Mayor to plead with defaulters
8-year-old leader of car stereo theft gang held
Mission Meet Musharraf fails
Lion City lays out live-it-up lure
Assembly row over panel for Patha Bhavan
Fish-mongers down shutters in Gariahat
Poor results draw govt rap
Child dies in road-rage belt
Panja maps ministry return
Opp. skips House panel after date row

Calcutta, July 17 : 
Embarrassed at his plans to net revenue worth hundreds of crores for the Calcutta Municipal Corporation having flopped, Subrata Mukherjee will now plead with tax-defaulters to take advantage of a scheme that looks after their interests as well.

Mukherjee, after coming to know that house-owners owed the CMC taxes worth Rs 350 crore, announced a scheme that allowed defaulters to pay their dues by December 2001 without the accruing interest. He got the government’s go-ahead last month.

The mayor hoped that if even half the defaulters availed of the scheme, the CMC would net Rs 175 crore as revenue. He was aware that following differences over the hawker eviction issue, many members of his own party would be highly pleased if his plan failed.

So, when defaulting house-owners refused to pay up, Mukherjee was forced to ask municipal commissioner Debashis Som to prepare a borough-wise list of defaulters. He will write to them, asking them to avail of the scheme before the December 31 deadline.

The move follows a meeting attended by all members of the mayor-in-council last Saturday. It was decided that the scheme would be the first special agenda in all such subsequent meetings till it expired in December.

The CMC will start charging interest and penalty from defaulter landlords if they apply for the scheme a day after August 31. The CMC charges an interest of 15 per cent on the outstanding principal if it is below the lakh-mark. The interest rate rises to 18 per cent once the outstanding principal crosses that figure.

The steep interest rate led the mayor to believe that defaulters would respond with alacrity to the scheme, senior CMC officers said. However, it has been anything but that. “We have received a little over 2,000 applications in the past fortnight,” deputy municipal commissioner (revenue) N.K. Roy said. The CMC can expect to realise only a little over Rs 5 crore from these applicants. At this rate, the CMC can expect to receive only 10,000 applications (the number of defaulters in the city is about 12 times that number).by August-end.

It is uncertain whether the CMC can send waiver reports to even the applicants and realise the dues by end-December, officers admit. A senior accounts section officer said some had defaulted since 1960 and collection registers were not up-to-date. “Hardly 100 waiver reports have been sent during the last 15 days,” he said.

CMC officers don’t expect a clear-up. Several thousand defaulters, who responded to former mayor Kamal Bose’s call in 1986 and deposited their arrears without paying interest, still receive demand notices from the CMC. Their cases haven’t yet made it to the civic register.


Calcutta, July 17 : 
He is a frail eight-year-old. Legs covered with dirt and torn trousers, he could pass off as any other urchin in Tollygunge, begging for his supper. On Tuesday, however, the police discovered that Shekhar Das was leading a gang of six young criminals.

Police say Shekhar and his boys, three of them teenagers, lift car stereos, tyres, engine parts and batteries and sell them to garage-owners and in the grey market. According to deputy commissioner (south), Ranjit Pachnanda, the gang has stolen and sold car parts worth more than Rs 1 lakh in the past six months.

“Tollygunge thana was acting on information that an eight-year-old criminal was leading a gang stealing car parts and stereos in south and central Calcutta,” said Pachnanda, admitting that, initially, the police too was sceptical about the tip-off. “But late on Monday night, we laid a trap in Tollygunge to arrest Shekhar and two others. It was then that we realised that Shekhar actually was the head of the gang.’’

Kamal Pramanik, 18, and Ganesh Ghosh, 19, were arrested along with Shekhar. Eleven stolen car stereos, 10 batteries and spare motor parts worth a lakh were recovered from the gang’s Tollygunge hideout, police said.

Kamal and Ganesh, apparently, took the stolen stereos and motor parts to garage-owners they knew. “They also passed on stolen foreign-made stereos to Fancy Market and other grey markets, where they knew a few shop-owners there,’’ a sleuth said.

Shekhar’s initiation into the world of crime was “tragic”, say police. “He lived with his parents in the Charu Market area. He would watch his father drink away all the money that the family had and beat up his mother regularly. There were days when she would starve herself in order to feed her son. Shekhar took to crime to keep his mother alive,” the police said.

Shekhar, described as “extremely sharp for his age”, is said to have mastered the art of removing glass windows of cars, sneaking into them and stealing car stereos. He can also open the bonnet and remove the battery and other engine parts within seconds. When Shekhar would be busy in his act, his colleagues would casually form a ring around the vehicle, keeping a watch on the street.

Investigations revealed that Shekhar and his associates were operating along Southern Avenue, Rashbehari Avenue, Gariahat, Ballygunge, Prince Anwar Shah Road, Hazra, New Alipore and New Market in the past six months.

“There are a dozen cases of car stereo and motor parts theft against Shekhar and his associates,’’ Pachnanda said. Shekhar will be produced in the Juvenile Court on Wednesday.


Calcutta, July 17 : 
Gen. Musharraf,

As an Indian prisoner, I spent 20 years in different jails in Pakistan. Like me, other Indians are languishing in Pakistani jails without any trial... Considering the tears of their wives, mothers and children, kindly arrange their release immediately. This is the only request to your Insaniyat.

Mahboob Elahi,

31/1 Colootola Street,


Mahboob Elahi, who spent two decades in Pakistani jails after being charged of spying for India, is a man betrayed by his “own country” today. With a train ticket and Rs 400 in his pocket — and a petition signed by 7,000 Calcuttans — he had boarded a train for Delhi on July 5.

His mission: To meet President Pervez Musharraf and appeal to the general’s “insaniyat”, so that his countrymen, now suffering like he did for so long, are freed from prison.

Elahi is back home now, embittered by his experience at the hands of securitymen of the country for which he underwent imprisonment and torture. “I was followed around by securitymen, looking to clear the city of all ‘undesirable’ elements before Musharraf’s high-profile visit, and finally packed off to Calcutta, as they found my presence a threat to the General’s safety,” he said, after his four-day-long exercise in futility.

Elahi, who worked for the Indian military intelligence in pre-1971 East Pakistan and post-1971 Pakistan, had been picked up from Lahore in June 1977 by Pakistani counter-intelligence agencies. But it was not until 1980 that he faced trial. “The three years were spent in the custody of the Pakistani army,” Elahi said. He was found guilty of spying for India and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment.

The long years in prison, which have left behind some indelible marks on his torso and his mind, steeled his resolve to do something for the several Indians he met who were being held there without trial.

Musharraf’s visit, he felt, was the “perfect opportunity” to bring the issue to the fore. So, with 7,000 signatures collected from various points in Calcutta, like College Street and Rabindra Sadan, a petition and two banners, he left for the capital.

When securitymen found him collecting signatures for his petition, they perceived him as a “security threat to the General”, took away a copy of his signed appeal “to be handed over to the Pakistani high commission” and packed him off to Calcutta.

Elahi now plans to approach the United Nations with specific details of Indians in Pakistani prisons. He is not willing to give up the fight just yet.


Calcutta, July 17 : 
If it’s summer, it’s Singapore — that’s been the buzzword among Calcuttans for the past few years. But the summer of 2001 has seen a 20 per cent slump in the number of tourists from Calcutta to the ‘Lion City’. Plummeting from last year’s high of 18,000 tourists, the first five months of 2001 have seen “the steepest slump experienced anywhere”.

With the Great Singapore Sale, from May to July, as a top draw, Singapore has emerged as one of the most popular destinations in recent times. “We have seen numbers move steeply upwards since 1998, until earlier this year,” said C. Chang, marketing manager for the Singapore Tourism Board, in town on Tuesday. “The main reason appears to be the stock market crash.”

Girish Mehta, former director, Calcutta Stock Exchange, couldn’t agree more. “The stock market debacle is the major factor in the slump. The crash hit both badla players and small investors hard and the first casualty in costs being cut was foreign travel this summer. With trips to Singapore and Bangkok becoming as common as Goa or Nainital, so many have dropped plans to travel and shop abroad this time.”

Travel agents across the city agree they have suffered the slide. “We are keeping our fingers crossed for things to pick up before the Pujas,” says Seema Ahmed, assistant general manager, Gainwell. “One of the strongest agents for travel to Singapore,” the Ho Chi Minh Sarani agency has sold around 300 Singapore packages till now, a far cry from the 600-odd they had been recording in the Jan-Oct period for the past few years.

During the Great Singapore Sale, shops — selling everything from electronics to glitzy designer labels — slash prices by up to 90 per cent. “With the recent retail boom in Calcutta, you can get a lot of stuff off the racks here... That could well have contributed to the decline in bookings this time,” observes an agency representative.

This is bad news for the Singapore Tourism Board, as Indians are, by far, the largest spenders on the island. “The average Indian tourist spends $ 1,700 (US) per person per trip, while the general mean is around $ 700,” said Chang.

But with the stock exchange “starting to stabilise”, there are “early indications to suggest that things will soon start picking up,” feels A.G. Faridi, regional manager of Cox and Kings, Calcutta.

To attract the Puja/Diwali and winter traveller, the Singapore Tourism Board has launched a ‘Live it up’ promo blitz and signed up for this year’s Travel and Tourism Fair in town.


Calcutta, July 17 : 
The Assembly on Tuesday witnessed a face-off between Trinamul Congress’ Saugata Roy and CPM’s Rabin Deb over disbanding of the managing committee of Patha Bhavan.

During mention hour, Roy alleged that Deb, the legislator from Ballygunge, was instrumental in disbanding the managing committee headed by former Calcutta University vice-chancellor, Santosh Bhattacharjee.

Roy said the CPM was trying to politicise the educational system and run the schools with its “own men”. He also demanded the school education minister’s intervention.

Roy claimed that most teachers and guardians’ representatives were with Bhattacharjee. But the CPM disbanded the committee to serve its “political agenda.” He feared deterioration in the standard of education in the school as a consequence.

Roy was joined by other Trinamul Congress MLAs like Sovandeb Chattopadhyay and Sonali Guha, who started shouting.

Refuting Roy’s remarks, Deb said the term of the managing committee, headed by Bhattacharjee, had expired and a new committee was appointed following a high court directive. He also denied Roy’s allegation that the CPM was trying to politicise the educational system.


Calcutta, July 17 : 
Nothing fishy will be tolerated in transactions at the Gariahat fish market. Aiming to send this message across to their colleagues, a section of the fish-mongers kept their shutters down for 24 hours, in protest against other sellers cheating buyers on weight.

Bhanu Sarkar, spokesperson for the rebelling group, said on Tuesday: “A section of the traders was deceiving unsuspecting customers. Our repeated requests to them fell on deaf ears. We live off the profit in our business and for the sake of our reputation, we should give the buyers exactly what they have paid for.”

Sarkar expressed surprise that the enforcement branch of Calcutta Municipal Corporation did not take any action despite complaints. “They did not even enquire why the market remained closed from 12 noon on Monday to 12.30 pm on Tuesday.”

There were protests on Tuesday when a fishmonger tried to pass off a lesser quantity of fish to a customer. “Seventeen of us have formed a committee to stop customers from being cheated,” Sarkar said. The committee will soon be registered.

The committee has threatened to launch an agitation to protest the CMC’s “highhandedness”.


Calcutta, July 17 : 
Failure demands an explanation at the least — that’s the message from the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE) to 185 city schools. These institutions have been showcaused by the Board as their students have “fared badly” in Madhyamik 1999, 2000 and 2001. It is learnt that around 40 per cent of the students of these schools failed to make the grade for three consecutive years.

The government had earlier instructed the Board to prepare a list of schools whose performance in the Madhyamik examinations was consistently below par.

“We have prepared the list and submitted our report on these schools to the government. Students from these institutions have fared poorly in the Madhyamik examinations for the past few years,” said Arun Kiran Chakraborty, president, WBBSE. “The government is not satisfied with the performance of these schools.”

Most of these schools enjoy grants and financial assistance from the government and are in no position to ignore the whip for improving their performance.

According to a Board official, Kalighat Oriental Academy, Surendranath Collegiate School and Abhaycharan Vidyamandir figure high on the list.

The authorities of Surendranath Collegiate School have already written to school education minister Kanti Biswas, requesting him to initiate a move to fill up vacant teaching posts.

“Since 1993, the school has lost 12 teachers, but our repeated requests to the authorities for replacements have fallen on deaf ears. It has come to a stage now where the school has only four teachers on its rolls to manage Classes V to X. It is impossible to conduct regular classes and the school will have to be shut down soon if government continues to be apathetic,” an official of Surendranath Collegiate School said.

The Board has also issued showcause notices to a number of schools in the districts.

In North Bengal, 191 institutions have been hauled up for “poor performance” of students in the Madhyamik exams.

In Midnapore zone, 97 schools have been asked to explain the failure of so many of their students at Madhyamik. In Burdwan zone, 72 schools face the rap.


Calcutta, July 17: 
An eight-year-old girl was killed and her sister injured in Mograhat of South 24 - Parganas today when a bus ran them over.

Around 7.30 in the morning, sisters Nur Khatun (8) and Sahajadi Khatun (10) were hit by a surface transport corporation bus while on way to school with their father.

After the incident, residents damaged the killer bus, on its way to Calcutta, and tried to set it on fire.

They also put up a roadblock for over three hours on Diamond Harbour Road, the area’s only road link with the city.

Subdivisional police officer of Diamond Harbour, D.S. Rudra, said: “Both of them were immediately rushed to Diamond Harbour subdivisional hospital. Nur succumbed to injuries there. Sahajadi’s condition is critical.”

The driver of the bus managed to escape. The protesters demanded the arrest of the driver.

Yesterday, a girl was killed and eight persons injured when a Tata Sumo lost control and ran through a waiting crowd in Behala.

Sakti Porel, a local resident, said: “We have requested the administration to control the movement of traffic in the area as accidents are frequently occurring but they never heed our requests. Today’s incident left commuters in great hardship. Specially the students who are seeking admission in colleges in Calcutta.”

“After every accident the administration says they will look into the matter and make arrangements for police posting. But they never do that. Everything goes on as usual and people have to move at their own risk. The long-distance buses drive at full speed in crowded areas. Steps need to be taken immediately or else a major accident may occur and kill many more people,” Porel said.

The subdivisional police officer said: “After some persuasion the blockade was lifted. The driver of the bus has surrendered.”


Calcutta, July 17: 
Rebel Trinamul Congress MP Ajit Panja today said his suspension from the party was “illegal” and he would certainly like to go and become a minister at the Centre if Atal Bihari Vajpayee so desired.

Panja lashed out at Mamata Banerjee and challenged her and Sudip Bandopadhyay to prove that they were primary members of the party. “The decision at a meeting last night on my suspension pending an inquiry is illegal. The rules, on the basis of which action was taken, do not exist. Such a decision by Mamata Banerjee, who is not even a primary member of Trinamul, is wholly whimsical and another example of her deteriorating mental condition, arbitrary and without any reason,” Panja said.

He claimed that the majority of those present at yesterday’s meeting were “mentally” on his side and they tried to persuade Mamata against taking any action. “But, in her typical way, she sort of arm-twisted them into taking the decision to suspend me. The rule under which I have been suspended from the party does not exist,” Panja said.

However, a senior Trinamul MP, who was present at last night’s meeting, rebutted the dissident leader’s claim. “I was there all along in the meeting but never did we try to persuade Mamata against taking any action against Ajit Panja. I think the relationship between Mamata and Ajitbabu is now beyond repair,” the MP said.

Party spokesman Bandopadhyay said this evening that separate letters have already been sent to Vajpayee, NDA convener George Fernandes and the Lok Sabha Speaker. “Ajit Panja is referring to the old party rules before it was registered with the Election Commission as All India Trinamul Congress. While taking action against Panja, we have only followed the directives and guidelines set by the Election Commission,” Bandopadhyay said.

Panja, however, rubbished the argument and said that Mamata has all along taken arbitrary decisions and suspended and expelled party members at will. “But not a single partyman has received any letter of suspension or expulsion. I challenge Mamata to give me in writing that I am suspended and I challenge her to prove that she herself is even a primary member of the party and quote her membership number. She only informs us about actions taken against us through the media,” Panja said.

Calling Mamata a “coward”, the rebel leader said she had forgotten her Bengal Package. “Her Bengal package now only concerns removal of Ajit Panja so that he does not become a Central minister,” he said.


Calcutta, July 17: 
The Opposition Congress and Trinamul Congress today decided to boycott the Assembly’s business advisory committee after Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim turned down their plea for a separate day to discuss the no-confidence motion against him.

Trinamul chief whip Sobhandeb Chatterjee and Congress MLA Asit Mitra informed Halim of their decision to boycott the committee. The only other committee member from the two parties is Trinamul’s Sougata Roy.

The Congress and Trinamul had given a notice to bring a no-confidence motion against the Speaker, which is scheduled to be discussed on Thursday.

The two parties, however, urged the Speaker to reschedule the discussion as chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will place the police budget and also make a statement in the Assembly on the stadium arrests that day.

“It is impossible for us to concentrate on the no-confidence issue on July 19 as we have to take part in the police budget after Bhattacharjee places the same in the Assembly. We, therefore, requested the Speaker to fix another day for discussion on the no-confidence motion, but he refused our proposal,” Chatterjee said.

Yesterday, the Congress and Trinamul raised the issue in the Assembly and urged Halim to fix another day for discussion on no-confidence motion. Halim put the issue to vote and the motion was defeated.


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