Court rap for govt over rally raj
Metro workers take to tracks, disrupt services
Go-slow grounds IA flights
Backlash to gang war
Teenage boy kills guard
Daylight abduction from Siliguri hotel
Dhoti-kurta, rasogolla for Sourav
GT Road caves in to coal traffic
Abducted RSS men cry for help
Naveen grapples with realpolitik

Calcutta, March 31 
The division bench of Chief Justice A K Mathur and Justice A Kabir on Friday has directed the state government to file an affidavit within two weeks explaining how it was allowing political parties and other demonstrators to hold rallies “illegally” on city roads.

The court also wanted to know what steps the government had taken to ban such rallies which violate the “fundamental rights” of the general people.

The bench passed this interim order on the basis of a petition filed by a lawyer against the administration and political parties seeking a ban on rallies and meetings at city roads and parks on weekdays.

Lawyer Supradip Roy had moved the public interest litigation (PIL) charging the state government, police, civic authorities and all major political parties like the CPM, Congress, Trinamul Congress and BJP with causing public inconvenience.

The PIL requests the court to direct chief minister Jyoti Basu to call a meeting of all political parties in order to adopt a scheme or pass a law restraining rallies on the city streets on weekdays. Roy urged the court to restrict political rallies to Sundays only.

“Let the meetings be always held at the Brigade Parade Grounds and no processions should be allowed to march towards the rally ground through Chittaranjan Avenue, College Street, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Esplanade and Sealdah. These areas should be declared as public utility areas,” the petition says.

Describing Roy’s move as an “actual public interest litigation’’, the court asked state government counsel Manik Das: “What is your government doing? Why is not a meeting of all parties being called to arrive at a consensus on banning rallies on city streets?”

Das told the bench that many political parties might not attend such a meeting. The Chief Justice then said, “Ask your client to hold such a meeting first. If any political party does not attend such a meeting, the court can take action against it.”

Supradip Roy argued that rallies passing through the city streets on weekdays were in clear violation of fundamental rights under Article 19 (1) ‘a’ and ‘b’ and Article 21 of the Constitution. Both the administration and those holding rallies blocking city streets are to blame, said Roy.

If political parties have the right to use any city road they feel like, the common people also have the fundamental right to use those same roads at the same time, the petitioner said.

“Rally raj rules the city centre. Over the last one month, Calcuttans have watched helplessly as political parties hold meetings and dharnas on Chowringhee Road. Commuters, school-children and office-goers have been stranded in buses, mini-buses and taxis on several important streets. The police and the government usually do nothing to stop this,” states the petition.

Roy said that he sought the court’s intervention as the administration had so far ignored the immense hardship caused to the common man due to traffic-stopping rallies and meetings.

Students and office-goers suffer the most due to rallies at Esplanade, BBD Bag, College Street and Shyambazar.

The police, too, have made it clear that political parties had reduced to a farce the rule of taking permission from them a week prior to rallies on city roads, the petitioner said.

“If necessary, the court can make political parties a party to the case and hear their argument. Let them prove, logically, that rallies on city roads do not affect public life,” said Roy. The case will come up for hearing after two weeks.    

Calcutta, March 31 
Metro rail services were severely disrupted on Friday when contract labourers, demanding permanent jobs, jumped on the tracks risking the high-voltage third rail at Tollygunge station.

The Metro authorities, however, acted swiftly to avert any mishap, suspending services over a stretch and switching off power. As a result, peak-hour services were truncated as trains plied between Dum Dum and Maidan stations for one-and-a-half hours till 1.10 pm.

At 11.35 am, about 100 labourers gathered at Tollygunge station and took to the tracks shouting slogans, throwing the underground services out of gear.

The Metro authorities had to cancel a number of trains following the agitation. Only three trains were used to maintain services between Maidan and Dum Dum.

A Metro Railway spokesman said two trains were stranded at Kalighat station while another was stuck at Jatin Das Park.

Ticket counters at Rabindra Sadan, Netaji Bhawan, Jatin Das Park, Kalighat, Rabindra Sarobar and Tollygunge stations were shut down till services returned to normal. Other stations stopped selling tickets beyond Maidan.

The demonstrators alleged that they had been pressing their demands for the past two years, but the authorities failed to react. “We don’t want to disrupt train services, but had no other option as this was the only way to attract the attention of the authorities,” said an agitator.

With Metro services disrupted, thousands of commuters were forced to take alternative modes of transport like buses and taxis to get to their destinations on time.

Local train services hit

Local train services were disrupted for over six hours in the Bandel-Katwa section of the Howrah division.

Vendors and farmers blocked the tracks from 6 am at Samudragarh, Guptipara, Balagarh and Khanpur stations, protesting Eastern Railway’s decision to withdraw a diesel train from April 1. They alleged that the authorities had decided to run an EMU train instead of the diesel rake.

“It will affect our business,” said a vendor. “The diesel rake is more comfortable for us to carry goods. But in the EMU rake, there will be little space for vendors,” one of them said.

The blockade was lifted after railway officials assured them that the diesel rake will stay till April 7.

A railway official said the final decision will be taken after a meeting with the agitating vendors’ and farmers’ bodies on April 7.    

Calcutta, March 31 
The ‘go-slow’ by Indian Airlines line engineers has hit flight schedules hard, causing serious inconvenience to passengers.

On Friday, IA cancelled its Dibrugarh flight for “non- availability” of aircraft. Almost all outgoing and incoming Calcutta flights suffered delays ranging between three and ten hours.

As a result, passengers either bound for or coming from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Agartala and Dhaka were stranded for hours.

“We are drawing up contingency plans to normalise operations,” IA regional director S K Garai said. The morning Calcutta—Delhi flight took off around 2.30 pm, over seven hours behind schedule while the flight from Delhi arrived ten hours late.

“It is impossible to plan a business trip. I wasted the entire day, waiting for the flight to take off from Delhi,” complained Manish Bhaiya after landing in the city.

Indian Airlines has 200 line engineers and 35 executive engineers belonging to the management cadre. Line engineers all over the country are demanding “equal-career progress” including pay on par with engineers. Their demands have been turned down by the management as they are not qualified to handle Airbus 300 and Airbus 320.

While the official line from IA authorities in Calcutta was that flights are being delayed due to “technical reasons”, some airport staff confirmed that the agitation by the line engineers was the sole cause of flight being delayed and passengers being harassed.    

Calcutta, March 31 
The police fired four rounds and launched a lathicharge to disperse two warring groups of antisocials in and around Guma railway station near Barasat in North 24-Parganas on Friday.

Nineteen persons, including four policemen, were injured. Altogether, 20 persons of both groups were arrested.

Subsequently, angry residents and commuters blocked railway tracks from 10.30 am in protest against frequent clashes between rival groups of antisocials. This disrupted train services for over two hours in the Sealdah-Bongaon section.

The trouble started when Altaf, a dreaded criminal, returned to Guma three days ago.

Additional superintendent of district police Parveen Kumar said Altaf and his gang attacked his rivals with bombs since yesterday. On Friday morning, members of Altaf’s gang and those of rival Madan fought a pitched battle in the paddy fields of Guma near the railway station.

Altaf fled to nearby Bamunia village where he took shelter. Madan chased Altaf to the village where he was stopped by the womenfolk who blocked the entry points.

Madan’s gang reacted violently setting fire to half-a-dozen houses and ransacking and looting 10 other before leaving the village.

They then went to the slums lining the railway tracks and set fire to half-a-dozen shanties there.

By this time the police had arrived from Habra police station. The force proved to be inadequate and reinforcements were called in from neighbouring Barasat, Amdanga, Haroa and Deganga police stations.

Additional superintendent of police Kumar and superintendent of railway police (Sealdah), Sadhan Mondal also rushed to the spot.

Police resorted to lathicharge, forcing the gangsters to flee. Later 20 of them were arrested following raids conducted in the locality.

Meanwhile, angry residents and commuters blocked the tracks to protest the frequent clashes.

Train services collapsed between Sealdah and Bongaon stations as a result and the railways had to operate shuttle service between Sealdah and Duttapukur. Police officials persuaded the agitating commuters and residents to withdraw the blockade around 12.30 pm.

“We have assured the commuters that we will launch massive raids to pick up all the antisocials who were involved in today’s clashes. Raids are still on to locate and arrest Altaf and Madan,” a senior police official said.    

Calcutta, March 31 
A teenage boy killed a night guard at the Citu office in Barasat and fled with Rs 9,000 on Thursday night.

Sirajul, 14, smashed the head of Shankar Thakur, 62, with a piece of wood and fled with the money.

Police said Thakur, a night guard with the Barasat Motor Transport Union, used to sleep inside the office room with Sirajul. Citu workers discovered the body lying in a pool of blood on Friday morning.

Preliminary investigation revealed that Thakur was murdered in his sleep. Police said five months back, Sirajul had arrived from Hasnabad. On Thursday, Citu workers had handed over a bag containing Rs 9,000 to Thakur. A police team has been sent to Hasnabad to track down Sirajul.    

Siliguri, March 31 
In a daring operation, a gang armed with automatic rifles abducted a person from a hotel in the heart of the town this morning.

Sources at Hotel Saluja on Hill Cart Road said the victim whose identity has not been established so far, had come to meet “D. Das”, a guest staying in room no: 104. He was later blindfolded and kidnapped at gunpoint by the men.

“When they brought the victim down, he was blindfolded and his hands were tied,” hotel receptionist Proloy Roy said.

The abductors — all in mufti — were carrying SLR-type firearms and took position in different corners of the hotel during their brief operation.

One of the abductors identified himself as an “officer from the Siliguri police station”.

But the Siliguri police appeared to be clueless till late evening. Inspector-in-charge of Siliguri police station P Das said: “We first heard about the incident from a journalist around 6 pm. There was no official complaint from anyone.”

The police later sent in a four-member team to investigate the crime. Asked whether it was a secret inter-state police operation, Das said “that is one aspect of our probe.”

Hotel staff later said that D.Das had checked in on Wednesday afternoon. Before the abductors arrived, there was a call for either Kishen or Chandan Agarwal, the guests of room 302. But both of them had already checked out. The caller then inquired about D. Das in room 104.

While the Agarwals, who checked in on Wednesday morning, gave Barpeta Road in Assam as their address, D. Das had filled in a Shillong address in the hotel register.

After the Agarwals checked out, Das followed suit after leaving a message that the person who had come to meet him be allowed to stay on in the room for half an hour. The abductors used a white Tata Sumo to take away the unidentified victim. Today’s was the second abduction in Siliguri in one month.

Raniganj rape case: Panic has gripped the labourers working at the brick field under the Raniganj police station where a teenage girl was raped and four women allegedly molested on Thursday.

The owner of the brick field had a trying time convincing the workers not to leave, as that would allow the culprits to go scot free.

Additional superintendent of police Neeraj Singh visited the spot on Friday. So far, no arrest has been carried out.

The rape victim was produced at the sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s court. Her brother Ganesh Mahato, who sustained serious injuries trying to rescue his sister, is still in hospital.

Trinamul Congress district -president Malay Ghatak alleged that the police were trying to hush up the incident. “The police didn’t even record the charges of molestation of the four women,” he said.

Investigating officer Nirmal Dutta, however, said no one had so far lodged any complaint with the police in this regard.

According to Dutta, the rape victim belongs to a group of 22 tribals hailing from adjoining Purulia district.    

Calcutta, March 31 
The Sharjah rout notwithstanding, the mandarins at Writers’ Buildings have lined up a grand reception for Indian captain Sourav Ganguly at the Netaji Indoor stadium on Monday.

State youth affairs minister Manab Mukherjee on Friday proudly displayed a trophy made of gold and silver that will be handed over to Sourav by chief minister Jyoti Basu.

A song written and composed on Sourav by the Calcutta Choir, will be performed at the function. Eight hundred children will create his visage in the stands by holding coloured placards.

The state government will also hand over a dhoti-kurta set made of muslin to the skipper. The show will be rounded off in true Bengali style with ‘Maharaj’ getting to savour a potful of rasogollas.

When the songs have been sung, speeches delivered and gifts handed over, the invitees will sit back and watch Sourav bat on a giant video screen.

Some other Indian cricketers are expected at the stadium. They will be in the city to play an exhibition football match on Sunday.    

Asansol, March 31 
The Grand Trunk Road and the main Grand Chord Line of the Eastern Railways are cracking up. And the rampant smuggling in this coal belt under Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) is to blame.

Cracks have appeared on several buildings and arterial roads. And there is serious concern over the road and the rail line caving in. The parliamentary committee on coal has, in its recent report to the ministry, expressed such fear.

That the fear was not unfounded was proved by a huge stretch of land caving in at Benali in Jamuria police station area, close to G.T. Road on January 28. At least five illegal miners were reportedly killed.

“According to a rough estimate, there over 15,000 illegal miners who work in groups under various mafia gangs. The miners earn Rs 100 a day, on an average, for excavating coal from abandoned pits and for ferrying those in rickshaw vans to depots run by `agents’ who then transport the coal to different parts of the country,” said a senior official of the director general of mines safety (DGMS).

Several such coal miners die in these pits. “Their plight is similar to those involved in illegal felling of trees in the Sunderbans. As in the case of wood cutters in the Sunderbans, these miners also die unrecorded,” explained Joydeb Banerjee, president, Coal Mine Officers’ Association (CMOA).

Even though there are various other technical reasons contributing to the cave-in, illegal mining is the main cause, he said.

“Miners die almost everyday but cases are not registered at police stations. The mafia gangs have close links with the police. The police earn anything between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000 per truck of smuggled coal. Only those who can pull strings, get postings in this lucrative coal and industrial belt,” Sukumar Banerjee, president of the Intuc-affiliated Coal Employees’ Union, said.

Haradhan Roy, president of Citu-affiliated Colliery Mazdoor Union is more concerned about the “growing threat to GT Road and the Grand Chord Line” because of illegal mining. Roy said that the apex monitoring committee report published in 1990 had declared four localities with a surface area of 12 square kilometre in the Asansol-Ranigunj belt as “unsafe for human habitation”.

“More than ten years have passed, but neither the state government nor the Union government has taken the initiative to evacuate and rehabilitate the people of the area,” said the veteran Citu leader and former MP.

In a letter to chief minister Jyoti Basu, on November 12 last year, Roy had said: “They (the officials of ECL, the local police and the administration) are either helping the perpetrators or remaining silent spectators so as to allow them carry on their illegal trade. As a result, illegal coal mining is rampant. The loss of lives at Pahargora, Ranai and other places are reminders of criminal negligence and collusion of companies and law- enforcing agencies.”

A police official said: “Almost all political parties, including the ruling CPM, and senior ECL officials have close links with the coal mafia. But we do conduct regular raids and make arrests.”    

Agartala, March 31 
The four Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leaders who were abducted in Tripura last year have written to their colleagues here, stating that they are alive but under great physical and mental stress.

The letter, dated March 16 and despatched from a National Liberation Front of Tripura hideout in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, requests the RSS authorities to ensure their release “at the earliest”.

Vouching for the authenticity of the letter, sources at the RSS office here said it bore the signatures of all four pracharaks. “We are still alive, but physically and mentally unwell. Please take up the matter with the authorities and ensure our release at the earliest,” it states.

The NLFT has demanded Rs 50 lakh for the release of the pracharaks, but the RSS leadership is against the idea of paying any ransom. “This has already been conveyed to the NLFT,” a source said.

During his last visit to Tripura, RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan ruled out payment of ransom to the NLFT, saying, “If we pay money for their release, the RSS will be unable to work here.”

Family members of the four pracharaks had collected Rs 7 lakh and handed over the amount to the NLFT some time back, but the outfit refused to release the RSS leaders unless it was paid Rs 50 lakh. The four pracharaks —Shyamal Sengupta, Dinen De, Sudhamay Datta and Subhankar Chakraborty — were abducted while they were on a visit to the Ratanmoni Shishu Shiksha Mandir, a school for tribal children, at Kanchancherra in Dhalai district on August 6 last year. All four are from West Bengal.

Shortly after the abduction, the NLFT demanded a ransom of Rs 1 crore. The outfit subsequently scaled down its demand to Rs 50 lakh, but the RSS refused to pay a single rupee for the release of its functionaries.

The organisation launched an agitation instead, campaigning against the NLFT and highlighting the contribution of the four pracharaks to the development of tribals in Tripura.

Anticipating an offensive by the security forces, the militants shifted the abducted pracharaks to various hideouts in the Sakhan hill ranges and the Rajdhar and Malidhar areas of North Tripura.

In December last year, a special commando unit of the Border Security Force launched a combing operation in the Sakhan hill ranges. However, the rebels escaped due to suspected leakage of information about the operation.

The NLFT militants later took the four pracharaks across Simanapur in North Tripura and sneaked into the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. The NLFT has several camps in the area.

Tribal leaders untraced: The whereabouts of Tripura Upajati Juba Samity leader and former Autonomous District Council chairman Jagadish Debbarma — abducted by All-Tripura Tiger Force militants from Bhrigudasbari under Jirania police station on January 16 — are yet to be ascertained.

TUJS divisional committee secretary Umakanta Debbarma was also taken hostage by the rebels. Family members of the abducted leaders are worried because the militants are yet to demand any ransom for their release. However, sources said both were alive and would return home after the district council elections, to be held in two phases on April 30 and May 3. Several other abductions were also reported from the state today.    

Bhubaneswar, March 31 
Ideology has taken a back seat as chief minister Naveen Patnaik struggles to cope with the pulls and pressures of realpolitik.

Barely two years after Patnaik took the Congress to task for “inspiring” cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha elections — leading to the defeat of A.U. Singh Deo who is now a minister in his Cabinet — charges of horse trading are haunting Patnaik’s party, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

The Congress yesterday openly accused the regional party and its ally, the BJP, of bribing its legislators to ensure the victory of a BJD Rajya Sabha candidate. On the strength of their members in the Assembly, the BJD and the BJP were set to win one seat each.

But at least five Congress members cross-voted to ensure the defeat of party-backed Independent candidate Radhakant Nayak and helped the BJD bag the third seat as well.

When Singh Deo was defeated in the Rajya Sabha elections because of cross-voting, Patnaik had blamed the then chief minister, J.B. Patnaik, for “buying” votes. By the same token, Patnaik, now at the helm of his party and the government, cannot escape the blame, his critics said. “Naveen Patnaik cannot feign ignorance. Being the BJD president and chief minister he was definitely in the know,” Congress spokesman Arya Kumar Ganendra said, adding that “Giving bribe is as much an offence as receiving it.”

Though the chief minister denied the allegations, he told reporters after the results were announced that the Rajya Sabha elections should be held only by secret ballot. This was in sharp contrast to Union home minister L.K. Advani’s remarks that the open ballot was the only answer to cross-voting.

Patnaik also came under fire for fielding Baijayant Panda as a Rajya Sabha candidate. Panda, an industrialist, has defaulted on loan payments running into hundreds of crores. Panda emerged victorious in the polls, bagging the maximum number of votes among the three winners.

Patnaik’s aides said he had little option but to give Panda the ticket because the Orissa-based industrialist was one of the main backers of the regional party.

Analysts said it would be hard for Patnaik to gloss over the cross-voting after pledging transparency and probity in public life. The former writer, drafted into politics by colleagues of his father Biju Patnaik, would now be held to his words. A mild-mannered Patnaik, who brought a breath of fresh air into the staid state politics, bared his fangs for the first time just before the Assembly elections when he sacked Bijoy Mohapatra, his main rival in the party, a day after Mohapatra filed his nominations as party candidate from Patkura.

The Machiavellian move, which deprived Mohapatra of a chance to fight the polls even as an Independent, was seen as a “master stroke” in political circles.

Mohapatra had repeatedly tried to stab Patnaik in the back ever since the BJD was born out of a split in the Janata Dal after the death of its founder Biju Patnaik.

But the move also showed Patnaik in a different light — more of an insecure, flip-flopping politician than a confident leader determined to take his adversaries head-on.

Patnaik had earlier suspended Mohapatra for anti-party acts, but had later withdrawn the order himself. He again gave Mohapatra a ticket to contest the polls only to expel him.    


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