Step on the gas with gas
Safe house for Mumbai scum
Presidency strike kept on hold
New road rules
If it’s midnight, why can’t it be Park Street?
Dish antenna seized in Tiljala
Further remand for Khadim’s kidnap accused
Gadget to locate police patrols
Rhythm smashes barriers of silence
Mamata return trip with Samata ticket

 
 
STEP ON THE GAS WITH GAS 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE AND SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 10: 
It’s time to step on the gas, powered by an LPG cylinder. Prospects of lowering vehicular pollution in Calcutta brightened on Friday as the Centre cleared the use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as an alternative automobile fuel. This provides LPG majors, vendors and motorists with an opportunity to control emissions from a few lakh petrol-driven vehicles that ply the city roads every day.

Petroleum minister Ram Naik announced the necessary amendments to rules in Parliament on Thursday, three months after the Union surface transport ministry issued a notification giving its consent to the use of the environment-friendly fuel. The green lobby, however, was sceptical about its impact on environment management, as it would “not be imperative for the government” to curb the high level of emissions from its large fleet of buses and other diesel-driven vehicles.

“We have not received any formal directive on a switchover to an alternative fuel. The Centre has taken a decision in principle, and we can comment on what we will do only after the nitty-gritty has been worked out,” said public vehicles department director T.V. Venkataraman. “But with diesel-driven vehicles falling outside the purview of the change, the state government has a very limited role to play here,” he added.

“The LPG conversion kits don’t work in diesel-driven cars,” said Siddhartha Banerjee, who fits petrol cars with the kit in Salt Lake. “Diesel vehicles, instead, can be converted to compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered ones.”

Despite no sign of government action, car users’ associations, LPG-providing public sector undertakings and vendors have started chalking out the petrol-to-gas route. Six major petrol pumps have already been identified . The pumps have been selected keeping in mind two factors: One, whether their location will be convenient for vehicle-owners in the city; two, whether the pumps are ready to handle the additional safety measures required at an LPG-dispensing station.

Calcutta will be the third metro in the country to have such stations. Delhi has two LPG-dispensing stations operating on an experimental basis and Mumbai four. “Reports from both Mumbai and Delhi indicate that customer feedback has been positive,” said Kalyan Bhadra, secretary-general, Automobile Association of Eastern India. There’s no reason why Calcutta’s vehicle-owners shouldn’t take to the new fuel readily, say AAEI officials. Besides being easier on the environment, the use of LPG, instead of petrol, will work out to be easier on the pocket of car-owners as well.

The AAEI’s hopes could be well-founded. A small section of car-owners has already started using LPG illegally, with the heavily-subsidised LPG cylinders sold for use in kitchens. Rules do not allow use of the 14.2-kg cylinders in cars; owners, instead, should buy the non-subsidised, and dearer, cylinders sold for industrial use.

The West Bengal Pollution Control Board is now working out the logistics with the various components that have to be involved in the implementation of the switchover. “We are speaking to both automobile-makers like Hindustan Motors and gas-suppliers like Indian Oil to find out what changes they have to go in for and the likely cost involved,” WBPCB member-secretary K.S. Ramasubban said.

Indian Oil officials are confident there will be “no problems” on the supply front with the Kalyani and Haldia bottling plants ready to meet more than the present demand. “Obviously, demand will hit the roof once Calcuttans discover the merits of driving on LPG,” an official said. IOC is confident teething troubles will be overcome “once the Haldia import terminal is complete”.

   

 
 
SAFE HOUSE FOR MUMBAI SCUM 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 10: 
The pattern is almost always the same. The Mumbai police hunts down contract killers and extortionists, turns the heat on them, forcing them to flee the western metropolis. In search of a safer sanctuary, these killers-on-the run are increasingly turning towards one city: Calcutta.

There is another thing that is almost always the same: Most of these criminals have links with the dreaded D-Company. Whether tenuous or not, the Dubai, or Dawood, connection has repeatedly surfaced during interrogation by the Calcutta police.

“The Dawood Ibrahim connection has finally arrived in the city,” police commissioner Sujay Chakraborty said on Friday. “The problem has never been so acute as it is today. But we are fully prepared to deal with the situation.”

Arrested Mumbai killer Abdul Ghaffar Ghani Sheikh has admitted to his Dawood connection and explained how he had been carrying out “contract jobs” for the Dubai network. Ghaffar said he was planning and executing operations for the D-Company for fees ranging from Rs 80,000 to Rs 1.5 lakh. “In the four months that he had been operating in the city, besides using local contacts to carry out some small jobs, he worked out a plan to pocket Rs 2 crore by kidnapping a well-known businessman,” said DC, DD (special), Sanjoy Mukherjee.

Information received by the police indicate that Dubai-based gangs owing allegiance to either Dawood or his brother Anees Ibrahim and Haji Yakub have instructed their men to work out a network of local contacts, “not get deeply involved personally” in carrying out the operation and to “clear out of the city in the shortest possible time”.

Mukherjee said this bit of information had been “extracted” from Abdur Rauf Dawood Merchant, wanted in the Gulshan Kumar killing, after his arrest from Tiljala last year. “Rauf, like Ghaffar, had taken shelter in Calcutta after committing crimes in Mumbai,” Mukherjee said. “While he was here, he was getting instructions from the D-Company and masterminding major crime in the city.”

According to the special branch of the Calcutta police, these criminals from outside the state had been asked to stay out of the jurisdiction of the city police. “As a result, they have found safe sanctuary in Tiljala, Topsia, Kasba, Garden Reach and Dum Dum, beside places like Bongaon and Barasat, in North 24-Parganas,” an officer said.

The activity of outside gangs in the city, engaged in kidnap and extortion operations, is increasingly creating a “fear psychosis” in the business community. “The fact that security agencies here are not well-equipped to handle professional gangsters, coupled with the ground reality that the government cannot provide security to all businessmen, has made Calcutta an ideal ground for the D-Company to strike,” said H.R. Bangur, president of the Bharat Chamber of Commerce.

But Mukherjee is “confident” the police are equipped to deal with the problem. “Many of the D-Company agents have been arrested. This indicates that we are more than capable of tackling the situation.”

   

 
 
PRESIDENCY STRIKE KEPT ON HOLD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 10: 
The day after a wave of fee-hike fury disrupted classes and admissions at Presidency College, academic activity was paralysed on the College Street campus. Attendance on Friday was “thin”, as students stayed away because of a strike called to protest the implementation of the “arbitrary and unfair” hike in admission and tuition fees.

Supporters of the Presidency College Students’ Association, Progressive Democratic Students’ Forum and Revolutionary Students’ Front had called “an indefinite strike” from Friday “till the authorities revised the fee structure”.

Piyush Kanti Ganguly, state director of public instruction, visited Presidency College on Friday and held a series of meetings with principal Amitava Chatterjee and other senior teachers. An emergency meeting of the institution’s disciplinary committee was also convened during the day. “The students’ grievances are being looked into,” was all that Ganguly would say before leaving the campus.

Amitava Chatterjee later said: “There is nothing that we can do with regard to the fee hike as it is a government decision.”

Members of the Presidency College Union (PCU) have threatened to launch “a fresh agitation”, demanding “immediate steps” to suspend five supporters of the Students Federation Of India (SFI). These SFI members have been accused of “beating up” some PCU members on Thursday. “An inquiry has been ordered and the committee will hear out both the groups,” assured Chatterjee.

Rajesh Pandey, vice-president, PCU, said: “We have decided to suspend our movement till next Thursday on an assurance from the authorities that our demands will be resolved by then.”

   

 
 
NEW ROAD RULES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 10: 
To facilitate construction of a flyover at Beckbagan, Calcutta police have issued new rules for movement of vehicles on AJC Road, Rawdon Street, Ballygunge Circular Road and Camac Street. The rules come into effect from Saturday, August 11.

Camac Street and Sambhunath Pandit Street have been declared no-parking zones. Vehicles will be allowed in both directions.

All categories of vehicles, including light goods vehicles, will be allowed to move west to east between Jawaharlal Nehru Road and Ballygunge Circular Road from 8 am to 2 pm. All categories of vehicles, excluding private cars, will be allowed east to west between Rawdon Street and Jawaharlal Nehru Road from 8 am to 2 pm.

From 2 pm to 9 pm, all categories of vehicles, including private cars, will be allowed from east to west between Ballygunge Circular Road and Jawaharlal Nehru Road. All vehicles, including light goods vehicles but excluding private cars, can ply from west to east between Camac Street and Ballygunge Circular Road from 2 pm to 9 pm.

   

 
 
IF IT’S MIDNIGHT, WHY CAN’T IT BE PARK STREET? 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Aug. 10: 
Last order: 10.30 pm. Lights out: 11 pm. The myriad neons and glowsigns on Park Street are on fadeout mode well before midnight these days as the police have renewed the drive against late-night revellers.

“This is absolutely against hospitality business norms and annoys our customers, resulting in a huge loss of business as well as revenue for the government,” complains Charles Mantosh, proprietor of Moulin Rouge, Floriana, Magnolia and Waldorf.

Peeved at the police “high-handedness”, Mantosh has submitted a petition to outgoing DC, headquarters, Raj Kanojia, requesting him to “extend the deadline for the last food order to 11.15 pm on weekends and holidays, and 11 pm on other days.”

The petition, copies of which have been sent to the state tourism minister, collector of excise, the DC (south) and the Calcutta City Eating & Refreshment Workers Union, states: “...it is unethical and embarrassing on our part to request a customer to leave by 11 pm in spite of the fact that he has not finished his food or drink. We are surprised when the general law-and-order situation (of Calcutta) is much better than any other metropolitan city, why should a customer not be allowed to stay in the restaurant after 11?”

According to Kanojia, the 11 o’ clock drive “is just a pre-emptive exercise as we really don’t want undesirable elements roaming the streets till late, jeopardising law and order. However, for special occasions, restaurants can obtain permission to stay open till late”.

Park Street’s loss has been gain for eateries in the Ballygunge area, with the likes of Steam and Mainland China drawing in the ‘all-dressed-up-but-nowhere-to-grab-a-bite’ midnight’s children. “The only options these youngsters have at that hour are the five-star coffee shops, as Park Street goes dead by that time,” smiles Amit Puri of Steam.

Park Street restaurateurs, of course, are far from amused and are clamouring for a level playing field. “The police action hurts business and we are losing a sizeable chunk of our clientele because of this irrational order,” says Trinca’s proprietor Sunny Puri.

Many Calcuttans, too, are convinced that ordering restaurants to shut down when the night is young is just not done. “There is no point in talking about recapturing the spirit of the Sixties and hyping Park Street as the nerve centre of entertainment if the lights are snuffed out at 11,” feels Moon Moon Sen.

Pratap Dariyani, proprietor of Oasis, couldn’t agree more. “This police stipulation is bad news for the city’s entertainment business in general. People these days return home quite late from work. If they are planning to dine out, they often land up at a restaurant around 10. It’s grossly unfair to just shoo them away at 11. Besides, I don’t agree it is a law and order threat. On the contrary, if Park Street is lit up till at least midnight, it will actually discourage crime.”

   

 
 
DISH ANTENNA SEIZED IN TILJALA 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 10: 
On the basis of information from the vigilance department of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, police raided a house in Hussainpur, in Tiljala, on Thursday night and seized a dish antenna and other gadgets used to send messages abroad by illegal methods. One person was arrested and another detained for involvement in espionage for foreign countries.

The raid comes on the heels of the recovery of similar devices for sending messages from a house in Salt Lake. Police are now looking for a connection between the two. Additional superintendent of police (industrial) Gyanwant Singh said: “As in Salt Lake, the antenna was hidden under a plastic sheet.” Both places are away from the public eye, an officer added.

On Thursday night, a team, led by Tiljala officer-in-charge Jugal Kishore Mukherjee, raided the house near Chowbhaga Road. Uttam Dalui and his men were transmitting messages to a neighbouring country. Policemen surrounded the building and went to the roof, from where they recovered the dish antenna. The persons involved managed to flee with the other gadgets before the police reached.

Mukherjee said: “During interrogation, Dalui said they were working on behalf of a company called Millennium Tele Marketing. We are not satisfied with his reply. The landlord of the building has also been detained.”

   

 
 
FURTHER REMAND FOR KHADIM’S KIDNAP ACCUSED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 10: 
Mohammed Taslim, alias Chunnu, who was arrested in connection with the abduction of shoe baron Parthapratim Roy Burman, was on Friday further remanded in custody till August 24. Baiswanar Chatterjee and 11 other lawyers had moved a bail prayer on behalf of Chunnu.

Chunnu was produced in the sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s court in Alipore on Friday. He was remanded in police custody till August 18. He will remain in jail custody till August 24. CID officials arrested him on July 29. Police on Friday seized six revolvers and several rounds of ammunition from the Anandanagar residence of this controversial Tiljala businessman, variously described as a social worker, a CPM activist or just another gangster.

South 24-Parganas police carried out extensive raids along with Chunnu on Friday morning in and around the EM Bypass. After sustained interrogation, Chunnu took the sleuths to his hideout at Anandanagar, in the Kasba area. Police said the sleuths were taken to a two-storeyed house there, and then came upon the six revolvers and a large quantity of ammunition which were seized.

According to police, Chunnu admitted that the house belonged to him.

Policemen were present in large numbers in the Alipore court compound on Friday to prevent a repetition of the violence resorted to by Chunnu’s henchmen the previous day. On an earlier occasion, they had arrived in the court compound in trucks, buses and cars in such great numbers that they created a serious law and order problem there.

On Friday, a smaller group comprising both children and middle-age people turned up on foot and in cars.

   

 
 
GADGET TO LOCATE POLICE PATROLS 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 10: 
To counter charges of delayed arrival on the spot of kidnappings and crime, the city police have enlisted the help of CMC, a Central government enterprise, to test a system by which each patrol vehicle will be fitted with a device that will enable the control room to pinpoint their exact location.

It will be simpler for control room officers to identify the vehicle nearest to the spot of the crime and direct cops in the patrol cars to reach the area.

Police officers said in case of a kidnapping, the control room can redirect patrol cars to possible routes that the kidnappers may take to flee with their hostage.

The trial run of the computerised system, called ‘Nirdeshak’, was conducted on Wednesday evening. Two police vehicles fitted with the device circumvented two different areas. Police chief Sujoy Chakraborty and a host of senior officers watched the movements being flashed on the screen put up by the CMC at the Lalbazar conference room.

Deputy commissioner, headquarters, Raj Kanojia, said a device will be installed in each of the anti-crime vehicles and digital maps of five divisions fitted in the control room.

A red-and-green light will beep on the digital screen. As the vehicle moves around in the city, the beep will travel in the digital map, indicating the exact location of the patrol car.

   

 
 
RHYTHM SMASHES BARRIERS OF SILENCE 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, Aug. 10: 
The actors of The Action Players proved once again that rhythm can break the barriers of silence. Accompanied by Nabin Chatterjee on the tabla and Prabhash Kejriwal on the flute, over half-a-dozen deaf actors, most of whom are also speech impaired in various degrees, danced and acted out folk tales culled from various regions of India. They were rehearsing at the Loreto House auditorium for their performances at 6.30 pm at Gyan Manch on four consecutive Sundays, beginning August 19.

While voiced actor Avni Vyas narrated the stories and danced and enacted several roles, the deaf performers acted out the simple and beautiful folk tales through mime and dance. Speech and action were perfectly synchronised. Avni’s sister Richa is the other storyteller, but on that particular day, she was down with malaria. So The Action Players’ artistic director Zarin Chaudhuri stood in for her.

The actors were all very agile and their expressive faces registered every fleeting emotion. They were also capable of contorting their faces to such a degree that even a pretty young thing like Mamta Sobti could instantly turn into the caricature of a village elder, and Irfan Ahmed could transform himself from an old man to arrogant “Saukar” with a few twitches of his facial muscles. Mamta had hurt her foot, which was bandaged, during rehearsals, and Irfan had met with a road accident in the recent past. But they didn’t allow that to impair their movement at any moment. Neetu Walia was at one moment the beautiful princess and at another the jealous wife of the Rain King. Abhishek Dasgupta was in the mockheroic mould as Rain King and Turtle Prince.

The lucky ones among the actors have received training from their childhood at The Action Players and are quite adept at reading American sign language, which is the most highly-developed sign language. Two actors, Rajdeep Kumar Banerjee and Jayeeta Sarkar, had the rare ability to interpret sign language both in Bengali and English.

The Action Players, the only company of deaf actors in India, started with former students of the Oral School for Deaf Children in 1973. There, either profoundly deaf or hearing-impaired children were trained in lip-reading, mime and playacting. Since then it has gone from strength to strength, with the production of shows like Patol Babu Film Star, where the artistes interpreted a Satyajit Ray short story, and Dancing Dolphins based on poems by Vikram Seth.

Besides staging other shows, 20 members of Action Players visited America in 1999 on invitation from Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. Only the great confidence that Zarin Chaudhuri reposes in the power of the theatre could have accomplished this.

Besides the actors, the strongpoint of the present production is the innocence of the six folk tales peopled with kings, queens, sadhus, talking animals and divinities straight out of Panchatantra without their didacticism.

A rare treat for as little as Rs 25 per ticket. The box office opens on Saturday at Gyan Manch.

   

 
 
MAMATA RETURN TRIP WITH SAMATA TICKET 
 
 
BY INDRANIL GHOSH
 
Calcutta Aug. 10: 
Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has begun to script her return to the railway ministry which she quit nearly five months ago over the Tehelka expose.

Officials said the prospects of Mamata’s return to the NDA had brightened after an unpublicised meeting between her and the Samata Party leadership in Delhi a few days ago.

“The issue (her return to the ministry) is real now, because the two sides have started discussing a suitable time-table for the purpose,” the officials said.

Going by the latest development, Mamata can be said to have effectively spoilt her principal foe and recalcitrant party MP Ajit Panja’s chances of becoming a minister again without her blessings. He can become a Central minister only if the Prime Minister intervenes.

Mamata’s planned comeback to the government has assumed its own dynamics after an influential section of the Samata leadership decided to stake her position overriding that of Nitish Kumar, the railway minister and a key Samata leader.

Present at the meeting with Mamata in Delhi were NDA convener and Samata president George Fernandes and a few key Samata leaders who were believed to be increasingly favouring a Mamata-Samata combination — in that order — in the railways in place of the existing one because of certain intra-party tensions as well as Fernandes’ own compulsions .

The officials indicated that Mamata and the Samata leadership were looking at the possibility of her re-installation in railway ministry around October when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is expected to carry out a larger reshuffle of his ministry.

In the situation expected to develop in the coming days, Trinamul may be given another ministerial berth, that of a minister of state, for which Mamata is believed to have kept Akbar Ali Khondkar in sight, although it is not certain at this point how a major claimant Sudip Bandopadhyay, Trinamul chief whip in Parliament, will react.

Though he had to resign as defence minister, thanks to pressures created by Mamata on the Tehelka issue, Fernandes is working overtime to bring her back to the ministry as otherwise the fast changing situations in Delhi and Mumbai might jeopardise his expectations of a re-installation in defence.

For him, however, one big comfort is the knowledge that Pramod Mahajan, another pointman for Vajpayee, too, shares his sentiments and supports the idea of getting Mamata back in the ministry to keep the big picture intact.

As she rides the crest of new-found affection for her in the troubled BJP, Mamata is, however, going to choose the time for her comeback to the government with care.

She realises the Samata , in a way, requires her more in that the Nitish Kumar-Digvijay Singh combination is not working and Kumar is increasingly threatening to upset certain key configurations in that party.

   
 

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