Mystery hand in answer script
Transport strike put on hold till July
Viewer victim of beam battle
Diamond sale ends in distress
The City Diary
Last green frontier under attack
Cop transfer violations raise a ruckus
Mayor paints grim picture of drainage
Ten netted in bonds fraud
Govt rolls back contract farming plan

Calcutta, June 26: 
This is one �mystery� that has confounded the authorities at the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. Such a thing, they say, has never been scripted in the history of the Board and has forced them to requisition the services of a handwriting expert to crack it.

The case goes like this. A student (name withheld, as investigations are still on) of Madhyamik 2002, results of which were announced in May, had fared very well in seven papers, but dismally in the eighth. In seven of the eight papers he had secured first division marks, but in physical science, he had scored only two out of 100.

Stumped, he had approached the Board authorities for a review. In due course, the paper was re-examined and the officials found that he deserved no more than the two marks that he had been awarded. �The answer script was atrocious,� a Board official said. �It was clear that it had been written by an absolutely sub-standard student.�

It was this that got the Board officials thinking. If the student was that bad, then how had he scored first division marks in the other papers?

Brushing aside norms, they decided that since it appeared to be an �exceptional� case, they would re-examine the other seven papers as well. A review followed. The verdict was that the student deserved the high marks that he had secured.

This baffled the examiners all the more, till one of them pointed out that one thing did not match: the handwriting. The physical science paper was obviously the handiwork of someone else, even though the roll number was of the student who had asked for the review.

The boy was then summoned to the Board office and shown the physical science paper. He claimed the script was not his. �Just to be doubly sure, we asked him to write a few paragraphs in front of us,� an official said. �He did what he was told and the results were as expected: his handwriting matched the seven other papers, but not the physical science answer script.�

How did this happen? Where had the boy�s original answer script disappeared? Who was the ghost writer? How did he manage to pull off such an impossible feat?

President of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education Haraprasad Samaddar refused to elaborate. All he had to say was that the matter is �under investigation� and all aspects of the case are being looked into.

�This is a sensitive matter and I would not like to comment on it before all investigations are complete,� he said. �But this is a very serious criminal offence and we will not stop till we find out who the culprit is. We will ensure that he is sent to jail.�

While investigations are on, the student continues to suffer. With two marks in physical science, he has been refused admission to the science stream in all schools. �Not only has he suffered, but the credibility of the Board has been tarnished as well,� an official said.


Calcutta, June 26: 
The transport strike called by taxi and bus unions has been deferred till the first week of July, with transport minister Subhas Chakraborty asking for more time to decide on new fares.

�The key issue over which we had called the strike was police harassment, and not the rise in diesel prices. However, we have decided to defer the strike,� said Ajit Saha of the Bengal Bus Syndicate, after a meeting with Chakraborty at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Wednesday. Another meeting will be held either on July 6 or 7.

Though Chakraborty refused to comment on the meeting, it is understood that he has assured the Left Front Cabinet meeting, held earlier in the day, that things will be sorted out by mid-July.

The transport minister met leaders of various bus, taxi and minibus operators� bodies to discuss the proposed strike. While taxis had threatened to go off the road indefinitely from midnight on Wednesday, buses and minibuses had called a two-day strike on June 27 and 28.

Transport operators, however, rejected a new fare structure proposed for buses and minibuses. �We were bargaining for a minimum fare of Rs 4 for the first six kilometres, but the minister has suggested Rs 2 for the first two kilometres and a subsequent rise of 15 per cent for each stage,� Saha said. What the stage would be after the first couple of kilometres has not been worked out yet.

According to Lakshmi Das of the Bengal Minibus Owners� Syndicate, the fare structure was absolutely unacceptable. �Minibuses have always had a higher fare structure than private buses. So we don�t agree with the minister,� Das said. His Syndicate will meet on Thursday and evolve a fare structure that will be placed before the minister.

The taxi unions made similar rumblings of dissent. Madan Mitra of the Progressive Taximen�s Union said a rational fare structure was not worked out at the meeting. Mitra was wary of taxis pricing themselves out of the market.

Bimal Guha of the Bengal Taxi Association said the last time fares were increased was way back in October, 1999. �We have asked for a fare structure that will anticipate the frequent rises in the prices of diesel,� Guha said.

The bus unions stressed that unless police harassment was stopped, it would be difficult for them to run buses.

�The traffic police, instead of going to court, are cancelling drivers� licences arbitrarily. As a result, about 25 per cent of our buses are idle,� Saha said. One of the reasons for deferring the strike, Saha said, was pressure from the Citu-affiliated bus workers� union.


Calcutta, June 26: 
It�s war over the sports beam and the viewer is the victim yet again, caught in the crossfire between broadcaster and service provider.

With all eyes on Ten Sports, not too many fans have started missing ESPN and STAR Sports, blacked out by RPG Netcom and SitiCable since the midnight of June 18 �over differences in declaration levels�. ESPN-STAR Sports is demanding �1.5 lakh more connections� from RPG Netcom; the operator says �nothing doing� and SitiCable, in a show of solidarity, has also switched off the sports twins.

Once the final whistle is blown in the World Cup final at Yokohama on Sunday evening, focus is bound to swing towards Wimbledon and the Indian cricket team�s English tour. While the Grand Slam is live on STAR Sports till July 7, Sourav Ganguly�s men take on England and Sri Lanka in a double-header at Lord�s and The Oval, live on ESPN, this weekend.

Eight days into the beam block, the broadcaster decided to join battle on Wednesday. �It is extremely unfortunate that the sports-loving viewers of Calcutta are being held to ransom by RPG Netcom,� said Sricharan Iyengar, vice-president, affiliate sales, ESPN Software India. The broadcaster also accused RPG Netcom of �unilaterally� switching off the channels, �despite repeated attempts to engage them in dialogue�. The RPG Netcom top-brass was not available for talks on Wednesday.

�They already get paid for two lakh points from RPG Netcom and are seeking an extra 1.5-lakh connectivity, which is simply not acceptable,� said an operator. ESPN Software claims RPG Netcom feeds more than 9.6-lakh cable homes in Calcutta and, hence, their demand for increased connectivity is justified. �A section of operators has already approached us for resumption of service,� Iyengar added.

Operators in a few pockets of Howrah and south Calcutta are wary of another viewer backlash (remember the Brazil-England cable imbroglio?). But they are reluctant to approach ESPN for decoders, as �renegades� have been threatened with �banishment� by the joint action panel formed by RPG Netcom and Siti.

ESPN Software is now taking the decoder-driven route to woo hotels and clubs. Winning Streak, the sports bar in Hotel Hindusthan International, has entered into an agreement with ESPN to beam Wimbledon and the cricket triangular live on a giant screen. �Even amidst the World Cup, there is a demand for Wimbledon and we�re sure cricket fans will flock here once Sachin takes the field,� says Bunty Sethi of Winning Streak. But cable homes continue to be denied their favourite sports fare.


Calcutta, June 26: 
A jewel thief, reportedly armed with a toy pistol, robbed the Roys of 24/1, Maharshi Debendra Road, in north Calcutta, of a century-old diamond ring. Police said it was last valued at Rs 75 lakh.

The robbery took place on Tuesday morning at the palatial house of the family, that neighbours say was responsible for setting up Posta Bazaar.

Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner of police, detective department, said on Wednesday that Pranab Roy, owner of the diamond ring, had been trying to sell it since last year. He had been approached by a middleman, Indrajit Dafadar, who promised to do the needful.

�Dafadar contacted Roy on Sunday and told him that he had managed to find a prospective buyer,� said Mitra. �Roy told him to come to the house on Tuesday morning.�

According to investigators, Dafadar and the buyer arrived at the Roys� around 10.30 am on Tuesday. �Roy, who was keen to finish the formalities of the sale, brought the ring out of the locker and showed it to the two men,� said Mitra.

After some deliberations, Dafadar, 35, urged Roy, 55, to hand over the ring so the buyer could take a closer look. �Roy handed the ring over to Dafadar, who seized the opportunity,� sleuths said.

Dafadar whipped out �a pistol� and warned Roy not to shout for help. The middleman and the buyer then started backing out of the room towards the staircase. Suddenly, Roy realised that what Dafadar was brandishing appeared to be a �toy pistol�.

Desperate to stop the heirloom from being stolen in front of his eyes, Roy lunged towards Dafadar and grabbed him. But Dafadar managed to push Roy away and run off with the ring. Roy�s cries for help went unheeded as he was in a secluded section of the nearly-deserted house.

Acting on a complaint lodged with Posta police station, cops detained the man who had introduced Dafadar to Roy and another associate. Sleuths are now on the trail of Dafadar, a resident of the Baguiati area.

�This does not appear to be an open-and-shut case,� said an officer of Posta police station. �We are probing various aspects of the case, including the reason for the proposed sale of such a valuable ring by a reputed family.�

When contacted at their residence, a member of the Roy family told Metro: �We refuse to comment on the matter.�



Seat status for JEE candidates on Net

Students who have cleared this year�s joint entrance examination for admission to engineering and medical degree colleges will be able to get updated information on the Net about vacancies in various institutions. The site to check is from July 8. In addition, the state joint entrance board will set up a control room (668-2236) to find out the latest status of vacant seats in various subjects. Amal Jyoti Sengupta, vice-chancellor of Shibpur Bengal Engineering College Deemed University and chairman of the state joint entrance board, said a pre-counselling session for successful examinees will be held at Gaganendra Pradarshashala auditorium at Calcutta Information Centre on July 1. The pre-counselling will continue till July 7. The final counselling will start on July 8 at Ashutosh Hall on the Indian Museum premises. It will continue till July 19.

GRP robs cops of prisoners

The Government Railway Police (GRP) on Wednesday snatched four prisoners from the custody of officers of the Noapara police station at Shyamnagar Eastland Quarter, in Noapara. Sub-divisional police officer (Barrackpore) Kanad Mukherjee said Sambhu Hela and three other criminals had been arrested. But when they were being brought to the police station, GRP personnel attacked the policemen and took away the criminals. A probe has been ordered into the incident.

Budget slash

The civic allocation for the Calcutta proper area (Ward 1 � 100) was slashed 25 times more than that of the 41 wards in the added areas of Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur. Hence it was not possible for the Calcutta Municipal Corporation to allot extra funds for the development of the added areas, mayor Subrata Mukherjee said in the civic house on Wednesday in reply to question raised by CPM chief whip Amal Mitra.

Metro joyride

A power failure during peak hours on Wednesday afternoon forced Metro authorities at Tollygunge to allow commuters a free ride as tickets could not be issued. The same thing happened at Kalighat and Rabindra Sarovar stations, which were plunged into darkness. However, there was confusion at the exit points of stations like Chandni Chowk, Central and Girish Park, as officials there had not been informed about the free ride.

Jailed for murder

The main accused in the murder case of industrialist Subir Dutta was sentenced to 10 years� imprisonment and a fine of Rs 5,000 by the Diamond Harbour court on Wednesday. Dutta was murdered at Falta on July 27, 2001. Indrajit Chatterjee, additional district sessions judge, said 36 persons were named in the FIR, of whom 20 had been arrested. Muzzafar Mollah, the main accused, works in Dutta�s farm. Among the arrested, two are minors and have been sent to juvenile court. Seventeen of them were released.

Held for idol theft

Debasish Gayen, 25, was arrested at Bally after police recovered an ancient idol from his possession. The cost of the idol was estimated at Rs 50,000. During interrogation, Gayen confessed that he had stolen the idol from Park Circus.    

Calcutta, June 26: 
Just about a month before paranoia gripped Calcutta, when an alert was sounded in anticipation of an alleged plan to strike at the seat of power, unbeknown to the police, terrorists were already wreaking havoc in their jungle hideout not far from the Narendrapur school of Ramakrishna Mission.

A couple of rickety men and women, who looked like they could never hurt a fly, let alone humans, were gathered in the middle of a clearing. A rifle-toting �terrorist� aimed his firearm at the chocolate cream hero and the bevy of beauties the former was apparently holding hostage.

If this sounds a trifle too �filmi�, it is actually a scene from a teleserial that was being shot in Kayaler Bagan, Calcutta�s last green frontier. And if these �terrorists� were terrorising anybody it must have been the denizens of this huge orchard.

Kayaler Bagan used to cover 27 acres till the other day. Mango, jackfruit, guava and other fruit and flower-bearing trees abound here. Creepers and parasites entwine their branches, their wing-like leaves adding to the density of the green.

Now, what architects call built environment has eaten into 10 acres of nature. In other words, houses and squatters� huts have come up in the jungle. A large clearing is a football ground complete with a goalpost. But that transformation must have taken place quite some time ago. The tree cover may not have thinned alarmingly, but the pathways have become a trifle wider.

Earlier, one could get lost without much effort in the wood echoing with birdcalls. The green would engulf newcomers. Now houses and brick structures and even dish antennae. come into sight through the leafy screen after a couple of yards� walk. And now your ears are more likely than not to be greeted by the chorus of bus horns than birdsong.

Ornithologist Kushal Mukherjee says earlier 112 species of birds used to wing around the Narendrapur Wildlife Sanctuary, as the government has named it. But now their number has dropped. �Insecticides are used here to kill insects. So quite naturally it attracts fewer birds. Moreover, when mangoes are in season, people employed to gather them scare away the birds,� he says.

G.B. Thapliyal, chief wildlife warden, says though the garden was declared a sanctuary it is owned by individuals. So it has no powers to stop the depredation.

Frenetic construction work and fruit gathering apart, two other important factors that contribute to environmental degradation are the film shoots and picnics that are allowed here for a fee during the winter months.

When our photographer went to take pictures of the teleserial being shot there, he noticed that the branches of trees had been lopped off to make a bonfire. Moreover, a large noisy crowd had besieged the crew and that could not be very beneficial for its ecosystem.

Bhikhari Mandal, an old man employed to look after the bounty of fruit, has built a dwelling of leaves and branches in the middle of a clearing. �Two days ago, a film unit was boiling water in a huge container. Then as soon as they put something into it, it exploded and almost hit the tree tops,� he says. Noise can take its toll on nature.

For the same reason, picnics and parties are harmful for the forest. And the evidence is there for everybody to see. The clearings are littered with plastic plates and cups, many of them embedded in mud. You wouldn�t need a magnifying glass to discover the plastic packets of Mother Dairy strewn on the pathways.

Anil Das, the caretaker who lives in a hut along with his family on the periphery of the orchard, says 10 to 12 teleserials are shot in Kayaler Bagan every year. The film units comprise 25-30 people each. It attracts picnickers mostly in the months of December and January. He admits that local people take it upon themselves to remove dead trees for firewood.


Calcutta, June 26: 
The state police department has taken exception to the manner in which transfers of junior policemen have been stalled over the past few years. The administration has called for an inquiry. Sources said most of these policemen are members of the CPM-controlled Non-gazetted Police Karmachari Samity (police employees� union) and are ignoring transfer orders by currying favour with their seniors.

Sources said about 180 constables and assistant sub-inspectors of the state police have ignored their transfer orders and are working at the same office for more than 20 years, which is not permissible.

Director-general of police D.C. Vajpayee said on Wednesday that he had asked his officers to look into the matter and take action against the errant cops.

Senior officials have already identified about 140 constables and assistant sub-inspectors who had violated their transfer orders.

For quite some time, resentment hasbeen brewing among officials of the state police�s Intelligence Branch (IB), as senior officers were allegedly favouring a constable, also a leader of the police employees� union.

The constable, Nilkamal Saha, had been working at the IB headquarters on Lord Sinha Road since 1983 and had been skirting transfer orders. On September 14, 2001, Saha had assaulted Ranen Banerjee, an inspector, as the latter had refused to authorise a savings fund scheme run by him and his associates.

Then inspector-general of police, border, Ramkrishna Roy, had conducted an inquiry into the assault and recommended stern action against Saha and his associates. But despite that, Saha went scot-free.

Sources alleged that Saha had even instigated his colleagues to ignore their transfer orders. On March 29, 1996, Nilmoni Roy, a constable of the IB, had been transferred to the district office in South 24-Parganas. Roy, allegedly under Saha�s influence, simply ignored the order and is still working at the Lord Sinha Road headquarters. No action was taken against him, since he is also a member of the CPM-controlled union.

Similarly, Arun Bhattacharjee, another constable, working at the Lord Sinha Road office, was transferred to South 24-Parganas, but has chosen to ignore the order. Constable Sudhir Deb, transferred to Hooghly district police intelligence in 1996, and sub-inspector Girin Das, transferred to Howrah Government Railway Police, have all followed suit and continue to work in their old offices. Interestingly, all these constables are associates of Saha and members of the CPM-controlled police union.

The state vigilance commission has started an inquiry against Saha and asked senior intelligence officials. It will draw up a list of constables and assistant sub-inspectors who have violated transfer orders.

When contacted on Wednesday, Saha admitted that he was a member of the CPM-controlled employees� union, but denied that he had exercised influence to stall his transfer order. He even denied instigating his colleagues.

A spokesperson of the union held the police authorities responsible for the failure to transfer employees who had been working in a particular department for 10 years or more.


Calcutta, June 26: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Wednesday rubbished all assurances handed out to citizens on measures to improve the drainage system. �The state government and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) have only provided lip service. Despite the tall claims down the years, the solidified brick sewers and stagnant outflow channels remain in a state of negligence,� he claimed.

Mukherjee said while the CMC was to pump out the accumulated rainwater within the city areas, it was the responsibility of the state government to channelise the water out into the Bay of Bengal through the outflow channels.

Sources said due to heavy silting in canals like Begor khal, Charial khal, Monikhali, the suburban head-cut canal, the town head-cut canal and the Tollygunge-Panchannagram channel, nearly 16 pumping stations have failed to drain the accumulated rainwater into the Bay of Bengal, via Raimongol and Kultigang.

Before imposing drainage tax in 1998, the state government and the civic authorities had announced a Rs 60-crore revamp package to free the city of waterlogging by 2000.

The tax would mobilise resources to fund the revamp, which included a booster for the Palmerbazar drainage pumping station and a repair of the 175-km network of underground brick sewers. The project included scooping out silt from the brick sewers under Shakespeare Sarani and Camac Street.

Municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya had also promised Rs 10 crore for the scheme. However, the project never took off, as the officials forgot all about it after the water receded.

The result: A net gain of Rs 40 crore for the CMC from drainage tax over the past four years. �If the schemes were implemented, the city would have been free of waterlogging,� said member, mayor-in-council, drainage and sewerage, Rajib Deb.


Calcutta, June 26: 
Ten people, including the mastermind, were arrested on charges of cheating nationalised and Gramin banks in the city and suburbs over a period of time. The gang had stolen nearly 500 National Savings Certificates (NSC) from a Guwahati-bound train, in the mid-90s, and used them to cheat the banks. The gang was held during a series of raids on Tuesday and was remanded in police custody.

The detective department, probing the case, also recovered Rs 80,000 and gold ornaments worth Rs 4 lakh from the gang. The sleuths found a false rubber stamp, belonging to Taltala post office, which the goons had used to cheat the banks.

Breakthrough came when the city police were tipped off that crooks had cheated a bank of more than Rs 20 lakh by producing 200 bonds valued at Rs 10,000 each. �They borrowed money by using the stolen bonds as surety. That apart, the gang was also involved in several cheating cases and had stashed away cash to the tune of Rs 50 lakh,� said Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner, detective department.

Recently, State Bank of India�s Pottery Road branch lodged a complaint with the police, saying that a group of men was not repaying a huge loan. The gang had earlier borrowed Rs 13.85 lakh from the branch by depositing the forged certificates. Police said the bank authorities had granted the loan without verifying the certificates.

Mitra, supervising the probe, said: �Initially, we had picked up only six of the gang members from Shibpur. Most of them were middle-aged.� They were identified as Prasanta Kumar Roy, 65, of Shibpur, Debaprasad Sikdar, 48, of CIT Road, Debendra Mitra, 45, of Baranagar, Animesh Mitra, 47, of AJC Bose Road, Shankar Chakraborty, 42, of Shibpur, and Asta Dalui, 50, of Shibpur.

�After interrogating the cheats, we came to know that the leader was a 45-year-old man called Samir Ghosh,� said Mitra. �He was hiding in a house on Darga Road, in Park Circus, but he gave us the slip when we raided the place last week,� he added.

Following a tip-off, sleuths then raided a hotel on Circular Avenue, in Park Circus. �This time, too, luck favoured him. Ghosh was staying in Room 605. But, when we stormed in, he was nowhere to be found. Finally, on another tip-off late on Tuesday, we rushed to a hotel on Orient Row and netted him, along with his associate, Brahmananda Banerjee, 46,� said Mitra.

The police recovered photocopies of the stolen savings bonds, including some Kisan Vikash Patras and the false rubber stamp. �After interrogating Ghosh, two more men � Bikash Chowdhury and Tushar Ghosh � were rounded up,� added Mitra.

During investigations, the police came to know that Ghosh and his accomplices had also cheated Howrah Gramin Bank, just a month ago. �The modus operandi had been the same. They borrowed huge sums from the Bikirkhola and Chakkamala branches of the bank,� said Mitra. �The bank authorities are not above suspicion,� he added. �They should have checked the rubber stamp on the certificates before granting the loan.�


Calcutta, June 26: 
Echoing the Left Front chairman, the government today began to water down the draft agriculture policy by dropping the recommendation for contract farming � a thorny issue for most CPM partners.

Biman Bose had iterated yesterday that the farm policy had nothing to do with McKinsey�s recommendations. �It was based on the outcome of a workshop addressed by renowned agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan and we have nothing to do with what McKinsey recommends,� the Front chairman had said.

Reservations against the international consultant�s suggestions being the basis of the draft policy had surfaced from the Cabinet itself with Asim Dasgupta, Anisur Rahaman and Rezzak Molla putting forward a clutch of alternate proposals to dovetail the one under consideration. CPI minister Nandagopal Bhattacharjee also joined the bandwagon by submitting a separate proposal.

In their proposals, the CPM ministers contested a few of McKinsey�s recommendations, including the one on contract farming, and advocated steps that, they argued, would benefit the rural economy.

The proposals were discussed at the Cabinet meeting in the chief minister�s chamber in the Assembly.

Two of the Left allies, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Block � whose leader Kamal Guha is agriculture minister � have been demanding the scrapping of contract farming from the draft policy on grounds that it would harm the interests of poor and marginal farmers.

The Forward Bloc had first objected to the government�s move to introduce the agriculture policy on the lines as suggested by the global consultant. Its leadership had written to the chief minister and the Front chairman, urging them not to rush with the proposed policy and initiate wider discussions on the issue.

On receiving the alternate proposals from ministers of his own party, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee decided to water down the draft policy � structured by industry minister Nirupam Sen with inputs from the chief minister, health minister Surya Kanta Mishra and a few others � and drop the recommendation for contract farming altogether.

It is learnt that Bhattacharjee has allocated to finance minister Dasgupta the responsibility of reconciling all the alternative proposals that have come in from various quarters and place them before the core committee of ministers.

Sources said as things now stand, the core committee, upon appraisal, will forward the proposals to the Cabinet.

The government has engaged McKinsey to help it prepare a roadmap for economic rejuvenation by way of reforms in agriculture, labour and other areas.

When the regime readies itself for embarking upon the reforms, its allies have begun to press for a second look at the draft policies as they reckon that the reforms as structured will be inimical to long-term economic and political interests.


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