On Left Bank

On Left Bank
Right Direction

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

English Bazaar gets rain relief, at last

MALDA, 30 JUNE: Just when the Malda Ramkrishna Mission was preparing to organise Ban O Varsha Baran Utsav in order to please the rain God, who they hoped would overcome the present sultry conditions, English Bazaar town finally received a short spell of rain this morning after a long dry period which lasted for 45 minutes from 9 am. People's relief was palpable from dawn, when the drizzling started.

The district town last received rain during the cyclonic storm, Aila. Since then, the people have faced significant difficulties in leading normal lives due to the continuing sultry situation.

The people, based on superstition, feared that the rain would only come on the departure of the circus show which has been performing at English Bazaar town over the last week.

“The circus team can stem the rain by offering puja, and they know occult methods and incantations of enchantment to drive the clouds away so that the rain does not disturb their show,” locals said.

Many parts of Malda district, even in the outskirts of the town, have been receiving rain since Sunday, but until this morning there was no rain in English Bazaar town despite the presence of clouds in the sky.

Aged people were also worried about the abnormal pattern of rainfall when the district did not receive a drop of rain on the occasion of Vaishnavite Ramkeli Fair in Gour, famous for its historical ruins, and in Rathayatra.

“I have heard that the circus team offers prayer before its inauguration in a new place so that a shower does not disturb its show,” said Swami Divyananda, the secretary of the Malda Ramkrishna Mission.

Mr J Raja, manager of the circus team, Ajanta Circus, said: “We do not belief such a puja can stop the rain. Besides, our circus team members belong to Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Mongolian and African communities. How could we offer puja and know incantations of any power to change the weather?” Mr Raja said.

Following in the footsteps of Santinikatan, hundreds of students of Ramkrishna Mission's Vivekananda Vidyamandir offered a prayer, organizing Ban O Varsha Baran Utsav under the leadership of Swami Shivaprada-nanda, principal of the school, at about 12:30 p.m. today. The additional district magistrate, the additional police superintendent, the divisional forest officer and other officials were present.

Malda takes up handloom industry growth

Statesman News Service
MALDA, 30 JUNE: The Malda district has formed a cluster of 350 weavers at Sat-tari village in English Bazaar block for the development of the handloom industry. The district authorities have received funds of Rs 9.62 lakh from the Centre and Rs 1.2 lakh from the state for this project out of a proposed estimate of Rs 32.30 lakh to cover three years.

To develop the standard of the handloom industry, the state textile department has selected 350 weavers out of nearly 2,000 who are weaving traditional big napkins (gamchha).

“We have decided to train the weavers to make saris and other cloths for garments. One master trainer will guide them in weaving other quality items,” said Mr Molay Kumar Sarkar, handloom development officer in Malda.

According to him, the department has formed 35 self help groups (SHG) comprising 10 members each and has opened 35 bank accounts for this project. Another consortium has been formed, selecting one member from 35 SHGs who will monitor the project and take responsibility of the marketing of produce from this cluster.

The handloom development officer, Mr Sarkar, said: “Selected members of the consortiums from Sat-tari in Malda and Gangarampur in South Dinajpur may visit a mega-cluster project in another state for a short period of training in the second week of July to make the project viable”. After three years the textile departments will hand over the entire project to the consortium formed at Sat-tari.

The Central and state governments have already sanctioned funds partly, to build a common facility centre, for design development, a yarn depot, and other infrastructural developments at Sat-tari. To bring yarn from the National Handloom Development Corporation (NHDC), the handloom development office in Malda has already deposited Rs 3 lakh to the NHDC.

The Malda handloom development officer said: "Many people living at Madia near Shobhanagar in English Bazaar block are working in carpet industry in Varanasi and other states and they are very skilled in this sector. We have planned a project at Bengal Brand Carpet Weaving Centre at Madia in Malda.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bus terminus still a far cry

Statesman News Service
MALDA, 29 JUNE: Though the district administration had intended to complete the Malda central bus terminus by December 2008, the PWD engineers do not know when the central bus terminus will be operational. This has now been alleged as due to a funding crunch rather than the monsoon, an argument put forward nearly a year ago.

In October 2008, the district administrative officials argued that, ‘they had planned to complete the construction work by October, but it was delayed due to the monsoon.” But, today, the executive engineer of PWD said that, “this project is being delayed due to the funding crunch.”

A few days ago, the Malda district magistrate, Mr Sridhar Ghosh, sought the present status report of the ongoing construction work for the future traffic management plan of Malda town.

According to the assistant engineer, Mr AK Saha, based on existing tender, construction work is in operation and will be completed shortly.

When asked about the construction of a culvert for the building of an entrance and exit way from the Central Bus Terminus to the NH-34, near English Bazaar Regulated Market, the assistant engineer Mr Saha quoted his boss (the executive engineer) and said: “There is no fund for the construction of that culvert at present.”

Mr Saha then added: “It is very difficult to say when the work will be completed and when it will be operational. We need to float tender for other jobs including some plans to increase the capacity of the existing building which has already been completed. The coming monsoon may also delay the project.” According to the district administration, Rs 1.35 crore was allotted for the project. This apart, Rs 1.22 crore had been sanctioned for the completion of the Central Bus Terminus, including electrical work. Allegedly, when the project was conceived, the transport department had allotted a decent amount of funding.

PHE proposes drinking water projects for villages

Statesman News Service
MALDA, 29 JUNE: The Public Health Engineering (PHE) has submitted several small-scale drinking water projects to its higher authorities for approval.The PHE in particular wishes to implement the schemes in the currently left out villages in Old Malda, Habibpur, Bamongola and Harishchandrapur blocks. The officials of the PHE chief engineer's office have started their examination of these schemes. Implementation will occur on a priority basis.The PHE plans to set up deep tube wells to lift up water, and then distribute it to the villages where there previously has not been a drinking water project in place.The executive engineer, PHE, Mr Swapan Maitra said: “We have planned to supply drinking water by lifting it up from under the ground in the arsenic free zone. After the water has been lifted, there will be a test to see if there are abnormal quantities of iron present in the water. If so, we will set up iron removal units before distribution.”A few months ago, workers from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) detected fluoride contamination of ground water in Pakuahat and other areas of Bamongola block. The presence of fluoride was found to be above the permissible limit in drinking water sources.“Five such schemes have been prepared for Harishchandrapur block. Similarly, we have submitted proposals for drinking water schemes in other blocks like Old Malda, Habibpur and Bamongola”, Mr. Maitra said. These areas are arsenic contaminated like Kaliachak, Manikchak, English Bazaar and Ratua, he claimed. The estimated cost of each scheme is nearly Rs. 2 to 2.50 crore including the laying of pipelines for distribution to some villages. The PHE will start the work after approval is granted from its higher authorities. Today, the top officials of the PHE held a meeting to select a few schemes out of those submitted earlier by the Malda PHE.

Rly passengers abused
MALDA, 29 JUNE: Mr Abhigyan Sengupta, a teacher of Raghunathpur High School in Murshidabad, lodged a complaint at the English Bazaar police station against the assistant station manager of Malda town station, Mr Amitava Roy. Mr Sengupta was allegedly roughed up by Mr Roy at Malda town station this morning. Hundreds of daily passengers were protesting against the delay of the train which travels from Malda to Azimganj in Murshidabad, and from Malda to Katihar in Bihar. When the angry passengers went to Mr Roy to lodge their protest, the latter, instead of hearing the grievances, turned violent. ;SNS

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mango-tourism festival in Malda

MALDA, 26 JUNE: Malda district will organise a three-day Mango and Tourism Festival from 3 July at a private hotel premises at Narayanpur.

The West Bengal tourism department has allotted funds of Rs 5 lakh to the organisation of the festival.

Yesterday, the district administration held a meeting to discuss its preparation.

The horticulture department has been asked to take part in the festival and to organise a mango competition.

The tourism department has been asked to focus on the tourist spots in the district in the course of the festival.

The additional district magistrate, Ms Indrani Saha, is chalking out plans and programmes for the event.

“The sericulture department has been asked to take part in the festival by displaying the famous Malda silk and its products," said Mr Sridhar Ghosh, the Malda district magistrate. ;SNS

Focus on wider irrigation for pulses cultivation

Statesman News Service
MALDA, 26 JUNE: To implement the Food Security Mission's projects, the Malda district administration has stressed the need to earmark more land for the cultivation of various pulses.

The district magistrate, Mr Sridhar Ghosh, yesterday held a meeting with the principal agriculture officer (PAO) and other concerned officials.

“The objective of this project is to produce adequate pulses to meet the people's requirements. We need to ensure that satisfactory irrigation systems are in place in rain-fed areas for the cultivation of pulses. Further production will check the price hike of pulses. Non-governmental organisations and self-help groups will need to be involved in this project,” said the Malda DM, Mr Sridhar Ghosh.

The administration has planned to seize the initiative in cultivating various pulses in new areas beginning in the upcoming Kharif season. At the meeting held yesterday, the PAO, RK Das, said: “Due to the scarcity of rain and the late monsoon, the cultivation of pulses will be delayed until the Kharif season. To ensure more successful pulse cultivation, improved irrigation is required in the rain-fed zones in this district.”

According to him, after cyclone Alia the district did not receive adequate rain for the cultivation of aman paddy.

“Many farmers could not prepare seedbeds for aman cultivation due to the scarcity of rain. The district has 1.54 lakh ha land for aman cultivation but the district does not have adequate irrigation systems in all cultivated lands,” said Mr Das. The PAO has also reported to the directorate: “The district usually receives 419.7 mm rain from January to June but this year the district has received only 274.5mm rain from January. The shortfall is 145.2mm.” The district receives on average 229.4 mm rainfall in June but Malda has received only 26.1 mm so far. The temperature in air and soil usually varies from 36.2 to 39.1 degrees celsius. But this year, the temperature measured down to 5 cm depth, has been recorded as 41 to 42 degrees Celsius.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Local leaders’ ‘no’ to female candidate

Statesman News Service
MALDA, 25 JUNE: Even as the district Congress president, Mr AH Khan Choudhury, is in a dilemma over the nomination for the Sujapur Assembly by-poll, local leaders of that area have adopted a resolution naming probable candidates for the seat.

When Mr Khan Choudhury, who is also the South Malda MP, attended a felicitation programme in honour of his victory at Sujapur on Tuesday, local leaders expressed unhappiness over the selection of a woman candidate for Sujapur Assembly constituency, and asked him not to nominate any woman candidate for the Assembly seat.

However, the late Rubi Noor, sister of ABA Ghani Khan Choudhury, had been elected as MLA for over two decades. After her demise, her daughter Miss Mausam Noor contested in the Sujapur by-poll in January and was elected MLA from Sujapur.

Miss Noor was also elected MP from North Malda in May and resigned from the state Assembly. At present, the South Malda MP Mr AH Khan Choudhury, brother of the late ABA Ghani Khan Choudhury, is in a dilemma over nominating someone for the seat, not least because some of the aspirants come from his own family.

Though the leaders of Sujapur have agreed to accept a candidate from Ghani Khan's family, the South Malda MP, who is also the district president, is undecided on who to select - although his son Mr Isha Khan, and his niece Miss Sahela Noor, another sister of Miss Mausam Noor, figure prominently in the contest for the post. However, both of the candidates were born in Canada and may face technical problems relating to their citizenship after the filing of nominations.

Taking advantage of the situation, another family member Miss Shehenaz Kadrir, a rival of Miss Mausam Noor's family, is trying hard to obtain a ticket for the by-poll. Miss Kadrir is also close to the South Malda MP.

Considering the present situation, the leaders of Sujapur have finally asked the South Malda MP to nominate either his elder brother Dr AN Khan Choudhury or a local leader from the Sujapur Assembly area, asking him not to nominate a woman candidate. The AICC had rejected the candidature of Dr AN Khan Choudhury over the Swiss citizenship issue and finally nominated Miss Mausam Noor for the North Malda parliamentary constituency. “Nothing has been finalised. A candidate will be selected after a meeting with district leaders. My elder brother may contest from Sujapur if he can ready all the papers to prove he is an Indian citizen before filing a nomination,” said Mr AH Khan Choudhury.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Country spirit production on the rocks

Statesman News Service
MALDA, 24 JUNE: The production of country spirit (CS) has been suspended in many bottling plants in the state, including two in north Bengal, due to acute scarcity of rectified spirit.

Stocks of rectified spirit in many bottling plants located in Malda, Jalpaiguri's Birpara, Dankuni in Hooghly, Garbeta in Midnapore and other south Bengal districts have dried up.

Due to the suspension of CS production, vendors in many districts are facing a crisis regarding their ability to supply CS to consumers. The stock of CS will be exhausted within two to three days in vendors’ godowns.

In the last seven days, the bottlers have had to deliver CS to the district vendors on the basis of a ‘rationing system’ owing to the shortage of rectified spirit.

Since the first week of June, the state excise department has been trying hard to face the crisis but it has failed to resolve the problem owing to ‘internal’ difficulties in distillery houses in Uttar Pradesh.

Mr CR Das, commissioner of excise, has finally issued some fresh permits to import rectified spirit from Uttarakhand to meet the ongoing problem.

It may be noted that the excise department had issued permits for importing 11 lakh of rectified spirit from Uttar Pradesh in the first week of June but not a single drop of spirit arrived here.

“A racket is active outside the distillery house, who are demanding Rs 2 in tax per litre extra. Bottlers in West Bengal are facing problems concerning importing rectified spirit from there, because of these extra charges,” said Mr Saikat De, district secretary of the Malda Excise License Association. The government's approved country liquor manufacturers and bottlers used to only import rectified spirit from Uttar Pradesh and the department did not have any alternative arrangement when the crisis struck.

Facing difficulties in meeting demand for CS, vendors in Cooch Behar district met the excise officials today, demanding a solution to the ongoing problem.

The bottling plant for CS located at Birpara in Jalpaiguri used to supply CS to two districts including Cooch Behar but production has been suspended since yesterday. The consumption of CS in these two districts is nearly 6 lakh litres per month.

Similarly, the stock of rectified spirit of another bottling plant in Malda has been exhausted today and the plant was forced to suspend production. At present, the stock of CS bottles in its warehouse is only 35,000. The demand for CS bottles in Malda district is 13 lakh bottles per month.

Vendors in Malda, South Dinajpur and part of north Dinajpur depend on Malda's bottling plant and are anticipating facing problems within two to three days. Only one bottling plant at Siliguri in north Bengal is running but the production rate has been reduced.

The Malda district magistrate (DM), Mr Sridhar Ghosh, said: “We are keeping in touch with the excise commissioner to sort out the problem. The excise commissioner has already approached the bottling plant owners to bring rectified spirit from Uttarakhand to meet the crisis.”

“Though some bottlers in south Bengal have accepted the proposal, bottlers in north Bengal are demanding extra transportation costs to import the rectified spirit from Uttaranchal,” said Mr Ghosh.

“It is a natural and social problem, and if it continues, the habituated consumers belonging to the weaker sections will turn violent,” the DM added.

“The government should compensate for extra transportation costs incurred in importing the rectified spirit from Uttarakhand,” the members of the bottlers’ association said. The government's approved West Bengal Country Spirit Manufacturers and Bottlers’ Association is apprehending that if the crisis continues, the illicit liquor trade will begin flourishing in the state once again.

Tribals block road to protest minor’s rape

Statesman News Service
MALDA, 24 JUNE: Following in Lalgarh's footsteps, thousands of tribals displaying their traditional arms and beating drums blocked a state highway for more than five hours in protest against police inaction at Kendpukur under Habibpur police station today.

Tribals were demanding the arrest of those charged of raping a minor tribal girl at Taljhari village in Habibpur - a tribal-dominated block.

A few days ago, a 12-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a group of youths, according to a complaint lodged by her guardian with Habibpur police station. No-one has been arrested as yet. The girl was undergoing treatment in Malda hospital till yesterday.

The protest paralyzed life in the area, creating a 5km-long pile-up on both sides of the road block. The block development officer (BDO) and inspector in charge rushed to the spot but could not get them to clear the road.

The inspector in charge of Habibpur block stood there helplessly while the tribal people continuously criticized the role of the IC, using indecorous words. The IC was tightlipped in order to maintain ‘peace’ there.

Finally, the BDO reported to the district administration, requesting that senior police officials be sent to lift the block. The senior police officials, led by the deputy superintendent of police, rushed to the spot and managed the situation. They finally assured the people that the police would nab the four accused named in the complaints.

A few days ago, the minor girl, a resident of Salvita village, was allegedly raped by a group of local youths at Taljhari village. The incident added to the tribal people's growing anger, as in the last one-and-a-half years, nearly eight minor tribal girls have allegedly been raped in Habibpur block areas. The police have reportedly done nothing to punish the culprits.

When the incident came to light, the police suggested holding a reconciliation meeting with the tribal society to ‘dismiss’ the case. “Tribal people are unhappy with the role of the police here,” said a senior administrative officer in Habibpur block. According to local people, the reconciliation meeting was held, and a middle-man reportedly received Rs 50,000 from the culprits to ‘hush up’ the rape case against them. When the matter came to light, a group associated with a local club in Kendpukur mobilised the tribal people in blocking the road in protest against police inaction. The Malda police superintendent Mr Satyajit Bandyopadhdayay has decided to conduct an inquiry against the alleged police officer in this case.

Lalgarh Day VI

Maoist spokesperson Gaur Chakraborty was arrested in Kolkata last evening under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the law the Centre used Monday to designate the Naxalite outfit a terrorist organisation. The decision came just after accepting the central decision in the cabinet meeting led by the chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee. The police picked up the 73-year-old Chakraborty as he stepped out of a television studio in Park Circus. Chakraborty was handed over to the special branch, the city police’s intelligence wing, and taken to an office on Lord Sinha Road for interrogation.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee yesterday chose to act like chief minister, declaring that the Delhi ban against Maoists would apply to Bengal and paving the way for the arrest of a CPI (Maoist) spokesperson under a central law, a news paper reported. “The central act banning the CPI (Maoist) will be applicable to all states across the nation, so Bengal cannot be an exception,” Bhattacharjee said after a cabinet meeting. The chief minister took care to address concerns among a section of his colleagues who objected to his stand at the cabinet meeting. “But how and when and against whom this is applied will depend on the state government. Against this backdrop, the state government has no necessity to either enact a new law or frame new rules,” Bhattacharjee said.

Kolkata will get a combat force trained on the lines of the elite National Security Guard to deal with terrorists. The police brass had proposed the force a few months ago but the state cabinet cleared it yesterday, in the middle of the crackdown in Lalgarh against Maoist guerrillas. “This 1,000-strong force will be specifically for the city and equipped to tackle different forms of terrorist attacks,” chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said. Until the new facility is ready, the training will be given at the Police Training School in Alipore. Home department sources said the first batch would be ready by 2010. According to initial estimates, the commando school could cost around Rs 55 crore. The state government will have to spend around Rs 8 crore a year to run it, said a source in Kolkata police.

Lalgarh police also recorded a complaint on their own against artistes like Aparna Sen and Kaushik Sen who had visited the area on Sunday, newspaper reported. But the police made a distinction by filing only a general diary. If the police choose to, they can now file an FIR under Section 144 of the IPC, not the anti-terror law, against the artistes for flouting orders that prohibited the assembly of more than four persons. The non-bail-able central law carries a minimum punishment of five years in prison while Section 144 is bail-able with a maximum punishment of a two-year term.

Maoists and their supporters yesterday looted and burnt down two CPM offices, one near Purulia’s Burrabazar and the other close to Jhargram, West Midnapore.
The main objectives of the 40 members of the CRPF’s Cobra force is to flush out the guerrillas from the jungles so they are not able to detonate improvised explosive devices. “The IEDs planted along the route need to be detonated; they don’t explode under pressure,” said an officer.

The Maoists have said their strategy was being overseen by Kishanji, the leader of their armed squad who is camping in Lalgarh. “He is personally monitoring our operations,” a Maoist said. “It won’t be easy for the police.”

West Midnapore district magistrate S.N. Nigam and his assistant Ashwini Yadav — and block development officer Saurav Barik drew up a short-term relief and rehabilitation blueprint for the Binpur region. “There are 54 ration shops in the area but they have not been functioning properly for months. We will revive them to ensure food,” said the official

Parties unhappy with Malda ZP’s performance

Statesman News Service

MALDA, 23 JUNE: Not only the common people or Opposition parties but a section of Congress workers too are unhappy with the role and performance of the Congress-led Malda Zilla Parishad and English Bazaar Municipality.

Though a section of leaders close to the South Malda MP tried to draw his attention to the issue, another strong group branded these leaders as "conspirators". The South Malda MP, Mr AH Khan Choudhury, is also the district Congress president.

Finally, a weaker section of the leaders in the Congress District Committee was held liable for conspiracy against the Congress leaders, giving rise to a factional feud. Shocked leaders finally took the help of a senior journalist and requested him to point out the ‘poor’ performance of the English Bazaar Municipality and Malda zilla parishad in a press conference called by the South Malda MP last Sunday. During the press conference, a section of journalists categorically exposed the present ‘poor’ performance of the Congress-led civic bodies, including the Malda zilla parishad.

“Is the Malda zilla parishad functioning here? Nobody knows the details of its performance. The sabhadhipati, chief of the district, has not contacted the Press regarding the zilla parishad's ongoing work. Other office bearers have not displayed their performance in their respective fields," one journalist said.

Initially, the Malda MP was taken aback. He finally said: “You are correct... I must look into the matter.”

Since then, the powerful group has shown signs of embarrassment, particularly the members of the monitoring committee who were responsible for evaluating the performance of the Malda zilla parishad.

It may be noted that the district Congress president Mr AH Khan Choudhury had formed a monitoring committee to guide the sabhadhipati, Mrs Sabina Yeasmin, and evaluate the performance of the civic body. One of the members of the monitoring committee was Mr Narendranath Tiwari, who is also the chairman of the English Bazaar Municipality.

“Malda zilla parishad is performing well. Within a year, the board had faced problems concerning executing many works, due to the Model Code of Conduct imposed for two Assemblies by-polls in Malda and for the general election,” said Mr Narendranath Tiwari.

The English Bazaar Congress MLA Mr Krishnendu Choudhury has regularly pointed out the poor performance of the English Bazaar Municipality.

The Congress leaders in Malda zilla parishad have failed to overcome the objections raised by government officials concerning various schemes where norms have been violated. A group of strict government officials of the Malda zilla parishad, including the additional executive officer Mr Kajal Banerjee, are monitoring all things strictly, even the tendering process. The Malda zilla parishad does not have a district engineer. The post has been lying vacant for many years and a retired man is occupying the post on a contractual basis and has failed to perform under the scanner of the executive officials.

Dept takes up embankment repair work, finally

MALDA, 23 JUNE: The irrigation department in Malda has finally taken up repair work on a 1.5 km long dwarf embankment on the left bank of the river Ganga in Kaliachak II for flood protection. A total of Rs 1.5 lakh has been allotted for this work.

It may be noted that in the absence of a ninth retired embankment - which was proposed three years ago but is yet to built due to protest by villagers - the dwarf embankment is the last defence line of flood protection in the erosion prone zone at Panchanandapur and Sakurullahapur zone in Kaliachak II.

The irrigation officials fear that if the monsoon comes in this week the repairing and strengthening work will be hampered because it is completely an ‘earth work'. “Rain will damage and wash away new soil to be dumped on the present layer,” they said.

The executive engineer of the irrigation department in Malda, Mr Soumen Misra, said: “Before the general election we sent a proposal to the district administration requesting them to take up the work through a scheme under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The district or block administration can take up jobs under the NREGA after the election notification, but still nothing has been done.”

“We could not take up the job due to the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct for the general election and so decided to propose to the administration to repair and strengthen the dwarf embankment under the NREGA. Our engineers agreed to provide technical support to the block authorities for this job,” Mr Misra disclosed.

“Finally, I was forced to give a work order to contractors on Friday to do the job,” he said. Besides, the irrigation department has taken up an emergency project for the construction of another dwarf embankment at the confluence point of the Ganga and Kosi rivers at Kesharpur in Bhutni Diara, an island, under Manikchak block.

“If the present circuit embankment located at Kesharpur is eroded away in the coming monsoon, we will have to build another 300m long dwarf embankment to stem the flood water. At present, the distance between the bank line and the present circuit embankment is nearly 50m at Kesharpur point,” said Mr Misra. ;SNS

Monday, June 22, 2009

Flush out Maoists from Lalgarh : Day V

West Bengal has sought more Central forces to flush out Maoists from Lalgarh

Belpahari have complained of excesses committed by security personnel

I won't say anything. I have my reasons: CM

The Centre banned the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) as a terrorist outfit but the communist ruling West Bengal government is in dilemma over its execution for the state when battle with Maoists at Lalgarh is going on with the help of Central forces. The chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee, asked whether the state would implement the order, did not comment when his party leaders Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechuri and Biman Bose were against banning. Bhattacharjee said: “I won't say anything. I have my reasons.”

The West Bengal government has said it will look into the legal implications of the Centre's ban to ascertain if it was binding on Bengal, newspaper reported. Chief secretary Ashok Mohan Chakrabarti said legal experts were being consulted. “The CM will discuss the Centre's decision with his Cabinet colleagues,” he said.

The Left Front has rejected chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s suggestion that the state government was “giving a serious thought” to the idea of banning the outfit. It may be pointed out that Bhattacharjee had told the media in Delhi on 20 June that Chidambaram had advised him to ban the CPI-Maoist and that he was seriously thinking about it.

Tribals of Chakadoba and Siarbenda in Belpahari have complained of excesses committed by security personnel, media reported. It was learnt that some people were playing cards outside a shop at Chakadoba on Sunday when BSF jawans while patrolling the area severely beat them up on the plea that they violated the Section 144 earlier imposed in the Belpahari police station area. When the group protested, the jawans reportedly ransacked four shops and 10 houses. They even beat up and kicked the womenfolk. The condition of one of the women "assaulted" ~ Rajani Tudu ~ was said to be critical.After one jawan was assaulted with a tangi, three people were arrested. Police chief Manoj Verma denied any knowledge of the incidents.

Life in Binpur, Belpahari, Jamboni, Gopiballavpur, Jhargram, Lalgarh and Nayagram block areas in West Midnapore was paralyzed yesterday. Despite patrolling undertaken by the security forces panic-stricken villagers did not even venture out of their homes.

West Bengal has sought more Central forces to flush out Maoists from Lalgarh. The fifth day of the government offensive was not marked by any forward movement of the security personnel from their base camps. Home secretary Ardhendu Sen has said that the state had sought more Central forces but did not give a figure. Praveen Kumar, DIG (Midnapore range), met CRPF officers at Lalgarh Ramkrishna Vidyapith. Senior officers remained tightlipped about the discussions held. Even the Cobra force, which had joined the offensive in the Jhitka forest near Lalgarh on Saturday, did not move out of its camp in the past two days. Kumar said security personnel were treading cautiously and sincerely. Apparently, six companies (about 600 personnel) of CRPF and four companies (about 400 jawans) of BSF are currently in reserve

Police are paying particular attention to the 33km-long Bhadutala-Lalgarh Road. Every vehicle taking the road is checked. They even arrested two persons near Bhadutala yesterday on the suspicion of their having links with the Maoists.

Normal life in Bankura, Purulia and Midnapore West was affected as six Maoist cadres were arrested from two separate locations in Bankura and Burdwan and a landmine was detected on railway tracks between Biramdih and Nimdih stations in Purulia. Train services in Purulia-Chandil section in Adra division of South Eastern Railways were suspended.

Police arrested Sukdeb Murmu and Ranjit Hembram, both allegedly assigned by Maoists to blow up a police vehicle in September 2008, from two separate villages in Memari area of Burdwan.

District police have started a combing operation in Birbhum’s three Maoist infested areas after receiving a tip-off that some Maoist cadres have gone to Lalgarh to assist their colleagues there. Vigil has been intensified after Maoist posters had been found from the Visva-Bharati campus in Santiniketan.

As relief camps are being set up by the Trinamul Congress and the CPI-M in violence-torn Lalgarh areas, political gain seems to top the leaders’ agenda, newspaper reported. A visit to some such relief camps across Lalgarh and Salboni areas revealed that local leaders manning the camps are busy blaming their rival party.

Chief Secretary Ashok Mohan Chakrabarti said 500 metric tons of rice and other relief material would be distributed among the distressed Lalgarh residents.

After 16 days, queue for rice

Lalgarh, June 22: A serpentine queue formed outside the Binpur I block office this morning as some 700-800 villagers arrived to collect their rations.

The block office, 1km east of Lalgarh police station, reopened today after the forces secured the area yesterday. The office had been closed for 16 days and all its officials had left the area as violence escalated and roads were dug up.

“All of us came back yesterday. We are going to start all the development activities from today,” said block development officer Sourav Banik.

The first task of the office, which caters to 1.5 lakh people, this morning was the distribution of rice.

The office, which has received 10 tonnes of rice to be disbursed as special gratuitous relief, handed 6kg free to each villager.

Hundreds arrived at the block office this morning carrying utensils, jholas, torn saris — anything they could carry away the rice in. Men, women and children formed long queues from 9am to 4pm.

“A panchayat member told us they would distribute rice from the block office. I immediately picked up a jhola and set out, taking my two-year-old daughter along,” said Bharati Murmu, who had walked the 3.5km from Rija village.

The villagers had to write out an application on plain paper with their name and the name of their village. They produced it at the godown to receive the rice that would ensure regular meals for the first time in days. “The markets, even the weekly bazaar, have been closed, and we have no money anyway. We have been eating just one meal a day. This 6kg of rice will mean meals at least for the next three to four days,” said Sangeeta Das, who lives in Rija with her husband and three daughters.

Most of those who came were from villages the police have been able to reach. Although the office caters to all of Lalgarh, none came from the areas beyond the Lalgarh police station that are still to be secured by the forces.

“We know that many people inside the villages are without any food. We will be working with the gram panchayat members and try to send rice inside the villages,” said a senior district official. “We will also try and purchase the sal plates and cups the villagers make so they have an income.”

The block office is trying to arrange for clothes to be dis- tributed among the children and to stock up the Lalgarh primary health centre.

But the block office has problems of its own, the most crucial being the shortage of cash. With banks closed, all the money being spent now — for instance, to hire people to distribute the rice and write the applications for the illiterate among the villagers — is coming out of the block officials’ own pockets.

“We have asked the government for some money but we don’t know when it will arrive,” a senior district official said. “It’s not safe to send money from outside,” he added, referring to the possibility of the cash being looted by the Maoists on the roads.

State, FBP wrangle over anti-erosion work

Statesman News Service
MALDA, 22 JUNE: The Farakka Barrage Project (FBP), a Central government initiative, has taken up anti-erosion work in three places along the bank of the Ganga in Malda district out of six vulnerable points identified by the state irrigation officials.

The FBP has also sent a proposal to the district administration for the state irrigation department to take up anti-erosion work in the remaining three places identified by them as the most “vulnerable to erosion”.

The irrigation department in Malda has, however, declined the proposal.

The Malda DM, Mr Sridhar Ghosh, had urged the FBP to look into the problems of erosion and to start proper anti-erosion work on the left bank of the Ganga to save the present embankments from flooding, based on the reports of the irrigation department.

In its reply to the DM, the FBP officials intimated the status report of ongoing anti-erosion work along the left bank of the Ganga. They informed the DM that they had taken up three projects, following the go-ahead from the technical advisory committee. They also maintained that if the state irrigation and waterways department thinks that the works are imperative, it should take up anti-erosion work in the three remaining “vulnerable” places.

The irrigation department in Malda had advised the district administration that the FBP should take up anti-erosion work at all six vulnerable points on the bank of the Ganga. The executive engineer of the irrigation department in Malda, Mr Soumen Misra, had declined the proposal.

“I have informed higher authorities about the proposal but they have not agreed to accept it, because the area is completely under the jurisdiction of the FBP, a Central government agency, and we can not take up any job there,” said Mr Soumen Misra.

The state government had extended the FBP’s jurisdiction after handing over another 32 km to Farrakka Barrage on the left bank of the river in Malda following the request of the then Union water resources minister Mr Priya Ranjan Das Munshi.

According to Mr Misra, the remaining places where the FBP did not take up the work ~ Gopalpur to Domhat in Manikchak block, Sultantola and its downstream and Shivmandir in Kaliachak II block ~ are vulnerable and the existing embankments could be damaged if the project is not initiated.

Pressure mounts for station's renovation

MALDA, 22 JUNE: District leaders across the political spectrum in Malda are taking initiatives for restructuring Khaltipur railway station.

Apart from the Left Front constituents, the Opposition Congress and the Trinamul Congress are also putting pressure on the Union rail ministry over the matter. The demands include a computerised reservation centre and stoppage of important trains moving through this station.

The CPI-M will stage a Rail Roko as part of same demand on 2 July. The date has been fixed keeping in mind the presentation of the rail Budget by the new railway minister Ms Mamata Banerjee.

Announcing the agitation programme, Kaliachak-based CPI-M leaders, including the party MLA, Mr Biswanath Ghosh, said they would pressure the railway ministry to take up the much awaited renovation of the particular station.

Interestingly, the South Malda MP and former Kaliachak MLA Mr AH Khan Choudhury has included the renovation demand of the Khaltipur railway station in his 14- point charter of demands recently submitted to the Union railway minister.

Earlier, the former Trinamul Congress district president, Mr Dulal Sarkar, raised the Khaltipur railway station renovation issue while leading a deputation to the party chief on 13 June in Kolkata.

Even the Forward Bloc blocked railway track at Khaltipur station just after Miss Mamata Banerjee took charge.

Apart from the political pressure being mounted the Kaliachak Merchants’ Chamber of Commerce has also been in the forefront of demanding prompt renovation of the station. ;SNS

Headlines June 22, 2009

"If crisis of food and water emerge, more people will move elsewhere"
"The state government aims to reopen health centres, schools and ration shops in the area to regain confidence of local people"
"CRPF personnel, during raids, used the ponds as toilet, thus polluting the water, which is used for drinking purposes”

No major incidents of retaliation from Maoists were reported till yesterday evening. Deployment of joint forces throughout the 14-km stretch between Pirakata and Lalgarh continued yesterday after the joint forces reopened the gates of Lalgarh police station and set up their base camp. The operation is being delayed due to tactical reasons. “We are trying our best to gain people's confidence”, a senior officer in charge of the operation of the joint forces said.

The Centre has sounded an alert to five Naxalite affected states to take “precautionary and pre-emptive” measures. Maoists called 48 hours strike from today over the ongoing operations in Lalgarh. The alert by the home ministry based on Intelligence reports was specifically for Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal.

Union home minister P Chidambaram issued a statement asking politicians, people and NGOs to stay away from the conflict area in Lalgarh. “The situation in Lalgarh is sensitive and continues to be tense beside the CPI (Maoist) call for a strike”, media reported quoting Chidambaram. “Security forces must carry on their work without distraction. Hence, I appeal to all citizens, especially political leaders, NGOs and others not to go to the conflict area,” Chidambaram said.

The chief secretary A M Chakrabarti urged ministers and intellectuals to stay away from the troubled area Lalgarh as it is tough to ensure proper security for them. He also assured that innocent villagers would not be harassed by the security forces. The chief secretary said that forces would move to the remote areas after sanitising areas like Lalgarh, Binpur, Pirakata and Sarenga. “The state government aims to reopen health centres, schools and ration shops in the area to regain confidence of local people”, Chakraborti said. “Those who have been driven out from their houses or forced to leave their villages would be provided relief,” he said.

The state government also asked Maoists and PSBPC (Police Santras Birodhi Public Committee) members to surrender and help restore normality at Lalgarh and its adjacent areas.

Seven CRPF jawans, who fell sick due to a heat wave, were treated in Lalgarh and later shifted to the Army hospital in Kalaikunda. One of their jawans was taken to Midnapore hospital after he fell sick.

Three persons, suspected to be Maoists, were arrested from Goaltore area yesterday. Fresh trouble erupted in the Belpahari area, where local tribals were engaged in a minor clash with CRPF personnel.

CRPF personnel, during raids, used the ponds as toilet, thus polluting the water, which is used for drinking purposes”, local people said. The locals yesterday protested and a clash broke out. A CRPF jawan was injured after being hit by an axe, prompting the force to resort to a lathi-charge.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee attacked the Congress for not having consulted her before sending forces to crack down on Lalgarh Maoists, media reported. Banerjee said: "The Congress should trust the Trinamul and not the CPI-M which is more dangerous than the poisonous cobra.”

Without naming Trinamul Congress, 16 Left MPs have written to the Prime Minister informing that some members of the Union Council of Ministers were reportedly proceeding to the affected areas and making public comments “which are adversely complicating the operations against the Maoists”.The letter came following some reported statements by certain ministers and Trinamul leaders against the joint operations by state police and central paramilitary forces.

Exodus of villagers from Lalgarh in the wake of the Maoist insurgency in Lalgarh, is actually helping police forces whose sole objective is to flush out Maoists from the area. A newspaper reported today.

Police officers are of the opinion that if the exodus continues, Maoists will soon find themselves confined to Lalgarh and hence would easily be trapped. Officers carrying out the operation feel that since villages bordering Jharkhand remained sealed, Maoists will not be able to flee. “Our strategy is to dissociate Maoists from common people,” said a senior state police officer.

If fear is instilled in the minds of the common people, they would soon start moving out of their villages which will help us in spotting Maoists,” a newspaper reported quoting a senior state police officer.

The spate of violence in Lalgarh in the last three days has triggered fear among the people,” he said. According to him, more than 10,000 people of Lalgarh have already moved out of their homes in the last three days following the gun battle between Maoists and security forces. “It is essential to distinguish between them and Maoists. We have kept some ways open to help common people move towards Jhargram,” the officer said. Around 50,000 people live in villages that the PSBPC had captured with the help of the Maoists. “If crisis of food and water emerge, more people will move elsewhere,” the officer said.

CPI (Maoist) leader Koteshwar Rao alias Khishanji had appealed to Intellectuals to visit Lalgrah and “witness the atrocities committed by security forces in the name of police operation”. A team of Intellectuals from Kolkata including noted film director Aparna Sen, theatre personalities Saonli Mitra and Kaushik Sen yesterday held a meeting with villagers and members of the Police Santras Birodhi Public Committee (PSBPC), in an effort to resolve the Lalgarh conflict. The Intellectuals, however, failed to meet Maoists leaders including Kishanji.

We have heard instances of police personnel dragging women out of their homes and beating them up. We sincerely appeal to the state government and Maoists to observe ceasefire till 14 July,” Aparna Sen said. Aparna Sen and other intellectuals appealed to both the state government and the Maoists to put down arms.

Union ministers of state Sisir Adhikary and Mukul Roy defied the state government warning and entered Salboni. They were allegedly thwarted by groups of CPI-M supporters. They would submit a report to the Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. “In the name of flushing out Maoists, the state government is allowing CPI-M cadres to regain ground in the tribal belt," Adhikary said. They have camped in West Midnapore to campaign against police atrocities and provide relief to the affected villagers.

Naxalites affiliated to the Andhra Pradesh based Chandra Pulla Reddy faction yesterday staged a rally in Burdwan’s Raniganj town protesting against the ongoing operation in Lalgarh. The CPI-ML faction has a stronghold in Raniganj coalfields from where it operates Iftu, ~ its labour front, in a number of coalmines under the Eastern Coalfields. Sunil Pal, state general secretary of the faction said: “It’s total anarchy. The state has been unleashing terror in Lalgarh and its surroundings. In the name of flushing out Maoists, the central forces and the state police is harassing the common people”.

Tension sparked off on the Visva-Bharati (V-B) campus yesterday after seven Maoist posters were found by locals and students in three different areas of Santiniketan. The posters called on the locals to be aware of the alleged police atrocity that was going on in Lalgarh and its adjoining tribal villages for the past four days.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

New steps to curb Malda erosion

Statesman News Service
MALDA, 21 JUNE: In a recent letter to the Union finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee, the south Malda MP Mr AH Khan Choudhury, has urged him to allot funds to check erosion on the banks of the Ganges from Dhulian in Murshidabad to Rajmahal, covering the areas of Manikchak block in Malda district under his parliamentary constituency. He requested the Union minister to sanction the fund in the next budget to be placed in the Parliament.

Mr Khan Choudhury said the Farakka Barrage Project, a central government unit, which is in charge of executing all the anti-erosional works here, is unable to carry out its responsibilities properly due to lack of staff.

"I will talk to the higher authorities about these problems," he said.

To serve the interest of the people in Malda, the south Malda MP, has also sent 14 points charter of demand to the union railway minister Ms Mamata Banerjee, a few days ago. Mr Khan Choudhury has demanded two inter-city express trains from Malda town station.

According to him, an inter-city express from Malda to New Jalpaiguri is absolutely essential, considering long awaiting demands of the people here along with another inter-city express from Malda to Sealdah.

Apart from this, Mr Khan Choudhury asked for a direct connecting train between Malda and New Delhi and another direct train from Malda to Ajmir Sarif.

Mr Khan Choudhury demanded the renovation of Khaltipur station in Kaliachak, with computerised reservation counter and stoppage of some important trains.

He claimed that the Khaltipur station will be more viable commercially because many people from Kaliachak area either have to come to Malda town station or New Farakka station to travel by a train.

Mr Khan Choudhury also demanded electricity in rail-routes up to Malda town station so that locomotives can run with the help of electricity.

Presently locomotives which run on diesel, can not run fast, the south Malda MP admitted.

Speaking to The Statesman he also expressed his desire to be a member in Dr Manmohan Singh government's cabinet. “We have placed our demands to appropriate authorities. I am hopeful that they will look into the matter but every thing is depending on the high command and party”, Mr Khan Choudhury said.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The joint operation to flush out Maoists : Day III

Headlines June 21, 2009
The chief minister's assertion
evoked a strong reaction from Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee. She said that her party activists would hit the streets in 48 hours unless Bhattacharjee withdraw their allegations linking the Trinamul with the Maoists. Bhattacharjee said he knew the Trinamul Congress had “strong links” with the Police Santras Birodhi Public Committee that is supported by Leftist ultras and its leader Chatradhara Mahato was part of the Trinamul Congress.
Upset over allegations and supposed ‘disclosure’ of links between the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamul Congress and the hard-line Maoists group in West Bengal, the Centre has directed its Intelligence agencies to probe the matter even as Trinamul Congress leaders were in denial mode, newspaper reported. Trinamul Congress leaders have denied the charges outright.
Security forces succeeded in reaching Lalgarh police station yesterday eight months after tribals under the banner of the Police Santras Birodhi People's Committee began a police boycott over alleged atrocities. "The hundred per cent operation is yet to be completed. It may take days, even weeks to do this”, said the DIG (Midnapore Range) Praveen Kumar told reporters outside Lalgarh police station.
Maoists set off a powerful land mine in the Kadasole jungle injuring at least four policemen. The district administration claimed last night that six Maoists have been gunned down in encounters with security forces during the day. Maoist leader Koteswar Rao alias Khisanji has denied this. The mine, planted on the road, exploded when the policemen were removing a tree. When other policemen came to their rescue, more than 50 Maoists fired at the cops injuring two more jawans. Jawans of the state and central forces fired back. The shoot-out continued for a few hours.
Maoists also fired at security forces from the direction of Goaltore last evening around 7.30 p.m . Later, security forces recaptured some villages from the Maoists and set up camps. Another police team ~ comprising jawans of six companies of CRPF and two companies of State Armed Police ~ left for Lalgarh police station from Bhimpur around 7 p.m. Meanwhile, PSBPC members ransacked and set on fire the CPI-M office at Baita. They also torched the home of a CPI-M leader Sanatan Pal.
The Police Santras Birodhi Public Committee (PSBPC) struck at Khoyerpahari ~ barely 5 km from Sarenga in Bankura yesterday afternoon, demolishing a culvert, when the combined Central paramilitary forces were returning to their base camp at Gargaria High School.
Union minister of state for rural development, and Trinamul MP Sisir Adhikari charged that a Trinamul leader has been killed in police firing near the Kadasole jungle.
The chief secretary AM Chakrabarti has ruled out the possibility of any dialogue with the Maoists. He said that the Maoists had gathered huge cache of arms and ammunitions. Police are trying to build contact with local people to unearth them.
The state has asked for more Central forces and steps have been taken to restore infrastructure in the area.
A CRPF jawan Nabakanta Roy died of heat stroke and several others fell ill during the operation yesterday.
The CPI-M central committee has backed the West Bengal government’s efforts to use “both political and administrative measures” to free Lalgarh from Maoist gangs, and to ensure the rule of law. The committee said that since March this year 53 party cadres were “mercilessly butchered.”
West Bengal Left Front chairman Biman Bose told reporters that the proposal to ban the Maoists in the state would be discussed in the state Left Front. The chief minister, who met the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the home minister P Chidambaram yesterday told reporters in Delhi that 18 of the state’s 241 blocks were affected by Maoist violence. The CM said the home minister had asked the state government to ban the Maoists and, “we will have to give it a serious thought”.
The joint operation to flush out Maoists from their latest sphere of influence in Lalgarh has left the local economy and education system in shambles, newspaper reported. People like Mihir Das and Tarun Mandal, who eight months ago had been coerced to support the Police Santras Birodhi Public Committee (PSBPC) lest their livelihood be adversely affected, are now a frustrated lot. The prospect of losing a livelihood is staring them in the face. Agriculture, biri manufacturing and saal leaf-plate weaving have been adversely hit in the area. Shops have closed down and people are clueless about their future. Food stocked in households too is fast running out. Ration shops in these areas have stopped stocking up on food supplies and have put up their shutters. Many seem to be leaving the place they had lived in for generations.

Series of power cuts continue…

MALDA, 19 JUNE: While mercury is gradually soaring, making it more uncomfortable for the residents in the district, there is no relief from the continuous power cuts that could come as a respite to them amidst the prevailing sultry conditions.

The rate of power cuts has increased since Wednesday. There was a power cut for seven hours yesterday when electricity went off in the morning and residents had to bear the heat till late in the night. Even today, the residents of English Bazaar experienced power failure for more than two hours in the morning.

Despite the Regional Meteorological Office's forecast, there was no rain in the district till yesterday afternoon.

Power went off at 1.35 pm and resumed after three and-a-half hours on Thursday. There was a power cut again which continued for more than two hours late in the night. It was disrupted at 9.30 pm and there was no electricity till midnight..

Last night residents had to go through an unbearable situation due to these long hours when power supply was disrupted. There was not even a breeze to provide relief from the sultry conditions.

“We are helpless because power cut is beyond our control. We simply execute central (load dispatch) decision. Power cuts continue for more than three hours even in Kolkata. Not only English Bazaar town, but also of the district is also facing power cut at the same time,” said Mr DK Mondal, the divisional manager of state electricity distribution company in Malda. Families, are buying inverters for emergency power supply so that they can run the fans in their homes to get relief from the sultry situation.

Cong activists assault Left candidate

MALDA, 19 JUNE: The CPI-M English Bazaar local committee leaders staged a protest meeting in Ward no 11 this evening, after the CPI-M candidate for the municipality by-polls, scheduled on 28 June, was allegedly assaulted by a group of Congress workers.

On the basis of the complaint lodged by the CPI-M candidate Mr Dilip Choudhury, English Bazaar police arrested four persons including a CPI-M supporter today. A team of police personnel was deployed to maintain law and order in view of the mounting tension running in the area.

The CPI-M alleged that one shop, belonging to the candidate's brother had been set on fire last night. "When Mr Chowdhury arrived at the spot this morning he was beaten up by a gang of Congress-backed miscreants,” alleged a local CPI-M leader Mr Indrajit Mitra.

The Congress leaders including the Congress candidate for the particular ward, Mr Atul Singha, denied CPI-M's allegations. ‘The charge of Congress complicity in the incident is baseless.

The CPI-M is trying to unleash tension as part of its policy of scaring away the voters from the coming bypoll,” the Congress leaders counter alleged.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Operation Lalgarh Day-II

Headlines June 20, 2009

Faced with stiff resistance, the state government has been forced to ask for more Central forces to flush out Maoists from Lalgarh. Chief secretary Asok Chakrabarti, said in Kolkata that the state has asked for more Central forces.

Five companies of Central forces had arrived and later six more companies of BSF have reached the state. The joint force set up their base camp at Bhimpur High School ~ 8.7 kilometres from Lalgarh where top police and CRPF officers discussed operational strategies.

Two police men were injured in a landmine blast near Pirakata Bazaar during operations to flush out Maoists.

To avoid confrontation authorities temporarily suspended their operation when armed with primitive weapons thousands of PSBPC supporters, mostly women and children, blocked a road last evening. They shot arrows at policemen. Gun-wielding youths, faces covered with towels, were seen leading the mob.

Santrash Birodhi Public Committee (PSBPC), backed by armed Leflist ultras, recaptured some areas from the security forces. Maoists and PSBPC members also recaptured Kulidaha, Malida and Pirakuli. Camps of the State Armed Force have been set up at Malida, Kulidaha and Pirakuli.

Though leaflets  were air-dropped in Lalgarh urging villagers not to help the Maoists , policemen are facing human barricade during marching towards Lalgarh from Goaltore base camp. Armed with bows and arrows, thousands of people blocked their way when the forces reached at Pingboni. Three companies of BSF jawans will join the force at Pingboni today.

Movement of forces to Lalgarh suffered a jolt with PSBPC supporters blowing up the bridge on Kangsabati River at Amkola in Binpur. The Dherua-Lalgrah Road, Sarenga-Lalgarh Road and Sarenga-Chandrakona Road were also blocked with trenches and tree trunks.

Two motorcycle-borne Maoist cadres fired at a police party at Kulidaha yesterday afternoon, sparking off a gun-battle that lasted for more than an hour. No one, however, was injured.

Two more land-mine blasts occurred near Lalgarh police station last night, and Maoists fired several rounds targeting the police station. No casualties were reported.

One unit of the CoBRA Force came to Bhimpur High School, but later went back to Midnapore. A senior CRPF officer said: “CoBRA Force will start operations if the Central and state police forces face tough resistance from Maoists.”

A red alert has been sounded in all four Maoist infested police station areas of Purulia district in view of the police operations in Lalgarh.

Senior police officers also carried out a survey of the terrain from the helicopter yesterday.

Two journalists covering the operation were accosted by PSBPC members led by a Maoist leader, Bikash, at Pirakuli. Maoist cadres reportedly fired eight rounds in the air and snatched their mobile phones. The scribes were let off after half an hour.

We appeal to the journalists not to follow the police teams as operation is going to be tough in the next few days and it would be very risky for them” the state home secretary Ardhendu Sen, said at Writers’ Buildings.

The government has sent relief materials for villagers who were driven out from their homes in Binpur by the PSBPC.

The Maoists, meanwhile, held a secret meeting with PSBPC leaders at Debagram High School on Thursday night, newspaper reported. Top Maoist leader Koteshwar Rao alias Khishanji, said that they won't back out until people's rule is established. “We won't be cowed down even if more forces are brought in,” he told reporters at Chhoto Pelia in Lalgarh last night.

Koteshwar Rao alias Khishanji has also appealed to Mamata Banerjee to ask the Centre to withdraw forces from Lalgarh as the Maoists had supported her movement against the CPI-M-police sponsored terror in Nandigram.

The Centre has asked the Maoists in Lalgarh area of West Bengal to lay down arms and come for talks. Home minister P Chidambaram said he endorsed the appeal of West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to the Maoists and the tribals to come for talks.

The CPI (Maoist) is not banned in West Bengal as in other states. “We think they should be banned in West Bengal,” Chidambaram said.

Senior leaders of the CPI (Maoist) who had been camping at Lalgarh for the past few months, have already left the area after police operations began, newspaper reported quoting IB officials. They said “The Maoists have brought in squads from Jharkhand and Orissa to augment their West Bengal unit. Action squad members from three state units are camping in Lalgarh and adjoining areas. The senior leaders of the outfit will brief them about how to go about it. But they themselves will not engage the security forces. The time is not ripe for them to engage in direct combat as inputs suggest that their objective is to strengthen their cadre base in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh”.