Phone fraud falls into legal loop
Private dose for health
Horror holiday for Thai cop
Swifter road to Howrah station
The City Diary
Billed to keep peace, not protect
Newly-wed dies in road mishap
Deaf-mute back home
Pep pills for health centres
Districts in darkness after NTPC-Orissa spat

Calcutta, March 13: 
New-age crime has come to town, with the lid being blown off an alleged fraud, the likes of which Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has seldom encountered. It’s also a case the likes of which Calcutta High Court has never heard before.

The Calcutta Telephones allegation that “illegal operations” by a youthful tech-savvy firm have cost it exactly Rs 2,85,60,416 (Rupees two crore, eighty-five lakh, sixty thousand ,four hundred and sixteen) has brought GenX crime into sharp focus.

The firm is said to have “bypassed BSNL to route ISD calls to and from foreign countries, using illegal Internet telephony since November 2001”. The system used was not very complicated — only an interface equipment which converted data-transmission to voice calls was required — but it ended up costing the government nearly Rs 3 crore in “unrealised revenue”.

Q-Net (the name of the firm in the dock), working from the city office of Keltron on Ballygunge Circular Road, used three ISDN lines (485-5351/5354/5451) — capable of several simultaneous operations — subscribed by the Kerala-government concern, officials said. It was the Kalighat divisional engineer (external)’s office that received the tip-off about Q-Net’s activities and alerted the BSNL vigilance wing, resulting in a joint raid by BSNL, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd, Ballygunge police and detective department officials in February.

Four persons — two Keltron officials and two Q-Net employees — were arrested and sophisticated equipment, including an eight-port MBPS system, seized. Keltron branch manager Sashigopal denied any knowledge of the firm’s activities. “We provided them space in our office, according to an agreement our Kerala headquarters had with them,” he said.

“Transmission of data on the Net (surfing, chatting or mailing) costs as much as a local call,” a senior BSNL official explained. “But, the moment you manipulate an Internet connection to make international voice-calls, the revenue gets magnified many times but does not reach BSNL,” he added.

Adding a terror twist to the telephony tale, officials said unregulated Internet use could come in handy “for those fighting the nation”. This, they said, was why they were attaching such significance to this case.

The case has also thrown the Indian legal system into a litigation loop it is barely equipped to handle. Public prosecutor Kazi Shafiullah now has only some provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act, dated 1885, besides Sections 420 (cheating) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code to try and keep the two arrested Q-Net staff behind bars. The two Keltron officials have already got bail.

“The Indian legal system is actually still in the Middle Ages,” Shafiullah admitted. “It is extremely difficult for us to bring today’s criminals to book with the Sections we have.”

Delhi has had more experience in combating cyber-crime, officials said. The BSNL headquarters sent a circular to the chief general managers of every circle in 2000, alerting them to high-tech fraud. Officials admitted that Calcutta has been slack in following up on the circular. “If we had been more alert, we would certainly have cracked more than just one case,” said an official.


Calcutta, March 13: 
The government’s healthcare system in Calcutta is all set to receive a ‘private’ boost.

Writers’ Buildings announced on Wednesday that under a joint-sector operation, all government hospitals in the city will have CT scans, stress test and other diagnostic machines under a dual rate structure — one for in-house patients, who will be charged government rates; the other for private patients, who will be charged market rates.

At present, SSKM is the only hospital with a CT scan. So, people flock to private clinics for scans. The entire upgradation process will be complete by May.

The health department will spend Rs 15 crore from the ongoing World Bank project to provide modern amenities for teaching hospitals. Computers for office work will be bought with the money.

An exclusive neurological centre will come up soon. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will sign a memorandum of understanding with UK- based neurologist R.P. Sengupta on March 27 for a Neuro Sciences Centre (NSC) in the city. The specialised Neuro Sciences Centre will come up on government land on AJC Bose Road, near the Park Street crossing.

“This new health centre will help ease the load of Bangur Institute of Neurology,” said health secretary Asim Barman on Wednesday. The government participates in the project by way of providing the land.

These decisions are part of an ongoing strategy to meet the huge demand for services at hospitals, which have not been fully utilised. The vast manpower and infrastructure, according to present thinking, has remained largely under-utilised.

The health department has already held talks with R.P. Sengupta and is convinced that he will be able to provide excellent medical resources in the field of neurology.

The NSC will open an out-patients’ department at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital next month. Later, it will open an indoor neurological facility and will also conduct surgery. The centre will have skilled neuro-surgeons, visiting the city from the UK and other foreign countries. “It will act as a centre of excellence and will also conduct research,” Barman said. The NSC will take care of patients waiting for weeks for neuro-surgery at the Bangur institute.

The health department is entering into a joint venture with the city-based Eco MRI Centre to set up CT-scan machines at Calcutta Medical College, NRS Hospital, R.G. Kar Hospital and M.R. Bangur Hospital.


Calcutta, March 13: 
Robbed at gunpoint at a railway station; sleeping on the streets in an alien land; wandering without food — the 72-hour ordeal of 83-year-old Jan Wongburee, a retired police officer from Thailand, has ended with his safe return to the Thai consulate in Calcutta.

For Wongburee, who cannot speak English or any Indian language, the nightmare began near the Bengal-Bihar border. He was one of the 40 Thai nationals who had arrived in Calcutta from Bangkok on March 9 and sought the help of a tour operator to guide them to Gaya. They were scheduled to take the Kalka Mail to Bodh Gaya and return to Calcutta on March 19.

“The tour operators had split us into two batches. They told us we would be boarding the Kalka Mail from Howrah and reaching Gaya at 3.30 am on March 10,’’ Wongburee told CID officials, through an interpreter, on Wednesday.

The old man got separated from his group at Howrah station and boarded another train. “At 3.30 am, when the train pulled into a station, I got down and tried to find out about Bodh Gaya and the Buddhist temple there,’’ recounted Wongburee. “I tried to communicate through sign language, but nobody understood me. The only thing I made out was that the place was not Bodh Gaya.’’

Wongburee then boarded another train and asked some passengers how to get to Bodh Gaya. A couple of passengers advised him to get off a couple of stations later. As he was trying to find his way around the station, five youths accosted him at gunpoint and ordered him to hand over all the cash he was carrying. “Fearing for my life, I handed over the passport and Rs 13,000 in Thai currency,’’ said Wongburee.

He then set off from the station in search of help. “I was hungry and tried to gesticulate to the vendors for food. I was carrying some Thai currency that they refused to accept… I slept on the street and then just kept walking. A policeman spotted me and tried to start up a conversation, but I could not understand a word of what he was saying. He finally asked me to follow him and we landed up at the police station.’’

The policeman was Barun Das from Jamuria thana, in Asansol sub-division. He brought Wongburee some food and alerted his superiors. The CID, probing Wongburee’s disappearance, had flashed a message to district police officers on Tuesday afternoon.

Once the cops in Asansol were sure of his identity — with the help of an interpreter — the Thai national was put on a train to Howrah, with an escort. On Wednesday, Wongburee looked relieved to be back ‘home’ — the Thai consulate in Calcutta.


Calcutta, March 13: 
Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya on Wednesday said the government has acquired possession of the land required to build the road connecting Howrah station with Vidyasagar Setu.

The road will help Calcuttans using Vidyasagar Setu save at least 15 minutes by avoiding traffic jams. The land on Foreshore Road was taken over from Burn Standard.

“We will begin construction of the road soon,” said Bhattacharya at the inaugural function of the widened portion of Ambedkar bridge, on the EM Bypass near Science City.

At present, vehicles coming to and from Howrah down the second Hooghly bridge take a longer route via Mangla Hat and Bankim Setu, known for their traffic jams. Once complete, the road will directly link Foreshore Road to the station.

The minister announced that the government is planning to construct a second bypass to connect Salt Lake with VIP Road. Once complete, VIP Road-bound vehicles will not be required to drive through congested Ultadanga.

With the widening of Ambedkar bridge, vehicles moving towards Basanti Road can avail of two separate lanes. Earlier, there were only two lanes used by vehicles to and from Basanti Road, as well as Garia.


Calcutta, March 13: 

Bandh to protest twin killings

Two Trinamul Congress activists were hacked and then shot dead, allegedly by CPM members in Kestopur on the northern fringes of the city early on Wednesday. The Trinamul Congress has called a 12-hour bandh in the area on Thursday to protest the CPM’s “atrocities” on party workers. Pankaj Banerjee, leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, condemned the incident and said a team of party MLAs would visit the spot on Thursday. Residents of Tarulia in the Kestopur area saw two bodies floating in an adjacent pond. Panic-stricken locals informed the police, who fished out the two bodies from the pond a few hours later. The duo was identified as Arjun Pramanik, 28, and Basudev Naskar, 25, who recently switched loyalties from the CPM to the Trinamul Congress. According to the additional superintendent of police (Barasat) Rahul Srivastava, the criminals have all been identified. A manhunt has been launched in Kestopur, Narayanpur, Teghoria and several pockets of Dum Dum and Bongaon in search of the killers.

Youth held for 16 murders

A 23-year-old youth, wanted for 23 cases, including 16 murders, was arrested on the premises of the Lady Dufferin Hospital late on Wednesday. A loaded revolver was recovered from Bhola Sarder. Acting on a tip-off, officials of Muchipara police station raided the hospital premises and picked up Bhola, alias Kalo Bhola, was operating in Sealdah and Entally. The Government Railway Police was also looking for Bhola as a number of murder cases are pending against him. Bhola confessed during interrogation that he used to work as a contact killer.

School case

Calcutta High Court on Wednesday heard the petition filed against the state education department, the diocese of Calcutta and St Thomas School, challenging admissions to Anglo-Indian schools in the state. Justice Amitabha Lala observed that “admissions, if any, concerning the schools in question, shall abide by the result of the writ application’’. It will come up again for hearing on March 15. The Bishop was also served a formal notice on Wednesday.

Tuition rap

The government is determined to abolish private tuitions by teachers of government and state-aided schools, according to an affidavit filed by the state in the high court on Wednesday. Advocate-general B. Ray submitted that since 1978 the government was providing the salaries of the teachers of these schools and it had the right to obtain certificates from them saying that they had not earned money through any other means. A petition was filed by Supriya Chattopadhyay, assistant teacher of a government-aided school, alleging that the undertaking which the state education department wanted to obtain from them was arbitrary and against the teachers’ rights. The case will be heard again on March 15.    

Calcutta, March 13: 
One in every two women is either physically or mentally tortured. Over half of them believe that it is justified. Every 13.7 minutes, a woman is abused. Over one-third of all crimes committed against women are perpetrated at home.

These are national statistics. Numbers that also reflect that the female to male ratio in West Bengal has dipped from 955 to 940 to every 1000.

With this dismal reality in view, women’s groups across the country have protested the introduction of The Protection from Domestic Violence Bill, 2001, which has recently been introduced in the Lok Sabha.

Swayam, an NGO “fighting violence against women”, held a meet on Wednesday to voice its objections to what has been introduced in the Lok Sabha. “Though the Bill has already been presented in the House in its current form, Swayam has sent these concerns to law minister Arun Jaitley,” explained Anuradha Kapoor of Swayam.

Jasodhara Bagchi, chairperson of the Women’s Commission, also issued a statement of solidarity with Swayam. “The West Bengal Commission for Women fully shares the opinion that the Domestic Violence Bill should not have been introduced in the Parliament in the present form, without taking into account all the objections that had been articulated by women’s groups throughout the country,” said Bagchi.

The first concern that the activists raised was that the emphasis of the Bill “appears to be preservation of the family as opposed to preventing violence against women and protecting their right to a life without violence”.

Only if the accused is found to “habitually assault or make the life of the aggrieved person miserable by cruelty of conduct” does it constitute domestic abuse, according to the Bill. “Even one instance of abuse degrades women,” asserts Swayam in its list of concerns, which also states that “misery” is too subjective a word and the definition of abuse remains “ambiguous”.

The Bill, according to the women’s rights group, fails to cover the right of residence of women in either their matrimonial or natal home, or the need for “alternative shelters for women fighting domestic violence”.

Mandatory counselling, as the Bill calls for, “may go against the will of the aggrieved”. Says Kapoor: “In our experience, women can be thrust back into a situation of violence by such a provision. There is often little or no room for compromise and counselling when physical abuse is going on.”

Rights groups are trying to raise public opinion to have the amendments made to the Bill. “Organisations working with women should be consulted to ensure that victims of violence have easy access to legal redress,” added officials of the NGO.


Calcutta, March 13: 
A road mishap, in which a newly-married woman, Sutapa Singh, 24, was run over by a bus, irked a mob of 500 into blocking Tala Bridge, in north Calcutta, on Wednesday. The victim’s husband, Raju, suffered injuries when the bus, on route 3B, hit the couple’s two-wheeler.

Initially, the locals prevented the police from removing Sutapa’s body but later, officers from Cossipore police station intervened and promised to take action against the errant driver.

Police said the accident took place around 9.50 am, when the bus was trying to overtake a chartered bus. Witnesses said that the driver of the chartered bus was not allowing the private bus to pass.

“Both were driving at a high speed when the driver of the private bus lost control on the northern slope of the bridge and hit the scooter,” one of the witnesses said. Both drivers fled after the accident. They were chased by the bystanders, but managed to outpace them.

On hearing the news of the accident, the victim’s neighbours from Sinthee rushed to the spot. They squatted on the road and refused to hand over the body to the police.

Demanding the immediate arrest of the errant drivers, the demonstrators blocked the road for over two hours, causing a major traffic snarl on the Shyambazar-Dunlop route.

The demonstrators alleged that road mishaps on B.T. Road were increasing because of rash driving and bad traffic management. They also demanded immediate deployment of traffic sergeants, instead of constables, to regulate vehicular movement in the area. The blockade was finally lifted around 12 noon.

Raju was admitted to a local hospital, where his condition was stated to be ‘critical’.


Calcutta, March 13: 
Barely 24 hours after she was missing from her home, the police spotted deaf-mute Agnes Rose Gambiar near Kalighat on Wednesday and handed her over to her father. According to the police, the girl was first taken to Ekbalpore police station, from where she was escorted home on Mominpore Road.

“We had the girl medically examined and are awaiting the report,’’ the police said. Agnes had left her house on Tuesday without informing her parents. Her disappearance caused a flutter in police circles, as CID officials are probing the case in which three policemen had allegedly raped Agnes inside a police van near Presidency jail. The case is scheduled to come up for hearing in the high court on Friday.

Agnes had wandered off to Kalighat in December last year too and was rescued in a similar fashion a couple of days later. “Since she is challenged, we cannot ascertain her reasons for doing so time and again,’’ an officer said. “We suspect that she might have been to some place in Kalighat and then had been trying to find her way back home across Chetla Bridge,” he added.

In a related development, jail officials said they were not to be blamed for her alleged rape. “We have already conducted a separate probe and found that our jail staff are not involved,” said a Presidency jail official.


Calcutta, March 13: 
The state health department has prescribed a shake-up for the ailing basic healthcare centres.

The basic purpose of the exercise is to ensure that resources are used properly — or in other words, money is not wasted on setting up facilities when it is enough to upgrade the existing ones. Equally, the whole idea is also to make sure that primary health centres do not deny indoor treatment when they have the necessary infrastructure.

“Several doctors, technicians and paramedics have been recruited over a period of time. Even then there is a continuous demand for posting more personnel in different basic primary health centres,” health secretary Asim Barman noted in a memorandum to the director of health services.

The health department has set up a steering committee headed by joint secretary Rajiv Dubey to take stock of the existing facilities and human resource mobilisation.

According to the strategy, resources to strengthening the system will come from funds provided by Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Germany’s KfW. The health secretary will soon issue the necessary instructions.

Repair and construction of the buildings will be taken up by local panchayats, zilla parishads and district planning committees under different development schemes.

According to the new policy:

All basic primary health centres will have a minimum of 30 beds with facility for indoor treatment

Well-functioning primary health centres with indoor facilities — and those with potential — will be upgraded

Basic primary health centres will have at least three medical officers and primary health centres two

Efforts will be made to ensure that basic primary health centres have operation theatres, labour rooms and other facilities to run a 30-bedded indoor hospitals

“This is the beginning of a process of consolidation of resources we have and taking stock of the assets spread all over the state,” the state health secretary said.

In the Assembly, to a question from Abdul Mannan of the Congress, health minister Suryakanta Mishra said the health department had made enquiries to find out the status of a medical college proposed in Midnapore.

The minister said the government had provided land besides Rs 1.5 crore — Rs 1 crore from the health department and Rs 50 lakh from zilla parishad funds — to set up the college in the late nineties.


Calcutta, March 13: 
Bengal plunged into a power crisis following a financial dispute between the National Thermal Power Corporation and Orissa.

Power minister Mrinal Banerjee said NTPC had reduced its generation, resulting in a huge fall in the frequency of the power supply in the eastern grid. “As a result, we are resorting to intermittent power cuts in the districts so that our system is protected,” Banerjee said.

There could be a complete blackout if the frequency fell any further. The Damodar Valley Corporation also had reduced generation. However, CESC, capable of isolating its grid easily, can survive the crisis.

“I have contacted the eastern regional load despatch centre and asked them to keep an eye on overdrawal of power from the grid,” the minister said.

With the situation particularly grim in the minister’s home district of Burdwan, he was contacted by party boss Anil Biswas. “We are helpless at the moment as our power plants are generating at full capacity in order to keep the frequency up,” Banerjee said.


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