Verdict: Rally is right and wrong
Corporation hits house tax hurdle
Brickbats, bombs in BJP office showdown
Cable viewer caught in STAR crossfire
Kids bridge borders on coloured canvas
Rights commission flays forensic laboratory
New parks at Esplanade, Bagbazar
University honour for leader, not businessman
Army silent on extension of festival truce
Meghalaya to tighten noose around rebels

 
 
VERDICT: RALLY IS RIGHT AND WRONG 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March. 16: 
The case — Roadshows disrupt life and so must be banned vs Staging a rally is a democratic right. The verdict — fifty/fifty.

Disposing of the public interest litigation (PIL) seeking a stop to rallies on city streets on working days, Calcutta High Court on Friday concluded that while citizens had the right to hold protest rallies, such demonstrations should not impinge on the right to free movement of others.

The division bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice Girish Gupta, directed the law-enforcing authorities to consider this observation of the court while granting permission to political parties and other organisations staging rallies on city streets. So, the judges ruled out an outright ban on such rallies. But, at the same time, they upheld the people’s right to move freely on the streets.

The Bench stated that the court had every intention to reach a consensus regarding the issue but no conclusive verdict could be delivered as the response from political parties, directed to participate in the case, was “not spontaneous”.

About a year ago, lawyer Supradip Roy had filed a PIL accusing the state government, police, civic authorities and all political parties of “causing public inconvenience” by either organising rallies or allowing them to disrupt traffic and life. Roy alleged in his petition that this was a clear violation of fundamental rights as in Article 19 (1) ‘a’ and ‘b’ and Article 21 of the Constitution. Roy further claimed that freedom of speech, freedom to assemble and freedom to form associations and unions did not mean that these rights could be exercised “at any place”.

“If the political parties have the right to use any city street they feel like, the common people, too, have the fundamental right to use those same roads at the same time,” the petitioner argued.

“Rally raj rules the city centre. Over the last one month, Calcuttans suffered as political parties called meetings and dharnas on Chowringhee Road. The police and the government usually don’t take any action,” the petitioner alleged.

The court had asked the political parties to submit affidavits stating their views on banning rallies from the streets of Calcutta. Only the Congress and the CPM responded, submitting affidavits stating that holding of rallies was a “fundamental right” and the court should not intervene in the matter.

“Let the meetings be held on the Brigade Parade Grounds... No procession should be allowed to march towards the rally ground through Chittaranjan Avenue, College Street, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Esplanade and Sealdah. These should be declared public-utility areas,” suggested the petitioner.

But with the court not reaching a “conclusive verdict”, and the pre-poll scenario hotting up, Calcuttans can do little but brace for a summer of rally raj.

   

 
 
CORPORATION HITS HOUSE TAX HURDLE 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, March. 16: 
CMC’s daily tax revenue on March 1: Rs 70 lakh

CMC’s daily tax revenue on March 13: Rs 30 lakh

In mid-February, mayor Subrata Mukherjee made a hasty announcement and is now paying for it. As part of an incentive scheme to boost the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s sagging revenues, the civic authorities had decided early this year that starting April 1, they would waive interest and penalty on house tax arrears if the defaulters agreed to pay up their dues. The calculations were simple: there are 2.5 lakh defaulters who owe the CMC over Rs 300 crore. If even half of them responded to the scheme, the civic body would mop up over Rs 150 crore. Following a meeting with municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya and finance minister Asim Dasgupta, Mukherjee had announced the scheme at Writers’ Buildings itself.

But what the mayor did not realise was that there were a few miscalculations involved. First, some of the “erratic” tax-payers stopped paying their dues altogether. As a result, the CMC is finding it tough to pay the salaries of its 46,000-strong workforce. Second, the finance department has not given its clearance yet, and there is no certainly when it will.

“There are various kinds of tax defaulters. There are some who have not paid their dues for the last 20 years and we hope they will avail of this scheme. But more importantly, there is another section who do not pay for a few quarters and then settle their dues every few months,” explained chief municipal finance and accounts officer Shankar Dutta. According to Dutta, these defaulters, who contribute a substantial sum to the CMC’s coffers every day, are withholding payment till the promised scheme comes into effect. “We don’t know how we will settle our salary bill for this month,” confessed Dutta.

Mukherjee is fuming. “This entire matter had been settled in my meeting with the state finance and municipal affairs minister... We don’t trust the finance department at all. And once the election dates are announced, the state government will have an excuse not to clear the scheme.”

Asok Bhattacharya said his department had cleared the scheme and forwarded it to the finance department. All that an officer of the finance department had to say was “The scrutiny of the proposed scheme is under progress.”

   

 
 
BRICKBATS, BOMBS IN BJP OFFICE SHOWDOWN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March. 16: 
The Tehelka storm swept through the streets of central Calcutta with rallies galore on Friday afternoon. Chittaranjan Avenue, bordering the state BJP headquarters, was converted into a battlefield. Congress and BJP supporters were engaged in a pitched battle. with soda bottles, bricks and bombs being hurled around.

Police had to burst four rounds of teargas shells to disperse the warring groups. Thirteen Congressmen, 10 BJP supporters and a few policemen were injured in the clashes. Shop-owners downed shutters and traffic came to a halt.

Later, both Congress and BJP supporters squatted on Chittaranjan Avenue, protesting “police high-handedness”. Fifty Congressmen and a dozen BJP workers were arrested. A large police contingent cordoned off the area to restore normalcy.

Witnesses said around 80 Congress supporters gathered in front of the BJP office and raised slogans demanding the resignation of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Five policemen were standing guard outside. Suddenly, the Congressmen stormed in, hurling brickbats and soda bottles. “The cops did nothing to stop them,” alleged Gouri Chaudhuri, president of the BJP Mahila Morcha.

With the BJP supporters retaliating and the battle spilling over on to Chittaranjan Avenue, the outnumbered policemen called for help. Initially, deputy commissioner, central, Zulfikar Hasan, ordered a lathicharge, but then asked his men to fire tear-gas shells. BJP workers retreated into their office while Congress workers regrouped at the Mahatma Gandhi Road-Chittaranjan Avenue intersection, before taking to the streets again, this time to protest police action.

   

 
 
CABLE VIEWER CAUGHT IN STAR CROSSFIRE 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, March. 16: 
The STAR wars between broadcaster and cableman go on, and the Calcutta cable and satellite homes continue to miss out on all the action. With the city cable operators choosing to keep the STAR bouquet off their menu, Calcuttans have had to do without their daily dose of news bulletins, soaps, music, wildlife and movies for more than two weeks now. And there’s no simple solution in sight.

STAR has laid its cards on the table, reiterating that it won’t make an exception for Calcutta cablemen and offer discounts. Arun Mohan, executive vice-president, STAR India Limited, made it clear on Friday that the broadcaster was not going to give in to the operators’ “ridiculous demands for concession”.

However, in a clear carrot to cablemen, and to weed out the under-declaration menace, Mohan said STAR was ready to freeze prices for two years ,provided the “transparency levels come up to 75 per cent”.

“Of nearly 8 lakh cable and satellite homes in Calcutta, we get paid for only 1.5 lakh. Thus, to match the cost of buying and commissioning content and to sustain business, we were forced to hike the price of our package. However, the 54 per cent increase which the operators are harping on, is just Rs 9 for six channels in Calcutta,” stressed Mohan.

The multi-system operators (MSOs) agreed that under-declaration is rampant all over the country and that in this “more than Rs 8,000-crore industry, 80 per cent is black money.” The cable operators vehemently opposed the under-declaration figures put forward by the broadcaster. They even challenged STAR officials to conduct the count of subscriber points themselves. “Since they (STAR) haven’t shown any inclination to sit in dialogue, we will probably prolong this boycott and even extend its ambit to the districts,” warned Tarak Saha, spokesperson for the cablemen’s joint action committee.

Caught in the crossfire, the Calcutta cable viewer continues to lose out. With the Tehelka storm breaking in Delhi, the clamour for STAR News has risen over the last two days. And the moans about missing favourites like Kaun Banega Crorepati?, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, and premieres on STAR Movies are growing louder. “Why should the viewer be held to ransom by the cablemen? It’s high time the two sorted out their differences and gave the consumers what they want,” declared actress Moon Moon Sen, a self-confessed “STAR addict”.

The MSOs maintain that the amount paid to the broadcaster is the amount they recover from the affiliate operators. According to industry sources, while RPG Netcom gets paid for 1.25 lakh points, another 25,000 subscribers are announced by SitiCable in Calcutta.

STAR is even contemplating bringing in Hathway to Calcutta as a head-end to counter “the RPG monopoly.” RPG Netcom chief Probir Bose, however, said Mumbai-based Hathway, with operations in nine cities, wouldn’t be a threat if it set up shop here. “Any new competitor will eat into the share of the biggest player. But they will have to wean away subscribers by severe undercutting and that won’t be easy,” said Bose.

   

 
 
KIDS BRIDGE BORDERS ON COLOURED CANVAS 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, March. 16: 
They are the dream-castles of young boys and girls, side-by-side the pain that children across the world are forced to live with everyday.

The voices of children, a “message from the cosmos”, found a platform at the Assembly House, where the World Boys and Girls Art Exhibition was unveiled on Friday.

The display of paintings by 310 children from 161 countries, unveiled on Friday has been organised by Soka Gakkai International (SGI), an international Buddhist association, and hosted by Bharat Soka Gakkai (BSG) and the West Bengal Federation of United Nations Associations, supported by UNESCO.

“Children are the worst sufferers of the 21st century,” said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, before inaugurating the exhibition. “All schools should be invited to come and see the paintings here,” he added.

Speaker of the West Bengal Assembly, and president, World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) Hashim Abdul Halim, was also present. “These paintings are the manifestation of the desire of children of the world for peace,” he said.

The theme of the exhibition is EARTH — enjoy, appreciate, realise, try, hope. Scenes of accidents from Yugoslavia, lonely pictures of isolation from Hong Kong, however, tell a tale of pain. “But hope, dreams and faith shine out of every picture, as well,” said Akash K. Ouchi, the SGI representative in India and deputy chief secretary of BSG, who has been travelling with the exhibition.

“Children everywhere are fascinated by the pictures, while it seems to go straight to adult hearts,” he explained.

Putul, 12, and her eight-year-old brother Abir, were among the first to take a look. “I can’t decide which one I like the best!” exclaimed Putul, while Abir was busy with a critical analysis of each. They later decided their favourite was a portrait of Gandhiji, by 14-year old A. Raja from India. “No one could have painted Gandhiji better,” said Putul knowingly.

Directly above the portrait was a painting by A. Nasir, a seven-year-old from Pakistan. ‘August 14’, he writes above images of partying and fireworks, ‘Celebrates freedom’, below.

New Zealanders Jessica, Rachel and Toby, who have lived in Calcutta for over a year now also dropped in. Fifteen-year-old Jessica liked the paintings from back home the best. “See that one?” she asked, pointing at a multi-coloured depiction of tribal masks. “Those are things that you can see all over my country,” she grinned.

Seven-year-old Rachel and little Toby, just five, were more intrigued by the picture of a talking tree by six-year-old Katherine from Columbia. “See, it even has a tail,” they giggled.

“Even the treasures of the entire universe cannot equal the value of a single human life,” according to Nichiren, a 13th century Buddhist monk, upon whose teachings the SGI is based. The Calcutta branch has over 250 members from all walks of life.

The exhibition is open until March 22, from 12 noon to 6 pm. It moves to Chennai next, before carrying on to Colombo in June.

   

 
 
RIGHTS COMMISSION FLAYS FORENSIC LABORATORY 
 
 
BY DEBASISH CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, March. 16: 
The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has come down on the State Forensic Science Laboratory, in Belgachhia, for delaying at least 5,000 cases of viscera examination.

An SHRC report, published recently, says the average annual disposal of cases by the laboratory is a little over 2,000, and the current backlog alone would take more than two years to be over. The problem is compounded by the entry of 3,000 fresh samples every year. Considering the aggregate annual receipts and the average rate of yearly disposal, the result of a fresh sample might be available after three years.

According to the report, the workload is so huge and the disposal rate so slow that the result of any fresh sample in the toxicology section itself is unlikely to be available before two years.

“The situation is extremely frustrating and can’t be allowed to continue. If it takes more than two years to complete a viscera report, the disposal of criminal cases in courts will be seriously affected. Besides, this will eventually lead to excessive delays in trial of cases and detention of undertrial prisoners for long,” the report stated.

The SHRC has pointed out the need for a separate division to deal with explosives. Individual sections for serology and DNA examination, in tune with the new trends in crime-detection science, should also be set up at the forensic laboratory for quick disposal of cases.

The laboratory should also have provisions and adequate staff for “spot visits”, where experts would arrive at the scene of crime at a short notice and collect physical evidences to reconstruct the case.

The Commission has also indicated at several “anomalies and deficiencies” which have crept into the system over the years. The plight of the state morgues and inconsistencies in some post-mortem reports were cited as instances.

Criticising the ways in which post-mortem is conducted in the morgues in Calcutta and elsewhere in the districts, the Commission said: “Post-mortem reports are often submitted by autopsy surgeons in such a manner that the final report is dependent on the findings of the viscera examination. All such cases should be closely monitored to separate those which require viscera examination. Otherwise, the workload will increase.”

The SHRC also criticised the quality of autopsies done, especially in the districts and sub-divisions. Doctors posted in districts and sub-divisional hospitals should be exposed to forensic science training from time to time to improve the standard.

State Forensic Science Laboratory director N.K. Nag said the laboratory was short-staffed and, so, unable to function properly. “I am yet to come across the SHRC report. But I welcome the Commission’s recommendations if it helps me upgrade the laboratory,” he said.

   

 
 
NEW PARKS AT ESPLANADE, BAGBAZAR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March. 16: 
The city will soon have more greenery with two parks coming up at Esplanade and Bagbazar. The one at Esplanade, opposite Metro cinema, will be constructed on a sprawling 12,000 sq feet plot. The Bagbazar park, especially for children, will cover around 4.5 bighas.

The park at Esplanade will be maintained by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), which also maintains some 300 parks spread over the city.

Member, mayor-in-council (parks and gardens), H.N. Gupta, said on Friday that army officials had initially objected to the CMC’s proposal for a park opposite Metro cinema, as the plot belonged to them. However, they okayed it after the CMC agreed to follow the rules of the defence ministry.

Gupta said that the CMC will bear the expenses of construction and maintenance of the park at Esplanade. “The army authorities have asked us not to engage any agency for maintaining the park,” he said.

   

 
 
UNIVERSITY HONOUR FOR LEADER, NOT BUSINESSMAN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March. 16: 
The Rabindra Bharati University authorities finally withdrew their decision on Friday to confer an honorary D.Litt degree on a city-based businessman, bowing to pressure from a section of employees. The award will, instead, be conferred on former prime minister V.P. Singh. The decision was taken at a meeting of the university’s court body on Friday.

The university staff had resented the move to honour the businessman with the D.Litt after the proposal was disclosed at a meeting of the executive council on Wednesday. The members had pointed out that according to the university’s rules, an honorary D.Litt degree can be conferred on eminent persons for their outstanding contribution in education, arts, culture, cinema or any other field. They claimed that the businessman had no such contribution.

V.P. Singh was selected for his outstanding contribution in promoting peace, communal harmony in the country and, especially, for his role in protecting the poor and the homeless in the Capital when the BJP-government at the Centre undertook a project to remove all jhupris, university sources said.

Others shortlisted for the honorary D.Litt degree for the current year are singer Sandhya Mukherjee, actress Chhaya Devi, artist Dinkar Kaushik and historian Bratindranath Mukhopadhyay. The panel will soon be sent to Governor Viren J. Shah for final approval. The honorary D.Litt degrees will be awarded at the university’s annual convocation in May.

   

 
 
ARMY SILENT ON EXTENSION OF FESTIVAL TRUCE 
 
 
FROM OINAM SUNIL
 
Imphal, March 16: 
The Army today kept mum on the possibility of extending the duration of the festival ceasefire in Manipur.

However, sources said Army officials had already informed chief minister Radhabinod Koijam about their intention to keep military operations suspended for some more time.

General-officer-commanding, 57 Mountain Division, Maj. Gen. Iqbal Singh, had announced suspension of military operations by both the Army and the Assam Rifles for 15 days, beginning March 1. The goodwill gesture was made on account of the Yaoshang (Holi) festival.

The 15-day period ended yesterday, but there was no indication today of the Army and Assam Rifles resuming counter-insurgency operations.

The Koijam-led People’s Front government had also announced a monthlong unilateral ceasefire on account of the Yaoshang festival. The truce announced by the government will be in force till March 31.

The Army may be prompted to toe the government’s line because resumption of counter-insurgency operations will send confusing signals to both the rebel leadership and the people.

Though extension of the ceasefire is almost certain, Army commanders based in different areas of the state are yet to receive any order from the 57 Mountain Division headquarters at Masimpur near Silchar.

Sources said Maj. Gen. Singh was in New Delhi, which was why the relevant order had not been issued.

Army and Assam Rifles officials stationed here declined to comment on the issue, saying that only the 57 Mountain Division headquarters was authorised to announce extension of the ceasefire.

The chief minister today convened an all-party meeting to discuss the law and order situation and the outcome of the Yaoshang ceasefire.

Representatives of all parties, including the Congress, attended the meeting.

Koijam informed the meeting that the Army was willing to extend the duration of its ceasefire with militant outfits till March 31. He said senior Army officials informed him about the decision.

CPM leader Kshetrimayum Shanta Singh later told The Telegraph that another meeting would be held on March 27 to discuss the feasibility of extending the period of the unilateral ceasefire further.

Peace rally

Hundreds of students participated in a peace rally in Churachandpur town yesterday. The rally had been organised by the Churachandpur District Students’ Union in protest against the killing of civilians by underground militants.

   

 
 
MEGHALAYA TO TIGHTEN NOOSE AROUND REBELS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, March 16: 
Meghalaya Governor M.M. Jacob today said the government will intensify counter-insurgency operations against the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) and the A’chik National Volunteers Council (ANVC).

In his address to the budget session of the Assembly which began here today, Jacob lauded the Mawlong government for prevalence of communal peace in the state during the past year. He, however, regretted that the HNLC and the ANVC were continuing with their robberies, dacoities, extortions, abductions and murders in the state.

Jacob said the government was in the process of strengthening the state police through modernisation of arms, communication equipment, vehicles, manpower, skill and intelligence.

Referring to the fire which gutted the Assembly on January 9 this year, Jacob said it was an “irreparable loss” and regretted that he had to address the House in this “temporary location”.

The State Central Library auditorium, which has been converted into a temporary Assembly, seemed strange and uncomfortable after the comfort of the old British-built Assembly which was gutted.

Referring to the timber ban by the Supreme Court, a burning issue in the Khasi Hills, the Governor said the timber trade was still bound by the restrictions of the apex court.

Though the working plans for all the three divisions have been approved by the Centre, these are kept in abeyance because of recent directions of the court.

Touching upon the village reserve forest scheme, Jacob said it would be implemented soon. The scheme has been hanging fire for the past decade.

The Governor said an armed forest task force will be set up to protect the state’s reserve forests from encroachment and illegal felling. The Eleventh Finance Commission will provide grants for the purpose.

The government also plans to set up a biogenetic research centre in Ri Bhoi district. Jacob said steps were being taken to acquire land for the project which will be funded by the Centre. Jacob said 60 villages would be linked by road this year under the newly-launched Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana.

Nearly 150 villages will get electricity under the Prime Minister’s package. Altogether Rs 75 lakh has been released for the project, he added.

Hopes of air-link for the state were dashed once again as the Governor only mentioned in passing that “the matter of upgradation of Umroi Airport was being pursued with the Centre”.

Jacob said the government would provide the Autonomous District Councils with financial support for development of the rural poor.

In a bid to mobilise revenue from the mineral sector, the government plans to set up more weighbridges in addition to the 13 mineral checkgates operating in the state. The government also proposes to set up a Rs 7-lakh technology park at Nongpoh in 2001-2002, Jacob said.

New treasuries will be set up at Khliehriat and Amlarem, both in Jaintia Hills district, Jacob said. The government has acquired 1.68 acres of land, called Hermitage property, for the construction of the Shillong bench of the Gauhati High Court.

Jacob said under the Eleventh Finance Commission, Rs 1 crore has been allotted to Meghalaya for creating three ad hoc courts, specifically for disposing off cases pending for over two years.

These courts will be made operational soon and will function for five years, he added.

The Governor emphasised the importance of transparency and fair play in dealing with issues of public importance.

   
 

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