IT dream fails reality test
Shoot orders issued for southern dons
Childhood friends find Bunty
Rs 14-crore water supply plan for Burrabazar
Twin fires raze 300 shanties
A satire of social mores
Woman hacked to death
Unidentified gunmen kill Ulfa kin
Bomb goes off near Manipur minister’s home

Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
It’s 5 pm on a smoggy December evening at the Salt Lake Electronic Complex. A bunch of young IT professionals is headed home after a hard day’s work. As dusk descends, the dust raised by the excavation work nearby hangs heavy over the area. As does the uncertainty of how and when they’ll get back home. There is no public transport on the rapidly-darkening, shanty-lined potholed roads leading out of Calcutta’s answer to Cyberabad...

Saltlec — symbol of Bengal’s great IT dream — wears a dusty and disorganised look today.

That’s precisely what prompted a special meeting at the WBIDC recently. Chaired by Somnath Chatterjee, it was attended by the top brass of WBIDC and Webel, secretaries of transport, industry, commerce and urban development departments, chairman of the Bidhannagar Municipality Dilip Gupta, and representatives of the district administration.

“We have identified the top ten problems in the area and have also come up with an action plan to solve them as soon as possible,” says S.K. Mitra, managing director, Webel.

Enter the 90-acre IT ‘dream’ town after crossing Nicco Park, and the urgency of a salvage Saltlec operation is clear. Numerous haphazardly-erected signboards, partially covered by trees and bushes, make Saltlec a maze of crumbling, ill-lit roads. Thanks to the mega Rajarhat housing project, there’s a sandstorm raging in the heart of the intelligent city, at Infinity and SDF Building.

“The companies are told about the world-class facilities in the electronic complex, while the reality is different. It’s sad but true that the basic infrastructure in Saltec is in a shambles,” says Amitava Maulik, senior director of eForce Inc.

Besides being critical of the “infrastructural bottlenecks”, Siddhartha Mukherjee, vice-president of Cognizant Technology Solutions, says: “There’s no maintenance or beautification work and the municipality’s decision of dumping garbage here has compounded the problem.”

From Cognizant to Tata Consultancy Services, PriceWaterhouseCoopers to Caltiger, the complaint call sounds the same — “Everything from civic to safety issues needs to be addressed with a greater degree of seriousness.”

Brigadier Suresh Menon, chief operating officer of BNKe Solutions, refers to dust pollution as “a serious hazard for both man and machine”. He also stresses the need for “better security arrangements and proper street-lighting”.

Savita, a young techhie working in Saltlec, adds, “By the time we leave office, it’s completely dark and deserted... Wonder what happened to the plan to set up a police station in Sector V.”

Webel has that in mind, assures Mitra. “We have already started looking for a suitable location for a police station.”

The action plan drawn up by Webel also proposes proper approach roads from Nicco Park and Karunamoyee, and one leading to the Software Technology Park-II; introduction of battery cars; new bus routes and extension of some existing ones; two prominent signboards carrying the names of all companies at Nicco Park and Karunamoyee crossings; beautification of road dividers; a new route for earth-fill trucks....

All this, explains Webel, will help get the “IT hub” in order and prove a vital step forward for a state rolling out the red carpet to the Wipros and Satyams, and promising to account for 20 per cent of the country’s software exports by 2005.

But the bottomline at the moment is that if this is the condition of Saltlec, Buddhadeb ‘IT is my top priority’ Bhattacharjee may well be putting the cart before the horse. A recent study has shown that “social infrastructure” plays the largest part in an investor’s decision to choose one place over another.


Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
Shoot at sight, if necessary. That’s the order from the top brass to the officers as the city police struggles to lay hands on dreaded crimelords Rambabu and Buro Chaki. The duo has been terrorising residents of Jodhpur Park, Anwar Shah Road, Charu Market, Tollygunge, Regent Park, Jadavpur, New Alipore, Behala and the surrounding areas.

Detectives said police officers are generally told to “exercise restraint” in fear of being implicated by the state human rights commission. Senior officers of the detective department, the south division of the city police and the South 24-Parganas district, during a co-ordination meeting on anti-crime measures last week, decided to adopt a ruthless policy against the two after reviewing their criminal records.

“Both Rambabu and Buro Chaki had shot at police officers whenever cornered. Although none of our officers was injured, it allowed the criminals to escape. Now, we have given standing instructions to our anti-crime policemen to shoot them down,” a senior additional commissioner of police said.

Information available with the criminal records section of the police reveal that the two gangs were involved in two dozen cases of murder, extortion, rape and looting in south Calcutta and surrounding areas. Officers of the anti-rowdy section said Rambabu, who took a bullet in his stomach in a past encounter, has seven cases recorded against his name, while rival Buro Chaki has logged five. But, apparently, there are many more unreported cases.

Deputy commissioner of police (south) Ranjit Pachnanda said a six-member team was formed to collect information on the activities of the criminals. “We have information that between the two of them, they have murdered at least eight people and raped 15 women,” officer-in-charge of Lake police station Anil Jana said.

According to detective department officers, Rambabu, once a close associate of Sheikh Vinod — another crimelord now behind bars — was out to reclaim his mentor’s domain. But, competition came from unexpected quarters as friend Buro Chaki turned foe. Since October, they have turned Tollygunge, Jadavpur, Charu Market and the Lake area into killing fields.

The modus operandi of both is the same. They descend on a new construction site in these areas, threatening the promoter and his staff. “Rambabu demanded Rs 3 lakh as ‘protection money’. But before we could organise the amount, five men arrived in a Maruti one night and pumped three bullets into one of my sleeping employees. I had little option but to make peace with him,” lamented a hapless promoter.


Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
Bunty Stroud may receive the best present she could have asked for this Christmas. For the 73-year-old widow in Corby, Northamptonshire, has finally found her childhood friends from Calcutta. Or rather, they have found her.

Beulah Mary Burnett, or ‘Bunty’, grew up at 47, Police Hospital Road, studied at St James’ College and Pratt Memorial, married in 1945, becoming Bunty Stroud, and left for England in 1946 when she was 19 years old. Two weeks ago, when she learnt that Paul Smith, a man from a neighbouring town, was coming to Calcutta, she decided to give her quest one last try.

Her letter, sent through Paul, did the trick. “The Robertson family... lived in front of us — Merle, Horace, Charlie, Doris and Ronnie,” wrote Bunty.

It was M.J. Robertson, CEO, Tollygunge Club, who put the pieces together. “I saw the Metro on Saturday morning, and realised that my aunts and uncles, and my own father, had been mentioned by this lady, ” he explained, “though it was all well before my time”.

But his aunt, Merle, in Sussex, England, remembers “every single detail”. She “grew up” with Bunty. “We were best friends as children, we played hide-and-seek, or with our dolls, and did all the things that children do.” Living in the house “in front of the Burnetts”, they used to “wave and signal to each other” from their balconies. Remembering Bunty as the “pretty girl with auburn hair”, she has been “trying to get in touch with her for years”. Armed with a phone number now, Merle cannot wait to call Bunty.

Merle, 71, has already called elder brother Horace in Essex with the news. “He was as happy as I was. This has been a very exciting morning for the family,” she enthused on Saturday.

About 10 years ago, Bunty managed to track down Cynthia Silby, who would visit her aunt and uncle living next door to the Burnetts “for two-three weeks a year”.

Cynthia is currently in Calcutta, visiting sister Phyllis Manuel at St James’ Church. Both she and Phyllis remember “the happy-go-lucky girl” in St James’ College, her sisters, Freida and Peggy, and brother Robert, “a big flirt”.

47, Police Hospital Road is now 18, Girish Chandra Bose Road, Calcutta-14. The house is still standing, shrouded in foliage, and where the Robertsons’ home once stood is the now-closed-down Gem Cinema.

While Bunty may never be back in these bylanes of central Calcutta, this winter, she’ll at least revisit some old haunts and relive some memories with friends she left half-a-century ago.

Math AGM: The 91th annual general meeting of the Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math, was held on Sunday. Development projects undertaken by the mission authorities came up for discussion at the meeting.


Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation has drawn up a Rs 14-crore scheme to supply filtered water to about two million people living in Burrabazar and localities along the eastern bank of the Hooghly.

This will be done by converting the 115-year-old pumping station at Mullick Ghat, which presently supplies unfiltered water. It will be the third filtered-water pump in Calcutta after Palta and Garden Reach. To convert the Mullick Ghat pumping station, a water-treatment plant with a daily capacity of 2 million gallons will be set up on the sprawling premises of the Old Mint House, on Strand Bank Road.

“We require at least two bighas of land for the plant and a booster-pumping station,” said Dibyendu Roy Chowdhury, CMC’s chief engineer (water supply). For this, the Old Mint House property, belonging to the Union finance ministry, hardly 300 metres from the pumping station, is “most suitable”.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has persuaded Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha to make the land available for the plant. “The finance ministry’s clearance is expected shortly,” said Mukherjee.

Ranabir Chowdhury, a water-supply management expert, said if funds are readily available, the plant can be commissioned “within six months”. The civic authorities have decided to approach financial institutions for loans to implement the project.

Mukherjee said the civic authorities had taken up the scheme as the projected daily demand for filtered water by the year 2011 in Calcutta is 355 million gallons daily. The Palta and Garden Reach waterworks together pump out only 250 million gallons a day. A Corporation team is now drawing up the blueprint to convert the Mullick Ghat pumping station, commissioned in 1885.


Calcutta, Dec. 10: 

Paying for chocolates is fair

Paying for water more rare
But you hear alarm bells
When oxygen sells
By the minute, to breathe you fresh air

As a morning walker, I’ve never questioned my oxygen intake. Dewy grass, clean air, pure atmosphere, birdsong — these are my unadulterated dimensions at dawn. What I seem to be giving short shrift to is the acrid smoke from the burning leaves at streetcorners; the dark diesel smoke that gets to its lung target at once or Calcutta’s trademark blanket of smog.

So, the WHO statistics of Calcutta’s SPM (suspended particulate matter), in some parts, at 1500-2000 mica gram per cubic metre, in awful comparison with the permissible 300-400, is an initial shock point. When you are also faced with the start-up, not of pubs, but of oxygen bars, you know that something is amiss. Maybe, just maybe, all those statistics ought to be heeded. Perhaps the fresh air isn’t so fresh any more.

So, on your way back from the airport the next time, as you observe the rest of the world through tinted air-conditioning, look out for a kiosk that dispenses a purer form of what is our birthright. Oxyzen, on VIP Main Road, which opened last month, promises “Oxytherapy, the breath of life” through “regular inhalation of clean, super-oxygenated air at nominal rates”.



If you haven’t managed to be that adventurous, there’s one that is starting up today in the heart of the city — most appropriately called Oxyzone. Their fliers have been teasers enough — promising us a whiff of fresh air to rejuvenate the body to the accompaniment of music to soothe the soul.

Certainly, when you walk into the suite on the first floor of Hotel Hindusthan International, after braving the heavy traffic and choken atmosphere of AJC Bose Road, Oxyzone does appear as an oasis.

Where our air had at least 40 per cent oxygen many years ago, today’s atmosphere, through vehicular exhaust, toxic waste, chemical sprays and asphalt and household pollutants and the burning of fossil fuels, has reportedly 10 to 12 per cent oxygen. You need 7 per cent to sustain life.

Read on for some more dank data! Lack of oxygen can cause headaches, mid- and end-of-the-day fatigue, depression, a weakened immune system, poor digestion, premature wrinkles, unhealthy hair and nail, ad infinitum.

The panacea? Increase oxygen levels, so that you can remove waste gases and toxins more efficiently and defeat those anaerobic viruses. You think better (no, no this is not a commercial for a biscuit!), and rejuvenate faster.

Why do you think everyone from athletes to actresses are opting for oxygen therapy? In the West, a dollar a minute of oxygen is what many bars dispense. Here, in Calcutta, for a 15-minute session the cost compares more than favourably at Rs 175. Four discreet cubicles, with a large leather armchair in each, and potted plants complete the environment.

If you expect to see unwieldy oxygen cylinders, there are none. Instead, there is a small concentrator that looks like mini-air cooler. It takes in the natural air of the surroundings and filters and purifies it. The oxygen produced by this method has a high purity in excess of 95 per cent and is not contaminated. “It is super-oxygenated air,” says a beaming Sanjeev Madhogarhia, one of the two brothers behind Oxyzone, (the other being Rajeev), who are basically commerce graduates into the import of steel.

How come this airy line of business? Rajeev explains that this was suggested to them by one of their German suppliers.

Add to this, their own experience in Singapore, where “every street-corner had an oxygen bar where you could dispense fresh air to yourself”, and you have the story well-ventilated.

The experience is to some extent intangible. Unlike a facial or a total body mudpack of the kind I experienced at the Dead Sea resort, this one is light, airy, relaxing. In my 15 minutes, I sank into the business-class seat and pulled the lever back to its farthest position after putting on a disposable canulla, which fitted into the nostrils and was tied at the back of the head.

I chose a CD — Tanav, by Pandit Raghunath Seth — and a flavour — sandalwood (from amongst eight other flavours like rosemary, geranium, lavender, lemon) — and gave myself up to the Encounter.

The light aroma went quietly through my system, and the gentle strains of a specially-curated Raag Darbari floated first through my head, and then into the whole system to give a sense of beatitude. It was fragrance, melody and the invisible oxygen all rolled into one, which made for some serenity and equilibrium.

Plenty of medical claims abound, from the benefits to asthma and blood-pressure patients to oxygen for pregnant women who need, it seems to eat more, drink less and inhale lots of oxygen. Diabetics, it is said, could reduce their insulin level with the oxidation process on sugar. The doctor who has talked of these benefits also claims that oxygen breaks down alcohol because the liver function depends on oxygen supply.

The detractors dismiss this new “treatment” as “white-collared quackery” and the regulatory bodies warn of medical hazards for individuals with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — that is people with emphysema, black lung and chronic bronchitis).


As in all things new, the city-slicker who needs this kind of oxygenation outlet might be slow in trying its benefits. It means cost, time, effort. However, if you are veering towards a pool parlour next time to take out your anxiety on the crystalline balls, try a shot of oxygen instead, alongwith some mysterious rainforest music and energising aromas. The beer belly could be replaced with this cool cocktail. It could ferret out your fatigue, defuse your depression and calm those clattering nerves.

But the recommendations are for a regular intake, ideally by annual membership, which is a not-so-cheap package of Rs 18,500 for three sessions a week. By the end of which anyone who is a smoker or an asthmatic, an insomniac or a claustrophobed business executive, could well find themselves a tad more rejuvenated. I recall the casinos in the West where, I believe, oxygen is regularly pumped in to keep punters alert and gambling.

I might quaff this pure stuff, but will never give up my supercharged sunrise stroll.


Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
At least 300 shanties were gutted and 10 people suffered burns in two major fires in the city early on Sunday.

Nearly 1,300 people were rendered homeless in a fire that broke out at Bagbazar Canal Road at 3 am. Fifteen fire-tenders fought the blaze and brought it under control around 8 am. The fire could have been contained earlier had the pumps of three fire-tenders not developed snags.

A fire brigade official traced the source of the blaze to a bonfire that the shanty-dwellers had lit to keep themselves warm. A strong wind fanned the fire to the adjacent shanties on a stretch of one kilometre.

Eight people received severe burns when they rushed to salvage belongings from the shanties and were trapped in the burning polythene sheets . The condition of three is said to be critical.

“Most of the shanties are erected with highly flammable items, like polythene and plastic sheets. It is, therefore, natural that the fire would spread rapidly,” said B. K. Singh, an official of Chitpore police station. Ramakrishna Mission monks and the police are camping at the site to carry out relief operations.

“We have distributed khichri to 2,000 people and we are bringing in more food. We also plan to distribute tarpaulin sheets among them in the evening,” said Swami Dharmarupananda of the Ramakrishna Math, Bagbazar. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation will move in on Monday to clear the debris.

In the other fire near Ambedkar Bridge, in Topsia, three plastic godowns and a dozen shanties were gutted around 5 am on Sunday. Ten persons received burns. They were taken to hospital and released after first-aid. Eight fire engines doused the blaze around 7.30 am. Firemen said the blaze broke out when a dump of plastic in one of the godowns caught fire.


Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
Shiva looks like the round-the-corner mithaiwala, eyes intoxicated with opium or cannabis... Parvati, dressed like a middle-class Bengali bride... Trendy bibis, dimwit dandies and seductive courtesans. Vignettes of “contemporary appeal” from old Kalighat paintings which he first saw at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1982, inspired Jyotindra Jain, director of Crafts Museum, New Delhi, to dig deep into the genre.

Today, Jain — recipient of the 1998 Prince Claus Award for his initiatives and activities in cultural heritage — is convinced that the Kalighat painters were the “first contemporary artists of the country, in the sense that they heftily responded to contemporary life and technique around them”.

In the city to deliver a slide lecture on ‘Kalighat Painting: Images from a Changing World’, at the Oxford Bookstore-Gallery on Monday, Jain says: “They (the Kalighat painters) were always open to contemporary influences. Thus, they responded to foreign materials like mill-made paper and British water colour, and of course, in a big way, to photographic images, lithography and images from Western-style theatrical performances.”

Jain feels a mark of Calcutta’s ready acceptance of “tools of modernity” was the fact that the city had more than 300 commercial photographers in 1860, barely 20 years after photography was invented. “This is reflected strongly in the Kalighat paintings, where there was a direct impact of photographic images. The postures and gestures of gods and goddesses in the paintings were almost like they were posing for the camera, created very much in the mould of ordinary, bazaar people,” explains Jain.

Another imprint of modernity which characterises the works of Kalighat painters is the three-dimensional tonality. This, Jain argues, was more the result of their exposure to clay-figures — the patuas were often invited to paint clay images of gods and goddesses — than their exposure to European prints and shading. “Hence, the illusion of rotundity in the voluptuous prostitute or the pot-bellied Shiva,” explains Jain.

An Alexander-von-Humbildt and a Homi Bhabha Fellow, Jain also feels the Kalighat painters were the first to take up themes from ordinary social life and use them for social satire, “a tinge of sardonic mockery, unforeseen in Indian painting”.


Agartala, Dec. 10: 
Rebels of the All-Tripura Tiger Force rebels shot and hacked to death a Bengali woman even as police gunned down a suspected National Liberation Front of Tripura militant involved in the stealing of images of Lord Buddha from a monastery in South Tripura during the past 24 hours.

Three hardcore NLFT rebels, who had fled the outfit’s hideout in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, surrendered before the CRPF authorities yesterday.

Sources said a combined force of the state police and Tripura State Rifles led by inspector Gopal Brahma and sub-inspector Prabir Debbarma raided the remote Ramsingh Para village.


Guwahati, Dec. 10: 
Unidentified assailants shot dead two family members of Ulfa militants and set fire to another one’s house within hours of the Governor announcing steps to protect the kin of militant leaders.

A group of about seven masked assailants last night killed 30-year-old Lakhan Rabha, brother of Ulfa militant Shatrughan Rabha, at Belpara under Rangjuli police station in Lower Assam’s Goalpara district.

In another incident, assailants shot dead 55-year-old Numal Manta, father of Ulfa militant Birbal Manta, in Morigaon district. Police recovered the victim’s body from the 4th Mile area, bordering the hill district of Karbi Anglong, last night. Sources said Shatrughan Rabha’s sibling was called out of his residence at Dakuakata well past midnight, taken to Belpara and shot dead in front of the ancestral house of senior Ulfa leader Mohan Rabha, alias Drishti Rajkhowa. The latter is the commander of the Ulfa’s Lower Assam unit.

After killing Lakhan, the assailants set Rajkhowa’s house ablaze. However, there was no one in the Ulfa leader’s house when the incident took place.

Rajkhowa’s parents were killed during a similar campaign against family members of Ulfa militants in 1998.

In neighbouring Darrang district, militants of the National Democratic Front of Boroland last night shot dead one of their former comrades and his father and sister. Sources said the rebels killed Putu Boro, his father Nripen and sister Amiya because they suspected the former rebel of having turned into an Army informer. The killings took place at Boro’s residence at Dimakuchi under Paneri police station. The former militant’s wife was seriously injured in the attack.

Last week, unidentified assailants shot dead the brother of Ulfa “foreign secretary” Sasha Choudhury in Nalbari district. In another incident in the same district, a shop owned by a sibling of Tapan Baruah, “commander” of the Ulfa’s operations in Upper Assam, was set ablaze. Two days earlier, miscreants shelled the house of Ulfa “commander-in-chief” Paresh Baruah at Jeraigaon near Chabua in Dibrugarh district.

The incidents last night took place a few hours after the Governor, Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha, announced that the police had been directed to protect the lives and property of all top Ulfa leaders.

However, he said it was impossible to make security arrangements for the families of all Ulfa militants. The Ulfa has warned of a campaign against the ruling Asom Gana Parishad if the attacks on family members of its activists do not stop by December 31.

Chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who returned here from New Delhi today, will visit Sadiya along with the Governor tomorrow to take stock of the situation in the aftermath of the massacre of 28 non-Assamese people near the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border.

Additional director-general of police (operations) G.M. Srivastava said the police had established that an “Afghan” led the Sadiya attack. He said it was clinching proof of the ISI’s involvement in the recent massacres across the state. “The ISI is using mercenaries and Ulfa activists to carry out these killings,” he said.

Night curfew: The Jorhat administration has clamped night curfew in all “sensitive” areas along the five-km Assam-Nagaland border in the district, adds our Jorhat correspondent.


Imphal, Dec.10: 
Tension gripped the capital following twin bomb blasts today. The first bomb went off at the gate of deputy chief minister Chandramani Singh’s residence at Patsoi in Imphal West district while the second blast occurred at the office of Manipur Mountaineering and Trekking Association near Khuman Lampak sports complex.

The third bomb planted in the office of a non-governmental organisation in Imphal East district was defused by the police . However, no one was injured.

The blast at Chandramani Singh’s house took place at 1.30 pm. Sources said it was triggered by an improvised explosive device planted outside his house.

However, the deputy chief minister was at the office of the first battalion of the Manipur Rifles at the time of the blast.

Singh reportedly did not stay at his private residence after being elected to the Assembly. He was residing in an official bungalow at Lamphlepat.

The blast at the Manipur Mountaineering and Trekking Association damaged two rooms of the office.

Sources said the explosion which took place around 1.45 pm destroyed property worth Rs 2 lakh.

The office is located adjacent to the Khuman Lampak sports complex, a stone’s throw from an Assam Rifles outpost.

No militant outfit has claimed responsibility for the blasts. Security has been strengthen in the capital following the blasts. The watchman of the non-governmental organisation Macha Leima found the explosive device in a plastic bag this morning.

He informed the police and a bomb expert squad neutralised the device. A timer was also found in the device, which was slated to go off at 9.30 am.

Political impasse: Assembly Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy has summoned leaders of various legislature parties to his office chamber on December 15 to thrash out the problem of taking up the no-confidence motion against the Nipamacha Singh ministry.

The leaders of the ruling United Front of Manipur summoned by the Speaker are chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh, deputy chief minister L. Chandramani Singh (both Manipur State Congress Party) and forests minister Gangmumei Kamei (Federal Party of Manipur).

Opposition leaders called by Dhananjoy are Radhabinod Koijam and Rishang Keishing (both Congress), R.K. Dorendra Singh (BJP), O. Joy Singh (Manipur People’s Party), Kh. Loken Singh of Janata Dal (Secular), Basantakumar Wangkhem (Samata Party), Ngurnanglur (Nationalist Congress Party), Naokholet Kipgen (Progressive Federal Party of Manipur) and C. Doungel.

Dhananjoy is planning to take an undertaking from all the legislators to abide by the rules of the House before summoning the Assembly session to discuss the no-confidence motion against the Nipamacha ministry.

The step was being taken to prevent any recurrence of violence like that of December 1.


Maintained by Web Development Company