January 5, 2009

Bandh like situation at Kurseong in West Bengal

Siliguri , 5th January, 2009 : A bandh like situation prevails in Kurseong in Darjeeling hills on Friday following a clash at Rohini in which a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader was killed and 26 houses including a tourist bungalow were torched.

Shops and business establishments did not open shutters though no bandh was called there, SDO Kurseong Dibyendu Das said. GJM leader Subodh Pradhan was lynched and a few others injured and in retaliation the Rohini Tourist bungalow and 25 houses of the villagers were set ablaze on Thursday.

The trouble started when Pradhan and some men broke into the tourist lodge run by Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), and the caretaker informed the villagers. The villagers attacked them and Pradhan died on the spot. The arson came as a retaliatory attack by GJM activists.
GJM workers were now being assembled in hundreds with the information that five persons arrested in this connection would be produced at Kurseong court during the day. According to Das, huge security arrangements have been made to tackle any untoward situation. Combat commando force and Rapid Action Force were deployed both at Rohini and Kurseong town, he said.

GJM press and publicity secretary Benoy Tamang alleged that police was playing a partisan role by providing shelter to the arrested persons by keeping them at Pradhan Nagar police station here though Rohini falls under Kurseong police station.

Toll in Kolkata liquor tragedy rises to 23, six arrested

Kolkata, 5th January, 2009 : The number of people who died in Kolkata after consuming poisonous country-made liquor has risen to 23, West Bengal minister Asim Dasgupta said on Monday. Six people were arrested and raids conducted on illicit liquor shops in the Khidirpore port area.
"Twenty-three people have died after consuming spurious liquor since Saturday night at Khidirpore port area (south-west Kolkata)," Finance and Excise Department Minister Asim Dasgupta told reporters Monday. Dasgupta said six people have been arrested and three officers of the excise department and city police have been issued show cause notices in the hooch tragedy.

"Six brewers have been arrested and several detained in the hooch tragedy. The Excise Directorate has sent show cause notices to two officers and the city police commissioner has issued a notice to one of his officers. Based on their statement, proper departmental action will be taken," Dasgupta said.

The minister said joint raids are being conducted by the Excise Directorate and Kolkata Police in the area since Sunday night. "A night-long raid was conducted Sunday by Excise officers and the city police. Today illicit liquor shops were raided and demolished in the Khidirpore area. We are also trying to locate the source of this poisonous hooch," Dasgupta said.

"The government will bear the medical expenses of the victims admitted in hospital. We will also see if compensation can be given to the families of the deceased," he said. Dasgupta said raids would be conducted regularly across Kolkata on illicit liquor shops. "The Excise Department and Kolkata Police have decided to keep a watch on illicit liquor dens. Regular raids will be conducted across the city. We are thinking of conducting such raids in the districts too," Dasgupta said.

Many labourers at the Bibi Halt and Hooghly Basti areas of Khidirpore fell ill after a late night drinking session Saturday. They started vomiting blood and writhed in pain after reaching home from the illegally-run liquor shops. Many died before they could be taken to the hospital. An angry mob later damaged several shops.

CPI(M) should take initiative to consolidate Left unity: AIFB

Thiruvananthapuram, 5th January, 2009 : The CPI(M) should take initiative to consolidate Left unity in India to build a 'people's alternative' to the Congress and BJP at the national level, AIFB secretary and West Bengal agriculture minister Naren Dey said here on Monday.

This was necessary to keep both parties away from power since both parties were two sides of the same coin as far as economic policies and the 'subservient' attitude towards US imperialism was concerned, Dey told reporters.

He said the AIFB, part of the Left group in West Bengal and Tripura, wanted to be part of the ruling LDF combine in Kerala and said it was strange that the party has so far not been included in the front, despite working with them. "AIFB works with Left parties in Kerala, but it is strange that the party is not part of LDF", he said.

The party has approached both CPI(M) and CPI with the request and the former had informed its leaders that they would try to include AIFB in the front, Dey said. On Centre-State relations, Dey said schemes and assistance from the union government to a state was not a privilege in a federal system, but a constitutional right of the state.

Considering the political background of the state while allotting the Union sponsored schemes would only hamper the true spirit of the federal system, he said. "The UPA government should stop its step-motherly attitude towards Kerala and West Bengal", Dey added. Dey said he had invited Kerala agriculture minister Mullakara Ratnakaran to West Bengal for a discussion on issues connected with agriculture next month.

5 new multiplexes lined up for Kolkata

Kolkata, January 05, 2009: West Bengal is expected to see at least five new multiplexes in 2009 for an investment of over Rs 200 crore. While 2008 saw inauguration of two multiplexes in Kolkata - Fame at South City mall and Cinemax at the Mani Square mall - multiplex owners have pinned hopes on prompt delivery of shopping malls so that the respective multiplexes could open in time too.
For one, Fun Cinemas, the Essel Group-managed multiplex chain, will foray into eastern India in 2009. According to Vishal Kapur, COO, Fun Multiplex, “We are planning to set up close to 40 screens over the next three years in Eastern India with our brands Fun Cinemas and Talkie Town. Fun Cinemas is positioned as a lifestyle brand and Talkie Town a value brand with ticket prices at 50 per cent cheaper than Fun Cinemas. We will invest around Rs 1 to 1.5 crore per property in this expansion. Areas like Durgapur, Howrah and Asansol have been identified where Talkie Town would be functional in the next one year.”

Fun has signed on two properties in Kolkata, in Axis Mall and Lake Mall. Each property will be a 5-screen, 1200-seater multiplex. Talkie Town will look at acquiring some of the standalone dilapidated theatres and rebrand them into either a 4-screen plex or a standalone theatre.
Currently the company has 10 Talkie Town in the country which are all revamped models of dilapidated standalone theatres.

“We are looking at standalone properties in Kolkata for acquiring and rebranding them as Talkie Town but most properties in the city are rather small. Our smallest Talkie Town is a 200-seater, while the largest is around 1200-seater. We would therefore look at smaller cities for setting up the Talkie Town brand, in places like Durgapur, Howrah, Asansol, Jharkhand, among others,” Kapur explained.

Currently the company operates 63 screens in 20 locations in India.Cinemax is planning two more properties in Kolkata, one in a shopping mall in Salt Lake. “We have also bought over the Hind cinema hall in Central Kolkata where another Cinemax will come up. Depending on how promptly the shopping malls are completed, we expect the new Cinemax multiplexes to start in 2009,” Devang Sampat, VP-marketing and programming of Cinemax, said.

Cinemax inaugurated its first multiplex in Kolkata’s Mani Square mall in 2008 which witnessed 12,000 walk-ins in the first five days. According to Alok Tandon – COO, Inox Leisure, “East India is top-most on Inox’s expansion map and by 2010 we aim to have 19 multiplexes and 71 screens in the East. Apart from properties in Kolkata like Rajarhat (City Centre-2), Jessore Road, Panditya Road, Howrah etc, multiplexes in Siliguri, Kharagpur, Asansol, Haldia, Guwahati are also in the anvil which will strengthen our foothold in Tier-II cities. On an average we spend between Rs 2- 2.5 crore per screen.” Currently Inox has six multiplexes in West Bengal with 22 screens.

According to a spokesperson of Big Cinemas, “We inaugurated one major cinema at RDB Mall in Kolkata, 36 cinemas and 71 screens across India. Our expansion rate has been growing at 300 per cent on a year on year basis. At the moment we have one multiplex in Kolkata with three screens. It would not be possible to reveal details until they are formalised.”

For most multiplex chains, 2009 is expected to see more big-ticket releases, compared to 2008, which was a lack-lustre year for Bollywood till December, when releases like ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’ and ‘Ghajini’ set the cash registers ringing again. For 2008, most multiplexes are of the opinion that poor content in the beginning of the year has hit box office earnings for this year, resulting in 10-15 per cent less occupancy levels throughout the year compared to 2007.

However, business did not see a dip as prices of movie tickets, food and beverages were hiked by 10-15 per cent in most multiplexes during the year. According to a report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Hindi film industry is around Rs 11,000 crore and is projected to reach Rs 17,500 crore by 2012. While domestic box office collections account for Rs 8,250 crore, overseas box office collections is around Rs 1,000 crore. Home video makes up around Rs 750 crore.

Spurious liquor kills 13

KOLKATA, 4th January, 2009: At least 13 people died and 25 fell sick after drinking poisonous country-made liquor here, police said today. “Three persons died late yesterday night. Ten more have died today after consuming poisonous country-made liquor at West Port area near Khidderpore in south-west Kolkata. At least 25 people have been admitted to three hospitals in critical condition,” Deputy Commissioner of Police Jawed Shamim told reporters here.
Four people have been arrested and raids were underway in several parts of Kolkata to catch the culprits, Shamim said. According to police sources, there are over 20 illegal country liquor shops in the area. “We have raided the shops and collected liquor samples to detect the exact nature of poison in them. All bodies will be sent for postmortem examination. An investigation has started and right action will be taken against the culprits,” Shamim said.
Earlier, Special Additional Police Commissioner Debasis Roy said seven people, including three women, were detained for selling poisonous country-made liquor.According to police sources, many slum dwellers in the area are addicted to drinking and they get the liquor from the local shops.But the men who bought and drank the country-made liquor on Saturday night fell sick immediately. While some died after acute stomach ache, many were admitted to hospitals in critical condition. State Minister Manab Mukherjee and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee visited the area in the evening to console the family members of the victims and the sick.

Unmatched security cover marks Nandigram by-poll

Nandigram, 4 th January, 2009 : An unprecedented security cover has been thrown across politically sensitive Nandigram with 15,000 Central forces deployed to man just 176 polling booths ahead of the assembly by-poll on Monday.
District magistrate (DM) and returning officer Choten Dhudup Lama said seven companies (each company of 1,000) of the Border Security Force and eight of the Central Reserve Police Force have been deployed in Nandigram I and Nandigram II blocks, which translated into 85 Central force personnel per booth.

Besides, 2,000 policemen have also been deployed, she said, adding that all the 176 booths in the area were declared sensitive. Central forces and police were maintaining logs of all vehicles plying in the area and interrogating drivers. Central forces were deployed in all the rural market areas.

“All our arrangements are complete and we expect free and fair polls. We will allow nobody other than polling agents and voters inside the booths,” Lama said. She said as all the booths have been declared sensitive, the polling process in all of them will be recorded on camera. Each booth would have a micro observer and six senior observers would monitor them. The DM would personally supervise the polling process.

The by-poll has been necessitated by the resignation of the Communist Party of India (CPI) member of legislative assembly Muhammad Ilyas following a sting operation exposing his alleged involvement in a corruption case.

The by-poll, scheduled for 30 December but postponed due to security considerations, will decide the fate of six contestants. The main contenders are Parmananda Bharati of the CPI and Firoza Bibi of the Trinamool Congress.

Five-day tourism and food festival from Jan 7

KOLKATA, 4 Jan, 2009: The sixth Tourism and Food Festival is all set to start on January 7 at the Nalban Ecopark in Salt Lake. The West Bengal tourism department, in association with The Times of India, will present the gala five-day festival. This year, the festival has got an international flavour with the participation of Kunming Tourism of China. The states taking part in the festival include Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Karnataka and Rajasthan as well as several north-eastern states, which will seek to popularize their state as attractive tourist destinations.
At Nalban, a food plaza, extending to the waterbody, will provide the ambience and matching delicacies in the form of a food festival. A stage will be set up on the lake to enthral the people with traditional dance, music and cultural programmes by eminent artistes. The primary attraction will be a colourful ballet by a Chinese troupe from Kunming. Among the other attractions are a group dance by Priti Patel and Tanushree Shankar, songs by Anwesha and the Vyas Brothers.
The Times of India will present a gala musical evening with latest singing sensation, Anik Dhar, on January 10. There will also be performances by army and BSF bands, a fashion show and cultural programme as well as tribal dances from Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan to enthral the audience. The director of West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation, TVN Rao, said: "Our main attempt is to bring all the tourism industry stakeholders and the public on one platform. This year, there will be 57 stalls. Visitors will be able to know the nitty-gritty of a destination and plan a trip at the fair itself."
Tourism minister Manab Mukherjee said next year, more countries will be invited to participate in the festival. Several restaurant chains, including Tamarind, Bhajahori Manna and Golbari (Shyambazar), will dish out lip-smacking cuisines at the festival. Fireworks will be an added attraction. The fair will begin from 12 noon and continue till 9 pm. Tickets are priced at Rs 5.

Banks & auto manufacturers ready, but drivers unwilling

KOLKATA, 3 Jan, 2009: Banks are ready to hand over loans to auto operators for the switch to LPG, but there are no takers. Leading public sector banks have set up core teams to handle the 'emergency' of issuing funds for green autos but they are apparently the only ones taking the issue with urgency. Auto owners, who upped their fight against the two-stroke ban on Friday, are yet to approach any of the banks. The convener of State Level Bankers Committee (SLBC) in West Bengal, United Bank of India has already prepared an auto loan package. It is linked with prime lending rate (PLR), which is now 12.25% for SBI, said an official. The banks have agreed to give loans of up to Rs 95,000. The time limit set by the government is five years, which translates to an EMI of around Rs 2,000 for an auto owner. "There will be an optional moratorium of three months on repayment.
Besides, we are thinking of exemptions on the last EMI if the track record of repayment is good," the official said, adding that SBI has instructed managers of 200-odd branches in Kolkata and Howrah for entertaining auto-loan applications. Banks have made it clear that they will not entertain defaulters unless they clear past dues. The road transport authority (RTA) would process requirements like address proof, licence, etc. "As per our discussion with the government, RTA will provide the documents," an official said. "A core team in our local head office will co-ordinate the process but where are the applications? There is none so far," said an SBI official. Allahabad Bank, UCO and UBI officials also say they have received no applications for auto loans. "If we receive even 15,000 applications, we can address each of them. Funds are not a problem, either," an Allahabad Bank official said.
Like banks, auto manufacturers also say that the problem is not with production, but with demand. Bajaj Auto has already set up a dedicated assembly line for LPG autos at its Waluj unit near Aurangabad. "We have made our calculations. Total conversion is likely to take at least six to eight months. Meeting the demand, however big, is not a problem," said Bajaj sales manager Hari Haran.

Buddhadeb slams Trinamool Congress for unrest

Kolkata, Jan 03, 2009: Charging the Trinamool Congress with trying to create unrest in West Bengal, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today accused the Mamata Banerjee-led party of joining hands with Maoists." The Maoists, Jharkhand party and Trinamool Congress are making problems more complicated. The Nandigram incident would not have happened if Maoists were not there. TC had joined hands with them," he said speaking at a programme to mark 43rd anniversary of CPI(M) mouthpiece 'Ganashakti'.
Asserting that his government would isolate the Maoists, he advocated for peace, terming it as a "precondition for development"."Who gained from pullout of the Tata Motors' Nano project from Singur," he asked in an indirect dig at Opposition Trinamool Congress, which agitated against the project."However there is no question of going back on industrialisation. Development cannot be achieved by relying only on agriculture although we have to do more for it," Bhattacharjee said.The government was ready with a clearcut policy for acquisition of land and rehabilitation of affected people for industrialisation, he said.
CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat said what was happening in the state was a "well planned onslaught" to weaken the CPI(M) and Left Front government. Karat said the party politburo has made it clear that it was not an isolated incident in West Bengal alone, but an attack against the Marxist party.

"What is now happening in West Bengal is a well-planned onslaught against the CPI-M. These activities - happenings in Lalgarh in the name of tribal agitation, growing Maoist attacks on the communists, the Gorkhaland movement in northern West Bengal - are targeted to weaken the Left Front in the state," Karat maintained.

"We've to constantly fight against all the opposition forces. Our party is not addressing this as a problem of West Bengal alone. It's a national issue. Our party has been built through a class struggle and we've to see to it so that this conspiracy against the communists is defeated," Karat said.

On violence in Bengal, CPI(M) ready to accept challenge: Karat

Kolkata, 3rd January, 2009: Alleging that the spate of troubles in West Bengal were the result of a ''well planned conspiracy', CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat today said the party was ready to accept the challenge.

'' The party does not see the problems being whipped up in West Bengal as the problems of the state alone. There is a well planned conspiracy against the CPI (M) by different forces and the party is ready to take the challenge,'' he said while speaking at a function on the occasion of the 43rd foundation day of 'Ganashakti', the Bengali mouthpiece of the CPI(M).

Referring to the Trinamool-backed ongoing agitation of auto drivers, Mr Karat said attempts were being made to prevent the state Government even from implementing the court order. He said the series of incidents, including the tribal upsurge at Lalgarh, the trouble in Nandigram and the unrest in the Darjeeling hills pointed to a plot to weaken the state Government as well as the CPI(M).

Since Cuba became a socialist state, the US made all attempts to destabilise the country, but it failed. A similar situation had now emerged in West Bengal, Mr Karat said.

“Approach U.N. rather than rely on U.S.” : Prakash Karat

KOLKATA, 3rd January, 2009: India should approach the United Nations Security Council with the evidence collected on the Mumbai terror attacks rather than relying on the U.S. to solve the problem, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat said here on Saturday.

Addressing the 43rd anniversary celebrations of the CPI(M) daily Ganashakti, Mr. Karat said: “It is unfortunate that the ruling establishment thinks that terrorism can be fought with U.S.’ help … What prevents the Indian government to go with the evidence they have collected to the U.N. and ask the Security Council to take action against Pakistan according to Resolution 1373?”
Instead of Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram handing over evidence to the U.S. during his visit to that country, “let us internationalise the Mumbai attacks because not only Indians, many people from other countries had also died in the attacks.”

Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, both West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Mr. Karat stressed the need for a political alternative to the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, based on the principles of secularism, an independent foreign policy and pro-people policies.The struggle for alternative economic policies and rights for the working class would not succeed if the Left parties alone took it up.

“We have to gather other powers around us for carrying forward the struggle,” Mr. Karat said. He cautioned that the struggle would not succeed until the communal forces, “trying to deepen the divisions in society,” were “weakened and isolated.” Speaking on the trouble and unrest brewing in several parts of West Bengal, Mr. Karat said: “What is happening in Lalgarh, Kolkata, Nandigram and north Bengal cannot be seen in isolation. It is a well-planned onslaught against the CPI(M) and the Left Front government where every kind of instrument is used to isolate and weaken the party and the government.”

Mr. Bhattacharjee said Maoists, political elements from Jharkhand and the Trinamool Congress misled the tribal people in Bankura, Purulia and Paschim Medinipur districts. “The Nandigram incident would not have happened if the Maoists had not joined hands with the Trinamool,” he said.

On the Gorkhaland issue, he said: “Why cannot we live together in harmony? Let there be an election and that will decide who will govern but what is the reason to break away?” The Chief Minister underscored the need for greater industrialisation as agricultural development alone could not take the State forward. He regretted that unlike as in other States the Opposition here was bent on impeding development.

India cannot fight terrorism unless it
tackles communalism: Karat

KOLKATA, 3 Jan 2009 : Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) General Secretary Prakash Karat said on Saturday the country cannot succeed in the fight against terrorism if it does not first tackle communalism. "Communalism creates polarisation. In the recent past, we've seen a series of terrorist attacks in India which were (allegedly) carried out by Hindu extremist groups in Malegaon or ethnic terrorist groups in the northeastern region," Karat told a seminar here.
"We've to put all these terrorist groups into one single basket if we want to put an end to this growing menace. This is a big challenge before us," he said at the seminar organised by Ganashakti Patrika, a vernacular CPI-M mouthpiece brought out by the party's West Bengal committee. "India has a notion that terrorism can only be fought with the help of the US. I feel if our country can knock the door of the United Nations' Security Council and seek a remedy from them, it'll be easier to put more international pressure on Pakistan," he said, accusing the US of "double-standards" in tackling global terrorism.
Karat was in the town Saturday to celebrate the 43rd foundation day of Ganashakti Patrika. He also attended party's state secretariat meeting. "What prevents India from going to the UN and furnishing all the evidence before it, instead of sharing it only with the US? We all should internationalise the issue of the Mumbai terrorist attack and get multilateral support from various countries," he added. Hinting at the possibility of forming a Third Front at the centre, Karat said the Left parties were trying to gather all the political forces under one umbrella to push for the demand of alternative economic policy in India.

West Bengal governor deplores destruction of public property

Kolkata, Jan 3 : West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi Saturday deplored the destruction of public property and disruption of normal life by auto-rickshaw drivers protesting the implementation of the Calcutta High Court order phasing out air-polluting two-stroke auto-rickshaws.Describing the Calcutta High Court order as “an unavoidable step”, Gandhi said: “The auto-rickshaw owners are in need of advice and assistance to implement the change. But the protests following attempts of the government to implement the High Court order are taking a very undesirable shape”.

“I deplore the destruction of public property and the disruption of public life that we have witnessed in the last few hours. It does not enhance the interests of the auto-rickshaw owners or drivers,” he said in a statement here. The governor said the state government should take all possible steps to ensure a painless changeover for the affected owners of the auto-rickshaws.

He also appealed to opinion leaders to come forward with constructive suggestions to facilitate implementation of the order, “so that we can breathe cleaner air with auto-rickshaw owners being an integral and happy part of the process”. Four state transport buses were set ablaze and several others damaged by irate protesters over Friday and Saturday.

3 buses torched as Trinamool workers indulge in violence

Kolkata, Jan 3, 2009: Three buses were torched and several vehicles damaged in a rampage by Trinamool Congress-backed autorickshaw operators here today as the West Bengal government softened its stand saying it would either suspend or slowdown the crackdown on polluting three-wheelers.The buses were burnt in around Park Circus in south Kolkata as a large contingent of police stood by but could do little as the auto operators, protesting a ban by the Calcutta High Court on two-stroke autos from January 1, indulged in violence.
Hoodlums not only damaged and set ablaze the buses but also snatched cash and valuables from passengers and conductors of the buses during a 12-hour strike called by the Trinamool Congress-backed Auto Bachao Committee and the Progressive Taximen's Union.There are over 60,000 autos, mainly two-stroke, in the metropolis of which 25,000 to 30,000 have valid permits.Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who sat on a night-long dharna near West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's Palm Avenue residence demanding release of the 18 persons arrested yesterday, withdrew it early this morning.
Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen told reporters that he would discuss suspension or slowing down of the police raids on autos with both Transport Minister Subhas Chakraborty and Police Commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakraborty.Chief Secretary Asok Mohan Chakraborty said the state government was bound to implement the high court order."What can we do? It is the verdict of high court. We have a sense of responsibility to auto operators. We will appeal to the high court," Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said.

Mamata ends overnight dharna near CM's residence

Kolkata, Jan 3, 2009: After squatting overnight near Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's residence demanding release of her party supporters, Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee called off her dharna early today. However, she did not make it clear as to why the dharna at Ballygunge Phari, a short distance away from Chief Minister's south Kolkata residence, was called off even though the arrested persons were not released. She said their agitation will continue and "we have the support of lakhs of people with us".
TC-backed autorickshaw and taxidrivers unions have called a 12-hour autorickshaw and taxi strike in the city from 6 am today.TC activists led by Banerjee were protesting alleged police repression against the drivers and party supporters of two-stroke autorickshaws. TC leaders will also bring out a procession in the city during the day against alleged police repression.
Meanwhile, CPI-M State Secretary Biman Basu accused Banerjee's agitation as an attempt to "create a semi-Fascist atmosphere of terror" in West Bengal by allowing anti-social elements to hijack the campaign last night." CPI-M would organise a state-wide procession today in protest against the manner in which TC has been pushing the state towards disaster," Basu said. Basu said that never in the past a political party had attempted to gherao Chief Minister's residence at the dead of night.

Mamata launches sit-in protest near CM’s house

KOLKATA, Saturday, 03 January , 01-00 am, 2009: Hundreds of Opposition Trinamool Congress workers, led by Mamata Banerjee, put up a road blockade near West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's residence late on Friday night. They were demanding release of 18 agitators arrested by the police for indulging in violence to protest a court ban on two-stroke public transport vehicles.

Police stopped Mamata and other Trinamool activists about 500 m from Bhattacharjee's Palm Avenue residence, prompting her to organise a sit-in demonstration at the spot. An angry Mamata wanted to know from the police why they were stopped. "There are no prohibitory orders here."

Demanding the immediate release of those arrested, Banerjee said: "Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leaders can murder and sleep peacefully. I can't". Mamata put the blame for the torching of buses earlier in the day on the CPI-M, and said: "If they can prove we had set fire to the buses, I shall quit politics."

CPI(M) top brass in city to finetune poll strategy

KOLKATA, 3 Jan 2009: With the CPI(M) politburo all set to go for a third front in the coming Lok Sabha election, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, politburo members Sitaram Yechury and Brinda Karat came to Kolkata on Friday to finetune the party strategy. Both Karats and Yechury will attend the state secretariat meeting on Saturday. They will also have a discussion with the politburo members from West Bengal. The party's three-day central committee meeting is scheduled to begin in Cochin on January 8.
On Friday, CPI(M) state secretary Biman Basu had been to Nadia, where he announced disciplinary steps against party MP Alokesh Das. Das has been removed from the CPI(M)'s Nadia district secretariat, based on the findings of a disciplinary committee, headed by Nirupam Sen

LF MLAs seek Governor's intervention in reopening Riz probe

Kolkata, Jan 2: A group of Left Front legislators today sought intervention of West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi for reinvestigation of the Rizwanur Rehman death case as it had been probed by a CBI officer who was arrested on graft charges.

A delegation of LF legislators led by CPI(M) leader Rabindra Nath Mondal met Gandhi and submitted a memorandum demanding reinvestigation of the case. Mondal wondered why Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee was"trying to protect"DSP Special Crime Branch of CBI in Kolkata, Partho Sarathi Bose, who was arrested on December 28 by a CBI team from Delhi.

The left leaders also told the governor that the name of Trinamool Congress legislator Javed Khan, who was named by Rehman in his suicide note, did not figure in the CBI chargesheet. Expressing doubt about the investigation carried out by the arrested CBI officer, Mondal said that it was"bound to be biased".

"The arrest of Partha Sarathi Bose on charges of corruption raises serious doubt whether he was
influenced to protect Javed Khan, Rizwanur's relatives and police officers,"Mondal said.He also referred to proceedings in the Assembly on the issue against Khan in the memorandum to the governor. The delegation of MLAs represented all Front partners.

Central forces for Nandigram by-elections

Kolkata, 2 January, 2009: Around 15 companies of central forces are being sent to Nandigram for the Assembly by-elections to be held on January 5, according to West Bengal Chief Secretary Ardhendu Sen.
Mr. Sen, who took over from Ashok Mohan Chakraborty, told reporters at the Secretariat that of these, seven would be from the Border Security Force and the rest from the Central Reserve Police Force. The Director-General of Police as well the Chief Election Officer held meetings with local officials in Nandigram on Friday.

Inspector-General (Law and Order) Raj Kanojia said there would be armed police in every booth and high-range security measures would be put in place, but did not elaborate. The West Bengal government had asked the Centre to send 20 companies of central forces for three by-elections including Nandigram.