Reshuffle broom to clean legal stable
Jail-break convict behind bars
Arrests spark cop fears
CSTC brake on speeding buses
Madhabi at rebel meet creates ripples
Four more picked up in chit fund scam
CPM sights plot within
Bloc turns gun on rural rule
Trinamul cornered in Konnagar
Pous mela chases charm

 
 
RESHUFFLE BROOM TO CLEAN LEGAL STABLE 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 22: 
The state judicial department is undergoing a major overhaul following the appointment of Balai Ray as the new advocate-general. The move is aimed to prevent the increasing number of contempt orders being issued against departmental heads and ensure efficient handling of government cases.

Law minister Nisith Adhikari has been consulting Ray over changes in key posts like government pleader, additional government pleaders, senior and junior standing councils, public prosecutor and additional public prosecutors.

The reshuffle will be finalised after a green signal from Alimuddin Street, following which it will be placed before the Cabinet for approval. The existing panel of government lawyers will simultaneously undergo changes.

The proposed overhaul has been necessitated by the failure of the empanelled government lawyers to attend court cases and effectively communicate legal matters to the departmental heads in different ministries. The lawyers’ failure has often prompted courts to issue suo moto contempt orders against them and put a heavy burden on the state exchequer.

“The court often asks secretaries of various departments to present themselves following allegations about orders not being adhered to. All the other departments are blaming the judicial department for their harassment and this has become a matter of prestige for them,” a law ministry spokesperson said.

The spokesperson regretted that government lawyers often fail to turn up in court during hearings. He said it was unfortunate that the lawyers were failing in their duties even when their fees have been “substantially enhanced”. The junior lawyers, who used to receive Rs 85 per appearance, now get Rs 170. Similarly, senior lawyers are getting Rs 340 per appearance in place of Rs 170.

The spokesperson, however, expressed satisfaction at the performance of Debashis Kar Gupta, joint standing counsel, and public prosecutor Kazi Safiullah. While Kar Gupta’s may be promoted, Safiullah is billed to continue in his post.

Asked to elaborate on the proposed changes in the judicial department, Ray said: “The party will decide everything. I will come to know of the changes only after the party finalises them.”

The law minister is hopeful about better performances by his department after the reshuffle takes place.

“The state government has so far succeeded in improving the legal system, but we want to develop it. Our main concern is to tone up the judicial administration and expedite the disposal of pending cases,” Adhikari said.

Meanwhile, the government is also working out a training programme for assistant public prosecutors (APP). This has been necessitated by the fact that in the lower courts, the APPs are unable to adequately defend police cases. As a result, a large number of accused are getting bail despite being proved guilty.

The spokesperson added that since the new advocate-general is himself a criminal lawyer, he has been providing a number of suggestions on this front.

   

 
 
JAIL-BREAK CONVICT BEHIND BARS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 22: 
In a pre-dawn swoop in the Port area on Saturday, the police arrested a Bihar-based criminal, who fled from Chapra jail recently. The goon is also wanted for a murder in the Watgunge area. One of his associates was also netted and a revolver was recovered from the hideout, where they had taken refuge.

Chhote Khan, alias Masoom, and his associate Md Akram were picked up from a hideout in Ekbalpore on Saturday. Khan is also involved in the murder of a garments trader, Wasim, a month ago.

Acting on a tip-off, eight policemen stormed a two-storeyed house in Ekbalpore. “Since Khan and Akram were asleep, they had no chance of putting up a resistance,” said an official of the Ekbalpore police station.

“Initially, we thought Khan was involved only in Wasim’s murder. But when we contacted the Bihar Police, we were told that at least 15 murder cases are pending against him at different police stations there,” said Harman Preet Singh, deputy commissioner, port.

Khan was arrested by the Bihar Police a few months ago and remanded in Chapra jail. But he managed to escape, he added.

The investigators got the lead on Khan after arresting Mohd Aslam, a suspect in the Wasim murder case. “Aslam disclosed his name during interrogation. Since then, we were on his trail,” said an investigator.

After interrogating Khan and Akbar, police came to know that the former was a resident of Sherghati in Bihar and was involved in petty crimes across the state. “Before being arrested in Bihar, he used to frequent the city. He would extort hefty amounts from businessmen with threats of killing their family members,” Singh said.

The Bihar Police has already contacted its city counterpart after Khan’s arrest. A team will come to take him back in custody.

   

 
 
ARRESTS SPARK COP FEARS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 22: 
The big guns might be behind bars but their associates are working overtime to keep the cops busy.

Despite the recent arrests of dreaded criminals like Gabbar and Gudda, the police are not taking it easy. What’s worrying the department is a recent survey that has revealed how their lieutenants are working out ways to take their places.

“It is a fact that Gabbar’s arrest has created a vacuum in the underworld but it won’t be for too long. There are a couple of criminals who are out on bail and they have already started filling up the space,” Zulfiquar Hasan, deputy commissioner of central division, said.

Almost all the dreaded dons, from Sheikh Vinod and Sashan Swapan to Gudda and Gabbar, are now behind bars. Even their contacts, including some women, have been netted. But others like Gopal Tiwari, Ram Singh and Sona are walking free.

According to a study, conducted by the police, a new trend has emerged in the crime world. The successors of arrested criminals, so far involved either in petty crime, are joining hands with their opposition camps.

“Gabbar and Gudda were rivals. Both are now behind bars. But their associates are still at large. Our assumption is that these associates, Mohd Paimuddin, alias Sona, Mehfooz, Johnny, Mehmood and Akbar, may bury the hatchet and join hands,” said an official of the detective department.

All senior police officials dread such alliances since it would change the equation of crime in the city. “The entire crime set-up will be changed. It is difficult to predict the outcome of such tie-ups but I am sure we’ll have to be on the alert once again,” said a senior police official. The police also plan to keep an eye on areas like Beniapukur, Entally, Tiljala, Tangra and Park Street, since they are now “unoccupied territory”.

There is also the threat of criminals from other states migrating across the border. On finding the field clear in the absence of the big guns, they might start operations here, police say.

The police are drawing up a list of criminals from other states. “We are talking to the police chiefs of Bihar and Orissa. A list of inter-state criminals, containing their photographs and style of operation, is being prepared,” an officer said. “We will also seek help from the Mumbai and Delhi police,” he added.

Van gutted: A Matador van was gutted at the intersection of APC Road and Sahitya Parishad Street on Saturday morning. Police said the vehicle was carrying inflammable chemicals. The driver of the vehicle, Shib Chandra Rai, and the owner of the transport company, Dwarka Prasad, were arrested on charges of negligence.

The sample of the article was sent for testing.

   

 
 
CSTC BRAKE ON SPEEDING BUSES 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 22: 
Alarmed at increasing road accidents on account of rash driving in the city, Calcutta State Transport Corporation (CSTC) is planning to introduce electronic speed governors (ESGs) in 200 new buses on an experimental basis. The ESGs are to be commissioned from 2002 to identify errant drivers and check the speed limit.

Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) has already decided to install the device in 100 new buses on a trial basis, following a recent directive from the high court.

Prabir Banerjee, CSTC chief mechanical engineer, said the government was aware of DTC’s decision and agreed that it was necessary to rein in errant bus drivers. “It’s high time we installed such a device in our fleet to check rash driving,” he said, adding that it would also help monitor the speed limit on a regular basis. According to norms, the speed limit of a vehicle should not exceed 55 km per hour.

According to traffic division sources of Calcutta Police, altogether 64,364 rash driving cases were registered in 2000 as against 26,491 cases in 1999. Till June 2001, nearly 37,000 cases were registered. “We are worried at the rise in rash driving cases. This has to be stopped at any cost,” said deputy commissioner of police, traffic, M.K. Singh. Welcoming the CSTC move, he said such devices should be introduced in private buses, too.

Singh said he had already deployed plainclothesmen in both private and state buses to keep vigil on drivers and report to the headquarters if they were crossing the prescribed speed limit. “I shall write to private bus owners to install such devices in their vehicles,” he said, adding that the issue will come up for discussion at a meeting in January.

He added that training courses for drivers are being planned, in association with the Petroleum Conservation Research Association.

According to CSTC sources, the mechanical gadgets, installed in some long-distance buses to check rash driving and fuel consumption, were not properly maintained. “It is true that we need upgraded devices like ESG to check accidents,” said a CSTC official.

He added that intensive training courses for drivers are being planned in association with the Petroleum Conservation Research Association (PCRA) on a regular basis. “Those charged with rash driving have to undergo such courses in our depots,” he added.

   

 
 
MADHABI AT REBEL MEET CREATES RIPPLES 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 22: 
Actress-turned Trinamul Congress functionary Madhabi Mukherjee, who contested against chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in the Jadavpur seat, created a flutter in party circles on Saturday when she attended the organisational polls conducted by suspended party MP Ajit Panja at Mahajati Sadan.

Caught unawares by the development, several Trinamul leaders assembled at party supremo Mamata Banerjee’s Kalighat residence to discuss the issue. Some of them also tried to contact Mamata in Delhi over phone.

Desperate to outstage Mamata, Panja on Saturday held the party’s organisational elections through secret ballot even though he was not authorised to do so. He also invited all key Trinamul functionaries, including MPs, MLAs and councillors, in a bid to rope them in. None of them, except Mukherjee, attended the much-hyped polls in which Panja was declared chairman of the All India Trinamul Congress committee, while Bani Sinha Roy was elected president of the state committee.

Minutes after attending the programme, Mukherjee, however, made it clear that she had no intention to join the rebel camp.

“I attended the programme only because Panja had requested me to go. But that does not mean that I am with Panja. I belong to Mamata’s Trinamul Congress and will attend the party’s meeting at Maharashtra Nivas on January 2,” she said on Saturday night.

Asked if her attending the programme was being misinterpreted by Trinamul workers, Mukherjee said the question did not arise. “Though I have not met Mamata for a quite long time, I am regularly in touch with other party functionaries,” she added.

Reacting to Saturday’s development, Pankaj Banerjee, leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, said there was nothing wrong if Mukherjee attended Panja’s programme.

“We have inducted a large number of apolitical personalities from different walks of life and the party does not mind if they join programmes in their individual capacities,” he maintained.

However, Trinamul dissidents, particularly those close to Panja, were confident of roping in Mukherjee in the near future.

“Madhabidi, like Ajitda and several others in the party, are fed up with Mamata’s dictatorial attitude and that is why she expressed her solidarity with us by joining Saturday’s programme,” said a Panja loyalist.

   

 
 
FOUR MORE PICKED UP IN CHIT FUND SCAM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 22: 
Four franchisees of Citi Securities — prime accused in the recent chit fund scam — were arrested on Saturday. The officers of detective department’s special cell raided Hridaypur, Sodepur, Ghola and Jadavpur and in search of the four.

They were rounded up on the basis of information passed on by Sanjiv Kapoor, the main accused. According to investigators, the franchisees were acting as collectors for Kapoor and each of them mobilised around Rs 1.5 crore from investors. The detainees, Nirmal Bhattacharya, Gautam Putatunda, Supriyo Aich and Hiranmoy Banerjee, will be produced in Sealdah Court on Sunday.

Bowling results: The semi-finalists of the TTIS Inter-school Bowling Championships are La Martiniere for Boys A & C, Lakshmipat Singhania B and Don Bosco Park Circus B.

   

 
 
CPM SIGHTS PLOT WITHIN 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Dec. 22: 
The CPM has smelt “a conspiracy to discredit the sixth Left Front government” headed by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee behind the public criticism of the state administration by the Forward Bloc and the RSP, its partners in power.

The CPM, which recently issued a whip to all Front partners not to publicly air grievances against their government, however, has decided not to confront the parties but initiate bilateral discussions to sort out the differences. Talks between the RSP and the CPM will be held on January 2 and a similar discussion between the Marxists and the Forward Bloc will take place later.

Both the RSP and the Forward Bloc have accused the CPM of ignoring their views while framing government policies and of taking “unilateral decisions”. While Left Front chairman and politburo member Biman Bose has refused to comment on the contentions, state CPM secretary Anil Biswas told party workers at Krishnagar that forces opposed to the Front were trying “to hatch a conspiracy to discredit us”.

The Trinamul Congress has been quick to capitalise on the Front partners’ differences. Pankaj Banerjee, leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, said the spate of criticism against the CPM “has only vindicated our charge that the party does not believe in democratic norms”.

A day after the Forward Bloc blasted “big brother CPM” at a city rally for taking “unilateral decisions” to run the government, the RSP’s Burdwan district committee severely criticised the state administration for a “lack of work culture” at a two-day conference yesterday.

“Despite the fifth Left Front government’s do-it-now slogan, there has been a growing tendency among state government employees to neglect work,” a political-organisational report of the district RSP observed.

The RSP also felt that “there has been considerable erosion in the spheres of healthcare, power and education. The scope of self-employment has declined and there has not been expected decentralisation of power through panchayat and civic bodies”.

The party almost echoed the Forward Bloc’s demand for a core committee by asking for a Front committee to ensure better coordination between ministers and the Front leadership. The RSP report sought “greater control over the ministers”.

Party state secretary Debabrata Bandopadhyay today said the Front has ceased to be “a weapon of people’s struggle”. “Left Front unity cannot be sustained if it does not percolate to the grassroots,” he observed.

   

 
 
BLOC TURNS GUN ON RURAL RULE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 22: 
The Forward Bloc tirade against the Left Front government continued today with party leaders targeting the CPM-controlled panchayat and land reforms departments during its 14th state conference here.

Jayanta Roy, MP of the second-largest party within the Front, said the government had distributed 13 lakh acres to landless agricultural labourers over the past 20 years. But many of them had failed to cultivate the land and handed over the plots to richer people. “About 18 lakh families in rural Bengal were supposed to have benefited from the government’s decision to distribute land. Unfortunately, poverty has compelled many of these families to hand over the plots to other persons whose financial position is sound,” Roy complained.

He admitted that the government, which had initiated major land reforms, failed to foresee the problem while distributing the plots. “Most of these poor people don’t have the financial support to cultivate the lands and they have transferred those to others in the face of extreme poverty. It is true that we, the government and the Front itself, had failed to foresee the problems of these poor labourers when we decided to give them land under the panchayat system.”

Almost all the 41 delegates who participated in the day’s proceedings felt that the sole intention of helping the landless labourers through the panchayat system had been frustrated as most of them had handed over the distributed land.

Interestingly, CPM rebel Saifuddin Chowdhury had criticised the party on the same issue before leaving it to form the Party for Democratic Socialism. Asked whether his party supported Chowdhury on this account, Roy said: “We are not concerned about what Chowdhury had said about the panchayat system in the state. What I am telling you is the observation of my party on the panchayat system”.

The Forward Bloc urged the land reforms and panchayat departments to take legal steps against those who had handed over the plots. Under panchayati raj, a landless labourer cannot hand over land given to him.

The CPM leadership refused to attach any importance to the criticism. One leader said: “They (the Forward Bloc) are making all these comments to keep their party supporters in rural belts active before the ensuing panchayat polls.” Panchayat polls, due in 2003, is likely to be held next year.

The Forward Bloc had fared poorly in the last panchayat elections and the party leadership admitted it in the conference.

   

 
 
TRINAMUL CORNERED IN KONNAGAR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chinsurah, Dec. 22: 
In a setback to the Trinamul Congress, which runs the Konnagar Municipality, the Congress today joined forces with the CPM to enforce a cease-work in the municipality office from tomorrow even as a 12-hour bandh passed off peacefully in the area.

Trinamul and the CPM had called the bandh separately in Konnagar to protest against the brawl during a municipality meeting yesterday. Schools, colleges and business establishments remained closed during the day and public transport stayed off the roads as the bandh-backers took out a string of processions.

The Congress and the CPM brought out a joint procession this afternoon in support of tomorrow’s cease-work.

“We will not allow the Trinamul chairman and other commissioners into the municipality office,” said Manas Roychowdhury, councillor and Congress leader.

   

 
 
POUS MELA CHASES CHARM 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Santiniketan, Dec. 22: 
It’s back to the roots for pous mela. Perturbed by increasing complaints from various circles that the century-old crowd-puller in Tagore’s town has lost its rural nature due to an invasion of urban elements, Viswa Bharati University is giving several incentives to the artisans who have set up stalls at the mela ground.

University vice-chancellor Sujit Kumar Basu said: “We were facing criticism from various quarters that the fair has lost its charm with more and more urbanisation of its character. It is partly true. But this time we have taken care to ensure that the mela gets back its original form.”

Basu said more space has been allotted to accommodate all those coming from rural Bengal with their articles. Stalls selling products of the cottage industries in the state will also benefit. In addition, the university has waived all charges for the stalls put up by the rural participants.

Nearly 3,000 stalls have been set up for the mela which began today. There is an added buzz surrounding the mela this year with local boy and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen arriving a couple of days ago. The university authorities are expecting more than 10 lakh visitors from various parts of the country and abroad over the next few days.

Nearly 25,000 people arrived in the town on the first day. All the 150 hotels and guesthouses here are full, sub-divisional officer Amarnath Mullick said.

As in previous years, elaborate security arrangements have been made, including installation of close-circuit televisions and huge deployment of police, to prevent law and order problems during the annual extravaganza.

   
 

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