Blood trail leads to Bangla
Theft gang shadow on escape route
Strike-back lament on wounded lips
The City Diary
Long night�s journey into day
Beef-up at the wrong address
Commando cover for portals of power
Sombre mood at Center of storm
ESPN blocks Siti beam
Connector for Howrah station

Calcutta, Jan. 23: 

Hand of an amateur, mark of a crack shot

The four militants who opened fire on securitymen in front of American Center on Tuesday morning are suspected to have fled to Bangladesh, say officials of the special investigation team probing the incident.

According to sources in the Intelligence Branch (IB), the four militants, on two motorcycles, sped towards Middleton Street and Shakespeare Sarani. Witnesses and sources told the IB officials that one vehicle (WB-01 Q 7111) entered Middleton Street, turned left into Russell Street and headed off along Park Street for the Bypass.

The other vehicle (WB-01 P 1424) went down Shakespeare Sarani to Park Circus and on to the Bypass. Both the two-wheelers apparently headed for the Bangladesh border down VIP Road. They are suspected to have crossed over to Khustia.

�We have informers on the border who told us they had noticed strangers, who match the description of the suspects, preparing to cross over to Khustia,�� a senior IB officer said.

According to home department sources, state director-general of police D.C. Vajpai is in touch with Interpol and has also contacted senior police officers in Bangladesh.

Four IB officers, including an inspector-general and special superintendent, reconstructed Tuesday morning�s attack on the American Center. The officials said they interrogated several witnesses and independent sources to prepare a preliminary report on the attack.

An inspector-general of the Intelligence Branch said the two youth steering the motorcycles were from the city, but the pillion riders were hired hitmen from outside the state.

�The drivers had to be local residents, because they knew the escape routes. We have interrogated witnesses and our sources to confirm that the drivers were locals and the sharpshooters professional hitmen,�� the IB officer said.

According to IB sources, the witnesses said the four youth were in their mid-20s. �One of them is a crack shot, while the other is an amatuer, who fired at random without even taking proper aim,�� the officer said.

The bullets marks on the walls and the police van parked off the American Center kerb indicate that the shots were fired at waist-high trajectory.

�We have ascertained that 36 shells were fired at a waist-high trajectory. The 18 other rounds flew above a man�s height. An AK-47 assault rifle has a bore of about 8.5 millimetre and shots are fired at one burst. It would be difficult for an amatuer to control the rapid burst of gunfire,�� the officer said.�So, we came to the conclusion that the amateur sprayed 18 rounds,�� he added.

The AK-47 shells bear the maker�s mark and the year of manufacture. �They are of Czech make and have a 1981 batch number printed on them,�� the officer said.

IB officials, quoting from their initial report, said that the motorcycles approached the American Center at high speed but slowed down as soon they neared the police van. �The vehicles did not stop. They slowed for 30 seconds and then picked up speed,� the officer added.

There is evidence to suggest that the hitmen had arrived a few days earlier and had taken shelter in a place for religious worship in central Calcutta.

�We have information that indicates that the operation was planned for a month,�� a senior IB officer said.

Sleuths said they had sketched a portrait of the assailants, based on information provided by their sources and witnesses.


Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
Desperately seeking two motorcycles. That�s what the police are doing after zooming in on the registration number of one of the two-wheelers used by the assailants on Tuesday morning.

The investigators picked up the number from the footage recorded by an American Center camera. �The video recording from a camera panning the entrance showed the number plates of one of the vehicles,� said Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner, detective department, overseeing the probe into the shoot-out.

The sleuths are also verifying the number of the second vehicle. �We have got a number after interrogating the eyewitnesses and other policemen who were present on the spot, which we are checking,� said an investigator.

The police contacted the public vehicles department and traced the owner of the motorcycle seen in the video clip. �Initial findings suggest the owner lives on the fringes of the city.�

The police, meanwhile, spread the net near the Bangladesh border. Several hideouts were raided and two people picked up. Ranjit Ganguly and Manirul Mistry were rounded up on charges of two-wheeler theft. �We are interrogating both to find out about the vehicles used in the attack,� said an officer.

Recently, the police tracked down a gang of two-wheeler thieves from the border area of Basirhat. The detective department recovered 45 motorcycles from various hideouts. �It is possible that the assailants have links with the thieves and used stolen motorcycles,� said an officer.


Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
About 33 hours after the assault, the pain had started ebbing, allowing room for thought. As the injured constables lay in their beds at SSKM Hospital on Wednesday afternoon, regret, remorse and repentance took over.

US consul-general Christopher Sandrolini�s visit appeared to open a flood of feelings, especially when he thanked the wounded for �looking after us�. These constables were guarding American Center early on Tuesday when motorcycle-borne assailants rained bullets, killing four of their colleagues.

�I�m very sorry for the injuries you have suffered. We are very grateful for your assistance in protecting us,� Sandrolini said, standing by Manik Ghosh�s bed in the Edward Ward of the hospital. As the words, conveyed to him through an interpreter, sank in, Ghosh started weeping.

�We are very sorry we could not do anything on the spot,� he sobbed. The constable from the 2nd Battalion had been shot in the leg. The bullet had gone through his right thigh. He was among the batch that had just arrived at the Center for day duty.

A few beds away, 25-year-old Roshan Chhetry was receiving an IV drip. Bullets had ruptured the femural artery of his left leg and broken a bone as well. He had to be administered four units of blood. But his spirits were high. He even asked the doctors when he could get back to work.

Chhetry was one of the 16 constables with rifles. He had been allotted duty with the radio flying squad van stationed outside the Center. He had just got off the drop van when the firing started. His rifle was not yet loaded. �We usually keep the bullets in our belt when off duty and load them when we begin work.� Clenching his fist, he hissed. �If only we had the chance to retaliate.�

Accompanied by consulate administrative officer Michelle Esperdy and political analyst Tinku Roy, Sandrolini spoke to four of the constables recuperating in the Curzon and Edward wards of the hospital. Surgeon superintendent Debdwaipayan Chatterjee, who took him around, explained the wounds, the rate of recovery and the present condition of the patients.

�How are you now?� he asked Sanjib Natto. The 28-year-old, 2nd Battalion constable had been very lucky. The AK-47 bullet had pierced his waist, just above the belt, from the right and gone through the back.

�The doctors told me if the bullet had entered an inch or two to the left, his kidney would have been damaged. As of now, he is waiting for the stitches to heal.�

Asked later whether the consulate would offer any assistance to the victims, Sandrolini said: �At this moment, we have come to convey our heartfelt good wishes.�

On behalf of �my government and the ambassador, I express deep sorrow and condolences to the families of those who have died, and best wishes for a speedy recovery for those injured.�



Hospital ward shut after infection

The authorities of Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratishthan on Wednesday decided to close down the maternity ward of the hospital for three weeks after a patient was found to have developed a severe infection. Fresh admissions have been stopped. Most patients in the ward were asked to vacate. �We had to take the decision as a precautionary measure to protect other patients from the infection. We will keep admission suspended till we can disinfect the ward,� said Swami Sarbolokananda Maharaj, secretary of the hospital. Admission to all other wards of the hospital will remain open.

The Mission has made arrangements for all the patients who had booked beds in the ward for the next three weeks to be accommodated in other hospitals, the secretary said.

1 killed, 5 hurt in wall collapse

A 35-year-old man, Rajkumar Rajbansi, was killed and five others were injured when a portion of the wall of the central store of Calcutta Municipal Corporation collapsed on Wednesday morning. The injured were admitted to Nilratan Sirkar Medical College and Hospital.

Pension disbursal

The Regional Provident Fund Commissioner�s office at Salt Lake organised a function to disburse provident fund cheques to retired employees of 32 companies. The office also released statements on employees� contribution to the provident fund. A spokesperson for the PF Commissioner�s office said it planned to hold such functions on the 20th of every month.

GT Road one-way

The stretch of GT Road in Howrah will be closed for two-way traffic from February 1. Announcing this, Howrah district magistrate Vivek Kumar said on Wednesday that the district administration has taken up traffic management schemes to reduce jams.

School show

Dewdrops High School in Lake Gardens organised an exhibition on �Science serving as a tool for terrorism�. Students put charts, paintings and models up for display. A special arrangement was made for display of items created by physically-challenged students.

Metro security

Metro Rail authorities have decided to deploy commandos at Tollygunge station. In addition, measures are being taken to ensure that the metal detectors function properly.

Book Fair specials

Eastern Railway will run a pair of special trains between Sealdah and Kalyani on Saturdays and Sundays, February 2, 3, 9 and 10 during Calcutta Book Fair. The special train will start from Sealdah at 8.35 pm and reach Kalyani at 10 pm. It will stop at all intermediate stations.

Attack protest

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said his party workers would try to maintain peace in the state even �at the cost of their lives.� Addressing a rally on Rani Rashmoni Road, the CPM adopted a resolution condemning Tuesday�s attack on the American Center. In a related development, the BJP state unit said the party would organise a rally on January 28 at the same venue to condemn the attack.

Temperature dips

A cloud cover, accompanied by scattered rainfall, brought down the temperature by five degrees on Wednesday. Alipore weather office sources said a trough of low pressure extending from Orissa to north Bengal and a cyclonic circulation above the sea level over Gangetic West Bengal had caused these conditions.

CM�s mother

The chief minister�s mother, Lila Bhattacharjee, 80, was admitted to the cardiology department of SSKM Hospital on Wednesday for a �check-up�, hospital sources said. Her condition was stable, they added.

IT cricket

TCG Software Services is organising a six-a-side cricket tournament for IT companies in Calcutta on January 26 and 27, 2002. Software professionals from 12 city-based companies like Schumberger Sema, CMC Ltd., Usha Comm (india) Ltd., Cognizant Technology Solutions, PricewaterhouseCoopers, HCL Infosystems, TCG, Siemens Information System, SkyTech and ITC Infotech will display their cricketing skills during the two-day carnival at Rajadanga Cricket ground. Thumbs Up TO bidhannagar bikash mancha for installing a drinking water booth and a public toilet complex near the township footbridge    

Calcutta, Jan. 23: 

Sitting ducks for terrorists

Twenty-four hours after the terror strike at the American Center, Swapan Pal takes up his usual position in front of the imposing building clutching on to his .303 rifle. A veteran in the police service for 26 years, Pal is among the few who have attended all the three shifts at the place.

�We are sitting ducks for terrorists� bullets since we have to wait for hours on end on the pavement without even a shed to provide us shelter from the elements,� said Pal, still shaken by Tuesday�s mayhem.

At the time of the strike on Tuesday, Pal, a constable with the Sixth Battalion of Calcutta Armed Police, was at home. When he heard about the shooting and the killing of his colleagues, his immediate reaction was one of �anguish and disgust�.

�Our superiors never told us us that we may become targets of militants armed with AK-47 rifles. We guard the place with dated rifles, canes and shields. We are told that we are posted at the Center to ward off violent mobs, processions and demonstrations. But these programmes are held during the day. So it is not clear to us why we carry the canes and the shields during the duty hours between 8.30 pm and 6.30 am,� said Pal.

Like Pal, B. Samaddar, a 58-year-old constable from the same battalion, is resentful at having to suffer the consequences with age-old customs and outdated rifles. He confessed that there is some shooting practice �only once in six months.�

�We are also human beings. At night, when we want to relieve ourselves, we have to go elsewhere since we are not allowed inside the American Center. Also we take shelter under the awnings of nearby buildings during a shower. This is the what we have to go through at work. So we can never concentrate on our job,� observed Samaddar.

This elderly constable admits that he sits down to dinner with colleagues around 2.30 am before looking for a cosy corner to rest his rifle and grab forty winks.

�I will not lie. Around 2.30 am after dinner, we feel drowsy and want to doze off. Everybody needs some rest since the work is so exhausting,� he adds.

As the night wears on, the guards at American Center reportedly are more eager to go home and hit the bed than be ready for invasions with their fingers on the trigger.

�When we see the black relief van approaching, those of us on night duty are so tired that we don�t even have the energy or the will to carry the rifles on our shoulders. Many of us, weighed down by fatigue, just unsling the guns and rest them against the Center walls,� said Samaddar.

Both Pal and Samaddar admit that the security is at its slackest around 6.30 am during the change of guard.

�We are in such a hurry to go home that we don�t even bother to cast even a cursory glance on the road when we board our relief van,� said Samaddar.

But both Pal and Samaddar say that they are not scared. �If we receive the adequate weapons and training, we are ready to face any kind of situation,� they say.


Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
In an apparent mix-up of orders in the aftermath of the strike on American Center, 12 CRPF jawans landed up for �duty� at the wrong address.

Following the killing of four policemen at the Center on Tuesday morning, the jawans were asked to proceed to the US consulate on Ho Chi Minh Sarani.

But around 1 pm, the group of 12 arrived at the Center, intending to beef up security. The group had completed almost 16 hours of duty when the police asked them why they were there.

�We have been asked to provide protection to the building,� said one of the jawans. The police asked for the relevant papers, but the jawans failed to produce them. The police then contacted the state home ministry, which issues the permission to CRPF jawans. The home ministry denied giving any such order.

It was then that the police realised the blunder. �While the jawans were asked to guard the US consulate on Ho Chi Minh Sarani, they landed up at American Center,� said Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner, headquarters. Later, they were asked to proceed to the consulate.

What has shed light on loopholes in the system is the ignorance of top officials about the presence of the jawans. Deputy commissioner, detective department, Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner (special) Piyush Pandey and many senior officers visited the shootout site all day and even at night, but failed to notice the jawans.

In another instance of delayed reaction, the Lalbazar control room was reportedly informed of the shootout almost 13 minutes after Tuesday�s tragedy. �Despite the presence of a wireless van in the vicinity, the control room was informed only at 6.43 am,� said Basu.


Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
A day after the attack on the guards posted in front of American Center on Chowringhee, security was beefed up at vital installations and consulates in the city. Unidentified gunmen shot dead four policemen in front of the Center on Tuesday. Till late on Wednesday, they were untraceable.

In the wake of Tuesday�s mayhem, steps are also being taken to ensure impenetrable security on Republic Day.

The government is taking steps to guard the pavement in front of Writers� Buildings, even as the security phalanx around the building was beefed up, with AK-56-wielding commandos guarding the central gate and the other entrances. Ministers and senior bureaucrats, in cars bearing special stickers, however, have been granted access to the main portico.

In an order issued during the day, the state government has asked the police to ensure that the restrictions around the building are maintained. The sleuths are expected to haul up people lurking on the pavement near Writers�.

However, the number of policemen and commandos on duty at the Secretariat has not been increased, despite the terrorist strike on Parliament in New Delhi on December 13.

But, according to state home department sources, the securitymen have been briefed to be on an optimum state of alert.

In addition, the state government is increasing vigil in and around the city in view of the Republic Day parade on Saturday. Policemen with assault rifles will be on guard around the city, including important government offices, consulates and crossings from Thursday.

�We have already raised the security level around the building. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is being accorded Z-plus category,� said a state government official.

Commandos have been provided with AK-56s to guard buildings like Lalbazar and prominent consulates in the city, according to Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner of police (headquarters).

Basu said during the Republic Day parade, nobody will be allowed to carry bags.

�Earlier, we used to have armed policemen only in front of the VIP gallery on Red Road. This time, we will have armed policemen all over the Maidan,� Basu added.

Despite the holiday mood in the city on Wednesday, there were armed policemen on duty in the Writers� corridors. The police are also planning to clear the trees near Writers�, so that there are no obstructions in case of emergency.

A staff list of the PWD�s caretaker wing is being drawn up. The maintenance staff will be allowed to stay overnight within Writers� only on production of ID-cards. The garage across the street, along Laldighi, will also be patrolled. Sources said the BBD Bag area will be heavily patrolled, specially the car parking zones.


Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
It was business � but not as usual � at American Center on Wednesday. The morning after the killing spree outside 38/A, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, services were resumed but there were hardly any takers.

The office and the United States Educational Foundation in India (USEFI) functioned �normally�, but visitors were few and far between. �After what happened on Tuesday, there was obvious apprehension among the people,� said Rex Moser, American Center director and public affairs officer of the US consulate-general.

Both American Center and the US consulate, on Ho Chi Minh Sarani, were shut on Tuesday following the dawn attack that left four policemen dead and 22 others injured. Visa services are scheduled to resume on Thursday.

But it was back-to-work at the Center on Wednesday morning, with a meeting of all staff members. The attack and its aftermath were discussed in detail, with various questions being raised about security measures at �one of the most sensitive buildings in the city�.

The mood, according to Moser, was �sombre�, but there was no sign of panic. �The staff were asked to stay vigilant and report anything even remotely suspicious. It was made clear that there is no room for complacency,� he added.

Security was beefed up at the Center, with sandbag bunkers and commandos on the alert. The presence of an FBI official lent an edge to the proceedings.

But students and other visitors steered clear of what resembled a war zone. The fact that this is a �lull period� for students applying to American universities might have contributed to the fact that very few trooped into the building.

According to an employee of the USEFI, however, the few who did drop by �did not appear apprehensive�, and �went about their work as usual�.

Officials at the Center expressed confidence that things would �return to normal soon�, once the shadow of another attack lifted.

�People will probably wait and watch till January 26, before resuming their normal schedule at the Center,� said an official.


Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
Even as Beckham�s Manchester United falters at home against Owen�s Liverpool, mighty Venus Williams falls to a resurgent Seles and Steve Waugh�s world champions are locked in an absorbing tussle with the Kiwis and the Springboks, cable and satellite homes in large parts of Calcutta had their favourite sports channels yanked off the beam on Tuesday.

ESPN Software India Private Limited (ESIPL) switched off the signal of ESPN and STAR Sports to two SitiCable-affiliated cable networks in the city, Poorvi Communications and Calcutta Communications (Calcom), for �failing to sign a new service contract�, the old one having expired on December 31, 2001.

The switch-off has affected SitiCable subscribers in parts of Park Street, Dharamtala, Elgin Road, Ballygunge, Bhowanipore, Shyambazar, College Street, Hatibagan, Burrabazar, Kankurgachhi, Salt Lake, Maniktala, Beleghata, Baranagar, Kalighat, M.G. Road, Entally, Chitpur, Bangur, Alipore and Kidderpore.

Sricharan Iyengar, vice-president, affiliate sales, ESIPL, said on Wednesday: �We were left with no option but to switch off the popular channels to the two SitiCable headends in Calcutta. Despite repeated efforts from our side for the past few weeks, these two networks have not signed the new service contract for ESPN and STAR Sports for the period beginning January 1, 2002.�

He added that thousands of other cable operators around the country have already signed the new service contracts �including the biggest MSO (multi-system operator) in Calcutta, RPG Netcom, and Purvalay Communications, the other Siticable-affiliated network in the city.� Following the annual price revision in January 2002, the ESPN-STAR Sports package is now available at Rs 24 per home per month.

A SitiCable spokesman, expressing �surprise� at the �sudden move� by ESIPL, told Metro that subscriber base, and not the annual fee hike, was the main stumbling block to signing a fresh contract. �They had initially asked for an increased declaration of 50 per cent over existing connectivity, but had finally agreed upon a 20 per cent rise. However, even as our respective local offices were engaged in meetings to iron out the finer points, they chose to switch off the channels rather abruptly,� he said.

Iyengar maintained: �While the subscriber base for these two networks together should be anywhere between 70,000 and 75,000 subscribers, they were paying us for a total of only 25,000 subscribers.�

Both Poorvi and Calcom officials dispute this figure. While the two aggrieved SitiCable control rooms are hoping RPG Netcom operators will rally behind them, it is learnt no such decision has yet been taken by the RPG-affiliated cablemen.

The SitiCable spokesman said they were not too concerned about viewer pressure for the two sports channels. �Our main concern is the football World Cup which will be available on a free-to-air Korean digital satellite network as well. Officials of the channel have already visited the city, talking to the MSOs about link-up possibilities during the quadrennial showpiece,� he said.


Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
A road is being constructed to join the six platforms at Howrah station and facilitate the flow of traffic within the new complex.

Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES), a public sector unit under the railway ministry, has been asked to complete the road by early 2003. Chief public relations officer, Eastern Railway, K. Mukherjee, said: �As the existing road is not connected with the new complex, we will construct another one which will enable passengers to reach the platforms directly.�

Besides, two new platforms will be constructed to facilitate movement of trains. There are 21 platforms at Howrah. Many trains have to wait near Tikiapara car-shed due to inadequate number of platforms. All the gates at the station will also be redesigned to check ticketless travellers.

Mukherjee said: �Many trains wait near Tikiapara car-shed due to inadequate number of platforms, thereby causing a lot of inconvenience to the passengers of long-distance trains. Keeping the interest of passengers in mind, we are constructing the platforms on the other side of the parking lot.�

Apart from this, all the gates at the Howrah station will be re-designed , a la Metro railway , to prevent ticket-less travel and ensure greater security of the passengers. �The gates will be designed in such a way that will create problems for ticket-less passengers to cross them even during rush hours,� Divisional Railway Manager, Howrah, Swapan Chowdhury said.

Both Eastern and South-eastern Railways suffer huge losses running into crores of rupess because of the ticket-less passengers.� We will gradually re-design gates at other suburban stations so that nobody can cross them without being checked . There are passengers from rural areas who often board trains with goats, pigs and cans of country liquor. The gates, once re-designed, will not allow any such nuisance,� a senior railway officer observed.

The proposed cab road will go a long way in reducing the hazards being faced by people in reaching platforms. �The road will be of great help to passengers like me who find it extremely difficult to board trains after passing through the crowd at the station. I have to be moved to the platform by a wheel-chair after crossing the road adjoining the taxi stand,� said 64-year-old Bireswar Banerjee who has been suffering from Parkinson�s disease.


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