One gone, several to go as mayor loads clean-wall
Whiff of death, life of crime
Revised road rules rejected
Games people play to share thrill of sport
Facelift for 13 ghats
City centre rally lathicharged
Koijam promises fiscal discipline in Manipur
PSUs default on workers’state insurance
Police raid killer breweries
Social stigma hinders Bihar

Calcutta, Feb. 15: 
Grasim Cement has kept its word. A spokesperson of the company had told Metro on Tuesday that it would whitewash its illegal advertisement on the boundary wall of Tollygunge Club in 48 hours .

On Thursday afternoon, a white patch had replaced its multi-coloured ad exhorting people to buy its “stronger cement, better cement”.

When told of Grasim’s “corrective action”, IDCOL cement’s zonal manager R.N. Pathi said: “We too don’t believe in defacing walls and would like to adhere to the civic rule. I shall personally visit Tolly Club this weekend and convey my concern to the club authorities. After which, I shall call the ad agency people responsible to have them wipe it out.”

However, some other companies, whose wares are advertised on the same wall, continued to play truant. Taking shelter behind “ignorance”, Videocon’s city general manager Gautam Sengupta had said that he was neither aware of the rules nor about the fact that his company’s goods had been illegally advertised.

On Thursday, Sengupta was not available for comment and other officials said they were not authorised to speak on the issue.

Among the other companies fighting for space on Tolly’s walls are Mico batteries, Gulf Lubricants, IT Kids and even the public sector Life Insurance Corporation of India. The deputy regional manager, LIC, D.K. Shukla’s reply to the charge that a public sector outfit was violating civic rules, was typically bureaucratic. “When the CMC official notifies us that our advertisement is illegal, we will have to remove it,” he said.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation has decided not to take matters lying down any longer. In its “either-us-or-them” announcement on Thursday, city mayor Subrata Mukherjee said that he would hound “these errant companies” till they wiped their advertisements off boundary walls.

Under the CMC Act of 1980, anyone found defacing walls of public property can be sued in the court of the municipal magistrate and punished with fines ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 5,000. In case of private property, the owner’s permission has to be sought before any such advertising is undertaken.

Mukherjee said that he had already initiated steps to make defacing of walls for “commercial purposes” a cognisable offence and written to the state government in this connection. “Once this is done, offenders can be arrested.”

For the moment, CMC inspectors have been instructed to make a list of companies that have their advertisements splashed on city walls and send them notices with a three-day deadline to have them wiped off. “After that, we will take them to court and start slapping fines in earnest,” Mukherjee said.


Calcutta, Feb. 15: 
Four children, aged between 10 and 12, were produced in the juvenile court on Thursday after their arrest the previous day from Howrah station for pilfering luggage. In another incident on Wednesday, a boy was arrested at the station after his arrival from Mumbai, where he had stolen cash and jewellery from a household.

The recent busting of a juvenile gang at the busy station has brought to light some startling facts, and dark tales of how they are dragged into a life of crime.

These children, most of them between six and 14, hail from poor and disturbed families. They are lured out of home by criminals, who promise them large sums of money “to carry out each order of the boss”.

The children are then given small doses of narcotics, like heroin, brown sugar and charas, the quantity increasing by the day, until they become addicted. Their “employers” then start regulating the doses, and the children are told to go out and commit crimes. They are compelled to:

sell drug-laced foodstuff, tea and soft drinks and paan on long-distance trains

sneak into long-distance trains and open the compartment doors at a pre-destined station, making it easier for robbers to barge in

snatch watches, bags and similar objects from train windows even as the trains pull out of the platform

pick pockets on a crowded local train or the unreserved compartment of a mail train

work as ‘carriers’ of contraband goods. They collect these goods from the trains and smuggle them out of the station

In certain cases, they offer themselves as domestic helps in upper middle class households. They act as informers to the gangs, providing them with the blueprint of the house, making it easy for the dacoits

“There is a case of juvenile crime recorded almost every day in our police station,” confirms superintendent of the Howrah Government Railway Police station, D.P. Tarenia. He says it is impossible for his men to nab the ringleaders as they operate from outside the station. “These gangs do not operate from a single hideout. They operate from the districts and Bihar. We can only nab the juveniles,” added Tarenia.

At one of their hideouts just beyond the station, the kids narrated how they were lured into the world of crime.

“My father has a grocery shop near Kharagpur railway station. He would beat my mother and me every night in an intoxicated condition. I ran away to the station to escape the beatings,” says nine-year-old Ajoy Sau.

One day, a “kaku” found him weeping alone on a bench at Kharagpur station. “He told me he will give me a lot of money for doing some small jobs. He also offered me a puff from his cigarette... Now, kaku offers me cigarette only when I do jobs for him. I cannot live without these cigarettes,” says Ajoy.

All the kids sitting in a cluster in their hideout had similar stories to narrate, puffing on their heroin-laced cigarettes.

The scene at Sealdah is different. The police admit the juvenile crime graph in the station has come down drastically after CiniAsha, Loreto Day School, Sealdah, and the Unesco opened a school for destitute children at the station. “Cases of juvenile crime at Sealdah station have plummeted. Kids are now interested in studying instead of loitering around the station,” said Sushil Chandra Dutta, officer-in-charge of Sealdah government railway station.


Calcutta, Feb. 15: 
A zero sum game was played out between the police and shop-owners of New Market on Thursday.

The result — Day III of the showdown over parking on Lindsay Street passed with shops staying shut, and cops struggling to devise road-rule revisions to placate the powerful traders’ lobby.

The normally-bustling shopping centre wore a deserted look with New Market, Shriram Arcade, Firpos, Treasure Island and the Lindsay Street markets refusing to raise shutters through Thursday. Several traders, and even some hawkers, went on a relay hungerstrike to press for their demand of “complete withdrawal of new parking regulations”.

Police, in a major rollback, decided to revert to the perpendicular-to-the-kerb parking in front of New Market to enable many more shop-owners and shoppers to park their vehicles. Taxis were also allowed to enter Lindsay Street via Bertram Street from 8 am to 2 pm. And the cops assured the traders that a crackdown on hawkers was on the cards.

But all this, felt the traders, was too little, too late. Thakurdas Chotrani, general secretary, S.S. Hogg Market Traders’ Association, said: “We demand perpendicular-to-the-kerb car parking not just on Lindsay Street, but on Bertram Street, Hogg Street and other surrounding areas... All we want the police to do is give us a chance. Let us revert back to the old parking system and see how it works out. We will have our own volunteers helping the police at all key intersections.”

At the end of a marathon meeting with the police, that carried on till late in the evening, the protesters decided to keep the shops shut and carry on the hunger-strike. They later met Calcutta Municipal Corporation commissioner Debashis Som to apprise him of the situation.

With the traders refusing to relent, joint commissioner of police, traffic, Anup Chatterjee, threatened to revert to the earlier road rules. “If they persist with the trade bandh in the shopping area, we will pull back the concessions,’’ Chatterjee warned. “There will be no more talks with them if the stalemate persists.”

There are around 5,000 shops in New Market and another 1,000 shops in Treasure Island, Firpos, and the Shriram Arcade. “Seventy per cent of our customers arrive in cars. Shoppers have been steering clear of this area ever since the new parking rules were introduced six months ago,’’ alleged Vijay Khetry, a shop-owner in New Market.

According to the traders’ association, movement of vehicles can be properly regulated in the area with “proper patrolling”.

“The new set of parking and traffic rules are faulty and completely unnecessary. We would have co-operated with the cops and helped streamline movement of vehicles if they had asked us, instead of slapping arbitrary restrictions,’’ a trader said.


Calcutta, Feb. 15: 
As Marcus Kubicka landed smoothly after a tough triple-somersault routine on the trampoline, the applause was loud and lengthy. Minutes before, Kubicka, who had missed the bus to the Sydney Olympics by a whisker, had stood rooted to the Sports Authority of India greens, canning the gigantic steps of Atul Bittar’s stilts-men from Murshidabad.

‘Sport for All’, a unique games carnival, brought traditional and regional sports of Germany and India together on the SAI campus, in Salt Lake, on Thursday afternoon. Part of the ongoing German Festival in India, the show had a 20-strong delegation from the Deutscher Sport Bund (the German sports federation) sharing the stage with schoolchildren and streetchildren of Calcutta, besides exponents of traditional Indian sports like ron-pa, lathi khela and wushu.

“We had great fun in the tug-of-war. This is exciting stuff, so different from our PT class in school,” exclaimed Akshay Lahoti, a Class VI student of Birla High School for Boys. Like Akshay, the school kids, who had turned up by the hundreds, had a whale of a time, watching and participating. “It was quite hot out there, but we really didn’t feel it as the German athletes were so cool,” gushed Ruchika Bora of Birla High for Girls.

“It’s an international movement where more than 120 nations work together to encourage talent in traditional and regional sports, and to provide a platform for people to take part in games without spending huge amounts. It’s not highly-competitive television sports we are talking about. Sport for All is basic sports, also known as mass sports or health sports,” explained Wolfgang Baumann, deputy leader of the delegation.

Apart from trampoline jump, the afternoon fare had ‘vice-world champion’ Darius Heisig on the Rhöen Wheel, complemented by Ines Meurer, and a scintillating display acrobatics on the mat. Among the awestruck audience sat German consul-general Wolfgang Seiwert, ex-football great P.K. Banerjee, Somen Choudhury, director, SAI (East), and Amrit Mathur of SAI (Delhi).

The German federation had kicked off its ‘Spiel mit’ (come and play with us) campaign in 1979. “As part of this campaign, the games festivals were created to conserve local culture and to give everyone a chance to indulge in sporting leisure,” said Gerlinde Radde, leader of the German delegation. According to Radde, this novel games fest can go a long way in inculcating “sports culture” among schoolchildren. “Maybe, two or three Calcutta schools can come together and organise such open-air fests, even if they’re on a smaller scale. It will do wonders for the kids’ confidence,” she observed.

“It’s a pity that not even a lakh among our billion-plus population play any game on a competitive level and most of our schools don’t have playgrounds. Such festivals can spread awareness of sports and foster healthy living,” said sports medicine expert Dr Manab Bhattacharya.


Calcutta, Feb. 15: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Thursday went on a cruise on the Hooghly to inspect Calcutta’s riverfront and the century-old bathing ghats between River Traffic police station and Kashi Mitra Ghat, in Sovabazar.

The cruise was part of Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s Rs 2-crore riverfront beautification scheme for the five-km stretch on the east bank of the Hooghly. The CMC has also sought the help of the CMDA and the Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) for implementing the scheme.

Mukherjee was accompanied by local Trinamul Congress MP Sudip Bandopadhyay and party MLAs Tarak Banerjee and Sanjoy Bakshi. Senior CMDA and CPT officials were also present.

The mayor climbed on board the motor launch, MV Ahalya, in the morning from Chandpal Ghat and sailed the five-km stretch to watch the 13 dilapidated bathing ghats dating back to the Raj. Babughat is the most prominent of them all.

“I did not like what I saw. If I had not gone in a launch and seen the bathing ghats for myself, I would not have realised the deplorable condition they were in,” said Mukherjee.

The Rs 2-crore scheme will include a facelift of 13 bathing ghats between the River Traffic police station and Kashi Mitra Ghat. The civic authorities plan a partial facelift for the ghats by Shivratri, in the first week of March.

Hridayanand Gupta, member, mayor-in-council (parks and gardens), said Sudip Bandopadhyay had donated Rs 10 lakh from his MP’s Local Area Development fund for renovating Babughat. He will arrange for another Rs 40 lakh more from his LAD fund. The CMC will give Rs 30 lakh from its coffers.


Calcutta, Feb. 15: 
An unauthorised rally by nearly 2,000 co-operative employees in the Esplanade area on Thursday evening threw traffic in central Calcutta out of gear. Caught unawares, the police took nearly two hours to marshal resources. A big contingent, led by deputy commissioner of police, central, Raj Kanojia lathicharged the gathering. Around 750 people were arrested.

The rally arrived at the Esplanade crossing around 2.30 pm and, instead of proceeding towards Rani Rashmoni Road, squatted on Jawaharlal Nehru Road. As a result, traffic on Central Avenue, Lenin Sarani, S.N. Banerjee Road and Jawaharlal Nehru Road came to a halt. The traffic personnel failed to remove the squatters.

With the situation threatening to spin out of control, Lalbazar directed deputy commissioner Raj Kanojia to reach the spot with reinforcements. A platoon of Rapid Action Force was also asked to be on standby near Akashvani Bhavan.

Kanojia initially tried to talk the demonstrators into leaving the area, but the discussion soon turned into an argument.

Police barricaded three sides of the road and started the lathicharge. A scuffle ensued as the demonstrators were dragged into waiting police vans.

A few police officers also received blows. The area was cleared at 4.30 pm.


Imphal, Feb. 15: 
The new chief minister of Manipur, Radhabinod Koijam, today said his top priority would be to usher in peace to the state and enforce financial discipline in the government.

Talking to newsmen at the Raj Bhawan after he was sworn in as chief minister, Koijam said he did not believe in using force to solve the problem of militancy.

After capturing the chief ministership by staging a major political coup, Koijam’s biggest task is to improve the law and order situation and the state’s economy.

The chief minister said use of force can never end insurgency and added “only a political solution can solve the decades-old insurgency problem.” He said his new government would work hard to bring peace and prosperity to the state.

When asked why insurgents were not responding to the appeals issued by previous governments, Koijam said there was a need to find out the reservations of the insurgents regarding such offers. “After knowing the insurgents’ reservations, we have to manage the situation,” he added and stressed the need for a political dialogue with the insurgents.

Commenting on the state’s acute financial crisis, he said his government would work hard to improve the economy and the financial health of the state.

Reiterating that his government would be stable, Koijam said it would now be an all-party government. “Many central leaders talk about a national or an all-party government. Manipur has shown it today,” he remarked. He said the new government will adopt a collective approach in resolving the various problems of the state.

When asked why the Congress has been left out even though he claims his government to be an all-party one, Koijam said the lone Congress MLA, Rishang Keishing, can also support the government’s policies even if he remains in the Opposition. He also called on the people to work together to solve various problems.

Referring to the 26-point action plan submitted by former chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh to Union home minister L.K. Advani, Koijam said he would thrash out the matter in New Delhi. He said he was opposed to many points in the action plan and will place his objections before Advani.

When grilled about Tuesday’s political coup and yesterday’s U-turn, Koijam said it was not new to Manipur or the country. He said it was a part of politics and happened everywhere. When asked about the possible size of his ministry, the new chief minister said it would be between the small and jumbo sizes.

After being sworn in, the new chief minister first visited the historic Kangla Fort and then went to the Shri Govindaji temple. Koijam took his oath in Manipuri language, dressed in the traditional Manipuri dhoti and kurta with a Khamen Chatpa scarf.

Keishing prediction: Former chief minister and senior Congress leader Rishang Keishing today said the People’s Front ministry led by Radhabinod Koijam would not be a stable one since it was formed by “defectors’’, reports PTI.

Keishing said central leaders of the BJP and the Samata Party had encouraged “horse trading” among the MLAs in Manipur and blamed them for the political crisis in the state. He said Samata Party president Jaya Jaitley had recently said the party having more MLAs should lead the government and wondered why the MSCP having 23 MLAs was not allowed to lead the front ministry.


Shillong, Feb. 15: 
More than private establishments, state government undertakings are reported to be major defaulters of the Employees’ State Insurance (ESI). The ESI is a statutory social security scheme for workers in the organised sector and created under an Act of Parliament.

Defaulters also include a few newspaper houses of the state. In terms of cash, they have defaulted in payment of more than Rs 60 lakh as the employers’ share into the fund. However, many defaulters have now prayed to be allowed to pay in instalments to make up for the loss.

Regional director of ESI Corporation D.N. Pegoo told The Telegraph that the scheme could not make much headway here because the state ESI office could not present a “satisfactory image on its role”.

He said, instead of registering an increase, the number of employees and units decreased over the years. “We had around 3,000 registered employees during the late Eighties, but today the figure is just 1,950,” he said.

He added that the health benefit scheme, a major component of ESI, could not be implemented adequately. The main problem, employees said, was that the ESI dispensary here did not function properly. Even the doctor was seldom available, they said. This was, in fact, corroborated by the regional director.

The dispensary, which should be maintained according to the number of employees registered under the scheme, is already over-staffed. It is run by the labour department. Sources said government authorities were the main stumbling block in the implementation of the scheme. The government had contended that the Act could not be implemented in tribal areas as it was a Central government one.

Sources added that the law department had “misled” the government on this point. The government accepted the Act only after the Supreme Court, in a separate but related case, ruled that the Act, which is for the benefit of workers, applied without prejudice to the tribal areas.

Nearly 125 factories or business units in the Shillong area are registered under the ESI. With the rise in industrial activities at Byrnihat in Ri Bhoi district, the ESI is planning to implement the scheme there. Twenty-six new factories with nearly 1,789 employees have come up there. Four more factories with 500 employees are also likely to be commissioned soon.

Tourism policy

At last, Meghalaya — a tourist’s paradise — has a policy on tourism. The draft policy, which had been held up for years because of bureaucratic rigmarole, was approved by the Cabinet today.

Announcing this at a Press conference after the Cabinet meeting, information minister and spokesman for the Meghalaya Parliamentary Forum coalition government Aubrey H. Scott Lyngdoh said the policy envisaged major incentives for tourism units in the form of subsidies.

Twenty per cent of the capital investment made on land development, building and plants will be given to promoters. This was, however, subject to a ceiling of Rs 25 lakh, he said.

Twenty per cent subsidy for maintenance of tourism infrastructure for a period of five years (subject to a ceiling of Rs 5 lakh a year) will also be offered. Ten per cent subsidy for publicity and sale tax exemption for five years, etc. are some of the major sops provided by the government to anyone who wanted to venture into this field. “The government will act as a facilitator and it is be the local people who will be the main force,” Lyngdoh said. He added that it was imperative for the government to improve the infrastructure in the state and also ensure better security.


Bhubaneswar, Feb. 15: 
The Orissa government today ordered an administrative probe into the Puri hooch tragedy, which has so far claimed 10 lives. Unofficial accounts have put the death toll at 12. Six more are being treated in hospitals of Puri and Cuttack.

Central revenue division commissioner R.C. Behera will head the one-man probe team, a the government order said. It also ordered suspension of six Excise officials of the district including the Excise superintendent of Puri and an assistant sub-inspector of Railways on charges of negligence of duty.

The victims had bought the spurious liquor from Ramchandra Patnaik, N. Rajamma and Basanti Devi — all local vendors — who sold illicitly-brewed liquor near the Puri railway station area on February 12. The three vendors, two of whom are women, have been arrested. Another vendor, Ram Jena, who also sold the killer brew, is absconding.

The victims had vomited blood and lost consciousness soon after consuming the liquor. Some of them died before they could be taken to hospitals, sources said.

The dead were identified as Debaraj Mohapatra, Sabitri Reddy, Radha Nayak, Gurkha Nayak, Jagadish Patra, Bijay Nath, Purushottam Reddy, Paban Swain, Balaram Reddy and Rajesh Nayak. Deceased Gurkha Nayak, who was from Uttar Pradesh, had come to Puri on pilgrimage.

Puri district collector P.K. Mohanty told The Telegraph that as part of the follow-up action, Excise officials and police conducted joint raids in various parts of the district including Sakshigopal and Delang in search of illegal breweries. “We are expecting more arrests,” he said. State Excise secretary U.N. Behera said the seized samples of the spurious brew have been sent to the forensic laboratory of Orissa police.

During interrogations, arrested vendor Ramchandra Patnaik said he had sold the brew after buying them from Ram Jena, the kingpin in the hooch trade and also the main accused in the Puri tragedy. He said they had packed the brew in bottles bought from government-licensed liquor shops.


Patna, Feb. 15: 
Dasarath Singh felt proud of himself when the polio eradication officers approached him at a village in Sultanganj. “Saab, mein mard hoon, chhe beton ka baap hoon (Sir, I am a man and have sired six children),” he told them.

The health workers were puzzled till Dasarath came to the point. He had hidden his children, aged between two and seven, in an adjoining room from where they were trying to take a peek at the outsiders. “Don’t the medicines that you plan to administer to my children destroy their virility?” he asked the health workers.

The residents of Sultanganj alleged that the health workers were trying to make an entire generation of men “impotent. The fear was so deep-rooted that we had to temporarily shelve the programme,” said R. K. Chowdhary, state immunisation officer. It took months to convince the people that the health workers were not injecting “infertility drugs.”

A posse of doctors and representatives of the Unicef, the World Health Organisation and the Indian Academy of Paediatricians, who are waging a war against polio, have encountered numerous such superstitions which have slowed down the polio eradication campaign. Bihar, however, is one of the worst polio-affected states in the country.

At a recent meeting, experts said the state ranked second after Uttar Pradesh in the incidence of polio. While 178 cases were reported in Uttar Pradesh this year, 48 cases were registered in Bihar. In 1998, over 1,000 cases were detected in Uttar Pradesh while 158 cases were reported in Bihar.

“We have achieved 94 per cent success rate in the rural areas but even the six per cent children, who have been found carrying the virus, adds up to a large number.

“Six per cent means that at least a few thousand children are likely to be affected,” said K. Suresh, a polio specialist.

The polio eradication drive in Bihar is fraught with more complex problems than just statistics alone. A community in Gumla district, identified as the Tanavale, is averse to allopathic medicines. The health workers were driven out of the Tanavale settlements when they tried to give polio drops to the children.

“You poison your own children by administering the coloured liquid you are carrying,” a community member alleged.

In some other areas, the varying colour of the “drops” fuels suspicion. “You are giving mustard coloured drops to some people and white ones to us. This is dangerous,” argued an old man from an upper caste family in Darbhanga.

“We are using over 100 crore phials every year for the campaign. No pharmacist would agree to supply colourless drops,” countered Y. C. Mathur, former president of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics.

In Bihar, the highest concentration of polio cases is spread across the 14 northern districts with Madhubani topping the list.

“In the north, the rigidity of social norms and taboos help spread the disease,” said Saurabh Sharma, regional co-ordinator of World Health Organisation.

Unconfirmed reports of polio vaccine deaths compounded matters. Two deaths were reported from Jamshedpur a few months ago and similar reports in Darbhanga sparked panic. But the Unicef representatives and the World Health Organisation members, who examined the cases, found that the deaths were caused by some other infection. “The vaccine cannot be fatal even if the dose varies or the temperature of the medicine is not properly maintained,” clarified Dilip Mukherjee, a doctor from West Bengal.

The government has hired cultural troupes to promote awareness about the campaign in villages. “We have 75,000 booths in which over 1.5 lakh health workers are trying to reach out to the people. We require a hard push to achieve cent per cent success rate,” said Jean Gough, Unicef state representative. The government, Unicef and the WHO are planning to carry out a “mopping operation” in north Bihar in May.


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