Report reveals hour-long gunbattle
Delhi advice to Bengal for independent probe
Bollywood moneybag in net
Knee-healer on honours shortlist
Police shoot to kill dacoit kingpin
Calcutta Weather

 
 
REPORT REVEALS HOUR-LONG GUNBATTLE 
 
 
FROM TAMAL SENGUPTA AND NARESH JANA
 
Garbeta, Jan. 8: 
A secret police report on the Chhoto Angaria “massacre” speaks of a clash between two armed groups on Thursday night. After more than three days of the incident, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said in Calcutta that “there might have been a clash”.

The police report says that the two groups — one outside the house of Abdul Rahman Mandal who filed the FIR claiming a “massacre” and the other inside — used firearms and bombs freely for about an hour on that night.

CID investigators who have examined the site confirmed heavy exchange of fire from muskets — not .303 rifles, as claimed by politician-sleuths.

The chief minister today appointed Chayan Mukherjee, DIG, CID, to lead an inquiry into the incident in which the Trinamul Congress claims 11 of its supporters were killed.

Investigators have collected 31 spent bullets from the spot. One feature of the incident is that even though, according to the police, there was firing from both inside and outside the house, there are no bullet marks on the outer wall of the Mandal house.

The police believe that the group firing from outside had taken up positions on and around the staircase and was pumping bullets into doors and windows. Their bullets left marks on the walls of the rooms on the ground and first floors of the house.

Having established that there indeed was a clash, the next step in the investigation is to find out which were the two groups involved and what were the circumstances leading up to it.

The police report does not mention political affiliations of the two groups, but preliminary investigation suggests it was a clash between CPM and Trinamul supporters.

The report says local CPM leader Tapan Ghosh, named in the FIR, had planned to hold a party meeting in the village on Thursday evening to draw up a strategy to foil the bandh called by Trinamul the next day.

Since the village is a CPM stronghold, Ghosh intended to mobilise his supporters from there and take them to Garbeta town to ensure that shops and business establishments stayed open. Garbeta is under the control of Trinamul and the BJP.

Trinamul leaders came to know of Ghosh’s plan and despatched an armed group to defeat his plot to thwart the bandh by organising supporters at the meeting. Estimates of the strength of the group vary from 16 to 40.

But, for some unknown reason, Ghosh decided not to hold the meeting at the last minute, an information not known to Trinamul leaders.

Since most of these armed men were outsiders, Trinamul leaders sent Mandal, camping at the Garbeta party office since June 26, asking him to give shelter to the group in his house at Chhoto Angaria. Mandal left for the village in such hurry that he did not even inform the Garbeta police station about his return to Chhoto Angaria.

The group was holed up in his house, waiting for Ghosh’s meeting. But they were noticed by other villagers. CPM supporters challenged Mandal to disclose the identity of the “guests” in his house, leading to the clash.

The police report does not say which side opened fire first nor how many were killed. Independent sources suggested a couple of deaths.

The chief minister said: “The police have seized empty cartridges, bullet heads, pipe-bombs, remnants of improvised firearms, a blood-stained muffler and sample of blood-stained earth.”

But there was no sign of either the 11 persons claimed to be missing or of the 10 named as accused in the FIR. Bhattacharjee said: “All the 11 persons have been missing since June as they are wanted in criminal cases.”

The Peoples’ War Group claims that 10 of its supporters, who had gathered in Rahman’s house for a meeting, were killed that night has added a new twist to the mystery. It has raised doubts about whether the sides involved in the clash were, indeed, CPM and Trinamul supporters since the PWG has been active in the area for some time.

Sushanta Ghosh, a CPM minister from the district, today added fuel to speculation about PWG involvement. He said the CPM had total control over the area and had no reason to try and eliminate rivals.

“If at all, it’s a clash between the Naxalites and the Trinamul-BJP, which the latter is trying to distort by trying to involve the CPM,” he said.

   

 
 
DELHI ADVICE TO BENGAL FOR INDEPENDENT PROBE 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU AND PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi & Hanoi, Jan. 8: 
The Union home ministry today sent an advisory to the state administration, pointing out the need for an “independent inquiry” into the alleged massacre at Chhoto Angaria.

What the message left unsaid was that the Bengal government should allow the CBI to probe the mysterious disappearance of 11 people in the village in restive Midnapore district.

The twin-track strategy is aimed at turning the heat on the West Bengal government and keeping Mamata Banerjee happy,

The controversy had its repercussions in distant Vietnam where Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was kept informed of the developments by Ajit Panja, Trinamul leader and the junior minister for external affairs.

Vajpayee gave Panja a patient hearing, but remained largely non-committal.

Prime ministerial aides sounded diffident about the possibility of strong action in Bengal on the eve of the Assembly polls. “It would be counter-productive if we take serious action at this stage,” said a PMO official in Hanoi.

He pointed out that the NDA government lacked the numbers in the Rajya Sabha and it would be difficult to persist with President’s rule in the state.

Even if the Centre recommends President’s rule and receives the President’s nod, both Houses of Parliament need to agree that the imposition of Article 356 is justified.

The PMO’s diffidence notwithstanding, it appeared that for the first time the Centre had begun reacting positively to the allegations of a massacre levelled last week.

The home ministry said that in October last year, it had warned the Bengal government of the possibility of a fresh flare-up in violence-prone districts like Midnapore. The ministry has made a number of inquiries from chief secretary Manish Gupta ever since violence erupted last week.

Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi met home minister L.K. Advani today and asked the home ministry to send its own investigative team to the Midnapore village.

Das Munshi had brought with him several empty bullet shells and pieces of what the Congress and the Trinamul claim is a skull. But the home ministry is indecisive about sending a team because past experience has been far from good.

What has flummoxed the home ministry is that no body has been unearthed even four days after the violence and there is no trace of the missing persons either.

In Mysore, NDA convener George Fernandes said the situation in West Bengal merits President’s rule. “The state is witnessing murders and lawlessness prevails there,” Fernandes told reporters.

   

 
 
BOLLYWOOD MONEYBAG IN NET 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Jan. 8: 
Police investigating mob money flowing into Bollywood picked up a top Hindi film financier today, the second suspect arrested in the past one month with alleged links to mafia don Dawood Ibrahim.

Diamond merchant Bharat Shah, who has funded several big-budget films like Raju Chacha and Dil Se, was taken into custody around noon at the crime branch office where he had been called for questioning. Shah’s arrest jolted the film industry as well as the stock market.

Shah was the financier of the seized film, Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, whose producer Nazim Hasan Rizvi was arrested on December 13 on charges of extortion, intimidation and plotting to murder some stars, including Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan.

Shah was charged with abetting organised crime under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, better known as mini-Tada. The stringent legislation was passed by the Congress-led government last year to fight the Mumbai underworld.

Shah was denied bail and remanded in police custody till January 18 by a special court where he was produced almost immediately after his arrest.

Police claimed that they had nailing evidence of Shah’s in-depth conversation with Chhota Shakeel, Dubai-based right-hand of Dawood who is living in Karachi. Shah has repeatedly denied links to the underworld since the police arrested Rizvi and impounded the film’s prints, preventing its release.

The financier was arrested just when he pleaded before the special court for the release of Chori Chori..., which he claimed to have funded. In a petition with the court last week, Shah said he had spent Rs 12 crore on the film.

Shah had been called to the crime branch office soon after he returned to Mumbai from a trip to Singapore. He had also been questioned at the same office on December 15 for his involvement in the film, which the police said, was funded by Chhota Shakeel. Shah had denied the police charges and claimed that he had documents to prove that he was the financier.

Pahlaj Nihalani, president of the Indian Film Producers’ Association, said the taped conversation between Shah and Shakeel may not indicate that he was involved. “Shah may have been under pressure from the underworld. We should not castigate him till the truth is out,” he said.

The police said they tapped Shah’s cellphone and taped his conversation with Shakeel. During a conversation, Shah had reportedly discussed a hawala deal of $50,000 with Shakeel. The police said the particular issue would be referred to the Enforcement Directorate.

Deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal said Shah and Shakeel had discussed a plot to extort some Mumbai businessmen. The police today turned over the audio cassettes as evidence to the special court. Under the mini-Tada, taped conversations are admissible as evidence. But the police would have to prove in court that the men were really Shah and Shakeel.

   

 
 
KNEE-HEALER ON HONOURS SHORTLIST 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, Jan. 8: 
It could be a knee-jerk reaction. But the man who made Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee walk again, Dr Chittaranjan Ranawat, is being considered by the Centre for a Padma Bhushan or a Padma Shri award this year.

Also on the list of about 100 persons who will be honoured on Republic Day are actor-director-producer Dev Anand and film-maker B.R. Chopra. Both are expected to be bestowed with the Padma Vibhushan.

Dr Naresh Trehan of Escorts heart institute in the capital may be given the Padma Bhushan. The list is being finalised by a seven-member ministerial committee.

Dr Ranawat’s nomination for a “Padma” award reportedly has the backing of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for working wonders with the Prime Minister’s troubled knee. Dr Ranawat operated on Vajpayee in October at the Breach Candy hospital in Mumbai.

The knee had been causing immense pain to the Prime Minister for over two years. His famous stumble soon after he had finished addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day in 1998 was among the first signs that not all was well with the most important knee-joint in the country. Last year, on the eve of his visit to Washington in September, the problem knee had forced the Prime Minister to sit through most of the official functions.

Dr Ranawat has not been chosen only because he operated on the nation’s chief executive. Vajpayee’s aides have also borne in mind that several others have benefited from his treatment.

On the Ranawat list of patients is also the country’s solicitor-general Soli Sorabjee, who was operated upon shortly after Vajpayee returned from Breach Candy.

Dr Ranawat is also a good Samaritan. He keeps coming back to India, especially to Breach Candy to repair bone damages of many an ordinary citizen. He lives in the US, but has not severed his links with his homeland.

   

 
 
POLICE SHOOT TO KILL DACOIT KINGPIN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
Armed with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s licence to shoot criminals, police today gunned down the mastermind of last week’s string of dacoities at Maruiberia village in Diamond Harbour.

At least nine police personnel, including officer-in-charge of Diamond Harbour police station Mukul Roy, were injured in the fierce encounter that lasted more than three hours early this morning.

A.K. Maliwal, superintendent of police, South 24 Parganas, said Manirul Laskar, alias Kalo, who had masterminded the dacoities, was shot dead but 12 others fled. “We have begun a search to locate them in the neighbouring districts,” he added.

On January 3, about 60 masked youths brandishing revolvers, pipe-guns and daggers went on a night-long looting spree and escaped with jewellery and other valuables worth about Rs 6 lakh from as many as 45 households. They beat up family members for trying to resist them.

The next day Bhattacharjee took a ride on a cycle van to reach the distressed villagers, as his convoy could go only till Gurudasnagar railway station, three km from the terror-struck village. On the chief minister’s advice, the police swung into action and began a hunt for the dacoits.

“We don’t mind getting injured, but today we are happy to offer relief to the panic-stricken villagers by killing a notorious criminal who had unleashed terror in the area for years,” claimed a smiling Roy.

With his head bandaged, Roy recounted that he along with 13 other policemen left for the village around 3 am on a tip-off that some dacoits had assembled at a marshy land a few yards away from the village.

“Braving the severe cold, we kept waiting but did not raise any alarm when the dacoits started hurling bombs at us,” Roy said. “We could not see anything clearly in the darkness,” he added.

According to Roy, the police team started retaliating when the dacoits stopped throwing the bombs. “We fired around 12 rounds in self defence when the dacoits started firing on us from their improvised pipe-guns and revolvers. A fierce encounter ensued in which we saw dacoits retreating. At this time, we chased the dacoits and found one of them lying in a pool of blood. Others must have fled in the darkness,” said another official.

Officials said the deceased, Manirul, was involved in several cases. He was arrested sometime ago and was released on bail.

Displaying seized arms and ammunition from the spot, Roy said: “We are keeping watch on the quacks to whom the injured dacoits might have gone for treatment.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperatur

Maximum: 25.2°C (-2)
Minimum: 11.6°C (-1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 95%
Min: 41%

Today

Mainly clear sky. Morning mist or fog. Minimum temperature likely to be around 13°C

Sunrise: 6.24 am
Sunset: 5.04 pm
   
 

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