Cops flee commando camp
Parentage test for inmate son
People power & potent puff
Merchant murdered in Strand highrise
Court clears wider road
Freeze frame for freedom
The City Diary
Protest leaflets fan campus ire
Malaria alert in flyover fallout
Asim axes spending, points finger at Delhi

Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
When the going gets tough, some of our cops get going — right through the exit door.

Unable to cope with a rigorous counter-insurgency training programme in Hyderabad, four police officers from Bengal have taken the easy way out, heading back home, without informing the authorities.

The four sub-inspectors — Probhas Pal, Dipankar Sumar, Mohammed Naimullah and Samir Chakraborty — went to Hyderabad’s Greyhound Police Training Centre on January 1, as part of a batch of 38 hand-picked officers to specialise in anti-insurgency operations.

By mid-January, they had dropped out of the training programme and “disappeared”. They have since been traced by commanding officers of their respective battalions in Barrackpore.

Two other officers — Arjun Bhujel and L.T. Gaylong — have come under a cloud for having “excused themselves” from Greyhound “on medical grounds”. The deputy assault commander at the Hyderabad centre told the police top brass here that the two had said they were “physically weak” and so could not go through “the harsh training schedule”.

The four sub-inspectors who’re back in Bengal have been suspended, additional director-general, armed police, R.K. Mohanty, said on Wednesday. Investigations revealed that the four had left the Hyderabad centre by “declaring themselves unfit for the rigours of the counter-insurgency course’’.

In a special confidential report (memo-2/9/1/3 dated February 4), Mohanty has termed as “flimsy” the excuse offered by the four officers.

Referring to their behaviour as “extremely irresponsible’’, Mohanty directed the “respective commandants to issue chargesheets to the four officers’’.

According to police sources, some of the best officers from the units were sent for advanced training to Hyderabad. This followed a decision taken in Delhi late last year to raise a force trained in counter-insurgency operations in Bengal.

“The training at Greyhound, the best such centre in the country, includes use of sophisticated firearms and unarmed combat. The officers are kept without food and water for days, taught combing and search operations, besides being subjected to severe conditions to test their survival skills,’’ said joint commissioner of armed police Raj Kanojia.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
A deaf-mute inmate at the Liluah Home for Destitute Women, who tested pregnant last year, delivered a boy recently. DNA tests will now be conducted on the inmate, the baby and an employee of the home, believed to be the father.

The home authorities and the state welfare department were trying to hush up the incident but on Wednesday, the authorities of Sukanya, the Salt Lake-based home where the inmate was shifted, confirmed the news.

“The tests will be carried out soon,” said J. Sunder Shekhara, director of the state welfare department.

Vivek Kumar, district magistrate, Howrah, said: “Since the incident took place before I assumed charge, I am not aware of it. Even if the girl does not lodge a complaint, we can take action against the ‘father’. Pregnancy in state-run refuge centres is against norms.”

According to home sources, the employee under the scanner went to the state welfare department office in Salt Lake a few weeks ago to meet the director, but was denied permission. “He told us he was innocent,” said the department employees.

Sources said the man had fallen in love with the deaf-mute inmate four years ago and the home authorities had married them off.

“We had requested the authorities to provide him with quarters on the premises,” said an employee at the Liluah centre.

At the home, where he had been working for the past seven years, the man was a frequent visitor to the inmates’ cells. Four months ago, when the girl tested positive for pregnancy, the needle of suspicion turned to him.

The inmate was shifted to Salt Lake, since the authorities did not want the staff to tamper with the investigation. “We decided to shift her to a place where the suspect would not get a chance to meet her. In all probability, he would have tried to block the course of the probe,” said a home employee.

Earlier, the state welfare department had ordered the district administration to conduct an inquiry into the incident. But being physically challenged, the inmate could not face the interrogation.

“She could not express herself,” said the investigators. During the course of the probe, the sleuths discovered that the suspect had access to the cells and would often visit the inmates beyond working hours.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
He’s paid more than Rs 9 crore to the Central Board of Direct Taxes in the last fiscal. He employs over 70,000 people in 36 offices and 11 manufacturing units spread across India. He lives by his laptop and enjoys driving his Pajero. He also makes bidis.

G. N. Shaha, recipient of Rashtriya Samman 2002 for being “one of the top three tax-payers in the business category”, has made a fortune selling the popular puff. The Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, alumni has made Meghna Bidi a household name in Agartala and the Kutch, Amritsar and Hyderabad. But the only time he lights up is during quality checks on his bidis.

For the man who heads M/S Ganesh Chandra — started by his grandfather by the river Meghna, in what is now Bangladesh — the government award is “less a personal accolade”, and more a recognition for the industry that has never been given its due, “despite its contribution to the government kitty and role in resolving rural unemployment problems”.

Shaha has recently been chosen by the labour department for an award to recognise the company’s achievement in creating employment opportunities for unskilled labourers in the rural sector.

But the road to recognition has been a “rough one”, he recalls. “I was always bullied by people because of my association with the bidi industry…This made me very flashy in my college days. I remember getting an imported Volkswagen in my first year in college.”

But the taunts only strengthened his resolve to give the bidi business his best shot. “After passing out from IIMC, I could have easily borrowed some money from my father and started a so-called respectable business. But I wanted to show the world that even bidi manufacturers can earn big money,” says Shaha.

Now, Shaha employs around 36,000 workers in Bengal alone, a state where he does not sell a single bidi — because of the local makes flooding the market and a lack of brand loyalty.

Worker welfare — be it PF and ESI or special educational and health facilities for the children — figures high on the priority list. “Workers are provided with tobacco, thread and kendu leaves and are paid on the basis of productivity. On an average, my employees earn Rs 100 to Rs 150 a day,” announces Shaha, who has “never faced a day’s labour trouble”.

Marrying tradition with technology, Shaha has opted for IT. All his offices are computerised and e-mail is the mode of communication. Every evening, Shaha sits with his laptop to track the daily sales data. “Ours is a pen-down organisation and even a 25-paise voucher is computer-generated,” he explains.

The mood in the bidi baron’s plush central Calcutta office is buoyant. “We have grown from a Rs-3 crore company to Rs-100 crore-plus in less than two decades,” says Shaha, busy grooming the next generation to bolster the bidi boom.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
A 40-year-old timber and cotton merchant, Satyendra Prasad Singh, was brutally murdered in his Strand Road apartment on Wednesday. Singh’s body was found on his bed with his hands tied behind his back, feet touching the floor and his throat slit with a sharp weapon.

Preliminary investigation revealed that unknown assailants had first suffocated him to death with a pillow, before slitting his throat. Two persons, including a guard of the apartment block, have been detained.

“Revenge could be a motive, but we are exploring all possible angles,” deputy commissioner of police (north) K.L. Tamta said on Wednesday evening.

“He had been living alone in the flat since January 29, as his wife had gone to Patna,” Tamta said. The almirah in the flat was left untouched. “There has been no attempt at ransacking the flat. It seems the killer was just out to eliminate Singh, which explains why everything was left as it was,” Tamta said.

Around 2 pm, a resident found the door to Singh’s apartment ajar and blood all over the floor. “There was blood everywhere, even when we entered the flat. Someone had killed him early in the morning and then placed his body in the bedroom,” said a senior officer of Jorabagan police station.

According to police, Singh, who owns a timber shop in Sealdah market and a cotton yarn store on the ground floor of the multi-storeyed apartment block, generally kept to himself.

Local residents told the police that Singh did not have any enemies. He would cook for himself and his wife and did not even employ a domestic help.

Singh would leave his apartment in the morning and return late in the afternoon.

Police officers, seeing the manner in which Singh was murdered, believe that the killer definitely had a long-running feud with him.

“Most of the residents of the apartment block seem to know Singh’s visitors, who were not many. Someone could have hired a contract killer to eliminate Singh,” an officer said.

Both the guard and the residents of the apartment block did not notice anybody leave or enter the flat throughout the day.

“Nobody seems to have a clue why such a man was killed so brutally,” an officer probing the case said.

The police on Wednesday evening questioned over a dozen persons connected with Singh’s timber and cotton businesses. They were trying to ascertain whether Singh had any business rivals in Bihar.

“He had a lot of business dealings in Patna and Ranchi. We have asked our counterparts there to check out some aspects which could help us solve the case,” the officer added.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
Hurdles before the proposed widening of Grand Trunk (GT) Road from Calcutta-Howrah to Delhi have been removed after two years of legal battle when Calcutta High Court declined to hear a petition by traders seeking a stay on Wednesday.

A large number of traders, who have encroached on GT Road, moved court to stay the widening of the stretch on grounds that it would lead to their displacement. Dismissing the petition, Justice Ashok Ganguly said the court felt the scope of development could be best determined by the government agency assigned to carry it out.

The National Highway Authority (NHA), entrusted with widening the GT Road for faster traffic movement, can now take steps to evict the traders from either side of the road. Eviction notices will soon be issued.

Counsel for the NHA told the court that two maps of GT Road showed enough scope for the thoroughfare to be widened by 150 feet.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
Place: A small room in one of the largest red-light areas in Calcutta.

Action: A camera pans on a group of nine children attending a photography class taken by Zana Briski, an international award-winning photographer.

Shot: The camera zooms in to capture the bright sparkle in 10-year-old Bablu’s eyes, the shy moon-face of Tikli or the blue-and-black swollen patches on Nina’s arms. “Cut it, Ross,” says a voice from behind. The camera zooms out. Ross Kauffman, a Manhattan-based documentary filmmaker, shuts his camera lens. Over the past few months, he has shot every nuance of these children, who come to attend Zana’s classes.

These children live in sordid conditions — much abused and powerless. “It is verbal abuse, physical abuse and emotional abuse… I have tried to capture the bizarre contrast of pain and joy, the dreariness of their everyday life and the happiness they derive from Zana’s classes. The camera is their only access to the idea of freedom,” says Ross.

He has already shot 150 hours of footage for the documentary on these kids. Their dreams pitted against the hopelessness of their situation and the stigma they face from society make the documentary come alive, says Ross, acknowledging that it is difficult to get any kind of help for these kids who have lost out on their childhood. But he has tried to portray them as ‘normal kids’. “It’s the least I could do for them,” he sighs.

Did he face any problems working in an alien environment? “It is difficult to understand emotions sometimes without knowing the language,” he says. “For example, one day I saw the children very quiet. I knew there was something wrong but could not exactly understand what.” Priya, who works as the language bridge between Ross, Zana and the kids, later told him how Nina had been beaten up for attending the classes. The sadness seems to have spread among all of them, says Ross, who is “very worried” about the demure little 10-year-old girl.

But what made this Manhattan man dump everything and come to Calcutta? “The love of working with people.” Ross was initially approached by Zana, who had come to shoot the lives of sex workers in Calcutta in 1997 and ended up teaching their children photography. The photographs have been displayed at an auction at Sotheby’s and will also be part of the Amnesty Calendar this year.

Twelve-year-old Avijit, one of Zana’s star students, has recently been selected as a jury member of the World Press and will be flying to Amsterdam next week. Ross intends selling the documentary to different broadcasters, like BBC, HBO, Discovery and PBS, the money from which will be used for the children. Will he be able to give them a future? Ross is not so sure. “At least I will be able to earn them one step towards freedom.”


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 

Sex education in classrooms

Alarmed at the increasing number of people infected with AIDS, the government is soon going to make sex education a compulsory subject at the secondary level. The new subject will be called education on reproductive health. It will be taught in Classes IX and X, health minister Suryakanta Misra said at Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday. He has already discussed the matter with school education minister Kanti Biswas and the syllabus committee has been asked to incorporate the subject in the course. “It is an ominous sign that more and more pregnant women are being found to be infected with the killer disease. A knowledge of safe sex has become necessary,” the minister said. A fortnight-long awareness campaign will start on Thursday.

Surgery on Center cop

Roshan Chhetri, a policeman of the 5th Battalion, who was on duty at the American Center during the January 22 attack, had his right leg amputated on Tuesday. He was seriously injured after being shot from close range. Surgeon superintendent of SSKM Hospital D.D. Chatterjee said on Wednesday that Chhetri was operated below the knee. The strike claimed the lives of four policemen on the spot. Another succumbed to his injuries at SSKM Hospital later. Five policemen are still recuperating in the hospital.

Murder arrest

The owner of the car used by Darren, prime suspect in the murder of Moghul, Congress leader of the Garden Reach area, was arrested in Kidderpore. Deputy commissioner of police (port) H.P. Singh said on Wednesday that the arrested person was identified as Asfak Ahmed.

Student hangs self

Sucharita Pande, 17, a student of Class XI, committed suicide on Tuesday night by hanging herself from the ceiling fan of her apartment in the police housing estate, in Howrah. Police said on Wednesday that Sucharita was “depressive”. Sucharita, daughter of a constable with the Jagatballavpur police station, had locked herself in her room after being scolded by her parents on Tuesday night for poor performance in the school examinations. She was declared brought dead in the hospital. The body has been sent for post-mortem.

HC order

Calcutta High Court on Wednesday directed chief secretary Souren Roy and industry secretary Jawhar Sircar to attend court on March 1 for their “wilful violation” of a Supreme Court order, dated October 14, with regard to the reinstatement of 12 employees of BG Press. The press authorities had terminated their services in 1989, arguing that their names had not been recommended by respective employment exchanges.

Trader shot

A 42-year-old businessman was shot dead by miscreants at Asokenagar, in North 24-Parganas, on Wednesday. Police said he was murdered because of business rivalry. Local markets remained closed on Wednesday to protest the murder. No one was arrested, police said.

Body found

The body of a middle-aged woman was recovered in Posta on Wednesday.    

Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
The situation at Bengal Engineering College (Deemed University), in Shibpur, took a turn for the worse on Wednesday after the Left-backed non-teaching staff union distributed leaflets attacking the teachers.

The union members condemned the teachers for their alleged role in supporting the students responsible for creating trouble on the campus on December 23. Tension was rife, as the leaflets held the teachers’ body and the students responsible for the ongoing crisis. The contents of the leaflets irked a section of the teachers, who threatened to take up the matter with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

“The leaflets malign the activities of the teachers and students’ bodies. We will make sure the chief minister goes through the contents,” said the teachers.

Meanwhile, work in the college was affected on Wednesday with the resignation of registrar P.K. Ray on Tuesday. Ray, a senior teacher and member of the Bengal Engineering College Deemed University Teachers’ Association, who was officiating as registrar, filed his resignation on the request of the association leadership.

At a meeting held this week, the association had reportedly requested Ray to resign. College sources said the examinations, earlier postponed due to the closure, began on Wednesday. “The college is going through a never-before crisis. We are doing our best to restore normalcy,” said Santanu Karmakar, teachers’ association general secretary.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
The SSKM Hospital authorities have sent an SOS to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) over a possible outbreak of malaria on the campus, following a breach in the sewer line under A.J.C. Bose Road. The breach reportedly took place during the construction of the Beckbagan-Rabindra Sadan flyover.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Wednesday directed member, mayor-in-council (drainage & sewerage), Rajib Deb, to inspect the spot on Thursday. “It is the duty of Larsen & Toubro — the company that’s constructing the flyover — to repair the breach,” said Mukherjee.

While the CMC and PWD are busy passing the buck, more than 250 residents at the hospital quarters are harassed by the overflowing water and a possible outbreak of malaria, said hospital superintendent Debdwaipayan Chattopadhyay on Wednesday. “Local councillor Ratan Malakar had been promising to send his men for repairs, but two weeks have passed and nothing has been done,” he added.

The run-off water from the campus is usually drained into the brick sewer, running under AJC Bose Road. A month ago, Chattopadhyay said, during the piling of an eight-foot-deep pit, the brick sewer was damaged, creating a block in the underground lines.

Chief engineer (drainage & sewerage) Dilip Sanyal said he had told the company on Wednesday to carry out immediate repairs. The PWD and L&T had been trying to pump out water with two sets. “The overflow would not have taken place if the engineers had informed us before undertaking the piling work,” said Sanyal.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
The Left Front government is likely to drastically prune its plan expenditure in the 2002-03 budget following the Centre’s decision to cut revenue-sharing with states.

The government had planned to set aside Rs 10,000 crore for plan expenditure for the next fiscal, a 10 per cent increase over the previous year. But this is likely to be reduced.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta today accused the BJP-led Union government of forcing the state to “severely reduce” its plan spending for the next financial year.

He said the Centre’s liberal import policy had ruined the country’s indigenous manufacturing industry. The Centre’s economic policy was also responsible for the poor collection of revenue from the industrial sector, he added.

“We are entitled to get 29 per cent of the revenue collected by the Centre from Bengal every year. Recently, the Union finance ministry informed us that its collection of revenue from different states underwent a sharp decline during the past four months. Consequently, its revenue-sharing with the states in the next financial year will be much lower than expected. We have prepared our planned budget expenditure on the basis of the projected revenue earnings from the Centre. Now we have no other option than to prune our development expenditure,” Dasgupta said.

Other ministers, too, are worried over the possible impact of the Centre’s decision on their departmental budget allocations. They raised the issue at a Cabinet meeting yesterday, alleging that the finance minister had cut down their budget proposals by more than 50 per cent without even discussing it with them.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has asked Dasgupta to initiate discussions immediately with the aggrieved ministers before finalising their departmental allocations.

Admitting that most ministers were unhappy with the cut in their departmental allocations, Dasgupta said he hoped to complete his discussions by this week. He did not divulge whether the disputes had been resolved.

However, at least two ministers who met Dasgupta today, indicated that their plan expenditure could be drastically slashed.

In a related development, the second state finance commission, constituted under the chairmanship of Deb Kumar Basu on July 14, 2000, submitted its final recommendations on revenue allocations and decentralised expenditure by government departments to the chief minister at Writers’ Buildings today.

The commission had earlier submitted its interim report to the government on May 28, 2001. The finance minister said the commission’s report would be placed before the House during its budget session.


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