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Thursday, November 25, 2010

60-wife trafficker arrested - Youth sold girls to brothels ,.. Early Poll? .. woman held for meal scam .. other agencies could be asked to trace Nicole .. Manisha moves in with parents?

Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, Nov. 25: A 27-year-old with multiple identities who managed to marry almost one girl a month for five years and sell them to brothels in Pune and Mumbai has been arrested by Darjeeling police.
The arrest of Bikky Biswakarma alias Bishal Chhetri alias Prakash Rai from his Kalchini residence in Jalpaiguri district yesterday has helped police trace at least nine girls so far. The police believe they will be able to find the whereabouts of another “seven to eight” girls.
Social workers think the arrest could help track down around 60 victims.
Darjeeling police chief D.P. Singh said: “The modus operandi was simple. He would propose young girls especially from tea gardens and remote areas, marry them and then sell them off to brothels in Pune and Mumbai. Since many of the victims were poor and uneducated, hardly anybody filed complaints.”
The police chief said each girl would be sold for anything between Rs 70,000 and Rs 1 lakh. “Biswakarma was a smart operator. He used to change his locations frequently. We have found that he had bases in Bidhannagar and Bagdogra (in Siliguri subdivision), Kurseong and Darjeeling,” said Singh.
The police started working on Biswakarma’s trail after complaints from Mirik and Panighata in Kurseong subdivision and, more recently, from a family at Singtom tea garden in Darjeeling.
The Darjeeling girl has been rescued from Pune. Biswakarma used to pose either as a contractor or an army man. “In most cases, he pretended to be an army man who had come home on holiday and wanted to get married before returning to his post. We believe he was the kingpin of the racket and had women accomplices who introduced themselves as his relatives to the girls’ families,” said Prabhat Pathak, the coordinator of Siliguri-based Kanchenjungha Uddhar Kendra, an NGO which works for the rescue of trafficked women.
Pathak cited an instance when a victim from Sonada in Kurseong was lured into marriage within seven days of her acquaintance with Biswakarma.
Kanchenjungha Kendra had been trying to track him down for sometime. “I even managed to speak to him once on his cellphone. He sounded extremely polite and was confident and convincing,” said Pathak.
Biswakarma mostly used the SIM cards of the victims to trap his next prey. “This year alone we rescued around six-seven girls from Pune. They were all directly sold by the kingpin. He used to take the girls either to Calcutta or Patna before boarding the train,” said Pathak. “On the way to Pune, he used to tell the girls that he has a relative in Pune and used to make the brothel owners speak to the victims to convince them that there was no foul play.” On reaching the destination, Biswakarma would disappear.
Both the police and social workers believe that the gang used to randomly call up cellphone numbers. He would strike up a conversation and pick on his potential victim, said Pathak.
Biswakarma’s arrest and the subsequent findings have busted the myth that trafficking usually takes place in closed tea gardens of the Dooars. “Our centre has the names of 60 missing girls, of whom 30 per cent are from the hills,” said Pathak.
A police officer said it was difficult to crack the case as the complaints were far between and the families did not realise that the girls had been trafficked. “They had seen the groom and approved the marriage. They did not find anything fishy.”
Singh said the police have got the names of a few people who might be Biswakarma’s accomplices.
Biswakarma was today produced in the court of the subdivisional judicial magistrate in Kurseong which approved an identification parade requested by the police. The families of the victims in Kurseong will have to identify the accused during the parade. “After this, we will seek a remand,” said Singh.
Early Poll?
ENS, Kolkata:Though the election is due in May 2011, experts feel, the Election Commission (EC) could take a decision for early polls. Sources said, the EC has already geared up preparations for Assembly elections and asked its officers in Bengal to publish the final electoral roll by January 5. Since Madhyamik examination will start from February 15, Opposition leaders, including Congress leaders are confident about the possibilities of early elections. “After December 11, the EC can hold election any day,” said senior Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya.
3 Hours Chakka Jam by Chalak Mahasangh in Kalimpong from 10am to 1 pm
Woman held for meal scam
TT, Islampur, Nov. 25: A para-teacher was arrested yesterday for allegedly siphoning off Rs 22 lakh meant for mid-day meal scheme in collusion with her husband, a data entry operator at Karandighi block office, and a joint block development officer.
Gouri Mahato, the para teacher at Girls’ High School in Karandighi, is the first person to be arrested in the Rs 1.2 crore scam.
Mahato was arrested from her home in Karandighi and was produced in the court of additional chief judicial magistrate in Islampur this morning. She was remanded in judicial custody for 14 days.
On October 5, the Islampur subdivisional administration filed an FIR against the joint BDO, Durjoy Chakrabarty, and data entry operator Tapan Mondal after it was found that money was being paid to self-help groups which did not cook meals for schoolchildren.
Both Chakrabarty and Mondal are absconding. Although the police claimed a tight vigil had been kept to track down Chakrabarty, he managed to come to his house in Raiganj on October 14 and take his wife away.
According to the police, the charge against Mahato is that she had withdrawn most of the money meant for the mid-day meals from a bank. So far, defalcation of about Rs 65 lakh has been exposed.
The district enforcement branch, which took over the case from police, discovered Mahato’s involvement in the scam.
“Mahato had produced fake documents of self-help groups to withdraw Rs 22 lakh from a bank. We arrested her only after being convinced of her involvement in the theft of public money,” said North Dinajpur superintendent of police Milan Kanti Das.
The investigators are also trying to find out if the rest of Rs 1.2 crore sanctioned by the joint BDO to pay other SHGs was judiciously utilised or not.

Court query on Nickole - other agencies could be asked to trace Nicole 
ENS, Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court has directed the state government to file an affidavit within a week on Nicole Tamang, who reportedly escaped from the CID’s custody in Siliguri in August , weeks after his arrest in connection with the murder of Gorkha leader Madan Tamang.
During the hearing of a habeas corpus petition filed by Nicole’s wife, Pema, who has alleged that her husband was killed by CID officers, the Division Bench headed by Chief Justice Jaynarayan Patel on Thursday said the probe could be handed over to another independent investigating agency if the CID’s affidavit fails to satisfy the court. The court also asked the state government about the measures taken by it to trace Nicole, the prime accused in the Tamang murder case. Through her counsel Pema alleged that CID interrogators applied third degree on Nicole resulting in his death and later they disposed of the body.
Pema’s counsel Tirthankar Ghosh also told the court that CID took Nicole outside the jurisdiction of Darjeeling Sadar police station, from where he was arrested, for interrogation and asked why it was done so.
As per the chain of events narrated by Ghosh to the court, Nicole was arrested on August 16 and was produced in the court of Darjeeling CJM the same day. He was remanded in jail custody. The next day, Investigating Officer (CID) Ardhendu Sekhar Pahari filed a petition in CJM court seeking permission to interrogate Nicole at Darjeeling jail gate. On August 18, Pahari filed another petition seeking permission to take Nicole in its custody and his plea was granted. Following the court’s order, Nicole was taken to Pintale village, a resort in Siliguri. On August 22, Pahari sent a fax message to the CJM court stating Nicole has escaped from CID custody. When the CJM asked Pahari to appear before the court on August 23, he failed to do so. A week later, the CID filed a chargesheet against 30 persons, including Nicole Tamang, in Madan Tamang murder case.

TT, Calcutta, Nov 25: A division bench of Calcutta High Court today directed the CID to file an affidavit in seven days stating what steps it had taken on the disappearance of Nickole Tamang, one of the main accused in the Madan Tamang murder case.
The bench comprising Chief Justice J.N. Patel and Justice Asim Roy also asked the officer-in-charge of Pradhannagar police station in Siliguri to file an affidavit saying what action he had taken on the basis of an FIR that the CID had lodged after Nickole had escaped from the agency’s custody on August 22. Madan Tamang, the president of the ABGL, was hacked to death in Darjeeling on May 21 morning. Nickole was a member of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
Killer tusker

TT, Jaigaon: A lone tusker killed a 52-year-old woman and destroyed five houses in Subhasini tea garden in Hashimara on Wednesday night. The elephant lifted Nanki Onrao with its trunk and flung her a few metres away before trampling her to death. Nanki is survived by her 75-year-old husband and two children.
Tree arrest
TT, Siliguri: Foresters of Dabgram range under Baikunthapur forest division arrested Ashimohan Burman on Thursday for illegally felling a saal tree. Forest officers said Burman is a resident of Hatiadanga on the outskirts of Siliguri.
Three held
TT,Islampur: The intelligence wing of BSF and Islampur police arrested three persons and recovered an improvised firearm and one live cartridge from them. The police suspect the trio had assembled at Ramganj to commit a crime when they were arrested. Two motorcycles were also seized during the raid.
Road name
TT,Jaigaon: The block administration of Kalchini has named a road after Ajay Lama, a martyr of the Indian army. Lama, a resident of Bhatpara, was 25 when he died while fighting against the Pakistan army at Drass in Kashmir on November 25, 2007. The 5km road connects Bhatpara Tea Estate with Mechpara.
Bayern stint for hill boys

TT, Gangtok, Nov. 25:Two Under-14 boys from Sikkim have been shortlisted for a month-long training with German football giant Bayern Munich next year.
Ram Chettri and Suman Rai of Boys’ Club, Gangtok, are among six footballers from across the country picked up for the camp in Germany. The selections were held in Calcutta on November 16. Paul Breitner, a 1974 World Cupper for Germany, was the chief selector at the trial.
Both the players are from the football academy of the Gangtok club and have been training here since the facility was started by former footballers of Sikkim in 2008.
“Chettri and Rai were selected from 45 participants for the Bayern camp. They will be leaving for Germany in the first week of January,” said Boys’ Club general secretary Nima Thondup Bhutia. The German club will bear all expenses including the air fare of the six for the trip.
The selection of the two for the German camp had been possible largely because of another northeastern club, Lajong FC. The Shillong-based club had reached an understanding with the Gangtok outfit to train their young talents when it had come to play the Governor’s Gold Cup football tournament here last month. Two boys from Lajong FC have also been selected for the German camp. The remaining two are from Bengal.
“Lajong FC was very much impressed with our academy and had asked us to send three of our best boys to the selection camp in Calcutta. It is our proud moment that of the three, two have been shortlisted for the Bayern Munich training camp,” said Bhutia.
The Gangtok club official felt that the month-long camp of Bayern Munich would definitely help his boys. “They will receive a better training there than what they are getting here. They will learn a lot about the latest methods,” said Bhutia.
Chettri, who is learning to be a midfielder, expressed hope that the Bayern camp would help him develop into a good footballer. “We will learn new techniques and how to hone our skills,” he said.
Rai said they were looking forward for the German training session to know more advanced techniques. “We gave our best and showed our speed and techniques with the ball. We were hopeful that we would get selected. Our daily training with our coaches at Boys’ Club helped us a lot.”
Chettri has lost his father and his mother does odd jobs to take care of the family. Rai’s father is a mason, Bhutia said.
Cannabis cash for farmers in need
TT, Cooch Behar, Nov. 25:;The slender green trees sway in the light morning breeze and as the serrated fronds rustle, their careful tenders eye them longingly for they know that the fruits of their toil will soon be rewarded with cash
This is not a sight from any village on the border with Bangladesh where illegal cultivation of cannabis is not uncommon. These plants are flourishing in illegal plantations, some of them barely 2km from Dinhata town.
Chandrakanta Barman (name changed) had sold two of his five bighas 10 years ago to bear the expenses of his elder daughter’s wedding. But times have changed. Last year, he got his second daughter married to an employed youth and he did not have to sell off any more land.
“I am now trying to get my youngest daughter married off. I am looking for a suitable boy with a steady job. I do not mind paying a hefty dowry as my ganja trees will fetch me the cash required,” Barman said.
There are about 25 villages around Dinhata town, including Burirhat, barely 2km from Dinhata police station where people are illegally cultivating ganja for a fast buck.
“We had heard that the villagers in the border areas grew ganja and earn money. So we got in touch with them several years ago and now we have an easy way to make money and not depend on paddy or other crops which are not as lucrative,” a resident of Burirhat said.
“I grew the plants in five cottahs of land last year and this year I doubled the area. But half the plants withered because of excessive rainfall. Even then, I expect to get at least Rs 3 lakh. I have fixed my daughter’s wedding for next year and I will need at least Rs 2 lakh for the ritual,” said another farmer. For him and the others, investments in the plantations are almost nil.
“The only thing we invest is our labour. We grow our own saplings from the seeds ourselves,” the farmer said.
The villagers have no qualms about talking about their crop. “It is because of these plants, that we are able to spend money for the weddings of our sons and daughters?” one of them said.
Most saplings are from the Manipuri variety and fetch a good price. “The maturity of the plants determine the prices. Ganja from a fully grown plant fetches at least Rs 5,000 a kilo. We have agents in the area to get us buyers from Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. They pay us cash and take the ganja away,” Chandrakanta said. The plants take nine months to grow and at the end of it, a crown grows on the top. “The top leaves come together to form the crown. That is the ganja,” a cultivator said.
A gram panchayat pradhan of the area, not willing to be named, said he was fully in the know of the illegal activity. “We keep our mouths shut so that these farmers can have their way and earn money to pay for the weddings,” he said.
Cooch Behar police chief Kalyan Banerjee said the administration had information about the illegal cultivation of cannabis. “It is actually the responsibility of the excise department to clamp down on the illegal cultivation of plants like cannabis and opium,” he said.Cooch Behar district magistrate Smarki Mahapatra said she would look into the matter.
Didi's dos & don'ts for elephant corridors
TNN, KOLKATA: The railway and forest ministries may finally work in tandem to save the elephant. Two months after the grisly death of seven pachyderms on the tracks near Binnaguri and with frequent accidents involving the national heritage animal, Mamata Banerjee has imposed a maximum train speed of 50 kmph across certain stretches in north Bengal forests.
In a letter to the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government, the railway minister has listed dos and don'ts for the four notified elephant corridors across Siliguri, Gulma, Sevok, Hasimara and Alipurduar junctions so that the state forest department officials could do their bit to protect the animal.
Stretches where the 50 kmph limit will be applicable are between Gulma and Sevok, Chalsa and Nagrakata, Madarihat and Hasimara and Hasimara and Kalchini. Drivers have been asked to blow the whistle continuously so as to alert elephants and help them move away from the rail tracks. "For the notified elephant corridors, drivers have been issued permanent caution order to restrict speed to a maximum of 50 kmph, with constant whistling in the section, and to be extra vigilant," the letter read.
The railways have asked forest officials to issue caution orders to train drivers whenever there is any information regarding the movement of elephants so that utmost care is taken while crossing that particular section. An official at Writers' Buildings said, "It's good that the railways have imposed restrictions on trains. Now, it will be easier for forest department officials to ensure the safety of elephants."
While the chief minister, too, brought the matter of frequent jumbo deaths and injuries to the notice of Union environment and forest minister, the latter even visited the spot where seven elephants had died. A senior forest department official said, "We have been trying to bring the matter to the notice of the railways for a long time. We have also written letters with the request for limiting speed of trains in the area to 40kmph."
Five elephants had died on the tracks near Banarhat on September 22, while two others succumbed to their injuries the next morning. Wildlife experts pointed out that since the herd had around 30 jumbos, a few more could have sustained injuries. The incident seemed to wake up the authorities even as the railways and the forest department often passed the buck on protection of elephants which frequently ran into trains speeding through forests.
"One of the injured animals died a fortnight ago. Now that another injured elephant has been spotted in Birpara, the forest department should arrange to track it down. But nothing has been done so far," said Animesh Basu of the Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation.
While Sumita Ghatak, DFO (wildlife) of Jalpaguri, denied that an injured elephant had been spotted, an official said, "Forest guards and villagers have seen the injured animal. Their accounts suggest the elephant was a member of the herd that had been hit on September 22. Unless we can spot the animal and treat it, it will be difficult to save it.
TNN,Midday:Manisha Koirala moved to her parents' place in Kathmandu days before she put up the Facebook status (about her wanting a divorce)
After Manisha Koirala's Facebook status of "divorce on my mind" ('Married but it's Complicated'; HiTLIST, November 22), there is a new development.
Sources reveal that Manisha had moved in with her parents days before putting up a statement on her profile page about an impending divorce from her husband Samrat Dahal. Talk of marriage trouble had been brewing for the last one month.
A source reveals, "Manisha had already moved out of her house with Samrat (Dahal) days before putting up the post on the social networking site. She was living with her parents in Kathmandu and had told them she had some issues with Samrat."
However, friends close to the actress reveal that she attributed her stay at her parents home to 'ill health.' She told her friends that she had a bad viral attack and was staying with her parents for some pampering. She also said that Samrat was not in town and she didn't want to be left alone during her sickness.
The talk of trouble in the marriage has rocked Kathmandu, with her dad former politician Prakash Koirala coming out in support of his daughter and denying any split from her husband. The actress is currently in Goa for the film festival and remained unavailable for comment.
The media as middleman
The sudden interest in the involvement of some Indian media persons in what appears to be lobbying has posed the question about ethics, but it has a lot more to do with the cult of icons. Readers and viewers tend to blindly believe in taglines about ‘truth’ prevailing and ‘we were the first to go there’ with high-profile columnists and anchors; the audience now feels let down and covertly awkward for having propped up these news-bearers.
There is also anger that the exposure was not covered by news channels and only by some print publications. The media is a tightly-knit incestuous lot in India. They know that if they allow one head to fall, theirs will be next on the chopping block.
The story appeared relatively simple. A lobbyist, Nira Radia, working for industrialist Mukesh Ambani called up journalists and discussed ministerial portfolios. The media people offered to set up meetings with ministers and even revealed what stories could be run. There was loads of money - $40 billion - involved in the 2G-spectrum deals that would benefit the corporate lobby. The question is: did it benefit the journalists and how? The newspapers/channels get ads, the political party gets election funds and the media can carry convenient stories along the election trail with staged ‘objective’ moments. The media is the new fiefdom of the politician and political power – from the front door or the back entrance – is the journalist’s reward.
There have been conjectures that these conversations were to make the lobbyist give away information, a snoopy journalistic tactic. But has it been taken to its logical conclusion? Has there been an expose of a nature that could compromise the government which is culpable in this case? No. The man A. Raja who was a cheat got the same portfolio to cheat again. Are the journalists to blame? The motives and ‘real’ reasons are a non-sequiter when facts stare us in the face.
No one can call acting as conduits between politicians and corporate lobbies as part of journalism, but in the past the arrangement was tacit. Press conferences by business houses that handed out goodies were major draws. Does anyone even know about news reports that are paid for and often written by the PR departments of business houses? Does anyone care that such PR people carry press passes and are members of the press clubs? When captains of industry write guest columns for publications, this is advertising passing off as editorial content.

Journalists have often got prime posts in social organisations or are sent on junkets; many of the hugely respected senior names conduct all their ‘investigations’ over the telephone, which means they are fed information by interested groups. While opinions are by nature subjective, reportage ought to be objective. What is reported and how clearly conveys which side the person is on or has been asked to be on. What about owners of channels who get elected and become MPs?
To push the envelope (no pun intended) further, what about freedom of speech? Does the industrial house not have the freedom to lobby? Does the lobbyist not have the freedom to push her case? Does the journalist not have the freedom to act as a go-between? Great media stalwarts like Arun Shourie have played a role in bringing down politicians and governments. Why did they become heroes and why are today’s newsmakers considered unethical? The reason is that they appear to be co-opted, whereas a Shourie fought against the establishment. It is another matter that the fight could have been dictated by the opposition. This is the crux of the argument.
Sting operations get a whole lot of points by a gullible public that assumes those blurred video clips are done as an act of public good. No one bothers to check out the motives behind these moves. It is high time we made the mainstream media answerable, but the alternatives are not always as above-board as they appear simply because they too depend on the largesse of sponsors, advertising and benefactors.
Political stooges have always existed, only the level of subtlety has altered their persona. You just have to spend some time in any of the intellectual hubs in Delhi and you will see a journalist supping with a politician or a bureaucrat. There are TV channels that have given preference to young recruits merely due to their proximity to and sometimes family connections with such powerful people.
The recent revelations have become such a talking point, ironically, because they have been exposed with much flourish outside the mainstream media in India. Internationally, the Washington Post mentioned ‘paid news’ and reported that The Foundation for Media Professionals plans to host a conference on journalists as power brokers. The organisations’s spokesperson said, “We are actually happy that these practices have come out in the open. It forces us to address the problem. We as journalists sit in judgment of others all the time. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
Journalists are fallible and their standards should be decreed by ethics and not morality and most certainly must not become a ruse for nobility. The self-examination should also raise questions about the media conducting kangaroo courts and making a spectacle of helpless common people.
Prominent anchors and columnists are deified only because their visibility, especially during crises and calamities, immediately imbues them with a halo of legitimacy. This gets further sanctity when a scam uses the name of one individual. This does not, in fact, work as a “lynch mob” but serves to buffer the cult. We live in times of short attention spans and shorter memories. Today’s flawed Twitter hero is tomorrow’s Facebook martyr, for the truth may lie not in what was said in the tapes but what was left unsaid.
Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at

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