Cash trail leads to plantation firms
Multiplex recipe for flicks ‘n’ fun
Seven more arrested
Ray’s lensman dies at 71
Howrah seeks civic justice
Doctor missing, inmate dies
Fatal search for medicare
Bill to book power thieves
CPM caves in after Naxalite threat
Lovelorn leopard longing for a bride

 
 
CASH TRAIL LEADS TO PLANTATION FIRMS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Dec. 8: 
The scope of investigations into the still-unfolding investment scam in the state widened on Saturday with officials saying that some chit funds had parked deposits in plantation companies.

Plantation companies that offer high returns are considered a high-risk invest-ment avenue after several of them collapsed in the south a few years ago.

“It has now gone beyond the chit-chain: at least four plantation companies have been found to have links with the chit fund racket. But we will have to establish the links, which would require us to decipher the data available with us in various forms,” an investigating officer said.

Police on Saturday produced Sanjib Kapur — the prime accused in the chit fund scam — at Bankshal Court along with officials of four plantation companies. The police had cracked down on some plantation firms, too, on Friday.

Kapur was remanded in police custody till December 22, and the officials of the other firms, till December 18. The police said Kapur and others are gradually “breaking down”.

Investors and franchisees of the plantation companies thronged the court premises. They said they had invested in preference shares — a quasi debt instrument, issued by these companies with an interest rate of 15 per cent. But they said none of the companies had ever defaulted and there were no complaints pending against them.

Close to a dozen teak plantation companies had collapsed in Tamil Nadu nearly three years ago, devouring almost as much as Rs 300 crore put in by investors hoping to reap high returns.

The chit fund scam has pitted the police against a huge volume of data that needs to be analysed for getting to the bottom of the case. The sleuths are worried that the investigation may run into rough weather for want of resources and expertise in data crunching.

So far, the investigation was based on the inputs given by the complainants and the detained, leading to a chain of arrests and seizures. But a huge volume of data has piled up. Worse, much of the data is digital, stored in computers seized by the sleuths.

“We might also need help of software experts to penetrate secured programmes. The data will have to be transferred to more secured storage devices and we lack the infrastructure for all that,” said an investigating officer.

Besides, the analysis of data, which involve various transactions with banks, firms, agents and brokers, requires professional expertise. “It’s getting difficult for us to crack the numbers,” a senior officer of the detective department conceded. He added that a separate team of “experts” from within the police department was likely to be set up.

The realisation of the handicap comes at a time when Calcutta Police are holding a workshop with experts from Asian School of Cyber Crimes.

“The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) interacts with the Reserve Bank officials on a regular basis, which makes it easier for them to address crimes like these.

“We have a committed team but we do not have the resources for back-office investigation,” another sleuth with experience of working for the central detective agency said.

   

 
 
MULTIPLEX RECIPE FOR FLICKS ‘N’ FUN 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 8: 
Catch a flick, grab a bite, revamp your wardrobe and restock your bookshelf — all at one stop. Entertainment multiplex, Fun Republic, is set to hit Calcutta “by late 2003”. E-City Entertainment Pvt Ltd will take its brand of “family entertainment centre” to 12 cities across the country.

The location for the Calcutta centre has not yet been finalised, but will cover “over one lakh sq ft”, with an expected investment of “around Rs 30 crore” for a plaza that will “provide the answer to all entertainment needs”.

Fun Republic will house four to six cinemas in Xenon, a movie complex that will have its own snack counter. The cinemas will seat small numbers, between 200 and 400 — to ensure that even films with a restricted appeal, or those that have already enjoyed a long run, can draw a full house.

Hours is the multi-level, 170-brand departmental store which will “keep Calcutta’s price sensitivity in mind”. Food Federation will offer everything from pizzas to phuchkas and chats, while Stars will cater to Asian cuisine buffs. Music-lovers can browse through CDs and cassettes at Sonic State, with Book Bay keeping bookworms happy.

For those in search of interactive fun, Bingo is the place to be, with a bowling alley and a video-game parlour, while Champs will keep toddlers busy with slides, ladders, nets and trained personnel to keep an eye on them while parents shop. Promotional events will be arranged at the atrium, to be known as Republic Square.

“Our target is the 15-to-35 upper middle class clientele,” says Atul Goel, chief officer, business development. According to Sanjay Das, E-City CEO, the search is on for property around the EM Bypass or beyond Salt Lake.

The firm, associated with Essel Packaging and Zee, has also taken on the distribution rights for “offbeat” films, like the Nandita Das-starrer, Bawandar. “We are keen to look into the Bengali cinema industry as well and, possibly, dub interesting films in Hindi for the national market,” concludes Goel.

   

 
 
SEVEN MORE ARRESTED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 8: 
In continuing raids on chit fund operators, the CID and the detective department of the city police on Saturday arrested seven more persons on charges of either duping investors or of complicity in it.

Four employees of Flural Housing Finance and Investments were arrested from the Karaya area on Saturday afternoon. Earlier, on Friday, the company’s director, Debaprasad Chatterjee, and three of his associates were rounded up by the South 24-Parganas police.

Police said the interrogation of Chatterjee and his associates revealed the role of the employees in “duping” people.

“We have enough evidence to suggest that the four arrested persons played a role in misleading investors,” said DC, DD-II, Pradip Sanyal.

Meanwhile, in an early morning swoop, sleuths of the CID descended on the Lake Town residence of S.K. Dutta Majumdar, director of Srijoni Finance Company, another chit fund, and arrested him.

Later, on receiving a tip-off from Dutta Majumdar, the CID arrested two of his employees, also from Lake Town.

Meanwhile, managing director of Rose Valley Resorts and Plantations, Kajal Kundu, told reporters on Saturday that contrary to reports in the press, he had not been arrested on Friday. He had been “asked by the police to accompany them” to the Dum Dum police station for “routine verification”.

“There is nothing against us and even the Sebi has said that our papers are in order,” Kundu explained. “We went to the police station since we are a finance company and the police have no reason to either arrest me or any of our employees.”

DIG, CID, V.V. Thambi said they got on the trail of Srijoni Finance Company after a 80-year-old woman complained that she had been duped by the company. “We started scanning the records of the company and found that there were some other complaints pending against them,” Thambi said.

Thambi said that the two arrested employees of the firm were responsible for “persuading” at least 25 per cent of their clients to invest in their company”. “The investigation is still at the initial stages,” Thambi said. “But the total amount involved in this scam runs into crores of rupees. We have not had the time to evaluate everything, but we are fairly certain of the amount,” he added.

All seven arrested on Saturday were produced in court and remanded in police custody. “Their interrogation will surely throw light on the missing links in the scam,” Thambi said.

Sanyal said that the volume of documents seized was enormous and they would soon get down to the task of studying them. “We have drawn up a team of 20 specialised people to go through the documents,” Sanyal said.

“We have the necessary expertise in financial matters within the force itself and have selected people from all quarters,” Sanyal said.

   

 
 
RAY’S LENSMAN DIES AT 71 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 8: 
Noted film cameraman Subrata Mitra died in his south Calcutta residence on Saturday morning after prolonged illness. He was 71 and is survived by two brothers.

Mitra had been suffering from chronic asthma for the past few years. His condition deteriorated on Friday.

Several film personalities and technicians, including Mrinal Sen, Soumitra Chatterjee, Saumendu Roy, Aparna Sen and Madhabi Mukherjee, visited his residence to pay homage. The last rites were performed at Siriti burning ghat.

Mitra, who came into limelight as Satyajit Ray’s cameraman, was awarded the Padmashree for his outstanding work. Ray’s films in which Mitra was the chief cameraman include the Apu trilogy, Jalsaghar, Abhijan, Teen Kanya, Parash-pathar, Charulata, Nayak, Debi and Kapurush O Mahapurush. He had also worked for Bombay Talkies. Hindi films like New Delhi Times and Teesri Kasam had Mitra behind the camera.

   

 
 
HOWRAH SEEKS CIVIC JUSTICE 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 8: 
Denied civic amenities over the years, more than 50 eminent residents of Howrah petitioned Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court A.K. Mathur on Saturday.

They complained that court orders concerning civic development in the town were being violated in 95 per cent cases by the district administration, police and the Howrah Municipal Corporation. They also urged Mathur to treat the petition as a public interest litigation (PIL) and start suo moto contempt proceedings.

A case was initiated by Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Committee in 1995 before the Supreme Court, seeking its intervention in problems like garbage pile-up, unauthorised construction and illegal filling up of waterbodies. On the basis of the petition, the apex court had directed Calcutta High Court to constitute a green bench to hear the problems relating to environment.

“Though several court orders were served, action was taken in only four cases,” said Mantu Dutta, a social activist.

Howrah district officials admitted that a number of court orders concerning civic development in Howrah were being flouted. “We are trying our best to redress people’s grievances,” said additional district magistrate (development), Utpal Chanda.

“Our district magistrate has taken note of the matter,” he added.

   

 
 
DOCTOR MISSING, INMATE DIES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 8: 
A 27-year-old mute inmate of Liluah Home for Destitute Women died on Saturday morning on the home premises. The death evoked protests from other inmates as the home doctor, who is supposed to be present round-the-clock, was absent when the girl complained of breathing problems.

District magistrate Vivek Kumar confirmed the “act of negligence”. “The doctor of the home was not present when the girl fell ill. She is supposed to stay at her quarters round-the-clock as the post is residential. But she left for home on Friday evening,” said Kumar.

Inmates alleged that Anamika could have been saved had the doctor attended to her. She was pronounced dead when she was taken later to Howrah Jaiswal Hospital.

The doctor, Anupama Kar, did not return till Saturday afternoon from her Konnagar residence.

Anamika, the deceased inmate, had been ailing for some months. She was staying at the home for the past two years. The home authorities used to send her to hospital for regular check-ups.

Recently, doctors suspected that Anamika was suffering from tuberculosis. “Accordingly, a diagnostic process was started,” said a home source.

On Saturday morning, the girl was reportedly in good health. “But when she finished breakfast, she complained of breathing problems and fainted,” said a home official.

The district magistrate said this was the second time that such a case took place at the home. “A few months ago, we showcaused the doctor as she was out when another inmate was dying. I am sending a report to the social welfare department, recommending that a chargesheet be filed against her,” Kumar said.

   

 
 
FATAL SEARCH FOR MEDICARE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 8: 
After shuttling between Shambhu Nath Pandit Hospital and SSKM Hospital, a 64-year-old man with severe kidney problems died on the way to Nilratan Sirkar Medical College and Hospital on Wednesday evening, representatives of a voluntary organisation said.

Shibnath Biswas, a resident of Arjunpur near Baguiati, was first taken to S.N. Pandit Hospital on Tuesday morning, where he was referred to the nephrology department of SSKM Hospital. “He needed immediate dialysis,” said D. Ashis, secretary of Medical Bank.

On Wednesday morning, he was refused admission at SSKM, as no bed was available. In the evening, Biswas was directed back to S.N. Pandit Hospital, so that he could be brought over for dialysis at SSKM. But the emergency medical officer at S.N. Pandit Hospital reportedly refused admission. As the ambulance carrying Biswas neared Park Street, he collapsed.

“The incident is a gross violation of a Supreme Court order,” admitted a government doctor. The order stated that no moribund patient could be refused admission, no matter which hospital he was taken to.

Suicide: Moumita Chakro-borty, 28, hanged herself at her Beadon Row residence on Friday night. Police said a family quarrel might have led to the suicide. Her husband, Ayan, was arrested after Moumita’s father accused him for the death in a complaint with the Burtolla police. Moumita suspected her husband of being involved in an affair.

   

 
 
BILL TO BOOK POWER THIEVES 
 
 
BY UTPAL BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Dec. 8: 
Power thieves beware. The government is arming itself to tackle the menace of rampant electricity loot.

The power department will introduce a Bill in the Assembly this session to deal with an iron hand those involved in power theft, illegal hooking and tapping. “The Bill will empower us to tackle power thieves in an effective manner,” power minister Mrinal Banerjee said today.

He said a special task force, called Electricity Utility Protection Force, will be set up to nab people who have made a living out of hooking and tapping. This apart, special courts, that will only try power theft cases, will come up in each district.

“The purpose is to empower the electricity department to deal with people involved in stealing power. The menace has assumed alarming proportions over the years,” a senior power department official said. It will help bring down “non-technical” transmission and distribution loss that has spiralled to nearly 40 per cent in the West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB). It now incurs a loss of Rs 1.70 crore a day.

The West Bengal Electricity Regulatory Commission (WBERC), which released its recommendations yesterday, took the power department to task for its failure to stop “mass pilferage”.

Blaming the state power board for failing to take measures to improve its condition, the regulatory commission said in its note: “The company (WBSEB) cannot pass on the entire cost to the honest consumers.” It warned that the situation could worsen if strong and effective measures were not taken immediately.

The commission has recommended that the state legislate “stringent laws against power thefts and activate its law and order machinery so that the power thieves are punished adequately”.

Banerjee suspects that power theft is an “organised crime” in several areas. Employees of utilities, be it in the CESC or WBSEB areas, are often the targets of these gangs. “It is a serious law and order problem. The reason is simple. The incentive for power pilferage is quite high, the penalty low. As a result, power theft is rampant,” he said.

The minister added that his department had been requesting for strong measures for a long time. “The crime can never be prevented through detection. It has to be through deterrence. A person caught stealing power has to be tried and, if found guilty, he must serve time in jail as he would for any other criminal case. Only then would he refrain from doing it a second time,” he said.

A spokesman for the power department admitted that WBSEB’s earlier attempts to stop leakage by involving local elected bodies had failed miserably. He also agreed that attempts by the electricity staff to book culprits often take a political turn and lead to a law and order problem. “We cannot shut our eyes to this ground reality. We are also thinking in terms of starting an awareness campaign through audio-visual publicity as suggested by the regulatory commission,” the spokesman added.

However, he asserted, it would be wrong to suggest that power theft is the sole reason for the loss incurred by the electricity board. WBSEB’s production cost is much higher because of the “unscientific blend” of thermal and hydel power generation, the spokesman pointed out. Thermal power plants cannot regulate generation according to the fluctuating demand of electricity. The power department is now exploring the hydel sector and gas-based power production as cheaper options, the spokesman said.

   

 
 
CPM CAVES IN AFTER NAXALITE THREAT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Banspahari, Dec. 8: 
People’s War Group (PWG) activists today forced the CPM to change the venue of one its meetings after threatening its six leaders with dire consequences and asking them to instruct the police to release 20 of their supporters arrested in connection with the murder of Sudhir Giri, a CPM leader in Banspahari.

“They (PWG men) came in police uniform with rifles and other weapons and threatened Sayan Pal, Chhabi Mandal, Ram Mandal and three other CPM leaders with dire consequences. The PWG activists told our men that they had obtained their names from the notebook used by Giri. Covering their faces with scarves, PWG activists threatened to kill six leaders of our party if they failed to convince the police to release 20 PWG activists arrested in connection with Giri’s murder,” Dahar Sen, a member of CPM’s Midnapore district committee, alleged.

“Following the threat, we have decided to change the venue for Giri’s condolence meet from Banspahari to Belpahari,” Sen said. Belpahari is apparently safe for the CPM as it has a separate police station.

The police, however, claimed that they had driven out PWG activists from Banspahari and its adjoining forests to the Singbhum district of Jharkhand.

“Though we could not arrest the PWG activists, we have forced them to abandon Banspahari and the adjoining forests,” Vineet Goel, additional superintendent of police, who is now in charge of the district police, said.

In another development, recovery of a statue of Lord Buddha from Manikpara near Banspahari has made the police suspicious about the possible link between the PWG activists in the district and MCC men based in Nepal. The bronze statue of Lord Buddha was probably stolen from Nepal and the man arrested in connection with the incident has MCC links, claimed a senior district police official.

Left partners clash

CPM and RSP supporters have clashed at Basanti in South 24-Parganas for the past one week over last Friday’s murder of a CPM activist. Altogether 15 people have been arrested so far in connection with the murder.

The CPM alleged the RSP had masterminded the murder to avenge a past feud. However, the RSP has denied the allegation.

   

 
 
LOVELORN LEOPARD LONGING FOR A BRIDE 
 
 
FROM RANJAN LAHIRI
 
Burdwan, Dec. 8: 
The almanac has been consulted. Now, it’s time to find a bride.

For some time now, Joy and Bishal — both aged four — have been looking rather forlorn. Gone was their usual zest for life.

Their long, lonely howls and listless prowls as lovers walked past, hand in hand, broke the hearts of the people of Ramonabagan.

Something, they felt, needed to be done.

It was their tamer — Sheikh Nizamuddin — who came up with the idea. He guessed the solution. A mate was what the lovelorn leopards needed.

The two had lived healthy lives in the forest reserve, but with every passing year, they had grown more lonely.

“These leopards need mates. They have grown up and don’t have their earlier zest for life,” Nizamuddin said.

He approached district forest officer V.K. Sood and suggested that one of the male leopards be moved to Jaldapara, where there’s no shortage of the female of the species. In exchange for the male, a female leopard can be brought to the Ramonabagan reserve.

Forest officials agreed and decided to bring a female leopard for Joy from Jaldapara.

Talks and other formalities between the two forest ranges have been completed and the date of exchange will be finalised soon.

“It should not be a simple exchange of two animals. The date of the exchange will have to be auspicious, for the day the partner arrives will also be their wedding day,” the tamer said.

Nizamuddin, who has taken care of Joy from the day he was born, is planing to organise a “wedding” ceremony of sorts on the day of exchange.

The officials are game. Only they will have to keep an eye on gatecrashers.

   
 

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