Gadgets to make up for airport neglect
Salesman�s body fished out of well
Tout-goon nexus in hospital
CU sign row to hit streets
Youth dies in mishap
Trinamul eyes Cong rebels
Private help for sports schools
Huts, not hotels, for eco-tourists

Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
State-of-the-art gadgets will be installed at Netaji Subhas International Airport to beef up security, following a series of lapses.

Several measures have been studied and �sophisticated equipment� will be procured for the purpose, said Union minister for civil aviation Syed Shahnawaz Hussain while inaugurating a training facility for the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) in the city on Saturday.

�These would include new X-ray machines and improvised metal detectors,� Hussain added. A computerised photo-identity card issuing unit and integrated baggage identification system will also be installed at the centre.

The new facility would cater to all the 15 airports in the eastern region. Hussain said his ministry was �seriously considering introducing sophisticated equipment both on the ground and in the aircraft to tackle security problems�.

Admitting that the Calcutta airport has been �neglected for years�, the minister said the Central government was also trying to convince several airlines, including Air India, to resume operations from the city.

Two years ago, Air India, which would operate on the Mumbai-Calcutta-Hong Kong-Tokyo sector, shifted base from the city.

The airline might make a comeback if the talks between the management and the government proved successful, the minister indicated.

While stressing on upgradation of airport security, Hussain said talks were underway between the state and the Centre to shift a mosque, located about 500 yards away from the taxiway.

The BCAS, the regulatory body for security of airports in the country, used to function from an old office in Bankra, near Jessore Road. The building also housed the airport�s bomb-disposal squad.

�In fact, we were actually using the bomb squad�s office, which posed quite a few problems for us,� said regional deputy commissioner of BCAS, L. Singsit.

�Since we are a regulatory body, we have informed the Airports Authority of India (AAI) about the need to upgrade the existing system. This facility will definitely help us boost security at the airport. Aviation staff from the north-east will benefit from the facility,� said Singsit.

Similar facilities will also be provided to airports in other metros, Hussain assured.

Referring to insurgent activities, the minister said bomb and hijacking threats at airports all over the world have unified countries in the battle against terrorism.

�We are all searching for ways to resolve the problem. India has drawn up elaborate plans, but one can�t afford to be complacent,� the minister cautioned.


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
Forty-eight hours after 30-year-old Shyamal Halder went missing from his Dum Dum residence last Sunday, his father, Nirod, died of a cardiac arrest. On Saturday morning, Shyamal�s decomposed body was fished out of a well in their home.

Police said the death had taken place under �mysterious circumstances�. According to a statement given by his family to the police, Shyamal, a garment salesman, had left home on Sunday like any other day. When he did not return till late in the night, the family members lodged a missing diary with the local police. A search was conducted at places where he might have put up. But as Shyamal remained untraceable, his father, Nirod, reportedly died of shock on Tuesday.

On Saturday morning, locals, drawn by the stench from a well in the Halder�s courtyard, found Shyamal�s decomposed body floating on the water. They broke off the iron lid of the well and dragged the body out.

Preliminary investigation conducted by Dum Dum police revealed that Shyamal was in need of Rs 5,000 and he had asked his father for the money. �It was not possible for Nirod, a retired employee of HMV and CPI worker, to shoulder the amount. An altercation broke out between the two when Nirod refused to shell out the amount,� a police official said. �Shyamal was going through a funds crunch and would borrow money from local businessmen to run his business,� said a resident.

Police said they were probing all the aspects of the case. However, no any injury marks were found on the body. The police are, however, worried over the fact that the well was covered with a lid.

�How could the well be covered, if Shyamal jumped into it?� asked an investigator. �But it�s also possible that he got down, drew the lid and then jumped into the water. We can�t come to a conclusion unless we get Shyamal�s post-mortem report,� the officer said.

19 scalpers held

Nineteen people were arrested for scalping tickets of the first one-day international match between India and England. While a team from Hastings police station picked up 18 people from near the clubhouse and the Maidan, the Hare Street police rounded up one more from Central metro station. Three tickets were found in his possession, the police said. Pickets were posted in various areas after complaints filtered in that tickets were being sold at high rates.


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
Patients at the century-old Chinsurah Imambara Hospital are regularly being fleeced by touts during admission. Besides, musclemen have also started infesting the hospital campus, making it difficult for nurses to work.

Sources in the hospital said patient parties were being charged Rs 500 and above by touts at the time of admission.

�All this goes on right under the hospital administration,� said a relative of a patient on condition of anonymity. �I had to shell out Rs 500 to get my brother admitted to the male ward,� she added.

Hospital superintendent Siddharth Neogi pleaded helplessness, but added that there have been no official complaints so far. �We don�t deny the existence of such rackets but I cannot take any action unless we receive an official complaint. However, I assure you of conducting inquiries,� said Neogi.

The situation has deteriorated with the doctors and nurses scared of visiting the blood bank near the hospital.

�Most criminals hang around in this area and use abusive language. Once, when I had protested, they threatened me with dire consequences,� said a nurse who did not wish to be named.

Chief medical officer of health, Hooghly district, M.A. Mannan said he was not aware of such a racket. �However, I will inform the district magistrate to ensure that patients do not fall prey to touts,� said Mannan.


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
Calcutta University employees have planned a series of meetings and processions on the Rajabazar, College Street, Alipore and Ballygunge Circular Road campuses from Monday to protest the alleged tampering of the attendance register by a varsity official. They said the official, owing allegiance to the CPM, had deliberately marked a non-CPM-affiliated employee absent.

Leader of the university�s Intuc-affiliated employees� union, Swapan Basu, alleged that a senior official of the accounts department had erased the signature of an employee and marked him absent last Friday. The employee works at the accounts department on the College Street campus and is reportedly a Congress supporter.

�We consider it an offence as under no circumstances can an official erase anyone�s signature in his absence. We will take up the matter with the government,� Basu said.

�We had given a week�s deadline to the university to take action against the officer concerned, but nothing has been done. Now, we are left with no option but to stage an agitation,� he warned.

On Friday, the accounts department employee had reportedly reached office late. He decided to take a half-day casual leave and signed the register at 12.45 pm, so that he could be marked present for the latter half. The next day, he discovered that he was marked absent for the previous day.

According to the university�s new rules, an employee wanting to avail of the half-day casual leave has to take permission from the section in-charge or any other senior official of the university.

Basu said the aggrieved employee had taken the permission of the assistant finance officer, as the section in-charge was not present. �We are not going to accept such high-handedness. We will fight till the end,� Basu added. Members of the Intuc union met Hiron Kumar Banerjee, pro-vice chancellor, finance, and submitted a memorandum against the official.

Anushila Sengupta, a leader of the CPM-dominated university employees� union, said: �We feel these are teething problems, as the system of allowing half-day casual leave is part of the new attendance rules, which came into effect on January 1, 2002.�


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
A 21-year-old youth died after a private bus knocked him down on Diamond Harbour Road, near Thakurpukur, on Saturday morning. Atri Mukherjee, a resident of Ekbalpore, was riding a motorcycle when the bus hit him while overtaking another bus on the same route. The bus driver fled after the accident.

Police said the driver slammed the brakes but, by then, Mukherjee, who was crossing the road, had already been crushed under the wheels.

As the death news spread, locals rushed to the spot and blocked the carriageway. According to residents, reckless driving on Diamond Harbour Road had resulted in a spurt of accidents in the past few months. The demonstrators demanded arrest of the bus driver.

Traffic was disrupted due to the blockade, which was lifted an hour later after policemen from Thakurpukur thana intervened and promised to look into the matter.


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
In a bid to rope in more Congress workers as well as dissidents from the CPM and other minor Front partners, the Trinamul Congress is ready to promise them tickets for the 2003 panchayat elections.

The strategy on how to consolidate the party�s base in the sprawling rural belt of Bengal by wooing disgruntled elements from other parties is top on the agenda for the two-day meeting of the Trinamul general council, beginning tomorrow at Digha.

The meeting assumes importance in Trinamul circles as this is considered a first-ever effort by Mamata Banerjee to overhaul her outfit ever since it was formed in 1999.

�The focus of the two-day session will be on restructuring the organisation from the grassroots level,� Mamata said this afternoon before leaving for Digha.

Echoing Mamata, Trinamul chief whip in the Assembly, Shovandeb Chattopadhyay, said the leadership would not mind admitting dissidents from other parties by promising them panchayat tickets. �There is nothing wrong if disgruntled members from other parties join us to strengthen the organisation. But this time, we must be more selective in distribution of panchayat tickets so that those with a criminal background do not get tickets,� he added.

Reacting to former PCC chief Somen Mitra�s renewed call to Trinamul workers to rejoin the mainstream, he said this would have no impact on party workers. A day after his return from New Delhi�s Escorts hospital where he underwent a bypass surgery, Mitra called on suspended Trinamul MP Ajit Panja, who is down with jaundice, and urged him to rejoin the Congress.

�(But) Mitra�s call has virtually fallen on deaf ears,� Chattopadhyay claimed.

Trinamul sources said Mamata has asked party functionaries in the districts to identify �vulnerable� elements in the Congress and other parties and approach them with promises of panchayat tickets.

�We have already begun the preparatory work for the panchayat elections by interacting with our district units across the state. This time, we have decided to put up candidates for nearly 50,000-odd seats at the gram panchayat level,� said a key Trinamul functionary.

Asked about the party�s electoral understanding with the BJP, he said nothing was discussed on this score. �But we have no reservations about forging an electoral alliance with the BJP provided the party is serious about working out an acceptable seat-sharing deal with us. However, it is too early to take a decision on the matter,� he added.

Reciprocating Trinamul�s gesture, state BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan later said the party looks forward to forging an electoral alliance with the Trinamul according to a directive from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

�Vajpayeeji wanted us to fight unitedly against the ruling communists here when representatives from both the parties had called on him at Raj Bhavan last month,� he added.


Calcutta, Jan. 19: 
The government is planning joint ventures with the private sector to set up sports academies, sports minister Uma Bharti said here today.

About Rs 10 crore will be spent on each academy. She said she has talked to different chambers of commerce and industrial houses and they have shown interest in the academies aimed at providing world-class facilities.

The state governments, too, have welcomed the move, the minister said. Some states have agreed to provide the land for the academies.

Bharti said the private partner would have a majority 51 per cent stake whereas the government would bring in 49 per cent of the investment.

�I have talked to the education and finance departments for sufficient budget allocations to meet the ambitious projects,� she said.

�Our motto is to turn all these academies into centres of excellence,� she said. Talents from block and district levels will be taken in the academies for further training. Promising youths will be trained under guidance of coaches of international repute. �Our target will be to win gold medals in the Olympic Games and Asiad.�

The joint action plan which is likely to be released by March states that sports goods will be manufactured in our country following international guidelines, she said.

The minister said special emphasis will be given to promoting sports and games in the Northeast and in Jammu and Kashmir. �This will help us keep youths away from militant activities,� she said.

On the controversies plaguing the Arjuna Awards, the minister said she would plug the loopholes.


Siliguri, Jan. 19: 
This is for people a little tired of hotels � of room service and saccharine smiles � and impersonal cities that fail to charm.

For the tired traveller, there will soon be a home away from home in Sikkim.

Called eco-lodges, these will be huts in villages spruced up with government support where tourists can get a feel of how the local people stay. What the government will do is give money to the man who owns the hut to buy furniture, furnishings and paint the house so that tourists feel comfortable. But in no way will the local environment be tampered with.

That�s the idea: an unspoilt environment for the city-weary tourist to blend into the natural surroundings. And the term for it: eco-tourism.

Starting next week, the state will play host to the South Asian Regional Conference on Ecotourism in Gangtok. The week-long conference is being jointly hosted by Gangtok-based NGO Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim, the Sikkim and the Union governments. Some 150 participants from Saarc countries will be present.

The meet will be inaugurated by Union tourism minister Jagmohan, who will also be the chief guest.

NGO chief P.D. Rai felt the demand for eco-tourism was on the rise, but it would take a lot of planning.


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