Blood trail on killer curve
Babe in the bushes saved by Samaritan
We’re all game for Les Blues
The City Diary
No room for the bleeding
Dark clouds and a pall of gloom
Wakf tribunal on property
Arrests reveal job scam

Calcutta, April 12: 

Driver trick turns tragic

It was a moment of youthful bravado that led to the death of 22 pilgrims, on their way to a religious mela in Domjur on Friday.

Friends of 28-year-old Tapan Naskar describe him as rash and impulsive, and, at best, a “bad driver”. Zooming down Kona Expressway at over 75 kph, and virtually at the neck of a turning, Tapan decided to try one of his ‘tricks’, witnesses said.

He took his hands off the steering wheel and tried to manoeuvre the van. Just then, a truck loaded with stone chips appeared at the bend. By the time Tapan had his hands back on the wheel, it was too late. The lorry and the Matador had collided head-on. The Matador, reduced to a mass of smashed steel, rolled over a few times before coming to a stop.

Lying on the floor of the Howrah zilla hospital and nursing serious injuries, 25-year-old Gobinda Naskar, a passenger on the Matador and a friend of Tapan, recounted: “I was sitting behind Tapan and watching the careless way in which he was driving. I was really scared. When Tapan was speeding down Vidyasagar Setu, I repeatedly requested him to drive carefully or else we would meet with an accident. But Tapan was not one to listen to sane advice.”

It was while the vehicle was travelling down Kona Expressway that Naskar saw Tapan take his hands off the steering wheel. “I thought he had gone mad, trying such a trick while we were going at such a speed,” Naskar recollected. “It was then that I suddenly saw a truck coming from the other direction. I knew it was all over.” Naskar remembered the crash, but nothing thereafter. When he regained his senses, he was writhing in pain on the hospital floor.

But for people on that stretch of the expressway, accidents have become a way of life. In the past year, there have been at least half-a-dozen major accidents on that spot, but nothing to compare with Friday’s killer collision.

But most residents of this part of Howrah see a “divine” hand in the spate of mishaps. Some trace it to a Manasa temple which stood in the middle of the road, but was shifted to one side when the expressway was constructed. “We had requested the government not to remove the temple, but no one listened to us,” said 60-year-old Shantirani Das. “Maybe, Ma Manasa is angry about it.”

But Howrah’s traffic police see a human hand in the accidents here. A sharp bend in the road, accompanied with rash driving, has been causing the accidents, the police explained.

“I have seen a number of lorries overturn at this very spot because they have attempted to negotiate the sharp turn at high speed," said additional director general of police (traffic), K.J. Singh. “If they had been careful while driving, most of the accidents could have been averted.”

Drivers, however, have complained about the absence of signboards along the approach to the curve, cautioning motorists to slow down. Had these, or even red warning lights, been there, perhaps fewer people would have lost their lives on this killer curve.


Calcutta, April 12: 
It was a faint sob that emerged from a bush, a few metres from the mangled Matador, long after the accident site on Kona Expressway had been cleared of the bodies and the bleeding.

Shibani Ray had just opened her tea-stall at a place local residents call Ushnani Garpa, off the village they call Kalitala. Nothing except that sob, and a slight movement, betrayed the presence of Mampi Naskar, all of two years old.

Mampi did not know that her world had crumbled around her. She was now an orphan. Her parents, 26-year-old Ranjit Naskar and 23-year-old Chaitali, baby girl in tow, were on their way to a temple at Nanna to pray to Lord Shiva.

They were part of a four-Matador group that had set off from their village, Ashuti, in the Maheshtala area of South 24-Parganas, at the crack of dawn so that the pilgrims — most of them daily wage-earners — could return to work before the start of the day.

Some 90 minutes before Shibani was alerted by the child’s gentle cries, one of the four Matadors had smashed into a truck on Kona Expressway. Both Mampi’s parents had died soon after the accident. They were among the 22 victims.

Mampi, when Shibani found her in the undergrowth by the expressway, was half-asleep. Her nose was bleeding, but there were no other visible marks of injury. “God has saved her,” Shibani thought.

She immediately downed the shutters of her teashop. “I feared that the girl might have been hurt seriously in the fall,” Shibani said later. She rushed home with the child.

It was around 8.30 am. The first thing Shibani did was call a local doctor. Then, she got her family members to ring up Mampi’s relatives in Maheshtala. The second gesture did not cost much, but the first accounted for more than what Shibani had earned on Thursday from her teashop — the doctor charged Rs 75 for the ‘home visit’.

“I was just not thinking about the money at that time,” Shibani recounted. “All I was thinking of was what the doctor would say after examining the girl.” The doctor did prescribe some medicines, but assured Shibani that there was no cause for alarm.

Mampi’s uncle, Shantanu Naskar, who learnt about the accident via the telephone at grocer Jagadish Naskar’s outlet in Ashuti village, reached Shibani’s house at around 10 am.

“To my pleasant surprise, I found Mampi quite all right and quite at home,” Naskar later said. Leaving the girl “in the safe hands” of Shibani and her family, Shantanu rushed to the Howrah State General Hospital to claim the bodies of his brother and sister-in-law.

Mampi — oblivious to the tragedy that had befallen her — remained in good spirits for quite some time. But suddenly, around noon, she started crying for her mother. And there was no stopping her. “Maar kachhe jabo, bari jabo (I want to go to my mother, I want to go home),” she wailed. “I did begin to panic,” Shibani admitted.

Mampi was finally taken back home by anchal pradhan Kishore Sardar and minister of state for Sunderbans, Kanti Ganguly. But her cries for her mother went unheeded.


Calcutta, April 12: 
Zinedine Zidane setting up a Thierry Henry scorcher at Salt Lake stadium? The football fan’s dream to see the stars of the World Cup-winning French team on home turf may not be all that distant, after all. If things go according to French ambassador Bernard De Montferrand’s plans, at least some of Les Blues heroes will sweep Calcutta off its feet in 2003.

The French embassy is thinking of flying in a French football team to Calcutta — “a city that shares the same kind of passion for the sport” — to complement the Season of France series of 12 technical seminars, covering seven-eight Indian cities, in 2003. “When we want to enhance relationship between two countries, what is always difficult is to identify areas in which we could act so that there is more popular consciousness,” Montferrand said on Thursday. “If you think in those terms, what immediately comes to mind is football. So, we hope to bring a quality French football team to Calcutta.”

Montferrand felt “contact between our public opinions through football” can definitely take place. “That’s sometimes much better than any kind of diplomacy.” A firm believer of building bridges through sports, he also confirmed a golf-cum-business visit to Calcutta this summer by a corporate delegation.

To further ties with Bengal, the French embassy will organise an exhibition of Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings at the Pompidou Centre in Paris next year. “Tagore is very well known in France as a great poet and writer. This will be an occasion to discover another aspect of this great intellectual,” said Montferrand.

The ambassador, who visited “French roots” in Chandernagore during this trip, is keen to build on this “common past” and is exploring the possibility of a good “twinning sister agreement” with a French town. Also being discussed is a tourist circuit “with heritage hotels” along the Hooghly. Stressing the need to preserve the past, Montferrand said there was “definite scope for French technical expertise” in the restoration of Calcutta’s “magnificent old buildings”.

For business in Bengal, the ambassador said: “Till even two years ago, Calcutta was not on the radar screen of French companies, but the image of West Bengal as an economic destination has improved. I want to make French companies more aware of this new phenomenon.”



CPM leader held for Dum Dum murders

Police surrounded the residence of CPM leader Dulal Banerjee on Friday morning and took him into custody on charges of masterminding the murder of two Noabagan youths, Chandan Chakraborty and Sanjay Goswami. Banerjee’s arrest sparked protests in Dum Dum and adjacent areas with his supporters disrupting traffic on BT Road. They also squatted on rail tracks and in front of Metro stations in north Calcutta. According to CPM sources, Banerjee is a member of the party’s Dum Dum zonal committee. His arrest came a couple of hours after state party secretary Anil Biswas held a high-level party meeting in the area where he stated that the CPM leadership would not protect supporters engaged in criminal activities. The party has ordered an internal inquiry. “Police are investigating the incident. Let the law take its own course,’’ Biswas said.

Chandan and Sanjoy had been picked up from their house in the Cossipore police station area about a month ago and beaten to death. Investigations revealed that the two youths were killed because of “political rivalry and dispute over share in construction activities in the area’’.

Smooth end to Tolly drive

The second phase of eviction along Tolly’s Nullah, from Kudghat to Tollygunge Circular Road, went off peacefully on Friday. District magistrate, South 24-Parganas, Alapan Bandyopadhyay and superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly supervised the drive, in which 650 structures, including 10 buildings, were demolished. According to Bandyopadhyay, the settlers put up no resistance. “Illegal structures over 4.5 km on either side of the canal were cleared today,” he added. Two pay-loaders and 10 trucks were deployed for the drive. A school on Tollygunge Circular Road, Shibkali Vidyamandir, was spared, as a Corporation notice prevented the men from demolishing the building.

Principal gheraoed

Medical students of rival unions, the SFI and the Naxalites, surrounded the principal of Calcutta National Medical College on Friday evening to protest trouble on campus. Police said seven activists of the Naxalite union had gheraoed an SFI member, Pradipta Dutta, on Thursday night to force him to join their union. Dutta and other SFI members complained to the Bowbazar police that he had been assaulted. The Naxalite union alleged that the SFI was trying to malign its supporters.

Girl freed

Asha Sandhwani, the girl from Gujarat who had been languishing in Presidency jail since last December, was released by the sub-divisional judicial magistrate of Barrackpore on Friday. She was handed over to her relatives and they left for Ahmedabad.

Short-circuit fire

A fire broke out at Satyanarayan Park on Friday. Police said the fire was caused by a short-circuit in a transformer. Three engines fought the blaze.

House collapse

A middle-aged woman, Malpuria Debi, died when a portion of her apartment in the railway colony at Garagachha, Taratalla, caved in on Friday. The other residents were evacuated.

College quiz

The BE College School of Management Sciences will hold an inter-B-school quiz competition on Saturday.    

Calcutta, April 12: 
The authorities of Howrah zilla hospital were caught on the wrong foot when the police trooped in with the injured of the Kona expressway mishap on Friday morning.

“Since we had no beds available in the surgical wards, we found it difficult to accommodate the victims. Moreover, most of the doctors and nursing staff had gone back to their quarters after the night shift. The next batch had yet to arrive,” said an official of the hospital, on condition of anonymity.

“We had to finally call some of the doctors and ask them to cancel their day off,” he added.

Since beds were not available, at least nine of the injured were shifted to hospitals in Calcutta, another zilla hospital official said.

Samaresh Sapui, who received injuries in his back and neck, was being administered oxygen on the floor of the male surgical ward. “I cannot recall details of the accident. I think I became unconscious. When I came to my senses, I found myself lying here,” said Sapui.

A temporary concussion seemed to have left him in a daze. He could not identify a youth, who had supposedly been with him on the ill-fated Matador.

The hospital authorities found it difficult to tackle the relatives of the victims, who had started crowding the premises since 12 noon. “Identification of patients became a harrowing experience, since most of them were in no condition to talk,” an official said.

Initially, the relatives were not allowed to enter the wards. Later, the hospital authorities prepared a list of the victims and put it up at the inquiry office. The situation changed after Sunderbans development minister Kanti Ganguly visited the hospital with Sujan Chakraborty, CPM leader, South 24-Parganas. Immediately after Ganguly and his men left, the relatives forced their way in.

At least 18 victims — 14 women and four men — had died on the spot of the killer collision. Three women and one man, however, died after they were admitted to the zilla hospital.


Calcutta, April 12: 
An overcast sky did not deter the thousands of mourners from waiting for the bodies of their kin at Ashuti Netaji High School ground on Friday evening.

Basanti Sardar, who lost her daughter and son-in-law in the killer collision almost 12 hours ago, said: “I am waiting for their bodies. My daughter Chaitali and her husband Ranjit Naskar were married barely two years ago. Chaitali was my only daughter. I don’t know how I will rear her child, Mampi.”

In another corner, Sova Mondal was waiting for the body of her mother, Sundaribala Naskar. “My mother was with my brothers and a niece. I will never see her again,” Sova sobbed.

At about 6.30 pm, the cortege arrived, with the bodies of all the 22 victims. Dilip Kumar Banerjee, deputy superintendent of police, who was supervising the proceedings, said: “We have arranged for the bodies to be taken to Keoratala crematorium.”

At 7 pm, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee arrived with Sunderbans development minister Kanti Ganguly.


Calcutta, April 12: 
The inauguration of the Wakf Tribunal in the city by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today paved the way for the settlement of many disputed properties of the Wakf Board.

“The Wakf Board is authorised to decide on disputes over Wakf property and give its judgement. If someone is not satisfied with the board’s judgement, the decision can be challenged at the tribunal,” explained minority commission chairman K.M. Yusuf, who also attended the programme at Beliaghata. “It will function as an appellate authority to the Wakf Board.”

The tribunal, to be headed by senior additional district judge Abdul Motleb, will sit six days a week. The chief minister added that another judge will be added to the single judge tribunal.

The Trinamul Congress and the Congress had attacked the government inside and outside the Assembly on the alleged misappropriation of Wakf properties worth crores of rupees. The government then set up a committee headed by retired high court judge G.R. Bhattacharya to probe into the allegations.

The chief minister said today that the commission formed to look into the “Wakf scandal” would submit its report soon. “After we get the report, we will draw up an action-taken report and make both public. The government will not spare anybody who is found to be guilty,” Bhattacharjee said.

The chief minister said he had a detailed discussion with former governor and Madarsa Syllabus Reforms Commission chairman A.R. Kidwai, who assured him that the report would be submitted by June. Kidwai, who was to be present at the function, was indisposed.

Bhattacharjee said his government was determined to resist attempts by communal forces to foment trouble.

“Fundamentalists will not get breathing space in Bengal, the land of Rabindranath and Nazrul. The government is fully alert. I have asked the administration to nip in the bud any attempt by fundamentalists to whip up communal passion,” the chief minister said.

He assured that the minority community in Bengal would not be disturbed by communal forces.

Bengal ministers Mohammad Amin and Mohammad Selim, as well as Wakf Board chairman and Member of Parliament Hannan Mollah were also present on the occasion.


Malda, April 12: 
An international job racket has come to light with the youths arrested from a hotel here claiming that they had paid a total of nearly Rs 30 lakh for documents to travel to Bangladesh from where they planned to travel West.

Fifteen persons, including a Bangladeshi, were arrested from a hotel in Malda town yesterday. Two had fled the hotel.

The arrested youth reportedly told the police that they were bound for England, America, Italy and Canada in search of jobs.

Of those arrested, three each were from Amritsar, Hoshiarpur and Kapurthala, two each from Jalandhar and Ropar, and one from Uttar Pradesh, Dutta said.

“Thirteen of them had valid passports, but the visas were fake. As much as $560 were found on them. Of the two persons who had fled, one was a resident of North 24-Parganas and the other a Bangladeshi,” the police official added.

Police suspect that the two who fled the hotel and the Bangladeshi who was arrested were the middlemen. “The two persons who fled the hotel when we raided it were paid Rs 27 lakh by the youth. They had promised these youth that they would be safely taken across the border and trips abroad would be organised,” police said.

After bringing these youths to Malda, the middlemen tried to send them across the border from Mahadipur and Muchia in Malda and Hilli in South Dinajpur yesterday, Dutta said. However, they failed to do so because of the intensive patrolling by the Border Security Force and returned to Malda town where they stayed at a hotel.


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