House tax bonanza from mayor
Warrants out for 8 Iskcon monks
Delhi doubletalk chokes centre
Lathicharge on nuclear rally
Tax-cut plea consigns AIDS film to the cans
45 autos booked, papers seized
Traffic stalled in rally rush
Love signs: Marketing, up close and personal
Assam Cong chief to sue CM for slander
Trinamul backtracks under ally pressure

Calcutta, Aug.9: 
More than six lakh house-owners in Calcutta won a bonanza on Wednesday as the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine ruling the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) waived the interest on outstanding house taxes.

The relief came as a spin-off of mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s seven-point discussion with chief minister Jyoti Basu on Wednesday. Municipal commissioner Asim Barman accompanied the mayor at the discussion.

“I told Basu the CMC was giving defaulters an opportunity to clear their dues by November this year. If they do, we will not charge interest,” Mukherjee said. Basu assured him of cooperation.

Mukherjee told Basu that the CMC wanted to give defaulters an opportunity to clear their dues by November this year without paying any interest on the principal.

Basu agreed to waive the interest levied at a rate of 12.5 per cent per annum on outstanding building taxes.

However, the relief will be restricted to residential buildings only and the cut-off year will be 1990. Arrears beyond 1990 will not draw special relief.

According to a civic revenue official, the CMC’s total outstanding on house taxes are over Rs 200 crore. By waiving the interest, the CMC will lose more than Rs 120 crore.

Most of the dues were imposed upon house-owners owing to lapses on the part of the CMC in conducting general revaluation(GR) in time. House-owners are still being served the outstanding demand notice of the year 1980-86.

In most cases, the total amount of interest charged overshoots the principal.

The special relief on the payment of interest was a coup for Subrata Mukherjee. Former mayor Kamal Basu had tried to push the scheme through but failed. By the CMC Act, neither the mayor nor the commissioner is empowered to waive interest on outstanding tax dues.

The second important decision taken was to allow construction of fee parking lots in the mandatory open spaces of commercial buildings in the city’s central business district.

To avail of this privilege, owners of commercial buildings will have to enter into an agreement with the CMC regarding construction and payment of royalty to the civic body.

Basu admonished Mukherjee for the delay in forming ward committees. He advised the mayor to take up the matter with municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharaya.

Basu directed the police to discuss parking arrangements in the city with the CMC before taking any decision. Police had recently taken unilateral decisions on road rules, ignoring the CMC.    

Calcutta, Aug.9: 
The case of the Iskcon monk’s suicide took a dramatic turn on Wednesday with the court ordering the police to arrest eight monks of the order.

One of them, the chief of Iskcon’s Mayapur centre, is said to be absconding.

Suresh Das, 54, lodged in Presidency Jail after being charged with the rape of a woman, hanged himself in his separate cell last Thursday.

In his diary, he blamed his death on eight Iskcon monks who, he alleged, had hatched a “conspiracy” to ruin him.

The damning entries in the diary prompted the jail authorities to lodge a complaint with the police.

Subsequently, cases of “abetment to suicide” and “conspiracy” were registered with Hastings police station against the eight monks, seven of them based in Mayapur and one at Albert Road.

Hastings police station officer-in-charge Jayanta Das said: “The court has directed us to arrest the eight monks. We are now looking for them, but we have come to know that the head of the Mayapur office of Iskcon has already left the country.”

City police officials confirmed that their counterparts in Nadia had been asked to keep a watch on the ‘wanted’ monks.

Documents pertaining to a dispute between the Mayapur and Calcutta offices of the order are also being examined, as the power struggle is said to have led to Das’ death.

Das, belonging to the anti-Mayapur lobby was, apparently, protesting the “illegal activities” of the some monks, the police said.

Investigators are also trying to ascertain whether Das had been involved in the rape of a young woman at Iskcon’s Gurusaday Road office.

“We are waiting for the sample test report of the semen found on the clothes of the woman who was reportedly raped by Das,” said an officer.

Meanwhile, Swattik Das, vice-president of Iskcon, has alleged that the detective department of the city police has been “influenced by a powerful lobby close to the Mayapur office” to take over the case.

“The case was originally being handled by the local police station. The detective department suddenly appeared on the scene and took charge of the investigations, after being influenced by a powerful lobby,” Das said.    

Calcutta, Aug.9: 
The Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, a centre for excellence in research, is struggling to survive a severe funds crunch.

The grants allocated to the centre for the year 2000-2001 are just enough to cover costs for six to seven months, after which the institute, the only one of its kind in West Bengal, might be forced to shut its doors on researchers.

Partha Chatterjee, director, tendered his resignation on August 1, expressing his inability to run the centre under “such financial constraints”. He has been requested by Deb Kumar Bose, chairman of the board of governors, to continue till the next board meeting on August 28.Saugata Mukherjee (dean), Debdas Banerjee (associate dean, administration) and Anjan Ghosh (associate dean, projects) have also resigned.

The centre, set up by the Union government in 1973, is funded by the human resources development (education) ministry through the Indian Council of Social Science Research with a “matching grant” from the state government.

Despite repeated demands to the Council and the ministry, non-plan grants allocated to the centre have not been hiked for the past 10 years.

“In March this year, the ministry sanctioned implementation of new pay-scales for our staff, as suggested by the Fifth Pay Commission. Funds for payment of arrears were also cleared,” Chatterjee said on Wednesday.

But a letter dated July 11 from the Council said the allocations for the centre for 2000-2001 “do not include the impact of the revised scales of pay for the current year, as no grant has been received from the ministry for this purpose”.

“This came as a rude shock. It’s all very confusing, as the HRD ministry tells us it has given the Council the go-ahead to disburse grants at new rates, while the Council claims it doesn’t know anything about such a move,” complained Chatterjee.

Since 1990-91, the annual recurring non-plan grant has been frozen at Rs 40 lakh. However, expenditure has continued to escalate with the centre committed to paying its staff Union government scales.

The centre’s revised budget for 2000-2001, sent to the Council and to be presented at the August 28 meeting, puts the expenditure (for currently-filled staff positions and essential maintenance expenses only) at Rs 1.17 crore. The Council allocation, with a matching grant from the state government, amounts to a mere Rs 75 lakh, leaving a gap of Rs 42 lakh.

“With this amount, only the non-teaching staff can be paid and there won’t be any faculty left,” said Chatterjee. As it is, the faculty strength has dwindled from 27 to 14, with vacant positions not being filled. “At this rate, we will have to turn ourselves into a consultancy firm,” he added.

The centre’s director also wondered why the Council was setting up yet another social science study institute in Himachal Pradesh. “What’s the point of forming another centre when the government can’t meet the demands of the existing one?” asked Chatterjee.

“The relationship between the Council and the research institutes has been a tricky one ever since there was a funds crunch,” said economist Amiya Bagchi, a former director with the centre.

Now, it threatens to claim a centre for excellence in social sciences in the city.    

Calcutta, Aug.9: 
Members of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights on Wednesday organised a rally from Sealdah station to protest the proposed nuclear plant in the state.

A spokesman for the association said the police did not allow the rallyists to proceed to Esplanade. “We had informed the police in advance, but they dispersed our rally with a lathicharge”, said Sujata Bhadra, secretary of the association.

The association was protesting the government’s move to set up a nuclear plant in South 24-Parganas. Radhika Ranjan Pramanik, CPM parliamentarian from Mathurapur, had taken the initiative to launch the power plant in the district. Nuclear unit officials had already toured several sites in the district for the purpose.    

Calcutta, Aug.9: 
Exactly four years ago, a film called Drugs and AIDS hit the city’s commercial circuit and was screened at prominent halls, including Elite. Dubbed in Hindi from the original Kannada, it was thought to be the first full-length feature on the disease. But it had turned out to be a B-grade sex movie, grossly misinforming the youth about the syndrome and how it spreads.

Today, the country’s commercial circuit is ready to screen the first authentic feature film, which combines a moving storyline, a competent director-and-producer team, and provides the audience with correct information about the ‘mystery’ virus that is estimated to have infected more than 3.8 million people in the country.

But viewers in Calcutta and the rest of the state are yet to get an opportunity to see Nidaan. Though released in most parts of the country on July 28, it is still in the cans here. The West Bengal government is sitting on an appeal for exempting the film from entertainment tax, even though a recommendation in this regard has been sent by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO).

Produced by R.V. Pandit, maker of the multi-award winning Maachis, the film is directed by Mahesh Manjrekar, who made a dent with his handling of Vaastav, another award-winning film starring Sunjay Dutt. Nidaan stars a new, young couple — Nisha Bains and Sunil Barve. Reema Lagoo and Shivaji Sattam figure in prominent roles.

“It’s a powerful film,” Pandit told The Telegraph when he was in the city recently. “Nidaan means diagnosis. The film is a bid to arouse awareness about HIV/AIDS in an atmosphere of anonymity, confidentiality and privacy.”

It is about a nuclear family, common in any city in the country. It is also about a young love and how both family and romance shatter after one of them is infected with the virus. The film has several portions that, through the storyline, convey the right message about a disease that as yet has no cure or vaccine, and is fatal within 10 years of becoming infected.

Unlike Drugs and AIDS, experts were consulted on the technical details of the disease. The film is an apt portrayal of how any person can get infected if precautions are not taken.

It was these aspects of the film, combined with an emotional storyline, that made Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee comment: “A powerful film that everyone should see.”

J.V.R. Prasada Rao, NACO project director and joint secretary in the Union health ministry, had written to all the state AIDS societies that efforts should be made to get their respective governments to allow a tax exemption for the film.

“This would enable more exhibitors to screen it, so that more people can see it,” said Pandit. But the finance departments of two states were yet to give their nod for an exemption on tax. According to a hall-owner, up to 70 per cent of the price of a ticket is towards entertainment tax.

The State AIDS Society in Bengal has, through the health secretary, forwarded the appeal to the finance department. But that was almost three weeks ago. Society secretary Trilochan Singh, however, is hopeful that the exemption will come through.    

Calcutta, Aug.9: 
Faced with mounting public criticism and complaints of inaction from local people, the police on Wednesday clamped down on auto-rickshaws. Auto drivers and even passengers were booked at New Alipore, Rashbehari Avenue, Gariahat, Hazra, Kidderpore and elsewhere.

Police said 45 autos were impounded and drivers’ licences seized. Twenty-five passengers were booked for travelling on the tiny seats flanking the driver.

Police petitioned the state government to ban the entry of autos within the city limits. According to police, 6,000 out of 10,000 autos ply without valid papers.

“Auto drivers are backed by powerful politicians. They throw tantrums whenever police crack down on them,’’ said deputy commissioner of police K. Harirajan.

According to the police proposal, which was discussed at length at a meeting in police commissioner D.C. Vajpai’s office on Tuesday, autos will be allowed to ply only in specified areas from the outskirts to places beyond the city limits.

Auto drivers got into arguments with the police and threatened to agitate against the drive at Tollygunge and Rashbehari Avenue. Citu, which controls most auto-rickshaw unions in the city and the suburbs, was critical of the drive, which began at 4.30 pm and continued till 9 pm.

According to police, auto-rickshaws can operate anywhere in the South 24-Parganas areas — Tollygunge, Kasba and Kidderpore. But they cannot move towards the city. “Ten lakh public and private vehicles ply in the city, which has only 8 per cent road space equipped to handle four lakh vehicles,’’ Harirajan said.

Police said autos, henceforth, will charge by the meter, instead of per head, as they do now.

They will pick up passengers from auto-rickshaw stands at Tollygunge, Kasba, Shyambazar and Kidderpore, from where they can take passengers beyond the city.

Police officers criticised the motor vehicles department for turning a blind eye while issuing the mandatory certificate of permission to auto-rickshaws. Officials of the motor vehicles department, in turn, accused the police of “indulging in corrupt practices.’’    

Calcutta, Aug.9: 
Traffic was thrown out of gear for hours on Wednesday in wide swathes of the city as hundreds of Youth Congress and Forward Bloc activists held separate rallies.

While the Youth Congress activists assembled on Rani Rashmoni Road, disrupting traffic at Esplanade and its adjacent areas, Forward Bloc members courted arrest on B.B. Ganguly Street, after marching towards Lalbazar from Subodh Mullick Square.

Homeward-bound commuters, particularly those from the BBD Bag area, were stranded at many places in central Calcutta due to the prolonged traffic snarls. The absence of private buses made matters worse. Many of them were requisitioned by Trinamul Congress leaders to carry activists to Midnapore, where railway minister Mamata Banerjee addressed a rally.

However, Calcutta Police DC (headquarters) Nazrul Islam claimed that enough policemen had been deployed to ensure smooth flow of traffic. The Youth Congress rally on Rani Rashmoni Road, organised by its ousted president Paresh Pal, was not impressive, though participants braved the rain and arrived from various pockets of the city and the districts.

The Youth Congress activists, instead of courting arrest, as threatened, dispersed peacefully after the meeting. Pal used the platform to come down on senior Congress leaders, holding them responsible for his removal as state Youth Congress chief.

The Forward Bloc’s hyped law-violation programme was a damp squib, with barely 400 to 500 of its supporters courting arrest.    

“If you think that I am Linda Goodman’s husband, then you are in the wrong place,” started John Goodman, at a talk titled ‘Love Signs’ on Wednesday.

Perhaps a few among the audience had hopes of finding out the cosmic significance of their relationships.

But despite Goodman’s warning, they were not wholly disappointed as the head of OgilvyOne Worldwide held forth on relationships of a different kind.

For what Goodman was bringing to the city made famous by “the warmth of the people” was the new-age marketing mantra — the best way to get into minds and wallets of the consumer is ‘one-on-one’ interaction, not mass marketing.

The triumph of the man-to-man approach over glitzy neon-light advertising.

On his first visit to the city, Goodman announced plans to set up a branch office of OgilvyOne in Calcutta by the end of the year.

The agency, specialising in ‘customer relationship marketing’, currently has branches in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. And the man from Liverpool is convinced that Calcutta’s time has come.

“Corporates are waking up to the importance of direct marketing with their clients all over the world. Calcutta clients have been expressing interest in the same, prompting us to finalise plans about coming to this city,” said Goodman.

Admitting that “India is still very dependent on mass marketing methods and so international brands are still our biggest clients here”, Goodman claimed that “things are already starting to change in cities like Calcutta”.    

Guwahati, Aug. 9: 
Assam PCC chief Tarun Gogoi today announced his decision to sue chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta for remarking that he had links with the banned Ulfa.

Gogoi said he would file a defamation suit shortly, claiming Rs 1 crore from the chief minister for sullying his image with unsubstantiated allegations.

Mahanta recently declared that the PCC chief was hand-in-glove with the Ulfa. He had earlier remarked that Gogoi’s official telephone was being used to contact militant leaders.

The chief minister is also on record as having said that the Congress should be barred from contesting polls in Assam and Jammu and Kashmir because the party was trying to “gain entry into the political scene with support from the ISI”.

However, he evaded a direct reply when newspersons asked him here yesterday if he had any proof of Gogoi’s alleged links with the Ulfa. “Once you leave this room, will there be any proof that you were here ?” he asked.

Denying any links with militants, Gogoi today branded the chief minister as an “incorrigible slanderer” who would stop at nothing to destroy his political rivals.

“I never had links with the Ulfa,” Gogoi said, adding that he had never seen a chief minister stoop so low.

Stating that the Congress was the first to demand a judicial probe into the alleged nexus between political leaders and underground outfits, the PCC chief dared the chief minister to expose the real traitors.

“Does Mahanta have the courage to institute a probe by a High Court or Supreme Court judge to bring out the truth and let the people know what is going on?” he asked.

Gogoi said it was the Mahanta ministry which was dismissed in 1990 on charges of aiding and abetting militancy. “The same man now heads a Cabinet whose members are known to be close to militants,” he added.

Charging Mahanta with encouraging corruption, Gogoi said the former had promoted officials blacklisted for various malpractices, including providing funds to militants.

The PCC chief also ridiculed Mahanta’s stand on autonomy, saying the chief minister was in the habit of raising sensitive issues for his political survival and forgetting about these later.

“Before the 1996 elections, he endorsed the demand for the right to self-determination in a bid to please the Ulfa. Now that elections are round the corner, he needs the Ulfa’s support once again. So he has raised the autonomy issue,” Gogoi said.    

New Delhi, Aug. 9: 
The Trinamul Congress was forced to eat humble pie again by its allies. Pressured by the Telugu Desam, MDMK, DMK and the Akali Dal, the party today deleted the sentence seeking imposition of Article 356 in West Bengal from a memorandum to be submitted to home minister L.K. Advani.

Trinamul is leading a delegation of NDA leaders to Advani tomorrow to apprise him of the collapse of law and order in the state.

The four allies, who are stridently opposed to Article 356, made it clear that they would accompany the team only if the controversial demand was dropped and Trinamul obliged.

Party leader Nitish Sengupta confirmed that any mention of Article 356 was dropped from the memo under pressure from the allies.

He, however, said his party conveyed its demand in a subtle way without mentioning Article 356, about which the Desam, DMK and the Akalis are “touchy”.

“In three or four districts, the administration is not run in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution,” the memo said. Sengupta said it is clear from this sentence what his party is demanding.

Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu, who accompanied Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee last month as part of a similar delegation to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, said his party had reservations about the law. “Our party is opposed to the use of Article 356 as a matter of policy,” Naidu said.

Earlier, the Desam, DMK and Akalis had snubbed the Trinamul by refusing to accompany its delegation to President K.R. Narayanan. The Trinamul had sought imposition of Central rule “under Article 356 as it is clear that there has been a breakdown of constitutional machinery in the state of West Bengal”. Mamata’s party managed to garner the support of only two NDA allies — Samata Party and Manipur State Congress — for the Rashtrapati Bhavan trip.

In its meeting with the Prime Minister on July 27, the party had urged Vajpayee to send an NDA parliamentary team to West Bengal. Vajpayee asked BJP leader M. Venkaiah Naidu to organise a team of MPs, but so far no date has been fixed.    


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