Midnight robbery on Rajdhani
Behala’s flying club scouting for buyer
Students in decibel revolt
Net the garbage man, e-mail tax
Land row hits water plan
IIT old students set up higher studies centre
Mahanta ties peace tag to quit offer
Nipamacha takes oath along with jumbo ministry
Wary Naveen may not appoint any deputy
Four injured in Tripura rebel strike

Calcutta, March 2 
Smashing the myth of ‘high-security’ on the Rajdhani, jewellery and valuables worth several lakh of rupees went missing from the Howrah-bound train on Thursday.

The victims, who were asleep when the ‘robbery’ took place, lodged a complaint with the GRP at Howrah soon after the train arrived there. But the divisional railway manager of Howrah, Jayanta Ghosh, said the matter appeared “a bit fishy”, as the victims had refused to cooperate with railwaymen on the Rajdhani.

“The Sachdevas and Sanawarias had been requested to file an FIR with the superintendent on the train immediately after the incident, but they refused,’’ said Ghosh. “This denied securitymen on the train the opportunity to check the bags of all passengers in the coach.”

Pankaj Sachdeva, of Allahabad, was coming by the two-tier A-1 coach to visit an ailing relative. “I put my bag under the lower berth and secured it with an iron chain,’’ Sachdeva said.

Nandkishore Sanawaria, with his wife and daughter, had boarded the train from Kanpur, where they had gone to settle a daughter’s marriage. They were carrying five suitcases, including one with gold and silver jewellery, which were also pushed under the lower berths.

“At Mughalsarai, I heard someone open the door of the coach, although no one was supposed to get off there. I did not pay heed to it and went back to sleep,” Sachdeva said.

Early on Thursday, as the train was leaving Gaya, Nandkishore noticed the suitcase containing the valuables was missing. He raised an alarm and started a hunt for it. It was then that a fellow passenger noticed that one of the latches on Pankaj’s suitcase was broken. He opened it to find a satchet containing Rs 25,000 and his mobile telephone missing.

The victims lodged a complaint with coach attendant M. Banerjee and demanded an explanation as to “why the door had been opened at Mughalsarai when no passenger was supposed to get in or leave the train”.

“We pay so much extra to travel by Rajdhani, because it is supposed to be safe and reliable. The least that the railways can do is ensure proper security on the train,’’ both victims said.    

Calcutta, March 2 
The West Bengal government is scouting for a private party to take over the ailing Behala Flying Training Institute.

No flight has taken off from its airstrip in six years. Indeed, even its licence from the Directorate-General of Civil Association expired on December 31, 1999.

Training stopped abruptly in April 1994 when the institute’s chief pilot instructor quit. At the time, it had 32 trainees, whose dreams of graduating as pilots were shattered.

Over the past four years, the state has spent Rs 2 crore on its 36 idle employees. Now the transport department has decided it will try to revive it. A search is on for a pilot instructor.

The institute recently asked the state government for an additional allotment of Rs 70 lakh to buy a new trainer aircraft, a Cessna-172, from a seller in the United States.

But the cash-strapped administration is hard put to find the money with which to buy the aircraft. It is hoping a private party will be interested enough in the institute to pump in funds.

A senior officer in the state transport department said a specific proposal had been received from a bidder. It will be examined next week.

The institute had three aircraft but two Pushpaks were withdrawn from service because of major defects. Only a Cessna-152 could be used for training.

But the Cessna’s airworthiness certificate had also expired.

After the institute approached the the Director of Air Worthiness (DAW), it was asked to test the aircraft by flying it for 40 minutes.

It failed the first test flight in November last year after test pilot Captain B.Pande landed on the runway after 10 minutes’ of flight and complained of unusual engine vibration.

The DAW then asked that Captain A. Sabu to be brought in from the Jamshedpur Aviation Academy to conduct the second test flight on December 7. He flew for 55 minutes.

Satisfied, the DAW agreed to certify the plane’s airworthiness but later asked the transport department to get the Cessna’s engine overhauled.

This will cost about Rs 2 lakh and the government will have to put out a global tender first.

Even if it is overhauled, the Cessna will be considered outdated because its engine will be10 years old in 2003.

Till such time as a guardian angel is found, the institute can do little but distribute salaries to its idle staff.

The institute was founded by the Roys of Behala. The state government took it over in 1964.

A trainee is required to fly 250 hours before being granted the commercial pilot’s licence from the director-general of civil aviation (DGCA). It costs about Rs 2,100 to fly for an hour.    

Calcutta, March 2 
Harassed students appearing for school-leaving examinations on Thursday complained against blaring loudspeakers in different localities.

The loudspeakers are being used by clubs and political parties, violating a court directive.

At least 50 examinees and their guardians lodged complaints with the court-appointed special officer, Gitanath Ganguly, on Thursday, frantic in their appeals that they were unable to carry out last-minute preparations because of the cacophony.

Similar complaints also poured into local police stations, as well as in the office of the state pollution control board.

“Use of microphones are totally illegal in the localities during any major public examination so that examinees do not get distracted while preparing for their papers. But, many people do not seem to have any concern for the examinees,” said Ganguly.

The court has imposed a total ban on use of microphones anywhere in Calcutta as well as in the districts when major public examinations are on.

Use of microphones, according to the order, is prohibited three days before the beginning of any major examination.

In effect, loudspeakers are banned in the city between February 27 and March 15. But in the last three days, the decibel level in the city has gone through the roof.

Political parties and trade unions like Trinamul Congress, Citu, BJP and the district Left Front have carried out public rallies and organised processions through Esplanade. Every political meeting competes to be the noisiest.

All political parties have been informed of the court order.

But, complaints against them continued to pour in till Thursday.

Ganguly said he was considering raising the issue before the Green Bench on Friday.

The largest number of complaints were from Kidderpore, Watgunge, Shyampukur, Beniapukur, Tiljala, Tangra, Beleghata and Sinthee.

“I was not able to revise my lessons on Wednesday because of the noise in our locality,” said Sona Mondal of Tiljala.

Another Madhyamik examinee who is a resident of Beleghata area echoed her complaint.

The examinees fear that the situation may worsen in the next few days because of Shivaratri and Basanta Utsav celebrations.

The Madhyamik examinations, the ICSE, ISC and the CBSE examinations have begun over the past two days and will continue till the third week of March.

Special officer Ganguly said necessary action has been taken against the offenders and the police have confiscated the loudspeakers and microphones.

“The offenders are mostly members of different local clubs. They were found using the loudspeakers for organising sports events and cultural programmes,” Ganguly said.

Soon after receiving the complaints, the police were informed and teams sent to confiscate the loudspeakers.

Ganguly said the city police have already been asked to be extra vigilant to prevent night-long soirees over loud speakers in the week-end on Shivaratri.

However, A.K. Chakraborty, president, West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, said the board has requested the police to look into the problem and to ensure that the examinees were not inconvenienced in any way.    

Calcutta, March 3 
Pilloried by one and all for its painfully ponderous ways, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation is all set to jump onto the Internet bandwagon to streamline tax collection and licensing procedures besides adding value to municipal services.

The CMC’s own website, in collaboration with the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd, is likely to be launched on March 10, according to A. K. Chandra, deputy municipal commissioner (computers).

“We are taking 100 MB server space from the VSNL for our website”, says Chandra. Instead of labouring through the labyrinthine alleys of the corporation or spending hefty sums on ‘dalals’, one just has to log on to the site and dredge out the required information.

The CMC has developed the software in-house for the website which has a range of sub-sites for departments and services.

From tax and other service charges to birth and death registrations to property assessment and trade-related information, the site is ready to handle the entire gamut of the Calcuttan’s need, the corporation promises.

“Our site will also provide a service called premises validation, through which one can easily track down an address and its occupants,” Chandra said. The service will be initially confined to ward 63, which covers the central business district.

Not all services, however, will be free of cost. “We plan to make some of the areas fee-based so that we can generate captive funds to meet running costs,” said Chandra.

Accordingly, only those forms which are now free can be downloaded from the site.

“Through the Internet, we can even collect taxes and other fees, once the cyberlaws are in place. Even without visiting the corporation office in person, one can get the work done once the legal framework is in order,” he said.

The site can also be used to lodge complaints.

“For instance, if one wants the municipal authorities to remove garbage or carcasses lying in front of a house, he can ‘net’ his complaint instead of making desperate phone calls to the control room”.

The site will later be developed to serve as a guide to the city.    

Calcutta, March 2 
Nearly 10,000 residents of Sukanta Nagar, in Salt Lake, are fed up with the water scarcity and low-pressure supply they have been facing , all due to an inter-department dispute in the government.

With the urban development and fisheries departments slugging it out over a patch of vested land, work on a water supply augmentation scheme in the area has been abandoned for the past six months. Both departments claim the plot belongs to them. The project promises supply of 62,000 gallons of water, at high pressure, every day.

Last week, residents of the area organised a convention and threatened to launch an agitation. “It is not proper for two ministers to quarrel over something which affects thousands. It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to cope with the inadequate water supply,” said Raghunath Roy.

Realising that this might snowball in the run-up to the Salt Lake civic polls due later this year, urban development minister Ashoke Bhattacharya has discussed the matter with fisheries minister Kironmoy Nanda.

Bhattacharya and Nanda will try to sort out the problem at a meeting on March 8.

“We thought the land belonged to us, but later we came to know that the fisheries department has claimed it. This led to a misunderstanding between the two departments. But we will sort it out in the meeting,” Bhattacharya said.    

Calcutta, March 2 
The dream that was first discussed at an IIT old boys’ adda two years ago will come true in three months’ time. Come June, and a group of IITians and their friends will gift a “premier educational institute” to the city: the Integrated Education and Research Centre for Engineering and Management (IERCEM).

Situated at Banipur, off Jessore Road, 32 km from Netaji Subhas Airport, the institute will throw open its doors to 120 students this academic session. “We all wanted to do something for the state that had provided us with the platform to become what we are. Instead of sitting back and blaming the system, we set our sights on this institute with just one aim, that there would be no compromise on academic quality,” explains Probir Guha Thakurta, president of IERCEM.

The institute, affiliated to the University of Kalyani and supported by the Washington State University, will offer B. Tech courses in computer science and engineering, information technology, electronics and communication engineering in its first academic session, The 2001-2002 session will include MBA and MCA courses. If things go according to plan, post-graduate programmes in specialised areas like industrial automation, bio-technology, environmental engineering will be introduced in a phased manner. Students will be admitted through the Joint Entrance Examination.

The government has handed over 24.20 acres of land to IERCEM at a very nominal rate. The campus will be developed by architect Prof. Uttam Banerjee of IIT, Kharagpur, over a period of time.

For the moment, classes will be held in existing army billets which are being renovated.

“While IIT Kharagpur was started from Hijli jail, Banipur was where B.C. Roy had dreamt of creating a second Santiniketan. So it is a most appropriate setting for a centre of excellence that is desperately required to stop the brain drain from the state,” says IITian K.N. Datta.

At present, the governing body of the institute has 12 members — ten from the 1996 and 1967 batches of IIT, a doctor and a chartered accountant — in India and USA. “The attitude here is that there is no point in trying to do something new or big, because nothing will work out. We refused to buy this, but we must confess that it’s a huge problem to raise money for something as basic as higher education in this city,” laments Thakurta, who is now depending largely on NRI members of the institute’s governing body to mobilise funds.

Adviser S.S. Das Gupta, first batch of IIT, Kharagpur, feels that “a high-quality specialised institute is the need of the hour” and once the teething troubles are overcome, “this group of professionals committed to their cause could turn IERCEM into just that”.    

Guwahati, March 2 
Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta today offered to step down from office but on one condition.

The chief minister said he would step down “if the Congress and the Ulfa guaranteed with full responsibility within a week from today that following my resignation, peace would be restored in the state.” He said the moment the Congress received an assurance from the militant outfits that they would shun violence after Mahanta stepped down from office, he was “prepared to resign”.

Mahanta’s offer to quit comes in the wake of the demand made by the PCC after the death of state PWD and forest minister Nagen Sarma. The PCC demanded immediate resignation of Mahanta on moral grounds for the assassination of his colleague.

However, Mahanta’s conditional offer seems more like a continuation of the war of words that the ruling Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Congress have been engaged in for the past few months. Neither Congress spokesman Pankaj Bora nor state PCC chief Tarun Gogoi were available for comment. Other senior party leaders said, “Since the official statement demanding the chief minister’s resignation on moral grounds after Sarma’s killing was issued on behalf of the Congress by the party spokesman, the official reaction of the party on the issue should also come from him.” Requesting anonymity, a senior Congress leader said, “Mahanta knows that it is not possible for us to get an assurance from the Ulfa or any other extremist group that they will eschew violence.’’

Mahanta said it was an “open secret” that there was some kind of understanding between the Congress and the Ulfa. “So let both parties guarantee with total responsibility. If they succeed, I will step down,” he said

According to Mahanta, the Asom Gana Parishad had to pay a heavy price for its “tough and uncompromising” stand on militancy. “The terrorists attacked four of our ministers and we lost Nagen Sarma,” he said asserting that the government would not succumb to pressure in its pursuit of peace.

Asked whether the government was contemplating any change in its strategy to combat militancy, he said this would be decided by the Unified Command.

Ulfa warns policemen

The Ulfa has called on Assamese police officers to stay away from the “evil designs” of the government and not indulge in “extra judicial killings”, adds our Jorhat correspondent. “You (Assamese police officers) are not our enemies .... Don’t get entangled in the evil designs of chief minister Prafulla Mahanta and few non-Assamese police officers,” a statement issued by the Dhansiri unit of the banned outfit today said.

The release also said several arrested Ulfa militants were being killed in cold blood. Aditya Baruah and Samiran Bhuyan, two central committee members, were killed in fake encounters on Sunday, the release alleged. The duo was apprehended at Neemati, the ferry ghat from where Majuli is connected to the mainland, and were reportedly killed in a “cross-fire” between the police and the Ulfa in Nagaland.    

Imphal, March 2 
W. Nipamacha Singh, who was sworn in as the new Manipur chief minister today, inducted a “super jumbo- sized” ministry against the wishes of Governor Ved Marwah and amid high drama.

This morning Marwah initially postponed the swearing-in ceremony due to differences over the size of the ministry.

Battling for survival, Nipamacha Singh has inducted a 34-member council of ministers — the biggest ever in the state’s history — in a bid to buy “stability”. He has given ministerial posts to 34 of the 39 United Front of Manipur (UFM) legislators.

This may strain relations between the chief minister’s office and the Raj Bhavan. Marwah did not smile even once during the 90-minute ceremony.

The Governor had asked Nipamacha Singh to cut down the ministry to 22 following Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s proposal on downsizing governments and in view of the state’s acute financial crisis.

Nipamacha Singh had agreed to the Governor’s proposal yesterday. But he sent a list of 34 ministers this morning due to tremendous pressure from ministerial aspirants. The Raj Bhavan postponed the ceremony on ground that the official list did not have Nipamacha Singh’s signature.

An angry Nipamacha Singh, fearing that the Raj Bhavan stand had been influenced by the BJP, drove to the Raj Bhavan along with some of his colleagues including Union minister for youth affairs and sports Thounoujam Chaoba Singh.

They refused to step out of their cars and demanded to know the reason for the delay. On learning of the absence of Nipamacha Singh’s signature, the state advocate general was summoned with a new list which was duly signed.

The postponement marred Nipamacha Singh’s plan to take the oath at 10:45 am as per the advice of his astrologer. He then proposed taking the oath before 12 noon. However, Marwah called him at 11 am for further discussions, and the Governor finally decided on 3.30 pm for the swearing-in ceremony.

Nipamacha Singh was the first to induct an over-30 member ministry in the 60-member Manipur Assembly. In December 1997, when he came to power, he inducted a 31-member council of ministers. Today, he broke his own record.

Talking to newsmen after the swearing-in ceremony, Nipamacha Singh justified the size of his ministry by comparing it with those in Nagaland and Mizoram.

Clarifying the problem with Raj Bhavan Nipamacha Singh said his aides had by mistake submitted the ministers’ list which did not contain his signature. “It was a misunderstanding, but the Raj Bhavan staff should not have accepted it if the signature was not there,” he added.

Of the 34 ministers, 23 are of Cabinet rank, five are ministers of state with independent charge, and six are ministers of state. Of the 23 Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) legislators, 22 have been made ministers.

Five of the six Federal Party of Manipur (FPM) legislators have been included in the ministry. Three of the four breakaway Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislators and two of the three breakaway Manipur People’s Party (MPP) legislators have also got ministerial berths.

An RJD and a woman Independent member have also found place in the ministry.    

Bhubaneswar, March 2 
Chief minister-designate Naveen Patnaik may not appoint a deputy when the Biju Janata Dal-led coalition ministry is sworn-in on Sunday.

Sources said the BJP withdrew its demand for the number two position in the government after Patnaik made it plain that majority of his party legislators were against the appointment of a deputy chief minister.

Patnaik’s aides advised him against creating the “extra-constitutional” post so that the BJP could not build up a parallel power structure in the government. They cited how Basant Biswal had usurped power in the J.B. Patnaik ministry as a deputy chief minister, finally pushing Patnaik out of power.

BJP state president Manmohan Shamal said it was the “prerogative” of the chief minister to appoint a deputy and his party had no say in it. “You must understand that when Atal Behari Vajpayee became the Prime Minister, he did not appoint anyone as his deputy even though it is a coalition government,” he said.

Patnaik was elected leader of the allies in a joint meeting today. Later, BJD and BJP leaders met Governor M.M. Rajendran at the Raj Bhavan and asked him to call Patnaik as chief minister-designate to form the government.

The regional party, which won 68 seats against the BJP’s 38, has worked out a 2:1 ratio for sharing ministerial departments.

Sources said the BJD would keep crucial departments, including home, finance, general administration, panchayati raj, rural development and energy. It was ready to offer the BJP industries, works, agriculture, co-operation and higher education, among others. The prized water resources department has become a bone of contention between the allies, with both staking claim to it.

The BJP said it needed a few key departments to make its presence felt in the government. “We do not want to be saddled with several unimportant departments, but need a few departments that matter. We have a long-range goal and want to perform well,” a party source said.

BJP general secretary Venkaiah Naidu, who came here yesterday to see the coalition government installed without any hitch, said the allies had agreed to consult each other on “all matters”. They would work together and provide a “stable, honest and transparent” government that “cared for the people,” he added.    

Agartala, March 2 
Four persons were critically injured in a fresh attack by suspected United Bengali Liberation Front militants in North Tripura last night.

Police sources said the militants lobbed two powerful bombs when the men were returning from Sonaimuri market under Fatikroy police station at 8.30 pm. Haripada Debnath, Amal Debnath, Jaram Halam and Bula Halam narrowly escaped death as the bombs missed the target and fell behind them. The injured were rushed to Kailasahar district hospital.

Coming on the heels of the UBLF ambush which killed two tribals at Kathalcherra under Sadar (North) sub-division yesterday, the attack has triggered panic.

Leaflets found at the site warned that UBLF militants would avenge the death of Bengalis. “We will continue our relentless struggle for the liberation of Bengalis in the way shown by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose,” the leaflet said. Police sources refused to comment on the leaflets but admitted that the UBLF was gaining in strength. The All-Tripura Bengali Regiment, another Bengali militant outfit, has started circulating “tax” notices to tribal government employees.    


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