Business and pleasure on rivertop
Ransom demand to cheat in-laws
Taxis on flash strike, police defend riot act
Apex court no to Basu plea
Clouds gather clout, storm alert sounded
Teachers in pen-down cry
Tripura LF nominee pulls out after threat
Biju Dal, Congress quibble over rural bodies
Ulfa militants kill constable, injure officer
Sikkim tribals discover new saviour in CPM

A dream is taking shape on the city’s waterfront. Inspired by the millennium dome in London, the government has decided to set up a millennium convention centre — under Vidyasagar Setu, on the Hooghly.

The multi-level, multipurpose centre will rest on 12 pile caps which had been erected on the riverbed during the construction of the ‘second Hooghly bridge’. With a ‘ground area’ of 50,000 square feet, the convention centre will have conference rooms and restaurants, a bowling alley and a terrace garden.

The project, with an estimated tag of Rs 15-22 crore, is the brainchild of I-Win, a joint venture between the ICICI and the West Bengal Infrastructure Development Corporation.

“The state government wanted to set up something that could be described as the landmark of Calcutta. The millennium dome of London gave us the idea to set up a convention centre below the bridge, to blend with the majestic structure of Vidyasagar Setu,” said I-Win managing director D. Sengupta.

The ground floor will have two or three restaurants, a bowling alley, a billiards room and a terrace garden.

The first floor will comprise a 1,200-seater conference hall, six meeting rooms, a business centre, a post office and a bank.

The state government will take over one of the meeting rooms here.

There will be an open-air theatre on the roof, to be covered by a special fabric to give it the “millennium dome look”.

The convention centre will be raised on build-own-transfer (BOT) basis, with the state government giving a 30-years right to the operator.

I-Win will float the pre-qualification bid in end-April or early-May. The advertisements will be on the Net, so that international bidders can be roped in. Work is billed to begin within three months.

Mukul Mitra, a city-based architect, has drawn out the concept plan for the centre.

“The highest level of water will be two metres below the pile caps,” said Sengupta, stressing the “safety” aspect.

The convention centre can be reached by road via Vidyasagar Setu or by water, with plans afoot to set up a jetty alongside it.

“We have received the requisite clearances from the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioner, Calcutta Port Trust and the Howrah Municipal Corporation,” said Sengupta.

To ensure that pollutants are not dumped into the Hooghly, the sewerage network is being connected to the shore through pipelines.

Permission has already been obtained from the Howrah Municipal Corporation for transferring the sewage to the shore.    

City police detectives on Tuesday detained a 32-year-old man for allegedly trying to cheat his father-in-law of Rs 6 lakh by fabricating a story about being kidnapped by Kashmir militants .

According to the detective department, Manoranjan Adak, a goldsmith based in Srinagar, tried this trick on father-in-law Birendra Paria, a medicine shop-owner and resident of Amherst Street.

“Adak had meticulously manufactured the story of his kidnapping to defraud Paria. That’s how he tried to square off his debts,” said Sanjoy Mukherjee, deputy commissioner, detective department (special cell). Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Narayan Ghosh, however, endorsed Adak’s version.

Last month, Adak had rung up Paria, saying he needed money to pay the huge debts accrued on account of his sister’s marriage and his father’s treatment. Paria, however, refused to pay up.On April 10, a man called up Paria from Srinagar, claiming his son-in-law had been kidnapped. Apparently, Adak had two local accomplices who made the phone call and identified themselves as the kidnappers, Amjad Khan and Shahjad Khan.

“Clearly, Adak introduced the fake kidnappers in Srinagar to lend authenticity to the ransom demand,” Mukherjee said.

Shocked at the sudden ransom demand, Paria went to the police to make a complaint after sending a cheque for Rs 50,000 to a bank account in Srinagar. The threat calls were traced. Detectives discovered that the calls were made from Srinagar.

“I immediately contacted my batch-mate, SSP Srinagar, to carry out an investigation,’’ Mukherjee said.

The police smelt a rat on hearing that during the phone call, some people could be heard whispering in Bengali, urging the callers to demand more money.

“Many goldsmiths from West Bengal stay in Srinagar. Earlier, Adak used to be a resident of Daspara, in Midnapore district,” police said.

The SSP, Srinagar, then found out that Adak was not kidnapped and tracked him down. He was immediately despatched to Calcutta.

Adak admitted he was not kidnapped and that the incident was just a ploy for repaying his loans.

“We are not registering any case against Adak for trying to cheat as his father-in-law does not want to punish him.” Mukherjee said.

Narayan Ghosh, however, claimed that Manoranjan Adak was actually kidnapped. The police rescued him. The city police will now look for the two alleged Kashmiri extremists who demanded the ransom. A kidnapping case will be registered in this connection.    

Taxis will stay off the streets on Wednesday, with city associations calling a flash strike to protest “police atrocities’’ over imposition of pollution norms.

The immediate cause for the strike call is the incident near Girish Park on Monday night, in which policemen had allegedly assaulted four senior taxi union office-bearers.

According to the taximen, the cops turned on the officials while they were trying to stop them from extorting money from a cabbie while checking the pollution papers of his vehicle.

The taxi unions have petitioned state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty for suspension of the “guilty’’ police officers. They have even threatened to take buses, minibuses, taxis and other public transport off the road indefinitely from May 3 if the government does not pay heed to their demands.

The police, however, have denied the allegations and, instead, blamed the taximen for “deliberately creating trouble to force a go-slow on checking the pollution levels in taxis”.

Deputy commissioner (traffic) K. Harirajan said: “More than 20 members of the taxi associations arrived in four private vehicles and surrounded police officers at the Girish Park camp on Monday evening. They picked a fight with the policemen and damaged expensive pollution-checking instruments.”

Bengal Taxi Association general secretary Bimal Guha and another union office-bearer were arrested on charges of “rioting and assault on police officers’’.

“The taxi associations cannot browbeat us into accepting their illegal demands. We are just implementing Central and state laws on pollution control, and complying with Calcutta High Court’s green bench directive on pollution control, empowering the police to take spot action against polluting vehicles,” said Harirajan.

Accusing the taxi associations and other transport unions of “deliberately flouting pollution control rules and regulations and emitting poisonous gases into the city’s atmosphere’’, Harirajan said the police will continue to be “strict on polluting vehicles”.

Taxi union leader Kalyan Bhadra hit back by accusing the police of running a “virtual extortion racket in the name of pollution checking exercise’’.    

The Supreme Court has turned down Jyoti Basu’s request to open a branch in Calcutta. Law minister Ram Jethmalani has written to the chief minister stating this.

Basu had earlier written to Jethmalani, saying a branch of the apex court in Calcutta would not only help a lot of people, it would also save the state government Rs 36 crore, spent every year on attending cases in the capital.

The amount could be used to strengthen the state’s judicial infrastructure. According to state law department sources, Basu wanted the Supreme Court , in its 50th year, to be “more accessible to people in the country”, but the apex court rejected the request, fearing that the “number of cases would shoot up”.    

Those who thought that the Kalbaisakhis (or nor’westers) have blown over are mistaken.

Calcutta experienced a thunderstorm and rain for the second successive day on Tuesday evening, with windspeed reaching 70 kmph, after the Alipore met office had issued an alert for Calcutta. A storm warning was also issued for North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, Burdwan, Nadia and Midnapore. It was, however, withdrawn after 9 pm.

Alipore met office director R.N. Goldar said thunderclouds, 12 km thick, were detected on the radar 80 km west of Calcutta and it appears that a few more nor’westers are likely to lash the city and the rest of the state in the next 48 hours.

There is also a low pressure trough spread over a vast area, including eastern Uttar Pradesh, the Bihar plateau, Gangetic West Bengal and Tripura.

The temperature in the city dropped by three degrees after Monday’s squall, which disrupted power supply, train services and flight schedules.

“Nor’westers now will have windspeed not less than 70 to 75 kmph and the clouds will gather rapidly,” said Goldar. However, if the sky remains consistently overcast, then the intensity of the storm is likely to lessen.

The first nor’westers of the season hit Calcutta and other parts of the state on April 12. Outside the metro, the north Bengal districts, Bankura and Midnapore. too, have had nor’westers.

Coal for power units: The city’s power situation improved during the day, with the CESC stepping up its generation after five railway rakes, carrying about 17,000 tonnes of coal, reached its power stations in the city fringes.

Sources in the CESC, however, said the hand-to-mouth supply situation continued to persist as 17,000 tonnes of coal will last for only a day and a half.

“The two public sector coal companies, Eastern Coalfields and BCCL, have started responding positively after the power department took up our case with them,” a CESC official said.

Shortage of coal had forced the CESC to bring down its power production by two million units over the past few days.    

The functioning of some reputable English-medium schools in Calcutta controlled by the Church of North India (CNI) may be affected from next week.

On Tuesday, the Association of Anglo-Indian Schools threatened to organise a movement against the CNI authorities from next week to protest the partial implementation of the recommendations of the Fourth Pay Commission in nine CNI schools.

The association of staff of La Martiniere for Boys’ and Girls’ schools has threatened to launch a pen-down strike if their salaries were not revised, members of the Association of Teachers of Anglo-Indian Schools said.

The CNI controls the administration of the La Martiniere schools, though not directly.

“We will now wait for a few more days. If they don’t consider our demands, we will organise a unified movement,” said P.G. Dutta, association president and a senior teacher of the St Thomas Boys’ School, Kidderpore.

The association will hold a meeting, with all its members present, on Sunday and finalise the course of action, Dutta said.

Teachers belonging to schools controlled by the Roman Catholic Church and the Methodist Church, too, are association members. These schools have already implemented the Pay Commission’s recommendations.

St Thomas Boys School, Kidderpore; St Thomas Girls School, Kidderpore; St Thomas Day School, St James School and Pratt Memorial School are among the nine CNI schools.

The teachers of St James School and St Thomas’ Church School, Howrah, too, have submitted deputations to the CNI head in Calcutta recently.

Bishop Raju, head of CNI in Calcutta, was not available for comment.    

Agartala, April 25 
Putting the safety of his abducted kin above political ambition, CPM leader Mangal Debbarma withdrew from the Tripura Autonomous District Council elections late last night.

The announcement was made hours after Debbarma went missing from the state capital. The CPM leader’s aides went to various newspaper offices here, delivering copies of the signed note declaring his withdrawal from the poll fray.

However, the CPM secretariat denied receiving any information in this regard. Nominated for the Pekuarjala-Janmejaynagar seat, Debbarma had been under pressure to back out from the elections since National Liberation Front of Tripura militants abducted his wife and son on April 9. The CPM leader, who urged the electorate to cast “conscience votes”, is likely to remain in hiding for some time.

The withdrawal of Debbarma’s resignation coincided with a blast at Jaynagar village under Jirania police station and the abduction of five persons from different parts of the state.

Police sources here said a Congress activist was killed and another injured in a blast inside a clandestine bomb-manufacturing unit in Jaynagar late last night.

The victim has been identified as Babul Parshi. The injured Congress activist, one Santosh Deb, is undergoing treatment at the G.B. Hospital here. Elsewhere in Tripura, militants abducted five persons, including a timber trader, yesterday. Sources said NLFT militants abducted an autorickshaw driver, Rajib Chandra, from Demdum and a timber merchant, Sukumar Debnath, from Maithulongbari under Killa police station. In another incident, All-Tripura Tiger Force rebels took three labourers hostage at Bachaibari under Khowai police station. They have been identified as Debendra Sarkar, Gopendra Sarkar and Bharali Munda.

BJP strategy: The Tripura unit of the BJP has urged all anti-Left political parties, including the Congress, to jointly demand imposition of President’s rule in the state. In a statement here yesterday, state BJP general secretary Rakhal Chakraborty said the law and order situation in Tripura would not improve unless the Manik Sarkar government was ousted. He said imposition of President’s rule was the only solution to the crisis in the state.

On the Congress’ stand that President’s rule should be preceded by “central intervention”, Chakraborty said, “The people of the state have no time for semantics. The Congress leadership has used Article 356 several times over the past 50 years.”    

Bhubaneswar, April 25 
The ruling parties and the Opposition in Orissa have locked horns over the state government’s attempts to dismantle panchayat bodies.

Immediately after coming to power in February, the Biju Janata Dal and its coalition partner, the BJP, had threatened to dissolve the gram panchayats, panchayat samities and zilla parishads.

They alleged the bodies were rife with nepotism and corruption and had failed to deliver.

While the government sought legal opinion about dissolving the elected bodies, the regional party passed a resolution at its state executive committee meeting on Sunday, calling for an early election to the bodies.

The BJD resolution said the government had no option but to call the elections because the charges of corruption, nepotism and other unlawful panchayat activities were mounting.

The Congress, which won the election to many of those bodies last time, called the charges baseless. Congress spokesman Arya Kumar Ganendra said the government move was not only illegal, but also undemocratic. He said the BJD resolution was aimed at grabbing power and money at the grassroots level.

The Congress said it would rope in other Opposition parties and launch an agitation if the government went ahead with the plan.

“The people of Orissa will not tolerate dismantling of democratically-elected bodies,” Ganendra said. BJD sources said a section of party leaders was also opposed to the dissolution of the rural bodies because several of them were held by their supporters. However, a powerful section in the party overruled the objection raised by these leaders.

Sunstroke deaths

Two persons died of sunstroke in Orissa, which is reeling under a severe heat wave, official sources said today, reports PTI.

Unofficial sources, however, said the toll was much higher.

Revenue department sources said one sunstroke death was reported from Mayurbhanj district last week while one person succumbed to the heat yesterday at Kamalanga village in Angul district. The Bolangir district administration has denied sunstroke cases in the district.    

Jorhat, April 25 
Ulfa militants killed a police constable and injured a sub-inspector in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district yesterday.

Sources said a police team led by Sariful Haq, officer-in-charge of the Pangeri police station, was in pursuit of some dacoits who looted a bus when they came across a group of armed Ulfa rebels near Kathalguri, 26 km from the oil town of Digboi. The militants opened fire on being told to surrender, killing constable Dinesh Das and injuring Haq.

The police officer, who sustained bullet injuries on his chest, was admitted to the Oil India Limited hospital in Digboi.

Several rounds of AK-47 ammunition were found at the site.

Earlier, a 15-member gang of dacoits looted a bus carrying traders returning home from a weekly market at Bordumsa, bordering Arunachal Pradesh.

Sources said the dacoits robbed the traders of Rs 2 lakh and some valuables. They also injured several persons.

The police initially suspected the dacoits of having ambushed the police party, but have since confirmed that it was the handiwork of Ulfa militants.

“The attack was carried out by militants. Dacoits do not carry AK-47 rifles,” the Tinsukia district superintendent of police told The Telegraph.    

Gangtok, April 25 
Union home minister L.K. Advani’s visit to Sikkim last week brought to light the CPM’s efforts to project itself “as the true champion of ethnic issues in the erstwhile Himalayan kingdom.”

Four years after the Left Front government in neighbouring West Bengal forcibly stopped Bhutanese refugees from marching to Bhutan from their camps in Nepal through Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts, the party’s Sikkim unit sought Advani’s help in helping the uprooted people go back to their country.

During the home minister’s stay in Gangtok, a CPM delegation, led by state unit secretariat member Anjan Upadhayaya submitted a memorandum urging the Centre to initiate a dialogue with Bhutan on the rehabilitation issue.

It alleged that over a lakh of refugees were forced to leave Bhutan on grounds of ethnicity and religion.

The CPM’s demand comes at a time when the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre has been facing “diplomatic embarrassment” following the Samata Party’s open support to pro-democracy Bhutanese protesters, most of whom are of Nepali origin.

The CPM became the first national party from the Nepali-dominated Sikkim and neighbouring Darjeeling district to raise the issue of last week’s massacre of 11 Nepalis by militants in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district. The party’s memorandum condemned the killing. The All-Gorkha Students’ Union, headquartered in Darjeeling, is the only other organisation to have criticised the killing.

Before he returned to Delhi, Advani said the Centre would help Assam prevent such massacres. Other demands raised by the CPM include recognition of the Limboos and Tamangs, two ethnic groups of Nepali origin, as Scheduled Tribes and constitutional recognition for Bhutia, Lepcha and Limboo languages.

The CPM, which has been trying to gain a toehold in the mountain state since 1989, has also sought constitutional protection for Lepchas, an aboriginal group.

Besides, it has also demanded appointment of Sikkimese as Governors and diplomats so as to bring them closer to the national mainstream.

This apart, the CPM, which supports the Chamling government despite its proximity to the BJP-led government at the Centre, has demanded a special Rs 3,000-crore package for Sikkim.

The party claimed that Sikkim lagged behind other states because it joined the Indian Union 25 years ago.

It sought extension of certain central laws like the Trade Union Act and the Employment Exchange Act.    


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