Kasba kingpin held with part of loot
Vigilantes drive off dacoits after cat-and-mouse game
Crackdown on builders after cave-in death
Taxis gear for fresh strike
Wisest Fool on Earth takes a pot-shot
Each crisis an opportunity: Medha
Probe into death in Howrah jail
Bulletin hits black market
Jharkhand Cabinet expanded
Cong amends position for Tripura polls

 
 
KASBA KINGPIN HELD WITH PART OF LOOT 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Dec.1: 
After giving the police sleepless nights for almost two weeks, the kingpin of the twin dacoities at Kasba finally fell into the police net late on Thursday night, leading to the recovery of some of the loot taken from the two households.

Chasing the dacoits across South and North 24-Parganas and following leads provided by suspects, the police zeroed in on gang leader Debu, notorious for terrorising the people of Choubhaga. Associate Tarak Mondal had provided them with information about his whereabouts.

Under sustained interrogation, Tarak, who had been arrested on Thursday morning, spilled the beans on his boss, telling the police in detail how Debu was hiding in a mud hut in his native village, Tarda, in the Bhangar area of South 24-Parganas.

Tarak also told the police that Debu was alone and that none of his other gang members was with him.

He detailed the “safest” routes that the police could take to reach him unnoticed, as well as the landmarks along the way.

At around 11 on Thursday night, under cover of darkness, six officers of the special investigation team descended on Tarda. As directed by Tarak, they followed the landmarks and arrived at the hut that had been described to them in detail.

They first surrounded the hut . Then, one of the officers kicked open the door. The element of surprise had worked. Debu, who was sleeping, woke up with a start on hearing the noise but did not have the time to attempt an escape.

The officers, who rushed into the room, pinned Debu to the bed till a quick search revealed that he was alone.

Then began an “intense” questioning of the dacoit leader, who cracked up faster than the police thought he would.

After about an hour, he told them that a part of the loot was hidden in a godown about 500 metres away. His hands tied behind his back, Debu led the police to the godown, where under a pile of rubble lay a bag containing some ornaments and money.

Back in Kasba, the police took the loot to the homes of the victims, where members of the Ghosh and Deb households identified some of the ornaments as theirs.

The arrest and revelations of Tarak proved to be a double bonus for the police. In the course of his interrogation, he also let out that he was involved in the Rajdanga dacoity, also in Kasba, on September 7. In fact, in the loot recovered from Tarda were some ornaments stolen during that dacoity.

The police on Friday said that the first breakthrough in the Kasba dacoity case was the arrest of Shyamal Mondal on Monday, who provided information on a number of Debu’s associates.

For the past couple of years, Shyamal told the police, he had been operating in the Choubhaga area of South 24-Parganas along with Debu. It was Shyamal who had provided the police with leads on Tarak, who he said was Debu’s “right-hand man”.

Debu told the police on Friday that he operated with an 18-member gang drawn from neighbouring Sonarpur, Bhangar, Joynagar and Usthi.

“Given his criminal skills, he had managed to cobble together a formidable outfit,” said a member of the investigating team.

However, even though over 40 criminals have been arrested so far in connection with the Kasba dacoities, only seven have been identified as being part of the Debu gang.

Debu has also said that he was initially involved in dubious land deals in the Choubhaga area, but rivalry with a local hoodlum, Megha, drove him to bigger crimes. This included murders of Megha’s associates, after which he graduated to dacoities in the city suburbs.

Inspector-general of police, south Bengal, Ajoy Prasad, expressing happiness at the turn the investigations in this case had taken, said: “Though the case is almost wrapped up with the arrest of the gang leader, we are waiting for the recoveries to be complete and the rest of the gang to be arrested.”    


 
 
VIGILANTES DRIVE OFF DACOITS AFTER CAT-AND-MOUSE GAME 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec.1: 
This time, Kasba’s residents had the dacoits on the run. Early on Friday, while Banerjeepara slept, a group of suspected dacoits was making its way through the narrow lanes of this colony, possibly waiting for an opportunity to break into the house of an unwary resident.

But what they had not bargained for was another determined group which had decided keep a long vigil through the night. Seven residents of the area who had formed themselves into a resistance group — one of many that now do the rounds at night in Kasba — were also on the lookout, not for loot but for the looters.

And it was around 3 am that the first encounter took place.

“We were walking around with torches when we suddenly saw some people moving around suspiciously,” said Samir Ghosh, an ‘RG group’ member. “I think they spotted us simultaneously, for they seemed to back off into the darkness.”

Then began the cat-and-mouse game. As the suspected dacoits darted into one bylane after the other, the ‘RG party’ followed, albeit at some distance. “There was no option,” said Ghosh. “We were carrying only torches and sticks. And as everyone knows, the dacoits come armed to the teeth. There was no point in anyone getting hurt. After all, we wanted to make sure the dacoits fled.”

As the suspected dacoits kept darting in and out of the lanes, the unarmed ‘RG party’ kept doggedly at their heels. But, apparently, it was around this time that the dacoits decided that enough was enough and turned the heat on their pursuers.

They stopped in their tracks and waited for the ‘RG party’ to arrive. As soon as they drew close, the suspected dacoits hurled two bombs at them and fled. The ‘RG party’, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, too, started running — but in the opposition direction.

“They had no option but to run,” said Swapan Chakraborty, a social worker of the area, who runs a welfare outfit in Kasba. “The dacoits were armed and they would have turned more desperate and fired at the RG party members had they pursued them.”

An officer of Kasba thana said that a police patrol had been sent to the area after they heard of the incident, but no formal complaint had been lodged.    


 
 
CRACKDOWN ON BUILDERS AFTER CAVE-IN DEATH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 1: 
The police have launched a crackdown on contractors after the death of a fruit vendor in a cave-in at an illegal building in Jorasanko. In a day-long drive, 12 of them were arrested on charges of piling up building material on roads and impeding pedestrians.

Flooded with complaints from citizens, deputy commissioner of police, south division, R.K. Pachnanda, on Friday asked policemen to visit highrises under construction and identify contractors using the streets and pavements as dumping grounds.

“Some senior officials have been deployed on specific roadpoints to check whether contractors are violating the order,” said Pachnanda, adding: “Contractors will be booked under charges of causing obstruction to pedestrians.”

Sources at Lalbazar said a separate cell is being planned to keep a vigil on roadside highrises being repaired. Contractors have been asked to take proper precautionary steps during the repairs, like covering with a polythene sheet the portion of the building being renovated.

Sushil Mohta, general secretary of City Developers’ Forum, said on Friday that suppliers of building materials should not inconvenience pedestrians by encroaching on pavements.

“We shall take up the matter with contractors on behalf of the forum,” he said, adding that a session would soon be organised at which policemen, contractors and developers could thrash out the issue. He blamed the police for remaining silent when hawkers occupy pavements.    


 
 
TAXIS GEAR FOR FRESH STRIKE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec.1: 
Nearly 30,000 taxis in Calcutta and Howrah slammed the brakes on Friday, allowing autos and private cars to make a killing of harassed office-goers. The strike called by the Bengal Taxi Association and the Calcutta Taxi Association to protest “police high-handedness” and demand a fare hike was declared “total”.

Thousands arriving at the airport, Howrah and Sealdah were left stranded. Only a few managed to convince some cabbies, while the rest were at the mercy of private cars and ‘share’ autos.

The two unions have confirmed that all taxis will be back on the road on Saturday. But they warned that unless the police stopped harrasing taxi-drivers and the government revised fares, they would be “forced to launch an indefinite strike soon”.

Friday’s strike, called three days after a taxi-driver was arrested for assaulting a policeman on Rawdon Street, passed off peacefully except for a sudden flare-up in front of the South Traffic Guard Office off Nandan. Some unidentified young men stoned a taxi being taken to a garage for repairs, smashing its windscreen.

Bimal Guha, Bengal Taxi Association general secretary, said the attack was “planned and executed” by members of a rival union and the police had refused to register a complaint.

According to S. Kaushik, general secretary of the Calcutta Taxi Association, the government was “least bothered” about the long-standing demands of the taxi operators. “It has done nothing to stop police harassment, or revise the fare structure,” he said.

While Kaushik has said that the union will wait for “a month” before launching a “full-fledged movement”, Guha has given the government “just seven more days” to announce a fare hike.

The Progressive Taximen’s Union refused to participate in Friday’s strike but hardly managed a presence on the streets. General secretary Surinder Singh said: “There’s no point harassing the customer.”    


 
 
WISEST FOOL ON EARTH TAKES A POT-SHOT 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, Dec.1: 
Loo and behold Rajit Kapur — theatre lovers in Calcutta may be deprived of the opportunity to do so, unless things work out in favour of the protean actor and impresario Ina Puri, who is trying to bring his production of Wisest Fool on Earth to this reputedly stage-struck city.

For the past month, Puri has been approaching culture clubs in the city to sponsor the production because “it moved me as an issue.” But she is aghast that till now she has drawn a blank. Even five-star hotels here are unwilling to touch the production. “The rejection was blunt,” says Puri.

And why is the one-man play untouchable? Because, says an exasperated Puri, it deals with the apparently taboo issue of homosexuality. And second, it is peppered with scatological terms, which have offended its possible sponsors, though such words have passed into everyday speech.

Kapur, who was in town for a shoot and left for Mumbai on Friday morning, was in a tizzy, too. Because the Mrs Grundies of Delhi are disapproving. At a Delhi centre where Kapur has been performing for close to a decade, he was told that they would have a problem with the board of directors. It was suggested that Kapur bowdlerise the play, although it has a censorship certificate. But as he declares: “I am not going to tone down the language. It’s a character. The situation will change if I change his language.”

So what is this 45-minute play which is embroiled in a controversy even before it is staged? Wisest Fool on Earth, says Kapur, was written by Professor Raj R. Rao of the English faculty at Pune University eight years ago. He was introduced to it by Toni Patel, a theatre director, who has since died of cancer.

Kapur did not want to stage it in regular proscenium and preferred to perform it in an intimate atmosphere. Five years ago, Kapur held a reading of it at Alliance Francaise in Mumbai. He got the act together earlier this year, and it was premiered in Pune in August-end. “It is a challenge to stage a one-man show. To hold an audience for 45 minutes is difficult. Unless I can do it, I don’t know my job well,” says Kapur. Subsequently, he held performances for supper theatre at Holiday Inn, and at Mahindra World College in Pune. “The response is always very good. Through the 45 minutes, layers unfold. A man is confined in the toilet. He uses abusive language but he is not doing so to titillate. It is not a bedroom comedy. He is letting off steam. You tend to bare your soul in the toilet. He is a post-graduate and unemployed. It is about his frustrations, likes and dislikes. He is stark naked, metaphorically.”

Kapur, however, will not take things lying down. He is determined to stage it in every metropolis. Says Kapur: “I don’t want 10-year-olds to see it. But I do want 20-year-olds to see it. One is not doing it for money. This play has to be seen in Calcutta.” He was particularly taken aback by the reaction in Calcutta because “if you want to start something new, you try it in Calcutta. Encouragement is expected in Calcutta.”

Puri, too, has taken up the challenge. She will approach British Council, but now that her back is up, she will do it anyway, and as soon as possible. The target date is March.    


 
 
EACH CRISIS AN OPPORTUNITY: MEDHA 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Dec.1: 
From Salt Lake stadium to a dilapidated meeting hall on Raja Raj Ballav Street, Medha Patkar tried to reach out to as many sympathisers as possible on her two-day trip to the city. Arriving on Thursday, this was the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) spearhead’s first visit after the Supreme Court judgment allowing the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam to be increased to 90 metres.

On Thursday, Medha addressed the National Health Assembly’s Youth Mela at the Salt Lake stadium. Her interaction with her supporters on Friday was more personal.

In red-and-orange cotton sari, the grey-haired activist arrived at the “janata ki adalat” with her case against the judiciary’s “violation of the Fundamental Right to life”.

Describing the judgment as a “blow to not only the NBA, but to people’s movements at large”, she appealed to her following in the city to “treat a crisis as an opportunity” and “spare just two hours a day” to the problems faced in flood-hit districts like Midnapore.

Earlier, at 8 am, she had been to an informal gathering of artistes like Rudraprasad Sengupta, Shaoli Mitra, Nabanita Dev Sen and Bibhas Chakraborty assembled to express their solidarity with Medha’s cause and to discuss possible “next steps, for the Narmada and for Bengal as well”.

At a gathering of little magazine publishers and dramatists in Bagbazar around 11 am, Medha emphasised the need for common people to take a critical look at big dams. “Look at the Tilpara dam of the Damodar Valley Project. Look at Farakka. These are living examples of how big dams don’t deliver the benefits they promise.”

What came across was Medha’s conviction against all large development projects which marginalise the “real Indian mainstream, the people who live off the land”. Opposed to “mega-city projects in general”, she had, at the project’s initial stage, shown support for farmers displaced by the Rajarhat township.

“Metropolises have unmanageable problems,” she said. “The local people’s movement has to be strengthened.” Against Operation Sunshine as well, she cited the hawkers’ agitation as a successful one as “lakhs have maintained their livelihood”.

The NBA has received the support from hawkers also. “Every time we have a rally, we always have representatives from the hawkers of Calcutta,” explained Medha.

“There has been a growing response from Calcuttans to the cause, which needs to be moulded into action programmes,” she added on her way to the National Association of Peoples’ Movements (NAPM) office on Surya Sen Street.

Founded by Medha, this umbrella organisation of agitators all over the country, had a regional meet on Friday afternoon with “over 60 representatives from various agitating bodies”.

Discussions on “how to keep pressure on the Supreme Court” and issues such as work in flood-affected areas of the state carried on till late Friday evening. Medha, “always reluctant to leave”, nearly missed her train the last time she was here, according to Samar Bagchi of the NAPM. “We’ll push her out if we have to, but she’ll get on that 8 pm Bombay Mail.”

From Calcutta, Medha is off to the Bargi dam, to address “problems people are facing there”. A multi-pronged strategy is what the NBA will implement now: “We will be on the streets, use every possible media to be heard. The people of the Narmada valley have decided not to give up.”    


 
 
PROBE INTO DEATH IN HOWRAH JAIL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec.1: 
The government has ordered a probe into the death of an undertrial in Howrah jail on Thursday night. The post-mortem report is awaited.

Inspector-general of prisons Anil Kumar said on Friday night that the state human rights commission had been informed of the death. The additional inspector-general of prisons, Dilip Chowdhury, visited the jail on Friday and submitted a report on the prisoner’s unnatural death.

Officials said Mohammad Safiulla, 27, had been in jail since August 12 on charges of robbing some train passengers of their valuables.

Though a jail doctor attended to him after he complained of a stomach ache, he died before being taken to Howrah General Hospital.

Kumar, alarmed by a spurt in custodial deaths, has directed all superintendents of jails in the city and elsewhere to take extra-precautionary measures.

The inspector-general of prisons later said more doctors were being appointed on contract to assist the medical staff in jails.    


 
 
BULLETIN HITS BLACK MARKET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec.1: 
After publishing the answer script of this year’s Madhyamik topper Rajibul Islam in its monthly bulletin, the West Bengal Board Of Secondary Education finds itself in a spot of bother.

Parshad Barta has suddenly become one of the hottest-selling publications. Students and teachers have complained that they are unable to get hold of copies of the bulletin from their respective schools.

Barta is allegedly being sold at a high premium by unscrupulous elements. In the October issue, the Board published Rajibul’s history paper and fixed the bulletin’s price at Rs 20. In the December issue, the Board will publish Rajibul’s English, geography, physical science and mathematics papers. Students and parents fear it will be even harder to obtain.

Almost all the 15,000 copies of the October issue were sold immediately on publication. Even photocopies of Rajibul’s history paper are selling at a premium.

Board sources said 7,000 of the 8,000 recognised Madhyamik schools in the state subscribe to Parshad Barta. Students of schools that don’t subscribe to the bulletin are being forced to buy photocopies from a thriving black market. In Hooghly, Midnapore, Bankura and Jalpaiguri districts, a single copy is being sold for Rs 30-40.

Though the Board had promised to reprint the October issue if necessary, there has been no reprint of the bulletin so far. “We are planning to make our next issue available in the open market,” said Arun Kiran Chakraborty, Board president.    


 
 
JHARKHAND CABINET EXPANDED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ranchi, Dec.1: 
The National Democratic Alliance government in Jharkhand inducted 16 new ministers today, taking the total number in the Babulal Marandi Cabinet to 26. All the ministers belong to the BJP.

Of the 16 ministers sworn in this second phase of expansion, 10 are of Cabinet rank, while six are ministers of state.

Ten legislators — belonging to the non-BJP NDA constituents such as the Samata Party, the Janata Dal (United), the United Gondwana Democratic Party and an Independent MLA — were inducted into the Cabinet on November 17 to prevent defection. Today, 16 of the 32 legislators belonging to the BJP in Jharkhand were sworn in by Governor Prabhat Kumar.

With today’s expansion, the Marandi government has 16 Cabinet ministers and 10 ministers of state, elevating the total NDA strength of 45 in the Jharkhand Assembly by 60 per cent.

The Cabinet ministers sworn in today include Yamuna Singh, legislator from Manika, Dev Dayal Kushwaha legislator from Hazaribagh, Mrigendra Pratap Singh from Jamshedpur West, Devi Dhan Besra from Maheshpur, Ramji Lal Sharada from Doranda, Ranchi, Chandra Mohan Prasad from Giridih, Raghuvar Das from Jamshedpur East, Arjun Munda from Kharsawan, Pashupati Nath Singh from Sindri and Sadhnu Bhagat legislator from Lohardaga.

The ministers of state include Pradeep Yadav (Poreahat), Ravindra Kumar Rai (Dhansar), Sudarshan Bhagat (Gumla), Dinesh Kumar Sarangi (Bahragora), Neel Kanth Munda from Khunti (a strong Karia Munda loyalist) and Madhu Kora (Jagannathpur).

The women members of the BJP today launched a strong protest against the exclusion of Menaka Sardar, lone woman BJP legislator, from the ministry. Sardar won the Potka Assembly seat in Singhbhum district on a BJP ticket this year.

However, Sardar is being tipped to be nominated as a chairman of one of the numerous boards in the state in lieu of a Cabinet berth.

The chief minister today rejected Independent legislator Samresh Singh’s plea to accommodate his friend Madhav Lal Singh, an Independent legislator from Gomia, in the ministry.    


 
 
CONG AMENDS POSITION FOR TRIPURA POLLS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, Dec.1: 
The faction-ridden Congress has pacified its disgruntled leaders over nominations for the Agartala Municipal Council and nagar panchayat polls.

Congress legislator Sudip Roy Barman, who threatened to withdraw his candidates from the wards in the Krishna Nagar constituency, relented yesterday after a marathon meeting with PCC president Birajit Sinha. The PCC chief allotted Congress tickets to four of the five Barman nominees.

Though three outgoing councillors of the Agartala Municipal Council had threatened to join the Trinamul Congress for being denied renomination, Sinha claimed that all disputes had been “amicably” settled through discussions. The councillors sought nomination from other wards as their original wards are “reserved”.

The PCC chief said, “I have accommodated the legislators to the maximum possible extent. Everybody is satisfied and determined to work unitedly to retain control of the Agartala Municipal Council.” He claimed that he had fulfilled “99.9 per cent” of their demands.

Sinha said seat adjustments with the Trinamul Congress could not be made as the latter insisted on continuing its ties with the BJP. “I tried to convince them that seat adjustments would be possible only if they severed ties with the communal BJP. But they remained adamant on the issue,” he added.

Though the Trinamul Congress had a smooth sailing over selection of candidates for the forthcoming polls, it received a jolt yesterday when two disgruntled senior leaders urged the people to support the Congress in the Udaipurnagar panchayat.

Two Trinamul nominees from Udaipur withdrew their nominations yesterday.

Party sources said the Trinamul and the Congress had agreed to “adjust” in Udaipur but the “unreasonable stand” taken by Saya Ranjan De, one of its leaders, has created a “crisis in the party”.

Sources said party supremo Mamata Banerjee had urged the local leadership to work unitedly in the Agartala Municipal Council and nagar panchayat polls as this would have an impact on the coming Assembly polls in West Bengal.    

 

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