House tax hike on hold
Travel agency taken for first-class ride
Hawkers firm on station use, districts denied dailies
Dacoity trail leads to Bihar
Zoom in, log in with laser, at Simpark
Excavation runs into encroacher stonewall
Job boom ahead in healthcare
Militants set 21 Jamatya tribals free in Tripura
Census workers strive to set records straight
Jaitley denies leadership tussle

Calcutta, Feb. 8: 
House tax in Calcutta will be kept pegged at the present level, says mayor Subrata Mukherjee. Keeping an eye on the approaching Assembly elections, Mukherjee, also No 2 in Mamata Banerjee�s Trinamul Congress, said on Thursday that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation would bring more property-owning Calcuttans under the tax net while presenting its budget for 2001-2002 in March.

�We don�t want to overburden tax-paying Calcuttans any more. I am already seeking opinion of experts on how best we can mop up additional revenue without a tax hike,� said Mukherjee, as much under strain as Mamata to raise funds for city development without inflicting tax pains on the citizens.

Mukherjee found a possible avenue of revenue when it was brought to his notice that out of 6.5 lakh houses in the city, only 1.7 lakh pay taxes. Stunned by the massive amount the Corporation is missing out on year after year , he decided to bring in the remaining 4.8 lakh houses within the tax net.

�We will now take a new approach towards tax collection. The tax should be low but the earnings from it high.We have noticed that people tend to evade tax if it is high. So, we are trying to rebuild the house tax structure,� said the mayor. He pointed out that there were 800 house-owners who belong to the high tax bracket. But, only 80 of them actually pay the tax and the rest are involved in litigation.

At present, owners of houses with annual valuation up to Rs 300 are exempt from civic taxes.

The mayor blamed �unscrupulous assessment� of valuation of houses by a section of building inspectors for the 4.8 lakh buildings outside the tax dragnet. If they pay a mere Rs 10 a month as tax, the Corporation�s revenue will go up by Rs 50 crore a year, he added.

Apart from under-valued flats, there are thousands of flats lying unassessed and, hence, the civic body is unable to collect any tax from them. The mayor made it clear that it is the duty of these flat-owners to get their premises recorded with the Corporation. �I have asked my officers to draw up a plan to take action against such tax-dodgers,� he added.

Elaborating on under-valuation conducted by a section of building inspectors, a senior official said of the 17,341 residential flats assessed by the CMC, 12,240 are in the city proper and the rest in Tollygunge. The flat-owners in the city proper (wards 1 to 100) pay Rs 1,502 each as annual tax, while almost 90 per cent of the flat-owners in Tollygunge pay only Rs 242.

�So, of the Rs 142-crore revenue from property tax, Rs 135 crore comes from the city proper,� said Mukherjee.

Statistics show that the annual tax collection from the added areas (wards 101 to 141) of Behala, Jadavpur, Garia and Garden Reach are Rs 15 crore, Rs 4.5 crore, and Rs 80 lakh, respectively.


Calcutta, Feb. 8: 
He conned a travel agency into handing him a bunch of first-class tickets, and took the agent for a ride.

On Thursday morning, a smartly-dressed man, identifying himself as Ashok Kumar, entered the office of Marksmen Tours and Travels in Kalighat and asked to meet the manager. When Subhendu Mondal introduced himself to Kumar, the manager was impressed with the young man�s style.

Kumar gave Mondal a visiting card with addresses in Australia, France and Israel. He said he was a frequent flyer on the global circuit and knew several people who travelled extensively on business. So, would Mondal be interested in a �ticket tie-up�?

Mondal agreed, especially after he was assured that money would be no problem and that all tickets would be promptly paid for. Only, the tickets would have to be confirmed.

For starters, Kumar wanted six first-class Rajdhani tickets and 10 tickets on a Calcutta-Delhi flight. Soon, the tickets were ready and handed over to Kumar. It was then that the young man revealed he was not carrying any money. The times are bad, he said, and unsafe to carry large amounts of money.

Instead, pointing to an airconditioned car he had hired, he asked Mondal to accompany him to his office at Lee Road�s Vaibhav shopping plaza, where he would hand over the money to him. Thrilled at having �struck a lucrative deal�,

Mondal accompanied him. On reaching the plaza, Mondal was made to wait outside while Kumar went in to fetch the money.

Within a short while, Kumar was back with a big envelope, which he said contained about a lakh of rupees of Rs 500 denomination. Handing it over to Mondal, Kumar assured him of more such transactions in future.

Back in office, Mondal opened the envelope to count the money. He found only old and used rail and air tickets. He rushed to the phone to alert the railway and airline offices. Only, he had missed the boat. He was told a man had just cancelled the tickets and taken the refund. �This is not the first time such a thing has happened; we will get the conman soon,� said deputy commissioner of police, south, Ranjit Pachnanda.


Calcutta, Feb. 8: 
Residents of Howrah town and some neighbouring districts went without their morning papers for the second day on Thursday. And they�re likely to miss out on Friday�s edition as well.

Hawkers at Howrah have refused to unload and distribute newspapers following a run-in with the Railway Protection Force (RPF) on Wednesday over using the station premises.

A large number of hawkers of both Citu and Intuc affiliation held a demonstration in front of the divisional railway manager�s office on Thursday afternoon. �We have to use the station, especially during the monsoon... We will continue to strike work till we are granted official permission to use the premises,� said a Citu spokesperson. A senior official of the RPF said the drive against the hawkers had been prompted by the inconvenience caused to passengers every morning.

The divisional railway manager, Howrah, Somenath Mukherjee, however, said: �There is no ban on the hawking of newspapers on platforms... The drive was aimed at clearing the station of illegal encroachers, before it took a different turn on Wednesday.�

�We have never taken action against hawkers, as we feel it�s a service to passengers,� added deputy superintendent of railway police, Sukumar Biswas. But the railway authorities have decided to crack down on �unlicenced hawkers�, who have practically taken up permanent settlement on the station.

�We want to make Howrah station safer at night for passengers and so, now it is mandatory to take the permission of the station-in-charge to spend the night at the station,� said senior security commandant, RPF, S.C. Sahoo.


Calcutta, Feb. 8: 
The six young men who broke into the New CIT Road residence of Burrabazar businessman Ali Asghar Palanpurwala on Wednesday are from Bihar and had arrived in the city recently.

Police detained six employees of the Palanpurwalas on Thursday, as they suspect that one of them is involved in the dacoity. Besides, the two constables who fled the spot have been suspended for �dereliction of duty..�

�The criminals conversed among themselves in Hindi. They had specific information that the Palanpurwalas keep money in the house,�� said deputy commissioner of police, central, Raj Kanojia said.

Once in the apartment, they rummaged the cupboards for the money and failing to find it, called up an associate on a cellular phone to ask for instructions. �Maal kahan rakkhey hain (Where is the money)?�� they asked him. A manhunt has been launched for the gang.


Calcutta, Feb. 8: 
The name Parkomat has become SimPark. The proposed steel structure has given way to concrete columns and beams. Encoders and decoders have lost out to laser technology. But through all the chop and change, the Rs 8.5-crore project to gift Calcutta its first computerised parking lot is right on track.

The SimPark, at the crossing of Park Street and Rawdon Street, will be ready to hoist its first car on 31 March. The three-storeyed, modified parking plaza, to accommodate 215 cars from day one, will formally be unveiled on April 15. The next three will come up, in a phased manner, at New Market, Sealdah and Fairlie Place.

Parking at SimPark promises to be a �pleasure�. �As the name suggests, it is aimed at transforming the concept of parking in rush hours from something crazy and cumbersome to something swift and simple,� says Raghav Das Mundhra, director, Simplex Projects Ltd, implementing the project with the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

�All you have to do is drive into SimPark, lock the car and leave the rest to the computer. Once an empty spot is located and the car slotted, the carrier will come down, lift the pallet and park the vehicle, all within 90 seconds... Just make sure you have the computer-generated magnetic coupon to retrieve your car,� adds the 27-year-old entrepreneur, an ex-student of Don Bosco.

The cost of parking comfort � Rs 10 per hour, with provisions of monthly and annual bookings.

The entire electronic system will be brought in from Machine Fabriek Aarding Bv, in Holland, following a visit there by a technical team, comprising CMC and Simplex officials, later this month.


Calcutta, Feb. 8: 
The much-hyped Tolly�s Nullah excavation programme, scheduled to take off from Thursday, ran aground with encroachers along the canal refusing to budge.

Around 3,500 families will have to be evicted for the Rs 30-crore project to be implemented. The encroachers, who have formed an anti-eviction committee, met irrigation minister Debabrata Bandopadhyay at Writers� Buildings on Thursday and made it clear that they would not move till all of them are rehabilitated.

�The government is giving us a paltry Rs 1,500 as compensation for demolishing our homes. Thousands of poor families have been residing there from the Sixties. Some of our boys and girls are appearing for Madhyamik and Higher Secondary examinations. Where will we go now? We shall not vacate the place till we are provided with alternative accommodation. If the government wants to apply force, it will have to face the consequences,�� said Prabir Das, convener of the committee.

There is a division in the administrative ranks on the issue. Though urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya and mayor Subrata Mukherjee ruled out compensation to the encroachers, the irrigation minister is in favour of proper rehabilitation.

�There is no doubt that they have encroached on the banks of the canal illegally. But these families have been here for 30 to 40 years. Where will they go? The administration can easily evict them with the help of the police but we should ensure their future too,�� Bandopadhyay said.

�They are neither demanding money nor an alternative place in the same area. We can provide them with space anywhere around the city where they can build their new homes,�� the irrigation minister added.

However, Bhattacharya, maintaining his earlier stand, clarified that rehabilitation was not possible. �We are not bound to give any compensation to illegal encroachers. But, on humanitarian grounds, we have offered Rs 1,500 to every family,�� he said.

Echoing Bhattacharya, the mayor said the government would not take the responsibility of rehabilitation. A meeting would be convened with local leaders of all the political parties and people�s representatives to chalk out a plan of action, Mukherjee said.


Calcutta, Feb. 8: 
By the year 2007, the healthcare industry will �create more jobs than the IT industry can ever dream of,� predicted Dr Devi Shetty, chairman of Asia Heart Foundation, on Thursday. He was speaking at the inauguration of a hospital management training programme, organised by the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences, a unit of AHF, in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson, world leaders in medical disposables and pharmaceuticals.

�There will be a few thousand hospitals coming up in the next decade, and with health insurance opening up, the possibilities in the healthcare sector are immense,� Dr Shetty added. Dr Amitava Bose, director, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, agreed with Dr Shetty that insurance can play a significant role.

�Ways and means must be found to spread the culture of buying health insurance among our population, particularly the middle-class. In any case, the healthcare sector holds out great career opportunities for today�s youth. But, it is important to get people stirred by the idea of healthcare as a profession. Hence, the need for efficient management, both of manpower and services,� Bose observed.

The �synergistic partnership� offers a one-year, hands-on training programme, leading to a post-graduate certificate in hospital management. The course comprises classroom study, lab sessions and internship at different hospitals built and managed by the AHF.

Inaugurating the course, Governor Viren J. Shah said: �I have been repeatedly emphasising on the need to train and re-train the service providers in order to sensitise the cadre of workers at different levels so that they show care and concern... In this context, this course is extremely relevant and topical.�

Rajesh Dalal, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, said: �We have organised similar management courses in Singapore in the past. Now, we want professionals from abroad to come and study here. Sponsoring medical education remains part of our credo.�

Calcutta University vice-chancellor Prof A.K. Banerjee hailed the one-year certificate course as a step towards �proper running and management of overhead capital in the healthcare sector�.


Agartala, Feb. 8: 
The National Liberation Front of Tripura released 21 volunteers of the Jamatya Hoda (community council) this morning following intensive combing operations by the police and Tripura State Rifles (TSR) jawans over the past week. The Jamatya Hoda (community council) had also taken a tough stand against the rebels.

The hostages were freed near the remote Nitya Bazar area under Killa police station.

The Hindu Jamatya tribals had been fighting the Church-backed NLFT under the leadership of Hoda Okra (head priest and community leader) Bikram Bahadur Jamatya over the past year. Shortly after receiving information about their return, Bikram Bahadur Jamatya rushed to Killa along with his deputies Haricharan Jamatya and Rampada Jamatya. Inspector-general (law and order) K. Salim Ali described the return of the volunteers as a �big achievement� and attributed it to the relentless combing operations. The joint operations by the police and TSR personnel were led by superintendent of police (South) T.B. Roy and additional SP Arindam Nath.

The IG, who was camping in Udaipur, headquarters of South Tripura district, to co-ordinate rescue operations, said, �The intensive nature of the vigil robbed the militants of breathing space and they were forced to free the hostages.�� The additional SP is now trying to trace the six non-tribal woodcutters abducted by the NLFT from the remote Elongbari area under Udaipur police station on Tuesday.

The mass abduction of 21 volunteers of the Jamatya Hoda by the NLFT on January 29 had sparked tension in the Killa police station areas as the Autonomous District Council (ADC) leadership refused to co-operate with the police. But community council chief Bikram Bahadur Jamatya remained firm in his resolve to carry on his struggle against the NLFT and the police launched a massive search operation to rescue the volunteers.

In a separate incident, NLFT militants hacked to death a tribal civilian in remote Dhanlekha village under Taidu police station in South Tripura last night. Police sources said a group of NLFT militants stormed Madhav Koloi�s house and hacked him to death on the spot and injured his wife. Sources said the killing may be a fallout of Koloi�s refusal to contribute to the NLFT coffers.

Police also arrested a hardcore NLFT militant yesterday while a �commander� of the outfit laid down arms at Gandacherra police station on February 1. The �self-styled� area commander, Balaram Reang (21), surrendered unconditionally. Sources said Balaram�s father Niranjan Reang, who was an area commander of the NLFT, died in a police encounter last year.


Agartala, Feb. 8: 
The sixth Census in Tripura is slated to begin from tomorrow. Authorities have identified a �peculiar tendency� among people in filing incorrect replies to queries on age.

Apart from the need to enrol in the voters� list, people have a �general tendency to furnish wrong information about age to square off age limits on round figures�.

Pointing out this tendency in �single year age returns� (determining the number of people in a particular age group in a year) of the 1991 census, director, census operation, Krishnadhan Nath, said, �In the enumeration of the 1991 Census, the number of people aged 17 were found to be only 37,917 but this shot up to 76,342 when the count for 18-year-olds was taken.

�In our view, many of those enumerated gave wrong age figures to get registered as voters,�� Nath told newspersons.

Besides, the peculiar tendency to file returns about age in round figures was also revealed by the census.

The fact that in 1991 only 31,617 people were found to be in the agegroup of 19 and 76,917 people claimed to be 20-year-old highlights the trend.

Similarly, as against 14,511 people in the age group of 29, a whopping 10,37,68 returned the figure of 30 as their age. �This has caught our attention and this time we have directed enumerators to insist on correct age returns from people as part of the census operations,�� Nath said.

The director of the census, who addressed a Press conference, at the state secretariat today, said altogether 7,500 census enumerators and supervisers start work tomorrow and the exercise would be completed on February 28.

On the last day, the migrants and floating population would be taken into account.

Nath said for complete information �enumerators would ask 24 specific questions and record replies.�

Special attention would be paid to counting of the �physically-handicapped and mentally retarded people� because there was a tendency among a section of people to conceal information on this sensitive issue, he added.

Regarding the difficulty in conducting census operations in the hilly interior areas ravaged by extremism, Nath said the state government has made special security arrangements to help census enumerators visit the areas.    

Imphal, Feb. 8: 
Samata Party president Jaya Jaitley today said her party has no differences with the BJP over the leadership issue in the Opposition Manipur Democratic Front.

Addressing newsmen here, Jaitley stressed the need to topple the present W. Nipamacha Singh-led United Front of Manipur ministry for an effective government.

The Opposition camp, which was backing Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy in the battle against Nipamacha Singh, has been unable to split the UFM. One of the reasons for the Opposition�s failure to topple the UFM ministry was the intense leadership tussle between BJP legislature wing leader R.K. Dorendra Singh and Samata legislature party leader Radhabinod Koijam.

Jaitley, however, denied any leadership tussle between her party and the BJP in Manipur. �We do not see it as a crisis. The leadership issue of the MDF would be settled in a democratic manner,� she said. Jaitley said the Samata Party was capable of leading the Opposition if Nipamacha ministry is toppled.

She said the formula of the single largest party leading the government should also be applied in Manipur. �This is the formula accepted in other states and we hope it will also be accepted in Manipur,� Jaitley said. Saying her party was the largest party in the Opposition camp, the Samata chief said they should be given the leadership as per democratic tradition. Earlier in the day, BJP�s national secretary in charge of Manipur, P.B. Acharya, told newsmen at state BJP headquarters that the leadership issue of the Opposition MDF was still open.

Acharya said the new leader of the MDF would be elected democratically and enjoy the support of the majority of the MLAs.

Both Jaitley and Acharya blasted the Nipamacha Singh ministry for its failures in all spheres. On the implementation of the 26-point action plan submitted to Union home minister L.K. Advani by chief minister Nipamacha Singh, Jaitley said there was more violation of the action plan by the UFM government than its positive action. She said the action plan was a ploy of Nipamacha Singh to buy more time from the Centre.

Reiterating the Samata Party�s demand for the imposition of President�s rule in Manipur, Jaitley charged the Congress for not giving a green signal. She said the Congress has backed out from its earlier commitment and was unlikely to support Central rule in Manipur.

Jaitley said the Samata Party still believes that Manipur is a fit case for invoking Article 356 of the Constitution. She demanded that the Congress show its responsibility to save the state from plunging into uncertainty.

The Samata chief said the party only wants to change the prevailing trend of gun culture in Manipur and provide good governance.


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