Culture hub to den of vice
Sensitive tag on all booths, alert flashed
Runaway groom forced to tie the knot by boss
Schoolgirls cry for a breath of air
Ray of hope for STAR return
The City Diary
Kitchen-Sink Drama
Poll fever spurt cuts stocks at blood banks
18 held after shootout at dawn
Samata-BJP feud queers bypoll pitch

 
 
CULTURE HUB TO DEN OF VICE 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, April 24: 
From cultural hub to criminal hub.This short distance is being covered at rapid speed in the art and cultural arcade on the edge of the Maidan. Stretching from the Nandan-Rabindra Sadan complex to the Bangla Akademi and the Calcutta Information Centre, the sprawling grounds around the auditoria are becoming the hotbed of anti-social activity.

Recently, the police carried out a number of raids in the area, arresting as many as eight people for indulging in “rowdy behaviour”. Hastings police station has logged up several cases of eve-teasing, consuming alcohol in the open and even under the Immoral Traffic Act in the grounds of these complexes.

“Earlier, there was never any need for us to enter the premises of these cultural seats,” said Jayanta Das, officer-in-charge of Hastings police station, under whose jurisdiction these auditoria fall. “But now we have been compelled to enter and arrest anti-socials on grounds of disorderly conduct after receiving a number of complaints from the authorities.”

The deputy director of the state information department, Nitin Ganguly, concurred: “It is unfortunate that a place that is adored by art and culture lovers is gradually becoming a hotbed of crime,” he said. “The government had set up the entire chain of cultural complexes to preserve our culture and tradition. But we perceive what is happening as a threat to this very purpose and are extremely concerned about this.”

Recounts Debjani Mondal of Dhakuria, who had gone to Rabindra Sadan to attend a cultural programme about 10 days ago: “After the programme ended around 8 pm, I thought that my son and I could take a walk around the pond on the premises, since it was quite a warm evening. But I was stopped before I could proceed any further by some officials, who told me it was unsafe to do so since an hour ago, another woman had been harassed by some youth nearby.”

But there had been no one to warn 70-year-old Atin Roy. Stumbling upon some drunk youth shouting and screaming on the grounds, he had protested and asked them to behave themselves.What he got instead was a load of abuses and a few smart slaps that knocked him down.

“We do not mind lovers sitting here and spending some time,” said Chanchal Roy, an employee of Bangla Akademi. “But what is taking place is indecent. This is what we are opposed to. ”

The detective department, too, is monitoring the goings-on at the cultural hub. “We have decided to deploy our sleuths on the spot and take whatever remedial action is required,” said detective chief Banibrata Basu.

The government has sought funds for better illumination of the grounds and shut down the gate off the pond between Nandan and Bangla Akademi.

   

 
 
SENSITIVE TAG ON ALL BOOTHS, ALERT FLASHED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 24: 
All 3,034 polling booths and 820 polling stations in the city, under Calcutta Police jurisdiction, have been declared ‘sensitive’. At least eight policemen will be posted at every booth and officers have been instructed to open fire, if required, to tackle any flare-up. This was decided at a meeting between police commissioner D.C. Vajpai and chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen on Monday.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Raj Kanojia, who is supervising poll security arrangements, said this was the first time that all city polling stations have been declared sensitive. In the previous Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, 100 stations had been declared sensitive and armed police posted only at these centres.

Vajpai, who convened a meeting of senior city police officers to discuss poll arrangements on Tuesday, told Metro: “From Tuesday, we have sealed all entry and exit points to the city. I have directed my men to check each and every passing vehicle. The detective department and police stations have prepared a list of criminals and I have instructed officers to round them up before May 10, irrespective of party affiliation.”

On poll day, eight policemen — a sub-inspector, an assistant sub-inspector, a head constable, two rifle-toting and three lathi-wielding constables — will be posted at each booth. All 42 police stations will have at their disposal four mobile vans. Special cellular phone connections to the cops on poll duty will be provided by Command.

According to Kanojia, the police are in the process of throwing a “strong security cordon” around the city. “All political rallies, including street-corner meetings, will be escorted by policemen... The candidates will be provided with personal guards. We have intensified uniformed and plainclothes patrolling all over the city,’’ he said.

The city has been divided into sectors under senior police officers. “On D-Day, there will be 17,000 policemen manning the booths and patrolling the streets. Around 250 mobile patrols and special patrol vans, trained to combat poll-related violence, will be doing the rounds,’’ said Kanojia.

Residents of highrises have been assured of “special arrangements” to ensure that they are not stopped from casting their votes en masse. Special mobile police patrols will be posted near some highrises to provide residents with safe passage to polling booths.

   

 
 
RUNAWAY GROOM FORCED TO TIE THE KNOT BY BOSS 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, April 24: 
From civic services to nuptial rites. A borough chairman on Monday intervened to set right a relationship by forcing an engineer in his department to complete the marriage vows he had pledged to take with a census worker.

Sub-assistant engineer Bipradip Ghosh, attached to Borough X, met Sikta in February when, as a member of the Corporation’s census team, she had been deputed to the borough for conducting enumeration work.

They became good friends. The boy, who hails from Purulia and lives in a boarding house in the city, started visiting the girl at home in south Calcutta. One day, armed with a box of sweets, he popped the question. Sikta and her mother agreed. The marriage was fixed for May 8.

It was also finalised that the registration of the marriage would be completed before the social ceremony.

The date for this was fixed for April 23. Sikta’s elder sister, settled in Assam, was summoned for the event, and all other preparations from the girl’s side were on in full swing.

On Monday, Bipradip landed up at the girl’s home around noon and left with her and her family for the registrar’s office in Hazra.

However, on the way, he suggested that Sikta and he get off and seek the Goddess’ blessings at Kalighat and join the rest later. But before reaching the temple, he told Sikta that he had some urgent work at office and would reach Hazra shortly.

Once in his Borough X office at Tollygunge, Bipradip immersed himself in work. Around 3.30 pm, the distraught girl, with her family, reached the office. But Bipradip refused to budge.

The commotion drew borough chairman Arup Biswas’ attention. On learning about the problem, Biswas told Bipradip: “You either get married or I call the police.”

This knocked the fight out of the runaway groom. Accompanied by some of his colleagues, Bipradip accompanied Sikta to the marriage registrar’s office in Hazra, signed on the dotted line, and even managed a smile.

   

 
 
SCHOOLGIRLS CRY FOR A BREATH OF AIR 
 
 
BY SOUMYADIPTA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, April 24: 
Come Wednesday and 14,000 schoolgirls will “cry out their lungs” to protest growing vehicular pollution in the city. Girls from six Loreto schools and Lavinia House at Sealdah have decided to stage the largest student demonstration against pollution the city has ever witnessed.

Armed with placards, banners and posters urging everyone to be “up in arms against every smoke-belching vehicle”, the girls — accompanied by teachers and even principals — will march down every major street around their respective schools for an hour from 9.30 am, “in an extended celebration of Earth Day”.

On Tuesday afternoon, the girls were busy putting finishing touches to the colourful posters they have prepared after school hours for the past week. “Wait, wait!” shrieked Zohra, a student of Class VIII at Loreto House, Middleton Row, when asked to display their love’s labour. “The more colourful ones are in my classroom. Won’t you like to see them?”

Radhika, another 12-year-old, explained what the exercise was all about: “Our teacher has said that pollution is more in Calcutta because there are too many cars on the road... So, the students of our section have decided that six of us will take the same car to and from school. Nice idea, isn’t it?”

Sister Mercy D’ Souza, co-ordinator of the event, felt “it’s high time we did something for our city”. “The girls are so dedicated,” exclaimed Father Robert Athikel, co-ordinator of Tarumitra, the Patna-based NGO helping the students get their act together. The pollution control board , too, is all praise for the girls’ efforts. “Such demonstrations help spread awareness. They have our full support,” said K.S. Ramasubban, member-secretary of the board.

   

 
 
RAY OF HOPE FOR STAR RETURN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 24: 
City film buffs may be able to catch Rene Russo and Kevin Costner in Tin Cup after all, as after a two-month hiatus, STAR could well return on beam in the first week of May.

“We might lift the boycott on May Day, or during the course of the first week, if the broadcaster is amenable to some of our demands,” said a spokesman for the cable television operators’ joint action committee on Tuesday.

Leaders of various cablemen’s unions, who have been huddled in a string of meetings of late to try and find a way out of the impasse without losing face to member operators and viewers, have formulated a charter of demands for STAR as conditions for ending the standoff.

According to a committee representative, a guarantee will be sought on fees being frozen at current rates for the next two years and STAR will be asked to advertise the rate hike. “We will also seek a two-year free preview for STAR Gold, which has little demand in Calcutta,” the committee member said.

It is learnt that although a large number of operators are now in favour of lifting the roadblock, the blackout may continue if STAR doesn’t consider the committee’s demands “favourably”. The cablemen are expected to meet STAR officials “in a day or two”.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
Calcutta, April 24: 

Lawyers strike work in

The lawyers of three courts of Howrah struck work from Tuesday to protest the attack on the sub-divisional magistrate of Uluberia on Monday by some miscreants. Work at the courts was paralysed due to the ceasework. The magistrate, Mani Shanker Dwivedi, was beaten up and thrown out of a local train at Phuleswar, in Howrah, while on his way to court on Monday. The lawyers are demanding increased security.

Flesh trade

Park Street police arrested two men and four women, aged between 20 and 24, on Monday night at Karnani Mansion, on charges of allegedly running a flesh trade from their apartment.

Held for robbery

On Tuesday, the police arrested Tapas Das in the Sealdah area and recovered Rs 5,500 from him. This was part of the sum robbed from Anupam Adalkha, a medical student, on April 6. Adalkha was robbed of Rs 7,400 near Prachi cinema, while he was travelling on a private bus. He had lodged a complaint at the Muchipara police station.

Lab animals

Medical students need not bisect animals to learn the ropes of surgery on human beings any more, Dr Jerry Vlasak, an American surgeon and a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said on World Day for Lab Animals. During a lecture in the city on Tuesday, Vlasak said students could observe actual human bypass operations, use cutting-edge instructional methods and computer-based surgical simulators, including life-like dummies, which would teach them more about the human body than live animals.

Truck-owners

Truck-owners have sought the intervention of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to stop requisition of their vehicles by the Election Commission. Truck operators have decided to stop entering West Bengal from May 1, which could create an acute crisis of essential commodities in the state, All India Motor Transport Congress vice-president Gopal S. Mittal said.

Briefcase found

The police on Tuesday arrested Paresh Chakraborty and recovered a briefcase containing Rs 43,000 and pay orders of Rs 53,000 drawn in favour of the Airport Authority of India. Earlier in the day, the theft of a briefcase from the office of a transport agency in Clive Row had been reported.

Free-trippers

The Eastern Railway’s Sealdah division has introduced a “ticket-checking” train on different stretches of the division since last Friday. Soon, the train will be converted to a mobile court, complete with a railway magistrate.

Power theft

CESC officials and Narkeldanga police arrested Biswanath Tiwari, the manager of an oil mill on Shanti Tala Road, for tapping electricity. The mill owner is absconding.    

 
 
KITCHEN-SINK DRAMA 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, April 24: 
Unlike the siren city of Mumbai, which floors you with its splendour and bustling life, or Delhi, which blinds you with the glitter and sparkle of its new-found wealth, Calcutta has a secret life of its own which reveals itself only to the initiated — those of us who don’t make the mistake of going by appearances. It happens when you learn to look at life with calm detachment and do not arrive at conclusions without delving deep inside.

The rich and varied hidden life of Calcutta lies concealed behind shabby exteriors, behind disintegrating façades weighed down with masses of stucco garlands and flowers, behind shuttered windows with peekaboo slats, in dark and dusty interiors with red floors crammed with tons of furniture, in leafy avenues lined with ancient trees, and alleys where cats slink around in midday in search of stray fishbones.

Here, life is still unhurried and is as yet untouched by the madness that has overtaken the rest of the city. In a city, which can only boast of two Correas (one of them madeover into a hideous training centre for a nationalised bank) and which has spawned a bastardised form of architecture that owes kinship to a matchbox more than anything else, we make the error of ignoring or deleting our past all the time.

We can’t expect builders, developers and promoters to show any respect for the past, but even watchdog bodies like the heritage committee set up recently by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), whose job it is to protect the past for future times, have been ineffectual at best. So every passing day we hear stories of houses, listed by CMC as heritage structures, being demolished with impunity to make a landshark’s dream come true. Or the peace of quiet roads being shattered because a promoter is cash-rich enough to ensure that the CMC turns a blind eye to his transgressions.

Even about a year ago, Elgin Lane used to be one of the quietest cul-de-sacs in the city. It has only two buildings bearing its postal address. In pre-Independence days, it used to go by the very evocative name of Peepul Putty. But long before CMC had made renaming streets its favourite pastime, it got its current name. At one end it opens on Elgin Road, rubbing shoulders with Netaji Bhawan.

A hoarding bearing the portrait of Netaji and a picture of the car in which he made his “Great escape” in 1941 establishes the presence of the house after which a Metro station has been named. Unlike most grand old houses on the road, this house looks as good as new. A canopy of neem and other trees keeps it cool even in the height of summer.

The lane — the narrowest section of it — wriggles past the Bhawan and the huge CESC building standing an arm’s length away. CESC has tightened security by installing barbed wire fencing on top of the boundary wall. There is an abundance of flowering trees inside, and the lane smells like a scent factory. After dark, it turns into a favourite tryst of necking couples. The backdoors of at least two buildings open on this lane and on a summer afternoon, one can detect stains of grease in front of them. Perhaps somebody has tried to feed a pet cat with leftovers of lunch.

Number 1 Elgin Lane begins almost at the same point where the Netaji Bhawan wall ends. This house is named Anup Kunj, and it is of no recent vintage. The Jains have lived here for the past 25 years. Ramesh, one of the Jain brothers, says he is a transport operator from Mohammad Ali Park, and he points at the wooden staircase, red floors and high ceiling as proof of the buildings’ antiquity.

A giant TV with large speakers occupies pride of place in his bedroom, adorned with a vase also afflicted with gigantism. Pictures of Mahavira hang on the wall. His daughter Shilpa is smartly turned out in jeans, as is his young son.

Number 2 Elgin Lane became a household name after Kewpie’s Kitchen, perhaps the only classy restaurant in the city where Bengali food is served, opened there. It is a charming house, about 140 years old, but thanks to constant repairs, it looks younger than its years.

Prateep Kumar Das Gupta, present owner of the building, has lived here since 1941. The living room with its fat sofas, carpets, statuettes and pictures in no particular order looks delightfully old world. A four-poster dominates his bedroom.

In his 70s, Das Gupta remembers how budding cricketers, including Dilip Doshi, used to play in the lane. “This used to be a hundred per cent Bengali neighbourhood. Suchitra Mitra used to live in this house when she was still a Mukherjee, and the Kirtan singer Radharani Debi and her husband was our neighbour. A judge lived at number 1, and before that C.R. Das’ son-in-law, Bhaskar Mukherjee, who was CEO of CMC, occupied the house. He changed the name of this lane,” he rambles. Kewpie’s is on the groundfloor and it blends seamlessly with the ambience of the lane.

Ahead of Number 2 is the oxygen dealer who home-delivers the life-giving gas, and though this is the last house on this lane, its address is 9A Heysham Road.

There used to be an orchard opposite these three houses but the residents lost the paradise after Sukh Shanti Kunj, two apartment blocks of five storeys each, was foisted on it a little more than a year ago. During construction, a wall of Netaji Bhawan subsided, to be rebuilt again. Sukh Shanti Kunj is to Elgin Lane what chalk is to cheese, and the old residents of once-sleepy Elgin Lane fear that the peace has been shattered forever.

The address of the two blocks is 7/1 Heysham Road. Since the promoters, Jinendra Builders & Developers Pvt Ltd, took the floor area ratio (FAR) on the Heysham Road address, instead of narrow Elgin Lane, they were allowed to build five-storey high condos. But they erected seven gates, including the 30 ft wide main gate, opening on the lane. The Das Guptas and Jains park their cars in the lane, and they fear once the seven gates are used to drive in and out the cars of the 22 flat-owners, chaos will ensue.

The Elgin Lane residents petitioned against this, but CMC, which heard the case, dismissed the charges and held that the residents parked their cars illegally in the lane, though it is not a no-parking area. Even if no law has been violated, Elgin Lane will never be the same again.

   

 
 
POLL FEVER SPURT CUTS STOCKS AT BLOOD BANKS 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, April 24: 
The crowd at the Central Blood Bank at Maniktala overflows on to the steps leading into the building. People wait expectantly with furrowed brows as the staff at the counter call out their names. For many, the most important blood bank in the state is the last resort.

The city and its neighbouring areas are going through an acute bout of anaemia and, had not two religious organisations held voluntary camps over the last weekend, the stocks of blood at the government banks would have been zero.

Blood donation, which in Bengal relies to a great extent on the efforts of the youth wings of political parties, has been affected by the elections. With May 10 not far away, DYFI, SFI and Youth Congress members have become involved in canvassing and campaigning.

The weekends, which usually are devoted to organising camps in different neighbourhoods, are not being held. A few NGOs are organising donation drives, but the turnout at the camps are half the usual.

As it is, the onset of summer brings with it an unfounded psychological block that blood donation will affect a person’s physical well-being. Every year, the number of units collected from April to July is less compared to the remaining months.

This year, however, the crisis is acute. The bookings at the Central Blood Bank and six other major banks attached to government hospitals have fallen markedly.

The RG Kar Hospital blood bank attended its last camp on Sunday. The yield was a measly 35 units. With no more bookings forthcoming, the bank’s blood collection teams are sitting idle.

The blood banks at NRS, National, Medical College and SSKM hospitals would have shared the same fate, had it not been for a drive organised on Sunday by the Sant Nirankari Mandal on Manav Ekta Diwas. A sizeable 1,100 units were collected.

“The majority was deposited at CBB, while 100 units each went to the four other hospitals,” said CBB director, Dr A. Bhowmik, who is having to handle an additional demand. Till mid-February, the bank was responding to 200-250 requisitions a day. Now, it has to cater to 350-400.

“We have appealed to unions and organisations to hold voluntary donation camps. We are also urging people to go to any blood bank and donate a unit,” he said.

He has also asked the Association of Voluntary Blood Donors and the West Bengal Voluntary Blood Donors’ Forum to organise camps on weekdays. “It doesn’t matter if the turnout is low, but we need to sustain the collection.” The CBB itself has bookings for only nine camps on May Day. The occasion had generated as many as 15 donation drives last year.

In a bid to avert a crisis, the bank is practically insisting on an exchange or replacement donation by those coming with requisitions, even if the person has a valid donor card.

   

 
 
18 HELD AFTER SHOOTOUT AT DAWN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 24: 
Six gangsters, along with a dozen accomplices, were arrested after an early morning shoot-out at Locker Math, in the Bhowanipore police station area. Several policemen suffered bomb splinter injuries. Three of the 10 miscreants who managed to escape were also injured.

Lalbazar police sources said crimelords Kumar, Sejo, Mandela, Mihir Das and Sujoy Mondol were taken into custody. Of them, Kumar and Sejo are wanted in connection with 12 murders, 10 abductions and 14 extortion cases.

According to deputy commissioner of police, south, Ranjit Pachnanda, the gang had planned a meeting to settle a dispute. On receiving a tip-off, a huge police team reached Locker Math a little before Monday midnight. The source, an associate of Kumar, pointed out the house where the goons had assembled.

The Charu Market police took up position on one side, while teams from New Alipore and Tollygunge police stations cordoned off the rest of the area. After ensuring that all escape routes were sealed, the police knocked on the door. As soon as the door was opened, they stormed in.

The criminals, initially caught unawares, lobbed bombs and threw various articles at the police. The cops retaliated with gunfire. The skirmish continued for 15 minutes.

Police later said 18 criminals were arrested. But a handful managed to flee under cover of darkness. A huge cache of arms and ammunition was recovered from the hideout.

   

 
 
SAMATA-BJP FEUD QUEERS BYPOLL PITCH 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, April 24: 
The Samata Party in Manipur could not declare its candidate Vivek Raj Wangkhem as the unanimous choice of the ruling People’s Front for the Kshetriago seat.

Though, the BJP high command had decided to back the Samata Party candidate for the bypoll, internal problems between the state units of the Samata Party and the BJP are creating problems for Vivek Raj.

Byelection to the Kshetrigao constituency was ordered on May 11 following the death of the state Samata Party president and sitting president Basanta Kumar Wangkehm, father of Vivek Raj. To honour the late leader, most of the People’s Front constituents — the BJP, the Manipur People’s Party, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Federal Party of Manipur have decided not to field candidates to ensure Vivek Raj’s victory.

However, the two factions of Manipur State Congress Party, one led by former chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh and the other headed by Union minister of state for food processing Thounaojam Chaoba Singh have fielded their own nominees even though their party is a part of the front. Sources said the move was not intended to embarrass Vivek Raj, but to settle personal scores on the “real MSCP” issue.

The Opposition Congress has geared up for the polls. Though the Congress has not yet announced its nominee, I. Sanatomba, the former BJP leader, is likely to get a party ticket. Another contender Md. Mahamuddin Shah, who had always contested against Vivek Raj’s father, has already filed his nomination.

Sources said Kshetrigao may witness a triangular contest between the Samata Party, the Congress and Shah, who has filed his papers as a RJD candidate.

It is not known whether the state BJP will campaign for Vivek Raj. The state unit had appealed to the party high command to field its own candidate but was refused. Most of state BJP leaders were unhappy with the decision and may not campaign for Raj.

State BJP legislature wing leader R.K. Dorendra Singh has indicated that his party may not campaign for the Samata Party candidate. The state BJP unit has also not announced any election committee for the bypolls.

The enmity between the state units of the Samata Party and the BJP has deepened over the past few weeks. The state BJP unit has even accused the Samata Party leader and chief minister Radhabinod Koijam of spreading rumours against the Union home minister L.K. Advani. BJP leaders also boycotted a meeting of the PF core committee to discuss the Kshetrigao byelection issue last week. In retaliation, the Samata Party leader N. Nimai Singh has accused the state BJP of indulging in false propaganda.

   
 

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