Luxury becomes lifestyle
Shah funds sermon to varsity
Madhabi’s poll fight begins at home
A home, a mother, and food to share with family
Row delays water project opening
Talks break ice on STAR stand-off
Court directive on theatre takeover
Bangladesh on the cards
Fracas over Tripura child labour figure
Court blow to Manipur Speaker

 
 
LUXURY BECOMES LIFESTYLE 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, March 28: 
Piped music, multi-cuisine restaurant, health spa, sprawling business lounge, Internet at the fingertip, heated swimming pool, tennis court, rooftop garden... sky’s the limit for Calcutta highrises.

What was yesterday’s ‘luxury’ is tomorrow’s ‘lifestyle’. Value additions, in the form of hi-tech features, are being built into residential condos by developers in an aggressive campaign to cater to the dwellers’ choice.

“Things have changed drastically over the past four or five years and it’s a buyers’ market now. In the present scenario, we have to look at a more holistic development ,wherein the client gets the option of lifestyle as well as convenience,” says Sumit Dabriwala, managing director of Calcutta Metropolitan Group, developing Hiland Park, the city’s tallest building tower, on the E.M. Bypass.

With a plethora of alternatives, the buyer is beginning to pick and choose. Apart from ensuring that the titles are litigation-free and that qualified engineers have been appointed to oversee guidelines specified by the architect, the Calcuttan in search of his dream house is also scanning the add-ons.

“Besides making sure that the buildings factor in the specified seismic load, have modern fire-fighting capabilities and run an anti-termite treatment process during various stages of construction, we are also having to look at attractive elevation, good landscaping and a host of built-in features within apartments to satisfy the consumer,” says Sushil Mohta, managing director, Merlin Projects Limited, which is setting up Merlin Residency, a cluster of three integrated highrise towers, on Prince Anwar Shah Road.

The price band ranges from Rs 1,200 to Rs 3,500 per sq ft, depending largely on location. So, Belmont on Alipore Road, being developed by The Belani Group, is on the cash crest-end of the highrise index.

Book it, occupy it, enjoy it, seems to be the mantra of the modern multi-storeyed. So, the high-end consumer gets an EPABX, CCTV, a cooking-gas pipeline in the kitchen, landscaped gardens with fountains, captive gensets and water treatment plants, jacuzzi and shopping plaza... all under ‘one roof’.

Among the existing buildings, Udita, the HIG arm of the Bengal Ambuja group’s model community-living concept, Udayan, The Condoville, has already incorporated ‘home-plus’ features including laundromat, bank and post office, and home offices. Others, like Merlin Manor on Deshapran Sasmal Road and Arjun Enclave of Bobby Majumdar on Judges Court Road, are also offering more for more.

“More than luxury apartments, more than lifestyle, we try to make a difference to the way people live in Calcutta,” says Harshavardhan Neotia, managing director, Bengal Ambuja Housing Development Ltd.

City developers cannot afford to lose touch with rapidly-changing rules in national and, in some cases, South-east Asian, real-estate trends any more. “We must constantly look to upgrade features to stay in sync with the new breed of buyers,” admits Piyush Bhagat, director, Sanjeevani Projects, creators of Space Town.

And the choice of home is not just about glitzy ‘pluses’. Basic services like logistical support in after-sales, housing finance, documentation, registration, mutation, municipal tax payment, maintenance and interior planning are part of the packaging.

Rajesh Bhutoria of Dinesh Enterprises Pvt Ltd, makers of the Vicom brand of CCTV security systems and multi-apartment video door phones, puts the tech trend in perspective. “When we started business five years ago, developers were hardly receptive to the concept of electronic surveillance. But things have changed dramatically, with 45 to 50 highrises in the city using these hi-tech security devices,” he points out.

The high-tech highrise boom is welcomed by the likes of mayor Subrata Mukherjee. “It’s good for the image of the city. Also, if people can afford it, they should get what they want.”

That, then is the bottomline — from 2002-2003, live life kingsize, as long as you can foot the bill.

   

 
 
SHAH FUNDS SERMON TO VARSITY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 28: 
Governor Viren J. Shah lashed out at the Left-controlled Calcutta University, of which he is chancellor, “for mismanagement of funds” and for not having conducted “an internal audit” for the past 25 years.

“You run your institution by depending on government funds. But the government has no money. Common people are tax-payers and provide funds to the government. Therefore, we cannot allow people’s money to lie unaccounted for... You must try and raise at least 10 per cent of your total revenue by utilising the internal resources of the institution,” he said on Wednesday, during the University’s Senate meeting, convened to approve the budget for 2001-2002. Shah is the first chancellor to have attended a Senate meeting in the 144-year-old university.

With students, teachers and employees hanging on to his every word, Shah held forth at Darbhanga Building. “I like to better acquainted with and better informed about the institution with which I am associated. I also want to share my thoughts on a number of issues related to education,” he said.

The primary issue raised by the chancellor was that of the university’s finances. “There has been no internal audit since the mid-70s, and yet Rs 2.12 crore has been earmarked in this budget for the audit and accounts department,” he said. Pro vice-chancellor (finance) Hiran Kumar Banerjee tried to justify the hefty allocation, saying it included “the salary of the employees”.

When Hiran Kumar Banerjee informed Shah that the university was getting 9.5 per cent interest on provident fund deposits from the State Bank Of India, the chancellor urged the authorities to consult other banks. “There are many banks and bank authorities who will come to you with better deals, as you are depositing a huge amount of money,” he advised.

Shah also expressed displeasure over recent reports that many important university publications were “out of print”, and students were struggling to lay their hands on textbooks. “Why do all these happen?” he demanded of vice-chancellor Ashis Banerjee.

Not one senator, except Swapan Pramanik, secretary of the Calcutta University Teachers Association (CUTA), addressed the meeting, and no one raised any question on the budget and annual accounts. Pramanik, however, countered Shah’s claim, made earlier in the meeting, that his office had cleared all files referred to it by the university. “About six months ago, the Senate had forwarded a file on a proposal to introduce a code of conduct for university and college teachers. Till today, we have not received a reply from your office,” alleged Pramanik.

   

 
 
MADHABI’S POLL FIGHT BEGINS AT HOME 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, March 28: 
Guess who filmstar Nirmal Kumar will be rooting for when Madhabi Mukherjee takes on chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in the battle for Jadavpur? Not wife Madhabi.

“I have been a communist all my life. How can I back Madhabi?” asked Nirmal Kumar, when contacted over phone at his south Calcutta residence on Wednesday evening.

“I came to know about Madhabi’s decision to contest the election on a Trinamul Congress ticket from the newspapers. When I spoke to her to verify it, she denied the reports. Her decision has hurt my sentiments,” he added.

Nirmal Kumar and his daughters are also supporting Bhattacharjee as he has “a soft corner for art and culture”.

“Personally, I am grateful to Bhattacharjee as he had helped us a lot in the past. He also helped Madhabi to complete a number of shelved films,” Nirmal Kumar said.

The actor had been close to poet Sukanta Bhattacharjee, uncle of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. It was Sukanta who had influenced Nirmal Kumar to join the Bharatiya Gananatya Sangha, cultural wing of the Marxists. Later, Nirmal Kumar joined Bahurupi, another theatre group led by Sombhu Mitra.

Madhabi Mukherjee, however, denied being indebted to Bhattacharjee. “If I have any gratitude for anyone, it is for Subrata Mukherjee, who had helped in the release of my film Subarnalata,” said Madhabi.

Refusing to react to her husband’s remark, she added: “I do not want to listen to what Nirmal Kumar has to say about my candidature... I am also least concerned whether my daughters and husband will join my campaign.”

Her husband and her daughters are not alone in running down Madhabi’s political foray. Shilpi Samsad, an influential organisation of Bengali cine artistes and technicians, too, has distanced itself from Madhabi’s plunge into electoral politics, though she claims it will associate itself with campaigning for her.

   

 
 
A HOME, A MOTHER, AND FOOD TO SHARE WITH FAMILY 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, March 28: 
He has no name, no age, no identity. He has only a song; a tribal tune. After singing a few lines, he extends his hand, asking for money, so he can sing some more...

They call him Laltu, and he is the newest entrant at the Salt Lake SOS Children’s Village. Rescued from the streets of Delhi by the police, Laltu was taken to the SOS chapter in the capital. His understanding of Bengali was the only clue to the boy’s past. No more than seven, he could speak only an indecipherable adivasi dialect.

“He came here a week ago,” explains Swapna Banerjee, of SOS. He was taken to the Capital to beg, she hazards. But he now stays with eight other children, in a home, with a mother to feed, clothe, and take care of him. And Laltu has 129 friends, who stay at the 22-year-old orphanage.

“He already wants to go to school,” smiles ‘house mother’ Sonali Kulavi, looking at the nearly bald-headed boy with affection. There are 15 houses for the 130 kids at the Village. Each is home to eight to 10 children, with a mother in charge. “It is like any other ,” she explains.

Each of the spacious red cottages has four bedrooms, kitchen, bath, a dining and living area and a balcony. Peaceful and impeccably neat, there are two beds to each room, with cheerful yellow bedspreads, a corner for Saraswati Puja, a television and a fridge, and posters of Sourav and Sachin on the wall.

The children are sent to schools after a brief non-formal training. Some attend nearby municipal schools, while others are even sent off to boarding, such as Rahara Ramakrishna Mission.

Ira Mitra, mother of house no. six, has 10 children under her care. She’s watching the Australia-India cricket match at Pune, with Reshmi, Kushal, Rakhi, Rajesh and Ruby, when Runa walks in, after her GK exam at St Mary’s High School. The tension is palpable, as she goes through the exam paper, asking Runa how she answered each question. Behind her is a collage of pictures on the wall... Reshmi at her mookhebhaat, Rakhi dancing at one of her numerous performances, Kushal on the swing...

The orphanage, on a sprawling 3.5 acres, has its own water-filtration plant, a medical clinic where a doctor visits once a week, an auditorium and a library, not to mention the field and play area.

“The children stay until they settle down on their own,” says Swapna. The first generation has already ‘graduated’ in 1992. Some are working, while many others are pursuing higher studies. But all have made it on their own, and come back regularly to meet their ‘mothers’.

The first SOS Children’s Village was born in Austria in 1949. Hermann Gmeiner, distressed by the number of war orphans, and realising the importance of a mother in a child’s life, set up the home in Imst. Now, there are similar Villages in over 130 countries across the world, providing a home and family to over 2 lakh children.

   

 
 
ROW DELAYS WATER PROJECT OPENING 
 
 
BY STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 28: 
Members of the mayor’s council in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) are blocking the handing-over ceremony of the water supply project to the CMC by an NGO at Tollygunge because they have not been invited to the function.

Though the scheme was set up as part of ‘model bustee project’, neither member (water supply) Sovan Chatterjee nor member (bustee development) Pradip Ghosh were invited to the function. CPM circles in the CMC feel that this slight has blown the lid off a rift in the Trinamul’s civic board.

Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee was to hand over the Rs 25-lakh water supply project to mayor Subrata Mukherjee at Bawali Mondol Lane, in ward no. 88 in Tollygunge, on Wednesday. But the function was suddenly put off to Thursday evening, without any intimation to the invitees.

It is believed that the cold war among members of the mayor-in-council over invitation to the function forced the NGO to defer the programme. The water supply scheme has been set up by the All Bengal Mass Education, with financial aid from Germany.

Member (conservancy) Mala Roy said the CMC was not involved in the project and hence, the civic information and culture department, which she also runs, had no business printing or sending out invitation cards.

Nirbed Roy of the All Bengal Mass Education said the programme had been deferred to ensure Mamata Banerjee’s presence at the function on Thursday.

He said a German organisation, KWF, provided funds to the government of India to undertake development schemes for weaker sections of society on the 50th anniversary of India’s independence.

Banerjee had managed to divert some of the funds for the development of slum areas in Tollygunge’s Bawali Mondol Lane, which was ravaged by a fire in 1999 . She roped in Rs 35 lakh from the Centre with Hudco as the nodal agency.

The projects included construction of a vocational training centre, a community hall, a health unit and a deep tubewell.

Hudco appointed All Bengal Mass Education to implement the projects.

Roy said the projects had been taken up not as part of bustee development but to benefit the economically weaker sections of the society living in the area. He said after the tubewell was handed over, the civic water supply department would maintain it.

   

 
 
TALKS BREAK ICE ON STAR STAND-OFF 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 28: 
After a 28-day stand-off, the first signs of an end to the STAR wars were seen on Wednesday, with the two battling groups coming together across the table.

The ice was finally broken as representatives of the cable operators’ Joint Action Committee held talks with STAR officials in the presence of captains of the two multi-system operators in the city, RPG Netcom and SitiCable.

Although the stalemate was far from resolved after the day’s talks, the initiation of a dialogue has been hailed by both the parties as a “positive step”. A second meeting has been tentatively scheduled for early next week.

“We put forward our reasons for the boycott, stressing that the hike was too stiff for the customers and that it came at a very short notice. While we are not opposed to showing any channel, we feel the viewer shouldn’t be forced to bear the extra burden even for profit-making channels like Star Plus and Star News,” said Tarak Saha, JAC spokesman.

“We have sought proposals from them (the cablemen) for ending the stalemate, while stressing that we can’t possibly make an exception to the all-India rates for Calcutta operators,” said Rajeev Sharma, manager, distribution and marketing (East), STAR.

   

 
 
COURT DIRECTIVE ON THEATRE TAKEOVER 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 28: 
Calcutta High Court has directed the Calcutta Municipal Corporation to furnish all documents relating to the takeover of Star Theatre by Tuesday. Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh passed the directive after admitting a petition filed by Renuka Bala Dey, a share-holder of Star Theatre, challenging the validity of the takeover.

Alok Ghosh, counsel for the CMC, told the court that since the century-old hall had been declared a heritage building, the CMC had the right to take it over for its maintenance. Ghosh said the civic body had followed all norms while taking over the hall and chances were given to all share-holders, including the petitioner, to express their views in this regard. He informed the court that the petitioner had furnished a written representation before a committee constituted by the CMC to hear the share-holders.

The theatre was closed down in 1990 after a devastating fire. After coming to power, the mayor took the initiative to rebuild the theatre. The civic body has taken over the management of the theatre hall under the newly-included provisions in the CMC Act, 1980, on heritage conservation. A Star Punarnirman Committee, comprising people from all walks of life, has been constituted to monitor the work.

According to the provisions, the CMC can manage the hall for five years and if required, the tenure can be extended by another five. If the government does not acquire the structure in the meantime, the civic body will have to return the hall to its owner.

   

 
 
BANGLADESH ON THE CARDS 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, March 28: 
Money from Bangladesh seems to have given a sudden boost to the business of invitation cards that thrives along Mahatma Gandhi Road, from its intersection with College Street up to the Sealdah flyover. Gone are the those holes in the wall of the past. Flush with new money, most invitation card shops easily rival the glitter and gloss of the jewellery shops in Bowbazar.

Cards, too, are no longer scraps of paper in bright hues. They come in fantastic shapes and sizes. They could be paper cutouts that resemble banana leaves, paisley, palanquins, the auspicious carp, a winnowing fan decorated with cowries or even terracotta figurines of Ganesha.

Since ostentation and wedding ceremonies are synonymous, the trousseaux and other gifts meant either for the bride or the groom are accompanied by a list of the goodies, enclosed in miniature barges and palanquins. Marriages maybe made in heaven, but earthlings can’t help making the sublime look ridiculous.

Sri Durga Card Palace boasts plush-looking counters lined with maroon velvet and high stools one expects to see in bars. The floor is tiled, the walls are lined with mirrors, and a painting of the goddess, who has given the shop its name, glares from one corner.

Now that Poila Boishakh is just days away, the shop has stocked some exclusive cards made of handmade paper with Ganesha painted in delicate shades or eye-catching gold and silver. The price tag, too, is quite high — nothing less than Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 for 100.

Suman Saha (the latter is the most common surname in this trade) says his shop is 25 years old, but only in the past six to seven years have so many shops suddenly materialised from nowhere. Some traders, who were former agents of umbrella manufacturers, too, have turned to this business, and so have many jobless men, because this trade hardly requires any investment.

Sushanta Saha of Ramlal Paper House is highly indignant. He feels oldtimers like himself, in spite of his relative youth, cannot afford to make light of the situation any longer. “It is strange that only infiltrators from Bangladesh, who don’t have a single paisa to their name, are pushed back. But those who bring pots of money with them are allowed to settle and open shop. There are about 120 shops in this street and not less than 100 of them belong to Bangladeshis. You can make it out from their accents.”

Amal Roy stocks Archies’, Gibbon and Hallmark products, along with traditional wedding, thread ceremony and new year greetings cards in his shop, where a large purple heart is prominently displayed. “The presence of these Bangladeshis has touched off cut-throat competition. Our business is badly hit. Many of them own two to three shops here. This is unhealthy competition because they have taken to undercutting.”

Some of these small-time traders feel supplies are higher than the demand. Says Dilip Roychoudhury: “Earlier, people would buy their stocks from us. Now everybody wants to produce them. So a glut is inevitable.”

Business may be bad. But high-tech is gradually sneaking in. Banamali Pal, a self-taught artist, traces the figure of Ganesha with his pen. The calligraphy that we see in many cards is the handiwork of this fiftyish artist.

But right inside the shop, where he was working, a desk-top operator busily keys in matter for a wedding card. Says Baburam Pal, who owns the shop: “Even Banamali Pal’s artwork will be scanned and the card will be designed on the terminal itself. This cuts costs and the card looks neat.”

   

 
 
FRACAS OVER TRIPURA CHILD LABOUR FIGURE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, March 28: 
The ridiculously low number of child labourers recorded by the labour department of the Tripura government has drawn flak from experts of the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute.

According to state government records, there are only 278 child labourers in Tripura. Of them, only 11 work in establishments which pose serious health hazards. These figures came out in the course of a seminar on child labour here jointly sponsored by the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute and the state labour department.

The figures of child labour referred to by labour department officials in the seminar came as a surprise to institute senior fellow Mahabir Jain and associate fellow Ruma Ghosh. They expressed grave misgivings over the authenticity of the figures. Tripura labour secretary Nepal Sinha said the state government would conduct a fresh survey on child labour in Tripura.

Jain and Ghosh, who were here recently in connection with the seminar, addressed a press conference in the state secretariat. They said among the states, Andhra Pradesh had the highest number of child labourers at 11.59 per cent of the total work force, followed closely by Mumbai with 9 per cent.

“The number of child labourers is relatively low in Kerala and Himachal Pradesh,” they added. Jain and Ghosh said according to 1991 census figures, there were 1.128 crore child labourers in the country. Of this, 55 per cent were males and 45 per cent females.

Regarding the number of child labourers recorded in Tripura, Jain and Ghosh said this was not “acceptable specially in an economically backward state where 66 per cent of the population live below the poverty line according to claims of the state government.”

They said in a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court had directed the Union and state governments to conduct surveys to determine the number of child labourers in the country in 1997. The court’s directive said the survey be completed within six months and as a result, the Tripura government also conducted a survey through district magistrates. But the figures mentioned in the survey have triggered a controversy.

The fellows of the national labour institute also regretted that unlike in some other states, the Tripura government was yet to form a separate commission for the welfare of child labourers and check their rampant exploitation by unscrupulous businessmen and factory owners. The state government has, however, indicated that a fresh survey on child labour and a package of welfare measures would be implemented soon.

   

 
 
COURT BLOW TO MANIPUR SPEAKER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, March 28: 
The Imphal bench of the Gauhati High Court has quashed Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy’s February 13 order declaring W. Nipamacha Singh, a former chief minister, and seven other MLAs as “unattached members”.

In his ruling yesterday, Justice J.N. Sharma directed that the eight MLAs should have been treated as belonging to the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP).

The Speaker had declared the eight MSCP legislators “unattached members” in the House following their expulsion by an MSCP faction led by Union minister of state for food processing Thounaojam Chaoba Singh.

The Speaker’s order was contested in the court of law by Nipamacha Singh, M. Kunjo Singh and Kshetrimayum Biren.

The three MLAs, in their petition, argued that Chaoba Singh (who was the working president of the party) was not authorised to expel party president Nipamacha Singh.

They also argued that the Speaker could not act on Chaoba Singh’s decision as it went against the MSCP’s constitution.

The judgment comes as a shot in the arm for the former chief minister, now engaged in a bitter battle with the Union minister.

The MSCP had split vertically with one faction electing Chaoba Singh as its president, while the other re-electing Nipamacha Singh.

A single bench of the high court had first stayed the Speaker’s order, but the stay was later vacated by another single bench. Nipamacha then moved a division bench where the Speaker’s order was again stayed.

However, Nipamacha Singh emerged victorious as the final hearing yesterday ruled in his favour.

Meanwhile, the MSCP (Nipamacha faction) claimed that the Election Commission had recognised Nipamacha Singh as president of party.

Nipamacha Singh loyalists said the commission informed them about receiving all documents relating to his re-election as president including the list of new office-bearers.

However, the commission asked the party to reply to a letter written by the Chaoba Singh faction to the commission. Sources said Chaoba Singh faction also submitted relevant documents seeking recognition.

Political observers here said that the Election Commission might freeze the MSCP’s election symbol until a clear picture surfaced.

Merger with BJP

Two MLAs of the Democratic Federal Party of Manipur (DFPM) — a breakaway group of Federal Party of Manipur — are likely merge with the BJP.

Sources said the two MLAs —former Deputy Speaker K. Raina and former minister W. Thoiba Singh — have told the state BJP leaders about their desire to join the party.

The two, along with senior state BJP leaders, will go to New Delhi shortly to get party high command’s approval in this regard.

   
 

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