Water war hots up in Salt Lake
Correa conjures up renaissance by river
Airport jawan insanity angle sinks
Millennium motorists with a Calcutta crush
Roadblock over Moghul murder
Koijam to meet NDA leaders
BJP to mull poll option in crucial Guwahati meet
Tripura rebels kill four RSS workers
Bodos seek bigger stake in politics
Maoists clamp poll boycott fiat in Ramgarh

 
 
WATER WAR HOTS UP IN SALT LAKE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Feb. 18: 
A water war has broken out between the civic bodies of Calcutta and Salt Lake.

On Saturday, mayor Subrata Mukherjee threatened to discontinue supply of filtered water from the Trinamul Congress-run Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s (CMC) Palta waterworks to Salt Lake. “My primary interest is to look after the taxpayers of Calcutta. I can supply to Salt Lake or, for that matter, any other municipality, only if there is a surplus,” declared Mukherjee.

Dilip Gupta, chairman of the Salt Lake municipality, reacted sharply on Sunday, stating that the supply of water to Salt Lake from Palta “was part of a government scheme”.

“If Subratababu carries out his threat, with summer round the corner, it will be a most inhuman decision. Why should the people of Salt Lake suffer? It is a question of water supply to thousands and one should not take any unilateral decision,” said Gupta.

The validity of the mayor’s statement has been called into question. “There is an agreement between the state government and the CMC which makes the Calcutta civic body promise-bound to supply filtered surface water to Salt Lake,” said Archana Bhattacharya, member in charge of water supply of the mayor’s council in the previous CPM-led board.

The water supply department of Salt Lake, too, has taken serious exception to the mayor’s proposed move. “As part of a CMDA project, crores were spent on reservoirs and booster stations at Lake Town and Salt Lake. If the CMC stops the supply, then these reservoirs and booster stations will have to be abandoned... The fundamental question that this issue raises is, are the people of Salt Lake any different from that of Calcutta?” asked Tapan Talukdar, member of the Salt Lake chairman’s council, in charge of water supply.

The government has decided to try and sort out the matter before it snowballs. “We admit there is a problem with the Palta waterworks and the plant can’t supply to its capacity. But we have taken certain steps to overcome the problem. I will speak to the mayor about the present crisis on Monday,” said Ashok Bhattacharya, urban development minister.

The mayor, it is learnt, is merely carrying out the instructions of party boss Mamata Banerjee, who is desperate to keep “Calcutta voters happy” in the run-up to the Assembly polls.

The politics of water has pushed Salt Lake residents to the point of panic. About 3.5 million gallons of filtered water from Palta, being supplied for the past two years, have helped in “bringing down the hardness” in the water supplied from Salt Lake’s deep-tubewell network. The water supplied to Salt Lake homes is a mixture of the two. With the maintenance of deep tubewells having been all but abandoned for the past two years, Salt Lake could well face a shortage of about 3.5 million gallons a day if supply from Palta is cut off. “How will the people of Salt Lake survive the summer? If the Calcutta civic authorities stop supply from Palta, it will be a grave injustice,” said Tirthankar Dutta, a leading paediatrician and resident of CF block.

Another resident, former principal of Shibpur B.E. College, Bimalendu Sen, said: “The problem we are facing in Salt Lake is lack of futuristic planning. At present, water pressure here is abnormally low and the pressure will go on decreasing because no one had taken into account today’s population while planning the township 20 years ago,” observed Sen.

Trinamul councillor Sabyasachi Dutta said he would “try and persuade the CMC not to snap the water supply to Salt Lake”.

   

 
 
CORREA CONJURES UP RENAISSANCE BY RIVER 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Feb. 18: 
Charles Correa, architect, planner, activist, theoretician, is keen to change the face of Calcutta by developing its “much neglected” waterfront. “Calcutta doesn’t use its waterfront to advantage. You’ve got such a sacred river here, the Hooghly. But it’s not developed at all to give the city a pleasing image. Look at Mumbai, which is also a crowded city, but the metropolis ends clearly at its waterfront, the Marine Drive, which is a beautiful image,” said Correa.

The 72-year-old visionary, whose credo has been ‘invent tomorrow’, was in the city on Saturday for the foundation stone-laying ceremony of City Centre, his second signature work in Calcutta, after a private residence on Ballygunge Circular Road.

“When Harsh Neotia asked me to do this project (City Centre), I told him ‘what I would really like to do is an arts centre on the Hooghly in Calcutta,’” revealed Correa. “The Hooghly is wonderful. It’s so sacred and so Bengali. You should have a lot of facilities there. I’m not talking of commercialising the river bank, but I can create a destination, not elitist at all, where Bengalis would like to spend their evenings philosophising about life — almost like in a Satyajit Ray movie. It would bring about a renaissance of sorts.”

Recipient of the International Union of Architects’ award for ‘improvement in the quality of human settlements’, Correa felt local architects and engineers should take the initiative and give ideas to the government.

“I know a lot of land by the river is owned by the Port Trust, but the authorities willing, we can make a team and plan something useful there. By modernising the tramlines which lead to the riverfront and having open-air theatres there, among other things, the face of the city can be completely changed. All the cultural roots can come back.”

According to Correa, a city fortunate to have a river, should always include it in urban planning. “London and Paris are both built on rivers. While Paris really uses it, London turned its back on the river and paid a price for it,” he explained.

Referring to Calcutta as “a real city”, Correa put his mega mixed-use project at Salt Lake in perspective. “People say if you go downtown to shop, you see real people. And in a city like Calcutta, you can’t build an artificial thing. It will have space for all kinds of people, of different income levels and interests.”

Correa, who believes “a good design solution is getting a good grip on the problem”, felt amidst the chaos, Calcutta has one distinct advantage.

“The population, in spite of the high density, is evenly spread... It’s also a more humane city than Mumbai or Delhi. Here, the poor and the rich live side by side and in perfect harmony. You can move around in South Delhi and never know India is a poor country. But the streets of Calcutta have a very nice scale to them,” he observed.

   

 
 
AIRPORT JAWAN INSANITY ANGLE SINKS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 18: 
The police have dismissed initial reports that R.D. Burma had suddenly opened fire at Calcutta airport on February 10 in a “fit of insanity” triggered by a “disturbed family life”.

The 32-year-old CRPF jawan, recuperating at SSKM Hospital since the day he killed two cops and injured two others before turning the gun on himself, was interrogated briefly on Sunday.

Inspector-general of police, south Bengal, Ranjit Mohanty, said Burma appeared “perfectly normal’’, and was inquiring about his “wife and daughter”.

When deputy inspector-general of police, presidency range, Gautam Chakraborty, asked him about the shootout, all that Burma said was: “I don’t know what happened. I can’t remember anything.” He refused to answer any other questions, staring blankly at the ceiling all the while.

The police investigating team, which met Burma’s father, brothers, sisters and wife over the past three days, found little evidence to support the claim that he had been suffering from “depression caused by family problems.’’

Doctors said Burma, who had shot himself twice in the chest, is showing signs of recovery, but is still “very weak”. Superintendent of police, airport, O.P. Gupta, said officers will interrogate the jawan on Monday.

   

 
 
MILLENNIUM MOTORISTS WITH A CALCUTTA CRUSH 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Feb. 18: 
It’s yellow and black and drives like a dream, but it isn’t a taxi cab. It’s the Millennium Mercedes. It’s travelled from Iceland, to China, across Europe, through West Asia, and finally, reached Calcutta on Saturday evening, after more than 140,000 miles.

New York-based Jim Rogers and Paige Parker set out to travel the world and document what they saw at the “turn of the millennium”, in a customised two-seater convertible, with a small trailer attached. Not willing to say whether they are bitten by the “adventure or the crazy bug”, they have passed through 85 countries so far.

They set out from Iceland on January 1, 1999. In England, January 1, 2000, they tied the knot. “We’d decided that if we could still stand to talk to each other after the first year, we would get married,” smiles Paige, the director of business development in a marketing agency. Jim travelled 100,000 km on a motorcycle, through six continents in 1990, making it into the Guinness Book. “On our first date, Jim told me he wanted to travel the world again, and I said ‘Sign me up’... Little did I know that we would really be hitting the roads!” recalls 31-year-old Paige.

Jim, 57, who has not “owned a car in 30 years”, feels he’s really improved as a driver on this trip, and enjoyed driving so much that he’s hardly given his wife a chance at the wheel. The car, they say, is the biggest barrier breaker. “Whether we’re in a city or village, people everywhere just flock to it.”

The Millennium Adventure team, with a webmaster and a cameraman, is uploading the details of the self-funded journey on a website, www.jimrogers.com.

They arrived in India via Pakistan. “Indian drivers might be bad, but believe me, Pakistani drivers have to be the worst in the world,” laughs Jim.

The India leg has been slower than expected. It took them five days to travel from Mumbai to Calcutta. “Every 20 minutes we wanted to stop to take pictures... you really have a fascinating countryside,” Paige explains.

But the greatest speed-breaker has been the lack of connectivity. “We arrived in India thinking that it was some major IT country. But nothing seems to work here, especially the phone lines!”

Jim’s seen the Taj, taken a dip at the Kumbh, visited Khajuraho, but his “biggest thrill” is being in Calcutta. “It’s one of the most famous places in the world, I have read about it all my life,” says Jim, a Wall Street investment banker, a professor at Columbia University, a regular commentator on BBC and CNN, and a contributor to several leading publications.

The duo is “not sure” how long the Calcutta stop will be. “We have experienced every conceivable side of humanity. And, from what I hear, it is all packed into this one city. I want to see it all — the poverty, the history, the contrasts...,” says Jim.

From Calcutta they plan to head towards Dhaka. Then Myanmar, South-East Asia, Australia, South America, Alaska, down through Canada, and finally back home to New York, with some luck, on December 31, 2001.

   

 
 
ROADBLOCK OVER MOGHUL MURDER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 18: 
Supporters of Mohammad Jahangir, better known as Moghul, held a demonstration at Kacchi Sarak on Saturday night, protesting police inaction in probing his murder. The demonstrators blocked the road for well over an hour from 9 pm and shouted slogans against the police.

Moghul was shot dead last week from point-blank range, while on his way home at Iron Gate, just a few yards away from Garden Reach police station.

Congress supporters of the area have threatened to start a movement if the assailants are not arrested by Monday.

“The police are unusually slack in handling this case. So many days have passed since the murder and yet the police have not been able to get hold of the murderers,” said Shamsur Zaman Ansari, Trinamul Congress leader and local councillor. Ansari alleged that the police are deliberately going slow on the case.

“The police have a vested interest in the case but will have to yield to public pressure. Local people know who the possible murderers of Moghul are. It is surprising that only the police are in the dark,” Ansari added.

Officer-in-charge of Garden Reach police station Abdur Rezzak has denied the allegation. “We are probing the case in detail. There is no question of slackness,” he said.

According to Rezzak, people are agitated because of the negative publicity against Moghul and Saturday’s incident was an aftermath of that.

   

 
 
KOIJAM TO MEET NDA LEADERS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, Feb. 18: 
The political situation in Manipur continued to be fluid as chief minister Radhabinod Koijam left for New Delhi today along with other leaders of the new-constituted People’s Front to end the impasse over the expansion of his ministry.

Koijam, who was sworn in as the state’s 24th chief minister last Thursday, is in a fix as he could not expand his ministry due to differences among the front’s partners.

Union minister of state for food processing Thounaojam Chaoba Singh continued to block any attempts to induct arch rival Nipamacha Singh’s loyalists in the Cabinet. Crisis in the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) deepened as the patch-up formula to end the bitter rivalry between Chaoba Singh and Nipamacha Singh ended in a whimper as the later expelled eight MLAs of Chaoba Singh’s faction.

Chaoba Singh had also demanded Nipamacha Singh’s resignation as president of the party as a precondition to any reunion.

Koijam now commands the support of 57 MLAs in the 60-member House, whose effective strength is 59. Sources said leaders of major coalition partners, including the BJP, Samata Party and the MSCP, have accompanied the chief minister.

The leaders are expected to meet National Democratic Alliance leaders to thrash out the deadlock over Cabinet expansion.

Sources said the new members would be sworn in on February 21 after the team returns. Union defence minister will also attend the ceremony, sources added. The Koijam-led alliance is the first Samata Party government in the state. Nipamacha Singh of the MSCP today constituted a five-member core committee headed by L. Chandramani Singh to oversee the present political scenario. Sources said Nipamacha Singh was contemplating legal action against the Chaoba Singh faction.

Woodcutters killed

Two woodcutters were hacked to death by suspected Bodo militants in Assam’s Dhubri district today, official sources said here. The woodcutters had gone to a remote jungle in Rupsi area of the district and the police were informed when they failed to return. The police found the bodies of the woodcutters inside the jungle and launched a massive combing operation to arrest the culprits, reports PTI.

Dhubri blaze: Three persons were burnt to death when a devastating fire gutted their house at Dharamshala in Assam’s Dhubri district, official sources said here today. The fire which spread from a lantern in the house of one Dilabar Ali killed three persons — two of them on the spot last night while died today.

   

 
 
BJP TO MULL POLL OPTION IN CRUCIAL GUWAHATI MEET 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 18: 
A meeting of the BJP’s central office-bearers — slated to be held in Guwahati on February 24 and 25 — is likely to consider the viability of tying up with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) for the Assam Assembly elections, among other issues.

Only a month ago, the BJP categorically had ruled out the chances of having anything to do with the AGP for “fear” of repeating the Karnataka experience of 1999, when the party’s central leadership, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, ignored inputs of the state unit and went ahead to forge an alliance with the Janata Dal (United).

Wiser after the poll debacle, the BJP rued going in for a tie-up with a party, saddled with a strong anti-incumbency wave, and being similarly stigmatised. In hindsight, the party felt had it gone alone, it would have fared much better.

The leadership’s earlier perception was that similar anti-incumbency sentiments were going against the AGP, more so after the chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta failed to contain the Ulfa. The outfit’s selective targeting of non-Assamese settlers from the Hindi heartland had hurt the BJP, especially because Hindi-speaking migrants traditionally support the party.

However, home minister L.K. Advani’s Guwahati visit earlier this month changed the scenario because he hinted that the BJP was not averse to having an electoral arrangement with the AGP and he even gave Mahanta a certificate of appreciation. Sources explained the change came about mainly because of the leadership’s assessment that the Congress was on the upswing and the BJP was not in a position to challenge its rise single-handedly. “On the other hand, if we have a strategic tie-up with the AGP we can defeat the Congress. Our ultimate goal is to keep the Congress out of power,” a source added.

Sources, however, stressed that the state unit’s inputs would be “seriously” viewed for any decision in this regard. The Guwahati meeting is also expected to take stock of the NDA’s prospects in the other four states going to polls, namely, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, West Bengal and Kerala.

Party sources conceded that the BJP’s own stakes in these states were not that high and it was quite willing to have its dominant allies have the upper hand in seat distribution and campaign modalities. At the same time, the party seemed intent on increasing its own base through the alliances, and hope to make a breakthrough in Kerala.

The Guwahati conclave will also take a final account of the relief and rehabilitation work undertaken by the BJP in Gujarat and finalise the venue of the next national executive which is scheduled to be held shortly after the first lap of the budget session concluding on March 23.

   

 
 
TRIPURA REBELS KILL FOUR RSS WORKERS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, Feb. 18: 
The National Liberation Front of Tripura has killed four RSS pracharaks, Disclosing this in a fax message to a local daily yesterday, former NLFT commander Nayanbasi Jamatya said the four RSS workers were executed in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh following an order by the outfit’s three top leaders.

He, however, did not specify the exact time and place of the killing. Nayanbasi fled from the outfit’s Chittagong camp along with 30 cadre early this month. His wife and two children are still being held hostage by the NLFT.

Police sources said though they have enough evidence to prove the killing, they could not say anything officially till the bodies were recovered.

The RSS pracharaks — Shyamal Sengupta, Dinen De, Sudhamay Datta and Subhankar Chakraborty — had been abducted by armed NLFT militants on August 16, 1999 from Kanchanpara under Fatikroy police station of North Tripura district.

Sources said the four men had gone to Kanchanpara to visit the Ratanmani Shishu Shiksha Mandir run by the Banabasi Kalyan Ashram.

Initially they were kept in the outfit’s Longtarai hideout, but later shifted to the base camp in the Chittagong Hill Tracts following an intensive combing operation by a special BSF commando unit.

Sources said the NLFT had demanded Rs 1 crore as ransom. But the RSS high command refused to pay on the ground that “once we pay we’ll not be able to work here”. After the refusal, local RSS leaders feared that the pracharaks ma have been killed after the outfit stopped communicating in November last year. “For more than a year we used to get information about them but now this has stopped,” a RSS leader added.

In his fax message, Nayanbasi Jamatya accused NLFT leaders Mantu Koloi, Dhanu Koloi, Biswa Mohan Debbarma and Kamini Debbarma of masterminding the assassination of former health minister Bimal Sinha on March 31, 1998 and the killing of 12 Bru National Liberation Front militants.

He said he had serious differences of opinion with the NLFT top brass over the killing of Bru activists. Sources in the state police said Nayanbasi had worked as a constable in the 1st battalion of Tripura State Rifles before joining the banned NLFT in 1990.

Nayanbasi and his 30 followers might surrender to the state police or the Assam Rifles soon.

Last year, former Assam Rifles DIG Brig. B.K. Panwar persuaded Nayanbasi to lay down arms. The outfit’s commander also sought help from Jamatya Hoda Okra Bikram Bahadur Jamatya to leave the organisation.

Rivals flee NLFT base

President of the underground Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) Suryamani Reang and his deputy escaped from Bangladesh, where the NLFT held them hostage since July last year, adds UNI from Aizawl.

Though it is not known how the two managed to escape from the heavily-guarded NLFT camp, sources claimed that they fled with the help of two Reang sentries. After their escape recently, the rebels reached Khantlang on the Tripura-Bangladesh border and surrendered before the security forces along with the sentries, who had helped them engineer their escape. The insurgents are now in the custody of security forces in Tripura.On July 9 last year, the NLFT had allegedly attacked a Bru camp in Bangladesh.

   

 
 
BODOS SEEK BIGGER STAKE IN POLITICS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Feb. 18: 
The All-Bodo Students’ Union (Absu) has decided to work towards increasing political representation of the Bodos in the Assembly as well as Parliament in a bid to fulfil its goal of a separate state.

This new strategy to carry forward the statehood movement was adopted at the organisation’s 33rd annual conference which concluded at Barama in Nalbari district on Friday.

“From past experience, we have realised that in parliamentary politics, numbers matter a lot. Unless smaller nationalities like the Bodos acquire larger political strength inside parliamentary bodies, their aspirations would remain unfulfilled no matter how strong their mass movement may be,” newly-elected Absu advisor Urkhao Gwra Brahma said.

The Centre has already made it clear it could do nothing unless the Assembly passed a resolution favouring further bifurcation of the state. This is one of the main reasons behind the Absu’s new strategy.

Brahma, the former Absu president, said the organisation was willing to enter into electoral alliance for the forthcoming Assembly polls with any regional or national party which was interested in finding out an “honourable solution” to the Bodoland problem.

The Absu and the Bodo People’s Action Committee combine has already decided to back independent candidates in as many as 31 Assembly constituencies of the state.

Brahma, however, made it clear that a commitment on the statehood demand of the Bodos would not be a pre-condition for electoral tie-ups.

“We will judge whether a certain political party is keen on finding an honourable solution to the demand for a separate state. At this moment, our priority is to increase the numbers inside the Assembly,” Brahma added.

Pointing to the difficulties posed by the “numbers game”, Brahma said Lok Sabha MP Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary, who commands support of the Absu-BPAC combine, was planning to bring a private member’s Bill in the budget session. However, whether the Bill would be allowed to be tabled was uncertain, he added. “A separate state of Bodoland is the ultimate goal of the Bodo people. But we want to be practical,” he added.

On the ongoing peace talks between the centre and the Bodo Liberation Tiger, Brahma said the Absu would welcome whatever decision was arrived at by the two sides.

“There is no point in opposing any decision agreed by the two sides. We are not going to oppose if the government agrees to concede more than a separate state as has been demanded by the militant outfit National Democratic Front of Boroland,” he added. The NDFB is fighting for an independent Bodoland outside the country.

   

 
 
MAOISTS CLAMP POLL BOYCOTT FIAT IN RAMGARH 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ranchi, Feb. 18: 
The outlawed Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) warned people in Ramgarh and Gola subdivisions of dire consequences if they cast their votes in tomorrow’s bypolls.

The outfit put up posters asking the people in the Tandil, Hesakora, Banda, Betul villages and some interior areas of Gola subdivision to boycott the bypoll. The posters claim that anyone defying the MCC diktat will be “beheaded”. Hundreds of pamphlets were also distributed informing people about the “futility of the democratic process” and asking them to stay from the polling booths.

Sources said security has been tightened in the entire Ramgarh area from where Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi is contesting on a BJP ticket. Nearly 30 companies of para-military forces, Rapid Action Force jawans and the district police are maintaining strict vigil in the area.

Though Marandi enjoys an edge over his rivals, sources said the BJP and JMM has deployed their own “musclemen” to ensure a smooth sailing for their nominees.

While JMM legislator Dulal Bhuiyan has set up camp at their traditional stronghold in Gola, BJP legislator Malkhan Singh alias Arvind Singh, who is wanted in the former Congress MP Vijay Singh Soye’s murder case, has been touring parts of Ramgarh.

The BJP has also allegedly deployed dreaded Bihar criminal Chunchun Singh from Lakhisarai along with his AK-56 totting associates in a camp on the banks of river Damodar, the sources said.

Jharkhand director-general of police T.P. Sinha said adequate security forces have been deployed in Ramgarh to ensure peaceful polling tomorrow.

Hazaribagh deputy Commissioner-cum-district Returning officer Amrendra Pratap Singh said the area has been divided into 24 segments for effective patrolling.

   
 

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