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Why the Bengalis have to let go of Darjeeling
Anand Soondas, TNN | Aug 4, 2013
NEW DELHI: Head straight north from Siliguri and you pass through Sukna, a quiet stretch with tea gardens on either side of the road and forests that sometimes see rampaging elephants, before a sharp turn to the left takes you to the hills of Darjeeling. Within half an hour of the drive, everything changes -- the weather, the food, the features of men and women who pass by, and the language they speak.
If Darjeeling has been demanding separation from West Bengal, you cannot fault its people. The two regions have nothing in common - neither history nor geography, neither language nor ethnicity.
First Gorkha settlers
When the first batch of Nepalese, or Gorkhas as they prefer to be called these days for political reasons, settled in what is now Darjeeling, there was nobody to record it for history. The British had brought down with guile the fierce warriors and annexed in 1814 the hill tracts. That was almost 200 years ago. The region was formally adopted by England in 1837. By 1866, Darjeeling district as we know today was complete.
First petitions for separate administrative unit status
The first petition that it be granted the status of a separate administrative unit came more than 100 years ago when in 1907 the Hillmen's Association of Darjeeling submitted a memorandum to the Minto-Morley Commission, making this perhaps one of India's oldest and longest struggles for statehood and identity.
In 1917, another dispatch to the British said: "Darjeeling's inclusion in Bengal was comparatively recent and only because the British were rulers common to both places. Historically, culturally, ethnically, socially, religiously, linguistically there was no affinity whatsoever between Bengal and Darjeeling." It was followed by a plea to the Simon Commission in 1929, to the Constituent Assembly in 1947, and to the visiting chairman of the State Reorganisation Commission in 1955.
The agitation for a homeland of their own gained serious and real momentum when Subhash Ghishing and his GNLF rallied all of the hills with the cry for Gorkhaland in the 1980s. A bloody battle followed in which the state machinery and the paramilitary forces, especially the CRPF, committed untold crimes - arbitrary killings, rapes, trumped up charges for indefinite jail terms, all round human rights violations - that largely went unreported in the mainstream media. More than 1200 people lost their lives.
Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council
Though tentative peace, amidst charges of Ghishing selling out his soul, was arrived at in 1988 with the establishment of the semi-autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, the mountains remained restive. That didn't go away even when Bimal Gurung, a maverick who broke away from the GNLF and launched a fresh stir and a new party, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in 2008, to attain in 2011 the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, inheriting an old body with a set of what looked like new clothes.
The fact that Gurung rode to power, quite amazingly, on the back of a support campaign for an Indian Idol contestant called Prashant Tamang - who eventually won and now plays lead roles in movies produced in Kathmandu - just went on to show local nationalism was still strong and potent.
KOLKATA: Darjeeling may soon join the list of cities with air pollution levels higher than the national ambient air quality, rendering escape to the hill station from congested Kolkata to breathe fresher air meaningless.
A study has revealed that Darjeeling may soon become a non-attainment zone alongside six other cities in Bengal. A non-attainment city is one whose air has failed to fulfil national ambient air quality criteria for at least five years.
The study was carried out by researchers from Kolkata’s Bose Institute and IIT Kanpur. Published in the scientific journal ‘Atmospheric Environment’, the study analysed PM10 levels in Darjeeling from 2009 to 2021.
Researchers found that in summer and winter, the concentration of PM10 particles exceeded the Indian standard of 60g/m³ (micrograms per cubic meter). The primary cause of this pollution was ultrafine components of PM10, specifically PM1 particles.
The study projected that PM10 pollution in Darjeeling would reach about 63g/m³ of air in 2024, surpassing the Indian standard. It also identified the major sources of ultrafine particulate matter pollution, like vehicular emissions from tourism activities, biomass burning from roadside eateries and dust transport from the Indo-Gangetic Plain.
Dr Abhijit Chatterjee, Bose Institute associate professor and one of the authors, said: “Policymakers need to address the significant pollution load in Darjeeling.”
The study undertaken by Dr Abhinandan Ghosh of IIT Kanpur and Monami Dutta of Bose Institute, along with Chatterjee, highlights the urgency of establishing robust monitoring stations for air pollutants in the region.
As buildings crack and the ground sinks in Joshimath, environmentalists, green activists and geologists in the hill towns of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and Kurseong in the eastern Himalaya are worried. The earthquakeand landslide-prone Darjeeling, they say, might meet the same fate as its mountains are under tremendous strain from ambitious road and rail projects, and a number of hydel projects and dams.
Darjeeling’s population grew sixfold in the last century (1901-2001) to cross 1 lakh. “With such massive growth of population, buildings came up all across and there was tremendous deforestation,” said Praful Rao of Save The Hills, an NGO. He said the town faces severe water scarcity even though it gets so much rain because “a high level of concretisation allows only a little infiltration”. Most of the rainwater flows away.
“The eastern Himalaya is the youngest part of the mountains whose metamorphosis is incomplete,” said Animesh Bose, a green activist. That makes the region highly prone to landslides. Extensive landslide damage was reported in 1899, 1910, 1932, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1950, 1954, 1968, 1980, 1991, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
“Landslide is inevitable in Darjeeling, which falls under seismic zone 4,” said retired geologist Timir Ghosal, who is trying to develop an early-warning system so that people can be evacuated in advance. That does not mean all development should be stopped, he said. “The development must be sustainable, after all kinds of geological investigations. Problems occur when engineers executing theprojects ignore the specifics of advisories from scientists. ”
A serving geologist with Geological Survey of India said, “There are technological solutions to such problems. Like non-invasive surgery, non-invasive technology is available. But our engineers felt we were overestimating the risk. ”
Bose blames Darjeeling’s problems on its explosive growth. “Darjeeling used to cater to 100 vehicles a day even a couple of decades ago, now it’s being used by 10,000 vehicles. ” He said the multifold increase in hydel projects, road construction, irrigation, sericulture and fishery is bound to have a long-term impact on the environment, biodiversity, andthe geology of the mountains.
For example, the 45km Sivok-Rangpo railway line required tunnelling through mountains, and its imprint is unmistakable. “The construction has already seen several deaths of labourers due to frequent landslides,” said Bose. Likewise, six-lane and four-lane roads will bring Bhutan and Sikkim closer to Darjeeling, but their impact on the environment is irreversible, he added.
Massive land use transformation has taken place since the British annexation of Darjeeling. Forests were cleared in the early stage, especially during the establishment of tea plantations. This was followed by selective deforestation for the implementation of almost every development programme. In the past few decades the waters of the Teesta, Rangit, Rammam, Balason and the Jaldhaka were also tapped andplugged to generate hydroelectric power and irrigate agricultural land to benefit the people.
Darjeeling hill is endowed with a wide range of plants, animals and birds. Some of these are now threatened and some others have become extinct. Excessive encroachment of forest land to meet the demand for fodder, fuel wood, and other requirements has caused unprecedented damage to the forests, while overgrazing by livestock has created barren lands, said Arindam Ghosh, a biodiversity expert. (With inputs from Deep Gazmer, Roshan Gupta, and Nisha V Chettri)
Wildlife parks and sanctuaries: India
By Air - Darjeeling is accessible through Bagdogra airport
By Rail - Railheads from Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri leads to Darjeeling
TIME TO VISIT
The best season for trekking are April-May and October-November.
Many one-day treks around Darjeeling are available to Tiger Hill, 8,482 ft, 11 km. The Tenzing Norgay road starts from Chowrasta and passes through Toong-Soong and Aloo Bari villages. The route is fairly even. From Jorebungalow the road ascends 5 km to Tiger Hill. The Gandhi Road route runs almost parallel to Hill Cart Road, joining it at Ghoom railway station.
Darjeeling Manaybhanjang-Tonglu-Sandakphu-Phalut === For those who wish to undertake a longer trek, the 160 km trek offers an excellent view of the Kanchenjunga and the Everest group of mountain peaks in Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan. A motorable roads runs from Darjeeling to Manaybhanjang (26 km). The trek from Manaybhanjang to Tonglu is a fairly steep climb. The next day's route is 21 km to Sandakphu (12,000 ft). From here, there is a steep climb following which the road descends to Bikhebhanjang. Another steep climb leads to trekker to the Sandakphy Bungalow. On a clear day, Sandakphil offers a fantastic view of four of the world's five highest peaks Everest, Kanchenjunga, Makalu and Lhotse. The next day's trek of 21 km to Phalut (11,200 ft) is a fairly easy walk on a level stretch. Phalut is located at the tri-junction of Sikkim, Nepal and West Bengal.
This is an add-on 149 km trek from Phalut to Ramam-Rimbik-Jhepi which return to Darjeeling via Bijanbari. Leaving Phalut, one descends rather steeply by a forest bridle path path to cross the Ramam river. On the march to Rimbik (7,500 ft) the foliage is lush and green. The next day's trek is downhill all the way to Jhepi from where one can motor back to Darjeeling via Bijanbari.
Yet another option on this trek is offered at Rimbik. From Rimbik to Darjeeling via Palmajna, Batasi and Manaybhanjang is a 180 km route. The trekker passes towards Batasi (7,000 ft), the road ascends steadily to Deoraly and then the descent starts till the Batasi Forest Bungalow. The next day's march upto Manaybhanjang finds the trekker at the turnaround point from where a jeep/bus can be taken to cover the 21 km distance to Darjeeling.
Darjeeling-Manaybhanjang-Tonglu-Sandakphu-Rimbik-Jhepi-Bijanbari This trek of 116 km follows the same route to Sandakphu. From Rimbik, the route once again follows the traditional trail upto Manaybhanjang via Palmajna and Batasia.