Hospital stormed over theft
Fleet of 40 on Kangaroo Route
HS examinee hangs himself in Barasat
Three held for robbery at wedding
VP star speaker at front rally
Tripura rebels kill 6 in highway ambush
Jamir plans to downsize govt depts
Orissa revamps progress council
Manipur party heads for vertical split
Cong to kickstart poll campaign next week

Calcutta, March, 24: 
Trinamul Congress workers stormed into SSKM Hospital and gheraoed the surgeon superintendent on Saturday afternoon, demanding tighter security on the hospital premises and revision of MRI rates.

Led by Trinamul leader Madan Mitra, the party supporters along with members of the hospital employees� union shouted slogans and made their way to the MRI section of the hospital from where equipment have been stolen a fortnight ago.

As tension mounted, the officer-in-charge of Bhowanipore police station rushed to the scene. No arrests, however, were made.

The protesters alleged that negligence on part of the hospital authorities was responsible for frequent thefts in the hospital over the past few months. �Expensive copper wiring used for the cooling of the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) facility has been stolen,� said Mitra.

Supporters also protested the current policy, in which patients, not admitted to SSKM have to pay an extra 15 per cent to avail of the MRI facility at the hospital. They demanded a revision of the current rates, which they claimed were �discriminatory and unfair�.

The hospital superintendent, Dr Deb Dwaipayan Chattopadhyay, said he had informed the police of the theft at the MRI facility. �I spoke to the deputy commissioner of police, south,� said Chattopadhyay. Additional security personnel and more armed forces were immediately deployed, he said.

SSKM authorities have already approached the health department, seeking revision in the present MRI rates, prescribed by the government. A reply is expected from the department �any day.�

�We have repeatedly told the agitators that the matter is being looked into. It becomes difficult to run things with so many supporters trying to disrupt the functioning of the hospital,� said the hospital superintendent.


Calcutta, March, 24: 
They are �hop-hop-hopping� across the world, following the famed �Kangaroo Route�. A fleet of 40 aircraft, from helicopters to a vintage amphibian, taking part in the London to Sydney Centenary Air Race 2001 touched down at Dum Dum airport on Saturday.

The 28-day, 33-aircraft race is not just about speed, with around �10 types of aircraft� participating, ranging from 70 to 200 knots. Having set out on March 11 from London, they are scheduled to land in Sydney on April 7. A �mother-ship� will fly above, to provide back-up communication systems and medical aid. Each leg of the race has separate prizes, in addition to the final awards for the whole race, on the basis of speed and precision. From London it was on to Cannes, Corfu, Crete, Egypt, Bahrain, Dubai, Muscat and Karachi before a two-day layover at Delhi.

And when Tim Ellison, a former RAF fighter pilot who �became paraplegic after a crash�, was handed the prize for the Karachi-Delhi leg of the race, it was a �wonderful moment� for the whole crew. Ellison said he had �undertaken the marathon flight to demonstrate the abilities of disabled people�.

A halt in Agra was the final stop before the aviators landed, one-by-one, in Calcutta. The last aircraft arrived at Dum Dum airport around 6 pm. And though the Indian people have been �the most hospitable�, they are facing a mix-up in Calcutta which may upset their entire schedule. The fuel most of the aircraft use has not reached the city though Indian Oil Corporation had received the order �three weeks ago�.

�If the fuel does not reach by Sunday morning, delaying the departure, the entire flight path will have to be changed,� said project director Wilf Barker.

Late Saturday night, Indian Oil officials gave assurance, however, that the 17,000 litres of fuel would reach by Sunday morning.

The race, in the tradition of similar events in 1919 and 1934, celebrates the centenary year of Australia�s Federation. Teams from United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Hong Kong, UK, Australia and New Zealand set out for the 22,000 km adventure.


Calcutta, March, 24: 
Eighteen-year-old Higher Secondary examinee Pabitra Debnath committed suicide after he wrote the English papers badly. He was found hanging from the ceiling at his Barasat residence, in the Haringhata police station area, on Saturday morning.

According to family members, Pabitra appeared tense when he returned home from the examination centre. After an early supper, he locked himself in in his room.

On Saturday morning, Pabitra�s parents knocked at his door but got no response. With the help of other family members and some neighbours, they broke open the door and found him hanging from the ceiling. Pabitra was taken to Kalyani State General Hospital, where doctors declared him dead.

A student of Fatehpur High School at Haringhata, Pabitra was a good student.


Calcutta, March, 24: 
Three persons were arrested on Saturday in connection with a theft at a wedding ceremony about two months ago. Part of the stolen ornaments and clothes worth Rs 1 lakh were retrieved.

Babulal Jain had lodged a complaint with the detective department on January 21, stating that gold ornaments and the bride-groom�s outfit were stolen at a relative�s marriage.

After a screening of the video recording of the marriage ceremony, the police identified seven unfamiliar faces at the party, said Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner, detective department.

�Around 100 people, who were among the invitees, were interrogated over the past two months. Three faces matched with photographs of criminals preserved in our album,� Basu said.

On the basis of the findings, a police team raided hide-outs in Tiljala and picked up the kingpin, Mohammad Ishaq, and his two accomplices, Mohammad Reyaz and Mohammad Raj.

Five held: Five youth were arrested at Deshapriya Park on Saturday afternoon. Three loaded firearms and two choppers were seized from them, police said. They were involved in cases of extortion and dacoity in south Calcutta.


Calcutta, March, 24: 
Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh will address the Left Front rally on the Brigade Parade Ground on Sunday, marking the official start to the Front�s Assembly campaign. CPM politburo member Jyoti Basu will be the other main speaker.

CPM sources said Singh has confirmed his participation in the rally despite his ill health. He is likely to leave for Delhi on Monday.

Other Front leaders, like Ashok Ghosh of Forward Bloc, Debabrata Banerjee of RSP and Manju Kumar Majumder of CPI will also address the gathering.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty is expected to attend the rally and has promised to mobilise a turn-out of more than 40,000 people from North 24-Parganas district.

Chakraborty had skipped a Citu gathering at Sahid Minar early this month.

However, the CPM is worried about a poor turn-out from South 24-Parganas where district secretary Samir Putatunda along with a host of other party functionaries resigned in February to join the newly floated Party for Democratic Socialism.

Cinema strike

Major halls like Lighthouse, Globe, New Empire, Jyoti, Roxy, Paradise and Orient kept their shutters down for the second day in response to the strike called by the Bengal Motion Picture Employees� Union (BMPEU).

With both the BMPEU and the hall owners� forum, Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA), firm on their stands, the strike is likely to continue.

An EIMPA official said at a press conference on Saturday: �The demands for a pay hike are justified, but hall owners are not financially capable of meeting them.�


Agartala, March 24: 
National Liberation Front of Tripura militants gunned down six, including three CRPF jawans and three civilians, in an ambush on the National Highway 44 this morning. Nine persons were injured in the shootout.

The militants also looted one carbine, one self-loading rifle and one wireless set from the slain jawans.

Police sources said the ambushed CRPF patrol was providing armed escort to convoys plying on the highway twice a day.

The patrol set off from Manu in Dhalai district at 7.30 am. On reaching the Shikaripara area, the CRPF jeep leading the convoy came under militant fire. The fusillade killed constable Zeta Hembram and head constable Ratha Singh on the spot and injured K.Dinesh Kumar Bhai, who died later.

A goods-laden truck behind the CRPF jeep also came under fire. Three civilians � Anukul Shil, Surjya Saha and Jogendra Rudra, who had hitched a ride on the truck, died on the spot while eight others, including two tribals, were rushed to Manu Hospital with serious injuries. They were later shifted to the G.B. Hospital.

Shortly after receiving information, deputy inspector-general (range) A.K.Shukla and inspector-general, CRPF, Vageesh Misra rushed to the site and launched an intensive combing operation.

But no one was arrested. Director-general of police Bhusan Lal Vohra said today�s ambush was �not unexpected in view of the fact that at this time of the year, militant outfits step up their operations because they find it easy to move around.��

He, however, said there were two conflicting versions of today�s incident.

�One version cites that the militants had laid an ambush after monitoring the movement of the CRPF vehicles escorting the convoys on the highway while the other version says the militants ran into the escort vehicle while crossing the highway and fired in panic,�� Vohra added.

With today�s casualties, altogether 107 people, including women, children and members of the security forces, have been killed this year. The toll also includes hostages killed after abduction.

This is the third consecutive ambush on security forces by militants this year.

On March 3, NLFT rebels gunned down 11 CRPF jawans and two civilians drivers at Bampur under South Tripura�s Birganj police station while on March 21, three BSF jawans and eight Ground Reserve Engineering Force workers were killed by militants at Rangbasti area under Salema police station in Dhalai district. Police sources, however, said today�s ambush was a minor setback to the CRPF, which had been �performing a daunting task.��

Border trade boost: In a major boost to border trade between Tripura and Bangladesh, the Centre has sanctioned Rs 16 crore for four projects submitted by the state government.

All the four projects have been cleared for implementation. Official sources said the projects envisaged improved communication facilities through the extension of the existing border road network at Sadar, Dharmanagar and Belonia subdivisions.

The roads under construction will be connected to similar extended �networks� from Bangladesh. Sources said the border road from Akhaura checkpost on the outskirts of the city will be linked to a road from the Customs Station at Akhaura in Bangladesh. A number of �pucca� and bailey bridges would also be built across the rivers.

Sources said the initial hurdles in acquiring land for the projects have been overcome.

Tripura exports fruits, medicines, garments and other perishable fruits to Bangladesh while the imports comprise hilsa, electronics goods , computer spare parts and foreign clothes.


Kohima, March 24: 
The ratio of government employees to the population in Nagaland is the highest in the country and is a huge drain on the state exchequer. This was announced by Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir in the Assembly today.

Replying to discussions on the state budget for 2001-02, Jamir said the government cannot exist only for itself as its first priority is to take care of the needs of the people.

Jamir yesterday presented a deficit budget for 2001-2002 with proposals to rationalise manpower in government departments in order to slash non-Plan expenditure.

Although he did not propose any fresh taxes, he hiked the sales tax rates on petroleum products to bring the prices at par with Assam.

The budget estimated a deficit of Rs 203.42 crore for the next year while the revised estimate for the current year stood at Rs 226.67 crore against the projected deficit of Rs 230.84 crore last year.

Jamir clarified that the government will go ahead with its fiscal reforms programme introduced last year and adhere to the MoU signed with Centre to bring about �fiscal prudence.��

The House today also passed three taxation Bills by voice vote to streamline the tax administration in the state.


Bhubaneswar, March 24: 
The Orissa government today reconstituted the Western Orissa Development Council (WODC) which has been lying defunct since the BJD-BJP government came to power in March last year.

The new council was formed as per a new legislation passed last year. Former MP Ainthu Sahu was appointed its chairman. Besides, 11 legislators and two MPs from various parties were taken in as members.

The government has asked the new chairman to sanction the release of Rs 30 crore allocated to the council for various development work in western Orissa.

The new members of the council are the two MPs B.K. Deo (BJP) and Prasanna Acharya (BJD) and legislators Bijay Ranjan Singh Bariha, Jogendra Behera, Kishore Mohanty, Kunduru Kushal and Roshni Singhdeo (all BJD), Subhas Panigrahi, Basanta Panda, Rabi Narayan Nayak, Dayanidhi Kishan (all BJP), Gajadhar Majhi (Congress) and Pradeep Amat (Independent).

Attempted rape

A 25-year-old youth, residing in the servants� quarter of Orissa forest minister Adwaita Prasad Singh, has been arrested for attempting to rape a minor.

Subodh Parida, a salesman in a liquor shop, tried to commit the crime inside the residential premises of the forest minister on Friday, police said. According to Kharavelanagar police personnel, Parida lured the seven-year-old girl to his room with the promise of an audio cassette. Since he was known to the girl�s family, they did not suspect any foulplay.

The girl, however, managed to flee from his clutches.


Imphal, March 24: 
The crisis in the Manipur State Congress Party worsened today, with a faction of the party electing Union minister of state for food processing Thounaojam Chaoba Singh as its new president.

With this development, the MSCP seems to be heading for a vertical split as the other faction led by former chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh has claimed that he was re-elected party president on March 14.

After his election, Chaoba Singh today launched a tirade against the previous government led by Nipamacha Singh for landing the state in a financial crisis.

The minister claimed that his group was the real MSCP and promised to produce a list of MLAs supporting him soon. Chaoba Singh loyalists said Nipamacha Singh has not conducted any party election on March 14 and added that today�s election was the first the MSCP has had since its inception.

The crisis in the MSCP is bound to affect the one-month-old Radhabinod Koijam-led People�s Front government. The MSCP�s strength in the Assembly is 31, but it is not clear who is supporting which faction.

Chaoba Singh was the only leader who filed nomination papers for the presidentship of his faction today. He was declared elected unopposed as no other candidate was in the fray. Though the election was scheduled to be held at the state guest house, the Imphal West district administration cancelled the permission to use the guest house this morning fearing trouble between the two factions. The venue was then shifted.

The main office of the party has, however, been closed down by the district administration since February after Nipamacha Singh and Chaoba Singh expelled each other from the party. While Nipamacha Singh was the party president, Chaoba Singh was the working president. The rivalry between the two had led to the fall of the MSCP-led government. The MSCP office is still under prohibitory orders.

Both Nipamacha Singh and Chaoba Singh, however, are still in the ruling People�s Front. Chaoba Singh has the edge as Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy, a prominent MSCP leader, is siding with him. The Speaker had declared Nipamacha and six of his supporters unattached members in the House though the order has been stayed by Guwahati High Court.

A legal battle has already started between the two factions. Even as Chaoba Singh was elected president unopposed, the spokesman for the MSCP (Nipamacha), S. Tombinou Singh, claimed that Nipamacha was the rightful president of the party.

The Election Commission had directed the MSCP to hold its organisational polls by April this year. Sources said both factions have sent notices to the Election Commission giving details about their respective elections.


Guwahati, March 24: 
The Assam Congress will launch its formal poll campaign on Saturday while the party�s manifesto will be released on Tuesday. The first list of candidates will be announced in the first week of April.

Addressing a news conference here today, PCC president Tarun Gogoi said the party is confident of contesting the coming elections alone. However, parleys are going on with different parties, he added. He refused to divulge any more details. The Congress said the party, if elected, will try to give a �responsible, transparent and development-oriented government� to the people of the state.

Flaying the Asom Gana Parishad for becoming a master of the �slander campaign,� Gogoi said the ruling party has been maligning the Congress for its incompetence as it finds the party an easy scapegoat to blame for its own misgovernance.

The party has demanded that the security personnel to be deployed in the Assembly elections be tripled as it has apprehensions that the AGP will use �unfair activities� to rig the elections.

�The AGP does not want additional security personnel to be deployed so that it can circulate its army of goons with illegal arms and personnel in police uniforms throughout the state to create disturbances,� Gogoi alleged.

Gogoi said loopholes would be plugged if the election process is completed in a single phase.

Inter-school cricket

Pragjyotish English High School stormed into the finals of the IIIrd Amulya Das and Raishmodi memorial all-Assam inter-school prize money cricket tournament with a 98-run win over Kamrup Academy High School at Nehru Stadium here today. The winners will meet Don Bosco in the final on Tuesday.

Electing to bat, Man of the Match Chandan Rawat of the Pragjyotish team scored 67 runs (6x4, 2x6) to set up a strong total of 175 in 31.2 overs. Rawat was given able support by Sagir Ahmed (28) and Riazuddin Ahmed (18) .

In reply, Kamrup Academy made a bad start losing seven wickets with 33 runs on the board in the 10th over. Anuj Das and Habibur Rahman scored 13 runs apiece. Kamrup Academy was all out for 77 runs in 22.5 over.

Vinod Pande and Chandan Rawat of Pragjyotish English High School took four for 16 and two for 11 respectively.


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