Pay the cops to cross the bridge
Armed duo raids flat in high-security highrise
Gunbattle, chase net 5 criminals
Zoo big cats get zap protection power
Corporation shuts gate on outside cars
Left names candidate for bypoll
Movie halls to challenge Nipamacha �threat�
Assam budget on Feb. 12
Ulfa, NDFB asked to defend against ban
Free Internet workshop for disabled in city

Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
The price for �freedom� on Vidyasagar Setu is Rs 1,500.

This is what at least two groups of people had to pay to the police recently while trying to cross the bridge. Their only crime was that they were travelling late at night and fell easy prey to threats of having to spend the night in a police lock-up.

Case I: Prodip and Promita Pal (not their real names) were returning home to Howrah last week after a late-night function at Calcutta Club. They were stopped by the cops on Vidyasagar Setu and told to hand over the car�s papers, along with Pal�s driving licence. The harassment had just begun.

Annoyed that his papers were in order, Pal was marched to a superior officer, who �interrogated� him for over 15 minutes. What was he doing on the bridge so late at night? Who was the lady with him? What had kept them from returning home earlier? Did they do this very often?

Pal, obviously, had the answers, for the official abruptly cut short his questioning and demanded Rs 1,500. Or else, he threatened, Pal and his wife would have to spend the night in a police lock up. �We we will find some charges,� the officer calmly informed a stunned Pal. After some haggling � �I am not carrying that kind of money,� Pal told him � a pay-off of about Rs 1,000 was agreed upon and Pal and his wife were let free.

Case II: Anil, Ajay and Gita, three friends, were returning home past midnight early this month after having spent the day Lake Land Country Club in Howrah. As they were crossing Vidyasagar Setu, they were stopped by the police, who first checked their papers and then dragged them out of the car to examine if they were drunk.

When this failed to get the policemen the required result, a �grilling session� began. When even after 15 minutes they could not implicate the three in any case, the policemen came out with what they really wanted. If they paid the �price for freedom�, they would be let off. The other option was a visit to the police station and certainly one night there.

Knowing full well they were innocent, but terrified witless, the trio pooled together their resources and bought their freedom.

�Yes,� admitted the inspector-general of police, South Bengal, Ranjit Mohanty. �Had these two cases not been brought to my notice, even I would not have known what was happening.�

Police officials admitted that normally, no official complaints are lodged with the police because of the fear that this will lead to even more harassment. �In any case they know it is their word against the police�s and that, ultimately, they would not be able to prove anything,� an official said.

Pal told Mohanty of the harassment he had to face only because he knew him personally. �But, there may be others who have been similarly harassed but have not had access to senior officers,� Mohanty said. �There is unnecessary harassment and extortion by the police on Vidyasagar Setu and I am definitely going to put an end to this.�

As Vidyasagar Setu is an important entry-exit point for vehicles to and from the city, three patrol vans are always on duty there. �The idea is to keep an eye on all vehicles and act only if the police notice anything suspicious,� an official said. �This is not a very difficult thing to do, as each policeman has been instructed to distinguish between a criminal and a gentleman.�

Disturbed at some policemen doing precisely the opposite, Mohanty convened a meeting of senior officials on Tuesday to discuss the issue. �It has been decided at the meeting that, besides other measures, we will also conduct surprise checks on the bridge at night so that those posted there are not harassing innocent people,� Mohanty said.

For the interim, the inspector-general says that attempts should be made to register all such complaints.�This will act as a deterrent and prevent the recurrence of such incidents.�


Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
The amount they looted may not have been very big. But the manner in which they looted it, from a posh apartment in the heart of the city, has sent alarm bells ringing in police circles.

Two armed criminals breached �tight� security to force their way into a fifth-floor flat of Sahana Apartments, on 64, Sarat Bose Road, on Tuesday afternoon. They walked away with Rs 10,000 and ornaments worth Rs 50,000.

They also slashed the left ear of 65-year-old Rajat Guha, owner of the apartment, when he protested.

The highrise, on one of the busiest thoroughfares of south Calcutta, has iron gates at the entrance and a collapsible one near the staircase.

The gates remain closed, and are opened only after durwan Subhas Raut screens each visitor. A blue diary near the collapsible gate records the name, address, purpose of visit, and the time of arrival and departure of each visitor.

Guha, a bachelor, stays with sister Kalyani, 80, in the 1,500-sq-ft fifth-floor flat. According to Raut, two well-dressed young men turned up at 2.30 pm.

�They told me that Rajat Guha was expecting them. One of them was carrying a bag. In the security book, they wrote �Raju Kumar, plus one�,�� Raut said.

Guha was resting when the doorbell rang. As soon as he opened the door, the two young men barged in, pushing him aside. They locked the door, gagged Guha and then tied his hands and feet.

One held a knife to Guha�s ear and pushed him towards one of the rooms. When the elderly man resisted, the youth slashed his ear, shoved him into the room, and bolted the door from outside.

The two then opened the almirah, gathered whatever cash and ornaments they could lay their hands on. The looting over, one of them opened the door of the room in which a bleeding Guha was confined and told him: �We are leaving... I will inform the durwan, who will come up to untie you.�

Downstairs, they told Raut that Guha was calling him. Raut went up to find Guha writhing on the floor.

Officers of the detective department and Ballygunge police station reached the spot an hour after the incident.

The durwan told investigators that the intruders had boarded a waiting taxi after leaving the highrise.

Guha said he had withdrawn the box of ornaments from the bank locker three months ago. �I don�t remember how many necklaces or earrings were there in the box, but the jewellery was valued at Rs 50,000,�� he added.

Detectives suspect that an �insider� had tipped off the criminals. �They might or might not be from the locality, but they definitely had an accomplice in the Guha household,�� a sleuth said.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Narayan Ghosh said maid Sabita and two others have been interrogated. A police picket has been posted in front of the building.


Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
A fierce gunbattle and chase on Monday night led to the arrest of five criminals at Thakurpukur and Poilan. The criminals were wanted in cases of murder, extortion and dacoity. A cache of firearms was recovered from them.

A police patrol, acting on a tip-off, raided an abandoned house at Bakrahat, in Thakurpukur. Some criminals had assembled in it to chalk out plans for a dacoity. Hemmed in by the cops, they hurled bombs and even fired at the posse from indigenous revolvers.

The police returned the fire before storming the house. They were able to round up four criminals, identified as Khabaji Mondal, Bimal Mondal, alias Nyara, Bablu Baidya and Goutam Mitra.

At Poilan, a youth identified as Mujibur Rahman Gazi was arrested after a chase down Diamond Harbour Road. The police became suspicious when they saw Gazi and two associates speeding along the road. Gazi was arrested after he lost control and fell off his motorcycle. He has at least 10 cases of murder and dacoity pending against him.


Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
To prevent intruders from getting up close and personal with the big cats, the authorities at Alipore zoo have decided to erect an �energised fence� surrounding the open-air enclosures.

The �zap� fence at the zoo, the first of its kind in the country, will have an electric charge running through its wires. But it will endanger neither tiger nor onlooker, under normal circumstances. It will be erected between the outer fencing, where visitors to the zoo flock to catch a glimpse of the tigers, and the inner fence surrounding the animal enclosure. These two are separated by a moat now. The voltage will not be enough to cause a fatal injury. The zoo authorities had erected the �inner� fence following the January 1, 1996, incident when two young men got within hand-shaking distance of Shiva. The tiger has mauled one to death, while the other intruder was badly wounded.

But this security system proved far from foolproof when another young man clambered over the outer barrier, swam across the moat, scaled the inner fence and confronted Bob on December 16 last year. The tiger killed him.

The zoo authorities held an emergency meeting with the forest department after this episode. It was then suggested that a �power fence� be erected to prevent such intrusions.

�This suggestion has been approved by our managing committee,� said zoo director A.K. Das. The decision has been faxed to the Central Zoo Authority in New Delhi for approval.

It will take about 90 metres of power fencing to encircle the horse-shoe-shaped, open-air space, which is one of the top draws at the Alipore Zoological Gardens.

�Once we get the Authority�s approval, we will chalk out plans to erect such a fencing around the open-air white tiger enclosure now under construction,� added Das.

Around four million people visit Alipore zoo every year, with around half of them passing through the turnstiles during peak season, between December 15 and January 31. Following the Shiva incident, the zoo authorities had appointed 20 ex-armymen to beef up security at the zoo. There are also about 40 volunteers, mainly from the Bharat Scouts and Guides, besides 45 watchmen.


Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
The days of slipping your car into the parking lot of one of the sprawling government office compounds in the city centre are over. The civic authorities have decided to slam the doors shut on �outside� cars, starting with the Corporation premises.

According to the Corporation�s estimates, 50,000 cars need parking space in the city during office hours. The total parking space created by the CMC in 48 different zones of the city can accommodate only 4,000 cars, for a fixed fee. The space available in over a hundred government office campuses, including hospitals, can accommodate another 12,000 cars.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said some �private car-owners� were �smartly� parking their vehicles in the office compound from the morning, leaving little space for the Corporation�s own cars. �Many of them have their offices on Lenin Sarani, S.N. Banerjee Road, Chowringhee and in the New Market area. They keep their cars here for the whole day without having to pay any parking fee,� added Mukherjee.

The problem �is particularly acute� on the day of the monthly session of the civic house when almost all 141 councillors turn up in their personal cars. �With councillors complaining repeatedly about non-availability of parking space on the office premises, we decided to debar outside cars,� said the mayor.

Cars bearing pink stickers alone are being allowed to enter the CMC gates. Those with green stickers are being parked along Corporation Square, the stretch in front of the main entrance of the Corporation facing Chaplin Square. �With the stretch being used for parking, we wanted it to be closed to traffic, but the police have failed to respond to our request,� said Pradip Ghosh, member, mayor-in-council (bustee), who also oversees the car-parking system in the city.


Agartala, Jan. 23: 
Setting speculation about infighting at rest, the Left Front today nominated senior CPM leader Subodh Nath as its candidate for the by-election to the Kadamtala Assembly seat.

Kadamtala has a 28,729-strong electorate and is under Dharmanagar subdivision of North Tripura district

The Left Front said in a release here that Subodh Nath was a capable leader who would be able to keep the CPM flag flying in the constituency.

The byelection in Kadamtala, to be held simultaneously with polls in 11 other constituencies spread across eight states, was necessitated by the death of CPM legislator Umesh Nath last year. There was talk of the latter�s wife being the front-runner in the race for the Left Front ticket, but Subodh Nath�s experience took him ahead in the final lap.

Archana Nath�s candidature had been endorsed by the Dharmanagar divisional committee.

The notification for the bypoll will be issued tomorrow. Sources said the state election department would notify January 31 as the last date for filing nominations and February 3 as the deadline for withdrawal of papers.

While the ruling Left Front has ended the suspense over its nominee, the PCC is yet to shortlist candidates for the party ticket.

The party today solicited applications from members who were keen to contest the bypoll. In a message faxed to the Dharmanagar Congress office, PCC president Birajit Sinha said all full-fledged party members were eligible to apply for the ticket.

However, sources said former Speaker and advocate Jyotirmay Nath was likely to be nominated as the party candidate. He had won the seat in the 1988 elections.


Imphal, Jan. 23: 
Movie hall owners and employees are planning to challenge in court chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh�s �threat� that his government would not allow cinema halls to screen Manipuri and English films if Hindi films are not screened there.

Sources said the chief minister�s remark has also irked local cable TV operators.

The outlawed People�s Liberation Army (PLA) banned all forms of entertainment, including films, music and satellite channels, in the Hindi language in Manipur from September last year. However, the outfit spared teaching of Hindi in educational institutions.

Nipamacha Singh had warned that he would launch a crackdown on cinema halls and cable operators for obeying the PLA diktat. This is a part of his 12-point action plan submitted to Union home minister L.K. Advani recently.

�A legal battle seems to be the only option now,� said a cinema hall employee. However, the cable operators and cinema halls are yet to receive an official notice from the government.

Caught between a militant diktat and a government crackdown, the Imphal-based Cine Exhibitors� Association is planning to chalk out a strategy to tackle the present situation.

A movie hall manager said English and Manipuri films alone cannot fulfil the needs of cinegoers. The box office here has been badly hit over the past several months due to the ban on Hindi movies, sources added.

There are nearly 50 movie halls in the state and they employ more than 1,000 employees. These employees are a worried lot as a government order might force the halls to close down. Nipamacha Singh said, �They have to face the militants if they are too concerned about their jobs.�

Commenting on the legality of issuing such a threat to movie halls and cable operators, the chief minister said his government would face everything in a court of law.

A cable TV operator said they were following the guidelines framed by the Union ministry of information and broadcasting. �We include two channels of Doordarshan in our services as per rules. And we show channels like Zee News and Star News,� he added. There are two cable networks operating in the city.

Sources said Assam Rifles officials tried to force cable operators to show Hindi movies. When they refused, their equipment was �confiscated� for several days.

�We have to face the reality. We will now seek legal help as we did not violate any rules,� said a cable TV operator. �How can we face the outlawed militants? We would rather face the government in court,� said a cinema hall employee.


Guwahati, Jan. 23: 
Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta who holds the finance portfolio will present the state budget for 2001-2002 in the Assembly on February 12.

The budget session, which is begin on February 7, will be addressed by Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha. The debate on the motion of thanks on the Governor�s address will start on February 9. There will be nine working days during this session which will continue till February 23.

Polio camp

The Central Reserve Police Force, 65 Battalion, organised the second round of pulse polio immunisation programme at Polo Ground and Maitri Mandir Polo Bazaar in Shillong, says our Shillong reporter.


Guwahati, Jan. 23: 
The unlawful activities (prevention) tribunal has asked the United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Boroland to explain why they should not be declared �unlawful associations� by the Centre.

In two separate notifications issued yesterday, the tribunal asked both the rebel groups to show cause as to why the Centre�s declaration should not be confirmed by the tribunal.

The Centre had referred the notifications to two separate tribunals of Justice Cyriac Joseph and Justice Manmohan Sarin of Delhi High Court for adjudicating whether or not there was sufficient cause for declaring the Ulfa and the NDFB �unlawful�.

These notifications are issued every time the ban is extended to a militant outfit. However, none of the outfits have ever responded to these notifications to defend themselves, official sources said.

Both the rebel groups have been asked to send their reply to the office of the registrar at Delhi High Court within a month�s time.

The Centre had issued the notifications on November 27, declaring both the outfits as �unlawful associations�, following a spurt in killings and other forms of violence perpetrated by the two militant outfits in the state.

As many as 109 Hindi-speaking Assamese people and 13 Bhutan nationals have been killed in 27 incidents of violence perpetrated by the Ulfa, the NDFB and the United Peoples� Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) in Nalbari, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar, Barpeta, Karbi Anglong and Kokrajhar districts since April last year.

The figure of civilians killed by militants in the state reached an all-time high last year since the unified command structure became operational in the state in 1997. As many as 412 civilians were killed by militant outfits last year as against 179 civilians killed in 1999.

The Assam Police claim that the three main militant outfits in the state � the Ulfa, the NDFB and the UPDS � have mostly hit soft targets to prove their existence and terrorise people, out of sheer frustration. This resulted in a spurt in killing of civilians last year. However, unlike the Ulfa and the NDFB, the UPDS has not been declared as �unlawful association� by the Centre.


Guwahati, Jan. 23: 
A free workshop for disabled businessmen running public call booths will be organised by the Vocational Rehabilitation Centre under the Union labour ministry to train them on the Internet and its usage. The five-day workshop will start from February 11.

Superintendent of the centre K.K. Bhatt said the workshop, which is the first of its kind in the Northeast, was aimed at equipping disabled businessmen with the latest communication technology to expand their enterprises.

There are nearly 40 disabled people in the city who own PCOs.

�We will personally meet the handicapped businessmen having telephone booths to elicit support,� Bhatt said.

Bhatt said the number of telephone booths in Assam have come down after the introduction of the cyber cafes and reduction in telephone rates.

�This has become a problem for us as we wanted a large number of people for the workshop,� the official said. He said the workshop would focus on the business potential of the Internet through hands-on training.

Prospective participants are required to bring with them certificate of age, medical and qualification certificates for enrolment.

�Though only PCO owners have been targeted now, we are contemplating to expand the programme to other disabled people,� Bhatt added.

The programme is being sponsored by the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship and the Northeastern regional office of the Small Industries Development Bank of India. The last date for submitting applications is January 24.

The centre conducts community-based vocational training programmes of short duration and accepts people between 16 and 50 years. It also offers non-formal training, procurement of aids and equipment.


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