Blasts spark bandh call
Landlords in counterfoil blackhole
Highrise to reopen after weak link demolition
La nuit Bengali for new French dye
Jadavpur students gherao teachers
Machine to keep tabs on phone bills
Makeover for Maidan
Assam Rifles bid to choke flow of rebel funds
Assam bandh tomorrow
Tripura death toll rises to 4

 
 
BLASTS SPARK BANDH CALL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 16 
Clashes and firing broke out at Tiljala, on the eastern fringe of the city, on Tuesday afternoon when local CPM supporters protested against Trinamul Congress councillor Javed Khan’s “uninvited” appearance at a press meet called by a non-government organisation in Sapgachi.

In all, 12 Trinamul followers were injured, of whom four were hospitalised. Tension ran high in several parts of the Tiljala police station area till late in the night. Reinforcements had to be called in from Kasba and Topsia police stations.

The local Trinamul leadership has called a 12-hour bandh on Wednesday, ward president Shankar Ghatak said.

Councillor Khan alleged that supporters of Ishtehaq Ahmed, CPM candidate for the municipal polls, made an abortive bid to kill him when they opened fire on his Tata Sumo.

The vehicle was returning from Chittaranjan Hospital through Kushtia Road after delivering the injured.

Khan was not in the vehicle. But three Trinamul supporters — Chandu, Mohammed Shabab and Asgar Hussein (who bears a resemblance to Khan) — received bullet injuries. Another occupant, Shaud Alam, was injured when the assailants exploded bombs near the vehicle.

Trouble started around 2.30 pm, towards the end of a press meet called by the Bengal Service Society (BSS), which runs a school with 2,500 students and a hospital with 50 beds in Sapgachi.

The welfare organisation started work in the area in 1970, building the school, a vocational training centre and a nutrition centre. The hospital, complete with diagnostic and surgery facilities, was the latest addition, opening its services in the mid 1980s.

But with foreign funding dwindling and ultimately winding up, the BSS was forced to approach the government and other agencies for help. They even had to sell two large properties, in which the vocational and nutrition centre were located, to mobilise funds for employees’ salaries.

After an arrangement with Lions Club to run the school and hospital fell through some months back, with the organisation reportedly taking away Rs 3 lakhs as “dues”, BSS vice-president Pradipta Kanungo called newpersons to explain why the organisation was unable to continue.

“Political atrocities and financial crisis are making it difficult for the society to run smoothly, causing the vital termination of basic educational facility for the students and closure of the hospital,” she said.

According to Javed Khan, the meeting was called at the behest of local MLA and CPM leader Rabin Deb. “Several CPM activists were with the BSS organisers during the meet. What was the necessity of calling a press meet on the eve of the Corporation elections?” he asked.

On hearing about the meeting on Tuesday morning, Khan, who had recently formed a committee with a section of the teachers and guardians, decided that he too must address the Press “to reveal the true picture.”

“The hospital and school have benefited more than 4,000 residents. By and by, the organisation was selling its properties to promoters on the excuse that it had to pay salaries. But these teachers are still without pay. We tried to restart the school about one-and-a-half months ago,” he told newsmen later.

Clashes broke out when CPM followers allegedly attacked the Trinamul supporters just after the meet ended. “The CPM men, led by Md Taslim, alias Chunnu, used hockey sticks and rods.

It was when his vehicle was returning from hospital that some assailants, allegedly CPM men, fired at the Sumo around 5.15 pm.

S.K. Dutta, deputy superintendent of police (crime), South 24-Parganas, confirmed that there had been an attack on Khan’s car. He said some persons had been detained for interrogation.    


 
 
LANDLORDS IN COUNTERFOIL BLACKHOLE 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, May 16 
Landlords of about 36,000 city buildings, who do not receive rent directly from tenants because of disputes, are in hot water.

Comprising almost half the number of landlords in the 100 wards that come under the Calcutta Rent Control Office, they will be deprived of their rent as counterfoils of receipts issued over the past 10 years by the office are “missing”. Even current counterfoils cannot be traced.

These counterfoils are vital to landlords who collect rent from the rent control office.

They are also required to take legal action against erring tenants. The case of the missing counterfoils gradually came to light when, one after another, landlords were told by the office that that document could not be found.

Controller of rent (Calcutta), S.K. Das refused to speak when asked about the fate of the counterfoils. Sources said mismanagement and apathy of the 200-odd staff at the office led to such a situation.

All-Calcutta House Owners’ Association secretary Amar Mitra said: “We have decided to go to court on behalf of the city house-owners.”

The case of the missing counterfoils apart, Rs 100 crore in rentals lie idle with the government because counterfoils were not delivered.

Every month, the rent control office has to send counterfoil copies to about one lakh landlords as the 36,000 tenants may have more than one landlord each. These copies are sent by registered post to their landlords.

But the General Post Office (GPO), with which the rent control office has an arrangement, does not accept more than 1,000 notices a day from the rent control office for delivery by registered post. Hence, every month there is a backlog of about 80,000 counterfoil copies waiting to be despatched to landlords (assuming that there are on an average 20 working days in a month, leading to delivery of 20,000 counterfoils).

Getting wind of the missing counterfoils, some tenants, who have been defaulters for years, are pretending to be new tenants and are paying rent from the current month.

“The office is not in a position to find out whether they are defaulters or not,” an official in the rent control department said. “There are no records,” he added.

An amendment of the Premises Tenancy Act, 1956, passed last year by the state Assembly, provides for a system whereby, before accepting a new case, the controller would verify the commencement of tenancy from the landlord.

“Unfortunately, the amendment is yet to be implemented,” said Swapan Banerjee, a High Court advocate.

A rent control officer said: “If a person claiming to be a tenant filed an affidavit through an enrolled lawyer and deposited his rent at the office, we are compelled to accept it.”

A landlord can apply for realisation of rent deposited in the office through an enrolled lawyer only after receiving the counterfoil copy from the rent control office by registered post.

A rent control inspector said Rs 100 crore rent deposited to this office could not be withdrawn by landlords as about 10 million counterfoils remained undelivered for over a decade now.    


 
 
HIGHRISE TO REOPEN AFTER WEAK LINK DEMOLITION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 16 
The house of cards that is the 23-storey Chatterjee International Centre will be reopened immediately after its vulnerable projections are demolished.

A fire landing of the highrise on 33A Jawaharlal Nehru Road collapsed on Monday, killing a man and injuring two others. The Corporation ordered the building vacated after the incident.

“It is a question of the livelihood of the nearly 8,000-odd employees who work in the offices in the building. It is not possible for the CMC to keep the building closed for long,” said the member, mayor-in-council (buildings), Sunil Chakraborty.

An ex-serviceman arrested in connection with the collapse was produced in court on Tuesday and remanded to police custody.

A five-member committee, headed by Prof. Piyush Som of Jadavpur University, has been appointed by the CMC to examine the building. The committee has been requested to submit its preliminary report in a week. Municipal commissioner Asim Barman said Dulal Mukherjee Associates have been contracted to demolish overhanging structures that are weak.

Corporation officials were not able to trace the original construction plan that was sanctioned by the CMC.

City architect (north) Pradip Guha said the highrise that houses a warren of offices was in a dilapidated state because there had been no upkeep for decades.

One civic official said most of the tenants who run annual businesses of millions of rupees pay a paltry monthly rent that in some cases is less than Rs 50.    


 
 
LA NUIT BENGALI FOR NEW FRENCH DYE 
 
 
BY RENU M R KAKKAR
 
Calcutta, May 16 
Multinationals are known to have customised products for different countries. Colas taste less sweet abroad than they do in India. Levis’ has different cuts for different parts of the world. Now, a French company is going city-specific. Cosmetics giant L’Oreal, “after 10 years of extensive research”, has found out Calcutta’s favourite hair colour — deep brown. This summer, the French major is going to wear a Bengali look, with model Sanchari Bose displaying deep brown tresses, launching the $ 12-billion group’s new hair colour product, Nutrisse. Playing the Indianisation card, there’s a Keralite face to launch the product in the South, a Punjabi ‘munda’ to hardsell the men’s range in the North and a Gujarati girl to woo the West. The packaging of the brand from the Laboratoires Garnier umbrella, part of the L’Oreal group, is Indian — from the models to the message in Hindi. So is the economics — a multiple-use pack for Rs 149. What’s more, Nutrisse will sell at Rs 129, in exchange for an empty pack of any hair dye. Pitched against the “helmety look” of the existing players, True Tone from the house of J.K. Helene Curtis, Bigen and Godrej Colour Soft, which are priced close to Rs 100, Laboratoires Garnier has chosen to introduce from Nutrisse’s 36-strong international colour card just natural black to deep reddish brown, the “most popular” range in India. The Indian hair colour market is still nascent at Rs 139.3 crore. But L’Oreal believes that this will change fast. “The market is set to see a 12 per cent growth this year,” predicts Laboratoires Garnier general manager Mark O’ Keefe. “Just 17 per cent of the women use some kind of hair colour here, compared to 60 per cent in Europe. In comparison, 21 per cent use henna here, though it acts like an astringent,” he adds. The total expenditure on advertisements in the hair colour market in 1999 was Rs 24.2 crore (compared to the Rs 200 crore ad spend on the skin care market and Rs 25 crore on the make-up market). Of this, 14 per cent was spent by the French major to promote L’Oreal. With Nutrisse, the company will increase its ad spend to 30 per cent of the total. Says Arpan Roychowdhury, vice-president of Euro RSCG: “The Indian packaging makes common sense. What’s the use of having foreign labels if the consumer can’t understand it?” Adds another adman: “Too many brands have failed in the past few years because of too much emphasis on foreign origin.”    

 
 
JADAVPUR STUDENTS GHERAO TEACHERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 16 
The Jadavpur University campus turned volatile on Tuesday evening when students of the engineering faculty confronted their teachers and asked them to explain why they were blocking the exams while agitating for financial demands.

The teachers have been on agitation since March 7, protesting the government’s failure to implement the revised pay-scales recommended by the Centre last year.

As part of their movement, the teachers have also been boycotting all examination duties, resulting in the exams being put off several times.

Tension mounted on the campus on Tuesday when a large number of students from the engineering faculty gathered in front of a room in the economics department in which vice-chancellor Ashoke Nath Bose was holding a meeting around 3.30 pm, university sources said. They demanded an immediate audience with Bose. When he met them, the students demanded that examinations be held immediately.

There were heated exchanges when the students charged the vice-chancellor with failing to resolve the impasse.

The final-year engineering students were most vocal, claiming they were suffering the most by the delay in holding exams. Many of them have jobs they cannot take up because of the delay, they said.

The students demanded immediate announcement of the dates of various under-graduate examinations which have been deferred because of the teachers’ movement. The engineering faculty examinations were scheduled to take place from Tuesday.

Bose said the students also complained to him about some agitating teachers who reportedly claimed that their job entails only teaching. “I told them the argument was not correct. It is the statutory obligation of teachers to hold examinations,” he said.

The vice-chancellor assured the students that all exams will be held after the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA) withdraws its agitation.

After meeting the vice-chancellor, the students rushed to the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA) room and gheraoed the teachers. The gherao was lifted later in the evening, after JUTA members ensured the students that they would consider the students’ plea, university sources said.    


 
 
MACHINE TO KEEP TABS ON PHONE BILLS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 16 
Calcutta Telephones will soon introduce an automatic billing machine, which will help the subscriber keep a tab on outgoing calls and the billed amount, according to minister of state for communication Tapan Sikdar.

Sikdar hopes the machine will put an end to the billing complaints of subscribers, as “they will be able to see for themselves the duration of outgoing calls and the corresponding amount billed on the machine.” He added: “We hope to offer the machine to the public before the year-end.’’

Chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones K Ramanujam said a subscriber will have to pay for the facility. “We will fix the charges once the facility is introduced in the city,’’ he said.

Calcutta Telephones, which has nearly a million subscribers, plans to introduce its own mobile service in the city before the pujas, the Chief general manager reiterated on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the telecom body will reintroduce from Wednesday the reduced initial deposit scheme for booking new telephone connections.

“A subscriber will now have to pay Rs 1,000 to book a new connection. The balance Rs 2,000 can be paid in instalments. The scheme will stay open till the end of this month,’’ Ramanujam said.    


 
 
MAKEOVER FOR MAIDAN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 16 
The gloom that engulfs the Maidan with every sunset is set to end with the inauguration of a major beautification and illumination drive, to be launched formally on Wednesday.

State urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya said on Tuesday that a Rs 7.5-million scheme will be undertaken at the Maidan by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and the Calcutta Metropolitian Development Authority (CMDA).

The plan is to completely refurbish the urban landscape from Esplanade to the Metro Maidan station, opposite Tata Centre.

Bhattacharya said that a musical fountain will be built adjacent to B.C. Roy Market on Chowringhee. The Manohardas Tarag across the Oberoi Grand will be redone for the benefit of pedestrians. The tank, besides being re-excavated, will be surrounded by gardens and the four pepper-pot rest sheds in its corners will be illuminated and restored. “This will help curb crime in the area,” the minister added.

The tank near Park Street, at the spot where the Book Fair is held, will also be beautified. The stretch of the Maidan opposite Tata Centre, used as dumping ground by Metro contractors, will be cleared, illuminated and beautified.

Bhattacharya said the funds were being provided by his department while sponsors like Peerless and Tata Steel were being approached to take up annual maintenance rights in lieu of advertising rights.    


 
 
ASSAM RIFLES BID TO CHOKE FLOW OF REBEL FUNDS 
 
 
FROM OINAM SUNIL
 
Imphal, May 16 
The Assam Rifles has launched an operation aimed at cutting off funds to militant outfits in Manipur.

Apart from extorting money from businessmen and senior government officials, the rebels have been forcing middle and lower-rung employees to part with a certain percentage of their salaries.

The matter came to light when Assam Rifles personnel raided several government offices recently and took nine officials into custody on charges of deducting money from employees’ salaries. Five of the officials were, however, released due to lack of evidence.

The crackdown, launched on May 10, coincided with disbursement of salaries in various departments. Patrolling has been intensified in this capital town to prevent militants from approaching traders for money. Assam Rifles personnel have been deployed in all areas which militants usually raid. A senior Assam Rifles official told The Telegraph that the operation against extortionists was confined to the four valley districts of Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishenpur. He said the operation was spearheaded by the 9 sector of the Assam Rifles, based at Kangla fort.

The official said the new operation was aimed at crippling militant outfits by hitting where it hurts the most. He said it would be easier for the security forces to keep these outfits in check if their coffers were empty.

The Assam Rifles official said the outfits were using the money collected through extortion to procure sophisticated weapons. He said the state government was aware of the operation and had asked the police to cooperate with the Assam Rifles, considered a crack counter-insurgency unit because of its experience in combating militants in the Northeast.

The Union home ministry has long been asking the state governments of the region to evolve a strategy to cut off the supply of funds to militant outfits. Some of the larger outfits, including the Ulfa, are believed to be even financed by external agencies like the ISI.

The Assam Rifles’ new operation in Manipur is, however, expected to hit the militant outfits hard. An official source said it would be possible to break the backbone of militancy in the state if various outfits were short of funds.

Recruitment scam

Continuing his crusade against corruption in the W. Nipamacha Singh-led United Front of Manipur (UFM) coalition ministry, Manipur People’s Party (MPP) president O. Joy Singh today unearthed a fake appointment scandal in the state revenue department.

Joy Singh said the new scam was exposed at a time when the House committee was investigating the fake appointment scandal in the school education department. He demanded a probe into the revenue department scandal.

According to the evidence produced by the Opposition leader, 32 people were recruited in the revenue department on an ad hoc basis between December 1998 and September 1999.

The appointment orders of the 32 recruits were issued without any administrative approval from the Cabinet. There was no mention of financial sanction for the posts from the finance department in the appointment order.

The appointment order was issued after Letkhogin Haokip, former director, settlement and land records, was transferred as deputy commissioner, Bishenpur. The scam came to light when Haokip wrote a confidential letter to the state revenue commissioner in August 1999.    


 
 
ASSAM BANDH TOMORROW 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, May 16 
The ASDC-CPI(M-L) combine and the All Bodo Students Union have separately called for a 12-hour dawn-to-dusk Assam bandh on Thursday.

They are protesting the Centre’s discriminatory policy “in meeting the genuine demands of the people”.

The ASDC is demanding granting of total autonomy to the two hill districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills, while the Absu is seeking a separate state of Bodoland. ASDC general secretary Holi Ram Terang told newspersons today that the decision to call for a bandh was taken after the Union government failed to introduce a platform for creating an autonomous state. “All these years, the government has been ignoring the issue. Even the people’s widespread support has not been taken into consideration,” Terang said.

He felt the government is deliberately neglecting their demand while at the same time it has given the green signal to three new states — Uttaranchal, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. Replying to a question on whether the party shared the same sentiments as the Bodos on statehood, Terang ruled out any such possibility and made it clear that the party is totally against territorial division of Assam. “We will fight tooth and nail against any further division of the state,” he said.

All the problems should be solved within the territorial boundaries of the state, he added. He said a separate state alone would not solve the existing problems. “Whatever decision the government takes, it has to get the approval from the general public. Their sentiments cannot be ignored,” Terang said.

Toeing the same line, Absu president U.G. Brahma said that the bandh has been called to voice the Centre’s “discriminatory attitude” in creating a separate state.

He warned that the movement for Bodoland will intensify if the government fails to accede their “legitimate demand”. “When the government can create three more states, why not Bodoland?” Brahma asked. He accused the Union government of regularly ignoring the “genuine demands of the people”.

The ABSU, which had earlier opposed the bandh citing technical reasons, has finally decided to go ahead with it in association with Bodo Parliamentary Party and the ASDC-CPI (ML) combine, Brahma said.    


 
 
TRIPURA DEATH TOLL RISES TO 4 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, May 16 
The death toll in yesterday’s militant attack on Shamukcherra market in South Tripura’s Udaipur sub-division rose to four with one more person succumbing to injuries at the Udaipur hospital.

Three tribal children are still missing. According to the state police, the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) rebels attacked the Shamukcherra market at 5.15 pm and tried to abduct three persons.

When the local people resisted, the militants opened fire and killed Uttam Debbarma (27), Sanjay Das (35) and Ajit De (55) on the spot. Another tribal, Nirmal Debbarma (50), who sustained serious injuries, died later. Besides, three children— Rup Kumar Murasingh (12), Kalpana Murasingh (7) and Narabati Debi Murasingh (5) are missing.

Sources said the militants abducted Maniklal Debbarma (20), Nanda Kumar Debbarma (35), Nanda Kumar Tripura (24), Laxman Saha (32) and Utpal Das (30) before escaping . All of them are still untraced.

CPM sources here said all those killed and abducted by the rebels were party supporters and the NLFT had allegedly punished them because they had voted for the CPM in the Mirza Kathalia and Rajapur Autonomous District Council constituencies where the party emerged victorious.

Besides, conflicting directives issued by the rival NLFT and the United Bengali Liberation Force (UBLF) have triggered panic among the tribals and non-tribals in Dhalai district.

Last week, the NLFT issued a whip directing tribals not to work for non-tribals. This has put the tribals in a fix as many of them work for non-tribal Bengalis either as farm hands or in commercial establishments.

Adding to the woes, the UBLF issued a directive asking non-tribals Bengalis not to employ tribals. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 have been imposed in the trouble-torn Bishramganj area because of the ethnic tension following the killing of three members of a Bengali family on Sunday.

Local traders have also launched an indefinite strike in protest against militant attacks.

Bihar killings

Koderma district Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) vice-president Ashok Malakar was shot dead by criminals at Domchanchi in the district last night. Police said old enmity was the reason behind the killing. Irate JMM supporters blocked the Ranchi-Patna road.

Elsewhere in the state, at least seven people were killed in separate incidents at Vaishali district over the past 24 hours. Police said two people were lynched by a mob in Hajipur town under Bidupur police station area while a body was recovered from Akhtiyarpur village under Sarai police station area.

Another report said one person was run over by a speeding truck under Sadar police station area.

In another incident, a woman committed suicide following a family dispute at Bahuyara village.

The police said two people were killed by some unidentified criminals under Mahatma Gandhi Setu police station area in Hajipur district. No arrests has een made so far.    

 

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