Victoria in bomb shell
Quality check on private schools
Realtors ready to blow whistle on crime
Bondel family waits for crash news
UK to help dress up river banks
CESC presses for hike
N-E nominee killed in rebel pre-poll strike
Red scare sparks exodus from parties in Bihar
Army out in Cachar after ambush
Polls offer breather to Ranchi land scamsters

 
 
VICTORIA IN BOMB SHELL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb 1 
Policemen swarmed Victoria Memorial on Tuesday and Lalbazar instructed all its informers to trawl the underworld after a tip-off that a militant outfit would try to blow up Calcutta’s best-known building.

The tip-off came through the city police’s special branch, which had activated its informer network during a red alert operation just before Republic Day last week. The operation was mounted to investigate threats to blow up well-known structures.

Special branch officials were “informed” on Monday evening that a group of militants could target Victoria Memorial.

The monument is not known for watertight security, and a saboteur can easily enter and damage it, it was assessed. The police’s informant had also made it known that the militants had “reached” Calcutta.

“We cannot take any risk. It was all the more serious because the tip-off was received just after the Union home ministry had alerted us through a circular that Victoria Memorial was a likely target of militants and that extraordinary steps should be taken to protect it,” a senior special branch officer said.

A strong contingent of policemen, some armed with metal detectors, fanned out on the grounds of the monument from Tuesday morning, frisking visitors and searching the gardens.

“The crisis is not over yet,” said DC, DD, Narayan Ghosh, late on Tuesday evening. “Our detectives have mounted a surveillance on Victoria Memorial to ensure it remains untouched.”

Ghosh, however, refused to give details of the information based on which the police has acted. “At this stage, there is nothing further I can reveal for the sake of investigation.”

The curator of Victoria Memorial, C. Panda, too, was tight-lipped. “We are in touch with senior police officers and they are looking into all aspects of security in the gardens,” was all he would say.

Since Monday evening, DC, South, Ranjit Pachnanda; DC, Special Branch, Suman Bala Sahoo; and the deputy director of the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, D.P. Tarenia, held a series of meetings to beef up security. Militant “sympathisers” in the city were also being watched.

A team drawn from the ounter-insurgency cell of the SIB and the anti-terrorist department of the city police have been asked to oversee security.

“Over 40,000 people visit Victoria Memorial every day and their security is vital for us,” Panda said.

Pachnanda said sniffer dogs would be regularly deployed on the grounds to detect explosives. “We had initially closed the gate on the Cathedral Road side but we later opened it as the crowds began to swell. But metal detectors are in place, so there is no reason for any worry.”

Pickets have been set up and the memorial will be patrolled through the night.

Pachnanda said the arrangements would continue “for some time.”    


 
 
QUALITY CHECK ON PRIVATE SCHOOLS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb 1 
After having abolished English at the primary level, the ruling Left is preparing legislation to keep a check on kindergartens and private schools, most of whom teach English from the very beginning, and “ensure quality education”.

The new rules would require every new kindergarten or primary school in the state to be “registered” with the government for a fixed fee. They would also have to abide by the proposed law.

School education department sources said in no other state in India is an individual or an organisation required to take the permission of the government for opening a kindergarten.

The government move is said to be based on the Ashoke Mitra panel’s recommendation of formulation of regulations to control the growth of private primary schools and kindergartens and ensure imparting of quality education in such institutions.

Kanti Biswas, school education minister, said the proposal was still in an early stage.

“We are in touch with other states to know if any of them has already introduced such legislation. The rules and regulations under the proposed legislation will be chalked out after we finish consulting the other state governments,” he said.

Biswas, however, was clear that the law should be introduced at the earliest in order to ensure that each and every school in the state imparts ”quality education”.

The mushrooming of private English-medium schools has hit the 51,000 state-funded primary schools, where English is missing from the syllabus. In Calcutta, with about 2,000 private English-medium schools, more than 12 state-funded institututions have been forced to close down.

School education department officials said a preliminary study conducted by the government shows over 70 per cent of the private schools in the city do not have the “minimum infrastructure” and “do not maintain proper academic standards”.

They added that the proposed legislation comes in the wake of a survey by the State Council of Educational Research and Training, which highlighted the need for such a measure.

For all the hype over ‘quality education’, there is a big question mark over the standards to be fixed by the state government and the measures to monitor and implement them.

“In the US, education is a state subject and every school within the state has to comply by the standard,” explained Patricia Sharpe, public affairs officer at the USIS.

And though there are “zillions of private schools”, the state controls vital aspects, like the subjects to be taught and the curriculum. There are also strict laws on matters like health and safety standards.

“For example, the state fixes you have to read so many years of history and so many years of science, but does not control the methods in which these subjects will be taught. But stipulations like the maximum number of children in a classroom and those relating to fire-safety have to be followed,” said Sharpe.    


 
 
REALTORS READY TO BLOW WHISTLE ON CRIME 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, Feb 1 
An organisation of city-based realtors on Tuesday offered to assist the police mount a hard drive against criminals living off real estate. Grouped under the City Developers’ Forum(CDF), the realtors and developers wrote to the police administration, offering to “ tell all about the criminals.”.

In the letter to police commissioner D.C.Vajpai, CDF president A.N.Shroff said the organisation would reveal the names of those “notorious extortionists threatening the forum members for not obliging them with money”

He added: “I revealed names of a few criminals when I spoke to him over the phone two days ago. Now I want the police to take the forum into confidence on how the crime network works.”

Generally perceived as land sharks, the realtors have launched their image whitewash exercise for the police and the public. “We want to interact with the police and other state agencies because we want to prove that there are clean, law-abiding, honest developers, too. A statement of our intent can be had in the code of conduct we have recently introduced for ourselves.”

According to Shroff, the situation has come to such a pass that it is not possible for any individual or any organisation to tackle the extortionists on the construction sites. “Instead, a joint venture with the police is the only way out to make Calcutta crime-free.”

In the two-page letter to Vajpai, the forum chief also suggested the setting up of a cell in the detective department exclusively dealing with the criminals in the real-estate business.

“We believe that those thrive on extortion on construction sites are involved in masterminding other crimes, including murder, kidnapping and robbery,” said forum vice-president Dileep Singh Mehta. He felt the forum could provide the police with important clues to a number of cases which remains unsolved.

Blaming a section of the police for being hand-in-glove with the criminals, several forum members also suggested that policemen found guilty of pandering to the crime network be punished.

“We know senior officials are helpless when middle-rung policemen shamelessly share the booty with the criminals ,” they said. They alleged that a notorious Gabber Singh had been operating his extortion racket from within Alipore Central Jail, in connivance with the local police.

However, dismissing the allegation, Narayan Ghosh, deputy commissioner of police, detective department, claimed on Tuesday that the police had rounded up all the kingpins of the extortion racket on construction sites. “Excepting Sheikh Vinod, who is still active in some parts of South 24-Parganas, a number crime lords, including Shahjada, Nannu, Gudda and several of their associates are in custody,” he added.    


 
 
BONDEL FAMILY WAITS FOR CRASH NEWS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb 1 
Thirty-six hours after a Kenya Airways jet crashed into the Atlantic near Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the family members of passenger Sanjib Bhattacharya wait anxiously for “some official announcement” at their south Calcutta home.

Bhattacharya’s family and friends have been trying desperately to find out whether his name figures in the list of survivors.

Two of the relatives, Tushar Chatterjee and Shakti Ghosal, will be leaving for the Ivory Coast on Wednesday, courtesy Kenya Airways.

An electrical engineer from IIT (Kharagpur), 42-year-old Bhattacharya was flying from Nairobi to Lagos. He was on his way to sign a contract that his own Calcutta-based company, Constellation Automation Private Ltd, had just bagged.

As the plane could not the land at Lagos due to inclement weather, it came to Abidjan.

“From there, Sanjiv called Uday Gupta, whom he was scheduled to meet at Lagos, to inform him that he was catching the next available flight to Lagos. He also told Uday to send someone to the airport to receive him. That is how we concluded that he was on that ill-fated flight,” said Pururaj Dutt, a family friend.

The Airbus, with 179 passengers on board, plunged into the Atlantic almost immediately after take-off from Abidjan.

“The crisis control room opened in Nairobi confirmed on Tuesday that Bhattacharya was one of the passengers,” said Dutt.

Bhattacharya’s family first learnt about the crash on Monday morning after Uday Gupta called to break the news.

“Shukla (Sanjiv’s wife) immediately switched on the television to find out what had happened and began ringing up relatives and friends. Then, she broke down,” said Abhi Mukherjee, Bhattacharya’s cousin.

Holding 11-year-old son Riju and eight-year-old daughter Swastika close to her, a dazed Shukla is clinging on to the hope that the lone Indian survivor is her husband.

Bhattacharya, a former corporate executive of a multinational company, was running his own firm from his Bondel Road residence.

He left Calcutta for Mumbai on his way Lagos on January 29. He was earlier scheduled to leave the city on January 26, but fell ill on the eve of his journey.

“If only he had not fallen sick, he would have been safe today. He would not have boarded the unlucky aircraft on Sunday,” said Mukherjee.

Newspaper reports on Tuesday morning mentioning that one Indian passenger had survived the crash, brought hope to the Bhattacharyas’ home.

“But this soon turned to despair when we learnt that there were two Indians on board. We have spent the whole day on tenterhooks, not knowing what news the next hour will bring,” added Mukherjee.

As several family members and friends from various parts of the city converge at their place, some remain glued to the television set while others make frantic phone calls to newspaper and airline offices, trying to gather whatever information they can about the crash.    


 
 
UK TO HELP DRESS UP RIVER BANKS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb 1 
A seven-member team of experts from the United Kingdom will be in the city from February 9 to discuss with urban development officials ways to preserve and develop the banks of the Hooghly.

Minister for municipal affairs Ashok Bhattacharya said on Tuesday the team comprises members of the London River Association, British Heritage, London First (an NGO) and a number of environmentalists. “The team will hold workshops with Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) officials, along with those from the Calcutta Port Trust, the CMC, the railways and NGOs,” Bhattacharya said.

The visit comes after Bhattacharya invited the UK experts to Calcutta and advise the state government on ways to develop the twin urban sprawls of Calcutta and Howrah along the river.

The three-day workshop will formulate an action plan for utilising the empty spaces along the banks. The preservation of old structures along the river will also be paid special attention to at the workshop.

“The Londoners have done a marvellous job of changing the entire topography of the banks of the Thames,” Bhattacharya said. “We would like to redevelop the banks of the Hooghly. It might not be in the grand scale adopted by the Britishers but we will definitely try to bring about appreciable change,” the minister said.

The three-day workshop at the Oberoi Grand will be sponsored by the British Deputy High Commission and the Indian Chamber of Commerce. The British team will also visit the riverside for an on-the-spot assessment.

In the first phase of beautification of the riverside, the CMDA’s Millennium Park inaugurated late last year has already attracted over a 150,000 visitors. Bhattacharya said that the rest of the stretch will be completed soon.

Urban planning

The mayors of Howrah and Calcutta and municipal chairmen from the state will meet on February 9 to draw up detailed plans on the utilisation of the Rs 100-crore loan taken from Hudco. Calcutta will get Rs 6 crore of the Hudco loan, Bhattacharya said.

The city will also play host to municipal affairs ministers and mayors of the north-eastern states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Sikkim to evaluate implementation of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, which deals with empowerment of municipalities.    


 
 
CESC PRESSES FOR HIKE 
 
 
BY RENU M R KAKKAR
 
Calcutta, Feb 1 
The first step towards another increase in power tariff has been taken with CESC Ltd approaching the state government to clear its proposal for a 24 per cent rise.

The utility’s managing director Sumantra Banerjee met the power secretary Ramsevak Bandopadhyay and protested the “delay” in processing the application.

Banerjee, it is learnt, briefed Bandopadhyay on the financial situation of CESC and made it clear that its operations were under severe strain due to the delay in the power tariff hike. CESC, he said, was incurring monthly losses of a little over Rs 10 crore.

The last time, a two-year delay, from 1996 to 1998, on the part of the government to clear a proposed hike had cost the CESC no less than Rs 250 crore.

“The ultimate burden of the delay had been borne by the consumer who not only had to pay the extra tariff, but also huge arrears on fuel surcharge,” said an official.

The CESC had drawn flak from consumers and Opposition parties alike, forcing the Left Front’s decision to slash the fuel surcharge by half. This was done by spreading it over double the period of time, thus hitting CESC’s cash flow..

A similar situation is developing again. CESC has staked its claim to recover fuel surcharge dues of Rs 86.61 crore for 1996-97 and 1997-98 and Rs 71.67 crore for 1998-99.

The state power department had earlier permitted CESC to recover Rs 263.61 crore of fuel surcharge arrears for 1996-97 and 1997-98.

Utter confusion prevails among the state’s power agencies over tariff fixing as the regulatory authority is not yet ready with the rules that will govern the mechanism for setting rates.    


 
 
N-E NOMINEE KILLED IN REBEL PRE-POLL STRIKE 
 
 
FROM OINAM SUNIL
 
Churachandpur, Feb. 1 
In the first major pre-poll militant strike in Manipur, the Janata Dal (United) candidate for the Tipaimukh Assembly seat was shot dead late last night.

Election to the seat has been countermanded and the Election Commission will set a fresh date. Forty-two-year-old Sonlienthang Songate, the Janata Dal (United) candidate from Tipaimukh, was abducted from his house at Rengkai in Churachandpur town at 9.30 pm.

He was shot dead from point blank range around midnight near the Saikot children’s home, nearly 3 km from his house. Though no outfit claimed responsibility for the killing, local people said it could be an outcome of the inter-factional rivalry between two Hmar tribal outfits.

The police are clueless about the motive behind the killing. Though the victim’s family lodged a complaint around 10.30 pm with the local police saying Songate had been abducted, the police were unable to trace the missing candidate. His body was recovered by the police this morning.

Songate’s family and other candidates contesting the election in the six Assembly segments of the district blamed the government for not providing adequate security to the candidates.

Criticising the lax security arrangements, Churachandpur Congress candidate Phungzathang Tonsing said the government should be held responsible for the incident. “I have been demanding security from the government, but no one has been listening,’’ Tonsing told The Telegraph at Churachandpur. He said only the ruling ministers of the Manipur State Congress Party were being provided security.

Tonsing said the candidates should have been assigned personal security guards as soon as the scrutiny was completed. Official sources said the victim had applied for security before his abduction. The state-level security committee today reviewed the steps taken to protect the candidates in the run-up to the polls.

Chief electoral officer D.S. Poonia told The Telegraph that the police had been directed to provide foolproof security to candidates despite shortage of personnel. He said Churachandpur deputy commissioner R.K. Nimai Singh had informed superintendent of police Ashutosh Sinha about the security requirements.

Sources said the police were worried about the prospect of re-bels snatching arms from bodyguards assigned to nominees.    


 
 
RED SCARE SPARKS EXODUS FROM PARTIES IN BIHAR 
 
 
FROM SALMAN RAVI
 
Dhanbad, Feb. 1 
Mainstream political parties in the militancy-ravaged areas of south Bihar are facing mass desertions following threats by Naxalite outfits.

Village-level workers, who have always been soft targets of the ultra-Left groups, are quitting politics. The exodus stems from a fresh Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) diktat urging political activists to resign from the primary membership of their parties or face dire consequences. Small-time party activists have also given up wearing khadi in public.

The MCC recently implemented its whip when it tried a Janata Dal (United) candidate from Giridih’s Dumri Assembly segment in a jan adalat (people’s court) on Sunday.

It also set ablaze election vehicles and beat up party workers campaigning in Giridih, Hazaribagh, Chatra and Palamau districts.

The outfit has unleashed a virtual reign of terror in Chandwa, Lawalong, Pratapur, Kunda and Balumath blocks, which have witnessed the maximum number of abductions and trials of “corrupt politicians” in jan adalats.

A senior BJP member from Lawalong in Chatra district, Bhola Prasad, the president of the Tandwa panchayat and BJP leader Jaynandan Rajak from Palamau have resigned from the primary membership of their party after being threatened by the MCC.

Similarly, party workers in Giridih and Hazaribagh districts have decided not to campaign this time after the MCC chopped off the hands of a senior RJD leader and block president Jasmuddin Ansari in a jan adalat for participating in the September 1999 Lok Sabha polls.

Another RJD worker Mahadev Yadav’s hands were also chopped off for the same reason. Yadav subsequently quit politics.

The CPI(M-L) legislator from Bagodar in Giridih, Mahendra Singh, has launched a campaign to instil confidence among party workers.

Singh recently undertook a padayatra covering 15 villages, including the worst-affected Barsia, Mundro and Keswari hamlets to reassure voters.

According to state intelligence reports, Singh, who is on the MCC hit-list, has been provided with extra security by the state government. The block development officer of Vishnugarh in Hazaribagh district said 76 state government employees have submitted a memorandum to the district administration threatening to refrain from election duty if adequate security was not provided to them.

The Hazaribagh district administration has assured its employees that while 10 companies of paramilitary forces have already been deployed in the sensitive areas, the authorities plan turn the district into a “cantonment of sorts” with more security forces.

The Dhanbad and Giridih district authorities have provided additional security to all the candidates following Mahato’s abduction. District superintendent of police Anil Palta said here today that the police have strengthened vigil in areas bordering the sensitive Giridih district.

Ministers resign

Ministers in the Rabri Devi Cabinet have resigned following denial of party tickets during the last couple of days. State transport minister Shanti Devi resigned from the party and post yesterday.

Earlier the state registration minister, building construction minister and the ministers of state for minority welfare, food and supply and higher education had resigned.    


 
 
ARMY OUT IN CACHAR AFTER AMBUSH 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Silchar, Feb. 1 
The Army was deployed in south Assam’s Cachar district late last night after Meitei militants ambushed an Assam police team in the border township of Jirighat.

Police sources said United National Liberation Front militants from Manipur attacked a police team and seriously injured a constable yesterday. The rebels also snatched a rifle from the injured constable, Dhaniram Karikapacha. He is being treated at the Silchar Medical College.

In a separate incident, suspected National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) militants abducted two tea executives from an estate on the Cachar-Manipur border today.

Sources said Sagarmal Pujari and Dinesh Choubey were on their way to Didarkhus, a division of Bhuban Valley tea estate, when at least 10 militants waylaid their vehicle. The rebels snatched a bag containing money meant for payment of wages to labourers and forced the two tea executives to accompany them on foot, the sources said.

Tripura abductions

Militants abducted three persons and injured two in Tripura late last night, reports our Agartala correspondent.

Eleven people were abducted from various parts of the state earlier in the day.

Sources said the rebels waylaid a jeep at Atharabolla in South Tripura district and abducted three of the passengers. Two others were injured when the militants opened fire to prevent the driver from speeding away. The injured are undergoing treatment at the Udaipur district hospital.

N-E package: Trinamul Congress convenor Ratan Chakraborty today expressed dissatisfaction over the Centre’s new development package for the northeastern states and Sikkim.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced the Rs 10,271-crore package during a conference of chief ministers and governors of the northeastern states in Shillong recently.    


 
 
POLLS OFFER BREATHER TO RANCHI LAND SCAMSTERS 
 
 
FROM RUDRA BISWAS
 
Ranchi, Feb.1 
The February 12 Assembly polls in the district have come as a reprieve for several former deputy commissioners and land revenue officials indicted in the Rs 700 crore land scam.

Sources said a number of officials with high-level contacts are trying to brush the probe under the carpet now that the state administration is gearing up its machinery for polls.

On June 17, 1996, former land revenue minister Inder Singh Namdhari announced in Patna that at least 200 acres of government and khasmahal (prime) land in Ranchi estimated at Rs 400 crore had been illegally settled in favour of individuals and land co-operative societies by revenue officials in connivance with land mafia.

On the basis of Namdhari’s statement, it was found that hundreds of acres of prime government land, tribal land and even forest land were transferred in the name of private parties.

Initially the state government ordered the then special secretary, land revenue department, Ashok Bardhan to probe the scam.

However till date, the Ashok Bardhan report has not been made public.

In 1996, following intense pressure from the Opposition in the Assembly, the state government constituted a joint legislative committee to go into all the details, identify the culprits and suggest remedial measures.

The probe dragged on for three years and even recommended issuing showcause notices to eight former deputy commissioners.

The officials included Sudhir Prasad, B.K. Sinha, Madan Mohan Jha, Y. N. Jha, Anup Mukherjee, B.P. Sinha, Sajal Chakraborty, (at present in Beur jail in connection with the fodder scam) and N. K. Sinha.

The committee submitted its report to the Speaker in 1999 though the state government hushed it up. In June 1999, the state referred the matter to the CID. In its report dated August 11, 1999, to the secretary, land reforms and land department, Patna, the CID virtually played down the role of previous deputy commissioners in abetting the scam.

Instead, it recommended transfers and institution of criminal proceedings against a former vice-chairman, Ranchi Regional Development Authority and nearly two dozen officials, including circle officers, SDOs, registrars and clerks posted in the land revenue offices.

As soon as the CID submitted its report, the state government decided to order a fresh probe by the vigilance department for the fourth time in a row.

Last year, land revenue and land reforms minister Ramai Ram said the vigilance department had been given a month’s time to file its report. Nearly five months after Ram’s announcement, the vigilance department is yet to get its act together, sources said.    

 

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