Vendetta fear on waterfront
Airport guard had ‘disturbed family life’
Silence plea fails, rally stalls city
Residents foil kidnap attempt
Longest subway east of Hooghly
Operation theatre on wheels
New BHEL office to be quake-proof
Orissa prawn farms pose eco-hazard
36 convicted in Bhagalpur riot case
Nipamacha stokes Opp. power struggle

 
 
VENDETTA FEAR ON WATERFRONT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 12: 
There is blood in the water, terror in the lanes.

Sunday night’s killing of local Congress leader Mohammed Jahangir, better known as Moghul, has opened yet another deadly chapter in gangland wars in Garden Reach, with rival gangs sharpening their knives for control of the waterfront.

Moghul, who started off as a petty trade union leader, had come to control the bulk of the area’s musclepower in the last decade, even as he rose up the rungs of the Congress party hierarchy.

At around 10 on Sunday night, when Moghul was taking the short walk home from his Irongate Road party office, the lights suddenly went off, plunging the area into darkness. Then, three shots shattered the silence of the night. While two whizzed past, one of the bullets ploughed into the don-turned-politician’s head, near his right ear. By the time he was rushed to a nearby nursing home, Moghul was dead.

A tense Garden Reach, where the Congress had called at 12-hour bandh on Monday, waited in fear for the “revenge killings” to start. “It was really a spontaneous bandh observed by people scared to step out into the streets,” said Bakhtiar Ahmed of Garden Reach Road. “Now, violence is bound to escalate in the area.”

All shops and markets were closed in Garden Reach on Monday and vehicles, including state buses, stayed off the roads. Black flags were fluttering in the lanes and bylanes, adding an eerie touch to the proceedings.

In front of Moghul’s sprawling house, armed guards moved around, barring visitors. People in hushed whispers were discussing the latest twist in the mafia war, while waiting for Moghul’s body to be brought home.

At around three in the afternoon, when the body was finally brought home in a convoy of about 50 cars, the hushed silence broke into cries of anger, with some of his supporters baying for blood.

“The situation was threatening to spin out of control on Sunday night itself, with passions on the rise as news of the killing spread,” said DC, port, Zulfikar Hasan. “Thousands of people had gathered on the road through the night and it was an alert force that managed to keep the situation in check.”

Police officers said Moghul’s fatal mistake on Sunday night had been his over-confidence. “He always had five armed securitymen around him,” said an officer. “Why he decided to do away with them on Sunday night is a mystery. We think he was getting too complacent, but he had no business being so, given the trade he was in.”

Police records show that Moghul, son of a minor businessman in Garden Reach, built his fortune in the port area, even as he began dabbling in politics. As general secretary of the Intuc-affiliated Garden Reach Ship Builders and Engineers labour union, his hold over the port labour, and in some cases, the management, was enviable.

As his name grew to spell fear in the area, his cat-and-mouse game with the police picked up pace. According to the police, he was arrested at least eight times, mainly in the 80s and early 90s.

“But in none of the cases was he convicted, as no witnesses showed up,” said DC, headquarters, Narayan Ghosh. “In fact, at the time of his death, there was only one case pending against him, that of rioting. The case dates back to 1992.”

In recent years, Moghul had risen in the Congress hierarchy, becoming PCC member and vice-president of the South 24-Parganas district Congress committee.

Jawan runs amok: An army jawan ran amok on Strand Road, near Watergate, on Monday afternoon, injuring a middle-aged woman and her daughter.

The jawan, Ramesh Das, was travelling on a government bus on route 3A. Following an altercation with the driver, he got off the bus, picked up some bricks lying on the sidewalk and hurled them at the window-panes. The shards injured the woman and her seven-year-old daughter. Das was overpowered by other passengers and handed over to the police.

   

 
 
AIRPORT GUARD HAD ‘DISTURBED FAMILY LIFE’ 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 12: 
A “disturbed family life” might be the only explanation for the “fit of insanity” that seized R.D. Burma when he went berserk on Saturday morning, shooting five people, including himself, at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport. Two policemen were killed and two others injured as the CRPF jawan went on a shooting spree.

The airport police could not interrogate Burma, undergoing treatment at SSKM Hospital, till Monday night. Doctors have removed the bullet from his stomach and his condition is said to be “stable”.

Sleuths interrogated 30 CRPF personnel at the barracks in Narayanpur on Monday.

Preliminary investigations revealed that Burma, hailing from Tripura, had been suffering from “depression” for the past five years. “It started when his father remarried, soon after his mother’s death. He took strong exception to this, and left his father’s house along with his wife,” said a sleuth.

When Burma returned home after he became the father of a baby girl in 1995, a family feud broke out, with his step-mother refusing to accept him.

Since then, things have only gone from bad to worse. Burma was denied his legitimate share of the family property, and he left his Tripura home to take up a posting in Arunachal Pradesh in 1996. He would visit his wife and daughter in Tripura twice or thrice every year.

“Two years ago, Burma got the shock of his life when his wife abandoned their daughter and fled with one of their neighbours,” said an investigator.

Burma returned to his father’s residence and requested his step-mother to take care of his two-year-old daughter.

Burma never really recovered from the trauma of losing his wife to another man. He was often “depressed”, lost in thoughts of his daughter, living in Tripura, said some of his colleagues.

The superintendent of police, airport, O.P. Gupta, said: “We are going through all the information, but it will be impossible for us to disclose the exact cause behind the shooting spree without interrogating the jawan.”

A public interest litigation was filed by advocate Tapas Bhanja in Calcutta High Court on Monday, demanding a “judicial inquiry” into Saturday’s incident.

The petitioner also demanded that Burma be given “proper treatment” if it was ascertained that he was suffering from depression. The case will come up for hearing on Friday.

At the international terminal, armed personnel from the district police force have been deployed to “increase surveillance”. But an officer clarified that this was “a temporary step”.

   

 
 
SILENCE PLEA FAILS, RALLY STALLS CITY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 12: 
The call to observe two minutes’ silence at three on Monday afternoon as a mark of condolence for the earthquake victims of Gujarat received very little response in the city, though a huge turnout for a padayatra later made up to some extent.

Not a single vehicle stopped as the sirens went off at the appointed hour. Neither did “trains or planes”, in spite of eye-catching advertisements and newspaper reports about Bengal’s gesture for the people of Gujarat.

Vehicles, mainly in central Calcutta did, however, stop for almost an hour after that, but because they were forced to by the procession, which stretched a kilometre long and passed through Kingsway, Chowringhee, Mayo Road and Akashvani Bhavan, before ending at Kshudiram Anushilan Kendra.

Before the rally started from Victoria Memorial, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee explained the cause in the presence of sports minister Subhas Chakraborty, prime organiser of Monday’s silent procession.

Several other ministers and Left Front leaders, including CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, were present. No one from the Opposition parties turned up.

“We have gathered here to observe two minutes’ silence and walk for our brothers and sisters in Gujarat,” said Bhattacharjee. He then announced the start of the two minutes at 3.02 pm. But 30 seconds were still left when he broke the silence and inaugurated the rally, made up largely by students. Though the call was given by the state government, most of the officials and staff at Writers’ Buildings either did not know about it or had forgotten or simply ignored the plea.

While a section of policemen and mediapersons in front of the chief minister’s chamber stood up at 3 pm to observe silence, labour secretary N.K.S. Jhala, panchayat secretary Prasad Roy and some other officials walked past, talking amongst themselves.

“I am really sorry... I had completely forgotten,” said A.K. Ganai, joint secretary in the finance department. “I didn’t even know about it,” said an employee of the land reforms department. “Was there any government circular or order?” asked a member of the coordination committee.

Minister Chakraborty concluded: “We had urged people to observe silence and join the padayatra. But it was up to them to decide. The march, however, was a success.”

   

 
 
RESIDENTS FOIL KIDNAP ATTEMPT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 12: 
Residents of the Kalighat area foiled an attempt to kidnap a student on Sunday evening.

The incident took place on Sadananda Road, in the Kalighat police station area. Tarik Masood, a final-year student of Bhawanipur Education Society who resides in Kabitirtha Sarani, was returning home after attending computer classes when he was accosted by a gang of six youth on motorcycles.

The miscreants picked up Masood and went to a nearby telephone booth. Ravi, the leader of the gang, called up Mohammad Masood, the student’s father, and demanded Rs 2 lakh as ransom.

Suddenly, Masood started screaming, which alerted the local people. Sensing trouble, the kidnappers fled.

Ravi was arrested later during an overnight raid in the area and identified by Masood.

   

 
 
LONGEST SUBWAY EAST OF HOOGHLY 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, Feb. 12: 
Thousands of commuters east of the Hooghly, arriving and leaving Calcutta every day, will have a path of their own very soon, complete with shoppers’ stops and piped music. A 143-metre subway connecting the Sealdah station building to the base of the flyover is near completion and is set to be inaugurated early next month.

“This will be the longest underground pathway in the city. The subway at Howrah station that leads to the foot of Rabindra Setu is longer by a few metres, but then that is on the other side of the river,” pointed out a RITES official. The government undertaking, a branch of the Indian Railways, has designed the subway, as well as the extension of the Sealdah station main building, which will merge with the Sealdah South section complex in another year’s time.

During peak hours, the expected footfall in the subway will be between 10,000 and 11,000, every hour, said engineers who drew up the blueprint.

“The tunnel is 3 metres high and 16.4 metres wide, of which six metres will be marked for pedestrian passage,” explained D.C. Mitra, RITES general manager (projects). The rest will house 48 shops lining both sides of the subway. Each shop will measure 3x3 metres, and will sell “almost everything, except perishables”.

“The subway will be a boon to commuters headed towards central and south Calcutta. said station manager T.K. Das. “Now, they have to make their way through the labyrinth of hawkers, vendors and vehicles, before reaching the flyover,” he added.

Once the underground pathway is opened, passengers headed going south or central, will emerge right in front of the entrance to Sealdah Court.

Another branch is being constructed to enable passengers to exit near the taxi stand.

The subway does have the provision for another branch tunnel, leading to the northern periphery of the station compound, but this will remain sealed for the time being. “If there is a decision in future, this extension of the subway can be constructed,” said Biswajit Saha, RITES engineer managing the construction at the site.

Construction of the subway began on March 6 last year, with a completion target of a year. The major work is over, with the electrical, ventilation and floor-polishing work going on at the moment. The March target is being met despite a hitch around June, when a pile being driven into the earth hit one of two five-ft-diameter Corporation water mains, connecting Tala tank to Auckland Square.

“Had that burst, the station would have been flooded within hours,” said Saha. The course of the subway had to be altered so that there was no interference with these mains. “As a result, the number of shops came down by four,” adds Saha.

The music to be played in the tunnel will be the same as that on the Sealdah platforms, and the announcements related to the running of trains will also be heard underground.

   

 
 
OPERATION THEATRE ON WHEELS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 12: 
A special ambulance made in Japan and equipped to carry out several types of surgery, including a few complex ones, will be airlifted from Calcutta to quake-hit Gujarat by a defence aircraft on Tuesday.

The “mobile operation theatre project” has been initiated and executed by the Indian Society for Critical Care Medicine, which is also sending a team of nine personnel, including seven doctors of various disciplines, said Dr Saurav Kole, the society’s all-India secretary.

“We will be landing at Bhuj and travelling about 70 km towards Bhachau, where medical treatment is most required at the moment. We will tie up with a team that has arrived from Israel and set up a field hospital there,” Kole said.

The ambulance, made by Nissan, is a veritable operation theatre on wheels. It accommodates a surgical table, a cardiac defibrillator and monitor, suction apparatus, pulse oxymeter, anaesthetic apparatus, surgical instruments, oxygen and orthopaedic equipment.

A surgeon, anaesthetist, neurosurgeon, paediatrician, intensivist (specialist in intensive care therapy), orthopaedist and a psychotherapist comprise the doctors’ team. The two other members are a driver and a technician.

“We will carry various types of medicine with us, mainly antibiotics, painkillers and vaccines. We have received a lot of assistance from the disaster management group of Rotary Club,” Kole said. The team will stay on for at least a fortnight before other doctors from the critical care medicine society’s branches in the other states replace them.

After the requirements in Gujarat are met, the ambulance will return to Calcutta for use here. “We may not use it as a mobile OT in the city but as a proper ambulance, the type that you get to see in the TV serials.” If needed, it could serve as an OT for remote areas in south Bengal.

   

 
 
NEW BHEL OFFICE TO BE QUAKE-PROOF 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 12: 
The eastern region office complex of Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (Bhel), coming up in Salt Lake, will be made earthquake and wind resistant with the help of special technology, said officials. The foundation stone of this Rs 7-crore-project was laid on Monday by Bhel director (power) Ramesh Chand Agarwal.

“Specially after the Gujarat earthquake, we have decided to be very strict about following the norms of the Bureau of Indian Standards for seismic load and wind load. The provisions of the National Building Organisation will also be strictly maintained,” said a senior civil engineer of Bhel.

Work on the five-storeyed building, spread on a sprawling 30-cottah plot given by the state government, also began on Monday. The complex, geared with all the state-of-the-art information technology and provisions of constructing two additional floors, is expected to be completed within two years. Bhel, at present, is operating from Gillander House, on Netaji Subhas Road. Once the complex is completed, Bhel will be able to serve customers in the eastern region better, said Agarwal.

The company has bagged an order to set up a 100-mw gas turbine project on a turnkey basis at Baghabari, in Bangladesh. One of the largest hydro-electric projects being handled by BHEL is in Tala, Bhutan.

After work is completed in Salt Lake, commissioning and transportation of materials from manufacturing units and insurance will be carried out by BHEL, eastern region, while turbine-generators will be supplied by BHEL, Bhopal.

   

 
 
ORISSA PRAWN FARMS POSE ECO-HAZARD 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhubaneswar, Feb. 12: 
Rising demand for prawns throughout the world threatens to affect the livelihood of thousands of fishermen along the Orissa coast while bringing ecological disaster in its wake.

As the percentage of shrimp consumed worldwide is expected to rise to 50 per cent, the fishing community in Orissa is feeling the heat of prawn mafia.

Prawn farming in thousands of acres of land in the state, including the Bhitarkanika region, has led to the decline of fish population. Farms engaged in prawn hatcheries capture young shrimps and kill fish seedlings n of bhekti, mullet and seer. In the entire coast of Orissa, one can find thousands of fishermen and young boys engaged in collection of seedlings, which is illegal.

Fishing trawlers are also reporting dwindling catch because of this practice by aquaculture farms. The country fishermen are also reporting negligible catch throwing hundreds of fishermen out of jobs.

According to environmentalist Biswajit Mohanty of the Wildlife Society of Orissa, modern intensive shrimp aquaculture provides limited employment opportunities for the coastal residents. “What is worse is that most of these employment are poorly-paid seasonal and unskilled jobs, that offer no long-term job security,’’ he says.

Citing a study conducted by the Chittagong University in Bangladesh, Mohanty said shrimp farming displaces more jobs than it creates. Cultivating 100 acres of land with paddy employs 50 workers as against five in the same land with prawn cultivation. Shrimp farming in the coastal Satkhira region of Bangladesh displaced 40 per cent of the area’s three lakh inhabitants into the country’s overcrowded cities, the university study said.

Besides affecting the local livelihood, prawn farming also makes heavy demands on the coastal environment. Prime mangrove forests are often cleared to set up prawn farms as has been done in the Mahanadi delta and the Bhitarkanika region.

Besides protecting Orissa’s coastal villages from the cyclonic winds and storm surges, the mangrove forests are excellent sources of food for coastal fisheries and wildlife habitats.

The aquaculture farms that have sprouted along the Orissa coastline over the past few years have also polluted the rivers and creeks, poisoning the coastal waterways with the excrement from the farms. The aquaculture farms demand artificial feed, pesticides, chemical additives and antibiotics all the time.

Many other toxic substances and pesticides such as malathion, parathion, azodin and paraquat are used in large-scale shrimp farming. The polluted effluents from these farms have already had a devastating impact near Devi river at Astaranga where the farmers have reported death of fishes because of the discharge of toxic waste from a large prawn farms spread over 500 acres.

Other effects of prawn farming is the conversion of coastal ecosystem into monoculture production. Once the prawn farms are abandoned, it is expensive to make the land suitable for farming purposes.

   

 
 
36 CONVICTED IN BHAGALPUR RIOT CASE 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Bhagalpur, Feb. 12: 
In the second conviction in the Bhagalpur riots case, 20 accused were handed prison sentences today.

The verdict follows close on the heels of the first conviction on February 7, when 16 people were sentenced to life for the riots that killed more than 1,000 people and maimed double that number more than a decade ago.

The third additional district and sessions judge of Bhagalpur, M.N. Singh, held 20 of the 36 accused guilty of involvement in the riots spread over a month in October 1989. They have been given varying jail terms for violating prohibitory orders and attacking the police in Bhagalpur city.

The first ruling came on a case relating to the killing of 61 members of the minority community in Chanderi village on the outskirts of the city.

Though much delayed, the two successive guilty verdicts have come as a relief to the ruling Congress-RJD combine which was committed to bringing the guilty to book. But the victims’ families are dismayed by a “term of jail which is not in proportion to the nature of the crime”.

The life term for the 16 was “outrageous”, they said, asserting the guilty should have been given a death sentence.

“So far, they have pinpointed the jokers in a card game of communal politics and let the kings go,” said Bibi Badrunnisa, who lost five sisters and her mother-in-law in Chanderi on October 27-28, 1989.

Several top politicians, policemen and administrative officials were allegedly involved in the riots.A commission set up to look into the role of the police indicted a DIG and a superintendent of police, but a second panel appointed to re-examine the issue exonerated them.

Following the Chanderi conviction, members of the minority community alleged that they were receiving indirect threats from relatives of those sentenced. The government has posted a police picket in the village.

A peaceful locality dominated by Muslims and Yadavs, Chanderi exploded in communal violence on October 27, 1989, when women and old men were sawed to death and dumped into a well, open fields and a pond filled with water hyacinth.

Of the 40 houses rebuilt after the riots subsided, only 15 are inhabited. Occupants of the remaining houses have fled the area. Bibi Mustari, a 40-year-old housewife, is one of the few who stayed on. “I challenged death and dared its agents to come to me,” she said.

Thirty-five-year-old Mallika Begum, another survivor, lives alone. She was struck unconscious with a sharp weapon and dumped into a pond along with other women.

An army officer who got her out of the pond married her, only to desert her two years ago after taking the compensation money. “What is left to say? The riot has taken away everything and everyone in my family,” she said softly. But if Chanderi has been given a faint sense of justice, other villages have not got even that.

In Logain, 127 people were killed and their bodies buried in the soil which was covered with cauliflower plants. All the bodies were found two months after the massacre. Eleven years on, no one has been held guilty.

“We had to depend overwhelmingly on circumstantial evidence,” said a prosecutor in one of the 320 cases out of the 800 registered by the police, for which chargesheets were filed. The total number of accused is over 2,000.

Nothing seems to have changed. As one of those convicted was being led out of court today, he shouted: “Jai Shri Ram”.

   

 
 
NIPAMACHA STOKES OPP. POWER STRUGGLE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, Feb. 12: 
The political scenario in Manipur continues to be fluid as an intense struggle over leadership in the Opposition camp prevented the formation of a viable alternative government after the W. Nipamacha Singh-led United Front of Manipur ministry was reduced to a minority.

Eight Manipur State Congress Party legislators walked out of the UFM to join hands with the Opposition Manipur Democratic Front yesterday.

Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy has summoned the winter session from Wednesday to take up the no-confidence motion against the Nipamacha Singh ministry. The session was adjourned sine die by the Speaker on December 1 last year after admitting the motion.

However, Nipamacha Singh, still hoping to strike a balance in the new equation, is yet to resign. The 27 members of UFM will have a crucial role to play in the formation of a new government if the leadership tussle in the Opposition camp continued.

The tussle has already delayed the formation of a new ministry. Those in the race include BJP legislature wing leader R.K. Dorendra Singh, Samata Legislature Party leader Radhabinod Koijam and Union minister of state for food processing Chaoba Singh of the breakaway MSCP faction. Speaker Dhananjoy was also hoping to be a consensus candidate in the event of a major leadership crisis.

The chief minister has sent feelers to both Dorendra Singh and Radhabinod Koijam, hoping to team up with the leader who loses the race. Sources said the chief minister would resign on Wednesday before the Assembly session if he ran out of alternatives to save his sinking ship.

Sensing the mood in the ruling camp, MDF spokesman O. Joy Singh said the leadership issue in the Opposition camp will be decided only after toppling the Nipamacha Singh ministry on the floor of the Assembly.

Denying any leadership tussle in the MDF, Joy Singh said the possibility of imposing President’s rule has now faded after the eight MSCP legislators withdrew support from the UFM ministry.

The UFM, meanwhile, is keeping up a brave front saying there was no crisis in the party. Deputy chief minister L. Chandramani Singh told a news conference that the strength of the UFM was still 35 in the 60-member Manipur Assembly. The effective strength of the House is 59 following the death of a Samata Party MLA.

Chandramani Singh also denied taking any decision by the MSCP legislature wing to withdraw from the National Democratic Alliance.

He said the legislature wing had only expressed dissatisfaction over remarks made by two Central leaders of the BJP and Samata Party. Chandramani Singh accused some ministers of spreading rumours to create a rift in the MSCP.

Nipamacha Singh has informed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee about the expulsion of Union minister Th. Chaoba Singh for six years from the primary membership of the MSCP. The chief minister wrote to Vajpayee today saying he himself will represent the party in the NDA co-ordinating committee.

The breakaway MSCP faction today elected former sports minister M. Hemanta Singh as its leader.

The Samata Party, which is the second largest party with 12 MLAs after the MSCP, has staked claim to forming the next government. Party general secretary Shambhu Srivastava said in New Delhi yesterday that his party, being the single largest in the Opposition, should be invited by the Governor to form the new government.

Srivastava, along with BJP national secretary, in charge of Manipur, P.B. Acharya have reached Imphal to thrash out the leadership issue.

   
 

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