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Top industrialists to participate in GTA business meet claimed Binay Tamang

Binay Tamang, Anit Thapa with Mamata at the summit
Darjeeling: Binay Tamang has said top industrialists from within India and abroad showed keen interest in the Darjeeling hills and confirmed their participation in a business meet that the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration is slated to hold here in February.

Tamang, the chairman of the board of administrators (BoA) of the GTA, met investors from around the world at the Bengal Global Business Summit held in Calcutta on Tuesday and Wednesday.

This is the first time that a man helming an autonomous authority in the hills has been invited by the Bengal government to a business session.

Tea and tourism are the mainstay of the hill economy but both the sectors are in tatters at present.

"We have received positive feedback from industrialists both from the country and abroad and they are keen to attend our business meet, which has been scheduled for February," Tamang said over the phone on Wednesday.

Tamang, who was accompanied by Anit Thapa, the vice-chairman of the BoA, said most of the industrialists had told them that they had never visited Darjeeling and were keen to explore the area. "When we invited the investors, most said they had not visited Darjeeling before. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee was with us when we extended the invitation to them," said Tamang.

Tamang didn't say which investor from what sector would attend the GTA business meet.

The exact date of the GTA event will be finalised after consulting all stakeholders and participants.

Apart from attracting investments to bring in high-end tourists to the hills, the GTA believes, there is ample scope to develop other sectors like floriculture, horticulture, food processing and medicinal plants.

In the past, not much effort had been taken by those in power in the hills to invite industrialists, whereas Sikkim has managed to get investments in the hill state over the years.

"We are now trying our best to streamline things in the hills so that we can attract investments, which will go a long way in addressing the unemployment issue," said Tamang, who attended sessions on health, tourism, agriculture and infrastructure during the two-day global business summit.

The Telegraph

Pratibha Rai new chairperson of Darjeeling Municipality

Pratibha Rai new chairperson Darjeeling Municipality
The Darjeeling Municipality today got a new chairperson, over three months after the then chairman, DK Pradhan was arrested and the vice chairman, Ram Jan Golay, tendered his resignation. Pratibha Rai was today elected the civic body chief by 30 of the 32 ward councilors, while she was sworn in by Darjeeling Sub-Divisional Officer Avik Chatterjee.
“I thank the Morcha leadership for this post, while this proves that  they believe in women empowerment as they have given important posts to women, like the primary education board of the GTA being given to Tshering Dahal, and the trade union of the party given to Karuna Gurung. I will treat all the issues as primary, while also focusing on garbage disposal. I have also nominated Sagar Tamang as the new vice chairman, who also took oath of office today,” Ms Rai said.
According to her, Mr Golay’s resignation had been accepted “recently.” It may be mentioned here that on 10 January this year, Mr Pradhan was removed as the chairman in a meeting called by Mr Golay. A total of 28 ward councilors had removed Mr Pradhan then, while the Binoy Tamang camp of the Morcha had then said that Mr Golay’s resignation had not been accepted.
Apart from Mr Pradhan, who is still in custody, councilor of ward-1, Nira Sharma, was not present in today’s meeting, with the latter’s post remaining disputed as she allegedly holds a Nepali citizenship too. Asked what would happen to Ward-10 from where Mr Pradhan had had contested, Ms Rai said,
“He is still in the correctional home and we will look after that ward until he comes out.” According to her, the posts for the different departments in the municipality would be fixed in two to three days’ time. The name of Ms Rai as chairperson and Mr Tamang as vice-chairman had been announced by the Binoy Tamang camp of the Morcha on 3 January.
After the swearing-in ceremony today, a rally escorted the new chiefs around town, while their supporters burst firecrackers and oirganised a a small public meeting at Chowk Baazar here.

Statesman News Service

52 foreign delegates to visit Darjeeling, Terai & Dooars

52 foreign delegates to visit Darjeeling, Terai & Dooars - Destination East
Darjeeling: As a part of "Destination East," 52 foreign delegates from 30 countries will visit Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars, where West Bengal Tourism department plans to promote tourist destinations of North Bengal.
"Destination East tourism summit will be organised in Kolkata on January 18 and 19. 102 delegates from the travel industry from 30 countries along with delegates from India will be attending. Following which they will be taken to different tourist destinations of West Bengal so that they get acquainted with these places and get a first-hand experience," stated Tourism Minister Gautam Deb.
On January 21, all the 52 delegates will first visit Gajoldoba around 30 km from Siliguri. The delegates from Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Kuwait, Malaysia, Netherlands, Oman, Philippines, Poland, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Srilanka, Switzerlan, Taiwan, Thailand, US, the UK and Russia, will visit "Bhorer Alo", the eco-tourism destination developed by the West Bengal Government.
The visit is being jointly organised by the State Tourism Department and CII North Bengal Zonal Council with the objective of promoting "Bhorer Alo" among potential investors and tourists abroad.
"A variety of activities and attractions for the tourists are being developed in and around Bhorer Alo. Forest safari, boating, cycling trail, orchid park, angling, elephant rides, amphitheatre, eco park, scenic walkways, tethered hot air balloon facilities will be available at Bhorer Alo," stated the Minister. Besides these facilities, a 10-bed tourist health clinic, mini fire station, tourist police station, helipad for high-end tourists along with resorts and a youth hostel are also planned on the site.
Familiarisation trips have been planned out for the delegates. 11 delegates will be visiting the "Bengal Himalaya" circuit (Kalimpong-Darjeeling), 19 will be visiting "Hills and Forests" circuit ( Darjeeling-Dooars), 8 will be visiting "Darjeeling Heritage circuit" (Darjeeling), 6 will be visiting "Tea Heritage circuit" (Darjeeling- Glenbvurn) and 8 will be visiting "Hills and Lakes circuit comprising of Darjeeling and Mirik.
Similar familiarization trips are being organised for South Bengal, the circuits include Sunderbans, Purulia, beaches of Bengal and Kolkata heritage.
According to Union Tourism minister Alphons Kannanthanam, India earned an income of $27 billion from foreign tourist arrivals in the year 2017. However, these regions witness around 30,000 foreign footfall approximately each year.
"Considering the heritage, Himalayas and human resources of North Bengal are able to attract global tourists here. We have one of the best organised rural tourism contents in the country empowering villagers along with the offering of cross-border tourist circuits with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Hence, Destination East is in focus," stated Raj Basu, Convenor, Association for Conservation of Tourism.

Gorkhaland agitation may have calmed down but Darjeeling's economy is not back on track

Darjeeling hill economy, women carrying grass in village
To say that West Bengal's Darjeeling hills had a turbulent 2017 would be an understatement. Political violence over a renewed demand for a separate Gorkhaland left 12 dead and hundreds injured. Eventually, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee managed to bring the situation under control after a 104-day strike. But the economy is yet to pick up the pieces.

Banerjee effectively managed to splice up Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, leaving little political space for its former chief Bimal Gurung. But the damage has been done by the June-September strike – to the extent that a state-backed tourism festival towards the end of 2017 could hardly mitigate.

Tourism, of course, is one of the important pillars of the local economy, the other being its famed tea industry. But both these labour-intensive sectors seem derailed. Since the strike ended,  government offices and local enterprises have limped back to normalcy. But without the support of the two major sectors business is hard to come by.

Being a plantation-based sector, the tea industry is anyway vulnerable to a lot of factors. Darjeeling's gardens have long boasted of producing the best tea in the world, a significant part of which has been lapped up by foreign markets. But their best days are arguably over and their ageing plants need a lot of reinvestment.

“Research has shown that annual precipitation has declined by a fifth over the past two decades in the Darjeeling Hills specifically, that was already resulted in decline of tea production,” Sandeep Mukherjee, a member of the Darjeeling Tea Association, said.

The near-four-month strike dealt a blow to the sector, hampering production crucially. What's more, absenteeism still remains high, which could take a toll on this year's first flush crop.

Tea production in Bengal's Dooars and Terai regions (that includes the hills) dropped by around 9 million kilogramme last year, according to Tea Board India. The Darjeeling Tea Association estimates the loss at more than Rs 400 crore for 2017, with little to no leaves plucked until last September. Production is not expected to recover for at least two years.

“We keep getting reports of tea garden workers going on strike time and again in the region. The political climate in the hills is affecting production significantly,” Indian Tea Association Chairman Azam Monem told Catch.

“September and October contribute 25-30% of annual tea production. Last September, production in Dooars and Terai fell over 25%. Due to the Gorkhaland agitation, tea garden workers did not show up for work. As tea was not plucked when it was supposed to be, the industry faced a major loss,” Bidyananda Barkakoty of North Eastern Tea Association said.

“In the area, production dropped from 14 million kgs a year, to 9 million kg a year. This year due to the agitation, there has barely been any yield in the months of June to September. The Darjeeling tea industry has already been in crisis. The Gorkhaland agitation is the most recent blow to an industry
already hit by declining production and increasing competition.”

While industry captains are worried over the lack of production, the trickle-down effect has been equally worrisome. Tea garden workers on daily wages went without pay for the duration of the strike as they could not report for work.

“Even those willing to work were not allowed to do so,” said trade unionist Babu Kazi Ghimirey.

“The livelihood of so many workers – tea pickers, collectors, factory workers – were affected,” added Ghimirey who organises tea workers at Bagrakote in the Dooars.

The Darjeeling district has been a traditional favourite with tourists, both from Bengal as well as outside. It also attracts a lot of foreign tourists. Naturally, the tourism sector generates employment for many both directly and indirectly.

The summer months, when the temperature soar in the plains, normally see the most footfall. But the Durga Puja vacation and the time around Christmas and New Year also draw a lot of crowd. Last year hardly any tourist could enter the hills during the strike.

Those depending on the sector expected the situation to improve by the winter holiday season. But that did not happen. Tourists stayed away, fearing a return to violence. Also, provisions and facilities continued to be affected

Local reports pegged the loss at Rs 100 crore for the hospitality industry. There are around 2,000 hotels and home stays across Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Kurseong and Mirik. Darjeeling town itself has 350.

“Hoteliers, restauranteurs, travel agencies and taxi companies have been struggling even after three months since the agitation was over,” said Harka Bahadur Chettri, former legislator from Kalimpong.

“The atmosphere is now peaceful, but tourists evidently stayed away, fearing agitation could break out again. This is precisely why the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration decided to organise the tourism festival,” Chettri, the founder of Jan Andolan Party (JAP), added.

“The tourism industry has suffered the most. November-January is one of our peak seasons. This is when the skies are clear and you can see the Kunchenjunga through the day from all over. But there are hardly any tourists this time,” Siliguri-based travel agency operator Dechen Tamang

“The Gorkhaland is a dear cause to the people in the hills. When the strike was called, people were more than willing to oblige. They suffered a lot: Small business owners, hired workers, restaurant and hotel owners and staff, taxi drivers, labourers – everyone was out of work. There was a lot of hoarding and basic amenities were being sold in the black market,” pointed out Tenzing Dolma, a taxi driver in Kalimpong, who went with hardly any income for more than three months.

“But we are a resilient lot,” he adds. That resilience, perhaps, drives optimism.

“It seems tourists aren't yet aware that the situation in the Hills has returned to normal,” said a manager with one of the better-known hotel in Kalimpong.

“At least the festival will send out a signal to tourists and visitors that things have normalised in the hills and hopefully things will pick up by next year again,” Tamang said.

For now, it's the hope that has kept the hills going.

Doublespeak glare on Bimal Gurung full interview

GJM president Bimal Gurung Binay Tamang
Darjeeling: The Bimal Gurung camp of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha was caught on the wrong foot on Monday as the full interview that Gurung had given to journalist when he resurfaced in Delhi suggested that he had indeed extended the olive branch to chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
On Saturday, Roshan Giri had posted a statement of Sanjeev Lama, the assistant secretary of the Yuwa Morcha (Bimal camp), denying Gurung had said t he would sit for a dialogue with the Bengal chief minister.
Lama had blamed "a few media persons and the Binay-Anit camp" of spreading false news. However, after the entire interview was made available in the Internet on Monday, Bimal's camp has been caught napping.
When asked if he would speak to the chief minister to solve the problem, Gurung is heard saying: "I have been saying from beginning that to solve a problem, one has to go in for a is from within a dialogue that a solution can be found."

During the agitation, Gurung had said he would only sit with the Centre for a dialogue.
Binay Tamang hit back at Gurung strongly. "For years, Gurung has been in the habit of saying one thing and then changing his version if things go wrong. His only interest is to protect himself and is neither concerned about anyone or nor knows what he is speaking," said Tamang.
Tamang, the chairman of the board of administration of the GTA, said: "It looks like even in his camp, people are not aware of what he is saying. It is because of his doublespeak and double standards throughout his political career that our people had to suffer."
Tamang who made his presence felt at the Tukvar constituency, cited examples of Gurung's alleged doublespeak during the 104 day period. "At the beginning of the strike, he had said the all-party chapter was closed. When he got a feeling his statement had not gone down well, he blamed the media."
"Even during the agitation, he has given innumerable statements saying the strike would not be lifted and if possible it would be extended to four to five months," said Tamang. "However, when he got a feeling that people were getting tired of his aimless and directionless leadership and the shutdown, he came up with a statement that he was never in favour of carrying on with the strike," said Tamang.
Observers believe Gurung's camp will find it hard to counter Binay on this count. "Since the Bimal Gurung;s full interview is out on the public domain, it will be difficult to cover Gurung. His camp was probably trying to cover Gurung sensing that his statement had done more harm to him than good," said Gurung.

The Telegraph

भुजेल बोर्ड दोश्रो स्थापना दिवस संगै माघे संक्रान्ति महोत्सव सम्पन्न

Bhujel development and cultural board 2nd foundation day
पश्चिम बङ्गाल भुजेल विकाश एवम सांस्कृतिक बोर्डको आयोजनामा मङपु जनमैदानमा धुमधामको साथ भुजेल बोर्डको दोश्रो स्थापना दिवस संगै माघे संक्रान्ति महोत्सव पालन गर्यो | शुरुमा फोहोर्बोबाट पाठ गरेपछि मुख्य अनि सम्माननीय अतिथिहरुको बाहुलीबाट दीप प्रज्वलन गरेपछि बिशुद्ध न्याम्ताउ रसपान गरेपछि कार्यक्रमको शुभ आरम्भ गरिएको थियो | सागर खवासले संचालन गरेको कार्यक्रममा भुजेल बोर्ड चेयरमेन प्रदिप कुमार खवासको सभापतित्व रहेको थियो | कार्यक्रममा भुजेल समुदायका नारीहरुबाट पुहगाल पारीममा प्रथम, दोश्रो, तेश्रो विजेता भुजेल सांस्कृतिक नृत्य, नेपाली नृत्य, फोहोरबा (झाँक्री) हरुलाई पारितोषिक वितरण आदि सम्पन्न भएको थियो भने मैदानको अर्कोतिर भुजेल जनजातिद्वारा प्रयोग गरिने सरसमान, खान पान आदिको पनि प्रदर्शनी राखिएको थियो | आजको कार्यक्रम अवधि माध्यमिक, उच्चमाध्यमिक, आइसीएसइ, आइएसइ, सीबीएसइ आदि परिक्षामा अब्बल अंक ल्याउने विधार्थीहरुलाई मुख्य अतिथिको बहुलीबाट चेक पनि वितरण गरिएको थियो भने भुजेल समुदायको पक्षबाट बोर्ड चेयरमेनलाई संवर्धना स्वरूप साल, स्मृति पत्र, टोपी प्रदान गरेर सम्मान जनाएको थियो | आजको स्थापना दिवस कार्यक्रममा मुख्य अतिथिको रुपमा प्रितम लिम्बु मेम्बर सेक्रेटरी, मेजिस्ट्रेट कालेबुंग उपस्थित थिए भने सम्माननीय अतिथिहरुमा ल्याङसोङ तामसाङ लेप्चा डेभ्लोपमेन्ट बोर्ड चेयरमेन, सीबी भुजेल, सोधकर्ता भुजेल जाति एवम भाषा, सामुयल राई, निर्देशक सिन्कोना बगान, आरबी भुजेल संस्थापक सदस्य भुजेल संगठन उपस्थित थिए | यसको साथै अन्य विशिष्ट अतिथिवर्गको लहरमा तामांग, लेप्चा, भोटिया, शेर्पा, मंगर, कामी, गुरुङ, प्रधान जम्मै बोर्डका चेयरमेन लगायत विभिन्न क्षेत्रका गन्यमान्य व्यक्तिहरुको उपस्थिति थियो | कार्यक्रमलाई सम्बोधन गर्दै लेप्चा बोर्ड चेयरमेन तामसाङले पहाडमा भएको अन्य बोर्डहरुको तुलनामा भुजेल बोर्डले धेरै राम्रो कार्यहरु गरिरहेको संदेश सरकार समक्ष गइरहेको बताए | यसको साथै तिनले यसरी विधार्थीहरुलाई सम्बर्धना जनाउने कार्य भुजेल बोर्डले नै प्रथम चोटि गरेको बताए | तिनले अझ भने हामी पहाडका समस्त बोर्डहरु एक भएर बस्नु पर्छ, बिकाश बोर्डको मध्यमबाट नै हाम्रो जाति र संस्कृति बाँचिरहेको छ | मुख्यमन्त्री ममता ब्यनार्जी प्रति हामी आभारी छौँ, तिनले हाम्रो जातिको बिकाश होस् भनेरनै विभिन्न बिकाश बोर्डहरु गठन गरेकी हुन् यसैले हामीले बोर्डको मध्यमबाट आफ्नो जातिको बिकाश गरेर लानु पर्छ | कार्यक्रमलाई मुख्य अतिथि प्रितम लिम्बु अनि अन्यले पनि सम्बोधन गरेका थिए ||

Binay invited to business summit, GTA chief walks through Gurung’s backyard and receives memoranda

A Tukvar resident welcomes Binay Tamang
Darjeeling: The chairman of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration has been invited to attend the Bengal Global Business Summit, the first such gesture for a Darjeeling leader in an indication that the state government is trying to attract investors to the hills, too.
"I, along with GTA vice-chairman Anit Thapa and GTA's principal secretary and other officials, have been invited to attend the business meet. This is a great opportunity for us to promote the hills. We have the potential to attract investors. We are also planning to hold investors' meet in Darjeeling in February," Tamang, who is the chairman of the board of administrators appointed by the Bengal government to run the GTA, said on Sunday.
Even though the Mamata Banerjee government has been organising business meets for several years, this is the first time that a head of an autonomous set-up in the hills is being invited to address the gathering of investors.
Tamang revealed the invitation to the media during his trip to the Singamari-Tukvar area, which has been the stronghold of Bimal Gurung, who heads the rival faction in the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, for nearly 20 years. He started the journey after sipping a cup of tea from a stall that is now housed in the closed office of the Morcha.
"I haven't had tea here for a long time," Tamang said sipping tea standing on the Lebong Cart Road around 9.30am.
The Morcha's central committee office has been sealed by the Darjeeling district administration on the ground that it was built on encroached land. The tea stall and three other business establishments have, however, been allowed to function from the building.
After a steaming cup of tea, Tamang started his drive downhill; entering an area he had once frequented but not stepped in since May last year.
People welcomed the Morcha leader at various places and he also stopped in front of Bimal Gurung's main office at Patlebas. Tamang met residents of Patlebas, where three houses had been burnt down during the recent statehood agitation.

A few minutes before, Tamang had passed Gurung's residence. The main gate to Gurung's residence was locked, tied with the head of a goat, with some khadas, rice mixed with vermilion and flower petals and two puppets --- which all raised an eerie feeling.
People had lined up at more than a dozen places with welcome gates made of plants and other materials and musical instruments. They also submitted memorandum with various demands to Tamang.
Welcoming Tamang, Biren Rai, a Morcha leader from Tukvar second division, said: "We had been part of various programmes since 2007 but not much development has taken place here. We do not know why."
In Singla, the crowd was heavy at many spots. A woman sought medical assistance to treat her fractured leg, while a resident of Shanti busty took Tamang to a spot requesting him to build a bridge that would connect Badamtam with the area.
Tamang also visited the house of Pramil Subba, whose house had been gutted in the agitation.
Tamang took a circuitous route, walking at many places, to reach Jamuni passing through Singla, Karmatar and Goke.
"I am not here to prove anything. There is a precedent in the hills that once there is a change of guard, the area being represented by another person is neglected. I do not want this to happen," said Tamang, who stressed that he was visiting different GTA constituencies every Saturday and Sunday.
"I had sanctioned a road project and drinking water scheme for Singla a few days back. Around Rs 50 crore has already been invested in Jamuni and you can see work is still continuing. I will not victimise this area," said Tamang.
Gurung, as the GTA chief executive, had launched a major tourism project at Jamuni.
Observers believe Tamang's visit is expected to send a strong message across the hills, as this constituency was known to be Gurung's den.

The Telegraph

A chastened Gurung

Bimal Gurung Binay Tamang
Having made a public appearance in Delhi on Thursday, it might now be less than accurate to describe Bimal Gurung as an absconder. Yet there is no denying that the West Bengal government is on firm ground when it contends, in parallel with the former GJMM chief’s appearance in the Capital, that he is a ‘fugitive’ who is “on the run from the law” after the spate of arson and violence that had convulsed Darjeeling and Kalimpong last year.
Second, he has consistently refused to pay heed to the summons issued by the court ~ a clear case of disrespect for the law. The sudden appearance scarcely lessens the gravity of the charges against the man. That said, what may yet be of critical import is his expressed willingness to negotiate with the State as an essay towards defusing the festering crisis in the Hills. He appears to have realised eventually that he must take the government into confidence, though after the recent recast of the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha, he las lost his locus standi.
In the immediate perspective, he hasn’t been able to convince the government with his claim that he isn’t a separatist and that the prime objective of his struggle was to ensure “Gorkha identity”. His praxis, almost literally playing with fire, has been radically different though for the first time he has agreed to talk without any pre-condition. No one denies that Gurung has emitted a refashioned signal of intent, but given his record, it shall not be easy for him to shore up his credibility. To that extent, the change of stance on the part of an agent provocateur can only have limited significance. Yet it ought to be conceded that his latest offer is a departure from his earlier insistence that the Centre must initiate tripartite talks on Gorkhaland ~ an expression that he did not utter even once this time around after emerging from the “underground”.
Gurung must be acutely aware that his faction within the GJMM has been considerably weakened over the past few months. His rivals, notably Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa, are now in the vanguard following the change at the helm and tightened their grip on the outfit.
No less crucially, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) ~ a loose arrangement of governance short of statehood ~ has resumed functioning. Gurung had reduced the entity to virtual irrelevance. In point of fact, he is today on a weak wicket and the softening of stance is bound to be greeted with more than the usual pinch of salt.