Roads walk the private pathway
Arms factory raided, owner held
Snatch-and-run gangs derailed
Books and boarders, craft and cuisine
Duo held for duping Tollywood aspirants
Alert on doctors
Tape blow to Tripura tie-up
Business twist to MLA killing
Delhi urged to resume Silchar flights
Jaintia Hills NGOs plan to pool funds

 
 
ROADS WALK THE PRIVATE PATHWAY 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, March 18: 
The privatisation juggernaut rolls on, now hitting the streets of Calcutta. In a departure from the past, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation has decided to engage private companies and agencies for the repair and maintenance of major city roads. Some may well turn into toll roads in the near future. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said on Sunday that this was the first step in the bid to encourage private-sector involvement in basic infrastructure.

The Corporation has already agreed in principle to consider proposals from private companies and agencies to raise funds on their own to meet the expenses for the repair and maintenance of roads. This includes raising funds from parking lots and billboard sites for maintenance of the roads, and even introduction of toll tax on arterial roads.

“We will have to take the consent of the state government before allowing these companies to introduce toll tax, but I don’t think any amendment of existing Corporation rules will be required, ” said Mukherjee.

According to the mayor, the Corporation is currently engaged in dialogue with a number of private companies in this regard. “Sooner or later, we had to do something like this, as the Corporation is facing an acute financial crisis,” explained Mukherjee.

“Many private companies have agreed to repair and maintain major city roads. Some of them have also said they would take special care of roads with tram tracks,” said Mukherjee.

The ball has been set rolling with the Corporation entrusting The Kenilworth hotel with repair and maintenance of Little Russel Street. Member, mayor-in-council in charge of roads, Anup Chatterjee, said the deal with The Kenilworth had been finalised.

“They will soon start the work and we will be there to assist them,” Chatterjee added.

N.K.Guha, personnel manager of the hotel, confirmed that everything would be done “in consultation with the Corporation”.

“We are holding talks with the Sahara group and other big houses for maintenance and repair of arterial roads like Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Chittaranjan Avenue, Mahatma Gandhi Road and Southern Avenue,” said Chatterjee.

The Corporation spends Rs 50 crore every year on road maintenance and the cost is rising fast. “Calcutta has a road length of about 1,500 km. Moreover, there are 250 km of kutcha roads in the city which we have to maintain, too. No less than 1,160 Corporation personnel are engaged in road repair and maintenance... So, it’s only natural that we involve private companies and agencies,” Chatterjee said.

   

 
 
ARMS FACTORY RAIDED, OWNER HELD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 18: 
In a night-long operation that lasted till the early hours of Sunday, Behala and Domjur police have arrested the owner of an illegal arms factory, which the police claim was the main supply source for criminals in North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly.

Bhadreswar Dhara, 53, was held, along with three associates and detectives recovered gas-cutters, cylinders, drill machines and other equipment from the factory in Lakhanpur, 4 km from Domjur police station, in Howrah.

Later on Sunday evening, inspector-general of police, south Bengal, Ranjit Mohanty ordered an inquiry into how such a huge illegal arms and ammunition factory has been doing business for four years without the knowledge of the local police. The cops also seized over 100 single-shotters, six-chamber revolvers and rifles from the factory.

The huge cache of arms were “specific orders” from Hooghly and Midnapore, to be delivered on March 25, explained Laloo Majhi, a close associate of Dhara. They, however, refused to reveal the names of those who had placed the order for the consignment.

Police officers later said Dhara had disclosed names of three middlemen. “We have sent out teams to their hideouts,” said officer-in-charge of Dasnagar police station, Nirmal Josh.

The trail which led to the arms haul started in P.N. Mitra Lane, hotbed of crime in Behala. Acting on a tip-of, three policemen, led by J.P. Pandey, picked up Chotka, 40, a leading arms dealer in South 24-Parganas. Deputy superintendent of police Subhankar Chatterjee said Chotka supplied arms to notorious criminals like Noche, Mahesh Sharma, Jisu Jain, Khokha, Kala Sher and Chandan.

Chotka led the police to another arms dealer, Sasthi, who was arrested at Dasnagar around midnight. Sasthi broke down during interrogation and guided the police to the house of Majhi in Salap, in the Domjur police station area.

While a startled Majhi refused to cooperate, his son led the police to Dhara’s house in Lakhanpur village. The arms dealer was arrested at 5 in the morning. Police said they are on the lookout for two more people, one, the main supplier of arms to Hooghly, and the other, a middleman operating in Midnapore.

Officer-in-charge of Behala police station, Subir Chatterjee, said Chotka and the other criminals would be interrogated in the evening.

   

 
 
SNATCH-AND-RUN GANGS DERAILED 
 
 
BY SOUMYADIPTA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, March 18: 
Case1: Suparna (not her real name) boarded the Rajdhani Express from Howrah station last Wednesday. She was accompanying her husband, an executive with a multinational company, to a conference in Delhi. Just as the train started to pull out of the platform, she felt someone tugging at the gold necklace round her neck. Before she could react, the man had snatched it and jumped off the moving train.

Case 2: Ashoke Kumar Modi, a businessman residing at Palm Avenue, was returning to Calcutta by the Rajdhani Express on February 7 with his wife. At Dhanbad, a co-passenger walked off with one of their suitcases. Modi filed a complaint with the government railway police at Howrah station.

Case 3: Mala Bag, a resident of Uttarpara, was waiting for a long-distance train. She was sitting on one of the benches at Howrah station when she suddenly realised that her bag was missing. She raised an alarm, but to no avail.

With such complaints pouring into the GRP office at Howrah station, the authorities have launched a special drive to curb crime on trains and railway platforms.

The drive has already yielded results. The leader of one of these snatch-and-run gangs, N.C. Koley, was arrested by the Railway Protection Force last Thursday. “We found on him a gold necklace stolen from a female passenger of Rajdhani Express last Wednesday,” said S.C. Shahu, senior security commissioner of the RPF.

According to Shahu, Koley and company were targeting “affluent passengers” on long-distance trains like Rajdhani and Shatabdi. They get on the train just before it is about to pull out and there is chaos in the compartment, with people identifying their berths or saying their last-minute goodbyes. They zero in on their target and snatch whatever they can lay their hands on, including bags and necklaces, and then jump off the moving trains, the police said.

The RPF has chalked out several steps in its clean-up drive:

Unauthorised coolies and hawkers to be evicted from platforms

Armed RPF personnel to be posted on Rajdhani, Shatabdi and some other prominent, long-distance trains

Anyone found loitering on the platform without a valid ticket to be arrested

Urchins to be removed from the station

A special force to monitor arrival and departure of major trains at Howrah station

Some long-distance trains have been identified as soft targets for gangs who snatch wristwatches, necklaces, earrings, kitbags, cameras and even spectacles.

Besides Rajdhani and Shatabdi, Danapur, Poorva, Jodhpur and Jagannath Express figure high on the goons’ hit-list.

Shahu said these criminals were also operating from other stations, like Santragachhi, Panskura and Kharagpur, where some of the long-distance trains halt briefly. “We have rounded up a gang from Bandel, whose members confessed they used to steal things from the AC compartments of Kalka Mail,” confirmed Nilmoni Barik, inspector-in-charge of the Howrah GRP station.

“We are still on the prowl for some notorious snatchers like Pancham, Khatick, Kartick, Swain and Adi Mohanty. At least some of these criminals will be behind the bars soon. We will chalk a plan in our next crime conference with the new superintendent,” added Barik.

   

 
 
BOOKS AND BOARDERS, CRAFT AND CUISINE 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, March 18: 
The plan — A school from Class I to XII in the morning, a vocational training institute for women, and free schooling for kids and adults in the afternoon, plus a three-star international guest house with a hundred rooms.

The place — A 1.2-acre plot in DD block, Salt Lake.

“This is a dream project for us. It’s going to be a campus with a difference, the first of its kind in the city,” said Shanta Ghosh, vice-chairperson and deputy managing director of Development Consultants Ltd.

The school, the third educational venture of the group after Mongrace Montessori House on Short Street and the Mother’s Grace Montessori in Delhi, will also be run by the Suresh and Amiya Memorial Trust. Besides the regular academic programmes, the Trust will operate an adult literacy campaign and free school for under-privileged children after school hours, with vocational training facilities for women. The campus will house a five-storeyed international guest house with three-star facilities. Work for the first phase of the proposed integrated complex will start by the end of monsoon and is expected to be complete by the end of 2002.

To maintain “a high standard”, and ensure “individual attention” for students, the authorities have decided to restrict the number to a maximum of 25 per classroom. “To impart a well-rounded education, the school will have all modern facilities like a computer centre, well-stocked library, auditorium, gym and yoga centre, indoor games arena, a playground, medical unit, kitchen and pantry,” explained Shanta Ghosh.

Ranu Datta Gupta, principal of Mongrace and headmistress of the proposed school, said: “Admissions for the first and second standards of the high school will start on April 9 and, initially, the classes will be held on the Short Street campus. Once the Salt Lake campus is ready, the kids will be transferred there.”

In the first phase, the campus in Salt Lake will have classes till the fifth standard and every year, a new class will be added till the 12th standard. The monthly fees for the school, with ICSE affiliation, will be Rs 1,000.

Instructors for the school and the vocational training programme will be picked from among “the best in business”. The vocational training programme, aimed at empowering women by enabling them to supplement family income, will include courses in tailoring, cooking, physiotherapy, computer application, embroidery, handicrafts, and accounting skills. “Then, there is the guest house, which will set new standards in the field of hospitality,” promised Ghosh. “It will have all the latest facilities, without being extravagant. We will, instead, prefer artists, poets, professors, writers and other intellectuals to use the guest house.”

The architecture of the complex, being worked out by the ‘home’ team of Development Consultants, will be a mix of latest design and architectural pattern, and traditional art forms of Bengal, like stucco work and terracotta facia. “We want to create a homely ambience for the students, as well guests,” explained Ghosh.

   

 
 
DUO HELD FOR DUPING TOLLYWOOD ASPIRANTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 18: 
Tollywood dreams shattered for a couple of hundred aspiring young actors and actresses who had responded with great enthusiasm to an advertisement in a newspaper seeking ‘new talent’ for a forthcoming silver-screen venture, Pagla Dashu.

Police said about 150 teenagers had assembled at 5B, Gomez Lane, in Muchipara, on Sunday afternoon. The much-hyped ‘Hirak Roop Ranga Natya Sangstha’, headed by Subrata Debnath and assisted by Rajiv Mitholia, had established a makeshift office there.

“The duo extracted an application fee of Rs 20 from all those who had arrived for the screen test,” said an official of Muchipara police station.

The aspirants, after they paid the money, were asked to proceed to Sealdah’s Netaji Mancha, in order to understand the “technicalities of film-making”.

To their dismay, they found Netaji Mancha locked. The applicants rushed back to the office, only to find that the duo had fled their Gomez Lane office with the money. The teenagers, on realising that they had been duped, lodged a complaint at Muchipara police station. A police team fanned out in the area and picked up the two conmen.

“The two have been remanded in police custody and will be produced in court tomorrow,” a police official added.

   

 
 
ALERT ON DOCTORS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 18: 
The Cyprus-based Thalassaemia International Federation has issued a warning to all organisations working for patients with the genetic blood disorder against the “misleading claims” by two Delhi homoeopaths. In a faxed message to the city-based Thalassaemia Foundation, the federation last week said the doctors, who had launched a website, had claimed that the disease could be cured in seven days if medication they prescribed was taken.

“Unless any procedure is scientifically proven and published in a recognised journal, it should not be publicised,” said Dr Sunil Thakur, former sheriff. Dr Mihir Sen, a practising homoeopath, said: “The treatment these doctors are providing must be checked and approved by the Homoeopathic Council. They should have done that before launching the website.”

   

 
 
TAPE BLOW TO TRIPURA TIE-UP 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, March 18: 
Mamata Banerjee’s resignation from the Union Cabinet — and Trinamul Congress’ pulling out of the NDA over the Tehelka tapes — has virtually killed the four-party alliance in Tripura.

The alliance comprises the BJP, Trinamul Congress, Janata Dal(U) and the Tripura Upajati Juba Parishad.

The alliance, was formed on the eve of the last Lok Sabha in 1999. Trinamul leader Sudhir Ranjan Mazumder, who was the alliance candidate in the polls, pipped Congress to the post to emerge second.

Though relations with the BJP soured last year over the Agartala Municipal Council and 12 nagar panchayat elections, the alliance managed to continued.

However, fed up with the state Trinamul’s “big brotherly attitude” the BJP unilaterally declared that it would contest the byelection to Kadamtala Assembly constituency held last month. The Janata Dal(U) also contested the polls which was won by the CPM.

After the polls, leaders of the four parties began contemplating fresh talks for strengthening the alliance.

However, with Mamata Banerjee’s exit from the NDA, the prospects of rejuvenating the state alliance lay in tatters, sources said. State BJP president Brajesh Chakraborty described Mamata Banerjee’s decision as “opportunistic and irresponsible”, saying, “She seems ever ready to grab all the benefits but totally unwilling to share any responsibility.”

Chakraborty admitted that the decision of an alliance with the Trinamul Congress here was wrong. He, however, said the Janata Dal(U) and the TUJS would remain in the alliance.

Trinamul sources said though party leaders had sent congratulatory messages to Banerjee after her resignation, a section still was apprehensive over the actual consequences of the hasty pull-out.

Police promotions: The Tripura government has promoted five policemen of lower rank in recognition of their meritorious service in anti-insurgency operations in the state, reports PTI.

Of the five, three men of the rank of sub-inspector were promoted to inspector rank while an assistant sub-inspector was promoted to sub-inspector rank, the sources said. A constable was promoted to the head constable rank.

The promotion was in consonance with the policy of the government to award those policemen who had done outstanding service in anti-insurgency operations.

   

 
 
BUSINESS TWIST TO MLA KILLING 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, March 18: 
The CBI has taken over the probe into the murder of Congress MLA Madhusudan Saha who was gunned down on February 20 by unidentified assailants near his residence. The Opposition Congress had been vocal in demanding a CBI probe into the incident, to which the government later conceded.

Two senior officers of the apex investigating authority (Calcutta wing) — Satyaranjan Banerjee and Amalendu Dhar — arrived here yesterday and held discussions with the first inquiry officer of the case. The CBI sleuths were also handed over papers and other related materials by the criminal investigation department under state police.

The government had earlier decided that preliminary investigations would be carried out by the CID prior to the arrival of CBI officers.

Sources said the CBI officers visited the residence of the slain legislator and spoke to the family. Initial investigations revealed that Saha’s murder was not a political one but was related to business, sources said.

“The CBI will launch fresh investigations into the case,” a source added. The Congress today expressed satisfaction over the CBI taking over the investigation.

Chief minister Manik Sarkar and education minister Anil Sarkar yesterday visited the slain MLA’s residence. The chief minister assured the family that the culprits would be brought to book and government would do everything to help the family.

In the just-concluded session of the Assembly, the Left Front government was criticised by Congress MLA Sudip Roy Barman saying no minister or leader from the ruling party bothered to visit Saha’s family after his killing.

Sarkar informed the House that he intended to visit Saha’s family but had been advised against it on security grounds.

   

 
 
DELHI URGED TO RESUME SILCHAR FLIGHTS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Silchar, March 18: 
The Assam government has sought the Union civil aviation ministry’s intervention in reopening air services between Silchar and Guwahati.

The move to resurrect the air link came after Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha expressed concern at the prolonged absence of air services between the two principal towns of the state. The link was terminated in the middle of 1997.

Cachar deputy commissioner Santanu Thakur also requested chief secretary P.K. Bora for an early resumption of the air service for a quicker and reliable connectivity between the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys.

He said the air service is necessary because the rail track and road via Shillong is time consuming and tortuous. The flights would cater to a large clientele, including tea planters, officials of public sector undertakings and patients, he added.

The Alliance Air flight CD 7255, operating on the Silchar-Imphal-Silchar route thrice a week, can be rescheduled weekly to Guwahati from the South Assam town, the deputy commissioner said. Sources said the Indian Airlines operated Fokker Friendship aircraft in this route since the late Sixties, but after two decades the service was stopped. Modiluft and NEPC also briefly operated flights in this sector in the early Nineties. However, these operations were also terminated after a few months.

Travel operators here said there was no dearth of passengers, but chronic shortage of aircraft brought air service in the Silchar-Guwahati route to a standstill.

Sources said a task force constituted by the civil aviation ministry in 1999 to improve air connectivity in the Northeast has recommended pressing into service short-haul 50-seater turbo-prop aircrafts to fly between the two towns. However, the proposal has been shelved in the cold storage, the sources added.

Vendor killed: Suspected A’chik National Volunteers Council militants shot dead a vegetable vendor at Nengkhong Bazar in South Garo Hills district on Friday, reports PTI.

Police sources said three armed militants killed vegetable vendor Muhammed Alam after he refused to pay them money at the weekly bazar in Nengkhong.

   

 
 
JAINTIA HILLS NGOS PLAN TO POOL FUNDS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, March 18: 
For the first time in the history of the Jaintia Hills, development workers and community-based organisations in the district have set aside their differences and decided to pool their resources to achieve their common goal of development.

Over 30 representatives of 20 community-based organisations of the district today attended a meeting in Jowai to work out the modalities for a joint development initiative.

The meeting, convened by the Jowai-based Mar Chaphrang Development Society (MCDS), decided to create a network of community-based organisations.

“There are hundreds of organisations in the Jaintia Hills, but these have not been able to achieve anything. The district continues to be in bad shape. We have to work together if we want to make a difference,” said Terence Sawian, general secretary of MCDS.

Sawian said the MCDS would be the main platform for networking of all community-based organisations. “We want an information network that will reach out to the rural areas,” he added. “I believe we can surmount the hurdles associated with implementing development schemes in the rural areas by working together,” said MCDS president C. Luhuid.

   
 

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