West Bengal youth welfare minister Ujjal Biswas's assurance to the bereaved family of legendary mountaineer late Nawang Gombu, to build a memorial in his honour at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) campus in Darjeeling, ran into red-tapism with the HMI principal reminding the minister that the memorial could only be built after a go ahead from the Executive Committee.
The minister along with West Bengal Mountaineering and Adventure Sports Foundation (WBMASF) advisor Basanta Singha Roy had arrived at the Gombu residence in Darjeeling to pay condolence to the bereaved family. Gombu after a brief illness passed away at his residence on April 24, 2011.
Gombu's family members, including wife Sita Gombu and daughter Rita Gombu Marwa, had made an appeal to chief minister Mamata Banerjee to build a memorial in honour of the legendary mountaineer in the HMI campus.
Biswas on hearing the proposal had given an immediate consent, instructing the district officials present to conduct the initial survey. He even accompanied Gombu's family members to the spot earmarked by the family for the memorial (in the form of a Stupa.) A similar monument has been erected at the spot where late Tenzing Norgay had been cremated in the HMI premises.
Enroute to the spot, the minister was invited by the HMI principal to his Office. When Biswas conveyed the desire to erect a memorial, Col Neeraj Rana, principal HMI, stated "The memorial can be built only after a go ahead from the Executive Committee (EC)"
Countering this, Biswas stated, "The chief minister will talk to the minister of defence and I am sure that this matter can be resolved."
The HMI is an autonomous body patronised both by the Indian government and government of West Bengal. It is run by an Executive Council (EC) headed by the defence minister as its president and chief minister of West Bengal as the vice president; 2 secretaries (the secretary of the ministry of defence and secretary of the youth welfare ministry, West Bengal) and 22 members.
Interestingly, the EC had last met in May 2005 in Kolkata. "Prior to this also principals have been building things without the consent of the EC. On 17 August 2010, the present principal Col. Neeraj Rana built a temple in the campus whereas the last EC had taken place in May 2005 which I had attended." alleged Rita Gombu, daughter of late Nawang Gombu, who is also the first lady vice president of Indian Mountaineering Federation (IMF), the apex body for mountaineering institutes of India.
"There should be regular monitoring of the HMI by the West Bengal government as the honourable chief minister of West Bengal is the vice president of the Institute," the youth affair's minister wrote in the inspection register of the HMI.
Biswas also announced that the government of West Bengal will constitute an adventure sports award in the name of Nawang Gombu. "We will announce this award formally on the Youth Affairs Day. We will also exhibit Gombu's artifacts in Kolkata," stated Dey.
"Nawang Gombu was a legendary mountaineer. The void that has been created with his demise can never be fulfilled. Gombu has been a father figure to thousands of mountaineers of India," said Singha Roy.
The highest decorated mountaineer ever, Gombu was the first man to summit Mount Everest twice. He had received the Tiger of the Snows Medal (1953), Queen Elizabeth 11 Coronation Medal (1953), Howard Medal of National Geographic Society -USA (1963), Padmashree(1964), Padmabhushan (1965) IMF Gold Medal (1966), Arjuna Award (1967), Olympic Gold Medal- Rome (1967), Tenzing Norgay Award (1986), 49thIndependence Day Award (1996) and recently the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award on the 29th August 2006.
Gombu had served the HMI for more than 40 years before retiring in the capacity of field director in 1999. Gombu was part of the first group of Sherpa mountaineers who along with Tenzing Norgay completed a guide course in Switzerland in 1954. He became the backbone of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, an idea pushed by the late Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the then West Bengal chief minister BC Roy. After Tenzing Norgay retired from the post of field director in 1976, Gombu had succeeded him.