Call in firemen, foot the bill
Office gutted in morning blaze
Abducted ‘niece’ outwits Mumbai brothel-keepers
Dawn swoop nets don’s widow, arms stockpile
Ray, Tagore and rights
More muscle for crime zone cops
Mayor targets market greens
Madhyamik list of merit out
Campus clash leaves 16 hurt
Eco-activist for probe into Orissa firing

 
 
CALL IN FIREMEN, FOOT THE BILL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec.19: 
In a move aimed at ensuring a higher degree of compliance with fire safety norms in commercial establishments and old markets, the government said on Tuesday that it would penalise owners if firemen have to be deployed to douse a blaze in any such building.

The government also set up two high-power committees, including a permanent monitoring one headed by police commissioner D.C. Vajpai, to check the quality of fire safety norms and fire-fighting preparedness in the city’s old commercial establishments. Director of fire services B.B. Pathak will head the other committee to probe Sunday’s fire at Canning Street which gutted Churipatty.

Other members of the B.B. Pathak Committee include municipal commissioner Debashish Som, additional commissioner of police D. Sarengi and officials from CESC and the municipal affairs department.

To help the permanent monitoring committee work smoothly, the municipal affairs department has decided to conduct an area-wise survey of the buildings which could be billed as potential fire hazards.

Urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya on Tuesday held a meeting at Writers’ Buildings with home secretary S.N. Roy, municipal affairs secretary P.K. Pradhan and police commissioner Vajpai. He said the B.B. Pathak Committee had been asked to submit its report within a month.

The committee, Bhattacharya said, would probe the source and cause of the fire, the possibility of sabotage, the role of the fire brigade and whether there was any lack of co-ordination in tackling the fire. “We shall take appropriate action against the owner after getting the report,’’ Bhattacharya said.

However, no committee has been formed to probe the fire on Lindsay Street. Bhattacharya said the fire brigade would conduct a routine inquiry into it. The minister said he had asked municipal commissioner Som to demolish the building if it is found unsafe.

The monitoring committee will inspect all the markets and katras, especially the old ones, and assess their condition. It will also check and verify the trade licences of the shop-owners.

“We had earlier formed a committee for the purpose but it was not effective for various reasons,’’ Bhattacharya admitted.

Justifying the government’s move to levy a charge for using the fire brigade to douse flames at commercial complexes or markets, the minister said the government had to spend a lot on fire-fighting and the owners of the markets should also bear part of the cost.

“In most of the incidents, we have found that the blaze was caused either by a lapse on the part of the owners or a violation of fire safety norms. If a fire breaks out for lapses on the part of the owners, why should the government pay to douse it ?’’ Bhattacharya demanded.

Earlier, concerned over the increasing number of fires in the city, the government had asked a team of experts, comprising officers from the fire services and municipal affairs departments, to conduct a survey in August. The report was submitted in September.

The committee had identified over 1,000 buildings, including the Canning Street market, as fire-prone. Nearly 350 markets, 20 petrol stations, four LPG godowns and 35 kerosene outlets, too, are similar hazards. The committee had also cautioned about 500 buildings, including 150 markets, where preventive measures should be taken immediately.

Some of the hazardous buildings mentioned in the report are Temple Court, Chatterjee International Centre, Ezra Street market, Canning Street market, Chandni Chowk market, Old China Bazar Street market, Southern market and several in the Burrabazar area

   

 
 
OFFICE GUTTED IN MORNING BLAZE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec.19: 
The fire demon has struck again. This time, it engulfed the 1,500-sq-ft foreign trade office of the Emami Group of Companies, located on the eighth floor of 18, R.N.Mukherjee Road, and gutted it in the early hours of Tuesday.

After Canning Street and Lindsay Street, it was the third major fire in the city’s central business district since Sunday. However, no one was injured. The fire brigade fought the blaze for over three hours and brought it under control at about 4 am.

Ramchandra, a peon of the company who was sleeping alone in the office, had a miraculous escape before the black choking fumes could render him unconscious. The blaze started around 1 am.

Fire officers said a short-circuit could be the possible cause of the blaze even though the main switch of that particular office was off when the fire broke out.

“Our total loss would be about Rs 1 crore,” said Sushil Goenka, managing director of the Emami Group, adding: “The insurance cover of the company would not be more than Rs 30 lakh.” The Emami group has two offices, on the third and eighth floors of the nine-storeyed building.

Of the three business establishments — Emami, Disha Advertising Corporation and a tea company — located on the eighth floor of Jain Chamber, only the tea company’s office remained untouched.

“The fire has destroyed everything, including our labours of the last 25 years,” said a director of the Emami group, Dhiraj Agarwal. Besides furniture and other fixtures, about two dozen personal computers, a server, two VCRs and two colour TV sets were destroyed.

Forensic experts visited the gutted building in Canning Street and Lindsay Street to collect samples. In Canning Street, they failed to collect samples from the gutted top floors as they were inaccessible.

About 220 businessmen operating from the Canning Street building submitted a petition to Hare Street police station against the owners, Vijay Gupta and Gopal Gupta. They charged the owners with neglecting the building. The owners have moved court for anticipatory bail. They will be arrested if their bail petition is rejected.

   

 
 
ABDUCTED ‘NIECE’ OUTWITS MUMBAI BROTHEL-KEEPERS 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Dec.19: 
She managed to outsmart the pimps in Mumbai. And in the process, has blown the lid off a gang which has been taking girls from Calcutta to the brothels of Mumbai.

Thirteen-year-old Jayati Saini, abducted by ‘uncle’ Sunil Singh, alias Sunil Sarkar, on December 12 from Alipore zoo, escaped the clutches of “the evil men in Mumbai” and returned to her Naihati home on Monday night.

On Tuesday, at Watgunge police station, Jayati recounted how she managed to keep her nerve, “cry and sweet-talk’’ her way past the pimps at an Andheri brothel, and even extract the Mumbai-Calcutta train fare from them.

Jayati’s tale dates back to the days when she would come to SSKM Hospital from Naihati with mother Ranee Saini and brother Amit. On the local train, they met and befriended Sunil Singh, who later promised to get his son engaged to Jayati. So, a meeting was set up between the two families at Alipore zoo on December 12. But Sunil took Ranee away, leaving Amit and Jayati with a ‘boudi’ who had accompanied him to the zoo.

“Boudi gave me a cake and some biscuits to eat. Soon, I started feeling drowsy and dozed off... When I finally woke up, the train was pulling into Mumbai station. I started crying, but Sunil uncle and boudi told me that they my mother and brother were in the next compartment and would join us in a house in Mumbai. Sunil uncle said they were taking me to a Hindi film director with whom his son was working.”

The three boarded a taxi and travelled for an hour to reach a three-storeyed house in a lane. “A group of middle-aged men took me to a room, from where I could see them handing over wads of notes...”

Jayati had been sold for Rs 5,000. “There were several small rooms in the house into which I saw men taking little girls... I cried continuously, begging them to let me go. But the men told me ‘once you come here, there is no going back’.” Jayati’s first ‘client’ was brought in, but pronounced her “too frail’’ and left.

“I continued to cry and refuse food. Then I began to vomit. Two of the men took pity on me. I called them ‘uncle’ and pleaded with them to let me go. I feigned sickness, convincing them I would die otherwise.’’

It worked. The two pimps took her to a station, bought her a ticket to Calcutta and put her on a train on Sunday. “They warned me that if I told anything to the police, they would hunt me down and kill me.” Jayati reached Howrah late on Monday night, went over to Sealdah, from where she boarded a local train to Naihati.

   

 
 
DAWN SWOOP NETS DON’S WIDOW, ARMS STOCKPILE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec.19: 
A major stockpile of arms and explosives was unearthed and five persons were arrested in the Tangra police station area during a secret swoop early on Tuesday, senior police officers said.

As many as 60 home-made but powerful bombs were in the cache, which included 12 rifles, four revolvers, two sophisticated guns and about 100 choppers and knives of different types. Interrogation of those arrested revealed that the bombs made here were supplied to criminal gangs in different parts of the city and suburbs. They said the clandestine manufacturing from this spot had been continuing for some months.

The police said the bombs were similar to the explosives used by a gang of dacoits to blow off the head of a constable at a checkpost near the Topsia crossing on Thursday night. The arms were seized by personnel of Tangra police station, who raided the residence of Chinta Hazra, widow of deceased criminal and dreaded gang leader Bishnu Hazra, also known as Bhalluk.

Acting on a tip-off, the police team, comprising Tangra thana officer-in-charge Tapas Ganguly and seven policemen, reached the spot on Gobinda Khatik Road around midnight. They surrounded the house and, on a given signal, attacked. The surprise raid at 12.30 am caught the four youths and Chinta Hazra off-guard. The youths — Raja Paswan, Abdul Choudhury, Rakesh Hazra and Mohammed Selim — were making bombs when the police entered the two-roomed premises.

They did not even have time to react and, realising that they were surrounded, all five surrendered without retaliation, a Tangra police officer said. A large quantity of raw material, including improvised explosive devices (IED) and gunpowder, was seized.

“The operation seems to have been patronised by criminal elements not only from Tangra but Topsia and Tiljala too,” Ganguly said, adding that all four youths were known extortionists and had been arrested before. The five were produced in court on Tuesday and are now in lock-up at Tangra police station till December 27.

   

 
 
RAY, TAGORE AND RIGHTS 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Dec.19: 
He fought the bloody battle against apartheid, losing an arm and an eye in a car explosion triggered by a racist minority group. Later, he helped frame the Constitution of free South Africa, along with Nelson Mandela, and was among the first 11 judges sworn into the country’s constitutional court. He has even served on an International Cricket Council panel formed to clean up the game.

Life has been both cruel and kind to Justice Albie Sachs, the 65-year-old judicial icon from Johannesburg. Sachs is in the city along with Justice Zakeria Mohammed Yacoob, another celebrated civil rights activist, who lost his sight as an infant but then went on to fight for freedom and frame the chapter on fundamental rights in the South African Constitution. The two spoke at the golden jubilee celebrations of the Constitution of India organised by Calcutta High Court, on Tuesday.

“This is a most emotional trip for me, as I have finally set foot in the city of Ray and Tagore on this, my fourth visit to India,” said Sachs. “My enduring image of Calcutta and Bengal is of Ray and Tagore. I remember seeing Pather Panchali when I was young and couldn’t wait to see the rest of the Apu trilogy. It was Ray who introduced me to Tagore through his films, providing me with a window to the rich vista of Indian heritage and culture.”

On Wednesday, Sachs will embark on a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting Tagore’s ancestral home in Jorasanko, and the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute on the EM Bypass.

Beside Tagore and Ray, there is cricket, “a bridge between the two nations like nothing else”.

The judge fondly remembered watching South Africa’s first post-apartheid one-dayer against India at Eden Gardens. “It was an emotionally choking moment for all of us back home. The frames from Eden will stay with our nation forever.”

Sachs, a close friend of Ali Bacher, along with Lord Griffiths and Sir Oliver Popplewell, was on the first panel set up by the ICC to monitor the probe into allegations of irregularities in Indian cricket.

“Strange, isn’t it? We share the same passion, the same warmth and now the same disgrace in cricket!” quipped Sachs, who was initially chosen to probe Cronjegate, but decided to make way for Justice King, as “so many pressing cases were eating up my time in court”.

Sachs, who was sent to solitary confinement for 168 days in Cape Town back in 1963-64, came out of prison to write The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs, which was later dramatised by the Royal Shakespeare Company and broadcast by the BBC. He went into exile in 1966, first to the UK and then to Mozambique, where he met with the near-fatal car bomb blast.

Yacoob stressed the great “emotional bond” between the two countries. “We have a lot to learn from Calcutta, the nerve centre of the Indian freedom movement and the seat of trade unionism, and from the Indian Constitution, which has stood the test of time,” he said. “We should celebrate the Constitution of both our countries, one because it is very old and the other, because it is very new,” Yacoob added.

   

 
 
MORE MUSCLE FOR CRIME ZONE COPS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec.19: 
The state government has decided to increase forces in five police stations in the southern part of the city and its fringes after a spurt in crime in these areas.

These police stations are Kasba, Jadavpur, East Jadavpur, Regent Park and Sonarpur. Over the past three months, at least 15 cases of dacoity or attempted dacoity were reported from areas under their jurisdiction.

Except for Sonarpur, major portions of the four other police stations are within the Assembly constituency of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

“We have decided to provide more force, telephones and vehicles to these police stations to help them prevent crime,” said Gyanwant Singh, additional superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, who also oversees these thanas.

Director-general of state police Dipak Sanyal has already allotted an additional 80 constables and five patrol jeeps for these police stations. Six mobile vans will be deployed exclusively to monitor the Bypass. The jeeps will be on night-long patrol on the Bypass and its adjoining roads. The effect of the additional facilities will be reviewed after a month.

“We have also advised police stations to gather information on residents of the shanties along the Bypass. That way, it will be easier for us to track down a criminal if he is from the shanties,” Singh said. The movement of shanty-dwellers will also be monitored. Any stranger found roaming suspiciously in these areas will be detained.

Saibal Ghosh, a resident of Kasba, said: “These additional arrangements should have been made much earlier. It is high time that the police concentrated on these crime-prone areas.”

   

 
 
MAYOR TARGETS MARKET GREENS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec.19: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has ordered the demolition of the four patches of green set up by a prominent shoe store on Lindsay Street, on the southern face of New Market, at a cost of several lakh of rupees. He thinks they are “eyesores”. “They will be demolished to make room for the car park,” said member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), Mala Roy on Tuesday.

The Corporation is drawing up a list of roadside gardens that are hindering the movement of pedestrians. The former CPM-led board in the Corporation had allowed Khadim’s to plant saplings and shrubs in four enclosures from New Market’s flower range till the Bertram Street crossing in 1998. The idea had been to beautify the market front.

Roy said the civic body had received a number of complaints against the enclosures eating into parking space.

Assistant director of conservancy, boroughVI, Swapan Mahapatra, has been directed to demolish the enclosures immediately. He said the shoemakers made undertaken the beautification drive half- heartedly and made the area uglier. The demolition of the gardens would be undertaken after Id.

“The Corporation has informed us of its decision to demolish the ‘gardens’ and we have no comment”, said Tarun Das of Khadim’s.

   

 
 
MADHYAMIK LIST OF MERIT OUT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec.19: 
The final merit list of Madhyamik 2000 was announced on Tuesday, with the names of the 17 candidates who have secured the top 10 positions. The examination was held in March.

Arun Kiron Chakraborty, president of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, said in the provisional list, Bhaskar Roy bagged the seventh position but in the final list, he had risen to third because a final calculation had awarded him five marks more.His final tally has was 760. Subhrajyoti Chakraborty, ranked fifth in the provisional list, has added a mark but his position remains the same. His tally has come to 758. Kazi Rajibul Islam and Dibakar Dutta retain their first and second slots.

The Board on Tuesday published Parshad Barta, a monthly journal on secondary education. The October issue contains questions and answers to the English and Geography papers, while the November issue carries the math and physical science questions and answers.

   

 
 
CAMPUS CLASH LEAVES 16 HURT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec.19: 
Sixteen people, including four policemen, were injured in clashes at Fakir Chand College, in Diamond Harbour, on Tuesday. All the injured have been admitted to hospital. The condition of four Chhatra Parishad supporters is said to be critical.

The clashes erupted over the announcement of election results to the students’ union. The Chhatra Parishad bagged 90 seats of 94. The rest were won by supporters of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI).

According to local MLA Sheikh Daulat Ali, the Chhatra Parishad members were celebrating their victory when SFI members attacked them with lathis and iron rods. But Kalidas Haldar, district SFI leader, alleged that after the results were declared, the Chhatra Parishad supporters turned violent, forcing the SFI group to hit back in self-defence.

Police had to intervene when the clash threatened to spin out of control.

   

 
 
ECO-ACTIVIST FOR PROBE INTO ORISSA FIRING 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhubaneswar, Dec. 19: 
Renowned environmentalist Banka Behary Das today demanded that Utkal Alumina should vacate Kashipur immediately so that it does not pose a threat to the security and peace in the area in view of the firing incident at Maikanch village.

Criticising the government’s decision of ordering an administrative probe into the incident, Das said it should have ordered a judicial probe by a sitting judge of the Orissa High Court. Das also urged Amnesty International and the National Human Rights Commission to come to the aid of the tribals.

Das said nearly 100 villages of the area are up in arms against Utkal Alumina International and other multinational companies, which are determined to take up mining operations to set up aluminium plants. The hired thugs of the company, backed by some political leaders, were gearing up to crush tribal resistance with help from the police, he alleged.

“For the past two years, I have been persuading the President, the Governor and the four successive chief ministers of Orissa not to implement the anti-tribal projects in the name of development. These projects violate the Constitution and the Central Act, 1996, which categorically state that in matters of land acquisition, the gram sabhas have to be consulted,” he said.

Das said the Planning Commission and the rural development department of the Centre have repeatedly advised the government to act accordingly.

Three die in mishap

Three persons, including two students of Jagatsinghpur, died and another 12 were injured when the trekker in which they were travelling, collided with a truck near Panikoili, 85 km from here, early this morning. The driver of the truck, Surya, was also killed in the accident.

Nearly 30 students of Saraswati Vocational Computer Institute, a computer institute in Jagatsinghpur were returning home after a picnic at Chandipur in Balasore district. They were travelling in two trekkers. The student victims have been identified as Rashmita Das and Manoranjan Behera. The injured have been admitted to hospital.

Councillor unseated: The Orissa High Court has upheld the verdict of a trial court unseating Puri municipality chairman Surendra Dash for having more than two children.

A single bench judge of the High Court comprising Justice Prafulla Kumar Mishra recently dismissed the chairman’s writ application which challenged the order of Puri district judge B.K. Patel quashing his election for violation of provisions under Section 16(1)(xvii) of the Orissa Municipal (Amendment) Act, 1994.

As per the amended provision, no person shall be qualified for election as councillor of a municipality if he or she had more than two children after commencement of the amended Act from May 31,1994.

   
 

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