Warm wait for winter’s chill
Green plea to Mamata on Metro pillars
Gawkers feast on dolphins’ distress
Crime-cradle Pailan fears Sonarpur carnage rerun
Orissa BJP all set to accept Naveen as CM
Tripura rebels kill one, abduct youth
Explosives haul

Wondering where the winter went? Weather wags won’t wager on it but they say a two-day wait will weaken the unseasonal warmth that has gripped the city.

An anti-cyclone (in which the winds move outward from the centre of a cyclonic system, instead of inward) in the north Bay of Bengal has blocked the cold winds from the north and northwest, weather officials said on Saturday. These winds are the mainstay of Calcutta’s winter and were blowing well till Monday, when this anti-cyclone started developing in the Bay.

In addition to blocking winds from the north, the winds from the Bay also bring with them moisture, which contributes to increasing temperatures, the weather officials added. “We will have to wait for the anti-cyclone system to shift before the north winds resume and the temperatures come back to normal or near normal.”

Indeed, since Monday, both the maximum and minimum temperatures have been rising, increasingly deviating from the normal, till Friday’s recordings stood at 30.3 and 18.8 degrees Celsius, respectively, which was as much as 3 degrees and 5 degrees above normal.

So, even as parts of Rajasthan shiver under severe cold wave conditions and a cold wave prevails over Punjab, Haryana, Himachal and Gujarat, Gangetic Bengal and parts of Orissa had temperatures in January that were closer to summer.

The unusual warmth at this time has worried many a Calcuttan. “Is this and outcome of global warming, or what?” asked Argha Roy, a company executive. Sweta Basu and her friends were more worried about how hot it would be during their picnic on Sunday.

Winter is one season, perhaps the only time of the year, in which Calcutta can be a pleasant place to live in or visit. “As it is, the season is very short, lasting a little over two months. It’s very sad that even that is being taken away by Mother Nature,” complained Anjana Das.

Pilgrims returning from a dip at Sagar Island said there was hardly any cold this year. “We had heard about the near-freezing conditions at Sagar, and we went well prepared. But we landed up carrying extra luggage,” said Partha Sanyal, who returned to the city with his family on Saturday. “And somehow, this lack of cold deprived many of the excitement and hardship associated with the pilgrimage,” he added.

The coldest day this season was January 7, when the minimum temperature dipped to 10.4 degrees and the maximum stood at 22.9. “It may not get that cold again, but don’t worry, winter is still around. The mercury will drop again,” assured the weatherman.    

Green activists have drawn up a petition to railway minister Mamata Banerjee, urging her to prevent the choking of Tolly’s Nullah when pillars are erected for laying Metro Rail tracks over it.

The Metro Rail plans to build elevated twin tracks along the canal from Tollygunge to Garia in the second phase of the railway’s extension. Environment activists feel the erection of the pillars will ruin the drainage properties of Tolly’s Nullah.

Calcutta-36, a forum of city-based environmental groups, has drawn up the memorandum to be submitted to Banerjee and Metro Rail’s general manager next week.

The activists said the irrigation department’s Rs 2-crore desilting and bank-strengthening work will come to naught if the pillars check the flow of tidal water in and out of the canal.

The desiltation work has been continuing in fits and starts because of local trouble and court cases. The green activists also feel that the encroachments along the banks of the canal are a threat to the longevity of the canal.

Large parts of Garia and Sonarpur have been subjected to waterlogging because of the poor condition of the canal, senior irrigation engineers said. “The bed of Tolly’s Nullah has risen, causing stagnation up to 40 per cent. But it is in better shape than either Bagjola or Keshtopur canals,” an irrigation department official said.

Calcutta-36 convener C.R. Dutta said what had worsened the condition of Tolly’s Nullah was that none of the projects undertaken by the Ganga Action Plan had been effective. “It is money gone down the drain and we are afraid the Metro construction will bring in serious environmental problem for the southern extremity of the city,” Dutta added.

“Mamata Banerjee has been a crusader for the environment in the past and we hope to get a response from her,” Dutta said. Banerjee had led a movement against the building of an amusement park in Rabindra Sarobar during the late Eighties, he pointed out.

The Green groups want Tolly’s Nullah excavated so that it meets the Bidyadhari river to the east. They also want transparency of the Metro extension project ,with detailed plans of the structure and its effects available for the public.

Insulator blast

Another snag crippled Metro Rail services for over an hour on Saturday. A similar disruption had stalled trains on Thursday morning after passengers noticed flashes of fire from the third rail near Dum Dum station. A total of 24 trains were cancelled after it was detected that a 754-cable joint had melted in the fire.

Officials said services were disrupted on Saturday afternoon after a cable insulator in the tunnel exploded between Chandni Chowk and Esplanade stations. Fourteen trains was cancelled.

Officials said commuters were stranded in many stations from 12.24 pm. Seven trains were run to clear the rush. Services were restored around 2 pm.    

A pair of dolphins has set off an influx of holiday-makers and hordes of curious onlookers to Randia, a picturesque picnic spot on the banks of the Damodar, in the Bud Bud police station area here.

The dolphins, a mother and her calf, had swum upstream for safety during last year’s devastating floods. But when the water receded, they were trapped in the sand banks of the river bed.

The prisoners of the sandbanks are now victims of torture by picnic parties and poor fishermen, already trapped in the net of a supply crisis. The callous humans have been practising their potshots by throwing stones at the dolphins, and the mother displays distinct scars of injuries.

Two young men from Durgapur — Sisir Sharma, 27, and Probhat Bhattacharya, 26 — were drowned on January 1 in the capsize of the country boat they had hired to take them for a closer look at the marine mammals.

Galsi’s block development officer Rana Roy says Randia is a popular picnic spot, especially in winter. The villagers await tourist season because they can make a fast buck. But this year, the crowds have become a headache. It is becoming impossible to keep the humans at bay.

The sub-divisional officer, Damodar Headworks (canal division), Ramkrishna Dawn, said a local fisherman first spotted “a strange animal, almost five feet long and weighing roughly 1.5 quintals.” He reported the sighting on October 19. The creature had ripped his fishing net.

The divisional forest officer of Durgapur, Sukumar Seth, said the dolphins appeared in the weir bridge complex at Randia when the Damodar was brimful with two lakh cusecs of water, after a heavy downpour in the Chhotanagpur plateau.

Water discharge was cut drastically because a flood-like situation prevailed in the lower Damodar area. This trapped the dolphins in the weir bridge.

Now the flow in the Damodar is almost a trickle, and the mammals can’t swim back to their habitat. Even the release of a large volume of water from the Durgapur barrage for boro crops early this month did not help matters. “Now we can only wait for another flood-like situation to free these dolphins,” Seth said.

He is awaiting word from the wildlife wing and Calcutta zoo for a course of action. “We do not have the expertise to trap the dolphins, and they are too strong too be trapped in ordinary fishing nets. Till the special nets arrive, we can only watch and guard the mammals,” he added.

The district authorities are being posted of the developments regularly. Seth said the mother dolphin, struggling in a 1000-cubic-metre water block 10 metres deep, is showing signs of fatigue and illness. And stone-tossing humans are not helping it at all.    

There could be a Sonarpur-like flare-up at adjoining Pailan if police officers continue to turn a blind eye to the reign of terror unleashed on residents there by a gang of criminals, according to officials of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

With residents still seething against the police, the state government had asked the CID to probe the Sonarpur carnage.

According to Dinu Hazra of Pailanhat, about four kilometres from Sonarpur, Mansuf Mollah, Bhola and Sheikh Rashid lead a 25-member gang that is terrorising the villagers of Banagram, Hanspukur, Shyamali, Bibirhat, Shyamukpota and Barapukur.

Pailan’s residents, too, have lost faith in the police. They claim the officers of Bishnupur police station have close links with the criminals, which is why they are still at large.

With the detective department of the city police hot on their trail after a series of dacoities and murders in south Calcutta and the port area, Mollah and his men were on the run when they found shelter in Banagram and Hanspukur.

“Initially, Mollah and his men kept a low profile. Their money power lured some local boys into their fold,’’ said Abdul Matin, a village elder.

Life was not the same after Mollah settled down in the area. The once-peaceful Pailan and Bishnupur areas turned into open crimeland.

“The gang started demanding money from traders, villagers and factory-owners. Many local people work in the factory sheds that dot the area,’’ Alok Naskar of Banagram said.

Residents alleged the Mollah gang had looted the house of Bijoy Pal few days earlier and threatened him with dire consequences if he reported the incident to the police. They were also involved in the recent killings of Bapi Pramanik, Mokarru and Sabur.

Incidents of snatching, robbery and bomb-throwing are regular in the Pailanhat, Hanspukur and Banagram areas.

“It has become extremely difficult for men, women and children to venture out of the house even by day. One does not know when the gang will attack us,’’ said Sanatan Majhi of Hanspukur.

The deputy commissioner of police, detective department special cell, Manoj Malaviya, confirmed that his men are on the look-out for Mollah, Pappu, Tara, Tayub and their associates.

“They have fled the areas under control of the city police. We are trying to gather information on them,’’ he said.

The additional superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, S.N. Gupta, said the local people had complained to him several times.

“I had forwarded the complaints to the OC and asked him to take action. I will find out why the police have not taken any action in tracing the criminals and arrest them,’’ Gupta said.

Lynching arrests: The police raided several villages in Sonarpur and arrested 23 persons on charges of lynching the criminals, taking the total number of arrests to 33. Ten villagers were arrested on Friday, triggering off a protest by the local people. The kingpin, Sheikh Vinod, and an associate, Asgar Ali, are still at large.


Tension ran high on Canal East Road on Saturday night after a clash between anti-socials. Both groups showered each other with bombs, soda bottles and bottle bombs during the clash, which lasted nearly 50 minutes.

Five persons were injured. Officials of the local police station resorted to a lathicharge to disperse the groups. Two persons were arrested. A police picket has been posted in the area to check further clashes.    

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 15 
The BJP is all set to accept Biju Janata Dal chief Naveen Patnaik as chief minister of Orissa. It may also not stake claim to deputy chief ministership.

The allies are hoping to win the Assembly elections next month and form the government. The BJP had so far refused to acknowledge Patnaik as a consensus candidate for chief minister. Speculation was rife that the party may seek deputy chief ministership to keep Patnaik under pressure.

BJP sources today said the party was not going to object to Patnaik becoming chief minister, given his growing popularity in the state. Patnaik has emerged as an undisputed leader. “He is the only crowd-puller in the state today as people see his late father in him,” they added.

The sources said the BJP did not want to risk breaking its alliance over the issue of chief ministership, especially when “we are within striking distance of making it to the state secretariat.” The party’s national leadership also did not want the issue to come in the way of government formation.

But the BJP did not want to make public its “private stance” till the elections were over. Using the issue as a bargaining chip, the party wanted to keep the BJD guessing about its preference for chief minister. The sources said the BJP at present did not have any chief ministerial candidate who could match Patnaik’s popularity and wide acceptability. The party, however, hopes to consolidate its base further and form its own government in the future.

“We may not have a popular leader now, but we will outflank the BJD in the long run through the sheer strength of our organisation,” the sources said.

The sources said the BJP would not clamour for deputy chief ministership because it would not accept the number two position. “It is either the number one post or nothing. We are not going to play second fiddle to anyone. When Mayawati became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, we had never said Kalyan Singh would be deputy chief minister,” they added.

BJP chief Manmohan Shamal today started discussions with Patnaik over seat-sharing for the elections. The BJP proposed a one-to-one meeting to keep the regional party’s high-powered steering committee, which is packed with hardliners, from the discussion.    

Agartala, Jan. 15 
Suspected National Liberation Front of Tripura militants gunned down a non-tribal boy, kidnapped a teenaged school student and seriously injured another person at Beltilla area in south Tripura last night.

At around 8 pm yesterday, a group of armed NLFT militants raided Beltilla village near Chandrapur market under Udaipur subdivision. The militants stormed the house of Pramod De and tried to kidnap his 12-year-old son Suman De. Attracted by their cries for help, local villagers surrounded the house, following which the militants opened fire.

The militants shot dead a 16-year-old boy and escaped with their hostage, Suman De. A villager, Rabindra Sutradhar, sustained injuries in the firing. He was rushed to a hospital in Udaipur town. Two women of the house were also injured when they tried to resist the kidnappers.

Police reinforcements rushed to the spot from Udaipur but failed to capture the militants or rescue their hostage.

Police sources said there had been a security gap in the area as there was heavy deployment of security forces at Tirthamukh area under Amarpur subdivision for the Makar Sankranti festival. Two senior state ministers, Aghore Debbarma and Balaram Reang, have been campaigning in the area.    

Ranchi, Jan. 15 
Hazaribagh police recovered nearly 200 kg of explosives late last evening from a Maruti Van in the Keredari area under Hazaribagh district.

Superintendent of police Alok Raj claimed the explosives were on their way to Chatra to be used to disrupt Bihar Assembly polls. Three persons travelling in the vehicle were arrested.    


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