Hot pursuit nets young don
Gangs in pitched battle at Bagmari
Mob fury at Park Circus
Research scholars resent Cinderella schedule
HEALING TOUCH
Clean Esplanade drive to hit 3000
Subhas signals Nov 1 fare hike
Police bust arms racket in Northeast
AASU seeks temporary ban on IMDT
Assam to intensify drive against rebels

 
 
HOT PURSUIT NETS YOUNG DON 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
Sukhdev Singh’s mercurial rise as the latest crimelord of south Calcutta was cut short on Monday night. The 25-year-old gangster, who had quickly built up a formidable reputation in the Behala, Thakurpukur, Jorasanko and Tollygunge areas, was arrested after he walked into a trap laid by the police.

The flamboyant young man, with a passion for the three Ws, was in the process of rewriting some of the rules in the city’s underground. Sukhdev, the city’s first under-graduate don, is fluent in English, Bengali and Hindi, and heads a ‘boyzone’ gang comprising students from reputed schools and colleges.

Sources said Singh’s closest associate, 22-year-old Nigel Ekra, alias Vicky, is a third-year commerce student in one of south Calcutta’s premier colleges. Other gang members include Tubai of Jadavpur, Biki (25) of Ekbalpore, Rajiv Dey (27) of Thakurpukur and Honey (24).

According to deputy commissioner of police, central, Raj Kanojia, seven murder cases and 10 extortion and kidnapping cases are pending against Sukhdev and his boys at Behala, Thakurpukur, Jorasanko and Tollygunge police stations.

The police went after Sukhdev when the gang kidnapped businessman Kishor Khetawat of 55, Vivekananda Road, on September 25, and demanded a ransom of Rs 2 lakh. A case was registered with Jorasanko police station.

This signalled the start of a cat-and-mouse game, with the police carrying out raids on Sukhdev’s hideouts, but the crimelord managing to give them the slip. Strangely, there was no photograph of Sukhdev or his associates with the city police.

While the cops were trying to track him down, Sukhdev was very much in the city, dropping into discos, going pub-hopping and even catching the latest movies in town with his girlfriends — said to be students of prominent city institutions. According to sources, the gang danced a night away in the first week of October at two prominent discos in five-star hotels.

Having failed to make much headway, the police finally decided to lay a trap on Monday. Officers of Jorasanko police station directed the Khetawats to agree to pay the ransom. It was all set up. Kishor’s father, accompanied by another relative, was supposed to meet Vicky, Tubai and Sukhdev in front of Eden Gardens on Monday evening.

Police officers Mrinal Mukherjee and Sachi Majumdar kept watch from a distance. Three men approached Kishor’s father and demanded the ransom. The 75-year-old man said he wanted to see his son before handing over the money.

Suddenly, Sukhdev and Honey grabbed Khetawat and dragged him into the car. Kishor’s father started to shout for help. Majumdar and Mukherjee drew out their service revolvers and ran towards the criminals.

Sukhdev and Honey ran towards their car while Vicky, at the wheel, stepped on the accelerator. The cops fired at the fleeing duo. They missed, but managed to slow Sukhdev and Honey down. The car zoomed off without them.

The criminals made a dash towards Strand Road, with the police in the hot pursuit. Finally, Mukherjee managed to catch up with Sukhdev and Honey. By then, another police team had moved in from the opposite side and pinned the fugitives to the ground.

“I was a good boy in school but fell into the trap of Behala criminals Jisu, Khoka and Chandan. They initiated me into crime. I was too young and immature then to understand what I was getting into. Since then, I have been on the run,’’ Sukhdev told interrogators.    


 
 
GANGS IN PITCHED BATTLE AT BAGMARI 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
A pitched battle broke out between CPM and Trinamul Congress supporters at Bagmari on Tuesday morning. The police had to fire teargas shells and call in the Rapid Action Force to restore order. Traffic along the Maniktala-Kankurgachhi stretch was severely disrupted for hours.

Trouble broke out around 11 am when rival supporters clashed at Maidagali. According to officers of Narkeldanga thana, the clash was a sequel to an altercation between the groups on Saturday, in which a youth was wounded and had to be hospitalised.

On Tuesday, the streetfight continued for about an hour, with both groups hurling bricks and stones at each other. Police from Maniktala and Narkeldanga rushed to the spot. Two rounds of teargas were fired to disperse the crowd. As the situation spun out of control, the RAF had to step in.

Things were finally brought under control in the afternoon. By then, traffic in large parts of north Calcutta had been hit hard by the battle at Bagmari.

Lakshan De, a local Congress leader, said: “Today’s trouble took a serious turn only because of the inefficiency of the police. If they had been prompt in dealing with the situation, things would never have gone out of control.”

De went on to allege that Maidagali, in Bagmari, was turning into a “politically-disturbed area”, with the CPM and Trinamul fighting for turf.

“Yet, the police choose to turn a blind eye. If proper attention is not paid, a major flare-up is just waiting to happen,” he added.    


 
 
MOB FURY AT PARK CIRCUS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
Local residents went on the rampage, torching two police vehicles and injuring five policemen, after Gulnar Hussain, barely a year and a half old, was charred to death in Park Circus on Tuesday. Four others suffered severe burns in the fire, which broke out at 50, Samsul Huda Road.

An illegal stock of petrol kept in a house accidentally caught fire around 8 am, leading to the blaze.

The Rapid Action Force (RAF) had to be deployed to quell mob violence. Nine fire tenders fought for three hours to bring the flames under control. Fire Brigade officials said everybody ran out of the house when the fire broke out and little Gulnar was left behind in the commotion. Residents felt the sight of Gulnar’s lifeless body triggered off the violence in the area.

Efforts to calm down the mob went in vain as angry residents started pelting stones at police officials. They even set a police motorcycle on fire and damaged a wireless van parked in the area. Five policemen were injured in the scuffle.

Passing vehicles were also stoned. Even a Press car was not spared the mob’s wrath and a reporter, along with a photographer, were injured in the missile-throwing. The RAF was called in around 9 am to bring the situation under control. Four young men were arrested on charges of spreading violence.

According to Satyajit Banerjee, officer-in-charge, Karaya police station, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the police to shift the injured to the nearby National Medical College, as the area’s residents refused to listen to the police present on the spot.

The condition of two of the injured, Noor Jahan Begum (60) and Pappu (26), is serious. Both have third-degree burns. Fire officials pleaded helplessness, saying that the flames spread too quickly.

According to Ranjit Pachnanda, deputy commissioner of police (south), petrol was illegally stocked in the house by Kalu, a known anti-social of the area, who managed to escape in the commotion. “He was arrested a few days back and we have registered a case against him. It’s just a matter of time before we nab him again,” Pachnanda added.    


 
 
RESEARCH SCHOLARS RESENT CINDERELLA SCHEDULE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
The police and culture minister claims Calcutta is “the safest metro” in the country. But it’s still not safe enough to allow scholars to continue their research till late in the evening. That’s the message in the Calcutta University move to shut down all its research laboratories in the city at 8 pm. “We had taken this decision some time ago. We have now decided to implement it strictly, in view of the rising incidents of anti-social activities in localities around our campuses,” said M.K. Sengupta, secretary of the university’s two Science College campuses at Rajabazar and on Ballygunge Circular Road. “After all, the university has a responsibility towards its teachers and scholars and it is our duty to ensure their safety when they leave the campus.”

The CU authorities are convinced that this is the only way to ensure security of scholars, especially women. Gangs of rowdies, hanging around Rajabazar and Ballygunge Phari, are often known to ‘target’ women scholars.

The directive has sparked a controversy, with scholars demanding its “immediate withdrawal”, as the early closure of laboratories was seriously affecting research activities. “Surely, changing the timings cannot be the answer to a law-and-order problem in the city. If the authorities want to take action, they must demand posting of a police picket outside the campus,” said a research scholar.

“All good universities which deal with scientific or technological research have arrangements for scientists to stay on campus round-the-clock so that they don’t have to leave any experiment half-way. Instead of imposing a ban on staying on the campus after 8 pm for security reasons, the university should have taken measures to provide temporary accommodation to the scholars on campus,” said a professor of bio-physics.

Researchers often have to stop abruptly in the middle of an important experiment once the clock strikes eight. This stalls the entire research process, leading to unnecessary delay and misuse of costly material required for the experiments. “Everywhere else, research activities pick up at night and here, we’re expected to leave by 8 pm. It’s ridiculous,” added a research scientist at Rajabazar.

Sengupta, however, said that there was “no reason” for the scholars to panic as the university had made an allowance for a “special provision”. “Scholars wishing to stay back after 8 pm for some major experiment can do so provided they inform the authorities in advance,” he explained. But this, too, has been dismissed by students as “absurd” because “it’s not always possible to predict what vital turn an experiment can take and when” and also because “the Group-D staff leave by 8 pm”.

According to a section of university officials, keeping laboratories open late at night was also not advisable, as some teachers apparently utilised the facilities for “private tuition”.    


 
 
HEALING TOUCH 
 
 
SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
Nehar Bano cradles her two-year-old daughter anxiously. She tries desperately to comfort little Shaheen who, like a bunch of kids around her, is bawling the makeshift clinic down. In a corner, Sajid Ali Hassan sits huddled with fever and body ache, his wife by his side.

Doctor memsaab will be here soon, says the reassuring voice of Priya. She and Josephine are busy attending to the patients — of all ages and ailments — listing their symptoms and doing the groundwork before the doctors arrive from their rounds.

The German Doctors’ Clinic at 32, P.M. Basti, on the constricted 2nd Bylane, GT Road (South), Shibpur, is chock-a-block with the afflicted, awaiting the arrival of the “saheb doctors”.

Enter, Anja Deinzer in orange T-shirt and black dockers, followed by Andreas Broy. The two doctors park themselves on either side of a flimsy curtain and the serious business of treatment begins.

“Number 1, come inside,” announces Priya, playing the interpreter. In halting English, she conveys the symptoms of Sajid Ali Hassan. Deinzer takes the patient’s hand and feels his pulse. “Looks like malaria, must get his blood sample for tests,” she says and Priya promptly translates the diagnosis to his wife. Hassan, who can’t afford treatment, doesn’t have to pay a dime for consultation and if he tests positive for the malaria parasite, he will get his pills free from the clinic.

Hassan is just one of the thousands to have benefitted from this free clinic over the years. For the last 18 years, the German Doctors’ Committee (GDC) has been running this free dispensary for the poor. Founded by Father Bernhard Ehlen, a Jesuit priest from Frankfurt who wanted to help the suffering in the city after meeting Mother Teresa, the committee runs similar projects in Colombia, Kenya, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

The GDC, which was set up in 1982 and headquartered in Frankfurt, is funded by private donations and criminal penalties in Germany. “The essence of the project is to treat only the poorest,” explains Dr Tobias Vogt, who has been to the Howrah clinic thrice before. “At times, in fact, we have to refuse patients who can afford pay clinics,” adds the cancer specialist from the University of Jena’s cancer department in Germany.

Like Vogt, his compatriots are all practising doctors in Germany who usually come here for six weeks during holidays. Some retired doctors stay even longer.

The visiting physicians come in batches of six, paying one-way passage money from their own pockets. Their stay at the Spartan living quarters adjacent to the clinic in the dingy Shibpur bylane is funded by the GDC.

“We obviously don’t earn anything for ourselves while we are here,” says Maike Hulsebusch, a 35-year-old psychiatrist from Bad Neustadt who has practised medicine in both Germany and England. But those who volunteer for the trip clearly don’t mind. She opted for it as “it would be a great learning experience”.

Like Hulsebusch, Gunar Forcker, Margaret Schweizer, Deinzer and Broy are here for the first time and the stark scenes of poverty and suffering at the slum which they have made home, are just beginning to sink in.

“My first encounter with the under-privileged patients was kind of traumatic as I shuddered at the appalling conditions the children grow up in. But once I recovered from the initial shock, I realised how strong these people are. Every time I look at their faces, I am astounded at the happiness they radiate. Children here are a lot happier than in Germany, in spite of all the odds they are fighting,” gushes Hulsebusch.

“As a doctor, you are faced with a whole lot of limitations here and you’ve got to accept those and work within the parameters of possibility,” opines Forcker, an expert in internal medicine, who also hails from Bad Neustadt. “We tell ourselves that we can’t possibly change the system here. But we can at least give a child two better months in his or her life,” observes the psychiatrist.

Vogt, who keeps coming back for more, feels the experience is rewarding for the soul. “The first time I went back, I told myself not to whine and moan about anything. You learn how small your problems are back home and big cars don’t really matter any more,” he says rather philosophically. The bespectacled doctor even tries to contribute to this project so close to his heart while he is back in his hometown of Jena “by showing slides to friends, striving to create awareness among people”.

Work takes up most of the day for the German doctors during their six-week tenure here. They are up at 6 in the morning, treating patients from 7.30. At eight, two of them leave for another dispensary in Tikiapara, while two others travel with the mobile clinic that attends to the ailing in the poorest of poor slums at Rajabazar, Canal Road, Tiljala, Bagbazar, Bankra and Brace Bridge.

“On an average, we treat more than 500 patients every day among the six of us, leading to very long queues,” says Broy. Vogt, however, feels the queues are “good as the not-so-poor are discouraged”.

The money for the Howrah clinic (approximately Rs 1 crore every year) comes entirely from Germany. There is a 10-bed residential ward for malnourished children, where the mothers are taught better caring techniques and procedures.

The day for the doctors usually ends around 7 pm. “It’s then time to unwind. Some of us meet friends, others go to e-mail shops, music concerts or movies,” says Schweizer.

Apart from the two interpreters (Priya and Josephine), the medicos’ team comprises drivers, nurses and a cook, Polina. “We have even taught Polina how to cook European style,” says Vogt, who is, nevertheless, fond of tandoori chicken.

So, what will the good doctors’ take back with them? “A larger understanding of what it is to be human,” quips Hulsebusch. “The inner strength of the amazingly friendly people of the bustee, the love and the affection under stifling stress,” adds Gunar Forcker.

For Tobias Vogt, the image that will endure: “The vibrant colours of life, like the saris the women wear here, the lively pictures in the streets teeming with a young and skilled population, working all the time.”

“Hello, doctor!” yells a skinny kid as he spots Vogt troop out in the evening to meet Pastor Michael Bhaju. “Hello there,” the doctor smiles back at one of the many friends he’s made at this dingy home away from home in Howrah.    


 
 
CLEAN ESPLANADE DRIVE TO HIT 3000 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
About 3,000 hawkers will be evicted from the Esplanade area in the course of the Corporation’s clean-up drive between Writers’ Buildings and Victoria Memorial Hall after Lakshmi Puja. “If required, I will set up camp on the pavements myself during the drive,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee.

Mukherjee is scheduled to call on police commissioner D.K. Vajpai on Saturday to discuss the clean-up. The stretch falls under the jurisdiction of Taltala, Hastings and Park Street police stations.

Most of the hawkers owe allegiance to Citu, the CPM’s trade union wing. About 500 hawkers in the Curzon Park area are Forward Bloc members, while another 200 in the stretch between Oberoi Grand and Indian Museum are followers of Trinamul Congress leader Madan Mitra. “Eviction without rehabilitation is unacceptable to us and we will resist the drive,” said a Citu spokesman.

The beautification programme includes re-laying the pavements with glazed tiles, erecting Victorian lamp posts, the creation of boulevards on the carriageways and a regular cleaning of Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Rani Rashmoni Road, the Dorina crossing, stretches of Lenin Sarani, Bentinck Street and SN Banerjee Road. The cost will be borne by departments of the CMC.

“We also welcome sponsors in beautifying the nerve centre of the city,” Mukherjee said.

Member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), Mala Roy, said the drive would be carried out by day and the CMC would not shoulder the responsibility of rehabilitating the encroachers. A simultaneous eviction drive would be carried out at the Dorina crossing, the stretch between K.C. Das and Lalbazar, Tipu Sultan’s mosque and Wellington Square, Oberoi Grand and Indian Museum, Kyd Street and the planetarium, at the Maidan bus terminus and Curzon Park.    


 
 
SUBHAS SIGNALS NOV 1 FARE HIKE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty on Tuesday assured public transport operators that the government would begin its exercise to raise bus, minibus and taxi fares by November 1 if there is no substantial rollback in the hiked prices of petroleum products by the month-end. Chakraborty held a meeting with the major bodies of bus, minibus and taxi-owners, involving over 5,200 private buses and minibuses and over 25,000 taxis plying in Calcutta, Howrah and elsewhere in Bengal, on Tuesday morning at Netaji Indoor Stadium.

“We will wait till November 1. If there is no rollback, we will have to allow a proportionate increase in public transport fares,” said transport secretary, D.M. Kanwar. Chakraborty left for Delhi during the day.

Transport department sources said they expected the Centre to decide on a rollback at a meeting in the Capital on October 26. The owners of buses and minibuses have threatened to go on an indefinite strike if the state does not announce a fare hike by November 1.

Ajit Saha, president of the Bengal Bus Syndicate, said that with the price of diesel increasing by about Rs 2.70 a litre, the minimum fare in private buses should be Rs 3, against Rs 2 at present.

Minibus-owners have demanded a minimum fare of Rs 4, against the present minimum fare of Rs 2.25.    


 
 
POLICE BUST ARMS RACKET IN NORTHEAST 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Oct. 10: 
A joint team of Assam and Meghalaya police busted an arms racket and arrested four gun-runners from Shillong in a pre-dawn operation yesterday.

An M-16 rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition were recovered from the arrested persons. The police suspect they were involved in supplying arms to different insurgent outfits of the Northeast.

City superintendent of police Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta said an M-16 rifle — widely used by the US Army — costs nearly Rs 15 lakh in the underworld market.

The four arrested persons have confessed during preliminary interrogation that they were supplying arms to the two Meghalaya outfits — Achik National Volunteers’ Council and Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council. Mahanta said the police are probing if the gang had supplied weapons to the United Liberation Front of Asom and National Democratic Front of Boroland as well.

Though the Army had recovered M-16 rifles from National Socialist Council of Nagalim militants in the past, this is for the first time that the Assam police hauled the advanced weapon, the city police chief added.

Those arrested have been identified as Thanga Sailo, Sangliana, Newa and Raju Kachari. Mahanta said the Ulfa and NDFB also were in possession of M-16 rifles but they use the weapon “rarely” as cartridge are not easily available.

The gang smuggled arms from Myanmar through Mizoram before storing them at the their depots in Shillong and adjacent areas, Mahanta said.

The four arrested would be produced before the chief judicial magistrate tomorrow, he added.    


 
 
AASU SEEKS TEMPORARY BAN ON IMDT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Oct. 10: 
The All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU) today asked the Centre to keep in “abeyance the Illegal Migrants’ (Determination by Tribunal) Act 1983, through an ordinance” to prevent illegal migrants from registering their names in the voters list.

The AASU demand comes in the wake of the Election Commission order for summary revision of electoral rolls in all the 126 Assembly constituencies in Assam where Assembly elections are due in May next year.

It also called upon the Election Commission to devise a special mechanism for a genuine electoral roll free from illegal voters.

AASU general secretary Amiyo Kumar Bhuyan told The Telegraph that the registration officers should be vested with additional powers so that they could delete the name of anyone whose “citizenship was found to be doubtful”. During the last roll revision, the EC had marked “D” against names of all “doubtful or disputed” voters. Though their names were published in the rolls, they were debarred from casting their votes.

The AASU demanded deletion of the “D” category voters from the list. Bhuyan said his organisation would issue guidelines to its primary units to keep close tabs on attempts by illegal migrants to enrol themselves as voters.

As per the poll panel order, the draft rolls would be published on December 12. All claims and objections would be received from December 12 to December 27. January 25 has been fixed for disposal of the disputes. The final rolls would be published on January 30.

The AASU leader said electoral rolls of Assam still contained names of a large number illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators and the EC must ensure deletion of these names. He said the poll panel had debarred about 3.13 lakh “D” voters in 1998 from exercising their franchise pending adjudication by the tribunals constituted under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the IM(DT) Act 1983.

“This gives us enough reasons to believe that the voters list still contains a large number of foreigners,” Bhuyan added.

On October 7, 1996, the poll panel ordered an intensive revision of the voters list in Assam and later issued guidelines to the electoral registration officers in drawing up the rolls. During the revision process, names of nearly 18.01 lakh people were verified by the registration officers.

Thereafter, the electoral registration officers said they had “reasonable doubt” about the antecedents of 3.13 voters.

The Election Commission order debarring these voters was challenged in the court by the United Minorities Front and several other minority organisations. The case is still pending in the Supreme Court.

The UMF argued that the order was violative of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1950, Registration of Electoral Rules, 1960 and Article 326 of the Constitution.    


 
 
ASSAM TO INTENSIFY DRIVE AGAINST REBELS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Jorhat, Oct. 10: 
Assam police are getting ready for a massive counter-insurgency operation to sanitise the state prior to the Assembly elections, due in mid-2001.

Yesterday’s reshuffle in the police department was part of the groundwork for the exercise, highly-placed sources here said.

The state government last night replaced Guwahati superintendent of police Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta with his Jorhat counterpart Gyanendra Prasad Singh, one of the most successful police officers in the state as far as anti-insurgency operations are concerned.

Mahanta has been transferred as the commandant of the 4th Assam police battalion. Barpeta superintendent of police A.K. Sinha Kashyap has been appointed the Cachar SP while Mukesh Agarwalla has come in as the Barpeta police chief.

During Singh’s tenure, over 30 militants including Ulfa “assistant publicity secretary” Swadhinata Phukan were eliminated by the police and more than 100 rebels came overground. Jorhat was also the first district in the state where Army operations were suspended a couple of years back.

The sources said the police were also seeking the help of former Ulfa rebels to carry out the operations against the active militant outfits including the Ulfa, the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) and the Dima Halam Daoga (DHD). The last two outfits are active in the hills of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills districts. The sources said some of these Sulfa (surrendered Ulfa) leaders from Upper Assam have been invited to Dispur for formulating a strategy.

However, most of the reformed militants are not too keen on the police proposal. “We already have a bad name. Working behind the scenes will only make us more unpopular,” a former Ulfa rebel said. He was one of those summoned by Dispur. “We do not want to be used as scapegoats ... if the police want our help, they should give us full power,” he said.    

 

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