Fake 500s fall into police net
Ragging draws jail term
RBI to roll out fresh note vans
Garbage staff go on strike
Pigs do fly, and touch down in Calcutta
Assam ignored intelligence alert
Ministers kin fell in first round
Killing deals blow to AGP poll prospects
Man who never feared death
Cong seeks Mahanta’s resignation

Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has busted a racket in forged currency and arrested two women and a man involved in the circulation of fake Rs 500 and Rs 100 notes.

The racketeers were taking advantage of the poor monitoring of the currency circulation system by banks, despite instructions from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The three persons were picked up from the city airport shortly after landing here from Singapore with a “consignment” of Rs 35 lakh.

“The entire consignment was fake. We are not divulging the names of the three persons in the interests of investigation,” said deputy inspector-general of police, CID, Partha Bhattacharya. Part of the cash was to be off-loaded in Calcutta and part in Mumbai.

The DIG said that during interrogation, the three confessed that they had earlier off-loaded two consignments of forged notes in Mumbai. Investigators said the women, based in Noida, near New Delhi, were helped by accomplices in Taltala, in central Calcutta. They are now in police custody.

Investigators suspect the forged notes were printed in Singapore and Italy. The fake notes are “old generation” Rs 500 notes.

“At first, we thought these notes were printed in India. But now we feel they could have been printed overseas. There was an error in the Hindi inscriptions on the forged notes that we detected,” said the deputy general manager (operations), Dibakar Mullick, of the RBI.

The Hindi inscription on the genuine Rs 500 notes of the RBI reads: Main dhaarak ko panchsaw rupaye ada karne ka vachan deta hoon. “But the forged notes said ‘karme ko’ instead of ‘karne ka’,” Mullick said.

Despite assurances by the RBI, nationalised banks are loath to exchange currency notes of Rs 500 denomination. The issue department of the RBI is flooded with complaints daily.

Shiva Engineering Works, for example, has written to the RBI that they regularly deposit cash in the Netaji Subhas Road branch of State Bank India. But now, the staff at the bank are not accepting Rs 500 notes.

Similarly, Central Bank of India’s NS Road branch has refused to accept deposits in Rs 500 notes from PKS, a star trading house.

The RBI issue department has also received complaints from Siliguri and Darjeeling. The Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry has written to the RBI that Bank of India’s Sevoke Road branch, in Siliguri, is not accepting Rs 500 notes.    

Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
After years of pleading that “something needs to be done to stop ragging”, there’s finally something for freshers to cheer about.

Students of universities, engineering colleges and all other under-graduate educational institutions in Calcutta and the districts are liable to be expelled, imprisoned for three years and fined up to Rs 25,000 if they are found guilty of any form of ragging. This comes into effect from academic session 2000.

All students will be required to give an undertaking at the time of admission, duly signed by their parents and guardians, stating that they will abide by the just- formulated laws relating to prohibition of ragging, and accept the prescribed punishment.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has laid down these rules in directives received by the authorities of institutions like Jadavpur University, Bengal Engineering College and Calcutta University, to be implemented “with immediate effect”.

The UGC has also notified the state government about this development and urged it to treat ragging to be a cognisable offence. The commission has also asked the administration to take adequate measures for implementation of the anti-ragging laws.

Till the state promulgates the laws, the UGC has advised institutions to amend their respective statutes so that the anti-ragging measures can be imposed. The institutions have also been directed to mention the anti-ragging rules in advertisements inviting applications for admission.

The commission has sought detailed “action taken” reports from the institutions regarding the measures to be adopted.

The different forms of ragging identified in the circular include “forcing the freshers to do acts that have sexual overtones, including looking at pornographic pictures, answering vulgar questions, kissing, stripping, as well as forcing students to drink alcohol and do things that can cause physical or mental injury”.

The circular, however, suggests that controlled “supervision” by seniors had certain positive manifestations and so they should not be discouraged from helping freshers to get rid of their inhibitions or complexes.

But the commission made it clear that despite some positive aspects of “ragging”, the ban had to be imposed as it had ceased to “be a healthy practice”.    

Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
The Reserve Bank of India will position rupee and coin exchange vans in the city’s business districts to interact directly with the public and change soiled and torn currency notes.

The apex bank has taken the decision to interact with the public directly because city-based banks have not taken adequate responsibility to implement its clean note policy. Senior RBI officials in Mumbai said banks have not been circulating fresh notes to the public at the rate they are supposed to.

The banks have argued that the policy places an extra burden on them. They would need additional clerks to man the special counters created for the purpose.

“Branches have limited manpower and no extra staff can be spared for this job. Besides, we are exchanging currency in the normal course of duty. Customers demand currency of smaller denomination. Most of the branches are desperate to get fresh currency but it has to percolate from the currency chests of the RBI”, said a spokesperson for SBI’s Calcutta office.

Most bank branches have all but ignored the RBI’s circular that bundles of currency notes should not be mutilated by stapling. A suggestion to instal note counting machines has also been ignored.

Customers complain that the staples are difficult to remove and the notes usually tear while undoing the staples. Counter clerks, however, have told branch managers that handing over unstapled bundles of notes is not safe.

RBI officials, however, said they had not received any instruction from the headquarters. “There is a shortage of staff now. Therefore, to exchange soiled notes, we have opened special counters in the local head office. The RBI has currency chests at 70 sites from which it will get fresh notes.”    

Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
Garbage will not be cleared on Monday, with conservancy staff of the CMC deciding to go on a day’s strike. The corporation’s offices of birth and death certificates, too, are unlikely to function, with employees on strike.

The garbage removers’ union of the conservancy department affiliated to the Trinamul Congress has decided to go on strike to demand confirmed jobs for casual workers. Chief engineer (conservancy) Arun Sarkar said a special drive would be taken on Sunday night to clear at least 100 of the 525 vats in the city.

Offices of birth and death certificates, mutation and tax collection cannot function because the CPM-led clerks’ union will be on strike to protest against a competitive promotions policy.    

Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
Here a pig, there a pig, everywhere an oink-oink .... No, this isn’t Ol’ McDonald’s farm; this is our very own Netaji Subhash International Airport.

A consignment of 205 piglets, among them 116 sows, has reached Calcutta airport from the US via Bangkok. They were not reported to be jetlagged. In fact, they looked in the pink of health.

They have attracted a lot of attention on arrival, but they aren’t here to convert the airport terminal into a posh sty. They are simply passing through, heading for states in the northeast.

The pigs were airlifted in two batches — 113 on February 12 and 92 on February 19 — by Thai International Airways from Bangkok. They flew Korean Airlines from New York to Bangkok.

Such expensive international travel is worth the trouble the authorities have to take. The piglets have been imported by the Government of India at about $ 600 each, following requests from the northeastern states.

According to N.N.Roy, regional animal quarantine officer, the imported white piglets are of three varieties — Yorkshire, Hampshire and Land. Each porky is between one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half months old. Each one is insured. The customs duty on them totals Rs 5.46 lakh.

The pigs are being kept at the quarantine hospital at Narayanpur, close to the airport, where checks to prevent infection are being carried out on them. A team of five doctors — three of the Narayanpur quarantine hospital and two specialists from the government — is taking care of them.

The pigs will be transported to Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh from March 18. Meghalaya and Tripura will keep about 150 pigs. Assam and Arunachal will account for the rest. Roy said the pigs, with a lifespan of about 12 years, will reach maturity when they are seven months old. The sows will then be expected to give birth to a litter of 10 to 12 each. A full-grown pig will yield between 80 kg and 100 kg of pork.

Veterinary experts in the city said international rules lay down that imported animals should be quarantined for at least six months. Blood tests should be carried out on them immediately to check for diseases. They have also suggested that the piglets, yet to be acclimatised, be kept in airconditioned chambers.    

Guwahati, Feb. 27: 
Intelligence reports submitted late last year had warned of possible attacks on three Cabinet ministers of Assam, including the slain Nagen Sharma, by the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) this year.

The intelligence agencies had warned that transport minister Pradip Hazarika and revenue minister Zoii Nath Sharma also figured in the Ulfa’s hit list.

The reports had also said the rebels would target senior police officials in a bid “to settle old scores.” The intelligence agencies had advised the state government “not to leave anything to chance” and tighten the security cover of the three senior ministers. The reports had said the three ministers were most vulnerable to militant attacks, particularly from the outlawed Ulfa.

However, it is not known whether any steps were taken by the government to enhance the security cover of the three ministers. Revenue minister Zoii Nath Sharma had a miraculous escape during an election rally on the banks of the Brahmaputra near Mangaldoi last year. Zoii Nath Sharma, who was returning home after attending the rally, was ambushed by Ulfa militants. Though he escaped unhurt, four persons had lost their lives in the attack.

A senior security official told The Telegraph that the Ulfa, after lying low for quite some time, was trying to prove its strength by attacking prominent leaders and senior officials. “The intelligence agencies had collected definite information that the outfit was waiting for the right opportunity to strike,” the official said. He added it would not come as a surprise if the militants make similar attempts in the near future.

The state government today sounded a red alert all over the state in a knee-jerk reaction to the assassination of PWD minister Nagen Sharma.

However, just a week ago, the state government had claimed that the security situation in the state had “improved.” It had given credit for the decline in the number of killings compared to the corresponding period last year to the effective counter-insurgency operations being carried out by the unified command — a joint formation of the army, the police and the paramilitary forces.

Security measures have been tightened throughout the state. Security forces have been asked to maintain strict vigil and take all precautionary measures to thwart any untoward incident.

All routes to and from Guwahati have been sealed and a tight security cordon has been spread around the Dispur secretariat complex. “We are taking no chances at all,” said a senior police official, justifying the intensified security measures.    

Guwahati, Feb. 27: 
The Ulfa had unleashed a series of attacks on relatives of ministers before it targeted the politicians themselves.

After the spate of “government-sponsored secret killings” in the state last year, the Ulfa decided to “settle scores” by killing the ministers’ siblings.

Among the relatives of top Ulfa leaders, who fell prey to bullets of the “secret killers” are the brothers of chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and hitman Munna Mishra respectively and four relatives of the outfit’s publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary.

The first victim of Ulfa’s counter strategy to put an end to “secret killings” was Assam agriculture minister Chandra Mohan Patowary’s brother. The victim, a small pharmacy owner in the city, was shot dead last year when he was returning home on a bicycle.

Incidentally, Patowary’s brother was killed close on the heels of an abortive attempt by the Ulfa to liquidate one of the siblings of the state health minister Kamala Kalita. Kalita’s brother Satish, an employee in one of the state government-run health centres was dragged out of his house in Chaygaon and shot at. However, he survived the attempt.

Besides Patowary, the nephew of another member of the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta ministry Utpal Dutta, was also killed by the Ulfa last year. The killing of Dutta’s nephew was described as a “retaliatory strike” against “government sponsored killings.”

However, a section continues to believe that the minister’s nephew was killed by timber smugglers.

Zoii Nath Sharma, was the only minister targeted last year by the Ulfa. He was attacked while returning home after attending an election rally on the banks of the Brahmaputra near Mangoldoi in Darrang district.

Though he had a miraculous escape, four of his party workers, including two security men died on the spot. Sharma had gone there to campaign for the AGP candidate and former Union minister, Birendra Kumar Baishya.

Prior to that on June 7, 1997 Ulfa activists tried to blow up the chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s car near the Kamakhya temple when he was returning home from Delhi.

State municipal administration development minister Biraj Kumar Sharma also survived an attempt on his life.

He was shot at by Ulfa militants with AK-56 assault rifles on February 11, 1998 before the parliamentary polls. During the same time, Ulfa activists had gunned down CPI(M-L) candidate for the Dibrugarh Lok Sabha seat Anil Baruah while he was on his campaign trail.

Last year, Ulfa activists had also targeted veterinary minister Hiranya Konwar while he was on his way to Guwahati from Upper Assam.

Konwar’s security personnel failed to retaliated and fled the spot.The minister hid himself under some bushes.    

Guwahati, Feb. 27: 
Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has lost a trusted lieutenant and the Asom Gana Parishad a dependable worker.

Nagen Sharma was a close aide and adviser of Mahanta since their All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU) days.

After being the general secretary of the students’ organisation from 1977 to 1979, he became its adviser when the Assam Agitation started. He continued to hold the post till the agitation led by Mahanta and his former colleague Bhrigu Kumar Phukan ended with the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985.

After the AGP came to power in 1985, Mahanta entrusted Sharma with a number of important portfolios including veterinary, sericulture, forest, fishery and power. He was also one of the general secretaries and spokesperson of the party. Mahanta had even entrusted him with the PWD portfolio after sacking Atul Bora, who was one of the senior leaders of the Assam movement and a general secretary of the party.

When Atul Bora raised his banner of revolt against Mahanta, Sharma was one of the few aides, Mahanta turned to for help. He was assisted by the now dismissed food and civil supplies minister Digen Bora. With the Assembly elections round the corner, Mahanta was depending on Sharma. Since the AGP had drawn a blank in the last two successive Lok Sabha elections and the party had been accused of corruption and inefficiency, the chief minister needed someone of Sharma’s calibre to tide over the crisis. Mahanta, who lost many of his trusted colleagues like Digen Bora over the last few years, needed Sharma’s support. Born on May 9, 1954, in Tezpur, Sharma was one of the most influential grassroots leaders. He was returned to the Assembly for three successive terms since 1985. He was also the editor of Samannay, a Guwahati-based weekly between 1981 and 1985.

However, many in the party feel that Sharma’s death is unlikely to leave a void in the AGP as it has already become a “one-man organisation.” They alleged that Mahanta was unilaterally taking decisions and inner-party democracy was a “farce.’’

But Sharma’s death may affect the party. “It will hit the morale of a large number of workers and not many will venture out to work for the party in the Assembly polls slated for next year,” they said.

Workers said killing was aimed at whipping up “fear psychosis.” Some party workers also held the government indirectly responsible for Sharma’s death. “Had it not been for the government’s policy of secret killings, such incidents would not have taken place,” said a party worker.    

Guwahati, Feb. 27: 
“He never feared death.” He used to say, death is inevitable. For Nirala Chandra Bhuyan, persons like Nagen Sarma will be immortal.

“Nobody can stop death,” Nagen Sarma was heard saying at his Tokobari residence yesterday. Bhuyan, his close associate for nearly three decades, had told Sarma not to roam alone at night. Sarma, who was the PWD minister, was inspecting the AT road along with departmental engineers. “What has the Ulfa gained by this heinous act?” a close friend requesting anonymity asked. He added that apart from gaining publicity, it will probably lose more support. “Is this the way the Ulfa will get an independent Assam?” he wondered.

The double-storeyed residence of Nagen Sarma, which used to hum with activity, was desolate today except for the wails renting the air. Many of his close associates said Sarma was a multi-faceted person who was loved and admired by all communities.

“It is just unthinkable,” said all-India Marwari Yuba Manch national president Anil Jain. For Jain, Nagen Sarma was his guide as the minister had canvassed for him during the municipal elections.

Jain said Sarma had a tremendous capacity for bulldozing problems. He had a piecemeal approach to problems and used to go deep into every problem, Jain added. Simplicity and hard work were Sarma’s traits. “He was not born with a silver spoon and had struggled throughout his life,” Jain said. Apart from his political leanings, he had an abiding love for Assamese culture. Right from his school and college days, he was known for his organisational capacity and had never showed reluctance for any kind of work.

He had a scholarly bent of mind, which was obvious if one glances at the rack of books in his house. Books on Karl Marx and socialism, apart from books on Assamese culture, were his favourite ones.

“Even in a place like Nalbari, which was not his original home, he was extremely popular, showing the public support he had gained,” Sarma’s childhood friend Samiran Khetri said.    

Guwahati, Feb. 27: 
The Assam PCC has demanded the immediate resignation of chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta owning moral responsibility for the assassination of his colleague and state PWD minister Nagen Sarma.

Congress spokesman Pankaj Bora said the chief minister should relinquish his post as he has utterly failed to provide security to the people.

“Not to speak of the common masses, Mahanta has even failed to protect his colleagues from extremist attacks,” Bora said. He said the dictatorial approach of the chief minister had pushed Assam to this state of affairs.

Condemning the dastardly act, Bora said violence would solve no problem.

He also blamed the ruling Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) for the deteriorating law and order situation. “Despite repeated claims by the government that the situation has undergone vast improvement, more and more people are falling prey to militants’ bullets,” the Congress leader said.

Other political parties have also severely condemned the killing.

State BJP chief Narayan Chandra Borkotoky said the killing once again proved the banned outfit’s “hollowness.”

“Simply killings and other related activities will serve no purpose at all,” the BJP president said, calling upon all rebels to understand the futility of violence and return to the mainstream for a better tomorrow.

The All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU) has also condemned the “dastardly” killing. AASU advisor Sammujjal Bhattacharya, in a strongly worded statement, said such acts only exposed the Ulfa’s “cowardice and hypocrisy.”

Offering heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family members, Bhattacharya said people should protest against all kinds of murders.

The CPI and CPM have also condemned the killing.

Ulfa publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary, in another press statement, has said the killing of Nagen Sarma was a “befitting reply” to the anti-people activities of the government. Accepting responsibility for the killing, Daimary termed Sarma a “traitor” and warned that all traitors would have to meet the same fate.    


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