For a father of four, it’s a vigil without end by the train tracks
Rail of reunion, wheels of woe
Dial delay in govt cell service
Samaritan strokes from skipper’s willow
Hacked body found in gunny bag
Writers’ security staff suspended
Prime slot for book bazaar
Fitness fever buoys sports show
NLFT militants loot cattle from villagers
Tribal parties in Tripura may realign

Calcutta, Jan. 30: 
Tuesday morning. Platform No 8. Howrah Station. A hushed anxiety hangs heavy.

Family and friends wait with bated breath for the Ahmedabad Express to arrive. A few know, the rest hope, that their folks will be on board. The waiting multitude huddles together in this tragic hour.

But one man sits alone on a bench, oblivious to the bustle around him. That’s where he’s been for the past four days, without food or water. Clad in soiledi> dhoti-kurta, with a shawl wrapped carelessly around his frail shoulders, 50-year-old Mohammad Rahamatullah has been sitting by the train tracks, glancing furtively at his watch, mumbling silent prayers, too tired to wipe the tears rolling down his gaunt cheeks.

The jeweller from Pandua, in Hooghly district, is waiting for word of his four sons “lost in Bhuj”.

“I was sending two of my eldest sons to a friend’s shop in Kota to learn the finer points of jewellery-making... I asked them to take their two younger brothers along, so that they could have a nice vacation together,” he says, haltingly.

Rahamatullah’s first born, Muhammad Safiq, 28, had called him up on Thursday to say that the four brothers were “having a great time”. Hours later, the earthquake reduced Bhuj to rubble.

“My wife has lost her mind. She even attacked me when I told her I couldn’t go to Bhuj leaving her alone. After that, I left home promising that I would only return with our sons,” says the grieving father, fishing out photographs of his sons from his kurta pocket. Noorul is 18, Hussain 13, and Rashid just seven years old.

“Can you tell me where I’ll find the passengers’ list of the next train from Gujarat?” Rahamatullah suddenly asks, to no one in particular.

There’s no reply. But that doesn’t stop him from repeating the question to another passer-by.

For railway staff, Rahamatullah has become a familiar fixture at the station. “This man runs towards each and every train coming in from the western part of the country to take a closer look at the passengers, and then goes back to his bench,” says Nilmoni Barik, officer-in-charge of the Howrah GRP station, watching Rahamatullah shuffling away to resume his lonely vigil without end.


Calcutta, Jan. 30: 
As if out of nowhere, the earth began to shake violently and boulders started rushing towards him. He knew he was about to die and screamed.

Then suddenly, Nripen Das was awake, sweating profusely on a bench on Howrah station, his scream jerking him out of his nightmare and startling the hundreds gathered on the platform.

They were all there to receive the first train from Gujarat, carrying maimed and injured relatives.

Nripen Das of Kalna had made it to the station the night before and, thinking of his brother and mother in quake-hit Ahmedabad, had dropped off to sleep. But even after he awoke, the train was nowhere in sight.

The public address system announced that the 8033 UP Ahmedabad-Howrah Express would be late by several hours. Periodically, the status was updated. As anxious relatives, some tired and weeping, kept looking down the tracks, the loudspeakers blared: “The train has just entered Kharagpur. It is expected to reach Howrah by 8.30 am.”

At 8.40 am, as the train from Ahmedabad steamed into Platform No 8, there was a sudden rush as relatives surged to meet the train and spot their dear ones.

“So desperate were the relatives,” said a policeman on duty, “that we had to rush in and prevent them from getting any closer to the tracks, or else they could have been run over.”

Once the train screeched to a halt, with faces peering out of the windows, all hell broke loose.

“There’s my daughter,” shouted an elderly lady, recognising one of the faces pressed against the window. “Oh, she looks safe.” With these words, she broke the police cordon and rushed towards the compartment, with the others in pursuit.

As Sumitra Sengupta sobbed and hugged her daughter Sucharita, student of the National School of Design, people around them were clasping to their chests friends, fathers, brothers and sisters. Sixty-five-year-old Gobinda Chandra Pain, sitting on a wheelchair with saline bottles strapped on to him, was helped out of the train by his son, Subhashis.

“I was sleeping when suddenly, the sound of a sharply-swinging fan woke me up,” Pain recalled. “I tried to rush out of my fourth-floor apartment, but slipped on the stairs and fell.”

Pain’s journey had not ended. He was led by his son to the car for a trip to Durgapur, where they live. “I am so happy that my father is back,” Subhasis said.

But on Platform No 8, it was ecstasy for some and agony for others.

Sixty-year-old Khyber Ali, tears flowing down his cheeks as he kept pacing the platform, failed to spot his nephew, Akhtar. “I have looked through every compartment. Lord alone knows if he is alive,” he wept.

But for many like Khyber Ali, the railways have kept hopes alive. There will soon be many more trains bringing in people from earthquake-hit Gujarat.


Calcutta, Jan. 30: 
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has put off indefinitely the launch of its much-hyped cellular telephone services in Calcutta, slated for Wednesday. Sources said the newly-formed telecom company was not yet ready to offer cellular services, primarily because of technical hitches.

“The technology we are using is not geared to provide quality services now. But we are on the job round-the-clock, so that we can launch the services with best quality assurance,” the sources added.

BSNL had launched the services, backed by the same technology from C-Dot, in Patna on January 26. In fact, Bihar has beaten other three states — West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu —where the telecom major has plans to launch cellular services.

Sources said the switching technology, developed by C-Dot, is still being tested and tuned. The transmission technology is being provided by Lucent Technologies.

“Since C-Dot technology is not time-tested, we are not very sure about the quality it can offer,” the sources said.

BSNL has already set up 22 base stations in Calcutta for the new services. But the department is not very happy with the current infrastructure, as “it is impossible to operate in a 2,200-sq-km area with only 22 base stations”.

The company, however, is in the process of expanding its network by setting up more base stations. Sources said the number should go up to at least 50 by the end of the year.

BSNL has formed a committee to evaluate the prospects for a third mobile operator in Calcutta.

The company has set a target of 5,000 consumers, who will be connected by mobile phones initially. Calcutta Telephones has sent a detailed tariff plan to the BSNL top brass for approval.

“We will have four subscription plans, including the ones recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. All these plans are part of our efforts to match the market trend,” the sources said.

BSNL, which has about 100 mobile subscribers in Patna, is now trying to begin the mobile services in Calcutta by the third week of February. But officials in the department were unwilling to set a date. “We are trying to offer the services at the earliest in Calcutta. Some senior technical staff are due here shortly,” sources said.

The company will not offer any value-added services, at least in the first phase. “We have plans to enter various alliances for adding value to our mobile services. But that will take some more time,” the sources said.

Besides Calcutta, BSNL is also in the process of offering mobile services in Haldia, where it has set up three base stations.


Calcutta, Jan. 30: 
The willows which light up thousands of faces in the stands all over the world brought a little cheer to 10-year-old Bidurin Chakraborty’s life on Tuesday evening. The Class VI student of Siliguri Boys’ High School, stalked by chronic myeloid leukemia, and desperately needing a bone-marrow transplant to stay alive, was thrown a lifeline by the Indian skipper.

An auction of his treasured bats and other cricket gear by beloved “Souravda” at The Conclave fetched close to Rs 7 lakh. The child’s parents have been running from pillar to post to stitch together Rs 8 lakh for the transplant at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. Now, thanks to the initiative of state urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya and Sonata Foundation, and Sourav’s prompt response, they can see light at the end of the tunnel.

“We are overwhelmed at the response and grateful to all present here,” whispered Bidurin’s mother Ruma, cradling daughter Baishali in her arms and fighting to hold back her tears. Little Baishali, who will be one on March 15, will celebrate her birthday by providing her elder brother with the most precious of gifts — life.

“Only siblings can act as donors in bone marrow transplants, as others are not compatible in most cases. Once she is one, Baishali can donate marrow to Bidurin,” said father Bikash Chakraborty, who runs an electrical equipment repair shop in Siliguri. “Honestly, we had never planned a second issue. But, once the doctors at the Tata hospital gave us the real picture, we had to bring Baishali into this world,” he said.

“I’m deeply moved at being able to help little Bidurin,” said the skipper. Bidurin responded with a grin: “When I get well, I want to return to meet Souravda again and thank him.”

While the bat Sourav used like a wand in the recent Zimbabwe series was snapped up by developer Nandu Belani for Rs 50,000, Brian Lara’s Gray Nicolls Optimum fetched a similar price and was claimed by Ravi Todi.

Harsh Neotia, the host of the evening, chipped in with Rs 35,000 for the willow Sourav wielded in the Princess Diana Memorial tie between the MCC and the Rest of the World. Other items up for grabs were India shirts and caps and the Lancashire County shirt.


Calcutta, Jan. 30: 
Surajit Halder, 25, was hacked to death and the pieces of his body, stuffed into a gunny bag, were left in a factory on Rakhal Das Auddy Road, in the Alipore police station area, on Tuesday morning.

Gurmit Singh, the factory-owner, said Surajit was present with gatekeeper Gurjan Singh and his friends, Debashis, alias Dhanu, and Sandip, alias Bhuse, when he went to the factory on Monday morning. Although the factory was closed, Gurmit had gone to supervise arrangements for Saraswati puja.

“Gurjan, Dhanu, Bhuse and Surajit had been drinking till late on Monday. There must have been a dispute, in course of which the three attacked Surajit. There were marks of a scuffle on the spot,” said deputy commissioner, south, Ranjit Pachnanda.

Investigations revealed that the men had tried to dump the body in the nearby Tolly’s Nullah. But the presence of people made them change their mind.

Back at the factory, they cut the body into three pieces and stuffed them in a gunny bag, which they left in the factory. An anonymous caller informed Gurmit on Tuesday morning of blood stains in front of his factory.

Police have cordoned off the factory. Police said while Dhanu and Bhuse are local goons, Surajit had reformed of late.


Calcutta, Jan. 30: 
Two police sergeants guarding the VIP entrance to Writers’ Buildings were suspended on Tuesday on charges of assaulting a third in the office of the secretariat’s chief security officer.

K.L. Tamta, deputy commissioner, Reserve Police Force, who issued the suspension orders, said the two sergeants, S. Ghosh and P. R. Das, had an altercation with the third sergeant, Goutam Mahapatra, over distribution of complimentary invitation cards for the Republic Day parade on Red Road.

They alleged that Mahapatra had distributed a chunk of the invitations for security personnel at Writers’ Buildings among his friends and relatives.

On Monday, they accosted Mahapatra, abused him and then dragged him into the security office on the ground floor, before beating him up. Mahapatra lodged a complaint with his superior officers after the incident. Tamta said the suspensions were valid until a departmental inquiry was completed.


Calcutta, Jan. 30: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Tuesday offered the Publishers and Booksellers Guild a 6,400-sq-ft slot in the heart of the city to start a permanent book bazaar. “Why can’t we have a permanent book bazaar in Calcutta, at which we can buy books and get all information on them?” he asked.

Bhattacharjee was addressing the inaugural function of the 26th Calcutta Book Fair as guest of honour. He said he was ready to offer the first floor of the J.K. Millennium Centre, on Chowringhee Road, near its crossing with Shakespeare Sarani, for setting up the book bazaar. “The government will also help the Guild set it up,” he added.

Bhattacharjee said Calcutta would remain vibrant forever with its book fair, film festivals and its culture of little magazines and poetry. “The huge response to the book fair is a reflection of the city’s cultural heritage,” he added.

Peres Vicens, president of International Publishers’ Association (IPA), Geneva, declared the 12-day fair open. He emphasised the need to protect copyrights against rampant piracy.

“Respect for copyrights is crucial in the interest of authors, publishers and readers. Books need to grow,” he said.

Vicens said the IPA planned to launch a website on book fairs, on which Calcutta would figure prominently.

After the inaugural function, the chief minister met a number of authors and poets and went on a tour of the fair.


Calcutta, Jan. 30: 
Multi-gyms, sports clubs, therapy centres. Fitness fever has finally caught on in Calcutta. Keeping pace with the times, the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum (BITM), under the aegis of the National Council of Sciences Museum (NCSM), has chosen sports as the theme for its annual science exhibition.

And ‘Science of Sports’, inaugurated by Bula Chowdhury and Gurbux Singh on December 21, has proved a “huge hit”. Scheduled to run till January 31, it has now been extended to February 20, because of the “overwhelming public response”.

R.S. Choudhury, acting director, BITM, said: “We knew the exhibition would score well with all age-groups, as it, indeed, has... The easy and interactive manner in which the technical aspects have been dealt with has appealed to all.”

Joydeep Brahma, a volunteer at the exhibition and a BITM employee, said: “As many as 700 to 800 people visit the exhibition every day, and the number crosses a thousand on holidays. The majority are youngsters, who either come in with their parents or with a gang of friends.”

Institutions like Modern High School and Champadanga Polytechnic have brought their students to the exhibition, as have SDMS School for Excellence, Jamshedpur, and Sikkim Government College, Gangtok. “It’s a good exhibition to groom athletes, coaches and physical educationists alike,” observed A. Sarkar, coach with the Sports Authority of India.

Spread over the BITM lawns and extending up to the third floor of the children’s wing, the exhibition encompasses sports ranging from cricket and football to golf and chess. The lawn houses a simulated running track, a cricket pitch and a basketball court, where enthusiasts can clock their sprint and delivery speed, and dunking prowess. The kids’ gallery has life-size glow signboards flashing valuable information on ‘energy spent’ in various sporting activities, ‘sporting injuries’, ‘sports history’, ‘sports quiz’, ‘hand-brain-eye co-ordination games’... The top draws, however, are the punching bag, the bowling alley, and the arm-wrestling robot.

“We’ve been here for two hours now, and my two kids are just refusing to leave,” smiled Dolon Sen, mother of Shreya, 9, and Sumon, 7. Suman Roy, a computer science teacher of Don Bosco School, though “very satisfied” with the “one-of-a-kind” exhibition, felt “there should be a few more volunteers to take the visitors through the paces”.

But flipping through the ‘visitors suggestion book’, it was clear that ‘Science of Sports’ has scored more hits than misses with Calcuttans, prompting its three-week extension.


Agartala, Jan. 30: 
Militants of the National Liberation Front of Tripura have started lifting cattle belonging to tribals in the sensitive Jirania police station area.

This is the newest development in the looting spree undertaking by the militants. They had earlier looted a large number of telephone sets and two-wheelers to prevent quick transmission of information to police regarding their movement.

Police sources said many heads of cattle have been looted from tribal residents of Mandai Bazar village under Jirania police station.

The militants have been carrying on this offensive over the past week. “At least 50 heads of cattle have been lifted by the so-called rebels during the past five days alone,” a source said.

The tribal families whose cattle are being forcibly lifted are residents of Laxman Kobra, Bhuban Chantai, Patni, Ashighar, Kantya Kobra and Jaychandra para villages under Mandai police outpost.

Sources said militants were entering tribal houses in the night and threatening the inmates with dire consequences if they did not give up their cattle.

The sources added that the sudden trend of cattle-lifting has triggered panic among the poor tribal families as they hardly dare to resist in the face of sophisticated firepower.

Meanwhile, Governor Lt. Gen. (retd.) K.M. Seth has called upon tribal leaders cutting across political affiliations to unite against militancy in the state. Addressing a gathering of senior tribal leaders and sardars at the Raj Bhawan yesterday, the Governor said no individual or party could fight militancy alone. Stressing the need for a joint battle against militancy, Seth said, “Either you fight this menace or Tripura will be destroyed.”

He asserted that the tribals of the state have already fallen behind by at least 20 years and if this continues, the crisis will only worsen.

Seth said the misguided youth involved in militant activities were enjoying the good life but common tribals living in hilly interiors were losing everything.

He urged the tribal leaders to take an initiative to provide security to teachers and other government employees so that the administration and the education system could function properly.

The tribal leaders who addressed the gathering admitted that they were the worst-affected by militant depredations and said that they would try to fight militancy unitedly.


Agartala, Jan. 30: 
A process of realignment is set to begin among the tribal political parties of Tripura, leaving behind past bitterness.

The newly-formed Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), which won the Autonomous District Council (ADC) elections last year, has sent feelers to the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS) for holding discussions on political developments over the past seven months.

The decision in this regard was taken at a meeting of the IPFT’s high-powered committee recently. Senior IPFT leaders took stock of the situation in the state and within the ADC areas before deciding to approach the TUJS for holding discussions on common issues facing the tribals.

Veteran TUJS leader and party legislator Shyamacharan Tripura said the IPFT leadership was keen on holding discussions, but nothing concrete had materialised so far. “The IPFT leaders may have realised that they cannot go it alone in the state’s tribal politics,” he added.

Sources in the IPFT confirmed that a move was on to hold discussions with the TUJS.

Political observers in the state attach considerable significance to the move for rapprochement between the IPFT and the TUJS as the IPFT had put pressure on the TUJS to dissolve the party and merge with them during the ADC polls held in April and May last year. But the TUJS had boycotted the polls for fear of the NLFT militants who had campaigned for the IPFT.

Besides, the IPFT had been formed in 1995 on an anti-TUJS plank by a section of the party’s former leaders. The then party president, Harinath Debbarma, had deserted the TUJS to become a founder leader of the IPFT.

Sources in the ADC said the IPFT’s overtures to the TUJS were also a reflection of serious dissension in the party. Since the party captured the ADC, internecine factional squabbles among senior leaders has weakened it.

The party’s eroding mass base was reflected in the near-total failure of the recently-held Borok conference organised by the ADC with much fanfare. The tribals at the grassroots level kept away from the programme, exposing the growing isolation of the IPFT from the tribal electorate.


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