Mahajot Mamata hits the tracks
Sealdah bags ER cleanliness award
May date for hill panchayat polls
George slams slow-ship firm
Govt promises garden city
Militants ‘ban’ campaign for Tripura polls
Rebels seek Rs 1-cr ransom
Women ask Hasina to bust hideouts

Calcutta, April 14 
The state Congress and the Trinamul Congress are busy taking their mahajot (grand alliance) to the people of the state in the run-up to the forthcoming civic elections to 82 municipalities.

But at the flag-off function of the Kanchan Kanya Express, a train between Sealdah and Cooch Behar, both Mamata Banerjee and Somen Mitra steered clear of talk about the mahajot in the presence of transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.

Mamata was accompanied by Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhyay, party MLA Pulak Das and Congress MLA but Mamata-loyalist Dilip Das. Union minister of state for external affairs Ajit Panja was also present. Former Pradesh Congress chief Somen Mitra, who arrived late at the function, was accompanied by faithfuls including Manas Bhuiyan.

Subhas Chakraborty, of course, said Mamata was “like a sister” and hailed her recent railway budget as a “victory for Bengal and its people.” He requested Mamata to introduce “more reforms” like separate tracks for superfast trains connecting metros, and trains carrying commercial goods.

Reacting to the transport minister’s praise for Mamata, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said it was Chakraborty’s “personal opinion”. “If he has anything to inform us in this regard, he can do so at a proper party forum,” added Biswas. About Mamata, the CPM leader said: “We have nothing against her but we hate her politics.”

In Siliguri, state municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya described the flagging off of Kanchan Kanya, as “a Poila Boisakh fraud” enacted by the railway minister.

Bhattacharya said: “The so-called new train is nothing but another version of the North Bengal Express. Banerjee has just given a new name to the express train by running it six days a week instead of the present three.”

Bhattacharya also criticised the railway minister for failing to take up the conversion of the Siliguri-Alipurduar section from metre-gauge to broad gauge.

At the flag-off meet, Somen Mitra said that with her railway budget, Mamata had snatched away the Left Front government’s patent slogan of the Centre’s deliberate neglect of of West Bengal.

Later, Mitra said that state Congress president A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury is expected in the city on Saturday.

“We will sit together and draw up plans for the district tours where a campaign for the mahajot needs to be intensified before the municipal polls,” said Mitra. Mamata will join Khan Chowdhury and Mitra at some of the meetings.    

Calcutta, April 14 
The Sealdah station has bagged a trophy for maintaining the best standards in cleanliness during 1999-2000. The award was given by Eastern Railway at a recent function in the city to celebrate the 45th Railway Week.

The Sealdah division also received the best ticket-checking shield along with the Mughalsarai division, the punctuality trophy for suburban-cum-commuter trains, personnel efficiency shield and best construction district shield.

The Asansol division was awarded the GM’s overall efficiency shield for its all-round performance during 1999-2000. Dhanbad and Mughalsarai divisions were joint recipients of the GM’s efficiency runners-up cup. Besides, 262 Eastern Railway employees were also rewarded on the occasion. M.K. Rao, former Railway Board chairman, gave away the prizes.

General manager S. Ramanathan said Eastern Railway moved 80.2 million tonnes of freight traffic during 1999-2000, surpassing its target. The passenger traffic went up 9.84 per cent and earning from it, 10.41 per cent during the last financial year.

Ramanathan said the number of suburban passengers increased by 10.67 per cent and non-suburban passengers by 7.21 per cent.

The drive against ticketless travelling raked in an extra revenue of 6.86 per cent by way of penalty during the same period.

In its drive to improve passenger information system, Eastern Railway has tied up with RPG Netcom’s cable TV network.

Computerised announcement systems were installed at Asansol, Durgapur, Jasidih and Gaya in addition to provision for digital time clocks at Asansol, Andal, Sitarampur, Jasidih, Dhanbad, Gomoh and Pareshnath.

The Railway Week is celebrated from April 10 to 16 every year to commemorate the introduction of train services in the country.    

Siliguri, April 14 
The state government will go ahead with its plans to hold panchayat elections in the Darjeeling hills on May 21, despite stiff opposition from the GNLF.

Government officials are making special arrangements for issuing a gazette notification to this effect on April 18 because the pro-GNLF Hill Employees’ Association (Bhim Thapa Faction} will go on a three-day strike from that day in support of their demands.

Among the major demands is tax exemption on hill and winter allowances. State municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya said the hills will again have the single-layer panchayat system as the state election commission did not have sufficient time to earmark reserved and unreserved seats for gram samitis, the second tier of the panchayat system.

Barring the GNLF, all parties want a two-tier system in the hills. The single-layer system comprising gram panchayats only, was introduced in the hills at the insistence of GNLF chief Subhas Ghising in 1995.

Lately, Ghising’s followers have been campaigning for a separate Gorkhaland state with a view to scuttling the coming panchayat polls. On Saturday, they will hold a rally in Kalimpong in this regard.

Prior to this, they organised a similar programme in Darjeeling. Asked about the CPM and the state government’s stand on the statehood issue, Bhattacharya said: “We are against it. We want to strengthen the Hill Council because we think an efficient council is the only alternative to the statehood demand.”

He said the state will make changes in the Council Act after the committee constituted to study the council’s functioning holds its last meeting on April 18.    

Calcutta, April 14 
Defence minister George Fernandes has blasted the Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd (GRSE) for their inability to execute orders on time. While commissioning INS Brahmaputra, the Navy’s latest guided missile frigate, at the GRSE jetty, on Friday, Fernandes said the “time and cost escalations” were forcing many foreign companies to steer clear of the GRSE. INS Brahmaputra has taken 12 years to build. The defence minister was responding to a request by GRSE chairman-managing director R.B. Vora for “government support” to execute more orders. The defence minister urged the GRSE authorities to avoid cost and time overrun and to make their products competitive globally by keeping abreast of the rapid changes in technology. “You have to ensure that the orders are delivered on time. We often have queries from abroad regarding manufacturing of warships, but the time overruns and the price tags are major deterrents. It is difficult for us to take on global competition,’’ he said. Fernandes said the Brahmaputra joins the Indian fleet with many new features innovated by scientists and engineers of the Indian navy. The Trishul missile, when launched, will also be installed on this warship. Sources said the construction of the Brahmaputra was to have been completed in six year’s time, but it took the shipbuilders double that period. “When the frigate was planned, it was supposed to have the latest equipment and weaponry. But, with technology and R&D advancing at a rapid pace, this delay has made some of the equipment dated, compared to several other countries in the world,” defence officials said. Beside the Brahmaputra, GRSE at present does not have any major defence orders. It has sought fresh orders from the defence ministry on several occasions in the recent past. But its 1,500 workers, involved in the first stages of shipbuilding like the frame and the hull, have been idle for the past few months. False weather alarm: Till Friday afternoon, the Alipore weather office stuck to its forecast made the previous night: “Thunderstorm with windspeed of up to 90 km per hour in the afternoon or evening”. But by evening, it changed to: “Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in temperature.” Weather officials said: “We had to change it as there was no active thunder squall development.”    

Calcutta, April 14 
The reds have promised to paint the city green.

The state government has unfurled grand plans to turn Calcutta into a garden city over the next two years. The forest department has identified 31 streets where trees will be planted on either side.

According to forest department sources, Park Street, Bhowanipore, Rash Behari Avenue, Hathibagan, Maniktala Main Road, Brabourne Road, Strand Road, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, etc., have been identified as “polluted streets’’.

“We have plans to plant trees like Siris, Sonalu, Neem, Amla, Mango, Amla which can absorb pollutants and dust particles,’’ principal secretary, forest, C.S. Samal said.

The government has plans to beautify 20 city parks. Forest department officials said each of these parks will be developed as “model parks”, along the lines of the Central Park in Salt Lake.

Green buffer zones will also be created between industrial and residential areas. Forest department officials said B.L. Saha Road in Behala, Garden Reach, Tiljala, Topsia and Maniktala have been identified for planting trees which will act as a screen between the industrial and residential areas.

This is in response to a recent circular from the Union environment and forest ministry accusing the state department of “tardy pace of work and poor planning’’.

This letter spurred forest minister Jogesh Barman and environment minister Manab Mukherjee into action.

Forest department officials have already started scouting around for the trees and rare flowers required. More than 8,000 trees and flowers will be required for the project. The forest department will work in tandem with the urban development and environment ministry.

According to figures released by the forest department, Siris, Sonalu, Neem and Amla can absorb about 40 to 60 percent of the air pollutants. Teak, Sal, Arjun, Mango, Kanchan and Palas can absorb between 4 to 6 grams per dust per square metre of leaf space.

The department has sought the help of voluntary organisations to maintain the trees, roadside gardens and parks being planned.

“We don’t have the manpower to maintain and nurse the plants. We would like local people, clubs and voluntary organisations to come forward to maintain them,’’ said Samal.

“`If everything goes according to plan, the city will acquire a new look within a year,” he promised.

Theatre rally: Theatre personalities and stage workers took out a procession on Friday to revive group theatre. The rally began at Girish Mancha in Bagbazar and terminated at Bijan theatre in Hatibagan. It was organised by Natya Samanvay, an organisation of drama artists.    

Agartala, April 14 
Candidates for the Autonomous District Council elections in Tripura are finding it difficult to campaign because of intimidation by National Liberation Front of Tripura militants. Elections to the council are slated for April 30 and May 3.

Much before the poll notification was issued, the militant outfit unleashed a reign of terror in the hill districts, threatening people with dire consequences if they did not vote for candidates representing its political wing, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura. The NLFT also imposed a “ban” on other parties contesting the polls. Last week, the rebels abducted relatives of seven Left Front candidates. All of them are yet to be rescued.

Continuing their reliance on terror tactics, NLFT militants yesterday prevented Congressman Rabindra Debbarma, contesting the polls from Damcherra-Kachucherra constituency in Kamalpur subdivision, from addressing a meeting at Shambhucherra.

Sources said Debbarma and his guards were virtually chased away from the area.

Another Congress candidate, Tilkhuma Darlong, was served a notice warning him against campaigning. State election officer Sudhir Sharma, however, said the government was confident about conducting free and fair polls. He said “foolproof” preparations were being made for the elections.

Insurgents kill three: NLFT militants hacked to death three tribals belonging to the same family in West Tripura last night.

Police sources said a group of 10 NLFT militants broke into the house of a CPM worker, Pulin Debbarma, at 10 pm in Natun Dafadar para village under Kalyanpur police station.

The militants, despite having sophisticated firearms, hacked to death Pulin Debbarma, his wife Nayaneswari and his son Arun. Debbarma’s two children, Sabita and Barun, managed to survive by escaping through the back door.

The sources said Debbarma, an active CPM worker, had incurred the wrath of NLFT rebels by refusing to pay them “tax.”

In a separate incident, six persons, including two tribal women, were injured when the police resorted to a mild lathicharge to disperse a mob that had blockaded Takarjala police station in Bishalgarh subdivision yesterday. The mob was demanding the release of some listed militants and collaborators captured by the police.    

Silchar, April 14 
Militants holding six North-Eastern Electric Power Corporation employees captive since March 31 have demanded Rs 1 crore as ransom.

The six power corporation employees were abducted from the site of the Tuirial hydroelectric project at Bilkhawtlir in Mizoram.

According to a one-page notice received by the Tuirial project office yesterday, the Shillong-based power corporation has to pay Rs 1 crore or be ready to “sacrifice” the lives of six of its technical personnel.

The note, however, did not specify the name of the outfit which carried out the abductions.

An intelligence source in Aizawl said the abduction was the handiwork of a joint action group of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and the Hmar People’s Conference (Democratic).

“The hostages were taken to a hideout in Churachandpur district through the jungle alleys leading to Manipur. There are several Hmar tribal enclaves spread across Churachandpur and the hostages are believed to be in captivity there,” he said.

Power corporation officials associated with the Rs 448.19-crore Tuirial project expect the militants to “open more channels of communication” soon.

The six abducted employees are S. Dhar, an executive engineer, Robert Lalsanga, Ratan Roy, Nripen Nath, Lalthankima and S Mandal. Lalsanga and Lalthankima, both Mizos, are junior engineers.

Security at all government-run institutions in Mizoram has been beefed up following a review of the vigilance system.

Five arrested: Police arrested two hardcore National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) militants and two female “companions” from a hotel here on Wednesday.

An NSCN(I-M) conduit, identified as Nepal Das, was also apprehended the same day.

Cachar superintendent of police Mukesh Agarwala said one of the arrested militants had identified himself as Gailung, a self-styled area commander based in Manipur’s Churachandpur district.

Two air tickets for the Silchar-Imphal route and cash to the tune of Rs 61,200 were seized from Gailung and his associate.

Police suspect that the militants sneaked into Cachar district from Manipur to extort money from traders here.

Cachar is a transit point for militants from various outfits active in the Northeast.

In another incident yesterday, police arrested two persons in Sonai block on charges of possessing illegal weapons. Two hand-made guns were seized from them.

Sources said the two persons might have links with rebel outfits.

Jawan arrested

An Army jawan has been arrested for allegedly molesting a woman in Assam’s Darrang district, adds our Guwahati correspondent.

An inquiry has been ordered into the incident which took place in Chinipara village near Tangla last night.

Army authorities assured that if the allegations were found true, the culprit would be severely dealt with under the Army Act.    

Agartala, April 14 
A women’s organisation, owing allegiance to the CPM, has urged Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to crack down on Tripura militants operating from that country.

The women corps, working under the banner of Mahila Mancha, addressed a mass petition to Sheikh Hasina urging her to bust militant hideouts and oust the rebels from the country. The women collected over one lakh signatures. The mancha is led by Panchali Bhattacharya, a central government officer and wife of chief minister Manik Sarkar, Roma Das, a state committee member of the CPM and wife of industry minister Pabitra Kar, Chapala Biswas, chairperson of CPM-controlled West Tripura panchayat samity and journalist Phoolan Bhattacharya.    


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