12-hour kidnap ordeal for brother and sister
1,000 new cancer cases every year
Pack-up time for polluters
Architecture lesson for ugly city
CM to intervene in postal strike
Installation of statues irks Park Circus residents
Varsity teachers’ strike hits classes
Mission takes stock of relief measures
Orissa mulls World Bank fiscal report
Jawans’ strike upsets security

Calcutta, Dec.12: 
When five-year-old Sana and six-year-old Asif left for their Park Street schools at 7.30 on Tuesday morning, it promised to be just another “boring” day — long hours crammed with studies and lessons.

When they returned home 12 hours later, they had been to hell and back, beaten and betrayed by people their father once trusted.

Kidnapped on the way to their schools, they were hastily released by their abductors, former employees of garment manufacturer Shafiqul Rehman, when it became apparent that the police had managed to close in on them.

According to Rehman, at around seven on Tuesday morning, his son and daughter left for their schools, Assembly of God Church and Jewish Girls’ School, both on Park Street, escorted by their 16-year-old cousin Habibur.

“This was the normal practice for the past six to seven months,” Rehman said. “Habibur would accompany them to school and escort them back home.”

But on Tuesday, the two children never reached school. Instead a person called up Rahman’s garment manufacturing unit on Madge Lane near Globe cinema at around 9.30 am and told one of his employees that the “Rehman children had gone missing”.

When Rehman got to know this, he rushed to the factory. Soon the anonymous caller phoned again. This time the message was chilling: Either he paid Rs 30 lakh immediately or his two children and his nephew would be dealt with “appropriately”.

Just to rub home the message, the caller handed the phone over to his son. Asif sobbed into the phone: “Papa, take me back from here. They are terrible people. They have locked up Sana and Habibur in a room in a house nearby.” Then the line went dead.

At this Rehman panicked. He rushed to the two schools to cross-check whether the children had at all reported there. He was told they had not. He returned to his factory, wondering what to do next.

At around 12.30, the phone rang again. It was the same caller wanting to know when the ransom would be paid. “I told him I did not have that kind of money but he insisted that the ransom be paid,” said Rehman. “He said he was giving me a while more and that he would call up later.”

Then, Rehman decided to go to the police. The Park Street police took down the details of the case and on learning that a call would follow, decided to trace it.

The officer-in-charge of the police station, Probir Das, accompanied Rehman to his factory while one of his assistants went to the 246 telephone exchange in Moulali to tap the phone call.

At 3.30 pm one of the abductors called up again. Das instructed Rehman to prolong the conversation for as long as possible. Meanwhile, the call was being tapped.

Ten minutes later the police had the number and address of the place from where the call was made: An STD booth in Ekbalpore.

On being informed by Rehman that one of his former employees turned business rival, Gholam Sarwar, operated out of that area, the police conducted a raid and picked him up. He confessed to his crime and said the children would reach home in half an hour. After they were back home in a taxi, another associate of Sarwar’s was picked up by the police.


Calcutta, Dec.12: 
With one out of nine Calcuttans running the risk of developing cancer, the dreaded disease seems to have got a stranglehold of the city. This unsettling fact was revealed by a survey of cancer patients in the city.

Specialists of the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI) have cautioned that if effective steps are not taken soon, the situation will spin out of control.

The CNCI report on cancer pattern in the city was prepared over the past two years. A cancer register too has been prepared on the basis of cancer patients already detected between 1997 and 1999.

CNCI will present the Population-based cancer register on Wednesday at a seminar to be held at Rotary Sadan. Several physicians will take part in the seminar, where the additional secretary from the union health and family welfare ministry, S. Patwarbardhan, and senior officers from the state health department will be present.

According to the cancer specialists, nearly 6,700 patients are suffering from cancer in the city, of whom 48 per cent are female. The most alarming revelation is that the number of cancer patients in Calcutta is increasing at the rate of about 1,000 per year.

According to the report prepared by the CNCI in 1997, the number of cancer patients in the city at that time was 4,883.

The CNCI survey covered patients at Chittaranjan cancer hospital, Thakurpukur cancer hospital, private treatment centres, pathological laboratories, government teaching hospitals and from the death certificates issued by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

Most women patients suffer from breast cancer, while the lungs are most vulnerable in the case of male patients.

Of the lung cancer cases detected so far, 42 per cent are tobacco related. In a separate survey on lung cancer, the CNCI found out that tobacco-related cancer is on the rise as more and more students in schools and colleges take to smoking and chewing tobacco.

CNCI specialists fear that the actual number of cancer patients is higher because many of them have not yet started treatment and many cases still remain to be detected.

Dr Urmi Sen, head of the department of epidemiology and bio-statistics, CNCI, who has been working for the past few years to identify the whys and wherefores of the disease, said an extensive survey of the state will be started soon.

Dr Sen said the cancer register would help carry out research on the subject.

Analysing the probable causes of the disease, CNCI said though it is yet unknown what triggers it, environmental pollution, food habits, lifestyle and ignorance of symptoms could be some of the factors.

“We are not saying that those are the main causes of cancer but we must say that those are the high risk factors for the deadly disease,’’ Dr Sen said.


Calcutta, Dec.12: 
The countdown to the implementation of the high court directive to shut down hundreds of polluting units dotting the city has begun. The deadline — the last day of 2000.

The eviction of small units from the national capital area of Delhi in November had triggered violence on the streets of the capital. In Calcutta, however, the units have not been asked to shift. They have been asked by the Green Bench to clean up their act by December 31 or shut shop.

The order, passed on November 10, has spurred the West Bengal Pollution Control Board into action. “Once the deadline expires, we will have to issue closure orders in deference to the court’s directive,” said K.S. Ramasubban, member-secretary of the Pollution Control Board.

But there is more than a little confusion about how the closure order will actually be enforced. “That would finally depend on the police,” admitted Ramasubban.

Board officials, meanwhile, have been busy doing the rounds of the chambers of commerce and various associations of industries, explaining the implication of the court verdict. The various trade unions have also been told about the December 31 deadline as the “livelihood of thousands” depends on the industries on high court hit-list.

“There are problems that exist in many industrial categories. We are trying to meet the owners of these units and providing solutions to turn their factories into clean ones,” explained Ramasubban. “We have to work along with the industries to arrive at a suitable technological balance that will not pollute the environment,” he added.

The case concerning these hazardous units, being heard on a public interest petition filed by environmental activist and green lawyer M.C. Mehta, was transferred by Supreme Court judge Kuldip Singh to Calcutta High Court in 1996. The Supreme Court, through its directives, had listed 68 categories of polluting industries in India. Out of these, 54 were found in Bengal.

On November 10, the Pollution Control Board had submitted its third report on the status of the 54 categories of hazardous industries. The Board informed the Green Bench that 12 categories of polluting industries identified in 1996 were still in operation. This prompted the Bench to conclude that “no more time” would be given to these units running on “obsolete, unclean technology”. The Pollution Control Board was directed to serve notices on all polluting units. They were asked to adopt proper pollution-control technology or face shutdown.

M.C. Mehta said, on Tuesday, that the Pollution Control Board must take “immediate action” if the industries failed to meet the anti-pollution norms by December 31.

“They have had enough time to stop their polluting practices. Kuldip Singh passed a firm order in 1996 and till now nothing has been achieved by the Pollution Control Board,” Mehta stated. “I advise the Board to seek strength from the Supreme Court and high court judgments to do the needful,” added the Magsaysay award winner.

Mehta does not envisage a Delhi-like situation in Bengal if the units are shut down. Referring to the violence in the Capital last month, following eviction orders on illegally located units in Delhi, Mehta said the the situation in Calcutta is “different” as the court has “not asked any unit to shift”. “All they have to do is find ways to abate pollution,” he said.

Pollution Control Board sources said that, till date, none of the industries in Calcutta or the suburbs, save the city tanneries, have been asked to shift base by the courts.

The black-listed small industries include ceramic, dyeing and bleaching, comb manufacturing, stone-crushing and galvanising units. Other establishments like hotels and restaurants, for instance, have complied with the Pollution Control Board directives to check water and air pollution.

Ramasubban said most hotels and food manufacturers have installed pollution-control equipment. In Digha, most hotels have taken adequate measures. But in Darjeeling and Siliguri, the situation is “totally out of control”


Calcutta, Dec.12: 
What Le Corbusier did to architecture in North India and Louis Kahn to West India, unfortunately never happened to the East. “If the city was a ship, it might not be seaworthy”, was how renowned architectural critic and “die-hard Bengali”, Anupam Banerjee, had described Calcutta a decade ago, at the International Conference of Cities here.

Ten years on, Banerjee, a professor in the School of Architecture, University of Waterloo, Canada, along with visionary architect Balkrishna Doshi, who conceptualised ‘Udayan: The Condoville’, and a host of leading architects, will be back for an event which promises to change the way students and policymakers look at architecture in this, ‘The City of Mind’. The 17th National Convention of the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) will be hosted by the West Bengal chapter at the Netaji Indoor Stadium from December 21 to 24.

“This is the second time we have been given the honour of hosting the convention after 1989 and since it’s the millennium year, we will make this meet real special,” says Prabir Mitra, convener of the convention and member, West Bengal Chapter of the architects’ institute.

Deviating from custom, the ‘Architects’ Meet of the Millennium’ won’t focus on any particular problem area inherent to the profession or environment. Instead, it will encourage a freewheeling debate on the past, present and future — with the theme ‘Celebrating Architecture’ — featuring discourses by leading architects, theoreticians and educationists like Alan Balfour, Doshi, Brinda Somaya, Kenneth Yeang, K.T. Ravindran, Ram and Rivka Karmi and others.

A comparative world view of the role of the architect in society will bring to Calcuttans, “for the first time, a cauldron of original ideas and thoughts of internationally-reputed architects and critics which is bound to have a ripple effect on the city’s skyline at some point in future,” says Abhijit Sen, city architect and planner and member of the West Bengal Chapter of IIA.

Thus, while American educationist Balfour will speak about his experience in Berlin, Israeli couple Ram and Rivka Karmi will elaborate on Jerusalem, ‘the laboratory of urban development’. Giving the Asian perspective will be Makato Sei Watanabe, responsible for many of the startling new-age constructions in Japan and Australian-born Kerry Hill who has contributed significantly to the imposing Singapore skyline. “This convention will provide everybody connected with the industry the much-needed exposure to the latest global trends,” says Harshavardhan Neotia, MD, Bengal Ambuja, the makers of Udayan and The Ffort, Radisson.

The organisers hope the decision-makers of the state will draw heavily from the experts to make a start in aesthetics in this battered city. “A lot of quacks pass off as architects here, leading to the profusion of ugly structures. Worse, many of the policy-makers here are poorly oriented in modern architecture and hardly have the respect for architects that they deserve,” says Mitra.


Calcutta, Dec.12: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Tuesday assured leaders of the postal unions, on an indefinite strike since December 5, that he would write to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, urging him to intervene and put an end to the impasse.

A six-member delegation of the Joint Action Committee of the three postal unions — FNPO, NFPE and BPEF — met Bhattacharjee on Tuesday afternoon at Writers’ Buildings and requested him to take up the issue of employees’ demands with Vajpayee.

The committee began a countrywide indefinite strike on December 5 in support of a nine-point charter of demands, including the implementation of the Justice Talwar Committee on wage revision.

Shib Shankar Roy, convener of the Joint Action Committee and NFPE leader, said the delegation informed Bhattacharjee about the total collapse of the postal service in Calcutta and the districts and urged the chief minister to contact the Prime Minister immediately.

“All the post offices in the country are closed for eight days and the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues are surprisingly silent on this score. We requested Buddhababu to ask the Centre to intervene immediately in public interest,” Roy said.

The strike, which entered its eighth day on Tuesday, has paralysed postal service in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal.

Nearly 5,000 employees have joined the strike from the Calcutta postal zone leading to a pile-up of nearly two crore letters, parcels and documents in about 300 post offices in the city alone.

Joint Action Committee leaders on Tuesday held street corner meetings in different parts of the city and in the districts and requested the people to bear with the striking employees.

The striking employees will hold a mass demonstration at Yogayog Bhavan on Thursday and submit a memorandum to the Chief Post Master General of the West Bengal Circle.

Employees belonging to the NFPE, FNPO and the BPEF will march in procession to Yogayog Bhavan from Howrah and Sealdah stations, Beadon Street and Hazra Park. Thursday’s rally is likely to cause a major traffic dislocation in the city.


Calcutta, Dec.12: 
Tension ran high in Park Circus on Tuesday with local residents demanding the “immediate removal” of two statues installed in Rokeya Park, which would “obstruct religious functions”.

The park, opposite the terminus of buses on route 42, had been handed over to Aswini Dutta Memorial Trust for maintenance. The statues of Aswini Dutta and Charan Kabi Mukundadas installed by the Trust are slated to be unveiled there on Sunday. But the parks and gardens wing of the Corporation has directed the Trust to defer the programme till the matter is resolved. A police picket has been posted at the park.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has convened a meeting on Wednesday to be attended by Congress councillor Shammi Jahan, local people and office-bearers of the Trust.

Jahan said Rokeya Begum had donated the plot of land to the Corporation. The park’s maintenance was handed over to the Trust about eight years ago. “The park is used for community pujas and namaz. But since namaz is forbidden in front of a statue, this has caused resentment among local residents,” Jahan said.

She also alleged that the Trust had constructed a two-storeyed building inside the park and restricted the entry of local residents by putting up gates. “There would have been no problem if the statues had been installed at the entrance of the park,” said Jahan.

Member, mayor-in-council (parks and gardens), Hridayanand Gupta said: “I have to find out how the Trust was allowed to construct a building encroaching on the park area.” But an engineer of the department said the cost for installing the statues had been borne by the public works department.

Philately show ends: The curtains came down on Indepex Asiana 2000 at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Tuesday with Indian philatelists bagging a host of awards. Ajit Sinji of Hyderabad won the Grand Prix de Honeur, while Damayanti Pittie of Mumbai got the Grand Prix Nationale.


Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
Classes in most of the state-aided colleges and universities in the city and the districts were suspended on Tuesday, as teachers boycotted classes in response to a nation-wide strike against the Centre.

The strike was called by the All India Federation of College and University Teachers’ Organisation (Aifucto) to protest the Centre’s failure to fully implement the enhanced pay-scales of college and university teachers in the country.

In 1998, state-aided college and university teachers had launched a 27-day-long strike against the Centre. Teachers withdrew their movement at that time after the Centre assured them of revising pay-scales, Aifucto spokesmen said. “But even after two years, the Centre has yet to satisfy most of our demands,” they said.

Calcutta University officials said work in most of the departments was affected as teachers abstained from their duties. Classes were also disrupted at Rabindra Bharati University, university registrar S. Ghorui said.

However, Jadavpur University teachers observed a ceasework on Tuesday to protest the state government’s failure in clearing their arrear salaries.

Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA) members have threatened to intensify the movement if the government continued to overlook their problems.

JUTA general secretary Tarun Naskar said the government had assured them of clearing all their dues by the end of this year. But the government had stopped paying the arrears after clearing just two instalments, alleged Naskar.


Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
The 91st annual general meeting of Ramakrishna Mission was held at Belur Math on Sunday. A statement of expenditure on projects over the past one year was placed at the meeting.

General secretary of the Mission, Swami Smaranananda, said there were several significant developments during the past year. “The laying of the foundation for an educational complex at Asansol and a new school building at Sargachhi, the inauguration of a new school building at Ramharipur, an auditorium at Narainpur and an annexe to the school building at Deoghar deserve special mention,” he said.

The Mission undertook extensive relief and rehabilitation programmes in various parts of the country, involving an expenditure of about Rs 5.28 crore, which benefited people in over 800 villages. A major rehabilitation programme has been started in two cyclone affected areas of Orissa.

Welfare work, in the form of scholarships to poor students and monetary help to the old, sick and destitute, amounted to Rs 2.19 crore. Medical service was rendered to more than 51 lakh people through nine hospitals and 108 dispensaries, including mobile ones. The expenditure incurred was Rs 23.33 crore. A sum of Rs 68.6 crore was spent on educational work.


Bhubaneswar, Dec. 12: 
The Orissa government is actively considering the World Bank report on fiscal reforms and economic growth in the state, finance minister Ramakrishna Patnaik told the Assembly today.

The report was submitted to the government on June 9, 1999.

Replying to a question by Biju Janata Dal legislator Panchanan Kanungo, Patnaik said neither the World Bank nor any of its consultants had demonstrated with slides/graphs the financial position of the state before the council of ministers. He said it was Bannock Consulting, the agency of the department for international development that had organised a demonstration at an informal meeting this year. The DFID is assisting the government on expenditure management and administrative reforms.

In reply to another question, Patnaik said the Centre had provided a special assistance of Rs 40.35 crore to the (KBK) Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput districts this year. Of this, Rs 15 crore would be used for afforestation, Rs 15 crore for emergency food programme and Rs 5 crore for mobile health service scheme. By October, Rs 9.5 crore had been spent on afforestation, Rs 4.49 crore on emergency food programme and Rs 1.53 crore on mobile health service scheme.


Imphal, Dec. 12: 
The “arms-down” strike by Manipur Rifles jawans is posing a grave threat to the safety of the state’s political leaders. Foremost among them are former chief minister and Congress MLA Rishang Keishing and prominent Kuki legislator Chungkhokai Doungel, who have long been on the hit-list of militants. Both leaders are in the Z-plus security category.

“The strike has created such a situation now that if militants want to attack any VVIP or VIP, they can do so easily,” said Keishing, a Naga leader. The securitymen serving as his escorts, belonging to the 2nd Battalion of the Manipur Rifles, were withdrawn yesterday. But a section of the Central Reserve Police Force is still on guard at his Mantripukhri residence here.

Keishing blamed the Nipamacha Singh government for the present imbroglio. The former chief minister has previously been attacked by Naga rebels. He is not in the good books of many Kuki militants outfit either.

For Doungel, the threat is greater. He and his family have been attacked five times earlier by militants of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). All his security escorts and house guards were withdrawn after the 2nd Battalion joined the strike yesterday.

Both Keishing and Doungel are residing at Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy’s bungalow because of the present political crisis.

Both Doungel and Keishing met Governor Ved Marwah yesterday to apprise him of the latest political situation. Though they met Marwah separately, the revolt by Manipur Rifles jawans figured on their agenda.

After his Manipur Rifles escorts were withdrawn, Keishing was moving about in the town only with his two personal security officers. “If the militants want to strike, they can do so easily,” he said.

The security of the chief minister has also been affected by the jawans’ strike. Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) personnel were yesterday deployed as Nipamacha Singh’s securitymen following the withdrawal of Manipur Rifles jawans.

This has angered Manipur People’s Party leader O. Joy Singh. “Why is only Nipamacha being protected? What about the others under grave threat? It is a total failure on the part of the administration. It is a dead government,” he said.

The jawans are demanding payment of their arrears and have also alleged irregularities by senior police officials.


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