Bribe backlash on police
Sweepers assault civic officer
Jadavpur teachers set dues deadline
Heritage hotels along Hooghly stretch
Thursday prelude to culture hub
Art of perfect speech
Odds stacked against Soren
BJP volte face on Vananchal
Cong struggles to get toehold in Koraput dist
Liquor launch slur on N-E ban

Calcutta, Feb 7 
Workers protesting against a traffic constable�s attempt to extort a bribe fought a pitched battle with the police for nearly three hours in Howrah on Monday.

Employees of the public-sector Burn Standard & Company�s unit in Howrah hurled stones and pieces of metal scrap at the police after a constable did not allow a lorry pass through Foreshore Road (Bankim Chandra Road) because the driver refused to part with Rs 300. The lorry was carrying scrap to the factory.

Howrah superintendent of police Surajit Kar Purakayastha, however, said the workers attacked policemen because the constable stopped the lorry from driving through a no-entry zone. The entry of goods vehicles on the stretch has been restricted because Howrah Bridge is partly closed for repairs.

The violence paralysed traffic in the morning peak hours. About 80 workers were injured in the lathicharge and teargassing. Five policemen were hurt. Eight workers have been arrested.

Workers complained that the police over-reacted and rained batons and fired teargas shells, even as union leaders tried to soothe their nerves. �More than 40 workers are seriously injured. We could not attend to them even though they lay bleeding profusely,� alleged Gopal Bhattacharya, joint secretary of the Intuc-affiliated union. The injured were being treated by the medical unit in the factory.

Traffic movement on the roads leading to the police headquarters, the district court and the Howrah Municipal Corporation was paralysed till noon. Policemen from six police stations were deployed to push workers back into the factory.

The additional police superintendent (town), Vineet Kumar Goel, who led the operation, said the workers came out and charged at the traffic police.

Rajendra Prasad Shaw, who was beaten by police, said workers had blocked the roads in front of the second gate of the factory in protest against the bribes demanded by policemen �regularly�.

�Suddenly, the police force, led by Goel, rushed to the site and batons rained down on us. I was being beaten even while I fell and lay helplessly on the road,� alleged Prasad.

Union leader Gopal Bhattacharya said he had proposed to sort out matters across the table in a police station. �But Goel refused and ordered his force to free the roads in five minutes.�

The violence escalated after this. Reinforcements from Shibpur, Golabari, Malipanchghora, Batra, Nazirgunj and Jagacha police stations went after the workers. Mohammad Salauddin, an injured worker, alleged that the police entered the factory premises and beat up securitymen. Salauddin was hit on the head as he tried to save a colleague.

Purakayastha said the workers brickbatted the police after taking refuge behind the factory wall. �They threw pieces of iron scrap and fire-balls at the policemen,� he said.

Workers feared that gas chambers inside the factory might be hit by the teargas shells.

�Police were forced to target the factory during the tear-gassing. Otherwise, it was impossible to control the violent workers,� the superintendent said.

Representatives from all unions met the district magistrate in the afternoon and demanded an inquiry. They complained against the police and blamed an officer for excessive use of force. Purakayastha said representatives of the factory management held a meeting with administration officials to maintain law and order.

�A case has been started against the workers for Monday�s violence. An inquiry will also be conducted to find out if the factory vehicle�s driver and the on-duty traffic police were guilty,� the police superintendent added.    

Calcutta, Feb 7 
A senior Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) executive was attacked on Monday afternoon by a group of sweepers demanding revival of the �nominee� system of recruitment and pay revision.

A.K. Chakraborty, special officer (conservancy), was later admitted to Command Hospital with serious injuries.

The civic authorities have lodged a first information report at Taltala police station against eight persons, including some CMC employees, who were demonstrating under the banner of the Trinamul Congress, which controls the sweepers� union.

Around 2.30 pm, Chakraborty was assaulted in the corridor of the first floor of the CMC building by a dozen demonstrators.

�Chakraborty tried to run into his office, but failed. He collapsed on the floor as blows and kicks rained on him,� said a conservancy official, who intervened and helped whisk the victim away to hospital. The demonstrators then went down to the ground floor and began shouting slogans against Chakraborty, Kanti Ganguly, member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), and municipal commissioner Asim Barman.

A good half-an-hour after the trouble began, police threw a security ring around mayor Prasanta Chatterjee�s chamber and restored order.

The CMC�s recent decision to scrap the nominee system � by which the next-of-kin of an employee was given temporary employment during his absence and permanent employment after his retirement � has thrown open 15,000 posts. It has also enabled the CMC to save Rs 30 crore a year.

This follows a Calcutta High Court directive rejecting the nominee system as unconstitutional. It is also in compliance with the World Bank condition about trimming the CMC�s work-force.

Trouble has been brewing at the corporation ever since the 40-year-old practice was abolished from February 1.

The CMC has decided to label the 5,000 nominee sweepers �casual labourers� on a no-work-no-pay basis with a daily wage of Rs 56, a drastic cut from the Rs 156 per day that they were being paid till January 31.

�We will not tolerate this. How can a temporary worker who got Rs 150 daily in January be given only Rs 56 from February?� demanded Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, Trinamul MLA and president of the sweepers� union.

Joygopal Roy, leader of CPM�s labour arm, Citu, has also urged the CMC authorities to increase the daily wage of these conservancy workers from Rs 56.

But municipal commissioner Asim Barman said that according to the labour department, the daily minimum wage for unskilled labour was fixed at Rs 56.

With no immediate solution in sight, the CMC could well remain a trouble-zone in the coming days.    

Calcutta, Feb 7 
Jadavpur University teachers have threatened to �abandon responsibilities� unless their dues, in the form of salary arrears, are paid to them in full by next week. They have alleged that the West Bengal government has failed to disburse funds released by the Centre for this purpose.

Representatives of the university�s faculty said on Monday that the state government was withholding Rs 107 crore given by the Centre to clear arrears since the upward revision of pay-scales last year. Spokespersons for the Jadavpur University Teachers� Association (JUTA) said the faculty would boycott all administrative work.

�Our members have been advised to only take classes from next week,� said Tarun Naskar, general secretary of JUTA.

Teachers will not take up invigilation duties in examination halls, check answer scripts, attend meetings of administrative bodies of the university, set question papers, or participate in the admission process.

Under-graduate and post-graduate examinations of Jadavpur University are likely to be affected by the teachers� agitation.

According to JUTA, the state government has not implemented the benefits that were part of the package agreed by the Centre following a nationwide movement by teachers in 1998.

The benefits form part of the terms of settlement arrived at between the Centre, the University Grants Commission and the All-India Federation of College and University Teachers� Organisations.

Tarun Naskar said the total share of the Centre for clearing the dues was approximately Rs 160 crore. The Centre had recommended that the new pay-scales be implemented with retrospective effect from January 1, 1996.

The West Bengal government had implemented the enhanced pay-scales for teachers from April 1999. Nine months have passed, but the arrears have not been paid yet.

�Even though the Centre has already released Rs 107 crore for the purpose, the state government has failed to pay off the arrears to the teachers,� alleged Naskar.

Satyasadhan Chakraborty, state higher education minister, recently admitted that the Centre had, indeed, released the amount.

Besides clearance of dues, JUTA has also demanded enhancement of the age of superannuation to 62 years, leave encashment up to a maximum of 300 days, completion of pay fixation of readers and implementation of a career advancement scheme with effect from January 1, 1996, as recommended by the Centre.    

Calcutta, Feb 7 
The government has drawn up grand plans to set up a chain of heritage hotels on the waterfront. This is part of a mega riverfront development programme to boost �cultural tourism� in the state.

The hotels will be located on the state government�s 220-km Ganga Heritage Cruise route � from Behrampore ghat, 11 km south of Murshidabad, to Outram Ghat.

The tourism department has already conducted a study of the colonial structures along the city�s �European section of the river�. It will soon submit the report to the European Union for a �heritage promotion�� programme.

The plans for the ghat along the Strand include upgradation of the existing facilities, construction of a passengers� terminal and, finally, the recreation of the ambience of old.

The Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) is collaborating with the British High Commission and the UK-based English Heritage, the London River Association and the London First and Cardiff Bay Development Association for the development and beautification of the waterfront in the city and Howrah.

The scheme, modelled along the lines of the Rajasthan and Kerala heritage hotel chains, is aimed at attracting more foreign tourists and conserving the colonial buildings dotting the waterfront, without affecting the the traditional lifestyle and environment. Jayanto Sanyal, state secretary of tourism, who pioneered the heritage hotel scheme in Rajasthan, has taken up the task of of identifying old buildings along the river stretch.

So far, the tourism department has identified seven buildings � one each at Nabadwip, Kalna, Azimganj, Malda and Midnapore and two buildings at Murshidabad.

�Talks are already under way with the owners and the district authorities to acquire the buildings,�� Sanyal told The Telegraph.

The sprawling Singhi property in Azimganj figures high on the state government�s agenda. The cluster of old colonial buildings along the river, according to Sanyal, will be modelled on the Samod heritage resort in Rajasthan, if the owners give the government their go-ahead. The state government is even prepared to lend financial assistance and publicity support to the Singhis if they plan to develop it on their own. �The objective is to retain the traditional lifestyle and yet offer our customers star category comforts,�� said Sanyal.

The district magistrate of Murshidabad, H.K. Diwedi, has been asked to relocate the district police department from the sprawling Fox�s Kutir on the Murshidabad Rajbari complex so that the tourism department can develop it into a heritage hotel. �The medieval-style building is still in very good shape. It just requires minor restoration,�� Sanyal said.

The hotel, to be clubbed with the Ganga package tour, will allow tourists a better feel of the �Nawabi experience��, which is the focal point of the Murshidabad leg of the cruise. �Our tourists are taken to Murshidabad by bus from Calcutta and made to board the luxury vessel. So a heritage hotel in Murshidabad itself will add to the lure of the tour and people can stay overnight if they so desire,�� Sanyal said. The owners of the Neel Kuthi in Murshidabad have also been approached with this scheme.

The Midnapore district administration has also been asked to vacate an old British inspection bungalow housing the land-records office in the district tourism complex. There are plans to convert this into a heritage resort-cum-conference centre.

Similarly, the Pal Chowdhury family of Nabadwip has been approached to transform their old waterfront guest house into a full-fledged heritage resort on the cruise route.    

Calcutta, Feb 7 
Work on the cultural complex and regional centre of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), whose foundation was laid on Ho Chi Minh Sarani in 1991 by then vice-president Shankar Dayal Sharma, is expected to begin on February 10, Saraswati puja.

The ground-breaking ceremony was performed on January 23 by Ajit Panja, minister of state for foreign affairs, and railway minister Mamata Banerjee was chief guest. Trinamul leader Subrata Mukherjee was also present.

It is the first such culture centre being built by the ICCR outside Delhi. The project was delayed by nearly a decade because funds were not available, says Himachal Som, director-general of ICCR, but he expects construction to be over within two or three years. �The tenders have arrived and pile-driving is expected soon. But it all depends on budget allocations,� says Som. Panja, too, is keeping a close watch and has demanded weekly progress reports.

Originally, the building had been planned by Charles Correa but because of changes in building laws, the design was modified by Dulal Mukherjee Associates. The sanctioned project cost is Rs 14.75 crore. The 3442.5-sq-m plot was allotted to the ministry of external affairs by the state government in 1989-90.

The five-storeyed, cubist structure will accommodate an auditorium, space for permanent and temporary exhibitions, a library, seminar rooms, a cafeteria and other facilities, besides the regional director�s office and residence. The auditorium will seat 400 people. Som says the state government�s collection will be exhibited in the permanent gallery but details are to be worked out.

While the culturati is pleased that the complex is, at last, coming up, they were shocked at Mamata Banerjee�s announcing at the ceremony that on his birth anniversary, the complex should be named after Netaji Subhas. Because of the presence of the three leaders, the occasion had turned into a Trinamul bonanza. They felt Mamata Banerjee�s suggestion was a clever political move.

Artists Bikash Bhattacharjee and Shuvaprasanna feel there is already too much of Netaji all over the city and if one really respected the leader, his monstrous statue would have been removed from the Shyambazar crossing.

Sculptor Chintamoni Kar, who has been associated with the project from its inception, says: �Certain leaders are only basking in his reflected glory. Does it matter if institutes are named after him? Will they be any more efficient?�

Paritosh Sen, who was among the few artists present on January 23, feels the centre should be named after Satyajit Ray, while filmmaker Mrinal Sen says it would be apt if the centre bore the name of an artist, either of the Bengal Renaissance or of an earlier age.    

Calcutta, Feb 7 
It was started in California some 75 years ago to help people overcome the jitters of speaking while �raising a toast�. Today, Toastmaster International has spread to 8,000 centres through 60 countries, and is now making an impact in the city.

�The fear of speaking in public is a primal fear and we aim to help young people all over the world overcome it through confidence-building measures, and equip them to help others,� said Dr Satya Sarkar, �distinguished toastmaster�, while conducting his first workshop in Calcutta.

Toastmasters International, said to be the world�s largest organisation devoted to �success through communication and leadership development�, spreads its message through the Speechcraft programme.

�English is the universal language today and any move by the state government here to abolish it at the primary level is very wrong. It will be a serious handicap for the coming generation,� warned the septuagenarian communication guru.

While conducting a programme at Unicore, a hardware training centre in south Calcutta, Texas-based Sarkar was struck by the �eagerness among the youth about public speaking�, despite the �language barrier�.

�By the end of the workshop, our students were far less hesitant about speaking publicly in English,� said Supratim Sen, executive director of Unicore.

A metallurgical engineer from BE College, Sarkar spent his professional career in various parts of India and the US before committing himself fully to Toastmaster.

During his stay here, he will be conducting a workshop with the students of the National Institute of Fashion Technology, besides one to pass the baton to fellow senior citizens.

�This programme is extremely relevant to India today. Public speaking and leadership qualities are essential for the all-round growth of the youth,� said the retired engineer-turned- toastmaster, who is keen that Calcutta opens up the Indian chapter of the organisation.    

Ranchi, Feb. 7 
The fallen �guruji� of the tribals in south Bihar is struggling to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of �incompetence and controversy� that proved to be his undoing in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls.

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (Soren) chief Shibu Soren recently purged his party of deadwood and dissidence with an eye on the February 12 Assembly election.

The self-styled messiah of the Jharkhandis from Dumka, the cradle of the separate statehood movement, led the educated tribal youth at the turn of the decade rallying for a separate Jharkhand state. His flowing locks and matted beard became a cult symbol, synonymous with the Jharkhand struggle.

The 65-year-old �Guruji,� as he was christened by his tribal brethren, is now a shadow of his fiery self. The vagaries of time and politics over the past three decades have taken their toll on the �messiah,� flecking his swirling locks with grey.

Shades of it are reflected in his career too. From allegations of �flirting with the Congress,�� Soren had to bear the ignominy of being accused in the JMM pay-off scandal and the murder of party functionary, Sashinath Jha. His own partymen, including deputy Suraj Mandal who once placed him on a pedestal, have written him off. The saffron onslaught has diminished his fire.

Faced with the BJP slogan of �One election two votes� Soren was forced to take a few major decisions to counter the BJP bluff. He merged his party with smaller factions like the JMM (Mardi) and the All-Jharkhand Students� Union, shying away from national parties.

He has made peace with former enemies like Krishna Mardi, Teklal Mahato and Viswanath Bhagat and fielded a number of fresh faces. In a rally at Hazaribagh yesterday, he said, �God save me from my friends so that I can take care of my enemies.�

According to Basant Nagjuar, an undergraduate tribal student, the loss of credibility weighed heavy against Soren but Helson Bhagra, a Jharkhand Party (JP) worker in Ranchi felt he was better than his former deputy Mandal, who was axed recently.

Mandal and some other heavyweights like Ram Dayal Manda, former vice- chancellor of Ranchi University, have allied with Mulayam Singh Yadav for the Assembly polls. The only flicker of hope for Soren is Teklal Mahato, a prominent Mahato leader with a large following in Dumka, said Vindyachal Ram, a JMM candidate from Dumka.

Besides, veteran leaders like Biswanath Bhagat from Mandar, Prof. Bernard Minz from Gumla and other new generation leaders are also expected to do well in their respective constituencies.

But observers feel that the polarisation of tribal society may split his votebank. The animist Sarnas are dictated by the Pahues or the community chiefs who decide on the voting pattern. The Gonds and a section of the Oraons, the neo-Hindu converts, owe allegiance to the royal families like the Sahadeos, while the Christian tribals are ruled by the Church.

The BJP has made considerable inroads among the Sarnas and the neo-Hindus, who are sceptical of the Christians. Though the JMM still enjoys the support of the Sarnas, specially in Chhota-nagpur, it has no base among the tribal Christians. �But our real strength will be tested only after the polls when people see through the BJP charade,�� Soren said.    

Ranchi, Feb. 7 
With five days to go for the first leg of Bihar Assembly polls, the BJP has finally decided to go on the offensive, promising the creation of Vananchal within six months.

Union parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan told newsmen here today that the Centre would introduce the state reorganisation Bill in the Lok Sabha during the forthcoming budget session provided the state government returned the Bill along with its comments by April 10, 2000.

The BJP�s volte face followed criticism from all political parties � the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha which alleged that the BJP was taking the people of south Bihar for a ride on the Vananchal issue.

Over the past weeks, senior BJP leaders have gone on record saying since the interests of the country preceded those of the state, the party�s theme for these polls would be to oust Laloo Prasad Yadav and not Vananchal.

However, the BJP was forced to change its stance after Congress president Sonia Gandhi pointed out in her election rallies in south Bihar last week that the BJP could not concede a separate Vananchal state because of contradictions within the NDA allies and that only the Congress could guarantee a statehood for south Bihar.

Disturbed at the growing attacks and worried that the Opposition parties might steal its thunder, Mahajan today said the BJP was committed to carving out a separate Vananchal state for south Bihar within six months.

However, Mahajan stressed that if the recommendations of the Bihar Assembly were not received latest by April 10, the Centre would not be averse to convening a special session of the Lok Sabha in May or June this year to discuss the state reorganisation Bill. Admitting that the NDA did not have the requisite two-thirds majority in either the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha to get the Bill passed, Mahajan said it would seek the co-operation of all other political parties, including the Congress, on the issue.

Union home minister L.K. Advani also said in an election rally at Gumla today that this year would go down in history for witnessing the creation of a separate Vananchal state. He said the BJP as well as the Centre would ensure that Vananchal came into being within the shortest possible time.

Not to be left behind, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav said while launching his party�s campaign in south Bihar today that his party was not against the creation of a separate Jharkhand state but was concerned about the safety and well-being of the tribals and minorities. He said to ensure growth and development, the RJD has agreed to back the creation of a greater Jharkhand state comprising 28 districts of Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh.

The JMM (Soren) today said it would intensify its agitations throughout the tribal belts to force the Centre to concede a separate Jharkhand state.

JMM chief Shibu Soren said after the Assembly polls, the JMM would block outflow of coal, iron ore, bauxite and all other minerals from the south Bihar districts till a separate Jharkhand state was carved out.    

Berhampur, Feb. 7 
Once capable of winning an election on the strength of its name alone, the Congress is today struggling for a foothold in undivided Koraput district of Orissa.

With the Congress� image having taken a beating, the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party are going all out to woo the region�s disenchanted electorate.

Helping the BJP in its mission are organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vanavasi Kalyan Manch and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. These organisations have established over 350 non-formal schools in Koraput, a move aimed at making the tribal and Scheduled Caste voters of the area realise that the BJP cares for them.

Another BJP-backed organisation, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, has brought tendu leaf-pluckers of the area under its wing. Migrants from Bengal also appear to have switched allegiance to the BJP. While the BJP has consolidated its position in Koraput, the Congress has gone further downhill since its debacle in the Lok Sabha elections.

Dissatisfied with the performance of successive Congress MPs since Independence, the voters elected a BJP candidate to the Nowrangpur Lok Sabha seat last year.

The Congress came close to losing the Koraput seat as well. Former chief minister Giridhar Gamang�s wife Hemabati scraped through by a narrow margin of votes. According to observers, infighting has hastened the Congress� decline in undivided Koraput district.

The tussle between Giridhar Gamang and his uncle, and the one between the Gamangs and the Ulaka brothers have made the electorate wary of voting for the Congress again.

Ram Chandra Ulaka and Dambarudhar Ulaka � contesting the Rayagada and Bishamkatak Assembly seats respectively � are expected to find the going tough because of opposition from Gamang loyalists. The Gunupur Assembly seat is also set to witness a tussle between two Congress factions.

The official party candidate is Bhagirathi Gamang, an uncle of Giridhar Gamang. The latter was allegedly instrumental in Bhagirathi Gamang being denied the Congress ticket in the last Assembly elections

Laxmipur constituency, from where Giridhar Gamang was elected, is another potential minefield for the Congress. The former chief minister is not seeking re-election, but party candidate Gourichandra Muduli is one of his closest aides. Muduli is up against Biju Janata Dal candidate Bibhisana Majhi, who lost to Giridhar Gamang in the last by-elections.

However, it is former Congress legislator Anant Ram Majhi, who is expected to pose problems for Bibhisana Majhi.    

Guwahati, Feb. 7 
Throwing caution to the winds, a local distillery launched its �premium� brand of whisky on the last day of �prohibition week� in Assam�s capital city.

The function was held in an Indian Tourism Development Corporation-run hotel here on Saturday and attended by a host of dignitaries, including Excise commissioner B. Basumatary.

Jitender Niyotia, owner of the distillery, denied violating the law by launching a brand of liquor during �prohibition week�, observed to mark the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

Basumatary, too, defended the function, saying that prohibition was a �misnomer� in Assam. �Since the state was declared �dry� a few years back, even our laws have changed. The Prohibition Council has been rechristened as the Anti-drugs Council,� he said.

Niyotia distillery, located at Panikheti on the outskirts of the city, produces whisky and rum sold primarily in the northeastern states.

�No liquor was served at the function,� the distillery owner said. The excise commissioner made a similar claim, saying, �It was a totally �dry� affair. I personally went there to ensure that no alcohol was served.� On reports that some guests were inebriated, Kamal Bharti, general manager of the hotel in which the function was held, said, �The hotel is not accountable for someone coming inebriated from home or smuggling in a bottle of liquor.� Asked how a liquor brand could have been launched without alcohol being served to the guests, Niyotia said, �We only showed a dummy of the actual whisky bottle coming out amid a lot of smoke.�

Basumatary said he had asked Niyotia to postpone the function at least by a day so that no one could accuse him of being disrespectful to Mahatma Gandhi, in whose memory �prohibition week� was announced by the authorities. �However, he said a change in the programme was not possible as the schedule had been fixed much earlier and dealers, business partners and other guests had already arrived in the city,� he said.

However, Niyotia said he deliberately chose to launch the whisky brand on Saturday �as it was the last day of prohibition week�.

Clandestine sale of liquor throughout the state made a mockery of �prohibition week�. Official sources said several raids were conducted by the Excise department in various localities here on February 2 and 3.    


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