Lepcha Festival at Kalimpong

The 274th birth anniversary of Pano Gaeboo Achyok was celebrated today amid huge pomp and fanfare.

According to the Lepchas, Achyok was their last king and members of the community had come from across the district western Bhutan, Sikkim and other parts of India to join the festivities.

Organised by the Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association in collaboration with the Central government-run Indira Gandhi National Museum of Mankind, the celebrations included a host of cultural programmes, an awards ceremony, an archery competition (see picture by Chinlop Fudong Lepcha) and the release of three Lepcha books.

The celebrations started early in the morning with the Lepchas offering prayers to Gaeboo Achyok at Damsang Fort, 20 km from here. The fort is believed to have been built by Achyok.

The rest of the programme was held at lower Bong bustee. The programme, which is being held annually since 1982, was conducted entirely in the Lepcha language.

Later, a local band, Alain, played popular modern songs to regale the crowd.

Source > The Telegraph

Tea Scam in Siliguri Tea Auction

The arrest of a tea trader today in connection with the multi-crore tax evasion scam — that was detected in March this year — has shaken the industry.

The development follows closely on the heels of another scam in which “non-existent” tea worth over Rs 30 lakh was sold at Siliguri Tea Auction Centre.

Armed with an arrest warrant issued by the additional chief judicial magistrate, Barrackpore, sleuths of the bureau of investigation (BoI), the investigation wing of the sales tax department, raided the Milanpally house of tea trader Shyamlal Agarwal at 1.30 early this morning.

He was taken to the Siliguri court to be produced before additional chief judicial magistrate Sanjib Dey, but was rushed to the hospital after Agarwal complained that he was feeling unwell. “The court has ordered Agarwal to be produced before it only after he is released from the hospital,” public prosecutor Subrata Saha said. “Agarwal was taken to Siliguri subdivisional hospital first and then to North Bengal Medical College. He will be under police watch,” Saha added.

Defence lawyer Chinmoye Saha said: “Just before he was to be produced, my client complained of chest pain. He had come to the court to present himself, but his health problem did not let that happen. We are waiting for him to recover.”
Agarwal is the latest trader to be arrested for his role in the scam. His name was disclosed by one of the two accused arrested earlier from Barrackpore.

In March this year, the commercial taxes directorate, as it was known earlier, unearthed massive tax evasions by traders for post-auction sale of tea. BoI sleuths found out that in more cases than one, the auction sale was made through proxy bidders on behalf of principle buyers, who did not bother to pay any central sales tax or give an account of what they did with tea bought from the auction centre.

Siliguri Tea Traders’ Association (STTA) held a hasty meeting today. Its members said Agarwal had been framed. “In good faith, he bid for a buyer, who did not pay up the taxes, putting him (Agarwal) in trouble,” a trader said. However, some felt the story could be different.

STTA secretary, criticised the manner in which Agarwal was arrested. “He is a respectable trader and a governing body member of the Siliguri Tea Auction Committee, not a criminal that the BoI men arrested him in the dead of night,” he said.

Source > The Telegraph

Tea Tourism and Undecided government

The state government's ambitious plan to introduce tourism in the tea industry as an alternative source of employment in the remote areas has gone for a toss.

Potential investors who had earlier expressed interest in the project have backed off and the plan cannot be executed unless the land laws are amended.

Although Chief Minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee makes it a point to highlight 'Tea Tourism' in North Bengal as 'the possibility sans limits' at every public function, reality in the shape of the state tourism minister Mr Dinesh Dakua spoke otherwise here today.

According to the tourism minister, the land department had leased land to the tea industry to set up plantations, not for any other use.

"Therefore, investors would have to pay salami and lease value as fixed by the land department since the land use pattern would change if tourism is taken up in plantations," Mr Dakua said here today.

"The investors are unwilling to pay such sums and so, only an amendment in the land rules could make tea tourism a reality," the minister said. He also added that the idea to set up wayside facilities at strategic locations to club tea with tourism has also been scrapped.

However, there is still a ray of hope, but that and when it comes would strictly be a government venture.

The Centre has set aside a purse to pursue the tea tourism concept. "The state tourism department has earmarked two plantations close to Siliguri for the purpose. The tourism department would acquire land from these two plantations and following an inspection by Central officials, the state government would initiate the process with the Central aid," he said.

The minister, however, could not readily remember the names of the two shorlisted tea plantations.

Souce> The Statesman

Netherland to Darjeeling: A Darjeeling SANTA Update

He was on a horse, with a Bishop’s hat and a long white flowing beard, ploughing through the crowded lanes of the town, a gaggle of street children in tow and a trail of amused locals looked on.

“Father Christmas! Father Christmas!” shrieked the kids.

“Untimely Santa Claus,” nodded informed some adults, little realising that the Dutch had heralded the start of the Christmas celebrations in earnest in the town this year.

A couple from Netherlands, both students, Mr Raymond Landgraaf and Ms Blanca Van Den Brand, who are living here temporarily, were out celebrating their country’s favoured tradition, St Nicholas Day.

The couple with help from local friends rounded up street children as they marched through the town. The parade ended at the French-run café on Robertson Road, where nearly 25 children were fed, shown a film and given small gifts.

“I used to see parties happening in restaurants but I never thought I would one day be able to join one,” whispered a shy Mohammed Ashique, a 12-year-old beggar boy. The kids insisted Mr Landgraaf who was dressed in the traditional attire of Father Christmas.

“I am St Nicholas,” he countered, explaining how in the Netherlands 5 December is a big festival, where the Saint goes around on horseback distributing gifts and sweets to children.

“We just wanted to share our tradition and cheer the children here,” said Mr Landgraaf who’s a medical student from Amsterdam.

The two Frenchmen at the café La Casse Croute were up until 2:30 am this morning preparing all kinds of cookies for the children. “Ray (Mr Landgraaf) came to us and said he wanted to celebrate St Nicholas Day by feeding poor children.

I thought it was a good idea and decided to join in,” said Mr Patrice Durcudoy, one the owners of the café.

So how did you feel going around the town?

“It was really funny. First people were looking at us surprised wherever we went, but then they started to smile and wave. It will be funny telling this story to our parents later in the evening — that we celebrated St Nicholas Day in Darjeeling!” said Ms. Van Den Brand.

People now happy for Happy Valley Tea Garden

After years of uncertainty, workers of Happy Valley tea garden have seen a ray of hope.

The subdivisional magistrate’s court has appointed the block divisional officer of Bijanbari, Sonam Bhutia, as the “receiver” of the garden. The receiver is expected to look after the welfare of the workers and protect their interest until the government finds a suitable “employer” for the garden.

Happy Valley, located about 1 km from Darjeeling, is currently being managed by the GNLF-backed Happy Valley Workers’ Committee. The union members run the garden on the lines of a cooperative society.

However, it is learnt that the total tea production this year has come down, following which the union will find it difficult to see through the winters.

“The total produce from the garden this year was about 28,000 kg of made tea,” a source in the garden said. “We would have been safe if we could double the figure.”

The garden, which is spread over 296 hectares, used to employ around 330 workers. It had earlier been leased out to T. Banerjee and F. Banerjee, but sources said they were not able to run the garden due to a severe financial crunch.

Afterwards, a couple of financiers had pumped in money into the garden, but they could not run the estate as a proper administrative unit. So the workers’ union decided to form its own committee to save the garden from closing its gates.

Another problem at the garden is the unauthorised constructions coming up in the prime area. Sources said the occupants maintain that they are only barricading the area as the previous management had allegedly borrowed money from them.

A senior administrative officer, however, said: “The lease of Happy Valley expired in 2002 and has not been renewed yet.” As a result, there is a possibility that the Banerjees’ lease will be cancelled. Once this is done, prospective owners can bid for a new lease of the garden.

Sonam Bhutia held a meeting with the workers today and is also expected to conduct a survey to identify the illegal encroachers at the garden. “Since the garden is on leased land, no one has the right to sell or buy the property. If there is any encroachment, the structures have to be dismantled at any cost,” said an official.

Source> The Telegraph

Tea Garden Closures

Three gardens in the Dooars have just closed down with no sign of reopening in the near future. Several others in the Terai and Dooars regions are thinking of following suit.

U.B. Das, the secretary of Terai Branch of Indian Tea Association, makes no secret of the situation. “We are genuinely worried that the management of several tea gardens will not be able to pull through during the non-productive months from December-end to March,” Das said. “Some are trying hard to make both ends meet by investing from outside, but we are afraid that once the lean period sets in fully, operations in these gardens will come to a complete standstill.”

N.K. Basu, convener of Indian Tea Planters’ Association, said: “Last month, we wrote to the Union commerce and industries ministry explaining the situation in some of the gardens and sought central aid for them. But that has gone unheeded.”

After Madhu and Bomandanga tea estates, Samsing tea garden declared a lockout yesterday. In the Terai, Thanjhora tea estate is closed for more than a month now, albeit for a “different” (read manager assault) reason.

Going by the general apprehension in the industry, Panighata, Belgachi and Bijoynagar tea estates in the Terai and Subhashini, Nemtijhora, Jogeshchandra and Sinchula of the Dooars are some of the gardens likely to face similar consequences.

Intuc leader Alok Chakraborty calls it the “irrevocable habit” of the management. “This time, we fear they will be more ruthless and close down more than the last year’s figure of 20 gardens,” he added.

Trade union leaders alleged that the management declares suspension of work in a garden at the slightest pretext to avoid paying workers during the non-productive period.

“They take advantage of the lean period,” said Samir Roy, the secretary of the West Bengal Cha Mazdoor Sabha, referring to Thanjhora, where the management declared a lockout after six managerial staff were held hostage for 19 hours and manhandled for delaying payment. The management is not willing to open the garden till action is taken against the guilty.

“That is just a ploy,” Roy said. “They are not very keen to open the garden. If they are complaining about the lack of administrative support, it is the fault of police, not the workers. The labourers were not responsible for the attack, which was carried out by some outsiders.”

“Thanjhora is a different case and is unrelated to the lean season,” Basu countered. “Since no action has been taken against the guilty, how can we be assured of the security of the managerial staff?”

Source> The Telegraph