Fernandes faces women in grief
Monkey trouble disrupts classes
Saifuddin sets date for new party
Long-distance deadlock, 27000 lines down
Youth held for taxi hijack
Housewife, 3 minors strangled
Scramble for land in Majuli
Orissa taxmen suspended
Varsity wakes up to probe proposals

Calcutta, Sept.8: 
“Where is Mamata?” This was defence minister George Fernandes’ first question on alighting from the Air Force helicopter at the Midnapore Circuit House helipad, on Friday morning.

Trinamul Congress MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay, who was there to receive Fernandes, mumbled that the railway minister was camping at the Shiromoni guest house, holding meetings with partymen.

Fernandes left it at that and rushed off to the room where several Trinamul Congress leaders were waiting for him.

Earlier, Trinamul sources had confirmed that Mamata was miffed as she had expected home minister L.K. Advani to visit the “disturbed” areas.

After being briefed by Ajit Panja and Bandyopadhyay about the day’s schedule, Fernandes left the Circuit House for Keshpur at 10.30 am, in a white Tata Sumo.

Malati Mandi, Sifala Mahato and Khudu Mahato had no idea that “a minister from Delhi” was coming to visit their village. So, when Fernandes’ convoy of 40-odd cars breezed into Guchishul, there were hardly any menfolk around. Just a few women stood watching from a distance.

Fernandes stepped out of the car and rushed towards a cowshed belonging to Kirti Mahato, who had fled the village under threat from “CPM supporters”.

As the women gathered around the minister, the tales of woe came pouring out. “We have nothing to eat. This is my only sari, which I have been wearing for the past one month,” said Malati. “The CPM cadre have threatened us... So, we spend the nights hiding in the Guchishul forest and return home every morning.” Fernandes pulled out a writing pad and started taking down notes. He inquired whether they had filed an FIR with the police. “Yes. But the police never come to our village or try to protect us,” complained the women.

The minister listened patiently, jotting down points like a reporter. “My child is running high fever for the past three days. Do something to save him..,” pleaded Malati.

It was time for Fernandes to leave for Garbeta. Here, the tension was palpable. Some Trinamul supporters even tried to attack SP Gaurav Chandra Dutt who was accompanying Fernandes, forcing Bandyopadhyay to intervene.

The minister met Chabila Bibi who had contested the last panchayat poll on a Trinamul ticket and was allegedly paraded nude by the furious CPM cadre.

“I lost by 23 votes and since then CPM supporters have been trying to force us to withdraw the complaints we have lodged with the police against them,” complained Chabila.

“The CPM cadre told us to go to the Brigade Parade Grounds in Calcutta and confess during a party meeting that the charges we were levelling against them were false. We refused and now we are living under constant threat,” Saidullah, her husband, added. But when Fernandes asked them to give him a copy of the FIR, they failed to produce one.

Fernandes also met Krishna Adhikary, who alleged that she had been raped by CPM men. A visibly-stunned defence minister asked Bandyopadhyay to “collect all FIR copies” and send them to him soon.

Next stop, Palaschabri, where more than 150 Trinamul and BJP supporters have taken refuge in a temporary camp. A BJP supporter, Abhijit Bhuka, was reportedly killed by CPM men on August 25. “Abhijit’s wife, Champa, is pregnant and she does not know how to run the family,” said villager Tilak Poria, as Fernandes scribbled away furiously.    

Calcutta, Sept.8: 
There was trouble at St. James School on AJC Bose Road on Friday when a troop of monkeys invaded the school premises. Classes for the primary section were on early in the morning when five huge monkeys were spotted swinging on branches of trees in the school compound. Panic spread as they started hopping around. A crowd soon gathered on the street as the monkeys gesticulated at on-lookers.

At this, the school authorities panicked and informed the police. Forest department officials at Salt Lake were also informed. But before help arrived, the monkeys left the spot on their own. The police said a few days back, the same troop had created trouble on CIT Road and at a school in the Sealdah area.

Recently, some monkeys had played havoc in a school in Bijoygarh in the Tollygunge area. Things had come to such a pass that the authorities were forced to keep the school shut for some days. The forest department had to step in to drive the monkeys away.    

Calcutta, Sept.8: 
After months of ‘will he, won’t he’, former CPM central committee member Saifuddin Chowdhury announced on Friday that the pro-reformers will float “a new Marxist party” by early October.

Chowdhury added that the new outfit will put up its own candidates in the coming Assembly polls. “We are confident of getting people’s support if we fight the polls as a separate entity,” he said. The name of the proposed Marxist outfit will be “finalised soon”, he added.

Chowdhury said he would be meeting CPM dissidents and “like-minded people” from across the state during his four-day visit to Calcutta. He will also meet state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and South-24 Parganas district secretary Samir Putatunda over the weekend.

Reacting sharply to Chowdhury’s move, Left Front chairman and CPM politburo member Sailen Dasgupta said the party leadership was not paying too much attention to the rebel leader. “Let him float the new party, we are not bothered about this,” Dasgupta said on Friday night. “Our membership is voluntary and those unwilling to stay are free to leave,” he added.

Asked if this meant that the party would split, Dasgupta said: “The dissidents will fail if they try to split the party without a concrete agenda of their own.”

Meanwhile, Chowdhury hinted that the formation of the new outfit will coincide with the CPM’s plenum in October. “We have information that a large number of disgruntled party functionaries and workers are still following a wait-and-watch policy and will take a final decision only after the CPM plenum,” he said.

Chowdhury declared that he was determined to woo CPM-dissidents, some of whom had crossed over to the Trinamul Congress. “We firmly believe that these misguided Marxist friends will join us,” he stated.

Ruling out the possibility of any tie-up with Mamata Banerjee, the rebel leader said: “She (Mamata) is a negative force and we, communists, cannot go along with her, despite our differences with the CPM.” He also criticised the Trinamul chief for her “alliance with communal forces”.

Chowdhury, however, made it clear that an “understanding” with the state Congress was a possibility “because of its secular credentials”.    

Calcutta, Sept.8: 
The crisis triggered by the telecom operators’ strike took a turn for the worse on Friday, the third day of the strike, with more than 27,000 lines rendered inoperative in Calcutta.

Making ISD and STD calls became almost impossible and faulty connections, even those in the emergency category, were not repaired. Telecom officials said that the automatic switching network, which routes long-distance calls, collapsed due to overload in the absence of maintenance.

K. Ramanujam, chief general manager, Calcutta Telephones, however, maintained that the strike will not paralyse telephone communication as “the digital electronic switching network will automatically route calls in the respective exchanges.

“But continuous overload and poor maintenance may affect functioning of such complicated electronic instruments,” he said.

The north Bengal districts and states in the eastern region remained virtually out of bounds for Calcuttans, who tried in vain to make STD calls.

Ramanujam has directed senior officials to keep the three complex trunk automatic exchanges running. He met the general managers in his office on Friday evening to discuss steps to tackle the situation.

T.S. Srinivasan, general secretary, Telephone Services Society, a voluntary subscribers’ body, said no repair work was being carried out. “Even the emergency services are not being restored,” he added.

Kajori Chatterjee of Phoolbagan said she had been trying for hours to talk to her ailing grandfather in Mumbai, but could not get through.

The strike has made it impossible for subscribers to lodge complaints which are only being accepted at exchanges with interactive voice response system.    

Calcutta, Sept.8: 
Four youth were caught red-handed in Uluberia, on Thursday night when they were fleeing with a hijacked taxi from Behala.

According to police sources, a mobile patrol van of Bagnan police station spotted the speeding car and gave chase. The vehicle was ultimately intercepted and the four youth arrested. The police recovered pipeguns and ammunition.

Rajiv Mishra, additional superintendent of police (rural), said all mobile patrol vans in Howrah district have been alerted following the incident. Senior officials said vigil will be intensified after dusk.

Alarmed at the growing incidents of hijacking, the taxis will be fitted with electronic anti-hijack alarms. There will be switches at different points within easy reach of the driver. As soon as the driver senses danger, he can push the alarm bell, which would bring the vehicle to a halt within 30 yards. “Twelve taxis have already been fitted with such alarm bells on an experimental basis. “If it proves effective, this device will become popular with taxi drivers in the city”, Kalyan Bhadra, president, Bengal Taxi Association, said.

According to Sanjoy Mukherjee, whose company is manufacturing the instrument, each one costs around Rs 900. “ I have already received orders for a hundred”, he added.    

Silchar, Sept. 8: 
A housewife along with three minors were strangled to death by some unidentified assailants at East Devipur village under Dholai block in South Assam’s Cachar district last night.

Shika Rani (28) and her neighbour’s three children were sleeping in separate rooms in her cottage. The miscreants allegedly gangraped the housewife before strangling her with her blouse, sources said.

The culprits then stormed into the adjacent room and strangled 12-year-old Ajoy Roy and his brothers Ritan and Bimal. The children were sleeping in Sikha’s cottage as her husband Manindra, a cab driver, was away on duty.

Police said the miscreants spared Sikha’s infant daughters — three-year-old Bulti and her sister Munti. The wailing of the two alerted the neighbours this morning. A person was detained by the police officers after a sniffer dog has pounced on him during investigation.

A police picket has been posted at the village, 28 km south of here, to avert any untoward incident.

MLA dead

Senior CPM leader and sitting MLA of the Tripura Assembly Umesh Nath died at his North Tripura residence last night following cancer. He was 59.

Nath, also a renowned poet, is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter. Party sources here said Nath’s body would be cremated today.    

Jorhat, Sept. 8: 
Inhabitants of the world’s largest river island of Majuli are fighting a losing battle against erosion, a realisation that has sparked a frantic scramble for land.

The sense of desperation in the air is reflected in the number of land disputes on the island. Officials say the majority of cases registered at the three police stations in Majuli pertain to land ownership.

“Land is becoming more scarce with every passing day. Under the circumstances, no one wants to give away even an inch of land,” a police official posted at the Garmurh police station told The Telegraph today.

Last night, one Binoy Baruah of Garmurh was killed by his brother Niranjan following a dispute over land.

Police sources said Niranjan attacked Binoy with a sharp weapon, killing him on the spot. He was later arrested.

Constant erosion by the Brahmaputra, also known as the “red river,” has reduced Majuli’s area from 1,200 square km in 1950 to approximately 800 square km today.

Over the past couple of years, hundreds of families rendered homeless by floods have shifted to embankments and are subsisting on relief materials provided by the subdivisional administration.

The pottery industry at Salmora, the only one on the island, is also on the verge of being wiped out. The Brahmaputra ate into a large portion of the area last year, forcing at least 20 families making a living out of pottery to shift to other places on the island.

The Jorhat district administration has evacuated several families to the mainland and plans to continue the process. However, it failed in its attempt to settle 68 families at Panikheti on the Assam-Nagaland border in the district a couple of months back.

These families had to return to Majuli as inhabitants of the areas close to Panikheti opposed the administration’s move.

Largescale erosion by the Brahmaputra has also forced some satras (Vaishnavite monasteries) on the island to shift elsewhere. Some invaluable manuscripts preserved in these satras were destroyed by floods in recent years.

If there is hope for Majuli, it is in the move to get the island declared as a world heritage site. Officials believe there will be no dearth of funds to save the island once it is accorded the status of a heritage site. The Centre has also launched a project to preserve the ancient manuscripts belonging to the satras dotting the island.    

Berhampur, Sept. 8 
Orissa finance minister Ramkrushna Patnaik has said the state has been losing substantial revenue due to rampant corruption at the interstate check-gates.

Speaking to newsmen, he said he had caught several officials red handed during surprise raids at Jamsola and Girisola interstate check-gates and suspended nearly 18 tax officials.

Patnaik had undertaken a surprise visit to the check gates last week. The minister, along with his ‘detectives’ had stealthily noted down numbers of several trucks passing through the gates.

But on inspection, it was found that numbers of the vehicles were not entered by the erring officials in the tax registers, implying that the money from the trucks went into the pockets of the tax-collectors.

The finance minister seized the records and initiated action. According to him, 12 officials of the commercial tax department posted at the Girisola check-gate on the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border have been placed under suspension. The suspended officials include one commercial tax officer, four assistant commercial tax officers and other officials.

Through a similar surprise raid at the Jamsola interstate check-gate earlier, the minister had suspended six commercial tax officials. It is alleged that the officials “undervalue” the goods loaded in the trucks while assessing the tax to be levied on them for entering Orissa.

About a week back, the state vigilance department had also unearthed a racket through which goods meant to be sold in Orissa were being transported from Andhra Pradesh dodging tax officials. The state vigilance department stopped two passenger buses after the they crossed the interstate check-gate. It was found that they were carrying consumer items for which the unpaid tax amounted to nearly Rs 1 lakh.

Joint Co-ordination Committee (JCC) of three employees’ organisations of Paradip Phosphates Ltd (PPL) has sought the intervention of Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik in getting the financial restructuring plan of the public sector undertaking approved by the Centre, reports PTI.

Representatives of the JCC, who met the chief minister yesterday, informed him that a proposal for the financial restructuring of the fertiliser unit located at Paradip, about 120 km from Bhubaneshwar, was pending with the Centre. Unless the plan was cleared by the Centre the project would be referred to the BIFR, they said. The co-ordination committee, in its memorandum submitted to the chief minister, pointed out that the company was the largest fertiliser unit of the country producing eight lakh MT of fertiliser at more than 100 per cent capacity utilisation.

During the last three years, the company had registered a total operating profit of nearly Rs 74 crore, they said, adding, despite a loss of Rs 31.68 crore last year due to the super-cyclone, the unit had recorded operating profit of Rs 20.15

The memorandum said despite making operating profit, the company was unable to register any net profit and sustaining financial losses due to non-availability of working capital, interest burden on loans incurred from central government and other financial institutions, foreign exchange fluctuations, fertiliser pricing policy and unstable subsidy policy of the Centre.    

Berhampur, Sept. 8: 
The Syndicate of Berhampur University has decided to terminate the services of a systems engineer, S.K. Samantara, following allegations of “illegal and motivated” appointment. Samantara’s appointment figured in the report of an inquiry commission which probed corruption in the university.

However, the action comes after almost a year since the report of Ramesh Charan Behera Commission report on the corruption was submitted.

The Orissa Governor, who is the chancellor of the university, had appointed the Ramesh Charan Behera Commission to probe graft charges against the university officials. The probe was completed in August, 1999.

Most of the suggestions of the Behera Commission of inquiry have not been implemented despite the approval of the chancellor’s office and the state higher education department.

Termination of Samantara’s services is the first major decision taken by the Berhampur University Syndicate on the Behera commission report.

An urgent meeting regarding the termination was convened on Sunday. As per the Behera Commission’s report, there were serious doubts over the legality of the appointment.

The report stated that “from the facts of the case it is clear that the appointment of S.K. Samantara as system engineer against the post of maintenance engineer was motivated and illegal”. “The then vice-chancellor, R.C. Das, was keen to appoint Samantara for obvious reasons,” the report said. Samantara’s, however, continued with his services as the recommendations of the probe commission could not be implemented due to red -tapism.

The chancellor’s (Governor) office had sent a reminder to the Berhampur University authorities regarding Samantara’s termination about three months back following which he was finally sacked.

University authorities today said they could not hand over the termination order to Samantara. They said a copy of the sack order has been pasted on the wall of the computer centre of the university. A copy has also been posted to his home.

Chheligada project

The proposed Chheligada project over the Vamsadhara, mainly intended to solve the nagging drinking water problem besetting Berhampur, is likely to be cleared by the Centre soon, according to Union minister for water resources Arjun Charan Sethi, reports PTI.

Hydrological survey of the project, estimated to cost Rs 53 crore, had already been completed and the technical advisory committee of the Central Water Commission was expected to clear it on September 20, Sethi said.

The project would pump an additional 50 lakh gallon of water daily to the city besides irrigating 7,500 hectares of agricultural land. Chheligada could also generate 120 MW of power with three units of 40 MW each, the Union minister said.

As per the project report, it would affect at least five villages under the Udayagiri block and require displacement of 112 families, he said.    


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