Lock-up jam as raids net 400
CESC agrees to pay up arrears
Sourav bats for cancer aid
Bangla rock for Netaji bash
Guha back among students
Fresh work-to-rule signal at Jadavpur
Khasi rebels storm police post, 3 killed
Naveen waters parched districts
Assam leader adds fuel to border row
Fuming Opp. leaders to skip Manipur meet

Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
It was the best of timing; it was also the worst of timing. For the past week, the police have been monitoring the activities of criminals, especially around the fringes of the city, following chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s directive to tackle crime with an iron hand.

Through the night of Thursday and the early hours of Friday, the South and North 24-Parganas police raided over 25 hideouts, including those in the dacoity-hit Kasba, Regent Park, Behala and Jadavpur areas. By dawn on Friday, they had rounded up over 400 anti-socials.

But the cops had missed a vital link in the crackdown chronicle — a space jam in the lock-ups.

After the court remanded the criminals in police custody, officers had a harrowing time trying to find a place to keep them locked up.

Finally, the goons were crammed into the cells, with officers hoping that they would soon be shifted to one of the bigger jails.

“The government has been earning a bad name of late with not only dacoities on the rise, but incidents like the one at Baranagar tarnishing the name of the administration,” admitted a senior police officer. “It was because of this that the chief minister ordered us to crack down on crimelords across the city and its periphery in one of our biggest clean-up acts.”

Besides the criminals, the “clean-up act” also yielded a huge cache of arms and ammunition and bags full of explosive materials. “With Assembly elections not too far away, the criminals had started preparations and we caught many of them in the act,” said A.K. Maliwal, superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas.

Exhausted policemen admitted after the raids that despite the “meticulous timing”, the going had not been easy on an operation of this scale.

Even though the police had fanned out in different directions and the raids were coordinated to be simultaneous, somehow the news of the crackdown leaked after the first few arrests and the criminals began to flee.

Kasba’s “big gun” Kalua fled through the lanes and bylanes of the area after news of the operation spread. It took at least 10 policemen in jeeps, divided into two “raiding parties”, over an hour to trap him in a Kasba cul-de-sac.

In the case of Mufazzal Mondal, “dark lord of Barrackpore”, the arrest was straight out of a Bollywood film.

On hearing of the raid, Mondal and three of his associates mounted their motorcycles and zoomed off in different directions.

But Mondal picked the wrong lane. While Alimuddin, Gholam and Shahin managed to flee, Mondal ran straight into a police jeep. Unable to dodge past it in the narrow lane, he rammed into the jeep.

Not all the raids were so tricky. Deepak Singh and his gang were picked up quietly from a Behala hooch den at a time when the liquor had made them almost immobile. “They had had so much to drink that they gave up without a fight,” said officer-in-charge of Behala police station Subir Chatterjee.

“The success of the raids, which had been meticulously planned, was largely because we had managed to keep the entire operation as close a secret as possible,” said Kuldip Singh, superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas. “With the crime graph shooting up, such an operation had become extremely necessary.”


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
The West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) has decided to normalise power supply to Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC) following the private utility’s assurance that it would “clear its dues in a phased manner”.

This is good news for Calcuttans, especially students preparing for their Class X exams, who have been subjected to rotational power cuts in the evenings from January 3, when the Board decided to slash supply to the CESC from 290-300 mw to 210 mw.

The private utility requires 960-980 mw every day. It generates about 680-700 mw and buys the rest from the Board.

Sanjiv Goenka, vice-chairman of CESC, met power minister Mrinal Banerjee on Friday. G.D. Gautama, chairman of the Board, and Asim Barman, power secretary, were also present.

According to the Board’s records, the power utility’s dues stood at Rs 963.54 crore, inclusive of accrued late-payment surcharge of Rs 184.27 crore, on December 31, 2000.

At the meeting, Goenka said that Rs 100 crore would be cleared initially — Rs 70 crore within 40 days and another Rs 30 crore within the next 90 days.

“CESC will pay the current bill along with Rs 6 crore as outstanding instalment to WBSEB... An agreement between the two power agencies will be signed on Saturday,” said Banerjee.

“Though the SEB is facing a funds crunch, we have agreed to accept payment from CESC in a phased manner for the sake of thousands of Madhyamik candidates,’’ the minister added.

It was also decided that if the central power utilities grant a waiver of 25 per cent on the late payment surcharge of the state electricity boards, a similar facility will be extended to CESC.

A senior Board official said: “We are happy at the development. We do not want to inconvenience the people, especially the students, who are suffering due to the power cuts.”

According to Banerjee, the state electricity board has to pay Rs 3,400 crore to various agencies. “We shall raise the funds by selling bonds of about Rs 350 crore in the market. The Power Finance Corporation will also raise funds to the tune of Rs 850 crore by selling bonds separately,’’ he explained.


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly is keen to lead by example off the field too. Taking a leaf out of Steve Waugh’s ‘book of cricket and compassion’, the skipper has decided to raise funds by auctioning his bats and other playing gear to help a 10-year-old boy suffering from blood cancer.

Ganguly has organised a function at The Conclave on January 30, where he will auction bats, stumps, balls and pads, hoping to raise around Rs 5 lakh. The proceeds will be handed over to the parents of the ailing boy for treatment.

Bidurin Chakraborty of Siliguri is fighting against leukaemia and needs an immediate bone-marrow transplant, which his parents can scarcely afford.

Bikash Chakraborty, Bidurin’s father, had met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee while he was in Siliguri last month and pleaded for financial assistance. Bhattacharjee gave him Rs 25,000 on the spot from his relief fund and asked urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya to mobilise more funds.

“I approached Sourav for help and he responded immediately with this noble plan. My congratulations to him,” Bhattacharya said. The skipper had earlier raised money for the Kargil Fund and the chief minister’s flood relief fund.


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
Netaji Bhavan will rock to the sound of Bangla rock ’n roll on January 23.

The gravelled pathway of the Elgin Road residence, which had seen Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose being spirited away by nephew Sisir Kumar Bose in the black Wanderer BLA 7169, in 1941, will welcome Bangla Western music into Netaji Bhavan.

The family has invited rock band Paras Pathar to perform on Netaji’s birth anniversary. Although Ananda Shankar had ushered in a fusion sound at the January 23 celebrations at Netaji Bhavan 30 years back, nothing so ‘revolutionary’ has been attempted before.

“Netaji was always forward thinking and wanted to break barriers... By inviting a rock band to perform on his birth anniversary, we are simply furthering his philosophy,” explains grand niece Sharmila Bose.

But why Paras Pathar? “I heard them just once and was most impressed by their trademark rock ’n roll sound. I immediately decided that’s what we want on the 23rd. I have categorically told them not to modify their sound or dilute the intensity so inherent to rock music,” she adds. Last year, Promita Mallick and her troupe performed patriotic songs from the INA repertoire. Popular singer Indraneel, danseuse Mamata Shankar, the Calcutta Youth Choir and others have performed at the Bhavan over the years.

Sugata Bose, son of the late Sisir Bose and director of Netaji Research Bureau, takes it a step further. “We have always encouraged young talent and Ananda Shankar sang here when he was still not a household name,” he says. “We feel the city’s youth can relate to the music of Paras Pathar which, in turn, can enthuse them to come to Netaji Bhavan and learn more about him. If A.R. Rahman can make Vande Mataram popular with the masses, we think Netaji and the INA could well be taken to the common man’s doorsteps through Bangla rock.”

Paras Pathar is understandably excited about their next gig. “We feel extremely honoured at being invited to perform at the Netaji Bhavan on the 23rd,” says Subesh Ray, who manages the seven-boy band.

“We will do a couple of INA songs, but for the rest of the 75-minute show, we plan to stick to our own popular numbers,” promises frontman Ayan.

The more serious conferences and lectures to mark the annual occasion have already taken place and the Bureau wants to keep the 23rd function “more light-hearted and informal”. Governor Viren J. Shah will preside over the function, and 86-year-old Lakshmi Sahgal, who was commander of the INA’s women’s unit, will also be present alongside Bureau chairperson Krishna Bose.

The millennium edition of the Bureau’s journal, Oracle, which was edited by the late Sisir Bose, will be released.

“The government will also release a definitive stamp commemorating the diamond jubilee of Netaji’s escape,” says Sugata Bose.


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
You can walk out of school, but the school doesn’t walk out of you. Especially if you’re someone with a 32-year-long association with school education. So, it’s no surprise that Indranath Guha, former principal of South Point School, is back where he belongs. His new mission — Garden High School.

“This is a very recent decision. All these years, we were reluctant to be drawn back into the vortex. So, after we left South Point in May 1995, we formed the Satikanta Guha Foundation, through which we helped needy or meritorious students and institutions. But former students and colleagues persuaded us to do something permanent. There was also pressure from guardians of the children at Garden House, a kindergarten school, to which we are academic advisers,” explains Guha.

But Garden High School will definitely not be South Point-II. “Though our goals will remain the same — emphasis on academic excellence, Indian cultural heritage and Bengali ethos — there will be two major changes. First, we plan to restrict the number of students. Second, Garden High will not be affiliated to the West Bengal Board,” says Guha.

A three-storeyed building in Lake Gardens has been acquired as the first step. Session starts in April and admissions are on for the preparatory class to Class III. The projected class strength is 26. “Once we apply for affiliation, the board will stipulate a minimum requirement. But I definitely want to keep the figure down to around 35-40 to a class,” confirms Guha.

The present premises can accommodate students for another two years. “As soon as the present batch admitted to Class III reaches Class V, we will have to shift to a new building,” says wife Kabita Guha, member of the school’s advisory board. “We are starting in a small way. But we are on the lookout for a three-bigha plot on which we can build a full-fledged school. Three plots have been identified off the Bypass,” says Guha.

The educationist is looking for affiliation to CBSE, though ICSE is also an option. “These two offer so many advantages over the West Bengal Board. HS schools are localised in West Bengal. CBSE or ICSE gives more freedom to the schools in both academic and administrative matters. The poor standard of English in the Board syllabus is another major handicap,” feels Guha.


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
Teachers of Jadavpur University on Friday threatened to launch a fresh work-to-rule agitation from January 30 to protest the government’s failure to fulfil their demands of enhanced pay-scales.

Last year, a stalemate prevailed at the university when members of the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA) resorted to an agitation for more than three months over the same demand. All major under-graduate and post-graduate examinations of the university had to be deferred by more than a month, as the teachers stayed away from examination duties.

The association withdrew the agitation on an assurance from the government that their demands would be met. “The government promised us last year that it would clear all our dues after issuing an official order. It has neither issued the order nor accepted our demands,” JUTA general secretary Tarun Naskar said.

The teachers’ demands include payment of arrears in six monthly instalments, leave encashment for 240 days and payment of enhanced house rent allowance. According to Naskar, the association will start non-cooperation in administrative matters from January 30. During this period, teachers will attend classes and participate in the examination process but will not take part in other administrative duties.

They will go on a relay hungerstrike for four days from February 13 on the campus. Other plans include a ceasework and a mass hungerstrike at Esplanade. If the demands are not met, the teachers will start a continuous ceasework, boycott examinations and administrative duties.


Shillong, Jan. 19: 
Suspected Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) rebels gunned down three policemen and injured two in a suburban police station at Kench’s Trace here this evening.

Director-general of police B.K. Dey Sawian said there was no doubt about the involvement of the banned HNLC in the incident.

Head constable H.H. Ram, constable Sheikh Osman and Bimal Deb, the driver of a requisitioned vehicle, were killed on the spot. Two other constables — A. Arengh and S. Sangma — were injured and taken to the nearby military hospital.

According to the DGP, personnel at the police chowki came under a barrage of bullets from two unidentified persons who walked in and opened fire with an AK-47 rifle and a hand gun, later identified as a 9 mm pistol. Around five of their accomplices were waiting in a vehicle outside, he said. The policemen seemed to have been caught off guard by the sudden attack.

Senior police officials rushed to the site on receiving the news of the attack. Sawian said there were reports that the HNLC was planning to target certain institutions including the police following which an alert was sounded.

He said he was sure that the police station attacked today was also on alert. But it was an “unarmed” police station.

The incident comes close on the heels of the killings of two policemen at Mawsynram and Dhankheti where the HNLC shot dead five civilians. The outfit had claimed the responsibility for the Dhankheti killings but were silent on the Mawsynram incident.

Sources said today’s attack has put a question mark on the state of preparedness of the police. This is not the first case of a city police station being targeted. A policeman was seriously injured last year when the Nongthymmai station was attacked. The Pasteur Hills police station was also overrun by militants who tied up the policemen on duty and escaped with their weapons.

Over the past eight months, nearly 12 policemen have been shot dead. With today’s incident, the figure has gone up to 15.

A policeman was shot at the Mawkhar parking lot on March 8 last year even as the E.K. Mawlong government was being sworn in at the Raj Bhavan.

The latest killing of policemen took place against the backdrop of an unprecedented wave of protest against the Dhankheti killings from various city organisations and traditional institutions asking the HNLC to give up arms and accept the offer for talks. Union joint home secretary G.K. Pillai had the other day extended an olive branch to the HNLC. He also criticised the state government for not putting enough pressure on the outfit despite the ban.

UMF stand

The United Minorities Front (UMF) today said minority parties in the state were ready for a tie-up with any party, barring the BJP, which could guarantee a time-bound solution to the foreigners’ problem.

UMF president Hafiz Rashid Choudhury said his party had already begun the spadework in 15 of the 36 constituencies in which minorities were the deciding factor. The UFM had conveyed its stand to the Congress when the latter sent feelers for electoral understanding, he added.

He indicated that the minorities may extend support to the Congress as well as compromise on the number of seats if the latter could establish its sincerity.


Bhubaneswar, Jan. 19: 
The Orissa government today launched a programme to tackle drinking water crisis in 10 drought-affected districts of western Orissa.

The programme, called Operation Trishna, aims at providing drinking water in Kalahandi, Nuapada, Bolangir, Sonepur, Bargarh, Sambalpur, Deogarh, Jharsuguda, Sundargarh and Angul districts within six months either by sinking new tubewells or through tankers.

The programme, chalked out by the state rural development department, will cost the exchequer Rs 21.81 crore.

As per the programme, the department will sink more than 3,100 tubewells in the districts besides repairing all defunct tubewells by June this year. Though there are 52,582 tubewells and 648 sanitary wells in working condition in the districts, fast-depleting water table is likely to render them useless.

Launching the project, chief minister Naveen Patnaik said the main thrust of the programme was to provide tubewells to the areas which did not have any. Defunct tubewells will also be replaced, he added.

Altogether 1,702 new habitations, having a population of more than 100 and no source of drinking water, would be provided one tubewell each. A total of 3,002 new tubewells will be provided with funds from the United Nation’s Children’s Fund, Calamity Relief Fund and Plan allocation.

The Central Ground Water Board and the rural development department will instal more than 172 large tubewells in the drought-affected districts. These could be used as static points for water supply in addition to the existing pipe water supply schemes.

Patnaik said nine more drought-affected districts would be covered in the next phase of the programme.

Though the chief minister and his rural development minister launched the programme with Microsoft Powerpoint presentations, it seems to have come a bit late. With key functionaries like the director of watershed mission going on leave for over five months, sceptics labelled the project as nothing but “publicity drive”.

Power tariff hike

The Orissa Electricity Regulatory Commission (OERC) today affected an across-the-board hike of 10.23 per cent in power tariff for all classes of consumers in the state. The new rates will come into effect from February 1.

Director (tariff), OERC, S.K. Jena, said domestic users consuming less than 100 units per month will have to pay 15.38 per cent more.

For consumers in the 100-200 unit category, the hike is 19.35 per cent. Those consuming above 200 units per month will have to pay 16 per cent more.

For commercial users, the hike is 13.33 per cent for 100 units or below. Consumers in the 100-200 unit category will have to bear a 12.12 per cent hike. Farmers using electricity upto 200 units for irrigation purposes will have to bear a 20 per cent hike.

There has been no change in the monthly minimum fixed charge for the low voltage consumers.


Guwahati, Jan. 19: 
Chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s initiative to end Assam’s three-decade-old boundary dispute with Meghalaya has run into rough weather, with senior Autonomous State Demand Committee leader Holiram Terang vowing not to yield “even an inch of land” to the neighbouring state.

The legislator from Baithalangsu constituency in Karbi Anglong today said Mahanta was playing into the hands of Meghalaya by offering to resolve the issue on a “give-and-take basis”.

Claiming that his views represented those of the tribal people living in the disputed area, Terang said neither the Assam government nor Meghalaya had sought their opinion before finalising the agenda for negotiations. He said the people of his constituency would “fight tooth and nail if any attempt was made to hand over their land to Meghalaya, which was carved out of Assam in 1972.

“There is no question of giving anything away,” Terang said, referring to Mahanta’s assurance to end the dispute with Meghalaya on “a give-and-take basis”.

Though certain areas in Goalpara and Kamrup districts are also under dispute, the bone of contention is land in Karbi Anglong and Jaintia Hills.

Goalpara adjoins Meghalaya’s Garo Hills, while Kamrup district borders Ri-Bhoi.

“We will not allow transfer of land. Some leaders with vested interests have come up with this unfeasible idea,” said Terang, who has been leading a movement for creation of a separate state comprising Karbi Anglong and North Cachar.


Imphal, Jan. 19: 
The Manipur Democratic Front has decided to boycott the all-party meeting convened by Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy tomorrow in protest against the allegedly disparaging remarks made by chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh.

The meeting has been convened to discuss the possibility of resuming the winter session of the Assembly, which was adjourned sine die on December 1.

Opposition leaders are still fuming over Nipamacha Singh’s remark that he does not like the company of legislators from “smaller parties”. The chief minister said so in defence of his decision to boycott a meeting convened by the Speaker on December 15. “How can we attend any meeting with Nipamacha when he does not want to discuss issues with a section of Opposition leaders?” MDF spokesperson O. Joy Singh asked here today.

Joy Singh said the MDF, comprising all major Opposition parties, would attend tomorrow’s meeting only if Nipamacha Singh apologised for his “unparliamentary” remarks. “All legislators are equal in the Assembly and everyone must be treated with respect. How can we condone what the chief minister has said?” Joy Singh asked. The MDF leader said Nipamacha should apologise soon or accept the fact that no Opposition leader would participate in any discussion with him.

However, Joy Singh clarified that the MDF was not against the Speaker’s move to reconvene the winter session of the Assembly.

Dhananjoy adjourned the winter session sine die on December 1 after admitting a no-confidence motion against the Nipamacha Singh-led United Front of Manipur ministry.

The Speaker’s ruling sparked a riot, with members of the ruling coalition and the Opposition raining blows on each other. The MDF leadership today said it was “fully prepared” to topple the Nipamacha Singh government. “We are ready to take up the no-confidence motion against the Nipamacha ministry. We tabled the motion because the ministry can be toppled,” said MDF convenor Nimaichand Luwang.

Ceasefire issue: The MDF has opposed the Centre’s fresh move to extend the ceasefire with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) to all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas of the Northeast.

Sources said the Opposition front would send a delegation to New Delhi to take up the issue with the Union home ministry.

In another development, Samata Legislature Party leader Radhabinod Koijam today accused the Nipamacha Singh ministry of violating the action plan submitted to Union home minister L.K. Advani recently.

Koijam told Advani that the government had recommended promotions for 26 police sub-inspectors in violation of the action plan. Advani had pressured Nipamacha into chalking out an action plan to tackle insurgency.


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