Astral return of city boy
Space crunch stalls tech school
Blast near Subhas’ home
Bomb-hit alert shuts out airport visitors
Schoolboys teargassed
Sleuths see lady don’s hand in fraud, theft
Police want gadgets to trace hoax calls
Corporation blots out ‘bustee’ from lexicon
Civic body on tree census drive from October

 
 
ASTRAL RETURN OF CITY BOY 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 7 
From College Street to Silicon Valley to Saltlec — that defines Dave Mukherjee’s “learning curve”. After storming the Valley, the 36-year-old president of the $ 87-million Astral group is back to set up Astral Village in Salt Lake Electronic Complex. Dave’s dream: “to guide the young IT-preneurs of Bengal”.

At the Rs 20-crore, two-acre village, for which the groundwork has already started, one can come in with an idea and see it grow into a full-fledged IT enterprise under the aegis of Astral.

“At Astral Village, once a budding IT-preneur’s project idea is through, he/she can avail of state-of-the art infrastructure, initial funding from Astral, and, of course, guidance from experts to ensure venture funding. For this, Astral will not charge anything, we will just have some equity participation in the project,” explained Dave Mukherjee, at his SDF building office on Monday.

“Astral Village, which should be in place by 2002, will not be another concrete jungle. The ambience will be similar to any university campus, with cafeterias and open space. We will construct a 6,000-sq-ft Internet surfing station on campus, where school and college students can come and surf free of cost,” he added.

Already, women are being allowed free surfing time at Astral’s Salt Lake, Sector-III office.

For Mukherjee, who launched his India operations from Calcutta in 1997, this is a homecoming in the true sense of the term. After graduating with economics from Presidency College, Mukherjee completed his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, in 1985. After a four-year stint with Wipro, he set up a hardware business with a partner in 1991.

The turning point was 1993, when he headed off for the US and soon shifted his focus to software.

Today, Mukherjee’s Astral group has a global presence with 360 employees spread over Silicon Valley, Taipei and India.

“When I brought Astral to India, I was advised to set up shop in Mumbai or Hyderabad. But I was determined to do something in the city I had grown up in,” recounted Mukherjee.

The idea of the Village stemmed from the experience when he took his first entrepreneurial plunge 10 years ago.

“We made lots of mistakes, as we had very little idea of running a business. The whole point of Astral Village is to try and help the budding entrepreneurs with our experience by bridging the gap and providing all facilities from the idea stage of their plan to the product or final stage,” said Mukherjee.

To make the Village a one-stop solution centre for wannabe IT-preneurs, Mukherjee is trying to create a dream team, comprising some of the successful city-based CEOs as well as Bengali professionals based in Silicon Valley.

“I have already discussed the plan with Roopen Roy of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Dr S Ganguly and S.K. Mitra of Webel and S. B. Ganguly of Exide,” he added.

Encouraging entrepreneurship has been a halmark of the Astral group.

Take Tarun Kotal, a computer engineer from Jadavpur University, whom Astral supported for setting up his own company, Atesto Technologies.

“Just within three months of starting operations, Tarun’s company has a net worth of US $8 million and he drives his 7-Series BMW,” Mukherjee proudly announcede.

Now, the “Calcuttan-at-heart” is determined to replicate this success model in a city which, he feels, must change its mindset in order to hit the fast track.

“I will retire at the age of 40 to give all my attention to Astral Village and devote the rest of my life to grooming budding entrepreneurs in the state,” declared the bespectacled man, who is here to stay.    


 
 
SPACE CRUNCH STALLS TECH SCHOOL 
 
 
BY KUNAL SEN GUPTA
 
Calcutta, Aug. 7 
It was touted as the state’s first information technology school of excellence, a fitting reply to Cyberabad.

But the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Calcutta (IIIT-C), almost predictably, has hit ‘error’ mode even before it’s started.

The first batch of students scheduled to begin classes on August 16 will now have to wait and watch while the state government struggles to gets its act together.

The institute has no director, and the classrooms and laboratories are not yet ready.

The 60 students who passed the all-India entrance examinations, and their parents who turned up for admission counselling on August 1, have been told to tarry till the state technical education department sets up temporary classrooms.

After announcing the formation of the IIIT-C in May this year, the state government had said that temporary classes would be held at Globsyn’s Technocampus in Salt Lake from mid-August.

“But the space at Globsyn’s Technocampus was a little cramped,” admitted S.K. Magon, secretary of the state technical education department.

This realisation came too late for the classes to be held on schedule. Even as the admission procedure was on, the technical education department was busy hunting for a roomier locale.

Now, “temporary classrooms” are being readied at the new building of the Technical Teachers Training Institute near Salt Lake’s Labony.

“We have got an entire floor of the building to set up the temporary classrooms and offices of the IIIT-C,” Magon said.

But “more time” is needed for setting up the classes and the computer laboratory before the first batch can troop in for its inaugural semester. Incidentally, IIIT-C is slated to be a deemed university “in the near future”.

Even as the IIIT-C is trying to to set its house in order, the director is yet to be appointed.

According to Magon, there has been a set of interviews with probable candidates. A suitable candidate will be selected “soon enough.” But whether the director will be appointed before the classes “start in September”, remains anybody’s guess.

“Our director of technical education, R.C. Bhattacharya, is handling the administrative work and nothing is suffering as a result,” claimed Magon.

Meanwhile, the state government is also looking around for a site to set up the permanent campus for IIIT-C.

As soon as a site is designated, the technical education department will aproach Education Consultants Indian Limited, (Ed.Cil), which conducted the all-India entrance examinations for the institute.

Ed.Cil will be asked to submit a layout plan and design for the permament campus for the institute.

“They have made a couple of polytechnics and we will ask them for help,” Magon said.

As students wait to start their stint at the institute which promises to provide them a passport to an IT world full of possibilites, the way things are going, the permanent campus might not be ready before the next two batches enrol.    


 
 
BLAST NEAR SUBHAS’ HOME 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 7 
Tension ran high on Monday morning after a bomb exploded near the residence of transport minister Subhas Chakraborty in Salt Lake.A 11-year-old ragpicker was injured in the blast. Residents of the area took him to hospital. Police have started an inquiry into the incident.

Chakraborty said: “It is not a simple thing. Some people are trying to pressure me. I have asked the police to reveal the truth,’’ the minister said.

The blast occurred around 8.30 am when Chakraborty was talking to people in his house at FD 144, as he does on all days. Hearing the explosion, all of them came out of the room to find out what had happened.

Many people in the surrounding areas heard the blast. Some shut their gates, fearing a clash between political parties, like the ones during the municipal poll.

About 12 rickshaw-pullers, who were waiting for passengers, started running for cover.

“I was smoking while waiting for a passenger to turn up. Suddenly, I heard the sound and nearly collapsed. I looked behind and saw smoke billowing from the vacant plot. Then, I heard the cries of a boy. I called some other rickshaw-pullers and rescued the boy who was injured. The boy was collecting waste paper there,’’ said Jugal Das, a rickshaw-puller.

“I was having my tea. After hearing the explosion, I came out on the first-floor verandah and saw people running helter-skelter. I thought it could be a clash between two groups. Refusing to take any risk, I closed all the doors of my house,” said a resident of FD block, who did not want his identity to be disclosed.

Within 10 minutes, hundreds of people had gathered on the spot. A large contingent of police, with bomb detecting equipment, reached and conducted a search in the area. About 50 people, including the local CPM leader, gathered there.

Before leaving for Alimuddin Street to attend the crucial state committee meeting, Chakraborty instructed his supporters not to get agitated as the police were asked to probe the matter.

“I have noticed during the past few days that efforts are on to build up pressure against me. This blast may be part of that conspiracy. But their efforts will never be successful,’’ Chakraborty said.

North 24-Parganas superintendent of police Kuldip Singh said they had started an inquiry. “I think some anti-socials kept the bomb there to use it at night while committing some crime,’’ he said. Some people were trying to create trouble in the peaceful township, he added.

Plea for Article 355: A public interest litigation was moved at Calcutta High Court on Monday, seeking an order which can direct the Centre to intervene in the administration of West Bengal by applying Article 355 of the Constitution.    


 
 
BOMB-HIT ALERT SHUTS OUT AIRPORT VISITORS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 7 
The civil aviation ministry has banned the entry of visitors to Calcutta airport from Monday and directed the state’s security authorities to screen passengers and even people waiting outside the terminal building after the Intelligence Bureau warned of a possible strike by suicide bombers of the Jamait-e-Islami. According to a deputy inspector-general of the state intelligence branch, Pakistan-supported Jamait extremists now based in Bangladesh plan to blow up vital installations and fan violence in the eastern region.

Officials said visitors accompanying passengers and those waiting to receive their kin will have to remain outside the terminal building.

Superintendent of police (airport) O.P. Gupta has formed a special task force to monitor the movement of vehicles and people outside the airport. “`Policemen have been directed to check and frisk anybody and anything. We are not taking any chances,’’ said a police officer, refusing to be identified. Officers said the ban on visitors will stay in force till August 15, but a decision on its extension or withdrawal will be taken after consulting the Central security agencies.

Senior intelligence and police officers went into high alert after information reached the state police headquarters at Writers Buildings during the day of the possible attack.

Director-general of police Deepak Sanyal reviewed security arrangements at the airport in a high-level meeting with police officers at his chamber. According to the airport manager and officers of the local police station, the subsidiary Intelligence Bureau sent a confidential document to the airport authorities and police on Friday, warning of a possible strike by the extremists. The central security agencies submitted a report to the civil aviation ministry last week with details of a possible attack by suicide bombers of the outfit.

The agencies recommend that visitors be banned from entering the airport and beef up security around the terminal building.    


 
 
SCHOOLBOYS TEARGASSED 
 
 
BY DEBASISH CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, Aug. 7 
Twenty schoolboys were among the 40 people injured in a pitched battle at Sonarpur, in South 24-Parganas, about 30 km from Calcutta, on Monday. The sub-divisional police officer of Baruipur was among the injured.

The police used batons and fired teargas shells to repulse an attack by the students. Traffic came to a halt and all shops and local schools were closed. No arrests were made till late at night.

The trouble erupted in the morning when students of three local schools assembled at the local police station to submit a memorandum requesting that unauthorised auto-rickshaws be barred from plying in the area

On Saturday, Probal Banerjee, a Class IX student returning home from Sonarpur Vidyapith, was seriously injured in a hit-and-run by an auto. He was admitted to a nursing home, where his condition is stated to be critical.

At 10.30 am, about 50 students of Sonarpur Vidyapith, Rajpur Vidyanidhi and Kamrabad High School came to the police station to submit the memorandum.

While they were returning, the conductor of a bus on route SD5 reportedly slapped one of them. The students protested, and even beat up the conductor.

They were joined by some other youth , who proceeded to throw stones and bricks at policemen who had arrived to disperse them. Ten members of the force were injured.The youth also damaged a bus and tried to set it on fire.

When a lathicharge failed to disperse them, the police fired teargas. Arup Mukherjee, a teacher of Sonarpur Vidyapith, said: “Police lathicharged the students and fired teargas shells without provocation.” Meghnad Haldar, teacher of Rajpur Vidyanidhi ,said: “Humayun, one of our students, was beaten up by the police for nothing. But they failed to stop the youth who forcibly entered our school by breaking open the gate.”

Later in the afternoon, chairman of Rajpur-Sonarpur municipality, Kamal Ganguly claimed: “The trouble was created not by the students but by Trinamul Congress activists.” But local Trinamul leader Shyamal Mondal blamed the errant auto driver for fomenting the trouble. Mondal said he belonged to Citu.    


 
 
SLEUTHS SEE LADY DON’S HAND IN FRAUD, THEFT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 7 
The detective department probing the exploits of woman don Padmarani Krishnamurthy suspects she may have been involved in other crime, including fraud and theft in the city. Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Narayan Ghosh, said that his men began to investigate her alleged involvement in other crimes after receiving complaints from people who read of her arrest.

Krishnamurthy was arrested in July when her gang was caught attempting to escape after looting Rs 2 lakhs from a stock broker’s firm at India Exchange Place. She was supervising the operation from the firm’s Lansdowne Road branch, where she worked.

The detective department was tipped off about the gang a few days before the operation by the owner of the brokerage firm. He turned suspicious after an employee overheard a telephone conversation at Lansdowne Road. “Krishnamurthy was discussing her plans with somebody over the phone from the Lansdowne Road office. One of her colleagues managed to hear her conversation through a parallel phone connection,” Ghosh said.

She was heard telling somebody that she would inform them when the company would withdraw a huge sum of money from the bank. She was aware of such transactions as she had been working in the accounts department of the firm for the past few years.

“The sleuths began to suspect something on a wider scale when they discovered that Krishnamurthy owned a Maruti. This led to the revelation of her involvement in other crimes,” Ghosh added.

The DCDD suspects that there may be some other gang-members involved in behind-the-scene operations. “We are looking into this matter and we hope to bring the culprits to book at the earliest possible,” said Ghosh.    


 
 
POLICE WANT GADGETS TO TRACE HOAX CALLS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 7 
Plagued by an alarming rise in bomb hoax calls, the city police have asked bank managers and senior state government officials to install caller-line identification (CLI) machines to trace the anonymous callers.

“We have given out instructions for CLI machines in view of the recent rise in hoax calls,” said deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Narayan Ghosh, on Monday.

He said even though the police found out the possible reasons behind these calls, his officials could not take any action against the culprits for want of evidence.

Senior officials of banks and government offices were requested by the police at a recent meeting to discuss security aspects at their respective establishments.

Hoax calls have flooded offices of late. Recently, a call was received by a senior officer at the New Secretariat Building, saying that a powerful bomb was kept inside a packet on the staircase.

Bomb disposal squad officials were rushed to the building, but nothing could be found even after a five-hour search.

The police later came to know that the hoax call was made by aggrieved state government employees who were told to attend office at 10 am.

Work at the Fairlie Place office of Eastern Railway came to a grinding halt for nearly six hours two weeks ago after a similar hoax call saying that a bomb was planted in the building. Police officials found nothing after a thorough search.

Classes at Jodhpur Park Girls’ School had to be stopped following another prank call.

A passenger was caught recently while making such a hoax call to the airport. He was calling up to delay the flight as he was about to miss it.

The DC(DD) said hoax calls are sometimes made by employees unhappy with the management.

“Sometimes, a small group of people made hoax calls just to wrangle a day off,” Ghosh said.

Business rivalry between two small commercial establishments also trigger such hoax calls, according to the police.

“These calls lead to an enormous waste of manpower, as so many police personnel get busy throughout the day for nothing. Unfortunately, we can’t even trace the origin of the calls,” Ghosh complained.    


 
 
CORPORATION BLOTS OUT ‘BUSTEE’ FROM LEXICON 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 7 
In a bid to put an end to 50 years of ‘bustee’ politics, the Trinamul-BJP board in the Corporation has decided to delete the word from the civic lexicon.

“I prefer the term ‘habitation development’ to bustee,” said member, mayor-in-council (slum development), Pradip Ghosh. “However, I do welcome suggestions from citizens for a better term,” he added.

Ghosh said it was disgraceful that despite expenditure of several hundred crores of rupees on the “improvement of bustees ” over the past 30 years, the quality of life in the slums had changed only marginally “because the Left Front government was opposed to the development of the slums”, a secure votebank.

“The CPM thinks once the quality of life improves, the bustee-dwellers will no longer back them blindly. Fearing this, the Left Front deliberately followed a policy of not solving their problems,” alleged Ghosh.

The Corporation has no official record of slums. In Calcutta, 35.1per cent of the population lives in hutments and among the slum-dwellers, 73.5 per cent lives in huts. Only 16.8 per cent lives in one-storeyed houses. Of the 45.9 per cent of kutcha houses in the city, 85.7 per cent are in the slum areas .

Dhapa probe: Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has welcomed CBI investigation into the alleged land scam at Dhapa Square Mile’, as demanded by leader of the Opposition Kanti Ganguly.

Ganguly alleged that member, mayor-in-council (health) Javed Khan in the Trinamul-BJP board and others had grabbed 1500 bighas of CMC land in Dhapa.

He threatened to file a public interest litigation if the civic authorities did not take steps to recover this land. “I fail to understand why Kantibabu did not take the initiative to recover CMC property during the 15 years the CPM-led board was in power,” the mayor said. Javed Khan claimed he would step down if found guilty by the CBI.    


 
 
CIVIC BODY ON TREE CENSUS DRIVE FROM OCTOBER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 7 
“How many trees does Calcutta have?” This could be a good question for a quiz, but no one knows the answer, because, even the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) authorities don’t have any idea about the exact figure.

The CMC is out to change things, though.

“We will launch a tree census in the middle of October, with assistance from the state forest department”, said Hridayananda Gupta, member, MIC (parks and gardens).

“We are also planning to take the help of the conservancy department in counting the trees in Calcutta”, he added.

The parks and gardens wing of the CMC, which grows about 25,000 saplings in its nurseries, distributes those to various organisations for plantation. But, the civic body has no idea how many of those saplings survive.

It is learnt that the tree census could not be introduced earlier due to the squabble between the CMC and the forest department over maintaining and planting of trees in the city.    

 

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