Cinemas rush to hike rates
Mayor’s monumental folly
Massage message busts cell sex racket
Daylong drizzle dampens spirits
School puts bloc bar on teachers
Bypass bandh peaceful, charges fly over firing vic
Tripura rebels target Manipuris
Operation Khoj for extortionists
Lawyer moves court to end bandhs
Parties for recall of Governor

 
 
CINEMAS RUSH TO HIKE RATES 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDY MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31 
Turning reformist a little too late in the day, the state government on Thursday okayed a long-standing demand of the city’s cinema exhibitors — to lift the ceiling on tickets, so they can increase or decrease the prices of tickets depending on the popularity of a film.

“The government has lifted the ceiling on ticket rates from September 1. The hall-owners have to give us a three-day notice before they raise or reduce the rates of tickets,” said director of films Dilip Basu.

There is no ceiling on ticket rates in Delhi and Mumbai.

There are 96 cinema halls in the city and its suburbs. Orient, on Bentinck Street, has already decided to hike rates by Rs 5 from Friday.

According to Hemendra Dave of Metro cinema, tickets will become dearer from September 8 with Hrithik Roshan’s second release, Fiza.

Sources said the prices of tickets will shoot up in premier halls when such eagerly-awaited Diwali blockbusters like Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir and Aditya Chopra’s Mohabbatein hit town.

The government move comes in the wake of prolonged negotiations between hall-owners, representatives of the cinema trade and the administration.

According to Dipen Mitra of Mitra cinema and Arijit Dutta of Priya, the hall-owners have been urging the government to lift the price ceiling for the “past one-and-a-half years”.

“We had pointed out to the government that 17 city halls, including Opera, Gem, Lotus, Janata, have already downed shutters and many others are in very bad shape,” Mitra said.

From September 1, ticket prices for Bollywood blockbusters like the Anil Kapoor-Aishwarya Rai starrer Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai and Abhishek Bachchan’s Tera Jadu Chal Gaya might not be the same in two city halls.

“While the Hamare Dil... tickets at Orient will cost Rs 20, Rs 30 and Rs 40, it will be Rs 10, Rs 20 and Rs 25 at Mitra,’’ said Pulak Mukherjee, chairman of the exhibitors section of Eastern India Motion Pictures Association, the apex body of hall-owners.

Trade circles feel that both the government and the hall-owners will benefit from the arrangement.

“The government is currently collecting Rs 50 crore a year as tax from the hall-owners. With the ceiling being lifted, we expect to rake in another Rs 15 to Rs 20 crore. Scalping will also stop,” Bose said.

Most city halls have an average capacity of 1,100 seats. Trade sources said a hall collects, on an average, Rs 20,000 every day.

Of this, Rs 16,000 goes towards meeting expenses and paying off government taxes. “The rest is ploughed back for maintenance and incidental expenses,’’ observed Mitra.

Government sources said a final decision on the “increase of service charge on tickets” will be taken soon.

According to Mukherjee of EIMPA, the service charge in an air-conditioned hall will be Rs 3 per ticket, in a hall with blowers it will be Rs 2.50 and in a hall with fans, Rs 2.

The current rates are Re 1 for air-conditioned halls and 50 p for non-AC halls.    


 
 
MAYOR’S MONUMENTAL FOLLY 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31 
As Calcutta’s mayor, he should have been setting an example for the rest of the city. Instead, Subrata Mukherjee has been doing precisely the opposite. As president of Ekdalia Evergreen Club, his puja pandal had blocked the entire Ekdalia Road, clogging traffic on the thoroughfare already made chaotic by the construction of a flyover.

Worse, the construction has been going on in violation of all rules and not a single mandatory permission has been taken so far. As a result, residents and other users of Ekdalia Road are up in arms against Mukherjee and his puja panel.

Every year, Mukherjee’s club erects a flamboyant pandal at Ekdalia, blocking access to homes and traffic. Construction of the 3,600 sq ft pandal near the intersection of Ekdalia Road and Gariahat Road started five days ago, almost seven weeks before the actual festivities begin.

The Fire Brigade and the Calcutta Traffic Police are still receiving applications from the over 1,200 puja committees in the city. “There is no question of granting permission to any of them as yet,” said an official in the traffic department.

A senior officer in the fire department said: “We will start giving permission to pandals from the first week of September.”

The third agency whose licence is required is the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. But hardly any one from the CMC is likely to ask the mayor too many questions about his pandal.

Subrata Mukherjee is unfazed. “This is something that has been going on for almost 60 years. So another year hardly makes any difference,” he said, claiming that half the carriageway was free.

But a visit to the spot proved otherwise. The stretch of Ekdalia Road between Gariahat Road and Mandeville Gardens was closed on both sides, with the half-constructed pandal and bamboos.

“But these are minor matters,” Mukherjee said nonchalantly. “We have to win the first prize for the best pandal.”

The pandal has sparked massive traffic jams on Ekdalia Road, Suren Thakur Road and Gariahat Road during peak hours. As the day progresses, the chaos spreads to the entire stretch from the Gariahat Road-Ekdalia Road crossing to Bijon Setu.

Gurmeet Singh, who lives on Ekdalia Road, voiced the sentiments of most other residents. “We had expected Subrata Mukherjee as mayor would have been more responsible. But just look at the mess he has created here,” he said, pointing to the bamboos, wooden logs and posts and other construction material strewn around.    


 
 
MASSAGE MESSAGE BUSTS CELL SEX RACKET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31 
The police are hot on the trail of a sex ’n cellphone racket following the arrest of a person from Bagbazar on Wednesday.

Deputy commissioner of police, south, Ranjit Pachnanda, said subscribers of a “particular cellular phone company” were recently besieged with messages on their sets urging them to dial a certain number for a “satisfying body massage’’.

A cellular phone number was also flashed along with the message.

A subscriber, Sundeep Mehra, registered a complaint with the Park Street police station. Officers got in touch with executives of the cellular company and traced the number to a house in Bagbazar, in north Calcutta.

Some officers in mufti landed up there on Wednesday, posing as “customers” and demanding “a massage”.

They were taken to a “physiotherapy” room and “two young girls” were called for. When the girls turned up, the police officers revealed their identity and charged the owner of the centre with “immoral trafficking”.

During interrogation, the accused insisted that he was running a physiotherapy centre. “But we have enough evidence to prove that he was running a flesh-trade racket,’’ said a sub-inspector investigating the case.

The police have asked the cellular service providers to “screen such messages”.

But officials of both Spice and Command said it was not possible for them to screen calls due to technical reasons.

“The messages are sent directly from a handset to another handset and there is very little we can do about it. But have assured the police of our full cooperation,’’ officials said.    


 
 
DAYLONG DRIZZLE DAMPENS SPIRITS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31 
Calcuttans woke up to a gloomy sky and a continuous downpour on Thursday. In the afternoon, the rains settled into a nagging drizzle.

The Alipore meteorological office said that a well-marked low pressure over south Bengal is causing the overcast sky and the rains.

The weather is prevail on Friday. The weather office recorded 27.8 mm of rain till 5.30 pm. The temperature also dipped, though marginally, cooling the city.

The low pressure had originated on Wednesday in the north Bay and adjoining Bangladesh. Later, it moved northward into Gangetic West Bengal.

“With the low pressure, there is also an upper-air cyclonic circulation, extending up to 6 km above sea level. Under their combined influence, there have been widespread rains in Bengal, with isolated heavy rains in some areas. In Calcutta, the weather is likely to improve from Friday afternoon,” said R.N. Goldar, director, Alipore met office.

The continuous rain made the roads slushy and slippery. Slippery roads slowed the vehicular traffic to a crawl and led to traffic snarls along Jawaharlal Nehru Road, BBD Bag, Bowbazar, College Street, Bidhan Sarani, Gariahat Road, Ekdalia Road and Rashbehari Avenue.

At Kalighat Park, where railway minister Mamata Banerjee laid the foundation stone of a booster pumping station, the wheels of a number of cars carrying officials got stuck in the slush in the park. On many roads, rains filled up the potholes and made it difficult for drivers to negotiate them.

In the morning, schoolchildren, some in raincoats and others clutching on to umbrellas, waited in street corners for their chartered buses. Many parents were rushing around trying to hail taxis with their children in school uniform in tow. Many people remained indoors, enjoying a rainy day. Some remained glued to their television sets, while others tucked into platesful of hot khichri with fried hilsa.    


 
 
SCHOOL PUTS BLOC BAR ON TEACHERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31 
Several staff members of St Augustine’s Day School on Ripon Street stayed away from work on Thursday to protest a move by the authorities to stop them from joining any forum, association, club or political party without management permission.

A provision in the recently-framed set of rules for the employees states: “No staff of the school shall join any forum/association or political party or engage in any political activities without the written permission of the managing committee...”.

The management is said to have taken this “undemocratic step” to thwart a move by a section of teachers and other employees to launch a movement for the resolution of “long-standing demands”.

At a protest meeting organised in front of the school on Thursday morning, a teacher said: “The management, which has been depriving us of our legitimate financial demands, is now trying to curb our democratic rights.”

Heading the list of demands is the revision of pay-scales as per recommendations of the Fourth Pay Commission. The protesters are also demanding an immediate halt to the “illegal” transfer of employees from the main school on Ripon Street to branches at Shyamnagar and Barrackpore.

While principal C.R. Gasper was not available for comment, an official, on condition of anonymity, claimed the enhanced pay-scales “have been implemented from April”. He added that functioning of the school, with more than 1,500 students, had not been affected by the agitation.

Dilip Bhattacharya, general secretary of the Association of Teachers in Anglo-Indian Schools, said a meeting will be convened on September 3 to discuss the agitation.    


 
 
BYPASS BANDH PEACEFUL, CHARGES FLY OVER FIRING VIC 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31 
The 24-hour bandh called by the Trinamul Congress at Chingrighata-Parghata, off the EM Bypass, passed peacefully on Thursday. All shops remained shut.

Trinamul had called the bandh to protest the death of Kalo Hazra in police firing on Tuesday.

Shyamal Dutta, deputy superintendent of police (crime), South 24-Parganas, said a strong police team patrolled the area throughout the day to maintain law and order. Supporters of both Trinamul and CPM brought out processions and appealed to residents of the area “to maintain peace”.

Meanwhile, preliminary investigation into the death of Kalo, who was killed when the police opened fire on some anti-socials near the closed Vijay Engineering factory on Tuesday, has, apparently, revealed his links with a gang that was involved in stealing scrap.

A senior district police officer said: “Kalo was a drug addict and an alcoholic. He was also involved in various anti-social activities in the area.”

But Shyamal Mondal, local Trinamul Congress leader, said: “Now, the police are trying to put the blame on Kalo to divert the attention of the locals, so that the officer responsible for his murder can be saved.”

Sudhir Bose, a resident of Chingrighata, said:“After the incident, the police are carrying out indiscriminate arrests. But they refuse to pay heed to our long-standing demands for a police picket in the area to curb criminal activities.”    


 
 
TRIPURA REBELS TARGET MANIPURIS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, Aug. 31 
Having virtually rid the entire Takarjala police station area of Bengalis, the banned National Liberation Front of Tripura militants have now trained their guns on the minuscule Manipuri community in Tripura.

On Tuesday, more than 50 Manipuri families, who had contributed immensely along with the Hindu and Muslim Bengalis to converting the barren tilla lands into lush green croplands, were forced to leave their ancestral homes at Telarbon village under Takarjala police station. They have taken shelter in Chhonkhola village under Bishalgarh police station.

Confirming the exodus, police sources in Bishalgarh said on August 25, the Manipuri peasants in Telarbon village had gone to work on their paddy fields in the morning. A group of unruly tribals, backed by militants, beat them up severely and injured three of them. The tribals also directed them to quit the village.

The Manipuris waited for a while after Tripura State Rifles and CRPF jawans asked them to stay put. Since no security post was set up, they left the village on Tuesday and took shelter in the mandap of Chamdung Singh of Chhonkhola village.

The forced displacement of Manipuris triggered strong reaction as leaders toured the deserted village. Rajkumar Kamaljit Singh, chief of Manipuri Apunba Committee, said, “It is really shocking because Manipuris were brought here by Tripura kings at least two centuries ago.”

Singh said former Tripura King Rajdhar Manikya married Hariseswari, daughter of erstwhile Manipuri monarch Bhagyachandra in the late 18th century and made her his chief queen. Since then, matrimonial relations between the royal houses of Manipur and Tripura continued till early last century when King Radhakishore Manikya married Manipuri princess Tulsibati. A girls’ school, set up by Radhakishore Manikya, is still named “Maharani Tulsibati Balika Vidyalaya”.

Asserting that Tripura had a Manipuri population of only 40,000, Rajkumar Singh strongly condemned the attacks on the peace-loving community, saying, “I am shocked by what has been happening in Tripura over the past seven years. It is unfortunate that the small Manipuri community which made great contribution to Tripura like the Bengalis is being targeted and displaced.”

The militants have already driven away a large number of Bengalis, both Hindus and Muslims, from the Autonomous District Council areas and are now targeting smaller communities. Former chief minister Samir Ranjan Barman said, “This is happening because of the incompetence of the state government. It must resign.”

Trader killed

Saha’s wife had rushed to the nearby CRPF camp asking for help but the CRPF directed her to contact the police.    

 
 
OPERATION KHOJ FOR EXTORTIONISTS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Silchar, Aug. 31 
The Army has intensified its counter-insurgency drive in Lakhipur sub-division in Cachar district under “Operation Khoj”. There are reports that fresh batches of rebels have sneaked into the hill areas of the sub-division recently to step up extortions and abductions.

Official sources said a suspected National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) rebel was shot dead by the Army at Hmarkhawlien village dominated by Hmar tribals in Lakhipur, about 25 km east of here yesterday. Sources said the Army closed in on Hmarkhawlien village yesterday following a tip that 10 NSCN(I-M) commandos were trying to set up base and procure ration by intimidating the people.

The Naga rebels suddenly opened fire. The jawans of the 17 Para Field regiment fired back and killed an extremist. The others, however, managed to escape.

Additional reinforcements of the Army were rushed to the Cachar-Manipur border last evening from Masimpur cantonment near here to hunt for the rebels.

The body of the slain rebel was sent last night to Silchar Medical College Hospital for post-mortem. Later, the Army recovered a few rounds of bullets of 9 mm pistol and AK 56 rifles from the village.

Runway extended:After a lot of wrangling, the Coombergram tea estate finally released 72 bighas of prime land to the Cachar district administration to be used for extending the runway of the Kumbhirgram airport here last week, after a tussle for past several years. The tea estate belongs to the Goodricke group.

The Calcutta-based tea major, which has 36 gardens, will get a compensation package of Rs 47 lakh from the Centre for this transfer of land. The Airports Authority of India is likely to start the construction to extend the 5,857-feet runway by another 1,393 feet to facilitate take-off and landing by wide-bodied Airbus of the Indian Airlines.

The Rs 20-crore project for extension of the runway and the airport’s apron area are part of the Rs 58-crore elaborate scheme jointly undertaken by the North Eastern Council and the civil aviation ministry to update navigational and visual aids at the airport.

An extended and renovated passenger terminal lounge at the cost of Rs 3.87 crore had already been commissioned. A state-of-the-art distance measuring equipment has been set up for precision navigation. The traffic density of Kumbhirgram airport is ranked fourth in the Northeast after Guwahati, Agartala and Imphal.    


 
 
LAWYER MOVES COURT TO END BANDHS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Jorhat, Aug. 31 
Indicating growing public resentment against frequent bandhs in the state, a lawyer here has filed a suit seeking compensation of Rs 25,000 from the Trinamul Gana Parishad for academic losses incurred by his daughter because of a recent bandh.

The lawyer, Horin Mahanta has appealed to the district sessions court here to serve notices on party leaders Pulakesh Baruah and Atul Bora in this connection.

Baruah is a former Speaker of the Assembly while Bora is a former minister in the AGP government. The duo launched the breakaway Trinamul Gana Parishad after serious differences with the ruling Asom Gana Parishad.

The lawyer stated in his complaint that a day’s loss suffered by his daughter Ananya, a class VI student, because of the Trinamul Asom Gana Parishad bandh on August 14 is “irreparable as the year cannot be stretched beyond 365 days, and as such academic loss on any particular day cannot be made up later by creating another day”.

Stating that bandhs do not provide solution to any problem, the petitioner added that a “bandh is only a ploy to exert one’s influence at the cost of the gullible public”.

Mahanta referred to a High Court ruling which had “rightly observed that there is no right to call a bandh which interferes with the exercise of the fundamental freedom of other citizens, in addition to causing national loss in many ways”.

The lawyer further stated that the Supreme Court should declare organisations calling bandhs as “antisocials. Only when people get together to oppose bandhs, will this harmful culture end...it is time to kill it before it kills us,” Mahanta stated.

The state, infamous for bandhs called by various organisations and rebel outfits, observed bandh continuously for three days on August 14, 15 and 16, one of the longest ever.

Rebel lynched

A suspected United People’s Democratic Solidarity militant was lynched by villagers of Bhitar Kaliani under Santipur police station in Karbi Anglong district bordering Golaghat district yesterday.

Official sources said the unidentified militant had come to the house of one Khiteswar Hazarika around 4 pm yesterday to collect Rs 2 lakh the outfit had demanded from him the previous day. Hazarika raised an alarm and the villagers caught the rebel and lynched him.

The Karbi militant outfit, which has been waging a bloody war in Karbi Anglong demanding a separate state, had demanded Rs 2 lakh each from the non-Karbi villagers of the area. The outfit is also responsible for several massacre in the district in recent times.

Tension over land dispute

FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT

Berhampur, Aug. 31: Tension between the tribals and non-tribals at Gadama-Sangadama villages of Kandhamal district has aggravated, with tribals starting to cultivate more land allegedly owned by non-tribals.

The communities have been pitted against each other for some time now. The tribals had reportedly forcefully ploughed patches of land owned by non-tribals on July 28.

The police including the deputy inspector-general of police (southern range) and other district officials also faced the wrath of the angry tribals.

Although a local peace committee had been formed, the dispute regarding claims and counter-claims over ownership of land has not yet been settled.

When contacted, officials at the Brahmanigaon police station under which Gadama and Sangadama villages fall, said recently some tribals armed with traditional weapons staked claim to agricultural land of one non-tribal, Bhagaban Mantri.

Thereafter, the tribals also ploughed land belonging to one Munda Mantri, another non-tribal. The tribals also hoisted traditional flags there amid slogans of “victory” over the land.

On August 22, more land of non-tribals was taken over by the tribals. The subcollector of Baliguda along with police officials reached Gadama Sangadama villages to discuss the issue on August 27.

Officials said the situation is now under control but police patrol has been stepped up.    


 
 
PARTIES FOR RECALL OF GOVERNOR 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Guwahati, Aug. 31 
Several political parties today demanded that Assam Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha be recalled for “lowering the prestige of his high office” by suggesting a “referendum” on the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act.

Cutting across party lines, political leaders pulled up the Governor for making “uncalled-for political statements” like the one on the contentious Act.

A senior Opposition leader said Lt. Gen. Sinha’s views — expressed in an exclusive interview to The Telegraph yesterday — were indicative of his “communal leanings and biased nature”.

Lt. Gen. Sinha had asked all political parties to make the IM(DT) Act the “only issue” for the ensuing Assembly polls and view the election results as the people’s mandate on the legislation. The Governor’s remarks came in the wake of the Supreme Court’s observation that the Centre should repeal the Act by January next .

PCC chief Tarun Gogoi was scathing in his criticism of Lt. Gen. Sinha.

Terming the Governor’s views on the Act as “absolutely absurd”, he said, “How can he suggest repeal of a valid legislation that was enacted after threadbare discussions to uphold the democratic traditions of the country?”

The Congress leader accused Lt. Gen. Sinha of “undue interference in political affairs” and said his party would draw President K.R. Narayanan’s attention to this act of crossing the “Lakshman rekha” of constitutional propriety. Gogoi found unexpected allies in Asom Gana Parishad legislator Ali Akbar Mian and minorities welfare and development minister Abdul Jabbar of the United People’s Party of Assam.

Demanding that Lt. Gen. Sinha be recalled, both Mian and Jabbar took pot-shots at the Governor for allegedly trying to divide the people along communal lines.

“If he is allowed to continue, it will hamper unity among different communities of the state,” Akbar Mian said.

Mian and Jabbar’s comments indicate that the ruling alliance is under strain. While both spoke out against the Governor today, chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta had told The Telegraph in Calcutta yesterday that his government would back the repeal of the IM(DT) Act even if it meant antagonising the AGP’s allies.

UPPA is the only minorities-dominated party to have stuck with the AGP, but the developments in the past two days could trigger a realignment of forces before the Assembly elections, due in May next year.

Former home minister and suspended AGP leader Bhrigu Kumar Phukan, who is trying to stitch together an “alternative” to the AGP and the Congress, has also taken exception to Sinha’s observations on the IM(DT) Act. Accusing him of “converting Raj Bhavan into the BJP headquarters”, Phukan said Sinha was “trying to cajole the AGP into joining hands with the BJP”.    

 

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