Beep goes cheap in simplify ’n’ slash race
Slain civic chief knew too much, say cops
Trinamul Tapas bends to Buddha
Hungerstrike and protests rock campus
Efficiency-boost benefits for state transport staff
Ashram inmates grilled
Remand for killing sergeant
Mahanta ‘lady’ wants to be put out of misery
Speaker orders inquiry
Jayashri stand

 
 
BEEP GOES CHEAP IN SIMPLIFY ’N’ SLASH RACE 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 16: 
It’s a belated I-Day bonanza for cellphone-users. Thursday began with Command slashing rates in a big way. By evening, Spice or Bharti Mobitel Limited had matched the Hutchison associate, beep for beep. If that wasn’t enough, Calcutta Telephones announced the launch of its “short-range cellular phone service” with free incoming calls from August 20 — the day the revised rates for both Command and Spice come into play.

The “simplify-and-slash” move to “broaden consumer base” in Calcutta, sees Command and Spice become the “first cell operators in the country” to announce flat rates for both incoming and outgoing calls, besides pegging air-time rates at “a record low of Rs 1.15” for the high-user segment.

In the pre-paid or cash card segment, Command and Spice have announced a flat rate of Rs 2.25 per minute for both incoming and outgoing calls, except for the Rs 300 user, who will pay Rs 4 per minute. Spice cash-card customers will, however, have to pay an “access fee” — Rs 45 for CC 300, Rs 100 for CC 650, Rs 150 for CC 1200 and Rs 300 for CC 3000 — which will be deducted from the coupon when recharged.

In the post-paid segment, the Talk Easy plan of Command, with a monthly rental of Rs 395, will have a flat rate of Rs 1.49, instead of Rs 1.95 per minute. The existing Talk 400 will be replaced by Talk 295, with a flat rate of Rs 1.25, instead of Rs. 1.75 per minute. The Talk 1000 scheme will now be Talk 795, with rates slashed from Rs 1.25 to Rs 1.15 per minute. The airtime rates for post-paid Spice users have been slashed by a maximum of 44 per cent. So, Light Spice users will now have to pay Rs 1.49, Regular Spice Rs 1.25 and Hot Spice Rs 1.15 per minute.

“Now, our rates can be compared with landline rates, for the simple reason that cellphone calls seldom stretch beyond 60 seconds,” said Rajiv Sawhney, chief operating officer, Command. “Our new tariff plan has been designed keeping in mind the affordability factor and also the extent of usage by our customers.”

For the Hutchison associate, which has crossed the magic figure of one lakh users recently, the target of doubling the subscriber base is “eight to 10 months”.

Arun Kapoor, chief operating officer, Bharti Mobitel said: “The new plans will give the customer the benefit of talking more.”

Bharti Mobitel is targeting a subscriber base of “2.5 lakh within a year”. Says R. Mahesh, vice-president, marketing, Bharti Mobitel: “Calcutta is one of the fastest-growing mobile telephony markets... The new rates, coupled with dip in handset costs, will help close the gap between cellphones and fixed-line phones in the city.”

Calcutta Telephones, too, promises to play a part in the cellphone surge, starting Monday. Chief general manager S.P. Chakraborty said a 5,000-line network has been developed at Barasat, Joka and Chandannagar telephone exchanges. The short-range cellular service will be available within a radius of five kilometres of the three base stations, on Code Division Multiple Axis (CDMA) handsets. “The service, based on wireless on local loop (WLL), will be provided for a registration fee of Rs 500 and an activation fee of Rs 500. Incoming calls will be free, while outgoing calls will be charged at Rs 1.20 per three minutes,’’ general manager Somnath Maity said.

   

 
 
SLAIN CIVIC CHIEF KNEW TOO MUCH, SAY COPS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 16: 
From murky land deals to intra-party feud, slain Dum Dum municipality chairman Sailen Das had got to know too many secrets for the comfort of some leaders of the North 24-Parganas unit of the CPM, police said on Thursday.

Interrogation of several people suspected to be aware of the deals being struck by party functionaries with the promoter-criminal nexus has revealed that not only had Das got to know of them, but had also started speaking about them openly. This, the police believe, was the prime reason for his killing.

“So far, whatever we have found indicates that it was essential for him to be eliminated for some people to survive in the party,” a police officer said. “He had got to know too much and had even started speaking about it to other party members. This posed a major risk to a few leaders of the North 24-Parganas unit.”

The police said they are still probing who exactly these leaders are and what were the secrets that were being exposed by Das. “We have some leads in this direction and they are being probed,” an official said. “Some people have started talking and are now leading us to the quarry.”

Meanwhile, the CID and district police on Wednesday launched extensive raids in the Khardah and Titagarh areas on the basis of information provided by one of the suspects.

“We had specific information that one of the gangsters involved in the killing was holed up in Khardah,” an official said. “Unfortunately, it appears that he got tipped off about our raid and escaped from there shortly before the police party landed up.”

The police also said that the last owner of the motorcycle on which the contract killers had travelled to the house of Das on the morning of the killing — and which had apparently changed hands more than seven times — had been traced but that the man is absconding. “We have to find from him how the killers had got his bike and how well he knew them,” an officer said. “He may be able to provide us with some vital information which could help us in cracking the case.”

Senior police officers said that the killers may be hiding either in some remote corner of North 24-Parganas or have escaped into Bangladesh, where they may “cool off” for a few months before emerging again. “The border outposts have been alerted and we are keeping a watch on the movement of criminals in the area,” an officer said. “Border towns have also been targeted for our raids,” he added.

   

 
 
TRINAMUL TAPAS BENDS TO BUDDHA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 16: 
The latest act of actor-turned-politician Tapas Pal will surely not draw a round of applause from his party leader. The Trinamul Congress MLA stooped to conquer on Independence Day, as he touched the feet of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

For Mamata Banerjee, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is the symbol of the CPM’s “misrule and terror tactics” in Bengal. She had even stormed out of a room in a Digha guest house when she learnt that Bhattacharjee, too, had stayed there while on the campaign trail.

On Wednesday morning, Pal, dressed in a white sherwani, was the sole Trinamul representative at the I-Day flag-hoisting ceremony in front of Writers’ Buildings. He turned up just after the Tricolour had been unfurled by the chief minister and the national anthem had started. The Alipore MLA waited for the police band to finish before seeking the blessings of first Bhattacharjee and then transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.

Pal was not available for comment till late on Thursday night. And Trinamul leaders chose to play the whole thing down.

“We think this is too small a matter. There is no sense in politicising it,” said Mukul Roy, Trinamul’s all-India general secretary.

Mamata could not be contacted as she was in Rajarhat on Thursday evening to meet the family of a party supporter, Sheikh Rahamatullah, who had been shot dead in the morning. On her return, she remained closeted in a meeting with party leaders.

A Trinamul leader, on condition of anonymity, however, added a twist to the tale. “Mamata herself had gone to Writers’ Buildings to touch the feet of then chief minister Jyoti Basu when she first became a minister at the Centre... Today, she appears to have forgotten her own action and has virtually declared war against the CPM leadership, especially Jyotibabu and Buddhababu.”

   

 
 
HUNGERSTRIKE AND PROTESTS ROCK CAMPUS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 16: 
From south Calcutta to Salt Lake — chaos on the campus was the order of the day. After Presidency College, it was the turn of Jadavpur University (JU) to be engulfed in fee-hike fury on Thursday. Protests by students from the engineering, technology and science faculties led to the suspension of B.Sc admissions. Things took an ugly turn after the authorities decided to “forcibly” remove two students observing a “fast-unto-death” to hospital. An effigy of the vice-chancellor was burnt and by evening, five more students had joined “the indefinite hungerstrike”, demanding “immediate withdrawal of the fee-hike decision”.

Students at the Techno India campus in Salt Lake of the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) protested the authorities’ decision to “defer admission” at the six extension centres. “For a B.Tech degree in IT, we need the approval of All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). The Council has consented to give approval to the main IIIT centre only. Hence, we aren’t admitting students for the extension campuses,” said a senior official at the tech school.

Anil Kumar, regional officer of AICTE, however, said: “The authorities haven’t sent us any proper proposal for approval of the course at even the main centre. Also, for every extension campus, they will have to seek separate approval.” To “legitimise” the six centres, the government is now toying with the idea of “creating” a University of Information Technology in Calcutta and having all six centres as colleges under this to grant “an integrated M.Sc degree”, bypassing the AICTE.

IT students at the College of Leather Technology, also in Salt Lake, were up in arms over the “unclear status” of the degree to be conferred on them. The first batch of IT students were “promised a B.Tech degree”, to be awarded by Calcutta University, when they had joined the course last year. But now, “due to a communication gap” between the AICTE and CU, students have been told that all they will get is a “B.IT degree”, which is “not recognised anywhere in India”.

Students blocked admissions and threatened to launch an “indefinite strike” from Monday if the matter was “not addressed”.

   

 
 
EFFICIENCY-BOOST BENEFITS FOR STATE TRANSPORT STAFF 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Aug. 16: 
The CSTC has announced a carrot-and-stick policy to boost employee performance. While incentives are being offered for efficiency, slip-ups will draw penalties.

Dissatisfied with allegations of poor performance and corruption, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee recently directed the CSTC authorities to improve performance.

“We have taken steps against at least 20 employees for dereliction of duty and imposed cash penalty on four conductors. Showcause notices have been slapped on many and a few have been transferred,’’ said CSTC managing director Gurupada Konar. “We have told employees that they must pull up their socks or leave,’’ he said.

Inspite of a 14:1 employees to vehicle ratio, state buses are scarcely seen on the roads. “We hope to improve services,’’ the managing director said. The corporation is looking to boost revenue inflow. As its biggest source of earnings is ticket sales, lucrative incentives have been announced for conductors. Re 1 per km will be given to drivers and conductors for making additional trips. There is no limit on the number of extra trips they might opt for.

The second incentive is on the basis of ticket sales. If a conductor can achieve a daily earning of more than Rs 9.50 per km on local routes, he will get an incentive of Rs 4 per km. If the earning crosses Rs 13 per km, the incentive is Rs 5 per km. “Any conductor can achieve the target if he makes the effort,’’ Konar said.

The biggest incentive is promotion. If any conductor provides the corporation an earning of Rs 18 per km for three months, he will be promoted. If any employee maintains a good record, he will be considered for a posting of choice.

Punishments include cash penalty, blocking of promotion, increment and other financial benefits, transfer, forced leave, suspension and even retrenchment from service.

If any passenger is found travelling without a ticket, the conductor will be fined Rs 250. If 40 ticketless passengers are found on a bus, the amount will be Rs 10,000. “The conductor should allow the passenger to board only after booking his ticket,’’ the managing director said.

From now, all drivers and conductors will have to maintain a performance diary.

   

 
 
ASHRAM INMATES GRILLED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 16: 
The CID on Thursday interrogated six women inmates of Rabindranath Das’ ashram in Salt Lake. The sleuths took Das to his ashram, where the women were detained and questioned.

Das was arrested from Farrukhabad, in Uttar Pradesh, last week and brought to the city. CID officers claimed they have gathered vital clues to the whereabouts of one of the suspects from Das. The CID identified the man as Sanjay Singh, a Bihar-based don who frequented Das’ Salt Lake ashram. Investigation was on to verify information that Singh “had stayed in the ashram” during the period Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman was held captive.

A senior CID official said Singh had a criminal record in Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai and might have played a “key role” in the abduction. The CID has sought the help of UP, New Delhi and Mumbai policemen to trace Singh. “We might have got Singh the same night we raided Das’ ashram in Salt Lake, but he managed to escape,”a senior official said.

Roy Burman, meanwhile, returned home quietly on Wednesday to avoid media attention. Roy Burman, who was recuperating in a city hospital, refused to speak to mediapersons. “He is still in a state of shock and will not be able to speak to anyone,” his family members said.

Incriminating documents seized from Das’ room in the city and his UP ashram helped the CID find out more about Das’ associates. Sleuths said they were studying two diaries which had the telephone numbers of a few UP mafia dons and some Calcutta criminals. The documents and photographs were impounded from his second-floor flat in the ashram.

The room was sealed. Police also gathered information after interrogating four male inmates of the ashram. One of them had arrived from New Delhi, and knew about Das’ involvement in several shady deals, officials said.

CID officers questioned a few criminals of Tiljala and Topsia. Sources said officers raided several places on the look-out for Vikas Gomes, brother-in-law of fugitive gangster Gabbar, and Ilias of Darga Road. Both are absconding.

   

 
 
REMAND FOR KILLING SERGEANT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 16: 
Abhimanyu Thakur, 36, the taxi-driver who rammed his vehicle into traffic sergeant Biswajit Ganguly on Tuesday evening, killing him on the spot, has been remanded in police custody till August 21. (Metro had erroneously referred to Ganguly as constable in the headline to the report on August 15.)

Thakur, initially booked by Ganguly for flouting rules at Panchanantala, off Dhakuria bridge, left the spot alleging “unnecessary harassment” by the policeman. He returned within 15 minutes, the number plate of his vehicle covered with a piece of cloth. As the taxi approached Ganguly, who was directing in the area, Thakur stepped on the accelerator and mowed him down. Ganguly failed to notice the taxi as his back was turned to it. His body got entangled with the vehicle and he was crushed to death.

Witnesses of the accident got hold of Thakur, beat him up and handed him over to the Lake police station. Officer-in-charge Anil Jana said Thakur was drunk. “He has been booked several times earlier for rash driving. He has been charged with murder,” Jana added.

   

 
 
MAHANTA ‘LADY’ WANTS TO BE PUT OUT OF MISERY 
 
 
BY MONIDEEPA CHOUDHURI
 
Guwahati, Aug. 16: 
Sanghamitra Bharali, the self-proclaimed “second wife” of former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, appears ready to go down as the martyr in the “marriage”.

Sanghamitra, an assistant language officer with the Assembly secretariat, reiterated her claim about her marriage to Mahanta in a Mumbai temple on March 11 but said she neither sought anything from the AGP president nor wanted to prove anything to anyone.

“I am not even bothered about the consequences of revealing my relationship (with Mahanta). If I lose my job, get killed or jailed for speaking the truth, so be it. I don’t fear punishment,” she asserted.

Sanghamitra said as of now she was all alone having lost touch with her “immediate” family after the news of her second marriage broke. “I will be only too glad if someone comes and shoots me. It will at least bring my miserable existence to an end,” the lady rued.

Daughter of a retired Union education ministry official and a teacher mother living in Kahilipara, Sanghamitra, in her mid-thirties, said she was forced by media reports to reveal her ties with Mahanta. “This may have angered Mahanta, but I am confident that he will come back to me one day. It was never my intention to get our private lives splashed in the media to extract anything out of him,” she told this correspondent during an hour-and-a-half long conversation, punctuated by sobs of a woman wronged by destiny this evening.

The lady of the moment was effusive in her praise for the man in her life. “Mahanta is a very affectionate, caring, honest and a genuine individual, who has been manipulated by his partymen and detractors. He used to call me 20 times a day even during important meetings. He stopped contacting me after the media went to town about our marriage.”

   

 
 
SPEAKER ORDERS INQUIRY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Aug. 16: 
Assam Speaker Prithvi Majhi has ordered an “internal inquiry” to ascertain the veracity of secretariat employee Sanghamitra Bharali’s claim that she had committed “bigamy” with former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta.

Asked whether any departmental action would be taken against Bharali for committing “bigamy”, Majhi told The Telegraph; “We may decide on something after two or three days. I have already ordered the officials concerned to ascertain the facts.” Bigamy is an offence under state government service conduct rules.

Bharali, assistant language officer in Assam Assembly secretariat, is a married woman and the mother of one.

Although Majhi claimed that “the employee (Bharali) has been on leave for the past three months,” when contacted Bharali said, “I cannot speak to you now. I am in the office. So please call me back after five pm.”

The Speaker hinted that the government would not take any step before making sure that the reports of Bharali’s second marriage with Mahanta were authentic. “This is not the first time that reports about her are appearing in the press,” Majhi remarked.

According to an official source, if a government servant was detained in custody for more than 48 hours under a criminal charge, he or she could be suspended from service from the date of detention. Bigamy is a criminal offence as per law.

Asked whether AGP legislator and leader of Opposition Mahanta would also be charged with bigamy as a corollary to Bharali’s confession, Majhi said, “All I can say in his (Mahanta’s) case is that if there is anything the law will take its own course.”

   

 
 
JAYASHRI STAND 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Aug. 16: 
To Jayashri Goswami Mahanta, Sanghamitra Bharali is just a “good singer” and not a lady on whom her husband Prafulla Kumar Mahanta is likely to spend his “time and energy”.

The former AGP Rajya Sabha member today dismissed the claim by the controversial classical singer about her “secret marriage” to Mahanta as “wild imagination” saying the “drama is a deep-rooted conspiracy” to malign the main Opposition party.

“This is the 14th year of our marriage. I have known Mahanta since seven years before our marriage. He is a responsible and faithful husband and a caring father to our three children,” the wife of the former chief minister said. Goswami said Bharali has been “playing into the hands” of forces which are bent on defaming her husband and his party. “It is unfortunate that the integrity of a person, who once led a powerful movement for six long years as an influential student leader and headed the state for two terms, has been questioned,” she added.

She admitted having seen Bharali in the Assembly premises “twice or thrice” but denied having ever spoken to her. “I have heard her sing and must say Sanghamitra really sings well. But that is all she is,” Goswami said.

   
 

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