East and west, divided by a time line
Mahanta ‘honeymoon’ hotel test
Bengal on crime-crack high road
Bar singer to kidnap scout
Calcutta Weather

Agartala, Aug. 19: 
V. Thulasidas woke up in cold perspiration to the glittering sunlight piercing through the glass windows in the retiring room of Calcutta’s old airport. An IAS officer proceeding to Tripura on his maiden posting, the young man from Kerala was livid with rage as he thought he had missed the 5.45 am Agartala-bound flight.

Back where he comes from, 5.45 is still more grey than dazzling white.

Thulasidas’ quick glance at the watch saved the retiring room’s caretaker a stinging rebuke. The sun was shining brightly but it wasn’t yet 5.45 and Thulasidas hadn’t missed his flight. That was in 1969 but the memory is still fresh in his mind.

Now, as chief secretary to the Tripura government, he is on a four-member committee that is considering the possibility of dividing the country into different time zones.

V. Ramamurthy, Union science and technology secretary, who heads the panel, said: “The committee is examining the feasibility and advantages and disadvantages of introducing two time zones.”

This is not the first time such a proposal has been mooted. In the late eighties, a research team at the Tata Energy Research Institute had suggested it to save electricity. At the same time, it had noted that the saving would be significant if electricity consumption rose beyond then prevalent levels.

Ramamurthy said: “The prime motivation for undertaking such an exercise is to make best use of daylight in eastern India.” In the east, the sun rises earlier than in the west and sets earlier.

For instance, the sunrise time forecast for Calcutta on Monday is 5.17 am while for Mumbai it is 6.20 am — a difference of over an hour. The sunset time on Sunday, on the other hand, in Calcutta was 6.04 pm and in Mumbai 7.03 pm, again a gap of almost an hour.

If the idea of creating two time zones is accepted, the country will be divided by a north-south line separating the east and the west. The east then will be ahead of the west, in keeping with the early sunrise.

With a single Indian Standard Time, the eastern region loses at least an hour a day. The IST is now based on the local time at Mirzapur near Allahabad.

The committee had its first sitting last month and is scheduled to meet again in September where the views of the eastern and northeastern states will be heard.

Underlining the need for different time zones, experts said there are five standard times in the US and eight in Russia. But China has only one.

Ramamurthy pointed out some practical difficulties in implementing two time zones. One is the almost certain possibility that states, even towns, could end up being split into two time zones and two, public acceptance.

The easterner should not object too much, though. As Thulasidas says, the east is behind the west and the north in sport since children in this part of the country do not get enough time to practice. Evenings are early and day-starts are late because the hour on the clock wakes them, not sunrise.


Guwahati, Aug. 19: 
Former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s self-proclaimed second wife Sanghamitra Bharali has dared him to call for records at the five-star hotel in Mumbai to disprove her claim that both of them were together in a suite booked in his name on March 11 and 12 for their “honeymoon”.

That Mahanta stayed in the five-star hotel during those days in March was confirmed by former minister and Asom Gana Parishad strongman Sahidul Alam Choudhury during an exclusive interview to The Telegraph this morning.

Bharali has named Choudhury as one of the witnesses to the alleged marriage. However, Choudhury — who branded Bharali the “Pamela Bordes of Assam” — denied the allegation that Mahanta married the Assembly secretariat employee secretly.

Bharali also asked the AGP leader to use his “political clout” and “influence as an ex-chief minister” and obtain official records from the Maharashtra government about his movements in Mumbai from March 11 till the time he took a flight out of the megapolis on March 13. Mahanta being a “Z-plus category” security risk, it is mandatory that during a tour outside Assam, the host state records all his movements.

“Let Mahanta place all these records in public, I dare him to do so,” Bharali told The Telegraph. She claimed that security escort provided to Mahanta in Mumbai had accompanied them to the Vigneswar Ganesh temple in Andheri (West) where the marriage was allegedly solemnised. “The securitymen waited at the gate while the ceremony was being performed inside the temple,” she added.

When asked whether she had any proof of her stay with Mahanta in the hotel, Bharali said she had signed “food bills” on his behalf.

“I clearly remember signing the bill for lunch on March 12 because I had it alone as he (Mahanta) had to go out for an official function,” Bharali claimed. On March 12 afternoon, the former chief minister attended the official function for inauguration of Assam Bhavan in Mumbai.

When pointed out that if Mahanta can call for records, he can also use his influence to “doctor” records and “manage” people, Bharali shot back: “Why would the hotel management or the Maharashtra government do that. They are not obliged to him.”

She also gave The Telegraph the telephone numbers of a Mumbai housing society where she “owns” a flat and the temple priest — Prabinbhai — who allegedly performed the marriage. Both the numbers were found to be correct.


Calcutta, Aug. 19: 
Missing pieces of the Khadim’s jigsaw began falling into place at a scorching pace today as an army of investigators snapped out of the stupor that followed earlier kidnappings and acted more like the enforcers of a self-declared “first boy” in law and order.

Racing from one metro to another in an operation unparalleled in the history of Bengal law-enforcement in its sweep and scale, the investigators have picked up a trio, including a woman, in Mumbai. They have also identified four members of a Dubai-based gang that had snatched Khadim’s co-owner Parthapratim Roy Burman on July 25.

The four names tumbled out after the arrest of alleged key conspirators Abdur Rahman, Jameel Ahmed and Swati Pal in Mumbai by a joint team of Bengal CID and Mumbai police officers late on Saturday.

The probe involved hundreds of investigators and covered cities as distant as Calcutta, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Dubai. “The enormity of this multi-layered operation can’t be described in words,” inspector-general (south Bengal) Prasun Mukherjee said.

The drive stood in sharp contrast with the lacklustre police action that marked the release of another high-profile kidnap victim, S.B. Ganguly. The flurry of activity and the string of arrests are also expected to help chief minister Buddadeb Bhattacharjee, under fire after the recent crime spiral, buttress his claim that Bengal is the “first boy” in law and order.

Ahmed, originally from Uttar Pradesh, was picked up from Haji Ka Chawl on the outskirts of Mumbai. Rahman, who started life in Kerala, as well as Swati were arrested from an apartment, Mukherjee said. The police said Ahmed confessed that he “was aware of the entire abduction plot and he shuttled between Mumbai and Dubai”. The interrogation was carried out by the CID inspector-general, Partha Bhattacharjee, now camping in Mumbai.

The joint investigation by officers from Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengal revealed that the Dubai-based gang had fanned out across the country for the operation. Mumbai police chief M.N. Singh said the operation was remote-controlled from Dubai with the help of four hardened “professionals’’ who were in Calcutta to “carry out the act’’.

Rahman and Ahmed were asked by Dubai-based Shafique alias Raju to get in touch with Abdur Karimuddin alias Karim in Hyderabad. The duo had never met Karim, a hawala-operator earlier arrested on charges of foreign exchange regulation violation, Hyderabad police chief P. Ramulu said.

“Roy Burman family members arrived with the money in Hyderabad on July 29 and the transaction took place in a five-star hotel here,’’ Ramulu said.

After the transaction, Karim directed Mohammed Ishaque and Mehboob Ali — arrested along with a fourth man, Khwaji Altaf Ahmed, in Hyderabad — to call up Rahman and Ahmed to pass on the message that the “operation was successful and the victim could be released, provided Dubai gave the green signal’’.

Ahmed and Rahman called up Karim from Swati’s residence to reconfirm the payment, Ramulu added. CID sleuths picked up the calls and conversations, which were later tracked down to Swati’s Mumbai residence.

Mumbai police chief Singh confirmed that the Dubai gang had links all over the country and never operated from one place. “There are different segments of the crime and none of the operators is known to each other. It is the big boy from Dubai who monitors and handles the operations. The transactions are in hawala and orders are taken and given on mobile phones. Karim, Swati, Rehman and Ali might be members of the same gang but it is also likely that they did not know each other,’’ Singh said.


Calcutta, Aug. 19: 
Meet Swati Pal alias Shalini alias Monica. Starting as a faceless crooner in a seedy bar in central Calcutta, she was flitting between Mumbai and Dubai and Sharjah in well-heeled, if dubious, company until police caught up with her.

On Saturday, she was arrested from her Mumbai apartment by investigators probing the abduction of shoe-maker Khadim’s co-owner, Parthapratim Roy Burman.

The police are not sure yet when Swati — said to be in her twenties — made her entry as a player in the high-profile abduction-drama, but suspect that she might have acted as the eyes and ears, if not more, of the kidnap gang.

Did she know any of the Roy Burmans? It is an angle the police are investigating. But Siddhartha, Parthapratim’s brother, felt the probe team was barking up the wrong tree. “We don’t know her at all. The whole idea is ridiculous. The arrest of the four hawala agents in Hyderabad yesterday was not convincing either,” he said. Siddhartha added that he had “serious doubts” about the investigation.

The investigators recorded Swati’s entry into the episode when they stumbled upon her name and phone number in course of the probe.

They refrained from arresting her at that point as they did not have the full picture of how the abduction was carried out. Her arrest at that time would have proved “counter-productive”, tipping off others in the chain of suspects, a senior official said.

She was, instead, put under the microscope; her calls were traced and investigators followed her when she shuttled between Dubai and Mumbai. “We obtained print-outs of several calls made from different telephone numbers,” a CID officer said.

“Scrutiny of the numbers revealed that most of the calls were made from Swati’s residence to Karim, the hawala-operator arrested in Hyderabad, and the gang’s other contacts in Bangalore, Calcutta and Dubai,’’ he added.

“We gathered clinching evidence of Pal and her friends’ involvement in the crime,’’ inspector-general (South Bengal) Prasun Mukherjee said.

As of now, the reigning hypothesis about her role in the Khadim’s case, say officials, is that she had come down to Calcutta, her known turf, for a reconnaissance mission for the abductors.

Swati’s careergraph shows her steady evolution as a utility or resource person for one or the other gang, officials said. Mumbai police chief M.N. Singh described her as a “facilitator’’ to crimes. “Pal gathered information on ‘targets’ and passed on data to the sharp-shooters,’’ he said.

She accompanied friends to Dubai and Sharjah where she met associates of Dawood Ibrahim. Despite conflicting reports from Mumbai on her affiliation to any particular gang, Rahman and Jamil Ahmed — arrested with her — were henchmen of a Dubai-based don, investigators said.




Maximum: 34.1°C (+2)
Minimum: 27.7°C (+2)


4.8 mm

Relative humidity

Max: 94%
Min: 64%


Light to moderate rain in some parts.
Sunrise: 5.17 am
Sunset: 6.03 pm

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