After the heat, the dust
Mumbai twist to fake note haul
Dacoits with Park Street ‘design’ held after chase
Student’s body found
Some wipe it off, some leave it on
Six dots add dash to the lives of those in the dark
Dampener for Tramjatra
New order on college posts
Shift signal for hazardous units
48-hour bandh over killing

Calcutta, Feb. 21 : 
A dust storm followed by rain and hail brought down the temperature by 6 degrees Celsius on Wednesday evening. But it was not the first nor’wester of the season.

“The storm was the first of its kind this year, but it was not a kalboisakhi, as it came in from the south-west,” explained R.N. Goldar, director of the Alipore Meteorological Office.

The storm started around 5.20 pm at 51 kmph, sending Calcuttans scurrying for cover. Near the airport, the wind speed was 52 kmph.

But respite from the heat is temporary. “There may be rains on Thursday afternoon too, as there has been a heavy incursion of moisture over Calcutta from the Bay of Bengal over the past couple of days,” Goldar said.

At a government function on the Howrah side of Vidyasagar Setu, the dust storm forced chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to take cover behind the dais.

The pandal shook in the storm and organisers and the police huddled around Bhattacharjee and escorted him away. However, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, who was speaking on the dais, put up a brave front and continued.

Rainfall was the heaviest in south Calcutta. There was less rain in central and east Calcutta. North Calcutta received very little rain. Officials at the Alipore weather office, which recorded 5.8 mm of rain, said that the shower was accompanied by hail.

In many areas, overhead electric lines snapped in the storm and large parts of Jadavpur, Bansdroni and adjoining areas on the city’s southern fringes were plunged into darkness for hours.

The shower slowed down vehicles and threw home-bound traffic out of gear on the arterial roads in Tollygunge, Deshapran Sashmal Road, New Alipore, Behala, Gariahat, Ballygunge and Naktala. Traffic snarls continued even after the rains stopped at 6 pm.

According to fire-brigade personnel, a tree fell on a car on Wood Street. The two passengers, who had pulled up, waiting for the storm to blow over, were trapped inside. “Both of them were rescued,” said a fire brigade official.

The rain brought the temperature down from 28.5 degrees Celsius to 21.5 degrees. The weatherman said the rain would bring down early morning temperature to 18 degrees, against an earlier forecast of 21.

Officials said an anti-cyclonic circulation has been prevailing over the central Bay of Bengal. Under its influence, there has been a heavy inflow of moist air over Calcutta.

“A trough of low pressure extending from Telengana to Jharkhand has been created, which is helping to bring in the moisture,” said Goldar.


Calcutta, Feb. 21 : 
The arrest of businessman Parimal Dey on Wednesday threatens to blow the lid off a major inter-state counterfeit racket thriving in the city. The currency notes are, apparently, printed in Kathmandu, Karachi and Lucknow, and distributed all over the country.

Preliminary investigations revealed that several bank officers were involved in producing fake Indian currency worth several thousands of rupees “to destabilise the economy”. Police are already on the trail of at least one bank manager.

Sleuths of the special cell investigating the racket named Aslam Khan and Tito Mondal as “middlemen”, who would pass on the fake currency notes to city businessmen for a fee. They also said that Usman Ali and Harish Patel from Bandra, in Mumbai, had arrived in Calcutta last week with a huge stash of fake currency. They were holed up in a Sudder Street hotel, from where they managed to exchange the fake notes with genuine ones through their contacts in the city.

All relevant information about Ali and Patel has been passed on to Mumbai’s joint commissioner, crime, D. Shivananda.

Dey, an inter-state dealer in food items, had gone to a bank on AJC Bose Road on Wednesday afternoon to deposit the money.

While counting the notes, the man at the counter found them “a trifle too thick’’.

He took them to the chief cashier, who checked the Reserve Bank of India numbers and government labels on the notes and found “a lot of discrepancies”.

The numbers on 30 hundred-rupee notes were the same, and the government seal was missing from several others.

The chief cashier alerted the bank’s manager and informed the Shakespeare Sarani thana. Police officers arrested Dey, and seized the currency notes.

Deputy commissioner of police, south, Ranjit Pachnanda, who interrogated Dey for over two hours, said he had provided some vital leads.

The police have issued a warning to all city bankers to be on the lookout for fake currency notes. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. We suspect that a large number of fake notes are in circulation in the city. We hope bankers will co-operate with us and help us bust the racket,’’ Pachnanda said.


Calcutta, Feb. 21 : 
Six goons were arrested after a dramatic car chase in the dead of the night on Tuesday. A large quantity of arms and ammunition was recovered from them.

The police also discovered the detailed sketch of a businessman’s house on Park Street, including the exact place where valuables were kept, and entry and exit points. “From the meticulous sketch, it’s quite apparent that the gang was ready to loot the house,” said deputy commissioner of police, south, Ranjit Pachnanda. Police believe they had been helped by “an insider” to prepare the map.

A Maruti van speeding along Red Road drew the attention of a police patrol on Tuesday night. When the van took a sharp turn and sped away, the police vehicle pursued it.

Another police patrol, alerted by their counterparts, closed in on the fleeing vehicle from the Eden Gardens end. With the police closing in, the driver of the Maruti van lost control and rammed against the pavement near Raj Bhavan.

Investigations revealed that three members of the inter-district gang were from Domjur, in Howrah, while the rest were from Bishnupur, in South 24-Parganas.

Zia-ur-Rehman of Domjur was leading the gang members, who were carrying two swords, four revolvers, and a bagful of ammunition.


Calcutta, Feb. 21 : 
A 21-year-old computer student from Assam, Pijush Karwa, was found dead in Paramount apartments, on Ballygunge Circular Road, early on Wednesday. Police are yet to ascertain the cause of death.

Pijush’s body was found in the ground-floor toilet of the five-storeyed building by watchman Mohammad Ranjan. It bore a deep injury mark on the forehead and blood oozed out of his nose and mouth.

City detective chief Banibrata Basu said the incident took place around 3.15 am. “Pijush was staying in his maternal uncle’s third-floor flat for the past nine months and was suffering from chicken pox. He came here from Nowgong and was studying computers,” said Basu.

Mahendra Chandok, Pijush’s uncle, told the police that he rushed to the balcony when he saw Pijush was not in his bed. Finding the sliding-glass of the window open and a rope hanging, he raised an alarm.


Calcutta, Feb. 21 : 
Yesterday’s mileage-hungry, multi-crore companies are now becoming tomorrow’s harbingers for a better life in the city. Products and names on city walls are being replaced by messages with a social purpose.

But even this move will not be exempt from the controls of the civic authorities, who will charge a visual tax from the companies and agencies painting the walls if the messages are sponsored.

The tables turned after Metro had pointed out how several companies were brazenly defacing the walls of Calcutta for their gain, flouting laws or claiming ignorance about them, and not taking permission of the owners. The reports, backed with pictures, have made some of the companies change their approach. The case study here concerns the China Wall-like boundary of Tollygunge Club.

But while the private sector’s conscience has been pricked, the CMC, as the guardian of the city, is yet to draw up a list of walls with commercial graffiti on them. The CMC has, however, decided what to do afterwards. “More as a deterrent, we have written to the ad agencies, as well as the companies whose names or products have been painted, and claim an annual viewers’ tax at the rate of Rs 15 per sq ft,” said Mala Roy, member, mayor-in-council conservancy, who has additional charge of outdoor advertising. “The companies will be served notices and asked to apologise to the owners of the walls, clean them within a week, as well as pay compensation for defacing them,” she said on Wednesday. The list of companies will be completed by March.

The first to respond to the report was Grasim Cement, which whitewashed the portion of the wall they had used.

Then, following last Friday’s report, IDCOL, the Orissa government cement company, made amends by not just cleaning up the wall but even leaving a small message: “Keep Calcutta clean.”

“Their zonal manager, R.N. Pathi, himself met us the very evening the report came out,” said Arunava Chakraborty, a member of the Club’s managing committee. “He expressed regret for having used the wall for advertising his company’s product. He asked us to accompany him to the spot and whether a message with a social cause could be written. We thanked him and felt enthused that the companies were reacting positively.”

Soon after, a senior official of another company, Mico, also held discussions with the Club’s authorities. He, too, offered apologies and arranged to whitewash the stretch of the wall his company had used. “But it will have to be repainted to suit the owners,” said A. Chatterjee, senior manager of Mico.

Videocon, however, is yet to act. It has neither approached the Club authorities, nor has it removed its unauthorised graffiti. Contacted, the company’s publicity manager Biswajit Bhattacharya said he was surprised that a wall in the city had been painted with his firm’s logo. “We do so in the rural towns and even pay owners compensation,” he said.

“I have initiated an inquiry and asked the agency engaged by us for an explanation. Their report is due on Thursday. We are aware of the CMC rules; it’s a mystery how the painting was done.” He vouched that nowhere else in the CMC area would anyone find a Videocon graffiti.


Calcutta, Feb. 21 : 
Six dots. In 63 different combinations. That is what the entire Braille alphabet is made up of.

The students of Modern High School took it upon themselves to master those six dots. Since August 2001, around 40 members of the Community Service Club of the school have stayed back after class to learn how to read and write Braille. The aim: To create learning tools, both books and audio-cassettes, for visually-challenged students.

Last year, Sukanti Majumdar of the West Bengal Blind Persons’ Association approached the school on Syed Amir Ali Avenue for help. An exhibition was held at the school with various learning aids and tools used by the blind — books, maps and even chess boards.

Disabled was a word the girls at Modern High quickly erased from their vocabulary. “Differently abled” is how they describe the sightless. And they decided that it was about time they did something to pitch in. “In India, there are so many blind people, but there are no educational facilities for them,” explains Rachna, Braille slate in hand.

The members of the club stay back on Wednesday afternoons, when Majumdar comes to teach them Braille. A clipboard with grooves and a guide is what they use to practise the new language they are learning. They poke a series of dots through chart paper with stylers. The biggest challenge: Braille is written right to left, so that when the paper is flipped over, it is possible to read the words from left to right by feeling the tiny impressions.

The West Bengal Blind Persons’ Association has three schools for the visually challenged, and very few resources. “We do not even have a Braille printing press,” says Majumdar. The girls have transcribed one course book for them already. “When they are more proficient, they have plans to work on a few more,” explains Sukanya Law, teacher and one of the supervisors of the club.

For Mansi, the exhibition was the biggest inspiration she could have asked for. “It is so amazing to watch them manage to do everything on their own,” she exclaims, eyes glowing. “I think I would like to learn vernacular Braille as well and take this up as a career.”

Apart from writing, the girls raised money to buy blank cassettes and created a few audio learning aids. And while Class V and VI students suggest an “audio cassette series of Harry Potter”, they have to stick to the basics, because it is a long, painstaking and expensive project.

A 3-D world map is on display in the room they work in. On chart paper, they have zinc-oxide and glue to create mountains, sand to denote the deserts, and twine to outline the continents.

This will be a long-term programme for the club, with more and more students getting involved, but it has taken up a few other tasks. “The girls raised a roomful of old clothes for bustee dwellers in Beleghata, who lost everything in the fire a few months ago,” recalls Rina Bothra, another club supervisor.

Apart from the Community Service Club, the school also has a nature club, a Spic Macay chapter, a speech and drama club, an active Guides group, amongst others. Extra-curricular activities, according to school policy, is divided into various categories: communication skills, environmental awareness, appreciation of performing and visual arts and science and technology.


Calcutta, Feb. 21 : 
Tramjatra, a temporary art event organised by artists and activists from Melbourne to bring the Australian city closer to Calcutta, got off to a colourful start from the Esplanade tram depot on a bright Wednesday afternoon. As in this city, trams are an endangered mode of transport down under too, Melbourne being the only city to retain them.

But a nor’wester that broke loose over the city about four hours later, wreaked havoc on the structures and panels erected for the show, and turned the bright red lanterns and bunting hanging from above into wet rags.

At 1 pm, the sky never indicated what the weather gods had in mind. Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty flagged off the exhibition tram, smartly painted green and yellow, its flanks covered with canvases on which artists and schoolchildren had left their imprint.

Large pats showing local men and women travelling by tram were displayed. A tram shelter, used as a bus stop now, was turned into an unlikely gallery. There, panels depicting imaginary tram tracks that looked like a cross between a map and graffiti were exhibited.

The ground was a splash of red and green abir. An angular plywood structure was constructed in a barren patch under a tree.

A sizeable crowd gathered around the dais as Subhash Chakraborty stood up to make his speech.

The gathering became a mela as urchins and the lemon drops and popsicle-sellers joined the crowd. Nobody seemed to mind the large puddles left behind by men who relieve themselves in public.

As the sun blazed, Subhas Chakraborty congratulated Michael Douglas, curator and producer of Tramjatra, and Roberto D’Andrea, a Melbourne tram conductor known for his antics, and Debashish Bhattacharyya, Calcutta tramways activist, for organising the event.

He said he wanted to extend the tramways network and modernise the cars. An American company had done the survey and a Rs 500-crore pilot project would be launched, perhaps from Esplanade to Thakurpukur. The visiting Australian and Indian cricket teams will be treated to tram rides. But it should be a self-sustaining project.

The exhibition tram trundled all the way to the Kidderpore depot and back along Calcutta’s most picturesque route.

Inside were Melbourne artists Lisa Young, the colourful Mark Misic, Amanda King, Suzi Attiwill, architect James Legge and a host of other students and visitors. Patuas Dukhushyam Chitrakar and his sons and Swarna Chitrakar were from Midnapore, and from Calcutta, the participants were artist Jayashree Chakrabarty, designer Jogi Panghaal, and filmmaker Mahadeb Shi. Baul Kartik Das sang and Roberto clowned all the while.

The remains of the exhibition will be put together once again and it will continue till March 24.


Calcutta, Feb. 21 : 
The government has decided to de-reserve more than 600 posts of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe teachers lying vacant for many years in nearly 200 colleges, 50 of which are located in the city.

The decision follows non-availability of SC and ST candidates for the posts in the city and in the districts. The government will recruit candidates from the general category to fill the vacant posts.

This has caught the academic circles by surprise, as the education department has never resorted to such a practice. However, the colleges where posts are vacant have sought permission from the SC and ST welfare department, as per rules.

Officials said 600 posts are vacant, even after accommodating all suitable candidates from the SC and ST categories. “But now, we are left with no option but to choose candidates from the general category,” said Ajit Kumar Banik, chairman of the West Bengal College Service Commission. This is the sole state-level agency to recruit teachers to colleges.

Admitting that academic activity in colleges was being affected due to shortage of staff, Banik said the stop-gap arrangement would help the department concerned tide over the immediate crisis. He, however, maintained that the panel would recruit SC and ST candidates whenever they are available, putting a lid on this temporary measure.

Officials in the education department confirmed that permission for de-reservation will be granted only after proper verification of requirement of teachers in colleges. They said nearly 200 colleges have already approached the commission for filling up vacant posts on an emergency basis.

“We are awaiting the government’s order and will start preparing the panel as soon as we get it,” Banik said. Officials attached to SC and ST department said permission would be granted to the colleges depending on their requirement. If it is found that a college does not have a single teacher for a particular subject, then permission can be granted for choosing candidates from the general category.


Calcutta, Feb. 21 : 
The state government is considering a relocation of hazardous factories to reduce air and water pollution within the Calcutta Municipal Corporation area.

In a reply to a question tabled by Samajwadi Party legislator Brahmamoy Nanda, state environment minister Manab Mukherjee said in the Assembly on Wednesday that 20 categories of industries have been identified by the environment department as major polluters . A process of identifying all the units in the city was in progress, he said.

Mukherjee’s statement comes within a week of chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s comments on the same issue. While inaugurating a seminar on environment-related issues, Bhattacharjee had said that harmful industries were being shifted out of the city’s residential areas.

The environment department and the cottage and small-scale industries directorate have been jointly conducting a survey to identify small but hazardous units located in the city. Mukherjee said his department was also drawing up maps to demarcate the polluting units within the city’s peripheries.

The maps, which will show the location of all kinds of factories in the city, are being drawn for all the 141 wards of the Corporation.

Efforts are on to locate adequate land and provide infrastructure for the units to be relocated, Mukherjee added. The factories will be shifted in the same manner as the tanneries in the city were shifted to a complex near Bantala, in South 24-Parganas.

The government is building up a consensus on the issue. Mukherjee said the government was in touch with environment experts as well as the associations of industries in this matter.

Mukherjee said the process of shifting and setting up of units in the new areas should be in accordance with the norms of the state pollution control board. The norms ensure safety of the people living around the units and those working in them too, he said.


Agartala, Feb. 21: 
The Tripura PCC has called a 48-hour bandh from tomorrow morning in protest against the murder of party MLA Madhusudan Saha. The 35-year-old legislator was shot dead by unidentified gunmen near his residence on Tuesday night.

PCC members decided to call the bandh at an emergency meeting held this morning at the Congress Bhavan here.

Talking to newspersons here today, PCC president Birajit Sinha and former chief minister Samir Ranjan Barman accused the CPM of killing Saha, terming it as premeditated and cold-blooded. Demanding a CBI inquiry, Sinha said, “After what happened last night, the Left Front government should be immediately dismissed.”

A delegation of senior Congress leaders will also meet Governor Lt. Gen. (retd.) Krishna Mohan Seth to apprise him of the situation. Barman said even elected representatives of people in the state had no security and demanded more security for all of them.

Saha’s body was taken home after a post mortem this morning. He was later cremated at the Battala crematorium. A huge procession accompanied Saha’s cortege.

The pall-bearing procession stopped at the Assembly premises, where Speaker Jiten Sarkar laid wreaths on the body, before converging at the crematorium.

Police are still clueless about Saha’s assassins, who pulled off the “professionally-planned and executed murder”.

Officer in-charge of East Agartala police station Ajay Mazumder said the case was being investigated with the seriousness it deserved. However, no arrest has been made so far.

According to police sources, Saha, a dare devil, refused security guards provided to him by the government and often moved about alone.

Sources close to Saha said an unidentified man had approached him for financial assistance around 6.30 pm yesterday while he was playing carom. Saha reportedly asked the man to come after a while. The man showed up again nearly 40 minutes later. This time he pulled out his .9 mm revolver and fired at Saha, who took three bullets in his head and four on his chest. Another bullet pierced his wrist.

The assassin, apparently a professional killer, walked away with his accomplices lurking nearby. Sources said street lights went off during the incident and returned after about 10 minutes of the killing. “We do not rule out the involvement of hired assassins,” a police official said.


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