State sees clone in smoke ban Bill
Two cousins missing, kin fear kidnap
Civic body slaps ceiling on billboard boom
Green signal for garden city
Police probe into prize money letters
Students block road after mishap
UN project for better water
Tiger Force, NLFT locked in turf war
Builders’ assurance
Row over BJP leader’s remark

Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
The Left Front government has welcomed a move by the the BJP-led Centre to follow in its footsteps and ban smoking in public places by introducing legislation in the Budget session itself.

Health minister Partha De has said that the provisions are likely to be implemented in West Bengal “with a few alterations and additions.” But first, the contents of the proposed Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation) Bill will have to be made clear. “It (the Centre) will be sending the draft soon. We shall go through it and, if need be, add to or modify some provisions.”

Soon, public places like educational institutions, treatment centres, places of worship, transport terminals and places of entertainment will be declared no-smoking zones. “The tobacco industry has made some suggestions in this regard, which we will consider,” the minister said.

In a way, the Bill pre-empts a similar legislation drafted by the state health department, and pending clearance by the law ministry before being placed in the Assembly. Tuesday’s move in Delhi was partly prompted by the state health department’s suggestion to impose restrictions on sale and use of tobacco products. Other states that had made similar requests were Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Goa.

“If more than two states approach the Centre, then legislation affecting all the states can be contemplated and introduced by Delhi through an all-India Act,” De said.

The Prohibition of Smoking and Spitting in Public Places and Protection of Non-Smokers’ Health Bill, the legislation the state government wanted to introduce, is not being shelved, at least for the moment. “It all depends on the provisions of the Central Act. We started the process last year, but giving the draft Bill a definite shape was taking time.”

The provisions, De said, were similar to those proposed by the Centre. “We had also drawn up our Bill with the intention of helping non-smokers and preventing minors from smoking.”

When approached with Tuesday’s development, some heads of schools welcomed the move and said it required strict implementation. “As it is, the Board of Secondary Education has a ban on students smoking on school premises, and violation is punishable,” said A.N. Banerjee, principal of South Point High School.

“But what about children outside school control? Will the new rules be able to restrict them?” he asked.

School administrators were also sceptical about whether the government would be able to remove cigarette shops from the vicinity of schools.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
Two girl cousins, one 19 and the other 18 years old, are missing for the past five days. The family, residing in the Nawab of Murshidabad’s mansion on Park Street, fears they have been abducted.

“The two girls had left the house on the morning of January 30 to go to a beauty parlour near the E.M. Bypass. When they did not return till late evening, we got really worried and lodged a complaint with Topsia police station,’’ said the father of the younger girl, who studies in a leading south Calcutta school.

The elder girl was a beautician who “worked at several places”. According to a relative, the two cousins were the best of friends.

Family members received a threat call on Monday, warning them not to go to the police. But on Tuesday, they lodged a general diary with Park Street police station. “I do not where they are, how they are... The telephone call has shattered whatever hope we had of their safety... Now, we can do nothing but pray,’’ said the distraught father.

Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Banibrata Basu, said the case is “under investigation”.

Intruder held: A youth, identified as Avijit Pal, carrying a copy of the Bhagvad Gita, was arrested at Rabindra Sadan on Tuesday for trying to force his way on the dais to meet chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who was distributing social unemployment scheme loans.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
Alarmed at the visual pollution on the streets of Calcutta, the civic authorities have decided to take the battle to the billboards.

“The number of billboards in the city will be restricted to 2,000,” declared Subrata Mukherjee on Tuesday. The mayor said such a decision had been prompted by requests pouring in from residents of the city and NGOs like Concern For Calcutta and PUBLIC.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has already conveyed the decision to representatives of 65 billboard companies who attended a meeting convened by member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), Mala Roy, on Monday.

Roy pointed out that some 1,100 billboards cluttering the cityscape were “illegal”. Of them, about 500 have already applied for sanction from the CMC. “But we will not sanction the remaining 600 billboards, which will be treated as illegal and pulled down,” she said.

That most of Calcutta had been turned into an “eyesore” by the billboard boom was discussed at the meeting. Part of the blame lies with the government, with various departments putting up huge billboards on the slightest pretext.

“We are delighted at the CMC’s decision... It is the civic body’s duty to regulate billboards in the city. At the same time, we are calling for a uniform, long-term policy on the matter,” said N.D. Mehta, managing director of Selvel. “We extend our fullest co-operation to the mayor,” said M.K. Saha, director of Karukrit.

Ground and air space in Calcutta have been grabbed over the past few months by outdoor publicity companies mushrooming like never before. They have not bothered to obtain the necessary clearance from the Corporation, depriving the civic body revenue to the tune of Rs 7.5 crore. The Corporation earns an annual revenue of Rs 3 crore from the city’s Rs 30-crore billboard business.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
From dirty and decrepit to green and gorgeous. From a city of crumbling palaces to the “city of gardens”.

The Agri-Horticultural Society of India and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation have decided to team up in a bid to give Calcutta a much-needed facelift. The two will enter into a formal agreement to flag off the ‘Green Calcutta Project’ during the annual flower show on the lawns of the Society, between February 9 and 11.

“We are keen to see a greener Calcutta and we are really serious about this project,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Tuesday.

“We are indeed privileged to be part of the development of green belts in Calcutta and its vicinity,” said Deepak Erasmus, secretary and CEO of the Alipore-based Society.

Following a request from the mayor’s office to its president, M.K. Jalan, in the last week of January, the 180-year-old Society submitted a preliminary proposal to the CMC on February 5. Outlining the scope of work, the four-page proposal has touched upon the ‘steps’ for implementing the plan. Suggesting that action be taken up on a ‘priority-based agenda’ depending on prime locations, the report lists the “airport, tourist spots, railway stations, major roads and their intersections, parks and gardens, buildings of heritage, river banks, lakes and natural water bodies, government offices, the Maidan, flyovers, parking lots...”

“We are planning to divide Calcutta into zones to speed up the work,” explained Mukherjee. To draw up a comprehensive plan at the earliest, the mayor has entrusted the responsibility to Hridayanand Gupta, mayor-in-council, parks and gardens. The Society has also urged the civic body to hand over surveys and maps of the city to finalise “zoning of the areas” to be developed.

The project, which will be conducted under the aegis of the CMC and the guidance of the Society, will also involve various city-based organisations to monitor the beautification of the zones. The Society has already agreed to shoulder the responsibility of beautifying the stretch between Taj Bengal to Judges’ Court Road. “We are in the process of identifying the other organisations who will join us in giving Calcutta a brand new look,” added Mukherjee.

The cost calculations of the huge project are yet to be finalised, but according to the mayor, “funds will not be a constraint”.

The civic authority is “open to the idea” of exploring all avenues for private sponsorship of the programme and subsequent maintenance work.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
Several Calcuttans have received “strange” letters from an Australia-based company, telling them they have won $2.3 million (Australian) each in a contest and that the prize money will be sent against a payment of $19 (US). The recipients, however, can’t recall having participated in any such contest. A police inquiry into the matter has been ordered.

The company, Worldwide Winners’ Search Centre, supposedly based in Queensland, Australia, has promised to deliver the money within 48 hours after the recipients — at least 4,000 of them — fill up the application form and enclose the $19.

The hefty sum will be paid by Jane Wilkens, the company secretary, and is expected to be delivered in an unmarked briefcase.

Kamal Dutta, a resident of Kheladbabu Lane, near Tala bridge, received such a letter some 20 days ago. “I was stunned because I had never taken part in this contest. I then informed the police,” he said.

“We are contacting the Australian embassy in New Delhi and will send them details of the strange letters within a couple of days,” said city detective chief Banibrata Basu. He, however, advised the receivers not to send the money.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
Traffic ground to a halt on Taratala Road on Tuesday morning after students of the Institute of Catering and Hotel Management put up a blockade to protest a mishap in which fellow-student was knocked down by a car.

The students jostled with the policemen, who tried to remove the blockade. Traffic returned to normal after senior police officers and two local MLAs intervened.

The accident took place in front of the college gate around 9 am. Debal Sarker, a final-year student, had just alighted from a bus when he was hit by a Tata Indica. The rear wheels of the car ran over his right leg. He was rushed to Kothari Medical Centre.

Within minutes, at least 200 students came out from the institute. They caught the driver of the car and blocked Taratala Road. Officers from Taratala police station tried to reason with the agitated students, but they refused to call off the blockade.

The situation took a turn for the worse when the police tried to rescue the driver of the car from their clutches. A scuffle ensued.

Meanwhile, two MLAs, Nirmal Mukherjee and Kumkum Chakroborty, had reached the spot. Deputy commissioner of police, port division, Zulfikar Hassan, along with other officers, assured the students that a zebra-crossing would be painted on the road as early as possible.

The students have demanded that a speed-breaker be constructed in front of the college gate, deputy commissioner of police, port, Zulfikar Hasan, said.

Midnapore demand: The state government employees’ federation of the Trinamul Congress held a dharna at the base of the Mahatma Gandhi statue on Mayo Road, demanding a CBI inquiry into the alleged Chhoto Angaria incident in Midnapore. A mass signature campaign was also carried out at the venue, demanding President’s rule in West Bengal.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
Calcutta has been chosen along with Mexico City for a UN project on better water and sanitation management. Gourisankar Ghosh, executive secretary of the Geneva-based UN Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, was in Calcutta recently in this connection.

The concept was mooted by former US Secretary of Defence and president of the World Bank Group of Institutions Robert McNamara. “At the International Water Conference last March in Hague, McNamara suggested that these two cities in the developing world be selected,” Ghosh said. The executive secretary has held “fruitful” talks with the Corporation in this matter.

The former chief of the UN’s water, environment and sanitation section pointed out that there was bound to be a crisis of clean water in Calcutta in future. “The water levels of rivers are declining, as are that of ground water, leading to problems like arsenic contamination,” he said.

The Council plans to initiate a project that will involve the community in evolving water management priorities. “A price is bound to be put on the water that is supplied and the community will have a say in the decision,” Ghosh said.

Citing similarities between the problems faced by the two cities, he said plastic bags were a common headache, as storm water channels are choked by plastics, giving rise to waterlogging and disease.

Ghosh said Unicef would be the launching pad for the project, which will submit its first report in 2003. “We shall start with a workshop some time later this year and we are trying to get McNamara to attend,” Ghosh said.

He said experts from Calcutta will visit Mexico. “There will be optimum interaction between the cities,” Ghosh said.

The CMC will coordinate with Unicef, will approach funding sources and weave in the project with ongoing schemes related to water supply, sanitation and health.

A new WHO/Unicef report, Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000, revealed the following:

round a quarter of the 4.8 billion people in developing countries are without access to improved sources of water

Of the 4.9 billion people world-wide who have access to water supply, around 3 billion have house connections.

There are 4 billion cases of diarrhoea in the world every year, with 2.2 million deaths, mostly among children below five.

There are huge inequities in the investments for services to the affluent in the urban society and that for basic services to the poor.

Ghosh said Council would provide the initial funds to start of the project.


Agartala, Feb. 6: 
After lying low for a long time, the outlawed All-Tripura Tiger Force militants have started regrouping for a major strike to reclaim their area of dominance from the Church-backed NLFT militants in Sadar (North) and interior areas of Khowai subdivision.

As many as 50 heavily-armed Tiger Force militants are waiting across the border to sneak into their base areas in Sadar (North) and Khowai subdivisions. Official agencies keeping tabs on the movement of militants have received information that more than 50 Tiger Force rebels are set to enter Tripura after receiving training at their base camps in Bangladesh.

Sources said since early last year, Tiger Force militants had been on the defensive in the face of an onslaught by rival NLFT rebels, who gradually took over the interior areas of Khowai and Sadar (north) subdivisions. A number of Tiger Force rebels, including collaborators, died in a series of clashes with the NLFT marauders while many others were forced to join the rival outfit over the past year.

Sources said the surprise victory of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) in the Autonomous District Council polls with the help of the NLFT last year also put the Tiger Force on the defensive. The Tiger Force, which has several camps at Satcherri in Habiganj district of Bangladesh, decided to reclaim lost ground after training the new recruits . Sources said instructors from the Ulfa and the Bangladeshi paramilitary forces provided training to the new recruits.

The Tiger Force launched its offensive on January 14 with the killing of three NLFT collaborators in the Daigyabari area under Sidhai police station. On February 4, another group of Tiger Force rebels shot dead two tribal youth suspected to be collaborators of the NLFT in North Maharani area under Kalyanpur police station.

Sources said the infiltration of the larger number of Tiger Force militants in the interior areas of Khowai and Sadar (north) subdivisions would result in more clashes with the NLFT and consequent destabilisation of the tribal-dominated areas.

Senior police officials said security has been beefed up in view of the possibility of fresh violence involving the Tiger Force and the NLFT. Combing operation is still on to rescue the 21 volunteers of the Jamatya “Hoda”, who were abducted on January 29.


Guwahati, Feb. 6: 
In a move to reassure prospective buyers as well as the residents following the Gujarat quake, the Northeast Apartment Developers’ Association today said the panel has adhered to prescribed norms while implementing highrise constructions in the city.

The association — an apex panel of builders, promoters, structural engineers and architects — also described the action of the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) in declaring 51 highrises in the city as vulnerable as “arbitrary”. The association said it was technically not possible to arrive at such a conclusion once the construction is over.

There was no guarantee as to whether these highrise buildings will remain intact in the event of a major quake, an officer-bearer of the builders’ association said. However, the builders have adhered to all norms laid down in the Indian standards for seismic zone V, he added.

The association also suggested the GMDA authorities to make completion certificates by architects mandatory for every highrise project. President of the association Bimal Phukan said while official statutes and regulations were in place to control and monitor the projects, the association strongly felt that only a “self imposed discipline and commitment” would ensure quality.


Bhubaneswar, Feb. 6: 
A disparaging remark by BJP strongman J.P. Mathur about the super cyclone victims in Orissa threatens to snowball into a major controversy.

Orissa Gana Parishad (OGP), a regional outfit headed by former BJD leader Bijoy Mohapatra, today announced that it would take to the streets if the BJP did not seek an unconditional apology for its leader’s intemperate statement.

Mathur, who is in charge of the party’s central relief committee for the Gujarat earthquake victims, told newspersons in New Delhi on February 1 that nobody needed to send used clothes or blankets for those affected by the quake.

Mathur reasoned that the quake-affected were from affluent families and would not accept used blankets. “They (the Gujarat victims) are not in the same category as the poor people in Orissa, who may have been glad to accept old clothes,” Mathur was quoted in several newspapers including some national dailies.

“It needs to be condemned strongly. It is an aspersion on the dignity of the people of the state,” Mohapatra told reporters here today. “You can collect new clothes from the well-off people, but not specifically ask for new clothes. It’s cruel,” he said. He also said relief operations conducted by the Centre in quake-hit Gujarat has exposed the partisan attitude towards the state.

“We are sympathetic towards the cause of Gujarat. But the same sympathy was not visible during the 1999 Orissa supercyclone,’’ he said, referring to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s two-hour aerial tour of Gujarat.

Listing the Centre’s partisan behaviour against the Orissa cyclone victims, the OGP president said while the Biju Janata Dal demanded formation of a National Disaster Mitigation Authority, the Centre did not take note of the fact. “It’s only in case of Gujarat that the Centre has thought of forming a disaster mitigation panel,” he said.

The OGP leader said the Biju Janata Dal should demand withdrawal of Mathur’s statement if it is sincere in maintaining the dignity of the state. If the BJP fails to seek an apology, the party would organised protests all over the state, he said.


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