Gunmen raid Chowringhee flat
Lid off extortion racket at station
HS exams to begin on March 20
Bid to bring Picasso to city
Suicide graph on the rise in Tripura
Orissa BJP leader backs Laxman
Mizoram links Reang repatriation to militancy
Assam unit lauds Mamata
Rights twist to Army jawan�s court martial
Literary crown for Hiruda

Calcutta, March. 17: 
Armed dacoits stormed into the apartment of Pratip Chabra, a businessman, in Brabourne House in Chowringhee Lane on Saturday morning. They fired three rounds, injuring the owner, before escaping with the loot, which included a licensed pistol.

Another youth was shot on the crowded street when he tried to stop one of the goons. The two wounded men were hospitalised but they are out of danger now, doctors said.

Banibrata Basu, the city detective chief, who visited the flat, said a hunt is on for the criminals. The guard of the building is being questioned, he said.

Only on February 7, the flat of the Palampurwala family on New CIT Road was looted.

Three youths raided the first floor flat of Chabra, who deals in watches, around 9 am. They simply walked into the flat without anybody there to prevent them. As usual, the door remained open after the sweeper had cleaned the flat.

Pinki, Chabra�s wife, who is also a hotel employee, said: �My 10-year-old son Shlok and I were present when the goons entered. My husband had gone to the adjacent flat on the same floor for his morning bath. First, I opened the door when the sweeper came, but I did not lock the door from inside. Soon, three youths, one of them masked, stormed into our flat. They locked the door and took out revolvers, one grenade and a razor.

�The trio in their early twenties was armed. One of them aimed a revolver at my forehead while two others shut the windows. The music system was on. They shouted at me, asking me not to switch off the music,� said Pinki.

One of the goons ordered Pinki to handover Rs two lakh. �I told them that I did not have the money. Suddenly, one of them started snatching my gold ornaments. I started shouting, when one of the dacoits aimed his revolver at Shlok�s head and threatened to kill him. So I remained silent. One of the men raised the volume of the sound system. The young man, who looked like the kingpin, came close to me with a razor and threatened to chop off my nose and ears if I shouted,� added Pinki.

Then the dacoits picked up a key lying on the table. They opened the almirah and took out Rs 3,000. They noticed a .32 bore pistol kept on the upper-case. They took out the firearm and the loaded magazine.

As the goons were all set to leave, suddenly Chabra started knocking the door from outside. �Sensing trouble, they aimed the gun and we huddled together. One of them opened the door and dragged my husband into the room. They again bolted the door. We all were forced to sit on the floor,� added Pinki.

The dacoits opened the door, and as they were leaving, her husband caught one of the goons and pinned him down. One of the men fired at him. �My husband slumped on the floor and the goons managed to save their accomplice,� said Pinki.

Chabra shut the door but the goons fired once again. The bullet pierced the wooden section of the door. They started running downstairs. Hearing the pistol shots, a crowd gathered in front of the building. As the goons emerged, Vijay, a local youth, chased them. The gangsters fired and injured him. Soon, the crowd dispersed. They, finally, walked out unimpeded towards Kyd Street.

A sub-inspector from Taltala police station reached the spot half an hour later. He found two bullets.


Calcutta, March. 17: 
An extortion racket run by touts of taxi drivers at Howrah station has come to light with the arrest of three persons.

Interrogation of the three has revealed that the gang used to fleece tourists. Passengers, who seemed desperate for a taxi late at night, were spotted and huddled into waiting taxis, parked a few yards away from the pre-paid taxi stand at the station. After travelling for some time, the taxi would suddenly stop on a deserted road and the driver would demand an exorbitant amount from the passengers. They would be asked to get off if they refused to comply. The passengers, thus cornered, would usually give in.

The arrested persons have been identified as Debaprasad Singh, alias Deba, Sankar Das, alias Karwa, and Omprakash Gupta.

�They were arrested on the basis of a complaint filed by Uttam Mondal, a resident of Mumbai,� said Nilmoni Barik, officer-in-charge of GRP, Howrah.

�The arrested men have confessed that their accomplices would sometimes even rob the passengers,� said Kaushik Banerjee, investigating officer of the case, on Saturday. According to Banerjee, the spoils were equally divided between the taxi driver and the tout.

Some of the unauthorised porters at the station were also part of the racket, the police said. �Sajamol, the kingpin of the racket, used to pay a monthly fee to the porters for luring passengers. We have identified some of them. They will soon be rounded up,� a senior officer said.

The police have yet to arrest Sajamol. �A number of his hideouts have been raided and he will be in our net soon,� Barik said.

Two held: Two men, Sanjay Sonkar and Rajendra Mali, were arrested in Burrabazar on Saturday. They have been booked for extortion in the Jorasanko, Maniktala and Jorabagan areas.


Calcutta, March. 17: 
The West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education has advanced this year�s exam by a week in view of the ensuing Assembly elections.

The exam will begin on March 20 and will continue till April 11. Last year, it began from March 26.

Altogether 3,84,466 candidates will sit for the examinations. All practical papers, except music, will be over by April 30, Sudin Chattopadhyay, council president, said on Saturday.

The council will run a control room at its Salt Lake office (telephone no: 337-4945) from 7 am to 6 pm every day during the exams. Similar control rooms will operate in Midnapore (03222-60318), Burdwan (0342-563734) and Siliguri (0353-551280).

This year, too, the council will allow candidates appearing in science and commerce streams to use calculators.

The Calcutta State Transport Corporation will run special buses for examinees from March 20. These buses will operate on 25 different routes from 9 am on the days of the exams, CSTC sources informed.


Calcutta, March. 17: 
Soumitra Chatterjee was presented the Commadeur des Arts et des Lettres by French ambassador Bernard de Montferrand for his contribution to cinema and theatre at a private ceremony on Friday evening. The ambassador paid glowing tributes to the actor, who began his career as a radio announcer, and was soon to become Satyajit Ray�s favourite actor. Later, Chatterjee distinguished himself as a theatre director and by virtue of his recitation.

Chatterjee acknowledged the honour by remembering those individuals, such as Tulsi Chakrabarty, connected with cinema who passed into oblivion unsung, in spite of their tremendous talent.

Soon after the ceremony and sarod recital that followed were over, the ambassador was besieged with demands for bringing the Picasso show, scheduled to be held in Delhi and Mumbai in December and January, to Calcutta. Though the ambassador refused to make any commitment, the representatives of both Birla Academy of Art and Culture and Victoria Memorial offered their galleries for the show.

Birla Academy (which still does not have track lighting in spite of impressive exhibition space) staked its claim on the strength of the fact that it had earlier hosted the Rodin show, which drew phenomenal crowds, and later the exhibition of Picasso prints. According to the Victoria Memorial authorities, which, about two years ago, organised an exhibition of Vivan Sundaram�s installation in Durbar Hall, it has already been proposed that the space will be air-conditioned to attract international exhibitions.

Mecon, metallurgical and engineering consultants, have begun a feasibility study of the Durbar Hall. If air-conditioning is the pre-condition of bringing the Picasso show to the city, the proposal will be placed before the board of trustees. The question that still remains unanswered is, will Picasso yet again bypass the city?


Agartala, March 17: 
More than two persons commit suicide in Tripura everyday, a trend growing over the past three years. This was revealed in the ongoing session of the Assembly today.

Replying to a query from Congress MLA Ratan Lal Nath, chief minister Manik Sarkar said during the first 816 days of the incumbent fourth Left Front government tenure (from March 11, 1998 to June 7, 2000) nearly 1,753 persons committed suicide.

Most of them who preferred to end their lives � either by hanging or poisoning � were women, Sarkar told the House.

Of the state�s 45 police stations, only two tribal-dominated police stations � Vangmun in the Jampui Hills and Ganganagar in Gandacherra � did not register any suicide case during the period.

According to Sarkar, the East Agartala police station topped the list, having registered 195 cases. East Agartala is closely followed by Bishalgarh, Khowai and West Agartala police stations of West Tripura district with 136, 116 and 105 cases respectively.

The police was prompt in investigating suicide cases. This was evident from the chief minister reply�s which stated that of 1,753 cases recorded, the police filed chargesheets in as many as 1,485 cases.

This is a record of sorts in Tripura where the police often failed to file chargesheets in murder cases of politicians and bureaucrats also.

Sarkar attributed the high incidence of suicide in the state to �growing stress and depression of modern life, personal and family problems�. He, however, asserted that the matter needed to be looked into.

Nath said the rise in suicides assumed dangerous proportions in Tripura. He ascribed part of the problem to frustration caused by unemployment. �Last year, leading singer Nirmal Chakraborty committed suicide after failing to get a government job and only few days ago, a 14-year-old son boy hanged himself to death within two hours of his father�s premature death,� he added.

He also demanded action from the government as well as NGOs to curb growing morbidity in the minds of young people.

Jharkhand SEB: The Jharkhand State Electricity Board formally came into being with the appointment of Rajiv Ranjan as its first chairman after notification for constitution of the board was received at the state secretariat in Ranchi last night, reports PTI.

State energy minister Lalchand Mahato said S.N. Akhauri will be the member (technical) of the board and the commissioner-cum-finance secretary. The power secretary will be the board�s ex-officio member, he added.


Bhubaneswar, March 17: 
The Orissa unit of the BJP today sprang to the defence of its disgraced former party president Bangaru Laxman, levelling flimsy accusations against Tehelka journalists.

Describing the Tehelka expose as a �Congress conspiracy�, former vice-president of the BJP state unit and Lok Sabha MP from Berhampur Anadi Sahu claimed that Mathew Samuel, one of the undercover reporters in the Tehelka expose, was a spokesman in the media cell of the Kerala Congress.

�Where is the evidence of corruption? No deal has been fixed. The arms company floated is also fictitious. Tehelka is acting at the behest of parties who have been rejected by the people,� Sahu told newspersons at the BJP party office.

The BJP leader said for a case of bribery to be established, it had to be confirmed that the accused had demanded it. �In the case of Laxman, he never asked for it. The Tehelka reporter instead said it was a New Year gift for the party. Laxman is totally innocent. He just could not understand the Delhi conspiracy,� he reasoned.

Sahu said a case against Tehelka could be started at a sessions court for trying to intimidate and defame public servants. The party may initiate a case under Section 292 of the CrPC against the news portal and the reporters for their �intimidating activities�, he said, adding, �Spy camera journalism is not ethical�.

Though admitting that the image of the party had taken a severe beating due to the expose, Sahu said it would not affect the relations between the BJD and the BJP in Orissa.

�Things are taking a good shape. The Prime Minister has already talked to Naveen Patnaik. The BJD�s relation with the BJP is as fine as it was before the Tehelka issue,� he said.

Sahu said BJP�s all-India general secretary Maya Singh will visit Bhubaneswar on Wednesday to discuss strategies to counter the negative fallout of the issue. The party workers will tour hundreds of villages in the state to spread the government�s viewpoint, he added.


Agartala, March 17: 
The Mizoram government�s bid to link the repatriation of more than 31,000 Reang tribal refugees stranded in six North Tripura camps over the past three-and-a-half years to the issue of Bru militancy has dimmed the prospect of an early repatriation of refugees.

Mizoram government�s latest stand was made clear at a tripartite meeting held in Delhi between the chief secretaries of Mizoram, Tripura and senior officials of the Union home ministry. Mizoram chief secretary H.V. Lalringa said unless the Bru National Liberation Front stopped terrorist activities in Mizoram, repatriation of refugees would not be possible.

Despite persuasion by Union home ministry officials and Tripura chief secretary V. Thulasidas, the Mizoram chief secretary refused to budge from his stand. Last year, Mizoram had stalled the repatriation process saying only 16,000 of the 31,000 refugees in Tripura camps were genuine Mizoram residents.

Official sources here expressed resentment over �fresh obstacles being created by Mizoram.� They said there were 31,811 Reang refugees in Tripura and all of them were genuine residents of Mizoram. The Reang tribals fled Mammith subdivision in southern Mizoram to Kanchanpur in North Tripura in October 1997 following alleged atrocities by Mizo tribals and the police. The Reang tribals were demanding a separate district council.

After many fluctuations, the Tripura government put the number of refugees at 31,811 following a thorough headcount.

A series of meetings between officials of Tripura and Mizoram governments had failed to break the deadlock over repatriation.

Mizoram refused to relent despite intervention by Union home minister L.K. Advani and National Human Rights Commission. Official sources said the Centre has so far sanctioned Rs 27.25 crore for the refugees and added that last year it backed out of its commitment to take them back.

The Mizoram government has demanded Rs 20 crore from the Centre for repatriation and rehabilitation of refugees in the state, sources said.

Two overground advisors of the BNLF Timothy Bru and Joseph Bru have described the Mizoram government�s insistence on the surrender of BNLF activists �a gimmick�� aimed at garnering public support. They said there was a �secret offer from the Mizoram government for peace talks� and they were ready to accept it. But that could not be linked to repatriation of Reang refugees, they added. They made it clear that even if they came to the negotiating table, the talks would have to be held either in Calcutta or in Guwahati. �We will never take part in any talks at Aizawl,�� they added.


Guwahati, March 17: 
State unit of the Trinamul Congress today lauded party president Mamata Banerjee for her decision to quit as the railway minister and also withdraw support to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance following the Tehelka disclosures.

The party also called upon other NDA partners to follow Mamata Banerjee�s path.

State Trinamul Congress chief Chittaranjan Patwari said Mamata Banerjee resigned from the Vajpayee ministry and withdrew support to the NDA in the �greater interest� of the country and as part of her �relentless fight against corruption at the highest level.� Patwari also announced that barring the constituencies falling under Bodoland Autonomous Council areas and the two hill districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hill, the Trinamul Congress decided to contest all other seats on its own.

He said the BJP and the Trinamul Congress were exploring the possibilities of seat sharing. Patwari said the BJP would be reduced to a minimum in Assam if the alliance failed to take off.


Imphal, March 17: 
An Army havildar, who had once tried to stop Assam Rifles personnel from dragging a minor boy away from his house, is likely to face court martial on charges of obstructing operational activities. But the issue threatens to snowball into a major controversy as the September 1999 incident has been taken up by the National Human Rights Commission.

Havildar Bhorot Singh, a resident of Heirok village in Thoubal district, was serving in the ninth battalion of the Assam regiment at the time of the incident.

He is now attached to the 14 battalion of the National Cadet Corps here as an instructor.

In September, 1999 the havildar saw Assam Rifles personnel dragging I. Ingobi � the son of his neighbour� while on his way to work. As the boy was unable to communicate with the securitymen either in Hindi or English, his mother rushed to Bhorot Singh for help. The havildar flashed his identity card and approached the major who was commanding the Assam Rifles troops. But instead of listening to Bhorot Singh, the major snatched his identity card and assaulted him. Two more Assam Rifles jawans joined their officer in beating up Singh.

The havildar�s wife subsequently lodged a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission and sought �appropriate� action against the major and the jawans.

Following an inquiry, the case was referred to the National Human Rights Commission. Sources said the Army authorities have charged the havildar with obstructing the operational activities of the Assam Rifles. Bhorot Singh is currently lodged at the Assam Rifles headquarters in Kangla Fort for a court martial. Sources said Bhorot Singh may lose his job or be demoted.

In her complaint filed with the Manipur Human Rights Commission, Bhorot Singh�s wife said the major had accused her husband of harbouring ties with militants. She said her husband was assaulted for trying to prevent the Assam Rifles jawans from beating up the minor boy.

Army authorities have reportedly taken a serious note of the major�s report while deciding the havildar�s fate. Assam Rifles is a para-military force under the operational command of the Army, but it is under the administrative control of Union home ministry.

Majority of the officers in Assam Rifles are Army officers, who are on deputation.

Arunachal budget: The budget session of the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly will begin here on Monday with the address of Governor Arvind Dave, official sources said.

Chief minister Mukut Mithi, who is also holding the finance portfolio, will present the budget for the year 2001-2002 on the same day. The session is likely to continue for four days, sources said, reports PTI.


Guwahati, March 17: 
Noted poet Hiren Bhattacharjya was crowned with the prestigious Assam Valley Literary Award instituted by the Williamson Magor in glittering ceremony at Rabindra Bhawan here today.

The award � comprising Rs 2 lakh in cash, a citation and a specially-designed trophy � was presented to him by noted Gujarati novelist Raghuveer Chaudhari.

The cash component, which was originally Rs 1 lakh, has been increased to Rs 2 lakh from this year.

The demure poet, whose hallmark is simplicity in literary works as well as lifestyle, said terrorist violence and intolerance in the Assamese society of the last two decades had left him �unhappy�.

�The mind weighs so heavy under militancy and intolerance that no pleasure can lighten the burden,� Bhattacharjya said in his acceptance speech.

�For some obtruse and profound social reasons our literary world is now without lush vegetation. Great literature is created by the forces of history, and literature runs to seed when divorced from life and social consciousness,� he said.

Bhattacharjya, whose simplicity commanded great popularity, especially among the young readers, said, �The true award that literature earns an author is his readers.� He, however, admitted that recognition given by an organisation had its own worth. �In reality, an award is the consequence of the creative endeavour of a writer,� he added.

Singing paeans to the poetic genius of Bhattacharjya, R.S. Jhawar of the Williamson Magor Education Trust said the poet�s ability to convey complex emotions through his writings and his direct communication with the readers through lucid and simple style made him one of the few popular poets of contemporary Assamese literary world.

Even though Bhattacharjya has had an illustrious career as a poet, he still shies away from calling himself one.

�I dare not call myself a poet. Every poet lays himself bare through his works. He has no identity apart from that of his poetry,� he added.

�Poetry is not a spontaneous affair,� he said, adding that it has its own art and technique of making. �The technique is Frankenstein too, for it gobbles up its own constructs,� he added.

The noted poet said every fresh experience was poetry. �The awareness of modern living, the joys and sorrows, the complexity and disillusion have found their expression in poetry.�

Referring to the popularity of Indian poetry, he said Indian poets had not only reached out to East Europe and Africa but were familiar like Neruda, Lorca and Akhmatova.

Chief guest Raghuveer Chaudhari said Gujarat was keen to have the best literary works of Assamese litterateurs translated into Gujarati. �Though Gujarat can afford the money to have all the best works translated, we cannot match the Asam Sahitya Sabha meetings, which are attended by lakhs of people,� Chaudhuri said.

Chaudhuri, who is among the most prominent names in the Gujarati literary scene, said to confer an award to a litterateur was like bringing him light. �I feel like a student when I come here,� he said.


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