Guard a few at cost of others
Post-poll clashes all night long
Meal truck knocks down school shed, six injured
New civic Act to rein in realtors
Snatch bid foiled, 2 held
School panel moves court
Gogoi walks militancy tightrope
Poll rout reduces Left to nonentity
Koijam seeks vote of confidence
Tripura official to launch hungerstrike

 
 
GUARD A FEW AT COST OF OTHERS 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
A police camp outside the gates, armed men in uniform at beck and call, a car with red light flashing and wailing siren, an ‘escort’ party — that’s what sets the VVIPs apart from the VIPs in Salt Lake.

Members of that high-security star chamber include ex-chief minister Jyoti Basu, son Chandan Basu, finance minister Asim Dasgupta and “green’’ judge Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee. Chandan Basu and Justice (retd) Banerjee may move around minus the red lights and security convoy, but that does little to diminish their status as Salt Lake’s ‘most protected’.

Jyoti Basu is the only one in the Z-plus security bracket. So, there’s a special police force posted at Indira Bhavan near Karunamoyee and members of the special protection group accompany him everywhere.

According to Kuldip Singh, superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas, guards are posted at the house of someone “under life threat”, following a directive from the Intelligence Bureau. Fear that someone’s house may be attacked or gheraoed also prompts security deployment. Singh, however, refused to specify what “threat” the likes of Dasgupta, Chandan Basu or Banerjee were under.

The police camp outside the finance minister’s FE Block house comprises at least five armed cops at any given time. Besides, one police jeep with four policemen and a motorcycle are on the alert to escort him.

Justice (retd) Banerjee has even given a room on the mezzanine floor of his GD Block house to his armed guards. Every time he steps out for a walk, two SLR-toting policemen accompany him. “Fundamentalist groups, including the ISI, had chalked out plans to assassinate me after my verdict on curbing the use of microphones during azaan. Realising the threat, my security ring was tightened, as per instructions of the Centre,’’ says Banerjee.

Chandan Basu, a businessman, is in a league of his own, with two police camps taking up permanent settlement at Central Park opposite his house at the corner of FD Block. Eight to 10 armed home guards keep a watch on the ‘high-security’ residence. “A group of miscreants from the Trinamul Congress had attacked Chandan’s house a few months ago. The police picket has been posted there to prevent recurrence of such incidents. Besides, the former chief minister often visits his son’s house,’’ explained a senior district police officer, on condition of anonymity.

There are round-the-clock police guards at the residences of advocate-general N.N. Gooptu, CBI joint director U.N. Biswas, high court judges and some other bureaucrats and top cops.

Salt Lake municipality chairman Dilip Gupta sees “no reason” for such “permanent police postings” outside a few select houses in the area. “If a police picket is required to stand guard outside the houses of all VIPs, big shops, petrol pumps and major offices, what message does it send out to the people? The law-and-order situation has definitely not deteriorated so badly as to justify such police postings. Instead of sitting idle outside a few houses, the police should intensify patrolling in the entire area to protect the interests of the common people and inspire confidence,’’ Gupta added.

These views are shared by most residents of Salt Lake. “There is so much talk about security being lax in Salt Lake. It’s actually lopsided. What is the government trying to tell us? That the lives and properties of just a few people need to be protected?” demanded an indignant resident of FD Block.

“Moving around with armed guards seems to have become something of a status symbol in Salt Lake. Why should public money be spent to help maintain such a lifestyle of people who are actually under no security threat?” added an ex-cop in FE Block.

   

 
 
POST-POLL CLASHES ALL NIGHT LONG 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
After the ballot battle, the street skirmishes. Tension ran high following a string of post-poll clashes in Calcutta and Howrah on Tuesday. Several persons were injured, eight arrests were made on charges of rioting and indulging in violence, 12 live bombs and some country-made revolvers were seized.

Trouble started late on Monday at Amta, Howrah, with CPM and Trinamul Congress supporters engaged in nightlong clashes. A number of houses were set ablaze. Trinamul supporters alleged that the CPM cadre went on the rampage to celebrate their poll triumph.

“More than 100 CPM supporters, armed with lathis and swords stormed the house of Trinamul activist Barjahan Sheikh and beat him badly. He was admitted to a local hospital in critical condition. The CPM goons continued the offensive throughout the night,” said Tapan Saha, a local Trinamul Congress leader.

Additional superintendent of police (town) Rajiv Misra said: “Intensive raids are being carried out in the area to arrest the trouble-makers. A strong police picket has been posted to bring the situation under control and contain further violence.”

At Tiljala, the tone was set early on Tuesday when some Trinamul workers attacked a CPM party office in Chingrighata. They hurled bombs, blowing up the door and windows.

“Five armed Trinamul activists, led by Nemai Ghughu, attacked the party office,” alleged Manoj Barman, local CPM leader. “They smashed the furniture and tore up important papers kept in the office. They also damaged our party flag. After the incident, we went to the police station and lodged a complaint. But not a single policeman turned up for the next four hours.”

Nirmal Mondal, newly-elected Trinamul MLA from Sonarpur, however, denied that any of his partymen was involved in the attack. “The miscreants were not members of the Trinamul. The attack was a result of an inner-party feud in the CPM. They are now putting the blame on our party workers to tarnish our image.”

Deb Kumar Ganguly, superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, said: “Two persons have been arrested from Tiljala in this connection. We are carrying out combing operations in the area and more arrests are expected in the next few days.”

There was trouble at Sonarpur, too, sparked by clashes in Bhangore, which left six people from rival camps injured. At around 9 am, Trinamul activists put up a roadblock at Sonarpur, fearing a fresh wave of CPM attack. The show of protest carried on for three hours, before the police convinced the Trinamul supporters that things were under control.

Additional superintendent of police (rural) Rajesh Kumar Singh said: “Initially, Trinamul supporters attacked a procession of CPM workers. The CPM activists hit back. Later, the Trinamul camp became jittery, fearing a backlash from the rival camp. We are on the lookout for those who had led the initial attack. Raids are being carried out in the area and the situation monitored closely.”

   

 
 
MEAL TRUCK KNOCKS DOWN SCHOOL SHED, SIX INJURED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
Five schoolchildren and a teacher of Adarsh Hindi High School were injured when the school shed, at the intersection of Mominpur Lane and Ekbalpore Road, in the Ekbalpore police station area, collapsed after being hit by a lorry on Tuesday afternoon.

All the injured were taken to hospital, where the condition of a student was stated to be critical. Police impounded the vehicle and arrested the driver.

H.P. Singh, deputy commissioner of police, port division, said the accident occurred while classes were on under the shed. The lorry, carrying rice bags for the schoolstudents, rammed into the shed while the driver was trying to park it in the school grounds. The rear of the vehicle hit the wooden pillars of the shed. Some of the pupils and their teacher were trapped under the wooden pillars and tin roof.

On hearing the impact and the cries of help from the trapped pupils and teacher, other students and teachers rushed out of their classes. “Initially, we were rooted to the spot. We didn’t know how to extricate the students trapped under the debris as we did not have the equipment. So we called in the police,” said one of the school authorities. An axe was brought to hack away the wooden pillars. “The children were screaming. It took us more than half an hour to rescue them,” said one of them teachers.

By then, policemen from Ekbalpore thana arrived and rushed the injured to SSKM Hospital. “While the others were discharged, the nine-year-old student who suffered head injuries was kept back in hospital ,” said Singh.

   

 
 
NEW CIVIC ACT TO REIN IN REALTORS 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
Promoters will no longer have the leeway they have enjoyed so far, once the Calcutta Municipal Corporation implements its decision to recast the CMC Act and rules to make them more transparent, citizen-friendly and relevant to today’s society.

The Trinamul Congress board at the helm of the civic body has identified rules relating to the construction of buildings, issuing of licences, calculation of property tax, separation of a building, and water connections among co-sharers as the ones that need to be changed first. “The existing rules have often been unfair on the citizens,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee. They do not allow the speedy disposal of proposals, he added.

Member, mayor-in-council, Swapan Samaddar, says buyers of flats were being cheated by the promoters. But the CMC Act has no provision to take them to task. “Realtors are minting money by constructing highrises and selling flats at exorbitant prices. Legally, they remain unaccountable to the CMC,” says Samaddar.

The CMC Act, 1980, lays more emphasis on policing the civic employees and tax payers, rather than monitoring development activities.

Today, senior corporation officials feel it would be better to allow citizens to construct homes without the constraints of the present building rules. Under these, the owner of a small plot cannot construct a structure if the width of the road in front of the plot is less than 10 feet.

In some cases, this has forced the owner to give up land to the CMC. “In a 300-year-old city, where land is as dear as gold, can you force a middle-class plot-owner to donate 50 sq ft from his 1.75-cottah plot to the CMC as the road in front of the plot is less than 10 feet wide?” asks chief engineer (building) Ashok Roychaudhury.

Member, mayor-in-council (roads), Anup Chatterjee, says the CMC Act, 1980, was a misfit today. “The Act is silent on how the CMC will be guided in allowing the laying of underground optical fibre cables or hoisting electronic signal beacons on roofs,” he points out. “I’ve told the mayor to draft a new Act.”

Under present rules, completion and occupation certificates are issued in the name of the plot-owners. But realtors sell the flats to buyers. The result: In most cases, the realtors hand over flats to buyers in exchange of money, without the occupancy certificates.

Buyers of flats also struggle to get mutation, drainage and sewerage connections, without completion certificates.

   

 
 
SNATCH BID FOILED, 2 HELD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
Two armed youth, one of them an employee of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, shot at an employee of a private computer firm on Ganesh Chandra Avenue, not far from the Lalbazar city police headquarters.

Srikant Jha, 50, was on his way to a local bank with a bag containing Rs 5 lakh. The criminals snatched the bag after shooting at him and fled.

Deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan said Jha had stepped out of his office on 27, Ganesh Chandra Avenue, to deposit the cash in a local bank about half a kilometre away.

The two youth, who were lying in wait near a kiosk, began to trail him. “They must have been tipped off by a company insider or else they could not have had such precise information,’’ Hasan said.

Jha had taken barely a few steps when he was accosted by Sanjay Sharma and Kedarnath Vishwakarma. Sharma fired a smoke gun to blur Jha’s vision and tried to snatch the bag.

But Jha would not let go of the bag so easily. A desperate Vishwakarma then fired from his single-shooter. The bullet caught Jha in the stomach and he slumped on the street. The miscreants fled towards Lalbazar Street with the bag.

Two policemen of Bowbazar police station, Sahenshah Khan and Chottu Singh, who were patrolling the area, heard the gun shots and saw the two of them running away with a bag.

They immediately started chasing the criminals.

The incessant traffic in central Calcutta’s busy business district impeded the movement of the criminals, and enabled the police to catch up with them about 100 yards from the spot of the attack.

A scuffle ensued, in course of which the criminals hit the policemen repeatedly with the butts of their country-made revolvers. But the cops managed to overpower them with the help of people who had gathered around them in the meantime.

The two were brought to Bowbazar police station, where DC Hasan interrogated them for an hour on Tuesday evening.

Hasan said the police are worried at the growing number of criminals arriving in the city from Bihar. “We are in touch with our counterparts in Bihar,” he said.

   

 
 
SCHOOL PANEL MOVES COURT 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
The Patha Bhavan crisis continues. After the parents, it’s time for the management committee to move court.

Challenging the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education’s move in appointing an administrator to supersede the ad-hoc management committee, the Patha Bhavan secondary school management committee, headed by Santosh Bhattacharya, filed a petition before Calcutta High Court on Tuesday.

“It’s true that we haven’t received the letter from the Board regarding dissolution of the committee yet. But we filed the petitions on the basis of newspaper reports,” said Bhattacharya.

The petition accuses the Board of illegally and arbitrarily dissolving the high court-appointed ad-hoc committee. Following a rift in the school management committee, a Calcutta High Court division bench appointed a five-member ad-hoc committee to run the regular affairs of Patha Bhavan Secondary School on April 9, 1999.

The term of the ad-hoc committee was stretched beyond its initial tenure of a year by the Board, as the ad-hoc committee was given six months’ extension twice.

As per the last extension, the committee was empowered to run the school till October 31, 2001.

According to the petitioners, their term was brought to a premature end because of their decision to introduce admission tests for Patha Bhavan primary school students for admission in Class V.

They added that permission had been sought from the Board to introduce the admission tests. “The board secretary, in a letter, said it was the managing committee which could decide whether the tests would be taken or not for admission to Class V. The board also said that according to rules, the school authority should see that no student would be discriminated against in the admission test process,” the petition said.

A notification was issued on the introduction of admission test for primary school students for admission to Class V. But a major section of the guardians of the primary section students opposed the move and some of them filed a petition before Calcutta High Court challenging the validity of the ad-hoc committee.

The court directed the Board to consider its decision of granting further extension to the ad-hoc committee.

   

 
 
GOGOI WALKS MILITANCY TIGHTROPE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Guwahati, May 15: 
Will Tarun Gogoi be able to do what his predecessor could not: bring the Ulfa to the negotiation table and end the vicious cycle of death and destruction once and for all?

For the chief minister-designate, nothing will be tougher — not even bringing Assam’s faltering economy back on the rails — than solving the problem of insurgency. One false step and Gogoi could end up like Mahanta, whom the Ulfa leadership denounced as a “stooge” of New Delhi and accused of trying to annihilate the “revolution” with military might.

Gogoi has already hinted that he may adopt a considerably “soft” stand on the insurgency issue by doing away with army control over the Unified Command — a three-tier structure which plans and executes counter-insurgency operations.

The Unified Command, brainchild of former Union home minister Indrajit Gupta, was constituted to ensure better coordination between the army, police and paramilitary forces. Gogoi told The Telegraph that his government would seek civilian control over the Unified Command and give the state police more powers. He said the government would seek the army’s help as and when it was required.

One of Ulfa’s conditions for “cessation of hostilities” is suspension of army operations. It has accused the security forces of harassing civilians on the pretext of conducting counter-insurgency operations.

Gogoi’s tone was strikingly similar to the Ulfa’s when he said that the police would be able to comprehend the people’s sentiments better than the army. “I feel harassment of innocent people in the name of counter-insurgency operations will only worsen the situation and breed more insurgents,” he said.

But the chief minister-designate is perhaps aware of the fact that the Ulfa is known to take a yard when given an inch. During the AGP’s maiden stint in Dispur in the late eighties, the Ulfa was virtually running a parallel administration by taking advantage of the “friendly” government.

It was only after the Congress, then in the Opposition, made a hue and cry that President’s rule was imposed in Assam and “Operation Bajrang” launched on the night of November 27, 1990.

When army operations were suspended after a couple of years, the Ulfa regrouped and even recruited a large number of new members.

Gogoi may believe that giving the police the upper hand in insurgency operations will lift their morale, but the fact remains that the army was deployed only because the men in khaki failed to stop the rampaging rebels.

Going too soft on the rebels could also have political implications.

Such a stance will give the Opposition — the AGP-BJP combine — an opportunity to reiterate its allegation that the Congress has a nexus with the Ulfa.

The first task of the new government will be to convince the recalcitrant rebel outfit to agree to a ceasefire. But the Ulfa leadership is yet to air its views on the Congress coming to power.

   

 
 
POLL ROUT REDUCES LEFT TO NONENTITY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Guwahati, May 15: 
The Left’s relevance in Assam politics has come under the scanner in the wake of its rout in the just-concluded Assembly elections.

Neither of the two leading Left parties, the CPI and the CPM, won a single seat this time. They had won three and two seats respectively in the 1996 poll.

Even the CPI(M-L)-influenced Autonomous State Demand Committee (Progressive) fared badly. But the real shocker was veteran CPI leader and flood control minister Promode Gogoi’s defeat in Sivasagar constituency, long considered a Left bastion.

Left parties are believed to be losing their relevance in Assam politics because they lack appeal. “The Left has nothing new to offer to the voters,” said a senior political analyst.

He said very little had gone right for the Left since the Assam Movement was launched in the late seventies. “Both the CPI and the CPM lost nearly 25 cadres during this period. Very few wanted to join these parties for fear of being branded as anti-Assamese,” he added.

Social scientist Amalendu Guha said the Left was being “over-ambitious” despite its “thin” support base in the state. “Even in 1978, when it had 25 seats, its vote share was only 11 per cent. The outcome of elections this year indicates that the Left is losing its relevance. It should try to mould itself into a real working class and labour party,” he said.

The Left’s alliance with the AGP in 1996, according to Guha, was a wrong move. “If it wanted to support the AGP in 1996 because the party had the people’s mandate, it could have done so without being part of the government. It should have remained critical of the government’s acts of omission and commission. By joining the government, it tied itself in knots. People wanted an alternative this time, but the Left was not in a position to provide that. Now that it has been routed, things can only get better,” he said.

Though “Verdict 2001” has broken its back, the Left leadership is not overly worried. “Yes, it is a setback. This is the first time since 1985 that we have drawn a blank. But these things are a part of electoral politics,” said Bhogeswar Dutta, secretary in-charge of the CPI’s state council. He attributed the poll debacle to the strong anti-incumbency wave and organisational weakness. “We were part of the coalition government till April 2. This made us unpopular with the masses. Moreover, our election campaign was not convincing enough,” Dutta said. He said the electoral rout would be discussed “threadbare” at the two-day CPI state executive, slated to begin on Saturday, and the national executive from May 26.

   

 
 
KOIJAM SEEKS VOTE OF CONFIDENCE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi and Imphal, May 15: 
Manipur chief minister Radhabinod Koijam today seemed to have emerged from the current political crisis with the BJP saying it had no intention of toppling the Samata Party-led People’s Front government in the state.

“The BJP will support the Manipur government and Koijam will continue as chief minister,” the BJP spokesman Narendra Modi said at a press briefing in New Delhi today.

However, Koijam today decided to seek a “vote of confidence”. The chief minister requested Governor Ved Marwah to ask the Speaker to convene a special session to enable him to seek a trust vote in view of the crisis.

Modi’s statement came in the wake of a two-hour-long meeting this morning between BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi and Samata Party leaders, George Fernandes and Jaya Jaitley.

Fernandes and Jaitley reportedly rushed to the BJP headquarters when it looked like the Samata-led coalition in Manipur was under threat after a splinter group of 18 legislators of the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) joined the BJP.

The BJP’s tally rose to 26, making it the single largest party in the 60-member Assembly.

Fernandes, on a mission to save the only Samata Party government in the country, is understood to have sounded the central BJP leadership about a possible fallout of the Manipur crisis on Jharkhand where the BJP-led government was being supported by the Samata Party.

In the 81-member Jharkhand Assembly, the BJP has 33 legislators.

The Samata-JD(U)-Independents’ block has 12 MLAs. Sources said if the Samata pulled back its support there, the other two groups were likely to follow suit and put a question mark on the survival of the Babulal Marandi government.

Faced with the Samata’s threat, the BJP leaders assured Fernandes and Jaitley that in case Koijam moved a vote of confidence, they would persuade their Manipur party to back him on the floor of the House.

The state faced its umpteenth political crisis after 33 MLAs led by BJP legislature wing leader R.K. Dorendra Singh rebelled against the chief minister.

Koijam struck back by dropping six dissident ministers on charges of corruption and alleged nexus with militants. The dissident camp retaliated with seven ministers resigning from the Cabinet.

To add to the Koijam’s list of woes, the NCP and the Federal Party of Manipur — with two MLAs each — also withdrew support from the People’s Front government. The Janata Dal (Secular), however, continues to support the Koijam government.

Political observers here feel that Koijam’s move to seek vote of confidence was an attempt to see the sincerity of the BJP.

Though Central BJP leaders have said the BJP would not do anything to destabilise the Manipur government, Samata Party felt that the merger of the 18 PMSCP legislators was part of a long-term gameplan of the BJP to seize power.

Sources close to the dissident camp said the move to oust Koijam started after the central BJP had given the “green signal” in this regard.

Another source close to Dorendra Singh maintained that some more smaller parties might also merge with the BJP in the near future.

The chief minister has refused to accept the resignation of seven ministers — five of the BJP, one each of the NCP and the JD (S) — who had submitted their papers to Koijam in protest against the dropping of six other Cabinet members.

Koijam, has, however defended his action of dropping the six ministers saying their names figured in the list of “tainted” politicians sent by the Union home ministry.

   

 
 
TRIPURA OFFICIAL TO LAUNCH HUNGERSTRIKE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, May 15: 
Growing difference of opinion between the Autonomous District Council, controlled by the Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura and the state’s Left Front government has taken a turn for the worse.

ADC’s executive member (education) Benoy Debbarma has threatened to launch a fast-unto-death unless there was an immediate halt to the “state sponsored terrorism and police atrocities against innocent IPFT workers and supporters”.

Debbarma had gone on a three-day fast in February this year, on an eight-point charter of demands including the one highlighted now.

He alleged that in the name of counter-insurgency operations, security forces were committing atrocities on innocent tribal youth, particularly the workers and supporters of the IPFT in interior areas.

Citing instances Debbarma said on May 1, an innocent tribal youth was killed in “cold-blood” by Tripura State Rifles in the Kalyanpur police station area.

On May 8, another tribal youth was shot dead by Central Reserve Police Force jawans “without any provocation”, in Khumlung, the headquarters of the district council.

Describing the situation as “state-sponsored terrorism”, Debbarma accused the Left Front government of trampling upon the human rights of the common people.

“The Left Front government is depriving the ADC of funds and setting police and paramilitary forces on our workers and supporters but we won’t take this lying down,” he said.

Debbarma appealed to chief minister Manik Sarkar to stop police excesses on tribals immediately and threatened to fast-unto-death unless his demands were satisfied.

Specifying the demands, he said the charter included the withdrawal of the National Security Aact, release of all innocent tribals detained under the provisions of the draconian Act, disbanding of the Tripura State Rifles and the free flow of funds to the ADC.

Reacting sharply to Debbarma’s threat and statement, senior CPM leader and party’s secretariat member Bijan Dhar said: “Whatever he is saying is vague and totally baseless. If he has any specific problem, he can inform the state government and move the court.”

Dhar attributed Debbarma’s outburst to inner wranglings of the party and said it was an attempt to divert the attention of the people from its miserable failure to provide minimum relief to the impoverished tribal people.

“The IPFT leaders are neck deep in corruption and arch abettors of the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura militants. They are trying to divide Tripura but we won’t allow that to happen,” he added.

Dhar said the IPFT leaders’ “crocodile tears for tribals” had been prompted by their design to protect the NLFT outlaws from the operations of the security forces.

Teenagers buried alive

Two teenaged girls were buried alive following a landslide at Birchandra Manu in South Tripura yesterday, reports UNI.

Police today said the landslide occurred when a bulldozer was engaged in removing a hill top for an irrigation scheme.

Police probe

An inquiry into the reappearance of arms that were destroyed and buried in Agartala has been ordered by Tripura director-general of police B.L. Vora, reports PTI.

Superintendent of police (operations) Dhurjati Gautam today said the probe was ordered after some local boys entered a police station in Arundhatinagar and found two destroyed revolvers overground.

The revolvers were among some weapons which were recovered from militants and were destroyed and buried near the central armoury of the state at Arundhatinagar last month, he said.

Deputy inspector-general (administration) Dilipjit Debbarma would probe the incident as to how the weapons were dug out and the guilty would be punished.

   
 

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