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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

For CM, a less bumpy ride Mamata angry with best among worst... Journey uphill spaced with stops...Hills wait for CM address...Governor hope for parched hill town...CPM softens stand

For CM, a less bumpy ride Mamata angry with best among worst

Mamata struggles to unties the khadas that she received from the teachers and students of Nepali Girls School in Darjeeling on Monday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
VIVEK CHHETRI, TT, Darjeeling, Oct. 10: Mamata Banerjee was today spared of the potholed ride to Darjeeling, thanks to an administration accused of trying to save its skin. To many, the choice of the route was an indication that the chief minister may be deprived of many other opportunities to find out first hand the problems of the hill people.
A clever management of the route that the chief minister took to reach Darjeeling from Bagdogra had ensured that Mamata and her entourage did not get to feel their bones rattling every time the cars jumped over the craters that dot the road. But the best among the worse roads has angered the chief minister who expressed her displeasure and instructed the PWD minister to start work in right earnest.
Instead of travelling through the usual Khaprail More-Simulbari-Garidhura-Rohini-Kurseong-Darjeeling or Khaprail More-Pankhabari-Kurseong-Darjeeling, the district administration had chosen the circuitous Bagdogra Dudhia-Mirik-Sukhiapokri-Ghum-Darjeeling road for her. The travel time from Bagdogra to Darjeeling through the first two routes is usually three to three-and-a-half hours. The one used by Mamata today takes at least four-and-a-half hours. The Hill Cart Road or NH55, part of which is shut after a landslide, also takes four hours. Mamata had started from Bagdogra around 1.45pm and reached Darjeeling at 6.30pm.
Regular travellers and tourists usually don’t have the luxury of availing of the circuitous route through Mirik because it is both time and fuel-consuming. The other two routes are nightmares, full of potholes and water-filled craters.
Mamata struggles to unties the khadas that she received from the teachers and students of Nepali Girls School in Darjeeling on Monday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
While the district administration has no role in drawing up the itinerary for the chief minister, it is responsible for charting out the travel route. Asked about why Mamata was made to travel through Mirik route, Darjeeling district magistrate Saumitra Mohan was guarded in his reply. “It was a decision taken because of administrative reasons,” said Mohan.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha MLA from Darjeeling Trilok Dewan, who had earlier served as the chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh and is in the know of how the machinery functions, believes that the so-called “administrative reason” was an eyewash. “They (the district administration) are clever people. They know that if the chief minister is made to travel on the potholed Rohini road and NH55, which is in a terrible condition, they will get a good hiding. The administrators are only trying to save their skin,” said Dewan.
The Morcha leader added that ideally he would have wanted the chief minister to use the roads being used by the public, that is through Rohini and Pankhabari. “If she had travelled through the normal route, she would have understood the condition of the roads in Darjeeling and the people travelling on them. We fear she may be deprived of experiencing first-hand many of the trials that we go through,” said Dewan.
But Mamata has already expressed her displeasure on the condition of this road to PWD minister Subrata Bakshi. Sources said she instructed Bakshi to repair the road immediately. She conveyed the same message to the department’s secretary A.B. Bardhan.
Later in the afternoon, Bakshi held a meeting with a team of senior engineers including chief engineer Bibek Raha, and sent express orders to start the road repair in right earnest. “We would have taken up the work but for the rain. There was rain even after Puja,” said a senior engineer.
The chief minister is likely to use the Lopchu-Peshok-Sevoke route to reach the Dooars on Wednesday. The administration neither confirmed nor denied her probability of taking the route, because of “security reasons”.
Morcha leader Dewan, however, is confident the chief minister will be asked to travel through Lopchu, then take a detour from Jorebunglow to come up to NH31A, bypassing the Rohini-NH55 stretch once again.
“I am sure they will again use the Peshok road to bypass NH55 between Jorebunglow and Kurseong and also Rohini, which is in terrible condition,” said Dewan.
Journey uphill spaced with stops

ARNAB GANGULY, TT, Darjeeling, Oct. 10: It was a journey with a message. Mamata Banerjee made as many as six stops during the four-hour drive from Bagdogra to Darjeeling: all the while accepting kadhas, or plucking tea leaves with workers or generally connecting with the hill people.
She was accompanied by the junior minister for shipping Mukul Roy and Calcutta mayor Sovan Chatterjee. North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb and the Cooch Behar MLA Rabindranath Burman also followed the chief minister to the hills.
Mamata’s first halt was at Kadma where she talked to the locals but didn’t come out of her car. The convoy of above 40 cars crossed the river Balasun to move past Dudhia towards the upper stretches of the hills.
The security team was asked to be at a distance while she allowed the locals to come closer to her.
Many of them jostled to store the moment on their cellphone cameras.
“It isn’t every day that a chief minister stops by at this place. We are happy that she has come,” said Suraj Sharma, a resident of Gayabari.
Supporters of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha who had lined up the roadside before the motorcade passed, shouted slogans slogans like “Bimal Gurung Zindabad” and “Mamata Didi Zindabad”.
At Soureni tea estate, Mamata joined the women busy plucking tea leaves.
“She asked the women about their families, their wages, the problems that they faced… The women showed her how to pluck the tea leaves,” said a close aide to the chief minister.
At Pashupatinath, Mamata walked out of her car and headed straight to a roadside shop selling biscuits, potato chips and toffees. Mamata bought branded and locally made potato chips, which were passed on to the security personnel and other members of her entourage.
At Sukhiapokhri, the convoy stopped so that Mamata could take a look around. However she didn’t get off the vehicle.
Sources close to Mamata said in her plans to transform Darjeeling into Switzerland, Sukhiapokhri would play a major role.
“She wanted to see Sukhiapokhri… She feels it is the best-suited spot for tourism development in the hills after Darjeeling. Trekking routes and tea gardens are located close to Sukhiapokhri. Darjeeling is also close by,” said a close aide to the chief minister.
She also took some time off to talk to the monks at the Ghum monastery before taking the turn towards Darjeeling.
Hills wait for CM address
VIVEK CHHETRI, TT, Darjeeling, Oct. 10: A Bimal Gurung-led delegation today met Mamata Banerjee on her maiden visit to Darjeeling as chief minister with a long list of grievances, but came out smiling, apparently satisfied with the assurance they received and looking forward to her public address tomorrow.
Mamata’s visit had come at the “right time”— insiders in the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha said — for the party leadership had been for the past fortnight harping about the “step-motherly” treatment the hills had been allegedly getting from the Centre and the state.
“I am happy with the meeting. We told the chief minister about our grievances and expect them to be addressed by her when she speaks before the people of Darjeeling at Chowrastha tomorrow,” said Morcha chief Gurung. “Why should I be angry with her? She is our guest and how can anyone be angry with a guest,” he said in reply to a question.
Only two weeks back, Gurung had raised the bogey of Gorkhaland, referring to Mamata’s flying visit to Kurseong a day after the September 18 earthquake. Terming her visit as “something too little”, Gurung had then said that it was precisely such an attitude that made the hill people strive for Gorkhaland.
Even on the Morcha’s foundation day celebration on October 7, Gurung had said the chief minister should walk the talk about her plans to convert Darjeeling into Switzerland.
This evening, however, the Morcha leadership said their expectations had been raised and they were waiting to hear what Mamata had to announce tomorrow. According to them, what the chief minister says in her address to the people would have a major bearing on the relations between Darjeeling and Calcutta.
The meeting at the Richmond Hill state guest house started with Gurung and other leaders telling Mamata that very little had been done to help the earthquake victims of the hills either by the state government or the Centre.
They said that the hills had been “largely ignored” by the government and that the people were aggrieved with the “sense of discrimination” that was creeping in.
The Morcha delegation told the chief minister that 1 lakh houses, many in the interior villagers, had been partially damaged while another 7,500 had been totally damaged by the quake.
“We have demanded that Rs 1,000 crore should be provided for relief and rehabilitation,” said Gurung, adding that the party was aggrieved that neither the state government nor the Centre announced any package similar to the one for Sikkim.
The delegation also brought to her notice the “pathetic” condition of the two main roads leading to Darjeeling from the plains — NH55 and the road via Rohini. “We have told the chief minister that for the permanent restoration of NH55, the Border Road Organisation should be involved, just as it had repaired NH31A leading to Sikkim,” said Gurung.
The other demands included the construction of an alternative route between Darjeeling and Siliguri via Bunkulung, immediate restoration of the Darjeeling ropeway services which stopped working in 2003, and expediting the Balasun drinking water scheme.
Later in the evening, a delegation of the Nari Morcha, led by Gurung’s wife Asha, tried to impress upon the chief minister the need to bring the Gorkha-dominated areas of the Dooars and the Terai under the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, the new authority for the hills.
Mamata reportedly reminded them that a high-powered government panel was already looking into this demand.
The Union minister of state for shipping, Mukul Roy, who had accompanied Mamata, told The Telegraph: “We heard all their grievances and we shall certainly do our best to address them. But whatever announcement has to be made will be done by the chief minister tomorrow.”
Governor hope for parched hill town

RAJEEV RAVIDAS,TT, Kalimpong, Oct. 10: The residents of Kalimpong have now approached the governor after the water scarcity reached its optimum, with the supply coming only after five to six days.
Water had always been a problem in the hills but the people had kind of come to accept the fact that a supply every alternate day or every two days was normal. But not any more.
A joint delegation of the Citizens’ Rights Forum of Kalimpong and the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Kalimpong today met subdivisional officer L.N. Sherpa and demanded a solution to the problem.
The residents have also faxed a mass petition to governor M.K. Narayanan, seeking his intervention. With the monsoon over, the people of the town are not being able to tap rainwater as a supplement. “This is causing insurmountable problems and people are compelled to buy water at high rates and from sources which supply water of dubious quality,” read the petition to the governor signed by the “affected citizens of Kalimpong town”.
A 1000-litre of water costs anywhere between Rs 200 and Rs 300, depending on the distance of houses from the water source.
Praful Rao, the president of Save The Hills, who was part of the delegation which met the SDO, said the administration has been suggested to make arrangements to deliver water to the residents on tankers.
Sources in the Neora Khola Water Supply and Maintenance Division, which provides most of the water to the town, said decline in the supply was because of the damaged pipeline.
“About 15 major disruptions to the pipelines have occurred between Neora and Lava — a 32-km stretch — because of the quake. We are hopeful of a temporary restoration in a week’s time,” said a source in the division. The source said the delay in carrying out the restoration was because of the damage caused to the roads during the earthquake.
“The roads have become inaccessible. It is not possible to carry equipment on vehicles. They have to be head-loaded (carried by men) to the locations where the damage have occurred and they are usually in very difficult terrain,” the source added.
Although the normal supply of 7-lakh gallons can be resumed once the temporary restoration of pipelines is complete, the source said, it will not be possible for the department to carry out permanent repair very soon because of lack of funds.
CPM district secretariat member Tara Sundas said the inordinate delay in carrying out the restoration was unforgivable, given the hardship the people of Kalimpong has been undergoing because of the shortage of potable water. “When a culvert at Domohona in North Dinajpur collapsed, the breach was bridged in 32 hours. Similarly, when a landslide cut off the road link between Darjeeling town and Lebong, the army restored the link within 72 hours. Why was the army’s help not taken in restoring the damaged pipelines in Kalimpong?” he asked.
CPM softens stand
TT, Calcutta, Oct. 10: The Left today found “nothing objectionable” in Mamata Banerjee’s north Bengal trip, the stance in sharp contrast to its criticism of the Trinamul Congress chief during her earlier visits to the region.
“The chief minister is now in Darjeeling. But what’s wrong with that? There’s nothing objectionable about her trip. She has programmes to attend. I am told that she will participate in a cultural event too. That’s perfectly okay,’’ CPM state secretary Biman Bose told reporters after chairing a Left front meeting at Alimuddin Street this evening.
Asked about Mamata’s meeting with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which is demanding the inclusion of some areas of the Dooars and the Terai in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), Bose said: “We will first have to see if the government adopts a policy to divide the people of the hills and the plains. Then only can we comment on the issue.”
When Mamata had gone to north Bengal to sign the GTA accord with the Morcha and the Centre, Bose had publicly criticised the chief minister. He had alleged that the deal was aimed at creating a divide between the people of the hills and the plains by setting up a committee to study the possibility of including the Gorkha-dominated areas of the Dooars and the Terai in the set-up. He had also claimed that the Opposition had not been consulted before the deal was inked.
Mamata’s visit to the hills in the run-up to the Assembly elections earlier this year had also received flak from the Left. Then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had accused Mamata at rallies of trying to “set the hills on fire”.
CPM source said the Left had decided to “tone down” its stand on Mamata because of two reasons. First, the gradual erosion in the Left’s support base in north Bengal since Mamata took over the reins of the government and focussed on development of the region. She has appointed a minister (Gautam Deb) to solely look after north Bengal affairs.
“The feedback we have got from Siliguri is that many people are drifting towards Trinamul. The people of north Bengal are happy that after decades, the region has got a minister to look after its needs. The people of the plains also believe that Trinamul won’t accept the Morcha’s demand of including some areas of the Dooars and the Terai in the hill set-up,” a CPM leader said.
Second, the CPM is of the opinion that its criticism of the Trinamul government’s policies has not served any purpose as reflected in the Left’s heavy defeat in last month’s Bowanipore and Basirhat North Assembly bypolls.
“We need to be more restrained about our comments on Mamata. That’s because the political scenario hasn’t changed in the past four months. Our acceptability among the people is still low,” the CPM leader said.

Law violation
Left Front leaders, including Bose, will participate in a law-violation programme in Calcutta on November 29 to protest “unabated Trinamul anarchy’’ and spiralling prices of essential commodities. Bhattacharjee’s participation in the programme hasn’t been decided yet, a front leader said.

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