Whiff of fight over spoils in murder
Mamata gives up state security
PCOs face over-charging rap
CMC drafts heritage restoration rules
Celebration of life in city of sunrise
20 hurt as bus overturns
Siti network upgrade to take on RPG Netcom
Centre strips militancy of ideological sheen
Poll panel rider on security
BJP workers attack party office

 
 
WHIFF OF FIGHT OVER SPOILS IN MURDER 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Jan 25 
Gurupada Bagchi was killed because he had upset a comfortable criminal-promoter nexus whose tentacles extended within the CPM’s organisation in Kasba.

A preliminary investigation by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has found evidence of intra-party squabbles over the sharing of spoils between goons who, at one time or the other, enjoyed the patronage of local party bosses.

A CID officer who interrogated a number of people close to the slain Bagchi said there was a dispute between two groups of local CPM leaders over the collection of “donations”.

Accounts of some CPM insiders have pointed at sharp differences between Bagchi and the secretary of the Kasba (north) local committee, Nepal Saha.

According to one version, Saha and his associates reportedly objected when they came to know that Triloki Nath Shaw, a rival of Tarak Halder, who is alleged to have been involved in the killing, had ties with Bagchi. Another version says Triloki and Halder were actually accomplices.

A local CPM functionary, Nirmal Majumdar, denied any knowledge about the rivalry between Tarak and Triloki. “The two belong to the same group and used to extort money from traders in the Kasba market,” he said.

Preliminary investigation indicates that Tarak, who was released last month from jail, might have masterminded the killing in a desperate attempt to wrest control of an extortion racket.

But Halder has not been named in the FIR filed by Tumba Chanda, a party worker. So, the police are still not saying whether he is on its list of suspects. Halder, said to be about 35 years old, is an old Kasba hand who lived in the CIT quarters on 25/1, BB Chatterjee Road. He fled the locality about three years ago after falling foul of the party and is said to shifted base to Kaiser Street, in Sealdah.

Last year, he was arrested on charges of murder but was released on bail in December. His lawyer was Dibyendyu Biswas, a Congress councillor. CPM leaders say Halder has been threatening some of them ever since. There was an attempt on Bagchi in October last year, following which a party functionary, Dharma Das, was arrested near Gariahat.

Prasad Guha, secretary of the CPM’s south east zonal committee, said it was Bagchi’s campaign against a cabal of promoters that probably led to his murder.

For many residents of Kasba, the killing is a throwback to the days of violent ghetto politics.

But since the 1970s, Kasba has metamorphosed into a middle-class suburb that is witnessing hectic real estate development.

Bagchi’s killing represents the flipside of Kasba’s development. He was the secretary of the CPM’s Kasba (south) local committee, the party outfit that is in charge of the stretch of the Rashbehari Avenue from Bijan Setu to Bosepukur.

Much of the real estate development in Kasba has taken place along this stretch. Real estate prices, too, have soared.

Early last year, some promoters had complained to party leaders that they were being threatened. Some extortionists allegedly boasted of CPM connections.

Since Bagchi took over as local committee secretary, the party tightened its monitoring of real estate development in Kasba.

This led to allegations of the party playing favourites, backing some promoters, dumping others.

On November 23 last year, CPM cadre mobilised local youth to forcibly stop what they deemed an “illegal construction” near Bosepukur. Meanwhile patrolling has been stepped up in the area.

The CPM’s Kasba (north) local committee secretary, Nepal Saha, has been provided round-the-clock protection.    


 
 
MAMATA GIVES UP STATE SECURITY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 24 
Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday gave up state security to protest “harassment of the police and the common people at the hands of CPM cadre” at Kasba. “The security men themselves are insecure... What kind of security can they provide me ?” she asked.

Her guards were seen loitering outside her house on Harish Chatterjee Street, some of them in uniform and with their rifles.

“At 2 am, didi (Mamata) suddenly came out of her house and with folded hands, asked us to leave. She said she no longer needed us,” one of the guards said.

Mamata said she will lead a silent procession from Ballygunge to Kasba on Tuesday afternoon. She demanded that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation rebuild the Kasba market.

“North Bengal has been taken over by ISI activists and south Bengal is being terrorised by the CPM cadre,” she said.

Mamata also spoke to Governor Viren Shah and sought his intervention.

She denied that Tarak Halder, named by the CPM as the mastermind of Sunday’s killing, had any links with her party. “Actually, the murder is the fallout of an intra-party feud,” Mamata said.    


 
 
PCOS FACE OVER-CHARGING RAP 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Jan 24 
Most of the 10,000-odd public call offices in Calcutta and Howrah are overcharging customers, Calcutta Telephones said on Monday.

K.R. Ramanujam, chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones, said the city police have been asked to look into what is described as “rampant cheating’’ by PCO operators.

“We are asking aggrieved subscribers to file cases at the local police stations. We have already informed the police authorities of the rates PCOs can charge,’’ Ramanujam said, adding that Rs 2 per call amounts to cheating users.

A measure of the gravity of the problem was evident last Thursday in the meeting between Ramanujam and all general managers on overcharging by PCOs.

By an official estimate, PCO operators are overcharging to the tune of lakhs of rupees every year. Ramanujam as well as deputy commissioner of police, detective department, special, Manoj Malaviya said their officials were currently going through a “sea of complaints’’ against PCOs.

“We will be tough with them,” Malaviya said.

Another deputy commissioner, Ranjit Pachnanda, has asked all officers of police stations to probe allegations of overcharging. “Officers have been asked to take immediate action against operators,’’ he said.

At a recent meeting with Ramanujam and general manager, customer service, N.N. Banerjee, members of the telephone advisory committee blasted officials for continuing to soft-pedal the issue of overcharging by PCOs.

“They are supposed to charge Rs 1.26 for every three minutes. But all PCOs are charging Rs 2,’’ said Sibaranjan Chatterjee, a member of the committee.

“The telephone authorities are sitting idle while PCOs are taking customers for a ride,’’ another member, Chandra Prakash Mehra, said.

A telephone official explained that a PCO overcharges 70 paise per three-minute call. “On an average, 20 persons make a six-minute call from a PCO every day. So a PCO is overcharging Rs 1.40 from each of these 20 persons,’’ a general manager of Calcutta Telephones said.

Telephone authorities, quoting from a conservative survey, said PCOs overcharge Rs 2,80,000 everyday. The vigilance department of Calcutta Telephones, which is authorised to take action against operators who are overcharging, has failed to initiate any measures so far.

PCO operators are already up in arms. “Can any customer pay Rs 1.26 paise, as has been fixed by the telephone authorities? If Calcutta Telephones accuses us of overcharging, they should fix a rate which will neither pinch the customer nor the PCO owner,’’ K.K. Singh, a senior member of the STD-ISD operators’ association, said.

“We have placed our grievance to Calcutta Telephones. We will be forced to take to the streets and take drastic action if the telephone authorities act unreasonably,’’ he added.

Singh said more than 30,000 persons are employed in PCOs and any “foolish” action by the telephone authorities will have far-reaching consequences.    


 
 
CMC DRAFTS HERITAGE RESTORATION RULES 
 
 
BY MADHUSHREE C. BHOWMIK
 
Calcutta, Jan 24 
Three years after pushing for proper preservation of heritage buildings, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has drawn up guidelines to protect the city’s rich heritage and promote “creative real estate development.” The CMC will issue a public gazette notification once the heritage rules are ratified by the Assembly.

The 16-page draft offers “lucrative’’ incentives to heritage building owners and promoters developing heritage property so that they restore it “imaginatively,’’ without detracting from the “built aesthetics.’’

According to municipal commissioner Asim Barman: “The amended Act, which has been modelled on the lines of the Mumbai and Hyderabad Heritage Acts, will go a long way in preserving the city’s heritage buildings without discouraging the owners and developers of such property from renovating these buildings.’’ The Act, prepared by the CMC’s heritage cell, was originally conceived by John Raw, an expert from the British Trade and Industry who was in the city last year at the behest of the CMC.

Chapter III of the draft report, explaining the ‘procedure, preservation and conservation of heritage buildings’, states that: “All such works must respect traditional building materials and constructional techniques. All preservation, restoration and repair works shall be executed under the consultancy and supervision of conservation architect/engineer empanelled by CMC...”

The draft rules also include a compensation package for heritage building owners and developers for the “losses incurred while developing heritage property’’ by way of transferable development rights (TDR).

This means an owner or a developer who loses floor area ratio (FAR) while developing a heritage property can consume extra floor space commensurate to the “lost area” while working on a non-heritage property. Under the corporation’s building laws, the permissible floor area limit is much less than that consumed by the city’s heritage buildings. “During British rule, the permissible floor area ratio was much higher as the building density ratio was much less than what it is today. So old buildings used more space than what is permitted now,’’ says city-based conservationist Manish Chakraborty, one of the CMC’s “empanelled architects.’’ But now, under the existing laws, the developer or owner would lose FAR while developing a heritage property.

To compensate for the loss, owners will be given development rights certificates on the basis of which he can use “extra space” elsewhere.

The “mayor-in-council’’ will grant the certificates on the recommendation of the heritage conservation committee if the corporation is convinced that the owner or the leaseholder has lost FAR. The certificate will remain valid for five years and be renewable up to 10 years, if applied for valid reasons.

The draft also recommends relaxation in rates of taxes on buildings. There will be 100 per cent tax rebate on buildings under Grade 1 and II heritage categories and 75 per cent for Grade II B and III buildings.

The ‘procedure for obtaining permission for construction/reconstruction in the heritage premises’ will be monitored by the heritage conservation committee.

The draft also envisages creation of heritage zones in areas having the maximum number of “old buildings.’’ According to Chakraborty, BBD Bag is high on the CMC’s heritage agenda.    


 
 
CELEBRATION OF LIFE IN CITY OF SUNRISE 
 
 
BY SUDIPTA BHATTACHARJEE
 
Calcutta, Jan 24 
For a ‘dying’ city to host a “millennium convention in celebration of life” may appear to be a contradiction in terms to most. But not Abid Hussain. “It is only proper that Calcutta plays host to a convention of this kind Since any other city with such poverty would have been in high distress,” said the former ambassador to Washington.

In the city to attend “Development Paradigm 2000”, a segment of the millennial meet organised by the NGO Young Men’s Welfare Society (YMWS), Hussain elaborated: “Calcutta is the city of sunrise, not sunset. Like the river that flows by its side, the strength of its people will flow like blood in vessels — from Netaji’s protests to Jyoti Basu’s eloquence. The history of the city will provide the link (between the past and the future).”

The three-day trans-national conference witnessed delegates from 10 countries imbibing ideas and sharing experiences about NGO activity in their respective spheres.

Among the speakers were environmentalist Vandana Shiva, former Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan, filmmaker Goutam Ghose, Norway-based professor Amalendu Guha, ISCE executive secretary Francis Fanthom and executive director of Bangladeshi NGO Proshika, Farooque Ahmed.

Six papers were presented at the seminar to crystallise awareness about social work and its metamorphosis into an effective movement. While multilingual scholar Amalendu Guha termed Calcutta as one of the most “corrupt” cities, Hussain predicted a new order emerging “with women and NGOs playing a significant role”.

Shourabh Mukherji, president of YMWS, stressed the need to “focus on the social and service sectors as an entry point into the community”. Filmmaker Goutam Ghose said: “Despite their mushrooming and the need to sift the grain from the chaff, we need NGOs. The only way to help the common people, the poor, is through NGOs.”

Besides the seminar, an exhibition-cum-cultural festival, currently on at St Lawrence High School, inaugurated by German ambassador H.D. Dieckman, has brought over 2,000 social workers and educationists together.

With 45 NGOs, including Sarra of Bangalore, Proshika of Bangladesh and Associazione Mondo Amico of Italy, and several city schools pitching in, and the cultural section hosting the likes of mime artiste Jogesh Dutta, dramatist Habib Tanvir and vocalist Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty, the millennium convention celebrated various facets of life.    


 
 
20 HURT AS BUS OVERTURNS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 24 
Twenty people were injured when a speeding private bus skidded and fell into a ditch on Tuesday morning at Sikharpur under Rajarhat police station.

All the injured, including six women and three children, were admitted to Rajarhat Hospital. The driver and the conductors managed to flee.

Fire brigade officials were called in. A crane was used to haul up the bus while a couple of fire tenders stood by if the bus went up in flames.

Residents expressed their displeasure about the late arrival of the police. Officials from Rajarhat police station reached the spot after two hours.

The incident took place around 10.30 am when the driver of the bus slammed the brakes to avoid a cyclist.

Police said the bus was plying at high speed on the pot-holed road and skidded and keeled over when the driver slammed the brakes.

Local residents were the first to help out the injured. Policemen from the nearby camp rushed to the site but could not do anything because they had no equipment.

Debdas Roy, who came to the local market, said: “After hearing the crash, we rushed to the site. The trapped passengers, who found breathing difficult, were shouting for help. We dragged out some of them but lack of equipment hampered our efforts.

“Later, we broke the rear portion of the bus and dragged out the rest.”

Ramapada Biswas, another resident, blamed the authorities for the poor state of the road which led to frequent mishaps.    


 
 
SITI NETWORK UPGRADE TO TAKE ON RPG NETCOM 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan 24 
If it’s war, it must be on cable. With growing satellite TV viewership in Calcutta, SitiCable has announced ambitious plans to take the fight into the RPG camp in the city and its adjoining areas.

RPG Netcom and SitiCable are the two wholesale distributors of satellite TV signals in the city. The Zee Network-powered cable channel is launching its Rs 10-crore optic fibre backbone project in Calcutta. It will also convert its existing channel into a full-fledged Bengali movie channel from February 10.

The optic fibre highway, covering 50 km, aims to connect not only Calcutta, but also adjoining areas like Howrah, Salt Lake, Behala, Dum Dum, Sodepur etc.

“This will be put in place within 60 days and will not only enhance SitiCable’s reach, but will also ensure improved cable and satellite signal quality,” said Hari Goenka, deputy CEO, Zee Network. This is part of SitiCable’s optic fibre drive in 10 cities at a cost of Rs 200 crore.

With RPG optic fibre lines laid already, the territorial tussle promises to hot up this summer.

Meanwhile, the 14-hour film fare on the Siti channel will feature three films a day, with various Tollywood-based programmes to fill in the blanks.

The accent will be on `colour’. “We have found out from cable operators that the demand for films from the 80s and 90s is very high in most areas. The older ones, we feel, have been over-exposed,” says Manas Chatterjee, resident director, Zee Network.

The movie channel will provide a platform for production of Bengali telefilms by Zee Network. “That is the ultimate aim as the cable war is actually a content game,” say Zee officials.

The Siti Telugu movie channel has proved to be a “huge hit” in Andhra Pradesh, prompting a move to the east and further forays in the south, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

“The Telugu channel has, in five years, grown so big that we have been able to plan programmes like Miss Andhra Pradesh and Telugu TV awards. With our optic fibre backbone project and the Bengali movie channel we hope to invade many more households in West Bengal,” said Goenka.    


 
 
CENTRE STRIPS MILITANCY OF IDEOLOGICAL SHEEN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, Jan. 24 
The Centre and the governments of the northeastern states have reached a consensus that insurgency is without any ideological base and it is only a “cottage industry” for carrying out extortion.

This is a major shift in the way militancy is perceived in the region, said G.K. Pillai, joint secretary in the Union home ministry for the Northeast. He was speaking to The Telegraph after the two-day conference of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee with chief ministers and Governors of the Northeast here on economic development and the security of the region.

He said unemployment was forcing the youth of the region to take to arms. Whether the youth are joining the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council or the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, they are doing it for money and possibly for adventure, Pillai added.

Pillai said is why the economic package announced by the Prime Minister here for the Northeast was employment-oriented, with large content for creating employment opportunities.

He said the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund, for instance, was a fund which was open to non-governmental organisations as well. Full thrust is being given to information technology as this sector has the potential for largescale employment, he added.

Pillai said the Centre was willing to provide funds for development. He also said the governments had been given full freedom to initiate talks with any group which wanted to give up arms.

Naga ceasefire

Pillai admitted there was a communication gap between the Centre and the Nagaland government over the truce with NSCN (I-M).

Jamir had questioned the Centre’s propriety in leaving the state government out of the talks with the NSCN (I-M). He had also asked for a review of the ceasefire with the NSCN (I-M) after the recent attempt on his life.

Pillai said Jamir had a point about not being taken into confidence as there is no representative of the government at the talks.

But he said it has been kept informed. However, Pillai dismissed Jamir’s demand to call off the ceasefire because of the ambush.

“We can’t allow one incident to derail the talks,” he said, adding the NSCN (I-M) had denied having had a hand in it.

He said if the claim of the state government could be substantiated with evidence that the NSCN (I-M) was involved, the Nagaland police should have filed FIRs on the basis of which the Centre could have taken it up with the NSCN (I-M).

On the perception of several state governments that the NSCN (I-M) was using the cover of the ceasefire to expand its extortion activities in other states of the region, Pillai said according to the ceasefire agreement, the organisation had agreed to suspend all links with other armed groups in the region.    


 
 
POLL PANEL RIDER ON SECURITY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, Jan. 24 
Election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh today asked Manipur director-general of police L. Jugeswor Singh to make a fresh assessment of the state’s requirement of security forces for the Assembly elections next month.

Terming Jugeswor Singh’s assessment as flawed, the election commissioner abruptly ended the meeting that was convened to take stock of security arrangements for the polls. The elections will be held in two phases on February 12 and 22.

Sources said Jugeswor Singh had fixed the state’s requirement of security forces at 447 companies. However, Lyngdoh told the meeting that the Centre could not deploy such a huge contingent of security personnel in one state.

Urging the administration to pool its “own resources”, the election commissioner directed the DGP to make a fresh assessment of the state’s requirement.

Lyngdoh later cancelled a press conference organised by the state election office at Raj Bhavan.

Chief secretary H. Jel Shyam, who attended the security meeting, said the Centre was willing to deploy only 268 paramilitary companies for the polls. Terming it “inadequate”, he said the Manipur government would press the Centre for more security personnel. Apprehensive about a fresh bout of violence in the run-up to the Assembly elections, the W. Nipamacha Singh government had suggested that the polls be held in three phases.

The Election Commission rejected the proposal. Since the announcement was made, the Manipur government and the Centre have been engaged in a debate over the level of deployment of security forces for the polls.

Lyngdoh’s visit to the state was expected to clear the confusion, but the issue remained unresolved even after the election commissioner held separate meetings with representatives of political parties and bureaucrats.

He reportedly told officials that he would be back after a couple of days to review the security arrangements afresh.

Blast probe

The Manipur government suspects the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (Oken) of triggering the blast at the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) office here on Saturday.

Seven persons were injured in the incident.    


 
 
BJP WORKERS ATTACK PARTY OFFICE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ranchi, Jan. 24 
The South Bihar BJP received a severe jolt on the eve of polls as irate workers attacked the party’s central Vananchal office here yesterday in protest against “faulty ticket distribution.’’

The workers also vandalised a portrait of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Nearly 50 supporters of sitting MLA Duti Pahan, who was denied a ticket from the Khijri Assembly constituency, ransacked the party office. They smashed the glass panes, broke tables, chairs, almirahs, cots, mattresses, dressing tables and a television set. The marauders also tore up office records. Local leaders said property worth Rs 3 lakh was destroyed by the attackers. They shouted slogans that the party was trying to “gag the downtrodden.’’ Party leaders locked themselves up in a bathroom while at least two senior leaders managed escape through the back door.

Over the past week, the BJP’s central office on Harmu Road had been besieged by a large number of members demanding a change in the “party’s norms of awarding tickets to sitting MLAs.”

They alleged that since all the four existing legislators from Ranchi, Khijri, Hatia and Kanke had failed to live up to people’s expectation, they should be replaced with new faces.

Bowing to popular pressure, the party decided to field sitting MLAs in Ranchi and Hatia while denying tickets to the sitting legislators from Khijri and Kanke.

Orissa voting machines

Nearly 500 electronic voting machines, lying unused for more than five years in the Ganjam district, will be used in only 10 Assembly segments, reports our Berhampur correspondent.

The Assembly segments are Bhubaneswar, Jatani, Khurda, Begunia, Nayagarh, Daspalla, Khandapara, Cuttack town, Cuttack sadar and Puri. However, none of these assembly segments come under the Ganjam district.

The machines, rusting in a godown at Chatrapur, were brought to Ganjam in the early Nineties. Even the district administration officials are skeptical that those may not be fit for use anymore. The administration also does not have qualified staff to maintain these expensive machines.    

 

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