Traffic police on the run
Mamata bid to avert Kandahar on wheels
Concrete wrap for Central Avenue
Contempt suit on Madhyamik board admitted
Striking the right note in city centre
Bread, milk and salt prices to go up
Piped water for arsenic-prone Rajarhat
Assam extends offer to Ulfa
Manipur moots Assembly polls in three phases
Job freeze puts brakes on aid for martyrs’ kin

Calcutta, Jan 3 
There’s fear over the city and the cops are on the run. Faced with increasing incidents of assault by local residents in the wake of road accidents, policemen on traffic control duty have petitioned Lalbazar, seeking transfer to other departments.

Sources said a large number of constables and sergeants, and a few officers-in-charge (OCs) of the traffic guard, have put in a request for transfer with the deputy commissioner of police, traffic, K. Harirajan.

“We are feeling insecure. Senior officers have to take measures to ensure our security or else we will go on leave,’’ said traffic constable P. Singh.

Harirajan, of course, has no intention of recommending the transfer of his men to some other department. “I am trying to boost the morale of the force. We are putting more officers in the trouble-torn areas to ensure security of traffic policemen,’’ he said.

But the DC(traffic) is worried about the growing trend of mob violence. “This phenomenon is quite unprecedented. Earlier, agitated crowds would gather at the site of an accident, block roads and place their demands. But of late, they seem to have become very unruly and militant,’’ Harirajan said.

He admitted that all was not well with his force at the moment. One of the problem areas, he felt, was the lack of coordination between the local police stations and the traffic guards.

“I have had to perform law and order duty on a number of occasion to protect my men. Officials from the local police stations and divisional DCs fail to turn up in time,’’ said Harirajan.

According to statistics available with the traffic department, there have been 15 incidents of accident-related mob violence in the past month. More than two dozen officers have been injured in clashes with residents. At least a dozen had to be treated for serious injuries. Six motorcycles of sergeants were also torched.

A traffic guard OC said six policemen were injured in mob violence which broke out after a boy was run over on the Jodhpur Park side of Dhakuria bridge in December.

The police had ordered an investigation to find out the cause of the accident. The boy had, apparently, slipped out of his mother’s grasp and made a dash across the road when a speeding bus knocked him down. An enraged mob had immediately turned on the traffic constables manning the intersection.

The trend of militant mobs attacking policemen has since engulfed pockets in Entally, Park Circus, Hazra, Alipore, Esplanade, Beleghata, Taratala and several other areas.

This has forced traffic officials to take cover. “Policemen are soft targets after an accident. What can we do if vehicles and pedestrians openly violate traffic rules and threaten officers and constables when they try to take action?’’ asked East Traffic guard OC Anup Basu, while monitoring traffic movement at the crossing of Ripon Street and AJC Bose Road, the site of Sunday’s accident, where a youth had been run over, inciting mob violence.

According to joint commissioner of police, traffic, V.V. Thambi, there are 1,200 police officers, and 11 Traffic Guards headed by OCs, manning the city’s streets and its 365 major crossings, at any given point of time. But that, obviously, is just not enough.

Three more deaths

The death toll in road accidents rose by three on Monday. While one man was run over by a private bus in front of Lalbazar police headquarters, another slipped to his death from a bus near Rajabazar. The third victim, a woman, succumbed to injuries suffered on Sunday.

Biswanath Bose, a middle-aged man, was run over by a speeding 12C/2 bus on Lalbazar Street at 1.30 pm. In another incident on AJC Road, near Rajabazar, Mohammed Shakeel fell from the footboard of a bus on route 227 and was crushed under the rear wheels of the vehicle.

In both cases, the police were quick to react. The drivers were arrested and buses impounded. The presence of a large contingent at both spots prevented yet another round of mob violence.

Rachna Mathur died at a city nursing home on Monday after the Maruti she had been travelling in was hit by an Ambassador near the crossing of Theatre Road and Rawdon Street on Sunday. Three others, including a doctor, were injured in the crash.

Rachna, a cardiac patient, was on her way to the nursing home when the accident occurred.    

Calcutta, Jan 3 
Railway minister Mamata Banerjee has convened a meeting of chief secretaries and directors-general of police of various states on January 15 to discuss rail safety measures, in the wake of last week’s hijacking of an Indian Airlines Airbus.

“We are working on a blueprint to update safety arrangements for railway passengers,” she said on Monday.

Flagging off two new trains — the Howrah-Dehradun Upasana Express and the Sealdah-Ajmer Ananya Express — Mamata warned officials against possible sabotage attempts on rail establishments by divisive forces. “Be alert and defuse subversive activities to ensure total safety of passengers,” she told them.

State transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and minister of state for external affairs Ajit Panja shared the dais with Mamata at two functions, one at Sealdah and the other at Howrah station.

Mamata said nine trains would be introduced this year as “a millennium gift” to the people. These include a train linking Kharagpur with Daltongunge. The train will bear the name of novelist Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay’s Pather Panchali, she added.

Mamata said the railways will soon enter into a joint venture with private entrepreneurs for development. “We have also started a dialogue with Hudco for constructing a market complex and other establishments,” she added.    

Calcutta, Jan 3 
Chittaranjan Avenue, the five-kilometre road connecting Shyambazar with the city centre, is set to be cast in concrete at an investment of around Rs 50 crore.

Central Avenue, as the road is better known, will have six lanes, three each on either side of a divider. The road will be 22 metres wide, including a seven-metre bituminous stretch.

CMC chief engineer (civil) D.N. Rakshit, confirming the plan, said the “concretisation” of the road will be taken up in three phases. The first phase will begin some time in February.

“We are covering part of the road with bitumen so it can be dug if required. In Calcutta, most power cables and water pipelines run underground. Each time they require repairs, the road has to be dug,” Rakshit said.

The project, however,is going to snowball into a major dispute between the civic authorities and Metro Rail, which is supposed to cough up the funds for the project.

Chittaranjan Avenue had been the only concrete stretch in the city before Metro Rail dug it up.

“The Metro authorities had agreed then to bear the cost of reconcretising the road. We are repeating the demand now,” said mayor Prasanta Chatterjee.

The CMC has been clamouring for the funds for quite some time. While it has pegged the cost of the project at Rs 50 crore, Metro Rail is believed to have agreed to pay only Rs 13 crore. Of the amount, it has already given the CMC Rs 5 crore.

Metro Rail general manager I.I.M.S. Rana said the road was in good condition and did not require such a massive outlay for refurbishing. “We are ready to give some funds, as per the agreement, which the CMC authorities can use in other development work,” he offered. Rana said the compensation package should be worked out jointly by the chief engineers of two organisations.

The CMC, meanwhile, has appointed a city-based consultancy firm, Stup, to carry out a feasibility report on the project.

Chief engineer Rakshit said the firm would submit its report within this month. “The firm has started testing the soil and other requirements. It will provide the entire techno-economic requirement of the project,” he added.

Rakshit said Chittaranjan Avenue is subsidence-prone in various pockets as it had not been properly reconstructed after the Metro work was completed.

CMC commissioner Asim Barman said the private sector’s participation was necessary to give a facelift to various other roads, particularly in business districts.    

Calcutta, Jan 3 
Calcutta High Court on Monday admitted a contempt petition against the Madhyamik Board and the Higher Secondary Council for ignoring its directive on a review of 10,000 answersheets written by students last year.

The court had ordered in August last year that the board and the council review the answer scripts of 10,000 examinees and publish the results as soon as possible. The court’s order was on the basis of a petition by Sucharita Biswas, who wrote the Madhyamik test of 1999 unsuccessfully.

She had sought an order from the court directing the Higher Secondary board to introduce a new system of supplying photocopies of answer scripts to every examinee at the time of distributing the marksheets.

While the case was on, another 3,000 Madhyamik candidates, under the banner of Progressive Democratic Students Federation, became parties to the case. But, even after four months since the court’s order, the board is yet to publish the post-review results.

A division bench of Justice S.B. Sinha and Justice M.H.S. Ansari directed Supradip Ray, the petitioner’s lawyer, to serve notices to the board and council authorities and ask them to appear before the court with their affidavits.

The two examinations, conducted by the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education and the Council of Higher Education, respectively, are taken by more than nine lakh students every year.    

Calcutta, Jan 3 
If books are here, can music be far behind?

Soon after the launching of “Landmark”, a city bookshop worth its name, Calcutta is all set to get its first “real” music store.

After its roaring success in Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Cochin, RPG group’s Music World Stores is ready to strike the right chord in Calcutta.

For this, RPG group’s Spencer Estate & Retail Limited have chosen the intersection of Park Street and Middleton Row — 18 G, Park Street, to be precise. M/S Fitch Design Consultants of London has been roped in to give the shop an “international look”.

The sprawling 5,000-sq-ft store will be fully air-conditioned and will be designed to provide the customer with all amenities available in leading music stores abroad.

“Calcutta’s love for music will be better honoured with the Music World store, which will look very different from the present HMV showrooms,” says a spokesman of the RPG group. There will be no less than 50,000 cassettes and compact discs on display. “To choose a cassette or CD, all you have to do is put on a pair of earphones, shut out the world, and plug into the music,” he adds.

Beside the legends and the latest from USA and the UK, there will be a colossal ‘made in India’ collection as well. Indian classical music, both vocal and instrumental, Rabindrasangeet, Nazrulgeeti, folk songs, Bengali film and Adhunik numbers and, of course, the best of Bollywood, will all be there.

There will also be an electronic display board to help music lovers keep in tune with national and international trends, complete with individual sales figures and popularity indices.

The music should be ready to play by March, provided the Calcutta Municipal Corporation okays plans to remove hawkers and allow beautification of the pavement in front of the shop. “I have already directed the conservancy department to clear the pavement of encroachers,” says municipal commissioner Asim Barman.

According to the CMC’s estimate, there are around 5,000 music shops all over Calcutta and cassettes and CDs worth more than Rs 1 crore are sold daily. Calcutta, after all, serves as the main wholesale marketing outlet for entire eastern India and Bangladesh.

But Aniruddha Mukherjee, licence officer of CMC, puts things into perspective by stating that of the 5,000-odd shops, 98 per cent are small-time dealers, selling cassettes only. “The total investment for the store will be to the tune of several crore of rupees,” reveals the RPG spokesman. “We need to sell cassettes and CDs worth at least Rs 30 lakh a month to make the music store viable. But we do expect a monthly sales figure of Rs 40 lakh during the first six months.”

So, amidst all the fever and the fret, will the sound of music soothe the city this summer?    

Calcutta, Jan 3 
Finance minister Asim Dasgupta said on Monday that the price of some essential commodities would be raised because of an increase in sales tax on 70 items.

Dasgupta said the sales tax was being raised to restore parity with rates in other states.He said the decision was taken unanimously in a meeting with chief ministers and finance ministers from all states.

“Earlier, the rate of sales tax on a particular item was different in different states. To maintain equal minimum sales tax, the Union government had constituted a committee comprising chief ministers and finance ministers. The committee has unanimously framed the minimum sales tax rate on about 250 items with effect from January 1,’’Dasgupta said.

To implement this policy, the finance minister said the tax on petrol had to be raised from 8 per cent to 12 per cent and alcohol from 12 per cent to 20 per cent. Sales tax had to be imposed on packed salt, pasteurised milk and bread.

Dasgupta hinted that prices of milk, salt and bread will be increased following imposition of a 4 per cent tax.However, he did not mention by how much and from when the price of government produced-milk would be hiked.

No sales tax was charged on milk, salt and bread. Feeling that the price hike of the three essential commodities will affect the poor, the government has announced that no tax will be charged on products which were unpacked and unbranded.

“The milk, bread and salt which is packed and carries a brand name will be charged sales tax, but no tax will be charged if the commodities are sold loose,’’ the minister said.

Dasgupta has asked the sales tax commissioner to prepare the new tax structure on each item which will be published in newspapers.

The minister said the tax hike would have little impact on trade. On the contrary, he said the volume of trade would increase after a uniform sales-tax regime is in place.    

Calcutta, Jan 3 
The government has drawn up a 130-crore plan to treat water from the Hooghly and supply it to the upcoming Rajarhat township as drinking water. Tapping groundwater in the township is ruled out because of arsenic contamination.

Officials said on Monday that water will be pumped in from Cossipore in north Calcutta and brought to Tarulia near Rajarhat where it will be purified at a treatment plant before distribution.

Rajarhat is among 18 blocks where the ground water is contaminated. “We cannot stop providing housing to people because 65 blocks in eight districts are arsenic-affected in the state. We will have to build the township and supply arsenic-free water. That is why we took up the Rs 130-crore scheme,” said R.K. Tripathi, public health engineering (PHE) secretary.

The PHE, which is in charge of water supply, drainage and sewerage networks in the township, expects to complete work by the middle of next year.

“By then, the Tarulia treatment plant will be ready and the residents of the township will get arsenic-free water through pipelines,” an official said.

But potable water will be required by people who will be working on the township project.

“For them, the government has taken up a Rs 30-crore project to pump water from the deepest third aquifer, a level where there is no arsenic anywhere in the world,” said Ashesh Roy, chief engineer, PHE.

The area was originally cultivable land and it is difficult to say whether arsenic existed in the first or second layers of ground water. “It is difficult for us to pin-point the exact ground water level where arsenic can be detected because there were no tubewells in the area as rice and vegetables were grown here,” said an official.

So when the township was planned, the authorities did not take the risk of digging into the first and second layers of the soil for water. “We decided to dig straight into the third layer where we knew there would no arsenic,” he added.

The government was forced to supply surface water to a complete township even knowing it would be a costly affair.

“But, we can’t compromise with the health of the people and so we are bringing in water from the Hooghly,” a PHE official said.

In Malda district, there is only one 80-feet underground layer of sub-soil water in Englishbazar, Kaliachak and Manickchak blocks which is totally contaminated by arsenic.

The government has also taken up a scheme in Malda to treat water from the Ganga and supply it to the people through pipelines. The scheme, which will benefit 4 lakh people, is complete and will be inaugurated by chief minister Jyoti Basu next month.    

Guwahati, Jan. 3 
Assam Chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta today announced the extension of the safe passage offer till January 17 after 257 militants opted for it between December 21 and New Year’s eve.

Addressing a news conference here this afternoon, Mahanta said only peace could bring about development and hoped that more militants would avail of the offer. Mahanta said the government would lay stress on development by focusing attention on District Rural Development Agency and the agriculture and public works departments.

Emphasising on the government’s success in bringing about an overall improvement in the law and order situation, Mahanta attributed the new scenario to the political will of the government and the success of the unified command structure. He, however, ruled out any unilateral ceasefire at present.

Mahanta said the government has chargesheeted a number of its employees and business houses for aiding militants and had launched a drive to cut off the rebels’ fund source.

Inspector-general of police (special branch) N. Ramachandran, who was present on the occasion, said though the Ulfa central leadership were not “ecstatic” about the safe passage offer, a large number of rebels had contacted the Army and the police in this connection.

Ramachandran said insurgency-related killings had declined this year. The militants had killed 214 people in 1999, 544 in 1998 and 1,337 in 1997.

The Assam police, which lost 113 personnel, bore the brunt of the militants’ attacks. The Central Reserve Police Force lost 33 personnel and the Border Security Force 14. Though a large number of militants were apprehended, several managed to escape due to legal loopholes.

The Ulfa struck hardest in Nalbari, Tinsukia and Sibsagar districts while the National Democratic Front of Boroland and the Bodo Liberation Tigers made their presence felt in Kokrajhar, Darrang and Kamrup districts. The NSCN, the Dima Halam Daoga and the Kuki National Volunteers killed 23 people in the North Cachar Hills and 18 in Karbi Anglong.

Ramachandran said 199 militants were killed last year in counter-insurgency operations.

“The scenario has drastically changed in the state as the militants can no more roam freely as was earlier the case,” Ramachandran said.

On the rehabilitation package for surrendered militants, Ramachandran said 291 insurgents were lodged in camps run by the police while 40 were with the army. Altogether 913 militants surrendered in the past two years, of which 760 were Ulfa rebels, he added.    

Imphal, Jan. 3 
Manipur government has recommended three-phase Assembly elections between March 2 and 14. The decision was taken by the state Cabinet yesterday after the Union home ministry and the Election Commission asked the government to place its proposal.

The chief secretary and the state chief electoral officer have been directed to send the Cabinet’s proposal to the Centre and the Election Commission. The state Cabinet has also decided to urge the Governor to prorogue the ongoing Assembly session.

Sources said the government has recommended counting of votes be taken up from March 15. The term of the present Manipur Assembly expires on March 21 and the government wants to complete the election process before it.

The BJP and Samata Party have opposed the government’s decision to hold the Assembly elections in March. Sources said state unit of the BJP has apprised both the Union home ministry and the Election Commission to conduct the polls in February, before the Lok Sabha session begins.

Official sources said the government has recommended the holding of elections to 39 Assembly constituencies of the valley on March 2. It has also recommended elections to 10 Assembly seats in Senapati and Tamenglong district and Jiribam sub-division on March 8. Elections to 11 constituencies in Churachandpur, Chandel and Ukhrul districts have been sought on March 14.

The government has recommended elections in three phases in view of the threat by National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) to boycott the polls in Naga-inhabited districts of Manipur.

As the state lacks adequate security forces to conduct a peaceful polls, the Cabinet decided that it would be in a better position to supervise security more effectively if elections were phased out over three days.

The government has asked the Union home ministry for 13 additional battalions of paramilitary forces for the polls. The Centre has given a green signal to state’s demands on security forces, the sources said.

MLAs face action

Three legislators of the ruling Manipur State Congress Party, who defected from the Congress on December 15, are facing disqualification. Manipur Speaker K. Babudhon Singh has initiated proceedings for disqualification against the three MLAs under the anti-defection law.

The three MLAs — Md. Helaluddin Khan, Prof. M. Horam and Hangkhanpao — had joined the Nipamacha Singh-led MSCP after leaving their parent Congress party. While doing so, they violated the anti-defection law as they could not form one-third of Congress Legislature Party.    

Guwahati, Jan. 3 
The Assam government appears to be in a fix over the rehabilitation of the next of kin of martyrs and physically-disabled activists of the six-year-long Assam agitation.

The problem becomes acute against the backdrop of the burgeoning unemployment scenario in the state and the Centre’s recent directive to impose a “ban on all appointments”.

The government failed to do anything despite Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha’s recent notification directing suitable rehabilitation of the next of kin of martyrs and those physically handicapped.

The All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU) has decried the government’s negligence, accusing political parties of putting the sacrifices of the martyrs and the freedom fighters on the backburner. It warned of a fresh agitation if the government failed to rehabilitate all participants of the Assam agitation.

AASU advisor and former general secretary Samujjal Bhattacharyya said, “It is only during the elections that the political parties raise this issue of providing jobs to the next of kin of the deceased and those physically disabled. It is a pity that we tend to forget the valiant sacrifices of our heroes who laid down their lives for the greater cause of Assam.

“When the government is continuing with the appointments through the back door, then why are these people left in the lurch?” he asked.

Bhattacharyya warned the government against implementing the Centre’s “faulty policy” of imposing a ban on appointments.

Of the 855 martyrs and 865 persons rendered physically disabled, the government has so far rehabilitated only 400 families.

Official sources said all appointments to the martyrs’ families and other freedom fighters of the Assam agitation were stopped since 1986.

The present AGP-led government, which came to power in 1985, rehabilitated only three families while the Congress, which returned to power in 1991, failed to rehabilitate even a single family. While the government has blamed the families of not coming forward to avail of the offer, the families have accused the government of not taking their cases seriously. “For the past 15 years, we have been running from pillar to post for assistance, but to no avail,” a victim said.

However, sources said the government was in no position to declare them as beneficiaries unless they submitted the necessary documents.

“Anybody can come and claim that he is a kin of a martyr, we just cannot provide a job to anyone like that,” a senior official said, adding that the government is still unsure about the existence of 14 families missing since the days of the agitation.

State chief secretary P.K. Bora said all necessary steps were being taken to rehabilitate the families of the victims. He, however, refused to comment on whether the Centre’s instructions to ban all appointments was posing a problem in this regard. “We are examining the matter,” he added.    


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