Rehab carrot after eviction stick
Jails tap Metro for tips to tackle suicides
Taxi-driver shoots wife, daughter
Tigers unsafe at home: Govt
SOS to Paswan to stop illegal mining
Snakes poison Haldia dreams
War on hospital settlers
Funds boost to artistes
Depositors demand money back
Minister sore over Bangla territory claim

 
 
REHAB CARROT AFTER EVICTION STICK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 3: 
After the demolition, the healing touch.

Nearly a week after carrying out the eviction of settlers from Tolly’s Nullah in south Calcutta, the state government today came round to the view that it could have shown certain consideration to the evictees by agreeing to address the issue of their rehabilitation.

State municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharya said the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and authorities of South 24-Parganas had been asked to buy clothes for the children of a few thousand families evicted from either sides of Tolly’s Nullah.

“We are aware that the eviction drive has taken place before the Pujas, causing the dislocation of a large number of people. The agencies have been asked to ensure that the displaced children do not go without clothes, food and books.’’

At a news conference at Writers’ Buildings, Bhattacharya said the government would address the issue of rehabilitation in the near future after weighing all aspects.

“I cannot promise rehabilitation of all of them. A few families at a time is possible. But let me say the government shall try to accommodate as many people as possible through a lottery on humanitarian grounds,” he said, adding that there was no plan to demolish the community kitchen of the “hapless people” during the eviction drive.

Apparently, the government decided to address the issue of rehabilitation after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Left Front chairman Biman Bose and CPM state secretary Anil Biswas decided to respond to the expression of sentiments for rehabilitation within and outside the Front.

In course of a discussion with the CMDA, Bhattacharjee asked the development agency to find suitable land for the rehabilitation of the evictees. The refugee rehabilitation minister will now be brought into the picture.

In an expression of the new thinking, Bhattacharya said each of the evicted family would be given a one-time compensation of Rs 2,500, up from Rs 2,000 sanctioned earlier.

“We know that even this amount is insufficient for a family’s needs, but the government has its own limitations,” Bhattacharya said, adding that nearly 500 families have so far collected coupons for the money.

To a question, the minister said it would be unwise to think that the government’s new thinking has been prompted by Opposition Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee’s campaign for rehabilitation.

“Mamata or no Mamata, we had it in mind before we took up the eviction drive. We did not make any public announcement because the special leave petition waiting to be heard by the Supreme Court. Besides, the demand for rehabilitation was first raised by Biman Bose and Anil Biswas. We had never lost sight of the humane side.”

He said encroachers were requested to cooperate. They had been assured that “something” would definitely be done. Most of them, he claimed, had faith in government assurances and had cooperated. “Now it’s our turn to do something for them,” he said.

Now that the eviction is over the desiltation of the nullah according to the Ganga Action Plan will be taken up “on a war footing”, Bhattacharya said.

He will hold a meeting with the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and CMDA officials on Friday to chalk out the programmes. The Metro Railway authorities have also been asked to go ahead with their scheme.

   

 
 
JAILS TAP METRO FOR TIPS TO TACKLE SUICIDES 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Oct 3: 
Alarmed at the sudden spurt of suicides in jails across the state, the prison directorate has decided to approach the Metro railway authorities to seek suggestions on how to prevent young inmates from ending their lives out of frustration.

“I have heard about Metro authorities taking concrete steps to discourage people from committing suicides on the tracks. We are worried over the number of suicides in jails and will have to approach the Metro for its suggestions,” said inspector-general of prisons Anil Kumar.

He reviewed the situation arising out of yesterday’s suicide of a young undertrial in Burdwan district jail with senior officials this afternoon. This is the third suicide in different jails in the state in one-and-a-half months.

He also lined up a meeting with superintendents of district and sub-divisional jails next week to take a stock of the existing facilities being provided to inmates.

Jail sources said the condition in jails, particularly those in remote districts, is terrible with warders reigning supreme. “It sometimes happens that the diet and medicines allotted to inmates are taken away by warders,” claimed a jail official.

Denying any knowledge about corrupt practices in some jails, Kumar said: “Prisoners, including life convicts, are these days more prone to committing suicides and one cannot tackle the menace by simply beefing up security measures in jails.”

However, he admitted that “those languishing in jails require sustained counselling and psychological treatment to get over their anguish”.

Additional inspector-general of prisons, Dilip Chowdhury, said hundreds of television sets and carrom boards have been provided to inmates to keep them engaged. “Despite all this, we find it difficult to bring down suicides in jails,” he said.

Responding to Kumar’s plea, Metro rail officials said this afternoon that they were ready to share their experiences with those in jails to prevent suicides. “We are getting good results after involving voluntary organisations in providing counsel to passengers prone to suicides on Metro tracks,” said chief operating manager Jayanta Kumar Mitra.

He felt it would be easier for the jails to tackle cases of suicide as they have only a fixed set of people to deal with. “Unlike us, jail authorities are in a better position to interact with the inmates as they all remain confined within the four walls,” Mitra said.

The NGOs working with the Metro could be engaged in jails for counselling, he added. “Besides, a regular vigil has to be maintained on vulnerable people who look for an opportunity to end their lives.”

In another development, relatives of Ismail Sheikh, who was found hanging yesterday from a bathroom ceiling in Burdwan jail, alleged that the victim had not committed suicide. “Ismail must have been beaten to death either by the police or by jail officials,” claimed Nazela Bibi, Ismail’s elder sister.

Nazela and her uncle Haraf Sheikh were among several other villagers present at the Burdwan Medical College hospital when the post-mortem was carried out on Ismail’s body. “We shall approach the state Human Rights Commission alleging that Ismail had died because of the inhuman physical torture inflicted on him either by police or by jail officials,” she said.

Sheik even argued that his nephew had been falsely implicated in the theft of a bicycle by the police. “We want an impartial probe so that truth can come out,” she added.

   

 
 
TAXI-DRIVER SHOOTS WIFE, DAUGHTER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chandrakona (Midnapore), Oct. 3: 
A taxi-driver shot dead his 10-month-old daughter and his wife in their sleep and fled from his house here.

He left behind a note saying that he “along with his wife and other family members were sacrificing their lives”.

The driver, Tarak Majumdar, was recently diagnosed with a venereal disease. Police said they suspect Tarak might try to kill himself as well.

His elder daughter, three-year-old Nibedita, escaped her father’s wrath because she was sleeping with her grandmother in a different room.

“He (Tarak) was suffering from depression for some time. We have asked all police stations to be on the lookout for the fugitive,” said superintendent of police (Midnapore) K.C. Meena.

Another official probing the case said: “Tarak might have pulled the trigger to kill himself but did not succeed. He must have been too horrified at the ghastly sight and ran away.”

Tarak had married Seema four years ago. According to neighbours, they quarrelled frequently. He had begun to drink as well.

Shantinath Majumder, Tarak’s father, is a constable at the Bagnan police station in Howrah. He was informed about the incident today.

Tarak shot his 26-year-old wife a little before dawn in the ear and his daughter on the forehead.

“We are still not sure whether he killed them because he suspected they would die of the venereal disease he thought they had also contacted or whether there were other reasons. Raids are on in various places to locate him,” an official said.

He said two country-made revolvers and two bullets were recovered from the house.

   

 
 
TIGERS UNSAFE AT HOME: GOVT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 3: 
It’s official now. The Royal Bengal Tiger is not safe in its only natural habitat in the world, the Sunderbans.

State forest minister Jogesh Barman today echoed what environmentalists and conservationists had been saying for several decades. His government had failed to contain the conflict between one of the deadliest predators in the world – the Royal Bengal Tiger – and its worst enemy, human beings living on the fringes of and often straying into the “protected” area.

With villagers snatching two rifles from forest department staff and killing a tiger – one of the very few such incidents in the recent past – that had mauled six of them after straying into Kishorimohanpur yesterday, Barman admitted that the king of beasts in Bengal was being increasingly put at risk in its own habitat.

Six tigers have been killed by villagers in the last year and the government does not have any account of the number killed by poachers.

The government, he said, was in favour of a carrot-and-stick policy to rein in villagers who often proved to be more ferocious than tigers. While promising stern action against yesterday’s marauders, he announced a scheme to bring more than 10,000 families living on the fringes of Sunderbans under an insurance cover and unfolded plans to train forest department staff in preventing tigers from staying into human habitats.

The tiger killed yesterday had crossed Herobhanga and strayed into Kishorimohanpur, a village in the Kultali area, mauling six villagers. Angry villagers then mobbed two forest department staff present there, the minister said, snatched their rifles and then shot the tiger dead, the minister said.

The tiger population was dwindling because of poaching, admitted Barman. “Officially, there are 264 tigers now after taking into account the six tiger-deaths at villagers’ hands,” he said. But the government did not have the number of tigers killed by poachers.

Besides local poachers, a number of international rackets are involved in poaching tigers in the Sunderbans, as well as elephants and rhinoceroses in the jungles of north Bengal, say officials. Barman himself admitted the presence of an international racket and said photographs of some of the members had been distributed among forest department officials and police to ensure their arrest.

Indiscriminate killing of wild animals and destruction of the jungles in the Sunderbans, the world’s largest collection of mangrove islands, was affecting the islands’ immense tourism potential, Sunderbans development minister Kanti Ganguly said. “The famous Royal Bengal Tiger is, for a large section of tourists, the prime attraction of the Sunderbans,” he said, but regretted that other wildlife attractions like deer, wild boar, tortoise and different types of birds and fish were becoming rarer by the day.

Tortoise, which used to come to Kalas island in the Sunderbans from the Atlantic Ocean to lay eggs, were dwindling fast, Ganguly said. “They get caught in fishing nets while coming to the island and end up in the markets of south Bengal,” he added. These tortoise also have their eggs poached by local villagers as well as pigs and water monitor.

The number and variety of fish were coming down as well as a section of fishermen had taken to catching fingerlings, locally called min, Ganguly said. Also a matter for concern was the dwindling population of flora; trees like the sundari, which gave the mangrove islands their collective name, and the goran were being felled indiscriminately, the minister admitted.

   

 
 
SOS TO PASWAN TO STOP ILLEGAL MINING 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Asansol, Oct. 3: 
The state government has sent an SOS to the Centre, requesting it to immediately fill up the abandoned coal mines with sand to prevent illegal mining operations in the Ranigunj-Asansol belt which threatens surrounding areas with subsidence.

In a letter to coal minister Ram Vilas Paswan, state cottage and small scale minister Bangshagopal Chowdhury, who is an MLA from Ranigunj, urged him to take appropriate measures to save the lives of thousands of residents.

Chowdhury explained that illegal mining operations were weakening the foundations of neighbouring houses which could cave in any day.

Vast areas of the Asansol-Raniganj belt have been severely affected by illegal mining. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that a major part of the coal belt has already become prone to subsidence. Large-scale subsidence has taken place in Sankoria and Borira villages, Patmona colliery in Mithani, Sitarampur and Ranigunj.

Thousands of families in these subsidence-prone zone are spending sleepless nights and many are being forced to flee.

Explaining the main reasons for the subsidence, mines safety officials said private miners had left behind abandoned pits without stowing before nationalisation of coal in 1973.

“Eastern Coalfields authorities are also responsible as they don’t do their job properly while sand-filling the mines after extraction of coal,” alleged Haradhan Roy, a former MP and Citu leader.

ECL’s deputy general manager of mines safety has marked four towns and 32 villages in the Asansol-Ranigunj coal belt as unsafe and issued a warning to Coal India and the district administration to organise special security and make arrangements for the rehabilitation of the residents there.

R.R. Mishra, ECL deputy general manager (personnel), said: “We have been informed about unsafe zones in the ECL area and are trying to rehabilitate the affected people.”

Besides improper filling, illegal mining played a key role in destroying the balance of the region. A major part of the coal belt, including Kalipahari, Pahargera, Salanpur, Jamuria, Kulti and Baraboni, has become hotbeds of illegal mining operation. Several thousand tonnes of illegally mined coal are smuggled from the area every day to neighbouring states.

Police said poor labourers from bordering districts are often killed while operating in the abandoned mines and sometimes their deaths are not registered. Muchiram Ruidas, an illegal miner, died last week in Resulpur village when the roofs of the abandoned mine he was working in collapsed.

On September 20, inspector-general, western range, Jitram Bhagat, and deputy inspector-general, Burdwan range, G.M.P. Reddy, called a meeting of all additional superintendents of police, circle inspectors and officers-in-charge of all police stations of the district. Bhagat said: “Our officers made a record seizure of coal. We have alerted our officers and asked them to go for a special drive to prevent illegal mining.”

Strike threat

Aituc – the CPI’s trade union wing – today threatened a nationwide strike in coal mines if the Centre tries to privatise the coal sector.

“After Independence, this is the first time, the Central government in on a move to snatch the fundamental rights of a worker,” Aituc vice-president Gurudas Das Gupta told a rally before the ECL headquarters at Sauktoria.

   

 
 
SNAKES POISON HALDIA DREAMS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Haldia, Oct. 3: 
Consider this: At least three persons with snake bites are admitted to the Haldia sub-divisional hospital every day. Of them, one dies due to the paucity of anti-venom serum (AVS), district authorities said.

West Bengal’s newest industrial township, barely 150 km from the capital, is plagued by an abundance of poisonous snakes and the high incidence of snake-bite deaths.

But K.M. Hossain, chief medical officer, health, of Midnapore district, said there was no dearth of AVS and blamed authorities of hospitals in the area for not stocking up. “I have informed the health minister about the recent snake-bite deaths in Haldia. The fact is that there is no dearth of AVS in the district’s central medicine store. Hospital superintendents or those officials assigned by them simply don’t take enough AVS ampoules,” said Hossain.

While officials trade charges, people residing in the different industrial complexes are living in constant fear. A few days ago, director of the Haldia Institute of Technology (HIT) B.P. Paira found a snake with its hood raised at the corner of his bathroom while taking a shower.

“The sight sent a chill down my spine. I could not come out and I stood motionless under the shower. After some time, the snake lowered its hood and withdrew in a small hole,” said Paira.

Besides HIT, snakes have been found in the complexes of Haldia Petrochem, Calcutta Port Trust and Indian Oil Corporation.

A police official said a large number of snakes were killed by labourers during the construction of the township. But snakes slithering about is still a common sight in the compounds.

Apart from Haldia township, snakes abound in the adjacent areas of Nandigram and Geonkhali. Kalu, a Class-VI student, of Nandigram was bitten by a snake earlier this week when he was fishing. He was taken to the nearest health centre, but it did not have any AVS. So his parents took him to a quack, but the boy died. Last week, 13-year-old Meena from Geonkhali met with a similar fate.

Health minister Suryakanta Misra said over phone that AVS was supplied from outside Bengal. “But AVS is also available in the open market and hospitals are free to buy them in case of emergencies. I don’t know why they don’t do this. I will definitely look into the matter.”

   

 
 
WAR ON HOSPITAL SETTLERS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Oct 3: 
Burdwan Medical College and Hospital authorities today said encroachers would soon be evicted from the premises as part of the state government’s clean-up drive in hospitals.

Though the principal of the teaching hospital, Bijoy Mukherjee, is determined to remove the illegal settlers, a section of doctors and employees feel that it would be difficult.

“We have received a directive from the government and will soon have to evict the encroachers,” he said. “The cycle-rickshaw operators on the hospital campus are becoming a major problem. Even after repeated warnings, they are not removing their stands outside.”

Apart from the rickshaw stands, and a few tea and fruit stalls, there are at least 50 families which live on the hospital premises in either makeshift shanties or under awnings and verandah of the wards.

For instance, eight-year-old Mamoni Bauri cleans the hospital utensils in exchange for meals. “My father is a gardener. We are poor and don’t have money to buy food daily. So, we wash utensils at the hospitals and get food in return,” she said.

Besides Mamoni, there are other children like Raju Bag and Laltu Sheikh who clean up the hospital bathrooms in exchange for food. They also stuff plastic bags with cotton and bandages from hospital waste, tie them up into bundles and play football.

Relatives of patients and hospital employees complain that the rickshaw stand besides the Radharani ward becomes a den for liquor and gambling at night.

A nurse at the hospital said drunk miscreants hurled obscene remarks at women relatives of patients and nurses on duty.

“There is a police camp in the hospital but they don’t take any action. Even repeated complaints to hospital authorities have failed to yield result,” she said.

“We will not allow any encroachment in the hospital. We will soon hold a meeting with the district authorities and undertake a drive,” said the principal.

   

 
 
FUNDS BOOST TO ARTISTES 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Oct. 3: 
You could call it one Kurosawa lover’s gift to another.

The state government has decided to provide financial assistance to budding but cash-strapped artistes at a time when film makers have been alleged to have links with the underworld.

Under the proposed scheme, Shilpi Samabay, exponents from any field of art are eligible for the money. But they will first have to form six-member cooperatives.

After that, the State Cooperative Bank as well as other cooperative banks in the districts will provide them the necessary funds.

The process was first initiated when representatives of the limping Bengali film industry met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee – an avowed fan of director Akira Kurosowa – to discuss their problems.

They sought financial assistance “to save Bengal’s art and culture, especially Bengali films”. Bhattacharjee, who is also in charge of information and cultural affairs, promised to look into the matter. He later held discussions with finance minister Asim Dasgupta as well as co-operative minister Naren Dey.

“There is a lot of talent in our state in the field of art and culture,” Dey said today. “Many of them do not get an opportunity to project their creations for want of funds and we want to stand by them. The government intends to provide necessary funds through cooperatives to singers, dramatists, writers, actors, lyricists and theatre personalities.”

Cooperative department officials said funds will be provided as long-term loans at low interest rates. But no money will be given to individuals.

“If six actors or actresses want to make a film or produce a theatre or jatra on a cooperative basis, they will get the benefit of the scheme. Singers can also bring out an audio or video cassette under the new scheme,” the minister said.

Dey recently held a meeting with some eminent artistes at Chinsurah to discuss the modalities of the new scheme. Film maker Nabyendu Chatterjee, singers Dilip Roy, Sudeb Dey and Banasree Sengupta besides dancer Debjani Majumdar were among those who attended the meeting.

The minister said Shilpi Samabays could be formed in the districts and even in the blocks. The government, he said, would not restrict the number of such cooperatives.

   

 
 
DEPOSITORS DEMAND MONEY BACK 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Asansol. Oct. 3: 
Depositors of the closed Pranabananda Cooperative Bank and Asansol People’s Cooperative Bank today demonstrated in front of the office of the Durgapur sub-divisional officer, demanding their money back.

Pranabananda Cooperative Bank was closed in August 2000 and Asansol People’s Cooperative Bank in 1999 after charges of corruption surfaced. Sanat Saha, secretary of the Burdwan District Depositors’ Forum, blamed the government for failing to help the people get their money back.

He claimed common people had lost as much as Rs 24 crore in deposits with the various branches of Pranabananda Cooperative Bank. Sub-divisional officer of Durgapur, Punit Jadav, said around 200 depositors gheraoed the SDO office.

In another incident, several depositors gheraoed the SDO office at Kalna yesterday after they failed to get their deposits from a cooperative society there.

The depositors of North Rameswarpur Cooperative Society alleged that the cooperative society had expressed its inability to refund their deposits as some corrupt officers had pocketed a huge amount of money.

   

 
 
MINISTER SORE OVER BANGLA TERRITORY CLAIM 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Oct. 3: 
Agriculture minister Kamal Guha has expressed concern over Bangladesh’s claim that four border villages in north Bengal were part of its territory.

The All-India Forward Bloc leader today said about the neighbouring country’s recent claim over the villages of Chilahat, Nautari-Debottar, Borosari and Kajaldighi in Jalpaiguri district: “Not only have the Bangladesh authorities claimed that the four villages are within Bangladesh territory, they have also included the villages in the country’s recent map. The matter has caused great concern and tension among thousands of residents of these villages.”

Guha blamed Central apathy for the state of affairs. “Because of the Centre’s apathy, the Bangladeshi authorities today are making such claims. There’s no doubt the villages are within Indian territory. I have taken up the matter with the Union government and requested them to take appropriate action to dispel the sense of alienation from the minds of the affected villagers,” the Forward Bloc leader said.

Guha said it was a sinister plot by Bangladesh to take over the villages. “Ever since Independence, villagers in Chilahat, Nautari-Debottar, Borosari and Kajaldighi have been observing their legal and governmental formalities at the Jalpaiguri district magistrate’s office. There are four primary schools set up by the district authorities. Even the All-India Forward Bloc’s legislator from Jalpaiguri constituency comes from Chilahat,” he said.

The matter, Guha said, has to be taken up by the Centre at the earliest to “thwart the evil designs of anti-India forces”.

   
 

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