Howrah clamp on highrises
UP gang comes to haunt businessmen again
Shootout on moving train, mob fury on tracks
Baby swap rap shifts from Eden to Bangur
JU teachers defy govt diktat
Kidnapped 4-year-old boy throttled to death
Trinamul cries foul over civic voters’ list
Starvation spectre over Orissa: UN survey
Clashes mar final phase of Tripura polls
Boy dies in Assam floods

Calcutta, May 3 
To bring about a semblance of order to Howrah, the state government has laid down new building rules for this 500-year-old urban centre, the second-largest in this region.

The modified rules are aimed at curbing the chaotic growth of multi-storeyed buildings in the Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) area, providing guidelines for preservation of parks and water bodies, and identifying heritage structures.

The formal decision regarding implementation of the rules, which replace the 1980 HMC Building Rules, will be taken at a meeting of the mayor-in-council.

“These will bring sweeping changes in construction laws in Howrah,” said state urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya. “Henceforth, the government will control construction on every inch of land here.”

Unlike the earlier rules, which did not impose any restriction on the use of land for building purposes, the new ones specify where certain types of construction will be allowed and for what purpose.

For instance, a commercial complex can only be built in an area of Howrah town specified by the municipality.

Also, mandatory open space around buildings and provisions for car parking are also specified. Over the past few years, complaints have been pouring in from Howrah residents against promoters taking advantage of lax building laws and constructing highrises violating basic civic norms.

To prevent further depredation of the town by builders, a joint survey was carried out last year by the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and the municipal affairs department to identify loopholes in the existing laws and suggest new laws.

“Calcutta is bursting at its seams and its spillover effect is being felt in Howrah. So we decided to adopt a new approach towards the future urbanisation of the town,” said P.K. Pradhan, municipal affairs secretary.

The policy for development of Howrah town states:

There shall be effort to disperse activities from the present congested core to outer areas

Buildings and areas that are important from historical, architectural, environmental or ecological points of view will be identified for preservation and conservation. These include the Town Hall, Clock Tower, Santragachhi water body, Madhusudan Bhavan, Colvin Court, the Telegraph Office, Workshop building, Downing Hall, Heaton Hall and Padmapukur Jala

Wetland, tanks, ponds and water bodies to be preserved as far as possible

Riverfront in Howrah to be developed with pedestrian plaza and other facilities along the bank. No construction will be allowed within 50 metres of the Hooghly river bank

Wholesale trading functions to be discouraged in the HMC area. There will be efforts to relocate such activities outside the HMC area

The floor space of commercial complexes to be restricted so that the rush of vehicles is less and traffic jams are fewer.

“Howrah town has become an unplanned forest of multi-storeyed buildings. Now, this new policy will improve the quality of life for Howrah citizens,” said mayor Subinoy Ghosh.

“They (new rules) are definitely better. The real estate boom has begun only over the past 10 to 12 years. Look at the highrises coming up at Salkia, Abul Kalam Azad Road and Abani Dutta Road,” said chief engineer, HMC, Gour Chatterjee.

According to Ashok Bhattacharya, the government does not intend to stop construction in Howrah but to “plan and phase it out in such a manner that it will not hurt the town any further”.    

Calcuta, May 3 
A criminal gang from Uttar Pradesh is stalking the city once again, targeting businessmen and threatening them with kidnap unless they cough up “protection money”.

Last week, three city businessmen complained to the police that they were being tailed by a group of unknown people. They were also receiving calls at home and in office, demanding Rs 5 lakh each if they wanted to “remain safe”. The extortionists spoke in Hindi.

“They obviously have done their homework, for they have detailed information on each of these businessmen, including where their children study,” said a senior detective of the city police. “We are not dealing with amateurs here.”

Through Tuesday night and Wednesday, policemen carried out raids in different parts of Park Street, Shakespeare Sarani, Beniapukur and Tollygunge.

Three persons, believed to be local contacts of this gang, were detained. During interrogation, they told the police that a gang from UP’s Azamgarh district had come to the city a few months back and had been collecting information on city businessmen through a network of contacts.

This has sent alarm bells ringing in the city police headquarters, especially with UP contract killer Manjit Singh Mange, who had escaped from prison last week, still at large.

“While the interrogation has definitely established the Uttar Pradesh links of this gang, the three local contacts seem unaware of too many details about them,” said DC (South) Ranjit Pachnanda. “It seems that it is the Uttar Pradesh gang which got in touch with the local contacts whenever they needed any information, rather than the other way round.”

Police officials said interrogation of the local contacts had revealed that the gang currently operating in the city have “some links” with UP’s notorious Akhilesh Singh gang.

A message to this effect has already been sent to the UP police, seeking further information and any help they can extend in tracking down this gang.

Interrogation has revealed that there are five middle-aged men of the UP gang in the city.

“It is apparent that they are on the move, changing their hideouts very often,” an official said.

It has also been revealed that they had been conducting “operations” in Dumka, Ranchi and Dhanbad in south Bihar, before coming to Calcutta.

Pachnanda said that the UP gang had not been able to carry out any operation in the city.

“We have intensified patrolling in several areas,” Pachnanda said. “Officers have been directed to activate the information network and we have also planned several raids at different places over the next few days.”    

Calcutta, May 3 
Angry local people blocked railway tracks 17 km away from Calcutta at Bisharpara, on the Sealdah-Bongaon section, crippling services for over three hours on Wednesday morning.

They were protesting a shootout between two rival gangs on a Sealdah-bound train near Birati late on Tuesday. Two bystanders were seriously injured in the incident.

Tuesday’s shootout was said to be a sequel to a feud over teasing a woman at a local musical soiree some time ago.

Agitators refused to withdraw from the tracks when the police intervened.

They demanded that the gangsters be arrested immediately and they jostled with the police when they were asked to clear the tracks.

The protesters said gang wars had become a regular happening there, and repeated complaints were made in vain to the police.

Finally, the agitators withdrew around 11 am and train services were restored. As a result, seven pairs of Sealdah-Bongaon locals and a pair of Sealdah-Hasnabad locals were cancelled.

Eleven other local trains were detained en route for more than three hours.

The superintendent of police, North-24 Parganas, Kuldeep Singh, said no one involved in Tuesday’s shootout was arrested, but a massive manhunt was on.

According to the police, gangsters jumped into a local train at New Barrackpore around 9.30 pm on Tuesday and, soon after, got into a fight with their rivals.

The men whipped out country-made revolvers and started shooting indiscriminately.

Passengers panicked and most of them fell flat on the floor to duck the hail of bullets. By this time, the train had stopped at Bisharpara station.

But even before the train stopped, a number of passengers had jumped out of it.

At Bisharpara, 34-year-old Kakoli Sikdar, who was waiting for a train on the Up platform, was hit by a stray bullet in the chest. She collapsed immediately.

Another stray bullet hit Bachchu Biswas, a local youth standing with a few friends on the same platform, in the right hand. He, too, collapsed.

Kakoli, a resident of Chandpara, near Bongaon, was admitted to SSKM Hospital in a critical condition. She had come to Calcutta to pay a visit to her brother-in-law undergoing treatment at the railway’s B.R. Singh Hospital in Sealdah. Bachchu was admitted to NRS Hospital. His gaping wound needed 16 stitches.

Police said crime was on the rise owing to a booming country liquor trade in New Barrackpore, from where one of the gangs had boarded the train. The two warring gangs clashed frequently in the area.

Eastern Railway sources said shuttle train services were maintained between Sealdah and Birati, Barasat and Bongaon and also between Habra and Bongaon while the tracks were blocked.    

Calcutta, May 3 
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has found that the infant involved in the infamous “Eden baby-swap case” was actually changed at the MR Bangur Hospital, in Tollygunge, where it was born, and not in the maternity wing (Eden) of Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, where it had been transferred for treatment.

The CBI, nearing the end of its investigation into the intriguing case, will submit its findings to the high court on Friday.

The detective department of the city police had admitted in court that it had failed to make a breakthrough. The case was then handed over to the CBI about a year ago.

On May 26, 1998, Keya Bhattacharya, a resident of Regent Park, delivered a boy at MR Bangur Hospital. As the baby was premature and required incubation, doctors referred him to Eden Hospital.

As Keya was still recovering, father Anup was almost immediately given the baby, to be taken to Eden.

The CBI has found that this is where the swap took place. Instead of a boy, Anup Bhattacharya was handed over an underweight baby girl.

In his anxiety to reach Eden as fast as he could, Anup did not notice this and gave the baby, swathed in a sheet, to the Medical College nurses on duty who, according to the CBI’s findings, had initially entered the baby as a girl in the register.

“The commotion created at Eden when the baby-swap was discovered by the parents nine days later (during which time the baby was in the incubator) caused the nurses to alter the entry in the register,” said Supradip Roy, Anup’s counsel.

When an FIR at the Bowbazar police station did not yield results, Anup filed a writ in the high court. The case dragged on for several months, during which 23 babies born or admitted at Eden around May 26, were either traced out or exhumed and DNA tests carried out.

The babies’ DNAs were matched with the parents, but at the end of it all, the girl brought into Eden by Anup could not find a match. It was then that the CBI finally thought of checking out the hospital where the baby was born.

All the relatives who had visited MR Bangur Hospital were interrogated to confirm whether a boy had been born to Keya. Then, Anup told the investigators that he had not noticed whether the baby given to him was a boy or girl.

The CBI team now intends to carry out DNA tests on the 35 babies admitted to MR Bangur the day Keya delivered her baby, and their parents.

On Friday, the central investigative agency will seek some more time from the court to carry out these tests. “This will be done to trace the boy once and for all,” said Amit Garg, superintendent of police, CBI.

All through the case, mother Keya has maintained that her son, now nearing his second birthday, is alive, somewhere.    

Calcutta, May 3 
An “ultimatum” from the state government, ordering teachers of Jadavpur University to withdraw their agitation in view of the examinations starting next week, has failed to resolve the ongoing impasse.

The teachers at the university are determined to continue their movement till all their financial demands are met by the government.

They are protesting the state government’s refusal to grant “all financial benefits” to university teachers as recommended by the Central government and the University Grants Commission (UGC) last year.

Following a directive from the state government, the JU vice-chancellor, A N Bose, appealed to the teachers on Wednesday to stop their stir before the exams.

“I appeal to all of you to reconsider the decision of non-cooperation in conducting forthcoming examinations, keeping in view the interest of students, particularly the students of the final year,” the vice-chancellor said a letter to the agitating teachers.

A delegation of JU officials, including the vice-chancellor, the registrar and the deans of the arts, science and engineering faculties, met state higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty to discuss the issue.

The meeting remained inconclusive as the minister is believed to have told the delegation that the state government will not accept the financial demands of the teachers till it received necessary financial grants from the Centre.

Sources at the state higher education department said the possibility of the state government negotiating with the agitating JU teachers was ruled out.

On March 7, the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA) had embarked upon an indefinite work-to-rule movement.

One of the major demands of the teachers is immediate payment of salary arrears for 39 months. JUTA members have boycotted examination duties, stopped setting papers and examining answer scripts, and stayed away from invigilation and administrative meetings since March 7.

As a result of the movement, a number of under-graduate and post-graduate examinations have been affected. If the agitation spills over into the following week, the final year students of the engineering faculty will be the worst hit.

Campus interviews have been conducted and several students have already landed jobs. But they will not be able to join work if exams are not completed within this month.

JUTA, however, is adamant on continuing its movement. “There is no question of withdrawing our agitation at this stage,” said Tarun Naskar, JUTA general secretary.

Naskar said that Centre had already released Rs 103 crore for payment of arrears to the teachers of all state government-funded universities in West Bengal.

“Why is the higher education minister silent about the Rs 103 crore which has already been released to the state government by the Centre?” demanded Naskar.

“We don’t want the students to suffer. It is extremely painful to see the students in trouble. But we are helpless. We have given ample time to the government to consider our demands,” said Naskar.

The members of JUTA have threatened to intensify their movement if the government continues to turn a blind eye to their problems. Teachers will hold a sit-in in front of the Metro station at Esplanade on Thursday.

Flights hit: Non-availability of aircraft delayed three flights of Indian Airlines and its subsidiary, Alliance Air, on Wednesday. The flights were to Agartala, Jaipur and Chennai and the delay ranged up to five hours.    

Calcutta, May 3 
A four-year-old boy of Bijoygarh, in south Calcutta, has been killed after being kidnapped from home recently.

Inspector-in-charge of Jadavpur police station Salil Bhattacharya said the boy, Rajat Garai, was kidnapped from Bijoygarh State General Hospital quarters on April 29.

“He was taken to Lalgola, in Murshidabad, where he was throttled to death on April 30,” Bhattacharya added.

One person has been arrested in this connection.

The police came to know about the incident after the boy’s father, Dilip Garai, a sweeper in the hospital, lodged a ‘missing’ diary with the police station on April 29.

Garai said on Wednesday that his son had been kidnapped by Bhola and then handed over to Uttam, a contract labourer in the hospital complex.

Both Uttam and Bhola used to visit Garai’s quarter regularly. “They used to chat with Rajat. We never suspected anything,” Garai said.

On April 29, Rajat was alone at home when he was kidnapped. “We thought he might have gone out with Uttam,” Rajat’s mother, Anu said. Garai alerted the police station at night.

Investigators said the boy was taken to Lalgola, as one of the kidnapers was a resident of that place.

“We do not think that they kidnapped him for ransom, as Garai is not in a position to pay a huge sum of money,” the police said.

Bhattacharya disclosed that a dispute over an affair between the kidnappers and a woman in the Garai household might have resulted in the murder.

Garia, however, was at a loss to explain any motive behind the kidnapping and killing of his son.    

Calcutta, May 3 
There are a number of discrepancies in the draft voters’ list published by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation(CMC) for the June civic polls, according to Trinamul Congress leaders.

A team of Trinamul functionaries, led by party chairman Pankaj Banerjee, on Wednesday submitted a memorandum to the district magistrate of South 24-Parganas, who is the official in charge of the civic polls.

Apart from the deletion of about 200,000 names from the draft list published by the state Election Commission on January 7, there has been “an arbitrary delimitation” in some wards, the leaders said.

Banerjee showed reporters a list of persons recorded as voters of both ward 13 of Maheshtala municipality and ward 131 of the CMC. The list for ward 94 contains the name of “Russa Road Fourth Lane,” which does not exist. Besides, the names of some voters of ward 121 of the CMC have been detected in the rolls for ward 122.    

Bhubaneswar, May 3 
The spectre of starvation looms large over one million people in cyclone-ravaged coastal Orissa as the United Nations predicts an imminent food crisis.

The UN has expressed deep concern over food scarcity in 14 blocks spread over six districts devastated by the October 29 super cyclone, said Saroj Kumar Jha, a senior official with the United Nations.

The blocks listed as “most vulnerable” include Erasama, Balikuda, Kujang, Mahakalpara, Rajnagar, Astrang, Kakatpur and Rangeilunda.

The blocks, under Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Jajpur, Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts, have a total population of one million.

Jha, who is co-ordinating between different UN agencies working for the rehabilitation of the cyclone victims, said the global agency has asked the state government to set up an “early warning system” to monitor the worsening food crisis.

Minister of state for agriculture Amar Prasad Satpathy said the cyclone destroyed 20 lakh tonnes of paddy and 1 lakh tonne of pulses and oilseeds, valued at Rs 1,318 crore in 14 districts. The crop production was expected to go down substantially this year as well because 47,000 hectares of land had become saline in the coastal area after the cyclone. Another 8,729 hectares were covered in “wind-blown” sand. Satpathy said the state could not avert the food crisis as it produced only half the 8,520 tonnes of foodgrain the government had set as a target last year. He said the government slashed its foodgrain target by nearly 1,000 tonnes this year, keeping in view the “ground reality.”

Six of the 14 affected districts reported a severe deficit in cereals, pulses and oilseed production. While Cuttack and Jagatsinghpur logged a deficit of 84,873 and 77, 095 metric tonnes in cereals respectively, the figures for Jajpur and Kendrapara were 1,00,686 and 68,983 metric tonnes. Kendrapara was the only coastal district to record a deficit of 6,064 metric tonnes in vegetable production as well. The UN, which has already provided the state $18.32 million in cyclone relief, has pledged another $15 million as food aid. The World Food Programme, a UN agency, is shipping 40,000 metric tonne of foodgrain to meet the shortfall, Jha said.

The world body also asked the Centre to provide 4,000 metric tonnes of cereals under the annual quota of foodgrain, the UN received for distribution.

Jha said the hungry coastal districts required 2,00,000 metric tonnes of foodgrain, but the UN alone could not meet the demand. He said the UN asked the donor countries and different aid agencies, including OXFAM, to pitch in.

The Centre has already despatched 90,000 metric tonnes of foodgrain to start the food for work programme in the affected districts. But the grain may not reach the needy because it has to be routed through the gram sabhas under the panchyati raj system, which do not exist in many places, official sources said.

Procuring seeds has become a major problem because whatever the farmers had stocked up were washed away. The UN has asked the government to make the seeds available to the farmers at the earliest. The agriculture minister said the government was making all efforts to procure the seeds and subsidise them to help the farmers tide over the crisis.

In addition, the government was sinking 11,000 tubewells and 50,000 borewells.

It would open 2,000 agro service centres in 14 districts, almost one in every affected gram panchayat. The centres will provide the villages with tractors and other farm machinery on subsidy. The government has sought Rs 40 crore as soft loan from the World Bank to open the centres.    

Agartala, May 3 
Sporadic violence marred the second phase of elections to Tripura’s Autonomous District Council today. No votes were cast in four booths of Amarpur subdivision, state election commissioner Sudhir Sharma said.

Sources said 25 people sustained minor injuries in clashes between CPM and Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura activists. IPFT activists and National Liberation Front of Tripura militants had intimidated voters and rigged elections in at least nine of the 15 constituencies which went to the hustings on Sunday.

“Going by initial reports, the turnout was over 65 per cent. Polling was peaceful, with no major incident being reported in any of the constituencies,” said state election commissioner Sudhir Sharma. The election official said not a single voter turned up at four polling booths under Amarpur subdivision. “They might have stayed away from the booths in response to the call for a boycott by the All-Tripura Tiger Force,” he said.

Sharma also said he was yet to receive any complaint about rigging. However, sources in the CPM said IPFT activists — backed by NLFT militants — captured a polling booth at Killa-Bagma constituency in Udaipur subdivision and six more in Maharani-Chelagang constituency.

Gautam Das, editor of the CPM mouthpiece Daily Desher Katha, said IPFT activists captured 15 booths today. The figure may exceed 15 after we receive reports from North Tripura district,” he said.

Another CPM leader, Bijan Dhar, said his party would demand repolling after receiving “detailed reports” from all the constituencies.

Police sources here said 25 people were injured in three clashes between IPFT and CPM activists. One of these incidents took place at Birchandranagar under Kalsi constituency in Belonia subdivision of South Tripura.

The clash, which broke out at 10.30 am, was the outcome of attempts by a group of IPFT activists to take charge of a polling booth. Altogether 14 people were injured in the fracas. Five of them were admitted to Belonia hospital. Another clash took place at Debdaru in the same constituency. Ten CPM activists were injured in the incident.

An IPFT activist was stabbed in another incident at Aloycherra under Manukankul-Shilacherri constituency in South Tripura district.

Nine abducted

Outlawed militants kept up their offensive during the past 24 hours with spurts of abductions on the eve of the second phase of elections to 12 constituencies of Autonomous District Council (ADC) in the state.

Police recovered the body of a tribal youth, stated to be an IPFT activist, missing since April 30 while altogether nine persons including five school teachers have been kidnapped so far.

Kutum Pada Jamatiya (28) of Daluma village in Amarpur sub-division and an erstwhile ATTF activist, had recently joined IPFT and started campaigning for the party in ADC elections, police sources said.

Peeved at his desertion ATTF militants kidnapped him on April 30 and strangled him to death. His body was recovered from remote Takchhapara area yesterday.

In a separate incident yesterday five community school teachers belonging to the Jamatya community were kidnapped from Bandarghat area under Birganj police station in Amarpur sub-division.

NLFT militants had sent a directive last Sunday to five tribal school teachers — Purnamohan, Nilmoni, Kalamoni, Mantu and Baishalya (all Jamatyas) — in Bandarghat village to meet them in their hideout, police sources said. Accordingly, the teachers went to meet them yesterday but they have not returned home as yet. In another incident, two non-tribal fishermen, Dhirenda Barman and Shyamal Sarkar were abducted at gun-point at around 3.30 p.m. by NLFT militants.    

Silchar, May 3 
A boy was drowned and the Army was placed on “full alert” as the flood situation in south Assam’s Karimganj district looked grim after three days of heavy rainfall.

Over 40,000 people inhabiting the district’s Patherkandi block were swamped by the surging waters of both the Longai and Singla rivers during the past 24 hours.

The rivers are now flowing between 2 metres and 1.2 metres respectively above the danger mark following heavy rains in the catchment areas during the past three days.

Road and train communication between Tripura and the rest of the country had been snapped as the flood waters had inundated large tracts of National Highway 44 and the metre gauge rail track running through Patherkandi block.

The first wave of flood in south Assam this year claimed its first victim yesterday when a 10-year-old boy, Manik Ali, was washed away by the swirling waters of Singla at Khasiatilla village near Ramkrishnanagar town, official sources said today. Manik’s elder brother Khaleque was rescued by villagers.

The waters of the Singla tore through an embankment at Dullavcherra village and flooded a large number of houses in several villages in Ramkrishnanagar circle.

The situation has worsened in Patherkandi block. On Monday night the Longai river started swelling and breached embankments at five places. The district deputy commissioner Longki Phancho, who visited the block yesterday, said arrangements were being made to shift the marooned villagers to safer places. Food relief would be distributed, he added. Many inhabitants of Patherkandi has already shifted to safe areas as the township is reeling under knee-deep flood water.

Though the Barak is also rising and flowing just one metre below the red mark, the authorities are hopeful that no severe damage would be brought to Cachar district as sunny skies greeted them today.

Floods are a recurring feature in the south Assam districts and wreak havoc every year.    


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