Mamata army lines up rail budget roadshow
Billboards grow freely on trees
Sleuths raid suspects in RAW officer assaul
Priceless Persian painting in peril
Marks racket stink in varsity fee rise refusal
Berlin focus on mayor
All-party drive against insurgency
Naveen placates hurt Hinjli voters
Beleaguered JB faces Waterloo in Athgarh

 
 
MAMATA ARMY LINES UP RAIL BUDGET ROADSHOW 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 20 
Raising hopes of a bonanza and fears of traffic snarls, the Trinamul Congress on Sunday decided to market Mamata Banerjee’s presentation of the railway budget this week as the city event to watch out for.

Trinamul Congress organisers placed orders for big-screen television sets ahead of Mamata’s maiden railway budget on Friday, February 25. The television sets will be placed near 30 major crossings to beam Mamata, live, to all of Calcutta.

The Trinamul’s programme has the city police worried, because the gatherings in front of the television sets will certainly spill over on main roads, choking traffic movement. The party’s announcement on Sunday sent traffic police officers to the drawing table, planning how best to keep Calcutta moving as the railway minister presents a budget that is widely tipped to be full of sops for the city and Bengal.

Should Mamata present a budget for Calcutta, it would be in keeping with the tradition set by her predecessors in the railway ministry. Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar and C.K. Jaffer Sharief had gifted their home states major railway projects when they headed the ministry.

Not since A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury has a representative from Bengal been put in charge of the railways.

The tide of expectation that is likely to wash over the city and the Trinamul’s programme to make political capital of “Didi’s journey from Calcutta’s backwaters to New Delhi’s Rail Bhavan” has its flip side.

A section of officers favoured denial of permission to the Trinamul, but there were others who said political workers could only be allowed far away from important crossings.

“We are worried as public viewing near the crossings will create massive traffic snarls,” said deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Nazrul Islam.

Islam said he had asked the deputy commissioner of police, special branch (SB), Suman Bala Sahoo, to prepare a detailed report about the programme and its timings.

“Even though the Trinamul has not yet sought any permission from us, we are making elaborate arrangements to ensure smooth flow of traffic,” Islam said.

The 10 major spots where the TV sets will be placed for public viewing are: the Shyambazar five-point crossing; Hatibagan; Sovabazar; Dunlop Bridge; Burrabazar; the crossings of Vivekananda Road and Rabindra Sarani; Hazra; Gariahat; Bhowanipore and Behala tram depot.

A senior Trinamul leader offered what he claimed was a peep into the budget. He hinted that a special beautification programme will be declared for the Circular Railway stretch along the east bank of the Hooghly.

“The single-track Circular Rail is scheduled for conversion into double-track. All stations along the Hooghly are also expected to be declared model stations,” the leader said.

There is a flurry of activity among the Trinamul youth leaders, who are busy trying to hire the best sets from TV dealers.

The TV with the biggest screen will be set up at Girish Park, where financial analysts, cost and chartered accountants will be invited to explain the import of the budget proposals, even as Mamata makes her speech in Parliament.

Girish Park will awake on Friday to Mamata’s tinny voice blaring from loudspeakers. Video recordings of her speeches will be beamed on to the huge screen from early in the morning until she begins her budget speech.

“We are looking forward to the day when Didi delivers her budget speech. Her’s is a journey from the streets of Calcutta to the Rail Bhavan in Delhi,” rang Trinamul youth wing president Sanjoy Bakshi’s voice with genuine emotion.

Apart from these dozen spots, there will be at least 20 other TVs at various points of the city. Mamata, however, has asked her supporters not to encroach on roads.

“Our TV sets will be on perches on footpaths. We will not block any road or pose any problem to traffic movement,” said Tapas Dutta, Trinamul youth leader.

The Trinamul Congress leadership has also instructed party units in the city and the districts not to hold any meetings, protest rallies or agitational programmes.

“It is a red letter day for us. We will see our Didi present the budget,” said a leader.

There was excitement at Mamata’s south Calcutta residence on Harish Chatterjee Street on Sunday afternoon, with hectic discussions going on about the exact location of the television sets.    


 
 
BILLBOARDS GROW FREELY ON TREES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 20 
After the drive to keep city walls clear of advertisements, civic officials are gearing up to launch an operation to keep trees ‘clean’.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has drawn up an elaborate plan to keep trees in parks and on pavements free of “visual pollution”.

Activated by a public interest litigation in Calcutta High Court, municipal commissioner Asim Barman convened an emergency meeting last week to figure out methods of preventing city advertisers from making trees their canvas for campaign.

“There are about three lakh trees on pavements and in parks. Of these, around 60 per cent are burdened with billboards,” said chief engineer (roads) Sajal Banerjee.

In 1998, a clean-up drive in the city had rid the trees of billboards. But now, every conceivable product and concept is being advertised on tree trunks.

Advertisements of computer centres, cyber cafes, beauty parlours, courier services, rent-a-car, and the ‘no parking’ symbol of Calcutta Police are among the most prominent ‘offenders’.

Ironically, a tree trunk on Rashbehari Avenue has even been used by the CMC to notify a ‘fee parking zone’.

Trees lining the most popular pedestrian thoroughfares — like Park Street, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Shakespeare Sarani, Rashbehari Avenue and B.B. Ganguly Street — are the worst victims of the advertising blitz.

Abdul Ali, member, mayor-in-council, said: “Using trees to advertise products or services is not permitted in the city. It destroys the aesthetic appeal of so many city streets and parks.”

The civic authorities are now planning to involve the conservancy department in the drive to keep trees free of advertisements.

The conservancy block sarkars will send notices to the offenders, giving them three days time to clear the clutter. If they do not respond in time, a fine ranging from Rs 50 to Rs 500 will be slapped on the offender.    


 
 
SLEUTHS RAID SUSPECTS IN RAW OFFICER ASSAUL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 20 
Mystery shrouds the assault of a senior RAW officer, Shyamal Chakraborty, even as a joint team of Central intelligence agencies raided the houses of people the police suspect to be sympathisers of terrorists and “anti-national forces” in different parts of the city.

The team raided houses in Naktala, Park Circus, Rajabazar, Narkeldanga, Tangra and Ranikuthi, according to a senior Calcutta police officer who is co-ordinating the raid.

“We have in our computer a list of names and addresses of people who are suspected to shelter anti-national forces,’’ a detective department official said.

“We went looking for them on Sunday morning. Some of these people were present at home but quite a few of the suspects had left a long time back,’’ he added.

“It is too early to hazard a guess but we are probing all angles,’’ the officer said.

Additional superintendent of police, S.N. Gupta, said the force is in constant touch with Chakraborty’s family.

“The doctors have not permitted us to speak to Chakraborty. We have started to investigate the assault but could not proceed very far as our officers were not allowed to talk to the RAW official,’’ Gupta added.

Police said 45-year-old Chakraborty, a field officer in the external intelligence outfit, left his office on Syed Amir Ali Avenue on Wednesday at 5 pm.

He was found lying near a bush outside the Science City gate around 8 pm by local residents.

RAW sources said Chakraborty was on a team monitoring the movement of foreign hostile elements in the eastern region.

Senior officers of the state and Central security agencies were huddled in a high-level meeting at their Gariahat office since early on Sunday morning.

The state’s deputy chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, spoke to city police chief Dinesh Vajpai and the director-general of police, D.K. Sanyal, on Sunday morning and directed them to probe the incident.

Initially, Chakraborty was admitted to National Medical College and Hospital but was later transferred to Nightingale Nursing Home.

Nursing home sources said Chakraborty’s condition was stable and he was out of danger.

“He spoke briefly with doctors and a few of his colleagues but slept for most of the day,’’ a nursing home spokesman said.

Senior police officers, including detective department officials, visited Chakraborty to record his statements.

One officer later said Chakraborty’s speech was still slurred and it would take some time for him to recover and recount to them what had happened to him.    


 
 
PRICELESS PERSIAN PAINTING IN PERIL 
 
 
BY SUVRO ROY
 
Calcutta, Feb. 20 
The Centre has asked Victoria Memorial to explain how a 200-year-old Persian oil painting of the Qajar school has run to seed for want of restoration.

Prince and Princess of Iran in Procession, a 12 ft by 18 ft painting worth several million dollars in the international art market, has lost its lustre and its paint has been flaking for nearly a decade now.

But the Memorial authorities do not appear to have achieved much by way of restoration.

Officials said on Sunday that petitions from art lovers and employees of Victoria Memorial prompted the Union human resource development ministry to sit up.

But the curator, Chittaranjan Panda, who has been summoned by Delhi to provide an explanation, was tightlipped: “I will not say why restoration is delayed. But if you really want to know the actual story, talk to my predecessors,” Panda said.

“But I can claim that I saved the painting from total ruin by having it shifted to a safer place. Till the shift is complete, I have forbidden any restoration work,” he added.

The second largest work at the Memorial after Jaipur Procession, the Qajar painting came to the possession of the Memorial trustees in 1948, courtesy the military secretary to the governor-general.

It was on display for a long time in the space where the Calcutta Gallery opened later. From there it was moved to Durbar Hall.

The picture is not signed but the artist has lavished gold leaf on it as is done in miniatures, and couplets have been inscribed with a calligrapher’s flourish. It resembles a blown-up miniature.

The HRD ministry is believed to have sought an explanation from the Memorial why Prince and Princess of Iran is in the sorry state it is now, about display of other paintings and the proposal for a new gallery, for which Rs 4 crore was released some time ago.

An adviser to the ministry is due in the city to carry out an inspection.

Former curator Hiren Chakraborty claimed he had the painting transferred to Durbar Hall, where restoration did begin in 1992-93. But he, too, could not say when work stopped.

Apparently, Panda had the painting shifted on January 13 to Royal Gallery, a few hundred metres from a damp and dark corner of Durbar Hall. It was there for five years, initially uncovered, and later wrapped in a dark sheet after inquiries began.

Arun Ghosh, senior restorer at Victoria, had carried out the initial restoration, but declined to elaborate on how and why it stopped. “Our curator alone can give a fuller picture,” he said.

However, early this month, Ghosh was one of the few officers present when its cover was removed and it was photographed to document its present condition.

“There are not many such works of art in the country. The Iranian Procession is very valuable and of a superior technical standard. It will fetch at least Rs 10 million at auctioneers like Sotheby’s,” said artist Rathin Mitra.

There are about half a dozen Qajar works in the country now. They adorn Rashtrapati Bhavan and Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad. The canvas at Victoria Memorial, set in a wooden frame, depicts in bright hues a royal procession on elephant back in Iran.

The Qajar school is named after the dynasty that ruled Persia from 1794 to 1926. It produced a wealth of royal portraits by a succession of painter laureates. It all began in the reign of Fateh Ali Shah Qajar, who was the Persian ruler from 1797 to 1834. In the late 18th century, European principles and techniques merged with the style of Persian miniatures, giving birth to the Qajar school.

A measure of the indifference to the painting could be had when officials revealed it was used as the backdrop for a cultural function in Durbar Hall in 1996. “We were shocked,” said one of them.    


 
 
MARKS RACKET STINK IN VARSITY FEE RISE REFUSAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 20 

Twenty-five paise per answerscript. That’s what teachers attached to Calcutta University have been paid for scrutinising examination papers for decades.

Now, a section of senior teachers from CU and other affiliated undergraduate colleges have alleged that the remuneration has not been hiked “to shield a racket” involving university employees, teachers and students.

Scrutiny of answerscripts, as opposed to re-examination, involves recounting of marks.Scrutineers are expected to check if all answers have been examined and whether the total is accurate.

“The officials concerned do not consider poor emoluments to be an issue as they know that many scrutineers earn substantial amounts of money through unfair means,” said a member of the university’s syndicate.

Explaining the modus operandi, he said a deal is struck either directly between teachers and students, or through some university employees. The going rate is Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 for an increase of five marks. However, students are often cheated and they end up getting low marks even after paying huge amounts of money.

“We suspect that a section of the university’s employees is involved. So the authorities are not responding to our appeal to raise the remuneration to prevent this racket from becoming public and damaging the university’s image,” said a CU teacher.

Teachers feel this explains why none of the officials responded to the university syndicate’s demand for increasing the remuneration at a recent meeting.

A senior official of the university’s examination section said: “Cases of irregular allotment of marks cannot be ruled out as the whole system is manual. But there is little scope for the scrutineers to indulge in corruption.”

The official explained that even if a scrutineer tried to increase the marks of a student illegally, it would be detected as the papers go to the head examiners after each scrutiny.    


 
 
BERLIN FOCUS ON MAYOR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 20 
Swiss flim director Francois Rossier of Belle Journee Productions, Berlin, will be in Calcutta in March to make a documentary on Prasanta Chatterjee as “the mayor of the last Communist city in India”.

Rossier is making a documentary on the life and work of the mayors of four cities — Berlin, Paris, Calcutta and New York. He had to wait for more than a year as Chatterjee was unwilling to allow him a peep into his personal life without a go-ahead from the the CPM’s Calcutta district committee and state committee.

“As I have just got the permission, I am writing to Francois Rossier,” Chatterjee said.

Rossier came to know the mayor when he led a football team of the city’s slum children to Berlin.

Chatterjee recounted: “Rossier had wondered how I managed time to look after the well-being of slum children. Then he placed his proposal to me through the Berlin mayor, and I told him it is not possible for me to say ‘yes’ right away as I belong to a disciplined and well-knit political organisation.”

Rossier plans to highlight the Communist mayor’s daily work, his family life, hobbies and personal interests.

He is likely to focus on the role of Chatterjee’s mother in tempering his political career.    


 
 
ALL-PARTY DRIVE AGAINST INSURGENCY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, Feb. 20 
Chief minister Manik Sarkar announced that he would shortly constitute an all-party committee for launching a statewide campaign against militancy even as the tea industry in the state observed a day’s bandh in protest against last Friday’s killing of the Ganganagar tea estate manager.

The committee comprising representatives of all political parties will meet in the insurgency- affected areas.

The chief minister announced this following TUJS leader Nagendra Jamatya’s reminder that the Left Front government was prepared to accept any suggestion from the Opposition on a possible solution to the insurgency problem.

Sarkar said, “Even if an NGO comes up with a good proposal, we will accept it.’’

The Centre is worried over the deteriorating law and order condition in the state. Union home secretary Kamal Pande has written two successive letters to the state government expressing displeasure over the Left Front government’s inability to curb militancy. Pande reportedly pointed out that contrary to the state government’s claim of inadequate security forces, there was enough manpower at the state government’s disposal.

He had directed the state administration to ensure proper utilisation of forces. Following Pande’s letter, the state government held several meetings with the heads of various security forces for intensifying counter-insurgency operations.

In a significant disclosure to the state government yesterday, chief minister Manik Sarkar said CRPF jawans had recently expressed reluctance to perform certain duties, including road patrolling.

Tribal killed

A tribal civilian was killed and six were injured, four of them seriously, when suspected United Bengali Liberation Front militants lobbed bombs on a passenger jeep in West Tripura today. The jeep was on its way from Bisramganj to Melaghar when it was attacked at 2.30 pm.

Police sources said the jeep carrying tribal passengers was ambushed in the Bagmara area under Bisramganj police station. While one tribal youth, Rabiranjan Debbarma, died on the spot, six more were injured.

They are yet to be identified. The four seriously injured have been admitted to G.B. hospital here.

Security forces have launched a hunt to flush out the United Bengali Liberation Front militants from the area. Tension mounted in the area following the attack.    


 
 
NAVEEN PLACATES HURT HINJLI VOTERS 
 
 
FROM SIB KUMAR DAS
 
Hinjli, Feb. 20 
Ending his campaign with a whirlwind tour of rural Hinjli, Biju Janata Dal chief Naveen Patnaik today promised to “spare more time” for his constituency after the elections are over.

Patnaik, contesting an Assembly seat for the first time, rushed from one village to another, stopping only to exchange a few words with the odd supporter who managed to catch his attention.

The villages he toured include Bhatakumarda, Sunatar, Baghala, Sholaghar, Raipur and Pandia.

In each of these villages, hordes of people awaited the Union minister’s convoy since early today. Some cribbed about Patnaik not spending more time with them, while others wanted to know when he would be back.

“Don’t worry, I will visit you again after the elections. I also promise to spend more time with you,” the BJD chief told voters in every village he visited.

The majority of the villagers appeared to be suitably impressed by Patnaik. “We know he will be our next chief minister. We also know he will be unable to give us more time because a leader of his stature has to look after the entire state,” said Bhimsen Sethi of Sholaghar. After doing the rounds of villages, Patnaik reached Hinjli town for a rally attended by thousands of BJD activists and supporters.

Addressing the rally, he exhorted the people to oust the Congress and give the BJD-BJP combine an opportunity to provide a stable government. The crowd responded by shouting, “Orissa mukhya mantri Naveen Patnaik, swagatam (welcome, chief minister Naveen Patnaik).”

Patnaik’s attempts to string a few sentences in Oriya also drew applause.

The BJD chief said his forefathers were from Ganjam and he was returning to his roots by seeking election from an Assembly segment in the district.

Devanand Mohapatra, general secretary of the BJP’s Ganjam district unit, said it was virtually certain that Patnaik would become the next chief minister of Orissa. “All we are trying to do is increase the margin of his victory,” he said.

While the BJD-BJP combine celebrated the success of the rally, the mood in the Congress camp wasdespondent. “What can we do when even our central leadership has given up hope? Sonia Gandhi came to Aska, but did not turn up at Hinjli,” said a Congress activist.    


 
 
BELEAGUERED JB FACES WATERLOO IN ATHGARH 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Athgarh, Feb. 20 
It is the enemies within his party who have got PCC chief J.B. Patnaik worried. Desperate to return to the Assembly, it is not his opponent who is making him uncomfortable, but leaders of his own party.

“A few front-ranking Congress leaders in the state are working against me. They want to see me defeated and are clandestinely backing my rival candidate,” said Patnaik. He is facing a stiff challenge in Athgarh, a constituency which he won twice in the Eighties. “I am fighting on all fronts, within and outside the party,” he added.

Hemanand Biswal, Giridhar Gamang, Basant Biswal and Kanhu Charan Lenka are working against him, said Patnaik. Lenka, in particular, has a score to settle with him because Patnaik’s supporters did not work for him when he ran for Lok Sabha from Cuttack last year.

His biggest problem, rued Patnaik, was that he cannot “expose” these leaders publicly. “How can I speak against my own party leaders at public meetings?” he asked.

Bibhuti Bhusan Mishra, his campaign manager who was defeated in 1995, echoed his sentiments. “It is J.B. Patnaik versus others. No one can defeat Janakibabu after all that he has done for Athgarh when he was chief minister. Even his rivals in the party are aware of this,” Mishra said.

But all the four leaders denied the allegations. They said the PCC chief was trying to shift the blame on them because he “is running scared.” But the odds are stacked heavily against Patnaik, who moved on to Athgarh from Begunia. He viewed Begunia as “unsafe,” with the BJP having steadily eaten into the Congress base there in the past five years. But Congress supporters are worried that Athgarh might turn out to be his Waterloo.

An anti-establishment feeling is running high in Athgarh, which was devastated in the October 29 supercyclone. Villagers in most of the 42 gram panchayat areas complain that the relief materials were too little and came too late. “The cyclone has hit us badly. People are angry with the Congress government as they did not receive anything in the aftermath of the cyclone,” said Cuttack Youth Congress general secretary Ranjan Patnaik.

The Youth Congress leader said villagers did not understand that it was “not Janakibabu’s fault” that they did not receive relief or compensation for their homes which were flattened in the cyclone. “It is unfortunate, but the former chief minister may have to take the rap in the polls for the failure of his successor, Giridhar Gamang,” he said.

Patnaik alleged that Biju Janata Dal (BJD) candidate Ranendra Pratap Swain, who has been the Athgarh MLA since 1990, took advantage of the situation and distributed relief only among his supporters.

Swain hopes this will help him sail through for the third time. “I have always been with the people,” he reiterated.

But Patnaik is unfazed. “No matter what the Opposition says and my rivals do, I am finally going to win,” he said.    

 

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