Killer slab leaves trail of gore
Metro offers free ride bait
Teachers’ direct entry rule reversed
Touch of green for Tipu tombs
CPM puts 15 in Salt Lake fray
Tiny toppers feted to promote education
Naga outfit seeks public co-operation
Sikkim completes 25 yrs of merger
445 booths in Aska found to be sensitive

Calcutta, May 15 
It was an accident waiting to happen. When it did, on Monday morning, it left one dead and three others injured.

A 35-year-old man was killed and three persons, including a woman, seriously injured when a concrete slab of the city’s tallest skyscraper, Chatterjee International Centre, on Jawaharlal Nehru Road collapsed.

While Chhotelal Ram, a sweeper with Industrial Finance Corporation of India (IFCI), died on the spot, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited’s senior engineer Nita Sinha and deputy general manager P. K. Chatterjee were admitted to a nursing home with serious head injuries. D. Lodh, who was also injured, had to be hospitalised.

Fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee said the building will be sealed for seven days from Wednesday for inspection. “The police have been asked to vacate the premises,” he said.

Deputy commissioner, detective department, Narayan Ghosh, said a former armyman, Deepak Mitra, one of the receivers appointed by the court for looking after maintenance of the high-rise, was arrested in this connection.

“We are now looking for two other receivers of the building. We have taken over the investigation of the incident as we find that the building is unsafe. A case has been registered against the receivers and others in this connection,” Ghosh said.

Urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya has asked the Calcutta Municipal Corporation to submit a report on the condition of the 22-storey highrise.

Municipal commissioner Asim Barman said an expert committee, headed by Prof. Piyush Som, has been appointed to examine “safety and stability” of the building.

“Business in the building will resume only if the experts allow it in their reports,” he added. And vulnerable portions of the building will be demolished.

Monday morning began as usual at Chatterjee International Centre. At around 10 am, the sweeper, Chhotelal, was on his way to the bank while the Bhel personnel were entering office.

Suddenly, the 10-foot-long concrete slab fixed on the sixth floor in order to instal fire-fighting equipment came crashing down at the entrance.

Ashok Roy, a Bhel employee, heard a loud bang from his sixth-floor office. “When I realised what had happened, I was too stunned to react.”

While office-goers and visitors ran for safety, securitymen rushed to the spot and found three persons, bleeding profusely, lying at the entrance.

“Chhotelal was missing. We later found him trapped under the huge slab. His head was smashed,” a security guard said.

Fire brigade and police officials appeared at the accident site and arranged to take the wounded to SSKM Hospital.

Area general manager (administration) of IFCI, B. N. Roy, said that they had repeatedly told the administrators appointed by the high court to carry out maintenance work properly. “We pay service charge for maintenance. But nothing is being done by the receivers. Besides being the most ugly skyscraper in the city, it is extremely dangerous,” he added.

“We have never seen any repair work being carried out by the administrators,” added P. K. Saha, also of IFCI.

The detective chief said preliminary investigations revealed that the high court had appointed the receivers in 1980 for the maintenance of the building after owners of the offices housed in the building had filed a complaint in court.

“We are also trying to find out whether the amount of Rs 2 crore collected by the receivers for repair works was actually put to use,” Ghosh added.    

Calcutta, May 15 
Metro Railway will try to lure new passengers by offering free maiden rides. The Metro authorities announced on Monday that free rides will be on offer for 1,500 people who have not yet travelled underground.

“It is a goodwill gesture to win over more and more people. Ours is a beautiful, Rs 5,000-crore asset free from pollution. Our little gesture can win a thousand hearts,” said I.I.M.S. Rana, Metro Railway general manager.

Metro officials said the services of the city’s underground train had improved over the past month.

“Not a single train was cancelled in April and the present daily revenue earning from ticket sales is Rs 8 lakh. So, the authorities decided to market the railway in a passenger-friendly method,” an official said.

Through media advertisements, Metro Rail has sought responses from people “who have never been on the Metro”, and invited them to take a free ride along the 33-km stretch from Tollygunge to Dum Dum and back on a Sunday.

Rana said many people had tried to discourage him from promoting Metro Rail in this fashion because there was no way that the veracity of responses could be checked.

“But I told them I will take their word for it. In order to boost my passenger traffic, I am willing to provide many more free rides,” Rana said.

But why free rides for just 1,500 passengers, when during rush hour, about 2,600 passengers are packed inside a single rake?

Because, according to Rana, the capacity of a Metro rake for a comfortable ride is 1,500.

“As soon as we receive positive responses from 1,500 people, we will arrange for the ride,” the Metro GM said.

The idea of this publicity drive first struck Metro Railway last year when it participated in a programme jointly with the Rotary Club and provided free rides for about 150 senior citizens from Tollygunge to Dum Dum.

“From then on, the idea has been toyed around with. Why can’t we organise something like that on a larger scale which will improve our relations with the people? That way we will get more passengers,” a Metro official said.

Metro will try to make the “newcomer guests” feel at home at Tollygunge station.

“We will have our volunteers at Dum Dum station to guide those who will use an escalator for the first time,” said an official.

After its services improved over the past few months, Metro Railway has been looking for ways to boost its image.    

Calcutta, May 15 
Carrying out instructions from the University Grants Commission (UGC), the government has made it mandatory for Ph.D-holders to take the National-Level Eligibility Test (Net) or State-Level Eligibility Test (Slet) for appointment to teaching posts in under-graduate colleges in Calcutta and elsewhere in West Bengal.

Sources in the state higher education department said the UGC had sent a directive to this effect to the state government last month, taking the education department by surprise.

“How could the UGC change its decision in less than six months?” demanded a senior official of the department.

In January, the Left Front government had announced that candidates with doctorates will not be required to clear Net and Slet exams to get teaching jobs in over 200 government-funded colleges.

Soon after this order, passed on the basis of a UGC directive, several thousand candidates with Ph.D degrees had applied for teaching posts to the West Bengal College Service Commission.

Reacting to the revised order, A. K. Banik, chairman of the West Bengal College Service Commission, said: “We are here to implement the recruitment policies of the state government. But it does become a big problem for us if a decision is changed so quickly.”

According to Banik, the new recruitment criteria could lead to an acute shortage in suitable candidates to fill up the vacant teaching posts in colleges.    

Calcutta, May 15 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation is implementing a plan to renovate and beautify the cemetery of Tipu Sultan’s family on Satish Mukherjee Road, near the Rashbehari crossing.

The Corporation’s plan to convert the site into a garden housing the tombs has been taken up to commemorate the bicentenary year of Tipu’s martyrdom. Tipu Sultan, the Lion of Mysore, died fighting the British at Seringapatnam in 1799.

Detractors suggest that the plan is a gesture to woo the nearly 26 per cent minority votes in the city ahead of the civic polls. But even if such an allegation is true, the renovation of the cemetery and the tombs is long overdue.

The legendary freedom fighter deserved better. Even within the CPM, leading historians such as Irfan Habib have done their mite to highlight Tipu’s fight against colonialism.

All 12 sons of the martyr and other descendants were buried in the sprawling 24-bigha cemetery. An irreverent administration allowed the cemetery to be taken over by encroachers. The structures are now home to nearly 3,000 illegal settlers.

The cemetery came up after 1806, when Tipu’s family was shifted to Calcutta by the British from Vellore. The last burial was of a descendant of Prince Kumar Shah, a brother of Tipu Sultan, in 1979. “The government has already held discussions with the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and other agencies to remove the illegal settlers,” said Arun Bhattacharya, principal secretary to the information and cultural affairs.

A committee comprising historians and environmentalists will work on the garden after it is cleansed. Mohammed Salim, CPM parliamentarian and a member of the Wakf Board, which is technically in charge of the cemetery, said he had discussed the plan with deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya and minority affairs minister Mohammed Amin. He expected the work to be complete within a year.

Welcoming the move, Tipu’s descendants said they would cooperate to “translate the dream into reality.”

Hussain Shah, great-grandson of Prince Anwar Shah and secretary of the committee looking after the family’s properties in Calcutta, said the government’s move will at least “help those buried at the cemetery to lie in peace.” He added: “We are at pains to see that the cemetery where my ancestors are buried is a haven for anti-socials and is beyond our reach.”

The cemetery is now a ghetto. The tombs have been damaged. The mosque where prayers were held before burials is dilapidated. Criminals use it as a base and the cemetery is inaccessible.

The encroachers have refused to move till an alternative was arranged. Matilal Roy, who lives in a dingy room with his family said the government could not evict them. “We have been here since the Bangladesh war and any move to evict us overnight will be opposed tooth and nail,” he said.

Waldorf case: Citu has decided to engage senior advocates Saktinath Mukherjee and PK Das to defend the Waldorf case and to “safeguard the interests of the restaurant staff,” according to a union member. The case comes up for hearing at Calcutta High Court on Tuesday.    

Calcutta, May 15 
Amid continuing strife in its Salt Lake unit, the CPM has managed to finalise 15 candidates for the Bidhannagar municipal poll.

CPM officials, however, said selecting candidates for the remaining five wards was proving troublesome due to infighting within the party’s North 24-Parganas district committee.

Of the 23 wards in the municipality, the CPM alone will contest 20 wards and the RSP, CPI and Forward Bloc will put up candidates in one ward each.

The 15 CPM candidates chosen are: Satipati Chatterjee (Ward 1), Mira Majumder (Ward 2), Santi Banerjee (Ward 3), Radhanath Chand (Ward 4), Sikha Dasgupta (Ward 5), Nandadulal Bhattacharya (Ward 11), Ira Chatterjee (Ward 12), S S Ganguly (Ward 13), Soma Pramanick (Ward 14), Dilip Gupta (Ward 15), Chandan Ghosh (Ward 17), Tapan Talukdar (Ward 18), Paritosh Mitra (Ward 20), Asim Guha (Ward 21) and Ramesh Bar (Ward 22).

The party plans to put up ex-cricketer Sreerupa Mukherjee (formerly Bose) from Ward 16. However, the names of Mugdha Roy and Kabita Roy Chowdhury are also being discussed. For Ward 9, Mukti Bhowmick and Maya Majumder are in the fray.

The present chairman of the civic board, Dilip Gupta, will contest from Ward 15, while vice-chairman SS Ganguly has finally agreed to contest from Ward 13.

Trinamul Congress commissioner Sabyasachi Dutta has alleged that the CPM is trying to influence the electorate in Salt Lake by making a beeline to inaugurate ‘projects’.

The party had inaugurated a street-lighting scheme at Mahishbathan recently.

The CPM commissioners are now promising the residents of Salt Lake three new markets at FD Block, Baisakhi and IA Block before the elections.

Construction of the new office of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education is not yet complete, but minister for school education Kanti Biswas has already inaugurated it, Dutta alleged.    

Calcutta, May 15 
Citizens of Lake Town-Patipukur have launched a programme to encourage education among local children.

At a function, the year’s toppers in all 11 primary and secondary schools of wards 31 and 32 were presented with awards.

“We wanted to cheer our children and boost their confidence with this programme, which we will organise every year,” said Anup Mitra, councillor of ward 32 and member, chairman-in-council in charge of water supply, of South Dum Dum Municipality.

Among the recipients of the awards is Shephali Das, who topped the Class-III final examinations from Adyanath Shiksha Mandir’s primary section. She comes from a poor family in the Sunderbans and lives with a family in Lake Town.

“Just imagine the enormous boost this girl received. Did you see how her face lit up when she received the award? This is the kind of programme we need to encourage our children,” said Srila Das, headmistress of Adyanath School’s morning section.

The function, the first of its kind in the Lake Town area, brought parents and children together at Pallisree Shishu Udyan, where Dilip Basu, vice-chancellor of Burdwan University, Srihir Bhattacharya, South Dum Dum Municipality chairman, Samir Ghosh, his deputy, and Sunil Pal, sculptor, were present.

Patipukur Pallisri Vidyalaya, Patipukur Girls’ High School, Janakalyan Primary Vidyalaya, Pallisri Vidyalaya and Patipukur Pallisri Vidyapith were among the participating schools.

“Every child has individual talent and we have decided to encourage our children by rewarding them for their efforts in order to prepare them to face the world with confidence. Through these programmes, the children who come from not-so-privileged families will also be inspired,” said Rita Roy, councillor of ward 31.

The programme undertaken by the municipal functionaries has been welcomed by teachers of local schools as well.

“We are very happy. This is the first time that such a programme has been organised in this area. The students’ response has been terrific,” said Samir Bhattacharya, headmaster of Jnanada Primary School.    

Kohima, May 15 
The National Socialist Council of Nagalim(Isak-Muivah) has, in an open letter, urged the people to help expedite resumption of peace talks for a lasting solution to the decades-old Naga political problem.

“We believe that the people also have a stake in the peace process and should ask their government to be more transparent,” the underground organisation said. The talks were stalled following the imprisonment of NSCN(I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah in Thailand in January this year.

The appeal comes on the heels of similar efforts initiated by the Naga Peoples’ Movement of Human Rights. The human rights body, in its last conference, resolved that it was pertinent to explain to the people about the “traditional rights” of the Nagas.

Charging the Centre with “insincerity” towards resolving the issue through peace talks, the NSCN(I-M) said, “We do not know why Indian officials have shown scant respect for the ceasefire and the peace process, but we would like the people to know about the real hurdles in the way of an honourable and peaceful solution to the Indo-Naga political conflict”.

Reiterating its commitment towards a peaceful solution, the NSCN(I-M) said, “We believe that the solution lies in a political process and not in armed confrontation,’’ the open letter said.

The ceasefire between the Centre and the NSCN(I-M), which came into effect in 1997, expires in July. However, the Centre has not been sincere in its efforts to stand by its commitment for a peaceful solution to the conflict, the outfit alleged, adding that home ministry officials, intelligence bureau and security forces have shown scant regard for the current peace process.

Stating that there was “total insincerity” on part of the officials involved in the negotiation, the NSCN(I-M) said even the Prime Minister’s emissary had no “real power” to negotiate because intelligence agencies and Assam Rifles “constantly undermined” the authority of the emissary.

It also alleged that in the middle of the peace process, the intelligence agencies got the Thai authorities to arrest Muivah by “spreading false information,” which seriously jeopardised “our faith” in the sincerity of New Delhi’s commitment towards a just solution.

The NSCN(I-M) also identified Nagaland chief minister S. C. Jamir as “one of the greatest obstacles” in the peace process, saying he along with the Governor and the Assam Rifles closed down the monitoring cell office at Dimapur without the consent of Ceasefire Monitoring Group set up by the Centre.

“Most Indians do not know much about the peace process and Grinder Muivah. He is not a member of our organisation but he represents the Centre’s interests,” the NSCN(I-M) said.

BJP flays Jamir

With the BJP consolidating base in Christian-dominated Nagaland, its national secretary in-charge of five northeastern border states, P.B. Acharya has mounted a tirade against Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir saying the biggest-ever lottery scam in the state was masterminded by the chief minister, adds our Imphal correspondent.

The Supreme Court recently passed an order on the Nagaland lottery scam saying the full amount siphoned by the “agents” should be recovered and deposited in the state exchequer.

In a memorandum to Nagaland Governor O.P. Sharma, Acharya and other state level BJP leaders alleged that the S.C. Jamir government was not making any attempt to recover the amount from M/S Associates, the nagaland state lottery agents.

BJP’s entry has widened the ambit of politics in Nagaland. Earlier, the Congress and the Naga National Council were the key players in Nagaland politics.    

Siliguri, May 15 
Sikkim will celebrate the silver jubilee of its merger with the Indian Union tomorrow amid a ceaseless campaign by the Sikkimese people for preservation of their distinct identity.

On May 16, 1975, Sikkim became an integral part of India after Parliament passed the 36th Constitutional Amendment Act. To mark the day, popularly known as State Day, the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) government will honour all leaders of the pro-merger agitation, including Kazi Lhendup Dorjee and B.B. Gurung, with citations and shawls.

Dorjee, who became chief minister after the end of the Chogyal’s regime, had led the movement for Sikkim’s union with India. In 1979, just four years after the merger, he was pushed into oblivion by Nar Bahadur Bhandari, who became chief minister by promising to retrieve Sikkim’s independence.

Bhandari had suffered physical assault at the hands of Indian securitymen and had spent a few years in prison for opposing the merger.

During his rule of nearly 15 years, Bhandari kept alive the desire of the Sikkimese to preserve their identity by humiliating Dorjee and his followers as desh bechua (sellers of one’s country).

Even six years after Bhandari’s fall, Pawan Kumar Chamling, a merger supporter and incumbent chief minister, continues to seek retention of the old identity under Article 371(F).

He wants to retain the superiority of pre-merger Sikkimese Acts over Indian laws. As a result, like Bhandari, he is opposed to the extension of central income tax and financial laws to the tiny state, which even now uses its own emblem instead of the Ashoka pillar. Lately, Chamling, who supports the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, has, like Bhandari , begun to seek central aid in the name of encouraging the state’s “psychological integration” with the Indian masses.

The desire of the Sikkimese people to protect their distinct political identity is so strong that no national party has ever been able to come to power there through an election.

The Congress, which hardly has any presence in the state, however, ruled it thrice for brief periods when Dorjee, Bhandari and S.M. Limboo switched over to it while they were chief ministers.

Of late, the Sikkimese people have again begun to display their love for the last Chogyal, Palden Thondup, who died in 1982. Last year, the state government installed his statue in Gangtok.

Not only this, political parties have also put pressure on Delhi to expedite compensation of over Rs 100 crore to the Chogyal’s family as promised by it at the time of the merger. The Chogyal and his predecessors had ruled Sikkim for over 400 years.

On occasion, Sikkimese leaders threaten to dissociate from the merger agreement. In 1994, the nonagenarian Dorjee, who is in his late nineties, made a similar threat to force New Delhi to initiate a CBI case against his arch rival Bhandari for corruption.

Nearly 40 pre cent of the 32 Assembly seats are reserved for ethnic Bhutias and Lepchas, who together constitute nearly 20 per cent of the population. Despite being a Nepali-dominated state, Sikkim has never taken kindly to the demand for its merger with the Darjeeling hills, where 95 per cent of the people speak the language. For almost three decades after the American-born Gyalmo (Queen) Hope Cook floated the idea of reuniting Darjeeling with Sikkim, a section of politicians in Darjeeling have since early this year revived the issue as an alternative to Gorkhaland.

The basis for such a demand is that Darjeeling was a part of Sikkim till it was taken over by the British in 1835.

The Chamling government, which is currently upset with the Gorkha National Liberation Front for setting up units in the state, has even announced that it would restrict employment of outsiders in Sikkim.

The majority of outstation people working there are from the neighbouring Darjeeling hills.    

Berhampur, May 15 
As many as 445 booths in Aska parliamentary constituency have been identified as sensitive. Byelections to this seat is slated for May 26.

Security will be beefed up in these booths which constitute 25 per cent of the 1,466 booths where polling will be held.

The state government has agreed to deploy additional 33 platoons of armed police forces for the byelections. It has also promised to deploy 150 police officers of different ranks, 1,850 havildars and 85 constables.

The byelections to the Aska parliamentary constituency were necessitated when BJD president Naveen Patnaik vacated the seat to contest the Assembly elections this year.

Aska is set to witness a direct fight between BJD candidate Kumudini Patnaik and Congress candidate Umakant Mishra. While Patnaik, a relative greenhorn, is the wife of finance minister Ramkrushna Patnaik, Mishra is the Ganjam district president of the Congress.

An Independent candidate, K. Sham Babu Subudhi, is also contesting the byelections. To ensure free and fair elections, Ganjam police have arrested over 350 persons so far. They have also seized five countrymade revolvers.

While four revolvers were seized yesterday by Badagada police, one was seized earlier by Buguda police.

Police are also keeping an eye on the illicit liquor trade in the area. They seized and destroyed 5,000 litres of hooch in the Hinjli Assembly segment of the constituency.    


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