Smooth strike, easy escape
Jharkhand jolt for cops in the dark
Girl who never returned
Partners in crime with ‘clean’ records
The City Diary
Book-lovers face frisking at fair entry, exit points
Township facilities for visitors
Teachers signal agitation over extra chores
First flight out to Haj
Tardy staff take their toll on tax-waiver scheme

Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
On January 23, a public holiday, they emerged from the Beniapukur bylane and flagged down the nearest taxi. Their destination: Howrah station.

They bought tickets for Gaya and boarded the morning express. All around, there were policemen tipped off about a possible getaway by those responsible for the previous morning’s attack on American Center. But the two young men in jeans aroused no suspicion and slipped by the sleuths.

After Monday morning’s encounter in Hazaribagh, these two boys from Beniapukur have been identified as Zahid, alias Idris, and Saleem.

This, at least, is how Calcutta Police officials reconstructed the escape of the two men who were gunned down in the heart of Hazaribagh, exactly six days after they struck terror in Calcutta. The reconstruction, however, might change, as more details unfold, a senior Calcutta Police official cautioned.

“This is the first time we are confronted with so many new faces — without a single criminal charge against them — on the list of suspected local contacts,” he said, explaining why the reconstruction was proving more difficult than usual.

“Mohammad Nasir, alias Badal, a trader in leather sandals in Beniapukur, was the key Calcutta contact for Zahid and Saleem,” said deputy commissioner, detective department, Soumen Mitra. Like most of the others rounded up after last Tuesday’s strike at the American Center, Nasir, too, did not have his name on the crime chart in even the local police station.

It was Nasir who arranged for the duo’s stay in Calcutta; it was he who took them to and arranged for their stay in the Hazaribagh flat where Zahid and Saleem were gunned down by policemen while trying to escape.

Two groups of militants – 12 in number — entered India through the border with Nepal on January 16. They split into three smaller groups of four each. One of these groups came to Calcutta.

Their addresses during their stay here — Beniapukur and Kidderpore. They got cracking from Day I. Three reconnaissance missions were carried out before the American Center strike.

The four, on two motorcycles, would meet at Esplanade around 6 in the morning. They would drive slowly up Chowringhee, studying the flow of traffic till the Center gates. They would time their ride by the second.

After studying the policemen and the change of guard, they would head south. One motorcycle would turn left into Middleton Street, the other would travel along Chowringhee.

After the successful strike on January 22, Nasir and two other local contacts — according to Intelligence Branch reports — arranged for another night’s stay in the city for Zahid and Saleem. “Our own investigations have led us to believe that Zahid and Saleem fled the city by train,” corroborated Calcutta Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty.


Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
The top brass of the city police was completely in the dark about the top-secret operation launched by the Delhi and Hazaribagh police in Jharkhand, even an hour after Monday morning’s encounter.

Senior officers woke up to the morning bulletins on various television channels on the breakthrough in the American Center case and the gunning down of two Pakistan-based militants.

Immediately on receiving confirmation of the news, city police chief Sujoy Chakraborty asked deputy commissioner (detective department) Soumen Mitra to leave for Hazaribagh with a few handpicked officers.

Not only were the city police caught unawares by the developments in Hazaribagh, they were also kept in the dark about the involvement of Delhi Police in the entire investigation. “We were not aware that the Delhi and Hazaribagh police were working in tandem and we did not have information about this morning’s raids,” Chakraborty said.

Following classified information from the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau and the state CID, the Central Intelligence Bureau had been monitoring the movement of suspected militants. Their information was that one of these groups was holed up in Hazaribagh for the past few days.

“Delhi Police acted on the basis of inputs from intelligence agencies. But we fail to understand why we did not have this information, despite being in constant touch with them,” a senior state police officer said.

Immediately after the terror strike at the American Center, the city police had only one piece of information to work on — that a group of non-Indian residents had arrived in the city after sneaking through the Kankarvita outpost, on the Indo-Nepalese border. They had also learnt that the criminals had split into several groups and had stayed in Beniapukur and Sealdah, before holing up at Purnea, in Bihar.

“We were working on this information and had also gathered inputs that they might have gone to Gaya. But, we did not have any idea that the militants had gone to Hazaribagh and the police were after them,” said a detective department official.

When an officer of the anti-terrorist cell, oblivious of the developments in Jharkhand, called up detective department chief Mitra to inform him about the night raids carried out in central Calcutta, he found that Mitra had already left for Hazaribagh.

“The Purnea information turned out to be wrong. If at all the terrorists had been there, they escaped before the local police could act,” a senior detective said.


Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
Having lost faith in the administration’s ability to bring back his teenage daughter, who disappeared last September, a desperate father has sought the help of the judiciary.

The father, advocate Gopal Chandra Goswami of Calcutta High Court, on Monday filed a habeas corpus application seeking a court order to the effect that the investigating agencies produce his daughter alive before the court.

He said his daughter, Meghashree, a IInd-Year B.Com student, went to college on September 13 last year, but never returned.

Goswami said he had lost faith in the administration as he had approached almost everybody, including chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, but to no avail.

On November 26 last year, when the petitioner, along with his wife, met the chief minister at his residence in Palm Avenue, Bhattacharjee had assured Goswami that it was just a matter of time before the police found their daughter.

“More than a month and a half have elapsed and we have not received any information on our daughter yet. So I have approached the judiciary to get back my child,” Goswami said.

Supradip Roy, advocate for the petitioner, said Meghashree, who is 19-plus, was a student of East Calcutta Girls’ College, in Lake Town.

Her classmates say she was last seen on September 13 at about 1.30 pm. When Meghashree did not return home, her parents got in touch with her friends and relatives. Then they lodged a diary at Lake Town police station the same day.

Goswami stressed that Meghashree’s classmates, particularly her best friend, Mahua Roy, should be interrogated by the police or the investigating agencies to discover the whereabouts of his daughter. “I have made repeated requests to the police and the CID to interrogate her, but for some unknown reason, the police have not even approached her.”

The petitioner contended that a gang of criminals had abducted his daughter and her friends were refusing to speak up out of fear. “A thorough investigation can reveal the truth,” he maintained.

According to the petitioner, five of his daughter’s classmates — Anindita De, Jayanta Saha, Rima Pal, Mahua Roy and Moon Basu — had applied for anticipatory bail in Barasat Court and the matter will come up for hearing on February 4.


Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
They are the new kids on the crime block. Or, are they?

The police have a list of suspects who are believed to have helped Zahid, alias Idris, and his associates carry out the attack on policemen in front of the American Center. But there is one problem: They do not figure in the list of wanted persons with the city police.

“It is not as though they are new to crime,” said a police officer. “The problem, as we see it, is that they have been getting away with their crimes and so their names do not figure in our records.”

Some of the names that have been thrown up, post-Terror Tuesday, are Shaukat Ali, Mohammed Arif and Sheikh Zaman. These are the people who are believed to have been the ‘facilitators’ for the militants in the city. But after having got thus far, the police are not able to proceed any further.

Another problem for the investigators is that the intelligence network is missing. “If we had the grassroots-level network in place, we may have had some success in tracking down the culprits,” an officer said. “But even that is missing in this case. I suppose we had never imagined that the city would turn out to be such a haven for terrorists.”

Sources said police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty is “extremely unhappy” with the tardy progress in cracking the case. Since the American Center attack, the police have picked up over 150 men from all over the city and detained them for questioning. But till now, not much has emerged from their investigations. Chakraborty asserted that “investigations were on in full swing and we should be able to get to the local contacts of the criminals in the next few days.”

The police got to know of the new crop of local facilitators from a Union home ministry circular last December. It mentioned that several militant groups, including the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami and Jaish-e-Mohammed, were using both the state and the city as “operational bases”. It had warned the government that unless it got cracking, it would have to face “major problems”.



Howrah bans animal slaughter in open

The Howrah Municipal Corporation has decided to ban the slaughter of animals in the open. Corporation officials said on Monday that pressure from citizens has forced them to put an end to the age-old system. “We had to take the decision following complaints from people, particularly parents of children, ” said HMC commissioner Chanchal Bandyopadhyay. A drive will shortly be undertaken by the HMC’s enforcement wing, with assistance from the Howrah Police, to stop roadside slaughter of animals.

Three hurt in twin accidents

Three persons, including two children, were injured in separate incidents in the city on Monday. Two children were injured when a Maruti car skidded off the carriageway at the crossing of Kidderpore Road and Casurina Avenue. Both the children were taken to SSKM Hospital for first-aid. In another accident, a 30-year-old man was injured while the Maruti he was driving crashed into a tramcar. The man was taken to SSKM Hospital, where he was stated to be out of danger.

Award for musician

Sarod maestro Wajahat Khan of Calcutta, son of Ustad Imrat Khan, has won the Penguin Rozzet and Classic FM awards of the UK. The award was conferred on him for his latest CD composed on Raag Desh with the Medici String Quartet of the UK. He will perform at Rotary Sadan on January 31, accompanied by Tanmoy Bose.

Talk on microbes

Indian Mycological Society will organise a national symposium on ‘Frontier studies in microbes and host-microbes interactions’ on February 2 and 3. The symposium will be hosted by the department of botany, Calcutta University, at Taraknath Palit Siksha Prangan on Ballygunge Circular Road.

Man murdered

A 28-year-old man was hacked to death in Asoke Nagar on Sunday night. Police said the youth was murdered over a family dispute. One person was arrested in this connection.

Godown gutted

The godown of a tyre manufacturing company was gutted at Panihati, in North 24-Parganas, on Sunday. Fire brigade sources said five fire-tenders fought for two hours to control the blaze. However, there was no report of injury. The cause of the fire has not yet been ascertained.

Power theft

CESC, with police help, removed 575 illegal connections and arrested four persons near Howrah town on Monday. In Sankrail, 500 illegal connections were cut off and three persons arrested. In another raid, 75 connections were removed in Bauria and one person was arrested, police said.    

Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
In the wake of the terrorist attack on the American Center last Tuesday, the 27th Calcutta Book Fair will begin on Wednesday amid tight security.

On Monday, Fair officials urged visitors to subject themselves to extensive checks at entry and exit points during the next 12 days. Police said elaborate arrangements have been made to prevent untoward incidents during the fair. Seven metal detector frames will be installed and visitors will be required to pass through them.

At least 60 policemen, armed with automatic pistols, will be deployed at the fair ground. In addition, nearly 175 plainclothes sleuths are likely to monitor the crowd in the wake of any untoward incident.

“We had meetings with police officers and state home department officials and have taken necessary measures, keeping in view the recent terrorist activity in Calcutta. We appeal to the people to cooperate, as we will have to abide by police directives,” said Kalyan Shah, general secretary of the Publishers and Booksellers’ Guild.

The police have also directed the Guild to set up four emergency exits. Last year, the fair had drawn over 2.2 million visitors.

Stringent measures have been taken, especially for the foreign dignitaries. The foreign complex will have stalls set up by 15 European countries, as well as Latin American countries, such as Cuba, Chile, Argentina and Peru. Books published by Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy will be available at the Seagull stall.

Mayor’s demand

The fair has already stirred up a controversy of sorts with mayor Subrata Mukherjee threatening to stall the event if the Guild does not cough up Rs 1.60 lakh as service charges. “As it is, we charge only 30 per cent of the actuals, but if the Guild does not pay up, we will be forced to shut down the fair,” he said.

The theme of this year being the Netherlands, Rita Rahman, minister and deputy head of mission in the Royal Embassy of Netherlands, will inaugurate the fair on Tuesday. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will be present at the inaugural session. Netherlands Day will be observed on January 31, and February 2 will be Bangladesh Day.

Historian Arjun Dev will deliver the Ashoke Sarkar Memorial Lecture.

For the first time, the Guild has decided to allow senior citizens free entry on production of their voters’ identity cards.

The Guild has allotted 575 stalls. In addition, publishers of 180 little magazines have been offered table space.


Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
Salt Lake municipality on Monday announced the construction of drinking-water outlets and toilets at different blocks for nearly 40,000 visitors who come to the township daily.

Inaugurating a drinking-water outlet and a toilet complex, constructed by Bidhannagar Bikash Mancha, a forum at AE Block, municipality vice-chairman S. S. Ganguly said the civic body would take the initiative to build more such outlets.

“Though late, we have realised that public toilets and drinking-water outlets are essential in the area. With summer approaching, it is our duty to provide visitors with such services. We have sought the assistance of entrepreneurs, NGOs and social organisations for the purpose,’’ Ganguly said.

Executive engineer of the municipality Sunil Dutta said some social organisations have already promised assistance in constructing such outlets.

“We have already identified some zones where the construction can be carried out. We shall provide land to entrepreneurs to construct the units at their own cost, said Dutta.

The company or the organisation will be allowed to collect a nominal charge from the users, said Dutta, adding that the private entrepreneurs could display their company’s name on the premises.

For years, Salt Lake has been devoid of drinking-water outlets and toilet complexes. “As a result, people dirty the walls of houses or gardens,” said an official.

S.P. Bagla, Mancha secretary, spoke of plans to construct more such units in the township.


Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
Academic activities at the state-aided primary schools are set to get hit as teachers are planning a movement protesting the failure of the government to create non-teaching posts.

None of the 51,000 state-funded primary institutions, the bulk of which are in the city, have non-teaching employees as the state government has not created such posts for schools. This means teachers have to do the chores meant for non-teaching employees.

“We’ve been doing all sorts of work which are not related to our job, like opening and closing the doors and windows twice a day, cleaning the classrooms and a myriad clerical jobs. This has to stop,” said Dulal Mondal, headmaster of a primary school in Kalighat, south Calcutta. “How can the teachers impart quality education if they are required to do so many other things?” he asked.

The heads of a number of schools had appealed to the government to provide at least one non-teaching post for every school. But the demand has never been looked into, the teachers alleged.

Various teachers’ bodies, including the CPM-controlled All Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association, are worried at the government’s apathy to finding a solution to the problem.

The issue was recently raised at the annual meeting of the Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association, where many teachers and heads of schools decided to launch a movement if the government failed to give any assurance on creating such posts at the schools.

A senior official of the school education department said primary schools are not usually provided with non-teaching staff, as that would involve an additional expense, which the government can ill afford.

Another cause for worry is the meagre amount — Rs 50 — that primary schools get as contingency grant. “The amount is so inadequate that we (teachers) have to contribute to meet incidental expenses, like buying chalk and dusters for the classes. How long can we continue with such meagre funds?” wondered Amar Nath Ghosh, head of another state-aided school in Bowbazar.


Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
Civil aviation minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain will see off the first batch of Haj pilgrims from Calcutta on Tuesday at Netaji Subhas International Airport. According to Air-India sources, the airline will operate a Boeing-747 daily, to fly 6,031 pilgrims to Jeddah till February 12.

Airport police superintendent O.P. Gupta said separate arrangements have been made for the pilgrims’ check-in.

A former arrival wing in the international terminal will be used for the entry of the pilgrims, to avoid a mix-up with other passengers.

Special arrangements have been made for Immigration and Customs check-in, Gupta added.

Security has been tightened at the airport and the crowd coming to see off Haj passengers will be checked. However, like previous years, the authorities have made arrangements to ensure that the pilgrims are not inconvenienced.


Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
How many letters of intimation does one expect a civic employee to prepare in six months? Certainly not one, if it concerns a waiver scheme, which has become a prestige issue for the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) top brass.

But that is exactly what has happened to an employee of CMC’s computer wing, who has completed just one such letter in the past six months. His colleagues have fared slightly better — they have finished three.

When the CMC announced its waiver scheme in June 2001 for citizens who had defaulted in paying their property tax, it expected to make a profit of around Rs 150 crore and complete the scheme that began in July 2001.

With the civic body having been forced to extend the deadline by three more months and only about a tenth of the amount collected as of Monday, officials feel that the CMC may be forced to extend the waiver scheme further. The key reason for the delay, according to the officials, is the bane of any government sector’s style of functioning in Calcutta — poor work culture.

At least one-third of the staff at the computer wing of the assessment/collection section of the CMC, responsible for preparing the letters which are then sent to the citizen taxpayers, have fared “very poorly”, say officials. They have drafted less than 500 such letters in the past six months.

The wing has more than 40 employees. Around 13 have tallied up the letter figures to less than 500. The five single-digit employees have tallied up figures like one, three (two employees), five and seven, while four of their colleagues have worked harder to complete the letter figures of 11, 20, 50 and 52.

The letters, after being compiled, are sent to citizens who want to avail the tax interest waiver scheme. The scheme waives penalties for all defaulters who have applied, as well as the interest on the amount, depending on the length of time for which they have not paid the CMC any revenue.

“Though some of the computer-wing employees have to double up as systems analysts and, therefore, may not have found time to prepare the letters, most are simply lazy,” admitted a CMC official overseeing the department. “It’s because of them, along with the inefficiency of some middle-ranking officers of the rank of deputy assessors/ collectors, that the CMC has not been able to meet its self-imposed deadline of December 31,” he added.


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