Cell-to-cell rap for drivers
Traders offer land, cash for phone exchange
Subhas floats 100-floor fantasy
Great, graffiti-free walls of Chinatown
Cops missed killer driver at home
Parched Topsia fights for water
Mamata orders Metro to absorb casual workers
Feathers ruffled over Sunday bazar for birds
Miracle saves Assam ferry
Bihar ministry orders Ranchi V-C suspension

 
 
CELL-TO-CELL RAP FOR DRIVERS 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, June 12 
Consider these facts:

In the four years since the police banned the use of mobile phones while driving, only three persons have been booked for violation

In the past six months, more than 25 car crashes have taken place because the drivers have been busy talking into their cellphones

This has sent alarm-bells ringing in the police headquarters in Lalbazar and finally forced them into action mode.

The joint commissioner of police (traffic), V.V. Thambi, has announced that from Tuesday, his department will launch a drive, ‘From Cell to Cell’ to check the rampant use of mobile phones while driving cars.

“Our message is simple,” explained Thambi, “if you are using a cellphone while driving a car, it will land you in a police cell.”

Thambi warned that though awareness about the dangers of using a cellphone while driving will figure high on the police agenda, motorists will be booked under Section 279 of the IPC, dealing with rash and negligent driving, if they violate the law. Heavy fines will also be imposed.

“It is true that the ban has existed for some years now, but it has not really been enforced,” said Thambi. “But with cellphone-related accidents rising sharply, we will go all out to check this menace from Tuesday.”

“It is impossible to drive properly while speaking on the mobile phone,” said DC (traffic) K. Harirajan. “It is not possible to concentrate on two things at the same time, especially on the busy and chaotic streets of Calcutta.”

Disclosing the action plan, Thambi said the police have divided the city into five zones where special police teams, comprising officers from local thanas and the traffic department, will zero in on anyone found to be using a mobile phone while driving.

“We will do it very discreetly, so that those driving cars do not spot us easily,” said DC (South) Ranjit Pachnanda.

The traffic department has identified 16 city streets and intersections where patrolling will be “intense”.Some of these are: Park Street, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, BBD Bag, Burrabazar, Brabourne Road, Strand Road, Theatre Road, AJC Bose Road, Maniktala and the EM Bypass.

The police will also launch an advertising blitz through the Internet, FM channels and cable TV networks, warning Calcuttans of the dangers of “mixing driving with talking on the cellphone”.

While most agree on the need for the police crackdown, a few have questioned the rationale behind it.

Said cardiologist T. Bhattacharya: “I drive my own car and often, emergency patients call me up when I am driving. What should I do then? Isn’t a patient’s life more important than police action?”

Counters Harirajan: “If such a situation arises, the person behind the wheel should pull up on one side of the street, stop the car and then talk for as long as he wants.”    


 
 
TRADERS OFFER LAND, CASH FOR PHONE EXCHANGE 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, June 12 
Burrabazar is all set to kick off a new trend by offering to underwrite to a large extent the setting up of a telephone exchange for its exclusive use.

“Never before has a single commercial telephone subscriber in the city, or, for that matter, anywhere in the country, made such a proposal. So we are seriously considering it,” officials said on Monday.

Demanding better telephone services and quick redress of grievances, traders of Rajakatra — one of the largest wholesale markets dealing in spices, condiments and stationery — have offered Calcutta Telephones funds to lay underground cables, as well as premium space to house the proposed dedicated exchange.

“They (Calcutta Telephones) have already given us the green light,” said Panna Bhadra, secretary of the Rajakatra Byabsayee Samity. “The final word will come anytime.”

Nearly a century old, Rajakatra, sprawling over nearly six bighas of prime land in Burrabazar, is almost second home to about 1,750 traders whose families have lived in the city for generations.

As their business expanded and more and more transactions began to be made over the telephone, the need for a separate exchange was felt strongly.

The original owners were the royal family of Burdwan. Over the years, the ownership was transferred to the Mundras, who collect rent from 1,750 traders.

The latter have been demanding a new exchange because the present one often does not function properly and repairs are time-consuming.

The 800 lines for 1,750 tenants are connected to the exchange in Central Avenue, quite far from Rajakatra. According to the traders, things became worse when a large number of telephones fell dead simultaneously.

“We have to suspend our business deals with our counterparts elsewhere in the country whenever such a situation arises. This leads to heavy losses for many of us,” a trader said.

They said the necessity for setting up the new exchange was felt more acutely after a huge fire broke out in the market in February this year.

It destroyed a large portion of the building and the entire telephone system in the complex.

The fire damaged all the overhead telephone wires. When the Calcutta Telephone authorities refused to lay the wires anew, the traders spent a few lakhs and laid underground lines, only after which could their telephones be restored.

Post-fire, the entire complex ran without a single telephone for many days at a stretch, the traders said. They feared a recurrence of the blaze.    


 
 
SUBHAS FLOATS 100-FLOOR FANTASY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 13 
Sports and transport minister Subhas Chakraborty is raring to take a walk in the clouds. The CPM pro-changer is reaching for the skies — quite literally — in a bid to alter the cityscape.

Chakraborty claims to be preparing the ground for “the tallest building in Asia” in Calcutta. The minister’s dream project will comprise 100 floors, with 10 of them underground. The edifice will be in the form of a miniature town.

The announcement caused a stir at the inauguration ceremony of the Anupama commercial complex of Bengal Peerless Housing Development Company at Mandalghanthi, in Rajarhat, on Monday.

“When I visited Kuala Lumpur, I saw a building with 81 floors and thought, why can’t we have such a building?” said the minister.

“The site for the building has almost been finalised. But I can’t disclose any other details now,” added Chakraborty.

But he did mention that the building of his dreams would have a five-star hotel, a market complex and other trappings needed to turn it into a model township.

“I am thinking of two developers for the mega project... if Peerless builds the complex then it might well be known as Peerless Tower,” smiled Chakraborty.

Taken completely by surprise, S.K. Roy, managing director of The Peerless General Finance and Investment Company Limited, said: “I am not aware of this project. I have just come to know about it from the minister. But we will be proud to be associated with such a path-breaking project.”

But can Chakraborty’s 100-floor fantasy be turned into fact?

Tapas Ghatak, geo-scientist with the CMDA, struck a note of caution: “The tallest building in the city, Chatterjee International Centre on Chowringhee Road, is just 23 floors. A thorough geotechnical investigation will have to be carried out before a 100-floor structure is planned.”

The study, according to Ghatak, would primarily take into account the soil’s “load-bearing capacity”, practically ruling out the heart of the city, where “the aquifer level is very high”.

“What will also be of vital importance is the technique of construction, which must be suited to the nature of the soil,” added the geo-scientist.

While inaugurating the Peerless housing complex, Subhas Chakraborty went into real-estate overdrive.

“It is said that I am a friend of promoters. What is the wrong in that? Everyday you will find men and women with hammer, chisel and other tools, looking for work. Neither the state nor the Central government thinks about these daily labourers, numbering about 3 to 5 lakh, who earn their livelihood thanks to the promoters we love to hate.”    


 
 
GREAT, GRAFFITI-FREE WALLS OF CHINATOWN 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, June 12 
While election graffiti has “polluted” the walls in most city areas, those in Chinatown, on Calcutta’s eastern fringe, are still exceptionally clean. Though there are only about 1,000 Chinese voters in the ensuing civic poll, all the 3,000 walls in ward 66 here have been declared a “no-graffiti” zone.

“They don’t like their walls to be dirtied with political slogans. So I asked my party workers to put up only banners inside Chinatown,” said sitting Trinamul Congress councillor Javed Ahmed Khan. “I printed leaflets in Chinese characters for them, as door-to-door campaigning is the only effective way of reaching out to them,” he adds. This is the second time that the Chinese will exercise their franchise in a civic poll.

This tannery town became a Chinese stronghold over the past 50 years, and about 10,000 of them have settled down here. Hardly 10 per cent of them figure in the voters’ list.

Residents like Lin Hsien Yun, Liu Chin Ling, and ChenLee Jeng Fong are taking a special interest in the polls and are glad that they have been recognised as voters. Chinese women are taking a keen interest in the political career of Mamata Banerjee.

Ramen Dalui, a CPM worker, said the Chinese still lived in joint families and the advice of elders was sought in day-to-day affairs. So the eldest member of the family decided who they should vote for.

Neglected by the administration for decades, the Chinese keep to themselves and are suspicious of outsiders.

Within their walled enclaves, they still consider themselves Taiwanese and are careful about preserving their cultural identity.

An elderly Chinese, who runs a restaurant, said: “How many Chinese students go to your schools and colleges? We set up Grace Ling Liang School for them.”

Chinatown is a hinterland for the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), where no records of residential and business activities are maintained.

All the buildings and factories have come up without CMC permission.

Interestingly, there are hardly any exclusively residential buildings here. They all double as factories, tanneries and godowns.

However, apart from power supply from the CESC, they are deprived of all civic amenities, like drinking water, roads, drainage and sewerage and street lighting.

They have constructed paved roads, fitted street lights and excavated drains there with money from their own pockets. Only recently, the CMC started a conservancy service there.

“It is on account of CMC’s foolishness that Chinatown has not been brought under the civic tax net,” said member mayor-in-council Kanti Ganguly.

Consequently, it loses about Rs 1 crore tax revenue annually.

“Tanneries and leather factories amount to a Rs 100-crore business here, but the CMC does not get a single paisa from them,” Ganguly said.

It is difficult to make an assessment of the buildings here, as the Chinese never allow anybody inside their castles.    


 
 
COPS MISSED KILLER DRIVER AT HOME 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 12 
Even though he was home, the police failed to arrest Gautam, the absconding driver of Nantu Roy, prime accused in the Kunal Bose murder case.

This was revealed by Gautam’s parents on Monday. The driver is wanted by the police for his alleged involvement in the murder case.

His parents said their son was at home for a week afterMay 26, when Kunal was murdered on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.

“We told him about his ‘involvement’ in the murder case, as mentioned in newspaper reports. He, however, denied all charges,” they added. He was virtually dragged out of his home by his parents, after which he never returned.

The police refused to accept the version of Gautam’s parents, claiming that his residence was raided after the murder plot was unearthed.

Raids were conducted at several places on Monday to trace the blood-stained clothes of both Nantu and Kunal.

The police also seized a Life Insurance policy of Kunal. The computer professional was virtually forced by Nantu to take up the insurance policy so that Kunal could be cheated after his death.

Munmun was made the nominee of the policy, worth Rs 8 lakh, so that she could claim the benefit after Kunal’s death.

As Nantu was having an extra-marital affair with Munmun, he hoped to lay his hands on the money.

The insurance authorities pay the entire amount to the nominee in case of accidental death of the policy-holder.

Brother kills brother

A 35-year-old man was killed by his elder brother at Rammohan Dutta Lane, in Bhowanipore, on Monday afternoon.

Police said Nabaraj Nandi was killed by his elder brother after a heated exchange over the collection of rent from tenants.

It was around 3 pm when Nabaraj got involved in an argument over the collection of money from the tenants.

His elder brother, Shaktinath, came out of his room with a broken tubelight and hit him with it. Nabaraj died on the spot.

Shaktinath went to the local police station and complained that he was beaten up by his brother. The police rushed to the Nandi residence and found Nabaraj in a pool of blood.

He was removed to Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratishthan, where he was declared dead. The elder brother was arrested.    


 
 
PARCHED TOPSIA FIGHTS FOR WATER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 12 
Disgusted over frequent power fluctuations causing a chronic disruption in water supply, residents of Topsia got hold of a CESC employee on Thursday and threatened to hold him hostage till they were provided with adequate drinking water.

Taps have run dry at about 4,000 homes in the area because of frequent tripping of power that drives their deep tubewells. The areas hardest hit are Topsia Second Lane, Topsia First Lane and Topsia Road.

When another trip in power sparked a fresh ‘dry spell’ on Thursday, tankers had to be requisitioned from the CMC’s water supply department.

Residents complained that despite repeated requests, the CESC was not attending to the fault. Supporters of local councillor Javed Ahmed Khan called in a CESC worker attending to a cable fault in a factory in the area.

When he expressed his inability to attend to their problem without a specific work order, angry residents threatened to hold him hostage.

Javed Khan alleged that the CMC and the CESC were in collusion to disrupt water supply to the area, ahead of the municipal elections. As Topsia was added on to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation later, the area does not have a direct link with the Tallah-Palta network. So, deep tubewells are the mainstay for water in this ward.

It was expected that with the commissioning of Park Circus booster pumping station, the situation would improve.

Javed Khan said Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee had assured him of funds for water mains in the Topsia area.

Besides low pressure, severe contamination is another hazard.

In a number of places, the water lines have passed directly through sewer lines.

Which is why, health oficials said, the Topsia belt tops the city in the incidence of diarrhoea.

Diarrhoea is so acute here that the councillor has to arrange a mobile medical van from his own pocket to attend to patients.    


 
 
MAMATA ORDERS METRO TO ABSORB CASUAL WORKERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 12 
Be employed here, but work there. That’s the solution devised by railway minister Mamata Banerjee to meet the long-standing demand of the Metro Railway Workers’ Congress (MRWC) to regularise the services of 296 casual labourers of the underground rail network.

The solution, drawn up by the workers’ congress and approved by the minister is, indeed, unique.

The order to the general manager of Metro Railway, dated May 25, from the ministry of railways reads: “The casual labour in question may be regularised by giving paper lien in Group-D posts in Eastern Railway and South Eastern Railway and be allowed to continue to work in Metro Railway in their present assignment.”

The casual workers will be absorbed into the Metro Rail employee rolls once the Garia extension gets on track. “We congratulate our minister for this historic decision,” said Tapas Mukherjee of workers’ congress.    


 
 
FEATHERS RUFFLED OVER SUNDAY BAZAR FOR BIRDS 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, June 12 
The lone crusade by People For Animals (PFA) against the open sale of scheduled Indian birds has ruffled a few feathers, but failed to put the brakes on Shokher Haat, the Sunday morning pet bazar, on Galiff Street.

The city-based NGO’s efforts to create awareness and curb illegal trade in protected species of birds have been stonewalled by bird-sellers and “vested interest groups”. And the wildlife circle of the directorate of forests has turned a blind eye.

Except the common crow and the blue rock pigeon, all Indian birds, including the mynahs, bulbuls and parakeets, fall under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, and trading in these species is illegal.

“We started this campaign jointly with the office of the conservator of forests, wildlife circle, West Bengal, in 1997,” says Debasis Chakrabarti, managing trustee, PFA. Volunteers of the NGO were accompanied by wildlife wing officials to Shokher Haat.

The “raids and awareness programme” proved effective during the first two years.

But for reasons best known to the directorate of forests, the wildlife circle relaxed its vigil.

Over the past year, the illegal trade in protected birds at the Sunday bazar has picked up again. “The trade in scheduled birds is illegal, but we have cut down our involvement, primarily because the PFA is continuing its campaign,” said A.N. Bhattacharya, IFS, divisional forest officer, wetlands.

Following the police commissioner’s intervention, cops, on May 14 and June 4, seized some birds from Galiff Street but the situation turned ugly as bird-sellers, “instigated by local leaders”, turned their ire on the NGO staff.

Later, leaders of the bird-sellers’ union pleaded with the police that the trade be allowed to continue, as it was their “sole livelihood”. Amar Bhattacharya, president, West Bengal Exotic Birds Traders’ Association, said: “These bird-sellers must be provided with an alternative source of employment.”

The PFA has written to C.S. Samal, secretary, department of forests, requesting him to “take prompt and effective measures in the matter”. But with wildlife wing personnel choosing to stay away from the scene of the ‘crime’, the parakeets and mynahs seem destined to breed and live in captivity in this city.    


 
 
MIRACLE SAVES ASSAM FERRY 
 
 
FROM PULLOCK DUTTA
 
Jorhat, June 12 
At least 100 ferry passengers today had a providential escape when the vessel carrying them withstood the fury of the monsoon-fed Brahmaputra for three hours after being damaged by a floating block of wood midstream between the river island of Majuli and Neamati Ghat in Upper Assam’s Jorhat district.

Sources said a few passengers jumped into the river in panic when water began seeping into the ferry, but were rescued.

With the engine whimpering to a halt after the block of wood smashed into the body of the ferry, a disaster appeared inevitable. However, the ferry miraculously stayed afloat while its crew tried to restart the engine.

An agonising three hours later, the ferry dropped anchor at Neamati Ghat, much to the relief of the passengers on board.

Ferry services between Majuli and the mainland were indefinitely suspended later in the day.

Sources said the risk of accidents had increased manifold because huge blocks of wood were floating all over the Brahmaputra.

“I have never seen so many logs floating on the river,” said Durgeswar Das of Neamati.

Another elderly resident of the area said the last time so many blocks of wood were seen floating on the Brahmaputra was after the earthquake in 1950.

An official attributed the unusual phenomenon to a landslide near Yingkiong in the Pasighat area of Arunachal Pradesh, where the Siang river is in spate. The Siang is one of the major tributaries of the Brahmaputra.

In another incident today, two persons, including a seven-year-old boy, were swept away by floods in the Neamati area of Jorhat district. Their bodies are yet to be recovered.

The Brahmaputra is flowing well above the danger mark in several other places in Upper Assam, including Dibrugarh. Helicopters were pressed into service to evacuate marooned people in the Upper Assam town yesterday.

Truckers’ strike

The Mokokchung district administration is contemplating legal action against the Mariani Truck Drivers’ Union “for holding the people of Nagaland to ransom”.

The drivers’ union stopped plying trucks on the Mariani-Mokokchung road a fortnight ago in protest against alleged harassment by groups of youth.

The strike has led to scarcity of essential commodities in three districts of Nagaland — Mokokchung, Tuensang and Zunhebuto.

“A few truckers cannot hold the people of three Nagaland districts to ransom,” the Mokokchung deputy commissioner told The Telegraph over phone today.

Criticising his Jorhat counterpart for not taking steps to end the impasse, the deputy commissioner said, “I no longer have faith in the Jorhat administration.”

Three Oil India Limited tankers carrying essential commodities arrived in Mokokchung town via Kohima today.    


 
 
BIHAR MINISTRY ORDERS RANCHI V-C SUSPENSION 
 
 
FROM RUDRA BISWAS
 
Ranchi, June 12 
The state higher education ministry today recommended the suspension of Ranchi University vice-chancellor L.C.C.N. Shahdeo.

Shahdeo is at present lodged in Beur Jail on charges of irregular appointment of teachers to the newly-affiliated colleges and of allowing affiliation of private colleges.

The move of the higher education ministry comes more than a week after Shahdeo was arrested by the state vigilance department here on June 4.

Sources said in addition to recommending Shahdeo’s suspension, the ministry has requested the Governor and chancellor of universities to ask the south Chhotanagpur commissioner to take charge of the university pending appointment of a new vice-chancellor.

The sources added that the ministry has noted that while no candidate is at present willing to take charge of Ranchi University, none of the present officials there has been found suitable for the job.

It has proposed that the authority of running the day-to-day affairs of the university be vested with the commissioner of the south Chhotanagpur division.

The sources also disclosed that the state vigilance department today filed chargesheets in five additional cases related to the irregular appointment of teachers against Shahdeo before the special court at Patna.

They said initially the vigilance department filed only three chargesheets while concealing the remaining two chargesheets from the court. However, the court took strong objection to the dilatory tactics of the vigilance department, after which all the five chargesheets were produced before the special court.

The sources added the court has fixed the date for hearing of bail petitions filed by Shahdeo and another accused, S.D. Singh, in all the cases for tomorrow.

Bandh peaceful

Ranchi today observed a bandh in protest against the arrest of Shahdeo and former head of the department S.D. Singh.

Shops and business establishments were closed, public transport remained off the roads while all schools which were to reopen today after the summer vacation announced they would commence tomorrow. All examinations to the M.Sc., M.Com., M.A., MBBS, MS and MD were postponed by Ranchi University as a result of the bandh.

However banks, public sector undertakings, government offices, lower courts and the High Court functioned normally throughout the day.

Barring a minor scuffle at Mahavir Chowk here in which five students were injured after supporters and opponents of the bandh clashed, no major untoward incident was reported from anywhere in the city.

Federation of university teachers’ associations vice-president Baban Choubey today announced that all universities throughout the state would observe total cessation of duties on Friday and Saturday to lodge their protest against Shahdeo’s arrest.    

 

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