Jab at school jammers
Hawkers get back pavement pride of place
Burrabazar protests crime spurt
Armed students hijack bus with cops
Bodies arrive after snag delay
Two per cent annual hike in modified house tax
Goblet brimmeth over for bookworms, stores
Santana bash
Row over N-E appointments
Tripura House trains guns on local DD chief

 
 
JAB AT SCHOOL JAMMERS 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, July 19 
There’s good news for all those who have been stuck outside a city school during peak hours, the thoroughfare clogged with cars parked as they please.

Faced with mounting public criticism and complaints of inaction from local residents, the police on Wednesday launched a drive against illegal parking in front of city schools impeding traffic on busy streets.

A large police team, led by the deputy commissioner, traffic, K. Harirajan, and the DC, south, Ranjit Pachnanda, camped outside Lakshmipat Singhania School on Judges’ Court Road and prosecuted 41 vehicles, including some ‘red-light’ ones, of senior government officials.

The crackdown, on cars parked in two, three or even four rows, will continue on Thursday outside St. Thomas Boys’ and Girls’ on Diamond Harbour Road, the La Martiniere schools on Loudon Street, South Point in Mandeville Gardens, St. John’s Diocesan on Sarat Bose Road, Welland Gouldsmith on Lalbazar Street, St James’ on AJC Bose Road and Modern High on Syed Amir Ali Avenue.

The special drive began at 11 am on Wednesday and continued till 2 pm. Officials from the South and Tollygunge traffic guards and Alipore police station fanned out in front of the school and started hauling up errant drivers. “They were all fined and their licences seized,’’ Pachnanda said.

Authorities of Lakshmipat Singhania School refused to react. “The police are doing their job. We have nothing to say,’’ remarked a senior school teacher.

Both Harirajan and Pachnanda said the police have identified eight prominent schools in central and south Calcutta for causing “traffic bottlenecks” in those areas. “These schools are on main link roads with very high traffic density. Several thousand vehicles ply through each of these roads every hour. We have set up huge no-parking boards near the schools, but drivers and parents ignore it and cause a traffic snarl in the area,’’ said Harirajan.

According to sources at Lalbazar police headquarters, the traffic department and the city police chief’s office had been flooded with complaints of traffic congestion from commuters and residents.

“I have written several letters to Harirajan and police commissioner Dinesh Vajpai, urging them to take action against buses and cars parked illegally in front of my house,’’ said Ranajoy Ghosh of 8, Mandeville Gardens, near South Point School. “It’s horrible to be trapped in your own house between 11 am and 12.30 pm every day the school is open.”

Police officers put part of the blame on the school authorities. “Some of these schools have huge compounds. They can easily allow the vehicles to park inside. And principals can issue circulars directing guardians not to park their vehicles in no-parking zones outside the school. The students can be asked to walk down to the nearest parking spot,’’ Harirajan added.

The schools have reacted with caution. “Where is the space inside the school compound to accommodate 1,500 cars?’’ demanded Richard Flynn, principal of La-Martiniere School for Boys. “But I will try to explain to the students and issue a notice to the guardians not to clog the streets.”

Rosita Christein of St John’s Diocesan Girls’ School held local shopowners responsible for the chaos in front of the school. “They park their vehicles all over the place and we get blamed for the congestion on Sarat Bose Road and Elgin Road,’’ she alleged.

“Let the law take it’s own course,’’ said Siddhartha Mitra, secretary of the managing committee of South Point school.    


 
 
HAWKERS GET BACK PAVEMENT PRIDE OF PLACE 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, July 19 
In the first major but controversial move by the new Calcutta Municipal Corporation board, the conservancy department has agreed in principle to give back to hawkers one-third of the pavements of all the 21 important roads in the city.

The decision was taken at a meeting shrouded in secrecy and called on Wednesday by the new conservancy chief, Mala Roy, at the behest of Hawker Sangram Committee leader Shaktiman Ghosh. The scheme will officially bring vendors back on the pavements of the city.

Many Left councillors see it as a populist move by the new Trinamul Congress-BJP board. “One could say the seeds of an Operation Sundown has been planted to undo, in a restricted and disguised manner, what Operation Sunshine had achieved,” said a Congress councillor, who preferred to remain unnamed.

The left trade unions, including Citu, had promoted Shaktiman Ghosh as representative of the hawkers to take up the issue with mayor Subrata Mukherjee and conservancy chief Roy.

Ghosh had sought three feet of space on the pavements of 21 major roads, from where hawkers could carry on their business by paying a fee to the CMC. He assured her that no permanent structure would be erected on the pavements, the wares being removed by late evening.

“Every day, hawkers will carry on their transactions during selected business hours and remove their goods by the deadline fixed by the Corporation,” Ghosh had proposed.

“Hawking is a Rs 3,000-crore business in the city and, by levying a small amount from the vendors, the CMC could mobilise an additional fund of Rs 100 crore for the city’s development every year,” he asserted.

Having realised that a hawker-free Calcutta was a Utopian dream in the present political system, the fund-strapped CMC had started a re-think. According to the conservancy department’s estimate, there are more than 80,000 hawkers in all the 141 wards. If a nominal sum of Rs 20 a day is levied from them, the CMC can earn Rs 50 crore a year. This fund can be utilised for the city’s development.

The new, non-Left civic board thinks that the benefits of Operation Sunshine have already “peaked”. Besides, hawkers are back almost on every pavement now, even on the 21 major roads.

Operation Sunshine had helped pedestrian movement in a limited way, especially in the Gariahat, Hatibagan and Esplanade areas. But, in another form, it had benefited the traffic police and some union leaders.

Taltola police station, which would extort Rs 50 daily from each of the hawkers on S.N. Banerjee Road, Free School Street and Chowringhee during the pre-Sunshine days, hiked the rate to Rs 100 immediately after the clean-up drive.

Earlier, the CPM’s Calcutta District Committee and Citu leaders had appealed to the mayor and ministers for allowing hawkers to return to the pavements in restricted manner. But Kanti Ganguly, former conservancy chief and now leader of the Opposition, had turned out the plea.

Municipal commissioner Asim Barman declined to comment. He cited Sections 371 and 372 of the CMC Act, 1981, which makes it illegal to sell anything by obstructing roads and pavements.    


 
 
BURRABAZAR PROTESTS CRIME SPURT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 19 
Trouble, brewing in Burrabazar for some time now, spilled over on to the streets on Wednesday. A large section of the traders downed shutters and laid siege to Bowbazar police station to protest “the growing lawlessness in the neighbourhood”.

Eight hundred shop-owners observed a token trade bandh for two hours from 10 am on Wednesday.

The businessmen of Tihatti Bazar, hub of electrical goods and fittings, have given the police a 72-hour ultimatum to restore normalcy in the market area.

“If police do not take effective measures against the criminals, we will go to police minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya,” threatened the traders.

More than 500 angry businessmen gheraoed the police station to protest rising anti-social activity, extortion and dacoity in the area.

They blocked Kapalitala Road for over two hours from 12 noon. They submitted a memorandum to the police officials, demanding immediate “police protection”, before lifting the blockade.

Satyanarayan Bajaj, chairman of Tirhatti Bazar Tenants and Occupants Association, said: “The police have refused to respond to our repeated requests and complaints. If they fail to track down the culprits and restore normalcy within the stipulated period, we will have to think of a different course of action.”

Things have come to such a pass that even if the police minister intervenes, “the market will be closed for an indefinite period and businessmen will block the Burrabazar area”, warned Bajaj.

The general secretary of the Association, Basudeo Jalan, added: “We are losing our credibility among customers. Clients are feeling insecure here. A couple of days ago, miscreants snatched money from a customer. The police came but, as usual, nothing was done.”

The businessmen have had enough of police inaction. “This time, too, they have assured us that they would look into the matter. We know what will happen. A police team will patrol the area for a few days and then disappear.”

Businessmen of Tirhatti Bazar have been targeted by extortionists over the past few years. But recently, the number of criminal incidents in and around the market area have shot up, causing alarm and anxiety.

Four major incidents have taken place in the last 15 days:

On July 6, three youth, brandishing knives and bhojalis, raided a fish-market and snatched Rs 50,000 from a wholesaler. No arrest was made.

On July 8, four persons, armed with revolvers, raided Arup Agarwal’s computer spares shop. They escaped with Rs 13,000, Agarwal’s cellphone and gold locket. No was arrested.

On July 10, three youth attacked S K Gupta while he was getting off his Maruti in front of the main gate of the market complex. The miscreants snatched the fan shop -owner’s briefcase, containing Rs 1,500 and important documents. The police remain clueless.

On July 13, miscreants snatched the bag of a customer. No arrest has been made so far.

Officials of Bowbazar police station said: “We have been trying our best to track down the culprits. A strong vigil will now be kept in and around Burrabazar to nab the miscreants.”    


 
 
ARMED STUDENTS HIJACK BUS WITH COPS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 19 
High drama was enacted on Central Avenue on Wednesday, with a bus being hijacked in broad daylight by students desperate to prove a point or two to the police.

Chhatra Parishad supporters hijacked a bus hired by the city police at gunpoint, even as the vehicle was taking them to Presidency Jail from the scene of an agitation.

The bus was filled with Chhatra Parishad activists arrested from Phears Lane for violating the law to protest abolition of the Higher Secondary courses from several colleges. Police personnel escorting the agitators were threatened and dragged out of the bus and the driver was forced to get off on C.R. Avenue.

One of the students drove the bus to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital and as the vehicle was negotiating a U-turn, it almost hit a couple of pedestrians, according to the police. Senior officials were informed of the hijacking after the policemen chucked out of the bus called up the nearest police station.

The student activists turned violent once they reached the hospital. They ransacked the enquiry office and its adjoining offices. Doctors on emergency duty fled the scene and patients and their relatives were seen scurrying for shelter.

“They took the bus to the hospital as some of them were injured in the clash with the police when they violated the law. They were trying to ensure proper medical attention for their injured colleagues. Chhatra Parishad president Subhankar Sarkar was also injured in the clash,” said DC headquarters Nazrul Islam.

Police officials had to resort to a lathicharge to control the situation at the hospital. Some student activists were also arrested in connection with the violence. Sarkar was admitted to the hospital for treatment, the police said.

Trouble began around 2 pm as a large number of Chhatra Parishad supporters converged on Phears Lane from College Street and Hazra for their law-violation programme. “Suddenly, a group of agitators turned violent,” police said. The area soon turned into a battlefield, with stones being hurled at the police from all corners.

Passing vehicles, too, were stoned. Pedestrians and policemen received injuries and five buses were badly damaged in the attack.

Chaos reigned as pedestrians ran around, seeking shelter, while the street fight raged. Shopkeepers were quick to down shutters, fearing further trouble.

Realising that the situation was spinning out of control, the police resorted to a lathicharge and chased the student demonstrators away from the spot.

While Chhatra Parishad members later alleged that the police had lobbed teargas shells at them, police officials insisted that only a mild lathicharge had been launched to disperse the unruly mob.

The clash resulted in traffic snarls on C.R. Avenue and its adjoining areas for more than two hours in the afternoon. Nazrul Islam said that 27 persons, including a woman, were arrested in this connection. Seven policemen were injured in the clash.

“We have identified the youth who hijacked the bus hired by us for the law-violation programme. He has been arrested,” said Islam.    


 
 
BODIES ARRIVE AFTER SNAG DELAY 
 
 
BY NIHAR GHOSH
 
Calcutta, July 19 
The ordeal continued for some as the bodies of three more victims of the ill-fated Alliance Air flight, CD 7412, were brought to Calcutta airport by an Indian Airlines plane early Wednesday morning.

Amidst heavy rain and gusty winds, a large number of people, including the relatives of the three victims, anxiously awaited the arrival of the Indian Airlines plane from Patna.

Bracing themselves against the inclement weather with umbrellas and raincoats, the relatives awaited Airbus 320, which finally touched down at Calcutta airport at 1.50 am. The coffins were placed in three glass hearses before leaving the airport.

One of the survivors of the crash, R. Rungta, was immediately rushed to a city nursing home for treatment.

Also on board were Indian Airlines’ regional director S.K. Gorai and relatives of the victims.

The Airbus, which arrived from Chennai earlier in the day, took off from Calcutta shortly after 11 pm on Tuesday and returned at 1.50 am.

An Alliance aircraft, another Boeing 737, flying to Calcutta from Delhi via Patna, was to have brought in the bodies of the victims late on Tuesday night, but was grounded at Lucknow due to ‘a technical snag’.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee arrived at the airport shortly after 10 pm, but left when he saw there was little chance of the plane arriving from Patna.

Finally, the three bodies, as well as relatives and stranded passengers from Patna. were brought to Calcutta aboard the Airbus 320 from Chennai.

Many relatives who missed the special flight to Patna organised by Indian Airlines were accommodated by a special train to Patna from Howrah, with the aid of protocol officer to the general manager, Eastern Railway, P.R. Ghosh.

Airports Authority of India officers at Calcutta airport struggled to answer all of the queries of waiting relatives anxious for news about the special flight from Calcutta to Patna.

Malfunctions in the control room set up by the Indian Airlines authorities to help the waiting relatives compounded problems, giving rise to numerous complaints about the inefficiency of the officers at the help room.    


 
 
TWO PER CENT ANNUAL HIKE IN MODIFIED HOUSE TAX 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 19 
The Trinamul-BJP board in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) plans to introduce an annual increase of two per cent in building tax, replacing the traditional practice of a 10 per cent hike every six years.

However, this formula will apply only to buildings where no addition, alteration or change of use has taken place during a year.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee thinks the complex process of assessment and general revaluation are the root causes of corruption in the CMC, as well as of harassment of the tax-payers.

Member, mayor-in-council, Anup Chatterjee, said: “For the sake of transparency, we have a plan to display the quantum of annual tax paid by house-owners in every borough office.”

A survey conducted by the revenue department earlier revealed that systematic “under-assessment” of property by Calcutta Municipal Corporation employees has led to 3.5-lakh buildings in the city being valued at a mere Rs 275 crore.

The civic authorities put the primary blame for this under-assessment on its inspectors who, they believe, had pegged the value of the houses at far below market rates against bribes.

“The lower the value, the lesser the tax blow,” said a CMC official. “Hence the rampant practice of bribing assessment inspectors for under-valuation of property.”

Thus, there are only 800 houses in the city with tags of above Rs 5 lakh at current rates.

In about 90 per cent of these houses, shown to be under litigation, taxes are pending. Scrutiny shows even these figures are mostly manipulated with the help of “helpful” inspectors.    


 
 
GOBLET BRIMMETH OVER FOR BOOKWORMS, STORES 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, July 19 
Even as the schools in Kansas and Colorado have banned the hardback, alleging J.K. Rowling advocates witchcraft, the author’s latest creation, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, has already cast its magical spell over Calcutta, barely five days into its city release.

The fourth in the quirky series by Jo Rowling, who conceived of Harry Potter on a train ride from London to Manchester, has already made publishing history even before its worldwide release on July 8, as no other book had ever sold faster in pre-orders. In the US alone, the first print was a staggering 3.8 million copies.

The craze for Harry’s world of Quidditch, a soccer-like game played on flying broomsticks, and his boarding school, Hogwarts, has been much the same in Calcutta. “On July 8 itself, we were flooded with enquiries about the book from our regular customers, who refused to believe that the book had to be imported and there would be a time lag,” says Neil Antunis, manager, operations, Oxford Bookstore, who sold all 50 copies of the book procured in the first lot in “a day and a half”.

Although Oxford has reordered 150 copies (subject to availability), the store management believes a few copies can be bought off the racks, as “we are almost sure to pre-sell more than 150 books over phone before the fresh lot arrives,” smiles Antunis, who likens the craze to Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things.

Ashok Barman of Family Book Shop claims he had a better feel of the “market pulse” and ordered “sufficient copies to cope with the craze”. Barman, while admitting that Roy’s sales had been the best ever, goes on to add that the lifespan of Harry Potter will be more, “since it is a series with more to follow”.

The Emami Landmark store, which has now beefed up its books section to attract serious browsers, also had a healthy first shipment of 106 copies of Goblet delivered on Saturday and was left with just 26 copies on Wednesday evening.

“At Rs 550 (the MRP), this is a phenomenal sales rate, as the hardbound version of The Prisoner of Azkaban (the third in the series) sold just 50 copies,” says Landmark CEO Gautam Jatia, who feels Goblet will soon overtake Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies and Shiv Khera’s You Can Win, two of the recent best-sellers. While Lahiri has sold more than 550 copies since mid-November last year, Khera is 300 plus and still going strong.

“It is unique in the sense that a children’s book is being read by elders too, and we are proud to bring this book to India,” gushed N. Roy Chowdhury, senior sales officer, Penguin India.

The first three Harry Potter books had logged sales of 30 million copies and by the writing on the pages, Goblet, which experts feel has all the trappings of a classic, a la Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens, is certain to break new ground, with the city’s bookworms contributing more than a fair share.    


 
 
SANTANA BASH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 19 
“As we begin this new millennium, I want to thank all of the people of Calcutta and India for their passion and support.” That’s guitar god Carlos Santana, responding to a message from Music World informing him about the Park Street store’s plans to host a birthday bash in his honour on Thursday.

“Around 3,000 Santana fans are expected to turn up during the daylong celebrations, involving quizzes, trivia games, Santana lookalikes, and lots of music,” said Sanjeev Rao, assistant manager, operations, MusicWorld.    


 
 
ROW OVER N-E APPOINTMENTS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, July 19 
The Opposition today rapped rural development and panchayati raj minister N. Bihari Singh for alleged illegal appointments in his department.

Opposition leaders O. Joy Singh, Rishang Keishing and Nimaichand Luwang accused the minister of violating the ban on recruitment imposed by the state government.

Discussing the rural development and panchayat department’s demands today in the Assembly, former Congress chief minister Rishang Keishing alleged that the department was not able to acquire funds allocated by the Centre over the past two years.

Terming the minister as inefficient, Keishing said it was unfortunate that the department could not even collect its full share of funds from the Centre for various project.

Manipur People’s Party (MPP) chief O. Joy Singh said the department had advertised for the post of one section officer, two clerks and two progress assistants last year.

However, the MPP leader said the department has recruited 21 section officers, 26 clerks and 22 progress assistants, violating government norms.

Nemaichand Luwang of Congress charged the minister with interfering in the functioning of the district rural development agency (DRDA) in Thoubal district.

Luwang said 16 people have been appointed in Thoubal without proper sanction. Of these, five have already been promoted, he added.

Luwang said the DRDA governing in Thoubal comprising ministers and legislators, has stayed the appointment of 16 people after detecting irregularities.

However, the minister has ordered the DRDA, Thoubal to start paying salaries to the six employees, he said.

Rural development and panchayati raj minister N. Bihari Singh, however, defended his move.

He said the money involved in paying salaries to the newly-recruited employees came from the Centre and not from the state Budget.

Despite the allegations, Singh justified the appointments, saying he had not violated rules.

The minister said the recruitment was ordered after many rural development department employees were deputed to the zilla parishad and the blocks.

He said the ad hoc recruitments had been made to replace those employees who had gone on deputation.    


 
 
TRIPURA HOUSE TRAINS GUNS ON LOCAL DD CHIEF 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, July 19 
Members of the Tripura Assembly today condemned Agartala Doordarshan Kendra station director V.N. Jauhuri for challenging the authority of the House.

The members resolved to send a letter to the Union information and broadcasting ministry enclosing a copy of Jauhuri’s letter to the secretary of the state Assembly.

Jauhuri has come under fire for allotting programmes to a religious organisation, bending government rules, and favouritism.

Information minister Jiten Chowdhury read out a transcript of the letter on the floor of the House.

In the letter, Jauhuri said Agartala Doordarshan kendra is a station under the Prasar Bharati Corporation and not under any ministry of the state government. Any question relating to the functioning of the station can be raised only by the Prasar Bharati or by Parliament.

For official programmes, the director is answerable only to higher authorities in the Prasar Bharati, the letter dated July 18 added. Speaker Jiten Sarkar admitted two motions in the House on a Hindu religious organisation chief taking money from the Agartala Doordarshan kendra and on the roles of Doordarshan and All India Radio in strengthening ethnic peace and harmony.

Condemning Jauhuri’s letter as being tantamount to undermining the authority of the Assembly, information minister Chowdhury said the director was regularly dishonouring the state government’s invitations to important meetings. He sent his deputies to attend such meetings, he added.

Chief minister Manik Sarkar proposed that a letter on behalf of the Assembly would be sent to the Union information and broadcasting ministry and the Prasar Bharati Corporation.

Terming the Agartala Doordarshan director’s behaviour as “unprecedented”, the information minister said all Union government departments, including the telecom and railways, furnish replies to the state Assembly.

Chowdhury appreciated the role played by All India Radio to ease ethnic tension and violence by doing special programmes in consultation with the state government.    

 

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