Death in corridor of chaos
University files papers for funds
String of fires mocks at safety measures
Goon lynched
Great snakes, it’s a roadside robbery
Carnival call on the waterfront
Lack of valuation records stalls tax system overha
Power trim fuels crisis in CMC
Fusion, kathak to the conga
While Britannica bites the dust

 
 
DEATH IN CORRIDOR OF CHAOS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
The accident at Gariahat on Wednesday morning, in which a three-year-old girl was crushed to death under a bus, was just waiting to happen.

Apart from the general confusion in the area during rush hour, the construction of the flyover at Gariahat has added to the chaos by constricting the road space. Every morning, the stretch along Ballygunge Phari, Gariahat, Gol Park and Dhakuria teems with schoolchildren, their parents, guardians and office-goers, hurrying along with scant regard for road rules.

As a result, traffic slows down to a crawl for the better part of the morning along Gariahat Road. Inadequate deployment of traffic policemen in this area also compounds matters.

The situation worsens during school hours, when the flow of traffic is more. Guardians and students of South Point, Patha Bhavan, Ballygunge Siksha Sadan and Modern High School have a tough time negotiating the corridor of chaos.

They snake their way past moving vehicles without bothering about traffic signals or whether they are holding up rush-hour vehicles.

“At the Gariahat crossing, commuters encroach onto eight to 10 feet of the roads and our constables have to repeatedly push them closer to the pavement. The people simply don’t abide by traffic rules. We could do with some addition to our force at the officer level to tackle the traffic problem at Gariahat,” said K. Harirajan, deputy commissioner of police (traffic).

Harirajan said that people in Calcutta tend to disregard traffic rules. “The construction of the flyover does pose a problem. But there were accidents in the area even before work on the flyover started a year ago. There was a similar situation during the construction of the Metro Railway,” he said.

A senior officer said though the police had organised a number of programmes to increase traffic awareness, the response had not been encouraging.

A visit to the Gariahat crossing on Wednesday afternoon revealed that buses and minibuses were stopping arbitrarily on the middle of the road, with people encouraging this breach of rules. The pavements are crowded with hawkers, making it difficult for the people to move.

Sujata Ghosh of Garcha, guardian of a South Point student, said the construction of the flyover and the traffic chaos made it impossible for her to take her ward to school on time.

“There is no space for pedestrians as the footpath has been taken over by the construction workers. The digging complicated matters. One side of Gariahat Road is always closed to traffic because of the construction, resulting in fender-to-fender snarls,” she said.

Sukanya Ghosh, mother of a South Point student of Class II, echoes the view: “Just look at the buses charging down the congested road...”

Sumona Chakraborty, a resident of Phoolbagan, takes her son to South Point School every day down Ekdalia Road. “We spend more time on the road than my son spends in class,” Sumona said.

   

 
 
UNIVERSITY FILES PAPERS FOR FUNDS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
After battling for two years, Calcutta University sent its application to the National Assessment Accreditation Council on Wednesday, seeking accreditation for all its under-graduate and post-graduate degree courses.

The move follows a warning from the University Grants Commission (UGC) that the university would stop receiving funds from 2001 if it failed to send the necessary documents to the Council by December 31.

“We have not received the papers from the university till Wednesday afternoon. We will soon meet UGC officials to find out what measures would be taken against the university if the application does not reach us within the deadline,” Shyam Sundar, academic adviser of the Council told The Telegraph over the phone from the Council head office in Bangalore.

Sutanu Bhattacharya, UGC deputy director in Calcutta, corroborated the Council official’s version that no information had been received from the university till Wednesday evening.

Vice-chancellor Ashis Banerjee said it took a long time to prepare the papers, as the university runs a number of departments with more than 200 colleges affiliated to it. The Council had asked all state-aided universities in Calcutta and the districts to get accredited within December 2000.

The Centre had made it mandatory for all UGC-funded universities and colleges across the country to seek accreditation if they wanted to avail of UGC funds. The objective was to monitor the academic standard of courses offered by them.

The state government had opposed the move, saying it would interfere with the autonomy of the universities. Higher education department sources said Kalyani and Jadavpur universities had asked for accreditation several months ago. The North Bengal University has already been accredited.

   

 
 
STRING OF FIRES MOCKS AT SAFETY MEASURES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
Fire struck Calcutta and Howrah once again on Wednesday.

Making a mockery of the state fire services department’s elaborate plans, a plastic godown and adjoining houses were gutted at Tala on Wednesday evening.

Three other fires broke out at the State Bank of India headquarters on Strand Road, at Howrah Jute Mill and in an oil furnace at Netajigarh, in Howrah.

At Tala, in north Calcutta, the rusty fire tenders were hard put to reach their destination and the water pipes had sprung leaks.

The fire started in a plastic factory-cum-godown-cum shop at 85 B.T.Road and spread to an adjacent five-storey residential building and another rubber factory.

Till Wednesday night, two firemen and another man were injured. They were taken to R.G. Kar Hospital. Tala Bridge and a portion of B.T.Road were closed to traffic.

Another fire broke out in a portion of State Bank of India’s head office on Strand Road. Four fire tenders and the bank’s own fire-fighting equipment were pressed into service. The blaze broke out while workers were welding the cables of the air-conditioning plant room on the building’s fifth floor. Three rooms of the AC plant were gutted.

Police have started a case against Voltas, the agency that set up the air-conditioning plant.

In Howrah, two fires broke out on Wednesday. According to fire brigade sources, the godown of Howrah Jute Mill caught fire around 10 am. Firemen fought the blaze for nearly two hours.

At Netajigarh in Howrah, where the fire of an oil furnace in a factory suddenly became uncontrollable and started spreading. Two fire tenders doused it.

   

 
 
GOON LYNCHED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
Rajesh Das, a criminal, was lynched by residents of Belilious Road, in Howrah, on Wednesday evening. Das, alias Takla, had gone to Belilious Road to extort money from businessmen. The 24-year-old criminal had several cases of extortion, loot, dacoity and theft pending against him.

Child wounded in blast: Eight-year-old Moktar Ali Mollah was injured in a bomb explosion on Wednesday while he was playing in a paddy field at Barijpur, in Diamond Harbour. A similar incident took place in the area on Tuesday, in which a 12-year-old girl was killed.

   

 
 
GREAT SNAKES, IT’S A ROADSIDE ROBBERY 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
Hisssss is the latest sound of fear on city streets. A group of snake-charmers has been slipping the reptiles into cars held up at key intersections in south and central Calcutta, and then lifting cellphones and briefcases before the panic-stricken drivers or passengers can react.

The police on Wednesday arrested five snake-charmers from Delhi, operating on the crossing of Lord Sinha Road and Shakespeare Sarani. They have been charged with “lifting costly belongings from cars”, using snakes as their instruments of terror — a modus operandi termed “unique” by the police in Calcutta’s crime history.

S.R. Roy, officer-in-charge of Shakespeare Sarani police station, said: “Vijay Nath, Sita Nath, Rajesh Nath, Som Nath and Vaigundhara Nath, all residents of Dharampura Colony, in New Delhi, were caught in the act. While two of them were trying to steal something from a car, the others were keeping a watch. Five snakes were found in their possession. They were, however, not poisonous.” According to Prasanta Banerjee, assistant commissioner of police (south), several other members of the gang are operating in different parts of the city. “These snake-charmers come into Calcutta from Tikiapara every morning. They wait at busy intersections and toss the reptiles into cars when the vehicles stop at a traffic signal. Passengers inside the cars either panic and jump out or are too scared too react. Taking advantage of the situation, these snake-charmers lift costly belongings, like cellphones and briefcases, and slip away,” said Banerjee. He hoped that the five arrested snake-charmers would help the police track down other members of the gang.

The police have received “several such complaints” in the past few weeks from various parts of the city. Some had even drawn the attention of commissioner of police Dinesh Vajpai to this bizarre operation. Following this, the police swung into action, keeping strict vigil on Park Street, Camac Street, Shakespeare Sarani and Loudon Street.

Officials of the newly-formed Shakespeare Sarani police station said the gang had been booked under Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code, pertaining to lifting of belongings and theft. The snake-charmers were also taken to the wildlife wing of the state forest department in Salt Lake to ascertain whether the snakes belonged to an ‘endangered’ species.

   

 
 
CARNIVAL CALL ON THE WATERFRONT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
It’s cruises, quizzes and fireworks on the Hooghly on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, when the state government celebrates the first River Festival 2000.

Inspired by London River Association, which held a workshop with the CMDA, the day-long celebrations on December 26 will kick off with a ‘walk for the river’ down Strand Road at 8.30 am.

According to urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya, the walk from Prinsep Ghat to Millennium Park will feature eminent personalities like Sourav Ganguly. The mayor and some ministers will also take part, he said.

There will be a sit-and-draw contest for children on a theme connected with the river.

The festival, organised jointly by the CMDA and the state information and culture department, will feature a cultural programme at the Millennium Park amphitheatre in the evening. “Artistes like Pramita Mullick and Dona Ganguly will perform. The chief minister is expected to attend,” Bhattacharya said.

Two motor launches will be used for river cruises. The launches will make 30-minute trips from Millennium Park and will have food stalls and music. A quiz will also be conducted on board. The transport department has yet to decide on the charge.

Both Vidyasagar Setu and Howrah Bridge will be lit up, courtesy the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners and the Calcutta Port Trust, respectively. The Howrah Municipal Corporation will arrange for illumination in the buildings along the west bank as well. The Eastern Railway, too, will chip in by illuminating the Circular Railway rakes which run along the Strand. Buildings along Strand Road will also be lit up.

Films based on rivers will be screened at Nandan as part of the festival. A brilliant display of fireworks from a barge anchored midstream will cap the festivities.

Chairman of the London River Association George Nicholson, who was in the city last week to attend a preparatory meeting, has described the project as “tremendous” and has promised help, Bhattacharya said.

The minister said in spite of beautification on the waterfront, the river and its banks were still being dirtied. The festival by the river will attempt to create awareness among people about the necessity to keep the river clean and stop its misuse. “We want the people to be emotionally attached with the river and the activity around it,” he said.

   

 
 
LACK OF VALUATION RECORDS STALLS TAX SYSTEM OVERHA 
 
 
BY DIPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation has failed to make any progress in restructuring its house tax collection system, even after three months of its declaration to do so. The reason is that there is no ready reckoner of landed property evaluation, unlike in the Mumbai civic body, available from the government for various parts of the city.

At present, the tax is fixed on the rent a property could fetch if it is let out.

But there is an anomaly in the process of assessment, as most of the buildings in Calcutta fetch a paltry rent owing to legislation on this score.

“There are also so many disputed properties, whose rents are deposited with the rent control department. But the rates are never increased,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Wednesday. To do away with this anomaly, the CMC had planned to follow the footsteps of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) by abolishing the system of assessing a property on the basis of rent. But non-availability of a ready reckoner from the registration department has stopped the initiative mid-way.

“Like the BMC, we, too, decided to restructure our basic system of calculating the property tax by abolishing the existing one. For that, we need a list of the valuation of landed property set by the registration department for various parts of the city,” Mukherjee said. The value of a property in West Bengal is fixed by the registrars. But it is not clear on what basis the valuation of a property at a particular place is decided.

“The standards of assessing a property is still a riddle,” added Mukherjee. “The registration department, which fixes up the rates, has strictly instructed us not to provide the valuations in writing,” an official of the registrar of assurance said.

A senior revenue officer in the Corporation pointed out that the BMC had recently restructured its system of collecting property tax by discarding a 150-year-old concept similar to Calcutta’s.

Mukherjee said by restructuring the tax-collection system, the BMC was earning a revenue that had enhanced by 15 per cent. The BMC earns over Rs 562.61 crore every year by collecting property tax. According to deputy municipal commissioner (revenue) N.K. Roy, the CMC earns a revenue of Rs 142 crore from the property tax every year.

Dairy award: Amrita Patel, chairperson of the National Dairy Development Board, was presented the Dr Varghese Kurien Award for her contribution to the development of dairy industry in the country at a recent function by the Indian Dairy Association (East Zone). The award was presented to her by state minister for animal resources development, Anisur Rahman, at the inaugural session of the 30th Dairy Industry Conference held at Science City. The award comprise a memento, a citation and a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh.

   

 
 
POWER TRIM FUELS CRISIS IN CMC 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
The first major crisis exploded in the Trinamul Congress-BJP-led board of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation on Wednesday with Javed Ahmed Khan, member, mayor-in-council (health), offering to resign on Wednesday to protest an order clipping the powers of his chief municipal health officer, Sujit Ghosh. The order was issued by municipal commissioner Debasish Som.

In his order, Som has stripped Ghosh of all powers, excepting the statutory powers vested in the post, and given them to his deputy, R.N. Sanyal. Chairman Anil Mukherjee and colleagues in the council urged Khan to hold his resignation till mayor Subrata Mukherjee returns from Delhi.

“It’s humiliating for Ghosh and myself, as the order was issued with me totally in the dark,” said Khan. Som defended the order, saying: “I have only done what I have been directed to do”.

Officials suspect a deputy chief law officer of playing a role in the “dirty game”, as Ghosh had once criticised him for indifference in pursuing food adulteration cases pending in the high court.

   

 
 
FUSION, KATHAK TO THE CONGA 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
Kathak meets jazz, drums meet ghatam. Two women, one twirling on the ground, arms swaying, the other, ghungroos jingling to classical kathak steps, as dance students watch every move...

Padatik, Wednesday morning, two weeks to go for a fusion programme on January 3 at Kala Mandir. Students, “from eight to 35”, and instructors are rehearsing their steps.

Niki Constantinidinis, the brunette twirling on the floor, has been teaching contemporary dance, jazz and tap at Padatik for the past two months. She has worked with theatre personality and dance instructor Chetna Jalan to put together this performance, a mix of not only dance form, but sound as well.

Composed by Bikram Ghosh, his blend of Indian and world music has been carefully designed “to cater to the needs of both classical and contemporary elements of the performance”.

Says Chetna: “Both the dance and music used speak the language of today.” Traditional, however, does not mean rigid. “Even my steps are not pure classical. Rather, they are derived from classical sensibility,” she explains. Bikram, who can be seen on the tabla at almost every Ravi Shankar concert, says: “We’ve worked with classical bowls to include, for example, a conga beat”.

But Niki admits that “it wasn’t easy”. The Greek native, who has lived in Germany, Holland and now in Belgium, didn’t know anything about India till she made this trip. “At first, I didn’t think it would be possible...”

The initial response from the students, too, was one of scepticism. “I just didn’t think I was fit enough to move my body as modern dance demands,” smiles Bidisha, a kathak student at Padatik for 10 years. But now, she’s got into the groove, enjoying every minute of this “unique experience”.

The response, to begin with, was “mixed” among contemporary dance students also. “The dance we usually teach is rather filmi, as that’s what people want. This is the first time we’ve been exposed to true modern dance,” explains Neelu, instructor-cum-student at the centre.

The mix ’n match ensemble has been educative and entertaining for both schools. “Indian music is very subtle. We had to adapt to suit modern movement, which uses the whole stage,” explains Bikram. It is not only traditional elements which have been modified. “I have been greatly influenced by Kathak, which I am seeing for the first time,” says Niki, trying out a few steps herself.

   

 
 
WHILE BRITANNICA BITES THE DUST 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
From tantra to taxonomy, lithography to logarithms, the wizened shelves in the old, ornate house have the world to offer to book buffs. Whether it’s a late 18th Century travelogue on Constantinople, the Rig Veda translated by Max Mueller or James Todd’s The Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, written in 1837, there is no dearth of rare books at the Mukerji residence on 1, Sambhunath Pandit Street.

For four generations, the Mukerjis, direct descendants of Krittibas Ojha, who translated Ramayan into Bengali, have been collecting books on virtually every subject. “We now have more than 10,000 books in our house. This is probably the second-best private collection in the city, after that of Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee,” says Soumen Mukerji, whose great-grandfather, late Janaki Nath Mukerji, started collecting books at the turn of the century.

‘JN’, an electrical engineer, was registrar of Calcutta University and then principal of Sanskrit College. Later, he became the first Indian postmaster-general of undivided Bengal and Burma. His pioneering work in telephony and wireless communication won him the Order of the British Empire in 1925. Reading and buying books was a passion with this “first-class first” from Roorkee Engineering College. From the day he joined his first job as assistant engineer in the posts and telegraph department, JN indulged his passion.

Even though he had a large family to maintain, he probably spent a lion’s share of his salary on books. “Almost 80 per cent of the books in our house are my great grandfather’s. The subsequent generations have kept up the good work and even today, we are adding to his collection,” says Soumen Mukerji.

Some of the titles in the Mukerjis’ formidable collection are startlingly singular. For instance, Boccaccio’s Decameron of 1812 — the oldest among the 53 shelves of books, Colebrookes’ translation of Lilavati (1840), a pre-World War I edition (1908) of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which has no mention of the likes of Lenin and Marx.

“But we are at a loss now, trying to figure out what to do with this huge collection. With dust and humidity destroying the precious books, it’s becoming all the more difficult to preserve the collection,” says Soumen Mukerji. “If any trust, library or NGO comes forward to take charge of the family collection, we are willing to cooperate. After all, such an invaluable collection shouldn’t go waste.”

   
 

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