Central crack team on rebel hunt
City girl �sold�
Parties in harvest clash
Save-Digha SOS to Centre
Insurance cover for homeguards
Militant-strike cloud over district fair
Potato prices set to go up
Miscreants snatch rifle from jawans
Diarrhoea death sparks panic
Warning for Bengal in Mumbai red-light zone

Burdwan, Nov. 23: 
A special team of the Centre�s Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (SIB) started combing operations in a number of forests in the district from Thursday midnight in search of People�s War Group (PWG) and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) activists.

The force, comprising about 100 specially-trained jawans, arrived here on Thursday morning and held a series of meetings with inspector-general of police (western range) Jitram Bhagat and other senior district police officials, including those belonging to the district intelligence branch (DIB), to get an idea about the possible hideouts of the extremists.

An SIB report has revealed that Maoists of Nepal, MCC and PWG activists of Jharkhand and Kamtapuri Liberation Organisation members from north Bengal recently formed a common platform and are carrying out subversive activities under the banner of Composta. They have also distributed posters and leaflets in Burdwan, Birbhum, Midnapore and Bankura.

According to district police sources, the Central team formed four groups and moved into the forests at Kanksa, Salanpur, Pandabeswar and Ausgram.

The force, according to DIB sources, will enter forests in Jhargram in Midnapore and Muraroi in Birbhum in a couple of days. DIB officials will assist the team and provide them all necessary information, including roadmaps.

Before launching the combing operations, the force visited the forest at Kanksa along with Bhagat and other senior police officers from Burdwan and Midnapore.

Both the state and Central intelligence officials have learnt that the PWG and MCC activists have taken shelter in different forests in Burdwan and Midnapore and are operating from their hideouts. They have also opened arms training camps inside the forests.

According to state intelligence branch reports, the Naxalite outfits are planning to create major disturbances in the districts. They not only intend to attack police stations but also target some important persons on or before December 2, the PWG�s foundation day.

Realising the gravity of the situation, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee held meetings with the superintendents of police of five Naxalite-prone districts � Burdwan, Birbhum, Bankura, Purulia and Midnapore. All the police stations in these districts have been put on high alert. Security has also been beefed up in areas bordering Jharkhand and a number of additional police checkposts have been set up.

Concerned over the growing Naxalite activities, the chief minister recently brought the matter to the Centre�s notice and sought its assistance in tackling the menace. Home department sources said Delhi was likely to despatch more Central forces to combat Naxalites in Bengal and adjoining Jharkhand.

�We are taking the threat from the Naxalites seriously and intend to take all possible steps to put an end to their activities. The special force is confident of nabbing the MCC-PWG activists with the help of the district police and demolish their dens,� the inspector-general of police said.

Police are now convinced that yesterday�s four-hour looting at Memari was the handiwork of Naxalites.

Three persons have been arrested in this connection. Police said the dacoits spoke in Hindu and Telugu.


Calcutta, Nov. 23: 
A 17-year-old girl was allegedly lured to Mumbai and then �sold�, police here said.

On October 26, Pompa managed to send an SOS to her parents, saying she had been sold. Last Thursday, a man identifying himself as Zuber Khan, called to say the girl was in his custody and he needed Rs 50,000 for her �safe-keeping�. He wanted the money to be delivered at Mumbai�s VT station.

The CID is investigating the case with the North and South 24-Parganas police. Deputy inspector-general V.V. Thambi said a police team would leave for Mumbai tonight to try and rescue Pompa.

Sukesh Adhikary, Pompa�s father, claimed his daughter had met a woman sometime in the middle of this year at their ancestral home in Minakha in North 24-Parganas. The two appeared to develop an instant liking for each other. This woman, he alleged, had lured her to Mumbai promising big money.

Pompa left in August. In the first few days, he said, Pompa used to keep in touch. She said she had landed a �decent� job in a hotel.

�We lodged a complaint with the Baruipur and Minakha police stations,� the girl�s father said.


Burdwan, Nov. 23: 
At least 20 people were injured, six of them seriously, when armed CPM and Congress activists clashed over harvesting at Sundarpur village under Galsi police station this morning.

Though local people alleged that police opened fire to disperse the warring groups, district police officials denied the allegation. �We had to resort to a mild lathicharge, but there was no firing,� said superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh.

All the injured were admitted to the Burdwan Medical College with bullet injuries where the condition of six was stated to be critical.

According to officials, the trouble began around nine this morning when some farmers owing allegiance to the CPM went to a paddy field for harvesting. This invited strong protests from Congress activists who later tried to take possession of the paddy field. A clash ensued in which the warring factions not only used bombs indiscriminately but also fired from improvised revolvers.

CPM district committee member Amal Halder alleged that Trinamul activists had attacked CPM men when they tried to resist them from forcible harvesting. However, Congress leader Abhas Bhattacharya claimed armed cadre had triggered the violence by attacking Congress workers.

Jharkhand Party leader killed

Jharkhand party leader Sanjit Das, 38, was murdered by miscreants at Hatisuli village in the Jhargram area of Midnapore last night. Officials said the incident took place when Das was returning home around 10 pm from a jatra. �On his way home, around 10 to 15 armed men gheraoed him and attacked him with sharp weapons, killing him on the spot,� said Kushal Mitra, officer-in-charge of Jamboni police station.    

Nov. 23: 
Concerned over the rapid erosion of the coast along Digha, the state government has sent an SOS to the Centre urging it to take immediate steps to save the town and its neighbourhood.

Minister of state for irrigation Ganesh Mondal said the Bay of Bengal was fast eating into the coastline from Digha to Junpur. A week ago, Mondal and members of the Assembly subject committee on irrigation and waterways had visited Digha and surrounding areas.

�If action is not taken immediately, Digha will be a thing of the past and Shankarpur, Junpur and Khejuri will be gradually wiped out,� Mondal said.

�As erosion of the coastline is looked after directly by the Centre, we have sent an urgent message to our counterparts there urging them to take up protective work immediately,� the minister added.

The state government was in the process of drawing up a comprehensive plan to save the Digha coastline, the minister said.

�We will try to give the plan a final shape on November 28 at a meeting with the subject committee members,� he added. The plan will be sent to the Centre soon.

RSP MLA and committee member Tapan Hore said the state government has spent over Rs 2 crore to create boulder-blocks to ward off the sea in the tourist area of Digha but most of them have been washed away. This has also made it unsafe for tourists.

The erosion problem has been dogging Digha since the late sixties. The Digha Development Authority had built a slope leading to the beach. This was a hit with the tourists as they could drive down to it. Only the remains of the slope exist now.


Calcutta, Nov. 23: 
For the first time in the country, the state government has decided to provide insurance cover to its 22,000-odd homeguards. Some NGOs have also decided to chip in.

Minister of state for civil defence Srikumar Mukherjee today said the Asthma and Allergy Research Centre and Sakal have volunteered to bring the homeguards under insurance cover. The premium will be paid by the NGOs. The state will also provide them with free check-up facilities.

�This is a first-ever effort to better the upkeep of the home-guards, so far neglected in the state,� Mukherjee said.

Homeguards are prone to lung and heart diseases and are victims of spinal chord-related problems, Mukherjee said, adding a survey will be conducted by specialists to establish how many of them were suffering from ailments.


Siliguri, Nov. 23: 
The spectre of militancy looms large over Cooch Behar�s two-century-old Madanmohan Ras Mela, with the authorities fearing that the militants who targeted the Magazine Road mosque on November 16 may strike during the fair.

Following the powerful bomb blast that ripped off the tin roof of the mosque in the heart of Cooch Behar�s commercial hub, on the evening of November 16, district police are not taking any chances with the fortnight-long Ras Mela, the largest annual fair in north Bengal.

The police have set up close-circuit television cameras and metal detectors at the fair. Sniffer dogs will also be pressed into service.

Police have intensified round-the-clock checking of all vehicles entering the district and patrolling on all roads, including National Highway 31, which passes through the district and connects Assam and Bengal. Additional security personnel have also been deployed around the town.

Security personnel have also been deployed at all the major public installations. A company each of the district commando force, the specially-raised combat commando force and a platoon of Rapid Action Force has also been deployed around the fair ground. Security personnel, equipped with metal detectors, have also been posted at all major shrines in Cooch Behar town.

�Following the November 16 powerful and sophisticated timer-operated explosion at the Magazine Road mosque, which we suspect to have been the handiwork of militants trained in handling sophisticated explosives and not ordinary criminals, we are not taking any chances during the mela period,� said Cooch Behar superintendent of police Praveen Kumar.

�We are keeping a close watch on all the entry points into the district. They are being manned round the clock,� the police official said.

�We have intensified checking of all vehicles in the inter-district entry points�Vehicles are also being checked at the Jorai More and Buxhirhat check points on the Bengal-Assam border in Toofanganj sub-division,� he added.�The BSF has also been alerted to keep a close watch along the Dinhata, Mathabhanga, Mekligunj subdivisions to check any border infiltration,� Kumar said.

�Vehicular traffic to and from the town will also be restricted. Night patrolling by the security forces will also be intensified during the period,� Kumar said.

On any given day, over a lakh of people visit the fair, which is organised around the marble Madanmohan shrine. The shrine is situated on the banks of the Bayraghi Dighi in the heart of the eighteenth century capital of the erstwhile Kooch kingdom.


Calcutta, Nov. 23: 
In a move that could lead to higher potato prices, the state government today allowed farmers to keep the crop in cold storages for a longer period.

Sources claimed potato prices were bound to go up by between 50 paise and Re 1 as some traders could use the extension granted to hoard and create an artificial shortfall. Potato prices are ruling at a high of around Rs 8 to 10 per kg.

Though the directorate of agricultural marketing by allowing producers an extra fortnight to store potatoes was trying to serve the interests of farmers, the real benefits could accrue to middlemen and cold-storage owners.

Not only would consumers be hit by the higher prices, but also farmers would have to fork out extra rental for storing potatoes in cold storages for a longer period.

Normally, old potato stocks are cleared from November 30 to make room for the new crop from the second week of December. But today�s order allows storing till December 15. The basic objective was to give farmers some extra days to sow the new crop.

What will pinch the farmers most is the government�s decision to impose an additional rental of Rs 11 per quintal for the extended period. But president of the West Bengal Cold Storage Association Patit Paban Dey, however, discounted any major increase in the prices as a result of the extra rental since the additional rental worked out to 11 paise per kg.

Sowing of potato in the current season is likely to be more compared with last year as farmers received a remunerative price throughout the year. The average price of potato ruled around Rs 5 this year.


Behrampore, Nov. 23: 
A gang of 10 miscreants last night snatched a rifle and bullets from two National Volunteer Force jawans in Gopinathpur village under Beldanga police station.

The volunteer force members, Ajit Pramanik and Nurul Haque, were posted at the Sargachi Ramkrishna Mission police camp. They were returning home from the camp when they were attacked.

�I tried my best to combat the attackers and save my service rifle. But I lost control after one of them hit me in my right eye with a sharp weapon. I could not see after that,� said Haque, who has been admitted to the Behrampore general hospital.

Superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar said eight persons had been detained in connection with the incident. �We will soon arrest the culprits,� Kumar said.


Bolpur, Nov. 23: 
Panic gripped villagers in Kharodgram and adjoining areas under the Margram police station of Birbhum district following an outbreak of diarrhoea. Two-and-a-half-year-old Arif Khatoon has died and 44 people have been affected in the past three days.

Fifteen people have so far been hospitalised. The condition of some of them was said to be serious. District health officials, however, maintain the child died of respiratory disorder. �It will not be wise yet to say the child died of diarrhoea,� block medical officer Gautam Ghosal said. He has been asked to take all necessary steps.

A medical team, led by district chief medical officer, health, Bijon Kumar Mondal�s deputy, has visited the affected villages. Bleaching powder and other disinfectants have been sprinkled over ponds and tanks in the affected areas.

Angry villagers, however, blamed the administration. All the tubewells in the village were defunct and they had to drink water from the ponds, they alleged.

�Repeated complaints to the authorities concerned have failed to evoke any response,� said Mosharaf Hossain, a villager.

When the district health officials failed to turn up, the villagers lodged a complaint with the local MLA from Rampurhat, Asish Banerjee.

Banerjee said the first diarrhoea case in the village was reported three days ago, but there was no sign of any health official. �I informed the health minister this morning and gave him the details.�

After the minister was involved, the health department reacted and a medical team was sent. Disinfectants were sprayed in the ponds and villagers were given preventive medicines and packets of oral rehydration salt.

Factory death: Dijen Mukherjee, 32, a worker of IISCO, Burnpur, died after falling from the top of a crane at the factory site this morning. His body has been sent for post-mortem.


Mumbai, Nov. 23: 
Kamathipura, Mumbai�s sprawling red light district, is crowded with women from West Bengal.

Reba used to live in Barasat � an ordinary girl with ordinary dreams � till she met her neighbour�s sister from Mumbai. The two became friendly and Reba�s new friend suggested she should come with her to Mumbai for a short visit. Reba�s family, poor but happy, bade her a fond farewell. That was the last they saw of her.

When they landed in Mumbai, Reba�s friend put her up in a hotel on Grant Road. They started going out in the evenings regularly, though a phone call to Barasat was always put off. Then her friend started bringing in male guests. The message was clear. �At first I used to cry and cry. Then I gave up,� says Reba.

That was two years ago. Now, a resident of Kamathipura, where she shares a 6 feet x 20 feet room with three other sex-workers � the beds separated by sarees or bed covers hanging from the stands � Reba doesn�t want to return home. �The police raided the other day and we were put behind bars. Then they asked us if we wanted to go home. I said no. My parents know what I do. They say our para won�t be able to accept me. And what is there in Calcutta? I�m better off here. There�s more money,� she says.

Like Reba, numerous women from West Bengal, possibly running into hundreds, have landed in Kamathipura, home of around 5,000 sex workers according to the last municipal count. In the dingy 14 lanes with their rows of multi-bed one-room quarters where sex can be had for Rs 60 to Rs 100, there are numerous women from Calcutta, its suburbs, 24-Parganas, Birbhum and Murshidabad.

The raid on Reba and her colleagues took place after a girl from near Calcutta, a minor, had brought the police in.

Some are here through force, some choice, for want of a better word. Some women have come from Sonagachhi. But many of the Bengali women have a different past. They are married, with children, and are still with their husbands. �Mostly with women from West Bengal, whole families come down,� says Seema Shroff of Asha, the AIDS project run by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. �We get so many of them in our clinic in Kamathipura,� she adds.

�I used to live in Jadavpur, near the railway station. My husband was a construction worker. We have three children. We just couldn�t earn enough. So we came here,� says another Bengali woman in her mid-thirties, cleaning rohu fish, shankha and pala dangling from her hands. Her oldest son dances to a Govinda song in her dingy room where she plies her trade. Her husband, who is trying to get work, thinks his wife�s job is a necessary evil.

Kamathipura has always drawn women from various parts of the country, with several women from Karnataka, and of late from Nepal and Bangladesh, but the women from West Bengal are the latest to arrive. They have been trickling in over the past two or three years.

�One reason could be that previously they would be sent as maids to the Gulf countries. That market is saturated now. So Kamathipura,� says Priti Patkar, who runs Prerna, an NGO that works with the children of sex-workers.

But the more important reason is more basic. �Eshechhi peter jonyo,� says a woman from a Murshidabad village. �When I came here I tried to work as a maid. But that was hard work and little pay. Then a man I knew brought me here,� she says.

�I came 15 years ago. I was married. There were no Bengali women here then. Now all the gallis are full of them. They have come for the reason everyone comes to Mumbai � for money. Calcutta is tougher,� says a woman. �But I have sent my son to Calcutta where he goes to school,� she adds.

�Back home they think I sell old clothes. I will go back home one day. But as of now, I want a ration card.�


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