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Tourists stay off hills

Central Nirvana Resort Darjeeling
Siliguri/Darjeeling: The inflow of tourists in the current season in Darjeeling has hit an all-time low in recent years despite the withdrawal of the strike three weeks ago.

Stakeholders in the tourism industry said the uncertainty in the hill political scenario and recent incidents like the death of a police officer in a clash and the seizure of a huge cache of arms had developed a perception among tourists that the situation could turn volatile any time.

"After the strike was lifted on September 27, we expected at least an average flow of tourists in the current season. But it has touched an all-time low in recent years. This is supposed to be one of the peak tourist seasons in the hills, with 90 per cent occupancy in most hotels," said a hotelier in Darjeeling.

He pointed out that of the 24 rooms in his hotel, only one had been booked on Saturday. "For Sunday, there is no reservation and it seems that the hotel will remain empty for the rest of the season," he rued.

In the hills, the peak tourist season stretches from March to June and from October to November-end. There is also a steady inflow of visitors during the seven-day Christmas-New Year holiday.

Around 3.5 lakh domestic tourists and around 40,000 foreigners visit Darjeeling every year. There are around 370 hotels of different categories across the town.

The absence of tourists has made some of the hotels cut down manpower. "The earnings have hit an all-time low and most of us are finding it difficult to maintain an adequate number of staff as we need to pay them salaries and other costs," said a hotel owner.

He said that of the 34 employees in his hotel, he had retained only 17.

A tour operator in Siliguri said: "Bimal Gurung has gone into hiding and there have been some serious incidents like blasts, seizure of arms and the death of a police officer. On the other hand, Binay Tamang is trying to establish himself as the main political leader in the hills but is yet to achieve the status. All these have created an ambience of uncertainty, that the situation can turn volatile if clashes start between the two Gorkha Janmukti Morcha lobbies."

Source: The Telegraph

Gorkhaland protests: Tamang-Gurung stand-off has Hills residents in a bind

Gorkha Janmukti Morcha new banner
KOLKATA: Darjeeling seems headed for yet another showdown, with state government-supported Binay Tamang trying to supplant the Centre's man, Bimal Gurung, in the Hills ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The problem is that both suffer from a trust deficit among the public when it comes to Gorkhaland because none of their mentors — the state and the Centre — is ready to grant statehood.

This has left the Hills people confused, making the situation ripe for exploitation by insurgent groups. All Hills outfits other than Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (both GJM factions) — Subash Ghising's GNLF, R B Rai's CPRM, Harka Bahadur Chhetri's Jan Andolan Party (JAP) and Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (AIGL) — realise this but are not in a position to roll out a roadmap acceptable to the people.

One reason could be that these parties had drifted away from Gorkhaland at some point of time or the other and, therefore, do not have a grip on the masses.

The result is a battle of oneupmanship between Gurung and Tamang packed with intrigue and backstabbing in which the majority Hills people have no stake. A background check on the two men reveals that both were on the same page till the latter chose the "democratic" route. For instance, Tamang was the one who founded Gorkhaland Personnel that has now come in handy for Gurung. Tamang has criminal charges and cases against him like Bimal Gurung, who has also been charged with sedition.

"It was Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa who burnt the GTA Act only the other day, and wanted to impose stringent restrictions in the Hills at Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee meetings," said GNLF leader Neeraj Zumba. 

With the ranks divided in their loyalties between Gurung and Tamang, both leaders are gearing up for a fight to the finish, Gurung with his private militia and Tamang with the backing of the state police. All police stations in the Hills have been put on alert over Gurung's plans to return by October 30 with the situation inching towards a climax before chief minister Mamata Banerjee reaches Pintel village for the next round of talks with Hil-ls parties on November 21.


"There is no freedom of expression for parties like us till then. We have been denied permission to hold public meetings. Even police won't give us permission for hall meetings. Houses of tea garden workers with party affiliations are being raided by police at night. It is an undeclared emergency in the Hills," CPRM spokesperson Govind Chhetri said.


Zumba, however, insists on talks with stakeholders. "We opened doors for talks with the state when the agitation hit a wall. We now want the Centre to hold the tripartite talks. Let the Centre play its card first. We have our roadmap clear and will make it public after the Centre takes a stand," Zumba said.


JAP president Chhetri also held that tripartite talks on Gorkhaland could re-engage the people in the Hills. 

Source: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com

Manhunt for Gurung in Darjeeling hills: Police

GJM supremo Bimal Gurung
 A fresh FIR was lodged against him earlier this month for his alleged involvement in the death of a police sub-inspector, who was killed during an exchange of fire with alleged GJM supporters on October 13.

The West Bengal Police has launched a massive manhunt in Darjeeling and its surrounding areas for GJM supremo Bimal Gurung, who has been on the run for the past two months.

Gurung has been evading arrest since August when cases were lodged against him under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for his alleged involvement in several bomb blasts in Darjeeling hills and adjoining areas.

A fresh FIR was lodged against him earlier this month for his alleged involvement in the death of a police sub-inspector, who was killed during an exchange of fire with alleged Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters on October 13.

“Combing operations in the hills are on. We are keeping a track on the movements of some of the suspects who are in touch with Bimal Gurung and his close associates who are absconding,” a senior police official said. Police are also keeping a close watch on the movements of senior GJM leaders.

The exchange of fire between police and Gurung’s supporters on October 13 in which the sub-inspector was killed was the first incident of violence after the 104-day indefinite shutdown in the hills was called off on September 26 by the GJM supremo following an appeal from Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

Source: PTI

Board begins quality tests for Nepal tea

Tea leaves plucking
 Demand for import variety surges

Amid reports of rising imports of teas from Nepal, the Tea Board of India has unveiled an exercise to test the teas.

Samples of these teas are being tested at the regulator’s Quality Control Laboratory in Siliguri in North Bengal, itself a major tea-trading centre. The testing is being done to check whether the teas conform to the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India norms, sources said.

This facility was created mainly to cater to the needs of the Darjeeling tea industry, almost 80% of which is exported. The laboratory has facilities for testing for the presence of pesticide residue, of heavy metals and to analyse microflora and other toxins. The presence of these elements not only compromises the quality of tea, but also impacts consumer acceptance of the beverage in domestic and global markets.

Cheaper option

For the past few years, rising imports of Nepal teas have been a source of concern to the Darjeeling tea industry.

Import of teas from Nepal to India stood at 11.4 million kg in 2015, rising to 12.2 million kg in 2016. Between January to July of 2017, about 4.3 million kg was imported according to official statistics. India imports these teas under the India Nepal Free-Trade agreement and the teas are substantially cheaper than the Darjeeling brew.

There are now fears that the recent Gorkha Janmukti agitation, which led to a prolonged shutdown of the Darjeeling tea industry, has paved the way for increased imports of tea from Nepal, which is similar to Darjeeling teas.

This development comes at a time when the Darjeeling tea industry is limping back to normalcy after the 104-day strike.

A meeting of the Area Scientific Committee of the Tea Research Association took place in Kurseong, where planters and scientists got together to hammer out a strategy to overcome the crisis situation, discussing the practices to be adopted for plucking.

“The need to ready the gardens for the first flush plucking beginning in March, and the possibility of salvaging some leaves for now was discussed,” according to official sources.

Participants discussed issues such as clearing and weeding the gardens and managing the overgrown tea bushes and pests.

Source: The Hindu

Darjeeling: Crisis Continues

Darjeeling Gorkhaland Agitation
Peace that dawned in Darjeeling on Mahasaptami Day following a 104 day bandh may not last with the West Bengal government feuding with the Centre. The Centre wanted to withdraw central paramilitary forces from the region. Mamata Banerjee sniffed conspiracy in it and opposed the decision on the ground that it would disturb the law and order situation. The Calcutta High Court has resolved the dispute staying the withdrawal of troops. This round has gone to the West Bengal government though the judiciary and not the executive sorted out the mess. Of course, it has to be admitted that Mamata Banerjee was largely responsible for bringing on the crisis and may not have been entirely justified in saying that the BJP encouraged the Gorkhas to mount the agitation demanding a separate state. Her government antagonised the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) by making Bengali compulsory in state-run schools. Then she had Bimal Gurung replaced by GJM revel Binoy Tamang as Chairman of the Gorkha Territorial administration (GTA). That did not go down well with the last section of the Gorkha leadership.

Admittedly, the Trinamul government never looked favourably at the close ties between the GJM and the BJP. First, Jaswant Singh and then S.S Ahluwalia of the BJP have been representatives of Darjeeling in Parliament. It is not clear whether the BJP supports Gorkhaland though it is in principle in favour of creation of small states. But Gorkhaland is unviable for two reasons. First, it is too small with only three parliamentary constituencies. The reported support of Sikkim puts a new complexion of the scene provided it means merger of Gorkhaland with Sikkim. But that will invalidate the raison d’etre for Gorkhaland. Secondly, Gorkhaland is strategically situated providing a corridor between the North East and China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. The Centre and the West Bengal government should go all out to work out a sensible settlement without crushing Gorkha aspirations.

Editorial: http://www.theshillongtimes.com

More police personnel posted in Darjeeling

West Bengal police in Darjeeling
More than 2,000 additional state police personnel, mostly from specialised forces, have been deployed in Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts, a top West Bengal police official said on Wednesday.

The officer’s comments came in the backdrop of the Union Home ministry’s statement that paramilitary forces cannot substitute state police and should be deployed only in emergencies. The police officer said on the condition of anonymity that 2,500 state police personnel were already posted in the districts which witnessed a three-and-half-month long shutdown over the demand for a Gorkhaland State.

Press Trust of India

Supporters dilemma over Bimal Gurung, Binay Tamang

Bimal Gurung - Binay Tamang
Siliguri: Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders in the Dooars are in a dilemma over who among Bimal Gurung or Binay Tamang they should support.

"In the foothills and particularly, the Dooars, there is utter confusion among most of the Morcha leaders and supporters. They have no idea where our party is heading and whether Bimal Gurung will regain his hold over the hills or Binay Tamang will call the shots," said a Morcha leader in the Dooars.

In the beginning of the statehood movement in June, Morcha leaders and cadres had taken out a few rallies in the Dooars. But they stopped after the split in the party.

"Unlike in the hills, where police restrictions disrupted regular rallies and meetings, such programmes stopped on their own in the Dooars. This is because the Morcha supporters didn't know whether the protests should continue or they should listen to Tamang's appeal for peace," the Morcha leader said.

Another Morcha representative at Kalchini said there was not much pressure from either lobbies of the party in the Dooars.

"The central leadership of the Morcha is now focussed on the hills, barring occasional utterances that the Dooars and the Terai should be included in Gorkhaland. So, a section of Morcha supporters is even thinking of joining Trinamul as there is a complete mix-up within the Morcha," he said.

The latest Gorkhaland movement didn't have much impact in the Dooars, unlike on earlier occasions.

"That was because the central leadership of the Morcha didn't focus on the plains. As there are no clear instructions from the party, it is obvious that they will be confused," an observer said.

Source: The Telegraph

Police officers contest on Bimal Gurung's arms claim

Police claimed Arms seized from camp near Little Rangeet river
Darjeeling: Police officers have said they have concrete evidence to counter Bimal Gurung's claim that he had not stockpiled arms over the past few years and added that all the evidence would be produced in court against the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief.

Gurung had on Wednesday accused the Bengal government of hatching "a conspiracy" to defame him and said that the weapons, including nine AK-47s, recovered from the site of clash on the banks of the Little Rangeet river last week were from surrendered KLO activists.

"In 2014, Assam police had intercepted arms that were being ferried to Darjeeling based on specific inputs from the Subsidiary Intelligence Branch, which is a central government agency. Two persons, Umesh Kami and Ganesh Chhetri, had been arrested. Kami was a GLP cadre and worked as a driver for Gurung. Chhetri was a middleman," said a senior Bengal police officer.

"Kami is still behind bars. During investigation, Yuva Morcha leader and former GTA Sabha member Sanjay Thulung's name had cropped up and a warrant was issued against him in Assam. Will Gurung now claim that Kami was not with him? Why was Thulung suspended from the party then? Did Assam police also conspire against him three years ago?" he asked.

The officer said that the arms that had been intercepted by Assam police in August 2014 were the third consignment and two previous ones had already reached the hills by then. The arms had allegedly been bought from the Nagaland-based NSCN (K) group.

The police officers also spoke of alleged trips Yuva Morcha president Prakash Gurung had made to Nepal during the strike.

"Prakash Gurung went to Nepal twice in August and September, when the strike was on, to get arms. The weapons were smuggled through Maney Bhanjyang. We now have evidence to prove whose vehicles had been used for the trips, the details of the middlemen and how many times the vehicles had been changed," said the officer.

The officer said the gelatine sticks recovered from the hills had been stolen from the godown of a hydel project situated at Negi under the leadership of Yuva Morcha leaders Rikash Theeng and Bhim Subba on July 20.

Sources said that the person arrested from the Little Rangeet camp after the clash had revealed that 15 to 16 boys stayed there and Gurung frequented the place.

"Gurung also stayed at a camp near Glenburn tea garden at Lapcha busty. He later came to the camp near the Little Rangeet river from Sikkim," another officer said.

Political analysts pointed out that Gurung would be further alienated from the hill people and the possibility of him attending any talks if it could be proved that he had been planning to resort to an armed struggle

Giri house

Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the Morcha, claimed on Thursday that the police had vandalised his house in Darjeeling. The police denied the charge.

Source: The Telegraph

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