Lock-up horror alert on deaf ears
Plea for judge inquiry into Malda cell deaths
Mamata mild on Naik
Target 2003 for metro-link road
Take Three of gun whodunnit
Project shower on Naxalite territory
Lecturer check-up
Ross lab turns malaria centre
Tree trim sparks Salt Lake row
Told to apologise, rival quits Modi Cabinet

 
 
LOCK-UP HORROR ALERT ON DEAF EARS 
 
 
TAPAS GHOSH
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
Nearly two months before the Malda lock-up deaths, the state government came to know about the “terrible condition” of the district court that housed the windowless killer chamber, but took “no steps” to prevent overcrowding.

High court sources said a report, prepared by the Malda district judge and turned over to the state government in June, had warned that a tragedy could happen if the condition of the building and the lock-up was not improved.

All that the judicial department did on receiving the report was to put it in cold storage. The department cryptically informed the high court that the construction of a new court building with a lock-up was under way, sources said.

The Malda district judge had submitted the report after high court Chief Justice A.K. Mathur, urged by the judicial services commission, told most of the district and sub-divisional courts to find out the condition of the court buildings, including the lock-ups.

“The report submitted by the Malda district judge had clearly stated that the condition of the Malda court building was very bad and an accident could occur any day,” registrar (general) of the high court K. Ganguly said. The chief justice had immediately forwarded the report to the state government for “necessary action”.

Chief Justice Mathur today directed the chief judicial magistrate of Malda to file a report immediately on the entire episode leading to the death of the two undertrials last Thursday.

Nemai Ghosh and Anish Das died of suffocation when they, along with over 300 other undertrials, were crammed into the court lock-up meant for 40. The Left Front has demanded the transfer of Malda superintendent of police Pankaj Dutta. The government has so far spared Dutta but suspended six policemen.

Swapan Dhar, former secretary of the West Bengal Judicial Services Association, said the body had long been demanding that the government “improve” the condition of the court lock-ups in the state.

He said two undertrials had fallen ill in a Howrah court lock-up two years ago. “At that time, we had asked the government to look into the problems, but nothing was done.’’

The Bar Council of West Bengal today demanded a CBI probe into the lock-up deaths, adds a staff reporter. It demanded punishment against those responsible for the deaths.

Bar Council chairman Amiya Kumar Chatterjee said the CBI inquiry was needed because the police and judicial department were blaming each other. “Only the CBI can fix responsibility. Neither the district magistrate of Malda nor the superintendent of police can shirk their responsibilities for the pathetic incident.’’

Chatterjee said mere suspension of some junior officials will not solve the problem. “We strongly feel that senior police and government officials should be taken to task as well,” he said.

Chatterjee said the condition in some Calcutta courts were equally bad. “The condition of the Alipore police court lock-up is so dreadful that the police do not dare lodge the accused in the lock-ups. Instead they are kept in prison vans,” he said.

   

 
 
PLEA FOR JUDGE INQUIRY INTO MALDA CELL DEATHS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Aug. 6: 
A Calcutta advocate today filed a public interest litigation before the division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice J. Biswas, demanding the intervention of Calcutta High Court in the lock-up deaths.

In his petition, high court advocate Subroto Mookherjee demanded that a judicial inquiry should be ordered by the court. He also said the compensation to the families of the two undertrials who died should be paid after deducting the amount from the six suspended policemen.

In addition, the petition demanded the shifting of the lock-up to a new site to ensure that the room has a window to let in light and air.

The division bench had asked the petitioner to personally visit the spot and then file the petition. Mookherjee visited the Malda court lock-up on Saturday. The hearing on the petition is expected on Friday.

The Malda Bar Association is cut up with the government for not taking the judicial department to task for the death of the two undertrials.

Association secretary Asit Bose pointed out that the lock-up at the court was under the judicial department. “The government should have acted against the judicial staff responsible for the lock-up as well since it is not looked after by the police.”

Bose, critical of both the police and the judiciary for their role in the death, said the judicial department “cannot evade its responsibility. Heads should roll everywhere, not just in the police”.

Subdivisional judicial magistrate Gautam Sengupta refused to comment on the association’s remarks. But district judge Keya Basu told PTI that the police could not escape responsibility since it was their duty to look after the accused.

Keya said she visited the lock-up after taking over in June. “It is not at all fit to lodge the accused. I wonder why such a large number of undertrials were dumped there,” she added.

The district judge said the police should have also taken into account the health of the accused before throwing them in the lock-up. “But they did nothing of the sort. Otherwise, the two men would not have died.”

Bose said it was mandatory for all courts to take down details of the undertrials. He said the procedure was not followed in Malda, leading to the confusion over the number of accused lodged in the lock-up.

   

 
 
MAMATA MILD ON NAIK 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
The Trinamul Congress today stopped short of demanding petroleum minister Ram Naik’s resignation over the petrol pump allocation scam, saying it is for the Prime Minister to take a decision.

Trinamul chairperson Mamata Banerjee said the party has supported Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “firm action”. “I think this is enough to show where our party stands,” was her cryptic remark when asked whether the issue called for Naik’s resignation.

Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Pankaj Banerjee described Vajpayee’s decision to cancel the allotment of petrol pumps made since January 2000 as “the right step”. “It shows that the Prime Minister can take hard decisions if necessary.”

He declined to comment on the Opposition parties’ demand for Naik’s resignation, saying the matter can be considered only by the Cabinet.

The Trinamul leaders’ refusal to support the Opposition’s quit call indicates that the party has not given up hope of a patch-up with the Centre over the Eastern Railway bifurcation. Mamata, who had earlier opposed the creation of East-Central Railway, now insists that the minimum price for her party’s continuation in the NDA will be retention of Dhanbad and inclusion of Katihar divisions in Eastern Railway.

Calcutta mayor Subrata Mukherjee, however, maintained there has been no change in the party’s stand on the bifurcation. “There is no difference of opinion among our MPs and MLAs on the issue. We are determined to realise our demand and the success of yesterday’s Bangla bandh shows that the people are with us,” he said.

   

 
 
TARGET 2003 FOR METRO-LINK ROAD 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
The National Highway Authority of India will complete the Golden Quadrilateral Highway linking the four metros within December 2003, said chief project manager S.P.S. Bakshi.

“The highway will connect Calcutta, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. Vehicles can be driven at a top speed of 140 km per hour. There will be separate lanes for slow-moving vehicles. We are also constructing truck terminals and food and shopping plazas at regular intervals on the road,” he added.

“We are facing some law and order problems and have brought it to the notice of the police authorities,” he told a seminar on traffic management at Bhabani Bhavan today. Bakshi claimed that 40 per cent of the work on the highway was complete.

Backing his claims with video clips of completed sections, the officer said it would be a four-lane highway with a six-lane interchange so that vehicles can change roads without waiting at signals. “We will have crash barriers along the sides to prevent major accidents,” he said.

The carriageway is being constructed with world-class technology. “There will be no damage to the road in rains and flood,” he said.

The highway authority will incorporate infrastructure for police posts at regular intervals. “We will construct station houses equipped with wireless sets along the highway for the traffic police,” he said.

It will also procure modern vehicles for highway patrol — blue-and-black Maruti Esteems fitted with beacons and hooters.

“We are experimenting with the vehicle to find out whether it would be feasible to use it for highway patrol. It is extremely important that police are equipped to tackle jay-walking on the highway by villagers,” he said, expressing concern over the tendency of villagers to put up shops along highways.

Director-general of police D.C. Vajpai assured Bakshi of police assistance and promised to coordinate with the highways authority.

Arrest end to outing

Two youths locked inside the flag-hoisting room of the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose airport were arrested for entering a prohibited area.

Mohammad Zairuddin, 28, and Mohammed Akbar Ali, 16, of Metiabruz had gone up to the visitors’ gallery in the terminal building after buying tickets. They entered the room on finding it open and were accidentally locked in. Security personnel rescued them on hearing their screams and handed them to the police.

   

 
 
TAKE THREE OF GUN WHODUNNIT 
 
 
RANJAN LAHIRI
 
Burdwan, Aug. 6: 
The district police has reopened for the third time a probe into the disappearance of a revolver and 30 rounds of ammunition from Asansol police station in 1997.

“We have begun a fresh department probe into the missing revolver and ammunition last month and this time every interrogation of the policemen involved will be in writing,” said Jitram Bhagat, inspector-general of police (western range).

The investigation centres round the officer-in-charge of Durgapur police station, Tathagata Pande. When the revolver went missing from the Asansol (north) police station’s store in 1997, Pande was in charge.

“There is no question of the report being suppressed. I have asked the investigating officers to look for specific charges against the police officer involved, and if he is guilty, he will be punished,” said police superintendent B.N. Ramesh. At present, 70 police officers in Burdwan are under the scanner for various reasons, he said.

In 1998, Pande was transferred and his replacement, Ajoy Shankar Chatterjee, found the weapon missing. As Pande was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation, Chatterjee filed a suo motu case to bring the incident to the notice of his superiors.

In September that year, a department inquiry found Pande guilty. A team of two deputy superintendents and a circle inspector held the probe and submitted the report to the district police superintendent.

The report was hushed up as Pande took charge at Ranigunj. The police officer under a cloud has since refused a posting at Katwa and spent eight months at the district intelligence branch before joining Durgapur police station.

The mystery of the missing revolver was brought under the spotlight last December by the chief minister, who directed Ramesh to submit a report. The probe file was reopened and Durgapur additional superintendent of police L.N. Meena was asked to resume the investigation. But efforts to unravel the mystery petered out for the second time round.

It is believed that the probe is being opened again at the behest of senior police officers. “There is a power struggle between officers of the Indian Police Service and those serving in the state service,” an officer here pointed out.

“There is pressure from above to find a scapegoat. It can never be pinpointed who took the revolver from the strong room. Hence efforts are on to put an end to the issue by pointing out a person, any person,” he said.

   

 
 
PROJECT SHOWER ON NAXALITE TERRITORY 
 
 
KUMARESH GHOSH
 
Midnapore, Aug. 6: 
Taking a cue from the CPM’s stand of countering the People’s War on a political plane, the West Midnapore administration today announced a string of projects for the impoverished district.

“These are all labour-intensive projects ensuring a sizeable increase in employment. In most cases, funding will be available from important nationalised banks in the district. In some cases, the funds are coming from private sources,” said district magistrate M.V. Rao.

Most of the major projects will be inaugurated on Independence Day.

West Midnapore’s road to economic progress will be labour-intensive as opposed to East Midnapore’s chosen path of capital-intensive development with thousands of crores invested in Haldia.

Senior CPM leaders here admit that the spread of People’s War’s influence in the district has forced the ruling Left Front to sit up and act.

A major project set for an Independence Day debut is the Venkateswara Hatcheries — the biggest hatchery venture in Asia, as Rao claimed.

The Rs 25-crore project will provide employment to more than 300 people from the start. A Pune-based corporate house has been given 70 acres near Garbeta, a Naxalite-infested area, for the enterprise.

Another labour-intensive venture will be Visakha Industries, which will produce asbestos-cement sheets. The Rs 20-crore project will start with about 60 employees on 30 acres allotted near Salboni, another People’s War stronghold. The asbestos-cement sheets are in high demand locally.

Rao also announced a series of small-scale projects — two food-processing units, a potato chips-manufacturing centre, agro-industrial parks in Salboni, Goaltore, Belpahari and Banspahari, and three silk-reeling factories in the same area. The Paschimanchal Unnayan Parishad has sanctioned Rs 2 crore as first instalment, Rao said.

Corroborating the fact that the projects are being specifically undertaken in People’s War strongholds, member of the district CPM secretariat Dahar Sen said several projects are being supported by the local MP’s funds.

These include a bridge over Tarafeni river in Sinduria, the Kashmar bridge over Dulung river, an irrigation project on the Kankrajharna river and a few eco-tourism parks round Kankrajhore.

“We cannot deny that these are PW dens. But then practically nothing has been done in this tribal-dominated laterite zone,” Sen said.

   

 
 
LECTURER CHECK-UP 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
Kaushik Ganguly, a lecturer arrested from his north Calcutta home for his alleged links with the People’s War, was brought under tight security to SSKM hospital after he complained of chest pains last night at the West Midnapore district hospital.

As soon as police officers from the district brought in Ganguly around 1 pm, he was taken to the Bangur Institute of Neurology for tests. Hospital superintendent D.D. Chatterjee and other doctors attended on Ganguly. Kaushik was taken back to West Midnapore later.

“Arrangements were made for several tests today. But Ganguly was feeling restless, so the MRI test could not be done. We have done an USG. He complained of numbness in his left knee and chest pain. We have not yet begun any treatment. First of all, we will get the test reports. The medical board will sit soon to discuss his condition,” Chatterjee said.

Sinha case

Calcutta High Court has admitted Manasi Sinha’s petition for a CBI inquiry into the alleged torture of her husband Abhijit by West Midnapore police at Dum Dum police station on July 7.

Abhijit, an official of the central excise department, was picked up by the Midnapore police for his alleged People’s War links. Soon after his release from custody, he committed suicide by jumping in front of a train at Dum Dum station.

Justice Altamas Kabir, after hearing both Sinha’s and the government’s counsel, directed the government to file an affidavit in two weeks and fixed the matter for hearing after four weeks.

   

 
 
ROSS LAB TURNS MALARIA CENTRE 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
The civic health department and SSKM Hospital are all set for a tie-up to turn the century-old laboratory of Sir Ronald Ross, on the hospital premises, into a round-the-clock malaria detection centre. The proposed centre is likely to start functioning from August 15.

For his contributions in the field of combating malaria, Ross bagged the Nobel Prize in 1902 and was conferred knighthood in 1911. His methods in controlling malaria have now become important touchstones in the drive to check the disease worldwide.

Closer home, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) authorities adopted some of his techniques after the disease claimed several lives in the city over the past few years.

The laboratory, where Ross used to carry out his research and discovered malarial parasites for the first time in a mosquito, has been lying defunct. A portion of the building is used as a common room for students.

On Tuesday, Javed Ahmed Khan, member, mayor-in-council, health, said a proposal for the joint venture between the state government and the civic health department has been drawn up following a discussion with the SSKM Hospital authorities. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee had cleared the proposal on Thursday.

“I have sent the proposal to SSKM’s surgeon superintendent Deb Dwaipayan Chattopadhyay,” said Khan. Chattopadhyay will place the proposal before principal secretary, health, Asim Barman, and director of medical education, Chittaranjan Maity, for their go-ahead.

If things go as planned, health minister Surya Kanta Mishra and the mayor will unveil the city’s first 24-hour malaria clinic on August 15.

“We have been running a chain of 50 malaria clinics all over the city. Besides, there are mobile clinics to test blood samples at doorsteps, but a round-the-clock service, in such a centralised location, is definitely needed to avert malarial deaths in the future. Since the proposed centre is located on the SSKM premises, it will attract a bulk of patients, which will help us eradicate the disease,” said Mukherjee.

“It is unfortunate that though malaria is not a killer disease, at least 30 people lose their lives every year in the city because of it,” the mayor added. He claimed civic clinics were free from malarial deaths and health officials had acquired the expertise to detect and treat such cases.

A spokesperson of the directorate of medical education said the health department had long been pondering about utilising Ross’ laboratory in a befitting manner. When the group hit upon the idea to start a round-the-clock malaria detection centre and preliminary discussions were held with the surgeon superintendent of SSKM Hospital, he expressed his inability to provide additional staff and technicians to run the centre.

“We will help the SSKM authorities by providing technicians, staff and equipment, like microscopes and re-agents, to run the centre. In fact, we are ready to provide infrastructure of any kind,” said Khan. The financial burden for the manpower to be supplied by the CMC will also be borne by the civic authorities, he added.

Incidentally, SSKM Hospital itself is a malaria-prone campus, because of the accumulation of rainwater in various pockets and waterbodies on the premises. Besides the staff and the patients, visitors to the hospital often contract the disease.

   

 
 
TREE TRIM SPARKS SALT LAKE ROW 
 
 
SANJAY MANDAL
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
Perturbed by the problem of trees damaging the boundary wall of his Salt Lake bungalow, a resident of AE block had complained to the authorities about the obstruction. Last week, the authorities felled the two trees in front of his house.

Now, however, the issue has snowballed into a full-fledged controversy in the satellite township, forcing the municipal authorities to order an inquiry into the incident.

Fingers are being pointed at local Trinamul Congress councillor Debashish Jana, with the AE Block Samaj Kalyan Sangha accusing him of giving the go-ahead for felling at least seven expensive trees to clear the pavement.

“The block committee has lodged a complaint with the chairman of Bidhannagar Municipality, Dilip Gupta, on the unauthorised felling of trees in AE block,” said Tapan Talukdar, chairman-in-council in charge of electricity and water supply, who also looks after the maintenance of trees in Salt Lake.

“I have asked the executive engineer to probe the matter and submit a report to me,” Talukdar told Metro on Tuesday. He said after receiving the complaint, he had personally asked Jana, councillor of ward no. 8, about the incident, “but Jana has denied the charges”.

“The seven trees that were felled were all expensive and rare,” alleged Monimoy Ghosh, secretary, AE Block Samaj Kalyan Sangha. “The aim was to clear the pavement, and not a boundary wall, as claimed. But all the pavements in Salt Lake’s main avenues have trees,” he said. The committee has moved Calcutta High Court, seeking legal action, and has also written to the West Bengal Pollution Control Board.

But Jana denies the allegations. “No trees were cut. The trunk of a tree, which was trimmed long ago, was uprooted while the pavement was being laid. On Sunday last, I had also planted 150 seeds in my block. At our last board meeting, it was decided that two seeds would be sown for every tree that is felled. I have acted as per the decision,” the councillor asserted.

The municipality allows trimming of branches that damage walls of houses or obstruct streetlights. It has appointed three contractors for felling trees and trimming branches. However, they must have specific orders from the municipal authorities. “No councillor must give orders for felling trees at his or her own will. The rule was reinstated at our last board meeting,” said Talukdar. In its resolution, the board said: “For uprooting trees, permission must be taken from executive engineer (public health) or Talukdar.” It further said that the ward committees must also keep a watch that illegal felling does not take place in the area.

The main allegation against Jana is that he had not taken prior permission from the authorities before giving orders for felling the trees.

   

 
 
TOLD TO APOLOGISE, RIVAL QUITS MODI CABINET 
 
 
OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ahmedabad, Aug. 6: 
Gujarat revenue minister Haren Pandya resigned from the state Cabinet today, four days after a showcause notice was served on him, following a report that a minister had deposed before the lokayukta indicting the state government for its role in the riots.

Chief minister Narendra Modi forwarded the resignation to Governor S.S. Bhandari, who has accepted it, according to official sources.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu said in New Delhi that he had asked Pandya to tender an unqualified apology or quit. Gujarat Cabinet spokesman I.K. Jadeja also said the revenue minister was given the option of either apologising or resigning.

Pandya, however, denied that he had been asked to quit. “Neither the chief minister nor the party asked me to resign. It is entirely my decision, which I took in the interest of the party,” he clarified. State BJP chief Rajendrasinh Rana echoed Pandya, saying there was no pressure on him to resign.

Before submitting his resignation, Pandya called journalists to his chamber in Gandhinagar and announced his decision. The minister said he would not withdraw his resignation.

Pandya had resigned once during former chief minister Keshubhai Patel’s regime following differences with another minister, only to withdraw his resignation later. This time, however, he would not do so, the minister said. “I am firm. There will be no such withdrawal drama.”

The revenue minister said he was resigning from the Cabinet because he did not want the party to suffer because of one person’s “whims, obstinacy and vindictiveness”, in an apparent reference to Modi.

“I have been loyal to the party throughout my career as a spokesman, home minister and revenue minister. I have performed my job with conviction,” asserted Pandya. He, however, said he would not leave the party but would work for it during the forthcoming Assembly elections.

Last week, Rana had sought Pandya’s explanation following a magazine report that a minister of the Modi Cabinet had deposed before the lokayukta that Modi had asked senior police officials on the night of February 27 to “let justice be done for the Godhra carnage”.

Pandya hit back, accusing Modi for maligning him and took exception to the notice served on him on the basis of “baseless matters”. In a hard-hitting reply to the notice, Pandya said he had not given any interview to a leading magazine or issued a press statement criticising the Modi government’s handling of the riots.

On Monday, the state BJP chief sought to play down the controversy involving the notice. The “chapter”, he said, has been closed.

Pandya, who represents the Brahmin lobby, is the first minister in the Modi Cabinet to raise the banner of revolt and his resignation has far-reaching implications for the BJP. Brahmins have traditionally been strong supporters of the party in Gujarat, where their leaders have been marginalised of late. This does not augur well for the party, which has to face the electorate soon.

Sources, however, say Modi will not take the matter too far because he knows that Pandya has the support of several other influential leaders who can rock the BJP’s boat.

   
 

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