Judge shuts case on comment
Diary names Tollywood dupe gang
Enter Ibiza, state-of-the-art hub
Power cuts as Bandel trips
Practicals brought forward
A week in the wilderness, in tune with nature
Road block over murder of Congman
Bolangir faces parched summer
Alarm bells on bamboo bloom
New clauses tumble out of action plan

Calcutta, Jan. 12: 
Forty-eight hours after having raised a storm by allegedly observing in a courtroom that the people of Bengal must �suffer� as they had allowed a government to �function for 24 years�, Chief Justice Ashoke Kumar Mathur denied having made �any such statement�, in an open court, on Friday.

Claiming that newspaper reports in this regard were �wholly false�, he added that he had �too much respect for the people of the state to make such a statement�.

The chief justice requested state advocate-general N.N. Gooptu to issue a statement in this regard.

The statement circulated by the secretary to the advocate-general reads: �When the division bench of Calcutta High Court, presided over by Chief Justice Ashoke Kumar Mathur, convened this morning, the chief justice, referring to newspaper reports attributing certain statement alleged to have been made by him in the court on January 10, 2001, in connection with a case relating to the All-India Government Employees� Strike, categorically stated in the presence of advocate-general N.N. Gooptu and other members of the Bar, that he had not made any statement at all and that he disowned the statements attributed to him in such reports.�

On Wednesday, Justice Mathur had, apparently, said: �You, the people of Bengal, are to be blamed (for the government employees� strike) because you do not want change, and for allowing a government to function for 24 years, you have to suffer.�

A large number of lawyers of the high court assembled in the courtroom of the chief justice on Friday morning.

At about 1.30, the chief justice with his co-judge took their seats. A lawyer then referred to the newspaper reports and asked the chief justice to comment on the issue. Justice Mathur told the lawyers the statement was �baseless and false�, and added: �I want to put an end to the issue.�

Soon after, advocate-general Gooptu entered the court and referred all newspaper clippings to the chief justice. Justice Mathur repeated that the reports were �incorrect� and expressed �regret� that he had been �drawn into such a controversy�. He requested that �all concerned should treat the matter as closed�.

The chief justice then requested the advocate-general to issue a circular to this effect to newspersons.

Later in the evening, the advocate-general said that he had been requested by the chief justice to be present in the courtroom in order to record his statements and put and end to the matter.

Some Left lawyers, who were ready to stage demonstrations against the chief justice�s alleged remark, watched the day�s developments closely, and then called off their protest plans.


Calcutta, Jan. 12: 
A diary, seized during a police raid on Thursday night, threatens to blow the lid off a dupe gang in Tollywood. Two producers, a popular television actress and an actor are said to have cheated several star-struck youngsters, some leading Bengali film actresses and a few NRIs of several lakhs of rupees. They even opened a forged account at a nationalised bank and encashed $1000 sent by the son of an army general to his parents in Calcutta.

The police chanced upon the racket on Thursday evening when investigating officers, on the trail of a tip-off, raided a house in Tollygunge and found documents naming the producers, their addresses, films and details of associates.

�These two have produced a couple of big-banner films. We cannot arrest them on the basis of their names appearing in diaries of accused persons. But they are definitely under a cloud and officers are gathering information on them. We will zero in once we gather enough evidence,�� said a senior officer. He added that the tell-tale diary revealed �a lot� about the modus operandi of the cartel in Tollywood.

�The two producers would rope in newcomers, sell them dreams of stardom, and get work out of them... We have evidence that 12 young boys and girls were cheated of thousands of rupees. Seven of them are, however, now acting in Bengali serials and some have their films on the floors,� an officer said.

Deputy commissioner of police, south, Ranjit Pachnanda, heading a special investigating team probing the racket, said the recent arrest of actor Indrajit Deb put the police on the right track. Deb is now out on bail.

Officers of the Lake police station had arrested Deb and his mother, Lila Debi, after a senior army officer, Gen. T.R.S. Bedi, lodged a complaint that �somebody had siphoned off $1000� their son had sent from the US.

Investigations revealed that Deb and his associates had managed to open an account at the United Bank of India�s Gol Park branch in the name of Joydeep Kumari Bedi, Gen. Bedi�s wife, and withdraw the amount.

Then, a leading Tollywood actress alleged that Deb and gang had cheated her of Rs 35,000. �He took the money from me on the pretext of his mother�s illness. Later, I found he had cheated me,�� she said.

Pachnanda said the police are on the lookout for �a middle-aged Parsi woman who, apparently, holds the key to the investigations�. Sources said the police have also spoken to some leading Bollywood producers, and film personalities to unravel the case.


Calcutta, Jan. 12: 
Waiting in the wings for a much sought-after membership at the Tolly for years? Don�t fret. An alternative, far from the madding crowd, is almost ready. About 25 km from the city centre, a country home project, coming up at Kriparampur, on Diamond Harbour Road near Joka, will soon boast a club to plug a demand hole in Calcutta.

Tucked away in sylvan surroundings, Merlin Greens, the �first and only retreat near Calcutta� being developed by Merlin Projects Limited, is spread over 50 acres of virgin land. Ibiza, a state-of-the-art club named after the exotic island off the Spanish coast, will be the showpiece.

With an imposing colonial structure, the club is spread over 10 acres, with a 2.5-acre lake at the heart of it.

Except for a full-fledged golf course, Ibiza will match Tollygunge Club stroke for stroke, claim the developers. But, even golf enthusiasts needn�t leave their irons behind. A nine-hole chipping and putting range is coming up in consultation with former Tolly boss Bob Wright.

There�ll be other outdoor sports like tennis, croquet, badminton, basketball and horse-riding, a children�s play room, card room, billiards and snooker, gymnasium, a disco, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, a bar, multi-cuisine restaurant and banquets, a conference room...

�The emphasis is on outdoor activities. In this age of the Internet and satellite television, we want to give our members an opportunity to stretch their limbs, and unwind with sports and other activities including boating and angling. So the bar, restaurant and other covered areas of the club house have been kept to the bare minimum,� explains Merlin Projects managing director Sushil Mohta.

A jogging trail snaking around the silvery lake, horse-riding, a lush lawn spread over 50,000 square feet, a barbecue area of 6,000 square feet, and 12 fully-furnished, air-conditioned guest rooms round up �the complete clubbing experience�.

The club is likely to open its doors next month. �We want the members to enjoy all the facilities at the club right from Day One,� says executive director Shahzaad Ahmed. �We will need 2,000 members to break even, but with the present infrastructure, we are looking at a maximum strength of 1,000 for now,� he adds.

The club will also have reciprocal membership arrangements with other clubs in town.

While Ibiza will be the nucleus of the Greens, 25 acres have already been sold as free-hold plots to individuals for building farmhouses and bungalows. �To preserve the verdant surroundings, no plot-holder is allowed to use more than 20 per cent of the plot for construction, the rest must stay green,� says Ahmed.

The remaining 15 acres have been earmarked for 250 duplex-type ownership row houses �to give the residents a feel of togetherness without disturbing their privacy�.

�It�s an uplifting experience the moment you drive into the Greens. The air is so much cleaner and there�s so much greenery around,� says Gautam Dutta, who retires to Merlin Greens every weekend with his family. Dutta, a jewellery shop-owner on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, has built his own bungalow on his plot, which is now his �perfect getaway�.


Calcutta, Jan. 12: 
The city and its adjoining areas suffered severe power cuts on Friday evening as the shortfall in the CESC-supplied areas shot up to 160 mw. The city has been suffering power cuts for the past few days due to a slash in supply from the state electricity board as CESC has not cleared its dues. It owes the SEB Rs 960 crore.

The situation was compounded on Friday with the 210-mw fifth unit at Bandel shut down briefly in the afternoon.

As a result, the power utility was compelled to resort to a rotational black-out all over the city for about an hour.


Calcutta, Jan. 12: 
The West Bengal Board of Secondary Education has asked schools to complete the practical examinations of work education and physical education by January. This has put Madhyamik examinees in a spot with regard to their preparations.

Normally, the Madhyamik work education and physical education tests are held after the written exams. This year�s Madhyamik written papers are slated to begin on February 26.

The Board is holding the tests in advance this year in view of the Assembly elections. �We had to ask the schools to complete the two tests by the month-end as a large number of schools will have to be handed over to the Election Commission for the polls. This might cause problems in holding the tests later, which in turn could lead to a delay in the announcement of results,� said Arun Kiran Chakraborty, Board president. He clarified that the decision had been taken only for this year.

The examinees, however, have taken strong exception to the Board�s move. �This means we have to go to the examination centres to take the tests before the main papers. Even though work education and physical education are not compulsory subjects, we cannot afford to ignore them, as good scores can fetch us higher aggregates,� said an examinee of Park Institution.

Senior teachers have also come down heavily on the Board for bringing the tests forward. �Why should the students suffer for the elections?� asked Asit Ghosh, headmaster of a school. �The exams are barely a month away. Every moment is now crucial. Students should not waste time in going to the examination centres at far-off places to take the practical tests,� said Sasanka Bhattacharya, headmaster of another school.

After the Madhyamik written tests in March, the schools will be taken over by the Higher Secondary Council for conducting the HS exams. The Election Commission will take over the schools after that, Bhattacharya said. The HS exams are to begin on March 20. Chakraborty said the board could not allow the schools to hold the two tests in April in the interest of the students. �The practical tests are generally held in open air and examinees might fall ill in the April heat,� he said.

More than 600,000 candidates will write the Madhyamik this year. Of them, around 300,000 have work education and physical education as additional subjects.


Calcutta, Jan. 12: 
�Monday is finally here. At 8.30 am, we caught the Purulia local train. Then, we got on a bus to Jhalda. We had to walk a lot, with those heavy bags on our backs! But we finally reached... The place was so beautiful...� Nine-year-old Meghna Barua�s first impressions, recorded in her camp diary.

Every winter, it�s time for the campfire to be lit by Wanderlust, a nature study and camping group. This year, 47 children, between nine and 13, pitched bright plastic tents in the Jhalda forest to spend a week in the wilderness.

Leading them was veteran camper Rameshwar Banerjee and a group of geologists, bird-watchers, entomologists, sky-watchers and, of course, cooks.

Years ago, �camp commandant� Ashok Sengupta and his wife had noticed that the usual trekker�s club offered little for youngsters. Wanderlust was their solution � with a difference. They decided to include deaf and mute children as well.

This year, the group comprised 31 physically-challenged students and 16 others. Lending them a hand was son Bibhabasu, a camp-guide himself.

According to Alankar Gupta, Class IX student of Calcutta Deaf and Dumb School, the camp was nestled �between the Sikrah and Kapila hills, on a picturesque plain�. �We saw bear, wolf and hyena dens, and heard jackals howling in the dark... We loved every moment of it,� smiles Alankar.

A different kind of discipline and education moulds young minds at Wanderlust. There are five stages in this graded course � fresher, pre-basic, basic, advanced and camp perfectioner.

Starting before the sun, at 3.00 am sharp, the students were ready for the outdoor lessons. From the basic level onwards, �night-out� starts. These students build shelters with twigs away from the main camping ground. �I thought I would turn into an icicle with each gust of wind,� says Aninda, remembering the long winter nights as a night guard.

Cooking their own meals, the young ones survive in the wilderness by themselves � one for all, and all for one. It helps many to find themselves.

Take Tridib Naskar. The first time he went on a trek, he slashed his friend�s rucksack and fought with other campers. Today, he helps train the freshers. Sanat Mahadani used to be the �camp terror�, but now pitches tents, makes fires, carries water with his friends.

The campers study without blackboards or classrooms. Climbing hills for hands-on lessons in geology, walking forest tracks for bird-watching and peering into a telescope at the night sky, before collecting in front of the campfire. The kids sing, dance, act and mime. This year, 70-year-old singer Prasun Dasgupta took singing classes, and a geology class as well.

�I want to help these children grow into responsible, self-sufficient young adults who care for man as well as nature,� explains Sengupta. He would like to hold follow-up camps every month, start crash courses for 10-year-olds and organise camps exclusively for handicapped children.

�I hope physically-challenged children can become instructors one day themselves. It will open a new horizon for us,� he adds.


Berhampur, Jan. 12: 
Congress activists put up a road blockade on National Highway 5 near Khallikote today, disrupting traffic for nearly two hours. The protesters were demanding immediate arrest of the culprits involved in the murder of party activist Ganesh Pahan.

Today�s demonstration was part of a phasewise agitation launched by the Congress in Ganjam district over the issue. Earlier, they had observed a bandh in Chatrapur and Rambha to press for their demand.

Congress activists, led by former All-India Women Congress president Jayanti Patnaik, Ganjam District Congress Committee president Uma Kanta Misra and party leader Gangadhar Tripathy, put up the blockade at Khallikote. Later, they took out a procession to Chatrapur where they held a meeting and submitted a memorandum in support of their demand.

The leaders expressed serious concern over the continued attacks on Congress activists in Ganjam district. On December 28, Ganjam block Youth Congress president Simanchal Beja was murdered in broad daylight. On January 3, Pahan, who was kept in captivity over the past eight months due to a political tussle, was killed in the presence of villagers and police near Khallikote ghat.

Yesterday, Congress advocates were allegedly manhanddled by BJP supporters in the presence of state revenue and law minister Biswa Bhusan Harichandan and Assembly Deputy Speaker Ram Chandra Panda in Chatrapur where they were attending a function. The Congress leaders met the injured advocates today.

The leaders warned that if �supporters of the ruling parties� did not stop attacking Congress activists, they would resort to agitation.

Rebels kill one

A youth was shot dead by National Liberation Front of Tripura militants in a village in Tripura�s Dhalai district last night, police said today, reports PTI.

A group of armed NLFT rebels raided Mendi village last night and shot dead the youth. A search operation has been launched in the area to arrest the culprits, the police said.


Bolangir, Jan. 12: 
Villagers of Badogumuda in Bolangir district�s Bangomunda block are not discourteous. But they will certainly not offer a visitor water from their tubewells. This is because they do not want their guests to drink the muddy red water. But they themselves have to drink it as there is no other source of water nearby.

Despite this, the villagers consider themselves lucky because they know that in the next one month, the four borewells in the village will not have the muddy red water anymore � there simply will not be any water for them.

It is not summertime in Bolangir as yet. But unlike the rest of the country, the district is feeling the heat before the onset of summer. As if the drought was not bad enough, now there is very little water to drink for the 1.3 million people of Bolangir. With raingods taking a break last monsoon, the lack of drinking water has become a major problem as most of the rivers, ponds, tanks, rivulets and kattas have dried up.

At the break of dawn, the women in Bileisathi village of Patnagarh block queue up before the tubewells. Fights break out occasionally as the village, with a population of over 2,000, has only three functional tubewells. Those who cannot wait for water from the tubewells, run to the Mayawati river to scoop out water from the dry riverbed. But it is an exercise in futility for the villagers as well as the rest of the district.

�Drinking water is proving to be the main problem this year. During drought I can provide food to the hungry. But where do I get the water?� asks C.T.M. Suguna, collector of Bolangir district.

Though more than 8,500 of the 8,800 tubewells in the district are working, it is of little consequence as the watertable is depleting fast in this rocky district. Once summer sets in, most of the tubewells may be rendered useless.

Moreover, the tubewells in working condition may prove be of little help as the number of people dependent on them will increase. Patnagarh block has 676 functional tubewells. But they may not be enough as the people there require at least seven lakh litres of water everyday during summer. Patnagarh and Titlagarh are two blocks which have already started feeling the heat. While last summer Titlagarh was parched, this summer it could be Patnagarh.

But block development officer (BDO) of Patnagarh Anjan Manik said there will not be any problem as over 100 new dugwells and 28 tanks will take care of the probable shortage of drinking water. However, officials in Titlagarh are not very hopeful. According to BDO N.R. Sahoo, drinking water crisis is likely to be worse this summer.

Last month, Bolangir town had an experience of the things to come. The town had to go without pipe-water for over a week as their major source of water, the Mahandi river, went dry. The town, which needs nearly 12 lakh litres of water everyday, had to suffer for seven days till water was supplied from another point in the river.

The new point is likely to dry up once supply of water stops from the depleting Hirakud reservoir. In fact, the interior villages will be hit hardest by the drinking water crisis as carrying water to these areas will be a major problem.

The government allegedly knew of the impending water crisis, but dragged its heels in tackling the problem. On January 16, it planned to launch Operation Trishna in Bolangir and other western districts hit by the drought.

The project had ambitious plans like sinking hundreds of tubewells, borewells and providing water at the doorsteps. But officials in Titlagarh block are not impressed. �It will take at least three years to implement the project. Apart from being populist, there is nothing special about it,� an official said.


Guwahati, Jan. 12: 
Alarm bells have started ringing over the next bamboo flowering, which is expected to hit the region in a few years� time. The authorities have underlined the need for chalking out a contingency plan to curb the menace.

Cane and bamboo experts, who attended a three-day workshop in the city on technological upgradation of bamboo organised by the North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd., felt that the authorities should gear up for the impact and chalk out a plan.

The areas where bamboo grows most profusely are all in the Northeast, which has two-thirds of the total growing stock of the country. Bamboo has emerged as an integral part of the region�s cultural, social and economic traditions.

A cane and bamboo technological and resource centre, which has been set up to implement the $1 million UNDP programme on technological upgradation of cane and bamboo for the Northeast, will carry out focused research on bamboo flowering.

Cane and bamboo technology centre project co-ordinator Kamesh Salam said the centre would chalk out a contingency plan for the next anticipated bamboo flowering. This is one of the important objectives of the centre, which intends to play a crucial role in development of this sector in an inclusive way so that it benefits a large number of poor artisans.

The centre will prepare a comprehensive data and information base on different aspects of the cane and bamboo sector to facilitate analysis, objective allocation of resources and identification of critical activities.

Gregarious flowering in Mizoram in 1959 had caused widespread damage to the bamboo forests, which led to civil unrest. Flowering patterns differ from the sporadic to profuse ones, but most of the plants flower only once in their lifetime.

In Tripura, almost the entire stock of the dominant bamboo species known locally as muli was destroyed. This variety is extensively used at the household level and its regeneration takes a long time. Sources said the Assam agricultural authorities are also chalking out a contingency plan to check the menace as there have been some reports of bamboo flowering in Cachar and neighbouring districts.

A state agriculture department official said various methods are being considered to tackle the menace as it could hit the state also next time. �All the agricultural offices have been asked to take preventive measures to tackle it,� an official said.

Extremists held: Four extremists, three of the Maoist Communist Centre and one of the People�s War, were arrested in Jharkhand�s Palamau district today, following police raids at their hideouts, reports PTI.


Imphal, Jan. 12: 
The action plan submitted by Manipur chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh to Union home minister L.K. Advani on January 6 has more to it than meets the eye. Though the plan was made out to be consisting of 12 clauses, it actually has 26.

The chief minister had earlier announced that there were 12 points in the plan. The original copy submitted to the home minister, which is now available to this correspondent, has 26 points. And it is different from the one showed to the Press by the chief minister and his deputy L. Chandramani Singh. Sources said Nipamacha Singh, fearing controversy, concealed many clauses. And for each of the 26 counts, the chief minister had pledged time-bound implementation.

The action plan said services of all persons recruited in violation of the memorandum of understanding with the Union finance ministry would be terminated within 45 days. This, however, excludes recruits in the department of police, jail, fire services, Manipur Rifles, Hindi teachers and death in harness schemes.

The government had absorbed over 2,500 people in the government sector even after signing the MoU with the finance ministry banning all recruitments.

Another controversial point in the action plan states that the government will consider reduction of the retirement age of police officials to 56 years. This may also be adopted for other departments. The decision on the subject has to be finalised within 60 days.

According to another clause, nearly 5,000 surplus staff from other departments will be redeployed in the police department after proper training in a phased manner within a year. The action plan also says that the government will finalise within January 31, the abolition of all direct recruit posts lying vacant since April 1, 1999.

As regards the release of salary for November to December 2000, the action plan says the government will ensure the payment of salaries only when Central assistance is released. The government also has to defer encashment of all cheques issued by it after November 1, 2000 till March 31, 2001.

The plan also makes it mandatory for the government to initiate administrative changes in the police set up within 15 days. The 1st and 5th Battalion of Manipur Rifles would be deployed outside the state and they would be replaced by two battalions from the CRPF.

The plan also says any securitymen losing his weapons to militants will be suspended within 24 hours and would be liable to be dismissed. Inquiries into such cases have to be completed within 90 days. A counter-insurgency plan will be prepared and approved by the state-level apex security co-ordination committee within 30 days.


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