Fight for life after joy ride
Fog havoc on flights, cloud cover kills chill
Port workers go on strike from next week
State colleges take fee hike cue
Gains on tax, losses on surcharge
Basu revives demand for nuclear power
Rights forum smells hush-up in Nangia case
Bid to curb border terrorism
Doctor held for prisoner’s escape
Northeast non-tribals take up cudgels against mili

 
 
FIGHT FOR LIFE AFTER JOY RIDE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 11 
Sheikh Sajjad, the eight-year-old who fell off a toy train at Science City on Monday evening, is battling for his life in a city nursing home.

On Tuesday, Sajjad had to be shifted to the intensive care unit after his condition deteriorated.

“The boy’s condition is critical. He has head injuries, a fracture in the pelvic bone, his kidney may also be damaged. He has been given a few bottles of blood but there is no immediate sign of recovery,” said Dr Binayak Sen, who is among the medical team treating Sajjad.

Sajjad’s father, Sheikh Sabir, still in a state of shock, said the accident could have been averted if the toy train had been properly maintained.

“I was told by my wife and other neighbours that Sajjad slipped from the train. Sajjad is my only child. Who will bear the responsiblity if something untoward happens to him?”

Desperate to counter charges of poor maintenance, Science City director T.K. Ganguly tried to blame it on the children.

“The children travelling on the toy train that evening were boisterous and restless and did not pay any attention to the driver, despite his repeated warnings. The child slipped while jumping from one compartment to another. But we will definitely look into the matter and take appropriate action,” he said.

If it was the fault of the unruly children alone, why have the Science City authorities then pulled up Damodar Ropeways and Construction, entrusted with the task of regular supervision of the toy train?

”Both the ropeway and the toy train were being regularly checked and maintained. However, we will definitely ascertain the reason behind Monday’s mishap,” said S.P. Neogi, project manager of Damodar Ropeways.

On Monday evening, around 6 pm, Sajjad fell off the toy train and was rushed by Science City employees to the National Medical College Hospital, where he was treated for head injuries.

Enraged by the accident, a 200-strong mob went on the rampage, damaging glass enclosures, a ticket counter and a number of neon signs at Science City.

Five persons were injured in the melee. The police later intervened and arrested 10 people.

This is the second accident at Science City within three weeks.

On December 21, 13 visitors, including children and women, were trapped for hours inside a cable car in mid-air after a mechanical snag.

Uneasy calm prevailed in Science City on Tuesday, with crowds steering clear of one of the favourite winter hangouts for children.

Subir Chatterjee, who visited Science City along with his wife and two children during the day, said the mishaps had tarnished the image of the beautiful place.

“We will not come here with our children if such things recur,” he added.

Meanwhile, some of Sajjad’s family members have threatened to move the Human Rights Commission, demanding compensation for the accident from the Science City authorities.    


 
 
FOG HAVOC ON FLIGHTS, CLOUD COVER KILLS CHILL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 11 
Dense fog over the city on Tuesday disrupted flights and train services in the morning and forced Calcuttans to take off their woollens after an abnormal rise in temperature.

The minimum temperature shot up to 16° Celsius, two degrees above normal.

Weathermen said that colder days will return once the cloud cover lifts. Two factors are responsible for the present condition, they say.

First, a “cyclonic circulation” over Bihar and the adjoining sub-Himalayan West Bengal, extending up to 1.5 kilometre above sea level, has blocked the north wind.

Second, another “anti-cyclonic circulation” over Orissa and the adjoining north-west Bay has led to heavy incursion of moisture in the coastal region of Bengal.

“Under the influence of these conditions, the temperature has gone up and a blanket of fog has descended due to the blocking of the north wind and sudden increase in the moisture level in the atmosphere.

“We think that these conditions will pass off in two or three days and the temperature will drop again. Don’t forget, we are in the thick of the winter,” a meteorological department official said.

As a result of the fog, all morning flights of the Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and Alliance Air were held up in the city airport for about four hours.

The Port Blair-bound Indian Airlines flight, which took off at 10.55 am, was the first plane to leave Calcutta, followed by flights to Delhi and Mumbai.

Some of the afternoon and evening flights were delayed due to late arrival of planes from other airports.

Long-distance and local suburban trains ran about 50 minutes to an hour late in the morning due to the fog in the Howrah and Sealdah sections.

The office of the station superintendent (Howrah) said because of poor visibility, the motormen and drivers had to drive at a slow speed. Normal services resumed from noon.

After a week of biting cold, the city woke up to a warmer morning, shrouded in a blanket of thick fog. Calcuttans did not feel the urge to reach for their woollens once out of bed. The sun took its time to shine, too, and the sky remained covered in hazy veil of cloud for the better part of the day.

The afternoon was quite warm, considering the season is the middle of winter.

Sources in the meteorological office said both the “cyclonic and the anti-cyclonic circulation” are moving towards Assam and their effect is expected to wear off in the next two or three days.    


 
 
PORT WORKERS GO ON STRIKE FROM NEXT WEEK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 11 
About 20,000 workers at Calcutta port will go on an indefinite strike from January 18.

This is in support of their charter of demands, which includes implementation of the 10 per cent wage settlement reached earlier with the port authorities.

The strike is sponsored jointly by Citu, Intuc and Aituc. The BJP-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) will also support the strike,

Citu general secretary Chittabrata Majumder said on Tuesday that the strike will be “a grand success” as all major trade unions are supporting the strike, called first by Citu.

According to Intuc president Subrata Mukherjee, the port workers will also protest the Centre’s decision to privatise several public sector undertakings in the country.

“The move to privatise public sector undertakings affects the port worker directly. This point will be highlighted during the demonstration,” said Mukherjee.    


 
 
STATE COLLEGES TAKE FEE HIKE CUE 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Jan 11 
After Madhyamik, it’s the turn of the colleges in West Bengal to embrace Manmohanomics.

Led by Calcutta University, all state-aided under-graduate colleges in the city and elsewhere in West Bengal are gearing up to increase their tuition fees — from Rs 12 to Rs 14 a month to “anything between Rs 50 to Rs 100 a month”.

Following up on a meeting between higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty and newly-installed Calcutta University vice-chancellor Ashish Banerjee at the higher education council office on Monday, Calcutta University on Tuesday started working out the modalities for implementing the fee increase.

“We do not want the colleges to go for a steep hike in tuition fees — like Rs 500 per month — because these institutions draw students mainly from middle-class homes,” a council official said.

The council has chosen Calcutta University to spearhead the move as it has nearly 200 undergraduate colleges affiliated to it.

Other universities, like Rabindra Bharati, Jadavpur, Burdwan and North-Bengal, are expected to follow suit.

The bulk of the 200-odd Calcutta University-affiliated colleges are located in and around Calcutta. Another 140 under-graduate colleges, affiliated to other universities, are located in the districts.

Sources in the council said the move to raise tuition fees has come in the wake of the state government’s reluctance to provide any additional grant to the institutions for paying enhanced remuneration to part-time teachers.

The UGC recently recommended that the monthly remuneration of part-time teachers be raised from Rs 400 to Rs 2,000. The state government is said to be struggling to pay enhanced salaries to school and college teachers after implementation of the recent Pay Commission report.

“In this situation, there is no scope for the government to provide any additional grant to the colleges for paying enhanced remuneration to part-timers,” said an education department official.

Though the colleges are funded by the state government, they are run by their own governing bodies. According to the rules, the governing bodies have the authority to increase tuition fees for better functioning of the institutions.

In another development, Satyasadhan Chakraborty has asked Ashish Banerjee to take immediate measures for the implementation of the UGC guidelines involving attendance of teachers; maintenance of registers to record the arrival and departure of teaching staff; restructuring of governing bodies by including guardian representatives and donors’ nominees.

“I will be in a position to implement the recommendations only after the higher education department sends the relevant papers to me,” said Banerjee.    


 
 
GAINS ON TAX, LOSSES ON SURCHARGE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 11 
Bablu Akhtar is worried. A daily wage-earner, he will have to pay Rs 21 to Rs 36 extra every month on the drugs for tuberculosis that he has been taking for the past two months.

“If I don’t have enough money to buy food for my family, how will I buy the medicine, which doctors say will have to continue for the next six months?” he asks.

At the other end, Shyamal Dutta, a publishing company employee, is at a total loss as well. Hailing from a middle-class family, he is running from pillar to post for the Rs 4,000-a-month required for the medicine he takes after a kidney transplant.

Drug prices will go up across the board by more than 4 per cent once the revised rate of sales tax is imposed by the state government. This revision follows the decision by finance ministers to levy a uniform rate of sales tax in all states on about 225 items, including medicine.

Bengal’s minister, Asim Dasgupta, who is the convener of the tax meetings, said on Tuesday that a final decision on whether the uniform rate applies to drugs will be taken at another meeting called in Delhi on January 16.

The rate of sales tax on drugs in Bengal was 5 per cent till December 31. After the decision, this rate will go up to 8 per cent, to bring it at par with the floor rate imposed.

This move was done to prevent the buying of goods from states where the sales tax on these items was less.

But what is defeating this very purpose, at least in the case of medicine, is a 15 per cent surcharge that the West Bengal government imposed on the sales tax after it withdrew the system of octroi three years ago.

“Funnily, drugs were exempt from octroi when the system existed,” pointed out Bipin Mehta, president of the Bengal Chemists and Druggists Association, which has over 30,000 medicine shops as members.

And since this surcharge continues, the prices of drugs will be more in West Bengal than in neighbouring states like Bihar and Orissa, Mehta explains.

The association has submitted a memorandum to Dasgupta to exempt drugs from the uniform rate move.

“If this is not at all possible, then the surcharge should be withdrawn for the benefit of the people and the state.” Some dealers have already started getting stocks from neighbouring states, and if the trend continues, the quantum of tax the state will miss out on will be equivalent to the amount that is deposited, Mehta said.    


 
 
BASU REVIVES DEMAND FOR NUCLEAR POWER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 11 
West Bengal has reiterated its claim to a nuclear power plant in the state. “It’s a pity that all the nuclear plants of the country are located either in the west or the south,”said chief minister Jyoti Basu, addressing a meeting to mark the golden jubilee of the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics on Tuesday.

Basu’s plea was addressed to Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) chairman R. Chidambaram, also on the dais. The AEC is responsible for establishing nuclear plants within the country.

The chief minister took his cue from Atish Sinha, leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly. “Although I do not share any of Sinha’s views, I fully support him in his plea for an nuclear plant in West Bengal,” Basu said.

There are areas like the Sunderbans and the hills of north Bengal that are yet to be electrified. “As the coal reserve is dwindling, nuclear power seems the ideal solution,” Basu said.

He reminded the meeting that the state had approached the AEC for a plant at Khejuri, Midnapore. But the proposal had been rejected on grounds that nuclear plants cannot be set up in states which have large reserves of coal. “Thankfully, with a shift in policy, we hope to take up the proposal again,” he said.

The chief minister also allayed fears over nuclear plants. “There is little cause for worry. In countries like France, 85 per cent of the power is generated by nuclear plants,” Basu said.

Earlier at a press conference at the Saha Institute, the AEC chairman presented the nuclear scenario of the country. “Nuclear power production is expected to go up to 20,000 mw within next two decades,” Chidambaram said. “In spite of the post-Pokhran US ban on nuclear research, our nuclear power production went up by four per cent in 1999,” he added.

Chidambaram stressed on the role of electricity in the human development index of a country. “Our goal is to produce cost-effective power and nuclear plants can can be the best source of cheap power,” said Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, principal scientific adviser to the Centre.

Dr Bikash Sinha, institute director, reminded the meeting that Meghnad Saha had realised the importance of nuclear research in the country way back in the early fifties. Dr Raja Ramanna, former AEC chairman, was also present at the meeting.    


 
 
RIGHTS FORUM SMELLS HUSH-UP IN NANGIA CASE 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 11 
In yet another twist to the Sharad Nagia ‘kidnap’ case, a petition demanding a CBI probe into the matter has been filed in Calcutta High Court by the Manab Adhikar Suraksha Mancha.

The petition says the investigation into the alleged abduction of the businessman by three youth near Ballygunge railway station in November 1998 had been handed over to a joint commissioner of police by the state government “with a motive to damage the case”.

Under pressure to come clean on the Sharad Nangia issue, the state government had asked joint commissioner Kiriti Sengupta to conduct an independent probe into the controversial case.

According to the petitioner, the high-ranking police officer entrusted with the probe would not act in a free and fair manner against members of his own department.

“Under Article 21 of the Constitution, the citizens have the right to know the correct state of affairs leading to the arrest of three school-going boys who had been brutally tortured in custody without committing any crime.”

Firing after clash: The police fired 10 rounds in the air on Tuesday a after clash broke out between Trinamul Congress workers and CPM supporters at Mahestala over a teachers’ training programme. At least 10 persons were injured in the clash.    


 
 
BID TO CURB BORDER TERRORISM 
 
 
FROM SANTANU GHOSH
 
Silchar, Jan. 11 
India and Myanmar have agreed to cooperate with each other and curb insurgency along the border areas. The northeastern states of Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland fall on the Indian side of the border. Militant activity in these states as well as in Myanmar has led to a spate of extortions, abductions and attacks.

Sources said Army chief Gen. V.P. Malik and his Myanmarese counterpart Gen. Muang Aye, who held extensive talks on bilateral issues in Shillong, have also agreed to exchange intelligence inputs.

Highly-placed sources here and at Dimapur hailed this summit meeting between the Army chiefs as a “landmark development”. They expressed hope that a joint move would soon be initiated to flush out guerrillas of the Chin National Front (Roger), a separatist organisation in West Myanmar’s Chin state from Mizoram’s borders. It would also block raids by both the Isak-Muivah and Khaplang factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland in Myanmar.

According to a four-page clarified document of the Army, made available to The Telegraph, the CNF (Roger) militants have recently stepped up extortion and abduction for ransom in Mizoram’s Champai sector.

The rebels have even attacked Assam Rifles jawans, it added.

The CNF (Roger), which enjoys a rapport with the National League for Democracy, an outfit opposed to Myanmar’s military junta, has been making regular strikes to achieve the right to self-determination for the Chin people in Chin state for the past two decades. Occasionally, CNF (Roger) rebels sneak into Mizoram while fleeing the Myanmarese army.

The organisation, which came into existence following a split in its parent organisation at its first Congress in 1993, has also tied up with the All-Burmese Students Democratic Forum, which spearheads the movement against the military junta along with the National League for Democracy.

Its demand for an independent Chinland has also evoked support from another secessionist outfit in Myanmar — the Kachin Independence Organisation, which was founded by Burmese insurgent leader Brang Seng.

A recent report of the Union home ministry revealed that the Chin National Army (CNA), armed wing of the CNF (Roger), had recently deposited Rs 30,000 at one of its Aizawl hideouts for buying arms.

Gen. Muang Aye, during his meeting with Gen. Malik, also discussed these hideouts of the Chin rebels inside Mizoram.

The Army document also said Myanmar’s military junta recently roped in Rev. Sang Awi, a pastor, to broker peace talks with the CNF(Roger) at Sakrau on the mineral-rich Chin state’s border with Bangladesh. But the talks did not make much headway.

The hardcore CNF(Roger) insurgents have a cadre strength of about 90. Its president, Thomas Thang No, took over as chief after founder of this faction Roger Biakliana, who set up the faction following the ouster of then CNF president John Nothankap in 1993, resigned on health grounds in 1994 .

A triumvirate comprising its general secretary Benjamin Turing, foreign secretary Sui Khar and defence secretary-cum- commander-in-chief Zing Cung help Thang No in charting out the policies of the CNF(Roger).

The CNF’s headquarters is located at Sakrau on Chin state’s border with Bangladesh.

Besides, its three military headquarters are located at Chhika, Hloma and Tlangpi in Chin state.

The Chin National Army, possessing sophisticated arms, usually ambush Myanmarese foot patrols. According to the latest estimate, the CNA armoury comprises, among others, 19 rifles of 120 mm calibre, 74 AK-47 and 86 AK-56 rifles, the report disclosed.

India and Myanmar also agreed that it would allow any insurgent camps to flourish on each other’s territory.    


 
 
DOCTOR HELD FOR PRISONER’S ESCAPE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Kohima, Jan. 11 
A senior government doctor and seven policemen have been arrested following the escape of an undertrial from the Naga civil hospital here.

Police said surgeon Atoshe Sema was arrested yesterday on charges of criminal conspiracy. He was produced before a magistrate. Seven policemen, arrested earlier for dereliction of duty, were produced before the court on Saturday. They were remanded to judicial custody.

Police said Sema was arrested because he refused to hand over National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) militant Mathang Lotha to the police, who wanted to shift him to Dimapur central jail, on grounds of ill health.

Lotha, NSCN(K)’s regional chairman, had got himself admitted to the hospital after receiving injuries in a clash with a rival faction on December 20. When the city police came to know about his admission to the hospital, they arrested him under the National Security Act (NSA) and wanted to shift him to the high-security Dimapur central jail.

But when a police team went to the hospital on Friday, Sema refused to hand over the patient, saying he could not be shifted as his condition was serious, the city police said. The undertrial escaped from the hospital the next morning through a window even as police personnel stood guard outside the cabin, they added.    


 
 
NORTHEAST NON-TRIBALS TAKE UP CUDGELS AGAINST MILI 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, Jan. 11 
The non-tribals in North Tripura’s Dhalai district are preparing to launch a fresh agitation against militancy.

The Bengalis in the Kumarghat, Fatikroy and Kanchanbari areas have come together under the banner of Kumarghat Nagarik Suraksha Samity (KNSS) for the purpose.

The agitation was initially confined to the Kumarghat and Fatikroy areas. The Bengalis from nearby Kanchanbari and Dudhpur areas started joining the KNSS after National Liberation Front of Tripura militants massacred five persons in Sripur under Fatikroy police station on December 8.

Sources said a convention of the KNSS would be held at Kumarghat on Sunday. The move comes in the wake of fresh “tax” notices issued by NLFT militants to businessmen and the motor syndicate in Kumarghat. They had earlier refused to pay the “tax”. But the outfit sent a fresh notice early this month seeking a payment of over Rs 10 lakh. It warned of dire consequences if the “tax” was not paid by the end of January.

Sources said shortly after receiving the notice, all clubs, businessmen and motor vehicle owners in the Kumarghat and Fatikroy areas held a meeting where they unanimously decided not to buckle under militant threat. They also decided to close all business establishments, the sources added.

Conversion issue

Forced conversion of tribals to Christianity by NLFT militants has become a major issue again. Official sources in Dhalai district said more than 800 tribals were converted to Christianity in Longtarai valley sub-division and over 200 Reangs were converted on January 1, sources in Kanchancherra sub-division added.

The sources said “NLFT militants and their patrons in the church” were capitalising on the failure of the Left Front government to implement development schemes and provide employment opportunities to the rural poor.

“In many places church activists are offering monthly wages and allowances to poor tribals who opt for money rather than faith to stave off starvation,” sources said. Besides, promises of free education for tribal children and threats to life are also being used by the church and the militants for conversion, they added.

Commenting on the situation, leader of the Opposition Samir Ranjan Barman said, “The Left Front government, through its all-round failure, has created a situation where this kind of a thing will continue to happen”.

The Opposition parties in Tripura have been clamouring for imposition of President’s rule in the state for a long time following the deteriorating law and order situation.    

 

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