Trains stop in Trinamul tracks
Exide chief skips kidnap parade
Police in arms ring bust scurry, 40 held
Jadavpur’s lobby lies in the dust of lore
JU teachers set date for strike
CMC eyes Rs 50-cr tax from Central properties
N-E planter abducted again
Chandrababu in Orissa to campaign for Biju Dal
Manipur’s future worries Congress heavyweight
Chapra don sparks terror in coal belt

Calcutta, Feb 15 
A sudden 12-hour Hooghly district bandh called by the Trinamul Congress on Tuesday left hundreds of passengers stranded through the day.

Several Howrah-bound trains, both long-distance and suburban, were held up at various stations near Calcutta. And trains leaving Howrah were stopped in their tracks by Trinamul supporters at Uttarpara, Konnagar, Rishra, Bandel, Mogra, Sheoraphuli, Mankundu and Kamarkundu.

The Trinamul army, protesting the attack on their leaders at Arambagh in Hooghly district on Monday, lifted the rail block at 1.45 pm. But by then, the damage had been done.

The Eastern Railway was forced to cancel four express trains — Santiniketan, Agniveena, Coalfield and Shatabdi — and 10 passenger trains from Howrah. Four long-distance trains (Kalka Mail, Kamrup Express, Chambal Express and Doon Express) were rescheduled, but Rajdhani Express left on time.

From early on Tuesday, unsuspecting commuters were confronted with a strike they had absolutely no knowledge of. The Trinamul Congress had not announced its intentions till late on Monday.

Passengers trying to leave Howrah and relatives waiting to receive those coming into the city crowded the station. “The bandh supporters have no right to organise this kind of an agitation and disrupt train services without prior notice,” said 70-year-old Ram Singh, resident of Burrabazar, waiting to board the Shatabdi to visit his daughter in Asansol.

There were scores of schoolchildren among those stranded. Namita Dutta, a student of Class IV, was sobbing silently in one of the stationary coaches of the Dhanbad-bound Black Diamond Express. Namita, who had come to the city with her parents to visit an ailing aunt, was travelling to Burdwan for her final exams. “My daughter could easily have appeared for her exams if the train had left on time. What will I tell the school authorities if they refuse to promote her for missing the test?” demanded a distraught Dhruba Dutta, Namita’s father.

By afternoon, Howrah station was resembling a cauldron of chaos. An acute drinking water problem added to the woes of frustrated passengers and anxious relatives. “It is mid-afternoon and we do not know how long we will have to wait here. We have run out of water and I can’t find a single bottle of mineral water for our two-year-old daughter,” complained Suman Gupta, a passenger of Shatabdi Express, which left early in the morning but was stuck at Baruipara for eight hours before being brought back to Howrah.

For Pradipta Banerjee and wife Arundhati, squatting on the staircase leading to the waiting room, the agony seemed “endless and unbearable”. “Our only daughter, Shukla, who is with the Railway Protection Force, has been injured during rifle-shooting practice at their Dhanbad camp. We got the message late on Monday and rushed here in the morning to catch the Black Diamond. We have been sitting like this for hours, feeling completely helpless,” said Pradipta.

Long-distance trains, bearing passengers exhausted by the ordeal, began trickling in by late afternoon, but things had hardly improved till late on Tuesday evening. Rail officials admitted they had been caught unawares. “I do not know when services will return to normal,” said station manager M.M. Bandopadhyay.    

Calcutta, Feb 15 
Exide Industries chief Satyabrata Ganguly, who was kidnapped last year, did not attend a parade of suspects on Tuesday to help the police identify two persons arrested on charges of abducting him.

Earlier, Sajjan Jalan, a businessman who had been abducted, had also stayed away despite a request from the police to help them identify his kidnappers.

Both Ganguly and Jalan were released after secret negotiations with their abductors, but both have claimed they did not pay ransom.

The police arrested Ajay Singh and Ashim Singh from Patna in January. According to the police, Ganguly, who was supposed to be present in court on Tuesday to identify the suspects, did not show up as he was out of the city.

The deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Narayan Ghosh, said: “Ganguly was supposed to be present in court on Tuesday but had to leave the city suddenly.

A senior officer complained: “Jalan has not shown any interest in identifying his kidnappers either.”

Detective department officials said Ganguly had told them that it would be difficult to identify the kidnappers because he had been blindfolded all the time that he had been in their custody.

Ganguly, the police said, also feared for his life.

The police, however, had assured him that he would be given adequate security in case he identified his kidnappers.

Neither Jalan nor Ganguly were available for comment.

“There is nothing we can do to force a person to take part in an identification parade,” Ghosh said. “Legally, we can only ask him to attend in the larger interest of investigations. If he refuses or makes himself unavailable, there is little we can do.”

Officials explained that unless the criminals are identified by those they had kidnapped, the chances of convicting the suspects were “bleak”.

“A successful identification parade ensures conviction of a kidnapper as payment of ransom is difficult to prove in court,” an official said.

Police officers also said the two alleged kidnappers cannot be kept behind bars for long because of a lack of evidence.

After interrogating the duo, the police concluded that they were part of a gang led by Umesh Singh that is based in Darbhanga, but also operates from close to Ranchi.

The police claim that during interrogation, both Ajay and Ashim said that they used to “rehearse” the abductions before actual operations.

The two youth were taken to Gurusaday Road and Penn Road in Alipore, from where Jalan and Ganguly, respectively, had been kidnapped.

Police claimed that Ajay and Ashim confirmed that these were the spots from where their victims had been picked up.    

Calcutta, Feb 15 
The police have arrested 40 persons in a drive to identify and apprehend gun-runners suspected to have set up shop in the city.

The crackdown follows Tuesday’s report in The Telegraph on Akhtar, a criminal who runs his business in arms from a city slum. Police suspect the gun-runners are not locally based but operate with assistance from contacts who are familiar with the area.

Police raided localities off Ripon Street, Metcalfe Street, Rajabazar, Canal East and Canal West Roads, Darga Road, Tiljala, Tangra, Garden Reach, Watgunge, Ekbalpore and Kidderpore, said detective department sources. But the main gun-runners managed to elude the dragnet, sources said.

“Till now, we don’t have any information about the whereabouts of these gun-runners. But we have activated our sources,’’ said deputy commissioner of the detective department Narayan Ghosh.

“A few criminals were rounded up from the port and New Alipore. Two criminals held from the port are well connected and were never taken into custody, though there are charges of murder and extortion against them,’’ a deputy commissioner of police said.

The deputy commissioner (south), Ranjit Pachnanda, said a special drive was mounted in Tollygunge, Karaya, Charu Market, Prince Anwar Shah Road and around the lakes. Of the 40 arrested, 19 were picked up from these areas. Firearms, ammunition and long knives were confiscated from them. Five of the criminals are alleged to be “middlemen” through whom dealers channelise the arms to the end-users. These men are being interrogated.    

Calcutta, Feb 15 
‘There is no stor(e)y, just the lobby’, proclaims graffiti on one of the pillars of Jadavpur University.

‘There is no lobby, just the story’, is what it could soon be saying.

For the short series of steps near the Bengal Lamp entrance of JU — immortalised in campus-speak, for reasons unknown, as ‘the lobby’ — are being demolished. The demolition drive is already under way, and as the steps are ground to dust, slowly but surely, the lobby turns to legend.

From frenetic last-minute preparations for tutorials to endless hours of aimless adda; from the lamentations of the lonely hearts’ club to the birth of yet another ‘alternative’ rock band — the two-and-a-half steps to salvation have seen it all.

But from the next batch, JU-ites will have to make do with just tales about the good old days in the lobby.

“It is only to facilitate the expansion of the first floor of the arts faculty building,” explains registrar Rajat Bandopadhyay.

According to the arts faculty students’ union (AFSU), the authorities have promised to build a “new lobby” beside the pond facing the faculty.

“The idea of having the lobby in any other place, let alone the poolside, is as ridiculous as shifting the Co ffee House to Salt Lake,” grumbles one lobby loyalist.

A lecturer in the English department takes the argument one step further: “It is not only bad for the students, but also bad architecture. The original construction was aesthetically pleasing, beside being the chosen place for students to hang out.”

This curious blend of aesthetic and sentimental appeal prompted Paramita Brahmachari and friends from the department of film studies to choose ‘the lobby’ as the subject for their mandatory short film last year.

This might well be the last remaining document on what had almost become an institution in itself.

And the feelings of countless JU lobbyists seem to be captured by yet another scrawl on the wall: “The end o’ good times comes; to know it hurts.”    

Calcutta, Feb 15 
Jadavpur University teachers have resolved to stay away from examination duty and academic work from February 22 till they are paid their salary arrears by the West Bengal government.

A referendum conducted among the faculty by the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA) on Tuesday was overwhelmingly in favour of an agitation from February 22. The teachers decided they would not participate in any university activity apart from taking classes.

College and university teachers across West Bengal have been demanding payment of arrears since their salaries were revised last year. With the Jadavpur University teachers firm on a movement, the pressure will be on the CPM-led West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association (WBCUTA) to follow suit.

The JUTA has taken a tough stand despite state higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty’s announcement on Saturday that all pending financial demands will be met by April this year. JUTA obviously feels the minister’s assurance lacks credibility, given the state government’s past record.

The association has pointed out that the state was being tardy in disbursing the funds even after the Centre had released its share of the dues.

However, JUTA might yet call off or defer the strike if the state government notifies an order announcing that the arrears will be cleared by April.

Tarun Naskar, JUTA general secretary, said the decision taken by the association on Tuesday will be reconsidered if there is a “positive response” from the state government.

If the teachers are not satisfied with the government response, Naskar said, the association members will not participate in academic work like preparing question papers, examining answer scripts or invigilation in examination halls.

Theoretical and practical classes in both morning and evening sections will be held as usual in all the faculties.    

Calcutta, Feb 15 
If the state’s urban development minister and the mayor of Calcutta have their way, Central government offices may soon have to dish out large sums of money to local bodies by way of property tax.

Urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya and mayor Prasanta Chatterjee joined issue on Tuesday with their counterparts from eastern and north-eastern states, urging Union urban development minister Jagmohan to intervene in the matter. Jagmohan was meeting the ministers and local body heads to review the 74th Amendment concerning the decentralisation of powers to local bodies.

Chatterjee underscored the fact that Central government offices did not even pay service charges in time. He threatened to freeze the sanction of building plans and other civic paper work if the dues were not cleared.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has begun a survey to locate and categorise buildings occupied by Central government bodies. According to CMC sources, Greater Calcutta alone has over 25,000 premises occupied by Central government bodies. They include offices, post offices, telephone exchanges, railway stations and residential quarters.

Bhattacharya told the conference that Central government premises were given all civic amenities, like water, sewerage, street lights, garbage disposal systems and roads. “If a private premises-owner can pay taxes, why should the Central government not do so?” Bhattacharya said at the meeting.

According to estimates, the CMC can make Rs 50 crore annually if property tax and water charges were levied on Central government properties in Calcutta. Payment of service charges, levied in place of property tax and amounting to a few lakh of rupees only, had dried up in the past five years.

There have been differences between the CMC and the Central government offices over the payments. A stalemate persists as a committee set up by the Union government to look into matters relating to service charges has yet to submit its report.

Central undertakings and the city’s civic body have been at loggerheads over the non-payment of dues. The CMC and the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) have presently locked horns over the supply of bitumen for the city’s roads.

Road repairs have slowed down as the IOC has stopped supply of bitumen until the CMC coughs up Rs 1.6 crore. The member, mayor-in-council (roads), Sudhangshu Sil, said that the IOC had been paid Rs 94 lakh in two instalments. “The IOC also owes the CMC over Rs 1 crore in dues,” Seal added.

The ministers asked Jagmohan to initiate amendments to the laws so that taxes can be levied benefiting the local bodies. Under the existing law, no state can impose property tax on Union government property.

Bhattacharya later said that the Union minister had promised look into the grievances of the states. Jagmohan has also asked for a list of Central government establishment which had defaulted in paying charges to local bodies.    

Agartala, Feb. 15 
Suspected All-Tripura Tiger Force militants yesterday abducted tea executive Uttam Das for the second time in five years. Das, manager of Madhurilata tea and rubber estate at Gabordi under Bishalgarh subdivision, was whisked away by the rebels while he was on field duty.

Tiger Force militants had previously abducted Das in 1995. They released him only after the garden management paid Rs 3 lakh as ransom.

Das’ captors have demanded Rs 2 lakh this time. Kallol Roy, proprietor of Madhurilata tea and rubber estate, filed an FIR in this regard at the Takarjala police station today.

Tea Association of India secretary P.K. Sarkar said Das’ abduction was another crippling blow to the state’s tea industry. He said militants had abducted eight tea executives over the past seven years, making those in the industry wary of working in Tripura.

In July 1996, tea planter Yogabrata Chakraborty died in militant custody. In February last year, Tiger Force militants shot dead Mrinal Kanti Chowdhury and his son Anjan Chowdhury, owners of Adarini tea estate in Sadar subdivision.

Tiger Force rebels also killed five employees of Narendrapur tea estate in August 1998 because the latter refused to pay “tax” to the outfit.

Expressing concern over the situation, Sarkar said the Tripura tea industry was already facing a crisis due to drought and a fall in prices of different varieties of tea. “The last thing we want is to be targeted by militants,” he said.

The Assembly also expressed concern over the law and order situation during a discussion on the issue today.

Chief minister Manik Sarkar, who holds the home portfolio, said altogether 1,067 people, including security personnel, had been killed by militants between April 1, 1993 and January 28 this year. The chief minister said the security forces at the state government’s disposal were inadequate to keep militants in check.

Cachar planters freed: Two tea planters in the Cachar district of south Assam, who were abducted by militants from the Bhuban Valley tea garden on February 1, returned to their plantation today, our Silchar correspondent reports.

Police said 35-year-old assistant manager Dinesh Choubey, and tea executive Sagarmoy Pujari were set free last night by the rebels on the Cachar-Manipur border.

They crossed the Barak river on a boat and arrived at the Dilkoosh tea garden from where they were escorted to their bungalows and medically examined.

While police sources said a hefty ransom was paid to a breakaway faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) for ensuring the release of tea executives, the Bhuban valley garden management refused to confirm it.    

Gopalpur (Ganjam), Feb. 15 
The Biju Janata Dal-BJP alliance has roped in Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam Party leader N. Chandrababu Naidu to woo the electorate, especially the Telugu voters, in Orissa.

The alliance hopes to encash on the goodwill Naidu had earned last year by extending timely help to the supercyclone-devastated coastal Orissa.

Naidu, who started campaigning for the alliance yesterday, was received by Union minister and BJD president Naveen Patnaik at Gopalpur, where he was greeted by slogans of Annadata vastradata — Chandrababu zindabad (long live Chandrababu — provider of food and clothes).”

Though Naidu preferred to speak in Telugu at the public meeting, he started off with a simple sentence in Oriya — “Odissa ra bhai bhauninku mora namaskar (my regards to all brothers and sisters of Orissa).”

Naidu tugged at the heartstrings of the electorate by referring to the help provided by him after the supercyclone. He said the aid had been extended not for any political gains but on humanitarian grounds.

He hinted that he may visit some cyclone-ravaged Assembly constituencies of coastal Orissa as part of his campaign schedule. Naidu said Orissa was also experiencing a political cyclone “which will blow away the corrupt Congress from its soil”. Projecting Patnaik as the future chief minister of the state, he said they would work in tandem for the development of the two states. He said he was sure that the BJD-BJP alliance would bring in a new era of development in the state. Naidu said Orissa had suffered after the cyclone because the Congress had failed to provide able leadership.

He also hinted that the Congress in Orissa was allegedly involved in a criminal nexus. He said former advocate-general Indrajit Ray, who was recently convicted for his alleged rape attempt on Anjana Mishra, was a close associate of J.B. Patnaik and was even accompanying him on the campaign trail.

Naidu said he had sensed an anti-Congress wave and the will to begin anew with the BJD-BJP alliance in the remote under-developed areas of Koraput and Rayagada districts where he had addressed seven public meetings before arriving at Gopalpur..

Patnaik also gave a short speech, mostly in Hindi, at the meeting. He urged voters to enable him to fulfil Biju Patnaik’s dreams and to vote for the BJD-BJP alliance to ensure the development of the state.

After the Gopalpur meeting, Naidu left for Chikiti, where he addressed a public meeting at Samantiapalli.    

Imphal, Feb. 15 
Manipur Congress leader Radhabinod Koijam is a worried man, but it has little to do with him being one of the contenders for the Thangmeiband Assembly seat.

Instead, Koijam is worried about the future of Manipur and the enormity of the task that awaits the next government.

“Any party which governs Manipur after this round of elections will have to take several unpopular decisions to tide over the economic crisis in the state,” the Congress Legislature Party leader told The Telegraph here today.

Blaming the W. Nipamacha Singh-led government for the current state of affairs, Koijam said the new ministry would have to contend with a plethora of economic problems, including an empty exchequer.

“The state is now solely dependent on central funds,” he said.

Manipur’s public borrowings have exceeded Rs 1,000 crore, as a result of which it has to spend Rs 200 crore annually on payment of interest and debt servicing.

Implementation of the fifth central pay commission’s recommendations is another problem. Since the new pay scales took effect, the government has had to spend an additional Rs 180 crore annually on payment of salaries to over 80,000 employees.

According to Koijam, Plan funds to the tune of over Rs 200 crore have been diverted to non-Plan sectors, hampering development work across the state.

“Only someone who is not afraid of losing an election can bail out Manipur,” said Koijam, who is regarded as an aspirant to the chief minister’s post.

Koijam has lost only one election from Thangmeiband constituency. That was in 1990.

This time, the leader of the Opposition is one of four candidates vying for the seat. N. Binoy Singh of the ruling Manipur State Congress Party, Meinam Bhorot Singh of the BJP and N. Saratkumar Singh of the Federal Party of Manipur are the other candidates in the fray.

Koijam feels the presence of three political heavyweights in the fray is to his advantage. “I stand a better chance of winning if there are several candidates,” he said.

The Congress leader’s campaign is based on local issues, including the need for a “stable and responsible” government and the law and order situation.

One of the key areas in Thangmeiband constituency is Thangal Bazar in the capital town of Imphal. It is an area dominated by non-Manipuri traders.

In past elections, candidates who have performed well in the area have won the Assembly seat.

With the BJP gaining in popularity among the business community, Koijam is trying hard to retain his base in the area by including central Congress leaders in his campaign.

“Business cannot thrive if the law and order problem persists. We have to improve the situation in Imphal,” the Congress leader told traders in the area recently.    

Dhanbad, Feb. 15 
The candidature of “contract killer” Manoranjan Singh alias Dhoomal Singh from Baniapur constituency in Chapra district has sent alarm bells ringing in the coal belt.

Businessmen of Dhanbad and Bokaro—specially those associated with coal and scrap business —have been asked to fund Singh’s election campaign. Over the past few days, a number of traders received telephone calls from Singh’s men demanding money. “We cannot report the matter to the police as Dhoomal has good police contacts. We will be in trouble”, a leading businessman told The Telegraph.

Police sources admitted to receiving complaints of “anonymous telephone calls”. Some of the businessmen, who have been paying Dhoomal for the past several years, have already paid their share of the rangdari (extortion tax).

Dhoomal, who has at least 174 cases of murder pending against him, has been evading arrest since 1978. He was allegedly involved in the assassination of underworld don Shakaldeo Singh last year. Dhoomal is also an accused in the twin-murder of Bokaro scrap mafiosi Surendra Tiwary and Mukesh Singh. Dhoomal’s gang thrives on railway and steel plant scrap auctions.

No trader can lift scrap from any steel plant or railway yard without paying rangdaari to Dhoomal’s gang. He has been campaigning in his constituency with Kalasknikov rifles.    


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