Saturday, August 08, 2009

Darjeeling Must look beyond tea - Economists

Mahendra P Lama, vice-chancellor, Sikkim University addresses the seminar in Darjeeling on Friday.
Darjeeling, Aug. 7: The Darjeeling economy’s dependence on tea has been questioned by an expert who feels that it is time for the people to move beyond traditional sources of income for the sustainable development of the hills.

The comment by Jeta Sankrityan, an economist who is currently attached to North Bengal University, has kicked off a debate in the hills where tea gardens are hampering the expansion of towns.
“For long, the Darjeeling hills have been dependent on tea and tourism. Earlier, it was timber. Are we prisoners of these economies?” asked Sankrityan.

Sankrityan was speaking at a seminar titled Sustainable Development, Resource Endowment and Governance; Mountain Economy in Perspective, organised jointly by Salesian College, Sonada, and Darjeeling Landenla Road Prerna, an NGO.
Hemmed in by tea gardens, the two urban centres in the hills — Darjeeling and Kurseong — are finding it difficult to expand through satellite townships and improve infrastructure.

In the past, Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had proposed the setting up of a satellite township for Darjeeling. The district administration largely found the proposal unfeasible when it was hard put to find even parking place.
Sankrityan did not directly say tea gardens should be uprooted but left the audience to ponder if a substantial part of tea industry’s profit is “being retained in the hills”.

“Switzerland is thriving solely on tourism and because of its location, also on winter sports. It is time to integrate local economy with the global market,” he added.

Referring to a District Gazetteer, published in 1940, Sankrityan said the British had made an effort to create a local economy, despite the tea industry flourishing. “A Swiss diary was set up in Kalimpong. Dr Graham’s Homes, also in Kalimpong, focused on farming, while efforts were on to set up a potato seed farm in Rangbull. Efforts were made to take vegetables to Calcutta also,” he said.

Mahendra P. Lama, vice-chancellor, Sikkim University, too, spoke on similar lines. “The Eastern Himalayas is declared as one of the 25 bio-diversity hotspots in the world,” he said and stressed the need to bring traditional knowledge to an institutionalised forum.
Highlighting the potential of hydro-electricity to generate money, Lama, said: “During 2007-08, Bhutan earned $203 million from Chukha (336mw), Kurichu (60mw) and Tala (1,020mw) hydro power projects. But in the case of Nepal, hardly 1 per cent of its total potential of 8,300mw power has been harnessed.”