Mafia shadow on Tollywood
Drive into top gear for bites and bytes
Police to use rubber bullets
In quest of Merle of the myriad faces
Solar-powered housing complex at Rajarhat
Four killed in vendetta strike
Centre�s generosity mellows Tripura Left
Low cholesterol quails steal chicken thunder
AGP truck with saffron may not affect Cong
Nipamacha in Delhi on Advani summons

Calcutta, Dec. 31: 
The local mafia is starting to cast a shadow of terror over Tollywood. Within 24 hours of the arrest of four criminals, police confirmed on Sunday that an industry-underworld nexus has taken root in the Bengali film world.

According to Gautam Chakraborty, deputy inspector-general of police, Presidency range, a special team of investigators is examining the evidence of the mafia�s growing involvement. �They are bank-rolling projects through intermediaries, manipulating distribution rights, and harassing stars,� he said.

Three of Tollywood�s leading directors visited Regent Park police station on Sunday evening to help the sleuths in their probe. Five popular Bengali film personalities, of them three nationally-recognised actresses, are believed to have been targeted by the mafia for being �uncooperative��. Nearly half-a-dozen films involving the three have been financed by two �wanted� crimelords, sleuths said.

�These are early days and we don�t want to take names as it will impede investigations. We are looking into the matter and there is no need to press the panic button,�� a senior police officer said.

Ratan Saha, alias Tidi Ratan, alleged mastermind of the murder of Tapan Kundu, who once owned Madhuban cinema, and his three associates were arrested on Saturday night by Regent Park police station following a tip-off.

Chandan Neogi, officer-in-charge of Regent Park police station, said Saha and his associates have been �fixing star dates, organising stage shows and controlling distribution rights� on behalf of some producers and organisers. They apparently owe allegiance to Sheikh Vinod, now behind bars. Preliminary investigations revealed that Mona Bala, a crimelord in custody, is controlling operations through his cellphone. According to officer-in-charge of Behala police station Subir Chatterjee, Bala had been operating in the Tollywood film circuit for the past year. The Behala police arrested him in Jadavpur recently.

In a related development, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has detained three henchmen of a mafia don. Sleuths suspect their involvement in the threat calls received by two filmstars for �not giving dates to the producers�.

Sources said an actor and an actress had received threat calls in mid-December with the same chilling message: �Finish the shooting... or we will finish you��. The stars did not take this seriously. But then, two men confronted the actress during an outdoor shoot and threatened her with �dire consequences� if the �orders of dada are not carried out��.

Police said the filmstars were �too frightened�� to register a formal complaint, but the actress had narrated the incident to a police friend, who, in turn, informed the CID. Detectives then spoke to the actress at length. The three goons were then picked up from Naktala. They were grilled by sleuths at Retreat, the CID�s interrogation centre at Tollygunge, but then released �as there was no specific complaint from the filmstar�.

While most filmstars chose not to comment on the matter, a leading lady of the industry said, on condition of anonymity, that they had to often �work under threat... You cannot imagine the extent to which these men can go to get their work done. There is little that we artistes can do about it. Bringing it to the police�s notice is not going to solve our problem, as they are all well-connected and will make life difficult for us,�� she said.


Calcutta, Dec. 31: 
Petrol stations plan to dish out Big Macs and Domino�s pizzas. A host of other chains, like Akbarally�s, too, will open shop there. Also on the menu, cybercafes. This is part of an Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) move to introduce �top gear� petrol stations in all metros as role models for dealers.

The IOC-owned petrol station at Bosepukur, Kasba, will be turned into the city�s first �top gear� filling station. The IOC�s first �top gear� station has been commissioned on Warden Road in Mumbai. In Calcutta, talks are on with the Apollo group, which wants to set up a convenio-department store and a medicine outlet at Bosepukur.

�The deal with Apollo is almost through and Akbarally�s, too, is keen to open shop in Calcutta. Now we are on the lookout for more land in prime areas in the city and its suburbs to set up more �top gear� stations,� said N.K. Moitra, IOC general manager, West Bengal. Talks had already been initiated with the government in this regard.

�For instance, the Mumbai �top gear� pump has convenio stores (where a customer can pick up his provisions), ATM counters, cybercafes and car-wash rollers. An agreement has been signed with Akbarally�s and it will soon open its counter there,� said Prasanta Banerjee, IOC�s executive director, western region, in Mumbai over the telephone.

Banerjee confirmed that talks are on with McDonald�s and Domino�s for opening shop at the �top gear� stations, which will be totally IOC-owned and operated. �We are not following any American or European model. We have conducted our own survey and identified customer requirements,� Banerjee added.


Calcutta, Dec. 31: 
After issuing shoot-at-sight orders to curb crime, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has asked the police force to use rubber bullets instead of real ones .

Cops at the police training centres on A.J.C. Bose Road and at Barrackpore, Halisahar (in North 24-Parganas) and Raigunge, in North Dinajpur, are learning to use rubber bullets.

�They will have to be trained for a month. We have more than 26,000 policemen, and so it will take some time,� said deputy commissioner (headquarters) Narayan Ghosh.

Ghosh said the rubber bullets would be used to contain mob fury. The police now use tear gas shells or lathis.

Sujoy Chakraborty, additional commissioner of police, said: �The objective of using rubber bullets is to create panic in the mob. At present, we have to procure the rubber bullets from outside the state but, if necessary, they will be produced here.�

The use of such bullets will serve the dual purpose of driving away the mob or unarmed criminals with remote possibility of serious injury, added Chakraborty.


Calcutta, Dec. 31: 
Lindsay Mansion is a faded memory of its colonial heyday that the city would like to push into oblivion. Dark, dank and dingy now, it is difficult to believe it ever had any association with Hollywood, except for the tailoring shop of the same name in its ground floor.

Yet, in the early years of the last century, it used to be a fashionable address. The building in New Market used to be home to Merle Oberon, one of Hollywood�s greatest stars, when she was a nymphet.

In later years, Merle would burn the screen with her appearances in such classics as Wuthering Heights. She had a fabulous collection of jewellery, she owned ritzy mansions, and her long string of lovers included Leslie Howard, David Niven and Rod Taylor. Merle was very close to Buckingham Palace, and she had Nancy Reagan and Vincent Minnelli�s widow for friends.

But that was the public face of Merle Oberon, created by the Hollywood publicity machine. In reality, her life was a figment of lies. All her life she tried to conceal the fact that she had what they called �a touch of the tar-brush�. In plainspeak, she had a dash of Indian blood in her veins.

With her raven locks, dark liquid eyes, pale skin and smouldering looks, Merle Oberon was born Queenie Thompson, a �coloured� woman, considered an outcast in the white bastion that Hollywood used to be in the 30s. And filmmaker Maree Delofski has come all the way from Sydney to try and pin down the truth about this mystery woman, who with the help of Hollywood concocted the story of her early life.

Maree, who currently teaches at Macquarie University in Sydney, is no newcomer to the city. She had visited it in 1969, and her award-winning last film, A Calcutta Christmas, is a portrait of a Tollygunge home for Anglo-Indians.

Maree is in town, courtesy Asialink Foundation of Australia, to research and write two projects. First, a �magic-realistic� script she is writing for a film titled Darjeeling Dreaming, and second, to delve into the Oberon story.

Maree says that like many other Australians, she was brought up to believe that Merle was born in Hobart, in Tasmania, of upper-class colonial parents. According to one version of the story, her mother was Chinese. Later, Maree discovered she was actually from India. But she didn�t give it much thought till she heard that Merle had gone to Tasmania for a civic reception the year before she died in 1979.

�I wondered why she would do that if she was from India,� says Maree.

She had also read Charles Higham�s biography (1985) of the actress. There the author says she was born in 1911 in Bombay and later moved to Calcutta. And so Maree is here to track down people who know stories about Merle, people who may know about her half-sister Constance Selby, whose son Captain Harry Selby assisted Higham in his research in Bombay.

Since Merle supposedly went to La Martiniere for Girls, Maree has spoken to the principal, Mrs Peacock, but she couldn�t confirm whether Oberon ever studied there. Maree knows that the grain of truth she is trying to unearth from the patina of lies may remain elusive forever.

As she puts it: �I am like a detective. What interests me is the two competing claims on her � Tasmania and Bengal, and that she was forced by racism to adopt another identity and become a woman of mystery. I know I am doomed to failure. She is a chimera. Who will ever know the truth?�

Maree, however, is not one to give up. She will visit Bombay to check out the church where Merle was supposedly baptised. She also intends to interview Robert Wolders, Merle�s fourth husband, an actor who was younger than her, and whose claim to fame was that he had also married Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda�s widow, Shirley, as well. Filming begins later this year and, meanwhile, she will start raising finances. Anyone who wishes to contact her can e mail to :


Calcutta, Dec. 31: 
A unique housing project, called an �energy-efficient building complex�, is coming up on a sprawling 15-acre plot at Rajarhat. This state government project, to be implemented jointly by the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency and the Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (Hidco), is the first of its kind in the country. The proposed complex will be extremely cost-effective and eco-friendly.

The energy agency has already constructed a model building, Bikalpa Shakti Bhavan, in the Webel complex at Salt Lake.

Agency director S.P. Gan Chowdhury said: �Such housing units are found in Holland. Our engineers have developed the construction technology from them and after consulting a number of reputed architects. Though the construction cost would be a bit on the higher side, it will be compensated with the low maintenance cost.�

The engineers said the architectural designs of the buildings will be unconventional. The roofs will be made of poly-carbonate sheets with solar panels on them. A solar hot-water panel on the roof will be connected with water tanks to provide hot water round-the-clock. Moreover, the walls of the buildings will be coated with special heat-regulating sheets to keep the rooms cool during summer and warm during winter. Consequently, air-conditioners will not be required.

The massive solar power system in the complex will generate excess power, specially during holidays, which can be utilised by the State Electricity Board. �We need 70 KW electricity, of which 40 KW is produced by the solar power system,� Gan Chowdhury said. The WBSEB has developed a two-way meter system specially for these buildings.

The complex will also have a treatment plant where effluents will be recycled and the water can safely be reused for washing. Solid waste will be treated at a bio-gas plant, which will also produce cooking gas. There will be a planned wetland in between two buildings and the entire complex will be covered with greenery.

Power minister Mrinal Banerjee and housing minister Gautam Deb are interested in building more such complexes. �We plan to hold workshops with reputed builders and architects in the city to inspire them to adopt the new technology,�� housing department officials said.


Agartala, Dec. 31: 
Four members of a family were massacred today in a vendetta killing at remote Irani village under Kailasahar subdivision in North Tripura.

Giving details, police sources in North Tripura said Chinu Mia (40), a resident of Irani village along Bangladesh border in Kailasahar subdivision, was recently released after serving a rigorous prison term for killing his neighbour Ershad Ali�s brother a few years ago. At 3 am this morning, nearly 20 assailants comprising hired killers from Bangaldesh, stormed Chinu Mia�s house. They let off Chinu�s septuagenarian father Suraj Ali but hacked to death Chinu Mia (40), his wife Aliza Bibi (33), daughter Parveen Bibi (12) and son Manohar Ali (6) before escaping across the border to Bangladesh.

Shortly after receiving information about the killing, a large posse of policemen led by superintendent of police (North district) Puneet Rastogi reached the spot and sent the bodies to the Kailasahar hospital morgue for postmortem.

Addressing newspersons, Rastogi said, �This appears to be a revenge killing but we will investigate the matter thoroughly.� Even though the killing has sparked tension in the area, no one has been arrested, sources said.

In a separate incident, suspected NLFT militants abducted the driver and proprietor of a passenger jeep from the Khowai-Ahsrambari road in West Tripura. Giving details, police sources said the passenger jeep carrying both tribal and non-tribal passengers left Khowai town for Ashrambari around 8 am yesterday.

Within 45 minutes, the jeep was waylaid by eight NLFT militants at Bachaibari area. The militants abducted the driver- cum-proprietor of the jeep, Ratan Das (28), a resident of Teliamura under Khowai subdivision.

Subdivisional police officer Saurav Tripathi rushed to the spot with additional forces after receiving information about the abduction and launched combing operations.

The driver of the jeep is still untraced. Sources said the NLFT and the All-Tripura Tiger Force militants have launched a drive to mop up as much �tax� as possible for the next year, creating panic and tension in large parts of the subdivision.


Agartala, Dec. 31: 
The ruling Left Front government may have to tone down its criticism of the Centre with the clearance of major projects and financial sanctions by the Union government.

The Union finance ministry has sanctioned Rs 38 crore for development of border trade with Bangladesh as well as necessary infrastructure for the purpose.

A separate allocation of Rs 20 crore has been made by the 11th Finance Commission for construction of a new High Court and Assembly buildings.

The state government has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the North Eastern Electrical Power Corporation for setting up a 500 MW power project in West Tripura at a cost of Rs 2,500 crore to be provided by the North Eastern Council and the Planning Commission. The Neepco chairman has reportedly left for New Delhi for discussions with the Union power ministry to have the project cleared. According to official sources here, the Rs 38 crore tranche for Tripura is in keeping with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s announcement that special funds would be provided for the development of the Northeast. The Prime Minister had stressed on border trade with Bangladesh in his package. Sources said the funds would be used to build a market, godown, weight bridge and a custom office at Akhaura checkpost on the western outskirts of the state capital.

Industry minister Pabitra Kar said his Union counterpart had already sanctioned Rs 15 crore for setting up an export promotion industrial park at Bodhjungnagar near the new capital complex.

Funds have also been provided for setting up a food-processing unit in Bodhjung Nagar and a border road in Belonia. Regarding the MoU for the power project, official sources said the combined cycle power project would be set up in the Shanti Nagar area under West Tripura�s Sonamura sub-division.

Altogether 300 MW of power would be generated from natural gas available in the state while the remaining 200 MW from Gomati river.


Agartala, Dec. 31: 
Quail farming is gaining ground in Tripura with many people, including Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) K.M. Seth, setting up �farms� for this oriental bird.

Sources said Seth is rearing 100 quails in neatly-built iron cages in the Raj Bhawan. Quails drew attention in a recent fair organised by the co-operative department. The stall selling quails, known for their eggs and cholesterol-free meat, drew huge crowds in the weeklong fair, sources added. The interest shown by the Governor also �induced� ordinary consumers and farmers to look for quail meat and eggs.

Senior veterinary surgeon and incharge of quail farming in the 59-acre government-run Gandhigram poultry farm Dilip Debnath said the bird was brought to Tripura for the first time from a West Bengal government-run poultry farm in the Tollygunge area in Calcutta last year.

�We soon became aware of the rich potential of quail farming, not only for consumption but as an employment avenue. We started it on a moderate scale this year,� he added. Belonging to the �partridge family�, quails are originally found in the vast expanse of mainland China. This wonder bird has kindled the imagination of meat-eaters, farmers and even ornithologists because of its potential to serve the needs of men. �The investment is very little. You can rear 500 birdlings at a cost of Rs 7,375. After 40 days you get back Rs 2,250 by selling eggs and your annual turnover will be more than Rs 20,250,� the veterinarian said. A quail birdling takes only 40 days to mature and �it lays at least 250 to 260 eggs a year�, Debnath added. Deputy director of Gandhigram poultry farm Samar Kanti Mitra said the eggs and the 175 to 200 grams of meat yielded by an adult quail are richer in quality than the eggs or meat of various chicken or duck.

He said quail eggs have the same amount of vitamins and protein as any other eggs. However, their fat-content is very low. While quail meat tastes as good as any other bird-meat, the selling point is its cholesterol-free nature, he added. Mitra said quail farming on a commercial basis has started in Tripura and the Gandhigram poultry farm is selling day-old birdlings at a rate of Rs 2 each. Debnath said last year the Gandhigram poultry farm managed to sell only 100 birdlings. But the demand for the bird has risen.


Guwahati, Dec. 31: 
The Assam Congress today declared that the party would not be affected in the event of a poll alliance between the ruling AGP and the BJP. Such an arrangement would only tilt the balance in the Congress� favour, it said.

Addressing a news conference here today, party president Tarun Gogoi said �such an alliance would not harm us as those who had left the AGP to join the BJP would walk out and support us�. He said the AGP�s truck with the BJP, if that happens, would further weaken the former�s dwindling support base among the minorities. �The BJP and AGP are on good terms and have already arrived at an understanding for the coming Assembly elections,� Gogoi claimed. The Pradesh Congress chief said both the parties have been maintaining friendly relations and their bonhomie dates back to the days of the Assam movement when Union minister Arun Shourie had acted as a �friend, philosopher and guide� of the All-Assam Students� Union.

Gogoi said the repeated denials of both the parties of not having any alliance are misleading. �It would not be P.K. Mahanta and Bangaru Laxman who would decide on the alliance. It (the alliance) would be decided by L.K. Advani and Assam Governor S.K. Sinha,� he added. To support his claim, Gogoi cited the support extended by AGP MPs in Rajya Sabha to the Union government on the censure motion brought by the Congress. �Ironically, it was the AGP which had flayed the demolition of Babri Masjid and observed December 6 as black day,� Gogoi added.

The party said the BJP-led government was not interested in judicial probes into the alleged politician-militant nexus in the state as it might expose the AGP.

Gogoi said though party has submitted a memorandum to the Union home minister demanding a judicial inquiry by a sitting Supreme Court judge, nothing has been done so far. BJP president Bangaru Laxman yesterday charged the AGP of being �hand-in-glove� with militant outfits. �Mahanta has no other choice but to align with the BJP because of his role in the LoC scam,� he said.


Imphal, Dec. 31: 
Manipur chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh today rushed to New Delhi to attend a meeting called by Union home minister L.K. Advani on Tuesday to discuss the state�s affairs.

In the meantime, a two-day bandh called by women�s organisations in protest against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, has paralysed life in the state.

Nipamacha Singh was summoned by Advani to discuss the prevailing situation in Manipur. He is being accompanied by deputy chief minister L. Chandramani Singh. Sources said Advani is unhappy over the prevailing law and order situation in the state.

The meeting carries a lot of significance in view of a strongly-worded letter received by the state chief secretary recently from the Union home ministry.

The latter has asked the government to take various steps to tackle the deteriorating law and order situation.

The government has been asked to deploy the nine battalions of the Manipur Rifles in counter-insurgency operations. The ministry is reported to be annoyed over the way in which most of the battalions of the Manipur Rifles were engaged in acting as security escorts of VIPs and in guarding government installations.

Opposition sources, however, said Advani may ask Nipamacha to drop four ministers from the United Front of Manipur ministry as they have been accused of having links with militants.

Nipamacha is also likely to discuss the grave financial situation of the state with senior Central leaders. The UFM government has been unable to pay the salaries of 82,000 state employees for the month of November. The payment of salaries for December is also uncertain.

The sources said though the Centre was willing to release the state�s monthly allocation to pay employees� salaries, it suspects there may be misutilisation of the funds.

The Centre is aware that the government has issued cheques amounting to Rs 25 crore to many contractors despite strict warnings. As these cheques will also be encashed when the state�s monthly allocation is released, the problem is expected to be compounded further.

Meanwhile, the 48-hour bandh called by various women�s organisations in the state has completely paralysed life in Manipur. Markets were shut and the transport system affected.

The celebrations of New Year�s Eve and New Year�s Day have also been marred. Though Christian organisations have appealed for relaxation of the bandh, the women�s organisations are going ahead with it. The recently-formed Women�s Front Against Black Laws is spearheading the agitation.

Governor Ved Marwah, in his New Year�s message to the people of the state, said Manipur was facing all kinds of crises � financial, social and political. He said the people are deprived of even the most basic services such as safe drinking water, power, health and education.


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