China cloud on rain cover
Phonemen plunge south into darkness
Flyover work cracks water mains
Net mess over CBSE results
Take a train to catch the plane
Fire death fails to douse kerb flames
Madrasah plight irks minorities
Teachers’ fast at Jadavpur
AGP back with bang after two-year blank
Minister’s wife rides Naveen wave

Calcutta, May 29 
The big, black umbrella, motif of the common man immortalised by Raj Kapoor, has come under a cloud.

Nowhere more so than in Calcutta, where the Indian umbrella trade made its debut 112 years ago and which remains the biggest umbrella assembling market in the country, involving over two lakh people.

Today, this industry is under threat from “cheap and attractive” Chinese umbrellas, making their presence felt in the market following the Centre’s recent decision, under World Trade Organisation rules, to withdraw all restrictions on import of umbrellas. Till April 1, only golf and garden umbrellas were allowed to be imported freely.

“Umbrellas will soon start pouring in from Korea, Taiwan and the UAE as well. So, we will have to close down our umbrella units and turn into traders. We will buy the foreign umbrellas and sell them with our brands on them. Lakhs of labourers engaged in umbrella- assembling in the city will starve,” says Kali Dutta.

The great-grandson of Mahendra Lal Dutta should know. Mahendra Lal, a musician enchanted by the cane-and-wooden chhata carried by the British in sun and shower, set up shop on erstwhile Harrison Road and became the first Calcuttan in 1882 to manufacture the umbrella as we know it today.

The modern-day, folding umbrella made its appearance in 1977 from Japan and Taiwan. But with a 150 per cent import duty slapped on them, they could hardly compete with the indigenous manufacturers.

“Now, with the lifting of import restrictions, India will become the dumping ground for the use-and-throw, $-1 folding umbrellas,” warns Kali Dutta.

Already, “foreign” umbrellas are freely available in city markets and roadside stalls in Esplanade, Gariahat, Shyambazar and College Street, for anything between Rs 60 and Rs 100. The price tag on the ‘M.L. Duttas’ reads Rs 75 to Rs 250.

“The problem is very simple,” says Ashoke Banthia, general secretary of the Kolkata Chhata Byabsayee Association. “The market of the cotton cloth umbrellas collapsed after the government allowed import of cheap nylon material in 1977. Now, the import duty on synthetic cloth is same as on readymade imported umbrellas, at 44.5 per cent. So, it is impossible for us to bring down the price of our umbrellas and compete with the ones imported from China. We will soon be compelled to shut shop.”

The city umbrella manufacturers have appealed to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Union commerce and industry minister Murasoli Maran, seeking their intervention. Letters have also been dashed off to nearly 500 MPs.    

Calcutta, May 29 
Vast parts of south Calcutta experienced severe power cuts on Monday when contractors of Calcutta Telephones laying cables on C.N. Road and Picnic Garden Road damaged CESC’s underground high-voltage cable network.

This led to the collapse of three 33-KV transformers at the Ritchie Road distributing station. As a result, large areas of Ballygunge, Bhowanipore and Dhakuria went without power for hours.

The first transformer broke down at noon, the second at 2 pm and the third at 4 pm.

People in the affected areas went without electricity and water on Monday afternoon as power cuts rendered electric pumps useless. The CESC reported the matter to the state power department, even as repair work was on.

CESC sources said that a fortnight ago, contractors of Calcutta Telephones had similarly damaged high-voltage underground cables, causing severe disruption in supply to Topsia, Kasba, Picnic Garden and Ballygunge.

“In spite of repeated requests, they have not coordinated with us prior to any of their cable- laying operations,” a CESC official complained.

A Calcutta Municipal Corporation official said it is mandatory for agencies who wish to dig up roads for laying cables to obtain a permission from the civic authorities. But, in most cases, permission is not obtained.

In a separate development, the early morning storm on Monday resulted in widespread power cuts in Baguiati and Keshtopur. Salt Lake also suffered power cuts on Sunday night.    

Calcutta, May 29 
About half-a-million people living in south Calcutta found themselves in the grip of a sudden and severe water shortage from Monday morning, following a major breach in the underground water mains on Gariahat Road.

The damage to the water mains was caused by the construction of a flyover at Gariahat late on Sunday night. Filtered water supply to Gariahat Road, Rashbehari Avenue and the adjacent areas may not be restored till 11 am on Tuesday.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation held Senbo responsible for the crisis as its workers are engaged in the construction of the Gariahat flyover. Annoyed over the “insensitivity of the firm towards the safety of utilities like water mains and sewer lines”, municipal commissioner Asim Barman has directed chief engineer (water supply) Dibyendu Roychaudhury to file an FIR against Senbo at Gariahat police station.

“They have been repeatedly asked to conduct piling work on the streets under the supervision of engineers from the CMC. But they never sought our help in this matter. This amounts to criminal negligence on their part. Why must so many people suffer for their carelessness?” demanded Barman.

According to chief engineer Chowdhury, the water mains of 14-inch diameter damaged at Gariahat was the only pipe carrying filtered water from the Tallah-Palta network to south Calcutta.

“The entire area is dependent on this pipeline for filtered water. The breach in the pipe prevented the flow of 20 million gallons of filtered water,” said Chowdhury.

As south Calcutta woke up to a Monday morning without water, frantic calls began reaching the CMC office.

The water supply department had to ferry several tankers to the areas gone dry throughout the day.

This is not the first time that the CMC has crossed paths with Senbo. The Corporation had slapped a chargesheet on the same contractor in December 1999 for “felling trees and not depositing the trunks or their sale proceeds to the CMC”.

Member, mayor-in-council (parks and gardens) Abdul Ali said: “The trees are the CMC’s property and the contractor has no right to enjoy the sales proceeds of the trees. What they were doing amounts to theft.” On November 13, the CMC had written to Senbo, telling them to stop the practice. “But when they carried on felling trees, we were forced to chargesheet them,” said Ali.

With the water woes of south Calcutta spilling over to Tuesday, the stage is set for another showdown between the CMC and Senbo.    

Calcutta, May 29 
Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) examinees from the city and elsewhere in Bengal went through a trying time on Monday, following confusion over the announcement of results of the Class X and Class XII examinations held in March.

The confusion was created by the buzz that results were available on the Internet. But it later turned out that only examinees in the southern states could get to know their results on Monday.

“The CBSE examinees of Calcutta, as well as the whole of eastern zone, are likely to get to know their results within a couple of days,” said a senior teacher of Birla High School.

Sources in various CBSE schools said they had contacted the board headquarters at Allahabad during the day and informed them about the confusion among city examinees.    

Calcutta, May 29 
The airport and the city will soon come closer after a Rs 90-crore circular railway project is implemented. Railway minister Mamata Banerjee will lay its foundation on Tuesday .

On Monday, officials said the new line will be connected to the existing Circular Railway at Dum Dum Junction station so that passengers from the airport can come directly to the city.

Ashok Sengupta, an adviser to RITES, a wing of the railways, said the “take-off” point of the new 6.5-km railway connection will be from Dum Dum Cantonment station.

RITES experts recently surveyed the stretch. “The new link will ensure a smooth journey for many people, including air passengers,” an official said. Such linkages elsewhere between cities and airports prompted the railway ministry to explore the possibility of the new line.

“Besides, we already have the infrastructure along the Circular Railway route between Dum Dum Junction and Prinsep Ghat. So only a 6.5-km track can easily connect the airport and the city without a huge investment,” a senior official explained.

Some officials questioned the viability of the project. Railway authorities preferred a link with the Circular Railway instead of the Metro being connected with the airport, because of the cost involved and technical reasons.

The new railway link is expected to be financially viable as daily passengers, too, will be allowed to travel along with air passengers, who would not have to depend on taxis any longer.

The trains from the airport can come straight to BBD Bag through Dum Dum Junction station, as there is already an existing Circular railway connection with Prinsep Ghat.

The trains coming from the airport can also be diverted to Sealdah station through Dum Dum Junction along existing tracks. “So, air passengers will be able to reach different parts of the city within half an hour,” officials said.

The project will obviate the possibility of missing flights owing to traffic snarls. It would be difficult to block the new railway link, as the tracks are likely to be raised 40 feet above the land level.

RITES officials said the new trains will not look like typical local EMU coaches. They will be refurbished to attract air passengers. They will be equivalent to the executive class. Some of the coaches are likely to be air-conditioned. Some compartments may be reserved for air passengers.

“Of course, the fare for air-conditioned coaches will be higher than local trains,” an official said. But that will be decided later.

The RITES officials, who came from New Delhi, spoke to air passengers at the airport. “Many of them are interested in a new railway link between the city and the airport,” a survey team member said.    

Calcutta, May 29 
Even after the tragic death of a woman, whose sari caught fire from an open oven on the footpath of Rabindra Sarani, the administration failed to wake up to the illegal use of pavements as kitchens by food-sellers.

On Monday, it was business as usual for snack stalls in several parts of the city using the footpaths as kitchens, violating instructions promulgated by the city civic authorities and the police.

On Sunday, 62-year-old Radha Devi had succumbed to burn injuries suffered on Saturday after her sari caught fire from flames of an oven being used by employees of a roadside eatery on congested Rabindra Sarani.

Before passersby could react, the woman went up in flames. She died the next morning at Visuddhananda Hospital.

The shopowner was arrested following demonstrations by Trinamul Congress workers.

Both the police and Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) authorities issued statements saying they were trying to find out if the owner was running his business with a valid licence.

But the licence department of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) is yet to ascertain whether the shopowner whose oven caused the accident had a valid licence for running the eatery.

Conservancy officers, entrusted with the task of monitoring encroachment on pavements, had not even visited the site even 48 hours after the incident.

“I have asked the licence department to take action against the errant shopowner as the use of ovens on pavements is banned in the city,” said municipal commissioner Asim Barman.

If necessary, the CMC might cancel the licence of the shop, he added. The police investigators also told the CMC to find out if other snack shopowners in the locality had valid licences.

Police officials in uniforms and plainclothes cops were despatched to the area on Monday to find out if the shop employees are using the footpath.

“We have also stepped up vigil to check if anybody is using ovens on the footpath for cooking,” an official said. The police warned shopowners in the locality of “stern action” for violating instructions.

With the police in action, several roadside eateries packed up and fled on Monday morning. But by evening, they were back.

The local police also convened a meeting of traders of the locality to ensure that nobody places ovens on the pavement.

The police have also decided to evict some small-scale traders who sell tea and other snacks near busy crossings and in congested lanes.    

Calcutta, May 29 
The West Bengal Minorities’ Commission has pulled up the government for the condition of Calcutta Madrasah. In a report sent to the government on Monday, it expressed concern at the sorry state of administration of the madrasah.

“Calcutta Madrasah is in the doldrums and students are not getting proper education. Several posts, including that of the principal, are lying vacant for years. As a result, classes are not held regularly,’’ the report said.

According to officials of the Madrasah education board, about 1,000 students study in Calcutta Madrasah. The commission suggested that the madrasah be elevated to the status of a deemed university after an administrative and academic overhaul.

The report points to the inadequate infrastructure, irregular classes and the absence of a library among the maladies plaguing the students. While advocating the retention of theological studies in the curricula, the committee urged the government to undertake a radical change in syllabi to bring madrasah education in tune with the times.

There was a longstanding demand from the Muslim community to overhaul the madrasah education system, commission functionaries said. The minorities’ body has suggested that the government constitute an experts’ committee to revise the curricula.

Minister in charge of madrasah education Kanti Biswas said the suggestions of the commission would be looked into.

“We have already taken several steps to improve madrasah education, including strengthening of administration, improvement of infrastructure and undertaking academic reforms,’’ he said.

The madrasah education board is working on a programme to improve the syllabus, he added.    

Calcutta, May 29 
The impasse at Jadavpur University worsened on Monday with the teachers deciding to intensify their agitation by going on a relay hungerstrike from the afternoon.

Jadavpur University Teachers Association (JUTA) members said they would continue the hungerstrike till June 2 to protest the state higher education minister’s “uncompromising attitude” towards the crisis. Satyasadhan Chakraborty, higher education minister, has reportedly refused to hold any discussion with the JUTA agitators despite several requests from them and the university authorities.

Chakraborty on Monday summoned the vice-chancellor and the registrar of the university to his chamber at Salt Lake and held a meeting on the issue. A stalemate has crippled the campus for more than two months, after teachers began a work-to-rule, demanding solution to demands relating to pay-hike and retirement age.    

Guwahati, May 29 
Down in the dumps after debacles in two successive Lok Sabha elections, the Asom Gana Parishad today staged a comeback by retaining the Nalbari Assembly seat and wresting the Bhabanipur seat from the Congress.

The AGP is tipped to win the Karimganj (North) seat as well.

Slain public works department minister Nagen Sarma’s widow Alaka Desai Sarma rode a sympathy wave to defeat veteran Congressman and former chief minister Bhumidhar Barman by a margin of 5,391 votes in Nalbari constituency.

The AGP’s victory in Nalbari was not entirely unexpected, but observers had predicted a much closer contest between the two main contenders for the seat.

AGP nominee Manoranjan Das’ victory over Congress candidate Satyabrata Choudhury in Bhabanipur constituency, however, upset all calculations. Das won by a slender margin of 318 votes.

Independent candidate Milan Bodo, one of the main contenders for the seat till the All-Bodo Students’ Union withdrew its support, finished third in the contest. Bodo was in the lead at the end of the first couple of rounds of counting. Manjushree Pathak of the BJP, touted as the dark horse, also failed to live up to the pre-election hype.

In Karimganj (North), Murad Choudhury of the AGP was leading the field after the first eight rounds of counting. Repolling in some booths in the constituency was held today.

The BJP candidate for the Karimganj (North) seat is Mission Ranjan Das, a lawyer by profession. Das had lost the 1996 polls to AGP leader Sirajul Haque Choudhury, whose death necessitated byelections to the seat. Murad Choudhury is the latter’s son.

A clean sweep in the bypolls, held on Friday, will be a morale-booster for the AGP, whose popularity has plummeted in recent times. Assembly elections are due in the state early next year.    

Berhampur, May 29 
Biju Janata Dal candidate Kumudini Patnaik has won the Aska parliamentary constituency byelection, defeating her rival, Congress’ Umakant Mishra, by a margin of 1,79,474 votes. The counting was held today at Chatrapur and Bhanjanagar.

Though the turnout for the bypolls, held on May 26 was only 33 per cent, Patnaik managed a convincing victory because of the favourable BJD-BJP wind still blowing in the state and the popularity of BJD president and chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who is also her predecessor.

The BJD’s massive win has proved to be another debacle for PCC president J.B. Patnaik who was personally monitoring the campaign for Mishra, the party’s Ganjam district unit president.

As per the data provided by the district public relations office, Patnaik got 3,88,243 votes while Mishra polled 1,08,769 votes.

According to Berhampur BJD legislator Ramesh Chandra Chyau Patnaik, though Patnaik could not match Naveen Patnaik’s victory margin in the 1999 Aska parliamentary polls, her win is still something to reckon with. Naveen Patnaik had won the parliamentary polls from Aska by a margin of 2,56,736 votes. He vacated the seat in February this year to contest the Assembly elections.

Patnaik’s victory has enhanced state finance minister and her husband Ramkrushna Patnaik’s clout in the BJD, especially in Ganjam.

Infighting within the Ganjam unit of the BJD had led to speculation that Patnaik’s performance might not be upto expectations.

The BJD Ganjam district president Madhavananda Behera allegedly blames Ramkrushna Patnaik for his defeat in the Jagannathprasad Assembly seat in the last polls. Other BJD heavyweights from Aska parliamentary constituency such as Khallikote legislator Sugnani Deo, allegedly were also reportedly not happy with Patnaik’s candidature.

But Ramkrushna Patnaik, who planned his wife’s entire campaign, managed to garner a victory for her in all the seven Assembly segments. Celebrations are on in the BJD camp.    


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