It’s Chinese, it’s cheap
Kidnap crack force
Two brothers drown in well on hunt for ball
Maruti leads to scarred body
Click wave sweeps state-run schools
Civic waiver plan favoured
Green lessons for hoteliers
Howrah water plant clears garden hurdle
Power major relents after Orissa threat
Cong no to Act repeal

Calcutta, May 24: 
A soft drink for Rs 2.50, a digital camera for Rs 250, a DVD for Rs 850, a cellphone handset for Rs 1,600, a car for Rs 35,000.

They are cheap. They are Chinese. Even as the Marxists settle into Writers’ for their record sixth successive term in office, Chinese goods at throwaway prices are threatening to flood Calcutta’s grey markets, from Chandni Chowk to Kidderpore.

The smaller goods, from bulbs to batteries, powders to perfumes, have already hit many a streetside mart. “It’s like a wave. These goods, available at one-fourth the price of Indian goods, are often of better quality. So, all our stocks are proving to be sellouts,” said a shopkeeper at Chandni. “There seems to be a craze for this suff, Everything from nail-cutters to personal stereos are flooding the market and selling like crazy,” declared a shopkeeper at Bagri Market.

Now, news of an impending invasion is spreading like the Chinese whisper. “Heard about the grand sale of Chinese goods, from cars to cameras, this weekend at the Netaji Indoor Stadium?” That’s the buzz from Writers’ to restaurants, from Metro to the Maidan.

Through postings on the Net and handouts in the city’s central business district, news of the first consumer fair at Netaji Indoor, followed by one on the Park Circus maidan, is spreading far and wide. Representatives of a “marketing agency” with no address are visiting office areas and residential paras, distributing pamphlets displaying a dream price list for the Calcutta consumer

Officers at Writer’s Buildings and Netaji Indoor Stadium admitted receiving “over 200 calls inquiring about the Chinese fair” since Monday. “No one has contacted us regarding any such consumer fair,” confirmed S.B. Mondal, sports secretary, government of West Bengal. Any exhibition at the Netaji Indoor has to be cleared by the sports department.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation and Calcutta Police, too, are in the dark. “Nobody has sought our permission. This does appear to be a case of cheating,” said Raj Kanojia, deputy commissioner of police (headquarters).

Deputy commissioner, detective department (special cell), Sanjoy Mukherjee, clarified that “though such rumours are doing the rounds, we cannot take action unless we receive a formal complaint”.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee “smelt something very fishy” in the entire episode. “I have heard of this grand Chinese exhibition and if it is a case of fraud, the authorities must act before it hits business establishments here.”

Most electronic goods showrooms and small business establishments have pushed the panic button already. Some prominent showrooms confessed that sales had dropped sharply over the past few days, with consumers choosing to “wait for the fair”. A Panasonic distributor said: “Already, consumers are opting for the ‘Made in the People’s Republic of China’ small goods, from scissors to deodorant, selling on the footpaths. Now, if the TVs and music systems come in at the promised price, companies like ours will be wiped out.”

The owner of a renowned electronics showroom in central Calcutta said: “It’s up to the government to take action now. If the present trend continues and Chinese goods swamp a market like Calcutta, where the price tag matters more than in any other metro, it will spell the doom of many a business house here.”


Calcutta, May 24: 
A special task force to combat the growing abduction menace in town. That’s priority no. 1 for police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty. Barely an hour after Dinesh C. Vajpai handed over charge to Chakraborty, 57, on Thursday morning, the new commissioner of Calcutta Police said: “We will be setting up a separate task force specially trained to deal with kidnapping cases in the city.”

At around 10 am, the police top brass turned up at the Lalbazar courtyard to witness Chakraborty take the guard of honour, before proceeding with the outgoing police chief Dinesh Vajpai to the commissioner’s office.

Here, Vajpai formally handed over charge to his successor, before heading for Writers’ Buildings to take over as the new director-general of police, West Bengal.

Chakraborty, said to be a voracious reader and an avid listener of Rabindrasangeet, lost no time in spelling out his priorities “to improve law and order in the city”. Several changes will be introduced in the police system, he promised at Lalbazar:

While investigating a criminal case, more scientific methods of investigation will be adopted

Emphasis to be laid on the physical fitness of cops. The physical regimen at all police training schools will be strictly followed

Special training sessions to be devised for a core group of cops to deal with “special situations”

Counter-intelligence network to be strengthened. A select group of officers will be sent to Delhi for special counter-intelligence training.

An anti-drug campaign to be launched soon. The force will work towards the rehabilitation of criminals who are drug addicts.

“Previously people would compare Calcutta Police with Scotland Yard. We do not have the adequate resources, otherwise we would have maintained our tradition and our good name,” declared Chakraborty. “But we will strive to rid the city of crime and serve the people to the best of our ability,” he pledged.

On assuming charge as director-general of the state police, Vajpai stuck to the ‘pro-people’ line that he had taken for two years as police commissioner.

“The top priority will be to increase the rapport of the police force with the common man. We must ensure that the people, while registering complaints at police stations, are treated with respect and compassion by the officers. I am going to ensure this, starting Friday,” Vajpai said, before assuring his force that long-pending demands of the department — “housing and modernisation” — would be addressed soon.


Calcutta, May 24: 
Two brothers, Gour Chandra and Chandi Charan Debnath, died while trying to retrieve a rubber ball from a well at Ramkrishnapur, Howrah, on Thursday.

Fifteen-year-old Gour tried to climb down the well to get the ball, which had fallen into it, but slipped and fell into the water. His brother, Chandi, 21, fell in trying to save his brother.

Residents of the area protested the “late arrival” of the fire brigade personnel, claiming that the boys “could have been saved” if the rescue operation had been prompt. It took over an hour for the rescue team to lift the boys out of the well. Gour and Chandi were then taken to Howrah General Hospital, where they were declared “brought dead.”

According to local residents, the two brothers were playing football with their friends from the locality at a nearby field at around 5 pm. “The boys had been playing football with a small rubber ball. One of the boys kicked the ball into the air,” related Banani Mukherjee, an eye-witness.

The ball fell into an unused well on the premises of a house adjacent to the field. Gour immediately ran off to fetch the ball. “Gour looked everywhere. When he could not find the ball, he peeped into the well, and shouted out to his friends,” said another resident.

Gour decided to go down into the well to retrieve the ball. “The walls of the well were slippery, and as Gour attempted to climb down, he slipped and fell,” said an official from Shibpur police station. After about 15 minutes, Gour’s playmates rushed to the house where the well was situated. When Chandi discovered his brother in the well, he tried to save him. But he, too, slipped and fell in.

By this time, a large number of neighbours and local residents had assembled in front of the house. The fire station was informed at around 5.30 pm, and two engines rushed to the spot. But fire brigade personnel weren’t able to rescue the two boys, who were struggling to stay afloat until 6.30 pm.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the brothers died due to “respiratory failure”. Water had entered the boys’ windpipe, choking them.

“Scratch marks on the wall of the well indicate they were desperately trying to grab hold of the weeds on the well wall,” said Sujit Basu, an official of Shibpur police station. A police force was deployed in the area to defuse tension.

Firemen injured

Four firemen were injured in a blaze that broke out in a restaurant on Mirza Ghalib Street on Thursday. Fire brigade sources said nine gas cylinders also caught fire. Four fire tenders fought the blaze for more than half-an-hour from 5.30 pm to bring it under control. The cause of fire and the extent of damage could not be ascertained.


Calcutta, May 24: 
The body of Sanjeev Jhulka, 25, riddled with bullets and bomb injuries, was recovered by the police early on Thursday on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass in the Tiljala area. The recovery of a blood-stained Maruti on Wednesday morning from Taltala led sleuths to the body of Sanjeev, alias Bunty. The Maruti belonged to his friend, who is still missing.

Police said that on Tuesday evening, Bunty and his friends, including wanted criminal Gabbar, and two women, went for dinner to a restaurant in Chinatown. On the way home, a quarrel may have erupted. During the altercation, the car was stopped and Bunty shot. The body has been sent for post-mortem. Additional superintendent of police (industrial) Gyanwant Singh said: “It is clear from the preliminary investigations that all the occupants of the Maruti were heavily drunk.


Calcutta, May 24: 
The computer revolution has reached state-run schools in Calcutta and the districts. Starting this summer, thousands of boys and girls, from Class VII, will get the chance to become computer-savvy in the classroom.

The West Bengal Board of Secondary Education had earlier introduced a course on computer applications at the Madhyamik level, which proved a non-starter, as there were no computers in schools. “The paper, with 100 marks, will remain optional till computers reach all 12,000 schools,” said Board president Arun Kiran Chakraborty.

Schools like Hindu, Hare and Ballygunge Government will get 10 computers each from June. School education minister Kanti Biswas has already sanctioned computers for 100 schools in the city and suburbs. “Computers are being procured from Webel and given to us by the IT department. We have already sanctioned 1,000 computers for 100 schools, 76 of which are in Calcutta and its suburbs. Another 200 schools will be included soon,” said Biswas. “A sum of Rs 2 crore has already been provided for the purchase of the first lot of computers for schools and more funds will be pumped into the project,” added Manab Mukherjee, minister for the newly-set-up IT department.

A group of 15 students will share a computer. There will be no exams till Class X. “Our primary aim is to make students familiar with the functioning of computers. Those who are interested can take up the computer applications course as an optional subject for Madhyamik from Class lX,” Biswas said. Each student will have to pay Rs 50 a month to the school, of which Rs 35 will go to the Webel and the rest will be deposited in the school fund. Webel will not only supply computers to the schools, it will also train the teachers. Chakraborty, however, clarified that no new teachers will be appointed for the computer course.

According to Biswas, schools with at least 400 students will be entitled to computers from the government. They will have to allot a separate room for the machines. “We have selected 100 schools, of which 24 are located in five north Bengal districts. The rest are in Calcutta and the suburbs,” Biswas added. Board officials said prominent private schools in the city, which introduced computers in the mid-90s, charge anything between Rs 150 and Rs 200 a month for the special classes.


Calcutta, May 24: 
The cash-strapped Calcutta Municipal Corporation will not be the only civic body to generate revenue by introducing a waiver of interest and penalty for outstanding dues. The state government plans to explore the feasibility of extending this scheme to tax-payers of other Corporation and municipal areas as well.

On the eve of the Assembly elections, mayor Subrata Mukherjee had sent a proposal to the municipal affairs department seeking the state government’s nod for this scheme. Mukherjee will call on municipal affairs minister Asoke Bhattacharya on Friday to discuss the issue. “It was our proposal. The government should not mix it up with the interest of other civic bodies,” Mukherjee said on Thursday. “If 50 per cent of the house-owners avail of this opportunity, the civic body will be richer by Rs 100 crore.”

Several other civic bodies approached the government for similar benefits and the municipal affairs department had, consequently, asked them to send their proposals, a source in the municipal department said.

“It is not possible for the government to treat the CMC as a privileged body,” he added.

There is hardly any municipality or Corporation in the state that is financially sound, said an assistant secretary in the finance department. If the waiver of interest and penalty helps augment revenue, all the civic bodies should be allowed to utilise their untapped resources in this process. The mayor had proposed a waiver of interest and penalty to tide over the present financial crisis in the CMC by harnessing Rs 150-crore tax dues from 1.2-lakh defaultee-landlords.

Chief of municipal finance and accounts Shankar Datta said the CMC has an outstanding due of more than Rs 200 crore.


Calcutta, May 24: 
A round table on Thursday organised by the United States Asia Environment Partnership (USAEP) on “better environment management practices in the hospitality industry” drew participants from major city hotels and restaurants.

Christopher Balfe of HVS International described the various facets of effective environment management in the hospitality industry like energy management, environmental commitment, environmental education, solid-waste management and water conservation and preservation. “We are trying to explain to the participants that compliance will not only have a positive impact on environment, it will improve their bottomlines, as well,” said the divisional president of the US agency for Ecotel certification.

Param Kannampilly of Concept Hospitality that runs Orchid hotel in Mumbai, the first ‘green’ hotel in Asia that won an Ecotel certification, elaborated on the commercial benefits of effective introduction of environment management in hotels and restaurants. “The heat, light and power cost at Orchid has come down from Rs 625 per month to Rs 252 per month in three years. We have also been able to conserve water significantly,” revealed Kannampilly.

For certification of hotels and restaurants in India, Ecotel has tied up with Concept Hospitality which will provide consultancy to hospitality units before they make a pitch for the ‘green’ certification. While the Ecotel certification comes at a cost of $ 10,000, Concept’s consultancy fee will be fixed on a “case-to-case basis”.

Jayendra Banerjee, general manager, Ffort Radisson, termed the session an “eye-opener”. “The programme has given us a new perspective and it will surely help the industry by first raising the level of awareness, and pave the way for better environment management,” he said.


Calcutta, May 24: 
Residents of Howrah can wash away their water-scarcity blues. The CMDA is finally set to implement the much-awaited 30-million-gallon water treatment plant in the town. The project was pending for over two years.

Despite acute water scarcity problems in Howrah, the proposed project was stalled for two years as the Indian Botanical Garden authorities had objected to laying pipelines across the garden for transporting untreated water from the Hooghly to the site of the proposed plant.

According to the Botanical Survey of India (BSI), this would have damaged a large number of rare plants and trees.

The CMDA had planned to set up the water treatment plant near the existing Padmapukur waterworks, in south Howrah, in view of the acute shortage of filtered water.

The 15-lakh population in the town has to depend on Padmapukur waterworks, with a maximum capacity of 30 to 35 million gallons a day.

Concerned over the increasing demand for improved water supply facilities, a delegation of the Howrah Municipal Corporation councillors and members of the Botanical Survey employees’ union recently met the garden authorities and requested them to consider the CMDA’s proposal. Botanical Survey sources said senior officials of the CMDA and the Survey held a meeting to resolve the impasse last week. The Survey authorities gave the go-ahead to the CMDA at the meeting.

“We will lay the pipelines along the boundary walls, and not across the garden, as had been decided earlier,” a CMDA official said. “There was a valid reason for our not allowing the CMDA to lay the pipelines across the garden all these months,” said a senior official of Survey, preferring anonymity. “No project is as valuable as our rare plants,” he added.

The pipelines connecting the Hooghly with the Padmapukur water treatment plant already pass through the garden. “What the CMDA wanted was to lay another set of pipelines running parallel to the existing ones across the garden,” Botanical Survey sources said.

CMDA officials, however, refused to comment on the issue, saying the discussions were still in a preliminary stage.


Bhubaneswar, May 24: 
The week-long tussle between the Orissa government and AES Corporation ended today with the US power major resuming operations in the second unit of the Ib Valley thermal power station.

The power corporation relented after the Naveen Patnaik government threatened to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act and initiate steps against Grayson Harvell, representative of AES and managing director of the Orissa Power Generation Corporation (OPGC).

Harvell had refused to switch on the second unit of the thermal power station till the Grid Corporation of Orissa (Gridco) cleared its dues of Rs 142 crore.

Gridco is a state government-owned enterprise which buys power from OPGC and the Orissa Hydro Power Corporation, and sells it to four distribution companies. Harvell eased his stand following a meeting with state energy minister A.U. Singh Deo and energy secretary D.N. Padhi here yesterday.

Singh Deo reportedly told Harvell that the state government would have little option but to invoke Esma if the second unit of the power station did not start functioning immediately. A little past midnight, the OPGC chief ordered resumption of operations. “By 1.40 pm today, the second unit of the power station was functioning normally,” a source said.

The AES decision not to precipitate a crisis came as a relief for the state government.

Power sector reforms in the state are being funded by the World Bank. While the World Bank has provided $ 350 million in loans, the Department of International Development has sanctioned 60 million pounds for use over a period of five years from 1996, the year the process of reforms was set in motion.

AES has demanded that Gridco give up its claims to Rs 5 crore in compensation for losses suffered due to suspension of operations at the Ib Valley power station.

Gridco wants the issue to be resolved in accordance with the provisions of the power purchase agreement between it and OPGC. If there is a deadlock in negotiations, both sides can approach the Orissa Electricity Regulatory Commission for arbitration. The state government has made it clear that AES has to compensate Gridco for the losses caused by suspension of operations.

Gridco is supposed to clear its dues to the OPGC within the next 15 days. But that will be possible only if Cesco, in which AES has a 51 per cent stake, pays Rs 394 crore for the power it bought from Gridco.

The grid corporation is planning to move the Orissa Electricity Regulatory Commission once again over non-payment of dues by Cesco.

The commission had earlier directed Cesco to open an Escrow account and line of credit in favour of Gridco for payment of monthly bills. But Cesco has not been depositing the money it collects from electricity consumers in this account.

It has instead been using the money to pay salaries to employees, said Gridco chairman-cum-managing director Priyabrata Patnaik. Blaming Harvell for the weeklong power crisis, Padhi said the OPGC managing director should not have taken recourse to suspending operations in the Ib Valley power plant.

“It is the prerogative of the board of directors, not the managing director’s,” he said.

Employees’ ultimatum: The Orissa Karmachari Sangram Samiti, an umbrella organisation of various state government employees’ associations, has asked the administration to respond to its demands by June 1, reports PTI. “We will not allow the government to function from August if it remains adamant,” OKSS chairman Pratap Das said today.


Guwahati, May 24: 
Political parties in Assam today reacted along predictable lines to the recommendations of a group of ministers to repeal the IM(DT) Act and amend the Citizenship Act to tackle infiltration.

The Congress, which took over the reins a few days ago, said it was not “perturbed” by the recommendations to repeal the controversial IM (DT) Act and amend the Citizenship Act prohibiting acquisition of citizenship rights by offsprings of illegal migrants born in the country before August 1, 1987. Drawing attention to the presence of over 1.2 crore illegal migrants, the ministers wanted uniform action against them under the Foreigners Act.

The group included Union home minister L.K. Advani, finance minister Yashwant Sinha, former defence minister George Fernandes and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh. The 119-page report, submitted to the Prime Minister in February, was released by Advani in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Bhagaban Lahkar, chairman of the PCC’s media cell, dubbed the report a “political” gimmick by the NDA government at the Centre to embarrass the newly-elected Congress government in the state.

“We have been accused of a pro-foreigner bias but if the group of ministers’ suggestion on work permit is implemented, it will only encourage influx and help the foreigners grab whatever jobs are available in the private and public sectors,” he said.

Lahkar also said the Assamese people has seen through the IM(DT) gameplan. “Had this not been so, we would not have been able to bag 13 of the 17 seats in undivided Kamrup district,” he said.


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