Net rush comes to Cal.boom
Trinamul leader in kitchen fire
Five hired assassins shot don in Thakurpukur
Green tribunal shuts out lawyers
Women want to hold court for a day
City’s season to go green, Chennai style
Schoolchildren to get free rice in pre-poll sop
Mineral water pouches banned in Berhampur
Legislators wave united colours of Manipur Opp.
Hundreds march for slain activist

A host of Internet service providers (ISPs) is flocking to Calcutta, where the netizen count is rising by the minute.

Reliance’s Only Smart was launched in the city on Wednesday, making it the fourth player after VSNL, Satyam and Caltiger.

So thick and fast is Calcutta logging on to the Net that some industry spokesmen compare it with Hyderabad, which Chandrababu Naidu is marketing as “Cyberabad”.

B. Hari, former secretary of the Computer Association of Eastern India (Compass), says computer sales to domestic buyers have increased by 50 per cent in the past two years, a rate “comparable to Hyderabad.”

The number of surfers has increased from 5,000 in 1998 to over 50,000. VSNL estimates that the number of Internet users is growing at the rate of 90 per cent per annum, that is, by 123 users a day. Add to this the unknown number of Net users who avail of connections from the cybercafes springing up in every para.

As Calcutta logs on to the net, the ISPs log on to the city. Waiting in the wings after Only Smart are Bharti British Telecommunications’ Mantraonline and Calcutta Telephones. Globaltel, which caters only to corporate clients, has launched its service. Delhi-based Dishnet is planning services and has sounded out VSNL for gateway access.

Each of the players is drafting special schemes and features, innovative rates and free surfing time to capture subscriber base. In the stiff competition that is building up, it is only natural that they will refuse to reveal plans.

But it’s all about free hours, night surfing concessions, multiple e-mail identities, roaming facilities and unlimited access.

A Mantraonline manager, now in the city, says: “Market future in Calcutta is good. We cannot ignore a metro where there is every indication of a growing market.”

But if actions speak louder than words, be it known that Mantra’s executives are now working through the day and half the night to put their service in place for a “quality launch.”

Only Smart has announced a whole package of schemes, including limitless surfing hours for an entire year for as little as Rs 3,500.

“We’re not here for a big bang and then to call it quits shortly afterwards. We play hard and long,” said a Reliance executive.

Calcutta Telephones, which will be the first government organisation after VSNL to provide Net services, is gearing up in Calcutta to launch “attractive” surfing schemes by August. K. Ramanujam, general manager, said it will also build its own gateway by 2002.

All the ISPs are hiring bandwidths from VSNL — which has a monopoly on the gateway — and are retailing them out to subscribers.

The relatively older private ISPs, Caltiger and Satyam, are also gearing up to face up to the competition. Satyam has launched a service for as little as Rs 299 a month with unlimited access. The company claims this has doubled its subscriber base. “You get to the Net faster from areas like Sodepur, Uttarpara and Barasat,” a Satyam official said.    

Calcutta, May 17 
Trinamul Congress leader Krishna Saha, 45, was seriously injured when her sari caught fire in the kitchen of her Gokul Baral Lane residence, in Muchipara, on Wednesday morning.

The deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Nazrul Islam, said the accident occurred when Saha was cooking in her third-floor flat around 10 am.

Islam said the Trinamul leader was admitted to a city nursing with 60 per cent burn injuries. The nursing home authorities said that the injuries were caused by an “accidental fire”.

Neighbour Puja Sharma, who lives on the second floor, said Saha’s son and daughter, who were at home at the time, raised the alarm.

“I heard cries for help. Then, she was rushed to a nursing home... I think the fire was accidental,” Sharma added.    

Calcutta, May 17 
The blood on the busy Diamond Harbour Road has been washed away, but two days after the daylight murder of gangster Pappu Singh near Joka, tension runs high in the Thakurpukur-Pailan-Banagram area.

Five contract killers hired by Thakurpukur’s underworld don Munsef Mullah shot friend-turned-foe Pappu Singh.

Police officers said Munsef and his gang members terrorise residents, traders and businessmen of the Thakurpukur-Pailan area.

Locals say Munsef is so influential that he has never been arrested in recent times, despite several complaints against him at the Thakurpukur and Bisnupur police stations. Several murder charges have also been levelled against him.

According to additional superintendent of police S.N. Gupta, preliminary investigations confirmed that Pappu was having an affair with Munsef’s daughter.

Pappu had a bitter showdown with the gang leader a day before he was murdered. He was sitting at a roadside tea-stall on Monday when three young men got off an autorickshaw and surrounded him.

Pappu tried to run for cover, but the hired assassins drilled two bullets into his head. He fell in a heap, and lay in a pool of blood, while the killers fled in the same autorickshaw. Witnesses said the entire operation was over in five minutes.

In the beginning of April, a few gang members had spotted Pappu and Munsef’s daughter coming out of a cinema hall in the Bishnupur police station area. When the information reached Munsef, he was enraged.

Insiders in the gang said Munsef had warned Pappu “to lay off”. He had even kept his daughter confined at their Banagram residence. According to investigating officers, Pappu confronted Munsef on Sunday and asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

The ganglord turned Pappu out, threatening him with “dire consequences”.

The police have launched a massive combing operation for Munsef. But local residents insist that this is just an eyewash. “Munsef is freely moving around in the area. He obviously knows that the police cannot touch him,” one of them alleged.

Dacoity foiled: An attempt to commit a dacoity in a multistoreyed apartment in Garia was foiled late on Wednesday night when the Jadavpur police, acting on a tip-off, raided a place near Garia bridge and arrested four armed dacoits.

Police said three of them were hardcore mercenary killers. Two revolvers and five bullets were recovered. The dacoits confessed to their plan, according to Jadavpur police station OC Salil Bhattacharya. The gang was responsible for several crimes in the Thakurpukur area, he added.    

Calcutta, May 17 
The country’s first green tribunal is being set up in Salt Lake.

Justice Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee, former judge of Calcutta High Court, has been appointed chairman. Prof. Sabuj Bhowal, department of chemistry, Jadavpur University, and Arunabha Majumdar, of the All-India Institute of Public Health and Hygiene, are the other members of the tribunal, set up to simplify the process of filing cases related to matters of pollution.

Once the tribunal starts work at Paribesh Bhavan, it will hear out individuals and organisations affected by directives issued by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board. “The procedure will be simplified, with the complainant being able to approach the tribunal directly, without involving lawyers or coughing up a fee,” said Banerjee.

The tribunal will effectively lessen the load on the green bench of the high court. With awareness about the environment growing by the day, cases have been piling up at the green bench.

“So, the tribunal offers a mid-level solution. While most cases will be resolved at this point, some complainants can take their case to the high court,” Banerjee said.

For the past two months, the green bench of the high court has not been functioning at par. A special leave petition has been filed in the Supreme Court, seeking its immediate intervention. The petition, filed by environmental activist Subhash Dutta, will be heard on July 16.

With the green bench going slow, a number of development projects in the city have been stalled. These include modernisation of morgues, putting an end to filling up of ponds for construction work, road repair, etc.

“With the tribunal in place, all these matters will be resolved quickly. This can become an effective instrument of redress and development,” said high court lawyer Kallol Guha Thakurta.

The maximum number of complaints reaching the public grievance cell of the pollution control board pertain to noise pollution. “With Justice Banerjee, who had issued the ruling imposing restrictions on the use of loudspeakers and firecrackers, heading the tribunal, it will be easier for the department to tackle the problem,” said an official.

Not everyone is happy with the new green rule. Some lawyers of Calcutta High Court have already expressed dissatisfaction over the formation of the tribunal which can be approached directly by individual complainants.    

Calcutta, May 17 
On a particular day every week, courts in the state should exclusively hear the cases of women victims. That is the recommendation of the West Bengal Commission for Women to the state government for speedy disposal of cases involving women victims. The commission has also demanded a permanent Lok Adalat, dealing exclusively with women-related cases.

Close on the heels of the National Human Rights Commission’s ruling forbidding the police to arrest women at night, the commission for women seeks to gear up the state’s judicial system to combat violence against the fairer sex. A senior officer with commission, confirming the decision, said courts took an inordinately long time to dispose of cases because of laxity in the judicial system.

“Justice remains elusive, particularly for women, because of this delay. Justice delayed is justice denied,” the official said. The recommendations, when implemented, will expedite the judicial process, he added. The quasi-judicial organisation has demanded more powers to “levy punishment for non-appearance in response to summons” and to initiate prosecution. The commission is directly dealing with over 200 cases concerning violence against women. “We need to have the power to prosecute the accused, if found guilty. Otherwise, the commission will remain toothless and can hardly help women in distress,” the officer said.

The commission, however, is dealing with not more than five per cent of the criminal cases recorded in the state. “Women are directly or indirectly affected in almost all kinds of offences. Often, they are not supported by anybody and the offenders go just scot-free,” the official said. He accused the police of diluting charges against offenders, much to the distress of women victims. “In many cases, the women are not even allowed to file an FIR with the police. This practice must be stopped,” he said.

The commission has urged the government to improve the conditions in custodial homes. “Inmates should be classified — criminal, innocent vagrants, mentally ill, etc., for effective treatment,” it says, adding that women in such homes should be regularly produced before courts and legally, they should be released if their stay exceeded 90 days.

The official said most inmates in government-run women’s homes did not get justice because of the callousness of the authorities. “Many inmates have been detained for a long time without committing any offence. We are demanding that the legal procedure be completed fast so that they can be released,” he said.    

Calcutta, May 17 
There is a concerted move to give the city a greener look.

Alarmed at the poor growth rate of saplings planted to check environmental pollution in the heart of the city, the state forest department and Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) have, finally, swung into action.

Realising the seriousness of the problem, state environment minister Manab Mukherjee has taken up the issue with the Centre.

“This is a very serious problem and I have already apprised the Centre of it. They have agreed to give us adequate funds to create forestry within the city. They have already given money to Chennai for similar reasons,” said the minister.

Mukherjee has instructed the forest department to prepare a blueprint on “city forestry”. The forest department is working on this, with special emphasis on how to protect the saplings in Calcutta.

“We are planting trees during every monsoon, but more than 45 per cent of these are dying,” said Abdul Ali, member, mayor-in-council (parks and gardens), CMC. There are about 2.5 lakh “adult” trees in and around Calcutta. “Calcutta needs more trees, particularly in the Esplanade area, where traffic flow is very high and extensive,” warned Ali.

A senior official of the social forestry wing of the state forest department added that the growth rate of saplings planted on either side of major city streets was “unsatisfactory”.

“These saplings are dying within three months of plantation because the stomatas are covered with thick dust and their roots are becoming weak. We are, therefore, planning to wash the saplings every day,” said the forest official.

In the absence of an adequate number of trees, the levels of suspended particular matter (SPM) in city, especially in the Esplanade area, has been rising steadily, exposing Calcuttans to severe heart and lung disorder.

If and when the ‘city forestry’ plan is implemented, Calcutta’s commercial hub will wear a completely new look. “The stretch from Birla Planetarium to Writers’ Buildings will be full of tall trees, like jarul, chhatim, bakul, gulmohur and radhachura,” said a forest official.

The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has been monitoring ambient air quality in the city since 1973, while the West Bengal pollution control board monitors the ambient air quality at four places in the city.

Automobile pollution

Now, they are carrying out tests at 22 points, including Esplanade, Gariahat, Writers’ Buildings, Sealdah station area, the C.R. Avenue-Mahatma Gandhi Road crossing and several other important city junctions where traffic movement is very high.

State pollutional control board sources said that industrial emission and automobiles are the main culprits in causing air pollution in Calcutta.

A recent study by the board revealed that about 1,278 chimneys are a major source of pollution while vehicles belching smoke contribute about 50 per cent of atmospheric pollution in the city.

VIP Road blocked: Residents of Jyotinagar, in Rajarhat, blocked VIP Road on Wednesday in protest against police atrocities. They alleged that officials from Rajarhat police station misbehaved with the villagers of Jyotinagar on the pretext of carrying out investigations.    

Calcutta, May 17 
With an eye on the forthcoming civic polls, the state government has decided to provide free rice to students of state-funded and Calcutta Municipal Corporation-run primary schools in Calcutta.

Though the entire cost of the scheme will be borne by the Centre, the ruling CPM government chose to announce the ‘gift’ just before the CMC elections to woo the guardians of nearly 1.5-lakh students of the state-run primary schools.

The free rice scheme will cover more than 1,400 primary institutions in Calcutta. Out of these, 1,100 are funded by the state government and 308 are run by the CMC.

Ten years ago, the government stopped the mid-day meal scheme for the city’s primary school children. Till the late 80s, the students used to get free bread and powder milk.

For the first time, foodgrain will be distributed free of cost in city schools. Earlier, the scheme was meant only for the rural belt to prevent dropouts.

State school education minister Kanti Biswas said: “There is no reason to presume that this scheme is targeted at winning votes in the civic elections.”

The Centre, though, has rejected the state government’s appeal to provide free rice to students of Howrah town schools.

Though the CPM-controlled All Bengal Teachers’ Association (ABTA) welcomed the move, teachers belonging to non-CPM organisations have flayed the government move as just a “pre-poll gimmick”.

“We had repeatedly urged the state government to reintroduce the mid-day meal scheme, but there was no response,” said Kartick Saha, general secretary of the Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association.

Said Prithwis Basu, general secretary, West Bengal Headmasters’ Association: “We appreciate the government’s move to provide free rice as this will benefit a large number of children coming from poor families. But these schemes should be a continuous process, not just a pre-election propaganda.”    

Berhampur, May 17 
Sale of drinking water in pouches has been banned in the district headquarters town of Berhampur in Orissa.

The move follows reports that the recent outbreak of diarrhoea in the town was caused by contaminated water sold by traders as mineral water.

The district chief medical officer and the principal of the MKCG Medical College told a meeting here recently that sale of drinking water in pouches must be banned to prevent a fresh outbreak of waterborne diseases.

Samples of “mineral water” sold by traders were tested at the microbiology department of the MKCG Medical College. Sources said most of these samples contained pathogenic microbes.

Issuing the notification banning sale of packaged water, Ganjam district collector G. Mathivathnan said the order would remain in force till the Regional Food Research Laboratory in Bhubaneswar cleared the samples sent for advanced testing.

The Berhampur municipal authorities and the police have been directed to enforce the order with immediate effect. The police have also been asked to prevent entry of packaged drinking water from adjoining Andhra Pradesh.

There are five units in the city where water is packaged

Naveen’s ordeal

Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik yesterday got a taste of what travelling in Ganjam district entails.

The chief minister’s convoy, on its way to Gopalpur from Bhubaneswar, had a tough time on the congested and potholed National Highway 5, especially between Balugaon and Rambha.

To make matters worse, the gate at a railway level-crossing near Saralsingh village was closed when the engine of a goods train broke down in the area.

Hundreds of vehicles were stranded on both sides of the gate, making it difficult for the chief minister’s convoy to take another route.

Finally, the chief minister and his aides had to endure a bumpy ride on the Sunakhala-Gambhirimunda-Banapur road to reach the highway again.    

Imphal, May 17 
The Opposition parties in Manipur are now poised to topple the W. Nipamacha Singh-led United Front of Manipur government. Opposition MLAs have decided to shed their ideological and personal differences in the “oust-Nipamacha” campaign.

Politics in Imphal has suddenly come alive after BJP legislative wing leader and former chief minister R.K. Dorendra Singh today hosted a lunch at his private residence. Of the 21 Opposition MLAs, 18 attended the party.

Those absent were former Congress chief minister Rishang Keishing, CLP leader Radhabinod Koijam and Congress legislator N. Nimai Singh.

Opposition leaders were also eagerly awaiting Gauhati High Court’s final verdict on the defectors’ case. Nine defectors from the Nationalist Congress Party, Manipur People’s Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (United) merged with the Manipur State Congress Party recently.

The leaders felt if the High Court rejects the merger of nine defectors, their strength will rise to 30. Thereafter, either by taking the help of the Federal Party of Manipur, a ruling coalition partner, or by splitting the party, the Opposition will be able to topple the government.

BJP leader Dorendra Singh has been entrusted with the task of leading the “oust-Nipamacha” brigade.

Those who attended today’s lunch include six legislators from the BJP, eight from the Congress and one each from the Samata Party, Janata Dal (Secular), MPP and NCP. State BJP president H. Bhubon Singh chaired the meeting while MPP president O. Joy Singh was the convenor. Former MPP chief minister R.K. Ranbir Singh was also present.

The MLAs today urged Dorendra Singh to act fast because in allowing Nipamacha Singh to continue for a longer period, they would only be exposing the state to more danger.

Though the Opposition parties have agreed to shed their ideological and personal differences, they were not very clear on the formation of an alternative ministry. The Congress and the BJP do not see eye-to-eye and are unlikely to come together in running a government.

However, sources said the 11-member Congress is vulnerable to a split as most of the MLAs have agreed to desert their parent party if Dorendra Singh succeeds in ousting Nipamacha Singh.

The Opposition is also banking on the growing rift between the chief minister and Union minister of state for youth affairs and sports, Thounaojam Chaoba Singh in order to cause a split.

Today lunch has triggered panic among the ministers in the Nipamacha Singh government.    

Guwahati, May 17 
Anupama Das, mother of Parag Das, a well-known journalist and human rights activist of the state, killed by unidentified gunmen four years ago, led a number of intellectuals and leaders of democratic and human rights organisations in paying homage to her son today.

Das, who espoused the cause of self-determination for the Assamese people, was killed in the Rajgarh area of the city on May 17, 1996, when he had gone to fetch his son from school. Though the case was handed over to the CBI, the killers are yet to be identified.

A solemn function was organised by the Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti, of which Das was the founder secretary-general, at the spot where he was killed.

The MASS programme ended with the lighting of the Martyr’s Flame at 6 pm.

The Journalist Action Committee also organised the Parag Das Memorial Lecture at the Guwahati Press Club today.    


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