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Small tea sector witnesses production boom in Bengal

Small tea sector witnesses production boom in Bengal

Bengal has emerged as the second state after Tamil Nadu where the annual production in the small tea sector has surpassed the yield in tea estates.

The small tea sector has two types of players — growers who own only estates and those who own factories where the leaves grown in these gardens are processed. Tea estate owners, on the other hand own both plantations and factories.

According to data made available by the Tea Board of India, the total tea production in north Bengal has increased to 424.06 million kilos in 2019 from 394 million kilos in 2018. Of the 424.06 million kilos, the small tea sector contributed 237.01 million kilos and the tea estates produced 187.05 million kilos.

“In Tamil Nadu, the small tea sector has been contributing the major portion of the state’s tea production for many years. But in Bengal, it is a new trend. This points to the steady emergence of this sector and we feel that in the coming years, the gap will widen,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the president of the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers’ Associations.

Planters in north Bengal said the tea bushes were young at the small plantations, which have mushroomed across the region in the past two decades. “The yield of these bushes is higher than that at most tea estates. Also, the cost of production is low in the small tea sector. The sector has provided employment to thousands of rural youths,” said a planter.

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Junction in Siliguri named after Gandhi

Junction in Siliguri named after Gandhi

Mayor Asok Bhattacharya said on Thursday that the Siliguri Municipal Corporation had decided to rename Airview More, one of the important junctions of the city, as Mahatma Gandhi More as he visited the spot to observe the death anniversary of the Father of the Nation.

“A decision has been passed at the civic board to rename 13 major junctions. They include Airview More, which will be named as Mahatma Gandhi More,” said Bhattacharya.

So far, most crossings of Siliguri did not have a proper name. While Hati More will be renamed as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose More, Sevoke More will be called Gurunanak Chowk. Siliguri Junction More will become Bhanubhakta More and Jalpai More will renamed as BBD More.

Noukaghat More will be known as Thakur Panchanan Barma More.

“We have also a plan to rename some streets and other traffic points. In total, 18 such sites have been identified and discussions are in progress,” said a source.

The decision to rename all prominent junctions of the city was taken by an eight-member committee constituted by the SMC.

The members included doctors, professors, teachers, social workers and former government officials. The committee had made its recommendations which were then sent to the state urban development and municipal affairs department for approval.

After the approval, the civic body passed it at a board meeting. In total, names of 13 crossings would be changed.

“We have also sent a letter to the state public works department to get a no-objection certificate so that a statue of Gandhiji can be installed at the crossing,” said the mayor.

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Tourist haunt in Kalimpong

Tourist haunt in Kalimpong

Dalim Tar, a tiny hamlet nestled in the Kalimpong hills, is fast emerging as a hotspot for tourists who intend to spend a few days amid a idyllic landscape and far from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The place had been out of focus even five years ago as road communication was not available. In 2013 a road was built to Dalim Tar and since 2017, the place started gaining popularity among tourists for its scenic beauty and a heritage fort, said sources.

Back in 2008, the state had made the fort, which was built by Lepchas and later taken over by the British, as a heritage property.

“Dalim Tar is basically a plateau on the top of the hill. It has ruins of the Dalim Fort, a fort the Lepchas built in the 19th century. Till 1865, this fort was with the Lepcha community and later, the British government captured it,” said Sajit Rai, secretary of the Dalim Tar Tourism Society.

Tourists visiting the site can witness mesmerising views of Lava, Jhandi, the entire Gajoldoba (Teesta barrage area) and even Siliguri from the top of Dalim Tar.

“Our place is famous for its scenic beauty as well as the forest. Birdwatchers are also fond of this place as various species of birds can be sighted here. There are also stretches of gardens, organic vegetable cultivations that also attract butterflies,” Sajit said.

Raj Basu, the convenor of the Association for Conservation and Tourism (ACT), said the place had got a new dimension after the road was built.

“People here were a bit isolated as there was no road connectivity. But the place is emerging as a new destination for tourists. Also, it has opened a new avenue for alternative earning for the locals who are coming up with homestay accommodations and promoting the site,” said Basu.

Earlier, most villagers were engaged in agriculture while some others would trudge through hilly tracts to reach nearby places and would work as contractual workers.

One of the homestay owners said they were enjoying this new opportunity.

“Tourists have started pouring in and the demand for accommodation is steady. We are also enjoying this new option to earn a living. It gives us a chance to meet more and more people, many of whom come up with suggestions on how this place can be developed further as a tourist destination,” the owner said.

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Border tabs on coronavirus

Border tabs on coronavirus

The Bengal government has deployed paramedics at two principal points to enter the state from Nepal as part of a precaution to prevent spread of coronavirus that claimed dozens of lives in China. The Sikkim government also beefed up the surveillance on its border with Bengal.

“We are on alert and the state government has posted paramedics at a screening camp set up at Panitanki. In case any person, who is entering from Nepal is found to be have symptoms of coronavirus infection, he or she would be screened and if required, would be sent to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital (in Siliguri),” said an officer of the Sashastra Seema Bal, the paramilitary force that guards the international borders of India with Nepal and Bhutan.

In north Bengal, there are two entry points between India and Nepal. The most popular route is Panitanki (35km from Siliguri) and the other entry point is Pashupati, near Mirik, where also health workers check people for possible coronavirus symptoms.

Pralay Acharya, the chief medical officer of health, Darjeeling, said the medical teams checked every person from Nepal at the entry points. “The NBMCH has an isolation ward for inflectional diseases. Six beds have been kept ready for treatment of any patient suspected to be infected with the virus,” he added.

NBMCH superintendent Kaushik Samajdar said five ventilators had been requisitioned from the state health department.

The health workers at all the entry points are provided with masks so that they don’t contract the virus.

In Sikkim, the surveillance is being carried out at Rangpo and Melli, the two main entry points to the state from Bengal. The screening was taken up on the basis of an advisory of the Union health ministry, said sources.

On Monday, Union health secretary Preeti Sudan had chaired a video-conference with the chief secretaries and police chiefs of the five states bordering Nepal to review their preparedness for the prevention of the virus.

The states are Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal.

“We have posted medical teams at Rangpo and Melli check-posts where all people travelling from affected countries will be checked and tested,” said Pemba Bhutia, the director general-cum-secretary of the Sikkim health department.

Bhutia said if a person was detected with the dreaded virus, he or she would be put on an ambulance and taken to the old Sir Thutob Namgyal Memorial (STNM) Hospital in Gangtok.

“There is a dedicated isolation ward at the old STNM Hospital. If need be, we will also be using the 20-bedded quarantined ward at the hospital to treat the patients,” he added.

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Hint at Left candidates for Siliguri polls

Hint at Left candidates for Siliguri polls

Bengal CPM secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra hinted on Friday that the party would field sitting councillors of the Siliguri Municipal Corporation for the coming polls.

“The SMC board had gone through a tough period in the past five years and despite several deterrents, the civic body functioned properly. Some people had even resorted to horse trading to topple the board but did not succeed. The board is all set to complete its tenure successfully,” said Mishra.

He was here to attend a two-day organisational meeting of the CPM’s Darjeeling district committee.

The Left has 22 councillors at the SMC where the majority mark is 24. Mayor Asok Bhattacharya has managed to pass all major decision at the board with the support of four Congress councillors. The total strength of the board is 47.

Trinamul is the principal opposition party in the board with 17 councillors. The BJP has two councillors. Two seats are lying vacant because of the demise of the councillors.

“We believe the same team that runs the board will be able to achieve success in the coming days,” said the CPM state secretary.

The SMC elections are likely to be held in a few months. The CPM and the Congress have already declared that they will contest the polls together.

Asked whether Bhattacharya would be projected as mayoral candidate for the second time, Mishra avoided a direct reply.

“It is too early to comment on it,” he said.

Sources in the district CPM, however, said the party was all set to project Bhattacharya as the mayoral candidate. In 2015, the party had formally made the announcement ahead of the elections, a move that is believed to have worked for the Left to secure 23 seats and prevent Trinamul from coming to power.

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Netaji B-Day bring Deb and Asok together

Netaji B-Day bring Deb and Asok together

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s birth anniversary on Thursday brought together tourism minister Gautam Deb of the Trinamul Congress and Siliguri mayor Asok Bhattacharya of the CPM — who are considered to be arch rivals in the city.

Both of them shared the dais and addressed each other as they attended an event hosted by Bhanu Bhakta Samiti, a social organisation of the city, on the occasion.

The minister and the mayor were present as statues of Netaji and Major Durga Malla of the Indian National Army, a Gorkha martyr, were unveiled at Gurungnagar. The statues were readied by Bhola Paul, a local artisan.

“It was a rare scene to watch. I could not recollect when I had seen them sharing the dais together. They lighted the lamp together and addressed each other in their speeches. It would not be an exaggeration to say Netaji brought them together,” said a senior resident of the locality.

At the event, Bhattacharya addressed the tourism minister in Nepali as “Mero Bhai Samma” (Like my brother).

“The organisation (Bhanu Bhakta Samity) regularly participates in different social activities and has been consistently contributing to the development of the city. We appreciate their decision to install the statues of Netaji and Durga Malla whose contributions are well known. Netaji had even thought about an alternative economy and today, we can feel the need of his presence,” the mayor said.

Deb also mentioned the mayor’s name in his speech.

“Considering the present state of affairs in our country, such an initiative on this day is very relevant. I would expect that together we will follow the ideology of Netaji,” he said.

The tourism minister’s presence on the same dais where the mayor was present is significant, pointed out political observers.

“When there has been a clear political polarisation across the country over the issues of the CAA, NPR and the NRC, both these leaders, who are prominent faces of politics in and around Siliguri, have shared the dais. They have also sent a clear message that all of them should unite and fight against these issues while referring to Netaji’s ideology,” said an observer.

The joint attendance of Deb and Bhattacharya is all the more glaring as elections to the Siliguri Municipal Corporation are round the corner. The SMC is the only civic body ruled by the CPM in Bengal. Trinamul has never won the SMC.

Krishna Lama, the general secretary of the Bhanu Bhakta Samiti, when mentioned about the “rare scene” that the organisers had made possible, said they didn’t want to indulge in politics. “Our organisation is apolitical. As we had decided to install the statues of Netaji and Major Durga Malla, we thought of inviting prominent persons of the city, including the mayor and the tourism minister. We are grateful that both of them attended the event,” said Lama.

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TMC holds marches in plains

TMC holds marches in plains

The Trinamul Congress organised marches at three places in the Siliguri subdivision on Wednesday to protest against the BJP government’s citizenship drives.

On Monday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee had instructed party leaders in Siliguri to take out processions in the plains to synchronise with her walkathon in Darjeeling on Wednesday.

“As per the instructions of our party supremo, we held marches in different blocks of the Siliguri subdivision today. Hundreds have attended the marches, which is a proof that people support Mamata Banerjee who has been unequivocally opposing the BJP government’s divisive politics,” said tourism minister Gautam Deb who also walked at Chathat in the Phansidewa block.

Ranjan Sarkar, the Darjeeling (plains) district Trinamul president, said two other marches had been held at Ghoshpukur (also in the Phansidewa block) and Naxalbari. “Our activities on the NRC, CAA and the NPR will continue. Residents of Siliguri had expressed their support for us on January 3 when Mamata Banerjee had marched on the citizen issues for the first time in north Bengal,” said Sarkar.

Trinamul conducted the processions in the rural areas ahead of elections to the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad. The party has never won the SMP or Matigara-Naxalbari and Phansidewa Assembly seats.

“Trinamul is keen to win the rural elections which would be the party’s final test in the Siliguri subdivision ahead of the Assembly polls in 2021. That is why the party is preparing the ground,” said an observer.

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TMC march near Siliguri

TMC march near Siliguri

Trinamul will go for a “twin test of support” in the Darjeeling district on Wednesday – both in the hills and in the plains.

While Mamata Banerjee will lead a rally in Darjeeling, Trinamul leaders in the plains would hit the streets to register their protest against the NRC and the CAA.

On reaching Siliguri on Monday, Mamata inaugurated the Uttarbanga Utsav and then instructed party leaders here to arrange a march – albeit not in Siliguri town, but in rural areas of the subdivision – around the same time she would walk through the hilly stretches of Darjeeling town.

“We are making all necessary arrangements as per her instructions. The march will be held on the outskirts of Siliguri. We are working on the route and consulting our leaders of different blocks,” said Ranjan Sarkar, the Darjeeling (plains) Trinamul president.

The move, party insiders said, is an attempt to test the support base, both in the hills and in plains.

According to several Trinamul leaders, the party had an overwhelming response during Mamata’s first march against the CAA and the NRC on January 3 as over 35,000 people had walked 4.5km ignoring rains.

“Several of them had stood at Baghajatin Park (where the march ended) to listen to her. That is why it seems she wants to have an assessment of our support base both in the hills and in the foothills,” said a Trinamul leader.

Mamata’s instruction to hold the march in plains is significant for another reason, pointed out an observer.

He said like the Siliguri Municipal Corporation where elections would be due in another three-four months’ time, the three-tier panchayat elections will also be due in the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad later this year. Also, like the SMC, Trinamul has never secured SMP.

“While leaders based in the city are desperate to wrest this civic body from the Left this time, Trinamul leaders based in the four blocks of Siliguri sub-division want to win majority of the seats in SMP and also in the panchayat samitis and panchayats That is why the march is important to know where the party’s support base stands in these days in the rural areas. Not to mention that like Siliguri civic area, BJP was ahead in all the blocks at the Parliament elections,” said an observer.

In rural Siliguri, there are 22 panchayats and four panchayat samitis. The uppermost tier is the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad where there are nine seats.

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Uttar, give uttor to BJP: Mamata

Uttar, give uttor to BJP: Mamata

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee played the development card on Monday to consolidate Trinamul’s support base in north Bengal and asked residents to give a befitting “reply to those who want to divide people”.

“This is our homeland and all of us are citizens of this country. We are against those who want to divide people. Now the time has come for uttar (north Bengal) to give uttor (reply) to them,” Mamata said at the inauguration of Uttarbanga Utsav here.

The chief minister was pointing to the BJP, which had outwitted the Trinamul Congress in the Lok Sabha elections last year.

During her speech, Mamata listed the infrastructure development in north Bengal since 2011, when she was voted to power for the first time.

“From universities to medical colleges to super-specialty hospitals, several establishments have been set up in north Bengal. This region had been neglected for many years but we have put in our best efforts to meet the demands of the people here,” the chief minister said.

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