House boom on factory grave
Parties promise a March full of marches
Tangra leather factory gutted
Bengal’s Boro Laat is now a Babumoshai
A field day for Steve’s girls
Violence rocks Assam bandh
Manipur scene still unclear
BJP opts for ‘experience’
Tripura CM faces ethnic anger
Two hurt in Bihar clash

Calcutta, Feb 29 
Shifting from a decade-old stand, the state government will shortly allow construction of housing complexes on surplus land of closed and sick industries in and around Calcutta, a senior minister said.

“We have decided to allow construction of housing or commercial complexes on such land to help the owners of sick and closed industries to raise funds which can be invested in revival programmes,” Ashok Bhattacharya, urban development minister, said.

Surplus industrial land in the city and its vicinity is spread across several building-boom spots, including the EM Bypass, Prince Anwar Shah Road, VIP Road, Jadavpur, Ballygunge, Lake Town, the Airport, Dunlop, B.T. Road and Howrah.

The Left Front government had clamped a ban in the eighties, prohibiting the use of factory land for any other purpose. The sale of factory land was also banned initially.

In the nineties, pressured by the industry, the government eased the ban and allowed conditional sale of surplus industrial land. A rider was included, making it mandatory for the buyer to set up a factory on the land.

However, according to the new proposal, the government will lift all controls on the sale of surplus industrial land.

Government officials pointed out that the curbs were lifted partially to help fund the revival of sick industries.

However, the owners of sick industries could find few buyers as none was willing to build a factory on the land.

At the same time, applications seeking permission to sell factory land for housing projects flooded the urban development and industrial reconciliation department.

The owners of the closed industries submitted that they would not be able to revive the factories, if the government did not allow the use of surplus land for housing and commercial complexes.

The Citu, the labour arm of the ruling CPM, also supported the industrialists, hoping that the closed industries may reopen if the owners can raise funds through the sale.

Industrial reconciliation minister Mrinal Banerjee said permission would be given on the condition that the major portion of the amount collected by selling the land or the income from housing or commercial complex would have to be ploughed back into the industry.

“If it is found that there is no scope at all to reopen a factory and if the workers’ dues are cleared, there will not be any restriction on selling off factory land,” Banerjee said.

The owner of a sick and closed unit will have to seek permission from both the industrial reconciliation department and the urban development department. The owners will also have to prove that their units are sick.

Companies with vast tracts of surplus land in and around the city include Bengal Chemical, Dunlop, Mohini Mills, New Tobacco Company, Eastern Paper Mills, Jay Engineering and Bengal Lamp. Many small-scale units, too, have land at prime pockets.    

Calcutta, Feb 29 
For the second consecutive day, political organisations held commuters to ransom, choking central Calcutta with rally after rally on Tuesday. More processions and public meetings are slated for March, making travel within the city a punishment.

Several hundred supporters of the CPM-affiliated Community Health Guide held a meeting on Jawaharlal Nehru Road, opposite Metro cinema, throwing the traffic out of gear at Esplanade.

The organisation built a huge dais from where three state ministers — Partha De, Minati Ghosh and Suryakanta Mishra — lambasted the Centre for making efforts to privatise health services.

No sooner had the Community Health Guide meeting ended around 3.30 pm, when around 500 Naxalites from Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal took over the intersection of Jawaharlal Nehru Road and S.N. Banerjee Road.

Calcuttans, stranded in buses, minibuses and taxis, fretted and fumed and watched helplessly as adivasis, who formed part of the Naxalite procession, danced to the beat of drums, taking over the Dorina Crossing for half an hour.

After the Naxalites, slogan-shouting SUCI supporters converged on Esplanade, marching in from Lenin Sarani to set a symbolic budget paper on fire. Nearly 4,000 supporters of the Kanu Sanyal group also protested against the budget on Rani Rashmoni Avenue. The Grameen Mahila Association held a demonstration demanding revision of pay-scales in front of Metro.

Traffic was also disrupted near Belgachhia Milk Colony, where residents and employees of the Central Dairy put up a road blockade after one of their colleagues was injured in a clash.

Tuesday’s rallies give an indication of the shape of things to come in March. Among the major disruptions expected in the month are:

On March 1, the Calcutta district Left Front will organise a rally on Rani Rashmoni Road to protest the “anti-people policies” of the BJP government in Delhi.

On March 3, Citu will hold demonstrations in front of Central government offices, protesting against the Centre’s economic policies. Central government offices are mostly located in the Esplanade area and traffic is likely to be disrupted as Citu will be holding demonstrations in front of these offices.

On March 5, the SUCI will hold a rally opposite Metro to commemorate the death anniversary of Stalin. The SUCI rally will disrupt life as party supporters from districts will join the meeting near Metro cinema in processions.

On March 9, Citu will be holding similar demonstrations in the city to express their solidarity with the “March to Parliament” in Delhi which will be organised by left political parties, their trade unions and several mass organisations in support of their 23-point charter of demands.

On March 25, life is likely to be paralysed when the Left Front holds a rally on Brigade Parade ground to protest the “anti-people policies” of the BJP-led coalition at the Centre and their decision to increase price of essentials.

Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta has claimed the March 25 rally on Brigade Parade ground will mark a record turnout, as Front supporters from all the districts will attend the rally. “Front constituents have assured us that they will mobilise all the support they can for the rally,” said Dasgupta.

It is expected that traffic movement in the city will be jeopardised with processions streaming in along nearly all major roads from the adjoining districts of North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly.    

Calcutta, Feb 29 
A tannery-cum-leather-factory was gutted on South Tangra Road in the eastern part of the city on Tuesday.

Ten fire tenders rushed to the tannery, Standard Leather, around 11 am and doused the flames after about two hours. No one was injured in the fire.

While fire brigade officials said the reason behind the fire was yet to be ascertained, the tannery management claimed that a short-circuit during spray-painting caused the blaze.

“Employees were spray-painting leather bags and wallets when the fire started around 10.30 am. The fire spread quickly and most of the 15,000-sq ft factory was gutted,” said Pavan Hora, a director of the company.

Fire Brigade officials said that the fire spread fast, feeding on the huge stocks of chemicals used for leather processing and paints at the factory. Hora said three fires had broken out in the factory over the past eight years.

A large force from the Tiljala police station was deployed in the area to divert traffic.    

Calcutta, Feb 29 
Coached by two tutors from the Bhowanipore Education Society college, West Bengal Governor Viren J. Shah is fast making inroads into the alien territory of the Bengali language.

Raj Bhavan sources said Shah is working overtime to deliver his maiden address in Bengali when he inaugurates the millennium’s first budget session in the Assembly on Thursday. Shah was not, however, available for comment.

Ashish Sanyal, who coaches Shah, feels the Governor will have no difficulty if he chooses to speak in Bengali. “His progress is phenomenal, and we are confident that His Excellency and madam Anjana will start speaking Bengali fluently within a short time,” said Sanyal.

Raj Bhavan officials said Shah held a full conversation in Bengali with chief minister Jyoti Basu during a luncheon meeting on February 17. Besides, he has started talking in Bengali to Raj Bhavan staff — from his secretary to junior employees.

“We were told that Shah, unlike on previous occasions, chatted with Basu in Bengali for nearly an hour without using a single English word. This shows that he is serious about Bengali ,” Sanyal recounted. Sanyal and Mili Samaddar, the other tutor, have devised a crash course for Shah. For the past three months, he has been taking time off his busy schedule to attend the lessons.

“We have already taught him four lessons covering Bengali phonetics, construction of sentences, various aspects of Bengali conversation and changes of voice. Besides written material, we also give him audio cassettes,” Sanyal said.

“In fact, the audio cassettes are helping Shah learn the nitty-gritty of Bengali pronunciation,” added Samaddar, who has been assigned to prepare the cassettes at a makeshift laboratory in the college.

Shah, who returned to Calcutta after a brief period, will begin his fifth lesson in early March. The entire course may continue for another six months.

After entering Raj Bhavan last December, Shah began a search for Bengali teachers who could help him learn the language in the “quickest possible way.”

Several intellectuals known for their proficiency in the language sent applications to Raj Bhavan. The list included Subhankar Chakraborty, vice-chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University, and a host of experts from the CPM-controlled education cell.

But Shah reportedly rejected all except Sanyal and Samaddar while shortlisting the candidates.

The Bhowanipore Gujarati Society, which runs the college, has offered to shoulder the entire cost of the course.

“Shah is a Gujarati and the society feels it is great to bear the cost of the course,” said society president Mangaldas Sangvi.    

Calcutta, Feb 29 
Even as the diplomat mingled with the destitute on a cricket field at Udayan, there was no doubt who the morning session on Tuesday belonged to — Stephen Roger Waugh.

“Realising that Steve is a kind of legend in this place, I thought I would gift some photographs of him with the World Cup to the children and spend some time with them,” explained Australian high commissioner Rob Laurie.

He had come to the city “primarily” to visit the ‘home for rehabilitation of children of leprosy sufferers’, funded almost entirely by the efforts of Dominique Lapierre, but made truly famous after the involvement of the Aussie sporting hero.

By the end of his hour-long stay, a visibly-moved high commissioner told The Telegraph: “This has been a wonderful experience for me and I’m sure that I’ll sit down with Steve as soon as he finishes the New Zealand tour and find out how I can contribute to Udayan.”

Some 30 minutes from the airport, a faded sign, ‘Modern Saloon’, serves as the lodestar to a kuccha lane running off the Barrackpore-Barasat road towards Udayan.

Entering the pristine premises, spread over 18 bighas of idyllic green, the guest of honour was greeted and garlanded by girls and boys in pink uniform, before being taken for a tour of the classrooms.

Waugh all the way

Then, the scene shifted to the sparkling white Nivedita Bhavan, Udayan Home Girls’ Wing. Here, Waugh (“Steve” to all 222 kids on campus) is omnipresent — from the foundation stone laid by him on 21 July 1998, to the swings in the garden; from the life-size portrait in the hall to the folding beds in the dormitory.

“These are Steve’s girls,” smiles reverend J.G. Stevens, founder of Udayan. “From the idea to the execution, the girl’s wing was his dream. And thanks to Steve, all 22 girls have had a comfortable bed to sleep in from Day One.”

Realising that they were hosting a guest from “Steve’s country”, the girls belted out one song after the other, with the Aussie high commissioner, a disabled child on his lap, praising every performance.

Returning to the main grounds for a brief function, Laurie put in a request: he wanted to meet the boy who had dismissed Steve the day the Aussie star had played cricket with the kids here.

Fourteen-year-old Tapas Das stepped forward: “I am a medium-fast bowler and I bowled Steve with an inswinger. I have taken many wickets since then, but I am waiting for Steve to come back this summer so that I can try and get him out again.”

Stumps were drawn with the high commissioner drawing loud cheers from the kids for referring to “Sourav Ganguly and Steve Waugh” as “our common heroes”.

He even promised them a “game of cricket the next time” he comes to Udayan — partnering Steve Waugh.    

Feb. 29 
Violence marked the 12-hour Assam bandh sponsored by the ruling Asom Gana Parishad. Seven persons, including five hardcore Ulfa militants, were killed since last evening.

The bandh was called in protest against the killing of state PWD and forest minister Nagen Sarma by Ulfa militants on Sunday in Nalbari district.

Two hardcore Ulfa militants were gunned down by the city police at Gorchuk in the wee hours. Another three hardcore rebels were killed in a joint operation by the Army, paramilitary and police personnel in Nalbari district.

Outlawed National Democratic Front of Boroland militants gunned down one Jalan Ali, a businessman, at Ghograpar under Tamalpur police station in Nalbari district last evening. They abducted another trader, Pinaki Mazumdar from Dwarkuchi under Rangia police station in Lower Assam.

Another youth, Ajit Das, succumbed to his injuries on the way to the hospital. He was shot at by a group of Khasi youth yesterday on the outskirts of the city along the Assam-Meghalaya border. His companion, Prabin Kalita, has been admitted to the hospital in a critical condition.

The bandh, sponsored by the ruling AGP was total, particularly in Lower Assam and some parts of Upper Assam. Unlike in previous years, the impact of the bandh was also felt in the three districts of Barak Valley.

In the south Assam districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi, the bandh evoked a total response with all shops and markets remaining shut and traffic keeping off the roads. All the central and state government offices and educational institutions also wore a deserted look.

Police said there were no reports of any untoward incident in these districts.

Roads in the capital were also deserted since early morning with only a few security vehicles patrolling the streets. Offices, shops and business establishments were closed. However, educational institutions remained open in view of the higher secondary examination which began from today.

Additional superintendent of police (city) P.K. Dutta told The Telegraph that a police patrol from Gorchuk outpost intercepted four motorcycle-borne youth. “When we asked them to stop, they tried to flee. When we gave them chase, the youth started firing at us, forcing us to retaliate. The firing lasted for nearly 10 minutes,” he said. Two of the militants died on the spot but the others managed to escape.

He said while one of the slain militants was identified as Gagan Deka of Nalbari, the other has not been identified. One M-20 pistol, four rounds of ammunition and several incriminating documents were recovered from them.

Dutta said the documents included two letters addressed by Dristi Rajkhowa, the “most-wanted” self-styled action commander of the volcano unit of the Ulfa to the leaders of Tripura National Volunteers. The police seized one of the Yamaha motorcycles, he added. Three hardcore militants have been killed by security forces in Nalbari district.

While two of them were identified as Mantu Kalita and Mantu Barman alias Manik Bihari, the third militant could not be identified till this evening.

One pistol, one carbine, and a stengun, a magazine of AK-47 rifle, several rounds of ammunition and a grenade were recovered from the militants.

Additional superintendent of police, P. Goswami said while Mantu Barman was killed after an encounter in Bamunpara village near Ghograpar, two other rebels were gunned down in Phatamara- Khoukuchi-Chuburi this morning.

In a sudden move, the government today transferred Nalbari deputy commissioner A.K. Bhutani and superintendent of police, A.J. Barua. Their places will be taken by the Bongaigaon deputy commissioner B.R. Samal and additional SP. Tezpur, A.B. Krishnan, respectively. Bhutani has been shifted to the agriculture department as joint secretary, while Barua has been moved to Dhubri.    

Imphal, Feb. 29 
The political scenario in Manipur is still hazy despite the ruling United Front of Manipur (UFM) coalition having garnered a majority.

Governor Ved Prakash Marwah is yet to invite W. Nipamacha Singh to form the new government. Sources said the Raj Bhawan wanted to invite the UFM only after the Election Commission issued a notification on the reconstitution of the new Assembly. Though Nipamacha Singh invited the BJP to join the new government yesterday, sources said the UFM wanted to “reconsider” its offer today.

BJP sources said Nipamacha Singh has not accepted its demand for a common minimum programme. Political observers here said Nipamacha Singh sought to reconsider his offer to the BJP in view of the dissent in his Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) camp.

Differences have cropped up in the MSCP camp on the BJP’s entry into the government. Its legislators feel that a few of them will have to sacrifice their ministerial berths to accommodate the BJP.

As the Governor may restrict a jumbo-sized ministry, MSCP legislators do not want to forego ministerial berths in favour of BJP. However, Union minister of state for youth affairs and sports Thounoujam Chaoba Singh has expressed his willingness to go along with the BJP.

As MSCP is a partner of National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Chaoba Singh does not want to antagonise the alliance. He feels that BJP’s induction will make the coalition more stable. Though the MSCP maintained silence on the issue of government formation, leaders appeared confident.

The coalition’s tally has increased to 39 without the BJP. Of these, 23 are from the MSCP, six from the Federal Party of Manipur, four from the breakaway Nationalist Congress Party, three from the breakaway Manipur People’s Party (MPP), one from the Rastriya Janata Dal, one from the Janata Dal (Secular) and one Independent.

Sources said the MSCP wanted to speed up the process of government formation and hold the swearing-in ceremony in the next couple of days.

The party feels it is risky to prolong the swearing-in ceremony as its MLAs are prone to “defection.” State chief electoral officer D. S. Poonia said he had recommended the reconstruction of the seventh Assembly to the Election Commission. A special messenger left for Delhi today with the recommendations.

Election Commission zonal secretary K. R. Prasad will be arriving here tomorrow to sign the formal notification and hand it over to the Governor.

Many parties have asked the Election Commission not to issue any notification till the result of the repolling to the Henglep seat on March 8 was announced.

The state Cabinet is meeting here tomorrow to take a decision on dissolving the current Assembly. Though the Cabinet met today to decide on the issue, it was deferred till tomorrow.    

Bhubaneswar, Feb. 29 
The BJP is likely to pick Biswabhusan Harichandan, twice elected MLA from Bhubaneswar, leader of its legislature party tomorrow.

Party sources said Harichandan, who won by more than 90,000 votes this time, the highest margin in the state, could be preferred over former state chief Bimbadhar Kuanr, another claimant, because of his experience in running the party in the House earlier. Harichandan also commands greater respect among the legislators in the party.

The BJP legislators will meet here tomorrow to choose their leader. Party spokesman Venkaiah Naidu is likely to take part in the meeting as an observer. Pyarelal Khandelwal, party general secretary in charge of Orissa, will also be present.

The BJP is still divided over claiming deputy chief ministership in the Naveen Patnaik government. While some leaders favour claiming the number two position in the coalition government, others want the party to give it up in exchange for more ministerial berths.

The BJD chief has, so far, kept the BJP guessing about whether he would accept his ally’s claim for deputy chief ministership.

Patnaik said negotiations on ministry formation had not yet started but he had an open mind. He said he was also not going to let the BJP down.

The BJP lost its bargaining chips after the party lost 25 of the 63 seats it had contested in the polls. On the other hand, the regional party won 68 of the 84 seats it contested, emerging as the “big brother” of the poll partners.

Giant killer

BJD legislator Ranendra Pratap Swain, who defeated former chief minister J.B. Patnaik in Athgarh over by 40,000 votes, called his victory “a verdict against injustice and corruption”.

Swain said the people of his constituency had given Patnaik a “fitting reply” for trying to “influence them with unfair means”. He said alleged attempts by the Congress to “terrorise” the voters had also failed because of people’s “hatred” for the PCC president.    

Agartala, Feb. 29 
Chief minister Manik Sarkar is facing criticism from two rival ethnic outfits, the Amra Bangali and the outlawed All Tripura Tiger Force militants.

While the Amra Bangali described the chief minister as “communal” for his pro-tribal slant in Press statements issued yesterday, the Tiger Force militants held him responsible for sustained persecution of tribals and a spurt in the activities of the United Bengali Liberation Front (UBLF) militants.

Addressing a cultural gathering on February 21, Sarkar held immigrant Bengalis responsible for the decimation of tribal culture and language, evoking strong reaction in political circles. Former chief minister Samir Ranjan Barman had lashed out at Sarkar for his comments.

Yesterday, the Amra Bangali which has of late started gaining ground in state politics, held a press conference to denounce the chief minister’s statements.

Party general secretary Rakhalraj Datta said Sarkar’s comments would encourage militants to intensify their attacks on Bengalis and gain “respectability at the international level.”

Citing census reports, Datta said Bengalis have been the dominant community in the state since 1931. He described the chief minister’s statements as communal.

The Tiger Force militants on the other hand have held the chief minister and the Left Front responsible for persecution of tribals in Tripura.

Accusing the state police of ‘ethnic bias’ in favour of Bengalis, the January issue of outfit’s mouthpiece Choba said, “The state police are abetting the UBLF militants to attack tribal civilians at the behest of the chief minister.” The mouthpiece also described the state government’s move to form village defence committees as a conspiracy hatched by the chief minister.

The Tiger Force militants for the first time criticised TNV supremo Bijay Hrangkhawl and Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) leaders Harinath Debbarma and Debabrato Koloi.

The Tiger Force alleged that Hrangkhawl did not join the IPFT because he was not sure of the “leadership.”

Lambasting the tribal leaders of the non-Left parties as “rapacious opportunists” looting the autonomous district councils, the Tiger Force also scathingly criticised the NLFT for conniving with them.    

Jamshedpur, Feb. 29 
Tension prevails in the Toklo area near Chakradharpur in West Singbhum district following clashes between forest department officials and local villagers yesterday.

Two persons, including a homeguard, were injured in the incident. The forest department has filed a case with the local police station.

Sub-divisional police officer of Chakradharpur, Yunus Kujur, said, “Nearly 20 forest guards and 13 homeguards, led by divisional forest officer Sampat Kumar, had raided the Jharjhara weekly haat (rural market) in Toklo. Villagers were selling illegally felled timber in the market. They fled as soon as the securitymen arrived, only to reappear in greater strength. They attacked the forest guards with bows and arrows and pelted stones.” The homeguards fired several rounds, injuring a villager who was admitted to the Chaibasa Sardar hospital. One homeguard sustained head injury after being hit by a stone. He has been admitted to the Rajendra Medical College Hospital, Ranchi.

Militants kill four: Suspected Bodo militants killed four members of a family at Kokila in Papumpare district of Arunachal Pradesh yesterday, reports PTI from Itanagar quoting police.

Sources said a group of militants armed with sophisticated weapons entered the house of B. Gupta, a businessman, and killed him, his wife, son and daughter. The cause of the killing was not immediately known. Police have rushed to the spot.

Police headquarters here was yet to identify the remote area where eight Ulfa activists were stated to have been killed in an encounter with the security forces yesterday.    


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