Drug bust trail leads to militants
High-water mark haunts Hooghly
New York damper on Durga
Sajal guards suspended for getaway
We like to party, not play ball
The City Diary
Car plate hue irks diplomats
Puja trip for Sunderbans children

Calcutta, Sept. 16: 
Police have busted a drug gang, which funded various militant organisations, used Calcutta as its base, and whose operations covered a wide swathe from India’s troubled north-east to Nepal.

Keeping chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the Union home ministry informed about the operation, Central intelligence agencies and state law enforcers have arrested more than two dozen criminals over the past 10 days in Calcutta, Howrah and the districts.

“We strongly believe that the gang raised money by selling drugs and used it to buy arms for various terrorist outfits. The discovery is, indeed, startling,” a senior officer said.

Contraband—mainly ganja weighing nearly 200 kg, worth nearly a crore (after refinement), Indian currency notes valued at Rs 250,000 and ready-to-use open tickets of different airlines were seized from the arrested.

On condition of anonymity, an officer said the arrested men had a nexus with the Central Reserve Police Force, which enabled them to carry out operations wearing CRPF uniforms and even using official vehicles. “The gang represents a large chain, each section of which was given a part of the turf to look after”, he said.

After the first few arrests, Bhattacharjee asked the police to “get to the bottom of the case” and monitored it personally.

Aided by the Narcotic Control Bureau, the law enforcers carried out raids in central Calcutta, Uluberia in Howrah and districts like Murshidabad, Birbhum and Burdwan.

One of the arrested men was identified as “Mondal”, who was flushed out from a central Calcutta hide-out. He is suspected to be a conduit for druglords dealing in ganja, cocaine and heroin.

Mondal and his henchmen, all wanted in major cases, distributed the drug consignments and collected payments from peddlers in central and north Calcutta. He oversaw the passage of drugs to Bangladesh and Nepal and ran a fake passport racket.

B.N. Ramesh, superintendent of police, Burdwan district, said interrogators suspected the arrested to have links with terrorrist organisations like NSCN, Ulfa, Bodo and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation. Some of them purchased weapons like AK 47 and AK 56, rifles, grenades and sophisticated explosives for the organisations.

Two suspected agents of the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan were held in Burdwan. Documents and cellphones found on them provided clues to their involvement in drug-trafficking from Dimapur, hub of NSCN activities in Nagaland, to Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Nepal.


Calcutta, Sept. 16: 
Large areas of Calcutta are likely to be flooded from Monday morning as the “mother of all tides” — bhora kotal — hits the Hooghly. The bore tide is scheduled to arrive twice every day from September 17 to 21.

Last year, the bhora kotal had flooded large areas along the Hooghly and Tolly’s Nullah. Residents of Kalighat, Rashbehari Avenue, Sadananda Road, Regent Park, Bagbazar, Ahiritola Street, Nimtala Ghat Street and Strand Bank Road were marooned as the river water flooded streets and invaded homes.

Having been taken by surprise last time, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has set up a special task force this year to combat the high tide over the next five days. The force will patrol the areas adjacent to the Hooghly and Tolly’s Nullah to monitor the waterlogging. A special watch will be maintained at Kalighat, Bagbazar, Strand Bank Road and areas adjacent to Tolly’s Nullah.

The River Traffic Police (RTP) has also made elaborate arrangements for Mahalaya morning, as a large number of people are expected to turn up at various ghats of the Hooghly for a holy dip and to perform tarpan. “We will maintain round-the-clock vigil with around 125 personnel, 40 boats and three launches. There will be additional forces from various police stations to guard the ghats. Some NGOs, like Bharat Sevashram Sangha and Ganga Watergate People’s Welfare Society, will be involved and emergency boats will be on standby at every ghat,” said Devdas Chatterjee, inspector, RTP.

Besides keeping an eye on the rising waters, the civic task force will “clean the drains” of debris and open manholes to drain accumulated water whenever and wherever required.

“We have set up special lockgates at major points to prevent flood waters from the Hooghly from entering the city. Lockgates have been installed at Balaram Bose Ghat Street, Jackson Gate and Madan Pal Lane. The function of these special pen-stock gates is to stop flood waters from entering the city and also to drain accumulated water into the Ganga and Tolly’s Nullah,” said Ranajit Mitra, deputy chief engineer, sewerage and drainage.


Calcutta, Sept. 16: 
Amarnath Ghosh is an idol-maker in Kumartuli, but he’s been hit hard by Tuesday’s terrorist attack on America. Of the 11 orders for idols that Ghosh has received this season, three are from Puja committees in New York and one is from Bahrain. Only one of the four ‘exports’ has left Kumartuli till now and Ghosh is not sure whether the other three will be able to leave Indian shores before it is too late.

“Artisans like me depend on these orders. If these three idols become a casualty of the conflict, I don’t know what I’ll do,” Ghosh said on Sunday. In a corner of his Kumartuli room, a Durga in shola pith, headed for Bahrain, is all decked up with nowhere to go.

Not far from Kumartuli, Sumitra Ray, in Bagbazar, is worried about the Pujas in the USA as well. But for a different reason. Her two grandchildren, in Los Angeles, look forward to the Puja week every year. But this time, the attacks and the hostile reaction towards ‘outsiders’ by a section of Americans have cast a shadow over the festivities.

“Joanna and Rahul wait for the Pujas every year,” said Ray. They had rung her up last week, wanting to know what would happen to the shola image, made by Amarnath Ghosh, the Los Angeles puja committee was supposed to receive. It was supposed to leave for Los Angeles on September 12. But now, the idol is waiting in a wooden box in Ghosh’s house.

Committees organising pujas in Calcutta, which have started doing the rounds of the Kumartuli lanes in search of the right idol, are making adjustments post-September 11, but mostly in the lighting sector.

“Most puja organisers had decided to go to town with the high-profile abduction of Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman and the murder of dacoit-turned-parliamentarian Phoolan Devi. But the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington has changed the entire scenario,” says artisan Kartik Pal. “Puja committee members coming to those handling the lightning now are saying they must depict something connected to the US disaster.”


Calcutta, Sept. 16: 
Sajal Barui, who hit the headlines eight years ago for brutally killing three members of his family, has managed to elude the police even 24 hours after his escape from Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital on Sunday.

Twentyfour-year-old Sajal, serving a life sentence in Midnapore jail, escaped from the hospital’s urology ward early on Saturday. He was admitted to the hospital on August 28 for suspected renal failure. He managed to hoodwink two reserve force constables and a large police contingent gathered on the hospital premises to carry out eviction of slum-dwellers.

Police have suspended the two reserve force constables, Joydeb Barui and Gautam Sarkar, for “possibly aiding Barui in his escape from custody”.

Deputy commissioner of police (headquarters) Banibrata Basu said: “Efforts are on to find out if the constables aided Barui in his escape.” The constables maintain they were “half-asleep” and noticed Barui’s disappearance “later”. A senior police official said: “The involvement of certain sections of the hospital staff in Barui’s daring escape cannot be ruled out, as he seems to have evoked a lot of sympathy.”

Deputy commissioner of police (eastern suburban division) Sanjay Mukherjee said: “We are working on several leads. The details cannot be divulged right now, but we will definitely bring back Barui to justice.”

Police believe Sajal might have feigned illness and overstayed at the hospital in order to escape. In November 1993, Sajal, along with four friends, had throttled and hacked to death his father, stepmother and brother at their Mall Road apartment in Dum Dum.


Calcutta, Sept. 16: 
Friday, 6 pm, Salt Lake Stadium. A frenzied mob of nearly 100,000 is spilling out of the supercharged soccer pitch, one half exulting in victory, the other dangerously disgruntled in defeat. At that very moment, hundreds of teenagers in jeans and tank-tops are trooping in for the year’s biggest gig in town. The twain shall meet in this cauldron of chaos.

This mayhem model will be enacted on the evening of Friday 21, if the East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan derby match clashes with the high-voltage Vengaboys concert. The soccer showdown that could well decide the League kicks off barely a few hours before the We like to party gang takes over the helipad-stage adjacent to the car park.

“We know it will be a tension-packed game and there will be a huge turnout. But since the match will be over almost two hours before the concert starts, the crowds shouldn’t mix. As an added precaution, the music fans will enter the stadium through the IOC gate only,” said sports secretary S.B. Mondal.

But almost in the same breath, he conceded that there will be “a review of the situation” and if necessary, the kick-off of the match will be advanced by a couple of hours. “The match may even be deferred by a day, if it is seen as a security hazard to the concert,” he added, on Sunday evening. According to sources, it was sports minister Subhas Chakraborty who “insisted” that the two events could be pulled off smoothly with adequate police arrangements. But news of the League match coinciding with the concert has struck a wrong chord in the Ibiza crowd. “We all know the chaos before and after a football match in this city. My parents wouldn’t be at all keen on letting me and my friends go to a concert, as there is bound to be trouble,” said a disappointed Harsh Vardhan Sonthalia, Ist year student of St Xavier’s College.

Pepsi officials are “stunned”. The sponsors for the six-city tour of the pop band “had no clue” that a match was scheduled for the same day. “There must be some mistake,” said a high-ranking official from the Gurgaon country headquarters, who was under the impression the stadium had been “booked” for the concert and the match was on Saturday.

When international concerts are a rarity in Calcutta, the Vengaboys do has generated much enthusiasm with teeny-boppers. Says Kanak, a IIIrd year B.Com student, who had travelled to Bangalore for the Bryan Adams concert: “We set out from home three hours in advance. There were multiple security checks, massive traffic snarls and complete chaos. I’m sure it’ll be much worse at Salt Lake Stadium on Friday.”



Manhattan register

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said on Sunday that a register will be maintained at the Corporation headquarters where Calcuttans can sign in their views on the terrorist attacks on America. The mayor has been receiving several phone calls daily, urging him to open a register at the CMC headquarters so that people can express their views on the tragedy. “There are many who feel very strongly on the subject and want to be heard,” Mukherjee said.

Crime rally

A rally will be organised in the city on Thursday to protest criminal activities in several resorts on Diamond Harbour Road. The rally, organised by Suchetana, a voluntary body campaigning against unscrupulous resort-owners, will start from Diamond Harbour and end near Rabindra Sadan.


Bharatiya Loksanskriti Samsad on Sunday condoled the killing of Sailen Das, chairman of Dum Dum municipality, by organising a cultural function. Das’ son, Ananyabrata, participated in the function.

Computer centre

A computer centre was inaugurated on Saturday at Alipore Central Jail for the inmates. Jails and social welfare minister Biswanath Chowdhury said it is part of the government’s move to rehabilitate those put behind bars.    

Calcutta, Sept. 16: 
From cars with VIP status, treated with respect by the constable on the street, to just another ‘luxury taxi’; from cars that could be parked anywhere to just another hired vehicle that can be towed away.

The government move to redesign car number-plates threatens to rip the ‘exclusive’ tag of vehicles used by consulates and deputy high commissions operating from Calcutta. Before the new rules — yellow plates with black lettering — covered taxi, truck and tempo, the regulation black-in-yellow number-plates for diplomats’ cars used to be symbols of prestige and power. Not any more.

Consular vehicles, all over the world, are used to certain advantages. Traffic rules are often waived; for example, stringent no-parking rules are usually not clamped on cars of diplomatic missions. “This is especially necessary in a city like Calcutta, where it’s so difficult to locate car-parking areas,” honorary director of the city’s consular corps and honorary consul of Hungary Amiya Gooptu said.

“There have been a few such incidents in the recent past,” Gooptu observed, but hastened to add that diplomats’ cars did not take advantage of the waiver unless “there was sufficient reason”.

Besides the practical problems, the new rules have meant a definite down-scaling on the prestige front, say diplomats. “It definitely looks very undignified,” Russian consul in Calcutta Alexei Zolotukhin admitted.

“The fact that such an important aspect was ignored has caused a feeling of anguish among a lot of us,” Gooptu added.

The growing number of complaints has led the diplomats’ consortium to take up the matter with the ministry of external affairs. The matter was also raised in last week’s meeting between consortium members and state chief secretary Manish Gupta.

“Such was the desperation among the diplomats that when they were asked what colour they would prefer, most present at the meeting in Writers’ Buildings said any colour other than yellow would do, ” a member of the city’s diplomatic corps said.

The state government has taken up the matter with the Centre, public vehicles department director T.V. Venkataraman said. “We are awaiting necessary instructions from the Union ministry of transport,” he added.


Calcutta, Sept. 16: 
Seven-year-old Bratin Maity and 1,999 others like him will have a dream come true after the Pujas. They will visit Calcutta, a city they have heard of but never seen. Bratin has been promised this trip by none other than chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, during a phone-in on Doordarshan on Sunday.

Bhattacharjee has assured Bratin, a Class II student of Ganesh Nagar-Kailash Nagar Primary School in a remote island in the Sunderbans, that several others like him, who haven’t seen Calcutta, will be escorted to the city on a pleasure trip every year. “This year, 2,000 children from the 60 islands in the Sunderbans will be brought to Calcutta. The sight-seeing spots will include the zoo, the museum, Victoria Memorial, Science City and the son-et-lumiere show at Rabindra Bharati University,” Ganguly said.

A second batch of 2,000 children from the Sunderbans mainland will be taken across to the riverine islands, Ganguly added. He has asked the South 24-Parganas administration to select 2,000 children for the programme. “We will ask the BDOs of the 19 blocks to select them.”


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