Blood on the school corridor
Subhas douses oil strike fire
Elopement drama ends in girl’s arrest
Blind to basic eye defects
Raga against racial barriers
Forum on AIDS and after
Koijam unveils jumbo ministry
Marandi puts BJP on winning track
Advani to review Naga peace
Conflict blow to investment

 
 
BLOOD ON THE SCHOOL CORRIDOR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 23: 
Six unidentified men walked into a school in Behala on Friday afternoon and shot dead an employee, who was also an influential local CPI functionary. Students were appearing for their final examinations when the assailants struck.

Golok Sen Roy, 50, a clerk of Barisha High School, was shot from point-blank range on the first-floor corridor. The assailants then scaled the rear wall of the school, and hurled half-a-dozen bombs.Later in the evening, a teacher of the school, Dwijen Jotedar, was arrested in connection with the killing, said additional superintendent of police Gyanwant Singh.

CPI leaders, including the party’s state secretary Manju Kumar Majumdar, and Calcutta district unit chief Satya Bhattacharya, visited the site of murder after the body was removed. The CPI has called a dawn-to-dusk bandh on Saturday in nearby Sarsuna, where Sen Roy lived.

A few hundred students were present in school, writing their exams, around 1.15 pm. A number of guardians were also on the campus, waiting for their wards to finish. Gateman Hari Prasad Sharma later said the six men climbed the stairs to the first floor. “After some time, I heard explosions. I rushed to the first floor and found Golokbabu lying in a pool of blood. I then saw the men hurling bombs and climbing the rear wall of the school. I started screaming...” Sharma recounted. Then, students, teachers and guardians came rushing.

As news of the murder spread, the initial shock gave way to rage. Local residents took over the school, blocked Diamond Harbour Road, stoned passing vehicles, and refused to hand over the body to the police, or allow the children to leave the premises.

At least a dozen cars, private buses and Matador vans were damaged. All shopkeepers in the area downed their shutters. As tension mounted, the mob turned its fury on the police, who arrived nearly half an hour after the murder.

Additional superintendents of police Gyanwant Singh and Rajesh Kumar Singh led a huge force, along with jawans of the Rapid Action Force, to the school.

After failing to convince the protesters to hand over Sen Roy’s body, the police launched a lathicharge, forcing the mob to disperse.

Superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, Deb Kumar Ganguly, said Sen Roy’s murder had “nothing to do with politics”. “We suspect that Sen Roy was killed by anti-socials. We are investigating the possible motives behind the murder. He had been shot in the back by unknown persons two years ago,” Ganguly said.

“Sen Roy had links with many criminals we had earlier taken into custody. The slain CPI leader also had links with a number of promoters with dubious background,” observed another police officer. “Most of the local residents who were holding on to Sen Roy’s body were history-sheeters. They were abusing the police and promising to avenge his murder,” he added.

CPI leaders who visited the area denied that Sen Roy had “criminal connections”.

“In Behala and Thakurpukur, criminals have been calling the shots for a long time and we had taken up the matter with senior police officers, including the state director-general of police, Dipak Sanyal. But Golokbabu’s murder shows that criminals are still holding sway in these parts,” said Satya Bhattacharya, CPI’s city unit chief.

Sen Roy’s wife, Nandita, an employee in the South 24-Parganas district magistrate’s office, was brought to the school around 4 pm. “I just don’t know why my husband was killed. I did not that he had any enemy,” she cried, before being escorted out.

   

 
 
SUBHAS DOUSES OIL STRIKE FIRE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Feb. 23: 
The “indefinite” strike called by the West Bengal Petroleum Dealers Association from Friday morning ended at 2.30 pm. “Following our protest and the intervention of the state government, the Bharat Petroleum authorities have been compelled to revoke the suspension of Fuel Point, at Kasba... As the oil companies have also promised to look into the demands of petroleum dealers, the strike has been withdrawn,” announced Joydeb Sarkar, honorary general secretary, WBPDA.

But Bharat Petroleum later clarified that if the dealer failed to submit a “satisfactory explanation” about the “stock variation”, appropriate action would be taken against him.

For Calcuttans who woke up to a flash strike on Friday, trying to fill up the car proved nightmarish. From the morning, vehicles of every kind started queuing up outside the HP pump on the intersection of AJC Bose and Shakespeare Sarani. The rush for fuel caused massive traffic snarls, forcing office-goers to seek alternative routes, and the police to cordon off the area.

Around 1 pm, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty chaired a meeting attended by oil company representatives and petrol dealers. According to Kalyan Bhadra, president, WBPDA, the minister urged dealers to withdraw the strike “in view of the Madhyamik examinations from Monday”, and “requested” Bharat Petroleum to allow the disputed pump to resume services. Chakraborty asked director of consumer goods N.C. Majumdar to monitor the inquiry into the pump’s oil quality. Later, he directed the food department to submit a report on the “quality of oil at city pumps” within a fortnight.

   

 
 
ELOPEMENT DRAMA ENDS IN GIRL’S ARREST 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Feb. 23: 
After hoodwinking the police for five days, an 18-year-old girl from a well-to-do family, who had “eloped” to Digha, was arrested at Howrah station on Wednesday.

“The couple were childhood friends,” said Tarapada Dutta, officer-in-charge, Shyampukur police station. The father, an affluent businessman, was “very upset” when he learnt of the affair, as the young man was “unemployed” and he had wanted to marry his daughter off into a “more respectable family”. Her parents and aunt tried to persuade the girl, but she was adamant, “refusing to see reason”. Later, she drew up secret plans to flee with her boyfriend.

According to the complaint lodged by the father at Shyampukur police station, the teenaged girl left home for tuition on February 17 with a friend, who lost her in the crowd in front of New Market. As she didn’t return home till late in the night, the “highly-connected” father went to the police.

“After we took over the case, I deputed three officers to investigate, but there was no clue about the couple’s whereabouts,” said Tarapada Dutta, officer-in-charge, Shyampukur police station.

On February 18, police stumbled upon a telephone number of Digha. “We traced the number to a hotel. But by the time a police team reached Digha along with members of the girl’s family, they had checked out and moved out of the area,” said deputy commissioner of police, north, K.L. Tamta.

Police kept questioning friends and relatives of the girl and her friend and on February 20, a reliable family source revealed the couple were in Tarakeswar. But a search proved futile Meanwhile, on another tip-off, a team from Shyampukur thana rushed to Howrah and caught the two as they were getting off a train.

   

 
 
BLIND TO BASIC EYE DEFECTS 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 23: 
Fifty per cent of students in city schools and colleges with eye problems are not even aware that they need visual correction. This forms the crux of a survey conducted by Bausch and Lomb in 13 institutions, including Sri Shikshayatan, Presidency College and NIFT, in December and January.

To tackle the problem and spread awareness about better eye care in schools and colleges, VIEW (Vision Improvement Expert’s Working Council), a collaborative effort between some of the country’s leading eye-specialists and Bausch & Lomb, organised a one-day training programme for school teachers in Science City on Friday. More than 40 teachers from 20 institutions including Patha Bhaban, Ballygunge Shiksha Sadan and DAV Public School attended the workshop.

“Symptoms like frequent headaches, poor attention and even a sudden drop in grades are some of the signs of possible vision problem among students,” explained K.K. Binani, head of the Himalaya Optical Group. “With teachers being in the best position to detect these problems of the students, they can play a major role in countering vision deficiency among the most vulnerable age group, six to 20.”

The training programme, the first of its kind in eastern India, is part of VIEW’s nationwide campaign, “Joy of clear view for India”. Teachers of over 80 schools in Bangalore and 20 in Delhi have already been trained.

After being taught the basic tools of detecting visual problems among children at an early stage, the teachers have been asked to screen their students and identify the ones with visual problems, over the next couple of months. A VIEW team would then visit the schools to run a thorough check-up. A review committee, with teachers and parents, will soon be set up in Calcutta, and the initiative will be supported by the Calcutta Optometry Association.

“The number of complaints from students of not being able to see the blackboard from the back benches, and other eye-related problems, are on the rise these days... I will introduce the screening programme in my school at once,” said Bertram Daniels, principal of National Gems School.

   

 
 
RAGA AGAINST RACIAL BARRIERS 
 
 
BY SUDESHNA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Feb. 23: 
Summer of 1973. Amar Chakravarty had just got off the train at The Strand underground station in London. Two burly white men came bounding down the stairs, knocked him down, and started kicking him, mouthing racial abuses. Fortunately, a train pulled into the platform at that moment, forcing the goons to back off.

Traumatised, Chakravarty spent the next two days locked up in his rented attic room. He did manage to pull himself together after that, but the attack changed his life. Chakravarty, who had migrated to England in 1962, went on to chair the Greenwich Council of Racial Equality. The British citizen is today a teacher of Asian students. And he is in town to get his “songs on life as an immigrant” recorded. Twenty songs in English, penned and put to tune by Chakravarty over the years, have been sung by local artist Neepabithi Ghosh, under Shonkho Banerjee’s direction, and the master CD will be taken to London for commercial release there.

According to Chakravarty, even today, all that the Race Relations Act has been able to achieve is “across-the-counter politeness”. One of his songs, based on the Fielding-Dr Aziz relationship in A Passage to India, dwells on the “impossibility of friendship” across racial barriers. The new generation’s urge to immigrate “amuses” him. A song, Dialogue with God, set to the tune of Hari Bol, speaks of how “Lovely US dollars or the English money/Will transform our lives” and includes a plaintive appeal to God to “make me an NRI”.

Recounting his years of struggle, Chakravarty says: “I have been on bits-and-pieces jobs, working on factory floors, pen-pushing as clerk, going around as sales representatives... The British employers trust Indians as a dependable workforce.”

His first brush with discriminatory conduct was early, in a factory, where he discovered, during a chat over dinner, that the whites were “paid almost double”. “This caused discontent among the blacks and the Asians, and when the foreman found out who had passed on the information to them, I was sacked on the spot. After that, I became involved with the anti-racist movement in Britain,” he recounts.

Writing poetry was a hobby for Chakravarty, but it was only during a visit to Hollywood in 1987 that critics suggested he put his words to tune. Though the songs are in English, he insists that only a singer with an Indian classical background could do justice to them. “Trained opera singers floundered at the raga notes I have used. So, coming to Calcutta in search of a singer was the only option,” he says.

   

 
 
FORUM ON AIDS AND AFTER 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, Feb. 23: 
In a rare session, about 40 persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and their relatives had a frank, interactive discussion with doctors at Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine on Friday.

Several issues were taken up and proposals made, ranging from the spread of the virus and social boycotts to treatment facilities and formation of a forum of and for PLWAs. The socio-medical interaction was held on the School’s foundation day.

Bengal officially has over 2,500 persons infected by the virus, though the actual figure could be five times this, as symptoms develop at least three years after the day of infection.

“Most people, who have been involved in risky behaviour, like visiting red-light areas or injecting drugs, and their wives do not know that they have been infected,” the doctors pointed out.

They comprised Dr P.K. Sarkar, director of the School, Prof D.K. Neogi, head of the department of virology, Dr S.K. Guha, in charge of treatment at the School’s hospital, and Dr S. Hazra of Medical College and Hospital.

Over 30 per cent of those detected with the virus have developed illnesses, or opportunistic infections, because their immune system is compromised by the virus. The Tropical School and Medical College hospitals are the two main referral centres in the state.

The patients, who hailed from the city and districts, asked:

How should a baby born to positive parents be treated? (Pending confirmation of baby’s status, should not be given live vaccines like polio; no breast-feeding; avoid contact with mother’s body fluids.)

Are recycled syringes risky? (As far as HIV is concerned, no, as the virus is very fragile in the open outside the body).

Will the government provide AIDS medicines? (No, as they are too costly. But the National AIDS Control Organisation has a scheme for giving AZT to infected pregnant mothers so that the baby does not get infected).

Hopes of setting up a PLWA forum in Bengal, like in some other states, were raised by Umesh Kakrania, who has contacted the Indian Network of Positive People. “Once this is formed, those in Bengal will be able to tackle their problems,” he said.

   

 
 
KOIJAM UNVEILS JUMBO MINISTRY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, Feb. 23: 
Manipur chief minister Radhabinod Koijam today expanded his “jumbo-sized” ministry by inducting 33 members, comprising 24 Cabinet ministers and nine ministers of state. Senior Samata Party and BJP national leaders attended the swearing-in ceremony.

The last Cabinet of W. Nipamacha Singh’s United Front of Manipur government had 35 ministers, including the chief minister.

Talking to newsmen after the expansion ceremony at the Raj Bhavan here, Koijam said the portfolios would be allocated in the next couple of days. He also hinted at the possibility for further expansion. The chief minister defended the size of his ministry saying of the 57 MLAs supporting him, only 33 were in the Cabinet.

Asked whether there would be a deputy chief minister’s post, Koijam said no decision had been taken in this regard.

BJP leader Col. (retd.) Haobam Bhubon Singh, second in importance only to Koijam, was the first member to take the oath of office and secrecy from Governor Ved Marwah today.

Sources said the Governor had asked Koijam to limit the size of his ministry to not more than 28 members. Marwah later agreed to 30. However, following pressure from ministerial aspirants, Koijam submitted a list of 33 names this morning, which the Governor was compelled to except.

What is evident from today’s expansion is that Koijam had sidelined supporters of Union minister Thounaojam Chaoba Singh. Of the eight members of the Chaoba Singh’s faction of the Manipur State Congress Party, Koijam picked only three.

The chief minister has clearly gave more weight to the Nipamacha Singh faction as eight of the latter’s loyalists found a place in the new ministry. An Independent MLA, who had backed Nipamacha Singh, was also inducted.

Important leaders who missed the bus include Chungkhokai Doungel of the Nationalist Congress Party, H. Bidur Singh of the MSCP, former deputy chief minister, L. Chandramani Singh and former finance minister H. Lokhon Singh.

The party-wise break-up is as follows:

BJP — five, NCP and JD(S) — one each, Samata Party — 11, Federal Party of Manipur — two, MSCP (Chaoba Singh) — three, MSCP (Nipamacha Singh) — eight, Manipur People’s Party — one and Independent —one.

Prominent leaders to be inducted include Bhubon Singh, Borababu Singh (both of the BJP), O. Joy Singh of the MPP, K.G. Amutobi Singh, Nimaichand Luwang ( both of the Samata Party), Gangmumei Kamei of the FPM, and M. Kunjo Singh of the MSCP (Nipamacha Singh faction). The lone woman Independent MLA, W. Leima Devi, was inducted as a minister of state.

The NCP member is the youngest minister at 28 years. BJP leaders Kushabhau Thakre, P.B. Acharya, national secretary in-charge of Manipur, Samata Party president Jaya Jaitley and general-secretary Sambhu Srivastava also attended today’s function.

   

 
 
MARANDI PUTS BJP ON WINNING TRACK 
 
 
FROM RUDRA BISWAS
 
Ramgarh, Feb. 23: 
Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi today clinched the Ramgarh Assembly seat, defeating his CPI rival by a margin of 19,918 votes.

Bypoll in Ramgarh — necessitated by the death of sitting CPI legislator Sabir Ahmad Quereshi last year — was held on Monday.

While Marandi polled a staggering 55,884 votes, his CPI rival Nadira Begum, widow of Quereshi, came second with 35,966 votes.

JMM candidate Arjun Ram polled 32,584 votes to secure the third spot, while Congress candidate Yamuna Prasad Sharma secured a meagre 3,576 votes, forfeiting his security deposit.

The presence of chief minister Marandi tipped the scales heavily in favour of the BJP which managed to secure only the third spot with 28,442 votes — behind the CPI and the JMM — in the 2000 Bihar Assembly elections.

Though the JMM candidate polled 2,500 votes more than the last elections, it had to settle for the third spot.

A totally disunited Opposition, which failed to set up a consensus candidate, ensured an easy win for the Jharkhand chief minister, poll observers here said.

They said the “disillusioned” people of Ramgarh can now hope that the victory of chief minister Marandi will usher in some development to this neglected constituency.

The election of the Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha from Hazaribagh Lok Sabha seat for two successive terms have so far failed to bring in the much needed improvement in basic infrastructure which are practically non-existent in Ramgarh.

Though work on the water distribution system at Garhbandh in Ramgarh began in 1982, the project is still to be completed. Already Rs. 10 crore have been invested, sources said.

At present, the Garhbandh dam barely manages to supply water to 15 per cent of Ramgarh’s residents, while the vast majority still depends on deep tubewells for drinking water.

Even in the areas covered by the pipe water scheme, local residents complained that the supply pipes are jammed or broken in many places, rendering the water unsuitable and unhygienic for drinking.

With the cantonment board reeling under a severe cash crunch and failing to cope with the increasing pressure of population, drainage outlets in most of Ramgarh are either non-existent or clogged, sources said.

Plying of vehicles along National Highway 23 which links Dhanbad to Ramgarh is fraught with danger as the road is poorly maintained.

The authorities responsible for the maintenance of the highway are based in Dhanbad, so nobody bothers to repair this important highway which links Ramgarh to the Grand Trunk Road, the sources added.

The constituency has no government hospital and the private nursing homes have acquired the dubious reputation of fleecing the sick, the sources said.

More than 70 per cent of smallscale industries in Ramgarh have been declared sick or have shut down. Two units of the state-owned Bharat Refractories Limited and two major private sector units — Bihar Alloy and Indo-Asahi Glass Co. — have been declared sick, the sources added.

   

 
 
ADVANI TO REVIEW NAGA PEACE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Kohima, Feb. 23: 
A red carpet welcome awaits Union home minister L.K. Advani, who arrives here tomorrow on a two-day maiden visit to the strife-torn state of Nagaland.

Security measures have been beefed up in and around the state capital in view of the home minister’s visit.

Four more companies of the CRPF, the India Reserve Battalion and the state police have been deployed here. Frisking of vehicles, especially incoming ones, has also been intensified.

Advani is scheduled to hold a series of meetings with senior officials of the Nagaland government and Naga public leaders to take stock of the law and order situation in the state.

During his first visit after assuming office, Advani will address a public rally at the Kohima local ground and hold separate meetings with the Governor and the chief minister.

The newly constructed Governor’s secretariat at Raj Bhavan, christened Ura Academy, will be dedicated to the people of Nagaland by the home minister tomorrow at noon.

Advani will also inaugurate the three-day spring festival of arts and crafts of the Northeast, the first of its kind in the region.

He will also grace a flower show organised by the state horticulture department and inaugurate the new Administrative Training Institute complex on Sunday.

In order to ensure smooth movement of vehicles in the capital, traffic police have been deployed on all important routes.

During his meeting with the chief minister, the Governor and the Army top brass, Advani will review the latest political situation in the state in view of the revised ceasefire ground rules and frequent peace rallies organised by non-governmental organisations in different parts of the state.

Prior to his Kohima visit, Advani will visit Roing in Arunachal Pradesh to inaugurate the Brahmaputra Darshan programme early tomorrow.

While the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) insisted that the ceasefire coverage should be extended to other Naga-inhabited areas of the region as per the revised ground rules, the Union home ministry has adopted a studied silence over the claim.

Preparations are also on to give a facelift to the state capital despite the bad weather.

Stray violence

Stray incidents of violence rocked Nagaland’s commercial town Dimapur and its adjoining areas in Assam on the eve of Advani’s visit to the state.

Police sources said six persons were seriously wounded last evening when unidentified men hurled grenades on them near the Dimapur town committee building.

Dimapur police said four unidentified youth, suspected to be militants, entered a restaurant in West Yard Colony of the town and forcibly took Rs 3,000 from the cash counter.

They boarded a three-wheeler which did not have a number plate and fired in the air to scare away pedestrians.

But people in the area chased the thugs and pelted them with stones. The four fleeing youth hurled a grenade on their pursuers, injuring six seriously. All the injured were rushed to hospital, police said. a manhunt has been launched.

In separate incidents, two Assam policemen and a civilian were gunned down by suspected militants on the Assam-Nagaland border.

   

 
 
CONFLICT BLOW TO INVESTMENT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Guwahati, Feb. 23: 
The government’s hoopla over making Assam an “investors’ paradise” got a rude shock with a Japanese trade expert today saying no person from a foreign country would like to come to a conflict zone.

The statement, which jolted top government officials and industry bigwigs on the concluding day of the international conference on “Business Opportunities in Northeast India: Guwahati Initiative”, came from Yashinobu Sei, an official of the FICCI-Japan cell.

On the possibility of Japanese investment in the state, Sei said Assam should be safe enough for foreigners to work and live. Fear of terrorism was no incentive for foreigners, he added.

“Assam is hardly understood in Japan and the Japanese cannot even guess what kind of businessmen Assamese are. There is no mention of Assam by the Indian embassy there,” Sei said.

The trade expert, who has been in India for almost two decades now, also said the Japanese embassy was not very enthusiastic about sending tourists to Assam as “it is not safe”.

He said Japanese investors would like to have readymade infrastructure for staying here. He even doubted whether the state had any USP (unique selling point) for investors.

“Assam requires a plan for next 100 years to face the competition as society is fast changing.” He expressed hope of Japanese foray into mushroom cultivation here for the domestic marketas well as for export.

While government officials took help of audio-visual slides to highlight Assam’s USP, industrialists of the region pointed out to the indifference of financial institutions and banks towards entrepreneurs here.

“The demand for extra collateral security and high rate of interest are unreasonable,” M.K. Saharia, managing director of Northeast Pure Drinks Limited said.

Saharia said land policy needed to be changed and insurance refund rules had to be implemented. He, however, said there has been a considerable improvement in the situation at the ground level.

Deputy director of Central Silk Board K.S. Menon pointed out that inconsistency in raw materials and obsolete technological was hindering investment in the sericulture sector.

“Products are not of high quality and there is absence of skilled labour,” Menon added.

“Though Assam has a rich tradition and a good potential in the handloom sector, its products are region-specific. The central Silk Board and the state government are working on a number of schemes to promote high quality sericulture in the region,” the silk board deputy-director said.

Amid the barrage of criticism on the state’s investor-unfriendly atmosphere, industry commissioner S.C. Das’ assertion that internet accessibility in Assam was better than Delhi’s, was indeed a gaffe. He also felt that the Northeast industrial policy was Assam’s USP.

State Tourism commissioner Surajit Mitra spoke on “Assam being unexplored”.

R.R. Rashmi of the ministry of commerce and industry underlined the need for having proper infrastructure at the land customs stations.

The commerce ministry official said exports from the Northeast to neighbouring countries was valued at only Rs 170 crore. Informal trade was higher compared to the formal trade in the region, he added.

V.K. Khanna, chairman of the Inland Waterways Authority of India said new incentives have been offered for boosting inland water transport in the country, which is applicable for the Northeast also. “The process for declaring Barak river as National Waterway 2 is on,” the chairman added.

   
 

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