Shop alert on ‘swipe’ squad
Madhyamik, HS to go on Net
Prestige club chief quits over ‘rowdy politics’
Surf while they fill ’er up
Bandh cripples life, gives lungs a breather
Nalbari bypoll a litmus test for AGP, Congress
Meghalaya byelection today
Church denies links with rebel outfit
Militants kill Tripura Left leader’s son
Aizawl tense over rape

 
 
SHOP ALERT ON ‘SWIPE’ SQUAD 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, May 25 
Picture this. The deputy manager of a steel major, dressed in his Saturday dockers, strolls into the swank showroom of Music World on Park Street, seemingly to boost his bebop collection. But he strides past the jazz racks, risks a few furtive glances around to make sure he is not being “watched”.

Suddenly, he picks up a double-CD set and shoves it under his baggy T-shirt. But as he tries to slip out of the store, the security guard picks out the face in the crowd. “Sir, you have forgotten to bill something,” the guard points out politely. The steel man crumbles and admits his ‘crime’. He is immediately whisked away to the back office for a “meeting” with the store management.

Fact, not fiction. White-collar shoplifting is now rampant in the city, and mega stores like Music World, Landmark and Pantaloons, which allow the customer freedom to roam and choose, are prime targets. These ‘self-service’ retail showrooms have proved happier hunting grounds for shop-lifters than, say, behind-the-counter outlets in New Market.

“We are not always lucky and some do get away with their loot,” says Dipra Jha, operations head, Music World, the store which gives the offender the option to either pay for the stuff they “didn’t get billed” and walk away or to put it back on the racks.

“Most of those who ‘stray’ are youngsters and it’s a disturbing trend”, says Jha. From medical students to computer professionals, the son of an IPS officer to a rich city trader, the guilty cover a comprehensive cross-section.

Then, there are the compulsive shoplifters or kleptomaniacs, like a person who picks up stuff worth at least Rs 4,000 on every visit to Landmark, but also steals an item worth a mere Rs 30 or 40. Most readily confess to their “crime”, while some try to drop “influential” names and argue their case belligerently.

“We are extra careful before singling out an offender,” says Moon Bose, assistant manager, Pantaloons. Unlike Music World, Landmark and Pantaloons are not so lenient in their policy of dealing with shoplifters. Says Paul D’ Gama, manager with Landmark: “If it’s a student, we inform the parents and wait till they arrive, detaining the kid. If the person is a working adult, we usually inform his employers and also ask him to donate some money to the various charity boxes we have in the shop as a ‘penalty’. The idea is to drill into the offenders a sense of remorse, so that they don’t try it again.” Pantaloons’ policy is pretty much the same.

Most big stores have beefed up security. Apart from the usual close-circuit TVs, there are sensomatic machines at the exit points in Landmark, Music World and Pantaloons, which start beeping the moment anybody tries to get out of the shop with an unbilled item. “We also have an on-line EDC (electronic data-clearing machine) to authenticate credit cards,” says D’ Gama.

Music World and Landmark employ plainclothes vigilantes to keep an eye on ‘errant’ customers. Pantaloons has trial-room attendants to monitor customers, as “that is a high-risk area”. Toys, cassettes, belts, socks, men’s accessories, lingerie and even salwar suits have been swiped from the ‘family shop’ on Gariahat Road.

The police have been summoned in a few cases when the offender has been “too stubborn” or when there was a hint of an organised group in operation.

“It is difficult for us to take action unless the shop-owners provide us with evidence, like the cassette or the book stolen,” says S. Dutta Burman, officer-in-charge, Shakespeare Sarani police station.    


 
 
MADHYAMIK, HS TO GO ON NET 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, May 25 
The confusion over ISC and ICSE results being caught in a Net jam notwithstanding, both the secondary board and Higher Secondary Council are ready to go the dotcom way.

Madhyamik and Higher Secondary exam results will soon be on the Net to “save time” and “increase accessibility”. Both the secondary board and Higher Secondary Council are planning to launch their own websites, which will host the annual results.

Arun Kiran Chakraborty, president of the West Bengal Board Of Secondary Education, said several computer institutions have contacted the board in this regard.

“We are actively considering the proposal and hope to introduce it soon as it could benefit the examinees, their guardians and school authorities,” he added.

According to Chakraborty, 5.76 lakh candidates had appeared in the Madhyamik exams. “We hope to publish the results by June-end and they will be on the Net on the day of publication,” he said.

All major schools in the city and districts now have computers. What most don’t have is an Internet connection.

But major city schools which do have welcomed the proposed move. “It will be very helpful if Madhyamik results are available on the Net,” said Pradip Agarwal, finance controller of South Point.

An official of Hindu School added: “It will make matters much easier for all concerned” if secondary and Higher Secondary results are available on the Net.

Sudin Chatterjee, president of the West Bengal Council For Higher Secondary Education, said the Council was seriously considering the proposal to put the results of the Higher Secondary exams on the Internet.

About 3.75 lakh candidates had appeared in this year’s Higher Secondary examinations. Some practicals will be completed on June 8 and results will be published within 90 days.

“We will get more time to take a decision on putting the results on the Internet because they will not be out before August-end or early September. We are now consulting computer experts who will guide us in this regard,” Chatterjee said.

From this year, the council will also be handing over the marksheets and certificates to examinees “on the day of the publication of the results”.

On other hand, Madhyamik examinees will get their marksheets on the day of the results through the five zonal offices in the state, but it will take some time for the certificates to come through.    


 
 
PRESTIGE CLUB CHIEF QUITS OVER ‘ROWDY POLITICS’ 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 25 
Is a section of members of Calcutta Club, a premier city institution known for its bhadralok image, behaving like “local rowdies”? While some members will disagree, president of the club Partha Sadhan Bose certainly will not.

It is precisely for this reason that he resigned as head of the institution on Wednesday, creating a first in the history of the 93-year-old club. At the centre of the controversy is an extraordinary general meeting called by Bose, on May 19, to push through a Rs 7-crore development project for the cash-strapped club.

Almost as soon as Bose rose to speak, he was greeted by catcalls and foot-stomping by some members, who obviously had reservations about the president’s proposals. As Bose proceeded undeterred, so did the loud calls of “no, no” and other “unsolicited” remarks. Finally, he had to abandon the meeting mid-way. “Some members were behaving like rowdies,” Bose told The Telegraph. “What happened at the meeting was nothing short of rowdyism.”

Echoed committee member Samir Banerjee: “A section of people were behaving as though this was a para club and not a cultured institution. The president had to send a message by stepping down; there was no other option.”

However, some members have charged the president with “lack of transparency” and “attempting to use the club’s facilities for commercial purposes”. They were referring to plans to build a parking facility which would be let out to non-members and a showroom within the club premises, to be rented out to corporate bodies.

“The proposals should have been debated before being put up at the EGM,” a member said. Bose maintains the EGM itself was the forum for debate and not “rowdyism”.    


 
 
SURF WHILE THEY FILL ’ER UP 
 
 
BY PALLAB BHATTACHARYA
 
Calcutta, May 25 
Imagine driving to a petrol station, not to buy fuel but to surf the Net.

If that sounds improbable, don’t be surprised any longer, for that is exactly what Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) has planned for 29 selected retail outlets in the city.

This is the BPCL strategy to lure consumers, in view of the oil sector deregulation in 2002.

The second largest oil company in the country, with a market share of 21 per cent, is already in the process of working out the modalities for setting up cybercafes in the city.

“Setting up cyberkiosks is not, however, a shift of focus, but this will make our retail outlets more consumer-friendly,” says S. Behuria, director (marketing).

He said the company had retail outlets in very good locations in the city that could compare with other oil companies, including Indian Oil.

“We thought we would take advantage of our locations to provide customers with additional benefits and, at the same time, make some extra money from it,” Behuria said.

He said the project would not be a joint venture, because BPCL has a strong computer division which will be able to handle it.

A.C. Sen, general manager, retail (eastern region), said the company had plans to set up at least 12 to 15 such kiosks by the year’s end.

Talks were on with Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd for connectivity. “We are weighing several options so that visitors to our cybercafes can enjoy their surfing with quicker and unhindered connectivity,” he said. The kiosks could be connected to BPCL’s own grid, now used by employees for intranet and Internet access.

“We have an on-line hub in all the four regions, with very sophisticated servers. We have satellite links. So we ourselves can provide the connectivity. But we are talking to VSNL and MTNL to provide users with multiple choices,” he said.

Besides, the company is working out the modalities of investments and the returns on them. It will make all initial investments to set up the kiosks, and these will be recovered from the earnings over a period of time.

A fixed percentage of the earnings, which the company has termed as “internal rate of return (IRR)”, will be recovered and this will be considered the profit. It will be shared by dealers and the company on an agreed ratio. The IRR will continue to be deducted so long as the entire investment is not recovered.

“We are looking at the comfort aspect of Net surfers and the space needed for such activities. We are also concerned about parking space for visitors,” Sen said. He is quite confident about the success of the venture.

BPCL has decided to set up at least seven convenience stores in the city which will stock fast-moving consumer goods and gifts. The company already has one such store in Salt Lake.    


 
 
BANDH CRIPPLES LIFE, GIVES LUNGS A BREATHER 
 
 
BY KUNAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, May 25 
Calcuttans groaning about what a bandh does to the economy can take heart from the findings of a scientific analysis — that it does a world of good to their lungs, enabling them to breathe quality air.

According to an analysis of the quality of air during the May 11 bandh, carried out by experts from the National Environment Engineering and Research Institute (NEERI), the pollution level came down unbelievably in the city as economic operations and other activities ground to a halt and vehicles went off the roads.

“Though a bandh does affect the economy, they are justified at times,” deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said on Thursday.

The 12-hour Congress-sponsored bandh, though marked by sporadic violence, was generally peaceful, police sources said. Bandh supporters hurled bricks and burst crackers in different parts of the city. Drivers of two state buses were injured and seven persons arrested.

Deputy commissioner of police (headquarters) Nazrul Islam said state and private buses were damaged at Beleghata, Mahabirtala and B.B. Ganguly Street and seven persons were arrested.

“There was no impact on industry,” Bhattacharya said, adding that life was near-normal in the urban areas.

To thwart the bandh, the government made arrangements for plying state and private buses, taxis, autos, the Metro Rail and trains. All flights operated as usual.

The 13 monitoring stations of NEERI indicated that pollution levels on bandh days sometimes fell even below that prescribed for sensitive and rural areas. The reasons for the ‘clean’ air on May 11 are quite obvious. The Leftists’ clout over labour and transport unions ensured that factories remained closed and vehicles stayed off the roads.

On Thursday, however, offices, factories and business establishments in and around Calcutta recorded attendance between 55 and 60 per cent. After initial resistance from bandh supporters, train services were normal.

In the Lalbazar and Moulali crossings, the suspended particulate matter (spm) levels plummeted to 57 and 55 micrograms per cubic metre, compared to the national air quality standard of 200 micrograms. Similarly, respirable particulate matter, the minute toxins that enter the lungs and can cause fatal diseases, went down to 8 and 11 micrograms, compared to the national standard of 100 micrograms.    


 
 
NALBARI BYPOLL A LITMUS TEST FOR AGP, CONGRESS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Guwahati, May 25 
Over 50 per cent of the nearly 400 polling booths in the three Assembly constituencies of Assam where byelections will be held tomorrow have been categorised as “sensitive”.

Most of these “sensitive” polling centres are in the Nalbari and Bhabanipur constituencies. However, election department officials said adequate paramilitary personnel had been deployed in these centres to ensure free and fair polling. Each booth will be manned by five to six polling personnel, including a presiding officer, election officials said. Polling will begin at 7 am and conclude at 5 pm, they added.

The byelection in Nalbari constituency, necessitated by the assassination of public works department minister Nagen Sarma, is a litmus test for the ruling Asom Gana Parishad and the Congress, coming as it does barely a year before the next Assembly polls.

The AGP has fielded Sarma’s widow, Alaka Desai Sarma, in a bid to garner sympathy votes, while the Congress has nominated former chief minister Bhumidhar Barman, who is known to have a strong base in the constituency of 1,32,185 voters.

Chandrakanta Talukdar of the BJP and Hemanta Barman, the consensus candidate of five parties, are expected to put up a tough fight. CPI(M-L) candidate Chandradhar Kalita and SUCI nominee Siddheswar Sarma are also no pushovers. A section of pro-AGP voters has accused Ulfa militants of pressuring them not to vote for the ruling party. A keen contest between the Congress and the AGP is also on the cards in Bhabanipur constituency, especially because the All-Bodo Students’ Union (Absu) has decided not to support Independent candidate Milan Bodo. Manjushree Pathak of the BJP is being touted as the dark horse in the constituency.    


 
 
MEGHALAYA BYELECTION TODAY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, May 25 
Chief electoral officer, Meghalaya, A.K. Srivastava, today said all arrangements for conducting a peaceful byelection at Mairang have been completed.

Srivastava said 23,024 voters of the constituency would exercise their franchise in 31 polling stations to select their representative in the 60-member Meghalaya Legislative Assembly.

The byelection, which is being held after the death of Congress legislator Kitdor Syiem, will witness a four-cornered contest between the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, United Democratic Party and Hill State Peoples’ Democratic Party (HSPDP). An Independent candidate is also in the fray. Altogether 14 polling stations have been identified as sensitive after taking into consideration their remote locations, record of law and order and sale of illicit liquor, Srivastava said.

The chief electoral officer said adequate security has been provided to all the sensitive polling stations. Five platoons of armed police personnel have also been deployed, in addition to the unarmed constables and home guards, he said.

The constituency has been divided into six zones, each under the charge of a magistrate. A polling station at Jakhong has been identified as sensitive because there is a threat of elephant attack, he said. Almost all the police teams have reached their respective booths. Adequate transport has also been provided to all the 31 presiding officers and 101 polling officers to enable them to reach their booths in time.

The government has declared a public holiday under the Negotiable Instrument Act tomorrow for areas falling under the Mairang constituency to enable people to cast their vote.

The contest for the seat has taken a new turn with ruling coalition partners — the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — unexpectedly campaigning— against each other instead of their rivals such as the Congress or the Hill Peoples Democratic Party. The latter is a strong contender for the seat. The Congress has suffered an erosion of its base. There was also dearth of ticket-aspirants, while just a year ago it was been besieged with contenders.

Headman shot dead

A 60-year-old headman of Rajajlu village in West Khasi Hills was shot dead by Achik National Volunteers Council (ANVC) militants last evening. The killing took place within 24 hours of the withdrawal of a police platoon from Rajajiu, where it had been posted after the ANVC held hundreds of coal trucks to ransom in February.

Linus Marak, the headman, was shot dead from point blank range by four men dressed in Army fatigues. They also torched the shed where the policemen had left some of their belongings. Two platoons of policemen have been posted in the Borsora-Rajajlu area.

Trader abducted: Unidentified men abducted the owner of Ashok Auto Service at Byrnihat. The abductors have demanded Rs 5 lakh as ransom.

In another incident, a group of dacoits looted Rs 70,000 from a petrol pump at Khanapara.    


 
 
CHURCH DENIES LINKS WITH REBEL OUTFIT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, May 25 
The United Christian Forum of North East India (UCFNE), an umbrella group of all Christian denominations, will discuss the increasing attacks on them and the allegation of Church involvement with separatist armed organisations in the region at a meeting next month.

“The repeated accusation that the Churches and Christians are supporting the militant movements is becoming quite unbearable and we have to do something to dispel such doubts,” said Rev. Lalhmangaiha, secretary of the North East Council of Churches and joint secretary of the UCFNE.

The latest controversy was unleashed when a local daily quoted CPM politburo member Prakash Karat as saying that a “Shillong-based Baptist Church is hand-in-glove with the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT).” This stirred a hornet’s nest among the Baptist Church leaders here. The SBC has demanded an apology from Karat if he did make the statement and from the newspaper for carrying the “highly defamatory” report.

The SBC said in a release that the church could not be blamed for the social or political affiliations of its individual members. As a body it condemns violence of any kind and does not subscribe to any militant view or group.

Nor does it sympathise with any such group in the region, it added.

However, it respects the views of every human being and their right to seek redressal of their genuine grievances through democratic means, the release said. SBC pastor and general secretary of the Asian Baptist Federation Bony Resu said the church has been working for peace.    


 
 
MILITANTS KILL TRIPURA LEFT LEADER’S SON 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, May 25 
Militants roasted alive a CPM leader’s son and abducted a non-tribal in separate incidents in Tripura over the past 24 hours.

Police sources said National Liberation Front of Tripura militants raided CPM leader Dhirendra Debbarma’s house in Juricherra village under Fatikroy police station of North Tripura last night and opened fire.

When Debbarma coiled up on the ground, the militants assumed that he was dead and set his house ablaze. They also threw the CPM leader’s eight-year-old son Raghumoni into the fire. The boy was roasted alive.

After the rebels left, villagers found Debbarma alive and rushed him to the Kailasahar district hospital. His condition is stated to be serious.

Sources said the NLFT “punished” Debbarma for participating in the CPM’s campaign for the Autonomous District Council elections.

In another incident, suspected NLFT rebels abducted Tarapada Das, a non-tribal farmer, from Ampi in South Tripura yesterday.

An encounter between the police and a group of NLFT rebels also took place at Singlumbari area under Udaipur police station in South Tripura.

The police team was led by South Tripura additional superintendent of police Arindam Nath. There was no casualty on either side.

Congress delegation: A four-member Congress delegation today took stock of the situation in the riot-torn Kalyanpur and Teliamura areas of Khowai subdivision. The delegation, led by Pranab Mukherjee, included Opok Jamir, Ambika Soni and Mukul Wasnik.

Sources said the four Congress leaders visited all 12 refugee camps in Khowai subdivision and assured the people of their party’s commitment to improving the situation.

Inmates of refugee camps in Kalyanpur town and north Maharanipur village shouted slogans demanding dismissal of the Left Front government and imposition of President’s rule in the state, the sources said.

CPM Lok Sabha members Samar Chowdhury and Khagen Das had visited some refugee camps in Teliamura yesterday. However, neither chief minister Manik Sarkar nor any of his ministerial colleagues has toured the riot-affected areas.

Police sources here said the National Liberation Front of Tripura-imposed “ban” on harvesting of crops by non-tribals had caused fresh tension in some areas of Khowai and Udaipur. Newly-appointed director-general of police B.L. Vora is assessing the situation in these areas, they said.    


 
 
AIZAWL TENSE OVER RAPE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Silchar, May 25 
The Mizo Zirlai Pawl, a student’s organisation in Mizoram, will bar movement of non-Mizos in Aizawl for two days from tomorrow to protest against the rape and murder of a Mizo girl.

Police said 14-year-old Lalrindiki, daughter of one Abdul Khaleq and Saitingpui, had been missing since May 18. She was killed by one Afzal Hossain, 18, after having been repeatedly raped. Her body, wrapped in a sack, was recovered from the Burrabazar in Aizawl on Sunday morning. Hossain has been arrested and remanded in judicial custody.

The students’ union, in a press release, has asked the non-Mizos of Aizawl town to stay indoors and join the Mizos in expressing outrage against the killing of the minor girl.

In a move to defuse tension, the Mizoram government appealed to the student leaders last night to “review and withdraw” their embargo.

Aizawl district superintendent of police Zoram Mawia said over telephone today that the situation in the capital town was tense but normal. He said the police were patrolling the streets of Aizawl and surveillance was stepped up to pre-empt any untoward incident.

Non-Mizos living in Aizawl are equally shocked by the rape. “Except for stray incidents, we have been living in peace and harmony,” said a government official. He said such an act should not go unpunished.

Rebel held in Cachar

Cachar police arrested a frontline leader of the People’s United Liberation Front (Pulf) from a shop at Sonabarighat, seven km southeast of this town, last night.

The police, surrounded the shop in Sonabarighat village last night and took Shahjahan Uddin Mazumdar into custody. He was unarmed. They said this militant had masterminded several abductions in southeast Cachar during the past few months, which included the kidnapping of Arun Das, a local cinema hall owner. Mazumdar also has links with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), the police added.

He was interrogated till late last night by the senior district police officials, including Mukesh Agarwal, Cachar superintendent of police. Mazumdar usually targeted rich traders and abducted them for ransom, the police said. Sources, however, said the militant had surrendered and that his arrest was stage-managed.    

 

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