Key trains on Kolkata call
Sudden strike at airport
Asim hands out sales tax relief
Ireland head of St James
Satchels to tickets for Loreto girls
Ultadanga colony levelled in 4-hr blaze
Pak rights panel chief slams Advani
Mulayam backs Bihar Left
Formal seal on six-party Opp. front in Manipur
Saffron bar on criminals in Orissa polls

Calcutta, Jan 18 
Mamata Banerjee is raring to rewrite railway history by replacing “Howrah” with “Kolkata” and bringing all major long-distance trains into the heart of the city.

The railway board has already taken up an ambitious Rs 108-crore modernisation project to link the proposed ‘Kolkata Station’ with Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and other important cities.

A sum of Rs 73 crore will be spent on setting up a new passenger terminal — named Kolkata — at Sealdah. “As there is no scope for more expansion at Howrah station, and since Shalimar is a fair bit away from Calcutta, the railways have long been thinking of a third terminal, this time in the city itself,” an Eastern Railway spokesman said.

Five platforms will be made available by converting the existing goods yard at Sealdah station. The Sealdah (south) station building will be shifted to a new building between Sealdah (main) and Sealdah (south) stations.

The platforms of the existing Sealdah (south) station will then be lengthened further to accommodate mail and express trains.

A highly-placed Eastern Railway official said work had already started in both the Sealdah sections. It is expected to be over by March 2001. A Rs 11-crore project is on to replace the condemned south station complex at Sealdah with a new seven-storeyed station building. “Structural experts have already declared that the Sealdah (south) station complex is beyond repair. It will be demolished soon,” said an official.

“It will be the first station building in the Eastern Railway zone to have shopping plazas, eateries and other modern amenities,” an engineer of the railways said.

Three floors will be used by the railways and the remaining four will be let out commercially.

Once things are in order, major Howrah-bound Eastern Railway trains will take a turn towards ‘Kolkata’ via the central chord railway (CCR) link on the Sealdah-Dankuni section.

Trains on the South Eastern Railway route will take the CCR route via Andul.

“The CCR link is now primarily used for goods trains running between Sealdah and Howrah divisions,” said a spokesman.

A flyover for the two extra lines, exclusively for mail and express trains, will come up at Dum Dum.

The remaining Rs 24 crore will be utilised for the introduction of longer 12-coach EMU trains to benefit commuters in the Sealdah (south), Howrah-Bandel and Tarakeswar sections.

For this, about 25 platforms will be made longer, signal posts will be shifted and two more compartments, including an extra motor coach, will be added to each of the present 10-coach rakes in the Howrah division. Almost all the platforms in Sealdah (south section) are capable of accommodating 12-coach trains.

In the Sealdah division, Budge Budge, Lakshmikantapur, Diamond Harbour and Canning will have longer local trains running through. Each EMU train will be able to accommodate around 600 passengers.

But a section of railway engineers feels there is no justification in adding coaches instead of increasing the number of trains.

“This will only result in higher operational costs as, outside peak hours, these extra coaches will invariably remain empty. These sections need more, rather than longer, trains,” observed one rail engineer.    

Calcutta, Jan 18 
Chaos reigned at Calcutta airport after a wildcat strike called by a section of employees grounded flights for over five hours on Tuesday afternoon.

A few hundred men, women and children scheduled to board Indian Airlines and Alliance Air flights to Delhi, Jaipur, Chennai and Bangalore, were left stranded by the strike called by some employees owing allegiance to the Air Corporation Employees’ Union.

The workers were demanding speedy settlement of various demands including withdrawal of ‘suspension’ and ‘termination of services’ orders.

While the agitationists did not disrupt incoming flights, they succeeded in stalling all scheduled take-offs during the period of protest.

The agitation was finally called off at 6.30 pm, following an assurance from the management about considering their demands. Flights started taking off again after 7.30 pm.

By then, the damage had been done. Passengers spent the entire afternoon running from pillar to post, as flight timings went haywire.

A distressed Minati Basu, who was going to Chennai with daughter, Sujata, said: “I am going to Chennai for the treatment of my daughter who is suffering from serious cardiac problems. The appointment with the doctor had been finalised, but now I don’t know when I’ll leave and what I’ll do.”

Sanjeev Agarwala, a businessman, who had arrived at the airport in the early afternoon to catch a flight to Bangalore, was extremely agitated.

“I rushed to the airport cutting short my programmes. I have been waiting here for a long time and I don’t know when I shall be able to get out of here. I had some important meetings lined up for the late evening but now I’ll have to cancel all that,” he said.

“The authorities should take adequate measures so that innocent passengers like us are not harassed,” added another angry passenger.

The airport authorities could do precious little, as they too were clueless about when things would return to normal.

Indian Airlines officials said that they came to know of the agitation only after they arrived at the airport for duty.

Some officials complained that many workers who were willing to work were forced to abandon their posts by the agitationists.

The superintendent of police clarified that the agitation was “peaceful”.    

Calcutta, Jan 18 
Finance minister Asim Dasgupta on Tuesday announced a cut in the rates of sales tax for some more items and said an Ordinance on the sales tax revision will be promulgated this week.

Chilli, turmeric, tamarind, raw silk, ‘Hawai’ chappals, rubber sandals costing less than Rs 200, handloom goods and the thread used to make them, processed salt, aluminium utensils, agarbatti, charcoal, firewood, safety matches and renewable energy devices have been exempted from sales tax hike.

Dasgupta said sales tax on several items, including bricks, electronic products and roofing tiles, had been reduced from eight per cent to four per cent.

Sales tax rates on automobiles will be fixed after the elections in Bihar, Orissa and Haryana.

After a meeting of the finance ministers in the Capital on January 16, many states governments had effected a revision in sales tax.

Criticising the Centre’s decision to cut down by one per cent the interest rate on small savings deposits, Dasgupta demanded an immediate meeting of chief ministers to review the decision.

In a letter to Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha, Dasgupta asked him to restrict the reduction of interest rates to half per cent till such a meeting is held.

Dasgupta said that the Centre had done a second wrong by suspending collection of deposits under various schemes.

He said the state government had received a circular from the Centre on Tuesday saying that small savings deposits could be made from January 21.

“Our target for earnings from small savings schemes this year is Rs 4,000 crore and we expect to meet it,” Dasgupta said.    

Calcutta, Jan 18 
Terence Hamilton Ireland is set to take over as principal of St. James School. Informed sources said Ireland, principal of St Paul’s, Scott’s Lane, will succeed Darryl Bloud.

However, Ireland told The Telegraph: “I know nothing about this yet.” Born in 1952 in Kanpur, Ireland passed out of La Martiniere, Lucknow. He graduated from St Xavier’s College, Calcutta, with honours in English in 1975.

Ireland joined Julien Day School, Ganganagar, in 1977, and rose to be principal. After a long stint with the school, he joined St Paul’s last year.

Once a keen hockey player, Ireland is married to Gauri (Sengupta), and has a son, Rohan.

A self-made man, he is known in academic circles as a sincere, soft-spoken man, committed to the cause of education.    

Calcutta, Jan 18 
Pupils of Loreto Girls’ School, Sealdah, have turned their hands at a ticket collector’s job. A batch of 20 Class IX students have been posted at the main section of Sealdah station for the past two days, and they’re enjoying themselves in the serious business checking tickets and helping weed out free-trippers.

The girls help out during the morning peak hour, then it’s back to books for them.

Ticket collectors agreed that the girls were helping them and it has turned out to be an effective drive for the railways. Daily earnings were up, they said.

Station superintendent Tapan Kumar Das said even the commuters appreciated the drive. A group of daily passengers thanked him for the step. They said they had decided to hold proper tickets, because they did not want to get caught for free-tripping by girls of their daughters’ age.

Divisional railway manager Subhash Ranjan Das, who drew the students into the drive, said he was spurred by Mamata Banerjee’s directive to the railways to look for ways to increase earnings.    

Calcutta, Jan 18 
One person died and nearly 350 huts were gutted in a fire at Basanti Colony, Ultadanga, early on Tuesday.

The victim has been identified as Alok Bakshi,19. Five persons were injured and several heads of cattle sustained burn injuries. Twenty-two fire tenders were pressed into service. They managed to bring the flame under control after four hours. The cause behind the blaze is yet to be ascertained.

Hundreds of homeless families have taken refuge on the platform at Bidhannagar Road railway station.

Police said the blaze broke out around 1.25 am. Most of the residents managed to escape. But Bakshi, who was sleeping with members of his family, could not save himself. While the others managed to escape, the victim was trapped inside a flaming hut, police added.

Most families have lost everything they owned. Sandhya Giri lost all the money and gifts she had collected for her daughter’s wedding. “I do not know what I will do. The fire snatched everything,” she said.

Ratan Pramanik could not save any of his belongings either. “I woke up and heard my neighbours were shouting. There was no time for thinking. My wife and I took our children and ran away,” he recounted.    

Calcutta, Jan 18 
The coordinator of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Brigadier (retd), Rao Abid Hamid, criticised Union home minister L.K. Advani on Tuesday for accusing Pakistan of masterminding the Indian Airlines plane hijack without any evidence.

“Pakistan condemned the incident. Pakistan cannot afford to get involved in a plane hijacking. The home minister of India has made wild allegations,” Hamid told The Telegraph. The former army officer is in Calcutta to participate in the South Asia Peace Meet to lessen tension between the two countries.

The president of the meet, Nirmala Deshpandey, said four former Pakistani army officers and the director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, Karachi, Karamat Ali, as well as delegates from Bhutan, Nepal, and Bangladesh participated in the peace meet.

Hamid said Masood Azhar, whose release was demanded by the hijackers, had entered India with a valid passport and he was sent to jail. “Charges were not framed against him for the past six years,” he said, adding that photographs of the hijackers released by Advani, were not Pakistanis.

The former brigadier hinted that elections would be held soon as the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf is a temporary arrangement. “This system cannot go on for long ,” he said.

On ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he said: “A group of people were running the country in the name of democracy during Sharif’s tenure.”

The director of Labour Education and Research, Karamat Ali, however, criticised the “unfortunate army intervention”. He did not spare the civilian governments either. “Earlier, elected governments were also pulled down. And Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif should be equally blamed for running the country in an undemocratic manner.”

Ali said that the labour movement and rights of workers suffered because of the army regime. Rights of labour were also not recognised by the ousted prime minister, Sharif.    

Patna, Jan. 18 
Bowing to the “dictates of time,” the “revisionist Marxists” and die- hard Vinod Mishra loyalists have joined hands with Mulayam Singh Yadav in Bihar forcing the state into a quadrangular contest.

The CPI and the CPI(M-L) have agreed to contest 154 and 89 Assembly seats respectively in their strongholds.

The Samajwadi Party and the Forward Bloc will vie for the remaining 81 seats. However, a joint declaration by the CPI and the CPI(M-L) said both of them may “field candidates” for friendly fights in 25 seats leaving 56 for Samajwadi candidates. Sources said the decision indicated that the CPI and the CPI(M-L) failed to arrive at a consensus on 25 seats.

CPI state president Jalaluddin Ansari said, “Initially there were differences over 90 seats but now it has narrowed down to 25. We are still negotiating with the CPI(M-L).”

State CPI(M-L) president Ramjatan Sharma said ideological differences with the CPI would always be there, “but in this poll we will fight together against the Congress, the BJP and the RJD”.

The CPI, which has a strength of 25 in the House, will be fielding candidates mainly in north Bihar districts like Madhubani, Saharsha, Kishanganj and parts of central Bihar including Nalanda and Biharsharif.

The CPI(M-L) Liberation strongholds are Siwan, Gopalganj, Gaya, Jehanabad and Bhojpur.

The Liberation group which won six seats in the 1995 polls, has since expanded its support base among the Dalits and the backwards in these districts.

The differences between the two over seat-sharing could not be resolved in a recent meeting at Jehanabad, where the presence of both the parties are strong.

Sources said the “pact” was resisted by RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav till the last moment. He reportedly telephoned Ansari on January 14 saying, “We made some mistakes in the September 1999 polls. But forget all that and join us”. However, Ansari said his party had already decided on the issue.

Laloo Prasad Yadav fears that the new front will split the RJD votebank as the Marxists enjoy a “common caste support base.’’ Besides the Samajwadi Party will also field Yadav and Muslim candidates to counter the RJD.

Laloo Prasad Yadav is now left only with the CPM, whose vote share is less than two per cent in the state.

“We had invited the CPM to join the pact but there was no response”, said Ramjatan Sharma.

The Lok Dal led by Ajit Singh is also trying to negotiate with this CPI-led Left alliance for seat adjustment in the state.

“We will contest nearly 100 seats in north Bihar and we are ideologically closer to the CPI and the CPI(M-L)”, Singh said. He said the state was expected to have a hung House this time, where smaller parties would play a vital role after the polls.    

Imphal, Jan. 18 
The Opposition Secular Democratic Front (SFD) today announced itself as a six-party alliance while declaring its seat-sharing arrangement for 53 of the 60 Assembly seats in Manipur.

The surprise entry of the Congress, however, has created confusion with the CPM threatening to pull out of the front.

Earlier, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) had decided to fight the elections alone. However, senior leaders here said the party was committed to join the SDF. Congress’ campaign committee chairman and a former MP N. Tombi Singh today said the AICC’s decision to go it alone would not affect the Opposition alliance in Manipur.

The CWC, however, had not ruled out seat adjustments at the local level. Tombi Singh said the state PCC had already got the clearance from the Congress high command to join the SDF.

Saying that the Congress was a partner of the SDF, Tomki Singh said even minor differences with other SDF partners on seat-sharing would not affect the party’s relation with the Opposition alliance. The SDF, which met at the state CPI headquarters here today and finalised 53 seats, decided to field common candidates in 24 seats and have a friendly contest in 29 seats. Of the other 24 seats, the Congress’s share will be 14, the Manipur People’s Party’s five, the CPI’s three and the Janata Dal (Secular)’s two.

Differences cropped up in the seven seats of the valley where the allies want to field their respective candidates. The problem is expected to be resolved soon.

However, the CPM threat has put the SDF in a quandary. CPM politburo member Bimal Bose is here to decide his party’s strategy on the alliance. He said the CPM would not back any front where Congress is a member.

State CPM sources said the party may be compelled to pull out of the SDF if the Congress was granted entry. Expressing surprise over the front’s announcement of a six-member alliance, state CPM leader Shanta Singh said the Congress’ entry in the SDF had not been decided officially. Sources said even if the CPM pulls out of the SDF, it would hardly have any impact as the party did not have much clout in state politics.

The MPP, the CPI, the CPM and the JD(S) are the founding members of the SDF. The Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) joined the alliance recently.    

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 18 
The BJP today said it would not field any candidates with criminal records in the coming Assembly elections, but could spare those facing corruption charges.

Party spokesman Shyamanand Mohapatra said the BJP has also asked its ally, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), to bar candidates with a criminal past from contesting the polls. He said the president of the regional party, Naveen Patnaik, has agreed to the BJP’s proposal.

Mohapatra said the BJP, however, would spare candidates facing corruption charges as “in many cases the charges were politically motivated.” He said a police or vigilance chargesheet against a candidate on corruption charges was not enough to bar him from contesting the polls.

“Chargesheets are nothing but allegations. Unless someone is convicted of corruption charges, he cannot be kept from contesting elections,” the BJP leader said.

He claimed the Election Commission has expressed similar views in the past.

The BJP leader parried a question on whether his party would accept senior BJD leader Bijoy Mohapatra’s candidacy since a judicial commission had indicted him for his alleged role in the Cuttack hooch tragedy, which had claimed scores of lives. He said the Congress government had tabled the commission’s report, but had decided against its implementation.

Girl ragged: A first-year student of Ravenshaw College has lodged a complaint with the Malgodown police station in Cuttack against her seniors for ragging her.

The girl said she was mentally tortured by the students, whom she did not identify, police sources said. A case has been registered, but no arrests have been made.    


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