Road deaths ignite firestorm
Mamata gifts 5 ticket counters
Call of the open for zoo�s white tigers
Govt teachers on contract
RJD scouts for secular allies
British bid to rev up Assam forest upkeep

Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
Accident, anger and arson rocked parts of the city on Sunday. Hit-and-run cases, one at Ananda Palit Road and another at Rajabazar, claimed two lives and left a trail of blood, burnt buses and roadblocks.

Balaram Bhattacharya, 45, was killed when the rickshaw he was travelling in was hit by a lorry near Ananda Palit market. A mob stoned the vehicle and blocked traffic for two hours.

The DC, eastern suburban division, Mihir Bhattacharya, finally stepped in to disperse the mob and tow the lorry away.The driver could not be arrested.

Later in the afternoon, Halima Khatoon, 70, was run over by a Sealdah-bound private bus on route 234 at the Rajabazar-APC Road crossing. The bus knocked down the resident of nearby Parsibagan and fled. Officials from Amherst Street police station managed to remove the body, but were soon hopelessly outnumbered by angry locals gathering at the spot.

The mob, nearly 5,000-strong, first squatted on the streets to block the traffic. Then, some youth began to stop buses and set them ablaze. The mob torched two buses on route 234, and one each on 79B and 34C. A fire engine was also stoned.

�Passengers began jumping off the buses and running helter-skelter as the mob went berserk,� said Sheikh Azhar, a local youth.

The handful of cops remained spectators after the mob started throwing stones at them. �We had to take shelter in nearby shops after being attacked. Otherwise, we would have been lynched by the mob,� said an officer, who was among the first to reach the accident spot.

With the Rajabazar crossing resembling a war zone, a large contingent of policemen, led by deputy commissioners and joint commissioners, arrived on the scene. Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel finally led a lathicharge to disperse the mob. The remains of the burnt buses were towed away and the debris cleared with the help of some local residents.

The two accidents have once again highlighted the failure of the police to react promptly, especially on Sundays and other holidays. In both the cases, there were hardly any policemen in the vicinity and it took a long time for reinforcements to reach the spots.

By the time enough police and RAF men arrived at Rajabazar, four buses had gone up in smoke and fear had gripped the whole area. The Rajabazar accident also reflects the redundancy of the much-hyped �bus-bay�, introduced after a spate of road accidents last December, on Sundays.

With virtually no traffic policeman in sight on holidays, buses tend to ignore traffic rules.    

Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
Railway minister Mamata Banerjee has decided to gift four out-of-turn computerised railway booking counters by March to the city where her party, Trinamul Congress, has MPs in every constituency. The promise was made keeping in mind the civic polls slated for May.

The counters will be located in Hazra, Behala, Kidderpore and Shyambazar. The fifth will be in Diamond Harbour, where her party lost by a slender margin in the last Lok Sabha polls.

With the Trinamul now enjoying the status of the principal Opposition party in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, Mamata has targeted the CMC board in the polls and, hence, the out-of-turn favours, observers said.

According to a railway spokesman, a special sanction of Rs 1 crore has been made to set up the computerised counters.

He said the cost of opening a single computerised window would be Rs 10 lakh, over and above other infrastructural expenditure.

A spokesman of the Eastern Railwaymen�s Union said: �These five new booking counters are being given top priority, setting aside the earlier announcement to set up seven computerised railway booking centres by this financial year.�

The earlier proposed centres were at Calcutta Press Club, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, the city airport, Tarakeswar, Dakshineswar, Rampurhat and Bongaon.

The spokesman said apparently, Mamata�s predecessor Nitish Kumar�s promise to offer computer terminals to private travel agents would remain on paper, as she was yet to show any interest in the proposal.

Former railway minister Nitish Kumar, in his budget speech last year, had announced that to spread the network of computerised booking facilities, the railway authorities had decided to offer computer terminals to travel agents at their own cost in different parts of the country.

A spokesman in the office of the chief commercial manager (passenger), Eastern Railway, welcoming the decision, said: �It will raise daily transactions in long-distance tickets�.

At present, 80,000 tickets are transacted every day from more than 2500 computerised windows in 113 booking offices under the Calcutta Passenger Reservation System (CPRS) of the Eastern Railway.

There were, he said, five such CPRS under the Indian Railways. The other four were in Mumbai, Delhi,Chennai, and Secunderabad.

The CPRS at Calcutta handles transactions of Eastern Railway, South Eastern Railway and Northern Frontier Railway.

Eastern Railway�s jurisdiction includes West Bengal, Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

There is a monthly demand for 25 lakh long distance tickets in the CPRS.    

Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
Now that plans have been shelved to shift Alipore zoo to a more spacious location on the outskirts of the city, the authorities have decided to make the present site a little more animal-friendly.

Initially, two new attractions are being added: open-air enclosures for the white tigers and primates. The zoo already has open-air spaces for tigers, elephants, deer and crocodiles. The new enclosures, surrounded by moats, have been carved out of the old cages. The primates� enclosure, coming up just beyond the main gate, will stand on half the old Gubbay House, where the apes and monkeys were caged. The white tiger enclosure is coming up on more than a couple of bighas from the Children�s Zoo. The space, with a number of large trees, is adjacent to the white tiger cages, which will be linked to the enclosure.

�We have managed to achieve this after pleading with the Central Zoo Authority to fund the new enclosures,� said A.K. Das, zoo director. While the primates� enclosure is being built at a cost of Rs 26 lakh, the white tiger�s lair will require Rs 32 lakh for completion.

Earlier, the Central Zoo Authority provided only half the funds to zoos, the rest being provided by the respective state governments. Das said this created bottlenecks and projects were either scrapped or delayed due to the non-availability of funds.

�We are planning to keep rare primates, like the lion-tailed macaque and baboons, in the open air. The enclosure will also have a retiring cage for them,� Das said.

The zoo authorities are also talking to counterparts elsewhere in the country to bring in baboons in exchange of any animal from the Calcutta zoo. �These have a novelty value and will certainly be a big draw,� the director said.

For the white tiger enclosure, the zoo has five that will be allowed into the shrubbery one at a time.

Special emphasis is being laid on making both enclosures secure from pranksters. The zoo is not going to have another incident like the one on January 1, 1996, when Shiva, the Royal Bengal Tiger, mauled to death in full view of hundreds of visitors one of two youth who had managed to enter its open-air enclosure.

Das said there was little scope to add structures on the premises as there is hardly any room. There are, however, some old structures that can either be demolished, developed or renovated. The gabled, old reptile house adjacent to the Children�s Zoo will be turned into a nature interpretation centre. The centre will have audio-visual kits for children. It will also serve as venue for seminars and workshops.    

Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
The government is ready to recruit teachers to fill 117 posts in 17 government colleges. In a significant departure from the tradition of appointing �part-time lecturers�, all these teachers will be on contract.

Higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty, however, clarified that this was a �temporary measure� to fill vacancies in a hurry. He expected the 117 posts to be filled by the end of this year. After that, the contract system would be abolished.

Contract-based recruitment will be for city colleges like Presidency, Lady Brabourne, Maulana Azad, Bethune and Bidhannagar. The West Bengal Government College Teachers Association has voiced its opposition to the move.    

Patna, Jan. 16: 
Unfazed by the Samajwadi Party�s refusal to forge an alliance with his party, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav today said he was confident about getting the support of �committed secular forces�.

The former Bihar chief minister said the RJD was in touch with �true secularists� like former prime ministers H.D. Deve Gowda and Chandra Sekhar. However, he declined to comment on the Samajwadi Party�s stand on the proposed alliance with his party.

Claiming his front as the �real secular group�� in the state, the RJD president said other parties which were trying for an alternative secular front was only �back stabbing secularism��. Criticising the CPI which had forged an alliance with CPI(M-L) against the RJD, he said, �They were only strengthening communal forces��.

In another development, RJD leader Chedi Paswan rejoined the ruling party today after spending less than 24 hours in the Samata Party camp. Three CPI leaders also joined the party.

Merger proposal: A section of Samata Party leaders has urged party general secretary Nitish Kumar to facilitate a merger with the Janata Dal (United) before the Assembly polls in Bihar.

In a joint letter to Kumar, the leaders said only a merger could prevent a split in the anti-Laloo votes. The Samata leaders who signed the letter include Prem Kumar Mani, former parliamentarian Harideo Singh and B.S. Singh.

Fernandes confident: Samata Party president George Fernandes today said the RJD would lose the Assembly elections, irrespective of whether the Janata Dal �parivar� was reunited or not, adds PTI from New Delhi.

�Failure to bring about reunification of the Janata Dal will not be a hurdle in getting rid of jungle raj in Bihar,� the defence minister said.

�We have been fighting against the RJD for the last six years. The merger issue will not prevent people from getting rid of the party,� he added.

Fernandes said it was wrong to presume that a multi-pronged contest would help the RJD retain power in Bihar. He expressed confidence that talks on seat adjustments with the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) would yield positive results.

Asked whom his party and its allies planned to make the chief minister in the event of the RJD losing the polls, Fernandes said, �It is premature to comment on the issue.

�We will come to that later.� Denying that his personal ambition to lead a united Janata Dal prevented reunification of the party, Fernandes said, �Have you ever heard me saying that I want to become the party president?�

Candidate list

The RJD will release its list of candidates for state Assembly polls by January 20.

Party chief Laloo Yadav said the scrutiny of the application papers submitted by aspirants for tickets was underway. He said his party would ensure adequate representation to all sections of people while choosing candidates. However, he said the candidates with clean image would be given preference.    

Guwahati, Jan. 16: 
The United Kingdom-based Fauna and Flora International donated four motorcycles to Orang and Pobitora wildlife sanctuaries on Friday to �increase the mobility� of the forest enforcement staff.

Honorary chief executive of the Rhino Foundation Anwaruddin Choudhury handed over the keys to state forest minister Nagen Sarma at a brief function organised at the Assam State Zoo here. The Rhino Foundation is a partner of the Fauna and Flora International in the Northeast.

�In fact, the motorcycles were a Bihu gift to the forest staff. We hope it will be of great use to the enforcement staff, who are working round the clock to guard the rich fauna from poachers,� Choudhury said. Orang and Pobitora wildlife sanctuaries, home to the famous one-horned rhinos, will be the first in the state to have two-wheeler patrolling vehicles. They will get two motorbikes each.

Choudhury said the enforcement staff was finding it difficult to patrol the remote sanctuary areas as the conditions of roads and bridges were not upto the mark. �Despite the odds, the forest staff have been guarding the wildlife habitats from poachers,� Choudhury said, adding that poaching had declined to a great extent during the past one year.

Choudhury said till 1998, poachers killed on an average 10 rhinos every year in Orang. �But last year, the sanctuary lost only seven rhinos.

This shows the sincerity of the forest enforcement staff.� Incidence of poaching has also come down in Pobitora, he added. Last week, the Rhino Foundation had donated jackets to the forest department field staff.

�They should not have problems patrolling at night during the winter months.

�After all, they are the sentinels of our forests,� he said. The project was funded by the World Wide Fund for nature � Tiger Conservation Project (TCP).

The NGO, with financial assistance from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, had donated sophisticated walkie-talkie sets to both the sanctuaries last year.

Earlier, another Guwahati-based NGO, the Aaranyak Nature Club, had also donated communication systems to the forest staff of Orang and Pobitora. In addition to the handsets, they had provided the forest department with solar panels to re-charge their batteries in the remote corners of the wild habitat, where there is no electric supply.    


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