Kolkata: Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee lauded the Sabooj Sathi project, where bicycles are given free of cost to students of Classes IX to XII of state-run and aided schools, on World Bicycle Day.On the occasion she tweeted: “Today is WorldBicycleDay. A bicycle is not just a means of transport but an instrument of empowerment too. The Bangla Govt has distributed over one crore bicycles to students under Sabooj Sathi scheme. These cycles have enabled them to attend school even from far-off places. The Sabooj Sathi project was declared a ‘Champion Project’ at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Prizes given by ITU, a United Nations organisation in April, 2019, out of 1,140 projects across 18 categories.” Also Read – City bids adieu to Goddess DurgaBengal is the only state in the country where more than one crore bicycles have been distributed among the students of state-run and aided schools. The project has successfully brought down the number of school dropouts and reduced the number of early marriages among girls. The Bengal government has spent over Rs 2,000 crore for the project. The Backward Classes Welfare (BCW) department has the names of the students along with the classes they are studying in, names of their guardians and the schools and the day the cycles were given to them. The cycles have been maintained for one year and the department has given training to over 3,500 unemployed youths from the SC and ST categories to repair cycles as a part of the project to make them self-reliant. Also Read – Centuries-old Durga Pujas continue to be hit among revellersThe BCW department gave them kits free of cost. These youths have been engaged to maintain the cycles under Sabooj Sathi project. It may be mentioned that in New Town, the cycle sharing scheme introduced by the Housing and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HIDCO) has become very successful. Under the scheme, a person can hire a cycle, use it for commuting and then leave the cycle on the stand after paying the requisite charges. In New Town, graded paths have been constructed only for cycles. The cycles are also fitted with GPS. It may be recalled that in the early 20th century, Jagadish Chandra Bose and his wife Abala used to demonstrate bicycle riding in different localities to inspire Indians to ride them to work, which symbolised self-confidence and nationalism as only the British used to ride cycles.
Since the conditions are not yet conducive for return, this agreement to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is being seen as a first and necessary step.Since August last year, some 700,000 mainly-Muslim Rohingya have fled Rakhine State, in majority-Buddhist Myanmar, for neighbouring Bangladesh. Most say they were fleeing violence and persecution, including a military campaign by Myanmar forces, which began in response to violent attacks by Rohingya insurgents.The agreement – reached by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Myanmar – will be officially signed within a week or so, with the exact date to be confirmed.Under the agreement, UNHCR and UNDP will be given access to Rakhine State, including to refugees’ places of origin and potential new settlement areas, that so far the UN has been unable to access since the violence escalated last August.The access, once effective, will allow UNHCR to assess local conditions and help the refugees to make informed decisions on voluntary return.The agreement will also allow the two UN agencies to carry out needs assessments in affected communities and strengthen the capacity of local authorities to support the voluntary repatriation process.The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State – a neutral and impartial body composed of six local experts and three international experts, chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – has proposed concrete measures for improving the welfare of all people in Rakhine State.Its recommendations include establishing a clear and voluntary pathway to citizenship and ensuring freedom of movement for all people there, irrespective of religion, ethnicity or citizenship status.Meanwhile, the UN migration agency, known formally as the International Organization for Migration (IOM), is helping Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, properly prepare for the monsoon season, which is getting underway.Radios, megaphones, first aid kits, stretchers, protective clothing, warning flags and sirens are among the items being distributed to more than 500 Rohingya emergency volunteers in the largest camp there.With most of the refugees forced to live on steep and sandy slopes in low-lying hills, surveys by IOM and other agencies have found that around 200,000 people will be in serious danger from landslides and serious flooding when the worst monsoon weather arrives.