District dacoits on terror trail
Woman on honeymoon molested in Digha
Two die in blaze, firemen attacked
Scourge in a pouch of blood
Boston initiative for Bengal renaissance
Guns drawn over slum funds order
Website guide for English teachers
Orissa govt forced to accept Cong MoU
DGP sop cheers Manipur jawans
Blaze in protected monument

Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
The gang of dacoits which blew off a policeman�s head late on Wednesday night had assembled in the city from different parts of the state with a blueprint for committing crimes in prime areas of the city.

Around 10.15 pm on Wednesday, the gang was travelling in a taxi down the EM Bypass when they were stopped by a police picket. As the dacoits panicked, one of them threw a bomb at the police, which blew off the head of constable Ramjog Singh, besides injuring a few other policemen. Only one of the dacoits, injured Uttam Biswas, alias Sahidul, was arrested. Under interrogation at Chittaranjan National Medical Hospital later, Uttam said his gang had been operating as a team drawn from the districts of West Dinajpur, Howrah, South 24-Parganas and the Siliguri sub-division of Darjeeling district.

�We had learnt our trade committing dacoities on trains in different parts of the state,� Uttam told the police on Thursday. �But we found it more lucrative to operate in the city as the risks were fewer.�

Initially, the 28-year-old Uttam was reluctant to cooperate with the police, but he �relented� when they turned on the heat on him. �One of our colleagues had been killed and he sensed the mood we were in. That was enough to scare him,� a police officer said.

Uttam told the police the criminals had assembled at a gang member�s house in a village in Joynagar, in South 24-Parganas, on Tuesday. There they chalked out plans to commit dacoities in the city, detailing the areas and marking out the houses of affluent people, especially in Park Circus, Kasba and areas around the Bypass. �We had a network of informers operating, who were providing us with information in that area,� Uttam said.

On Wednesday afternoon, they came to Sealdah by train and after spending some time there, took a taxi to Gariahat. According to Uttam, this was their �launching pad�, from where they could fan out to different areas. They waited near Gariahat market till the crowds thinned. Around 9.30, they took a taxi and started their journey down the Bypass. They were armed with pistols and some improvised explosive devices (IED).

�One of these devices, mounted on sticks, has been sent to explosives experts, but it appeared to be more sophisticated than the country bombs that these criminals normally use,� said deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Banibrata Basu.

It was at the Bypass intersection with the Park Circus connector that the dacoits first came across a police barricade. �We asked the driver to take a turn towards Science City to avoid the policemen,� Uttam said. �But the driver refused to listen. Finally, we had to stick a pistol to his head.�

But there was another police barricade waiting for them a little further on. This time, the criminals decided to take the cops head-on. As they stopped at the barricade and Ramjog Singh tried to drag the dacoits out of the taxi, Uttam flung an explosive device at the constable, blowing his head off. The blast cost Uttam his right arm. While another constable chased and caught Uttam, the three others ran away, hurling bombs to cover their trail.

Acting on information provided by Uttam, the police raided Wahid Hashimpur village in Joynagar, where the dacoits had assembled on Tuesday, and arrested Sariful. His account tallied with what Uttam had told the police.

At Writers� Buildings, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, stressing that his government was doing all it could to check the spate of dacoities in the city, admitted that it was not possible to bring a complete end to it. �How can we say with certainty that there will be no dacoity tomorrow?� he asked. Earlier, he had visited the slain constable�s home and placed a wreath on his body.


Calcutta, Dec 14: 
A 21-year-old woman from Creek Row, in central Calcutta, was rescued after being kidnapped and molested by four youth in Digha. Two of the goons were arrested.

The woman was on her honeymoon with her 28-year-old husband. They were married in the city last week. On Wednesday, when the two were talking a walk on the beach, four young men on motorcycles drove up and threw a ring around them. While two of the goons pinned the man down, the other two picked up his wife, pulled her onto one of the motorcycles and zoomed off.

The police swung into action after the husband lodged a complaint. On the basis of the description provided by him, two young men were rounded up and interrogated. The two informed the police that the woman had been taken to a hotel in Shankarpur.

On Thursday, the police raided a Shankarpur hotel and rescued the woman. But the two goons who had kept her confined there could not be traced. The woman later told the police that she had been brought to the hotel in Shankarpur from the beach by the young men. They had molested her, she said.

The couple has been detained at Digha police station for further investigations. The police said the four-member gang comprised local youth.


Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
Sheikh Vikram, 50, and Sheikh Abul Hossain, 60, died and several others were injured in a devastating fire which razed 600 shanties of the Kapalibagan slum near Entally early on Thursday.

While Sheikh Vikram, alias Hakim, was burnt to death rescuing his two-year-old grandson, Sheikh Abul Hossain died of cardiac failure while trying to save his wife and children trapped in a shanty during the blaze. Ten fire brigade personnel were also injured as slum-dwellers hurled stones at them �for reaching late and failing to douse the flames�.

The second slum fire in Entally in 10 days broke out at about 4.10 am on Thursday, even as the slum-dwellers, observing Ramzan, were preparing for breakfast before daybreak. The police and fire service officers said one of the shanties must have caught fire from a chullah. The blaze spread rapidly, engulfing the entire slum. The charred body of Sheikh Vikram, was recovered by firemen. A number of cycle-rickshaws were also reduced to rubble.

�We were sleeping when the fire broke out. We rushed out of the shanty, but my uncle went back to search for my two-year-old son, Guddi,� recalled Noorjahan, Hakim�s niece. �The shanty, made of bamboo and polythene sheets, collapsed, but he hurled the baby out. He died saving my son...�

The three sons of Hakim, Sheikh Bechu, Sheikh Sultan and Sheikh Shamim, aged between seven and 12, watched helplessly as the flames engulfed their shanty with their father trapped inside. �Blinded by the smoke, we couldn�t understand what was going on... I realised my father had died after his body was found by the firemen,� said Bechu.

Sheikh Abul Hossain, too, died under tragic circumstances. Hossain lived with his first wife in a house on Mir Meher Ali Lane, just opposite the Kapalibagan slum. His second wife lived in one of the Kapalibagan shanties.

�Immediately after my father heard about the blaze, he rushed here to save my stepmother and her children, who were trapped inside their hut. While they managed to flee to safety, my father suffered a cardiac arrest. We brought him back home but he died before we could call in the doctor,� said Sheikh Jumman, one of Hossain�s six sons.

The handling of the blaze by the firemen sparked resentment among the slum-dwellers and tension in the area.

�They turned up so late and could do nothing to control the fire although the slum is located just beside the canal,� alleged Farida Begum, widow of Hakim.

On Thursday evening, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said: �With fires breaking out with such alarming regularity, foul play cannot be ruled out.�


Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
The parents of 10-year-old Bishnu (name changed) are at a loss. The child, a patient of thalassaemia requiring frequent blood transfusion, has recently tested HIV positive, implying that he not only has to tackle the genetic blood disorder but, in a few years time, the incurable AIDS as well.Bishnu has been infected with HIV by blood procured from a bank, even though the parents guarantee that they always check for the certification on the bag.

And he is not the only child in Calcutta to be prematurely struck by a secondary but fatal infection. Over the past two years, a growing number of thalassaemic and haemophiliac children are being detected with blood-borne viruses like hepatitis B and C and HIV.

Says Dr D.K. Neogi, head of the department of virology at the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine: �The rate of hepatitis B, C and HIV infections among patients requiring frequent blood transfusions has increased substantially in the recent past.�

A study conducted by his department on 60 such persons between May last year and June this year has shown that five were HIV positive, seven had hepatitis B and another five were infected with hepatitis C, which are very high rates, even though among high-risk groups.

Inquiries with different organisations assisting thalassaemic and haemophiliac patients have not only corroborated the Tropical School�s findings, but have revealed a complex and perplexing situation being faced by the families so affected.

�We have 300 patients enrolled with us. Five of them have been found infected with hepatitis C, and two others with HIV,� said Ajit Mishra, secretary of the Thalassaemia Guardians� Association. �It�s difficult to pinpoint which blood bank supplied the tainted bag,� as parents sometimes need to approach different sources.

After a Supreme Court ruling and the setting up of state blood transfusion councils, it is mandatory for every blood bank to carry out tests for HIV, alongwith hepatitis B, malaria and venereal diseases. And, after a rise in the number of hepatitis C carriers in the general population, the National AIDS Control Organisation has advised all banks to carry out tests for this virus as well. But the guidelines and kits they are to supply are yet to arrive in Bengal. So, even though training has been imparted, none of the 56 government blood banks in the state have started these tests.

In the private sector, blood banks like Lifecare, Lions, Ashok and Bhoruka have started hepatitis C tests, and say that they are very stringent with the tests they conduct for HIV. �But there is no guarantee, otherwise how have these children been infected, at least with HIV?� asks an official of the Thalassaemia Society of India (Calcutta chapter).


Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
Banga Sammelan 2001, to be held in Boston in the first week of July, will be �much more than just another Bengali bash�, promise the organisers. In its 21st year, the two-and-a-half-day conclave of North American Bengalis will �look beyond� the regular cultural events and art exhibitions, and address itself to the development of West Bengal.

�To mark the commitment of our endeavour and to monitor the areas of action, a book will be published and a committee institutionalised. A venture capital fund of around $10 million, dedicated to projects back home, will also be set up, with contributions from the participants,� announced Partha S. Ghosh, in charge of the overall structure of the meet, while passing through Calcutta.

The meet will aim at exploring the possibility of utilising the time, skill and monetary resources of Bengalis settled in the US �for the growth and development of the state and country�, he said. To use this annual conclave as a platform to �kick-start the next renaissance�, the organisers have drawn up an elaborate programme.

Speaking on the significance and possible impact of their initiative, the Boston-based professional consultant said: �The 120,000 Bengalis in North America, with an average annual per capita income of $60,000, constitute a strong economic force. This Banga Sammelan will make a serious endeavour to bridge the deficit of Bengal with the surplus from the other part of the world.�

Ghosh has made a presentation on the role of Boston Banga Sammelan to the 20-member organising committee of the event.

�The focus will be on identifying areas of potential growth and aiding the process,� said Ghosh. He has no plans to involve the state government in the initiative yet. �We don�t want to burden the government with things that can be done by us. Besides, we would also prefer keeping the ball in our court. We have every intention to do something good for our state, and the only thing we need from here is a little bit of support and recognition.�

S.K. Bose, India coordinator of the event, said: �Besides the expatriate Bengali community, we will also invite eminent people from Bengal . The list of invitees comprises the likes of Amartya Sen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Sushmita Sen, Chuni Goswami and P.K. Banerjee.


Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
The CPM-led Left Front in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation has thrown the gauntlet to the ruling Trinamul Congress-BJP combine. It has drawn up plans to disrupt proceedings of the civic house from January by demanding decentralisation of the slum development fund for the added areas and an inquiry into the disappearance of civic goods in transit between the central store and Dhapa.

CPM leader of the Opposition Kanti Ganguly hopes to draw covert support from the Trinamul councillors of Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur, at least for the slum funds demand.

The CPM-led board had handed over responsibility of slum development in Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur to the respective boroughs of 41 wards (wards 101-141) in the added areas.

But development in the city�s core area, consisting of wards 1 to 100, remained with the member, mayor-in-council (bustee).

Recently, the mayor issued an order stating that all slum development activity would be undertaken by member, mayor-in-council (bustee), Pradip Ghosh. Kanti Ganguly retorted: �The order is illegal. The mayor has no right to overrule a majority decision passed by the civic house.�


Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
When Bismarck had been asked about the greatest threat he foresaw, he had said: �The fact that North Americans speak English�. His answer had startled many in his time, but �there is a similar concern about the fate of English in the face of the Internet onslaught�, observed Uma Mani, general manager, English Language Teaching (ELT) publishing and services.

That set the tone for the eastern India launch of elt.emacmillan.com, the �first Indian website for teaching of English in India�.

The occasion, which marked Macmillan India�s foray into e-biz, was �special� for the company, as it was in Calcutta that Harold Macmillan had started his India operations in 1890.

Inaugurating the presentation in presence of 300-odd teachers of city schools, vice-president, eastern region, Raghu Ramakrishnan, stressed the inadequacy of having �only 550,000 schools in a country with a 1 billion-plus population�.

The site, elt.emacmillan.com, aims to create an on-line community of English teachers and provide them with tools for classroom teaching, informed Macmillan India managing director Rajiv Beri.

�Since English is the language used on websites, the 320 native speakers of English in the UK and the US will soon be marginalised by those using it as a second language the world over. Can the language tolerate this invasion?� wondered Uma Mani.

While observing that �the Internet tells me more about myself than I want to know�, �special guest� Amit Chaudhuri confessed that the fact that he was �just minutes away from publishers abroad� gave him the �courage� to come back and settle in Calcutta.

Chaudhuri, Surabhi Banerjee, Pabitra Sarkar and Indranath Guha were present to wish Macmillan �all success� for its venture.

Chargesheet: The police on Friday issued a chargesheet against Trinamul Congress MLA Dipak Ghosh, his son and wife, in a case filed by his daughter-in-law, Shampa, for alleged torture. A case had been registered by the women�s grievance cell of Lalbazar on the basis on a complaint lodged by Shampa. A criminal case is progress at Alipore court.


Bhubaneswar, Dec. 14: 
Orissa finance minister Ramakrushna Patnaik today informed the Assembly that the Biju Janata Dal-led government had no option but to accept all the conditions listed in the fiscal reforms-related memorandum of understanding signed by the erstwhile Congress ministry.

Replying to an adjournment motion on the issue, the finance minister said he was personally against the MoU, but could not afford to ignore it.

The former Congress government signed the MoU with the World Bank and the Department for International Development after a meeting of the National Developmental Council on March 20, 1999. �Several clauses of the MoU are not congenial for development of the state. Clauses like capping of grants-in-aid to educational institutions of a state that is so backward should have been omitted,� Patnaik said.

�Neither the World Bank nor the Department for International Development has been pressuring the government on this score,� he added. The finance minister said it was wrong to assume that the MoU was signed at the behest of either the World Bank or the Department for International Development. He said the previous government voluntarily signed the agreement in accordance with decisions taken at the National Development Council meeting. He said the council recommended fiscal reforms to bail out the state from a financial mess.

However, the finance minister made a case for revision of the MoU, especially the clauses pertaining to education, health and irrigation. �We have already made a proposal in this regard. However, if the Centre does not agree to carry out revision of the MoU, we have to accept its decision as the state�s financial condition is poor,� he said.

The budget deficit of the state will increase to Rs 1,770 crore by the end of the current financial year, the finance minister said.

Participating in the discussion, leader of the Opposition, Ramakanta Mishra, said the present government could not wash its hands of the issue by saying that the erstwhile Congress ministry had signed the MoU.

Janata Dal(S) leader Ashok Das said the state government should reject the MoU if it was �anti-people�.

Lawyers� strike:An end to the indefinite ceasework by lawyers in Orissa, demanding withdrawal of the recently introduced professional tax in the state, appeared on the cards after the advocates met chief Minister Naveen Patnaik here yesterday, reports PTI. A ten-member delegation of the Orissa High Court bar discussed the issue with the chief minister.


Imphal, Dec. 14: 
Director- general of police, Manipur Rifles, D.S. Grewal today struck a deal with the agitating jawans of all other battalions, except the first battalion, to resolve the weeklong �arms down strike.� Jawans of the first battalion were not fully convinced by the DGP�s offer.

The jawans of the first battalion launched an �arms down� strike on Friday which snowballed into a mutiny after all the other battalions joined it. . The securitymen were demanding payment of their arrears on various allowances following the implementation of the fifth Pay Commission recommendations and protesting against alleged irregularities by senior police officials.

Grewal started negotiating with the jawans this morning and visited different battalion headquarters. The DGP told the jawans that the police headquarters would pay the arrears of house rent and special compensatory allowances for 1999. Arrears for three years (from January 1, 1996 to December 31, 1998) have been deposited in the general provident fund accounts of the jawans and they can withdraw the amount from January, 2002, he added.

The state police chief also promised to furnish the latest general provident fund statement of the jawans within a month. A high-level police inquiry team has already started probing the arrears scandal in the police department. The DGP said the rest of the demands would be discussed in the staff council, which will have representatives from all the battalions. Grewal told The Telegraph that the jawans of the second, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth battalions have called off the strike and were expected to resume duty this evening. He hoped that the problem with the first battalion jawans would be resolved by tomorrow. The fifth battalion, located in Tamenglong district joined the strike this morning.

The first battalion went on an �arms down� strike after their colleagues in the seventh and the eighth battalions received arrears for the period between 1996 and 1998. The commandants of the seventh and the eighth battalions, who were suspended for disbursing the arrears violating government orders, were recalled today. But DGP, inspector-general of police (operations), A. Pradip Singh, deputy inspector-general of police (operations), Dhruva Mishra could not pacify the jawans of the first battalion.

The amount withdrawn by seventh and eighth battalions as arrears for three years (1996. to 1998) was nearly Rs 9,000 whereas . the arrears for 1999, which the police headquarters promised to pay the jawans of other battalions was about Rs 6,000.

The DGP said the difference of Rs 3,000 would be deducted from the general provident fund of the seventh and eighth battalions jawans in instalments.

Jawans of the first battalion have demanded an immediate order from the state finance department regarding the DGP�s assurance. They also demanded fulfilment of other demands including improvement of existing facilities. Though the strike was almost over, sources hinted that there were some irregularities in the payment of arrears.

The 30-day time-frame has raised suspicion that there were some irregularities.


Bhubaneswar, Dec. 14: 
A fire broke out in the kitchen of the Ananta Basudev temple, a protected monument in the Old Town area of the city this morning.

Some adjacent houses were also gutted. According to the police, the fire started when the mahaprasad was being prepared by the cooks.

Fire tenders reached the spot and brought the blaze under control. This is the second fire in the temple over the past two months. Though cooking is prohibited in the vicinity of the protected monuments, the authorities have failed to stop it as it can be construed as a deviation from the rituals.


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