Road on roll for walkers to work
Basu double message to party and culture hawks
Anglo-Indians don’t cotton to Mary
Bar hour crackdown on Park St
Health stop for drivers
Bank holds pay till target is met
Calcutta gears up to walk cyberpath
Policemen held hostage after dacoity
Cornered Lyngdoh relinquishes CM’s post
Bodo rebel killed, Army busts extortion racket

Going to Dalhousie from Sealdah on a midsummer’s day? Catch a bus, take a tram, try a taxi. Impossible? Then walk — er, trek. If all that sounds like a big sweat, how about gliding through Koley Market, Bowbazar, Lalbazar to Writers’.

The transport department is really working on such locomotion. At its core is a piece of equipment, worth Rs 50 crore, that is called a travelator.

The travelator is like an escalator, only it’s flat. The commuter stands on it and holds on to a railing. At the press of a button, it moves like a conveyor belt, ferrying man and material to destination. It is common enough in cities in the West — Paris has at least one linking to each of its major Metro stations — and some in Asia. For India, it will be a first.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty has decided the project will be implemented through a joint venture. The travelator authority will raise funds by selling ad-space and tickets. Though the fares have not yet been fixed, one ride will cost at least Rs 2.

Three private companies want to partner the government in building the travelator. “We may choose any one of them or we might take all of them as our partners,’’ said a senior officer of the transport department.

The travelator will move along 2.2 km of BB Ganguly Street. It will start near the Sealdah station flyover, next to Koley Market, and end near Lalbazar. Chakraborty has instructed chief traffic and transportation engineer Ajit Bhattacharya to arrange for work to start before the pujas. Execution will take a year.

The Sealdah-Dalhousie moving pathway will be on an elevated platform 5.5 metres above the pavement. It will be 5.5 metres wide and laid on a concrete slab. The platform where commuters will wait to board it will be of steel and it will run through the median of the travelator. A lane will run alongside it for commuters who would still prefer to walk.

The travelator will function only during peak hours, to begin with. In the morning, it will be BBD Bag-bound and in the evening, Sealdah-bound.

Passengers can disembark at any of five points on the route — the Rammohun Roy Sarani, College Street, CR Avenue, Phears Lane and Rabindra Sarani crossings. There will be escalators in Sealdah and BBD Bag to take commuters to the travelator. Those wanting to get off midway will have to take the stairs.

“The travelator will help ease the congestion on BB Ganguly Street, which is practically taken over by pedestrians during peak hours. We are expecting pedestrians to take the overpass and leave the road for vehicles,’’ said Ajit Bhattacharya.

The proposal for an elevated pedestrian plaza connecting Sealdah and BBD Bag was mooted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The agency conducted the feasibility study of the project and advised the government in 1998 to implement it immediately.

The transport department asked traffic engineers to work out the details. They submitted their proposal and cost estimates in January 1999. The department sought financial assistance from the OECF. But the OECF refused because it had already committed Rs 600 crore to build six flyovers in the city.

“We waited for several months expecting a positive response from the OECF. But they informed us that they can consider it only after the flyovers are built. However, we have got offers from private parties. Without waiting for any foreign agency, we have decided to implement the project through a joint venture,’’ said Chakraborty.

A transport department survey says about 1.8 lakh people use BB Ganguly Street daily to reach Bowbazar, College Street, CR Avenue, Lalbazar, Chandni Chowk and BBD Bag.

The report predicts that the number of commuters on the stretch will go up to about 2.5 lakh in 2001.

Bhattacharya said traffic will not be disrupted during construction. The travelator was being built over the pavement and will not encroach on the road.    

In an apparent rebuff to CPM hardliners in the state, chief minister Jyoti Basu spent two full hours on Tuesday at a programme organised by minister and party rebel Subhas Chakraborty in support of Kamal Haasan’s controversial film, Hey Ram.

“I am happy and proud to be here. I thank the newly-formed Committee Against Attacks on Art for organising this function. The Left Front government has always stood for secularism and tolerance, but the government alone cannot do everything, especially when so many attacks are going on,” Basu said.

“Even after over 50 years, some people have not had much education. The assaults on these films have been backed by the Central government.”

Besides the chief minister and the transport and sports minister Chakraborty, two other ministers were present to felicitate Haasan and Deepa Mehta, director of Water: industries minister Bidyut Ganguly and fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee.

CPM bigwigs Anil Biswas and Sailen Dasgupta had earlier aired discontent at the way in which Chakraborty had gone ahead in organising the programme without Alimuddin Street’s green signal, resulting in speculation over whether Basu and his deputy, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, would turn up.

The information and culture minister, however, was not present.

“I have spoken to both Shabana and Deepa and told them to shoot their film here... There will be no one who will dare stop them,” Basu said, as applause rang out from the over 1,000-strong audience at the Netaji Indoor Stadium.

The chief minister, who has not seen Hey Ram, has asked Chakraborty for a cassette of the film.

“But I have heard the attacks at the halls were by youth who have not seen it and don’t know what it’s about. Why are such baseless attacks taking place in Bengal? We must stand up against such developments. Fascism shall not pass.”

Mahatma Gandhi’s great grandson, Tushar Gandhi, was also present, as was a host of cinema and stage personalities from Bengal, including Shobha Sen, who insisted that “no political hooliganism can stop these two films.”

Actress and director Aparna Sen thanked Haasan for the film, which “went into the root cause of problems in our society”.

Before she moved to sit next to Sen and exchange a few words, Deepa Mehta hailed Haasan’s venture as a “film that stirs you”.

“If we don’t have the courage to show artistic reality, then how can we face the brickbats? I thank Bengal for giving me and my film sanctity,” said Mehta.

But praise for Bengal and Tuesday’s gesture peaked during Haasan’s impromptu address.

“When I got the call from Mr Chakraborty, I could feel he was moved by the film. He was one voice; there are others from all over who say that this country is great.”

Explaining a bit of how he works, Haasan said: “I offer what I like to see on screen... I’m not a politician and if anyone thinks that, they are wrong. My films have a social message, and I hope my future films will be better than Hey Ram.

“Deepa and others like us need strong nerves to do what we have to do... No politics but life in reality. We must make the audience think... Bengal has been very kind to give me this handshake, a pat on the back. I would have stumbled in a political quagmire had you not held out a hand and said ‘it’s OK.’ If ever I write my memoirs, today’s gesture will figure prominently,” Haasan added.    

After Deepa Mehta’s Water, a controversy has erupted in the city over the screening of Ismail Merchant’s Cotton Mary, with a large section of Calcutta’s Anglo-Indian community demanding that the state government ban the film as it deliberately hurts their sentiments.

G.R. D’Costa Hart, MLA representing the Anglo-Indian community, has given a memorandum to deputy chief minister and culture czar Buddhadev Bhattacharya on Monday, urging him to stop screening the film at Nandan. Many Anglo-Indians have approached Hart asking her to take up the matter with the state government.

On the basis of their complaints, Hart will raise the issue in the West Bengal Assembly Wednesday.

“I was totally shocked when I saw the film. It denigrates the community,” said Hart.

What has rubbed Anglo-Indians the wrong way is part of the dialogue where a character says: “Anglo-Indians have the worst of the British and the worst of the Indians in them”.

“This is terrible. We cannot understand how the film got the approval of the Censor Board,” said Garry Porteous, a member of the staff of a well-known Anglo-Indian school in central Calcutta.

Government sources, however, said there was no question of banning the film in Calcutta and it will continue to be shown at Nandan.

“There is nothing wrong with the film. I have seen the film. It does not hurt any community’s sentiments in any way,” said Angshu Sur, Nandan director and also exhibitor of the film.

But representatives of the community felt there were many scenes which hold them to ridicule. For instance, in one scene Madhur Jaffrey, who plays the title role, flirts inside a church.

“Never do any Christians flirt inside a church,” said another member of the community.

They alleged that the entire film showed Anglo-Indians in a very poor light and it created the impression that all Anglo-Indian girls were easily available to work as maids.

“What is more objectionable is the attempt by the film maker to make out that Anglo-Indians are petty thieves. There is not a single scene in the whole film where any good quality of the community is highlighted,” regretted Hart. She said Anglo-Indians girls throughout the country are known for their efficiency as nurses. The community is known for its contribution to education. But these qualities have been totally ignored.

Set in Fifties, the film portrays the Anglo-Indian community through the experiences of Madhur Jaffrey, a nurse who lands the job of looking after a child in a British family.    

Police have arrested eight restaurant managers on Park Street after residents complained that bars were being kept open even beyond the official closing time.

The residents, many of whom are well-connected, used their influence to get the police to clamp down on the bars. Drunken brawls have been frequently disturbing the peace on Park Street night after night, the residents said.

Deputy commissioner of police Ranjit Pachnanda said the raids were conducted in the past 72 hours. Officers in plain clothes posed as customers and went to almost all bar-cum-restaurants on Park Street.

“Eight were charged for violating the rules and serving drinks to customers after the stipulated time,’’ Pachnanda said. The managers were arrested and produced in court, where they obtained bail.

Residents of Karnani Mansions, Queens Mansion, 20 Park Street and the neighbourhood had lodged complaints with the Shakespeare Sarani and Park Street police stations. “They serve drinks to customers even after the stipulated 10 pm closure time. Customers go on drinking close to midnight and are often too inebriated to worry about the nuisance they create at unearthly hours,’’ said Afsar Ahmed, one resident.

“Some of them even throw stones at buildings. Recently, a stone thrown by a drunken youth during a brawl shattered the first-floor window of an apartment,’’ he added. According to rules, all bar-cum-restaurants can serve drinks to customers till 10 pm. The establishments are required to down shutters by 11 pm.

The officers were bombarded with complaints by residents at a recent police-public interface.    

Fifteen thousand bus drivers in the city have been asked to appear before a medical board after a survey revealed that more than 60 per cent of the accidents in the past six months have occurred because they are physically unfit.

The survey was conducted by the traffic police and the state health department. All the drivers involved in the accidents were examined and a large number were found to be “physically deficient”. They had very slow reflexes, according to joint commissioner of police (traffic) V.V. Thambi.

“A number of these accidents could have been averted if the driver had reacted on time,” said Thambi. “Interrogation has revealed that they were suffering from nervous disorders and have, therefore, been unable to coordinate their activities.”

As a first step, the police have decided to cancel the licences of drivers who are not physically fit. “The drivers would have to be examined by a panel of doctors selected by the government,” Thambi said. “This would eliminate the possibility of the drivers producing false certificates.”

A senior officer said a number of doctors who practise outside the motor vehicles department at Beltola and provide “all clear” certificates for a price have corrupted the system.

“We have decided to bypass the corrupt system and pull up the drivers ourselves so that the minimum safety norms are maintained,” the officer said.

Thambi cited three recent accidents where it was medically proved that the drivers, though unfit, were still running buses regularly.

A 50-year-old woman was killed at Rajabazar in January by a bus on route number 230. Four buses were set on fire afterwards.

A child was killed near Dhakuria bridge a few months ago. In the aftermath, five buses were torched by angry people.

Two months ago, a middle-aged man was run over at the Hazra crossing.

“In these three cases, the drivers had nervous disorders which we discovered after getting them medically examined,” Thambi said. “A number of them are night and colour blind.”

The bus unions have, for the moment, welcomed the decision.

“We welcome medical examinations of the drivers as we know that a number of them are not physically fit to run passenger vehicles,” said Bengal Bus Syndicate president Ajit Saha. “The two most important aspects of driving are anticipation and coordination. If these are weak then the drivers do not deserve to be on the roads.”

A member of the syndicate said there are many city drivers who have night blindness.    

The city-based United Commercial (Uco) Bank has held back pay cheques for the month of February to the employees of its Birlapur branch without any notice.

The employees allege the management has not disbursed their salaries on grounds that the accounts of the branch have yet to be balanced. The Birlapur branch in Budge Budge handles the entire transaction of the M.P. Birla-controlled Birla Jute & Industries. It also handles accounts of local small-scale units and gram panchayats.

“Instruction has come from the regional manager’s office that all accounts must be reconciled and ledgers updated within March 31. This means the employees have to reconcile the old accounts also, which, in some cases, may be 30 years old,” said a branch employee.

They recalled a similar situation at the Jangipara branch in Murshidabad where employees were docked two months’ salary. Contacted by The Telegraph, Umashankar Singh, zonal manager (West Bengal), said he was not aware of such a development and diverted enquiries to regional manager D.P. Chatterjee, who would not comment on it.

General manager of the Birlapur branch, Joydeb Saha, however, confirmed that his staff are not getting paid. He said: “Instruction has come from the regional manager’s office not to disburse salaries till the outstanding balancing is done.”

The RMO had raised queries over transactions and internal vouchering at the branch, besides detecting anomalies in salary disbursement, he added.

Saha maintained that a similar malaise had spread to a few other branches. Banking circles are surprised at this move to block payment. They feel the management might have resorted to such a harsh step under pressure from the government.

However, one of the Birlapur employees said: “The management didn’t bother to discuss the matter with us and took the decision unilaterally. How can we reconcile 30-year-old accounts within just 15 days with a staff strength of 32?” They feel this step is against banking laws and violates labour laws, too.

The bank, classified “weak”, has a capital adequacy ratio of 9.8 per cent and had net non-performing assets of Rs 1,254 crore as on September 30 last year. Out of this NPA, almost Rs 140 crore is in losses.    

A host of infotech experts will gather in Calcutta on March 10 and 11 to find out ways of tapping the immense potential the city has to become a prominent e-hub of eastern India.

The Institution of Engineers (India), West Bengal State Centre, which has organised a seminar on the subject, feels the city and the state should in no way lag behind others in developing infotech skills.

“There are seminars and seminars on infotech, but this is one that will show the global and Indian companies what Bengal has to offer to this technology,” said Rana Dutta Gupta of Jadavpur University.

Samares Goswami, director of Birla Industrial and Technological Museum, which is the seminar venue, said interaction between infotech users and producers was planned.

The list of participants who have presented papers includes companies like Compaq and TCS and institutes like Isro and the IITs.

“We have seen that though Calcutta lags a little behind centres like Hyderabad and Bangalore, it is by no means inferior in the skills it can offer,” said Nirmal Das, organising secretary of the seminar.

Dutta Gupta said Jadavpur University would soon offer a post-graduate course in info- tech for people from all disciplines.

“This as well as steps taken by the state government to introduce infotech in colleges and polytechnics is a very positive sign for us,” the professor of computer science said.

The prospect that dotcom companies have for the future of employment in the state would be discussed threadbare at the two-day seminar. “E-commerce is something that we cannot avoid and we will have experts deliberating on cyberlaws,” Dutta Gupta said.

The seminar will chart out an action plan aimed at propagating infotech and its uses throughout the state.

“The action plan with recommendations will go to both the state and the Union governments,” Das said.    

Giving vent to their anger against an immobile police force, a 1,000-strong mob confined six cops inside a makeshift police camp at Polarhat, about 35 km from Calcutta, and damaged two government jeeps on Tuesday morning.

Villagers of Polarhat, in Bhangar of South 24-Parganas, took to the streets after a gang of robbers looted cash and valuables from several houses around midnight.

Local residents said the looting spree lasted for an hour with some policemen “fast asleep” in the camp barely 100 yards away.

A large crowd gathered at the camp after the dacoits fled and locked up the four policemen inside the camp.

Two officers who arrived at the site from the Bhangar police station were dragged out of their jeep and pushed into the camp as well. Their vehicle was smashed up and pushed into a nearby pond.

Two more officers on night patrol were brickbatted and their jeep met with the same fate as the earlier one.

The protesters then squatted on the Rajarhat-Bhangar road, blocking traffic and hurling stones at the policemen who came to “rescue” their colleagues.

Six policemen were injured in the fracas that lasted for over 12 hours. Three officers have been admitted to Diamond Harbour Hospital in a serious condition.

A panicky district administration rushed reinforcements from adjoining police stations.

The control room at Bhangar police station alerted the Diamond Harbour headquarters.

A huge police force, with several senior officers, reached the police camp at Polarhat area and finally freed the six policemen, who had been confined to the camp for several hours

A large police picket was posted as tension prevailed in the area.

Minister Abdul Rezzak Mullah kept deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya posted about the trouble throughout the day.    

Shillong, March 7: 
Meghalaya chief minister B.B. Lyngdoh today submitted his resignation to Governor M.M. Jacob, paving the way for Speaker E.K. Mawlong to take over reins.

Raj Bhavan sources said the Governor had accepted Lyngdoh’s resignation and asked him to carry on till alternative arrangements could be made.

Lyngdoh had quit the post of chairman and leader of the parliamentary party of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) last night. His resignation as chief minister today came after intense speculation on whether he would actually relinquish the post of chief minister.

Lyngdoh was merely living up to his image when he allowed all such speculation to gain ground. The confusion and suspense were true to his style. Forced out of the leadership of his party, the chief minister kept everyone, including his political opponents, guessing till 4.15 pm today when his resignation letter finally reached the Raj Bhavan.

Everyone, including chief minister-designate Evansius Kek Mawlong, heaved a sigh of relief. Now that the decks have been cleared, Mawlong will be sworn in as chief minister tomorrow. He will head the fifth government in the state in a span of exactly 25 months. He is unlikely to face any hiccups as all the other constituent groups of the Meghalaya Parliamentary Forum coalition government have extended their support to him.

The UDP has 20 MLAs while the other constituents are the Nationalist Congress Party with nine legislators, the BJP with three, the People’s Democratic Movement (one) and three other associate members of the NCP and the Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP-M).

“I have decided to resign as I have had enough,” Lyngdoh told The Telegraph at his residence today. Nattily dressed in a three-piece suit, albeit with leather chappals on his bare feet, Lyngdoh looked none the worse after last night’s ordeal when he was thrown out of the top post. He smiled and laughed.

“After all, it is normal in every political party that there should be a leadership tussle. I have no bitterness or rancour,” he said. Asked why he had attended the parliamentary party meeting last night after he had termed it illegal, Lyngdoh explained that he decided to go along with it when he saw that most MLAs were for it.

Insiders say Lyngdoh might have some problems of forgetfulness, but is still politically savvy. Many still believe that he might stage a comeback, a distinct possibility in the murky world of Meghalaya’s politics. When asked about his future plans, he replied, “To do what is right and good. I am a public worker and that is what public life is all about.”

Never a dull moment in Meghalaya, laughed Lyngdoh, relaxed and at peace with himself.

Brington Buhai Lyngdoh was born in 1922 and educated at Cherrapunji and Calcutta. A lawyer by profession, he was a leader of the hill state movement in the Sixties. In a colourful political career spanning more than three decades, he has been chief minister several times. In his latest stint, he took over as chief minister on March 10, 1998 and enjoyed the dubious distinction of heading three different coalition governments during a short span of time.

Lyngdoh stand

The beleaguered United Democratic Party (UDP) leader and “dethroned” chief minister, B. B. Lyngdoh today said he was “not surprised” with the political developments which forced him to quit office.

Speaking to this correspondent at his residence this morning, Lyngdoh said, “In a parliamentary democracy there are frequent changes in leadership and so I am not surprised with last evening’s development.”

Lyngdoh, who had played a pivotal role in bringing the UDP to power in 1998, said there was “no harm if a better person succeeds him.” The 78-year old warhorse, often called the “grand old-man of Meghalaya politics,” said many party members were in favour of a “change” in leadership. “So I offered to step down,” he said.

“I don’t think functioning of the government will be affected in my absence. The MLAs and ministers only frame policies, while the bureaucrats and government officials execute them,’’ he said.

Asked about his future plans, Lyngdoh said he had no desire to retire from public life immediately.    

Guwahati, March. 7: 
Five Ulfa militants were apprehended while another hardcore National Democratic Front of Boroland activist gunned down by the Army in the past 24 hours in different parts of Nalbari and Sonitpur districts.

A defence source said troops operating in Lower Assam’s Nalbari district killed a hardcore NDFB militant, Kamal Chandra Boro, after an encounter in Odla village near Baganpara last night. A pistol along with several rounds of ammunition were recovered from the possession of the slain militant, the source said. The militant had opened fire at the troops, he added.

In another incident, troops of 21 mountain division, operating in Sonitpur district, busted an extortion racket run by the banned Ulfa. A defence source said the arrest of four Ulfa activists and the subsequent busting of the extortion racket has revealed the outfit’s links with a local organisation — the Pragatisheel Rural Development Committee.

The source said the arrest of two scooter-borne Ulfa activists, Maina Saikia and Lakhan Das, near Burai river under Dehali police station led to the arrests of Deka, Baruah and Madan Agarwal. Incriminating documents recovered from their possession exposed the nexus between the Ulfa and the committee.

The security forces also arrested another Ulfa militant, Dimbeswar Saikia alias Ranjan Saikia from Gopalpur village under Gohpur police station last night. Some incriminating documents were also recovered from him, the source said.

Airport security

The Central Industrial Security Force is taking over security responsibilities of 41 important domestic airports, adds our Agartala correspondent.

They have already taken over 10 airports, including three in the Northeast — Guwahati, Dibrugarh and Agartala.

Announcing this a Press meet, deputy inspector-general (CISF) Bagish Mishra said the Union civil aviation ministry has decided to hand over security duties to the CISF after the recent hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane from Kathmandu.

He said airports from which at least two aircraft fly in a day are considered important. The 41 airports have been selected keeping that in view.

Mishra said the CISF would keep special watch on hijacking threats. The force would take over security responsibility of Lucknow and Hyderabad airports from March 16, he added.    


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