‘Haven’ home town turns hostile
Autos on a roll as pollsters do the rounds
It’s culture over commerce at Rawdon Square
Ministers call Mamata bluff on Lake status
Vajpayee tells N-E states to cut expenditure
Manipur Speaker to look into Opp. grudges
Bangla Army buckles, kills 16 N-E rebels
Police bid to block ISI agents’ bail
Diseases stalk Bihar jail inmates

 
 
‘HAVEN’ HOME TOWN TURNS HOSTILE 
 
 
BY SUMIT DAS GUPTA AND PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, June 21 
Ashok Gupta is a disillusioned young man today. He feels “completely let down” by the city that has been “home” to his family for years, but where he now fears for his life every time the phone rings or when he catches a stranger staring at him on the streets.

It was 10.30 pm on Sunday, June 11, when 24-year-old Ashok Gupta drove a Maruti Zen out of his Ballygunge Circular Road office.

Suddenly, he found his path blocked by a taxi and before he could realise what was happening, two young men opened the front doors, put revolvers to his head and said: “Chillaya to goli mar denge (If you shout, we’ll shoot you).”

Gupta, instinctively, fought back. He managed to force open the door and make a dash. One of the assailants hit him on the head sending him sprawling to the ground.

The two then bashed him up and dragged him back to the car.

But that didn’t stop Gupta from kicking up a huge row, shouting and screaming for help. Fearing that his cries would attract attention, the two abductors — “young, slim, clean-shaven and Hindi-speaking” — dropped Gupta off near the Punjab Club gate and sped off in his car.

Gupta — a young businessman who divides his time between Calcutta and Australia — lodged an FIR with the Ballygunge police station late that night.

Then, he went knocking on the doors of “several senior police officials”, all of whom lent him a sympathetic ear.

Gupta’s car was retrieved with the stereo and all gadgets intact.

“Throughout the attack, they never asked me to hand over my wallet or mobile. They were clearly trying to abduct me and not just rob me,” alleges Gupta.

Two days after the abduction attempt — which had taken place within hours of his reaching the city from Switzerland — a call came through in his office. “Us **** ko bol dena usko kaat dalenge” (Tell him that we will kill him),” an abusive male voice told one of Gupta’s employees.

“I lodged another written complain with Ballygunge police station, but the police seem to be completely clueless till now,” complains Gupta.

“We are investigating the complaints thoroughly. A few people have already been questioned in this connection. We have not achieved any breakthrough in the case as yet,” confessed the officer-in-charge, Ballygunge police station.

The death threats and the delay in nailing the culprits have forced the ex-student of Don Bosco, Park Circus, to opt for a “personal security guard without arms” for Rs 25,000 a month.

“I am a Calcutta boy. I have been born and brought up here. I am still in a state of shock, I just can’t believe that this happened to me in my home town.

“Calcutta used to be the safest city in India, but not any more. My family is living in fear and if this continues, I will have no choice but to quit the city,” says Gupta.

But deputy commissioner of police (detective departmetnt) Narayan Ghosh said: “The complaint is baseless. He must have some business rivalry. The story that he has fed us is not at all convincing and sounds fictitious in parts. So, as of now, there is nothing to investigate. Why isn’t he installing a caller line identification (CLI) system? We will take action if he instals a CLI on his phone and identifies the number from which a threat call is made.”

Gupta, of course, claims otherwise: “This is not a simple case of business rivalry or family feud. I just cannot understand why this is happening to me. And I have installed a CLI in my office phone from Wednesday.”

Meanwhile, senior police officers in the city admitted that cases of kidnappings and attempted abductions, targeting businessmen in particular, were on the rise.

“In the past few months, some cases of kidnapping for ransom have come to light. But in most instances, the police are not informed and the businessman’s family negotiates a settlement,” confessed an official.    


 
 
AUTOS ON A ROLL AS POLLSTERS DO THE ROUNDS 
 
 
BY DEBASISH CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, June 21 
The ubiquitous autorickshaw, a streak of black and yellow dodging through peak-hour traffic, has virtually gone off the roads over the past few days, thanks to the civic elections.

Supporters of different political parties in Calcutta and Salt Lake have cornered scores of autos in the city and its adjoining areas to use them in whistle-stop campaigns.

The leaders are plumping for the auto as it is not expensive and can crawl through the narrowest of lanes and bylanes, ferrying candidates from door to door with loudspeakers mounted on the roofs.

Zeba Nasreen, a Trinamul Congress candidate from ward 60, had engaged autos when it came to covering every inch of her constituency. “As there is little time left before campaigning ends, it is becoming difficult for me to cover the constituency on foot. So I have taken recourse to autos,” says Nasreen.

A huge procession of autorickshaws came out in support of Amal Mitra, CPM councillor of ward 114, on June 18. “Time is running out. But I have to reach my voters. Hence, this procession on wheels,” Mitra explained.

However, the auto is not the preferred mode of transport for all senior CPM leaders. “The candidates should meet voters on foot if they want to win them over,” said member, mayor-in-council, Abdul Ali.

But there are others who feel that the candidates must “move with the times”. “How can we forget that we are in the 21st Century?” said Sailen Dasgupta, chairman of borough 13 and a Congress candidate from ward 117.

The BJP candidate from ward 17 in Salt Lake, Amlan Pratap Dutta, is using the auto to “distribute voters’ slips, posters and other items,” said his campaign manager.

Auto operators, sensing their chance, are keen to cash in. “It’s time to earn a quick buck. Any candidate or political party can hire an auto at Rs 40 an hour. Normally, they take an auto for at least 12 hours and we are happy counting the cash while the going is good,” said Ranjan Sasmal, who plies an autorickshaw from Beleghata to CIT Building. The political parties also provide two square meals a day.

The mainstream parties like the CPM, Congress, Trinamul and BJP are hiring at least 100 autos daily.

Kajal Das, autorickshaw driver and member of CPM’s labour arm Citu, said, “We are charging Rs 500 for 12 hours and there is no concession for the party members.”    


 
 
IT’S CULTURE OVER COMMERCE AT RAWDON SQUARE 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, June 21 
Under pressure from the Opposition, the ruling Left has decided to spike the ‘commercial’ and stick to the ‘cultural’ side of the proposed Rawdon Square project.

Mainline Opposition parties went on a statewide agitation after chief minister Jyoti Basu laid the foundation stone of the proposed cultural-cum-commercial complex on December 30, 1991.

Close to a decade later, the government has changed tack. “Now, this will be a purely cultural complex and if things go according to plan, we will start construction by the year-end,” announced K.K. Guha, director of culture, government of West Bengal.

Guha said on Tuesday that the complex will come up without affecting the waterbody, which constitutes 80 per cent of Rawdon Square, measuring 3.17 acres.

Critics view the government’s move as a calculated attempt to woo the electorate just before the Assembly elections, due early next year. “If construction begins by December, this is bound to influence a pocket of voters before the Assembly elections,” complained BJP leader and former CMC councillor Santilal Jain.

The Calcutta Cultural Centre Committee will finalise the concept design of the proposed project at its next meeting, to be held after Governor Viren J. Shah, who is also president of the committee, returns from Kerala.

The meeting had been scheduled for June 30 but was deferred due to Shah’s absence.

The Industry Institute Partnership Cell (IIPC), attached to Jadavpur University, is examining the concept designs submitted by Balmer Lawrie and Hindustan Steel Works Construction Ltd.

Elaborating on the proposed complex, Arun Bhattacharya, principal secretary, department of information and cultural affairs, said the revised project includes an auditorium (with a capacity of nearly 1,100 people), a smaller auditorium for 500 people, a 1,500-capacity hall and two conference-cum-seminar rooms, with a capacity of 250 each.

Lord Swraj Paul has promised Rs 2 crore to the government for the project.    


 
 
MINISTERS CALL MAMATA BLUFF ON LAKE STATUS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 21 
Two Left Front ministers on Wednesday accused Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee of lying to the electorate in a desperate bid to gain some ground in the run-up to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation polls.

Banerjee had announced at an election meeting on Tuesday that her letter to the Union environment ministry had resulted in Rabindra Sarovar being included in the National Lake Conservation Project (NLCP).

State environment minister Manab Mukherjee challenged her to prove that Rabindra Sarovar had not been accorded the status as a lake of national importance way back in 1995.

Mukherjee and urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya produced letters written to the state government by the Union environment ministry to this effect.

“She has no right to take the people of Calcutta for a ride by making false claims,” Bhattacharya stated. He said the joint secretary of the environment ministry had written to the chief executive officer of Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), Nandita Chatterjee, in April this year, clarifying the matter.

Bhattacharya said the Union ministry had wrongfully submitted an affidavit before the Calcutta High Court green bench that Rabindra Sarovar had been de-listed. In the April letter, joint secretary S. Kaul wrote that the affidavit had been “rectified and re-submitted.”

“How can Mamata Banerjee claim that it is her doing?” demanded Mukherjee. Bhattacharya said the Centre had failed to get the necessary funds for the conservation project from the World Bank. “It is the state government which has spent nearly Rs 40 lakh for the conservation project and the Centre is yet to give us a single paisa, even though a lake under the NLCP is the full responsibility of the Centre,” the urban development minister concluded.    


 
 
VAJPAYEE TELLS N-E STATES TO CUT EXPENDITURE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 21 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today asked the chief ministers of the northeastern states to cut down on administrative expenditure and generate resources to meet expenses incurred on counter-insurgency operations and development work.

Vajpayee said insurgency in the region could not be brought to an end without coordination between the Centre and the states.

A delegation of chief ministers from the Northeast, barring those of Mizoram and Meghalaya, had urged the Prime Minister to declare insurgency as a “national problem” and increase the quantum of financial assistance for operations against militant outfits.

The chief ministers also made a case for introduction of identity cards for citizens to check the unabated influx of Bangladeshis into the region.

Briefing newspersons later, the press advisor to the Prime Minister said the meeting lasted for two hours and covered a host of issues, including border trade with neighbouring countries.

He said the delegation, led by Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, submitted a memorandum listing the problems faced by the northeastern states. “The Prime Minister told the chief ministers that their governments would have to strengthen the police set-up and make it capable of combating insurgency. He stressed the importance of both training of police personnel and procurement of sophisticated arms and other equipment,” the press advisor said.

The Centre has agreed to reimburse all security-related expenditure incurred by the northeastern states. Altogether Rs 385.38 crore has already been released to these states. The Centre has also approved a scheme for fencing of 2,429 km of the Indo-Bangladesh border and construction of 797 km of roads at a cost of Rs 1,334 crore. The project, which got underway on June 1, is expected to be completed by March 31 next year.

Today’s meeting was a corollary to the conference of chief ministers of the northeastern states in Shillong last month. The meeting had resolved to take up issues of “common interest and concern” with the Centre. According to official sources, the Centre will release Rs 285 crore over the next two years for modernisation of the police departments of all seven northeastern states. Of this amount, Rs 99.01 crore has been already utilised.

Mahanta today urged the Centre to bear the expenses incurred on development of security-related infrastructure and recurring expenses on maintenance of the India Reserve Police battalions raised and deployed in the Northeast.

On the proposal for introduction of citizens’ identity cards, Vajpayee told Mahanta and his counterparts that a study on the feasibility of the scheme was underway. He said the report would be submitted soon.

The other proposals made by the chief ministers include immediate reconstitution of the North Eastern Council and restoration of the practice of bridging the non-Plan revenue deficit with additional central assistance. The chief ministers also urged the Centre to write off over Rs 12,000 crore in outstanding central government loans and raise the credit-deposit ratio in the region to 40 per cent.

Vajpayee assured them that he would consider the proposal after the 11th Finance Commission submitted its report on grants to states on June 30, an official spokesperson said.    


 
 
MANIPUR SPEAKER TO LOOK INTO OPP. GRUDGES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, June 21 
Manipur Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy today said he would examine the complaints lodged by Opposition members against nine ruling Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) legislators.

The Opposition has challenged the split and merger of these nine legislators — among them six ministers — and sought their disqualification under the anti-defection law.

Dhananjoy said he has received eight complaints, while Assembly sources added that the complaint against hills areas committee chairman C. Doungel was not included. Refusing to comment on the nature of the petitions, the Speaker said he is yet to examine the papers.

The “defectors” include Cabinet ministers Thangminlen Kipgen and T. Hangkhanpao and ministers of state S. Chandra, K. Tomba, Onjamang Haokip and Md. Alauddin. The other three were deputy chairman of planning board Doungel, L. Jatra and Zatwan.

K. Thangminlen, Onjamang, Alauddin and Doungel had defected from Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). K. Tomba, L. Jatra and S. Chandra were originally Manipur People’s Party (MPP) legislators, while Hangkhanpao and Zatwan belonged to the Rastriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United) respectively before their defection to the MSCP few days after the Assembly elections.

Six of them were inducted into the W. Nipamacha Singh ministry on March 2 although their defection was formally recognised by then Speaker Karam Babudhon Singh on March 6 and 7.

However, Babudhon’s action drew much flak as during that period Rishang Keishing was appointed pro-tem Speaker by Governor Ved Marwah. Later, the nine defectors were given due recognition by the current Speaker in April.

State NCP president R.K. Nokulsana Singh has challenged the split recognised by Babudhon Singh at the Imphal bench of the Gauhati High Court.

MSCP sources said the complaints does not have any merit as the merger was recognised by Dhananjoy and he is bound to reject the complaints which have challenged his order.    


 
 
BANGLA ARMY BUCKLES, KILLS 16 N-E REBELS 
 
 
FROM SEKHAR DATTA
 
Agartala, June 21 
In its first major offensive against Northeast insurgents, Bangladesh Army last week gunned down 16 National Liberation Front of Tripura rebels and seized a huge cache of arms and ammunition at Sazek range in the Chittagong Hills.

The Bangladesh Army conducted surprise attacks on three NLFT hideouts. More such operations are likely as the Centre is mounting pressure on Bangla-desh to flush out Northeast rebels from that country, sources said.

Consistent pressure from India and the growing nexus with insurgents and pro-Pakistani elements and parties like the BNP and Jamat-i-Islami were the main reasons behind the operations, the sources said.

However, the Indian promise for trade concessions in exchange of operations against Northeast militants in Bangladesh cannot be entirely ruled out, the sources added.

Earlier, intelligence sources were quoted as saying that Bangladesh Army had gunned down 11 NLFT militants in the Sajek range of the Chittagong Hills on June 14.

The report was officially denied by the Bangladesh government. But highly-placed sources from across the border confirmed that such an operation was indeed launched and “the denial had to be issued because officially the Bangladesh government had never acknowledged the presence of anti-Indian rebels on their soil.”

Giving details about the operation on June 14, the sources said officers and jawans of Bangladesh Army’s 113 brigade left their cantonment in Khagracherri district of Chittagong Hill tracts and raided three NLFT hideouts in Tanglaikanta, Japui and Thangnan in the Sajek range.

In the course of the operation, 11 militants died in Tanglaikanta, two in Japui and three in Thangnan. The dead included three unidentified commanders of the militant group. A large quantity of arms and ammunition were also recovered.

However, the Army did not launch any offensive at the NLFT headquarters at Lalukanu, which is also located in the Sajek range, “basically to give an opportunity to the NLFT leadership to flee Bangladesh soil”, the sources said. Sporadic clashes between the NLFT and its rival group TIGER FORCE on Bangladesh soil might have also prompted the neighbouring nation to attack the Indian militants.    


 
 
POLICE BID TO BLOCK ISI AGENTS’ BAIL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, June 21 
Police will file chargesheets tomorrow against the four ISI agents arrested in the city last year.

Sources said the police were under pressure to file the chargesheets as the court would otherwise have to release the ISI agents on bail. Over 270 days have elapsed since they were apprehended. The police were recently “cautioned” that once the ISI men were released on bail, they could flee the state.

The court had granted bail to one of the accused, Javed Wakhar, but the police detained him again within an hour of his release. He was taken into custody under the provisions of the National Security Act (NSA). The police moved court again today against the bail order issued yesterday. It was subsequently withdrawn.

Wakhar, originally from Uttar Pradesh but now a Pakistani citizen, is an expert in the use of explosives. The police have also charged Wakhar’s accomplice Fasiullah Hussaini, alias Hamid Mahmood, under the NSA.

Fasiullah, a commerce graduate, underwent training in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan. In March 1999, he made an abortive attempt to sneak into Jammu and Kashmir along with 70 other militants. On July 15 last year, the Pakistani agent travelled to Bangladesh by air and crossed over to India 13 days later.    


 
 
DISEASES STALK BIHAR JAIL INMATES 
 
 
FROM RUDRA BISWAS
 
Ranchi, June 21 
Prisoners at the Birsa Munda Central Jail here have very little chance of survival if they fall seriously ill, sources say.

The prison is overcrowded and lacks adequate facilities for treatment of serious ailments. Compounding the prisoners’ woes, the authorities do not shift patients to government hospitals even if their condition worsens.

The oft-repeated excuse for not shifting sick prisoners to hospitals is shortage of manpower.

“The police department has not provided additional personnel despite repeated requests,” a prison official told The Telegraph.

A seriously-ill woman prisoner died recently because she was belatedly shifted to the Rajendra Medical College Hospital. Suffering from acute hepatitis, the woman passed away within a week of being admitted to the hospital. “She was brought to the hospital in a serious condition at the last moment, which is why the doctors could not save her,” a source said.

The woman prisoner, Matista Ekka, was serving a five-year prison term and had been shifted to the central jail in November last year.

Matista had been suffering from jaundice for quite some time, but was not shifted to a hospital due to non-availability of guards. When her condition worsened, a couple of jail guards finally took her to the Rajendra Medical College Hospital on June 12. She died four days later.

Since the early Nineties, the number of prisoners in the central jail has increased manifold. “On any given day, there are over 1,800 male and female prisoners in the prison, as against a capacity of 364,” an official said.

The jail staff decided to shift at least 250 prisoners to Hazaribagh after two notorious criminals, Anil Sharma and Surender Rautela, were brought to the prison six months ago. However, the police authorities are yet to provide personnel to escort the prisoners to the Hazaribagh jail.

With living conditions in the central jail going from bad to worse, prisoners are falling prey to a plethora of diseases. At least two dozen prisoners are down with either tuberculosis or jaundice at present.

The worst-affected prisoners are those who have been shifted to the prison from various rural sub-jails.

In a letter to the inspector-general of prisons recently, the Bihar home secretary said all sick prisoners should be shifted to nearby government hospitals. However, the police department is yet to provide additional personnel for this purpose.    

 

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