Mathur ‘disowns’ comment
Dawood net of terror spreads to northeast
Third rail snag cripples Metro
3-day strike at cinema halls
Varsity keeps staff in holiday mood
City ocean of peace: CM
Govt cellular service to start on Republic Day
Post-graduate nursing course ready for launch
Bangla war fest opens
Rivers run dry in Bolangir

 
 
MATHUR ‘DISOWNS’ COMMENT 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 11: 
On Wednesday, Chief Justice A.K. Mathur had dropped a bombshell in court by blaming the people of Bengal for “allowing a government to function for 24 years”. In a statement issued through his secretary on Thursday, the chief justice said the statement attributed to him had been “distorted”. Kalimoy Moitra, secretary to the chief justice, told newspersons the chief justice “has disowned the statement, but will not issue a written rejoinder”.

Dealing with a petition by a section of state government employees — that they were being kept out of office by those supporting the strike on Wednesday — Justice Mathur had said in open court: “You, the people of Bengal, are to be blamed because you do not want change, and for allowing a government to function for 24 years, you have to suffer.”

Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee was quick to latch on to the remark. “It is very significant that the chief justice is also publicly criticising Left Front rule, The government should feel ashamed,” she said.

CPM secretary Anil Biswas said: “I don’t know what the chief justice said exactly. But if he did really make such a remark, he has stepped beyond his jurisdiction and it’s a matter of penal action.”

Members of the Democratic Lawyers’ Association (DLA), an organisation of Left lawyers, is planning an agitation from Friday if Justice Mathur does not send “a written rejoinder” within 24 hours.

Bolai Roy, president of the association, said the mode of the agitation would be finalised after discussing the matter with state judicial minister Nisith Adhikari, who will reach the city late on Thursday from Burdwan.

Bikash Bhattacharya, advocate-general of Tripura and an active member of the DLA, told The Telegraph: “The chief justice’s comment is an insult to the people of the state. He should step down immediately and has no right to continue in office.”

Bhattacharya said his association will hold a sit-in in front of the chief justice’s courtroom if he does not state in open court that the report published in the papers was “false”.

Meanwhile, advocate-general N.N. Gooptu has said that if it is proved that the chief justice had, indeed, made such a “heinous” statement, the government must react. “We are discussing the matter and keeping a close watch on the developments. Our course of action will be decided within a couple of days,” Gooptu added.

“It might have been an emotional response out of disgust with the situation and the relative helplessness of the judiciary,” said N.R. Madhava Menon, vice-chancellor of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences. But, he added, “such comments send wrong signals and can cause a rift” between the judiciary and the legislature. “I would have appreciated it had the comment not been made, because judicial restraint is always good”.

The controversial remark has already caused a rift in the judiciary. While Left lawyers are crying foul, a section of lawyers leaning to the right has observed that the chief justice has “simply stated the obvious”.

Kalyan Banerjee, advocate and leader of Trinamul Congress said: “We are not going to join in any agitation against the chief justice. In fact, we will oppose such a move.”

   

 
 
DAWOOD NET OF TERROR SPREADS TO NORTHEAST 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Jan. 11: 
Dawood Ibrahim, the ‘most wanted’ man in this part of the world, has been slowly, but surely, spreading his network in east and northeast India for the past year, with Calcutta as the regional base.

With central security agencies and Mumbai Police hot on their heels, members of the D-Company have been instructed by ‘Bhai’ to “lie low for some time and concentrate on supplying arms to the ultras in the eastern and Northeastern states”.

Detectives said the arrest of Abdul Rauf Dawood Merchant, a category-A hitman of the mafia who is a prime suspect in the Gulshan Kumar murder case, and another sharp-shooter, Salauddin, proves that the Dawood gang had a significant presence in the city.

The Mumbai Police had, earlier, collected sketchy information about Dawood’s men being eastward bound. On Wednesday night, Mumbai Police confirmed, on the basis of information supplied by their Calcutta counterparts, that the gang had been using Calcutta as its operational base in the east.

Investigations revealed that Qayum, “the third most powerful man” in the Dawood gang, has been given charge of monitoring operations in the region, through ‘contacts’ in Calcutta.

Sources said Qayum had sent one of his trusted lieutenants, Zahir Khan, to the city. Khan, a 35-year-old man from Azamgarh, in Uttar Pradesh, reached Calcutta in February 2000, and checked into a hotel as H. Manjrekar. Khan met Dawood “sympathisers” during his week-long stay in the hotel suite. He also appointed five men “to recruit young boys from Calcutta and take them to Mumbai”.

The mantra that the youth were fed — “Once you join the gang, there will be big bucks and glamour... You will be feared by all and Bhai will take care of everything. If you are loyal and good and keep your mouth shut, there will trips for you and your family to Dubai, Sharjah, Karachi and many other places”.

According to crime branch officers of the Mumbai Police, 16 young men from Calcutta and the suburbs were picked up by Qayum’s spotters. Two of them are said to be from Nodakhali, in South 24-Parganas, while the sleuths are yet to pick up the trail of the rest. “The boys’ were trained to collect hafta and information, spot clients and threaten them, and even taught the techniques of kidnapping. They were given extensive shooting practice. Some of them used to ferry arms to insurgents in the Northeast,” said an officer.

These young recruits would also accompany ‘senior’ hitmen like Rauf, Anil and Rikki to Calcutta, manage fake passports for them, and arrange for their stay. Both Mumbai and Calcutta Police officers confirmed that these men used several passports with various addresses in south and central Calcutta. All the addresses have been found to be fictitious.

Mumbai Police commissioner M.N. Singh said that the crime branch officials have every reason to believe that the D-Company has “several sympathisers” in Calcutta who are providing shelter to top hitmen and helping them cross over into Nepal and Bangladesh.

Officers of the detective department of Calcutta Police said that the mafia don was using the city in three ways — as a haven for his hitmen on the run, as a base to ferry arms and ammunition, and as a safe passage for his associates wanting to cross over to neighbouring countries.

They confessed that they were handicapped by the fact that they had “very little” knowledge about the gangsters said to be holed up in Calcutta.

   

 
 
THIRD RAIL SNAG CRIPPLES METRO 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 11: 
Metro Railway services between Dum Dum and Tollygunge were disrupted for more than six hours from Thursday morning when defects developed on the third rail between Esplanade and Chandni Chowk stations.

Power to the third rail was disconnected after the snag was detected. As a result, trains could be run only between Dum Dum and Girish Park and between Maidan and Tollygunge stations from 7 am. The normal schedule was resumed from 1.15 pm.

The defect was detected by the motorman of the Up pilot rake at 6.20 am. Metro officials found a 200-metre stretch on the third rail dislodged between Esplanade and Chandni Chowk stations They said the rail had shifted on condensation due to a drop in the temperature.

Rush hour commuters had a tough time reaching their destinations. Buses were packed and taxis hard to find. Auto-drivers made a killing, carrying more passengers than specified by the traffic department.

   

 
 
3-DAY STRIKE AT CINEMA HALLS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 11: 
Nearly 750 halls in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal will remain shut from January 19 to January 21, with the employees on strike for a revised pay-scale.

The hall employees’ body, Bengal Motion Picture Employees’ Union, has demanded a 70 per cent hike on basic pay. “If there is no response from the cinema-owners after the three-day strike, we have decided to go on an indefinite shutdown,” said Swadhin Aloke Mukherjee, union joint secretary. He said cinema employees’ pay was last revised in 1996.

The hall-owners have declared the strike “illegal” as a fortnight’s notice is essential, they say. Moreover, a bipartite negotiation is on at the labour commissioner’s office.

   

 
 
VARSITY KEEPS STAFF IN HOLIDAY MOOD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 11: 
Calcutta University has ignored government and syndicate injunctions and refused to cut down on the number of holidays to keep nearly 3,000 employees happy.

The university has published and distributed the old calendar, although the recommendation of the government and the syndicate in this regard is now with Governor Viren J. Shah, the chancellor of the university, and due to be “cleared any day”.

Vice-chancellor Asis Kumar Banerjee, however, said he was not aware that the new calendar distributed to the employees contained some of the holidays that were to be scrapped. “This should not have happened. I will definitely look into the matter,” he said.

The government had directed the university to strike off some holidays from the calendar year and suggested that these occasions be observed as “sectional holidays”: Baisakhi Purnima for Sikhs, Easter Saturdays for Christians and Buddha Purnima for Buddhists alone. The government had also asked the university to stop shutting down for the likes of Bhai Phonta and Sir Ashutosh Day.

But the calendar of holidays distributed by the university this year clearly mentions Buddha Purnima and Bhai Phonta as general holidays. After receiving the directive from the state government in this regard in July 2000, the university authorities held a series of meetings to discuss the recommendations. In November 2000, the recommendations had been forwarded to the Governor for final approval.

All this has sparked a controversy on the campus. Senior teachers and officials are critical of the university authorities, while the employees, in general, are happy that the list of holidays hasn’t been shortened. “The government and the CPM-controlled university syndicate are playing a double role. On the one hand, they are trying to gain Brownie points in the name of improving work culture. On the other, they are trying to keep the employees, who will invariably double up as election workers, happy by not reducing the number of holidays,” observed a senior teacher, preferring anonymity.

Most employees seemed relieved that the list of holidays hasn’t been tampered with. A section of employees which had protested the government’s move to interfere in the university’s functioning are not complaining after going through the year’s calendar.

“We strongly oppose the government’s move to cut down our holidays... We are happy that the university authorities have stuck to the original list,” said a leader of Calcutta University Employees’ Unity Centre.

The CPM-dominated employees’ union members, however, did not comment on the matter.

   

 
 
CITY OCEAN OF PEACE: CM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 11: 
Work hard and play hard. That was chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s message to the police on Thursday.

Inaugurating the annual sports meet of Calcutta Police at the Bodyguard Lines in Alipore, Bhattacharjee urged policemen to enforce the law even-handedly while directing home department officials to ensure that sportsmen are encouraged to join the force.

“The city is an ocean of peace and Calcutta Police has had a glorious past to boast of. Officers should strive towards achieving their goal,” he said.

He also stressed the role of sports in increasing the police’s interaction with the people.

Expressing happiness at the law and order situation in Calcutta, Bhattacharjee warned policemen not to be complacent. “Officers should always be on their toes,” he said.

“I have taken special care to ensure that policemen get proper rations and housing facilities so that they can concentrate on their job,” he said.

The chief minister also gave away the prizes to winners at the meet. Deputy commissioner, south, Ranjit Pachnanda, won the Challenge Trophy in revolver-shooting while the DC, headquarters, team beat the assistant commissioners’ team in the Tug-O-War. City police chief D.C. Vajpai and home secretary Sourin Roy were also present. There was a scintillating display of fireworks after the meet.

Godown fire: A fire broke out in the godown of a glass factory in Swallow Lane, in the BBD Bag area, on Thursday night. Seven fire tenders fought the flames for about an hour.

Firemen said a short circuit may have set off the blaze, which spread quickly among the packing boxes in the godown.

   

 
 
GOVT CELLULAR SERVICE TO START ON REPUBLIC DAY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 11: 
The Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited’s cellular phone services will commence on January 26, in Calcutta and Patna. This was announced by Union minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar on Thursday. He added that the service will become “full-fledged in these two cities by February 15” after fine-tuning technical teething trouble.

Sikdar was speaking on the occasion of Infinity building acquiring 32 Mbps (mega bytes per second) connectivity from the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited. The minister termed Infinity, at the Salt Lake Electronic Complex, as a “many in one” building and its 32 Mbps connectivity as “a breakthrough in bandwidth for Indian IT”.

This will enable all companies based in Infinity to enjoy faster transmission of data and voice over the Net. At present, most Internet users in the city have access to 64 Kbps (kilo bytes per second), with some high-end users availing of 2 Mbps.

Stressing his commitment towards the city’s development in the field of information technology, Sikdar said: “I have given C-Dot (Centre for Development of Telematics) the proposal to set up a research and development centre in the Infinity building. This will create enough opportunities for the young talents of the state to get the exposure to the latest technologies.”

This nodal research and development agency working in the field of telecommunication, which has five training centres around the country but none in eastern India, will open up training centres in Calcutta, as well.

There is a strong possibility of a third software technology park coming up in the city. “We have taken some positive steps in this regard,” said Sikdar.

The minister also announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with IUNet (Inter University Network), an initiative of Carnegie Melon University, for co-operation in the field of high-speed data network. The technology for the project will be named ‘Shankhya Bahini’, he added.

Earlier, M.F. Ansari, chief general manager of VSNL, said that since 1991, the company has invested more than Rs 500 crore in Calcutta to facilitate telecommunication. According to Ansari, the 32 Mbps connectivity to the Infinity building will give a boost to IT-enabled business and service in the region. “The scaleable configuration of the facility further means that the bandwidth can be expanded in future as and when required,” he added.

   

 
 
POST-GRADUATE NURSING COURSE READY FOR LAUNCH 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, Jan. 11: 
Most city nursing homes are functioning without registered nurses and there is no guarantee on the standard of nursing available.

This was revealed on the eve of the inauguration of the first post-graduate course in nursing in eastern India at the West Bengal Government College of Nursing.

“To get a licence, it is mandatory for any nursing home to have at least one nurse registered with the West Bengal Nursing Council,” said a member of the college’s teaching staff. “Quite often, the registration certificate of a ‘ghost’ nurse is furnished to serve the purpose, and actual nursing is done by unqualified people, who get their training in-house and are paid lower salaries.”

The new rules associated with an amendment to the West Bengal Clinical Establishments Act, 1950, which are being formulated, are expected to take a more stringent approach to licensing and remove this inadequacy in nursing.

The College of Nursing first introduced a three-year diploma course in 1974, similar to the courses now being conducted at 25 nursing schools situated at district-level and teaching hospitals in the state. In 1985, a formal four-year B.Sc degree course was started. Those who completed the diploma course could do a condensed two-year degree course.

On Friday, a long-standing demand will be met by the inauguration of the first-ever post-graduate course in nursing in the eastern region. The M.Sc syllabus will be covered in two years and will help aspiring nurses take up speciality nursing, initially in the fields of medicine and surgery.

“It will also help nurses to function as educators and administrators and equip them to interpret and conduct health-related research,” explained college principal Bharati Chottopadhyay. Another aim of undergoing an M.Sc course in nursing is to be able to plan and initiate changes in a healthcare delivery system, as well as provide leadership qualities for advancement of professional nursing, she said.

The new course has been recognised by the Indian Nursing Council and Calcutta University after inspections carried out some months ago. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will inaugurate the course on the college premises on the SSKM Hospital campus.

   

 
 
BANGLA WAR FEST OPENS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, Jan. 11: 
A three-day “Bangladesh Liberation Festival” organised jointly by Bangladesh and Tripura governments got off to a colourful start here today. It was inaugurated by Bangladesh minister for fisheries and animal husbandry Asm Abdur Rob.

Over 100 delegates, including former freedom fighters, took part in the celebrations and recalled the role played by Tripura and its people during the 1971 war.

Delegates from Bangladesh, including eminent journalist Haroon Habib, Kamal Lohani and Mamtaj Hossain, were received at the Akhaura Checkouts yesterday by state information minister Jiten Chowdhury.

Speaking to newspersons, Rob said he hoped such collaborations would improve relations between the two countries.

   

 
 
RIVERS RUN DRY IN BOLANGIR 
 
 
FROM DEBABRATA MOHANTY
 
Bolangir, Jan. 11: 
To Amar Punji, a 51-year-old marginal farmer of Banjari village, the new millennium could not have started on a more sinister note.

In 1963, when a drought of rare severity had swept through this impoverished village of Patnagarh block in Bolangir district, Punji was a 13-year-old boy. “After the drought, my father used to tell me that villagers had to devour insects to stay alive. I don’t remember much of the drought of 1963. But this year, it might be worse,” predicts Punji, who has a family of four.

This year’s drought in Bolangir is one of the worst this region has seen in recent times. For Punji and the 13 lakh-odd people in this rain-shadow district of western Orissa, the monsoon started with a lot of hope. But the rains arrived in fits and starts.

“It was very erratic and patchy,” said C.T.M. Suguna, the young collector of Bolangir. So by the end of this monsoon, Bolangir had received only 62 per cent of the average rainfall it should have received. The absence of winter rain also did not help matters.

As a result, over 80 per cent of the paddy in the 3.65 lakh hectares of crop area has withered, including that of Punji’s.

The rains that the region received this monsoon could have been of some help. But with 54 per cent of the crop area in the district in highland areas, where there is less retention of rainwater, the scanty and erratic rainfall has only worsened matters. The blocks that have been most affected by the drought are Patnagarh, Khaprakhol, Tureikela and Muribahal.

The story of crop failure is alarmingly repeated in almost all the 1,700-odd villages of the district. In neighbouring Barthalla village of the same block, Krushna Meher’s farmland has irrigation facilities, but he could not get any water as the major rivers ran dry.

The only minor irrigation project near the village has been defunct for decades. “These days I don’t look at my field. I feel like crying,” he says.

No crop also means that people would have little money to buy food and other items, caught as they are in the vicious cycle of debts. While card holders below the poverty line (BPL) can get rice at a rate of Rs 4.75 per kg and an additional nine kg at a rate of Rs 6.25 a kg, card holders above the poverty line (APL) are entitled to get 16 kg of rice at Rs 6.25 per kg every month.

The state government’s claim that the Food Corporation of India godown in the district is overflowing with rice has not impressed people.

“How does it matter if the government says it has enough rice? After the crop failed I have mortgaged my land for Rs 1,000. That amount has been spent. So where do I get the money to buy the BPL rice,” said 30-year-old Ghatu Tandi of Burabahal village in Bangomunda block.

“It is true that the purchasing power of people in this region is low. It would be really bad for the BPL people this year,” conceded Suguna.

Labour-intensive works have not been started with the urgency as they should have. Of Rs 4.37 crore that the district has received for fighting drought, Rs 4 crore have been earmarked for labour-intensive works and the rest for constructing cross-bundhs, repairing low irrigation points and providing gratuitous relief. But by December 15 last year, all that the district managed to spend was Rs 1.16 crore.

The public distribution system, which has a major function during times of drought, has been lying headless for months. Though a civil supply officer was appointed, he is yet to join duty.

The government’s seriousness in fighting the drought is obviously being questioned. Balgopal Mishra, a BJP legislator from Bolangir, said the government has failed to tackle the situation. “They should have prepared a contingency plan once they knew that Bolangir would be affected by drought,” said Mishra.

Almost all rivers, rivulets, ponds and tanks are dry. While rivers like the Suktel and the Ang have absolutely no water, the Tel has some. But this will barely last another month. The Bolangir collector also feels that more than food, it is the lack of drinking water that would prove fatal.

   
 

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