Mercury dips to sudden squall
Man stabbed to death with scissors
Medicare mess prompts Shah intervention
Jilted lover knifes teenager, himself
A bridge too far for Dalhousie buses
Club culture for every wallet
Private loan to boost water supply network
NGO project for arsenic check
The Refuge is 100, alive but battling to breathe
Tripura to cut costs, mop up revenue

Calcutta, March 5: 
It was a Monday of a gentle breeze and light drizzle. The mercury dropped by 5.4 degrees Celsius, as wind speeds of about 20 kmph were recorded and relative humidity rose to 90 per cent.

The weatherman says rains, accompanied by strong winds and thunder, are likely to lash the city over the next 36 hours. A trough of low pressure, from Telengana to Chhattisgarh, developed into a cyclonic circulation over West Bengal and Orissa early on Monday.

Extending up to 2.1 km above sea level, it drew in moisture-laden winds from the Bay of Bengal, leading to the formation of a cloud cover over Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal.

R.N. Goldar, director of the Meteorological Office at Alipore, said that this was a “temporary” phenomenon. “We are watching the situation closely,” he added. The weather office recorded 25 degrees Celsius at 11.30 am on Monday, against 30.4 degrees recorded around the same time on Sunday.

“This is not a depression, as the phenomenon did not originate over the sea. Layers of stratocumulus, cumulus and altocumulus clouds — about half-a-km thick — formed about 3 km over land since early morning. Then, the wind began to blow and the temperature dipped,” a weather official explained.

This is the second such development over the past 12 days, with wet winds causing the temperature to plummet. A dust storm, with wind speed touching 50 kmph, followed by rain and hail, had brought the mercury down by 6 degrees Celsius on the evening of February 21.

On Monday, students headed for examination halls were inconvenienced as there were traffic snarls at several points. Gariahat, dug up for work on the flyover, turned into a pedestrians’ nightmare. The slushy stretch at Esplanade was no better.

“The winter is over and the pre-monsoon period has just begun and this kind of fluctuation in the weather is normal... As we approach April, we enter the period of nor’westers, when storm and thundershowers are expected,” the official added.

Monday’s ‘phenomenon’ caused rainfall throughout Bengal. The north Bengal districts, too, experienced a nagging drizzle.

“As the situation stands now, if the cyclonic circulation weakens, the weather might improve on Tuesday. However, if the cyclonic circulation in the upper air persists, moisture will continue to rush in from the sea. The sky will remain cloudy, with occasional rain and thunder,” the Met office official concluded.


Calcutta, March 5: 
It was blood for blood in busy central Calcutta on Monday afternoon. First, a garment dealer was stabbed to death by a business associate. Then, in an attempted reprisal, the business associate’s brother was critically wounded by the garment dealer’s supporters.

On Monday afternoon, 42-year-old garment dealer Pervez Ahmed went over to laundry-owner Munna’s establishment on Ratu Sarkar Lane with a stack of clothes for washing and ironing. This was the usual practice. After taking delivery of the clean garments, Ahmed would proceed to his shop, where he would put them up for sale. Pervez had worked out a contract with Munna, which had been in place for several years.

But in the last few months, relations between the two had begun to sour. Munna felt he was being shortchanged, and Ahmed felt that Munna was doing a half-hearted job.

On Monday, around 1 in the afternoon, while taking delivery of a fresh set of garments, Pervez found fault with Munna’s work and scolded the laundry owner. This led to a verbal duel between the two. Finally, Munna lost his cool and, picking up a pair of scissors lying close at hand, stabbed Pervez twice in the temple.

Drawn by the sound of the quarrel, Pervez’s sister, who lives above the laundry, rushed down to find her brother sitting crouched on the street, clutching his head in pain. Munna was standing over him, gesturing menacingly.

Rushing to her brother’s aid, she tried to haul him up. But almost instantly, the garment dealer fell to the ground, senseless. Munna, meanwhile, downed his shop shutters and tried to flee.

A passerby caught hold of him, but Munna hit him and broke free. He disappeared into one of the bylanes of the area.

By then, other members of Pervez’s family arrived on the spot, put him into a taxi and took him to Medical College and Hospital. The doctors there declared him dead.

As news of the killing spread, Pervez’s friends gathered on the spot, baying for revenge. Unable to locate Munna, they decided to attack his family. They went over in a gang to Zakaria Street nearby, where Munna’s brother runs a shop. Catching him unawares, they first beat him up and then slashed him with a razor, and left him to die. He was rushed to a nearby hospital ,where he is now in a critical condition.

Tension simmered in the area till late at night, with the police posting pickets in front of Pervez’s house. Police said Munna, known for his short temper and frequent brawls in the area, had fled with the scissor. Deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfikar Hassan said: “We have thrown a ring around the area and should get him pretty soon.”


Calcutta, March 5: 
Apparently worried over the mess in health management, Governor Viren J. Shah has summoned director of medical education (DME) Dr Shyamal Banerjee to take stock of the condition in government-run medical colleges and hospitals.

A message reaching Writers’ Buildings from Raj Bhavan on Tuesday says the Governor wanted to meet Banerjee on March 26.

Shah on Monday also called upon vice-chancellors to seriously consider the fall in the number of teaching days in universities across the state.

He made the observation while addressing the sixth convocation of Vidyasagar University, Midnapore, as its chancellor.

Much to the embarrassment of university officials, he said only on 172 days a year are classes actually held in the university.

Six months ago, he also publicly expressed his unhappiness over the delay in awarding doctorates to deserving students of Calcutta University. He later summoned the officials concerned to Raj Bhavan. He criticised the authorities for not regularly auditing the university’s accounts.

Last year, Shah visited trouble-torn Midnapore and held a series of meetings with district officials to review the law and order.

Sources in Raj Bhavan said Shah decided to summon the medical director after he discussed health management in government hospitals with health minister Partha De two weeks ago.

On being summoned by the Governor, DME Banerjee held discussions with senior officers and doctors attached to medical colleges and hospitals. Banerjee, however, maintained that he was called to brief the Governor about the activities in the state medical faculty. “Shah wanted to discuss the functioning of the medical faculty when I went to invite him for a convocation. If he wants to inquire about health management in medical colleges and hospitals, I am ready to give him an update on our improved health services,’’ Banerjee said.

Only three weeks ago, Shah had written to De, saying it was imperative that the condition of state hospitals be improved. De wrote back, elaborating the programmes the government has undertaken to improve the situation.

Even chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is critical of the state health department.

A fortnight after taking over as chief minister, Bhattacharjee admitted at a rally in Kasba that though 70 per cent of the people were dependent on government hospitals, the condition of state-run hospitals was deplorable these days.


Calcutta, March 5: 
After their affair went sour, a 29-year-old man stabbed a 14-year-old girl at a crowded auto-rickshaw stand in Liluah around 12 noon on Monday. The man stabbed himself minutes after knifing the girl.

Around 11.30 am, Tumpa Pal and two of her friends, all students of Class VIII, were waiting at the crowded auto-rickshaw stand in Ananda Nagar.

As they were getting into an autorickshaw, Jaidev Mondal came up to her and tried to stop her. Tumpa made an effort to ignore Jaidev and get into the vehicle. But, a desperate Jaidev clasped her fist and pleaded with her to talk to him.

When Tumpa tried to raise an alarm, Jaidev whipped out a knife from his pocket and plunged it into her abdomen.

On seeing Tumpa lying in a pool of blood, Jaidev panicked and tried to run away. But, some youths chased Jaidev.

Realising that they were just behind him, Jaidev stabbed himself in the abdomen.

Tumpa was taken to T.L. Jaiswal Hospital. She was immediately shifted to the emergency ward.

Liluah police station officers took Jaidev to the same hospital.

As he had already lost a good deal of blood, he was shifted to Howrah General Hospital. Hospital sources described his condition as serious, though Tumpa is said to be out of danger.

Later in the day, Tumpa’s uncle, Binoy Krishna Pal, lodged an FIR with Liluah police station, accusing Jaidev of attempting to murder his niece and harassing her.

“Jaidev used to stay next to Tumpa’s house at Sukantapally. He is a tenant of Tumpa’s uncle,” said Robin Ghosh, officer-in-charge of Liluah police station. Jaidev lived alone and used to tell his neighbours that he works in an umbrella factory at Belur.

His antecedents are yet to be checked as he is still in a critical condition.

According to a neighbour, even till a couple of months ago, Tumpa and Jaidev were in love with each other. Till the day when Jaidev’s love letter accidentally fell into the hands of Tumpa’s mother.

Tumpa was told not to see Jaidev any longer and he was asked to vacate the house immediately. Jaidev initially wanted to elope with Tumpa but she refused to have anything to do with him.

Tumpa’s uncle told the police that Jaidev had earlier threatened to kill his niece.

“If Tumpa testifies against Jaidev, he will be arrested as soon as he is better,” said a senior police officer of Howrah.


Calcutta, March 5: 
Dalhousie might not be the peak-hour nightmare for motorists for long. That is, if things go according to the state transport department’s plans. A project report drawn up by the department says the BBD Bag bus terminus and the one at Babughat will be relocated under the flyover leading to Vidyasagar Setu.

The brand new bus terminus will come up on about 4 acres of land under the bridge approach near Hastings to cater to inter-city and long-distance buses. The Rs 20-crore project involves the introduction of at least 20 battery-powered buses to ply between the new terminus and the Esplanade and BBD Bag areas. This will not only ease traffic in the city centre, but also reduce air pollution drastically. According to estimates drawn up by transport experts, the area will have a capacity to accommodate over 2,500 vehicles. The new terminus will have bus bays for individual routes plying in the city.

“No civilised city should have a bus terminus in its busiest area and so we had been looking for alternatives. This spot, under the bridge approach, is ideal for the terminus,” said transport minister Subhas Chakraborty. Transport department officials are currently holding talks with the army authorities to get the project cleared. Part of the Maidan falls under the army’s Blue Zone where permanent structures are banned. For the past five years, the government has been repeatedly denied permission by the army to set up a modern bus terminus off Esplanade.

The plot where the terminus is being planned had been acquired by the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC) from the army during the construction of Vidyasagar Setu. According to Santanu Goswami, managing director of the West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation (WBSTC) monitoring the project, even though the land has been handed over to HRBC, the army’s nod is essential. Goswami said the transport minister will be speaking to defence ministry officials soon, to facilitate clearance of the project. Chakraborty will also hold talks with mayor Subrata Mukherjee for speedy sanction of the plan by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. The project report has been sent to the environment department for an impact assessment and final clearance by the state pollution control board, as well.

Transport engineers have estimated that about 70,000 to 80,000 vehicles pass through the city’s Central Business District (CBD), comprising the Esplanade and BBD Bag areas. The engineers said that once the congested termini were shifted out of the CBD, there would be considerable increase in road space. “The plan is to allow the buses to stop and leave as fast as possible for better traffic mobility,” a transport department official said. Besides, there will be rest rooms for bus staff, canteens, small stationery shops, book-stalls, fruit-stalls, a waiting hall, and rest rooms for long-distance passengers. The new terminus is expected to generate jobs for about 5,000 people.

“The terminus will be an ultra-modern complex built in consonance with the attraction Vidyasagar Setu has,” said state transport authority deputy chairman Lakshman Bhattacharjee.


Calcutta, March 5: 
It promises to be a dream-come-true for the middle-class Bengali. Dakshin Kalikata Sansad, established way back in 1928 by some sports-crazy Bengalis as ‘South Calcutta Club’ on land leased by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), is going for a complete image makeover.

A Rs 1.5-crore project, taken up in collaboration with the CMC, is all set to convert the Deshapriya Park sports club into a “complete social centre”. The refurbished DKS “will provide the middle-class Calcuttan with a taste of club culture without burning a big hole in their pockets,” says club general secretary Hironmoy Chatterjee.

DKS has also taken the initiative to give Deshapriya Park a facelift. Following a joint inspection by CMC officials and a team from a Mumbai agency which has done up three parks in the Maharashtra capital, it has been decided to turn the park into a ‘model’ one. This will be done by raising the perimeter fencing to a height of 8.5 feet, restricting entry by locking two gates, doing up the cricket field, creating a rock garden on three sides beyond the concrete walking trail and setting up a cafeteria.

The renovated park promises to give south Calcuttans “a home out of home”. Halogen lamps are being installed along the fencing to illuminate the park, and the Durga Puja organisers have been requested to keep it simple from this year, minus the mela.

At the club, twin structures on the existing premises are to be completed by 2002. The first of these two facilities, a dome-shaped construction, will come up on the side of the cricket ground, revolving round a state-of-the-art swimming pool. There will also be well-appointed changing rooms, saunas, a multi-gym, a spacious dining lounge and a viewing gallery.

The second building, a three-storeyed structure to be constructed after dismantling the existing facilities, will create 12,000 sq ft of floor space. “We will be setting aside 3,000 sq ft on the second floor for the CMC’s borough office, according to the project plan drawn up in conjunction with Debasish Kumar, councillor, Ward 85, and chairman of the borough council,” explains Chatterjee.

The rest of the space in the new building will be taken up by a library, the administrative office, an air-conditioned conference room, a table-tennis hall, an air-conditioned bridge hall, a multi-cuisine restaurant, a lounge and a players’ hostel.

“We already have Rs 37 lakh in the club’s development reserves and the balance amount will be raised from corporate sponsors,” explains the club’s secretary.


Calcutta, March 5: 
The Trinamul Congress run-Calcutta Municipal Corporation has decided to go for a Rs 50-crore loan from a private agency against non-convertible redeemable bonds to augment the city’s water supply infrastructure.

The paperwork is complete and only the state government’s clearance — reportedly just a formality — is awaited.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said the loan from SREI Capital Markets was the only option as important projects, which will enhance the daily water supply by nearly 50 million gallons in the next year-and-a-half, are lying incomplete due to lack of funds.

The Rs 1,750-crore loan from the Asian Development Bank does not cover the filtered water supply infrastructure, he said, adding that the CMC will “increasingly go for private financing if the experiment succeeds.”

According to the mayor, this is not the first time that the CMC is borrowing money against non-convertible redeemable bonds.

Civic officials said the loan, at an interest of around 13 per cent, will be repaid from the revenue earned from industrial, commercial and institutional bulk water consumers, amounting to around Rs 12 crore annually. The loan has a moratorium on the principal amount for five years.

“The daily demand for filtered water in the city is about 300 million gallons. We are supplying about 250 million gallons now. When these projects are completed, we will be able meet the requirement, even after taking into account the expansion in the eastern fringes,” said Sovan Chatterjee, member, mayor-in-council, water supply.

“We lose 30 per cent of the supply due to leaks in pipes and misuse. A project has been undertaken, in collaboration with a French company, to strengthen our distribution network,” Mukherjee said.

The Rs 50-crore fund will be spent on the 40-million-gallon treatment plant at Palta, a four-million-gallon underground reservoir-cum-boosting station at Kalighat, a 3.5-million gallon reservoir and treatment plant at Ranikuthi and a similar project at Bagmari.


Calcutta, March 5: 
An American NGO, Water for People (WFP), launched a multi-lakh project in the city on Monday to provide arsenic-free drinking water in villages. The NGO is working in collaboration with Rotary Club, Golf Green, and with technical collaboration from Bengal Engineering College, Shibpur.

Jody Camp, project manager of the Denver-based NGO, said that if the project was successful in terms of sustainability, it would set up a separate five-year, $180,000-project. “We will look for ways to raise more funds for the project,” Camp said speaking at the American Center in Calcutta. Ramon Silva of the Rotary Club of Puerto Rico said the forum would strive to mobilise community awareness to work towards providing safe drinking water.

Arun Deb, one of the directors of WFP, said that BE College, where WFP had funded a research programme to devise units to separate arsenic from water in 1996, had created units that were easy to instal and maintain. “We want that the people using the new device to pay for the safe water and maintain it effectively,” Deb said.

This was WFP’s largest project anywhere in the world, Deb said. The project is being coordinated with Unicef, which is carrying out a groundwater arsenic mapping of the state and the public health engineering department of the state government.


Calcutta, March 5:  
The Refuge, a shelter for the homeless built by Vidyasagar’s disciple Ananda Mohan Biswas, turned 100 this year. A fade-out spectre no longer looms over the orphanage, which was being kept barely afloat by the efforts of its past and present inmates. But the battle for survival continues in the two-storeyed home at the Bowbazar-Amherst Street crossing.

“Last year, a gentleman who visited the home provided us some funds, which helped us carry out some repairs in the kitchen and one of the rooms on the second floor. The State Bank of India has donated three computers, with which we have started a training course for students,” informs secretary Rita Banerji.

Water still drips from the ceiling of the structure housing the library and the vocational training classes. “The other day, I made the senior students remove the loose chunks to prevent another accident,” says headmaster Sudin Chattopadhyay, recalling how a slab had fallen off last year during class. But the plasters peeling off the walls and the cracks on the floor have not been able to dampen the spirit of the inmates. They had given up their weekly ‘meat’ meals recently to save up money for a Gujarat quake fund.

In class, Uttam Mandal and Sukumar Baidya, students of Class IV, are busy adding a series of four-figure numbers. While Uttam wants to be a teacher, Sukumar is a champ on the field, having qualified for the state-level competitions in high jump after topping both the circle and district levels.

Twelve inmates of The Refuge are appearing for Madhyamik this year. But a question mark hangs over their future.

“The dearth of funds does not allow us to keep students once they reach 18. So we are looking for sponsors who can finance them for another two years, till they find a means of livelihood,” says Banerji.


Agartala, March 5: 
Tripura finance minister Badal Chowdhury today presented a tax-free budget of Rs 2724.97 crore, leaving an “uncovered” deficit of Rs 106.91 crore for the year 2001-2002.

Finance secretary Debasish Sarkar said the government would try to augment collection of revenue and launch an austerity drive to slash expenses.

The finance minister also presented a supplementary budget of Rs 116 crore to make up for the shortfall in the outgoing financial year’s allocation.

However, Sarkar claimed that the supplementary budget for the outgoing financial year was tabled because of the “excess” expenditure incurred by the state government.

According to estimates furnished by the minister, Rs 1382.70 crore (which amounts to more than 50 per cent of the total allocation) will be spent on payment of salaries under Plan and non-Plan heads and for payment of loans and interests.

As in the previous years, education tops the list in terms of allocation with 17 per cent of the total outlay followed by power with 9 per cent and police with 8 per cent of the total allocation.

In his budget speech, the finance minister also dwelt on the resource constraint faced by the state government because of the changing funding pattern.

To drive home his point, Chowdhury referred to the final recommendations of the 11th Finance Commission, which has reduced the gap between grants and the share of resources.

“The 11th Finance Commission has been favourable to special category states,’’ Chowdhury added.

He also criticised the dwindling Central allocations on vital sectors like agriculture, health, education and small scale industries saying the Centre’s policies of liberalisation would further the interests of multinationals and rich industrialists of the country.

Chowdhury asserted that his budget for the financial year 2001-2002 would focus on the primary sector as the government wanted to achieve self-sufficiency in food production within 10 years.

“This will be done through creation of irrigation facilities for which a massive programme has been taken up,’’ the finance minister added.

Regarding allocations for the home department and counter-insurgency, Chowdhury said the state police were undergoing a process of modernisation and funds have been allocated for the purpose. He expressed satisfaction over the rapid pace of border fencing work. He said a rebel peace camp had been set up in the Shikaribari area of Dhalai district for rehabilitation of surrendered militants.

He said for the first time, the state government has introduced an MLA’s local area fund and Rs 5 lakh has been allocated to each legislator. This will incur an expenditure of Rs 3 crore.

Chowdhury said the amount would be allocated from the Plan fund received by the state government from the Planning Commission.


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