Trinamul siege on police after arrest
Enter the Dragon, in step with the girls
Buddha appeal to shun arms
Cooler days ahead in winter bowout prelude
Minstrel with a mission
Cabbies want Howrah reverse flow
Chamber in population control bid
Assam plans to raise tea workers’ force
Militants abduct five in Tripura
Jailed Dara gives police

 
 
TRINAMUL SIEGE ON POLICE AFTER ARREST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb 3 
Trinamul councillor Anup Chatterjee, along with a group of over 1,000 supporters, gheraoed Tollygunge police station, abused policemen and blocked traffic for several hours on Thursday morning, demanding the release of a notorious criminal arrested a few hours earlier.

The police, who refused to yield to the demand, had to resort to a lathicharge to clear the roads.

This display of politician-criminal nexus comes days after the state government’s exhortation to political parties to break this nexus to help the administration maintain law and order in the city.

According to the police, Kumar Das, a notorious criminal, had been terrorising builders of south Calcutta and extorting money from them for the past year, all the while managing to evade the police.

However, with state deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya summoning city police commissioner D.C. Vajpai and other officers to crack down on city extortionists, the police was put on high gear.

Acting on a tip-off that Kumar, who has several cases pending against him, was assembling at Kalighat Park with four associates to plan the kidnapping of a businessman, the officer-in-charge of Tollygunge police station, Apurba Som Chowdhury, rushed there with a police team on Thursday morning and cordoned the area.

On spotting the police, Kumar and an associate, Rajesh Das, fired a round each from their country-made revolvers. Two bullets narrowly missed constable S. Praharaj.

The criminals started to run towards the Masjidbari slum adjoining the park. The policemen were hot on their heels.

Three of Kumar’s associates managed to escape in the maze of lanes and bylanes in the slum. Praharaj and Som Chowdhury grappled with Kumar and Rajesh and pinned them to the ground. Some arms and ammunition were recovered from them.

Kumar was taken to the police station at 10 am for interrogation.

According Som Chowdhury, Chatterjee arrived at the police station with more than 1,000 supporters, a majority of them women, and demanded that Kumar be released.

“He insisted that the man was innocent and that we were harassing him,” Som Chowdhury said. Office-time traffic was disrupted for more than an hour by the demonstrators.

According to eyewitnesses, as the crowd roared for Kumar’s release, the situation threatened to spin out of control. The police,however, refused to give in.

At this point, Chatterjee walked into the police station, demanding a meeting with the officer-in-charge.

Chowdhury said that Chatterjee demanded Kumar’s release on the grounds that “he was a good boy”.

Chowdhury, however, turned down Chatterjee, saying this was “just out of question... I asked him (Chatterjee) how could I release a criminal who has just fired at the police?”

Then, turning to his men, he decided on a lathicharge to disperse the mob. The situation returned to a semblance of normalcy after about an hour.

This is the third incident in the recent past where senior Trinamul party members have preventing the police from carrying out their duties.

Some months ago, the party’s youth leader, Madan Mitra, had slapped a police constable for hauling up his car after it had violated a traffic norm.

A few weeks later, party leader Sanjoy Bakshi assaulted a constable.

This is the second time in recent months that Chatterjee has become involved in a controversy. Earlier, he was arrested for allegedly ransacking a shop in the locality.

Chatterjee, however, denied he had gone to the police station to demand Kumar’s release. “I had information that the police had misbehaved with some women. That is why I went to the police station to enquire what had happened,” he said.    


 
 
ENTER THE DRAGON, IN STEP WITH THE GIRLS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb 3 
For an hour on Thursday afternoon, they were beating the red ceremonial drum (called ‘law koo’ in Cantonese) on the rooftop of a Chattawala Gully house near Chinatown, in central Calcutta.

Eighteen girls, bubbling with excitement, first practised the dance steps at length before donning their colourful ceremonial jackets.

Then came the big moment, as the girls took the ‘Lion Dance’, presented by the Indian Chinese Association for Culture, Welfare and Development, to the streets. While the Chinese new year is on Saturday, the traditional dance performance precedes it.

And this time, there was more than just festivity involved. The Lion Dance was making a definite statement with a delightful display of girl power in the Year of the Dragon. “We want to prove that the Chinese people of Calcutta are the most progressive. We want to break the mindset, create a new one, and change a few significant things in this 21st century,” said Dominic Savio Lee, of the Indian Chinese Association.

Jennifer Liang, who inspired this year’s novel Lion Dance, comes across as reformist with a realistic outloook. She has helped shape the association’s activity “so that the Indian Chinese (can) contribute more effectively to Indian society”.

The obvious starting point for “change” was Thursday’s Lion Dance. But from now on, occasions like the opening of a restaurant or a wedding will witness this performance.

It will be enacted by two dancers, one handling the ‘lion mask’, or the head, and the other the ‘body’, made of cloth. The manner in which the dancers perform the steps makes it look like one smooth show of an animal in motion. The ancient dance form is supposed to bring luck. And traditionally, girls have been debarred, as they would bring “ill-luck”.

“That is obviously not true. How can a dance that brings luck be discriminatory in nature?” declares Dominic Lee.

As Jennifer and her ‘troupe’ passed through the streets of Chinatown on Thursday, one girl carrying the law koo, one the cha-cha cymbals and another a tong-tong gong, there was an air of excitement all around. There was no time to waste, as the highly-skilled male troupe was expected to make an entry any moment.

While, according to the onlookers, the girls’ expertise could not match their male counterparts’, their enthusiasm carried the day. But though they drew loud applause from several quarters, many old-timers chose not to join in.

“This is just a small step towards the rejuvenation of the city’s Chinese community,” says Jennifer. But then, as an old Chinese saying goes: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”    


 
 
BUDDHA APPEAL TO SHUN ARMS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb 3 
Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya told a BJP delegation on Thursday that its supporters must settle disputes through talks and not take recourse to armed conflicts.

Leaders of the BJP, including Paras Dutta, Asim Ghosh, Rahul Sinha and Muzaffar Ahmed, met Bhattacharya to discuss an end to the political clashes in Calcutta and districts like Midnapore, Hooghly and Bankura. The meeting was suggested by Governor Viren Shah.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu, who did not attend the meeting, told reporters later at Writers’ Buildings that anyone found guilty of fomenting trouble would be arrested. Basu denied knowledge of minister of state for transport Susanta Ghosh’s direct involvement in the Keshpur violence, as alleged by the BJP leaders.    


 
 
COOLER DAYS AHEAD IN WINTER BOWOUT PRELUDE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb 3 
The city woke up to an unusually warm day on Thursday, but weathermen said the mercury is likely to dip again in the next few days before winter finally bows out around the middle of the month.

The met office said the overcast sky is expected to clear soon, allowing in the cool wind from the north. However, this is likely to be a short spell, as warm weather is expected to set in by February 10.

The sky has been overcast because of a low-pressure trough hovering over Calcutta and Gangetic West Bengal since Wednesday.

This trough has blocked the north wind and raised day temperatures. At 8.30 this morning, the minimum temperature climbed to 20.4° Celsius, five degrees above normal.

There is, however, no immediate forecast of rain in Calcutta.

The weatherman said the low-pressure trough extended from south-eastern Madhya Pradesh to Assam and Meghalaya, across Gangetic West Bengal. Under its influence, there are chances of heavy rain in Tripura and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The cloud cover is expected to clear from Friday as the trough is showing a tendency to move towards the north-east.    


 
 
MINSTREL WITH A MISSION 
 
 
BY SUMIT DAS GUPTA
 
Calcutta, Feb 3 
Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah. Poet, singer, actor, activist.

“I don’t care what they label me. I’m just a human being trying to express some feelings and knock on people’s minds, urging them to start asking questions and thinking for themselves,” the London-based poet-performer told The Telegraph on his first visit to the city.

If the stir he created among the 800-odd students crowding a city auditorium on Thursday afternoon was anything to go by, the dreadlocked crusader achieved all that, and more.

Cheered on by the kids, the 42-year-old ‘rap poet’ mixed personal anecdotes with global concerns as he moved with effortless reggae rhythm from Mandela to Michael Jackson, from racism to nursery rhymes, from politics to parody.

The poems mocking Wacko Jacko and mimicking the ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ anthem proved to be the biggest hits and by the time the stage was set for the Q&A, scores of children queued up to quiz Dr Zephaniah.

“I feel perfectly at home in India, as there’s always something to surprise me. There is no one Indian stereotype. Also, while driving in Britain is like driving the way the Queen wants you to, in India, it’s like driving in a fair,” grins Benjamin, a special invitee of the British Council to the city.

The diversity that is India will be portrayed in a chapter, titled Variey is the Spice, in the writer’s forthcoming book, Wicked World.

Growing up as the “only black child” in a Birmingham school, racism and poverty sucked Benjamin into the vortex of crime, of burglaries and bank robberies. After being thrown out of school, the 17-year-old promised to himself that if he would ever return to prison, it would be for a “cause”.

There was cause aplenty — from apartheid to women’s issues to animal rights to world peace. His dream: to change the world. His chosen medium: poetry.

“I always felt that there was a poet, a performer within me. So I gave voice to my anger and my compassion through my poems, my music and started reached out to every body,” recalls Benjamin.

By the Eighties, Benjamin’s poems were a regular feature at both demonstrations and the dance floors. He was churning out poems, children’s books, music cassettes, plays and short films. His inspirational presence in Europe, his role in the South African anti-apartheid movement, and his trans-continental trips to “build bridges” between people, to provoke both laughter and thought, made him “Britain’s most filmed and identifiable poet”.

“I know individuals cannot change the world, but what’s going to happen if we all just say ‘what’s that got to do with me’? Some one has to make a start if that final revolution is to ever happen,” says the wandering minstrel, already planning an “anonymous” visit to Calcutta, “to just walk the streets and learn about life”.    


 
 
CABBIES WANT HOWRAH REVERSE FLOW 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb 3 
Taxi drivers want passengers to bear the burden of one-way traffic on Howrah Bridge.

Last week’s partial closing of Howrah Bridge has meant that Calcutta-bound taxis have to come via Vidyasagar Setu.

For passengers headed for central and north Calcutta from Howrah station, this involves a 12-km detour and a huge taxi bill, forcing them to seek alternative means of transport.

Now the Trinamul Congress-controlled Progressive Taximen’s Union (PTU) has taken up the cause of disgruntled cabbies.

The PTU on Thursday demanded that taxis bound for Calcutta be allowed to use Howrah Bridge, arguing that the revised route to and from Howrah is deterring passengers to areas in central and north Calcutta.

“Passengers bound for Esplanade, Brabourne Road and north Calcutta will have to make a detour of about 12 km and pay a hefty amount,” says PTU president Madan Mitra.

Of 22,000 taxis plying in Calcutta daily, at least 10,000 take passengers to Howrah.

Mitra said members of the union held a meeting and demanded that taxis be allowed to reach Howrah via Vidyasagar Setu and return via Howrah Bridge.

“Taxi drivers will tend to refuse more passengers now as they will be reluctant to go to Howrah because the taxi has to return empty,” said Mitra.

But this view has been challenged by the Bengal Taxi Association. The BTA says passengers bound for north Calcutta can take the Bally Bridge via G.T. Road and Salkia.

“I don’t understand why the PTU demands that Howrah-bound taxis should be allowed to ply through Vidyasagar Setu because there is no restriction against this,” says BTA president Kalyan Bhadra .

The revised route has come as a godsend for south Calcuttans, who can avoid traffic snarls on Howrah bridge and adjoining areas.

“Those who want to reach Brabourne Road or Esplanade can always take the ferry,” said Pranab Neogi from Chetla.

Transport department sources felt only a section of taxi drivers would suffer. These cabbies ferry passengers and goods from market areas in Howrah to central Calcutta. They charge Rs 250 to Rs 300 per head from Mangla Hat to Poddar Court.

Mob fury after mishap

Residents tried to set a lorry on fire after it ran over a 35-year-old man at the crossing of Beadon Street and Chittaranjan Avenue on Thursday night. Police intervened but not before passing vehicles were stoned. The driver and helper took to their heels.    


 
 
CHAMBER IN POPULATION CONTROL BID 
 
 
BY SUTANUKA GHOSAL
 
Calcutta, Feb 3 
Businessmen are stepping in where the government has not succeeded. Calcutta’s premier business association, the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, has decided to supplement the government’s efforts to control population growth in the first example of such cooperation in the state.

The campaign for family planning will be run by financing local drama, dance and music performances based on the population theme. Chamber president B.D. Bose said: “All our 230 members have agreed to take measures to check this menace.”

The members will sponsor performances and try to involve youth and community clubs abd women’s organisations to spread the message of population control. Calcutta’s suburbs will be the chamber’s testing ground.

Statistics put forward by the chamber show Bengal’s population more than tripled to 74 million since 1947. “This spurt has taken place due to the influx from neighbouring countries and states. More than 50 per cent of the present population is due to this,” Bose added.

The corporate sector sees population explosion as a reason for rising crime. “There is tremendous pressure on the infrastructure, too. The footpaths are occupied and there is a scarcity of water in Calcutta. The social infrastructure has completely collapsed in the state,” a senior member of the chamber said.

Bose said members have agreed to make a start with 13 million people on their rolls. The chamber has formed a population management and social welfare sub-committee.    


 
 
ASSAM PLANS TO RAISE TEA WORKERS’ FORCE 
 
 
FROM SANTANU GHOSH
 
Silchar, Feb. 3 
The Assam police are chalking out a plan to train and arm selected young workers of vulnerable tea gardens in Cachar district as an auxiliary force to patrol in tandem with the police and security forces. This is aimed at thwarting incursions by ethnic militants based in Manipur and North Cachar Hills district into the tea estates of Cachar’s eastern areas bordering Manipur.

Since August last year, 10 tea estate executives have been abducted by militants of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), the Dima Halam Daoga (DHD) and the People’s United Liberation Front (PULF) from eastern Cachar. This has triggered panic among tea planters. The latest such incident occurred on Tuesday, when a 10-member gang of Naga rebels armed with AK-47s and carbines swooped down on Bhuban valley tea estate, 50 km east of here. They abducted two tea garden executives at gunpoint.

The police said Dinesh Choubey, an assistant manager, and Sagarmal Pujari, an accounts executive, remain untraced even though the police and the CRPF are continuing combing operations along the foothills of the Assam-Manipur border to trace them.

The police suspect the hostages have been taken though the woods to rebel hideouts at Jirimukh in Manipur’s Jiribam subdivision. The frequent abductions have led the police in Cachar to consider a scheme to create an auxiliary force of young tea garden labourers. A top police official said, “Apart from collecting much-needed grassroots intelligence about the movement of the insurgents, the armed and trained labourers could also be used for night patrolling in outlying areas of the gardens with the idea of keeping the intruders at bay till the police from static positions can be moved.”

An earlier proposal by the government to permit tea companies in Cachar to raise armed units of the Assam Tea Plantation Task Force had come a cropper as the plantation companies had found the scheme prohibitive.    


 
 
MILITANTS ABDUCT FIVE IN TRIPURA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, Feb. 3 
Three fishermen and two bus passengers were abducted by National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) militants and four members of the outfit were arrested by security personnel in separate incidents, the police said.

A group of militants raided Ram Bhadra village in south Tripura district on Tuesday and abducted three fishermen from the area. Militants also abducted two passengers on a bus coming from Silacherri to Amarpur.

The police raided Chankap, a tribal hamlet in Dhalai district and arrested one of the militants involved in the abduction. In another incident, the police arrested three insurgents from Karaticherra in Dhalai district yesterday.

Minister replaced: Veteran CPM legislator Bidhu Bhusan Malakar will replace the sacked rural development minister, Ananta Pal. A final decision was taken at a meeting of the CPM party secretariat yesterday to give representation to Kailasahar sub-division in north Tripura.

Pal, sacked from the Cabinet on charges of “bigamy,” was the only minister from Kailasahar, where the Left Front bagged four of the five Assembly seats in the February 1998 polls. Malakar is expected to be sworn in this week. He has been representing the Pabiacherra seat since 1978.    


 
 
JAILED DARA GIVES POLICE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhubaneswar, Feb. 3 
Police petitioned the Mayurbhanj district judge court today seeking custody of Dara Singh, main accused in the killing of Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his two minor sons.

The police move came after the Karanjia sub-divisional judicial magistrate turned down its appeal and remanded Dara in judicial custody in the Karanjia sub jail till February 8. Dara’s bail plea was also rejected. The police urged the district judge to consider its appeal because Dara was required for questioning.

Dara, prime accused also in the killings of Muslim trader Sheikh Rahman and Catholic priest Arul Doss last year, was transferred from the Karanjia sub jail to Baripada circle jail last evening for security reasons.

The police said security at the Karanjia jail was not suitably tight for Dara, who had a high price on his head. They want him taken to Baripada to separate him from his five associates, also lodged in the Karanjia jail, sources said. Dara was shifted on the order of the district magistrate, who had the authority to transfer an undertrial from one prison to another.

A CBI team, led by joint director M.L. Sharma, reached Bhubaneswar yesterday to seek custody of the accused in connection with the Manoharpur incident. The CBI has already charge-sheeted Dara for killing Staines and his sons in Keonjhar village on January 23 last year.

Anjana case: The crime branch of the state police is likely to file a chargesheet soon against two arrested persons accused in the Anjana Mishra gangrape case. Pradip Sahoo, alias Padia, and Dhirendra Mohanty, alias Tuna, were arrested last year in connection with the rape. The third accused, Biban Biswal, is still at large.

Gamang defence

Former chief minister Giridhar Gamang told the Orissa High Court that he had been kept in the dark about relief operations, including procurement of polythene rolls, in the aftermath of the supercyclone, adds PTI.

Gamang, in an affidavit recently filed before the High Court, said on learning about the alleged irregularities in the procurement of polythene from newspapers on November 27, he had directed the chief secretary to inquire into the matter and submit a report by November 30.

He had also called an emergency meeting to review relief operations after he returned from New Delhi on November 29. However, the meeting was neither held nor any report submitted to him by November 30, he said.

The former chief minister said on November 19, he came to know that the firms shortlisted by the special relief commissioner were unable to meet the requirement of blankets and polythene rolls.

He had asked the commissioner to give an open advertisement for supply of polythene and blankets. Gamang said he had called the Cabinet sub-committee and that on relief operation to meet on December 4, 1999. But both meetings had to be cancelled as the party was electing a new leader of the CLP that day, he added.    

 

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