Mission of terror kills 2
Lathicharge on staff after jute mill ransack
Missing file cloud over Sunshine rehabilitation
It Khan’t get any better for his fans
Britain scouts for suitable tech school partner
State copter service set for take-off
Fishcraft bid to scale into Guinness Book
Mercury up as cloud cover lifts
Rains trigger landslides in Assam district
Tripura wildlife park ravaged by militancy

Calcutta, Oct.30: 
The attack was deliberate and deadly. Late on Sunday, the powerful country liquor lobby hit back at local residents of Birati for having dared to resist them.

By the time the sophisticated guns fell silent, the sound of the bomb blasts ceased, and the 50-odd criminals had left the spot, there was blood on the streets of Birati, near the airport, and fear in every home.

Two people were killed and four more, including a nine-year-old boy, seriously injured in the attack. One of the victims was identified as night guard Ranjit Baidya, 38. According to eyewitnesses, the gangsters, who arrived on motorcycles and auto-rickshaws, cordoned off the Kodalia area by taking up positions at various points to prevent residents from fleeing the area.

The assailants first targeted members of Jubak Brinda Club. Pintu Ghosh, who was injured in the attack, later said: “We were sitting in front of our puja pandal. Suddenly, an auto screeched to a halt and six young men, their faces covered with handkerchiefs, rushed towards us. Before we realised what was happening, they started hitting us on the head with revolver-butts. We managed to flee and take shelter at home.”

Pintu and his friends Chandan Goswami and Chhotu Dutta had to be treated for head wounds.

The gang of goons then headed for the Bisharpara-Kodalia railway station nearby, smashing street lights and hurling bombs. They ordered the people to switch off all lights at home. When residents of four buildings were slow to react, bombs were hurled at them.

“The entire area was plunged into darkness. A portion of my main door was damaged when it was hit by a bomb. The splinters damaged the television set and other furniture in the room,” said Sushil Dasgupta.

On reaching the station, the criminals went on the rampage. They shot from point-blank range a middle-aged man who was waiting for the last train to Sealdah. He died on the spot, but could not be identified till late on Monday.

The gangsters also attacked a handicapped man, Garib Singh, who was sleeping on the floor near the booking counter. A nine-year-old boy was dragged out and slashed with a chopper.

When night guard Ranjit Baidya turned up, he was greeted with a volley of bullets. He tried to flee but the assailants kept pumping bullets into him. He finally slumped on the platform, dead.

Their mission of terror accomplished, the criminals marched off. Soon, hundreds of residents arrived at the spot.

“We found both the bodies lying in pools of blood...We informed the nearby Ghola police station,” said Ratan Dey.

Personnel of the Government Railway Police arrived at the site two hours after the carnage.

On Monday morning, a mob squatted on railway tracks for five hours from 8 am, disrupting train services on the Sealdah-Bongaon section, to protest the attack.

The locals blamed it on the country liquor lobby that they had successfully opposed.

“After we formed a local defence party, with police permission, we cracked down on the illegal liquor trade and rid the station of criminals. The anti-socials from Leningarh and Kharermath were forced to shut down their liquor business. Sunday’s attack was aimed at tearing down the defence party,” said a resident of Kodalia.

“Police are aware of the illegal trade, but they do nothing about it. We must regroup and be ready to defend ourselves against the criminals,” added another.    

Calcutta, Oct.30: 
Police lathicharged workers of a closed jute factory at Phoolbagan after the management accused them of ransacking the factory. The workers, on the other hand, accused the management of fabricating charges and blocked Narkeldanga Main Road. About 10 persons were injured in the incident, some of whom were admitted to hospital in a critical condition.

Trouble started around 6 am when the workers allegedly broke open the main gate and ransacked the office and the quarters of senior officers, reportedly after seeing a notice announcing suspension of work at the mill. The quarters of factory manager Asim Kumar Ghosh and personnel manager M.K. Sinha were not spared. Later, some officers moved out with their families.

K.P. Chokhani, vice-president of the mill, said the police saw everything but took no action.

The Birla-run mill had been running at a loss for the past three years. To continue production, the management was holding dialogues with the unions and specific suggestions were made to them. The suggestions were on productivity, man-machine ratio, out-sourcing of some activities and other wasteful practices. Chokhani said workers were given the assurance that no one would be retrenched. But till date, they had not responded to the suggestions.

Workers alleged that the management was responsible for Monday’s incident. Niren Ghosh, president of the Citu-affiliated Bengal Chatkal Mazdoor Union, said: “Police should hold an impartial enquiry and truth should out. Now, to pass the buck, the management is fabricating stories.”

Amit Mazumdar, additional commissioner of police, said: “Initially, there were not many policemen as the management wanted the force to be deployed from 6 am. But within a short while, a heavy force arrived at the mill and drove out the attackers. Then they disrupted traffic on Narkeldanga Main Road. Police had to lathicharge them.”    

Calcutta, Oct.30: 
Mystery of the missing documents. That’s the latest twist in the hawker-eviction drama. Documents relating to the rehabilitation of more than 10,000 hawkers displaced by Operation Sunshine in 1996-97 have gone missing from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has ordered an investigation into the disappearance. Former member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), Kanti Ganguly, has said the file is lying with the project and development department.

But mayor-in-council (conservancy) member Mala Roy said: “Ever since I assumed office, I have been asking the chief engineers of the conservancy and project and development departments to give me the file relating to rehabilitation of displaced hawkers but both have informed me that no such file is with them.”

According to Ganguly, 10,500 structures of 6,500 hawkers were demolished in Hatibagan, Gariahat, Behala and Chowringhee during Operation Sunshine. The conservancy department had prepared a list of hawkers eligible for rehabilitation in consultation with the police and hawker-union leaders.

A senior official in the project and development department said there was no question of the files lying with them as the department had never been involved in the task of rehabilitation. “The stalls were distributed by lottery,” he said.

However, chief engineer (conservancy) Arun Sarkar confirmed that there were lists of displaced hawkers with the CMC. “Two lists had been prepared, one for south Calcutta and the added areas of Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur, and the other for north Calcutta,” added assistant director (conservancy) Swapan Mahapatra.

While Kanti Ganguly was looking into the rehabilitation of the hawkers of south Calcutta and the added areas, mayor-in-council member (roads) Sudhanshu Sil was to oversee the process in the north.

Meanwhile, at the monthly meeting of the civic body on Monday, the Trinamul-BJP-led board ruled out the possibility of undertaking hawker rehabilitation schemes with tax-payers’ money.

Leader of the opposition Kanti Ganguly and CPM councillors like Nirmal Chatterjee and Rupa Bagchi urged the mayor to “rehabilitate hawkers on humanitarian grounds, in view of the growing unemployment problem in the state”. Trinamul councillor Firad Hakim, too, supported the hawkers’ demand for rehabilitation.

But Subrata Mukherjee said rehabilitation of a handful of encroachers would be “an insult to 7.7-million other law-abiding, unemployed youth in the state”.    

Calcutta, Oct.30: 
It’s 11.30, Friday morning, Metro cinema. Minutes to go for Mohabbatein, first day, first show. Standing before a life-size cut-out of Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan is an energetic gang of 15, sporting white head-bands with SRKFC written on them. Pulling out a garland of red paper flowers, they drape it around Shah Rukh’s neck, with a look of adoration. The pujaris? Members of the Shah Rukh Khan Fan Club who booked 250 tickets for the opening show — for themselves, friends and family — and “still fell short”.

Tuesday, October 31, five days into Mohabbatein, is the club’s third birthday. And its star hasn’t shone brighter.

It started small, with a handful of members from north Calcutta. Shah Rukh’s fortunes have fluctuated at the box office, but the support for the group has been steadily on the rise, and has positively soared with the strong opening of his Diwali release.

“We have received at least 30 calls in the past two days, some even from out of town,” exclaims an excited Mohul Dutta, co-initiator of the fan club, and a second-year student of South City College.

“There was a hero who believed in his fans. There were his fans who believed in their hero...” goes the banner, outside Metro. “Shah Rukh is the boy-next-door, who dreams our dreams,” explains Arnab Roy, initiator of the club. Now they have two chapters, North Zone, with over 60 official members, while the newer South Zone has 25. The membership fee is Rs 700, with a monthly charge of Rs 50 ordinarily or Rs 100 when a Khan flick hits the halls.

The fan club’s ambitions aren’t bound by city limits either. Arnab has been corresponding with Aziz Mirza and Beena Satna of Dreamz Unlimited. He’s planning to go to Mumbai next month to secure Shah Rukh’s “official endorsement” for the club.

The fan club is not only about worshipping king Khan.

Their last ‘social service’ project was ‘Love Mission — 2000’, organised with Shuvam, a child group theatre, with the proceeds divided between Shuvam’s under-privileged children and Missionaries of Charity.

But these days, it’s a love mission of a different kind. “We would like to have mobile vans with quizzes on Shah Rukh’s life, giving away memorabilia from Mohabbatein,” declares Mohul.

Vikas, a Class XII student, who has seen Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge 53 times, says he’ll turn up at Metro at least once a week as long as the movie’s playing. “For us, Mohabbatein is like Ramayana or Mahabharata. It’s an epic of love, and Shah Rukh is our god...”.    

Calcutta, Oct.30: 
For Patricia Hewitt, British minister for e-commerce and small business, Monday marked the start of a five-day tour to India with Calcutta as her first stop.

As part of the initiative to promote trade and investment between India and the UK, particularly in the field of information technology, Hewitt held talks with chief minister-designate Buddhadev Bhattacharya.

High on the agenda was the British government’s directive to the British Council to scout for a “suitable academic partner” for the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in Calcutta. “The British Council will act as an intermediary in picking the right institution to partner the tech school. The arrangement will be based purely on the exchange of knowledge and the UK institute will have no financial interests in the IIIT,” clarified Hewitt. “We are also keen to create an e-partnership and ensure optimum utilisation of the enormous strength of human capital here,” she added after the meeting.

The British minister visited Millennium Park, part of the Riverside Development Project, to look into possibilities of “redevelopment”. She also attended a Round Table Meeting on ‘collaborative e-commerce’ arranged by the CII.

According to Hewitt, 27 per cent of British business is conducted online. A new £ 5.5 million Internet Monitoring Initiative has been launched to help Internet entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises. That is the sector being targeted by UK for its IT partnership with India.    

Calcutta, Oct.30: 
At a time when opening up the transport sector is the name of the game, the West Bengal government has decided to head in the opposite direction.

Plans are afoot to introduce helicopter services from Calcutta to different places to ferry passengers on fixed routes on a regular basis. The West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation (WBSTC) will operate the service, expected to take off in November.

“The service will commence with one seven-seater helicopter and if there is a growing demand, more will be added to the fleet. Once the routes are finalised, we shall ply helicopters according to requirement,’’ said Santanu Goswami, managing director of WBSTC.

The transport department is taking the helicopter on long-term lease from Sahara India. An agreement has been signed between the WBSTC and Sahara India in this regard. “We are taking the helicopter on lease for the time being. If the concept catches on, perhaps we can afford a couple of our own,” Goswami said.

For the first two or three months, the helicopter will ply on a chartered basis. Any travel agency, company or individual can book the ’copter for a stiff Rs 40,000 an hour. Five people bound for the same destination can share the aircraft, paying Rs 8,000 per head per hour.

The helicopter will reach Siliguri in two hours, flying at 350 kmph. A Calcutta-Siliguri routine flight takes at least an hour. Transport department and WBSTC officers are preparing routes for a regular passenger service. The proposed routes are: Calcutta-Krishnagar-Malda-Farakka-Siliguri, Calcutta-Digha, Calcutta-Haldia, Calcutta-Durgapur-Asansol-Ranigunge-Dhanbad, Calcutta-Ranchi-Jamshedpur, Bagdogra-Sikkim-Bhutan, Bagdogra-Darjeeling-Gangtok and Calcutta-Kathmandu.

“Services to tourist destinations like Gangtok, Darjeeling, Nepal and Bhutan will be seasonal,” said Goswami. Officials said the fare will be higher than that of any existing flight.

The WBSTC hopes there will be enough takers for the Calcutta-Siliguri route, where regular flights are inadequate, even as there is a big question mark against the viability of the other proposed routes.

The state government hires helicopters from private companies or from Bihar and Sikkim for VIP movement or rescue and relief operations. “Without going in for a single helicopter for just government use, we opted for a full-fledged air service so that both the government and the people can benefit,’’ said transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.    

Calcutta, Oct.30: 
The Pujas are long over. But the Durga image at Anjali Roy’s house in Belgachhia has been retained. Sounds fishy? Well, Roy deals in scales — of the piscean kind. With these, she makes ornaments, flowers, dolls, pen stands — any shape that catches her fancy.

And they don’t stink. For, between the journey from the fish market and the intricate gum-and-paint routine in the living room comes a week-long processing programme. “First, the scales are washed with a detergent, then scraped against a rough surface and, later, left to dry in the sun. This is repeated a number of times”, says Roy. The final touch is a trade secret, which completely removes the odour and adds a sheen.

The scales are then bent and pasted on a base, which again is a throw-away material — anything from a broken cassette cover to an X-ray plate. Her favourite is bekti scales, as they are “big and tough”.

The middle-aged lady has been making knick-knacks out of odds and ends for a long time. She has dabbled in toothpaste and shampoo containers, nylon strings, drinking straws, medicine foils, to name a few media. “My relatives and neighbours know about my interest and provide me with a steady supply,” she smiles.

Her interest in scales is quite recent. Though this means that the house stinks as a preamble to every burst of creativity, the family has been very supportive. “My next venture will be a lampshade. For this, my husband has brought me two basketsful of scales from New Market. My children tease me as the neighbourhood garbage collector, but they too are involved with every detail,” she says.

Doesn’t the business of house-keeping suffer with the lady of the house being thus occupied? “The cooking is kept at a minimum. Even the rotis are bought,” says husband Alok, with a hint of resignation in his tone.

Roy’s dream is a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Which is why she does not put her creations on sale. “There have been enquiries aplenty, especially after I held a solo exhibition in 1995. But I have turned them down,” she says.    

Calcutta, Oct.30: 
The Calcutta sky, which remained overcast on Sunday, largely cleared on Monday with no forecast of rain for the next few days.

The weatherman said there has been a four-degree rise in the day temperature on Monday.

“The day temperature is expected to rise further on Tuesday, with the sun coming out,” said R.N. Goldar, director of the Alipore Met office.

Though thick clouds hung over the city in the morning, the sky cleared considerably as the day progressed.

The trough of low pressure weakened further and lay over the eastern part of Bangladesh on Monday morning.

Tuesday will remain partly cloudy. “There will not, however, be any remarkable change in the night temperature. On Tuesday, the maximum temperature is expected to hover around the 30-degree-Celsius mark and the minimum temperature is expected to be around 21 degree Celsius,” Goldar said. The normal day temperature around this time is 31 degree Celsius, he added.

According to the weather office, the days ahead will be drier and the duration of sunshine longer. Sunday’s chill had nothing to do with the onset of the cold season as winter is not expected before the last week of November, the weatherman said.    

Silchar, Oct. 30: 
Incessant rain triggered a spate of landslides between Phaiding and Mupa in Assam’s North Cachar Hills district yesterday.

Though no casualties were reported, rail tracks were damaged at several places along the 198-km-long Lumding-Badarpur metregauge section of Northeast Frontier Railway.

Sources in the Badarpur office of N.F. Railway said a large contingent of workers had been pressed into service to clear the rubble strewn on rail tracks. Movement of both goods and passenger trains is expected to resume tomorrow, they said.

Hundreds of passengers bound for the south Assam districts are now stranded at Lumding railway junction.

BJP blockade

The BJP has threatened to block the National Highway 53 at Srikona township, eight km from here, for four hours tomorrow in protest against corruption in the District Rural Development Agency.

President of the BJP’s Tapang block unit, Kaushik Rai, said the blockade was just one of several agitation programmes chalked out by his party.

He said all party activists were determined to continue the agitation till a judicial inquiry was ordered into “shoddy implementation” of development schemes. “Hundreds of party activists will set up human barricades at Srikona tomorrow,” he added.

Cachar police have made special security arrangements to prevent any untoward incident.

Mobile patrols have been formed to keep vigil on the highway.

The BJP claims that the District Rural Development Agency has utilised only 50 per cent of the Rs 2.1 crore sanctioned since 1997-98 for implementation of various development schemes, including the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana and the Indira Awas Yojana.

“The rest has been pocketed by a coterie of DRDA officials and brokers with political benefactors,” Rai alleged.

Apart from a judicial inquiry into corruption, the BJP is demanding restoration of road links between Srikona and Mohanpur road.

The Srikona-Mohanpur road, an alternative route to Hailakandi town, is littered with craters and potholes.    

Agartala, Oct. 30: 
Among the numerous casualties of protracted militancy in Tripura, the state’s lone animal sanctuary at Sipahijala in Bishalgarh subdivision is arguably the most prominent.

Depredations by militants in hilly areas around the sanctuary and a series of abductions last year from within the sanctuary have resulted in a severe fall in tourist traffic. Let alone visitors from outside the state, most of the local people are keeping away from the sprawling sanctuary.

Started in 1973 and once a bustling tourist spot, the dwindling number of visitors has also caused the staff to turn apathetic towards the animals. The bespectacled monkey, popularly known as chasma bandar, a rare and endangered species found only in Tripura, can now be found in much fewer numbers in and around the sanctuary.

The decline in revenue earned by the animal sanctuary started a few years back after militants of the National Liberation Front of Tripura extended their tentacles around the sanctuary. According to statistics available from the sanctuary authorities, revenue garnered as entry fees from tourists and visitors amounted to only Rs 68,549 in the financial year 1999-2000. This was considerably short of the revenue earned the previous year. Attributing the declining revenue and tourist traffic to the problem of militancy and fear psychosis among the people, sources said unless security in and around the sanctuary was tightened or the problem of militancy resolved, the situation would not improve.

Forests minister Narayaan made an announcement early this year after visiting the Sipahijala animal sanctuary that a comprehensive plan would be implemented to develop the sanctuary. However, no follow-up action has been taken so far.

The tourism industry of Tripura, once a major revenue-earner, is in the grip of a major crisis. Among the 30-odd tourist spots in the state only Neer Mahal, the famous lake palace of Tripura’s Manikya dynasty, is located in a relatively safe place. But over the years, even local people have stopped visiting the site for fear of abductions and killings on the way. The Narkel Kunj, another beautiful tourist spot with a lodge in the middle of the sprawling and picturesque Dumbur Lake of South Tripura, was abandoned six years back because of militancy. Tourists rarely visit Pilak in South Tripura, an eighth century Hindu-Buddhist site.    


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