Runway for sting squadrons
Gangland comes to hospital
Cable fault cripples power supply to south
Mega hotel at Mookerjee mansion
UK okay for canal project
Marine institute fracas over deemed varsity tag
Processing zone to boost fish export
Sulfa men arrested, students injured
Manipur CM extends truce by a month
HC for damages to torture victim

 
 
RUNWAY FOR STING SQUADRONS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
First, the bad news: The mosquito population in the eastern and north-eastern stretches of the city has trebled in the past five years, making life miserable for its residents.

The good news: Most of these mosquitoes are of the relatively harmless culex variety, not the malaria-spreading anopheles ones.

So acute has the mosquito menace become in the Salt Lake, Lake Town, Dum Dum and VIP Road areas that at a recent function of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at a manufacturing unit in Salt Lake, a bulk of the audience had disappeared even before the chief guest arrived, unable to bear the insect bites.

An estimated 2.5 million residents in these areas are today exposed to an unprecedented mosquito menace, and the municipal authorities in each of these regions do not hesitate to admit so.

Dilip Gupta, chairman of Bidhannagar Municipality, confessed that never before had he seen such swarms of mosquitoes in Salt Lake. Across VIP Road, areas under South Dum Dum Municipality, including Lake Town, are facing a similar invasion by these winged pests. In fact, municipality vice-chairman Samir Ghosh convened an emergency meeting on Tuesday with members of the chairmen in council to seek remedies to the problem.

Says Gupta: “The root cause of this situation is the stagnant water in the choked Keshtopur canal, a breeding haven for mosquitoes. I have urged state irrigation minister Debrabrata Banerjee to implement immediate measures to desilt the canal.” The canal has not been flushed for more than a year. And the stagnant water has led to rapid growth of vegetation throughout the stretch. “The canal needs immediate flushing to enable the regular flow and drainage of water, which will restrict the growth of mosquito larvae throughout the area,” Gupta said.

Ila Nandi, in charge of the health department in the Bidhannagar Municipality, also said that the canal was the source of the problem. “I have ordered an emergency meeting with the work-supervisors on Wednesday to see what extra steps can be adopted to bring this alarming situation under control. We have employed 70 workers to assist the private agency that has been put under contract to implement anti-larval measures.”

Residents of Salt Lake and Lake Town are most irritated with the passive role played by municipal authorities in handling the situation. Sharmistha Sarker of Kalindi, in Lake Town, said: “The unbearable rise in mosquitoes has forced me to take all kinds of precautions, ranging from coils, repellent sprays and mats to using mosquito nets during the day.”

The menace has led most residents of the adjoining areas to keep their doors and windows shut throughout the day.

Even the law students of the National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), whose hostel is situated in DN block, Salt Lake, are at their wit’s end. “Towards the evening, it becomes difficult to stand because of the swarms over our heads,” said Indranath Bishnu.

Even the doubling of funds for mosquito control, recently passed in the budget, has not proved useful yet. “Compared to the Rs 4.61 lakh allotted last year, we have devoted a total of Rs 8 lakh this year,” Gupta said.

A councillor of South Dum Dum, Sonali Sengupta, said a special oil developed by Kalyani University would be sprayed on the Bagjola canal and other stagnant waterbodies.

   

 
 
GANGLAND COMES TO HOSPITAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
More than six anti-socials with criminal records are sheltered in the staff quarters on the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital premises. The hospital has been the scene of repeated criminal acts in the past few months, with the latest one taking place on Monday night, when 10-year-old Polu Rao was shot dead near the David Hare block.

According to the Bowbazar police station authorities, members of the rival Shyam and Basheer gangs are holed up in the staff quarters and have been striking at will both on the premises and on Eden Hospital Road, whenever disputes broke out between them.

Residents of the staff quarters complain that eve-teasing is common in the hospital and there has also been the odd case of molestation, involving trainee nurses.

“The situation inside here is terrible these days,” admitted hospital superintendent Sachidananda Sinha. “We have repeatedly told the police to clean up the area but, apparently, nothing has been done. However, after Monday’s incident, senior health officials will take up the issue with the commissioner of police.”

Police said that Polu Rao, son of an attendant in the female ward, was targeted by members of the Basheer gang because some friends had apparently teased the criminal’s daughter on Holi.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Raj Kanojia, said Basheer had been waiting for the last couple of weeks to settle the score. “I suppose he found the right opportunity on Monday night,” Kanojia said.

The staff quarters on Eden Hospital Road house Class IV employees of the medical college and are surrounded by illicit liquor dens, frequented by local anti-socials. This is where the genesis of the criminal activities lay, Kanojia said. The police have identified an ambulance driver and a sweeper as the people harbouring criminals. “We are after them and they, too, have criminal records,” Kanojia said.

“We have information that Arif and Intikhab, criminals of the Rajabazar area, are sheltered on the hospital premises,” said additional officer in charge of Bowbazar police station, Nemai Pal.

Even Polu Rao’s father, who would work as a sweeper but was later suspended for assaulting a policemen, had been in and out of police lock-up, officials said.

   

 
 
CABLE FAULT CRIPPLES POWER SUPPLY TO SOUTH 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
Hundreds of Higher Secondary examinees in south Calcutta were left waiting in the dark on Monday and Tuesday evening. And there’s more bad news in store for them: The power crisis caused by a damaged underground cable is likely to continue till Friday.

According to a CESC spokesperson, a sophisticated 132-KV underground cable was severely damaged during micro-tunnelling work being carried out on Nalini Ranjan Avenue, in the New Alipore area, by Calcutta Telephones on Monday afternoon.

As the cable connects the CESC sub-stations in Majherhat and Jadavpur, most of south Calcutta, from Bhowanipore to Garia, was plunged into darkness for long hours.

The shortfall shot up to over 51 mw on Monday evening. On Tuesday evening, the shortfall was down to 20 mw, but power cuts continued in Jadavpur, Tollygunge, eastern Ballygunge, Kasba, Chingrighata and Entally.

“Repairs are on, but power supply may not be restored till Friday. We have requested the State Electricity Board to supply additional power to us to tide over the crisis,” said D.N. Majumdar, CESC’s executive director in charge of distribution.

CESC authorities have written to Calcutta Telephones, accusing it of not following procedure while conducting underground work. “We had not been informed of the micro-tunnelling operation,” said a CESC official.

G.C. Das, general manager of Calcutta Telephones in charge of customer service, however, said the necessary permission had been obtained from the Corporation, and the drawing of the CESC’s underground cable layout followed.

   

 
 
MEGA HOTEL AT MOOKERJEE MANSION 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
First a gaping hole appeared on the wall of the Camac Street side of the house in which Ranu Mookerjee had spent her last days. A huge gate was installed there. A few days later, this too was curtained off.

As construction work had definitely begun near what used to be a part of the outhouse, neighbours wondered what was coming up in Sir Biren’s lawns.

Now, mayor Subrata Mukherjee has asked municipal commissioner Debasish Som to lodge a complaint with Park Street police station against the mutilation of the heritage structure at 7, Ho Chi Minh Sarani. “We will not allow realtors to desecrate the heritage site,” said the mayor.

The civic authorities have already issued a stop-work notice and asked executive engineer Somnath Pal to keep a vigil on the property. “He has been asked to submit a daily report”, said director-general (building) Ashok Roychaudhury.

The outhouse and the swimming pool in the five-bigha compound have been demolished to construct a multi-storeyed hotel.

“After inspecting the site, I am convinced that attempts were being made to secretly separate the vacant plot from the building,” said member, mayor-in-council, Swapan Samaddar .

Though any change of character of a heritage structure and its separation from the original plot are strictly prohibited under the heritage conservation Act, the purchaser of the plot has already installed the new gate on the Camac Street side so that it could have a new address of its own.

Since the Mookerjee family refused to comment, the CMC has begun an inquiry to find out who bought the property.

The civic assessment record shows that the premises are still the property of Ranu Mookerjee. The purchaser is yet to get the plot mutated in his name.

Som has directed deputy municipal commissioner (estate) Javed Iqbal to carry out a search in the office of the registrar of assurance to probe the deal. No construction proposal has yet been submitted, said Roychaudhury.

“But we have found out that B.S. Gujral, owner of two hotels, has purchased the plot to build a multi-star hotel there”, said Samaddar. Though B.S. Gujral was not available for comment, a spokesperson in his office named Mrs David, confirmed that he had purchased the plot for a hotel.

   

 
 
UK OKAY FOR CANAL PROJECT 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, March 27 : 
The British Waterways has given its stamp of approval to the state transport department’s much-hyped reclamation project of the north canal system of Calcutta, comprising the newly-cut canal, Kestopur canal and Bhangarkata canal.

The nod from the British experts for the proposed 43-km canal connecting the Chitpur lock gate to Kulti Gang comes after the preliminary survey on financial and operational feasibility of the project submitted to the government in November 1998 by I-WIN (ICICI-West Bengal Infrastructure) and WBTIDC (West Bengal Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation).

The British Waterways study has fixed the project cost at Rs. 70 crore. The report was prepared by taking inputs on traffic potential and market demand study, done by SRG Consultancy Marketing Potential Services, topographical and geotechnical surveys conducted by Constell Consultants and financial feasibility survey by I-WIN.

The draft report submitted to the WBTIDC last month clearly mentions that reclamation for navigational purposes would “relieve the already-choking city road transport system, open a new horizon in cargo transportation by reopening the once flourishing inland transportation route to the Sunderbans and Bangladesh and give a major boost to tourism development for both foreign and domestic markets”.

It also mentions that the project has the potential of “generating cash surplus” from the first year of its operation.

According to the report, the eastern 12 km of the 43-km-long canal will link satellite townships like Rajarhat with an estimated population of over 500,000, to Salt Lake and other parts of the city. It is estimated that the ferry service, with maximum 150 persons per vessel, will have the potential to carry 28,000 people a day. In case of the rural areas, beyond Rajarhat to Kulti Gang, the estimated flow will be 16,500 a day. The study pegs the freight transportation potential at 50,000 tonnes per annum.

Besides outlining the social and economic benefits from the proposed project, British Waterways has also mentioned the types and number of vessels, restoration requirements of the lock structures, designs of pedestrian access bridges, removal of polluted silts, tackling the encroachment problem, bank protection, development of passenger and freight terminals.

The report advises the state government “to own and regulate” the canal. For the construction and operation, the government has been urged to set up a the joint-venture canal company with private participation.

“We are studying the various aspects of the techno feasibility report and have also sought comments from the transport and irrigation department. We will forward our suggestions to British Waterways next week to enable them to prepare the final report as early as possible,” said H Das, superintending engineer of the WBTIDC.

   

 
 
MARINE INSTITUTE FRACAS OVER DEEMED VARSITY TAG 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
Employees of the Marine Engineering & Research Institute (MERI), Calcutta, under the banner of Employees’ Association, have decided to go on a pen-down agitation and hold a demonstration at Taratala on March 29 to protest the Centre’s decision to form a society prior to declaring the institute a deemed university.

The string of agitational movements is also hampering the functioning of the institute. About 480 students are enrolled in this institute, set up just after Independence. About 200 employees of the institute fear that after the society is formed, the existing employees will be placed in the surplus cell if they are unwilling to join the proposed society.

Mrinal Kanti De, assistant secretary of the association, said: “The Fifth Pay Commission welcomed the government’s decision to set up an Indian Maritime University and recommended that a society be set up for the purpose. But now that the government has decided to form the society after dragging its feet for so long, we fear that the present affiliation of MERI, Calcutta, to the government of India will be eventually snapped and it will be privatised. The institute will be run on the profit motive of private shipowners.”

However, dispelling the apprehension, a senior official of the institute said formation of the society was a pre-requisite for declaring it a deemed university. “Presently, a trust called Mercantile Marine Education and Research Trust is functioning here as a helping hand, but they have nothing to do with the administration,” he added.

However, De alleged that the source of the funds spent by the trust was dubious and might be a step towards privatisation.

The students are perturbed at the turn of events. A fourth-year student said: “We want an immediate solution of the problem so that we can carry on with our studies in peace.”

   

 
 
PROCESSING ZONE TO BOOST FISH EXPORT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
The city will have an international-level fish processing zone near the Satyajit Ray Film Institute, on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.

State fisheries minister Kironmoy Nanda said at Writers’ Buildings on Tuesday that 14 acres of land near the film institute had been developed for this purpose.

Nanda, however, denied that the project was aimed at boosting the poll prospects of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who is contesting from Jadavpur constituency. “We did not hold any official ceremony to avoid such misgivings. The land was procured and developed by my department much before Bhattacharjee took over as chief minister or was declared our candidate for the seat,’’ Nanda said.

“The government will spend Rs 15 crore to provide infrastructural facilities to entrepreneurs to set up their processing units in the zone. Benfish, a state undertaking, will execute the project,’’ he said.

“Several fish-processing units are scattered on the southern fringes. In Calcutta itself, there are 33 such units. But few of them maintain international standards of export-quality processing. It is impossible to compete in the international market unless the quality of fish is guaranteed.

“The objective behind setting up an exclusive processing zone is to boost West Bengal’s present fish export earnings of Rs 500 crore annually to Rs 1000 crore during the 10th Plan period,’’ Nanda said.

The minister said the project was sanctioned by the Union food processing ministry about two years ago, but there were delays in implementation due to technical errors in the initial plan and non-allocation of funds by the Centre.

“There are no hurdles now and the zone will be ready within the next three years. Apart from prawns, we will export varieties of brackish-water fish from West Bengal,’’ the minister said.

   

 
 
SULFA MEN ARRESTED, STUDENTS INJURED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, March 27: 
The Sulfa (surrendered Ulfa) activists have been at the receiving end of action by both the police and the public since last night.

Ten persons — Sulfa leaders and their henchmen — were arrested by Rangiya police in Kamrup district late last night. In the morning, students of the Assam Engineering Institute here went on a rampage while demonstrating against the alleged high-handedness of Sulfa members.

Many students, including girls, were injured when the police resorted to a lathicharge in front of the Chandmari police station to disperse the students who laid siege on the police station for more than three hours.

The students alleged that four of their fellow-students were “abducted” at gunpoint by surrendered Ulfa militants this morning from the Chandmari traffic point and taken to the police station.

The officer-in-charge of the police station, however, told the agitating students that they were picked up by armed policemen in plainclothes for quarrelling on the street. The students, who were not convinced, refused to budge and insisted that the incident was nothing but high-handedness of Sulfa members.

As the situation appeared to go out of hand, city superintendent of police G.P. Singh rushed to the spot and asked the students to lift the gherao.

He informed the demonstrators that the three students were picked up by armed policemen in plainclothes when they were found engaged in a street brawl. Singh said no Sulfa man was involved in it.

Singh also claimed that the team of policemen in mufti, whom the students mistook for Sulfa men, was one of the 15 special squads deployed by the police following specific information that Ulfa hitmen had sneaked into the city.

Representatives of the students’ union of the institute, however, claimed that they could identify two Sulfa men and insisted that they be arrested immediately and “paraded” before them.

The efforts of the principal of the institute, Hiren Bhuyan — who tried to pacify the agitating students and asked them to lift the gherao in view of the clarification given by the SP — also failed. The students continued to shout slogans.

Later, one of the agitating students “volunteered” to name two Sulfa men to newsmen who had gathered at the police station. As cameramen of private television channels were also present, he had his face fully covered, apparently afraid of retaliation by the surrendered rebels.

In another twist to the incident, a student of the institute lodged an FIR at the police station alleging that the detained students — Prasanna Kumar, Bharat Das and Rajib Bora — had beaten him up earlier. The latter, however, denied the charge.

Earlier last night, the police arrested 10 Sulfa men on charges of forcibly “taking over” a municipality checkgate at Rangiya and beating up the employees of the authorised lessee and extorting money from them.

Kamrup SP L.R. Bisnoi said the police arrested two Sulfa men — Kajol Khan of Moran and Kanak Gogoi of Lakhimpur —along with eight “antisocial elements” in this connection.

The police also recovered Rs 5,000 from their possession, which he said was extorted by the Sulfa men from the employees of the authorised lessee of the municipal checkgate. All the arrested persons were today produced before a magistrate at Rangiya, who sent them to judicial custody.

   

 
 
MANIPUR CM EXTENDS TRUCE BY A MONTH 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, March 27: 
A meeting of all political parties here today decided to extend the ongoing unilateral ceasefire with all militant outfits by another month. The meeting was convened by Manipur chief minister Radhabinod Koijam.

The meeting authorised the chief minister to constitute a committee to frame a strategy for approaching the insurgent outfits to start talks. The committee is expected to work out all the details with regard to the peace process initiated by the People’s Front government. The state Cabinet is likely to take a decision on the extension tomorrow.

After being sworn in as chief minister on February 15, Koijam announced a unilateral ceasefire with all rebel outfits operating in Manipur for a month from March 1. The unilateral ceasefire was declared as a goodwill gesture to insurgents on account of the Yaoshang (Holi) festival.

A day before the government made the announcement, the Army had already declared a 15-day truce with all rebel outfits.

Sources said the government will now inform the Centre on the all-party meet. The Army and paramilitary forces would also be informed about the decision. The government will first inform the Union home ministry for its clearance of the extension of the unilateral ceasefire for another month.

Two insurgent outfits — the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Prepak) and the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) — have already rejected the state government’s truce offer. However, the all-party meet decided to extend the ceasefire so as to give “peace a chance”.

Following the ceasefire declaration, Koijam had chaired a meeting of all political parties in the second week of this month. The meeting had endorsed the government’s decision and then agreed to meet to study the feasibility of a further extension.

Leaders from the Samata Party, the BJP, the Congress, the Manipur People’s Party, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Janata Dal (Secular), the Janata Party, the CPI, the CPM, the RSP, the Federal Party of Manipur and the Manipur State Congress Party participated in the meeting. Prominent leaders who attended the meeting included three former chief ministers — Rishang Keishing, W. Nipamacha Singh and R.K. Dorendra Singh.

Court order

The Imphal bench of the Gauhati High Court today suspended the state government’s termination order of 13 irrigation and flood control department employees.

The finance department on March 19 had directed all administrative heads to terminate those employees who were recruited after April 19, 1999. Over 2,000 employees were likely lose their jobs due to the decision. The government’s argument was that these employees were recruited in violation of the memorandum of understanding signed between the state and the Union finance ministry on April 19, 1999. The MoU had said all recruitment to government jobs would be stopped as part of economic reforms.

The 13 employees, in a petition filed at the High Court, challenged the government’s order saying they were recruited before the MoU was signed on ad hoc appointments. However, the 13 employees were regularised on December 6, 1999, after the MoU came to effect.

   

 
 
HC FOR DAMAGES TO TORTURE VICTIM 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, March 27: 
Justice N.S. Singh of the Agartala bench of the Gauhati High Court today issued notices to the state and Union governments, asking why compensation of Rs 15 lakh should not be awarded to five civilians who were tortured by security forces.

The non-tribal civilians were physically tortured by Assam Rifles jawans in the name of counter-insurgency operations in Kanchanpur subdivision on May 3 last year.

The five non-tribals had been rounded up by Assam Rifles and brutally tortured after being taken to its camps. They sustained serious physical injuries and later filed a writ petition in the Gauhati High Court demanding compensation. Official sources here refused to comment on the issue, saying, “The matter is sub-judice and we will furnish a reply to the learned court.”

Cabinet decisions

The Tripura Cabinet has taken important decisions regarding registration of marriages and government employees.

The government has decided to make registration of marriages in the state compulsory. In a separate decision, the government would take punitive action, which may include dismissal from service, against anyone found to be neglecting his or her family after getting a government job on the “die-in-harness” quota. The decisions were taken at a meeting of the state Cabinet last night.

Announcing the decisions, information minister Jiten Chowdhury said the Centre had recently issued a directive to all state governments for making marriage registration compulsory in view of the growing number of family feuds and disputes over succession to property. “The registration of marriages will go a long way in solving these problems,” Chowdhury said.

The information minister said the state government had taken a decision earlier to provide a government job to the next of kin of any government employee who dies in harness. But over the years, complaints have piled up that such beneficiaries have been deserting their families. “Many such complaints have come to various departments of the government and the Cabinet passed a decision accordingly,” Chowdhury asserted.

He also expressed concern over the worsening drought in the state, particularly the hilly interior areas where scarcity of water was emerging as a major problem. He asserted that action was being contemplated by the government to provide relief.

   
 

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