Dolls are out, gizmos are in
Realtor runs into doctor stonewall
Live and let live on two square feet
Clothes clues in Bypass murder case
Bengali outfit seeks global support
Army top brass changed in N-E
Overloaded boat capsizes, 4 bodies found

Calcutta, June 11: 
Goodbye, dolls. Hello, computers. The collection of rare Indian and foreign dolls and toys, which used to be such a favourite with young visitors to Nehru Children’s Museum, is being partially closed to make way for electronic toys and computer games.

A study has revealed that the turnout of visitors last year was a little more than 1.40 lakh. The figure was as high as five lakh four years ago.

The museum authorities are convinced that the turnout has plummeted because they have not updated their collections to conform with changing tastes.

Children, they say, want more and more electronic games. The dolls’ galleries will, therefore, have to make way for new thingummyjigs.

The museum authorities are of the firm belief that today’s kids are not quite interested in the mostly-handcrafted toys that narrate the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, tales from the Jatakas and the Indian lore.

The authorities feel that children, as well as adults accompanying them, are willing to pay extra if the museum provides computer games facilities.

So, two years ago, a new section was introduced, with just a few electronic games. It could accommodate only a few children at a time.

“We noticed that the few children who visited the museum went straight to the electronic games section. Gradually, we realised this section will have to be expanded to meet children’s demands,” said Sudip Sreemal, museum management committee’s organising secretary.

Nehru Children’s Museum is the only organisation in the city to boast of an exclusive section of toys from all parts of India.

The section used to be extremely popular even till 1995, as the museum gradually increased its collections. It now has exhibits from 88 countries.

According to Sreemal, the dolls section had to be wound up to set up the computer section for lack of space.

The 1.5 bighas on which it stands was donated to the museum by the state government in the early seventies.

By introducing digital toys, the museum runs the risk of forcing on Calcutta’s kids what might be a demand from just one section.

“I don’t want to go to the museum because I am using computers in school. I love dolls, for which I love visiting the museum. I will certainly not waste my spare time fiddling with computers,” says an indignant Jayita Basu, a Class V student at Ballygunge Shiksha Sadan.

Bodhisattva Das, 10, of South Point, echoes the sentiment: “As it is, I have to work on computers in school. In fact, computers are now a part of my studies. I will not go to the museum to play with computers once the dolls are removed.”

Child psychologists feel the number of visitors has dropped largely because children’s imagination was being constrained.

“Children love playthings and their likes and dislikes depend largely on the kind of toys and games they have been exposed to,” said Arnab Banerjee, a child psychologist.

Pratibha Sengupta, another child psychologist, too, felt that dolls and traditional toys had an educative value. The load of the curriculum leaves children with little spare time to seek an educative yet relaxing pastime, she said.    

Calcutta, June 11: 
The Indian Medical Association, Calcutta branch, on Sunday vowed to prevent high-profile realtors from demolishing the almost 100-year-old building which houses its offices and is a candidate for protection as a heritage structure.

Member after member rose at the branch’s annual general meeting, calling for the authorities’ intervention against the planned demolition by the real estate company, headed by Pradip Kundalia of the Shivalik house collapse fame.

The offices of IMA’s Calcutta branch are located at 67, Lenin Sarani. It was here that the all-India doctors’ body was born in 1928. Several eminent physicians of the past have been members and attended meetings convened on these premises. They include Sir Nilratan Sirkar, former chief minister B.C. Roy and Kiran Shankar Roy, who were among the founders of the IMA.

“The resolution was prompted by the recent purchase of the building by promoters, who want to demolish it and construct a nursing home,” said Sudipto Roy, president of the branch, at the conclusion of Sunday’s annual general meeting and conference.

Kundalia and the group that runs Health Point Nursing Home had bought the building from the original owners, R.C. Ghosh and Co., some months ago.

They have offered a section of the proposed new building to the Calcutta branch, so that it could continue work from the same address.

But the 1,700-odd members of the IMA’s largest branch in the state are unanimous that the building should not be destroyed. “The association was born here almost 75 years ago,” pointed out consultant chest physician Manish Pradhan, who is one of the seniormost living members.

“The premises served as the all-India IMA headquarters. All the central committee meetings were held here till 1948, when it was proposed that the head office be shifted to New Delhi. The proposal carried by just two votes,” recalled Kalyani Pradhan, a member of the branch for the past 53 years.

A committee was set up two months ago to examine the matter in detail and obtain heritage status for the building. It has approached the Governor, the chief minister, the urban development minister, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and the CMDA with the plea.

“We have got a good response from all of them,” said Asim Sarkar, immediate past secretary of the branch. “A senior official of the municipal affairs department and a CMDA team have visited the building and have gone through some historic records and documents,” said Tarun Mandal, the branch’s assistant secretary.

A suggestion that the doctors’ association buy the building, situated on 14 cottahs, by raising funds received good support from the members. An action plan will be drawn up soon, said Sudipto Roy, re-elected president of the branch.

The meeting ratified the election of new office-bearers, including secretary R.D. Dubey, who announced that the branch would host the 76th all-India Medical Conference, the most prestigious annual gathering of doctors, in December this year.

Sunday’s meeting also resolved to oppose a Central government scheme to get nurses registered, after appropriate training, so that they could prescribe medicine and sign death certificates.

“The move is similar to the so-called condensed MB course by the state government, which was started some months ago,” a doctor pointed out.

The branch has initiated a petition in Calcutta High Court against the holding of such a course.    

Calcutta, June 11: 
A living man requires less space than a dead man laid to rest in Calcutta. That’s a fact established by the electoral rolls prepared for the forthcoming civic polls.

Part 3 of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s final electoral rolls for Ward 72 reveals that there are 354 voters residing at 25/4, Chakraberia Road (South). The address consists of nine small rooms, each measuring 10 sq ft by 8 sq ft, or even less.

This, in mathematical terms, means that the per-capita floor space available is hardly two square feet.

If this sounds bad, a visit to the Chakraberia address proves worse. The actual per-capita floor space available to the tenants is just 0.15 square feet, as the actual number of tenants is more than 4,500.

Bindeshwar Kamath, who recently moved out after getting married, says: “Only 10 per cent of the inhabitants of this place have got their names listed on the voters’ list.”

Another interesting feature of the Chakraberia address is that 90 per cent of the inhabitants have the same surname and profession. They are all Kamaths from Madhubani, Bihar, and are all employed as drivers, of either taxis or private cars.

Chittaranjan Ghosh, who runs Joyguru Mistanna Bhandar, a sweetshop that forms the 10th room at the address, says: “Of the 4,500 inhabitants, I am the odd man out. I hail from Jangipara, in Hooghly, and am the only Bengali here.”

Both Bindeshwar and Chittaranjan feel that “the main advantage of staying here is that we have an address”, without which they would not have been able to obtain a driving licence or a ration card in this city.

“We use the rooms as safe custody for our baggage as well,” discloses Shiv Nandan Kamath.

Where do all the 4,500 inhabitants of this less-than-three cottah premises sleep? “Why, the wide pavements of Chakraberia Road, of course. Winter or summer, we sleep peacefully on the pavements,” says Shiv Nandan.

But what happens during the rainy season? That’s when other households in the area lend a helping hand.

“The vacant, covered spaces in some of the buildings in the neighbourhood are convenient for us. We are allowed to sleep there, without much of a problem. This kind of cooperation is unique to Calcutta,” chorus some of the Kamaths.

In the morning, there are only three toilets available for the 4,500 people. The long queues start from 5.30 and last till at least 8 am.

The place is neither a slum nor a colony. That’s precisely why the premises have not been included in the slum-development or colony-benefit schemes.

Here, the landlord collects the rent, not exceeding Rs 40, from the original nine tenants. Thanks to the Premises Tenancy Act, 1956, just by paying Rs 360 to the landlord, the original tenants are earning Rs 2.25 lakh per month by extracting Rs 50 each from the rest of the inhabitants.    

Calcutta, June 11: 
Nantu Roy, prime accused in the murder of computer professional Kunal Bose, confessed while being interrogated by the police that after committing the crime on the night of May 26, he and his driver had tossed their clothes into a drain in Behala.

Officers probing the case on Sunday scouted around the area for the clothes but failed to retrieve them. Nantu accompanied the police during the raid.

“We threw away the blood-stained clothes to get rid of evidence,” Nantu told the police.

Nantu told the police that his trousers were sent to a local laundry and the police have located it. They will be sent to forensic experts for tests. Police have also sent the weapon used to kill Kunal for forensic examination.

Nantu told the police that he and his driver, Gautam, washed the seats of the Ambassador car to remove the blood stains.

Kunal was repeatedly stabbed in the car and the seats were washed in front of the boat club on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. The seat cover, too, has been sent for forensic test.

Nantu said Kunal was sitting with the driver when he was stabbed by Nantu, sitting behind him. According to Nantu’s confessional statement, he tried to shoot Kunal when the victim fought back. But the bullet fell out of the single-cartridge firearm.

Then, Nantu had no alternative but to stab Kunal repeatedly. Gautam joined him after stopping the car and both threw the body out of the vehicle.

Police are trying to find out the antecedents of Munmun, Kunal’s widow, now in jail custody for her alleged involvement in the murder.

Police found that Munmun had had extra-marital affairs with colleagues when she used to work for other organisations, before joining the mobile phone dealer’s shop in Watgunge.

Police established contact with the teachers of educational institutions where she had studied. “The teachers did not give her a very good character certificate,” police said.

Police traced the flats in the Behala and Bishnupur areas where Nantu and Munmun had gone together on several occasions. Raids were conducted to track down Gautam, the absconding driver, during the day.

n Kitchen blaze kills woman: A 49-year-old woman, Gita Banik, was killed in a fire in her kitchen at Kestopur, in the Baguiati area, on Sunday. Fire brigade sources said Banik was cooking when she was engulfed in flames. She was rushed to a local hospital, where she succumbed to her injuries. Two fire engines were deployed to douse the fire.    

Shillong, June 11: 
The newly-formed United Bengali Liberation Front has sought material and moral support from Bengalis world-wide to carry on the fight for the community’s survival in the Northeast.

“We are fighting with our backs to the wall. Many Bengalis talk of political ideology, but for those of us in the Northeast, it matters little. We are fighting for our survival,” UBLF chairman Bijon Bosu said in a statement here on Friday.

The UBLF claims to represent “a huge mass of dispossessed Bengali peasantry and not the babus”.

Since its formation in August last year, the outfit has killed at least 40 tribals in Tripura.

A blast triggered by the UBLF at Kalyanpur in West Tripura district last month led to ethnic clashes in which nearly 50 people, including non-tribals, were killed.

Bosu said his outfit now had hundreds of Bengalis in its ranks, but no resources.

“We do not have either modern weapons or funds. We are using locally-made bombs, guns and swords to fight. We have some AK-47 rifles, but these are inadequate,” he said.

The UBLF chief said his outfit was a “secular organisation”, with minorities comprising a sizeable section of its armed wing. He also said the UBLF was not against “common tribals”.

The National Liberation Front of Tripura, which has killed over 2,500 non-tribals and abducted nearly 5,000 over the past five years, is the UBLF’s main enemy. Bosu said his outfit was planning to attack NLFT bases in Bangladesh “with the help of our supporters there”.

According to intelligence reports, militant outfits from Tripura have at least 30 camps in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.

Though Dhaka has denied the existence of these camps, reports in the Bangladesh media indicate that the NLFT and the United People’s Democratic Party, a tribal outfit based in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, have forged links.

Not to be left behind, the UBLF is now trying to build a network across the border. “There is so much support for the Bengali cause in Bangladesh that people there are sure to sympathise with us once they come to know that we are being targeted just as they were in 1971,” Bosu said.

CM’s appeal: Meghalaya chief minister E.K. Mawlong has urged the people to play a greater role in development of the state.

Addressing a public meeting at Smit in East Khasi Hills district yesterday, he said Meghalaya could become self-sufficient in all respects only if everyone made an effort. Like Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, which are leaders in agriculture, Meghalaya has the potential to be a cut above the rest, Mawlong said.

Flash floods: The Indian Air Force base at Mohambari today winched up 31 people from Pasighat area in Arunachal Pradesh, where flash floods devastated parts of the state and the northern bank of the Brahmaputra in Assam, reports UNI.

Defence sources from Dibrugarh said over telephone tonight that MI 17 piloted by Sqn. Ldr. A. Sarma carried out six sorties to save the people, who were taking shelter either on rooftops or on trees. Some were saved from capsizing boats as well.

The rescue operation by the force was started at 4 pm and it took the IAF more than three hours to complete the mission, the source said.

He added the mission was suspended due to darkness and would be resumed tomorrow at 5 am.

Since the advanced landing ground at Pasighat was affected by the floods, the operation was carried out from a makeshift helipad at the place.

The Pasighat deputy commissioner was also on board the MI 17 during the rescue operation.    

Kohima, June 11: 
Lt. Gen. D.S. Shergil will take over the charge of GOC 3 Corps while Maj. Gen. R.N. Kapoor will be the new inspector-general of Assam Rifles (North), Army sources said today.

In two major changes in the Army top brass here, Lt. Gen. Shergil will take over charge on June 20, while Maj. Gen. Kapoor, who will replace outgoing inspector-general of Assam Rifles (North) Maj. Gen. R.B. Singh, will take charge tomorrow, the sources added.

The inspector-general of Assam Rifles (North) is popularly known as the GOC Nagaland. Maj. Gen. Singh has been transferred to the Eastern Command headquarters in Calcutta.

Maj. Gen. Singh, who served here for three years, was instrumental in bridging the gap between the civil administration and the Army. During his short stint he tried to foster peace among the underground leaders, the sources said.

Maj. Gen. Kapoor, on taking charge tomorrow, will face the unenviable situation of sorting out modalities for the Naga peace process between the underground outfits and the Centre, a source said.

His predecessor Maj. Gen. Singh faced the task of putting into order a ceasefire agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). The relationship between the two sides soured when the Assam Rifles forcibly closed down the NSCN (I-M) ceasefire monitoring cell in Dimapur after an attempt on the life of chief minister S.C. Jamir allegedly by the banned outfit, the source added.

The Army accused the NSCN (I-M) of “gross misuse” of the facility in Dimapur. But, Maj. Gen. Singh persisted with his efforts to bring the banned outfit to the negotiation table, the source said.

Maj. Gen. Kapoor has his task cut out to complete the initiatives taken by his predecessor while at the same time he will have to finalise the modalities and groundwork for a possible cease-fire agreement between the NSCN (Khaplang) and the Centre, the source added. The NSCN (K) has already announced a formal ceasefire with the Centre, but not before going through the final ground rules.    

Bhubaneswar, June 11: 
After a night-long search, rescuers recovered today four bodies of the passengers travelling on a boat that capsized in Debi river in Jagatsinghpur district.

The district administration, however, failed to give the exact figure of the missing passengers.

The boat was plying from Jharpada to Orlipur in Gobindapur block when it capsized around 8 pm yesterday.

Jagatsinghpur additional district magistrate P.K. Pani said they had no idea how many people were aboard. He said the boatman, who was arrested, claimed that 24 passengers were travelling in the boat, but local people said the figure was much higher.

Police and villagers were searching for survivors and bodies, Pani said. They rescued a four-year-old child, who lost her mother in the accident, and was rushed to a local hospital in a critical condition.

Pani said rescuers working overnight found the bodies of two women and children this morning.

The women were identified as Suprava Biswal and Sanjukta Biswal, both married and in their thirties.

The children who perished in the accident were identified as Gyanamanjari Jena (9) and Mamali Biswal (7). Suprava Biswal was the mother of the rescued child.

Fishing boats in the river came to the rescue of several drowning passengers while a few of them managed to swim ashore.

Pani said survivors claimed the boat was overloaded with scooters and cycles, besides a large number of passengers.    


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