Pitched battle over road death
Night-long raids net 99 hired hitmen
Travel plan to fly abroad now, pay in instalments
Building bridges with a jamboree
Agitation threat over exam bar
Reality test for realtors
Flight timings
A crusade of compassion for canines
Buddhists rally for recognition of Thai centre
Brahmins take on Dalits in Bihar

Calcutta, Feb. 2: 
Lipi Ghosh, 40, left her widowed mother in her Swinhoe Street residence and stepped out for work at 8.45 am on Friday. Just as she was about to cross Bijon Setu, at Kasba, a Calcutta Municipal Corporation lorry, speeding towards Dhapa, ran her over. The freelance journalist died on the spot. For the next two hours, all hell broke loose in Kasba.

The killer lorry also ran into two taxis, parked to the left of the bridge. The driver and his two helpers fled before bystanders rushed to the spot.

Minutes after the accident, angry residents and shopkeepers blocked the bridge and hurled stones at passing vehicles, smashing several windscreens and bringing traffic in the area to a halt. The police arrived wielding lathis, but ran into stiff resistance.

It took the cops more than two hours to restore normalcy in the Gariahat-Ballygunge belt. Schoolchildren and office-goers were stranded for hours.

In the melee, the mob tried to set fire to the lorry, but some firemen passing by stopped their vehicle and foiled the attempt. Five persons were injured and at least seven vehicles, including three buses, were damaged in the melee.

PWD minister Kshiti Goswami, known to the victim’s father, Rajmohan Ghosh, a founder of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), visited the spot immediately after the accident.

“Lipi was associated with our party and used to contribute to the party organ, Ganabarta,” Goswami said, adding that a complaint had been lodged with Kasba police station.

Ashish Ghosh, student of a local high school, said some residents and shop-owners came running to the spot and immediately started hurling stones and brickbats at all passing vehicles.

A large contingent of policemen from Gariahat and Kasba was deployed. However, the cops found it difficult to quell the rampage.

Matters took a turn for the worse when a bus carrying schoolchildren arrived on the spot.

Karuna Biswas, a housewife returning home from Kasba market, said the situation spun out of control as the mob surged towards the school bus.

S.R.Dutta, officer-in-charge of Kasba police station, said: “Things looked really bad but we cordoned off the vehicle and directed it to safety.”

Swapan Chakraborty, former CPM councillor, said Lipi was popular in the area and was known to be helpful to all.

A double M.A. in Economics and Bengali, Lipi lived with her mother. She used to write for several leading newspapers and also worked as a part-time lecturer.

One of her relatives, Dipak Dev, said: “ Lipi never boasted of her erudition. She used to regularly contribute to different newspapers and kept herself busy with social work. We were totally dependent on her. She looked after all the household work... We don’t know how we will live without her.”

Lipi’s mother, Bina Ghosh, who lost her husband barely a year ago, lost consciousness when she heard about the accident.


Calcutta, Feb. 2: 
At the end of a hard day’s night, the score of the sleuths stood at 99. In a five-hour swoop on Thursday night, the police rounded up one less than a hundred criminals. Among them were some of Calcutta’s ‘most wanted’.

In simultaneous raids conducted in the port and other city areas, and in South 24-Parganas, sleuths seized sophisticated arms, ammunition and explosives from several hideouts. According to information available with the police, among those arrested were “notorious contract killers” Wahid, Ehsan, Amirullah and Panchu. While Wahid and Ehsan are prime suspects in three murder cases each, Panchu and Amirullah have been linked to murder, robbery and extortion.

City police chief D.C. Vajpai had on Wednesday directed his force to “go all out against the hired hitmen’’. According to deputy commissioner of police, port, Zulfikar Hasan, the cops acted on a tip-off about Wahid and his associate being holed up in a Watgunge hideout “to strike a deal’’.

Three earlier attempts to arrest Wahid had failed. On Thursday night, six cops first surrounded, then stormed the house, to catch Wahid unawares. At around the same time in Garden Reach, Amirullah with two others were picked up. A close associate of Amirullah had helped the police lay a trap for him. Ehsan and Panchu were arrested early on Friday from South 24-Parganas. The rest of the goons, said to be associates of these crimelords, were rounded up from various parts.

Police said contract killers like Wahid, Ehsan and Amirullah charge anything between Rs 5,000 to Rs 25,000 for a “job”. “They are armed to the teeth. The crimelords send their henchmen to arms dealers in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to procure sophisticated revolvers,” a police officer said.

The “deal’’ is usually conducted in March-April and September-October. “The arms bazaar in Bihar and UP is flooded with improvised, yet sophisticated, revolvers and ammunition at these times,’’ the officer explained.

Investigations revealed that the goons usually travel by the Gorakhpur Express. “They move in groups of four, with each of them carrying three revolvers and four boxes of ammunition,’’ sources said.


Calcutta, Feb. 2: 
Taking the ‘buy now, pay later’ line a step or four forward, a travel company has decided to woo tourists with a ‘go on your dream holiday abroad today, pay by easy instalment tomorrow’ mantra.

SOTC, the $4.5-billion international tour operator, has formulated a ‘plan your holidays abroad without putting pressure on your pocket’ package to boost ‘outflow’ of foreign travellers from Calcutta.

After all, the city has not given the tour operator “more than one-fourth” the traffic generated in Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai. “Our objective is to make foreign trips easier for the common people in Calcutta, who otherwise cannot afford to make hefty payments at one go,” said an SOTC official. “The instalment schemes have been formulated in a manner that will enable many more people from the city to plan trips abroad,” he added.

For a two-week Europe tour, for instance, one will have to cough up a little over Rs 3,000 to book one’s berth. Once the credit loan is cleared, the second instalment of an equal amount will have to be deposited before boarding the flight. The rest can be paid over a period of up to three years through monthly instalments.

“There is no hidden cost, and the credit mechanism has been made as simple and hassle-free as possible,” assured the official. “All one has to do to avail of the holiday finance is provide the proof of income, either with a salary slip or income-tax returns,” he added.

The tour operator has also come up with a security-deposit option, where one has to submit only details of identity and residence. A cash down of 33 per cent of the total cost will have to be made in that case. The annual household income of an applicant, however, has to be no less than Rs 1.2 lakh.

SOTC has entered into a tie-up with Kotak Mahindra Finance Ltd to implement the scheme. But what if a tourist plays truant after the tour and fails to keep his commitment? “We will examine all documents and the credit ability of a person before sanctioning the loan,” said a Kotak Mahindra official.

Another international tour operator, Cox & Kings, is said to be planning a similar move.


Calcutta, Feb. 2: 
Come March 3 and Salt Lake Stadium will be abuzz with activity. For four days, over 3,000 ladies of the night from 12 countries will meet in a jamboree that is expected to break barriers and remove misconceptions. Being arranged by the Durbar Mahila Samanyay Committee, an organisation of sex workers that was born in Calcutta eight years ago and now has more than 30,000 members, the Millennium Milan Mela will have discussions, debates, a variety of cultural programmes and several stalls with food and gift items. And, for the first time, national and international corporate houses will be involved as sponsors.

In a bid for greater global reach, the committee has entered cyber space by starting a website (www.calpeople.com), where details of the mela and participation procedures are available. This is the first time that sex workers in the country have gone on the web, says committee adviser Dr S. Jana. “The mela, which is open to all, is being held with a number of objectives in mind. Other than discussing the problems that sex workers face and the means to overcome them, the event will try to end confrontation and build good relations with the public.”

By way of breaking barriers, the committee has achieved several milestones over the years: A government-recognised cooperative society, a registered cultural troupe, support from the local and Central governments and even backing by CPM leaders for recognition of its members as full-fledged citizens with equal rights.

And now, the sex workers are breaking another barrier. The organisers have approached several corporate houses for sponsoring sections of the fair. They have already met with success. “Pepsi is participating in the mela in a big way,” said Jana, who last year received an award for excellence in public service from a leading management house based in New Delhi. The committee has also approached and has got a good response from ITC, Duncans and Coca-Cola.

“The mela has another objective, for which we need corporate support. It will be the starting point of a fund-collection drive for a boarding school for children of sex workers and other marginalised people, as well as a hospice for members.”

Delegates will arrive from all over the country. “A large contingent from Bangladesh will participate, and will perform traditional dances. The other countries taking part include Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. “We will have jatra, chhou, comedy and skits and plays, qawwalis, nautankis, songs and recitations in the agenda,” said Putul Singh, secretary of the committee. The government has hired out the stadium at a concessional rate. Several ministers from the Centre and the state will be present at the inauguration, mainly from the labour, social and women’s welfare departments.


Calcutta, Feb. 2: 
The SFI-controlled students’ union of Calcutta University on Friday threatened to go on an indefinite agitation from next week to protest the authorities’ refusal to allow more than 20 students to take this year’s MA (journalism) examinations, to begin on February 6.

Journalism department teachers said the students have not been granted permission to write the examinations because they had not attended the minimum 55 per cent of the total number of classes held. The students, however, alleged that the authorities had barred the journalism examinees while allowing another 25 candidates to take the test, though they did not have the required attendance percentage either.


Calcutta, Feb. 2: 
Home Front 2001, an exhibition of real estate, housing finance, building materials, home decor and related items, was inaugurated on Friday by housing minister Gautam Deb.

The four-day exposition has been organised by the City Developers’ Forum (CDF), in association with HDFC and Lafarge Home Building Centre, at Netaji Indoor Stadium for an interaction among home-seekers, builders and housing finance companies. The CDF also presented the minister with a code of conduct it has drawn up for builders.

Lighting up the traditional lamp to declare the exhibition open, housing minister Deb invited developers to engage themselves in a healthy competition with the government. CDF president Amarnath Saraf and Santosh Rungta of the Rungta Group also spoke on the occasion. S.K. Todi of the Shrachi Group presented a memento to the minister.

Deb warned builders that any attempt to tamper with the guidelines for construction or over-pricing will be dealt with sternly. “The term ‘promoter’ has earned a bad name in Bengal. The black sheep among developers should be identified and taken to task,” he said.

The minister said in Bengal, the government has formed five joint-sector companies with private developers where the former’s role was mainly that of the “facilitator”. Deb said work on the first phase of the new township in Rajarhat was “on in full swing” and by the end of February, plots will be handed over to the lucky winners of the lottery.

He said in the new township, apart from the joint sectors, there is scope for private developers too. Well-known developers of the city have set up stalls at Home Front 2001, displaying models of their upcoming projects in and around the city. Bengal Ambuja Housing Development, Shrachi Projects, Rungta Group, MMG Reality, Buildwell Properties, Mohta Enterprise, Multicon Group, have all set up shop.

Housing finance companies are present in numbers. Home decor firms are displaying an array of marble, ceramics, sanitaryware, bathroom fittings and even carpets.


Calcutta, Feb. 2: 
Indian Airlines has made a few changes in its schedule, effective from February 5. Daily Flight IC-745 to Agartala will leave Calcutta at 6.30 am to reach at 7.20 am. The return flight will leave Agartala at 8 am to reach at 8.50 am daily. On Thursdays, Flight IC 743 to Agartala will leave Calcutta at 10 am.

On Wednesdays, Flight IC-701 to Dibrugarh will leave at 9.50 am and the return flight will reach Calcutta at 1.35 pm. Flight IC-723 to Dhaka will leave Calcutta at 2.35 pm and on return, reach at 5.05 pm on Wednesdays. Flight IC-727 on the Kolkata/Yangon/ Bangkok/ Kolkata sector will leave Calcutta at 12.30pm on Wednesdays and Fridays. On Sundays, Flight IC -713 to Imphal will leave Calcutta at 10am and the return flight will arrive in Calcutta at 12.50 pm.


Calcutta, Feb. 2: 
They just have to bark for help and the ambulance will come rushing to them. That’s the promise held out by Love N’ Care For Animals, an NGO in Behala, working for the welfare of stray dogs in Calcutta. Apart from treating sick animals, the organisation is also involved in sterilisation, immunisation and rehabilitation of strays. And it’s now busy building a hospital at Shibrampur, Behala, which should admit its first four-legged patient next month.

Founded on July 7, 1997, Love N’Care is a dream come true for Sushmita Roy, founder of the organisation and also its honorary secretary.

“I would bring stray dogs home on my way back from school. By the time I passed college, I had quite a collection of pets. My friends would bear with me but I had a harrowing time with my neighbours, some of whom would even throw stones at my house. It was then that I decided to get in touch with Maneka Gandhi, who suggested that I form an organisation,” she recounts.

With a shoestring budget and a handful of dedicated animal lovers, Roy founded Love N’ Care. Urmi Roy, Anita Sarif, Aloka Pyne, Kabita Basu, Lakshmi Roy and Jayasree Banerjee were among those who joined the crusade of compassion. After an initial funds crunch, the NGO got a grant of Rs 20,000 from the Animal Welfare Board of India in 1998. The next year, the grant was raised to Rs 90,000. The Central government, too, started providing funds for sterilisation.

In April 1999, the Centre sponsored an ambulance and by 2000, the organisation had its own mobile clinics. The ambulance-cum-mobile clinics have all facilities for operation, besides an X-ray viewer, steriliser and ECG machine.

Love N’ Care now has 18 hired kennels that provide shelter to about 70 dogs — some mad, some injured. It has sterilised over 800 dogs and performed operations of almost all kinds, including liver surgery, bone pinning, besides treating cancer patients.

The Shibrampur hospital, besides facilities for all kinds of operations, will have an isolation chamber for animals with infectious diseases. The organisation plans to buy another ambulance to carry these animals to the hospital which will house 60-65 kennels, a cowshed and will also provide shelter to cats and birds.

Recently, Love N’ Care was chosen by the animal welfare board to work for the “medical and social” relief of livestock in flood-hit villages in Bengal. The NGO selected Gaighata block, in Bongaon sub-division, where members camped for five days. “We travelled in boats and vans and worked in over six villages, where we treated more than 400 animals, including cows, goats, ducks and hens,” says Roy.

While the BDO of Gaighata and the DM of Barasat did give the NGO “certificates of merit”, little else (read institutionalised funding) seems forthcoming.

But Roy still insists that “attitude towards animals is changing” now.

“The hostility with which these animals were treated earlier is now being replaced with concern... We often get calls from people who have spotted a sick or a mad dog. Some even take the animals home and then inform us,” she smiles, before hastening to add: “But this is just the beginning of our struggle. When stray dogs are a thing of the past, only then shall we consider our job done.”


Jorhat, Feb. 2: 
The Buddhist community has expressed serious concern over non-recognition of the Central Thai Academy in Patsaku in Sivasagar district as a seat of learning.

Kolkata-based monk Pranjanandasri Mahathera said the study centre established in 1964 for the benefit of the Thai-Shan tribes of the Northeast is yet to get any financial or material aid from the government. He laid the foundation stone of the Buddhist temple-cum-cultural centre at the Central Thai Academy in Sivasagar recently.

Mahathera urged the state government, the Centre and the minorities commission to initiate urgent steps to redress the problem of the ethnic Buddhists.

The institute was named after monk Parama Adhikari Phralung Khounteng who had come with Ahom King Sukapha in 1228 AD.

Buddha introduced socialism in the sangha (the order of the monks), Mahathera said.

He appealed to all sections of society to follow and practise the message of education, peace, non-violence and mutual understanding preached by Gautam Buddha.

Indian Buddhist Council central executive member B. Gogoi said there should be a serious study on the Phralung Buddhist scriptures to examine the Ahom system of administration, judiciary, customs and traditions during the 600 years of Ahom rule in the state. Priests Jona Chang Borphukan and Indra Mohan Baruah offered prayers to phra and Buddha. Educationist Madan Buragohain and Prof. Bhuban Handique of Patsaku College dwelt on the endeavours of the Buddhists for peace and social stability.


Jagdishpur (UP-Bihar border), Feb. 2: 
In this turbulent part of the Bihar-Uttar Pradesh border, the politics of hatred feeds on caste conflicts perpetuated by a powerful politician-criminal nexus.

In over 20 hamlets, the Dalits are pitted against 40-year-old “Baba” alias Satish Pandey, a Brahmin leader.

In Jagdishpur, under Nautan block, barely 1 km from Devaria district in Uttar Pradesh, over 50 armed men gunned down 12 members of Dalit families yesterday.

The victims, suspected to be CPI(M-L) supporters, were dragged out of their houses around 9 am and shot dead from point blank range in front of the women and children, who watched helplessly. The marauders later set their huts on fire.

“The women’s pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears as the assailants doused the huts with petrol and set them ablaze,” said Heera Bhagat, a Harijan from the village.

Twenty-four hours after the orgy of violence, over 10 houses were razed to the ground. While the thatched roofs of the houses were charred to ashes, the adjoining papaya, wheat and mustard plantations were scorched.

Shards of burnt utensils, morsels of half-cooked food over smashed earthen oven, mangled bicycles and other belongings lay strewn across the courtyard.

“The thugs fired indiscriminately from their sophisticated weapons as the women ran for cover,” said Mainlal, a 55-year- old woman.

Subdivisional police officer of Nautan Rajeev Kumar said the feuding criminal gangs patronised by politicians escape to Uttar Pradesh across the porous border after the skirmishes and return once the dust settles.

Baba’s renewed frenzy after the October flare-up has thwarted the nebulous peace process, which was set in motion by the local residents.

In October, “Baba” had first flexed his muscle by butchering at least 20 villagers from the Yadav and Muslim communities.

Backed by the Samata Party, Baba recently roped in six splinter groups and brought them under one umbrella. One of Baba’s gang members was identified as Suresh Chowdhury, a notorious criminal.

Baba, who has now consolidated base in the area, is trying to drive a wedge in Laloo Prasad Yadav’s traditional Yadav-Muslim support base.

“Violence will escalate because of the impending panchayat polls,” said Niranjan Mandal, officer in-charge of the Nautan police station.

According to Mandal, gangsters take advantage of the porous border and carry out hit-and-run operations.

In most parts of Gopalganj and Siwan districts, RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav’s home turf, the Dalits have switched their allegiance to the CPI(M-L).

The ultra-left group has shunned the path of insurrection and has turned to mainstream politics.

Police, however, maintain that the Left groups operating in the districts continue to nurture their armed squads, which compound matters.

“This is a slander campaign by the police. We have become the targets of feudal gangs because we are trying to protect the Dalits. But we are committed to our goal,” said Satyadev Ram, a CPI(M-L) leader in Merwa. Ram blamed the ruling RJD for colluding with a section of “feudal gangsters” to undermine the Left groups in the border districts.

The RJD in the region is controlled by Sadhu Yadav and Siwan’s controversial MP Syed Shahabuddin, who has a running feud with the CPI(M-L) over his “eroding backward base.”

So the RJD remained indifferent to the caste conflict till October, when a strange realignment of forces resulted in an attack on the Yadavs and Muslims.

However, Baba who is trying to usurp the CPI(M-L) base in the region on behalf of the National Democratic Alliance, was quick to receive Samata Party’s support.

Sources said the ganglord is ready to battle “any eventuality’’ with the powerful Brahmin lobby rallying behind him.


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