Money no matter, we want water
Bangladeshi road-robber gang on the prowl
Singer heckled at soiree
Law takes its own course, across borders
Team to probe city quake hazards
Wanted trio walks into Behala police net
Students rally to fight air pollution
Twin crises at Science College
MP pledges Rs 50 lakh, Bow Barracks upbeat
More security to check extortion in Manipur

 
 
MONEY NO MATTER, WE WANT WATER 
 
 
BY SUVRO ROY
 
Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
Calcuttans are willing to pay as much as anyone else in any other city in India for improved water supply, but are sceptical about whether the civic authorities would be capable of delivering, says a joint survey by international organisations.

The study, by three US-based consultant teams and one Indian group, reveals that Calcuttans living in multi-storeyed buildings are willing to pay Rs 68 a month for improved water supply. Those in other houses are ready to pay Rs 44, while those in slums can pay as much as Rs 21 a month.

For better drainage and sewerage, they are willing to pay Rs 25, Rs 15 and Rs 10, respectively, provided the civic authorities carry out their part of the deal and are able to maintain the improvements.

Conducted since last June by US-based consultants Weston International, in association with Metcalf & Eddy, Philadelphia Suburban Corporation and STUP Consultants of India, the study confirms an existing belief: That willingness to pay is very little for the current state of supply.

The exercise was commissioned by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation as part of a feasibility study the World Bank requires before it sanctions funds for a multi-crore project to overhaul water supply, drainage and sewerage in the city. It was discussed threadbare at a workshop on Monday at the American Center.

Team members said on condition of anonymity that, after approaching several thousand households in the city proper and asking about willingness to pay (WTP) for water supply, a majority was doubtful whether the CMC would actually be able to deliver the goods.

Asked whether householders would discard their water purifiers once the quality of water improved, Bishwanath Goldar, consultant with Weston International for the WTP study, said the civic body must build a basic trust in the minds of the people.

The study will also help the civic authorities design the tariff on supply of filtered water and judge whether it is feasible to recover the cost of the multi-crore World Bank project.

Goldar, however, concludes that users were willing to pay for improved services. There was also a need for “cross-subsidisation” among households of different income groups and between households and bulk users in the industrial and commercial sectors. Those using more water and from the higher-income bracket would pay more to subsidise the economically weaker sections.

While carrying out a survey on water quality, the teams found that the most common complaints on water supply were:

Inadequate supply hours

Low pressure,

Quality bad, odorous and dirty

Mostly every household has a water purifier. Why pay more?

Inaugurating the workshop, mayor Subrata Mukherjee admitted the civic authorities’ lapses in supplying “quality” water in most areas of Calcutta. Municipal commissioner Debashis Som said public utility services were often looked upon as benevolent activity. “The aspect of quality has never been focused on and so people have not identified themselves with such schemes.”

   

 
 
BANGLADESHI ROAD-ROBBER GANG ON THE PROWL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
The next time someone tries to thumb a ride, Do Not Stop.

With five Bangladeshi criminals, including a woman, on the prowl, the police have urged Calcuttans to beware of hitch-hikers. The gang has struck several times in the past fortnight, hitching a ride, tranquillising passengers, robbing them, and sometimes even stealing the car.

According to the police, the cross-border goons, and their local associates, are using spray guns filled with chemicals to “blind” occupants of the car they target. “The chemical causes a severe burning sensation in the eyes that persists for about half an hour. That gives the gang enough time to rob the passengers and flee,” said deputy commissioner of police, south, Ranjit Pachnanda.

The Bangladeshi gang members and their “city-based associates’’ have already stolen three cars and held up around a dozen other vehicles on the EM Bypass, at Park Circus, Rashbehari Avenue and Red Road.

The five Bangladeshis have been identified as Kasim Khan and Niaz Ali from Kushtia, Abdul Ali Mondal and Meher Mondal from Chittagong, and Haleema Bibi from Jessore.

The lid was blown off the road-robber gang after some local goons, arrested on Sunday, confessed that they had been assisting the criminals from across the border. Sleuths posing as passengers trapped Mohammed Haru, Sumit Roy and Naseem Mondal of Bongaon, and Mohammed Shamin and Pradip Mullick of Nadia, after Haru hitched a ride in the police car from Victoria Memorial and whipped out a spray gun. Another police team picked up Shyamal Khan, Bishnu Agarwal and Arun Mukherjee. Khan and Mukherjee told interrogators about the Bangladeshi gang.

Investigations revealed the goons had entered the city in early January. They were staying in two hotels in the Sealdah area.

   

 
 
SINGER HECKLED AT SOIREE 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
The music nearly ended even before it had started. And the person whose voice was “stifled” by the incident was none other than Manna Dey.

On Sunday evening, Dey was heckled for over three hours and prevented from proceeding with his performance as over 200 people, denied admission to the over-packed G.D. Birla Sabhagar, insisted that they be let in before the first song could be sung.

At the centre of the controversy were the organisers, A. Sircar and Co, who had apparently issued more invitation cards than the 665-seater auditorium would hold.

Given Dey’s popularity, and the hype the function had received, very few card-holders stayed home on Sunday evening.

The result was pandemonium, with the auditorium authorities insisting that they would not allow even a single extra person to enter.

As those denied permission turned belligerent, Dey himself decided to intervene. But the agitated crowd was categorical. They clearly told him that unless they were allowed entry, they would not allow the concert to start “at any cost”.

As evening turned to night, and with the situation clearly spiralling out of control, the police had to be called in. First, the cops appealed to the crowd to return home.

When this did not get them the desired result, they decided to arrest two executive directors of the the company on charges of cheating. It was only after this that the crowd dispersed and the function could begin. “While we have started a case of cheating against the organisers, we are also investigating why they distributed invitations far in excess of the auditorium capacity,” said deputy commissioner of police (south), Ranjit Pachnanda.

Auditorium authorities insisted that letting in even one person in excess of capacity could lead to cancellation of their licence. “We never do this, as this is illegal and in contravention of all rules,” Sabhagar spokesman Samir Das said.

Dey, himself, was “stunned” by the incident. “I was shocked to find that nearly 200 music-lovers could not get entry into my programme. This was very sad, which is why I tried to intervene to sort out the matter. But I think the auditorium authorities, too, had their point,” he said.

A spokesperson of A. Sircar and Co, Sutapa Chatterjee, said the incident was “unfortunate” but refused to comment on it any further. “We shall release an official statement on Tuesday,” she said.

   

 
 
LAW TAKES ITS OWN COURSE, ACROSS BORDERS 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
After companies, it’s the turn of universities to go global. The city-based National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) is poised to open an “extension campus” in Dhaka, following a “formal proposal” from Bangladesh’s attorney-general and chairman of the country’s Bar Council, Mohammed-ul-Islam.

“To ensure better quality of legal education in the country, we are indeed keen to have an extension campus of NUJS here. The curriculum and syllabus to be followed will be the same as the parent institution,” confirmed Amir-ul-Islam, vice-chairman of the Bangladesh Bar Council, over telephone, from Dhaka. Land has already been allotted by the Bangladesh government and construction work started.

The proposal — “first of its kind” to be received by an academic institution in the country — came as a “pleasant surprise” last November to the law school in Salt Lake.

“The proposal also included a letter from the chief justice of Bangladesh to his Indian counterpart, who is also the chairman of the NUJS executive council. It’s a matter of great pride for an institute which is in its first year,” said N.R. Madhava Menon, vice-chancellor of NUJS.

The executive council of NUJS, which met in Calcutta on January 27 to discuss the issue, has ‘in principle’ cleared the proposal of extending academic service to a friendly neighbouring country.

“But in view of the shortage of faculties and the formalities to be cleared by the West Bengal government and the Union external affairs ministry, we are not able to give any time-frame for the project, yet,” added Menon.

The executive council has decided that till the extension campus comes up in Dhaka, preference will be given to students from Bangladesh in the entrance examination for NUJS, Calcutta, training programmes for faculty members from Bangladesh will be conducted regularly, and the curriculum and teaching materials will be shared.

Though the economics of the cross-country project is yet to be finalised, Menon was clear that “We only want the cost to be reimbursed, we are not interested in making profits.”

After all, he pointed out, this was a prestige project which would contribute to better academic co-operation in the region.

   

 
 
TEAM TO PROBE CITY QUAKE HAZARDS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
The government on Monday decided to form a three-member team of experts to probe whether the city faces a hazard from high winds and earthquakes.

The team, comprising CMDA geophysicist Tapas Ghatak, former CMC building department chief Manoj Majumdar and Amitava Chatterjee of the state planning board, will finish its study in three months.

The team has been asked to visit Gujarat and gather information about what structural flaws led the buildings to collapse there. They will also confer with Central Building Institute in Roorkee to arrive at possible recommendations for Calcutta’s safety.

Even though Calcutta is much less prone to earthquakes than states like Gujarat, the state government has decided to enforce building laws and is working towards enacting stricter ones.

State municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharya met the municipal commissioners of Howrah and Calcutta, his departmental secretary and senior officials of CMDA to take stock of the situation.

The meeting underscored the necessity to prevent unnecessary drawing of underground water in the city which could cause subsidence. Bhattacharya pointed out that about nine wards in south Calcutta had a low ground-water level, leaving them open to damage in the event of an earthquake.

“The CMDA had done a geo-morphological study of the city and gave the report to the Corporation about a year ago,” the minister said. A similar study would be done for Howrah, he said.

The CMDA is also working on a load-bearing capacity map for the city. Unauthorised roof-top structures, like gardens, could be dangerous for the residents, the minister warned.

All civic bodies will be asked to oversee the construction of schools, hospitals, overhead tanks and power stations..

The government has also decided to ask Central and state government agencies to get building plans cleared from the civic bodies before beginning construction. “While the state has begun to seek sanction from the municipal bodies only recently, the Central government does not do so,” Bhattacharya pointed out.

The state had updated building rules after the 1996 Shivalik collapse. But the rules are also not enforced. “We want to make any breach of building rules a cognisable offence and will not spare the government officials who are involved in any irregularity,” the minister said.

   

 
 
WANTED TRIO WALKS INTO BEHALA POLICE NET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
Three criminals were arrested at Dharmatala Bazaar, in Behala, on Monday for involvement in a number of cases of extortion, snatching and murder. A revolver was impounded in the raid.

A tip-off led the officer-in-charge of Behala police station and five of his men to lay a trap for the criminals at Dharmatala Bazaar. The arrested were identified as Pintu Mondal, Raju Roy and Biman Dutta, all in their twenties.

Subir Chatterjee, OC of Behala police station, said: “ We had been on the look-out for the three for quite some time. Today, at about 10.30 am, we were told they were coming to Dharmatala Bazaar. I disguised myself and a few members of my force and went to the spot. The trio walked into our trap and could not flee because the market was crowded with shoppers”.

Pintu and Raju are wanted in more than dozen cases of extortion, murder and snatching. Earlier, they had been partners in crime. Biman, who joined them later, is wanted in more than six cases of extortion and murder.

The three operate mainly in the Adarsha Nagar, B.G. Press Colony, Biren Roy Road (West) and M.G. Road areas, where multi-storeyed buildings are coming up.

Bijon Roy, a resident of Adarsha Nagar, said: “The trio had made life hell for us. They threatened every one who came to live here. They would extract money from builders, promoters and even ordinary citizens like us. The police could not arrest them because they were protected by local political leaders. Of late, they had fallen out with their patrons, so the arrests could be made.”

   

 
 
STUDENTS RALLY TO FIGHT AIR POLLUTION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
The students of nearly eight English-medium schools, including Rose Bud School and Don Bosco, Liluah, are up in arms against the polluting factories in the locality. Nearly 700 students brought out an anti-pollution rally and submitted a memorandum to Bally Municipality.

“We have urged the authorities to take action against factories violating the Pollution Control Board norms,” said Father Dominic Kachira, principal of Don Bosco, Liluah. “We will bring out a bigger procession if the municipality does not act”, he added.

Justice Bhagabati Prosad Banerjee, during a recent visit to the school, expressed his concern at “the growing rate of pollution in Liluah, where at least 15 educational institutions are located”.

“I have promised to look into the matter”, said Kesto Chandra Hazra, municipality chairman.

   

 
 
TWIN CRISES AT SCIENCE COLLEGE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
Research activities in a number of departments at Calcutta University’s Rajabazar Science College have been paralysed due to lack of water and gas supply to the laboratories. Water supply has been suspended to more than 30 laboratories on the campus since last month. Supply of gas was stopped as most of the underground pipelines have eroded and are lying choked for several months.

The departments of applied chemistry, chemical engineering and chemical technology are the worst affected. More than 500 students, scholars and teachers have been inconvenienced due to the acute water crisis. Students of these departments require a continuous supply of water and gas as both are essential components for chemical experiments and analyses.

Students said that they practically sit idle in the laboratories for most of the time every day due to the non-availability of gas and water. In case of an emergency, they have to use electric heaters for warming the samples. “We find it difficult to conduct experiments with heaters as we cannot control the flow of heat,” a student said.

Teachers complained that nothing had been done to restore supply, despite several requests to the authorities. “We had informed the authorities verbally several times in the past when the condition of the tanks was not so bad. The situation is worse at present,” said A. Banerjee, a teacher of polymer science.

“We will have to resort to agitation programmes if the authorities continue to turn a blind eye to our problem,” said a scholar of the department of chemical technology.

University sources said water supply in the laboratories has been affected mainly because the reservoirs of all the buildings housing the departments have eroded. The gas supply has been hit because of poor maintenance of the underground pipelines.

M.K. Sengupta, secretary of the science college, said the authorities were aware of the problem. “We have started work for replacing the tanks and hope to restore normal supply soon. Steps are also being taken to repair the gas connections,” Sengupta said.

   

 
 
MP PLEDGES RS 50 LAKH, BOW BARRACKS UPBEAT 
 
 
BY MADHUSHREE C. BHOWMIK
 
Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
The 82-year-old Bow Barracks, one of Calcutta Improvement Trust’s oldest housing complexes, is set to receive a major facelift, thanks to the Anglo Indian MP in the Lok Sabha, Dr Beatrix D’Souza. She has pledged Rs 50 lakh from her Rs 2-crore MP’s Local Area Development fund after visiting the dilapidated barracks on Sunday.

The money, to be channelled through the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, will be used for upgrading basic infrastructure like roads, electricity and drainage, besides setting up a recreation hall-cum-multi gym complex.

D’Souza’s visit comes in the wake of a series of income-generating, community-based endeavours by the residents of the barracks, who have been staving off attempts by the CIT to evict them for the past two decades. The local residents’ committee and a city-based NGO, Action Research for Conservation for Heritage, recently petitioned the MP, urging her to visit the barracks and lend a helping hand.

“I am impressed by the zeal of the Anglo-Indian community here, specially the youth, in preserving their culture and heritage,’’ said D’Souza, after visiting at least eight houses.

The mood in the barracks was upbeat, as residents thronged the streets to express their gratitude to the politico. “Now that she has promised Rs 50 lakh, CIT’s argument that the buildings are condemned is untenable. They will have to act,’’ said Roland Thomas, one of the brains behind the Bow Street regeneration project.

Expressing concern over the state of “drainage and general maintenance of the barracks,’’ D’Souza said her priority would be to beautify the area, as “building repair” was beyond her purview. “I want the entire project to be self-sustainable and economically viable, so that it provides avenues for income for the unemployed Anglo-Indian youth,’’ she added.

D’Souza plans to get in touch with the nodal agency in Chennai and start “moving things’’ by the end of next week, when she reaches Delhi. “It should not take more than two months for the construction to begin, provided I get the detailed plans by February 18,’’ she said.

Intach will also be involved, she said, so that the barracks can be declared a heritage site soon.

The Samata Party MP has also promised to take up the matter with local Trinamul Congress MP Sudip Bandopadhyay and state urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya.

   

 
 
MORE SECURITY TO CHECK EXTORTION IN MANIPUR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, Feb. 5: 
The Manipur government has made elaborate security arrangements to prevent frequent extortion by militants from businessmen as well as government officials.

While CRPF personnel and policewomen are stationed at all state government offices, commandos in plain clothes have been deployed at major commercial centres of Imphal.

This is a part of the 26-point action plan submitted by chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh to Union home minister L.K. Advani in New Delhi on January 6.

Sources said the Union home ministry has agreed to send two additional battalions of CRPF for counter-insurgency operations in the state.

As part of the new security arrangements, one deputy inspector-general of police has been posted in each district. However, Imphal West and Imphal East districts are under a single DIG, the sources added.

The joint interrogation centre has been shifted from the Imphal West district police headquarters to the Indian Reserve Battalion’s 11 battalion camp inside Kangla Fort.

Official sources said nearly 500 police commandos in plain clothes but armed with sophisticated weapons were deployed at major commercial centres here.

All phone calls of businessmen, head of government departments and cashiers were being monitored to check any transaction with militants and extortion demands, the sources added.

The movements of salesmen and those concerned with money transaction of shops and business establishments are also kept under vigil.

Assam Rifles troops have started random frisking of visitors and frequent checking at all government offices to stop infiltration by underground elements.

Sources said similar exercises have been conducted in all district headquarters. Progress of the new measures would be reviewed by senior security officials.

Police post torched

Unidentified militants torched an unmanned security post and exploded bombs on the compound of an unoccupied security post at Irilbung in Imphal East district last night.

Official sources said the bombs planted by unidentified militants went off at midnight last night causing panic among the people.

Sources said the security post, earlier occupied by the CRPF and India Reserve Battalion, was also set ablaze. Some utensils were destroyed.

   
 

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