Child crushed by bus
Tata, Basu to meet on infotech habitat centre
Park pitches in, Taj peters out
Tax waiver bonanza hits state stonewall
Jharkhand ball set rolling
Karia Munda too eyes CM post
Communal tension brews in Orissa dist

Calcutta. Aug.18 
Five-year-old Pragya Dalmia, a kindergarten student of Sree Shikshayatan, was crushed under the wheels of the school bus that was about to take her home on Thursday morning.

After classes broke at 11.30, Pragya boarded the bus, parked on campus, kept her bag on ‘her’ seat and then skipped away to the canteen to grab some tit-bits.

By the time the girl ran back to the bus, it was moving in reverse gear towards the gates. No teacher was present at the site. The driver and the ‘helper’ failed to notice Pragya. The five-year-old tripped and fell under the wheels of the moving bus.

“Her classmates and other children nearby started shouting and crying after witnessing the ghastly accident,” said the mother of a student, Neena Mitra.

Director in-charge of the school’s primary department Neelaveni Vincent said she rushed out with other teachers on hearing the commotion on the compound. “I got the shock of my life when I saw Pragya lying there in a pool of blood,” she said.

According to eyewitnesses, the teachers managed to hail an ambulance and take the child to SSKM Hospital. By then, it was too late.

“I immediately informed Pragya’s parents in Bagbazar and asked them to come to the hospital,” Vincent said.

The girl’s father, Sanjoy Dalmia, and uncle Ajoy, both businessmen of Burrabazar, blamed the school authorities for “failing to ensure safety of the child”.

“The helper, who was not supposed to drive, was at the wheel and there were no teachers on the spot. Both the helper and the driver are employees of the school, and so the school must accept responsibility for this accident,” they said.

The death of the child sparked trouble on the campus, as a large number of guardians assembled to protest “the authorities’ failure to ensure safety of students”.

The demonstration, which continued for nearly two hours, took an ugly turn when a teacher was assaulted by some agitated parents. The police had to step in to restore order.

While admitting that the accident “took place on the school premises”, Vincent denied that it had been caused by negligence on the part of the authorities.

Deputy commissioner of police, south division, Ranjit Pachnanda, said the city’s traffic police department has registered a case of rash driving and negligence against the bus driver, who is absconding. The school bus has, however, been impounded.

“The case is being dealt with by the traffic department. We are yet to receive any complaint from the girl’s parents against the school authorities,” Pachnanda said.

But some police officers added that a case of negligence might be filed against the school management over Pragya’s death.

Twin mishaps

A 45-year-old unidentified man was run over and killed by a Tata Sumo on Brabourne Road on Thursday morning. No arrests have been made.

In another accident around the same time, seven persons travelling in two taxis were injured when a private bus on route 17A rammed into them near J.K. Island ,on Red Road. They were taken to SSKM Hospital for treatment. The bus was impounded and the driver arrested.    

Calcutta. Aug.18 
Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata group, will meet chief minister Jyoti Basu on August 24 to finalise the formalities for implementing the information technology (IT) habitat centre.

The project will be implemented by a joint-venture company involving the Tata group and the government. The two sides have already held preliminary discussions.

Ratan Tata has shown keen interest in investing in the IT sector. IT department officers said the project cost and investment share will be finalised at the meeting.

The IT habitat centre, where software will be produced and hardware assembled, will come up at Durgapur. One-hundred-and-fifty acres has been identified for the project.

“Durgapur is the most suitable place for the project because land is available there, and moreover, it has many other facilities. As an alternative, we are looking for land either in Salt Lake or its peripheries too,’’ said principal secretary of the IT department, A.K. Deb.

Sources at Writers’ Buildings said the joint-venture company will be formed with the Tata Infosys Limited and the West Bengal Electronics Corporation (Webel).

Deb said the state government was stressing IT, and the habitat centre would be a step in the right direction. “We are already setting up an earth station at Salt Lake, and after completion of the habitat centre, a massive improvement in the IT sector will follow,’’he said.

Durgapur, once the industrial hub of West Bengal, is being projected as a possible IT habitat.

The government has already set in motion a strategy to woo large IT multinationals to kick-start the high-profile facility.

According to senior state government officers, a date has been set for a meeting with computer giant IBM next week.

Government officers said Durgapur was chosen since infrastructurally, it would suit IT companies. The entire telephone system in the sub-divisional town as well as its link with Calcutta are through fibre-optic cables. The town enjoys a steady power and water supply.

Durgapur is accessible from Calcutta via the high-speed Durgapur Expressway and by Shatabdi Express from Howrah station as well.

“Location-wise, Durgapur is ideal for a hi-tech habitat centre as per the guidelines laid down by the IT task force,” an offer said.

For the Durgapur hi-tech habitat, the state government will hold its equity in land and basic infrastructure, while the private sector will provide the funding to set up the projects.

IT policy-makers in the state, as well as the newly-formed IT department, are preparing an ideal set of incentives to elicit a positive response from the industry. “With the participation of big names in the field of IT, the habitat will automatically bring in investment,” the officers said.    

Calcutta. Aug.18 
Sending contrasting signals about outlook for the hotel business in the city, one hospitality group appears to be preparing to scrap its project while another is trying to acquire land to set up one.

Amid indications that the Tatas might dump their plan to build a second five-star hotel, it is now learnt that the Apeejay Surrendra group is negotiating with the Bengal government for a five-acre plot on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. Like the Taj group of the Tatas, Apeejay already has a five-star hotel in the city.

Sources said the Apeejay group, promoter of Park Hotel, has submitted its proposal to the ministry of tourism, involving an initial investment of Rs 60 crore.

R. Mohapatra, director of the West Bengal Tourism Development, said: “Over the past year, we have written several times to the Tatas asking them if they were interested in setting up the hotel. But they have never replied.”

Despite several efforts, Indian Hotels (the Tata company that runs the Taj group of hotels) managing director R. Krishna Kumar could not be contacted for his comments either on the development, which appears to have been triggered by the perception that the state is no longer an attractive proposition — a view that echoed what Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu said on Wednesday while taking a side-swipe at the Left regimes in Bengal and Kerala.

Calcutta mayor Subrata Mukherjee had indicated on Wednesday that the Tatas may not go ahead with their project. On Thursday, it seemed as if he had arrived at that conclusion after a meeting with a Tata representative a few days ago, at which the group was told to return the land if it was not interested in the project.

The Tata representative had only said he would let the government know of the group’s response.

Mukherjee said: “They do not want to build a five-star hotel.” Officially, there is no word from the Tatas. but if what the mayor says is true, the decisions to first acquire the land and then to pull out are inexplicable unless the Tatas think that in three years, business prospects in the city have deteriorated dramatically.

Three years ago, they bought 15 acres at a price of Rs 1.5 crore an acre to build a second hotel, even though they already had Taj Bengal. Even in the middle of last year, Indian Hotels had announced that it planned to invest Rs 800 crore over the next three years to develop facilities at 17 new destinations. The Calcutta project was in the company’s expansion programme.

What has happened in this one year to provoke a change of plans? At least, the promoters of other hotel projects in the city are not having second thoughts. ITC Welcomgroup, which is setting up a 250-room hotel on the Bypass at a cost of Rs 250 crore, is upbeat about its project. “Our work is on in full swing and we will complete the project by the end of 2002. We have not only seen Calcutta as a potential travel destination but also as the gateway to eastern India. We are on schedule,” said a company official.

A state industry official said: “We will try to persuade the Tatas to set up the hotel. Now that Park Hotel has shown its interest in another five-star hotel, we feel comfortable. We do not know what forced the Tatas to pull out. In any case, big names like Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt, ITC Welcomgroup are setting up hotels. They must have done some survey while setting up their projects.”

Plans are afoot to set up a super luxury hotel bearing the Grand Hyatt title at 42, Chowringhee Road, erstwhile property of the Darbhanga family, next to the Tata Centre. Hyatt International of the US has acquired the prime property and pumped $5 million into a joint-venture project in which the multinational will retain majority stake.

The Hyatt at Chowringhee will be the second in the city. Hyatt Regency of Delhi, more specifically S.K. Jatia of Asian Hotels, is constructing another 250-room hotel at a cost of Rs 200 crore at Salt Lake. Mohapatra said the Hyatt Regency is expected to be commissioned by March 2001.

“We are not doe-eyed foreign investors and have done our homework on what the city is going to look like and who will come here,” said an official with the Jatia Group.

Park Hotel is equally gung-ho about Calcutta. It claims to enjoy 75 per cent occupancy the year round.    

Calcutta. Aug.18 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s plan to present house-owners with a bonanza by waiving interest on building taxes has run into a government wall. “The government cannot amend an Act to give extra privilege to Calcuttans only when similar problems persist everywhere,” said a senior bureaucrat at Writers’ Building.

After a discussion with chief minister Jyoti Basu, Mukherjee had announced that house-owners with tax dues for their residential buildings upto 1995 would have the interest and penalty waived if they paid up by November.

Mukherjee’s move was aimed at augmenting the revenue of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. Chief of municipal finance and accounts Shankar Datta said more than Rs 200 crore of house tax was “outstanding” up to 1995. If even 50 per cent of house-owners came forward to clear the dues on waiver of the interest, the civic body would rake in Rs 100 crore.

There are over six lakh residential buildings in the city. In most cases, the outstanding dues have grown due to irregular reassessment of property on the part of civic employees.

The Corporation should conduct general reassessments every six years to fix the quantum of annual tax on landed property. But generally, there is a 12-year lag in between reassessments.

A spokesman in the municipal affairs department said house-owners had hardly queued up to pay their dues when former mayor Kamal Bose had made a similar offer 14 years ago. The amount deposited by house-owners then was a few thousand only.

The house-owners who had responded to the mayor’s call find themselves in a spot as the amounts paid by them have been deposited in a suspense account without adjusting their dues. Some of them are still getting outstanding bills from the Corporation, alongwith the interest component charged at a cumulative rate.    

Ranchi, Aug. 17: 
The Bihar government has finally set the ball rolling for the separation of Jharkhand from the rest of the state by ordering a review of all existing infrastructural facilities in and around the city, the proposed capital of Jharkhand.

It has asked officials to identify all unutilised buildings and premises to house the Assembly, secretariat, ministers and bureaucrats to be posted in the city after the formation of the state.

Sources said action has also been initiated to draw up an annual state budget for the remaining period of the current financial year to enable the new state become functional by November 1 as per the guidelines set by the Union home minister.

Sources said following the state government directive, emergency meetings were convened today by the regional development commissioner, Ranchi Laxmi Singh. The meetings were attended by the commissioner, south Chhotanagpur division, deputy commissioner, Ranchi, state police department officials and heads of all government.

Sources said the task of getting a new state capital off the ground has been made easier with the existence of a Raj Bhawan, chief minister’s residence and a mini secretariat along with offices of the inspector-general of police and head offices of government departments in the city.

Sources said the primary task was to locate buildings to house the Assembly and the numerous ministers and their office staff.

Sources added that once the buildings and locations were identified, a final inspection would be made by top government officials before steps were taken for their formal acquisition. Sources said all government departments have been ordered to furnish details of their manpower positions for Jharkhand in respect of the “sanctioned and created posts” in their respective departments under the plan and non-plan categories, actual number of persons working against these posts and the vacancies and surpluses if any vis-a-vis sanctioned posts.

The departments have also been asked to submit details of all projects, which are being executed. Sources said the main focus of the exercise was to find out the exact number of people working in various government departments and the funds required to get these departments functioning so that a “proper budget can be drawn up and plan funds allocated.”    

Ranchi, Aug. 17 
BJP national vice-president and Lok Sabha MP from Khunti, Karia Munda, today admitted that he too was in the race for the post of chief minister in the new Jharkhand state. He added he would not shirk any additional responsibility that the party might deem fit to bestow on him.

Munda conceded that there were a lot of intra-party differences on the composition of the new government to be formed in Jharkhand and on a number of other issues. He said the differences, if allowed to persist, were likely to cost the party dear.

Talking to newsmen here after arriving from New Delhi to a rousing reception, Munda said the BJP, which has the largest number of 32 MLAs of the total strength of 81 seats in the proposed Jharkhand state, should be given the prerogative of choosing a chief minister for itself from amongst its ranks.

He said while a number of other parties have begun to lobby for the prestigious post, only a person with a clean image and an impeccable track record should be considered for the chief minister’s post in the new Jharkhand state. However, Munda clarified that the ultimate choice for the chief minister’s post should be left to the National Democratic Alliance, of which the BJP is a constituent.

Munda denied reports in a section of the Press which had quoted him as saying that a person who has been chargesheeted for criminal offences should not be made chief minister of the new state. Munda’s reported remarks had created a furore within the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, with senior leaders alleging that the BJP was out to malign the JMM and its leader Shibu Soren. They had warned that the JMM would reconsider its options if the need arose.

Munda said every institution in the Jharkhand region was in a mess and the priorities before the new government should be to tone up the administration and make it capable of delivering the goods. The aspirations of the common man would have to be fulfilled within the shortest possible time, a proper work culture institutionalised at all institutions, whether in the private or public sector, and all-round employment guaranteed to thousands of people to make the new state viable, he added.

JAAC premises: The building of the defunct Jharkhand Area Autonomous Council (JAAC) is likely to house the proposed Assembly of the Jharkhand state with slight renovation, adds UNI.

Deliberations regarding this were held here by senior state government officials. A high-level team of Bihar government officials, which was supposed to hold a meeting here yesterday did not turn up. The meeting was to be held following the Centre’s directive to complete preliminary works regarding infrastructure required for housing the headquarters of the new state.    

Berhampur, Aug. 17 
Communal tension is simmering between the Christian and Hindu communities in Kotgarh block of Kandhamal district, nearly 300 km from here, over an orphanage-cum-school.

The Christians had given a call for organising a rally today at Bandapipli village of Kotgarh block. In retaliation, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh called a counter-rally. The police, however, decided to intervene and prevent any of the rallies from being held.

Kandhamal superintendent of police P.S. Ranpise said over telephone that they have issued orders to stop any rally or demonstration at Bandapipli village. A platoon of armed policemen was posted at the village and more police officials rushed to the village last night.

Intelligence sources said the VHP and RSS mobilised their cadres from adjoining Rayagada district for congregating in the remote village.

Deputy inspector-general of police (southern range) Biswanath Hota said the communal tension originated at Bandapipli village from a land dispute between two religious groups. The remote village, located in the midst of dense jungles, is inhabited mainly by Kondh tribals and the Scheduled Caste Pana community. The Panas and some of the tribals in the area are Christians. The remainder of the tribals have recently been mobilised by the VHP, the RSS and the Vanavasi Kalyan Manch, a sister organisation of the RSS.

District Intelligence Bureau officials of Kandhamal district said a school-cum-orphanage built by Christian missionaries on a disputed site in Bandapipli village is the cause of discord between the two communities.

Nearly three years back, this orphanage-cum-school was built in the area by missionaries. But from the very beginning, a dispute arose over the right to the plot on which the school-cum-orphanage was built. Some tribal villagers, egged on by the VHP and RSS, opposed the project of the missionaries.

Communal tension mounted earlier this year when non-Christian tribals of the area alleged that the orphanage-cum-school was being used as a centre for religious conversions. They said children admitted to the school were being motivated to change their religion. They demanded that the missionaries close down the school.

This gave rise to frequent tussles in the village. As a result, the Kandhamal district administration had to impose prohibitory orders under Section 144 in July. These restrictions are still in force.

To curb the simmering tension between the two communities, the Kandhamal district administration and the police formed a peace committee comprising administrative officials and members of both communities of the area.

District intelligence bureau officials of Kandhamal district said the peace committee had held a meeting at Bandapipli village on August 1. Both communities had agreed to ensure the tension ended. It was also decided to close down the school.

However, allegations have been levelled that although the missionaries and the Christian community initially agreed to close down the orphanage-cum-school at the village, they later backtracked. The Christians decided to continue running the school. To garner support for their effort, they called a rally in the village. The VHP and RSS cadres and tribals supporting them announced they would go in for a counter-rally. The Kandhanal administration decided not to allow any rally in the area and deployed armed securitymen to preclude the possibility of any clash.    


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