Reality shadow on Sunshine II
Water-bound roads prompt 6.5-cr plan to drain city
Taxi-hijacking woman caught in the act
Safety-first campus to shut at six
Human dignity agenda for Jesuit alumni meet
Mughal murder accused planned trader kidnap
Finishing centre for medical transcription
Agitators hold up trains, delay examinees

 
 
REALITY SHADOW ON SUNSHINE II 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY AND SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, June 15: 
Government proposes; CMC disposes. Or, is it goodbye to Operation Sunshine II?

On Friday afternoon, after a meeting with major Subrata Mukherjee, state urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya announced that the drive to remove hawkers from the city’s pavements would begin shortly. “It will begin as soon as the CMC and Calcutta Police complete coordinating the process,” he said.

Bhattacharya said the Left Front government and the Trinamul-controlled CMC had agreed to rid at least the city’s 21 major thoroughfares of the hawker menace.

He even hinted that the drive could begin in the “next two or three days”.

Bhattacharya, in what was clearly a goodwill gesture, said he would also visit the CMC headquarters on June 29, the first by a state minister since the Trinamul captured the CMC board last year, to discuss the eviction drive.

At Writers’ Buildings, Mukherjee echoed what Bhattacharya had said, adding for good measure that differences on the issue with party chief Mamata Banerjee, whose aversion to a drive against the hawkers is no secret, had been ironed out. Mukherjee added that a meeting of the Trinamul MPs, MLAs and councillors would be held on June 25, where the issue would be thrashed out.

Later, in an exclusive interview to Metro, Mukherjee virtually scoffed at the idea of ridding the city streets of the hawkers.

“It is unrealistic to think that Calcutta will not have any hawkers, even on the 21 major streets,” he said. “It is impossible to drive them away. So, why undertake such a futile exercise?”

In fact, almost justifying the “need for hawkers”, he said: “We have to think about the less-privileged sections of society as well. If someone requires some little thing for the house, it is absurd to expect him or her to rush to a big store to get it.”

Instead of an eviction drive, Mukherjee unveiled his own plans to “control the hawkers’ hold” over the city pavements. “If you can’t lump them, you have to learn to live with them,” explained Mukherjee. “So, you have to make sure that the problem does not get out of hand. What we actually have to ensure is that no permanent structures come up on the pavements.”

To implement this, he has floated a proposal for a “CMC task force”, which will occasionally carry out drives against the hawkers so that “they do not get the feel of permanency... We only have to make sure that pedestrians have enough space to walk,” he said.

What Mukherjee told Metro on Friday is in sharp contrast to his position even some months ago. Last September, he made known his displeasure over the “hawker menace” in the city and had even announced a “major anti-hawker drive”. However, faced with stiff opposition from his party chief, especially in a pre-election scenario, he had to hastily back off. Trinamul sources said that with moves building up in recent days for a renewed drive against encroachers, several party MLAs had met him to “ease the pressure” on the hawkers.

The idea, said a Trinamul councillor, is to give the impression of going along with the eviction drive while, in reality, not doing very much about it.

As Mukherjee admitted: “This business of eviction is very confusing. If hawkers have not put up any sheds, what is there to evict? You chase them away one minute, they are back the next. You cannot police the pavements all day.”

   

 
 
WATER-BOUND ROADS PROMPT 6.5-CR PLAN TO DRAIN CITY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 15: 
The day after several streets in the city centre were submerged in knee-deep water, the state government set in motion the implementation of a blueprint to “prevent a recurrence of the 1999 floods”.

State municipal affairs and urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya unveiled a Rs 6.5-crore ‘flood-proof’ plan on Friday. “Also, to take care of waterlogging in the southern parts of the city, work on dredging and desilting Tolly’s Nullah will begin in July,” said Bhattacharya.

After a meeting with mayor Subrata Mukherjee, at which chief secretary Manish Gupta and a host of senior police officers were also present, Bhattacharya announced that the state irrigation department had already given Rs 6.5 crore to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) “for immediate action”.

Calcutta and its north-eastern satellites, including Lake Town, Bangur and Salt Lake, had gone under water after a week-long spell of rain in September 1999. The more recent experiences — several low-lying parts of the city have already been submerged by early monsoon showers over the past few days — have not been at all encouraging, prompting Friday’s mayor-minister meeting, say officials.

The seriousness with which the state government is viewing the situation was apparent from Bhattacharya’s admission that he had “personally asked” mayor Mukherjee to monitor the progress of work. Most of the money would be spent on keeping the CMC pumping stations ready for any eventuality; the rest would be used to clean sewer lines and gully pits.

The project on Tolly’s Nullah will involve expenses to the tune of Rs 34 crore. Besides facilitating work on the Metro Rail extension from Tollygunge to Garia, a cleaner canal will help drain off rain-water, reiterated the minister and the mayor. The project covers the entire length of the canal, from Hastings to Garia, via Rashbehari and the Ballygunge pumping station.

The CMC is getting the lion’s share — Rs 19 crore — from the Central and state governments’ outlay, for cleaning up the canal. The Calcutta Metropolitan Water and Sanitation Authority will get Rs 7.26 crore, and the state irrigation department Rs 6 crore.

Both Bhattacharya and Mukherjee said the 5,000-odd families of encroachers living along the canal would be given time from June 20 to June 30 to “shift elsewhere”, after which the South 24-Parganas police would be asked to evict them from July 2. Each family will be given Rs 1,500 as “shifting expenses”, Bhattacharya said, while families with pattas would be given “alternative accommodation”.

This move was prompted by a High Court directive to clean up Tolly’s Nullah, Bhattacharya admitted. “We have been asked by the court to regularly report on the progress,” he added.

   

 
 
TAXI-HIJACKING WOMAN CAUGHT IN THE ACT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 15: 
Swapna Kundu. Maya Sen. Maya Chakraborty. She answers to all three names, drops three different addresses, and has the cops all confused. For, this 24-year-old, now in police custody, is the first woman taxi-hijacker in town to be brought to book.

The cab-hijack drama was enacted around noon at Sonarpur, on the city’s southern fringes. The smart, young woman, fluent in English and Bengali, hailed the taxi approaching the bus terminus from the railway station end. She asked the driver to head for Esplanade.

But hardly had the cab reached the nearby ONGC ‘more’ that the passenger swung into action. She whipped out a razor, held it to the driver’s neck, and ordered him off the cab. When the cabbie refused to obey, she wrapped her dupatta round his neck and tried to strangle him. In the ensuing scuffle, the taxi driver managed to slip free of the dupatta, but his assailant succeeded in pushing him out of the door. She then sped away with the cab.

After recovering from the shock of his taxi having been hijacked by a woman, the driver raised an alarm. Residents of the area were quick to react. They chased the taxi and intercepted it near the Kamalgazi crossing.

By then, policemen from Sonarpur thana had reached the spot. The woman was arrested and a razor, Rs 3,000 and a hotel bill were found in her bag. The taxi was impounded.

When the police started interrogating her to find out about the gang she belonged to, the woman initially led them on a merry dance. When asked her name, she first said she was Swapna Kundu. Minutes later, she changed it to Maya Sen. Soon after, she told the cops she was, actually, Maya Chakraborty. Even time, she gave her interrogators a different address to go with her rapidly-changing identity.

Finally, the cops realised she was a resident of Kalibazar, some 10 km from Sonarpur police station. But the woman refused to divulge the names of any of her partners in crime.

Additional superintendent of police (industrial) Gyanwant Singh said: “We are interrogating her to find out the gang behind the hijacking. She appears to be a recent entrant into the world of crime. We are also interrogating the taxi driver to find out whether he was connected with the racket, in any way.”

   

 
 
SAFETY-FIRST CAMPUS TO SHUT AT SIX 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 15: 
Ten to six — the hours that students at Rajabazar Science College will soon be forced to keep. And that’s official.

Due to an “acute shortage of security staff”, the gates of the Calcutta University campus, housing its pure science and technology departments and laboratories, will open at 10 am and shut by 6 pm every day, starting July 1. Both faculty and students of the college have expressed “dismay” over the move. “It’s bound to affect classes and research,” is the common complaint.

Departmental heads, teachers and scientists described the decision as “unprecedented and absurd” after a notice was circulated on Thursday evening. Currently, the college doors open at 8 am and shut at 10 pm, with security staff staying on even later if students need the laboratory facilities.

“Research and classes for Master’s-degree students will be severely hampered if the university implements this decision,” said agitated professors. On Friday, departmental heads of the college threatened to lodge a “joint protest” with the authorities on Monday, demanding “withdrawal” of the decision. “We were stunned to see the notice. Certain experiments need over 12 hours in the lab at a stretch. If these working hours are imposed, it will break the continuity of experiments and we’ll have to start all over again the next day,” said a research scholar of polymer science.

The notice, however, says that a teacher, research scholar or a student will be allowed to use the labs after 6 pm “in case of an emergency”. They will have to take prior permission, collect the keys from security staff and return them after work.

“If students only have eight hours a day for their research, their work is bound to suffer,” said S. Pal, head of the chemical engineering department. “Post-graduate practical classes normally go on after 6 pm. It’ll be difficult to complete the syllabi under the new norms,” added A. N. Banerjee, polymer science department head.

University officials said the decision had been taken after they had failed to find sufficient security staff to guard the eight buildings on campus after dusk. M.K.Sengupta, science secretary, CU, said the university campus, at present, only has 17 security personnel, and it was extremely difficult to fill all the shifts. “But the students’ and teachers’ wishes will be taken into consideration before we implement the decision,” he added.

A few years ago, a move to shut the labs by 8 pm had been aborted following opposition from teachers.

   

 
 
HUMAN DIGNITY AGENDA FOR JESUIT ALUMNI MEET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 15: 
“Human dignity” will form the backdrop to the sixth world congress of Jesuit Alumni/AE, to be held between January 21 and 25, 2003, in Calcutta.

“‘Where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high...’ These lines from Tagore will be the theme for the world congress in the city,” said Kalyan Chowdhury, who has been entrusted with overseeing the planning of the congress. Past pupils, representing 17,000 institutions run by the Jesuits in 35 countries, will attend the Calcutta congress.

Announcing this on Friday, Chowdhury said an organising committee has been formed with General Shankar Roy Chowdhury at the helm. Father Peter Hans Kolven Bach, chief of the Jesuits, also known as the Black Pope, has accepted the invitation to the Calcutta congress.

This is the first time “human dignity” will feature as a theme in a congress of past pupils of educational institutions. At a historic meeting in Rome in January this year of the World Union Council, Chowdhury, along with M. Arumhi Raj, representing India/south Asia, were given the task of ensuring that the World Union’s “policies and resolutions are implemented and communication between the organising committee and the World Union Council maintained”.

As stepping stones to the January 2003 congress, several events are being held, Chowdhury said. For instance, from June 8, a northern zonal congress of past pupils of St Xavier’s in Calcutta, Delhi, Jaipur, Patna and Kohima was held at Darjeeling. “It was a major success,” Chowdhury added.

The second event, a national congress of all alumni associations of more than 150 educational institutions affiliated to the Jesuit order, will be held in Mumbai from November 23 to 25 to firm up plans for the world congress.

“Of more than three million alumni of Jesuit institutions in the world, about a million are from India,” Chowdhury said. “This is significant, especially in the context of the next world congress being held in Calcutta.”

“The exercise seeks to promote a greater social cause to serve others — men and women — in need,” Chowdhury said. “It is primarily this that the world congress seeks to promote.”

   

 
 
MUGHAL MURDER ACCUSED PLANNED TRADER KIDNAP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 15: 
Garden Reach crimelord Daren Mian had masterminded the abduction of Burrabazar businessman Pawan Saraf in April, the police revealed on Friday. Mian, who allegedly shot rival don Mughal early this year, has been on the run since then. According to deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Banibrata Basu, one of the kidnap gang members, Ranjan Misra, alias Jamshed Ali, who was recently arrested from a Sambalpur jungle, told the police that Daren had planned the operation and had been negotiating with the Saraf family for ransom.

Daren’s voice was recorded when the police were monitoring the telephonic conversations the Saraf family had with the Pawan’s abductors. But senior officers were not convinced about his involvement and, hence, no efforts were made to track him down. Basu admitted that detectives could claim credit for neither Pawan’s rescue nor Ali’s arrest. “It was by virtue of local volunteer Nihal Singh’s tip-off that we succeeded. We are going to reward him,’’ he said.

Basu said Roshan Ali, Rourkela-based satta kingpin and Pawan’s father, local satta don Sitaram Saraf, were partners in the illegal trade.

“Sitaram owed Roshan Rs 1.5 crore, which he would not pay up. Roshan contacted Daren and planned to kidnap Pawan to recover the money,’’ Basu said. Basu said Jamshed had provided some clues to Roshan’s hideouts in Rourkela. But there is no trace of Pawan’s uncle, R.K. Khemka, who had accompanied him on the trip to Raigarh.

   

 
 
FINISHING CENTRE FOR MEDICAL TRANSCRIPTION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 15: 
Princeton-based software services company Optimal Software Inc. has lined up ambitious expansion plans in Calcutta. Optimal Computing Pvt. Ltd. (OCPL), the wholly-owned Indian subsidiary, is coming up with its own training and development centre in Salt Lake.

“We launched our medical transcription unit in Calcutta in1995. But lack of quality manpower thwarted our growth prospects and we had to incur huge expenses in retraining our people,” said Dr Govind Shah, CEO of the company, at a press meet on Friday. According to the Princeton-based NRI, the OCPL-promoted training centre will serve the purpose of a “finishing school” for aspiring medical transcriptionists in eastern India. It will also “play a small part” in solving the unemployment problem here, he added.

The Salt Lake-based institute, inaugurated on Friday by state IT minister Manab Mukherjee, will run two-month, full-time training programmes for experienced medical transcriptionists. Initially, 80 students with at least 100 hours of medical transcription experience will be selected for the programme. And once they finish the course, they will be recruited in OCPL.

“India has a very small share of the $ 7-billion medical transcription market. Given the cost advantage and availability of quality manpower, the growth prospects seem very high. Every year, we will employ 350 to 400 medical transcriptionists,” Shah said.

Students logging on to the programme will have to pay Rs 5,000 at the time of admission. The remaining Rs 15,000 of the course fee will be adjusted from their salaries over a period of 12 to 18 months.

   

 
 
AGITATORS HOLD UP TRAINS, DELAY EXAMINEES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 15: 
Train services on Eastern Railway’s Sealdah Main section were all but suspended on Friday morning for four hours by a blockade at Belghoria station. Residents of the town squatted on the tracks from 8 am to protest waterlogging of their streets. Rush-hour commuters remained stranded on trains at various stations, including Agarpara, Sodepur and Khardah.

A senior railway official said at Sealdah station that a number of Down trains from Krishnagar, Ranaghat, Kalyani, Naihati and Barrackpore had to be cancelled. This led to severe inconvenience to thousands of commuters, including office-goers and students. Some were forced to return home midway through their journey.

Officials at Calcutta University’s controller of examinations department said a number of BA and B.Sc Part-I examinees could not reach the venues in time because of the disruption. The Part-I examinations began on Friday. Examinees who arrived late were given extra time to complete their papers at some centres.

At Belghoria, a large number of the town’s residents sat on the tracks to shout slogans against the railway authorities, alleging that they had dumped heaps of stone chips near the station, thereby choking the sewers. The agitators claimed this had led to a collapse of their drainage system, and vast areas in the locality remained water-bound after the past two days’ showers.

Some stations on the section also saw commuters rallying against a newly-introduced ticket system, which they claimed was a source of harassment to genuine travellers.

   
 

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