Full stop for 24 hours
Papa’s pet on puff offensive
No fault in flyover, says Buddha
The City Diary
Fly ash banned for landfill
Ouster ploy, say students
Mayor linked to malaria rise
Dacoits prompt chemist strike
Eve-teasers shoot down man on bus
Democracy activist fights for ‘hijacker’ husband

Calcutta, April 14: 
Tuesday’s 24-hour industrial strike is expected to cripple life in the city, with public transport off the road and thin attendance in offices.

This has gifted Calcuttans with an extended weekend, beginning Saturday and stretching till Tuesday. The nationwide strike has been called by trade unions to protest the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s move to close down Central public sector undertakings, among other issues.

General secretary of the CPM’s labour arm, Citu, Chittabrata Majumdar, said that workers of both organised and unorganised sectors will participate in the bandh.

“We expect a spontaneous response from the people and we are confident of success, as there will be no public transport on the road,” said Majumdar.

Both Jadavpur and Calcutta universities will remain open on Tuesday. Pro vice-chancellors Ashoke Nath Thakur and T.K. Mukherjee said: “But if students can’t reach the campuses, what can we do ?”

Chief secretary S.N. Roy said on Sunday that Writers’ Buildings and other government offices will remain open. “In a circular, we have asked employees to attend office. But I have my doubts whether they will get public transport to reach office,” he admitted.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, too, expressed his doubts about public transport plying during the strike. “All major trade unions are participating in the strike. So, I am not sure whether drivers will take out their vehicles,” he added.

City police have made elaborate arrangements to prevent any untoward incident. “At all major intersections, there will extensive patrolling. Senior officers will monitor the situation from the special control room at Lalbazar,” said police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty.


Calcutta, April 14: 
After convincing papa Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to cut down on his smoking, Suchetana Bhattacharjee, second-year student of an 185-year-old institution, has turned her attention on her Presidency College-mates.

With the backing of the SFI and a large number of teachers — most of them members of the Left-backed West Bengal Government College Teachers’ Association — Suchetana has demanded that smoking by students be restricted to the canteens, the common rooms, the union rooms and the corridors leading to these places.

The no-smoking proposal put forward by the Dhumpan Birodhi Mancha, of which the chief minister’s daughter is a spokesperson, comes barely a month after the SFI’s conquest of the Presidency College Students’ Union. “We will continue our anti-smoking campaign till we are able to convince each and every student,” a student quoted Suchetana as saying at a recent Mancha meeting.

Members of the faculty have decided to raise the issue at the next meeting of the college teachers’ council and submit a memorandum to principal Amitava Chatterjee. “We have asked the principal to issue an order asking students not to smoke anywhere on the campus, except areas designated for smoking,” a teacher said. Chatterjee, however, said the smoking ban would only be considered after the demand was raised and approved at the teachers’ council meeting.

Sujoy Ray, general secretary of the SFI-controlled union, has voiced support for Suchetana’s puff offensive. “This is one of our first major programmes and we had already informed the principal of our demand.”

But the opposition Independents’ Consolidation has opposed the move. “We will oppose the ban if it does not apply to everyone, including teachers, on campus,” said spokesperson Rajesh Pandey.


Calcutta, April 14: 
Only flyovers can combat traffic chaos in Calcutta. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made this clear while inaugurating the Gariahat flyover on Sunday evening. The flyover, which took 29 months to complete, will be thrown open to traffic from Monday, Poila Boisakh.

“Every day, eight lakh vehicles hit the roads, which occupy only six per cent of the city area. In Shanghai and Bangkok, I have seen how they have managed the traffic flow beautifully, with the help of flyovers. There is no other way to tackle traffic congestion,” said Bhattacharjee.

The Gariahat flyover forms part of a Rs 400-crore project, covering four flyovers, by November 2003. It is also the first to be built with foreign aid. The Japan Bank for International Co-operation has pumped in Rs 360 crore, with the rest being provided by the government.

Bhattacharjee took the opportunity to snub critics of the flyover. Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who has questioned “the very purpose” of the Gariahat flyover, MLA Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay and mayor Subrata Mukherjee chose to skip the function at Nazrul Mancha. “After completing the flyover on time, some people are saying that it will serve no purpose. But the project was taken up after thorough research by our engineers and traffic planners and is sure to help ease congestion,” said the chief minister.

Among those present at the inauguration were Wataru Nishigahiro, charge-d’-affairs, Embassy of Japan in Delhi, ministers Asok Bhattacharya and Subhas Chakraborty and MP Somnath Chatterjee.



Canal clean-up without a hitch

The second day of the second phase of eviction along Tolly’s Nullah, from Tollygunge Phanri to the Keoratala crematorium, passed off peacefully on Sunday. The operation was supervised by deputy commissioner of police (South) Kuldip Singh. Nearly 250 unauthorised structures were pulled down without any resistance. Most of the occupants had left the spot with their belongings much before the operation began on Friday.

Dakshineswar restoration

CMDA has taken up the responsibility of restoring Kuthibari, on the Dakshineswar temple campus, where Ramakrishna Paramahansa lived and Swami Vivekananda and Girish Ghosh would visit him. Manoj Mazumder, who had supervised the restoration of Town Hall, has been entrusted with drawing up the restoration scheme.

Power theft

Nineteen persons were arrested from the Tiljala police station area early on Sunday for illegal hooking of electricity. The accused were remanded in jail custody till April 20.

Railway awards

At its 47th Railway Week celebrations, Eastern Railway presented 47 shields and cups to various divisions and departments and also a total of 199 individuals and 11 groups of employees for meritorious performance during the just-concluded financial year.    

Calcutta, April 14: 
The Environment Appellate Authority (EAA), the apex body on matters related to pollution, has issued an order banning the use of fly ash for landfill in the city and other urban areas.

While giving its verdict last week on the basis of complaints lodged by some individuals on the northern fringe of the city, EAA has directed the police to seize vehicles carrying fly ash.

“Not only will not any land be filled with fly ash but also no vehicle carrying fly ash will be allowed to ply in any residential area. Police will impound any vehicle carrying fly ash, seize the licence and inform it to the pollution control board. If the vehicle escapes, its number could be reported to the motor vehicles department,’’ the order says, adding that serious action will be taken against violators.

EAA appointed a committee led by Gitanath Ganguly to implement the order. The committee will include a senior advocate from Calcutta High Court, a technical officer with knowledge on environmental matters, a law officer from the pollution control board and the additional director general of police Balkar Singh.

To begin with, the committee will inspect a plot in Panihati filled with fly ash.


Calcutta, April 14: 
The exams of the 300-odd hostel inmates of the Medical College and Hospital begin from April 26. But college authorities have ordered them to vacate the hostels, following clashes between SFI and Medical College Democratic Students’ Association supporters that started late on Thursday and ended on Friday.

The ultimatum, coming just a fortnight before their exams, has not given them enough time to look for new accommodation, say students, most of whom belong to the MCDSA and the Chhatra Parishad. “This is just a ploy to get rid of us, as this is the only medical college in Calcutta where the students’ union is controlled by an anti-SFI organisation,” they said. Some teachers and teachers’ council members, too, have asked the college principal to reconsider the decision.


Calcutta, April 14: 
The city is in the grip of malaria and diarrhoea. The CPM in the opposition and Trinamul insiders in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) held mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s divide-and-rule policy in running the CMC responsible for the overall deterioration in civic services.

CPM chief whip Amal Mitra said that, according to an Infectious Diseases (ID) Hospital report, over 1,500 diarrhoea patients were admitted to the hospital in the past three months. Most of them were from 22 wards in the city’s eastern peripheries.

The rise in diarrhoea and malaria cases proved that there was a water scarcity in the city. Because of the severe water crisis, people were being forced to use and store water from various sources without questioning its quality, said Mitra.

Confirming the rise in diarrhoea cases, officer-on-special duty (health) Atanu Mukherjee said people in 15 houses on Harish Neogy Street, in north Calcutta, were down with diarrhoea on Wednesday. Four of them were admitted to ID Hospital.

Mukherjee said there was a marked rise in both malaria and malignant malaria cases in the city during the first week of April, over the corresponding period in the two previous years. Malignant malaria cases shot up 83 per cent in April over the last year.

This is the first time during the tenure of the Trinamul Congress board that more malignant malaria cases have been recorded than the previous year. Only 12 people in the city had contracted the disease in the first week of last April, over 22 this year.

“Councillors and citizens are confused about whom they should approach in the case malaria and other common diseases”, said Mitra.

The mayor had reduced the chief municipal health officer’s role, said Mitra, to that of the de jure head of the health department.

The mayor had appointed a superintendent of a chest clinic as officer on special duty (health). He officiates as the chief municipal health officer, who has neither any degree nor a diploma in public health. He has no experience in running or supervising civic clinics, either. Moreover, this OSD (health) is preoccupied with his private practice, alleged Mitra.


Mograhat (South 24-Parganas), April 14: 
Medicine shops in Mograhat have downed their shutters after dacoits struck at two drug stores on Friday.

Dacoits broke into two medicine shops — one a stone’s throw from the police station — at Mograhat bazaar on Friday night.

“Despite being informed around midnight about the incident, the police arrived only on Saturday morning. The dacoits looted my shop under the very nose of the police,” said the owner of one of the shops.

The recent spurt in dacoities and extortion cases has led shopkeepers and businessmen to threaten an indefinite trade bandh if the police do not take immediate steps to arrest the culprits.

Shopkeepers say they are living in perpetual fear, as the police do not take any action. Residents of the area add that, the day after the dacoities, shopkeepers and eyewitnesses are threatened to keep their mouth shut.

Mograhat police station officer-in-charge Champak Banerjee, however, refutes claims of police inaction. “Officers from the police station rushed to the shops as soon as we received the information. We hope to catch the culprits soon as we have already identified the gang and its leader,” he said.

The person believed to be behind most of the dacoities is Rafiq Gazi, a close associate of Mohammed Selim, who was once the crimelord of Mograhat. Gazi, charges against who range from murder to dacoity, was arrested last year and is now on bail.

“Immediately after his release on bail a few months ago, he once again became active and incidents of dacoities began to increase steadily. He also leads a gang of extortionists who intimidate traders and take money from them,” said a district police official said.

“Selim now remains in the background while his gang members carry out dacoities. Selim was arrested about three years ago and later released on bail,” said the official.


Calcutta, April 14: 
A 35-year-old man was shot dead in a packed private bus this afternoon for protesting against eve teasing.

Around noon, six youths who had boarded a private bus plying between Naihati and Barasat, started harassing a woman, according to passengers. Sanjit Das, a resident of Kalyangram in North 24 Parganas objected to repeated obscene gestures, leading to an argument.

“The hoodlums were passing obscene comments at the girl and gesturing at her for a long time and not a single passenger protested in fear,” a police officer said, quoting passengers. “As the teasing increased, the bus fell quite while the girl cringed in her seat in fear. It was then that Das decided he had to do something to protect the girl.”

Narrating the incident in the bus, the police said Das politely requested the eve-teasers to spare the girl. They laughed at him and told him to mind his own business. Then the altercation between Das and the hoodlums began, with the youths threatening Das with dire consequences if he did not stay quiet. Das, however, refused to do so.

It was at this point — when the bus had just crossed Jagatdal — that one of the six men pulled out a revolver and shot Das at point-blank range. The police said the youth who pulled the trigger reportedly shouted that Das deserved this fate for trying to interfere.

As Das fell in a heap, the miscreants fled. “Before leaving, they warned the driver that if he dared to lodge a complaint at the local police station, he would also be killed,” police added. The passengers then tried to revive Das.

“The driver was completely shaken and he did not even stop at a local hospital, despite our requests. Though Das had died from the bullet injury at the spot itself, doctors may have managed to perform a miracle if we had taken him to a hospital earlier,” a few passengers reportedly told the police.

A little later, bus passengers reported the matter to the Titagarh police, who impounded the bus and took statements of the travellers. “Most of them were shocked and refused to give any statement, fearing similar fate to that of Das,” a Titagarh police official said.

Das’ family members were informed of the incident later in the afternoon. Soon, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Jagatdal police station demanding that the culprits be arrested immediately. The police had to rush in reinforcements as the crowd swelled and the situation threatened to spin out of control.


Calcutta, April 14: 
Thintin Myinth recounts her days in the dense forests of Myanmar during the military onslaught in the 1980s and her flight to Mizoram one fateful night 14 years ago with a group of pro-democracy students.

In 1990, she read with avid interest about two teenagers diverting a Bangkok-Yangon flight to Calcutta and how the duo spent two months in custody before being granted bail.

Now a proponent of democracy in Myanmar, the diminutive Myinth has finally come to the city she has heard so much about.

But she has spent her time here not taking in its splendours but desperately trying to locate her arrested husband, Soe Myinth, and secure his bail at the earliest. Soe Myinth is one of the two charged with hijacking the Bangkok-Yangon flight.

“The last few days have been terrible for me. Right from Soe’s arrest from our Vasant Vihar residence in New Delhi, to my desperate attempts to locate him at Bhavani Bhavan and the police stations in Calcutta, it has been very difficult,” said Myinth.

She finally saw her husband at the Barrackpore court today, when he was produced before a magistrate and remanded to judicial custody till April 17.

“Someone told me that Myinth jumped bail. But we never received any court summons. Moreover, we have been living openly in New Delhi and doing a lot of journalistic work. Why should we hide from the law then?” the pro-democracy leader asked.

For the last few days, Thintin Myinth, an Aung Sang Suu Kyi fan, has been meeting lawyers and consulting experts in Calcutta to prepare the case so that her husband’s case is dealt with sympathy.

“The state government had intended to drop charges against Myinth as early as 1995,” said Myinth’s lawyer, Nandita Haqsar.

“Even after Myinth and his associate, Htin Kyaw, surrendered before Calcutta police in 1990, they were kept in guesthouses and given treatment amounting to political asylum. He was arrested under strange circumstances,” Haqsar added.

Myinth knows that it will be a while before the couple can again get back to work together. She still vividly remembers the day she first read about her husband’s exploits in Mizoram.

“I didn’t know him then, but I was surprised to learn that two teenagers had done something to draw the attention of the world to the cruelty in Myanmar,” she said.

“She tells me that she is determined to piece together their lives again and get on with the job at hand. For now, however, getting her husband out of jail is top priority,” Haqsar said.


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