Water war adds to poll heat
Court seal of support for go-slow at Indian Oil
Eight bodies in 10 days, cops without a clue
With nothing but their needles
All in the game
Street war marks cinema strike
Lawyers to boycott Behala cases
Cricket betting syndicate busted
Free coronary grafting for poor
Wary AGP sits on rape report

 
 
WATER WAR ADDS TO POLL HEAT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 12: 
Water wars have broken out between chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and mayor Subrata Mukherjee. With Assembly elections round the corner, the two heavyweight politicos engaged in a slanging match over the supply of filtered water to the city on Thursday.

The chief minister set the ball rolling by claiming that the mayor had, in a one-to-one meeting, admitted that maintaining adequate water supply was beyond his powers as he was surrounded by “goondas and mastaans”. Mukherjee hit back by claiming Bhattacharjee had gone mad.

“Buddhababu has lost his mind. He is behaving like a farmer who has lost his cow,” the mayor said at a public meeting in front of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation on Thursday afternoon.

Bhattacharjee had said in Hooghly on Wednesday that when he had asked the mayor in a meeting why the Calcutta Municipal Corporation could not supply adequate water, Mukherjee had confided: “Amar charpashe shob goonda aar mastaan, bolte paren kake diye jal deabo (How can I ensure adequate supply of water, when I am surrounded by goondas and mastaans)?”

Trinamul insiders said that Bhattacharjee’s remarks about Mukherjee had evoked strong reactions from party leader Mamata Banerjee. She had been looking for the mayor since early Thursday and voiced her displeasure to him over the telephone.

Alerted in time, Mukherjee decided to use the meeting in front of the CMC to lambast Bhattacharjee in Mamata’s presence.

“It is the heat,” said the mayor. “It has affected Buddhababu’s mind. How do I react? I can’t abuse him. All I can say is let Buddhababu retire and be put on a pension,” Mukherjee added.

Mamata, who was on the dais during Mukherjee’s address, was seen trying to suppress her giggles with the pallu of her sari all through Mukherjee’s tirade against Bhattacharjee.

After the meeting, a smiling Mamata also accompanied Mukherjee for the first time to the mayor’s chamber for a cup of tea.

Mukherjee said the 20-million-gallon-capacity water treatment plant at Palta was set up by the state government.

It was agreed mutually that the CMC would supply 10 million gallons daily to the Salt Lake and South Dum Dum municipalities. “How can we continue this? The water is being treated at the expense of the tax-payer. So, why should we give filtered water to Salt Lake?” Mukherjee asked.

However, close associates said Mukherjee was quite perturbed on Thursday morning when he heard that Bhattacharjee had quoted him as describing the mayor’s council as teeming with “goondas and mastaans”.

“Am I crazy that I will speak in such a manner about my party colleagues and that too, in front of the chief minister? Actually, the CPM leaders have lost their cool because they have realised that Trinamul will win the elections and Mamata will be the next chief minister,” Mukherjee is supposed to have told his associates.

   

 
 
COURT SEAL OF SUPPORT FOR GO-SLOW AT INDIAN OIL 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, April 12: 
The Citu go-slow, that has hit Indian Oil Company installations in the city, found support from a surprise quarter — Calcutta High Court. Justice Barin Ghosh on Thursday observed that the Citu go-slow demanding implementation of a revised pay-scale was justified.

He dismissed the IOC’s petition that the agitation by the Citu-affiliated Indian Oil Corporation Shramik Union was illegal. Justice Ghosh added that the company’s claim of the agitation affecting supply of petroleum products was not in accordance with the law.

Anindya Mitra, appearing on behalf of IOC, said: “Only Citu men are preventing the company from supplying petro-products and LPG gas in the city and other parts of the state.” But Citu lawyer Bikash Bhattacharya drew attention to the fact that “IOC employees were being paid salaries in accordance with the revised pay-scale throughout the country, except in the eastern region, where the Intuc had refused to accept the new scale”. He argued that under the Industrial Disputes Act, the Citu employees’ demand was “most legitimate”.

Loading of petrol, diesel and kerosene at the IOC installations at Mourigram, Budge Budge, Siliguri and Rajbandh, and bottling of LPG cylinders at the company’s Kalyani and Durgapur plants, have ground to a halt since April 2. This has left Calcutta staring a cooking gas crisis in the face, warned IOC officials on Thursday. The company supplies 36,000 LPG cylinders to Calcutta, and 54,000 cylinders to the districts every day.

“The backlog is mounting by the hour. We are trying to rush cylinders from Visakhapatnam and Varanasi. We are also trying to work out an arrangement with Hindustan Petroleum,” said N.K. Moitra, IOC general manager, West Bengal. The Citu-led union, which is ‘unrecognised’, is demanding immediate implementation of the all-India long-term agreement on wages and other employees’ demands, signed between the management and 20 unions in January this year. The ‘recognised’ Intuc-led employees’ union has, however, rejected the revised structure.

Representatives of the West Bengal Petroleum Dealers’ Association met IOC general manager Moitra on Wednesday and requested him to arrange for supply of petrol, diesel and kerosene to the state as soon as possible. “The IOC authorities have requested us to bear with them for a few more days. We will meet them again on Monday if the situation does not improve by then,” said Joydeb Sarkar, general secretary of the association.

   

 
 
EIGHT BODIES IN 10 DAYS, COPS WITHOUT A CLUE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 12: 
The body count is rising, and so is the anxiety. Hours after yet another man was found dead, under mysterious circumstances, city police chief D.C. Vajpai sounded an alert at a high-level meeting in Lalbazar on Thursday. He instructed the force to “intensify night patrolling” as the bodies were invariably being dumped on the streets under cover of darkness.

Patit Paban Das, a 25-year-old Group D employee of Calcutta University, was found dead at Ultadanga late on Wednesday. Three young men, on their way back home from a local club, noticed the body near the Dakshindari railway quarters in the Ultadanga police station area.

According to the detective department, this is fifth incident in the past 10 days that has left the cops clueless. On April 5, four teenagers were found dead on Strand Road. On April 7, Sujit Mondol, 20, was shot and knifed to death in Aswini Dutta Lane. On April 9, the victim was Mohammed Salem, near Dum Dum airport, and two days later Mohammed Shahnawaz’s body was found on Canal East Road.

Preliminary investigations into the Ultadanga case revealed that Das, a resident of Lake Gardens, had been visiting his cousin, a railway employee living in the Dakshindari quarters, on Wednesday afternoon. Das, apparently, left the quarters around 10.45 pm to head back home. His body was found, some 300 yards away, 15 minutes later.

“I have no idea how Das died,” admitted Raghabendra Banerjee, officer-in-charge of Ultadanga police station.

Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Banibrata Basu, said his department had started a probe.

“There were no external injury marks on the body, neither was there any sign of struggle... But the possibility of murder cannot be ruled out,” added Basu, expressing concern over the growing incidents of violence, without any apparent motive, in the city.

   

 
 
WITH NOTHING BUT THEIR NEEDLES 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, April 12: 
A splash of colour greets one’s eye as one enters Genesis Gallery on Middleton Street. Salwar-kameez sets, cushion covers and linen, brightly printed or intricately embroidered, are on display. Elegantly-dressed women go into a tizzy for Governor Viren J. Shah is about to arrive on Thursday afternoon.

Amidst the flurry of activity, two women, who stand out by virtue of their work-a-day clothes and rustic air, sit quietly in a corner, tirelessly embroidering pieces of cloth with traditional motifs like parrots, flowers and abstract designs.

Both the women are from Gujarat, devastated both by the recent earthquake and the drought the state has suffered for the past two years. The exhibition-cum-sale organised by the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) exhibits their exquisite work with a view to assisting the craftspeople who have been badly hit by the earthquake. Sixty-five per cent of the sales proceeds of SEWA, whose main goal is to organise women workers for full employment and self-reliance, goes directly to the quake victims.

Surtani Ben, a Rabari, leads the team of craftspersons in her village. She looks dignified in black ghaghra-choli and veil.

Like the people of that arid region, she has an aquiline nose and a deeply furrowed face. She is 45, but looks 55. From Zunagia village, near Lakhpat in Kutch, she says all the 70 huts in her hamlet have either been reduced to rubble or have developed huge cracks. Fortunately, nobody was killed there. So now her nine-member family is compelled to live outdoors in tents. She has received no help from the government, but SEWA provides her with rations. She owns livestock but says she feels sorry for her seven cows, because there is never enough to eat.

Like Surtani Ben, Mengu Ben Karsan Bhai earns between Rs 50 and Rs 60 a day. But widowed at 22 and with more mouths to feed, she looks forlorn. She supplements her income by working as a maid in some households.

She too is 45, but thin and wiry and with not a single strand of black on her head, she could easily pass off for 60 or even more. She remembers that she had gone to fetch water, a scarce commodity, when the quake struck Radhanpur village, in Banaskantha district. Her hut does not stand any longer, and she has nothing but her needle, or ari as she calls it, to depend on.

   

 
 
ALL IN THE GAME 
 
 
BY VICTOR BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, April 12: 
The great thing about being an actor, politician, contractor or cricketer is you need absolutely no educational qualifications to make it big. And when you do, you have people hero-worshipping your suryavanshi butt and adding pompous sobriquets to yesterday’s anonymity.

We love cricket. Anyone who tells you that the game’s patronage in India comes from mass unemployment, the pursuit of a sport where skills are dependent on fate and the results are determined by gentlemanly backroom deals, will be lying. I realised just how much the world thinks cricket means to us when the funeral service of the great Don Bradman was telecast live in Australia , India and Pakistan.

Unseen requiem

I watched it only because Bradman was a genius on whose skills the world is still cashing in. I asked all my friends who live and die cricket year after year what they thought of the service and was astonished to find that not a single person I asked had bothered to watch the programme. In a country where St Xavier turned in his sarcophagus to watch the corruption of his flock at the hands of blackmarketeers of cricket, I truly wonder how many people tuned in to the Don’s requiem mass. All that the Don did here was inspire punters and thousands of snotty-nosed kids in expensive designer gear, afraid of any contact sports where they might bruise a shin, to take up a game that has evolved from the body-line specimen to the pocket-book species of today.

Now, to the gallery of unknowns.

The likes of Leslie Claudius, Sailen Manna, Keshav Dutt, P.K. Banerjee and Gurbux Singh, followed by 200 schoolchildren march along Red Road’s melting tar in the noonday sun pleading to the world for just one astro turf to play hockey on. There is no tension in the air. No red banners swirling over the heads of menacing scar-faces who will tear up or burn anything that stands in the way of social and economic regress. A solitary police inspector on a mobile, with not a single constable as back-up, calmly and crisply communicates with Lalbazar to dispel any fears of violence with hockey sticks.

Someone was looking around for the sun-blocking white paste that looks so sportsmachogenic on skins that hardly burn, on faces with genetic tans. The poor darlings of the cricketing world have to fight boredom in the blaze of the tropical sun between drinks and lunch and tea breaks.

There was none. To save the situation, Gurbux pulled out cartons of sports caps that had been given to him by what you may call the sponsors of the parade – SERVO, although Indian Oil was in fact commemorating the finals of the 106th Beighton Cup Hockey Tournament. There were enough caps to shield all the bald pates and grey hairs around.

Stars & smiles

Claudius, with a record number of gold medals, drove up on a scooter that was sputtering on reserve. Manna walked out of nowhere in the safari suit he saves for special occasions. PK was holding forth on Asian football after India’s superb win over the UAE. Subrata Bhattacharya was mulling over the fixture that would pit India’s greatest rivals MB and EB against each other the following day. Gurbux flitted from one star to another and energised everyone’s hormones to smile for the cameras and begin the march of protest and appeal. All said and done, there were more sporting greats in 10 square feet than will ever assemble again.

There were no cheers for these all-time greats. Aged from the mid-50s to those pushing 80, you could tell from their strides that these were forces to reckon with in their time. No one wore Versace or Dalmia shades to screen their eyes from the sun. No cheeks or lips glazed with unguent. No designer labels adorned breasts and sleeves. No one cared for the few who silently cried for the survival of a game that has brought more international laurels to India, than any other.

The trouble with the Milkha Singhs, Padukones, Wilsons, Ferreiras, Viswanathan Anands, Gopichands and Claudiuses of India is they just don’t have the style that makes Bollywood’s actresses swoon and sets politicians fighting to be on governing bodies that will let them travel from the calypsos and sambas of Trinidad to the meadows and mountains of New Zealand.

Charisma counts

These old stars, and the young boys and girls playing chess, badminton, tennis, hockey and football today, have either too much brain or too much brawn or too much agility. The laid-back charisma of being an estrogenic cricketer is beyond their testosteronic comprehension.

None of the people I worshipped and admired can boast of a life-time rail pass or a lakh in the bank or, for most, even a Padmashri. Being world champions doesn’t qualify any of them as Bharat Ratnas; they simply must improve and do better. In time, it is their physiotherapists and orthopaedic surgeons who fix their shattered knee-caps and give them hip replacements who will be recognised and decorated by our geriatric leadership.

Sadly, my childhood heroes shall all go unsung and unrewarded to their graves. I salute them.

   

 
 
STREET WAR MARKS CINEMA STRIKE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 12: 
The state-wide cinema hall strike turned violent on Thursday, with offices of distributors being ransacked and employees clashing with hall-owners on the street.

Cinema hall employees and workers had brought out separate processions along Central Avenue and Esplanade in the afternoon. Things came to a head when the two rallies met at Esplanade. Both groups started hurling abuses at each other and the police had to intervene to prevent further violence.

In the course of the day, various distribution offices in the city were ransacked by members of Bengal Motion Pictures Employees’ Union, the hall employees’ forum. Offices of distributors Sethi Films, Shiva International and Sinjini Arts, all on Dharmatala Street, were under attack. Prints of a Hindi release were destroyed at Paradise cinema.

Thursday’s flurry of incidents follows the earlier evening’s ransacking of the office of Shri Venkatesh Films on Waterloo Street by staff union members.

“We have received numerous reports from across the state of union members physically forcing halls to down shutters,” said Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA) official Bimal Bhalotia, adding that those who had refused to give in were “threatened with dire consequences”.

Nearly 700 cinemas have downed shutters since March 23 in the state in response to a strike call by the employees’ union, demanding a pay hike.

The hall-owners claim they cannot effect a hike unless the government grants them some relief. The latest round of tripartite talks among representatives of employees and hall-owners and labour minister Shanti Ghatak fell through on Wednesday. “We plan to take out a procession of distributors, movie stars and directors on Monday and submit a memorandum to the chief minister,” said association representative Pulak Mukherjee, against “the unwarranted harassment by the union”.

   

 
 
LAWYERS TO BOYCOTT BEHALA CASES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 12: 
Bowing to pressure from the people and a section of lawyers in the sub-judicial magistrate’s court, the Alipore district bar association has decided to withdraw its ceasework call from Friday.

However, the lawyers will not entertain any case from Behala police station until inspector in-charge Subir Chatterjee tenders an apology in court for his “misbehaviour and derogatory remarks against lawyers”, said Baiswanor Chattopadhyay, assistant secretary of the district bar association.

Two lawyers have filed an affidavit in court against Behala thana’s inspector in-charge. The court had summoned him to appear before it on Tuesday. But Chatterjee filed a counter-petition expressing his inability to attend court because of his preoccupation with the poll process.

The court then ordered him to attend after the Assembly election. Unhappy over the order, lawyers started boycotting court from Wednesday, demand that Chatterjee be ordered to appear in court immediately.

On the second day of the ceasework on Thursday, about 50 men and women had to be thrown into jail as the lawyers refused to move bail petitions in court for their release.

A section of them even prevented the accused, brought from 22 police stations to the court lock-up, from using the toilet or getting off the police vans.

In a sizzling summer day, the accused were made to sit in the vans all the day. There were some women with babies in their laps.

Sub-judicial district magistrate, Alipore, Suranjan Kundu, came to the vans several times to apologise for the inconvenience caused to the accused.

   

 
 
CRICKET BETTING SYNDICATE BUSTED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 12: 
An on-line cricket betting syndicate was busted and six persons, including the kingpin, Basant Durjari, arrested from a North 24-Parganas apartment on Thursday. Sleuths recovered 700 dirhams, some US dollars and Rs 1,00,000. Laptop computers, 20 cellular phones, 12 television sets and other sophisticated gadgets were also seized.

According to inspector-general of police, south Bengal, Ranjit Mohanty, Durjari is an associate of bookie Mohan Sharma, who was arrested by the CBI for match-fixing. Police said the men were accepting bets on the on-going New Zealand-Pakistan match at Sharjah.

Acting on a tip-off, Mohanty led a team of detectives, who raided a third-floor apartment in North Plaza, at Baguiati. Durjari and six men were using the laptop, which was connected on-line. They had booking slips and some were on the phone jotting down numbers. Mohanty said bets were being placed by people from Mumbai, Chennai, Dhaka, Bangalore and other places. Investigations revealed that the apartment was tented for the duration of the Sharjah tournament.

   

 
 
FREE CORONARY GRAFTING FOR POOR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 12: 
Continuing with its “humanitarian services to the under-privileged people of West Bengal”, Dr Devi Shetty’s new state-of-the-art cardiac hospital in Bangalore, Narayana Hrudayalaya, will perform coronary artery bypass grafting operations on 20 breadwinners of the family, free of cost.

“The patients must be residents of Bengal and either breadwinners of the family or mothers of young children. Besides, they must come from extremely poor families,” Dr Shetty said in a faxed message on Thursday. The preliminary clinical tests will be done at the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences, on the E.M. Bypass.

After treating patients in Bangalore at the Manipal Heart Foundation for four years, Dr Shetty has now moved to Narayana Hrudayalaya, a heart hospital and research institute close to the Electronic City. The first phase of the hospital will be commissioned soon, with 280 beds and infrastructure to perform 25 heart operations a day. Poor patients eligible for the bypass grafting can call Ms Anuradha Johri at the Tagore Institute, Calcutta, at 4267400 or fax their appeal at 4264204.

   

 
 
WARY AGP SITS ON RAPE REPORT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, April 12: 
Apprehensive of losing face before the elections, the Asom Gana Parishad-led government is sitting on a police report which says there is “conclusive evidence” of senior minister Rajendra Mushahari raping an 18-year-old tribal girl last year.

The report was prepared by the Kokrajhar superintendent of police and submitted to the additional director-general of police (criminal investigation department) in November.

The SP, who has since been replaced, named Mushahari as the “prime accused” in the case and sought permission from the state government to arrest him. He said a DNA test, which the minister had volunteered to undergo, was not necessary immediately.

“DNA profiling of the child (born to the victim) is not considered necessary at the moment. It may follow subsequently in the event of a paternity suit or case of disputed parentage filed by the aggrieved party,” the police official said. The minister for welfare of plains tribes and backward classes stands accused of raping Monila Brahma twice in February and March last year in Hotel Santiban at Barovisha in neighbouring West Bengal. His accomplices allegedly lured Monila to the hotel.

It was not until six months later that Monila’s mother filed an FIR (124/2000) at the Gossaigaon police station. The victim gave birth to a boy in October. The National Human Rights Commission said recently that Mushahari had no right to remain in the Mahanta Cabinet after being named as the “prime accused” in a rape case. It said his continuance in office “not only runs counter to the rudiments of the rule of law, but also gives the impression of likely interference in the process of investigation and prosecution”.

Replying to the rights panel’s notice, the state government said it would “consider” initiating steps against the minister only after the process of investigation, including DNA profiling, was completed.

In their report to the additional DIG, Kokrajhar police urged the former to convince the state government about the need to arrest Mushahari and complete the chargesheet.

The police said the minister had confessed to his crime before Maneswari Brahma, Monila’s mother, at the Gossaigaon Circuit House. He tried to hush up the matter by offering Rs 25,000 to the victim to undergo an abortion, they said.

The police corroborated the victim’s allegation that she was lured to a hotel, where she was forced to consume alcohol and raped.

   
 

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