Police, parties in rally row
Lawyers defy SC strike ban
Slowcoach brake draws screech
DD7 breaks free of cable shackles
Lecturer’s wife to move rights panel
Mamata buoy for Subhas’ Project Venice
Alum alarm for filtered water
Kalyani sits on tinderbox

Calcutta, July 27 
A week after an “illegal” Trinamul Congress rally at Esplanade paralysed the city centre for hours earlier this week, the battlelines are now drawn between the police and political parties.

While Calcutta Police is keen on fixing venues for rallies, and chalking out prescribed routes “to minimise inconvenience caused to the people”, political parties are in no mood to toe the line of the lawkeepers.

“What right do the police have to dictate terms? The state government should take a stand on an issue that involves a democratic right,” they asserted.

Following a recent court directive in response to a public interest litigation demanding a ban on rallies in the city centre, the state government had initially said that the matter would be resolved by a committee. But then, the government changed its stand and announced that the “police would deal with the issue”.

Police officers said that “all political parties” should be blamed for organising rallies flouting road rules. “Obstruction of roads and smooth flow of traffic movement is illegal by the Calcutta Police Act and Clause 129 of the CrPC,” they pointed out.

Lalbazar has already refused permission to the Forward Bloc for a rally in front of Metro cinema next month. “We have sent a letter to the party office explaining the reason for not giving them permission. We are now waiting for a reaction from the party,” police officials said on Thursday.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Nazrul Islam, said that they “are seriously thinking of inviting all major political parties for talks’’ so that the issue can be thrashed out.

“We want cooperation from them and the state government to take a final decision on the matter,” he added.

Islam said that the police would favour Shahid Minar and Brigade Parade Ground as venues for rallies. This would keep the dreaded “Metro channel” out of the purview of political parties determined to prove a point or two by disrupting normal life in the city’s business hub.

“We won’t mind rallies being held at Shahid Minar or Rani Rashmoni Road. But the police should discuss the issue with all political parties before a decision is taken,” said Trinamul MLA Sanjoy Bakshi.

On an average, 18 rallies and processions are held in the city every month, according to police records.

“Small organisations and parties apply for the permission for holding processions or rallies, but major parties do not even bother to apply for permission. They organise their rallies even if we reject their applications,” the police said.

Police records reveal that the CPM, Congress, BJP and the Trinamul Congress have organised several rallies over the past year, obstructing roads in the Esplanade area without police permission.

“No action could be taken against them because of political pressure,” the officers admitted.

But Anil Biswas, CPM state secretary, said: “We have always obtained permission from the police before organising any rally in the city.”

A senior BJP functionary said the party “has no problem with the idea of holding rallies at Shahid Minar”, but the police should get ruling CPM to agree first.

“We are ready to cooperate with the police if they succeed in convincing the CPM,” added Congress MLA Sultan Ahmed.    

Calcutta, July 27 
Defying a Supreme Court order, some 6,000 advocates of Calcutta High Court have announced a “ceasework” for five days from July 31. Their demand: the vacant posts of judges be filled up without further delay.

Arunava Ghosh, general secretary of the High Court Bar Association, said on Thursday: “The decision was reached at a meeting of the association, in which a majority of the members supported the resolution to this effect.”

Though the proposed ceasework clashes with a Supreme Court directive which regards all agitation by advocates “illegal”, the association decided to “paralyse the functioning of the court” to draw attention to the 340,000 lawsuits that have piled up over the past few years owing “to the lack of judges”.

The working of eight tribunals dealing with land, state and Central administration, banking, finance, family and environmental matters, might also be paralysed next week as tribunal lawyers are expected to join the proposed ceasework.

Ghosh accused the authorities of “inexplicably” delaying the appointment of judges to at least 20 vacant posts. The association has, apparently, written to the Chief Justice of India and the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court “several times”, but to no avail.

“When the Supreme Court assumed the responsibility of appointing justices, we had welcomed the move because we thought the new system would be more responsive to ground realities. We couldn’t imagine then that we were actually letting ourselves into a a far more difficult situation. At least politicians were somewhat accountable,” declared a Bar Association official.

The association had resorted to a month-long strike on this issue in 1995, and “what is amazing is that the issue has not moved an inch towards an amicable settlement since then”, said Ghosh.

Observers said the current backlog in Calcutta High Court — the highest for any court in India — could have been wiped out, or at least reduced drastically, by increasing the number of justices from 30 to the sanctioned strength of 50.

By contrast, the number of pending lawsuits is fast decreasing in Bhubaneswar High Court, which is now functioning at near-full strength of judges.

And in relatively smaller states like Assam and Kerala, the high courts almost always have the sanctioned number of judges, enabling speedy disposal of cases.

“What is needed now is a strong plea for more judges from the chief justice to the apex court,” said members of the Bar Association.    

Calcutta, July 27 
Within hours of the police extending the ban on slow-moving vehicles on all major streets of Calcutta, Youth Congress supporters, led by Paresh Pal, gheraoed Beleghata police station on Thursday afternoon and blocked Maniktala Main Road for more than an hour.

Less than 48 hours after the announcing that cars could only be parked parallel to the kerb, city police commissioner D.C. Vajpai on Thursday banned the plying of rickshaws, handcarts and cycle-vans on all major city thoroughfares. These measures have been aimed at speeding up the flow of traffic in the city.

So far, slow-moving vehicles had been banned on about 60 city streets; now they have been extended to 15 more streets.

Among the thoroughfares to be included on this ban list are Lenin Sarani, College Street, Brabourne Road, Strand Road, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, S.N. Banerjee Road, Rabindra Sarani, Chitpur Road, Alipore and Chetla Road, Narkeldanga Main Road, Ashutosh Mukherjee Road and S.P. Mukherjee Road, Sarat Bose Road and Ballygunge Circular Road.

At the end of the crackdown ordered by the police on Thursday, the police had seized 195 handcarts, rickshaws and cycle-vans.

As the news of the seizure spread, Paresh Pal and his men surrounded Beleghata police station in protest. His supporters squatted on Beleghata Main Road, demanding that the police release the vehicles and roll back the drive.

Hundreds of Youth Congress supporters were joined by handcart and rickshaw-pullers and cycle-van drivers on the spot.

They shouted slogans against the police. “Let them take action against the autorickshaws and long-distance buses which are parked illegally near the Esplanade intersection,” Pal challenged. “Why harass the poor?’’

The handcart, rickshaw and cycle-van operators said they had obtained valid licences from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to ply in the city.

There are 26,000 licensed rickshaws, handcarts and cycle-vans in the city. But the police said that in addition to these, there are at least 10,000 such vehicles which run without licences. Besides, the police pointed out, these slow-moving vehicles are to ply only in the lanes and bylanes and not on main thoroughfares.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said the CMC should be consulted before the police undertake any such drive. But the police said the brief they had been provided with was specific: clear the roads of slow vehicles so speed of traffic movement picks up.    

Calcutta, July 27 
For Bengali cinema aficionados not engulfed by cable TV, the gift comes a wee bit too late. Doordarshan Calcutta has promised that it would break the popular DD7 channel free from enmeshed networks from Monday, just a day after the ongoing week-long Uttam Kumar film festival on the channel ends.

“Not to worry, there will be more, and not just of Uttam Kumar, but films of other legendary actors, actresses and directors, too, on a more accessible DD7,” said a Doordarshan official on Thursday. Ever since its inception over five years ago, DD7 has been a satellite channel available only through cable or through one’s own dish antenna.

The fare offered did make many a household take the decision to get “hooked” on to a cable connection, much against the wishes of quite a few parents.

“Satellite and cable TV offers a variety of viewing, all of which are not always suitable for the family,” felt Rita Bhowmik, the mother of two growing children. “We were very hesitant at first to call on the cable operator. But when we saw what we were missing on DD7, we had second thoughts. I convinced my husband, who also loves to see classic Bengali films and Janmabhoomi, to yield to the cable invasion,” she said.

DD sources said the channel would be available, like their other channels, with normal TV antennae. “But the clarity of reception will be limited to greater Calcutta areas for now,” they said.

The channel’s “liberation from cable” comes on the eve of Calcutta Doordarshan’s silver jubilee on August 9. The move also changes advertisers’ perceptions of target audiences. “We now have a wider viewership to handle,” said a senior manager of a city-based ad agency.    

Calcutta, July 27 
Pleading for an inquiry, the wife of a lecturer of English attached to a leading city college has decided to approach the state human rights commission next week.

Sutapa Mukherjee, the lecturer’s wife, decided on this course of action after her husband, Partha, was granted interim bail by the Barasat district court last week.

Partha was arrested on July 15 for allegedly torturing Sutapa, who is in an advanced stage of pregnancy. What is curious about the case is that the judge’s observation and the medical reports appear contradictory.

While granting interim bail to Partha, the judge observed that since Sutapa was nine months’ pregnant, she could not possibly have been kicked in the abdomen, “as then she would not have been in a position to lodge such a meticulous complaint.”

But the medical report from the Salt Lake Sub-Divisional Hospital on July 15 says: “Sutapa, who has been carrying for nine months, was assaulted by her husband at 9 am. She was kicked in her abdomen and was hit with a shoe in the face. Some scratches have been found on both the arms. Bruises have been found below her eyelids. She has been suffering from pain all over her body and looks anxious.”

The judge criticised the neighbours for “taking the law into their own hands on the day of the incident.”

But the complaint lodged by Sutapa with Bidhannagar (East) police station does not bear out this observation.

Sutapa said in the FIR: “On the day of the incident, around 2 pm, I saw Partha Mukherjee driving away while I was entering the gate of Karunamoyee housing estate. I reached my flat and found the door locked from outside. I unlocked it but it did not open. I suspected someone was inside and I called the police. When the police were about to break open the door, Partha rushed in and started quarrelling with the police. He (Partha) ultimately knocked, opened the door, and spoke to the girl who was inside the flat. Then he was accompanied by the police to the police station.”

Sutapa said everything happened before the police. So how could neighbours be involved ?

Partha Mukherjee denied the allegations. His father, a former judge, Arun Kumar Mukherjee, said they had not yet decided whether legal action would be taken against Sutapa or not.”    

Calcutta, July 27 
Rail minister Mamata Banerjee and mayor Subrata Mukherjee have come forward to turn into reality transport minister Subhas Chakraborty’s dream project for beautification and utilisation of Keshtopur canal.

The Rs 80-crore scheme, purported to give the city a ‘Venice-like’ look, was stalled last year because of the finance department’s reluctance to fund it.

Now, the railway minister and two other Trinamul MPs have agreed to provide Rs 15 crore from their Local Area Development funds.

The state transport department and the Union surface transport ministry will invest Rs 20 crore each.

“I am happy to see Mamata and the other two MPs extending their support for the city’s development,” Chakraborty said.

State transport officials, however, are not certain whether the finance department funds will come through.

But Chakraborty is determined: “I have raised most of the funds for this project. I will see to it that the finance department keeps its word.”

The mayor felt the project was “unique,” and that it would benefit the city.

“The CMC will do all it can to ensure the success of the project,” Mukherjee said.

Nearly 1,000 shanties along the canal will have to be demolished before the project takes off.

To ensure the relocation of the evicted shanty-dwellers, Mukerjee and Chakraborty have earmarked a 10-acre property near Bantala.

British Waterways will provide technical assistance to the implementing agency, the Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation (TIDC).

The project involves desilting the 48-km stretch of canal from Chitpur to Bhangar and the clearing of the banks. Plans are on for a launch service from Rajarhat to Babughat.

Entertainment parks, picnic spots and tourist resorts along the stretch are also planned.

“We want to enhance the potential for transport and tourism through the project,” said G.G. Bhattacharya, TIDC’s managing director.    

Calcutta, July 27 
Supply of filtered water to parts of the city and Salt Lake will be hit hard if the supply of alum is not revived immediately. But all six suppliers of alum to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation have refused to supply the coagulation agent till the CMC pays them its “dues of over Rs 3 crore”.

The Palta waterworks, which supplies filtered water to Salt Lake and Lake Town, uses 60 tonnes of liquid alum a day to purify 180 million gallons of Ganga water.

According to officials, the stock of liquid alum has already hit rock bottom, while solid alum stocks will last another four days.

The 20-million-gallon water treatment plant, set up with French technology, has already developed snags, with solid alum having to be used. “To save the plant, we may have to close it down unless liquid alum supply is restored immediately,” said an engineer at Palta.

The closing-down of the French plant will result in a daily shortage of 60 million gallons of filtered water.

The alum alarm forced mayor Subrata Mukherjee to hold an emergency meeting of his council members on Wednesday.

Member, mayor-in-council (water supply), Sovan Chatterjee, demanded more funds to pay off part of the dues to the alum suppliers.

The CMC will be issue cheques worth Rs 12 lakh to Bengal Chemical and Hindusthan Heavy Chemicals.

The CMC spends Rs 1.45 lakh a day on buying alum to supply clean water to the city and Salt Lake. A CMC engineer in the water supply department said the demand for alum has risen by 40 per cent due to increased turbidity in the river water.    

Calcutta, July 27 
Railway and fire brigade officials have complained that Kalyani railway station has been turned into a major hazard, with tankers parked there while loaded with LPG cylinders.

Beside the station is an IOC parking space where tankers loaded with LPG halt overnight. The tankers arrive from west and north India. The problem is that the space is not enough to accommodate the full length of these tankers, with half the wagons jutting into the main station.

There have been several instances when leaks have occurred, sending the fire brigade, railwaymen and even the locals rushing to plug them and prevent a disaster. “No one knows when our luck will run out and a major fire will erupt,” said an employee posted at the railway station.    


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