Courage holds the key
Twin city swoops in kidnap aftermath
Sweeper under scandal scanner
Scourge smashes stigma stonewall
Sick kids set to lose refuge
Road repair trips cable project
Life in jail for satta sultan
History haul in divine dig
Civic body crackdown
Investor body put on fast track

 
 
COURAGE HOLDS THE KEY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31 : 
A 45-year-old woman, aided by four of her employees, on Friday thwarted an armed dacoity at her Jorasanko sari outlet while a crowd stood outside, watching the drama unfold but not daring to help.

Rita Gupta’s act put one of the four armed goons, all in their early 20s, in the police net. Another one was caught by plainclothes policemen on the rounds in the crowded Jorasanko trading district. The other two fled.

Fighting back is not new to Gupta. In April this year, she had prevented a gang of hoodlums from snatching her purse near her CD block residence in Salt Lake.

The day began like any other for Gupta and her employees. They opened shop — it has been in business for the past four months — at 11 am. An hour later, while they were waiting for customers, four youth approached their Madan Chatterjee Street outlet.

Two of them entered the shop. The other two waited outside, one just outside the door and the other on the street. “I was at the cash counter, counting money,” Gupta recalled. “I was leaning over the the cashbox and did not notice any body arrive until I heard someone ask me to look up,” she said. When she did, she was staring into the nozzle of a revolver.

The youth holding the revolver, Vijay Jaiswal, asked her to hand over whatever was in the cashbox. Gupta tried to stall for time, telling Jaiswal that the shop had just opened and there were no customers yet. Realising that Jaiswal was not convinced, she asked him to come forward and take a closer look. “Dekho, kuch nahin hai (See for yourself, there’s nothing here),” she said.

As Jaiswal bent for a closer look into the box, he dropped the single-shooter. He kicked it to his comrade, Rajesh Sonkar, standing close by, but that was all the time Gupta needed. She grabbed Jaiswal and was immediately joined by her employees. Seeing him grapple with the five, Sonkar lost his nerve and ran out of the shop. The duo waiting outside had already melted into the crowd.

Jaiswal made a last appeal to his fleeing friend: “Mujhe chhorke ja raha hai? (Are you leaving me behind)?” he asked.

Sadly for Sonkar, the seconds he had wasted in the shop backfired on him. The plainclothes policemen on their beat caught up with him and pinned him down. Jaiswal, too, was handed over to the cops.

Lauding the courage of Gupta and her employees, Jorasanko police station officer-in-charge A.H. Hossain also apportioned a part of the credit to his “alert men”, who had pre-empted a “major incident”. He believed that the two who fled would be arrested before the night was done.

   

 
 
TWIN CITY SWOOPS IN KIDNAP AFTERMATH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31 : 
For sleuths on the Khadim’s kidnappers trail, it was a day of raids and detention — in Calcutta and Mumbai. In the Maharashtra capital, a team from the Mumbai Police crime branch and the CID claimed a “breakthrough” with a Friday afternoon swoop that netted three criminals from a Santa Cruz tenement.

According to a senior inspector of the crime branch of Mumbai Police, the tip-off had been provided by CID officials on the basis of information supplied by Swati Pal, Abdur Rehman and Jamil Ahmed, arrested earlier in Mumbai. The inspector-general of police, CID, Partha Bhattacharya, is camping in Mumbai to monitor the raids connected with the kidnapping of Parthapratim Roy Burman.

In Calcutta, the city police netted Malcolm, a contract killer and close associate of crimelord Sona, in connection with a recent robbery case in the Burrabazar area. “He was in the custody of Bongaon police. We arrested him from Bankshal court, where he was produced on Friday, and brought him to Lalbazar for interrogation. We hope to obtain a lot of information from him,’’ said deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiqar Hasan.

CID officials and Tiljala police raided slums in Tiljala and Topsia to try and track down Gabbar and Sona. Six criminals have been detained and two arrested. “We are on the lookout for the local criminals who had acted as facilitators in Roy Burman’s abduction,’’ a CID officer said.

The Mumbai team, meanwhile, feels that the Santa Cruz raid is a step in the right direction. On Friday evening, deputy commissioner of police, crime branch, Mumbai Police, P.B. Sawant, said: “Detectives are interrogating the three men who have been detained, not arrested yet.” The aim is to ascertain whether the trio was “present at C.N. Roy Road, Tiljala, the day Roy Burman was kidnapped”.

A senior Mumbai police inspector said the alleged mastermind of the abduction, Mohammed Shafique, alias Raju, “was in touch with these three men in Calcutta on their cellphones” till August 18. “The calls received by these three in Calcutta were traced to Dubai and Singapore. It has also been established that these men had made calls to Mumbai from Calcutta,’’ the inspector added.

Power plea: Trinamul Congress leader Idris Ali moved a petition on Friday seeking the high court’s intervention in the power tussle between CESC and WBSEB. “We, the residents of Calcutta, are being made to suffer for no fault of ours. We are paying our bills and so we want electricity,” Ali said. A division bench, comprising Justices A.K. Mathur and G. Gupta, directed the petitioner to serve a copy to the respondents and said the matter would come up for hearing “after four weeks”.

   

 
 
SWEEPER UNDER SCANDAL SCANNER 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31 : 
There’s a twist in the tale of the ‘refuge-turned-horror home’ for destitute women. The probe ordered into the pregnancy of a deaf-mute inmate of the Liluah Home for Destitute Women late last month has blown the lid off a fresh scandal involving another deaf-mute girl. And the needle of suspicion in both cases points at the home’s deaf-mute sweeper.

The inquiry was ordered by the director of the social welfare department, R.K. Tempo, after a deaf-mute girl tested three months’ pregnant at Howrah General Hospital. She was transferred to Sukanya, the Salt Lake centre, to thwart any possible move by “the culprit” to threaten her.

In course of the seven-day probe — aimed at tracking down “an insider” at the home — members of the Howrah district administration discovered another deaf-mute inmate who admitted to having a “relationship” with the home’s sweeper.

According to sources, the 32-year-old deaf-mute sweeper had come to the Liluah home from Raigunj some 10 years ago. A few years back, he “fell in love” with another deaf-mute inmate. The authorities of the home then arranged for their marriage. The couple was allotted staff quarters on the premises. Now, they have a one-year-old daughter.

“Being the sweeper, he had easy access to all the cells. Both the girls in question are from our observation cell. The sweeper would visit their cells twice a day,” said a staff member.

“We are shocked... He (the sweeper) has been staying here for the past 10 years and was trusted by everyone. No one could imagine that he was capable of something like this,” said a senior staff member, on condition of anonymity.

The probe team had, initially, drawn a blank, with the pregnant girl refusing to identify anyone. “It was really tough going, as the inmate cannot speak, hear or write. We engaged experts, but she was not willing to disclose anything. Then, one day, she told the experts that a fellow inmate had a relationship with the sweeper. When we questioned the second inmate, she put us on the sweeper’s trail,” a member of the inquiry team said.

With the role of the sweeper under the scanner, the state human rights’ commission visited the Liluah home a few days ago. Pregnancy tests have also been carried out on 305 girls at the home. According to the doctor, none of the girls has tested positive.

Tempo inspected the home on Thursday. When contacted, he refused to comment on the findings of the probe team: “The inquiry has been completed, but I have not received the report yet. I hope to get it within a day or two.”

This is the latest in a series of scandals to rock the Liluah home. In April this year, two girls had attempted suicide after being “sexually assaulted” by fellow-inmate Monalisa. After a couple of abortive attempts to arrest Monalisa, the police had finally managed to round her up and remand her in custody.

   

 
 
SCOURGE SMASHES STIGMA STONEWALL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31 : 
It took over a decade to change attitudes and policies. Fifteen years after the first HIV positive person was detected in the city, at least three private sector hospitals have started admitting and treating patients infected with the virus that leads to AIDS.

In between, such infected patients were either refused admission or, what was more the case, told to leave and continue treatment elsewhere once they were detected to have the virus in their blood. “There were several situations when well-known non-government hospitals and nursing homes turned away such patients, forcing them to go in for home care,” said Dr Sukumar Mukherjee, consultant in medicine who has been treating HIV positive persons since 1994.

The acceptance of such patients at these institutions shows the way for other private sector hospitals that have not yet decided on the issue. The development also beats a provision in an amendment to the West Bengal Clinical Establishments Act, 1950, which makes it mandatory for all hospitals to admit patients infected by the virus.

The amendment was passed by the state Assembly in June 1998, and the relevant clause states: No clinical establishment in the private sector can refuse to treat a person with HIV/AIDS. If such a case is reported and proved, the licence of that establishment stands to be cancelled. The amendment, though given presidential assent a year ago, is still to be implemented by the health department.

At a meeting held recently, specialists in infectious diseases from these hospitals, as well as from the state and Army hospitals, discussed various clinical aspects in the treatment of HIV positive patients. Notes based on their experiences were exchanged and broad strategies on procedure were agreed upon. The meeting was one of a series of round-table discussions organised by Cipla, which in February received international fame by supplying anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs at a dollar a day.

Woodlands Hospital admitted its first positive patient in 1999. “By that time, we thought awareness had been built and everybody was ready,” said Dr S.K. Sen, the hospital’s medical director. He recalled how about eight years back, a young Frenchwoman was hounded out of the hospital and city after she had disclosed her HIV status to the nurses and the media got to know. “It was a national shame... Today, the situation has changed. Repeated lecturing and counselling have changed attitudes among the doctors, nurses and sub-staff. We know for sure how the virus is transmitted. If universal precautions are followed, like wearing gloves and maintaining proper disposal methods, those dealing with such patients can be protected. We are even admitting such patients in shared rooms,” Sen said.

The Assembly of God Church Hospital has been treating HIV positive patients for some time. “We have held several clinical meetings and seminars and convinced the staff on the safety of treating such patients. After an initial reluctance, they are now accepting them.”

Calcutta Medical and Research Institute has also started admitting and treating patients with HIV. Dr Amitava Chakraborty, specialist in immunology and infectious diseases, has joined the hospital after several years in the UK. “We have treated a large number of patients there, and there is no reason why we can’t do it here,” he says.

   

 
 
SICK KIDS SET TO LOSE REFUGE 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31 : 
Cramped for space, 12-year-old Sumita, a thalassaemic child, shares her bed with Rumi, 11, and Farha, 12, who has come all the way from Chittagong for treatment. A few metres away, Raju, 13, is undergoing a blood transfusion on a bench with two other patients.

Having received the umpteenth eviction notice from Marwari Relief Society a year ago, authorities of the Thalassaemia Society of India (TSI) have been running from pillar to post in search of a new home for 300-odd kids. But all they’ve encountered are empty promises “from the government”.

Utpal Panda, secretary of the organisation — the first of its kind in eastern India and the only one formed by parents of thalassaemic patients — is “disgusted” at the “shoddy handling” of their case. On November 10, Panda, with nine thalassaemic kids, met Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee days after he took over as chief minister. Bhattacharjee, apparently, said he “was aware of the Society’s work” and would “definitely look into their problem.”

The file was passed on to the municipal affairs department. Minister Asok Bhattacharya asked TSI to check out a particular plot in Brahmapur, in South 24-Parganas. Panda found that the far-off plot had been “encroached upon by a local club on one side and a petrol pump on the other”.

Some TSI members tried to contact the chief minister again, without success. “All we wanted was a small plot or even a building somewhere in central Calcutta or Salt Lake. But that seems a distant dream now,” says Panda, whose daughter suffers from thalassaemia.

Thalassaemic patients depend on life-saving drugs and blood transfusion for survival. While transfusion in hospitals costs Rs 700, TSI offers the facility for Rs 150. The Society is helped by the Rotary Club of Garden Reach, which arranges for medicines.

TSI members then approached the Corporation. A delegation met mayor Subrata Mukherjee, who gave them a patient hearing and promised to look into the matter.

Inspection of a series of properties — from Convent Road to Rajabazar, Munshi Bazaar to Chetla – followed. “The plot in Chetla was perfect. The CMC authorities also agreed to hand it over to the Society. But after a few months, it went to The Thalassaemia Foundation, instead,” alleges Panda.

“Both are organisations for thalassaemia patients and since Mithun Chakraborty, who heads the Foundation, appealed to us for this particular plot, we decided not to turn him down… We will definitely give the Society some place to build their centre,” the mayor told Metro on Thursday.

Sudipa Basu, secretary of the Foundation, said: “We have rightfully been given the Chetla plot. TSI’s application has nothing to do with this.” Admitting that “nothing has been finalised yet”, she was quick to add that “work should start by the year-end.

   

 
 
ROAD REPAIR TRIPS CABLE PROJECT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31 : 
The Reliance Infotech project of laying a fibre-optic cable network in Calcutta will depend on whether or not mayor Subrata Mukherjee agrees to the road restoration scheme being chalked out by the government. “We are working out how much money is needed to restore the road surface once Reliance completes its project,” said municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya on Friday. The minister’s comments came after a meeting with the mayor at Writers’ Buildings during the afternoon.

Though Mukherjee himself had little to say in the Reliance matter, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation stand is that the restoration money should be paid to the civic body. As far as Reliance is concerned, it does the restoration itself, as it is currently doing in the Bidhannagar municipality area. The company has also kept a bank guarantee in Bidhannagar. Reliance is laying 1,400 km of fibre-optic cable under Calcutta and Salt Lake.

“The CMC usually charges funds for restoration from agencies digging up roads. They save some of the money and use it for other purposes,” Bhattacharya said. The mayor, during the day’s meeting, told the minister that if Reliance conducted the repairs, the CMC must be “compensated”.

But this time around, the state government has decided that the infotech company will pay no funds to the CMC and carry out the restoration itself.

Instead, the minister has asked the chief secretary and his departmental secretary to work out an amount that may be paid to the CMC by the state government as “compensation.”

The government’s decision will be sent to the mayor soon.

   

 
 
LIFE IN JAIL FOR SATTA SULTAN 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31: 
The Tada court today sentenced former satta sultan Rashid Khan and his five associates to rigorous life-long imprisonment for their direct involvement in the Bowbazar blast that killed 69 and wounded 40 others on March 16, 1993.

The guilty were also fined Rs 8,500 each.

The counsel for the six challenged the validity of the Tada judge, P.K. Deb, and said his clients would now move the Supreme Court for justice.

Deb had yesterday found Rashid and his associates — Aziz Akhtar, Md Khaled, Pannalan Jaiswal, Md Mustafa and Md Gulzar — guilty of engineering the blast and conspiring against the nation and the interests of communal harmony. But he had acquitted them of the charges of murder and damage to property for lack of “direct evidence”.

The relatives of the convicts, though they claimed that the ruling was biased, appeared relieved that the judge had not awarded the death sentence.

Asked to comment on the verdict, Rashid told the judge: “I am innocent, my Lord.” His accomplices repeated the same words; only Md Aziz broke down, pleading: “Please save my life huzur.”

All the six guilty requested the judge to allow them to stay together in Alipore Central Jail. Deb asked them to meet him later with their appeal.

The judge had earlier said the sentence would be delivered at 11 am. Soon after Deb took his chair, defence counsel Ganesh Maity contended that the verdict was not valid. He said the judge was not fit to hold a Tada court because he had no experience as a sessions judge or even an additional sessions judge.

Public prosecutor Ashok Bakshi said the defence counsel should have made the allegation during the hearing.

Deb countered that he had been sessions judge for three days and was appointed to the Tada court by the high court. The Supreme Court had told him to deliver the judgment by August 31 and he was abiding by the order.

The judge adjourned his verdict till 3 pm. At 3.30 pm, he started pronouncing the sentence and handed out a life-long term in prison to Rashid and his five accomplices.

Around 11. 55 pm on March 16, 1993, the central part of the city was rocked by a heavy explosion at 267 Bepin Behari Ganguly Street, 300 yards from Lalbazar, the city police headquarters.

The three-storey building was blown up and the verandah of the opposite house, owned by Rashid, also collapsed. Three other buildings in the area developed huge cracks. Tramlines were blown off.

Rasheed and five others were arrested the next day on charges of storing explosives, including RDX, in the blown-up building. Two others, Parvez Khan and Imtiaz Khan, escaped and are still absconding. Investigations revealed that Rashid had stored the explosives in anticipation of a communal riot. The explosion had occurred four days after the Mumbai blasts.

   

 
 
HISTORY HAUL IN DIVINE DIG 
 
 
FROM SANJUKTA DUBEY
 
Purulia, Aug. 31: 
Even some days ago, few had heard of Gajapur. Then suddenly there was a swarm of people rushing to this sleepy village, some 20 km from Purulia. There were the cars that came in droves. And policemen.

Almost overnight, Gajapur had become linked to history.

Over the past week, villagers have dug up loads of ancient idols, sculptures, pots and other relics made of stone from under a huge mound of earth near a Shiva temple. A Shivalinga was dug up about a week ago.

They are waiting for a team of the Archaeological Survey of India to arrive and put a date to these ancient objects.

Pitchers, broken feet of Lord Vishnu and giant wheels — like those in the Konark temple — were among the historical artefacts the villagers dug up by chance from the 200 sq-metre patch.

The digging has not stopped. Residents from nearby Belma, Golkunda and Kastaur have also joined the excavation party.

“We are guarding the area closely and protecting whatever have been dug up. The relics which have been excavated are no doubt of archaeological and historical importance. But as we are not experts, we are waiting for a team of the Archaeological Survey of India to arrive and judge,” said D.P. Jana, district magistrate. The district authorities informed the Archaeological Survey two days ago.

Officer-in-charge of Purulia police station Jitendranath Mukherjee said archaeological relics had earlier been found underneath Budhpur, Deulghata and Joypur areas. “The Archaeological Survey had found relics in these years belonging to the Mughul period,” he said.

In Gajapur, people believe the find is supernatural and is God’s property. Rumours are doing the rounds that those who try to take these relics away will either fall ill or something terrible will happen to them. “Anyone trying to steal God’s property will surely die,” said Khepu Roy, one of the villagers engaged in excavation work.

As the story goes, a 16-year-old boy, Tarapada Roy, reportedly following a divine command, arrived in Gajapur with a spade and began to dig. Soon, some broken relics were unearthed. “Villagers believed that Tarapada was sent by God and they too began to dig. Now see how many relics have been found,” said Sanatan Mahato of nearby Kastaur village. But Tarapada could not be traced today nor could anyone say where he had gone.

The villagers had been pulling out relics on their own until three days ago when a villager went to Purulia and informed the police.

   

 
 
CIVIC BODY CRACKDOWN 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31: 
The municipal affairs department has begun investigating the irregularities committed by the chairmen of nine municipalities, including some run by the CPM. It might even lodge FIRs against some of them.

“These people have misused the decentralisation policy we set in place and should be penalised,” municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharya said today.

In one instance, a chairman of a municipality had drawn Rs 60 lakh as advance in the past four years. In other cases, there were irregularities in appointments, project execution and total violation of municipal laws. Chairmen of the municipalities of Rajarhat, Konnagar, Joynagar, Coopers’ Camp and Baidyabati are among those who have committed irregularities, the minister said.

   

 
 
INVESTOR BODY PUT ON FAST TRACK 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31: 
After nine years, the state government has woken up to the fact that the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation’s Shilpabandhu or single-window facility for investors was mired in red tape.

“We have decided to restructure the single-window system so that it functions efficiently,” industry minister Nirupam Som said today. This was decided after the minister held talks with WBIDC chairman Somnath Chatterjee.

Industry chambers as well as individual investors had been trying to draw the attention of the WBIDC and the industries department about the virtually defunct Shilpabandhu launched in 1992.

The single-window system had vowed to provide speedy processing of application for land, power, water and environmental clearance for bona fide investments in industrial development.

Som said with deputy secretaries of the relevant departments running the show, the system had failed. “These officers were reluctant to take firm decisions. The files invariably were passed around and ultimately ended up at Writers’ Buildings,” the minister said.

The government has now decided to man the single-window with officers of the rank of principal secretary. “They will be able to take quick decisions so that industrialisation speeds up,” Som said.

The industries minister also announced the setting up of an investment promotion board but did not divulge either its composition or its terms of reference. The industries department is also thinking of reviving some of the 64 state-run units. Some could do well on their own, while others might be run as a joint-sector company.

   
 

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