Bus bandh against road rage
Gangster hunt hots up with reward offer
Rs 45 crore for bigger, wider, swifter Bypass
Port land for Circular Rail extension
Tram fare relief for the aged
Muivah home tabs on arrest and talks
Rebels keep minister ambush motive vague
Rights panel seeks report from Tripura

Private buses and minibuses will not ply on Monday as private transport operators called a strike to protest against �mob attacks and police atrocities�.

Bus services on Tuesday, too, are likely to be affected with one of the two major operators� associations deciding to strike work on consecutive days.

About 1,200 chartered buses that ferry an estimated 1 lakh school students and 80,000 office-goers daily will also not run.

The strike call has been issued for Calcutta, Howrah, South and North 24 Parganas. All six private operators� associations will participate in Monday�s strike. But only private buses owned by members of the Bengal Bus Syndicate are likely to stay off the roads on Tuesday.

The strike will not affect state-run public transport. The Calcutta State Transport Corporation, that claims it runs about 440 buses daily, has promised to deploy more than 500 buses on Monday. Metro Rail, taxis, autorickshaws and trams are outside the purview of the strike.

But these services are unlikely to be enough to tackle the additional load. Private bus operators, who have called the strike, claim nearly 76 per cent of the city�s total daily passenger traffic are dependent on them. Others use their own vehicles or depend on government-run state transport buses.

The traffic police anticipate major congestion at Howrah and Sealdah stations where passengers coming into the city on suburban trains may not find enough public transport.

The strike was first called by private and minibus operators after 24 buses were damaged in attacks by violent mobs since December 3. The attacks invariably followed road accidents.

The government is hoping the strike may still be broken because of sharp differences between the two major bus owners� associations, the Bengal Bus Syndicate (BBS) and the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate (JCBS). The JCBS does not want a two-day strike.

The general secretary of the JCBS, Sadhan Das, said on Sunday that transport minister Subhas Chakraborty had assured them that he would ensure the police did not unnecessarily harass bus drivers and conductors. The bus owners have alleged the �police atrocities� were making it difficult to run their buses.

�We met Chakraborty on Friday when he assured us that he will look into the issue. So we are not going for a two-day strike. Our main intention is not to disturb the common people, but to get the government to check the violent attacks on buses. Though Chakraborty could not give an assurance that such attacks would be prevented, we will not continue the strike beyond Monday�, said Das.

But the BBS was unwilling to reconsider its decision of a two-day strike. The syndicate�s Ajit Saha said that if they to settled for a day�s protest it would send the signal that bus operators were not firm in their resolve.

�We had decided to go for a two-day strike and we will not budge an inch from our resolve,� he said.

�Even on Sunday, a private bus was set on fire at Nilganj, in North 24-Parganas. How can we be mute?� Saha asked.

The JCBS claims its members own around 4500 private buses and minibuses. BBS members are said to run 500 private buses.

The four other associations that will participate in Monday�s strike are Minibus Operators� Coordination Committee, Bengal Minibus Owners� Syndicate, Joint Committee of Passenger Transport (Howrah) and Howrah District Bus Owners� Syndicate.

Housewife found dead: Bandana Mukherjee, 35 , a housewife, was found hanging from the ceiling of her bedroom at her residence in Sarsuna. She was an active CPM worker. No one has been arrested.

Four injured in mishap: Four persons were injured when a lorry hit an autorickshaw on Raja Subodh Mullick Road in Jadavpur on Sunday. All the injured were admitted to M R Bangur hospital. The driver of the lorry has been arrested.    

In a crack-down on crimelords, Calcutta Police has announced a reward of Rs 35,000 for information about Sheikh Vinod, wanted for murder, gun-running and rioting. Vinod hit the headlines after some of his gang-members were lynched at Sonapur last month.

The announcement comes two days after the arrest of Shahjada, a gang leader in south Calcutta.

According to information received by the police, Vinod, who is said to be conducting his operations from a hideout in Dum Dum, could seize control of Shahjada�s crime empire.

�The sense of quiet in south Calcutta, following Shahjada�s arrest, will not last long if we do not catch him (Vinod) before he stages a comeback in the city,� said deputy commissioner (south) Ranjit Pachnanda.

The police carried out several raids in Tollygunge, Prince Anwar Shah Road, Lake Road, Swiss Park, Pratapaditya Road and New Alipore, on Sunday, to try and flush out members of Shahjada and Sheikh Vinod�s gangs.

Kasba condolence meet: The Calcutta District Committee of the CPM will hold a meeting at Kasba on February 6 to condole the death of party leader Gurupada Bagchi who was shot dead on January 23.    

The Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, is poised to become bigger, wider and swifter.

The Rs 45-crore expansion programme of the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) is aimed at adding new lanes, broadening existing ones, constructing fly-overs and building bridges to help ease the traffic problems plaguing the bypass.

At the moment, the 19-km bypass is a six-lane road from Ultadanga to the Park Circus connector. According to transport department records, 40,000 vehicles use this stretch during peak hours. Another 22,000 vehicles use the stretch between the Rashbehari connector and the Park Circus connector and over 15,000 vehicles ply between Garia and the Rashbehari connector during rush-hours. The numbers are rising every day.

Under the CMDA programme, two more lanes will be added to the four-lane stretch from the Park Circus connector to Ruby General Hospital. The two-lane stretch between Ruby General Hospital and Garia will be converted into four lanes.

A flyover will be constructed at Bagha Jatin over the railway track. Another bridge will be constructed on the canal near the Science City alongside the existing Ambedkar Setu. While construction at Bagha Jatin has already started, work at the Ambedkar Setu site will begin soon.

The project should be complete within a year with the CMDA having been instructed to give it �top priority�.

Chief traffic and transport engineer Ajit Bhattacharya said drastic steps need to be taken immediately as the pressure of vehicles on the bypass will go on increasing. �We maintain the norms of the Indian Road Congress (IRC), so one-lane space is 3.5 m on a highway or expressway where a vehicle can run at a speed of 75 to 80 km per hour,� Bhattacharya said.

The width of the road from Ultadanga to Park Circus connector is 22 m, a metre more than the IRC requirement. To reduce the load of traffic on the bypass, two service roads are being constructed on either side. Vehicles travelling short distances will be diverted along these routes.

�A number of housing and commercial complexes and other establishments are coming up on either side of the road. So, the service roads are a must. Apart from the four-lane intersections, all the side lanes will be sealed after the service roads are complete,� said Bhattacharya.

The EM Bypass will also be extended to Sonarpur from Garia.

�My first priority is to widen the road because it links the airport with south and east Calcutta, apart from bearing a huge load,� said P. K. Pradhan, chief executive officer of CMDA, on Sunday. �Then, we will have to extend it because the rapid development in this part of the city has brought upon serious civic pressures,� he added.

The need to develop lane-marking, flow-management and intersection engineering on the by-pass is also being addressed.

�There is no point in denying that the bypass has many problems. If we do not evolve correctives like minimising the entry and exit points along the bypass, the entire expansion programme will be meaningless as it will simply add to the existing chaos,� said a senior official in the urban development department.

So the road will be lane-marked to maintain traffic discipline and modern signalling systems will be installed. Guard-rails will be set up at most intersections.

�The project has been finalised after discussing the present problems faced by the road with the police and traffic engineers,�� the urban development official.

When construction on the two-lane EM Bypass began in the early 70s, the planners had, obviously, failed to foresee the traffic load it would be bearing by the end of the century.

Later, the Left Front government constructed a four-lane stretch between Ultadanga and the Park Circus connector. In 1996, this was converted into a six-lane stretch and an additional bridge was built at Park Circus over the railway tracks. But all this has proved hopelessly inadequate, prompting the mega expansion plan.    

The ground has been laid for extending the Circular Rail network from Prinsep Ghat to Majherhat, on the southern fringes, with Calcutta Port Trust agreeing to lease 15 acres of land. The fully-electrified, 5-km network will cost Rs 162 crore.

A senior Eastern railway official said the project would be undertaken in several phases. First, around Rs 65 crore will be spent for a single track on the stretch. In the second phase, the second track will be laid and electrification taken up.

Engineering work will be taken up by Metro Rail, while the electrification has been assigned to the Allahabad-based Railway Electrification Organisation, which has already completed the Dum Dum-Tallah stretch at a cost of Rs 2.71 crore.

�The reason behind such a massive electrification programme is that this will help divert the traffic from Sealdah station to the office areas of the city. This will help ease the traffic congestion in the Sealdah area,�� the official said. The new route will also benefit office-goers from the suburban areas, like Budge-Budge. A proposal to electrify the Tallah-BBD Bag stretch at a cost of Rs 10 crore is under consideration.

The railway is also trying to bring a couple of diesel-run trains from the Sealdah main section to the Circular Rail, now operating between Ultadanga and Prinsep Ghat.

The first Circular Rail project was undertaken in 1981-82 when A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury was rail minister. The railways purchased around 17 acres from the port authorities for about Rs 6 crore. The network became operational in 1984. The Eastern Railway suffers huge losses on the Circular Rail. Except during office hours, the trains run empty.

But this has not deterred the it from chalking out an ambitious expansion programme, as it will create a lot of �strategic advantages,� said an official.    

Taking a cue from railway minister Mamata Banerjee, state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty has decided to allow concessional fares for the elderly on trams. Women above 60 years and men above 65 will have to pay less than younger commuters.

Shortly after taking over as Union railway minister, Mamata Banerjee had introduced discount fares for senior citizens.

CTC chairman Sudhir De has also approached the Metro Railway with a proposal to collaborate. The underground trains and trams are two modes of public transport that are not seen anywhere else in India.

Metro Rail general manager IIMS Rana was enthusiastic about the proposal. �Trams are part of the integrated surface transport system and we need trams to carry our passengers on the surface, particularly at Tollygunge Metro station,� he added.

CTC proposed concessional fares for the elderly to project a people-friendly image.

The system of concessions was started by Indian Airlines. But the national carrier withdrew the scheme after its management concluded that it benefits only the well-to-do elderly.

That will not be the case with the CTC, because trams are still the cheapest mode of public transport in the city. But it threatens to push a cash-strapped and subsidised CTC deeper into the red. The CTC management hopes that the apparent erosion in revenue will be offset by the popularity of a step that will encourage more people to travel in trams.

�We will be able to have senior citizens as our sole customers after the introduction of concessional travel facilities,� De said. �We expect the elderly to take to trams with their grandchildren.�

A recent CTC survey reveals that though each tram has a capacity of nearly 150 passengers, it carries only 82 passengers on an average in one journey. In 1998-99, the company suffered a loss of Rs 68 crore, against Rs 56 crore in the previous year.    

Ukhrul, Jan. 30: 
The Tangkhul Nagas of the district have been guarded in their reaction to the reported arrest of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah in Bangkok.

The NSCN(I-M) leader, who hails from Ukhrul district, was arrested from Bangkok airport for illegally entering Thailand.

A section of the residents felt that the �arrest drama�� would not last long. Their hopes were vindicated when Muivah was released on bail after guaranteeing a personal bond of Rs 2 lakh to be paid in Thai currency.

However, most of the people said they were not very clear about the sequence of events that led to his arrest. An old man said, �I only heard the news from the television but I don�t know how far it is true. We cannot be happy with such information.�� However, the news of his release has come as a relief.

Anxiety was palpable as residents rushed to the newspaper stalls to procure copies of local English dailies.

Though the Tangkhuls have borne the brunt of Naga insurgency, Muivah still commands a good base among them despite some �excesses perpetrated by his armed squads.�� Most of the Tangkhul intellectuals feel that Muivah has played a pivotal role in highlighting the Naga issue.

Muivah�s support base comprises the educated youth rather than the �older generation.�� But the residents are unanimous in their demand for peace.

Their prime concern is whether the ongoing peace talks between the Centre and the NSCN(I-M) will bring an amicable solution to the Naga problem.

A Naga intellectual said Muivah�s �biggest hurdles in achieving his political goal will be the Naga political leaders. If the ongoing peace talks succeed, Muivah will have to come to the political centrestage.��

Political analysts in Imphal said Muivah would not be able to wield �absolute� power as long as the mainstream Naga leaders remained in the limelight. This could be a reason for Muivah to call for �poll� boycott in both Nagaland and Manipur.

Observers feel that Muivah can politically �silence�� the mainstream Naga leaders by effectively enforcing a poll boycott.

Sixty-five-year-old Muivah was born in Somdal, a remote village in western Ukhrul. He graduated from Shillong�s St. Anthony�s College and acquired his master�s degree in Political Science from Gauhati University in 1964. He joined A.Z. Phizo�s Naga National Council in 1965 and became his trusted �aide.�� Muivah led the first batch of Naga guerrillas to China for military and political training.

He subsequently parted ways with Phizo after the 1975 Shillong Accord between the Centre and the NNC. Terming it a sell-out of the Naga cause, Muivah along with Isak Chisi Swu and S.S. Khaplang formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

Differences soon cropped up between Muivah and Khaplang resulting in a fratricidal war in 1988. Muivah, however, survived the war and later teamed up with Isak Chisi Swu.

The outfit has emerged as the most important insurgent group in Nagaland.    

Imphal, Jan. 30 
The banned Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) today claimed responsibility for the attack on Manipur family welfare minister M. Babu Singh�s convoy yesterday, but denied that it was an attempt to take his life.

A caller identifying himself as �commander� Simol of the �Lal-haba Tengol Ahanba� � the KYKL�s �armed battalion� � informed newspaper offices here that the attack on the minister was not life-threatening. However, he did not specify the real motive behind the assault.

Sources said the militant outfit�s sole intention was probably to snatch weapons from Babu Singh�s bodyguards. Police suspect the assailants to be from the Oken faction of the KYKL. The �Lal-haba Tengol Ahanba� is a battalion of the militant outfit.

Babu Singh�s convoy was ambushed shortly after he escaped a mob attack at Wangoo village. He had gone to the village, which has been traditionally opposed to him, for an election rally.

The minister escaped unhurt, but two of his guards were �detained� by Meira Paibi (women�s organisations) activists.

While the minister was rushing back to Imphal, his convoy was attacked by about 40 well-armed militants. One of his aides, M. Rajan Singh, was killed in the attack. The militants then overpowered the minister�s guards and took away eight weapons, including a sten-gun, a carbine, two self-loading rifles and four .303 rifles. The minister is a member of the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) and is seeking re-election from the Sugunu Assembly constituency.

He met MSCP president and chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh in the state capital later and briefed him about the incident. He also sought more bodyguards in view of the increased threat to his life. The KYKL, however, said it had no intention of hurting either the minister or his security guards. It expressed regret over the death of one of Babu Singh�s aides during the ambush.

The police today seized the vehicle in which the militants drove away after the incident.

Bomb attack: A hand grenade was hurled by unidentified youth at the residence of Manipur higher education minister M. Kumar Singh at Sagolband in Imphal last evening.

No one was, however, injured although the grenade exploded inside the compound of the house. Singh was talking to party workers when the grenade was hurled into the compound. Security guards opened fire after the incident. The minister said he suspected the hand of militants in the blast. He said he had received extortion notes from militants but refused to divulge details.

Kumar Singh is a member of the ruling MSCP.    

Agartala, Jan. 30: 
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has asked the Tripura government to submit a report on human rights violations in the state by February 5.

The directive was issued on January 25 in response to petitions filed by the Trinamul Congress and a couple of other political parties. Chief secretary V. Tulsidas and director-general of police K.T.D. Singh have been entrusted with the responsibility of compiling the report.

Terming the law and order situation in Tripura as �abnormal�, the Trinamul Congress stated in its petition that the situation had not improved since the riots in June 1980.

The party also specified instances of human rights violations in the state. It said tea planter Yogabrata Chakraborty was killed in militant custody, but his captors still extorted Rs 3 lakh in ransom from his family.    


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