Mayor versus misty-eyed Mamata
Sonia retains Pranab as state chief
Girl takes insulin route to death
Face-off over Parkomat deal
On the horns of a holy dilemma
Sidelined Subhas left without a seat
Bid to give deer more breathing space
Death strikes bus at killer bend
Tourists from Digha killed

Calcutta, July 7: 
High drama was witnessed on Saturday morning at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation headquarters when mayor Subrata Mukherjee offered to step down to protest the manner in which party leader Mamata Banerjee on Friday forced a last-minute cancellation of the first anniversary celebrations of the Trinamul Congress-BJP board.

On his return from Chennai, Mukherjee held a marathon meeting with his mayor-in-council members at the civic body headquarters where he offered to quit to protest the mess over Sunday’s programme.

Stung by humiliation, Mukherjee on Saturday evening went to Mamata’s Kalighat home to tell her of the decision. The two were closeted for hours, when a tearful Mamata prevailed upon her politician mentor not to take any hasty decision. “This will give a handle to the ruling CPM to corner the party. It will also send a wrong signal to party rank and file,” Mamata was learnt to have told Mukherjee. She asked him to oversee the arrangements of the July 21 programme when Trinamul workers will organise a rally to pay homage to 13 workers killed in police firing.

Mamata wanted to know why she was dropped from the list of invitees to the CMC function when rebel party MP Ajit Panja was invited. At this, Mukherjee maintained that Panja’s name did not figure on the list of invitees.

CMC sources said mayor-in council member, in charge of conservancy, Mala Roy, who was held responsible for inviting Panja, also threatened to quit. Asked about it, she evaded a straight answer but said, “I have protested because I am being unnecessarily dragged into controversy. No formal invitation was sent to Panja.”

A function was to be held on Sunday at Rabindra Sadan to mark the completion of the civic board’s first year in office but Mukherjee had to cancel it bowing to intense pressure within the party and Mamata’s objections.

“We had to cancel the programme at the last moment due to misunderstanding and a communication gap within the party. We shouldn’t invite controversy at the cost of public money,” a disgusted Mukherjee told the Press at the CMC headquarters on Saturday afternoon.

Mukherjee admitted that the “mess” took place as he was away from Calcutta. Upset at the way some of his mayor-in-council members were divided over organising Sunday’s programme, he said the issue was unnecessarily dragged into controversy.

Mayor-in council, in charge of drainage, Rajib Deb, said the programme was called off as the CPM councillors, who are in the Opposition, had declined to attend it.


New Delhi, July 7: 
West Bengal Congress president Pranab Mukherjee will continue in his post.

Sonia Gandhi, who returned from the USA on Wednesday night, has taken a decision to this effect. Sonia’s move to retain Pranab, in spite of his desire to quit, indicates that the AICC chief is unhappy with the way a section of the state unit virtually “encouraged” Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee to walk out of the alliance.

Privately, Sonia has been naming some state leaders, wondering how the biggest votaries of the alliance, before Mamata parted ways with the NDA, could now become its critics.

Though Mamata has not made any formal announcement on severing ties, she has criticised the Pradesh Congress leaders on several occasions. The Trinamul chief was particularly annoyed with Somen Mitra, who was tipped to replace Mukherjee as state Congress president. Mamata was important for Sonia as the AICC chief was viewing her as a “long-term ally”. However, after her return from the US, Sonia seems to be reconciled to the parting of ways with the Trinamul.

No time-frame has been fixed for Mukherjee’s tenure, but AICC sources said the Congress chief whip in the Rajya Sabha might have to lead the party in West Bengal till the panchayat elections scheduled for 2002. It was an open secret that Mukherjee wanted to leave Bengal to “concentrate” on national politics. He is member of at least half-a-dozen important AICC panels.

, including the one on smaller states. Moreover, he is chairman of the high-profile home ministry parliamentary standing committee. But Sonia seems to have been impressed with his handling of the Bengal unit.

Sources said Sonia decided to continue with Mukherjee as many party MPs hold similar posts. “It would have set a wrong precedent,” an AICC functionary said, pointing to Sri Prakash Jaiswal, Girja Vyas, Radha Kishan Malviya and others who are discharging duties of PCC chiefs while holding other posts as well.

Moreover, a change of leadership in Bengal would have sparked similar demands from other states. Sonia had put in place an organisational set-up during the November 2000 party polls and she is not keen to disturb it. “Unlike some other AICC chiefs, Sonia is keen to allow a full three-year term to PCC presidents instead of playing musical chairs with them,” a party leader said.


Calcutta, July 7: 
A 22-year-old girl committed suicide by injecting insulin on Friday night at her lover’s flat at Rabindrapalli, in Baguiati. She was identified as Mala.

The police described the incident as the tragic end of a love story. A 26-year-old student of chartered accountancy, hailing from Tinsukia in Assam, had rented a room in the city. Mala was a student at the institute where he studied. Gradually they became emotionally involved. But Mala’s family was opposed to the match.

The young man left for home recently. He had asked his landlord to hand over the keys to Mala if she came. Police said Mala told her parents on Thursday that she was going to a friend’s house. When she did not return till late at night, a missing diary was lodged.

Investigation revealed that Mala had gone to her boyfriend’s flat and locked herself in. On Friday night, on finding the door locked, the landlord informed the police. The police broke in and found the girl lying on the floor. A note scribbled on the wall read: “I can’t stay without him. I am dying of my own will.”

Police said the girl’s mother was a diabetic patient and she possibly got the insulin ampules from her mother’s medicine kit. The body has been sent for post-mortem.


Calcutta, July 7: 
A day after urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya announced that his department would probe the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s allocation of Rs 3 crore for the Parkomat, mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Saturday challenged the minister to do so.

The controversy involves the allotment of Rs 3 crore to Simplex, the company constructing the multi-level Parkomat on Rawdon Street. The pay-off charge was made by CPM councillor and leader of the Opposition in the CMC, Nirmal Mukherjee, who alleged that the Trinamul Congress-led civic board had flouted CMC rules by making the payment.

On his return to Calcutta from Chennai, Mukherjee told reporters on Saturday that this was a “non-issue” and there was no need to probe it. “There is nothing fishy about the deal. But if the minister insists, the probe should be conducted by the CBI or the judiciary.”

Mukherjee flared up on being told that Bhattacharya will make a statement in the Assembly in this regard. “The CPM is using the issue to discredit the Trinamul-BJP combine.” He argued that the Parkomat was conceived by the CPM-led civic board.

Mukherjee held a marathon meeting with all his mayors-in-council over the Parkomat deal before briefing Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee about it.

A CBI probe or a judicial enquiry would open up a Pandora’s box, Mukherjee said. “I have documented proof of corruption against the CPM-run CMC board,” he claimed, adding that 38 irregular appointments of engineers were made, besides illegal land deals.

Constitution seminar

A two-day symposium on the working of the Constitution started on Saturday at Paribesh Bhawan in Salt Lake. The programme, jointly organised by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution and West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), aims at eliciting reactions from the public on issues related to the working of the Constitution.

The symposium is part of a nation-wide programme, said N.R. Madhava Menon, vice-chancellor, NUJS.

The topics discussed on the first day included the pace of socio-economic change and constitutional reform, immunity of legislators and powers of the comptroller and auditor general. Sunday’s discussions will include enlargement of fundamental rights, office of the Governor under the Constitution and the Centre’s treaty-making powers.

“We have invited academicians, legal practitioners, human rights activists and government officers to take part. A report, based on the discussions, will be sent to the Commission,” Menon added.


Calcutta, July 7: 
The road leading to the bazaar wore a deserted look, though dusk was yet to set in. Eleven-year-old Munirul pointed at a bull and ran away, as a snorting Dharma headed for the pile of vegetables.

The residents of this sleepy hamlet in Dakshin Barasat are living in fear of Dharma, Shankar and Karma. The trio has unleashed a reign of terror in the area. Four persons have died and several others have been wounded in the past 12 months.

The authorities plead helplessness. An inquiry is on, is all the Joynagar police would say. “The bulls are gifts from devotees to the local Dharmaraja temple. We cannot allow them to be taken away,” says Rabi, a local resident.

However, others are not so tolerant. “Dharma had charged at Lokman Mollah at the vegetable market. After a few agonising hours at the hospital, he died,” recalls Samarendra Chakraborty, a member of the local Manabatabadi Yuktibadi Kendra. Kendra members have submitted a memorandum to chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Friday, requesting his intervention in the matter.

Dharma’s second victim was Dukkho Das. The bull had cornered him in an alley, four months ago. “Dukkho was writhing in pain when we found him. He had sustained injuries in his spine and head, and died at a city hospital,” a resident said. Some people had urged the police to take action, but a local puja committee resisted the move. Two months ago, the bulls claimed their third victim. This time Shankar charged at Kochi Mondal, who died of a heart attack.

Things reached a head on June 17, when Dharma attacked Sukumar Das. Das was rushed to hospital, where he had to be operated upon. He died on June 30. Even a few weeks ago, Dulal Mitra escaped an attack by Shankar but was seriously injured.

On Saturday, villagers managed to tie Dharma to a pillar of the temple, where followers of Dharmaraja, offered him vegetables and fruits. Shankar is still at large, plundering the bazaar.


Calcutta, July 7: 
Beleaguered minister Subhas Chakraborty’s isolation is almost complete.

Much to his humiliation, Chakraborty, who is also vice-president of Citu, the CPM’s labour arm, was not offered a seat on the dais where he had gone to attend a meeting to condole the death of Citu state president Niren Ghosh.

The minister, who appeared upset and “disturbed”, didn’t climb onto the dais where party leaders, including state secretary Anil Biswas, chairman of the CPM’s control commission Samar Mukherjee, Mohammad Amin and others, were seated.

Denied a seat even in the front row meant for key party functionaries and trade union leaders, an upset Chakraborty was found sitting in a corner of the Calcutta University centenary hall along with wife Ramala. Seated in the front row was industry minister Nirupam Sen and several leaders from North 24-Parganas.

However, Rabin Deb, party MLA from Ballygunge, who was in-charge of the dais, brought Chakraborty near the podium but could not find him a chair.

Though he was not invited to garland Niren Ghosh’s portrait, he did it on his own as others looked on.

Even mentor Jyoti Basu, who also paid his respects to Ghosh, didn’t notice his “trusted follower” sitting beside the wings. Chakraborty left the hall silently after the function was over, unnoticed by prominent CPM leaders.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will make a statement in the Assembly on the Salt Lake stadium scandal after the CID submits its report to the government.

CPM insiders today said that Bhattacharjee was likely to make his statement during the third week of this month. Before that, the CPM leadership will not initiate any move against Chakraborty, party sources indicated.

Chakraborty’s first public appearance after the stadium episode indicates his worry over his future in CPM. He even refused to talk to the media and avoided photographers.

Basu, was, however, slightly critical about the CPM organisation. Describing Ghosh as a true communist, Basu said: “The very concept of holding regular party classes is now a forgotten chapter in our party. But I believe Anil (Biswas) will be able to initiate adequate measures in this regard.”

Basu also said that “Niren Ghosh used to conduct party classes when I joined the communist party. He is also senior to me in the party and I had attended some of the party classes conducted by Ghosh”.

Samar Mukherjee, chairman of the CPM control commission, presided over the meeting. Anil Biswas, Mohammad Amin and other Front leaders also spoke on the occasion.


Bolpur, July 7: 
The forest department has drawn up a plan to relocate the increasing deer population from the Ballavpur wildlife sanctuary.

There are more than 250 spotted deer struggling for space and fodder in this sanctuary, spread over only 96.5 acres.

The forest department’s recent efforts to shift deer to the forests of Ilambazar and Ganpur have proved to be disastrous. Forest department sources said as many as 20 deer had been taken there. But soon they became targets of local residents and even stray dogs. “Some of them could not bear the exertion of the journey and fell ill”, a senior forest official said.

One of the main problems with the deer living in sanctuaries is that they cannot procure food for themselves. “They have to be nursed like babies. Once released in jungles, they feel like orphans and fall easy prey to poachers and other animals,” forest range officer Amal Bhowmik said.

Once the sanctuary area is widened and proper fencing erected, the accommodation problem will be solved. Bhowmik said the zilla parishad has sanctioned Rs 45 lakh for building barbed wire fencing around the sanctuary, which will have a cover area of 499.5 acres — over 400 acres bigger than that the existing one.

Dhiren Let, Birbhum zilla parishad chairman, said he, too, was eager to complete the fencing by 2001. “Such a scheme was long overdue to boost the tourism potential of the district,” Let said.

Other than deer, the sanctuary houses peacocks, monkeys and different kinds of birds.


Sevok, July 7: 
“There was a sudden impact and the ground gave way. After two somersaults, I was thrown out of the window. When I came around, I was being pulled up by some people.”

That is the story of 40-year-old Rupa Gurung from Pokhara, Nepal. She was one of those lucky enough to survive the bus accident this morning at Sevok in which seven people died.

The driver of the vehicle, a Blue Hill night service bus travelling from Guwahati to Siliguri, lost control on National Highway 31A and plunged into the turbulent Teesta.

Rupa, along with her 10-year-old nephew Pritam Gurung, are among the 31 survivors. Lying in the surgical casualty ward at North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, Rupa, who had gone visiting her brother in Guwahati, said: “I prayed to God and both my nephew Pritam and myself were saved.”

Lakpa Lama, a regular traveller from Shillong, said: “Krishan Lal Bhagat is a very senior driver and a cautious one. The bus lost control possibly because of a brake failure and hurtled down. I was lucky as I was seated in the front and was somehow thrown out of the bus as it turned and tumbled down the hill into the river.”

Urban development and municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya, who rushed to the accident spot, some 14 km from Siliguri, said: “The bus with 40 passengers lost control on the vulnerable hair-pin and plunged some 350 feet into the Teesta.”

The minister praised the local residents, social welfare organisations and NGOs for rescue work. “It was because of them that so many lives could be saved. They have done a commendable job in lifting the injured passengers trapped under the mangled and twisted remains of the bus. It was fortunate that the bus did not get submerged into the river, lowering the toll.”

Though both Bhattacharya and additional superintendent of police (ASP), Siliguri, Ajoy Kumar ruled out “over-crowding” on the bus, passengers said the driver had picked up five more passengers at Birpara in Dooars early this morning, taking the number of passengers to 45 at the time of the accident.

Rescue workers feared the toll could be more as a few of the dead could have been crushed under the mangled bus and washed away by the fast-flowing mountain river.

“Preliminary investigations suggest that the bus lost control and plunged into the Teesta near the Sevok kali mandir around 11.45 am. The particular bend on this stretch of NH 31A about half-a-km from the Coronation bridge had become a accident-prone spot. The sudden narrow turn on the road became difficult to negotiate. The dead include the second driver of the bus. Among those critically injured are three children and four women.”


Howrah, July 7: 
Two youths were killed and five injured when the car in which they were returning from Digha caught fire after colliding with a bus near Uluberia this morning.

While Prasanta Das and Biplab Mondal, both of them 22 years old, died on the spot, the injured were rushed to a local hospital. Two of them were later shifted to a hospital in Calcutta.

When police heard of the accident, they rushed to the spot. All in the ill-fated car suffered burns. Some even had head injuries.

After the accident which occurred at 9 am, traffic on National Highway 6 was disrupted for around two hours.

Tapas Kodali, an eyewitness, said the speeding Maruti Omni, which the tourists had hired to go to Digha and back, hit a government bus bound for the seaside resort, and lost control.

The car then hit two stationary lorries, breaking the fuel tank of one. After that it caught fire.

He added that there were a total of nine tourists. They had hired two Maruti Omnis. The other Omni came back safely.

Those injured include Prasanta Jana (25), Arup Kodali (40), Amiya Jana (17), Ashish Kodali (25) and Dolly Kodali (28).


Maintained by Web Development Company