Online news channel!

Tag: west bengal

West Bengal: Howrah road mishap injures 31, leaves four critical

West Bengal: Howrah road mishap injures 31, leaves four critical

‘);
FB.XFBML.parse();
*/
});

By

Howrah: At least 31 people were injured when a bus hit a lorry on NH6 due to dense fog in West Bengal’s Howrah district on Friday, police said.

The private bus with a complement of 50 passengers was heading to the beach resort of Digha from Madhyamgram in North 24 Parganas when it hit the lorry from behind at Ashariya village on NH6 near Bagnan, a police officer said.

At least 31 people, including the driver and the helper, were injured and rushed to Uluberia General hospital. The condition of four, including a woman, was stated to be critical, the officer said.

The lorry driver fled with the vehicle but the bus, which sustained damage, has been seized, the officer said.

First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 13:05 IST

Comment using Disqus

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.

LIVE Australia Vs Pakistan Live Score

AUS vs PAK | Dec 26th, 2016

PAK 163 10 53.2

RUNS

WKTS

OVERS

LIVE South Africa Vs Sri Lanka Live Score

SA vs SL | Dec 26th, 2016

SL 281 10 96.3

RUNS

WKTS

OVERS

Cricket Scores

Centre versus Mamata: Bengal CM calls CRPF deployment for IT raids unconstitutional and illegal

Following the debacle with army deployment in her state earlier this month, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has written a stern letter to the Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh over the presence of 15 CRPF personnel to provide security to income tax officers during raids in the state. Mamata, in the letter, said, “It has come to the notice of the state government that the Ministry of Home Affairs and the central government are making available 15 personnel of the CRPF, for apparently, providing ‘security’ to Income Tax officials and staff deputed for operations in West Bengal.” Here is the copy of the letter

letter-mamata-pradesh18letter-mamata-pradesh18

Mamata said this was never conveyed to the state government, even though the alleged MHA instructions were reported by the media. However, an advisory by the Ministry of Home Affairs dated 20 December to the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), mentioned that 15 CRPF personnel would be deployed in the state.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTIWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

“The matter has been considered in this ministry and it has been decided that CRPF shall make available 15 personnel to Income Tax Department, Kolkata, for providing security to officers and staff deputed for search and seizure operations to be carried out by the Income Tax Directorate,” the advisory said.

The letter, addressed to “Dear Rajnath Singhji”, said that the Banerjee government strongly objects to “this decision which is blatantly unconstitutional, illegal and against all principle of constitutional federalism. Stating that the deployment of any central police force of the Union to any state can only be done at the request of the state government, her letter said, “The decision must immediately be revoked. The state government and its police forces will provide all necessary help and protection.”

Mamata had earlier this month accused the BJP government of “deploying the army” along a highway toll plaza at the second Hooghly Bridge, about 500 metres from the secretariat ‘Nabanna’ in neighbouring Howrah district, and said she would not leave till the army was withdrawn. “The state government has not been informed about this deployment by the Centre. This is clearly a violation of the rules and understanding (between the Centre and the state), when the army is deployed without informing a democratically elected government,” Mamata had said a day later at a press conference.

With inputs from agencies

First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 18:03 IST

Mamata Banerjee-Manohar Parrikar war of words over army deployment in Bengal intensifies

The political row over the recent army drill at toll plazas in West Bengal flared up again on Friday, with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar dashing off a stinging letter to Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, saying her allegations can “adversely” impact the morale of the force, and Banerjee hitting back over his “wild assertion”.

In the two-page letter, Parrikar told her that he was “deeply pained” over the allegations regarding the deployment of army personnel and the same was not expected from a person of her standing and experience in public life. Parrikar said that while political parties and politicians may have the luxury of making “wild and unsubstantiated allegations against each other”, one needs to be extremely careful while referring to the armed forces.

Mamata Banerjee. PTI file imageMamata Banerjee. PTI file image

Mamata Banerjee. PTI file image

“Your allegations in this regard run the risk of adversely impacting the morale of the country’s armed forces and the same were not expected from a person of your standing and experience in public life,” he said.

Banerjee, who is a strident opponent of the Centre’s demonetisation move, had accused it of deploying the army at toll plazas in West Bengal without informing the state government and described it as “unprecedented” and “a very serious situation, worse than Emergency”.

The Trinamool Congress stayed put in her office in Kolkata overnight on 1 December in protest against the deployment and had asked whether it was an “army coup”.

Terming it as “avoidable controversy” over the exercise carried out by the Eastern Command in West Bengal and other states under the jurisdiction to collect information about the movement of heavy vehicles at toll gates, Parrikar, in his letter dated 8 December, said it is carried out by all formations of the army all across the country for many years. He said the exercises are held as per the dates convenient to the army in consultation with agencies of the state government.

“I have been deeply pained by your allegations as reported in the media. If only you had enquired with the agencies concerned of the state government, you would have come to know of the extensive correspondence between the army and state agencies, including the joint inspection of sites carried out by them,” Parrikar said.

Hitting back, Banerjee said, “I take strong exception to your wild assertion that my articulation of the rights of the state government vis-a-vis army deployment without clearance has impacted the morale of the armed forces. Your general observations about the political parties and politicians to have the luxury of making wild and unsubstantiated allegations may be apt for your party, but we do not belong to that group,” she said in a two-page reply.

The chief minister also maintained that the Ministry of Defence has not taken prior permission of the state government for large deployment of army personnel in civilian areas. Parrikar said the army authorities were forced to put the record straight in the matter by presenting evidence of their communication with the state agencies concerned including rescheduling of the data collection operations on their response.

TMC MP Derek O’ Brien charged the Centre with playing politics on the issue. “Look who is playing politics. The letter has not even reached the chief minister of Bengal and it has already been leaked in the media in Delhi,” he said.

First Published On : Dec 9, 2016 20:05 IST

Patna-Indore Express tragedy: Death toll rises to 133, rescue operations over

The death toll in one of the worst rail disasters in the country that took place when the Patna-Indore Express derailed near Kanpur, rose to 133 on Monday, officials said, as rescue operations were declared over.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

However, the toll could still rise as some passengers were in critical condition. So far, 58 victims have been identified.

Over 150 people were injured in the tragedy that occurred on Sunday when 14 coaches of the train ran off the rails near Pukhrayan station, about 60 km from Kanpur city.

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu on Sunday night visited the hospitals where the injured were being treated.

“High-level orders are being given to probe the accident,” Prabhu said, adding the Railway Ministry has collaborated with the Uttar Pradesh government to provide all necessary help.

Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha was also there at the accident site.

He had ordered officials to increase the pace of relief operations and better treatment to the injured.

“Strict actions will be taken against those responsible for the disaster,” Sinha added.

While the cause of the derailment is yet to be ascertained, Sinha had earlier said that the accident could have been caused due to rail fracture.

The worst hit were the sleeper coaches S1, S2, S3 and S4.

This was the worst train accident in the country after the May 2010 disaster in West Bengal involving Gyaneshwari Express in which some 170 people were killed.

With inputs from agencies

First Published On : Nov 21, 2016 10:38 IST

Maoists on the run: Support for the ‘ideological’ terrorists is now dwindling

In 1971, the playground of the high school, where I studied in Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh was taken over by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). We didn’t mind it because the jawans played volley ball with us and gave us chapathis at lunch time. The CRPF was there in big strength to weed out Naxalites who infested the countryside around.

Two years after the 1967 “peasant uprising” in West Bengal’s Naxalbari — the village that got the group their name — the Naxalites began to unleash terror in the Srikakulam district, bordering what was then Orissa.

It’s more or less in the same region that Maoists — as Naxalites call themselves now — have been getting a severe beating from the police forces of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha this week. After Monday’s ‘encounter’ at Malkangiri in Odisha, in which 24 Maoists were killed, the police are continuing their combing operations in the area. They have gunned down six more Maoists since Monday and among those killed are some of their important “leaders”, while many others are still on the run.

Perhaps the Naxals have never had it so bad since the death of their original founder Charu Mazumdar in the police lockup in 1972. With a publicly professed goal to ‘overthrow’ the Indian government through ‘armed struggle’ and ‘extreme violence’, they decimated thousands of security personnel and civilians in the last five decades. However, they are now coming to learn that terror begets terror.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Forty-five years after I left Srikakulam, I still remember the stories of Naxalites beheading landlords who according to them were exploiting the peasants.

And to spread terror, they circulated photographs of severed heads they hung from doorposts of the landowners’ homes. I remember those gruesome photographs as if I saw them yesterday. And with the blood of those they butchered, they wrote slogans about “revolution” on the walls , declaring their allegiance to Marx and Lenin.

It was not till many years later that I was able to meet some Naxalites in the bowels of rural Telangana. They were all young, both boys and girls, ranging from postgraduates to school or college dropouts. They were gung-ho about the revolution that they day-dreamed was just round the corner to metamorphose India into a heaven on earth, a society of equals where there would be no injustice.

They threw at me rhetoric that included phrases like “fight against imperialists”, “annihilation of class enemies” and “armed struggle”.

At first they looked like cases of juvenile delinquency, kids out to have ideological fun who would soon get bored with it and settle down to jobs and marriages. Some did, but many went on and on, and the “movement” grew from village to village, district to district and state to state.

It was with both fear and hope that villagers, especially adivasis, supported them. The rural folk was terrified of what the red mobs, with weapons looted from police stations, would do if they didn’t back them. At the same time, villagers who were victims of exploitation at the hands of landlords, corrupt officials and the police saw hope in the Naxalites. Moreover, Indira Gandhi’s institutionalisation of caste-based vote-bank politics and corruption added to the neglect by successive Congress regimes in the states only drove adivasis closer to the Marxist-Leninist ‘soldiers’.

And by the time different Naxal outfits merged into Communist Party of India (Maoist) in 2004, they became active in what is called India’s Red Corridor, starting from the Nepal border and cutting through West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka and Kerala. The Maoists, as they were called since the merger, had an army of nearly 12,000 foot soldiers across states.

Besides, they had, and still have, lakhs of supporters and sympathisers everywhere, especially among academic bauddhiks (so-called intellectuals) who routinely find places in the media and dubious institutions starting from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to small-town colleges. Most of the bauddhiks, at least the ones I had the misfortune of being acquainted with, talk Maoism by day and drown themselves in scotch by night, but that’s another matter.

It’s not surprising that the Maoists virtually run parallel governments in small parts of the Red Corridor, collecting taxes, providing amenities like healthcare and even running kangaroo courts for quick justice. All this filled the Maoists with the cheap thrills of a “successful revolution”.

At some point, they were also in touch with Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for weapons and training, and they still have an open channel of communication with their counterparts in Nepal. The talk of Maoists joining hands with Islamic terrorists or getting arms from China has, however, never been confirmed.

On a rare occasion in 2006, even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, known for his economy of words, spoke up. He described Maoists as the “biggest internal-security threat” India faced. In 2009, the CPI (Maoist) was banned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Maoist numbers and support dwindling

The good news, however, is that all this has been changing, even if at a slow pace. Their numbers have been dwindling and support diminishing.

The decline of the movement is not a sudden development. In a rare interview to Rahul Pandita, author of ‘Hello Bastar: The Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movement’, the General Secretary of the CPI (Maoist) and the supreme commander of the Maoists Mupalla Laxman Rao alias Ganapathi admitted in 2009, “Our war is in the stage of strategic defence … (it) will last for some more time.”

The Maoists were also in touch with LTTE for weapons and training, and they still communicate with their counterparts in Nepal. The talk of Maoists joining hands with Islamic terrorists or getting arms from China has, however, never been confirmed.

And in 2013, According to a report in TehelkaGanapathi admitted in a letter to party members that Maoists faced a leadership crisis with numbers of both leaders and members on the decline.

Indeed, the strength of the party’s Politburo has dropped from 14 to seven and the Central Committee from 40 to about 20, with the rest either killed by the police or lodged in jails. The number of the party’s active members or armed soldiers has fallen from nearly 12,000 to about 8,000.

This could be attributed to the fact that the police forces across states have stepped up their hunt for Maoists, killing them in real or fake encounters, and welfare schemes of governments have been benefitting affected villages, though to a small extent.

Besides, Maoists have also been digging their own graves by turning arrogant. Stories of their atrocities — killing innocent villagers on a mere suspicion of being police informers and forced recruitment — have been heard with increasing regularity. And they have been increasingly resorting to extortion, blackmail, illegal mining and even poppy cultivation to raise money for their operations.

Moreover, there has been internal bickering. The rift between the dominant Telugu lobby and the non-Telugu leaders and members has been widening. A good number of them have surrendered to the police and turned informers.

It’s clear that this week’s police ‘encounters’ on the AP-Odisha border were made possible because either the villagers or disgruntled Maoists blew the whistle.

The Maoists are down, yes, though not out. But now is the time to totally weed them out and remove the ideological pollution from India’s rural-scape. As in the case of forest brigand Veerappan, the Maoists’ biggest strength has been support from villagers, voluntary or forced. The authorities have been trying, and must continue to, deprive them of this support.

Any let-up in the combing operations by the police or the welfare schemes aimed at tribals would only help the ideological terrorists to regain strength. Ideological or not, the Maoists are terrorists and members of a banned organisation, and they and their supporters and sympathisers must be dealt with accordingly.

Tamil Nadu, Kerala have the most number of women entrepreneurs and high female literacy

By Prachi Salve

The five states with the largest proportion of literate women–Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Maharashtra–account for 53% (4.3 million) of all business establishments owned by women nationwide, although no more than 33% of India’s women live in these states, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of data released by the Economic Census 2012.

With 73.4% of its women literate, Tamil Nadu–third among larger states after Kerala and Maharashtra–has India’s largest number of establishments run by women, one million, according to the Economic Census 2012.

Tamil Nadu is followed by Kerala–which has 90% female literacy, India’s highest rate–which accounts for 11% of business run by women.

Source: Economic Census 2012, Men and Women 2011

While the female literacy rate was 65.5% nationwide, the female work-force participation was 25.5%, according to Census 2011.

Female participation in India’s workforce has declined from 34% in 1999 to 27% in 2014, IndiaSpend reported in August 2016, the worst rate among BRICS nations and lower than Bangladesh (57.4%), Nepal (79.9%) and Sri Lanka (35.1%).

The five states with the largest number of women entrepreneurs also have higher-than-national average literacy among women.

Source: Economic Census 2012, National Family Health Survey 4

Lack of financial education can also limit women from gaining access to and benefitting from financial services, according to this 2014 World Bank report.

IndiaSpend-Logo11 (1)

The top five states have the largest number of women who have completed ten years or more of education. Maharashtra, which has the fifth-largest number of businesswomen, also has 77.4% women who have completed ten years or more of education.

Bihar, for example, has 153,610 establishments run by women (accounting for 1.9% of businesswomen and ranked 14th among states) and only 56% women have completed ten years of education.

Women own/run 8.05 million of India’s 58.5 million establishments (13.7%), IndiaSpend reported in May 2016, providing employment to 13.4 million people. About 89% of these were employed in establishments hiring less than 10 workers.

India was ranked 70th of 77 countries in the Female Entrepreneurship Index 2015 released by London-based Global Entrepreneurship Institute.

Building A Small Business, Step by Small Step: A Woman’s Story

Archana Angre (43), who runs a tiffin service and a small restaurant in Chembur, an eastern suburb of Mumbai, studied till class nine.

Angre started the business in 1997 when she worked as a cook, despite opposition from her in-laws who warned her that business was risky.

The initial investment of Rs 2,000 was done by Angre and her husband Ashok Arjun Angre. She employed three family members (daughter, son and husband) in the beginning.

Within a year of starting business, Angre received help from patrons who helped her with capital and equipment (gas cylinders and stove). Within two years, her business increased from 10 tiffins to 100 tiffins.

Some of Angre’s clients helped her get a loan of Rs 50,000 from UCO Bank. The business expanded from making tiffins for office-goers to preparing meals for parties and company events.

She received a loan of Rs 295,000 under the Pradhan Mantri Rozgar Yojana (Prime Minister’s Employment Programme) in 2010, which she used to buy utensils and other items required for the business.

Nineteen years later, Angre employs six people (three from her family and three hired workers).

Angre is now planning to open a fully functional restaurant. She has also been able to fund her daughter’s studies in hotel management.

“There is a need for change in attitude from being safe with a job to the ability to take risks to start a business,” Angre said.

(Salve is an analyst with IndiaSpend.)

X-ray-enabled age test to prevent teenagers getting into prostitution in West Bengal

Kolkata: In a bid to stop adolescent and teenage girls from entering prostitution, a sex workers’ organisation is using X-Ray test as a tool to determine the age of the girls who are about to join flesh trade.

The idea of using X-ray to stop underage girls from getting into the trade is being conducted across West Bengal by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a sex workers’ organisation with around 1.30 lakh members.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

“We don’t want teenagers and adolescent girls to enter this trade. But at times agents, and even parents of poor families, try to present underage girls as above 18 years,” said Mahashweta, a senior official of DMSC.

“We first ask them if they are above 18. Most of the time they lie. By looking at a 16-year-old girl, it is really tough to say whether she is 16 or 18. So we conduct an X-ray test to determine their real age,” Maheshweta told PTI.

“By conducting an X-Ray of wrist and waist, the age of a woman can be easily determined. It is the easiest way and has been in practice in western nations to prevent underage girls from entering flesh trade,” said Samarjit Jana, principal of Sonagachi Research and Training Institute (SRTI), an NGO which works with DMSC.

“This procedure is yet to be widely adopted in India. We hope that this Bengal model will show the way to others in days to come,” Jana said.

Asia’s largest red light zone, Sonagachi in the city, is the first to roll out such an initiative.

DMSC officials said they have started a campaign, with the help of state government, against adolescent girls being pushed into sex trade.

Besides Kolkata, the campaign has gained momentum in districts like Coochbehar, Jalpaiguri, Malda, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and Murshidabad in West Bengal, where flesh trade and women trafficking are rampant.

“When we see a new teenaged girl in the trade, we question her. We ask her age, whether she has come on her own, whether she knows what she will be asked to do, etc,” another DMSC official said.

“If it is proved after the queries that she has been forced into it, we send her to government homes or to her parents. But in all cases we put them through X-Ray test,” the official said adding hundreds of adolescent girls have been saved by the X-Ray test.

To make the process more effective, a self regulatory board has been set up in Coochbehar, Jalpaiguri, and some other bordering areas, with a public representative heading it. The board has two sex workers, the chief district medical officer, a doctor, a lawyer and a social worker.

Six top Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh activists arrested from Bengal, Assam

Kolkata: Six top Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) activists, including four wanted in the 2014 Khagragarh blast case, were arrested from West Bengal and Assam.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Of the six, three were Bangladeshi nationals, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Vishal Garg said in Kolkata.

“These people were not in West Bengal after Khagragarh blast. They had left the state and moved to South India and North Eastern states. They were planning subversive activities in some South Indian states. We are trying to find out the details,” Garg said.

The JMB activists arrested by the Kolkata Police Special Task Force included Anwar Hussain Farooq, the head of the outfit’s West Bengal unit, and Yusuf Sheikh, the second in command in the state.

Sheikh, also the JMB chief motivator in the state, carried a Rs 10 lakh reward on his head announced by NIA.

The four others who were wanted in connection with Khagragarh blast of 2 October, 2014, were Shahidul Islam, Mohammad Rubel, Abul Kalam and Jadidul Islam.

Kalam and Rubel were carrying on their heads a reward of Rs 3 lakh and 1 lakh respectively.

Yusuf and Shahidul were arrested from Natun Bazar under Basirhat area of North 24 Parganas district on Sunday while Farooq and Rubel were picked up from Bagda Road in Bangao in the same district, Garg said.

Kalam was held from Coochbehar station in north Bengal yesterday while Jahidul was arrested from Cachhar district of Assam on Saturday.

Forged ID papers, 2 kg white powdery substance, one laptop, mobile phones, detonator, wire cutters, batteries Bangladeshi and Indian currency, letters written in Bengali, travel guide, books on chemicals and memory cards for camera were seized from them.

Mamata govt launches ‘Waiting Hubs’ for pregnant women in Sunderbans

Kolkata: The West Bengal government is launching ‘waiting hubs’ for pregnant women in remote islands of the Sunderbans where they can wait for a few days ahead of delivery, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced on Monday.

Pregnant-hubPregnant-hub

Waiting hub for pregnant women in West Bengal. Image courtesy: Facebook/ Mamata Banerjee

“For the first time in Bengal, we have started with a new concept of setting up waiting hubs for expecting mothers in the rural hospitals of far-flung areas of Sunderbans like Gosaba, Pathar Pratima and Sandeshkhali,” Banerjee said in a post on her Facebook page.

The hubs will help overcome the challenge of providing safe motherhood in such geographically remote locations, she said.

“The basic objective behind this new endeavour is to keep the expecting mothers in these hubs seven to 10 days ahead of their expected date of delivery and move them to hospital when delivery time advances,” she said.

Reiterating that over the last five years, institutional delivery has increased from 68 percent to 90 percent and infant mortality rate has reduced from 31 to 27 in Bengal, the Trinamool Congress supremo asserted the novel concept of waiting hubs for expecting mothers will “give further boost to institutional delivery, reduce Infant Mortality Rate and maternal morbidity.”

Crop damage hits tomato supply; prices surge up to Rs 80 per kg

New Delhi: Tomato prices in most retail markets across the country have doubled to up to Rs 80 per kg in last 15 days due to sluggish supply owing to crop damage.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Earlier this month, prices of tomato – a key kitchen vegetable – were ruling in the range of Rs 20-40 per kg, as per data maintained by the Consumer Affairs Ministry.

Among metros, Chennai recorded the highest price at Rs 80 per kg today compared with Rs 44 per kg on 1 June.

Similarly in Kolkata, the price is ruling at Rs 60 per kg on Tuesday as against Rs 30 per kg earlier this month.

In Mumbai, rates have risen to Rs 58 per kg from 38 per kg while in Delhi, prices have surged to Rs 51 per kg from Rs 25 per kg in the said period, the ministry data showed.

“Tomato prices have increased in last 15 days in Delhi. There is no sufficient supply as the crop got damaged in Haryana and Punjab because of unseasonal rains,” Azadpur Tomato Merchants Association President Ashok Kaushik said.

Due to rains, the crop in South India also got affected ecause of which prices have also risen there, he said, adding that even heat stress in north India has damaged the crop in
some parts.

Unlike potato and onion, there is short shelf life of tomato. The absence of adequate cold storage facilities in the supply chain has aggravated the problem.

The country’s tomato production is estimated at 18.28 million tonnes in the 2015-16 crop year (July-June) as against 16.38 million tonnes in the previous year.

Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal and Odisha are the major tomato growing states in the country.

Three new districts in West Bengal soon: CM Mamata Banerjee

Jhargram: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday said Jhargram, Kalimpong and Asansol would be soon declared new districts.

Mamata Banerjee . AFPMamata Banerjee . AFP

Mamata Banerjee . AFP

The proposal has already been approved by the cabinet and the new districts would be announced as soon as the Calcutta High Court gives its nod.

“Infrastructure is partly ready in Kalimpong and Jhargram. The rest would be ready soon,” she added.

Banerjee, who held an administrative meeting here in West Mindapore district for the first time after assuming office for the second time, said government development schemes should be given importance and implementation of MGNREGA should be given priority.

‘Khadya sathi’ (a food security scheme and ‘Sabuj Sathi’ (bi-cycle for students) schemes of the government
should be given importance. “Implementation of scheme on 100-days work should also be given priority.”

She also stressed that all departments should work according to the timeline fixed by the administrative
authorities.

Any lapses by ration dealers would not be tolerated, she added.

She later inaugurated a tribal museum and presided over the first meeting of West Bengal Tribes Advisory
Committee.

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee urges business leaders to ‘act’

Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in her first meeting with business chambers since assuming office for the second term urged business leaders to “act” instead of merely speaking and praising the government.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTIWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

“Now let’s stop talking and instead put things into action,” Banerjee told Bengal Inc present at the felicitation event organised by Indian Chamber of Commerce, BNCCI, MCC, FICCI, Assocham, Calcutta Chamber, BCCI, Bharat Chamber along with the district chambers.

Her comment comes after business and chamber leaders showered praises on Banerjee for her thumping victory in the last assembly elections.

Banerjee said she would take the opportunity of her visit to Vatican City to attend canonisation of Mother Teresa on 4 September to attract investment for the state.

She said she will try to hold business meetings in the nearby countries, too, to attract investment in auto and manufacturing sector in the state.

Bengal, Banerjee said, is the best industry-friendly destination and is fast growing as its “achievements speaks for itself.”

“Our gross value addition has grown in excess of 10 per cent, while in the country it grew by 7.5 per cent. Industry expanded by 8.3 per cent in the state, while India’s comparable number is 5.3 per cent as Bengal had nil strike and mandays’ loss and revenue generation doubled to Rs 40,000 crore in the last four years,” she said, highlighting her government’s achievements in her last term.

Bengal should not be compared with Maharastra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu as either they house finance capital or have huge numbers of ports or high revenue income. We (Bengal) have just two ports and even those have not been dredged. Despite that I have doubled the state’s revenue to Rs 40,000 crore,” she added.

Banerjee said she was in favour of short, mid and long term vision, adding, “We should work keeping those goals as targets.”

Minor hit by bullet during TMC victory rally in West Bengal

Uttar Dinajpur: A 13-year-old boy was hit by a bullet on Sunday allegedly fired from a victory procession organised to celebrate the win of Trinamool Congress candidate Hamidul Rahaman from Chopra Assembly constituency in Islampur area of the district.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

“The incident happened at around 2 pm this afternoon when a stray bullet hit a boy, Gar Ali, who was standing at the roadside and watching the procession pass near his home. Some local residents have alleged that the bullet was fired from the procession,” said a senior police officer.

The family members of Ali first rushed the boy to Islampur sub-division hospital, but was later on referred to North Bengal Medical College and Hospital for further treatment, the police said.

“We have not yet received any complaints, but an inquiry is on,” the officer added.

Madrasas are ‘breeding ground of anti-national elements’, says West Bengal BJP chief

Kolkata: The BJP in West Bengal has demanded immediate sealing of the Indo-Bangla border, claiming madrasas operating along it are a breeding ground of terrorism and anti-national activities in the country.

“We all know that these madrasas in bordering areas are breeding ground of anti-national elements. These madrasas get funds from foreign countries. They are creating a chain, which is making the Indo-Bangla border vulnerable to anti-national activities, illegal cattle trade and smuggling,” BJP state president Dilip Ghosh claimed.

Seeking to justify his claim, he referred to a purported statement of former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya that a section of madrasas in border areas were functioning as breeding ground of fundamentalism.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

“Few years ago, the then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had said that madrasas in bordering areas of West Bengal are breeding grounds of fundamentalism. But later on he had retracted his statement due to pressure from his party. But you can’t take a chief minister’s comment lightly. Whatever he had said was on the basis of reports of IB and police,” Ghosh claimed.

He said the porous border that West Bengal shares with Bangladesh is a threat to national security. “Infiltration has stopped in northern and western part of India where it shares border with Pakistan. But infiltration from this side of Indo-Bangla border is still on. Whenever there has been a terror attack or blast, during investigation some of the clues have led to Bengal and its bordering areas.

The anti-national and anti-social elements are using this route to enter India,” Ghosh told PTI. “Why isn’t the state government, like the newly-elected government in Assam taking up the matter of sealing the Indo-Bangla border in Bengal,” said the 52-year-old MLA, who won the recent assembly elections from Kharagpur Sadar constituency in West Midnapore district.

The firebrand leader, who was inducted from RSS into the state BJP in early 2015, became the state president in December.

“We will fight against these bordering madrasas. Politically also we will inform the people about the anti-national activities going there. We will raise this issue in the state assembly and will also ask the state government to take action against these madrasas which are helping anti-national elements,” he said.

Ghosh, who time and again has courted controversies for his comments, claimed anti-national elements have chosen JNU, Jadavpur University and Hyderabad University to flare up anti-national sentiments across the country.

“These three universities have the same character – you will see anti-national slogans are being raised, slogans shouted in favour of Afzal Guru. You won’t find any controversy in other universities…”We won’t allow such activities in university campus which is against the culture and heritage of our country. These are nothing but indecency and shameless act,” he said.

The BJP, which had lost some steam after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, put up a spirited show in the West Bengal Assembly elections this time and played spoilsport for the opposition Left Front-Congress alliance in more than 70 seats. Although BJP’s vote share in West Bengal dipped since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from 17.5 percent to 10.2 percent in the recently concluded Assembly polls, yet for the first time the party won three seats fighting on its own in the state.

Earlier, BJP had won twice in by-polls and had polled around 4.06 percent votes in 2011. In this assembly polls, BJP garnered around 56 lakh votes, up from 19.5 lakh in 2011, and polled more than 10,000 votes in 262 out of 294 Assembly segments.

Ghosh said BJP will oppose anti-people policies of the TMC government and will emerge as the main opposition in the days to come. Apart from Ghosh, who defeated veteran Congress leader Gyan Singh Sohanpal, BJP won Malda’s Baishnabnagar seat and Madarihat seat in North Bengal.

“In 2014, we had secured 17 percent votes because of the Narendra Modi wave across the country. We didn’t have any organisational base in Bengal. This time there was no such wave. What we have got is because of the organisational strength of our party,” he said.

Bengal Assembly polls: EC’s blemish-less century and TMC infighting mark 5th phase

It was Trinamool vs Trinamool on a day the Election Commission cracked yet another almost blemish-less century and ensured free and fair voting in the fifth phase of West Bengal Assembly polls.

If Mamata Banerjee had the sounded the war bugle against EC and its “heavy-handed tactics”, Saturday saw the reason why the ruling party has been feeling increasingly nervous. Using muscle power to subvert polling process is a blueprint created over decades by the Left and perfected in the last five years by Trinamool Congress. Last year’s civic polls showed to what extent can violence decide the outcome of a democratic procedure.

Voters shows their voter cards as they stand in queues to cast their votes in Kolkata on Saturday. PTI

Voters shows their voter cards as they stand in queues to cast their votes in Kolkata on Saturday. PTI

This time, however, the EC under Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi has proved a very tough nut to crack.

From the minute fourth-phase voting ended on 25 April up until the morning of Saturday, the EC and Kolkata police took a series of well-planned, calibrated and stringent steps that ensured Phase 5 remains almost as incident free as Phase 4, notwithstanding a few stray incidents of violence and rigging that is unavoidable in an exercise involving 14,500 booths for a 1.2 crore electorate.

The 349 candidates across 53 seats in Kolkata, South 24 Parganas and Hooghly that went to vote on Saturday included the who’s who of Bengal politics: the Chief Minister, mayor of Kolkata and members of Mamata Banerjee‘s core team — many of whom have found it difficult to erase the indelible ink of Sarada and Narada scams.

To contain trouble and ensure that outsiders do not queer the pitch on Saturday, the EC had a clear plan.

They started by liberally using Section 107 of IPC which ensured history sheeters were either put inside bars or had to fly their area of operation. The cops kept a close eye on all tainted criminals of port, Tiljala-Topsia, Tollygunge and Jadavpur area. The Kolkata police, under new Police Commissioner Soumen Mitra, prepared 43 quick response team. The EC also had at its disposal a 90000-strong security force (including state police) which was used to comb search for troublemakers.

Another significant step was to shut down all local clubs in every mohalla. This unprecedented step was triggered by an apprehension that clubs — hangout joints for local youths — were TMC strongholds and could be used as base to create trouble or rig the polls.

As a final step, the poll panel ordered imposition of prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPc in all the constituencies on polling day. Taken together, these steps ensured that violence was kept at a minimum.

Some incidents did take place though till about 5pm in the evening, an hour before official end of voting, sporadic violence in different parts of the state left 7 people injured while 27 so far have been arrested. The EC received nearly 3000 complaints and the biggest one came from Baruipur, a municipality in South 24 Paragans district.

In booth No 162 of Nabagram area under Baruipur constituency, four Trinamool Congress workers were injured in firing during a clash with CPIM activists. One 14-year-old, Ahmed Mollah, reportedly took a bullet in his hand while three others including a differently-abled individual were also hurt in firing. The injured have been admitted to the Baruipur Mahakuma Hospital. The Election Commission took suo motu cognizance of the incident and has sought an urgent report on the incident.

In the dock is one Rafikul Mollah though Sujoy Mistry, CPIM candidate in the area, has denied all charges. However, Kolkata mayor Sovon Chatterjee, the president of South-24 Parganas district TMC, blamed the CPIM for launching a calculated attack and accused the EC of inaction. Cops have so far arrested six, according to latest reports.

Other incidents of violence were reported from Goghat and Arambagh in Hooghly district. In Goghat, Forward Bloc candidate Biswanath Karak and his bodyguard were beaten up with the butt of a rifle by TMC-linked hooligans sparking off a massive search operation by central forces. Karak, who was on his way to visit some booths after getting reports of rigging, was waylaid by a biker gang. Police have arrested 5 TMC workers.

Sonali Guha, the new Didi in town

Mamata Banerjee isn’t the only firebrand female leader in Bengal. Other women leaders have shown during this election that they can be quite incendiary as well. If it was BJP’s Roopa Ganguly and Locket Chatterjee in earlier phases, this time it was Didi’s colleague Sonali Guha’s turn.

The TMC leader and candidate from Satgachia constituency landed in trouble after TV channels caught her inciting party workers over the phone. Guha, TMC candidate from South 24 Pargana’s Satgachia constituency, was seen instructing party activists to “thrash and drive out CPM agents from booths”. A malfunctioning EVM, which paused voting for over an hour in Kashibati Hindumoyee School (booth No 108), drew Guha’s ire as she accused the CPM of damaging the EVMs and asked party members to drive them out. She also engaged in confrontation with paramilitary jawans when they prevented her from entering the booths.

The EC subsequently filed an FIR against her.

Trinamool vs Trinamool

As cops kept things under tight control, Trinamool’s infighting came to the fore. Marxist-turned TMC leader Abdur Rezzak Mollah, who joined Mamata Banerjee’s party in February this year, brought charges of sabotage against party colleague Arabul Islam.

Back when Mollah was a CPIM leader, Islam was his bitterest rival. That the relationship hasn’t changed for the better despite a desperate attempt by TMC supremo to make Islam the ‘poll manager’ for Mollah’s campaign became clear on Saturday. Amid reports that Mollah’s men have been targeted in many places by Islam’s followers, the veteran TMC candidate from Bhangar constituency told local TV channels that “there is 100% chance of sabotage”.

CPIM rebel Mollah joined TMC in February this year. Mamata Banerjee’s decision to field him as a candidate in Bhangar didn’t go down well with firebrand leader Arabul and his men who have, for a long time, been at the receiving end of violence from CPIM under the veteran Marxist leader.

If Mamata calculated that Mollah’s inclusion may consolidate the minority votes, it seemed to have backfired as Saturday saw prolonged clashes and infighting between TMC workers. In many places, Mollah’s followers were beaten up those close to Islam. An irritated Mollah kept his temper in check all throughout the day until the final hours when it became clear that friendly fire may ruin his chances.

On being asked whether his poll manager Islam’s action will be the deciding factor in this seat, Mollah quipped: “He was a factor. Now he is a tractor.”

West Bengal polls: EC outsmarted as strategy of violence takes a curious turn in West Bengal

Election Commission has run into Hydra, the nine-headed serpent in Greek mythology, while trying to tackle poll violence in West Bengal.

When the EC announced polls over six phases in the state, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Spreading elections over a month and a half is a logistical nightmare. Apart from deployment of central armed forces — who are not conversant with the local language — in distant locations, it also involves realigning the state’s own punitive machinery which temporarily comes under the EC’s supervision.

But what seemed a paranoid measure was actually a prudent tactic given West Bengal’s history of bloodshed. Mindful of the gory statistics which date back to decades and repeated complaints from the opposition (especially in light of last year’s civic body polls), the EC put in place an apparently foolproof strategy.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Consider the arrangements for the recently concluded third phase of Assembly Polls.

On Thursday, when polling was held in 62 seats across Kolkata north, Murshidabad, Nadia and Burdwan, the EC fielded a ring involving one lakh security forces. It included 714 companies of central paramilitary personnel in election-bound areas and a contingent of 25000-strong state police force to assist them in tackling the language barrier.

There were police observers in each district (three for sensitive Murshidabad). The forces were asked to do routine flag-marches to instill confidence among voters.

The thrust of the effort was to prevent and tackle violence on the polling day. It has to be admitted that so far, the EC has been largely successful in limiting the spilling of blood during the time that ballots were cast starting 4 April.

But what about the time in between?

In addition to the security forces, the media also play a crucial role in bringing incidents of violence and rigging to light. On polling days, teams of reporters, TV journalists swarm every far-flung booth with their OB vans and paraphernalia. So effective has the media been in their vigilance that in many cases, the EC has acted on the basis of reports which have emerged on TV channels. But the media, too, remain centred on polling activity. What happens after the last ballot is cast, lights are switched off, wires recoiled and scribes return home?

A factoid may put things in perspective. While one person, CPIM’s Tahidul Islam, has died so far in violence during the time of polling, the death toll since the announcement of election since 4 March stands at 12.

Though the EC has said it takes incidences of post-poll violence “seriously”, no sooner did polling ended for the third phase on Thursday there were renewed clashes between the ruling Trinamool Congress and alliance partners CPIM and Congress, resulting in the deaths of three party workers, two from CPIM and one Congress.

Lodhna village in Khandaghosh constituency in Bengal’s Burdwan strict witnessed two gruesome killings. CPIM’s Sheikh Fazal Ali, 58, was hacked to death with sharp weapons while 57-year-old Dukhiram Dal’s veins were cut as he bled to death right before the eyes of his son Sisir, who hid behind a wall to save his life.

In a report carried by The Telegraph, Sisir, who assists his dad in selling vegetables, recalled how alleged TMC workers attacked them with bombs and hatchets after voting ended on Thursday.

“As bombs exploded all around, I hid behind a wall and saw my father being chased. He tripped and several TMC men, armed with cleavers and hatchets, pounced on him. One of them told the others how to cut the veins in my father’s legs. I shall never forget the scene,” Sisir was quoted, as saying.

Ali, CPIM’s polling agent for booth No 108, also met his death in a similar fashion though his son Sajal, who hid in a nearby bush, was spared the ordeal of watching his dad being killed.

The men lay bleeding and gasping till 9 pm when the cops arrived and eventually took them to the Burdwan Medical College and hospital where they died a few hours later, according to Burdwan SP Gaurav Sharma.

In Burdwan’s Raina, Congress worker Khandekar Ali was killed in the Mathnurpur area when alleged TMC workers, who had got into a spat with him over casting of votes, hit him with a rod.

In each of these cases, the ruling party has denied involvement, blaming it on either intra-party skirmish between alliance partners or family feud.

Elsewhere on Friday, TMC leader Chanchal Debnath was beaten up by alleged CPIM activists in Nadia district’s Haringhata area. In return, a group of TMC workers allegedly ransacked the house of former MLA Nani Gopal Malakar and beat up former CPIM minister Bankim Ghosh.

In his complaint, Ghosh, who is now admitted with injuries and respiratory problems, said 12 TMC miscreants were involved in the attack and the “mayhem went on for about 20 minutes.”

“The TMC men also took away money and valuables and escaped through the back door when police came,” Dipti, Nani Malakar’s wife, was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

West-BengalWest-Bengal

“In the day of polling, police, central forces and media keep strict vigil. So the TMC strategy is now to indulge in violence immediately after the polls or to intimidate voters before the day of voting. Villager are being told they will face dire consequences if they so much as go near the booth,” CPIM MP and politburo member Mohammad Salim told Firstpost.

“Law and order is a state subject. It is the responsibility of the administration and the Election Commission to prevent such incidents from happening. The killings are a sign of TMC’s insecurity. Facing defeat, Mamata Banerjee has increased her rhetoric,” he added.

“The killings are a desperate step to instill a sense of fear among voters who have so far refused to be cowed down by such tactics and are answering TMC’s reign of terror by casting their ballots,” added the CPIM MP.

Surjya Kanta Mishra, state CPIM leader and the alliance partner’s CM candidate, repeated the charge on Twitter.

Amid the rhetoric and counter-rhetoric, the EC’s job is cut out in West Bengal. Three phases are still left.

Centre called a meeting to discuss development, Didi boycotted it: Modi slams Mamata

Birpara: Mounting a frontal attack on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said she had boycotted meetings called by the Centre to discuss the issue of states’ development and had failed to bring in any transformation despite her call for ‘paribartan‘ (change).

Modi alleges that Mamata 'mislead people on development'. Reuters

Modi alleges that Mamata ‘mislead people on development’. Reuters

“What kind of Chief Minister is she ? Whenever the Centre called a meeting to discuss development of states, Didi boycotted it. Even if it hurt her state.”

“She (Banerjee) did not attend those meetings only because Modi convened it. But whenever she visited Delhi, she met Sonia Gandhi and took her blessings”, Modi told an election rally in Birpara.

Modi, who campaigned in north Bengal, said, “She gave the call for Paribartan and misled the people. She talked about Ma-Mati-Manush, but there is only Maut (death) and money. The Narada sting operation has shown it”.

Modi slammed Banerjee also on the recent collapse of a Kolkata flyover saying instead of beginning immediate relief work and saving the people, she had started the blame game.

“The first thing she said was to put the blame on the Left for giving the contract of the flyover. But if the flyover was completed, would she have congratulated the Left? (In such an event) She would have taken the credit for the flyover,” he said.

Modi said when she took over the government it seemed that she would try to set things right in Bengal after the misrule of the Left. “But she only carried forward the legacy of the Left and led the state to further ruin”.

Instead of talking about development, both TMC and the Left were engaged in a blame game against each other on the issues of rape, corruption and bomb making. “Your future is not safe in the hands of TMC and the Left,” he told the meeting.

Referring to the multi-crore rupees Saradha chit fund scam, Modi said, “If Didi tries to save those involved in it she should be sent back.” Appealing to the people to give BJP a chance, he said wherever BJP was in power there was development.

Kolkata flyover collapse: With politicians passing the buck, did the dead lose their lives in vain?

If there’s one thing that embarrasses politicians it is being seen to be playing politics. Especially when faced with a horrific tragedy like the crash of a flyover in Kolkata on Thursday. So the favourite phrase prefacing the reactions of politicians to Thursday’s disaster was: “This is not the time to play politics, but…” and never has a ‘but’ been more eloquent. Because finally it is all about politics, of course, all the more so at election time.

A file photo of the collapsed Vivekanand flyover. PTIA file photo of the collapsed Vivekanand flyover. PTI

The collapsed Vivekananda flyover in Kolkata. PTI

The first thing Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said after rushing to the accident site was: “It is a disaster, no one should indulge in politics over it. But the project was initiated in 2007 and construction started in 2009 (i.e., during the Left regime).The contract should not have been given to a company that was blacklisted.”

The retort came swift and sharp. At the CPM headquarters in Kolkata on Alimuddin Street, party MP Mohammad Salim said, “This is not the time for politics but the Chief Minister has left us with no choice. It’s no different from the way she behaved over the death of children soon after coming to power.” (Salim was referring to Mamata Banerjee’s response to a spate of simultaneous deaths in a government-run children’s hospital when she said, “Remember these children were conceived during the earlier regime.”)

At the Centre, which too has a role to play in the making (and hence in the unmaking too) of the flyover as it is a JNNURM project, that is partly funded by Delhi, junior urban development minister Babul Supriyo said, “While I don’t want to bring politics into this, this was a joint venture of the UPA at the Centre and the CPM government in Bengal.”

Since the Centre can only vet the projects and release the funds, monitoring being limited to sending reminders and pushing for compliance if the states fail to implement them, Bengal’s sole BJP minister in the Capital did not forget to add, “It is the failure of the state government. It is responsible.”

The flyover may never come to be. Many experts are now voicing doubts over the choice of the location itself, narrow, busy, built-up, congested streets in the heart of the city. And the local people’s objections, who had never welcomed it, are now getting a hearing.

Whatever its fate, the imminent question playing on many minds is, will it have played its historic role by becoming an election issue, touched as it is by all the leading players in this state? Surely it should, there ought to be some accountability somewhere and the polling booth is the ultimate court of appeal. Otherwise, all those innocent people will have lost their lives or limbs in vain.

The political bosses are not quite sure which way the people will go or whether they will all be blamed equally and thus cancel each other out. So they are taking no chances.

The ruling Trinamool Congress has understandably most to lose. There were troubling signs on Thursday when city mayor Sovon Chatterjee and local MLA Smita Bakshi, both candidates in the imminent elections, were booed and heckled by the crowds during their visit to the accident site.

The air rang with cries of “chor hai, sab chor hai.”

The mayor is one of the people shown to be taking money in the Naranda sting videos. No other TMC leader other than the Chief Minister visited the area on Thursday. Friday morning saw local MP, TMC’s Sudip Bandopadhyay, standing amid the debris, reading out a list of disasters that took many lives during the Left Front’s years.

Mamata Banerjee gave the cue last night when she lashed out, even while making sure of adequate supply of floodlights and drinking water for the rescue workers that, “Dirty politics is being played over blood. I will not allow this. We have enough blood. There is no need for a blood donation tamasha. If blood is needed there are enough of us around. I just have to give a call, one lakh people will turn up to give blood.”

The provocation for her outburst: the overwhelming response to blood donation camps organised last evening by Left student unions at one of the city’s Central Blood Banks for the disaster victims. It was not long before TMC’s all-powerful doctor-MLA Nirmal Majhi put a stop to it, accusing the Left of coercing people to donate blood.

“Utterly meaningless,” he said, and demanded an explanation from the blood bank authorities for taking what was tantamount to tainted CPM blood.

Meanwhile, the Left is busy performing its own deflecting manoeuvres. Siliguri mayor and former urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya, whose Siliguri model is the blueprint for the current Left-Congress electoral alliance, has a heavy cross to bear.

He had commissioned the flyover and given the job to the Hyderabad-based infrastructure company IVRCL. He is screaming hoarse that “the company was not blacklisted when it was given the project. It got blacklisted two or three years ago. I would ask why Firhad Hakim (the current urban development minister) did not get rid of the company after it got blacklisted. “We suspect there was compromise on the quality of materials.”

He was hinting at Trinamool’s already much-maligned building materials supply syndicates.

According to Bhattacharya, “The bulk of the construction began in 2013. By pointing fingers at us, they are trying to evade their responsibilities.”

The cry for the head of urban development minister Firhad Hakim is growing louder by the day. Hakim is also the chairman of the Kolkata Municipal Development Authority, an agency of the urban development ministry which was directly responsible for the implementation of the flyover. Hakim is also part of Narada’s sting videocast.

The BJP, the Congress and the CPM have all demanded his resignation. But Mamata Banerjee usually puts huge storage by loyalty. It’s the people’s loyalty in the time of disaster that she needs to worry about.

Kolkata flyover collapse: With politicians passing the buck, it seems the dead lost their lives in vain

If there’s one thing that embarrasses politicians it is being seen to be playing politics. Especially when faced with a horrific tragedy like the crash of a flyover in Kolkata on Thursday. So the favourite phrase prefacing the reactions of politicians to Thursday’s disaster was: “This is not the time to play politics, but…” and never has a ‘but’ been more eloquent. Because finally it is all about politics, of course, all the more so at election time.

A file photo of the collapsed Vivekanand flyover. PTIA file photo of the collapsed Vivekanand flyover. PTI

The collapsed Vivekananda flyover in Kolkata. PTI

The first thing Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said after rushing to the accident site was: “It is a disaster, no one should indulge in politics over it. But the project was initiated in 2007 and construction started in 2009 (i.e., during the Left regime).The contract should not have been given to a company that was blacklisted.”

The retort came swift and sharp. At the CPI(M) headquarters in Kolkata on Alimuddin Street, party MP Mohammad Salim said, “This is not the time for politics but the Chief Minister has left us with no choice. It’s no different from the way she behaved over the death of children soon after coming to power.” (Salim was referring to Mamata Banerjee’s response to a spate of simultaneous deaths in a government-run children’s hospital when she said, “Remember these children were conceived during the earlier regime.”)

At the Centre, which too has a role to play in the making (and hence in the unmaking too) of the flyover as it is a JNNURM project, that is partly funded by Delhi, junior urban development minister Babul Supriyo said, “While I don’t want to bring politics into this, this was a joint venture of the UPA at the Centre and the CPM government in Bengal.”

Since the Centre can only vet the projects and release the funds, monitoring being limited to sending reminders and pushing for compliance if the states fail to implement them, Bengal’s sole BJP minister in the Capital did not forget to add, “It is the failure of the state government. It is responsible.”

The flyover may never come to be. Many experts are now voicing doubts over the choice of the location itself, narrow, busy, built-up, congested streets in the heart of the city. And the local people’s objections, who had never welcomed it, are now getting a hearing.

Whatever its fate, the imminent question playing on many minds is, will it have played its historic role by becoming an election issue, touched as it is by all the leading players in this state? Surely it should, there ought to be some accountability somewhere and the polling booth is the ultimate court of appeal. Otherwise, all those innocent people will have lost their lives or limbs in vain.

The political bosses are not quite sure which way the people will go or whether they will all be blamed equally and thus cancel each other out. So they are taking no chances.

The ruling Trinamool Congress has understandably most to lose. There were troubling signs yesterday when city mayor Sovon Chatterjee and local MLA Smita Bakshi, both candidates in the imminent elections, were booed and heckled by the crowds during their visit to the accident site.

The air rang with cries of “chor hai, sab chor hai.”

The mayor is one of the people shown to be taking money in the Naranda sting videos. No other TMC leader other than the Chief Minister visited the area on Thursday. Friday morning saw local MP, TMC’s Sudip Bandopadhyay, standing amid the debris, reading out a list of disasters that took many lives during the Left Front’s years.

Mamata Banerjee gave the cue last night when she lashed out, even while making sure of adequate supply of floodlights and drinking water for the rescue workers that “Dirty politics is being played over blood. I will not allow this. We have enough blood. There is no need for a blood donation tamasha. If blood is needed there are enough of us around. I just have to give a call, one lakh people will turn up to give blood.”

The provocation for her outburst: the overwhelming response to blood donation camps organised last evening by Left student unions at one of the city’s Central Blood Banks for the disaster victims. It was not long before TMC’s all-powerful doctor-MLA Nirmal Majhi put a stop to it, accusing the Left of coercing people to donate blood.

“Utterly meaningless,” he said, and demanded an explanation from the blood bank authorities for taking what was tantamount to tainted CPM blood.

Meanwhile, the Left is busy performing its own deflecting manoeuvres. Siliguri mayor and former urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya, whose Siliguri model is the blueprint for the current Left-Congress electoral alliance, has a heavy cross to bear.

He had commissioned the flyover and given the job to the Hyderabad-based infrastructure company IVRCL. He is screaming hoarse that “the company was not blacklisted when it was given the project. It got blacklisted two or three years ago. I would ask why Firhad Hakim (the current urban development minister) did not get rid of the company after it got blacklisted. “We suspect there was compromise on the quality of materials.”

He was hinting at Trinamool’s already much-maligned building materials supply syndicates.

According to Bhattacharya, “The bulk of the construction began in 2013. By pointing fingers at us, they are trying to evade their responsibilities.”

The cry for the head of urban development minister Firhad Hakim is growing louder by the day. Hakim is also the chairman of the Kolkata Municipal Development Authority, an agency of the urban development ministry which was directly responsible for the implementation of the flyover. Hakim is also part of Narada’s sting videocast.

The BJP, the Congress and the CPI(M) have all demanded his resignation. But Mamata Banerjee usually puts huge storage by loyalty. It’s the people’s loyalty in the time of disaster that she needs to worry about.

Number of women being trafficked from Bangladesh into Mumbai brothels is rising, says NGO

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The number of women being trafficked from Bangladesh into Mumbai brothels is rising as part of greater migration from India’s eastern neighbour, and police and social groups need to do more to rescue and repatriate them, a charity said on Thursday.

The number of Bengali-speaking commercial sex workers in the city’s main red-light district of Kamathipura is at a record high, according to data compiled by Prerana, a non-profit focused on trafficking and sex workers.

The total includes some women from the eastern state of West Bengal.

“The increased numbers dovetail with increased migration from Bangladesh, and migrants are particularly vulnerable to traffickers,” said Priti Patkar, co-founder of Prerana.

“They’re so desperate, they are easily lured by the promise of a job or a better life,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Of the 213 children of sex workers enrolled at Prerana’s night care centre in Kamathipura from 2010-15, 128 had a Bengali-speaking mother, the data showed. Similar increases have been seen in other parts of the city, Patkar said.

There were about a dozen each from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

There are more than 3 million people of Bangladeshi origin in India, according to official data. Hundreds arrive undocumented every day, often crossing the 4,000 km (2,500 mile)border with a trafficker or “agent” who preys on poor, rural communities with promises of good jobs and a better life.

Rising migration within Asia is putting growing numbers of migrants at risk of being trafficked and abused by human smuggling networks, the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a report last year on the criminal trade, which is worth $2 billion a year in Asia.

South Asia is the fastest-growing region for human trafficking in the world, and the second-largest after Southeast Asia, according to the UNODC.

More than 150,000 people are known to be trafficked within South Asia every year, but the trade is underground and the real number is likely to be much higher. The numbers are expected to rise as migration within Asia grows.

Trafficked Bangladeshi women in Mumbai are often too afraid and ignorant of their rights to seek help, Patkar said. They are also reluctant to bring charges against their traffickers after being rescued from the brothels.

India signed an agreement with Bangladesh last year to strengthen cooperation and information sharing and ensure speedier investigations and prosecutions of traffickers.

The agreement has made it easier to rescue and repatriate victims of trafficking, some of whom were previously treated as illegal immigrants.

“Now, there is a clear process: we take their deposition, then hand them over to an NGO there, which takes responsibility for their rehabilitation,” a Mumbai police spokesman said. “This is a better outcome for the women.”

This week, for the first time, a Bangladeshi trafficker was convicted on the strength of the victim’s testimony given over a video link from Dhaka, where she had been repatriated after her rescue from a brothel in Mumbai. Activists and lawyers say such depositions could help curb trafficking.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran, editing by Tim Pearce)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Stalker who hacks 16-year-old national level volleyball player with cleaver, surrenders

Barasat, West Bengal: On Saturday the man accused of hacking a teen to death in West Bengal, surrendered, according to a report by NDTV. On Friday, a female national-level volleyball player was allegedly hacked to death by a youth in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district.

The youth hit the 16-year-old girl, Sangita Aich or Tina, with a sharp weapon several times at Natun Pukur locality and fled, Superintendent of Police Tanmay Roychowdhury said. Aich, a Class 9 student, had played volleyball twice at the national level and thrice at the state level, reported Hindustan Times.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

According to the report, the attacker was a 20-year-old Subrata Sinha also known as Raja, who was “furious” over Aich rejecting him several times in the past.

According to the police, Sinha arrived at Aich’s practice camp on Friday evening and demanded that she speak to him. Upon refusal, he advanced towards her with a cleaver. According to NDTV, the girl’s coach — Swapan Das — tried to save Aich. When Sinha tried to get up from the chair he was sitting on, the coach beat him back to his seat as a frightened Aich cowered behind him.

The 16-year-old, however managed to flee the scene and scrambled towards her residence, located barely 100 metres from the ground, but Sinha followed her and allegedly hacked her to death.

The locals were too scared to tackle Sinha as he fled. Aich was finally taken to the hospital by her uncle, where she was declared dead on arrival.

The NDTV report quoted Das saying, “If Tina had stayed with me, he would have had to kill me first. And he may have too.”

Sinha, a resident of Shyamnagar in North 24-Parganas, is also a national-level volleyball player.

Aich’s relatives have alleged that complaints made to the police about Sinha’s stalking tendencies were ignored. Her father, who runs a business in the area, was not in a condition to comment.

The police suspect unrequited love as the motive for the death.

With inputs from PTI

West Bengal girl attacked, threatened with rape for rejecting boy’s proposal

Jalpaiguri, West Bengal: A teenage girl on her way to appear in board examination was allegedly attacked by a group of women and men, who threatened to strip and rape her, for rejecting a boy’s proposal here.

On her way to an examination centre at Dhupguri yesterday, the girl was initially intercepted by some women who used foul language at her for spurning the advances of a boy following which she was beaten up, the police said.

West Bengal police. Representational image. AFPWest Bengal police. Representational image. AFP

West Bengal police. Representational image. AFP

Her mother and brother who arrived at the spot were also not spared, the victim said in her complaint lodged with the police.

Meanwhile, a group of youths arrived and threatened to strip and rape her, she said in her complaint. Locals, including CPI(M) member of the panchayat Niren Roy, took her to the hospital from where she answered her examination.

One of her school teacher said the girl’s spirit must be admired for her determination to answer her board examination from the hospital bed after such an ordeal.

The police arrested the prime accused, Anukul Mandal, last evening. Jalpaiguri superintendent of police Akash Megharia said there was no delay in taking action.

PTI 

The smart city series: Dear Minister, why didn’t my state make the cut? Are the people there not smart enough?

The more populous among Indian states – Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal – are un-smart and will remain so in the times to come. That’s official now. I, unfortunately, have the distinction or ignominy of belonging to a state which is not smart. No portion of my state’s geographical boundary is going to get anywhere closer to being called so.

For long, first as a student in Delhi and then as a resident, I used to hear “Oye Bihari” hurled at my fellow natives of all hues in a condescending manner. These words are not used any longer, for the simple reason that driven by economic and social compulsions, more and more people from Bihar and Eastern UP have landed in Delhi and eventually outnumbered migrants from other parts of the country, and those claiming to be original inhabitants of Delhi. The latter include Punjabis who made Delhi their home in post- partition days.

Patna isn't in the list of smart citiesPatna isn't in the list of smart cities

Patna isn’t in the list of smart cities

Bihari, UPites and Paharis have since become Poorvanchalis. They are now very confident – smart if you please – of themselves. In Delhi we have MLAs, MPs, top officers in various ministries and departments, white and blue-collared employees in private sector. Thus when Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked passionately about `start up India’ and `stand up India’ for the younger generation, those hailing from Bihar and UP thought they had the potential to be showcased as brand ambassadors, albeit with modifications.

In UP, we have a young chief minister in Akhilesh Yadav. He is advised by his three-time chief minister father Mulayam Singh and uncles who have been ministers. In Bihar, we have a 26-year-old under-matriculate deputy chief minister in Tejashwai Yadav. His brother, Tejpratap, two years older to him, too is a minister. Between them, the two hold six ministries, including the one which was to do preparatory work for sending nominations for the smart city. They have the benefit of having the most experienced administrators at home. Their father Lalu Prasad Yadav is a two-time chief minister and mother Rabri Devi has also been one. Their senior and the boss in government in Bihar, Nitish Kumar, is a five-time chief minister who is known as a good governance man and development messiah. In West Bengal, in Mamata Banerjee we have a fighter chief minister who is connected to grassroots and lakhs of people are always ready to act on any call of her.

Yet all these states failed to make it to the smart category. They didn’t qualify in the competition. It pinches us badly but it pains more when we see Orissa, which till the other day was considered as backward as us, topping the list with Bhubaneshwar being designated as city number one in the current or currently proposed list of smart cities. Assam too qualifies with Guwahati getting into the high profile list. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh earlier formed part of BIMARU states along with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. But two cities of Rajasthan, Jaipur and Udaypur, and three cities of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal, Jabalpur and Indore, have qualified. It hurts.

Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Punjab were always considered “developed”, so it does not matter to us if they qualified.
During the 2014 parliamentary elections, while covering elections in UP, we got the sense that if there is any place to be in India it was Uttar Pradesh. It was not because it had given so many prime ministers to India but because this state was going to decide the fate of the nation for the next five years. Again while covering assembly elections in Bihar in October-November 2015 we got the sense if there was one place to be in during those months, it was the land of Lalu and Nitish, if not of Ashok and Buddha, because the elections were again going to decide the fate of not just the state but of the nation. In January 2016, both these places are known or talked about only for the wrong reasons.

Perhaps we don’t know to make presentations in the designated format as some say. But that’s an excuse. In this era we could have outsourced this presentation part, just as our leaders did during election campaign. We failed because we were grossly underprepared for the test and had not even seen or known the syllabus for the test.

But then we were optimistic because PM Modi had constantly been saying India couldn’t progress only on the strength of western India, its progress lay in eastern India. He did talk about competitive federalism but we took that easy because, as seasoned Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and former Union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh often said, it is the duty of the headmaster to pay extra attention to poor students to make them pass. But he didn’t tell us that what may happen if the headmaster (the Centre) handed over the entire evaluation process to “outside” experts. Let’s see if we make it to the list of 40 in the next round, next year.

One thing is sure, as this writer has come to know, Bihar’s capital Patna is not going to be on the list of 98. It has summarily failed in the evaluation process.

After IB alert of possible suicide bomb attack, security intensified in Kolkata for Republic Day

Kolkata: The security in and around the city as well as in the various districts of West Bengal has been beefed up in view of the Republic Day celebration on Tuesday.

With the Intelligence Bureau’s alert of possible suicide bomb attacks by a Bangladesh-based terror group in 23 cities, including Kolkata between 23-26 January, the security has been tightened to avoid any untoward incident, a senior officer of Kolkata Police told PTI.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

“Since January 20, security in and around the city has been beefed up. We are not taking any chances and have plugged all loopholes regarding security arrangements,” the IPS officer said.

The security has been increased at Victoria Memorial, Kalighat temple, Indian Museum, several other iconic structures as well as the buildings housing government and non-governmental offices, shopping malls, Metro stations. The Kolkata Police have also increased patrolling and vigorous checking at entry and exit points of the city, he said.

Around 93 extra police pickets would be there at several junctures of the city besides 13 Quick Response Teams (QRTs) of nearly 10,000 police personnel, he said.

“Security have been increased at entry and exit points of the city. There will be 93 police pickets all over Kolkata and 13 QRTs at strategic locations for fast response,” the officer said.

Leaves of all senior officers have been “canceled” and they would be on duty during this period and would continue till this weekend.

Officials at Kolkata Police headquarters at Lalbazar said that following the 13 January Red Road hit-and-run mishap where an Air Force officer was killed by a speeding car during a Republic Day parade rehearsal, “strict” instructions from state secretariat ‘Nabanna’ have reached the HQ.

On 13 January, Air Force officer Abhimanyu Gaud was mowed down by a car during a parade rehearsal on the Red Road and three persons have been arrested so far in the case.

“Breach of police security has been noticed during the January 13 mishap. Strict instructions have reached us to make foolproof arrangements to avoid any untoward incident after the alert from the Centre,” the officer said.

Several meetings among top Kolkata Police officers were held at the police force’s headquarters to chalk out an outline of the security arrangements for the city during this period, he said.

“Policemen in the rank of Assistant Commissioners have been deployed round the clock to monitor the Red Road and its surrounding areas ahead of the Republic Day celebrations tomorrow. In fact, flood light towers of the Eden Gardens, Mohun Bagan club and watch towers will be used to keep an eye on movements of vehicles as well as general public,” he said.

“CCTV cameras installed at every important locations of the city, especially Park Street, Dharmatala area, Outram Road and Kidderpore Road, Port areas will also be used for keeping a tab on the security of the city,” the officer said.

City police commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha has inspected security at Red Road on Saturday where important personalities including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi will be present for the parade tomorrow.

“Surprise checking at crucial points besides putting several barricades on the road have been increased. Extensive arrangements for vehicular-checking will be conducted,” he said adding that vehicles plying on Vidyasagar Setu are being searched.

Talking about the security arrangements in the districts and the surrounding areas of the city, a senior officer with the Bengal Police said, “border areas are under surveillance. We are having special arrangements for districts adjoining international borders.”

Acting on the IB alert, Kolkata Police and Bengal Police have been conducting raids at several places in Barasat in North 24 Parganas as four persons allegedly belonging to Bangladesh-based Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) are tipped to carry out suicide bomb attacks during this period.

As per the alert, two of them — Anisur Rehman and Mohammed Ansari were reportedly hiding in Barasat while the other two, details of whom were yet to be ascertained, were hiding somewhere in Malda district.

“We are alert and our forces are on the vigil…” the officer said.

PTI