Crime queens in web of terror
I felt I was atop Everest, exults mid-air mom
Two killed in Tangra blast
Set a US bug to catch a thief, cops willing
4 held for theft at SEB godown
Delay slams brake on car mela
Trust them to school you well
PM’s help sought in Tripura tax fracas
Agartala turns into mafia hub
Rajeshwari’s Jalwa

 
 
CRIME QUEENS IN WEB OF TERROR 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, March. 6: 
The mission of one woman was wealth; the other’s revenge.

But, between them, the two women shared a common ambition: to be the Dark Empress of the EM Bypass. And both succeeded. Well, almost.

But the similarities between Tahira Bibi and Sharmila, alias Kanchi, end there.

Brought up amid poverty, exploited and sold by her husband and raped by goons in Kasba, 22-year-old Tahira Bibi took to crime to settle a point with her exploiters. The only way to walk with her head high in the world of sleaze, Tahira decided, was to beat them at their own game. It was also the only way she could get her back on those who had humiliated her. And for this, she chose the patch of the EM Bypass she had grown up in.

Only, in doing so, she was arrested early on Sunday while committing a dacoity in Kasba’s Tanupukur area.

But fun-loving Kanchi, who claimed to be “madly in love” with Kancha, wanted to have more fun. For this, she needed money. And this came to her from her small-time criminal boyfriend, whom she egged on to bigger jobs. The duo, too, chose to exploit the Bypass, familiar to them, as they had grown up in a village just adjacent to it.

The police say it was the Kancha-Kanchi gang that was behind the killing of retired government employee Gopal Krishna Roy, whose scooter was ‘tripped’ with a bamboo on Saturday night as he was travelling on the Bypass to his Salt Lake home.

Unlike Tahira, the couple is on the run.

According to the superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, D.K. Ganguly, it was Tahira’s anger and hurt at the manner in which she was physically abused since childhood which finally led her to pick up the gun.

“I was like any other Mandirbazar village girl,” Tahira said at Kasba police station lock-up. “But I fell in love at a young age and married a man involved in a girl-trafficking racket. That was the beginning of my misfortunes.”

After being sold to a businessman in Bangladesh, she managed to escape and return home. Only, it was to as bleak a future.

“I went from door to door, begging for a job, but people always showed me the door,” said Tahira. “Some even tried to get physical with me, but no one came to my rescue, not even my close relatives.”

It was her rape at the hands of some drunk criminals one night in Kasba that finally prompted her to take to crime. “I knew I had to fight,” she said. “And this I could not do by starving on the streets of Kasba along with my two children.”

Last year, Tahira joined Sirajul, a minor criminal, and the two finally took to big crime. For Tahira, it started with ferrying arms from one place to the other. But once familiar with the country-made pistols, she learnt how to use them. After that, there was no stopping her. From petty crime to dacoities, she mastered them all.

But, the police reckon, it is Kanchi who may be tougher to nab. “She is clever and scheming and keeps a cool head,” Ganguly said. “It is more difficult to anticipate her moves than Tahira’s.”

   

 
 
I FELT I WAS ATOP EVEREST, EXULTS MID-AIR MOM 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, March. 6: 
One-day-old Kiranpreet has joined the rare band of people around the world to have been born in mid-air.

Her dramatic entry into the world happened aboard Aeroflot’s Flight SU-558 to Moscow via Delhi, as it was approaching Indian airspace, a little over an hour after the plane left Singapore.

As Calcutta’s Netaji Subhas International Airport was the nearest and most convenient, the commander of the Airbus-300 sought permission from the Air Traffic Control here to make an unscheduled stop because of “a medical emergency”.

The craft landed at 11.50 pm on Monday, to be greeted by an ambulance and a medical team led by Dr A.K. Chatterjee. The deed had been deftly done by the Aeroflot crew, led by chief stewardess Alexandra, thousands of feet above the ground.

Both mother Gurmeet Kaur and the baby, weighing a little over 2 kg at birth, are doing well. They were admitted to Dafodil Nursing Home in Lake Town, on the advice of Dr Chatterjee and the concurrence of the pilot, who flew on to Delhi after an hour’s stopover.

“I had no idea that this would happen,” said Gurmeet, in her room at the nursing home. “The due date was between April 1 and 8.” Her doctor in Singapore had, of course, advised her against the trip, and so had Gurmeet’s parents, who are citizens of Singapore.

“But I missed my in-laws in Hoshiarpur, and was getting bored sitting around in our flat in Singapore. I was depressed, and had even started snapping at my 10-year-old son, Farhan. I decided I had to make the trip. My husband finally agreed, too, and was waiting at Delhi airport for my arrival.”

Soon after the lights of Singapore had faded and she was sipping some juice, Gurmeet began to feel “uneasy”.

A stewardess noticed this. “No one knew till then that I was pregnant because of the clothes I was wearing,” she recalls. “At first, I thought it was just a stomach ache.” But then, the pain started coming in cycles.

“Oh, my God. Oh no, not now,” she thought, as she realised that her contractions had started. Over three hours of flight time still remained.

“I told the stewardess. Her chief, Alexandra, who must have been a doctor or a nurse, understood immediately. I was shifted to the first class as the seats there can be pushed back fully.”

By then, the pain was intense and constant. “Alexandra was comforting me as I clutched her hand... Then, suddenly, it was all over... I felt like I had climbed Mt Everest.”

“It’s a girl,” the chief stewardess announced, amidst applause from anxious passengers. With the placenta still within her, Gurmeet was in pain. This prompted the captain’s decision to land at the nearest airport.

“She was brought to Dafodil a little after midnight,” said nursing home manager R.K. Chakraborty. “Both mother and baby are fine, and can leave on Wednesday.”

“Now, I guess we’ll all go back to Singapore,” said Gurmeet, waiting for husband Mohan Singh to arrive from Delhi.

As for Kiranpreet’s nationality, airport director Roshan Lal said the airline has the option to “adopt” her, with the pilot issuing a birth certificate after deciding in which airspace the delivery took place. “The mother also has the option to give the baby her own nationality,” added Lal.

Gurmeet was clear about the fact that she wanted to exercise the latter option.

   

 
 
TWO KILLED IN TANGRA BLAST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March. 6: 
Two criminals were killed and three others injured in an explosion on Tuesday night. The blast occurred while they were making bombs inside a shanty at Pagladanga slum, in the Tangra police station area. The victims were identified as Satya Das and Shyamal Sil. The injured were admitted to NRS Medical College and Hospital in a critical condition.

The roof of the hut, in which the goons were making the bombs, was blown off in the blast. Police said the explosion might have been sparked off by the bidi that one of the criminals, Pranab, was smoking. Satya’s right hand and Shyamal’s head were ripped off in the blast. Police rescued Pranab and another associate, who were lying in a pool of blood.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Raj Kanojia, said a huge pile of explosives was stored in the shanty. Extra forces have been sent from Lalbazar to Tangra to conduct a massive raid in the slum areas. “The criminals have been using the slum for refuge and for stockpiling arms,” added Kanojia.

   

 
 
SET A US BUG TO CATCH A THIEF, COPS WILLING 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, March 6: 
The winds of liberalisation are sweeping through Lalbazar. Struggling to check the spate of dacoities in apartments, the police are ready to tread the path of privatisation. And Tata-Honeywell, the joint venture company between Tata Industries Ltd and Honeywell Inc. of USA, has already “impressed” senior police officers with a recent security drill at Lalbazar.

“The technology is really good. I am sure it will help us check crime in the city,” said deputy commissioner, detective department, Banibrata Basu. “But as this is the first time in the 223-year history of Calcutta Police that we are planning to join hands with a private firm, we will have to await clearance from the government, beside gauging the public response to such a move. So, we have decided to conduct a survey among the people,” he added.

“We are all set to instal the US-based technology in Calcutta, pending clearance from the police,” confirmed Rajarshi Datta, regional support manager, Tata-Honeywell. Explaining the technology, Datta said the entire security system, including the alarm, will be controlled by electronic devices and auto-dial machines linked to master computers through a central monitoring mechanism. The master computer will be set up at the local police station. The security devices, which can be set up at various points inside the house, will remain ‘active’ when it’s empty. In case of a break-in, an alert will flash on the computer screen at the police station.

The special security devices include:

Door security: A magnetic contact device to be attached to the door-latch. If anyone breaks open the door, the magnetic contact will be cut off, and the alarm will start ringing. A message will instantly be relayed to the master computer installed at the local thana through a micro-processor panel. The message will start flashing on the screen, with the address of the house

Window security: A ‘glass-break sensor’ will be installed at any “hidden” place in the house. If the window is broken open, the device will ‘catch the frequency’ and despatch a message to the master computer

ntruder security: A sensor capable of detecting any intruder, on the basis of his/her body temperature and alerting the police station

Telephone security: A ‘tamper switch’ which will raise an alarm the moment the telephone wires are snapped, a common ploy of goons

Kitchen security: A sensor to detect a gas leak in the kitchen and set off an alarm

Videophone: A hidden video camera to be placed above the door-bell. The image of the person at the door will flash on a special screen inside the room

Auto-dial system: A message-recording facility to be linked with devices by a control panel. The owner can store four telephone numbers in the system, which will be alerted as soon as an untoward incident occurs

Datta said the security-system package will be priced between Rs 9,000 and Rs 25,000, depending on the number of devices to be installed.

“We have chalked out a plan to ask the company to pay us a licence fee. As we will have to keep a watch on the master computer round-the-clock, we will have to increase manpower. We have also told the government to allot more funds for the police budget,” said Basu.

   

 
 
4 HELD FOR THEFT AT SEB GODOWN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March. 6: 
An employee of the State Electricity Board (SEB), a home guard and two other people were arrested on Tuesday morning for theft at an SEB godown in Sonarpur on Sunday. Investigations revealed that four youth connived with the SEB employee and the home guard on duty to raid the godown. They fled with electrical goods worth Rs 6 lakh. One of them is absconding.

The truck used by the gang to ferry the loot has been impounded and a half of the stolen articles recovered, a Sonarpur police station official said. The loot includes iron, aluminium and copper articles. A string of dacoities took place in 22 houses at Usti, near Sonarpur, recently.

   

 
 
DELAY SLAMS BRAKE ON CAR MELA 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March. 6: 
It was to have been a grand affair. But the first car and taxi mela, conceived by Hindustan Motors (HM) last year, has proved a non-starter, with the government back-pedalling on its resolve to scrap private cars and taxis more than 15 years old.

Environment minister Manab Mukherjee and transport minister Subhas Chakraborty had earlier set a January 1, 2001, deadline for scrapping ‘old’ taxis to maintain emission standards. Of the 18,000 taxis plying in the city, about 6,000 have ‘WBT’ registration numbers, indicating that they are over 15 years old.

As the move sparked protests from car and taxi-owners, HM had stepped in with an ‘exchange’ scheme. In early 2000, private car-owners were offered Rs 35,000 ‘off’ on a new Ambassador, worth about Rs 3.28 lakh. HM sold about 16 cars under this scheme, senior company officials said, but it was scrapped when it became evident that the government had no intention of carrying out its phase-out threat.

HM had grand plans for taxiwallahs. The exchange mela would have either been held at Rabindra Sarovar or on the Maidan.

“The taxi-owners, including Kalyan Bhadra of Bengal Taxi Association, had agreed to the scheme. But as the government seemed reluctant to phase out old cabs, they lost interest,” the HM official said.

The company is, however, pushing through the exchange scheme in Mumbai and Delhi, where under the court’s intervention, all old taxis are being phased out. In Mumbai, HM is urging owners of old taxis to deposit Rs 29,000 and pay the rest of the Rs 3.34-lakh for a new cab, run on compressed natural gas, in 48 monthly instalments.

   

 
 
TRUST THEM TO SCHOOL YOU WELL 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, March. 6: 
Samiran Mandal’s budget: White paper — 4 dista, Rs 36, Ballpen Refille — Rs 8, Kerosene (for use in Herican lantern) — 4 lt, Rs 14 per litter (in open market rate) = Rs 56, Other expenditure — Rs 25.

Rs 125 a month, Rs 1,500 per year stood between Samiran and a continued school education. A student of Korakati High School, he was facing the prospect of being pulled out at any time, because his family could no longer afford his expenses.

But Samiran was not willing to give up so easily. He made copies of his budget, marksheets and attested letters from his headmaster and gram panchayat. Into an envelope they went, to be dispatched to the Education for All Trust.

Samiran had heard about the Trust, that it helps kids, like him, who cannot stay in school or college for lack of funds. Today, Samiran gets his monthly ‘budget’ from the Trust, allowing him to continue with his studies.

Launched in April 2000, the Each One Educate One scheme is already sponsoring over 40 children through school and college, in addition to adopting four schools on the verge of shutdown.

The Trust was set up by the International Marwari Federation Youth Wing. Says Sandeep Bhutoria, international president of the Youth Wing: “We wanted to help those with no resources of their own. Scholarships are usually given only to students who fare well in exams.” The Trust, on the other hand, does not take marks into consideration. “How can you expect kids who don’t have enough food in their stomachs to do brilliantly in class?” asks Bhutoria.

The Trust’s main sponsor, Prabha Khaitan, feels the educational system is both “outdated and elitist”. An industrialist and past-president of the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce, Khaitan donated Rs 25 lakh to start off the project.

Now, the Trust has a bank of over 400 students of various ages all over the country who need help. Sponsorship amounts vary according to the need.

Donors are encouraged to contribute Rs 1,000 per month. “They are effectively adopting the child. The donor is sent a progress report of the student they are sponsoring every quarter,” says Bhutoria. But the association is fluid.

They have also adopted four schools, in West Bengal and Rajasthan already, including one for blind boys, with nine more schools in the pipeline. But that is not the end to their efforts.

Every Sunday, volunteers of the Youth Wing visit city slums, to distribute tote bags, containing a pen, book, toy, chocolates and food, for 250 children. “If the kids return the copies with the letters of the alphabet or other homework through the local clubs, we take them game sets, like KBC and Ludo,” explains Bhutoria.

Support has been quick to come. Top cops DC Vajpai and Ranjit Pachnanda have started taking time out to participate in the distribution programmes.

“We distribute food and medical supplies every Sunday at the police stations of the city anyway, so this scheme seemed to fit right in,” explains Pachnanda.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, too, has been more than willing to lend a hand. “Education for All has the right idea. It’s a commendable effort to spread education among under-privileged children of Calcutta,” said Mukherjee.

Support for Education for All is growing, with an advisory board including industrialist Russi Mody and educationists Father P.C. Mathew, Mary Ann Dasgupta and Dr Amarnath Banerjee. Dr J. Sengupta, principal of JD Birla Institute of Home Science, has been on the board from the beginning. “It is our social responsibility as educationists to step forward,” she explains. And the programme matches with her own steps. Each One Teach One, a part of the college syllabus, makes it compulsory for students to teach one under-privileged child.

But the work of the Trust has just begun. “You cannot say that every child has the right to education, and then not provide them with the means to attain it,” feels Khaitan, also the editor of the Hindi literary magazine, Hans.

Starting April, five teachers commissioned by the Trust will start teaching in slums. “Our goal is to see every child in the city getting a basic education within the next five years,” concludes Bhutoria.

   

 
 
PM’S HELP SOUGHT IN TRIPURA TAX FRACAS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, March 6: 
Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar has sought Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s intervention in the controversy arising out of the withdrawal of central Excise duty exemption for setting up industries in the Northeast.

A section of local entrepreneurs alleged that tax benefits were being cornered by unscrupulous investors from outside the state. Official sources here said during his visit to Guwahati on December 24, 1997 the then Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral had announced an incentive package for setting up industries in the Northeast. The Union finance ministry issued a notification on July 8, 1999 extending central Excise exemption on certain goods produced in the Northeast.

The purpose was to facilitate investment and growth of industries in the Northeast. However, the ministry withdrew the exemption vide a fresh notification issued on March 1 this year.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Sarkar said the withdrawal of benefits will lead to a major slump in investment in the state. He pointed out that after the exemption, the state government had received proposals for setting up industries worth Rs 500 crore which would have provided employment to at least 3,000 people.

He said some units had invested in the state only to avail of tax benefits. Describing the finance ministry’s latest notification as a setback to investment and growth of industries in the state, Sarkar said frequent changes in policy matters would impede the process of setting up industries in the Northeast.

However, local entrepreneurs expressed reservations over the issue saying all the benefits were being usurped by investors from outside, who came to the state with the sole intention of reaping the benefits of exemption.

Local entrepreneurs, who have been demanding more incentives for investors in the region, said according to a statement made by Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha in Ranchi on March 1, the Centre had lost Rs 400 crore because of the exemption.

   

 
 
AGARTALA TURNS INTO MAFIA HUB 
 
 
FROM SEKHAR DATTA
 
Agartala, March 6: 
Contract killers and organised gangs of criminals have made inroads into the Tripura capital, compounding the law and order situation in the insurgency-ravaged state.

Over the past year, four persons have been shot dead by contract killers in Agartala. Congress legislator Madhusudan Saha, alias Bhola, was one of the victims. He was killed in the heart of the town on February 20.

Agartala’s proximity with Bangladesh is one of the reasons why its crime rate is high. Goons active here cross over to Bangladesh whenever the police launch a drive against smuggling and other crimes.

What is particularly frustrating for the law-enforcing agencies is the fact that the Centre is yet to sign an extradition treaty with Bangladesh. Once a criminal crosses the border, there is no way the authorities can get him back for trial.

Apart from loopholes in the system, the police have also had to face allegations of inefficiency. Residents of Agartala say major criminal cases remain unsolved because the police are not equipped to handle these.

Interference by politicians is also believed to be one of the reasons why criminals go scot free. The law and order situation has worsened over the past year, with goons allegedly owing allegiance to the Left Front joining the fray.

People sat up and took notice of the politically-sponsored mafia when subdivisional officer (Sadar) Sukhram Debbarma was shot at outside his office chamber on February 5 last year.

Debbarma’s driver was killed on the spot, while he succumbed to his injuries in Calcutta on February 16.

One person was arrested in connection with the attack on the official, but he was later released on bail. It is alleged that criminals having links with the Left killed Debbarma because he refused to sign certain documents pertaining to a lucrative road construction contract. However, the police are yet to make a breakthrough in the case.

The state government appears to have brushed the issue under the carpet by providing allegedly out-of-turn benefits to members of the slain subdivisional officer’s family.

It was in June last year that former director-general of police K.T.D. Singh filed an FIR in the West Agartala police station against a mafia don who tried to snatch a construction contract from a local businessman.

The don was subsequently arrested only because the person who filed the FIR against him was the police chief.

Two months later, one of the youth suspected to be involved in the attack on Debbarma was killed in the capital town.

The police are yet to arrest any of the killers. However, they have published advertisements in local newspapers.

   

 
 
RAJESHWARI’S JALWA
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT 
The city swayed to Rajeshwari’s Jalwa as the Indipop star held thousands of screaming fans spellbound at the Guwahati trade fair this evening.

Performing in the city for the first time, Rajeshwari belted out hit numbers, including the popular Hulla Hullare as well as other songs from her latest album Mukhda Pyar Ka, sending the crowd into raptures under a clear March sky.

Though most of her songs were racy, she also crooned the soft Jalwa number which she described as being very sufiana in andaz.

There were a fair amount of folk tunes in her songs as well. Rajeshwari’s programme at the trade fair was part of the Punjabi singer’s countrywide concerts to promote her second album brought out by Magnasound. “Though I would have loved to sing an Assamese song, I did not want to make a half-hearted attempt at it.

“As a perfectionist, I never do anything unless I am sure of success,” she said. For the trade fair organisers, the musical show by the star of “Zee Antakshari” was the icing on the cake as it capped six days of “very good public response”.

   
 

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