Cash crisis cripples civic body
Teachers call cops to stop thefts
Smart interiors for every pocket
12 hurt in Howrah riverside bottle blast
Foot-and-mouth disease alert for state cattle
Lessons from the past, in tune with the future
Accused in sex scandal held
Manipur requisitions oil tankers
Women workers flee Aurangabad den
Army may extend ceasefire

 
 
CASH CRISIS CRIPPLES CIVIC BODY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 15: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s coffers are empty. Following the grand announcement in February that the Corporation would waive interest and penalty on tax-arrears if they were cleared within a specified time period from April, defaulters have put payment on hold till the new rule is implemented.

With the state finance department yet to give mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s scheme the nod, the announcement has left the Corporation facing a severe cash crunch. With daily revenue collection dropping from Rs 70 lakh to Rs 30 lakh in the first week of March, there is no money to pay this month’s salaries. The Corporation needs more than Rs 20 crore every month to pay salaries to its 46,000-odd employees.

The new scheme proposes that payment received by the Corporation prior to commencement of the waiver plan in suspense account or against regular bills and outstanding demands with interest and penalty shall not come under the purview of the programme. With more than Rs 350 crore of house tax outstanding, even if 50 per cent of the 1.2 lakh defaulters avail of the opportunity of paying up without paying interest and penalty, the civic body would rake in over Rs 150 crore. This would enable the Corporation to tide over its financial crisis.

“The finance department is deliberately sitting on the proposal for political reasons. They are waiting for the announcement of the date of the Assembly polls... Once the date is declared, the state government will have an excuse not to announce the clearance of the scheme,” alleged Mukherjee.

The mayor added that the waiver scheme has been submitted to the state government following several rounds of talks between municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya, finance minister Asim Dasgupta, and representatives of the Corporation.

The rate of realisation of outstanding dues has been pegged at a meagre 10 per cent of the total outstanding amount, resulting in the quantum of dues piling up at an alarming rate.

“The daily revenue collection will drop further unless the scheme is cleared immediately,” said chief of municipal finance and accounts Shankar Dutta. “We have written a number of times to the municipal affairs department, explaining our situation, and urging them, to forward the proposal,” Dutta added.

A deputy secretary in the municipal affairs department, however, said: “We have cleared the Corporation’s proposal and sent it to the finance department.” The scheme is under scrutiny, said an officer of the finance department.

   

 
 
TEACHERS CALL COPS TO STOP THEFTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 15: 
Thieves have struck again at Calcutta University’s Rajabazar Science College. After making off with computers a few months back, the felons have returned, this time disappearing with laboratory equipment and even cash after breaking open personal lockers of teachers.

Alarmed at the panic this has created on campus, a police team visited the university on Thursday.

Last Friday, thieves broke open the personal locker of a teacher of the chemical technology department and stole Rs 13,000. A few days before that, two sophisticated machines worth more than Rs 50,000 went missing from the physiology department.

Fed up with the authorities’ alleged apathy towards these incidents of theft, the teachers lodged an official complaint with the Amherst Street police station. On earlier occasions, they had reported the matter to the authorities who in turn had taken up the matter with the police.

The teachers and students said on Thursday that they had also sent a letter to the vice-chancellor of Calcutta University requesting him to engage a private security agency to man the campus.

However, M. K. Sengupta, in charge of campus security, refused to comment on the matter. “The matter is being investigated and all appropriate action will be taken,” he said.

The teachers and employees of the university claimed that the incidents of thefts were gradually increasing mainly because the police were not being allowed to carry out investigations on campus. This, they said, was because the probe could expose the involvement of university staff.

“We have lost all faith in the security that the university is providing,” some teachers said. “The police now must be allowed to do their work. Almost every day, one thing or the other is found to be missing from the departments and this cannot be allowed to continue,” a teacher added.

University sources said among the things that have been stolen in the recent past are a computer from the applied physics department, a cellphone of a teacher of the same department, valuable equipment including a movie camera from the radio physics department, computer floppies containing confidential data from the applied mathematics laboratory and costly books on information technology from the computer science department.

“On most occasions the authorities did not lodge any complaint with the police, which has encouraged the culprits,” alleged an angry teacher.

   

 
 
SMART INTERIORS FOR EVERY POCKET 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, March 15: 
Want to pamper yourself with that fluffy, sink-in feeling in a living room furnished with soft-leather sofas, or go in for a modular kitchen with waterproof cabinet shutters of plywood finished in melamine? Trendy interiors are very much in and the Calcuttan is fast catching on. That’s the message at Interiors 2001 at the Netaji Indoor Stadium.

The third edition of the exhibition put up by the Association of Architects, Builders, Interior Designers and Allied business, or ABID,at the stadium brings to Calcutta the modern drift in space planning, creativity, illumination and colour scheming for beautiful interiors, besides showcasing the latest range of products available.

“One of our chief objectives of holding this exposition is trying to remove the misconception that smart interiors are just for the rich. Business in the city has been growing at 30 per cent per year, a clear indication that the Calcuttan is becoming increasingly conscious of how the home and the workplace look,” says ABID president Ajit Singhee, whose own creation of rubberwood furniture is one of the high points of the show.

The accent is on compact, space-saving, functional furniture. “We have been trying to involve the middle-class in a big way by catering to their demands for low-cost yet smart interiors with cheaper alternatives like laminates, marbo-granites, wrought iron furniture and plyboards and particle boards,” says Soumitra Majumder, architect with design house Utopian.

Buoyed by the boom in business, ABID is planning its own dedicated premises with a library, an AutoCad centre and a “comprehensive workshop to organise the business which can throw up a plethora of fresh jobs soon,” says Aloke Gupta, one of the founder-members.

   

 
 
12 HURT IN HOWRAH RIVERSIDE BOTTLE BLAST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 15: 
Twelve people were injured, four of them critically, in a powerful ‘bottle’ bomb blast in Howrah town on Thursday morning. The police said the explosion occurred while people were bathing at Telkalghat, in the Howrah police station area, around 11.45 pm. Extensive combing operations were launched, and a few bombs recovered from the neighbourhood.

On Wednesday morning, a group of kids playing cricket near the ghat were picking up a few bottles from the riverside and hurling them into the water. One of these bottles exploded, injuring some bathers. None of the kids was hurt.

“It was a bottle bomb that exploded,” confirmed M. Rajsekharan, additional superintendent of police, Howrah. “The bathers were struck by the splinters.”

The injured were rushed to Howrah General Hospital. Four of them were admitted in a critical condition. Later in the day, one of them was shifted to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital as his condition deteriorated.

Local residents staged a demonstration when the police arrived to carry out investigations. They alleged that the cops have turned a “deaf ear” to their complaints about some criminals who had converted a house in the locality into a stronghold and were stockpiling arms and explosives there.

The police, however, denied that they had prior information about the hideout. “We will carry out a thorough search of the area on Thursday night and check out their complaint,” said an officer at the Howrah police station. A strong police picket has been posted in the area.

   

 
 
FOOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE ALERT FOR STATE CATTLE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 15: 
The foot-and-mouth disease, which ruined livestock in the UK and wiped out thousands in Punjab and Haryana in the past few months, now threatens to afflict cattle in West Bengal.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation has already alerted its health inspectors and urged the state health department to intervene immediately.

“We have asked the health department to post veterinary doctors at all points through which livestock enter Bengal,” said Javed Ahmed Khan, mayor-in-council (health), on Thursday.

Khan said that CMC health inspectors and vets have branched out at livestock markets in Kidderpore, Narkeldanga, Howrah and Metiabruz. Similar teams have also been stationed at the CMC slaughter houses in Tangra, Halsibagan, Metiabruz and Lansdowne. “Animal found with the disease will be isolated. The CMC vets have not come across any livestock afflicted with the virus in the slaughter houses till now,” Khan said.

However, veterinary experts of University of Animal and Fishery Sciences, in Belgachhia, said that symptoms of the disease have been detected in cattle arriving from Punjab and Haryana.

“We have received reports of the disease from various parts of West Bengal,” said Amiya Kumar Pramanik, head of the university’s Preventive Veterinary Medicine department. Pramanik cautioned that people having the meat of an infected animal run the risk of gastro-enteritis.

“When the disease struck England last year, the infected animals were immediately slaughtered. In our country we don’t have the adequate legislation. So, the risk of an epidemic is higher. Cows, goats, buffaloes, sheep and pigs are mainly infected with this virus,” said A.K. Bhattacharya, the university’s vice-chancellor.

The symptoms of a virus-infected animal are:

A frothy mouth

Ulcers on the hoofs, tongue, tail and other parts of the body

Loss of appetite

It can’t stand for long and starts drooling after some time

Deteriorating health

Cows, buffaloes and goats produce less milk

“The virus is air-borne and can travel up to 10 km. The exotic breeds are most prone to it,” Bhattacharya said.

State animal resources development minister Anisur Rahman said that a few infected animals might have sneaked into the state farms. However, a scheme to control the dreaded virus is underway.

   

 
 
LESSONS FROM THE PAST, IN TUNE WITH THE FUTURE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 15: 
Home remedies may be lost on most teenagers today. But the enthusiastic response to herbal treatment classes at Mahadevi Birla Girls’ Higher Secondary School is proof enough that they are more than willing to learn.

Class VIII, IX and XI students were introduced to ayurvedic treatment by Sudha Khemka over three-day sessions during the past week, after final exams. “Children nowadays know very little about home remedies that are such an important part of our heritage,” says Khemka. “But there is a growing health consciousness and I think young people are more open to alternative treatment,” she adds.

“If schedules permit, the classes may be introduced as a permanent part of the academic session,” feels principal Malini Goyal. Though the sessions have been “casual and interactive”, the students are taking down notes diligently, asking questions, clarifying problems.

It’s also the perfect opportunity for the girls to troubleshoot their skin and hair problems. “Dandruff, pimples, dull skin... we want to know how to get rid of them!” exclaims 14-year-old Saloni. She now knows the many uses of amla, ginger, garlic, salts and oils, and plans to try some of them on herself.

Daily activities of various kinds have been planned for students all the way from Upper Nursery to Class VIII. “After exams, the kids have the least tension,” says the principal. Magic shows and ‘doll parties’ for the toddlers, and visits to art galleries and the museum for the older ones, are keeping all busy since March 13. Poster and card-making contests, throwball and extempore competitions, have kept the girls on their toes. They are even planning a weekend trip to Haldia.

Clearly, for the girls in white-and-pink uniforms, learning has been fun after exams. “Who wants to sit at home after exams? We prefer school any day!” declares a beaming Richa.

Another high point has been the visit to Mahadevi Birla Niketan, a home for the elderly. Eleven-year-old Varsha Gupta was “moved to tears” by the visit. “They treated us with so much love, I wanted to take them back home with me,” she recalls, eyes gleaming. Class-VIII students Shraddha and Neha spent an equally emotional day at the old-age home. Lily and Bharati pulled out their old photo albums, taking the girls back through the years when they were young, husbands by their sides. “Bharati even danced for us. She used to be a teacher,” the duo smiles.

   

 
 
ACCUSED IN SEX SCANDAL HELD 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhubaneswar, March 15: 
The CBI has arrested the main accused in the Balasore sex scandal, Prabasini Kar, physical education teacher in the K.K.S. Women’s College in Balasore.

Kar, arrested from her Balasore residence by CBI officials from Calcutta, was produced before a CBI court here this morning.

In July 1999, Kar was accused of inducing a student of her college into a sex racket. The student managed to escape and the incident came to light.

Later, the CBI was asked to investigate the case following a directive by a division bench of the Orissa High Court. An FIR was also lodged against Kar at the Calcutta office of the agency. Kar is the first accused in the case to be arrested by the CBI.

Austerity drive: With a view to cutting down on expenditure, the Orissa finance ministry has issued a notification barring government officials from using official vehicles on holidays.

The new notification said district collectors, superintendents of police, officials in various departments in the state headquarters cannot use more than five litres of petrol a day on official working days. Similarly, district-level officers would have to make do with four litres of petrol in the office vehicles. For sub-divisional officers and block development officers, the limit has been fixed at three litres of petrol a day.

The ministers and bureaucrats in the state secretariat have also not been spared from the austerity measures. The ministers cannot make telephone calls which exceeds more than Rs 15,000 a month from their office and residential phones. The monthly telephone bills of officers should not exceed Rs 5,000, the notification said.

The bureaucrats in various departments have been barred from making more than one trip by air a month. The bureaucrats have also been asked to undertake train journeys in second class AC instead of first class AC.

RBI warning: The Reserve Bank of India has warned the Orissa government of stopping payments if it did not reduce the overdraft level by the weekend.

In a letter to the principal secretary of the finance department, the RBI cautioned that the overdraft as on March 12, 2001, stood at Rs 183.27 crore for the fifth consecutive day.

   

 
 
MANIPUR REQUISITIONS OIL TANKERS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, March 15: 
The Manipur government last night ordered the requisition of oil tankers for fuel transportation.

The government’s action came after negotiations between its officials and petroleum products’ transporters failed.

Transporters and drivers went on an indefinite strike after 15 oil tankers were torched by militants in Senapati district on March 8.

Officials sources said the government was ready to pay Rs 2 lakh compensation to each of the 15 damaged tankers but the transporters were demanding Rs 3 lakh per vehicle.

Police today rounded up several oil tankers for ferrying fuel from Imphal’s Indian Oil depot to petrol pump stations throughout the state. The strike and subsequent fuel scarcity has hit the state hard with the price of petrol reaching Rs 60 per litre in the black market.

Food and civil supplies minister Kshetrimayum Biren told The Telegraph today that his department has made elaborate arrangements so that petrol pumps can begin operating from tomorrow. He, however, said both petrol and diesel will be rationed to customers till the situation became normal.

The minister said four pumps in Imphal, one each in Bishenpur and Thoubal, would start selling petrol from tomorrow. Diesel will be sold through a permit system to avoid rush, he added. The minister said the permits for diesel would be issued through the transport associations.

The government is also making adequate security arrangement to escort nearly 80 oil tankers stranded at Khatkhati refinery in Upper Assam. Biren said that both the Army and the police will look after the safety of the national highway.

According to the officials of state food and civil supplies department, the state now has 15 days’ stock of diesel and 10 days stock of petrol.

The government has been paying compensation to oil tankers damaged in militant attacks, though they are hired by Indian Oil on contract for fuel transportation. The government has also agreed to pay Rs 1 lakh ex gratia to the family of the handyman killed in March 8 incident. The handyman was killed and 13 truckers were injured in the ambush.

   

 
 
WOMEN WORKERS FLEE AURANGABAD DEN 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Madanpur (Aurangabad), March 15: 
Sexual abuse, psychological exploitation and the enslavement of over 50 migrant Chattisgarhi labourers at a brick kiln here have jolted the Bihar government.

The bonded labourers were rescued on Monday following an SOS from the Chhattisgarh government to the Aurangabad district administration.

The labourers recounted gory tales of torture by antisocials deployed by the brick kiln owners to rein in the workers. The police recorded their confessions under the Prevention of Bonded Labourers Act, 1976 and arrested two persons. However, they were released on bail yesterday.

The incident has sparked outrage among human rights activists who are demanding enforcement of basic labour laws in the brick kilns.

Over 50 migrant labourers were forced to migrate from Raigarh in Chattisgarh last year when the Vajpayee government at the Centre bifurcated Madhya Pradesh.

The people of drought-prone Raigarh district are perennially short of jobs. This forced the tribal labourers to take up work at the brick kiln, nearly 500 km from the village, despite statehood.

They were recruited by an agent, Sardar Ganesh Ram, who promised them decent earnings and better amenities in Aurangabad. But their hopes were dashed within a few days of arrival. “We were supposed to get minimum wages for daily work and an allowance of Rs 200 a week. In a month’s time, the brick kiln owner stopped payment of daily wages and we were paid Rs 200 per week as allowance,” said Sarda Ram, one of the rescued labourers.

The workers failed to get adequate food and fell ill in six months’ time. Police officers investigating the case said the women were sexually exploited by the kiln owners and were confined illegally when some threatened to quit.

The investigating team led by Anirudh Prasad, found that a woman, who died after prolonged fever, was even denied basic medicare.

“Rape was used as a weapon of intimidation at the kiln,’’ alleged a labourer.

Unable to bear the torture, 12 workers fled the kiln last month to Chhattisgarh. They narrated their tales to woe to the village mukhiya and moved the district administration with his help.

Two Congress leaders raised the issue with the district magistrate of Raigarh, who in turn contacted his Aurangabad counterpart S. Siddarth. “The probe ordered by the DM revealed violation of labour laws, confinement and abuse of women,’’ said Sunil Kumar Jha, superintendent of police, Aurangabad.

The rescued labourers are now at a temporary relief camp in Aurangabad and are likely to go back to Chattisgarh via Gaya.

Surveys by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) cite that the incidence of wage rule violations, sexual abuse and illegal confinement is the highest in unorganised sectors like brick kilns, bakeries and mines.

“Cases of wage disputes go unpunished and the involvement of muscle power make the arbiter’s task difficult,’’ said Kishori Das, general-secretary of the PUCL. He said the PUCL will meet labour officials to step up vigil in these sectors.

   

 
 
ARMY MAY EXTEND CEASEFIRE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, March 15: 
The Army is likely to extend its suspension of counter-insurgency operations for another 16 days.

Though officially, the Army has not said anything on the matter, sources said the formal announcement on the extension may come tomorrow.

General-officer-commanding of 57 mountain division, Maj. Gen. Iqbal Singh earlier declared the suspension of military operations against all militant outfits by the Army and Assam Rifles for 15 days beginning March 1 for Yaoshang (Holi) festival.

The Radhabinod Koijam-led People’s Front government had also announced a unilateral ceasefire with all insurgent outfits in the state during the entire month of March in connection with the Yaoshang festival. The chief minister has asked the Army to extend its suspension of operations till March 31.

In view of the government’s request, the Army authorities were planning to extend the suspension of operations till the end of this month. The sources said it may review the suspension of operations if militants continued to violate the spirit of the truce and attacked security forces.

The militants have, in fact, violated the unilateral ceasefire by attacking the oil tankers’ convoy on March 8 in Senapati district.

In another incident, an Assam Rifles jawan and a seven-month-old infant were killed and four civilians injured in a bomb explosion triggered by militants at Sangakpham in Imphal on Tuesday evening. Three Border Security Force personnel were also hurt.

   
 

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