Schoolgirl run over, arson replay
Water widow comes calling
Megacity revival pledge
Dog death paves path for pet burial ground
Film students cry foul
‘Cool’ Madhyamik tryst
Two Amsu leaders freed
Foresters seek more teeth
Arrested youth deal in fake US coins, say police

Calcutta, Feb 14 
Calcutta and Howrah began the week on a chaotic note, thanks to Congress’ traffic-stopping processions, two deaths in road mishaps and the torching of a killer bus.

In addition, private and minibuses remained off the road in North 24-Parganas to protest the death of a conductor in police firing at Nager Bazar on Saturday.

A mob went on the rampage on Monday morning, setting on fire a long-distance state bus after it crushed a six-year-old girl under its wheels on PWD Road, near Dakshineswar.

The accident occurred around 9 am while the victim, Rupa Pramanick, a Class I student of the local Mahendranath Shishu Vidyalaya, was returning home from school. The South Bengal State Transport Corporation bus was coming to the city from Arambag.

Superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas, Kuldeep Singh, said three policemen were injured in the mob attack. Seven persons, including the bus driver, have been arrested.

The incident threw traffic out of gear on the busy B.T. Road and Vivekananda Bridge for two hours as angry residents also blocked the PWD Road from 9 am.

Police said Rupa was run over while crossing the road. The driver of the bus slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting her but failed. The girl died on the spot.

Soon, a large number of residents of a nearby slum rushed to the spot and started stoning the killer vehicle. A section of the mob then forced the passengers out of the bus, sprinkled kerosene on itand set it ablaze.

When the fire brigade and policemen from Baranagar police station arrived, the mob blocked their way and showered them with brickbats and other missiles. Three policemen were injured.

“The force was inadequate to control the situation. We were mere spectators, even as the rampage went on,” said an official of Baranagar police station. Later, the officials went with a larger posse and resorted to a lathicharge to quell the mob. Eight of the mobs were injured.

Two hours later, the fire tenders arrived but the bus had been gutted by then. Only its charred skeleton remained.

In a separate incident in the evening, a 35-year-old scooterist was killed on the spot when he was hit by a tempo on the Sealdah flyover at the crossing of Mahatma Gandhi Road.

In another mishap, a 30-year-old man was injured when a speeding oil tanker knocked him down on Chittaranjan Avenue, in the Burtolla police station area, around 12.30 pm. The unidentified person was admitted to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital. The driver of the tanker was arrested.

Traffic in the central business district of Calcutta, south Calcutta and Howrah town came to a standstill when over 13,000 Congress workers, led by MLAs and councillors, came in processions and courted arrest by violating prohibitory orders at Rani Rashmoni Road, Alipore and Howrah.

Congress workers and supporters demonstrated and courted arrest to protest the alleged deterioration in law and order in the city and elsewhere in Bengal. They demanded that home (police) minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya step down to make way for someone more efficient.

Claiming that another 40,000 Congress workers courted arrest in similar protests at Raigunj, Bankura, Purulia and Barasat during the day, state Congress working president Priya Ranjan Das Munshi alleged that police resorted to an unprovoked lathicharge on women workers of the party in Calcutta.

Auto-rickshaws, Matador vans and taxis made a killing, charging exorbitant rates to ferry commuters for short distances in North 24-Parganas. Offices, banks and educational institutions recorded slender attendance.    

Calcutta, Feb 14 
Shabana Azmi will arrive in Calcutta on Wednesday to test the waters for the making of Deepa Mehta’s controversial film, following an “assurance of safety” from chief minister Jyoti Basu.

“Shabana spoke to me yesterday, asking if the state government could assure trouble-free shooting of the film in Calcutta. I welcome the Water team to come over here,” Basu said on Monday.

He added that the administration would make “all possible arrangements” for the safety of the crew members during their stay.

“Shabana wanted to come over here for the shooting after they faced some trouble in Madhya Pradesh, despite assurances from the Digvijay Singh government,” Basu told The Telegraph.

“We will not allow any such untoward incident to happen during the shooting of the film here. Shabana and the other crew members are free to shoot anywhere in Bengal and the government will firmly deal with those trying to disrupt the shooting,” warned the chief minister.

Basu expressed surprise over the fact that the shooting of the film was being disrupted at various places even after the script of the film had been okayed by the information and broadcasting ministry.

But Basu refused to be drawn into the question of the government “screening” the script.

“I have asked Shabana to come here and speak to my deputy, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, who looks after the information and cultural affairs department,” said the chief minister.

The CPM-led government had gone through the script of Ronald Joffe’s City of Joy after its shooting in Calcutta had raised a storm of protest.

Buddhadev Bhattacharya is scheduled to arrive in the city on Tuesday. According to sources, the government is planning to study the script before giving Deepa Mehta the go-ahead to shoot the film here.

Meanwhile, members of the Sangh parivar in the state have threatened to stall the shooting of Water “at any cost”.

While the BJP’s women wing is gearing up for a demonstration on Friday, both the VHP and the RSS have stated that they will “storm the sets” if required.

However, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, a key constituent of the Vajpayee government, has opposed the Sangh parivar’s stand and decided to back Basu’s play for once.

“We cannot imagine being involved in the blatant trampling of an artist’s creation,” said Trinamul spokesman Jayanta Bhattacharya.

“It is in bad taste to protest when the shooting of the film is on. Let the making of the film be over first,” asserted litterateur Sunil Gangopadhyay, who was script consultant to the City of Joy.    

Calcutta, Feb 14 
Months after the Centre went back on its commitment to fund the Rs 1,600-crore megacity project, the Union urban development minister, Jagmohan, on Monday assured the West Bengal government that it will be salvaged.

The project aims at improving the urban infrastructure of Calcutta and its suburbs. It was all but shelved because of the tardy release of funds by the Centre.

Under the terms of an agreement, the Centre and the state have committed to meeting 25 per cent of the cost each. The balance is proposed to raised in loans from financial institutions.

State urban development minister Ashoke Bhattacharya said the state government already had spent Rs 214 crore.

“But, the Centre has provided only Rs 109 crore. The project was scheduled for completion in 2000. But it will be delayed because the Centre has not paid up,” Bhattacharya said.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu also raised the matter while inaugurating a conference of urban development ministers of eastern and northeastern states.

Basu alleged the Centre had gone back on its word on the megacity project. He urged Jagmohan to disburse funds as per the agreement.

Jagmohan said the West Bengal government’s complaints on the Centre’s blocking of megacity funds were not true.

“I admit that the funds which have been provided to the state is inadequate and is coming in late. I commit to provide larger allocation,’’ he said.

Jagmohan announced at the conference the formation of an academy to train personnel in municipal administration. “The academy will train senior managerial and technical staff and conduct and co-ordinate research into human settlement technology,’’ Jagmohan said.

He said the Centre is in favour of repealing the Urban Land Ceiling Act but will not pressure any state to follow it.

“Responding to our proposal, some states have repealed the Act but some, including West Bengal, have not repealed it and they are in favour of maintaining a land ceiling. It is totally up to the state governments and I shall not force them,’’ he said.

Jagmohan said the Centre had taken up a scheme to improve select small cities and towns. Among these are Hardwar, Puri, Kanyakumari and Dakshineswar.

Urban development ministers, mayors and chairpersons of civic bodies of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Sikkim, Assam and other northeastern are participating in the two-day conference.    

Calcutta, Feb 14 
The death of 10-year-old Pommy has finally forced the city authorities to wake up to the need of a proper burial ground and crematorium for pets.

When the Spitz died on February 6, the least that her grief-stricken ‘family’ members in south Calcutta wanted was to give Pommy a “decent burial”.

But as Siddharta and Shobhita Chakraborty were to soon find out, this was a mission impossible.

When their search for a proper burial ground proved futile, they approached the chief municipal officer (health) of Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), who stated that there was “no facility” for the burial of animals in the city.

The senior official further advised the Chakrabortys to “dispose it of, like everyone else does”.

Hurt by this, Siddharta Chakraborty, a teacher of St Joseph’s College, handed Pommy over to “a local boy” to bury the pet at a deserted spot near Tolly’s Nullah at Chetla, for Rs 800.

He then decided to take up the matter with the civic authorities. Chakraborty contacted municipal comissioner Asim Barman on Monday morning and narrated the incident.

“Pommy was our daughter. Only we know what we had to suffer while hunting for a proper resting place for her. We do not want anyone else in the city to go through that agony again,” said Chakraborty.

Responding to the plea, Barman summoned the chief municipal officer (health) and the chief engineer (conservancy) and instructed them to make immediate arrangements for the construction of a burial ground for city pets at Dhapa, beside EM Bypass.

“A crematorium for pets will be constructed there in due course,” promised Barman.

According to a spokesman of the licence department, the number of licensed dogs in the city is around 20,000 and the CMC earns an annual revenue of Rs 5 lakh from them.

“But the actual number of pet dogs in the city would be more than two lakh,” he admitted.

Besides dogs, the burial ground — and later the crematorium — would benefit domesticated cats, birds, deer, peacock, parrots and even monkeys. The CMC will monitor the functioning of the new set-up at Dhapa through NGOs.

It has also been decided that if someone wishes to preserve the memory of a beloved pet, a portion of the wall can be leased for a plaque. But the size of the plaque will be fixed by the CMC.    

Calcutta, Feb 14 
Students of Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass on Monday demanded the resignation of chairman Goutam Ghosh and dean Jagannath Guha, charging them with “illegal access and misuse of state-of-the-art equipment of the institute for personal gain.”

In a letter to information and broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley, handed over to him in the city early on Monday, representatives of the students’ association sought his personal intervention for their “immediate removal”.

This is the second instance of students’ agitation at the institute. In 1998, then I&B minister Jaipal Reddy had taken personal initiatives to look into the students’ grievances and improve the quality of education there.

Parixit Warrier, president of the union, said in the letter to the minister that last year, chairman Ghosh and members of his film unit had used the equipment of the editing department for a considerable length of time to edit his personal documentary produced and financed by an international producer.

“The work was carried out by the chairman involving the institute’s equipment and staff, for which no official approval was granted to him by any competent authority,” he said. “Being aware of the protests and discontent, Ghosh tried to smuggle out all the relevant material of his film without the knowledge of any relevant authority of the institute and was caught redhanded by the students,” he added.

Warrier said dean Guha had in January this year used the “Beta A/B Roll and Cut-to-Cut Edit Suite” as the director of a television production house for his own commercial production.

Guha, when contacted, said he knew about the students’ complaints. However, he reserved his comments. Ghosh could not be contacted despite several attempts.    

Calcutta, Feb 14 
Students who will write next year’s Madhyamik examinations may not have to ‘sweat’ it out, after all. The West Bengal Board of Secondary Education is considering a proposal to bring the Class X finals forward to February, enabling students to prepare and appear for the exams during winter.

Nearly 600,000 examinees will appear for this year’s Madhyamik examinations, starting in the first week of March. But the board is clearing the decks to reschedule the exams to the first week of February.

The move is in response to complaints pouring into the board’s offices from students who have suffered due to a combination of “summer heat” and “load-shedding” before and during their crucial school-leaving exams.

Board president A.K. Chakraborty said the proposal was at a very preliminary stage. “The matter needs to be examined thoroughly before a decision is finalised,” he added.

“The exams drag on till late March. The temperature shoots up, making it tough on the students, especially if their is load-shedding in examination halls,” said an official. The proposal will be discussed with representatives of more than 13,000 secondary schools affiliiated with the board.

“We will also have to ensure that the students do not lose out on the total number of academic days if the exams are advanced,” said a board official. So, the schools will have to make sure that they complete the syllabus, and conduct the selection tests, before the Pujas every year.

A number of teachers’ organisations have welcomed the board’s proposed move but stressed that it has to be well-planned-out so that the syllabus is complete and the students do not suffer.    

Imphal, Feb. 14 
All-Manipur Students Union president P. Premananda and general secretary O. Ratankumar were “set free” by the chief judicial magistrate of Imphal today. The release of the two top Amsu leaders came after the court found no evidence to substantiate the charges levelled against them.

Imphal chief judicial magistrate Kh. Gomati Devi, in separate orders, said as no facts were found which warrant framing of charges against the accused, they have been discharged from the liability of the case.

In the chargesheet framed by state police, the two leaders were charged under Section 384 of Indian Penal Code relating to extortion. However, in the FIR lodged at Imphal police station by Assam Rifles, the two student leaders were charged with having links with insurgents, waging war against the government and violating the Unlawful Activities (Preventive) Act, besides extorting money from the people.

Both Premananda and Ratankumar were arrested by Assam Rifles in November last year on the charge of extorting a huge sum from businessmen. Assam Rifles troops then arrested a top functionary of the banned United National Liberation Front from the house of Amsu finance secretary H. Chandeshore Sharma which led to their suspicion that Amsu had links with rebels.

After Amsu intensified its agitation disrupting the academic calendar, the government decided to release the student leaders through “legally viable means”. Sources said the Nipamacha Singh-led Manipur State Congress Party did not want to antagonise the students in view of the ongoing Assembly elections.

Legal experts said it cannot be said that the Amsu leaders were released by the government. The two leaders were freed only because the chargesheet framed by the government did not have any concrete evidence. Ten more student leaders are in Sajiwa jail.

The alleged rebel-Amsu nexus was taken seriously by the Union home ministry which instructed the government to book the Amsu leaders under the National Security Act. The government, however, disobeyed the instruction saying there was no evidence to book the leaders under NSA.

Sources said both the Union home and defence ministries have been briefed on the developments. Assam Rifles officials refused to comment on the judgment.    

Guwahati, Feb. 14 
B. Lai Sekach, senior Nagaland civil servant who was caught hunting endangered wildlife in Assam on Saturday, was remanded in judicial custody by a magistrate yesterday.

The lack of proper enforcement staff made it easier for Sekach to kill endangered animals and birds in the reserve forests outside the Kaziranga National Park. Sekach, art and culture secretary of the Nagaland government, was accompanied by five of his brothers, friends and bodyguards.

The officer and his accomplices were remanded in 14 days’ judicial custody yesterday by a magistrate in Golaghat. The magistrate rejected their bail plea and forwarded them to Golaghat district jail. The officer’s weapons and vehicles have been seized.

Sekachand his accomplices killed five rhesus monkeys, four pond herons, two endangered hill mynahs, two spotted doves and a drongo and caused serious bullet injuries to a kingfisher at Deopahar. “There are not many armed guards in the reserve forests outside the park which gave the officer and his bodyguards scope to enter the forest without any resistance,” a park official said.

Forest officials are clamouring for more powers under the Arms Act so that they can directly initiate proceedings against the culprits. “We need more powers under the Arms Act to deal with such cases in which bigwigs are involved,” a park official said. The present rules and regulations of the state forest department are not enough to take action against the culprits, he added.

Forest rules state that nobody can take arms inside the national park without permission from the department.

The Aranyak Nature Club, a wildlife NGO of Assam, has demanded stern action against the officer. Club secretary-general Bibhab Kumar Talukdar in fax messages to the Prime Minister and senior authorities said the Nagaland government should punish the officer as he has misused his official position.

It was the local people who first informed the forest authorities of the incident and later roughed up the officer and his bodyguards when they tried to escape.

Bandh hits life

Normal life in Karbi Anglong district of Assam was paralysed by a 24-hour bandh called by the Autonomous State Demand Committee today.

The bandh was called in protest against the “sinister attempt” to “implicate” CPI-ML Lok Sabha member and ASDC chief Jayanta Rongpi in the rape of a tribal woman. The allegation was levelled by the United People’s Democratic Solidarity, comprising the Karbi People’s Front and the Karbi National Volunteers. The two militant outfits have been campaigning against the ASDC over the past couple of years.    

Guwahati, Feb. 14 
The three youth arrested by the police from the Guwahati-bound Rajdhani Express at Rangiya on Saturday had planned to dupe a number of affluent people by selling so-called “ancient and priceless” American dollar coins, highly-placed police sources said here today.

“They were part of a criminal gang involved in cheating people by selling them so-called antiques,” the source said.

The police believe the gang was involved in minting US dollar coins and had somehow procured literature claiming the coins were 165-years-old.

“The coins were minted to be presented to the Sultan of Oman by the then US President,” the literature said, adding that some of them had recently been sold in the US at a record price of more than $ 4 million.

The group had contacted a number of people in the Northeast and Delhi, claiming some of those coins had been brought to India by a British Army officer. Following his death at Manipur during World War II, the coins fell into the hands of some local people. They had been retrieved from them recently, the group claimed.

“They were trying to sell these coins at a huge price,” the sources said. Though they were not asking for US $ 4 million, the price quoted by them for these fake “antiques” was astronomical.

According to the sources, the same gang was also involved in selling idols stolen from Myanmar and the Northeast in Delhi. A few Manipuris based in Delhi are believed to be involved in the racket and efforts will be made to bring them to book, the sources added.

The three youth were arrested from the Rajdhani Express on Saturday after the train made an unscheduled stop at Rangiya station, where a large contingent of policemen was waiting.

Initially, the three youth — Tirtha Barman, Rupam Saikia and Dipak Deka — were thought to be dealers in arms and fake currency. However, the police came to know of the exact nature of their “business” after sustained interrogation.

The sources denied the youth were linked to any insurgent outfit operating in the region. “They are common criminals involved in smuggling and cheating and have no links with any militant outfit,” the source said.

Ulfa killed

Security forces killed two hardcore Ulfa militants during an encounter at Dohapathar in Assam’s Darrang district last night.

Defence sources said as troops of the 21 mountain division encircled the militant hideout, the rebels opened fire, forcing them to retaliate. The militants were killed in the exchange of fire which lasted nearly half-an-hour.

Another militant managed to escape under the cover of darkness. The Army recovered a machine gun, an AK-56 rifle, several rounds of ammunition, two combat dresses and incriminating documents from the hideout.

The bodies were brought to the Mangaldoi civil hospital for post mortem today.    


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