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Monday, October 3, 2011

Fulpati 2011 at kalimpong...Quake gloom washed away....Uphill chug with goddess for company....Sharing space alongside army choppers - Pawan Hans does a comeback from CM-crash days...No Central assistance for quake victim, says Javed...Terai tea planters send ‘ultimatum’, say hike wages or face indefinite embargo

A video and photo report on Fulpati 2011 at Kalimpong (by Samiran Paul)
Quake gloom washed away

VIVEK CHHETRI, TT, Darjeeling, Oct. 3: Hundreds of people came out on the hill streets today to take part in a phulpati shovayatra, brushing aside the gloom that had descended in the region after the recent earthquake.
The procession snaked its way from Chowk Bazar to the Mahakal temple before culminating at the Chowrastha or the hill town’s famous promenade, the Mall.
Young and old from all communities danced to religious songs and marched on the streets in a ritual that is mainly observed by the Nepali Hindus.
“We have always been taking part in the phulpati. Darjeeling is a melting pot of various cultures and everyone takes part in each other’s festivals,” said Sonam Sherpa, a member of the Sherpa Buddhist Association.
During phulpati, the Nepali Hindus collect flowers and other offerings from their houses and take them to a temple to pay obeisance to Goddess Durga. The offerings, like flowers, leaves and sugarcane, are wrapped in a red cloth and carried in a decorated palanquin accompanied by an ornate umbrella.
It is believed that people who pass underneath the palanquin is absolved of their sins.
The ritual traces back to the days of Pritivinarayan Shah (1723-1775) — the unifier of Nepal.
During Shah’s times, the processions would start from his native place, Gorkha (the headquarters of Gorkha district in Nepal), and end at Kathmandu after covering hundreds of miles.
Today, Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, led the procession from Chowk Bazar.
Members of various community-based organisations like Darjeeling Sarki Kalyan Samiti and Akhil Bharatiya Tamang Bodh Sangh as well as social outfits like Himalayan Kala Kendra and St Paul’s Kalyan Samaj took part in the shovayatra.
Morcha chief Bimal Gurung today visited a temple at Eden Dham to seek blessings from the deity.
Masked dancers performed lakha on the streets along with marunis who performed Nepali folk dances. Participants swayed to the tunes of traditional instruments like dhamphu, madal and naumati baja (nine piece instrument).
“The spirit of festivity has really gripped the hills from today. The festival seems to unite the hill people irrespective of religion. It is great to see people coming to visit their native place once-a-year no matter what,” said Bimal Giri, a café owner in Darjeeling.
Uphill chug with goddess for company
MRINALINI SHARMA, TT, Sukna, Oct. 3: Jyotika and Ahindra Joardar had first taken the toy train ride to Tindharia as a newly wed couple in 1962.
Nearly 50 years later, they relived the memory today while paying obeisance to Goddess Durga on board the toy train. With them were their 27 other companions from Apna Ghar — an old-age home on the outskirts of Siliguri.
The initiative to celebrate Durga Puja on the toy train for five days had been taken by KBS Tours and Travels.
The Siliguri-based travel agency had chartered a toy train with three coaches from Siliguri Junction to Rongtong station, 25km away. The idols had been placed in one of them. The other two carriages ferried the senior citizens from Apna Ghar and 30 general passengers who had bought tickets for Rs 800 each for a taste of Puja on wheels. Rongtong is 5km ahead of Tindharia.
“Back then, the toy train was only a mode of conveyance since other means of transport were few. My husband and I rode the toy train in 1962 to visit my sister-in-law who lived in Tindharia. Our journey to Rongtong (5km ahead of Tindharia) today revived memories and what more can we ask for when we have the goddess travelling with us. It’s a divine experience as well as fun,” said 68-year old Jyotika. She and her 70-year-old husband have been staying in the old age home for the past three years.
The beats of the dhak set the festive mood at Siliguri Junction. When the train chugged out, the drum beats mixed with the hoot of the toy train attracted several curious onlookers.
Two priests from Tarapith, Somnath Bhattacharya and Hridayranjan Adhikari, had been engaged for the puja.
“So far we have conducted pujas at mandirs and houses but this is the first time we are doing it on a moving train. It is a different experience and we shall always remember it,” Bhattacharya said.
The train stopped at Byanjan, a Bengali restaurant of the travel agency at Savin Kingdom, 5km from Siliguri and on NH55, alongside the tracks. Passengers were served breakfast at the outlet, which was inaugurated today. Soon the ride resumed and the toy train made its way through forests before arriving at Rongtong station.
At Rongtong, the passengers offered anjali to the Goddess and were later entertained by a local dance troupe. A snack of momos and tea followed before the return journey.
“We got to know of the Durga Puja on toy train through newspapers and thought it would be great to try it out,” said Prakriti Sengupta, a Siliguri resident who had come with her husband and daughter.
On the way back, the train again stopped at Byanjan, where the passengers were served lunch.
“We are happy that the ride got a good response. The Durga Puja on toy train will continue for four more days and we expect to have a good turnout on all days,” Sajoy Goswami, managing director of KBS Tours and Travels said.
Sharing space alongside army choppers - Pawan Hans does a comeback from CM-crash days

BIJOY GURUNG, TT, Gangtok, Oct. 3: The Pawan Hans helicopter had drawn a lot of flak earlier this year after the death of Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu in an air crash, leading to the suspension of services for some time in the Northeast.
Five months since, there has been a turnaround and Pawan Hans has proved its mettle: evacuating stranded civilians in quake-hit Sikkim.
Since September 20, two days after the quake, Pawan Hans helicopters had been making regular sorties to Mangan, Chungthang, Lachen, Lachung and Sakyong — all in worst-hit North Sikkim.
The helicopter service comes under the Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation (STDC), owned by the state government. Pawan Hans were the only civilian helicopters tasked with aerial relief operations alongside the dozen army choppers.
In normal times, Pawan Hans operates from the helipad at Burtuk in Gangtok. Its service is between the Sikkim capital and Bagdogra airport in Siliguri, besides being used for sightseeing. Only one five-seater chopper is available daily.
But barring a day or two since September 20 when inclement weather did not permit flying, two Pawan Hans choppers conducted 512 sorties till yesterday. “They evacuated more than 950 civilians from the quake-affected areas to Mangan and Gangtok, said K.S. Manilal, the deputy general manager who is in charge of Pawan Hans Helicopters’ Northeast region. Around 98 tonnes of relief material were dropped in the affected areas till yesterday.
Initially, one stationed Pawan Hans chopper had been pressed for relief and rescue operations. On September 22 onwards, one more was brought from Guwahati for the operation in Sikkim, said Manilal.
A third Pawan Hans chopper was also brought on October 1 to provide a back-up in case any of the two existing choppers had to be grounded for maintenance. “These three choppers till yesterday have been in air for around 120 hours,” said Manilal.
Relief and equipment provided by the state government or collected by the voluntary organisations are being ferried in Pawan Hans choppers from Burtuk helipad to North district. Government officials and engineers too are using Pawan Hans for air drops in quake-hit areas.
“We are working within the limits of the rules and regulations while trying our best to extend relief and rescue services to the people of Sikkim. The Pawan Hans helicopters have been doing such service for many years in different parts of the country especially in the Northeast. We are a professional body and have vast experience in this field,” said Satnam Singh, deputy manager (maintenance) of Pawan Hans, who had arrived from New Delhi.
For the six pilots, the task was challenging, given the increased intensity of sorties in unpredictable weather in the high altitude areas of Lachen (9,400ft) and Lachung (8,610ft) and army relief choppers claiming the same airspace.
“There is no fixed weather, it changed every 10 minutes. There used to be nearly 16 choppers flying at a time in those areas and we had to coordinate very carefully while landing,” said Captain Srinivas Rao, one of the pilots.
The payload for the civilian chopper varied depending on the altitude of the location it was supposed to land in. For Chungthang and Mangan, it was around 400kg while for Lachen and Lachung — located higher up — it was 300-350kg, said the pilot.
Captain Rao’s was the first of the 14 sorties that reached Mangan and Chungthang on September 20 with relief and returned with injured persons.
“I could see anxious people on the ground at Chungthang. They made a rush to board the chopper, scared that it would not return if the weather turned bad. The danger in this situation is that someone could get hit by the tail blade of the chopper or obstruct our landing,” he said.
Captain P.J. Singh, who had just returned to Burtuk today from North Sikkim, said: “While flying in high-altitude areas we had to be very alert. The density of air decreases as we climb higher and there is more requirement for power. The effectiveness of rotor blades is also affected and the aircraft blade’s reactions are slow. Initially there used to be a rush among the people to board the helicopter but now the situation is becoming more normal,” he said.
The other pilots who were engaged in the relief operations were Brigadier (retd) P.S. Sahi, Col (retd) Arun Opal, Wing Commander (retd) George Kuruvilla and Captain Ranbir Ray.
Dukla Palden Lachenpa and his six-year-old daughter today got a lift in a Pawan Hans to their village in Lachen. “I had come walking to Mangan from Lachen and then took a ride to Gangtok a few days after the earthquake to see my child who studies here. My wife is there in Lachen and she was worried. I am taking my child back there,” he said.
Another Lachen resident, Niki Lachengpa also boarded the Pawan Hans with her 10-year-old son who studies in Gangtok. She had been waiting for her turn to go home to her village in Lachen since early morning.
Tejpal Pradhan, the operations manager of the Burtuk helipad, said a 10-member team of STDC gets down to work every morning at 7 for the relief operations.
“We work till late in the afternoon after which we submit our report to the government and delegate duties for the next day,” he said.
1 killed in jumbo raid
TT, Alipurduar, Oct. 3: A 32-year-old woman was trampled to death by a tusker that raided Nurpur village near Samukhtala last night.
The elephant attacked Chameli Oraon and her son when they tried to run out of their hut. While Chameli was trampled to death, her son was injured and he has been admitted to the Samukhtala health centre. Foresters said the animal had strayed out of the nearby Buxa Tiger Reserve and it was chased back into the forest this morning.
No Central assistance for quake victim, says Javed
SNS, SILIGURI, 3 OCT: The state disaster management minister, Mr Javed Khan, said that the Central government had not provided the state with any financial assistance in dealing with the post-earthquake situation, including that of the Darjeeling Hills.
“Despite repeated requests from the state government, the Centre has not yet cared to respond positively,” Mr Khan said. He also said that he had no information whether the Central team would visit and assess the earthquake-hit areas, including the Darjeeling Hills.
Meanwhile, the Darjeeling district administration has proposed the state government to sanction house-building grant of Rs 25,000 to compensate each family. After completion of the primary post-quake assessment, the district administration has revealed that more than 5,600 houses were completely damaged. This apart, more than 80,000 houses were partially damaged. According to a senior administrative officer, though the district authorities have asked the state to sanction Rs 25,000 to each family, whose houses have been damaged in the quake completely, no fund has been sanctioned yet.
Notably, thousands of quake victims are at present living at relief camps, a makeshift arrangement made by the administration. Mr Khan said: “I have no information about the district administrative proposal for house building grant. I would ask my departmental officials. The state would give house-building grant based on government’s rules. It may be more or less than the proposed figure.”
Terai tea planters send ‘ultimatum’, say hike wages or face indefinite embargo
ENS, Oct 04 2011,Kolkata: Trade unions affiliated to the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad have threatened to impose an indefinite embargo on the dispatch of tea from gardens in the Dooars and the Terai if the wages of the tea workers of the region are not revised in the meeting which is scheduled to be held on October 13.
Significantly, the trade unions of the tea workers have decided to attend the tripartite meeting.
Birsha Tirkey, president of ABAVP, said, “In last three months, we have attended more than five tripartite meetings, but the issue is yet to be resolved. The October 13 meeting will be the last meeting we will be attending. If the management does not agree to our demands, we will stall the dispatch and there will be indefinite strike in the tea gardens in the Terai and the Dooars region.”
There are 204 tea gardens in the Terai and Dooars region. Workers of these tea gardens spearheaded the agitation to demand higher daily wage. The garden workers in the plains are currently paid Rs 67 a day according to an agreement reached between planters and trade unions three years ago. The duration of the deal ended on March 31 and all negotiations held so far to fix a new wage have failed to reach a consensus. On the other hand, the labourers in the Darjeeling Hills get Rs 90 a day.
“We will hold meetings in front of the gates of each tea garden in the Terai and the Dooars after the Pujas demanding immediate fixing of wages,” said the ABAVP leader. “We will not agree for less than Rs 91 per day deal and we want our payment on a retrospective basis since April,” said Tirkey.
The planters in the plains had offered a hike of Rs 8 every year so that the wage would reach Rs 91 in 2013 from the current Rs 67. But the unions rejected the offer outright and wanted the garden owners to come forward with fresh proposals. The offers were made at tripartite meetings convened by the state labour department. The garden owners said halt in the dispatch of tea and slow work would cripple the industry.
The meeting on October 13 will be attended by three cabinet ministers including state Commerce & Industry Minister Partha Chatterjee.

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