Crime stumped by cricket
Mystery shrouds childbirth deaths
Teen brain behind robbery trapped
Kidnap kingpin rounded up
Dissent over D.Litt for businessman
Where women learn to read and count with compassio
Cash crunch stalls work on Tolly’s Nullah
Teach the girls to trap goons
Tehelka shadow over Naveen govt
Manipur to get security funds

 
 
CRIME STUMPED BY CRICKET 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, March 14: 
When cricketers are at play, criminals stay away. With the spotlight on the Laxmans and the Harbhajans at Eden Gardens, the Lalbazar police headquarters have recorded a sharp drop in crime during the four days of the India-Australia Test match at the Eden Gardens. Not a single case of petty crime, like robbery, car-hijacking, pick-pocket, cheating or theft has been recorded since March 11.

All five police divisions, from eastern suburban to port, have “remained peaceful” from Sunday, when the Indians and the Aussies squared off for the second Test of the series. The twists and turns of the hard-fought Test match seem to have both cops and criminals glued to the action on the pitch.

Banibrata Basu, the detective department chief, was the only officer of deputy commissioner rank asked to stay put at the police headquarters during the match. Basu was the first to admit that the past four days have been smooth sailing for him.

“The fact that the crime rate is down during these days has helped us a lot. Altogether, 18 IPS officers of deputy commissioner rank and at least a thousand policemen and a large number of Rapid Action Force personnel have been deployed at Eden Gardens. We are taking no chances. After all, the last thing we want is a repeat of the ugly 1998 incident. It’s been incident-free at the Eden, and the rest of the city, too, has been peaceful,” said Basu.

For the first time in a long, long time, it’s been all quiet on the waterfront, as well. The port division, notorious for being one of the city’s most disturbed area, has not reported any trouble for the past four days.

H.P. Singh, deputy commissioner, port, said: “A large area under the port division has remained peaceful. There has been no report of criminal activity in trouble zones like Garden Reach, Metiabruz and Kidderpore. There have been no blasts, no clashes and no incidents of snatching. It may well be possible that the goons are too busy watching the match.”

Zulfikar Hassan, deputy commissioner, central, is keeping his fingers crossed. “I have been at the Eden Gardens from the first day of the Test. We, who are on stadium duty, have to wait here till the crowds disperse. If a major crime would have taken place during the match, it might have been difficult to tackle,” Hassan admitted.

K.L.Tamta, deputy commissioner, north, too, sounded relieved. “Entire north Calcutta has been peaceful from March 11. Even a single incident of petty crime has not been lodged with the police stations in my jurisdiction,” he said.

According to Ranjit Pachnanda, DC, south, the crime-free days were a result of cricket craze and a pre-Holi clean-up drive by cops. “Just a couple of days before the Test, we had rounded up 800 criminals in a pre-Holi crackdown,” he said.

Till Tehelka created a furore late on Tuesday, political units, too, had allowed cricket to take centre-stage. Congress-turned-Congress MLA Tapas Roy confirmed that they had put their anti-CPM roadshows on hold for the match. SUCI spokesperson Swapan Bose added that they had decided not to stage traffic-crippling demonstrations till the Test match ended.

Police arrested 10 businessmen for running a cricket betting syndicate on Wednesday evening. Several sheets with coded names and messages were seized during raids at Burrabazar.

   

 
 
MYSTERY SHROUDS CHILDBIRTH DEATHS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 14: 
No clear-cut reasons have emerged for the spate of deaths immediately after delivery at the maternity ward of MR Bangur Hospital in Tollygunge. Two patients continued to be in a serious condition on Wednesday following Caesarean sections the previous day.

“Please give us some time...We have ordered an inquiry and those conducting it have started work,” said health minister Partha De, when contacted at Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday.

Between February 25 and March 10, eight women who had been admitted to the hospital died after child birth, a maternal mortality rate that is unprecedented and has caused concern among the department doctors and hospital authorities.

Four of the eight deaths were after Caesareans were performed. They are Shrabani Banik (February 25), Sangeeta Sau (March 6), Sharifa Bibi (March 7) and Putul Singha (March 10). Sharifa Bibi had been transferred to SSKM Hospital where she died later, doctors said.

The remaining deaths have either been due to eclampsia (convulsions caused by sudden increase in blood pressure and oedema) or post-partum haemorrhaging. Swab samples were collected from the gynaecological operation theatre during the day for tests that would determine whether any foreign body was responsible. “But this is unlikely, as patients undergoing other operations in this OT would have also been infected,” a health department official said.

House-staff said personnel from the state directorate of drug control had visited the hospital to collect samples of the medication, including injections, administered to the deceased patients.

“It could be that there was something wrong with this medicine. But then, many others who had been administered the drugs from the same batch would have been affected as well. There are no reports of such a thing happening,” the health official said.

What is surprising doctors at the hospital is the fact that as many as six Caesarean cases (including the two still critical) have had a coagulation disorder, in which internal bleeding continued even after sutures were applied.

“Chances are the patients had some inherent problem, like a high natural blood coagulation time. And in emergency cases, there is usually no time to conduct tests to find this out before the surgery,’’ a doctor from the department said. But it would be a rare coincidence if all six had this disorder.

Hospital sources said no further Caesarean sections have been conducted since Tuesday afternoon. “We do not want to take any risks right now, especially after the postpartum haemorrhaging among operated cases.”

Sabita Naskar was still in a critical condition on Wednesday, a day after she delivered through surgery. She has had to be given 12 units of blood.

The hospital, which not only is the referral centre for South 24-Parganas but also caters to many patients from south Calcutta, has recently been refurbished under the State Health Systems Development Project.

Though it is not short of equipment, the district’s chief medical officer of health, Dr B. Bhattacharya, said, there was a shortage of over 100 grade four staff. “Measures are being taken to rectify this.” Several new facilities would be added soon but some aspects of basic health-care delivery are still lacking.

   

 
 
TEEN BRAIN BEHIND ROBBERY TRAPPED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 14: 
It was a 14-year-old boy who had worked out the finer points and led a group of four people to rob a house on New CIT Road last month. In fact, he stood calmly near the house and watched as the Palampurwala apartment was being burgled on February 7.

Last week, Mohammed Hafizul Sheikh finally fell into the police net as he was about to commit another crime.

According to the police, Hafizul had been operating in the world of crime for the past four years. Brought up in the slums of Howrah, he fast learnt the ways of the underworld and by the time he was 13, he was already into petty crime.

He learnt to use a revolver and became familiar in the art of throwing bombs under the watchful eyes of his mentor Abdul. Soon, he graduated to robbing and looting houses —- all of them in Howrah. Because of his innocent looks, the needle of suspicion never pointed at him.

Around the end of January, Rajesh, an electrician into petty crime, won a contract in the Palampurwala household to carry out an extensive re-wiring job. Rajesh was also a close associate of Hafizul.

It was Rajesh who told Hafizul about the Palampurwalas and how wealthy they were. This caught Hafizul’s imagination, especially since he had not committed a single crime in Calcutta.

From Rajesh he got details of the Palampurwalas and made an elaborate sketch of the apartment. He also found out who all stayed in the house, when the men went out to work and when the apartment was at its most vulnerable.

He then went looking for people who would actually commit the crime. He did not have to look very far. He found three of his associates who were willing to pay him a fee for plotting the crime. The fee was settled at Rs 5000.

Hafizul showed them the sketch of the house, told them which would be the best time to strike and even agreed to accompany them to the door of the house, after which he would leave. This is precisely what he did on February 7. After knocking on the door and waiting till a member of the Palampurwala household opened the door, he left the scene and waited for his associates to escape.

“It was actually the arrest of Rajesh the electrician which led us to Hafizul,” said additional officer-in-charge of the detective department’s dacoity wing, Aminul Haque. “He told us all about the young criminal and how he had plotted the crime. After that, it was not difficult to track down and round up Hafizul.”

Police said Hafizul has led them to one of the other associates from whom part of the stolen loot has been recovered.

   

 
 
KIDNAP KINGPIN ROUNDED UP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 14: 
Detectives claimed a breakthrough in the Chandni Chowk kidnap case with eight-year-old Feroz Ahmed’s ‘uncle’ Kalam being arrested, along with two of his associates from Hatiara. Kalam confessed that he had taken Rs 2 lakh from the boy’s father, Sheikh Hafeez. He claimed another Rs 2 lakh was due to him as “compensation’’ for being stripped of his job, after being accused of misappropriation of funds. Feroz was kidnapped from Nilmani Mitra Lane in the Taltala police station area on March 1. The boy’s father, a Chandni shop-owner, had received ransom calls, which were traced to North 24-Parganas. Sleuths zeroed in on Kalam at his Hatiara house on Monday.    

 
 
DISSENT OVER D.LITT FOR BUSINESSMAN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 14: 
Rabindra Bharati University vice-chancellor Subhankar Chakraborty is under fire with a section of pro-CPM members of the university’s executive council opposing his move to award an honorary D.Litt degree to a city-based businessman.

There were heated exchanges at the meeting of the university executive committee on Wednesday. Some CPM members came down heavily on the vice-chancellor the moment he proposed the name of the businessman for the doctorate degree.

Tension mounted on the campus since morning after the agenda of the meeting was out. There was serious resentment among officials when they found that awarding of the honorary degree was to be finalised at the meeting.

It is learnt that the vice-chancellor had expressed his desire to confer the award on the businessman at the annual convocation scheduled for May. Chakraborty had reportedly disclosed the proposal last week, triggering sharp criticism among employees and officials. Sources in the university said the businessman had donated huge funds for a university project.

The officials also pointed out that according to the university’s rules, honorary degrees are conferred on eminent personalities for outstanding contribution in education, arts, science, cinema or excellence in any other field. They contended that the businessman didn’t deserve the award, having made no such contribution.

Chakraborty admitted that the panel of names of the awardees was placed before Wednesday’s executive committee meeting, but refused to elaborate. “I will be in a position to announce the names of the awardees for honorary degrees only after the panel is approved by the university’s court on Friday, according to rules,” he explained.

The members, however, made it clear that they would prevent the university from awarding the degree to the businessman.

“He doesn’t deserve such a prestigious award. We will oppose the move when it is placed before the court. If necessary, we will also lodge a complaint with Governor Viren J. Shah, the university’s chancellor,” said an aggrieved official.

Sources in the university said that the vice-chancellor has justified his proposal to pick the businessman for the award on the grounds that his ancestors were “very close” to the Tagore family and that he himself had “a significant contribution” in helping various organisations promote Tagore’s art and paintings.

   

 
 
WHERE WOMEN LEARN TO READ AND COUNT WITH COMPASSIO 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, March 14: 
Kalpana Nashkar from the Manohorpukur slum, around 35 years old, was badly burnt last year. In hospital for six months, she was in deep despair, even contemplating suicide. But now, she has something to look forward to, thanks to an adult literacy programme, run by National High School for Girls. Not only has she learnt to read, write, add and subtract, but she also spreads word about the classes, encouraging more women from the bustee to join...

Kalpana is not the only one the NHS girls have reached out to. Fifteen regulars attend weekly literacy classes and vocational training lessons. Last year, the school conducted a survey in the slum in the area, and found that the loudest demand was for education.

“We decided the best way to boost education was to start with the mothers first,” explains Rina Bhattacharya, teacher and a co-ordinator of the project. So, classes to teach basic Bengali, English and mathematics were started every Tuesday, with one teacher and two schoolgirls in charge of each subject.

But soon, attendance became irregular. A counselling agency, SNEH, was called in. “Some of the women were not allowed to come for classes by their husbands,” says 14-year-old Supriya. And it also became clear that just education would not be enough. “The ladies work as domestic help, and they all wanted something to supplement their income,” explains teacher Usha Raghavan. So, vocational classes, stitching and embroidery, by skilled professionals, began on Thursdays and Sundays.

Along with the annual Navratri celebrations of the school an exhibition of handicrafts, produced by the students, was held recently. “We collected Rs 4,000,” beams Class IX student Rajeshwari. Another exhibition is scheduled for Poila Boishakh. Orders for their craft are also trickling in.

“Full financial independence by 2002 is what we want for these women... they tell us that shop-owners can’t cheat them anymore, because they now know how to count,” explains Soumya, who helps out with the English classes. Her ‘pupils’ can go back home now and help their children with their homework.

News of the classes is spreading fast, by word-of-mouth. The group is also taught how to create awareness in the slums. They perform plays on social issues like dowry, child marriage...

Smiles broaden as the Class IX kids talk about the “cooking classes” they have started. “We give tips on how to cook low cost nutritious food, too, such as upma,” grins Vidya, tugging at her plaid tie. This also fits in with their myopia project. For two years now, the NHS girls have been trying to correct myopia amongst slum children. The importance of nutritious food is a large part of this drive.

Projects in the pipeline include helping out a nearby orphanage. “The girls recently paid a visit to Calcutta Social Project School with a bagful of toys for the under-privileged children there,” says principal S. Iyer. “And we would like to do more for them.”

But the girls’ pet project is raising funds to buy Horlicks for a lady who has been selling them badaam for years. “She is very poor, and the doctor has told her that she must have Horlicks. We want to buy her a packet every two weeks,” smiles Rajeshwari.

   

 
 
CASH CRUNCH STALLS WORK ON TOLLY’S NULLAH 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 14: 
State urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya admitted on Wednesday that the progress of work in the Tolly’s Nullah project has been “poor”. He urged the Centre to sanction more funds to enable dredging of the Nullah.

“Cleaning and dredging of Tolly’s Nullah was sanctioned under Phase-I of the Ganga Action Plan. But the state government has not received any assistance for this purpose,” claimed Bhattacharya.

The major constraints, according to the minister, were the construction of elevated structures on piers along the central line of Tolly’s Nullah for Metro Railway, the rehabilitation of affected families, and the funds crunch, and the various litigations against the project pending in court.

“Both the dredging process and the rehabilitation of dwellers on both sides of the canal require huge funds. The Centre should not delay clearance of funds for dredging. As for rehabilitation, the Asian Development Bank has agreed to provide the necessary assistance for this purpose,” explained Bhattacharya.

The minister, who returned to Calcutta on Tuesday after attending the meeting of the National River Conservation Authority in Delhi, said the Union environment ministry had proposed that the Centre would henceforth bear only 70 per cent of the total annual cost for cleaning rivers. Till now, the Centre bears the entire expenditure under the Ganga Action Plan. All states unanimously rejected the Centre’s proposal at the meeting. “Union environment minister P.R. Balu pleaded helplessness regarding funds as he has given Rs 1,100 crore to Tamil Nadu alone from his budget allocation of Rs 1,500 crore,” said the minister.

   

 
 
TEACH THE GIRLS TO TRAP GOONS 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, March 14: 
Case I: It’s 6.30 pm, in front of G.K. Sports. Two young girls, one in jeans and the other in a smart salwar-suit, are strolling towards Chowringhee. Suddenly, a nattily-dressed man in his mid-thirties, while brushing past them, mouths obscenities, and makes a grab at one of them. The girls, instead of panicking, block the man’s path. Before he can realise what’s going on, two well-built young men in tracksuits, pin him down. End of operation Road Romeo-I.

The girls are two of the 28 lady constables operating as deadly decoys to clear south Calcutta of the eve-teasing menace. The men are part of a crack team, often wielding tennis racquets instead of lathis, to bring the offenders to book.

And it’s working. “In January 1999, 272 cases of eve-teasing had been reported in south Calcutta. In January-February this year, only 48 offenders have been brought to book,” said Ranjit Pachnanda, deputy commissioner, south. The drive has netted middle-level businessmen, corporate executives, school and college boys, shop-owners and even army personnel.

The areas marked for the crackdown are — Victoria Memorial Hall, the Park Street-Chowringhee crossing, the Shakespeare Sarani-Chowringhee crossing, the Gariahat crossing, the Dhakuria Lakes, the stretch in front of Ice Skating Rink, Kalighat, Northern Park, Bhowanipore, and several girls’ schools and colleges.

At these “sensitive spots” in south Calcutta, the plainclothesmen are deployed in squads of five, with one or two women constables to lure the leer brigade. “They either wear jeans, salwar-suits or attractive sarees. Their male colleagues are never far behind, posing as college-goers in sporting gear,” explained Pachnanda.

Case II: 2.30 pm, in front of Mocambo. A man in his 30s, in a well-cut suit, is walking down Mirza Ghalib Street. Two young girls are coming from the opposite direction. Just as they are about to pass by, the man steps right into their path, and tries to kiss one of them. But he’s caught in the act by the DC, South, himself. The man is hauled in, but is soon let off, on a bail of Rs 20, as the girls choose not to press charges.

This, feel the police, is a root cause of eve-teasing being rampant in parts of Calcutta. “The law, Section 509 of the IPC, clearly states that eve-teasing is a cognizable offence punishable with simple imprisonment for up to a year and/or a fine. But if the victims do not lodge an FIR, the miscreants get away with petty cases under the Calcutta Police Act, which is just not deterrent enough,” observes Pachnanda.

The answer, feels the police top-brass, lies in the two Es — “enforcement and education”. The enforcement plan, under the guidance of city police commissioner Dinesh Vajpai, is in full swing with “unsuspecting offenders walking into traps set up at critical corners”.

On the education front, police teams are doing the rounds of girls’ schools and colleges, speaking to students, teachers, and principals, “to spread awareness” about the menace.

“A meeting of headmistresses and principals of girls’ schools and colleges was held at the Lake police station, where we put forth our suggestions,” said Bandana Das Gupta, headmistress, Kamala Girls’ School. Hilda Peacock, principal of La Martiniere for Girls, feels the police have been “really helpful” in curbing the menace.

But a “Delhi-style” eve-teasing is fast gaining ground in the city. “Earlier, they used to just pass remarks or whistle. These days, they are much more brutal, often chasing girls in cars,” says Das Gupta.

CBI joint-director U.N. Biswas agrees that there is actually a “threat of rape” in today’s eve-teasing, and warns that there is no “instant coffee solution” to this social ill. “Mere punitive action is not the remedy. Girls need to be trained to tackle a given situation, and the police must flash the identities of the culprits through the media,” explains the criminology expert.

   

 
 
TEHELKA SHADOW OVER NAVEEN GOVT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhubaneswar, March 14: 
The Tehelka “exposé” of BJP president Bangaru Laxman pocketing a bribe of Rs 1 lakh for an alleged defence deal has cast shadows over the Biju Janata Dal-BJP coalition government in the state, which celebrated its first anniversary a few days ago.

Taking a holier-than-thou stand, seven BJD legislators, led by minister of state for health Debi Prasad Mishra, today wrote to the BJD president and chief minister Naveen Patnaik urging him to review support to the NDA government. The party has 12 MPs in the NDA government, including two ministers.

“The country is shocked to see the BJP national president Bangaru Laxman accepting money brazenly on defence deals and has brought disgrace to all of us. The scandal is unfolding and the NDA government’s image is totally tarnished. We being the partner of the NDA government, are blamed by the public for no fault of ours,” the letter reads.

However, Patnaik is reported to have rejected the decision to review support to the Vajpayee government. The chief minister, who returned from New Delhi today, said the BJD would stand by the Vajpayee government.

Prominent among the signatories are Debasis Nayak, Manas Ranjan Mallik, Pravat Tripathy, Anjali Behera, Bibhisan Majhi and Raghab Sethi. Many BJD legislators, who want the party to go it alone in the state, feel that this is the opportune moment to part ways with the saffron party.

“You believe in honesty and transparency. That is the strength of your leadership. It has been proved beyond doubt that the BJP leaders can forego the country’s security interest for their selfish ends. Then why should the party (the BJD) be seen as accomplice to the corrupt and hanky-panky deals of the BJP leaders? In view of these, we request you to review the relations with the NDA Government and distance from the BJP as soon as possible,” they said.

Yesterday’s exposé by news portal also rocked the Assembly today with members from the Opposition led by Janata Dal(S) leader Ashok Das demanding a discussion on the issue and resignation of the Vajpayee Government.

The pandemonium over the issue led to adjournment of the House for five times during the Question Hour and Zero Hour.

Das and Congress member Suresh Routray stormed the Well, raising slogans like “gali gali mein shor hai, Vajpayee sarkar chor hai”.

Despite the Speaker’s repeated pleas that the Assembly was not the proper forum to discuss such an issue, Das and others were adamant and continued to raise slogans.

Opposition leader Ramakanta Mishra also demanded a special discussion on the subject as it concerned the security interests of the country. However, he was opposed by BJP members.

   

 
 
MANIPUR TO GET SECURITY FUNDS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, March 14: 
The Union home ministry has agreed to release Rs 4 crore as security-related expenses to the Manipur government within this week.

The ministry’s clearance came after chief minister Radhabinod Koijam requested reimbursement of expenses incurred on account of counter-insurgency operations.

With the state facing financial crunch, the government has been diverting funds from other sources for maintenance of law and order and counter-insurgency operations.

Koijam, during his recent New Delhi visit, urged the Centre to release funds for reimbursement to ease the problems being faced by law-enforcing agencies here. He hoped that the state would be given more funds from time to time for security expenses on the basis of detailed reports and proper utilisation.

Koijam also met representatives of the Confederation of Indian Industries in New Delhi. Sources said the CII authorities agreed to provide computers and the requisite training free of cost to former militants and others. This was to help the youth take up various self-employment schemes, sources said.

The chief minister is likely to visit some areas of Imphal to find suitable places to launch the schemes soon. The government would provide infrastructure for the CII schemes at Imphal, the sources added.

Koijam, meanwhile, has warned of possible riots in case the Centre extended the ongoing ceasefire with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) to Manipur, despite opposition from the Manipur government and the people. He urged the Centre to involve all insurgent outfits of the Northeast in the peace talks by declaring unilateral truce on the lines of Jammu and Kashmir.

The chief minister had told Samata Party leader and Union defence minister George Fernandes that the state government was against any move to extend the truce to the Naga-inhabited areas of the state.

Meanwhile, the PMO informed the chief minister that it was willing to provide funds to the Loktak Lake Development Authority under the non-lapsable fund for five years subject to the retrenchment of surplus staff.

The 11th Finance Commission had earlier refused to allocate any funds for the purpose on the ground that excess staff had been recruited. Sources said Koijam had assured the PMO that staff list would be pruned. Koijam also called on Union agriculture minister Nitish Kumar and urged him to give a special package for the development of agriculture, horticulture and dairy in the state. Kumar, it is learnt, has asked Koijam to submit the package immediately for necessary action.

   
 

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