Four killed in spate of road mishaps
Cellphone leads to Kasba arrests
Relatives in dark about victims� fate
Two held in first case under IT Act in city
Move to clean up cop recruitment
Fifteen hurt in Orissa harvest clash
Cabinet blocks new forest laws
HIV-positive case on rise in Ganjam
Workers fear closure of Gopalpur port
Killing triggers ethnic tension in Tripura

Calcutta, Dec.2: 
A series of five road accidents in Calcutta claimed four lives on Saturday. Fourteen persons, including a traffic sergeant, were also injured in the mishaps. In all five cases, the drivers gave the slip and police managed to impound only three vehicles.

The first major accident, which claimed three lives, took place around 5.30 am on Strand Road. A speeding truck, overloaded with aluminium sheets, skidded off the road and overturned on bathers at a road-side tap.

Police said three men, all daily labourers, were trapped under the truck. Local people dragged them out. Two of them, identified as Dilip Mahato, 35, and Binod Mahato, 22, died on the spot, while the third, Ramnath Bhagat, 23, succumbed to his injuries on the way to RG Kar Hospital. Officers from Burrabazar police station impounded the truck but the driver and his help managed to flee.

In another accident, a 35-year-old unidentified man was killed on RG Kar Road at 3.45 pm when he fell off a bus and his head was smashed under the rear wheels of the same vehicle. The driver escaped with the vehicle. Policemen admitted the man to RG Kar Hospital.

Traffic movement was disrupted when locals blocked the road for half an hour to protest rash driving.

In another incident, 11 passengers of a minibus were injured when the vehicle hit a tree at 11.35 am. Police said the bus, on its way to BBD Bag, mounted the footpath and hit the tree.

All the injured were taken to National Medical College and Hospital. Three of them were admitted while the rest were discharged after being administered first-aid. The driver and the conductors fled, leaving the vehicle behind, which was later impounded by the police.

A 52-year-old retail fish trader, Ganesh Sau, who was riding a bicycle, was seriously injured at the Gariahat crossing at 6.35 am, when a private bus knocked him down. Seriously injured, Sau, a resident of Thakurpukur, was taken to SSKM Hospital. The bus driver fled with the vehicle.

A traffic sergeant, Prasanta Bose, was injured around 5.30 pm in front of Rabindra Sadan when a Matador van hit him soon after he got off his motorbike.

Soon after, the vehicle jumped onto the pavement. The driver managed to come out and escape. The sergeant was admitted to SSKM Hospital and police impounded the van.

Currency haul at airport

Dollars and rupees, amounting to Rs 84 lakh, being smuggled out of the country, were seized at the Calcutta airport on Friday night, says our airport reporter.

Six packets were being sent by speed-post to Singapore from the airport post office by a Singapore Airlines flight.

Employees of Air India, which is the handling agent of Singapore Airlines, detected the currency notes during an X-ray check. On opening the postal packets, customs officials found $ 170,000 and Rs 2 lakh. The total value of the seized currency was estimated at Rs 83.62 lakh.

�Attempts are on to track down those who sent the packets�, a spokesperson for the customs department said.

Last week, Air India staff had discovered 12 falcons in the baggage of an Afghan passenger. The passenger, who was to take the Royal Brunei Airlines to fly to Dubai from Calcutta, was arrested and the falcons were seized.    

Calcutta, Dec.2: 
A cellphone, which dacoits had stolen during a robbery committed a few months ago in Sonarpur, provided the police with the first clue about the identity of the gang responsible for the two recent dacoities and killing in Kasba.

The leader of the gang, Debu, was arrested early on Thursday night after one of his henchmen did the dirty on him. A part of the booty has been recovered and this has been identified by the victim families.

During investigations after the Kasba dacoities, the police found that the modus operandi matched the style of dacoities committed earlier at Rajdanga, Regent Park and Sonarpur. This led them to conclude that the same gang must have committed all the crimes.

They scrutinised the list of goods seized and found that two cellphones were stolen during the Sonarpur dacoity. They checked out with the cell phone companies and discovered that a dacoit used one of these. With the help of the cellphone companies, they then traced the phone to Goutam Karmakar of Birati, who turned out to be the �chief coordinator� of the gang committing the dacoities.

�An inter-district gang, comprising criminals from Howrah, South and North 24-Parganas, was committing the crimes and it was all being coordinated by Goutam,� said a police officer.

It was after the arrest of Goutam that the police got some major leads which eventually led to the arrest of Shyamal Mondal, Tarak Mondal and finally the kingpin Debu.

Police said eight more members of the gang remain to be arrested. �But we will soon have them in our net as we already have details about their whereabouts,� said inspector-general of police, CID, Partha Bhattacharya.    

Calcutta, Dec.2: 
Relatives of the victims of the accident, involving the Amritsar-bound Howrah Mail in Fatehgarh district of Punjab on Saturday morning, went around railway offices and Howrah station confused and uncertain, as officers here were unable to access information about the fate of those who had boarded the train from here.

Although the death toll was announced as 35, only nine names of the dead passengers were displayed at the special inquiry counters opened at Howrah station. And though officially 133 people were said to have been injured, only 34 names were displayed on the notice board.

The railway spokesman claimed helplessness as the relatives of the victims had not yet been able to reach the accident site, which is in a remote section of Punjab, 40 km from Ambala. �We are only able to provide the information that we ourselves have received,� said the divisional commercial manager of eastern railway, A.L. Minz. �We are as helpless as the relatives.�

According to officers on duty at the counters, special passes are being provided for the victims� relatives either in Himgiri Express or Amritsar Mail to visit the accident site. Special bus services too have been arranged for them at Ambala station.

Even till Saturday night, the railways failed to provide a full list of names of casualties. The injured have been admitted to five different government hospitals in the area.

Rail officials said that not many of the victims � either injured or dead � are expected to be from Calcutta as the worst affected compartments are the general ones which were packed with unreserved passengers from Bihar, UP and Punjab.

The engine rammed into the derailed goods train at Sahar Banjara. Two unreserved compartments were the worst hit because they were jampacked. Although each compartment is supposed to accommodate only 90 people, not less than 200 were present in each. These two compartments were behind three parcel vans which were right after the engine.

The general manager of the Eastern Railways, IIMS Rana, called a special meeting with senior railway officers on Saturday morning and appealed that special arrangements be made to bring the bodies of the deceased from Bengal as soon as possible.

The relatives of the victims were in the dark about their condition. �My brother landed a job in Chandigarh. I saw him off at the station on Thursday evening. I have been waiting to receive the news whether he is alive or not and it is unbearable,� said Chandan Majumdar of Behala.    

Calcutta, Dec.2: 
Cyber crime has finally caught up with Calcutta.

Two computer engineers were arrested under the Information Technology (IT) Act on Saturday. Indranil Chatterjee, 24, and Sanjoy Ghosh, 26, were arrested on charges of tampering with documents, illegally accessing and copying data stored in a computer and damaging the computer system.

Chatterjee and Ghosh were employed with Transcription Laboratories, a division of Industrial Gases Ltd, on Ganesh Chandra Avenue, as computer experts. �The firm establishes contacts with doctors abroad through the Internet and reaches their prescription to local patients,� police said.

They copied documents stored in the transcription firm�s computers in floppies and CD-ROMs and erased the data from the hard disc. Having accomplished their mission, they submitted their resignation in August.

Armed with the required data, Chatterjee and Ghosh set up a new office, under the name Medical Transcription, for running a similar business on Royd Street.

Soon after they chucked up the job, the firm authorities discovered that all data had been wiped out.

The manager of the firm Tridib Mitra lodged a complaint with the police on September 9. �On receiving the complaint, we sought the help of computer experts. They recovered some of the erased files,� police said.

Police added: �On checking, the experts found that different pornographic sites and chatlines had also been accessed.�

The sleuths then raided the duo�s office in Royd Street. All the data stolen from the previous firm was found in the computers there. Chatterjee and Ghosh were arrested. Two computers, some CD-ROMs and floppy discs were seized from their office.

Police said under Sections 65, 66 and 43 of the Information Technology Act, an accused can be sentenced to three years imprisonment with a maximum fine of Rs 1 crore.

Both the accused were released on bail after being produced in court on Saturday.    

Calcutta, Dec.2: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who also looks after the home (police) portfolio, has taken the initiative to fill up vacancies in both the city and state police forces through the Public Service Commission (PSC).

The move is part of the state government�s effort to make the administration �clean, transparent and more effective�.

Bhattacharjee has issued an order to this effect and urged the West Bengal Public Service Commission to prepare itself.

The commission has already drafted selection procedures for police officers and despatched the guidelines to the home department for clearance. A commission official said they were awaiting clearance from the home department before proceeding with recruitment.

The commission will recruit sub-inspectors, assistant sub-inspectors and inspectors, while vacancies in the constable rank will still be filled up by the police directorate.

Posts of clerks and typists in both the state and city police forces are, however, filled up through employment exchanges. On an average, around 750 vacancies are created in both the forces every year.

Director-general of police Dipak Sanyal said the appointment of policemen through the commission will help the government tackle malpractice and nepotism in the department.

Deputy commissioner of police (headquarters) Narayan Ghosh said the commission has been informed about the number of vacancies in the city police force and the selection procedure followed.    

Berhampur, Dec. 2: 
Fifteen persons were injured in a clash at Kusungadia village near Sorada yesterday. Police sources said the clash occurred over harvesting of paddy on disputed land near the village.

A section of armed police have been deployed in the area. Sources said the Ganjam police have arrested 16 villagers in this connection.

Nearly 80 upper caste and 40 Harijan families in Kusungadia village had been cultivating land on a co-operative basis. However, this time, there was a dispute regarding the harvest.

Sources said a few upper caste cultivators tried to forcefully take away standing paddy crop from two acres of land which led to the clash yesterday.

Woman branded witch

The Kumaripari village of Ganjam district is back in news for witchcraft-related incidents. Kumari Behera has been ostracised and turned out of her home for allegedly practising witchcraft.

The brutal torture of 16 people of the village, including eight women, for allegedly practising witchcraft had hit the headlines September last.

Behera had also been tortured and branded with red hot sickles on her legs. The victim originally hailed from Talasara village and has been married to Balaram Behera for 10 years.

Behara alleged that she was tortured along with seven others. She had been turned out by her in-laws and her husband. A complaint has been lodged with the Betguniapada police outpost in this regard.

According to complaint lodged by Behera, she was denied food for eight days. But the police have not taken any action in this regard, she added.

Behera has also written to the State Women�s Commission and the Ganjam superintendent of police for remedial measures.    

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 2: 
Orissa forest minister Adwait Prasad Singh�s move to give more teeth to the embattled forest officers of the state has been stonewalled by Cabinet colleagues.

The minister�s proposal to amend the Orissa Forest Act, 1972, to provide severe punishment to the timber mafia was opposed by a Cabinet sub-committee.

In a meeting last week, the ministers opposed Singh�s proposal to empower forest staff to fire inside the forest areas to protect forest property.

The forest minister called for a drastic overhaul of the 28-year-old Act, which fails to curb the forest mafia. If the state is serious about protecting its forest wealth, then offences have to be made non-bailable, the minister said.

He cited the example of states like Assam, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka which have empowered their forest staff to open fire inside the forests.

However, the minister�s move for amendment has found support from the state�s environment lobby.

According to environmentalist and secretary of Wildlife Society of Orissa Biswajit Mohanty, the amendments are essential as the state�s forest cover is down to a meagre 13 per cent and its environmental value is calculated at Rs 25,10,263 crore.

�The value of one cubic feet of teak wood in 1972 was less than Rs 20. The present value exceeds Rs 1,000. Hence the incentive for forest-related offence has gone up immeasurably. What is absurd is that the present law does not distinguish the severity of offence of felling one tree or a thousand trees,� says Mohanty.

The new amendment has some good provisions such as making the offences related to illegal timber felling and smuggling or attacking forest officials non-bailable.

It also seeks to provide immunity from criminal proceedings to forest staff facing false complaint cases by the timber smugglers and poachers.

But the one demand being opposed by Singh�s Cabinet colleagues is giving firing powers to the forest staff inside the forest area, without which they face murder and attempt to murder charges.

Singh believes this provision would help tackle the increasing number of assault cases against the forest staff in various forest divisions. Other ministers feel that the new amendment would give unbridled power to the forest officials.

However environmentalists and forest department officials rubbish the argument saying that the courts would take care of that.

�The timber mafia use mobile phones and all modern methods to smuggle out wood from the forests. The gangs have made it a lucrative business with profit margins of more than 300 per cent. To protect the forests for the future generations, strong laws are essential,�� a forest official said.    

Berhampur, Dec. 2: 
Migrant labourers from Orissa�s Ganjam district working in states like Gujarat constitute a high-risk group for the spread of AIDS-causing HIV virus in the state.

According to recent findings, Ganjam district has a large concentration of HIV positive cases. A majority of them were migrant labourers, sources said.

Berhampur MLA Ramesh Chandra Chyau Patnaik, who is a physician, said most of these labourers imported the virus due to ignorance and because they stayed away from their homes for long periods.

The first AIDS death in Orissa was recorded in Ganjam district. As per an estimate, nearly nine lakh migrant labourers from the district are now serving at different places outside the state, particularly in Surat.

Physician R. Dash said even doctors took precaution while treating these labourers. Sources said nearly 320 HIV-positive cases have been detected at the MKCG Medical College Hospital. Most of them were labourers who were employed in other states.

Labourers bound for Ahmedabad told this correspondent they were ignorant about AIDS. A Khallikote resident, who works in a mill in Surat, said he often visited the red light areas as he �comes home only twice a year�. AIDS activist K.T. Subudhi said many labourers came forward for voluntary blood testing to know their HIV status. No AIDS counselling session has been organised at the MKCG Medical College Hospital as yet, the sources added.

Phone lines snapped: Due to non-payment of bills, the telecom department has disconnected the telephone lines of five police stations and three police outposts here. Telecom department officials said they had to disconnect the telephones as the police department did not take steps to clear the dues, estimated at nearly Rs 3 lakh.    

Berhampur, Dec. 2: 
Gopalpur port is on the verge of closure due to negligence by successive state governments, according to the Gopalpur port workers union.

The comptroller and auditor-general�s report for the year ending March 1999 said the Gopalpur port project had failed to achieve its objectives and had become a burden on the state exchequer. There have been cases of irregular, avoidable or excess expenditure though the port has been running at a loss since its inception, it added.

The union said the state government had approved the construction of a seasonal port near Gopalpur in 1980 at a cost of Rs 7.87 crore which was revised to Rs 35.98 crore in 1989. Till March 1999, Rs 90.60 crore had been spent on the project, but Gopalpur is yet to become an all-season port. The operational period and cargo-handling capacity of the port has also reduced, it added.

The port�s two 14-year-old dredgers have also been rendered nearly dysfunctional, the workers said.

The port�s seasonal operation starts from September and continues till February. This year, its cargo-handling operation has been hampered twice due to sinking of barges. The port�s cargo-handling operation stopped yesterday also due to sinking of a barge, workers said.

The union demanded a probe into the operation and management of the port by a high-power expert committee. The union said the Gopalpur minor seasonal port, envisioned to become an all-season mega port, had no financial and administrative officers till date.

The Gopalpur port authorities said the port�s maintenance expenditure far outstripped its revenue earnings. Audit scrutiny indicated a 107 per cent increase in maintenance expenditure between 1994 and 1999 against a 10 per cent increase in revenue earnings during the period.

The report said the abnormal increases in maintenance expenditure was mainly due to acceptance of higher tender rates for operating harbour crafts, unauthorised payments and avoidable expenditure on manning and maintenance. For example, the port unnecessarily acquired a harbour tug for Rs 65.90 lakh. Moreover, it procured it at an extra cost of Rs 30.90 lakh, by ignoring an offer of Rs 35 lakh for a tug by the Paradip port trust.

The report said injudicious deployment of casual labourers added to the unnecessary expenses. The port engages contractors to operate its harbour crafts which are used for transporting cargo. The manning and operation of harbour crafts and other machinery is done through contractors and departmental temporary personnel respectively.

But the port authorities engaged 132 extra skilled labourers every day during the shipment season for operation of harbour crafts and departmental machinery. The contractors were paid Rs 43.42 lakh from 1993-94 to 1998-99 on this account.

The report also pointed out that the Gopalpur port authorities provided undue benefits to the contractors. They awarded 41 projects worth Rs 6.18 crore to them without technical sanction to estimates between 1994-95 and 1998-99. Of this, Rs 5.08 crore was spent till March 1999.

The report also pointed out that Gopalpur port lost revenue worth Rs 1.14 crore by not encouraging ship-breaking activities. The state government had granted ship-breaking work to a firm between January 1996 and January 1997, but had refused further requests. The government has also failed to ask the Centre to declare Gopalpur port as a custom notified area for ship breaking purposes, it added.

The comptroller and auditor-general has made the following recommendations to the government:

nTo arrange close monitoring of the port�s operations and revenue earnings and take steps to recover dues

nTo curb unjustified credit facilities given to port users and other unnecessary expenditure

nTo investigate cases of irregular, avoidable or excess expenditure detected in audit.

The workers� union feared the port might close down soon if the government did not take steps to streamline the operations.

The non-development of the port has led to stalling of various proposed projects such as the Tisco steel plant. The Larsen and Toubro has already opted out of the Gopalpur project.

Puri beach festival

A five-day festival of the 8th Puri sea beach will be held in Orissa from February 5 to February 9 next year, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Orissa chairman J.K. Mohanty said here today, reports UNI.    

Agartala, Dec. 2: 
The murder of a tribal headmaster in Dharmanagar subdivision by suspected United Bengali Liberation Front militants last evening has triggered ethnic tension in tribal-dominated areas of Kanchanpur.

Police sources said a group of masked militants hurled two powerful bombs at the headmaster who was returning home from the Panisagar market at 7 pm. Though the first one did not explode, the second bomb killed him on the spot.

The killing triggered ethnic tension in the Jayasri area of Kanchanpur. The police had a tough time controlling the grieving tribal crowd that gathered for the slain headmaster�s cremation.

Shobharam Reang, father of headmaster Aveek Kumar Reang, was killed by non-tribal rioters in October this year in Jayasri village in Kanchanpur subdivision.

The CPM state secretariat, the Opposition Trinamul and the Congress had condemned the killing of Reang. They also lambasted the communal United Bengali Liberation Front.

�Though the United Bengali Liberation Front is yet to claim responsibility, we feel they are behind the killing,� a police source said.

He said the killing was a ploy by the National Liberation Front of Tripura to sharpen the ethnic divide with the help of the United Bengali Liberation Front�s �senseless violence on innocent tribals�. The NLFT is facing resistance from several tribal communities, he added.

He said a section of non-tribal criminals were paid by the NLFT for launching these attacks on Jamatyas and Reangs.

NLFT militants yesterday abducted a Bengali milk-seller and a tribal from the Bishalgarh police station area.

The abducted persons were identified as Nepal Ghosh and Sukhu Debbarma of Nobinagar village. Debbarma was severely beaten up by the rebels for trying to save the milk-seller.

In another incident, a group of NLFT militants severely beat up at least 20 tribals in four villages under Kalyanpur police station for refusing to pay �tax� to the outfit.

An hour before Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) K.M. Seth�s visit to Khowai subdivision yesterday, three listed NLFT militants were arrested from the Gouranga Tilla area, police sources said. The militants were identified as Subhash Debbarma, Pranesh Debbarma and Nirod Debbarma. The outfit�s �tax� notices and Rs 4,000 in cash had been recovered from the rebels.

Two unidentified United Bengali Liberation Front militants, who were trying to make bombs, were also arrested in Kanchanpur subdivision.

The Governor has complimented the state police for its successful counter-insurgency operations. Addressing police personnel at the Rabindra Bhawan here on the occasion of Police Day, he stressed the need for better co-ordination of police functioning in different states of the Northeast.

He presented the Policeman-of-the-Year award to Manoranjan Debbarma, subdivisional police officer of Gandacherra, for exemplary service in anti-insurgency operations.

Inspector-general (law and order) K. Salim Ali presented the DGP�s �commendation disk� to 74 officers and jawans.    


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