Free pricing in cinemas
Chaplin Park falls to lumpens and realtors
Power lines cut off, train services hit
Political twist to Bihar MLA murder
Police close Army vandalism case
Minorities fear discrimination

Calcutta, April 16 
In �film-crazy� Calcutta, several cinemas have been forced to down shutters, while some others, including Paradise, face fadeout.

The Left Front government is finally planning to throw cinema hall-owners a lifeline by allowing them �price freedom�. This is part of a revival package drawn up by the state film directorate and submitted to the finance department for final approval.

While 16 halls out of 83 in the city have already gone out of business, three others are on the verge of closure.

The Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA), a forum for cinema management, is threatening to go on a day�s token strike to protest the present state of affairs.

Dilip Basu, director of films, government of West Bengal, has said that individual exhibitors will be given the freedom to fix admission tariffs,

The present ceiling is Rs 20. �Under this arrangement, exhibitors will be allowed to increase the admission rates on their own and, thus, mop up the revenues,� explained Basu.

Service taxes collected along with admission tickets for maintenance of halls are also being restructured.

According to the proposed changes, exhibitors who are getting only 50 paise and Rs 1 for non-AC and AC halls, respectively, will earn much more.

But exhibitors are demanding an immediate increase in service charges. �We are happy that the government has woken up to the problems we have been facing for years. But we are not going to accept the changes unless service charges are doubled,� declared Pulak Mukherjee, chairman, EIMPA exhibitors� section.

Electricity charges consumed by hall-owners for exhibition of films will be calculated on the basis of industrial tariff.

Taxes imposed by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) on cinema halls will also be reviewed for the benefit of hall-owners.

To help the big screen combat the small, the government has also decided to impose severe restrictions on unauthorised screening of feature films through videos and cable television, in violation of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.

The government�s belated intervention has given several hall-owners, who were ready to call it a day, a reason to rethink.

Bishu Behrus, a partner of Jamuna cinema, said he had decided to close down the hall within a few days. �But we must defer the closure following the government�s decision to go for a revival package,� he added.

Rajendra Bagaria, who had to close down 50-year-old Indira, in Bhowanipore, last month, said the revival package might help �reopen the hall�.

Samir Saha, who had to close down Bina cinema hall last November, says: �The spectre of closure looms large over several other halls in the city.�

Paradise, in central Calcutta, is one of them. Established in 1935, its one of the oldest halls in the city.

�But these days, we find it extremely difficult to run the shows due to depleting revenue collection. We were toying with the idea of closing down the unit, but we�ll wait till the government unveils its revival plans,� said A Karim, manager, Paradise.

Parimal Sarkar said the Paradise management had informed him only three days ago about the imminent closure. �We hope that the government�s move will encourage the management to carry on,� he said.    

Calcutta, April 16 
After beautifying Mysore Garden at Chetla and a waterbody at Jadavpur at a cost of nearly Rs 1 crore, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) appears to be turning its back on the only park it owns in the city�s Esplanade belt.

CMC officials indicated on Sunday that plans were afoot to build either a commercially-run underground parking lot, an underground market or an above-ground commercial complex in the 100-year-old Chaplin Park fronting the CMC headquarters. �The park, as we all know it, might not be there if the plans are executed,� said a CMC official who preferred to remain anonymous.

The 100 cottah Chaplin Park is one of the most valuable assets of the city in terms of land price. The CMC, according to officials, is considering handing over the park to realtors for commercial development because of a funds crunch. But certain key CMC functionaries were resisting the move.

Only three years ago, the CMC had recovered Chaplin Park from the clutches of encroachers and developed it as a much-needed �lung� for the polluted New Market area. Now brown and dusty, it looks sadly neglected. The fencing on the western side of the park has been stolen, but the civic authorities are not bothered.

Two years ago, the park was like a green carpet. But since it was rarely watered or taken care of, the grass is gone. The park is dotted with bald patches.

People hardly ever visit the park as it lacks any benches or canopies. After dusk, it becomes the haunt of criminals, prostitutes from Behala and Sarsuna, hawkers, drug peddlers, bootleggers, urchins and some �crooked� policemen. Years ago, leaders such as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and others used to be regulars here.

Now, soon after New Market closes for the day, the park becomes an open-air godown for hawkers� wares. It becomes a haven for dope-pushers, prostitutes, hooch sellers and extortionists as well, and they carry on their business till midnight. Policemen from Taltola police station on night patrol frequently visit the park as guests. There they sip glasses of liquor offered free.

Till 1973, the park was beautiful and safe, with benches and three umbrellas. The regular presence of civic councillors like Ganapati Sur and Nripen Banerjee preserved its sanctity.

But with the supercession of the civic board in 1973, the park started going downhill.In the absence of people�s representatives, local lumpens have started taking over the area. Subsequently, in 1991 a part of New Market was devastated in a fire and the open space disappeared for the temporary rehabilitation of the fire-affected traders of the �chicken range� of the market.

Though the chicken range was rebuilt in 1993, the park was not visible any longer. Till January 1997, when the CMC bulldozed the illegal structure there. After the eviction, the park was fenced and grass sown, but for want of security guards and seats, it has remained out of bounds for old people, women and children who need it badly.

�None has so far approached the CMC with a commercial project for the park,� mayor Prasanta Chatterjee said.

�How can a park be saved if the fencing is stolen?� member, mayor-in-council (parks) Abdul Ali, asked.

A senior civic official, however, does not agree to this is being done to tide over the problem of funds, as the CMC has turned down several proposals for the beautification of Chaplin Park.

He said about a year and a half ago, industrialist Harsh Neotia had proposed beautification of the park but it was turned down.

Even now, there are sponsors readily available, but the mayor and members in his council, for some unknown reason, were reluctant to allow them to do so.

Another proposal had come from a group of businessmen close to Alimuddin Street, to construct an underground air-conditioned market there, like the one at Satyanarayan Park, in Burrabazar.    

Calcutta, April 16 
The city still reels under the impact of the 117-kmph nor�wester on Saturday. Large parts of Calcutta went without power on Sunday, as the distribution network struggled to cope with the overhead cables and transformers damaged by falling trees and gusty wind.

Sources in the CESC said most of the repairs were completed by Sunday afternoon. But supply could not be restored in Haltu, Purbachal Road, Regent Estate and Mukundapur on the southern fringes and in Belgachhia, Tobin Road, Subhash Nagar and pockets of south Dum Dum in the north.

�Our engineers and workers will carry out repairs round the clock till normal services are restored,� a CESC official said. Large areas of Chowdhury Bagan and S.K. Deb Road, in Lake Town, and Baguiati went without electricity till late on Sunday evening. An acute water scarcity compounded the problem.

�Our offices were flooded with complaints. In some areas, people blamed us for the situation. But what can we do? It was a natural calamity and there were hundreds of big and small breakdowns,� a CESC official said.

Train services were yet to return to normal on both the Eastern and South Eastern Railway.

Long-distance trains were delayed through Sunday. Trouble broke out at the Dum Dum Cantonment and Dankuni stations, with agitated youth protesting the power failure and train delays. At Dankuni, agitators ransacked the station master�s office. It took a large posse of railway police to tackle the situation. �We expect lines to be cleared and services restored by Monday morning,� a rail official said.    

April 16 
Slain Marxist Co-ordination Committee (MCC) legislator Gurudas Chatterjee�s son has accused a couple of politicians from Nirsa of being involved in his father�s death.

In an emotional outburst, the slain MLA�s son, Arup Chatterjee said a local Congress and a Forward Bloc leader were involved in his father�s murder. The accusation made in the presence of thousands of party workers, three senior state and Cabinet ministers and the director-general of police in Dhanbad has added a new twist to the probe.

The legislator was cremated last evening with full state honours. The ceremony was attended by several senior state and central officials.

Earlier, the Dhanbad police had said a local mafia don, Narmadeshwar Singh alias Chopra Master�s son Shiv Shankar Singh was involved in Chatterjee�s murder. The police said the don had an axe to grind against the legislator as he was operating a petrol pump in the area on a tribal quota, which the MLA opposed.

A senior CBI officer in Patna said, �The timing and precision of the job indicates mafia involvement. But at this moment we cannot say for sure whether the assassins were hired. We have to probe the matter.� The Bihar government agreed to hand over the probe to the CBI following pressure from the Marxist Co-ordination Council yesterday.

Chatterjee�s post mortem report confirmed that he was shot with a 9 mm pistol and died after a bullet pierced his skull.

The police said the use of 9 mm pistols was common in supari (contract) killings. This, according to them, indicated that Chatterjee was killed by hired gunmen. According to preliminary investigation, Chatterjee�s killers had purchased a Kawasaki-Calibre motorcycle from Asansol a week ago.

The purchase indicated that they were paid a huge amount of money to eliminate Chatterjee, sources said, adding that the killers were from outside the state.

Senior MCC leaders also felt that the murder was a fallout of an �unholy nexus between politicians, criminals and coal mafia gangs.�� Chatterjee had been demanding a CBI probe into the pilferage of coal from the Bharat Coking Coal Limited godowns. The company incurred loss of coal worth Rs 150 core, which was passed off as �quality deductions.� Since 1983-84, coal worth Rs 600 crore had been pilfered from various �dumps�� despite spending Rs 59 crore on the CISF for guarding the godowns. Besides, there were several anomalies in purchase and audits.

Deputy superintendent of police with the criminal investigation department in Patna, M.M. Baig, who heads the special investigating team constituted by the state government to probe the murder, has formally taken charge.

Laloo banks on CB

RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav is snared in a trap of his own making. Last week, when the CBI filed a chargesheet against him in the disproportionate income case, he called the agency a �pet dog of the BJP out to humiliate its political opponents.�� He even threatened to stop CBI operation in the state.

But every time he faces pressure from within the party or from the Opposition over �vexed�� issues, he concedes a CBI probe. Yesterday, when his party faced political heat over Chatterjee�s murder, Laloo Yadav took recourse to the CBI. Senior RJD leader in the Rabri Devi ministry consulted Laloo Yadav in jail before announcing that his party had agreed to a CBI probe.

Similarly, on the eve of the last Lok Sabha polls, the RJD chief was forced to order a CBI probe into the Shilpi Jain murder case.    

Guwahati, April 16 
Police have closed a case pertaining to alleged vandalism by Army personnel at four check gates at Beltola and Jalukbari in the city on April 6 following withdrawal of the relevant FIR.

Additional superintendent of police (city) P.K. Dutta said it was not possible for the police to provide security to the complainants now that the FIR had been withdrawn. �They are civilians who took the check gates on lease and have decided to withdraw the FIR of their own accord,� he said.

A defence spokesman termed talk of the Army�s involvement in the April 6 incident as �rubbish�. He said vested interests, including the Ulfa, were behind the allegations.

Police had claimed to be in possession of �concrete evidence� of the Army�s involvement in the ransacking.

Dutta said jawans from the Territorial Army camp in Jagiroad had helped a group of surrendered militants from Upper Assam�s Sivsagar district in ransacking the four check gates.

He also said the incident was the fallout of a quarrel between two groups of surrendered Ulfa rebels over �sharing of money� collected at the check gates.

�The group of former rebels from Upper Assam is friendly with a senior Territorial Army officer based in Jagiroad. The surrendered rebels used this link to enlist the Army�s help in looting four check gates at Beltola, Gotanagar and Jalukbari,� Dutta said.

�During a scuffle at one of the check gates, the nameplate of a Territorial Army jawan, Nilesh Tiwary, fell on the ground. It is now with the Basistha police,� he added.

The police official said all but two of the seven Army personnel allegedly involved in the ransacking spree were in uniform. Apart from forcibly taking away cash and valuables, the Armymen beat up people and whisked away four persons manning the check gates, he said.

Dutta said the police had taken up the matter with the Army authorities. �Under no circumstances can the Army take the law in its hands. If it had any grievance, it could have reported the matter to the police instead of resorting to such behaviour,� he said.

Deputy superintendent of police (Pandu division) Bipulananda Choudhury also said there was evidence of the Army�s involvement in the incident.

Reacting to the police�s claims, the defence spokesman said there was no merit in the case.

�Had the victims of the vandalism been so sure of the Army�s involvement in the incident, they would have filed an FIR,� he said. �It is a desperate attempt by certain circles to malign the Army�s image,� he added.

However, Dutta insisted that an FIR had been filed. He said it was withdrawn only after the police took up the matter with the Army authorities.

�The latter agreed to release the four detained youth on condition that the FIR would be withdrawn,� he added.

The police official referred to another incident on April 7, when a group of surrendered Ulfa rebels allegedly ransacked the house of Bhaben Das, a close associate of former rebel leader Jayanta Hazarika, at Beltola.

The police have registered a case and provided security to Das.

It is believed that the attack on Das was also the outcome of a brawl over money earned from the illegal coal trade and tir, a gambling game involving darts.    

Guwahati, April 16 
The United Minorities Front (UMF) fears that the definition of �indigenous people� agreed to at a meeting of the sub-committee on clause VI of the Assam Accord here recently will exclude a large number of people from the religious and linguistic minorities.

The sub-committee, comprising representatives from the Centre, state government and the All-Assam Students Union decided that all those enlisted in the National Registar of Citizens, 1951, and the electoral rolls of 1952 and their descendants will be considered �indigenous people� of the state and only they will be eligible to contest elections from the reserved seats for indigenous people to which the Centre has already agreed in principle.

A meeting of the UMF state executive today said the sub-committee�s decision was guided by �unfair motive� and was meant to �exclude a vast section of the people belonging to the religious and linguistic groups who returned to the country according to the terms of the Neheru-Liakat pact and various other policy decisions of the Centre during the Fifties and the Sixties.�

These people were not included in either of the documents as these were prepared and published before their arrival, UMF secretary general Abdus Samad Ahmed said.

He said the definition of the indigenous people provided by the tripartite sub-committee was thoroughly studied and debated thread-bare during the six-year- long Assam agitation following pressure by the agitationists and the Centre.

After considering all aspects of the issue, March 25, 1971 was accepted as the cut-off date, he said, adding that the UMF was fully committed to the cut-off date.

However, the party demanded that all people residing in the state as Indian citizens prior to the cut-off date and who had adopted Assam as their motherland and had embraced the local language and culture should be treated as �indigenous people� under clause VI of the Assam Accord, he said.

He said all sections should have been taken into confidence for an uninamous settlement before arriving at any decision involving such a sensitive and complex term like �indigenous.�

Ahmad said, �Peaceful brotherly unity among all sections of people, irrespective of caste, creed and religion is the need of the hour.�

The meeting was also attended among others by working president Bhimsen Sinha, vice presidents Md. Amzad Hussain and Mrinal Kanti Choudhury.    


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