It was our Bapida... I thought he was going to be murdered, says witness
Three theories in Tiljala whodunnit
Violence as a way of life
Shoe mantra: Simple, affordable
Mystery flood baffles civic engineers
Strike at heart of work culture
Hospitals are sick, says study
Front locks horns with Bloc over MP
SLET results tomorrow
Martyrs’ column tussle in simmering Suchpur

Calcutta, July 25: 
The first shot shattered the silence of the mazaar where 65-year-old Maqbool Ahmed was resting with some of his friends. At first sight, it seemed to him that two cars were “playing peculiar games with each other; except, somehow, that the roles should have been reversed”.

There was this “huge green car which was being bullied by a small white one” on the narrow C.N. Roy Road. What Maqbool did not realise was that the abductors’ Maruti 800 had just overtaken the Tata Safari and, by firing in the air, had all but stopped it in its tracks.

Watching intently from behind a pillar, Maqbool saw two men spill out of the Maruti and run towards the Safari, waving pistols in the air. The time, Maqbool recollected, was around 11.30 am. He also recollected much later that he had seen the Maruti parked near the mazaar.

“The road is a busy one and so, there was nothing unusual about a car being parked near the Khadim’s warehouse.” It was the turn that events took in the next half-an-hour that proved that the Maruti was there with a mission.

Maqbool, in a state of shock, saw one of the two men take aim at the Safari and fire at it. “The bullet hit the windscreen and smashed through it,” Maqbool said. “The driver suddenly picked up speed and the car crashed into a lamppost.”

The Safari finally came to a stop, its front fender broken and two terrified men huddling inside it. Now, said Maqbool, another man, also armed, came out of the Maruti and joined the other two by the side of the larger car. By this time, others on the road had stopped to watch the “horrifying spectacle”. But none of them intervened, too aware of what the consequences would be.

The shots seemed to be going off, one after the other. “There was firing going on, but it is impossible for me to recall exactly how many shots went off,” Maqbool said. “And then they descended on the car, trying to force the back door open.”

“At first, I saw the armed men open the left door at the back of the car and a man desperately trying to ward them off,” Maqbool said. “And then I recognised who the man was. It was our Bapida (Parthapratim Roy Burman) and I was really afraid for him. In the confusion of what was happening I thought he was going to be murdered. I tried to scream, but fear had made me lose my voice.”

Maqbool watched as Roy Burman was “shot at” — most possibly in his arm — and thought he had died. A few moments later, he was relieved to see Roy Burman alive as he was dragged out of the car and pushed into the Maruti.

The car sped off towards the EM Bypass.


Calcutta, July 25: 
What is clear is that the entire operation to kidnap Parthapratim Roy Burman had been meticulously planned and smoothly executed. The route had been studied, an appropriately small Maruti 800 car had been used by the abductors to negotiate the narrow roads and the movements of the shoe magnate had been observed for several weeks to fine-tune the timings.

Till late on Wednesday evening, the teams from the CID and the South 24-Parganas police investigating the case were still grappling with stray clues to figure out who or which gang was behind the crime.

The police feel that the abduction has taken place either for ransom or business rivalry. Till late in the evening, no ransom call was received. The police are verifying information that just a few weeks ago, Khadim’s godown had received extortion calls but Roy Burman had decided to ignore them.

On the business rivalry front, Roy Burman had recently gone “heavily” into the real estate business and may possibly have picked up some enemies there. But, so far, the police have not been able to come up with concrete evidence.

So, the investigations are proceeding along three lines, all revolving around the extortion motive but involving different gangs.

CASE I: Local crimelords Chikna Raju and Lambu Feroze had jointly carried out the abduction for ransom. CID officials V.V. Thambi and Suman Bala Sahoo said that interrogation of some eyewitnesses had revealed that a white Maruti 800 had waylaid Roy Burman’s Tata Safari. They said that Feroze has a similar car but no one could confirm whether or not it was actually the one owned by the local crimelord.

The police also said that Roy Burman’s driver, Naba Mondal, had given a description of one of the abductors, which matched that of Chikna Raju. The police have carried out extensive raids, but neither Raju nor Feroze have been traced.

Besides, the scene of the crime — C.N. Roy Road — is the backyard of Sona, a rival of the suspected duo, and it is unlikely that they would commit a crime so blatantly in such a place.

CASE II: The job was so professionally handled that the police refuse to believe it was simply a local operation. “The crime here smacks of the handiwork of some gang from Bihar or UP that has in the past been active in the city,” an official said.

The main suspects in this scenario are Ajay Singh and Akhilesh Singh. Ajay, from Bihar, had recently made two abortive attempts on an Asansol-based business tycoon and was becoming increasingly desperate for a “major kill”. As in the case of the Asansol tycoon, Roy Burman’s car had been tailed, then overtaken and finally, the victim dragged out in a hail of bullets and then shifted into the abductor’s car. “Roy Burman’s kidnapping was a replay of the Asansol case,” an official said.

CASE III: The D-gang in action, or the Dubai connection. Two weeks ago, the police arrested two aides of Fazal-ur Rehman, now based in Dubai and known to be close to Dawood Ibrahim. “We have information that this gang has been after some businessmen in the city, and they are not after the small ones, given the scale of their operations,” an official said.

“Interrogation of the two arrested has clearly established this angle and Roy Burman would have been a likely target, given the fact that he was into the real estate business as well.”


Calcutta, July 25: 
Abduction, extortion, drugs and murder. Welcome to the murky underworld of Tiljala. Here, the rules of the game are simple: Might is right. And that’s all that matters.

In the past three months, there have been at least 15 incidents of extortion and abduction in Tiljala and its adjoining areas, with most of them not being reported to the police. “We are all very vulnerable here. Seeking help from the police is never a good idea. The network of the underworld here is scary. A few days ago, a local businessman had to pay Rs 14 lakh for his freedom. There is little that the police can do,” confessed a close business associate of Parthapratim Roy Burman.

A week ago, an armed gang snatched a bag containing Rs 12 lakh from a businessman on C.N. Roy Road, barely a few hundred yards from the spot where Wednesday’s abduction took place.

The booming “unauthorised” construction business at Topsia-Tiljala, along with the mushrooming tannery trade, has provided the perfect shelter for criminals, the cops complain.

Driven by the police and hounded by their own gang members, small-time crooks are making it big in Tiljala now —once ruled by the likes of Gudda, Lula Bapi and Nadeem. After the murder of Lula Bapi, a self-proclaimed ganglord, and the arrest of most of Gudda and Nadeem’s men, Gabbar became the ‘most wanted’ of Tiljala.

Rajesh and Kalia formed another notorious duo, till the former was picked up from Martinpara, in Tiljala. Kalia, though, is on the run. Two other criminals, Zafar and Feroze, had also been “minting money” through unauthorised constructions, drug deals and salaami, till the police struck. While Zafar was killed, Feroze has managed to elude the cop net.

“These criminals have struck terror among the local people. Today, every criminal dreams of becoming the next don of Tiljala. Life has become miserable for us,” said Saiful Hamid, a tannery owner.

Most tanneries in Tiljala make “huge money” by exporting leather items to European countries and supplying polythene bags, leather bags and unfinished leather to local buyers. “Profits from the business are high. We receive regular extortion threats and comply with their demands. Resistance would mean ending up in the grave,” added Hamid.

The drug business is booming in the underbelly of eastern Calcutta. Shootouts and murders are a way of life. “This abduction was like an action replay. We have witnessed several such abductions in the past,” said Sajid Ahmed, an eyewitness to Wednesday’s attack.


Calcutta, July 25: 
Time: 2.30 pm. Place: Khadim’s office at 24-A Rabindra Sarani, near Naaz cinema. Date: July 24.

A host of visitors, including dealers and distributors, wait outside the chamber of Parthapratim Roy Burman, vice-chairman of Khadim’s Rs 60-crore empire. The 44-year-old entrepreneur, who is believed to have “revolutionised the shoe business in Bengal”, was, meanwhile, engaged in a 30-minute chat with Metro.

The tall, bearded businessman in a dark blue, mandarin-collared Dali shirt, was quick to describe the virtues of keeping it simple. “We have stuck to the basics, which is why Khadim’s has become a household name,” observed Partha. The company, which changed hands in 1965 from K.M. Khadim to Satya Prasad Roy Burman, Partha’s father, was primarily into shoe trading till 1993. Today, it boasts a network of 14 shops, 54 exclusive showrooms and over 1,200 distributors. Khadim’s — the “first indigenous branded shoe of Bengal” — has now expanded beyond the state’s boundaries to register its presence in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Chennai, Bangalore and Secunderabad.

Referring to the company’s pricing strategy, believed to be its success mantra, Partha said: “Our products are targeted at the middle-class — basically the value-for-money segment. The price varies between Rs 65 and Rs 1,200. We have seen that the higher-income groups switch brands quite often and so, we don’t have any plans to enter the premium segment of high-priced shoes. We are happy with our target group, as they keep coming back to us.”

But pricing is not everything, added Partha. “Being just price competitive doesn’t help. Strategies of typical consumer goods industries — where you change the name, look and packaging of the product every six months in the guise of product innovation — don’t work here.” Besides charting out a clear growth path, Khadim’s has also lined up ambitious plans, like entering the moulded-shoe segment. “Recently, production has started at our modern plant in Kasba. Right now, the daily production is around 1,500 to 2,000 pairs. But the capacity can go up to 10,000 to 15,000 pairs a day,” said Partha, a compulsive reader and music-lover, despite his hectic schedule.

Khadim’s has also invested in building the required infrastructure to run and expand the business. The company’s godown at Topsia can stock up to 3.5 lakh pairs of shoes. This was where Partha would go every Wednesday morning, a routine that made him a soft target for the kidnappers.

Tuesday afternoon’s chat had ended abruptly — owing to “pressing business engagements” — just as Partha was holding forth on his love for Rajasthan, where his daughter is a student of Mayo College, Ajmer. Part-II of the interview had been scheduled for 11 am, Friday.


Calcutta, July 25: 
During high tides every monsoon, Ramesh Mitra Road — the stretch connecting Ashutosh Mukherjee Road and Sarat Bose Road — is flooded twice daily by the Adi Ganga. Civic engineers are yet to crack the mystery that has been persisting for decades.

“It’s a peculiar phenomenon” is all that chief engineer (drainage and sewerage) Pradip Sanyal would say.

Earlier, inundation during high tide of Harish Chatterjee Street was checked by installing a lockgate, said member, mayor-in-council (drainage and sewerage), Rajib Deb. Ramesh Mitra Road, Townshend Road, Upendra Nath Mullick Road and Girish Mukherjee Road, up to Ladies’ Park, get waterlogged despite closing the lockgate on Harish Chatterjee Street.

Waterlogging on Ramesh Mitra Road and its adjacent lanes and bylanes is caused possibly by the other channels through which water seeps into the area’s brick sewers and pipe sewers. But the civic engineers have failed to detect these channels too.

“A special team has been set up to deal with the matter,” said Deb. Sanyal hoped the problem might be resolved once the two lockgates, installed at Madan Pal Lane, start functioning.

Surprisingly, the areas close to the Adi Ganga remain dry. Two executive engineers of the drainage department visited the site on Tuesday during a high tide but failed to explain the cause.


Calcutta, July 25: 
Strike culture struck down work culture.

Though not a single multinational has its India head office in the state, Bengal felt the maximum impact of the all-India strike called by Left trade unions to save the country from being sold to these companies.

State government employees joined their Central counterparts on a day’s strike, shouted slogans and put off by a day the work they could have done today.

The strike had the backing of the ruling CPM, which has been harping on a dramatic improvement in work culture besides projecting an industry-friendly image.

Government offices wore a deserted look. Schools remained closed. And Speaker Hasim Abdul Halim had to adjourn the House on grounds of poor attendance and absence of Assembly reporters who note down proceedings.

No classes were held in any of the 12,000 government schools in the state as the CPM-controlled All Bengal Teachers’ Association participated in the strike. In some places, students arrived but were stopped from entering the schools by picketing teachers.

“The teachers did not take classes because we joined the strike. We support the demands raised by government employees,” said ABTA secretary Adhikram Sanyal.

A large number of state buses remained off the roads. CSTC officials clarified that many buses could not ply as some drivers and conductors did not report for duty.

Normally, 1,200 state buses ply daily in and around the city, but today more than 60 per cent of the buses did not come out of their garage.

Victoria Memorial employees protested outside the gates and prevented morning-walkers from entering the compound. But the curator called the police which lathicharged to disperse the picketing staff.

The Assembly session began formally with five ministers — including Asim Dasgupta, Suryakanta Mishra, Nandarani Dal and Pratyush Mukherjee — turning up. But it was adjourned after two minutes.

“If proceedings of the Assembly are not recorded, then how will the session continue? Besides, most employees have not reported to office. So, in the absence of employees how can there be any normal function?” Halim said.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and four ministers turned up at a deserted Writers’ Buildings, but not a single file was opened.

“Don’t try to find any link between this strike and work culture. The two are separate. Today’s strike was to save the country from being sold to multinationals,” said Smarajit Roychowdhury, secretary of the CPM-controlled state coordination committee. CPM’s central committee member Sukomal Sen argued that a strike was the democratic right of the working class.


Calcutta, July 25: 
A survey carried out on people treated at 50 government hospitals and primary health centres in Bengal has revealed a sordid state of affairs, with glaring deficiencies in diagnostic services, availability of medicines, quality of food and satisfaction levels over the quality of treatment.

The study is a project of the Consumer Coordination Council, the apex national body of consumer organisations, with support from the Ford Foundation. The purpose was to formulate and develop an effective complaints’ redress mechanism that will lead to less deficiencies in services available at these hospitals.

In all, 32 urban hospitals and 18 hospitals and primary health centres in rural areas in six districts, besides Calcutta, were covered.

Of the 180 respondents — 90 each from rural and urban areas — 157 were men, while 62 per cent were graduates or with higher qualifications.

“The most revealing factor of the survey was that 88 per cent of the respondents have never made any complaints about deficient hospital services, mainly because they don’t know that such a thing is possible, or how and where to make a complaint,” said Bijoy Choudhury, director of Better Business Bureau, the state partner of the project.

Of the 12 per cent who have registered complaints, there was no response by the hospital authorities in terms of redress. “As many as 91 per cent of the patients reported that there were no officers deputed to take complaints. This was corroborated by the surveyors, who could not locate a complaint box or register within the hospital premises,” Choudhury said.

The findings will be placed before a consultative meeting tomorrow, expected to be attended by Naren De, minister for consumer affairs, and Pratyush Mukherjee, minister of state for health.

Several prominent doctors and consumer activists as well as experts from other fields will try to evolve recommendations for developing a citizens’ complaints redress mechanism for the health sector.


Calcutta, July 25: 
Not satisfied with the reasons given by the Forward Bloc leadership for the expulsion of veteran MP from Cooch Behar, Amar Roy Pradhan, the Left Front has decided to discuss the issue at its next meeting.

CPM state secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas said this afternoon that the Left Front committee will shortly meet to discuss the issue threadbare.

“Though it is Forward Bloc’s internal matter, we cannot ignore this as Roy Pradhan is a key member of the Left Front co-ordination committee at the national level,” he added.

Somnath Chatterjee, CPM leader in Lok Sabha and convener of the Left Front Co-ordination committee, had last night called Roy Pradhan to enquire about the expulsion.

“Somnathda was surprised to learn about my sudden expulsion from the party and wondered what would happen to my position in the co-ordination committee,” Roy Pradhan said from his New Delhi residence tonight.

The eight-time Forward Bloc MP from Cooch Behar described his expulsion as “illegal” and “politically motivated”.

“I am a member of the party’s central committee and for this, the state committee cannot overnight expel me as per rule 13 of the party constitution,” he said, adding that he would not resign as MP and continue to function as usual ignoring the expulsion order.


Calcutta, July 25: 
The results of the State Level Eligibility Test (SLET) conducted by the College Service Commission will be announced on July 27.

Nearly 6,000 candidates took the examinations held in April this year. The SLET examinations are conducted by the commission to recruit lecturers in state-funded colleges.

Ater examining the infrastructure of the College Service Commission, UGC cleared the next SLET exams slated forJanuary.


Nanoor (Birbhum), July 25: 
A dispute between local Trinamul Congress leaders and the Public Works Department (PWD) over the construction of a “Martyrs’ Column” ahead of Mamata Banerjee’s visit on Friday has sparked political tension here.

The Trinamul leader is expected to inaugurate the “Martyrs’ Column” on Friday, exactly one year after the massacre of 11 party workers by CPM cadre at Suchpur village. She will also address a public rally at Basapara, 5 km from Suchpur, after paying tribute to the slain party workers.

Trinamul supporters here decided to raise the “Martyrs’ Column” shortly after Mamata announced at her mass rally in Calcutta last Saturday that she would visit Suchpur to observe the first anniversary of the Nanoor killings. The Trinamul leader has decided to observe July 27 every year as the “Nanoor Massacre Day”, in addition to the customary “Martyrs’ Day” on July 21 to commemorate the death of 13 party workers in police firing in Calcutta in 1993.

According to district PWD officials, the “Martyrs’ Column” is being raised on its land without any permission. Shyamal Pratihar, assistant engineer, PWD, Bolpur sub-division, said: “We have visited the site where an illegal construction is going on. We have already informed the sub-divisional officer (SDO) and local police about the matter.”

SDO Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay said he had received a letter yesterday from the PWD assistant engineer and directed him to issue a notice to the persons concerned to shift the “Martyrs’ Column” within 72 hours. “We will provide administrative and police help to the PWD to demolish the illegal construction if they do not act on the notice within the specified time,” he said.

Trinamul workers, who have been constructing the column, are yet to receive any notice from the PWD. They, however, have no intention of shifting it to any other place and accuse the district administration of “deliberately trying to stall its construction at the behest of local CPM leaders”.

Anubrata Mondal, member of the state Trinamul Youth Congress secretariat, conceded that the “Martyrs’ Column” was being raised on PWD land. “But it is being constructed in a manner which will not cause any damage to the road. Earlier, two other martyrs’ columns were constructed on the same PWD land by CPM workers. The district administration did not raise any objection when the CPM workers undertook the construction, but is now trying to create obstacles for us,” Mondal alleged.

The Trinamul chief, accompanied by general secretaries Gautam Basu and Madan Mitra, is expected to arrive here either on Thursday night or Friday morning. Mamata, who, as railway minister, provided jobs to the relatives of the 11 victims, will offer floral tributes at the “Martyrs’ Column” and then address a public meeting at the adjoining ground.

Local CPM leaders as well as the administration, however, are keeping their fingers crossed over the possible fallout of Mamata’s visit. The state CPM leadership, which took a serious view of the visit of some US consulate staff to the massacre site last year, apprehends fresh trouble in the event of the Trinamul chief taking a “confrontationist stand”.


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