Crackdown on Topsia drug den
Eight deaths preceded Black Sunday
Mend-or-shut threat to New Market
Month’s wait for Durga after Mahalaya
Queries flood control room
Painting their way out of despair
Vegetable prices in high spate
Villagers nab police official for pilferage
Manipur outfit vows to protect
Rs 41 crore to boost exports in Northeast

 
 
CRACKDOWN ON TOPSIA DRUG DEN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept.25: 
The police cracked down on the Topsia drug bazaar, arresting five pedlars and confiscating 33 pouches of powder on Monday afternoon. On Monday, Metro had reported on the heroin trade flourishing in the Topsia area, just off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. Hundreds of ‘purias’, worth over Rs 15 lakh, change hands in the G.G. Khan-Topsia Road every day, with razor and ‘chamber’-wielding men and burqa-clad women peddling potent pouches to dealers and customers alike. Early morning finds young men in fast cars flocking to the squalid streets of the east Calcutta slum, where a ‘fix’ comes for a fee of Rs 30 per puria, and where rival druglords rule with an iron fist. Additional superintendent of police S.N. Gupta said the Tiljala police was directed to raid the area and flush out the drug dealers. The city police have also resolved to coordinate with their South 24-Parganas counterparts and form a special team to conduct raids in the slum areas. The mid-afternoon swoop on Monday saw cops scouring G.G. Khan Road, Topsia Road and Tiljala Second Lane. While five pedlars were picked up, druglords Lambu Feroz, Mota Feroz or Noori Begum were not to be found. Key members like Akhter and Sultana, too, had fled by the time the police contingent reached Tiljala Second Lane. Police said they had all been tipped off “by their sources” about the raid. “There was a flurry of activity in the area towards the afternoon. The druglords and their henchmen piled into private cars and zoomed off,’’ said Abdul Hamid, a local resident. “About half an hour after that, two jeeps with policemen in plainclothes entered G.G. Khan Road and Tiljala Second Lane from the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, while another jeep zeroed in via the Park Street connector of Topsia Road.” Five pedlars were caught on the spot with heroin packets in their possession. “The arrested pedlars belong to the Mota Feroz’s gang,’’ a police officer said. Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Narayan Ghosh on Monday pulled up detectives of the narcotic cell for allowing the heroin market to thrive. “We have information that Mota Feroz, Lambu Feroz and Noori are big-time drug dealers who operate in the area. The drug bazaar falls under the jurisdiction of the Topsia and Tiljala police stations, but I have asked my officers to probe the matter and submit a report,’’ Ghosh said. He added that his department would coordinate with the superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, and organise a special team to launch a clean-up drive. “The special team will collect information on the drug dealers. We are determined to smash the racket and close down the bazaar once and for all,’’ declared Ghosh.    

 
 
EIGHT DEATHS PRECEDED BLACK SUNDAY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept.25: 
Eight babies had died at B.C. Roy Children’s Hospital over Thursday and Friday. Three days later, 10 deaths occurred in 36 hours. The death count in six days: 18 babies in the medicine ward of the Narkeldanga hospital.

But on Monday, the health department declared that these deaths were “nothing unusual”. “The hospital has an annual mortality rate of about two per cent, which is within limits,” it added. The rate is higher than the international rate set by the World Health Organisation for a paediatric institution.

Health minister Partha De clarified that “the babies had not died because of an outbreak of any infectious disease in the wards of the hospital. The reasons of death are different in each case.” He added that most of the babies admitted to the hospital are in “critical condition”. They are referred by health centres and block hospitals in neighbouring districts.

A number of anxious parents were seen poring over copies of Monday’s newspapers, which had reported the death of 10 infants at B.C. Roy Children’s Hospital. Another bunch, led by a political party, staged a demonstration on the hospital premises. A one-page Hindi newsletter on “mismanagement and neglect” plaguing the hospital was distributed freely.

Despite this, only two babies were taken away by their parents. “We are not happy with the arrangements here, it is too crowded,” one of them said, adding that his son was likely to be infected with a “more serious disease” than the one for which he had been admitted.

Senior doctors at the speciality hospital admitted that the frequency of deaths “could be reduced” if the facilities were improved.

B.C. Roy Children’s Hospital, which treats pre-term babies ranging from a day old to a year, does not have an incubator. The ultrasonography machine has been out of order since 1997. The diagnostic laboratory facilities (pathology, microbiology and biochemical investigations) are sub-standard and only one of two X-ray machines work at any point of time.

But the biggest problem is overcrowding. The number of beds at the hospital, regarded as a tertiary level referral institution, has remained at 175 ever since it started functioning in 1966.

So, three babies, suffering from different ailments, are being treated on one cot, two-feet-by-five-feet, in the medicine wards of the hospital for the last two years.

“Chances of cross-infection are very high. But admissions go on, as parents keep bringing their children to the hospital,” said a nurse.The hospital authorities, seeking to improve their infrastructure, have been petitioning the government for some time. Superintendent Anup Mandal and head of the medicine department Meena Basak have on three occasions sent memos to the health department and the PWD for constructing a new building on a three-bigha plot on the hospital premises. “The outdoor department can shift there, and up to 100 beds can be added,” they said.

The number of doctors, nurses and Grade-IV staff, too, needs to be increased. At present, one nurse has to look after up to 50 babies, instead of the prescribed 10. Four doctors’ posts are lying vacant.

“Healthcare delivery is bound to suffer under these conditions, endangering the lives of the infants,” observed a hospitalofficial.    


 
 
MEND-OR-SHUT THREAT TO NEW MARKET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept.25: 
New Market faces a shutdown if traders block renovation plans after the Pujas. This was announced by mayor Subrata Mukherjee, who paid a surprise visit to the 120-year-old market on Monday afternoon.

The sprawling heritage building is the largest market owned directly owned by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. Mukherjee has lined up a revival package for the ill-maintained, cash-strapped market. By official estimates, the CMC bears a subsidy of Rs 2 crore every year to keep the market going. This includes the wage bill of 250 employees and electricity tariff.

More than a lakh people visit the 5,000 shops every day and purchase goods worth about Rs 1 crore. “Revenue from the market is so poor that even 50 per cent of the annual maintenance cost is not realised. This cannot be allowed to continue,” said Mukherjee. “If traders stand in the way of the renovation programme, I’d rather close the market down than run it badly,” he declared during a two-hour tour.

Pradip Chakraborty, general secretary of S.S. Hogg Market Shopkeepers’ Welfare Association, said the shopkeepers would hold a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the mayor’s decision to overhaul New Market. The mayor said the revival programme would include an upward revision of the paltry rent paid by around 5,000 traders. “Not only have the stall-owners illegally increased the size of their shops, they have also piled up stuff on the corridors, making it impossible for people to walk around,” said Mukherjee.

The mayor was particularly upset with the lack of ventilation in the new wing of the market, constructed in 1985. “Anyone shopping here for more than half an hour is bound to fall ill,” he said. In the fish and vegetable sections of the old wing, Mukherjee was greeted by leaking, crumbling roofs.

Mukherjee also took strong exception to the presence of local ruffians and drug addicts. “Women are unsafe in the market because of these goons and the Taltala police have turned a blind eye. They (police) are actually giving tacit support to these anti- socials. I suppose their palms are being greased,” he said.    


 
 
MONTH’S WAIT FOR DURGA AFTER MAHALAYA 
 
 
BY SUDESHNA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Sept.25: 
The traditional six-day countdown to Mahasaptami starts from Mahalaya on Wednesday. But next year, the wait between the two tithis is going to be a long one — more than a month. This extraordinary phenomenon has come to light through calculations of both schools of thought — Suryasidhhanta (followed by most almanacs,like Gupta Press and PM Bakchi) and Driksidhhanta (followed by the Bisuddhasiddhanta almanac).

While Mahalaya 2001 falls on September 17, Saptami arrives only on October 23. The reason is that the intervening lunar month is a malamash, unfit for the Pujas to take place.

According to the Bisudhhasidhhanta almanac, the last time such a phenomenon occurred was way back in 1917, while according to the other school of thought, this happened twice in the last millennium—in 1963 and in 1982. But 2001 is the first year in recent history when both schools have not only agreed on the phenomenon, but have also concurred on the tithis.

Says Arijit Roy Choudhury of Gupta Press: “A month which has two new moons (amavasya) is called a malamash, when no auspicious rites can be performed. Next year, this period falls between Mahalaya and Durgasaptami. As a result, the Pujas will be deferred till that lunar month is over.” said Jayanta Bagchi, publisher of the P.M. Bakchi almanac.

Himangshu Smrititirtha, a leading pundit who has calculated the timings for the Bisudhhasidhhanta almanac, explains: “The month of Ashwin is malamash next year. Pitritarpan and other rites slated for Mahalaya will take place as usual on the morning of September 17, the final day of Bhadra. But malamash falls on the night of Mahalaya and continues till the night of October 16. So the Pujas cannot take place in the interim period and all rites for Ashwin will get deferred to Kartik.”

This has special significance for traditional pujas, like those at Kalighat temple, the Paikpara rajbari and the Bhukailash rajbari in Kidderpore, where the rites start on Krishnanabami, the ninth day of the new moon cycle, which ends on Mahalaya.

“The community pujas will remain unaffected, as they usually commence their rites on Mahasashti, so the malamaash is of no serious consequence to them,” said Smrititirtha .

Santipada Bhattacharya, chief priest and ritual adviser of Kalighat temple, is too busy with this year’s Pujas to have worked out next year’s schedule. However, he said, “if such a phenomenon occurs, we cannot stop the Puja once we commence. But since formal religious rites are forbidden in a malamash, we will continue a simple form of worship with flowers, incense and lamps throughout the month. The rites slated for debipaksha will have to wait,” he added.    


 
 
QUERIES FLOOD CONTROL ROOM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept.25: 
A makeshift control room that opened at Calcutta Information Centre on Monday was the scene of hectic activity as hundreds of people thronged the spot with anxious queries about relations stranded in the flood-hit districts.

The state government opened the special control room to provide people with round-the-clock updates on the flood situation.

Though the control room started functioning formally from 10 am on Monday, people queued up for information since early in the morning. They jostled with each other in a bid to elicit information about their relatives. Eight information department officials had a tough time manning the telephones installed at the centre. They could not squeeze in a break, as the telephones kept on ringing all day.

Vinay Khaitan, a resident of Liluah, in Howrah, broke down when told by the counter staff that they had yet to receive an update on his two elder brothers, missing in Plassey, Murshidabad, since September 19.

Khaitan wanted to proceed to Plassey to locate his brothers, but the staff warned him: “Don’t right now, as the Bhagirathi is flowing above danger level near Plassey rail station.”

Khaitan’s brothers owned ration shops at Plassey, he said. They had gone to Bethuadahari last Tuesday to collect stocks and were to return the same night. “I spoke to them for the last time over the telephone on September 19 evening. And since then, I have been moving from pillar to post in search of them,” he added.

Thirty-five-year-old Anup Mondal from Kestopur, near Salt Lake, was distraught. He kept asking the counter staff for “a little information about my three- year-old daughter and wife, Jhumur.” Mondal’s wife works at a primary health centre at Plassey. “She and my daughter left for Plassey on September 18. Since then, I have been spending sleepless nights. I have no information about them,” said Mondal. He decided to rush to Plassey by train but was told that all road and rail links were cut off beyond Ranaghat.

Those manning the control room tackled the surging crowd with utmost patience. “We are trying our best to keep them informed about the latest position but are unable to do so, as all phone lines are down,” said an employee. The control room will remain open till 9 pm every day.    


 
 
PAINTING THEIR WAY OUT OF DESPAIR 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, Sept.25: 
What would one expect a cancer patient, and that too a child, to do? To be weighed down by misery and pain, of course.

Fortunately, despair is not the lot of every patient. There are many whose spirit can never be crushed. Ahana Das, who is all of seven, has malignant brain tumour. But that doesn’t stop her from painting pictures that are a bright splash of light and colour.

And she is not the only one. There are many other children, stricken by cerebral palsy, who take up paint and brush to create amazingly bright pictures.

Even many adult cancer patients don’t exactly wallow in despair. They too have taken up painting and the related visual arts as a profession. Katayun Saklat does stained glass for a living. So does Shambhu Nath Das.

The works of these cancer patients and other physically-challenged people will be displayed at an exhibition-cum-sale at Birla Academy of Art and Culture on Tuesday. To be inaugurated by Governor Viren J. Shah, it will continue till October 1.

The exhibition, titled ‘Healing thru art’, is being organised by Prerak, a voluntary support group for such people, the only one of its kind in eastern India. The group is dedicated to the psychological and emotional support of cancer patients and their families.

Prerak tries to improve the quality of their remaining life by helping them overcome fear of the disease, increasing awareness about it among the public, and removing the stigma attached to it.

Till now, Prerak has been meeting at the homes of its members, says its founder Rati Vajpeyi, an oncologist. The exhibition is part of a drive to raise funds for establishing a centre where Prerak meetings can be held.

Other physically-challenged people from the Institute of Cerebral Palsy and the Oral School for Deaf Children and artists Ashok Ganguly, Sharbani Ganguly, Atanu Mitra, Dhiren Sashmal, Tarun Chakrabarty too have contributed their paintings.

Vajpeyi intends to start art therapy at the centre. She says it is used regularly in the West to help patients cope with emotions through the process of creating. A lot depends on the success of this exhibition, because Prerak has plans to open a day-care centre next.    


 
 
VEGETABLE PRICES IN HIGH SPATE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept.25: 
Prices of vegetables in the markets of Calcutta and its neighbourhood are soaring as the areas from where the bulk of the supplies arrive in the city are under flood water.

Vegetables like ridge gourd, lady’s finger, wax gourd, gourd, bitter gourd, brinjal and various kinds of leafy vegetables are in short supply in the city’s principal wholesale centres at Koley Market and markets in Orphanganj, Dum Dum and Maniktala. As a result, their prices have doubled.

Even prices of potato and onion, tubers which have not been affected by the floods, are spiralling. Potato, which sold at Rs 325 a quintal in wholesale markets on Saturday, leapt to Rs 340 on Sunday. Similarly, the prices of onions from Bellary, in Maharashtra, rose from Rs 500 to Rs 650 a quintal between Friday and Sunday, said an officer in the state government’s agriculture marketing department.

Though the prospects of aman paddy, pulses and jute are bleak, thanks to the floods, a bumper crop of cauliflower is expected in winter. There will be a good yield of all winter vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, tomato, spinach, radish, beetroot, turnip and carrot because of the alluvial soil left behind by the flood waters.

“Kalna, Katwa, Azimganj, Barharwa, Jirat, Balagarh, Nalikul and Lalgola are collectively regarded as the city’s vegetable bowl and rail and road links to this entire belt are now cut off,” an official said. “About 50,000 quintals of vegetables arrive at the city markets daily from the districts. Now, it has dropped to less than 20,000 quintals a day,” he said.

The price of green chilli shot up from Rs 15 to Rs 100 in city markets as the rail link with north Bengal has been severed.    


 
 
VILLAGERS NAB POLICE OFFICIAL FOR PILFERAGE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Jamshedpur, Sept. 25: 
Villagers today caught a police official and six other persons stealing iron beams from a warehouse at Haludbani under Patamda block of Bihar’s East Singhbhum district.

The “apprehended” police official has been identified as R. Yadav, the officer in-charge of Patamda police station, while one of his “accomplices”, Narain Choubey, is a Rashtriya Janata Dal member.

All seven were beaten up, garlanded with shoes and paraded in the area before being handed over to the police.

Sources said a group of youth guarding their paddy fields from elephants spotted a truck and an Ambassador car parked in front of the warehouse past midnight and informed other villagers.

Since the warehouse had been burgled on several occasions earlier, the villagers assumed that a group of robbers had again broken in. Armed with traditional weapons, they zeroed in on the warehouse and “apprehended” the seven persons.

Sources said a wall had been broken and some iron beams loaded on the truck by the time the villagers arrived.

The police official allegedly tried to open fire from his service revolver, but the villagers forced him and his accomplices into the Ambassador car.

Two village youth subsequently informed local legislator Dulal Bhuiyan about the incident. He rushed to the spot, but could not prevent the villagers from beating up their “captives”. Senior police and civil officials later arrived at the village and brought the situation under control.

The police seized the Ambassador, the truck and a scooter after an FIR was lodged.

Deputy superintendent of police Shashi Bala Sharma said the police official had been suspended till completion of a departmental inquiry.

Railway blockade: Train services under the Chakradharpur division of South-Eastern Railway were paralysed today as activists of the Santhali Bhasha Morcha blocked the tracks for nearly 12 hours.

A group of activists, led by BJP legislator Salkhan Murmu, squatted on the tracks, forcing cancellation of train services from Tatanagar to various destinations. Several other trains, including the Delhi-bound Purushottam Express, were stranded at the station.

Similar blockades were reported in 26 other places in the tribal belt, including Chakulia, Jhargram, Ghatshila and Chakradharpur. Trains from Howrah were also obstructed at Kharagpur.

The Santhali Bhasha Morcha has been demanding inclusion of the Santhali language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.    


 
 
MANIPUR OUTFIT VOWS TO PROTECT 
 
 
FROM A CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, Sept. 25: 
The Revolutionary People’s Front, a proscribed outfit operating in Manipur, has announced that it would use all its strength and resources to protect states’ the territorial integrity.

This was announced to the media at a “news conference” in Ukhrul district. The conference was called to mark the outfit’s 22nd Raising Day today.

RPF communication and publicity chief M. Lalhaba alleged that “India has been infringing on Manipur’s boundary since its annexation” in 1949.

Lalhaba said the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947 is still enforceable. He added it was framed before India became a republic in 1950. Lalhaba said the RPF is closely monitoring the ceasefire signed between the Union government and a Nagaland-based underground outfit.

He said his party had told the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) not to consider disrupting the integrity of Assam and Manipur in its talks with India. He also said the RPF supports the people’s movement to oppose extension of the ceasefire to Manipur.

The RPF publicity chief said his outfit has approached the United Nations to recognise the demand for the sovereignty of Manipur. So far, nearly five countries, including some with veto powers, have come forward to support its campaign, he added.

Lalhaba said the issues raised by the RPF “will be tabled in the UN General Assembly sooner or later.” He felt the Union government was diverting crores of rupees from the non-Plan fund to counter-insurgency operations in Manipur.

Referring to the ban on Hindi films and audio cassettes, he said the step has been taken to counteract “cultural imperialism.” Citing an example of “cultural hegemony,” Lalhaba said Bollywood culture has become mixed in the traditional Lai-Haraoba festival of the Meiteis. He, however, admitted that there is no ban in the case of the Hindi language.

The news conference was held under tight security. Over 200 People’s Liberation Army guerrillas stood guard, armed with sophisticated weapons including those snatched from CRPF jawans after the Lamdan ambush on July 18.

Border dispute

The Manipuri Students’ Federation has accused the Centre of not taking steps to protect the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur.

In a memorandum to defence minister George Fernandes, the students’ panel said no step had been taken to prevent incursions into Manipur from across the border since Myanmarese soldiers transgressed into Chandel district a decade ago.

The Myanmarese soldiers had moved a border pillar (number 87) at least half-a-km from its original site near Yangoupokpi village in Chandel district. The pillar had been installed after demarcation of the Indo-Myanmar boundary during 1969-70.

The Manipuri Students’ Federation said the Centre should take steps immediately to prevent incidents like the incursion by Myanmarese soldiers.    


 
 
RS 41 CRORE TO BOOST EXPORTS IN NORTHEAST 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Sept. 25: 
The Centre has sanctioned Rs 41 crore for development of export-oriented infrastructure in the Northeast, Union commerce secretary Prabir Sengupta announced here today.

Sengupta, who is here to review the steps taken for promotion of trade and exports, said Rs 11 crore of the sanctioned amount had already been released.

He said the projects approved by the Centre included construction of weigh-bridges at five separate border trading points and improvement of the Surma Trunk Road from Karimganj to Suterkandi in south Assam.

Sengupta said an export development fund had been set up exclusively for the Northeast. The fund, set up with an initial corpus of Rs 5 crore, will be managed by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Development Authority, he said.

“Additional land Customs stations along the international borders in Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur will be set up in a phased manner. A proposal for inclusion of 10 more items on the list of commodities that may be imported from Myanmar through Moreh is also being considered,” Sengupta said.

The Union commerce secretary, who heads a committee on border and inter-country trade, held a meeting with the chief secretaries and other senior officials of all the northeastern states.

The committee, comprising members from various ministries, reviewed implementation of projects identified under the Prime Minister’s action plan as well as recommendations of the task force on border trade in the Northeast. The panel suggested that Karnaphuli along the India-Bangladesh border and some more areas along the India-Myanmar border be declared as border trade routes.

Sources said the Assam government requested the Union commerce secretary to include Badarpur on the list of ports of call approved under the inland waterways agreement with Bangladesh.

The package of steps being considered for development of trade and exports includes introduction of Customs clearance facilities in Imphal, import of 50,000 tonnes of rice from Myanmar and upgradation of infrastructure at Moreh.

“State governments will be provided funds for creation of adequate infrastructure,” Sengupta said. He said the committee on border trade today discussed the status of commodity boards in the region.    

 

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