Fury over mafia murder
Toll row sparks night of trauma
Governor to meet Jadavpur teachers
Funeral parlour runs into phantom phobia
Free access to data on colleges, trade
Govt to shift offices into highrises at Salt Lake
Chowdhury cortege
Militants kill CPM leader
Fresh initiative to resolve N-E border dispute
Jobless Assam jumbos up for sale

Calcutta, May 8 
The police fought pitched battles with anti-socials for over four hours in different parts of Behala, New Alipore and Taratala on Monday morning, after a local underworld chieftain patronised by the Trinamul Congress was shot dead by members of a rival gang.

At around 9 am, Chandan Basu, alias Baban, a local mafia leader, was shot dead from point-lank range just as he was emerging from his restaurant on James Long Sarani.

As news spread, hundreds of anti-socials, armed with guns, sticks, iron rods and bricks, smashed up vehicles and bashed up policemen on Taratala Road, Tollygunge Circular Road, Diamond Harbour Road and James Long Sarani.

The rampaging mob did not even spare women and children passing in cars through the busy Taratala and Diamond Harbour Road areas.

A handful of policemen watched helplessly as hooligans forced people out of their cars at gun-point and then damaged the vehicles. The mob also stormed residential apartments in the area and warned people against coming out of their houses.

Policemen from adjoining police stations as well as the Rapid Action Force had to battle with the mob till about 1.30 pm, before normalcy was restored in the area.

Police later said 25 vehicles, including cars, lorries and buses, were damaged. Four policemen were beaten up and had to be hospitalised.

Roadblocks set up by the supporters of Baban on Diamond Harbour Road, Tollygunge Circular Road, Taratala Road and James Long Sarani cut off these areas from the rest of the city for several hours.

“Such violence is only to be expected,” said Uttam Sardar, a close associate of Baban. “After the manner in which Dada was killed, all his supporters just went berserk.”

Uttam said he had just returned from the local market with goods for Baban’s restaurant, Panchali, when he suddenly heard two shots.

Rushing from the kitchen, he saw Baban lying in a heap near the front door with blood oozing from his head.

Another associate of Baban, Binod Biswas, who was sweeping the floor near the front door, said two youth put a revolver to his head and asked him to look the other way. Binod only noticed the two killers running towards a lane opposite the restaurant.

“They then pumped bullets into Dada’s head,” he said. But Biswas, too, claimed that he had not see the killers. “I ran for my life, as that was more important for me than identifying them,’’ he said.

Baban’s henchmen soon arrived on the spot and refused to let the police remove the body. Then, they went on the rampage.

As Baban’s supporters took to the streets, an unsuspecting Chaitali and Chanchal Saha were passing through Tollygunge Circular Road in their car along with their three-year-old son.

As their car neared the Taratala crossing, scores of youth surrounded their car and began banging on the doors and windows. They then forced Saha, along with his petrified wife and son, out of the car. The car was smashed to pulp.

Baban’s mother, Sati Bose, alleged that he was killed by his rivals Sashan Jana, Loton Basu, Swapan Basu and Santosh Adak.    

Calcutta, May 8 
A professor of a state college, also the son of a senior CPI leader, was beaten up by policemen on Sunday night on Vidyasagar Setu and detained overnight at Hastings police station when he refused to pay “an exorbitant sum as toll tax” demanded by them,and then tried to stop them from harassing his wife.

A complaint detailing the incident is being lodged with the state human rights commission by Subhrangsu Bhattacharya, son of state CPI secretariat member Satya Bhattacharya. He also alleged that the Hastings police station has refused to accept an FIR in this regard.

Subhrangsu said he was travelling in a taxi along the second Hooghly bridge, along with his wife and another couple, on the night of his wedding anniversary.

As they approached the toll plaza, they decided to turn back towards the city.

At this point, they were stopped by a police patrol and ordered to cross the toll plaza. The policemen also demanded Rs 50 as toll tax, as opposed to the actual amount of Rs 5, said Subhrangsu.

“When we refused to pay, the police grabbed me and my friend by our shirt collars and dragged us out. We were shocked to find that they were also pulling at the saris of our wives,” he recounted.

“We protested vehemently but the police began to beat us on the bridge. They turned a deaf ear to our demand for policewomen and, instead, charged us with ‘immoral activities’ and forced us to go to Hastings police station,” he added.

“We felt so helpless and did not know what to do. The policemen just went on abusing us,” said Surangama, Subhrangsu’s wife.

At Hastings thana, when Subhrangsu and his friend wanted to know the charges levelled against them, duty officer S.A. Dayan, apparently, started beating them up with a baton.

By this time, Subhrangsu was bleeding profusely. He was taken to Sambhunath Pandit Hospital, where he refused first-aid.

A nightlong ordeal awaited him at the thana. “I was overcome with pain and fatigue when I returned to the police station. We were all made to sit huddled on a bench, with neither food nor any drinking water,” he said.

They were finally allowed to leave at around 5 am on Monday, but not before the policemen had extracted from them a “written apology for misbehaving with the police”.

From the police station, Subhrangsu, his wife and friends went to Sambhunath Pandit Hospital, where he was examined and treated. He is presently recovering at home.

Jayanta Das, officer-in-charge of Hastings police station, claimed that the police had not beaten up Subhrangsu and his friend but had only asked them to pay the toll tax, which they had refused to.

“They provoked the police by accusing them of being inactive. They even threatened to snatch my officers’ caps,” Das said, adding that he will submit a report to deputy commissioner of police, south division, Ranjit Pachnanda, on the incident shortly.    

Calcutta, May 8 
As the two-month-long impassé at Jadavpur University shows no signs of resolving, West Bengal Governor Viren Shah, who is also the university’s chancellor, has taken the initiative to settle the matter “once and for all”.

Raj Bhavan sources said Shah has cancelled all prior engagements to hold an emergency meeting with members of the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA) on Wednesday.

For the past two months, Jadavpur University teachers have resorted to a work-to-rule to protest the state government’s “failure” to implement the revised pay-scales for university teachers, as recommended by the Centre and the University Grants Commission.

As a part of their movement, they have not been setting question papers or examining answer scripts. They have also been boycotting invigilation duties during examinations.

The Governor is particularly concerned as the teachers’ movement has led to the postponement of several major examinations. This could affect the academic careers of a large number of students of the university.

“We now hope the Chancellor’s intervention will finally resolve the dispute,” said Tarun Naskar, general secretary of JUTA, adding: “We are ready to sit with the government for an amicable settlement of the crisis. But the problem lies in the government’s adamant attitude. This is only compounding the problem.”

Sources said the Chancellor has reportedly sought an explanation from state higher education department officials for their delay in sending a reply to a note concerning the teachers’ demands. The note was sent to the education department from the Governor’s office in March.

This was after a JUTA delegation submitted a memorandum to the Governor on March 13, in which they urged him to take necessary steps to resolve the crisis soon so that the examinations did not get delayed.

Sources in the state education department said that the matter had been discussed in great detail by the officials and the minister concerned and most of the teachers’ demands will, in all probability, be met.

“It is a two-way process,” said an official. “The state government faces a funds crunch and the teachers, too, should try and accommodate some of our problems.” He said on earlier occasions, talks with JUTA had failed because it refused to “budge from its stand.”

JUTA officials asserted that they were only demanding their dues. “We just want implementation of the Centre’s recommendation and nothing more,” a JUTA official said. “So we are being extremely reasonable.”    

Calcutta, May 8 
The Marxist in mayor Prasanta Chatterjee cannot let him be superstitious but even he surrenders to phasmophobic women and children.

Phasmophobia — fear of ghosts — runs so high among the denizens of Jannagar Road, in Beniapukur, that Chatterjee has asked the corporation to shelve its plan to build a funeral parlour in the area. The parlour — a cold storage where bodies can be kept in controlled temperature before being cremated — was to come up on 2, Crematorium Street. “I don’t believe in phantoms, though I loved the character in the comic strips,” Chatterjee said. But, in Beniapukur, such mayoral disbelief in the supernatural cuts no ice.

Local people did not raise a hue and cry at first when work on the parlour began six months ago. They were under the impression that the corporation was building a health clinic. But the moment they heard what the structure and the beds inside it were meant for, Jannagar Road’s inhabitants, led by women and children, turned ghost-busters and decided to exorcise the house of the dead from their neighbourhood.

“We are afraid of ghosts. How can we sleep in peace if a dozen dead bodies are lying on the other side of the wall?” nagged Birju, Firoz, Arif, Shibu and Shamim, children of the locality. Radha, a housewife, said : “We were not afraid when bodies were burnt here. But if this is to be a place for the dead, our para will be haunted before long.”

If it had been built, the Rs 10-lakh structure would have been the first such facility sponsored by the civic authority. There are three private parlours in Calcutta.

The facility was being built beside a 125- year-old gas-fired crematorium at Beniapukur, close to Nonapukur tram depot. The gas crematorium itself was the first of its kind in the country. It went out of service in 1975, after electric crematoria were commissioned at Nimtala and Keoratala burning ghats.

Sheikh Bakul, a member of the CPM local committee, said party leaders, including councillor Sayeeduddin Ahmed, who is also member, mayor-in-council (bustee), misled residents into believing that a hospital was being built. “We have met him and the mayor in a deputation and demanded an immediate halt on construction,” Bakul said.

The women and children are so paranoid that they now physically prevent work on the site, forcing the corporation to put it on hold, after spending more than Rs 1.5 lakh.

Recently, the corporation took delivery of an iron container with shelves on which the bodies were to be laid. But the civic authorities have not dared to keep the container in the compound of the gas crematorium.

The huge container was finally sent to Tallah pumping station. It is now rusting close to the 10-million-gallon underground reservoir.

The mayor said local councillor Sayeeduddin has since advised him to bury the scheme. “However, I have asked the chief engineer (project and development), Nilangshu Bose, to find an alternative site as MPs like Ajit Panja and Chandrakala Pande have sanctioned Rs 10 lakh for the facility,” he added.

But even that is proving to be difficult. Bose said the corporation tried shifting the parlour to the Hindu burial ground at Topsia but even there, local people did not allow it.    

Calcutta, May 8 
Information at your fingertips. That’s what the Calcutta Information Centre is promising by setting up an “info-kiosk”, enabling people to access information and guidelines on various government departments.

The info-kiosk will be equipped with a touch-screen computer and made available to the public free. One will just have to touch an icon to access data and information, ranging from education to industry.

The Calcutta Information Centre, located in the Rabindra Sadan-Nandan complex, is a favourite haunt of students, mainly college-goers. “These young people will mainly be using the info-kiosk to plan for the future,” a state information department official said.

The information, collected and put together with the help of the Regional Computer Centre, located on the Jadavpur University campus, will be loaded into the computer once it is procured.

The public will have information, for instance, relating to college, university and institutes ranging from the arts, medicine and technical specialities.

“Admission procedures, formats of forms, dates for application will be available in the touch-screen info-kiosk,” explained A.K. Deb, principal secretary to the chief minister.

The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) will also provide its database on projects and industrial incentives for the facility.

“One will have the luxury of downloading information from the kiosk without having to make the rounds of the department,” Deb said.

He added that the data stored in the computer will be updated frequently, so that the public gets the latest information.

Downloading data in the form of printouts and ‘floppies’ will entail a charge. The no-profit, no-loss charges will be fixed soon.

The state government had been toying with the idea of an info-kiosk for some time but had put off its installation, fearing there would be no takers.

With a steady rise in Internet use in the city, the information department now feels that the kiosk will be popular.

As an added attraction, the information department has decided to provide Internet access at the kiosk.

There will be a couple of multi-media terminals which will have Internet browsing capabilities.

The department has fixed a tentative charge of Rs 30 for an hour’s browsing and Rs 50 an hour for sending e-mail. The same computers can be used to view informative CD-Roms.

The kiosk might be expanded if it proves to be a major hit. With many students accessing information to study abroad, or even checking up on results over the Internet, the info-kiosk seems set to strike the right key.    

Calcutta, May 8 
The government has decided to bring all its departments, functioning out of rented houses in and around the city, under two roofs.

A plot, measuring about 10 acres, has been identified in Salt Lake, where the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) will build two multi-storeyed complexes to accommodate all urban development departments and CMDA offices.

“The buildings will have all infrastructural facilities. A number of departments can be accommodated there. Premises will also be allotted to some big industrial houses and multinational companies,’’ said urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya.

“We have started preliminary work and construction will begin after the monsoon,’’ said a senior CMDA official.

The government agency will bear the construction cost initially, but the departments taking up possession will have to foot the bill later.

“There are a number of departments functioning from private houses, for which the government has to pay crores by way of rent. Also, departments like urban development, transport and forest, are scattered all over the city, impeding smooth functioning. The proposed complex will help cut down recurring costs and minimise functional problems,” said an officer from the finance department.

The government had earlier decided that no land in the township will be distributed to any individual for either residential or commercial purposes.

“Instead of allotting plots, we shall provide ready flats and office space. We shall build residential and office complexes and sell the property by lottery. We have started construction of two housing complexes and we shall soon start work on the office complex,’’ Bhattacharya said.

According to the minister, the infrastructure in “eco-friendly” Salt Lake is “far better” than any other part of the city. Bhattacharya said a number of projects had, therefore, been adopted to provide better amenities in the township, which is turning into the hub of development.    

Calcutta, May 8 
The body of Benoy Chowdhury will be handed over to NRS Medical College Hospital on Tuesday “for medical research”.

The former minister and CPM Politburo member, who died on Saturday at SSKM Hospital, had pledged his eyes and his body. The CPM has organised a condolence rally on Tuesday. It will set off from SSKM Hospital with Chowdhury’s body around 8.30 am and reach NRS Hospital by afternoon.

The procession will pass along AJC Bose Road, SN Banerjee Road, Rani Rashmoni Road, Council House Street, BBD Bag, Lenin Sarani and Moulali. There will be three stopovers — at the CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street, the Assembly, and Writers’ Buildings — to allow people to pay homage to the leader.

The government has declared a half-holiday on Tuesday at all its offices and establishments.    

Agartala, May 8 
National Liberation Front of Tripura militants shot dead three persons, including a CPM leader, and abducted a nine-year-old boy in separate incidents in the state over the past 24 hours. Five NLFT conduits were also arrested yesterday.

Police sources said a group of NLFT militants raided CPM leader Chintaharan Chowdhury’s house at Simsima under Udaipur police station in South Tripura late last night and abducted him and his youngest grandson Bhulon Chowdhury. Hearing the boy’s cries for help, other members of the family rushed to his help, but the militants opened fire to keep them at bay. Chowdhury’s eldest grandson Gouranga Chowdhury was seriously injured in the firing.

Besides abducting Chowdhury and his grandson, the militants took away six heads of cattle from the CPM leader’s backyard. After travelling a short distance, the rebels shot dead Chowdhury and disappeared into the jungles with his grandson.

Three of the stolen cows were recovered today and two persons arrested on suspicion of helping the militants. Earlier, Assam Rifles personnel arrested five NLFT “collaborators” from Jirania and Sidhai.

In another incident yesterday, NLFT militants hacked to death Nandalal Debbarma, a tribal CPM activist, at Goyangfang village under Kalyanpur police station in West Tripura. Police sources said the militants killed Debbarma because he defied their diktat not to help any CPM candidate in the recently-held Autonomous District Council elections. Niranjan De, a retired government employee, was shot dead by another group of NLFT militants in the same area at 11.30 pm.

After three days of wrangling, the Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura (IPFT) members of Autonomous District Council elected Debabrato Koloi as the chief executive member (CEM).

IPFT president Harinath Debbarma today announced Koloi’s nomination to the post.

A delegation of party leaders and district council members will meet Governor Siddheswar Prasad and chief executive officer of ADC M. Nagaraju tomorrow.

Sridam Debbarma was also a candidate for the chief executive member’s post. However, Koloi’s seniority, experience and contribution to the formation of IPFT decided the issue in his favour.

A former youth leader of TUJS, Debabrato Koloi left the party in 1983 following differences with the leadership. He formed the now-defunct Tripura Hill Peoples Party (THPP) and became a legislator with Left Front support in 1993.

He formed the IPFT in 1997 and represented the party in a number of international fora.    

Shillong, May 8 
Meghalaya chief minister E.K. Mawlong and his Assam counterpart Prafulla Kumar Mahanta will make a joint visit to the “disputed” border areas of the two states on Thursday to resolve the 27-year-old imbroglio.

Earlier, both the chief ministers were scheduled to visit the disputed areas of Block I and II of Karbi Anglong district on April 28. But the visit was shelved after the Northeast chief ministers’ conference was postponed.

“Both the chief ministers will visit Khanduli and its nearby areas and try to resolve the issue,” Meghalaya chief secretary J.P. Singh told The Telegraph this morning. “If the weather permits, both chief ministers may also visit some disputed areas in Ri Bhoi district.”

The two chief ministers, after their first meeting in Guwahati on March 15, had agreed to resolve the border imbroglio through “mutual co-operation” and had decided to jointly visit the disputed areas to bring an end to the debate at the earliest.

Singh said the records available with the state revenue department and Blocks I and II have “always” been under Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya and were “temporarily” transferred to Assam.

Singh met his Assam counterpart P.K. Bora on April 19 at Khanduli to discuss the boundary issue. While both the chief ministers are trying to resolve the dispute, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council has expressed “great concern” over the arbitrary move of the Assam police to dismantle two toll gates near Guwahati on April 19.

In addition to dismantling the two KHADC gates at Maikhuli and Barapethar, it has also alleged that Assam policemen had destroyed another checkgate of the Syiem of Mylliem. The district council complained that both the checkgates were in Meghalaya and the Assam police had overstepped their jurisdiction by dismantling the gates.

Mawlong had also taken up the checkgate issue during his meeting with Mahanta in Guwahati on April 22 and both the chief ministers had decided to resolve the crisis “amicably.”

Tight security arrangements are being made at Khanduli for the proposed visit of the chief ministers. Sources in the state secretariat said all arrangements have also been made for the landing of helicopters.    

Jorhat, May 8 
Some sell jobs. Mitharam Sonowal sells those who need jobs. In other words, he sells the “unemployed” to those who have jobs. Yes, Sonowal’s business is big. As big as the elephants he deals with.

Following the Supreme Court ban, which prohibited felling and movement of timber in the Northeast, Sonowal hit on this novel idea about how to sell elephants which found themselves jobless since then. The court ban may come as a boon for environmentalists but hundreds of elephants involved with the timber industry have been left without a job.

“I buy elephants from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and sell them at the Sonepur cattle fair,” says Sonowal, who had returned from a recent trip to Bihar. He sold 11 elephants during his last visit to Sonepur.

The going rate for elephants at the Sonepur market, it is learnt, is about Rs 2 lakh. “It is not hard to find elephants in this part of the country, especially after the court order. Owners approach me on their own,” says Sonowal.

This is because the owners are at their wits end to meet the daily expenses of the idle pachyderms. While at work, an elephants earns anything between Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 per day.

“I have to spend nearly Rs 300 everyday for the upkeep of my elephants. I cannot afford it any longer and so have decided to sell them,” rues Phatik Mahanta, owner of three elephants.

The forest department here is bombarded with applications seeking permission to sell elephants. Dhaniram Bora, (another owner), however, continues to hope that the ban will one day be lifted and his elephants will go back to work.

“Maintaining them is expensive. Still, I can’t think of selling my elephants. They have been with me for years,” he says.

He admits, though, that if it takes too long for the ban to be withdrawn, then he, too, may be forced to sell his herd. “That will be the saddest moment in my life,” he adds.

More than 500 domestic elephants have already been sold — out of about 1,000 — by their owners in the state since the animals went out of work.

A forest department official says these days elephants are hardly captured since there is no work for them. Citing the instance of the Meleng Reserve Forest near here, the official says the last count had seen 29 elephants in the 19 square km area.

“The density is too high by an elephant’s normal requirement of 10 square km space. Consequently, they spill over into human habitat and cause problems,” he adds.

The unique art of catching and taming a wild elephant in Assam also runs the risk of dying “due to lack of practice”.

While elephants are tranquilised and caught in most parts of the world, in Assam trained persons, called phandis, ride on domesticated elephants and catch wild ones “live”.

But, as they say, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. And Mitharam Sonowal has certainly got a meaty business in hand.    


Maintained by Web Development Company