Unions come down on mill mayhem
Celeste not taken in by promises alone
Election likely between end-April and mid-May
CU may defer exams for polls
Custody death sparks protests
DNA tests slated for Monday
Militants gun down CPM leader’s son
Bengalis in Tripura hunt for new homes
Migration takes toll on filial ties in Bolangir

Calcutta, Jan. 13: 
Barely three hours after his father, Jagadamba Pratap Tiwari, was reduced to a mass of charred flesh after being attacked by workers of Baranagar Jute Mills, his son, Manoranjan, stood in front of Tiwari’s bloodstained office in silence. Hardly an hour earlier, senior political leaders had stood there condemning the incident. J.P. Tiwari was general manager of the mill, and for the past several years, he used to carry a licensed gun.

Policemen took Manoranjan, who lives in Jagaddal, around the ransacked mill office. “My father had a license for the gun. It was a Webley Scot,” said Manoranjan. He spoke to policemen for about an hour. He has been asked to show the permit of the gun his father used during Saturday’s violence in the mill.

Union leaders and politicians rushed to Baranagar following the deaths of Tiwari and Gautam Ghosh, the mill’s personnel manager. Amitava Nandy, CPM’s North 24-Parganas district committee secretary, said workers never brought firearms to the mill.

“Police will probe the incident. The two suspended workers, over whom trouble broke out, belonged to the Intuc,” Nandy said.

Transport minister and Citu functionary Subhas Chakraborty said such “ghastly” incidents will never be allowed to recur. “We will find out what provoked it,” he said.

Kali Ghosh, senior Citu leader, said: “An agitation was going on there. In spite of provocation from the management such an incident has never happened. We want an independent inquiry.”

Mayor and Intuc chief Subrata Mukherjee said the violence was the result of “infighting between the CPM factions. We are heading towards lawlessness in the state.”

Neither the Citu nor the Intuc or the four other unions, which have joined hands at the mill, have claimed Bhola Das, a worker who was shot dead, as their own. Das’ house at Chinikothi Lines near the mill was locked.

Like his father, Kalu Das, himself a mill worker, most male residents of the labour colony have been absconding since the police made the first round of detentions. About 20 wailing women ran back to the mill, where the police have set up a picket, demanding to know the whereabouts of their menfolk. “He had just finished his meal when the police took him away,” said Malti, the wife of Ramu Mishra, a jute mill worker.

Sundari Bibi was looking for her son, Haru. “He was sitting outside the house when the police dragged him into a van,” she cried. The additional SP Praveen Kumar asked them to check up Baranagar police station where the men were detained.


Calcutta, Jan. 13: 
After his attack on Friday on Bengal’s penchant for bandhs, US envoy Richard F. Celeste on Saturday fired his second salvo, saying: “Promises made by the government should match performance”.

Addressing a gathering of scientists at Bose Institute, the ambassador made a case for the state’s potential to attract investments.

“You have a skilled labour force, expertise and markets to lure investments. But they are not enough. You have to perform and deliver exactly what is expected. This is required to negate misconceptions about Bengal’s industrial climate,’’ he said.

At a seminar on Friday, Celeste had referred to frequent bandhs and the uncertain labour situation as deterrents to US investment.

On Saturday, he acknowledged chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattcharjee’s efforts to market Bengal, but said these had to be backed up by the quality of the product he was offering.

Celeste, who also addressed the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, suggested that Bengal sell itself as the most developed state in the eastern region as part of India’s efforts to emerge as an alternative to Hong Kong and other south-east and east Asian nations.

Celeste said application of new knowledge to the old economy should be able to generate growth in this century. In this, Bengal should market itself as the capital of knowledge-based workers with quality products.

In an access of candidness, Celeste admitted that the US government’s decision to stall all scientific projects involving Indian scientists after the Pokhran nuclear tests was an “emotionally committed mistake”.

He said: “I know this is not how you expect a US ambassador to speak. Yes, I agree with you that it was a mistake to discourage a nuclear scientist like R. Chidambaram whose work had nothing to do with weapons delivery.’’

About 48 projects involving Indian scientists, including one on crystallography on which Chidambaram was working, were affected following sanctions imposed by the Clinton administration after the blasts in May 1998.

“It was an emotional decision, but certain sanctions imposed by the US government were mandated by law and policy decisions. I sincerely expect the Bush administration to review the scenario to help strengthen ties between scientific communities of the two countries in future,” Celeste said.


Calcutta, Jan. 13: 
Election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthi on Saturday said appropriate measures would be taken to thwart any attempt to capture booths or intimidate voters during the ensuing Assembly elections.

“We are thinking of holding polls on the same day in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Assam. The date will be announced later,’’ he said.

However, Krishnamurthi indicated that Assembly elections in West Bengal are likely between the last week of April and the second week of May.

Krishnamurthi reached the city on Friday to review the state election machinery. He met the state chief electoral officer and the returning officers during the day.

Krisnamurthi pleaded helplessness in preventing historysheeters from contesting the polls. “The Election Commission has recommended to the Centre that any person served with a chargesheet in a case, punishable by imprisonment for six months or more, be banned from contesting the polls. The recommendation is still under consideration of the government’’, he said.

However, he added: “We don’t apprehend any major trouble in West Bengal during the polls despite reports of sporadic violence. The commission will assess the situation and identify sensitive areas after the official notification for the election is issued.”

He said the Commission was considering the following measures for the polls in the state:

l Polling only by electronic voting machines (EVM) in all 62,000 booths in 294 Assembly seats. The commission will supply 71,000 EVMs to the state for the purpose.

l Making voters’ identity cards mandatory for casting votes. The commission will issue cards to at least 90 per cent voters before the election. The remaining 10 per cent, in flood-affected areas, will be provided some kind of identity papers.

l Other than the police, security personnel from outside the state will be deployed to maintain order.

l The commission will recommend suspension and transfer of polling personnel in case of violation of election rules.


Calcutta, Jan. 13: 
Calcutta University’s decision to introduce a new system of holding all its major examinations during summer vacations from this year may suffer a setback if the Assembly elections are held in May.

To implement its new decision, all CU undergraduate examinations, originally slated for March and April, have been rescheduled to May.

The university took the decision to hold all examinations during summer vacations from 2001 following a directive from the government asking the authorities to take appropriate measures to increase teaching days in colleges. The government felt many teaching days are lost if undergraduate exams are held mid-session when classes have to be kept suspended as exams are held in classrooms.

Even as the university syndicate worked out the revised dates of the beginning of the current year’s exams at its weekly meeting on Tuesday, some senior university officers fear that the examinations may get delayed even further if the polls are held in May.

The syndicate has decided that B.A., B.Sc and B.Com Part II honours examinations will begin on May 3. B.A., B.Sc and B.Com Part II (general) will begin on May 14. B.Com Part I honours starts on May 29, and B.A. B.Sc Part I honours begins on May 30.

More than 1.8 lakh examinees are likely to take various undergraduate examinees this year.


Calcutta, Jan. 13: 
The death of a Trinamul Congress worker in custody on Friday sparked a series of protests on Saturday. Trinamul supporters gathered in front of the police morgue at Nilratan Sirkar Hospital to protest against the death of 25-year-old Bapi Karmakar in the Tangra police lock-up.

Earlier, a Trinamul Youth Congress workers, led by MP Sudip Bandopadhyay, gheroaed the Tangra police station, alleging that Bapi had died due to “inhuman torture” in custody on Friday night.

Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee said she would refer the matter to the National Human Rights Commission. She lashed out at the police administration and said the CPM had unleashed a “reign of terror” in Bengal.

The Tangra police, however, maintained that Bapi had committed suicide. “He was terribly depressed over the past few days, I do not know why”, an officer said.

Bapi’s wife, Lakshmi Karmakar, has filed an FIR, alleging that Bapi was tortured in custody.

Bapi was arrested on January 11 on charges of illegal possession of arms, after 11 bombs and bomb-making materials were recovered from his house. He was produced in Alipore court on Friday morning, where he was remanded in police custody till January 20.

There was a power-cut in the police station around 6 pm, which continued for about 45 minutes. “When the lights came back, we found Bapi hanging from the ceiling of the lock-up”, said an officer of Tangra police station.

Bapi had used a part of his shawl to commit suicide, he added.

Trinamul Youth Congress leader Tapas Dutta said the party will intensify the agitation if the police tried to hush up the case.


Calcutta, Jan. 13: 
The city police on Saturday collected blood samples of six of the 45 claimants to the four bodies, which were taken back to Pingla in Midnapore on Thursday evening. The bodies were brought to the Calcutta Police morgue amid protests from the Trinamul Congress, BJP and Congress.

The Opposition party members camped in front of the morgue, alleging that the bodies were from Chhoto Angria, where 11 people were allegedly killed. Trinamul Youth Congress workers demonstrated in front of the Central Blood Bank in Calcutta Medical College and Hospital on Saturday afternoon. Tests were delayed due to absence in the pathology department.

Police said blood samples have been collected from Badal Mondal, father of Soumasree Mondal, who identified his son at the morgue on Wednesday afternoon. The five others are Saktipada Singh, Lakshmi Singh, Narayan Adhikari, Jitendra and Sambari Pingual, all from the Keshpur and Pingla areas in Midnapore. M.S.Rao, director, Central Forensic Science Laboratory, said on Saturday night that the DNA test could be conducted on Monday. Samples have been stored at the blood bank.


Agartala, Jan. 13: 
National Liberation Front of Tripura militants killed two tribals and abducted two persons in the state over the past 24 hours. In another incident, an Assam Rifles jawan was seriously injured in an encounter with the militants.

Rising ethnic tension has been reported from many areas following fresh spurt in militancy.

Police sources said 10 armed NLFT militants stormed the house of CPM leader Mangal Debbarma in remote Mendi village under Ambasa police station at 10 pm last night and tried to abduct him at gunpoint.

As the militants started beating up Debbarma, his son Dilip (28), a member of the CPM local committee in Mendi and divisional committee of Tribal Youth Federation (TYF) in Kamalpur, tried to rescue his father. The militants then started beating Dilip and shot him dead from point-blank range before leaving the house. The news spread like wildfire and triggered serious ethnic tension.

Sources said the NLFT had warned both Mangal Debbarma and his son against working for the CPM, but they remained loyal to the party. CPM sources strongly condemned the killing. “This is a politically-motivated murder”, one of them said.

In a separate incident yesterday, 25 armed NLFT militants stormed the remote Begrambari village under Mandai police station and beat up 21 tribals, including women and children. Before leaving the village, they stormed the residence of panchayat chief Shambhu Debbarma and shot dead his son Parindra (16), a candidate for Madhyamik examination this year. Sources attributed the killing to Shambhu Debbarma’s political association with the CPM.

In another incident, a group of NLFT rebels raided Patni village and abducted Surendra Debbarma, a teacher of Nityadas Para junior basic school. He is still untraced.

Militants also abducted a labourer, Amrita Das, from Suipling village under Raisyabari police station yesterday. Sources said Das was kidnapped from a truck carrying bricks for the General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF) who are building a road in the area. He is still untraced.

Police sources said a jawan was critically injured when a group of Assam Rifles personnel, who were combing the jungles of Dhalai district for abducted railwaymen, came under fire from NLFT militants and retaliated. Injured rifleman Man Singh was admitted to Kulai hospital in Kamalpur subdivision.


Agartala, Jan. 13: 
Rupak Bhattacharya would have laughed had someone told him five years ago that he would leave Tripura for good someday.

Today, the businessman from Nabatirtha in southern Agartala is part of the growing band of Bengalis planning to leave their “adopted homeland”. For them all roads lead to Calcutta.

“The exodus has begun. And as far as the Bengalis are concerned, all roads lead to Calcutta,” said an official.

Indeed, for the lakhs of middle-class Bengalis who are feeling the heat of xenophobia in Tripura and other states of the Northeast, Calcutta is the home they have always had but never lived in.

According to a survey, almost 10 per cent of the Bengali population in urban Tripura has already acquired land or flats in the West Bengal capital.

“Prospective migrants have shown a preference for areas like Birati, Sonarpur, Sodepur, Santoshpur, Kasba, Picnic Garden and Barasat,” the survey stated.

Bhattacharya, who has lived in Nabatirtha all his life, is one of those who have bought land in Birati. “I have a house here and do not wish to leave immediately as my wife holds a job in a government school. But I will certainly do so in the near future,” he said.

A colony of Bengali migrants from Tripura has already come up in Calcutta. Named Tripureswari Colony, the area is likely to expand rapidly in the next couple of years.

Most prospective migrants are government employees awaiting retirement, sources say.

While middle-class Bengali families from the urban areas are making a beeline for Calcutta, economically backward non-tribals have been migrating from the interior villages to Agartala and other towns over the past couple of years. Despite this phenomenon, the population of urban Tripura, primarily the capital town, has not increased much since 1998.

“It is obvious that despite villagers displaced by insurgency migrating to Agartala, the rate of population growth has not been much,” said an official of the statistics department.

The urban development ministry, however, does not read much into the growth of population and migration from the interior areas to the capital and its suburbs.

“People always seek greener pastures and this could be the reason why villagers are migrating to the capital and its adjoining areas,” says a ministry official.

Debajit Mookherjee, an assistant professor of history, puts things in perspective. “The 1991 census revealed that the population of Bengalis in Tripura fell fractionally below 70 per cent because of an exodus.

Between 1971 and 1981, the population of Agartala had increased by a whopping 121.70 per cent due to political turmoil, insurgency and two successive ethnic riots in the rural areas. But the rate of growth between 1981 and 1991 was only around 24 per cent,” he said.


Bolangir, Jan. 13: 
Ramesh Tandi has not exactly been orphaned. But the 12-year-old boy from Burabahal village in Bolangir’s Bangomunda block must now live without his parents for an indefinite period. His father, a landless labourer, has migrated to Raipur with his wife and an ailing younger sibling in search of work.

The boy, who does not go to school, learns stitching in a local institution. During the day, Ramesh hardly feels the absence of his parents. But after sundown, he weeps helplessly for the company of his family.

And Ramesh is not the only one who has been “temporarily orphaned” by migrating parents because of the ongoing drought. In many villages, parents have left their children for work. In other cases, it is the sons who have left their parents for work in Raipur and Hyderabad.

Burabahal village, which has a population of over 1,200, has seen more than 200 people migrate in the last few months. In the neighbouring Badogumuda village, more than 100 people are reported to have migrated.

With more than 80 per cent crop in the district reeling under drought, there is no way out.

The total number of those who have moved to states like Andhra Pradesh has crossed one lakh, sources said. Though people do travel outside for jobs, this year migration has risen by 20-30 per cent following the drought.

Bolangir collector C.T.M. Suguna said drought-induced migration has increased marginally from 26,000 last year to about 38,000 this year. However, unofficial sources put the figures at a higher level.

The worst-affected blocks include Kantabanjhi, Bangomunda and Titlagarh. As labour intensive are not available at present in the 14 blocks of the district, people have been forced to leave their homes.

However, block development officer Rashid Khan claimed that the people are leaving in search of “greener pastures” and not because of doubts per se. “Farmers of the area look for extra income. So migration continues.”

Orissa ash pond

Former Union minister and Congress Lok Sabha member K.P. Singhdeo today dubbed the Nalco ash pond disaster in Orissa as man-made and demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident, reports UNI.

Singhdeo who visited the disaster-affected villages, told newsmen that it was a criminal negligence of preventive maintenance measures and the Nalco officers responsible for the disaster should be taken to task.

Singhdeo described the inquiry conducted by the Nalco into the incident as fraud.

Singhdeo said the second ash pond of the Nalco’s captive power plant, spread over 700 acres of land, developed a crack near Kekudeng village in October last year.

The crack was again noticed on December 27 and the ash pond collapsed after an attempt was made to cut a portion of the bandh to discharge the overflowing water.

Singhdeo said Nalco officials had taken a calculated risk, but it turned into a major disaster affecting several villages in the locality. Not only did villagers lose their livelihood, a drinking water crisis followed the flash floods caused by the collapse of the ash pond.

He warned that the other ash pond could collapse any moment as it had exceeded its capacity.


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