Mamata blocks Sunshine
Fury over demolition fought with tear gas
3 months to pay house tax dues
Clean-up order after immersion
Crimelord arrested
Truncated panel vets principals
70-yr-old flings himself under milkvan wheels
Cops flop, Salt Lake pins trust on private guards
15 mowed down in Ulfa communal killings
Seer moves court against Ganga filth

 
 
MAMATA BLOCKS SUNSHINE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Oct.23: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s much-hyped ‘Operation Sunshine-I’ ended with a whimper on Monday after Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee intervened, giving the hawkers a breather and leaving mayor Subrata Mukherjee crestfallen.

Mukherjee had announced on Friday that about 3,000 hawkers between the CESC headquarters in Victoria House and Victoria Memorial would be removed from Monday for the “benefit of a crore of Calcuttans.” He also said the police and civic officials would prevent hawkers from returning to the area. After meetings with the police, the civic authorities and the lawkeepers were ready for the drive on Monday.

But party chief Mamata Banerjee obviously had other ideas, particularly with the Assembly polls around the corner. She sent party president Subrata Bakshi and general secretary Mukul Roy with her instructions to Mukherjee at the CMC headquarters around noon.

The Trinamul leaders told Mukherjee that the problem of hawkers would have to be sorted out across the table and evictions could be carried out only after organising their rehabilitation.

All that Mukherjee could say at the end of the day was that he would abide by the party decision. However, he made it clear that as far as he was concerned, the question of rehabilitating the evicted hawkers did not arise, especially those encroaching the pavements between Victoria House and Victoria Memorial.

“I had never given an impression that I would evict all hawkers from the city. Rather, I had repeatedly said it was not possible to remove hawkers from all the 21 major roads of the city at the moment. All I wanted is to make the Chowringhee and Maidan areas hawker-free,” Mukherjee said.

Trinamul general secretary Roy, who went to ask the mayor not to undertake any eviction drive without a rehabilitation package, said the hawkers’ issue was a socio-economic one and could not only be addressed legally and administratively. “We are against the use of any kind of force. So, we requested the mayor not to rush things,” said Roy.

However, fearing that the drive would begin in the morning, a few thousand hawkers belonging to Citu and the Hawker Sangram Committee took out rallies to clog the Chowringhee-S.N. Banerjee Road area, leading to a massive traffic snarl. They, however, stayed away from the pavements to evade police action. Instead, they grappled with the police on the streets, leading to 400 arrests.

Kanti Ganguly, leader of the Opposition in the CMC and co-author of Operation Sunshine four years ago, said the CPM had carried out the eviction despite differences in the party. He felt hawker eviction has no impact on poll results. “It is amusing that Mamata is shedding tears for Calcutta’s hawkers. But as railway minister, she is directing the eviction of hawkers from railway stations from Howrah to Burdwan without announcing any rehabilitation package for them,” Ganguly said.    


 
 
FURY OVER DEMOLITION FOUGHT WITH TEAR GAS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct.23: 
Brickbats flew and tear gas shells were fired after a demolition drive sparked trouble on Amherst Street. A building promoter and his men clashed with the police when they, alongwith CMC officials, arrived at around noon on Monday to raze an illegal construction.

Six vehicles, including five police jeeps, were damaged in the brickbatting. The police had to fire tear gas shells to disperse the mob. No one was injured in the melee. Mohammad Wasim, the promoter, and two of his associates were later arrested.

According to the police report, the plot on which Wasim is constructing a multi-storeyed building belongs to Sakila Bibi. Member, mayor-in-council (building), Sapan Samaddar, said the entire construction was “illegal”.

A team of CMC officials, led by Samaddar and accompanied by a posse of policemen from Amherst Street and Cossipore thanas, arrived at 6, Kali Som Street to demolish the four-storeyed building under construction.

Nazrul Islam, deputy commissioner, headquarters, later said that Wasim, along with his associates, rushed to the construction site and tried to prevent the CMC men from carrying out the demolition.

But they were stopped at the gate by the policemen, who refused to let the promoter enter. A scuffle broke out, but before things could get out of hand, Wasim and his men left the site.

Half an hour later, they were back in full force. By then, the CMC officials had left the site, while the workers went about the demolition job. The mob started pelting the police party with stones and whatever else it could lay its hands on.

The first casualty was the mobile van of Amherst Street police station. The windscreen of the vehicle was smashed.

Then, the mob targeted the jeep of the additional officer-in-charge of Cossipore police station. A private bus passing by was also stoned, forcing the driver and the passengers to flee the spot.

The police then resorted to a lathicharge to restore order. They fired a round of tear gas shells, forcing the goons to beat a retreat.

The police then chased the fleeing promoter and some of his associates. Wasim and two of his men were soon rounded up.

Now, police the police are on the lookout for Sakila Bibi’s son, Mohammad Sabir.

“We are trying to track down the landowner’s son and the other associates of Wasim, who attacked the policemen,” said Islam.

The clashes forced the CMC demolition men to suspend work for over two hours. But construction on the plot off Amherst Street resumed once the police brought the situation under control. The workers have already demolished 1,000 sq ft of the roof and are now knocking down the walls.    


 
 
3 MONTHS TO PAY HOUSE TAX DUES 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Oct.23: 
Pay up within three months, or watch your taps run dry. That’s the CMC’s message to lakhs of defaulting house-owners in the city.

According to a recent CMC survey, out of 6.5 lakh houses in the city, only 1.7 lakh pay taxes. Under-valuation by assessors has left most of the remaining houses out of the tax bracket.

And there are thousands of flat-owners who do not pay taxes because their flats have not been assessed. CMC rules state that only houses with an annual valuation up to Rs 300 are exempt from paying civic taxes.

Alarmed at these statistics, the civic authorities have issued a three-month ultimatum to errant house-owners and owners of unassessed flats.

“If they don’t pay up, their water supply and drainage facilities will be cut off,” said Subrata Mukherjee. “I have already started taking action against such tax-dodgers. The sewerage of the highrise residential-cum-commercial complex on 113, Park Street has been blocked from Wednesday.”

The survey also revealed that the taxes being paid are not uniform. Whereas most flat-owners in the “city proper” pay Rs 1,502 as annual tax, about 90 per cent of flat-owners in Tollygunge pay Rs 242 as property tax.

According to deputy municipal commissioner (revenue) N.K. Roy, the CMC earns Rs 142 crore from property tax every year, of which Rs 135 crore is from the city proper. Annual tax realised from the “added areas” of Behala, Jadavpur and Garden Reach is just Rs 15 crore, 4.5 crore, and Rs 80 lakh, respectively.

“Even after bringing Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur under its fold in 1985, the CPM allowed this disparity to continue, as these 41 wards helped the party to rule the city for 15 years. This anomaly cannot be allowed to continue,” Mukherjee said.

The CPM-ruled board had, apparently, not just allowed house-owners of the added areas to pay less tax, but also diverted huge chunks of development funds to Behala, Jadavpur and Garden Reach.

“While the CMC earned only Rs 80 crore as property tax during the past 15 years from the added areas, it spent about Rs 1,000 crore from the civic central fund for development in the three regions,” said a CMC official.

The mayor-in-council has now resolved not to allow further grants from the central fund to the added areas “until the disparity in tax structure is resolved”.

To set the tax structure right, the CMC has approached director of census Vikram Sen for an updated report of the house census conducted last year. The census is to be published by March 2001.

Referring to the “absurd” number of houses which are now outside the tax bracket, the mayor said: “If the owners of these 4.8-lakh houses pay even Rs 10 per month as tax, the CMC’s revenue will rise by Rs 50 crore a year.”    


 
 
CLEAN-UP ORDER AFTER IMMERSION 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct.23: 
Calcutta High Court has ruled that the government will have to clear the mess in the Hooghly after the immersion of images.

On a petition moved by Subhas Dutta, general secretary of Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Samity, a vacation bench asked commissioner of police D.C. Vajpai and director-general of the state police Dipak Kumar Sanyal to ensure that no debris remains either along the waterfront or floats in the river after immersions. The court asked the two police chiefs to take measures to clean the Hooghly after the immersions. The petitioner said clay, straw and other material used to make the images were clogging the river.

The judges directed that the debris and other materials dumped in the river during immersion be cleared without delay. “The river cannot be allowed to be further polluted by allowing the material to remain in the waterany longer,” the order said.

The petitioner demanded an order imposing regulations during immersion by selecting and specifying spots along the river for the ritual. He wanted the authorities to ensure that clay and straw and remains of images were removed. The bench of Justice Asok Ganguly and Justice Amit Talukdar said the city and state police chiefs would have to ensure that immersions take place strictly in accordance with the time schedules and dates fixed by the state.

“This court makes it clear that if any puja committee or organisation violates the immersion time schedule, the police will be at liberty to take strict steps against them,” the order added.

The petition said over 3,000 images of Durga have been immersed in the Hooghly over three days, each one contributing to the choking of the river. The petitioner submitted several photographs showing the remains of images floating on the river. These pictures were taken at Prinsep Ghat and Armenian Ghat, from where a large number of images were immersed.

The judges asked the two police chiefs to implement their directions under supervision of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board. The court noted that the day’s judgment would in no way interfere with the main matter concerning the pollution of the Hooghly. The original petition was filed by Delhi-based lawyer and green activist M.C. Mehta in 1985, challenging the efficacy of the multi-crore Ganga Action Plan. The Supreme Court had passed a series of judgments closing down polluting units and facilities along the river. The matter was subsequently transferred to Calcutta High Court, where it is pending conclusion.    


 
 
CRIMELORD ARRESTED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct.23: 
A crimelord of Belghoria, with at least five murder cases pending against him, was arrested at Bally, in Howrah, on Monday. Sambhunath Sarkar, alias Kana Sambhu, “uncrowned don of Belghoria” was spotted by officers of Bally police station playing satta with some associates near Ballykhal.

“As soon as Sambhu spotted the police, he tried to make a dash for Ballykhal. But he was arrested after a chase,” said an officer of Bally thana. A cellphone and Rs 5,000 were seized from him. Officers from Belghoria police station were to interrogate Sambhu late on Monday night. “We are on the lookout for other members of his gang,” said Surajit Kar Purakayastha, superintendent of police, Howrah.    


 
 
TRUNCATED PANEL VETS PRINCIPALS 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Oct.23: 
The West Bengal College Service Commission, though short of one member, began recruitment of principals against vacancies for about 13 city colleges, after being flooded with complaints.

Commission chairman Ajit Banik said: “We started the interview despite the absence of the fifth member, as the vacancies must be filled up fast”. The commission is also recruiting principals for 113 under-graduate colleges across the state.

The colleges, presently run by professors-in-charge, suffer from administrative problems. City colleges without principals include Maharaja Manindra Chandra College, Ashutosh College, Charuchandra College, Bramhananda Keshub Chandra College and Bhairab Ganguly College.

Explaining the reason behind a member’s absence, an official said the government had not reappointed Pabitra Gupta, a Forward Bloc nominee, whose term expired on October 13, though he is not 62 yet.

As per West Bengal College Service Commission Act, 1978, a member is appointed for a period of four years and can be reappointed till he is 62. “We are stunned by the arbitrary decision,” the official said.

Jyoti Halder, principal of Bangabasi Evening College, has replaced Gupta in the commission but the move is awaiting Governor Viren J. Shah’s nod.

Asked whether the commission had violated any rule by holding interviews with partial attendance, Banik said: “I have no idea. We don’t know who’ll replace Gupta”.

Sources said Halder does not fulfil the criteria for being a member of the commission. As per Service Commission Act, 1978, a principal who has served in the capacity for 10 consecutive years in an under-graduate college can be nominated. Halder, a reader at Suri Vidyasagar College, has served as principal of Bangabasi Evening College for five years.

Gupta had written twice to the Governor on October 10 and 17, seeking his intervention in the matter. He has received a reply from the Governor’s office, stating that his case is being considered.

Officials cited several cases where members were reappointed. Sunil Lahiri, for one, was inducted in 1979 and continued till July 31, 1989.

The issue has caused resentment among the CPI and RSP, two Left Front constituents, as none of their teacher-members has been nominated to the commission since its inception in 1978.    


 
 
70-YR-OLD FLINGS HIMSELF UNDER MILKVAN WHEELS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct.23: 
A 70-year-old man committed suicide on Monday morning by throwing himself before a Mother Dairy milkvan at the crowded intersection of Ekdalia Road and Rashbehari Avenue. The man was identified as Provash Bose.

Preliminary investigation revealed that Bose, a retired railway employee, had been suffering from depression for the past few months.

Officer-in-charge of Gariahat police station, Prabir Das, said a suicide note had been retrieved from the dead man’s pocket, stating that “no driver will be responsible for his death”.

“The suicide note indicates the man was determined to commit suicide by throwing himself before a vehicle,” Das said. Bose succumbed to his injuries on way to hospital.

Bose left home early on Monday morning and witnesses said he had been moving aimlessly along Rashbehari Avenue for hours.

Woman knocked down: In another road mishap, a 50-year-old woman was knocked down and killed by a speeding bus at the intersection of Mahatma Gandhi Road and Rabindra Sarani. The victim was identified as Ramdulari Seth. She was knocked down by a bus on route 215. The driver fled the spot. Police have impounded the bus.    


 
 
COPS FLOP, SALT LAKE PINS TRUST ON PRIVATE GUARDS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct.23: 
With theft and burglary on the rise in Salt Lake and the police failing to provide adequate security, residents are opting for private security agencies to guard their life and property.

Private securitymen have been engaged by almost all the housing complexes, cooperative flats and some individual buildings. The residents’ associations collect a monthly subscription from flat-owners to pay the securitymen.

Even Shrabani, a government housing estate in FC Block, home to many ministers and senior bureaucrats, is guarded by a private security agency.

“Theft has become a regular feature here. Thieves and burglars have broken into five flats in a month. We have lodged complaints with the police station but no action is evident. Now, we have engaged our own guards,’’ said Sanjib Chatterjee, secretary of Swati Cooperative Housing Estate at BC Block.

Shrabani residents’ association secretary P Talukdar said: “We do not rely on the police or risk our lives and property. Each member of our association has to pay Rs 60 a month for security, which we collect and pay our guards with.’’

Residents’ associations of AC, BC, BE, FD, GC and AH blocks, too, have employed private guards. Youth of some blocks, like AD, AG, CF, CL and DB, have formed vigilante groups and patrol their areas.

At least 40 cases of theft and 15 cases of snatching have occurred in the township in two months. The police have failed to make any arrests or recover the stolen goods. However, residents and their guards caught four thieves and handed them over.

By day, the criminals target the local markets, from where they steal bicycles. After dusk, the targets are the evening-walkers, especially the women, from whom they snatch gold chains, earrings and watches.

At night, the thieves hit the flats and houses. They steal household goods and valuables even clothes hung out to dry in balconies.

“Many areas remain dark in the evenings as streetlights do not work. We have repeatedly moved the Salt Lake municipality for proper lighting, but the appeals have gone unheeded,’’ said Sudhir De, spokesman for the Bidhannagar Welfare Association.

Many residents said they had no faith in the police and were compelled to engage private securitymen. But the police will not admit that crime in the township is on the rise.

“There is no organised crime in Salt Lake. The thieves come from Rajarhat, Bhangar and Keshtopur. We have arrested many of them and recovered many stolen items. The problem is that the criminals get bail from court and return to business,’’ said Kuldip Singh, superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas.

Singh said residents were free to engage private guards but the police were taking several steps to check crime in the township. The measures include round-the-clock patrols, checks at all the entry-exit points and a vigil on markets, banks and petrol pumps. He said the civic authority had been asked to provide adequate lights on roads and in parks.    


 
 
15 MOWED DOWN IN ULFA COMMUNAL KILLINGS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Jorhat, Oct. 23: 
Desperate to make their presence felt after lying low for quite some time, Ulfa militants gunned down 15 people — all non-Assamese — in the Upper Assam districts of Tinsukia and Dibrugarh last evening.

In twin strikes less than an hour of each other, the rebels shot dead 11 people at Kakojan (number four) village, 15 km from Doomdooma police station in Tinsukia district, and four persons at Naoholia market under Jeypore police station.

The fact that the majority of the victims were new settlers from Bihar has given the police reason to doubt that the militants knew who their targets were. The Ulfa had never before targeted a particular community.

Tinsukia superintendent of police P.C. Saloi said a group of motorcycle-borne Ulfa rebels raided Kakojan village at 6.30 pm, lined up the victims in front of a grocery shop and sprayed bullets from sophisticated weapons.

Ten persons were killed on the spot, while one died on way to hospital. Three persons — Krishan Gupta, Sheikh Ashraf and Rajen Prashad — were seriously injured. They are undergoing treatment at the Assam Medical College Hospital in Dibrugarh.

The slain villagers have been identified as Keshab Kanu, Paresh Kanu, Shankar Kanu, Binoy Kanu, Subhash Gupta, Raju Gupta, Parusharam Prasad, Sheikh Hazarat, Mushtaque Sheikh, Dilip Singh and Manu Singh. The last two were young men, while the rest were all elderly people, Saloi said.

Keshab Kanu was the owner of the grocery shop in front of which the incident took place, while Subhash Gupta was a teacher who lived nearby. The rebels set fire to the shop-cum-residence before fleeing the area.

Saloi said the police received information about the incident late at night as Kakojan was a remote village. The police believe the Ulfa targeted non-Assamese settlers because it wanted to make its presence felt. Another theory is that the rebels attacked the villagers on suspicion of their being “police informers”.

Less than an hour before the Kakojan massacre, three Ulfa militants barged into a shop at Naoholia market in Dibrugarh district and shot dead its owner, Radheshyam Agarwal.

Trying to make a quick getaway, the rebels subsequently opened fire on people standing outside the shop. Three persons, including a three-year-old boy, were killed in the firing, while four were injured.

The victims have been identified as Talbi Mian, Harendra Shaha and Jitendra Shaha. All four injured — Sushil Kumar Shaha, Sahadev Paswan, Nabin Saha and Suraja Dev — are undergoing treatment at the Oil India Limited Hospital in Duliajan.

Dibrugarh additional superintendent of police Khanin Choudhury said the militants may have come to Agarwal’s shop to extort money.

The two attacks yesterday have negated the Assam government’s claims that the situation in the state has returned to normal.

Addressing the Asom Gana Parishad foundation day celebrations recently, chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said his party’s biggest achievement in the past four-and-a-half years was restoration of law and order.    


 
 
SEER MOVES COURT AGAINST GANGA FILTH 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, Oct. 23: 
Twenty boys, led by a bearded man in saffron robes and a smudged vermilion tilak (mark) on his forehead, marched silently in protest against the growing pollution of the Ganga in the heart of the city today.

The Ganga Bachao Abhijan spearheaded by tantrik Guddu Baba sought to highlight the plight of the river, which has become a dumping ground for corpses and dismembered human organs from a morgue nearby.

Taking time off from his religious regimen, Guddu Baba has moved the Patna High Court against the “defilement of the holy river.’’ The tantrik has even mobilised a motley crew of young supporters to champion his cause.

In a public interest litigation filed at the court of Chief Justice Ravi S. Dhavan recently, the seer alleged that “disposal of bodies on the river bed posed a health hazard” and drew the court’s attention to the failure of Ganga Action Plan, which had envisaged installation of a sewage treatment plant with the help of the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI).

The High court admitted the petition and ordered the concerned government department to furnish a reply. Guddu Baba alias Vikash Chandra is no ordinary seer. A former professor of political science at Bagha college, Vikash Chandra gave up his job following a personal tragedy and sought recourse to spiritualism.

He came to the city in 1997, after being indoctrinated into “tantra sadhna” by a sadhu from Bengal. But peace eluded Guddu Baba as he watched the “most civilised people plundering the river in the crudest possible manner. The staff of the Patna Medical College dumped bodies from the morgue which, under ordinary circumstances, should have been incinerated.

“After the first lot of bodies were dumped in the river, children of a neighbouring school gathered to see the rotten, dismembered parts. Vultures thron-ged the bank and for two days, five blood-stained skulls lay on the sandy bed,’’ said Guddu Baba.

But the medical college authorities did not heed the seer’s complaints. “The college had already paid the employees for disposing the bodies and they were just not interested,” he said.

But the local media lent a sympathetic ear and published photographs of unclaimed bodies lying on the bank of the river. The seer collected the newspaper clippings and filed a public interest litigation. Guddu Baba refused to rest until the court imposes curbs on dumping. “We have been fooling hundreds of devotees who take the water home for religious ceremonies,’’ he said.

The seer plans to involve students of riverside government schools in his crusade to “restore the purity of Ganga.’’    

 

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