Shootout at Dhakuria station
Gunmen abduct plywood trader
Autonomy hits Left stonewall
Smartcards caught in war of Webels
Teenagers brought back home
Computers for the sightless
Tripura CM for truce to end insurgency
Eleven jawans shot dead in NLFT ambush
Keishing lone Opp. crusader
Orissa probe

Calcutta, March 21: 
In a deadly strike on Wednesday morning, a 35-year-old man was killed and two persons were injured at Dhakuria station.

Nurul Islam Khansama, a CPM activist, was shot dead from point-blank range in front of several schoolchildren and office-goers by four armed men, around 8 am. Nurul, a mason, died on the way to hospital, while Ashoke Gayen and Latif Mullick have been admitted to M.R. Bangur Hospital with bullet injuries.

�Political rivalry cannot be ruled out,� said Sudhir Kumar Dey, a Government Railway Police official. Kanti Ganguly, CPM district committee member, said: �Nurul was a supporter and party worker. He didn�t have any criminal record. This was a planned murder. We are exploring the political vendetta angle.�

At around 8 am, Nurul arrived at Dhakuria station, with Ashoke and Latif, in a Sealdah-bound EMU local. They were sipping tea at a stall on platform no 2 when the assailants struck. According to witnesses, a gang of four took up position behind the three middle-aged men and first shot Nurul from the back. �He fell down, bleeding profusely. Then, they turned their guns on Ashoke and Latif. The two attempted to jump aside, but were struck by bullets,� recounted a witness.

After the swift attack, the goons crossed over to platform no 1, boarded a taxi, hurled a few bombs to shake off possible pursuers, and left.

Fear gripped the station and adjoining areas. Daily passengers and vendors fled the platforms. The station remained deserted for over half an hour, though trains passed through on schedule.

All the while, Nurul lay on the platform, bleeding to death. Finally, a few passengers picked him up, put him on a rickshaw and set off for a nearby hospital. But he soon succumbed to his injuries. Then, the police arrived and removed the body and took the injured to hospital.

Preliminary investigations revealed that Nurul and Latif were residents of Radhanagar, in Mograhat, while Ashoke lived in nearby Vidyadharpur. All three worked as masons in Dhakuria.

According to Mohammad Usdar Ali Sheikh, a relative of the victim, Nurul, a CPM committee member of Mograhat East, had fallen prey to �an old inter-party rivalry between the local CPM and Congress over distribution of land� in his locality. �The rival group had tried to kill Nurul before... They must have observed that he would reach Dhakuria station around this time every day and proceed for work. It was obviously a carefully-planned murder,� said Ali.

Several residents of Dhakuria Station Road alleged that criminal activity had increased in the past few months.


Calcutta, March 21: 
A plywood merchant, Alam Rehman, was abducted at gun-point from his shop on congested Ananda Palit Road, in Entally, on Wednesday evening.

Four armed criminals got off a green Maruti van and stormed into Rehman�s office. The trader had little time to react as a youth in a black mask pointed a revolver to his head and directed him towards the waiting vehicle.

Local residents, including the trader�s staff, were too stunned to react as Rehman and his escort climbed into the van, which was being guarded on both sides by armed hoodlums. Only after the vehicle had sped away did the panic-stricken employees call up Entally police station.

The incident sent shock waves through the bustling locality. �It was 5.30 pm and the area was buzzing with activity. The road was congested and there was lot of activity in and around Rehman�s shop. It is strange how the criminals ignored the crowd and forced him into their vehicle,� said Aniruddha Saha, a local trader.

Shopkeepers surrounded senior police officials when they arrived at Rehman�s shop half an hour later and demanded that police vigil be stepped up in the area. Police said this was the fifth kidnapping in the past month.

According to deputy commissioner of police, eastern suburban division, Mihir Bhattacharya, the four criminals had stolen the van from Gariahat on Monday afternoon, a report confirmed by DC, headquarters, Raj Kanojia.

Witnesses said two men broke open the lock, got into the car and drove away. The owner arrived 15 minutes later and, not finding his vehicle at the parking lot, raised an alarm.

Local shopowners informed him that two young men had stolen the vehicle. The car-owner then registered a complaint with Gariahat police station.

�We have issued a look-out notice for the van. Investigations revealed that the criminals had meticulously planned the abduction of Rehman and had kept tabs on his movements,�� Kanojia said.

Detectives have installed a caller line identification (CLI) machine in Rehman�s house to track down incoming calls.

The plywood merchant�s relatives, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the trader had received phone calls from unknown persons, who threatened him with dire consequences if he did not pay �protection money�.

Police said Rehman had initially dismissed the calls as pranks by business rivals.

Later in the night, police picked up two youngsters for questioning. Detectives spoke at length with Rehman�s family members to unearth possible angles to the kidnapping drama.


Calcutta, March 21: 
Plans for granting autonomy to Presidency College, St Xaviers, Lady Brabourne and eight other institutions outside Calcutta appear to have run into a Left stonewall yet again.

All 15 Leftist members of the Calcutta University Syndicate are believed to have opposed the University Grants Commission (UGC) proposal for autonomy to these colleges on the grounds that the move will boomerang on the party before the elections.

The CPM-controlled Syndicate will not take any decision on the proposal before the elections.

About a year ago, the UGC had urged the university to consider a proposal for granting autonomy to 11 under-graduate colleges, of which three are in Calcutta. But the CPM-dominated body has not yet taken any decision on this.

The issue came up for discussion at the Syndicate meeting on February 27 and March 13, but the CPM and other Left Front members did not allow any discussion on it.

Shyamapada Pal, member of the Syndicate and CPM leader, said they wanted an elaborate discussion on the issue before taking any decision on autonomy.

Mihir Guha, CPI leader and Syndicate member, said that they were against granting autonomy to any of the colleges. Arnab Roy of the RSP echoed what the other leaders had to say.

Guha and Roy said that the Syndicate was unlikely to take up the issue before the polls.

Sutanu Bhattacharjee, joint secretary of the UGC, eastern region, said the Commission had not received any response from the university authorities a year after its autonomy proposal. He also pointed out that granting autonomy to the colleges was an issue dependent totally on the university.

CPM insiders feel that granting autonomy to any under-graduate college before the elections may affect their poll prospects.

�We are fighting against the BJP for its move to privatise the public sector undertakings in the state and are receiving remarkable response from the common people. They may react adversely if we now grant autonomy to any college. Our opposition parties in the state might try to give a wrong impression to voters by claiming that granting autonomy will pave the path for privatisation of these academic institutions. If we do it before the elections, we stand to lose public support,� a senior state CPM leader said.

Calcutta University vice-chancellor Ashis Banerjee confirmed that the issue had not been discussed in the Syndicate meetings on February 27 and March 13. �We have not yet communicated anything to the UGC because the issue has not taken a final shape yet. It will be discussed in the Syndicate once the members desire to take it up,� he added.


Calcutta, March 21: 
Webel is at war with Webel. Or rather, it�s the Webel Electronic Communications Systems (WECS) Ltd versus its �parent body�, the West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corporation Ltd (WBEIDC).

And caught in the crossfire is a hi-tech public utility project aimed at making life easier for the Calcuttan.

The two wings of Webel, the nodal IT agency of the state, have ended up bidding for the same BOOT (build, own, operate and transfer) project to introduce micro-processor-based smartcards for driving licences and registration certificates.

WBEIDC has �created the confusion� by staging a last-minute entry into the project with �another party�, just when WECS had it all tied up with a �reliable partner�, Bangalore-based Shonkh Technologies.

This has forced WECS to fire off a letter to the IT secretary demanding why WBEIDC, which had every detail of the previous offer, had been allowed to submit another offer with a third party. �This has created a lot of confusion in the minds of our prospective clients, the transport department,� states the letter.

The cards, embedded with latest micro-processors, have already been introduced successfully by Shonkh in Gujarat. They have proved convenient, portable, durable and secure.

Smartcards with optical memory for RC books store the owner�s photograph, fingerprint, signature, scanned chassis number etc, for a period of 15 years and driving licences on normal smart cards make it tamper proof.

Shonkh had given a detailed proposal to the transport department in April 2000. After �an extensive search for a reliable partner�, WECS identified Shonkh as �the most competent company� in terms of �technology, expertise and experience�, and entered into an agreement with it to jointly implement the 15-year BOOT project.

According to sources, following a presentation by Shonkh and WECS before the apex committee on IT chaired by environment minister Manab Mukherjee, it was decided that the government would not go for an open tender. WECS was asked to submit a fresh proposal. Consequently, a proposal was submitted by Shonkh and WECS on February 13.

It is learnt that at a meeting on March 14 between transport department officials, WECS and Shonkh, the proposal was �passed, in principle�. The principal secretary in the transport department asked them to carry out a survey of the existing infrastructure at regional transport offices and propose a detailed implementation schedule for the project, along with a scheme for toll plazas.

Enter, WBEIDC. Touting a proposed tie-up with Delhi-based Subba Micro Systems Ltd, headed by the �lottery king� of the Northeast Mani Kumar Subba. It is learnt that the indicative prices for the cards spelt out in the second offer were no more than Rs 5 lower than those offered by the first, hinting at an inside job.

With WBEIDC adding a twist in the smartcard tale and WECS sticking to its stand, the transport department has decided to play it safe and refer the case to the IT department. The casualty is, of course, the pubic-utility project, which was to have been awarded by the second week of March.

S.K. Mitra, managing director, Webel, chose not to read too much into the controversy. �Anybody who has a technology, which the government is interested in looking at, normally comes to us, and if it�s okay with us, we forward it to the government. In this case, too, we have received two proposals, and have forwarded both to the government for consideration.�


Calcutta, March 21: 
Police brought back a 13-year-old girl and a 14-year boy who had fled home for Maithon, in Bihar, on March 16. A pair of friends, also in their teens, who joined them on the holiday, are still missing. Police said the boy and girl are neighbours, living in Dover Lane and Panditiya Lane. The boy had appeared for his Madhyamik examinations this year and the girl is a Class VII student in a local private school. Their fathers are traders in Gariahat.

Police said the four drew up their holiday plans last month, but their parents refused permission. On March 16, they assembled at the Garcha gurdwara and took a bus to Howrah. There, they boarded a train to Chandannagar and proceeded to Maithon via Asansol.

Police tracked them down in Bihar on March 20. But during the journey back, the friends gave the police the slip. They got off the train in one of the platforms before it pulled into Howrah station.


Calcutta, March 21: 
Come Thursday, the Society for the Visually Handicapped will have nine computers in its stable, thanks to an offer from software institute NIIT.

The machines will be handed over at a programme on the premises of the West Bengal State Central Library.

The Dover Road-based institute, founded in 1983, promotes education among the sightless.

�Since state of-the-art computers are now becoming obsolete within six months, we have in our possession machines, which may not fulfil our present needs but are as good as new and can be well-utilised by the institute,� said head, NIIT East, Tulika Sinha.

Society chief Hena Basu said the machines would help catalogue books in its library, which have to be transferred to Braille with the help of a Braille embosser. �We intend to supply this reading material to individuals and institutions, particularly in West Bengal and the Northeast.�

With the acquisition of computers, there are plans to procure audio software to facilitate the visually handicapped.

�Although they may initially require guidance, they will soon be able to handle these machines independently,� she added.


Silchar, March 21: 
In a bid to pave the way for a dialogue with the insurgent groups, the Tripura government is considering a Nagaland-type ceasefire in the insurgency-ravaged state.

Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar told The Telegraph today that the Centre should immediately take the initiative in this regard. Sarkar kicked off the CPM�s campaign for the ensuing Assam Assembly polls at the Gandhi Park here.

However, the Centre should ensure before announcing the truce that the rebels observe the ceasefire rules, he said. Proper ground rules should also be framed for monitoring the ceasefire, he added.

The chief minister said the militant outfits are yet to send any feelers for a ceasefire or their readiness for talks. He said, �We belong to a government formed by a democratic party. We are always open for discussion.�

Sarkar said insurgency in Tripura is now on the wane as the tribals in the state have now realised that �the guerrilla forces are an obstacle for economic development.�

Sarkar accused the Centre of not co-operating with the state government in solving the insurgency problem. He demanded that the Centre should immediately deploy the three Army battalions which were taken out of the state during the Kargil War.

Denying media reports on his government�s difference in opinion with the Assam Rifles, Sarkar said the para military outfit under the Union home ministry has done praiseworthy work in combating insurgency.

The chief minister said the Tripura National Liberation Fro-nt has set up 31 training centres in its hideouts in Bangladesh. However, the Dhaka authorities are not keen on a crackdown even as the Centre had repeatedly urged them to take action, he added.

Naga peace rally

A two-day convention of the members of the Indian Civil Society adopted a �Kohima declaration� urging the Centre to expedite the Naga peace process to find a lasting solution to the decades-old political imbroglio, reports our Kohima correspondent.

Civil rights activists, journalists, lawyers, human rights activists, students and representatives of non-governmental organisations discussed the problem after touring the affected areas and adopted the declaration.

The declaration said the members were convinced of the people�s �desire to live with dignity� and that freedom had been �denied to them for over 53 years.�


Agartala, March 21: 
Outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura militants gunned down four BSF jawans and seven General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF) personnel in a daring ambush in the remote Moracherra area in North Tripura district this morning.

Sources said 14 people were injured in the incident, including five jawans of the BSF�s 27th battalion. The militants took away a light machine gun, a mortar and a wireless set from the security forces.

The injured have been rushed to G.B. Hospital in Agartala. Three of them are in a critical condition.

Sources said a large group of NLFT rebels ambushed two BSF vehicles escorting a truckload of GREF workers and technical personnel from Kalitilla border outpost to Reang Basti under Fatikroy police station at 8.30 am today.

The BSF jawans trapped inside the vehicles failed to retaliate as they came under heavy fire from sophisticated weapons. Four BSF jawans and seven GREF men died on the spot, the sources added.

Sources said only eight victims have been identified. They are Bhagyaram Rava, Giri Gopal and Kshitish Sarkar of the BSF and sub-inspector K. Acharjee, overseer Shyamal Babu and labourers Raj Kumar Munda, Manik Deb and Shibnath Debbarma of the GREF.

Sources said the rebels were reportedly led by NLFT commander Tapan Koloi. The militants escaped to their Burunji Basti hideout in Sylhet district of Bangladesh which is just two km away from the site of the ambush.

A large contingent of police force, led by deputy inspector-general (range) A.K. Shukla, have rushed to the spot and launched a search. There are no reports of any arrests.

Inspector-general of police (law and order) K. Salim Ali said the search operation will continue and all efforts will be made to prevent more attacks by the NLFT.

Altogether 102 people, including 15 security personnel, have been killed by militants this year. The figure includes recovery of 30 bodies of people who were abducted and killed by militants.

On March 3 this year, NLFT rebels have gunned down 11 CRPF personnel and snatched away a number of sophisticated weapons in an ambush in Bampur under Birganj police station in South Tripura district.


Imphal, March 21: 
At 81 years, veteran Congress leader Rishang Keishing is brimming with energy. The former Congress chief minister is now �the lone man in the Opposition bench.� Nevertheless, the veteran politician continues to spring surprises for the treasury benches with his volley of lively debates.

After the Radhabinod Koijam-led People�s Front commanded the support of 57 members in the 60-member Manipur Assembly (the effective strength of which is 59), the senior Congress MLA cut a lonely figure in the Opposition.

However, his vast experience in governance in a parliamentary democracy has helped Keishing to launch a crusade against the People�s Front government.

In the past three days of the budget session, he was the only member to raise questions during Question Hour and grilled the chief minister on many subjects.

After the Question Hour, Keishing moved �call attention motions� on financial matters of the state and then participated in the budget discussion.

�I am not tired of speaking the whole day in the House. I enjoy it. I am now preparing for tomorrow�s discussion,� the indefatigable Keishing told The Telegraph today.

He also expressed satisfaction over the local media �backing� him in his endeavours. �I have a plenty of issues to speak on, particularly those relating to the government�s policies. This is my the service to the people.�

Asked about being the lone Opposition member in the House, he said, �I do not feel lonely.� However, he added that the present position was a temporary arrangement. He predicted more problems for the People�s Front government after the budget session. He feels that the real political scenario will emerge before the next session.

Keishing was full of energy and vitality while participating in the budget discussion. He grilled the government on many issues concerning the welfare of the state.

While commending Koijam�s 2001-2002 budget for taking up various austerity measures to cut down government�s expenditure, Keishing criticised the chief minister for a jumbo-sized ministry. He also ridiculed the chief minister on the reported plan to expand the present ministry. Any plan to expand the over-sized ministry was against the austerity measures announced by the budget, he said.

Mediapersons, government officials and visitors in the gallery were completely taken by surprise by Keishing�s performance. He made the House come alive as all eyes were cast on him.

In today�s session, he raised issues like corruption in state administration, shifting of Assam Rifles from Kangla Fort and robberies on national highways.

The grand old man of Manipur�s politics represented the state in the first Lok Sabha in 1950 during Jawaharlal Nehru�s tenure. He has been elected to the Assembly without any gap since Manipur was granted statehood. He also served as the chief minister for the longest period.

Though he belonged to the Treasury bench for his most of political career, Keishing also lived up to the expectations of the people as an impeccable Opposition leader after he lost power in December, 1997.

Today, he continues his innings as the lone crusader in Opposition, proving that one can serve the people even while in Opposition.

CM�s appeal: Chief minister Radhabinod Koijam today appealed to the cinema hall owners and cable TV operators here to resume screening of Hindi films. Theatres here stopped screening Hindi films in September following a �ban� by militants. The Revolutionary People�s Front had declared a �ban� on Hindi films and entertainment channels after one of its top leaders died in Assam Rifles� custody.


Bhubaneswar, March 21: 
Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik today instituted an inquiry into the demolition of a church at Turchunda in Nawrangpur district recently. The probe will be conducted by the revenue divisional commissioner.

Patnaik ordered the inquiry after Congress legislators raised the issue in the Assembly. The chief minister told the legislators that the demolished church was constructed on encroached land in 1998. �However, the encroachers could not complete the building. Since the building remained incomplete, it was not used as a church,� he said.

The building was demolished on the basis of a complaint filed by residents of Churchunda.


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