Caught with crore in clothes
Housewife loses battle for survival
US consulate keeps Tuesday for student visa
Crash-course crowd checks out hi-tech
Storehouse of wisdom, picture of neglect
Parched Howrah voters turn up heat on candidate
Calphones chief retires
New Market shop demolished for encroachment
A river runs through it
Advani, Sonia fall back on banal rhetoric

 
 
CAUGHT WITH CRORE IN CLOTHES 
 
 
BY NIHAR GHOSH AND SOUMYADIPTA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, April, 30: 
Two young ‘carrier’ women were arrested on Sunday night, following one of the largest seizures of precious stones at Calcutta airport. The jewel thieves had hidden stones worth Rs 1 crore and more in their undergarments.

Customs officials at the airport said Roshni Khan and Kausar Ahmed, en-route to Delhi from Bangkok, were caught with around two kg of rubies, diamonds, emeralds and blue sapphires on them. They were produced before the chief judicial magistrate at Barasat on Monday and remanded in custody at Presidency Jail till May 14.

Kausar and Roshni, wives of Delhi-based businessmen, boarded an Indian Airlines flight (IC-732) from Bangkok and landed at Dum Dum airport around 5 pm on Sunday. Customs officials at the arrival gate noticed that “they looked extremely uneasy” and stopped them. On interrogation, Roshni, 30, and Kausar, 32, said they were planning a brief halt at a city hotel. The Customs officials grew suspicious when the two women, clad in salwar-kameez, gave contradictory statements about their travel plans. “Roshni told us they were headed for Delhi. Kausar claimed they were on their way go Lucknow. But they didn’t have any air tickets with them,” said a Customs official.

After grilling the duo for over an hour, the security personnel decided to examine their baggage. Two large suitcases, two skybags and two handbags were emptied, the contents searched and then passed through the X-ray machine. But nothing showed up.

“I was informed about the incident around 7.30 pm,” recounted a senior Customs official. “I went to the arrival counter, spoke to the women and was convinced that there was something fishy. So, I ordered my men to repeat the entire exercise.” But even the second baggage search failed to yield results. Then came the surprise breakthrough. “We tried to be as courteous as possible during the search. Realising that the two ladies had been standing for a long time, we asked them to take a seat. First, they hesitated. When we insisted, they took a seat, but just couldn’t sit still. Watching them squirm constantly, we knew that we were on the verge of cracking the case,” said the senior official.

A body-search was ordered immediately. And what had taken the force three hours to hunt in vain, the women officials unearthed in less than 20 minutes. The treasure came tumbling out. “The precious stones were packed tightly in small plastic packets and hidden in their undergarments. Some packets were sewn to their salwar,” said the officials.

After another marathon round of interrogation, stretching to over four hours, Roshni and Kausar were arrested. The FIR filed at Barasat court charged them with “possession of valuables without bona fide documents”. The stones have been handed over to the Geological Survey of India (GSI) for evaluation. “They are worth more than a crore. The largest one weighs about 7 carats,” revealed a GSI official.

   

 
 
HOUSEWIFE LOSES BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 30: 
After struggling to survive for more than 72 hours, Babita Agarwal (33), who had taken poison on Friday at her Sarat Bose Road residence, died in a city nursing home on Monday morning.

The condition of Anup, her brother-in-law who slashed his left wrist at the nursing home after he came to visit Babita from Surat, was stated to be stable by the nursing home authorities. He, too, was admitted to the same nursing home.

Babita, Anil Agarwal’s wife, was taken to a local nursing home when she was found unconscious. She was transferred to the nursing home, where she died later, as her condition deteriorated.

On Monday, neither Babita’s husband nor her two children were present at the housing complex where the Agarwals live. Only some distant relatives waited for Babita’s body. The Agarwals lived on the eighth floor of the building. Their troubles started after Anil’s hosiery factory at Sodepur closed down a few months ago.

Arun Jhunjhunwala, a relative of Babita’s, denied having made any comment on the issue to the press and said: “I categorically deny having made any such statement to anybody at any point of time. I have not met any reporter or correspondent either. I do not know how my name was mentioned in the report”.

Apurba Kumar Som Chowdhury, officer-in-charge of Bhowanipur police station, said: “We will wait for Babita’s post-mortem report to ascertain what poison she had taken. We could not record her statement as she was unconscious when she was admitted to the nursing home. Then we will interrogate her husband and other family members. Anil’s in-laws have already lodged a complaint”.

Three killed: Three persons, including a seven-year-old boy, were killed and four injured when a taxi collided with a truck on Monday morning on Jessore Road, near Dum Dum airport. The truck driver managed to escape but his help was arrested.

   

 
 
US CONSULATE KEEPS TUESDAY FOR STUDENT VISA 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 30: 
The US Consulate General in Calcutta is the only US office in the country that has set aside a separate day of the week (Tuesday) for accepting and processing visa applications from students.

The measure is among a number of simplifications being effected for visa applicants from May by the consulate here. Monday’s announcement coincides with the onset of the busy travel season, which begins in mid-April and lasts till October. Tourist visa applications go up by about 40 per cent during this time. On an average, there are 3,000 travel visa applications every month.

The changes are being given effect to at the US Embassy as well as at the other consulates in the country, taking into account local requirements. Another special Calcutta feature is the enlargement of the drop-box system for the benefit of the applicants.

Consulate officials said there was no need to queue up near the visa office on Ho Chi Minh Sarani overnight. Applications will be received from 8 am to 10.30 am on Monday, Tuesday (students only), Thursday and Friday. “We will entertain all those who have joined the queue till 10.30, provided no exigencies occur,” a consulate official said. These include internal priorities that may crop up, he explained.

Children under 16 and applicants over 60 need not come in person. They can send their signed application, documents and passport through a representative. This facility will also be extended to those who have been issued a multiple-entry US visa in the last five years, those travelling on official government business, employees of companies who are part of the business express programme, H1B, J and L visa applicants and their spouses/dependents, and any applicant who who has made multiple trips to western Europe or Canada in the past five years.

The consulate officials also advise travellers to apply well in advance (at least two weeks). No confirmed airline ticket is required to be presented. The application forms are free, while the non-refundable visa fee is Rs 2,115, and the issuance fee Rs 3,525.

In March 2001, there was a 27.14 per cent increase in the number of H1B (temporary worker) applicants over March 2000 in Calcutta. This is comparable to the average increase of 28.96 per cent from October to March over the same period last year. “If there was a current slow-down in our increased H1B applicant load, it is very slight,” a consulate official said.

The numbers in other categories have also gone up dramatically over the years. They include the B1 and B2 group (tourists), the J category (exchange programmes), L (intra-company transfers, O (persons with extraordinary capacities, like sportspersons, models) and P (performing artistes, dramatists and film stars).

   

 
 
CRASH-COURSE CROWD CHECKS OUT HI-TECH 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, April, 30: 
“Aaahhh”: A loud shriek over an animated cockroach at the Netguru studio. “Sho shweeet”: Exclamations over teddy bears presented at Webel House. “Wooow”: Awe-struck by lab machines in Chembiotek. Learning was fun on the ladies’ day out to the IT hotspots in town.

Members of the Ladies Study Group (LSG), an outfit of the Indian Chamber of Commerce, embarked on a voyage of discovery on Monday — a conducted tour of the Salt Lake Electronic Complex (Saltlec), “the face of the future”.

Why an infotech tour? “We were getting lots of information on hi-tech developments in Salt Lake. We decided to check it out for ourselves... After spending the day at Saltlec, we can proudly say that things are, indeed, moving in our city,” said LSG president Parul Swarup.

A convoy carrying 65 LSG members in a jumbo bus and 15 cars reached Webel Bhavan sharp at 11.15 am. After a brief welcome address by S.K. Mitra, managing director, Webel, a documentary on the latest developments in Saltlec was screened. The tone for the tour set, the convoy set off for Chembiotek. At the research centre promoted by The Chatterjee Group, the visitors were briefed about the concept of outsourcing material for the pharmaceutical industry. “What’s the concept of Genome... Do you have imported machineries here... Will breakthroughs in your research work remove diseases?” The questions from the crash-course crowd flew thick and fast. Having checked out the various laboratory equipment and quizzed the scientists and researchers, one member popped the question: “I want my kids to pursue science. Can I bring them over some time?”

From chemistry to software. At Skytech Solutions, the application system providers for airlines, the excitement was palpable. “This is just too much. I would have never imagined that such hi-tech work was going on in Calcutta,” gushed Arati Oberoi. “Why don’t you do something for the railways?” suggested an elderly team member.

Next scheduled stop, Research Engineers. “But we want to go to the intelligent building first,” rose the chorus.

The impromptu stopover at Infinity was well worth it. “It’s really nice to see such world-class buildings in Calcutta,” exclaimed Sujata Bose.

Braving the heat and dust, taking the pot-holed Salt Lake streets in their stride, the ladies’ group with a goal then hit the animation studio of Netguru.

The artists creating cartoons and animation captured the imagination of young and old. Suparno Chaudhuri, vice-president, digital media, had a tough time fielding the flurry of questions. “You mean, a one-second animation requires 12 frames to be drawn by artists?” asked someone. “Can’t you get the women to wear Indian outfits?” demanded another, on spying a skimpily-clad girl on one of the computer screens.

At around 2.15 pm, the exhausted but excited gang decided to call it a day. Back to Webel Bhavan for lunch, and dispersal.

“It was a great outing, and we should organise such programmes more frequently,” concluded Anuradha Dalmia. “Most of us used to shy away from anything related to information technology. But having got a glimpse of the IT magic, we’ll definitely want to learn more.”

   

 
 
STOREHOUSE OF WISDOM, PICTURE OF NEGLECT 
 
 
BY RESHMI SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, April. 30: 
The peeling paint and the cobwebs hanging from rows of dusty books tell the chequered tale of a four-storeyed building in Goabagan. At 92, Boys’ Own Library and Young Men’s Institute is struggling to keep alive its tradition of being a source of disseminating information. Cash crunch and dwindling membership hold out a not-so-bright future for one of the oldest libraries in Calcutta.

Founded in 1909 in Ram Narayan Bhattacharjee Lane by three enthusiastic teenagers, the library grew to become a second home for many. Membership has been like a legacy, with several subscribing to the library for two or more generations. A separate section for children was opened in 1940, which has since enthused members by organising sit-and-draw, recitation and drama competitions.

The library has a collection of around 45,000 rare books. Of these, 17,000 are Bengali novels, 3,000 Bengali dramas and nearly half the collection is out of print. Besides, the rust-coloured, dilapidated building on Raja Rajkrishna Street stores a huge number of graduate-level text books on the arts and sciences.

“Our stock on Bengali drama is quite enviable. No other library in Bengal can boast of such a formidable collection. But maintaining the books is a serious problem, as we don’t have a steady flow of funds,” says assistant secretary Raja Kundu. The crumbling sepia-tinted pages of hard covers piled on the stacks say as much.

Earlier, the place would be frequented by linguist Sukumar Sen, Professor Satyen Bose and writers Sunil Gangopadhyay and Shakti Chattopadhyay, among other luminaries. “There were times when people waited in serpentine queues before the counter and we had quite a time issuing books,” says an old-time employee.

“The lull in membership over the past few years owes a lot to the coaching-class boom and the readily-available notebooks. We have lost our readers to these developments. Besides, parents these days view libraries as distractions, rather than treasure houses, for their children,” says chairman of the children’s section Amitava Chatterjee, who has been a member since he was seven.

The library provides free reading facilities for all. Membership comes for Rs 3 for elders and Re 1 for children per month. “Even then, we have to cajole people to read books! We need serious readers because this rich treasure is going unutilised and nothing can be more unfortunate than this,” says Chatterjee.

   

 
 
PARCHED HOWRAH VOTERS TURN UP HEAT ON CANDIDATE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 30: 
No water, no vote. Parched residents of Gangaram Bairagi Lane, at Tikiapara, assaulted Trinamul Congress candidate for central Howrah Ambika Banerjee during his election campaign on Monday morning. Banerjee was taken to a dispensary with a minor injury on his forehead. He was released after being administered first-aid.

Later, traffic in Howrah town came to a standstill as a large number of Trinamul activists put up roadblocks on major thoroughfares like Belilious Road, Kadamtala Road, GT Road and East-West Road, protesting the attack.

According to the police, frustrated at the lack of civic amentities and acute water scarcity in the area, residents had decided not to let any candidate campaign there. Around 10.30 am, Banerjee, along with his supporters, reached ward 20 to meet the voters of the locality. On seeing Banerjee, a large number of residents, allegedly CPM supporters, gathered and stopped him from proceeding on his campaign trail. An altercation followed between them and the Trinamul workers accompanying Banerjee.

“The CPM men hit me mercilessly and even tore my kurta. Yet, I asked my partymen not to react, since I understood that the CPM had planned the conflict to create tension,” said Banerjee.

According to the Trinamul candidate, water scarcity is a long-standing problem of the locality. “I was surprised to see that only I was targetted. The CPM and the BJP candidates also did their rounds a short while before I went. Surprisingly, they were not attacked,” Banerjee said. A complaint had been lodged at the local police station, he added.

Tension mounted as Trinamul supporters held demonstrations in the area. Senior police officers, including deputy superintendent of police, (south) Humayan Kabir, visited the locality and brought the situation under control. Police pickets were posted and Rapid Action Force personnel flagmarched in the area. However, local CPM leaders have denied Banerjee’s allegation about involvement of their party supporters in the assault.

Run over: Brajesh Mondal (60) was run over by a heavy vehicle at Dastipur, near Diamond Harbour, on Sunday night. Mondal was on his way home when the driver lost control of his vehicle, killing Mondal on the spot.

   

 
 
CALPHONES CHIEF RETIRES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 30: 
Chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones, K.R. Ramanujam, will retire on April 30 and S.P. Chakravarty, chief general manager, West Bengal, will take over, sources in the ministry of communication in Delhi said.

Ramanujam took charge of the telecom utility on July 3, 1996, when half of the four-lakh-odd phone lines were out of order. “My first priority was to rectify the faults and improve services. I motivated my men and concentrated on instilling a sense of discipline and work culture in them,” he said.

A year later, services improved and linesmen were prompt in repairing faults and installing new connections. The communication ministry rated Calcutta Telephones’ performance as the best in India in 2000. The growth rate also increased from 4 lakh connections in 1996 to 12.5 lakh in 2001. Subscribers can now avail of facilities like call transfer, call waiting, calling line identification, know-your-bill, automatic bill payment through electronic clearing system, phone-on-demand and automatic fault booking.

“I lay emphasis on replacing the old copper cables with optical fibres, which is a faster mode of communication and less prone to faults,’’ said Ramanujam, who credits the 16,000-strong workforce for the upgradation.

However, cellular phone services has remained a grey spot in his career. “We had thought of launching commercial services in my tenure but we failed due to some technical hitches,” he said.

   

 
 
NEW MARKET SHOP DEMOLISHED FOR ENCROACHMENT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 30: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) on Monday demolished a shop selling brassware in New Market for encroaching on the entrance to the new complex. A large contingent of police was deployed while CMC men razed the construction.

“We decided to demolish the shop, as the vigilance commission had pointed out gross irregularities and shady dealings by a group of civic employees in connection with it,” said member, mayor-in-council (market), Samsujjaman Ansari.

According to a vigilance official, a self-styled Trinamul Congress trade union leader, employed in the civic printing section, is suspected to have helped one Bhattacharya set up the shop in return of money, soon after Trinamul took over the civic board.

Pradip Chakraborty, spokesman for the New Market Welfare Association, said the CMC had rehabilitated those shop-owners in the new complex whose stalls were gutted in a devastating fire more than 12 years ago. Bhattacharya did not have a shop in the market then.

It is still a mystery how the former CPM-led CMC board had approved of a stall for Bhattacharya without earmarking the space for him. Bhattacharya had a slot near the Sulabh complex, where he would dump scrap. But it was not touched by the fire that gutted New Market, Ansari said.

About six months ago, Bhattacharya set up shop on the entrance way to the new complex. Ansari had then tried to prevent him, but failed owing to pressure from a group of Trinamul Congress employees.

The matter was then referred to the vigilance commission, which submitted its report recently. If the CMC had let out the space, measuring about 80 sq feet, it could have earned not less than Rs 20 lakh, Ansari said. Kajal Datta, a special officer overseeing New Market affairs, was suspended over the issue but later absolved of the charges, said Ansari.

   

 
 
A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 30: 
“If you scratch a poster on any Calcutta wall, you’ll find a story to tell.” And Sanjoy Roy, director of the National Award-winning documentary Shahjahanabad — The Twilight Years, intends to do just that.

Roy, Delhi-based managing director of Teamwork Films is set to start shooting a documentary on Calcutta by Durga Puja this year. He has already begun research for the four-part series, which will trace the city’s life between 1850 and 1947.

“Our history is what makes us today... We can’t afford to lose all that,” says the 39-year-old, with roots in Calcutta. The old buildings, the river, the pujas, will be central to the film. “Calcutta has a rich heritage, which we need to explore from an Indian perspective,” says Roy, who started his career in the theatre. “All that is usually highlighted is the poverty and Mother Teresa.”

Structures are teeming with history, says Roy, who has never lived in the city. “Behind every pillar there is intrigue, bloodshed, joy, laughter.”

He hopes to explore heritage houses such as Raj Bhavan, and the houses of the Mullicks, the Tagores and the Gooptus. “But also, Calcutta wouldn’t be Calcutta without the river, which made the city what it was, the tides, the Durga Puja...”

The changes over time, the “transfer of power and change of guard”, the entry of the banking community is another aspect that Roy would like to focus on. A narrative format, similar to that of Shahjahanabad, using the likes of Sushma Seth and Vinod Nagpal, is what he plans to utilise again.

“We would like to jog the interest of viewers about history. In a film, all you can really provide is a minute-a-year instant history... After that, we leave it to the teachers and researchers,” he laughs.

“There is so much value locked into cities, and we have to preserve it,” observes the director, not pleased to learn about recent construction on heritage sites in Calcutta. “Of course, you cannot sacrifice development, but city planners can at least ensure that the ethos of new structures is in keeping with that of the old.”

Roy is also working on a series of films on hill trains, called Of Stations and Hill Stations, featuring Shimla, Darjeeling and Ooty, as well as tracks in the Northeast and Himachal Pradesh. After establishing Teamwork Films in 1989, Roy brought Indian audiences Tol Mol ke Bol, ‘India’s first gameshow’, Newsline, a drama series, Choona Laga Ke, a satire. Shahjahanabad, his first historical documentary, received the National Award for Excellence as well as the IDPA award for Best Documentary and Best Director in the English film category in 1999. It was screened at Nandan on April 30, for the first time in the city.

   

 
 
ADVANI, SONIA FALL BACK ON BANAL RHETORIC 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Jorhat, April 30: 
Resorting to banal rhetoric at election rallies in Upper Assam, Union home minister L.K. Advani and Congress president Sonia Gandhi today blamed each other’s party for the problems plaguing the state. Addressing a rally in the Upper Assam township of Mariani, 18 km from here, Advani said the people of Assam should vote for democracy in the May 10 elections.

“Which party wins the elections is immaterial. But democracy should prevail at all costs,” he said. Referring to the continuing attacks on AGP workers, Advani said it was imperative to make militants realise that people’s power was mightier than their AK-47s.

The home minister lambasted the Congress for the better part of his two-minute speech, saying it had consistently failed to deliver the goods over the past 53 years.

He said the country had made more progress under the National Democratic Alliance government than during Congress rule. “The 21st century will be India’s century. It will emerge as one of the top powers of the world,” he added.

Advani appealed to the electorate to give the AGP and the BJP an opportunity to work together for the development of Assam.

The home minister earlier attended a public rally in Sivasagar.

The tenor of Sonia Gandhi’s speech at a well-attended election rally in Jorhat was no different from Advani’s.

Singling out the BJP for criticism, she said it was a “communal” party comprising wealthy businessmen who had only the interests of the “rich and famous” in mind. Urging the people to take stock of the AGP-led government’s performance before casting their votes, Sonia Gandhi said chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s party had promised a lot but done precious little to merit a second term in office.“Having forged an alliance with the BJP, the AGP has left us with little doubt about its intentions. The people are in for trouble if the AGP retains power in Assam,” the Congress president said. She delivered the written speech in Hindi. Sonia Gandhi said the Congress was a party committed to uplift of the poor and the downtrodden. “It has selflessly worked for them over the years,” she said.

The Congress leader said her husband Rajiv Gandhi had drawn up a Rs 32-crore development project for Assam, but could not implement it as the AGP came to power.

   
 

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