Inter-state car-lifter gang bust
Child caught in custody crossfire
Mobile beeps on Metro
Canvas for a cause, one for each city
Building rules revamp ahead
Rebels abduct CPM worker
Staines’ case adjourned on defence plea
Orissa drought
Activists ask govt to scrap MoUs
Students seek highway safety

Calcutta, Feb. 1: 
An inter-state gang of car thieves, picking up vehicles from Calcutta and selling them in various parts of India, was busted on Thursday.

The city police arrested Mohammad Ghiyas from Ekbalpore on Wednesday night, and then rounded up his associates by alerting counterparts in Bhubaneswar, Patna and Bangalore. The gang had been stealing Opel Astras, Cielos, Matizs and Maruti Zens from the city for the past two years. The vehicles were sold in Bhubaneswar and Patna, Bangalore and Mumbai. The police are on the lookout for the kingpin, whom gang members refer to as “The Boss”.

Police unearthed the countrywide racket after Ghiyas named his partners-in-crime at Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai and Patna.

A police team zeroed in on Amit Kumar at his Patna residence on Wednesday night. Kumar was sleeping when the sleuths raided his plush apartment and arrested him.

Ghulam Batul and Kudrat Ali Khan were tracked down in Bhubaneswar early on Thursday.

In simultaneous raids, the police in Bangalore arrested “the right-hand man” of The Boss. The sleuths refused to disclose the name of the goon nabbed in Bangalore, as it “would hamper investigation’’. The accused have all been brought to Calcutta on Thursday night.

Ghiyas gave investigators a detailed account of their operations, including the names of some transport department officials of Orissa, Bihar, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, who were, allegedly on the gang’s “pay-roll”.

“The transport department officers helped us fudge car documents for a hefty fee,’’ claimed Ghiyas.

According to preliminary investigations, the gang had stolen at least 32 “high-value cars” from various parts of Calcutta. These were then transported to other cities and sold to car-dealers.

According to deputy commissioner of police, port, Zulfikar Hasan, the modus operandi of the gang was “simple, but most effective”.

Ghiyas and one of his associates were “experts” in moulding master-keys to open the doors of cars. “There is a master-key each for cars like the Cielo, Zen and the Opel Astra,” disclosed the accused.

Two local ‘spotters’ would keep a watch on such cars in “deserted parking lots... Spotters include bhelpuri or phuchkawallahs, muriwallahs, or even those selling cigarettes and manning phone booths,” said Ghiyas.

With a “signal” from the spotters, Ghiyas would swing into action. “It takes just a couple of seconds to open the door-lock and start the car,’’ added Ghiyas.

After driving off with the car, Ghiyas would contact The Boss on the cellphone, who would then decide where and when the vehicle would be sold. Contacts in the transport department of the state concerned would be alerted immediately to prepare “fake papers”. By the time Ghiyas would reach his destination, all documents would be ready and the deal struck.

“They were so swift and well-organised that they ended up making huge amounts of money. We have recovered three stolen cars, one of them an Opel Astra, which had been stolen from the Strand on January 15. The rest are being tracked down on the basis of information given to us by Ghiyas and his associates,’’ said Hasan.


Calcutta, Feb. 1: 
The mother, in her 30s, wept openly. The father, 40, tall and well-built, was also on the verge of breaking down. The young boy, their only child, watched helplessly, tears streaming down his cheeks.

In a high-octane drama at Calcutta High Court on Thursday, Debasish and Debjani Basu, separated since 1992, fought a bitter battle for the custody of their 10-year-old son, Debarghya.

Two senior judges — Altamus Kabir and Gorachand Dey — who handled the case, asked Debarghya who he would like to stay with. The kid looked bewildered, not sure how to respond. He just hid his face behind his mother and sobbed. The judges were in a fix and asked Debarghya to accompany them to their private chamber, where only the parents were allowed.

Debasish broke down, begging the judges to allow his son to stay with him for at least a day every week. Debjani, however, was not ready to budge from her stand of total custody.

The agonising scenes in the judges’ chamber dragged on for over one-and-a-half hours, even as Debarghya looked on dazed and confused. The judges frantically tried to pacify both parents and read the child’s mind before returning to court again.

Later, they ruled that Debasish can meet his son every Sunday between 3 pm and 6 pm. The place of the meeting will be decided by the lawyers of either side.

Debasish’s counsel Atanu Roy Chowdhury said his client, employed with a Central government undertaking, was married to school-teacher Debjani who, in 1992, refused to stay on with her in-laws and returned to her parents in Durgapur with son Debarghya. Subsequently, a divorce suit was initiated by Debjani, which is still pending.

In 1994, Debasish filed a case demanding custody of Debarghya. The district judge of Burdwan dismissed his plea and granted custody to Debjani. Debasish then filed an appeal before the division bench of the high court.

With an alarming increase in divorce cases, litigation relating to custody of children are also on the rise. In Calcutta High Court alone, 344 custodial cases are pending.

In three other city courts, the number of such cases has nearly doubled over the past year.

Last year, 151 petitions were lodged with the high court ,either by father or mother, demanding custody of the child. In 1999, only 82 such cases were filed, compared to 72 in the previous year.

In Sealdah court, 32 custody cases were registered in the current year, against 13 the previous year and 17 in 1998. At the city civil court, 52 cases have been filed this year, against 28 in the previous year. In 1998, the number of such cases was 21.

Bhagabati Prosad Banerjee, former judge of Calcutta High Court, felt legal battles between parents affect the child adversely. “Some measures should be taken to prevent such trauma, which will otherwise affect a large chunk of the next generation,” Banerjee said.

Sailendu Rakshit, high court lawyer, said: “Recent data show that after parents separate, more and more children are expressing their willingness to stay with the father instead of the mother. A thorough research is called for to find out the psychological reasons behind this,” he said.


Calcutta, Feb. 1: 
Metro will soon go ‘mobile’. Command, one of the two cellular phone service providers in town, has decided to take the plunge underground.

Command, an associate company of global cellular giant Hutchison, is in the process of setting up its network, approximately 20 feet under ground level. The project has, apparently, been cleared by the railways.

“Subscribers will remain ‘connected’ underground by the second week of February,” confirmed Rajiv Sawhney, chief operating officer, Command. “We have already successfully tested the network at a few stations like Esplanade and Rabindra Sadan,” he added.

He noted that such a facility incurs “heavy investment”, not only to procure sophisticated equipment, but also to source technology. “We had the advantage of Hutchison already having the experience of introducing such a facility in Hong Kong. In UK, too, cellular service is now available on the Tube. We have drawn from their experience to give shape to our own technological requirements,” Sawhney said.

To activate the underground network, the signals, received by the base stations, need to be magnified. These signals then have to be beamed underground through a cluster of “special equipment”.

What is most important is to tune the frequency level in order to retain “normal voice quality”.

“Our aim is to provide such a facility that the network is as good as it is on the surface. A caller should not even realise that the he/she is speaking to someone on the Metro,” added Sawhney.

Command is planning to invest “around Rs 40 crore” over the next few months, with “a major part of this corpus” being diverted towards the Metro project.

The operator is also pumping in money investments to increase the number of base stations from the existing 55. Command currently has around 70,000 subscribers in Calcutta.

“Our latest move just goes to prove that we have serious long-term plans for this city,” said Sawhney.

With its Metro move, Command claims to have scored a vital point over rival Spice and geared up for the challenge posed by the impending entry of a third operator, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). Having commenced operations in Patna, BSNL is expected to launch its service in Calcutta “very soon”, after sorting out some technical hitches.


Calcutta, Feb. 1: 
In a magnanimous gesture worthy of the barefoot badshah of the Indian art world, Maqbool Fida Husain on Thursday offered a canvas he painted less than 24 hours earlier for the Gujarat earthquake victims. Gujarat 2001 was to go to the highest bidder, he said, and the proceeds were for the Prime Minister’s relief fund. “The whole nation should rise up and help,” he stressed.

With this, he began an exercise he will repeat in all the metros — one new canvas for each city, though in between he will visit the Berlin film festival on February 14. His Gaja Gamini is India’s only official entry.

But there was no other bidder in sight in the otherwise crowded Crystal Room of Taj Bengal, where the putative auction was held, save the Naresh Kumars, who happen to be Husain’s friends and who already own a sizeable collection of his works. The only other person present, who could throw down the gauntlet, was A.K. Mukherjee, managing director, Sonodyne International, the man behind the media circus.

The painting, stark and dynamic in red and black, depicted a terrified woman with her child clutching to her. Surrounding her were images of destruction and fear — a cot lay askew, violence had been done to a doll and a huge pitcher, and a chicken squawked. Her entire world was in turmoil.

Husain said artists and writers were bound to be affected by this catastrophe and the painting was an expression of the tragedy. “I shudder when I imagine loved ones dying”, he said, and recounted how in 1940, his little son had fallen to death from a third-floor balcony.

The painting was a “poetic thought” he mulled over for a long time before executing it in two hours flat.

The master has personal links with Gujarat. He went to boarding school in Baroda and his stepmother was from that state.

But while Husain hogged the limelight, no other bidder had turned up. After keeping people on tenterhooks for close to two hours, it was announced that Naresh Kumar had taken it, though everybody was acting coy about the sum for which he acquired it. Just before the show drew to a close, it was announced that Kumar paid Rs 10 lakh. Husain plans to hold an exhibition of all the paintings inspired by the calamity and also publish them in book form.


Calcutta, Feb. 1: 
The state government is planning to restructure the existing building rules for Calcutta and Howrah, in the wake of the Gujarat earthquake. “The highrises in Bhuj were affected the most. Though man cannot fight nature, we want to take preventive measures,” urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya said.

Bhattacharya will meet scientists from the Geological Survey of India (GSI) and eminent geophysicists on Monday at Writers’ Buildings to seek their views before formulating the new rules. The government is also seeking opinion from engineers of the Central Building Research Institute.

The municipal affairs department has asked the Corporation to test the soil in areas with a large number of highrises and whether the buildings have the required foundation.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee is also in favour of a clear guideline on highrises. “There must be a law for quake-proof construction,’’ Mukherjee said.

According to urban development department officials, though West Bengal falls between seismic zones III and IV, where the possibility of an earthquake is comparitively less, the government does not want let down its guard, especially in the congested areas.

Scientists of the GSI had conducted a survey in the Darjeeling hills after a landslide in Kurseong. On the basis of their report, the government had prepared a new set of building rules for the Hills.

“It is not that highrises will collapse and low-height buildings will survive in case of an earthquake. But we want to adhere to some safety measures,’’ Bhattacharya said.

The thrust will be on soil-testing and load-bearing capacity of the soil. “Though it is mandatory to conduct soil tests before drawing up a plan, many builders do not follow the rules,’’ a CMDA official said.

Tapas Ghatak, CMDA geophysicist, feels that stalling construction of highrises does not ensure that the city will escape an earthquake. “But buildings should be constructed keeping in view the soil’s load-bearing capacity. We have already conducted a survey on the city’s soil and will produce the results at the meeting,’’ Ghatak said.

The state government will also form a committee to conduct a survey in Calcutta and Howrah to assess the load-bearing capacity.


Agartala, Feb. 1: 
Militants of the National Liberation Front of Tripura abducted a CPM worker while two United Bengali Liberation Front militants were arrested. However, the 20 volunteers of the Jamatya hoda (community council) continue to remain in militant custody.

Police sources said local CPM activist and member of the party’s local committee Nitai Sarkar was abducted yesterday from Khasia Mangalpara under Teliamura police station of West Tripura. Sources said he had gone to the Khasia Mangal area and was abducted by five NLFT militants. He is still untraced despite combing operations.

Two UBLF militants were arrested from D.M. Colony area under Teliamura police station last night. They were identified as Kanu Sarkar and Nibas Deb. The police also recovered ammunition and incriminating documents from the hideout of the UBLF rebels.

Regarding the 20 volunteers of the Jamatya hoda, inspector-general of police (law and order) K. Salim Ali said a major offensive would be launched by the police to rescue them within a short while. Ali said in the wake of a major offensive by the state police in South Tripura, the militants had shifted the captives to a hideout on the borders of South and West Tripura and it has been identified by the police for a counter-strike.

Ali also said, “As far as we know, some local leaders of the Jamatya community have engaged in negotiations with the abductors but we will launch the offensive to rescue the detained persons.” He said he was hopeful that the captives would return safely within the next 24 hours.


Bhubaneswar, Feb. 1: 
A city sessions court today adjourned the proceedings in the Graham Staines murder case till tomorrow after a defence lawyer appealed that the defence should be given all the copies of the witness statements recorded by various agencies such as state crime branch, CBI and Keonjhar police.

This is the third time in a row that the court has adjourned the proceedings. On December 1 last year, the hearing was adjourned following the defence counsel’s plea that they needed time to study the additional chargesheet filed by the CBI.

On January 2 this year, lawyers’ agitation over professional tax led to yet another adjournment.

Sessions judge in the Khurda court, M.N. Patnaik directed the CBI counsel to submit the statements of the witnesses, whose names also feature in the chargesheets of the crime branch, Keonjhar police and the CBI.

The defence lawyer can get the copies of these statements, the court ruled following a petition by defence lawyer Gyana Acharya.

The court also rejected Dara Singh’s plea for getting a copy of the Wadhwa Commission report.


Bhubaneswar, Feb. 1: 
The Orissa government today declared drought in 2,089 unirrigated villages and six wards in five districts of the state. The districts which have been included in the drought-hit list are Jagatsinghpur, Puri, Kendrapara, Nayagarh and Rayagada. The state has already declared drought in more than 14,000 villages of the state.

The government today sent the first batch of 500 tents to quake-hit Gujarat. The tents have been requested by the Gujarat relief commissioner.


Berhampur, Feb. 1: 
The anti-alumina protesters in Orissa have urged the government to cancel the memoranda of understanding signed with the alumina companies in Kashipur as the consent of local tribals was not taken for it.

The issue was also raised by former Lok Sabha Speaker Rabi Ray at a rally taken out by activists of the anti-alumina project from Maikancha to Kashipur in Rayagada district this week.

The rally was taken out on Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary on Tuesday in memory of the three tribal “martyrs” killed in a police firing in Maikancha village on December 16.

Sources said 7,000 tribals, armed with traditional weapons and carrying traditional musical instruments, took part in the rally. The protesters were mostly from Kashipur, Lakshmipur and Dashmantpur blocks.

The rally was organised by Prakrutika Sampada Surakshya Parishad which is spearheading the agitation. The protesters demanded an ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh to the family members of each tribal killed in the firing, instead of the Rs 1 lakh announced by the government. Tight police security was arranged near Maikancha and Kashipur for the rally.


Imphal, Feb. 1: 
The All-Manipur Students’ Union (Amsu) has demanded a government policy to ensure safety on the two national highways passing through the state.

Amsu general-secretary Premananda Yumnam in separate memoranda to Union home minister L.K. Advani and chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh urged both the Centre and the state government to ensure adequate security on the National Highways 39 (Imphal to Dimapur) and 53 (Imphal to Silchar). The Amsu expressed concern over the frequent looting, ambushes, illegal detention and torching of oil tankers on the two highways.

Yumnam said since the two national highways were the lifeline of the state, it was necessary to provide more security. The union said “unlawful” outfits frequently attacked commuters on the highways. It said providing protection to travellers on the highways was the Centre’s responsibility. The Amsu demanded that the Union home minister initiate action to make the highways safe.

Telecom links restored: Telecommunication links in Manipur was restored yesterday after the telecom officers and engineers ended their strike. The strike was launched against the authority’s failure to initiate action after the killing of a telecom official on January 20. The strike had crippled the department.


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