Space jam in billboard battle
Mayor steps in to resolve park row
Teacher yanks off child�s hair
�Uncle� abducts 13-yr-old girl
Uproar over exam bar at BE College
Putting a princess through her paces
Tax waiver call for TB drugs
Campus clashes in poll run-up
BJP alleges inflated Reang refugee tally
Meghalaya on alert for ANVC foundation day

Calcutta, Dec.13 : 
The Calcutta skyline wears a cluttered look today. Ground and air space, worth crores of rupees, have been grabbed by aggressive outdoor publicity companies desperate to catch the eye of the consumer. The billboard boom has resulted in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation suffering a revenue loss of at least Rs 7.5 crore.

The mushrooming of illegal billboards and loss of revenue have prompted mayor Subrata Mukherjee to strip member, mayor-in-council (bustee), Pradip Ghosh, of the �hoarding and publicity� responsibility and assign it to member, mayor-in-council (conservancy) Mala Roy.

In a concerted drive against �visual pollution�, municipal commissioner Debasish Som has directed the advertisement department to �pull down illegal hoardings immediately�. According to Section 202 of the CMC Act, 1980, no hoarding can be put up without prior permission from the CMC.

�At least 1,500 new hoardings have been put up in different parts of the city during the past five months,� a senior official in the advertisement department of the Corporation said. As they all were �put up without permission�, the net revenue loss for the Corporation was Rs 7.5 crore. The Corporation earns only Rs 3 crore revenue from billboards.

The official added that �several shady companies� have cropped up suddenly and are setting up billboards without paying any heed to the rules and regulations applicable for advertising products or services. Trees are being cut, important crossings blocked, balconies covered, windows forced shut, and even heritage buildings not spared, as advertisers jostle for space on the streets.

�Besides the question of legality, these hoardings have become a serious source of visual pollution,� said Mala Roy. �As it is, the Calcutta skyline is hardly aesthetic. And now, with these hoardings, the city is looking really ugly,� she added.

Pradip Ghosh, who said the mayor had �relieved him of the extra burden�, put part of the blame on the advertising department of the Corporation. �Who has counted how many illegal hoardings there are? Several months ago, I had asked officers in the advertisement department to prepare a complete list of illegal hoardings within city limits. But they have failed to produce that list till today,� he alleged.

According to Dilip Chatterjee, spokesperson for Selvel, a caucus in the advertisement department of the Corporation is encouraging the mushrooming of illegal billboards in the city. �Our market has shrunk sharply during the past few months because of the uneven competition arising out of the nexus between some unscrupulous agencies and insiders in the Corporation,� he alleged.

After putting up billboards without the Corporation�s permission, these �shady companies� approach the advertisement department to deposit �display tax� under Section 204 of the CMC Act. And the department accepts the tax without verifying the legitimacy of the billboard.


Calcutta, Dec.13 : 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Wednesday mediated between residents of the Syed Amir Ali Avenue area and a trust body, which were on a collision course over the installation of two statues in Rokeya Park, and made them see reason.

At a meeting with representatives of the two warring sides, Mukherjee asked the Aswini Dutta Memorial Trust not to instal the two statues as scheduled in the park, which it looked after, and also dissuaded locals from holding prayer meetings there.

The statues of Aswini Dutta and Charan Kabi Mukundadas were slated to be unveiled there on Sunday. �We have decided to keep our programme in abeyance following Wednesday�s meeting with the mayor,� said a trust member.

Local Congress councillor Shammi Jahan, who was present at the meeting, welcomed the mayor�s �wise� decision.

Tension ran high in the area from Monday after the trust installed the two statues and locals, including councillor Jahan, protested the move. A police picket was posted in the park as locals said they planned to hold an Iftar party and namaz there this year, and so they wanted the statues to be removed.

The mayor told Jahan that the CPM-led CMC board had handed over maintenance of the park to the trust eight years ago, and the proposal was endorsed by her (Jahan) too. He asked the trust to shift the statue of Aswini Dutta from the middle of the park to the section given them to construct their office. The statue of Mukundadas will be installed elsewhere. A CMC team will select the site in January.

Jahan said Rokeya Begum had donated the plot for the park opposite the bus stand of route 42 to the Corporation.


Calcutta, Dec.13: 
Five-year-old Nisha, a student at Satgram Sishu Siksha Niketan in Behala, had clumps of her hair ripped off by her teacher as �punishment for not paying attention� in class.

Nisha�s mother, Aparna Banik, 35, was shocked when she arrived at the Behala school to fetch her daughter at around 9.45 on Tuesday morning. The little girl was locked in an empty classroom, crying for help.

�When I saw her, I couldn�t believe my eyes. There were bald patches on her head and large locks of her hair, which I had neatly done up in the morning, were missing,�� Aparna said.

As the horrified mother raised an alarm, the school authorities opened the door and let Nisha out.

�She hid her head in my lap and wept inconsolably. When I asked her what happened, she said her teacher had tugged at her hair and even lifted her by it several times.

�It hurt a lot, Ma. I protested several times that it was hurting and my hair was coming off, but she wouldn�t listen,�� a sobbing Nisha told Aparna.

The rest of the children had left by then and a few teachers were chatting in the teachers� room. An enraged Aparna sent word across to her husband, Basudev, a trader in the local market.

Basudev came running and barged into the teachers� room. �How did my daughter lose so much hair? Why was she beaten up so cruelly?� he demanded.

The teachers looked at each other and a defiant Shukla Guha Roy, who had �punished�� Nisha by yanking her by her hair, turned around and replied: �She was not attentive in class and I punished her, for which I don�t owe you any explanation. You can do whatever you want to.��

Basudev and Aparna, seething with anger, headed straight for the classroom where Nisha was �punished�. The girl pointed to a spot where locks of hair lay strewn on the floor.

Nisha�s parents, residents of adjacent Paruidaspara Road, went to Behala police station, accompanied by local people, and lodged a complaint.

Meanwhile, Nisha began to throw up and complained of a headache. Police officer Pranab Maitra accompanied Basudev and Aparna to the school, while Nisha was taken to a local doctor.

Back in school, the errant teacher and others were preparing to leave for home when the police jeep arrived. Nisha�s parents identified Shukla Guha Roy as the culprit and she was immediately taken into custody.

On Wednesday, local residents demonstrated in front of Behala police station, demanding action against the accused teacher, who was produced in court on Wednesday afternoon and freed on bail.


Calcutta, Dec.13: 
It all began on a train, and till Wednesday night at least, it seemed to be ending on one. Ranee Saini and her two children had met Sunil Sarkar on a local train between Howrah and Naihati, in North 24-Parganas. A relationship developed between them. And, till last heard of, Sunil was headed for Mumbai on a train after having successfully abducted Ranee�s 13-year-old daughter from Alipore zoo.

The latest from the police: the trail has gone cold, with searches on two Mumbai-bound trains having failed to trace either the kidnapper or the kidnapped.

About a month and a half ago, doctors in Naihati detected an ailment in Ranee�s daughter, Jayati, and referred her to SSKM Hospital for treatment. It was then that the two began their regular trips to the city. �My husband is an accountant with a private firm in Naihati and could not accompany us to the hospital,� Ranee told the police. Often, Ranee�s 11-year-old son, Amit, would accompany them. It was on these trips that they kept bumping into Sunil, a 40-year-old �smart talker� who soon won the kids over.

�This man was working on a calculated plan to trap them,� a police officer said on Wednesday. �We were all very fond of Sunil Uncle,� Amit said. �We never imagined he would do this to my sister.�

Sunil suggested to Ranee last week that she get Jayati married to his son. Ranee declined, saying her daughter was far too young. But Sunil persisted and made her agree to at least meet his family. So, a meeting was set up. Sunil arranged for a picnic at Alipore zoo on Tuesday. Ranee arrived that day at the zoo in the morning with Jayati and Amit, and were met by Sunil and a woman he introduced as his �boudi�.

On the pretext that he wanted to buy both Jayati and her mother gold chains, he asked Ranee to accompany him to a jeweller�s, leaving the two children with boudi. When they returned an hour later, the three were gone and soon, Sunil also managed to lose himself in the crowd.

A distraught Raneee lodged a complaint at Watgunge police station and late on Tuesday night, Amit was found wandering aimlessly on a platform in Howrah station.

Amit said that from Alipore zoo, boudi took him and Jayati to a house in north Calcutta and after spending some time there, told them that they would go to Howrah station, where their mother was waiting for them.

At the station, where Sunil was waiting for them, they boarded a train. Just as it was about to leave, Sunil asked Amit to rush to the other end of the station, saying his mother was waiting there.

When he returned to the platform on not finding his mother, he found that the train had gone.


Calcutta, Dec.13: 
Classes have been disrupted at Shibpur Bengal Engineering College since Tuesday evening after students held a series of demonstrations and gheraoed officials to protest a decision barring some students from taking their examinations for want of the requisite percentage of attendance.

The agitation, which began around 5 pm on Tuesday, continued through the night. Some officials were prevented from leaving the campus until they assured the students that the controversial decision would be withdrawn.

Trouble began on Monday when a section of second-year students of various departments asked the authorities to lift the bar on five classmates from writing their third semester exams. They claimed illness had prevented the five from attending classes. When their plea was rejected, the students ransacked the office of the controller of examinations.

P K Ray, acting registrar, said the university�s rules make it mandatory for students to have a minimum of 60 per cent attendance each semester. This year, 22 students have been barred from taking their tests. �This happens every year. We have to be firm about attendance to retain the prestige of the institution,� Ray said.

However, the students claimed their demand was justified. �It is strange that the university�s rules do not have a provision for relaxation on health grounds,� they said.


Calcutta, Dec.13: 
�There are half-a-dozen ways to laugh,� says Gautam Haldar, his audience uproarious at his �ha ha�, ranging from booming baritone to shrill soprano. The 24-odd girls of Gokhale Memorial Girls� College may have been amused, but they hung on to every word from their �director�,

Gokhale is the only college taking part in Nandikar�s drama festival, staging Sadamata Rajkanye on December 18. Two months ago, Rudraprasad and Swatilekha Sengupta started a series of theatre workshops, open to all students of the college.

Starting with team-building games, moving onto dance, movement and story-telling, the students then wrote the script themselves, a verse drama, loosely based on M.M. Kaye�s An Ordinary Princess.

Then Gautam Haldar stepped in, and along with Swatilekha Sengupta, worked with the girls to bring the words to life. The hands-on, liberal approach has attracted all kinds of students. While for Tanusree Das, a second-year student of English, who has followed Nandikar and other theatre groups, this is a �dream come true�, first-year science student Diya Bose has discovered �that there is more to acting than Shah Rukh Khan�.

�The design of the play is continuously changing, until the very day of the performance,� says Gautam. �It has to be spontaneous, and when learning happens through enjoyment and not pressure, it comes naturally.�

Even during rehearsals just days before the final performance, the play, an amalgam of song, verse and dance, changes by the minute. This is not a new programme. Through their youth training programme, Nandikar has reached out to �over 130 schools, from slums to Salt Lake� with similar workshops.

�They are dancing their own dance,� smiles Rudraprasad Sengupta. �RPS sir�, to his prot�g�s. �The response to the workshop has been outstanding. We are now thinking of starting a dramatics society in college,� said Monidipa Roy, Principal, Gokhale.


Calcutta, Dec.13: 
The most powerful and knowledgeable gathering of specialists on tuberculosis, a disease that claims a life a minute in India, concluded in the city on Sunday with a resolution to request the Central and state governments to waive all taxes imposed on anti-TB drugs.

The 55th national conference on tuberculosis and chest diseases was attended by about 500 doctors, scientists, health officials, representatives of non-government organisations and paramedical personnel from all over the country as well as abroad.

They decided to authorise Dr M.M. Singh, vice-chairman of the Tuberculosis Association of India, to negotiate with the Centre on the waiver of taxes on anti-TB drugs. The meeting also resolved to involve non-government organisations on a larger scale, in conjunction with the Tuberculosis Association of India and all the state TB associations, for implementing measures to control the disease.

Similar efforts would also be required to carry out treatment programmes, like the direct observation treatment shortcourse (DOTS), on a larger scale.

�The conference acknowledged that the government and municipal health departments alone could not treat the large number of patients,� said chest specialist Ranjan Das, who was the organising secretary of the four-day meet.

In all, 60 academic papers were presented at the annual conference, held in Calcutta after a gap of 12 years. It was organised mainly by the Bengal TB Association. Among other topics, the papers related to the increase in TB cases due to a growing number of HIV infections, the co-treatment of TB with HIV, and the problem of multiple drug-resistant TB and the second line of drugs required for treatment of such cases.

A unique aspect of the meeting was that it had been declared a �no-smoking conference,� to create a general awareness about the hazards of smoking and how it could be detrimental for pulmonary tuberculosis, the most common form of the disease in India.

At the inauguration, Governor Viren Shah lamented that the world was carrying the disease with it into the 21st Century. He called for early detections, especially in the rural areas, at the primary health care levels.


Calcutta, Dec.13: 
Residents and traders around South City college, off Gariahat Road, are disturbed over regular clashes over the past few months between Students� Federation of India supporters and Trinamul Chhatra Parishad activists.

They fear greater trouble in the days ahead, as elections are due in January to the students� unions of both the colleges in the same building � Herambachandra College (day section) and Prafulla Chandra College (night).

The SFI held the students� unions of both colleges. The terms expired in November. Trouble started after most of the union members quit the SFI and formed the Non-Political Students� Union (NPSU), with Trinamul Chhatra Parishad providing moral support.

Sonali Guha, Trinamul Chhatra Parishad chief, said: �After I took over, I started retaliating against the attacks on our supporters. Clashes are inevitable,� she said. The SFI, however, denied the clashes. �Trinamul is mobilising outsiders to influence college students to vote for it and we are resisting this effort,� he said.


Agartala, Dec. 13: 
The number of inmates in the six Reang refugee camps of north Tripura has become an issue of major controversy with BJP leader Atash Chakraborty alleging deliberate hike in figures by the officers in-charge of the camp last year.

Chakraborty, also a candidate for the Agartala Municipal Council election, in a release alleged that a section of employees and officials in charge of the camps in Kanchanpur subdivision deliberately hiked the figure of refugees to show favour to the so-called leaders of the camps. Chakraborty�s statement is backed by confidential documentary evidence.

Without citing any evidence, the statement also alleged that the funds allocated for the fake refugees found their way to the coffers of the National Liberation Front of Tripura and Bengali National Liberation Front militants.

Highly-placed official sources here described the allegations as totally baseless and provoked by personal rivalry between officers in charge of the camps in North Tripura. According to the documents, the influx of Reang refugees into North Tripura from Mizoram�s Mammith subdivision started on October 16, 1997 following largescale ethnic violence perpetrated on them by the majority Mizo community because of their demand for an autonomous district council. The number of refugees soon rose to 37,356 in six camps spread over the interior areas of Kanchanpur subdivision. Even as the tug-of-war between the governments of Mizoram and Tripura continued over the repatriation of refugees, the number of inmates in the camps kept fluctuating with many of them found missing.

The then subdivisional officer of Kanchanpur, Amit Burman Roy, undertook a physical verification of the number of inmates in the six camps on June 10 last year and found a figure of 20,050. The then district magistrate (North), Kumar Alok, later formed a committee to ascertain �the actual number�. But the committee �arbitrarily increased� the number to 29,832 claiming that there were �newcomers and left-outs�. Soon, the number was further hiked to 36,994, allegedly in connivance with the leaders of refugees in the camps.

To make matters worse, Alok allegedly reduced the figure to 31,408 on June 18 last year.

Burman Roy, who tried to resist this tampering of figures and suggested that indelible ink be used to find out the correct figure, was overruled and issued a show-cause notice without even an inquiry.

The release said Burman Roy had informed authorities that �if physical verification can be conducted simultaneously by applying indelible ink, more than 5,000 migrants may be found missing�. An assessment of the alleged expenditure on fake refugees shows it has already cost the government exchequer (funds for refugees are entirely provided by the Centre in totality) more than Rs 1 crore.

Alok, the erstwhile district magistrate (north), could not be contacted. But senior officials of the state administration dismissed the allegations as �baseless and outcome of personal rivalry and bitterness between officers of the administration�.

However, sources admitted that with the Mizoram government dragging its feet over repatriation of refugees for over three years, the allegations could create confusion.


Shillong, Dec. 13: 
Police have sounded a red alert in all the three districts of Meghalaya�s Garo Hills in view of the banned A�chik National Volunteer Council�s fourth �raising day� on December 21.

An official at the police headquarters here said all police stations had been put on maximum alert for the next one week. �The ANVC might try to carry out hit and run operations on or before its raising day,� he said.

Militants of the outfit gunned down two persons at Garobada in West Garo Hills district on Monday. The killings are believed to be part of a �desperate attempt� by the outfit to prove its might.

The ANVC, fighting for a �greater Garoland�, was banned last month.

Formed on December 20, 1995, the militant outfit has been receiving material and logistical help from the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). It is active in all three districts in the Garo Hills and the southern part of West Khasi Hills district.

ANVC militants intercepted over 100 coal-laden trucks near Borsora on February 18 and forced the owners to pay Rs 10,000 each in return for the release of each vehicle and its driver.

East Garo Hills superintendent of police A.R. Mawthoh told The Telegraph over phone from Williamnagar that a �detailed operational plan� had been chalked out for next week. However, he refused to disclose the strategy.

�It will be unwise to reveal our plans. All I can say is that every police station has been put on maximum alert,� he said.

Mawthoh said the police would work in tandem with their counterparts in Assam to prevent any untoward incident along the Assam-Meghalaya border.

�Assam police can help us apprehend militants who try to sneak into the state for the ANVC�s raising day,� he said.

The primary aim of the police is to prevent the militants from organising any �raising day� function, a source said.

�The ANVC usually celebrates its raising day like the armed forces do. It organises feasts for its activists and villagers. We have information that Jerome Marak, commander-in-chief of the outfit, sneaked into the Garo Hills recently after his release from a Bangladesh jail,� he added.

The Border Security Force has also been asked to put its personnel on red alert and foil any attempt by ANVC militants to enter the state from across the Indo-Bangladesh border.

Intelligence reports indicate that Dilash M. Marak, the Dhaka-based chairman of the ANVC, is looking for an opportunity to sneak into Meghalaya for the outfit�s �raising day�.

Director-general of police B.K. Dey Sawian said here recently that security forces were trying to �disintegrate� the outfit�s �command structure�.

Joint counter-insurgency operations by the police, Central Reserve Police Force, India Reserve Battalion and the BSF got underway in South Garo Hills district, including the Balpakram National Park, three weeks ago.

Property assessment: Meghalaya police have started assessing property and assets of the members of the banned Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC).

Senior police sources told this correspondent that they started assessing the assets of militants following an Union home ministry directive yesterday.

�We have completed photographing the houses of all HNLC members in the city,�� a source said. A similar exercise is also being carried out in other districts where the HNLC is active.

Joint secretary, Union home ministry, G.K. Pillai said on November 16 that all the assets, including bank accounts of militants , would be confiscated after it was declared �unlawful.�� It has been reported that the HNLC, has also built up assets in Bangladesh like the outlawed Ulfa.


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