Bullet and bad blood
Clean-fuel changeover awaits rules roadmap
Basics for backward wards
Bringing a smile to every sad face
3 gunmen storm clinic in Behala
Fatal mishap, rallies and blockades cripple traffic
Bar on mayor’s pre-poll public appearances
Vacuum cleaner for city streets
Advani’s stand on truce irks Manipur
27 Borok activists lay down arms in Tripura

 
 
BULLET AND BAD BLOOD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 4: 
Thrown out of Budge Budge for terrorising the area, two criminals on Wednesday afternoon decided to settle scores by shooting and seriously injuring the chairman of the CPM-run Budge Budge municipality, Sailendra Ghosh, and his associate, Uttam Ghatak, at New Alipore.

“It was a miraculous escape for the duo,” said police commissioner D.C. Vajpai. “They were lucky to have been rushed to hospital right after the incident.”

According to Ghatak’s statement to the police, the two of them had consulted a lawyer at Alipore court and were returning to Budge Budge at around 11.30 am when they decided to visit a chartered accountant on some official work at his residence in New Alipore’s ‘O’ block.

Just as they were leaving the house after the meeting, two young men appeared from behind a tree and grabbed them. They were then joined by a third man, who pulled out a revolver and started firing at them.

With Ghatak and Ghosh both on the ground, the two other men also started firing at them. Apparently satisfied that they had accomplished their mission, they hurled a couple of bombs at the car and disappeared from the area in a waiting taxi.

Ghosh, who later identified two of the assailants as Haran Giri and Nripen Giri, were shot in the head and neck. Ghatak was luckier. He got away with a wound on his left arm.

Drawn to the spot by the sound of the bombs exploding, a few local youths rushed Ghosh and his associate to SSKM Hospital, where the chairman is reported to be in a critical condition.

“I was waiting near the corner of ‘P’ block when I suddenly heard a massive blast, followed by what seemed to be a series of crackers going off,” said Sanjoy Saha, a witness to the incident. “Then I noticed a white car engulfed in smoke. Panic spread in the area, with residents shutting their doors and windows fearing further attacks.”

Deputy commissioner, detective department, Banibrata Basu, said that a couple of years ago, Haran and Nripen had been driven out of Budge Budge by Ghosh and his associates because of a spurt in their criminal activities. Since then, they had been operating from Chetla but had vowed to take their revenge.

Police sources said that last month, another of Ghosh’s associates, Netai, had been shot at and he, too, had said that the Giri duo had attacked him.

“I have directed the detective department to submit a report on this case at the earliest,” Vajpai said.

“This seems to be the possible motive behind the crime,” Basu said on Wednesday. “But we are exploring all angles to this crime.”

Sources said that the sleuths were also exploring whether political rivalry could have been behind this attack.

“We will question a member of the Budge Budge zonal committee of the CPM to probe the political rivalry angle,” a police officer said. “We have also requested the party to probe the matter.”

Till late on Wednesday, the police had not been able to arrest either of the identified assailants. Deputy commissioner of police (south), Ranjit Pachnanda, said that police teams have been sent even to the districts to locate them. “We are also combing the area,” he said.

   

 
 
CLEAN-FUEL CHANGEOVER AWAITS RULES ROADMAP 
 
 
BY KUNAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, April, 4: 
The introduction of compressed natural gas (CNG) as the fuel of choice for public transport vehicles seems a remote possibility in Calcutta, if only because reserves of the environment-friendly fuel are not close to the city.

Even though the Supreme Court on March 26 declared that all metros should follow Delhi’s example in converting their public transport vehicles to run on CNG, decision-makers in Calcutta may not heed the order. “We have no plan to provide CNG to Calcutta now,” said a senior Indian Oil official. He said CNG conversion was not a very rational or cost-effective proposition for Calcutta.

The nearest natural gas reserves are in the Northeast. The shortest route for transporting CNG through pipelines is through Bangladesh. But the city could reduce its pollution load, which has reached lethal levels, with over 16 per cent of its traffic running on diesel, by converting to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). LPG, like CNG, has a much lower rate of pollutant emission than diesel and petrol.

The ministry of surface transport issued modified motor vehicle rules to the state government in February. But the rules on emission standards, retrofit specifications and safety rules on the use of LPG in vehicles are still awaited. “The safety regulations have been sent to the department of explosives for finalisation,” the official said. The ministry will finalise the specifications of LPG cylinders to be used in vehicles.

A few hundred private vehicles have already converted to LPG, using cooking gas cylinders. Though these cars are run illegally, the public vehicles department has not taken action against them.

“We will act only when the Union ministry sends us the final modified rules,” a public vehicles department officer said. The Union ministry had set the ball rolling for LPG introduction in West Bengal in July 2000. “But conversion to LPG requires adequate refuelling points in the city,” a pollution control board officer said.

   

 
 
BASICS FOR BACKWARD WARDS 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, April, 4: 
They live in densely-populated places of Calcutta ‘proper’, like Picnic Garden, Kasba and Dhakuria. They pay civic taxes almost on par with areas like Ballygunge and Park Street. But the stench of open drains, the shadows of dimly-lit streets and the grime of kutcha roads are a way of life for them.

“The population in these parts has risen steadily, but development has been at a standstill,” says Chhotu Chowdhury, CPM councillor of Ward 67, in Kasba. “Over the past 15 years, added areas like Behala and Jadavpur have developed dramatically, while these ‘core’ city areas have been starved of funds.”

Now, to correct the civic imbalance, mayor Subrata Mukherjee has asked Calcutta Municipal Corporation engineers to prepare a development masterplan. The Rs 25-crore plan will be aimed at improving civic infrastructure in the areas of 10 wards identified as ‘under-developed’. The 10 wards which will benefit from the masterplan are 56, 58, 59, 65, 66, 67, 78, 79, 80 and 95. This mainly covers the eastern flank of Sealdah South section’s railway track, namely Tangra, Topsia, Tiljala, Picnic Garden, Gobra, Chinatown, Dhakuria and Bijoygarh. The masterplan will give priority to construction of metalled roads, laying of underground sewerage pipelines, improving street lighting, boosting water supply and beautification of parks.

“The Corporation is morally bound to provide proper civic facilities in these parts. How long will the people living in these wards continue to suffer for no fault of theirs? After all, the civic revenue earned from these 10 wards adds up to more than that raked in from the 41 wards of Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur,” said Mukherjee. The programme will not only improve life in the earmarked areas, it will also curb the law-and-order problems in these stagnant pockets. “Besides being an eyesore, these under-developed areas are becoming crime dens,” said Mukherjee.

The mayor said he will take up the matter with the CMDA soon to facilitate implementation of the project. Sudhangshu Sil, chairman of the CMDA tender committee, has welcomed the move.

“We are already considering a proposal to set up a reservoir on the Rashbehari connector to improve filtered water supply in the area. And we will definitely support projects to improve civic amenities in these neglected areas,” added Sil.

   

 
 
BRINGING A SMILE TO EVERY SAD FACE 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, April, 4: 
As they walk into Dum Dum station, grinning faces line up to greet them. Women and children of all ages come by to see what the didis and dadas who changed their lives have in store for them today...

The girls and boys of Aditya Academy Secondary School are welcome visitors at Dum Dum Station. For, their efforts have brightened up the busy junction. In its fifth year of operation, the school is instrumental in feeding over 225 mouths in the locality; and its students, in passing on their knowledge to around 20 streetchildren.

All of this, in just two years. “The students approached me because they wanted to take part in the Better Calcutta contest,” explains principal Mira Bhattacharya. “I thought they were too young... But now I know I under-estimated them,” she smiles.

Soon, the whole school, from students to teachers to non-teaching staff, joined hands. The young Academy first started a self-sufficient project, with students contributing Rs 5 a month. The fund was enough to feed 50 children from the platform one meal every Sunday.

Today, they have expanded that to 225 children a week. Bread, bananas, an egg and sweets are doled out to them, using the children’s contributions and the prize money from the Better Calcutta contest.

The students also hold evening classes for the area’s streetchildren. “We began with five kids, but now 10 to 20 students come every day,” says an earnest Shoham, of Class IX. After an evening snack, each of the young students is allotted a teacher. “They are very tiny... we teach them alphabets and numbers, and about their future role in society,” says 14-year-old Dipanwita. “Most of them want to be police inspectors... I think they watch a lot of Hindi films,” she grins. It’s compulsory for students above Class V to teach once a fortnight, adds Bhattacharya.

The kids, almost addicted to “bringing a smile to a sad face”, soon decided it was time to increase their ambit. “We approached the women on the Dum Dum platform about whether they would like to work,” says Sreyasi Ghosh, teacher and project-in-charge. The answer a clear ‘yes’, they ‘adopted’ eight women who now clean sections of the station, despite “constant police harassment”.

Geetu Saha, mother of three, lives on the station with her family. “We were barely scraping through, when we had this offer from the school didi,” she says, baby Sanjoy in her arms. In addition to Rs 200 a month, the women are given rations, soap, detergent and even face creams.

The next step: “We want to start a class for the women as well,” according to enthusiastic Abhro, of Class VIII. Pushpa, who has just finished her daily sweeping rounds, grins widely at the suggestion. “We have always wanted to learn something new, but have never been given the chance...”

   

 
 
3 GUNMEN STORM CLINIC IN BEHALA 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 4: 
In yet another incident of daylight robbery, three armed youth looted a diagnostic centre in Behala on Wednesday afternoon. The goons stormed the crowded Sethi Diagnostic Centre, on Diamond Harbour Road, and fled with Rs 15,000 and a gold chain of the receptionist.

At around 3.15 pm, the medical centre was abustle with a number of patients waiting their turn for pathological tests and to consult physicians. According to Kailash Khandelwal, proprietor of Sethi Diagnostic Centre, a taxi suddenly screeched to a halt in front of the clinic. Three young men, “all in their early 20s”, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, got off the taxi and rushed into the centre.

On entering the waiting room for visitors, the three whipped out revolvers. Jhunu, one of the receptionists, said the goons trained their guns at the patients and barked out instructions. “They shouted at the patients, warning them not to move. One of the Bengali-speaking youth then turned and approached the reception counter,” said Jhunu.

The goon at the counter ordered the two receptionists to call their boss, Kailash Khandelwal. “They referred to the owner by name. At first, we did not respond. But then, they threatened to open fire if we did not comply with their order,” added Jhunu.

Fearing that the goons were capable of carrying out their threat, the other receptionist, Sonali, picked up the intercom-receiver to call Khandelwal. But the youth snatched the receiver and warned her not to use the telephone and call for help. The goons then ordered Sonali to open the cashbox. “I pointed out the drawer that contained the cash... There was no way out.”

With all eyes on the reception, two male employees of the clinic tried to make a move to resist the youth. But the two goons keeping an eye on the patients spotted this.

They trained their revolvers on them and told them not to “act smart”. Then, one of the goons entered the reception area, took out the cash from the drawer, and snatched a gold chain from Sonali’s neck.

The operation over within 10 minutes, the youth walked out of the clinic, brandishing their revolvers and warning bystanders and shopowners not to get in their way. They then boarded the waiting taxi and sped off towards Thakurpukur.

Subir Chatterjee, officer-in-charge of Behala police station, said all thanas in the area have been alerted. But the culprits had not been traced till late on Wednesday night.

   

 
 
FATAL MISHAP, RALLIES AND BLOCKADES CRIPPLE TRAFFIC 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 4: 
Traffic in the city was thrown out of gear on Wednesday after a string of incidents, including a mishap and rallies on the road. Several points in the city, from north to south, were paralysed after groups of people took to the street.

A cart-puller, later identified as Mahendra Prasad Yadav, was knocked down by a private bus on route 234 at around 9.45 am on A.J.C. Bose Road, near Minto Park. Thirty-year-old Yadav, a resident of Ripon Street, was taken to SSKM Hospital, where doctors declared him dead.

As the news of his death spread, residents of the area started thronging Minto Park. Within a couple of minutes, a crowd of more than 500 people had gathered there. The mob began pelting bricks and broken bottles and hit whatever they could strike at with iron rods.

As the driver had escaped with the killer vehicle, the mob smashed cars and demolished four buses, including two state government vehicles and a minibus.

Raj Kanojia, deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, said traffic stood still on the entire stretch of AJC Bose Road as tension escalated in the area.

The mob squatted on the road to protest rash driving and demanded the immediate arrest of the bus-driver. Office-goers and commuters were harassed in the melee. On hearing of the incident, senior police officers rushed to the spot and tried to pacify the crowd.

The blockade was finally lifted around 11 am, after the mob was assured of police support.

Maniktala sit-in: In a separate incident at around the same time, a group of 200 CPM supporters, along with the residents of Maniktala, blocked Maniktala Main Road.

They were protesting the irregular and erratic supply of drinking water in the area. The protesters disrupted traffic on the busy road for well over an hour, refusing to budge until their demands were met.

“The demonstration was politically motivated to a large extent,” said mayor-in-council (water supply) Shobhan Chatterjee. “The Calcutta Municipal Corporation will soon submit a report on the water supply situation in the city,” he added.

Traders protest: Around noon on Wednesday, a large number of businessmen of Burrabazar squatted on Mahatma Gandhi Road, near the Pageya Patti area, to protest the accumulation of sewage water in front of their shops. The demonstration continued for over two hours.

The blockade was lifted after policemen and the civic authorities assured them that their complaint would be taken up for discussion.

Traffic had been disrupted in and around Rajabazar on Tuesday for over two hours after rival political parties clashed over the shifting of a school into a disputed building in the area.

   

 
 
BAR ON MAYOR’S PRE-POLL PUBLIC APPEARANCES 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April, 4: 
State chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen on Wednesday asked mayor Subrata Mukherjee to refrain from attending any public function organised by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) till the poll process is completed.

The mayor was on his way to inaugurate a CMC-run primary school in Rajabazar on Tuesday, but had to return half-way after a clash broke out between rival political groups. The Election Commission has directed Sen to furnish reports on the clash, Sen said.

It was chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who rang up Mukherjee on his cellphone and asked him not to proceed to Rajabazar, as it would add to the tension in the area and make it difficult for the police to restore order. “I had to return as the chief minister called me up and requested me not to go,” said Mukherjee, who is contesting the Assembly elections as a Trinamul Congress candidate.

Authority issue

Sen said that he would refer the matter to the Commission and seek a clarification on the authority of the mayor.

Commissioner of the CMC Debashis Som wrote to Sen, seeking a guideline on the functioning of the city civic body. Som had asked if the CMC could supply water from its new projects to the tax-payers and continue with its street-lighting programme. He had also sought permission to issue tenders for routine maintenance work of the CMC.

Sen said his office had no objection to the supply of drinking water or routine maintenance work carried out by the CMC.

“The CMC may open schools for children, but it should be done without holding any public function. Our objective is to restrain people from spending public money and getting political mileage through such programmes,” Sen said.

   

 
 
VACUUM CLEANER FOR CITY STREETS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 4: 
Calcutta Municipal Corporation is set to import giant mobile vacuum cleaners from England to keep the main thoroughfares free from dust and litter.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said: “We have already earmarked Rs 1.25 crore for the cleaners in the budget.”

Member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), Mala Roy, said two giant vacuum cleaners would be procured initially from Johnston Engineering Limited of England at a cost of more than Rs 50 lakh each. “We plan to deploy them on the streets before the Pujas”, she added.

The civic authorities plan to deploy the machines on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, Shakespeare Sarani, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Park Street and the boulevards of the main thoroughfares where garbage is often dumped.

Chief engineer (conservancy) Arun Sarkar said the 230-HP suction unit of the vehicle was capable of gulping particles weighing up to 500 grams and hence, not only dust but even pebbles could be removed from the road surface.

Each vehicle can sweep 15 km of roads daily in eight hours of operation and is capable of sucking up almost 2,350 kg of dust and litter in a single sortie.

Before sucking up the dust, these vehicles sprinkle water on the road surface and sweep it clean. They move at a speed of 2.25 kmph. Roy said CMC sweepers do not gather litter, which is scattered by birds and the breeze. This is a basic reason for the poor ambient air quality in the city.

According to a pollution control board report, the ambient air quality on the stretch between Howrah bridge approach and Hazra crossing was heavily polluted.

A civic conservancy official said though the vehicles were expensive, they would benefit the CMC in the long run as they would save up to Rs 1.5 crore a year if the services of contractors for sweeping and cleaning the roads was dispensed with.

It is felt that the Trinamul Congress board in the CMC has decided on these vacuum cleaners to compensate for its futile effort in having the city’s roads washed with filtered water.

   

 
 
ADVANI’S STAND ON TRUCE IRKS MANIPUR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, April 4: 
Several political leaders in Manipur have expressed reservations against Union home minister L.K. Advani’s objection to the extension of the unilateral ceasefire with the insurgent groups for another month.

The state government had declared an unilateral ceasefire with all rebel outfits for a month in March. The Cabinet subsequently decided to extend the ceasefire for another month as per the recommendation of an all-party meet. But the Union home ministry’s objection has now led to the resumption of military operations both by the Army and Assam Rifles.

However, the Cabinet is to order the state police department to join the counter-insurgency drive.

Some senior Cabinet ministers in the Koijam ministry have criticised the way the home ministry was interfering in matters of the state.

A Cabinet minister said the the Centre was holding the state to ransom because of the ongoing financial crisis. “For every decision, we are compelled to seek the Centre’s clearance because they will not release fund to the state even if we go against them,’’ the minister said.

These minister said the problem started because of differences between L.K. Advani and George Fernandes. According to him, the unilateral ceasefire was first initiated by Fernandes while he was the defence minister. But he did not take Advani into confidence. The Army first declared a unilateral truce, which was followed up by the Samata Party-led government in the state.

After the exit of Fernandes following the tehelka expose, Advani tried to block further extension of the ceasefire. Even when the Koijam government first announced the ceasefire in the last week of February, the Union home ministry expressed dissatisfaction for not informing them about important decisions. Another Cabinet minister said Fernandes was very serious about the ceasefire because he was more familiar with Manipur than other leaders in New Delhi. If Fernandes continues to remain the defence minister, I think the ceasefire would have been extended as per the state Cabinet decision, he added.

“Why should the state suffer because of the differences between Samata Party and BJP leaders at the Centre. The rivalry between them grounded peace initiatives launched by the state government,” said another minister.

Some senior People’s Front leaders also expressed unhappiness over the way chief minister told mediapersons in New Delhi that the ceasefire “may not” be extended.

“Even if Advani rejected his proposal, Koijam should not have said anything to the Press. His comments have already created lot of embarrassment for the state government”, a senior PF leader said. Advani had apparently told Koijam that it was futile extending the ceasefire as none of the outfits responded positively.

   

 
 
27 BOROK ACTIVISTS LAY DOWN ARMS IN TRIPURA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, April 4: 
Twenty-seven activists of the Borok National Council of Tripura (BNCT), a subsidiary of the banned NLFT, formally laid down arms yesterday in the remote Lalcherra area under Manu police station of Dhalai district.

Police sources said the ceremony was attended by the SDO and SDPO of Longtarai valley subdivision and the officer-in-charge of Manu police station, who had actually persuaded them to lay down the arms.

The militants deposited ten countrymade guns, two countrymade pistols and live cartridges. They would not be given benefits under the package announced by the Union home ministry because their names did not figure in the list of militants maintained by the state government and they did not deposit sophisticated weapons, sources said. “However, pending cases against them will be considered sympathetically,” sources added.

Sources said frustration among militants with “jungle life” was growing. According to the information given by three kidnapped persons, Rabindra Sinha, Soumitra Sarkar and Uttam Basak, rescued by the CRPF on last Monday, most of the militants were planning to surrender to the state police because of factional clashes and rivalry between two banned outfits. Rabindra Sinha (45) said he had heard the militants expressing their frustration.

He told the police and the CRPF personnel that his captors were not bothered about any political plan of insurgency but cared only for money, sources added.

Minister visits district: Rural development minister Jiten Chowdhury has admitted that eight persons, including children have died of enteric and malarial diseases in remote Chhawmanu, Ganganagar and Dumburnagar blocks in Dhalai district. Chowdhury toured these areas extensively following a series of media reports regarding the food crisis and death toll.

The minister told a press-meet yesterday that there was a crisis but the state government was taking action at the grassroots level to tackle the problem.

He said, “I have been informed of eight deaths due to malaria and water-borne diseases,” adding that medical care was being extended to the affected areas. The minister attributed the present crisis to a sharp drop in rainfall and consumption of contaminated water by tribals in the interior areas. “In the first three months, the recorded rainfall was 47 per cent less than what it was in the corresponding period of previous years,’’ he added.

   
 

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