A ticking psycho bomb
Weekend fires fuel doubts, probe
Trickle of shoppers amid pall of gloom
Bus mows down three
Meter system revamp to check theft of electricity
Vigilantes turn tables on goons
Metro cuts rush-hour gap
Buddha nod for building tax penalty waiver
Devout throng dawn discourse
Blood collection checks needed

Calcutta, Dec.18: 
Stalking his prey before attacking them in the dead of the night had been a recurring feature with �psychopath� Biresh Poddar, the police said after investigations on Monday. Forty-two-year-old Poddar, a plywood merchant, had tranquilised his wife and five daughters before strangling them to death. Later, in the dead of the night, he woke up his neighbour, Digvijay Sharma, and stabbed him several times in the stomach for allegedly having an affair with his wife. Then, he had stepped out and disappeared into the darkness.

After questioning his neighbours and examining complaints filed at the local Maniktala police station, the detective department said a �streak of insanity� had been noticed in him earlier, as he used to stay up at night and keep an eye on his neighbours.

Police said that about a month and a half ago, late one night, Poddar had attacked Sharma and almost killed him, on the suspicion that he was having an affair with his wife. Thereafter, in an act of atonement, he had slashed himself with a knife.

Maniktala police said they had received verbal complaints from both Poddar and Sharma to this effect. �But we did not bother as no other violence was reported by them till the incident on Saturday night,� said officer-in-charge Dwijen Chatterjee. Police also said that Poddar used to take Valium tranquilisers to keep his �excitable� nature in check. A strip of the tablets had been found in his house after the murders. Running a check at the local chemists, the police tracked down one which used to supply him with the drug without a prescription.

Deputy commissioner of police, eastern suburban division, Mihir Bhattacharya, said: �The characteristics displayed by Poddar match that of a psychopath. Otherwise, it is simply not possible for any person in his senses to kill his five children and then his wife.�

Neighbours who had observed him over the years said the fact that he had five daughters had contributed to his state of �mental instability�.

�He used to tell me often that he wanted a son and then, while talking about it, become incoherent and swing into a violent mood, all the while pointing an accusing finger at Sharma for the evils that he was heaping on his family,� said landlord Shyamal Saha.

The police have sent a team of detectives to Muzaffarpur, in Bihar, from where Poddar hails. But they are still unaware of his whereabouts.

During the day, the police also questioned Poddar�s brother, Naresh, who has told them that there was a lot of �marital discord�, primarily because his wife was unable to bear a son.


Calcutta, Dec.18: 
Weekend fires are starting to raise a stink. Sniffing something �suspicious�, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has ordered an inquiry into the spate of weekend fires in town.

At the end of a meeting with mayor Subrata Mukherjee and urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya on Monday, the chief minister suggested that a monitoring committee, comprising officials from the Corporation, the CESC, the police and the fire-brigade department, be set up to oversee preventive measures being taken �by all unsafe buildings�.

To ensure that fire-prevention norms are adhered to, Mukherjee said no trade licence would be renewed till proper fire and pollution checks were conducted. The Corporation will also form a task force to identify �unsafe buildings� in the city.

Even 36 hours after the fire broke out and destroyed Churipatty on Canning Street, columns of smoke could be seen rising from the second and third floors of Devi Prasad Market on Monday afternoon. Firemen failed to gain access to the upper floors of the four-storeyed market complex. �So, it is useless to get a forensic examination done,� said fire minister Pratim Chatterjee. He accused the shopowners and a section of corrupt officials of illegally tapping power and turning the market into a tinderbox. Preliminary investigations indicated that the blaze had been sparked by a short circuit and then spread rapidly, as the market was stocked with highly inflammable material used for making bangles.

�We are helpless,� said divisional fire officer Gopal Bhattacharya, supervising the operation. �The staircase has collapsed and the ceilings of the different floors are gradually caving in. It is only after the payloaders have removed the debris that my men can move in.� The fire-fighters stood on the streets, spraying water on the upper floors.

�The building is very old and is erected with mortar, bricks and tiles, instead of iron rods. My men are unwilling to enter the market, as any portion can cave-in anytime,� said Banabehari Pathak, director of fire services.

The police had to deploy the Rapid Action Force to keep at bay anxious shopowners and curious onlookers, who thronged the busy Canning Street.


Calcutta, Dec.18: 
With just a week to go for Christmas, the city�s most popular shoppers� stop wore a deserted look on Monday. Most approach roads to New Market had been cordoned off by the police to enable fire fighters battle the blaze at Humayun Court, on 20, Lindsay Street.

Shopkeepers sat silently, waiting for the odd customer to stray in. It was from Monday that the traders had been expecting the Christmas, Id and New Year�s boom to begin.

�A week before Christmas, at least one lakh customers turn up every day. Today, less than 10,000 shoppers, coming in through the Free School Street side, turned up,� said Pradip Chakraborty, secretary of New Market Shopkeepers� Association.

A walk through the century-old market, ravaged by a fire 16 years ago, revealed rows of shops all decked up with ready-made garments and woollens, cakes and cards, but with no takers in sight. The greetings card corridors, which normally record sales worth at least Rs 1.5 lakh every day during this time of the year, were empty. �If this continues tomorrow, we�ll be in serious trouble,� said Chander Chopra, of Archies Gallery, on Lindsay Street.

A group of New Market traders met the assistant director of conservancy, borough VI, Swapan Mahapatra, on Monday and requested him to ensure that the Chowringhee Road approach to the market was not obstructed on Tuesday. They also urged the civic authorities to remove the debris from the pavements of Lindsay Street.

Back at the site of the blaze, L.G. Daswani, owner of Nu York, lamented: �My entire stock has been reduced to ashes and I have nothing to look forward to this festive season.�


Calcutta, Dec.18: 
Two men and a woman were killed on Monday morning when a Howrah-bound private bus ploughed through rush-hour crowds in front of Lalbazar police headquarters, before crashing into a lamp-post.

Those killed were identified as Krishna Rao (50), Manoj Das (40) and Papia Basu (23). The incident occurred around 9.15 am. The police have impounded the killer bus and arrested one of the conductors. The driver managed to flee.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Narayan Ghosh, witnessed the incident from the balcony of his quarters at Lalbazar. �The bus� brakes possibly failed, and it ploughed through the crowd, which scattered in panic,� Ghosh said.

Other eyewitnesses said it took some time for the office-goers to realise what had happened.

When the police reached the spot, they found the three victims in pools of blood. Policemen rescued a few pedestrians trapped under the chassis.

Krishna Rao had died on the spot. He had reportedly come to Calcutta from Midnapore to visit a relative in Chhatawala Gali, opposite Lalbazar. He was taken to Medical College and Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Papia Basu died on the way to hospital, while Manoj Das died at SSKM Hospital in the evening.

The attending physician of the hospital said Papia�s lungs had been punctured by the impact. A resident of Garfa Road, she was an employee of a private concern on BBD Bag and was on her way to work.

Manoj, a resident of Phoolbagan, had his abdomen and lower limbs crushed under the wheels of the bus.

As it was peak hour and the rush of traffic was heavy, policemen on duty had a tough time for nearly an hour regulating the movement of traffic heading towards BBD Bag.

They brought out �No Entry� signs from the police headquarters and planted them on roads to divert the traffic.

In a separate incident, the driver of a CTC bus was injured when it collided with a lorry on Beleghata bridge.    

Calcutta, Dec.18: 
CESC Ltd has decided to replace its entire metering system with sophisticated �static electronic meters� to combat the rising incidence of power theft.

The RPG Group flagship will invest around Rs 13 crore in the first phase to change the existing metering system in the industrial and �high-end� domestic segments, comprising 4,700 consumers. The low and medium-level users will be covered under the new metering policy in the second phase. The investment may well exceed Rs 40 crore. CESC covers 567 sq km of area, catering to over 1.8 million consumers.

A senior CESC official said the alarming rise in power theft, noticed mostly in affluent and industrial areas, has prompted the power utility to change the metering system to check tampering.

He pointed out that raids have revealed a number of cases where domestic consumers have doctored their meters to avoid heavy billing caused by indiscriminate use of electronic and electrical gadgets. In some cases, these unscrupulous consumers are assisted by CESC employees.

The company has disconnected 2,279 connections between April and November this year, against 1,850 during the last financial year. CESC also got more than 35 consumers arrested by the police this year. The company, which has suffered transmission and distribution losses of over 24 per cent, has put its six loss-control cells on red alert to combat the menace. �We are organising raids even during the night as the situation is, indeed, serious. But we need help from the police to conduct such raids,� the official said.


Calcutta, Dec.18: 
Goons smart, vigilantes smarter. A gang of eight threatened a resistance group in Rajarhat early on Monday, and forced them to �surrender� at gun-point. Then the eight goons tied up all the seven vigilantes and drove away in their truck which was waiting close by.

But after being released from bondage by another resistance group, the vigilantes, along with the local police, chased the eight goons and tracked down three of them. A huge cache of arms and ammunition was seized from them.

Some local youths were patrolling Khamarpur Road. At midnight, they noticed a truck parked by the roadside. When the vigilantes challenged the eight men in the vehicle, they got out, brandishing revolvers and bhojalis.

The eight men ordered the vigilantes not to open their mouths and seeing no way out, the seven gave themselves up to their captors. The gangsters, then, tied all seven to a lightpost and escaped in the waiting vehicle. As soon as the dacoits had left, another resistance group patrolling a street in the same area, came to the rescue of the vigilantes in bondage. Once released, the seven men decided to inform the police.

On their way to Rajarhat police station, the resistance group encountered a police night patrol jeep. They recounted the entire episode to the police party. Three of the vigilantes boarded the police jeep and after driving down Khamarpur Road, finally spotted the truck hurtling towards VIP road.

The police jeep followed the truck in full throttle, and finally managed to stop some of the goons from getting away. Police parked the jeep in the middle of the road, when the goons were compelled to stop their getaway vehicle. Policemen and the vigilantes surrounded the truck, but five of the goons had already managed to flee.

Police then dragged out the remaining three and searched the truck. They discovered a cache of arms and ammunition, including a loaded country-made revolver, two swords and three bhojalis. Two bagsful of bombs too were found.

Police have started combing the area to hunt down the rest of the goons. They have started grilling the three men to extract information about their future operations and their accomplices.

However, police admitted the arrested goons have not given them any lead so far. Police feel that the goons came from the southern fringes of the city and they had planned to commit dacoity in Rajarhat, in the opposite direction.


Calcutta, Dec.18: 
Metro Railway will run six additional rakes from Tuesday. These will help increase the frequency of services at rush hour.

At a function on Monday, Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee announced that from Tuesday, Metro will operate every 10 minutes from 8.30 am to 1 pm and again from 4 pm to 7.30 pm.

�By January 2002, we will add a dozen more trains to the Metro fleet,� said Mamata. The six additional rakes take the total to 152.

A task force has been set up to review Metro security measures, said Mamata, adding that it will submit a report shortly.

Urging Metro Railway employees to strive towards greater efficiency, she announced a Rs 5-lakh award, which she hoped would work as an incentive for them.

She lauded the role of the Metro�s fire-fighting section in Sunday�s blaze at Canning Street. She announced a Rs 2-lakh reward for them for helping put out the fire.

Mamata also paid a surprise visit to the stretch near Tollygunge station, where work on the extension of Metro services to Garia had started. A statement circulated on the occasion claimed that the state government had failed to remove encroachments from either bank of the Tolly�s Nullah, despite requests to the highest administrative levels over the past year. �This has impaired movement of construction materials and access to the site of work,� the leaflet claimed.

Mamata said the Centre was keen on augmenting railway safety. To gear up the communication and signalling system of the railways through optic fibre technology, Mamata said she had contacted Sam Pitroda, who had once brought about a telecommunication revolution in the country.

�I told Pitroda that I will need his help. A Rail Tel Corporation has already been set up for the purpose,� she said.


Calcutta, Dec.18: 
The state government is considering a waiver of the penalty and interest on pending building taxes in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation area. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Monday okayed a proposal forwarded by mayor Subrata Mukherjee to waive the penalty.

At a meeting at Writers� Buildings on Monday with the mayor and municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharya, the chief minister said he had no objection to the waiver, but it would have to be processed by the finance department.

Later, Mukherjee told a press conference that an amount of Rs 500 crore was pending from a number of building-owners. �We realised that the CMC can collect the arrears if the penalty and the interest on the accumulated amount are waived,�� Mukherjee said.

Tiger deaths probe

The chief minister has ordered a probe into the deaths at Alipore zoo and a Howrah circus.

Circus performer Rita Chhetri was mauled by a tiger in the ring on Friday, while Afsar Hussain, a visitor to the zoo, was killed when he entered the enclosure of a tiger on Saturday.


Calcutta, Dec.18: 
A huge pandal on the Maidan with a large podium at the centre. Scores of young volunteers, walkie-talkies in hand. Hundreds of vehicles, from BMWs to Matador vans. Thousands of people, in silk and chiffon, and in coarse cotton cloth.

That�s the sight that greeted Calcuttans every morning on the Maidan, opposite ITC building, throughout last week. But the loudspeakers spread out over the two-lakh sq ft area weren�t blaring out political spiel. Instead, it was Ramayan paath and pravachans.

At the centre of it all was Swami Ramsukhdas. The 98-year-old wandering sadhu would put in a brief appearance every morning. Enough to bring a lakh and more flocking to his sermons on life and faith.

�We have been organising this event in Calcutta for over 25 years now, and the response is growing every year. The youth are really coming forward these days, not only to attend the pravachans, but also to help us manage the show better,� said a spokesperson of the Ramayan Satsang Prachar Samiti.

From 6.30 every morning, throughout the 10 days that Ramsukhdasji was here, the haves and the have-nots, the old and the young, would take up every available inch of space, on the carpets, the benches and the chairs.

�We even made arrangements for wheelchairs, as several old and ailing people turn up religiously,� said the spokesperson.

And it was not just about sitting and listening to Ramayan paath till the afternoon. There were Gita Press bookstalls doing brisk business, and food counters serving up everything from steaming kesariya milk to poori-sabji at nominal rates. There were the neatly-arranged chappal counters and the khoya-paya (lost and found) counters, too.

�The entire atmosphere is so peaceful. It�s a religious gathering far removed from politics. And Ramsukhdasji is probably the only guru around for whom neither power nor status matters,� observes Vivek Mundhra, a businessman attending the pravachans for years.

The anti-abortion, anti-cow slaughter banners jostled with books on Ram as some turned up for �the spirtualism�, others for �break from everyday routine�.

�These 10 days mark a temporary tryst with spiritualism for me and my friends,� confessed 26-year old Rajiv.

For 22-year-old Neha, attending Ramsukhdasjis�s pravachan    

Calcutta, Dec.18: 
Not only thalassaemic children, but anyone using blood from an unknown donor runs the risk of getting infected with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.

Experts and officials, contacted after last Friday�s report in The Telegraph that blood from blood banks had infected children, said it was possible for the tests to prove negative even though the virus was in the blood. �The test that all blood banks are conducting for HIV detection is called ELISA, or enzyme-linked immuno-assay,� said Dr S.B. Dutta, former Central Blood Bank director. �The test shows positive if there are sufficient antibodies that develop to fight the HIV that has entered a person.�

But this takes time. According to Trilochan Singh, director of the State AIDS Control and Prevention Society, who also looks after safe blood transfusion: �There is something called a window period, during which the antibodies to the virus develop.� This period could be between six to 12 weeks, he said.

So, he added, there was little probability of window-period blood being collected at voluntary donation camps. To check the probability, doctors and technicians at blood camps ask the donor whether he or she has faced any risk, like sharing needles with drug addicts or not using condoms with a new partner.

Blood banks, too, may not be carrying out the mandatory procedures. �Each blood bag must carry a certificate saying it is free of HIV, malaria, hepatitis B and venereal disease infection,� says Singh.

To be completely sure, the Thalassaemia Guardians� Association is testing the blood it buys in its own laboratory. �We started this a year ago, after two children were found HIV positive,� said Ajit Mishra, association secretary. �The extra cost may add to the huge burden that the parents have to bear, but we can rest assured,� he said.


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