6 cops suspended for cell deaths
Rail bears bandh brunt, city cools heels
‘Justice’ for price at tout’s door
REC penalty to double second-year students
Tourist hotspot dream for Jalpaiguri
Two killed in fish farm attack
DYFI leader shot dead
Babi delays court date with Sunjay
Mystery bugs strike Mahabodhi tree
Campaign-mode VHP plans Godhra tableau parade

 
 
6 COPS SUSPENDED FOR CELL DEATHS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Aug. 5: 
The government today stood by the Malda superintendent of police, but suspended six other policemen for the death of the two accused in the lock-up.

Casting aside the district Left Front committee’s demand for the “immediate’’ transfer of SP Pankaj Dutta, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said his government ordered action only against the six policemen on the basis of an inquiry report filed by the inspector general of police (Malda), Amal Sarkar.

Bhattacharjee did not respond when asked why his government had “ignored’’ the Front’s demand for the SP’s ouster. The Front committee, in a meeting held yesterday at the local CPM office, called for “exemplary punishment” against the policemen blamed for the death of the two accused on Thursday.

“The superintendent of police cannot evade his responsibility for the shameful incident at the lock-up,’’ district Front chairman Jiban Moitra said yesterday.

A senior home department official said the police official was spared because he was “not directly involved” in the incident. “Six policemen headed by an inspector look after the court lock-up and all of them have been suspended.’’

Hospital sources said Nimai Ghosh and Anish Das were found to have died of dehydration in the post-mortem report, not yet released officially.

The sources added that both went without meals for nearly 24 hours and died inside the small, windowless lock-up, where they were confined along with dozens of others without food and water.

The sources said the post-mortem report would clearly go against the policemen who held the victims in the lock-up despite their deteriorating condition. The post-mortem, carried out by Dr Ajay Das, was recorded on video in the presence of two magistrates conducting an inquiry.

Home department sources said the chief minister met chief secretary S.N. Roy and home secretary A.K. Deb soon after he received the inquiry report and ordered the suspension.

   

 
 
RAIL BEARS BANDH BRUNT, CITY COOLS HEELS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Aug. 5: 
The bandh today called by the Trinamul Congress to protest the Eastern Railway bifurcation passed off by and large peacefully though 2,000 party activists, including three MLAs, were arrested for obstructing public transport.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said at Writers’ Buildings that the bandh did not have any impact on industries with tea gardens, mines, ports and public transport functioning normally.

“Government offices recorded normal attendance in the districts while in Calcutta it was below 50 per cent. Bandh supporters prevented willing workers from attending office by obstructing railway tracks. But the police removed them. It is only those who are supporting the bandh who know why it was called,” he said.

Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee described the Bangla bandh as “people’s spontaneous protest against the Centre’s apathy to the state’s interests and the Marxists’ bid to underplay the dangerous implications of Eastern Railway’s bifurcation”.

“I had urged the chief minister and his party to rise above political considerations and initiate a joint movement with us to stall the bifurcation which will cripple Bengal’s economy. Unfortunately, he and the CPM thought otherwise and spared no effort to foil the bandh. Their attitude is inhuman, cruel and despicable,” she said.

In a repeat performance of earlier bandhs, Calcutta enjoyed an extended holiday. The city wore a deserted look with few passengers on buses and trams.

Some 70 people arrived at Writers’ Buildings on bicycles.

Three state buses and a private bus were damaged when bandh supporters hurled stones at windscreens.

No one was injured when a bomb exploded on Narkeldanga Main Road at 7 am. Sixteen bandh supporters were arrested at Moulali when they tried to deflate the tyres of three buses.

About 75 people were arrested from C.R. Avenue, M.G. Road, S.N. Banerjee Road, Lenin Sarani, Park Circus and Beliaghata Main Road.

An effigy of railway minister Nitish Kumar was burnt on B.B. Ganguly Street.

The bandh had no impact on the movement of air traffic to and from Calcutta with all domestic and international flights operating according to schedules.

Security was beefed up at the airport to ensure the smooth movement of passengers. Jawans of Central Industrial Security Forces patrolled Jessore Road and Baguiati areas.

The state transport department also offered special transport services to and from the airport.

However, the railway bore the brunt of Trinamul ire. Bandh supporters this morning threw bread soaked in kerosene at compartments of a Tarakeswar-bound local train while it was approaching Sheoraphuli in Hooghly district.

A few hours earlier at Uttarpara, an attempt was made to set a luggage van of a train on fire. At 11 am, four bombs were hurled on the tracks again near Sheoraphuli.

   

 
 
‘JUSTICE’ FOR PRICE AT TOUT’S DOOR 
 
 
DEBARATI AGARWALA
 
Malda, Aug. 5: 
Justice comes at a price, thanks to the touts who have unleashed terror on the district court premises.

Malda Bar Association secretary Asit Bose and president Nikhil Bihari Gupta alleged that “outsiders” — mainly those who run errands for legal and police officials — fleece people who come to the court in search of justice.

The unscrupulous men post themselves in key offices and harass those who come to the court, the lawyers alleged. From files to legal documents, nothing is available without help from the touts.

Law Clerks’ Association chief Nirmal Das said a number of “outsiders” are regulars in the court office and they are “bent on cheating” the public.

According to Das, the court office is virtually “run” by outsiders like Tisu, who operates out of the room of the head clerk in the sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s office. Similarly, two persons in the GR file section, Bablu and Joy, Manas of the non-GR file section and Swapan, who works in the executive magistrate’s room, have placed the justice-seekers at their mercy.

Das said those coming for work to the courts have to “depend” on these men to ensure that their files move from one table to another.

Bose, Gupta and Das agreed that the entire system was entangled in a “web of corruption”. Both the Bar and the Law Clerks’ Association have demanded that the “outsiders” be removed.

The office-bearers wondered how these “outsiders” were allowed to continue to work even after Thursday’s lock-up tragedy.

Besides, the touts operate right in front of the district administration.

The Malda superintendent of police has his office inside the court building. The district magistrate’s office is located opposite the court.

Asked about the menace posed by the outsiders, district judge Keya Bose said: “A lot of things come out after a tragedy of such magnitude. We are looking into everything.”

   

 
 
REC PENALTY TO DOUBLE SECOND-YEAR STUDENTS 
 
 
ABHIJEET CHATTERJEE
 
Durgapur, Aug. 5: 
The number of second-year students at the Regional Engineering College here is set to double next year with the administration sticking to its decision to suspend 450 students.

Second-year college students were suspended for preventing higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty from inaugurating a new hostel and a lecture hall on the campus on Friday.

The minister was virtually gheraoed by the agitating students at the college guesthouse for more than three hours.

The students were demanding the status of National Institute of Technology for the engineering college.

As a result, the second-year students will not be able to sit for the third and final semester examinations and will not be promoted to the third year. The students are set to repeat the year with the current freshers who will be promoted in the next academic session.

“We had called some of the students who had planned the protest to demand national institute status for the college and explained that the state government was playing a pro-active role in securing the status for us,” said principal S.P. Ghosh.

“I had called some of the students again after the minister left and asked them to submit a list of those who participated in the demonstration. But they did not relent,” the principal added.

The minister had yesterday reacted sharply to the students’ demand. Saying that the Centre wanted to take full control of the college, Chakraborty asked: “The state government pays Rs 8 crore annually to the college and also maintains its roads. How can this fact be ignored?”

The principal said the suspension move was necessary to set an example on campus discipline. “Let this be an example for all to see,” Ghosh said.

He added that with a new hostel block, the college would have no problem in accommodating an extra batch for the next two years. “Space and accommodation is not a problem for us.”

The suspension order was put up on the college notice board today. With most of the students away for the weekend and the bandh coming in the way, the notice could not be served on students individually. However, the administration will mail the notice to parents and guardians.

The apolitical students’ union of the Regional Engineering College will approach the principal to plead for clemency for the 450 suspended students.

“There were hardly 50 students who confined the minister inside the guesthouse on Friday. It is not fair that all the second-year students should be punished,” said union secretary Jaideep Chattoraj.

“We are shocked at the decision taken by the administration as the entire batch will be a year behind academically,” the fourth-year student of mechanical engineering said.

The student leader added that union members would meet the principal with a petition tomorrow.

Chattoraj said several senior students had approached the protesting second-year students to persuade them from holding the agitation. “There was a minor scuffle between them and some of our members, so we withdrew.”

   

 
 
TOURIST HOTSPOT DREAM FOR JALPAIGURI 
 
 
AVIJIT SINHA
 
Jalpaiguri, Aug. 5: 
The scenic district could soon turn into a tourist hotspot if a proposal drafted by district magistrate Subrata Gupta is accepted by the government.

Gupta is trying to develop Jalpaiguri into a tourist hub on the lines of Siliguri.

“We are trying to tap the district’s enormous tourism potential. In fact, Jalpaiguri is no less than the Darjeeling hills or Sikkim when it comes to scenic beauty. It has the best of hills, forests and even historical monuments,” said the district magistrate.

However, Jalpaiguri has seldom been packaged as an idyllic tourist destination.

But the situation changed for the better once Dinesh Dakua assumed charge as the state tourism minister last year.

Dakua has stressed on showcasing the picturesque Dooars region which boasts of breathtaking landscapes, sanctuaries, reserve forests and varied flora and fauna.

Barring the sanctuaries that attract a fair amount of tourists during peak season, sites like the Jalpesh and Jatileshwar temples as well as the Buxa Fort are believed to be in a wretched condition. Worried about the crumbling structures, the district administration is advocating the renovation of these historical and religious sites.

“A report has been sent to the state tourism ministry. We have urged for the immediate renovation of these sites and also the Santhalbari-Buxa road at an estimated cost of Rs 2.2 crore,” said Basudev Ghosh, the district information and cultural officer, who is also doubling as the district tourism officer.

Moreover, joint projects between tourism and forest departments envisage jungle safari packages for adventurous tourists.

Though Jalpaiguri boasts of reserve forests and sanctuaries like Chapramari, Jayanti, Jaldapara, Gorumara and Buxa Tiger Reserve, the district has failed to compete with Siliguri in terms of tourist revenue.

The district administration is mulling over several plans, including inviting private enterprises, to project a tourist- friendly image to travellers at large.

For instance, many resorts have come up in recent years thanks to private enterprise in areas like Lataguri and Chalsa in western Dooars.

The district magistrate has also welcomed entrepreneurs.

But private projects have not always lived up to expectations.

Some have also remained a non-starter. Consider the Rs 300-crore mega-project at Gajoldoba that was supposed to have been financed by the Sahara Group of Industries. The project was announced amid a lot of fanfare by then tourism minister Manab Mukherjee.

Except these odd glitches, the administration is pulling out all stops to promote tourism.

“Lesser known spots like Bhutanghat and Fort of King Nal can do wonders with a bit of publicity,” the district magistrate said.

Moreover, the administration plans to develop the district’s road-network under the Rural Area Development Fund scheme. A tourist map of the district has also been prepared.

The information and the cultural officer have also started a survey at the block level to scout more tourist spots in the districts.

   

 
 
TWO KILLED IN FISH FARM ATTACK 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Barasat, Aug. 5: 
Two guards at a fish farm were murdered and one seriously injured this morning, sparking tension in the area prone to frequent clashes over control of fisheries.

Jumman Mondal, 35, and Saidul Islam, 38, were killed in Sashan area while Ashok Ghosh was injured in the attack. His condition is said to be critical at Barasat hospital.

Seven persons were arrested after police conducted raids.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the incident was the result of a longstanding rivalry between two local groups.

“Both groups clash frequently to control the local fisheries. Several have been murdered in the past five years,” said an official.

The police said the incident took place at 3.30 am when 60 assailants armed with swords, bhojalis and iron rods attacked 10 persons guarding a 450-bigha fishery. “The goons surrounded the guards and attacked them. They brutally hacked Mandal and Islam and then stabbed them with knives to ensure that they were dead,” said a police official.

When local residents raised an alarm on hearing the commotion, the attackers fled. Mandal and Islam were rushed to hospital where they were declared dead.

“We have identified the group that led the attack. Seven persons have been arrested. We are interrogating them and the other culprits will be arrested soon,” said M. Harisena Verma, the superintendent of police of North 24-Parganas.

Sources said law and order worsened in Sashan, where more than two dozen fish farms are located, after the panchayat polls in 1998 in which the Trinamul Congress wrested six gram panchayats and one panchayat samity from the CPM.

“The CPM had dominated the area since 1977. After the party lost the local civic bodies, fish farmers owing allegiance to both sides clashed frequently,” said a police official.

The local CPM blamed Trinamul for today’s attack. “They attacked the guards to take possession of the 450-bigha bheri,” he said.

However, Trinamul denied the allegation and said the incident was a fallout of intra-party rivalry in the CPM.

   

 
 
DYFI LEADER SHOT DEAD 
 
 
OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Canning, Aug. 5: 
A leader of the Democratic Youth Federation of India was today shot allegedly by Trinamul Congress activists.

The assailants shot dead Muzzafar Laskar, 35, from point-blank range when he was on his way home from the jetty here.

Bystanders rushed him to Canning sub-divisional hospital. But with his condition deteriorating, Laskar was referred to M.R. Bangur hospital in Calcutta. However, the DYFI leader died on the way.

Local CPM leader Ratan Sapui blamed Trinamul for murdering the DYFI activist. Laskar’s uncle, also a party member, was shot last year.

“Laskar has been the target of Trinamul goons for the past one year after he identified his uncle’s killers,” the CPM leader said.

Trinamul MLA from Canning (West) Gobinda Naskar denied his party’s involvement in the killing.

CPM MLA from Canning (East) and land and land revenue minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah said with panchayat polls scheduled for early next year, Trinamul and the BJP were desperate to make inroads in the area.

   

 
 
BABI DELAYS COURT DATE WITH SUNJAY 
 
 
ANAND SOONDAS
 
Mumbai, Aug. 5: 
Parveen Babi, who claimed to have “clinching evidence” on Sunjay Dutt’s involvement in the 1993 serial blasts, today failed to depose before the designated Tada court.

The former actress, who had filed an affidavit, said she could not appear before the court on time as she had received the summons only at 10.20 this morning. Designated judge P.D. Kode had issued the summons on July 24.

Babi will now depose before the court on August 8.

The court, which waited till late afternoon for Babi, has in an angry note asked Juhu police to explain in writing why there was delay in serving the summons when it had been despatched by the registrar on July 24.

Dutt, present in the court along with his lawyers, refused to comment. Quizzed by reporters on his alleged 45-minute telephone conversation with underworld don Chhota Shakeel in November 2000, he said: “The matter is sub judice and it will not be proper to comment on it.”

The reigning sex symbol of the 1970s, Babi’s identity had been kept a secret after she claimed she had evidence linking Dutt to the serial blasts and that it was because of the Central Bureau of Investigation that the actor had managed to get bail.

Babi maintains there are more film personalities in this “international conspiracy by the mafia to foment trouble in India”.

The issue also reverberated in the state legislature. Shiv Sena and BJP members slammed the government for its “inaction” on a “most serious issue” and walked out of the House demanding the actor’s immediate arrest.

The Opposition members shouted slogans against Dutt and displayed banners proclaiming him a “deshdrohi (traitor)”. Both Houses were adjourned thrice as rival lawmakers traded charges against each other for “shielding” the actor.

But if there was surprise at the newest twist in the tale, there is also widespread scepticism. “How can the depositions made by Parveen Babi be taken seriously?” asked an advocate. “The defence will have enough firepower to counter her argument.”

Babi had earlier accused superstar Amitabh Bachchan of sexually abusing her and plotting her murder. The allegations came to naught because of inconsistencies as Babi changed the sequence of events in her “abuse” several times.

The actress, who fought a prolonged battle with drugs and despair, has also undergone psychiatric treatment.

She has steadfastly shunned the media ever since her sudden disappearance from Bollywood more than a decade ago after acting in such blockbusters like Amar Akbar Anthony and Shaan — both with Bachchan.

   

 
 
MYSTERY BUGS STRIKE MAHABODHI TREE 
 
 
TAPAS CHAKRABORTY AND MUNTAZIR IMAM
 
Bodhgaya, Aug. 5: 
The peepul tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment has been attacked by “a debilitating disease”, sparking panic among scientists, members of the temple committee and monks here.

The branches of the Mahabodhi tree, as it is known, have been infected by some “mysterious sickness”.

When leaves should be sparkling green during this time of the year, the tree looks like a ghost of itself.

The signs of decay were first spotted a week ago by officials of the temple management committee. Insecticides were used to arrest the damage by pests that infected the branches, but the remedy failed to work.

The authorities then informed the regional director of Agricultural Research Institute in Patna. Six senior scientists arrived on Saturday to collect samples of soil, branches and leaves of the tree for laboratory tests.

According to Kalicharan Yadav, secretary of the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee, the actual treatment of the tree would begin after the results of the laboratory tests arrived. “At present, we are resorting to careful use of insecticide,” he said.

Bhikku Bodhipal, chief monk and a member of the temple committee, said it was suspected that a disease called mealibug had affected the tree though the final diagnosis was being awaited.

The Mahabodhi tree, under which Buddha meditated and achieved enlightenment 2,600 years ago, is one of the chief attractions for millions of pilgrims who take a symbolic walk around it as a part of prayers.

The peepul tree is about 110 years old and is the fourth descendant of the original tree.

However, the temple monks say it grew from the branch of the original tree and hence indicated a continuity in the existence of the tree.

The tree is fenced with gold-plated railings, which was done by a former president of Sri Lanka.

A section of the monks alleged that the spread of the disease is more severe this time as scientists last checked the tree way back in 1986.

However, Gaya district magistrate Brajesh Mehrotra dismissed the allegation. “Like previous years, this year, too, the tree has been attacked by the disease but there is no threat to it. The scientists are supposed to advise the management on how to take care of the tree.”

The Bodhgaya temple itself, in whose compound the tree stands, is also not in the best of health.

But with the monument being accorded World Heritage Status in June, the temple comes under the care of the UN.

It is learnt that the Archaeological Survey of India has been asked make a plan for the repair and upkeep of the monument.

   

 
 
CAMPAIGN-MODE VHP PLANS GODHRA TABLEAU PARADE 
 
 
OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ahmedabad, Aug. 5: 
After death by fire, it’s time for a fiery design.

The VHP is considering a proposal to design a tableau resembling the burning S-6 coach of the ill-fated Sabarmati Express to parade all over Gujarat in the run-up to the Assembly elections.

VHP state vice-president and spokesman Kaushik Mehta said a decision was yet to be taken, but admitted that the proposal was being seriously considered.

“If the Parishad decides to go ahead with its plan, no one can stop us. Not even the Election Commission. Since we are not a political party, we are not bound by a model code of conduct. We are a cultural-religious organisation and we can make the tableau yatra a part of Hindu awakening,” he said.

“Can anybody stop us from taking out sant yatras? Can anybody dare to stop a yajna? The VHP will do all that to awaken Hindus, to tell them the importance of this election,” Mehta told The Telegraph.

VHP sources said “highly motivated and dedicated” cadre will swing into action in over 10,000 villages once the outfit’s leaders give a call. The single-point objective of the VHP, Mehta said, is to “Hinduise the country’s politics”.

This is the first time since 1964, when it was floated as a cultural organisation by the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh, that the VHP has decided to openly campaign for the BJP.

But the very nature of the tableau’s theme could scuttle the proposal. “It will be unfortunate if the VHP is allowed to go ahead with its highly provocative electioneering plan,” senior Congress leader Hasmukh Patel said.

The tableau plan comes after chief minister Narendra Modi’s attempts to launch road shows on the Godhra carnage ran into hurdles.

Modi wanted to lead an asthi kalash yatra with the ashes of the Godhra victims in early July, coinciding with the Jagannath rath yatra. But the Centre intervened and asked him to abort the plan, saying it could incite communal passions.

The chief minister again wanted to take out a Gaurav yatra across the state, but that idea was also shelved, fearing an adverse reaction from the Election Commission that was about to decide the election schedule.

The Gaurav rath, designed by students of the National Institute of Design, is now being kept in a farmhouse, awaiting the green light from the BJP high command to roll.

In Delhi, the VHP declared that the Gujarat Assembly polls would be a “vote for Ram bhakts and Godhra martyrs”, adds PTI.

VHP international general secretary Praveen Togadia said: “Whenever elections are held, the issue will not be Modi or Vaghela (state Congress chief). People will vote for the Godhra martyrs and Ram bhakts.”

The VHP has convened two meetings of over 4,500 office-bearers at Ahmedabad and Limbdi on August 11 to chalk out the strategy for the polls, he said.

“We will be mobilising our workers and launching a religious awareness campaign to expose the role of political parties in the Godhra incident. We will ensure the victory of those who respected Hindu sentiments and expose others,” Togadia said.

“Godhra’s answer will be given at Gandhinagar,” he added.

Asked whether the VHP was working towards a landslide victory for Modi, Togadia said: “More than that.”

Togadia said eyewitnesses of the Godhra carnage would tour villages in Gujarat in batches of two and three as part of the “Hindu awareness” programme.

Team briefs EC

The Election Commission team which visited Gujarat for an on-the-spot assessment today briefed the panel on the situation in the state.

Sources said the team would take another three to four days to submit its report to Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh and the two other election commissioners, T.S. Krishnamurthy and B.B. Tandon.

The nine-member team, led by deputy election commissioners A.N. Jha and S. Mendiratta, returned to Delhi after a five-day visit. They toured several districts in the state and interacted with the leaders of political parties, senior government officials and NGOs.

The team members also spoke to the people in relief camps to ascertain the condition they were living in, losses suffered by them, compensation and other issues.

The team was sent to Gujarat on July 30 to review the existing situation and preparedness of the state machinery for conducting polls.

   
 

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