Crush flight to Mumbai over Hrithik
State takes U-turn on old taxi phase-out
Metro passenger drugged, robbed
Kingpin held for Kasba murder

 
 
CRUSH FLIGHT TO MUMBAI OVER HRITHIK 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, March 30 
Alarmed at the Hrithik Roshan wave sweeping girls off their feet, the principals of at least five prominent schools have decided to issue a joint appeal with the star of chart-buster Kaho Na...Pyar Hai, urging the girls to “show some restraint”.

Hrithik Roshan may arrive in the city on Sunday to play an exhibition soccer match.

“We are hoping that Hrithik, who is in London, will try to make it to the city,” said filmstar Mithun Chakraborty, chief organiser of this function.

“But even if he does not, which is a distinct possibility, we will still make the joint appeal possible by faxing him a copy and getting his reply to it.”

Deputy commissioner of police (central) Raj Kanojia said school principals are especially worried because a number of girls have made attempts to go to Mumbai “to meet their heart-throb”.

In fact, a few weeks ago, two girls from a school in central Calcutta were caught at the airport, trying to buy tickets for a flight to Mumbai.

“They were totally infatuated with Hrithik Roshan,” said deputy commissioner of police (south) Ranjit Pachnanda.

“They were desperate to marry him and one of them even told me she could not live a day without him.”

Hrithik, according to Bollywood sources, has already received over 35,000 marriage proposals from “mesmerised” fans all over the country.

Kanojia said there were even reports of a few girls having made it to Mumbai to meet Hrithik. “This is still unconfirmed but we are in touch with our counterparts in Mumbai and are investigating the entire matter.”

One of the prime movers of the joint appeal effort has been Rosemary D’Costa Hart, principal of Welland Gouldsmith School in Bowbazar.

“This Hrithik Roshan mania is just a too bit much,” said Hart. “The only way some sanity can be restored to these star-struck girls is if their hero tells them to be more sensible about the entire matter.”

Sister Cyril, principal of Loreto Sealdah, concurs. “It is extremely silly and ridiculous, the way the girls are behaving,” she said. “It is now up to Roshan to tell them that they should behave in a more mature manner.”

Kanojia said some of the principals had even suggested a “face-to-face” with the mega-star, so that they could explain the position to him.

“But this may not be possible, as there is still no confirmation about his arrival from the organisers,” Kanojia said.

Rosita Chrestien, principal of St John’s Diocesan School, is, in fact, drafting an “open letter” to Roshan.

“I have desired that he publicly appeal to his fans not to take any extreme steps, like running away from home to meet their idol in Mumbai,’’ Chrestien said.

Even appeals by teachers to “lovesick” girls, asking them to concentrate on their studies, has fallen on deaf ears, said L.W. Hartnett, head of Assembly of God Church School. “The children should think of something more constructive, like building up their careers,” he said.

“Yes, I will ask the teachers in my school also to talk to the girls to think more positively constructively,” said Sister Philomena of Loreto House.

But as of now, that is unlikely. Our entire class is talking about Hrithik — and all the time, too,” coyly admitted Madhumita Ghosh, of Pratt Memorial School.    


 
 
STATE TAKES U-TURN ON OLD TAXI PHASE-OUT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 30 
Crumbling under the pressure of the powerful taxi lobby, the government has put the brakes on the programmed phase-out of 15-year-old taxis from the city roads.

In a virtual U-turn on its policy decision, the government announced on Thursday that old taxis would be allowed to ply if their owners replaced the worn-out engines with new ones.

“We have no objection to old taxis plying on city streets with new, environment-friendly engines under their bonnets,” said environment minister Manab Mukherjee.

Without explaining this sudden policy change, the government simply said that the committee, set up some time ago for the purpose, had suggested this move.

Mukherjee declined to elaborate on the highlights of the panel report regarding policy on old private buses and taxis, which are a major source of air pollution.

“We are speaking to the associations of taxi operators and private bus-owners. If things go well, we will unveil the policy soon,” he added.

The government is keen to popularise the use of LPG as an alternative fuel for taxis. “We are asking the Centre if we can encourage use of LPG by the taxi trade. We are just waiting for Delhi’s nod on this matter,” said Mukherjee.

The environment minister ruled out the setting up of any more thermal power units in the outskirts of the city, as the existing half-dozen units are “adding to the alarming pollution level” .

Emission hazards

Another area of concern is emissions from motor cars. “We have stopped registration of new cars in the city if they are not Euro-I compliant. We are planning to impose Euro-II norms shortly,” said Mukherjee. The government will also announce air-pollution data every month to make people aware of pollution hazards.

A recent survey by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) at 23 important city crossings has revealed that the alarming levels of nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and suspended particulate matter (SPM) in the air are exposing Calcuttans to “unimaginable risks”.

An explosion in the city’s motor car population is largely responsible for air pollution in Calcutta. Plantation of trees can help combat the pollution problem, the committee feels.

Lathicharge probe

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya on Thursday ordered an inquiry into Monday’s lathicharge on agitating primary school teachers.

Bhattacharya said at Writers’ Buildings that city police chief Dinesh Vajpayee had been asked to hold an inquiry into the incident. However, he did not specify when the police would submit their report to the government.

Paschimbanga Prathamik Sikshak Samity held a demonstration on Rani Rashmoni Road on Monday in support of their demands. The police lathicharged them when they tried to march to Raj Bhavan to submit a memorandum to the governor.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu, too, condemned the incident and told reporters the police could have tried some other means to disperse the teachers before resorting to a lathicharge. Finance minister Asim Dasgupta has also expressed regret.

The lathicharge created a flutter within the state’s academic circle. CPM leaders, reportedly, asked Bhattacharya to order a probe into the incident .

Bhattacharya was practically compelled to order an inquiry as the Opposition Congress and Trinamul Congress were trying to make an issue of it. The BJP, too, protested the incident.

Paresh Dutta, state BJP leader, on Thursday said his party had no faith in the inquiry as it would be conducted by the police themselves.    


 
 
METRO PASSENGER DRUGGED, ROBBED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 30 
In the first crime of its kind underground, a Metro passenger was drugged with “doctored biscuits” by a fellow-commuter and robbed just outside the Rabindra Sarobar station.

The victim, Basudeb Mondal, was found unconscious on the pavement near Charu Market police station. He was admitted to MR Bangur Hospital.

According to the deputy commissioner of police (detective department), Narayan Ghosh, 32-year-old Mondal had come to the city from Bongaon, the suburb bordering the North 24-Parganas, along with two nephews. “The unidentified culprit stole Rs 350 and a gold ring from the victim,” said Ghosh.

Preliminary investigations revealed that Basudeb Mondal, Debabrata Mondal and Amit Baidya, who were staying at a relative’s place in central Calcutta, had planned to go on a tour of the city on Thursday.

On their way, an unknown person chatted them up and convinced them to accompany him. When the trio informed him about their plans to visit the Kalighat temple, the conman took them along for a Metro ride. Mondal and his two nephews agreed readily, as they had never travelled by the Metro before.

On questioning Debabrata and Amit, the police learnt that all four had boarded the Metro from Park Street station around noon. While the two young men sat together, Basudeb Mondal and the ‘other’ man had to make their way to another corner of the coach to find a seat. Mondal was then offered a “cream biscuit” by his companion, whom Mondal’s nephews saw munching on some biscuits, too.

The mystery man did not ask the trio to get off at Kalighat Metro station. Instead, he led them off the train at Rabindra Sarobar station.

Immediately on alighting, Basudeb Mondal started complaining that his head was reeling. The conman asked Amit and Debabrata to “wait for few minutes” in front of the Metro station while he took Mondal to a “nearby tap”.

After waiting for a while, Mondal’s young nephews went off to look for him. After scouring the streets for quite some time, they discovered Mondal, unconscious, on the pavement.

Locals, who gathered at the spot, informed the nearby Charu Market police station. The police then removed the man to the nearby MR Bangur Hospital.

While this marks a first as far as crime on the Metro goes, there have been instances of spiked biscuits being used by petty thieves operating on suburban and long-distance trains.

Some three months ago, the city police had busted a gang of four operating in share taxis on various routes. The gang members would engage a ‘target’ in conversation and then offer him a biscuit.    


 
 
KINGPIN HELD FOR KASBA MURDER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 30 
Nine weeks after the daylight murder of CPM leader Gurupada Bagchi at Kasba market, the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on Thursday arrested Tarak Haldar, a history-sheeter and alleged mastermind of the assassination.

CID detectives, acting on information provided by five of Haldar’s associates arrested early in the morning from Ultadanga, in north Calcutta, nabbed the alleged kingpin from a hideout in Liluah, on the northern fringes of Howrah.

The DIG (CID), Partha Bhattacharya, said Haldar was the mastermind of the plot to kill Bagchi. The CPM leader of Kasba was shot dead from point-blank range on the morning of January 23.

“We have reason to believe now that at least three of his five associates arrested on Thursday actively took part in the killing of Bagchi. One of them also shot at Bagchi,” Bhattacharya said.

“I am an innocent man and I fail to understand why the police are harassing me,” Haldar said, while on his way to lock-up, after being interrogated at Bhabani Bhavan, the CID headquarters.

The police said Haldar had been arrested twice last year, once on a murder charge. Rangalal Mondol, Moloy Nath, Sukumar Roy, Khokan Das and Basudeb Majumdar, all Haldar’s men, were arrested from a building under construction at Ultadanga on Thursday morning. Police said Bagchi was a victim of intra-CPM feuding, where a section of the party might have used the services of Haldar and his gang.    

 

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