‘My God, this is the end’
Cadre take to streets, cripple traffic
Promoter-party link in districts of discord
Reluctant politician, tuned to Tagore
Scam cloud over fog machines
Elephants and the man
Ninth bout of malaria for civic official
This Puja, thrills at breakneck speed
U-turn Mamata in cooperation chant
Karnataka tips to fight power theft

 
 
‘MY GOD, THIS IS THE END’ 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta , Aug. 13: 
They were lurking in one corner of P.K. Guha Lane, barely 50 metres from the house of Sailen Das. They would occasionally emerge from behind a wall at the end of the lane and stroll up to the entrance of the house, as if waiting for the Dum Dum municipality chairman to emerge.

This is the impression that Das’ driver Montu got as he watched the three youth in the half-hour before the civic official was gunned down at 9.30 am. But Montu did not attach much importance to them. After all, there were so many people who came to meet Das during the day. They, too, thought Montu, must have come with some sort of request.

Waiting for Das to leave for the municipality office, Montu once walked up to the end of the lane to check whether there were others waiting to meet “babu” as well.

But all he found was a red Hero Honda, parked a little distance from the car.

“I did not think anything of it,” Montu later said. “There was no reason to suspect any foul play, as babu did not have any enemies. And there were always people coming in and out of the house.”

So, Montu returned to the car and waited for Das. He was invariably a little late on Monday mornings, but when Das had not emerged even at 9.25, Montu went in to check. He was told that Das had been on the phone for a long time. This had delayed his departure.

Five minutes later, Montu saw the front door open and Das step out. “Then, the devil himself took over the proceedings,” Montu recounted. “It was as if thunder and lightning were striking together at my babu and all hell broke loose.”

As soon as Das started moving towards the car, the three youth rushed towards him. They caught him, literally, by the scruff of his neck and dragged him to the opposite wall.

“Initially, I was too stunned to react,” Montu said. “I saw babu being dragged away by these boys and I stood rooted to the spot, not knowing quite what was happening. All the while, babu was shouting, ‘Tora eta ki korchhish, baba (What are you doing)?’... Then, I rushed to his rescue. I tried to drag the men away. But one of them struck out and knocked me down. Even as I was falling, I saw them whip out pistols and aim them at babu. My God, I thought, this is the end.”

Lying on the ground, Montu saw one of the goons shoot Das below the left ear. “A peculiar gurgling sound emerged from babu’s lips as he slumped to the ground. A few seconds later, the second youth aimed at babu’s chest and fired straight at his heart.”

If this was to make sure that Das was dead, they needn’t have bothered. The first bullet had pierced Das’ head and emerged from the right side of the skull, killing him instantly. This, Montu learnt later, after the post-mortem had been conducted.

The assailants rushed to their red motorcycle and tried to kick-start it. But the two-wheeler refused to start.

At that moment, Montu saw another motorcycle enter the lane from the opposite direction. This was Sandip Biswas, a local resident, leaving for work. “I suddenly saw the three youth get off their bike and rush towards me,” Sandip recollected.

“At first, I did not know what was happening. Then, I saw the pistols flashing in their hands and realised that they wanted to snatch my motorcycle. Frightened, I allowed them to take my bike and the three youth just zoomed off.”

By then, Montu had recovered his senses. He was the one who narrated the tale of horror to Das’ wife, Kanon.

   

 
 
CADRE TAKE TO STREETS, CRIPPLE TRAFFIC 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta , Aug. 13: 
As news of Sailen Das’ death spread fast and furious on Monday morning, the response was spontaneous. Life at Dum Dum and its nearby areas ground to a halt, with CPM supporters taking to the streets and setting up roadblocks on Jessore Road, Dum Dum Road and VIP Road.

A section of the cadre squatted on the railway tracks at Dum Dum Cantonment station, disrupting services on the Sealdah-Bongaon section for over three hours. Sporadic violence was reported from a few places with around 10 private buses being damaged.

Flow of traffic was reduced to a trickle as 15 roadblocks were put up on the Jessore Road stretch between Nagerbazar and Birati crossing. Wooden logs were piled up in front of the Jessop factory on Jessore Road. All vehicles, barring ambulances, were forced to a halt.

Shops along Dum Dum Road leading to Chiriamore, Gorabazar, Nagerbazar, VIP Road and Jessore Road downed their shutters. Most schools in Dum Dum closed early. But many of the kids had to wait for their parents to negotiate the traffic jams and reach the schools before they could leave for home.

Local CPM activists put up banners in the middle of Jessore Road demanding “immediate arrest of the culprits”. A section of partymen even started doing the rounds of the area, armed with megaphones. “We will not lift the blockade till the police assure us that the men responsible for the cold-blooded murder of our leader will be rounded up without any delay,” they shouted.

The ‘bandh’ in Dum Dum threw life out of gear. Thousands of passengers, including students and office-goers, were left stranded, with no way out of the traffic snarl. Rahul Banerjee, on his way back home from Siliguri, said: “I have been at Birati More for the past three hours. Nothing is moving. I went to Birati station but was told that train services would remain suspended for hours.”

Pradyut Guha was in a mad rush as he headed for Nagerbazar. Already running hopelessly late, Guha had three more kilometres to cover before reaching the school where Pinki, his four-year-old daughter, was waiting for him.

“Pinki’s school gave over at least two hours back. She must be worried sick... The protestors refused to let my car through. I have already walked two kilometres and crossed three barricades set up by CPM supporters. I don’t know how much longer it’ll take me to reach Pinki,” said Guha.

Senior police officers finally convinced the protestors to lift the blockade at around 5 pm. Some local CPM leaders clarified that “no bandh would be called on Tuesday”, though protest and condolence meetings would be organised.

   

 
 
PROMOTER-PARTY LINK IN DISTRICTS OF DISCORD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta , Aug. 13: 
The murder of Sailen Das has, once again, turned the spotlight on the cauldron of criminalisation — the districts of North and South 24-Parganas.

Over the past few years, the murky politician-realtor nexus has assumed alarming proportions, claiming the lives of several CPM functionaries in these two districts. North and South 24-Parganas have, in fact, turned into a breeding ground for criminals engaged in extortion and kidnappings.

Even though there have been sporadic attempts to crack down on landsharks and shady realtors, a powerful section of the CPM leadership has, allegedly, granted most of these goons political patronage. As a result, these promoters and musclemen have got away with land-grabbing, filling up of water bodies and extortion.

Party insiders said 10 CPM leaders have been killed in North 24-Parganas over the past two years. Of these, four were victims of intra-party rivalry over land-grab.

Amitava Nandy, district secretariat member of North 24-Parganas CPM, said a party councillor of Garulia municipality, Narendranath Lahiry, was killed about a year and a half ago for raising his voice against promoter raj in the area.

Party insiders said about 3,000 promoters are running their business in a number of localities under Rajarhat, Dum Dum and South Dum Dum municipalities. Most of them enjoy patronage from a section of CPM leaders close to an influential minister.

“Many of these promoters have not obtained licences from the state government and they employ musclemen to terrorise the local people,” a senior police official said.

CPM leader Gurupada Bagchi was killed about a year and a half ago in Kasba when he tried to prevent unscrupulous promoters from grabbing a plot of land near a local school. Senior police officials in North 24-Parganas say Sailen Das, chairman of Dum Dum municipality, could have been murdered for a similar reason.

   

 
 
RELUCTANT POLITICIAN, TUNED TO TAGORE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta , Aug. 13: 
“Achhe dukkho, achhe mrityu... (There’s grief, there’s death...),” he used to sing so often. That was a time he could “still look heavenwards”. Then, the exigencies of consensus in the faction-ridden CPM politics of North 24-Parganas forced him to become chairman of the Dum Dum municipality and “look towards the sewer lines”, instead.

Doctor, Rabindrasangeet singer, social worker and reluctant politician — Sailen Das, 72, was all that and more. He was a rare breed among politicians, respected even by political foes in the murky world of North 24-Parganas machinations, who even took up cudgels against landsharks eyeing ponds in the neighbourhood.

Das, CPM MLA from Rajarhat in 1967, gave up politics in the 1970s to devote more time to music, or rather Rabindrasangeet, his first love. The man, who often shared the stage with Dwijen Mukherjee and Suchitra Mitra, was, however, forced to return to active politics in 1999. The return was a reluctant one; Das had the chairmanship of the municipality thrust upon him when the faction-ridden Dum Dum CPM unit failed to arrive at a consensus, leaving the civic body headless for a month.

But tragedy was always a step away, in personal and political life. Das saw his eldest son, Biswajit, die in front of his eyes in an accident in 1993; more recently, he witnessed the death of his vice-chairman, Asit Dassharma.

Das, who ran a music school, Batayanik, with four branches, remained quite untouched by either intra-party or inter-party feud. “It’s unimaginable that a man like him met with such a violent end,” CPM district secretariat member Ajit Choudhury said. Trinamul Dum Dum MLA Arunava Ghosh admitted his party shared a “cordial relation” with Das. It was not surprising, therefore, that the crowd that gathered in front of his house on Monday morning comprised as many Trinamul faces as those of his CPM comrades.

His family said Das, the soft-spoken man who never raised his voice except while singing his favourite songs, would like to be remembered as a singer and not a politician. After all, “Ei kathati mone rekho, ami je gaan geyechhilem (Remember me for the songs I sang)” was one of his favourites.

   

 
 
SCAM CLOUD OVER FOG MACHINES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta , Aug. 13: 
The CPM, which is in the Opposition in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), has demanded an inquiry into the Trinamul Congress’ annual Rs 20-lakh maintenance agreement with a Bangalore-based manufacturer of fogging machines, instead of employing a maintenance mechanic at an annual cost of Rs 60,000.

Opposition leader Nirmal Mukherjee smells a rat in the sudden hike in the annual maintenance expenditure by about Rs 19 lakh. He said to justify the deal, the Trinamul-BJP board deliberately wasted 10 months’ time and did not allow the mechanic to repair the fogging machines, which had gone out of order. Of the 150 swing fog machines, at least 80 were not working. Four of the seven large van-fog machines had gone out of order for want of maintenance.

Deputy chief health officer R. N. Sanyal said: “We are badly in need of fogging machines, as more and more ward councillors demand them.” A senior health officer said to save expenses, former municipal commissioner Asim Barman temporarily employed a maintenance mechanic of the manufacturing company on a salary of Rs 4,000 a month. Consequently, almost all the machines used to work all the year round.

Just before the civic polls, the mayor-in-council decided to absorb the mechanic, and the chief municipal health officer (CMOH), accordingly, issued an appointment letter to him. But the Trinamul-BJP board did not allow him to join on the grounds that the appointment letter had to be issued by the deputy municipal commissioner (personnel) and not by the CMOH.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee advised member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Khan, to seek the help of chief engineer (conservancy) Arun Sarkar, a qualified mechanical engineer, to maintain the fogging machines. But conservancy chief Mala Roy did not want her chief engineer to shoulder additional responsibilities for the health department.

Hence, a decision was taken to engage the manufacturer for annual maintenance of the machines, instead of issuing an appointment letter from the DMC (personnel) to the mechanic.

The actual maintenance cost would be much more, as the price of spare parts was not included. As service charge, Rs 9,300 will have to be paid to the manufacturer for every swing fog machine, and Rs 1.25 lakh for each van-fog machine.

   

 
 
ELEPHANTS AND THE MAN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta , Aug. 13: 
The call of elephants will be heard at the Indian Museum this weekend. Experts will be talking elephants, their place in the nation’s past — in visual and performing arts — and their place in a future where humans are constantly encroaching on their habitat.

Organised jointly by the Indian Museum and Pugmarks, a Calcutta-based NGO working for the welfare of animals, the two-day seminar will begin on August 18, when a nine-day exhibition of museum artefacts on elephants will also be opened.

The seminar will be an effort in “fact-finding” by bringing together people from visual and performing arts, folk songs and dances, tribal culture and paleontology and archaeology, with experts who have spent their lives tracking elephants — like Dhritikanta Lahiri Choudhury, Vinod Rishi and S.S. Bisht — and forest officials, Indian Museum director Shyamalkanti Chakravarti said on Monday.

The man-elephant conflict — as is now being witnessed in the villages of Jhargram, Midnapore, and those bordering the forests of Purulia — will be one of the issues discussed. “More often than not, it’s man who is responsible for the conflict,” Urmila Ganguli of Pugmarks said.

   

 
 
NINTH BOUT OF MALARIA FOR CIVIC OFFICIAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta , Aug. 13: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) health department will deploy mobile malaria treatment vans in the Ballygunge and Bhowanipore areas following a rise in malignant malaria cases during the last two weeks.

Member, mayor-in-council (roads), Anup Chatterjee, was admitted to a nursing home on Monday as his blood test report revealed the presence of Plasmodium falciparum, which causes malignant malaria.

According to deputy chief municipal health officer, R.N.Sanyal, this is the ninth time that Chatterjee has contracted malignant malaria over the last few years.

Member, mayor-in-council, (health), Javed Ahmed Khan, said going by the past five days’ blood test reports, there was a 3.5 per cent rise in the incidence of malignant malaria in the city over last year. But there was a three per cent drop in the number of malaria cases during the corresponding period last year.

To counter the scourge, the Sikh organisation, Gurmat Parchar Society of Guru Jagat Sudhar Gurdwara will hold a five-day health camp on Rashbehari Avenue on the 397th Prakash Utsav of Guru Granth Sahib from August 15.

   

 
 
THIS PUJA, THRILLS AT BREAKNECK SPEED 
 
 
BY DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta , Aug. 13: 
If it’s the Pujas, make sure to visit Science City where, by that time, you will be able to enjoy a roller-coaster ride. Besides thrills at a breakneck speed, a maritime museum will be built there to attract more visitors. Work is progressing fast on both. They are meant to entertain and edify visitors.

The Indian Ropeways and Engineering Limited has already begun work on the roller-coaster, in collaboration with the Hi-Tech Amusements and Rides of Delhi.

T.K. Ganguly, director of Science City, said: “We hope the roller-coaster will start functioning around the Pujas, but the maritime museum will take some time. It will funded by Calcutta Port Trust.”

S.P. Neogi, project manager of IREL, said: “The roller-coaster has vertical, lateral as well as circular motion. The work has been entrusted with us because our parent body, Damodar Ropeways, has built ropeways and monorails quite successfully. We hope the roller-coaster will draw large crowds. Ropeways draw about 35 per cent of visitors every year, which adds up to about 600,000 people. The ropeway was installed in 1998 and the monorail in 2000,” said Neogi.

The roller-coaster will cost around Rs 35 lakh. About 20 people at a time can enjoy the ride at Rs 15 per head. The rails will be installed 21 feet above the ground. The ride will take three minutes to complete.

Neogi said: “We are trying our best to complete work before the Pujas because there are more visitors then. They come from other states and from abroad, too.”

Neogi said: “The ropeway at Science City has drawn the attention of other state governments. Chief minister of Sikkim Pawan Chamling recently visited Science City and has shown a lot of interest in it. Soon, we will start work on a ropeway there. We will build another at Tirupati.”

   

 
 
U-TURN MAMATA IN COOPERATION CHANT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 13: 
Eight months after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee first invited Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamul leader indicated that she was ready not for a talkfest over tea but for cooperation with the state government to improve the law and order situation in Bengal.

Mamata, who last Friday had vowed not to let Bhattacharjee “rest in peace”, told reporters this evening that even though she did not believe that talks over a cup of tea would solve the problem, a Trinamul representative would attend if the chief minister called such a meeting.

“As a responsible Opposition party, we would like to cooperate with the state government to improve the law and order situation. Buddhababu should realise that it will not be possible to develop Bengal without improving the law and order situation.... We want peace and development in the state. Merely holding a meeting with Buddhababu over a cup of tea will not help solve the main problem,” she said.

While extending help, she, however, criticised Bhattacharjee for his “total failure” in controlling the law and order situation in the state.

“Buddhababu as police minister had completely failed to control crime. Criminals are being allowed to go scot-free. As a result, people have lost faith in the administration and are feeling insecure. How come there is such an inflow of arms? Can Buddhababu deny his responsibility? The chief minister should immediately instruct all officers-in-charge of police stations to crack down on criminals,” she said.

Mamata pointed out that the Salt Lake stadium incident has “clearly shown that the government provides shelter to criminals and antisocials”.

“So, before even organising a meeting with the Opposition, the government should make its intentions clear. It is the antisocials who are growing bolder every day because they enjoy the backing and patronage of the government,” said Mamata.

She charged the government with turning a blind eye to the law and order problem in north Bengal where, she said, international rackets were operating.

But Mamata warned the CPM-led government not to underestimate her party. “As a matter of principle, we are against calling bandhs and paralysing normal life. But we are closely watching the situation. If necessary, we will not budge from going in for continuous agitational programmes and even Bangla bandhs,” she said.

The Trinamul today launched a dharna in front of the office of the superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, in Alipore, demanding the immediate arrest of the culprits responsible for the murder of two Trinamul supporters in Sonarpur on August 6.

   

 
 
KARNATAKA TIPS TO FIGHT POWER THEFT 
 
 
BY SUTANUKA GHOSAL
 
Calcutta, Aug. 13: 
Taking a cue from Karnataka, the West Bengal State Electricity Board has submitted a proposal to the state government to set up a special law court to try cases of power theft. Karnataka will soon pass a Bill in the Assembly to set up such courts.

Sources said state electricity board secretary Rajiv Dube has written to the Karnataka Transmission Corporation, seeking an outline of its special law court project. “It takes years to solve cases of power theft and in the meantime the state electricity board cannot recover its money. Moreover, we have to refer important cases to the CID. The special law court was proposed so that it could settle these issues instantly,” a source said.

Contacted, board chairman G.D. Gautama said: “We are thinking along that line. In fact, Union power minister Suresh Prabhu has indicated that the Centre will soon come up with stringent laws to curb power theft. We are waiting for the rules.”

Pilferage accounts for a large part of the transmission and distribution losses that plague electricity boards. “Only about 50 to 55 per cent of the revenue flows back to the board’s coffers. Power suppliers are demanding advance payment. So, too, are financial institutions. That is why we have to take measures to check power theft,” Gautama added.

According to a report filed by the technical vigilance wing of the board, the Central Vigilance Squad raided the premises of 113 bulk consumers in South and North 24-Praganas, Howrah, Hooghly, Nadia, Burdwan, Bankura and Birbhum. The squad also checked the premises of 35,271 domestic consumers, and dehooked 12,905 tapped lines. It also lodged 135 police cases. Fourteen people were arrested during the raids.

The board estimated energy pilferage at approximately 72 million units in case of domestic consumers. In money terms, this works out to Rs 21 crore.

   
 

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