Metro set for freedom run
Security scurry to send back ‘hijackers’
Sajjad no brake on toy train
Guards not at home with traffic
Three cheers for GenerationEx
Unsung heroes, burnt but brave
3000 nominee sweepers face CMC sack
Bamboo trade to get a boost
PM to visit Shillong for security meet
Experts warn of landslides

Calcutta, Jan 13 
The Calcutta Metro is all set to become a corporation.

The plan to make the Metro an independent body, capable of managing its own affairs without depending on Delhi for every little thing, augurs well for passengers plagued by problems underground.

For what the Metro in its new avatar promises is a marked improvement in quality, thanks to streamlined services, prompt modernisation and maintenance.

“In the new millennium, Metro will become a corporation so that passengers’ requirement can be taken care of more efficiently and decisions can be taken by the administration in Calcutta itself,” said Metro Rail general manager I.I.M.S. Rana

Bangaru Lakshman, minister of state for railways in charge of Metro Railway, is expected to arrive in the city on Monday to discuss the matter.

The move has been initiated by E. Sreedharan, managing director of the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation, which is functioning as an independent body under the urban development department.

Sreedharan submitted a confidential report to the Railway Board last month, stressing the need to convert Metro Rail into a full-fledged corporation.

“It is correct that maintenance of rakes is required to be improved on a war footing . And for this, the general manager should be given full discretion and powers in exercising major decision concerning Metro Railway, ” said Sreedharan, adding that “converting Metro into a corporation will definitely improve Metro and be a step in the right direction.”

Rana is in full agreement, having discussed the matter with Sreedharan earlier. “At the moment, the job of a general manager is just to run the rakes. But all major decisions regarding finance, technology, fares, frequency of service and integrated transport system are being taken by the Railway Board. As a corporation, not only will the Metro chief be able to do a lot of things independently, it will also enable better coordination with the state government so far as an integrated transport system is concerned,” said Rana.

Railway Board officials, when contacted in New Delhi, confirmed the proposed move.

“The setting up of the Calcutta Metro Rail Corporation is under our active consideration,” said additional member, railway board, M.M.Goel. Goel, who was in the city last week along with two other officials, said that this would also pave the way for greater participation from the state government for improved feeder transport services.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty has already met Metro officials to discuss an integrated transport network in the city.

Sunirmal Ghosh, a joint secretary attached to the transport department, said the existing problems with the Metro over surface transportation parallel to the underground network would be sorted out “once it is converted into a corporation and takes all vital decisions on its own”.

The first move to help Metro go corporate was initiated way back in 1985 when a committee headed by the then chief engineer, Metro, G,N. Phadke, was formed.

In his report, Phadke had stated: “An omnipotent body with the man at its apex and helm having full authority to take final decisions in all matters including financial even without concurrence of Financial Adviser is very essential for speedy execution of work.”

In the present set-up, Metro officials here complain of having “responsibility without power”.

“Important matters like settlement of high-value tenders, creation of officers’ posts, modification in the methodology and scope of work, and settlement of contractors’ claims have to be cleared from the capital, resulting in wastage of time and effort,” said an official.    

Even 24 hours after they were released by the authorities in Calcutta, freedom continues to elude the 11 Israelis detained here on suspicion of being “Afghan hijackers”.

Since Wednesday afternoon, when they were cleared by the police, the Israelis have been unable to find a flight to take them home.

Last night, as they were about to leave for Dhaka on flight BG-096, the Israelis were off-loaded as Bangladesh refused them permission to land on its soil. Once again, because of a “hijack alert”.

Since then, the harried group from Tel Aviv has not been able to find a seat on any of the flights to their country. They now plan to fly to Delhi and take a connecting flight back home.

On Tuesday night, as they were about to leave for Dhaka, overzealous police and Customs officials at Calcutta airport swooped down on them and detained them on the suspicion that they were Afghan terrorists out to hijack a Bangladesh Biman aircraft.

What had triggered of the flurry of activity by the police, already pumped up after the hijacking of IC 814, was a Union home ministry circular alerting them that such a hijack bid could be made to secure the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s assassins, now in a Dhaka jail.

Officials say “mistook” the Israelis for Afghan terrorists as some of them sported beards and one of them resembled a hijacker of flight IC 814. They were interrogated for over 24 hours.

However, with no information forthcoming and after verification of their identity by the Israeli embassy in Delhi, they were found innocent and released.

The Israelis had arrived in Delhi in October had been travelling around the country on tourist visas. Delhi police and security agencies had already verified their antecedents. The tourists said they had visited a number of shrines in the country, besides other places of religious interest.

On Thursday, Central intelligence sleuths were blaming state government officials for “jumping the gun and acting in haste”.

“The state security agencies should have contacted officials in Delhi if they had any doubts about the bona fides and intentions of the Israelis,” said a Central government official.

Sources said the home ministry has sought a report from the state intelligence agencies on the incident, which has “embarrassed the country”.

Through most of Thursday, officials here were running from pillar to post to find the Israelis seats on any flight to Delhi, but the going was tough as such a large block of seats was not available.

The Israelis spent the day waiting in the transit lounge of the airport and sleeping on the sofas.    

Calcutta, Jan 13 
While eight-year-old Sheikh Sajjad battles for life, the Science City authorities seem to have put the accident firmly behind them.

They have no information about the condition of the boy who fell from the toy train on Monday evening and is now in the intensive care unit of Kothari Medical Centre. “The boy is responding to treatment and his condition is improving slowly but steadily,” said Sanjeev Sen of Kothari’s.

At Science City, life is back to normal. No additional safety measures have been taken. And children are having loads of fun on the toy train. “Our system will not be changed as the toy train is being maintained regularly. Parents and guardians should keep an eye on their children,” said Science City officials.

“Please do not disturb me and waste my time,” said director T K Ganguly, asked about the accident and the condition of the victim.    

Calcutta, Jan 13 
The government’s promise to improve the traffic system has turned out to be a farce with the deployment at major crossings of 300 home guards who do not have adequate training .

Concerned over the growing number of road mishaps and the consequent public wrath, the government last month decided to revamp the traffic management. It was decided that no crossing would remain unmanned and that the traffic police would undergo more rigorous training.

The meeting was attended by deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, finance minister Asim Dasgupta and transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.

However, instead of making arrangements for rigorously training the traffic police, the state government decided to deploy 300 home guards, after providing them with only a week’s training in traffic management.

Home guards manage traffic at crossings like Hatibagan, Moulali, Entally, Park Circus and Bagbazar. On Thursday, a middle-aged man was knocked down by a bus on Amherst Street.

Police said residents blocked the road for an hour till 10. 30 am. The driver later told the police he could not spot the pedestrians in blinding morning fog.

The decision on home guards was taken at a meeting last month between home secretary S.N.Roy and officers of the home and civil defence departments. Accordingly, 300 home guards underwent “traffic duty training” for a week from December 18.

The confederation of state government employees on Thursday submitted a memorandum to civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee, protesting the decision. The panel felt the government should either provide adequate training to the home guards or withdraw them from traffic duty.

Mukherjee, however, said it was the duty of the departments concerned to decide how to utilise home guards’ services after providing them with adequate training. “We can only provide the manpower,” he said. A section of the traffic police also expressed dissatisfaction over the deployment of the home guards.

“We have undergone rigorous training for a year and still failed to cope with the traffic rush in the city. I wonder how the home guards will face up to it,” said a traffic policeman.

But does the state government take traffic management seriously? Neither the traffic police nor the transport department has succeeding in installing a modern traffic signal system yet on major intersections.    

Calcutta, Jan 13 
There’s finally a movement “of the aged, by the aged, for the aged” in the city.

Dignity Foundation, a charitable organisation making a difference in the lives of senior citizens of Mumbai, is being brought to Calcutta by a bunch of enthusiastic old men and women, determined to “find and give a new meaning to life”.

Dignity Companionship, involving volunteers who will visit old people in need of physical or emotional support, will flag off the organisation’s programme in the city.

Whether they need someone to get them medicine from the local chemist, or to just spend an evening chatting about old times, Dignity Foundation promises to try and fill in the blanks.

“It is only when you grow old that you realise that companionship is more important than comfort, dignity more essential than daily routine,” says Deepak Mitra, coordinator of Dignity, Calcutta.

During a recent visit to Mumbai, Mitra was inspired by the ‘senior citizens’ life enrichment services’ provided by the foundation.

These include Dignity Companionship, Dignity Helpline, Dignity Second Careers, Dignity Computer Training, Cleaning Mumbai with Dignity Campaign, Security with Dignity, Dignity Homes and the Dignity Dialogue magazine.

Mitra immediately rounded up some of his retired friends back home to give shape to Dignity, Calcutta. The old boys’ (and girls’) network now extends to more than 80 members.

They, along with the leaders of Dignity, Mumbai, will declare the Calcutta chapter open on Sunday.

“At first, we will start slowly, building up awareness about the needs of the aged. The response from the people and the authorities will decide our future course of action,” explains Lakshmi Sundaram, chairperson of the organisation.

After losing her husband suddenly last year, she has devoted herself to Dignity, to help other elderly people cope with loss and loneliness.

“What kind of a society have we created, where people take out processions to protect trees, but fail to take care of their parents?” demands septuagenarian P.K. Banerjee.

“We intend to take the first steps towards creating a more compassionate Calcutta, where the old will not feel unwanted.”

For this, Dignity Foundation is seeking change from “top to bottom”.

In a bid to spread their message to the decision-makers of today and tomorrow, meetings have been lined up at Writers’ Buildings, Lalbazar, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation office, and in city schools and colleges.

“Another thrust area for us is the attempt to bridge the generation gap. Unless grandchildren and grandparents can rebuild a harmonious reciprocal relationship, our objectives will never be achieved,” says V.K. Krishnamurthy, member of the organisation’s core committee

For the grey-haired army of ‘yesterday’s citizens’ uniting under the banner of Dignity Foundation, it’s much more than just an organisation. It’s a reason to live.    

Calcutta, Jan 13 
The blast from the windows made the group of six huddle together in the compartment as the Sealdah-bound local left Diamond Harbour exactly a week ago. But the chill was nothing compared to what followed soon after.

Biswajit Sarkar and Tarun Das were on their way home in Calcutta with four colleagues on the 8 pm train last Thursday. They were returning from work at the Carbon Composite (India) Ltd factory at Falta, where they make tennis racquets for export.

As soon as the train left Deula (the stop after Diamond Harbour), a man sitting opposite took out a revolver from under his shawl. He came up to Biswajit, pointed the gun at him and told him to hand over whatever he had.

Two things happened at the same time in the same instant, and they helped Biswajit make up his mind. The dacoit turned to face the other passengers, and the bullets in his gun slipped out of the weapon on to the floor.

The 32-year-old resident of Ultadanga sprang up, grabbed the miscreant’s hand and then pinioned him. The gun fell. By this time, their grappling had taken them towards the door, where a second dacoit stood. A third emerged from the other side of the compartment.

“The one I was holding on to shouted to the other to explode a bomb,” Biswajit said weakly, lying in bed in the surgery unit at B.R. Singh Railway Hospital. The blast badly burnt his right forearm, and his forehead and left eye were injured by splinters.

But he still held on to the dacoit. The train was now slowing down at Sangrampur and the other passengers raised an alarm. The dacoits, including the one held captive, jumped out of the bogey, taking Biswajit with them.

Tarun, too, jumped off to help his friend, shouting for the police all the while. In a bid to free his associate, one of the dacoits exploded another bomb on the platform as he fled. The explosion badly burnt Tarun’s back. He fell hard on the platform, breaking a couple of ribs.

He and Tarun were transferred on Thursday from Kothari Medical Centre, where they had been admitted early on January 7. They were taken there from M.R. Bangur Hospital at the behest of the company they work for.

“The move to admit them at B.R. Singh was made after railway minister Mamata Banerjee, on hearing about the heroism of the duo, instructed that their treatment be taken up and paid for by the railways,” said Kaushik Mukherjee, a senior Eastern Railway official.

They have already been operated on at Kothari Medical Centre but now require prolonged treatment for burns.    

Calcutta, Jan 13 
Calcutta Municipal Corporation has decided to discontinue the 50-year-old privilege extended to conservancy workers, allowing them to nominate close relatives to the department.

The circular, signed by mayor Prasanta Chatterjee and municipal commissioner Asim Barman, will be made official on Friday.

This will render about 3,000 “nominee sweepers” or badli workers jobless from February, enabling the CMC to cut down its annual salary bills by Rs 24 crore.

“We have taken this decision to give effect to the high court’s direction”, Barman said on Thursday evening.

Only the next of kin of employees who die in harness will be absorbed.

Barman held a series of meetings with district conservancy officers and directed them to submit lists of nominee workers within two days.

He told them to send letters to all the 12,000 regular workers of the conservancy department conveying the contents of the circular.

Till now, a conservancy worker could nominate his wife, son or son-in-law to replace him temporarily or permanently.

Recently, a group of citizens challenged the practice in Calcutta High Court, which termed the system “unconstitutional”.    

Guwahati, Jan. 13 
The United Nations Development Programme has specifically designed an ambitious bamboo and cane action plan to benefit at least 20,000 families surviving on this “once lucrative trade”.

Official sources said the project has been designed to explore the potential of bamboo and cane production in the Northeast and provide required infrastructure to the rural artisans and craftsmen.

“The region was once well known for its bamboo and cane products. But it is now on the verge of extinction. The project has been specially formulated for its revival,” said Utpal Sharma, additional director of the state industry department. Sharma has been assigned the task of co-ordinating the various activities of the project.

He said the project aims at reviving the skilled craftsmanship which the region was once known for. “Though the region accounts for more than 60 per cent of the total bamboo production in the country, it is still lagging far behind in all spheres,” he said. Sharma pointed out at that both China and Japan have effectively exploited the cane and bamboo resources and become leaders in the international market.

“Once the project is implemented properly, it can be used to give better value to the artisans for their products,” Sharma said, expressing the hope that the project would be able to better the living standards of the poor artisans, besides generating employment.

“The artisans and craftsmen have been fighting a losing battle. Right from arranging raw materials to selling their finished products, they face stiff competition. This is the reason that despite having tremendous potential to be a world leader, we are not being able to show the results,” he said.

The action plan envisages the setting up of 20 common facility centres throughout the country with 17 in the Northeast alone. While Assam tops the list with five centres, followed by four each in Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh, the remaining three will be set up in Kerala. Among the five centres to be set up in Assam, three will be displaying bamboo items. The project has already approved a grant of Rs 10 crore for the setting up of the centres.

“Each of these centres will be fully equipped with the latest machinery and tools,” Sharma said. He added this would help the artisans and craftsmen to give a more polished look to their products.

Sharma said the Assam government has selected five sites for the centres and construction will begin soon. While the Indian Institute of Technology campus here has been selected, the remaining four locations are at Barpeta, Tezpur, Nagaon and Badarpur in the Barak Valley.

“The IIT has been entrusted with looking after the functioning of the centre on its campus,” he said. Sharma added non-governmental organisations will also be engaged at the three centres in the Brahmaputra Valley.

The Assam Small Industries Development Corporation has been entrusted with looking after the Badarpur centre, the official said. Sharma said the process of selecting the NGOs will be completed soon, following which construction will be taken up.

Highlighting the role of the IIT, the nodal officer said it could play an effective role, particularly in tool designing and training. “It has been decided that IIT Guwahati, will work in tandem with the IIT Mumbai, in designing and manufacturing of tools and training of artisans in the use of improved tools,” he said.

Sharma said the industry department would also assist in appointing a nodal officer nominated in the state forest department who would be responsible for co-ordinating and monitoring the activity regarding plantation of varied bamboo species.    

New Delhi, Jan. 13 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will hold a high-level two-day meeting with the Governors, chief ministers and senior central and state officials on financial and security issues of the Northeast beginning at Shillong next Friday.

The Union home, defence and finance ministers and the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission will also take part in the meeting. Besides, the Union water resources and the sports and youth affairs minister, both of whom are from the Northeast, will also take part as special invitees.

Home ministry officials are attaching considerable significance to the meeting because they feel positive developments have taken place on the security front, despite the attempt on the life of Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir by National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) militants in November last year.

Matters relating to security will come up for discussion on January 22 when defence minister George Fernandes, chief of Army staff Gen. V.P. Malik, the commanders-in-chief of the 3rd and 4th Corps, directors-general of the BSF, CRPF, state chief secretaries and the directors-general of police of the seven states will review the entire security scenario. A fresh action plan to tackle insurgency in the region will also be discussed.

A home ministry official said although the financial situations of the seven states will be taken up separately on January 21, security issues are also likely to dominate the meet. The conference will take up for discussion the plans to initiate peace talks with militant groups, including the Ulfa.    

Guwahati, Jan. 13 
Experts have attributed the spurt in landslides to the unplanned growth of settlements in and around the city.

A recent survey on hill slope destabilisation and its impact on urban drainage planning conducted by the Assam Science, Technology and Environmental Council (Astec) said the abnormal population growth and unplanned settlements on hill slopes has made the city prone to landslides.

Principal investigator of the survey Prabin Sharma said the problem of hill slopes destabilisation and its impact on the city’s drainage was serious. “It is spreading to new areas every year,” he said.

“Extensive deforestation and cutting of hill slopes to prepare plots for houses and roads have increased the rate of soil erosion and landslides,” the survey report said, warning that the situation may take a turn for the worse if adequate steps were not taken.

Sharma said it was high time for all concerned authorities, including the people, to adopt an integrated approach to deal with the situation.

“Otherwise, the charms of city life will become a nightmare,” he said and added, “The participation of non-governmental organisations and people is an imperative, ” he said.

The council said the alarming rate of unplanned growth must be stopped immediately, specially in the lowlying areas.

“These areas should be preserved and developed as water retention basins for rain water,” the report said.

“Massive plantation programme on the exposed hill slopes should be undertaken by all concerned,” the report said. Rampant felling in these areas have increased the chances of landslides.

It further said there should not be any disturbances on the hills slopes beyond an angle of 40 degrees.

Sharma said to meet the growing demand of residential houses in the city, the government should plan an effective strategy to check erosion. “The existing settlement pattern should be oriented,” he said. The government should initiate a legislation banning felling on the hill slopes and filling up of all existing wetlands in the area.    


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