Guns blaze in southern turf war
Love triangle leads to kidnap
Fears of Puja washout clear
3 dacoits held after shootout
Floods cut off Durga’s finery
Local gangsters prefer foreign firearms
Trees felled for Devi’s arrival
Timings disrupt college schedule
Deluge keeps drummers away
Victoria replica for Assam Puja

 
 
GUNS BLAZE IN SOUTHERN TURF WAR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept.2: 
A dreaded criminal of south Calcutta, Sujit Halder, was shot dead by rival Dom Pradip, triggering a series of clashes between rival gangs in Tollygunge. The sudden spurt in the gang war caused panic among the area’s residents and threw life out of gear on Monday evening.

Police said Halder was the right-hand man of Sridhar Das, crimelord of south Calcutta currently languishing in jail.

Witnesses said Halder was sitting at a tea-stall on Bawali Mondal Road around noon when Bhombal, a close associate of rival Dom Pradip, came upto him and whispered that “boss’’ wanted to meet him for a “truce till the Pujas”.

Halder and Pradip were engaged in a bitter turf battle for control over the cash-rich Tollygunge territory.

Sensing an opportunity to strike a deal before the Pujas, Halder went alone to meet Pradip, who was waiting in a nearby meat shop under the rail bridge.

The two gangleaders started off discussing issues like collection of extortion money before the Pujas. But what had started as a discussion soon turned into a heated argument.

Pradip suddenly whipped out a revolver and shot Halder in the chest from point-blank range. Halder slumped to the ground, bleeding profusely.

After Pradip and his associates casually walked away from the spot, locals rushed Halder to the nearest hospital, where doctors declared him dead.

As word of the murder spread, trouble broke out in Tollygunge. Halder’s gang members raided the area, and within minutes, Tollygunge Road, Jhaldar Maath, Rail Bridge and Bawali Mondal Road were transformed into a battlefield. Bullets flew thick and fast and bombs were hurled with alarming regularity.

“For about an hour, it was an absolute free-for-all between the gangsters, while all shops downed shutters and houses kept doors and windows shut,” said Rabindranath Bal, a local resident.

Some locals, who had rung up Tollygunge thana to report the violence, alleged that the police had been “late to reach the spot”.

A 16-year-old boy, who preferred to remain anonymous, recounted a tale of terror:

“I was near Jhaldar Maath when I suddenly heard the sound of explosions. A group of 30 men armed with revolvers came running into the area. A few moments later, another gang stormed the area, started hurling bombs and firing indiscriminately.”

According to preliminary investigations, Halder had been operating a network of terror in Tollygunge for the past six months. “Halder was controlling Das’s crime empire after his arrest,” said an officer.

The local underworld — stretching from Rashbehari Avenue to Tollygunge — was being controlled by Halder and his associates.

Halder’s gang had been extorting money from businessmen and promoters in an area known to be flush with funds.    


 
 
LOVE TRIANGLE LEADS TO KIDNAP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept.2: 
They were best of friends till they fell for the same girl. The filmi love triangle reached a dramatic denouement when the police charged Sanjoy Singh of kidnapping friend-turned-foe Anish Garoria.

Three other teenagers, Sahid Parvez, Debashis Shah and Sandip Singh, and 26-year-old Promod Singh were also arrested on Monday for helping Sanjoy kidnap Anish. The accused were produced in court and remanded in police custody till October 15.

According to deputy commissioner, detective department, Narayan Ghosh, Sanjoy, 17, and Anish, 18, are residents of Gangaram Palit Road, in the Muchipara police station area. They attended the same school and, according to neighbours and classmates, “were always together”.

Trouble began after Sanjoy introduced his ‘girlfriend’ to Anish. She, allegedly, started spending more time with the latter.

Sanjoy told investigators that he and his gang had spotted Anish and the girl together at New Market, Nicco Park and some other places. “But whenever I proposed to take her out, she refused,” said Sanjoy.

He then decided to force the issue and hatched a plan to kidnap his “best friend” and “force him to steer clear of the girl”. Sanjoy consulted some of his friends and then contacted ‘para dada’ Promod Singh.

On September 27, Sanjoy got the chance he was waiting for. Anish was buying kites from a shop in Muchipara. The place was deserted. Promod, Sanjoy, Sahid and Debashis drove up to the shop and forced Anish into the Maruti van.

Anish’s father, Kailashpati, a senior executive with a private firm, registered a ‘missing’ diary at Muchipara police station on September 28. Police began investigating the case and installed a caller-line identification machine at Anish’s residence.

Anish was shifted from a house on Ripon Street to Kidderpore and then to AJC Bose Road. Throughout his ordeal, his kidnappers reiterated one thing: promise to stay away from the girl and walk free. Meanwhile, the kidnappers were calling up Anish’s father from phone booths and demanding Rs 2 lakh as ransom. But one call by Sahid from his Ripon Street residence was enough to give the game away.

In a lightning swoop, police picked up Sahid. On the basis of his confessions, they raided three houses on AJC Bose Road and in Kidderpore to round up the rest of the gang and rescue Anish.    


 
 
FEARS OF PUJA WASHOUT CLEAR 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Sept.2: 
There’s good news for Calcuttans fearing that the Pujas will be a washout. The Met office said on Monday that the weather in the city and the districts of south Bengal will remain “by and large fair” during the next few days.

The weather office has, however, issued a warning of “heavy rains” till Wednesday for north Bengal. Light to moderate rains have been forecast in Calcutta and some parts of south Bengal during this period.

Alipore Met office director R.N. Goldar said on Monday evening that the “well-marked low pressure trough” that was hovering over Gangetic West Bengal had crossed Bangladesh and was moving northwards.

“It has weakened and is spread over Mizoram, Agartala, Dhaka and Narayangunj. It will move further north. Most probably, it will weaken further and fizzle out,” Goldar said.

Under its influence, there will be heavy rain in the north Bengal districts of Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, North and South Dinajpur and Malda. Heavy rain is also expected in Murshidabad.

“There is not much of a cloud cover over Calcutta and south Bengal. So we can expect good weather in the days ahead. The days may be a little cloudy but it will remain fair with minimum rain,” an official said.

Goldar, however, pointed out a fresh cluster of dense clouds that had been spotted over the Myanmar coast.

The low-pressure zone, which moved into Bangladesh on Monday, had drifted in from the Myanmar’s west coast on Saturday. Officials at the Alipore weather office had expressed apprehension that the low-pressure trough would move towards West Bengal. This had created quite a panic in a state, struggling to cope with high tides on the Hooghly for five days.

While announcing that the clouds had drifted towards Bangladesh, Goldar clarified that the weathermen were monitoring the cloud developments over the Myanmar coast. “We are watching the situation very closely,” he said.

Met office records over the past five years, however, show that there has always been a heavy downpour in Calcutta in the first week of October.

Last year, half the Pujas were washed out and the people could only go pandal-hopping after the rain let up from Ashtami night.

To play it safe, almost all Puja organisers this time have made arrangements for sandbags and sacks full of sawdust.

Many organisers have also extended the pandals to guard against a possible shower or two.

On the eve of Sashti, Calcutta wore a festive look. A large number of Puja revellers had already hit the illuminated streets on Monday evening.

Some had even started pandal-hopping in order to catch an early glimpse of the Devi.    


 
 
3 DACOITS HELD AFTER SHOOTOUT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept.2: 
Three dacoits of a dreaded gang were arrested after a fierce gunbattle with the police at Bijpur, in Kanchrapara, on the city’s northern fringes, on Monday.

At least 30 rounds were fired by both police and the dacoits in an encounter that lasted for over three hours. All three dacoits were admitted to Kanchrapara Hospital in a critical condition. They were identified as Rajendra Singh, Seikh Arif and Bablu Kabir. All are wanted in a number of cases of dacoity and murder.

Police said they had been tipped off about a gang of 12 youth from Ramnagar, in Garden Reach, planning a dacoity in a factory at Naihati. Late on Sunday night, the cops spotted the gang in a Matador van on Barrackpore Trunk Road and followed them. At Kanchrapara, the dacoits opened fire. All gang members except the three disappeared into the darkness. The police recovered several firearms, bombs and false number-plates.

Abhimanyu Das, officer-in-charge of Bijpur police station, said: “This was the biggest operation carried out by the North 24-Parganas police lately. We have sought the help of Calcutta Police to track down the rest of the gang.”    


 
 
FLOODS CUT OFF DURGA’S FINERY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept.2: 
With hours to go for Sashti, the Devi’s invocation, image-makers at Kumartuli, in north Calcutta,are struggling to meet their deadline. A few hundred Durga idols are yet to be adorned with jewellery and other decorations. And it’s all because of the floods.

Burdwan and Nadia districts, from where the goddesses’ jewellery, trinkets and shola ,/i>decorations come to Kumartuli, have been severely affected by the floods. Thousands of craftsmen who design the ornaments have been rendered homeless in these two districts. So, supply of these items to Kumartuli has dried up.

As a result, craftsmen in Kumartuli, one of the largest idol-making centres in the country, are in no position to put the finishing touches to a large number of pratimas.

Desperate not to fail the puja organisers, some artisans are even falling back on last year’s stocks. Ornaments and decorations that were rejected or not used the last time are being fished out of trunks and boxes, hastily repaired and used on the images.

“But there is still an acute shortage. The problem is that these decorations are mainly made from shola ,(pith), zari and shining metal, substitutes for which are impossible to find,” said Jiban Pal, an image-maker for 30 years.

On Monday, Jiban was desperate to finish three idols within two hours, after managing to purchase a few ornaments at a premium from other artisans.

“The supply of ornaments and decorations from Burdwan and Nadia has been virtually nil this year. We generally get our supplies a fortnight before Sashti,” said Jiban.

Most image-makers have been working round-the-clock for the last couple of weeks. But they are being forced to take time off to scrounge for ornaments from fellow artisans in Burrabazar. As a result, a large number of idols are yet to be painted and several remain unfinished even on Panchami.

China Pal, an artisan at Kumartuli for 20 years, said: “I have completed the idols and even gave finishing touches to them. But I could not adorn the pratimas with jewellery and ornaments. We have gathered a few items, but many more are needed.”

Image-maker Shankar Pal is frustrated. He has three idols to finish before Mahasashti. “The idol of Lakshminagar Sarbojanin Durgotsav, at Shyambazar, is waiting for ornaments. The club had given me Rs 14,000 to deliver the idol before Panchami. But I am still trying to find a few more things to put the finishing touches to the image,” said Shankar.

Most Puja organisers are refusing to see the problem from the artisans’ point of view. Monday witnessed a number of altercations between organisers arriving to rush the image-makers.

“Members of Malapara Club on Strand Road started abusing me because they were not satisfied with the ornaments. I told them about the floods and the lack of supply. But they just wouldn’t listen,” said Shankar.

“They told us the idol would be ready on Sunday. But yet the pratima looks incomplete. What do we now ?” demanded an organiser from Jadavpur.    


 
 
LOCAL GANGSTERS PREFER FOREIGN FIREARMS 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Sept.2: 
The underworld is running a lucrative trade in sophisticated Russian, Italian and Spanish pistols, which are made exclusively for army and police worldwide, according to detectives interrogating crime lord Abdul Rub, 48.

Deputy commissioner of police, central, Raj Kanojia, said Rub was carrying a 9-mm, semi-automatic Browning pistol, from which he fired at policemen when they challenged him near Phears Lane, in the Bowbazar police station area. One policeman was injured in the shootout.

According to Kanojia, 9-mm pistols are used only by the army and the police. “It is very sophisticated weapon, into which nine to 11 cartridges can be filled at a time and once the trigger is pressed, keeps on firing,’’ Kanojia said.

A 9-mm pistol costs Rs 1 lakh in the grey market. Rub told investigators that he got the pistol from a Bangladeshi youth who lives in Topsia. “Rub gave us the name of the youth, but we cannot reveal it for the sake of investigations,’’ Kanojia said.

Sources said Bowbazar police, with the help of their Tiljala counterparts, raided Topsia in search of the Bangladeshi, but he was not available at the spot named by Rub.

Local criminals told police officers that the Bangladeshi youth is a pistol-dealer and gets the arms from Pakistan. “Rub ran a crime empire and there are several cases of extortion and murder pending against him at several central Calcutta police stations,’’ Kanojia said.

Investigations reveal that sophisticated Italian, Spanish, Austrian and Russian pistols are being traded freely in east Calcutta. Sources said 9-mm pistols like Browning, a .32 Lama, Glog or Colt of the US, are smuggled to the city. Word spreads once the arms arrive in the ‘bazaar’ and prospective buyers callup ‘dealers.’

According to sources in the underworld, the identity of the buyers is always kept a closely-guarded secret. The arms are freely bought in hawala transactions by the Northeast terrorists.

The entire deal is shrouded insecrecy, with touts or middleman filling in to protect the identity of the buyer and the seller.

Investigations revealed that Babban of Mollahpara, in the city’s eastern suburbs, is a dealer of Italian pistols. Kallu of Kasai Mohalla, in Topsia, sells the Spanish .32 Lama and glog of Austria.

Officers said the Glog pistol is made of fibre-glass and is very light and handy. Sources said these pistols are “manufacturer’s seconds” and priced at Rs 70,000.

Austrian and Italian pistols are available with Lalla of Gilsulhat of Phoolbagan. Boga and Swapan of Tiljala Second Lane are ‘arms agents’ or touts, who act as buffer between the dealer and the seller. Police are questioning several people to find out more details on the arms racket.    


 
 
TREES FELLED FOR DEVI’S ARRIVAL 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Sept.2: 
The civic authorities claimed on Monday that more than 2,000 trees across the city were trimmed to make way for pandals and illuminations of community pujas. They said nearly 1,000 truckloads of chopped-off branches and trunks have been dumped at Dhapa over the past week.

“We stopped trimming trees only on Sunday after a week-long marathon drive,” said member, mayor-in-council (parks and gardens), Hridyanand Gupta. The CMC conservancy chief Mala Roy claimed it was the largest trimming drive the Corporation had ever undertaken in the past 25 years. “We spent Rs 2.5 lakh just for transporting the branches to Dhapa”, she added.

Officials said the move followed regular complaints from residents, organisers of Puja committees and even the civic lighting department. “We worked on a war footing during the past few days to complete the trimming before the Pujas,” they added.

In the Bhowanipore, Mudiali and Tollygunge areas, prolific growth of branches had even shrouded the sodium vapour lamps on main thoroughfares.

The trimming was conducted under the supervision of civic parks and gardens department officials. The volume of sawed-off trunks and branches was so huge that they had to seek the help of the conservancy department to transport the load to Dhapa.

Conservancy officer Swapan Mahapatra said the total weight of the trimmed trunks and branches transported would be more than 2,000 tonnes, almost equal to the total garbage generation of the city in a day. It needed 500 trips to Dhapa to clear the city pavements and roads of the felled branches.

CMC horticulturist for the South Tridib Talukdar said the trimming was more intense in south Calcutta than other parts of the city. According to Talukdar, nearly 170 truckloads of green waste had to be removed from borough VIII alone, comprising Triangular Park, Harish Mukherjee Road, Hazra Road and Rashbehari Avenue.

To control wild growth of foliage, the CMC parks and gardens department has decided to plant only shiva (a variety of cotton tree), arjun and deodar henceforth, as these trees all grow straight.    


 
 
TIMINGS DISRUPT COLLEGE SCHEDULE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept.2: 
A decision by the authorities of Shibpur’s Bengal Engineering College (Deemed University) to change the arrival schedule of its non-teaching employees from 8 am to 10 am has led to disruption of classes in the institution.

Officials said on Monday that the disruption, which began before the Pujas, will continue even after the vacation. The BE College Teachers’ Association made it clear that it was not possible for the professors to conduct classes if the non-teaching staff didn’t report for duty much earlier than them. “How can we conduct classes if they are not opened and cleaned by the non-teaching staff before we start teaching?” said association secretary Arup Sarkar.

Ever since it was founded in 1856, the college has been following the same time schedule — 8 am to 4 pm for all — students, teachers and non-teaching staff.

The college authorities introduced the new timings from July this year, in accordance with a state government circular.

The authorities are now planning to implement the same revised timings for students and teachers too. Both students and teachers, however, are worried by this and said they would resist such a move.

“The old system has been in practice for more than a century and the authorities then must have had good enough reasons to fix the schedule that way,” reasoned Sarkar.

The college is fully residential and the plan to begin the day early is aimed at enabling the students to utilise maximum time for academic purposes. The laboratories and libraries remain open till 8 pm and students can use the facilities much longer as classes will be over by 4 pm.

The proposed revision in the schedule for students won’t allow them to go back to the hostels during the recess, which will now be for 30 minutes only at 2 pm. The new timings will also affect sports and other leisure activities, the students alleged. Vice-chancellor Amal Jyoti Sengupta was not available for comment.    


 
 
DELUGE KEEPS DRUMMERS AWAY 
 
 
BY SOUMYADIPTA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Sept.2: 
This Pujas, you might well have to make do with taped dhak instead of the traditional ‘live’ drumming your tympanic membranes are accustomed to. The dhakis, who liven up proceedings at the pandals with their magical beat, have been conspicuous by their absence this year, thanks to the all-engulfing floods that have ravaged the state.

Most of the dhakis hail from Midnapore, Hooghly and Nadia, the districts which bore the brunt of the flood fury, and are usually in town by Mahalaya. But even on Monday, the eve of Sashti, the pandals were silent.

Most of the Puja organisers are hoping that the dhakis will be arriving at least by Tuesday. If they don’t come by then, some of the Pujas will have to do without the dhak.

Alternative music is in place, though. Raja Sen, organiser of the Harish Park Sarbojonin Durgotsav, said he is not worried by the absence of dhakis.

“We are going to play the dhak on tape and blare the beat over loudspeakers during arati, if the dhaki/i>s don’t fetch up on time,” Sen explained. Many others may be forced to pick up the beat from Sen and scamper for dhak cassettes.

The recorded beat might not suffice for the puritan. “Without a dhaki, the Durga Puja is never complete,” said Basab Chatterjee, an astrologer from Deshapriya Park.

Around 5,000 dhakis come to the city every year around Mahalaya to ‘perform’ at the 2,300-odd Puja pandals. But, only about a hundred could be found at the traditional flocking grounds of Howrah, Sealdah and Kalighat bridge.

Those who could make it, are busy drumming up support for their fight against the floods. “My house is completely submerged and my fields are under water too,” said Gopal Chandra Rui Das, a dhaki from Midnapore, a regular in the city for the past 33 years. “This year, I will have to charge more. I need the money to repair my house,” he added.    


 
 
VICTORIA REPLICA FOR ASSAM PUJA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Oct. 2: 
The Red Fort, the White House, the Kremlin, the Lalit Bhawan Palace and now, the Victoria Memorial for you. This list would hardly be enough if Krishna Das makes it a habit of recreating famous monuments at every Durga Puja.

The otherwise nondescript Manipuri Basti area is going to entice the entire city during the Puja days. The Manipuri Basti Sarbajanin Puja Samity, which is celebrating its silver jubilee this year, has a grand surprise for the denizens of the city. The samity has decided to construct a replica of the Victoria Memorial this time.

“The decision to construct a replica of the Victoria Memorial was taken to make the silver jubilee celebrations a memorable event,” a spokesman for the samity said.

Twenty labourers have been working non-stop for the past three weeks to complete the structure.

Technicians and pandal decorators from Calcutta flock to the city every year during the Durga Puja festivities to create spectacular themes based on important events happening in that particular year. Nearly every big puja samityin the city has a contract with one or the other reputed pandal decorator of Calcutta for the Durga Puja.

“The Victoria Memorial is, however, being constructed entirely by a local firm and local people have been employed for the purpose,” said Krishna Das of Ellora Decorators.

Das, who has been decorating pandals for more than a decade, said local technicians can also do it and are not inferior to others. “I want to abolish the myth that these things can only be done by people from West Bengal,” he added.

Das said he has never seen the Victoria Memorial but has created a replica simply by looking at photographs. “Though I have gone to West Bengal, I never had an opportunity to see the structure from close range,” Das said. “All that I have done is to create an imitation of the Victoria Memorial.”

A garden is also being created to give a feel of the actual Victoria Memorial. Floodlights will be put up on all sides of the pandal to provide the illumination and a fountain built to give a magnificent look to the memorial in the night. The idols of Goddess Durga and others can be seen inside.

“I have created replicas of the Red Fort, the Lalit Bhawan Palace, the White House and the Kremlin to name a few at different Durga Puja pandals throughout the state in my decade-old career,” Das revealed. A replica of the historic Red Fort was made in the Karimganj Durga Puja in 1996.

“It does not require any special skills to do such type of work. As there are no specialised institutions for pandal decoration like in architecture, much of it requires talent which is God-gifted,” Das said.

The entire Manipuri Basti has been tastefully decorated for the Puja festivities. Right from the main road to the pandal arena, decorations and illuminations with special effects have been put up to woo the crowds.

The structure, which will be 64-foot wide and 55 feet in height, has taken nearly a month for completion. A number of competitions will be organised by the puja samity to ad to the attractions.    

 

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