Blood flows in cable TV turf war
Cooking gas to drive cars from June
Sarada Math pravrajika passes away
Rs 1.5 crore to spruce up Sarovar
Hooghly to quench arsenic zone thirst
Summer break in teacher stir
Needy CMC to rent out its buildings for weddings
Assam, Meghalaya CMs tour ‘disputed’ border
Bandh paralyses life in east, Sikkim normal
Ethnic tension in Mizoram

Calcutta, May 11 
There’s blood on the cable TV network. And it’s not on AXN.

Gang wars over “territory rights” among cable TV distributors has claimed at least five lives in the past 15 days, mostly on the southern fringes of the city, marked by new buildings and new cable connections.

Police said this trade, which runs into crores of rupees, is increasingly being controlled by underworld chieftains, who keep encroaching into each other’s “territories”, sparking bloody battles for the skies.

Investigators disclosed on Thursday that the killing of Baban, a mafia don of Behala, who was shot dead from point-blank range in front of his restaurant on James Long Sarani on Tuesday, was a fallout of this cable TV rivalry.

Baban was trying to corner connections in the New Alipore-S.N. Roy Road area, which is controlled by ‘Kanthal’ Pulak.

Criminal Investigation Department officials, who are also probing the cable distribution racket, said that a criminal duo, Guddu and Raj Kumar, who controlled the cable TV distribution network in the Tollygunge-Behala area, especially near Siriti crematorium, were murdered about 10 days ago.

Two other crimelords in the same business in the Thakurpukur-Joka belt were also killed recently.

“We have found that these men were trying to drive out some other operators from the area,” said additional superintendent of police S.N. Gupta. “The money is good in this trade, so everyone is trying to have as much of the pie as possible. This is precisely what is leading to the clashes.”

Sources in the trade said that there are about 10,000 cable TV distributors in the city and those involved in the gang rivalry are mainly concentrated in the southern fringes in the city.

Local operators fix their own jurisdiction arbitrarily, after tying up with one of the two multi-system operators, RPG Netcom and Siti Cable, which beam the signals.

“We only beam signals through cables to the control rooms of the distributors, who then pass it on to individual homes,” said Prabir Bose, chief executive officer of RPG Netcom.

“But we have nothing to do with the jurisdiction of the distributors. That they fix after consultations among themselves,” he added.

A senior official of Siti Cable said that connections had grown at a “tremendous rate” in Behala, Jadavpur, Thakurpukur, Regent Park, Joka and the surrounding areas in recent months.

Sources said that each cable TV distributor connects about 200 to 400 homes in his area, depending upon the population there. The charges vary from Rs 125 to Rs 150 per connection per month.

The police initially thought that the recent killings in the Behala area were due to routine gang rivalry. But interrogation of those arrested has revealed that “territorial disputes” over TV rights were the main reason behind it.

“It was Mahesh Sharma, arrested recently on charges of murdering Guddu in Siriti, who first revealed how cable TV wars have led to the killings,” said a police official. “Once our line of investigation became clear, everything else started falling into place.”

However, Tarak Saha, president of the Federation of Cable TV Operators, denied that local criminals have slowly penetrated the business.

“There may be some problems over jurisdiction at the local level, but we have not received any complaints over the local mafia throwing their weight around,’’ he said.

A close associate of Saha, unwilling to be quoted, voiced a different opinion: “There are reports that cable operators are taking help from local crimelords to penetrate their rival’s territory. In a recent meeting in south Calcutta, we have urged the operators to show restraint.’’    

Calcutta, May 11 
Filling up ‘gas’ might never be the same again.

The state government is all set to introduce liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in automobiles by the end of June. The decision was taken in a meeting, involving transport and environment officials, at Writers’ Buildings.

At present, some private cars are using subsidised cooking gas as fuel, though the existing Motor Vehicles Act says vehicles will run on petrol and diesel. Environment minister Manab Mukherjee said: “To enforce the new system, the Central Motor Vehicles Act will have to be amended and we expect the legal formalities to be completed within a month.”

Though the state has been advocating “clean and economical” LPG for some time, the move has gathered momentum after Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad introduced LPG- powered vehicles.

Initially, the new system will be applied to four-wheelers (a million cars and taxis) and then gradually extended to all kinds of vehicles. To run vehicles on LPG, a special kit will have to be fitted and a pipeline fixed through which the gas will reach the engine. The Italian kit costs Rs 12,000, while an Indian make is priced at Rs 9,000. Rs 2,000 is required for the pipeline and “LPG-fixing”.

“Though a car owner will have to invest Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000 at one go, he will gain in the long run, because LPG will give more mileage and protect the engine better than petrol and diesel. It will also be clean and environment-friendly,’’ said Kalyan Bhadra, secretary general of Automobile Association of Eastern India.

LPG cylinders will be placed on a fixed stand in the boot of a car, at an angle of 45 degrees. For buses and trucks, the cylinder will be placed under the rear portion of the vehicle.

Once the system is developed, and the vehicles modified, the gas will be filled up in a specially-built tank in the vehicle itself. The gas will be stored in a large tank in petrol pumps. Six petrol pumps in the city have been earmarked as ‘gas stations’.

Area manager of Indian Oil (LPG) T K Pradhan said: “There will be no shortage of gas for running vehicles as there is a sufficient supply of LPG.”

But won’t the 5,00,000 cylinders required every week for four wheelers alone eat into the cooking gas stocks? “The kitchen comes first, then the car. We shall introduce the system only after being assured that there is no shortage of cooking gas,’’ said transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.

Warning of probable ‘risks’, automobile technologist SM Ghosh said: “An LPG-operated vehicle should maintain a minimum speed of 40 km per hour to ensure complete combustion and no emission. When the cylinder is not full, dust and other foreign particles will enter the engine. And if the ride is bumpy, there is always the danger of the pipe-joints snapping, causing a leak.”

In Delhi, Union deputy petroleum minister E. Punnuswami said: “We are determined to introduce LPG in automobiles not just to obey a Supreme Court order but also for the sake of environment and petroleum conservation.”    

Calcutta, May 11 
Pravrajika Dayaprana Mataji, senior vice-president of Sri Sarada Math and the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, passed away in Calcutta on Wednesday. She was 87.

Born Gouri Das Gupta in 1913 at Kalna village, in erstwhile East Bengal, her father, Sri Binodeswar Das Gupta, was a well-known devotee of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. She had her initiation from Swami Subhodananda, one of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, and joined Sister Nivedita School as a worker in 1946.

She was initiated into Brahmacharya in 1953 by Srimat Swami Shankarananda Maharaj, the then President of Ramakrishna Order, in the old shrine of Belur Math. The Pravrajika received sanyasa from him at Belur Math in 1959, along with seven others, forming the first batch of sanyasinis of the Ramakrishna Order. She was elected one of the trustees by the Belur Math authorities when it was given independent status in 1959.

She became a member of the governing body of the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission when it was founded in May 1960. She was the vice-president of the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission since 1973.

Basu-PM meet

Chief minister Jyoti Basu will meet Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on May 16. Finance minister Asim Dasgupta will accompany him. Basu will demand allocation of Central funds to check Ganga-Padma erosion and revival of sick industries.    

Calcutta, May 11 
Rabindra Sarovar, the city’s largest wetland, is getting a facelift. The Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT) has taken up a Rs 1.54-crore scheme for the “revitalisation and beautification” of the area, popularly known as the Dhakuria lakes.

The move is the outcome of a High Court Green Bench directive to the CIT, the agency that takes care of the sprawling waterbody and open space, to preserve and improve its environment.

Mamata Banerjee has contributed Rs 10 lakh as South Calcutta MP from her local area development fund. With the CMDA contributing just Rs 4 lakh, CIT will foot the bulk of the beautification bill.

The total area of the lakes and the surrounding greens is more than 500 bighas, of which 100 bighas are covered by water.

There are two islands in the lakes and the vast area remains open round the clock.

“With our limited financial capacity, we have just flagged off the facelift programme. A complete beautification and preservation scheme will need no less than Rs 5 crore,” said CIT chief engineer PR Das.

“Work, which has already started, is likely to be completed before the Pujas. And once the Lake Gardens flyover is finished, the whole area will wear a new look,” explained deputy chief engineer A.K. Das, in charge of the lakes.

For the moment, a 600-metre brick-paved jogging track will be laid. Pedestrian pathways will also be paved and pipes laid to divert waste water that drains into the lakes in the monsoon. The embankment will be reinforced to check erosion.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has offered assistance to develop Rabindra Sarovar. Concerned over the rapid destruction of the city’s bio-diversity caused by decades of unplanned urbanisation, the bank, in the first phase, has plans to improve the environment of Rabindra Sarovar and Subhas Sarovar in east Calcutta.

Embankments will be strengthened and washing of clothes and utensils and bathing in the waters of the lakes will be banned.

A five-member ADB team, led by Graham Jackson, on a visit last year, had expressed interest in developing the lake areas in the city. The bank is ready to pump in Rs 1.5 crore for this.    

Calcutta, May 11 
The state government has taken up an ambitious Rs 233-crore scheme to supply drinking water from the Hooghly to the arsenic-affected areas on the southern fringes of Calcutta and a large part of South 24-Parganas.

The project is, so far, the biggest taken up by the state government to check arsenic contamination and it will benefit 26 lakh people in an area of over 1,000 square kilometre, from Budge Budge in the west to Bhangar, near Rajarhat, in the east.

Six lakh people in Baruipur and Sonarpur under the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), too, will benefit.

“The project will completely eliminate the menace of arsenic as we have gone for river water as the source instead of ground water,” said R.K. Tripathi, Public Health Engineering (PHE) secretary.

The scheme, expected to be partially implemented by the end of this year, is being funded jointly by the state and Central governments.

The Centre has agreed to provide 75 per cent of the funds for the scheme expected to be complete by next year.

“According to reports drawn up by government-appointed expert committees in 1991, 1992 and 1994, the second aquifer of the soil in the areas of the city’s southern fringes, like Budge Budge, Baruipur and Sonarpur and other adjoining areas, are rich in arsenic. So we felt the need to try and bring in water from some surface source like river water,” said a senior PHE officer.

The PHE carried out a feasibility study and decided that water could be brought from the Hooghly river from Dakshin Raipur in Budge Budge. The jetty for the water intake is being constructed by the BBJ.

Then the water would be treated and filtered nearby at a PHE-designed plan, now being set up by the National Building Construction Company (NBCC).

Once complete, the plant will have the capacity to treat over 162 million litres per day. The quantum of daily water supply to the arsenic-affected areas has been estimated at 135 million litres per day.    

Calcutta, May 11 
The Association of Teachers of Anglo-Indian Schools in West Bengal has decided to protest the refusal of Church of North India (CNI) authorities to implement a pay hike for them, as recommended by the Fourth Pay Commission.

The teachers will organise a convention after the summer holidays to chalk out the course of action to press for their demands, P.G. Dutta, association president, said on Thursday.

Most of the nine CNI schools in Calcutta had chosen not to implement the revised pay-scales.

“We are still prepared to sit with the school heads and the Church authorities for an amicable solution of the dispute, but they have shown little interest,” Dutta said.

The crisis took a turn for the worse last week after a meeting between the Church authorities and representatives of the CNI school teachers fell through.

La Martiniere talks

Meanwhile, the management of La Martiniere for Boys and La Martiniere for Girls will sit for a second round of discussions with the teachers on Friday for settlement of some long-standing financial demands.

There was tension at the two schools on Wednesday as members of the staff association met the management and demanded immediate action on their demands.

S. Francis, vice-principal of the boys’ school, said: “The teachers came to meet the authorities to express their feelings about the present pay-scales offered to them. The heads of the schools have placed their views before the board of governors.”    

Calcutta, May 11 
Under pressure from international funding agencies to mobilise its own resources and put an indirect check on the skyrocketing rent of houses let out for marriages in the city, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has decided to enter into the business itself. The civic body will rent out its premises to people for ceremonies and parties.

For starters, the CMC is renovating the five-bigha compound that used to be the quarters of the chief engineer of the Entally workshop at 6, Convent Road, in Moulali. The single-storey building, in Gothic style, is more than a century old and has an Italian marble floor.

The 2000-sq-ft dining hall is large enough for social gatherings. Besides, it has a sprawling front garden where guests can socialise. To top it all, it has a metalled road and can accommodate at least 20 cars. “The current market price for such a building in the city is about Rs 1 lakh a day,” said mayor Prasanta Chatterjee.

District conservancy officer Swapan Mahapatra said the residence of the former Maharaja of Nadia on Bright Street, which is much smaller than the Convent Road building, was rented out at the rate of Rs 30,000 a day. “We have to think about harnessing our resources, otherwise the survival of the institution will be at stake,” Chatterjee said.

“However, we won’t charge as much as private building-owners. As the city’s civic authorities, we have a responsibility towards the people,” he added. The CMC office of Ward No. 32 is being rented out for social occasions and is earning well.

According to a CMC estimate, about 1,100 houses in the city are let out for holding ceremonies. There were about two dozen air-conditioned halls rented out on a daily basis. Some of them do not even have a trade licence. Their daily charges vary between Rs 10,000 and Rs 1.5 lakh.

As there was no ceiling on the rates charged by private owners, the middle class and the lower middle class found it difficult to hire such premises, said municipal commissioner Asim Barman. He has directed borough executive engineers to submit a list of CMC buildings in their areas which could be rented out as marriage houses at a moderate rate.    

Shillong, May 11 
Meghalaya chief minister E.K. Mawlong and his Assam counterpart Prafulla Kumar Mahanta today made a joint visit to Khanduli for an “on-the-spot” survey of the disputed boundary areas between the two neighbouring states.

After the visit, both chief ministers told newsmen at the Air Force helipad in Upper Shillong that both states have decided to resolve the decades-old issue through “mutual co-operation”.

The Meghalaya government and various organisations have been insisting that block I and II areas near Khanduli have “always” been under Jaintia Hills district and temporarily transferred to Karbi Anglong district of Assam. Those, therefore, should be handed back.

The Meghalaya chief minister was accompanied by leader of the Opposition D.D. Lapang, senior partyman and legislator H.S. Lyngdoh and government officials. Mahanta’s entourage included state power and hill areas development minister Hitendranath Goswami, transport minister Pradip Hazarika and revenue commissioner C.K. Das.

“We sincerely want to resolve the problem,” Mahanta said. Both chief ministers, after their first bilateral meeting in Guwahati on March 15, had agreed to “mutually” resolve the border imbroglio for early settlement of the issue. “Today’s joint visit is a continuation of that meeting,” Mahanta said.

He said the officials of the Survey of India, governments of Assam and Meghalaya, will soon go on a fact-finding mission to the disputed areas. The survey will be taken up on a war-footing for an early settlement of the issue, he said.

“We will meet again after the completion of the survey and decide how to resolve the issue,” the Assam chief said. He, however, refused to specify the total area under dispute saying, “Let the survey report come out first.”

Mahanta also refused to set any time frame for completion of the survey. “It will be jointly conducted by the officials, so, let us hope that they will complete the job at the earliest,” he said.

In addition to the dispute in the block I and II areas, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council had alleged that Assam police had dismantled two of its toll gates at Maikhuli and Barapathar villages in Ri Bhoi district near Guwahati on April 19.    

May 11 
The 18-hour statewide bandh called by the Manipur Platform for Mass Organisation has paralysed normal life in Manipur. The organisation called the bandh in response to the countrywide strike called by the Nationwide Platform for Mass Organisation in protest against price rise and cuts in fertiliser subsidy.

The organisation, which is a part of the National Platform for Mass Organisation, however, included certain demands relevant to the state while calling the bandh.

The charges against the state government include failure to evolve a concrete economic policy, deteriorating law and order situation, unhealthy academic atmosphere and existing black laws.

The organisation has demanded removal of black laws, improvement of the state’s economy, making education a fundamental right and improvement of law and order situation.

The bandh affected functioning of banks, central and state government offices. Shops remained closed and inter-district transport paralysed.

Life was also disrupted in Orissa today as shops and business establishments remained closed and private and state owned buses were off the roads.

Though all the offices were open, most of the employees did not report for duty.

Train services were partially affected as most of the long-distance trains were either cancelled or detained at various stations.

A report from Cuttack said the 202 down Howrah-Puri passenger was cancelled. The 6003 Madras-Howrah mail was detained at Chhatrapur, the 2704 Sucendrabad-Howrah Faluknama Express at Palasa, 8448 Rourkela-Bhubaneswar-Hirakud Express at Berhampur, 7046 Hyderabad-Howrah East Coast Express at Cuttack, 2842 Coromandel Express and 5623 Cochin-Guwahati Express was detained at Bhadrak.

The 281 Dhauli Up and the 2815 Puri-New Delhi Neelachal Express did not leave Howrah and Puri respectively.

In Orissa, the CPI, CPM and the Janata Dal (Secular) extended support to the bandh. Police have been deployed at various places to maintain law and order.

No untoward incidents were reported from any part of the state.

Gangtok unaffected

Sikkim today remained largely unaffected by the nationwide strike called by the Left trade unions and 56 mass organisations today. All state government institutions, schools and business establishments remained open and vehicular traffic plied normally during the day, official sources said.

Almost all the central government offices functioned as usual. However, banks, LIC, post and telecom offices remained closed. Although public buses and taxis plied inside the state, those going out remained off the road.

Ranchi ceasework: The Ranchi unit of the Bihar Administrative Service Association (Basa) is on a three-day pen down strike to protest against the arrest of senior executive magistrate Manmohan Rai by the vigilance department for allegedly taking a bribe, secretary Lambodar Jha said today.

Rai and his peon Vinodanand Jha were taken into custody by a vigilance flying squad that raided the former’s residence here on Tuesday.    

Silchar, May 11 
Mizoram is bracing for a possible ethnic flare-up between Mizos and minority Reang or Bru tribals as a fallout of the 25-day long hostage crisis.

Three Mizos, a teacher and two public health engineering department officials, were abducted by insurgents of the Bru National Liberation Front on April 15. Though Lalnunfela, the teacher, was freed from a BNLF hideout in southwest Bangladesh last week, the other two are still in rebel custody.

The abduction was probably in retaliation to the kidnapping of six Neepco engineers from the hydel power plant site at Bilkhawtlir in Mizoram on March 31. The Naga militants and the Hmar People’s Conference, holding the six men captive somewhere in Manipur, have demanded Rs 1 crore ransom for their release. The authorities at Neepco, headquartered at Shillong, are yet to respond. A new Mizo outfit, the Mizo Protection Force, has added fuel to fire by setting May 12 as a “firm” deadline for the release of the six Neepco employees. Otherwise, it has threatened to slap “quit notices” to Reangs living in northwestern Mizoram.

Mizoram chief secretary H.V. Lalhinga today said the government is aware of brewing ethnic tension. He said the government has already drawn up plans to prevent any flare-up.

He told The Telegraph over phone from Aizawl this morning that personnel of the Mizoram Armed Police, Assam Rifles and BSF have been deployed in the vulnerable areas in northwestern Mizoram and along its border with Bangladesh. The chief secretary said the border areas in Mamit district, a Reang stronghold, has been divided into three “security zones”, led by senior magistrates.

The chief secretary said the three church leaders, sent to negotiate the release of the two Mizo hostages, are likely to meet the BNLF militants at Zomuang Thlang, a Mizo border village near Tuipuibari either today or early tomorrow. He, however, ruled out payment of Rs 50 lakh ransom demanded by the rebels.

The pastors include a Reang clergyman, A.K. Dawi, a Synod coordinator Lalramthara and Lalsawma.    


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