Sign or perish in gangland
Hitman from Mumbai netted in ‘safe city’
Mayor on move, work at standstill
Design guru on mega mart mission
Internet fraud under probe
Bond of culture, theatre of life
Road width bar on trade zone units
Minister cracks power whip
Mamata lobs challenge, Buddha smashes
Operation UP to save Bengal potatoes

Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
The brazen kidnapping of shoe magnate Parthapratim Roy Burman was nightmare enough. But now, traders and businessmen of Tiljala and Topsia have been brought to their knees by local toughs and CPM cadre, who want them to bolster their ranks in launching a “massive protest” against the arrest of Mohammed Taslim, alias Chunnu, in connection with the abduction case.

Variously dubbed controversial businessman, CPM activist, social worker and crook, Chunnu was arrested last week on charges of acting as a “facilitator” in the Roy Burman kidnap.

Ever since then, supporters of Chunnu, under the banner of Topsia United Citizens’ Forum and Anjuman Hidayatul Islam, have set out on a one-point agenda — secure his release by any means.

First, it was storming the Alipore court premises on the day he was produced. This was followed by protest marches and bandhs in the area. Finally, the outfits have worked out a two-pronged strategy: Paste the walls in the locality with posters proclaiming Chunnu’s innocence and mount a massive signature campaign to get him out of custody.

This is where the local businessmen have begun to feel the pinch. Whether they like it or not and whether or not they agree, they are being browbeaten into signing the memorandum to give it a veneer of people’s movement.

The memorandum, which already has about 5,000 signatures appended to it, says: “Well-known social worker Mohammed Taslim (Chunnu), who was arrested in connection with the abduction of the Khadim’s owner, will have to be released unconditionally.”

Packing in more power into their campaign, the posters dub the arrest as “a conspiracy by the police”.

“We are unnecessarily being dragged into this by Chunnu’s people and we should be spared this harassment,” pleaded a businessman. “On Tuesday, two of Chunnu’s associates, Khokon and Khurshid, came to my office and threatened that unless I sign the memorandum, I will be forced to move out of the area. So, what choice did I have?”

An official explained that the outfits have been infiltrated by some criminal elements, who are bent on building up tension in the area to mount pressure for Chunnu’s release. “We have been keeping tabs on this pro-Chunnu campaign and have found out how some unsavoury elements have joined up and are now orchestrating the movement,” he said.

Even the local CPM unit has joined the campaign, flouting the party’s whip in this respect. Last Sunday, most local party leaders actively participated in a meeting of Chunnu’s supporters, calling for the controversial businessman’s release. This forced the party to showcause three members of the CPM’s Tiljala-Tospia II local committee — Nabi Ahmed, Probir Dey and Falguni Guha.

“The CID has taken a bold step in arresting Chunnu,” an officer said. “He is a very powerful man in the area and has the full support of the local CPM, who feel they need him to win elections. But the police must have been sure of their reasons for arresting him, for they were aware of the consequences of such an action.”

However, the Anjuman Hidayatul Islam denies charges of using “strong-arm tactics” to get signatures for the campaign. “We have placed the memorandum on a table in front of our office in Sapgachi 1st Lane and only those who have faith in the innocence of Chunnu are voluntarily signing it,” said Mohammed Jahangir, an executive committee member.

The Topsia United Citizens’ Forum, too, says the charge of criminals taking over the movement is “ridiculous”.


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
The cops were on the trail of a “big fish from Mumbai’’ in Calcutta, involved in the abduction of Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman. Instead, they got a Mumbai supari killer, Abdul Gaffar Gani Sheikh, 33, with 21 cases, including seven murder charges, pending against him at the crime branch of Mumbai police.

Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Banibrata Basu, said Sheikh had told sleuths that the Mumbai police would have shot him in an encounter. “This city is safe as such encounters do not happen here,” said Sheikh, from whom five cellphones were recovered.

The city detective department was hunting for Sheikh for trying to kidnap Ganesh Mahalingam, a Park Street shipping magnate.

Basu, said Sheikh was on the payroll of Dubai-based gangster Anees Ibrahim. Mumbai crime branch officers said Anees is the younger brother of Karachi-based mafia don Dawood Ibrahim.

Basu said Sheikh’s arrest exposed the Mumbai mafia’s links with local criminals. “He was extremely close to local gangster Gudda,’’ Basu said.

Sheikh had tried twice to get Mahalingam — on September 17 last year, when he had tried to kidnap the businessman from his New Alipore residence, and on May 31, when bombs were thrown at his Park Street office to strike fear in him. Mahalingam has business interests in Dubai, and Sheikh’s godfathers, Anees and Hazi Yakub, brother of Mumbai realtor Majid Khan, had “ordered the operation.’’ In both cases, Sheikh was helped by Gudda’s henchmen,

Sources said the CID was working on the information that a Mumbai supari killer was holed up in a Dum Dum house. He called himself Izaz Ahmed and had rented the place on June 1. They raided the house but drew a blank. An informer told the sleuths that he had moved into another house close by on July 7. The detectives could not find him there either.

On Tuesday, at around 5.30 pm, four youth entered the house. One of them was Sahid, Sheikh’s cousin, and another was Billa, from Lockgate Road, in the Chitpur police station area. Sheikh had sent them with some utensils to be stored in the Dum Dum apartment. “Sahid gave some details about Sheikh. We sent a crack team to raid the Chitpur house. Sheikh was sleeping when we arrested him,’’ Basu added.

Sheikh had left the city for Jaipur on July 7 and returned in the first week of August. Sheikh began to work for Majid Khan, a big-time Mumbai realtor of the early Nineties. Gradually, he became close to Hazi Yakub, Majid’s brother. Yakub was an accused in the Mumbai 1993 bomb blasts and fled to Dubai with Tiger Memon. Sheikh escaped to his sister’s place in Jaipur. With the Mumbai police hot on his heels, he arrived in Calcutta and stayed with his uncle Mohammed Selim, alias Laddu bhai, on Lockgate Road.


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
The best way to win a game of musical chairs is not allowing anyone else anywhere near the lone seat left. That’s precisely what Subrata Mukherjee has done — left the mayor’s chair vacant for a fortnight, without deputing authority or establishing a pecking order in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).

The reason, say observers: “Given Mamata Banerjee’s present disposition towards Mukherjee, the mayor might well have found his chair ‘gone’ on his return from a 15-day foreign tour.”

The result, says anyone who’s been to the building in red recently: “There’s complete chaos at the CMC, nothing seems to be moving.”

That’s not an overstatement — two mayor-in-council meetings have been cancelled; payments to contractors have stopped; development projects have ground to a halt; files are piling up by the hour; there is confusion over who is going to hoist the National Flag on Independence Day at the civic headquarters. Mukherjee left for Japan on Friday to attend an international mayor’s conference and is to return on August 17 via Paris.

A number of borough chairmen and councillors have urged deputy mayor Meenadevi Purohit to clear the files as work relating to water supply, drainage and sewage, street-lighting and assessment has been stalled. “The CMC is in a state of suspended animation... A public institution cannot be run in such a headless fashion,” an angry Purohit said.

She contacted municipal commissioner Debashis Som on Wednesday afternoon, and inquired why “all letters, files and documents” addressed to the mayor were not being re-directed to her. She reminded the municipal commissioner that Section 38 of the CMC Act, 1980, clearly stated that the deputy mayor would function as mayor in his absence. All mayoral powers would automatically be vested on the deputy mayor, the Act adds.

But at the Corporation, the accounts department has been directed not to disburse payment till the mayor’s return — when cheques worth around Rs 30 lakh are issued every day. All executive officers at 15 borough offices have been directed not to send any file to the headquarters in the mayor’s absence. Among other important projects, tenders for procuring stone-chips, urgently required for repairing roads, have been deferred.

Former mayor Prasanta Chatterjee said this was “unthinkable” in a democratic set-up. “I went on official tours to so many countries, but I would always delegate power to the deputy mayor and other members of my council before leaving,” he recalled. “The present situation proves that authoritarianism and autocracy have taken over the civic body.”


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
He’s the man behind the Debenhams departmental store chain in the UK, the Reebok store in New York, coffee shops in Tokyo and Osaka, and shopping centres in Dubai and Doha. Now, Giles Marking is in town on a hush-hush visit to “do the groundwork” for “a mega shopping-cum-entertainment centre”.

This will be the third Calcutta creation for the senior executive vice-president of Fitch, a UK-based design solutions firm, after Taj Bengal’s Khazana and the “exhilarating experience” of making MusicWorld. All that the pony-tailed guru of retail store design is willing to divulge about his latest venture is that “it’s going to be around the Park Street area”.

Though tight-lipped about the “project still in its blackboard stage”, Marking held forth on the beginnings of a “retail boom” in Calcutta. “Things are looking up in the retail scene here and organised retailers are increasingly looking at the city as a viable destination, feeding off the energy and cultural heritage of Calcutta, not to speak of the growing purchasing power,” he says. Dismissing the “general perception of Indian businessmen that Calcutta is a difficult place to operate in”, Marking adds: “These misconceptions have gained currency over the years largely because Calcutta is almost embarrassed about promoting itself, whereas it should be proud of doing so. It should take a leaf out of Hyderabad’s book, which has aggressively attracted investments by raising its profile.”

The British designer, on his fourth visit to Calcutta, believes the city should project “its wonderful architectural heritage — luckily a lot of which still remains, unlike in Singapore”, in a more positive vein. “You can really leap into the future without throwing away your past. In fact, one of my dream projects is to take a historic building in Calcutta and refurbish it into the most exciting shopping and entertainment mall in South Asia, something Calcuttans can take pride in,” he smiles, lighting up yet another green-pack Dunhill.

According to Marking, MusicWorld “had taken the mega-store plunge and the gamble” paid off. “We had designed it so that the atmosphere and quality of service are as good as on Oxford Street or in Manhattan and it fits into the city’s streetscape... The secret is to make the customer feel unhassled and always in control.”

Marking sees a lot of major brands wading in. “The biggies would like to think the market here is still wide open, so let’s go there and set up shop. After all, there’s great warmth and acceptance here because of the inherently open-minded attitude of the Bengalis.”


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
The department of telecom has ordered an inquiry into how a German, Shlomo Wolf, holding an Israeli passport, could obtain 13 telephone connections in his rented ground-floor apartment in Salt Lake. The CBI on Wednesday issued a nationwide alert for Wolf.

The German escaped before the police broke into his AK-133 house in Salt Lake. Initial reports indicate that with the phone connections, Wolf had bypassed the VSNL, while uplinking into the satellite and subsequently providing Internet connections to subscribers here and in other parts of the country.

Director (vigilance) of Calcutta Telephones, P.S. Bhattacharya, is inquiring into the matter. Chief general manager S. Chakraborty, attending a meeting in Delhi, has also sought a report from his officers.

CBI sleuths said Wolf had been running a parallel Internet service provider network without taking the mandatory licence from the VSNL. Wolf had been helped by Sanjay Goel of Sarita Vihar, in Delhi, to set up the network in Salt Lake.

He rented the apartment from H.P. Singh, a businessman of Lindsay Street, and installed dish antennae, modem and other accessories. Police on Wednesday questioned Singh and his Salt Lake neighbours. Goel, too, was grilled for several hours.

VSNL officials and CBI sleuths suspect that Wolf was providing Internet connections to subscribers at rock-bottom prices. “We are checking records but initial investigations show he has cheated VSNL of several lakhs,’’ a senior CBI officer said.


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
“Give me something to eat. Now!” he shouts. “How can I, when you’ve drunk all our money away?” she wails in reply, tears streaming down her face.

A flash from a skit performed by children from Moynagram, Midnapore. The “husband and wife”, Arpita and Mukhtar, are sponsored by city-based NGO Sahay. The fact that this is a fight commonly faced in their village is clear from their very real tears.

But both kids are in school, like most of the boys and girls in their village. Song, dance and theatre is a part of their life — they have even performed on the Calcutta stage. On Tuesday, they were performing pieces based on “local folklore and lifestyle” along with a dozen others from their village and Bankura for a special visitor.

Arthur de Bussy from the Holland-based This Is My Life, an NGO “promoting the performing arts amongst the under-privileged children”, had dropped in at the Economic Rural Development Society (ERDS) in Boral, South 24-Parganas.

Currently in the “feasibility stages”, Bussy and his colleagues aim to provide a forum for artistes from across the world to meet and share ideas. His older company, Planet Junior Productions, organises the World Children’s Festival for artistes every summer in Europe. The new project will involve “internships” in Europe for selected children. “At This is My Life, we hope to forge long-lasting bonds for continued cultural exchange,” explains Bussy.

The ERDS, one of Sahay’s partner organisations, works with 725 children in three districts: South 24-Parganas, Malda and Dakshin Dinajpur. An affiliate of Child International, Sahay sponsors over 20,000 children in Bengal. The 12-year-old NGO works with 24 partner organisations across the state. The sponsorships, routed through the international partner body, go towards education, health and family assistance. Tuition fees; low cost, high nutrition food supplements; medical assistance are basic services provided through the local-level partner NGOs of Sahay. Vocational training and income-generation projects, such as distribution of vans for vegetable vendors, are taken up too.

“Social workers in the area interact with locals to find out their needs,” explains project coordinator Anjana Anand. Currently, community groups under the ERDS have proposed the distribution of cycles to children who have to walk long distances to school. The children are sponsored until they turn 19.

“This is a very exciting time at Sahay. The kids we started work with at our inception are crossing the threshold into adulthood,” smiles project director Niraj Agrawal. These young adults are, in turn, the core of voluntary youth groups in the villages working towards development.

To further harness the skills of the children, Child Art, an exhibition of their paintings will be up at Nehru Children’s Museum on August 10.


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
The Corporation’s building department is posing a threat to the growth of more than 500 small-scale units in over a dozen industrial estates developed by government undertakings. The Trinamul Congress-BJP civic board has decided to stall construction of sheds on plots allotted to small-time entrepreneurs by the government unless the main road in front of the estate is widened to 10 metres.

The building department has, however, agreed to consider a construction proposal if the road along the industrial estate is at least seven metres wide. The proposals will be okayed if the entrepreneurs or the estate-owners agree to donate the Corporation three-metre-wide strips in front of the estate to widen the roads.

Leader of the Opposition in the Corporation Nirmal Mukherjee said the civic board’s decision was “illogical and taken in a calculated manner to stall the growth of small-scale industries.

The building department has turned down construction proposals by entrepreneurs of the Kasba industrial estate on the ground that the road along the plots is less than seven metres wide.

A proposal placed by director-general, building, Ashok Roychaudhury has been passed in this regard at the mayor-in-council’s meeting on Wednesday.

Member, mayor-in-council, building, Swapan Samaddar, said the government had allotted several industrial plots in Beleghata, Behala, Kasba, Jadavpur, Kadapara, Cossipore and other areas of the city to encourage small-scale industries. When entrepreneurs applied to the CMC for the sanction of building plans, it was found that the roads in front of most of the plots were less than seven metres wide. “We can’t sanction plans of factory buildings under such circumstances,” Samaddar said.    

Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
The West Bengal State Electricity Board has begun a crackdown on corrupt and incompetent officials. Twenty-two employees have already been suspended.

“We do not like to take such strong measures against employees. But we were forced to do so,” power minister Mrinal Banerjee told The Telegraph. The board has informed its 35,000-odd staff that they will have to file compliance reports soon.

Of the 22 suspended, three are divisional engineers and five are assistant engineers. Eight of those suspended are from the Uluberia Group Supply office.

Many of its consumers had filed complaints.

Three officials at the Katwa office have also been suspended. One of them is a divisional engineer, one an assistant engineer and the other a personnel officer.

“We have to take these measures to spread the message that things will not continue the way they did a few years ago. Work culture should return to the state electricity board,” the minister said.

“We had also stopped payment of salaries to some of our employees because they were not collecting revenues in time. We will continue with that measure if the employees do not perform to our standard. The compliance report will also keep us informed what the employees are doing and we can correct the situation immediately,” Banerjee added.

The state has started power sector reforms and has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Centre. “According to the MoU, we have to set up five profit-making distribution centres. If we fail, we will not be in a position to access the Central sector funds under the accelerated power development programme,” Banerjee said.

The board is also concerned about high transmission and distribution losses, estimated to be in the region of 40 per cent of total supplies. This is mainly because high-end consumers tamper with meters in connivance with linesmen. Underbilling by panchayat contractors and small farmers also leads to such losses.

Power theft is another area of concern. Not only are those getting power at subsidised rates involved, but so also are industrial consumers. According to an internal survey conducted by the distribution wing of the board, industry apparently uses its power connection on an average for just 15 to 30 minutes per day for only 20 days a month.

“We are constantly monitoring (the situation). Still, there are cases of power theft. So, we have decided to set up cooperative societies with local people to put a check to it,” Banerjee added.


Sonarpur, Aug. 8: 
Mamata Banerjee today threatened to “paralyse the state administration stage by stage” if it failed to arrest within 72 hours the miscreants responsible for the gruesome murders of two Trinamul Congress workers here on Monday night.

“I am giving an ultimatum to the state government to arrest the culprits or face consequences,” she told reporters after visiting the residences of slain party workers, Jyotish Sardar and Niranjan Sardar, at Jagadishpur village near here this morning.

Normal life came to a standstill following a 12-hour bandh called by the party to protest against the killings and the police failure to nab the culprits.

The Trinamul chief’s threat evoked an equally strong reaction from chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Writers’ Buildings. “We accept her challenge and will maintain law and order at any cost. Our government will not allow any kind of hooliganism,” he told reporters this afternoon. Bhattacharjee, however, appeared evasive over the state administration’s failure to arrest any FIR-named persons in connection with the twin murders. “The police are doing their duty,” was all that he would say.

Mamata, who arrived in Calcutta from Delhi this morning, drove straight to the spot from the airport along with Akbar Ali Khondakar, MP, and Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, chief whip of Trinamul legislature party. She went to the houses of the slain and injured party workers to console their family members and urged the police not to harass innocent persons in the name of investigation.

Tension ran high when family members of Niranjan Sardar, a school teacher, narrated to her how he was shot at and stabbed to death by a group of CPM activists. Chattopadhyay, who accompanied Mamata, described the consequent violence in the area as a “mass upsurge against the administration”. “The local people, who had great respect for the teacher, were naturally furious at the cold-blooded murder,” he said.

Chattopadhyay also rubbished the administration’s claim that the murders were the result of a land dispute.


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
It’s Operation Uttar Pradesh to save the potato-growers of West Bengal.

Concerned over the dipping fortunes of Bengal’s potato-growers, the state government has decided to tinker with seeds of a variety of the plant grown in Uttar Pradesh.

The only aspect that separates the variety of the Uttar Pradesh crop from that cultivated in Bengal is the percentage of water-content but that, say agriculture department officials, is enough to push Bengal’s potato-growers towards penury and Uttar Pradesh farmers towards prosperity.

The crop grown here — Hooghly and Burdwan yield most of the Bengal produce — has a water-content as high as 20 per cent, say officials. But the variety that is now grown in most of Uttar Pradesh contains less than one-fourth of the water found in the Bengal crop, they add.

The high water-content of the potatoes grown in Bengal has two effects: one, it pushes the harvest faster towards decay; two, the 20 per cent water-content also makes it more difficult to use the crop for food-processing and agro-products. The Uttar Pradesh variety scores higher than the local produce on both counts.

“It is because of these twin factors that we’ve decided to go in for seeds from Uttar Pradesh,” state agriculture minister Kamal Guha told The Telegraph. “But it will initially be done on an experimental basis to gauge the level of acceptance of the new variety among Bengal farmers,” he added.

But it’s the first factor that concerns them more, say officials. “Studies have shown that it’s easier to preserve the crop for a longer time if its water-content is lower,” said Guha. “The high water-content, more than anything else, contributes to faster decay of the crop.”

The state produces about 72 lakh tonnes of potato every year whereas the average annual requirement is only about 24 lakh tonnes.


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