Arrests & alarm set off I-Day drill
Anil, Kanti lock horns over funds for school
Dead fowl for roll corners, caterers
Grand old men in modern times
Teachers fare poorly in selection tests
Mamata gifts rail land for Mithun hospital
Armyman cremated
Unique reunion in Tripura hotel
Freedom fighter languishes in penury

 
 
ARRESTS & ALARM SET OFF I-DAY DRILL 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14 
The city police have pushed the panic button with five suspected militants falling into their net in the past two days, triggering fears that attempts may be made to disrupt Independence Day functions on Tuesday.

The arrest of two suspected LTTE militants at the airport on Monday morning prompted the police to declare a red alert. Investigators fanned out to gather information on “infiltrators” on the eve of Independence Day.

Earlier, on Saturday and Sunday, police picked up Abdul Jabbar, Altaf and Mushtaq from their “hideouts” in south and central Calcutta for their suspected “Kashmiri militant” links.

At Writers’ Buildings, deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya confirmed that he had received several messages from Delhi warning the state administration of the possibility of disruptive activities on I-Day.

“We are using all our resources to pre-empt strikes by terrorists,” Bhattacharya said. “The police have been carrying out search operations all over the state.”

Rakesh Gupta, deputy commissioner, security control, said sleuths intercepted two Sri Lankan Tamils, Jewaratnam Jigneshwaram and Nityananda Suresh, on Monday morning while trying to clear immigration. The two had arrived in the city on an Indian Airlines flight from Bangkok.

“We had prior information about their arrival,” Gupta said. “Both were carrying forged passports and had spent a couple of weeks in Bangkok before trying to enter Calcutta.” Interrogation has revealed that they had visited India earlier and had, in fact, spent some time in Chennai before leaving for Bangkok from there. “They have said that they had illegally entered Trichy and then proceeded to Chennai,” an investigating official said.

Gupta has contacted his counterparts in Chennai and also informed the state and central intelligence agencies in the city. The three suspected militants arrested earlier — Jabbar, Altaf and Mushtaque — had been in the city for about a month before being picked up, the police said. They had been moving from one hotel to another to avoid the police dragnet.

The arrest on Thursday of Jameel Akhtar, a Kashmiri militant believed to involved in the massacre of Amarnath pilgrims in Pahalgam, led the police to the three others, a senior police officer said on Monday. “We are trying to ascertain how close they are to Jameel and what they have been doing during their stay in the city,” he said.

The city police have launched a massive combing operation all over Calcutta from Monday morning. Policemen with sniffer dogs and metal detectors are doing the rounds of guest houses, hotels and some houses in “sensitive areas”. Securitymen are frisking people “moving around suspiciously or carrying suspicious articles”. About two dozen suspects were detained by the police. The unprecedented security drill was ordered by city police chief D.C. Vajpai after intelligence reports indicated that militants have infiltrated the city and chalked out “disruptive plans” for August 15.

Heavy security deployment has been made at Howrah and Sealdah stations, state and central government offices, Victoria Memorial and Indian Museum, considered to be “soft targets”.

Superintendent of railway police, D.P. Tarenia, said policemen with sniffer dogs and metal detectors will patrol railway platforms from Monday night.

“We are aware of the security threat and have taken adequate precautions,’’ he said, adding that policemen have been directed to frisk people and even detain them on the slightest suspicion.

At the airport, too, a similar drill is being carried out. The superintendent of police, airport, O.P. Gupta, said policemen will be “all over the place”, from the car shed to the runway, on Tuesday.    


 
 
ANIL, KANTI LOCK HORNS OVER FUNDS FOR SCHOOL 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14 
State school education minister Kanti Biswas and state CPM general secretary Anil Biswas, both heavyweights of the ruling party, are at loggerheads over allotment of government funds to a Christian missionary school in Calcutta.

While the school education minister is determined not to allot a grant for the school, the CPM state general secretary is bent on doing so.

Anil Biswas is all concern for the CIT Road branch of Holy Child School, run by the Roman Catholic Church, because his daughter studied at the school’s Beadon Street branch.

Even though Anil Biswas’ daughter has passed out of the school, he, as a responsible father, had no option but to reassure the nuns, who run the institution, when they sought his intervention to solve the funds problem.

Since the late seventies, there have been disputes between the school authorities and the state government over funding.

Though the school was already enrolling a large number of students, the state government refused to grant affiliation to it because it was run by Christian missionaries.

After much persuasion, the state government did agree to grant affiliation but on condition that it would not bear the burden of running the high school — Class IX and Class X. Since it had no choice, the school accepted the government’s condition.

But in the following years, the government stopped providing aid for middle school as well, said Sister Philomia, the school’s headmistress. “Because of the financial crisis, we may have to close the school in a few years’ time,” she said.

According to the headmistress, they had requested the school education minister to consider their demand, but in vain.

Anil Biswas said he had discussed the matter with the education minister.

He, however, denied he was doing the school a favour because his daughter had studied there. “At least 11 other Christian missionary schools are facing similar problems and we are trying to sort them out,” he said.

The headmistress said unlike many other Christian missionary-run institutions in Calcutta, the CIT Road Holy Child institution mainly catered to middle-class students. “So we can’t raise the fees,” she said.

Kanti Biswas, however, sticks to his guns. “They (the school) had given us the undertaking that they would not claim any financial aid. How can they expect us to give funds now?” said Biswas.

However, the school is hopeful that Anil Biswas will do the needful, because the state government had accepted a long-standing demand of Christian missionaries in Calcutta for exemption of SC, ST and OBC reservation from eight of its colleges, after the state CPM secretary had intervened. Among these colleges are St Xavier’s, Loreto, Scottish Church, St Paul’s and United Missionary B.Ed College.    


 
 
DEAD FOWL FOR ROLL CORNERS, CATERERS 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14 
More than 5,000 kg of dead chicken finds its way daily to roadside roll stalls, Maidan tents and caterers in the city. Following this startling revelation, the civic health department is now ready to bust the racket.

“Chicken traders sell these dead birds to caterers and roll corners at throwaway prices,” said member, mayor-in-council, Javed Ahmed Khan.

Inspectors of Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) will collect samples of meat and cooking oil for tests.

“It is a dangerous practice and can spread disease”, said Subrata Basu, superintendent of the CMC food laboratory. It is more risky to eat rolls, since grilled meat is used in them. Grilling may not destroy the microbes which could have killed a bird.

“We have already set up our micro-biology laboratory where the samples of meat and other edibles will be tested,” he said.

Health inspectors have been told to collect samples of catered food, too, for laboratory tests.

“An errant caterer will be given a warning first and advised to use the right materials,” he said. If a caterer commits the same offence twice, the health department will not renew his licence.

Over the past few years, more than 25,000 roll corners have mushroomed all over the city, says a CMC licence inspector. There are no less than 10,000 chicken traders. They sell 100 quintals of birds daily.

According to a CMC health inspector, wholesalers and retailers sell more than a lakh birds daily.

If the casualty rate is 10 per cent, then at least 10,000 birds die every day. Dead bird wholesalers operate in the New Market, Taltala, Sealdah, Rajabazar, Kidderpore, Tangra and Shyambazar areas.

They buy and resell dressed meat to roll stands and certain caterers at Rs 20 a kg.    


 
 
GRAND OLD MEN IN MODERN TIMES 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14 
“Fifty-three years after Independence, 40 per cent of the country’s population lives below the poverty line. Do you think we sacrificed our lives for this free India?” demands 88-year-old Vishwanath Mathur, president of the All-India Freedom Fighters’ Association, on the eve of I-Day.

His friends from the Andaman Cellular Jail days — Jogesh Chandra Das, Jibendra Das, Bimal Bhowmik and Ram Singh — nod in agreement.

These octo- and nonagenarians are in the city, thanks to the efforts of Adakar, a Calcutta-based social organisation, which has arranged a felicitation for 32 freedom fighters who spent “several years in Cellular Jail”. At a function at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Tuesday, they will be presented with a token of Rs 31,000, a shawl and a silver replica of Cellular Jail. Mamata Banerjee, Sushma Swaraj and Mahasweta Devi will gift them rakhis.

On Monday, after arriving from different parts of the country, these long-lost friends, once united for a cause and now by circumstance, took a trip down the memory lane. “My health condition wasn’t permitting me to come down from Delhi, but I just couldn’t miss the opportunity of meeting my old friends,” said Mathur, who had earlier spent 16 years in Calcutta and “loved the city for its warmth”.

As the grey-haired friends sat down under the mild August sun, the courtyard of a central Calcutta guest house resounded with laughter. When Bimal Bhowmik (from Midnapore) asked Jibendra Das (of Tripura) his name, the latter shot back with a smile: “If you can’t remember my name, I must say that you were never in Cellular Jail.”

After the preliminary banter, queries on health and family matters followed. Then, the talk inevitably turned to the “Cellular Jail days”.

But amidst the fun and laughter, there was a deep sense of disappointment. The reason: the present state of affairs in the country.

“All major political parties use communal and provincial sentiments to garner their political interests, but strangely they have no nationalistic slogans. The roots of all separatist movements and militancy in different parts of the country can be traced back to this approach of the politicians,” remarked Mathur.

Almost every contemporary neta, from Atal Behari Vajpayee (“he is a pujari, not a politician”) to Sonia Gandhi (“the lesser said about her the better”) was taken to task. But sister-to-be Mamata Banerjee’s political performance evoked mixed reactions. “I have serious reservations about her political approach, but how can I deny her mass appeal?” opined Mathur.

Ram Singh, who lives in Agra, was scathing about the extravagance of today’s leadership: “Who pays for the jumbo Cabinet of 105 ministers in UP or when a leader takes away 500 vehicles from the public for a rally?”

All five agreed that “lack of principles and values” in politics had made “opportunism” the name of the game and so there were no “role models” in public life today.

Privatisation and liberalistaion, too, figured high on the list of the freedom fighters. “It seems that the government is in a hurry to shrug off all its responsibilities, but who will benefit from this move?” demanded Bhowmik.

But what must be done to set the wrongs right? “Put leaders with criminal connections behind bars, make education till the college level free, improve health facilities in rural India,” they prsecribed.

“The Amartya Sen model of mixed economy, with emphasis on health and education, must be adopted,” suggested Mathur.

While all agreed that “things are in real bad shape”, they refused to give up hope for the country they had fought to make free.

“You can’t fool all the people all the time and there will be an awakening among the commonpeople. Once they unite, change is bound to occur,” concluded the grand old men.    


 
 
TEACHERS FARE POORLY IN SELECTION TESTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14 
The success rate in selection tests for posts of secondary teachers has deteriorated further, with only 6.7 per cent of the candidates qualifying this year, against 9.4 per cent last year. A total of 2,46,325 candidates had taken the tests this year from the state.

Announcing the results on Monday, R.K. Saha, chairman of the commission, said more than 2,000 vacant teaching posts in nearly 350 state-aided secondary schools in Calcutta and its adjacent areas are unlikely to be filled as the commission may find it difficult to get suitable candidates, following the poor performance in the selection tests.

As many as 70,281 candidates appeared for the tests from the city and the two neighbouring districts, North and South 24-Parganas. From the Calcutta region alone, 3,958 have qualified for interviews.

In spite of this, many posts are likely to remain vacant because a large number of candidates generally fail the interviews, commission sources said.

“The appointments will be made from a pool of selected candidates to be prepared after the interviews,” Saha said. The performance in written tests as well as interviews is taken into account before the final selections.

Saha said the candidates usually fare worst in mathematics and physics, creating a shortage of qualified teachers in these two subjects. The success rate in English and Bengali is relatively better.

The success rate among scheduled caste and scheduled tribe candidates was even worse, the commission chairman added. Less than 10 per cent of the SC and ST candidates have qualified for interviews this year.

Most of the posts reserved for them, could not be filled even in 1999 for want of suitable candidates, Saha added.    


 
 
MAMATA GIFTS RAIL LAND FOR MITHUN HOSPITAL 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14 
Railway minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday said she would seek the state government’s help to free railway land in Bengal from unauthorised occupation.

“There are people who are unnecessarily occupying railway land. We want to evict them. But, there are also poor people who live on railway land. We will talk to the state government about their rehabilitation,” she said.

Speaking at a programme on Monday afternoon, Mamata said the railway authorities are ready to go in for joint ventures in specialised medical treatment in West Bengal. “We want to be increasingly involved in social services and we want some specialised hospitals built on railway land. We can even go in for joint ventures,” Mamata said.

At a function in Calcutta on Monday afternoon, a 20-cottah plot beside Bidhannagar station was leased out to an NGO, Aamra, to set up a thalassaemia centre and hospital. She handed over the lease documents to filmstar Mithun Chakraborty, founder of Aamra.

“Treatment of thalassaemia is very expensive and there is no infrastructure in the state to combat the disease,” Mamata said, explaining the need for thehospital.

“We have also planned a heart transplant centre in the state. Why should people run to Chennai every time?”, she added.

Speaking on the occasion, Mithun said he was thankful to “Mamatadi” for leasing out the land to his organisation.

“Usually the railway does not come forward the way it did to lease out the land for the thalassaemia hospital. I salute the railway minister that she has responded to our cause,” he added.

Mithun said now that he had the land, construction would start. “It will be an uphill task. I appeal to the people of Bengal to come forward and help me complete our hospital,” he said.    


 
 
ARMYMAN CREMATED 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14 
An Army bugle played the Last Post as the body of Captain Sekhar Ghosh, killed in combat with militants in the Rajouri sector of Kashmir on Saturday, was consigned to the flames on Monday morning at Rashmoni Ghat crematorium, in Barrackpore, on the northern fringes of Calcutta.

Ghosh’s body was flown in from Delhi on Sunday night. Father S.N. Ghosh and other family members were present when the coffin arrived at 8.50 pm. Colonel S.C. Mahanta, commander of the Barrackpore garrison, and Lt-Colonel A. Das of the Bengal area were present at the airport. The body was brought in an Army truck to Ghosh’s residence at Jai Hind Colony. Residents thronged the road for a last glimpse.    


 
 
UNIQUE REUNION IN TRIPURA HOTEL 
 
 
FROM SEKHAR DATTA
 
Agartala, Aug. 14 
Omar Martin and Annie Carron watched indulgently as their adopted daughter Bharati today slipped into the waiting arms of the woman who gave birth to her in a nondescript village in Tripura 11 years ago. It was the fulfilment of a promise made by the physically-challenged Dutch couple to Mother Teresa, who had personally handed over Bharati to her foster parents in Calcutta on June 13, 1991.Perhaps a trifle uncomfortable in the alien surroundings of the hotel where the reunion took place, Bharati spoke very little. When she did, it was in Dutch. “Where are my five sisters? Did you ever try to find out where I was?” the 11-year-old girl asked her mother. Overcome by emotion, Sarojini Sarkar caressed her daughter with her eyes and mumbled something. Samrat Kar Bhowmik, the Agartala-based lawyer who helped the Martins trace Sarojini, interpreted the words in English, while Omar Martin conveyed the message to his adopted daughter in Dutch. Conversation over, the Martins had lunch with Sarojini and her husband Surjya Kanta Sarkar. As they bade goodbye, tears welled up again in Sarojini’s eyes. Now well in control of herself, Bharati kissed her mother, perhaps expressing in action what she could not with words. For Bhowmik, the reunion was a personal triumph, the culmination of a journey that began the day he chanced upon Omar Martin’s website on the Internet. There was a small message on the website, seeking information about a girl born to a woman named Sarojini in Kalkalia village in 1989. Ever the good samaritan, Bhowmik decided to help Martin. He contacted the Nirmala Shishu Bhawan here and personally visited Kalkalia in search of Sarojini. It was a successful move. “I feel happy at having played a small part in bringing about the reunion,” he told The Telegraph.

However, the Martins politely declined to speak to newspersons, saying they would like to be left alone. The Dutch couple and their adopted daughter will be flying back to Brussels via Dhaka on Friday. Bhowmik said Omar Martin, a senior official in the Belgian finance ministry, was crippled by polio when he was only one years old.

His wife Annie, a schoolteacher, met the same fate after a bout of muscular neurosis at the age of 20. “They are an amazing couple, full of zest for life and immense love for Bharati,” the lawyer said.

Today, watching the Martins and the Sarkars meet for the first time, Bhowmik admitted to feeling absolutely euphoric.

The Martins adopted Bharati from Mother Teresa’s home in Calcutta when she was just 18 months old. Bharati’s parents had handed her over to Nirmala Shishu Bhavan here 39 days after she was born because they were too poor to keep her.    


 
 
FREEDOM FIGHTER LANGUISHES IN PENURY 
 
 
FROM PULLOCK DUTTA
 
Tezpur, Aug. 14 
As a young woman brimming with courage and conviction, Swarnalata Mahanta fought for the country’s Independence. She is still fighting, but this time it is a lonely battle against penury.

Lying in bed at a relative’s house in the heart of this historic city, the former state sericulture minister simply watches the world go by, with no one having a moment to think about a woman who gave her all for the cause of her motherland.

“In my struggle for the country and my people, I did not even find time to get married, nor even collected enough money to build my own house ... but what have I gained? Nothing,” said the septuagenarian, who has been bedridden for the past three months following an accident. “With no one to care for me, I’m just counting my days,” she added as her eyes grew moist.

Her voice trembled with angst and despair as she cried out, “Nobody needs me, everybody avoids me like a wasted soul.” Mahanta, who was a minister in the Sarat Chandra Sinha Cabinet, also finds it difficult to make ends meet as most of her meagre pension goes towards meeting her medical expenses.

At the height of the freedom movement, all roads, it seemed, led to her house, with the police constantly on her heels while the people looked to her for guidance.

She recalled how she had to spend night after night under the open sky to evade arrest.

The vocal leader of the masses became famous when she joined Gandhiji’s swadeshi movement. “I learnt weaving from my mother and became famous in the area with my handloom products,” she said.

She plunged into the freedom struggle, which also prompted the otherwise reticent womenfolk of Tezpur to join the fight.

She soon became the most wanted woman in Tezpur, with security forces seeking her scalp for anti-British activities. A brilliant student since her schooldays, Mahanta was stripped of her scholarship and suspended for a year from school for her anti-government stand.

But that did not deter her from working for Independence.    

 

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