Hospital under lab duty waiver cloud
Sit and sip till the next Metro comes
Pant hints at Tenth Plan aid for Rajarhat
Starvation deaths stalk Tripura
Joint force combs forest for hostages
Rebels don human faces
Bhutan trade jitters shield Ulfa camps
Assam warned of Ulfa strike on raising day

 
 
HOSPITAL UNDER LAB DUTY WAIVER CLOUD 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
 
A city hospital has breached the conditions of an Indo-US agreement concerning the receipt of gift goods, including medical equipment and supplies.

In 1996, the Assembly of God Hospital and Research Centre on Park Street had been gifted an entire cardiac catherisation laboratory (cath lab) unit by a hospital in the US. The unit, with its various components, was worth over Rs 4 crore and was shipped the next year to Calcutta with the help of Assist International and Rotary International.

The equipment was installed in the hospital’s basement and on July 8, 1998, the cath lab, meant to help the poor, was opened. The Missionaries of Charity had allowed the hospital (about 40 per cent of whose activities are claimed to be for charity) to name the lab after Mother Teresa.

But the Mother Teresa Memorial Cardiac Catherisation Laboratory did not come off. By the hospital’s own admission, not a single patient has benefited from the costly equipment in the two years after it arrived.

“The equipment was eight to nine years old and was in disuse for some time,” said T.P. James, the hospital’s executive coordinator as well as board member. “There were problems in assembling the cath lab.

“For a year, engineers from the US tried to repair it. But some parts needed replacement and the firm that manufactured the unit had stopped making this model.”

The hospital authorities, however, issued a false utilisation certificate to the government. Signed by the chairman of the hospital, it states that as per the Indo-US agreement, “I certify that the supplies have been utilised for the benefit of the poor and needy.” It was dated June 29, 1998.

Under bilateral agreements with five countries, including the US, all donated hospital supplies and equipment imported from these countries are exempt from any form of customs and other duties.

But recipient organisations must furnish within six months of arrival of the items a utilisation certificate, saying the items were used for the “free distribution to poor and needy.”

Besides the utilisation certificate, the quarterly journal of the Assembly of God Church, in its July-September 1998 issue, stated that five experts in the field of biotechnology “arrived in Calcutta from the US on June 29, 1998 and immediately began their work” to instal the cath lab.

“The task they set out on is normally a six-week job. They did it in two weeks.” The journal is widely circulated among donors in North America.

Admitting some mistakes occurred the first time, the hospital authorities have obtained another cath lab unit, again through Assist International. “At a board meeting in October last year, it was decided to scrap the first unit and instal a working, more modern unit,” James said.

The hospital’s executive director, Z.P. Dadina, said the certificate issued was only for a part of the consignment.

“We were more careful this time. A video of the second cath lab, made by Toshiba, was shown to us in operation at a US hospital. And the engineers that dismantled it were the ones that assembled it here. The cath lab is now fully functional.”

The executive coordinator, however, said the hospital authorities had not yet decided on the rates to be charged from those who would be able to pay for the services. “It will be cheaper than other private hospitals in the city,” James assured.    


 
 
SIT AND SIP TILL THE NEXT METRO COMES 
 
 
BY CHARLES NANDI
 
 
Travel by Metro Railway will soon become more comfortable. Moulded plastic chairs have been installed on station platforms.

“Our objective is to further increase the comfort level on the Metro, especially for the aged,” said Metro Rail general manager I.I.M.S Rana. Red chairs fitted to tubular frames have been rivetted to the platform of Netaji Bhavan station. Seats will be installed soon at the other stations.

This is part of the drive to attract more passengers. For similar reasons, bus services will be started in collaboration with the government from Metro stations to various points across the city.

Commuters crowding the stairs while waiting for trains, and the agony of old people when they have to stand for a long time, forced the introduction of the facility. Some commuters fear the chairs may be appropriated by youngsters who would use them for prolonged adda sessions.

“We have instructed our station staff to ensure that the chairs are not misused,” said Rana. Drinking water facilities, too, will be introduced.

The move was prompted by a recent survey by the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), relating to the overall perception of commuters about Metro performance. Going by it, the routes on which buses will be plied have been chalked out.

Bus services between Tollygunge station and Garia, Tollygunge and Behala, Rabindra Sarobar and Golf Green, Kalighat and Jadavpur, and Kalighat and Ballygunge will be started soon.

The following are the findings of the survey:

Many commuters faced problems with small change at ticket counters

Entry and exit gates often do not function, particularly at Dum Dum and Tollygunge stations.

Commuters complained about long queues at Dum Dum, Tollygunge, Park Street and Esplanade stations because of fewer exit gates.

Thirty per cent complained of defective coach doors.

Forty entry and exit gates imported from France will be added to the existing 166 for faster entry and egress.

A steady supply of small change has been organised from the Reserve Bank of India. A sum of Rs 46 crore will be invested to improve the airconditioning and ventilation systems .    


 
 
PANT HINTS AT TENTH PLAN AID FOR RAJARHAT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
 
The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, K.C. Pant, visited the site of the new Rajarhat township on Sunday to take stock of the project.

He also laid the foundation stone for construction of buildings to rehabilitate those who have lost their residential plots and hutments to the township project.

Pledging financial and administrative assistance to the project and hinting that the project might be included in the Tenth Plan, he said Rs 6 crore had already been given from the Planning Commission’s fund.

“Chief minister Jyoti Basu urged me to provide some financial assistance and I honoured his request. I have asked housing minister Gautam Deb to submit a detailed proposal to the Union urban development ministry immediately,’’ Pant said.

He added that with more and more people pouring into Calcutta from different states, and the population rising steadily, the state government would have to build more such townships. “But the owners on whose land the township is being built should not be ignored,’’ said Pant.

Deb responded by stating that if any building or residential plot is acquired for the sake of the township, the government will first rehabilitate the family.

The Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (HIDCO) will construct 13 buildings in the first phase, where 52 families will be rehabilitated.

Sanjay Mitra, HIDCO managing director, said Rs 1.3 lakh will be spent for each dwelling unit and the buildings will be complete within 10 months.

Plans for a central business district zone in the township have been drawn up. A large number of government and semi-government offices are expected to shift base from central Calcutta to Rajarhat.

According to Deb, eight Union ministers had asked for land in the new township to build office complexes and staff quarters. A technical education centre and an IT institute are also on the anvil.    


 
 
STARVATION DEATHS STALK TRIPURA 
 
 
FROM SEKHAR DATTA
 
Agartala, March 26: 
Prolonged insurgency coupled with an economic blockade enforced by militants in the interior areas, have started taking a heavy toll on tribal lives.

Seven tribals have died of starvation in Ganganagar and its nearby areas under the rebel-infested Gandacherra sub-division over the past fortnight. Official sources could not confirm the deaths saying it would take a few days as they might have died of diseases. When pointed out that the diseases might have been caused by starvation and consumption of wild roots, they maintained a stony silence.

However, Tripura Upajati Juba Samity general secretary Rabindra Debbarma who represents the crisis-ridden Ganganagar, Gandacherra areas as MLA, confirmed the deaths saying, “There is a severe food crisis in the area and by now more than seven persons may have died.” Debbarma, who had recently toured the area, attributed the starvation deaths to the onset of annual lean season and food crisis, failure of the government to provide relief and assistance and also insurgency.

Nagendra Reang, former chair person of the development committee in Gandacherra, said over the past fortnight, altogether seven impoverished tribals have died of starvation.

On March 14, two Chakma tribesmen of Haripur colony village, Gunadhar Chakma and Subal Chakma, died of prolonged starvation. They had resorted to eating bamboo shoots and wild potatoes and surviving by selling firewood. The tribals could not even harvest jhum (shifting cultivation) crops for fear of militants and were also deprived of government assistance. They had fallen ill on March 2 and finally died on March 14 without any treatment.

Similarly, Kalabi Chakma and Kadari Chakma of nearby Uttam Chakma colony starved for 10 days from February 29 before dying on March 12.

Sources said three tribals died of sustained starvation in the remote and rebel-infested Ganganagar area. They have been identified as Manikjay Reang, Kotiram Tripura and Golbandha Tripura — all of whom died between March 13 and 15.

Reang and Kotiram were surviving on the meagre income from the sale of firewood. But from the first week of March, they found it impossible to collect firewood from the denuded forests because of threats from militants who demanded tax for allowing them to cut trees in the reserve forest. They died on March 13.

Golbandha Tripura, who lived alone in a house near Ganganagar market died in similar circumstances on March 15.

Sources in Gandacherra said January to April is a trying time for tribal jhumias as they can harvest their crop only in April. Apart from rapid deforestation which stands in the way of good jhum crops, insurgency has made matters worse. The government and Autonomous District Council cannot implement schemes for poverty alleviation and assistance for tribals during the crisis.

This has been happening over the past seven years. On paper, money is being sanctioned and schemes implemented but people at the grassroots receive nothing, said Pakhi Tripura, a social worker in Gandacherra. But the militants have dealt a blow to impoverished tribals by imposing a ban on jhum crops unless tax in cash is cleared in advance.

Last year, a large number of shifting cultivators could not harvest their crops because of the militants’ ban. Official sources in Gandacherra said altogether 780 tribal families have moved out of their home and taken shelter in inhospitable areas close to Gandacherra, Ambasa Road and near the camps of security forces.

Since 1994, a year after the third Left Front government came to power, more than 10,000 jhumia families have been forced to take shelter in neighbouring Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh and Mizoram from the remote villages in Gandacherra sub-division because of insurgency.    


 
 
JOINT FORCE COMBS FOREST FOR HOSTAGES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Silchar, March 26 
The Hailakandi police and CRPF jawans are jointly combing the dense forests along the Tripura and Mizoram border to trace a timber merchant and a school teacher, who were allegedly abducted by a group of Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) rebels from Killerbark under Katlicherra block on Saturday.

All police stations in the district have been put on red alert following the abductions. The Bru National Liberation Front, a Reang militant outfit, set a 72-hour deadline for payment of Rs 40 lakh by the hostages’ kin to ensure the release of timber trader Abdul Jelil Majharbhuyan and school teacher Abdul Manaf.

The police said a 15-member gang of BNLF rebels attired in olive green fatigues raided Jelil’s house and dragged him and his brother out at gunpoint. The rebels then stormed into Manaf’s house and abducted him and his brother Wahid .

Two of the hostages were, however, freed the next day from a BNLF hideout at Jalancherra. Deputy inspector-general of police, R.C. Tawel and district superintendent of police Hailakandi, A. Borgohain, visited Gharmurah to supervise deployment of troops and combing operations.

Congress legislator from Katlicherra and former minister Gautam Roy demanded deployment of additional troops at Hailakandi to counter strikes by the outfit. Two tribals were detained by the police.

Racket busted: The Karimganj district police busted two interstate gang of dacoits and shot dead three gang members yesterday. In another raid, they also arrested a criminal from the district.

The anti-dacoity wing of the police raided a hideout at Uttar Salmana village under the Patherkandi block yesterday. In another operation, the cell also rounded up another dacoit Khejur Ali from the Kaliganj village near Karimganj town yesterday.

Infiltration threat: Former Union minister and BJP leader, Kabindra Purakayastha, today expressed concern over the “unchecked infiltration’’ from across the border.

He said the exodus of illegal migrants posed a threat to the country’s stability as the ISI were aiding them. He said the estimated number of infiltrators had crossed the 50 lakh mark in the state.

Purakayastha, who is also the vice-president of the Assam state unit of the BJP, demanded that the Centre should immediately form a time-bound programme either to drive them out of the state or disenfranchise them.

Barak roads

The Assam government has taken up six rural roads under World Bank assistance programme in the Barak Valley districts, adds PTI. Of the total length of the roads, 90 km is now being constructed by the Assam Rural Infrastructure and Agricultural Service Project.

This was disclosed in a review meeting held recently under the chairmanship of chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. The World Bank has committed Rs 21 crore for these roads.    


 
 
REBELS DON HUMAN FACES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, March 26 
In a rare show of humanity, National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) rebels set a non-tribal free immediately after abduction and gave him Rs 200 to conduct his father’s shradh ceremony.

Twenty-four-year-old Sadhan Das, a poor tribal day labourer, came to Ampi market from nearby Haripur village in South Tripura to purchase provisions for his father’s “shradh” ceremony. His father Nilmoni Das expired a week ago.

Sadhan was caught in a crossfire between the CRPF jawans and NLFT militants who attacked the market. While fleeing, they abducted Das along with two others. After reaching their hideout the next day, the militants realised that he was in mourning and subsequently set him free. This is the first time, militants released a non-tribal on compassionate grounds.

Veteran TUJS leader Shyama Charan Tripura said in December 1997, a group of NLFT militants abducted two-year-old Sanjay Debnath from Laxmancherra in Belonia sub-division. The infant, who was still in the weaning stage, screamed throughout the night.

Troubled by the turn of events, the militants started looking for a surrogate mother in the neighbouring villages. They finally came upon one and entrusted the child to her care for a week. Sanjay’s parents got him back for a mere Rs 5,000 as the militants had scaled down the ransom amount on compassionate ground.

Another group of NLFT militants found themselves in a fix after abducting seven-year-old Keya Deb Roy from her uncle’s house in Bagma under Udaipur subdivision. Keya had come to visit her maternal uncle during the Durga Puja. Shortly after being abducted, she made friends with the militants by calling them “uncle.’’ But she refused to sleep without her mother. So her captors found her a foster home.

They also kept up a steady supply of chocolates and took care of the child before she was handed over to parents after payment of ransom.    


 
 
BHUTAN TRADE JITTERS SHIELD ULFA CAMPS 
 
 
BY RAJIB BORAH
 
Guwahati, March 26 
Bhutanese security forces will find it difficult to evict the Ulfa from their country as the camps of the rebel outfit are spread over a number of dzongkhags (districts).

The Ulfa has set up well-entrenched camps along the Assam-Bhutan border stretching from Kokrajhar in the west to Darrang in the east. “Any operation to evict the Ulfa will have to be on a large scale and the Bhutanese government fears such operations may have wide-ranging ramifications,” highly-placed intelligence sources said today.

Ulfa’s chief political commissar Mintu Dutta, who is planning to sever ties with the outfit, corroborated this. The Ulfa was taking advantage of the Bhutanese government’s fear that any action against them would hamper trade, he added.

The Bhutanese home minister had informed the National Assembly last year that action against the Ulfa may lead to closing of trade and communication links through Assam.

He added that the 8th plan development programme would be disrupted and people of Sarpang, Tsirang, Dagana, Zhemgang, Trongsa, Bumthang, Samdrup Jongkhar, Pemagatshel, Trashi-gang, Trashi Yangtse, Mongar and Lhuentse dzongkhags would be affected.

The camps are known by the names of the neighbouring districts in Assam. “When one speaks of the Nalbari camp, he is referring to the one across the border from Nalbari,” Dutta said. Likewise, there are Barpeta, Kamrup and Darrang camps. There is also a camp known as Bongaigaon, which is a misnomer since this district does not share its border with Bhutan, Dutta said. The camps are regularly shifted from one place to another, he added.

In some places there are clusters of camps but all are named after the nearest district in Assam, he said. “While the GHQ (general headquarters) is situated across the Nalbari border the CHQ (central headquarters) is across the Kamrup border,” he said.    


 
 
ASSAM WARNED OF ULFA STRIKE ON RAISING DAY 
 
 
BY SIDDHARTHA DUTTA KASHYAP
 
Guwahati, March 26: 
Intelligence agencies have warned of a major Ulfa offensive here on April 7, the day the outfit observes its 22nd “foundation day”.

The Ulfa has chosen Guwahati as its “priority area” because it is the hub of VIPs. The government has been explicitly advised to leave nothing to chance in view of the “impending danger” to the lives of some politicians and security officials.

Four ministers in the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta Cabinet are believed to be on the Ulfa’s “hit list”. Two IPS officials are also at risk of being targeted in the run-up to the outfit’s “foundation day”.

Transport minister Pradip Hazarika, agriculture minister Chandra Mohan Patowary, municipal administration minister Biraj Sarma and sericulture minister Ramendra Narayan Kalita have already been advised to restrict their movements and remain alert, a source said.

Sarma survived an assassination attempt by the Ulfa on the eve of Lok Sabha elections on February 11, 1998. He was shot at by four motorcycle borne Ulfa rebels in the Silpukhuri area.

Though Patowary is yet to be targeted, his brother was killed by Ulfa rebels in the city.

“We have definite information that the Ulfa leadership has already ordered an offensive, including attempts on the lives of four Cabinet ministers,” an intelligence source said.

Some surrendered Ulfa activists also figure on the Ulfa “hit list”. Chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta convened a meeting to review security arrangements in the state immediately after being apprised of the Ulfa’s gameplan.

“A red alert has been sounded and instructions issued to take all precautionary measures,” a source said. Security officials said the five militants who were killed in an encounter with the Army near Changsari on March 22 were planning to target VIPs and senior police officials in the city on the eve of the outfit’s “foundation day”.

The slain rebels included self-styled finance secretary of the Ulfa’s Saraighat anchalik parishad Tariq Ali alias Amulya Patowari and “action group commander” Mukut Deka. Ali was also the outfit’s “main ISI linkman”.

Kamrup superintendent of police B.K.Mishra said the Ulfa suffered a major setback when the four militants were killed. He said these militants had been given the responsibility of carrying out acts of sabotage in the city next month.

Director-general of police P.V. Sumant admitted that there was a possibility of Ulfa rebels indulging in violence here on April 7, but said the police and paramilitary were on red alert.

Additional superintendent of police (city) P.K.Dutta echoed Sumant’s views, saying that security had been beefed up and there was nothing to be alarmed about. He said raids were being carried out in suspected rebel hideouts in various parts of the city.    

 

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