Kick-off to city centre rally ban
Salt Lake hangs in cross-vote suspense
Delhi debutant at CalTiger tail
Urmila spoiling for Sen-sation in sari
Drop-out councillor vows drop-out check
SC directive on Sarobar
Partial STAR return on cards by weekend
Donation twist to extortion row
Rape uproar cripples House
Sikkim Congress scouts for interim president

Calcutta, July 11 
The state government is planning to ban rallies in the Esplanade area. It has already stopped giving permission for rallies to be held at Esplanade East (Sidho Kanho Dahar) to prevent vehicular chaos.

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said in the Assembly on Tuesday the government was contemplating banning rallies in front of Metro cinema and Victoria House.

Bhattacharya�s statement comes ahead of the rally planned by Mamata Banerjee�s Trinamul Congress at Esplanade on July 21. But since the government is yet to take a decision in this regard, the rally will in all probability be held.

Replying to a question in the Assembly, Bhattacharya said rallies should not be banned in the framework of a democracy but it was also not right to hold rallies and obstruct roads.

He said the opinion of all political parties would be sought and the government would call an all-party meeting.

The city police has stopped giving permission for rallies to be held in front of Metro cinema, Victoria House and in Esplanade East to ensure smooth flow of traffic.

�But rallies are regularly held in front of Metro cinema and Victoria House without our permission,� admitted deputy commissioner, headquarters, Nazrul Islam.

City police officers evaded questions on why action was not taken against offending parties.

�We have not taken any policy decision yet,� said Rabin Mondal, chief whip of the Left Front Legislature Party.

Last month, Calcutta High Court directed the state government to set up a high-powered committee to chalk out a plan to prevent weekday rallies on city streets.

The division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice Barin Ghosh had suggested that the committee comprise representatives of political parties, civil administration, police and intellectuals.

The judges ordered a report of the high-powered committee to be submitted to court by July 7, the next date of hearing. But, as the Chief Justice was out of station, the hearing was adjourned.

State additional government pleader Manik Das said it was difficult for the government to ban rallies on streets unless political parties reached a consensus.

Earlier, the division bench had directed the government to explain why it was allowing parties and other organisations to hold rallies �illegally� on city roads.

The court also wanted to know what steps the government had taken to ban such rallies, which infringed on the fundamental rights of citizens.

The bench had passed its interim directives on a public interest petition filed by a lawyer against the administration and political parties, seeking a ban on holding rallies and meetings on city roads and in parks on weekdays.    

Calcutta, July 11 
There�s high drama on the cards as Salt Lake braces for yet another showdown between CPM and Trinamul Congress candidates on Wednesday. The post of contention: chairmanship of the Bidhannagar municipality.

Mamata Banerjee, buoyed by her success in the CMC polls and desperate to wrest the Salt Lake post from the CPM, has put up party nominee Anupam Dutta, Trinamul councillor from ward 7, against Dilip Gupta.

While the Trinamul leader hopes to exploit the rift in the ranks of the ruling camp to capture the civic board, the CPM puts the buzz about growing discontent among its councillors down to �rumour and hype�.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and his loyalists are Mamata�s prime targets. Party insiders said she believes one of the three councillors owing allegiance to Chakraborty will cross-vote for the Trinamul nominee on Wednesday.

�The question of cross-voting in the election for Salt Lake chairman does not arise. Each of the 12 party councillors, including my associates, will vote for Gupta,� Chakraborty told The Telegraph before leaving for Delhi on Tuesday night.

Chakraborty and his men have been canvassing hard to ensure that Gupta retains the chairman�s post in the transport minister�s backyard. According to sources, Chakraborty has instructed all three councillors to vote for Gupta. �Any cross-voting by you will embarrass me in the organisation. Besides, you will also have to ensure that others must not cross-vote,� Chakraborty is said to have told his loyalists.

However, fearing cross-voting, the CPM state leadership is learnt to have issued a whip to all its 12 councillors to vote for the party nominee.

Amitava Nandy, a senior CPM leader of North 24-Parganas, said the Trinamul has put up a candidate just to �complicate� matters.

�But our workers are loyal enough to obey the party decision and will not fall into the Trinamul trap,� he added.

However, Trinamul leader Jyotipriya Mullick, exuding confidence, said the party is hopeful of winning the chairman�s post, capitalising on �rising dissent within the CPM�. He said Mamata had instructed party councillors not to be provoked by the CPM�s �malicious campaign against the party�.    

New Delhi, July 11 
Forget Internet rate wars. The battleground is shifting to free service. Daring to take on the tiger in his den, Delhi-based Bharat Connect intends to offer free Internet service in Calcutta from September.

Roaring success CalTiger, the city�s and the country�s first free Internet service provider, has competition. CalTiger is now the largest private Internet service provider in the country with a subscriber base of over 2 lakh.

With the entry of Bharat Connect, Calcutta will have about a dozen service providers, most of them coming up over the past year. In recent months, the city has seen the launch of the Reliance group�s OnlySmart, Bharti-British Telecom�s Mantronline, Amionline and Citylink.

Bharat Connect, which launched its free Internet service in Delhi last week, will provide customers in Calcutta unlimited internet access free of charge. It has set a target of 45,000 subscribers in Calcutta alone by next March.

The company is going for over two lakh subscribers in Calcutta and Delhi and has set a revenue target of Rs 25 crore in the current financial year on an investment of Rs 150 crore in setting up the service.

�We expect the total revenue for Internet service providers through online advertisement alone to be Rs 450 crore and we expect Rs 25 crore for ourselves in the current financial year,� Sujit Kanoria, Bharat Connect managing director, said.

The company is confident of being able to offer quality connection to its subscribers. Currently, it has a 4-megabit (measure of the capacity to carry Internet traffic) leased line from Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) and plans to acquire a pipeline from an international private leased circuit provider. It also intends to have four gateways (through which traffic goes out of India), to break free of the dependence on government-owned VSNL, which has a monopoly now.

�The 4-mb leased line can accommodate 10,000 subscribers and one line from a circuit provider would be equivalent to a 15-mb leased line (expected to be in place by the week-end). We will also have one gateway by the year-end in Delhi,� Rajive Mohindru, chief operating officer, said.

To get a Bharat Connect link, the customer has to buy an Internet startup kit CD for Rs 199 and after that can have unlimited access at no further cost. �We are offering the CD kit, as against free download (of the program that allows the customer to surf), to enable easy installation. In a download system, the possibility of line disconnection is a major deterrent,� said Kanoria.

The company will also provide a number of value-added services like e-mail, web designing and hosting, e-commerce and web strategy consulting in addition to audio and video streaming facilities.    

Calcutta, July 11 
Till yesterday, raving about Ray was the �done� thing for any Bollywood star descending upon Calcutta. Today, it�s swooning over Sen that�s �in�.

Aparna Sen, the National Award winning director of Paromitar Ek Din, 36 Chowringhee Lane and Paroma, seems to have emerged as the newest shrine for Bollywood in Calcutta. Her most loyal devotees: Ramuji and Urmi-la-la.

Ram Gopal Varma, Urmila Matondkar, Fardeen Khan and music director Sandeep Chowta hit town on Tuesday to promote the soundtrack of Jungle.

And first in line at the Aparna altar was �director with a difference� Ram Gopal Varma. �I still remember the scene in 36 Chowringee Lane where she is walking down the road. The shot construction was simply superb,� said Varma, holding up his hands as if peering through the lens.

The director�s leading lady seemed equally in awe of Aparna and her work. �If I were to have an ideal role, it would be like one of Aparna Sen�s characters,� gushed Urmila, in a hot pink top and blue jeans. �I would love to play the kind of characters she portrays in her films, where people are never right nor wrong. They all have their reasons for their actions, just as in real life.�

For Fardeen, however, Calcutta was not about coming to Sen city. For Feroze Khan�s son, sporting a two-day stubble, it was more about �hitting Tangra with friends�. After the flop show of Prem Aggan, Fardeen�s filmi future could well soar or sink in the Jungle, but he�s already looking forward to an unchristened project steered by a new Bengali kid on the block � Rajat Mukherjee.

And for Sandeep Chowta, the man behind the tunes of Jungle: �Calcutta means Rabindrasangeet and Pannalal Ghosh.� The young man from Bangalore, brought up on a �heady mix of Floyd, jazz and classical� often falls back on the flute of Ghosh and the tunes of Rabindranath for inspiration.

Urmila, meanwhile, was chalking out her shopping plans. �The last time I came to Calcutta, I felt like a fool leaving with cans of rasogollas and saris. But I hope to do the same again,� she giggled. �And I want to make a film wearing Bengali saris throughout,� added the child artiste-turned-sex-kitten-turned-serious-actress.    

Calcutta, July 11 
A day before he formally took over as mayor-in-council member, school dropout Mainul Haque Chowdhury on Tuesday pledged to minimise the �alarming� drop-out rate at 308 Corporation-run schools.

Quoting a recent survey report on drop-outs in Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) schools, Chowdhury said it ranged between nine and 10 per cent at present, against 25 per cent in 1997.

Chowdhury said he dropped out of school under pressure of circumstances. �But I want to ensure that poor children in CMC schools do not discontinue their studies half way,� Chowdhury said at his Metiabruz residence.

Born in a poor family of tailors, Chowdhury studied up to Class VII in a Metiabruz primary school. �I had to discontinue my studies owing to financial difficulties, although later I went to a madrasa,� said Chowdhury.

Determined to restore a �healthy educational atmosphere� in CMC schools, Chowdhury said he would set up a committee to find out why students turned drop-outs.

He suggested a three-pronged strategy to motivate parents to send their wards to CMC schools. First, all CMC schools across the city should be renamed after the likes of Rabindranath Tagore, Abul Kalam Azad, Dr B.R.Ambedkar and Satyajit Ray. �I have a feeling this will encourage unwilling parents to send their wards to these schools,� he observed.

Second, preparatory English should be introduced from Class II in CMC schools to maintain parity with private institutions.

�If English is taught in CMC schools, I hope many parents, particularly those from north and central Calcutta, will send their wards to us,� he said, adding that the drop-out rate is higher in posh areas than in fringe areas, like Tiljala, Topsia, Garden Reach and the Metiabruz belt. Third, uniforms plus heavy tiffin could be used as a bait for students from slums.

Chowdhury said to translate schemes into reality, he would hold discussions about fund allocations with mayor Subrata Mukherjee and Mamata Banerjee.

�Didi has already promised to take us to Delhi to lobby with the union government to release funds for the city�s developments,� he added.

He said schools without the requisite number of students and teachers would be closed down. �I have been told there are too few teachers. I will try to fill up the vacancies as soon as possible,� he added.    

Calcutta, July 11 
The Supreme Court has asked Calcutta High Court to take up the pollution issue relating to the Rabindra Sarobar area. Responding to a public interest litigation filed by president of Ganatantrik Nagarik Samiti, Howrah, Subhas Dutta, a division bench of Justices V.N. Khare and S.N. Variava ordered the high court to look into the environmental issues of the Lake area including �improving the water quality, encroachment of waterbody and land by various clubs, unauthorised constructions and the inclusion of Rabindra Sarobar in the National Lake Conservation Plan�.

Datta, as petitioner in person, told the Bench that the high court had dropped the proceedings after the Eastern Railway filed a special leave petition (SLP) before the Supreme Court. The apex court has given a month�s time to file counter affidavits to the SLP.

The high court had initially directed Eastern Railway to evict the squatters from the Lake area. But the state government did not provide any police or other facilities to the railway to execute the court order, Datta alleged. �On the other hand, the illegal settlers in the area have been provided with ration cards, electricity and water, besides having their names included in the voter list,� he added.

Justices Khare and Variava have asked the green bench of Calcutta High Court to hear the pending matters, excluding that related to the railways, to protect the Lake area from environmental degradation, Datta said.    

Calcutta, July 11 
With viewers� voicing their discontent as the impasse over the STAR channels drags on, a section of cable operators under the RPG Netcom banner has finally decided to force the issue.

The joint action committee of cable operators failed to reach a solution at its meeting on Tuesday, almost a month into the deadlock, and pledged to continue its movement against STAR�s �package� deal.

But several operators in the city, buckling under subscriber pressure, have restored the channels by procuring decoders from STAR against refundable deposits.

One of the leading cablemen�s unions, the Forum of Cable Operators (FCO), too, is getting restive. An FCO representative told The Telegraph on Tuesday: �We don�t want the issue to drag on any further and have impressed upon the committee the need for a quick solution. We hope an answer will emerge by the end of this week.�

While the FCO is even ready to buy one or two channels from STAR at � la carte rates, another major union, the Cable Television Operators� Association (CTOA), isn�t sure the stand-off will end in a hurry. �I think the stalemate will remain for a few more days, if not weeks,� said Supratim Halder, CTOA secretary.

A major stumbling block to a speedy solution is the payment pattern for the period April 2-June 14. While cablemen want to follow the old rates for the interim period, STAR is demanding a package rate of Rs 16.75.

Rally held: On the occasion of World Population Day, Sports Authority of India organised a rally on Tuesday from SAI office near EM Bypass to Salt Lake stadium, says our correspondent.    

Shillong, July 11 
The underground Peoples� Liberation Front has claimed that it had not served any �extortion� notice to ministers and MLAs but sought their �help� in the form of �donations�.

On July 3, the underground Garo outfit, which is fighting for an �unknown� cause, had served extortion notices to some MLAs, including two ministers, from the Garo Hills. The politicians had informed the police about this and two youth were arrested in this connection. The youth, identified as Alden Marak and Balkhos Marak, had confessed that they were involved in the extortion racket being organised by the self-styled �commander-in-chief� of the outfit, Vincent A. Sangma.

The PLF circulated a statement in Tura last evening, saying they had never tried to extort money from the ministers. The statement, which was signed by D.M. Sangma, a senior leader of the outfit, alleged that the political leaders had �unnecessarily� informed the police to �tarnish� their image.

Lambasting the Garo leaders, the underground outfit demanded that the ministers should give an �unconditional� apology for filing a formal complaint with the police and tarnishing its image among the masses. It also accused the elected leaders of totally failing to work for the poor people in the three Garo Hills districts.

Senior police officials from the West Garo Hills also confirmed from Tura that they have come across reports about the circulation of the statement by the underground outfit.

Planning and programme implementation minister Lotsing A. Sangma, who was also served with an extortion demand of Rs 30,000 by the PLF rebels, told The Telegraph that the question of �apology� does not arise. �Why should I apologise?� the minister asked this correspondent in his chamber in the state secretariat this morning. Earlier, Sangma had denied that he had been slapped with an extortion note by the PLF militants.

The minister expressed doubts about whether the statement was at all issued by the outfit or not. �Some forces are going all out to tarnish the image of our party,� he said. Sangma is a senior member of the Nationalist Congress Party.    

Agartala, July 11 
The Assembly witnessed uproarious scenes for the second successive day today over the appearance of a minor rape victim in the Well of the House.

The minor girl, who was raped by a CPM worker on Saturday, appeared in the Well of the House on the lap of Congress MLA Ratanlal Nath. The issues of the rape and failure of the police to arrest the culprits, alleged to be politically affiliated with the CPM, were raised in the Assembly yesterday by the Opposition. Chief minister Manik Sarkar, in a statement in the House yesterday, had said he would look into the matter and apprise the House of the latest position of the case.

Speaker Jiten Sarkar had put four watch-and-ward staff of the Assembly under suspension yesterday for their failure to prevent the entry of the girl into the House with Ratanlal Nath.

The matter was raised today by Congress and Tripura Upajati Juba Samity members during Zero Hour, demanding immediate revocation of the suspension order passed on the four watch-and-ward staff. Nath said the offence, if any, had been committed by himself and the watch-and-ward staff were innocent. TUJS legislator Rabindra Debbarma said everything had happened in front of the Speaker and he had done nothing. The fracas continued and proceedings in the House remained paralysed for three hours and there were three adjournments. Finally, the Speaker held a meeting with leaders of the Opposition and made an announcement that he would look into the matter and inform the House.

The chief minister made his promised statement at the fag end of the proceedings and said the police were investigating the rape case and he would inform the House of all details before the end of the current session.

Police officer missing

The officer in-charge of the Sarupathar police station along the Assam-Nagaland border in Golaghat district went missing yesterday morning.

Officer Kamini Singh was present at the police station till yesterday morning but vanished without informing anybody.

�He might have gone to visit some of his relatives. We have informed his family and we might come up with something by evening,� the Golaghat superintendent of police said. Ruling out the possibility of Singh being kidnapped, the SP said �he had only joined recently and there cannot be any possibility of someone kidnapping him,� adds our Jorhat correspondent.    

Siliguri, July 11 
The Congress has started searching for an interim president to head its Sikkim unit following the appointment of present chief Karma Topden as the country�s ambassador to Mongolia.

Topden, a bureaucrat-turned-politician, who headed the party in the erstwhile Himalayan kingdom for four years, is expected to take up his new assignment next month. The need for an interim chief has arisen since the party�s organisational polls are scheduled for October when members elect a full-fledged president.

Nearly a fortnight ago, former Union minister and senior leader Mukul Wasnik, who assists AICC leader Ambika Soni in looking after party affairs of Northeast and Sikkim, visited Gangtok to study the fallouts of Topden�s absence and meet state-level leaders. He is supposed to submit his report to the party high command soon. Names of former state unit presidents Soloman Saring and Penjor Namgyal, ex-chief minister S.M. Limboo, former legislature party leader Namkha Gyalzen, spokesman and former minister K.N. Upreti and vice-presidents L.P. Tewari and T. Lachungpa have surfaced as possible contenders to Topden�s post.

Significantly, Lachungpa, who was a minister in the Sikkim Sangram Parishad government in the Eighties, is languishing in prison for the past two months on charges of murder.

Topden, during whose tenure the Congress functioned as a disciplined unit, was optimistic about the party�s future in the tiny state which never elected a national party to power since Sikkim�s merger with the country 25 years ago.

Last year, he even brought in AICC president Sonia Gandhi to launch the party�s poll campaign. However, the party drew a blank in the elections to the 32-member Assembly. Topden, who was a member of the Rajya Sabha for 12 years, said, �We don�t despair. Though we do not always win, we fight every election. National issues, especially economic ones, are bound to dominate state politics as much as regional issues are overused by regional parties. The Congress will do well under such circumstances.�

Asked why the National Democratic Alliance government chose to make him, a Congress man, an ambassador, the 59-year-old leader said, �This reflects the importance of national consensus in running the country�s foreign policy.� Political parties in Sikkim and neighbouring Darjeeling hailed his appointment as the �first major diplomatic assignment given to a man from the region.�

Regarding the issue of reservation of Assembly seats for various ethnic groups, he said, �The Congress wants protection of identity and rights of all ethnic groups.�    


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