Monday, May 30, 2011

36 killed in two road mishaps in Assam

GUWAHATI/GOLAGHAT: Thirty-six people were killed and 17 others injured in two road mishaps in Assam where a bus carrying a marriage party fell into a pond and an oil tanker caught fire this morning.

31 passengers, including 12 women, were killed and six persons critically injured when a bus carrying a marriage party fell into a pond in Kamrup (Rural) district last night.

The bus travelling from Guwahati to Dihu in Rangia sub-division of the district, fell into the 40 ft deep pond at Rajabari when a wooden bridge it was crossing gave in.

Among the killed were the bridegroom Naba Kumar Sarma, his parents and friends. Three children were also among the victims, police said.

Six passengers were rescued and admitted to Mukundo Kakoti Civil hospital in neighbouring Nalbari district, the police said.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Rongali Bihu celebrations in Assam


Guwahati, Apr 15 (PTI) Mellifluous voice of the cuckoo, lilting Bihu songs and enchanting notes of flutes and buffalo horns heralded the spring festival of Rongali Bihu as Assam welcomed the new year with traditional gaiety today.

Replacing the strident cacophonous campaigning for the assembly elections that ended on April 11, the joyous Bihu songs with lyrics of youthful love played to the background as young men and women danced merrily.

Bihu pandals were seen at many places where cultural programmes will be held throughout the Assamese Bohag month.

Beginning with Goru Bihu yesterday when the cattle of the household were given a ceremonial bath at the village river or tank, this agrarian festival marks the new year today for the state.

Monday, April 4, 2011

75% turnout in Assam first phase poll

GUWAHATI: An estimated 75% voters today exercised their franchise in the first phase of the Assam assembly election covering 62 of the 126 constituencies, which was by and large peaceful.

"The figure is likely to cross 75% as reports from remote areas are still coming in", Additional Chief Electoral Officer M C Sahu said.

Deputy Election Commissioner Alok Shukla told reporters in New Delhi that polling was "very, very peaceful today. No major incident of violence has taken place".

Today's poll in Assam marked the start of the democratic exercise that will also cover Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Puducherry in April and May. While Assam will have two-phased poll, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry in one phase and West Bengal in six phases ending on May 10. The vote count is scheduled for May 13.

Polling was brisk and peaceful and by late afternoon the turnout figure was about 65% which is likely to increase and touch 75%, he said.

Polling personnel are yet to return from remote booths and then only the exact figure could be ascertained, he said.

Sahu said the election was by and large peaceful and there was one incident of clash between the polling agent of a political party and voters in a polling both in Karimganj constituency where polling was stopped for sometime.

"The matter has been reported to the Election Commission which will take a final decision and let us know", he said.

There are 85,09,011 voters in the first phase of polling while the second phase of election for the rest 64 constituencies will be held on April 11.

A report from Jeraigaon said the mother of absconding top Ulfa leader Paresh Baruah, who is opposed to peace talks with the government, cast her vote in Assam's Dibrugarh district today saying she had always reposed faith in democracy.

Her youngest son Bikul Baruah, a school teacher, with whom she lived, was on election duty as a polling officer. Her two older sons Bimal Baruah, an employee at the Army's supply depot at Panitola, and Pradip Baruah, also an armyman, voted along with five family members.

A report from Sibsagar/Dibrugarh said overground cadres of Ulfa will not exercise their franchise in Assam assembly polls though arrangements for postal ballots for them has been made by the Election Commission.

Ulfa Vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi told PTI that the outfit had already announced that it would boycott the polls but not disturb the poll process.

Shulka said there were a couple of minor incidents like a clash between supporters of two parties assaulted a polling personnel by some voters at a polling station where polling was interrupted.

In a polling station, the polling official did not press the button in the EVM leading to some discrepancy in the voting and polling was boycotted in some polling booths on developmental issues, Shukla said.

A decision on repolling in some of the polling stations after getting reports from the polling parties, he said.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

EC grip keeps West Bengal peaceful

The Election Commission bosses in New Delhi are maintaining a 'dawn to dawn' vigil on the law and order situation in Bengal with direct and daily liaison with the district administration, driving down the graph of political violence in the districts. EC is directly keeping a tab on the districts, through the chief electoral officer of the state. Reports are being sent from 6 am to 6 am for a period of 24 hours, daily to the EC office.

"We seek reports from each district of Bengal everyday. We have a detailed format, which records the smallest of incidents, apart from arms haul and executing non-bailable warrants. We are also keeping a watch on media reports on a daily basis," Vinod Zutshi, deputy chief election commissioner told HT over phone from Delhi.

EC's grip on the situation has come as a pleasant surprise in a state that was sliding down the violence graph fast in 2010 with a few deaths everyday from political violence.

In fact, the spectre of a blood bath before and during the elections was so widely felt that blood banks were advised to store blood in excess so that they could be used before and during the polls.

The turnaround has been so dramatic that the chief election commissioner S Y Quraishi lauded the administration on March 23 for the performance.

In early January Quraishi had met all the DMs and SPs and highlighted three points for emphasis – seizure of illegal weapons, preventive arrests and execution of non-bailable arrest warrants.

"Through sustained pressure EC has been able to instill a sense of fear among the political parties and administration for the first time in Bengal," said a bureacucrat in Writers' Buildings.

Already 200 companies (about 20,000) of central paramilitary forces were deployed in West Bengal more than a month ago. In January while the administration asked for about 20-25 companies, the EC ordered 100, and then added another 100 in the next month.

One such confidential report in the possession of HT highlights the details. The report of March 2, of Burdwan district report details the illegal arms and explosive seized, number of persons under preventive detention, execution of non-bailable warrants and the number pending.

The report also highlights incident of violence with full details. Each incident of violence in dealt in separate sheets. Even whether onlookers or others are injured has been recorded. Significantly, political and communal affiliations of the persons involved are also highlighted.

"EC officials are taking to tasks anyone, be it DM or SP if ones fails to carry out its directives. On regular occasions, a number of them have been pulled up. The Delhi officers are often getting directly in touch with us," said a police super of one of the South Bengal districts.

Recently, the Gautam Mohan Chakrabarti, Kolkata Police Commissioner was removed, after EC pointed out that he has spent over three years in the same post.

Before EC took the law and order situation in its grip, even Governor M K Narayanan had repeatedly expressed his concern for the deteriorating law and order.


Land acquisition policy to be formulated: Mamata

Kolkata: Confident of coming to power in West Bengal, Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee on Saturday assured people to accord priority on setting up a land bank and formulating a separate land acquisition policy of the state till a national policy was framed replacing the existing Land Acquisition Act.

"We must set up a land bank and land acquisition policy of the state's own until a national policy is framed replacing the existing Land Acquisition Act," Mamata said in an interview to a local TV channel.

Speaking against forceful acquisition of land, Mamata said the Left Front government had failed to formulate its own land policy, unlike many other states.

Land acquisition policy to be formulated: Mamata

"The existing Land Acquisition Act is draconian. We have to wait till a new legislation comes replacing the existing one," she said.

Besides land bank, Mamata was also confident of setting up employment bank to create opportunities for the unemployed youth.

"For me agriculture is an inspiration and industry is a thrust with both dependent on each other," Mamata said.

To a question about a large number of political prisoners in the state, Mamata said she would review each and every case and take the help of Human Rights

organisations, if required, to initiate right steps on this issue.

Asserting the state should progress in every sphere, Mamata said that a 'knowledge mission' in Bengal is most essential for the development of the state, which have lost its growth momentum during LF regime.

Underscoring more power and prestige for the minorities, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and refugees, Mamata was confident of building a developed state with the participation of a cross section of people.

Though she nominated a sizable number of women as candidates for the upcoming Assembly poll in the state, Mamata described herself as "neutral" and "not a feminist".

"I am not a feminist, I am neutral", she said. Setting aside the ruling party slogan for "improved Left Front", she referred to LF government's "moribund financial condition."

Once in power, her government would first identify how funds of over two lakh crore were misused and the state turned into a bankrupt one, the TMC chief said.

"We will then take our own decision to make a turnaround in state's economy," she said, adding "discipline and work culture has to be restored for a true environment for development".

Mamata alleged that CPM and BJP have entered into a secret deal in a bid to defeat her candidates.

"They (CPM and BJP) have identified 18 constituencies including those in the border district of North 24 Paraganas in a bid to defeat the TMC," she said.

"As part of the understanding, BJP will campaign that they are the champions of Hindutva in a bid to woo the Hindus," she said.

Turning her guns on the Marxists, she said Karl Marx used to champion the cause of the have-nots. But the CPM here has been torturing the have-nots.

She claimed the CPM has been able to cling to power by resorting to 'scientific rigging' in previous assembly polls, but this time they would not succeed.

Mamata said the fact that a majority of CPM MLAs did not opt to contest this time was an expression of no-confidence to the party in power before the elections.

The TMC chief said those who did not want change, would vote for the Left. "But no vote should be wasted."

On the rebel Congress leaders threatening to contest as Independents, she said, "They are the like cuckoos who appear in spring and contest as independents when elections come just to help CPM."

Mamata entered into a seat-sharing deal with Congress on her terms, leaving Congress 65 seats out of the total 294 to Congress. But the release of the list of Congress candidates by the party high command in Delhi yesterday sparked dissent in the state Congress.

Shankar Singh, Congress district president of Nadia, has threatened to put up candidates in all 17 seats in the district against TMC candidates while Congress MP and Murshidabad district chief Adhir Chowdhury said he would not campaign for TMC candidates.

5 IPS, 2 IAS officers transferred in West Bengal

Kolkata: Five IPS and two IAS officers in poll-bound West Bengal were transferred on the direction of the Election Commission, chief secretary Samar Ghosh said here on Monday. The transfer orders came 10 days after Kolkata Police Commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakraborty was removed on a similar EC direction.

An official source said Vineet Goel, Joint Commissioner of Traffic Police, Kolkata, was appointed DIG (Midnapore range) in place of Anil Kumar. Neeraj Kumar Singh, Joint Commissioner of Police, Kolkata, was appointed as DIG (Murshidabad range). The post was so long lying vacant.

K Jayaraman will replace Ajit Sarkar as Superintendent of Police, East Midnapore district, the source said. Ritesh Mohan was appointed Divisional Commissioner of Burdwan, while Pramal Kumar Samanta, District Magistrate of

Malda will be replaced by Rajesh Sinha.

5 IPS, 2 IAS officers transferred in West Bengal

The state will have a six-phase poll between April 18 and May 7.


New faces in Bengal candidate lists mark a departure

KOLKATA: Political parties bracing for the crucial April-May Assembly polls in West Bengal have put up a number of new faces, marking a departure after many years in the composition of candidate lists.

The ruling Left Front, facing its toughest battle since 1977 when it came to power, leads the pack by injecting fresh blood in almost half of the total 294 constituencies, throwing out some prominent, but tainted names.

Veteran Left Front leader and general secretary of the state Forward Bloc Ashok Ghosh told PTI that some ministers against whom there was public resentment on account of their non-performance have been dropped.

''Similarly, some sitting MLAs of the Left Front and leaders against whom there were complaints of high-handedness, the opportunists and those who worked for personal aggrandisement at people's back were denied nomination,'' Ghosh said.

Ghosh, the senior most leader in the Left Front, however, pointed out that in some cases legislators faced with old age and health complications have been replaced by fresh blood.

CPI-M General Secretary Prakash Karat said recently the broad rule was that those who had two terms in the Assembly would not be put up again.

But, exceptions were made in the cases of Chief Ministers of West Bengal and Kerala Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and V S Achuthanandan respectively, taking into account their vast experience in running state governments.

The Left list has 149 new faces including Fuad Halim, son of outgoing Speaker Hasim Abdul Halim, in the prestigious Ballygunge constituency, and 25-year-old Shatarup Ghosh in Kasba constituency who is the Left front's youngest candidate.

As many as nine ministers, including four junior ministers, are among the 80 sitting MLAs who have been dropped from the candidate list. Of them, Forward Bloc's Rabindranath Ghosh and CPI`s Nandagopal Bhattacharjee have been denied tickets because of ill-health.

While senior CPI-M minister Partha De from Bankura volunteered to skip the polls, Tourism Minister Manab Mukherjee relinquished his claim on Beliaghata to make way for Anadi Sahu, the Labour Minister.

The changes are expected to blunt the sting of the opposition parties' campaign on the so-called lavish lifestyle of ruling Marxists, Left Front insiders said.

The Left Front introduced new faces in most of the 14 seats in Maoist-hit Jangalmahal. Controversial faces like former Haldia strongman Laxman Seth, Lagandeo Singh from Howrah and Majid Ali from Sashan in North 24-Parganas district were dropped.

By injecting new blood in 149 Assembly seats, the Left Front has conceded a moral defeat to the Trinamool Congress well before the coming Assembly polls, Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly and senior TMC leader Partha Chatterjee said .

The Trinamool Congress candidate list also contains not only new, but also exciting faces like FICCI Secretary General Amit Mitra, former chief secretary Manish Gupta, two former IPS officers Rachpal Singh and Sultan Singh as well as seasoned politicians like Subrata Mukherjee, ex-city mayor, and present mayor Sovan Chatterjee.

''Our list has more than 100 new faces. The idea is to infuse new blood,'' Trinamool Congress General Secretary Mukul Roy said.

Interestingly, Mukul Roy's son Subhrangsu Roy, a graduate in electrical engineering, is also in the fray.

The Trinamool Congress is contesting in 226 seats leaving 65 seats to its ally Congress, two to SUCI and one to NCP.

Another Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Roy said, ''People want to see fresh faces who are not tainted by politics. Accordingly, Mamata has brought in people who are new to politics, but otherwise established leaders in different walks of life.''

Making a comparison between the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress, Roy, who is the Union Minister of state for Urban Development said, ''Left Front's new faces are merely new faces having no identities except for their inclination to Leftist ideology.''

''The promise of 'Parivartan' or change for the better was reflected in the ideas of Mamata Banerjee and the list of candidates selected by Trinamool Congress had amply borne this out,'' Derek O'Brien, vice president of Trinamool Congress, and a well-known host of quiz shows, told PTI.

''I am delighted to be a soldier of change led by Mamata Banerjee. It will be a historic moment when Mamata becomes chief minister of West Bengal,'' said Mitra who is pitted against Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta in the Khardah assembly constituency.

Manish Gupta, who has been fielded in the Jadavpur seat against West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, was the Chief Secretary to both the late CPI-M leader Jyoti Basu and Bhattacherjee. He retired in 2001.

Three other former IPS officers - Abani Joardar, H A Safwi and former CBI Joint Director Upen Biswas - are also among the new faces in the Trinamool list besides Nure Alam Chowdhury, a former judge of Calcutta High Court and playwright Bratya Basu.

The state Congress Chief Manas Bhuniya said its candidate list contained 36 new faces.

''In 36 out of the 65 seats we are contesting, there are new faces,'' Bhuniya said.