Bullet ends debt burden
Guru held for sexual abuse of disciples
Varsity scripts autonomy move
Metro chants modernisation mantra
Agarwal out of hospital
Suicide sparks row in hospital
Suit on Mamata security
Wetlands key to biodiversity
Mistaken identity behind Bally schoolboy kidnap
Nervous then, napping now

Calcutta, May 3: 
“I am at the end of the road... There is no other option but to kill myself, because I can never hope to square off the huge debts I have run up...”

With these words, scribbled on a piece of paper, Major (retd) Kanwal Mangal Singh put his service revolver to his forehead and shot himself early on Thursday.

His newly-floated finance company having gone bust, the former armyman, resident of a Central government housing complex in Dover Lane, was staring financial ruin in the face. In his suicide note, he blamed the failure of his firm on two of his associates.

Deputy commissioner, detective department, Banibrata Basu, said Singh used to reside in the flat with a maid, Sabitri Gupta, and her two daughters. His first wife and son, and another son of his second marriage, live in Delhi. His second wife, who was also in the army, died in 1995.

The ex-armyman was found dead by Rekha, daughter of Sabitri. “Around 7 am, like other days, I went to babu’s room to serve him the first cup of tea. The door was ajar. I pushed it open to find him lying on the floor, with blood flowing from his head. I started shouting for help. My mother came running... We both raised the alarm,’’recalled Rekha.

“We received a distress call from the apartment around 7.15 am. We reached the spot within minutes,’’ said a policeman from Gariahat thana. Beside the suicide note, the police recovered the service revolver and a pipegun from the room where Singh was found. “Though it appears to be a a case of suicide, we cannot rule out the possibility of any foul play till the inquiry is completed. We are also trying to ascertain the cause of his financial condition,” said Chinmoy Batabyal, an investigating officer.

The maid and her daughters have been interrogated. As Singh apparently has no relatives in the city, the police approached one of his friends to get some basic facts right. It was Singh’s friend who informed the sleuths that after retiring from the army, he had held senior positions in the Customs department and with the telecom board in Patna.

It was only recently that he had floated Global Capital Finance Company, with an associate. “Everyone that we spoke to confirmed that Singh was suffering from an acute cash crunch for the past few months. Several debtors had started queuing up at his door,” said an investigating officer.

One of the neighbours, on condition of anonymity, told Metro: “Major Singh has been living in this complex for years and we all knew him as an armyman... Last month, some people, most probably from a private finance company, turned up and towed his car away from the parking lot of the complex. Then, a few days back, the telephone line of his flat was disconnected for non-payment of bills. All this pointed to the fact that he had fallen on hard times, but we could never have imagined that it would drive him to suicide.”

Deputy commissioner of police (south) Ranjit Pachnanda said efforts are on to probe Singh’s personal and professional life. His family in Delhi is being contacted to gather information about his relationship with his wife and sons.


Calcutta, May 3: 
The arrest of a ‘guru’ has blown the lid off a sordid tale of sexual abuse in the Bholananda Giri Ashram of Panihati.

North 24-Parganas superintendent of police Kuldip Singh said ‘guru’ Yogananda of the as hram was arrested on Tuesday evening after a girl lodged a complaint with Agarpara police station.

The girl, whose identity is not being disclosed, alleged that Yogananda had “raped” her in his room.

Singh said the girl has been sent for medical examination. “We got the preliminary report on Thursday, which confirms that the girl was raped,’’ he said, adding that she was sent to the Liluah home for destitute women.

During the course of the investigation, three other girls have complained to the police that they, too, have been “molested” by Yogananda.

“The girls said the guru had been ‘misbehaving’ with them for quite some time, but they did not dare register a complaint,’’ said sub-divisional police officer of Belghoria Basab Dasgupta.

In the FIR lodged against the guru at Agarpara thana, the girl said she frequented the ashram for yoga sessions, which are popular among boys and girls of the area.

Investigations confirmed that the girl had enrolled for yoga training under Yogananda three months ago. The smooth-talking yoga instructor would, apparently, “hypnotise” his young female disciples. After the hour-long yoga session, Yogananda would summon the girls, one by one, to his private chamber for “therapy sessions’’.

“He spoke about God and the philosophy of life and advised me on what to do in future. He preached that the soul is ‘more important’ than the body and abused me even as he spoke. The ordeal lasted for more than an hour,’’ the girl told the officer-in-charge of Agarpara police station.

Initially, the girls didn’t even inform their parents about the torture they were subjected to. “We were scared, as he had threatened us with dire consequences,’’ the girls told the police.

One of the victims could not take it any longer on Monday and after one such “therapy session’’, went home and broke down. “She was absolutely traumatised,’’ the girl’s father told SDPO Dasgupta.

The parents arrived at the Khardah police station and lodged an FIR against the guru. Singh said a police team went to the ashram to investigate the matter and the girl was sent for medical examination. Yogananda was arrested on Tuesday evening.

Police said the guru used to call most of his girl students for the “therapy sessions”.

Singh said the accused was produced in Barasat court on Wednesday and remanded in judicial custody for 14 days. “The police are trying to find out if anyone else is involved,’’ Singh said.


Calcutta, May 3: 
In the first step towards decentralisation, Calcutta University has decided to allow colleges to evaluate the compulsory environmental science answer scripts this year.

This is the first batch of Part II students to sit for the compulsory paper, introduced in 1998 as part of the syllabi for B.A., B.Sc and B.Com Part II (honours and general) examinations.

The new system has been introduced as the addition of over 68,000 answer scripts to the university examiners’ correction load would have further delayed the publication of results.

The university has struggled to publish results of under-graduate exams on time in recent years. The delay has primarily been caused by the inadequate number of examiners. University authorities hope the new method of evaluation will help overcome the time-lag students have had to suffer, especially those applying to out-station institutes, which often have early application deadlines.

Under the new system, the first departure from the centralised examination procedure practised throughout the university’s 146-year history, the environmental science answer scripts will not be sent by colleges to the university for subsequent distribution to examiners for correction.

The entire process of evaluation, from appointment of examiners to distribution of papers for correction, will now be the responsibility of the colleges, while the university will bear the costs. Instead of sending the papers straight to CU, the scripts will be stored at the colleges, which will then have to send the marks to the university for tabulation of results and preparation of marksheets.

“The examination department is already overloaded with the existing number of answer scripts. It would have been very difficult to ensure timely publication of results if the department had to bear the burden of the 68,000 environmental science answer scripts,” explained Onkar Sadhan Adhikari, controller of examinations, Calcutta University. This will also allow the University to save space, as a large section of the premises is usually required to store all the answer scripts.

As per the guidelines of the new system, the environmental science scripts will be kept at the 58 colleges in Calcutta, and the 68 colleges in the neighbouring districts, which have been chosen as centres for the Part II exams this year. The CU authorities held a series of meetings with principals of the respective colleges to discuss the new system.

“This year nearly two lakh examinees will write various undergraduate examinations conducted by the university,” said the controller. Each of the examinees will appear, on an average, for 10 papers, which adds up to an estimated total of two million papers for evaluation. “In this situation, we cannot afford to take an additional load of 68,000 answer scripts,” said an employee of the university’s examination department.

A number of college principals, however, expressed dissatisfaction at the decision.

“According to the government’s existing rules, it is the university’s duty to handle the evaluation of exam papers. Such a decision should not have been taken autonomously, without consulting the colleges, whose students will be directly affected by the measure,” they said upon hearing of the university’s step.


Calcutta, May 3: 
Metro Railway has hit the fast track to modernisation, with environment management as the new mantra. The plan: To convince Calcuttans to choose the underground over surface transport by making Metro cost-effective and attractive. The aim: To improve the environment.

Taking a cue from the New York City Transit Authority, the world’s largest mass-transit system, Metro Rail has decided to work towards implementing the environment management system. Its effort to become the country’s first “efficient transit system with ISO 14001 certification” is supported by United States-Asia Environmental Partnership.

All key personnel of the implementing departments and senior officials of the railway turned up for a three-day workshop at Metro Bhavan on Thursday.

The Partnership-sponsored implementation programme is co-ordinated by Ajay Singh, chief, internal controls and special projects, New York City Transit Authority.

“The ultimate aim should be to take people from cars to the mass transit system. And this will require improvement in environmental and energy management performances in the Metro Railway. Reduction of energy consumption, minimising noise pollution and recycling of resources will not only lead to cost control, but will also have a positive impact on the environment,” said Singh.

The programme comes in the wake of the success of a similar workshop organised jointly by US-AEP and the Indian Chamber of Commerce in February 2000, which had addressed the possibility of introducing EMS in transit systems here.

“The core team, comprising heads from electrical, signal, engineering and stores, will discuss the EMS implementation,” explained K. Gangopadhyay, chief engineer, Metro Railways. The team is scheduled to visit the Metro’s car shed in Dum Dum on Friday. Issues to be raised include increase of usage of natural light, optimisation of energy consumption, efficient project construction and improved maintenance. A roadmap for implementation will be drawn up on Saturday.


Calcutta, May 3: 
The “curse of god’’ that had befallen the Agarwal family of Sarat Bose Road seems to be lifting, with Anil’s father, Hariram Agarwal, admitted to B.M. Birla Hospital with chest pains, being discharged from hospital on Thursday. Family sources said he had been assaulted by his daughter-in-law’s kin.

Thirty-three-year-old Babita Agarwal consumed poison and was admitted to a private nursing home. She died on April 30. Her brother-in-law, Anup, slashed his wrists and was admitted to the same nursing home on April 29.

Unnerved by the Babita’s death, husband Anil swallowed 100 matchstick heads and slashed his right wrist. He had to be admitted to hospital on May 1.


Calcutta, May 3: 
A day before his release, a man committed suicide in a ward bathroom of Medical College and Hospital a little after midnight on Wednesday, leaving the management red in the face for having kept the news from his family till Thursday morning.

Suniti Patra, 47, was found hanging by a towel in a bathroom on the third floor of the hospital. On Thursday morning, Suniti’s son, Biswajit, came for a visit. Finding his father’s bed empty, he asked the nurse on duty. Biswajit alleged that the nurse brusquely told him his father had killed himself.

“He was perfectly fine when I met him yesterday, ” said a distraught Biswajit. “ My dad had no reason whatsoever to kill himself.” Angry friends and relatives crowded the office of hospital superintendent Sachidananda Sinha, demanding an inquiry into the dereliction of duty by the attendants and nurse. “Just imagine the callousness. They didn’t even bother to inform us of his death,’’ said Suniti’s nephew, Arup Pal.

Deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfikar Hasan, said the body had been sent for post-mortem. “I did not get to see my father’s body,” said Biswajit.

He asked: “How can a patient go to the bathroom and hang himself in a hospital when nurses and attendants are supposed to keep an eye on him?” Relatives were appalled that the authorities “had our contact number and address, but did not bother to let us know,” Arup added.

A resident of Kalibabu Bazar, in Howrah, Suniti worked in a readymade garments shop. He had been admitted to Medical College on April 22 after complaining of acute pains in the chest.


Calcutta, May 3: 
A petition was filed on Thursday in Calcutta High Court, seeking an order to provide Z-category security to Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee.

The petitioner, Chitto Debnath, editor of a city-based Bengali daily, demanded that chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen be directed to provide security, including a bullet-proof and a pilot car, to Banerjee. The Trinamul leader should also be directed to disclose the names of her party candidates who had received threats during the election campaign. All those candidates should be provided with security too, Debnath demanded.

The petition will come up for hearing on Friday and government pleader Subodh Ukil will hold the brief for the petitioner.

The petitioner alleged that Mamata Banerjee was deliberately avoiding security. She had not informed Sen that certain candidates of her party needed police help. “If any untoward incident occurs, there will be a serious law and order problem in Bengal,” Debnath said. The petitioner said: “Banerjee has raked up a controversy over security cover. She wants to move without government security and create problems”.

Banerjee had alleged in a public meeting at Shyampukur on May 1 that she might be assassinated by the CPM, the petition further stated. The print media had carried reports of the chief electoral officer’s categorical statement that Mamata should avail of the security facility provided by the government. Sen had, accordingly, instructed the police to ensure full security to Banerjee, the petition stated.

“After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the country went through a serious law and order problem. A similar situation might occur if something unwanted takes place,” Debnath stated.

omeless votes: Anup Dasgupta, a lawyer based in Keshpur, filed a public interest litigation in the high court on Thursday, demanding an order directing the chief electoral officer to make necessary arrangements for the homeless people of Keshpur, Garbeta and other adjoining areas of Midnapore to cast their votes on May 10. The matter will come up for hearing on Friday.


Calcutta, May 3: 
The need for reclamation and enhancement of biodiversity in the east Calcutta wetlands was re-emphasised at a two-day workshop organised jointly by the World Wide Fund for Nature, India, (WWF) and the British Council Division, Calcutta.

The sensitisation workshop, which ended on Thursday, was conducted in two parts. While issues like conservation value of plants and animals, international policies and practices on wetlands, potential of the area and the need for people’s participation were discussed at the Narendrapur Ramakrishna Mission auditorium on Wednesday, the on-site demonstration and interaction was held at Jhagra Shissa, in east Calcutta, on Thursday.

Representatives from both academia and farmers and fishermen from the bheries of east Calcutta attended the programme. It was agreed at the meet that preserving the wetlands is the need of the hour. The east Calcutta wetlands will be designated as a Ramsar site shortly for this purpose.

“We can’t talk about biodiversity in wetlands without involving the locals, and so we drew in the farmers and fishermen of the area in our programme,” said Lt-Col S.R. Banerjee, state director, WWF. Experts like Subir Ghosh, Srikumar Chatterjee and Kushal Mukherjee discussed the significance of biodiversity in ensuring balance in the ecosystem and livelihood of the local people.

Prof Cedric Milner, wetlands biologist from the UK, observed: “I have never seen such a unique wetland and it can be built into an asset for Calcutta. There should be all-round effort to protect this wetland and enrich it.”

The farmers and fishermen present at the workshop expressed their willingness to be party to reclamation and enhancement of biodiversity in the area. They also pointed out the need for government action and support to revive fishery, the main vocation of the area, for a successful campaign.

“We don’t get enough waste-water, the silt in the bheries is increasing by the day, the communication is bad, electricity is not available, plus there is always fear of encroachment by promoters. These issues need to be addressed first to protect the depleting wetlands in the city,” concluded Alok Kumar Mondal, a participant in the workshop.


Calcutta, May 3: 
The abduction of 17-year-old Hemant Agarwal from Bally, in Howrah, on April 26 appears to be a case of mistaken identity, additional superintendent of police, Rajiv Mishra, said.

Hemant, a Class XI student of a Howrah school, was kidnapped by some unidentified men from Belur station. Members of a patrol party from Shakespeare Sarani police station found Hemant lying with hands and feet bound and mouth gagged on the footpath, a few yards away from the thana, on May 2. Bally police had initially refused to register a diary but a case was filed later after inspector-general of police, south Bengal, Ranjit Mohanty, intervened.

The officer-in-charge of Bally police station was served a showcause notice on Thursday for alleged “dereliction of duty”, Mohanty said.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the gang, which kidnapped Hemant, had targeted someone else but mistakenly picked him up.

When they realised that Hemant would not fetch a good ransom, they decided to dump him, Mishra said. The police have still not been able to track down the gang. “We have reasons to believe that it is a Calcutta-based gang, or else why should they dump Hemant on Shakespeare Sarani?” said Mishra, who is leading the investigations.

On Thursday, the police spoke to Santosh Sureka, Hemant’s maternal uncle, for two hours. Hemant has been staying with him since the past two years, Sureka, a 48-year-old Howrah businessman, said.

Mohanty said he has summoned Sureka to his Bhabani Bhavan office on Friday to find out more details. “We will also speak to Hemant. The boy is under a state of shock and we are giving him time to recover,” he said.

According to the police, the family received a phone call from a man demanding a ransom of Rs 1.5 lakh. He claimed that he had Hemant in his custody. But, as he never called again, the family was in a dilemma about whether to pay the ransom. Sureka himself was not willing to comment on the ransom demand.


Sealdah, May 3: 
Will Sealdah send Sonar Banglar sonar chhele to the Vidhan Sabha yet again? It has been doing so since 1972, the only breach of trust coming in 1977.

“I have got my voters’ blessings in the past. I don’t know about the future,” the sonar chhele, now a middle-aged man, replies. But he makes it a point to tell you that he’s the only candidate who visits every voter in his constituency; as if visiting every voter automatically means getting every vote.

He says he’s superstitious as well: “I don’t go out of my constituency once I start on my rounds here.” 1996, when he was the state Congress president, was an exception; but he still increased his margin from 15,000 to 21,000.

But for all the superstitions and “don’t-know-about-the-future” lines, Somen Mitra has been taking things more than a little easy in the evenings. At 5 pm, when every other candidate is preparing to hit the campaign trail for the second time in the day, he wakes up from his three-hour siesta. Bare-bodied and lungi-clad, he takes time to brush his hair back with a parting down the middle and sits down after opening the north-facing window to let in some air. An afterthought later, he is back with a kurta over his torso.

He’s relaxed as he sits down facing his favourite goddess, Kali, whose blessings come to him via Ramakrishna; Ramakrishna is between him and the goddess on the picture-frame.

So, when’s he going out? “Let’s see. There’s time,” he says. “I have completed one round to almost every home in Sealdah,” he explains his laidback-ness. The May heat, more than his CPI challenger Chanchal Ghosh, is proving to be a major irritant, he adds.

Ghosh, too, is feeling the heat. But it takes a different form for him: he’s more worried about what Somen will do on poll day. The former member, mayor-in-council (drainage), Calcutta Municipal Corporation, has his strengths — like ward 36 within Sealdah which gave him a 7,000-vote lead in the last CMC polls — and perceives his opponent to have some weakness: “Somenbabu’s responsible for the criminalisation of politics and education in Sealdah,” he says.

Ghosh says he’s getting a good response, particularly over the Tehelka issue and the Union budget which has hit the middle-class hard, but it remains to be seen whether Somen can be defeated because of the perceived mistakes of the BJP government.

The cool-and-calm-in-the-May-heat Somen Mitra of May 2001, however, is vastly different from the Somen Mitra of March 2001, admit even his closest colleagues. “Chhorda was not very sure of retaining the seat till the alliance came about,” says an aide.

If Chhorda, as he is known to almost everyone in Sealdah this side of 50, has his reasons to be relaxed now, he had his reasons to be tense then. The alliance was a distant possibility pre-Tehelka and the parliamentary polls in 1998 and 1999 had given him enough reasons to have a more-than-usual creased forehead; both times, Chhorda’s brothers and sisters had turned their faces away from his party and looked to an even younger political sibling, Trinamul, giving Congress candidates a very clear thumbs-down.

Did that hurt him? “It was a political decision taken by my voters. Why should I feel hurt?” he asks without really being able to hide the pain. And though the grass and flowers that hurt him then have sprouted on the unlikeliest of places — the gates to his Amherst Street residence, for instance — he admits there are some problems in the alliance, “particularly from some middle-level leaders”. The boot surely is on the other foot now, quite a change from 1991, the year the seeds for the grass-and-flowers were sown; that was the year when Somen won the organisational poll to the PCC president’s post, defeating Mamata Banerjee, and her alienation from her parent party began.

So what does he feel about the alliance? “It’s the worst thing to have happened to the CPM,” he says, keeping the chin — which was once accused of being red underneath the green stubble by his alliance partner — up.


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