Bandh forces varsities to defer exams
Taxi unions admit to rigging meters
New galleries at museum
Youth found murdered
Bribe block between fine and freedom
Plea for lenient bail rethink
Lock-up shut till facelift
Minister bribe

 
 
BANDH FORCES VARSITIES TO DEFER EXAMS 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 3: 
Even as the government is gearing up to foil Monday’s 24-hour statewide bandh called by Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, Calcutta University vice-chancellor Ashis Banerjee announced that all examinations scheduled for Monday have been postponed. The decision was taken at a meeting on Saturday afternoon. New dates will be announced later, pro vice-chancellor (academic) Suranjan Das added. Earlier, Jadavpur University, too, had postponed Monday’s exams.

Indian Airlines and Alliance Air have rescheduled some of Monday’s flights. IC 201 and IC 402 to Delhi have been combined and will depart at 7 pm, according to an IA release.

Besides, flight CD 7269 operating on the Calcutta-Jaipur-Ahmedabad-Calcutta sector and flight C 7272 on the Calcutta-Nagpur-Hyderabad sector have been cancelled. Arrangements have been made to operate all other flights as per schedule. Passengers have been requested to re-check the departure timings before leaving for the airport.

The run-up to the bandh, called to protest the bifurcation of Eastern Railways, was marked by the usual rhetoric. Mamata Banerjee is “determined” to make the bandh a success. “We will resist all attempts by the CPM cadre to foil the bandh,” she said on Saturday night.

The government is equally keen to spoil her show. State home secretary Amit Kiran Deb said: “Monday will be like any other working day. We are ready to face any eventuality.”

Inspector-general of police, law and order, Chayan Mukherjee said elaborate arrangements were being made in the districts to prevent untoward incidents. “We are providing mobile sets to policemen to keep Writers’ Buildings informed of developments,” he said.

The state government is in talks with the railway ministry to ensure normal running of trains on Monday.

Banerjee announced that Trinamul workers would stage demonstrations at several stations. “We are not bothered about the Centre’s understanding with the Marxist government,” she said.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said the party was against the bifurcation of Eastern Railways. “But a bandh merely encourages provincialism,” he observed.

Mayor threat

The Trinamul Congress on Saturday vowed not to let railway minister Nitish Kumar enter West Bengal for his alleged role in jeopardising the interest of the state with the Eastern Railway bifurcation.

“If Nitish Kumar sets foot in Calcutta, we will see to it that he is not allowed to step out of the airport,” mayor Subrata Mukherjee told party supporters on the concluding day of the 48-hour dharna against the bifurcation.

Earlier, Kumar had said he would come to Calcutta to explain his stand on the issue.

   

 
 
TAXI UNIONS ADMIT TO RIGGING METERS 
 
 
AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, Aug. 3: 
Taxi owners and drivers in the city are compelled to contravene rules and ply their vehicles with the seals on their meters either broken or tampered with. This came to light when taxi associations voiced concern over the terms and conditions mentioned in the circular on revised taxi fares issued by the Regional Transport Authority on Friday.

In addition to mentioning the new rates and providing the fare chart, the circular (memo no. RTA/2677) directs permit-holders of all metered taxis to recalibrate their meters “within three months from the date of issue of the notification”.

Representatives of three taxi associations as well as the recognised agencies that calibrate taxi meters said it would be impossible for all the 22,000 taxis in Calcutta to recalibrate their meters within this period.

Regional RTA secretary S. Samaddar, however, said the 14-odd agencies that do the job would be able to complete the adjustment “with 15 days to spare”.

Bengal Taxi Association officials said drivers were compelled to break the seals due to lengthy procedures and corruption at the public vehicles department (PVD).

A taxi has to sit idle for “at least two days” whenever something had to be done at the Beltala office of the department, they alleged. For example, when the wire connecting the meter with the gearbox snaps (which can happen two to three times a year, especially after plying through waterlogged streets), the vehicle has to go through several steps before it can legally ply again.

“A faulty meter report has to be filed at the PVD. The seal is then broken by the motor vehicles inspector and a letter assigning the shop where the repairs are to be carried out is issued,” said BTA treasurer Dilip Chatterjee. “After the wire is replaced, the taxi has to be taken back to the PVD where an inspection is carried out. If satisfied, the inspectors then reseal the meter. The procedure takes more than a day, resulting in a loss of about Rs 1,000. Few owners can afford this,” he added.

“A broken seal, if found by a roaming inspector, invites a fine of Rs 500,” said T.N. Barik, assistant secretary of Calcutta Taxi Association.

Another problem is getting the certificate of fitness. Commercial vehicles need to renew the certificate annually. “For this, six inspectors at the PVD have to check at least 100 taxis a day. Only 60 are now being checked,” Chatterjee said. A PVD official admitted that the number of inspectors was inadequate.

Shop heist: Miscreants raided a jewellery-manufacturing unit in Ballygunge late on Friday and escaped with gold ornaments worth Rs 10,000.

   

 
 
NEW GALLERIES AT MUSEUM 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 3: 
The Indian Museum will soon house a gallery of old musical instruments used by musicians in the past. The gallery will occupy 2,500 sq ft on the museum’s top floor, which was recently vacated by Anthropological Survey of India at the request of the museum authorities.

A separate wing for old paintings will also be set up on the space vacated by the Zoological Survey of India, said director of Indian Museum Shyamal Kanti Chakraborty on Saturday. The gallery will be completed by March 2003.

According to Chakraborty, noted musicians and painters of the country will be consulted before displaying the exhibits. Instruments used in both folk and classical music will be put up.

A senior museum official said they had already identified more than 350 old instruments, some of which were used in the Mughal period, for the new gallery. For the gallery of paintings, the museum authorities have so far selected 175 items.

“We have to take special care to display the water colours since such paintings absorb moisture and can get damaged if not preserved properly. Controlling the temperature and humidity is essential, and adequate arrangements will be made to ensure this,” sources said.

“We have prepared a video disc, listing the items for the new gallery. The disc will be shown to famous artists for their opinion. We will also ask them to help us select some more items,” Chakraborty said.

   

 
 
YOUTH FOUND MURDERED 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 3: 
The body of Haricharan Das, 18, was recovered from a wetland in the Barasat area on Saturday. No one has been arrested so far.

Police suspect the murder to be the fall-out of a rivalry between two local clubs. Das, a member of one of the clubs, had been missing since Tuesday. His father had lodged a complaint with the Barasat police. On Saturday, residents found the body near a burning ghat at Barbaria, sources said.

“The cause of death is yet to be ascertained. Das seems to have been strangulated,” said a police officer. The body was sent for a post-mortem.

“We have already identified the culprits. But their names cannot be divulged for the sake of investigation,” said M. Harisena Verma, superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas. The victim’s family members and close associates are being questioned.

   

 
 
BRIBE BLOCK BETWEEN FINE AND FREEDOM 
 
 
FROM BAPPA MAJUMDAR AND DEBARATI AGARWALA
 
Malda, Aug. 3: 

Police ‘fun’ costs life

Nemai Ghosh could have escaped death from suffocation on Thursday had police released him after he paid the fine in the morning.

Picked up by the police on a gambling charge, Nemai was brought to the court early that day. His brother, Dilip, paid the fine of Rs 80 for his release.

However, according to a police investigation, Nemai remained in the lock-up as he had no money to bribe the guards on duty.

“I handed over Rs 80 to the cashier after receiving directions from the lawyer and asked the guards to release him. But they refused. Instead, they watched the fun because Nemai had no means to pay the bribe for his release,” said Pradip Saha, a court clerk.

Convicts and undertrials, cramped inside the court lock-up, are forced to pay for everything — from a glass of water to a morsel of food — despite paying the fine.

“The policemen on duty are reluctant to release prisoners even after they have been given bail or released. Why should there be any delay in releasing prisoners when they have the receipt of the fine is beyond our imagination,” said Hasan Ali Shah, Malda Bar Association member and district Congress general secretary.

He alleged that nearly a third of the arrested persons had paid their fines by 5 pm on Thursday but had been deliberately kept in the lock-up.

“I have been informed that the dead convicts, or at least one of them, had indeed paid the fine much earlier then 8.20 pm, when the two died. But a probe will reveal the exact circumstances of their deaths,” said Malda district magistrate Ashok Bala.

The Malda Bar Association, which has been clamouring for punishment of the guilty policemen, has alleged that authorities have turned a blind eye to bribery.

“Apart from paying Rs 10 immediately on being forced inside the lock-up, the arrested persons have to pay Rs 50 for a sip of water. There have been instances in the past when convicts have had to drink their own urine. How can we allow this to continue?” asked Shah.

Investigations have revealed that on Thursday, the guards on duty had asked for Rs 50 for a glass of water. Though the ones who paid got to quench their thirst, a fight soon broke out when the others began to grab the glasses.

“Ora to baire theke bole, taka na dile kicchu pabina, pore thak okhane (The police say from outside if you don’t pay up, you get nothing. So languish inside),” Abid Mondol, one of the released persons, said.

“Ora bole amader khushi koro, tahole chharbo. Nahole rashid hariye jaabe (The police tell us make us happy and we will release you or the receipt for the fine will be lost,” he added.

Malda superintendent of police Pankaj Dutta refused to comment.

   

 
 
PLEA FOR LENIENT BAIL RETHINK 
 
 
OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 3: 
Alarmed at the rising crime rate in the state, the government will soon approach the Supreme Court to modify its observation that “a lenient view” be taken towards short-term convicts languishing in jails throughout the country.

Short-term convicts are those with jail terms ranging from three to 10 years. However, their appeals against the judgments have been pending for several years.

A petition, being drafted to be placed before the apex court, said those released from jails following the Supreme Court’s directive are creating law and order problems in the city and districts.

In May 2000, the apex court held that the courts should take a lenient view of such short-term criminals, granting them bail to avert unnecessary delay in providing justice.

“The apex court’s observations also followed complaints from some quarters that several prisoners languished in jails even after they completed their sentences,” said state public prosecutor Kazi Safiulla.

However, a spokesman from the state judiciary department said the sudden spurt in criminal activities had prompted the government to approach the apex court to modify its judgment on the release of short-term convicts from jails.

Quoting a recent survey, the Calcutta police informed the state judiciary department that at least 98 miscreants returned to unlawful activities after being released on bail.

“After a comprehensive study, we have come to know that most of the city crimes are being organised by those convicts who managed to obtain bail. We are sure that criminal activities will come down if the culprits are re-arrested and put behind bars,” said deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Somen Mitra.

The public prosecutor and other state-panelled criminal lawyers admitted that a number of miscreants were released on bail following the apex court’s ruling.

They said two separate lists of such convicts, prepared by the city and state police, were submitted to the chief minister. Buddhadeb Bhattcharjee sent the lists to state advocate-general Balai Ray to chalk out ways to tackle the problem.

According to officials, Ray has prepared a document on the basis of reports to be placed before the Supreme Court. “Ray urges the highest judiciary of the country to realise the acute problem faced by the administration due to release of criminals from jails,” said an official of the law ministry.

“We, the judges, are bound to abide by the ruling of the apex court. That is why we often grant bail to convicts who have been languishing in jails for years,” said a sitting judge of Calcutta High Court.

   

 
 
LOCK-UP SHUT TILL FACELIFT 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Malda, Aug. 3: 
Demonstrations, arrests of protesters and stray incidents of violence marked the daylong bandh in Malda district to protest the death of two persons in the court lock-up on Thursday.

For the second consecutive day, no cases were heard in Malda court with lawyers protesting against “corrupt and heartless” police.

District sessions judge Keya Basu today wrote to Chief Justice A.K. Mathur of Calcutta High Court that the “Malda court lock-up was not suitable for keeping undertrials and convicts”.

“We have decided not to keep any prisoner in the lock-up till it is given a thorough facelift,” Basu told The Telegraph.

The judge visited the Malda district hospital today and spoke to those who were injured in the cramped lock-up. “We will also send a detailed report to the chief justice soon,” she added.

Congress MLA Sabitri Mitra was admitted to hospital after she felt suffocated inside a police van soon after the leader and 20 other supporters were arrested for blocking National Highway 34 here.

“The guilty will have to be punished or else our agitation against the district administration will continue,” Mitra said.

District superintendent of police Pankaj Dutta had allowed the protesters to disperse before arresting the MLA and her followers.

Malda district magistrate Ashok Bala said the chairman of state human rights commission, Mukul Gopal Mukherjee, had called the district judge to seek details on the lock-up incident.

Basu had earlier said the police had kept her in the dark about the large number of arrests made in the district.

The Malda Bar Association took out a procession today, protesting against the deaths of Nemai Ghosh and Anish Das. Court clerks also joined the procession.

“Until a written assurance is given by the authorities that the lock-up and the adjoining areas will be spruced up, we will not allow hearings to resume,” said Hasan Ali Shah, bar association secretary and general secretary of the district Congress.

On July 16, a meeting was held between the district judiciary and the administration on the renovation of the court lock-up. “It was decided that the place would be inspected when the court was in session, but the inspection never took place,” said the district magistrate.

   

 
 
MINISTER BRIBE 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 3: 
A man was arrested today on charges of trying to bribe law and judicial minister Nisith Adhikari at his residence at Raj Bhavan. The suspect is the nephew of a retired Calcutta High Court judge who is no more.

According to sources, the man went to the minister with a bunch of notes and urged him to do “some favour” in a murder case in which a businessman was involved. When contacted, the minister refused to elaborate as he felt it would “cause much embarrassment to the family of the judge who was considered an authority on the Constitution”.

As the man offered the minister an envelope containing money, Adhikari asked him to wait and called the police. The man was immediately handed over to the police, who are also looking for the businessman.

   
 

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