Beauty-bashers mock show
Mercury drops for Shimla snow
Rent Bill rules ready to be tabled
17-day, 24-hour overtime by civic staff
Rebels hack CPM leader
Nine railway men abducted
Uniforms for bodyguards of Sulfa men
Nipamacha defends action plan
Tripura tribal front rewrites calendar
Tripura BJP on mission soulsearch over debacle

Calcutta, Jan. 7: 
‘Stop beauty contests... Beauty contests degrade women... We will not allow such immoral acts...” The lobby against beauty pageants made its presence heard and felt on the streets of Calcutta on Sunday.

On Thursday, the women’s wing of the Left had raised its voice against “beauty pageants and fashion shows”, and threatened to launch an “aggressive agitation” against such apasanskriti in Bengal.

On Sunday evening, a socio-cultural organisation affiliated to the Left actually took to the streets to protest a fashion show-cum-beauty contest being held at Great Eastern Hotel.

Members of the Bhasha O Chetana Samity gathered in front of the hotel, where Kolkata Sundari 2001, organised by the Bangla Chalachitra Prachar Sansad, was being hosted.

“Mother Teresa was never beautiful. Pageants like this concentrate on physical beauty alone, and treat women as commodities,” declared Emanul Haque, secretary of the Samity.

And that’s not all they were upset about. “How can we allow such a show to be staged in a government-run hotel?” demanded a Samity member.

Inside the hotel, the organisers reacted with surprise.

“We have been holding the pageant for the past six years and Bipasha Basu was one of the previous winners... We have never witnessed anything like this in Calcutta, which is such a cosmopolitan city,” said Tapas Ghose of the Chalachitra Sansad.

But the protesters were on a roll. “This is a business. They take money and make big promises, and then divert the women into the flesh trade,” alleged Haque. Carrying the conspiracy theory forward, he said: “After the economy opened up, we let such Western influences through the door. When the saffron brigade came to power, we expected them to put an end to this, but, instead, they ushered in FTV... Just because Vajpayee and Basu have changed their tune doesn’t mean we should.”

As a holiday crowd gathered, it was the turn of the Total Theatre group to take centrestage with Aarajnaitik, a 15-minute streetplay. Two men formed the chorus, with a woman as a narrator, attacking all things “against Indian culture”, from condom ads to alcohol companies.

The play came to a close, but not before one of the actors pulled down his pants to mock the “naked beauties”.

Then, of course, there was the customary round of We shall overcome..., with man in a Hanuman costume adding to the drama.

“We requested Ajit Panja not to attend the function, and he agreed,” Haque said, later. “We would request you, also, not to encourage such events,” he urged the gathering. The last thing on the agenda of the agitators — burning an effigy of “Bishwa Sundari”.

All this did nothing to throw either the organisers or the contestants off-balance.

“All the clothes we have included in the show are perfectly decent,” explained model co-ordinator Siddhartha of Planet Ten.

Twenty-one-year-old Madhumanti, one of the aspirants to the crown, was oblivious to the fiery protests outside. “I want to be a model, and this could be an important stepping stone... It’s such an important evening in my life,” she gushed.

“There is nothing immoral or exploitative about this show,” said Tapas Ghose. “We have picked 16 contestants from different walks of life and they will go through four rounds before the winner is picked,’’ he explained.

As the protesters dispersed and the police gave the organisers the go-ahead after checking their permits, the stage was set for the dance sequences, the fashion show, the beauty contest...

Reacting to the “first demonstration of this kind in Calcutta”, model Koyena said: “Such protests should be rubbished... What’s wrong with beauty contests? Modelling is just another profession and the beauty business just another business. Why can’t people just accept this fact?”


Calcutta, Jan. 7: 
R.N.Goldar. director, Alipore Meteorological office, said on Sunday that the current cold spell was caused by heavy snowfall in Shimla for the past few days. As a result, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, too, are shivering. “The cold spell, coupled with a strong wind from the north, has resulted in a sharp drop in temperature in Calcutta and the south Bengal districts. This cold spell is likely to continue for a week, provided the sky remains clear,” Goldar said.

The minimum temperature recorded was 10.9 degree Celsius, two degrees below normal. It was colder in the outskirts of the city on Sunday than in the city itself. The lowest temperature recorded at Dum Dum was 8.5 degree Celsius.

Calcutta experienced a sharp fall in day temperature too. At 2.30 pm, the mercury read 23 degree Celsius, four degrees lower than normal.


Calcutta, Jan. 7: 
The West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act, 1998, which has raised strong passions, may be implemented at last.

According to state land reforms minister Surya Kanta Mishra, one of the architects of the Act in its present shape, the government will table the rules for the 1998 Act in the winter session of the Assembly from January 22. The Act threatens to shrink political bases and holds the promise of a windfall for beleaguered landlords.

The government has been facing opposition from various quarters for the past three years ever since it placed the Bill in the Assembly, and possibly for the first time during the Left Front rule, the government had to send it thrice to the select committee, despite having absolute majority in the House. Even after receiving President’s assent in 1999, the government failed to implement the Act following protests from ministers, Left leaders and the opposition.

According to sources at Writers’ Buildings, at least four ministers, including finance minister Asim Dasgupta, municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharya, PWD minister Kshiti Goswami, and water resources development minister Nandagopal Bhattacharya are against the Act.

Mishra is determined that the Act should be implemented shortly. “We will definitely implement the Act,” Mishra stressed. CPM leaders were seeking a solution that will not only save Mishra’s face but will also not antagonise tenants before the Assembly elections.

The Act’s main provision, which says that no tenant can move any civil court against eviction, has antagonised tenants’ organisations. The Act speaks of a tribunal for redress of problems involving the tenant and landlord. The tribunal has the right to evict the tenant. When the Bill was placed before the House in March 1998, Opposition as well as ruling party legislators protested that it would protect landlords’ rights.

The Bill was referred to the select committee for review. After three months, the Bill was again tabled in the House but the government failed to pass it following strong protests. It was sent back to the select committee for review.

In November 1998, the government announced it would consider the opinions of tenants and landlords before finalising the Bill. But in March 1999, the Bill was presented in the House and finally passed, amid loud protests. The Bill became an Act in September, 1999.

Tenants’ and traders’ associations have threatened a statewide agitation against the Act. The house-owners’ association will move court if the Act is not implemented.


Calcutta, Jan. 7: 
Bikram Sinha has taken Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s ‘workculturitis’ to the realm of impossibility. The conservancy supervisor with the Calcutta Municipal Corporation drew a take-home packet of Rs 24,588 last week, beating his boss, municipal commissioner Debashis Som, by nearly Rs 5,000. The reason — Corporation records reveal that Sinha worked all 24 hours, 17 days on the trot, since November 19.

Though Sinha claims to be karmyogi number one, having set what is a Corporation record, his colleagues and bosses dismiss his New Year bonanza as a “sham”.

“To be honest, this is a joke, a sham,” said assistant director of conservancy, Swapan Mahapatra, Sinha’s immediate boss. “How can anyone’s personal overtime bill possibly be Rs 15,872?” he demanded.

Additional chief of municipal finance and accounts Abdul Wohid said: “We took one look at the bill amount and sent it back to the conservancy department for it to be re-checked. But the same bill came back to us, with an endorsement from the department.

But Sinha seems to have found some support from the member, mayor-in-council (conservancy) Mala Roy. While denying any knowledge of the bill of contention, she confirmed that Sinha had “spent several sleepless nights” conducting raids against unauthorised parking of vehicles in different parts of the city. In November, he apparently netted Rs 1.5 lakh as fines for unauthorised night-parking by trucks, vans, buses and cars.

Sinha’s pay packet has sparked a controversy in the conservancy department, with his colleagues challenging his claim that he had worked 17 days at a stretch, without a break. Civic doctors, too, labelled Sinha’s feat “humanly not possible... We need six to eight hours of sleep every day... There is a limit to which the sleep-wake cycle can be tampered with,” declared one doctor.

According to a senior accounts officer, the Corporation pays overtime to the tune of Rs 20 crore every year. “Overtime bills are, generally, inflated, with the motor vehicles department topping the list... No less than Rs 15 crore can be saved annually if the bills are screened properly,” he added.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee confirmed that “corruption, evident from the inflated overtime bills, has become the bane of the Corporation”.


Agratala, Jan. 7: 
A senior tribal leader of the ruling CPM was hacked to death by suspected United Bengali Liberation Front militants while police exhumed the skeletal remains of abducted tea executive Uttam Das during the past 24 hours in the state.

Police sources said CPM leader Damodar Reang was kidnapped and hacked to death by suspected UBLF militants yesterday at a desolate place between Machhli and Bish Kurd village under Manu police station.

Sources said slain Reang — a popular tribal leader and member of the CPM’s Dhooma Cherra local committee — was kidnapped by suspected UBLF militants while he was on his way to Machhli. He was then taken to a jungle near Bish Kurd area. As news of his abduction spread like wildfire, police personnel from Manu followed by a large number of tribal and non-tribals conducted a search operation and recovered Reang’s mutilated body.

The killing has triggered tension in the area. Five UBLF rebels have been arrested in this connection. Party sources here expressed shock and disbelief over the killing. In a separate incident, Tripura Police in Takar Jala area yesterday recovered the skeletal remains of senior tea executive Uttam Das who had been kidnapped by National Liberation Front of Tripura militants from Sabar Para area near his garden on February 13 last year. Das’ wife Suparna got in touch with the abductors and reportedly paid a ransom of Rs 30,000. However, Das was not released.

On January 2 this year, police personnel arrested NLFT rebel Buddha Debbarma in Takar Jala. During interrogation, Debberma disclosed that Das had been killed immediately after ransom was paid. The rebel lead the police to the remote Dunrai Para area yesterday from where they exhumed the skeletal remains of Das which was identified by relatives. Sources said Das had earlier been abducted in 1995 but was freed by the NLFT for ransom.

Tea Association of India secretary P.K. Sarkar said nearly 11 tea executives including managers and proprietors have so far been killed by militants. Sarkar said, “The (tea) industry is already reeling under falling prices at the auctions. Militancy is only accelerating the collapse.” Reacting to Das’ killing, former chief minister and Samir Ranjan Barman demanded immediate dismissal of the Left Front government. “The government has proved to be a disaster for the people and nobody is safe under its murderous rule,” he said.


Agartala, Jan. 7: 
Militants of the proscribed National Liberation Front of Tripura today abducted nine railway employees from North Tripura’s Dhalai district.

Two of the railway personnel were abducted from Nalifapara under Ambasa police station, while the rest were whisked away from Sindhu Kumarpara under Manu police station.

Sources at the police headquarters here said a group of NLFT rebels waylaid a railway truck at Nalifapara early today and abducted the driver, Venkatesh Rawat, and his assistant Tapan Mohanty.

The duo had been sent to Nalifapara from Sindhu Kumarpara, barely 25 km away, to fetch water for workers engaged in laying a 155-km rail track from Kumarghat in North Tripura to the state capital. Less than six hours later, a group of 25 heavily armed NLFT militants raided Sindhu Kumarpara and abducted seven other railway personnel, including two engineers and two supervisors. The hostages have been identified as Prasenjit Dey, Nihar Ranjan Das, Chandrasekhar Mal, Biplab Das, Soumitra Chowdhury, Rameshwar Baidya and Narayan Deuri.

The police and the Tripura State Rifles have launched a combing operation in the area to apprehend the militants. Dhalai superintendent of police Kshatrajay Reang is leading the operation.

The state government today expressed concern over the spurt in militant activity since the beginning of the new year.

Comparing the situation in the state with that in Jammu and Kashmir, chief minister Manik Sarkar stressed the need for deployment of the army to combat the NLFT.

Former chief minister and Congress legislator Samir Ranjan Barman, however, blamed the government for the deterioration of law and order. “This government has no right to stay in power even for a day,” he said.

CRPF strategy: The Central Reserve Police Force has no intention of bringing about any change in the way counter-insurgency operations are being conducted in Tripura, according to its new inspector-general Vijeesh Misra.

“The CRPF’s main task in Tripura is combating militancy and it will use all the resources at its disposal to do so. Since the paramilitary force is doing a fairly good job, there is no question of bring about any change in strategy,” he told newspersons here.

Misra said he would soon tour the rebel-infested areas of the state to take stock of the law and order situation.

Outgoing inspector-general George C. Podypura ruled out a “military solution” to the problem of insurgency in Tripura, saying, “Insurgency is the outcome of economic backwardness.

Once this problem is solved, insurgency will die a natural death. There is no scope for a military solution.”

Asked if the joint peace initiative by various political parties would lead to a solution, Podypura said it was the “right approach”.

Urging these parties to keep up the good work, the CRPF official said, “A joint initiative by the political set-up is the only way out.”

Podypura said his successor was an experienced officer who gave a good account of himself when he was posted in Darjeeling at the height of the Gorkha National Liberation Front movement.

“I am sure he will use his experience to bring Tripura back on the track,” the outgoing CRPF chief added. Podypura’s next posting is as inspector-general of the Rapid Action Force.


Guwahati, Jan. 7: 
Police have decided to make it mandatory for personal security officers of surrendered militants to wear uniform in a bid to convince the public that they are not armed Sulfa activists.

Sources in the police headquarters here said a directive to this effect was likely to be issued in a day or two. Nalbari superintendent of police Deepak Kumar, however, said he had already issued such a directive. There are over 2,000 surrendered militants in the state, and many of them have been provided personal security officers in view of the “threat” to their lives.

The move to make uniforms mandatory for these personal security officers is part of efforts to calm the public, which has openly expressed its anger against Sulfa activists and the police in the wake of a series of attacks on relatives of Ulfa militants.

The killings nearly sparked street violence during funeral processions in the city and Nalbari town last week.

Protesters accused the Sulfa brigade of targeting the kin of Ulfa militants to avenge the killing of its own activists. They demanded that all Sulfa activists be disarmed immediately. City superintendent of police G.P. Singh said the demand to seize weapons from all surrendered militants stemmed from the fact that the public had “mistaken” personal security officers in plainclothes for Sulfa activists. Following the abduction and murder of Ulfa hitman Subhash Sarmah’s brother-in-law Jyotish Sarmah, irate residents of the city took to the streets on Friday and demanded steps to apprehend the killers and disarm all Sulfa activists. Jyotish Sarmah was a Gauhati University employee and a resident of Nabin Nagar. The district administration has promised to fulfil the demands within a week.

Singh said the police would do the needful if any Sulfa activist was found moving about with arms. However, he said there was “no question of disarming them as the police did not give them weapons”.

As in the capital city, the Lower Assam town of Nalbari witnessed public outrage over the killing of two relatives of Ulfa “deputy commander” Raju Baruah last week. The protesters charged surrendered Ulfa militants of masterminding the killings.

On the people’s demand to stop sheltering Sulfa activists at the police reserve, the Nalbari SP said his department had no option but to provide security to surrendered militants whose lives were under threat. “But we are looking for an alternative place to accommodate them,” he added. The police official, however, said none of the 36 Sulfa members in the district was in illegal possession of weapons.

Three Sulfa members, including Abinash Bordoloi, were gunned down near Nalbari town on January 2. The Ulfa is alleged to have carried out the attack.

Though the police deny that the former rebels are in illegal possession of weapons, it is alleged that most of them do have unlicensed arms.

There have been several instances of Sulfa members brandishing arms to intimidate the public. The people’s anger in the wake of the killings over the past few days forced the Unified Command to issue a statement on Friday. The statement, issued jointly by the general-officer-commanding of the army’s Four Corps and the director-general of police, blamed people with “vested interests” for the series of killings.

Cold wave

The Northeast continued to reel under a severe cold wave for the second day today, reports UNI.

Temperature in Nagaland dipped sharply following snowfall around the Japfu range near here for past 10 days. The picturesque Dzukou valley, a tourist spot, 25 km from here, was also covered by snow and the rivers of the areas were also frozen, official sources said. Mercury hovered between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius.


Imphal, Jan. 7: 
Manipur chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh has said the 12-point action plan which he submitted to Union home minister L.K. Advani yesterday would be soon placed before the state Cabinet for approval.

Addressing a news conference here today after his return from the national capital, Nipamacha Singh said his meeting with Advani was cordial. The home minister has assured him all help to tackle insurgency and improve administration in the state, he added.

The action plan has drawn flak from senior members of the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) which the chief minister heads. Nipamacha Singh clarified that the action plan submitted to Advani needed a Cabinet approval as it involved policy matters. He said the plan was evolved after discussions with home ministry officials. Asked about criticism of the document from his own party, Nipamacha Singh said such complaints would be dealt with at the party forum.

Sources said the action plan has not gone down well with Union minister from Manipur Thounaojam Chaoba Singh. Chaoba Singh, also the MSCP working president, is an arch-rival of Nipamacha.

Chaoba Singh termed Nipamacha’s signing of the action plan with the home ministry as a sell-out of the state’s powers to the Centre.

The chief minister, however, denied that his government had signed any proposal. “This is an action plan submitted by our chief minister. We have not signed the document. These are the points which we told Advani we are preparing to take up,” deputy chief minister L. Chandramani Singh said.

The plan was submitted to the home minister with a covering letter saying the state government would inform the Cabinet decision within 15 says.

Asked whether the action plan constituted direct interference of the Centre in the state’s affairs, the chief minister and his deputy said it depended on what interpretation individuals gave it. “For us, it is not an interference.

We talked to the home minister as there were certain points involving the central government.”


Agartala, Jan. 7: 
History repeats itself first in farce and then only in tragedy, Karl Heinrich Marx said in the Holy Memory.

But the Marxist-ruled Tripura is witnessing an unfolding of tragedy over the re-introduction of “Tripurabda” or the “Tripuri year” introduced by the rulers of the erstwhile Manikya dynasty more than 500 years ago.

The state is caught in a time warp with the Autonomous District Council’s decision to re-introduce the traditional Tripuri calendar year popularly known as “Tring” with December 22 as the first day of the year. The autonomous district council is controlled by the tribal-dominated Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura.

The state government follows a loose version of the Bengali calendar with a traditional three-year gap. While the Bengali calendar year is 1407, the Tripura calendar year is 1410. But the new calendar adopted by the autonomous council has brought all important dates, including the new year, closer to Christmas. The arbitrary decision was taken in a council meeting recently without the sanction of the state government. The council also organised a “Tring” festival at their headquarters in Khumlung on December 21-22 to coincide with its new year. It also notified December 22 as a holiday in the ADC area, which spans 68.10 per cent of the state’s total territory. The controversy over the change in Tripuri New Year Day has taken a political turn with the presence of Governor Lt. Gen. (retd.) K.M. Seth’s presence at the function.

However, the Governor chose to remain vague about the issue, saying, “I have been told that the traditional Tripuri year commences from December 22.’’

The “Tring” festival and the new diary and calendar printed by the council has sparked widespread protests. The calendar is diametrically opposite to the one adopted by the state’s ruling Left Front in 1999.

Veteran Marxist intellectual Saroj Chanda has questioned the ADC’s right to take “such an arbitrary decision” on the ground that the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which forms the basis of the autonomous council, does not empower it to take such decisions.

Veteran TUJS leader Shyama Charan Tripura has also criticised the council’s decision. According to him, the original “Tripurabda” used to begin from the seventh day of Vaisakh, which is traditionally the last day of the “Garia puja” performed by the Hindu tribals. In an article, Tripura said the Bengali pundits in the royal Manikya court may have effected a change to bring “Tripurabda” closer to “Bangabda” or the Bengali calendar. He also contended that till 1971, important state government and municipal council records used to be maintained with “Tripurabda” dates as the 1947 merger agreement allowed the state to retain its calendar along with other traditional rules. But after 1971, “Tripurabda” was virtually obliterated from the official records.In 1992, a group of educated tribal youth made an attempt to revive the calendar and the state government reverted to “Tripurabda” in 1999 with a traditional gap of three years. But it kept all other aspects similar to the traditional “Bangabda”.

The ADC’s decision has been allegedly prompted by the IPFT leadership’s zeal to bring everything closer to Christmas. Earlier the National Liberation Front of Tripura and the IPFT’s attempt to change the date of “Garia Puja” from April to December 24 had triggered a major political tussle.

IPFT leaders are maintaining a discreet silence on the issue. Even as no ADC executive member or councillor could be contacted for comments, a senior council official merely said, “We are in no position to comment on the issue.’’


Agartala, Jan. 7: 
The state BJP leadership is holding a meeting in Dharmanagar town of North Tripura to conduct a post mortem of the party’s debacle in the civic polls. The meeting comes nearly three weeks after the disastrous performance in the elections to the Agartala Municipal Council and 12 nagar panchayats.

The meeting of the BJP’s state committee is scheduled to be held in Dharmanagar on January 17. Party central observer and former Union minister of state for communications Kabindra Purakayastha is likely to arrive in Dharmanagar a day ahead to preside over the meeting. BJP sources said the main agenda of the state committee meeting was the results of the last Agartala Municipal Council and nagar panchayat polls, in which the party fared poorly.

Attributing the party’s dismal show to the failure of seat adjustment talks with Trinamul Congress as a result of the latter’s “big brother attitude,” sources said the party leadership was concerned over the fact that the BJP on its own had failed to grow in Tripura despite having rich potential. In the last Assembly polls held in 1998, the BJP captured second position in a number of Assembly constituencies in North Tripura, relegating the Congress to third position.

But in the just-concluded civic polls at Agartala and 12 nagar panchayats, the BJP’s performance went on a downslide. Only in one of the 17 wards of the Agartala municipal council did the BJP secure more than 1,000 votes whereas in the elections of December 1995 the BJP had emerged as a key electoral factor in many of the wards. Regarding the thousand-odd votes polled by the BJP candidate in ward 8 of AMC, sources in the party admitted that “this was due to defection of a sizeable number of Congress votes at the instance of the local MLA and not due to our organisational strength or support of the people.”

However, party general secretary Rakhal Chakraborty said the BJP’s poor showing in the civic polls should not be seen in isolation. “You must remember that seat adjustment talks with Trinamul did not click and they also paid a heavy price for it. The Congress also suffered major reverses because of the split in anti-Left votes,” said Chakraborty.

He, however, asserted that all the issues would be discussed threadbare in the party’s state committee meeting and the BJP would continue to grow in the state “though it may take some time to make real gains in the elections.”

Karmapa anniversary: The Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, headquarters of the Karma Kagyu sect of Buddhism, has commemorated the first anniversary of the arrival of the Karmapa incarnate Urgyen Thinley Dorjee to India, reports PTI.

“We offered special prayers wishing him long life on January 5 the day he entered the country last year,” a spokesman of the monastery said.


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