Retail, IT boost for real estate
Five quintals of fish flushed out of pools
Trinamul protest over stage fiasco
Schools flouting pension directive face state rap
Holiday adds to medicine rush after chemists� strike
Atal in migrant masterstroke
Elite Ulfa hitmen gunned down
Paswan offers phone sops to Tripura
Judgment day dawns on mix-up victim
Cong slams Vajpayee for silence

Calcutta, May 6: 
Shopping mall on Camac Street, deluxe hotel on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, hi-tech housing on VIP Road, ultra-modern office space on S.P. Mukherjee Road... it�s the beginning of a real-estate boom in town.

For multinational realtor Cushman & Wakefield, Calcutta today is the �gateway to the East�.

Says deputy managing director Aashish Velkar: �Calcutta never saw commercial activity like other metros witnessed in the past. Consequently, real-estate development was slower. However, in recent years, several companies have rediscovered the potential of Calcutta as the hub of the East, and are in the process of setting up facilities in the city.�

Demand for space has been rising even outside the central business district (CBD), in areas like Camac Street, Russell Street, Rawdon Street and Rashbehari Avenue. The EM Bypass too, is in demand for expansion and relocation.

�Activity has picked up of late, but we can�t really call it a boom yet. At best, the city is being used as a regional hub by IT and advertisement firms and a few service-oriented companies,� observes Sumit Dabriwala, managing director of Calcutta Metropolitan Group, creators of Hiland Park, billed to be the tallest building in town. �A lot will depend on the level of economic activity, at the macro level, which alone can drive real estate in the coming months.�

Studies by Cushman & Wakefield have found rentals slipping 5 to 7 per cent, from Rs 30-35 per square feet to Rs 20-25 per square feet, thus �attracting big software businesses who are planning to relocate to the eastern metropolis. Due to infrastructure drawbacks and parking problems in the CBD, the EM Bypass will attract more business�, the study says.

Sushil Mohta, managing director of Merlin Projects Limited, feels the �expansion and relocation� have mainly been in retail and the software and service sectors.

�Retail has surely hit a high here. Earlier, a big retail chain would look at Calcutta as perhaps the seventh or the eighth stop. But that perception is changing and big names are ready to come in.� Mohta, who has already sold more than 75 per cent floor space in Merlin Links (�the first full-fledged office complex beyond Rashbehari Avenue�), feels most of the new brick-and-mortar offices are housing marketing outlets or insurance and consultancy firms. �Outside these areas, the focus is on click companies.�

All this has fuelled a growing demand in the office-accommodation segment. �The only business in Calcutta real estate for the last few years has been in the residential segment... Labour trouble and perceptional problems had seen business exiting the state. Even with 25 to 30 per cent higher occupancy cost, Delhi and Mumbai had attracted most corporates. But now, all that�s started to change,� observes Anurag Munshi of Jones Lang LaSalle.

Real-estate hyper-activity in the residential sector is concentrated in pockets of development like the EM Bypass, VIP Road, parts of south and greater Calcutta with Udayan, The Condoville Phase-III & IV, Hiland Park, Merlin Residency and Space Town topping the mega-projects list.

But the projected boom could go bust, warns Munshi, if �roadblocks to faster growth in the city�s real-estate sector, like multiple-ownership structure, poor maintenance, old by-laws and tenancy laws aren�t removed in a hurry�.

�The high rate of municipal tax in Calcutta is another deterrent,� adds Mohta.


Calcutta, May 6: 
There�s something really fishy about the city�s public swimming pools. Laltu Ojha, a promising young swimmer, was cutting a furrow through the waters of the College Square pool one early morning when he felt a �bite� on his left leg. When he emerged from the pool, he was bleeding steadily from a deep cut on his leg. The next morning, Laltu�s brother, Santu, suffered a similar wound on his right leg. A couple of days later, as the two brothers and their pool partners were drying off after the practice session, young Sujata Dawn screamed: �There�s a shark in the water!� After hurrying out of the pool, Sujata said: �It was a fish... about three feet long and black...� Some six km north of College Square, swimmers Abhilash Dutta and Debashis Ghosh were similarly �attacked� in the Tallah Park pool.

Alarmed by these reports, the civic authorities have decided to flush the fish out of the waters. The seven Corporation-maintained pools in the city � College Square, Tallah Park, Shyambazar (Deshbandhu Park), Hatibagan (Hedua), Puddapukur (Lansdowne Road), Padmapukur (Kidderpore), Watgunge � are being drained to rid them of catfish (hybrid magur), shol and crocodile fish.

Last week, around six million gallons were flushed out from the College Square and Tallah swimming pools. Ranjit Samanta, the Corporation horticulturist overseeing the refilling of the pools, claimed that the fish had �turned carnivorous� after constantly feeding off refuse chucked into the pool by fish-sellers.

After the College Square and Tallah ponds were drained, around five quintals of fish were left behind, some weighing no less than seven kg. The Corporation, which pumped Rs 2 lakh into the clean-up operation, earned Rs 2,500 by auctioning the �catch�. Enquiries revealed that residents of the area regularly dump fish into the pools � either as ritual or to empty their aquariums.

Biswajit Das, secretary of College Square swimming pool, said: �We have been urging the Corporation to clean the pools and clear the fish. It was Left Front chief whip Sudhanshu Sil who finally persuaded the Corporation to undertake �operation flushout�.


Calcutta, May 6: 
More than 1,000 Trinamul Congress supporters gheraoed Baranagar police station on Sunday night to protest the local CPM�s �high-handedness�. They staged a demonstration in front of the thana, claiming that local CPM leaders were trying to disrupt Trinamul rallies.

Local Trinamul leaders had erected a stage at Bonhooghly for a public meeting on Sunday afternoon. Trouble began when they found the stage already occupied by their rivals. Atin Ghosh, Trinamul candidate for Baranagar, who led the demonstration, alleged that the police had been informed about the function 15 days ago. �Police gave us permission to hold the meeting. But today, when we reached there, we found the stage occupied by CPM activists. When we informed the police, they told us that they were trying to contact the CPM workers to sort out the problem,� Ghosh alleged.


Calcutta, May 6: 
The state government is drawing up measures to discipline a large number of private English-medium schools in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal for failing to introduce contributory provident funds (CPF) for their teaching and non-teaching employees.

Sources in the school education department said the government had recently issued a directive asking these schools to introduce CPF schemes for their employees, in the wake of several complaints of poor pay and other perquisites. �We hope to set up a machinery for punishing the schools after the new government is formed,� said an official of the department.

The sources said with the growing demand for English education among the middle class, more than 500 schools have mushroomed in various parts of the city as well the state. Each of these schools has an enrolment of more than 1,000 students and, in most cases, the students are charged high tuition fees.

Since the government does not provide financial support, the schools do not follow any uniform staff pattern or salary structure. Each school has a minimum of 15 employees. Charges like development and session fees are also higher in these schools than in the well-known schools like South Point or schools run by the Christian missionaries.

However, despite the government directive, most of the schools in question were reluctant to introduce the scheme, the sources said. Kanti Biswas, state school education minister, said: �Unlike employees of government-aided schools, teachers of private schools are not entitled to pension facilities. This is why we had asked the authorities of these institutions to introduce CPF facilities for their staff, so the employees could be assured of some financial security after retirement. It is unfortunate that most of the schools have not introduced the scheme yet.�

The private schools are reportedly avoiding introducing the CPF facility as they would be required to deposit a large sum of money by way of employers� contribution of provident fund for the employees.

Education department officials said despite its directive being flouted, the government could not penalise the errant schools due to the absence of a proper machinery in the education department.

Education minister Biswas added that apart from retirement benefits, the schools had also been asked to provide their teachers with other benefits at par with their counterparts in the state-aided schools.


Calcutta, May 6: 
Even as the token one-day strike by the West Bengal Chemists and Druggists Association ended on Saturday, the city reeled under the impact of a medicine crisis, as most of the drug stores remained closed on Sunday. People made a beeline for the handful of stores which were open. �Our token strike ended on Saturday, but most of our member-shops were closed on Sunday. It is a holiday and we cannot force them to open their shops,� said Bipin Mehta, president of the West Bengal Chemists and Druggists Association.

Mehta said that the supply of medicines from Bihar has also received a serious jolt, with the association�s strike entering its ninth day in the state.

Meanwhile, the Bihar government has threatened to cancel the licences of the medicine shops if they did not end their stir within three days. The government cracked down on dealers of medicine and forced them to open their shops on Sunday.

Admitting that patients had a tough time both on Saturday and Sunday, Mehta hoped that �things will turn normal from Monday�.

City-based doctors admitted that they, too, faced difficulties in procuring medicines for patients due to the ongoing crisis.

�There are certain medicines which patients can�t afford to discontinue even for a single day. I could not discharge some of my patients from the hospital on Sunday for this reason,� said Dr Debashis Roy, a psychiatrist.

A doctor at Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College said that though none of the patients died due to non-availability of medicines, the condition of some of them turned serious as medicines were not available and, hence, could not be administered on time.

�Some of the medicine stores were selling some life-saving drugs in the black market at a steep price. People do not have any option but to buy them. Sunday being a holiday, the condition would deteriorate,� the doctor said. �Most of the shops are closed and there are long queues in front of the 24-hour medicine shops. What would one do if someone needs a life-saving drug urgently?� complained a customer in front of a medicine shop at Bhowanipore.

Mehta said that the association has directed all its members to keep their shops open from Monday, �keeping in view the interest of their customers.�


Silchar, May 6: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today delivered an electoral masterstroke which is likely to fuel the hopes of the anti-foreigners brigade and at the same time allay the fears of those threatened by it.

In what is being seen as a neat balancing act, Vajpayee, addressing a mammoth election rally at the parade ground, hinted at a possible shift in the Centre�s policy on Bangladesh infiltration which had sparked off a mass movement in the early Eighties in Assam.

As per conservative estimates, there are nearly 40 lakh illegal Bangladeshis in Assam and 54 lakh in the neighbouring West Bengal. However, the All-Assam Students� Union, the most vocal organisation on this issue, claim that the figure could be a crore.

Admitting that deporting illegal migrants was next to impossible, the Prime Minister said the Centre was considering a proposal to issue work permits to identified foreigners, who could not be evicted because of legal and constitutional hurdles, to stay on in the country for the time being.

Vajpayee, on a two-day campaigning tour of the state, said under the work permit system the names of infiltrators from Bangladesh and the previous Pakistan would be incorporated into a register following a thorough screening. These people would be allowed to stay in India until the confusion surrounding the withdrawal of the IM(DT) Act was sorted out. The shift could have been prompted by the growing tendency to view influx in the larger context of economic development, pressure on land and the desperate bid to survive.

The Prime Minister admitted that deportation of all the Bangladeshis in India would be impossible as procedural complications arising out of the IM(DT) Act stood in the way. �The Act also could not be scrapped as the government at the Centre did not have the requisite majority in the Parliament,� he added.

Unlike the poorly-attended rally in the capital on Saturday, today�s meeting was attended by over 25,000, including a healthy sprinkling of women.

Vajpayee�s speech was also far removed from yesterday�s when he had harped on the AGP-BJP�s bhaichara and the Congress� failings.

However, political observers said Vajpayee was playing to the gallery as the BJP has a sizeable following in the Barak valley. �His stay at Raj Bhawan after yesterday�s flop rally too, could have prompted a change in the content and tenor of the speech to woo the voters who have for most part remained indifferent.

It may be recalled that Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha, had submitted a report on illegal migration to the President in 1988, which had mooted, amongst others, the issuance of multi-purpose photo-identity cards in the districts bordering Bangladesh, registration of births and deaths and maintenance of a separate register of stateless citizens.

The report had said that those identified as illegal migrants should be allowed to stay in the country as stateless citizens without voting rights or the right to acquire immovable property.

Apart from the influx problem, Vajpayee also expressed the Centre�s concern over border developments in the wake of the killing of 10 BSF jawans by the Bangladesh Rifles.

Describing this border fracas as unfortunate, he said he had asked the Dhaka authorities to probe the incidents in their entirety so that the sinister forces that had triggered this could be properly identified. He said the Centre, on its own, was also delving deep into this sudden development.

He regretted that the BSF jawans, who had played a unique role in the war of liberation of Bangladesh, had to bear the brunt of this tragic killing.


Guwahati, May 6: 
Getting the better of the banned Ulfa for the first time in recent weeks, security forces killed two members of the outfit�s Enigma unit in separate encounters last night.

Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Barua suffered a personal setback as well, with unidentified persons abducting two of his brothers-in-law from their residence at Pithaguri village in Lakhimpur district. They are yet to be traced.

Security was tightened further today in view of the second phase of campaigning by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. She will visit Karimganj, Nalbari, Barpeta and Dhubri tomorrow. Five Congress workers were killed in Dhekiajuli and Sonitpur on Friday.

Of the Ulfa militants killed last night, one was shot in the heart of the city at around 1.30 am. Security personnel opened fire on a three-member Ulfa hit squad which was intercepted at the Fatasil-Ambari area.

In their bid to flee the scene, the rebels started firing at the security personnel, who retaliated immediately, police sources said.

One of the rebels injured in the firing died on way to hospital, while his compatriots fled. Two hand grenades and some incriminating documents were recovered from the slain militant.

The other encounter took place in trouble-prone Sonitpur district. Troops of the 2 Mountain Division shot dead an Ulfa militant in Gohpur. The Army claimed that the slain Ulfa hitman had been keeping track of the movements of Assembly Speaker and Asom Gana Parishad candidate for the Gohpur seat, Ganesh Kutum. The slain militant is believed to be one of the 12 comprising an Enigma group which entered Assam from Bhutan. The group is headed by �captain� Mrigango. The Army said the Ulfa hit squad was responsible for the recent killing of political workers in the district.

Governor S.K. Sinha today visited the families of the Congress workers killed on Friday. He also reviewed the law and order situation in Biswanath Chariali subdivision. The Governor was accompanied by state director-general of police H.K. Deka.

Sonia Gandhi�s visit to Assam comes a day after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee concluded his two-day tour of the state. She is scheduled to address an election rally in Nalbari at 12.45 pm.

For the Congress, the Nalbari rally will be a major show of strength after 30 election offices were destroyed by AGP workers while they were taking out a procession with the bodies of six party workers killed by suspected Ulfa rebels last week. However, the party today suffered a setback when its candidate for the Nagaon seat, Nripen Goswami, was arrested on charges of masterminding the attack on the election office of rebel Congressman.


Agartala, May 6: 
Union communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan today said his ministry would install wireless local loop facilities in Tripura to provide people with a �smaller version� of mobile phone service. The facility enables users to roam with wireless phones within a 25-km radius.

Certain states of the Northeast, including Tripura, could not be opened to mobile phone service providers because of restrictions imposed by the ministries of defence and home, he said.

Of the 862 gaon panchayats in Tripura, 659 had been brought under the telecom net, he added.

Compared to 18,000 telephone connections in the state in 1997, there were 59,000 connections at present.

Paswan, however, regretted that inadequate manpower posed a �serious problem� in expanding telecom service in the state.

�For every 1,000 telephones, we now have only 13 servicing personnel,� he said.

The Union minister, who arrived here today to campaign for the Lok Jana Shakti candidate for the byelection to Banamalipur Assembly seat, Papri Halder, will address a major election rally in the constituency tomorrow.

He criticised former Union minister Mamata Banerjee for her �rank opportunism� in dumping the National Democratic Alliance government and aligning with the Congress in West Bengal.

Paswan said the Left Front in West Bengal and Kerala would be �swept out of power� in the polls by the tide of public opinion against it.

�Sensing defeat in the polls, the Left Front governments might resort to widespread violence in Tripura, West Bengal and Kerala,� he said.

Paswan said his party, the Lok Jana Shakti, would contest altogether 49 seats, including one in Tripura, in the Assembly elections in five states which will be held on May 10.


Shillong, May 6: 
For Rishit D. Sangma, Tuesday will be judgment day and, perhaps, the beginning of a less complicated life.

Rishit is supposed to have died seven years ago, but has actually been in jail for 14 years and facing trial for a murder committed by someone else.

If the court of the additional sessions judge finally puts its seal on his �identity� and declares him �innocent�, the focus of the case will shift to the task of tracing Deepcharan Kaipang, the real accused.

The case hit the headlines when it transpired that the police made Rishit impersonate Kaipang for the last eight years. With the matter now out into the open, indications are that Rishit will finally get justice. But the core issue of how he ended up in Kaipang�s shoes is not expected to be resolved in a hurry.

Legal experts say there are several questions that need to be answered.

Going by police records, Kaipang was arrested for murder on April 20, 1992 and sent to the Shillong Jail. Was the mandatory chargesheet prepared within 90 days?

Did Kaipang get bail because the police failed to file the chargesheet within the stipulated three months? Did he subsequently jump bail, prompting the authorities to pass off an �insane� Rishit as the accused?

Why did the police not make any photo entry of Kaipang in the records register? Did the police conspire to produce a �dummy� in court and allow Kaipang to go scot free?

Why are there no official records on why Rishit was arrested in 1987? (Reports are doing the rounds that Rishit may have been picked up on charges of �smuggling�.)

Why are there no official records to confirm whether Rishit was at all produced in court in connection with the charges against him? (Rishit told the court that he was kept in Tura jail for seven years and not produced in court even once.)

It was only in 1993 that the police informed Rishit�s father that his son had been shifted from Tura to the Shillong jail and that he died thereafter. Did Rishit�s family make any effort � between 1987 and 1993 � to get him freed from Tura jail? Did his family members visit him in prison?

Why was Rishit transferred from Tura jail to Shillong jail? Was the transfer carried out without any official sanction?

What evidence did the policemen provide to convince Rishit�s father that his son had died? Did his father officially seek custody of the body?

Even if the entry register and records at the Tura district jail were destroyed in a cyclone in 1989, as claimed by the superintendent of jails (Tura) in court, shouldn�t another set of records be available in the Baghmara deputy commissioner�s court as Rishit was arrested at Baghmara?

If Rishit became insane in 1993 and was shifted to Shillong jail that very year, as claimed by his brother Thomas D. Sangma, why was he not treated between 1993 and 1995?

He was not provided proper treatment till the additional sessions judge took over the case. Was it deliberately done?

How was he passed off as Kaipang while being admitted to the Mawlai mental asylum (Meghalaya Institute of Mental and Neurological Sciences) on July 27, 1995?

A lawyer, who requested anonymity, said the answers to these questions might open a Pandora�s box and show the police and the jail authorities in poor light.

The Meghalaya People�s Human Rights Council has already moved the National Human Rights Commission on the issue. It has demanded an inquiry into the case and payment of �interim compensation� to Rishit for �wrongful confinement�.


Guwahati, May 6: 
Iterating its demand for a probe to establish its alleged links with the Ulfa, the Congress today criticised the Prime Minister for not uttering a word against the killings of its workers in the state.

Ironically, the Congress itself is under fire for not condemning the widespread killings of AGP and BJP workers, including candidates, by the Ulfa.

�The Prime Minister has not even condemned the death of Congress workers in the pre-election violence which has rocked the entire state,� senior party functionary Kamal Nath said here today.

Eight Congress workers were killed while party offices and election material burnt by unidentified killers in a new twist to the ongoing pre-poll violence.

Assam Congress chief Tarun Gogoi said his party had condemned the killings by militants. �I was the first one to go to the residence of Jayanta Dutta, the BJP general secretary who was shot dead by the Ulfa,� Gogoi said.

The Congress today demanded either a CBI probe or a judicial inquiry by a Supreme Court judge within 24 hours into the party�s alleged links with the Ulfa.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had yesterday accused the Congress of having links with the banned Ulfa. Nath said the home minister and the Prime Minister should tender an apology for misleading the people and politicising the killings.

�Both of them have politicised the killings,� the leader added.

If there are allegations of a Congress-Ulfa nexus, then why does not the government institute a probe to establish the truth? Nath questioned. Vajpayee had also said there was no need for a �formal inquiry�, and an �internal inquiry will be sufficient enough to bring out the truth�.

�While the home ministry says there is no link between the Congress and the Ulfa, the Prime Minister, on the other hand, points to having evidence regarding this,� Nath added. The Congress also called upon home minister L.K. Advani to examine its alleged links with the outfit.

Asked who could be behind the poll-related violence, Nath said the �Ulfa may have a hand in the killings�. Irrespective of who was perpetrating the killings, action should be taken, he added

Gogoi said there was definite evidence of the AGP ministers� links with the Ulfa. �There is a home ministry report which has records of AGP ministers having links with the militant outfit,� Gogoi alleged.

He said the killings of Congress workers were instigated by the government and �secret killers� were behind them. �The government machinery is behind the killings, to create panic among Congress workers,� Gogoi added.

Gogoi charged the Prime Minister as being responsible for the growth of Ulfa.


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