Silver lining for silver screen
Dakshineswar throne hits designer delay
Civic halls go private
Passed Class IV, promoted to nowhere
Share, the best way to show you care
Cops play masons to arrest don
Aqua Java tie-up with Pantaloons
Date set for heritage house fate
Rajarhat industrial plots in May
AGP men killed in twin Ulfa strikes

Calcutta, April 25: 
Mad about movies? Mad about movie halls being shut? May promises to be the month of the return of movie magic.

With the cinema strike entering its fifth week, the government has finally stepped in to try and end the impasse. T.K. Sengupta, chief minister’s special envoy and key troubleshooter, set up a meeting between Arijit Dutta of the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA) and Lakshman Bhattacharya of Citu and several leaders of the Bengal Motion Pictures Employees’ Union (BMPEU) at Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday afternoon. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, apparently, initiated the move to break the deadlock between hall employees and owners that was depriving cinegoers and hitting the film industry where it hurts.

Both Dutta and Bhattacharya said they had managed to iron out differences on some of the contentious issues. Sources said the EIMPA has agreed to “full settlement” of the ad hoc payment and a 50 per cent hike in the pay structure. These are the two main demands of the agitating employees.

“We can meet the demands of the employees provided the government agrees to waive taxes on Bengali films, reduce taxes on Hindi films, give us electricity at industrial rates and increase service charges,’’ said Dutta, who runs both Priya and Globe. “Some ground has been covered at the meeting. But the ball is now in the government’s court,’’ he added.

T.K. Sengupta’s reaction to the EIMPA demand was “positive”. He assured Dutta he would brief the chief minister about the meeting. “If everything goes right, we hope to end the impasse in May,’’ Sengupta is said to have added.

Trade sources said Bengali movies are the hardest hit by the strike. Only 30 of the 80 city cinemas are open. In the rest of Bengal, 330 halls out of 700 are shut. Of the new releases, the big-budget Pratibad, starring Prasenjit and Arpita Pal, could be screened at only two city cinemas and a fistful in the districts. Other recent releases to suffer include Basu Chatterjee’s Chupi Chupi, which could only be screened at Nandan, and Firdaus’ Churiwala, that opened in just a few halls in the districts.

With the New Empires and Lighthouses, the Globes and Jyotis downing shutters since March 23, city cinegoers have all but missed out on the Govinda-Aishwarya starrerAlbela and the David Dhawan blockbuster Jodi No. 1, starring Govinda and Sunjay Dutt. Oscar-winning biggies like Gladiator and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, too, were denied the chance to make an early-summer splash here. Waiting in the wings are Miss Congeniaility Sandra Bullock with Michael Caine and All The Pretty Horses with teen heartthrobs Penelope Cruz and Matt Damon.

But all this, and more, could come to “a theatre near you” next month. Sources said the government is ready to agree to the EIMPA’s demands. According to some exhibitors, the government had earlier assured them that taxes would be slashed, from 70 to 50 per cent, for Hindi and English films. It had also agreed to waive taxes for Bengali films and increase service charge.

The employee-employer rift might take some time to heal. At Wednesday’s meeting, Dutta lodged a protest with Bhattacharya over the attack by some hall employees on film producers and distributors. “The employees cannot browbeat us into submission. We do sympathise with their demands, but they also have to understand the hall-owners’ position,’’ he said.


Calcutta, April 25: 
The 146-year-old throne of Kali at the Dakshineswar temple will not be replaced with a new one this summer. The new throne, to have been completed within 30 days, has hardly taken shape, seven months into the project.

The prominent city-based jewellery company, which had been given the total contract to prepare the throne, has little to show for its efforts. Work has come to a standstill for the past month and a half.

The room, in which the structure of the new throne is being erected, is under lock and key. There is no sign of the workers, who had been provided with two rooms on the temple premises. The temple authorities have no idea how long it will take for the throne to be commissioned.

The point of contention, to begin with, was an aesthetic one. The temple authorities were not satisfied with the skill of the artisans and cancelled the initial design for the new throne, as it “was not close enough to the original”. The jewellery company started all over again. But the temple authorities feel that the work is progressing in slow motion.

Kusal Chowdhury, secretary of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple and Debottar Estate, said: “We had told them from the very beginning that the new throne, made of silver, brass and wood, must be of the same design and size as the original. We had even given them a portion of the original throne to help them design the new one. But the workers were not being able to replicate it. It is their responsibility to send skilled artisans who can make the goddess’ seat according to our specifications.”

Expressing “dismay” over the slow pace of progress, Chowdhury added: “We have requested the agency repeatedly to work faster. But they have not paid any heed. Instead, they have reduced the number of artisans from 12 to two.”

Chowdhury has already despatched two letters requesting the company to finish the work as soon as possible. “Each time, they give us a verbal assurance, but there is no sign of any work at the site. It seems they are too busy fulfilling other commercial commitments,” he added.

The trustees of the temple had bought 90 kg of silver of a quality matching that of the original, from the jewellery chain.

The total cost of the new throne was pegged at Rs 12 lakh, including labour charges of Rs 1.6 lakh. “We have paid the amount as per agreement. But they have not kept their promise,” alleged Chowdhury.

The contract had been sealed last August. Three months after that, the artisans had erected the frame for the throne. “On examining the design of the structure, we realised that there were a number of differences from the original design. I told them to start again, using a different technique that would ensure accuracy,” recounted Chowdhury.

The temple authorities are now trying to get the basic structure of the new throne erected so that they can then move on to the next stage.

Once the exact weight of the throne is ascertained, the temple trustees will approach the Archaeological Survey of India to suggest what metal should be used for the basal structure.

“As we cannot shut the temple doors to devotees, we had hoped to finish the work during the summer months, when the rush is the least. But now, all our plans have been upset,” observed Chowdhury.


Calcutta, April 25: 
After privatising the civic maternity homes and a few primary schools, the cash-strapped Calcutta Municipal Corporation has turned to the private sector yet again. It has decided to let out 24 community halls, with a combined investment of nearly Rs 50 crore, to private parties for running them profitably.

The Corporation will invite open tenders, as it does in letting out parking lots to private contractors. Most of these community halls are less than 30 years old and in prime locations like Hearse Street in Narkeldanga, Harinath Dey Road (off Sukea Street), Kankurgachi, Behala, Triangular Park, Taltala and Ananda Palit Road and the civic authorities expect a good response from private parties. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said when these halls were built, the concept of privately-run community halls had not gained popularity and the civic body had to construct them with tax-payers’ money.

Later, 10 more halls have come up on CMC land in Jadavpur, Behala and east Calcutta. According to a senior accounts officer, the CMC has to spend more than Rs 50 lakh every year for security, maintenance and electricity bills at these halls. Maintenance of these halls is managed by the respective borough committees and the borough offices are empowered to let them out. Daily charges vary between Rs 1,500 and Rs 6,000, including electricity, depending on size and facilities available.

However, the CMC made exceptions for people’s representatives in the civic body. Social functions or political meetings can be held at these halls, paying a token fee of Re 1 if a borough chairman grants an appeal for exemption.

“This has to stop”, said Mukherjee who has already asked the project and development department to prepare a status report on community halls.

“The procedure for letting the halls out to private contractors will be finalised after the election. We have also decided not to fund any such new project from the civic exchequer,” he added.


Calcutta, April 25: 
It’s a war of words between the primary and the secondary sections of Patha Bhavan school. Caught in the crossfire are 140 students of the primary section, waiting to be promoted to Class V. They have received report cards saying they are “promoted to Class V”, but they don’t know which school to go to. The confusion follows a decision of the senior section’s management committee — that students from the primary section will no longer get direct admission in Class V. Instead, they will have to sit for a test with “outside” applicants.

At a hurriedly-convened solidarity meeting on Wednesday, attended by more than 300 parents, teachers and managing committee members of the junior school, the senior section decision was termed “ad hoc and arbitrary”. “We always thought the kids would be automatically admitted to senior school, but now they are talking about tests. There aren’t any tests in the junior section, so it’s unfair to push these kids to admission tests at this stage,” said Biman Banerjee, a guardian.

Various moves to stall the “high-handed” and sudden decision were debated at the meeting, lasting over three-and-a- half hours. It was unanimously decided that forms for admission to Class V will be submitted, but the students won’t take the tests. “To resolve the impasse, we had invited all the managing committee members, but none of them turned up for the meeting,” said Kaushik Rakshit, a guardian.

Santosh Bhattacharya, president of the senior section management committee, justified the move as the junior and the senior sections are “separate entities” and so “legally, we can’t discriminate between students applying from other schools and students from the primary school”. He however, added that he had “advised” the headmaster of the school to treat the cases of Patha Bhavan primary students with “special consideration” and felt that the “parents of students appearing for the test shouldn’t worry.”

But at the moment, there aren’t any takers for Bhattacharya’s words of assurance. The parents are keen to know what prompted the senior section management committee to change the 35-year-old practice in a school which has had the likes of Satyajit Ray and Susobhan Sarkar on its governing body. Pradipta Kanungo, an ex-student of the school and the headmistress of the primary section, said: “I was informed about the decision on April 18, just a day before the results were published, and was asked to implement it from 19th itself. This is most unfair on the students and parents.”

To take their protest to the streets, parents have decided to picket the secondary school on Thursday. “We will also seek justice from the chief minister, education minister and secretary of the Board of Secondary Education,” they said.


Calcutta, April 25: 
“They have no clothes, no biscuits, no toys... I have a lot of money in my piggy bank, which I want to give to these poor children.” Four-year-old Yohan has what he wants at home. But for the student of Mother’s Care Montessori, it is never too soon to learn that sharing is the best way to show you care.

The bright and bustling Montessori in Mandeville Gardens has ‘adopted’ Ananda Samity, a non-formal school for around 25 students. The combined effort of the school authorities, parents, and the toddlers has brought a little bit of sunshine into the lives of the less-fortunate.

“Many of the children don’t fully understand what we are trying to do. But we always explain to them that there are kids out there who go without things like toys and clothes,” explains principal Nandita Agarwala. “One or two children do understand... And that is enough.”

The two-year-old Montessori has made significant changes to the small school off Deshapriya Park, for which it received a Special Merit Award at the Better Calcutta contest. The children donated piles of old clothes, toys and biscuits last year. “In September, around 100 kids, mainly three and four-year-olds, marched around school, in a peace procession dedicated to Ananda Samity,” says founder-administrator Madhu Saraf.

Agarwala works very closely with Minoti Sen of the Samity, to find out the requirements of the school. Books, food, mats and blackboards have all been provided by Mother’s Care. The kids were even taken for a picnic to Safari Park. Two fundraisers, where the toddlers took part, were held: a Christmas carnival and a cultural programme. Parents contributed generously, and the corpus should see them through the next year.

Tamanna, Yohan’s batchmate, is equally excited about the “brothers and sisters” she gets to meet once in a while.

“I give all of my old things which I don’t use anymore,” she says, arranging and rearranging multi-coloured building blocks. “They don’t play, they can’t eat... they aren’t allowed to go to school because some of them are forced to work on the street,” she adds gravely.

Agarwala feels that the children’s sensitivity depends on the environment at home. “If kids are allowed to scream at servants at home, it will obviously affect their outlook,” she explains.

Plans for the future include a joint exhibition of the artwork of children from both schools, a party at Mother’s Care for all the kids, and even movie-and-ice-cream outings.

Says Agarwala: “We will give the parents an option to send their kids... After that, it is up to them.”


Calcutta, April 25: 
Cops in the guise of masons trapped a dreaded extortionist in Behala before rounding up four of his accomplices on Tuesday.

Khoka Adhikari and his men were wanted in at least 15 cases of extortion, murder and snatching. A revolver, five pipeguns, a cellphone, seven rounds of cartridges and 15 g of heroin were recovered from them.

“On Tuesday, we received information that Khoka would come at a construction site on Netaji Sarani to collect money from a promoter. Three officers of Behala police station, led by officer-in-charge Subir Chatterjee, in the guise of masons were posted there. Within a short while, Khoka and his men reached the spot on motorcycles. When the goons failed to find the promoter, Khoka and his gang started threatening his employees with dire consequences. The police confronted Khoka to arrest him and his men fled in the melee,” said additional superintendent of police Gyanwant Singh.

Later, after interrogating Khoka, police raided a hideout at Banstala, in Behala, and picked up three of his men — Sanat Mondal, alias Kelo, Sourav Banerjee, alias Bappa, and Arabinda Ghosh, alias Mezhka. Pipeguns and cartridges were seized from them. Later, Raja, alias Altaf, the fourth in the gang, was arrested in Rajabazar.

“We were keeping a watch on Khoka, alias Bappa, for a long time but could not net him,” said Subhankar Chatterjee, deputy superintendent of police (town).

During the past two months, four of the six gangs that operated in and around Behala have been busted, police said. The gangs were led by Rajesh Khan, Kala Sher, Barun and Khoka. Rajesh was arrested in Jadavpur, and Kala Sher and Barun were caught in Behala. Barun was the prime accused in the murder of local CPM leader Golak Sen in a school compound. Sources claimed that about 100 criminals, wanted in different cases of murder and extortion, were arrested in Behala. A huge cache of arms was recovered from them.


Calcutta, April 25: 
Aqua Java, the young and happening coffee shop chain in town, has found a heavyweight “mentor”. Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd, owners of the high-profile Pantaloons brand, has entered into a strategic alliance with Aqua Java Pvt Ltd to promote the beverage and food chain. “We will be the mentor capitalist in this venture, buying a 26 per cent stake in Aqua Java, besides helping them in strategy and brand-building,” explained PRIL managing director Kishore Biyani, after signing the agreement in the city on Wednesday.

Aqua Java, which already has five outlets in the city, plans to open five more by the year-end. “This tie-up will give our brand national recognition,” said Aqua Java managing director Saket Agarwal. The coffee shop now plans to reposition itself in the beverage and food market. “Coffee will remain our strength, but we will add to the fare to cater to all segments,” said Agarwal.


Calcutta, April 25: 
The fate of the Mackinnon Mackenzie and Company Ltd building at 16, Strand Road, is set to be decided on May 14. Though it still looks splendid from outside, parts of the magnificent building were gutted in a fire on November 7, 1998, and Strand Properties Ltd, which owns the heritage building, would like to demolish it.

However, ITC, one of its sub-lessees under Mackinnon Mackenzie, has been against any such move and moved court.

Last Thursday, Calcutta High Court passed an order appointing a structural engineer, Professor S. Majumdar, head of the civil engineering department, IIT, Kharagpur, to inspect the building and to prepare a report on whether the building needs to be demolished in its entirety or only in parts, or whether it can be restored to its former glory after effective repairs.

The deadline for preparing the report is two weeks, that is May 14. ITC will bear the cost of the inspection.

Strand Properties Ltd has held that it would like to demolish the building because it posed a hazard to those who still lived inside it and to pavement-dwellers who sleep on the sidewalk close to it. So, the high court has ordered the officer-in-charge of Hare Street police station to post a policeman in the building so that nobody is allowed within, and pavement-dwellers too are removed from around the premises.


Calcutta, April 25: 
The Rajarhat township authorities will start allotting plots for commercial and industrial purposes from May. A separate zone is being developed for these sectors, said officials of Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (Hidco), the agency implementing the township project.

The commercial plot will house offices, markets and entertainment centres. Hidco has drawn up the rates for the plots and sent them to the housing department for approval. The proposed cost of an industrial plot is Rs 1.05 lakh per cottah, which is more or the less the same as a residential plot.

The rate will vary according to the area, Hidco sources said. The cost of a commercial plot starts from Rs 2 lakh per cottah. “The industrial plots have been kept at a low price to facilitate new entrepreneurs set up industry here. A new industry means development and employment,’’ said a senior Hidco officer.

The demand for commercial and industrial plots in the Rajarhat township has soared after Salt Lake became the city’s IT hub. Sectors V and VI in Salt Lake, which were earmarked as industrial plots, have been acquired by a number of electronics and IT concerns.

Housing minister Gautam Deb has asked his officers and engineers to develop the commercial and industrial zones in Rajarhat on a priority basis. “Several new entrepreneurs have approached us for plots in the new township, including small and medium establishments. Besides, at least 50 private sector companies have sought plots to set up IT industry there. We shall try to accommodate all of them,’’ Deb said.

Apart from Hidco, a large number of applications for Rajarhat township plots are pending with the state government’s industry cell and the chief minister’s secretariat at Writers’ Buildings.

Refusing to disclose the names of the applicants, sources at the secretariat said at least a dozen renowned industrial houses, including multinational companies, have opted for plots at Rajarhat. “We have referred the cases to the Hidco authority for necessary action,” sources said.

“Work on the commercial and industrial zones, which will have all the infrastructural facilities required for an industry, is in progress. Besides, work on roads, bridges, flyovers, water supply and power transmission is also going on,” Hidco officials said.

Distribution of residential plots in Phase-I in the Rajarhat township is over and allotment has been started.


Guwahati, April 25: 
Suspected Ulfa militants gunned down two members of the Asom Gana Parishad last night, sending shock waves in the ruling party.

Party president and chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta today reacted to the twin incidents by accusing the Opposition Congress of joining hands with militants and mafia groups to rig the polls and intimidate AGP workers. Both the incidents took place in Lower Assam’s Bongaigaon district within a span of two-and-a-half hours.

In the first incident, president of the AGP’s Kakoijana Anchalik Parishad, Dharmakanta Roy, was called out of his residence by a group of “two to three Ulfa militants” at 8.30 pm and shot dead a short distance away from his house in Dewanpara. Abhayapuri police, under whose jurisdiction the area falls, said 47-year-old Roy died on the spot.

Another AGP worker, Bidyut Nath, 30, was gunned down by militants at Chukrihali Bazar under Manikpur police station at 11 pm. Nath had gone out after dinner to play carrom with his friends .

Bongaigaon additional superintendent of police P.K.J. Nath said “We suspect the Ulfa’s hand in both the incidents”.

Col. A.K. Singh of the 21 Mountain Division, said troops have moved into Bongaigaon district to keep an eye on the situation.

The twin killings, coming just a few days before the May 10 elections, have shaken the confidence of AGP members who had apprehended such militant attacks on ruling party workers.

On April 18, another leader of the party’s Rangiya unit, Biren Patowary, was shot dead by suspected Ulfa rebels.

Mahanta claimed this morning that the banned Ulfa was planning to disrupt the polls by indulging in sabotage activities.

Mahanta said the government had received information about the outfit’s plans to disrupt polls. “We do not want to disclose it now. It will be revealed at an appropriate time,” he said.

Mahanta said the outfit had warned an AGP leader in Nalbari against taking part in the elections. He indirectly hinted at an alleged Congress-Ulfa nexus for the killings, saying the Opposition party has past record of taking militants’ help to win elections.

“I would like to caution the people of Assam that the Congress will resort to largescale rigging in the coming elections, in the manner that they had done in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, with the connivance of terrorists and antisocials like mafia groups.”

He alleged that the previous Congress government “toyed” with the issue of terrorism just for political gains and thus complicated the situation “which resulted in more misery” for the people.

“The interests of the nation and that of the state cannot be safe in the hands of the Congress. Allowing this party to come to power will only mean pushing the state again to the distressing situation of death, destruction, chaos and confusion that prevailed during their regime five years ago,” Mahanta told newsmen at the AGP headquarters this morning.

Mahanta claimed that peace had returned to the state due to the stern stand taken by his government against militants.

Projecting the AGP as a party wedded to the cause of rooting out terrorism, he said a number of party leaders “have been killed or maimed for life. But we have not budged an inch from our avowed goal of bringing peace”.


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