Witch-hunt in heart of Howrah
Capital hunt nets shoe baron’s abductor
Relocation signal for risky units
Mumbai model for new-look bourse
Salt Lake clinic offers bypass for every pocket
To school, in a cortege
Illegal building on Wakf land
Held for trader kidnap threat
DM den locks out seizure
Maoist meet rings alarm bells in Siliguri

 
 
WITCH-HUNT IN HEART OF HOWRAH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 6: 
Bantra is no sleepy hamlet in the middle of nowhere. It’s just a 15-minute drive from Esplanade, over Vidyasagar Setu. And it’s in this township that 60-year-old Satia Harijan was beaten up brutally by residents of Howrah on Wednesday night, who claimed she was a “daini (witch)”.

Satia, a domestic help who lives in a slum near Jogmaya cinema at Bantra, was accused of working her “black magic” on four young boys in the bustee who had fallen ill recently. The attack was, apparently, carried out “under orders” from two ojhas, or witch-doctors.

According to witnesses, nearly a thousand people gathered in front of Satia’s hut around 11 pm on Wednesday, shouting for her to come out. When she didn’t emerge, the crowd smashed the door open, dragged Satia out and started to beat her up. Shouts of “Dainitake mere phel (Finish off the witch)” rent the night air.

“Satia was seriously injured, but she escaped being lynched as some local youth were quick to inform Bantra police station,” one of the witnesses recounted.

A police posse from Bantra thana arrived at the spot and rescued the woman. She was brought to the police station, from where she was sent to Liluah home on Thursday.

The police had a trying time on Thursday morning, with hundreds converging at the thana to catch a glimpse of the ’daini’.

Inside, Satia, a mother of three children, sat surrounded by six armed policemen. “Believe me,” she wept, “I know nothing of black magic. I don’t know why they are accusing me… I was having dinner with my children when they barged into our home and attacked me.”

Daughters Sati and Binita, who stuck to Satia’s side, added: “They wanted to kill our mother… They hit her and then tried to strangle her. We are grateful to some kind-hearted people who informed the thana and the police who arrived on time.”

No arrests had been carried out till late in the evening. According to Rajib Mishra, deputy superintendent of police (south), Howrah, the hunt is on for two witch-doctors who had pronounced that an “evil spirit” had possessed Satia and incited local residents. “We are trying to convince the people that they should not get carried away by blind faith and superstition,” said Samiran Ray, inspector in charge of Bantra police station.

But there was no convincing Dukhia Harijan and others of the bustee. “Four young boys fell ill, one by one, after Satia and three other women chanted some mantras… We have often seen Satia roaming around the bustee at night in a suspicious manner,” they said, alleging that her “three associates” had fled the area.

The police confirmed that Satia would not be brought back to the bustee as long as tension prevailed and the locals refused to “realise their mistake”.

   

 
 
CAPITAL HUNT NETS SHOE BARON’S ABDUCTOR 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Sept. 6: 
Harpreet Singh, alias Happy, one of the four alleged kidnappers of footwear magnate Parthapratim Roy Burman, was produced on Thursday afternoon at the Tis Hazari court in New Delhi. The 26-year-old was remanded in police custody for five days.

DIG (CID) V.V. Thambi said Happy will be brought to Calcutta for interrogation. “We are determined to get to the bottom of the Khadim’s case and Happy, one of the armed men who had abducted Roy Burman from Tiljala, is vital to the investigation.”

Happy, also wanted in connection with a string of abductions and murders in north India, was picked up by the police on Wednesday evening near R.B. Jain Hospital of West Delhi, where he was meeting a ‘contact’. During interrogation, Happy told the police that in July, he — along with Aftab Ansari, a criminal from Varanasi — had conspired to kidnap Khadim’s vice-chairman. The duo took the help of local criminals in Calcutta before carrying out the abduction on July 25.

Roy Burman was kept in captivity till a ransom of around Rs 3.75 crore was paid by his family members through hawala in Dubai.

Happy had, apparently, been paid Rs 1 lakh for the job by Abdur Rehman. The CID had earlier arrested Rehman, his wife Swati Pal and associate Jamil Ahmed from Mumbai. It was with the information — and a cellphone number provided by Rehman — that sleuths tracked Happy down. CID officials said they were now on the trail of two goons from Uttar Pradesh and one from Bihar in connection with the Khadim’s case.

Police said Happy, who had conducted a recce in Calcutta just before the abduction, was constantly in touch with Kamaruddin in Hyderabad. Kamaruddin, a hawala operator, had collected the ransom money from a relative of Roy Burman and transferred it to the “kingpin” in Dubai.

After the deal was clinched, Kamaruddin called Happy on his cellular and directed him to release Roy Burman. Happy and the others then handed Roy Burman over to their local contact, with instructions to release him “an hour after their leaving the hideout”. Ashok Chand, deputy commissioner of police (special cell), said Happy had fled to Mumbai before returning to Delhi.

Happy, who has a hideout in West Delhi, had also set up base in Kathmandu recently to evade the police net. Ansari, say the police, could have fled to Dubai.

Happy was earlier involved in the abduction of Anand Prakash Agarwal, who was released after a payment of Rs 1.5 crore through hawala in a West Asian country after being held captive for several days. He had also masterminded the kidnapping of the son of a jeweller in Rajkot, who was set free after a ransom of Rs 2.6 crore was paid through hawala.

   

 
 
RELOCATION SIGNAL FOR RISKY UNITS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 6: 
The clean-air campaign in Calcutta on Thursday received a major boost with the government announcing plans to relocate a number of “hazardous industrial units”.

Environment minister Manab Mukherjee said on Thursday that goldsmiths, battery-makers, tyre retreaders, glass and acid manufacturing units would have to shift to a “commercial complex”, to be built on a 50-acre plot off Kona Expressway. “The relocation will help create a better environment in the city. Work on the complex will begin after the Pujas,” Mukherjee said.

According to the environment minister, the “hazardous units” will be given a chance to “escape relocation” if they instal pollution control devices immediately and meet the government’s pollution norms.

“A software park and a food plaza will be the star attraction at the commercial complex, a project report for which is being prepared,” said cottage and small-scale industry minister Bansagopal Chowdhury. According to Chowdhury, the deal for the plot was clinched a few days ago, “with help from CMDA”.

   

 
 
MUMBAI MODEL FOR NEW-LOOK BOURSE 
 
 
BY ANIEK PAUL
 
Calcutta, Sept. 6: 
The Calcutta Stock Exchange (CSE) is planning to replicate Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla complex on its 10-acre plot off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. The Exchange is ready to approach Bengal Ambuja to take equity stake and develop the property, close to Science City. The proposed complex will be a landmark on the Calcutta skyline, promises the bourse. CSE executive director N. Dasgupta said: “Though the developer for the project has not been finalised yet, we are impressed with Harshavardhan Neotia’s commitment to development in the state, and consider him a suitable partner. He will certainly feature among the real-estate developers we will sound out before embarking on the project.”

The beleaguered bourse does not have the money to promote the project on its own. “We will approach the developer to take equity stake in the project — we will offer the land, while our partner will invest the funds for developing it,” Dasgupta explained. “The complex will not only house the Exchange, but also offices of corporate houses, financial institutions and capital market intermediaries. We have no intention of turning the project into a shopping mall, so we have no plans to allow any shops and showrooms in the complex,” he added.

Neotia is keen to take a closer look at the project first. “The Exchange has not approached us so far with any concrete plan. We will certainly consider it if they do. So far, we have focused on residential projects only, and we are not sure at this point whether we will take up an office-only complex. We will have to study the proposal in detail, but the project does sound promising,” he said.

The bourse is planning to set up a four-member committee to monitor the project. The committee will include a representative from the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), a senior broker and two members of the CSE board.

The Exchange, for the first time since the payment crisis in March, will approach the government for support. “We intend to seek the help of the CMDA in developing the complex. We will send a detailed proposal to Asok Bhattacharya, minister in charge, urban development, seeking his cooperation.”

According to Dasgupta, such a committee is essential to ensure “complete transparency”. The 10-acre plot, which the exchange had bought for Rs 8 crore some years ago, is currently valued at Rs 45 crore. A number of brokers have, apparently, shown interest in the prime property, but the Exchange has “mega plans”, the CSE executive director reiterated. Though the Exchange has not taken steps to develop the land so far, it had appointed a consultant to produce a draft design. The draft plan, however, has been scrapped, so the bourse has gone back to the drawing board.

The Exchange hopes to turn the corner with this project, but some of the members do not share the CSE board’s optimism. “It will take years for the proposed complex to see light of the day… At this point, it is more important to concentrate on ground realities rather than grandiose plans,” said a member. The grand building plan is billed to come up for formal discussion at the CSE’s next board meet.

   

 
 
SALT LAKE CLINIC OFFERS BYPASS FOR EVERY POCKET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 6: 
Bypass surgery at an affordable price — that’s what a hospital in Calcutta promises to offer.

Anandalok Hospital in Salt Lake will conduct bypass surgery at a cost less than half the standard expenditure. The operation is essential in treating many heart ailments but the costs involved run into more than Rs 1.5 lakh.

“To bring bypass surgery within the reach of the middle-class , we will start a unit where patients will be able to avail of this facility for Rs 45,000”, said D.K. Saraf, founder-member of the hospital.

Saraf said: “Our aim has always been to provide the best treatment at the minimum rate. We sell spectacles for Rs 10. A tuberculosis patient can get treatment here for Rs 10, heart patients are treated in the ICCU for Rs 75 a day, while eye microsurgery costs Rs 250. Patients as well as the Indian Medical Association will vouch for the quality of our treatment.”

The stumbling block of the project so far was the purchase of a Rs 6-crore machine. “We approached both the state and the Central governments for aid but got no response. So we took a loan. The machines are being imported from Holland and we aim to start by October,” said Saraf.

Saraf admitted the seeming impossibility of charging only Rs 45,000 for a surgery which costs between Rs 1.5 lakh and 2 lakh. “This is not a dream. In fact, we will be making a profit of Rs 1,000 from every operation.”

Dr Chinmoy Bhattacharya, a cardiologist of the hospital, said: “The scheme is quite feasible because unnecessary charges will be eliminated. For example, bed rates at Anandalok are Rs 75 a day, unthinkable in other hospitals.”

Welcoming the scheme, principal secretary, health, Asim Barman said: “The government encourages such pro-people ventures. This will help check business in the name of healthcare.”

While Saraf is confident of “achieving a first”, other city hospitals would rather wait and watch before commenting on the feasibility of the scheme. Dr Sunil Sen, former head of the department of cardiology, Calcutta Medical College, said: “It is quite possible if the charges are calculated rationally. The project will definitely help people.”

Cardiologist Dr K.B. Bakshi, who attended to filmmaker Satyajit Ray, said: “ Such a project needs determination and financial resources. The Anandalok management possesses both.”

   

 
 
TO SCHOOL, IN A CORTEGE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 6: 
Bhaskar Dey, a Class V student of St Mary’s, Dum Dum, came to school on Thursday not on foot but in a cortege, followed by his sobbing parents, classmates, teachers and neighbours. His body was covered in a winding sheet and white flowers. A pall of smoke and fragrance from the burning incense sticks hung over the cortege .

Bhaskar died on Wednesday after he was struck by lightning while playing in the school compound with his friends.

On Thursday, some local residents, led by councillor Pratima Das, thronged the school and alleged that Bhaskar was electrocuted by a live wire. “Our school is more than 150 years old. We have 1,100 students and 150 of them are orphans. We take care of our students,” said the school authorities.

Brother M. Bathew, principal, said the mishap occurred around 1.30 pm, after most of the students had left, school having broken early on Teachers’ Day. “Only a few, like Bhaskar, had stayed back.

“Bhaskar and his friends were playing when it started pouring, accompanied by peals of thunder. Teachers were in the staff room. A boy came running to inform us that Bhaskar was lying in the playground unconscious. We tried to revive the boy in our infirmary first. Then one of our teachers took him to the nearest nursing home, where he died.”

   

 
 
ILLEGAL BUILDING ON WAKF LAND 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 6: 
The state Wakf Board has sought help from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and Taltala police station to stop “illegal” construction on Wakf land at 7, Sudder Street. The property stands close to the controversial hotel where Rabindranath Tagore wrote “Nirjharer swapnabhongo” and which sheriff Suchitra Mitra is fighting to accord heritage status.

Wakf Board deputy chief executive officer Abdul Matin said the existing two-storeyed building on the four-cottah plot belonged to Boolani Wakf Estate. A promoter, posing as a tenant, had started construction there by demolishing the existing structure without taking clearance from the Wakf Board. A Board official said that the promoter, K.C. Lunawat, had constructed a building on Booali Wakf Estate, on Shakespeare Sarani, in a similar fashion.

Member, mayor-in-council, building, Swapan Samaddar said permission had been granted only for reconstruction of the premises on 7, Sudder Street. But Matin pointed out that the CMC could not lawfully allow even reconstruction on a Wakf estate without seeking the Board’s permission.

Admitting that construction had started on the plot, Lunawat said: “The reconstruction plan was sanctioned by the CMC in favour of Boolani Wakf Estate.” He said last year, when the CMC had served notice under Section 411 to demolish the building, which was in a ramshackle condition, motowali of the estate Farooq Haider had requested him to “save” the property. Haider let the premises out to him in Sepember 2000 and died in June. According to Lunawat, the reconstruction plan was sanctioned after paying Rs 1.5 lakh as fees to the CMC. “I have spent more than Rs 20 lakh to get the building vacated by four tenants before starting construction,” he added.

Matin said: “A motowali has no right to change the tenancy of a Wakf property without the Board’s permission.”

Samaddar said the CMC building department has slapped a ceasework notice on the premises. He had also ordered director-general (building) Ashok Roychaudhury to verify whether the Wakf Board’s clearance was obtained before sanctioning the reconstruction plan. “We are not ruling out the possibility of fraud in getting the reconstruction plan sanctioned from the CMC,” said Samaddar.

   

 
 
HELD FOR TRADER KIDNAP THREAT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 6: 
The police raided a hide-out in Rishra and arrested a person who had allegedly theatened to kidnap a Burrabazar businessman.

According to DC, central, Zulfiqar Hasan, the police received information that Mahavir Singh of Churu, in Rajasthan, had taken shelter in the city’s outskirts and was operating from there.

Singh is wanted for more than a dozen cases of extortion and is suspected to have been involved in the murder of a Rabindra Sarani-based trader earlier this year. According to reports, Singh arrived in the city in August-end. A Burrabazar-based exporter of bangles was his target. One of Singh’s associates visited the businessman in his office on August 26 to demand Rs 50 lakh as “protection money”. Initially, the businessman had ignored the threat. At this, Singh’s men hurled bombs in front of his office. The terrified businessman sought police help.

A caller-line identification machine was installed and the calls were traced to Singh’s associate in Howrah. He was picked up for interrogation on Monday. The associate, whom the police refused to identify, supplied Singh’s cellular phone number.

Detectives made him call up Singh on the mobile and set up a meeting on Wednesday. Police accompanied him to Rishra and arrested Singh.

   

 
 
DM DEN LOCKS OUT SEIZURE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chinsurah, Sept. 6: 
Braving the drizzle, they came marching, beating drums and chanting “Chalo chalo jaldi chalo, DM office krok karo. (Come fast, let’s attach the properties of the DM’s office)”.

But the collective heart of nearly 500 court officials, policemen, auctioneers’ employees, bidders and onlookers sank when they found the sprawling building housing the district magistrate’s office at Chinsurah shut.

There was an element of high drama in the air in the collectorate area since morning as people converged to witness the attachment of the collectorate building and all moveable property, as decreed by the local court.

More than 700 collectorate employees had a boon of sorts today when they were given half a day’s leave from 11.30 am and asked to clear out ahead of court officials. Their bosses also stayed away between 11.30 am and 1 pm as they felt court officials would go back if they found the building, locked.

The attachment decree was issued by R.K. Mukherjee, additional district judge of the Hooghly special court, following a suit by Nandadulal Banerjee and others seeking Rs 23.77 lakh compensation for acquisition of 4.79 acres in 1982 for the construction of Meen Bhavan, a fishery complex. As the district collector did not appear willing to pay the compensation, the court decreed attachment by September 25.

When court officials, who entered the premises armed with the order, found they could not carry it out, they apprised land acquisition collector Loknath Lahiri of the situation, who urged Hooghly district judge U. Ganguly to grant him 10 days to make the payment.

Later, Hooghly DM Subrata Biswas said: “We have already a issued a cheque.” He, however, claimed in the same breath that the attachment order, passed on August 23, has not reached his office. Biswas said the state government had already paid more than Rs 9.26 lakh as compensation.

The division bench of Calcutta high court, in its verdict of October 13, 1999, had fixed the compensation at Rs 33 lakh and directed the state government to pay the remaining Rs 23 lakh. As the government remained indifferent to paying the compensation, the petitioners filed a money-execution suit at the district special court. The judge then ordered attachment of the movable properties of Meen Bhavan to realise the amount.

   

 
 
MAOIST MEET RINGS ALARM BELLS IN SILIGURI 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Sept. 6: 
A weekend convention by the Sumey Abhiyan Sanchalan Samity of the pro-Maoists Akhil Bharat Nepali Ekta Samaj (ABNES) to commemorate the 10th anniversary of constitutional recognition of Nepali language has created interest among intelligence agencies based in Siliguri.

An intelligence official said ABNES, which is alleged to be one of the foremost frontal underground organisations, has is engaged in spearheading a covert propaganda to spread ultra- leftist ideas among the Nepali population, stretching from Assam to Darjeeling district.

“The ABNES is presently engaged with its political awareness propaganda programme being implemented in the Nepali dominated areas of the Dooars and the Terai belt and also on a spree of collecting funds,” the official added.

“We have concrete evidence of the organisation’s strong links with the Nepali Maoists. We suspect that the outfit played a major role in organising a secret conclave in Siliguri on the night of August 15 which was attended by the Maoist chief Puspakamal Dahal alias Prachand and general secretaries of the all the mainline Nepali communists parties including the leader of the opposition in the Nepal parliament and chief of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxists-Leninist),” he alleged.

ABNES members, however, deny any link with the Nepal rebel outfits. “Yes, the organisation is presently engaged with a political awareness drive in the Terai and Dooars region. But its basic aim was to create an awareness of political rights among the deprived and discriminated Nepalese of the region,” said Rupesh Sharma, secretary of the Sumey Abhiyan Sanchalan samity of the ABNES’s north Bengal state committee. The committee has launched an awareness campaign called “Sankosh to Mechi, Mother Tongue Revival Campaign”.

The organisation admits its “moral” support for the Nepal Maoists movement. “The ABNES is more of progressive group than being a leftist organisation. We do morally support the Maoist movement in Nepal, for that matter we are in support of any other justified self-determination movement,” Sharma said.

The ABNES-sponsored two day convention to be held in Siliguri is likely to be attended by “revolutionary” Leftist intellectuals from Nepal.

   
 

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