Weekend link for twin halts
Belal hand in Jalpaiguri rail blast
Bonds for power bill
Woman�s body found on Bypass
Tara and twins for Bangla eyes

Calcutta, April 26 
It�s a distance of 32 kilometres that has taken 138 years to bridge. Come Sunday, Howrah, built in 1854, and Sealdah, established eight years later, will be linked by an EMU shuttle service.

The distance between the two terminals will be covered in approximately one hour, at a cost of probably Rs 8 a ticket.

Railway minister Mamata Banerjee will flag off the service, to be provided by Eastern Railway.

Those living east of the Hooghly in areas like Dum Dum, Baranagar and Dakshineswar, will benefit immensely from this new link. They can save both time and money, reaching Howrah without having to hop trains.

�Similarly, those travelling by long-distance trains and living in northern and eastern suburbs of the city and beyond, needn�t go all the way to Howrah. They can now get off at Bally station and catch the Howrah-Sealdah shuttle,� Eastern Railway officials pointed out.

Initially, the shuttle service is likely to operate with two pairs of trains, one leaving in the morning and the other in the evening. Monthly tickets will be available for Rs 105.

�Depending on the popularity of the service, the rakes and frequency will be increased. By July 1, the day new timetables are announced every year, the schedule of the service will be finalised,� said a rail official.

On Wednesday evening, Eastern Railway�s additional general manager, chief operations manager, the divisional railway managers of Howrah and Sealdah and other senior officials were engaged in a video-conference with the railway minister and other board members in Delhi to finalise matters.

�The new connection is not a commercially viable project. It is being carried out for social reasons,� he added.

No new tracks have been laid for this link. There was a connection earlier, but not for passenger or EMU local trains.

A three-km stretch, called the �Dankuni avoiding line,� between Rajchandrapur Halt and Bally station, has been fortified for high-speed traffic.

This stretch was earlier used exclusively for slow-speed freight traffic.

�In order to make the stretch suitable for traffic moving at 70 to 80 km per hour, we have had to tighten the ballast on the tracks with special quality stone chips and clean it with proper cushioning,� ER officials said.

At some places on the new link, the passenger track has been isolated so that the coaches don�t fall onto the freight line in case of a derailment. �We have to be prepared for all eventualities,� explained an ER official.

Fitting in this new EMU service will require rescheduling of some long-distance trains and several goods trains from Howrah and Sealdah.    

April 26 
Belal, alias Lalu Mian, who was arrested on Tuesday night from a hideout in Basirhat, near the Indo-Bangladeshi border, was wanted in connection with the New Jalpaiguri station blast.

Director-general of state police Dipak Sanyal said Belal had also helped one of the hijackers of last December�s Indian Airlines flight IC-814 from Kathmandu to sneak into the country from Bangladesh.

�Belal was also involved in the blast at New Jalpaiguri station some time ago. The blast had killed several people,� Sanyal added.

Though the Union home ministry has sought a report from the West Bengal government, it does not seem to be convinced by the claims made by the state police. Ministry officials feel Lalu Mian could at best be a courier of explosives, like RDX. Investigators in Calcutta claimed that Belal had helped ISI agents bring in explosives from Bangladesh through the border before the blast.

Belal, a resident of Dharampore village, in Sylhet district of Bangladesh, told interrogators that he recognised one of the hijackers, Gudda, alias Abdur Rehman, when he was shown photographs of six members of the hijacking team.

�He said he organised Gudda�s crossover to the country and then despatched him to Calcutta,� an officer said, adding that the police still were cross-checking his version.

Intelligence agencies also revealed antecedents of Belal, saying that he used to get Rs 5,000 a month for helping youth involved in subversive activities in the country. The amount was sent to him by money order.

�We, however, do not know the names of the persons who sent him the amount,� officials said.

Investigating agencies said Belal was given two phone numbers of Mumbai and Dhaka and was asked by a subversive group to act in accordance with instructions on the phone.

Belal was appointed by the ISI and other groups to organise safe passage for extremist groups to the country from Bangladesh, as he was familiar to the areas in and around the border. A section of officers, however, described him as a �courier.�

He was booked by Basirhat police in January 1997 for entering India without valid papers. In March 1998, he was rearrested along with four persons, including an Afghan national, in Deganga, North 24-Parganas. In 1999, he was arrested from Hasnabad, in North 24-Parganas after the New Jalpaiguri blast. He got bail after some time.    

Calcutta, April 26 
The state government has devised a method to stave off pay-up pressure from the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) without entering into a confrontation with the CESC.

Power minister Mrinal Banerjee said on Wednesday that the government will float bonds worth Rs 200 crore and use the proceeds to square off part of the bill raised by the NTPC.

According to the government�s estimate, the SEB owes Rs 788.61 crore to the NTPC.

The NTPC has claimed Rs 1,137 crore and set May 1 as the deadline for clearing a bulk of the billed amount.

Meanwhile, Monday�s nor�wester and a coal strike call from May 8 have cast a shadow over the power situation, limping back to normal in the city.

Sources said that around 2,500 trees were uprooted, 82 poles had collapsed and overhead wires at 519 points in the south-western part of the city had snapped after Monday�s shower.

Repairs are on and supply should return to normal by Thursday.

Banerjee said that the coal position at the CESC�s power generating stations had improved over the past two days, but he has asked the state-run power plants to pile up 20 to 25 days� stock of coal in view of the strike.

Banerjee admitted that the bond option would not have been exercised if the CESC had cleared its dues, to the tune of Rs 750 crores, with the WBSEB.

The CESC paid up Rs 10 crore during the day.

�We are exploring various options to make the CESC cough up its dues to the state electricity board. We are not helpless but, at the same time, we don�t want to misuse our power. We want to settle the issue across the table,� said the power minister.

The government was even toying with the idea of cutting off the WBSEB�s supply to the CESC grid.

It is said to have abandoned the idea after realising that such a measure would cause a deficit of 200 MW in the city just prior to the civic polls.

Banerjee said the power drawn by the private utility from the SEB amounted to a monthly billing of Rs 30 to Rs 32 crore.

�The CESC�s payment is not satisfactory. It must pay up soon as we don�t have much time. The SEB is already in a severe financial crunch,� Banerjee added.    

Calcutta, April 26 
Mystery shrouds the death of a young woman whose body was found near Parama Island, on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, on Wednesday morning.

Police said that the body of the woman, in a yellow sari, was discovered not far from Ruby Hospital. Her identity could not be established.

Officials said that the woman was probably murdered somewhere else and her body thrown near the island. �She is not a local resident,� the police asserted.

Preliminary investigation revealed that the body had been tossed out of an Ambassador around 6 am by some youth.

The local police outpost was alerted immediately. �But no one seems to have managed to take down the number of the speeding vehicle� said the police.

While some officers felt the woman might have been raped and then murdered, others said that nothing would be clear till the post-mortem report arrived.

�There were no injuries on the upper portion of her body. But we did find some cut marks near her lower abdomen and on her right hand,� said DSP crime, south industrial, Shyamal Dutta.

There is speculation in police circles that the woman might have been targeted by some antisocials after she had got wind of the gang�s activities.

Roadblock: Traffic was disrupted for more than an hour from 7.40 pm on Wednesday as local rickshaw-pullers blocked Shahnagar Road, in Tollygunge, protesting against eviction by the police.    

Calcutta, April 26 
The channel war for Bengali eyes only is really hotting up. Broadcast World-wide, promoted by former STAR head Rathikant Basu, plans to beam two more channels besides its premier offering, Tara Bangla, which will be launched on April 28.

Basu, chairman and CEO of Broadcast World-wide, told The Telegraph that Tara Bangla would be a premium channel, while an �ordinary entertainment channel� and a �film channel� will be added to the star parade. �We are planning to introduce an ordinary channel to accommodate the programmes which will not suit our premium channel. This is a strategy adopted by most prominent television companies,� explained Basu.

Regarding the round-the-clock Bengali film channel, which will go on air by July-August, Basu said: �Most of the film channels in south India are big hits. I think a Bengali film channel will also be equally viable, since over 900 films have been made in this language.�Broadcast is currently holding talks with Bengali film distributors and film-makers for copyrights of Bengali films. �We need to have telecast right for at least 300 films to run this channel. And we are in the process of acquiring this,� said Basu. The company is also looking at opportunities to finance �good Bengali cinema�.

Basu is bullish about the success of his channels, though the market is suddenly looking overcrowded. �The Bengali TV channels are collectively generating a revenue of over Rs 100 crore a year with an expected growth rate of 20 per cent. We are optimistic to have a sizeable chunk of this market,� he said. Besides Bengali, the Tara brand will also be launched in Marathi, Gujarati and Punjabi shortly.

Broadcast is in talks with Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited for uplinking facility from Calcutta, where it is setting up a state-of-the-art studio.

�About 60 to 70 per cent of our programmes will be developed in-house, for which we have already recruited well-known names. And we are certainly not going to telecast programmes dubbed from other languages,� Basu clarified.

Besides entertainment programmes, the company will have its own news network for �exclusive coverage�. It has also tied up with four large newspaper groups for editorial content.

For channels in four different languages, the company needs to invest Rs 120 crore over a period of three years. Talks are on with ICICI and Gujarat Venture Capital Fund.

Broadcast is also planning an Initial Public Offering, which, according to market sources, might have a premium of Rs 200 per share.    


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