New rules after airport alert
Failed attempts on Bagchi out of CPM closet
Moderate Mamata puts mark on red zone
BE re-engineering with World Bank loan
Barman quit offer catches CMC napping
Vintage train project runs out of steam
Lalbazar on Republic Day red alert
One killed in Assam ambush
Fresh attacks on R-Day eve
Dara fear sparks reconversion

 
 
NEW RULES AFTER AIRPORT ALERT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 25 
Unprecedented security arrangements were made at the airport after a Republic Day-eve tip-off about a bomb planted at the Airport Authority of India’s residential quarters. Subsequently, the authorities declared a red alert and cancelled handling of all cargo and courier mail operations till Wednesday.

The entire airport and its adjacent areas were cordoned off and combed by the police, sniffer dogs and the civil aviation’s bomb disposal squad for five hours. The search proved futile and was called off around 2.30 pm.

“We have cancelled a number of operations and we leave nothing to chance when we receive such information,” said Roshan Lal, airport director.

The bomb scare prompted the airport authorities to impose some new security measures. A few of these are:

Employees of the airport and various airlines will be frisked and their personal identity cards scrutinised. Earlier, they were exempted from such checks. It is a no-go area for visitors for some time now.

No car will be allowed to even slow down outside the parking zones. Parking will only be allowed there.

Litter bins will be emptied every few hours, as they are the most convenient places for hiding explosives.

“Some relaxations are expected only after Republic Day,” said Kalyan Chakraborty, inspector-in-charge of the newly-set-up Airport police station.

Airport sources said around 9.30 am, a police officer at the outpost within the airport learnt about the bomb through a telephone cross-connection.

“He clearly heard two men talking over the phone about a bomb planted at the AAI staff quarters complex, near Airport Hotel. We immediately informed the airport authorities,” said an officer. At once, security was tightened.

Among the first persons to be informed of the bomb threat was home secretary S.N. Roy.

He said a mishap was to be averted at any cost. Soon, special forces, including commandos and jawans of the Rapid Action Force, and the police officials on duty, fanned out in different directions to carry out a search in the AAI staff quarters complex and the rest of the airport.

The bomb squad personnel thoroughly searched the entire complex, but found nothing.

“We may not have been able to find anything, but we have not let our guard down,” said Lal. “We shall remain on alert in case of an emergency.”

Those who came to receive their friends and relatives waited outside the airport on Tuesday afternoon. Seating arrangements were made for them. But some people managed to penetrate even this strict security screen.

A woman accompanying a middle-aged man were escorted into the international arrival lounge by a uniformed Calcutta Police official without anyone stopping them.

It happened at 4 pm, after the British Airways flight landed.

Around the same time, a nun came out of the airport and, after some time, went in again, without security officers even questioning her.    


 
 
FAILED ATTEMPTS ON BAGCHI OUT OF CPM CLOSET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 25 
Gurupada Bagchi’s murder threatens to open up a Pandora’s box of intra-party politics and the promoter-politician nexus.

The state government on Tuesday formed a six-member special investigating team (SIT) to lead a crackdown on criminal activities in the southern fringes of the city. The SIT team, led by inspector-general of police K.J. Singh, includes deputy commissioner of police, south, Ranjit Pachnanda; the DC, DD, Narayan Ghosh; deputy inspector-general of police, presidency range, Anil Kumar; the superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, A.K. Maliwal; and the DIG CID, Partha Bhattacharya.

According to initial investigations by SIT officials who visited Kasba, rivalry between CPM factions was responsible for Bagchi’s death. And the ‘land mafia-political nexus’ angle looms large over investigations.

The CPM leader killed in Kasba on Sunday morning had survived two earlier attempts on his life. According to police records, both were engineered by CPM-backed criminals who were members of a “rival group”.

And Bagchi’s complaints about the “growing criminalisation” of the Kasba areas had been ignored by the party leadership.

Ballygunge MLA Rabin Deb’s initial outburst against the police is being viewed by Bagchi-loyalists as a move to deflect attention from his failure to keep the party leadership posted about the growing criminalisation in the Kasba area.

As far as intra-party posturings go, Bagchi was said to be close to CPM hardliners like Anil Biswas and Biman Bose.

Bagchi had apparently incurred the wrath of some promoters who were trying to grab waterbodies in the Kasba and Haltu areas for construction of multistoreyed buildings.

When he failed to muster support from the party to protect some of these waterbodies, Bagchi teamed up with a local environment protection committee to frustrate the moves of land-grabbers.

Police sources said Bagchi backed Triloki Singh, a notorious anti-social, who extorted money from traders at Chaulpatti, the market alongside the Ballygunge railway tracks.

Singh managed to make deep inroads into areas previously controlled by Tarak Halder, a Congress sympathiser. Halder aligned with Nepal Saha, a prominent CPM leader and Bagchi’s rival. Halder had been threatening both Singh and Bagchi over the last month.

“A heated exchange had taken place between Bagchi and Saha at the Rashbehari Avenue office of the Ballygunge zonal committee last month over political patronage given to criminals in the Kasba area,” a member of the SIT said.

A close associate of Bagchi told SIT officials visiting the site that another criminal, Amre, who was close to Bablu Chakraborty, a terror of Kasba in the Seventies, had also warned Singh to back off.

Speaking to The Telegraph later in the evening, the DC, south, Ranjit Pachnanda, said all police stations were asked to coordinate a combined raid in the Kasba, Lake, Tollygunge, Tiljala and Jadavpur areas.

Meanwhile, Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee alleged on Tuesday that three children were “missing” from the site of Sunday’s arson at the Kasba market.    


 
 
MODERATE MAMATA PUTS MARK ON RED ZONE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan 25 
Careful not to inflame passions and yet eager to plant her feet firmly in a red bastion, Mamata Banerjee marched through the convulsed neighbourhood of Kasba on Tuesday, calling for peace.

She promised nearly 300 arson victims rehabilitation within a fortnight if the state government failed to rebuild the shanties they lived in before these were torched. She has also decided to bring the matter to the notice of the Union home ministry.

This was the first time since the October Lok Sabha polls that Mamata had unhindered entry into this CPM fief, her restrained protest against Sunday’s murder and arson causing some embarrassment to the Left leadership, which has yet to get its act together.

“I even kept silent when CPM cadre hurled insults at me and did not allow my agents to remain inside the polling booths. But this time, the people of the area joined forces with me to step up the campaign against the CPM-engineered terror,” she said. The Trinamul leader, famous for her rabble-rousing skills, was unusually cautious in her words and gestures while she addressed a mammoth rally after the peace march.

She called for restoration of peace in an area, bristling with tension even two days after the murder of local CPM leader Gurupada Bagchi and the retaliatory torching of Kasba market.

“I appeal to the government to provide immediate relief to those hapless people who have been rendered homeless by the CPM cadre,” she told a huge turnout near Bijon Setu. “I will come to your rescue if the government fails to act within a fortnight. I will collect donations from the people to rebuild your structures,” she said.

Mamata announced the formation of an emergency relief committee, headed by Subrata Mukherjee, to offer financial and other help to the affected people. Earlier, a deputation of the Kasba Bazar Committee met Mamata to seek her assistance in rehabilitation.

The rally size, as well as its controlled protest, impressed even the communists. “This was a massive rally and a peaceful one,” said Nepal Saha, secretary of CPM’s Kasba (north) local committee.

Mamata denied that her party was involved in Bagchi’s murder. “The police are free to arrest the culprits. We will never interfere,” she said. For once, she did not lead the procession for security reasons. Neither did she visit the arson site. Trinamul leaders marched with their lips sealed with black tape. With residents lining the roads, the procession took nearly two and a half hours to cover the entire area.    


 
 
BE RE-ENGINEERING WITH WORLD BANK LOAN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 25 
Market forces are catching up with the eastern region’s oldest engineering college. Under the terms of a Rs 25-crore assistance the World Bank has agreed to release, Bengal Engineering College will be equipped to conduct research of international standard that can be marketed to business.

BE College vice-chancellor Sparshmani Chatterjee said: “The World Bank headquarters in Washington have already given the Centre its clearance of the assistance. Recently, we were informed by the Centre”. The college, set up in 1857, will be the first educational institution in Bengal to receive World Bank funds.

State education department officials said the World Bank wants the college to concentrate on faculty development in order to produce marketable research work.

As part of arming the college for days when educational institutions are more and more expected to fend for themselves as government support ebbs, BE College teachers will have to go through comprehensive refresher courses.

The upgradation scheme will involve teachers visiting similar institutions in India and abroad and take part in seminars and workshops to acquaint themselves with the quality of work done elsewhere.

The college is one of three premiere engineering institutions in India selected for World Bank assistance. The two others are Roorkee Enginering College and Poona Engineering College.

Education department sources said the college will be able to accept the funds after state government clearance which, in turn, will depend on the terms of assistance. It will begin to study the conditions only after being officially informed by the Centre of World Bank’s agreeing to offer the money.

Initial indications suggested that 70 per cent of the assistance will be given as loan and the remaining 30 per cent as grant.

The Bank is prepared to advance up to Rs 25 crore, but the actual amount to be allotted will be decided after the completion of the project report.

Once the funds come through, a large amount will be set aside for modernising the workshop of this nearly 150-year-old institute now langusihing in the shadows of the high-profile IIT Kharagpur.    


 
 
BARMAN QUIT OFFER CATCHES CMC NAPPING 
 
 
BY DIPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta,Jan 25 
Municipal commissioner Asim Barman has “offered” to relinquish his post this March. The move comes just a few months before the civic elections, scheduled for this summer.

Barman has already conveyed his intentions to mayor Prasanta Chatterjee. According to sources in the mayor’s office, Chatterjee has asked the commissioner not to “act in haste”. The mayor is keen that Barman continues till the elections, at least.

“All I can say is that I am not a permanent employee of the CMC. It’s just a matter of time before I have to leave,” Barman told The Telegraph. Whenever he does step down, Barman is widely tipped to take over as health or education secretary.

Barman assumed office as commissioner on 3 June, 1994. According to Section 14 (II) of the Calcutta Municipal Commission (CMC) Act, 1980, the state government appoints the commissioner for a five-year term. This might subsequently be extended, for a maximum of another five years.

The municipal commissioner’s move has caused ripples in both the higher offices of CMC and among the members, mayor in council.

Barman’s offer comes even as the ruling CPM braces for a bruising battle for the corporation against the Trinamul Congress.

With the Trinamul spreading its tentacles throughout the city, as was evident from the last Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, there is a large question mark over the return of the Marxists to the CMC.

“After such a distinguished stint at the top, Barman cannot be blamed for wanting to bow out gracefully, rather than waiting to suffer humiliation at the hustings,” said Trinamul leader Durga Mukherjee.

Barman has earned the reputation of being a reformer in a hurry. “One of Barman’s major achievements has been the demolition of the myth that the CPM always stands in the way of any constructive activity,” said member, mayor-in-council (road) Sudhangshu Sil.

“Barman has achieved so much under such constraints that one must wonder what he could have done for the city if he would have been supported by everyone,” added member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), Kanti Ganguly.

Barman has left his mark on nearly every important aspect of the corporation — buildings, road, water supply and conservancy services. When Barman had taken over, the annual revenue earnings was Rs 55 crore. Today, it has crossed Rs 170 crore.

“The World Bank and Asian Development Bank projects initiated by him will definitely suffer a set-back once he goes,” said some chief engineers of the corporation.    


 
 
VINTAGE TRAIN PROJECT RUNS OUT OF STEAM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta,Jan 25 
Eastern Railway has dropped a scheme to introduce a joy ride in a steam engine-driven vintage train between Howrah and Bandel owing to lack of positive response from the state tourism department.

A railway spokesman said after the Millennium Express ran between Howrah and Tribeni on September 19, the state tourism department requested the railway to run this train every Sunday for tourists. The tourism department was expected to promote the ride.

Accordingly, a five-coach train was readied. But not a single tourist has yet turned up for the ride. State minister for tourism Manab Mukherjee said he was not even aware of the project and therefore declined comment. He said he would first have to discuss the matter with tourist officers.

An officer in the passenger traffic section of the Eastern Railway said a lounge car, an AC first class, an AC two-tier sleeper and a brakevan pulled by a 77-year-old steam engine were kept at the ready.

The 103-ton engine was introduced in 1922 and was built in England by W.M. Breadmore Company. It was in active service in the Asansol division till 1985.

The train was scheduled to leave Howrah in the morning and to run at night. Operated on a “no profit no loss” basis, it would have stopped at Serampore, Chandannagar and Hooghly to allow tourists to visit the heritage sites there.

The return tickets at Rs 2000 each, were on the expensive side, taking into account the cost of running the steam engine.    


 
 
LALBAZAR ON REPUBLIC DAY RED ALERT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta,Jan 25 
Police commissioner D. C. Vajpai on Tuesday held a high-level meeting at Lalbazar police headquarters to review security arrangements on Republic Day.

Divisional commissioners were present at the meeting called by Vajpai following threats by anti-national forces to carry out subversive activities during the Republic Day parade in different parts of the country.

DC, headquarters, Nazrul Islam said police were taking the threat seriously. “We have made elaborate security arrangements for the parade to avoid any untoward incident this time during the parade on Red Road,” he said.

“The recent hijack of Indian Airlines plane by terrorists of Pakistan and continuous threat by ISI activists forced us to intensify vigil in and around the venue on Red Road,” Islam added.

Army intelligence wings and city police’s intelligence agencies, special branch and detective department were roped in to find out if there are any loopholes in the security network.    


 
 
ONE KILLED IN ASSAM AMBUSH 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Silchar, Jan. 25 
A CRPF patrol was ambushed last night at Harangajao township in North Cachar Hills district of South Assam. A CRPF jawan was killed and a havildar seriously injured.

The ambush was carried out by militants of the Dima Halam Daoga (DHD), an outfit of Dimasa tribals.

A spokesman for the district police at Haflong, the district headquarters town, said the CRPF patrol fired in retaliation at the rebels who were hiding on a hill, but they escaped into the jungle.

The CRPF constable who was killed has been identified as Rajkumar. The injured havildar, Mukib Uddin, has been rushed to Silchar medical college hospital at Ghoongur near here.

The spokesman added that both the CRPF and the police have launched combing operations in the foothills of the Barail Hills. They plan to flush out the rebels so as to ensure peace during the Republic Day celebrations.

South Assam deputy inspector-general of police R.C. Tayel has rushed to Haflong to oversee the counter-insurgency operations in the North Cachar Hills district on the eve of Republic Day.

The spokesman said the incident has occurred at a time when the police were gearing up to deal a blow to the insurgents in the district.

The Railway Protection Force (RPF) and the police in North Cachar Hills district have also been put on maximum alert after receiving intelligence reports that trains and railway property along the hill section of the metre gauge track in the Barail range of the district would be targeted by the DHD.

“Tax” notices have also been served by the DHD on the staff of the Northeastern Frontier Railway at the hill section stations as part of its renewed extortion campaign.

According to reports, Harangajao township has been chosen as the centre of this extortion drive by the DHD. At least 20 armed militants of the DHD have become active in the dense jungles around Harangajao.

The DHD’s call to boycott the Republic Day celebrations and observe it as a “black day” instead has sent the people of North Cachar Hills district into a tizzy.

DHD publicity secretary Daudarama in a press release has justified the call for a boycott of the Republic Day celebrations in the district by asserting that the “Dimasa tribe is being consistently discriminated against by policymakers in both New Delhi and Dispur.”

He alleged no effort was made by the authorities to nurture the culture and heritage of the Dimasa people, who constitute over half of the population in North Cachar Hills district.

What has alarmed the authorities is the flourishing nexus between the DHD and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). The NSCN (I-M) has been providing arms and imparting guerrilla training to DHD cadres at its tactical headquarters near Dimapur in Nagaland.

The DHD has nearly 90 cadres. Its chairman, Dilip Nunisa, 32, is a school dropout. He is reported to be based at an NSCN (I-M) camp at Dimapur, from where he is running the insurgency operations of DHD activists by remote control.

This six-year-old militant outfit is espousing the cause of greater autonomy for the Dimasas in North Cachar Hills district.    


 
 
FRESH ATTACKS ON R-DAY EVE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, Jan. 25 
Stepping up their offensive on the eve of Republic Day, suspected National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) militants killed three persons, abducted nine and injured a girl over the past 24 hours.

Police sources said a group of NLFT rebels raided Bansibari village under Bishalgarh subdivision in West Tripura and beat up 24 tribals who had refused to shelter them.

They dragged out 70-year-old Aghore Debbarma, a professional deed-writer and leader of the local CPM committee from his residence and shot him dead.

Debbarma’s body, which was recovered from a nearby forest this morning, bore multiple bullet wounds.

In a separate incident, NLFT rebels abducted two non-tribal civilians Kunjalal Das (40) and Anukul Das (39) from Balaramthakurpara village under Jirania police station in Sadar East subdivision last night. They were gunned down this morning after prolonged torture. The police recovered the bodies from a jungle near the village. Tension mounted in the area after irate non-tribals tried to set tribal houses ablaze. Rebels also struck in the North and South districts abducting nine persons. Police sources said around 3.15 pm, heavily-armed militants stormed the Sadhuchandra Para village, 3 km from Fatikroy police station in North Tripura. They cordoned off the village, conducted a house-to-house search and abducted eight persons at gunpoint.

While fleeing, they fired in the air from AK-47 rifles to ward off the police. Shortly after the report of the abduction spread, a large number of local people as well as the police from Fatikroy and Kumaraghat police stations rushed to the spot and tried to apprehend the militants. But they disappeared into the jungle.

The abducted persons are still untraced. The abductions have triggered panic in the area.

In a separate incident last night, suspected NLFT militants injured a minor girl and abducted another after raiding the Pathicherri area in South Tripura. The state government has beefed up security in view of the Republic Day boycott call by militants tomorrow. Troops have been deployed in sensitive areas.    


 
 
DARA FEAR SPARKS RECONVERSION 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Manoharpur, Jan. 25 
Muchiram Hembram and his wife Sumi attended the Christian congregation in Manoharpur last year. But this year, they stayed away.

The couple has switched faith and “reconverted” to Hinduism. “There is no point going to the church these days. It does not help much. So we have decided to become Hindus again,” Sumi said.

The Hembrams are one of the five Christian families who “reconverted” after the Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his two sons were burnt to death in Manoharpur on January 23 last year. Their Hindu neighbours said the reconversion was prompted by fears of Dara Singh, a religious fanatic and prime accused in the Staines’ killings, who is still at large. “The Christians are terrified of Dara Singh but the Hindus are not scared of him. The Christians know that they are Dara’s targets, so some of them have become Hindus,” said Gobinda Chandra Tudu, a Hindu villager.

But the “reconverted” families said they became Hindus because “praying at the church has not cured us of our diseases, contrary to promises by Church leaders.’’

All the five Santhal families offered the same explanation for “reconversion.” They were all reconverted between March and November last year even though they became Christians nearly five years ago. “We had enough of the church in November and became Hindus,” Sumi said. She said her husband had been suffering from acute breathlessness and the church leaders promised a miracle cure.

“But nothing happened even after we prayed at the local church for three years,” the tribal woman said.

All the neo-converts—Sunaram Soren, Nabin Hansda, Banshi Marandi and Bisu Murmu—alleged that despite regular visits to the Church, they could not be cured of their illnesses. So they reverted to Hinduism. “My children used to suffer from dysentery. Christian leaders said we would not have to spend money on medicine if we came to the church regularly and prayed. We did so for five years, but nothing happened. So we became Hindus again,” Murmu said.

However, none of the families could explain why they switched faith last year. Christian leaders said they had no idea why the tribals left “their fold” after embracing it “voluntarily.” But Soren said the community has been “living in fear” since the missionary and his sons were killed.

Of some 300 families in Manoharpur, only 22 are Christians. Church leader Rolia Soren said the Christians were vulnerable at night because the village did not have electricity.

“The government can provide us with solar power so that we feel secure at night,” he said.    

 

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