Salt Lake waives house height bar
Cop-mafia link churns waterfront
New light on Victoria
Clean-up recipe for phuchka
City telephones turn fully digital
Khaplang settles for truce
Rebels target nominees’ kin
Numismatist plans book on rare Ahom coins

 
 
SALT LAKE WAIVES HOUSE HEIGHT BAR 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
For the first time since Salt Lake became a notified area 11 years ago, the government is set to amend the building rules for this township to allow construction of additional floors to the existing residential houses.

Under current rules, the maximum number of floors permitted for any residential building is four. But this is only if the house has been built on six cottahs of land. If the plot sizes are smaller, the height of a building is proportionately restricted.

The government’s move comes at the initiative of chief minister Jyoti Basu, himself a resident of Salt Lake, after numerous delegations of residents of the township met him and appealed to his government to relax the rules.

State urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya said an expert committee will soon be formed to take up the matter and work out a feasibility plan. This committee will comprise senior officials of the urban development department, engineers and some prominent residents of the township.

“The final clearance will come only after we receive the committee’s report,” said Bhattacharya. “As of now, however, we have no objection in principle to allow one more floor to be added on the existing residential houses, but the issue of revamping civic amenities will also have to be examined.”

Bhattacharya said Salt Lake had originally been planned to accommodate 4.5 lakh people. “So, there is still scope to accommodate more people in the township, which will come about after the relaxation of building rules,” he said.

So far, the existing civic services in the township have been the principal hurdle in allowing construction of additional floors in residential buildings.

First, the Salt Lake Notified Area Authority, and now, the Salt Lake Municipality have consistently opposed the demand for relaxation in building rules because the township does not have adequate infrastructure to handle an increased population load.

“One more floor means many more people,” said Dilip Gupta, chairman of the Salt Lake Municipality. “This means we will have to provide more drinking water, more lights, additional sewerage and drainage lines and road space. So, along with relaxation of building rules, we must also reinforce the the civic facilities.”

“Once we allow construction of an additional floor to the existing buildings, we can expect a further increase in population by at least 50,000,” said Samir Si, executive engineer of the municipality. “This, in turn, puts greater pressure on the drinking water, drainage and sewerage lines. So, along with revamping these lines, we would also have to make provision for an additional 40 lakh gallons of water every day.”

At present, in the five sectors of the planned township, the municipality supplies 90 lakh gallons of filtered water. Of these, 40 lakh gallons are supplied from the Palta Waterworks and the rest is pumped out by deep tubewells.

Bhattacharya, however, is confident that civic needs will be taken care of at the time of allowing further construction on residential buildings.

“We are already working towards augmenting the civic infrastructure,” he said. “Projects have already been taken up to construct new roads and bridges, as well as improve the street lighting and refurbish the sewerage system.”

Many Salt Lake residents believe that it is time to amend the building rules. “Why should these kinds of restrictions exist here when they don’t in any other part of the state?” asked a senior resident and retired armyman, Arun Mukherjee, of CD block.

However, not everyone in this township is in agreement with this. Members of Bidhannagar Welfare Association, who have already got a whiff of the government’s plans, called an emergency meeting on Sunday afternoon to oppose any move for the building plan relaxation.

“The civic problems will only get worse for us if more people move in,” said Sudhir De, spokesperson for the association.    


 
 
COP-MAFIA LINK CHURNS WATERFRONT 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
Where there’s a port, there’s crime. And the cop-criminal nexus on the Kidderpore waterfront is finally causing a ripple or two.

A detailed Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) report submitted to the Union surface transport minister highlights the manner in which the state government has “allowed” the mafia to hold sway over the port areas, especially the Kidderpore docks.

Union surface transport minister Devendra Pradhan told The Telegraph that despite repeated complaints to the police, no action has been taken against the crimelords.

Recently, gangsters had prevented the port authorities from taking out goods from a warehouse in the Kidderpore dock area till they were paid “protection money”.

Said Pradhan: “There are numerous instances of threats to the department’s officers, illegal encroachment and crime mentioned in the report. I am taking a close look at the report. This is a very serious matter and I shall lodge a complaint with the state government very soon,” he added.

Pradhan met senior officers of the CPT to take stock of the situation during a day-long visit to the city. The police-port mafia nexus figured high on the list of complaints that CPT officials flooded the minister with.

The city police, of course, dismissed the charge that crime in the port areas was being “allowed to flourish”, claiming that the accusation of he force not taking action is not justified because CPT officials have not filed any complaint of harassment by criminals in the area.

“We have local-level meetings between CPT and the police, where senior officers are present every month,” said deputy commissioner of police (port), Zulfikar Hasan. “Let them show one instance where they had complained against criminal activities or had mentioned about gangsters operating from inside or outside the dock complex.’’

A senior port officer, however, claimed that the deteriorating law and order situation had been repeatedly brought to the notice of the Calcutta Police top brass during coordination meetings. But no action had been taken.

Quoting from the report, Pradhan said that CPT gets “very little support’’ from the local police and the state government in its attempt to loosen the vice-like grip of the criminals on the port area.

A veteran port official said that criminal gangs have to be paid Rs 150 per container leaving or entering the dock complex.

A company handling containers is also forced to hire labour from the crimelord of the area. Around 600 ships arrive every year and 1.5 lakh containers are loaded and offloaded.

“Every police officer of the port area knows the gang leaders who are calling the shots. They also know exactly how they operate but they do not take action. Do we have to tell you why they choose to turn a blind eye?’’ demanded another port official.

Locals in the dock area, too, talk about the “blatant police-criminal understanding” in the port areas. “A section of the local police is hand-in-glove with the port mafia. They look the other way, and refuse to conduct raids. Some are afraid while the rest are guilty,” claimed a resident.

The Union minister said that “several instances” of criminals threatening port officers during loading and offloading of containers, and demanding money to allow them to continue with their operations, have been brought to his notice.

Pradhan concluded that it is very difficult for the port’s own machinery to crush the criminal activity ravaging the docks for the last 40-50 years. And so, it is imperative that the state’s law-enforcing agencies get their act together.    


 
 
NEW LIGHT ON VICTORIA 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
New light will literally be thrown on the exhibits of Victoria Memorial Hall.

The brainchild of the electrical engineers of the state Public Works Department (PWD), which is in charge of the external lighting of the Memorial, the Rs 12-lakh “magic light” project has been finalised and will be presented to the Governor, who is chairman of the Memorial’s board of trustees.

Subject to the approval of the board, the move implies that the PWD will also take charge of the Memorial’s internal lighting.

The engineers have based the project on the concept that light can influence mood, said Sadhan Mukherjee, PWD’s superintending engineer (electrical circle I).

It was also high time that the 13-year-old electrical equipment in the grounds were replaced. The new lighting will be more focused.

Mukherjee said the project was necessitated by the need to provide appropriate lighting levels, keeping in mind safety and efficient utilisation of electricity. However, power consumption will not increase.

When visitors step into the galleries displaying the century-old paintings, sculptures and other exhibits, the experience will be quite unique.

Indirect lighting in varying intensities and blended hues will focus on the exhibits in a way that will transport visitors to the era that the objets d’art belong.

Elaborating on the “magic lighting”, Mukherjee, who is also president of the Electrical Engineers’ Association of West Bengal, said: “Separate arrangements will be made to illuminate the paintings and sculptures, respectively.”

For the internal lighting, low-pressure sodium vapour lamps will be used.

“The multi-directional light will be reflected on the ceilings or walls, focusing on the object in an appropriate manner.”

Mukherjee said: “We have studied the nature and the colours of the exhibits and have determined the form, intensity and manner in which they should be lit up. For example, sculptures, which are three-dimensional, require a lighting different from paintings, which are two- dimensional.”

The lights will be fitted in such a way that they cast no shadows.

Metal halide lamps will be installed in the lawns. As a result, the intensity of the illumination will increase.

“If all goes well, our rapid action force will take only 45 days to instal the lights,” said Mukherjee.    


 
 
CLEAN-UP RECIPE FOR PHUCHKA 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY AND CHARLES NANDI
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
The Calcuttan’s favourite roadside fun munch is ready to wear a cleaner, healthier look. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) will lead a clean-up drive on the Rs 50 lakh-a-day phuchka trade in the city. More than a million men, women and children bite into a phuchka every day.

“We have decided to crack down on phuchka-wallahs and those who prepare the stuff so that hygienic conditions of the popular snack can be maintained,” said commissioner Asim Barman.

The measures to be taken include:

Phuchka-wallahs to be trained in hygiene;

Gamchhas used by them to be washed every day;

Wives and children of vendors to be taught to check contamination in the foodstuff;

Surprise visits by CMC officials to check how phuchka ingredients are stored.

Spot checks by health officials to to check the phuchkas are kept in a glass case.

Special identity cards, signed by the civic health authority, to be displayed by phuchka-wallahs.

The guidelines to ensure “germ-free” phuchkas, or gol gappa, are based on a recent survey by the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health. The survey, covering nearly 5,000 phuchka-wallahs, revealed that “the contamination was not found in the corporation water but in the containers in which the phuchkas and tamarind water are kept”.

Subrata Basu, superintendent of the civic food laboratory, said: “Phuchkas, prepared and sold in accordance with the basic norms of health and hygiene, is not unsafe. But filthy surroundings and poor personal hygiene of the vendors can cause diseases like typhoid, hepatitis, gastro-enteritis and chicken pox to spread.”

According to Shantilal Jain, organising president of Kolkata Phuchka Nirmata and Bikreta Sangha, there are more than 5,000 phuchka-wallahs in the city and each registers sales of Rs 500 or more a day.    


 
 
CITY TELEPHONES TURN FULLY DIGITAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
The flick of a switch on Sunday ended an era in the history of telephones in Calcutta and began another in the history of the country.

At 12 noon, minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar shut down the last two electronic analogue exchanges in the Calcutta Telephones area, converting all 192 exchanges under it to the modern electronic digital system.

Calcutta is the first metropolitan city in the country to have a fully digital telephone network. All its 1.03 million subscribers can now avail of latest technology that provides facilities like call waiting, call transfer, wake-up calls, abbreviated dialling, tone dialling, STD locking and stable and faster Internet log-ins.

These services are free. In case of call transfer, however, the caller will have to pay for two calls. In addition, services like three- party conferencing and hotline connections will be available on charge.

“We started work about three years ago by first converting the Strowger and crossbar exchanges,” said Calcutta Telephones chief general manager K. Ramanujam. “The 45,000 lines in the 242, 243, 248, 334 and 337 exchanges were the last to be converted into the digital system.”

New Delhi and Mumbai, with almost double the number of subscribers as in Calcutta, are yet to carry out the conversion. “It is expected to be complete in the Capital by August,” the CGM said.

Another feature is the rapid expansion achieved in the past three years. “Till 1997, we grew to about 500,000 connections. Since then, over double the number of subscribers have been added,” said Angshu Mukhopadhyay, general manager (north).    


 
 
KHAPLANG SETTLES FOR TRUCE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Kohima, April 9: 
Setting at rest speculation about its participation in the peace process, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) today announced its decision to accept the Centre’s offer of a ceasefire.

“The NSCN has decided to have a formal ceasefire with the government of India throughout the Naga-inhabited areas,” self-styled information and publicity secretary Kughalu Mulatonu said.

A Union home ministry official confirmed the development, saying the NSCN(K) leadership had been in touch with the Centre over the past couple of months.

Mulatonu said the decision to sign a ceasefire agreement was taken in deference to the wishes of the Naga people.

“It is the privilege of the NSCN to be in a position to represent over three million Nagas. Their future will be decided very shortly by consensus,” he said.

The NSCN(K) leader also stated that “the future of the Nagas cannot and will not be decided by others”.

A source said the outfit’s leadership would meet soon to finalise the modalities for the proposed ceasefire agreement. He said a public meeting on the issue was also on the cards.

The Union home ministry is also organising three-day “development seminars” in Mon and Tuensang from Tuesday. The NSCN(K) is likely to strike a “preliminary peace deal” with senior home ministry officials during the latter’s stay in the two districts, both bordering Myanmar.

Chief minister S.C. Jamir announced here last month that the NSCN(K) was contemplating signing a ceasefire agreement with the Centre.

Jamir and Governor O.P. Sharma had held discussions on the issue with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Union home minister L.K.Advani in New Delhi.

The chief minister told newspersons here that he advised the Centre to involve all underground outfits in the peace process. He said this was imperative because no single outfit could claim to have the mandate of the entire Naga community.

The discussions between the Jamir government and the Centre, however, drew criticism from Opposition parties and non-government organisations in Nagaland .

The Naga Hoho, which is the apex tribal organisation in the state, argued that the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) might pull out of the peace talks with the Centre in the event of the Jamir government being made party to the negotiations.    


 
 
REBELS TARGET NOMINEES’ KIN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, April 9: 
Dealing a blow to the Left Front on the eve of elections to the Autonomous District Council, National Liberation Front of Tripura militants today abducted a CPI candidate’s wife and assaulted family members of a Revolutionary Socialist Party candidate.

Sources said a group of NLFT rebels raided CPI leader Manindra Reang’s house in Dharmapha Tilla village under Santir Bazar police station at 12.30 pm and whisked away his wife Parbati.

The rebels had come looking for Reang, but took his wife hostage when they were told that he was not at home.

Before leaving, the militants threatened to kill Reang’s wife and set his house ablaze if he did not withdraw his nomination within the next 24 hours. The CPI leader is contesting the polls from Birchandra-Manu-Kalsi constituency.

A few hours before Reang’s wife was abducted, another group of NLFT militants barged into RSP candidate Kalachand Jamatya’s house at south Maharani and assaulted his family members, including his wife and children. They subsequently forced the Left leader’s kin to vacate the house.

The rebels threatened to kill every member of Jamatya’s family and set fire to his house if he did not withdraw from the poll fray by tomorrow. The RSP leader, an executive member of the outgoing district council, was out of station when the rebels raided his house.

Jamatya is contesting the polls from the Maharanipur-Chelagang constituency.

Senior RSP leader and food and civil supplies minister Gopal Das termed the assault on Jamatya’s kin a “grave criminal offence”. He said the NLFT wanted his party colleague out of the electoral race because he had a better chance of winning than the candidate representing the militant outfit’s political wing, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT).

“The rebel outfit has resorted to terror tactics to help its political wing win the elections. The IPFT is totally alienated from the electorate and does not stand a chance of winning if the polls are free and fair,” Das said.

Urging both tribals and non-tribals to “defeat this conspiracy”, the RSP leader said it would be a setback to democracy if the IPFT were to come out of the district council elections unscathed.

The nomination of an IPFT candidate, Harinath Debbarma, was yesterday cancelled on grounds of procedural errors.    


 
 
NUMISMATIST PLANS BOOK ON RARE AHOM COINS 
 
 
FROM PULLOCK DUTTA
 
Jorhat, April 9: 
It is a rare coin, so rare that it is believed to be one of the veryfew that still exist. Its proud owner, Om Prakash Gattani, took out the 1681 AD coin of the Ahom dynasty from his designer wooden shelf with great care.

“This coin is invaluable and was issued during the reign of Ahom king Gadadhar Singha (Supatrha),” he said, with a wide grin on his face.

He took out another coin from its wooden frame. “This is one of the last coins circulated during Ahom rule in 1821-22 when the Burmese were dominating Assam. It was issued during the rule of Jogeswar Singha,” he said.

It is 8 pm, a normal evening for Gattani to relax after a hard day’s work at his farmhouse near the Club Road here.

Perched on a sofa with his cordless phone and trying to settle his business deals for the day, Gattani looked the typical Marwari businessman he is. He hardly seemed to be a coin collector.

As he enthusiastically started talking about his collection, Gattani’s passion shone forth as brilliantly as his coins. “I am the only one in the world to have such a rare collection of coins belonging to the Ahom period,” he claimed.

As an afterthought he added, “I have been into coin collection for more than two decades now. I have not found anyone in Assam who shares my interest.” But how did a man, who comes from a traditional a business family, cultivate such a hobby? The story goes back to 1973, when Gattani was a 15-year-old student in the Rashtrabhasa School in Jorhat.

“My grandmother had a collection of rare Ahom coins. I remembered those and bought a couple of albums,” he disclosed. After that, there was no stopping Gattani. A turning point in Gattani’s “career” as a coin collector came in 1988-89 when he met one Lalwani who was a member of the Society of Numismatics in Calcutta.

“Through him I managed to procure a membership of the society and today, I am a member of each and every numismatic society in India,” said Gattani.

A prominent businessman of Upper Assam, Gattani struck gold in 1985. “By then I was known as a numismatist, at least in Assam. One day a tea estate employee from Titabor in Jorhat district came to me with the intention of selling some coins belonging to the Ahom dynasty. He brought nearly 35 coins with him,” he said.

Gattani had to shell out Rs 200 per coin, but he got his invaluable Gadadhar Singha coin along with them. Underlining his popularity as a collector of coins, Gattani said, “A couple of days back, a cycle mechanic came to me with five coins. I paid him Rs 350 and 10 kg of atta for the coins,” said Gattani, who owns a flour mill. Gattani is also planning to write a book on coins issued during the Ahom dynasty.

“Did you know that most of the coins issued during the Ahom dynasty are octagonal in shape because the Ahom kings believed their kingdom has eight corners?” he asked.

Recapitulating the history of Ahom coins, Gattani added that when Sargadeo Shiva Singha was Ahom king in 1654, he issued coins in the names of his queens. “He had four wives,” he said.

“However, the maximum number of coins was issued during the regime of Sargadeo Rajaeswar Singha. He issued coins inscribed in Bengali, Devnagari, Parsi and Urdu,” added Gattani.

“This was because his rule extended to the neighbouring countries,” he said. “This is the reason,” Gattani added, “why Ahom coins are still found in abundance in Bhutan. If a museum is set up in Assam I will be proud to donate my collections.”    

 

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