Dacoits face vigilante venom
Neighbours’ bid to avenge Kaustuv killing
Sumos score over Dhaka bus
Mou, once home alone, now among friends
Consultancy firm for medicare
Installation fees cut for phones
New system to save students from test stress
Compendium on Sankardev soon
AGP’s saffron tilt worries Left
BSF adds teeth to security in Meghalaya

 
 
DACOITS FACE VIGILANTE VENOM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan.24: 
Four young men were beaten mercilessly by residents of Uttar Purbachal, in Kasba, after the taxi they were travelling in was stopped by a resistance group on Tuesday night. A loaded revolver was found on one of them.

The vigilantes intercepted the taxi near the four-point crossing, barely 30 yards from the two houses raided by dacoits just over two months ago. Kaustav Ghosh, a student, had been killed trying to save his parents from the goons. Local residents alleged that the “dacoits” had been looking for an opportune moment to strike.

Police identified the youth as Chiranjit Chakraborty, 22, alias Noto, of Kayasthapur, in Haltu, Gopal Barui, 20, alias Bhai of Rabindrapalli, in Khalpaar, Bhola Mondal, 17, of Rabindrapalli, and Amal Mondol, 16, of Patuli.

Deputy superintendent of police Subhankar Chatterjee said all four have been admitted to Bangur Hospital. “The condition of two of them is serious,’’ he said.

Preliminary investigations revealed that Noto had formed the gang six months earlier and committed three robberies in the Purba Jadavpur police station area. “The gang is also said to have been involved in recent dacoities at the Kasba petrol pump and a jewellery shop,’’ Chatterjee added.

Noto and his men initially carried improvised knives and bombs, with which they threatened families and shop-owners. Gopal, who has some “contacts” in the Topsia underworld, bought a one-shooter country-made revolver in mid-January for Rs 1,500.

The police raided Noto’s Haltu house on Wednesday and recovered three used cartridges. “They had been fired from the country-made revolver. We are trying to track down where they had been fired,’’ Chatterjee said.

There have been six robberies in the area, including three in Kasba, in the past fortnight. “Noto’s gang could well have been behind most, but unless we are able to interrogate them, it will be difficult to come to a definite conclusion,’’ a police officer said.

On Tuesday night, Noto and Gopal boarded the taxi from the Jadavpur 8-B bus stand. “They stuck a gun to my head soon after boarding the taxi and asked me to keep driving,” said Raju Yadav, the taxi-driver.

Noto and Gopal first directed Raju towards Bagha Jatin. Bhola and Amal were waiting for them there, in a half-open tea stall off the main road.

Police investigations revealed that Bhola runs the tea-stall during the day and joins the gang at night. Sources said the tea-stall is an important meeting point for criminals in the area. “Information is exchanged and ‘operations’ are planned here,” said a sleuth.

By the time the taxi reached the Bagha Jatin tea-stall, it was past midnight. Raju was then ordered to drive towards Santoshpur. “They said they wanted to avoid the EM Bypass because there were too many policemen there,” the taxi-driver told the police.

The cab crossed Sukanta Setu, cut through Haltu, and then headed for Kasba.

But it ran into a resistance group near Purbachal Khaal. Bhola bluffed his way through by telling the vigilantes that his 75-year-old grandmother was “seriously ill” and had to be hospitalised. “I have asked these three friends to accompany me, so that we can shift her to hospital,” Bhola said. The resistance group waved the taxi on.

According to additional superintendent of police Gyanwant Singh, two policemen were posted on duty on that spot that night, but both were missing.

But the goons’ luck ran out at Uttar Purbachal.

Here, the vigilantes and the police forced them to a halt and refused to be swayed by Bhola’s sob story. Once a search revealed the revolver, their fate was sealed.

   

 
 
NEIGHBOURS’ BID TO AVENGE KAUSTUV KILLING 
 
 
BY KUNAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Jan.24: 
Sixty-four nights after Kaustuv Ghosh was murdered by a gang of dacoits in his Kasba home, the ‘resistance group’ patrolling the area since then was preparing for yet another long vigil on Tuesday night.

It was an hour past midnight. Kasba slept, lulled by the sound of lathis striking lamp-posts as some of the vigilantes made their rounds. The rest, and two armed cops, were chatting away in front of the para club, 50 metres from the house where Kaustuv had lived and died.

Suddenly, the silence of the January night was shattered by shouts of “Dhor, dhor... maar, maar.”Local residents, rudely awoken, rushed out. “Ei, police ke khobor de.” But the telephone at the newly-inaugurated thana was “out of order”.

A taxi, making its way towards the Garia connector, had been stopped by the vigilantes. “The four young men said they were going to visit their ailing grandmother,” a member of the resistance group revealed. Not convinced, the vigilantes ordered the young men to get out of the taxi. With the policemen standing guard, rifles raised, the four were frisked. A single-shot country-made pistol was found tucked under the waistband of the trousers of one of them.

The members of the resistance group closed in. They dragged the four inside the club, and drew the collapsible gates shut. By then, at least 50 onlookers had gathered on the spot.

The mood of the mob near the club-house was menacing. “These are the sort of people who kill our sons,” someone shouted. “They should be beaten to death,” hollered another. As if on cue, blows began to rain down on the four youth, who tried in vain to ward off the flying fists and feet.

This went on till a police jeep arrived, 40 minutes later. One of the young men was dragged into the police jeep. The other three were still being battered by the mob. “I had seen Kaustuv as a child, and then I had to take his bleeding body to the hospital... I shall not let these dacoits escape alive,” declared someone. “Remember what the chief minister has said. Let’s just finish off these goons,” rang out another voice in the dark.

Deputy superintendent of police Subhankar Chatterjee arrived with more men, but the residents refused to budge. “What were you doing when they entered our area? Sleeping? You will just take them away and free them.”

By the time the three young men were brought out of the club, they were bleeding profusely. Their limp bodies were hauled into a police Gypsy. But it wasn’t over yet. Suddenly, the ladies of the locality surrounded the vehicle. “We want you to hand over these dacoits to us so we can finish them, once and for all,” they chorused.

Finally, some senior citizens of the area stepped in and allowed the police to take the youth away.

   

 
 
SUMOS SCORE OVER DHAKA BUS 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Jan.24: 
The Calcutta-Dhaka bus service appears to be on the verge of collapse, thanks to illegal operators who run private vehicles till the Petrapole border. The bus service was flagged off on July 9, 1999.

Waiting for passengers on the other side — Benapole — are private buses registered in Bangladesh. Besides charging less than the official bus operators, the private ones provide a faster service too.

The unauthorised Sumo brigade, the vehicle mostly used on the Indian side, causes a daily foreign exchange loss of Rs 1.2 lakh to the Central government, besides a daily Rs 2-lakh loss incurred by the state government by way of sales tax and royalty on the route charged from bus operators.

At 5 am every day, a fleet of about 40 Sumos, each carrying 10 passengers, leaves for Petrapole border from Marquis Street and from the L20 bus stand at Esplanade. The official operators have drawn the attention of transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation managing director Shantanu Goswami to these illegal operators.

“We have to refund about Rs 2 lakh to Bangladeshi passengers in Dhaka every month as, during the return journey, they prefer to take the ‘break service’ offered by the Sumo operators,” said an accountant of Basanti Travels & Tours, official operators of Souhardya, the bus service from Calcutta. Since losses are mounting, the alternative is to withdraw the service.

A more serious issue was raised by an Intelligence Branch officer in North 24 Parganas. He said it had now become easy for Pakistani ISI agents to reach Calcutta by this Sumo service. “After arriving at Benapole by bus, passengers wanting to avail of the Sumo service go in a group to the immigration and Customs office,” the officer said. “An officer then leads the group through a 15-minute process, during which money changes hands, passports are stamped and the passengers cleared.”

The procedure is repeated on the Indian side by an Indian officer, the IB man added. Passengers from Bangladesh have to carry at least $200 when they come to India. This condition is illegally bypassed when the Sumo service is taken.

The price of the bus ticket for the Calcutta-Dhaka-Calcutta journey is Rs 1,000. These air-conditioned coaches are 40-seaters. Hence, only 80 Bangladeshis can enter India by road daily (except for Sunday, when there is no service). But actually, more than 2,000 Bangladeshis enter India on the illegal service.

   

 
 
MOU, ONCE HOME ALONE, NOW AMONG FRIENDS 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Jan.24: 
She was home alone and hungry during Durga Puja. But on Saraswati Puja, she will have a host of new friends to play with, and a ‘sister’ who “adores her”.

Mou Mondal, a nine-year-old domestic help, had been locked in her employer’s New Alipore apartment without food for three days while they were out of town. Finally, neighbours, hearing her cries, called the police, who rescued the semi-conscious child.

But now, Mou is smiling again. For, she has now found a new home, at Loreto Day School, Sealdah.

“I don’t think about those days at all,” proclaims Mou nonchalantly. Now, she has too many things to do. Whether running around with the boys and girls in her old, but clean brown dress, or sitting quietly to eat her lunch of khichuri, sabzi and mishti, Mou looks like she’s been here forever.

After the police rescued her, she was handed over to her maternal uncle. But soon after, her father took her away to his home in Bishnupur. Then, Parichiti, an NGO, stepped in. “She was living with her father and two or three jethas, who were just not capable of providing long-term care for the child,” according to a spokesperson of Parichiti, who had paid numerous visits to Mou’s home before deciding to contact Sister Cyril.

Sister readily agreed to take the child in. Mou is now staying with around 30 other children on the school premises. “I have made a lot of friends,” she grins, pointing at a group of kids playing kit-kit. Having arrived at Loreto on Monday, she has spent the last two days playing. “Amar khoob bhalo lagche eikhane... (I really like it here),” says Mou, favourite doll on her lap.

“She is a very well-adjusted little girl,” says Sister Cyril, “with a mischievous glint in her eye.” Going to school seems to be Mou’s top priority now. She is currently under observation, to judge which class she will best fit into.

The girl, who has been welcomed by students and teachers alike, is not displaying any home-sickness, yet. “Ei to shobe elam... Aar mon kharap kore ki hobe, bolo (I’ve just come here... And what’s the point of feeling bad)?” she says, shrugging her shoulders.

Mou has been quick to draw people close. “The kids all get a customary goodnight hug. Mou walked into my room the other day and threw her arms around me,” remembers Sister Cyril. “There is no self pity here, despite all that she’s gone through... This girl’s a survivor.”

   

 
 
CONSULTANCY FIRM FOR MEDICARE 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Jan.24: 
After bringing “quality cardiac care to the doorstep of the middle and lower-income groups of the Indian sub-continent”, the Asia Heart Foundation has now floated a management consultancy firm to provide services exclusively for healthcare and allied industries.

Hospital Management and Consultancy Services (HMCS) will provide services to any organisation or individual interested in setting up facilities in the healthcare sector. “Our mission is to ensure that our clients get the best possible solutions to the implementation and execution of their healthcare projects. We believe our knowledge and expertise can help clients save at least 20 per cent on costs,” says Dr Alok Roy, vice-chairman, Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences, the super-speciality hospital of the Foundation at Mukundapur, on the E.M. Bypass.

HMCS offers services for start-ups, existing hospitals as well as advisory services. Its first project, the Agrasen Samaj Hospital, a commissioning-and-10-year-management pact, has already come up in Bangalore. The first city project with HMCS expertise, an ultra-modern kidney and urological centre of Dr S. Bajoria, is being built on the Bypass opposite the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute.

Dr Roy, long-term associate of group chairman Dr Devi Shetty, feels: “Almost 90 per cent of the corporate hospitals listed on bourses across the country are trading below par, only because the promoters built Titanics, which were meant to drown. The sad part is that escalating costs are always passed on to the patient. Through HMCS, we will teach our clients how to spend less, manage well and pass the benefit to the patient.”

For start-ups, the firm will provide services in project identification, feasibility study, architectural planning, statutory licences and clearances, arranging funds, staff planning, etc. For existing healthcare units, HMCS can “help improve viability, conduct medical audit and study existing systems and suggest methods to achieve higher growth targets”.

While the core team comprises Dr Shetty, Dr Roy and K.V. Surendranath, HMCS, a ‘not for profit organisation’, has specialists in hospital architecture, finance and computerisation and human resources, besides an advisory panel of medical personnel. “While building a hospital, it’s very important to take into account the local culture and not try to change the mindset of the local people,” explains Roy.

   

 
 
INSTALLATION FEES CUT FOR PHONES 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan.24: 
Calcutta Telephones will slash its upfront registration fees in Calcutta from Rs 2,000 to Rs 500 from January 25 to February 16 to attract subscribers. Minister of state for communication Tapan Sikdar announced on Wednesday that a telephone could be installed by depositing Rs 500 during the offer period. The remaining Rs 1,500 can be paid with the first two bills.

However, the launch of mobile phone services slated for Republic Day has been deferred to beyond February 7, as snags developed in two towers at Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL).

   

 
 
NEW SYSTEM TO SAVE STUDENTS FROM TEST STRESS 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Jan.24: 
Exam phobia will be a thing of the past if a city-based NGO, Students’ Empowerment, Rights and Visions through Education (SERVE), has its way. A school on Wednesday launched a student-friendly education system, designed by SERVE, to relieve children from exam-related stress.

Concerned at the increasing number of suicides by students, SERVE has worked out a new education system, entirely different from the existing one in all respects — seating arrangement of pupils in classrooms, role of teachers, teaching methods and, above all, the evaluation of students.

The SERVE system of evaluation does not require students to sit for any formal test. Learning by group discussions, self-assessment and interaction among students are some of the methods suggested. Though the SERVE system has been recognised by many institutions in the city and elsewhere, Tantia High School in central Calcutta, an affiliate of West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, is the first institution to formally accept the system.

S.K. Mukherjee, an official of the West Bengal State Council of Educational Research and Training, who attended the inaugural function, welcomed the new system. There should not be any objection from the government if the schools adopt the system, he said.

The school had started the system on an experimental basis for students in Class V nearly eight months ago, principal R.S. Upadhyaya said. “The system has proved very successful. There has been unexpected improvement in performance of a number of students, whom we expected would fail this year. Now that we have accepted the system officially, we will introduce it in the higher classes, too,” said Upadhyaya.

Brother Brendan MacCarthaigh, chief executive officer, SERVE, said: “Our idea is to make learning a joyful experience. In the present system, children are simply scared of the entire process — the classrooms, teachers, the examinations. This system is dated. It prompts students to take drastic steps, like suicide, when they do badly in exams.”

MacCarthaigh lauded the Tantia school authorities for accepting the new system. “One requires guts to change a system prevalent for so many years,” he said.

Sister Cyril, principal, Loreto, Sealdah, who was present, also welcomed the SERVE project.

   

 
 
COMPENDIUM ON SANKARDEV SOON 
 
 
FROM ZIA HAQ
 
Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
A new kind of insurgency has gripped Assam, literary patriarch Nabakanta Barua would have us believe. The celebrated poet calls it “cultural insurgency”.

And this has resulted from the state’s publishing houses employing writers for “extra-literary works” — a situation where the author caters to the public’s tastes rather than his own.

According to Barua, this has relegated to the backburner works of legendary figures like Srimanta Sankardev.

Therefore, a resolution adopted by the advisory board on Assamese of the Sahitya Akademi, at a meeting held here yesterday, proposed to bring out an international compendium in English on the literary works of the Vaishnavite saint. The work, to be edited by Barua along with two others, would comprise major papers and studies presented by various researchers on Sankardev in the country and abroad. The Akademi has set a time frame of two years to bring out the collection.

This is, indeed, the unofficial year of Sankardev. It started last year with the Sangeet Natak Akademi according the status of a “major Indian dance form” to Sattriya.

A few months ago, the Assam Association in London too deliberated on the 16th century saint-reformer. Majuli’s Auniati satra floated the legacy of the saint on the Internet. A festival on Sankardev is also slated to be held in Puri shortly.

Talking to The Telegraph here, Barua said, “The translation in English (the compendium) is a unique venture.”

Last year, the Akademi published nearly eight books in Assamese.

The Akademi has also brought out as many numbers of reprints. “The reprints are invaluable. Many good works, which were exhausted, are available again,” he added.

The poet laureate was referring to the various sahitya sabhas — a great literary tradition of Assam. “People travelled long distances to take a glimpse of the writers who were no more than rumours for them,” he said.

However, according to Barua, “cultural insurgency” constituted a grave threat. The majority of writers in Assam now belong to “caste Hindu community and cater to the public taste”. The poet said he could not reason why.

“Why are big publishers not interested in the works of authors and poets of the tea community, the Karbis, the Bodos, the Phangsos, the Misings?” he asked, somewhat excited.

Barua said the Sahitya Akademi should focus on writers who did not belong to the mainstream Assamese community. He said the new generation of tribal writers had a whiff of “freshness” long-awaited and named Jiban Narah (a Mising), Anupama Basumatari (a Bodo) as two promising authors.

“We not only belong to our own tradition but also to the emerging world culture to which these new writers belong.” Nabakanta Barua sees the future from this perspective.

   

 
 
AGP’S SAFFRON TILT WORRIES LEFT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Jan. 24: 
Wary of being tricked into an indirect alliance with the saffron brigade, the CPM has made it clear that an electoral tie-up with the Asom Gana Parishad is possible only if the ruling party proves that it has nothing to do with the “communal BJP”.

The CPM’s strategy is to pressure its ally into severing its alleged links with the BJP before the Assembly elections. The polls are tentatively slated for April-May.

The CPM is likely to formally declare its stand at a state-level party rally here on Sunday. Senior AGP leaders will congregate in Nagaon for a conference the next day. The ruling party’s electoral strategy is likely to be finalised at the conference.

The CPM is supporting the AGP-led government from outside, but the other Left party — the CPI — is a part of the coalition ministry. The CPM has two seats in the 126-member Assembly, while the CPI has three and the AGP 63. The three-day meeting of the CPM’s central committee ended in the Orissa capital of Bhubaneswar on Monday after the party leadership endorsed the strategy for the ensuing elections in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

“The party will be prepared for seat adjustments with the AGP and conduct an election campaign highlighting the danger posed by the BJP and the discredited policies of the Congress,” said a resolution adopted by the CPM’s central committee on Assam.

Cautioning the people against allowing the BJP to become a force to reckon with in Assam, the CPM central committee said the party was trying to make inroads into the state by indulging in “communal” politics.

“This will have a disastrous impact on the state, which has a diverse composition of religious and ethnic minorities,” it said.

The CPM is not the only Left party to be worried over the “budding relationship” between the AGP and the BJP. Both the CPM and the CPI saw red when a Lok Sabha member from the Shiv Sena, Sanjay Nirupam, participated in a rally organised by the ruling party’s youth wing here recently.

During his visit to the state in November, CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury pointedly asked chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta about the motive behind his participation in a meeting organised by BJP’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

Allegations about its dalliance with the saffron brigade have, however, evoked only vague rebuttals from the AGP.

The Left feels the AGP’s stand — “the Congress is our enemy but the BJP is not our friend” — reflects its willingness to tie up with the saffron party.

What the CPM wants the ruling party to do is identify the BJP as a “communal force” and end the controversy once and for all.

“The AGP has been saying that it does not have an electoral understanding with the BJP, but it has been unable to convince us that a deal will not be struck soon,” a CPM leader said.

Apart from its tilt towards the BJP, the AGP’s “non-performance” in matters of governance has been a source of embarrassment for the CPM, he said.

“Being an ally of the ruling party, we have had to share the stigma of non-performance. We have to seriously work towards constitution of a third front with like-minded parties to keep the Congress and the BJP in check,” the Left leader added.

   

 
 
BSF ADDS TEETH TO SECURITY IN MEGHALAYA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, Jan. 24: 
Armed to the teeth and wearing bullet-proof vests and headgear, two companies of Border Security Force personnel filed into this capital town today to “assist” the police in maintaining law and order in the run-up to Republic Day.

BSF personnel are involved in counter-insurgency operations in Assam, Manipur and Tripura, but it is the first time they have been requisitioned for law and order duty here.

BSF deputy inspector-general (Meghalaya) Ashok Kumar said the frontier guards had been deployed at the state administration’s request.

The police requested both the BSF and the Central Reserve Police Force to assist them after militants operating in the state called a 36-hour bandh starting tomorrow evening.

Director-general of police B.K. Dey Sawian had announced yesterday that three companies of the CRPF and two companies of the BSF had been requisitioned to help maintain law and order.

“The police will use the services of our personnel in the way they deem fit. I think they will be deployed in and around the capital town,” Kumar said.

The BSF official, however, said the frontier guards would be withdrawn after Republic Day. “The deployment of BSF personnel is a temporary arrangement and there is no plan to form a unified command for counter-insurgency operations like the one in Assam,” he added.

The BSF has five battalions in Meghalaya at present. All these battalions have been deployed along the 442-km-long border with Bangladesh.

Though the BSF is directly not involved in counter-insurgency operations in Meghalaya, it has been helping the police prevent militants from sneaking into the state from Bangladesh.

The police had requisitioned one BSF company for counter-insurgency operations in the South Garo Hills district in November last year. The frontier guards were asked to “insulate” the border so that militants on the run could not flee to Bangladesh.

   
 

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