Clubs rock to new-age rage
Business lobby to move Buddha on kidnap spurt
Operation Woof on the hoof
Board threat to Madhyamik-laggard schools
Encounter deaths
Chinsurah godown throws up 100-yr-old Victoria bus
Pirate killed, fishermen freed
Left divided over stand on Trinamul
Gabbar spotted near Delhi border
Fraud case against four

 
 
CLUBS ROCK TO NEW-AGE RAGE 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, June 10: 
A huge air-conditioned indoor arena for cricket, soccer and other sports. Heated swimming pool. State-of-the-art multi-gym. A pub with DJ music and multi-cuisine menu. Cybercafes, bowling alleys, luxury accommodation for guests... Calcutta clubs, they are a changing.

Even Royal Calcutta Golf Club. Founded in 1829, the oldest golf club outside the British Isles, has decided to grow younger this year. Close on the heels of the hugely-successful Friday Froth, the weekly platform for promos in drinks and grub, comes the sports bar, a unique combination of “music, food and ambience”. Plans are afoot to get the dance floor of the sports bar inaugurated by honorary life member Sachin Tendulkar in November.

CEO Neeraj Bhalla feels there is a definite need to make the club a more “happening” place. “I want to give members better value for money,” he says. The point of convergence: The Rs 70-lakh sports bar, the pub with a difference, is designed to offer stiff competition to the popular discos in town. “The plan is to provide a composite alternative to Park Street at our club, with state-of-the-art music and lights and a mouth-watering multi-cuisine spread,” Bhalla says.

Youngsters are understandably excited about adding dancing shoes to golfing clubs in their club kit. “It’s a great concept and should do wonders for the entertainment business in town. Once the sports bar is in place, for me, Saturday nights will always be at the Royal,” smiles Ranjit Singh, promising golfer and son of Bunny Lakshman Singh, who now spends his Saturday nights at Tantra or the London Pub.

Carrying the need-to-reinvent line forward, RCGC has revived its grand plans for a Rs 10-crore resort complex of 50 luxury villas to house international golfing tourists as well as the hard-core business traveller looking for a few putts.

With a new breed of young, successful and fitness-conscious corporate executives raring to hit the club trail, swank new entrants, flaunting hosts of hi-tech features, are moving fast to meet the growing demand. New clubs on the block, Space Circle and Ibiza, are aggressively wooing young executives. “We are opening our doors to the young crowd while so many others have closed theirs... We are not in competition with any other club in the city, but are just trying to fill a void,” says M.J. Robertson, chief executive, lifestyle division, Sanjeevani Projects Private Limited, creators of Space Circle.

The trendy destination, coming up on VIP Road, 2 km before the airport, is positioning itself as the “international club experience” with features “no other club in the city offers”, like the heated swimming pool, roller-blading, rock-climbing, service apartments for short stay in transit and a tieup with the International Health, Racquets & Sportsclubs Association with reciprocal facilities in over 4,000 clubs worldwide.

Robertson, formerly chief executive and managing member of Tollygunge Club, also feels “there have been far too many subsidies for far too long and from now on, members must pay for what they enjoy”.

A marriage of sports and entertainment is the clubbing model of the future. As Olympian Vece Paes, long associated with CC&FC, puts it: “Club culture is alive and kicking in Calcutta, primarily because there’s precious little to do in this city. A lot of new clubs are looking at health and recreation, which is big as a concept worldwide. At the CC&FC, even though outdoor sports is our USP, we probably need to have a sports bar with a disco.”

But will the trendy overshadow the traditional? Not at Tollygunge Club, named among the top 20 in the world by a BBC survey, says new chief executive and managing member Air Commodore K.B. Menon. “I believe in orchids and elegance and my thrust at the Tolly will always be on retaining its old-world charm. The question of remodelling to ward off competition does not arise. But, of course, we are looking at additional entertainment packages to offer more to the members, especially the youth,” explains Menon.

Saturday Club, re-opened after a long labour-related closure, too, is convinced it’s doing it’s thing right. “We are not worried about competition from new-age clubs,” says president Prem Nayar. “They might offer a deluge of features, but where will they get the ambience of clubs like Saturday or Tolly?”. Madhav Goenka, president, Calcutta Club, goes a step further. “These new clubs are meant for the nouveau riche,” he declares. But within their conventional confines, these clubs, too, are trying to project a more ‘with-it’ image. While gigs and ramp struts are a feature of Saturday Club nights, Calcutta Club, too, has seen rock blasts, pop music, and “daring” book-reading sessions in 2001.

Clubbing now is clearly about fighting-fit bodies and hair-down entertainment. So, sign up, and enjoy!

   

 
 
BUSINESS LOBBY TO MOVE BUDDHA ON KIDNAP SPURT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 10: 
Abduction for ransom is on the rise. And so is the fear index in the city’s business community. With the administration failing to curb the recent kidnappings, the traders’ lobby has decided to knock on the door of the chief minister.

The initiative is being taken by Ghanashyam Agarwal, whose son-in-law Pawan Saraf was among five businessmen from the city kidnapped on their way to Chhattisgarh a month-and-a-half ago. “I have requested different chambers to come together on this issue. With the administration failing to check the spate of abductions, we have no option but to meet the chief minister and inform him about the growing insecurity in the business community of Calcutta,” said Agarwal. A delegation is set to meet Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee this week and submit a memorandum on the matter.

The fact that the rising kidnap graph has left Lalbazar worried was evident when Sujoy Chakraborty, on his first day in office as police commissioner, pledged to form a “task force” to tackle the menace. Two weeks on, there is no special anti-abduction force in sight.

On April 29, Pawan Saraf and four of his men started for Chhattisgarh. “My son-in-law Pawan and the others had gone there to finalise the setting up of a business unit,” said Agarwal. “After reaching Raigarh, he called me to say everything was all right. But then, I received an anonymous call from Raipur. I was told that Pawan and the others had been kidnapped by a gang which had tailed them from Calcutta. They said the five people would be set free if I paid Rs 5 crore in ransom.”

Agarwal lodged a complaint with Posta police station on May 3. A youth who accompanied Pawan from Calcutta was named as the prime suspect. The ransom calls stopped a fortnight ago, with Agarwal pleading with the abductors that it was “impossible” for him to raise such a huge amount. Agarwal started doing the rounds of Writers’ Buildings and Lalbazar. But to no avail.

When contacted, deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Banibrata Basu said: “We have sent teams to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other places in search of the missing traders.”

Mahesh Kumar Singhania, chairman, publicity and public relations, Federation of West Bengal Trade Associations, said: “The administration and the police must be on the alert to prevent a fear psychosis from growing.”

   

 
 
OPERATION WOOF ON THE HOOF 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, June 10: 
This civic scheme is less about four-legged friends and more about fund-raising. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) is ready to launch “Operation Woof”, purportedly to bring some kind of order to the unregimented pet population in the city. But it’s all with an eye on the crores that will accrue if the CMC can force most pet-owners to get their wards licensed.

The main objective of Operation Woof, say officials, will be to screen the unlicensed pets in the city and then direct their owners to get licences for them.

And it’s not only about dogs, though they may be the most visible pets around. It’s mandatory to have licences for every horse, sheep and even head of poultry owned. Each comes with its own tag: The licence fee is Rs 60 for a dog, Rs 32 for a horse, Rs 800 for a racing horse, Rs 7 for a goat and Rs 13 for 10 fowl.

Requests from animal-lovers and CMC figures have been enough to startle mayor Subrata Mukherjee and member, mayor-in-council in charge of licences for pets, Swapan Samaddar. Mukherjee is surprised at the number of requests he gets for setting up a burial ground for pets. “The number of requests easily outstrips the number of pet licences the CMC issues,” he said.

Samaddar’s surprise stems more from a CMC figure, which says that for every lakh of Calcuttans, there’s only one pet.

If the actual population of greater Calcutta is taken into account, the owner:pet ratio would be 200,000:1, say officials. This, they explain, is quite impossible.

The CMC does appear to have logic on its side. At a time when the humble Spitz has become as much a part of the Calcutta landscape as the Ambassador and it’s considered ‘hip’ to go for an evening stroll with a Labrador or an Alsatian on the leash, the strain the “soiling of streets” puts on the conservancy wing of the CMC is becoming difficult to bear gratis, say officials.

Despite the growing pet population, the CMC earns a paltry sum of less than a lakh from licences. According to officials, not a single owner of pets other than only 550 dogs has approached the CMC for licences till date. Even more surprisingly, says chief licence officer D.K. Dasgupta, not a single racing horse has been registered with the CMC so far.

Neither the Corporation, nor animal rights organisations has been able to raise awareness about pet licensing in the city. The CMC now plans to keep things simple to spread the message and the licence. If necessary, each animal welfare organisation and veterinary surgeon will be given a receipt book to register pets and collect licence fees when owners take pets for vaccination. Of late, the CMC has entrusted some dog-lover NGOs to collect licence fees at the time of vaccination.

The CMC will earn a minimum of Rs 10 lakh if licensing is made mandatory. Till now, it was optional, with no threat of penal action if owners didn’t register their pets. The pie, of which the CMC is eyeing a slice, is worth a few crores, according to conservative estimates. If one keeps in mind the economics of every component of the pet industry — from breeding to burial through the now-expensive grind of paying for pet-food, veterinarians, consultants and medicines — a turnover of a few crores is the minimum one is looking at.

   

 
 
BOARD THREAT TO MADHYAMIK-LAGGARD SCHOOLS 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, June 10: 
The education department has instructed the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education to take stern action against those schools whose performance in the Madhyamik examinations was poor.

Minister for secondary education Kanti Biswas said tonight that his department had already informed the board officials about the government’s decision and asked the board to prepare a list of such schools without any delay.

If necessary, the board might derecognise such schools after a careful study of their performance. Action will be initiated against schools which have been performing unsatisfactorily for the past three Madhyamik examinations.

The board had given a copy of this year’s Madhyamik results to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty and secondary education minister Kanti Biswas on Thursday, the day the results were published.

It is learnt that the board will also refer its reports on the schools to the ministers for their consideration and necessary action.

Board president Arun Kiran Chakraborty said they were identifying those schools where less than 40 per cent students had qualified the Madhyamik examinations.

“We will issue notices to these schools, asking them to explain why their students have performed poorly in the examinations. These schools will be given about a month’s time to explain to the board and in case we are not satisfied with their explanations, we will take action to cancel their recognition,” Chakraborty added.

He said the process had started last year and the board had issued such letters to at least 45 schools. But it was yet to receive explanations from the authorities of these schools.

This time, we will go through the results of each school affiliated to us and prepare a list of the schools and serve notices to them. A team of board officials has already started working on the subject and it is expected that the list will be prepared within 45 days.

Performance of a number of schools in the districts of Bankura, Purulia and South and North 24-Parganas is becoming worse every year and these schools have not taken any steps to improve the teaching and educating their students properly so that they can do well in the Madhyamik examinations.

Most of these schools enjoy grants from the state government and the government has the right to seek explanations from the authorities the reasons for their poor performance in Madhyamik examinations.

There are about 12,000 schools in the state which enjoy government grant and financial assistance.

The government bears the cost of paying salaries to the teachers of such schools and other expenses required to run the schools.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had also instructed the school education minister to improve the quality of teaching and maintain a proper teacher-student ratio in the schools run by the government.

The government has no objection to appointing teachers in these schools, but at the same time, the government wants good performance from such schools, an official of the education department said tonight.

   

 
 
ENCOUNTER DEATHS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 10: 
Two dacoits were killed and four policemen injured in an encounter at Mathurapur in South 24-Parganas on Saturday night.

Police intercepted seven dacoits during their patrol at Ateswartala in Raidighi around 10.30 pm.

The dacoits fired from country-made revolvers and threw bombs, injuring four policemen. Policemen then opened fire, killing two dacoits. One of them was identified as Pulu Molla ( 27). In the confusion, other gang members fled.

Additional superintendent of police, Rajesh Kumar Singh said: “We are now looking for the other gang members and continuous raids are going on in different areas to nab them.”

Police recovered country-made revolvers, bombs and some sharp weapons from them. The injured policemen were taken to the local hospital where two of them are in serious condition.

Barrackpore violence

Miscreants gunned down a person in Barrackpore last night, reports PTI. Railway police today found two bodies near Bisharpara railway station, additional superintendent of police, Barrackpore, Pritush Pande, said.    

 
 
CHINSURAH GODOWN THROWS UP 100-YR-OLD VICTORIA BUS 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Chinsurah, June 10: 
The chance discovery of an over 100-year-old statue of Queen Victoria from a municipality godown here has again raised questions on the town’s neglect of its own heritage.

The statue, made entirely of white marble, was fished out during a recent clean-up drive by the Hooghly Chinsurah Municipality at its own godowns.

No decision has been taken yet on where the statue will be installed, but municipality vice-chairman Gourikanta Mukherjee ruled out putting it up in the municipality building. “The building is not in a condition to accommodate such a priceless antique,” he said.

Mukherjee also does not have any idea who built the statue or who financed it.

One possible theory doing the rounds is that the statue was the result of British-French rivalry in Hooghly district. Such a grand statue at Chinsurah could have been installed by the British to show the Chandernagore-based French who was boss in Hooghly, municipality officials say.

They could well be right; Chinsurah has a tower-clock at the centre of the town, which has now come to be known as Ghorir More. This was installed more than 150 years ago during the coronation of Edward VII. The British set foot on Chinsurah immediately after the Dutch.

The statue, however, has focused attention on the urgent need to restore Chinsurah’s heritage and heritage buildings.

The municipality has taken strong exception to, what it calls, a PWD plan to declare most of Chinsurah’s heritage buildings “condemned” and then run them down to make way for new constructions.

A case in point, say municipality officials, are the offices of the Hooghly district magistrate and superintendent of police which are housed at the collectorate building. The PWD, instead of trying to restore them, has declared them condemned.

Things at the longest office building in eastern India have come to such a pass that the PWD was forced to ask the district administration not to make the 200-year-old building a counting centre for votes in the May Assembly elections.

There are many other government-owned buildings in Chinsurah, like the BT College, which could do with some repair, say municipality officials.

Politicians and the town’s elite are just not interested in Chinsurah’s restoration, claim municipality officials.

An instance, they say, is the state government’s decision to pull down Bhudeb Mukherjee’s crumbling house and build a school there and name it after Forward Bloc leader Jyotish Guha.

   

 
 
PIRATE KILLED, FISHERMEN FREED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 10: 
After a night-long raid, police rescued 10 fishermen who were kidnapped by pirates at Kultali in South 24-Parganas. In the encounter, the gang leader, later identified as Rezzak Sardar, was killed. Some firearms were recovered from him. Police fired 10 rounds to counter the pirate attack.

The incident occurred on Friday when about 50 fishermen went to river Thakuran in Kultali. The pirates took them into a forest at gunpoint.

They took 12 of them in custody and released others and asked them to bring Rs 1 lakh as ransom. They also threatened to kill the kidnapped fishermen unless they came back by Tuesday with the money.

Immediately after getting the news, a large force from Kultali, Raidighi and Mathurapur police stations under the leadership of additional superintendent of police (rural), Rajesh Kumar Singh, left for Kultali. Sunderbans development minister Kanti Ganguly and superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly also reached Raidighi to supervise operations.

Last night, a police party which was patrolling Thakuran river spotted two mechanised boats moving suspiciously. They immediately chased the boats.

Sensing danger, occupants of the first boat started firing from a revolver. Policemen also returned the fire in self-defence.

“Initially we had information that they had kidnapped seven fishermen but later on we came to know that the number of fishermen kidnapped was 12,” Kumar Singh said. “But my force could not fire at random because they had to think about the fishermen who were in the boats.”

As soon as they reached Banibada Belekhali village, the pirates — at least 15 in number — got off the boats and started to run into the forest.

“Immediately, policemen opened fire. After some time, it was found that a man was lying in a pool of blood. He was later identified as Rezzak, the gang leader. In the meantime, 10 fishermen who were in the boats came out. They were later taken to their villages in Mathurapur and Canning. We hope the other two will come back soon. They might have jumped into the river in the melee and taken shelter elsewhere,” said Deb Kumar Ganguly, superintendent of police.

Later, Kanti Ganguly, who was at Raidighi through the night, praised the policemen for the successful operation. “Policemen have done a good job by rescuing the kidnapped fishermen in such a short time,” he said.

   

 
 
LEFT DIVIDED OVER STAND ON TRINAMUL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, June 10: 
The CPI today appeared to be having differences with its Left Front partner, the CPM, over allowing ousted Trinamul activists back into Midnapore villages.

At its two-day zilla parishad meeting, the CPI did not toe CPM state secretary Anil Biswas’ conciliatory approach.

Yesterday, Biswas had advised the district CPM unit to allow the ousted Trinamul supporters to come back to their villages. “Even before yesterday’s meeting, in which our party chief advised us on what to do, we had assured Trinamul supporters about their safe return,” district CPM secretary Dipak Sarkar said. “We stand by that decision,” he added.

But outgoing CPI district secretary and newly-elected MP from Midnapore, Probodh Panda, said his party was not enthused about the CPM decision.

“It is the district administration’s duty to arrange the return of the Trinamul supporters,” Panda said. “But the CPI is not interested in their return, nor do we feel that it is our responsibility,” he added.

Most of the ousted persons were antisocial elements and responsible for riots and looting, he said. “They will again disturb the peace in the villages if allowed to return,” he added.

   

 
 
GABBAR SPOTTED NEAR DELHI BORDER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 10: 
Calcutta’s most wanted criminal, Rashid Alam, alias Gabbar, was spotted in Karnaul, on the Delhi-Haryana border, on Saturday evening. According to Calcutta Police on Sunday morning, Gabbar and two friends, whose names the sleuths are unwilling to disclose for the sake of investigations, were in Karnaul late on Saturday. One of the accomplices is close to Robert Rozario, Gabbar’s brother-in-law, now in police custody. The other is an associate of Gabbar’s landlord, Khadim of Elliot Lane.

Gabbar and his friends — Ranvijay Singh Rathore, Trisha Roy, Sanam and Fatman — have been charged with murdering Sanjeev Jhulka, alias Bunty, at Chinatown on May 20. Ranvijay, Trisha, Sanam and Fatman have surrendered to the police, but Gabbar continues to elude the cops.

Sources said one of the city police teams had left for Karnaul after receiving the information. Two more teams are camping in the Capital.

“With the help of the crime branch of Delhi Police, we contacted a few sources in the underworld and the Bengali-dominated areas. On Saturday evening, a source informed us that Gabbar and two others had put up in Karnaul. A team was immediately sent to Karnaul,’’ a police officer told Metro from Delhi. But has he been arrested? “We have not received any feedback yet,’’ he said.

In Calcutta, deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfikar Hasan, who is leading the investigations, confirmed that Gabbar had shifted out of the Capital. “We have information that a few well-wishers of Gabbar are in touch with him on cellphone. They constantly update him on the developments. So we have to be careful,’’ Hasan said.

Police claimed that they had conducted several raids in Elliot Lane and the surrounding areas for Khadim, one of Gabbar’s key contact persons in the city. “Khadim has fled the area. But residents said he had been spotted in shorts, moving around in the evening,’’ an officer of Park Street police station said.

According to police, Gabbar is facing a cash crunch. Being on the run, he has had to spend heavily on food and lodging. Quoting information received from the contacts, police said Gabbar spends his days and nights at roadside dhabas, which dot the Delhi-Haryana highway. Police are cross-checking information that Gabbar was receiving money from friends and relatives in Calcutta and Delhi. “Or else, how is he surviving for so many days?’’

   

 
 
FRAUD CASE AGAINST FOUR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 10: 
The Central Bureau of Investigation has booked four senior officials of Doordarshan and Prasar Bharati for defrauding the Centre of several crores. A CBI deputy inspector-general said there was proof that the four had favoured a private company for a prime-time Sunday slot on Doordarshan Calcutta.

“We have started specific cases against A.K. Biswas, former station director of Doordarshan Kendra, Calcutta; Kalyan Ghosh, former assistant director; Anurag Mishra, controller of sales, Prasar Bharati; and Sashank Mishra, assistant controller of sales, for illegally favouring Arambh Advertising and Marketing, owned by Ramesh Gandhi,’’ the DIG added. “Investigations revealed the company reaped benefits worth Rs 1.51 crore between March 1999 and February 2001,” the DIG said.

Doordarshan did not invite bids before awarding rights to Gandhi’s company, CBI said.

   
 

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