident. Photographs of the structures beneath the bridges will be collected through the automated machines. The weak links of the bridges will be detected through this means and can be repaired soon.
Army fair for the fun-starved - ‘Toy train’ chugs on with revellers in Gangtok

TT, Gangtok, Oct. 27: In an entertainment-starved Gangtok, especially during the Diwali days, a fair organised by the army at its Libing helipad complex today proved to be a welcome outing for the local people.
Although Gangtok boasts all modern amenities, it hardly has any avenues or parks for families to go for an outing or public spaces for recreational activities. This aspect is magnified during holidays, forcing the people here to spend their time indoors.
Fortunately for the people here, the 17th Mountain Division of the army maintained its tradition of holding the Diwali Mela where civilians mingled freely with the men in uniforms and their families for merry making.
More than 2,000 people from different parts of Gangtok made it a point to make a beeline for the fair.
“There is hardly any place to go with families and kids in Gangtok for an outing. The absence of any fairs or parks is pinching for us during festivals like Diwali. We can go to villages or outside Sikkim during long holidays but we don’t have any place to spend in Gangtok for a day or two,” said Sameer Pradhan, who had come to the fair.
Pradhan came with his two young children so that they could spend some time outside in the sun and could have fun at the day-long fair.

The army had installed some 30 stalls which were thronged by the visitors. The stalls either sold tasty snacks or hosted a variety of games. Some army personnel danced to popular songs being belted by the speakers at the fair.
If the adults were engaged in displaying their dancing skills or testing their luck in different card and ball games, the kids were attracted to the pony rides and a ‘train’ rustled up by the army. Two hundred and thirty kids have already taken pony rides, said an army jawan manning the counter.
The ‘train’ was a vehicle pulling along three coaches with a capacity of eight passengers each. It had been given the features to resemble a toy train with volunteers carrying ‘red’ and ‘green’ flags to signal the start or end of a short circular trip in the helipad.
“I have brought my kids to play here when I came to know that the army is hosting a fair. These kids have been staying indoor during the holidays and the fair will be refreshing for them,” said a state government employee.
Parents accompanying the kids did not fail to remind the government about the absence of parks or recreational avenues for the people in Gangtok. “The government is giving thrust only to the development of facilities for tourists in Gangtok. But what about the local people? Where do we take our parents or children for an outing within Gangtok?” said a resident.
Most of the places where one can go with families for a break are located on the outskirts of Gangtok, making it an expensive proposition. In Gangtok, the only free space available right now is the MG Marg.
“Tourists may enjoy walking along the tiled MG Marg but for us, it is nothing new. Even if we bring our kids for a stroll here, it is hardly entertaining for them and almost all the time, we end up buying toys for them,” said a parent.
Wild threat to pet shelter - Fences around kunki sheds lie defunct in Jaldapara

TT, Alipurduar, Oct. 27: Pet elephants in Jaldapara wildlife sanctuary are in danger of being attacked by wild elephants as the fence that protects the animal shelter has been lying defunct for the past six months.
There are 59 kunkis (pet elephants) that are kept in 22 sheds in Holong and Jaldapara east and west ranges. But with the energised fences defunct, wild animals frequently enter the compounds and injure the pet elephants.
According to foresters, wild male elephants often try to mate the female kunkis and they attack the adult captive males.
“Wild elephants enter the sheds to mate the female kunkis and they attack the male pet elephants because they think the males would not allow them to go near the females. In the absence of a protective fence, wild animals are frequently entering the shelters and the pet animals are in the danger of getting attacked, especially during the night,” said Ranjan Talukdar, the range officer, Jaldapara (west).
Out of the 59 kunkis in Jaldapara sanctuary, 40 elephants have forest duties. The rest are off duty because of old age, injury or are being trained to become kunkis.
Foresters said the energised fences, which would produced mild shocks if they were touched, were erected more than 10 years back. But with time, some portion of the fencing got damaged and for the past six months, the fences in all the animal sheds have been lying defunct.
Forest minister Hiten Barman said the fences would be repaired soon for the safety of the kunkis.
“I have come to know about the poor condition of the fences and I will talk to the officials. Soon all the fences would be repaired to avoid any serious incidents,” said the minister.
On Sunday night, two wild elephants had entered the animal shelter at Holong and injured a kunki named Shambhu. The elephant’s tail suffered injuries and a part of it had to be chopped off.
According to foresters, a couple of years ago, kunki Rajkanto died after he was attacked by wild elephants and another pet, Nilkanto, was severely injured.
Officials said most of the times the kunkis were unable to save themselves from such attacks as they were chained in their sheds.
“Not only in Jaldapara, in other forests of North Bengal also the sheds are in poor condition and they should be urgently repaired. We have a number of plans, but we are unable to undertake any projects because of lack of funds,” said S.B. Mandal, the chief wildlife warden of West Bengal.
The animal sheds are not only used as shelters for the pet elephants, but also to train elephants as kunkis.
“A number of calves, including those rescued, stay in the sheds along with grown-up elephants and wild animals can kill a kunki any day. Apart from erecting a fence, vigil should also be kept so that the animals are safe,” said Animesh Bose of Hnaf, a wildlife NGO.

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