Cyclone alert in distant thunder
Flood victims pouring in, pavements under siege
Bypass address for fruit bazaar
Malpoa, mangshor jhol at Town Hall
Yoga, bhajan balm behind bars
Post-immersion Ganga clean-up suit admitted
Buses collide after race, five wounded
Museum puts Aban Tagore tale on cassette
3 hacked to death in N-E
AGP plans ‘cycle ride’ to power

Calcutta, Oct.16: 
The deep depression over the Bay of Bengal intensified into a cyclonic storm on Sunday night and lay centred about 900 km south west of Calcutta on Monday evening.

Headed for Masulipatnam, in Andhra Pradesh, it is likely to develop into a severe cyclonic storm. The ripple effect is expected to be felt in Calcutta. The city is likely to experience squally weather with windspeed of nearly 60 kmph over the next few days.

“Even though Calcutta and the districts of West Bengal may not be severely affected, a change in the direction of the cyclonic storm cannot be ruled out,” said R.N. Goldar, director, Alipore Met office.

He said that under the influence of the cyclone, there will be scattered “light to moderate rain”, accompanied by strong winds, in Calcutta and other parts of Gangetic West Bengal in the days ahead.

“It has already started raining in Andhra Pradesh and certain parts of Orissa. The density of the cloud cover is increasing over Gangetic West Bengal. There are already large patches of thunderclouds over Midnapore and North and South 24-Parganas. These clouds, which are drifting from the area where the cyclonic storm lies centred, will gradually cover the sky of Calcutta also,” warned a senior Met official.

Moisture-laden clouds gathered over the city’s fringe areas, like Dum Dum and Howrah. Goldar said that even though the day temperature had dropped due to the cloud cover, the night temperature is expected to rise.

The Met office has warned tourists from the city not to visit Digha as the sea will turn “very rough”. The state government has issued a red alert for fishermen in the coastal areas of Midnapore, and North and South 24-Parganas. Fishermen who have already ventured into the sea have been asked to return at once, through repeated warnings over the radio.

“We have kept our alert in the three districts valid for the next 24 hours,” said finance minister Asim Dasgupta.

With the Alipore Met office chief saying that the direction of the cyclone might change, at least three possibilities have been thrown up.

The cyclone may either go on to strike Andhra, take a turn towards the the Bengal or Orissa coast, or veer to the right and cross over to Bangladesh.

Goldar and his team were in office till late on Monday night, monitoring the movement of the cyclonic storm.

“It has practically not moved and is hovering over the west central Bay, at 86 degree East latitude and 14.5 degree North longitude” said Goldar.

Over the past 24 hours, rainfall has been reported at Digha and Contai in Midnapore, and at Diamond Harbour.

Following the alert in the coastal areas of Bengal, the state police have contacted the Coast Guard and urged them to scan the sea for fishermen who might not have received the warning signals over the radio.

“The Coast Guard are scanning the Bay along the routes generally taken by fishermen. If they find any trawlers lost or unaware of the storm warning, they will guide them back to shore,” a senior police official said.    

Calcutta, Oct.16: 
More than 5,000 victims have fled flood-ravaged areas to seek dry ground, and sustenance, on the streets of Calcutta. According to Lalbazar, about 500 to 700 flood-affected people are pouring into the city from adjoining areas and nearby districts every day.

Families are coming in from North 24-Parganas, Nadia, Murshidabad, Ghatal in Midnapore district, Kalna in Burdwan, and the Amta and Baksi areas of Howrah. And most are setting up base on the footpaths.

This has sent alarm bells ringing in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. “The unauthorised occupation of footpaths will definitely aggravate civic problems,” said a municipal official.

The authorities are, however, more worried over the long-term impact of this influx. “Quite a few of these villagers may not return even when the flood waters recede, adding to the city’s population and complicating civic matters,” warned an official.

The stretch in front of Yogayog Bhavan on Central Avenue, on Madan Street, Bidhan Sarani opposite Hedua, Dum Dum station, Sealdah station, Ballygunge station and Kalighat are some of the spots where the flood victims have settled down, CMC sources said.

Shanti Das, an old woman who has come all the way from Nadia, sits on the Bidhan Sarani footpath with her six grandchildren. “Our small hut with all our belongings was washed away completely. Fourteen days have passed since we came here,” she says. Shanti, her son and daughter-in-law have been begging on the streets to feed themselves and the kids. And they have no immediate plans of returning to Nadia.

Panchu Mondal has come from Ghatal in Midnapore and settled down on Central Avenue. He, however, is keen to go back home. “I am trying to contact my friends who are still in Ghatal. I will return as soon as things get back to normal there,” declares Panchu.

Gouri Bala, a middle-aged woman from Bongaon, has taken shelter on platform no. 1 of Ballygunge station. “The entire area where we lived is still submerged. I don’t know when we will go back,” she said

According to CMC sources, past experiences have revealed that people coming from neighbouring districts in the wake of any natural calamity, first take shelter on the footpaths, then set up temporary shanties and within a few months settle down permanently.

The CMC is planning to launch a drive against the unauthorised settlement on footpaths soon in order to prevent the flood-victims from taking up permanent occupancy of pavements. “We cannot allow fresh encroachment of the footpaths,” said a Corporation official.

Calcutta, Oct.16: 
In a year’s time, getting to the airport early in the morning from south Calcutta will be that much more difficult.

On Monday, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation decided to shift the wholesale fruit market from central Calcutta to the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, off the Dhapa area, by the next Pujas.

With hundreds of trucks laden with fruits arriving every morning at eastern India’s largest fruit market, the chaos of Mechhua, where the market is currently located, will be transferred en block to the EM Bypass.

And with it, the accompanying mess and the garbage.

But the CMC officials are upbeat about the project. “It will be a modern market, with cold storage facilities, toilets and parking for trucks,” said member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), Mala Roy.

“We have land at Dhapa and I have asked the surveyor to select a suitable spot along the Bypass where the crowded fruit market of Mechhua can be shifted,” she said.

The Trinamul-led civic board will no longer wait for state government’s long-standing proposal to shift the market to Kona, in Howrah. “We have been hearing about this proposal for about 20 years,” Roy remarked.

The Mechhua fruit market, with the tonnes of garbage that it generates daily, has made the Burrabazar area uninhabitable and unhygienic. Rotten fruits and the leaves and hay used for packing line both sides of the streets, making travelling a nightmare.

In season, 450 tonnes of mango, 20 lakh tonnes of oranges, 250 tonnes of grapes and six lakh bananas are dumped at the market daily for transportation to different parts of eastern India and neighbouring countries, like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

More than a lakh of people earn their daily bread from this century-old market. It was originally started as a wholesale market with just two buildings — 10A and 10B, Madan Mohan Burman Street, on the northern flank of Mahatma Gandhi Road.

As the volume of transaction grew, the area of the market, too, expanded gradually, but in an unorganised manner. It extended to 12, Ramlochan Mullick Street and 4, Ballavdas Street and even towards the southern flank of M.G. Road. Besides, a specialised sub-market for dry fruit on Chitpur Aspar, in the Mechhua area, has also come up

In summer, about 300 truckloads of mango arrive at the market daily from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Malda. It is the business place where 400 wholesalers, more than 1,000 pharias, 300 truck-drivers and more than 20,000 porters are involved in daily business, worth about Rs 5 crore.

Mohammed Usman, secretary of the Calcutta Fruit Merchants’ Association, said he was happy that the market would be shifted to a “much better and cleaner place”.

But, he added, “This place is worse than a bustee. I hope this scenario is not replicated on the EM Bypass. That will really be a sad day.”    

Calcutta, Oct.16: 
The Town Hall, through the years, has symbolised the tradition of Bengal. If things go according to plan, it could soon become synonymous with the taste of Bengal as well.

If Subrata Mukherjee has his way, some 6,000 sq ft of the Hall’s basement will be reserved for traditional Bengali gourmet. “Food is an integral part of our tradition and so, a tribute to Bengali heritage is incomplete without it,” said the mayor.

Lamenting the fact that “Bengali cuisine” was conspicuous by its absence in popular restaurants these days, Mukherjee said on Sunday that “there was no better place than the Town Hall to trigger a revival of the true taste of Bengal”.

So, the menu card at the Hall restaurants could read something like this: ghee bhaat and pulao (no fried rice or biryani), luchi, mangsor jhol, ilish macher paturi, rosbora, malpoa, narkel naru, Joynogorer moa, Talsans sandesh from Chandannagar...

“What’s the point of drawing people to the Town Hall to celebrate Bengali tradition if they leave the Hall and go off to have the customary chow mein?” demanded the mayor.

There will be two other themes to the dream spread: a distinction between West and East Bengal speciality items; and a return to the recipes of the bonedi baris of Bengal. “Specific days of the week can be dedicated to cuisine in the Thakur-bari, Mullick-bari or Deb-bari styles,” said the mayor.

The grand gourmet plan to present “traditional culinary skills in a modern package” has its commercial value as well. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation will have to bear an annual cost of Rs 30 lakh to maintain the proposed museum in Town Hall. The Rs 3-crore Calcutta Museum, a joint venture of the CMC, CMDA and state government, is nearing completion and is slated to be inaugurated on Republic Day.

Even if the museum draws a full house every day, the revenue raised from gate sales (at Rs 15-20 per ticket), cannot cross the Rs 25-lakh mark.

“Opening up the Bengali restaurants after the museum becomes functional seems a prudent way to highlight our tradition and earn revenue. But the food plan is still in the preliminary stage and it will take some time to work out the modalities,” said Mukherjee.

There is another 4,000 sq ft of basement space available to the Corporation on the same campus: the basement of the commercial complex that was being constructed on the plot to the north of the Hall, but was later stalled.

Plans are now being chalked out to convert this basement into a swank business centre with cyber cafes while the stretch where the complex was to have come up will now have a garden and a parking lot.    

Calcutta, Oct.16: 
Next time you’re passing Alipore Central Jail and the strains of Jai jagadish hare and Aguner parasmani chhoao prane drift by, don’t be surprised. Chances are, some of the inmates are engrossed in meditation or practising yoga to the accompaniment of “soothing songs and bhajans”. Similar scenes are being enacted at three other correctional homes in the city — Dum Dum Central Jail, Alipore Special Jail and Presidency Jail.

This is part of a programme being run by Satyam Seva Kendra “to bring about a change in the lives of prisoners”. An outfit of Bihar School of Yoga, this city-based NGO has been making a difference in the lives of prison inmates through yoga, meditation, bhajan andkirtan. “We wanted to do something for prisoners who lead a life devoid of hope,” says P.C. Rateria of Satyam Seva Kendra.

What started as an experiment in the Dum Dum Central Correctional Home some two years ago is now poised to spread to several other jails in the state.

“The programmes have indeed helped the inmates and have inspired us to broaden the scope by taking it to some other jails,” says Balkar Singh, inspector-general (prisons). “These programmes are good, so we want them to be conducted on a permanent basis to get the desired results. We are seriously considering the idea of making permanent arrangements for such programmes in jails throughout the state,” added Singh.

Discussions are on between Satyam Seva Kendra and prison authorities to start similar programmes in Midnapore Central Jail, Berhampore Central Jail and Purulia Central Jail.

Rateria and other members of the Kendra visit the four correctional homes in the city every week to conduct the special sessions. “I was quite nervous the first time I went to address a gathering of 500 prisoners. But their spontaneous response made me realise that we had struck the right chord,” recounts Rateria.

According to Rateria, who has been practising and teaching yoga for over 15 years, a combination of yoga, bhajan and kirtan is used as “a healing balm for prisoners who suffer from a sense of guilt, revenge or hopelessness”.    

Calcutta, Oct.16: 
A vacation bench of Calcutta High Court on Monday accepted a petition that called for immediate measures to clean the Ganga following the immersion of idols after the Pujas.

Clay, straw and other materials used to prepare the idols are clogging the river, the petition said. It also demanded an order imposing regulations during immersion, for which specific spots could be chosen, equipped with facilities to clear the remains.

The division vacation bench of Justice Ashok Ganguly and Justice Amit Talukdar admitted the petition for hearing and ordered the petitioner to serve notices to the respondents, asking them to be represented in the court on October 23, the date for the hearing of the case.

The respondents include the state government, its department of environment, the West Bengal Pollution Control Board and the state and city police chiefs.

The petition was moved by environmental activist Subhas Dutta on behalf of Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Samity. He has contended that over 3,000 images have been immersed in the Hooghly this year over the three days after Dashami.

The petitioner also submitted several photographs, showing the remains of idols floating in the river. These pictures were taken at Prinsep Ghat and Armenian Ghat, where a large number of images were immersed.

“The Ganga Action Plan has not been effectively implemented in clearing the river of effluents. While the river is polluted round the year in several ways, the situation worsens with each festive season,” Dutta contended. “After Kali Puja, more idols will be immersed,” he added.

The petitioner cited the example of the residents of the Jheel Road area of Jadavpur, who have taken it upon themselves to clear the local pond of the flotsam and jetsam left behind by idols after immersion. “But the responsibility for keeping the Ganga clean will have to be taken up by the different government agencies concerned,” he added.

In another petition, Dutta has sought the court’s intervention in preventing the felling and trimming of trees by Calcutta Municipal Corporation, the Salt Lake Municipality and local clubs prior to Durga Puja every year.

The second petition, also accepted by the court on Monday, stated that over 1,000 truckloads of branches from trimmed trees were dumped at the Dhapa grounds in the weeks preceding the Pujas this year.

The petition quoted a report in The Telegraph to substantiate the demand for the court’s intervention. “The vanishing of greenery on such a massive scale will disbalance the already-endangered ecological system in the city,” the petition added.

The matter will be taken up for hearing by the Green Bench after three weeks.    

Calcutta, Oct.16: 
Reckless driving caused a collision on SP Mukherjee Road, injuring five persons on Monday morning. The injured were rushed to Chittaranjan Seva Pratisthan. The police said the accident occurred when a private bus and a state bus were trying to overtake each other.

The race started near Ashutosh College. When the buses reached the Rashbehari Avenue-SP Mukherjee crossing, the private bus veered out of control. The driver slammed the brakes but could not avoid the collision. The vehicle crashed into the rear of the state bus. Passengers of the state bus were hurt in the collision, with three persons receiving head injuries. Local residents helped carry the wounded to hospital.

Tollygunge police impounded the private bus but its driver managed to escape. The state bus driver, too, fled with the vehicle.

Extortionist arrested: A 22-year old extortionist was arrested on Rajendra Mullick Road, in the Jorabagan area, on Monday. Plainclothes policemen caught him collecting money from residents of the area after threatening them with a six-chamber revolver. The gun and some cartridges were impounded.    

Calcutta, Oct.16: 
In a maiden venture of its kind, the Indian Museum has prepared four video cassettes to be put up for sale in the open market.

The first of the four cassettes, a 30-minute documentary on the tribes of Orissa, is ready and will cost around Rs 1,200. A.K.Chatterjee, head of the museum’s anthropology department, and his men made an extensive tour of Orissa’s Koraput and Phulbani districts and filmed tribal life there.

The cassette, entitled Godaba: Changing Faces, tells the story of three tribes — the Kondhs, Godabas and the Bondas — and how they are gradually being absorbed into the mainstream.

Another cassette, The Museum of Ghosts (Bhuteder Jadughar), is based on a story by Abanindra Nath Tagore, the manuscript of which is preserved in the museum. The 12-minute film will be a major attraction for children, sources said.

The third is a 20-minute documentary on the remains of Bharhut stupa, which was unearthed in 1873 at Satna, in Madhya Pradesh. Director of the museum, Shyamal Kanti Chakraborty, said on Wednesday: “The magnificent edifice was a major attraction for scholars and researchers and we hope this cassette will help them.”

The museum finance committee had approved the proposal to sell the cassettes at a meeting held on September 30.

Another project is nearing completion. The museum and the regional tourism office had jointly organised a multi-disciplinary dance recital on Goddess Durga on September 27. Some non-resident Indians (NRIs), who had attended the function, wanted a video cassette of the programme from the museum authorities. Later, the museum also received a number of phone calls with similar requests.

“We are editing the recording of the dance recital and will prepare a cassette for sale. NRIs like Nemai Dutta from the US and C.R. Poddar from Germany had contacted us for the cassettes and we told them that these will soon be available on the market”, said Chakraborty.    

Imphal, Oct. 16: 
Masked assailants hacked three labourers to death and injured four at Canchipur in Manipur’s Imphal West district late last night.

The three victims — Rajen Rai, Naral Rai and Suresh Kumar — were all non-Manipuris. The four injured include a Manipuri and three non-tribals. They have been identified as Rama Shankar Rai, Raju Rai, Shambhu and Salam Babulal Singh.

Sources said 10 masked hoodlums, armed with daggers and a gun, raided one Karam Basanta’s house in Canchipur at 8.30 pm and abducted the seven labourers who had been staying there for construction of a building.

The assailants blindfolded the labourers, tied their hands behind their backs and took them to Toupokpi Lampak, a secluded area. All seven were brutally assaulted later, sources said.

Senior police officials here said the motive behind the attack was yet to be established. However, they ruled out ethnic hatred as a possible reason for the attack.

“The hoodlums may have attacked the labourers following a dispute over money,” a police official said.

A friend of one of the injured told The Telegraph at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital here that the assailants had demanded money from the labourers after abducting them.

“Even while assaulting the labourers, they kept demanding money,” he said.

Jawan hurt in explosion

Two bombs planted by suspected militants exploded at different places in Thoubal district today.

However, there was no casualty in either of the blasts. Only an India Reserve Battalion jawan sustained minor injuries in the first blast, which took place at Papal Lamkhai on the Imphal-Moreh road.

Sources said a group of security personnel had gone to Papal Lamkhai after being informed that militants had planted a bomb in the area. The bomb exploded as soon as they reached the spot.

The second blast occurred near Langthabal Khunon under Kakching police station. The bomb had been planted inside a Border Road Task Force vehicle that was hijacked by militants from Pallel on Saturday and abandoned near Langthabal Khunon.

Accompanied by bomb experts, a police team from Kakching rushed to the area today. However, the bomb exploded while the experts were trying to defuse it.

The vehicle was damaged in the blast, but the security personnel escaped unhurt.

Office ransacked: The office of a senior government official was damaged this morning allegedly by a group of student activists for his role in manipulating the name of a candidate selected for a Hyderabad-based engineering college.

R.K. Sinha, joint secretary (human resources development), in the higher and technical education department, was attacked allegedly by activists of the Mizo Zirlai Pawl or the Mizo Students Union in his office. While Sinha was spared, the activists damaged his office. Later, the official was made to sign a statement that he would leave the state within this month. Sources said the students group was allegedly infuriated because Sinha nominated a non-Mizo girl for a computer degree course at Hyderabad University, while a local girl was selected by the education department.    

Guwahati, Oct. 16: 
Wary of being left behind in the electoral rat race, the ruling Asom Gana Parishad has chosen the humble bicycle as its vehicle to power for the second successive term.

Party spokesperson Birendra Prasad Baishya today said AGP ministers and legislators would lead bicycle rallies in all district and sub-divisional headquarters of the state on October 19 and 24.

The proposed rallies are ostensibly meant to pressure the BJP-led government into rolling back the hike in prices of petroleum products. However, observers say the move is nothing but a gimmick to bridge the chasm between the party and the electorate.

The proposed bicycle rallies will be a throwback to the Assam movement, led by the same ministers and legislators when they were leaders of the All-Assam Students’ Union.

The majority of AGP leaders who hold ministerial portfolios now were at the receiving end of the crackdown on protesters during the Seventies and the Eighties. Several of them, including chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, were jailed for long periods.

With Assembly elections due in May next year, the AGP leadership apparently feels bicycle rallies reminiscent of those organised during the Assam movement can repair the damage to its public image.

The AGP was first elected to power in 1985, but lost to the Congress in 1990. It returned to power in 1996, but has since lost its hold on the electorate. Going by feedback from the districts, the people are “frustrated” and disappointed with the party for its failure on various fronts. Sources said the general feeling was that the AGP leadership had turned its back on the people.

Mahanta did campaign on a bicycle in the run-up to the 1996 Assembly elections, but has since been ensconced in a cocoon of his own making. Surrounded by Black Cat commandos and moving about in bullet-proof vehicles, he has lost touch with the masses.

The chief minister faced flak from various quarters for using a helicopter to attend two functions this week. One of these occasions was the golden jubilee function of a school in Lower Assam’s Nalbari district.

The large amount of money paid as rent for the Army helicopter — Rs 40,000 per hour — did very little to improve the AGP’s image. Baishya said the party would intensify its agitation — an attempt to repair the damage — if the Centre did not respond to its demand for withdrawal of the hike in prices of petroleum products.    


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