Fire destroys warehouse on the waterfront
22-yr-old held for assault on minor
Metro Garia stretch in jeopardy
Fans, police on alert for Diwali duel
Focus on stations in frames of life
Students await Madhyamik Top Ten scripts
13-year-old shot dead in front of pandal
Assam minister ‘rape victim’ delivers boy
Sikkim official in vigilance net
Hostages freed after rebels realise mistake

Calcutta, Oct. 26: 
A godown of the Calcutta Port Trust on Armenian Ghat Street was gutted in a major fire that broke out early on Thursday.

The blaze swept through the 10,000 sq ft warehouse, located in the congested Central BusinessDistrict. A large quantity of chemicals and plastic sheets stored in the godown were destroyed. No casualty was reported.

The godown, though a CPT property, was rented to a private transport company.

Though the cause of the fire is being attributed to a short circuit, fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee has ordered a departmental probe into the incident.

Chatterjee, who visited the spot with director-general of fire services R.K.Handa, said 20 engines were commissioned to fight the flames. He said it was one of the biggest fire-fighting exercises in recent times, involving nearly 200 firemen, who took six hours to battle the blaze.

Handa said firemen were probing the incident as “we are getting conflicting reports about the causes.” The fire could have been controlled in less time if water had been readily available, he said. “The CPT has no arrangement for water for the three-storey godown,” he added.

Preliminary police investigation revealed that synthetic goods, including clothes, were stored on the ground floor of the godown, which helped the fire spread.

Locals, mostly labourers, who were asleep, woke up gasping for breath around 4 o’clock on Thursday morning,

“We had to rush out of our rooms and seek shelter on Howrah bridge,” said Ram Mishra, a labourer. Like him, several hundreds had to flee their homes in the area as smoke billowed out of the warehouse.

However, when firemen reached the spot, the local people returned to lend a hand. “We would have taken more time if they did not come to our aid,” said a fire brigade official, adding: “We had to use gas masks to fight the blaze.”

The entire area has been cordoned off. Residents were seen rummaging through the debris in the afternoon.

Blaze in office block: A fire broke out in an office building in Rawdon Street on Thursday evening. Five fire tenders rushed to the spot and fought the flames for nearly two hours before bringing it under control around 8 pm. Firemen said a short circuit started the blaze. No one was injured.    

Calcutta, Oct. 26: 
Santosh Kumar Jaiswal, 22, arrested for allegedly raping a five-year-old girl in the Burtolla area on Wednesday, has been remanded in police custody till November 4.

The girl has been sent to Medical College and Hospital for a check-up. Police said the initial medical reports confirmed the rape, but “details are awaited”.

The incident occurred on Wednesday at around 2 pm in a multi-storeyed building in Raja Gopimohan Street. The Jaiswals live on the ground floor, and the victim’s family on the first. Both families were on “friendly terms”.

Preliminary investigation revealed that Santosh, the son of a businessman, would frequently call on the little girl and offer her ice-creams and chocolates.

“On Wednesday afternoon, he lured the girl with a chocolate, took her to an abandoned room on the ground floor and allegedly raped her,” the police said.

Half an hour later, when the girl returned to her parents, her father noticed that she was bleeding. She was first rushed to Matri Mangal Pratisthan, where the doctors confirmed the assault.

By then, Santosh had warned the victim’s family not to lodge a complaint, detective department chief Narayan Ghosh later said.

But the girl’s father finally decided to register a complaint late on Wednesday evening. The police raided the building and arrested the youth at night.

As news spread, hundreds of local residents attacked the Jaiswal home and dragged out members of Santosh’s family. But the Burtolla police intervened and pacified the protesters.

On Thursday, a large crowd gathered outside Burtolla police station and demanded “exemplary punishment” for the accused.    

Calcutta, Oct. 26: 
The proposed extension of the Metro Rail service to Garia has come under a cloud because of widespread encroachment on the banks of Tolly’s Nullah. Work on the first km of the extension was scheduled to begin on Monday, but couldn’t. Settlers on both sides of the 10.5-km-long canal, more than 20,000 of them, have refused to move unless they are rehabilitated.

The encroachers have become more vocal on rehabilitation following railway minister Mamata Banerjee’s statement early this week that there would be no eviction of hawkers without rehabilitation. “Some of the encroachers have even met local councillors to enquire where they will be relocated”, said conservancy chief Mala Roy.

An all-party consensus had earlier gone on record that the encroachers should be evicted without rehabilitation. The CPM, Congress and Trinamul Congress MPs, MLAs and councillors had all signed the document.

Hawker talks:Meanwhile, Mamata invited mayor Subrata Mukherjee for an urgent discussion on the hawker eviction issue early on Thursday. At the meeting, which lasted till 4 am, Mamata made it clear that she wouldn’t interfere in matters of civic development and gave the mayor a free hand in such issues. The minister did not raise the issue of rehabilitation for the encroachers along Tolly’s Nullah.

Sources close to the Mamata maintain that she could have been misled by leaders like Sudip Bandopadhyay, Sultan Ahmed, Iqbal Ahmed and Madan Mitra, who have “vested interests” in the Chowringhee hawking zone.

Mitra had said on Tuesday that the eviction in Chowringhee was “nothing but a ploy to destroy Mamata’s minority votebank”. The railway minister was not available for comment on Thursday.

The mayor has convened an emergency meeting of government agencies, councillors and MLAs of the area to discuss the matter. The meeting will be attended by the Metro Rail chief engineer, the secretary of the irrigation department, leader of the Opposition in the CMC Kanti Ganguly and MLAs like Saugata Roy, Pankaj Banerjee and Sovandeb Chattopadhyay.

Neither the railway authorities in their Metro extension scheme, nor the World Bank in Calcutta’s development projects, have earmarked funds for rehabilitation of encroachers. Tolly’s Nullah is not included in the Asian Development Bank’s Calcutta environment improvement projects either.

According to the proposed extension, the Metro will run along a ramp over Tolly’s Nullah, the pillars of which will come up from the centre of the river bed.

The railway authorities have already given away construction contracts to 15 companies for the project, even as it is unable to set up site camps for men and equipment for want of space.    

Calcutta, Oct. 26: 
The countdown has begun. Calcutta, like the rest of India, is hours away from the ultimate Diwali duel: Hrithik Roshan versus Shah Rukh Khan (with the shadow of the Big B riding the KBC wave looming large).

The sparks have been flying nearly all week, ever since advance booking opened on Monday. The police have had to resort to lathicharge in front of some south Calcutta halls to rein in the fans. And by Thursday evening, special security arrangements were being chalked out to keep the star wars from spilling over into the streets.

“We have decided to post at least five policemen each in front of two cinema halls in the area,” said Apurba Kumar Somchowdhury, officer-in-charge, Tollygunge police station.

While Mohabbatein is being released in five halls of the city, Mission Kashmir will hit 15 halls. In Bengal, 41 cinema halls will be screening Mission Kashmir and 21 Mohabbatein.

Adding a twist to the tale is distributor Pritam Jalan’s diktat to Menoka cinema not to allow on-line ticket booking for Mohabbatein. The reasoning: why deprive those queuing up for hours for a ticket?

Arijit Dutta, of Priya, begs to differ: “On-line booking has definitely not affected ticket sales for MK across our counters.”

Tiku Manek, distributor of Mission Kashmir in the eastern region, sounded confident on the eve of D-Day. “This film has all the ingredients of a hit film,” he said.

But the “initial draw” for Mohabbatein has convinced Jalan that his film “will fetch high returns” in the city and the districts.

As far as the musical score goes, for the last three weeks, Mohabbatein has topped the charts at every major store in the city, with Mission Kashmir a not-too-close second. But it won’t be known till next week who’s managed to strike the right chord with fans in the city this autumn: Shah Rukh or Hrithik.    

Calcutta, Oct. 26: 
Steam spouts in a silver haze, locomotives grind to a clanking halt, baggage trolleys rattle and people make a frantic rush towards a train pulling out of a platform in the background while the whole station vibrates in a powerful rhythm.

Till Passow (direction), Lars Lenski (camera) and Marcus Robbin (production and admission line), all film students from Germany, are here to capture these vignettes of the big station, where the city is “mirrored in a microcosm”, on celluloid.

The 30-minute film being shot in 35-mm colour, is a “poetic documentary” on railway stations. It aims to portray the significant role of stations in the lives of people who “use the gigantic system to communicate, to travel, to holiday and even to survive on a day-to-day basis”, explains Passow, as he lights up his umpteenth bidi during a break in shooting. Both he and Lenski are final-year diploma students at the HFF Konrad Wolf Institute in Potsdam-Babelsberg, near Berlin, while Robbin is a freelancer.

The film is being produced as part of an exchange programme with the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Calcutta, and is jointly funded by the Goethe-Institute in Germany and Max Mueller Bhavan in India. The premiere is slated for February-end next year in the German Festival in India.

But that’s only if the Eastern Railway authorities do their bit. The only hitch for the students till date has been obtaining permission from the ER officials. Despite instructions from the Railway Board to grant permission for the shoot as a “special case for waiver of bank guarantee, comprehensive insurance and licence fee”, the crew was granted shooting rights for far fewer days than the schedule required.

“We hope things will be sorted out soon,” says Passow, who had managed to get a green signal from the external affairs ministry before coming to Calcutta. “We also plan to see railway minister Mamata Banerjee to explain the situation. We need to shoot at least another 10 days to complete the film,” adds the 32-year-old German director.

Back home, the German students had been warned of being mobbed by curious hangers-on who would make things tough for the first-timers.

“But our experience here has been something quite different. The crowds have been easy to handle — friendly and co-operative,” smiles Passow.

But why Howrah? “Because it’s a ‘close’ place where we can tell a ‘close’ story. We can just focus on one place where you come across all aspects of life and society,” explains the director.

“Stations are similar as well as different. To capture special emotional situations, we have to come again and again to see what it means to us, what it could mean to our audience,” says 30-year-old Lenski, as he draws pal Passow’s attention to a small procession carrying a Kali idol.

The director, who has been “moved by the intensity and spirituality of the Kalighat temple”, puts his crew on alert and Kali is promptly canned.

“The mood of the film will be warm and happy,” promises Passow. The contradictory emotions of travellers, along with the arrival and departure of trains, form the axis of the film and Passow and Larski hope to capture the “magic and wonder” of the stations through “little heroes” like a shoeshine boy, a porter, a blind announcer — protagonists for whom the station is life itself.

“They will use only visuals, music and available sound,” explains Biren Das Sharma, nodal officer of the project and lecturer at SRFTI, which is providing infrastructure and logistical support for the project.

Mostly shooting from the shoulder using a hand-held camera, Lenski attempts to “bring in dynamism of life in the station as well as catch the contrasting moods”.

At the station, extreme activity alternates with endless wait. The platforms which looked like a honeycomb a few minutes back, are now almost empty. Passow and Lenski and the rest of the gang are busy packing their stuff at the end of their second hectic day’s shoot.

Even as they leave the station premises, they scan the faces for mixed emotions — joy for those reunited and gloom for those left behind — which they hope to capture in the coming days, railway red tape permitting.    

Calcutta, Oct. 26: 
About a lakh of Madhyamik examinees in the city are anxiously awaiting the release of the current issue of Parshad Barta, the monthly bulletin of the West Bengal Board Of Secondary Education, as it will carry the answer script of Rajibul Islam, who topped the examination last year.

The Board has decided to publish the answer scripts of all the 10 toppers, and examinees everywhere are waiting with bated breath for the issue. The board offices on Park Street and Salt Lake are receiving hundreds of phone calls every day from examines and guardians, all of whom want to acquire a copy of the issue. “All the callers want to know when we will release the issue of the bulletin,” said a senior Board official.

Board president Arun Kiran Chakraborty said on Thursday that the first issue containing the history answer script of Rajibul will be published on the second week of November. “We will publish the scripts of all the papers of the 10 toppers serially. In our November issue, we will publish Rajibul’s history script,” he said.

Asked how the Board will supply their bulletin to about six lakh candidates for the 2001 Madhyamik, Chakraborty said the copy of the bulletin, costing Rs 2, will be available at the Board’s regional offices in Calcutta, Siliguri, Midnapore and Burdwan.

“Moreover, 7,000 of 8,000 Madhyamik schools in West Bengal subscribe to Parshad Barta. So these schools can help examinees get copies of the toppers’ scripts”, Chakraborty said.

In Calcutta, examinees can buy the bulletin either from the Board’s office on Park Street or Salt Lake. If the bulletin is hard to get, “the examinees can pay the price of the bulletin at our offices in advance and we will supply the books within a few weeks after reprinting the bulletin,” said Chakraborty. The Board has plans to print about 15,000 copies of the November issue of their bulletin, which may not be enough for about one lakh candidates. “But we may reprint it, considering the demand from the examinees,” the president said.

Even by photocopying the issue, schools may not be able to supply copies to all the examinees. Besides, schools which do not subscribe to the bulletin will find it difficult to circulate it among students.    

Thirteen-year-old Jagat Rajbanshi was murdered on Wednesday night in Barrackpore while he was putting finishing touches to a local Kali Puja pandal.

“We were busy with the decorations when suddenly, four youth appeared and fired at him from point-blank range. They hurled bombs and fled before we could act,” said Suman Chakroborty, a member of Doltala Bidhanpally Recreation Club.

Following the murder, Noapara in Barrackpore was tense on Thursday. All shops were closed and a police picket was posted.

Jagat’s sister Champa Das said: “In April, Trinamul Congress leader and teacher Bikash Bose was murdered. The CPM activists alleged that the murder was masterminded by my husband, Gopal, and his brother, Nepal. Actually, they themselves were responsible for the deaths and even threatened to kill us. The police know everything.”

However, Somen Sinha, a local CPM worker, denied the charge. “Gopal and Nepal are goons. Jagat was killed by Gopal’s rivals”, he said.

Bibhukinkar High School, where Jagat was a student of Class V, will be closed on Monday in mourning. The police are in the dark about the motive, though one person has been arrested. Sub divisional police officer (Barrackpore) Humayun Kabir said: “Jagat was a minor and could not have had political affiliation.”    

Guwahati, Oct. 26: 
Police will move court for a DNA test to ascertain the paternity of the baby born to a woman who claims to have been raped by Assam minister Rajendra Mushahary.

Monila Brahma, who filed an FIR six months after the alleged rape took place, gave birth to a boy at the Kokrajhar Civil Hospital on Tuesday.

“Now that the baby has been born, we will seek a directive from the court to carry out the DNA test to ascertain whether Mushahary is actually the father of the child, as alleged by the victim,” an official source said.

“The delivery was normal and both mother and son are doing fine. We have taken special steps to protect the baby,” he added.

Director-general of police P.V. Sumant told The Telegraph that “scientific tests” would be carried out, as required during the course of investigation.

Asked why the police had not arrested Mushahary, the police official said, “We do not believe in acting in haste.”

Mushahary was granted anticipatory bail till submission of the case diary in the Gauhati High Court. However, the police today said they were yet to receive any directive in this regard.

The minister of state for welfare of plain tribes and backward classes volunteered to undergo a DNA test to clear his name immediately after the FIR was lodged.

Reiterating that the rape allegation had been cooked up by his political adversaries, Mushahary told The Telegraph today that his innocence lay in the fact that the complainant had given birth to a “mature baby” within eight months of the date(s) on which she claims to have been raped.

“Going by the laws of nature, a woman cannot give birth to a 2.5-kg baby within eight months of conceiving it,” he said.

According to the FIR filed by Monila, she was first raped on February 27 and again in March. The FIR (number 224/2000) was lodged at Gossaigaon police station on September 4.

While Mushahary argued that the weight of the baby suggested it was “mature”, an assistant professor of gynaecology at the Gauhati Medical College Hospital said there was “nothing unusual” about a prematurely born baby weighing 2.5 kg.

“The weight of a baby is in proportion to its mother’s weight,” the doctor said.

The All-Bodo Students’ Union, which has taken up cudgels on the supposed victim’s behalf, has reiterated its demand for Mushahary’s “removal” from the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta ministry.

A delegation of the Absu and the All-Bodo Women’s Welfare Federation met Kokrajhar deputy commissioner J.I. Kathar and demanded that a DNA test be conducted immediately to ascertain the truth.

Monila has been in the federation’s “custody” since she accused Mushahary of rape.    

Siliguri, Oct. 26: 
The Sikkim vigilance department has chargesheeted an assistant sub-inspector in the food and civil supplies department for misappropriation of funds.

Kul Chandra Baral, in charge of the department’s godown at Pakyong in east Sikkim, has been accused of embezzling public funds to the tune of Rs 37 lakh.

Funds accruing from sale of rice and sugar distributed through the public distribution system between April 8 and September 17 last year were misappropriated by fudging records, the chargesheet says.

The accused released 18.5 quintals of rice worth Rs 1.8 crore and 365 quintals of sugar worth Rs.4.6 lakh through the public distribution system, but deposited only Rs 72.2 lakh of the Rs 1.12 crore that had been collected, it adds.

Baral was suspended in December last year following a complaint lodged by his superiors. A case was filed against him under Section 409 of the IPC for breach of trust and misappropriation of funds.

The chargesheet states that the accused failed to submit challans, road receipts and other relevant documents for the period during which misappropriation of funds took place.    

Shillong, Oct. 26: 
All but one of the 11 people abducted from near the site of the Tuirial hydel power project on the Mizoram-south Assam border last night were today released by their captors. The rebels had apparently mistaken the workers for Neepco staff.

Saikapthanga, a senior employee of a firm engaged in construction work at Tuirial, is the only one still in captivity. The 51-year-old former Army havildar from Vaivakawn in Aizawl is the works manager of a company owned by Lalsanglian Sailo, son of former Mizoram chief minister T.Sailo.

The remaining hostages were all released at Jabla in Cachar district a few hours after they were abducted, sources in Aizawl said.

They quoted the released hostages as saying that their captors were militants of the Hmar People’s Convention (Democrats).

“The rebels mistook us for employees of the North-Eastern Electric Power Corporation. They released us after realising that we were actually employees of a private firm,” one of the hostages said. Those released include seven non-tribals and three Mizos. The rebels sent a letter to Neepco through the hostages who were freed. The letter warns the power corporation of more abductions if the demands made earlier are not fulfilled.

The militants had demanded Rs 1 crore for the release of six Neepco employees who were abducted from the site of the Tuirial project on March 31. However, they freed the hostages on June 14 without any ransom. Executive director (security) of Neepco, B. Borgohain, said there was confusion at the project site yesterday when initial reports suggested that all the hostages were employees of the power corporation.

“We did a head count at the project site this morning and discovered that none of our employees had been abducted,” Borgohain said. The 60-mw Tuirial project got under way last year after the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Neepco and the Mizoram government.

The Rs 448.19-crore project is expected to be commissioned within the next eight years. Rattled by the abductions in March, Neepco has made several requests to the Mizoram government to provide “adequate security” to its employees and contractors.

Joint raids

Police in Assam, Tripura and Mizoram have agreed to conduct periodic joint raids in the border areas and step up surveillance to curb insurgent movement and cross-border smuggling, reports our Silchar correspondent.

The police have also decided to launch a drive against antisocials who, after committing a crime in one state, take shelter in another.

These decisions were taken at a three-hour-long meeting at Kahmun in northwest Mizoram yesterday which was attended by the sub-divisional police officers of the border district of Karimganj in Assam, Mamit in Mizoram and North Tripura. Police officers at Karimganj today said this meeting was the first of its kind for the policemen of the three states.    


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