Offer to run 3 tea gardens on lease

Offer to run 3 tea gardens on lease

The Mamata Banerjee government, for the first time, decided to offer three closed tea gardens on lease to prospective investors.

Last week, the state department of land and land reforms, refugee rehabilitation and relief has issued separate RFPs (request for proposals) stating private entrepreneurs/ companies interested to take over the gardens Bundapani, Madhu and Surendranagar could submit their bids.

Coming a year before the Bengal Assembly elections, the proposal to offer the three tea gardens on lease to investors is being seen by many as Mamata’s attempt to try and reconsolidate support in north Bengal’s tea belt.

In this region, there are around 13 Assembly seats where votes of the tea population decide the fate of the candidates. At the Lok Sabha elections held last year, the BJP had managed to secure a lead in almost all these Assembly segments.

According to records with various government departments, around 2,400 people work in these three gardens of Bundapani, Madhu and Surendranagar. These are among the five tea estates whose land leases were earlier cancelled by the state.

A senior official in the state land and land reforms department said the state was offering the land on lease for management and operations of the tea gardens.

“We want to rejuvenate the tea industry and this is one

of the key ways by which closed gardens can be revived. Allotment will be done through a competitive and open bidding process in compliance with all laws of the state and central governments,” he said.

In the RFPs, the state government has mentioned the area in hectares, the assets and liabilities of each of these tea gardens. An investor who is interested to take over any of these gardens will have to pay a lease premium at the rate of Rs 4,500/hectare, with a yearly rent that the state will fix from time to time.

“All liabilities and debts of the tea estate, including the claims of employees, statutory authorities and tax authorities will be borne by the selected bidder who will also have to employ the existing workforce,” added the official.

The decision evoked a mixed response. While Trinamul-backed trade union leaders appreciated the move, others said they would prefer to wait and watch. “Let’s see. We believe the Centre also has a role to play here,” said Ziaur Alam, convener of Joint Forum, an apex body of tea trade unions.

The associations of small tea growers in north Bengal jointly announced a Rs 9 hike in the daily wage of workers in their plantations. From July 1, around 50,000 workers in small tea plantations will receive Rs 159 instead of Rs 150 per day.

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Plan to set up more beds, beef up vigil at slums & markets

Plan to set up more beds, beef up vigil at slums & markets

Authorities have chalked out a number of measures to contain the spread of Covid19 in and around Siliguri where 200 cases and 17 deaths from the disease were reported.

Bengal tourism minister Gautam Deb convened an emergency meeting with officials of the Darjeeling district administration on Monday to discuss the measures. Darjeeling district magistrate and officials of the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA), Siliguri Municipal Corporation and district health department attended the meeting. Representatives of a number of social organisations were also present.

After the meeting, Deb announced a series of plans for the Siliguri subdivision and the adjoining areas of Jalpaiguri district to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Some of the plans are listed below.

Private health clinics in Siliguri and the adjacent areas were requested to keep at least 10 beds each for treatment of coronavirusinfected patients. Three private nursing homes at |Uttarayan, Pradhannagar and Sevoke Road have taken initiatives to prepare separate units for Covid treatment, the minister said.

An eightmember team of doctors would monitor the treatment of the patients at those nursing homes on an SOS basis.

On Monday, a new isolation ward was opened at the North Bengal Medical College & Hospital to accommodate more suspected |patients.


Help for patients’ kin

Ward coordinators (former councillors) of different wards of the Siliguri Municipal Corporation have been instructed to form a team of local |youths that will ensure that family members of coronavirus patients, who are staying indoors, are regularly provided with food, drinking water, medicines and other essential supplies.

“None of these families should face any problems,” Deb said.

The coordinators will be in touch with officials of the SMC to ensure uninterrupted civic services at these homes. Also, the team members will campaign in the wards to ensure that residents follow safety protocols.

Glare on slums

In total, there are over 150 slums in the SMC area where basic preventive measures like wearing masks and maintaining social distancing should be followed appropriately. NGOs would be engaged for campaigns and other help in these areas.

The civic body was instructed to distribute 10,000 masks among slum dwellers, arrange for around 100 sanitising machines and carry out disinfection works.

The fire services department has been asked to carry out sanitisation drives at all marketplaces in the city.


Regulation at markets

The district administrations of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri have ordered closure of five markets in the Siliguri civic area. To restrict movement of people to other markets, teams would be constituted to see if all safety protocols are being maintained.

The wholesale markets of fruits, vegetables and fish at Siliguri Regulated Market opened after two weeks of shutdown on Monday but the minister hinted that the fish market might close down again.


Stringent lockdown

In wards 18, 28 and 46 of Siliguri, |the lockdown would be stringently implemented. The three wards reported most Covid cases. As many |as 60 cases have been recorded in ward 46.

The administration will issue an order to follow the weeklong shutdown in these areas. The markets in Tikiapara and adjacent areas of Siliguri Town Station (which are in wards 28 and 18, respectively) will be closed down as hundreds are swarming these markets every day.

Only medicine shops would be allowed to remain open at these markets.


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Total lockdown in Mirik till July 1

Total lockdown in Mirik till July 1

A total lockdown was clamped down in the Mirik subdivision from Friday through July 1 as 10 Covid-19 cases were reported in and the around the hill town.

“A number of coronavirus cases were reported in Mirik in the past few days. We are urging people not to panic. But simultaneously, we have decided to close down markets and other commercial establishments in the Mirik subdivision for the next seven days. People have to stay at home and unless there is an emergency, they should not venture out to Siliguri,” said Mirik SDO Ashwini Roy.

Mirik is located around 50km Siliguri.

“We want to make it clear that if any person is found returning from outside the subdivision or wandering in the town without any reason, appropriate action will be taken against him/her,” the SDO added.

Banks, healthcare facilities and other emergency services would be open during the lockdown, said sources.

The sources said 10 coronavirus cases had been reported in the Mirik subdivision so far. The patients include a doctor of Mirik block hospital and three nurses.

The authorities have decided to send a team of 28 people — comprising 19 ICDS workers and nine health workers of the civic body — to all houses in the Mirik municipal area on June 30 and July 1 to check if any resident has Covid-19 symptoms.

On Thursday, the SDO and other officials held a meeting with civic authorities, including Mirik municipal chairman L.B. Rai.

“The objective of the lockdown is to restrict the infection in and around Mirik town. For the next seven days, I would like to request all the residents to restrict their movement and not to leave their homes unless required,” said Rai.

The sources have said the Mirik town and the subdivision are entirely dependent on Siliguri.

“We have information that around 250 coronavirus and 14 deaths have been reported in Siliguri so far. That is why we are restricting the movement of the residents,” said Rai.

Malda recorded 25 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours. The patients include seven policemen, an employee of the district collectorate and an office-bearer of a trade body.

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Covid-19 cases go up in north Bengal

Covid-19 cases go up in north Bengal

State health department officials said on Thursday that 21 new coronavirus cases had been reported in north Bengal in the past 24 hours.

Most of the Covid-19 patients were from North Dinajpur district. After a gap of almost a month, four new cases of the pathogen were recorded in Alipurduar district.

In North Dinajpur, 14 persons, all residents of Islampur subdivision and migrant workers, have been found infected with the novel coronavirus. The number of Covid-19 persons in the district is 97 now.

In Malda district, a resident of Habibpur block was detected with Covid-19.

“In north Bengal, the concentration of coronavirus patients is quite high in Malda and North Dinajpur districts. Most of them are migrant workers,” said a health official.

In Jalpaiguri, two persons, both residents of Maynaguri block, tested positive for Covid-19. One of them is a student who has recently come from Calcutta while the other is a rural health worker.

In Alipurduar, officials of the district health department said four persons — all from Falakata block — tested positive for the coronavirus.

One of the patients had returned from Delhi while the other three had been to Chopra in North Dinajpur, Baxirhat in Cooch Behar and Maynaguri of Jalpaiguri in recent weeks.

“So far, around 30 persons who had come in contact with them have been identified and kept in isolation at Falakata,” said an official.

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Plan to keep Asok at helm of Siliguri

Plan to keep Asok at helm of Siliguri

The Mamata Banerjee government is likely to appoint mayor Asok Bhattacharya as the chairman of a board of administrators (BoA) that will run the Siliguri Municipal Corporation after its five-year term ends on May 17, said sources.

The SMC is the only civic body run by the Left Front in Bengal.

Sources said the municipal affairs department would issue an order within two-three days appointing Bhattacharya as the head of the BoA that would run the SMC until civic elections were held.

Earlier, the state had appointed Firhad Hakim as the chairman of the BoA to run the Calcutta Municipal Corporation after its term ended. “Like Hakim, who was the mayor of Calcutta, the government wants to keep Bhattacharya at the helm of the SMC though he belongs to the CPM,” said a source.

Told about the plan, Bhattacharya said he had not yet received any communication.

“Also, I need to get the approval of my party. All I can say is there was some confusion when the state had appointed the mayor of the CMC as the head of its BoA. But such provisions are there in the West Bengal Municipal Corporation Act, 2006, for other civic boards,” he said.

Sources said some Siliguri Trinamul councillors would be included on the BoA.

State tourism minister and Trinamul leader Gautam Deb said: “I have heard that the mayor is likely to become the head of the BoA. If such a decision is taken, it only proves that the chief minister has no political prejudice.”

Sources in the CPM revealed that state party leaders had been apprised of the matter.

They said the issue had already been discussed in the Darjeeling district Left Front circles.

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4 die, relief after tests show them negative

4 die, relief after tests show them negative

Four patients who were suspected to be infected with coronavirus and under treatment at a private nursing home at Kawakhali here died since Sunday night.

Darjeeling district health officials, however, confirmed on Monday late evening that all of them had been tested negative for Covid-19, much to the relief of Siliguri residents. They have died because of other ailments, said sources.

Of the four, two are from Siliguri — South Ambedkar Colony in ward 1 and Sukantapally in ward 32.

Both of them were taken to Siliguri district hospital for having respiratory problems and other suspected symptoms of coronavirus on Saturday. They were referred to Desun Hospital for suspected Covid-19 patients. On Sunday night, both demised.

Two others who have died are from other districts of north Bengal. One is from a tea estate in the Matialli block of Jalpaiguri, while the other is from Gaisal in North Dinajpur.

These patients were brought to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital and were sent to Desun. The one from Matialli died on Sunday while the other patient demised on Monday.

“Swab samples of all the four patients were collected and tested at the lab in the NBMCH. All of them have been tested negative. Their bodies will be handed over to the families as soon as possible,” said Praloy Acharya, the chief medical officer of health of Darjeeling.

Sources have said as of now, there are 26 patients at Desun with suspected symptoms. Six — who have been tested corona positive – are at Chhang’s Super Specialty Hospital at Himachal Bihar here.

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Appeal to bring back Kota students amid lockdown

Appeal to bring back Kota students amid lockdown

A group of Siliguri residents met Bengal tourism minister Gautam Deb on Sunday and sought his intervention to get their children back from Kota in Rajasthan.

The children had been to Kota to attend private coaching classes for competitive exams and have got stuck there in the lockdown.

“We are in touch with our children who are facing problems in Kota. They stay in private accommodations and are finding in difficult to arrange for food and other amenities. Most students from other states have left for their homes. That is why we have appealed to the minister to see that they can be brought back. We have no problem if they are asked to be in home quarantine for 14 days,” said one of the parents.

Deb said he had already spoken to the secretary of the state education department.

Congress MLA Sankar Malakar said he had contacted Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and apprised him of the problems faced by the stranded students.

Bengal chief secretary Rajiva Sinha had said last week that it was impossible to bring the students back from Kota.

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Guidelines on safe tea

Guidelines on safe tea

The Tea Board of India has issued a standard operating procedure to ensure that the tea produced during the lockdown is free from any contamination and the workforce is safe.

Production has resumed in the gardens in a staggered manner and with a much-reduced workforce and it is expected that the output this fiscal will be around 1,250 million kilos, of which around 210 million kilos will be exported.

“In view of the ongoing situation because of the spread of the coronavirus, it is necessary that a set of stipulated guidelines are followed for the workforce and also for the benefit of the industry. That is why the SOP has been prepared for all important tasks like plucking and processing of tealeaves and storage and transport of tea,” said a source in the Tea Board.

As per the SOP, it is the responsibility of the management to screen each worker every day before and after duty.

“It has been mentioned that a proper record of the screening, with details of the workers, should be maintained and shared with the local health administration. In case any migrant worker has returned to the gardens in recent weeks, there should be proper screening of the individual before he is engaged in any work of the garden,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the president of the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers’ Associations.

The SOP also mentions the engagement of a minimum number of workers at any given time as per the directions of the state and central governments.

While the Centre is allowing the engagement of 50 per cent of the workforce at any given point of time, the Bengal government has said a maximum of 25 per cent of the workers can be engaged.

For tea production, the tea board has advised that there should be minimum handling of green leaves, right from plucking to production, regular sanitisation of equipment and the use of drones to keep vigil on workers during plucking and other field activities.

“Minimum handling of the finished goods is to be ensured by the factory managers or workers. The finished products shall be packed properly without giving scope for any kind of contamination,” said the guidelines.

“Tea estates are already following most of these guidelines. It is good that the tea board has come up with an SOP…,” said Sumit Ghosh, the secretary of the Terai branch of the Tea Association of India.

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Siliguri localities sealed to stem spread

Siliguri localities sealed to stem spread

A uthorities cordoned off a number of localities and a residential building here on Monday after suspected and confirmed coronavirus positive cases had been reported from those areas.

Police and the health department have sealed Jyotinagar and some adjoining areas, a railway colony and a residential complex near the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital and declared them as containment zones.

The residents will soon be screened to prevent the spread of the virus.

The police put iron rails and bamboo barriers in Jyotinagar and the adjoining areas like Bankimnagar, Shastrinagar and Sarkarpara.

“The residents were told that entry and exit would not be allowed. All necessary help would be extended to them till the restriction is lifted,” said a source in the administration.

Last month, a woman from Kalimpong had visited a relative’s house at Jyotinagar and she died from Covid-19 on March 30. Four of her relatives tested positive for the coronavirus and they have subsequently recovered.

A railway employee at the railway colony had died from suspected Covid-19. A nurse who is posted at the NBMCH tested positive, along with her husband and mother-in-law. Their housing complex has been sealed.

“We had repeatedly asked people of the containment zones not to move out of their home unnecessarily. But they didn’t heed the directive and hence, we were forced to cordon off these areas,” a police officer said.

Sushanta Roy, the officer on special duty deputed by the state government for Covid-19 management in north Bengal, said the residents of the containment zones would be screened. “We have obtained data from electoral rolls, police and the Siliguri Municipal Corporation. Workers were engaged to start community health surveillance,” he added.

Siliguri mayor Asok Bhattacharya sought the residents’ cooperation in the community screening.

Death in Dubai

A 36-year-old youth from a tea garden near Sonada in the Darjeeling hills died from Covid-19 in Dubai on Sunday, family sources said.

The village in Sonada is about 20km from Darjeeling.

The brother of the deceased said the Sonada youth had been admitted to a Dubai hospital on April 10. “My brother admitted himself to the hospital on April 10. That day, we could briefly talk to him and he said he would call us later,” the brother said.

However, repeated calls from Sonada to the youth in Dubai went unanswered.

“We received a call around 4pm yesterday informing us about the death. Some people from the HR department of the company where my brother was working had called and informed that he had died from Covid-19,”said the brother.

The family, however, has not received any official document from the Dubai hospital.

Ponnambalam S, DM, Darjeeling also said the administration had not yet received any official communication.

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Over 200 violators arrested in Siliguri

Over 200 violators arrested in Siliguri

Over 200 people were arrested and around 50 vehicles and two-wheelers seized in and around Siliguri on Saturday as the Siliguri Metropolitan Police enforced the lockdown.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had told the Darjeeling district administration and the police in Siliguri on Friday to strictly enforce the lockdown because of the region’s proximity to international and inter-state borders.

Since Saturday morning, senior police officials stood with their men at checkpoints.

Tripurari Atharv, the commissioner of Siliguri Metropolitan Police, himself went out to check the arrangements and visited a marketplace to make people aware about the lockdown and asked them to maintain social distancing even if they come out of their homes for some emergency purpose.

At the checkpoints, people moving in two-wheelers and cars were checked and allowed to go only if they could prove the urgency of being in the streets. Police teams also visited some localities where residents were flouting the lockdown and not maintaining social distancing. From these areas, some people were arrested.

“We will strictly implement the lockdown. Checks are being carried out in all major roads, traffic points and marketplaces and steps would be taken against those who violate the lockdown. Senior officers are keeping watch across the city,” said the commissioner, after visiting a market in Tikiapara, off the DBRCD Flyover of the city.

For the past few days, hundreds were seen coming out of their homes and roaming around in bikes. Groups of youths were seen sitting together in localities, and blatantly violating the lockdown.

During the morning hours, it had been like a normal day in some of the prominent thoroughfares of the city and in some locations on the outskirts. Even traffic congestion was reported in some locations during these hours.

“It has been found that many people have come out on flimsy pretexts and were not even wearing masks. We are taking legal steps against them. Also, raids would be conducted in marketplaces to prevent gathering of people. The vegetable vendors, grocery shop owners and others concerned have been asked to maintain social distancing,” said a police officer.

Sources at North Bengal Medical College & Hospital said that four police personnel of Bagdogra who were admitted at the private nursing home in Kawakhali after they showed symptoms of suspected corona infection, have tested negative.

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