Rain relief from sun, shock therapy
CM at lunch, gunfire outside
Sharebroker abducted by armed men
Cheat charge fracas at exam centre
Customs officer beaten up in custody
Civic policy shift cuts clinic lifeline
Ticket scalper stabbed, shot
Phone card comes back a-calling
Big Brother to monitor ministers
Job crunch hereto stay, says Sen

Calcutta, May 21: 
It was as hot as hell. And there was no electricity, either. The city and its suburbs reeled under the dual impact of a blazing sun and severe power cuts on Monday morning. Prolonged power cuts led to acute water scarcity in several multi-storeyed buildings.

The evening brought relief, with the temperature dropping by nine degrees following a Nor’wester, and the power situation improving steadily. “The drop in temperature was the sharpest in two weeks, and the rainfall the heaviest since May 5,” said R.N. Goldar, director, Alipore Meteorological office.

“There has been fairly widespread rainfall in Purulia, Bankura and Nadia... Monsoon has arrived in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and it’s expected to hit Bengal in just over two weeks’ time.”

About 30,000 under-graduate examinees of Calcutta University appearing for their BA, B.Sc. and B.Com Part-II examinations were the hardest hit by Monday morning’s power cuts.

Controller of examinations Onkar Sadhan Adhikary said he had earlier spoken to the CESC authorities “to ensure uninterrupted power supply till the exams ended early next month”.

A senior CESC official said that a 250-mw unit of the Budge Budge plant, which had been shut off on Sunday due to lack of demand, was started up late on Monday.

“As the Budge Budge unit was brought on-stream late, and the generation was low, we could not manage to tackle the shortfall,” the official said.

The CESC has already scaled down generation over the past few days in the face of depleting coal stock. This has put additional pressure on the State Electricity Board grid. “Over the past week, we have been supplying about 350 mw during peak hours, which is nearly 150 mw more than the usual,” said G.D. Gautama, SEB chairman.

The SEB supplied 363 mw and the DVC supplied 15 mw to the CESC. The private power utility generated around 669 mw.

Dogged by the deficit, the CESC resorted to rotational power cuts on Monday. Prolonged power cuts were reported from Lake Town, several parts of south and central Calcutta, and Howrah.

Flights delayed

Two evening flights of Indian Airlines were delayed on Monday because of bad weather. Airline sources said that the Mumbai-bound flight was about an hour behind schedule and the Delhi-bound flight was delayed for about two hours.

The flight from Bhubaneswar could not land at Calcutta airport and was sent back.


Calcutta, May 21: 
2 pm, Monday, Palm Avenue. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had just returned home for lunch in the middle of his first day in office, when the sound of gunshots rent the afternoon air.

Hardly a few hundred yards away, an autorickshaw had screeched to a halt. One of the passengers whipped out a six-chambered revolver and fired twice at Md. Salim Ansari, a local goon. The 24-year-old was deep in adda in front of a house, not far from the chief minister’s residence, when the assailants struck. Even as the auto was slowing down, Ansari dived for cover. But one bullet struck his leg. Alerted by Ansari’s cries, some youth ran after the fugitive vehicle, which managed to speed away. Ansari was then rushed to Chittaranjan Hospital. He was released late on Monday.

The incident set alarm bells ringing in the administrative and police circles. Leading bureaucrats and top cops, all on the alert to mark the Left Front government’s return to Writers’ on Monday, panicked after “the security lapse” that allowed such an outbreak of violence near the chief minister’s residence.

“Buddhababu was supposed to leave home for Writers’ within minutes. What if the shootout had taken place then?” demanded a senior police officer. “The adjoining Tiljala-Topsia belt is notorious for anti-social activities. It’s up to the force to be extra careful while patrolling the Palm Avenue area in order to avoid a repeat of such an incident near the chief minister’s residence,” he added.

According to Subrata Ghosh, officer-in-charge, Karaya police station, “Ansari is a local goon, with a dacoity case and charges of snatching pending against him. The shootout appears to be a fallout of inter-gang rivalry. In a statement recorded at the hospital, Ansari named two rivals, Taushik and Chunna. Following preliminary investigation, the needle of suspicion is pointing towards these two goons, along with at least three others.”

In a knee-jerk reaction, the police prepared to launch a late-night operation in the crime belt of south Calcutta to flush out the accused. “The swoop has been sparked by what happened near the chief minister’s residence on Monday afternoon. Raids will be conducted in the entire belt to nab the accused and flush out other criminals,” said Raj Kanojia, deputy commissioner, headquarters.

Residents of Palm Avenue complained that the entire police attention in the area was focused around the chief minister’s residence. “The police tend to forget that the rest of the area, bordering such crime dens as Tiljala and Topsia, remains vulnerable to anti-social activity, while the cops are busy protecting someone who already enjoys Z-category security cover,” said a senior citizen of Palm Avenue.


Calcutta, May 21: 
A middle-aged sharebroker was kidnapped on Monday morning from Harish Mukherjee Road, in the Bhowanipore police station area. The city police tried to keep it under wraps till late on Monday night.

Sources close to the influential stockbroker’s family said they had received three ransom calls from the kidnappers. “They demanded Rs 20 lakh as ransom and warned us not to inform the police,’’ a worried family member said on condition of anonymity.

Detective department officers said DC, DD (special), Sanjoy Mukherjee, in charge of investigations, directed sleuths to instal caller-line identification (CLI) machines to trace the calls. Police said the broker was abducted at 9.30 am when he was getting into his car to go to his Lyons Range office. When he did not reach his office till afternoon, his staff called up his home. Surprised family members called up relatives. But unable to locate him anywhere, they lodged a complaint with Bhowanipore police station.

Eyewitnesses said a white Tata Sumo stopped near the sharebroker’s car as he was about to get into it. Four men dragged the stockbroker into the vehicle at gunpoint and drove away.

“We are looking into the business background of the broker. We are also trying to find out whether he had any business rivals or not,” said a Lalbazar detective department source.


Calcutta, May 21: 
Examinee: (Final-year student of B.Sc, statistics, at a leading city college, appearing for her Part-II exams): “I was wrongly accused of cheating and then assaulted by the invigilators... My academic record speaks for itself, I have never cheated.”

Invigilators (at the south Calcutta college where the girl is sitting for her exams): “She is the most diabolical girl we have come across... She was caught cheating twice, and then had the audacity to lodge a complaint against us.”

College official (where the girl has studied for three years and is regarded as “a sincere student and nice girl” by friends and teachers): “The matter will be taken up by the examination centre and the university authorities.”

A shadow has been cast over the academic future of a 21-year-old girl, amidst charges of “cheating” and counter-charges of “foul play”. On Monday, the student lodged a complaint with Shakespeare Sarani police station, alleging that she had been “framed, physically assaulted and mentally tortured” by invigilators at her exam centre. She has also registered a complaint with the university.

Trouble started on Friday during the fifth statistics paper. The girl told Metro: “After starting to write my exam, I found the desk was wobbling. I informed the invigilator, who had it replaced. After 15 minutes, the girl sitting behind me started requesting me to pass on my answers to her. But I did not respond. Suddenly, the invigilator came up to me and asked me to shift to another desk. I did... A few minutes later, two women and the invigilator asked me to accompany them out of the classroom. They showed me a bunch of slips of paper which they claimed were mine. I protested... but they refused to listen and ordered me out. I was made to stand in the sun for hours. Just before the end of the exams, I was handed back my answerscript and asked to finish my test. I refused, and returned home.”

The invigilators, however, claimed that the girl had been caught “red-handed, with loads of chit paper concealed in her dupatta”.

On Monday, the girl returned for the next exam. “An invigilator suddenly came up to me and said ‘hand over your chit’. I was searched. Nothing was found. She took my answerscript and then, produced a slip of paper and said, ‘Look what I’ve found’. Then, I was herded out of the classroom, slapped and pushed around. When my answerscript was torn up, I broke down,” recalled the girl, who says she bagged 90 per cent in her Class X and 88 per cent in her Class XII exams.

An invigilator said: “When the girl was caught cheating again on Monday, she tore up the slips and her answerscript, before pushing three teachers aside and rushing out of the room.”

Officials at the exam centre said the matter will now be resolved by the university. The next exam comes up on June 10, when the thana has decided to post additional police personnel at the centre.


Calcutta, May 21: 
A Customs officer was admitted to hospital with multiple injuries after being beaten up in the Tiljala police station lock-up on Friday night. Senior police officers were unaware of the incident till Monday. Vinod Kumar Ahirwar, a Customs officer who lives near Ruby General Hospital, was returning home in a taxi around 11.30 pm after seeing off his wife at Dum Dum airport and having dinner at a friend’s place.

As soon as the taxi reached Parama, on the E.M. Bypass, some policemen stopped the vehicle and ordered Ahirwar to step out.

Ahirwar showed them his identity card and the policemen, after reading it, demanded to know what Ahirwar meant. They then beat him up, shoved him into a jeep and forced the taxi-driver to leave, Ahirwar said. He was then taken to Tiljala police station and locked up in a cell with petty criminals. His cellphone, identity card and glasses were also seized.

“At midnight, when I regained consciousness, one of the police officers came in and asked me to take off my clothes. I requested him to allow me to inform my family but he started beating me up instead. On Saturday, they forced me to put my fingerprint on a sheet of blank paper. Later, I was produced in Alipore court, where the judge granted me bail,” Ahirwar said. His neighbours admitted him to Ruby General Hospital.

Superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, Deb Kumar Ganguly, said: “No one from the Customs has reported the case to me. However, the matter will be investigated and action taken against the offenders.”


Calcutta, May 21: 
The civic health clinics are running out of medicine, thanks to a change in policy by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

The municipal commissioner has ordered that medicines be purchased directly from the manufacturers, instead of through private suppliers.

But the manufacturers have turned a cold shoulder to the CMC’s order to supply on credit. As a result, there is no supply for over two months to replenish the stocks of the nearly 100 civic health clinics.

According to deputy chief municipal health officer R.N. Sanyal, the CMC procures medicine worth Rs 8 lakh every month on an average from suppliers, who work on credit.

The list includes drugs for malaria, cough syrup, tablets to treat fever, diarrhoea, re-agents for clinical laboratories and X-ray plates.

About two months ago, the municipal commissioner ordered that medicines be purchased directly from manufacturers, a senior health official said. While several manufacturers agreed to supply on cash payment, most did not even respond to the CMC’s offer, considering it too paltry.

“The accounts department turned down our proposal to make cash payments to the manufacturers. The commissioner, too, does not seem interested in resolving the crisis,” the health officer said.

If the state of affairs continues, at least 40 civic health clinics will have to be closed down within 15 days, he added.

Member, mayor-in-council, health, Javed Ahmed Khan said he has discussed the matter with the mayor.

Malaria fears

Meanwhile, the vector control department, which plays a key role in checking the spread of malaria in the city, fears a spate in the incidence of malignant malaria, as the person maintaining the swing fog machines for the past seven years has been retrenched by the commissioner.

The former board had inducted him. Swing fog machines are used to kill adult female mosquitoes in houses of patients with malignant malaria.

“There are more than 80 swing fog machines in the vector control department and at least two or three of them are going out of order every week for want of maintenance,” pointed out the vector control officer.


Calcutta, May 21: 
A 45-year-old cinema ticket scalper, Zubeida Bibi, was murdered and dumped in front of Metropolitan Building, on S.N. Banerjee Road, in the Taltala police station area, late on Sunday night. She was first stabbed and then shot from point-blank range.

A couple, Baby Begum and her husband, Sheikh Babloo, whose names were mentioned in the FIR lodged by the victim’s relative, was arrested. They, too, are scalpers in the Esplanade area. They said there was animosity between them and Zubeida over turf. The firearm used to kill her has not been found so far, but the killer bullet was retrieved.

Zulfikar Hasan, deputy commissioner, central division, said Zubeida, a resident of Mominpur Road, was, of late, living in the Taltala area with a local boy. “She was an informer who would pass on information from one group to another. The rival gang came to know of Zubeida’s role and killed her,” said a detective department official.


Calcutta, May 21: 
Are you being overcharged by your neighbourhood phone booth-owner every time you call your son in Bangalore or your cousin in Canada? It’s time you shrugged him off.

After the much-hyped launch failed to lure customers last year, the Virtual Calling Card (renamed India Telephone Card) is set for a big “customer-friendly” comeback in June. The telephone network is being upgraded to provide easy connectivity by using these cards.

Calcutta Telephones recently conducted a survey to earmark spots where card booths could be set up. At least a 100 such “special booths” would come up at major shopping malls, students’ hostels and residential complexes in the city.

New Market, Air-Conditioned Market, Vardaan Market and Hindu Hostel are among the possible spots for setting up the booths.

Calls can be made from such telephone booths only by using the calling card. The telephone sets in such booths will be orange in colour to distinguish them from the ordinary ones. On making the payment, a person will be provided with a 10-digit code number. On dialling the code, the virtual card is activated and calls can be made. The price of the lowest-valued card is likely to be reduced to Rs 50. The present price range is between Rs 100 and Rs 5,000. A warning beep is sounded when the card reaches the expiry mark.

The cards are now available only from Telephone Bhavan and its exchanges. “We plan to hire agencies to set up these booths and sell the calling cards on a first-come-first-serve basis,” said Amit Bhattacharjee, general manager, operations and planning, Calcutta Telephones. A person can open a booth by signing a declaration form, accepting the custody of the telephone set. No deposits are required for setting up a booth, he added. The agencies will be set a sales target of cards worth Rs 10,500 every month. If they fail to achieve the target thrice consecutively, their franchise will be cancelled.

While Calcutta Telephones will set up booths in the market complexes on its own, the area managers will distribute telephone sets among the hostels and residential complexes. In students’ hostels, the custody of the telephone set will be the responsibility of the hostel superintendent’s.

“The sets will be distributed in areas with a high density of STD-ISD callers,” said S.P. Chakraborty, chief general manager, Calcutta Telephones. The facility will be available in about 200 existing phone booths in the city. People can also use the card at home if the exchange has a tone-dialling facility, he added.

Telephone booth-operators are reportedly not happy with the decision. Some have even threatened to launch an agitation if such booths are opened in their locality.


Calcutta, May 21: 
The CPM’s state secretariat will hold a meeting with the ministers on Friday to make it clear to them that the party will exercise greater control in running the government.

Party sources said the ministers will have to satisfy the leadership in running their departments.

Realising the drawbacks in health, education and industry, the party leadership did not want to give ministers a free hand. The party has framed a set of guidelines for ministers and they will be briefed at the meeting.

“We have no intention of interfering with the activities of ministers. We want to see that they work attentively and follow the guidelines of the party,” said a CPM state committee member.

The party leadership has said it would periodically review the performance of ministers and make reshuffles if necessary.

In keeping with the CPM state secretariat’s decision, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will submit a monthly progress report on the performance of the ministers to the party leadership.

Bhattacharjee will hold meetings with his Cabinet colleagues at least once a month to assess the progress of their departments.

“I shall hold discussions with the ministers regularly for departmental assessment and chalk out plans to solve any major problems or hurdles,’’ Bhattacharjee said.

“We shall strengthen the process of restoring work culture in government offices and for this we shall give more teeth to the home (personnel and administrative reforms) department,” the chief minister said at Writers’ Buildings.

On his first day in office, Bhattacharjee made it clear to his Cabinet colleagues that he would not tolerate any dereliction of duty.

“Identify the problems first and make all efforts to solve it immediately. If you fail, bring it to my notice, but do not keep it under wraps of red tape,’’ the chief minister told the ministers.

Almost all important ministers in the new Cabinet spent the first day in office chalking out plans to make Bhattacharjee’s “do-it-now’’ slogan come true.

Health minister Suryakanta Mishra, education minister Kanti Biswas, forest minister Jogesh Burman, housing minister Goutam Deb and transport minister Subhas Chakraborty called up their departmental secretaries and briefed them about the chief minister’s stand.

The heavyweight newcomer in the new Cabinet, industry minister Nirupam Sen, took a briefing from the departmental secretary, Jawhar Sircar.

“I have collected a copy of the report of the task force set up to recommend how the industrial scenario can be improved and I shall go through it and take steps to clear blocks,” Sen said.

Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya instructed his officers to draw up action plans to complete projects quickly.

“I have asked the officers to submit a project-wise list containing its present status and causes of delay in implementing and the list should reach within a week,’’ Bhattacharya said.

“You have heard what the chief minister has said. He wants more speed in work. Forget what was in the past and be attentive to your work,’’ forest minister Burman told his officers.

Deb, whose immediate job is to see the Rajarhat township through, said: “I have already instructed my officers that work on the new township will have to be taken up on a warfooting.’’


Calcutta, May 21: 
Nirupam Sen doesn’t foresee too many jobs for the state’s youth in the industrial sector. Instead, Bengal’s youth should change their “service-oriented” mentality and opt for entrepreneurship, the state’s new industry and commerce minister said today.

Sen, who spent his first full day in office today, said he didn’t want to create any “illusion” or raise “false hopes” which the state government would find difficult to meet. New industry would be coming into the state, of course, but most of them would be capital-intensive, not labour-intensive, he said.

Solving the unemployment problem was one of his biggest challenges, he admitted, and sought the media’s help to change the average Bengali youth’s “service-oriented mentality”.

Sen, who began by saying the time had come for some doing instead of just talking, however, spent a good 30 minutes with the press. He admitted there were problems: the main problem, he said quoting industrialists, was that everything needed a lot of time to get done in Bengal. He promised to do his best to solve the problems.

The state would have to depend more on private capital, he said. “We, therefore, need to strengthen the relationship we share with them (industry),” he said.

The industry-friendly relationship he spoke about would have to be supplemented by a “more responsible trade union”. He would meet unions to tell them that they wouldn’t be there if there was no industry as a result of irresponsible trade unionism.

But he insisted that the state’s closed and sick industrial units were the result of the Centre’s wrong industrial policies. Closing down the sick units might prove disastrous. “We have to work in this scenario and will do our best to tackle the problems,” he said.


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