Material girl with a flair for fraud
Two tourists beaten up, pushed into cable pit
Get your heirlooms valued free
Church robs teachers’ rally thunder
The City Diary
Political note in dues din: Mayor
Cop vehicle knocks down woman
Autonomy bid stalls library
Now, whet that wanderlust
Custody death triggers fury on police

Calcutta, July 29: 
Fluent in 11 languages, educated in the best of schools, spending days of comfort and socialite evenings, but with a flair for fraud.

Meet Anjona Ray (not her real name), all of 17. She had everything going for her — a home in south Calcutta, rich parents and the freedom to do what she wanted. But, inexplicably, she turned her hand to forging signatures that enabled her to swindle lakhs out of multinational banks.

Anjona was brought to the city on Sunday from Bangalore, where she was arrested last Tuesday on charges of cheating several people. She was produced before the juvenile court on Monday, where the magistrate remanded her to the Liluah Home for Destitute Women.

“We arrested her on the basis of the complaint lodged by her businessman-father, who adopted her when she was two months old,” said deputy commissioner (detective department) Soumen Mitra.

“The Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption (ISSA), the organisation from where she was adopted, also lodged a complaint with Lake police station,” Mitra added.

Anjona, according to the ISSA complaint, withdrew Rs 3.5 lakh from the society’s account by forging the signature of honorary secretary Saroj Sood.

Before she was two months old, Anjona was spending her days at ISSA, a home for children orphaned or abandoned. She was adopted by a couple looking for a girl.

Anjona’s tryst with crime dates back to 2000, when she forged Sood’s signature to withdraw Rs 4.5 lakh from the ISSA account in a multinational bank, Mitra said on Monday.

“Her father managed to hush up the case and the society did not file any written complaint,” he added.

Anjona’s parents took her for treatment to Nimhans, in Bangalore, suspecting that she was suffering from some mental disorder. She returned from Nimhans soon and waited for some time, before striking again.

On July 24, 2001, she forged her father’s signature and withdrew Rs 60,000 from his account in another multinational bank.

Her father lodged an FIR and Anjona was arrested. She was sent to Antara, an organisation dealing with mental patients. Officials at Antara said there was nothing wrong with her.

“It is just that her adopted parents refused to believe that their daughter would resort to cheating when they were providing her with all that she needed,” an official said.

Back home from Antara on December 10 last year, the teenager again withdrew Rs 30,000 by forging her father’s signature and and flew off to Chennai after ripping some pages from her father’s cheque-book.

From Chennai, she went to Bangalore and struck up a friendship with an autorickshaw-driver’s wife. She also visited Nimhans to renew her association with her “doctor-friends” there.

After this, she moved on to Mumbai. She moved in with a girl she had met on a train journey from Chennai to Bangalore.

There, she started her tricks again. Posing as a senior ISSA executive, she told a multinational bank’s branch in Mumbai that she wanted to check her society’s accounts.

She issued four demand drafts by forging honorary secretary Sood’s signature and withdrew Rs 3.5 lakh from the bank with their help.

Anjona returned to Bangalore, but a police team left for the city from Calcutta on July 19, after her father lodged another FIR. The police arrested her and brought her back to the city.


Calcutta, July 29: 
Raju Ali and Shabbir Ali, tourists from a neighbouring state, made the mistake of visiting Victoria Memorial after dark on Sunday, and ended up spending the night inside a cable pit dug up by Calcutta Telephones. Their crime: speaking in their local dialect, which their tormentors had mistaken for foul language.

On Monday morning, they were rescued by three men out for their morning walk on Queensway, opposite Calcutta’s prime tourist attraction.

The two frail young men were assaulted by four heavily-built men in their mid-thirties, who dumped them in the pit. The duo remained underground the whole night, unable to push open the heavy iron cover.

After their rescue by morning-walkers, who heard their groans, both were taken to SSKM Hospital and admitted for treatment.

Recollecting their nightmarish experience, Raju said both of them were cousins who had completed their graduation.

“We had heard so much about this city and its culture. Our dream was to visit this beautiful city and its historical edifices. Our uncle had specifically mentioned Victoria Memorial, lit up in the evening,’’ Raju said.

They arrived in the city a couple of weeks ago and had rented a place in Belghoria. They reached Victoria Memorial at 8 pm on Sunday.

Though they thought the monument was beautiful, they could not go inside because the gate was already closed.

Suddenly, four burly men appeared from nowhere. “Why did you abuse us?’’ one of them demanded.

“We pleaded with them in our language,’’ Raju said. But the four would not listen and beat up the tourists till they collapsed in a heap. The men then pushed them into the hole and covered it with the iron grid.

“We crouched inside, gasping for breath,’’ Raju said. “I kept thinking about my mother and other dear ones. We thought we would never see them again,’’ he added. “Is this the way the people of Calcutta treat outsiders? Is this a civilised place?” the two young men wondered aloud.

Raju and Shabbir are sore with the police, too. “Officers from Maidan police station were very callous. They did not realise the trauma we underwent,’’ Raju said. Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Sivaji Ghosh, said it was an unfortunate incident. DC, south, Kuldeep Singh was not even aware of it.


Calcutta, July 29: 
In Edmund Crispin’s detective novel Love Lies Bleeding, an old hobowoman is done to death because, unbeknown to her, she was in possession of the manuscript of Shakespeare’s “lost” play, and swindlers were desperate to lay their hands on it. Such a fate may not befall Calcuttans who have heirlooms or curios stashed away in attics, but they are themselves in the dark about the value of these objects.

For Bowrings, who call themselves “fine art auctioneers”, and is India’s first full service auction house, will give people a chance to get their possessions — anything ranging from paintings and furniture to carpets and watches — valued and assessed free in Calcutta by a panel of seven experts on September 27 and 28. Martin Graham, managing director of the auction house, made this announcement on Monday, when Bowrings launched its office in the city. Headquartered in New Delhi, it also operates from Mumbai.

This will climax with auctions (Indian film memorabilia) on October 23 in New Delhi, on November 18-20 (Indian contemporary paintings) again in the Capital, on December 2-4 in Bangalore, and on January 13-16, 2003 (paintings, works of art, furniture and textiles) in Calcutta. In early February 2003, works of art, carpets and textiles will go under the hammer, and in March-April, Indian contemporary paintings and works of art, carpets and textiles will be up for sale.

Since it is a “full spectrum” auction house, it is easier to mention what Bowrings does not touch, said Graham. And that includes ivory, shahtoosh and registered antiquities.

Beginning in Calcutta, Bowrings will run a series of lectures on art appreciation and conservation in humid climes. In a small way, it will start support schemes for students of art, in collaboration with the Academy of Fine Arts.

Graham said Bowrings brings international expertise to the country. It will employ professional valuers with a minimum of 20 years’ experience, so that people get a fair market price for whatever they offer for sale. Buyers, too, can be sure of the authenticity of whatever they pay the price for. But Bowrings “acts as an agent and not principal.”

The auction house is also entering the jewellery market, for which it has already recruited experts.


Calcutta, July 29: 
It was to be a rally to symbolise solidarity for a common cause among Anglo-Indian school staff. But Tuesday’s protest march against the recent government decision to slash dearness allowance (DA) could well turn out to be a show of diversity, rather than unity.

The move by the Association of Teachers of Anglo-Indian Schools in West Bengal to take its DA struggle to the streets suffered a serious setback on Monday, with the Church of North India (CNI) releasing a sudden order directing heads of all the schools controlled by it not to keep their institutions closed on Tuesday.

The association has alleged that several Anglo-Indian school employees have not been paid DA ever since the government announced its decision to slash grants from 132 per cent to 41 per cent. It had urged all teachers to join Tuesday’s rally, but the CNI decision not to allow schools to observe a half-holiday will scuttle plans for a show of strength.

“Till now, the government and the respective schools have been trying to resolve their own difficulties on the DA issue. But no one bothered to find out how we, the teachers, have been suffering for the past five months. So, we were left with no option but to launch our own movement to make people aware of our problems,” said Ismail Nehal, president of the association.

Non-CNI schools attached to the association have announced a holiday or a half-day on Tuesday to enable teachers to join the rally. Sources said most CNI schools, like La Martiniere for Girls, St James and St Thomas Church School, Howrah, had declared Tuesday a half-holiday, but withdrew the order following the directive from Bishop House.

The association, meanwhile, has pushed back the protest programme by an hour to enable more teachers to join. They will assemble in front of St Xavier’s School, before marching to Rani Rashmoni Road for a meeting.



Dum Dum in the dark for 30 hours

After 30 hours in the dark, power supply was restored to Lake Town, Bangur Avenue, Kalindi and the adjoining areas on Monday morning. About 150,000 residents went without power after two transformers in the CESC’s distribution station at Kalindi tripped. This was triggered by a major fault early on Sunday in both high-tension underground cables which transmit electricity to the transformers. The areas affected by the fault included Patipukur, Chowdhury Bagan, Sribhumi, Green Park and Dum Dum Park. Power supply was restored around 7 am on Monday. CESC’s executive director (distribution), D.N. Majumdar, said it was an “unfortunate coincidence” that both the cables had developed faults simultaneously. He said the CESC was inquiring into the possible reasons for the faults. The two eight-km long cables connect the 132 kv sub-station of the CESC at Maniktala with the Kalindi distribution station. Sources in the power utility said the faults were detected on VIP Road near Golaghata. They said the recent construction of a road connecting EM Bypass with VIP Road and the widening of VIP Road or digging by other utilities may have damaged the underground cables, resulting in the fault.

BA, B.Sc results on August 2

The result of the current year’s B.A and B.Sc Part II (general) examinations of Calcutta University will be declared on August 2, university officials said on Monday. Nearly 23,000 candidates had appeared in the examinations, which were held in May.

Development plan

The state government approved the inclusion of four wards on the eastern fringes of the city in the Asian Development Bank-financed infrastructure development scheme for the city. According to mayor Subrata Mukherjee, the four wards are 57, 58, 66 and 67. Earlier, only six wards of north Calcutta and 41 wards of Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur were included in the ADB scheme. The decision is being conveyed to the ADB headquarters in Manila.

Petrol strike off

The West Bengal Petroleum Dealers Association (WBPDA) has called off its proposed “no purchase and no sale agitation”. The WBPDA, which had called the indefinite strike in support of various demands from August 1, has deferred it indefinitely, citing the floods in north Bengal.

Indira Gandhi plant

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has decided to name eastern India’s largest water treatment plant at Palta after Indira Gandhi. She had inaugurated the intake jetty at Palta water works on September 1, 1971. The Corporation decided to approach the Public Works Department to allow them to take the delivery of the statue of Indira Gandhi now lying in the studio of sculptor Ramesh Pal, member, mayor-in-council, water supply, Sovan Chatterjee said. The Rs 11-lakh statue was ordered by the PWD which could not take delivery for want of a suitable location to instal it. The civic authorities have agreed to pay for the statue.

Meghalaya tourism

The tourism department of Meghalaya will open an information bureau at Great Eastern Hotel on Wednesday. State tourism minister Dinesh Dakua will inaugurate the office. Thumbs Up TO howrah municipal corporation for waiving property tax on the house of late actor Tulsi Chakraborty and donating Rs 25,000 to his wife Usha Rani    

Calcutta, July 29: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Monday said the non-cooperative stand adopted by civic contractors was “politically motivated”.

According to Mukherjee, it was not the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) contractors and suppliers’ association that had started the agitation, but a newly-formed offshoot of the association, with offices in Cossipore and the added areas of Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur.

The strike has brought to a halt all development activities and petty repairs for the past three months. “Over 2,000 contractors in the CMC are without jobs, and their families are near-starvation,” said Mukherjee.

Bacchu Kar, secretary of the CMC contractors and suppliers’ forum, accused the Mukherjee-led Trinamul Congress board of forcing starvation and suicide on the contractors’ families.

“I cannot understand why a hue and cry is being made over clearing the arrears of the contractors. I have certainly not paid them less than my predecessors,” Mukherjee said.

Going by its yearly budget, the CMC, over the past 15 years, would pay almost Rs 205 crore annually to its contractors. “By those standards, I am ahead of all previous records, as I have already paid Rs 181 crore to the contractors. Besides, I still have nine months (till March 2003) to clear the balance of Rs 26 crore,” the mayor said.

Municipal commissioner Debasis Som said had the contractors not gone on strike, their dues would have been cleared much earlier.

A split seems imminent among the 3,000-odd civic contractors, following a protracted battle between the CMC and the forum. Recently, leaders of the contractors and suppliers’ association, such as Shankar Chakraborty and Niranjan Chakraborty, were heckled by some members of the forum as they opposed the panel’s official stand.

A spokesman of the association pointed out that the forum had moved court only after its front-ranking leaders had realised their dues from the CMC. He added that the movement started only after Mukherjee ordered that payments must be made to them serially.

“I have done this to save the interests of small-time contractors, as I had found that an out-of-turn payment of Rs 150 crore had been made by the former chief of municipal finance accounts to some big contractors,” Mukherjee said.


Calcutta, July 29: 
The driver and guard of a deputy commissioner of police were arrested for knocking down a woman near Marine House, in the South Port police station area, on Saturday. Additional commissioner of police Kiriti Sengupta said the duo, Rajen Bariely and Sukumar Kundu, were suspended on Monday.

The woman, Shanti Debi Paswan, wife of a junior army officer, is in a critical condition at Command Hospital. Sources said the duo was posted at the residence of deputy commissioner, Seventh Battalion, M.K. Banerjee. On Saturday, they had decided to drive a Tata Sumo to a deserted patch in the Port area. On reaching the spot, Bariely, who does not possess a licence, decided to hone his driving skills.

“As he had driven the vehicle before, I had no hesitation in allowing him to sit behind the wheel,’’ Kundu told the police. During the “training session”, Bariely lost control of the vehicle and hit Shanti Debi, who was waiting to cross the road. The vehicle then dashed into a tree.

A passing police vehicle arrived on the spot of the accident and booked the duo. Sengupta said the duo was later released on bail. The damaged Tata Sumo was towed to a nearby police station.


Calcutta, July 29: 
Work at National Library was affected on Monday as more than 80 per cent of the employees stayed away, opposing the Centre’s move to declare the library autonomous. Readers and library-users failed to avail of books, as no employees were present in the reading room to help them out.

In the lending section, only two of the 13 employees reported for work. In the annexe reading room, 13 employees attended, while 14 others joined the strike, called by the Joint Platform of Action (JPA) of Central government employees.

The Hindi division in the annexe building remained half-closed during the day. In the foreign official documents wing, only one employee was in office, while only 10 security guards of the team of 36 went to work.

“The Centre has decided to implement the National Library of India Act, formulated in 1976. We cannot understand the compulsions behind the move. The Act has clearly stated that a 30-member board will be formed by the human resources development department of the Union government to run the library and the Board will function independently,” said Saibal Chakraborty, convener of the JPA and leader of the National Library Staff Association (NLSA).

Another NLSA official alleged that the Centre did not initiate any move to fill the vacancies in the library for the past 10 years. In 1994, the staff strength in the library was 799. In the past five years, however, the number has dropped to 525. “We are being forced to do extra work, for which we do not get any financial or other kind of benefits. The situation will worsen once the Centre goes ahead with its autonomy plan,” complained an NLSA official.

Director of the Indian Museum Shyamal Kanti Chakraborty, who doubles as director of National Library, when asked to comment on Monday’s agitation, said: “I don’t understand why the employees are trying to make an issue out of this. The Union minister has recently told Parliament that the government had no plan to turn the library into an autonomous one. I don’t know why they (NLSA members) are organising the movement now.”


Calcutta, July 29: 
As the tourism industry limps back to normal after a year-long lull, it’s Advantage Tourists. And if you have plans to step out of the country, and not stray too far, the time’s just right.

Three-day holiday packages to Bangladesh or Kathmandu are available at around Rs 10,000, while trips to Bangkok, Singapore and Malaysia can cost as low as Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000.

The Travel and Tourism Fair, starting August 2 at Netaji Indoor Stadium, will offer these and much more packages to the travel-crazy Calcuttan. And it’s not only for the tourists going abroad. There will be plenty to pick and choose for the domestic traveller as well, Sanjiv Agarwal, chairman and managing director, Fairfest Media Ltd, told Metro on Monday.

The company organises five such fairs every year in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai, besides Calcutta. “But Calcutta, where we started the event 13 years ago, has always been the biggest draw. While entry to the fair is free in other cities, we charge Rs 20 from each entrant to keep a check on numbers in this city,” said Agarwal, who is expecting over 25,000 visitors during the three-day annual event.

According to Fairfest, the tourism sector is showing signs of a turnaround. “The September 11 incident in America and back home, the tension along the Indo-Pak border caused havoc for all the stake-holders in the travel and tourism industry. But now the chips are up and it’s the best time to go out, as the rates have fallen to an all-time low,” said Agarwal.

This time, there will be around 200 participants, up from last year’s 150. Besides the 25 states and eight foreign countries, there will be a host of national and international tour-operators, and representatives from airlines, railways and the hospitality industry. The international participants include the tourism industries of Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and Italy.


Falta, July 29: 
At least a dozen policemen, including the officer-in-charge of Falta investigation centre, were injured in a mob attack following the death of a middle-aged man allegedly in police custody.

The Trinamul Congress claimed that 45-year-old Altaf Sheikh was a party worker.

The police resorted to lathicharge to disperse the mob. Senior police officials have reached the spot and the Rapid Action Force has also been deployed.

Twenty persons were arrested and raids continued till late tonight to nab instigators of the mob violence. Trinamul claimed that the arrested included innocent party workers.

Trouble erupted this morning after the body of Altaf Sheikh was discovered besides a field in Bisaya village. A 1,000-strong mob then ransacked the police investigation centre and damaged two police jeeps.

Superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly said the mob even tried to assault the officer-in-charge, R.N. Mitra.

Mamtaz Bibi, wife of Altaf Sheikh, alleged that a dozen policemen had come to their house last night in search of their son, Motleb, whose name figures in an FIR in connection with the murder of industrialist Subir Dutta.

The businessman was beaten to death last year by a mob when he was returning home from his factory. Motleb has since been absconding.

“The policemen told Altaf Sheikh to accompany them to the police station though he was ill. But he did not return. At daybreak today, a cycle rickshaw driver informed us that he had found and taken Altaf Sheikh’s body to the police. The body bore marks of injury,” said Mamtaz Bibi.

However, the superintendent of police said: “Last night, an inebriated Altaf Sheikh had insulted the womenfolk of his neighbour’s house. The male members of the house beat him to death and dumped the body near the fields. The police took the body to the investigation centre.”

The local CPM and Trinamul have condemned the alleged death in police custody. “The police have committed a mistake by arresting Altaf Sheikh without a warrant. They should answer for this,” said local CPM leader Sahadat Hossain Mullick.

“Altaf Sheikh was our party worker. He was taken to the police station and beaten up. Now the police are cooking up stories to conceal the truth. Today’s mob violence was spontaneous and none of our party workers are involved. The police have arrested innocent party workers on false charges. We have sent all details to our leader Mamata Banerjee,” said local Trinamul leader Arumoy Gayen.


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