Panic buzz at phone strike
Arrest of trio puts cops on trail of card swipers
Mayor hogs malaria hoardings
Students on rampage over school reopening
Protests on Teachers’ Day
Hunt on for rebels along N-E border
Mahanta warns detractors
Guwahati boys aspire to Martian odyssey

 
 
PANIC BUZZ AT PHONE STRIKE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sep.5: 
With 22,000 telephone lines already down because of the go-slow by telecom engineers, and more sections of employees announcing an indefinite strike from Wednesday, Calcutta Telephones has pressed the panic button.

The telephone authorities said on Tuesday that they expected an additional 3,000 telephone lines to go out of order every day till all employees joined work.

Alok Nandi, coordinator of the group C and D employees’ association, which has announced an “indefinite strike” to protest privatisation moves, said around 60 per cent of the 16,000 Calcutta Telephone employees will not report for work from Wednesday. “There will be no one to attend to faults. This will lead to chaos, as more and more telephones go out of order during the monsoon,” said Nandi.

A section of group C and D telecom employees had also struck work on August 24 and 25. But as a bulk of them had reported for duty, subscribers were not affected.

“This time, not a single linesman or booking clerk will work during the agitation, so services will be hit hard,” warned Nandi.

Acknowledging the harassment that subscribers will have to face from Wednesday, the chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones, K. Ramanujam, said that “all steps are being taken” to minimise inconvenience.

Dilip Saha, of the telecom engineers and officers’ association comprising junior engineers, sub-divisional engineers and divisional engineers, said that while his union would not join the ceasework, it will press ahead with a work-to-rule.

“All of us will stage a dharna at Telephone Bhavan on September 7 and then we will launch a largescale agitation from September 12,” Saha added.

Ramanujam, who held meetings with representatives of the unions throughout Tuesday, said he had sought the help of union leaders to tide over the crisis.

He clarified that even during the strike, people can apply for new connections. Only, no new work order will be issued.

The telecom authorities have deferred the last date of payment of telephone bills . Authorities said subscribers can pay the bills at post offices and 20 branches of Syndicate Bank across the city. “I have instructed officers to visit the exchanges and supervise arrangements. We are determined to maintain normal services,’’ Ramanujam said.    


 
 
ARREST OF TRIO PUTS COPS ON TRAIL OF CARD SWIPERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sep.5: 
The detective department has busted a credit card racket with the arrest of three youth from Jorasanko and Howrah on Tuesday morning. Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Narayan Ghosh, said the “plastic-pickers’ gang” had been involved in a credit card fraud amounting to Rs 80 lakh in the past six months. The three youth were produced in court on Tuesday and remanded in police custody.

The police hit the plastic trail after a city businessman from S. N. Banerjee Road lodged a complaint after losing four credit cards recently. The ANZ Grindlays, Standard Chartered, Hongkong Bank and Citibank cards were swiped by the “plastic-pickers” from his car. The gang then made purchases to the tune of Rs 1.11 lakh by forging the man’s signature.

Acting on a tip-off, detectives from the anti-cheating section laid a trap at a bar on Chittaranjan Avenue and picked up Gurjeet Singh, a resident of Howrah.

During interrogation, Singh confessed that he was assisted by Sanjoy Bhajan Agarwal and Binoy Bhajan Agarwal. They were arrested from their Jorasanko residence, in north Calcutta.

“Four cards of the businessman were recovered from them. We also seized electronic goods worth Rs 90,000 from their houses,” Ghosh said. Some petro cards were also seized.

Preliminary interrogation revealed that the gang members, from well-to-do families, were operating the credit card racket from the beginning of this year.

According to investigators, several such gangs are operating in the city. They are hand-in-glove with groups of pickpockets and shoplifters operating on Park Street, Lindsay Street, Lenin Sarani, and at Esplanade, AC Market, Vardaan market and Gariahat.

These gangs keep a close watch on those making large purchases at shopping centres with credit cards. Cars parked in these areas are also viewed as ‘soft’ targets. “They often take just the credit card out of the purse or the wallet,” an officer said.

Armed with the stolen cards, the gang members promptly make huge purchase of electronic goods, like cordless phones, tape-recorders, television sets and refrigerators. They then quickly dispose of the goods at a reduced price. The gang members are also known to blow up a lot of money at restaurants and bars with these cards.

“We have arrested such gangs earlier and they all follow a similar modus operandi,” said a member of the investigation team.

“They also look for petro cards, as petrol and diesel can easily be sold,” he added.

During interrogation, one of the three arrested youth confessed that they prefer “cards without photographs, as chances of being challenged at the counter or the restaurant table are far less”.

Detectives said they were on the lookout for another gang which was based in Liluah, Howrah, but operating in the city. Raids in the suburb will be carried out soon.    


 
 
MAYOR HOGS MALARIA HOARDINGS 
 
 
BY KUNAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Sep.5: 
Campaigns against malaria have given way to “thank yous” from the new mahanagarik (as the mayor is called in Bengali) in most hoardings belonging to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).

Trinamul mayor Subrata Mukherjee crows from every hoarding, thanking the people for his victory and for ousting the Left Front from the CMC headquarters. The mayor also promises to turn Calcutta into a more livable city, for which the mahanagarik seeks the city’s cooperation. And all this in lettering a foot tall.

Gone are the socially relevant messages on malaria prevention and eradication. Warnings by the CMC to advertisers not to deface walls, trees and lamp posts have been painted over ever since Subrata Mukherjee took over as mahanagarik some time ago.

Asked whether the people of the city have not had their fill of his congratulations, the mayor said the campaign was, indeed, over and the messages would soon be replaced.

“I have asked the department concerned to wipe them out. It will be done any day,” the mayor said. The hoardings with his messages were to be displayed only for a month after his takeover. “The time is up and I will find out why they are still there,” was Mukherjee’s assurance.

People United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLIC) had designed a campaign against the malaria menace for the CMC and the slogans appeared in 12 prominent spots across the city. All of them were painted over by the victorious Trinamul-led CMC.

“We were very upset, as malaria is a priority area in our city,” said Bonani Kakkar of PUBLIC. Most of the hoardings are prominently displayed on Southern Avenue, Deshapran Sashmal Road, Ballygunge Circular Road, Dalhousie Square and other spots in the city. Even though the anti-malaria campaigns were designed by PUBLIC, they were actually part of a CMC drive.

Even mayor-in-council Pradip Ghosh was in favour of having the hoarding removed. Ghosh, who refused to take responsibility for the CMC’s hoarding wing for personal reasons, said it was high time the billboards were removed.

Concern for Calcutta’s Vineet Verma said: “The CMC celebrations should have ended long ago and the socially-relevant messages back in public view,” Verma said.    


 
 
STUDENTS ON RAMPAGE OVER SCHOOL REOPENING 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sep.5: 
Students of Birlapur High School ransacked the Birlapur Jute Mill office, destroying furniture and papers on Tuesday, demanding that the primary section of the school be reopened.

Both the high school and its primary section are located on the mill compound.

At one point, the situation became so grave that forces from adjacent police stations, like Budge Budge and Maheshtala, were brought in. Police resorted to a mild lathicharge to disperse the agitating students and some guardians involved in the melee.

Amrita Goswami, a teacher of the primary section, was on fast from September 3 after the section was shut down. Trouble erupted when a physician declared that the teacher was critically ill. Immediately afterwards, students and some guardians entered the campus and started ransacking the mill office. Besides furniture, typewriters, almirahs and important papers of the mill office were destroyed.

Goswami broke the fast at about 4.30 pm after the deputy superintendent of police of South 24-Parganas assured her that the school would reopen on September 18. Sarada Singh, now in charge of the school, said the mill management would meet on September 8 to chalk out a plan to reopen the school.

According to a teacher of the secondary section, the mill management closed the primary section because of an acute financial crisis, throwing the future of 1,400 primary students and 33 teachers into uncertainty. But the mill management is reluctant to reopen the school and demands government aid to run it.

In April this year, the mill management decided to collect Rs 2,000 as annual charges from each student and raise the monthly tuition fees from Rs 65 to Rs 150. But the guardians, mainly mill workers, protested the move.    


 
 
PROTESTS ON TEACHERS’ DAY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sep.5: 
Protests and rallies marked Teachers’ Day in the city on Tuesday. Teachers of primary and secondary schools joined those of colleges and universities to demand pay hikes and other benefits.

Though the demands were identical, the modes of protest were different and so were the targets. Those whose unions are affiliated to the ruling party in the state attacked the BJP government at the Centre. Those affiliated to non-CPM unions blamed the Left Front for not meeting their demands.

College and university teachers of the CPM-controlled West Bengal College and University and Teachers’ Association held a protest meeting at Surendranath College against the Centre for its indifference in allotting funds to the state for implementing their revised pay-scales. A delegation has already left for the capital to participate in a national-level teachers’ agitation.

Teachers of Jadavpur University (under the banner of the non-CPM Jadavpur University Teachers Association) observed a cease-work, held sit-ins and wore black badges protesting the West Bengal government’s failure to grant a number of benefits, the funds for which, they claimed, have already been released by the Centre.

Heads of several hundred state-funded schools, who are members of the West Bengal Headmasters’ Association, boycotted the Teachers’ Day celebration organised by the state education department. Secondary school teachers belonging to another anti-Left union, the Secondary Teachers and Employees’ Association, too, boycotted the government celebrations.

Several hundred teachers of the Bengal Primary Teachers Association affiliated with the SUCI held a day-long sit-in at College Square to highlight the plight of retired primary schoolteachers.

Kanti Biswas, state school education minister, however, denied that the government was apathetic to teachers’ demands, since their salaries have increased over 22-fold in the past two decades.

Wintech gherao

Students are up in arms again at Wintech Computers, the Mumbai-based software training institute. Students of the Elgin Road centre gheraoed the staff on Monday, in the wake of a similar agitation by the centre’s students in Salt Lake a couple of months ago. Wintech had to pay back the course fees to pacify the Salt Lake students. A similar demand for refund marked the day-long demonstration at Elgin Road. The protest ended after the intervention of officers from Bhowanipore police station.    


 
 
HUNT ON FOR REBELS ALONG N-E BORDER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Sept. 5: 
Security forces are still on the lookout for Ulfa and NDFB militants along the Bhutan border, including the Manas national park. The rebels have reportedly sneaked in from their bases in the jungles of the Himalayan kingdom.

Additional director-general of police G.M. Srivastava today said there were reports that militants have split up into small groups in a bid to cross over to Bangladesh. “Our operations are on in all strategic locations to prevent them from sneaking in.”

He also claimed that infighting has surfaced among the top-rung Ulfa leaders and a Ulfa leader, Raju Baruah, has been sidelined by the outfit. Operational control has been taken over by Paresh Baruah and Benning Rabha. Security forces have cordoned off a massive area along the border and are ready to launch an offensive against the rebels coming from Bhutan.    


 
 
MAHANTA WARNS DETRACTORS 
 
 
FROM SUSHANTA TALUKDAR
 
Guwahati, Sept. 4: 
Chief minister and Asom Gana Parishad chief Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has threatened to take disciplinary action against ministers and legislators representing the minorities for criticising the government’s demand for repeal of the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act.

In an interview to The Telegraph, the chief minister said the dissident legislators and ministers were trying to use the issue as a “tool” to improve their electoral prospects. Mahanta clarified that while demanding scrapping of the IM(DT) Act, the party had also sought enactment of a new legislation that would be applicable not just in Assam but the whole country. “The IM(DT) Act is a discriminatory legislation as it is applicable only in Assam. It is an impediment to detection and deportation of illegal migrants. Those who have been opposing the demand for repeal of the Act have not taken into account the fact that the AGP has also been seeking a new legislation that will be applicable in all the states,” he said.

Taking exception to his stand on the IM(DT) Act, a section of minority ministers and legislators had dared the chief minister to enter the minorities-dominated belt for electioneering prior to the Assembly polls.

These ministers and legislators also threatened to boycott the party’s panchayat election campaign. Mahanta said the AGP would not tolerate any anti-party activities.

“If any AGP member has reservations over the party’s stand on any issue, then he has every right to raise it in legitimate fora. But violation of intra-party discipline will not be tolerated,” the chief minister warned. State minorities welfare and char areas development minister Abdul Jabbar had accused Mahanta of backing the demand for scrapping the Act.    


 
 
GUWAHATI BOYS ASPIRE TO MARTIAN ODYSSEY 
 
 
FROM MONIDEEPA CHOUDHURI
 
Guwahati, Sept. 5: 
Three impressionable, school-going earthlings from this tiny part of the globe are reaching out for Mars.

Pallav Jaini, Aman Vir Singh and Dipjyoti Das are all busy doing what other kids their age are doing — attending school, playing and indulging in pranks. But their minds are simultaneously working overtime, trying to figure out how the micro rover and the robotic arm of the “Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander” will operate when it touches the surface of the Red Planet in January 2003.

All three students are among the lucky few world-wide to get the opportunity to compete for participation in a unique space project conceived by the US-based Planetary Society. The project, named “Red Rover Goes to Mars”, will enable a handful of students from across the world to participate in the selection of a landing site on Mars and operation of equipment on the planet’s surface. While they are at it, these students will be treated at par with scientists involved in the space project.

Pallav, a student of class IX at the Army School in Narengi, is hopeful of making it to the student navigators’ team after narrowly losing the competition organised by the Indian Space Research Organisation to shortlist members for the student scientists’ group.

Isro, given the responsibility of shortlisting finalists from the country for both the student navigators and student scientists’ teams, had identified 16 regional centres (the Regional Science Centre here being one of these) where students could submit applications through their schools.

When they came to know of the competition, Pallav, Aman and Dipjyoti were thrilled. “I always had an affinity with things related to outer space. So when I learnt of this mission, I was overjoyed,” says Pallav.

The first step for Aman and Pallav, competing in the senior category, was answering a questionnaire. Dipjyoti, part of the junior group of competitors, was required to do likewise. In the second round, all three wrote essays on the Mars mission and submitted these to the Regional Science Centre.

Isro selected the 37 best essays from 210 entries from across the country and invited the semi-finalists to a 10-minute presentation at its satellite centre in Bangalore. Says Dipjyoti, a student of class VIII at the Guwahati Public School in Panjabari, “Isro was just a name one came across in books and newspapers. Being there for a presentation was a great achievement.” Aman, who studies in class IX at the SBOA Public School in Beltola, echoes Dipjyoti’s sentiments. Twelve schoolchildren from the country have been shortlisted for the student scientists’ team, and though none from Assam are among them, Pallav, Aman and Dipjyoti are still in with a chance of making it to the student navigators’ team.    

 

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