Phones cry foul over repair bill
850 arrested as parties flex campaign muscles
Soft drink ‘made in advance’
Super No.10s on 10-nation wishlist
Star showdowns in battle for boroughs
Fresh location for Howrah fish market
Tripura official shot dead
Gorkha unions seek protection for N-E brethren
Foul-play stink in dirt-cheap food tenders
Brahmaputra smacks lips at isle of culture

 
 
PHONES CRY FOUL OVER REPAIR BILL 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, June 19 
Calcutta Telephones has threatened to stop issuing fresh connections from July because of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s “unreasonable road restoration charges”.

Union minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar said on Monday that the charges levied by the Calcutta Corporation and the Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) for restoring roads dug up by the telephone authorities for laying or repairing cables were “the highest in the country”.

While restoration rates in other metros like Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai range between Rs 500 and Rs 600 per square metre, the rate in the CMC and Howrah areas has been pegged at Rs 1,200 per square metre and Rs 1,700 per square metre, respectively.

Beyond these two zones, the rate drops to Rs 400 per square metre in the rest of West Bengal.

“It is not possible for us to issue fresh connections as the municipal bodies’ charges have become unviable,” said Sikdar. “We have to pay them more than what it costs us to lay cables for new connections.”

Calcutta Telephones chief general manager K. Ramanujam said: “The road restoration bill came to a whopping Rs 80 crore last year and the figure is likely to increase this year. At this rate, we cannot afford to lay any new lines or give new connections, as this would invariably lead to further repairs and escalating costs for us.”

The charges, sources in the municipal bodies said, are based on direct costs or the actuals involved in rebuilding roads. And no subsidy is provided by state governments across the country.

The CMC, however, defended its position, saying that the costs are not at all inflated and are based on an assessment provided by the public works department, which in turn goes by the rates suggested by the Central Public Works Department.

“We, however, levy a supervision charge of 25 per cent for repair works,” CMC commissioner Asim Barman explained. “This could possibly have pushed up our costs, compared to other areas.”

Barman insists that the rates charged by the CMC are both “scientific and functional”. “We are not in the business of simply making money and cheating others.”

The PWD insists this is precisely what the CMC appears to be doing. “We don’t fix rates for any civic body, we fix the rates only for the roads that we maintain,” said U.N. Som, assistant chief engineer of the PWD.

In fact, the PWD rates are in consonance with those in other parts of the country, which is about Rs 500 per square metre. “The rate for repairing Red Road, which falls within our jurisdiction, would be slightly higher, since it is a specially-laid road,” an official said. “But nowhere would it come close to what the CMC and HMC are charging.”

Barman defended his position, saying that there are no mastic asphalt roads in the districts, which is why the costs in the Calcutta and Howrah areas are higher. “The cost of repairing a mastic asphalt road is four times that of an ordinary road,” Barman said.

But Ramanujam rubbished this argument. “The CMC charges the same high rate for all roads, whether made of mastic asphalt or any ordinary road,” he said. “Why should that happen? Obviously we are being taken for a ride and we resent that. Besides, there are also mastic asphalt roads in other metros in the country, but their rates are not so high.”

“Also,” added Ramanujam, “the argument that the supervision charge of 25 per cent is responsible for the hike is nonsense. Or else, the PWD’s rates in the districts would also have been much higher.”

Sikdar said he had brought these anomalies to the notice of chief minister Jyoti Basu recently. “But this has made no difference,” said the BJP leader.    


 
 
850 ARRESTED AS PARTIES FLEX CAMPAIGN MUSCLES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 19 
The final countdown to Sunday’s Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and Salt Lake Municipality polls has started on a violent note.

The police have already arrested nearly 850 troublemakers from various parts of the city at the start of a week-long pre-poll drive.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas on Monday issued a warning that his party cadre would foil all attempts by the Trinamul Congress to disrupt the polls. “We are determined to take on the Trinamul activists with the full support of the people,” said Biswas.

Reports reaching Lalbazar confirmed that a group of alleged Trinamul Congress activists shot at the Forward Bloc candidate from ward no. 52, Sarbat Nigar, in Taltala area on Monday morning.

Interestingly, Congress supporters joined forces with infuriated Forward Bloc activists to protest the attack. A joint roadblock was put up at the crossing of SN Banerjee Road and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, disrupting traffic for over an hour.

Leaders from both parties later alleged that the Trinamul activists had also hurled bombs in front of their party offices in Taltala.

Trinamul activists retaliated by blocking Janbazar for half an hour. They demanded the arrest of the culprits involved in “defaming candidate Sunita Saha”.

Condemning the incident, state Forward Bloc secretary Ashok Ghosh said: “This is part of the Trinamul Congress’ calculated attempt to unleash terror on the eve of the civic polls.”

In another incident, bombs exploded inside a north Calcutta house on Monday morning. The police later recovered seven revolvers, 22 cartridges, gold jewellery and over a lakh of rupees from the house at Jorasanko.

Alarmed by the violence, deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said that the police have “taken all measures to ensure free and fair polls”.

He accused the Trinamul Congress of creating trouble in the run-up to the civic polls. Bhattacharya, who was given a list of specific incidents of violence against Congress workers by their party leader Saugata Roy, said that Mamata Banerjee’s party was bringing in hoodlums from outside to disrupt the poll process. “The police will take necessary action against these anti-socials,” assured Bhattacharya.

After his meeting with the deputy chief minister, Roy said of Mamata Banerjee: “This is the first time I am seeing a Union minister canvassing so hard for a civic election.” He went on to allege that she was “exhorting people to vote for Trinamul or CPM in a bid to decimate the Congress”.

But Roy also alleged that Congress workers were being harassed in many parts of the city.

“Anti-socials, backed by the CPM and the Trinamul Congress, are threatening our candidates and the police are doing nothing,” Roy said.    


 
 
SOFT DRINK ‘MADE IN ADVANCE’ 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 19 
Calcutta Police on Monday started a case of cheating against a popular soft drink company as they found several bottles with labels displaying manufacturing dates between July and August 2000.

The bottles were seized from a retail outlet at Ekdalia after a lawyer, Kaushik Dutta, discovered on Sunday afternoon that a soft drink bottle bore the manufacturing date July 5, 2000, and lodged a complaint with Gariahat police station.

Deputy commissioner of police (south) R.K. Pachnanda told The Telegraph: “We have seized the bottles and started a cheating case against the company as we found the drinks are not fit for human consumption and these were marketed with advance manufacturing dates.”

Pachnanda also said that the labels instructed the buyer to consume the soft drinks within two months from the date of manufacture.    


 
 
SUPER NO.10S ON 10-NATION WISHLIST 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, June 19 
Pele and Maradona could be coming to town for a kick in the grass this winter.

Sports minister Subhas Chakraborty is dashing off invitations to the two most famous No. 10s to set the ball rolling in the 10-nation India Cup invitation football tournament at Salt Lake Stadium on December 8.

If the minister, who recently floated the 100-storey skyscraper fantasy has his way, the Brazilian maestro and the Argentinian genius will top the list of a who’s who of soccer legends invited to add “colour and class” to the opening ceremony.

“The aim of hosting such a tournament is to revive the sagging image of the game in the city and give our fans a first-hand taste of international quality,” said Chakraborty.

For the sports minister, who has over the years made the Salt Lake Stadium pitch a melting pot of mega-stars, this is the Big One.

Hosting a tournament of this magnitude on ‘home ground’ has been his long-cherished dream and the buzz in the Subhas camp is that if he can pull off the coup of flying in Pele and Maradona, the maverick minister’s dwindling political stocks will soar again.

Calcuttans, staying up late these days to watch the Beckhams and Bergkamps explode into their drawing rooms as Euro 2000 hots up, have long been starved of quality fare on home turf.

But from December 8 to 22, fans could well get a chance to cheer the Chilaverts and Sukers from the turnstiles. While Morocco, Iran, Paraguay and Ghana have already confirmed, Croatia and the Czech Republic are also expected to sign in. Invitations are being sent to Brazil, Japan, Iraq and the Ukraine as well.

All matches will be played under floodlights and the Indian Football Association will be entrusted to oversee the technical aspects. Union minister of state for sports Syed Shahnawaz Hussein, who met Chakraborty last week, has assured all possible co-operation from Delhi. “The minister (Hussein) has promised to help us construct a press box of international class in the stadium, and also give the stands a facelift before the tournament begins,” said Salt Lake Stadium CEO Saumitra Ray.

Bids are likely to be invited from Doordarshan as well as private channels for telecast rights.    


 
 
STAR SHOWDOWNS IN BATTLE FOR BOROUGHS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 19 
With 4.7 million Calcuttans anxiously waiting to vote in next Sunday’s civic polls, each borough can boast at least one exciting contest.

In wards 30 and 87, CPM mayor Prasanta Chatterjee and Subrata Mukherjee, Trinamul Congress’ candidate for the mayor’s chair, have both launched hectic campaigns. Both are new to their respective wards.

The last time, Chatterjee had contested from the Phulbagan area (ward 32), now reserved for women. Congress had snatched the ward from the CPM in 1995.

It is vital for Subrata Mukherjee, also an MLA on a Congress ticket, to win ward 87. He is pitted against Congress’ Nirendra Mohan Chatterjee, alias China, councillor for the past 15 years.

At least a dozen other wards promise exciting contests. One of them is the Ballygunge Place area (ward 68), where Trinamul’s Rajiv Deb takes on CPM’s Dinendra Nath Bakshi, councillor for a decade.

In the Garden Reach area (ward 140), CPM cadre are angry with the party leadership for denying a ticket to Abdul Ali, member, mayor-in-council in charge of parks and gardens.

The CPM is vulnerable in Chitpur, Sonagachhi and Narkeldanga (wards 2, 18 and 28), where it is likely to face a similar rebellion from partymen.

In Chitpur, chief whip of the Left Front municipal party Shanta Pal was denied a ticket and replaced by Uma Saha without an explanation. The resulting resentment may cost the CPM dearly.

A section of the CPM in north Calcutta is unhappy with the party top brass for dropping three-time winner Krishna Kumar Sarkar from ward 18, and replacing him with Sudhanshu Sil, member, mayor-in-council.

In the Narkeldanga-Rajabazar area (ward 28), CPM’s Tanwi Sanyal was replaced by Jawhar Gupta. Ward 66 in borough-VII has always given the CPM the crucial lead in the Ballygunge Assembly election, till Javed Khan won it in the 1995 civic polls as an Independent. Khan, this year, is Trinamul’s candidate from the ward. The CPM Calcutta District Committee is trying hard to wrest the ward with an eye to the Assembly elections, slated for 2001.

At Pratapaditya Road and its adjoining areas (ward 88), the CPM is desperate to defeat Trinamul’s Mala Roy.

In Chetla (ward 82 in borough-IX), sitting Trinamul councillor Ruby Dutta has been replaced by Firdaus Hakim.

Dutta is contesting from ward 74. It will be difficult for her to win because she will have to defeat Congress’ Deb Kumar Ghosh, the sitting councillor.

Hakim is facing the CPI and Congress opponents, who are playing the minority card in an area with a negligible Muslim population.    


 
 
FRESH LOCATION FOR HOWRAH FISH MARKET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Howrah, June19 
The Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) is planning to beautify the areas surrounding Howrah station by shifting the century-old wholesale fish and betel leaf markets — the biggest of their kind in the eastern region — to another part of the town.

Once this is done, commuters will not be overwhelmed by the stink of rotting fish as they pass the area. HMC mayor Subinoy Ghosh said the corporation had undertaken a number of projects to beautify Howrah. “But our first job is to make the town’s gateway attractive,” said Ghosh.

A huge plot has been already earmarked near Belilious Park, behind Narasingha Dutta College, in central Howrah, to set up the new markets for fish and betel leaf traders.

The area adjacent to the station, where the wholesale markets stand, will be developed for commercial purposes. Besides the offensive odour, accumulated garbage at the markets leads to traffic snarl-ups during the peak hours.

After a big fire in 1985, the fish stalls were shifted to a building adjacent to the market constructed by the Howrah Improvement Trust (HIT). The government has approved the preliminary plans for shifting the markets.

The corporation is likely to complete the final plan within the next two weeks, when the final approval of the state government will be sought, HMC sources said.

The plan to shift the fish market has been pending for a long time. There was a strong demand for shifting the markets from various circles in Howrah for quite some time. Huge piles of decomposed fish and other wastes posed a health hazard to residents of the locality.

But the fish and betel leaf traders opposed the HMC’s plan because they would incur heavy losses if the scheme was implemented. They said the present site was ideal because of its proximity to Howrah station, where consignments arrived from other states.

They would have to bear huge transportation costs if the markets were shifted elsewhere.

“It was for this reason that the markets were set up in the vicinity of Howrah station. If the scheme is implemented the average retail price of fish will automatically rise which will finally affect consumers,” said D. Chakraborty, a fish stall-owner.    


 
 
TRIPURA OFFICIAL SHOT DEAD 
 
 
FROM SEKHAR DATTA
 
Agartala, June 19 
Militants belonging to the National Liberation Front of Tripura gunned down Sanjib Purkayastha, zonal officer of the Autonomous District Council, at the crowded Champahaor market under Khowai police station this afternoon. Purkayastha is the son of veteran CPM leader Ranjan Purkayastha.

Police sources said Purkayastha, a resident of Champahaor village, was waiting at the market for his official vehicle at noon when a group of NLFT militants appeared and shot him dead from point blank range. The terror-stricken people rushed Purkayastha to Khowai hospital where he was pronounced dead. The sources confirmed that the rebels had specifically targeted Purkayastha. No arrests have been made.

Earlier, Purkayastha had survived an attempt on his life when suspected NLFT militants had fired at him near his office in the ADC headquarters at Khumlung on March 22. He had to be shifted to Calcutta for treatment and had returned in a month.

This is the second major killing of an officer in the past few months. On February 16, SDO (Sadar) Sukram Debbarma, shot by unidentified militants in front of his office on February 5, died in a Calcutta hospital.

In a separate incident, seven non-tribal families of Kathalcherra village under trouble-torn Fatikroy police station area were left homeless yesterday after militants set their houses on fire. As a result, 56 Bengali families left the village and took shelter in the Fatikroy area.

Nine tribal women were also injured as police lathicharged them in the Kanchanpur area of North Tripura after they attacked district magistrate (North) and former minister Ananta Pal.

Forest officers assaulted

Having already earned the dubious distinction of “peacefully co-existing” with militants, the CRPF in Tripura has landed itself in another controversy by beating up divisional forest officer George Jenner and forest ranger Sankar Bhowmik after being caught smuggling timber.

The Tripura unit of Indian Forest Service Officers Association has demanded the immediate suspension of guilty CRPF officers of 118 battalion. In a fax message to Union secretary Kamal Pande and CRPF director-general M.N. Saberwal, the union also urged the sanctioning of the environment protection force.

Highly-placed sources in the association said on June 17, a group of CRPF jawans was loading a truck from Gujarat with teak furniture and other sawn timber at Chakmaghat area under Teliamura police station of West Tripura for smuggling it out of the Northeast.

The divisional forest officer, Chakmaghat, and other forest department employees arrived at the site and asked the CRPF jawans not to load the truck. They also flashed a confiscation order. The furious jawans then dragged the two officers to their camp, beat them up and even threatened to shoot them.

After being informed by local people, a police team from Teliamura police station rushed to the CRPF camp and rescued the officials. Jenner then filed an FIR with the Teliamura police station.    


 
 
GORKHA UNIONS SEEK PROTECTION FOR N-E BRETHREN 
 
 
FROM KESHAV PRADHAN
 
Siliguri, June 19 
Various Gorkha student unions from the Northeast and West Bengal have sought abrogation of Articles VI and VII of the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty that allow settlement and free movement of Indian and Nepali nationals in and between each other’s country.

The demand was made by the Arunachal Gorkha Students’ Union, the All-Assam Nepali Students’ Union, the All-Nagaland Students’ Union, the Meghalaya Gorkha Students’ Union, the All-Manipur Students’ Union, the Mizoram Gorkha Students’ Union, the North-East Gorkha Students’ Union and the All Gorkha Students’ Union (Darjeeling) at the end of their three-day conference which ended in Aizawl today.

The demand has been in made in the wake of recent killings of Nepali-speaking people in Assam by militants.

The eight unions, which are all independent bodies, formed a front called the All-India Gorkha Students’ Federation to jointly campaign for their various other demands including the formation of a Gorkhaland state comprising Darjeeling district and neighbouring Dooars in north Bengal.

A statement faxed by federation secretary-general and Mizoram Gorkha Students’ Union president I.K.Subba said a delegation of the federation would soon meet the Prime Minister, the Union home minister, the external affairs minister and the human resources development minister to press for their demands.

While seeking scrapping of Article VI and VII of the treaty, the federation demanded that the Centre make a clear distinction between Nepali nationals and Nepali-speaking Indians who it prefers to describe as “Indian Gorkhas”.

The GNLF-led stir began after scores of Nepali-speaking people were thrown out of Meghalaya in April 1986.

The federation sought recognition of the Indian Gorkhas, especially in the Northeast, as a “specially protected class” to ensure their socio-economic and political rights.

While condemning the recent massacre of 23 Nepali-speaking people in Assam, it demanded the release of three Gorkhas arrested during the June 9 Assam bandh called by the All-Assam Nepali Students’ Union protesting the killings.

This apart, the federation demanded reservation for Gorkhas in medical and technical education and in Union Public Service Commission examinations.    


 
 
FOUL-PLAY STINK IN DIRT-CHEAP FOOD TENDERS 
 
 
FROM DEBARATI AGARWAL
 
Malda, June 19 
Smelling a rat in hospital kitchens, the Malda district magistrate has cancelled all tenders for supplies to the district hospital, police hospital and 15 block health centres.

The move comes after 400 applicants had submitted rates lesser than what had been fixed by the government. The price quoted for fish and meat, for example, was Rs 10 per kg, potatoes were said to cost Re 1 per kg and an egg 50 paise.

The suppliers can afford to keep the rates low by diluting the provisions or supplying less than what is required.

“If this is the situation then the contractors will supply water instead of milk and goats’ skin instead of meat,” said district magistrate A.R. Bardhan, who is also chairman of the hospitals’ diet committee, cancelling the applications.

He has given the district health authorities 45 days to call and process fresh tenders.

Chief medical officer D.P. Mukherjee said last year too, tenders were submitted at rates that were 60-70 per cent less than those recommended. “But the contracts were awarded,” he added.

This year, the district magistrate set up certain eligibility criteria for bidders. A minimum bank balance of Rs 8 lakh was required for suppliers to district hospitals; for suppliers to rural hospitals it was Rs 1.5 lakh. The security deposit was increased to Rs 50,000 from Rs 500.

It was also decided that the same applicant cannot submit tenders for all the hospitals. For this reason, the district was divided into five zones, each with three health centres. The district hospital by itself was one zone. “In every zone, preference will be given to local contractors,” says Bardhan.

Every year, foodstuff of about Rs 3 lakh is consumed in hospitals in the district. On a daily basis, this comes to about Rs 10,000 for about 550 patients.

In a bid to check the corruption brewing in hospital cauldrons, former health minister Prasanta Sur had even gone on a surprise visit to the kitchen of the district hospital, but to no avail.

Two years ago, when an IAS officer wanted to know from the contractors what the “magic” behind the low rates was and had asked for a written reply, the contractors said they either grew vegetables on their land or had their own fisheries.

In reality, they do not supply even 10 per cent of what they are supposed to. On paper, all the 550 patients are shown to have been catered for, while at least 70 per cent of the patients are not in a condition to take food several others prefer to get food from home.

According to rules, fish should be weighed without its head and tail, but this is never done in practice. The patients are given leftover loaves made at least four days back. And though the milk is white, there is no substance in it, despite there being a diet committee to see that proper food is supplied.

The scenario at rural health centres is worse. The health centres at Bamongola, Manikchak, Bulbulchandi, Hatimara, Gajol, Chanchol and Harishchandrapur “admit” patients who do not stay. But bills for food are regularly made. The cancellation of tenders has created a commotion in administrative circles. Bardhan has said he will not allow such robbery even if it leads to his transfer.    


 
 
BRAHMAPUTRA SMACKS LIPS AT ISLE OF CULTURE 
 
 
FROM PULLOCK DUTTA
 
Jorhat, June 19 
Majuli, the world’s largest river island, is threatened with extinction as the Brahmaputra steadily erodes it. As a result, the satras are being forced to relocate.

In the past six months, 80 per cent of the cases handled by the Garmurh police station, one of the three in Majuli, concerned land disputes. This illustrates how important land has become in the river island, or whatever is left of it.

As the mighty Brahmaputra eats into the seat of Vaishnavite culture, the satras may soon have to shift to the mainland.

The satras — the cultural lifeline of the island set up by 15th century Vaishnavite saint Sri Sankardeva and his disciples — have started leaving the island.

“The day is not far off when the whole island would be eaten up by the Brahmaputra. As such we are keeping our options open,” a disciple of the Auniati Satra told The Telegraph. The satra has been allotted a 250-bigha plot at Koliapan in Jorhat to set up its branch. Majuli is a subdivision of Jorhat district.

“Although we have not decided when we will shift to the new site, we will soon start construction work there,” he said.

The Dakhinpa Satra, one of the oldest on the island, set up a base in the mainland near Sotai tea estate nearly 10 km from Jorhat town a couple of years back.

The extent of erosion in the island can be gauged from the fact that the site of the original Kamalabari Satra is at present submerged by the Brahmaputra. The Na (new) Kamalabari Satra was set up after the original was eaten up by the river. Subsequently, a branch of the satra was set up at Titabor in Jorhat.

In the heydays of Satriya culture in Majuli, there were more than 65 satras spread across the island. Now only 22 satras exist in the island.

According to a study by Ananda Hazarika, a lecturer in geography at Majuli College, the earthquake of 1950 hit the region with such intensity that the river bed was pushed upwards, causing the river to change its course. Since then, the island has fallen prey to erosion, with small bits of it being eaten up by the river year after year.

The problem has reached such alarming proportions that the islanders have started believing that it will be extinct soon.

A day will come when Majuli, the cultural capital of Assam, will vanish from the map, the study warned.

According to a 1991 survey, the area of Majuli was 1,256 square km. But today, the island measures just 850 square km.    

 

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