Forest finale to hostage drama
High court toes lakh cases line in a year
Suit slapped on schools for kids
Wrong Writers’ route for topper
Toddler at home, alone and tied to a water pipe
Less spice, please, we’re too sensitive
Rationalist cloud over study of stars
Eve-teasing duo hauled off motorcycle, lynched
Space jam in better schools
Mayor’s flock divided over eviction drive

Calcutta, June 11: 
When help finally came for kidnapped city businessman Pawan Saraf, it was from the least expected of quarters.

Lost to his family and friends for the past month and a half, ever since his associate Ranjan Misra, alias Johnny, abducted him while on a business venture to Chhattisgarh, Saraf was ultimately rescued on Monday afternoon from the forests of Orissa, due entirely to the efforts of a local tribal leader.

The tale began in the city in early April, when Ranjan invited Saraf to Jagdalpur, in Chhattisgarh, to jointly open an auto showroom. On April 29, Saraf, along with uncle R.K. Khemka and three of his employees, set out by road with Ranjan on an “inspection tour” of the showroom site.

The next morning, instead of receiving a call from her husband saying he had reached safely, Pinky Saraf got a “ransom call” from Ranjan, saying that the family would have to pay Rs 5 crores for his release. The police were informed, several more ransom calls traced to Delhi, Nagpur, Mumbai and even Jagdalpur, and police teams sent to these places. But the kidnappers were never traced.

Instead, hectic “bargaining” between the kidnappers and the Saraf family took place in the following weeks. Finally, last week, the ransom demand was scaled down to Rs 1 crore. Even this amount, Pinky said, was “much too much” for the family to pay.

Then, just as it seemed to Pinky that her husband would never return, she received a call from Sambalpur, in Orissa, from a person who said that he had information about her husband.

Identifying himself as Nihal Singh, a leader of the Adivasi Kalyan Samiti of Sambalpur, he told Pinky that her husband was being held captive in a jungle in this district and that she should come immediately with a police team from Calcutta to rescue him.

He left his phone number with her and told her the police should get in touch with him on reaching Sambalpur. From there, he would escort them to the jungle hideout where Saraf was being held.

He also warned her against involving the Sambalpur police in the rescue venture, since there was a chance the kidnappers could get tipped off. Half an hour later, the phone rang again. This time, is was her husband asking her to do exactly as Singh had said.

Early next morning, Pinky informed the police and within a few hours, a 10-man-strong joint team of policemen, drawn from the detective department and Posta police station, left for Sambalpur. Reaching there late at night, they got in touch with Singh, who accompanied them to the hut in Deogarh, about 95 km from Sambalpur, where Saraf was being held.

On reaching the hut, which was being guarded by four tribal youth, the police encircled it. Then, taking the guards by surprise, arrested them. Next, they broke down the door of the hut and rescued Saraf, along with his three employees. Saraf told the police that “inexplicably”, Khemka had parted company with them immediately after the kidnapping and he had no idea where he was.

The arrested guards told the police that Ranjan was staying in a nearby hotel, from where he was also promptly arrested.

According to DC, DD (I), Banibrata Basu, the youth guarding the hut belonged to Singh’s organisation, which is why he was able to convince them to let him in and speak to Saraf. This was also how he could get a mobile phone to Saraf for him to call his wife. DC, central, Zulfikar Hasan, said the team returns to the city on Tuesday.


Calcutta, June 11: 
Calcutta High Court disposed of nearly a lakh cases during 2000-2001. This is 40 per cent higher than in previous years, a spokesperson for the court said on Friday.

“If this rate of disposal continues, the number of pending cases will be reduced to zero within 10 years,” the spokesperson added. In March 2000, three lakh cases were pending in the high court.

According to officials, the high court administration had taken several steps for speedy disposal of pending cases.

Chief Justice A. K. Mathur has appointed 18 judges of the court to inspect the operations of 18 district courts. A high court judge has also been appointed to oversee matters in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, where a circuit bench of Calcutta High Court sits.

The judges’ report on the South 24-Parganas court has already been submitted before the high court administrative committee.

The judge appointed to keep an eye on court proceedings there, dropped in as a “visitor” at 10.30 am one day. Neither the judge nor clerks appeared in court till 12.30 pm, though litigants and lawyers turned up on time.

Finally, at around 12.30 pm, a clerk announced that the judge would not attend the courtroom though he was in his chamber. The junior judge was immediately hauled up and ordered to be present in court by 10.30 am and hear cases till 4.30 pm.

Pending cases in lower courts will also be cut down, officials said. The judges appointed to oversee the district legal affairs are helping district judges out with the “quick disposal drive”. Two days a week have been fixed for judges to hear old cases.

“I will not elaborate on the steps we have taken for quick disposal of cases. I can only say that certain steps have been taken to clear pending cases in district courts as well as in high court as swiftly as possible,” said A. K. Mathur.


Calcutta, June 11: 
Adhikaar, a Salt Lake-based NGO, has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) with Calcutta High Court, protesting the “distressing conditions of children becoming victims in the greedy hands of institutions posing to be kindergarten/ Montessori schools which have mushroomed all over the city” and also “government apathy”.

The litigation has been filed against the department of education, West Bengal government, the chairman of Bidhannagar Municipality, the ministry of education and social welfare, Delhi, and several kindergarten/Montessori schools in Salt Lake. The government has been urged to formulate guidelines to “regulate the functioning of kindergarten/ Montessori schools” in the state.

“We have been distressed by the utter pandemonium outside some of these schools and by the sheer number of children going in or coming out. We formed Adhikaar primarily to try and improve the lot of these kids. After seeing the recent Metro report (‘Lessons, Montessori way’, April 30), we decided to file the petition,” said Amitava Dasgupta, president of the NGO and chief petitioner.

The PIL flays the government for turning a blind eye to such schools “without basic amenities or infrastructure”. Citing an example, the PIL alleges that Little Angels School, in Salt Lake, houses 1,200 children on two floors of a residential building, with almost 80 kids to a 12ft-by-12ft classroom and that even the garage and open verandahs are converted into classrooms “with no proper ventilation”.

Mohini Vig, proprietor and principal of Little Angels, denied the allegations. “The number of children is a lot less and all of them are comfortable and well-looked-after,” she said.

Vig admitted that classes are held in the garage, but insisted it is “habitable”. The other schools named in the PIL are Dew Drops, Madonna Montessori House and Oxford House. “We don’t have any grouse against any particular school. The whole idea is to try and stop children from being subjected to such abominable conditions,” said Dasgupta.

Dilip Gupta, chairman of the municipality, admitted that some schools in Salt Lake “have been served notices for ignoring stipulations and asked to obtain permission for running such establishments”.


Calcutta, June 11: 
From Azim Premji to Purnendu Chatterjee, the rich and the powerful who have come to meet chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, have all entered his chamber through the front door and left through the front door. But not Iti Baidya. After making it to the newspapers last week, courtesy sheer hard work and the will to succeed against all odds, this 16-year-old found herself being shepherded out of Writers’ Buildings through the back door by securitymen after a meeting with the chief minister on Monday.

A week after finishing at the top of the heap among girls in Madhyamik 2001, despite the fact that her Gobardanga home in North 24-Parganas had been washed away during last year’s floods, and a day after Mamata Banerjee announced Trinamul plans to take care of her Higher Secondary education, Iti made history of a different kind — the first visitor Bhattacharjee entertained in his office who was made to leave the chamber through the back door.

Securitymen at Writers’ Buildings went to unusual lengths to shield Iti and her family from the press. They first made the student of Khantura Girls High School, who scored 755 marks, her parents, her brother and a cousin take a lengthy detour to the chief minister’s chamber on the first floor of Writers’ Buildings. Not content with that, they were made to slip out of the chief minister’s chamber through his secretariat.

But, first, the entry. Iti was taken by the lift to the second floor and then brought down to the first floor to Bhattacharjee’s chamber, while media personnel waited for the star student in the corridor she would have walked through if she had been taken by the straighter, and shorter, route.

When the chief minister, who gave Iti flowers and a set of pens, was asked during a photo-op inside his chamber what he had told her, he asked back, only half in jest: “Why should I tell you? It’s a secret between her and me.”

Iti, however, admitted that Bhattacharjee had evinced interest in her prowess in maths. “You have got 100 in the subject. If possible, I would have learnt maths from you,” Iti quoted the chief minister as saying.

More of the hide-and-seek game was in store when she was leaving. The same secretive procedure was repeated — albeit through a different route — when Iti and her family left Writers’. They were made to walk through the chief minister’s secretariat — to the rear of the chamber — and escorted into a waiting car.

A few journos caught up with Iti when her car was leaving the Writers’ gate. Her cousin took the lead this time, admittedly under instructions from someone at Writers’, in shooing off the media. “We have been told not to speak to the press,” he said.

But it was Bhattacharjee who had the last laugh. While leaving for lunch, this was what he posed to mediapersons, along with a victory smile, when asked again what he had told Iti: “But didn’t you get to meet her?”


Calcutta, June 11: 
The bustling pavement in front of Great Eastern Hotel is Chandni’s playground. Her safety line: the rope tied to her waist, with one end knotted around a water pipe at 3, Old Court House Street.

Every morning, Razia Sultana secures the rope round her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, before leaving to try and add to the meagre amount that husband Mansoor brings to their footpath home everyday after sweeping the floors of nearby shops.

All day long, little Chandni potters around, the tug of the rope preventing her from straying too close to the chaotic Old Court House Street. Tired, she curls up for a short nap before being up on her tiny feet, and back to her antics.

Earlier, Razia would leave the toddler without the fastening. Two months ago, Dineswar Das, a cobbler who sits under the hotel portico, suddenly noticed Chandni crawling towards the busy street. “I ran after her, caught her and brought her back,” recounts Dineswar.

“Ever since, I never leave home without securing a rope round my daughter. I know people might criticise me for this, but I am helpless. My husband earns so little that it is impossible for me to run the house. So, I go around trying to earn some money by sweeping shop floors,” says Razia.

She takes a break on Sunday to spend it with her daughter. “This is the only day of the week that I can give to Chandni. I play with her, take care of her and feed her on time,” smiles Razia.

On other days, Chandni may be home alone, but she’s under caring eyes. Akhtar Ali, a securityman of the hotel, is a Chandni fan.

“I have seen her since she was a few days old. She is a lovely child, always smiling, always playing by herself. She only cries when she is hungry. I give her biscuits and play with her whenever I can,” says Ali.

Dolly Bose, a salesperson in the adjacent garment store, also keeps an eye on the girl.

“Chandni is a very cute kid and she is everyone’s favourite on the pavement,” smiles Bose, as she spots Chandni tottering towards her.


Calcutta, June 11: 
Raima’s ready to go and Ash’s days are numbered. With the Calcutta Municipal Corporation playing moral guardian, “obscene” billboards in town are on their way out.

The Corporation has given 65 advertising agencies three days’ time to clean up their act and wipe out “obscene billboards” in the city and along the EM Bypass. Among the first to face the axe are Raima ‘Spice’ Sen near Beckbagan and the ‘Rupa’ Romeo on the Bypass. Aishwarya ‘Lux’ Rai is billed to be next in line.

“Billboards have become a permanent source of visual pollution in the city and these obscene ones have just added extra nuisance value,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee. “It’s hard to define obscenity. It differs from place to place, depending on attitude and social custom,” he added.

“The conservancy department will start pulling down these vulgar hoardings from Thursday,” declared member, mayor-in-council, Mala Roy.

Advertising agencies like Selvel, Karukrit and Publicis have “accepted” the directives. But when representatives of some leading agencies asked Roy what the Corporation’s definition of obscenity was, she lectured them about how “culturally sensitive” Calcutta was.

“You must not display any message, in terms of either text or picture, which might offend the people. We have received several complaints about these hoardings, which clearly indicate that they have hurt the sentiments of Calcuttans,” she announced. Roy has directed the advertisement department to organise a special team to look into complaints received against obscene and illegal billboards, as well as those obstructing heritage structures or balconies and windows of buildings.

“At least 1,500 new billboards have been put up in the past 10 months,” a senior Corporation official said. According to civic estimates, there are more than 2,500 billboards in the city.


Calcutta, June 11: 
The stars are crossed over the University Grants Commission’s decision to introduce Vedic astrology in the university curriculum. Rationalists have been quick to label the new subject, Jyotir Vigyan, not only a “waste of funds”, but also “a threat to the process of creating free-thinking citizens”.

The UGC has made it clear that it considers astrology a “traditional discipline” which increases awareness about “time, its nature, its features and its effects on human life”.

Classifying Jyotir Vigyan as a “utilitarian science with practical applications”, the Commission hopes that introduction of the subject would open up an avenue of “self-employment” for students.

A university introducing the subject would be required to have special teaching staff, laboratories, observatories and horoscope banks. For this, the Commission would sanction up to Rs 14 lakh.

Protesting the UGC move to offer astrology courses at the graduation, masters’ and Ph.D levels, the Science and Rationalists Association of India has even launched a signature campaign.

Academicians, scientists, artistes and litterateurs have all signed up. Writer Nabanita Deb Sen, astronomer Amalendu Bandopadhayay, actor Soumitra Chatterjee and historian Hiren Mukherjee figure high on the list of 175-odd “eminent Calcuttans” opposed to the idea of astrology invading the classroom.

In a letter to the UGC, they state: “Astrology is one of the superstitions which conditions the mind of people into believing that the miseries and perils of life are governed by the patterns and formations of a few selected celestial bodies… Astrology (has) become a seat for charlatans to feed on human gullibility.”

Allowing universities to teach this language, they fear, will legitimise superstition and blind faith at a time when the need of the hour is to promote scientific thought.

There is, of course, the rival school of ‘believers’ that supports the text-book approach to astrology. Rabindranath Bhattacharya, a reader of philosophy and Sanskrit at Burdwan University, and an astrologer himself, feels that this will help spread awareness about traditional tools of learning and “serve humanity”.

But he, too, is opposed to the idea of Jyotir Vigyan being used a tool for employment. “Acquiring the knowledge is good, but using it for commercial gain is not. That’s where greed sets in. Astrologers must be impartial in order to serve people.”


Calcutta, June 11: 
Two gun-toting, motorcycle-borne youth were beaten to death by local people on Sunday night when they tried to escape after knocking down a girl, whom they had followed and teased at Gabberia, in Bishnupur, on the southern fringes of the city.

The youth were identified as Heera Roy, 27, and Abza Khali, 26. The third member, who was riding pillion, managed to escape. Two revolvers and some live cartridges have been recovered from them.

Trouble erupted when the trio, riding along Diamond Harbour Road, started following the girl, daughter of a local CPM leader, who was on her way home, around 10 pm.

Ramen Das, a local resident, said: “They were teasing the girl. At one point, the boy who was driving the motorcycle, lost control and hit the girl, throwing her on the road.”

Realising that they had gone too far, the motorcyclists tried to flee. They whipped out revolvers and threatened to shoot if anyone came in their way, the police said.

Despite the threats, some local youth, sitting at a tea-stall, chased them on motorcycles and bicycles. Soon, they managed to intercept the two-wheeler. Two of the riders were nabbed, while the third youth fled under cover of darkness. The captured youth were severely beaten up. One died on the spot, while the other succumbed to his injuries in a local hospital on Monday morning.

Moloy Sardar, an eye-witness, said: “People lost their cool when the miscreants brandished revolvers and mouthed threats. These boys used to extort money from local businessmen. They also teased girls on their way to college or school. What happened on Sunday was the expression of a long-pent mob fury. So, when they were being beaten up, no one came to their rescue.”

Officer-in-charge of Bishnupur police station, Utpal Saha, said: “We are on the look-out for the third youth, who escaped. We hope to catch him soon, because we have got some addresses on scraps of papers in the pocket of one of the victims. These addresses are bound to provide us with some leads,” said Saha.

Additional superintendent of police, industrial, Gyanwant Singh, confirmed that both the youth had criminal backgrounds.

Airport sit-in: Members of the Airports Authority of India Employees Union on Monday went on a sit-in opposite the international terminal building of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, in support of various demands, including improvement of service conditions and wages.

The demonstration did not affect operation of flights, an Airports Authority spokesman said.


Calcutta, June 11: 
The success rate in Madhyamik might have declined marginally this time, but the rush for admission to Class XI in the well-known city schools is expected to be greater than last year.

Most schools, which started distributing forms from Monday, have set steep standards for admission to the Higher Secondary courses.

The Madhyamik results, announced on Thursday, showed that 86,831 examinees have obtained first division marks, an improvement on last year’s figure by a few thousands. But the overall success rate has dropped to 70.23 per cent, compared to 70.45 per cent in 2000.

Sources in the well-known schools said they expected a greater rush for admission because of the higher number of examinees passing in the first division.

Moreover, despite the state government’s claims that nearly 2,000 secondary schools in the districts have been upgraded to HS standards to prevent the rush to city schools, the situation has not changed.

South Point will begin distributing admission forms for external students on June 13. Internal students will be able to collect forms from Tuesday.

“There’s no doubt that the competition will be tougher this time. We will first see how many applications we receive. We will then decide how to tackle the situation,” said A.N. Banerjee, principal, South Point School.

The schools are compelled to fix higher percentages because of limited seats. This puts students opting for the science stream under most pressure.

For example, while there are 500 Higher Secondary seats in South Point, nearly 760 students have passed Madhyamik from the school this year. So, a method of random screening will be employed to enable external students gain admission.

Limited seats are a matter of concern for the students as well. “I wanted to study commerce at St Xavier’s. But I have given up hope after coming to know about the admission criteria,” said Tanmoy Mukherjee, who has scored 68 per cent marks.


Calcutta, June 11: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee faces opposition within his own fold to his renewed drive against city hawkers. While his council members Pradip Ghosh, Mala Roy, Javed Khan, Rajiv Deb and Samsujjaman Ansari are with the mayor, other members, like Anup Chatterjee, Swapan Samaddar and Trinamul Congress chief whip Aparna Neogy, think that before taking any action, a go-ahead should be sought from party leader Mamata Banerjee, who had stalled the drive before the polls.

Party leader Madan Mitra has gone a step further and announced that he will actively oppose the mayor’s eviction drive if a satisfactory rehabilitation package was not offered to the displaced hawkers.

The mayor, however, dismissed the challenge. “Madan has no command over the hawkers,” he said. He made it clear that rehabilitation of encroachers amounted to rewarding law-breakers.

The date for the drive will be announced after a meeting with the state government, he said.

Hawker Sangram Committee leader Shaktiman Ghosh reiterated his threat of taking to the streets to prevent the drive. A rally was taken out on Sunday, protesting the eviction drive announced by the CMC, in conjunction with state government.

Meanwhile, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, who took the initiative in launching Operation Sunshine in 1996, has convened a meeting at Netaji Indoor Stadium on June 16 and 17.

Transporters and people from all walks of life have been invited to discuss ways of easing the flow of traffic on city roads. This convention is being seen as a prelude to the drive against hawkers.


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