Graffiti blitz blows clean-up act off the walls
Aura, bhajan & cure
Rally raj rules city centre
Govt nod for NGO schools
Arson after road mishap
Police to help spread AIDS awareness
Tight security for Bihar poll
Sonia subdued on Naveen turf
Acid test for AGP in Majuli
Where are the new roads, dream girl asks Laloo

Calcutta, Feb 16 
Taking advantage of slack surveillance by the civic authorities, big, small and unknown companies are defacing Calcutta’s walls, giving even many upmarket localities an unkempt look.

The visual pollution is evident across the city, from Gurusaday Road in south Calcutta to S.N. Roy Road in Behala, Raja Subodh Mullick Road in Jadavpur, the Kankurgachhi-Ultadanga area in north-east Calcutta and in patches along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.

“All these advertisements are illegal,” said municipal commissioner Asim Barman. Such defacement is a punishable offence. “The corporation will take the offenders to court if they continue with this illegal means of gaining publicity.”

But despite such tough talk, it is clearly the failure of the civic authorities to persist with their cleanliness drive. The failure has has led to the city lapsing into the visual chaos that the corporation had once promised it would eradicate.

Advertisers have not even cared to find out if permission was required before they took over the walls. A spokesman for Steelco, a furniture company whose advertisement is splashed along a wall on Gurusaday Road, refused to answer when asked if the company would take action against its advertising agency for defacing walls. The spokesman was not forthcoming either on who the company’s advertising agency was.

S. P. Biswas, executive engineer (advertising ), said the corporation can file cases against establishments named in the graffiti if the identity of the advertising agency was not available. However, Dinesh Bajaj, chief executive officer of Steelco Furniture on Rabindra Sarani, said he will take personal initiative to clean the wall.

Punjab-based SSK Engg. Co, a manufacturer of electrical goods, has also advertised its product — Signature EL — on a Gurusaday Road wall on behalf of its dealer on Rabindra Sarani, Hind Electric. “We did not know that SSK had wall advertisements. We will write to the company in Kapurthala, asking them not to do such things in Calcutta. We were told about some advertisement kiosks but not wall ads,” said Ramesh Vhala, partner of Hind Electric.

Walls once whitewashed or repainted with notices of “stick no bills” have now been taken over by a gaudy mishmash that markets furniture, pizzas, washing machines, Hawaii chappals, condoms and cement.

Some clubs in Behala, Jadavpur and Ultadanga are letting out wall space in their localities to companies. With civic polls due soon, political parties are scrambling for walls of private houses for campaign graffiti.

Two years ago, the civic authorities imposed restrictions on the size of hoardings and billboards. The maximum size allowed under the rules is 200 sq ft. Hoardings have to be placed in such a way that they do not block the facade of a heritage building. On the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, hoardings as large as 1,200 sq ft were allowed.

During the 1998 drive, several hundred hoardings and billboards were pulled down because they did not conform to the stipulated size and location.

A simultaneous drive was undertaken by the CMC with help from Outdoor Advertising Agency to mop clear the walls of the city. Political parties were asked to whitewash their graffiti. But their response was poor.

Commissioner Barman said there was a standing instruction on the executive engineer (advertisement), S.P. Biswas, to ensure that visual pollution does not overtake Calcutta again.

But Biswas said his department is overburdened and, therefore, cannot be a strict monitor. “As the advertisement department in the civic headquarters is preoccupied with a lot of other jobs, I have passed on the responsibility of surveillance to the executive engineers of the 15 boroughs of the CMC,” he said.    

Calcutta, Feb 16 
While commuters stuck in traffic jams fretted and fumed, more than 1,500 Calcuttans crowded a city auditorium on Wednesday evening, most hoping to be healed, some seeking salvation, all awaiting the arrival of ‘master’ Choa Kok Sui.

The Filipino guru of ‘pranic healing’ finally made his appearance after the audience had been asked to “uncross hands and legs to receive maximum energy” and warned “not to yawn” while the master was at work.

“The no-touch, no-drug therapy, an ancient healing science, works on the principle of absorbing and giving pran shakti,” explained the portly pranic healer, resembling a management rather than a meditational guru, in blue blazer and red tie, cellphone in hand.

The ‘mobile’, of course, was used as a modern medium for communicating an age-old concept. “Just as this needs both hardware and battery to function, we need both body and energy. And just as you cannot see the signals that activate a cellphone, the life force, though not visible, has the ability to heal,” said Sui.

After exhorting his audience to invoke Shiva, Krishna or “any bhagwan you prefer”, the chemical engineer-cum-businessman-turned-faith healer unveiled the power of pranic healing.

Armed with a sparkling crystal (the updated version of the salt used by “our grandmothers to absorb the negative energy from an ailing child’s body”), some chants to call on Shiva or Krishna, and confidence-boosting words, Sui pushed his ‘patients’ with frozen shoulders to clap their hands high above their hands, and those with “serious knee problems” to walk without support.

Some, like Nagen Bhai, experienced “a lot of relief”. This, after the master had termed the “aura” (energy field) around the elderly man’s bad knee “as congested as the traffic in Calcutta”.

But a few proved “non-receptive” to the energy capsule.

The curtains came down on the show with ‘mass healing’, which turned out to be a curious mix of bhajan, religious discourse, moral science sermon and pranic cure. Those who had benefited from the session were asked “not to bathe for 24 hours or get angry” as the pran shakti was coursing through their veins.

The audience, of course, latched on to every word, tracked every move made by the master. Not surprising, as the fraternity of faith healers is growing rapidly in the city. Members at the Pranic Healers’ Association, West Bengal — mainly comprising Marwaris, Gujaratis and Punjabis — have more than doubled over the last few months.

“All you need to learn and practise pranic healing in 16 hours is ‘mature age’, ‘average intelligence’ and ‘willingness to learn and practise something new’. Also, it is complementary to medical treatment, and helps us become better human beings,” said Manjari Seksaria, one of the Calcutta chapter founders.    

Calcutta, Feb 16 
Calcuttans had a harrowing time on Wednesday, having to cope with three rallies — all held without the permission of the police.

“We did not give permission for any of the rallies, fearing massive traffic dislocation,” said the deputy commissioner of police (headquarters), Nazrul Islam. A line he has to repeat often

That was little consolation for countless commuters caught in traffic snarls throughout central Calcutta, as the youth wing of the Trinamul Congress, members of the All-India Self-Employment Sangram Samiti and activists of the Madrasa Students’ Union, hit the streets with a vengeance.

The Trinamul demonstration caused maximum disruption, with at least 25,000 supporters blocking the entire Esplanade area from noon.

The rally, to protest the “deteriorating law and order situation” and demand “dismissal” of home (police) minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, culminated with the burning of a 20-ft effigy of the minister in front of Metro cinema.

Later in the afternoon, a Trinamul delegation met Governor Viren Shah and submitted a memorandum listing their grievances.

With truckloads of Trinamul supporters heading towards the heart of the city from noon, all roads leading to Esplanade were clogged. (Picture on Page 17)

Matters were compounded with the two other rallies heading for the Esplanade-Rani Rashmoni Road zone as well.

While the Madrasa Students’ Union brought out a procession from Haji Mohammad Mohsin Square, the All India Self-Employment Sangram Samiti members converged on Esplanade in small groups.

Schoolchildren and office-goers were stranded as buses, minibuses and taxis stood still on Lenin Sarani, S.N. Banerjee Road, Red Road, Park Street, Shakespeare Sarani, Bhowanipore, Hazra, B.B. Ganguly Street, College Street, Amherst Street, Chittaranjan Avenue, and Raja Subodh Mullick Square.

Hundreds of commuters were forced to abandon their vehicles and start walking. Others made a dash for the overcrowded Metro stations.

The police put up no-entry signs at various strategic intersections and diverted the traffic, but did little else. “We cannot take action against these rallyists, as similar demonstrations are often organised by the CPM. If they are allowed to disrupt traffic, how can we stop processionists from other parties?” asked a senior police official.

And if the three rallies weren’t bad enough, Congress MLA Tapas Roy and followers added to the chaos by putting up roadblocks on Amherst Street, protesting an accident.

Wednesday’s rally was an acid test for Trinamul youth wing president Sanjoy Bakshi, as there was an impression that the programme would fizzle out in Mamata Banerjee’s absence.

“We had to put in our best efforts to mobilise supporters in the city and the districts for the rally,” said Trinamul youth leader Tapas Dutta.    

Calcutta, Feb 16 
The state government on Wednesday gave the green signal to Calcutta-based NGOs to open schools for the city’s 35,000 destitute children aged between five and nine.

While making this announcement, school education minister Kanti Biswas admitted that the state government had failed to provide education to thousands of underprivileged children in Calcutta.

“It is not possible for the government to bring a huge section of deprived children living in uncongenial conditions in the city, under the formal schooling system. The NGOs are the most suitable agencies to cover this area,” Biswas said.

The minister was addressing a workshop organised by Loreto Day School, Sealdah, and 50 city-based NGOs to present the final report of a survey of children who have been deprived of basic education in all 141 wards of the CMC area. The survey also suggested a programme to educate the children.

The survey team was headed by Sister Cyril, principal of Loreto Sealdah. It was sponsored by the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), funded by the UK-based Overseas Development Agency.

According to the survey, there are nearly 50,000 destitute children in the age group of five to nine years who have not attended any school. Of them, 15,000 can be accommodated in the existing formal schools run by the corporation and other state government-aided institutions.

The report recommended that new schools be opened for the remaining 35,000 children immediately. Biswas said his government would have no objection if the NGOs were entrusted with the job adding that his department was ready to extend all possible help to make their mission a success.

The minister assured the NGOs that the schools would be affiliated to the state primary board and also welcomed the proposal to urge the corporate sector to provide financial support for the schools.

Sister Cyril urged the government as well as the Calcutta Municipal Corporation authorities to provide necessary help to the NGOs in order to get the 35,000 children into the schooling system by June.

State urban development minister Ashoke Bhattacharya, DPEP director Rajiv Sinha, and Nikhilesh Das, state school education secretary, also participated in the workshop.    

Calcutta, Feb 16 
A mob set fire to a lorry that knocked down a schoolgirl and brickbatted police at Noapara in the northern fringes of the city on Wednesday morning.

Sunita Das, a student of class nine, was taken to R G Kar Hospital after being hit by the lorry in Ghoshpara in the Noapara police station area. She was going to Ichapore Rifle Factory School. Sunita is the daughter of Shankar Das, an employee of the factory.

The additional police superintendent, North 24 Parganas, Parveen Kumar, said four policemen were injured after local people pelted stones at them. Police arrested 12 persons on charges of rioting.

Police said the student was run over while crossing the road. The driver of the lorry stepped on the brakes but could not stop in time. He fled with his helper before a large number of residents from Kesta Bazar attacked the vehicle.

The mob blocked the road for about two hours and did not let firemen get near the lorry.

The situation worsened and reinforcements led by the additional police superintendent, Pijush Pande, and the sub-divisional police officer, Humayun Kabir, went to the spot.

A police lathi-charge dispersed the mob. Two fire engines controlled the blaze. The SDPO said the partially gutted vehicle was taken to the police station.    

Calcutta, Feb 16 
The city police will be asked to take a more active role in efforts to contain AIDS. The government will sensitise police personnel in Calcutta and the districts before they participate in the awareness campaign, part of the second phase of the national AIDS programme.

The number of HIV-positive people in the state has officially touched the 2,000 mark, over 270 of whom have AIDS. But this is less than one-fifth of the actual situation, as the infection remains dormant for four to five years.

Industry, trade unions, educational institutions, panchayats and zilla parishads, among others, will also be asked to undertake intensive awareness and intervention drives, Trilochan Singh , project director of the state AIDS Control and Prevention Society said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a three-day conference on sexual health in the state, organised by the society and the Department for International Development (UK), Singh said special emphasis would to be given to collaborations with opinion leaders and the media.

Stressing the need for home-based care and support, minister of state for health Minoti Ghosh said people were still rejecting infected kin and turning them out of their homes. “They must be told how the virus is transmitted and it is safe for the infected people to stay at home,” she said.

Over 200 delegates from the state, including district medical officers, non-government and community-based organisations are attending the meet, which will take up prevention, treatment and rights-based issues. Experts from international organisations and other states are also attending.

The debate over whether an HIV-infected blood donor should be notified was raised again.

“If the person is not told, he or she will continue with unsafe practices and infect others,” said a delegate.

Singh clarified that a single test is not enough to confirm whether a person is infected and without proper counselling, informing a person of his status could be dangerous.

“What is worrying is that HIV antibodies may not show up in blood collected from a donor if the infection has taken place in a six-week period prior to the donation. This window period is dangerous as this blood will be used for transfusion.”

A child with thalassaemia was recently found to be HIV positive after a transfusion. “This could have happened because the test was carried out in the window period. The only way to avoid this is to re-test the blood after a six-week period, which is not feasible.” More reliable testing methods were being devised, Singh said.    

Patna, Feb. 16 
Mafia-backed booth grabbers are likely to unleash terror in 108 Assembly constituencies which will go to the polls tomorrow in the second phase of the Assembly election.

The constituencies are spread over the central Ganga basin, which is the hub of criminal activities. In Mokamah, six persons were killed in a clash between two rival gangs led by interstate mafia don Suraj Bhan, an Independent candidate, and a local criminal owing allegiance to RJD minister Dilip Singh. Police sources here said the gangs attacked Bhawanchowk village under Mokamah Assembly constituency and recovered a large quantity of arms and ammunition from Bhan’s supporters.

The police said the minister’s henchmen led by the former’s brother Anant Singh attacked the villagers for allegedly sheltering Bhan’s men and killed two persons. In retaliation, Bhan’s gang killed four men owing allegiance to the RJD minister.

State director-general of police K.A. Jacob said security has been tightened in the area and the situation brought under control. Security forces have also been put on high alert in the Bhojpur-Rohtas area where a large number of criminals are in the fray. Although Laloo Prasad Yadav is assured of a thumping victory in Raghopur, he is not taking any chances because his fate is uncertain in Danapur where the Election Commission has ordered repolling in over 50 booths.

The second phase of polls will also decide the fate of at least-half- a dozen ruling RJD ministers and PCC chief Sadanand Singh. Jacob said paramilitary forces would be deployed in the sensitive booths, comprising nearly 60 per cent of the 108 booths. Besides the 400 companies of paramilitary forces, the state administration will also deploy Bihar Armed Police, home guards and the police in the sensitive booths.

The police said of the 16 people arrested yesterday at least six have been identified as thugs from Uttar Pradesh. The administration has sealed the state’s borders with Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Shoot-at-sight orders have also been issued at the 108 Assembly constituencies.    

Aska, Feb. 16 
AICC president Sonia Gandhi arrived here to campaign for her party, raising hopes among Congress workers.

However, she avoided launching a tirade against Union minister for steel and mines Naveen Patnaik, who is contesting from an Aska segment.

A section of Congress activists in Ganjam district today expressed disappointment over Sonia Gandhi’s refusal to comment on Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief Naveen Patnaik’s political credentials at the rally. Party sources said the rally was meant to be a show of strength by the Congress in Naveen Patnaik’s home constituency.

Patnaik is contesting the Assembly elections from Hinjili, one of the segments comprising the Aska parliamentary constituency. Congress candidates for the seven Assembly seats under Aska were present at today’s rally.

The restraint shown by Sonia Gandhi was in stark contrast to former chief minister and PCC chief J.B. Patnaik’s unbridled criticism of the BJD president.

Accusing the Lok Sabha member from Aska of being ignorant about Oriya culture, Patnaik said he was yet to make an effort to learn his native language. “Can a person who cannot speak Bengali become the chief minister of Bengal? So how does Naveen Patnaik hope to become chief minister of Orissa without knowing Oriya?” he wondered.

The Congress candidate for the Hinjili seat echoed Patnaik’s views, saying, “I do not think the voters in my Assembly segment will support a person who cannot even speak Oriya.”

AICC observer for Ganjam district, Hanumanth Rao, also charged Naveen Patnaik with lacking the will to develop Aska. Fifty-five companies of paramilitary forces and armed police have been deployed in the Naxalite-prone southern districts and the inter-state borders sealed.    

Guwahati, Feb. 16 
It will be yet another trial of strength for the Asom Gana Parishad, which drew a blank in the two successive Lok Sabha elections, as its candidate Jogeswar Doley battles it out with four other contestants to retain the Majuli Assembly seat in the bypolls.

The bypolls, scheduled for February 18, has been necessitated by the death of AGP legislator Karuna Dutta.

Besides Jogeswar Doley, other candidates in the fray include BJP’s Durgeswar Doley, Rajib Lochan Pegu of the Congress, Mal Chandra Pegu of the NCP and Independent candidate Puroshottam Doley.

In the last Lok Sabha polls, AGP candidate for the Lakhimpur seat Sarbananda Sonowal had bagged 20,020 votes from the Majuli Assembly segment.

Constable killed: A constable, Indrajit Sharma , of the 7th Assam Police Battalion died and two of his colleagues, Jiten Mushahary and Kulen Deka, were injured in a land mine explosion at Pokaijhora reserve forest in Dhubri district today. Police suspect the hand of the banned NDFB extremists.    

Chapra court, Feb. 16 
RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav had once said the new roads he proposed to build in the state would be as smooth as “Hema Malini’s cheeks.’’

But the dream girl of the Seventies, who campaigned for BJP in the district yesterday, was in no mood to return Laloo Yadav’s compliment. She ditched the RJD supremo and toured north Bihar to wean away his backward caste voters. “Another RSS conspiracy?” Criticising the social anarchy triggered by Laloo raj in the state, the actress said, “Lalooji failed to turn Bihar roads as smooth as my cheeks. They are abysmal.”

At Raxaul, a local resident asked the actress how would she describe the roads in the state. “I keep applying cream to my cheeks but Bihar roads hardly get their coats of bitumen,’’ replied the actress with a smile.

The crowd cheered and some of the older men even quipped, “Oh Basanti (as she was known in the film Sholay), your tamtam (buggy) will also break down on such a road.”

The actress set up an instant rapport with the rustic electorate, who appeared more keen on a “cinematic” exchange of words. “I am here to usher in a holy era by putting an end to the jungle raj”, she told rural voters at Chapra court and pat came the reply from the crowd, “Take us in your tamtam and we will kill all the Gabbar Singhs of Bihar.’’

She recalled that she had first visited Bihar in the late Seventies to shoot for Johnny Mera Naam with Dev Anand. “I was showered with love and affection at that time,” she reminicised and lamented that not much has changed since then on the development front.

In an attempt to draw attention to the deteriorating law and order condition, she referred to the state as the land of Buddha, Rajendra Prasad and Jayaprakash Narayan. Hema Malini said her family had discouraged her from visiting Bihar. “Initially I had misgivings but I was emboldened by the love you showered on me,” she said. From Chapra court she flew to Dalmiyanagar in Rohtas.

Even though it was late evening, a large crowd waited to greet her. The actress was accompanied by BJP state president Nand Kishore Yadav. In Patna, Hema Malini clarified that she had no political ambitions.    


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