Arrest opens Dubai door
Month-end removal of canalside squatters
Power payback by March 2002
Wet-day laws hold no water for some
City Lights
Makeover tide runs high in the Hooghly
Liluah shelter for victim of witch-hunt
Hope runs dry for park crusaders
Bihar MLA aide in tobacco haul
Mamata in power diplomacy

Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
Investigators inched closer to unravelling �the whole truth� about the Khadim�s case on Friday with Harpreet Singh, alias Happy, admitting that the abduction of Parthapratim Roy Burman had been masterminded by Dubai-based don Farhan Malik.

Happy, who was brought to the city from Delhi, was remanded in police custody till September 19 by Alipore sub-divisional judicial magistrate Sudhir Kumar. Three other accused, Chunnu Mian, alias Mohammad Taslim, Roy Burman�s driver Naba Kumar Haldar, and Rabindranath Das were remanded in jail custody till September 19.

�His has been the most important arrest in the case so far,�� DIG (CID) V.V. Thambi said.

�Happy told us that Farhan had recruited him for the job,�� said a senior CID officer after the 26-year-old had been subjected to daylong interrogation at Bhabani Bhavan. Happy and three of his associates had apparently been instructed to abduct Roy Burman from Tiljala and take him to a pre-arranged destination on the northern fringes of the city.

�Roy Burman was handed over to another batch of criminals after Happy and his associates brought him to that spot,�� the officer added. The four left the city immediately, but kept in touch with Malik and some Hyderabad-based hawala operators.

Malik, a post-graduate in journalism, was �extremely well-connected with the country�s underworld�, Happy told the CID. Malik�s roaming cellular number appeared several times on the dialled list of Happy�s mobile, officials said. �We have reason to believe that Malik was in touch with the local conspirators till mid-August,�� they added.

Malik, who shuttles with forged passports between Karachi, Lahore and Dubai, could be in Delhi or some surrounding area, a CID officer said. CID IG Partha Bhattacharya is still camping in the Capital to monitor raids to track him down.

Happy has also provided sleuths with the names of local �facilitators�� in the case. In Alipore court, however, Happy was a picture of defiance. �I am innocent. Police are framing me,�� he shouted out to the waiting multitude before being pushed into a police van.

The court compound was packed with RAF jawans, policemen, lawyers, mediapersons and curious onlookers since morning.

Around 3 pm, Happy arrived. The courtroom was thronged by a host of devotees from Rabindranath Das� Salt Lake ashram, who appeared hopeful that he would be granted bail. Chunnu�s mother was also present.

There was no defence counsel for Happy. Presenting his case, public prosecutor Taj Mohammed said: �It is evident that Happy was involved in the abduction. He has to be interrogated further in order to track down the others involved in the case.�


Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
After the August 11 green signal from Calcutta High Court to the state government on removal of encroachments along the Tolly�s Nullah, the municipal affairs department has set in motion the long-pending project to desilt the canal.

�We have to begin work immediately, as directed by the high court,� said municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya on Friday. The minister announced that work on removing the 4,000 structures along the canal would begin in the third week of September.

The project has been delayed by over two years due to lawsuits and opposition by settlers to eviction without rehabilitation.

The minister held a meeting during the day with the district magistrate of South 24-Parganas and senior officials of Calcutta Municipal Corporation and the irrigation department. The meeting drew up an action plan on the anti-encroachment drive.

Bhattacharya said the state government would bear a �shifting cost� of Rs 2,000 per family of oustees. �This amount has been fixed by the high court and is Rs 500 more than what the government had offered,� he added.

Bhattacharya said his department would see to it that the families up for eviction but holding title deeds to their land were suitably rehabilitated elsewhere.

�We will also provide alternative location to licensed schools that may have to be shifted,� the minister said. Illegal settlers will be paid only their shifting charge, he asserted.

With the Tolly�s Nullah rehabilitation work mired in litigation, the project cost had increased and fresh estimates have to be calculated.

�The estimated dredging cost has escalated from Rs 6 crore to Rs 10 crore and fresh tenders will have to be floated so that we can start the actual work of restoring the flow of the canal right after the Pujas,� Bhattacharya said.

However, work on intercepting and diverting the sewage that flows into Tolly�s Nullah has begun and is in progress between Kudghat and Garia stations.

On the sensitive issue of removing illegal encroachments, Bhattacharya said notices had been issued earlier too and the squatters along the canal banks should be prepared to move by now. However, the CMC has been asked to issue fresh notices and even announce the action plan through loudspeakers.

�Though mayor Subrata Mukherjee was not present at Friday�s meeting, he has assured the drive all cooperation and assistance from the CMC,� Bhattacharya said.

The entire eviction drive has been left to the district magistrate and superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, to coordinate.


Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
There�s good news for Calcuttans forced to spend dark, dismal evenings this week. The power tussle between WBSEB and CESC was resolved on Friday, with the private power utility assuring the Board that it would clear both current bills and arrears.

From August 28, several parts of the city were suffering power cuts for three to four hours every evening, with WBSEB slashing supply to CESC over �non-payment of dues�. CESC requires 300 mw from WBSEB during the peak period. For the past two evenings, the Board had been supplying just 125 mw.

On Friday, CESC submitted a proposal to WBSEB on clearing its dues �in a phased manner�. The entire outstanding amount on account of current bills, Rs 45.41 crore, shall be realised in eight instalments.

The seemingly-amicable resolution to the payback stand-off, however, did not stop WBSEB secretary Rajeev Dube from writing to power secretary Ashok Mohan Chakraborty on Friday, urging him to work out �an alternative arrangement of power supply� in areas served by CESC, if the power utility �defaults in future�.

Dube has also requested Chakraborty to �reconsider� the Board�s proposal to divest CESC of the responsibility to supply power to the western side of the Hooghly.

Senior WBSEB officials confirmed that it had been made clear to Sumantra Banerjee, managing director of CESC, that �any further default� would invite �instant regulation� of power supply to CESC.

According to the CESC�s payback proposal, the current bill due in September shall be paid in four instalments. A �very minor relaxation� in the extension of due date by three days will have to be given for payment of the current bill, due in October.

CESC has also agreed to cough up a late-payment surcharge on the default of current bills, as per the rules of the Board.

The liquidation of the defaulted amount of outstanding arrears shall start in November and be completed by March 2002. CESC will pay interest at 24 per cent per annum. According to the proposal, CESC stands �unconditionally committed� to clear the dues by March 31, 2002.

The end of the power play between WBSEB and CESC will be welcomed by residents of Calcutta and Howrah. And it comes when the anger against the supply squabble was just beginning to spill on to the streets. On Friday, about 300 supporters of the Howrah Youth Congress, the Youth Intuc and the Chhatra Parishad ransacked a CESC office on G.T. Road, in the Golabari police station area.

And officials of various educational institutions have been waiting to petition the government. Haraprasad Samaddar, president, West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, said on Friday: �We are extremely concerned over the power cuts every evening in Calcutta and Howrah� We can�t allow students preparing for their mid-term exams to suffer like this. We will seek government intervention if the trouble persists.�


Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
They call her �Cheena Aunty�. Operating from the ground floor of her residence on a narrow bylane off Central Avenue, she is �Aunty� to both the rickshawpuller and the student from a prestigious educational institution on College Street.

Two kilometres away, in the heart of one of the city�s busiest redlight areas at Harkata Gali, is Putul Mashi�s thek. Visitors there, too, come from far and wide and get what they want. Even on Thursdays. Even after midnight.

Down south, at Haridevpur, beyond Tollygunge Metro station, is a transport office-cum-STD/ISD booth. Its owner is an influential political leader of the area and a regular visitor gets more heady things than just a telephone and hired cars. A kilometre away, at Kabardanga, sits a fruit-seller. Bhola sells fruits but, again, that�s not all he sells; he doesn�t disappoint those who want wash down the fruits.

But a recent government decision � to make Thursdays �wet� days � may just rob these establishments of the �indispensable� tag. They stock much more than what they profess to sell � they are just two of the outlets selling liquor when it�s not flowing from the excise department-recognised shops � and now find themselves and their trade under a shadow, following the decision.

The government may be determined to follow its objective to its logical end � to end an �illogical� system which has left a gaping hole in its revenue-collection net � but the new set of rules has failed to make the black market despondent.

For Putul Mashui, the order means little. �Very few of my customers would buy their liquor even if the official shops remain open throughout the week,� she says.

Besides, there are the other �dry� days like Bijoya Dashami, Muharram and polling days � and the post-9 p.m. hours � to take care of any drop in demand, staff of the Peter Lane establishment say.

The Haridevpur-based transport operator-cum-STD booth-owner-cum-political leader feels similarly. �The offshop nearest to my establishment is a few kilometres away and I can vouch that none of my regular customers will be travelling that distance even on a �wet� Thursday,� feels K.B. (initials used on request). Like the others in his trade, he charges only Rs 10-Rs 20 more than offshop price, he explains, reason enough for his clientele to stick to him.

None of them can afford to be angry with the new rules � they know they operate outside the law � but all have taken offence to the government charge that they result in a huge loss of revenue. �We buy the liquor we sell from offshops and, therefore, none of the bottles we sell can be said to have caused any revenue loss,� says K.B.

The bootleggers, of course, have another reason to be confident. The regular money they pay to the local police station and excise officials who, according to them, visit them more regularly than their customers, is reason enough for them to continue to be in high spirits. �Wet� Thursday or not, Calcutta�s bootleggers, depending on their operational areas and the profile of their clientele, have already calculated the harm the government order can do.



Zip, zap, zoooom!

If you�ve ever fantasised about burning rubber on the race track, it�s time to pull on those driving gloves. It�s party time for the Calcutta speedfreak, with a go-karting track ready to take off in a few weeks.

Kartica, a 475-metre snaky track, is situated adjacent to Aquatica. Commonly called �miniature formula races�, go-karting is everyman�s motor sport. Promoter Lalit Agarwal is currently looking to host the National Karting Championship, slated for November 18. The qualifying round of the national event will be held in various established centres and Kartica will �organise one in a few months�.

Calcutta�s first go-karting track will have state-of-the-art monitors, speedcontrol systems and safety devices installed before it can host the mega event.

The track will have 12 karts, while 10 karts will be allowed to ply at a time. Bengal Motor Sports Club will provide technical support to the centre during competitive events including the national qualifying round in November.

Qualifiers for the national meet kicked off at Bangalore on September 2, followed by Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad. Ahmedabad, Baroda, Ludhiana and New Delhi.

The Rs 75-lakh Kartica project includes installation of a multi-activity software, lap timer-cum-controller, which will regulate and monitor participants. �Apart from signalling at bends and at the end of a lap, the software will monitor timing, speed and also check rash driving,� Agarwal explained. The track will have a viewers� gallery capable of accommodating several thousand people.

The track, with several sharp bends, will be walled by tyres on both sides. The average speed at the 23 ft by 30 ft wide track will be around 60 kmph.

According to Agarwal, Kartica will have an adjustable entry fee of Rs 25 and additional kart-hiring charges of Rs 100 for four to five laps. So, racing buffs can finally leave the virtual reality of videogame arcades behind and charge into the live action arena of Kartica. Fasten your seatbelts, folks!

By Amit Chakraborty

Bowl on, techies

If you think the IT guys are only good for sitting behind a computer screen, check out the bowling tourney exclusively for techie twinkletoes. The 1st Nicco Super Bowl and CocaCola Bowling Cyber Club is shaking things up for IT execs. The tourney, starting on August 27, featured majors like TCS, HP, Compaq, Intel and Microsoft. With 80 teams from 28 companies signing up for the IT merchants� cup, knockout rounds are currently being held between 10 groups of eight teams each. The leading team from each group will then compete for a berth in a roundrobin eliminator for the five survivors. Finals, for both a winners� and losers� plate, are on September 14.

The standard is �high�, according to a Nicco Super Bowl spokesperson. With a top individual score of 221 from Sougata Mukherjee of TCS and a team total of 350 from Express Communications, the rivalry on the lanes has just begun.

Picture perfect

People, places, culture, nature, fauna and flora... there is a new software to help you find just the right snapshot for printing needs. Prateek Images of India is a 10-CD set containing over 1,200 high-resolution pictures from all over the country.

Designed to satisfy printers working within budget constraints, the package has been designed by Allied SoftS. �Our target is professionals who require high-resolution, low-cost colour pictures,� explains Trideep Kothari. Shot on transparency, the pictures are easily accessible through a Cumulus Browser. Though international packages of this nature are available in the market, Images of India offers cross-country pictures, crystal-clear.

Diff�rent strokes

We know him better as an electric bass player and some say the best in the country. But Llewellyn Hilt is a man of many parts. He is a fine sportsman who has tried his hand at professions as diverse as tea tasting and welding. But what many of us are not aware of is that he is a fine artist too. That was quite evident from his show at Chitrakoot gallery, where he and singer Jayashree held a concert at the opening. Lew, as he is better known, uses black dots of various sizes, to conjure up a surrealist vision.

He is deeply influenced by his favourite artists Hieronymous Bosch and Salvadore Dali but he seems to have borrowed his style from Aubrey Beardsley, who used the pointillist style to magical effect. So, melting clocks and human bodies, the hourglass, a skeleton angling in a sea of sand and other motifs of transience and mutability reappear in his works. He has very strong lines and though he borrows elements from Surrealists he plays out his personal fantasies and creates a dreamworld of his own.

Lew has been working on these drawings for quite a few years but this is the first time he has held a show. Perhaps, he should hold them more often.

Lalon Fakir is a bard who sang his mystical songs based on the cult of Baul in the villages of Bengal in early 19th century. He became a cult figure and had a large number of followers who were attracted to his brand of gurucentric religious practices which was apparently a blend of Hindu and Muslim forms of worship. As a result people from both communities claimed him to be their own and his songs remain perennial favourites. Even Rabindranath was deeply influenced by the concept that it is more the human body and things earthly that mattered more than deities.

Thanks to their philosophical content as well as to their rustic flavour Lalon�s verse is untranslatable. His ideas do not have their equivalents in the West either. However, Samir Dasgupta in his recentlypublished volume named Songs of Lalon, has come very close to the originals. His language is very simple and somehow he has managed to steer clear of convoluted constructions.

The book was brought out by Shahitya Prakash, a Dhakabased publishing house. It has a rarely seen sketch of Lalon by Jyotirindranath Tagore. Dasgupta has selected the songs that have a universal appeal. Each translated poem is accompanied by the original in the vernacular.


Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
After Millennium Park and the new-look Strand, the Calcutta riverfront is next in line for a makeover. The abandoned warehouses along the Hooghly are soon to be renovated, to be put to use for leisure and entertainment activities.

First in line are a museum, an art gallery and speciality restaurants. These, according to municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya, will be housed in the abandoned warehouses and offices adjacent to Millennium Park.

The London Rivers Association (LRA) has asked the West Bengal government to submit a proposal for further development of the Hooghly riverfront with a view to attracting tourists. LRA chairman George Nicholson met Bhattacharya on Friday and �praised the work done so far along Strand Road�.

Bhattacharya said that the LRA would mobilise funds available with the European Commission. The Commission will foot �70 per cent of the project bill�, while the rest is to be provided by �two partner countries from Europe�.

The LRA will act as a facilitator to rope in countries like Germany, Holland or the UK as �partners�, and is stressing the development of a new-look riverfront as �a prime tourist attraction for the city�.

�We are going to submit the plan for a Rs 3 to 4-crore pilot project, to begin with,� said the minister.

The LRA has praised the measures taken so far for beautification, which have had, according to the planners, �very evident positive results of the riverfront�. The LRA, a pioneer in the beautification of the Thames bank in London, has noted that �unlike London, Calcutta�s project has the added benefit of having an income-generation source�.

�Millennium Park has earned revenue of around Rs 45 lakhs in the past year,� Bhattacharya observed. The riverside park has registered a footfall of more than one-and-a-half million visitors last year.

Pleased with his Calcutta experience, Nicholson has promised the minister �he would arrange the participation of a leading cultural group from England in the forthcoming River Festival� in December.

Besides foreign funding, the state government is also turning to the Centre for finances. �I have spoken to the Union environment ministry, and it is keen to help us develop the banks of the Hooghly in Calcutta and Howrah,� the minister added.

The LRA also gave the minister and his department a form to fill with �plans and ideas for further development along the Hooghly�s east bank�.


Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
The day after she was branded a �witch� and assaulted by a mob at Bantra, Howrah, Satia Harijan, 60, found herself �insulated for her own good� in the Liluah Home for Destitute Women.

Home authorities said they had deliberately kept Satia in isolation as a �precautionary measure� to ensure that other inmates did not mingle with her.

Satia was charged with casting an evil eye on four slum boys and beaten up by neighbours, who got taken in by two witch doctors, called in to treat the boys . �We are very careful about letting others come in contact with her. After all, superstition is like an infectious disease. If the same thing happens here, it will be difficult to save the hapless woman,� said an official of the home.

Satia, a domestic help, lives in a slum area near Jogomaya cinema in Bantra. She was accused of using �black magic� on the boys, who fell ill recently. The witch doctors said the boys had come under Satia�s evil eye and ordered that she be beaten up to exorcise the spirit. A few hundred locals assembled in front her shanty, dragged her out and beat her up.

On hearing of the incident, the Bantra police rushed to the site and rescued the injured woman. Later, Satia was handed over to the Liluah Home authorities.

Tears rolled down Satia�s face while entering Liluah Home on Thursday afternoon. The authorities sent her to the rescue cell. The physician of the home, Anupama Kar, treated the aged woman.

�She was crying throughout Thursday. We are doing our best to pacify her,� said Reba Das, the home superintendent.

Satia has been asked by the home staff not to speak of her tale of trauma. �So far, the other inmates have no idea why Satia has come here,� said a home staffer.

Even after 24 hours of the incident, the police have not made any arrests in this connection. Local residents alleged the culprits were freely moving about in the area.

�We are conducting raids at different hideouts,� said Samiran Roy, officer-in-charge of Bantra police station.


Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
They�ve been fighting for it for the past six years � a bunch of little soldiers determined to do their bit for their city. But now, they are beginning to despair, their dream of reopening and beautifying Victoria Square slipping away, slowly but surely. Coordinated by People United for Better Living in Calcutta, or Public, La Martiniere for Girls and Boys, and Ashok Hall, both close to the Albert Road park, have, for the past two years, heard the same thing: Come monsoon, the Square will be reopened to the group for restoration.

�We went to CMC commissioner Debashis Som again this month, but were told that the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BNCCI) had been approached about reviving the square,� says Bonani Kakkar of Public.

D.P. Nag, secretary, BNCCI, is still waiting for the formal go-ahead from the Corporation. �When we spoke about Victoria Square, we weren�t aware there was another party (Public and the kids) interested.� Nag says that once the permission comes through, they will see �if an arrangement can be worked out� with the schoolchildren.

This, coming in the sixth year of their struggle, is �just not good enough� for the crusaders. Ask Bhumika Mehta. The Class XII student has been at work for the park for five years now. �Since we were small, we have been going to Victoria Square to clean it up. We have lobbied for it, collected signatures to have it reopened. Now we are finally old enough to do something about it and they aren�t letting us. It hurts,� says the nature club president of La Martiniere for Girls.

The park, with its �rich underwater life� is one of the clubs� main campaigns. �It should be a place for all. Now, no one even knows it is there, and the area is so claustrophobic, especially with the flyover coming up,� adds the 17-year-old science student.

Public had submitted a plan for the park to the Corporation two years ago. It proposed to set up an administrative board including students (as the main beneficiaries of the park), the Corporation, and Public. They wanted to restore the original gaslights, benches and fixtures. A grille fence would replace the existing brick wall, and aquatic plants would be planted around the 1,55,000 sq ft waterbody. The board would look for private sponsors.

The situation, according to CMC commissioner Som, may not be �as simple as it seems�. In 1993, the foundation stone for an aquarium at Victoria Square was laid by Jyoti Basu. Glory of Bengal, as it was to be called, was to be a 7,000 sq ft aquarium with an air-conditioned hall at the centre, under the waters of the lake.

The project, taken up by Bengal Jana Kalyan Sanskriti Utthan Trust, was subsequently scrapped because of a whiff of suspicion that a temple was to be constructed on the premises.


Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
In raids across Bihar and West Bengal, the CID recovered cartons of a popular brand of cigarettes, manufactured by ITC, worth Rs 28 lakh, and arrested Pir Mohammad, a close associate of RJD legislator Sunil Pande. Pande had allegedly hijacked the Calcutta-bound consignment from the company�s Bihar factory.

The major part of the haul was recovered from a village in Munger, Bihar. Arms and ammunition were also recovered.

Mohammad revealed the whereabouts of Calcutta and Howrah-based associates. Raids in Domjur and Calcutta netted eight persons and more cartons.

Speaking over phone, a senior Bihar police officer said Mohammad had admitted to operating under directions from RJD legislator Pande.

�Cases of murder, dacoity and extortion are pending against him. But we could not arrest him since no one would testify against him,�� he said. CID officials in Calcutta said they were in the process of obtaining an arrest warrant against Pande.

A truck loaded with cigarettes worth Rs 38 lakh left ITC�s factory in Munger for Calcutta on July 23. The company lodged a complaint when it did not reach Calcutta. Officials said 180 of the 370 stolen cartons were recovered. But some of the stolen cigarettes might already have reached the market, said special superintendent of police, CID, K. Harirajan.


Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
She had called them the CPM�s B-team. She had blamed them for her poll debacle. She had vowed to go it alone in the state, without the Congress.

But today, as CESC reached an agreement over its dues with the state electricity board, Mamata Banerjee invited the Congress to join her and thwart the government�s �pre-planned move� to raise power tariff.

�The proposed tariff increase is bound to tell upon ordinary consumers and that is why I want the Congress and other like-minded parties to help us step up a joint movement against the ruling CPM,� the Trinamul leader said. �This is a people�s issue and we must cut across party lines to meet the challenge.�

This is the first time after her return to the BJP-led Central coalition that Mamata has indicated that she is not averse to joining hands with the Congress � the main Opposition party in the Centre � to take on the communists in the state.

Two days ago, Congress chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, had indicated that he would not mind joining hands with the Trinamul on certain issues concerning the people�s well-being in Bengal.

Describing the current stand-off between the state electricity board and CESC as a �clever ploy� to raise tariff, Mamata said: �I shall not allow them to take us for a ride this time, come what may. The CPM should not forget that I was on a fortnight-long dharna at Esplanade two-and-a-half years ago to protest against the CESC�s decision to collect surcharge from consumers. This time, I shall take to the streets if there is any attempt to put an additional burden on the people in the name of tariff hike.�

Talking to reporters at her Kalighat home this afternoon, Mamata accused the CPM-led government of being hand-in-glove with the CESC. �Dalme kuch kala hai. There is something fishy about the on-going tug of war between CESC and the government and I will spare no effort to expose this.�

Asked if she would call a bandh on the issue, Mamata evaded a straight answer. �I am not ruling out anything as I am determined to put maximum pressure on the government to give up its gameplan.�

On chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee�s proposed all-party meeting on the law and order situation in the state, she said: �The problem will not be solved unless the CPM changes its mindset. We had earlier sent our representatives to such meetings but with no effect. How does it help if the CPM itself sponsors violence and bandhs?� she asked.

She ruled out any one-to-one meeting with Bhattacharjee on this issue. �It matters little whether I meet him or not. Party representatives are attending these meetings,� she said.

Mamata charged Bhattacharjee with �unleashing� terror on hundreds of Trinamul workers in the districts during his long tenure as home minister. �He has been talking about all-party meetings after assuming office as chief minister. But what had he done as home minister all these years?� she asked.

The Trinamul leader said she will visit Bankura tomorrow and Purulia the day after to attend workers� meetings in the two districts. �We have decided to overhaul the organisation right from the grassroots level much before the Panchayat elections, due in 2003,� she added.


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