No parking in shoppers’ paradise
Wary colleges avoid star billing
Transfers at hotel trigger assault
Poll rallies clog VIP Road, delay air passengers
Dribbling a football, driving a bus
Behala don planned to disrupt elections
Budget, culture and diplomacy
Police drive to rein in cyclists
Creativity for a cause
Muslims scout for new ‘saviour’

Calcutta, May 1: 
There’s not a car in sight. The paved courtyard on Lindsay Street, in front of New Market, stages a street-play as pedestrians stroll along sheltered arcades, grab a bite from the quaint kiosks and enjoy the ‘interactive’ landscaping that sets the tone for the central shopping and entertainment hub

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation has shifted the proposed site of Simpark-II from Humayun Place to Lindsay Street, trumpeting it as the perfect foil to the mayor’s grandiose plans for beautification of the area. But architects and town planners are convinced that the only long-term solution to the parking problem in the New Market area is making it a pedestrian zone.

“The mixture of vehicular and pedestrian traffic in that area has bred chaos, ruined the ambience and added to the irritation of the shoppers. The proposed Simpark will kill the vista of the area,” feels architect Dulal Mukherjee.

Elaborates architect Prabir Mitra: “By creating an eyesore like Simpark on Lindsay Street, CMC will cause nothing short of a catastrophe. This is just a knee-jerk reaction to the problem, not a rational design solution. They just want to sell billboard space for revenue, but haven’t accounted for the ambience and long-term needs. This will affect the environment and serenity of the area.”

Noted town planner Abhijit Sen feels the 300-car Simpark in front of New Market can improve “the immediate situation” to some extent. “However, this can never be a long-term solution to the parking problem in the area... Proper scientific solutions to the parking problems and plans for the beautification of the area have been submitted to the authorities long ago. But they have refused to act on them,” he complains.

So, what is the scientific way out of the traffic trap? Mukherjee’s prescription is creating a 1,000-car parking facility on the western side of Chowringhee by rebuilding Maidan Market and then providing pedestrians with a skyway (an elevated walkway) over the thoroughfare, to the shopping zone. “The existing Maidan Market can be converted into a linear basement and sub-basement, multi-facility parking lot with the shop-owners rehabilitated inside the same structure. The skyway should be contemporary, with a capsule-glass exterior, descending on to Humayun Place. A set of four escalators, two on either side, will carry the pedestrians up and down on both sides.” Other parking lots are suggested on and under Chaplin Park, and above the dilapidated section behind New Market.

Mitra agrees that the area has to be freed of vehicular traffic to relieve the tension. “That’s the model followed everywhere in Europe and America and there’s no reason why it won’t work here.” His suggested design solution is quite similar: creating a parking lot on the other side of Chowringhee and then transporting the pedestrian traffic through an underpass. “If a parking facility is created on Lindsay Street, it has to be underground and in a completely different format, with interactive landscaping and provision for movement.”

The courtyard in front of New Market has a strong character, which should be preserved with value additions like cobbled pavements, bright lights, open-air shows, jam sessions on the street...


Calcutta, May 1: 
Nearly all the 340 colleges affiliated to Calcutta University appear to be avoiding taking the National Assessment Accreditation Committee’s (NAAC) star billing, essential for receiving large financial assistance from the University Grants Commission (UGC).The only exception is Loreto College, which has received five-star status after voluntarily undergoing rigorous assessment by the NAAC.

According to state higher education department sources, the authorities of state-aided colleges were avoiding NAAC visits fearing exposure of the “sorry state of affairs” prevailing on campuses. Renowned city colleges such as Presidency, Maulana Azad and Lady Brabourne are not any better.

Apart from all the universities, the University Grants Commission (UGC) made it compulsory for all colleges to get the NAAC accreditation to avail of UGC funds.

Yet most of the 340 colleges are reluctant to do so because they are aware of their shortcomings. Only Loreto, established in 1912, was up to the mark.

“We must know where we stand. So when we got an opportunity for self-assessment we did it”, said Sister Tina Farias, Loreto principal.

Dipak Nath, a leader of the CPM-dominated West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association, brushed aside the charge.

“The NAAC is charging a minimum Rs 75,000 to assess a college. The state-funded colleges do not charge high tuition fees. So they aren’t applying for NAAC accreditation”, Nath said.

State higher education department officers dismissed the WBCUTA leader’s claim, saying: “The UGC has told colleges that it will foot the bill”.

State higher education department sources said only St Xavier’s College wanted to be assessed.

Father P.C. Mathew, St Xavier’s College principal, said last month his college requested NAAC to assess the institution soon. According to Mathews, who himself is a member of NAAC’s general council, “I am still a member of the NAAC general council and I did not want it to assess my college till my term ended. My term in the council will be over by July this year, and my college is taking necessary measures so that NAAC assessment begins soon afterwards”, said Mathew.


Calcutta, May 1: 
A group of employees of Astor Hotel, on Shakespeare Sarani, owing allegiance to Citu, went on the rampage in the hotel on Tuesday, beating up at least four managers. The employees also ransacked the offices and damaged equipment. One of the injured managers had to be admitted to SSKM Hospital.

R K Palta, general manager, lodged a complaint with Shakespeare Sarani police station, naming seven employees as the masterminds behind the violence. However, no one has been arrested yet. The police are waiting for a “special order” from the higher authorities. Palta stated in his complaint that the attack was the fall-out of a few transfers that the management proposed to make from May Day.

Asish Chakroborty, personnel manager, who had to be hospitalised, had instructed six employees, including union leader Abdul Sattar, to report to new stations from May Day. He was waiting in the office with the transfer letters, which the union had demanded he serve the employees.

Around 4 pm, a group of staff members, led by the union president Sheikh Alijaan, started assembling in the hotel’s lobby. “I wanted to stop them, as I could feel something serious was brewing. The staff would not listen to me and pushed me down the steps. They then, stormed into the personnel manager’s office and started beating him up,” Palta said. S.R. Roy, officer-in-charge of Shakespeare Sarani thana, said the police were investigating the case.


Calcutta, May 1: 
Got a flight to catch in the evening? Till May 8, the last day of campaigning, play it safe (read: aim to reach the airport two hours in advance) if you don’t want to end up feeling sorry for missing the flight. Last week, at least 50 passengers missed their flights, while Indian Airlines and Jet Airways had to hold up around six flights after receiving distress calls from people caught in traffic snarls on VIP Road.

“Three of our domestic flights, one each to Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai, were delayed last week. We got calls from 12 to 15 desperate passengers, stuck in a jam. But we cannot do this all the time,” said a senior official of Jet Airways.

The eight-kilometre stretch to the airport — especially Baguiati, the Ultadanga four-point crossing and Dum Dum three-point crossing — has emerged a hotspot for political rallies, processions and street-corner meetings. All at the expense of airport-bound traffic.

VIP Road runs through two vital Assembly constituencies, Belgachhia East and Rajarhat. Transport minister and sitting CPM MP Subhash Chakraborty squares off against Trinamul’s Sujit Bose at Belgachhia East, while a cliffhanger is on the cards between CPM’s Rabin Mondal and Trinamul’s Tanmoy Mondal at Rajarhat.

The police plead helplessness, with the poll fever hotting up and spilling on to the streets. But then, who was to blame for shutting down VIP Road on Friday afternoon, diverting traffic through Jangra-Hatiara near Teghoria, and causing complete chaos, with over an hour to go for chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to arrive for a poll rally at Baguiati?

“At least two meetings of every party are expected on VIP Road this week,” warns an official at the airport police station.


Calcutta, May 1: 
Clad in trousers, half-sleeved shirt and North Star shoes, she’s as comfortable behind the wheel as she is on the football field. Meet Chaitali Chatterjee, the city’s first woman bus driver, a national footballer and a qualified referee.

Chaitali joined the West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation (WBSTC) in March. After a month-long in-service training, she hit the road, steering the battery-run 16-seater from Karunamoyee in Salt Lake to Ruby Hospital on the EM Bypass and back, every morning. “Chaitali is as good as any of the other drivers of our organisation, and probably better than some,” says WBSTC traffic controller Shankar Bhattacharya.

But the silent revolution behind the big wheel has hardly been noticed by passengers. “I don’t blame them,” smiles Chaitali, running a hand through her close-cropped hair. “I’m always in shirt and trousers and I’ve never worn saris, bindi, nail polish, lipstick or lady’s slippers. Even my watches are designed for men.”

Daughter of a retired railway employee, Chaitali studied till Class XII at Mahakali Girls’ School. After a two-year stint in a local motor training school at Dunlop, she approached transport minister Subhas Chakraborty for a job. Although Chakraborty proposed her name at a meeting, the response from the top brass of three public-sector transport corporations was hardly enthusiastic. But Goswamy agreed to give the Bengal footballer and Indian Football Association (IFA) referee a break as a bus-driver. As her licence allows her to drive a light motor vehicle, she was assigned the eco-friendly small bus.

Now, Chaitali’s day begins at 5.30 am. She cycles from her Belghoria home to the station, takes a Sealdah-bound local and heads straight for the Maidan for football practice. From there, it’s a dash to the Salt Lake depot, where she reports for duty at 8.30 am. For the next three hours, she takes charge of the blue-white bus. “I started driving for the thrill of it,” says Chaitali. “My dream now is to drive a huge Leyland bus or shift to a long-distance route”.


Calcutta, May 1: 
Behala don Ganesh Chhetri, arrested on Monday, was working on a plan to create disturbances in Behala West, Tollygunge and Jadavpur Assembly constituencies during the election. This was revealed during sustained interrogation by Calcutta and South 24-Parganas police officials. A booklet with details of the polling stations in the three Assembly constituencies was found in his possession.

South 24-Parganas superintendent of police D.K. Ganguly said vigil has been intensified in areas where these booths are located. State chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is locked in a multi-cornered contest at Jadavpur, while Trinamul Congress spokesperson Pankaj Banerjee is the party candidate from Tollygunge. CPM legislator Nirmal Mukherjee and Trinamul’s Partha Chatterjee are fighting a cliffhanger at Behala west.

Chhetri is facing six murder charges, deputy superintendent of police, town, Subhankar Chatterjee said. The police recovered arms, ammunition and packets of heroin from him.

Chhetri has confessed to the killing of Joydeb, one of his rivals, in 1994. A year ago, he reportedly shot at two morning-walkers, Ashok Halder, a local CPM worker, and Ajit Majumdar, who died on the spot. Chhetri told the police he had attacked Halder as the CPM activist was trying to resist his gang. On April 15, Chhetri fired at Laloo, a rival, but missed.

Police are on the look-out for Chhetri’s associates Ranjit, Bangal, Somnath, Socket and Polta. Chhetri had asked Polta and Socket to “look after the booths’’ in Jadavpur, while Ranjit and Bangal were put in charge of Tollygunge and Somnath of Behala West.


Calcutta, May 1: 
While it may be true that for generations people have expected to find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in America, but in recent times, Americans have been very particularly tight-fisted about funding cultural programmes in the city and elsewhere. At a recent conference on Culture and Diplomacy, both Rex Moser, director of the American Center, and US consul-general Christopher Sandrolini admitted that this was happening because of a budget crunch, and ways and means would have to be devised for funding culture.

Moser said now that the focus of their activity had shifted to social and economic issues, new strategies would have to be prepared to programme culture. He suggested collaboration among the foreign consulates to hold, for example, an international film festival. Another way of leveraging culture was to develop contacts among people of same communities, never losing sight of the specific aims.

A large groups of honchos, intellectuals and representatives of NGOs and other consulates had gathered at the American Center for the conference. The discussions were divided under three heads: The role of culture in the practice of diplomacy; preservation and promotion of diverse cultures in a global economy; the role of multinationals, NGOs and others in promoting cultural understanding and exchanges.

David Evans, director of the British Council, said the days of showing off one’s “superior” culture were over. It was a time for sharing and enriching each other’s culture.

Suren Munshi, professor of sociology, IIM, Calcutta, spoke of culture as a way of life, “my culture as it is, your culture as it is”. Diverse cultures should be allowed to interact with each other, and unity should be allowed to evolve. Unity in diversity should be set as the target.

Theatre personality Rudraprasad Sengupta stressed that more such seminars would have to be held from time to time, perhaps focusing on different art forms, to revive cultural exchange.

Moser concluded the programme, saying the conference will be followed up with smaller group discussions on specific art forms, highlighting specific projects.


Calcutta, May 1: 
The police have launched a drive against cyclists violating one-way traffic regulations on south Calcutta roads. This initiative, adopted by all the thanas of south Calcutta, covers high-risk, one-way arteries like Loudon Street, Rawdon Street, Harish Mukherjee Road, etc.

“The objective is three-fold: to save the life of the cyclist, to prevent a multi-car accident and to avoid a law-and-order problem. A lot of cyclists flout one-way rules to take a short cut and this can lead to a fatal accident. Very often, an irate mob sets fire to the car which hits a cycle, even though it could well have been the cyclist’s fault. There can also be a nasty ripple collision in a fast-moving file. This initiative will definitely reduce the risk of such a collision, particularly on stretches like Rawdon Street, narrowed down by the parking project,” said deputy commissioner of police, South, Ranjit Pachnanda.

The drive, launched more than two weeks ago, has netted 40-50 offenders a day. The errant cyclists are being prosecuted and their bicycles seized, according to the DC, South.

The cycles can be retrieved only against a court order. Each thana has deployed an officer and four constables for the drive.


Calcutta, May 1: 
“Let the old boys show these teenyboppers what a little bit of creativity for a cause can do.” With these words, spoken by a jazz veteran to a professor of English last month, was born Tales From Two Cities, the first reading of prose and verse set to music that Calcutta will witness in nearly three decades.

The old boys: Arthur Gracias and Prof Ananda Lal, whose teamwork for Tal (along with Jai Talwar) had fired the imagination in the 70s. The creative impulse: To combine literature with music and theatre. The cause: To spread the message of Prerak, a support group for cancer patients. On the evening of May 7, at Gyan Manch, actors Nandita Das, Anusuya Majumdar and Dhritiman Chatterjee will read selected works of Amit Chaudhuri (including two unpublished poems), set to the strains of jazz fusion by the Andre Gracias Brotherhood. All participants have waived their professional fees to support the cause of a brave bunch of cancer survivors who formed Prerak in 1996.

“We had been discussing with Arthur what could be done to focus attention on Prerak, when he and Ananda hit upon the idea. Then, things began to fall into place,” recalls Amina Halim, a cancer survivor, and a driving force behind next Monday’s programme.

“Amit was an obvious choice. When I suggested it was time for him to merge his writing with his music for a worthy cause, he readily agreed,” smiles Ananda, director of the show.

Amit promptly sent across a bunch of his works for Ananda and Arthur to pick and choose from. “I hope this artistic experiment proves successful and inspires more such collaborations in future,” says the writer.

It will be a first for Nandita. “I have never done anything like this before. It’s an artistic challenge and an attempt to do my bit for an organisation that is doing credible work for cancer,” says the actress. “I just hope I don’t make a fool of myself,” she laughs.

Nandita, Anusuya, Dhritiman, Ananda and Amit himself will give voice to short stories Beyond Translation and Saturday Night Social, extracts from novels A Strange and Sublime Address and Afternoon Raga, and poems Bandra Medical Store, St Cyril Road, Residential, Letter from the Hills and Cloudburst. The theme running through the selection is life in two cities — Mumbai (or rather Bombay) and Calcutta. A souvenir published on the occasion will mark the first time that the poems Residential and Cloudburst will appear in print. “Through this function we hope to increase awareness about the cancer support group and raise funds for a centre,” says Dr Rati Vajpeyi, founder of Prerak.


Barhampur and Nellie (Nagaon), May 1: 
The cut has healed, but the wound still festers. For two days, three-month-old Hasina Khatun lay under a pile of rubble with an arrow embedded in her left arm before being rescued by the police. That was in 1983 when over 1,500 Muslims were butchered in a senseless orgy of communal violence in Nellie.

Today, sanity has returned and Hasina is a young woman who has just cleared her matric exams. But the scar on her arm is a constant reminder that the attack on their village also snatched her mother away from her.

Through the years she has been told by village elders about how she survived miraculously and how her mother was butchered to death. “All these years I have suffered because some communal people decided to kill us all and look at the shameless way in which the AGP is now befriending them,” Hasina said, referring to the AGP’s pact with the BJP.

In nearby Barhampur constituency, from where chief minister Prafulla Mahanta is fighting to retain his seat, the sentiments among Muslims, who constitute nearly 20 per cent of the electorate, is much the same. “These past five years, we stood by him because he looked after our interests,” said village elder Nurul Hasan. “But now we have to look elsewhere for support.”

This may well affect the AGP’s fortunes in about 15 seats in the state. Mahanta’s supporters dub this as a “betrayal” and point to his track record over the past five years: there has not been a single communal riot in the state despite the provocations.

Dusting away the crumbs of breakfast from the table at the AGP’s anchalik office in Barhampur, local leader Bhupen Sharma leans back on his chair and asks with an air of confidence, “People may have a few complaints here and there, but by and large haven’t they been walking with their heads held high? Why has the Ulfa been targeting only the AGP workers?”

Allegations of a “pact” between the Congress and the Ulfa may not be true, but ask anyone who knows and they will tell you that the insurgent outfit is fighting with its back to the wall and has launched an onslaught to prevent the AGP from returning to power.

From Barpeta to Nalbari and from Guwahati to Gossaingaon, AGP leaders have been selectively targeted in an effort to demoralise them and disrupt their campaign. In a trigger effect, security officials say, the Ulfa is also hoping that AGP supporters will stay away from the booths on the polling day. What Mahanta has lost in the mounting allegations of scams, he has gained in turning the heat on the Ulfa.

Barhampur’s local Congress leader Karuna Phukan may believe that he may have lost his son-in-law Dipu Borah to the Ulfa over a year ago, but ask him if the Ulfa has been wreaking havoc in his area and he wouldn’t know if some recent “disturbances” were the handiwork of the outfit or the result of Army “operations”.


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