Apex court imposes cracker curfew hour
Mason shot dead near Park Street
Arrests blow lid off car theft gang
Passport racket thrives at airport
Stadium dandiya show call-off sparks tension
Path paved for Reliance entry
Naxalite attack triggers panic
Sur panel gives clean chit to De
Fake currency seized at border

Calcutta, Oct. 20: 
It will be an unusually muted Diwali this year if the state pollution control board (PCB) and the police successfully implement a Supreme Court directive, restricting the use of fireworks to between 6 pm and 10 pm.

According to a notification amending the Environment Protection Rules, dated October 5, the apex court directive will be in force round the year. PCB officials said on Saturday that the police have been informed of the notification in addition to the anti-noise pollution norms currently in force.

PCB officials and senior police officers met on October 9 to chalk out a programme to minimise the noise level during the Pujas.

“We will act on specific complaints received by our control booth, which is being set up at the Board headquarters in Paribesh Bhavan, Salt Lake,” said PCB law officer Biswajit Mukherjee. “If the local police station does not act, people may inform our control room,” the law officer suggested.

Other than the control room (phone numbers: 335-0612/ 8212/ 7428), the PCB will have eight mobile teams doing the rounds during Durga Puja and Diwali. Last year, the control room had received 198 complaints, including some police cases.

The teams will visit puja pandals in the city as well the suburbs in North and South 24-Parganas.

“We will focus on areas from where the maximum number of complaints came last year,” Mukherjee explained. These areas are Behala, Dum Dum, Kasba and Beleghata.

Mukherjee said while cases were booked under the Police Act in the past two years, this year would be different.

“We are now empowered to file charges directly under the Environment Protection Act, which fixes personal liability and imposes a fine up to Rs 1 lakh,” the law officer said.

While the Burrabazar fireworks dealers have agreed to sell fireworks with a threshold sound limit of 90 decibels (dB), the PCB has rejected outright a plea by Sivakasi-based manufacturers to raise the limit to 125 dB, which is the national standard.

“We have studied the impact of noisy crackers and the related maladies on the citizens since 1996 and we will stick to our norms,” said Dipak Chakravarty, PCB chief scientist.

Chakravarty said the Supreme Court, while fixing the 125 dB bar, had stated that the order “shall not imply any restriction on the Union government, the Union Territories or the state governments in case they wish to further reduce the noise level”.

Asked if the PCB was aware of the illegal sale of banned crackers, Chakravarty said the police had seized a large quantity in the city and raids were still on. “We will test the samples and submit the report so that the police can press charges against the offenders,” the chief scientist added.

PCB officials pointed out that the number of complaints against fireworks and loudspeakers had reduced from 278 in 1998 to 198 in 2000.


Calcutta, Oct. 20: 
A 40-year-old man was killed late on Friday when three gunmen stormed his Bedford Lane residence near Park Street. The victim was identified as Sheikh Siraz, a mason.

Police said gang-rivalry might have led to the incident. No arrests have been made.

The incident occurred around 11.45 pm when Siraz returned from work. Siraz, who hailed from Midnapore, was staying with his friend, Sheikh Mustaque, at Bedford Lane for the past few years.

According to Mustaque, three armed miscreants raided the house as soon as Siraz entered his ground-floor room. “I was outside when I heard gunshots. I rushed in and saw the miscreants coming out,” Mustaque told the Park Street police. Siraz was rushed to NRS Hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead.

Preliminary investigations have led the police to believe that the assassins were local. “According to the description given by Mustaque, we have come up with a list of suspects,” said Prabir Das, officer-in-charge of Park Street police station.

Police, however, are still clueless about the motive behind the murder. “The Bedford Lane area is crime-prone. Though Siraz did not have a criminal record, it is possible that he got involved with some of the miscreants,” said Das.

Siraz had recently started supplying building material. “The murder may be a fall-out of a business rivalry. The promoter lobby is very strong here and inter-gang wars are common. It may be possible that the other suppliers resented Siraz’s entry in the trade,” said an officer of the detective department.

“We are looking at all aspects of the case. A manhunt has been launched to track down the killers,” Das said.


Calcutta, Oct. 20: 
A car-theft racket spread across a number of states — from Manipur to Chennai — has come to light with arrests made early on Saturday. Seven gang members, including the mastermind, have been netted during an overnight manhunt in several areas of Calcutta, Howrah and South 24-Parganas. A Maruti car that was stolen from Gariahat last week was also recovered.

With the arrest of the lifters, the city police are expecting to recover more stolen cars in the coming week.

Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner of police, detective department, said officers of the motor theft section nabbed Prabhat Ghosh, the mastermind, at Howrah station. “Acting on a tip-off, plainclothes policemen laid a trap at Howrah. As soon as Ghosh, a resident of Behrampore in Murshidabad district, entered the platform, the sleuths caught him,” Mitra said.

During interrogation, Ghosh confessed to the existence of the racket. Police, then, conducted extensive raids in different areas of Calcutta and its neighbourhood.

One of the teams raided Nataraj Hotel, near Howrah station, and picked up three lifters who had come from Manipur, Chennai and Tripura. “The trio had been staying at the hotel for the past 25 days. They came here to steal cars before the Pujas,” said Mitra.

Of the three, Ravi Kumar had come from Manipur a month ago. The two others, K. Kumar from Chennai and Ratan Singh from Tripura, had joined the gang a couple of weeks ago. Another team picked up Mohammad Munna from his south Calcutta residence. The sleuths also conducted raids in the Maheshtala area and arrested Firoz Khan.

The trio, arrested from the Howrah hotel, disclosed where a stolen Maruti had been kept. The police, then, raided a church near Dum Dum airport and found the car. The security guard of the church was also held for helping the lifters hide the car. The police are on the look-out for Miraz Khan, son of car-lifter Liaqat Khan. “Miraz fled before we could reach the hide-out,” he added.


Calcutta, Oct. 20: 
The city police have claimed a major breakthrough in exposing a nation-wide racket based in the city which was involved in sneaking people in and out of the country with forged travel documents.

The probe, which has netted 63 persons in the past few weeks from the Netaji Subhas International Airport, has clinched evidence of an organised network stretching across Mumbai, New Delhi and Ahmedabad.

A senior police official involved in the probe told Metro that confessions made by some of the arrested persons were “startling”. There were also distinct indications of the “involvement of passport and visa officials of other cities in the racket”. “Hundreds of people have sneaked past the immigration counter at the city airport in the past using forged travel documents, without law enforcers having the slightest inkling,” the official added.

About 1,500 persons are cleared by immigration officials at the international airport every day, of which around 450 are foreigners. Officials say a “slight mistake” by immigration staff can result in a sneak-in.

During investigation, the Security Control Organisation (SCO) of the city police, which also oversees the airport’s immigration cell, took “action” against some officials posted there. The police top brass had asked the SCO to be “extra-careful” while dealing with people at the immigration cell, following recent revelations of the organised racket in issuing fake visas and passports.

“Officials have been asked to cross-check all travel documents to stop dubious people from entering the city,” an SCO official said. “Most of those arrested were trying either to travel with forged documents or to impersonate others. They made a beeline for the Gulf and European countries,” he said.

Officials believe that fake travel documents are also obtained from Mumbai, apart from the city. These people, suspected to have “connections with a section of government officials”, engage touts in every major city to lure prospective clients.

A few weeks ago, Bangladesh national Farhana Choudhury sneaked into West Bengal and paid Rs 5,000 to a city-based by paying her fake travel documents. She was arrested at the airport, but officials confessed that they had “nearly let her go” as the “documents seemed genuine”.

“Most of the arrests made so far have given us an idea of the modus operandi of the operators, who have close links with their counterparts in other cities,” the official added. Investigations are also on to find out the motive of persons travelling with forged documents.

The city police recently woke up to the issue after receiving “warnings” from the Centre that militants belonging to the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammed threatened to hijack an aeroplane from the airport and enter the city and the adjoining districts in the coming weeks. The city and North 24- Parganas police were also put on high alert, following intelligence reports last week of likely border sneak-ins by militant groups.


Calcutta, Oct. 20: 
Tension ran high at Salt Lake stadium on Saturday after the police refused to allow two organisations to hold the night-long dandiya festival at the helipad. About a thousand people gathered and forced the organisers to refund the tickets.

Two organisations — Payel and Ghungroo — had organised the six-day programme, scheduled to start on Saturday evening. But the Bidhannagar South police reached the venue around noon on Friday and asked the organisers to call off the function.

“We have been holding the festival at the same venue for the past five years. We were stunned as the police withdrew permission at the eleventh hour,” alleged Bibek Surana of Ghungroo.

“We have already sold tickets worth Rs 8 lakh. Elaborate arrangements had been made and we are really in a spot,” Surana said.

Surana said they had obtained permission from the police on September 25. But superintendent of police M. Harisena Verma contradicted the claim. “Last year, there was utter chaos at the function, in which around 40,000 revellers participated,” he said.

“We do not have adequate force to provide security cover for such a big programme in the run-up to the Pujas,” sub-divisional police officer Satyajit Banerjee said.

Verma also claimed that Dandia dance involved both the performers and viewers from the audience most of whom were teenaged. “Moreover, they had planned to hold the dance festival for six consecutive nights from today. Last year, about 40,000 youths joined the performers and it was a total chaos. We found it very difficult to manage the crowd. That’s why we did not allow them to hold the function this time”, Verma said.

He said that they had inadequate number of police personnel to man such a function. “There might be any major law and order problem during the show and we have not taken the risk by allowing the organisers to hold the fucntion this time"” he added.


Calcutta, Oct. 20: 
Reliance Industries managing director Anil Ambani today met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and promised to invest Rs 800 crore in the state.

“We had a very fruitful and positive discussion on the fibre-optic network they are laying as well as matters relating to telecommunications,” Bhattacharjee said after the meeting.

Industry minister Nirupam Sen and finance minister Asim Dasgupta were also present at the meeting at Writers’ Buildings.

They discussed the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s initial reluctance to allow Reliance Infocom to lay the cables by digging the roads.

While the state government had agreed to let Reliance do the repair-work, the Trinamul-led Corporation had insisted that the company pay up the amount meant for restoration.

The chief minister assured Ambani that there would be no problems. The company has already begun laying optic-fibre cables in Salt Lake where the CPM-led Bidhannagar Municipality has allowed Reliance Infocom to restore the roads and pavements being dug.

Ambani also told the chief minister that Reliance would open a central office in the city very soon. The office will be located at the erstwhile ICI building on Chowringhee.

The group, which is laying a fibre-optic network in the city for better connectivity and networking, has promised to bring educational institutions within its ambit.

Dasgupta said Bengal’s deal with Reliance Infocom was at par with the conditions the company had with states like Maharashtra and Karnataka. “Anil Ambani has said that the group will invest around Rs 800 crore in the state,” the finance minister said.

The company expects to commence its basic telecom business in the northern region shortly. As far as telecom services are concerned, Dasgupta said Delhi would clear the projects to begin with.

The Reliance Group is laying the network for its basic telephone services as well as providing a broad bandwidth for data transfer and Internet connections.

The finance minister said Bengal would extend all help to Reliance if they wanted to invest in the telecom sector. Sources said Ambani also discussed about the group’s proposed oil tanks in Haldia. But Bhattacharjee said Haldia Petrochemicals was not discussed at the meeting.

It is learnt that the group has plans to make sizeable investment to set up a “oil hub” in Haldia in order to cater to the eastern and north-eastern regions. The petroleum major is also planning to span out its business to south Asian countries.


Jhargram, Oct. 20: 
Panic gripped the Kankrajhore region after suspected Naxalites raided Simulpal village early on Thursday and fired indiscriminately at the house of a local Jharkhand leader.

Eyewitnesses said 10 miscreants, including four women, had come to attack Kanai Mahto.

A tribal woman who had sustained bullet injuries had to be removed to SSKM hospital this morning after her condition deteriorated.

Police arrested area secretary Balaram Mahato from the Bengal-Jharkhand border in the small hours of today. They also seized some red flags from the Joram forest area. According to superintendent of police K.C. Meena, the gunmen were believed to be MCC-PWG supporters.

Admitting that the MCC-PWG combine had been creating havoc for quite some time, he said the villagers did not dare even to report Thursday’s incident to the nearest police station in Belpahari.

The gunmen retired to Dakaipahar without finding Kanai in his house. EFR, RAF and SAP forces have been combing the entire area.

The MCC and the PWG, which officially merged during the day, brought out a big procession demanding the immediate release of Mahato.

Activists, who congregated at the Dakaipahar forest from different areas, warned the district administration that they would go to “any extent” if Mahato was not released immediately.

Their demands included steady supply of drinking water, construction of roads and setting up of primary schools in the area.

Police said poor tribals owing allegiance to the Jharkhand Party (Naren group) and the CPM had been cultivating on “Kanai’s land” for sometime.

Kanai objected to this and picked up a quarrel with them, saying he was awaiting a judgment from the land tribunal.

But without waiting for the decision, the PWG-MCC leaders started cultivation on the land.

This has endeared the poor people of the region to the Naxalites, whose ranks are being swollen by CPM defectors.


Calcutta, Oct. 20: 
After the party and the government, it was the turn of the one-man truth finding committee to give party chief whip Laksmi De a clean chit in the Medical College hospital superintendent assault incident.

Former health minister Prasanta Sur, a CPM veteran, had been tasked to probe whether Laksmi De had instigated violence on October 7, leading to the assault on the Medical College superintendent Sachchidananda Sinha.

The committee was set up to probe the attack on Sinha and his family members after De’s name was mentioned in the FIR along with four others. Though these four persons were arrested and later released on bail, nothing had happened to De.

On October 7, a group of CPM supporters, angry over the eviction of unauthorised occupants of employees’ quarters inside the hospital premises a day before, had heckled Sinha and his son, allegedly at De’s behest.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas admitted to having received the report only yesterday, three days after the expiry of the deadline set by Alimuddin Street. Sur said he had failed to meet the October 16 deadline as he did not get cooperation from partymen in expediting the report within the stipulated time.

Though the party secretary refused to divulge the details of the report, CPM sources confirmed that Sur had absolved De of the October 7 incident in his report.

“How can Sur implicate De in the hospital incident when the chief minister has already given a clean chit to De?” asked a CPM functionary.


Siliguri, Oct. 20: 
Customs officials seized 15 counterfeit Rs 500 notes from a man at the Indo-Nepal border checkpost at Panitanki today.

Officials said the notes were seized from one Ranjit Sarkar (27), a resident of Islampur in Uttar Dinajpur, during a routine check at the border. Sarkar claimed to be working at a shoe factory in Kathmandu and said he was returning home for the Pujas with his salary.

Sarkar also revealed that he had exchanged his Nepalese currency into Indian money from an “unauthorised” foreign exchange counter at Kakarvitta on the Nepal side of the border.


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