Bail for murder ‘mastermind’
Sleuths stumped, seek apex court escape route
Bye-bye babudom, Shah wants museum
The City Diary
Missing teenager back home in Salt Lake
War cry over vanishing greens of New Alipore
Sur panel hits Buddha clean-chit hurdle
Eviction drive a clean sweep
Stung Sougata vows never to enter Writers’
Blunder chapter in Basu tome

Calcutta, Oct. 9 : 

Court frowns at lack of evidence

Forty-five days after he was arrested on charges of masterminding the murder of Sailen Das, Dum Dum municipality chairman, Sudhir Bhattacharya was granted bail on Tuesday by Calcutta High Court, which found the evidence against him “insufficient”.

Responding to a bail prayer, a division bench, comprising Justice S.B. Roy and Justice P.K. Biswas released 82-year-old Bhattacharya, former chairman of Dum Dum municipality.

“We have thoroughly scanned the case diary, including the papers referred to us…. Two months have elapsed since the registration of the FIR on 13.8.2001, but nothing could be collected so far to connect the petitioner either with the murder or with criminal conspiracy,” the judges observed.

A spokesman for the government said the state would move the Supreme Court to press for cancellation of bail.

Bhattacharya will be formally released from the Dum Dum jail on Wednesday. However, at home, celebrations had begun. Family members distributed sweets and welcomed all those who called on them.

The latest development in the Das murder case was interpreted as a criticism of the investigating team, as the court observed that the evidence collected so far by the police was not sufficient to justify further detention of Bhattacharya.

Considering Bhattacharya’s age and frail health, the one-and-a-half months’ detention was punishment enough, the court observed. He had been arrested 11 days after the daylight murder of Das and charged with masterminding the murder with the help of hired killers.

The court set the bail for Rs 5,000 and directed Bhattacharya to meet the investigating officer as and when required in the interest of investigation.

The hearing of the case spread over six days with long gaps in between, as the judges repeatedly asked the police to furnish evidence in support of their contention that Bhattacharya’s detention be extended for the sake of investigation.

Sekhar Basu and Joymalya Bagchi, the petitioner’s lawyers, alleged that Bhattacharya had been framed. “A section of people dragged him into the case with a view to tarnishing his political and social image,” they argued .

That Bhattacharya had hired the contract killers through municipal employee S.P. Kamat to liquidate Das was a false premise, they said, adding that the police had made conflicting claims. “Initially, the police said our client had paid Rs 35,000 for the murder. The figure was changed to Rs 2.35 lakh,” they said.

When the court directed additional public prosecutor S. Moitra to furnish the cheques allegedly issued by Bhattacharya to Kamat, the official produced a bearer cheque for Rs 35,000. The cheque for Rs 2 lakh could not be furnished as it was in the custody of the bank, Moitra told the court.

The argument did not satisfy the judges. “It should not be difficult for the police to get the cheque from the bank. They failed to do it, though they were given enough time. Besides, encashment of a cheque by Kamat does not necessarily mean Bhattacharya is the murder mastermind,” the court said.


Calcutta, Oct. 9 : 
As the prosecution watched in stunned silence while the high court judges released “mastermind” Sudhir Bhattacharya on bail, the question that went ringing through the state police headquarters on Tuesday was: What will now happen to the case?

What rankled most was the judges’ remark that there was “insufficient evidence” to keep Bhattacharya any further in custody; that the police, which had been given enough time, had been unable to furnish enough proof to nail the former chairman of the Dum Dum municipality; and that, under the circumstances, it was almost inhuman to keep the 82-year-old man behind bars any longer.

The police had thought they had a watertight case, the evidence sewn into every charge they had levelled against the accused. Yet, before the court, it had slipped up, unable to produce the evidence that the two-judge bench had repeatedly been asking for.

So, what had gone wrong? Where had the investigators, who had been proudly touting their “prize catch”, missed the boat? The disappointment at the judges’ pronouncement on Tuesday had been that much greater for the sleuths since the district police, in their own way, had been fighting for a share of the glory after the CID had bagged all the prizes in the Khadim’s kidnap case.

The immediate reaction of the prosecution was that a higher court — in this case the Supreme Court — would be moved to overturn the high court decision. “We will file a special leave petition before the apex court,” was all that superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas, Harisena Verma, would say after the bail decision.

Verma had been inducted into the case after his predecessor, Kuldip Singh, now DC (South) under the city police, had handled the Das murder probe right up to Bhattacharya’s arrest.

Within hours of the court judgment, the blame game had begun among the police, especially those who had played a leading role in declaring Bhattacharya the mastermind. “The public prosecutor could not argue the case forcibly enough,” said a senior police officer. “We had enough evidence with us, the only thing that was missing was a cheque for Rs 2 lakh that we said Bhattacharya had given Kamat (the municipal employee accused of executing Bhattacharya’s plan) for the killing.”

But, as the judges pointed out on Tuesday, there are heaps of charges, a lot of “confessions”, but not enough material evidence to back it up. As defence counsel Joymalya Ghosh said: “The case is based more on statements made by the co-accused rather than evidence. The police could not plug the holes in the case and they have not been able to prove Kamat’s connection with Bhattacharya.”

But as a section of police officers pointed out, there are a number of sleuths left red-faced, unable to fathom where they had stumbled.

Officials feel that the only way out of this embarrassing situation is a reversal of the high court ruling by the Supreme Court.

Even then, no one is wagering on the chances of Bhattacharya making his way back to jail. “Unless we can turn around all that the defence counsel is saying, it looks like we have lost out on this case,” said an official. “Besides, the age factor is going to weigh heavily in favour of Bhattacharya.”

A section of officials also feels that the government should have put forward a panel of advocates who could have pleaded more consistently in their favour, as well as chalked out a more foolproof strategy.

“We tried our best and gave whatever evidence we thought was necessary,” said Verma, “but I guess that was not enough.”


Calcutta, Oct. 9 : 
It’s begun: The countdown to clear the mess from Raj Bhavan. Two key state government departments — rural development and development and planning — housed in the ground floor of Raj Bhavan since the early 50s, are being shifted to make room for a museum in Governor Viren J. Shah’s official residence.

Raj Bhavan sources said the shifting of government offices is expected by November. Dilip Rath, Governor’s secretary, confirmed that the two departments have been occupying over 22,000 sq ft since the time of Kailash Nath Katju in 1953.

Officials attached to the Public Works Department (PWD), which is overseeing the shifting, said while the rural development department will be shifted to Jessop House, on Strand Road, the development and planning department is being temporarily housed in the building owned by the Bidhannagar municipality in Salt Lake. While the government has purchased Jessop House, the Municipality Bhavan at Salt Lake has been taken on a monthly rent of Rs 6 lakh.

The move to shift government offices from Raj Bhavan had been initiated by Governor Viren J. Shah’s predecessor, Shyamal Kumar Sen. “I had a plan to set up a full-fledged museum inside Raj Bhavan, similar to that in Rashtrapati Bhavan,” Sen, presently Chief Justice of Lucknow High Court, told Metro over telephone.

Sen recounted on Tuesday that he had spoken to then chief minister Jyoti Basu and then PWD minister Kshiti Goswami several times to get the two departments shifted. “I am happy to learn that plans envisaged by me are seeing the light of day,” Sen added.

Shah, who has taken a lead role in getting the government departments shifted out of Raj Bhavan, said he was following what his predecessor had envisaged.

The shifting has, however, triggered protests from nearly 500 employees working in the two departments. “We protested when the Governor visited our office on September 26 and enquired about our difficulties,” said a spokesperson of the West Bengal Secretariat Employees Association. Explaining their position, he said a majority of staff, coming from the districts, would find it difficult to travel to the Salt Lake office every day. “Raj Bhavan is centrally located and it is easier to access from Howrah or Sealdah stations. But in Salt Lake, transport will be a major problem.”

The employees of development and planning had submitted a memorandum to principal secretary Ashok Gupta. However, Gupta said he could do nothing, since this was Raj Bhavan property. “Nothing doing, we have to vacate Raj Bhavan and move elsewhere by end of next month,” he added. Echoing Gupta, Tapan Majumdar, joint secretary, rural development, said he had already inspected Jessop House, where the offices will be shifted.



Court order to ESPN

A division bench of Calcutta High Court passed an order on Tuesday, directing ESPN Software India Ltd to restore signals for ESPN and STAR Sports with immediate effect to Calcutta Communications, one of the SitiCable headends from which the channels were blacked out on Saturday. The other control room, Purvi Communications, which had also suffered a blackout, had already obtained an injunction from Sealdah Civil Court on Monday, directing the broadcaster to keep the services on till at least October 19. However, till late in the evening, the channels had not come back on air in these areas. An ESPN-STAR Sports spokesperson said from Mumbai that the company was yet to receive a copy of Tuesday’s court order.

HC vacation

Calcutta High Court will remain closed for a month from October 19 for Puja vacation. The court will resume after Bhatri Dwitiya. The vacation benches will hear urgent matters during the holidays.

Star strike

The West Bengal Motion Picture Artistes’ Forum has called a ceasework on October 17. Actors and actresses will not participate in shooting on the day to protest irregular payment of serial-makers, lack of overtime and poor working conditions in studios.

Exam special

South Eastern Railway will run a Students’ Special on October 11 in view of an examination in Chennai on October 13. Students waitlisted in other Chennai-bound trains can avail of this train.

Light after dark

Power supply was resumed at Metropolitan Building in Esplanade on Tuesday. Residents on the eastern side of the building were living without electricity for five days after a short circuit caused a fire on Thursday. The building’s maintenance is poor due to the apathy of the landlord, the Life Insurance Corporation, a tenant said.

Fake passport

Bangkok-bound passenger Resham Singh Vaid was detained at the airport on Tuesday after he was found travelling with a forged passport. He was supposed to leave for Bangkok by an Indian Airlines flight. Vaid was later handed over to the airport police.

Wall collapse

Two persons were injured when the boundary wall of St Paul’s School in central Calcutta collapsed on Tuesday. Thumbs up to students of Presidency College for organising a blood donation camp on the college premises    

Calcutta, Oct. 9 : 
Exactly 36 hours later, the 16-year-old girl who had mysteriously disappeared after leaving home on Sunday, returned home to her parents on Tuesday morning.

Sub-divisional police officer Satyajit Banerjee said the girl “stayed back for the night at a friend’s place in Park Circus and decided to return home after realising her folly.”

She left with her friends on Sunday afternoon after a brief argument with her mother, but failed to return home, giving rise to speculation about yet another possible kidnapping-for-ransom.

In a written statement to Bidhannagar (North) police, the girl said she was “forcibly taken to the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass” by three male friends late in the evening, where “they misbehaved with her.” She alleged that after dropping her classmate at her Salt Lake residence, the boys had promised to drop her at her uncle’s place in College Street, but sped away instead towards Bypass. “They tried to misbehave with my daughter. I have lodged a complaint with the police,” her father fumed on Tuesday. The police were interrogating the four detained students.


Calcutta, Oct. 9 : 
Sylvan or secure? That is the question faced by New Alipore residents. The decades-old trees lining the roads and lanes of the area are being “trimmed” by Corporation contractors. But residents want the authorities to let the greens be. Civic officials, however, insist they have a concern larger than the trees: The safety of the residents.

Not only have the leaves and small twigs been cut, but major branches have also been chopped off. Around 20 trees along Nalini Ranjan Avenue (between Block ‘A’ and ‘E’) now have very little left on their trunks. There are woodpiles at the base of the denuded trees, which are periodically cleared away.

According to councillor Arup Biswas: “The crime rate in the Majerhat Bridge area is extremely high, with regular reports of snatching. We need to trim trees to ensure the streetlights aren’t obstructed.”

According to Sisir Das, executive engineer, parks and squares, there are guidelines laid down by horticulturists about how trees should be trimmed to ensure “growth and health” is not affected. Biswas claims the current exercise is within these norms.

Residents, however, feel the greenery of the area is not what compromises security. “If the Corporation thinks it is doing us a service, it is not.”


Calcutta, Oct. 9: 
A day after he was entrusted to enquire into Lakshmi De’s role in Sunday’s vandalism at the Medical College and Hospital, CPM leader Prasanta Sur on Tuesday found himself caught in a cleft stick.

CPM officials said Sur’s task has become doubly difficult after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee gave a clean chit to the Left Front chief whip whose name, however, figures in the FIR that the hospital superintendent filed after being assaulted by a group of CPM supporters.

Much before Sur’s truth committee could start work, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee set the tone of the enquiry by saying that he believed De was not involved in the unseemly incident.

Taking the cue from the chief minister, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, who had been in the thick of an almost identical controversy not long back, today claimed that De was not involved in the incident.

“All that you can say is that Lakshmi-babu had failed to control party supporters at that point in the hospital where Trinamul Congress supporters were also present and triggered the violence. The eviction against unauthorised settlers in the hospital, over which the violence occurred, will continue,” Chakraborty said.

After the chief minister made his position clear, De told The Telegraph that there was no need for him to move court for anticipatory bail. “I played no part in that incident. And, I am going to write it in my report to the party as well.”

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas and some important functionaries in the party’s Calcutta district committee, however, are not convinced. According to party sources, they are waiting for the truth committee’s report before reaching a conclusion.

But for the record, Biswas told reporters that De was not present at the spot when the hospital superintendent was thrashed. CPM-watchers believe Biswas took a public position on the incident, a fact that was later borne out by his setting up the truth committee. The observations made by Biswas and Bhattacharjee indicate that the CPM top brass would not like to see De in trouble for the second time in his career.

Sur will misread the signal only at his own peril, sources close to the truth-finder said. “If Sur finds De’s direct involvement in the incident, he will have to think twice to mention this in his report, for he will be perceived as contradicting two powerful bosses.” Sur’s report will have to be submitted to the state secretariat by October 16.

Sur began his work today, recording the views of certain members of the CPM’s unit in the Vidyasagar area. But he may not interview the assaulted superintendent, Sacchidananda Sinha, who filed the FIR naming De.

The CPM leadership has given Sur just a week to carry out the investigation because it wants to get over with the controversy before the Assembly goes into the winter session, the date for which will be fixed shortly. De will be asked to appear before the truth committee in a day or two to recount his side of the story.


Calcutta, Oct. 9: 
The second round of the clean-up on the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital campus was undertaken today, leading to the demolition of some illegal constructions and the eviction of about 100 unauthorised occupants from the staff quarters.

Among the buildings razed today was the 30-year-old office of the Calcutta Medical College Special Attendants’ Union. Calcutta Municipal Corporation workers took about three hours to break down the building. The first phase of the eviction drive was held last week. Zulfikar Hasan, deputy commissioner, central division, said the eviction process was smooth. “There was no resistance from the illegal occupants,” he said.

Much dust was, however, raised after about 500 illegal occupants were driven out of the group C and D quarters last week. CPM legislator Lakshmi De and his loyalists had then beaten up hospital super Sacchidananda Sinha, who later filed an FIR against the Front chief whip for allegedly masterminding the attack.

Doctors of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) today held a sit-in in the principal’s chamber to protest against the attack on Sinha and demanded the arrest of De. Three of the others named in the FIR have been picked up.

The medics are also asking for an official statement from the state health minister. “We have called a meeting on Thursday. We will fix up our course of action after the meeting,” said Nirmal Maji, assistant secretary of IMA.

Acting hospital superintendent S.N. Banerjee has urged the doctors to place their demands in writing. “I have already sent their memorandum to Writers’ Buildings. I will speak to the health minister and director of medical education,” he said.

Security has been beefed up on the hospital premises. Banibrata Basu, DC, headquarters, said eight Calcutta Reserve Force personnel are on duty in front of the hospital superintendent’s office.

The state health minister visited Barasat Hospital today after Trinamul supporters allegedly beat up the hospital chief.


Calcutta, Oct. 9: 
Trinamul Congress MLA Sougata Roy has vowed not to enter the state secretariat so long as the Left Front is in power, apparently harassed by police at the Writers’ Buildings’ main entrance this afternoon.

“I have been insulted by the policemen on duty, who wanted me to step into their office before I could enter into the building,” an angry Roy said. He spent quite some time arguing with the police that he had every right as a legislator to visit whoever he pleased.

This is the second consecutive day that the police at the state secretariat have had to contend with an irate Trinamul MLA. Yesterday, legislator Paresh Pal held a dharna in front of the chief minister’s office to protest against Sunday’s violence at the Calcutta Medical College.

“I will inform the Speaker of the Assembly asking him whether or not a privilege notice can be brought against the police officers who denied me entry,” Roy said. The MLA said he could not convince the police officers that he had an appointment with refugee rehabilitation minister Nayan Sarkar.


Calcutta, Oct. 9: 
Signalling the onset of glasnost in its monolithic structure, the CPM will bring out a compendium on Jyoti Basu where his comment that not joining the Union government in 1996 was a “historic blunder” will find a prominent place.

The four or five volumes on Basu will contain the former chief minister’s speeches, writings and observations during his political career spanning over 65 years. The first volume will hit the stands at next year’s Calcutta Book Fair.

“I have been told that the compendium will comprise even some of my critical observations on the party in addition to my various speeches and writings,” Basu said.

He said he was “happy” to learn the CPM secretariat had taken a decision to keep on record his observations on the party’s decision not to join the Centre.

Basu recounted that there was a “strong debate” in the party when he was chosen as a prime ministerial candidate before the Vajpayee government took over the reins for a short period in 1996.

Basu’s initiative to instal the Congress at the Centre to keep the BJP at bay in the wake of the fall of the H.D. Deve Gowda government will also figure in the compendium.

Basu, along with party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, spearheaded the pro-Congress move, triggering protests in the party.

Basu said this was a first-ever effort to record his long political career which began in England in 1936. “After a four-year political stint in England, I came to Calcutta in 1940 and since then I have been associated with the communist movement. I readily okayed the proposal when I was told such a compendium would help our future generations,” he said.

CPM state secretariat member and former transport minister Shymal Chakraborty, who has been assigned the job of compiling, said the numerous notes Basu had written to party leaders from time to time on “ideological differences” in the organisation would be incorporated.

“We have completed 90 per cent of the compilation job and hope to get the first volume ready by January so that this can be released in the book fair,” he said, adding: “The remaining volumes will be available as early as possible.”

He said the party leaders might have to go to London to collect documents on Basu’s political career there.

“Moreover, we are also collecting some of Basu’s precious lectures on international events from abroad,” he added.

According to Chakraborty, all materials, starting from speeches to letters, pictures and documents, are being collected mostly from party members and functionaries across the state.

“Even some outside the CPM are helping us with whatever collection they have on Basu,” he said.


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