Goons caught in chaos corridor
Beijing beckons B-brigade
Mystery shroud over missing teenager
Curtains for Aks in city hub hall
Woman held for highrise burglary
Helpline callers buoy drug bust drive
Orissa purge drives wedge in BJD ranks
Jamatya plan to protect identity
Vietnam ship sinks near Haldia, crew safe
Mamata meet on NDA return

 
 
GOONS CAUGHT IN CHAOS CORRIDOR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 10: 
Arrested: Seven criminals who fled in a taxi after robbing a girl at Ballygunge Phari. The hero: The chaotic traffic and pitiable condition of the roads at the Gariahat crossing.

It all began at 1 pm on Tuesday, when 22-year-old Sushata Sengupta boarded a minibus at Park Circus, along with an employee in her father’s firm, Manik Mondal.

The bus was crowded and she stood behind the driver’s seat, with Mondal a few feet away. After the bus had proceeded barely half a kilometre, Sushata suddenly found a few men, seated at the back, moving towards her.

“Initially, I did not take much notice of them,” Sushata said. “I thought they were heading for the door to get off at the next stop. But there seemed to be something odd about their behaviour, because they seemed to be crowding around me instead of the exit.”

Sushata soon learnt why. As the bus started to slow down on approaching Ballygunge Phari, one of the men pulled out a revolver, while another dug a bhojali out of his pocket. When Mondal tried to intervene, he was pushed aside.

The two armed men then snatched Sushata’s handbag and her cellphone and hopped off the bus as soon at it stopped, with their accomplices behind them. After the initial shock, Sushata started screaming for help, while Mondal ran after the criminals.

The seven men ran a short distance before hailing a taxi and quickly boarding it. The vehicle zoomed off in the direction of Gariahat.

“I rushed to a policeman standing nearby,” said Sushata. “Fortunately, he promptly swung into action.” The policeman, additional OC of south east traffic guard S. Alam, quickly informed his colleagues at Gariahat police station and hopped into his jeep. The chase had begun.

The taxi was fast to take off initially and had gained an impressive lead over Alam’s jeep. It sped past buses and trams and it looked like the criminals would be gone with their loot, even as the police watched helplessly.

But, help was at hand. As the taxi neared the Gariahat crossing, Senbo took over from the police. The potholed thoroughfare, the half-constructed flyover and the heavy machinery blocking most of the road brought the criminals’ taxi to a grinding halt.

In desperation, the goons tried to turn into Dover Lane and escape. But it was too late.

The traffic chaos had given the police the time they needed and they quickly caught up with the criminals, blocking the taxi with the jeep.

The criminals were arrested and the loot — Rs 6,000, a cell phone and some documents — recovered from them.

   

 
 
BEIJING BECKONS B-BRIGADE 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, July 10: 
Stop crying foul over their “cheap goods” and “unfair trade practices”; recognise their “efficiency factor” and forge a “synergistic relationship” instead. The attitude towards China is changing fast in Calcutta’s industry circles. The result: An Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC)-led B-brigade that will leave for China on Friday. The 20-member team will study “work culture” and “competitiveness” in Chinese industry, and initiate a “long-term alliance” with Chinese business and industry.

Accompanying ICC president C.K. Dhanuka and secretary-general Nazeeb Arif will be industrialists S.S. Kanoria, V.K. Goenka, S.K. Bangur, R.K. Agarwal, Rajat Dalmia, Mukul Somany and others. From July 13, the delegation will tour Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and the special economic zones of Shouzhou and Pudong during a seven-day stay.

“Our focus is on nothing but business,” Dhanuka said on Tuesday. “We are keen to study the Chinese production system and the underlying reasons for its efficiency. This is very critical for Indian business and industry now, especially in view of some companies shifting production base to China... We will meet some labour bureau representatives to find out how much flexibility the system allows to manufacturers.”

The B-team will also take note of infrastructure projects in China and their financing pattern. On its return, the ICC will present a paper to the government on all these issues.

The city-based industry association, with the help of the Indian consulate and high commission in China, has drawn up an elaborate itinerary, including special sessions with China Council for Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), the largest semi-government business body there. Members of the delegation with specific business interests, ranging from agro products to hi-tech sectors, will meet their Chinese counterparts individually to explore tie-ups.

R.K. Agarwal, director, Ernst & Young, said: “We are receiving a lot of queries from our clients who are interested in trade links with China. The same holds true for Chinese business and industry.” Responding to the rising interest in China, the international consultancy major has recently opened a China desk.

Preetimoy Chakraborty, director of Zenith Finesse, the largest importer of Chinese gift items in India, wondered “what the government will actually do with the Chamber’s suggestions”, before adding: “If the delegation can push the government to adopt at least a part of the Chinese system, it’s going to change the entire scenario in this region.”

   

 
 
MYSTERY SHROUD OVER MISSING TEENAGER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 10: 
Barely a month after 14-year-old Ayush Bajaj went missing from his Shyampukur residence, another 13-year-old boy, Sanjoy Das of Burtolla, disappeared mysteriously on Monday evening. Neither has Ayush Bajaj returned home nor do the police have any clue to his whereabouts. According to police, Sanjoy loved to act and had taken part in many school plays.

According to father Amit Das, a businessman, Sanjoy, a Class VI student of a well-known north Calcutta school, had returned home on Monday evening. “He ate and went for a ride on his bicycle, as he usually does,’’ Amit said.

But on Monday, when the boy failed to return till late evening, family members were worried. They looked around for him at the local club and asked neighbours and friends if they had seen him. “Local youth said they had last seen him riding pillion on an unknown, middle-aged man’s bicycle,’’ deputy commissioner of police, north, K.L. Tamta, said.

Amit went to the Burtolla police station and lodged a complaint. Subsequently, a man was arrested. According to Tamta, the man had been caught “in the past, befriending young boys and girls with chocolates. But this time he denied the charge. We are looking into all the possibilities,’’ he said.

   

 
 
CURTAINS FOR AKS IN CITY HUB HALL 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, July 10: 
If you were planning to boogey to “Banda yeh bindaas hai” at Orient this weekend, forget it. For, the Bentinck Street cinema, scheduled to screen Aks from Friday, is on the verge of ringing down the curtains “permanently”.

Orient owner Lalit Kankaria said on Tuesday that he was “left with no option”. The employees’ union has threatened to disrupt noon shows from Friday, when Amitabh Bachchan was to hit the screen with Manoj Bajpai, Raveena Tandon and Nandita Das in Rakesh Mehra’s “psychological thriller”, if the hall-owners didn’t pay “more than the salary” that they themselves had, allegedly, agreed to while negotiating the end of the cinema strike.

“The company directors are meeting this week but, frankly, we are left with few options,” Kankaria said. Family lawyers have already been contacted to initiate shutdown formalities, he added.

Orient’s move, in the wake of three other owners’ inability to reopen halls even a fortnight after the state’s longest cinema strike ended, is symptomatic of the ills that have brought the trade to the brink of a not-so-sudden death, feel industry sources. This, despite the apparently “amicable” end to the strike, they add.

Two of the yet-to-reopen halls, Jamuna and New Cinema, look likely to go the way of Tiger, Lotus, Indira, Grace and others which may never screen another film again.

The third, Liberty, may reopen on an “experimental basis”, but owner Surya Mansata expressed the fear that one result of the “experiment” could be even more losses.

All this is bad news for the industry. Representatives say a large section of Calcutta’s hall-owners may be forced to down shutters if the government doesn’t do something to bail out the beleaguered trade.

B.K. Sethi, owner of New Cinema, who invested more than Rs 50 lakh in paying off taxes and renovating the hall, felt the shutdown was final. “We suffer huge losses every year... It’s just not feasible to continue incurring losses.”

Spokespersons of Jamuna, a hall that has screened some of the best English classics in Calcutta, said the staff were asked to collect their dues in June and told the “hall was not going to reopen”.

Owner Vishu Bahrus had earlier told Metro that “running a theatre here is not a financially feasible proposition any longer”.

Explaining how the hall had been “struggling to make both ends meet for the past two years”, he had clearly stated that he “was waiting for a good price” for the cinema off Mirza Ghalib Street.

Others, like Roxy, Paradise, and Jaya (in Lake Town), pulled themselves back from the brink and reopened more than a week after the strike ended.

Of them, Paradise has decided to scrap the night show to try and cut down the mounting losses. Globe has shrugged off labour trouble just in time to gear up for Aks, a Bollywood release at the New Market theatre after ages.

“The situation isn’t going to improve if the government doesn’t clamp down on illegal screening of pirated VCDs of new releases by cable operators,” said Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA) president L.C. Bakliwal.

Besides, the taxes that halls have to pay — EIMPA spokesperson Sri Panchanan says the CMC alone requires hall-owners to pay 11 different taxes — just compounds matters.

More and more halls may shut down, ringing a death-knell for an economic chain that starts with the hall-owner and distributor and ends with the popcornwallah and ticket scalper — if the government goes on viewing cinema as nothing but a source of easy money, industry sources warned.

   

 
 
WOMAN HELD FOR HIGHRISE BURGLARY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 10: 
A woman has been detained in connection with the assault on an elderly couple in a flat in Asha Apartments, a high-security highrise on Deshapran Sashmal Road, in the Tollygunge area. However, till Tuesday, police could not trace the domestic help, Gopal Singh, is suspected of drugging the couple. The crime might have been committed by a professional hand, police feel.

The Kejriwal couple — Ajit and Renu — is recovering in a south Calcutta nursing home. Doctors could not operate on Renu to clear the haematoma on her forehead. The Kejriwals were found unconscious in their room on Monday morning by their neighbours. The almirah in the room had been ransacked. The cook has been missing since then.

D.N. Vijay, a neighbour, said: “Gopal was engaged just 10 days ago when some relations of the Kejriwals came from Delhi. On Sunday, the relatives left, and the couple went to see them off. On returning, they had dinner and went to bed.”

S. Das, resident medical officer of the nursing home where the couple is admitted, said: “Kejriwal is coming around, but it will be some time before he regains his memory. His wife is in the same state.” Officer-in-charge of Charu Market police station, Sukumar Chakraborty, said: “There are chances of a professional being involved. We are interrogating Rita Das, who brought Gopal from Midnapore.”

   

 
 
HELPLINE CALLERS BUOY DRUG BUST DRIVE 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, July 10: 
So what’s new about a new telephone number being installed at the city police headquarters? What’s new about the Calcutta Police embarking on community policing that has so far failed miserably ?

Here’s what’s new. The callers are helping the police bust organised rackets involved in supplying contraband drugs to the city.

Ever since the city police decided to instal a “helpline”—98301-10000 — at the anti-narcotics cell on June 24, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing. Over 250 calls have been registered through the helpline in a little over two weeks’ time.

“Recently, on the basis of a phone call, we raided a hideout in the city and seized a large consignment of cannabis. The seizure is the largest in the past year and a half,” said deputy commissioner, detective department, special, Sanjay Mukherjee.

The raid turned out to be special as the peddler, Jeetu, had been operating for some time without the police having a clue about the racket.

“Although we have a fairly comprehensive list of drug peddlers operating in the city, this particular hideout in the Sonagachhi area was not known to us,” Mukherjee said.

Among the several drug-peddlers arrested so far on the basis of tip-offs from the public, Taha and Jeetu Singh were able to throw light on the entire racket of peddlers operating in the city fringes. After hours of grilling, they revealed their contacts in the districts as well.

On the basis of the information gathered from those arrested, the city police have drawn up a comprehensive list of drug-peddlers operating in the fringe areas and the neighbouring districts. “We provide a lot of information to the CID and the North and South 24-Parganas police about drug peddling,” Mukherjee added.

The installation of a helpline was part of a two-pronged strategy. The first was detoxification and the second, obtaining information on drug peddlers.

“A large number of calls are made by relatives of persons who are heavily into drugs. Some calls are from young men who want to kick the habit. In such cases, we inform them about NGOs who are working against drug abuse. We try to assure them that a stint at the rehabilitation centres always helps,” said an anti-narcotic cell official. Two inspectors have been deputed to answer the calls from 8 am to 11 pm.

However, there have been occasions when the inspectors had to contend with the odd call, which had nothing to do with drugs. “On June 27, a gentleman told us that a taxi-driver in front of National Library had refused to take him home. We asked a tiger patrol car to take care of the situation. The gentleman called back to thank the officers later that night,” added Mukherjee.

   

 
 
ORISSA PURGE DRIVES WEDGE IN BJD RANKS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
July 10: 
The sacking of three Orissa ministers on charges of corruption has once again proved that chief minister Naveen Patnaik is no greenhorn in politics.

The stealth and the speed with which Patnaik axed the ministers, including his confidant Nalinikanta Mohanty, has taken everyone by surprise.

Patnaik had earlier used the same “stealth’’ to expel senior BJD leader Bijoy Mohapatra. He pulled the rug from under Mohapatra’s feet when the senior politician filed his nomination as the BJD candidate from Patkura constituency last year. Mohapatra’s nomination was rejected as he did not fulfil the necessary criteria for an Independent candidate. Even a seasoned politician like Mohapatra failed to anticipate the move in advance.

Former Union steel minister Dilip Ray was also removed in a similar manner. Works and housing minister and BJD working president Nalinikanta Mohanty did not have an inkling of his removal until the chief minister dropped the “bombshell.”

Mohanty, who met Patnaik on Monday, minutes before he heard the “unpleasant news” over Doordarshan, was livid. “We met at the stairs of the secretariat last evening. I wished him. But he seemed to be in great hurry. It was only after I watched the news that I realised what has happened,’’ Mohanty said.

Similarly, rural development and higher education minister Prashanta Nanda and health and family welfare minister Kamala Das were also caught unawares.

While Nanda was removed for alleged corruption in the department, Das faced criticism over the transfer of doctors.

The chief minister’s “stealthy ways’’ have not gone down well with his partymen. A revolt is brewing in the BJD against Naveen Patnaik.

A section of BJD leaders is in touch with the Orissa Gana Parishad chief Bijoy Mahapatra to split the party.

Senior BJP leader and rural development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu has given the rebels an “emotive” stick to beat Naveen Patnaik. He rejected the BJD demand for special category status to Orissa last month.The dissident leaders alleged that the chief minister was not taking up the matter seriously with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The party is also clamouring for the railway portfolio but Mamata Banerjee being keen on having it back, the BJD’s prospects appear bleak.

The chief minister met Vajpayee in Delhi on Thursday. “But we do not know whether he has taken up the issues with the Prime Minister for he never takes us into confidence,” said a senior leader. The rebels are likely to use these two issues against the chief minister in their campaign.

Flood scene

Orissa today took up relief measures in the flood-affected areas on a war-footing. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik and revenue minister Biswabhusan Harichandan today made an aerial survey of Kanas, Astarang, Kakatpur, Balikuda and Kujang blocks in Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts.

   

 
 
JAMATYA PLAN TO PROTECT IDENTITY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, July 10: 
Alarmed over the increasing assault by “Church-backed militants”, the “Hoda” (supreme community council) of the Hindu Jamatya tribals has drawn up an action plan to counter the aggression on its identity and traditions.

An emergency meeting of the “Hoda” on July 8 decided to intensify the “struggle” against “religious coercion” of the militant outfits and forced conversion of Hindu tribals to Christianity.

Secretary of the Jamatya “Hoda” Rampada Jamatya said the two okras of the community, Bikram Bahadur and Haricharan Jamatya, presided over the meeting, which also elected an ad hoc committee headed by Prasanna Kumar Debbarma as secretary.

Bikram Bahadur appealed to leaders of all Hindu tribal communities to jointly struggle to preserve the identity and cultural tradition of the Hindu tribals.

The meeting discussed the scheduled visit of Union minister for tribal welfare Joel Oraon to address a central rally in October at Udaipur, the headquarters of South Tripura district.

The minister has accepted the invitation of the “Hoda”, Jamatya said.

A delegation of the “Hoda” visited Delhi last month and met the Prime Minister and the Union home minister and apprised them of the situation. The delegation also called on Oraon.

The meeting on July 4 was attended by leaders of Hindu Kaipeng, Malsum, Koloi, Debbarma, Halam, Chakma and other communities besides the head priests of Chaturdash Debata temple, Prasanna Kumar Debbarma and Badal Brahmachari.

The “Hoda” has acquired land in different parts of the state to set up residential schools for Hindu tribals and sought assistance from Centre.

“The missionaries always use the bait of English education to lure our children for converting them to Christianity.

“So we are going to set up schools of our own to fight them,” Rampada Jamatya added.

   

 
 
VIETNAM SHIP SINKS NEAR HALDIA, CREW SAFE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 10: 
A Vietnamese cargo ship, MV Laknam, sank at Sandheads on the mouth of the Bay of Bengal, at least 180 km from Haldia port, this evening.

All 30 Chinese crew members were rescued by a Coast Guard vessel after the captain sent out distress signals that his “ship was sinking” .

Around 5.45 pm, the ship bound for Haldia port went down into the sea with its entire cargo of 11,000 tonnes of ammonium phosphate and 2,500 tonnes of diammonium phosphate.

“Come in Suchetakripalani...come in. The ship is going down....We are going down...,” was the message to the Coast Guard over the radio around 5 pm. Two hovercrafts immediately rushed to the aid of the crew.

“They were waving their hands in frantic appeal as compartments in the ship were flooded with water and the ship began to tilt sharply,” said a naval officer.

Earlier, the Vietnamese ship had sent an SOS to the Coast Guard at midnight after it entered Sandheads en route to Haldia. “We are at Sandheads. We have detected two holes on side of the ship. We are setting out repair work,” the message read.

Immediately, two vessels, Zizabai and Suchetakripalani, were kept on standby for rescue operations.

In pitch darkness, the 30-member crew started pumping out the water flooding the compartments. They also set out to do repair work but gave up after a six-hour struggle, a port trust spokesman said.

“The operation has failed, we are going down slowly,” was the next message received by the Coast Guard around 6 am today.

The decision to send the rescue vessels was taken after the Coast Gurad and the Calcutta Port Trust received a series of distress messages from the ship.

“The water has flooded two compartments. Pumps are not working,” was the message at 7 am. The captain had earlier refused assistance.

Soon, two Coast Guard ships, two hovercrafts and a Dornier aircraft were pressed into service for the rescue operation, headed by the commandant of the Coast Guard, K.C Pant.

Two vessels, Parshurama and Rabindra, and a dredger had earlier been sent to the aid of the sinking ship. “Although, the captain of the ship initially told us that the situation was under control, we still didn’t recall our vessels. They were on standby near the accident site,” said Captain S. Das Choudhury at the Calcutta Port Trust headquarters this evening.

The bad weather made the rescue operation difficult. Flying at a low altitude, a Dornier aircraft bailed out the crew from the sinking ship. “If the crew had stayed on for a little while, we might have had a more serious case in our hands,” said the naval officer.

A large quantity of the cargo, was meant for Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL). “We were expecting a consignment of mono ammonium phosphate from this ship,” confirmed a HLL spokesman. The rest of the cargo were meant for a Nepal based company.

   

 
 
MAMATA MEET ON NDA RETURN 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 10: 
Bowing to pressure from party MPs, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee will hold a meeting with them on Thursday to discuss Trinamul’s possible return to the BJP-led NDA at the Centre.

The Trinamul MPs have been lobbying hard with Mamata for the past few weeks to return to the NDA, arguing that otherwise the party would lose its relevance in national politics.

The meeting is being seen in Trinamul circles as the first major step towards a decision on the return to the NDA. “Mamata is serious about clinching the contentious issue at the meeting because Parliament’s monsoon session is scheduled to begin on July 23,” said Trinamul MP from Barasat Ranjit Panja.

He indicated that Mamata might announce her decision at the July 21 rally, organised by the party every year to condole the death of 13 party workers killed in police firing in 1992.

Ranjit, elder brother of Ajit Panja, felt the rebel MP should be invited to the meeting. “Ajit is one of our party MPs and there is no harm if he attends the meeting,” he said, adding that he had conveyed his feelings to Mamata.

Another parliamentarian Krishna Bose, who returned to Calcutta last night after attending an all-party meeting convened by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi to discuss Pervez Musharraf’s visit, echoed the view. “We should do something to sort out the on-going trouble in the party. Let us all sit together and decide on the NDA return,” she said.

Though Mamata was not available for comment, her close aides said she was against inviting Ajit Panja for Thursday’s meeting. “The way Ajitda has been campaigning against us is condemnable beyond words,” Mamata is said to have told them tonight.

Undeterred by Mamata’s stance, NDA leaders are learnt to have toughened their stand and imposed certain conditions on her return.

The alliance is believed to have indicated that it would appreciate a formal expression of interest to return to the NDA and allegiance to the principles guiding the alliance. It has also made it clear that it would not accept her opposition to any move to induct Ajit Panja into the ministry

   
 

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