Easy path to passport
Tolly Club set to lose CEO to The Circle
Skipper hooks B-school bouncers
Food not foul
FAIR and lovely
Police lay ‘mouse’ trap for crime in Salt Lake
Mantras of the morrow
4 arrested for extortion bid
Crowborough Hotel dons political mantle
Majuli to host meet

 
 
EASY PATH TO PASSPORT 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Jan. 14: 
Many Dawood hitmen and their accomplices obtain forged passports and visas from the city, giving them easy access to foreign countries. According to a senior inspector of the crime branch of Mumbai Police, Abdul Rauf Dawood Merchant, top hitman of D-company who shot dead music baron Gulshan Kumar, and who was recently nabbed in the city by the detective department, was carrying six different passports with city addresses.

Police investigations revealed that other top hitmen, Hanif Khan, Aslam Contractor and Dadi, who were also in the city but fled immediately after they got wind that Rauf had been picked up, had several passports in fictitious names of residents of Calcutta and the suburbs. Mumbai crime branch and city detectives have identified two dozen fake passports issued from the Calcutta office which were being used by Dawood henchmen to travel across the globe. “We have seized nine forged passports with Calcutta addresses,” a Mumbai Police officer said.

City detective chief Banibrata Basu on Sunday admitted that the underworld had easy access to passports and they were being forged easily enough. “The forgery racket will be probed. The case will be handed over to the security control organisation, which specialises in such investigations,” Basu said. “You don’t need either an MP’s or an MLA’s recommendation for a passport,” he added.

He said a fake passport can be easily obtained — the middleman files the application with a genuine address. The police verification is doctored, and once the passport is issued, the middleman takes out the photograph in the passport and replaces it with another persons’. The seal is forged.

Detectives said one of the several passports issued from the city which Rauf was carrying was in the name of Bimal Das, a retired Orissa police officer. Basu said police officers found out that there was no one by that name at 18, Naltamahajali Road. The photograph on the passport, however, was that of Abdul Rauf’s.

“This incident suggests that there is a large loophole in the police verification process, as well as in the entire system of issuing passports,” Basu said.

A senior officer of the Regional Passport Office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the ministry of external affairs and home affairs in Delhi ordered an inquiry on January 12 into how these passports reached the underworld. Detectives and officers confirmed that a few agents were working for the underworld and they had become “very active in the last one year.”

A senior Mumbai crime branch officer said some hitmen of D-Company have several passports, of which a good number have Calcutta names and addresses. Detective department officers said middlemen, who helped obtain forged passports, worked under cover and seldom gave out their real names.

These middlemen carry more than one mobile phone and often change their cellular numbers to avoid detection. Some middlemen operate from Free School Street, but they have their men hanging around the Regional Passport Office on Brabourne Road.

Some middlemen, who police suspect helped several Dawood hitmen obtain forged passports from the city, specialise in “photo-change passports.” Their accomplices, people with bona fide names and addresses, apply for passports and on getting them, the middlemen replace the photographs with those of their “clients”.

The middlemen have an “understanding” with some officers in the Regional Passport Office. Detectives and passport officials said they make applications in fictitious names and addresses. Officers in the Regional Passport Office, who are on the underworld’s payroll, “doctor and manipulate” the police verification process and issue the passport.

In Rauf’s case, a middleman greased the palms of senior policemen to ensure that police verification of names and addresses given in the passport application form is not held. The passport office completed the formalities within a record time of seven days, sleuths said after checking documents at the passport office.

   

 
 
TOLLY CLUB SET TO LOSE CEO TO THE CIRCLE 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 14: 
Club competition is hotting up in Calcutta. And The Circle, a “fun-filled family club” at Teghoria, near the airport, is set to pull off a corporate coup of sorts. It is learnt that M.J. Robertson, chief executive of Tollygunge Club Ltd, is ready to take over as CEO, leisure division, Sanjeevani Group, owners of Circle Clubs and Resorts Pvt Ltd.

“Ours is not a profit-driven club and if a corporate comes forward with a very good offer, it’s very difficult for us to match it,” admitted Deepak Atal, Tolly vice-president. “We know he (Robertson) has been extended an attractive offer and it’s up to him to make a decision. However, for the sake of Tolly, I sincerely hope he stays back because if he goes, it will be a huge blow to the club,” he added.

The club committee met on Saturday and the Robertson issue naturally cropped up. It is learnt that all committee members were unanimous in requesting him to reconsider his decision.

Robertson was not available for comment. But sources say he has made up his mind to quit, after serving out a notice period that ends by March-April.

His resignation letter now lies with club president Y.C. Deveshwar, who has recently replaced P.K. Dutt. Robertson, whose five-year term at the top would have expired in 2002, is learnt to be “dissatisfied” with the club’s style of functioning.

“As CEO, Robertson has worked tirelessly to transform the club into a socially vibrant, happening place, all seven days a week. We, in the committee, obviously want that to carry on. However, Tolly is an institution and has its own equity. So, if the present CEO is bent on leaving, we will have to fill up the void,” observed Atal.

Robertson, who was earlier the general manager of Andrew Yule and then vice-president, human resources and corporate communications, Tractors India Ltd, has helped put Tolly on BBC’s list of the world’s top 20 clubs. He’s rung in the changes, thick and fast, after replacing the high-profile Bob Wright at the helm of Tolly four years back, say members.

The children’s park, the exclusive ice-cream parlour, the new-look lounge, the gym, revival of the riding school, the chipping and putting greens, have all contributed towards reinventing the club “as a complete leisure and entertainment haven for the entire family,” said a member.

A recreation centre for the staff has also been set up. Events ranging from the 1857 pageant to jazz concerts to a date with Ruskin Bond have had sponsors and patrons queuing up.

One of Robertson’s “greatest achievements”, according to a committee member, was the hi-tech consulate building for the Japanese on the club’s premises, which was fallow land. The lease agreement has brought a hefty amount into the club’s coffers.

The next few days might see hectic parleys to force a rethink but the buzz in the club circles is that ‘MJ’ is ready to move to “greener pastures”.

“If and when that happens, Tolly’s loss would be The Circle’s gain,” said a Tolly member.

   

 
 
SKIPPER HOOKS B-SCHOOL BOUNCERS 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 14: 
If he has a chink in his batting armour, it’s got to be against the rising ball. But on Saturday night, the Indian captain handled the barrage of bouncers delivered by the B-school boys and girls in copybook style — swaying out of the line of some, ducking under a few, and hooking the rest with aplomb.

Face to Face with Sourav Ganguly was billed to be the top draw of the four-day National Business School Meet on the Indian Institute of Management’s Joka campus. And it didn’t disappoint.

At around 6.30 pm, Sourav, in grey blazer, strode into the lecture theatre to a five-minute-long standing ovation from over 250 students of the country’s best business schools — the six IIMs, XLRI, Times School of Management... Arun Lal and Saba Karim were there too, but there was no doubt who the man of the moment was.

The skipper took guard with a short speech on the importance of “handling pressure” and “the role of luck” in being successful. He took no time to settle at all, his sense of timing evident from his last remark before fielding questions.

“I’m happy to be here with you all... I know that you guys are absolute scholars, yaar,” said Sourav, drawing whoops and desk-thumps from the boys, and “ohhhhs...” from the girls who had filled up the first few rows to take a closer look at the star.

This was no run-of-the mill Q&A. “Why do Indian captains always refer to their team-mates as boys?” demanded a budding manager from IIM-C.

“Maybe because we all want to remain young,” smiled Sourav, stealing a glance at the girls.

“Why have you been bowling so little?” was a question from the back benches. Pat came the answer: “Probably because I was too busy scoring runs.”

But Sourav was definitely not on the offensive all the time.

When it came to tricky issues like “lack of professionalism in the Board” and “selectors who’ve never scored a run...”, he played it safe. And he admitted that “a lot needs to be done” to improve the fielding and running between the wickets.

When it came to things more personal, the captain was his candid self. “I loved playing football during my schooldays and I only took up cricket seriously after we won the Prudential Cup in 1983,” he confessed.

On cricketers past and present, Sourav said: “Gavaskar and Kapil have always been my heroes... And while Wasim is the most difficult bowler to handle, Sachin is the greatest batsman now.”

The ‘Prince of Calkoota’ didn’t flinch when quizzed about his “on-field antics” against Zimbabwe that saw him being suspended for a match. “I admit that it looked ugly on television, but I was really involved at that time... Anyway, everyone is there to set good examples, don’t you think that someone should be there to set a few bad ones?” he joked.

“Sourav... Sourav... Sourav.” With time running out, the cry was heard from every corner of the room, amidst a mad scramble for the mike. At 7.50 pm, Sourav signalled draw of stumps. For the next half hour, however, he couldn’t leave the hall, as inquisitors turned autograph-hunters. By the time he left the campus, the stylish strokeplayer had bowled them all over. The buzz in B-school — “He’s so smart, yaar.”

   

 
 
FOOD NOT FOUL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 14: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation on Sunday ruled out food poisoning after some students were taken ill at a programme organised by Ashok Hall. Subrata Basu, superintendent of CMC Food Laboratory, said only three children reported ill. “Two children had fallen ill towards the end of the programme. A school doctor diagnosed it as dehydration,” Basu said. The children had eaten biscuits and chocolates, given by the school.

Another student fell ill at a school they had gathered in to change uniforms. She was taken to a nursing home where doctors said she was suffering from asthma.

   

 
 
FAIR AND LOVELY 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 14: 
Lunch, shopping, coffee, a film... it had become holiday ritual. But the cool, sunny mid-January day was too dazzling to spend cooped up within air-conditioned walls. So, it was off to the melas on the Maidan...

Just window-shopping, I tell myself. First stop, Lexpo, celebrating its 25th birthday. I walk in through the gate opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. The only thing in view — food. Alongside a standard mela candy floss-popcorn vendor stands ‘Foset’s’ stall, with farmers’ jams, jellies and pickles on display. Next, Freedom Food Service, which seems to be everywhere, every year, with their chaats and kachoris. The Coolfi ice cream stall beside it is deserted...

Side-stepping the streams of water flowing from the tanks beside the gate, I start looking for the leather. It looks just like last year, and the year before, and the year before that... The same patchwork leather bags, in black and blue (sometimes, yellow and red squares thrown in) droop from hooks. Beside them, leather attachés scream out to credit cards. Leather Land, with its few jackets, is outclassed by Indian Tanning Industries Pvt. Ltd., where a headless mannequin sporting fur-lined leather overcoat beckons.

As I amble along, in a vain attempt to go through as many of the four rows of shops as possible, I realise that the whole exercise is somewhat unnecessary. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. But who cares? As far as timepass goes, I’m quite happy trying to decipher which species of animal the mounted head outside R.R. Enterprise belongs to, picking up candy-floss, soaking in some sun, watching other customers pass by, bundled up in shawls, sweaters, jackets...

Then, my favourite part. I make my way to that mela staple, Ghosh’s Condiments. Is there any other? Rows of achaar, churan. Taste them all and then leave, but not before buying some prawn chips.

“The nice stuff is too expensive, and the cheap stuff look so ghaati! And anyway, walk into New Market and you’ll find all these things,” smirks a girl, emerging from a stall with her gang of five. “I don’t know about you guys, but I picked up a cool purse,” shrieks another, looking pleased with her purchase. I browse through footballs hanging from doorposts (yet more patchwork leather), the Santiniketan-print wallets no one ever uses anymore, shoes that must have been there from granddad’s days. At a shop selling ‘expot quality lather’ I find a bag worth haggling over. After all, isn’t that what fairs are for?

I save myself Rs 15 (they aren’t as accommodating as they used to be), it’s time to move on. I hop over to the West Bengal Handicrafts Fair next door. The Maidan seems to have become one big cane furniture lot. The whole length, in between the stalls is strewn with chairs, tables, lamps, living room sets...

Most of the stalls now seem to be named ‘Karigarer Haat’. It seemed they have been set up for the small craftsmen, who previously used to have open shops on either side, though the small entrepreneur still hawks his wares outside. Like one gent who tries to convince a rapidly-growing crowd that he has the tool to make them all into master craftsmen. Armed with a “pintugraph” needle, he demonstrates impossible feats of embroidery.

Passing Babludas Food House and the mela stage, the jute shoes, bags, jewellery and swings beside it, the dried floral arrangements and fake bonsai... Rows of pats line the outer walls of next few stalls. Suddenly, I spot the familiar faces of a patua brother and sister who I had spent some time with while visiting Midnapore a couple of years ago. I squat down beside them. They’re doing very well at the fair, the duo smiles. “We just sold a pat like this to a foreigner for Rs 1,500,” she explains, pointing to a lengthy scroll.

Over steaming bhanrs of tea, talk invariably turns to the killing fields of Keshpur. It’s clear that this year, they left their village with mixed feelings. They had no choice but to leave their families and come to the city for the fair season. “But there is a lot of trouble going on in our village right now,” says didi, distress clouding her brow. “They beat my husband and forced him to pay their chanda. We just don’t feel safe anymore... Six of our villagers have been killed in the past few months.”

Terror, they say, has become a part of everyday life in the district. “Just the other day, some boys with arms attacked two men right in front of our house. The men jumped into a lake. The gundas left, thinking they were dead... It was just like in films,” relive the artistes. “The worst part is the kids are always running around the para... You can’t keep them inside forever...And you know that anything can happen, any moment.”

A lady approaches the stall, in search of a black and white pat. “We only have small ones, but you can look at this one. There is a song as well. About Ram-Raboner juddha...” Buying a stunning pat on silk, I leave them to their business. More Karigarer Haats, it gets more colourful. Bankura horses, soft toys and Purulia masks. A Refugee Handicrafts stall, with batik tapestries and terracotta wall hangings. Printed T-shirts, bearing an indecipherable part of the Calcutta skyline, meet horrendous trunks of trees masquerading as table stands.

The eye-catcher of the mela has to be the Karubhasha stall, darma (thatch eves of bamboo) line the walls, a fence wrapped around the ‘hut’. Inside, craftsmen sand away at coconut shells, soon to become monkeys, pen-stands, bowls, with onlookers following every skilled move. Beautiful wooden statuettes and the model of an Indian Railways engine, marked “Do Not Touch”.

I step out. A middle-aged woman is trying out a bird-call whistle. Young girls enter a stall selling clocks and tiles. Akaru, it is called. Exclusive, “designer” terracotta. Outside are cumbersome, forbidding earthen chairs.

Coated by a film of dust, I make my way out. The Little Magazine Fair, at the Rabindra Sadan-Nandan complex, seems too much work for dusty, tired feet, but I decide to drop in, anyway.

Book-lovers teem through the narrow passageways... live poetry recitations on the loud-speakers. Children’s short stories, poetry, women’s publications, audio cassettes of recitations, I take a peek at them all. “Take a look at our paper,” invites a middle-aged Bangali babu. Striking up a conversation, he reveals that he is the editor of the bi-annual publication of short stories. “I run at a loss with every edition,” he says. “It is for sheer love of the work that I continue. I don’t have the heart to kill my creation.”

Finally, I muster up the energy to walk to the bus stop. I pass groups of college students laughing and shouting, men and women alongwith their parents and children. Some toting carrybags, some carrying candy floss, some empty-handed.

   

 
 
POLICE LAY ‘MOUSE’ TRAP FOR CRIME IN SALT LAKE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 14: 
Get ready for e-policing at the IT hub. Responding to the long-standing demand of software companies in the Salt Lake Electronic Complex (Saltlec) and of residents in general, the police are set to introduce “extensive computerisation” to handle law and order in the township by next month.

“This is a pilot project to ensure better vigilance and once it is successfully implemented in all police stations in the Bidhannagar area, we will extend it to other parts like Lake Town, Kasba and Howrah town,” said Gautam Chakraborty, DIG (PR), overseeing the implementation of the programme. “As Bidhannagar is a planned city, we have kicked off our programme here,” he explained. “And with reputed software firms setting up shop in Saltlec, we must be ready to offer them the best law-and-order services,” he added.

To enable smooth implementation of the project, Rs 21 lakh has been sanctioned from the state exchequer. The programme, to be implemented by Webel Electronic Communication Systems, has the twin objectives of “reducing the response time” for the police and “computerising all crime-related records”.

To reduce response time to distress calls, a computerised system will be put in place at the control room and will be networked with three other police stations in the area. All in-coming calls and the responses from duty officers will be recorded. The caller’s location will be traced “within seconds” by the Geographical Information System. The police have also tied up with the telephone department to access its database to identify phone-owners.

Sources in Webel said the trial run has already started. All FIRs will be computerised to maintain a database and complainants will be given a copy of the charges filed by them. The police have instructed Webel to prepare a complete database of crimes recorded in the area. The database will also include all relevant information about eve-teasers, rowdies and domestic helps working in the area.

“The computerisation of the entire process will enable us to review and assess our mode of functioning and incorporate necessary changes to make it more effective,” said Chakraborty.

   

 
 
MANTRAS OF THE MORROW 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 14: 
It was touted as the “biggest B-plan contest” of its kind in the country. Involving hundreds of teams — with at least one of the members a student — the i2i Business Plan Competition brought together some of the best business brains from California to Calcutta, Boston to Bangalore.

The contest, organised by the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, and sponsored by Astral Systems Inc., and Atesto Technologies Inc., had aspirants sending in “viable business plans” on everything from “nursery education to managing telecom services”. The prizes to play for — Rs 10 lakh, Rs 6 lakh, and Rs 4 lakh for the top three.

In the final count, after three rounds, there were six of the best left in the field of 600-plus. On Sunday evening, it was time for the winners to take it all.

Hitting the jackpot was Booleo (“I decide”, in Greek). The team, anchored by Sunanda Narayan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management, had submitted a plan on “optimising of telecom procurements to enable better decision-making”.

I-Biz, with a student from IIM, Calcutta, Sailender Thakur, was concerned about “protecting intellectual property rights and safeguarding digital content”. In third place was Wapiti Technology, from IIM, Bangalore, which presented a plan on WAP-enabled technology.

The winners were finally picked by judges Glen Alexander of Equilant Venture Advisors, Sanjay Anandram of JumpStartUp, Shriram Chander of The Chatterjee Group, Sandipan Deb of Outlook, Charles Edward of Argus Capital, Arjun Malhotra of TechSpan, Rajiv Memani of Ernst & Young, investment consultant Ree Mitra, S.K. Mitra of Webel, Dave Mukherjee of Astral, Kiran Natkarni of Draper International, author Gita Piramal, and Roopen Roy of PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Powered by the theme ‘Today’s ideas are tomorrow’s mantras’, the B-plan contest which aims at bridging the gap “between the budding entrepreneurs of the new economy and venture capitalists”, promises to become an annual event.

“The response to the contest has been great, and I would like to associate myself with this event every year,” said Dave Mukherjee, who has already decided to play venture capitalist to Booleo and Wapiti.

   

 
 
4 ARRESTED FOR EXTORTION BID 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 14: 
Four criminals, Sheikh Ansar Ali, Sheikh Shamir Ali, Sheikh Bubai Ali and Dawood Ali, were arrested from Prince Rahimuddin Lane on Sunday for demanding money from the owner of a computer training centre at Lake Gardens.

Sushil Prasad, owner of Ontack Computer Centre, was in his chamber when Dawood Ali, 23, and Sheikh Bubai Ali, 20, barged in on Friday. They demanded Rs 50,000 as “protection money” and threatened to shut the centre if he did not pay up within two days.

Prasad informed Lake police station. A four-member team was formed on Saturday, comprising young officers. On the advice of the police, Prasad called the criminals to his chamber at 9 pm on Saturday. The policemen, posing as students, waited outside. A car screeched to a halt and four men with revolvers walked into Prasad’s chamber. The police surrounded them and took them into custody.

   

 
 
CROWBOROUGH HOTEL DONS POLITICAL MANTLE 
 
 
FROM ANIRBAN ROY
 
Shillong, Jan. 14: 
The opulent “banquet hall” of the “controversial” Crowborough Hotel, which was once billed as the “nerve-centre of ecstasy” has now been “unanimously selected” as the next venue of the Meghalaya Assembly session.

The government had “no option” but to shift the seat of legislature to the hotel complex as the 78-year-old Assembly building was reduced to ashes in a devastating fire on January 9.

The “controversial” Crowborough hotel, one of the biggest flops of the state tourism department, was acquired by the government in the middle of last month following an “out-of-the- court settlement” with M/s Astra Construction Private Limited for Rs 1.3 crore.

The state government drew flak over the “out-of-the-court settlement” after it was reported that the government had “cleared its dues.”

Chief minister E.K. Mawlong had to make the government’s position “clear” on the floor of the House on December 19, the last day of the winter session.

Immediately after acquiring the hotel, Mawlong visited the complex with his Cabinet colleagues and senior bureaucrats with the objective to convert the “controversial” hotel into a “high-tech” information technology (IT) park.

But the state government did not have enough time to implement and develop the “new technology” in Meghalaya. Though the government had initially thought of converting the state central library into a “makeshift” Assembly hall, the prospect was fraught with difficulties.

Several prominent personalities, including renowned columnist and Padmashree award winner, Patricia Mukhim, said the move would deprive the people of Shillong of their “sole public auditorium.

“It would be difficult for us to convert the banquet hall into a Assembly hall in such a short time,” said superintendent engineer of Public Works Department (Building) G.C. Roy.

The state PWD has been entrusted with the responsibility to “do the needful” to convert the half-done banquet hall into the makeshift Assembly hall.

Roy said they were trying to “do the needful” to expedite renovation work . “We will go all out to complete work as per requirements,” he said. The budget session is scheduled for the second week of March.

Speaker E.D. Marak yesterday said there were suggestions from different quarters, even from the legislators to host the budget session in March for a “shorter duration,” may be for a week. He said the monsoon session could be held for a “longer” spell in July when things were sorted out.

   

 
 
MAJULI TO HOST MEET 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Jan. 14: 
Conservationists and archaeologists from all over the country are converging at Majuli to attend a five-daylong convention on heritage conservation in the world’s biggest river island and the nerve-centre of Sattriya culture.

The convention, organised by the Majuli Island Protection and Development Council, will be held at Majuli College from January 16 to 20. It will focus on the rich cultural glory of the river island.

The meet is being organised with support from the Bhopal-based Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya in association with the department of cultural affairs.

   
 

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