Midnight murder on moving train
After bonfire, cop cover
Pageboys with phone bills
School files protection plea in court
The City Diary
Traders cynical about probe result
Illegal tag trail leads to court
Cops won’t bank on slack staff
Reprimand from mother drives girl to suicide
Peer worker gangraped in Howrah

 
 
MIDNIGHT MURDER ON MOVING TRAIN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 26: 
It was nearly midnight on Thursday, when Arun Bose boarded the last Diamond Harbour-bound local from Sealdah. The Citu leader was bound for his Sonarpur home. But he never got there.

The secretary of the Sealdah station porters’ union was shot in the head, at point-blank range, inside the compartment at Park Circus station. No arrests had been carried out till late on Friday.

Six months ago, Uttam Das, then general secretary of the Sealdah porters’ union, was fired on at Khardah station. Bose, 49, took over the reins of the union affiliated to the CPM’s labour arm while Das was recuperating.

According to the police, minutes after the train left Sealdah station and arrived at Park Circus, a couple of armed youth approached Bose and shot him in the head. When the train slowed near Bondel Gate, they jumped off and melted into the moonlit April night.

Bose slumped to floor of the compartment, bleeding profusely. But the few passengers in the compartment were too stunned to either rush to his aid or run after the assailants.

The lone voice of protest came from Sushil Mondal, who was accompanying Bose. “We didn’t suspect a thing when we boarded the train at Sealdah. We hardly noticed the two youths travelling with us in the same compartment, as we presumed them to be just fellow-passengers returning home by the last train,” recounted Mondal.

“But when the train stopped at Park Circus, they stood up, whipped out revolvers and pointed them at Bose. Before I could realise what was happening, one of them came up to Bose and pumped bullets into his left forehead… Bose fell to the floor and the miscreants jumped off the train.”

Mondal raised an alarm when the train arrived at Ballygunge station. Bose was given first aid, which proved hopelessly inadequate. “On our way to Sonarpur, he succumbed to his injuries,” Mondal said.

S.R. Das, deputy inspector-general, Government Railway Police, said the matter was being “thoroughly probed”, as it involved the question of passenger security on trains. “Prima facie, it does appear to be a planned murder by two youths, who harboured some grudge against Bose. We have been carrying out massive raids in various hideouts to track down the assailants, but no one has been arrested so far,” Das added on Friday.

Echoing Das, the superintendent of railway police, Sealdah, Gangeswar Singh, who visited Park Circus and Sonarpur stations on Friday, said the motive behind the murder was yet to be ascertained. “Bose would run a hotel near Sealdah station and provide jobs to unemployed youths. He was also in the habit of terminating their services. It does appear that the two youths could have been sacked by Bose recently. The murder might be a fallout of that,” observed Singh.

The murder at midnight sent shock waves through Citu members and union leaders. A number of porters assembled at the Nilratan Sirkar Hospital morgue, where the body was brought in for post-mortem, on Friday. They blamed the leaders of a rival Citu faction for Bose’s murder.

Thousands gathered at Sonarpur on Friday night, where Bose’s body was taken for cremation. Citu leaders and CPM party functionaries visited the Bose residence to condole his death.

Mrinal Das, Citu secretary, protested the delay in rounding up the two youth responsible for the murder. He threatened to launch an agitation if the assailants were not arrested “within the next 24 hours”.

“The police know who the murderers are. So, I don’t understand why they are waiting to pick them up,” said Das, adding that the Citu would organise a protest rally on Saturday.

Trinamul Congress Chief Whip in the Assembly and trade union leader Sovandeb Chattopadhayay claimed that the murder was the fallout of “intra-party squabbles” within the CPM’s labour wing. “We want an impartial probe into the murder. And we are worried over the sudden spurt in political murders these days,” said Chattopadhyay. He also criticised the cops for their “failure to carry out even a single arrest 24 hours after the murder” on the moving train.

   

 
 
AFTER BONFIRE, COP COVER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 26: 
The three-member internal inquiry committee, set up by National Library to clear the smokescreen enveloping Sunday’s bonfire of books, began its probe on Friday. More than 120 hours after the shocking incident on the National Library lawns, the members focused on security concerns, rather than the truth about the bonfire.

A vital decision to plug the security loopholes at the library was implemented on Friday itself — the deployment of Calcutta Police personnel to keep an eye on visitors and readers, as well as library staff. “We have realised that just the internal library security will not do,” a senior library official told Metro.

So, Friday found several policemen in plain clothes posted on the library campus and even inside the reading hall. Officials confirmed that it would be a permanent arrangement, “at least for the next six months”.

The three-member probe committee, comprising assistant librarian Tanima Sarkar, librarian R. Ramachandran and chief library and information officer H.P. Gedam, did take another ‘decisive’ step on their debut day.

They grilled the first witness of Sunday’s incident, a union leader, and hauled him up for taking the story to the media instead of the library authorities when he saw books being burnt with the refuse.

The witness, National Library Staff Association secretary Saibal Chakraborty, was told in no uncertain terms that what he had done “should not have happened”. Chakraborty, however, argued that he had tried to get in touch with senior library officials, but found no one around. “I had no choice but to approach the media, as that was the only way to stop what was happening,” he told the probe panel.

Also interrogated on Friday was Group-D employee Dhananjay Das. There were 22 library personnel on duty that day and each will be grilled separately, officials said. The probe team’s brief is to find out whether the book bonfire should be blamed on “ignorance” or “sabotage”.

The sabotage theory was propounded by library officials as the unions were protesting the one-year extension given to security officer S.K. Singh and another senior official, Mazharul Islam. Both are “in charge of the library campus” on Sundays and the security lapse resulting in the burning of books was clear proof of their “irresponsibility”.

The committee, however, all but steered clear of why and how the books were burnt on Sunday. Questions like who brought the books there, who ordered that the rubbish be burnt without any proper authorisation and who set the heap on fire, were not broached at all.

Instead, the committee dwelt on general security lapses on campus in recent times. “Two months ago, a man was seen walking out of the reading room with several books in his bag,” an official said. “No security official spotted it and it was left to other readers to draw their attention to it,” he added, giving an example of what was discussed on Friday.

   

 
 
PAGEBOYS WITH PHONE BILLS 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, April 26: 
This is one separation that should make most Calcuttans happy.

In a thumbs-down to the postal department, Calcutta Telephones — as much a part of the same Union ministry of communication family — is finalising plans to shift a part of its bill-sending responsibility to private agencies.

The target group for the courier firms to be engaged — high-end users like corporate groups, big industrialists and banks, which yield a large percentage of Calcutta Telephones’ revenue — leaves no one in doubt about the quality of service they expect from their new partners, say Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) officials. The move, also in keeping with the government’s current privatisation thrust, will include subscribers of BSNL’s mobile service. “Though the revenue from this section is not much in terms of money, it is a high-profile group that Calcutta Telephones has decided to woo,” a senior Calcutta Telephones official told Metro.

The decision to move away from the postal department comes at a time when Calcutta Telephones and the department of posts’ West Bengal circle are gearing up to face an impending threat in the basic telecom services sector by private-sector giant Reliance.

According to feedback Calcutta Telephones has received, Reliance has got in touch with the city’s STD/ISD booth-owners, seeking to know what they would like as incentives to cross over from the BSNL fold. These booths, with the other high-end users, contribute a major share of the Rs 1000-crore revenue Calcutta Telephones gets every year, say officials.

Unlike in the past, BSNL now has to pay the postal department for the services rendered. “Till October 2001, we did not need to pay anything to the postal department,” a BSNL official said. “But following the corporatisation of the telecom services, we pay the postal department like any other customer,” he added.

Internal problems with billing were another factor that induced the decision, officials admitted. The major problem, they said, was unaddressed bills, called “DE bills” in BSNL parlance. The bills without addresses ultimately reach the divisional engineers of the respective exchanges and it becomes their responsibility to redirect the bills to the correct addresses.

Engaging courier firms will force the Tiretta Bazar office to clean up its act, feel officials. “Hiring courier firms to deliver bills will also signal that we care for our high-revenue-yielding subscribers,” a BSNL official said. Tenders will be floated soon.

   

 
 
SCHOOL FILES PROTECTION PLEA IN COURT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 26: 
In the wake of protests over a fee hike, St Thomas Church School, in Howrah, shut down on Monday, failed to reopen on Friday. Students, who turned up to attend classes, went back dejected.

Though the principal and school officials were not available for comment, administration sources said the stalemate is likely to continue as, on Tuesday, the school had filed a case seeking protection from anti-socials.

The school authorities had downed shutters on Monday after an agitation by parents, demanding reconsideration of a recent decision of the management to raise tuition and other fees.

After the closure, the guardians lodged a complaint with the district administration. A tripartite meeting followed, and the school authorities were directed to reopen from Friday.

According to sources, the authorities had filed a case in the high court on Tuesday, alleging that measures had not been taken by the local administration to maintain discipline in the school.

In their complaint, the authorities said anti-socials, posing as guardians, continued to create trouble in front of the school on Tuesday morning.

The guardians’ association criticised the management for not reopening the school and violating the agreement signed at Monday night’s meeting.

They described the school’s decision to move court as a “motivated plan for killing time... This is a strategy to force the guardians to pay the hiked fees. The management is delaying the reopening, taking advantage of the helplessness of the parents,” said a member of the guardians’ forum.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
April 26: 

Hotels line up property tax dues

The authorities of The Oberoi Grand on Friday cleared property tax worth Rs 2.34 crore to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), mayor Subrata Mukherjee said on Friday. Water connection to the hotel had been disconnected after it refused to pay the tax. The hotel management then moved the high court and had its supply restored against an initial payment. The matter will come up for hearing on Monday. According to Mukherjee, Hotel Hindusthan International, which owes the CMC nearly Rs 60 lakh, is expected to clear the dues “at the earliest”. He said nearly 500 establishments which had not paid taxes have been identified. The CMC could be forced to turn off their taps, he warned.

Madhyamik results

The results of the current year’s Madhyamik examinations which were held in end-February will be published by May 31, Haraprasad Samaddar, president, West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, said on Friday. More than 5.7 lakh candidates appeared in the examinations.

Tuition ban case

The petition filed by an assistant teacher, Supriya Chatterjee, challenging the government’s decision to ban private tuition will be heard on May 7 by the division bench of Justice A. Kabir and Justice R.N. Sinha. On Friday, the case came up for hearing and counsel Kalyan Banerjee said his client was challenging the validity of the procedure followed by the government in banning private tuition. The court fixed May 7 for final hearing of the case.

Run over

An unidentified person was run over by a lorry near the Garpa bridge on Kona Expressway, in Howrah, on Friday morning. After the accident, traffic came to a halt with residents putting up a blockade, demanding the arrest of the driver who had fled with the vehicle.

Held for murder

Three persons were arrested on Friday for the murder of a guard of a hardware factory in Khardah. The body of Chhotelal Mishra, 61, was recovered near the factory on Thursday night.

Buddha play

The Bengal Shrachi Housing Development, a joint venture company comprising the Shrachi group and the West Bengal Housing Board, will organise a drama festival to mark the launch of its housing project at Rajarhat New Township. The three-day festival, beginning May 4 at GD Birla Sabhagar, will feature chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Poka.

Hepatitis-B camp

To increase awareness about hepatitis-B, Wockhardt clinic will organise mass awareness and immunisation campaigns in the city in two parts. In the first part, the programmes will be held in north and parts of central Calcutta on April 27 and 28.

Rehabilitation plea

A fresh petition was filed by Trinamul Congress MLA Sougata Roy on Friday in Calcutta High Court, seeking an order for the railways to rehabilitate the squatters by the railway tracks near Rabindra Sarobar. The squatters have been asked by the court to vacate the spot by April 30. Roy said the railways were arranging alternative land for squatters in other parts of the country.    

 
 
TRADERS CYNICAL ABOUT PROBE RESULT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 26: 
Following Tuesday’s devastating fire at Firpo’s market, shopowners feel that the probe will prove “inconclusive”, like the two dozen inquiries into other fires over the past five years.

What has made the traders sceptical of the outcome of the probe was the fact that of the 26 cases investigated in the past five years, sabotage was established in only two. An inquiry committee was set up in seven cases, according to minister for fire services Pratim Chatterjee.

Standing in front of the charred shopping centre, hours after the incident, M. Hussein, president of the traders’ association, raised allegations of foul play. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee was of the same opinion.

“We will meet chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee soon and demand rehabilitation,” said Hussein. “Smoke and flames started billowing from different directions simultaneously. It proves that the incident was the fall-out of a sabotage,” said a shopowner, who lost “almost everything” in Tuesday night’s inferno.

Director-general of fire services S.I.S Ahmed said: “Nothing can be ruled out. The police are probing the incident. Things will be clear after the forensic department submits its report.”

According to sources, around 16 big fires broke out in the past two years. “Only two cases proved to be a fall-out of foul play,” said a police officer.

Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner, detective department, said two recent cases of fire at Biswaroopa and Rangmahal theatres were due to sabotage.

A couple, Lalit Kankaria and his wife Pramila, were arrested in connection with the Rangmahal incident that took place on August 28, 2001. They were later released on bail.

“Our probe detected that the Biswaroopa incident, on November 15, 2001, was a clear case of sabotage. Since there was no electricity on the premises, we had concluded that the theatre was set on fire. We had arrested two persons, including the promoter,” added Mitra.

But investigators probing the Canning Street incident, in which 250 shops were gutted on December 17, 2000, had ruled that negligence led to the incident.

The investigation report of the Manohar Das Katra case, in Burrabazar, gutted on November 7, 1998, also hit a dead-end when sleuths failed to find out the exact cause. The probe report mentioned the incident as an “accidental fire”.

The cause behind other fires, like the McKinnon Mackenzie Building, Vardaan Market, Canal East Road shanties, Star theatre and Nandram Market, are still to be ascertained.

   

 
 
ILLEGAL TAG TRAIL LEADS TO COURT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 26: 
Calcutta, April 26: Three days after a fire ravaged Firpo’s market, its tenants decided to move court against the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s (CMC) decision to convert the property either into a garden or a parking lot.

“Why should we be made the scapegoats? If mayor Subrata Mukherjee claims that the market is illegal, what was he doing for so long?’’ asked H.P. Choudhury, of Indo-Culture Tours and Travels, one of the oldest tour operators in the city.

Another tenant, Nilanjana Choudhury, a computer consultant, who had her office in the same building, said: “We have a valid trade licence. How can the CMC issue trade licences if the structure is illegal?’’

The tenants say they have been paying rent at the rate of Re 1 per sq ft to Auto Distributors. “We have deposited Rs 5 lakh as security deposit to Auto Distributors,’’ H.P. Chowdhury said.

However, mayor Mukherjee said that during the day, he had written to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to hand over the Firpo’s plot to the CMC.

He has requested Bhattacharjee to cooperate with the civic body to prevent unscrupulous promoters and businessmen from acquiring the land. “We are determined to scuttle the landgrabbers’ plans. A motion in this regard will be brought up during the monthly meeting of the CMC,” he claimed to have said in the letter. According to Mukherjee, many senior officials from city’s traffic police department also feel that a parking lot on J.L. Nehru Road will help in tackling vehicle movement in the area.

Back at the charred carcass of Firpo’s, experts from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory visited the spot on Friday and collected samples from the site. CMC contractor Bijay Sau, who has been authorised to remove debris, said it will take a fortnight to clear the area.

   

 
 
COPS WON’T BANK ON SLACK STAFF 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 26: 
The police are at loggerheads with the authorities over who should take the blame for a spate of bank robberies in the city.

According to bank officials, the police have been casual in cracking the cases. On the other hand, the police say, bank employees have to be more serious about their job.

Last week’s incident, in which a group of youths entered Allahabad Bank’s Gariahat branch and walked out with Rs 2 lakh, has put the bank authorities in a spot. The miscreants had reportedly engaged the employees in conversation, and escaped with the cash.

A few months ago, some youths had entered the south Calcutta branch of another nationalised bank and made a call to the cashier from their cellphone. “As soon as the cashier went to answer the call, the youths picked up the cash box and walked out,” said Banibrata Basu, then deputy commissioner (I) of the detective department.

After five incidents of kepmari in different banks in the past year, the police, for the first time, are going to recommend that the insurance companies hold back compensation to the banks before verifying the cases.

Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Soumen Mitra, said: “The bank authorities are not bothered about such incidents, since they know that the insurance companies will reimburse the losses. Now, we intend to inform the insurance firms that they should check the circumstances before making payments.”

Refuting allegations, B. Samal, chairman, Allahabad Bank, said the police are shirking their responsibilities.

“I do, however, agree that the bank employees are showing a tendency to be casual about their job. We will pull up the errant employees,” he said.

R. K. Dasgupta, chief vigilance officer, UBI, admitted: “It is a fact that security measures in some banks are inadequate.”

The police have decided to hold meetings with bank officials. “We will ask them to upgrade security measures on the bank premises. If they don’t accept our suggestions, we will notify the investigators after every robbery,” added Mitra.

Among the basic measures suggested by the police are an increase in the number of armed guards and more parallel telephone lines, so that employees do not have to leave their seats to answer phone calls.

   

 
 
REPRIMAND FROM MOTHER DRIVES GIRL TO SUICIDE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 26: 
Reprimanded by her mother for faring badly in her annual examinations, a Class VIII student of Harimati Devi Girls’ High School, in Garia, committed suicide on Thursday.

Sources said Poushali Mukherjee, 14, returned home from school around 4 pm. Her mother scolded her for failing in class. Poushali went to her bedroom, asking her mother not to disturb her for some time.

Poushali’s father, Tapan Mukherjee, and her elder sister were not at home.

Later, hearing her scream in the bathroom, her mother rushed in to find Poushali in flames. Neighbours rushed the teenager to M.R. Bangur Hospital, in Tollygunge, where she died early on Friday. According to the doctors attending on her, Poushali had suffered 100 per cent burns.

Poushali’s father, still in a state of shock, said on Friday: “Poushali was a sentimental girl. Unable to bear her mother’s scolding, she poured kerosene on herself and set herself ablaze.”

Neighbours said the Mukherjees had lived in the area for many years. Asit Das, member of a club across the Mukherjee residence, said Poushali could have been saved if the local youths were able to enter the house and rescue her in time.

The Baishnabghata-Patuli police station, investigating the case, said the body had been sent for post-mortem. “It’s a case of suicide but we are still awaiting the post-mortem report,” an officer said. Harimati Devi Girls’ High School was closed on Friday as a mark of respect to Poushali, who had attended the school since infancy.

   

 
 
PEER WORKER GANGRAPED IN HOWRAH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 26: 
A peer worker of the Durbar Mahila Samanyaya Committee (DMSC), working in Ghoradanga, a red-light area in Howrah, was allegedly raped by four youths at dagger-point on Wednesday night. The youths attacked her after she saved a young sex worker from their clutches.

The Sonagachhi-based committee, which has gained international recognition for its HIV/AIDS intervention programmes, has lodged a complaint at Howrah police station, on the basis of which three of the youths have been detained. The victim has identified them.

The peer worker, who lives in Bhagwandas Ganguly Lane, in the Ghoradanga area, had asked the young girl to get food from a nearby kiosk around 10.45 pm. The youths, aged between 20 and 25, approached the girl when she set out to get the food.

“I gestured the girl not to accept the youths’ proposal, since they looked like ruffians, but they forced her inside a room, holding her by the scruff of her neck. I managed to save the girl but then the youths turned to me and raped me,” the victim recalled. She later complained of a pain in the chest and lower abdomen. The culprits reportedly fled with a gold chain and some brass utensils.

The FIR lodged by the DMSC president has urged the police to punish the guilty “in a fashion that they would fear to repeat such acts.” Additional SP (town) Rajiv Misra confirmed that three youths had been detained and were being interrogated. He, however, did not disclose their names, as “it would hamper investigations.”

   
 

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