Cable theft cripples phones
Youth ransom trick on parents backfires
Mayor moots captive force for civic policing
Stand up and be counted, given a chance
Kidnap arrest leads to girl-traffick trail
Blood bags, jewellery and toys at Salt Lake
Building experts head for Bhuj havoc appraisal
Koijam offers ‘bonus’ truce
Tripura House impasse continues
Naga party seeks CBI probe

Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
More than two lakh telephones, almost all in south Calcutta, went out of order since early on Tuesday after thieves prised open telephone repair vents and stole more than 16 metres of copper fibre cables near Victoria Memorial. Late on Tuesday, one person was arrested in this connection.

The telephone authorities said the areas worst-hit were Gariahat, Jadavpur, Bhowanipore, Kalighat, Hazra, Alipore, New Alipore, Behala, Ballygunge and Southern Avenue. These areas account for about 3.5 lakh of Calcutta Telephone’s 10 lakh subscribers. The office of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), SSKM Hospital, the high court and several police stations remained cut off for the day. Officials said the situation is expected to improve by Wednesday.

General manager (transmission) of Calcutta Telephones, Gautam Adhya, who rushed to the spot and is supervising repairs, said copper cables worth Rs 50,000 were stolen and optic fibre cables worth several lakhs of rupees have been damaged. But, he said, the loss to Calcutta Telephones would be much more, as the cost of replacing them with new cables would be a lot higher. “We have lodged a complaint with the police commissioner and the chief secretary,’’ he said.

According to the chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones, K.Ramanujam, officials of the Alipore, Kalighat, Behala, Russa and Jadavpur exchanges suddenly noticed on their computers on Tuesday morning that the phone routes of their exchanges were jammed.

“The calls were not coming through or going out from the exchanges, so the officials contacted Telephone Bhavan,” said Ramanujam. “After scanning the routes in the mainline computer, we found out that copper and optic fibre cables near Victoria Memorial had snapped. We immediately sent our men there and they found that the repair covers were open and the copper cables stolen.”

What is surprising the telephone authorities is the fact that the thieves managed to open several covers of the repair vents, even though they are very heavy and firmly sealed, without attracting any attention on Casuarina Avenue, which is patrolled by the radio flying squad of the city police throughout the night. In fact, the Police Training School is a stone’s throw away from the scene of the crime.

Telephone officials estimate that it must have taken the thieves at least an hour to complete the entire operation. “It’s amazing that they did not get caught in the act,” said a telephone official. “What kind of patrolling do the cops do?”

Telephone sources also explained that stealing the heavy cables is quite a laborious process, as people have to go down the pit, locate the cables and then cut them and pull them out. In the process, the miscreants also damaged the optic fibre lines. Telecom officials are perplexed as the thieves stole the copper cables instead of the optic fibre ones, which fetch more money in the grey market.

Acting deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Ranjit Pachnanda said Hastings police are investigating the incident. “If there have been any lapses on the part of the police, then we will have to initiate action,” he said.


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
In almost an action replay of the Sanjukta Basu Roy episode, Mohammad Tariq Masood, alias Russel, stage-managed an abduction to try and wrangle a ransom of Rs 2 lakh from his parents.

The commerce under-graduate, son of an advocate in Kidderpore, later fell out with his ‘captors’ and escaped. Police placed Tariq under ‘house arrest’, and picked up four of his accomplices on Tuesday.

According to deputy commissioner of police, south, Ranjit Pachnanda, Tariq, who lives with his parents on Kabitirtha Sarani, in Kidderpore, had initially told officers at Kalighat thana that one afternoon last week, four hooded men stopped him near Sadananda Road while he was riding along Hazra Road on his motorcycle.

They dragged him into a taxi. Three men sat inside the cab, while the fourth followed them on Tariq’s motorbike. Soon, a Maruti van joined them. They reached a dilapidated house on Monoharpukur Road, where Tariq was imprisoned without food or water for the rest of the day. Later in the evening, two men — one of whom Tariq identified as Nemai Patra of S.P. Mukherjee Road — arrived, brandishing revolvers.

A third man with a cellphone asked Tariq to call up his parents. They demanded Rs 2 lakh from his parents. The criminals threatened to kill Tariq if his parents squealed. Tariq’s parents were reluctant to pay up, said Tapas Basu, officer-in-charge of Kalighat police station.

The next day, at 4 pm, Tariq left the room on the pretext of visiting the toilet and escaped. Basu said police registered his complaint but were not sold on his story.

Pachnanda said Nemai was traced to Bhowanipore on February 25. Nemai broke down during interrogation, and disclosed that his accomplices were Ravi Das of Kalighat Road, and Kanu Patra and Sisir Das of Monoharpukur Road. Tariq was their close friend. “He used to supply foreign liquor to these men, who sold hooch at Monoharpukur,’’ Basu said. Tariq had borrowed Rs 20,000 from Nemai, and more money from his accomplices too.

With Nemai breathing down his neck, Tariq planned the “abduction” to extract Rs 2 lakh from his father. Tariq too would get his share. But Tariq’s father refused to pay, and Tariq and Nemai fell out over the ransom.

Nemai reportedly asked Tariq to return the money he borrowed. When Tariq realised the plan had boomeranged on them, he went to the police to teach Nemai and his men a lesson, Basu said.

Pachnanda said investigators were grilling Tariq.


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has called for a captive police force to tackle law and order problems relating to Calcutta Municipal Corporation activities.

“Very often, we have to evict hawkers, demolish illegal buildings, seize illegally-parked vehicles, close down illegal shops and reclaim encroached CMC land. These are sensitive issues and there is every possibility of a law and order problem. For these drills, we are dependent on the local police, who often don’t respond promptly. If we have a separate force, we won’t have to rely on the government,’’ Mukherjee said.

The mayor added that the proposal for a separate police force for the CMC will be ratified in the next mayor-in-council meeting and submitted to the government.

The proposal says the force should be led by a senior officer of the rank of deputy commissioner and should have around 1,000 armed sub-inspectors and constables. It should have a rapid action force, adequate vehicles and a modern wireless system.

The mayor argued that with its own force, it would be easier for the CMC to keep a strict vigil on illegal activities and to enforce rules. “If there is a DC (port) then why can’t there be a DC (CMC)?’’ he reasoned.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, whom the mayor met on Tuesday morning, said: “Let us first see his proposal before we react.”

A senior police officer at Lalbazar said there was no justification of creating such a captive police force for the Corporation.

He said there were 36 police stations in the CMC areas and forces were deployed as requisitioned by the civic body.

“It’s true we can’t always send sufficient forces due to staff shortage. But, if we are to create a separate force for the Corporation, things will get even worse,” the officer added.


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
Scene 1: Census enumerator (in Dum Dum): What’s your religion? Respondent: We are Hindu. The enumerator (scribbling something in her notebook, with a look of suspicion): How can you be Hindu? I know you are Hindusthanis.

Scene 2: Census Enumerator (on Shakespeare Sarani): What’s your academic qualification? Respondent: I am an MBA. Enumerator: What’s that, MA or M.Sc? Respondent: Err... It’s like a masters degree, but... Enumerator (not convinced): Do you need to sit for an exam to get this degree?

Scene 3: Census enumerator (at Lake Market): Aamra jono gononar janna esechi (We have come for the census). Respondent: What? Enumerator: Bangla... no under...uh... stand? (arms flailing frantically) Respondent: No, only English. (After five minutes of dumb charade, the enumerator gives up.) Two days later, a couple of ladies, with a better command over English, drop in to surmount the language barrier and carry out the census.

The country-wide enumeration work for Census 2001, which started on February 9, ends on Wednesday. “The enumeration process will go on till the midnight of 28th,” said Bikram Sen, director, census operations, West Bengal.

The army of enumerators has turned up at thousands of households, firing questions, furiously jotting down answers, and often leaving respondents quite puzzled.

And then, there are thousands of other doors where the census brigade hasn’t come knocking. A wide cross-section of Calcuttans — from industrialist Harsh Neotia to singer Usha Uthup, actor Victor Banerjee to Dr Vece Paes — confirmed that they were yet to be counted as citizens, till late Tuesday evening.

But they do have a second chance. “From March 1 to 5, we will have the revisional rounds for those who haven’t been enumerated in the first round,” explained Sen. “It’s also the responsibility of citizens to inform us if census officials haven’t reached them. We have been receiving 500 to 700 such calls every day on our helplines and acting promptly upon them,” he added.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, who patiently answered a barrage of questions, later said: “The entire exercise is quite odd. The format should be more simple, to benefit both the enumerators, who appeared quite confused themselves, and the people, for whom it proves extremely boring.”

The countdown to the three-week counting drive began in February, 1999. The city of Calcutta, with 15 boroughs and 141 wards, was divided into 8,960 blocks, with at least one enumerator for each block, housing around 125 families and 650 people. Supervisors, one for every six blocks, were picked and the areas plotted and mapped.

Enumerators were roped in from the state government’s social welfare department, education department, directorate of milk distribution and civil defence department. Forty master-trainers, including representatives from the census department and professors of economics and statistics of various universities, conducted 27 training sessions for enumerators and supervisors at the borough offices. They were asked to draw up a layout map of their area before setting out to track down “a member of every family” residing in Calcutta.

“It’s not really possible to cover 100 per cent of the population, but we hope to match the all-India standards of 95 per cent, by March 5,” concluded Sen.


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
Mohammad Mukhtar, Sanjukta Basu Roy’s prime partner in the Ghosh Dastidar house robbery on Harish Mukherjee Street last Friday, was involved in girl-trafficking. A tailor by profession, he had been earning a hefty sum from the racket for the past few years, city detective chief Banibrata Basu said. “He would first lure girls from affluent families. The girls would then be sold in the neighbouring countries,” Basu said.

Mukhtar confessed his style of operation to his interrogators on Tuesday. The police, however, could not find out if Mukhtar had any intention of selling Sanjukta in Bangladesh.

Mukhtar married for the second time seven years ago. He had initially tried to sell off his prospective bride, who lives in the Mehendibagan area of Park Circus, but was forced to marry her after the matter became public. A case was registered at a south Calcutta police station eight years ago. His first wife is now in Gaya, police said.

Nasim, Niaz and Babloo, all three arrested late on Monday night, admitted that they were drunk at the time of the dacoity, police said. “We are now trying to find out the number of girls sold by Mukhtar,” police said.


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was a busy man on Tuesday evening. He inaugurated the production of, and laid the foundation stones for, three state government initiatives.

The products range from life-saving equipment, like blood bags, to costly gems and jewellery and entertaining toys. All three are located in Sector V of Salt Lake, and are the first of their kind in the eastern region.

The first is a unit that will, in three to four years’ time, manufacture 30 lakh sterile blood bags to be supplied to other states and exported to Europe. The Rs 17.5-crore Electro-Medical and Allied Industries project will initially make 10-lakh units, which will be supplied to the 56 government blood banks in the state.

“With technology from the National Research Development Corporation and processing consultancy from Hindustan Latex, the blood bags will soon get ISO and European Community certification, after which they will be exported at competitive prices,” said B. Haldar, project manager.

Right across the street, on a combined plot of 7.2 acres, two new constructions will house ManiKanchan, a gems and jewellery park, and Toy Park. Both are slated to be complete in 18 months’ time.

Supported by the Gems and Jewellery Promotion Council, the park is expected to push up exports of precious stones and ornaments to over Rs 1,000 crore. “The sales tax and turnover tax exemptions by the state will be an impetus for exporters based at the park,” Bhattacharjee said.

“Quality soft toys, plastic toys and electronic toys will be made at Toy Park, with plastic supplied from Haldia Petrochemicals,” he added. About 30,000 sq ft have already been booked by two companies from the state.

And negotiations are on with two companies in Germany for collaborative projects.


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
A team of structural engineers of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) will leave for Bhuj this week to assess the havoc caused by the earthquake, said mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Tuesday. The move is in response to a state government proposal. The expert team includes CMC director-general (building) Ashok Roychowdhury and former director-general (project and development) and CMC consultant Manoj Majumdar.

The experts will check if the standards of construction set in the building rules are sufficient to absorb an earthquake shock of 6.5 on the Richter scale, said a senior municipal affairs department official. “The civic bodies may be asked to revise their building rules, if required, to avoid large-scale destruction by an earthquake,” he said.

Besides, the experts will also inspect if the damage in Bhuj was more due to weakness in the columns and pilings and the difference in the magnitude of damage caused by horizontal jerks on the old and modern structures.

Over 1.5-lakh buildings have sprouted in Calcutta, violating rules related to structural stability. Even though the office of the city architect remained tight-lipped on this, former city architect Pradip Guha said the safety of nearly 10 lakh people was involved with these illegal buildings. “These structures won’t require an earthquake. A strong wind is enough to make them collapse,” Guha said.

Admitting Guha’s fears as “genuine”, Roychowdhury said: “The CMC cannot take the onus for illegal buildings on colony plots in the slum areas and in Kidderpore, Tiljala, Topsia, Garden Reach, Metiabruz and Narkeldanga.” In these areas, highrises have mushroomed without conforming to the wind-load standard stipulated in the national building code, said Majumdar. However, contrary to popular belief, properly-built highrises are safer than single-storeyed houses as the former have more in-built flexibility, he added.


Imphal, Feb. 27: 
A day after the Army declared a 15-day Holi truce with militants in Manipur, the Radhabinod Koijam-led People’s Front government today came up with a “bonus” — a monthlong “unilateral ceasefire” beginning Thursday.

The chief minister told a press conference here that the police, the BSF and the CRPF would keep counter-insurgency operations suspended for the entire duration of the Yaoshang (Holi) festival. He said the government would also ask the Army to extend its ceasefire till March 31.

“By announcing a unilateral ceasefire, we hope to convince all rebel outfits operating in Manipur to come to the negotiation table. We appeal to the people to back our efforts to restore peace in the state,” Koijam said.

Maj. Gen. Iqbal Singh, general-officer-commanding of the 57 Mountain Division, yesterday announced that the Army and Assam Rifles would not conduct counter-insurgency operations for 15 days in view of the Yaoshang festival.

Taking the cue, the chief minister today convened a meeting of his council of ministers and decided to separately declare a “unilateral ceasefire” for a month.

Koijam said the duration of the truce would be extended if his government received a “positive response” from the militants. “The unilateral ceasefire is an opportunity for the rebels to come for talks. We hope they will respond positively to our gesture,” he added.

The chief minister said his government would be forced to contemplate calling off the ceasefire if the militants violated any of the conditions set by it.

“The rebels cannot indulge in killings, abductions and extortion. They are also barred from moving about with arms or wearing battle fatigues,” he said.

Koijam said the Cabinet would evaluate the rebels’ response to the ceasefire early next month. This will be followed by an all-party meeting on the issue.

The chief minister said his government would also seek the opinions of social organisations and meira paibis (women’s groups).

Asked why the Army and his government had separately declared a ceasefire, Koijam said Maj. Gen. Iqbal Singh made the announcement only after consulting him.

Law minister O. Joy Singh said the People’s Front government “shares the grief of insurgents who are in the jungles and far away from their families.” He said this was the reason why the government had offered them “safe passage” during the Yaoshang festival.

“The council of ministers has taken a bold step in its first-ever meeting. I hope the people appreciate this sincere approach,” he said.


Agartala, Feb. 27: 
The proceedings in the Tripura Assembly remained paralysed for the third consecutive day today as members of the Opposition Congress and the treasury benches stuck to their respective stands on the alleged misconduct of inspector-general of police (intelligence) Kishore Jha with Congress legislators in the House on Friday.

On the opening day of the current budget session on Friday, the Congress legislators had demanded postponement of the day’s session to pay respect to assassinated Congress MLA Madhusudan alias Bhola Saha on February 20.

When the Left Front rejected the plea on the ground of constitutional deadlock, the Congress legislators went on a rampage. They first tried to prevent the Governor from entering the House, failing which, they ransacked the House.

The Congress alleged that Jha, who controls the watch and ward staff of the Assembly and had arrived in the House at the behest of Speaker Jiten Sarkar, had manhandled and abused them.

Nine Congress legislators, including leader of the Opposition Jawhar Saha, and 30 members of the watch and ward staff were injured in the scuffle. Saha and Congress MLA Prakash Das had to be hospitalised. Yesterday, too, the Congress MLAs had paralysed the House.

Trouble started today when Jawhar Saha pointed out that though a CBI inquiry into the assassination of Bhola Saha had been declared, no follow-up action was taken. Party legislators Sudip Roy Barman and Ratan Lal Nath said a Cabinet resolution and a notification in the state gazette was required before handing over the case to the CBI.

Chief minister Manik Sarkar said chief secretary V. Thulasidasa had sent a letter to the CBI regarding the government’s decision on February 22. The chief secretary’s letter was later laid in the House.

Though the Congress relented on the CBI issue, it reverted to Jha’s alleged misconduct, forcing the Speaker to adjourn the House till 2 pm. During the recess Sarkar held a meeting with the Congress members and offered to reprimand Jha in his chamber. The Congress members, however, stuck to their demand of reprimanding him in the House.

The meeting ended without a decision even though the Congress members agreed not to press for Jha’s suspension from service.

As soon as the House reassembled, fresh chaos marred the proceedings as Congress members remained adamant on their demand for reprimanding Jha in the House. After half-an-hour, the day’s session was adjourned.

Misuse of Act alleged

Rampant use of the National Security Act (NSA), ostensibly to curb militancy, is causing serious resentment here with Opposition parties alleging that the ruling Left Front is using the draconian Act to victimise workers and supporters of rival political parties.

The Left Front government had always opposed the invocation of the NSA on grounds of policy and principle. But it had finally invoked the Act in January last year to prevent arrested militants and their collaborators from obtaining easy bail in court, taking advantage of the loopholes in the IPC and the CrPC.

The Opposition Congress, the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS) and the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) had opposed the invocation of the NSA, expressing fear that it would be misused on political grounds.

According to official data furnished in the Assembly today, 85 persons have been booked under the NSA so far, of which 68 are tribals and the rest are non-tribal Bengalis, Muslims and Manipuris.

The data was provided in the form of a written reply by chief minister Manik Sarkar to a query raised by two TUJS legislators Nagendra Jamatya and Rati Mohan Jamatya. Sarkar, who also holds the home portfolio, did not reply in the Assembly as proceedings remained paralysed for the third day today.


Kohima, Feb. 27: 
The Nagaland People’s Council (NPC) has appealed to Union home minister L.K. Advani to expedite the CBI probe into financial irregularities in some state government departments.

In a memorandum submitted to the Union minister during his recent visit here, the party stated that it was still not known whether the apex investigating authority had initiated any probe into any of the six specific cases of corruption concerning five departments.

The memorandum stated that that a delegation comprising the state BJP, NPC and Nagaland Democratic Movement, had called on the Union home minister in New Delhi twice in 1999, urging him to look into the cases.

“We are pained to see that till today, the whole matter is dormant. This has encouraged further corruption in the state,” party officials said.

“The NDA government (at the Centre) is tolerating corruption in Nagaland, in contrast to the ‘zero-tolerance policy’ announced by the Prime Minister,” the officials added.

The memorandum stated that the Union government had sanctioned Rs 10.62 crore in 1998 for the development of Mon and Tuensang districts but not even 10 per cent of the projects were implemented.

The state agriculture department had drawn Rs 1.64 crore under the Wasteland Development Programme for the Japfu football project but no work was undertaken.

Though the CBI took up the case, the “beneficiaries” were not intimated by the department concerned. Instead, officials from other areas were brought in to answer CBI queries, it was alleged. Referring to the Nagaland state lottery scam involving Rs 38,279,32 crore, though chief minister S.C. Jamir had said that the matter was referred to the public accounts committee of the sate Assembly, the memo said, “Jamir will never have the case taken up by the PAC during the present tenure of Assembly which will end in February, 2003”.

The memorandum also stated that a PIL had been filed by Khashito Aye, (editor of Kohima-based weekly Hill Express) in the Supreme Court in 1997 against the Congress government on various corruption charges.

The PIL had demanded physical verification of projects deemed to have been executed under the district plan, where each constituency was entitled to Rs 50 lakh.

Based on the judgment of the apex court, the home ministry had decided that the CBI would be entrusted to investigate certain charges filed by Aye.


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