Trail of blood starts at water-body
Civic seal on illegal building project
Freedom twins sing truce tune
Rush to rescue Advani vote bank
Calcutta Weather

 
 
TRAIL OF BLOOD STARTS AT WATER-BODY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
In a new twist to the Sailen Das murder case, senior police officials said today that the chairman of the Dum Dum municipality may have been “silenced” for knowing “too much” about the murky land deals in the area.

Around 9.30 am yesterday, Das was shot dead at point-blank range by three assailants in front of his P.K. Guha Lane residence just as he was leaving for the municipality headquarters. The killers then escaped on a hijacked motorcycle after the one in which they were travelling refused to start.

Through much of Monday night and Tuesday, the police raided various parts of Titagarh, Belghoria and Bongaon in search of the elusive killers.

“We have made definite progress and we are closing in on them,” an official said. “But for the moment, for the sake of investigations, it is not possible to divulge any more.”

The police said they had got on to the trail of the killers after they detained Amit Mukherjee, the owner of the motorcycle which they had used to travel to Das’ house on Monday morning. Initially, Mukherjee, who hails from Muraripukur, said he was unaware of how the killers had got hold of his bike.

As it turned out, Mukherjee said that he had bought the bike on behalf of a friend who in turn claimed that it had been sold to a third person.

Finally tracking down the current owner, the police learnt that the bike had been given for repairs to a garage in the Belghoria-Jessore Road area.

Last night itself, the police descended on the garage owner, Khoka, and picked up three persons for questioning.

Interrogation revealed that the garage is a meeting point of local criminals and that the garage owner had “lent” the bike to the three criminals who used it to travel to Das house for the killing.

Further investigations revealed that all three were contract killers and belonged to a gang in North 24-Parganas. It is also learnt that they have several cases against them and are currently out on bail.

“Khoka has given us the names of the killers, but they cannot be revealed at the moment for the sake of the investigations,” said DIG, CID, V.V. Thambi. But, based on what Khoka had to tell them, the police carried out raids at “select spots”.

The police also said Khoka had told them he had given the three killers the bike after being threatened with dire consequences. “I had no option,” he reportedly told the police.

“If I did not give them the bike, they would have made life miserable for me.”

The police have been examining all records at the Dum Dum municipality to find out if there were any controversial land deals and from there narrow down investigations to zoom in on enemies he may have made during his tenure as the chairman.

The police met several local CPM leaders to find out whether any political rivalry in the faction-ridden North 24-Parganas unit of the party may have led to the killing. “We are also examining this aspect,” an officer said.

   

 
 
CIVIC SEAL ON ILLEGAL BUILDING PROJECT 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
A controversial waterbody-deal in Dum Dum municipality led investigators on the real-estate scent in yesterday’s murder of Sailen Das.

The probe team’s real-estate angle got the government’s stamp of approval when municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharyya today unveiled plans to tighten land-use and building rules.

The controversy over the sale of a 3.55-acre water-body at Padmapukur — hardly a kilometre from Das’ home — and subsequent efforts to build a private engineering college there by realtor Arun Poddar touched the very top of the government and the CPM as chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Left Front chairman Biman Bose were made aware of the unlawful nature of the project. Under a high court order of 1992, water-bodies cannot be filled up. The Town and Country Planning Act, too, prevents filling up of water-bodies.

Documents with The Telegraph reveal that, under Das’ chairmanship, Dum Dum municipality had sanctioned the building plan for the college in violation of law. He wrote to the district magistrate asking him to allow Poddar’s plan to develop the property. A similar letter had been written by him to the additional district magistrate, land revenue. Evidence also exists of Das having written to Poddar to go ahead with the project. The civic body chief had argued in favour of construction in a letter to the block land records officer — whose permission is essential for changing the nature and use of water-bodies — saying that the pond was a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Das might have been guided by the ambition of having a modern engineering college in his backyard, police said.

Certain influential members of the CPM’s North 24-Parganas secretariat, opposed to transport minister and rebel Subhas Chakraborty, were pushing Das.

These leaders approached Biman Bose in early 2001 to get the project started after the fisheries department, acting on a complaint by a citizens’ association of rebel CPM leaders, acquired the property in March this year under the Inland Fisheries Act, treating the water-body as “abandoned”.

The water-body was sold by Jyotirmoyee Seth to Poddar in 1999 for Rs 15 lakh, about one-thirtieth of the market value.

Bose immediately got in touch with fisheries minister Kiranmay Nanda. But, after being told of the details, he dissociated himself and asked local leaders to do the same. Bose was not available for comment.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee escaped involvement even more dramatically. A day before he was supposed to lay the foundation stone of the private college ahead of the Assembly polls, he was informed how the municipality had flouted the law to approve the building plan and how the place was to be filled up illegally.

Nanda today said: “I explained the thing in detail to Buddhababu and Bimanbabu. They appreciated my position and took measures to keep the government and the CPM away from the murky goings-on.”

Frustrated at not being able to go ahead with his project, Poddar filed a case against the government acquisition in the high court in April. Repeated efforts to contact him between 8 and 10 pm failed. His spokesman kept saying: “Saab abhi bathroom mein hain (Sir is in the bathroom).” He would inform his “saab” as soon as he emerged from the toilet, he promised. After that the spokesman said Poddar had gone out.

The local citizens’ association had gone to court before Poddar, opposing the project. Following its appeal, the court had despatched a special officer who found after “inquiry” that the water-body was ankle-deep. A fisheries department investigation, where Nanda himself was present, had found the pond at least eight-foot deep.

   

 
 
FREEDOM TWINS SING TRUCE TUNE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA AND IDREES BAKHTIAR
 
New Delhi and Islamabad, Aug. 14: 
Independence Day goodwill set in after days of sniping with Atal Bihari Vajpayee keeping cross-border terrorism out of his message to Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf concentrating his firepower on “termites eating us from within”.

The Pakistani President added that Islamabad was willing to go to any length to maintain “friendly” relations with New Delhi.

In his first communication with Musharraf after the Agra summit, Vajpayee said India is committed to establishing a relationship of durable peace, friendship and cooperation with Pakistan in accordance with the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration.

“Our recent meetings in Agra have resumed the dialogue process between the two countries. I look forward to continuing our bilateral interaction,” Vajpayee said in the message extending good wishes on the occasion of Pakistan’s Independence Day.

Vajpayee stressed on Simla and Lahore — both anathema to Musharraf — but did not mention the bigger issue of contention — cross-border terrorism.

Asked about the omission, foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said: “This was a message on the occasion of Pakistan’s Independence Day and should be read in that light.” She added that India’s concern on the issue remained and it would be taken up at the next meeting.

But if Vajpayee did not mention cross-border terrorism in his message, he left it to foreign and defence minister Jaswant Singh to raise the issue.

In his address to armed forces on the eve of the Independence Day, Singh blamed Pakistan for the recent massacres in Jammu and Kashmir and sought an end to anti-Indian tirade. He said New Delhi’s willingness for a dialogue should not be construed as a sign of weakness.

Musharraf made it clear that Kashmir remained the paramount issue but he focussed more on extremist elements within his country. He said it was unfortunate that the threats to Pakistan came more from within than without.

“Unfortunately, however, our threat emanates from within. Our economic malice, coupled with intolerant extremist attitude in certain quarters, are the termites eating us from within,” Musharraf said.

He claimed that Pakistan had brought the Kashmir “dispute” out of the closet and made it the focus of world attention. But he added: “Without sacrificing our sovereignty and our national honour and national dignity, we are willing to go to any length in order to maintain friendly relations with all our neighbours.”

However, addressing domestic concerns, Musharraf made a veiled reference linking India and Pakistan’s security. “The armed forces of Pakistan, backed by our nuclear potential, provide us complete security from external threat,” he said. Later, in a message to President K.R.Narayanan, Musharraf said: “I have great pleasure to convey to you and the people of India our warm greetings on the occasion of Independence Day.”

   

 
 
RUSH TO RESCUE ADVANI VOTE BANK 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 14: 
Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha has assured Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel that the Centre will try and implement at the earliest the Rs 1,200-crore bailout package for the Madhavpura Cooperative Bank which has been in the red after making a slew of questionable investments.

Sinha told Patel yesterday that the Centre would shoulder 70 per cent of the bailout expenses and that the Gujarat government would have to take care of the remaining amount.

Broker Ketan Parekh, who is under investigation for the stockmarket crash, had allegedly used loans from the bank to play the market.

BJP sources said that the reason why the Centre was rushing through with executing the Madhavpura bailout package had as much to do with the compulsion of refurbishing the Gujarat government’s image as keeping the party’s middle-class following in urban areas intact. The second factor, said sources, was crucial for the political future of home minister L.K. Advani who represents the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency.

Sources said a majority of Madhavpura’s two lakh individual depositors were from Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. Advani’s constituency also includes parts of Ahmedabad city, inhabited largely by upper middle-class professionals and entrepreneurs. These sections, sources said, had become disenchanted with the BJP after Madhavpura and UTI scams. “Earlier for the middle-classes in Gujarat, the BJP and its leaders were gods who could do no wrong like taking money and patronising criminals. Some of the tinsel has fallen from their eyes after these scams which have directly implicated BJP members,” a Congressman from the state said.

BJP sources conceded that retaining Gandhinagar was a must for Advani since it was a white-collared constituency, which bucked the established political rules of caste and communal equations, and suited his public profile.

“Here voters are mostly educated and belong to the salaried class. For them, a person with an incorruptible, urbane and tough image like Advani is the ideal representative rather than one with a caste base,” sources said. But the glowing description was followed by the admission that these “attributes” associated with Advani — who has been winning from Gandhinagar since 1991 — would remain as long as the BJP itself kept its hands clean.

“The leader and the party do not exist independent of each other,” said sources.

It was at Advani’s insistence that Sinha convened an emergency meeting with the Gujarat chief minister to discuss the crisis on June 20.

The bailout package was formulated and announced after the meeting but because the government seemed to drag its feet on implementing the measures, the home minister intervened and ensured that things got moving.

BJP sources said the debacle had a cascading effect on Gujarat’s smaller cooperative banks. Of these, 37 had put their money into Madhavpura.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum:32.5°C (+1)
Minimum: 27.3°C (+1)

Rainfall:

0.8 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum:95%,
Minimum: 75%

Today

One or two spells of light to moderate rain in some parts.
Sunrise: 5.15 am
Sunset: 6.07 pm
   
 

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