Whiff of foul play in restaurant death
Mentor gives rebel Subhas a leg up
Twin teams to guide city uplift
Vat near school raises a stink
Police top brass reshuffled
Picket to protest illegal mining
Last post on border fears God, not guns
Shield stink in defence row
Merc and missiles mix at macho IIT
Ill-health push to brigand capture drive

Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
Sukumar Pradhan came to Calcutta two years ago from Midnapore and started working as a table-boy at a restaurant in Chinatown. He was 14 then.

Today, his body was found hanging in the staff quarters on the second floor of the restaurant.

Local people believe it�s not suicide, but murder. Police are waiting for the post-mortem report before coming to any conclusion.

The 16-year-old is believed to have died early today. Local people came to know about the incident when the owner of the restaurant � Beijing, on Topsia Road � told some people that one of his employees had committed suicide.

On hearing about the death, officials from Tangra police station rushed to the spot and found the body.

As news of the boy�s death spread, hundreds of local people came out and blocked the nearby Gobindo Khatik Road for half-an-hour. Owners of other restaurants in Chinatown also downed shutters.

The local people alleged that it was a case of well-planned murder and demanded the immediate arrest of the restaurant owner.

They claimed Michael, the owner, ran an illegal business in his restaurant. �The boy probably got to know about his owner�s wrong deals,� a resident said on condition of anonymity.

On hearing about the agitation, senior officials, including the deputy commissioner of police of eastern suburban division, Sanjoy Mukherjee, rushed to the spot and pacified the demonstrators.

�We have heard the allegations. The body has been sent for post-mortem. We can do nothing until we get the autopsy report,� Mukherjee said.

However, no one has filed any written complaint. The boy�s relatives were yet to arrive from Midnapore.

�We may start working on the allegations only after getting a written complaint from the boy�s family. We have not interrogated the restaurant owner so far,� Mukherjee said.

Michael was not available for comment. Another of his restaurants was also closed today and the gate of his house was locked.

Tarak Josh, a resident of Tangra, said he and his neighbours heard about the death around 6.45 am.

�After a few minutes, we saw a police a jeep in front of the restaurant. They entered the eatery and within 10 minutes, another Matador van arrived there,� Josh said.

�We saw the body when police took it away. We are sure the boy was murdered,� alleged Baidyanath Chowdhury, another resident.

However, Mukherjee, said: �People have started making these allegations now. But none of them ever informed the local police station about this before.�

He said it was possible that the residents were making the allegations at the �heat of the moment�.

Mukherjee said his officers did not find any injury marks on the body.

�They told me that there was a non-continuous upward ligature mark on the neck. Apart from this, no other injury mark was found on the body,� he added.


Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, the muzzled rebel in the state CPM, appears close to getting recognition at last in the organisation, thanks to a move set in motion by his mentor, Jyoti Basu.

CPM officials said on Thursday that the former chief minister favours installation of Chakraborty in the central committee � a move which receives some support from party secretary Anil Biswas.

The state CPM leadership, according to the officials, is also contemplating changes in Citu and Ganashakti.

As a result of the new thinking, former minister Shyamal Chakraborty, also a secretariat member, may be unveiled as editor of Ganashakti in place of incumbent Dipen Ghosh who may find himself reinducted into Citu. Chittabrata Majumdar, Citu general secretary, will get a deputy in Ghosh.

However, the changes that are being talked about are unlikely to be effected before the party congress slated for March 19 to 24 in Hyderabad.

The CPM leadership realises that it cannot hope to iron out factionalism in North 24-Parganas without enhancing Chakrabarty�s position in the organisation.

Both Basu and Biswas have been arguing that the only way left to tackle factionalism in North 24-Parganas was to take Chakraborty and Amitava Bose, present district secretary, out of the local scene.

Even though Basu favours him for the central committee, Biswas and others are keen on inducting Chakraborty into the state secretariat, the officials said.

Indications are that the planned change will also depend on whether Harkishen Singh Surjeet swings the deal for his prot�g� before taking the rumoured final bow at the Hyderabad congress. Chakraborty is currently a member of the CPM�s state committee.

Basu, one of the oldest politburo members, today held a meeting with the functionaries of the CPM�s North 24-Parganas district secretariat and urged them to avoid any election while reconstituting the district committee. Basu�s meeting was important as the district conference is going to start tomorrow at Halisahar.

The CPM state leadership is now worried about holding a trouble-free district conference as their experience during the recently-concluded South 24-Parganas district meet was not very pleasing.

A number of important party functionaries, including MPs and MLAs, were either dropped from the district unit or not elected delegates for the state conference because of intra-party squabbles in the district unit.

Even long-time MP from Mathurapur, Radhika Ranjan Pramanik, was dropped from the district committee.

Another party MP from the district, Shamik Lahiry, and district secretariat member Asit Bose were not elected delegates for the state conference due to bitter rivalry between two factions in the district unit.


Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) today formed two committees to speed up implementation of a Rs 1,250-crore programme aimed at improving the city�s infrastructure. The programme is being funded by the ADB.

A three-member ADB team led by its India representative, Frank J. Paulman, met mayor Subrata Mukherjee during the day. Paulman was accompanied by two other colleagues, R. Nag and Hiranya Mukherjee.

At the meeting, a steering committee and a monitoring committee were formed. Municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharya and Mukherjee were made the chairman and vice-chairman of the steering committee respectively. The monitoring committee will be headed by the mayor.

It was also decided that the monitoring committee would convene a meeting every three months. Paulman will attend the first meeting scheduled for March.

Sources at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) said Paulman emphasised the need to begin work on the programme before the monsoon. It is for the first time that any international funding agency is getting directly involved with Calcutta�s infrastructure improvement schemes, including those on slums, drainage and sewerage.

The meeting also decided to finalise CMC�s appointment of consultants on work in slum areas scheduled to begin before the monsoons. Work on sewerage revamp schemes will begin before the Pujas.

The ADB will fund infrastructure development in the Sinthi-Chitpore-Cossipore areas of north Calcutta and in the added areas of Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur. In 1996, the corporation approached the ADB for a soft loan to lay underground sewerage lines in these areas.

The corporation official overseeing the ADB programme, Raghabendra Das, said Rs 2,000 crore will be spent on the city to improve its environment by 2008.


Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
The CPM-controlled Chakdah municipality in Nadia and the state Madhyamik board, which is also dominated by the ruling party, are at loggerheads over a proposed vat in front of a girls� school.

Head of the Basanti Kumari Girls� High School today lodged a complaint with the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education and sought his help to stop the municipality from setting up a permanent structure for dumping garbage.

�I am surprised to know that the municipality has decided to construct a vat in front of a girls� school despite knowing that the accumulated garbage might create serious health hazards for the students. We will take up the matter with higher authorities if the municipality fails to withdraw the decision,� said Haraprasad Samaddar, board president.

Students and teachers of the institution have also planned to start a cleaning drive in and around the school to prevent the municipality from dumping garbage.

A huge portion of land attached to the boundary wall of the school was used by the Chakdah municipality for dumping garbage over the past several years. Students and teachers of the institution had repeatedly urged the municipality to stop the menace as it posed a health hazard.


Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
At a time when the state is reeling under the shock of the attack on policemen in front of the American Center, the government today made a large number of changes in the top ranks of its forces.

Additional commissioner of police S.I.S. Ahmed was promoted to the rank of director-general of police (fire services). . Inspector-general of police (telecommunications) Kiriti Sengupta will take over from Ahmed.

Rachpal Singh, who was on the compulsory waiting list, was given the post of inspector-general (forests). This post was vacated by R.P. Singh, now in charge of telecommunications.

The state also abolished the post of superintendent of police in charge of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport. The airport is now under the direct control of the Central Industrial Security Force.

Henceforth, the CISF will be in charge of security within the precincts of the airport while the region outside the airport will be under the vigilance of the North 24-Parganas district police.

The superintendent of police airport, O.P. Gupta, has been given charge as superintendent of the police computer centre in Salt Lake.

After the January 22 attack, the state has also decided to place the largest-ever order for assault rifles for its police force.


Asansol, Jan. 31: 
Alarmed at the growing incidence of subsidence resulting from rampant illegal mining, ministers, MPs and MLAs from the Burdwan district have planned to stage a dharna in front of Union coal minister Ram Vilas Paswan�s office in Delhi.

A delegation led by CPM MP Basudeb Acharya will also submit a memorandum to Paswan demanding immediate steps to save about 146 villages in the colliery belt from subsidence.

�The lives of about six lakh people are in danger since a major disaster may strike their villages any day. ECL authorities have not filled the mines with sand after extracting coal, thereby leaving enough scope for miscreants to pilfer coal from them. This has made the entire area prone to subsidence. We have brought the matter to the Centre�s notice, but our pleas have gone unheeded,� said state cottage and small-scale industries minister Bangsagopal Chowdhury.

Chowdhury, who is also an MLA from Ranigunj, said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had urged Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to direct the coal minister to take steps to save the lives and properties of lakhs of people. He also alleged that the Union government did not pay heed to the appeal.

�We have thus no other alternative but to launch a movement against the Centre�s apathy. We are going to Delhi in the middle of next month to submit a memorandum to the coal minister along with a proposal. If we are not heard, we shall take to the streets,� Chowdhury said, adding that the delegation will also meet Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant.

An expert team from Eastern Coalfields Ltd has identified 146 localities in the Asansol-Ranigunj belt as �quite unsafe for human habitation�. The committee added that 59 of these localities could be stabilised through hydropneumatic processes and sand-filling and advised people in other localities to be shifted elsewhere to avert any further loss of life and property.

Chowdhury also proposed a joint security system involving the state and the Central police to guard the abadoned coalmines.

ECL authorities, while admitting the need for immediate steps to refill the abandoned collieries and stop illegal mining, said they needed crores of rupees to achieve this purpose.


Kuran (Rann of Kutch), Jan. 31: 
In this last Indian village bordering Pakistan, a silent witness to a military build-up, people worry more about �the wrath of god� than the threat of war still hanging over them.

�We are least worried about a war as we have already lived through two wars with Pakistan in the past three-and-a-half decades,� Biri Soda, the village head, said. �But earthquake is another matter. You can do nothing in the face of god�s wrath.�

The quake, measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, flattened the village, peopled largely by the Rajput community, on the edge of Kutch district a year ago. But all the 250 collapsed houses have been rebuilt thanks to a Hindu religious outfit.

The army�s camouflaged trucks, laden with troops and provisions, including lambs and chickens, are still trundling down the state highway to the border, a reminder that Indo-Pak tension has not eased.

The Gujarat government is quickly building a road across the impassable Rann of Kutch � a huge expanse of salty marshland that dries up in summer and winter � to help the army ferry troops and supplies to the border.

Beyond Kuran, the Rann starts, which the troops cross on tractors or camelback. The army has declared the entire Rann off-limits to visitors, including journalists.

Shumrapor is barely a kilometre from Kuran, but not as lucky. Even a year after the quake, the village of 240 Muslim families lies shattered, with no signs of reconstruction. A voluntary organisation, which promised to rebuild the village, is yet to start work.

Villagers feel let down but are not envious of neighbouring Kuran, full of spanking new cement houses.

�This is all our luck. We had thought the Christian organisation would keep its word and rebuild our village. But nothing has happened,� sarpanch Allarakha Noor Mohammad said. �It�s good that Kuran has got new houses. It is good for the homeless people there.�

All the 240 families of Shumrapor have been living in flimsy tents of cardboard and plastic sheeting for the past one year, buffeted by strong winds blowing across the Rann of Kutch.

Unlike most quake-hit villages, Shumrapor residents have not received full compensation for the collapsed houses. �All other villages in the border area, both Hindu and Muslim, have received compensation, but we have only got one instalment,� said Abdullah Gaffar, a resident.

The sarpanch said the villagers had met local taluka officials, but they were told �the other two instalments would be paid to the Christian organisation slated to rebuild our village�.

Religion is playing a subtle role in the reconstruction of the wrecked border villages, with Hindu and Muslim organisations rebuilding the villages peopled by their co-religionists.

�It�s a sad commentary on the prevailing social situation. But the villagers are at least getting their homes back, no matter what organisations are rebuilding them,� said Sushma Iyenger of Kutch Nav Nirman Abhiyan, a group of 29 NGOs working on reconstruction along with the UN and the state government.

Iyenger said the Abhiyan was reconstructing several villages, cutting across the barrier of religion. �We are doing our bit by constructing houses in both Hindu and Muslim villages.�

Like Kuran, the residents of Shumrapor, the second village from the Indo-Pak border, are not perturbed over the military build-up or a war. But they, too, are frightened of a quake. �The army is doing its job and let them do it. We have nothing to do with that,� Gaffar said. �But we pray that god will not kill us with an earthquake again.�

Allarakha, the sarpanch, said his village would help the army if a war broke out. �We will give them food, water or whatever we have,� he said.

In the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Kuran residents had sent the wives and children away, but the men had stayed back in the village despite heavy bombing in the area.

�We are not going to leave our village this time either,� said Soda, the village head, confident of India�s military prowess.


New Delhi, Jan. 31: 
George Fernandes� refusal to hand over the Central Vigilance Commission report on defence deals to Parliament�s public accounts committee has fuelled speculation on whether the motive is to shield a former defence minister who may be useful to the NDA later.

In February 2000, the defence minister, in a bid to ensure probity in defence purchases, had referred 77 deals signed since 1989 � each costing over Rs 75 crore � to the CVC.

An NDA leader today claimed the report has nothing against Fernandes. He said there was no reason why the defence minister would stick his neck out by refusing to make it available to the public accounts committee, a constitutional body, especially when his aim was transparency in defence deals.

However, a source in the coalition said Fernandes might be trying to shield one of his predecessors. During 1991-93, Sharad Pawar was holding the portfolio, while Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was the United Front regime�s defence minister between 1996 and 1998.

Ignoring criticism from the Congress and the Left parties, Fernandes today justified his ministry�s decision not to hand over the report, saying it was a secret document and could not be shown to the Parliament panel.

�The CVC report is a secret and the Speaker (G.M.C. Balayogi) has held that. So it could not be handed over to the committee,� he said. The Speaker had also disallowed certain queries over the report, Fernandes added, pointing out that there were rules prescribing what was secret or not.

An NDA leader, however, said it was strange that Fernandes, at the instance of the government, should insist that making the report available to the Parliament committee was against national interests.

The panel, he pointed out, was a constitutional body and the Opposition was not even demanding that the report be made public. Some CVC officials are of the view that the report should be shown to at least the chairman of the committee.

Sources said that though Fernandes has developed a personal rapport with Mulayam, his next-door neighbour at 2 Krishna Menon Marg, it is unlikely that the report may have anything to put Yadav in the dock.

Had it been so, the BJP would have used it to the hilt to wreck Mulayam�s electoral prospects in Uttar Pradesh, the sources added.


Mumbai, Jan. 31: 
A campus fest had never been more macho.

A sleek black car stands gleaming in the sun. It�s one of the latest Mercedes models � SL 500. But this is not a car show, it�s Techfest 2002 at IIT Bombay.

The fest is the IIT�s annual technology event to showcase the latest in research and development. So far, Techfest was content launching state- of-the-art software, robotics, videogames, animation and what have you.

But from tomorrow till Sunday, the Merc will be the centrepiece of the Techfest, hoisted on the ramp in front of the students� activity centre, its doors invitingly open, its sides lit up by soft lights.

But why should a Mercedes rear its head at an IIT? Why shouldn�t it? ask the organisers.

�Bharat Balasubramanian of Chrysler Daimler, makers of Mercedes and one of the leading sponsors of the event, was supposed to speak at the fest and explain the finer points of the car, but unfortunately he cannot come because he is ill,� says Anshuk Gandhi, one of the student organisers of Techfest.

He defends the choice of the Mercedes. �But what�s the difference between a Mercedes and software? After all, a Mercedes is a marvel of engineering,� he says.

After cars, another macho pursuit: missiles. The star speaker at the event is A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the �father of Indian missile technology�, while Panorama, the exhibition of IIT Bombay�s major R&D initiatives, has IIT Zeus Software as one of its highlights.

Zeus is a missile-design software developed by the Department of Aerospace Engineering. The software is capable of computing advanced missile-design parameters. Another exhibit is the �airship project�.

Scientists at IIT Bombay are working in conjunction with the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in Bangalore to develop a helium-based �Flying Ship� similar to the Zeppelin airship.

This concept has never been used in India and will be used for transportation and other purposes in regions where conventional means are not available.

But there�s more reason for adrenaline to flow. Another event at Techfest is the air force exhibition. A missile, Sam III (Pechora), with a range of 25 to 29 km, has arrived from Bangalore. The air force has several other exhibits that will be put up tomorrow.

The organisers, however, said the fact that there are so many things related to defence is only a coincidence.

There will be two exhibits at Panorama, however, which promise to make life easier for the common man.

On display will be the Supercritical Fluid Extraction Plant developed for the first time in India by the IIT�s Department of Chemical Engineering.

The technology, available in only three other countries, makes preservation of fruit juices much more convenient.

Mumbai Navigator, a software built by the IIT, locates where the user actually is in the city.

It uses a huge database on various means of transport in Mumbai and inputs to suggest the best possible way to reach a particular destination.


Chennai, Jan. 31: 
Hopeful of their most precious catch ever, Tamil Nadu police and the Special Task Force have accelerated the drive to net notorious sandalwood smuggler-cum-poacher-turned sympathiser of Tamil extremism Veerappan. Failing health, particularly a cataract in the eye, may turn out to be the nemesis for the dreaded forest brigand.

Excitement has mounted across the state in the last few days with a slew of perplexing reports pouring in from the vast Sathyamangalam jungles, spreading across Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Veerappan is said to be left with just two associates, including long-standing confidante Sethukuli Govindan.

State home secretary Naresh Gupta said the task force has �more precise information� about the brigand�s whereabouts. The operations are on in full swing, he added. The police, too, said the task force has made considerable progress and it was only a matter of time before the bandit was arrested.

However, Gupta said no specific time-frame could be set for the �military-like� exercise.

Police sources in Erode said the combing operations have been intensified in the Madeshwaran Hills near Mettur, where the brigand is believed to have holed up.

Chennai police commissioner K. Vijayakumar, who had earlier been associated with the task force and whose recent visit to Coimbatore sparked off speculation that Veerappan had been nabbed, said he had only gone to meet police officials involved in the operation to share information.

The task force operations were �advancing� he said and ruled out the possibility of offering amnesty to Veerappan. Gupta also denied that a three-member government team had been sent informally to talk to the brigand�s aide in this regard.

The government will only go by the Constitution and the objective is to nab the sandalwood smuggler, Gupta said.

More than 1,000 task force personnel from both the states are involved in the combing operation even after the BSF contingent involved in the operation were shifted to Jharkhand a few months back.

The ADMK government is aiming to catch Veerappan in early February as it would boost party chief Jayalalithaa�s prospects in the byelection to the Assembly from Andipatti, slated for February 21.

It is a �must-win� situation for Jayalalithaa if she is to come back as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu.


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