Bihar booms in Bengal arms bazaar
Basu seeks Advani rein on Mamata
Mother’s nun scalds children with knife
Rent relief for Chidambaram
Calcutta weather

Munger, Sept. 20: 
BDO Singh is a very busy man these days. He and the 26 men working under him in the backwaters of Bihar’s Munger district are in a tearing hurry to meet Bengal’s fiery hunger for arms.

Not that BDO — strange name for the boss of four arms-making factories — is complaining. As Bengal bleeds, business is booming for Munger’s merchants of death. This north-eastern district is Bihar’s arms-making hub.

“We get more orders these days from Bengal’s districts. The Calcutta arms market has moved to the districts now,” BDO said. His business links with Bengal run deep.

“Old names like Rashid Khan (of Bowbazar blast fame and in jail) and Omar (his rival) do not figure any more,” he added, highlighting the changing clientele.

Backyard foundries are running at fever-pitch in almost every block of Munger to keep pace with the sudden spurt in demand from the neighbouring state.

But buyers are unlikely to find any weapon on the factory floor. Only finished parts are made there. They are assembled by “mechanics” on moving fishing trawlers or country boats to shake off possible police hounds.

Once a consignment of weapons is put together, the boats are dragged to the river bed, diara in Munger parlance, where the client will take delivery of the merchandise.

Rival gangs owing allegiance to both the CPM and Trinamul Congress are placing orders with arms dealers, possibly stockpiling for the Assembly elections next year. Some may already be in use in the violence-torn district of Midnapore.

Mohammad Azad is a supplier of arms outside Bihar and is familiar with underworld agents in Bengal. Contact was established with BDO through one of Azad’s associates after a 24-hour wait in a hotel at Mungerghat. From Safiasarai, a village near Jamalpur, BDO took us to the banks of the Ganga where at least a dozen fishing boats were anchored.

These boats were floating arms manufacturing units, we discovered later. BDO cracked jokes about the “Bengali’s inquisitiveness”, but wouldn’t give any hint of the identity of the agents who visit him from Bengal’s districts.

After an early-morning sail in the Ganga, we reached a sandy river bed where most of BDO’s men were sleeping. A 15-minute walk under an overcast sky took us to a sprawling, thick forest. Trudging through the slushy road and under a thick cover of mango and jackfruit trees which have blotted out the sky, we reached a village in the forest.

The houses are of mud, but the cowsheds scattered all around are made of brick. In the foundries attached to them, blacksmiths are cutting iron pipes into pieces and hammering pistons as spares for the improvised weapons.

Talk veers round to Bengal and to “Ghosdada” and his skill in weapons-making. A former employee of the Munger gun and shell factory, Ghosdada turned into an illegal arms manufacturer. He died a couple of years ago, leaving behind a legend.

Traders here hold him in reverence. There are at least 97 of them in Munger district alone. And these are only the big ones. Leading among them are Mansur Pahalwan of Kotha, Navin Singh of Gouripur and Mithal Singh of Dakranala. Barde, which is one of the villages where the trade is common and flourishing, is only 5 km from Munger town.

One of Mansur’s associates, Niraj, said the local version of the Webley Scott D, selling at Rs 6,000-10,000, is popular with Bengal buyers, as are double-barrels, worth Rs 2,000-2,500.

“While ‘single-shots’ and ‘two-barrel revolvers’ are common, every gang leader these days orders at least one 9-mm gun with US Army and Colt Special embossed on it,” said a dealer.

Arms suppliers follow two key land routes to carry the weapons to clients. The most common is GT Road using public vehicles. Some suppliers take the road from Munger to Barachaddi near Baktiarpur before hitting GT Road, while others come to Sultangunge from Munger and reach Bengal’s districts through the Dumka-Giridih road.

Surveillance along this stretch has been lax. Often, dealers advise buyers to carry the spares and take a mechanic along.

“We have mobile mechanics. We send them to the areas where the weapon is needed, avoiding the risk of weapons being seized on the way,” said Mithal Singh of Dakranala. “Ranjit, a Bengali mechanic, spent two weeks in Keshpur to assemble some 25 guns,” he added.

Munger police arrest people they suspect to be involved in the trade every once in a while. “But as long as there is a market for these weapons, it is difficult to stop it completely,” said D.N. Gupta, Munger superintendent of police.

One intelligence report from Munger last June informed the state police about the proliferation of arms factories. The report said that in one place, 20 units were making clones of even AK-47s.

It admitted that “most of the clients for Munger arms were from Bengal. Political skirmishes there may be the reason for a spurt in demand.”    

Calcutta, Sept. 20: 
Calcutta, Sept. 20: The tussle between Bengal and New Delhi intensified today with chief minister Jyoti Basu asking the Centre to “restrain” Mamata Banerjee.

In a letter to home minister L.K. Advani, Basu said: “May I impress upon you the need to restrain one of your Cabinet colleagues from this state who has a propensity to incite people to take to the path of violence as several of her speeches and activities, both in the past and present, clearly show.”

The three-page reply to Advani’s fax highlighting political violence in Bengal also refuted charges of communal and caste overtones in the clashes. “It is most unfortunate that communal and caste dimensions are now sought to be added to these political confrontations,” Basu said.

The chief minister added that the government is in touch with several associations of teachers, businessmen and intellectuals who “do not subscribe at all to your views and perceptions and they feel that there is no element of communalism or casteism whatsoever in these political clashes”.

Advani had sent a 10-page fax to Basu on September 15 amid mounting pressure from Mamata, who has been insisting on President’s rule or at least Central intervention under Article 355 before the Assembly elections.

Mamata today mounted a fresh attack on the Left Front government in Bengal, accusing it of taking no interest in the state’s development. (Details on Page 6)

Basu told Advani that political violence is not increasing in places where the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine has been gaining ground. He also dismissed allegations that a state minister (Susanta Ghosh) was involved in the political disturbance. “While I firmly refute the allegation, I do not appreciate your raising the issue,” he said.

Taking up the list of 33 violent incidents, Basu countered Advani’s charges point by point. He admitted that CPM activists had attacked Trinamul workers on 14 occasions, while in nine cases Left workers were assaulted by Mamata’s partymen. Five incidents which figured in the Union home ministry’s list had not occurred at all, he said. The rest were clashes between Trinamul and CPM workers.

“He (Advani) is the elected home minister. I can’t bycott him even though I don’t agree to most of what he says. People’s consciousness should be raised about such people,” Basu told reporters at Writers’ Buildings.

On defence minister George Fernandes’ visit to Midnapore, Basu said it was clearly political. He said Fernandes had not sought the views of the local administration when he returned to Midnapore town after visiting some villages. “It is obvious that his trip was purely a political one and his views are biased and politically motivated.”

Basu reiterated that political clashes were confined mostly to a few police station areas in Midnapore, Hooghly and Bankura. “In Midnapore, the Trinamul-BJP combine, under what they termed as the Panskura line, initially resorted to intimidation and violence,” he said in the letter.

Basu added that firm steps were taken by the administration and now the situation is peaceful. He said those who had left their homes following the violence have mostly gone back and there are no reports of people living in the open or in camps.    

Calcutta, Sept. 20: 
The Missionaries of Charity today admitted that Sister Francesca, sister-in-charge of its Mahatma Gandhi Welfare Centre, is guilty of injuring four little girls at the shelter with a hot knife.

Sister Francesca was temporarily deposed from her position as soon as she confessed before the senior nuns, sources at the Missionaries of Charity said. “The superior general has taken strong exception to the incident. She has been advised from our office to take rest and discontinue duty,” a source said.

In an official statement issued by the Missionaries of Charity, Sister Nirmala said sister Francesca has “definitely overstepped her limit,” but declined to comment on whether she will take any step to punish the sister. “We, the Missionaries of Charity, regret this unfortunate incident. We will continue caring for the children as we have been doing in the past,” Nirmala added.

A case against Sister Francesca was registered in the Bowbazar police station under section 324 IPC on the basis of a complaint filed by the father of one of the four girls, Kavery, on September 13.

Kabiram, a ragpicker, complained that Sister Francesca had burned their hands with a red-hot knife. Sources in the Missionaries of Charity said Sister Francesca had punished the girls for allegedly stealing money from her friends.

The Alipore court granted bail to the accused on Tuesday after Sister Nirmala appeared in person for the hearing in the court.

Kavery’s elder sister Varsha had told Kabiram that her sister’s hand was branded with a hot knife. Kabiram had immediately asked his wife Gouri to accompany him to the shelter and found that the back of their daughter’s left palm was badly burnt.

Kabiram took his daughter to the Bowbazar police station to lodge a complaint. Initially the police were reluctant to record a complaint, but gave in when residents created pressure. The girl was treated at Islamia Hospital.

Kavery told the police that they were playing inside the centre with three other streetchildren when Sister Francesca came and accused them of stealing money. She then heated a knife on an electric heater and pressed it on the hands of the four children.    

New Delhi, Sept. 20: 
Even as political circles play a guessing game on whether former finance minister P. Chidambaram will join the BJP, the Cabinet seems willing to extend a friendly hand to the Tamil Maanila leader by bending rules and forgoing penal rent for the ministerial bungalow in which he had overstayed.

The Cabinet committee on accommodation is expected to meet tomorrow to decide on a note put up by Jagmohan, minister for urban development, seeking to waive the penal market rent on Chidambaram for overstaying in the bungalow at 30 Aurangzeb Road, New Delhi.

The meeting will have some of the Cabinet’s top guns, including home minister L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Suresh Prabhu and Jaswant Singh, sitting in judgement over this case.

Chidambaram had overstayed in the bungalow around seven months, from May 20 to December 15 last year, according to Jagmohan’s department. New rules framed after a Supreme Court judgment on allotment of government accommodation make it clear that he should be charged penal market rate for this period.

While the rent charged from MPs and ministers who have been allotted bungalows is a nominal few hundred rupees, penal rent usually runs up to about Rs 20,000 a month, which is still a fraction of what these bungalows in prime locations can actually fetch in the real estate market.

Chidambaram’s old ministry, finance, however, has objections to Jagmohan’s gesture. They feel this would set a precedent and let others seek similar waivers. In recent years, the Central government has turned strict on its accommodation rules and has charged top politicians and bureaucrat penal rent if they have overstayed.

In some cases “where former MPs or bureaucrats took an inordinately long time to vacate the bungalows,” the government has sent in police to throw out their belongings. A few weeks back, former central minister and Bihar chief minister Jagannath Mishra’s family faced such an eviction.

But Jagmohan has tried to brush aside arguments against his move by stating Chidambaram needed some time to find suitable alternative accommodation and the government should be lenient.    



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1.8 mm

Relative humidity



Possibility of light rain in some parts of the city and its suburbs    

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