Mend realtor rules, curb crime
Party rap on cadre for links with promoters
Constable killed
Cell trail in ashram arrest
Thursday date for MoU with Microsoft
Flagging interest in Tricolour
Workers block market
Clean-chit rap for Subhas
Code for coalition return
Homeless and haunted by AIDS

Calcutta, Aug. 14 : 
Where there is land, there are ‘sharks’. Where there are sharks, there is a trail of blood.

The murder of Sailen Das at his Dum Dum doorstep on Monday has forced the government to take a long, hard look at the murky world of landgrab, where the politician’s clout goes hand-in-glove with the realtor’s greed.

“These are people who are grabbing small plots of land from the middle class and using unlawful means to construct four-storeyed buildings on them,” municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya said on Tuesday.

Expressing “concern” over the “cold-blooded killing” of Das, Bhattacharya said the government was contemplating “sweeping changes” in land laws and building rules to “pre-empt greedy, unscrupulous realtors” out to make a fast buck.

Das was the second municipality chairman to be murdered this year. Budge Budge municipal chairman Sailen Ghosh, also of the CPM, was killed around two months ago.

“I have been telling the municipalities not to let promoters have a free run of their areas. Of late, some municipalities, including Dum Dum, had started opposing the filling-up of ponds for illegal construction. I am not ruling out the possibility of Das having been targeted by some unscrupulous promoters,” said Bhattacharya.

He said he had spoken to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee during the day about how to put the brakes on the “growing criminalisation” of the real-estate sector. According to Bhattacharya, the government was thinking of:

Changing the land use and development control plans to prevent proliferation of multi-storeyed buildings in certain areas;

Altering the provisions of sanctioning building plans to prevent highrises from coming up;

Making scrutiny of building plans more strict;

Preventing construction on low-lying land, which is being targeted at present by promoters;

Stepping up vigil to prevent the filling-up of waterbodies;

Alerting the local police about goons controlling the supply and price of building material.

The government feels once the laws are revised and “tall buildings” are not allowed to come up on “small plots”, the greed factor is bound to drop. This, in turn, will curb criminalisation.

Bhattacharya admitted that even government projects were “not spared” by criminal elements in the real estate business.

A Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) project in Kasba, he said, had been “put on hold” due to “disturbances” created by building-material suppliers.

“The CMDA engineers working at the new hawkers’ complex on the Rashbehari connector complained to me some time ago that suppliers had threatened to create problems if material was not bought from them at prices dictated by them,” Bhattacharya added.

“I have told the chief minister that even small incidents need to be addressed before they snowball into major issues,” the minister said. “He has assured me that the administration will get to the root of the problem and tackle the situation,” concluded Bhattacharya.


Calcutta, Aug. 14 : 
After the shock, the introspection. A number of secretariat members of the CPM’s North 24-Parganas district unit on Tuesday met to discuss the killing of Sailen Das, chairman of Dum Dum municipality.

They decided to organise a district-wise campaign against “unscrupulous promoters” engaged in construction of highrises in several parts of Dum Dum, Baguiati, Lake Town and the adjoining areas.

Party sources said the leaders have instructed CPM members not to involve themselves in any kind of real estate deals. The CPM leadership also instructed party members to identify the promoters who have not obtained licences from the state government for construction of buildings. “Try to avoid the blacklisted promoters and those who are working without any valid licence,” was the diktat from the leaders to the partymen.

The secretariat will meet again soon to discuss this issue. It will be attended by senior state leaders of the party. On Tuesday, the meeting was cut short in view of Das’ last journey. Many of the secretariat members expressed their displeasure over some partymen “hobnobbing” with “unscrupulous” promoters.

“We are at a loss over how to tackle these party members. We feel ashamed to identify ourselves with them,” said a senior party functionary of North 24-Parganas.

The possible reasons behind Das’ killing were discussed in detail. Some believe that Das was murdered by hired killers engaged by a section of promoters. These leaders even tried to identify the partymen who had tried to influence Das into helping a buyer get a building plan sanctioned for construction of an engineering college on a waterbody.

It is learnt that some local CPM leaders had influenced Das to clear the building plan for the proposed college, ignoring the fact that the plot was a waterbody.


Calcutta, Aug. 14 : 
Biswajit Ganguly, a 29-year-old sergeant of Calcutta Police, was killed after being hit by a taxi at Panchanantala, in the Lake police station area, on Tuesday evening.

The incident occurred while Ganguly was on duty, controlling traffic in the area. He was taken to Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratisthan, where he succumbed to his injuries. Ganguly was a resident of Behala and had joined service in 1991.

The driver was arrested and the vehicle impounded.


Calcutta, Aug. 14 : 
A series of phone calls made to a Salt Lake ashram from a cellphone used by the kidnappers led the police to Rabindranath Das, a “prize catch” in the Parthapratim Roy Burman kidnap case.

Phone calls were also made to the Roy Burman home from Das’ Farukhabad branch of the ashram, leading the police to believe that Das was involved in the shoe magnate’s abduction.

Das was arrested from his Farukhabad ashram on Saturday and brought to Calcutta on Tuesday. He was produced in the court of the sub-divisional judicial magistrate. He has been remanded in police custody till August 24.

“Initial interrogation of Das has revealed that he was receiving calls from the kidnappers,” said Karamvir Singh, IG, Kanpur range of the UP police. The UP police, along with CID officials from the city, had arrested Das from his ashram.

A day after the raid on the Salt Lake ashram, Das had told Metro over phone from his Farukhabad ashram that he had met Roy Burman only once at the Brahmakumari ashram in Calcutta.

“But that does not mean that I am a part of the kidnap drama,” he said. “Since when does knowing a person link him to a crime that has been committed?” he asked.

Das said he had left Calcutta for Farukhabad a full three days before the raid on the Salt Lake ashram. “It is not that people were tipping me off and I ran away like a criminal. In fact, I am at my Farukhabad ashram and not hiding from anyone. I am simply being framed by my detractors,” Das said.

“I have always been a victim of a deep-rooted conspiracy,” Das said. “In 1998, the UP police wrongly implicated me in rape cases but no evidence has been found to nail me on this count.”

Contrary to Das’ claim, Singh said that three sharpshooters of Sarai Mir village, in Azamgarh district — Aslam, Sher Khan and Mir — were found to have frequented the Farukhabad ashram. “There is a definite link,” Singh said, adding that it appeared that Dubai-based gangster Fazlu-ur-Rahman was one of the main suspects in the kidnap case.

A senior CID official said that on the basis of the calls made to the Salt Lake ashram, there was clinching evidence that Das had harboured at least one of the criminals in his ashram.

“It was Das who also provided the kidnappers with information on Roy Burman’s activities,” he said. “Besides, by monitoring the phone calls, we are sure that Das played a key role in the kidnapping.”


Calcutta, Aug. 14 : 
The future of information technology (IT) in West Bengal will be powered by software giant Microsoft Corporation. Bill Gates’ flagship is scheduled to sign a memorandum of understanding with the state government on Thursday.

State IT minister Manab Mukherjee told Metro that Microsoft will provide updated information on how best to progress with IT penetration in West Bengal. “They will advise us on the needs of the very fast-moving, flexible market,” the minister said.

Being a world leader and pioneer in computer technology, Microsoft will advise the state government on the direction that e-governance will take and how best to manage the various IT sectors.

Microsoft officials, who have held several rounds of discussions with bureaucrats and chief secretary Manish Gupta, have offered the Extended Markup Language (XML) platform for use in e-governance.

The XML system provides fast and easy solutions to all manner of demands. It also provides the possibility of creating documents — in this case forms, clearance certificates, applications needed in day-to-day government work — that are easy to share and transmit across the Web.

The day after the MoU is signed, the first phase of e-governance will be ushered in.

On Friday, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, sitting in his Writers’ Buildings office, will video-conference with municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya, who will be at the Darjeeling district magistrate’s office.

Friday will also see all district headquarters going on-line with Writers’ Buildings.


Calcutta, Aug. 14 : 
Is the national flag ceasing to be an August 15 obsession for the city? Have Calcuttans stopped bothering about the sanctity of the Tricolour?

The answer, in both cases, seems to be yes. From the largest wholesale market of national flags in the city to the itinerant seasonal seller hawking tricoloured buntings on Dharamtala Street, everyone agrees that the trade is on a downswing. And a government wing that is supposed to look after “violations in public display” of the Tricolour has not received a “single complaint” in the past few years.

First, the slide in sales. G.N. Pal & Sons is a 100-year-old shop at Chinabazar, one of the largest wholesale tricolour markets, that hawks symbols of patriotism before national holidays. Present owner R.N. Pal insists that he is in the Tricolour trade because of “certain ideals”.

But the “certain ideals” seem to have paled into insignificance in the face of this year’s sales figures. Pal is no longer sure whether his shop will sport Tricolours on August 15, 2002. “I will have to think twice before investing again in idealism,” he says.

Things had been going steadily downhill for the past few years, but even that did not prepare Pal for this year’s sharp dip. “It’s more than a 50 per cent drop in sales figures,” he says. In the week prior to I-Day 2000, Pal’s shop sold at least 250 flags every day. This year, he counts himself lucky if daily sales cross the 100-mark.

Most of Chinabazar, which has the largest concentration of Tricolour-selling shops in the city, shares Pal’s fate. August 14 used to be one of the busiest days in the calendar for them, an employee of another wholesale shop says. But Tuesday was “different”.

Retailers who come to pick up the flags and buntings from here to sell it in neighbourhood shops were few and far between.

The other indicator of the “Tricolour interest index” is the number of complaints the home department has received over the past few years about violation of the flag display code — none. An official in the protocol section since the mid-1990s admits the department has yet to receive “a single written complaint” since the time he joined.

The code on flag-hoisting is quite strict. Besides giving the exact sizes of a Tricolour, it stipulates even the direction the saffron end should point.

But no one cares, least of all some government buildings, which sport the Tricolour even after dark every evening, admit officials. “It’s the national holidays which witness the most blatant violation of rules,” they add.


Calcutta, Aug. 14 : 
Four workers have laid a 34-day siege on Ballygunge AC Market, demanding appointment letters as permanent staff from the 72 shop-owners who set up the market. The 72 had been hawkers before they grouped together to build the market on Gariahat Road. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee is adviser to the market committee.

A police picket from Gariahat thana has been posted outside the building but the agitators, under the banner of South Calcutta Shop Employees’ Union, are not allowing shoppers to step in.

The four, with the help from other union workers, raise slogans and perambulate in a circle on the pavement in front of the entrance to the market, so shoppers prefer to avoid the spot.

“They are disturbing the peace and yet, we have to spend Rs 600 daily to feed them,” charged secretary of Ballygunge New Market Committee Manoranjan Kundu.

According to him, the workers are not permanent employees and frequently switch jobs. “There are more than 150 employees in the market, but 90 per cent of them are not with the agitators,” he added.

To save on the power bill, the market committee has decided to switch off the escalator.

“How long can we sustain ourselves, with zero turnover, particularly when the Pujas are round the corner?” asked shop-owner Ranjan Kar. Till the blockade started, the market had a daily turnover of more than Rs 5 lakh.

Though the workers’ banners bear the CPM emblem, secretary of the union Durga Chatterjee claimed: “Ours is an apolitical union of shop workers in the Ballygunge-Gariahat belt.”

One of the four agitators, Parimal Majumdar, said: “We have only one demand — give us our appointment letters, as per provisions of the Shops and Establishments Act.” Chatterjee said all shop-owners in the Ballygunge-Gariahat belt had already handed over appointment letters to all their employees. The 72 shop-owners of Ballygunge AC Market were the only ones who had not.


Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
CPM state secretary Anil Biswas today virtually reprimanded transport minister Subhas Chakraborty for describing Gobinda Dey, an accused in the Salt Lake stadium scandal, as a “social worker”.

Dey had surrendered to the CID on August 10.

“A politician cannot certify a person, whether he is a criminal or not. It is the task of the court of law,” Biswas told reporters at the CPM office this afternoon. He said he had expressed his displeasure to Chakraborty when he met him earlier in the day.

He also asked Chakraborty not to issue any statement on subjects other than those concerning his department. The minister assured Biswas that he had not violated party norms and was only following chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s guidelines.

CPM sources said Chakraborty had complained to Biswas that efforts were on by a section of leaders, particularly those from North 24-Parganas, to corner him in the organisation by levelling false charges against him. Chakraborty, they said, also called on Jyoti Basu to intimate him on this matter. Chakraborty was not available for comment.

Asked if he was satisfied with Chakraborty’s explanation, Biswas said: “I have heard him in detail and will place my views at the party forum for further action. I cannot reveal everything to you.”

Biswas wanted to know from Chakraborty whether he had described journalists as “anti-socials”. “Chakraborty said he had not made any general statement. He was irritated by a correspondent’s repeated queries on whether he had connection with anti-socials,” the state CPM chief said.

Going by Biswas’ remarks, the CPM appeared determined to rein in the recalcitrant transport minister from making controversial statements.

A couple of days ago, Chakraborty had also described Mohammed Taslim, alias Chunnu, as a social activist and criticised the police for arresting criminals from Salt Lake stadium. Chunnu, one of the accused in the abduction of Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Barman, is still in police custody though some party members have opposed the police action.

The Congress today said the party will shortly work out a statewide protest programme to highlight the CPM’s “criminalisation of politics” in Bengal.

“The law and order situation in Bengal has worsened with reports of abductions and murders pouring in daily,” said former PCC chief Somen Mitra.

Reacting to Mamata Banerjee’s comment yesterday that Trinamul was willing to “cooperate” with the government in improving law and order, Mitra said mere meetings with ruling party leaders will not help. “I believe the CPM has to stem the rot within itself,” he added.


Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
The BJP’s central leadership today said a code of conduct will be put in place for parties which want to join or rejoin the National Democratic Alliance.

Talking to reporters at Rani Rashmoni Avenue after attending a party rally, BJP general secretary Sunil Shastri said the NDA would be in a better position to address the issue of the Trinamul Congress’ return to the coalition after the code was framed.

“Our national president Jana Krishnamurthi put forward the proposal at the national executive. His suggestion was well taken by Vajpayeeji and went down well with the NDA partners. A committee of four led by NDA convener George Fernandes is now formulating the code of conduct which will be announced soon,” Shastri said.

Others in the committee include Sikandar Bakht and Murasoli Maran.

Asked whether the formation of a code implied that Mamata Banerjee would have to give an undertaking to the NDA before returning, Shastri said: “I think it is too early to jump to such conclusions. Let us see what kind of a situation emerges. But I assure you that an announcement on this is expected any day now.”

Shastri, however, indicated that the code was not aimed at making it difficult for Mamata to return to the NDA. “We want to make the NDA stronger and that is what we are striving for day in and day out,” he added.

The BJP leader also sought to dispel any doubt about Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “supreme control” over the NDA. “Vajpayeeji’s leadership is the biggest strength of the NDA. The NDA is a cohesive force which has successfully sailed through the Lok Sabha elections,” he added.

Earlier, Shastri spoke at a state BJP programme to observe “Kashmir Day”. BJP vice-president Kailashpati Misra, Union minister of state for coal Syed Shahnawaz Hussain and Bengal BJP leaders said Kashmir was an integral part of India and there could not be any compromise on cross-border terrorism.


Ghatal, Aug. 14: 
Asish Bag has taken refuge in a brothel at Moirapukur, five km from his ancestral house here. Socially ostracised, the 39-year-old AIDS victim has even lost his right to see his toddler son.

A patient of acute diarrhoea with swelling all over his body, Bag has been prevented from staying in his house. His wife, also a suspected AIDS victim, has been staying with him in the brothel to nurse him, said his elder brother Bhudeb.

Asish’s father has sought the help from one of his relations, Gautam Bag, who happens to be the secretary of the Garpratap Nagore village committee.

“This is a very touchy issue and one has to tackle it cautiously,” said Gautam Bag. He has requested Ratro Laha, a councillor, to persuade the villagers to allow Asish to stay with his family in his house.

Asish had been working as a goldsmith in Mumbai for the last 10 years. He landed up in the village only to face hostile neighbours. Local residents are up in arms against the Bag family after word went spread that Asish has been tested HIV positive.

Three years ago when he had returned to Calcutta, his family suspected him of having contracted AIDS. Last year, when he was in Calcutta, his family got his blood tested at the School of Tropical Medicine and the result was positive. By then he was already married to a local girl. When the villagers came to know of his ailment, they began ill-treating him. They boycotted him and virtually drove him out of the village.

Angry villagers also ransacked a saloon and destroyed the razors because they had been used on Asish.

Asish returned from Mumbai on August 8 in a serious condition. “He might have been sacked by his employer. But he was not wanted in his native village,” said his father.

Asish’s father has sought the help of Ghatal subdivisional officer Santi Ghosh to end the “persecution”.

Sisir Das, subdivisional medical officer, said: “I have asked the superintendent of Ghatal subdivisional hospital to get him admitted and keep him in a separate room for treatment.” HIV test of his wife and and son will be conducted to ascertain whether they have also contracted the killer disease.”

Kalyan Das, municipal health inspector, said an AIDS awareness campaign would be taken up by the municipality shortly. Fear psychosis, where AIDS is concerned, prevails in the area since as many as six persons from this village, who had been to Mumbai as goldsmiths, had died in the past few years, he explained.


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