Mother courage battles goons
Fog at dawn cuts visibility down to zero
Reparation for sex harassment
CA topper thrilled but westward bound
Micro-organisms choke Palta filters
An author with a past looks back
Builders vow to go by the book
A little bit of magic in Lapierre’s city
Relief truck for quake-hit
Naga govt prunes Plan

Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
Anima Karmakar on Tuesday night braved an attack by a gang of dacoits and chased them away. The goons beat the housewife repeatedly on the head with revolver butts but could not get past her.

Anima later admitted that she had been inspired by the film she was watching on television, about a wronged woman on the warpath, when the armed men burst into her Regent Park apartment on Tuesday night.

“It was around 9 pm and I was watching a film on television when suddenly there was a knock on the door,” said 52-year-old Anima, nursing a wound on her head, a day after the incident.

She was home alone that night, with her husband away at a friend’s and her son visiting relatives in Krishnagar.

“At first I thought my husband had returned, but just to cross-check, I called out,” she said. “Initially, there was no response but then, someone shouted from outside asking me to open the door.”

Anima did not recognise the voice, so she peered through a window and found three young men standing outside. By this time, they had started threatening her with “dire consequences” if she did not open the door.

“I told them to get lost,” said Anima. “But when they persisted, I thought — they are only kids, let me open the door and see what they want.”

As soon as the door was unlocked, the three stormed in, one of them brandishing a revolver.

Shutting the door behind them, they pushed her into the drawing room and demanded money. “I was amazed,” said an agitated Anima. “They were my son’s age and had the temerity to misbehave with me. I started shouting at them.”

But the “boys”, aged about 20 to 22 years, according to Anima, were in no mood to relent. One of them then hit her with his revolver butt on her forehead.

“This really got me mad,” Anima said. “Though my head was spinning and my wound was bleeding profusely, I fought back.”

She caught the one with the revolver by the scruff of his neck, swung him around and flung him “at a distance of at least five feet”.

This frightened the others and with neighbours alerted by the commotion, the three decided to take to their heels.

Accompanied by neighbours, who administered first aid, Anima went to Regent Park police station and lodged a general diary (GD number 1736; dated 30.1.2001) at around 10 pm.

Sandhya Rudra, a neighbour, regrets that they had not arrived earlier at Anima’s apartment. “By the time we reached, we saw the three running away,” she said.

The inspector in charge of the police station, Chandan Niyogi, said: “Thursday’s attack on the Karmakar house is under investigation.”


Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
This couldn’t possibly be Brett Lee bowling, wondered a startled Amit Dhar, as ball after ball whizzed past him, before he could even spot them, during morning nets on the Lake grounds early on Wednesday.

But stranger things were happening to Kuldip Singh, an expert driver on his way to a game of tennis in a south Calcutta club. Taking sharp turns on the empty roads, he twice climbed on to the kerbs, once barely missing a lamp post.

Amit and Kuldip were victims of the worst fog the city has seen in the past few years, which reduced visibility to almost zero in the early morning and brought trains and planes to a standstill.

“The fog was really bad this morning and this trend will continue for the next few days,” said Alipore Met office director R.N. Goldar on Wednesday. “Visibility was reduced to less than 100 metres throughout the city. This is something we have not seen in a long while.”

An index: it took nearly eight hours for the Puri Express to cover the stretch from Kharagpur to Howrah station. This distance is usually covered in one-fourth the time.

Goldar said Wednesday’s fog was unseasonal. “What we see at this time of the year is mist; what we got today was fog,” Goldar said. “While in a mist, the visibility is clear till at least one kilometre, in case of fog, because of the high moisture content in the air, visibility is much less.”

Weather officials said an “anti-cyclonic” circulation over the Bay of Bengal had blocked the cold and light North Wind, allowing the moisture-laden southern winds to play havoc over the area. “With the diluting factor gone, the heavy south winds caused the dense fog in the city and its surrounding areas,” an official said.

Wednesday’s fog developed in and around Calcutta at around 4 am and was at its worst between 5 am and 8 am. The weather office recorded “normal visibility” only at 10 am. By this time, of course, children had got late reaching school; flights had failed to take off and land; and long-distance and suburban trains were held up at various points.


Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
Seagull Bookstore on Wednesday paid Rs 60,000 and gave a regret letter drafted by Maitree, a women’s organisation, to its former employee who had brought charges of sexual harassment against the managing director of the bookstore in late 1999.

The woman lost her job in December 1999, soon after she made the allegation. She went to Swayam, another women’s organisation, before approaching Maitree. Meanwhile, Seagull had set up a committee to look into the charges. The first committee was dissolved. A second, chaired by Mahasweta Debi, was appointed. Its verdict went against the complainant. She then went to labour court and Maitree stepped up its agitation.

Maitree and Seagull continued their negotiations and, finally, the latter conceded both demands of the complainant. She said: “I feel vindicated. Money is not what matters most. I should have been reinstated even if I didn’t accept the job. I feel I have been able to further the cause of women.” Seagull was unwilling to talk over the phone.


Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
“I have achieved my goal,” says Amit Chaudhary, just 23. Having beaten back over a lakh examinees to top the chartered accountancy (CA) finals, one of the toughest all-India examinations around, the Calcutta boy sure has proven a point or two — to himself and to the accountancy fraternity at large.

“Students from the eastern region had not been making it to the merit list for the past few years. Amit’s performance will help re-establish Calcutta as a centre of academic excellence in the field of accountancy,” observed a senior official of the city branch of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India.

Amit, who scored 482 out of a total of 800 marks, is now keen to “go abroad for higher studies”. The results were posted on the Net last week. But it was made ‘official’ after the marksheets of the students reached the respective regional centres on Tuesday. The success rate in the examinations is less than 10 per cent, sources said.

Amit’s achievement is all the more creditable as he completed all three groups — foundation, intermediate and finals — in three years flat, with distinction. The eldest son of a businessman in Howrah, he passed out of Don Bosco School, Liluah, and completed his graduation with commerce from St Xavier’s College. He had bagged 86 per cent in both ICSE and ISC examinations.

“Though I come from a business background, I wanted to be a chartered accountant. I was very serious about my exams, and I am thrilled that the hard work has paid off,” smiles Amit.

The studious-looking young man is now busy preparing for one interview call after the other from leading multinationals. But he’s fixed on a “another degree from abroad”.

Amit is “hopeful” that his showing will “give candidates from Calcutta the confidence” they had been lacking over the past few years, when the top slots were, invariably, being bagged by students from Mumbai and Chennai.

“It’s a nice feeling, achieving an academic goal, but it’s also a reminder of all the work that remains to be done,” signs off the bespectacled young man.


Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
Calcutta is on the brink of a water crisis. Supply has been cut down drastically by about 10 million gallons a day as micro-organisms have choked the filter-beds at the Palta waterworks, said member, mayor-in-council (water supply), Sobhan Chatterjee.

The situation has been compounded with the 20-million-gallon, French-built, water treatment plant at Palta developing snags. It is unable to supply more than 10 million gallons, which is about half its normal capacity. Moreover, the quantity of filtered water produced by the Palta plant every day is being supplied to Salt Lake, taking the total deficit in the city to 30 million gallons.

The water supply network of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation produces 180 million gallons of filtered water a day. The CMC started supplying filtered water to Salt Lake in 1998.

“We came to know about the problem of micro-organisms only a couple of days ago. It cropped up when water samples were examined under electron microscopes in our laboratory at Palta,” said Chatterjee.

A senior engineer in the Palta waterworks said there are 88 filter-beds in Palta, producing 180 million gallons of water a day. “We are trying to combat the micro-organisms by pouring chlorine and copper sulphate solution in the unfiltered Hooghly water and sedimentation tanks before sending them to the filter-beds,” he said.

Chatterjee said this massive multiplication of micro-organisms in the river water often occurred during the pre-monsoon months, but this time, it has occurred during winter, when the water level in the Hooghly recedes. “It has taken us by surprise,” he added.

“Records say the problem caused by micro-organisms generally last for 15 to 20 days. The situation would have been better if the civic body had not been burdened with the load of supplying 10 million gallons of filtered water to Salt Lake every day,” said Chatterjee.

But engineers in the water supply department said the snag at the treatment plant was of a “highly technical” nature and could not be repaired immediately. “This plant is unfit for filtering the Hooghly water, which is highly turbid. Even if it is repaired, it will develop the same snags again,” an engineer said.

Consequently, there has been a fall in the water pressure in the city. The supply to household taps is delayed and stops before the slotted hours.


Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
Sunil Gangopadhyay took his audience down the streets of north Calcutta in the Nisith Ranjan Ray Memorial Lecture, 2000, organised by the Society for Preservation, Calcutta, on Wednesday evening. This is the first time the organisation has invited a litterateur instead of a historian to deliver the lecture.

Gangopadhyay said though he was born in an East Bengal hamlet, he was raised in north Calcutta. Even as a child, he used to be thrilled when he passed by the palaces concealed in the narrow streets of that part of the city, which was uncharted territory for those who lived in the fast-developing south. Later, as a private tutor, he gained access into many of these stately homes and saw for himself the dance halls chandeliers, statuary and majestic columns. After Partition, they became refugee colonies.

As his interest in history grew, he was able to trace Dual Avenue, though it didn’t exist any longer, and the graves of Toru Dutt and Aru Dutt, two of the most romantic literary figures.

In his novel, Sei Samay, he had tried to recreate the period popularly known as Bengal Renaissance, though he has grave doubts about whether it deserves that nomenclature at all. Had the religious reforms been far-reaching, fundamentalists would never have gained the upper hand today, he stressed.

Though Calcutta is by no means an ancient city, the sea change that it underwent soon after Job Charnock set foot here is dramatic enough to make it interesting. A settlement already existed there. Charnock had only hastened its growth. Gangopadhyay rounded off his lecture saying we can only know our future by becoming aware of our past.


Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
City Developers Forum (CDF) will help rebuild houses in the earthquake-hit areas of Gujarat, in association with other organisations in a non-profit venture, forum vice-president Dileep Singh Mehta said on Wednesday.

CDF, a member of Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI), is organising a four-day exhibition of homes and building projects — ‘Home Front 2001’ — from February 2 at Netaji Indoor Stadium. Gate sales will go to the Prime Minister’s relief fund. Besides, CDF is donating Rs 1 lakh to the quake-hit in Gujarat.

Mehta said that to finalise the plan for building homes in Gujarat, a meeting will be held with the Prime Minister in Delhi soon.

At Home Front 2001, CDF members will showcase their ongoing projects, those in the pipeline, as well as ready stock, comprising over 250 projects in and around Calcutta.

The show will bring customers face to face with builders, their products and innovations.

Mehta said: “CDF has adopted a code of conduct for its members, designed to inspire confidence of the buyer in the builder.” This code will be binding not only on the 183 members of the city body, but on ex-members as well.

A.B. Choudhury, structural engineer with M.N. Consultants Pvt Ltd, said: “Meticulous care should be taken while designing buildings. In Gujarat, so many people wouldn’t have lost their lives, had the builders adhered to stipulations.”

CDF’s Santosh Rungta said: “The exhibition will make people aware of the construction details of buildings or flats they are going to buy, since it’s a lifetime investment.”


Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
“When Dominiquedada comes to Udayan, everyone is happy,” beams 15-year-old Sukhdev. His was just one of the smiling faces at the home for children of leprosy sufferers at Barrackpore on Wednesday. For the 300 boys and girls came face-to-face with their dada, their “principle benefactor” Dominique Lapierre, after a year.

The broad grins are “vitamins” for the French novelist, who arrived in Calcutta with wife Dominique and a group of sponsors and mediapersons on Tuesday. Back in his city of joy, the city he is “married to”, Lapierre is “happy to see the progress made at Udayan”.

Founded in 1970 by Reverend James Stevens, Udayan was facing shutdown by the end of the decade, when the author stepped in. With the royalties from his novels, Udayan, “a magic place on the face of this earth”, was kept alive.

Visiting the home “once, sometimes twice, a year”, Lapierre is impressed with the changes. “There is now greater emphasis on English education. Violin and flute classes have been started as well,” he says, adjusting his hat. “And now with girls coming in, we have the chance to help out in a long-neglected sector in India,” he adds. Lapierre is also looking forward to “a new community hall” to be constructed on campus.

Sukhdev, who has lived at the home for the past five years, lost his mother when he was a child. His father is a beggar in Durgapur. “I want to become a doctor,” he says. “Here, I can study and I get food. And it is all because of Dominiquedada.”

After being greeted with garlands and drum beats, the visitors proceeded to the classrooms, to sit through a few lessons. Then, they took a tour of Nivedita Bhavan, the girls’ hostel constructed with funds raised by Australian skipper Steve Waugh.

Next came the programme the kids have been practising for months. Shaking a hip to Falguni Pathak’s Yaad Piya Ki Aane Lage, showing off newly-acquired skills at the violin, singing along to She’s Got the Whole World..., they pulled out all stops for dada and didi.

On Thursday, Lapierre will visit his floating clinic project in the Sundarbans. He is also scheduled to inaugurate a project for abandoned women near Uluberia, and a flood rehabilitation centre in the districts during his week-long stay in Bengal.


Calcutta, Jan. 31: 
The first of nearly a score of giant trucks, carrying relief material for the quake-hit people of Gujarat, on Wednesday rolled towards Ahmedabad after monks of Swaminarayan Temple blessed it at a brief puja at the temple’s eastern headquarters in Calcutta.

Divyamurtidas Swami, spokesman for Swaminarayan Temple, said they would send another two trucks on Thursday. One of the trucks will be loaded with tea.

The monks loaded the truck with blankets, clothes, medicines, including antibiotics, and polythene sheets. “We started collection from January 27. We have collected 300 blankets, which are being sent to Ahmedabad,” he said.

The spokesman said that Pramukh Swami Maharaj, head of the religious order guiding the temple, is now in Ahmedabad and coordinating the distribution process. “We have sent 6,000 volunteers to the affected areas. Another 14,000 have been sent to Ahmedabad. The standby volunteers will be deputed to the affected areas if necessary,” he added.

Donations are welcome at the temple on 61, Chakraberia Road (North), Calcutta-700 061.


Kohima, Jan. 31: 
Nagaland government has slashed non-priority state Plan expenditure by 50 per cent. This is the third financial year that the state has pruned approved Plan sizes.

The Cabinet recently reviewed the financial situation in the state and decided to slash expenditure to reduce the growing fiscal deficit. Disclosing this, state financial commissioner Lalthara said the cut will not affect the earmarked areas, loan components, salaries and grants-in-aid to public sector undertakings.

The Cabinet decided not to consider any additional expense by any department except for “unavoidable” increase in salary and law-and-order-related expenditure.

Non-plan budget cuts will be effected, wherever feasible, after reviewing the current year’s budget allocations. It will be reviewed jointly by the chief secretary, the finance commissioner and the state development commissioner.

The Cabinet also banned the purchase of new vehicles during the remaining part of the current financial year as well as during 2001-2002. Tours by ministers and officials, including personal secretaries and assistants, both within and outside the state, will be restricted to the “absolute minimum”. No minister or official will be allowed go outside the state without prior written permission of the controlling officer.

It was also decided that clearance of past financial liabilities will be considered only in those cases which have already been verified by the high-powered committee appointed by the state. The financial commissioner directed all administrative heads and heads of the departments to strictly adhere to the fiscal measures adopted by the Cabinet.

Governor’s plea: Governor Om Prakash Sharma has called for building a “solid ground of ethics and the revival of the motivating beliefs which have been developed over the years by the indigenous groups.”

Lauding the traditional value systems of “truth, togetherness, self effort and transparency,” Sharma urged the students community to resort to “collective conscientiousness,” which is not only the need of the hour but also the hallmark of the ancient societies.


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