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Bimal Gurung to address supporters in Siliguri but Darjeeling visit uncertain

Even as uncertainty looms large over the return of Gorkha leader Bimal Gurung to the Darjeeling hills, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha or GJM (Bimal Gurung faction) which he heads on Wednesday announced that he would soon address a rally in the plains in Siliguri.

Gurung suddenly appeared in Kolkata on October 21 after remaining underground for almost three and half years and announced his support to the Trinamool Congress in the 2021 assembly elections. He also announced to severe his alliance with the BJP on the pretext that the saffron party despite winning three consecutive Lok Sabha polls from Darjeeling did not fulfil its promises to find a permanent political solution and granting of schedule tribe status to the 11 Gorkha sub-communities that have left out of the classification.

Though his supporters have been claiming that Gurung would soon return to his home in Darjeeling hills, it is unlikely that he would do so unless he gets legal remedy or the state government withdraws the cases against him.

Among hundreds of charges he faces are those under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Bishal Chhetri, vice president of the party’s central committee on Wednesday said, “Gurung would soon return from Kolkata and would address a rally in Siliguri. Bagajatin Park in Siliguri will witness the presence of thousands of people from Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars to welcome Gurung.” Chhetri did not say the date of Gurung’s return.

Though Chettri said that Gurung would certainly return to the hills, opposition parties claim that it is easier said than done.

There is also speculations that Gurung may not immediately return to the hills where his bête noire Binoy Tamang and Anit Thapa are calling the shots.

Tamang who heads the GJM (Binoy Tamang faction) and Thapa who is the chairman of the board of administrators in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration had come to the help of the state chief minister Mamata Banerjee when she was in serious crisis in 2017 during the 104-day-long general strike in the hills demanding separate state of Gorkhaland.

It was largely due to Tamang and Thapa that the Gorkhaland movement derailed as Banerjee heaved a sigh of relief while Gurung and his supporters facing multiple charges had to flee the hills for years.

“Though Tamang and Thapa failed to deliver results in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and 2019 assembly bye poll in Darjeeling despite all the backing of the state government, the Chief Minister would not disown them immediately,” said a leader of the GJM (Tamang faction) who did not wish to be named. “Though Gurung still has a strong support base in the hills, his entry in the hills is all set to invite unrest and Banerjee would obviously not want this to happen,” the leader said.

Talking to Hindustan Times, Anit Thapa said, “Gurung is going to become another Subash Ghisingh and his political career is soon coming to an end.”

Ghisingh the Gorkha National Liberation Front president and former chairman of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council was hounded out of Darjeeling by the GJM on July 26 2008. Since then Ghisingh was living in Jalpaiguri and Siliguri in the plains with his occasional entry to the hills. Ghisingh the man who first started the Gorkhaland movement in the eighties and ruled the hills absolutely for almost 20 years unsuccessfully tried for his political comeback in the hills till he died in Delhi in January 2010.

Thapa said, “Gurung had political value till the time he seemed uncompromising with the issue of Gorkhaland. Minus Gorkhaland, he is nothing.”

However Gurung’s party is rapidly expanding its local units all across the hills and his supporters are hopeful that he would soon return to the hills and call the shots.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway awaits state government’s nod to resume services

The iconic Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), popularly known as the Darjeeling Toy Train,is all set to resume services after lockdown. Trial runs started this Monday and the DHR is just waiting for West Bengal government’s nod.

“We are ready to resume the services. We are waiting for the state government’s permission. Initially, joy rides between Darjeeling and Ghoom and back (total distance of 16 km) would be resumed. We have already written to the state government,” said DHR director AK Mishra.

The DHR is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major tourist attraction in Darjeeling which is a popular hill destination in north Bengal and is often referred to as the Queen of the Hills. The train has appeared in various Bollywood films, including Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore-starrer Aradhana, Shah Rukh Khan’s Main Hoon Na, and Parineeta.

More than 1.5 million tourists come to Darjeeling in north Bengal and Sikkim, a tiny Himalayan state, every year. The Toy Train, comprising three compartments, gets around 60,000 passengers every year. Around 15% of the population in Darjeeling hills is dependent on tourism for their livelihood.

“We have 13 steam engines and five diesel locomotives. The steam engines are the real attractions and are regularly chartered by foreign tourists. The DHR also runs other services between Siliguri and Darjeeling, Siliguri and Tindharia, and Kurseong and Siliguri and those would be resumed later,” said an official.

While long distance train services to New Jalpaiguri station, the nearest railway station to Darjeeling, have already resumed and tourists are flocking to the hill destination, locals said that the resumption of DHR would add to the attraction.

“The DHR has a special role to promote tourism in Darjeeling and is the safest and convenient mode of transportation, especially in the Covid-period. The tourist industry would get required impetus both in Sikkim and Darjeeling once the DHR services resume,” said Sandipan Ghosh, secretary of Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators Association.

Bandh fails to evoke any response in the Hills

Darjeeling: The bandh call by Left and Congress trade unions failed to evoke any response in the Hills. In the plains of North Bengal response was mixed. In the hills of Darjeeling and Kalimpong district, the bandh had no effect at all. Offices, banks and post offices remained open. Vehicles plied as normal. Hill tea gardens functioned normally. With the process of unlock after the lockdown tourists have started to trickle back to the hill station. "Though we support the issues for which the bandh has been called, we cannot afford a bandh. After suffering great economic losses for so many months owing to the lockdown, we cannot afford losing business for a single day also" stated Vishal Rai, a taxi driver.

The tourists were also happy that it was like any other day in the Hills. "I was caught in a bandh in the Hills while visiting a few years ago. We did not get food as all the restaurants were closed. We had too manage with tea and instant noodles that the hotel provided. Today we did not face any problem at all" stated Debesh Ganguly, a tourist from Kolkata. In the plains of the Darjeeling district, the bandh evoked a mixed response. In the Terai belt some of the tea gardens remained closed. In Cooch Behar bandh supporters vandalized State Government-run buses. Bandh supporters pelted stones and vandalized an NBSTC bus plying to Balurghat. Another bus was vandalized at Suniti road. A number of trucks were vandalized in Mathabhanga. 62 persons were arrested in the Cooch Behar district. In Raigunj the CPIM and Congress supporters picketed separately. The bandh supporters stopped goods train plying to Bangladesh, 200 m away from Raigunj. "Later the Railway police force intervened and the train continued its journey to Bangladesh," stated Raju Kumar, Station Manager, Raigunj.

85 deaths reported at Siliguri's NBMCH during Durga Puja

Siliguri (West Bengal) [India], October 28 (ANI): As many as 85 patients died during the Durga Puja festival from October 22 to October 27 at North Bengal Medical College and Hospital(NBMCH) near Siliguri.
According to NBMCH data, 85 patients died during Durga Puja from October 22 to October 27. Total 21 patients died on October 22, 21 on October 23, 16 on October 24,14 on October 25, 8 on October 26, and 5 on October 27 till 5 am in the morning. These cases included some brought deaths as well.
Family members of the admitted patients complained about fewer doctors available for assistance at the hospital during the festival period.
"There is a severe lack of treatment in the hospital. There are no doctors and the administration keeps us misinformed. Many doctors are on leave due to Durga puja," Gobinda Das, a relative of a patient, said.
"We can't even blame the doctors for the death of the patients because there are no doctors here. Only nurses are assisting the diseased. We're waiting for doctors to come and carry forward proper treatment," Narayan Das, a relative of a patient, said.
Meanwhile, the NBMCH Vice-Principal and Medical Superintendent, North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, Dr. Kausik Samajdar denied the allegations and claimed that the number of doctors was adequate.
"I didn't receive any complaints till now. Nobody has an issue about the lack of doctors or treatment. All the doctors are on duty. No one was allowed to take any leaves during Durga Puja," Dr. Kausik Samajdar told ANI. (ANI)

Soon, Gurung public meeting in Siliguri

Bimal Gurung will reach the hills shortly and address a public meeting at Baghajatin Park — located in the heart of Siliguri — on his way to the hills, said Bishal Chhetri, a vice-president of the Gurung faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, on Wednesday.

Since 2007, when Gurung had floated the party, this will be the first time that the Morcha will hold a meeting at a location within Siliguri. So far, the Morcha held public meetings in places such as Sukna and Gandhi Maidan on the fringes of Siliguri.

“Our leader Bimal Gurung will soon reach north Bengal. Thousands of supporters across the region are eagerly waiting for his arrival. That is why we have decided to organise a grand welcome for him and on the same day, a public meeting will be held at Baghajatin Park here. People from the hills, Terai and the Dooars will be there at the event,” said Chhetri.

The decision, party insiders said, was made to pass a message to the Trinamul leadership with whom the Gurung faction joined hands, the rival Binay Tamang faction of Morcha and the BJP, the party with which Gurung recently severed ties.

“Leaders of the other faction (of the Morcha) often make tall claims about their support. We will prove our support base through the meeting and our leader (Gurung) will address the gathering. Our leaders are confident that the meeting will also give a fillip to Trinamul and will make BJP read the writing on the wall,” said an insider.

Gurung's decision to hold a rally in Siliguri is seen as an attempt to test the waters, said an observer. “The decision clearly indicates that they want to gauge the support base before Bimal Gurung goes up to the hills and simultaneously show their strength to the other faction and political parties, particularly Trinamul and BJP,” he said, adding the turnout at the meeting would help the Gurung faction draw up further plans.

Chhetri told newspersons that they would give their “all out support” their “beloved Mamata Didi” as they want to see her in the chief minister’s office after the 2021 Bengal elections.

He was also critical of the BJP and questioned the party’s sincerity in meeting the two key demands of the hill residents — separate statehood and Scheduled Tribe status to 11 hill communities.

“There hasn’t been an inch of progress in these demands. It seems the BJP leaders have forgotten what they had mentioned in their election manifesto. We want to make it clear that the BJP leaders should not have any major expectation from north Bengal. We are no longer with them and our absence will be reflected in the poll results,” said the Morcha leader.

Those in rival Tamang faction of the Morcha said they did not give any importance to the announcements.

“After Bimal Gurung resurfaced in Calcutta, there was spontaneous reaction among people across the hills, they came to the streets and demonstrated against him. We are not concerned about such meetings as people have summarily rejected him,” said a leader of the Tamang faction.

Hill TMC team meets admin top brass

 Darjeeling: A five member team of TMC leaders from the Darjeeling Hills met administrative top brass of the Government of West Bengal at Nabanna with the demand of regularisation of adhoc workers (under payband) of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). The move comes in the wake of around 2,500 payband workers of the GTA joining the TMC in Darjeeling on November 9 and around 8,00 in Kalimpong. Incidentally the Payband or adhoc workers of C and D category of the GTA have been agitating since long demanding regularization. "The delegation led by TMC MP (Rajya Sabha) Shanta Chettri met the Principal Secretary, Chief Ministers office; finance secretary and the Hill Affairs secretaries and handed over memorandums with the demand of the regularization of the adhoc GTA workers. We apprised them that there are many who have been working in the adhoc capacity for more than 30 years. As sanctioned posts in the C and D category already exist we urged them to fill up these posts with the adhoc workers at the earliest," stated NB Khawas, Spokesperson, TMC, Darjeeling (Hills). LB Rai, President TMC, Darjeeling (Hills) was also present in the team. "If there is anyone who can regularise us, it is Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Despite there being sanctioned posts we have not been regularized till now by the DGHC or the GTA," Deo Prakash Khawas, General Secretary, United Employees Union had earlier stated.

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