Tollywood topshots in ransom ring of terror
Book Fair cuts short bus strike
Hijack hoax on Mumbai flight
Govt coughs up Kasba rebuilding cash
Second bridge toll rate for taxis cut to Rs 2
Picket posted, doctors back on duty
MCC ‘tries’ abducted candidate
Muivah jumps bail, rearrested
Four held for Ranchi fake degrees scam
Saffron allies bury hatchet

 
 
TOLLYWOOD TOPSHOTS IN RANSOM RING OF TERROR 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Jan 31 
At least 15 Tollywood film personalities have received “extortion notices” from the city’s underworld in the past six months in a playback of what has been happening to Mumbai stars for several years now.

Among those who have received the “pay up-or-perish” calls are a host of producers, directors, actors and actresses including Rituparna Sengupta and Pallabi Chatterjee.

Triggered by the official complaint filed by producer Prabhat Roy, who had been asked to pay up Rs 5 lakh or “face the consequences”, the detective department of the city police has swung into action, tracing the crime operatives.

“The Mumbai flu has finally caught up with us,” said the DC, DD (special), Manoj Malaviya. “We have only recently discovered that the city mafia has been extorting money from the film folk here. And what we have found is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Film personalities will soon meet to draw up an action plan to counter this latest threat to the industry here. On Monday evening, a Tollywood producer, who has three films on the floor, met the special superintendent of the CID, Anup Chatterjee, to “informally” tell him about the extortion threats he has been receiving.

“There is nothing to say officially as I am not lodging any complaint,” he told The Telegraph, with a request that his identity not be disclosed. “I have just come to inform my friends here about the threat I received on my mobile phone last week, asking for Rs 50,000. The caller warned of dire consequences if I reported the matter to the police.” The producer now has three bodyguards around him whenever he steps out of home.

The DIG, CID, Partha Bhattacharya, said all such complaints, formal or “informal”, were being thoroughly investigated.

“We could have made a fair amount of progress by now if the stars and producers came to us with their complaints,” said Malaviya.

“But these people are afraid to identify themselves or even lodge official complaints,” Malaviya added.

National award-winning actress and Tollywood leading lady Rituparna Sengupta admitted that even though she had received an extortion call recently, she had not gone to the police.

“I just believe in being more careful,” she said. “I don’t take any calls now, unless they are first screened by others.”

Another actress, Pallabi Chatterjee, said she has been receiving a number of blank calls recently. “I thought some one is playing a prank, but now I will have to take it seriously,’’ she said.

“This is a psychological game that criminals play,” said Malaviya. “They first soften up their target by making calls but not speaking; later, they make their extortion demand.”

With the fortunes of the Bengali film industry on an upward curve, the police here said that criminals operating in the southern fringes of the city have shifted their attention to Tollywood stars, who are considered to be soft targets.

“These extortionists are mainly from Tollygunge, Jadavpur, Thakurpukur and Regent Park, which are also close to the film industry premises,” said the officer-in-charge of Jadavpur police station, Salil Bhattacharya.

Police officials admitted that these criminals have been “inspired” by the activities of the Mumbai underworld, which has for years been successfully “milking” Bollywood stars.

Initial investigations have revealed that the gang of Sheikh Vinod, the fugitive underworld kingpin, and another gangster, Mahesh Sharma of the Tollygunge-Karunamoyee area, are mainly extorting money from film personalities here.

CID officials said that like in Mumbai, people with criminal records had started financing films here.

“A large number of those financing Bengali films these days are one-time promoters with a dubious past,” said a police officer. “It is only natural that they will bring with them the sins of their past. It was only a matter of time before it happened here,” he added.    


 
 
BOOK FAIR CUTS SHORT BUS STRIKE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 31 
Calcuttans were in transports of despair as 4,500 vehicles went off the road on Monday when private and minibus operators struck work to protest “mob attacks and police atrocities”. Exploiting the situation, taxis and autorickshaws made a killing. About 1,200 chartered buses, that ferry an estimated lakh of schoolchildren and 80,000 officer-goers daily, did not ply, either.

Bus services, however, will return to normal on Tuesday, with one of the two major operators’ bodies — the Bengal Bus Syndicate —- choosing to return to work within a day, instead of two, as announced earlier, in view of the ongoing Calcutta Book Fair.

The strike was called by private and minibus operators after 24 buses were damaged in arson and mob fury between December 3 and January 30. The attacks invariably followed road accidents.

As a result of the strike, attendance at offices, banks, schools and colleges was thin.

Attendance at Writers’ Buildings and other government offices was less than 60 per cent. Many parents did not send their children to school as the chartered buses were withdrawn.

The Metro Rail, which many thought would be one of the most reliable modes of transport in such a situation, failed to live up to expectations. Services were disrupted twice during the morning rush hour, resulting in the cancellation of 12 trains. The Metro authorities, however, made up by running 12 special trains.

At 8.56 am, Metro services were suspended after a piece of glass fibre was detected on the third rail between Park Street and Rabindra Sadan. Power had to be switched off for seven minutes to remove it.

A Dum Dum-bound train left Tollygunge six minutes late, at 9.56 am, because the doors would not close as the carriage was stuffed with passengers. Since early morning, people had made a beeline for the Metro stations and the trains were overcrowded through the day.

The Metro Railway, however, registered a record sale of tickets as a fall-out of the transport strike. Till 5 pm, tickets worth about Rs 8 lakh were sold to nearly two lakh passengers, which is far above the normal figure.

On Sunday, about 90,000 people availed of the Metro and ticket-sales amounted to Rs 4.3 lakh. “We expect the ticket sales to break all previous records because we draw the homeward-bound Book Fair crowd. We had to open additional ticket counters,” said Samir Banerjee, senior PRO of Metro Railway.

With private buses and minibuses out of the way, taxis and autorickshaws had a field day. The autos charged arbitrary fares. From Lake Town to Bangur Avenue, they demanded between Rs 5 and Rs 7, against the usual rate of Rs 2.50.

Taxis charged Rs 30 to Rs 40 from each passenger sharing a cab from Esplanade to Baguiati, against the going rate of Rs 18.

Transport secretary D.M. Kanwar said the government on Monday operated some additional state buses and trams.

He said 947 buses of the Calcutta State Transport Corporation, 242 buses of the Calcutta Tramways Company and 171 trams plied in the city on Monday. Special buses were arranged by the transport department for the benefit of office-bound passengers stranded at Howrah station, he said.

Kanwar said the bus operators’ grievance — that their vehicles were attacked and often damaged by mobs after road mishaps — would be looked into by local committees at the police station level. The respective officers-in-charge would lead the committees.

Private bus operators and people’s representatives, like councillors and MLAs, will be included in the committees. The government will launch public awareness campaigns on this count.    


 
 
HIJACK HOAX ON MUMBAI FLIGHT 
 
 
BY OUR AIRPORT REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 31 
An Indian Airlines’ Mumbai-bound plane was held up at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport for over an hour on Monday night, after an anonymous telephone caller claimed that the plane would be hijacked.

The plane took off from Calcutta around 7.45 pm after the security agency cleared the aircraft. All 160 passengers were brought off the plane while the security agencies combed the aircraft for explosives.

The airport was put on red alert and security measures were tightened.

Officials said this was the third hijack threat at the airport in the first month of the millennium. The first threat was received on January 11 and the second on January 22.

The blast and hijack threats have sparked regular bomb search drills and interaction between the security personnel and the airport authorities.    


 
 
GOVT COUGHS UP KASBA REBUILDING CASH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 31 
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of West Bengal police on Monday began interrogating relatives and acquaintances of Gurupada Bagchi, CPM leader killed in Kasba a week ago by an unknown gunman.

A CID source said all the six brothers of the slain leader, his son and wife were being interrogated to “unearth the motive behind the murder.”

The deputy inspector-general, CID, Partha Bhattacharya, said on Monday night that so far, 18 persons have been rounded up from Kasba and its neighbourhood. But no one has been charged with murder.

“We are yet to catch hold of the main accused, even as some of the known criminals of the area have been picked up,” he added.

In another development, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) began rebuilding the Kasba market that was set ablaze by a mob of CPM supporters in the aftermath of Bagchi’s murder.

Chief secretary Manish Gupta asked CMC commissioner Asim Barman to complete reconstruction of the market by February 11.

The CMC was entrusted with the job after the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and the Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT) said they could not build the market within the stipulated period.

The government wants the work done in a hurry to nix the possibility of Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee making political capital of the issue. Banerjee had demanded reconstruction of the market within a fortnight.

Barman said the CMC started work at the site from Monday. “The reconstruction will cost Rs 20 lakh.The state government has agreed to disburse Rs 3 lakh immediately,” Barman added.

The chief engineer (projects and development), Nilangshu Bose, said the tin-shed market will accommodate more than 400 traders. “We have to cover 12,500 square feet area in 10 days,” he said.

In the Kasba market, fishmongers and rice traders have resumed business under tarpaulin sheets, after having fled following the violence.

A Kasba police officer said the task force set up at the instance of chief minister Jyoti Basu immediately after the murder, with officials from Calcutta Police and West Bengal Police, would meet next week to review law and order in the area.

He said the police had intensified patrolling in localities that were suspected to be frequented by criminals.

However, there have been complaints of police high-handedness. “The police have picked up a large number of women and children from the Panchanantala bustee, near Dhakuria, during the past three days,” alleged a local resident, Nirmal Kusari.

A BJP delegation, led by Muzaffar Khan and P.D. Chitlangia, met West Bengal Governor Viren J. Shah on Monday and submitted a memorandum requesting him to call for a report on the Kasba incident from the state government.    


 
 
SECOND BRIDGE TOLL RATE FOR TAXIS CUT TO RS 2 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 31 
The state government has reduced the Vidyasagar Setu toll on taxis entering the city from Howrah from Rs 7 to Rs 2.

The reduced toll was effective from Monday, a day after Howrah Bridge was partly closed to traffic for repairs. Cabbies can collect the toll from passengers, in addition to the metered fare, said the state transport secretary, D. M. Kanwar.

Private cars passing through Vidyasagar Setu will have to pay the regular charges, as do taxis approaching the bridge from the Calcutta side.

“Passengers reaching Howrah station by long-distance trains have to hire taxis to reach home. As Howrah Bridge is now partly closed, taxis have to make a detour of eight kilometres to enter the city through Vidyasagar Setu. This means passengers have to pay more. The reduction in toll will partly compensate for this,” said Kanwar.

The authorities will open 12 more toll counters, in addition to the six existing ones, to cope with the heavier flow of traffic on Vidyasagar Setu.

Many passengers reaching Howrah station on Monday had a harrowing time looking for transport to their destinations in the city. There were few taxis at the station, as the demand for them shot up because of the strike by private and minibus operators. Cabbies were also refusing to go to the station because of the detour they would have to make to return to the city.

The confusion caused by the partial closure of Howrah Bridge has led to a citizen’s body seeking redress from court.

Subhas Datta, general secretary of the Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Samiti, has petitioned Calcutta High Court seeking a direction to the state government to open a toll-free green channel on Vidyasagar Setu for city- bound taxis and private cars, as these vehicles will have to run an extra eight kilometres.

The petition also sought an order from the court directing the state and the Calcutta Port Trust to complete “under-structure” repairs on Howrah Bridge within a year.

Datta said the “over-structure” repair of the bridge had taken six years. This is the first time since the bridge was built in 1934 that the understructure is being repaired.

Datta also said the government did not specify how long it would take for the repairs to be completed. It had simply said that traffic would be regulated on Howrah Bridge “till further notification.”    


 
 
PICKET POSTED, DOCTORS BACK ON DUTY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 31 
Junior doctors at National Medical College and Hospital have called off their cease-work and resumed duty. The hospital has also started admitting patients, after the five-day stir was withdrawn.

The strike was called to demand police protection for staff on the hospital premises. “We will wait for another seven days to see how the authorities react,” a spokesman for the doctors said.

Police have been posted in the hospital and the campus will be patrolled from 8 pm to 8 am.

Junior doctors said the police team will call on heads of different departments every two hours to check if everything is in order.

Nearly 400 junior doctors had gone on strike after some of them were heckled by relatives of a patient, a five-year-old boy, who died of cerebral malaria. The relatives alleged the doctors had not taken care of him.

Local residents also complained of bad behaviour by the hospital staff and turned their ire on the doctors. The mob broke the gate on the fifth floor of the Medicine Building and assaulted the staff. The doctors sought refuge in the toilet during the rampage.

The doctors claimed they had called off their strike after their demands had been accepted. Apart from a police picket on the campus, representatives of the hospital management will also be on duty at night.

“We have also been assured that telephone operators will be on duty 24 hours and that an intercom will be operational by March,” one doctor said.    


 
 
MCC ‘TRIES’ ABDUCTED CANDIDATE 
 
 
FROM SALMAN RAVI
 
Dhanbad, Jan. 31 
A Janata Dal (United) candidate from the militancy-affected Dumri Assembly segment in Giridih district, Lalchand Mahato, was released after three hours in Naxalite captivity. He was abducted, beaten up and “tried” at a jan adalat (people’s court) by the Maoist Communist Centre last night.

Deputy commissioner, Giridih, Rajesh Agarwal, said a contingent of central paramilitary force and the district police rushed to the area to rescue Mahato, a former MLA. The rebels, bowing to pressure from the police and Janata Dal (United) workers, released him.

Sources, however, said the MCC had already passed Mahato’s “death sentence” when Janata Dal (United) workers reached the spot and virtually begged the Naxalites to release him. Mahato’s election campaign vehicles were also set on fire by the underground Maoist Communist Centre on Sunday.

The candidate was addressing an election meeting at Pilpilo village under Nawadih block in Giridih district when nearly 100 extremists stormed the venue, police sources said.

Mahato was dragged away, assaulted and taken to a village, Pipradih, nearly 3 km from the site, where he was made to appear in a jan adalat. He was forced to give an account of the development projects implemented by him during his tenure as a member of the Assembly.

In another incident, MCC activists also set ablaze a campaign vehicle of the Congress nominee from Bagodar, Deepak Maheswari, last evening.

Special Intelligence Branch (SIB) reports said the MCC has chalked out a multi-pronged strategy to whip up a fear psychosis in the region. In the September 1999 Lok Sabha polls, at least 50 paramilitary and polling personnel in south Bihar were killed in Naxalite violence.

The north Chhotanagpur regional committee of the MCC has issued pamphlets calling for poll boycott in the region. The pamphlets have announced the outfit’s decision to make the candidates appear in jan adalats.

Sensitive districts like Hazaribagh, Giridih, Koderma, Bokaro and Dhanbad have been asked to maintain maximum vigil while a red alert has been sounded in the state.

Intelligence sources said the Naxalites chalked out their strategy at a meeting in the forests of Chatra on Saturday. The meeting was attended by leaders of the People’s War Group from Andhra Pradesh.

Reports said the MCC planned to use remote control devices to trigger explosions in the region on the day of the polls. Two core wings of the outfit, the Kaala Dasta and the Laal Daasta (black and red wings) have been set up to execute the action plan.

State government engineers have also threatened to boycott polls if the chief minister failed to provide an insurance cover of Rs 10 lakh for engineers on election duty in the troubled areas.    


 
 
MUIVAH JUMPS BAIL, REARRESTED 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 31 
A day after releasing him on bail, the Thailand police rearrested National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah for trying to flee the country.

Sources in the Union home ministry said Muivah was arrested for the second time at Hat Yai in southern Thailand on Saturday while trying to board a plane to Singapore. He was detained by Thai immigration officials when it transpired that he was travelling on another fake passport, allegedly under a Singaporean name. Muivah is being kept in a jail in Hat Yai and will be produced in court tomorrow.

Sources said Muivah got himself admitted to a hospital in the Thailand capital of Bangkok on Friday shortly after being released on payment of a bail bond of 200,000 bahts.

The militant leader escaped from the hospital the same day — allegedly by bribing officials — and fled to southern Thailand.

“After he was arrested for travelling on a fake South Korean passport, the Thai authorities recorded Muivah’s name and the offence he committed in the computer. It was, therefore, not difficult for Thai immigration officials to find out that he was trying to flee the country on another fake passport,” an official said.

There are now four charges against Muivah. Apart from being booked for travelling on a fake South Korean passport, he is in the dock for jumping bail, attempting to illegally leave Thailand and possessing a fake passport for the second time.

“It was quite silly on his part to have tried to escape. We really cannot fathom why he was so keen to leave Thailand. After all, he has strong base in Bangkok. NSCN(I-M) president Isak Chisi Swu also lives in Bangkok,” an official said. The two militant leaders are also believed to have houses in Manila.

Muivah’s arrest for the second time has cast a shadow over the Naga peace talks, which were scheduled to be held between the NSCN(I-M) leadership and principal government interlocutor K. Padmanabhaiah “somewhere in Europe”. In a statement after the militant leader’s arrest earlier this month, the Centre had said that the proposed talks would be rescheduled for the first week of February.

According to a senior official here, Muivah’s arrest on Saturday could delay the talks further. “The prospect of talks being held as per schedule now appears to be dim as Muivah has landed himself in a soup,” he said.    


 
 
FOUR HELD FOR RANCHI FAKE DEGREES SCAM 
 
 
FROM RUDRA BISWAS
 
Ranchi, Jan. 31 
The CBI today arrested four persons, including a security guard of Ranchi University and seized a large number of fake certificates, admit cards, provisional certificates of Ranchi and other universities, boards and councils in connection with the fake degrees scam.

CBI sources today said a former university controller of examinations, was suspected to have started the scam. Sources said the scandal, which has been flourishing for decades, came to light when a “degree” certificate along with a sworn affidavit filed by transporter Pradip Kumar of Chakradharpur in West Singhbhum district before the Ranchi bench of the Patna High Court was detected as fake by the Ranchi University.

Following the disclosure, the court referred the matter to the CBI for investigation. Sources said preliminary interrogation of Pradip Kumar and his associate Dilip Kumar Singh by the CBI revealed that a group with high-level contacts in Ranchi University was issuing fake bachelor’s degree certificates for hefty sums.

Kumar admitted paying a former controller of examinations Rs 20,000 through one Sabir Khan, a security guard at the examination department for a Bachelor of Arts degree.

The degree was mandatory for procuring a road permit for his vehicles. Sources said the examination of tabulation registers revealed that Kumar’s name was inserted in ink at the end of the register while other names were found typed.

Following the disclosures, the police raided the residences of school-teacher Bhukhla Bhagat, at Lodhna and Sabir Khan. They recovered rubber seals, printed admit cards, provisional certificates, blocks and other incriminating documents.

Sources added that in addition to fake degrees and rubber seals of Ranchi University, CBI sleuths also recovered fake degrees and rubber seals of Patna University, Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Bihar School Intermediate Council, Kameshwar Singh Institute of Technology, Megra, and Mithila University.

All the four persons, Pradip Kumar, Dilip Kumar Singh, Ranchi University security guard Sabir Khan and school teacher Bhukhla Bhagat have been arrested by the CBI.

Doctors arrested

Two doctors of the local Raj Hospital in Ranchi were arrested on charges of negligence and causing death of a patient during surgery. Suraj Prakash, 35, a lawyer at the Ranchi bench of the Patna High Court, had been admitted to Raj Hospital for treatment of appendicitis which the doctors advised be removed immediately. Hospital administrator Y. Gambhir said the patient’s death was because of post-operative complications.    


 
 
SAFFRON ALLIES BURY HATCHET 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhubaneswar, Jan. 31 
Striking a note of consensus after dilly-dallying for nearly a month, the Biju Janata Dal and the BJP yesterday agreed to contest 84 and 63 seats respectively in the Assembly polls in Orissa.

The allies arrived at the agreement on time to complete the formality of filing nomination papers before the expiry of the deadline today. Both parties filed nomination papers for 35 seats each.

Altogether 70 constituencies in western and northern Orissa will go to the hustings on February 17. BJD chief Naveen Patnaik and state BJP president Manmohan Samal also held talks on the 77 seats to which elections will be held on February 22. The BJD will contest 49 of these seats, while the BJP will field candidates in 28 constituencies.

The last date for filing nomination papers for the second phase of polling is Thursday.

After bargaining for nearly a month, both the BJD and the BJP eased their stand last night to prevent the alliance from disintegrating. The regional party had demanded over 100 seats, while the BJP sought 50 per cent of the 147 seats. Union tribal welfare minister and former president of the BJP’s state unit, Juel Oram, even threatened to go it alone if the BJD stuck to its stand.

Expressing satisfaction over the agreement arrived at yesterday, Naveen Patnaik said both parties sacrificed their interests to keep the alliance intact. He said seats were divided on the basis of the formula adopted prior to the Lok Sabha elections last year.

Both parties have warned rebels in their ranks against opposing official candidates, saying that anyone violating the agreement would be penalised immediately.

A section of BJD activists opposed to the alliance had stormed the party chief’s residence here on Saturday. They broke a window pane and heckled one of Naveen Patnaik’s aides before police chased them away.

The BJP and BJD have promised to provide a “stable and progressive” government in the event of being voted to power. In a joint statement today, the two parties said they were determined to oust the Congress.

Naveen Patnaik will contest the Hinjalicut seat, which comes under his home constituency of Aska, while his arch rival in the party, Bijoy Mohapatra, is seeking re-election from Patkura. BJD working president Nalini Kanta Mohanty will contest the Rajnagar seat, while Ramkrushna Patnaik is in the fray in Kodala.

The regional party will field Maheswar Mohanty in Puri and Ramesh Chandra Chyau Patnaik in Berhampur. Senior party leaders Kamala Das and Amar Prasad Satpathy will contest the Bhogarai and Barachana seats.

The BJP has nominated Biswas Bhusan Harichandan and Samir Dey, both sitting legislators, for the Bhubaneswar and Cuttack seats respectively. Party president Manmohan Samal and vice-president Prashant Nanda will contest the Dhamnagar and Begunia seats.

Begunia is the home constituency of former chief minister J.B.Patnaik. However, he is likely to skip Begunia and choose a “safe” constituency this time.

Witchcraft terror: Three families of Arakhpur village, 40 km from here, are living in terror following attacks by villagers who have accused them of practising witchcraft. reports our Berhampur correspondent.

Members of the families of Trinath Behera, Sudarsan Pradhan and Arjun Sahu alleged that nearly 40 villagers attacked their houses and granary recently. They looted goods, broke the doors and the windows of their houses and severely beat up Behera.    

 

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