Bus and mob run amok
Molestation complaint against children
Mini-Sunshine dawns on broader Bypass-eve
Muscles flexed over hospital showcause
Will sandesh cooked on gas taste as sweet?
Penny-wise civic body to sack 5000 casual staff
Second leg of child cancer centre opens
Four died of starvation, says Tripura party
AGP talks tough on ex-Speaker
ONGC strikes gas in Tripura

Calcutta, Feb 10 
A mob set fire to a Topsia-bound bus after it knocked down a motorcyclist and a pedestrian near the No. 4 bridge on the Park Circus connector to the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass on Thursday.

The victims have been admitted to National Medical College Hospital with serious injuries. Police have arrested the driver.

The incident was a repetition of a drama that is by now becoming sickeningly familiar on the roads. On Wednesday, three persons were killed and six injured in accidents on two other streets.

Local people blocked two street crossings in protest against rash driving by private buses.

For nearly two hours on Thursday morning, the mob did not allow traffic to ply. It was dispersed by additional forces from the Topsia and Karaya police stations and the Rapid Action Force. Two fire tenders put out the blaze.

The bus on route 202 was trying to overtake another bus on the eastern slope of the bridge around 11.45 am. It first hit a stationary bus on route 39/2, and then rammed into a motorcycle, injuring the rider, Mohammad Arif. Arif, resident of Ripon Street, was driving across the road, having emerged from Gurucharan Ravidas Lane on way to a Tangra factory.

After the collision, the driver tried to flee with the vehicle and knocked down a pedestrian, Sarbali Begum. The woman was crossing the road.

Sheikh Panchu, a local resident and eyewitness, said the driver tried to stop but could not. The bus picked up speed after hitting the woman but the driver lost control and mounted the road divider before the bus came to a halt.

More than a 1,000 local people from the nearby Panjabi Para rushed to the spot, police said. Some people caught the driver and handed him over to the police. Unlike other recent incidents, the driver was not beaten but the mob targeted the bus.

Mohammad Asrail, another eyewitness, said the mob started stoning the bus the instant its passengers fled.

After about 15 minutes, a section of the mob went into a neighbourhood locality and returned with a can of kerosene.They sprinkled the bus with the fuel before setting it ablaze in front of policemen. By the time the fire brigade reached the spot, the bus was in ashes.

The police, RAF and fire brigade stood about 200 metres away and went into action only after the mob had vent its fury. The additional officer-in-charge of Topsia police station, A.B. Chatterjee, said there was little the police could do against a mob that was too large for the force to tackle. The police only removed the skeleton of the bus and cleared the road. None of the rioters were arrested.    

Calcutta, Feb 10 
Police said on Thursday they were investigating a complaint of molestation of an eight-year old-girl by three boys, aged between eight and 10, in Kankurgachhi, east Calcutta.

Narayan Ghosh, chief of the detective department, said one of the three boys has been taken into custody and a hunt is on for the other two.

The incident allegedly took place on a fair ground on Wednesday night.

The girl was sent for medical tests on Thursday. Results were not readily available but detectives said preliminary examinations revealed external injuries.

“The initial medical findings suggest it is a case of molestation and not rape,” said the additional officer-in-charge of Phulbagan police station, Ashok Choudhury.

“Our detectives are looking for the other boys, whose versions are also necessary to reconstruct the circumstances that led to the actual crime,” said Ghosh.

Police said the girl, who lives in Phulbagan, had gone to the fair ground on Wednesday night where her father has set up a stall for the annual Subhas mela. The fair takes up a quarter of the ground.

“She accompanied her father to the stall every day to help him sell toys,’’ said Moti Das, a local resident, who also runs a stall.

Police said the girl ventured out of her father’s stall at around 6.30 pm and was watching children play video games at another stall in the mela.

The three boys followed her. She was waylaid by one of the boys, who she later named to the police, and rescued after some people heard her cries.    

Calcutta, Feb 10 
A mini-Operation Sunshine has been launched along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass in the run-up to the road-widening programme.

The drive against encroachers has been started by the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) from Bagha Jatin to Ruby General Hospital.

The drive will be carried out by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) in phases up to Ultadanga in the north.

Tea stalls, food kiosks and other small shops have mushroomed in the area. The ones around the Ruby Hospital and the CSTC garage off the Rashbehari connector have already been dismantled.

The drive comes at a time when Operation Sunshine seems a distant memory, with thousands of hawkers back on some of the prime pavements throughout the city. “We have to do something about encroachers and hawkers if we have to widen the Bypass,” said a CMDA official.

According to CMDA estimates, submitted to the CMC seeking its help to evict settlers, about 400 families had encroached on the Bypass by building shanties on either side of the thoroughfare between the Beleghata Main Road intersection and the Kadapara crossing.

Besides, there are over 20 shops selling food items, groceries and vegetables.

Most of the shanty-dwellers are from North and South 24- Parganas. They have been residing there for the past 15 years. Most of them are daily-wage labourers and their wives and daughters serve as domestic help in the nearby localities.

The CMC is expected to evict them with the help of six payloaders on Saturday. The CPM’s Calcutta District Committee (CDC), keen to settle a score with the advocates of Operation Sunshine, is said to be supporting this move.

Meanwhile, hawkers continue to make their presence felt on the 21 major intersections of the city. Over 100,000 hawkers donate one rupee each, every day, to the three major trade unions affiliated to Citu, Utuc and the Hawker Sangram Committee.

The hawkers have not only staged a comeback on the pavements, they have also encroached on carriageways, contributing to traffic snarls on Brabourne Road, Gariahat, Shyambazar, Hatibagan and other congested city areas.

Member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), Kanti Ganguly, said: “Our job was to clear the pavements and we did exactly that four years ago. This year, the Trinamul Congress is responsible for at least 100 new hawkers at Gariahat. If political parties think it is their job to resettle hawkers from where they were evicted, it will be difficult for the government to keep city pavements free for pedestrians.”

Meanwhile, the CPM and the Forward Bloc — constituents of the ruling Left Front — have decided to rally to the support of the hawkers.

The Hawker Sangram Committee organised an all-India workshop on the issue at Loreto School, Sealdah, last month. It was attended by mayor Prasanta Chatterjee, CDC secretary Naren Sen, Citu vice-president Biren Roy and Utuc’s Ashok Ghosh.

“With the support that we have, we have been able to foil Subhash Chakraborty’s plans,” claimed Shaktiman Ghosh, president of the committee.

“We have now decided to step up our movement under the leadership of Medha Patkar,” added Ghosh. Patkar is slated to inaugurate a convention on the hawkers’ issue in the city on February 18.    

Calcutta, Feb 10 
The CPM-led Coordination Committee has rallied to the support of one of its own, a nurse in the state-run SSKM Hospital, who was served with a showcause notice for dereliction of duty.

Swapna Chakraborty, a member of the Nurses’ Association, an affiliate of the Coordination Committee, and three other employees were asked to show cause after 14-year-old patient Amal De was found dead on the campus last week after his “disappearance” from the ward he was admitted to.

Leaders of the south Calcutta chapter of the Coordination Committee are planning a movement that will ostensibly seek security for doctors and nurses.

But sources close to the committee said the agitation would actually be a demonstration of political clout against the action faced by Chakraborty.

“Nurses and doctors are responsible only for treatment of patients. It is not their responsibility to look after their (patients’) security. They should not be punished in this way,” a spokesman of the committee said.

Debdaipayan Chatterjee, surgeon superintendent, said the nurses’ and health services doctors’ associations have submitted memoranda urging him to step up security at SSKM Hospital.    

Calcutta, Feb 10 
It’s now the turn of the sweet shop round the corner to face the heat from the state pollution control board. And it’s the para people — who sustain and are sustained by these neighbourhood mishti shops — who are protesting the “smoke and the filth”.

Flooded by complaints with the Calcutta High Court Green Bench, the state pollution control board has directed sweet shops to switch from coal and diesel-fired stoves to kerosene stoves or liquefied petroleum gas. Of the 1,000-odd complaints the pollution control board has received from the city, a sizeable portion relates to this problem.

“The trend among Calcuttans is to draw attention to small units littered across neighbourhoods which are causing pollution,” said a pollution control board official.

“There are innumerable shops which make mishti scattered all over the city and new ones come up at the drop of a hat,” observed a senior board official on Thursday.

In case of a complaint, a spot inspection is carried out and the owners are asked to change the fuel that feeds their stoves. “In some cases where the shops are located on the ground floor, we have asked the owners to shift the manufacturing unit to some place where people would be less affected,” the official said.

But the large sweet shops continue to do business fuelled by coal and diesel stoves.

Asit Nag, of the Bhim Nag shop on Strand Road, said: “We use both coal and diesel. If we have to switch to kerosene or gas, sandesh is the only sweet that could be affected, as it is best suited to the coal-fired stove. Apart from that, the labour will take some time to adjust to the new technique.”

Dipankar Das of Balaram and Radharaman Mullick, Bhowanipore, said while they are still using diesel, conversion to gas is on the cards. “We are doing this so noise and fumes are cut down. The diesel stove, after all, needs a noisy motor to run,” he said.

Kashinath Chaurasia of Ganguram’s, Maniktala, said his unit was still diesel-fired. “If the government wants us to convert to gas, we will. But the rest must follow the directive too,” he said. Unaware of any complaint against his unit, Chaurasia said supply from the Greater Calcutta Gas Corporation had dried up, forcing them to use diesel

Sweet manufacturing falls in the “orange” category of industry, as classified by the Union environment ministry. In the order of things, “orange” category industries cannot be permitted in the Calcutta and Howrah municipal corporation areas.

According to pollution control board sources, most sweet shops are of small capacity and should not pose problems, provided proper fuel is used. However, any new unit with a large capacity can only be allowed to come up in industrial estates such as the ones in Behala and Kasba.

The move to scrap coal and wood and convert to cooking gas is also being taken to hotels and restaurants in the city. “This has been done to some extent and monitoring is going on in areas from where most complaints reach us,” the pollution control board official said.

The move by the pollution control board to make these city shops change the way they prepare sweets has been facilitated by a judgment passed by Justice Umesh Chandra Banerjee a few years ago. The then Green bench judge had ordered that cooking gas be used instead of smoke-producing coal and diesel.    

Calcutta, Feb 10 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has decided to show nearly 5,000 casual workers the door in a bid to cut costs by Rs 20 crore a year.

Commissioner Asim Barman said on Wednesday that the civic authorities will have to trim the workforce by this April.“Our permanent workforce should be able to do the various civic jobs they (casual workers) have been doing till now,” Barman said, after issuing a circular on this count.

The move to identify around 10 per cent of its 45,000-plus workforce as “surplus” is largely being viewed as a bid by the CMC authorities to qualify for more funds from international funding agencies, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

According to some international funding agencies, the CMC will function more efficiently if it gets rid of about 40 per cent of its existing staff strength.

“This is going to hurt the common Calcuttan, because the casual labourers they want to get rid of have special skills needed to keep civic services going. We will not remain spectators,” warned Dulal Ghosh, secretary of the CMC employees and workers union affiliated to the Trinamul Congress.

Meanwhile, Barman has directed controlling officers of all departments to maintain a ‘leave-reserve register’, comprising 10 per cent of workforce, to fill in for absentees and shut out casual staff.

Chief of municipal finance and accounts Shankar Datta said discontinuation of the nominee system and the ban on the employment of casual workers would ensure a saving of Rs 50 crore.

The CMC now rakes in Rs 170 crore a year from tax revenue, and spends Rs 230 crore on salaries. Barman said several measures would be taken in the coming days to cut the staff strength by about 25 per cent by year 2005.    

Calcutta, Feb 10 
Governor Viren Shah recently inaugurated the second phase of the childcare centre at the Cancer Centre Welfare Home, Thakurpukur.

He also opened the 50-bed Indira-Manik Children’s Hospital and hoped it would live up to the special purpose it was being built for — provide a place where “afflicted children can find happiness during their stay here,” to quote the centre’s founder-director Saroj Gupta.

In 1991, the Indian Cancer Registry had 1.01 lakh child cancer patients.

Each year, 33,600 new cases are registered. About five per cent of all cancer patients are children, said Gupta.

The first phase of the centre opened in December 1998, when an outdoor facility was started. The hospital now has, besides the wards, three operation theatres and an intensive care unit.

The third phase, to begin as and when donations and funds are available, will have a counselling centre, an informal “school”, a library, audio-visual room and a 500-seat open-air theatre.    

Agartala, Feb. 10 
Tripura Upajati Juba Samity general secretary Rabindra Debbarma has alleged that four shifting cultivators have died of starvation in the remote Tirthamukh gaon panchayat of south Tripura.

Debbarma, who extensively toured the militancy-ravaged tribal areas of Amarpur sub-division in the first week of this month, said the dead includes a woman, Lolita Reang. The others are W. Tripura, Nashonti Reang, and Sarendra Reang. At least 25 more cultivators are also facing starvation, he said.

A severe food and drinking water crisis coupled with an inept Autonomous District Council administration have only added to the tribals’ woes, he added.

Debbarma said the food crisis is an annual phenomenon in Tripura for which the government and the autonomous district council authorities identify the affected pockets in the tribal-dominated areas for special relief.

But this year, the collapse of the administration because of insurgency has compounded the problem. Asserting that the entire administrative machinery is conspicuous by its absence from Amarpur town to Shilacherri bordering the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, Debbarma said the Tirthamukh, Jatanbari, Karbook, Shilacherri, Raisyabari and Ghorakappa areas in Sabroom sub-division are the worst hit.

The strategic Jatanbari-Raisyabari road is in a poor shape and vehicles steer clear of it for fear of militant attacks. People are also avoiding several other important roads, including the Jatanbari-Ghirakappa road.

Debbarma said 78 schools are closed for the past four years. “The teachers are unwilling to go to school for fear of killing, abduction or extortion. They are drawing their salary from the inspectorate of schools,” he added.

Attributing the present crisis to administrative malfunctioning, Debbarma said both the Autonomous District Council and state administration have disappeared from the area because of the militant threat. The staff of the Karbook block has shifted to Jatanbari because of extortion. As a result, all rural development schemes which provided employment to the poor tribal shifting cultivators, have collapsed.

“On paper, lakhs of rupees are being sanctioned by the government and ADC’s sub-zonal offices every month. But the money is being plundered by corrupt officials and employees,” Debbarma alleged. He warned that if the state government did not take proper action soon, a famine would break out all over the hills.

Four abducted

Four persons have been kidnapped by insurgents belonging to the National Liberation Front of Tripura in two separate incidents in south Tripura district, police said today, adds PTI.

A group of NLFT insurgents, armed with sophisticated weapons, abducted three persons from the Dasraipara forest area yesterday. In a separate incident, members of the same outfit yesterday kidnapped a village quack while he was on his way home from the market.    

Guwahati, Feb. 10 
A steering committee meeting of the Asom Gana Parishad last night decided to take “stern disciplinary action” against legislator Pulakesh Baruah for his “anti-party activities”, sources close to the party said today.

The sources implied that Baruah, a former Speaker of the Assam Assembly, may be suspended from the party for teaming up with former PWD minister Atul Bora to float the Trinamul Gana Parishad in an effort to oust chief minister and party president Prafulla Mahanta.

They said Baruah would receive a letter informing him of the party’s decision in a day or two. However, Baruah, when contacted today, said he had not received any such information.

Baruah and Bora had announced on Tuesday that they would not resign from the party or as legislators and challenged the AGP leadership to take action against them.

However, senior leaders of the party, including its vice-president and municipal administration minister Biraj Kumar Sarma and general secretary Pradip Gogoi, today said “action would be initiated against Baruah soon”, implying that no decision to suspend him had been taken so far.

“He had gone out of the party earlier also (with former home minister Bhrigu Kumar Phukan to form the Natun Asom Gana Parishad) and returned to the party fold to become a legislator on an AGP ticket. Now on the eve of the Assembly polls, he has gone out again. The situation is being analysed,” a leader said.

The AGP leaders denied that they were afraid to take any action against the dissident leaders. “We are not concerned about what they are doing and hence there is no haste to take any disciplinary action against them,” Sarma said.

The AGP will not be affected just because a few individuals who have lost all standing in the political arena have become eloquent in discussing regionalism, party spokesman and cooperative minister Nurul Hussain said.

Asked if disciplinary action would be initiated only against the leaders of the “revolt” or against all the grassroots workers who had participated in the Trinamul Gana Parishad convention on Tuesday, the AGP leaders said they had no knowledge of any party member taking part in the meeting. “No gaon sabha, anchalik samiti or zilla samiti had come for the convention. Those who were present were not AGP members,” a party member added.

The AGP leaders also hinted that the Trinamul Gana Parishad had some understanding with the Congress. They said the state had seen the rise of a number of regional outfits in the past and that each of them had helped in the growth of the Congress.

Bora is already under suspension for his revolt against the chief minister in 1997. He had accused the Mahanta government of indulging in rampant corruption after he was removed as the PWD minister. With his suspension, Bora also lost the general secretary’s post in the party. The chief minister’s vigilance cell also initiated inquiries into the graft charges against him.

“Bora’s charges of corruption against the Mahanta government are baseless,” said AGP publicity secretary Moidul Islam Bora. “In fact, he himself had indulged in corruption and the vigilance cell is inquiring into the matter,” he added. However, he refused to admit that corruption by Bora as a minister in the Mahanta Cabinet meant that corruption was in fact taking place during Mahanta’s regime. “We have come to know of his misdeeds only now,” he added.    

Silchar, Feb. 10 
The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has struck substantial quantities of natural gas in two gasfields in Tripura.

ONGC regional director (central regional business centre) P.K. Adak said here today rich quantities of natural gas struck last week at Agartala Dome and Trichna gasfields in the state after yearlong drilling would further open up prospects of tapping the gas available in the state by the power, fertiliser and domestic sectors.

He said the newly-drilled well at Agartala Dome, 10 km from the city, would make available four billion cubic metres of natural gas from its reservoir.

The other one at Trichna, 45 km south of Agartala, would be able to harness nearly two billion cubic metres of gas from its shallow 800-metre reservoir, where the sand column is estimated at 60 metres.

Adak said the public sector North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (Neepco), buoyed by these new findings in Tripura, has mooted a scheme to set up a mammoth 500 mw gas-based thermal power project in the power-starved state.

Neepco chairman-cum-managing director P.K. Kotoky, who was here today in connection with the two-day meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on energy, said Neepco was expected to select Melaghar near Agartala as the possible site of the Rs 3,000-crore power project. This would be the biggest power project in the state.

Neepco would take nearly three years to commission this gas-based project, he added.

Adak said Tripura’s potential of natural gas output at present is estimated at 3 million cubic metres of gas a day, but ONGC could supply 1 million cubic metres of gas a day from it to the Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL) as the demand for it is not high in this industrially backward state. The rest of the production is capped.

At present, apart from Neepco, GAIL is supplying gas extracted from Tripura’s gasfields to the Tripura State Electricity Department and the Tripura Natural Gas Corporation, Adak added.

He said ONGC has drilled a total of 94 gas wells since 1994 and found gas in 46 such wells. The clusters of gas-bearing wells are spread around Rokhia, Barmura and Gajolia.

The regional director also said GAIL had laid 54 km of a pipeline network in the state at a cost of Rs 41 crore to help supply gas to consumers.

Rebels held: Police arrested two militants in Mawlai led and seized an AK-47 and AK-56 from them. Their identities is yet to be reveled by the police, adds our Shillong correspondent.    


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