Trinamul councillor slain
Pique led to RS upset, says Somen
Bankura MP in praise row at Mamata carnival
Discontent drives voters to launch alternative
Examinee dies of burns
HS questions set afresh
Poachers prowl, wardens blink as tiger count dips
Border bandits plunder forests
Abducted Assam boy returns home
Naveen vows to weed out corruption

Barrackpore, April 1 
Bikas Bose, president of the North 24-Parganas district Trinamul Youth Congress and sitting councillor of Noapara municipality, was gunned down by unknown miscreants near his residence on Saturday morning. Bose, an advocate and school teacher, is survived by his wife and aged mother.

Agitated residents of the area blocked B.T. Road for three hours after the murder and attacked policemen when they came to recover the body. Police resorted to a lathi-charge and fired 10 rounds of teargas shells to disperse the mob.

Thirty persons were arrested on charges of hooliganism, but no arrest was made in connection with the murder. A large police picket has been posted in the area as a precautionary measure.

Trinamul supremo and railway minister Mamata Banerjee, was inaugurating a train service at Bankura when the news reached her . She described the murder as “a deep-rooted conspiracy to vitiate the atmosphere before the municipal polls.”

On return, Mamata visited Noapara and met the victim’s family. She said: “While I am striving for Bengal’s development, my rivals are killing my people. I am not too sure about what they want, progress or killings?”

The Trinamul Youth Congress will observe a ‘Black Day’ on Monday to protest the murder.

“Bose was a popular figure in his locality and had a good rapport with all political parties. I wonder how a person without a criminal record can be gunned down by miscreants. The motive is not clear to us. Police have started combing the area for the killers,’’said Kuldip Singh, superintendent of police.

Police suspect Bose had been a victim of mistaken identity. Someone had hired the armed goons to kill a particular person. The miscreants may have mistaken Bose for that person and shot him dead.

Witnesses said Bose was talking to some associates in front of his house at about 10 am when a group of youth sauntered up. Before there was any exchange of words, they fired from point-blank range, killing him on the spot. The miscreants fled before people of the area could raise an alarm.

As the news of the murder spread, hundreds of residents blocked the road and resisted attempts by the local police to retrieve the body. They hurled stones at the policemen and damaged 13 police vehicles. Later, a large contingent of police, led by the SP, arrived and lathicharged the mob. When the lathicharge failed to restore normalcy, teargas was fired and the body recovered.

The state Trinamul was stunned by the murder. “Bose was extremely popular and had no enemies. He had been elected to the Noapara municipality for four successive terms and would have been our nominee for the Noapara Assembly seat in the next elections,” said Sudip Bandopadhyay.

Jayanta Bhattacharya said the murder was “a heinous attempt to foil Mamata’s bid for a broad-based anti-CPM front.”    

Calcutta, April 1 
On the eve of his departure for Delhi, former PCC president Somen Mitra said on Saturday that the cross-voting that led to the defeat of the official party nominee in last week’s Rajya Sabha polls was an expression of the state Congress legislators’ unhappiness at the interference of the high command in the functioning of the party in Bengal.

Summoned by Sonia Gandhi, both Mitra and state Congress president A.B.A.Ghani Khan Chowdhury leave for Delhi on Sunday. Mitra feared his detractors may pressure the high command to axe his loyalists after the Rajya Sabha fiasco.

Sources said state Congress working president, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, who met Sonia Gandhi on Saturday, has lodged a complaint against Mitra and his loyalists and is expecting disciplinary action against them.

A defiant Mitra, however, defended the loyalists. “The AICC has hurt the legislators by refusing to nominate the candidate they unanimously chose,” he said.

Mitra was denied nomination by the high command though recommended by the Congress Legislature Party.

“The cross-voting was unfortunate but, at the same time, I strongly feel the high command’s decision to nominate Roy, ignoring the CLP’s choice, was improper,” said Mitra.

He added that he would convey this to Sonia Gandhi if he was allowed a hearing.

In another development, Mitra and Khan Chowdhury, who have hailed Trinamul Congress leader and railway minister Mamata Banerjee’s proposed Mahajot (grand alliance), are expected to meet and discuss the issue with her in Delhi.

Das Munshi, who returned to the city on Saturday, however, opposed the state Congress participating in Mamata’s alliance.    

PURULIA, April 1 
Railway minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday inaugurated two trains: the Rupashi Bangla Express and the Aranyak Express.

The first will run between Purulia and Howrah and the second will link Bankura and Shalimar.

In Bankura, Mamata also laid the foundation for the gauge conversion of the Bankura Damodar river valley project, before flagging off the Aranyak Express.

The Bankura function was disrupted for a while when Marxist MP Basudeb Acharya sought to steal Mamata’s thunder, claiming that credit should go to the Left for the Bankura-Shalimar rail link.

“We had organised padayatras and agitations and forced the railway to okay the new train”, Acharya told the function.

His speech evoked howls of protest from the Trinamul supporters. The situation took an ugly turn and Mamata had to intervene. She urged her supporters not to disrupt the function. “Please do not shout. This is a government function”, Banerjee admonished her followers.

The supporters paid heed, and the function proceeded without further ado.

Health minister Partha De tried to neutralise the ill-will by praising Mamata. “She will get all cooperation from us in implementing her projects. But we have some more demands and I don’t want to mention those today. We will take up the issues with her later”, De said.

The Forward Bloc MP from Purulia, Bir Singh Mahato, heaped praise on Mamata for granting the express train between Howrah and Purulia.

“I am grateful to her for the new train. I never imagined she would be able to launch the train within such a short time after placing her budget,” Mahato said.

Mamata told the gathering she would lay more emphasis on West Bengal’s development than to her engagements in politics. “We are all politicians and play our respective roles. But we must work together for the development of Bengal,” Mamata said.    

Calcutta, April 1 
A group of individuals, disillusioned with the non-performance of politicians and partymen elected to represent them, on Saturday formed a platform to promote result-oriented, apolitical candidates in the next Assembly polls.

The People’s Development Front (Jana Unnayan Mancha) comprises members from all walks of life. At its first meeting, over 80 like-minded individuals got together to chalk out the front’s manifesto and plan of action.

The members include lawyers, engineers, doctors, chartered accountants, professors and teachers, businessmen, housewives, authors and artistes and, most of all, grassroot-level social workers.

A five-member core group was constituted, with a practising high court advocate, Gita Mukherjee, as convener. The others are Justice Manoranjan Mullick, former sheriff Prof. Sanat Biswas, Bidyut Parna Gupta and Anwar Premi, social workers.

“Election after election, we have seen how the so-called people’s representatives have failed to fulfil the promises made during campaigning,” Mukherjee said.

“We have, therefore, decided that social workers themselves, those with a proven track record and with no political leanings, should represent the people, so that they can continue to work for development, this time with political empowerment,” she added.

She said politics in the Front would be limited to contesting elections “so that the people’s voice can truly be heard and acted upon in the Assembly and, may be, even Parliament.”

From experience, full-time social workers have found that development work is hampered unless the people have a say in the highest forums, said Premi, well-known in the Garden Reach area for the work he has done.

“Voters have boycotted elections in several regions in the past as they are fed up with political parties and ideologies that do no lead to improvement in quality of life. The Front has been formed by frustrated voters in search of an alternative platform.”

In the last parliamentary election, voters in three blocks in the Haltu-Sonarpur area of South 24-Parganas had shunned the poll because the leaders had not helped improve even basic amenities.

More recently, voters in chief minister Jyoti Basu’s constituency, Satgachhia, have said it made little difference that Basu would not be contesting in 2001, as he had done nothing for the region’s improvement.

“Such feelings exist throughout the state, and people are looking for representatives who will sincerely work for their benefit,” said Biswas, former sheriff. “But so far, there was no organisation that could take up people’s issues and act on them. We hope the Front will fill this void,” he said.    

Calcutta, April 1 
A Higher Secondary examinee, Papia Dasgupta, 21, committed suicide late on Saturday by setting herself on fire at her Lake Temple Road residence, in the Tollygunge police station area. Papia was taken to SSKM Hospital, where she succumbed to her burns later.

Police found a suicide note from Papia’s room. They said she was suffering from depression over her performance in the examination.    

Calcutta, April 1 
The West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education on Saturday decided to cancel the original set of questions of the Higher Secondary business economics and mathematics examination, scheduled for April 19.

Council president Sudin Chattopadhay said the decision to prepare a fresh set of questions was taken on Saturday after the sub-divisional officer (SDO) of Arambagh, in Hooghly, informed him over fax that the authorities of an examination centre had inadvertently opened a packet containing the question papers on Thursday.

According to the council’s rules, packets containing papers of a particular subject should be opened only on the day of the examination.

This system is strictly followed to avoid question leaks.

The packets containing the business economics and mathematics question papers had slipped into a pile of packets containing questions of the English paper, held on Thursday.

According to Chattopadhay, the Arambagh SDO has assured him that the packets were sealed immediately after the error was detected.”

But still, we thought it was better to cancel the entire set of questions, considering the interests of 45,000 students who will be writing the test in the state,” Chattopadhay said.

The council president ruled out postponing the date of the examination.

The council will conduct an inquiry after the Higher Secondary Examinations end to find out how the packet of business economics and mathematics papers had slipped into a pile of English question paper packets.    

Calcutta, April 1 
The latest tiger census in the Sunderbans has recorded a declining population, fuelling fears about the dangers to the big cat’s survival there.

The census, carried out by the forest department, has put the figure at 254, nine less than the number arrived at during the last count in 1997.

While foresters put the count as a “mere statistical data”, there are indications that the tiger is under constant threat of poachers in the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (STR).

According to the data arrived at after eliminating pug-mark scans by computer, the census says there are 96 males, 131 females and 27 tiger cubs in the tiger reserve.

There have been regular instances of tiger skin being recovered in and around the Sunderbans. Only as recently as February 22 this year, two pelts were recovered during a raid on a Sunderbans island. The poachers had almost sold the skins when the swoop took place.

On January 26, forest staff along with the police recovered 15 tiger claws from a small jewellery shop in Sonarpur.

Two more skins were seized in December 27 and 31 from North and South 24-Parganas. Those arrested for the offence are out on bail and most of them are Sunderbans villagers.

Besides the unearthing of tiger bones, dead animals have also been located in the forest. In March and later in August, two carcasses were found in the Basirhat range of the STR. Both animals had been poisoned.

Senior forest officers conceded that at least one of the two could have been saved by the forest staff, had they been more alert.

The staff failed to remove a dead cow, a tiger’s kill, from near a village in Hemnagar, Basirhat. Villagers laced the carcass with poison, which the tiger ate and died.

Forest department sources said there is enough evidence that more skins are to be found from villages bordering the STR. The STR administration has recently deployed two companies of policemen to beef up vigil in the area.

Not only the tiger, but its prey, too, is being poached for food and skin. Deer and wild pigs, which comprise a major portion of the Sunderbans tiger diet, are trapped by poachers in the area.

A decline in prey would usher in a grave threat to survival of the Royal Bengal Tiger. The forest department is yet to carry out a prey census to determine whether numbers are sufficient to sustain the highest population of tigers in any single reserve in India.

Since last year, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has begun a tiger conservation programme to beef up infrastructure.

New barracks for guards are being constructed in the forest. The WWF, which conducted an investigation last year, was harshly critical of the lack of vigilance in the forest.    

SILIGURI, April 1 
The porous border between India and Nepal has become a threat not just in terms of subversive activities but also to the forests in north Bengal.

There is no provision for vigil along the border, stretching from the Singalila range to the Terai, to stop the rampant felling of the Daphne cannabina (Kagatay in Nepali) and the indiscriminate slaughter of elephants.

The Daphne cannabina provides the expensive, hand-made paper, popularly known as Nepali Kagat, used for historic government documents, religious scrolls and decorative items.

Kathmandu is the largest producer of such paper.

Other flora under siege are the taxus bacatta, or dhangre salla in Nepali, the chirata and the majeto (which yield a kind of dye). Taxol, a drug for cancer patients, is made from the taxus bacatta.

Umesh Dwivedi, Himalayan expert and secretary of the Darjeeling-based Environment Protection Society, said: “Destruction of these valuable plants is disastrous for the region. We are planning to form a pressure group, with help from other NGOs, to campaign against it.”

Dwivedi said traders from Nepal are involved in the felling of the Daphne cannabina, while Indian pharmaceutical firms exploit the medicinal shrubs.

He suggested jobs and joint forest management schemes as ways to stop villagers on the Indian side of the border from indulging in illegal trade practices.

Animesh Bose, secretary of the Siliguri-based Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation, who made a survey of the Singalila range, claimed that at least a dozen hand-made paper units have mushroomed in the eastern Nepalese hill districts of Ilam. He said the paper-makers were exploiting both Indian and Nepali villagers in felling and smuggling the Kagatay trees.

Bose alleged that Nepali villagers often shoot or poison elephants that stray into the kingdom from the Indian side.

Last year, two elephants were shot and wounded in Nepal and returned to die on the Indian side. The animals had strayed into maize fields in Nepal.

Last month, a tusker was found dead at Sengdubi, near the border. The traditional elephant corridor stretches from Assam and Bhutan to Nepal. Forest officials said they would have to tighten security in the border forests in view of the slaughter and smuggling reports.

“What happens on the other side of the border is beyond our control,” they added.

The officials said the elephants often intrude into human settlements in search of food. Rapid destruction of forests and increased human activity in and around the elephant corridor have disturbed the elephants’ habitat.    

Guwahati, April 1 
Abhisekh Verma, son of a top Assam bureaucrat, P.P. Verma, who was abducted from Guwahati in 1995, was rescued from Bihar and brought home today.

Relieved at being reunited with his abducted son after five years of waiting, Verma today said his priority was to “rehabilitate” Abhishek instead of concentrating on bringing his captors to book.

Verma and his son, “rescued” from Ballua village in Bihar’s Buxar district yesterday, arrived at the Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi airport here from Calcutta this afternoon and drove straight to the Kamakhya temple. After offering prayers, the duo proceeded to their residence at Khanapara.

Verma, commissioner and principal secretary to the Assam chief minister, said he would take the initiative in identifying his son’s kidnappers, but not before helping Abhishek erase the trauma inflicted by five years in captivity. Asked whether he was satisfied with the efforts to trace his son over the past five years, the bureaucrat said official investigative agencies had “too much on their hands”. He said the progress of the CBI investigation into Abhishek’s abduction was there for all to see. A three-member CBI team, headed by an official of the rank of deputy superintendent of police, arrived here today to record Abhishek’s statements.

The Ulfa, initially accused of having a hand in Abhishek’s abduction, said in a statement here that it was unfairly dragged into the case. “Though we do not deny that some of our activists have been involved in some unfortunate and unauthorised acts, most reports maligning the Ulfa are false,” said Ulfa central publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary.

Hordes of relatives, friends, colleagues and well-wishers called on the Vermas throughout the day. The visitors included chief minister Prafulla Mahanta.

The bureaucrat said two Assam police constables hailing from Ballua informed him about Abhishek’s whereabouts on March 12. Six days later, Verma visited the village to meet Abhishek, who identified himself as Govinda. He could neither recognise his father nor recollect the past. The only thing he remembered was that his mother was dead. “I was also not sure if Govinda was indeed my son,” Verma said.

Later, he was shown photographs of relatives and friends he was fond of. “He failed to recognise any of them, except his own photograph,” Verma said.

The birthmarks on Abhishek’s body finally established his identity. Women of the village also declared that he was the boy Verma was looking for after inspecting photographs of his mother.

“The villagers organised a puja at a local temple and even called a band to bid us farewell,” Verma said, adding that he did not expect things to fall into place so easily.“I had sounded the Buxar superintendent of police about the possibility of trouble,” Verma said. “The only objection was from an old woman whom Abhishek addressed as nani (grandmother), but we explained to her that another old woman (the boy’s maternal grandmother) was waiting for him here,” he added.

He was “handed over” to a policeman in Bihar by “some people” about two years ago. He kept the boy with him for some time before throwing him out of the house. A farmer from Ballua found the boy crying at a marketplace and brought him home. The uncertainty of the past five years has left its mark on Abhishek, but his father believes he will be “normal” soon.    

Bhubaneswar, April 1 
Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik today pledged to root out corruption and provide transparency in governance.

In an advertisement published in local newspapers on the occasion of Utkal Divas, Patnaik listed elimination of corruption and greater transparency and efficiency in governance as the top priorities of the Biju Janata Dal-led coalition.

Driving home the message that he “means business”, Patnaik also sent reminders to his ministerial colleagues to declare their assets immediately.

According to his aides, the chief minister is unhappy with most ministers for failing to comply with his earlier directive to declare their assets by March 31. The deadline has now been extended to April 10.

Patnaik plans to make the details public to prove that members of his government “have nothing to hide”.

Several ministers are believed to have hired chartered accountants to prepare “foolproof” lists of their property.

Apart from promising transparency and a corruption-free government, the chief minister spoke of an agenda for development in the newspaper advertisement published today.

His 18-point programme includes fiscal restructuring for economic development, social justice and communal harmony.

The chief minister said he would rebuild damaged schools, colleges, hospitals and office buildings in the cyclone-ravaged districts of the state. He also stressed the importance of small irrigation projects. Patnaik said his government planned to set up a minority commission and a special fund to help backward communities. He also promised to develop the Oriya language.

Special loans: Orissa State Cooperative Bank managing director S.N.Tripathy today said loans to the tune of Rs 227 crore would be provided to farmers in the cyclone-ravaged districts of the state.

Tripathy said the bank was already financing purchase of tractors, power tillers and diesel pump sets in these districts.    


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