Pack-up sign for post offices
10,000 new Madhyamik examiners for timely results
Cops get Liluah home ‘terror’ on fourth try
In time of need, they found friends in deed
Traders up in arms over construction
Passengers thrash duo for dacoity bid on bus
Poll panel to rope in amateur radiomen
Majuli unit of BJP quits
Manipur minister to secure Leo’s release
Beels run dry in Kaziranga

 
 
PACK-UP SIGN FOR POST OFFICES 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April, 20: 
Wanted: Several houses, on prime locations

Requirement: One big hall, and many small rooms

Applicant: Post-master general, Calcutta circle

Raghav Lal, post-master general, Calcutta circle, is out house-hunting. Landlords in prime spots of the city have suddenly woken up to the fact that it really doesn’ t pay to house a post-office any more. And so, several post offices in central Calcutta have been told to shift out of the rented premises they occupy.

There are 274 post offices in city, of which 244 are housed in rented private buildings. “This practice is prevalent everywhere in the country, since post offices have to be located in prime locations,” said Lal. But owners of several private buildings at Esplanade, B.B.D. Bag, Middleton Street, Strand Road and Prinsep Street, have served notices on the department demanding that the post offices be shifted from these locations at the earliest.

“We cannot shift post offices overnight since it is extremely difficult to get a prime plot elsewhere,” complained Lal. “So, a committee has been constituted to examine and then revise the existing rent structure, in accordance with the present market rates.” The monthly rent varies, quite dramatically. So, while the post office on Chittaranjan Avenue pays Rs 34,207 a month, the Elliot Road post office coughs up a meagre Rs 300 a month.

Sunil Kumar Sen, senior superintendent of postal services, central division, said at least 22 post offices are located in private buildings in the BBD Bag-Esplanade belt. “Landlords have been hounding us to vacate, so that they can rent out the premises at more lucrative rates. We are helpless,” said Sen.

The Great Eastern Hotel post office has been asked to move out by next month. “We were shocked to receive the eviction notice... We are desperately trying to locate a suitable space in the area,” Sen said. Established in the early 1930s, the then managing director of the hotel, O. Josephson, had allotted it a rent-free accommodation on the ground floor, measuring 140 sq ft, provided the postal department paid the electricity bills for the office.

“I really don’t know where we’ll go... We have such a loyal clientele and we all feel the post office added to the prestige of the hotel,” said postmaster Ratan Deb. Hotel member-secretary Uday Chand Sen claimed the eviction notice had been prompted by the “renovation work” scheduled to start from July. But a section of hotel employees has resented the move to shift out the “age-old” post office. “It has been part of the hotel’s heritage and we don’t want to see it go,” said Pijush Roy Chowdhury, a member of the Citu-affiliated hotel union.

   

 
 
10,000 NEW MADHYAMIK EXAMINERS FOR TIMELY RESULTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 20: 
The Madhyamik board has finally taken a step to try and speed up the evaluation process and bring out results on time. Another 10,000 examiners have been appointed to avoid delay in publication of results, especially in the wake of the forthcoming Assembly polls. Secondary school-teachers, who form the bulk of the polling personnel, have all been asked to complete evaluation of scripts and submit the marks to the Board before joining election duty.

Arun Kiran Chakraborty, president, West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, said 19,000 examiners are currently engaged in evaluating more than 4.5 million answerscripts, so that the results can be published in June. Nearly 600,000 examinees sat for the Madhyamik examination this February. Last year, there were 9,000 examiners.

“The evaluation process has definitely been faster this year, with more than 50 per cent of the scripts having already been examined. Marks of these students have arrived at the Board office in Calcutta,” Chakraborty said. “Nearly all examiners are expected to complete their evaluation before the elections,” he added.

According to Chakraborty, the system of increasing the number of examiners would be retained in the years to come. “This has proved effective, with each examiner having to deal with fewer scripts,” explained Chakraborty.

Responding to the great demand for ‘model answers’ among students, Chakraborty announced the Board’s decision to slash the price of Parshad Barta, comprising answerscripts of some of the toppers, by 10 per cent. The Board’s authorised booksellers will sell the journal for Rs 18 per copy, instead of Rs 20. The ‘test’ for external candidates for Madhyamik 2002 will commence on May 16.

   

 
 
COPS GET LILUAH HOME ‘TERROR’ ON FOURTH TRY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 20: 
It finally took the police four tries to succeed. After being fobbed off repeatedly by Liluah home inmate Monalisa, the cops managed to enter the home for destitute women on Friday afternoon and arrest her.

Monalisa has been accused of “sexually torturing” two fellow-inmates. The two teenaged girls had, in fact, attempted suicide a few weeks ago, after being driven to the brink by sustained torture by Monalisa and members of her gang.

Ever since, Monalisa had been thwarting attempts by the police to get her, after magistrates ordered that she before produced before them.

At around 11 am on Friday, six policemen from Bally police station and the state armed police went to the home. Unlike on their previous visits, when they had found all the gates of the home locked up by Monalisa, this time they did not meet with any resistance. Rather, they were surprised to find her roaming on the grounds with her companions.

On seeing the policemen, Monalisa rushed into her cell and shut herself in. The cops asked her to come out. When she did not respond, the superintendent of the home, Reba Das, along with some others, took on the task of persuading her to hand herself over to the police.

They told her she had nothing to worry about and all that was required was that she accompany the police to the magistrate’s court and answer a few questions she would be asked. After that, Das assured her, she would be brought back to the home and her companions.

It was on this assurance that Monalisa “surrendered” to the police. She was taken straightaway to court. All the while, she was silent. In court, the sub-divisional judicial magistrate was informed of the charges against her. He asked to police to arrest her and remand her in judicial custody for seven days.

According to a report prepared by the Howrah district administration, Monalisa used to regularly indulge in “physical and sexual torture” of the Liluah home inmates and had so terrorised them that they were even scared of complaining against her to the home authorities.

It was only when the two inmates attempted suicide did the authorities wake up to the goings-on inside the home.

   

 
 
IN TIME OF NEED, THEY FOUND FRIENDS IN DEED 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, April, 20: 
“They saved her life.” Neville Thomas is open in his gratitude towards the people of Calcutta. For the people of this city, strangers only a fortnight ago, rallied around him in his hour of need, as he sat by his life partner’s bedside in Belle Vue Clinic. Frances Duke, flying from London to Sydney, suffered a stroke on the Singapore Airlines flight, which was then forced to land in Calcutta. On Saturday, she will fly back to England, after a “miraculous” recovery. “There are a few unsung heroes on this trip,” says Neville, eyes sad but smiling.

Frances was on her way back home from a long stay in England, where she was born. All went according to schedule, until early morning, April 3. Near Calcutta, an airhostess realised that Frances was in the bathroom longer than usual. When she didn’t respond, flight attendants opened the door, to find the 53-year-old unconscious. An emergency landing at Calcutta airport was immediately arranged. Airline groundstaff and officials then took over, rushing Frances to Belle Vue Clinic, where she was admitted to the critical care unit, still in a coma.

Her family was alerted by the British High Commission. Frances’ daughter Zoe and Neville flew in from Sydney, and son Alex, from London, reached Calcutta within 24 hours, but only because the Indian embassies in London and Sydney opened late in the evening to help the family reach Frances. “The Indian people abroad opened their hearts to us, and the people of Calcutta did the same here,” feels the 53-year-old architect. Once they had seen Frances, they realised they had nowhere to stay in a city they’d never been to before. “Airline officials came by to see how Frances was doing, when we told them we had no where to go. They then brought us across to Hotel Hindustan International.”

The stroke had affected Frances’ right side; she was unable to construct sentences or fully move. But she’s made rapid progress since. “The other day, she just swung out of bed and stood up,” demonstrates 28-year-old Alex, jumping out of his chair.

Dr Roger Bishop, consultant for Heathrow Air Ambulance, flew down last Wednesday to help the family out. “She will need to go through extensive physical and speech therapy, but otherwise she is making a very good recovery,” he nods, impressed with the quality of medical care.

“First, I would like to thank the people of Calcutta,” smiles Neville. “Mohammad Rafi and his colleagues at Singapore Airlines; Della at the British High Commission; Deep, Kaushik and Jerry of HHI; doctors Kole and Datt and matron Raychaudhuri from the Clinic, and everyone else... The help and concern have lifted a huge weight off our shoulders... Thank you...”

   

 
 
TRADERS UP IN ARMS OVER CONSTRUCTION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 20: 
Trouble is brewing at Bhikhanchand Market, on Old China Bazar Street, over illegal construction being carried out by a local muscleman. Members of Bhikhanchand Market Traders and Tenants Association have lodged a complaint with the state government and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. The building is old and the association fears that fresh construction may damage the structure.

The tenants alleged that on the night of April 14, Ghanashyamdas Kankani charged into the building with masons and 15 armed men. He claimed to be the owner of the structure and started work on an unauthorised encroachment into the ground floor toilet. M.K. Ghosh, secretary of the association, said the market security guards had tried to block their entry. But Kankani’s men beat them up.

As it was late at night, most tenants were not around. The securitymen were rescued by residents of the building, who rushed down from the third floor on hearing the commotion. A force from Hare Street police station soon reached the spot to arrest Kankani. Sensing trouble, he flung his revolver into the corner of a room. It was later recovered.

However, two residents of the building were also put behind bars when they went to the police station along with Kankani. The court released them the next day, along with Kankani.

Ghosh alleged that Kankani had illegally added two floors to the building, which in the CMC records was stated to be four-storeyed. Earlier in 1992, the association had filed a complaint against Kankani for threatening the tenants, but he went scot-free.

Zulfikar Hassan, deputy commissioner of police, central, said the police were probing the case.

   

 
 
PASSENGERS THRASH DUO FOR DACOITY BID ON BUS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 20: 
Two young men were thrashed for trying to rob a passenger of his money on a private bus on route SD 19 at Thakurpukur on Friday. The duo was identified as Sheikh Jahangir and Shivprasad Kayal.

Police said that four youth, all armed, boarded the bus at Esplanade. They were trailing a passenger who was carrying a large sum of money.

By the time the bus reached Taratala, their behaviour aroused the suspicion of the other passengers. This alerted the youth, who attempted to flee after getting off the bus at Thakurpukur bazaar.

But the passengers and bystanders got together, caught two of them and beat them severely. The police were informed and arrived to rescue the youth. They were admitted to a local hospital in a critical condition.

Officer-in-charge of Thakurpukur police station Kalyan Moitra said: “Both Jahangir and Kayal could have been lynched if we had not reached the spot in time. We are interrogating them and hope to arrest their associates, who escaped in the melee. Both youth were wanted in a number of cases and are drug addicts.”

   

 
 
POLL PANEL TO ROPE IN AMATEUR RADIOMEN 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April, 20: 
The state election commission will take the help of amateur radio (ham) operators to maintain communication between Calcutta and some districts during the polls. Chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen said on Thursday he would get in touch with the ham operators in the city soon.

Long-distance telephone communication being unpredictable, Sen wants to leave nothing to chance, especially on the days of the polling and counting of votes. “Satellite phones are not available and amateur radio seems to be a possible alternative,” he pointed out.

Bankura is one of the districts that have been earmarked as sensitive. With a common boundary with Bihar, Bankura has seen a spurt in violence by Naxalite outfits like the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre. Sen said the telephone link with Bankura was unpredictable. “With a radio set, I will have an open channel with my Bankura returning officer,” Sen hoped.

Senior member of the Calcutta VHF Amateur Radio Society Indranil Majumdar said he would be glad to be of assistance. “Usually, we hams keep out of politics, but I understand that our help is needed for administrative purposes,” Majumdar said. He has yet to receive a call from Sen.

Ham operators from Calcutta played a major role in keeping up a link between strategic points during the 1998 Orissa supercyclone. There are about 100 ham operators in the city.

Maintaining links between the CEO’s office and the districts is high on the election commission’s priority. During the meeting with the state administration and the police, too, the CEO had stressed on this.

The state police has begun procuring mobile phone sets, for use of senior officers during and after polling. The state police directorate has already procured about 25 cellular phone sets.

Sen said a Trinamul Congress delegation, led by Pankaj Banerjee, met him to complain about the CPM’s threats to the party’s Jorasanko candidate, Satyanarayan Bajaj. Sen said he has asked the police to ensure that Bajaj could campaign peacefully.

Sen also talked to Trinamul candidate Sobhandev Chattopadhyay about complaints of his going to file his nomination with a large number of people, in contravention of poll panel directives. “Chattopadhyay told me that people had gathered to see actor Tapas Pal. Some of them followed him inside. I have asked him to ensure that such incidents are not repeated,” Sen said.

The chief electoral officer will also ask the CPM to wipe off graffiti from walls in Tollygunge that were “personal attacks” on Pankaj Banerjee. Banerjee has shown Sen photographs of the “offensive” graffiti.

   

 
 
MAJULI UNIT OF BJP QUITS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Jorhat, April 20: 
The Majuli unit of the BJP was “disbanded” yesterday with almost the entire leadership of the unit resigning en masse in protest against the party’s tie-up with the AGP.

The “disbanded” committee of the saffron party has decided to field former minister Padmeswar Doley as an independent candidate against Durgeswar Doley, the official nominee of the AGP-BJP alliance. Padmeswar Doley will file his nomination papers on Monday, a party functionary said.

He said the decision to field Doley was taken at a meeting in Kamalabari in the river island yesterday.

However, Majuli unit president Putul Mahanta stayed away from the meeting. Sources said Mahanta was not opposed to the AGP-BJP alliance.

The Jorhat district unit had earlier set a 72-hour deadline to the party top brass to withdraw from the alliance. They threatened to field independent candidates if the party did not pull out of alliance with the AGP.

However, the district unit has not taken any step as yet though the deadline has expired. “We will soon take a decision on our course of action,” said an office bearer of the party.

In another related development, nearly 2,000 BJP workers in Tezpur have expressed their displeasure to the party leadership for giving the prestigious seat to the AGP.

The office bearers of various mandal committees, youth wings and mahila morchas met at Majbat in the town yesterday. They demanded that former minister Bijit Saikia be made the official candidate of the AGP-BJP alliance to prevent the Congress from winning the seat.

The agitated BJP workers said if the Tezpur seat cannot be given to the party by the AGP, then Saikia should be pitted in a “friendly contest” against AGP candidate and sitting legislator Brindabon Goswami.

The workers warned the BJP top brass that if Saikia was not allowed to contest from Tezpur constituency then it may have a “disastrous impact” on the party.

It was decided that the demand should be formally placed before state BJP president Rajen Gohain and the party’s central observer for Assam, Sunil Shastri.

The BJP has named candidates for 42 of the 44 seats to be contested by the party. In seven of these 42 seats the party will have “friendly contests” with the AGP.

   

 
 
MANIPUR MINISTER TO SECURE LEO’S RELEASE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, April 20: 
Tribal welfare minister Haokholet Kipgen has rushed to Keithelmanbi to secure the release of United Naga Council president K.S. Paul Leo, who was abducted by the Kuki National Front (Military Council) last Tuesday.

Kipgen, a Kuki, has been appointed by chief minister Radhabinod Koijam to diffuse the crisis over Leo’s abduction.

Hopes for an early release of Leo emerged with the abductors toning down their demand of a complete halt in Nationalist Social Council of Nagalim’s (Isak-Muivah) support to the Kuki Revolutionary Army, a rival outfit.

Buckling under public pressure, the KNF(MC) has now demanded that the NSCN(I-M) clarify on its support to the KRA.

Tension between Nagas and Kukis in all the five hill districts of Manipur continued for the fourth day today, particularly in the Naga-dominated areas of Senapati district. Senapati has always been a theatre of Naga-Kuki ethnic conflict. The Kangpokpi sub-division is dominated by the Kukis.

Organisations belonging to the major community — the Meiteis — are also exerting pressures on the Kuki outfit to release Leo unharmed. As there is a clear possibility of a communal flare-up if Leo is harmed, people from all sections of the state have demanded his release.

Over 2,000 people have died so far in Naga-Kuki clashes since 1992. Naga leaders today established contact with the NSCN (I-M) over Leo’s abduction.

Sources said that though the Naga rebel outfit had not given any commitment, Naga organisations, particularly the UNC and the All-Naga Students’ Association of Manipur, have put pressure for Leo’s release.

They have conveyed to the NSCN(I-M) the abductor’s demand “not to interfere in the internal clash of the Kukis.”

Sources from Senapati district said that Naga organisations may call an agitation if the UNC president is not released.

Security forces are heavily deployed in Keithelmanbi area of Kangpokpi sub-division.

Two companies of India Reserve Battalion were deployed in the area to prevent any communal flare-up.

Sources said that they knew about the presence of many militant outfits in the area but were applying restrained to facilitate Leo’s release.

The abduction of Leo is a fall-out of the killing of seven Kuki villagers at Awang Keithelmanbi village on April 12 by a combined team of NSCN (I-M) and KRA. Since then, there have been frequent clashes between KNF(MC) and the joint team of KRA-NSCN (I-M) in the area.

Reports said four militants had been killed in the factional armed clashes. Sources said the KNF (MC) now wanted the NSCN (I-M) and KRA to move out of Kangpokpi sub-division.

   

 
 
BEELS RUN DRY IN KAZIRANGA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Jorhat, April 20: 
The influence of the Brahmaputra on the Kaziranga National Park is all-pervading. Apart from inundating the park during the monsoon, the river spells misery for wildlife by spewing loads of sand during the dry season.

Siltation due to recurrence of floods has made the ecologically-sensitive beels (natural water reserves) inside the park shallow.

This has threatened big animals like elephants and rhinos, who often wallow in the beels, especially to cool off in summer.

The beels are also the main source of drinking water for the animals.

“Siltation from the Brahmaputra is affecting wildlife here,” a park official told The Telegraph.

The 430 sq km park, the oldest in Assam, is home to the one-horned rhino, besides a large population of Asiatic elephant, Indian bison, several species of deer, Hoolock Gibbon and birds among others.

There are reports of animals deserting the park in search of beels, especially during the dry season. Several such beels have dried up. Some beels are known to house the unique stagnant-water dolphin. “Nowhere else in the world can you find the stagnant-water dolphin,” the official said. Stagnant-water dolphins have even started to breed at the Mihi beel, he said.

Even migratory birds, who arrive during the winters, are being threatened as the beels provide a roosting place to the avians, the official added.

Alarmed at the development, authorities have undertaken dredging of some beels with funds from the Centre. “Dredging has been completed in two beels. We will take up more operations soon,” he said.

According to the official, the dredging had a dual purpose. “The soil thus excavated would be used in constructing highlands to shelter animals during the floods,” he said. Animals often escape to the nearby Karbi Anglong hills to escape the floods.

Most of the animals become easy prey to poachers during the floods.

“If these beels dry up, animals would migrate to the nearby hills also in the dry season, thus becoming prey to poachers,” the official said.

   
 

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