Crackdown call on coal-fired units
Oil lock raises indefinite strike banner at pumps
Liquor lobby shutdown warning to government
A is for accelerator, B for brake
Exam rush sets off mass transfer of varsity staff
Koijam to end logjam over berths
Industry barons stress removal of bottlenecks
Left orders CBI probe into legislator’s murder
17 militants surrender in Tripura
Militants in conversion confession

Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
It’s like a shroud of smoke and dust, covering parts of the Calcutta skyline for most of the day. To be precise, it’s seven tonnes of particulate material, belched out by chimneys of small factories.

A recent state pollution control board (PCB)-sponsored survey has revealed that Calcutta is the “only megacity” in the country which allows small industries with coal-fired boilers.

The survey, undertaken by the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) at the behest of the PCB, has identified about 10,000 industrial units in the city, with a turnover of more than Rs 50,000.

The polluting units, spread out over 12 of the 141 wards in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation area, include ceramic units near Dunlop Bridge and Baranagar, dyeing and bleaching ones in Cossipore, dyeing, bleaching, plywood units in Maniktala, tanning and leather finishing in Tangra, rubber goods manufacturing in Topsia and plywood in Tiljala.

Officials of the PCB admitted that most of these boilers are operating “unregulated” within city limits. “Legally, they have no business to be here,” a senior PCB official said.

He added that the particulate matter emitted into the city’s air by these units was a “major source of pollution”. Small industries, especially the boilers-based ones, contribute nearly 30 per cent of the particulate matter in the atmosphere.

The wards are located in the Paikpara and Dum Dum areas (4), east of Sealdah, around Narkeldanga (13 and 14), Kankurgachhi (31), west of the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass (33), Beleghata-Palmer Bazaar (57), Tangra (58), Topsia (59), Tiljala-Picnic Garden (66), Kidderpore (80), Behala (128) and Garden Reach (141). These burn up to 92 per cent of the coal used up by small units located in the city. An estimated 85 tonnes of coal is burnt by offending units here.

The state government has decided to make the units switch from solid fuel to liquid to fire their boilers.

“Once this is done, the small units will emit a mere .14 tonnes of particulate matter into the atmosphere daily,” a PCB engineer said.

With chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and environment minister Manab Mukherjee taking the stand that harmful industries will either be relocated or technically improved to reduce pollution, the PCB has started talks with industries associations to chalk out a strategy for the conversion.

The Board has already discussed the matter with the Federation of Small and Medium Industries and other bodies, in conjunction with the department of cottage and small-scale industries, and the Indian Boilers Directorate.

The state government is working towards a solution with the December 31 deadline set by the high court for industries to clean up their act.

It is unlikely take the drastic step of shutting down the coal-boiler fired units.

“The government is thinking in terms of extending a 50 per cent subsidy for the units to upgrade the boilers, up to a maximum of Rs 5 lakh,” a senior PCB official said. The Board has approached the West Bengal Finance Corporation to provide the loan for the manufacturing process switchover.


Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
Traffic will be crippled on Friday, and probably in the days ahead, as nearly 1,200 petrol pump operators in the city and elsewhere in Bengal have called an indefinite strike to protest Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited’s (BPCL) refusal to let the owner of a pump in Kasba run his filling station, pending an inquiry against him.

The strike has also been called to protest BPCL’s installation of a special lock on its oil tankers. The dealers demanded that the locks be put on all tankers, especially those of carriage contractors, to prevent pilferage.

Private buses, minibuses and taxis will be fewer on the road on Friday, as the sudden strike will prevent them from topping up their tanks. Car-borne Calcuttans, who got a whiff of the strike, crowded the filling stations on Thursday for fuel to tide over the crisis.

The strike has been called by the West Bengal Petroleum Dealers’ Association. There are 275 petrol pumps in Calcutta and its neighbourhood, of which 80 belong to BPCL dealers. The city consumes 200 kilolitres of petrol and 2,000 kilolitres of diesel a day.

The BPCL authorities sealed their dealer’s pump near Ruby Hospital on February 14 on a complaint from a customer that it had sold him adulterated diesel. They collected a sample from the pump and an inquiry was ordered.

Food and civil supplies commissioner Ajoy Sinha met petroleum dealers on Thursday, urging them not to strike. He requested BPCL officials to consider allowing the pump to function until the inquiry proved its owner guilty.

But the meeting ended in a deadlock. Sinha then sent word to transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, seeking his intervention, as an indefinite strike would cripple public transport in the city and the districts. “I could not immediately contact the transport minister, as he was attending the funeral of Indrajit Gupta. But I have left an urgent message with his office and he is likely to intervene,” said Sinha.

BPCL’s general manager (retail-east), A.C. Sen, said an inspection had been carried out at the pump and irregularities observed. “Therefore, in line with industry norms, sales and supplies from the pump were suspended, while samples were drawn and sent for testing. At the same time, a letter seeking clarifications from the dealer has been issued and appropriate action will be taken on receipt. The action was taken on the basis of a complaint and on prescribed procedures. While the inquiry is on, we do not find any reason for other dealers to go on strike,” Sen added.

President of the dealers’ association, Kalyan Bhadra, said the BPCL authorities were deliberately ignoring logic. “A week has elapsed since they collected the diesel sample. Their laboratory takes less than 48 hours to prepare a report. We are not exonerating the pump-owner. But why shouldn’t he be allowed to operate until proven guilty?” Bhadra asked.


Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
The Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL) lobby on Thursday sought to thwart the government’s plans of opening additional outlets in and outside Calcutta by threatening to launch an indefinite trade strike against the proposed move.

“We will give the government a month to change its decision to issue new licences, after which we will launch an agitation,” said Gautam Mukherjee, general secretary of the association of IMFL shop-owners.

At its seventh annual state conference, the association pressed for “hard action against the government” as it felt the plans to open 350 outlets, 23 of them in Calcutta and 12 in Howrah, would jeopardise existing business.

The government, which is already busy fighting lawsuits filed by the entrenched liquor lobby, reacted sharply to the threat. Senior excise officials said the department would either cancel the licences of the existing shop-owners or issue “temporary licences” if the trade body resorted to a strike.

“We will not take the strike threat lightly. For, on the one hand, it will cause a severe drop in revenue, and on the other, will force the drinker to turn to unauthorised and illegal sellers,” said an official.

The liquor lobby’s threat follows the lottery the government held early this week to pick new retail licensees from 3,800 applicants. The names of the winners could not be announced because of the cases pending at Calcutta High Court and the tax tribunal.

The association has argued that the lottery system is directly opposed to the earlier government ruling debarring liquor outlets opening up within a 10-km radius of an existing outlet.

The association also protested

A steep hike in the fee per litre of IMFL, from Rs 10 to Rs 25

The hike in annual fees

Increase in professional tax from Rs 900 to Rs 2,500

There are about 394 IMFL outlets in the state and about 149 in the city. Their daily contribution to the state exchequer is about Rs 2 crore; the annual turnover of the business is about Rs 500 crore.


Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
Just getting behind the wheel and stepping on the accelerator does not a driver make. That’s the basic lesson the “first scientific driving school” in this part of India aims to impart. For, the Traffic and Transportation Management Training Institute for light and heavy vehicles, coming up on Jessore Road, promises to produce drivers with proper “judgment, road sense, quick reactions, courtesy, knowledge of the mechanics of the vehicle, energy saving...”

Taking a leaf out of the driving book followed by two similar schools in Chennai, one public and the other private, the West Bengal Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation (WBTIDC) has already started work on the seven-storeyed institute on a 2.47-acre plot. Authorities say the wheels will start turning by the summer of 2002. The project cost of Rs 15 crore will be shared by the state and Central governments. On the ‘students’ rolls will be potential and licensed drivers, trainers and traffic police personnel.

“Though there are around 33 private motor training schools in Calcutta, they lack the basic infrastructure to impart the necessary skills of driving safely on the congested and crowded city roads,” explained a senior officer of WBTIDC. “Our school will have a full-fledged, simulated driving set-up indoors, and gruelling test tracks with S-curves, three-point and five-point turns... outdoors.”

The need to improve driving skills to ensure road safety in Calcutta, the primary aim of the proposed institute, was brought into sharp focus on Thursday on the floor of the Assembly by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. “We have decided to give more teeth to the motor vehicles rules to ensure strong punishment to errant drivers and traffic-rule violators,” said Bhattacharjee, adding that stern measures would be taken to check corruption at the motor vehicles office, especially in the case of issuing driving licences. The chief minister said under the revised rules, drivers would no longer be able to renew their licences without appearing for a fresh “physical and skill test”. “We are introducing several changes in traffic rules in order to check road accidents,” he added.

To make drivers more roadworthy, and, thereby, the roads less risky, will be one of the objectives of the training institute. “Besides lowering the rate of accidents on the streets of Calcutta, it will help improve traffic management and reduce the burden of pollution,” stated the senior WBTIDC officer. Along with the three-month extensive training programme for freshers, there will be short-duration training courses on various aspects of driving.


Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
After its decision to hold all major examinations during the summer vacations from this year, Calcutta University has transferred more than 100 employees from various departments to the controller of examinations section.

Expressing concern over the sudden move, the heads of several departments have complained that the transfers have created a vacuum, affecting normal activities in the departments.

“The authorities have suddenly transferred the employees to the controller of examinations section. None of them was informed about the shift before. We strongly oppose this one-sided decision,” said Buddhadeb Chattopadhyay, leader of the Calcutta University Employees’ Unity Centre.

Controller of examinations Onkar Sadhan Adhikari said his department was running short-staffed for a long time. Since all the major under-graduate examinations will be held in May, the number of examinees will automatically increase and it will not be possible for his department, with its existing staff strength, to complete the examination processes, which include preparing admit cards and distributing them to colleges, Adhikari said.

More than 300 posts in the controller’s department have been vacant for several years. The acute staff shortage in the controller’s department is also largely responsible for the delay in publication of results. Delay in the announcement of results created serious resentment among the students over the years and subsequently sparked off a number of students’ agitation in the campus.

Even on Thursday afternoon, a large number of students, who had appeared for the M.Sc (chemistry) Part I examinations, assembled in front of the university’s main administrative building and held a demonstration, protesting the authorities’ failure to publish the results eight months after the examinations were held.

They complained that the M.Sc (chemistry) Part I examinations, in which nearly 100 examinees had appeared, were held in July 2000. The university is yet to issue marksheets to the examinees.

“The M.Sc Part II (chemistry) examinations will be held in June. But we are still unaware about our Part I results. If they can’t publish the results of 100 examinees, what will be the fate of the thousands of candidates appearing for so many other examinations?” the agitating students asked.

The university witnessed a series of movements by students of M.A. journalism, B.Ed. LlB and B.A. and B.Sc (pass) courses. The results of most of these examinations were announced more than eight months after the examinations were held.

Calcutta University had decided to hold its major under-graduate examinations during the summer vacations every year so that the number of working days could be increased in the colleges.


Imphal, Feb. 22: 
The new People’s Front ministry led by chief minister Radhabinod Koijam will be finally expanded tomorrow after more than a week of logjam. Front partners were reported to have resolved their differences in this regard. Addressing a news conference this evening after his arrival from New Delhi, Koijam said the ministry would be a “medium-sized one”.

Koijam was sworn in as chief minister on February 15, but was not able to expand his ministry due to sharp differences with coalition partners over the allocation of ministerial berths.

The chief minister, however, refused to divulge the exact number of his new council of ministers saying, “You all will know by 4 pm tomorrow..”

Koijam today met Governor Ved Marwah for about an hour though the details of the discussion were not immediately known. Sources said the chief minister urged the Governor to allow him to increase the size of his ministry in view of the support extended by 57 MLAs.

Four Central Samata Party leaders will attend the swearing- in ceremony tomorrow.

They are Union agriculture minister Nitish Kumar, Union minister of state for railways Digvijay Singh, Samata Party national president Jaya Jaitley and party general-secretary Sambhu Srivastava. Defence minister George Fernandes’ visit has not been confirmed.

The Union minister of state for food processing Thounaojam Chaoba Singh of the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) was still wrangling to get more berths for his loyalists in the new ministry, sources said. He was in the state capital today to oversee the ministerial allocation.

Though coalition leaders today attended the chief minister’s news conference showing solidarity with him, internal dissent was far from over. The expansion and what follows thereafter would be an acid test for the Samata Party leader.

Koijam also said Nitish Kumar had assured him of full co-operation in the agricultural sector. Koijam said the Union minister had already promised a radiation project and a food park for the state.

Hinting at various austerity measures, Koijam said expenditures of ministers would be trimmed.

He also ordered all government departments to freeze recruitments. The chief minister said his main task would be to enforce financial discipline.

He said the new Cabinet would take a decision on the appointment of a financial advisor, security advisor and an expenditure commission.


Guwahati, Feb. 22: 
Captains of the industry have underlined the need for the removal of ground-level obstacles and impediments in the Northeast before expecting huge investment in the region.

Speaking at the international conference on “Business opportunities in Northeast India-Guwahati Initiative,” president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) Chirayu R. Amin said a number of ground-level realities like land use policies, labour mobility and lack of market integration have to be addressed in the region before expecting huge investment.

The two-day conference was organised at the Gauhati Tea Auction Centre by FICCI in collaboration with the Federation of Industries and Commerce of the North eastern Region (Finer).

Knowing that the issues cannot be addressed overnight, Amin said it was possible to create special growth enclaves in the region which were devoid of these constraints and which could become “attractive investment destination” for both foreign and Indian investors. “Political leadership in the region has to develop a minimum consensus on growth agenda to allay apprehensions which remain in the mind of potential investors,” Amin said. The Ficci felt that resurgence in development of the region could be kickstarted by some mega investment projects in areas like power, healthcare, floriculture, oil and gas-based projects.

Amin said as state-led development strategy had failed to deliver, market mechanism had to be effectively harnessed with the help of private investment. “We are not merely facilitating investment projects but creating a competitive climate,” he said.

The apex chamber of commerce expressed the need for an attitudinal change in the region to attract potential investors and to have a time-bound programme. “Many of the newly-created states are more investor-friendly as they have designated an officer who looks after an investor the moment he lands in the state,” P.M. Sinha, member of the FICCI steering committee said.

Sinha said it was difficult to expect investment in the region as loans were not secure and rate of interest should have been lower. “The states are also facing problems because of the delay in sanctioning projects,” he said.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma said the Centre’s wrong perceptions towards the region resulted in sluggish development. “Had the money for Excise relief for promoting industries in the region been given for tourism, the region would have benefited,’’ Sangma said. Assam Governor Lt. Gen.(retd.) S.K. Sinha said the Northeast has the potential to beckon investment and hoped that the conference would help generate political will and economic determination among the policy-makers. He said foreign investment would be the top priority.

Mokokchung apology

The Mokokchung chambers of commerce has regretted the inconvenience caused by the February 20 bandh and said the extortion drive was carried out by NSCN(I-M) cadre and not by the NSCN-K as mentioned earlier, reports our Jorhat correspondent.

Business establishments remained closed in Mokokchung town on February 20 following an indefinite bandh call given by the Mokokchung chambers of commerce to protest harassment by extortionists.

In a new twist to the tale, chamber president M. Bendangnukshi, while apologising to the NSCN-K “for calling the extortionist an NSCN-K cadre,” said the “extortionist caught on February 19 was actually working for the NSCN-IM.’’


Agartala, Feb. 22: 
The Tripura government has ordered a CBI probe into the killing of sitting Congress legislator Madhusudan Saha and appealed to the Opposition Congress to reduce the duration of the 48-hour bandh called by the party this morning.

The government’s decision to order a CBI inquiry was announced late last night following pressure mounted on chief minister Manik Sarkar by Governor Lt. Gen. (retd.) K.M. Seth.

The Governor had called the chief minister to Raj Bhavan last night for discussing the deteriorating law and order situation and reportedly advised him to order a CBI inquiry to save face.

While announcing the inquiry, which was the main demand of the Opposition Congress, Sarkar appealed to the party to cut short the 48-hour bandh.

PCC president Birajit Sinha, however, said senior members of the party as well as the Congress Legislature Party held a meeting this morning to take stock of the situation and decided not to reduce the duration of the bandh.

A Congress delegation led by PCC president Birajit Sinha met the Governor today and asked him to prevail upon the government to defer the budget session.

The Governor told the Congress leaders that he could ask the state government to postpone the session but not “defer it by a day.’’ The state government, which is determined to begin the session tomorrow, has reportedly made arrangements for the “safe entry of ruling party MLAs and ministers’’ well before the Congress blockade. Security has also been beefed up for the Governor’s entry.

“We will also convey it to the Governor that if the Assembly session is allowed to begin from tomorrow, we will stage a dharna in front of the Assembly gate to block the entry of the Governor, the ministers and the ruling party legislators,’’ Sinha added.

Commenting on the decision not to reduce the duration of the bandh call, he said the agitation for the dismissal of the Left Front government would continue.

The state government has put off counting of ballots for the bypoll to the Kadamtala Assembly constituency scheduled to begin from tomorrow. Counting will now begin on Sunday. Besides, university examinations have also been put off.

In a message to the mother of the slain legislator, AICC president Sonia Gandhi condoled the killing. She said the Congress shared her grief. Describing Saha as a “dedicated and daring party worker,” the AICC president said his blood would not go in vain.

AICC general-secretary in charge of Northeast, Mani Shankar Aiyer spoke to PCC president Birajit Sinha on the issue and asked him to draw up a sustained agitation plan.

The Congress today took out a small procession to mobilise public support for tomorrow’s bandh.


Agartala, Feb. 22: 
Altogether 17 militants of the Tripura National Security Force, a subsidiary of the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura, formally laid down arms this morning.

The surrender ceremony was held in front of CRPF inspector-general Vageesh Misra at the CRPF second battalion’s headquarters at Narsingarh in Sadar subdivision. The 17 militants, led by Kiranjay Reang, used to work as NLFT collaborators by collecting “tax” and abducting people on a commission basis. They had got in touch with CRPF units in different parts of the state. The CRPF authorities finally rounded them all up for a formal surrender at Narsingarh this morning.

The militants deposited three live grenades, three revolvers and seven countrymade guns besides a number of incriminating documents. The well-printed “tax” notices collected from them showed that the Gandacherra block development officer had been asked to pay three per cent of his annual basic salary to the coffers of the militants.

Addressing newspersons, Misra said over the past six months the CRPF had lost nearly eight men while fighting the militants but operations were continuing. “For achieving greater success we may make marginal readjustments here and there, but our goal will be to prevent any kind of mischief by the rebels and to put them down,” Misra added. He asserted that the forces deployed for counter-insurgency operations here were working in tandem and greater success would follow soon.

Hostages freed

Nine railway construction workers kidnapped by the NLFT militants on January 7 returned safely to Dhoomacherra area under Manu police station of Dhalai district yesterday. Director-general of police Bhusan Lal Vohra said they went home shortly after arriving at Dhoomacherra.

Police sources said in two successive incidents on January 7, two railway workers — truck driver Venkateswar Rao and his assistant Tapan Mohanty — were abducted from the Nailafapara area under Ambassa police station where they had gone to bring water at 6.30 am.

Within two hours, another group of NLFT rebels kidnapped at gunpoint nine railway construction workers employed by a Silchar-based contractor from Sindukumar para under Manu police station. They were Prasenjit De, Nihar Ranjan Das, Chandrasekhar Mal, Biplab Das, Saumitra Chowdhury, Rameswar Baidya, Harendra Singh, junior engineer Narayan Deori and another unidentified person.

Within four days of their abduction, Venkateswar Rao and Tapan Mohanty returned safely from militant custody but the nine others remained. The police and paramilitary forces in Dhalai district launched a massive combing operation under the leadership of Dhalai superintendent of police Kshatrajay Reang and effectively confined the abductors and the captives within the state.

Inspector-general of police (law and order) K. Salim Ali said, “They suddenly surfaced in Dhoomacherra area and I do not think any big amount of ransom had to be paid for their release by the contractor.” Ali said the hostages had remained within the state. Vohra expressed satisfaction over the safe return of the railway construction workers.

In a separate incident, security forces last night recovered three skeletons of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation workers, abducted by militants last year.

Police sources today said following confessions by an arrested militant, three skeletons were recovered from a jungle at Shyamnagar under Takarjala police station area in West Tripura district. The victims, along with nine other ONGC workers, were abducted by tribal guerrillas on March 19 last year from a drilling site in Takarjala area. Two of them, however, managed to escape while others were untraced.

The police recovered seven skeletons from the area on January 13 and February 19 following a statement by one Jawahar Lal Debbarma.


Agartala, Feb. 22: 
The outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura has admitted that its policy of forced conversion of Hindu tribals to Christianity had backfired. The outfit also blamed a former advisor for its religious policy.

The admission came in the form of a statement faxed to a local daily, which said religious insurgency had created rumblings of dissent among NLFT cadre. This also resulted in “senior commander” Nayanbasi Jamatya deserting the outfit along with a few followers.

In the statement issued yesterday, NLFT’s “information secretary” M.R. Tuijang blamed its political secretary and advisor, Joshua alias Jogendra Debbarma, for the religious mission.

He said Joshua had left the outfit after Nayanbasi and captive Bru National Liberation Front leader Suryamoni escaped from the outfit’s hide-out early this month. “Differences with Joshua over the issue of religious policy reached a flashpoint and led to a clash in which ‘lance corporal’ V. Mukul was killed...,” the statement read.

The outfit held Nayanbasi Jamatya responsible for Mukul’s killing. The statement added that NLFT rebels — at the instance of Joshua —made the abortive bid on the life of Jamatya hoda okra (head priest) Bikram Bahadur Jamatya last year. Apart from converting Hindu tribals at gunpoint, Joshua had also planned to attack Roman Catholic Christian minorities. Regarding Nayanbasi’s announcement that all the four RSS pracharaks had been executed, the NLFT said it was “false and we have nothing to do with it”.

However, it is well known that the four pracharaks were kidnapped by the NLFT and taken across the border to the outfit’s base camp at Thangnan in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.

The outfit also charged Nayanbasi Jamatya with “womanising” and said his wife and children have not been taken hostage by the outfit. The family would be handed over to him or his representatives at any time.

The outfit described Joshua as “politically over-ambitious”. He had joined the outfit after being denied nomination by the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS), a tribal political party, it added.

TUJS sources confirmed that Joshua had served the party for a brief spell. “We had to part ways because of his schizophrenic ways,” a party source added.

Police sources said the NLFT’s tell-tale missive was a form of “nervous reaction” and added that if the RSS activists were indeed dead, the NLFT “cannot plead ignorance”.

Sources said a string of police operations and the “firm stand” taken by Jamatya leader Bikram Bahadur Jamatya had cornered the outfit.


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