Boy held hostage for 4 lakh
Mikes muzzled for Madhyamik
Due slips for death and birth
Shrines replica at railway stations
Star renovation launch with play
Left drive for Utpal Dutt road
‘Free’ men court bondage in Deoghar labour mart
AGP attack on Sangma rally
Sulfa man sets labourer on fire
Rare leopard snared in Tripura village

 
 
BOY HELD HOSTAGE FOR 4 LAKH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 4: 
Eight-year-old Mohammed Feroz, son of a central Calcutta leather exporter, was kidnapped from congested Chandni Chowk on March 1. When the boy went missing, the family lodged a ‘missing’ case with Taltala police station and with the detective department.

But on Saturday night and Sunday morning, Feroz’s father, Sheikh Habib, received five ransom calls. The callers demanded Rs 6 lakh to set the boy free. Habib has registered a case of kidnapping at Taltala police station, and with the anti-rowdy section of the detective department.

Late on Sunday, Habib told Metro that the kidnappers had called to demand Rs 4 lakh. “We are giving you 48 hours to pay up... Otherwise, we will kill your son,’’ a Hindi-speaking youth told Habib around noon.

Deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfikar Hasan, and officer-in-charge of Taltala police station, Fiaz Ahmed Khan, were tightlipped about the incident.

According to DC, DD, Banibrata Basu, Feroz, a student of Class II at a reputed local school, had gone to a nearby store on the morning of March 1 to buy some stationery.

The Habibs, who have a shop dealing with leather items in the Chandni Chowk market, live nearby. Sheikh Habib’s uncle and other family members live in an adjoining house on Nirmai Gali. Feroz’s mother pressed the panic button two hours after the boy had left home.

Family and friends launched a search, which failed to find Feroz.

On Saturday morning, the telephone rang with news of Feroz. “We have kidnapped the boy. You have to pay Rs 6 lakh if you want to see him alive. Don’t make the mistake of informing the police. Someone will call you later to tell you how and where to pay the money,’’ announced a harsh voice.

Habib panicked and informed his two bothers. The family decided to wait for another call before informing the police.

The second call came in the evening. The message was much the same — get ready to pay up or to forget about Feroz.

This time, Habib’s brother answered the phone and pleaded with the kidnappers that it would be impossible for them to cough up such a huge amount.

“Okay, but don’t inform the police and don’t try to track us down or we will kill the boy. Wait for out next call,’’ said the voice at the other end.

The family then decided to turn to the police. Till late on Sunday, the kidnappers had not informed the family about where and when to pay the ransom of Rs 4 lakh. “All efforts are on to trace the kidnappers and rescue the boy,” said Basu.

   

 
 
MIKES MUZZLED FOR MADHYAMIK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 4: 
A CPM activist was arrested at a street-corner meeting on Aurobindo Sarani, in north Calcutta, on charges of sound pollution. The police impounded five microphones and an amplifier at the rally.

The crackdown followed a complaint by advocate Gitanath Ganguly, who told the police he had received anxious calls from the mother of a candidate appearing for the current Madhyamik examinations.

Ganguly, also a high court special officer looking into cases of sound pollution, said all five microphones were blaring far louder than the permissible limit of 55 decibels.

“Nobody is allowed to use a microphone while the Madhyamik examinations are in progress. All street-corner meetings have been prohibited during this period,” Ganguly added.

   

 
 
DUE SLIPS FOR DEATH AND BIRTH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REORTER
 
Calcutta, March 4: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation is issuing “due” slips in place of birth and death certificates as it does not have funds for stationery. For the past few days, this has led to confusion and commotion, especially at the crematoria.

Civic health officials at the CMC headquarters, burning ghats and burial grounds are facing flak as relatives of the deceased refuse to accept the ‘due’ slips instead of death certificates. A similar situation, but evoking more anxiety than anger, prevails at CMC offices issuing birth certificates. The civic authorities register around 4,000 births and 600 deaths in the city every day.

In a frantic effort to tackle the situation, acting chief municipal health officer R.N. Sanyal has directed officials to issue birth and death certificates on cyclostyled copies of the original format. So far, 50,000 cyclostyled copies have been printed and bound in book form.

But a civic law officer admitted that birth and death certificates on cyclostyled paper may lack official and legal validity.

“The CMC’s printing press suddenly stopped supplies of forms about four months ago,” Sanyal said. “Municipal commissioner Debashis Som is on official tour in Europe and not in a position to take a decision. I have no alternative but to use cyclostyled copies of the original formats.”

Member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan, said: “I have approached the mayor. He has told me he will look into it.” The accounts department claims it has no money to get these certificates printed from outside.

A printing supervisor, when approached, did not know why his department’s productivity has fallen over the last four months. “God knows,” he answered.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said a section of civic employees were playing the role of “saboteurs” to discredit the Trinamul-BJP board in the CMC. Sabotage had already taken place at the hot-mix plants of the roads department, at the newly-built sophisticated water treatment plant at Palta and at College Street market, he added.

Under the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969, it is mandatory for all citizens to get every incident of birth and death registered with the civic authority in their respective localities. “This is the first time we are facing a crisis with such certificates,” said vice chairman, burial board, Mumtaz Alam.

In 1998, the then municipal commissioner Asim Barman had introduced an on-the-spot computerised birth and death certificate delivery system. Since then, the CMC had been delivering birth certificates within hours of application and death certificates at the burning ghats immediately after a cremation. But now, there are no forms.

Besides, at a meeting of the executive health officers held on Wednesday, Sanyal had to face an unpleasant situation when the officers complained about depleted stocks of essential medicines like paracetamol, oral rehydration solution (ORS), septran, ampicilin, cough syrup and even cotton and bandages in all the 25 CMC-run clinics and several maternity homes. “I placed a proposal for interim purchase of medicine for Rs 5 lakh but it failed to get the concurrence of the municipal commissioner,” said Sanyal.

The commissioner advised that the medicine be bought directly from manufacturers, but there was no list of manufacturers with the CMC. Hence, no medicine could be procured during the last five months.

   

 
 
SHRINES REPLICA AT RAILWAY STATIONS 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, March 4: 
By year-end, those visiting the temples at Dakshineswar and Belur by train will find the shrines right next to the respective stations. No, the Dakshineswar Kali Temple and the Ramakrishna Temple at Belur Math are not shifting to their railheads, but the existing station buildings are being replaced by replicas of these places of worship.

The railway minister made this decision about a year ago, because the existing station buildings, especially the one at Dakshineswar, were not large enough, and the new structures would reflect the ethos of both. The work, awarded to the Rail India Technological and Economic Services (RITES),involves a combined outlay of Rs 1.3 crore, a little over a year’s time, demolition of three small railway quarters at Belur, and replacing the one-storeyed gumtis that serve as station buildings with two-storeyed (Belur) and three-storeyed (Dakshineswar) edifices. Akriti has been engaged as consultant.

The station building at Dakshineswar will have 562 sq m spread over a basement, ground, first and second floors. It will have a cafeteria, waiting rooms, a station master’s office, booking offices and provision for computerised reservation counters, according to senior RITES engineers involved in the project.

The Belur station building will have 480 sq m but will cost Rs 30 lakh more than the station building across the Hooghly, as staff quarters have to be rebuilt.

Swami Tattwajnanananda, principal of Shilpa Mandir, the polytechnic school at Belur Math, saw the site and the plans and made some suggestions on the orientation of the proposed building.

The new Belur station will have extra booking counters, a canteen and a holiday home. While Belur station will be more than seven times smaller than the original, the building at Dakshineswar will be almost double the size of the Kali temple.

   

 
 
STAR RENOVATION LAUNCH WITH PLAY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 4: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) will raise the curtains on the multi-crore reconstruction work of Star Theatre, on Bidhan Sarani, by staging Girish Ghosh’s Nati Binodini on the salvaged revolving stage on Wednesday.

The century-old theatre was closed down in 1990 after a devastating fire damaged it severely. Jatra actress Bina Dasgupta will appear in the lead role of Nati Binodini. A makeshift pandal is being constructed around the stage to accommodate nearly 700 viewers.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee stepped in to renovate the hall immediately after taking over the civic body. “We are happy that the government is keen to restore the theatre. I have set aside a sum of Rs 8 crore for the project,” Mukherjee said on Sunday. The Star Punarnirman Committee will monitor the renovation, he added.

The civic body took over the management and control of Star Theatre under the newly-included provisions of the CMC Act, 1980, on heritage conservation. The provisions allow the CMC to control the theatre for five years, but the tenure can be extended for another five years if required.

“I have discussed the matter with the chief minister. I believe the government will acquire the hall after work is completed,” said Mukherjee. However, if the government does not acquire it, the hall will be returned to its owner.

   

 
 
LEFT DRIVE FOR UTPAL DUTT ROAD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 4: 
The Calcutta district committee of the Left Front has lined up an agitation in north Calcutta early this week, demanding the renaming of Beadon Street after actor-playwright Utpal Dutt.

The Trinamul Congress-led civic body has rejected the former civic board’s resolution on this score.

“We will put up banners and festoons on the entire stretch of Beadon Street, from Chitpur to Central Avenue, and declare it as Utpal Dutt Sarani to highlight our demand,” said Sudhansu Sil, former member, mayor-in-council (roads) on Sunday. The movement would be “intensified” if the civic board refuses to “concede to our demand within a couple of days”, he added.

Undeterred by Left Front’s proposed agitation, mayor Subrata Mukherjee, when contacted, reiterated his stand. “We have no immediate plans to rename the road after Dutta,” he said.

However, Anup Chatterjee, member, mayor-in-council (roads), later said that the proposal was not totally rejected.

“But it is not possible to rename roads after actors and playwrights. No roads have been renamed after Uttam Kumar and Sombhu Mitra,” he added.

   

 
 
‘FREE’ MEN COURT BONDAGE IN DEOGHAR LABOUR MART 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Deoghar, March 4: 
If only employers came free with freedom. Every morning, as a wedge of early sunlight hits Azad Chowk, the street crossing turns into a labour market. About 200 barebodied men land up here and wait to hire themselves out.

Eight years ago, over 2,000 bonded labourers were freed in this pilgrim town. At Azad Chowk, they remain free till date — from work. For the many men who turn up in the mornings, there are only a handful of employers, lazily moving their eyes over the huddle, choosing only the young and able-bodied. Supply far outruns demand. Most return empty-handed, longing for their days in bondage. Across the deadness of the brown early summer landscape of Deoghar, small hutments lie scattered along the village roads. These are the dream homes of the “free” men — Indira Awas houses provided to them in their hour of liberty.

But cracks have appeared in the houses and some have crumbled, as the project for their rehabilitation. Since the 2,600 bonded labourers were set free following a protracted legal battle before Supreme Court in 1984, at least 600 of them have been forced to return to “some form of bondage or other”. About 30 have accepted the terms their landlords “offered” to take them back.

“Although the landlords are not as ruthless as they used to be, they pay arbitrary wages to the labourers,” said Dilip Kumar, director of a social voluntary organisation in Deoghar, Prabaha. But even this is better than no work.

The reasons are too apparent. The state government gives a monthly pension of Rs 100 to the freed labourers, but the money reaches very irregularly or not at all.

Not everyone was given a house either. Bagleswar Mahara, Kashi Mahara and Prasadi Mahara were refused the low income houses. The Supreme Court had laid down a detailed rehabilitation plan as well. But every good intention got tangled in red tape.

“We have been running from pillar to post for the last one year to get the files cleared at all government offices, but could not implement housing for the labourers,” said Dr Akhiles Mishra, executive director of Santhal Pargana Antyodaya Ashram, which launched a Gandhian movement to liberate the labourers.

Apprehensions were expressed by the Supreme Court, too. The court had remarked: “We may also point out that the rehabilitation should be proper and effective because instances are not unknown where funds are provided to the released bonded labourers but the benefits do not reach.”

Says Bagleswar, from Rohni block in Deoghar: “The initial euphoria over release lasted only for a few months. Then we started to face tremendous uncertainties. The monthly pension is irregular. The area is a monocrop one and if you are not attached, you are in for trouble,” he said.

Jagsu Das, who proudly calls himself “the chief minister of the bonded labourers now free”, also says life is not perfect. Jagsu, who had spent 12 years in bondage, asks: “What can one do other than approach the same landlords for work?” But adds: “We are more aware of our rights.”

Mere awareness does not help much. “When the market is flooded with labourers every morning at Azad Chowk and Bazla Chowk, the employers take in more labourers than they need and pay less,” says Uttam Kumar, a social worker. He adds although the government minimum wage is Rs 51, very few in Deoghar get more than Rs 40. Women do not get more than Rs 35.

The only ones who have made good use of their freedom are those who have changed tack. Dinu Thakur, who opened a haircutting saloon after being released, is an example. He can run his family with the money he earns and does not want to go back to bondage — two things that cannot be said of the labourers.

When bonded labourers were identified here a decade ago, they were working for their masters in exchange for the loans their ancestors had taken. Some of the labourers had pawned their land to the masters, having failed to pay the debt. The labourers were even found working in bondage on their own land. Women faced the worst — from sexual exploitation to lowest wages. Often when the men were away, the women would be pawned to the master, a “guarantee” that their husbands would return.

It was in the mid-eighties that protests crystallised. In 1984, bonded labourers took part in a huge procession at Deoghar. “For the first time we had tasted freedom in 20 years of our bondage,” recalls Jagsu.

   

 
 
AGP ATTACK ON SANGMA RALLY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, March 4: 
A group of 60 Asom Gana Parishad workers today disrupted a public rally addressed by NCP leader and former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno A. Sangma and former Assam home minister Bhrigu Kumar Phukan.

The AGP activists snatched the microphones and ransacked the dais which led to a clash between the rallyists and the attackers. Police resorted to a lathicharge to disperse the groups.

The meeting was jointly organised by the NCP and Phukan’s Asom Jatiya Sanmilan to kick off their election campaign.

Phukan described the incident as an “act of cowardice on part of the AGP and a manifestation of moral defeat of the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta government.

“The attack was a clear indication that the forthcoming Assembly polls in the state would not be free and fair,” Phukan said.

He said Sangma would also write to the Election Commission apprising it of the incident and seek necessary action in this regard. The suspended AGP leader also said the NCP and Asom Jatiya Sanmilan have reached an understanding for the forthcoming Assembly polls and the two parties are ready to forge a tie with likeminded parties other than the Congress, AGP and the BJP. “It is the need of the hour to fight the AGP, BJP and the Congress in Assam as the development of the entire Northeast depended on this state,” Sangma said. That is the reason why five parties have come together to form the front, he added. The meeting was also attended by former chief minister Sarat Chandra Sinha

Rebel killed: A hardcore National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) militant was killed in an encounter with security forces in Assam’s Darrang district, official sources said here today, reports PTI. Patrolling troops observed two persons moving in a suspicious manner with weapons in Dimakuchi village last night. The troops challenged the two, who opened fire and tried to escape. The troops retaliated and a militant was killed in the ensuing encounter. One rebel was also injured in the shootout.

A .303 rifle with ammunition and a Chinese grenade were recovered from the slain militant, sources added.

Women’s seminar: A day-long seminar in Guwahati on March 7 will discuss the problems and prospects of of women co-operatives in the state.

The seminar, to be held at the district library, is being organised by the Assam state Co-operative Union in collaboration with National Co-operative Union of India.

   

 
 
SULFA MAN SETS LABOURER ON FIRE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Jorhat, March 4: 
Less than six hours after police arrested some Sulfa activists for assaulting shopkeepers in Guwahati, a surrendered Ulfa militant set a daily wage-earner on fire at Gorokhia Dol on the outskirts of this Upper Assam town last night.

The victim, 40-year-old Rajib Hazarika, was admitted to the Jorhat Civil Hospital with 30 per cent burns. His condition is now stable, doctors said. Dipak Dutta, the surrendered rebel who attacked Hazarika, is absconding. But his accomplice, identified as one Dadu, has been arrested. Additional superintendent of police (security) Abhijit Bora told The Telegraph today that a case had been registered at the Jorhat police station under sections 342, 326, 307, and 34 of the IPC.

The police official said Dipak and Dadu met Hazarika at a mobile theatre show last night and convinced him to accompany them to a nearby house. After reaching the house, the duo pinned down the victim, doused him with kerosene and set him ablaze. Hearing Hazarika’s cries for help, some people rushed to the spot and saved his life. The police arrested Dadu immediately, but Dipak fled the area. Four more persons were detained for interrogation.

Bora said Dipak was engaged in a verbal duel with Hazarika over a trivial matter a few hours before the attack. “They argued over a mere flashlight. Dipak retreated after arguing with Hazarika for some time, but he returned drunk in the night along with Dadu and attacked the daily wage-earner,” he said.

Dipak, a former member of the Ulfa’s armed wing, came overground in 1992.

He had been arrested in 1991 for making an abortive attempt on the life of a college lecturer. He went underground again after being released.

Last night’s incident is the latest in a series of criminal offences involving former rebels. Four days ago, Sulfa activist Ranju Sarmah and one of his accomplices were arrested on charges of gun-running. They are yet to be released. Though Jorhat district has been relatively free of Ulfa activity, surrendered militants have been flexing their muscles after lying low for a couple of years.

Sulfa activists often use force to clinch lucrative contracts offered by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and the telecom department.

A few surrendered rebels fired in the air to scare away a group of contractors who had assembled at a government office here to bid for a contract.

Another group of Sulfa activists, led by Lohit Deuri, were arrested in Guwahati last night for assaulting shopkeepers.

   

 
 
RARE LEOPARD SNARED IN TRIPURA VILLAGE 
 
 
FROM SEKHAR DATTA
 
Agartala, March 4: 
The capture of a rare leopard by villagers in Rangamatia village near Sonamura subdivision in West Tripura has taken the wildlife conservation section of the forest department by surprise as there is officially no tiger or leopard population in the forests of Tripura.

According to the forest department officials, three Muslim peasants of Rangamatia village Abdul Malek Mia, Aktar Hossain and Shahjahan Bhuiyan spotted the “clouded” leopard while working on their field along the Gomati river in Sonamura subdivision on February 26.

They laid a crude trap for the animal and snared it. As the news of the capture spread, a large number of villagers thronged the site.

The four-feet leopard with black spots and stripes was handed over the forest department. It was later released at the Hirondwip share forestry farm.

Sources in the forest department said the leopard entered the Rangamatia village from the nearby Trishna wildlife sanctuary.

Every year, a number of wild animals including hares, deer and bisons stray into human habitats from the Trishna sanctuary in Sonamura during the lean season from January to April because of food and water crises.“While most of them get killed, some are handed over to us,’’ the source said. Replying to a query by TUJS legislator Rati Mohan Jamatya in the ongoing budget session, forest minister Narayan Rupini said according to the 1999 animal census, there were no tigers in the state though there were 64 elephants.

However, the minister’s reply made it clear that in the reserve forest beyond the periphery of the Gomati wildlife sanctuary, there were four “ordinary” leopards. Commenting on the plight of wildlife in the state, senior forest department officials said there was a time when the forests abounded in tigers, elephants, rhinos and bisons besides other species of animals and birds.

One of the kings of Tripura, Jashodhar Manikya, was forced by Mughal emperor Jahangir to send elephants to Delhi as nazrana in 1615. “When the Assam-Agartala national highway was being built in the early Fifties, many labourers were killed by tigers while herds of elephants swamped Agartala town.

But the progressive decline in the forest cover has led to a near-total decimation of animal population,’’ the source said.

They also expressed concern over the denudation of the state’s forest cover to only 17.35 per cent, according to an assessment made by the Forest Survey of India in 1997.

   
 

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