Wanted: A residence for CM
Civic body to sell off stalls for Sunshine oustees
Comrades script kissa kursi ka
Locked out by locals, let in for Rs 1000
Madrasah status plea rejected
Birati to match bullet for bullet
Earth and the elements for benefit of the East
2-month brakes on Bharat-II
Probe into Cong-Ulfa nexus: CM
Trinamul mulls Tripura mahajot

Calcutta, Oct.31: 
Chief minister-designate Buddhadev Bhattacharya doesn’t want to move out of his 800-sq-ft flat after taking oath on November 6. He wouldn’t have had a choice, had Bengal done what almost all states have: create a permanent residence for the chief minister, whoever it might be.

After Jyoti Basu’s retirement was announced, the hunt for a house for his successor began, largely for security reasons. Officials responsible for the chief minister’s security said Bhattacharya would have to move out of his residence in a government housing complex on Palm Avenue.

On Tuesday, Bhattacharya said he would try and persuade the security chiefs to let him remain where he has been residing since 1978. “I have heard about the security arrangements that are being drawn up for me, but I will have the last word,” he said.

In other states, he wouldn’t have had a voice in the choice of accommodation. In Maharashtra, the chief minister has to stay at the official residence, Varsha. In next-door Bihar, Laloo Yadav didn’t have to shift out of 1 Anne Marg after he resigned as chief minister, since wife Rabri Devi followed him to the chair. Even in fellow Marxist-ruled state Kerala, the chief minister has a designated residence, Cliff House.

Fifty years haven’t been enough for Bengal to think of such a residence for its chief minister. PWD minister Kshiti Goswami said his department, in charge of all official accommodation, was drawing up a list of premises which could be used as a residence-cum-office by the new chief minister.

Goswami said two years ago, the government toyed with a proposal to demolish the police barracks on Ballygunge Circular Road and build ‘Mantri Nivas’, a permanent residence for the chief minister. But the plan fizzled out, ostensibly because there were no funds.

He suggested that the Raj Bhavan quarters, which Basu had used before shifting to Indira Bhavan in Salt Lake, could be allotted to Bhattacharya, if he wished. “However, we have not received any suggestions from Bhattacharya,” he added.

The chief minister-to-be doesn’t appear to be willing to make one either. “If I have to meet important persons and dignitaries, I can do so in Writers’ Buildings,” he said.

A chief minister’s working day begins and ends at home, the time spent at the secretariat fills the interregnum. Which is why he needs a full-scale office at home. Almost daily, he has to entertain guests and dignitaries, some of whom he would like to receive in his official quarters and some in private. That again requires space, which the Raj Bhavan complex does not have.

There aren’t too many properties in Calcutta that can be turned into the chief minister’s official residence. The Telegraph has found one: The White House Gardens, 17 Alipore Road. The complex has five bungalows, right next to the Agri-Horticulture Gardens. Two of these are up for sale and are just right for the chief minister’s official and living quarters. It could cost Rs 10-15 crore. Finance minister Asim Dasgputa should not object, since the expenditure would lead to creation of an asset.    

Calcutta, Oct.31: 
The vacant stalls on Galiff Street, in north Calcutta, and at Kalighat in the south, constructed to rehabilitate hawkers, are up for sale. This was announced by the mayor on Tuesday. “We are answerable to the people and we have no right to misuse tax-payers’ money,” Subrata Mukherjee said.

The CMC had spent around Rs 2 crore to construct the stalls to rehabilitate about 1,000 hawkers displaced by Operation Sunshine. But the rehabilitation drive flopped badly, with just 200-odd hawkers of Gariahat and about a hundred in Entally occupying the space designated for them. The Galiff Street and Kalighat stalls lay vacant.

The government in November 1999 had threatened to auction the newly-constructed stalls if the hawkers did not move in. “We have constructed several hundred stalls and plan to build a total of about 5,000. But the hawkers are showing no interest. We just cannot go on building stalls and wasting money,’’ asserted a deputy secretary of the municipal affairs department.

The CMC has so far spent Rs 15 crore on its hawker rehabilitation programme. But after the disappearance of the relevant files, the new civic board has decided it’s time to recover, rather than spend, some money on the matter.

“We did not carry out Operation Sunshine and are under no moral or legal obligation to shoulder the responsibility for their resettlement,” said a senior official of the conservancy department.

“In the absence of the relevant papers, how can we possibly identify the hawkers displaced three years ago?” demanded conservancy chief Mala Roy.

Hawker Sangram Committee president Shaktiman Ghosh has rejected the proposal of “rehabilitation in phases”. He said on Tuesday: “All hawkers have to be rehabilitated at the same time.”    

Calcutta, Oct.31: 
A two-ft-by-two-ft, highly polished teak chair played dramatis persona at Jyoti Basu’s last Cabinet meeting as chief minister at Writers’ Buildings on Tuesday. And the longest-serving chief minister in Indian history was ‘overruled’, yet again, by his men.

Having learnt of the PWD’s plans to “preserve” the chair he had been using for the past 11 years, Basu broached the subject at the meeting.

“I hear that you people are planning to preserve my chair. It’s just a chair, it does not have any special value. Please do not get carried away and attach any value to it just because I sat on it. I am no god. I am just a human being who performed a job. If I do not sit on it, someone else will,” Basu said .

He stretched his ‘a-chair-is-a-chair-is-a-chair’ point further: “We communists work for the people. There is no place for deification, the creation of a cult.”

PWD minister Kshiti Goswami, however, said the chair is symbolic of “Left democratic rule” in West Bengal and must be preserved for posterity.

“The tenure of Jyoti Basu was historic. He led the state and the Left Front from this office, this chair. We want to preserve the chair, which will be our inspiration,” he said. His argument was supported by the likes of Nandagopal Bhattacharya and Debabrata Bandopadhyay.

“We have always obeyed your instructions and worked on your advice. But this time, we are not ready to accept your views,” Goswami told his chief.

Later, a resolution was adopted by the majority of ministers that the chair be preserved as “part of history”.

When Basu assumed office as chief minister in 1977, he used a cushioned swivel chair, like other minister. In 1989, when he developed a severe back pain, doctors advised him to switch to the wooden chair he has been occupying ever since.

Chief minister-designate Buddhadev Bhattacharya said on Tuesday evening that though he had taken a “neutral stand” on the issue at the Cabinet meeting, he, too, was in favour of preserving the chair for its “historical value”.

Officials, however, said a final decision on the fate of the chair would be taken by Bhattacharya after consultations with Basu.    

Calcutta, Oct.31: 
A throughfare in the heart of Calcutta is named after his great-grandfather. Despite having settled in Germany four decades ago, he continues to have “close links” with the who’s who of the city where he was born.

When he came down, this time, on receiving the news of his mother’s death in early October, he was hoping to spend a few months in Calcutta.

But today, Bidhan Banerjee, great-grandson of Surendra Nath Banerjee, is desperate to get out of the city he “once loved”.

When Bidhan Banerjee and wife Tanusree arrived in Calcutta from Germany on October 4, they were in for a shock. On reaching their Narkeldanga home, they realised they had been locked out — by some youths of Naboday Pallimangal, a local club.

“They refused to open the gates till we paid them Rs 1,000 as Durga Puja subscription,” recalls Banerjee. “Having come home for my mother’s funeral, we were in no mood to argue. I requested them to open the gates and come back later for the money. But they started threatening us, and said the matter would be settled by the local MLA. Finally, I made the payment on the spot and only then was I allowed to enter my own house.”

The Banerjees refused to take their case to the police, or work their ‘contacts’. “What’s the point? The police will come and arrest a couple of the goons, they will soon be set free and will be back to take revenge and make life miserable for us and the people here,” said Tanusree.

The incident has prompted the couple, settled in Oberusel, near Frankfurt, to cut short this visit. “Our family name is linked to various social causes,” said Bidhan Banerjee. “This time, we had plans to stay back for a while and get involved in some work in the city. But now, we just want to get out of Calcutta and head back home.”

The 56-year-old chartered accountant and his wife usually come to the city to visit family and friends once a year. “But this incident has really left us shaken. This is not the Calcutta we knew and loved. I am leaving this city with a heavy heart and we’ll think a hundred times before coming back here,” concluded Banerjee.

Congress MLA Paresh Pal claimed he knew “nothing” about the incident. “I am not a functionary of the club. But I must look into the matter and identify those who are trying to tarnish my image and that of the locality,” he said.

The police refused to be drawn into the controversy. “Let them complain to the local police. Only then can we initiate a probe,” said deputy commissioner (eastern suburban division) Mihir Bhattacharya.    

Calcutta, Oct.31: 
The Higher Secondary Council has turned down the state Madrasah Board’s demand that its Fazil course be recognised as equivalent to the Council’s HS course.

The West Bengal Board of Madrasah Education had urged the Council to declare the Fazil course equivalent to the Plus-II-level Higher Secondary, so that students qualifying in Fazil can get admission into the mainstream under-graduate colleges.

Sources said the Council rejected the appeal for recognition on the ground that there is excessive concentration on theological studies in the Fazil syllabus.

However, the Council might reconsider the demand if the “excessive” theology portions in the Fazil syllabus are replaced by studies in conventional subjects.

“I have received the proposal . We cannot consider the demand at present because the Council-affiliated HS courses are based on conventional subjects, while Fazil is not. We may consider the Fazil equivalent to the Higher Secondary course only if the existing bulk of theosophical studies in Fazil is reduced,” said Council president Sudin Chattopadhyay.

There are nearly 500 Madrasahs in the city and the districts, attended by more than 8,000 students. However, following a similar demand of the state Madrasah board, the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education has recognised the Madrasah’s Alim course as equivalent to its Madhyamik.

The announcement was made after the Madrasah Board had incorporated conventional subjects in Alim, replacing theological studies. After the recognition was granted, students passing Alim are now eligible to seek admission to Class XI in the HS Council-affiliated schools and colleges.

Mohammed Repatullah, member of the state Madrasah Board and director of the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT), admitted the “over-emphasis of religion” in the existing Fazil course, saying the objective behind the three-tier Madrasah education system, comprising the Alim, Fazil and Kamil, was to impart education in Islamic philosophy and train maulvis.

Considering the increasing demand for formal education, the Madrasah Board may consider the Council’s proposal to reduce the theology portions in the syllabus, Repatullah said.    

Calcutta, Oct.31: 
The common man refuses to be browbeaten by the criminals.

A day after the attack by the country liquor lobby, which claimed two lives on Sunday night, residents of the Kodalia area in Birati have come out from their shells, determined to match the assailants bullet for bullet.

Normalcy returned on Tuesday, but the area’s residents are preparing for Strike II.

“If the gangsters return to kill us, they won’t leave unscathed,” said an youth, preferring anonymity.

For starters, a decision has been taken to continue the night vigil. “The object of the attack was to break down the defence party. But we will not cow down. If the police do not protect us, we will find ways to defend ourselves,” said Prasanta Sammader.

The residents want a police camp in the area. “If that is not possible, we have asked for four constables to be deployed at night,” said Ratan Roy Chowdhury.

Residents allege that the police are aware of the criminal activities.

“We alerted the police after a shoot-out on a running train three months ago. But they did nothing,” Ripon Basu said.

The railway police have sought the district police’s help to nab the criminals.

After a meeting on Tuesday, superintendent of railway police, Sealdah, Gangeshwar Singh, said the gang’s hide-outs have been traced and joint raids will be conducted soon.    

Calcutta, Oct.31: 
“The entire might of the US forces couldn’t kill Saddam Hussain simply because he was hiding in an underground bunker, in the cradle of Mother Luck or Earth, quite like Hitler, or for that matter, our own Chhatrapati Shivaji did to survive years ago,” enthuses Charuhas Naik, Feng Shui King of India.

It is to make Calcuttans aware of the power of earth and the other elements and to “change their lives for the better” that Naik, the only Indian to have done a diploma in Feng Shui Mastery, is coming to town. Naik will deliver his maiden lecture in Calcutta on “career and opportunities” at the Science City Auditorium in January and is now on a reconnaissance trip.

“My dream is to change the face of India and it is my earnest endeavour to add a little more cheer to the City of Joy by preaching the simple principles of Feng Shui with which the Calcuttans are not all that well-versed. I can guarantee that those attending my lecture will return home to change their earth luck and improve their lives,” Naik says, oozing confidence.

“All you have to do is relocate the objects in your room and also allow positive flow of energy through the main door,” explains the psychologist-cum-journalist-cum-Reiki grandmaster-cum-crystal gazer-cum-healer who counsels top Bollywood stars to leading politicians.

Introduced to the science of Feng Shui (which means wind and water) by his Filipino roommate in the London School of Journalism, Naik’s constant research on the subject has seen him emerge as the leading exponent of Feng Shui in the country.

Naik learnt advance techniques of the science from grandmaster Yap Chang Hai in the Drekensberg Mountains of South Africa and was in Sydney to complete his advance training in Model III in the ‘Flying Star School of Feng Shui’, the first Indian to study this model. In June, he completed training in the Master Class in advance Feng Shui science, with Master Lillian Too.

Wealth and good luck, fame and recognition, knowledge and career opportunities, ‘Feng Shui’ Naik promises to provide everything through the “power of the elements” as he embarks on his mission to make things better in the East.    

Calcutta, Oct.31: 
The government has deferred by two months the imposition of Bharat-II norms for passenger vehicles, following hectic lobbying by car manufacturers and the non-availability of clean fuel. Bharat-II, an emission norm similar to Euro-II with changes suitable to Indian vehicles, would have been effected from November 1.

The environment department and the pollution control board had announced the decision to impose the norm in September 2000. “Oil companies failed to keep their pledge of supplying 10,000 tonnes of clean fuel each month from November,” an environment department official said on Tuesday. Many car companies have stocked Euro-I cars, though Euro-II cars are also being sold.

Sources said the oil companies have begun producing clean fuel and will supply it by December 31.The norm will apply to commercial and non-commercial four-wheelers, including private cars, taxis and minibuses as well.    

Guwahati, Oct. 31: 
The home ministry has launched a “probe” into the alleged nexus between the state Congress and the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom. The ambit of the probe also covers the “hand of political forces” behind the recent Doomdooma and Nalbari massacres, chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said.

Mahanta told The Telegraph before leaving for the United States yesterday that the home ministry was probing the Congress-Ulfa “nexus” on the basis of “documentary evidence” provided by the state government.

Mahanta had earlier claimed that the Congress had used Ulfa cadres as its poll agents during the 1996 elections and that the state government was in possession of concrete evidence to prove its claim.

However, he had said that a state government probe would give the Congress an “issue” and hence all evidence would be provided to the home ministry for a central inquiry.

The chief minister said the central probe would also cover the state government’s “doubts” about the involvement of political forces behind the massacres in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia and Doomdooma and Lower Assam’s Nalbari towns.

Mahanta said the government had “prior information” that certain political forces were planning to disrupt the law and order situation in “connivance” with some extremist outfits before the coming Assembly elections. The Assembly polls in the state are due in May next year.

He, however, declined to name the “political forces” and said the state government would wait for the outcome of the magisterial probes ordered into the massacres carried out by suspected Ulfa militants.

Mahanta said political opponents were trying to create a condition for imposition of President’s rule in the state before the Assembly elections. The Congress is most vocal on the demand for central rule in the state.

PCC chief Tarun Gogoi has gone on record as saying that “free and fair elections won’t be possible with the AGP in power”.

On allegations by the BJP and the Congress that the AGP was planning to use surrendered Ulfa militants in the forthcoming Assembly elections, Mahanta said the claims were “baseless”.

“The surrendered militants should be allowed to live a normal life like other law-abiding citizens. They have every right to exercise their franchise and the political parties should not unnecessarily drag them into controversies,” he added.

Mahanta said the AGP is fully prepared to face the Assembly elections in the event of their being preponed. He, however, said the government has not received any communication from the Election Commission so far.

The Assam government is now working closely with its West Bengal counterpart to stop the militants from using the corridor between Bhutan and Bangladesh, that run along the border between the two states, the chief minister said. “The police forces of the two states are working in close co-ordination,” he added.    

Agartala, Oct. 31: 
With the Tripura nagar panchayat elections scheduled to be held in December, the process of realignment of political forces in the state has begun in right earnest.

The Trinamul Congress, which emerged as the main Opposition in the state after last year’s Lok Sabha polls, has called for the formation of a mahajot to put up a united fight against the CPM-led Left Front in the nagar panchayat elections.

Addressing newsmen here yesterday, state Trinamul convenor Ratan Chakraborty and former chairperson of Agartala Municipal Council Asish Saha said people of the state have demanded a united fight against the anti-people Left Front.

This could be possible only by forging unity among Opposition parties for the nagar panchayat polls, they added.

Asserting that Trinamul did not believe in “political untouchability,” Chakraborty said if a semblance of unity is not forged, then the Left Front, which is “otherwise unacceptable to the people,” would reap the benefit.

Giving a clear indication that Trinamul has already initiated a move to bring about Opposition unity through seat adjustment, Chakraborty said “the trend of state politics demands this unity”.

He said the nitty gritty of seat adjustment could be amicably sorted out through discussion with other parties.

Though Chakraborty and Saha hinted at coming to an adjustment with the Congress, Trinamul’s current alliance with the BJP was also discussed.

Regarding the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura’s offer to fight the nagar panchayat polls in alliance with the BJP or other parties, Chakraborty said, “We do not believe in political untouchability. But at this stage all I can say is that any party which has faith in the Constitution is acceptable.”

Chakraborty’s statement on Opposition unity evoked mixed reaction with a section of Congressmen welcoming it as a “positive gesture” while another faction raising questions about the Trinamul’s alliance with the BJP.

Former chief minister and party heavyweight Samir Ranjan Barman welcomed Chakraborty’s offer saying, “In terms of electoral arithmetic, seat adjustment with Trinamul is not only needed to fight the CPM but also essential.”

Barman, however, admitted that the inclusion of the BJP in the Opposition platform along with the Congress might create problems and invite the party high command’s intervention. “But the BJP is not a political force to reckon with here and these peripheral issues can be sorted out through sincere and meaningful discussion,” Barman added.

PCC president Birajit Sinha who is opposed to any understanding with Trinamul, could not be reached for reaction.

Chakraborty’s statement has also ruffled feathers in the state BJP. Party leaders said they were totally opposed to any truck with the IPFT.

“Besides, we have serious reservations about the continuing leadership of Sudhir Ranjan Mazumder though our relationship with the rest of the Trinamul is fine,” a leader added.

Reacting to the BJP leaders’ misgivings, Chakraborty said the differences could be sorted out through discussion across the table.

He said a movement would be launched soon against arbitrary reservation of municipal and nagar panchayat wards by the ruling CPM in violation of the rules passed by the Assembly in 1995.

Asserting that the ruling party had reserved wards only to suit its electoral needs, Chakraborty said Trinamul was filing objections to arbitrary reservation of wards and a mass movement would be launched. He indicated that the agitation would form the basis of Opposition unity.    


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