14 August 1997 - Telegraph
Mamata fires ‘save Bengal’ salvo
Civic body issues ultimatum on illegal hoardings
Midnapore flood toll rises to 17
Luv Kush withdrawn from city cinema halls
Tea workers facing starvation
Assam bandh cripples life
Maintenance problems led to derailment
Tripura may extend Disturbed Areas Act
Army takes up relief operation
Orissa flood damage Rs 100 crore

Calcutta, Aug. 13 

Rebel Congress MP Mamata Banerjee’s open defiance of the high command today took a concrete shape when she decided to organise a mass rally at the Brigade Parade grounds in December under the banner of an anti-CPM “Save Bengal Front.”

Mamata Banerjee’s decision to go ahead with her proposed front with “like-minded parties” is a major policy decision, taken without consulting the Pradesh Congress Committee or the All-India Congress Committee.

The rally will be organised by her “Trinamul Congress Workers’ Committee.”

She also indicated she will not consider any party politically untouchable provided it makes common cause with her Trinam-ul committee to fight the Marxists.

Asked whether she will seek the BJP’s cooperation for the purpose, the president of the parallel state-level committee, Pankaj Banerjee, said: “We will welcome anyone who will support our movement against the CPM.”

Pankaj Banerjee’s assertion indicates that the Trinamul committee does not rule out an understanding with all anti-CPM parties, including the BJP, in the panchayat polls.

Mamata Banerjee’s camp also feels there will not be any division of anti-Left votes in the state if she fields her candidates in the panchayat polls.

“The Congress supporters will vote for our candidates since ours is the real party. Besides many Left supporters, disgusted with the Marxists’ rule, as well as non-political persons, will support us,” her loyalists said.

Mamata Banerjee reiterated that she will not budge from her stand, no matter what the high command decides about her. Asked whether she will reconsider her stand if the high command talks to her, she said: “We are not at all concerned about Delhi.We are self-sufficient.”

She indicated she will not hold any official post of the parallel committee, but exercise full control over it .

Asked to specify her position in thecommittee, Mamata Banerjee said: “I am a primary member of the party. There are lakhs of such members. There is no difference between workers and leaders in our committee. There are also no differences between senior and junior leaders.”

She said she will embark on a mass contact programme in Nove-mber. “I will talk to smaller parties which want to to join us,” she added. The rebel leader also indicated that she has no immediate plans to take her issues to the national level.    

Calcutta, Aug. 13 

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation(CMC) will start pulling down hoardings on private buildings from Saturday unless outdoor advertising agencies get permits from the civic authorities by that time.

Acting on the directives of a division bench of the Calcutta High Court issued on July 29, the civic authorities had invited fresh applications from licenced and unlicenced agencies for permits to maintain hoardings in various parts of the city.

The CMC was also directed to hear the applications within 21 days. The hoardings not found in order according to the CMC Act would be demolished after a notice of seven days, the bench further ordered. Those hoardings not applied for would also be demolished.

Municipal commissioner Asim Barman today said the seven-day notice period expires on Friday.

In a bid to tackle the visual pollution taking place in the city after the mushrooming of hoardings at every vantage point, the CMC, which is the sole licencing authority for such advertising in Calcutta, had passed a set of new guidelines three months ago, regulating the erection of hoardings.

The new guidelines, formulated on the basis of the CMC Act, prohibit hoardings within 50 metres of important crossings and the setting up of display boards outside balconies and windows of both government and private buildings, among others.

Following the imposition of these strictures, a number of advertising agencies went to court, challenging the new CMC regulations. The court, however, gave them an opportunity to apply for licences afresh.

The division bench hearing today was also based on a petition filed by Concern for Calcutta which had moved the courts even before the CMC order for the removal of hoardings.

Barman also wrote a letter today to police chief Dinesh Vajpai, requesting him to take measures for the removal of advertisements from traffic islands in accordance with a recent High Court order.    

Midnapore, Aug. 13 

The death toll in the floods sweeping Midnapore district has risen to 17. The district administration however, confirmed only 11 deaths.

Nearly 160 square km of the district is inundated following heavy discharges from Durgapur and Kangsabati barrages during the last couple of days.

With the heavy downpour still continuing in the catchment areas of these two dams, the situation is likely to worsen. Many areas remained cut off today and the toll is likely to go up.

Daspur is the worst hit. High tension lines have snapped reportedly electrocuting a number of people who came in contact with the live wires forcing panic-stricken villagers to stop plying countryboats for rescue and relief operations.

Ghatal has been totally detached from the rest of the district. According to district officials, nearly 160 square km is under a sheet of water, the depth being five to six feet in places.

Bombay Road was seriously threatened and a slight rise in the water level will submerge the vital road link. In certain stretches, the edges of the road have eroded, hampering traffic movement.

About 10,000 residents have fled their homes and taken shelter on Bombay Road, in Daspur-Ghatal. No relief material, including polythene sheets, have reached the affected.

Embankments on the Kangsabati river have cracked at five places and may give in any moment. If that happens, another 50,000 persons are likely to be marooned. Minister for irrigation Debabrata Banerjee, said at Writers Buildings today that the government was forced to release 77,750 cusecs of water from Durgapur barrage and another 7,880 cusecs from Messanjore because of incessant rains during the last 24 hours.

Banerjee said the Ganga river was flowing above the danger level at Farakka and Manikchawk.    

Calcutta, Aug. 13 

The Bengali version of the Hindi film, Luv Kush, was today withdrawn from cinema halls in the state by distributor Dilip Kankaria, following pressure from the Bengali film industry.

The Film Technicians and Workers of Eastern India, which had been spearheading the movement against the “dubbed” version, however, said that they would have to be given a written assurance before they finally call off the agitation. Kankaria said he had withdrawn the film to respect the wishes of the local industry.

The Bengali version of the film was released in the city in mid-July. Bengali artists and technicians, who saw this as a threat to the local industry, immediately took to the streets and even threatened to strike from August 16. They also approached home (Police) minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya.

Shortly after this, the police raided and shut four cinema halls in the city showing the dubbed film on grounds that they had evaded amusement tax. All four halls are owned by Kankaria.

Kankaria later said that he had been singled out “for some strange reason.”

But film personalities in the city claimed that today’s “surrender” by Kankaria was “a victory for the Bengali film industry.”

When the agitation began, the distributor had moved court stating that the film was not a dubbed version, but a reshot “double version” where the artists had mouthed Bengali dialogues. Hence it could be distributed in the state without transgressing Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA) rules which state that Hindi films dubbed into Bengali cannot be shown in the state. The court had ruled in favour of Mr Kankaria last month.

Artists and the EIMPA had, however, refused to budge, insisting that the film was a “dubbed’’ one which had Bengali dialogues simply replacing Hindi words.

Actors and technicians said Tollywood will collapse if big budget Hindi blockbusters are dubbed in Bengali and released in West Bengal. The logic is simple: Bengali film producers and directors do not have the resources to compete with Bollywood giants. Hence, movies lack the glitz, glamour and punch that hypnotise the masses.    

Silchar, Aug. 13 

The 1800-odd workers of the Pathini tea estate in south Assam’s Karimganj district are on the verge of starvation due to non-payment of salaries. The estate is owned by the Tea Trading Corporation of India (TTCI), a central government undertaking.

The garden hogged media attention in 1994 when 10 labourers died of hunger after the authorities failed to pay their salaries with the garden coffers dipping to an all-time low. The labour force sustained themselves on wild fruits and vegetables.

The INTUC-affiliated Cachar Chah Sramik Union (CCSU) sources yesterday alleged that the workers of the garden were, at present, being paid only 15 to 20 per cent of their monthly salaries as the management was finding it difficult to arrange for funds.

As both the factories in the garden have downed their shutters, the TTCI has been forced to sell the plucked tea leaves to the adjoining estates at prices below the normal rates. As the tea estates — which purchase green tea leaves from Pathini also make advances to its management during the lean season when plucking comes to a halt — make their payments after the mandatory deduction of advances, the garden’s coffers are always in a dismal state.

The CCSU sources said the garden was sometimes forced to part with its green leaves at a paltry sum of Rs 2-a-kg against the current rate of Rs 6-a-kg. Sources said the union was contemplating a stir demanding relief for the starving workers.

The garden, once a lush estate on the Indo-Bangladesh border was sold by its original owner Octavius Steel and Company to the TTCI in 1975. At the time the garden was handed over to the Centre, it was profitable concern with bright prospects. But the garden, whose annual yield was nine lakh kg of processed tea soon fell sick because of the alleged mismanagement by the Calcutta-based TTCI.

The TTCI decided a couple of years ago to sell its property following demands by the workers for better management. The Jayashree Tea Company of the B.K. Birla group, the Andrew Yule and the Assam Tea Corporation evinced keen interest in buying the garden. But no one ultimately purchased the gardens as the buyers insisted that Pathini’s liabilities amounting to Rs 10 crore be written off. The commerce ministry, to which the TTCI belongs, did not agree to the arrangement.

Moreover, the management is yet to pay the arrears of sales tax and electricity levies to the tune of Rs 70 lakh. The management has also been unable to pay the statutory gratuities and pension to the retiring workers. The staff quarters and the managers’ bungalows are also in a dilapidated state.    

Guwahati, Aug. 13 

Normal life in the Lower Assam districts of Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon came to a standstill as the 36-hour Assam bandh called by the All-Bodo Students’ Union (Absu) began at 5 am today.

According to sources, shops, business establishments, educational institutions, banks and offices remained closed throughout the day in Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon districts. Attendance in government and semi-government offices was also very thin.

Private and public vehicles were off the road while few government buses plied under tight security. The bandh was also effective in the Bodo-dominated areas of Nalbari and Barpeta districts. There was no report of any untoward incident from the state except a few minor incidents of stone-pelting.

The Absu called the bandh demanding immediate creation of a separate state for the Bodos on the north bank of the Brahmaputra, recognition of the Bodo Kacharis as a Scheduled Tribe and creation of an autonomous area, Nilachal on the south bank of the river.

While Absu members did not participate in the tripartite talks on the Bodo issue in New Delhi yesterday, it said the talks were “an attempt to mislead the tribals.” Absu president Urkhao Gwra Brahma, alleged the government and the Centre had failed to clarify their stand on the basic issues of the proposed talks.

Meanwhile, security has been beefed up throughout the state following seven militant outfits, including the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) and Karbi National Volunteers’ (KNV), calling for a 36-hour Northeast bandh from August 14 midnight against the Centre’s “anti-people activities.” The outfits also appealed to all the fraternal organisations to endorse the decision. The organisations said the Northeast was never a part of India and alleged the Centre had been plundering the region’s natural resources.

Guwahati, where the Army was called in last Saturday after the killing of two Army officers, witnessed a major change in the routine operations. The Army set up checkposts at almost all exit points of the city and vehicles were being thoroughly checked.

The government has directed all officials to attend the government functions. A few prominent citizens requested the people to defy the militants’ boycott call.    

Patna, Aug. 13 

Poor maintenance of rail tracks following the onset of monsoon was the prime reason for today’s derailment of 11 coaches of the Guwahati-bound Rajdhani Express at Mansi station under Sonepur division of North Eastern Railway today, according to additional director-general of police (railway), T.P. Sinha.

Sinha said the track caved in due to heavy rain causing derailment of “almost the entire train.” Broken sleepers compounded the problem. He, however, ruled out the possibility of sabotage. The incident occurred around 11.30 am when the engine got detached and the bogies ran about a km before jumping rail. The accident damaged 500 metres of the track.

The injured were admitted to the Mansi Railway Hospital from where they were discharged after being given first aid. The passengers were carried to Katihar by the 5610 Down Avadh Assam Express.    

Agartala, Aug. 13 

The Tripura government is likely to extend the Disturbed Areas Act to more areas if adequate forces are available from the Centre. A fresh demand has already been made for five more Army battalions and two CRPF battalions to augment the present deployment of forces in the state for counter-insurgency operations. The state government had brought 19 police stations under the Disturbed Areas Act in a phased manner in February this year.

The state government has not been able to extend the Act to more areas despite continuing militancy due to non-availability of forces. There is only one Army brigade posted in Tripura now as against three brigades in February, 1988, when the entire state was under the Act. However, the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and Tiger Force militants operating now are better trained and equipped than the Tripura National Volunteers in 1988.

The demand for more forces to facilitate extension of the Act to more areas was placed in a memorandum submitted to Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, yesterday by a group of 25 Left Front MPs led by Somnath Chatterjee, Geeta Mukherjee and Chitta Basu and Amar Roy Pradhan.

State home minister Samar Chowdhury who had earlier ruled out the extension of the Act to more areas, supported the demand. He said, “The MPs have placed a very timely demand as we are hamstrung by lack of forces.’’ He said, “It is true that extension of the Disturbed Areas Act to five more police stations is being contemplated. But at the same time, we may also lift the Act from those police station areas where the situation has improved.’’

The memorandum demanded immediate sanction of Rs 43.6 crore by the state government for modernisation of the state police department and the reimbursement of Rs 24.40 crore spent by the state government for counter-insurgency operation. The other demands were the upgradation of the Assam-Agartala National Highway 44 and notification of the Agartala-Sabroom road as a national highway. It also urged the Centre to take appropriate measures to ensure early completion of the Agartala-Kumaraghat railway line. It also dwelt on transborder crime and requested Gujral to release the Rs 5.78 crore proposed by the state government to fence the border with Bangladesh.    

Gangtok, Aug. 13 

The 17th Mountain Division of the Army led by GOC Maj. Gen. P.P.S. Bindra is providing food and medicines to the landslide and flood victims of northern Sikkim, nearly 100 km from here.

“The Army cannot continue relief operations for long. The civil authorities will undertake the responsibility,’’ the GOC said here today. “I will personally go to the area to supervise the arrangements as soon as the weather improves,’’ Maj.Gen. Bindra said.

He said a steel bridge connecting Lachung to Sarchock over the swollen Lalchung river, 30 km from the district headquarter Mangang has collapsed. The military bridge of Dombang further north of Lachung was also damaged. Moreover, 11 log bridges had been washed away by the floods. As a result, communication between Mangang and the area north and east of Lachung had snapped. However, the GOC said the flood waters were receding.

“The Dombang bridge will be repaired but the Lachung-Sharchock bridge will have to be rebuilt,’’ the GOC said, adding that the reconstruction would take time. Meanwhile, the log bridges have been temporarily rebuilt. He said the civic authorities would reach supplies upto Lachung, while the Army jawans would ferry the relief material to the inundated areas.

Though the causes of the flash floods are yet to be known, the GOC said it could have resulted from a glacial lake burst or excessive melting of ice in the north due to the summer heat.    

Bhubaneswar, Aug. 13 

The recent floods and heavy rains in Orissa had caused a damage of about Rs 100 crore, said a preliminary estimate by the government.

State revenue minister K.C. Lenka told newsmen here today after making an aerial survey of the flood-hit areas of Bhadrak and Jajpur districts that he had faxed a letter today to Union agriculture minister Chaturanan Mishra requesting him to visit the flood-affected areas to make an on-the-spot assessment. He had also requested Mishra to send a central team.

He said Balasore district was the worst-hit with 4.94 lakh people and 58,190 hectares of land being affected by the floods. It was followed by Jajpur (4.56 lakh people and 37,822 hectare crop land affected) and Bhadrak (2.22 lakh population and 37,783 hectares agricultural land affected).

He said six persons died in the floods. One person each died in Balasore and Jajpur while two persons each died in Sambalpur and Sundergarh districts. He claimed that Rs 15 lakh had been released to Dhamnagar and Chandbali blocks in Bhadrak district for relief operation.    


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