Health check drive on wedding halls
PCC on mahajot path
Nod to local law colleges
Man returns from the dead
TUs form coal combine
Bachelors face pension bias
Anti-Ulfa wave sweeps rallies
Orissa seeks Rs 400 cr to counter Naxalites

Calcutta, April 7 
Civic authorities have threatened to close down houses let out for ceremonies like marriage parties if they continue to violate essential health norms.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has instructed the licence department not to renew or issue licences to �ceremony houses� without clearance from its health department.

�We want the owners of the ceremony houses, who are minting money, to ensure standard sanitation and hygiene conditions so that people who eat there will not risk a health problem,� municipal commissioner Asim Barman said, on Friday.

At the time of renewal of licences, the civic health department takes a close look at:

The condition of the kitchen, including arrangement of hot and cold water taps for washing dishes.

Smoke-expulsion facilities.

Arrangement of safe drinking water

Garbage disposal and left-over collection system (containers with lids are to be kept for the purpose).

Precaution taken by the landlord to prevent sound pollution in the adjacent locality

Adequate facilities for toilets with an arrangement of running water

With �hall-hire� a booming business in a city lacking adequate space for ceremonies around the year, there is a mad scramble to convert even garage spaces and vacant godowns into �ceremony houses�.

�We have closed down one such ceremony house at Tiljala which was actually just a garage,� said chief municipal health officer Sujit Ghosh.

At four centres on Theatre Road and CIT Road, the CMC has forced owners to instal chimneys for dispersal of smoke from kitchens. Residents of the area had lodged complaints with the CMC against �continuous air pollution� from these places.

Subrata Bose, superintendent of the CMC food laboratory, said that under Section 421 of the CMC Act, 1980, �ceremony houses� fall under the category of commercial eating houses and boardings.

�There are about 1,100 houses in the city which are let out for hosting ceremonies,� conservancy official Swapan Mahapatra said.

CJC awards: Governor Viren Shah gave away the Calcutta Journalists Club�s awards for excellence in corporate communications for 1999 at a function at Rotary Sadan on Thursday.

The recipients included RPG Enterprises, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, Tata Steel, CESC Ltd and ABP India Ltd.    

Calcutta, April 7 
The prospect of a mahajot (grand alliance) with the Trinamul Congress seems to have roused the state Congress unit from its slumber.

State PCC chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury has said he will soon undertake a tour of the districts with railway minister Mamata Banerjee to drum up an intense anti-CPM campaign.

Khan Chowdhury returned from Delhi on Friday morning and was greeted by a large number of party supporters at the airport who shouted slogans hailing both Barkatda and Mamata.

�I had a detailed discussion with Mamata in Delhi. There will indeed be a mahajot. No one can stop us now from ousting the CPM from Bengal. Mamata and I will tour the districts and address the people jointly,� Khan Chowdhury said.

Even though a section of the West Bengal Congress still feels that the question of the BJP needs to be addressed by the high command in clear terms, the PCC chief said he had made it clear to party chief Sonia Gandhi that while tying up with the Trinamul, the party will continue to keep a safe distance from the saffron brigade.

�I informed Sonia Gandhi about the urgent need of a mahajot in Bengal to overthrow the CPM. She has given me her blessings. I told her that we do not know any BJP. Our alliance is only with Mamata�s party,� said the veteran Malda MP.

Shortly after Khan Chowdhury arrived in Calcutta this morning, state Congress leaders like Abdul Mannan, Sultan Ahmed, Shankar Singh and Paresh Pal met him at his Salt Lake residence.

Sources said that Khan Chowdhury has given the nod for an alliance at the grassroot level for the forthcoming municipal elections. He also told the party leaders that he will convene a PCC meeting soon to discuss the proposed mahajot.

Meanwhile, the youth wing of the Trinamul Congress held a meeting, on Friday, where leaders welcomed the mahajot in order to oust the CPM. �Mamata Banerjee is our supreme leader. Her instruction to us is final in this regard,� a youth leader said.    

Calcutta, April 7 
The state government has given the go-ahead for two self-financing law colleges at Kandi in Murshidabad and Balurghat in South Dinajpur.

This is a departure from the norm as all six existing law colleges in the state � four at Calcutta, one at Burdwan and another at Jalpaiguri � are funded by the state government.

Beside a growing local demand for such institutions, the government�s inability to provide any financial support to the proposed law colleges has prompted it to explore the self-financing option.

The setting up of the colleges, and their functioning, will be organised jointly by the people of the area including political parties, existing educational institutions and some eminent personalities.

According to sources in the state higher education department, even though the government will not bear any financial burden, it will maintain �strict vigil� on the academic affairs of the proposed colleges. For instance, the colleges will not be allowed to admit more than 80 students in one section.

Pratip Chowdhury, member secretary of the West Bengal Higher Education Council, said the courses offered by the colleges will have to abide by the rules and regulations of the Bar Council of India.

The state higher education council has been asked by the government to conduct the necessary inspection at Kandi and Balurghat for setting up the colleges.

Undergraduate courses in law will be on offer from the next academic session, scheduled to begin after the publication of the Class XII examination results.

The demand for setting up the law colleges was raised by the local people of Kandi and Balurghat a few years ago. The local MLAs conveyed the demand to the state government.

When the government rejected the demand due to a �financial crunch�, the MLAs sought permission for opening �self-financing colleges�.

For Balurghat, the demand was moved by RSP MLA Biswanath Choudhury, who is also the state jail minister. The demand for the Kandi college was moved by the local Congress MLA Atish Sinha.

Going by the norms of the Bar Council of India, the two colleges have been asked to start with an initial fund of Rs one lakh each.

The Kandi law college will start out from the Birendra Chandra College of Commerce. The one at Balurghat will operate from Balurghat College.    

Calcutta, April 7 
He is the dead man walking. Nizamuddin, �declared dead� seven months ago, just couldn�t take it anymore. On Thursday, he landed up at the doorstep of the deputy commissioner of police (detective department), Narayan Ghosh to prove that he was �alive�.

�It�s a strange case,� said Ghosh. �This person just walked up to me and complained that no one was ready to accept he was alive. I have never encountered such a case before.�

The bizarre chain of events culminating in Thursday�s twist in the tale can be traced back to 1996 when Nizamuddin and Mohammed Akhtar Mollah were among a group of 11 black belts picked by their martial arts teacher M.M. Fateh for a trip to Japan.

Their inability to cough up the Rs 2 lakh each required to make the trip, forced them to opt out at the last moment.

But there was no stopping the unscrupulous Fateh. He took their passports and replaced Mollah�s photo with that of his brother Mohammed Tahir and Nizamuddin�s with that of accomplice Mohammed Iqbal. So, Tahir and Iqbal made the trip to Japan, masquerading as Mollah and Nizamuddin, respectively.

Iqbal, who had taken up a job as a construction labourer in Higochi Hencho, was killed in a road accident on August 12, 1999. Going by the passport of the deceased, Nizamuddin was declared dead. Iqbal�s folks, too, hushed up the case.

Fed up of living with the tag of a dead man, Nizamuddin finally told Narayan Ghosh the whole story.

Following the complaint, karate teacher Fateh was arrested on Friday morning. The ministry of external affairs has also been alerted.    

Asansol, April 7 
The Union Cabinet�s decision to privatise coal industry has brought two arch rivals � the CPI(M)�s trade union wing Citu and BJP�s trade union wing Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) � on a common platform.

The BMS has volunteered to join hands with the Citu, Intuc, AITUC and Hindustan Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) to oppose the Centre�s �unilateral and suicidal decision� of handing over coal to the private sector.

Reacting sharply to the decision of amending the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973 to enable the government to hand over the industry to Indian companies, Amarendra Singh, general secretary of the BMS-affiliated Khan Mazdoor Sangh, said: �We will go to any extent to oppose this move�.

�Our organisation has no objection to joining any movement with other central trade unions, including the Citu, to thwart this anti-worker step,� declared Singh. He said his organisation had staged two sit-ins in front of the Prime Minister�s residence on November 30, 1998 and on January 15, this year, to protest the privatisation move.

Bimapada Mukherjee, president of the Citu-affiliated Colliery Mazdoor Sabha (CMS) of India, said his organisation has for long been leading protests against the BJP government�s �anti-people� policies.

The nationwide bandh call on May 11 is aimed at rousing public awareness against such moves of the BJP government, he said.

Mukherjee said the Cabinet�s decision to issue mining licences to private Indian companies was a precursor to the opening up of coal mines to multinationals.

�Just mark the timing of the declaration. The US President has just completed his five-day trip to India,� said the CMS chief.

Aniruddha Roy, joint secretary of HMS, said faulty planning by the government and the Coal India management, rampant theft and illegal mining were some of the factors responsible for the present state of affairs in the industry. The allegation of surplus work force is totally baseless, he claimed. �In Eastern Coalfields Limited alone, there are 1.30 lakh workers now as against 1.91 lakh in 1984,� Roy said. The HMS has submitted revival packages to the Centre.

The Coal Mines Officers� Association, too, felt this move �could have been avoided�. Scientific mining with the help of modern technology can make it a profit-earning sector, officials said.    

Imphal, April 7 
Constable Lukram Shyamsunder of the Manipur police commandos was killed in action against militants on July 11, 1996. But his father, Lukram Ibobi of Thoubal Khunou village, was denied family pension by the government since Shyamsunder was a bachelor.

In spite of repeated requests, Ibobi and his wife have not been able to get family pension although their only son has been killed in action. This is because under the family pension rule of 1964 of the Manipur government, parents of unmarried government servants are not entitled to pension. In 10 such cases in the Manipur police, unmarried policemen have been killed in action and their parents have been denied family pension.

A deceased policeman�s spouse, sons below 21 years of age and unmarried daughters below the age of 30 years are entitled to family pension.

But the word �parents� was not included in the list of pension beneficiaries. While the families of married policemen get family pension in the event of their untimely deaths, unmarried policemen are discriminated against although they run the same risk to their lives.

If a policeman who is married is killed in action, his family members get a �special pension� equivalent to his full salary till his retirement age of 58 years. After the retirement age of the deceased is attained, his widow gets �normal pension� till her death.

But for the unmarried policemen serving in Manipur, in the event of their untimely deaths, their parents will only get normal gratuity, ex gratia grant and general provident fund.

Worried about the increasing number of deaths of unmarried policemen, senior police officials have written to director-general of police L. Jugeshwor Singh to pressure the government for an amendment of pension rules. But so far no positive action has been forthcoming.

In Punjab, family pension rules have already been amended in view of the risks faced by policemen. The Punjab government has already amended its pension rules by including the parents of unmarried employees in the list of beneficiaries on July 16, 1998, enforcing the new rules with effect from January 1, 1996.

This step was taken following the ruling of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 1998. The Punjab and Haryana High Court has observed that the rule which excluded the parents was unreasonable and unconstitutional.

In Manipur, which is no less dangerous than Punjab in terms of militant activities, the government has been denying family pension to the parents of unmarried policemen killed while discharging their duties. With militant activities now at their peak, unmarried policemen are still discriminated against by the government although they work under tremendous pressure.

The Manipur government has recently recruited 300 police commandos for counter-insurgency operations. Most of them are bachelors.

The problem is confined to not just the police department, but exists in all state government departments. Unmarried employees of other government departments face similar discrimination.    

Jorhat, April 7 
Craving for peace after over two decades of violence, thousands of people today gave vent to their feelings at rallies coinciding with the Ulfa�s 21st foundation day.

�Assam has not gained anything over the past two decades. It has only witnessed bloodshed,� said an elderly person at one such rally at the Boarding Field in Sivsagar town.

�Violence only begets violence. If Assam wants development, peace will have to be restored,� said another speaker. Three days back, an Ulfa trainer who led the surrender of 532 militants at the historic Rang Ghar had spoken of militancy in the same vein.

�Bereft of any ideology, the Ulfa is heading nowhere. There is no democracy in the set-up. There is no doubt that it has turned into a terrorist outfit,� said Amrit Phukon, who used to train recruits at the Ulfa�s White Basti camp in Myanmar not long ago.

Observers feel the Ulfa �wrote its own epitaph� by killing development worker Sanjoy Ghose.

�Ghose�s death made the islanders realise that it was not the Ulfa, but people like Ghose whom they could bank on. The anti-Ulfa spark ignited in the island spread in the rest of the state like wildfire,� a senior official said.

Several years have elapsed since Ghose was abducted and killed, but the people do not appear to have forgotten him. �If the Ulfa is truly committed to the development of Assam, why did it kill Ghose? Why did it target someone who came all the way from Delhi to serve the people of Majuli?� questioned a former government official at the rally here.

Though there is a groundswell of public opinion against the Ulfa, many believe that the proscribed outfit can still redeem its image by abjuring violence. A majority of the speakers at the peace rallies in Sivsagar and the Court Field here urged the outfit�s leadership to come to the negotiating table. Peace rallies were held in all parts of the state, including Guwahati and Silchar, today.    

Bhubaneswar, April 7 
The Orissa government has asked the Centre for Rs 400 crore to combat the growing Naxalite activities in the southern districts.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik placed the demand before Union home minister L.K. Advani during a meeting on the threat posed by the Naxalites to the governments of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra in New Delhi early this week. The chief ministers of the other three states also attended the meeting.

Official sources today said Patnaik told Advani that the state needed the funds desperately as it could not meet the Naxalite threat with empty coffers.

Patnaik sought Rs 70 crore to train the police in guerrilla warfare and provide them with sophisticated arms to enable them to take on the People�s War Group activists armed with AK-47s.

The remaining Rs 330 crore will be used for various development projects in Gajapati, Koraput and Malkangiri districts, all bordering Andhra Pradesh, to win back the poor tribals supporting the extremists.

The government also plans to set up a special force on the lines of the Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh and the Hawks in Madhya Pradesh.

The government has drawn flak from the Centre in the past for making little effort to curb Naxalite activities. It had withdrawn all anti-Naxalite pickets manned by armed personnel after PWG activists overran a police camp in Malkangiri last year and fled with dozens of rifles.

Officials said Patnaik also sought additional funds to restore the livelihood of fishermen, artisans and weavers in the cyclone-affected coastal districts.

The state needs Rs 70 crore to rehabilitate the fishermen who had lost their boats in the October 29 supercyclone. The Centre has already provided Rs 18 crore from the National Fund for Calamity Relief and the British government has promised Rs 35 crore. Patnaik asked the Centre for the remaining Rs 17 crore.

Fugitive arrested

The fugitive who masterminded the jailbreak from the Kodala subjail in Ganjam district, was arrested this morning near a village called Kotinada, nearly 50 km from Aska, reports our Berhampur correspondent. With the arrest of Charchi, an associate of dreaded dacoit Dilip Nayak, police have been able to round up four of the seven escapees.    


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