Families wake to dawn call of death
Wintech students caught in crossfire
For whom the bells tolled
Power cuts in Salt Lake
Destiny for some, doom for others
Crime protesters block road
BE College does a Jadavpur
Congress backs new civic board
Power back but trains stalled in Howrah
Chamling on thin ice over reservation

 
 
FAMILIES WAKE TO DAWN CALL OF DEATH 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, July 17 
When Sandip Kumar Dey, a promising paediatrician, bade farewell to wife Rupa, also a doctor, and mother-in-law Varsha Devi early on Monday morning, little did they know that they were seeing him for the last time.

At 12 noon, a call from the airlines’ authorities informed the family of the crash.

“We were praying that Sandip would be among the seven passengers in hospital. But his name is not on the list,” sobbed Varsha Devi, who had served Sandip tea at 5 am, just before he left their Salt Lake home to catch a flight to Patna.

“Only last night, while having dinner together, Sandip was explaining about the WHO programme that he was going to attend... What shall I tell his old mother, who lives in Bankura?” wondered Varsha Devi.

As soon as news of the crash reached Rupa, a gynaecologist with National Medical College, she rang up cousin Abhijit and aunt Jharna Basu.

“Come quickly, I will have to leave for the airport... You will have to take care of ma,” she said. On reaching the airport, Rupa called to say that she was hoping to leave for Patna by an evening flight.

For 48-eight-year-old businessman Shamsur Rahman, of Narkeldanga, it was a call of death.

In the early hours of Monday, Rahman was awakened by the frantic ringing of the telephone. It was his wife from Kanpur, with the news of her mother’s death. Shamsur did not waste a moment. He contacted his travel agent friend, organised a ticket for CD-7412 and rushed to the airport.

When his wife learnt about the crash, she rang up her in-laws in Calcutta immediately. “Which flight has he taken?” she demanded.

“Bhabi went absolutely quiet, then slammed the receiver down. First her mother, and now her husband... She doesn’t know who to blame,” said Shamsur’s brother Azizur. “I don’t know how to express myself. I’m at a loss for words,” said Nadeem, Shamsur Rahman’s elder son, sitting with brother Salim, barely into his 20s. Samsur’s elder brother, Shafikur, left by the special train to Patna to bring back the body.

Thirty-year-old Anil Kumar Kanojia altered his travel plans at the last minute to take the flight to death. Anil had come down from Lucknow to elder brother Ajay’s Dum Dum house in search of a job on July 7. His air ticket back to Lucknow was booked for July 18.

“To attend to some urgent work back home in Lucknow, Anil had to leave a day early. When I served him tea at 5.30 am, I didn’t realise that I would never see him again,” sobbed Chaitali, Anil’s sister-in-law.

They learnt about the Patna plane crash on the TV news. Ajay, an employee of Indian Airlines, rushed to the airport and left for Patna on the special flight. Alone at home with her three-year-old daughter, Chaitali is glued to the TV set for further information on the crash. “I don’t know whether to call up my father-in-law in Lucknow, as I don’t know whether they are aware of what has happened.”

The ordeal has just begun for the ailing parents of 36-year -old Biswajit Mukherjee. They refuse to believe that their eldest son is no more. At Biswajit’s Baguiati home, wife Gopa stares into emptiness, with her five-year-old and 18-month-old clinging to her.    


 
 
WINTECH STUDENTS CAUGHT IN CROSSFIRE 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, July 17 
On July 10, students of Wintech Computers’ mega centre at Gol Park turned up for classes to see the pearly gates to the halting station en route to Silicon Valley shut.

The 120 students of the centre, the biggest in Calcutta, had paid a part of the course charges, ranging from Rs 29,700 to Rs 77,300, as enrolment fees to buy a passport to a future coloured by stories of 25-year-olds turning millionaires.

The notice at the gate brought them down to earth.

Utpal Shekhar Mondal, a student of the mega centre, said: “Five days after the closure, some Wintech officials informed us that we have been transferred to the Jadavpur centre, where classes are expected to start from July 20. We are really confused and the future seems quite uncertain.”

At the heart of the problem lies a dispute over money between the franchisees of the centre, Ramesh Agarwal and Vipin Chouhan, and Mumbai-based Wintech.

The franchisees closed down, saying that even after paying Rs 2.5 lakh — Rs 1.5 lakh as franchisee fee and Rs 1 lakh as launch money — Wintech had not signed a formal agreement with them.

Wintech, which runs 14 centres in Calcutta and nearly 200 across the country and even abroad, argues that the franchisee has not paid the full fee. It put the dues at Rs 18.5 lakh.

Agarwal and Chouhan respond to this by saying: “We have invested more than Rs 50 lakh in the centre, but the company hasn’t sent us the formal agreement.”

The 4,500-sq-ft mega centre spread over three floors was inaugurated on April 14 by the vice-chancellor of Jadavpur University. The franchisees are refusing to part with any more money unless they have the franchisee agreement in hand.

Wintech claims to have sent the agreement, but the franchisees say they haven’t received it.

Wintech president (operations) Mohib Patel, speaking to The Telegraph from Qatar, said: “The fresh agreement is lying with them (franchisees), but they haven’t signed it.”

A crisis management team of Wintech flew into Calcutta on Monday morning hoping to defuse the crisis. “As our primary concern is the future of the students, we have transferred all of the 120 enrolled at the mega centre to our Jadavpur centre,” said Manmath Katare, a member of the team.

In the war of words, both sides claim they are upholding the students’ interests. “The unilateral decision by the franchisees to close down the centre is clearly against the students’ interest. As the franchisees also owe some responsibility to the students, we feel the decision was a hasty one,” Katare added.

Agarwal returns the compliment: “They have collected lakhs of rupees from the students, but haven’t released our dues. How can we run the centre when we are not paid our dues and don’t have the agreement?”

Under the arrangement between the two sides, Wintech is supposed to pay a minimum fixed amount every month to the franchisees. The courses are structured by Wintech and the course material is also provided by it.

Similar complaints are coming in from other centres. A student of the Camac Street centre of Wintech said on condition of anonymity: “We had our last class on June 27 and classes are suspended after that due to non-availability of software.”

The student, who paid Rs 19,500 for the course, said: “I am not satisfied with the course content and I don’t read their course material as it is sub- standard.”

Wintech’s Katare, network manager of the western region, admitted the existence of problems in some centres in Calcutta, but held the franchisees primarily responsible. “We are here to observe the things and report to the corporate office in Mumbai. We will surely work out a strategy in consultation with the franchisees to bring an end to the present impasse.”

Going by experience, the franchisees did not appear too optimistic about a resolution satisfactory to both sides.

Chouhan said: “All the franchisees in Calcutta and the suburbs met the Wintech top brass (from Mumbai) in May and briefed them about student grievances and our problems.”

Franchisees — not of the mega centre — admit that at the time the company paid a part of their dues, but operational problems were not addressed.

“We were in touch with the zonal office but didn’t get any help from them,” said Agarwal.

The zonal office does not have the authority to act on its own.

A former Wintech manager said: “While developing the franchisee network, we made commitments on the basis of instructions from the corporate office in Mumbai. But once the franchisees were not paid their dues and other problems started mounting, they put pressure on us to get it settled with the Mumbai office. Everything in Wintech is centrally operated from Mumbai.”

The acrimony between the two sides has led to both firing letters to the Prime Minister and the chief minister downwards to the ward councillor of the Gol Park area.    


 
 
FOR WHOM THE BELLS TOLLED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 17 
The telephones never stopped ringing at Calcutta airport on Monday. As news of the Alliance Air crash spread during the morning, relatives and friends started calling up to find out about the passenger list, the list of survivors, the special plane to leave for Patna, the bodies being brought back...

“We kept calling the airport. We knew about the crash as we received a call from the airport authorities around noon saying that the plane had crashed in Patna,” said a relative of one of the victims.

At the airport, family members and friends tried in vain to console Dr Sandeep Dey’s wife, Rupa. They had just been married for three years and Sandeep had gone to Patna for a couple of days to attend a conference.

An office at the airport, turned into a crisis control room after the crash, was filled with members of the victims’ families through the day. Those at the counter struggled to cope with the rush of enquiries, both from the people cramming the room and over the telephones installed there.

“Some calls were from those who were misinformed about the plane. Passengers of other flights also rang up to know about the timings of other Patna-bound planes on Monday and Tuesday,” officials said. A senior official of the Airports Authority said employees of other departments had been assigned to handle calls related to the crash.

K.L. Banerjee, a senior official of the airport, said that calls came in from different parts of the city, other parts of the state and Bihar.

“We have been told to guide the bereaved family members coming to the airport to enquire about the crash and give them as much support as possible,” Banerjee added.

An uneasy calm prevailed at the crisis control room, with relatives arriving only to have the last rays of hope snuffed out after not finding the name they were looking for on the survivors’ list.

“We did not know what to say when friends of Biswajit Mukherjee came to the office to confirm the news of his death,” said one of the officials at the enquiry desk.

Sikha Kar called several times in the morning to inquire if brother-in-law Rajat Dutta, a senior official at Patna airport, had survived the crash. Later, she came rushing, with family members, and headed for the control room. “Is there any hope? How can you be sure that he has not survived..?” Dutta had just been transferred to Nagpur. He had come to Calcutta on work before returning to Patna and shifting with his family to Nagpur.

While airport officials struggled to cope with the pressure of providing special planes to Patna for relatives and friends of the victims, railway minister Mamata Banerjee managed to arrange for a ‘special train’, which left Calcutta in the evening.    


 
 
POWER CUTS IN SALT LAKE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 17 
Salt Lake and some parts adjoining Calcutta, which are served by the West Bengal State Electricity Board, suffered intermittent power cuts on Monday as supply from the National Thermal Power Corporation’s Farakka unit and the DVC dwindled.

A senior SEB official said two units of the NTPC — one at Kahalgaon and another at Farakka — were inoperative. “That is why the NTPC could not supply its usual quota of 560 mw to our system. The DVC’s performance, too, was poor,”, the official added.

Residents of Salt Lake are likely to spend a large part of Tuesday without power. The NTPC’s plants supplying power to WBSEB are still malfunctioning, an official said.    


 
 
DESTINY FOR SOME, DOOM FOR OTHERS 
 
 
BY CHARLES NANDI
 
Calcutta, July 17 
It was providential escape for some and tragedy for others. Monday’s Boeing 737 crash in Patna triggered a flood of mixed emotions.

Ashim Dutta, a traffic supervisor at the Calcutta airport, had a miraculous escape as he postponed his visit to Patna on Monday morning. “He was supposed to board the ill-fated plane,” said his colleague, K.L. Banerjee, at the airport on Monday. “He is really lucky.”

According to his colleagues, Dutta cancelled his trip to Patna at the eleventh hour because of personal problems. “What else can it be, but sheer providence? Believe me, Ashim actually clasped his hands and prayed when he learnt about the crash,” his colleagues said. So relieved are they that plans to celebrate Ashim’s stroke of luck are already being drawn up.

Lady Luck, however, did not smile on all. Some, like Rohit Ranjan, by some strange twist of fate, got drawn to their death along with the other passengers on board the Patna flight. Rohit had planned to go to Patna by train. He had even bought a train ticket, but ultimately cancelled it to catch Alliance Airline’s flight CD 7412.

“This is how a man has to keep his tryst with destiny. Had he travelled by train, he would have been safe and sound. But, destiny dragged him towards a ghastly death,” said Banerjee.

For Lalan Singh, a JCO in the army, the turn of events was equally tragic. He was carrying the body of his junior colleague, Neeraj Kumar, killed in ambush in Arunachal Pradesh a few days ago, to his home in Patna for cremation.

Lalan brought Neeraj’s body in a coffin from Guwahati to Calcutta on Sunday to catch Monday’s ill-fated Patna flight. At Patna airport, senior armymen were waiting to receive Neeraj’s body with full honours.

“But look what happened. Who would have thought that Lalan, who was carrying Neeraj’s body home for cremation, would meet with the same fate as his colleague?” an airport official said.

As the airport officials spoke about Ashim’s providential escape and the tragic end which Rohit and Lalan met, family members waiting anxiously for news about those on board, listened with bated breath.

“I wish my friend had also cancelled his trip like Ashimbabu,” said a relative who could not be identified, disappearing into the crowd of strangers brought together by tragedy.    


 
 
CRIME PROTESTERS BLOCK ROAD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 17 
Angry residents of the Lake Gardens area blocked Deodhar Rahman Street to protest antisocial attacks in which three people were injured on Monday morning.

The residents also blocked the rail tracks near Lake Gardens station, disrupting train services on Sealdah (South) section for over an hour and a half in the afternoon.

The deputy commissioner of police (detective department), Narayan Ghosh, said: “Trouble started when Sheukumar Shaw, a close associate of Sheikh Binod, and another gangster came to a local jewellery shop and demanded money from the owner.” People of the area rushed to the spot and tried to catch the duo.

Shaw hurled two bombs while fleeing, resulting in three of the crowd receiving splinter injuries. They were taken to M.R. Bangur Hospital. The extortionists escaped on a motorcycle.

The blockade hit trains in the Sealdah- Budge Budge sector, and road services were paralysed for nearly two hours. Two Budge Budge-bound locals from Sealdah had to be cancelled. One Down- train to Budge Budge was detained at Ballygunge station for an hour and a half, while two Sealdah-bound trains were detained between Majherhat and Santoshpur stations for an hour each.

The blockade was withdrawn after senior police officers reassured the demonstrators that the culprits would be brought to book.

Preliminary police investigations revealed that Shaw had been threatening Pradip Basak, the jewellery shop-owner, since last May. Basak had lodged complaints at Charu Market and Lake Gardens police stations, as well as at Lalbazar. A picket had been posted in the area, but the gangsters managed to flee on Monday as it was withdrawn a couple of weeks ago.

Police said the gang had a hand in most of the criminal activity on the city’s southern fringe. “It is our failure that Shaw is a free man today. The detective department had conducted raids but the efforts were in vain. Shaw and Binod managed to flee as they had received advance information about our raids. But we are keeping strong vigil in the area to net the culprits,” Ghosh added

Couple’s cremation: Pinaki Ranjan Manna and wife Maria, who committed suicide at their Keyatala residence on Sunday, will be cremated at Shyampur, Howrah, on Tuesday. Police said the cremation will be carried out by their nephew, Rebati Samanta, as per their wish mentioned in a suicide note left by Pinaki Ranjan. The police are looking for Hemanta Dalui, who was also named in the suicide note.    


 
 
BE COLLEGE DOES A JADAVPUR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 17 
Students seeking admission to Bengal Engineering College, a deemed university, may be disappointed as the college teachers began a ‘work-to-rule’ on Monday to press for implementation of new pay-scales fixed by the All-India Council for Technical Education.

Taking a cue from their counterparts in Jadavpur University, which witnessed a similar agitation for three months till June 16, the BE College teachers, grouped under the ‘Becduta’, announced that they will stay away from admission, examination and administrative duties.

“We will concern ourselves only with taking classes, attending the labs and overseeing research programmes,” said Arup Sarkar, general secretary of Becduta. The indefinite agitation will hit admission to the various engineering and technological courses likely to begin after this year’s Higher Secondary results are declared on July 20.

The Joint Entrance Examination results were announced two weeks ago. Sarkar said the faculty had repeatedly urged the college authorities to ensure implementation of the all-India council’s recommendations, apart from petitioning the state government to initiate action.

The teachers’ demands include immediate release of arrears on the new pay-scales from January 1,1996, implementation of the career advancement scheme, superannuation at 62, payment of house rent allowance and leave encashment up to 300 days.    


 
 
CONGRESS BACKS NEW CIVIC BOARD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 17 
The Congress in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation has announced its unconditional support to the newly-formed Trinamul-BJP board. The move has been made with an eye on the chairman’s post in at least seven of the 15 borough committees in the CMC, election for which will be held soon.

Leader of the Congress Opposition party Sailen Dasgupta announced on Monday: “Without consulting either the Pradesh Congress Committee or the high command in Delhi, we have decided to support the Trinamul board”.

Reminded of his party’s stand of not supporting the BJP, Dasgupta said: “We don’t know anything about the BJP. We are only supporting Trinamul.”

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has “welcomed” the support.    


 
 
POWER BACK BUT TRAINS STALLED IN HOWRAH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 17 
Although the power supply is limping back to normal, residents of Howrah and its neighbouring areas on Monday continued to be tormented by a string of railway blockades and demonstrations.

The situation took a turn for the worse at Ramrajatala and Dasnagar stations, with political outfits putting up blockades. The demonstrators stalled trains at the two stations, disrupting services early on Monday.

Local trains were running an hour behind schedule during peak hours, following the blockades. Thousands of commuters were stranded at various stations and had to wait hours for a train to Howrah. Services were back to normal in the afternoon.

The demonstrators were protesting the government’s recent decision to scrap Higher Secondary courses from colleges.

At Bagnan College, students have been on a hungerstrike since Friday to protest the higher education department’s “anti-student move.” Two of them were admitted to a local nursing home after they fell ill.

The Intuc and Chhatra Parishad called a 12-hour bandh in Bagnan to express solidarity with the students. Life in the area came to a halt, with shops and business establishments downing shutters. Things returned to normal only after 6 pm. The president of Intuc, (Howrah), Tapan Das, threatened to call a 24-hour Howrah bandh “if the students are forced to continue with their hungerstrike”.

Meanwhile, CESC chief engineer B.N. Majumdar claimed that supply to south Howrah had been restored in “record time”. According to CESC sources, the 33-KV feeder network of the CESC sub-station has been restored. A feeder line from Bauria, which is yet to be repaired, is expected to be recommissioned on Tuesday.”

“Further reinforcements from the DVC are in progress and the job is expected to be completed within four days,” a CESC spokesperson said.    


 
 
CHAMLING ON THIN ICE OVER RESERVATION 
 
 
FROM KESHAV PRADHAN
 
Siliguri, July 17 
Sikkim chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling today made a personal appeal to the people seeking their help for ensuring political stability and prosperity in the Himalayan state.

The appeal comes at a time when fissures have reappeared in Sikkimese society over the issue of reservation of Assembly seats on communal lines.

Since last month, Opposition parties and a section of Bhutia and Lepcha leaders have accused Chamling of being soft on hardline Nepali leaders who want reservation of seats proportionate to the numerical strength of different ethnic groups.

Former chief minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari’s Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP), which is also the state’s major Opposition party, the Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee and the Organisation of Sikkimese Unity have sought restoration of reserved Nepali seats as in the rule of the last Chogyal. At that time there was equal reservation of seats between tribals (Bhutias and Lepchas together) and Nepalis.

The system of reservation of Nepali seats was abolished by the Centre in 1979 while 12 seats are still reserved for the tribals in addition to the lone Sangha (monastery) constituency.

Without referring to the reservation controversy or the 11-member committee set up by Chamling on July 7 to tackle the issue, he claimed that his government “has taken strong steps to secure political rights for all people without discrimination.”

The appeal asked the people to support the government’s move to establish political stability and promote development in the state. It said, “We seek the advice and views of the elders and the experienced on the functioning of the government... I want you to send your views and suggestions without hesitation.”

The controversy over seat reservation began after the SSP tried to introduce a Bill in the monsoon session of the Assembly seeking restoration of the parity system of reservation.

Sources said the move helped Bhandari to win back the confidence of the tribals whose leaders had thrown him out of power six years ago. Chamling, then in the Opposition, had openly sided with the tribal rebels.

Now fearing that Bhandari might turn the tables on him, the chief minister has begun a cautious campaign to keep both communities in good humour.

He has appointed tourism minister K.T. Gyalsten, a Bhutia, as head of the committee to study the reservation question. The tribals have become increasingly suspicious about his role after his party did not support Bhandari’s Bill which goes in their favour.    

 

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