Heritage house in war of words
Apex court signals tannery shift by January
Cyclone weakens, rain persists
Mother Courage drives off dacoits
Police evict 500 from key market areas
Acid attack on pupil for love rebuff
Deluge spurs dredge action plan
Teachers hit the road to fill classes
Bomb alert on N-E train route
Tribals tip off police on rebel hideout

Calcutta, Oct.18: 
After debating the issue for over two years, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation finally declared on Monday that the 151-year-old Bishop’s House on Chowringhee Road would be treated as a heritage structure, preventing any changes to the character of the building or the demolition of any part of it.

The CMC ruling has triggered protests from the Bishop’s office, which has termed the decision “unilateral and undemocratic”.

“We are aware of the position of the Bishop on this issue, we have mulled over and discussed the entire matter, but in the interest of preserving such a structure, the CMC’s heritage committee has finally put Bishop’s House on the list of the city’s preserved buildings,” said chief municipal architect and town planner Saroj Mohan Ghosh.

Brushing aside “any further controversy on this matter”, Ghosh said that the heritage committee’s decision has been endorsed by the mayor-in-council and has also been ratified by members of the civic house by a majority decision.

“All that remains to be done is a gazette notification by the municipal affairs department of the state government,” Ghosh said.

But crying foul over the move, Rev. P.P.S. Raju, Bishop of Calcutta and head of the congregation, told The Telegraph: “We have not been informed of this decision. But if it is true, we and the Diocese of Calcutta oppose the move as, firstly, it is a unilateral decision. The move has been made by the heritage committee without consulting us and giving us a chance to express our views. This is most undemocratic.”

Ghosh, however, refutes Raju’s charges, saying that the views of the Diocese had been taken into “adequate consideration” before a final decision was reached in this matter.

“Bishop’s House had written to the CMC, expressing its reservations on the matter, and we had set up an expert committee to go into all their observations,” Ghosh said. “It was only after we were satisfied that justice was being done to the Bishop that we decided to go ahead with the move,” he added.

Ghosh said that conservation expert Manish Chakraborty had been asked to evaluate the importance of the structure and the need for its preservation and only after he had submitted its report did the CMC move ahead.

“We have done everything according to the rules and regulations of the Heritage Legislature Act and only after the architectural and historical value of the structure was rated as high,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee.

But Bishop Raju rubbishes the civic body’s arguments. “Of what use is the architectural splendour of a structure if the people do not benefit?” he demanded. “We have plans of developing the building without changing its architectural facade and our community will suffer if the building is given heritage status,” he added.

Bishop Raju said that the revenue from these modifications would go towards the improvement of the congregation, most of whom were not adequately educated and did not have jobs.

“Even after we wrote to the CMC about this, we were not given any hearing,” the Bishop insisted.

But the general secretary of the All Calcutta House-Owners’ Association, Amar Mitra, has a tip or two to offer the Bishop. “As I see it, this is a also matter between a landlord and the civic authorities,” said Mitra. “So, a house-owner is free to move the court against the decision if he disagrees with it and feels that his sentiments have been overridden.”

But adding a word of caution, Mitra said: “We must bear in mind that it is also the duty of a house-owner to ensure that a building with high architectural and historical value is preserved.”    

Calcutta, Oct.18: 
The city’s tanneries will have to shift to Calcutta Leather Complex, coming up near Bantala, by January 2001, a Supreme Court bench ordered in New Delhi on Wednesday. The directive comes three years after the apex court ordered the closure of the polluting units in Topsia, Tiljala and Tangra, following a public interest litigation filed by Delhi-based lawyer M.C. Mehta.

The apex court bench, comprising Justice M.J. Rao and Justice M.B. Shah, asked the state and the promoter of the leather complex, M.L. Dalmia and Company, to submit an undertaking that the tanners will be given possession of their plots as soon as they pay the third instalment to the promoter. The complex will have electricity by December.

The court directed that the first batch of tanneries, numbering around 75, be given plots in the complex in ‘Zone A.’

The judges also sought clarification from the Union government about its proposed 50 per cent financial participation in the common effluent treatment plant that will handle the pollution load at the complex. They directed the state government to deposit its share of dues. The government will have the liberty of shutting down the tanneries if they fail to deposit their instalments in time.

The court directed Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) representatives to visit the complex to check on the progress. The judges also deliberated on whether tanneries, which had asked for small plots in the complex, could form cooperatives.

Wednesday’s hearing, however, did not dwell on the state pollution control board’s plea to penalise the tanneries that continue to operate within the city limits without undertaking pollution control measures.    

Calcutta, Oct.18: 
Scattered rains and ominous rainclouds marked the ripple effect of the cyclonic storm that lay centred 320 km east-north-east of Nellore, in Andhra Pradesh, and 1,000 km south-west of Calcutta on Wednesday.

Mihir Guha, deputy director of Alipore Met office, said the storm over the Bay of Bengal had weakened and there was every indication that it would weaken further.

“As the system is gradually weakening, its fury on hitting the Andhra coast will not be so drastic. But it would cause heavy rainfall, accompanied by strong wind. Suitable warnings have been issued in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu,” added Guha.

Under its influence, thunderclouds will gather at isolated spots over Calcutta and other parts of Gangetic West Bengal, causing light to moderate rain, accompanied by thunder.

The state government has withdrawn the alert sounded in the three districts of Midnapore, North and South 24-Parganas. The warning issued to fishermen in the coastal areas of the state has also been called off.

Around 2 pm on Wednesday, the sky over central Calcutta, particularly Esplanade, B.B.D. Bag and the Maidan, darkened ominously. What started off as large drops of rain soon developed into a moderate, but brief, shower.

No rainfall was recorded in north Calcutta. In Alipore, the average rainfall was put down as “trace”.

Guha said that in south Calcutta, Gariahat experienced rainfall accompanied by thunder.

“This situation is actually due to the moisture-laden clouds drifting in from the location of the cyclonic storm,” he added.

The Met office said that even though there will be “occasional light rain” in the next 24 hours, both day and night temperatures will rise. Thursday’s maximum and minimum temperatures are likely to be 33°C and 24° C, respectively.

While the monsoon bade farewell to the city last week, the North Wind, which heralds the approach of winter, is yet to start blowing.

“This is due to the condition arising out of the cyclonic storm near Nellore. The wind is now blowing in from the east. When the cyclonic storm weakens further, winds from the north are expected to blow into Calcutta from Friday and the temperature will gradually drop,” explained Guha.

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Calcutta, Oct.18: 
Five dacoits were foiled in their attempts to rob a New Park Street flat on Wednesday morning — by one heroic lady and her family.

Swaran Kapoor is no Kiran Bedi. But for her family, the housewife in her late 50s is the last word in courage.

Around 11 am, the doorbell of the Kapoors’ third-floor apartment on 207, New Park Street, rang loud and clear. “All of us were in the puja room then,” recounted Swaran’s middle-aged son, Pankaj. “The collapsible gate was not locked. I opened the door and five men in their 30s forced their way in.”

Three of the intruders, armed with home-made pistols, ordered everyone to “stand still”.

Suddenly, Swaran sprang upon one of the dacoits, held him in a vice-like grip and managed to pin him to the floor. The dacoit’s pistol went off, but the bullet, fortunately, hit the floor.

“My mother-in-law held on to him and did not slacken her grip even after they both fell on the floor,” daughter-in-law Mamata declared proudly.

Inspired by Swaran’s heroics, her husband Jawahar, Pankaj and Mamata got into the act. They overpowered another of the dacoits and started screaming for help.

Realising that they had a real fight on their hands, the dacoits decided to beat a hasty retreat. While four fled, one of them was badly injured in the scuffle and arrested by the police.

“The dacoit, who has been identified as Mohammad Fakruddin from an identity card found on him, is now in police custody in Chittaranjan Hospital with injuries to his head and face,” said detective department chief Narayan Ghosh.

Pankaj, too, was injured in the duel with the dacoits. He was slashed on his head and hands by a chopper. He received 10 stitches for the gash on his head.

“The dacoits were rattled by the fight my mother, and then we, put up. And our screams for help drew the attention of the neighbours, forcing the assailants to flee,” he said.

While rushing to the Kapoors’ flat, some of the neighbours crossed the fleeing gangsters on the stairs. “But they misled us, saying that the dacoits were upstairs,” said Nandan Bose, who lives on the second floor.

Bose, however, almost immediately realised his mistake and turned around to chase the dacoits.

He was joined by a few others, and they managed to catch up with two of the four fleeing men near the main gate of the building. “But they wrestled free and fled towards Topsia and Darga Road,” said Bose.

Beniapukur police station was informed and a team rushed over to pick up Fakruddin.

“The Kapoors have a gift shop at Vardaan market,” said Narayan Ghosh. “We have recovered a diary from Fakruddin’s pocket, which contains some addresses and phone numbers which we will be checking out.”    

Calcutta, Oct.18: 
More than 500 hawkers were evicted from Gariahat, Dharamtala and Hatibagan in a police swoop on Wednesday. It was the first solo crackdown by the police on hawkers since Operation Sunshine.

The drive is a sequel to mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s talks with municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya and police commissioner Dinesh Vajpai last week.

At Gariahat, baton-wielding police chased away the hawkers. Later, a group affiliated to the Hawker Sangram Committee tried to block Gariahat Road, but were driven away. At Hatibagan, too, the displaced hawkers tried to stall traffic on Bidhan Sarani.

However, at Dharamtala, the hawkers played hide-and-seek with the police for about an hour.

Conservancy chief Mala Roy said the CMC would intensify its eviction drive after the Diwali. “We have committed a mistake by allowing the hawkers to return at Gariahat, Hatibagan, Shyambazar and Brabourne Road,”she said.

The hawkers had assured the CMC of keeping two-thirds of the pavements clear for pedestrians, but had gone back on their word.

“It causes an adverse public reaction,” Roy said. The conservancy department would not allow vegetable and fish vendors to sit on the carriageway in any part of the city from next month.    

Calcutta, Oct.18: 
A 28-year old tutor splashed acid on his pupil’s face after she turned down a proposal to marry him at Barasat, in the city’s northern fringe, on Wednesday morning.

Minutes after the bizarre incident, agitated local residents chased Mohammed Shahjahan to his residence and beat him up before policemen arrived on the spot. He was arrested on charges of attempting to murder a minor.

The injured pupil, Bilkis Khatoon, was admitted to a Barasat hospital with serious burn injuries.

According to preliminary investigations, Bilkis was a Class IX student, popular in her area for her good looks. Shahjahan was unemployed but would earn a living from private tuitions. He had been “disturbing” the girl for six months now, police said.

“He would to wait in front of Bilkis’ school gate, offer her rides home on his bicycle. But the girl always refused,” police added.

So Shahjahan turned aggressive. He got hold of a bottle of acid and broke into Bilkis’ room on Wednesday morning while she was taking a bath and splashed the acid on her face.

Hearing her scream, neighbours rushed in to help. Shahjahan has been arrested.    

Calcutta, Oct.18: 
In a bid to prevent a rerun of Deluge 2000, the state government and the Corporation have undertaken a joint programme to desilt Tolly’s Nullah. The canal has not been desilted or dredged for about two decades.

“Each time we wanted to begin work, there was some election ahead and we were told to postpone operations,” said minister of state for irrigation Ganesh Mondal on Wednesday. The desilting will involve the eviction of at least 4,000 families that have illegally settled on both banks of the 15.5-km Tolly’s Nullah from Hastings to Garia. The CMC will carry out the eviction drive after Diwali.

The irrigation department has reportedly failed to remove the encroachers for the past four years because of political compulsions. But, last month’s deluge in vast areas along the canal, caused by the bhara kotal in the Hooghly, has tipped the hands of both the CPM-led Left Front government and the Trinamul Congress-led CMC.

Urban development minister Ashoke Bhattacharya and mayor Subrata Mukherjee decided on the eviction at a meeting on Tuesday. A committee was formed under Mukherjee for the Rs 6-crore desilting project and the development of the canal under the second phase of the Ganga Action Plan.

Mukherjee has called a meeting on October 27 of the councillors and borough chairmen of the 20 wards involved. “We must remove the encroachers. Otherwise, Calcutta will face floods again.,” Bhattacharya said on Wednesday. “It’s now or never,” the mayor added.

Bhattacharya also made it clear that the evicted will not be rehabilitated. CMC officials said the encroachers were blocking the Metro Railway extension from Tollygunge to Garia. The desilting is also imperative to implement a Rs 27.63-crore scheme under the second phase of the Ganga Action Plan. The scheme includes blocking the pipe sewers from carrying waste into the Nullah and diverting it through a new network to the other outfall channels in and around the city.    

Calcutta, Oct.18: 
The next time there’s a knock on the door, don’t be surprised to find a teacher on the doorstep, urging parents to send kids to state-funded primary schools in the city. For, the government has chalked out a new role for teachers sitting idle in empty classrooms: door-to-door pitch to boost student strength in primary schools.

“We have taken this step to engage teachers in some kind of activity and to spread awareness about the facilities in our primary schools,” said Sambhu Barui, secretary of the Calcutta District Primary School Council. “They will explain the methods followed by us and invite guardians to send their wards to our schools.”

This unique move is aimed at pushing up the number of students in the 1,000 state-funded primary schools of the city, which has dwindled ever since the government banned English at the primary level. The state government reintroduced English from Class II in 1999 but the enrolment rate in Calcutta has failed to pick up, state government sources said. More than 40 primary schools have been forced to shut down, with no student turning up.

Teachers have now been directed to visit houses in localities which have primary schools with an inadequate number of students. Some of them hit the streets before the Pujas and have covered areas like Narkeldanga, Cossipore, Chetla, Kidderpore, Bhowanipore and Bowbazar.

The teachers first identify families with primary school-going children and then distribute admission forms. “Once a form is submitted, the child is automatically admitted to the nearest primary school,” says Barui.

The government directive has been welcomed by the CPM-controlled All Bengal Primary School Teachers’ Association (ABPTA), but has caused severe resentment among a large section of primary schoolteachers in Calcutta.

“Guardians have stopped sending their children to these schools because of the faulty policy of the CPM government. Why should teachers be made to suffer?” demanded Kartick Saha, general secretary of the Bengal Primary Teachers Association.

Prithwis Basu, general secretary of the Congress-dominated West Bengal Headmasters’ Association, said the teachers’ bodies had repeatedly urged the government not to implement its ‘no-English’ policy. “It is very embarrassing for teachers, especially the senior ones, to go around begging guardians to send their wards to government schools,” said Basu.

But Prasanta Bose, ABPTA secretary, said the directive was “welcome” as it would curb the tendency among urban parents to educate their children in “private, English-medium schools”.    

Guwahati, Oct. 18: 
Assam today pulled out all stops to counter the National Democratic Front of Boroland’s threat to blow up passenger trains from midnight tomorrow.

Security was beefed up in all railway stations and along rail tracks. Sniffer dogs were also pressed into service, while anti-sabotage squads began scanning rail tracks with “deep-search” metal detectors.

Considering the gravity of the threat, chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta personally issued a statement directing security personnel, particularly those deployed in Lower Assam, to be on maximum alert.

Official sources said all district superintendents of police and senior Government Railway Police officials had been directed to step up patrolling of tracks and increase deployment of security personnel wherever necessary.

The NDFB’s threat to blow up passenger trains is in protest against atrocities allegedly perpetrated by the security forces on the Bodo people. The outfit has warned people against travelling by trains from Friday.

The rebel outfit has even said that 200 of its crack activists had already been deployed in specific areas to carry out its mission.

Despite the threat, the Northeast Frontier Railway authorities have decided against either cancelling or rescheduling trains.

The state government is, however, taking no chances. It has increased deployment of security personnel engaged in patrolling of rail tracks to ensure that trains run as scheduled.

The chief minister and a delegation of the Railway Board reviewed the security steps at a meeting here today.

Mahanta informed the delegation, which arrived in this capital city yesterday, that his government would request the Centre to sanction additional funds for security. The Railway Board delegation, led by its chairman and principal secretary Ashok Kumar, urged the state government to do everything possible to prevent the NDFB from disrupting train services in the region.

Director-general of the Railway Protection Force, H. Rao, and N.F. Railway general manager B.M.S. Bisht also participated in the discussions. Apart from reviewing security steps, the meeting discussed ways to minimise traffic jams in greater Guwahati.    

Agartala, Oct. 18: 
Growing resentment of the tribal community against militancy came to the fore yet again when two militants were killed by police after being tipped off by the tribals. Two others were also handed over to the police by the tribals themselves.

The sources said policemen from the Santir Bazar police station of South Tripura, tipped off by local tribals, raided a rebel hideout in the remote Alekhyapara village and shot dead one listed NLFT militant, Hansarai Reang. A non-tribal collaborator, Kasim Mia, who was injured in the shootout, was arrested.

The police forces also recovered a country-made gun and two grenades from the hideout after overrunning it at 3 am today.

In a separate incident last night, members of the government-sponsored village resistance party shot dead one unidentified NLFT militant in Panchampara village under Kailasahar subdivision. They also recovered a gun and two grenades from him.

Tribal residents of Ratannagar village under Gandacherra subdivision and Taichhama village under Sonamura subdivision handed over two hardcore NLFT insurgents after beating them up.    


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