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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Kolkata's Stephen Court Fire : Toll 24, more missing, 2 arrested

Kolkata, 24 March : With rescue workers discovering more charred remains, the death toll in the fire that broke out at Kolkata’s Stephen Court complex Tuesday spiraled to 24 on Wednesday.
Taking note of the high number of casualties, the Fire Department has registered a first information report (FIR) against the owner of the building. The report was filed under Indian Penal Code Section 304 (Culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and Section 11/C/113 of Fire Safety Act. The police are reported to have arrested two of the building caretakers - Tarun Bagaria and Ram Shankar Singh. But, Sanjay Bagaria, the owner of the building, is still absconding.

Built nearly a-century-and-a-half ago, the Stephen Court now faces stringent criticism for inadequate fire safety measures in the complex. Forensic and fire officials – investigating the cause of the fire – have discovered the building – with haphazard power cables, wooden stairs and closed exits – to be a virtual tinderbox waiting for tragedy.
On Wednesday morning, charred remains of nearly 18 people were found at the threshold of a locked gate leading to the roof. The discovery stands a silent but strong testimony of the desperation with which those caught in the building must have tried to escape the flames and death.
Meanwhile, the West Bengal government has announced a Rs 2 lakh compensation for each victim and said it will bear all medical costs. The Stephen Court fire rocked the Bengal Assembly Wednesday as Opposition members walked out in protest of what they alleged to be government’s mishandling of the incident and also sought the resignation of fire and emergency services minister Pratim Chatterjee.
With the focus at the Stephen Court now shifting to the removal of the debris and the death toll in the inferno threatening to spiral further, the blistered complex standing in the heart of Kolkata is a grim reminder of the human cost urban India continues to pay for the lackadaisical implementation of fire safety norms by real estate promoters and municipalities. Photos : AP, Avijit Mondal

Disputed Bay of Bengal island vanishes say SOS scientists
BBC News, New Delhi, Kolkata, 24 March : A tiny island claimed for years by India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal has disappeared beneath the rising seas, scientists in India say.
The uninhabited territory south of the Hariabhanga river was known as New Moore Island to the Indians and South Talpatti Island to the Bangladeshis. Recent satellites images show the whole island under water, says the School of Oceanographic Studies in Kolkata. Its scientists say other nearby islands could also vanish as sea levels rise.
The BBC's Chris Morris in Delhi says there has never been a permanent settlement on the now-vanished island, which even in its heyday was never more than two metres (about six feet) above sea level.... READ FULL STORY AT BBC

West Bengal Government orders probe into Park Street fire
Kolkata, 24 March : The West Bengal Government has ordered a high level probe into the fire that swept through the three floors of the multi-storied Stephen Court building on Park Street on Tuesday afternoon.
West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee visited the fire-ravaged buildings today morning to take note of the prevailing situation.
Over 1200 Surrendered militants on hunger strike in Tripura
Agartala, 24 March : Over 1,200 surrendered militants in Tripura Wednesday launched a hunger strike demanding that the government make good its promise of rehabilitating them.
Once part of the banned National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) or the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), they are on a 72-hour hunger strike seeking immediate economic rehabilitation of all former rebels. The ultras had surrendered to the Tripura government at different times in the past three years. 'We surrendered long back, but the state government is yet to fulfil its promise to rehabilitate us,' Achai Kashrung Jamatia, leader of the protesting ex-militants, told reporters here.
According to police, in 2009 alone about 370 tribal guerrillas of the ATTF and NLFT, including many carrying rewards of Rs.250,000 and with Interpol arrest warrants against them, fled from Bangladeshi camps and surrendered to the Indian security forces. File Photo : Courtesy BSF

Global financial crisis impacts education sector too : Moni
UNB, Dhaka, 24 March : Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni has said attainment of education-related MDGs is facing serious threat due to the ongoing global financial crisis.
“Generated in the developed world, the financial crisis is having disproportionately high negative impacts on all sectors of the economies in the developing world. Education sector is no exception.” she said. Dr Dipu Moni made the remarks at the closing ceremony of the 5th Meeting of Collective Consultation of NGOs on EFA (Education for ALL) organised by UNESCO and Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE).
Top two floors of gutted Stephen Court were illegal : Police
Kolkata , 24 March : The top two floors of Stephen Court, gutted in a major fire, were constructed illegally, city police commissioner Goutam Mohan Chakraborty said on Wednesday.
"The fifth and sixth floors of the building were constructed illegally. These were later regularised," he told reporters, adding that the promoter who built the two floors was absconding after Tuesday's blaze. The police and fire brigade personnel had faced difficulties in conducting rescue operations inside Stephen Court as they were not provided the building plan, Chakraborty said. "We had asked the building association president for a plan of the building and a list of tenants, but these were not provided to us. If we had the list, we could have saved some more people," he said.
Chakraborty said a number of people tried to escape through the roof of the building, but could not do so as the collapsible gate to the roof was locked. Photos : AP, Avijit Mondal

BD Govt to appoint war crime probe agency in a day or two
Dhaka, 24 March : Bangladesh Law Minister Shafique Ahmed on Wednesday said the government will appoint the members of the investigation agency within a day or two to hold the much-awaited trial of 1971 war criminals.
"We have reached the final stage to hold the crucial trial," the minister said while addressing a workshop on 'International Crime Tribunal and Trial' in the capital's BILIA auditorium in the morning. Shafique Ahmed also said a strong tribunal to hold the trial of war criminals will be formed soon with a Supreme Court judge as its chairman. The other members, two or three in numbers, will be appointed from the serving and retired judges of the High Court or district judges who are eligible to be appointed as the HC judges. The law minister ruled out any pressure from any foreign country to delay the trial.
He also urged the international community not to interfere in internal affairs of Bangladesh.

Another CPI(M) activist killed by Maoists in West Midnapore
Midnapore , 24 March : Suspected Maoists have killed a CPI(M) activist, after abducting him, a day after gunning down a local committee secretary of the party in trouble-torn West Midnapore district.
Police said Basir Khan, a CPI(M) supporter, was forcibly taken away from his Jaynagar home under Jhargram sub-division by armed ultras last evening. His bullet-riddled body was recovered from the area today. According to preliminary probe, Khan was forced to accompany a Maoist procession which went around certain neighbouring police station areas in Lalgarh shouting slogans in support of the 48-hour bandh call in seven states.
Pepsico records 100% growth in crop output in W Bengal
Kolkata, 24 March : PepsiCo India contract farmers in West Bengal has recorded a growth of 50% in its potato crop this year in acreage and 100% in crop output, leading to record farm income. This growth has also resulted in the farmers receiving a profit between Rs 20,000 and Rs 40,000 per acre compared to Rs 10,000 – Rs 20,000 per acre last year. PepsiCo India runs works with nearly 12,000 farmers and procure 70,000 to 75,000 tonnes of potatoes. According to a release by Pepsico, the record growth in West Bengal could be attributed to the prompt intervention by the PepsiCo agri team which offered its 6,500 contract farmers the knowledge of the correct geometry and chemical kit required for optimal harvesting.
Mamata Banerjee alleges city police suppressing fire toll
Kolkata, 24 March : Amid conflicting claims today over the number of persons who went missing in the fire at the heritage building here, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee today accused West Bengal government of suppressing the death toll in the incident.
"Government was suppressing the actual deaths starting from Nandigram to Stephen Court incident", Banerjee told reporters but did not specify the number of deaths in the fire.
Crucial meeting to reduce airfare in Andaman Sector held
UNI, Port, Blair, 24 March : Troubled by the high airfares in Port Blair and mainland sector being charged by aviation companies, the Andaman and Nicobar administration organised a meeting here to find out a solution to the problem.
During the meeting yesterday, various short term measures were suggested by officials of Andaman and Nicobar administration and public representatives of these islands which comprised re-balancing the air fares for the benefit of the islanders and the tourists alike by the airline operators, introducing islanders fare at par with the facility available at Lakshadweep Islands and restriction on bulk booking by the airlines.
The meeting was convened by Joint Secretary Prashant Sukul, Ministry of Civil Aviation, which was held under the Chairmanship of Chief Secretary of Andaman and Nicobar Administration Vivek Rae at the conference hall of the Secretariat.