CPM backs mayor, blasts Mamata
Reform pledge dilutes cases against crimelord
Speeding trio of buses kills two guards
Private firm to run Vidyasagar Setu toll plaza
Swoop nets dreaded don
Council awaits poll panel green signal for HS dates
Crusade against animal sacrifice at Kalighat
Ulfa denies hand in massacre
Woman killed in Tripura blast
Bihar specifies rural poll dates

Calcutta, Oct.24: 
On Monday, Mamata Banerjee’s sudden intervention (“no eviction without rehabilitation”) had cast a shadow over Subrata Mukherjee’s much-touted ‘Operation Sunshine I’.

On Tuesday, the ruling CPM did what the Trinamul Congress mayor could possibly not: Tick off the railway minister for exceeding her brief.

“Mamata Banerjee has no right to interfere with the CMC’s hawker eviction drive,” said urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya. “If she, as Union minister, has a proposal in this matter, she may discuss it with us, but we shall not tolerate her intervention in state affairs like this.’’

Giving the mayor a thumbs up, Bhattacharya said: “He has done the right thing, because whichever party runs the CMC, it is bound to abide by the government’s instruction and policies. And our stand is very clear. We shall not allow hawkers on any of the 21 roads identified in the city.”

The minister added that the government was “spending crores to repair and beautify the entire stretch from Esplanade to Victoria Memorial” and so there was no question of allowing hawkers to return in these areas. Bhattacharya said he will ask Mukherjee to carry out the eviction to keep city pavements free from encroachers, despite the fact that “all hawkers cannot be rehabilitated”.

He said a special team — comprising the police, CMC officials and transport department officers — will be formed to carry out regular swoops against hawkers.

The hawker issue is bound to hot up on Wednesday, when Mamata meets the mayor and other mayor-in-council members.

Meanwhile, the day after Mamata sent word to the mayor to “go slow” on the anti-hawker drive, Mukherjee and his council members devised a novel weekend scheme for hawkers.

Weekend bazaar plan: In the emergency meeting of the mayor-in-council members, it was proposed that some hawker zones be created around the Curzon Park area, Hedua in the north and the Lakes in the south. At these designated spots, hawker bazaars will be organised from 3 pm to 10 pm on Saturday and 10 am to 10 pm on Sunday. If required, the CMC will restrict traffic movement in these areas on the two days. The hawkers will have to pay a “nominal fee” to participate in the weekend bonanza.

The mayor and his council members seemed confident the scheme would find favour with Mamata, as it offers “limited rehabilitation to the hawkers”.

“The proposed scheme will help us prevent a rise in the number of hawkers, as they themselves will not allow an outsider into their respective zones,” explained Mukherjee.

At the meeting, all 10 members endorsed the mayor’s decision to make Chowringhee hawker-free. They agreed that the hawkers could be evicted without making any immediate alternative arrangements for them. Conservancy chief Mala Roy said: “ It is better to quit if we have to draw up a rehabilitation package for encroachers. It will be an insult to the millions of law-abiding unemployed youth in the state.”

The members, mayor-in-council, also referred to Sections 371 and 372 of the CMC Act of 1981, which stipulate that no encroachment will be allowed in the city.

Out on the streets, Shaktiman Ghosh, secretary of the Hawkers Sangram Committee, warned that the movement to press for their demands “will be stepped up”.

Madan Mitra, president, Sadar Street Hawkers’ Congress, added that the hawkers would oppose any attempt to evict them without proper rehabilitation. “Though all those who sell their wares on the pavements are not hawkers in the real sense of the term, some of them are genuine and must be rehabilitated,” said Mitra..    

Calcutta, Oct.24: 
Sheikh Vinod, among the city’s ‘most wanted’ criminals with two dozen murder cases against him, is on the verge of obtaining bail.

Vinod has, strangely, been charged with just one case in court by the detective department. When he was arrested on September 18, it had been touted by the city police as “a major catch”. So, why is he now on the verge of walking free?

According to police sources, a “lenient case” was framed against Vinod after a “deal” was struck between the crimelord and officers of the detective department.

Vinod’s price for freedom: Leading the police to other gangsters who have been terrorising south Calcutta and its fringes. “He will give us details on the rest of his associates and his cache of arms and ammunition, in exchange of an opportunity to return to the mainstream,” sources in the detective department said.

Vinod has promised to lead a “clean life”. “He has undergone a change of heart after becoming a father,” sources added. His wife, Nasima Banu, delivered a boy on October 9.

Vinod has told senior officers during interrogation that he had built a house in Nasima’s mother’s name at Debogram, in Nadia. “I will move there and start a new life,’’ he promised.

Sheikh Vinod is now behind bars in Jadavpur police station. Detective department officers said he is the principal accused in seven cases of murder and 15 cases of extortion and attempts to murder.

Some of the major cases in which Vinod was involved are:

Case no. 217/1997 under Section 307 IPC at Tollygunge police station: Attempt to murder a businessman. A warrant of arrest (number 1475, dated June 14, 2000) was issued against him. Detectives said this was a non-bailable offence.

Case no. 235/97 under Section 324/114 IPC: Causing injury with a sharp weapon and abetment to crime. A warrant of arrest (number 105/420/99) was issued against him.

Case no. 224 dated July 17, 2000, under Sections 307 and 407 of the IPC: Attempt to murder a businessman. Detectives said Vinod and his gang attacked the owners of Basak Jewellers after they refused to give in to his demand for money. This, too, is a non-bailable offence.

Case no. 488 dated December 30, 1999 under Section 302 of the IPC: Murdering Provas Dhara, a construction worker of Deodhar Rehman Street.

Beside these, there are two other attempts to murder charges pending against Vinod at Charu Market police station.

But the police chose to attach only one case when Vinod was produced in Alipore court on September 19.

According to lawyers in the court, the case diary, which is the initial report of the investigating officer, was “very weak and there was little evidence to prove Vinod’s involvement in the crime’’.

A senior officer of the Criminal Investigation Department then directed officers of Jadavpur and Tiljala police stations to attach two more cases to ensure that Vinod remained behind bars.    

Calcutta, Oct.24: 
Three private buses racing down the same route claimed the lives of two securitymen of Hindustan Lever and seriously injured a third person on Central Garden Reach Road on Tuesday morning.

The dead were identified as Kamalesh Jadav, 42, and Swaminath Choubey, 45. The injured, a middle-aged owner of a private bus, has been admitted to a nursing home. Police impounded one of the buses but the driver managed to flee. The other two drivers, too, escaped with their vehicles. All three were plying on route 12.

As news of the accident spread, hundreds of residents of the area blocked the busy road for an hour, protesting rash driving. They demanded the immediate arrest of the drivers and posting of traffic personnel in the area.

Deputy commissioner of police, south division, Zulfikar Hassan, said the accident occurred around 6 am in front of Gate 12 of Hindustan Lever while the buses were trying to overtake each other. The securitymen were on way to the factory on their bicycles. Both died on way to hospital.    

Calcutta, Oct.24: 
The government’s privatisation drive has reached the toll plaza on Vidyasagar Setu. After a departmental enquiry conducted by the transport department revealed that a number of vehicles was either being allowed ‘free’ passage or a hefty ‘discount’, leading to a fall in gate money, the government has decided to hand over the responsibility of collecting toll tax to a private firm.

The chosen private company will also have to overhaul the system of toll-collection, which has been found to be faulty and time-consuming by the enquiry. So, the manual system will be replaced by a computerised system.

When the bridge was inaugurated in 1992, transport department estimates had pegged the average number of vehicles passing through the bridge gates every day at 75,000, resulting in an approximate revenue generation of Rs 12 lakh. But now, the number of vehicles being taxed is not crossing 20,000 and the government is earning just about Rs 3 lakh per day. A sum of Rs 388 crore was spent to build the bridge and several lakhs go into its maintenance every month.

“It has come to our notice that many vehicles are being allowed to cross the bridge without paying the tax or by paying a pittance. This is directly affecting our earnings. We will not have to worry about all this once the job is handed over to a private firm,’’ transport minister Subhas Chakraborty said.

The Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC), responsible for maintaining the bridge and collecting toll tax, had suggested that the gates be manned by a private concern.

After the findings of the enquiry, the transport department has agreed to the HRBC’s privatisation proposal. “We have invited tenders from private firms all over the country and received a healthy response. We are going through the tenders to arrive at a shortlist. We expect the process of handing over charge to a private firm to be over by the beginning of next year,’’ said N.K. Chakraborty, financial adviser, HRBC. According to rules laid by the transport department, the chosen firm will have to pay a monthly fee to the HRBC and bear all expenses for maintenance of the equipment at entry-exit points.

It will also have to ensure free flow of vehicles on the bridge, without any congestion at the toll counters, by modernising the toll-collecting system.

“There are many reasons for the fall in expected earnings in toll tax,” said Chakraborty. One that has been identified is the fact that very few trucks take Vidyasagar Setu to enter the city from Howrah. Truck operators argue that they have to travel an additional 10 to 15 km to use the “second Hooghly bridge” instead of Howrah bridge.

“We are addressing this problem by devising steps to ensure that most goods vehicles use Vidyasagar Setu to cross the Hooghly,’’ transport department officials said.    

Calcutta, Oct.24: 
Notorious criminal Dhirendra Singh, alias Dablu, was arrested from the Thakurpukur area early on Monday. Dablu is wanted for at least 25 cases of murder, dacoity, kidnapping and extortion in the Behala and Thakurpukur areas.

Acting on a tip-off, a police squad led by deputy superintendent of police (town), Subhankar Chatterjee, gheraoed Dablu’s house on Sunday night. Apprehending trouble, Dablu fired a pipegun and tried to flee but was overpowered. “We had a team of policemen from Thakurpukur, Behala and Regent Park police stations waiting for the right opportunity,” said S.N. Gupta, additional superintendent of police (industrial), South 24-Parganas.

Officer-in-charge, Thakurpukur thana Kalyan Moitra, said Dablu, who hails from Bihar, used to control the Thakurpukur-Behala area with criminal Mona Bhai. But after Mona Bhai was arrested and jailed six months ago, Dablu took control of the empire and made his presence felt by murdering criminal Rabin Naskar.

His next victims were a taxi-driver and a businessman. “He also tortured and tried to kill a 75-year-old man,” said Moitra. Dablu had a chain of informers, mostly women and children, who surrounded him whenever the police tried to arrest him and ensured his flight to freedom, said Moitra.    

Calcutta, Oct.24: 
With Assembly elections slated for early next year, the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education has sought a clarification from the Election Commission before announcing its examination schedule.

Council president Sudin Chattopadhyay said on Tuesday: “Higher Secondary exams are usually held at the end of March every year and we don’t want the elections to clash with the schedule. The exams might have to be rescheduled if needed”.

The Council generally announces the examination schedule by October.

The recent floods in the districts is another reason for the delay in announcing the schedule, admitted Chattopadhyay.

Many schools may not reopen after the Pujas as the buildings are either submerged or occupied by flood victims.

The Council will not announce any tentative date, as that may confuse the students, said the Council president. However, procedures for preparing the schedule were complete, he said.

Official sources said queries have started pouring in from students in the city and the districts after the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education announced on Saturday the Madhyamik schedule, due to be held from February 26, 2000.

In another development, the Council is negotiating with the Calcutta University authorities to ensure that the university exams don’t clash with the HS schedule, as the latter is taught in many colleges. Colleges offering HS courses are mostly taken over by the Council for holding the HS examinations.    

Calcutta, Oct.24: 
With a day to go for Kali Puja, the age-old practice of animal sacrifice at the Kalighat temple is kicking up a controversy, yet again.

Animal rights bodies are preparing to hit the streets on October 26, Kali Puja, to protest the “cruel custom”.

People For Animals, Compassionate Crusaders’ Trust and Beauty Without Cruelty will hold a silent demonstration at the Kalighat temple on Thursday, condemning this ritual.

The NGOs have obtained necessary police permission for the protest march.

PFA, an NGO striving to mobilise public opinion against this “malpractice” for some time now, wrote to mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Tuesday, urging him to stop animal sacrifice at the temple.

The letter urges him to exercise his “mayoral powers and withdraw permission given under Section 428 (a) and to enforce Section 428 (b), earmarking an appropriate place where this ritual can be performed out of public view, in camera.”

Copies of the letter have also been sent to the municipal commissioner and minister of state for social justice and empowerment Maneka Gandhi.

“Our aim is to mobilise public resistance against this primitive and damaging practice,” said Purnima L. Toolsidass, PFA trustee. “When our future generation is desensitised to pain and bloodshed, it encourages criminalisation in society,” said Debasis Chakrabarti, managing trustee, PFA.

Incidentally, on this ground, a division bench of Kerala High Court had upheld two writ petitions on April 5 this year, directing the authorities concerned to prevent the slaughter of animals in places where children would be exposed to it.

“It is indeed a very sensitive issue,” said Mukherjee, “and we must tread with utmost caution so as not to hurt sentiments. I do agree it is a cruel custom, but ritual animal sacrifice is a custom which has been prevalent for years and it is practically impossible to weed it out overnight.”

The mayor also felt that “little can be achieved through the legal route”, unless the “people and the authorities concerned become more conscious”.

Santipada Bhattacharya, head priest of Kalighat temple, agreed that animal slaughter is a “cruel custom”, but refused to be dragged into a controversy.

“All I can say is that this is a ritual which has deep and complicated connotations in religion and demands a debate on a larger scale,” he said.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation Act, Section 490 (concerning environmental sanitation), along with Section 338 (about deposition of solid waste in municipal drains) and Section 303 (concerning input of unsuitable material in the drains), as well as Section 501 (prohibition of corruption of water by steeping therein animal parts or other matter), are all violated at the Kalighat temple, the letter to the mayor states.

Even people outside the state have, over the years, joined the crusade against animal slaughter at the Kalighat temple.

A.V.K. Moosad, president, Kerala Animal Lovers Association, had filed a petition with Calcutta High Court in August, appealing for legislation “to prohibit the killing of animals in sacrifice in the temples of West Bengal”.

“In Kerala, animal sacrifice in temples like Kodungallur, in Ernakulam district, has been stopped long ago as a result of public consciousness against such horrible practices,” Moosad wrote in his plea.    

Jorhat, Oct. 24: 
The twin militant attacks on non-Assamese settlers in the Upper Assam districts of Tinsukia and Dibrugarh on Sunday have forced the police to alter their counter-insurgency strategy.

Eleven people were killed when a group of militants opened fire in Kakojan village under Doomdooma police station in Tinsukia district.

Less than an hour earlier, another group of militants killed four persons, including a three-year-old boy, at a crowded marketplace in Jeypore under Dibrugarh district.

In a statement to a local daily last night, Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah denied that his outfit was involved in the incident. However, Tinsukia superintendent of police P.C. Saloi said the Ulfa did have a hand in the two incidents.

“We have proof of the outfit’s involvement in the killings,” he said. Another police official based in Dibrugarh district said the need of the hour was a change in strategy. “We have to change our security plans as the rebels may strike anytime, anywhere,” he said.

Director-general of police P. V. Sumant said in Guwahati yesterday that the police had drawn out a “comprehensive strategy” to apprehend the rebels who carried out the attacks on Sunday.    

Agartala, Oct. 24: 

A tribal woman was killed and three others injured in a bomb attack by suspected United Bengali Liberation Front militants in the Chhailengta area under Manu police station of Dhalai district this morning. The woman belonged to the minority Darlong tribal community, our correspondent reports. In a separate incident yesterday, policemen in Santir Bazar police station of South Tripura recovered the bodies of three persons, including one tribal who had been abducted earlier by National Liberation Front of Tripura militants.

Police sources said suspected UBLF militants hurled bombs at a passenger jeep carrying a group of tribal women from Nepaltilla to the Dhoomacherra area of Dhalai district at 7.30 am today on the Chhawmanu-Chhailengta road. While Mary Darlong died on the spot, three of her associates — Tilla, Nancy and Bangi Darlong were seriously injured. They were taken to G.B.Hospital here.

All four women are residents of Darlong Basti near the Kumar Ghat area of North Tripura. “They were possibly heading for the Dhoomacherra area in connection with church work as almost all members of the minuscule Darlong tribal community are Christians,” a source said. The killing, coming close on the heels of a series of successful police operations against the NLFT and subsequent killing of several activists, has created ethnic tension in the area.

In the other incident yesterday, police personnel of the Santir Bazar police station recovered the bodies of three persons, including a tribal kidnapped by the NLFT earlier.

An arrested NLFT collaborator had told the police during interrogation where the bodies were buried. The police sources said on October 18, policemen from Santir Bazar shot dead a hardcore NLFT rebel, Hancharai Reang, and arrested a listed collaborator, Kashem Mia.    

Patna, Oct. 24: 
Acting on “political and legal compulsions”, the Bihar government today filed an affidavit at Patna High Court specifying the dates for panchayat elections in the state. The polls will be held in January next year and the process of finalising electoral rolls will begin on November 1. The move has shaken the tribal leaders in Jharkhand region where the provision for excluding tribal villages from the purview of rural polls under the Sixth Schedule has not been invoked.

Although a separate state will be formed on November 15, the panchayat poll announcement applies to the undivided state and the new Jharkhand government will have to abide by the court order or get it revoked by an appropriate court of appeal. Tribals are divided over the issue of panchayat polls since the villages are governed by the traditional “Manki-Munda” system. The order to conduct polls in the region may lead to an ethnic uprising. While announcing the poll dates, the state government did not clarify if elections could be held in the tribal areas too.

State panchayat minister Upendra Prasad Verma yesterday said the polls would be held in January next year in a phased manner. The state government’s announcement came a day before the hearing of a writ petition on panchayat polls. The RJD-led government in the state was under pressure from the Congress for holding panchayat elections. If the polls are held as per schedule, there is will no reservation for single-member village bodies.    


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