Back to school to rule the ramp
Cops scan suicide note for double-death clue
Auction house too dear for gavel
Batons fly in Bypass eviction
Cash-strapped CIT plans plot sale
Lack of staff hits CU exams
Clean-up clash bares downsize dilemma
Revamp dissent in Trinamul arm
Munching monkeys set vegetable prices soaring
Road rage after twin mishaps

Calcutta, June 17: 
She’s 17, and has dreamed the ramp diva dream ever since she saw the dusky Bipasha Basu sashay into stardom. The Class XI student, having convinced her parents that modelling is the only career for her, contacts a local agency after spending Rs 6,000 on a portfolio. A couple of events later, she is benched, because of her gangly walk and bouts of stage fright...

This picture, according to professionals in modelling and showbiz, is a common one. From false starts to fumbles in stilletoed strides; from bouncing cheques to being bounced off the ramp — it’s chaos on the catwalk.

Now, a couple of names in Calcutta’s show circuit have decided to bring some method to the madness of the modelling gig in town. One grooming school opened a month ago, and another is ready to start in July. It’s all to keep pace with the ‘boom’ in the wake of the Bangla beam explosion on TV and the Bipasha-Celina-Koyna triumph trail.

“There are more and more young girls and guys who want to give modelling a shot. But with zero guidance for freshers and hardly anything professional about the circuit, very few manage to stick on,” observes Shonal, a IInd-year student of St Xaviers and a familiar face on the ramp.

To give aspirants a fighting chance, Rampedge, one of the city’s most-wanted agencies, is set to start the Rampedge Institute of Fashion.

The New Alipore centre will provide training in make-up, dance, catwalking, hair-care, fitness and even Art of Living, over two months. And it’s not just for models. According to Ashish Banerji, partner, Rampedge: “It is open to anyone interested in looking good.”

Signature, which opened in May, provides similar services. “Young models have very little idea about how the industry works. So they need support and tips while looking for jobs, too,” explains Sanjeev Chatterjee, partner of the Prince Anwar Shah Road centre, which has started with mainly male models.

Signature is guiding students on answering pageant-style questions and public-speaking, as well. The month-old school has taken on projects such as ads and product launches to give home-grown talent an in-house stepping stone. Both Rampedge and Signature plan to give their wards a platform for serials and shows on the small screen.

But is the Calcutta ramp-pie big enough to go around? For the models who do make it, there are definitely more opportunities today. Case in point: Rampedge had around 20 shows in all of 1997; they’re already well past 30, in hardly half of 2001.

“New girls entering the industry now are getting much more work than we did when we began,” feels Sougata, the 19-year-old student of Bhawanipur College who feels tips and advice make “a big difference” to freshers.

At the Gladrags Manhunt and Mega Model screening held in the city, the message from Maureen Wadia, editor, Galdrags, was clear: “Grooming is the key.”

But she also had a word of caution against over-enthusiasm for wannabe models: “This industry should be a side-business. There just isn’t enough money to go around.”

There’s no assurance as to how much a Calcutta model is paid, ranging between around Rs 200 to Rs 3,000 per show. Some freshers do shows and shoots for free “just to get noticed”. Others “just hang around”, trying to catch the eye of “someone who matters”.

Now, hopefully, they’ll get the package and the pitch on the road to the ramp right.


Calcutta, June 17: 
Police on Sunday scrutinised a six-page suicide note to make sure that Jaya, wife of assistant commissioner Phatik Chandra Dutta, who died of gunshot wounds, had actually written it, and whether the couple’s deaths could be put down to “simply suicide”.

The investigating officers are also going through the 46-year-old woman’s medical reports. The reports and the statement provided by the couple’s younger daughter, Indrani (21), confirmed that Jaya, who is said to have shot herself, was suffering from physical ailments and had become short-tempered over the past few years.

But how did she manage to write the suicide note, sitting in front of her husband’s body, and detail the circumstances that, police claimed, led to the deaths? The sleuths are trying to find out whether she had moments of lucidity between wild mood swings. They are also probing the possibility of her taking her own life after shooting her husband.

Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner of police, said: “The report will come out soon.”

Even 36 hours after the bodies of the Dutta couple were found in two rooms of their Alipore Bodyguard Lines quarters, the investigating agencies failed to find out what led to the deaths and the motive behind them. They were also unable to say what exactly happened in Dutta’s first-floor apartment early on Saturday.

Though the “dermal test” was conducted on Saturday, the report did not arrive at the Lalbazar police headquarters till late on Sunday. Police have not received the post-mortem report either.

“We are waiting for the post-mortem and dermal test reports. We cannot come to any conclusion until we get these reports,” said Basu.

Sleuths of the detective department’s homicide wing are now going through the six-page suicide note. The note mentioned how Dutta would torture his wife, “both physically and mentally.” As a result, she went through a bout of depression. Indrani confirmed to the police that her mother had been suffering from depression for a long time and had become irritable. According to Indrani, this was one reason why Jaya had a quarrel with her husband the previous night.

Several questions remain unanswered and investigators are trying to sort these out.

Some of the other points that the police are investigating are:

How is it that no one heard the sound of Jaya shooting herself? Officers say that if a revolver is pressed against the body and fired, the sound may become muffled.

Why did Jaya wake up her daughter on hearing a loud report from her husband’s room, but then prevented her from going anywhere close to it?

Why, for almost three-and-a-half hours, did no one bother to enter the Dutta apartment and check what exactly had happened there after Indrani rushed out?

“All these questions will soon be answered,” Basu said.


Calcutta, June 17: 
Going, going ... but it’s not gone. Victor Brothers, one of Park Street’s most-visible salerooms, is up for sale. A notice to the effect was put up on the facade of the auction house a few weeks ago. But it still has not been able to attract any buyer willing to pay the asking price for it — Rs 18 crore.

Surprising, because the vast saleroom (opened in 1941) plus the old building behind it, where the Mehra family, which owns the property, has lived all along, cover 36 cottahs of prime land. Only a part of the building is tenanted. Sheila Sandhu of Delhi, daughter of Josephine Diewty Mehra, who was the proprietress of the auction house, says: “After my mother died in March 1998, there was nobody to run it.” Josephine’s five surviving sons and daughters now want a slice of the cake, and so the property at 59 B, C, and D, Park Street, is up for sale. Sheila and her younger sister, Gloria Mehra Walker, are the executors of their mother’s will. The two women say there have been some bids, but nobody is willing to pay their price.

This is the second auction house in the neighbourhood that is getting ready to close down. The first to fall was Staynor & Company. Though the signboards have not been removed yet, Staynor is being converted into a Chinese restaurant. In the recent past, Staynor, an auction house on the ground floor of Karnani Mansion, was used by furniture manufacturers to store their stock-in-trade. But whereas the Mehras are quite open about their intentions, the Staynor deal was very hush-hush. Their showroom reportedly changed hands a few months ago for Rs 1.5 crore,a windfall for the squabbling Bengali family which owned it.

Both these auction houses are downing shutters because, as Rakesh Kashyap, managing director of Chowringhee Sales Bureau, puts it: “There is just no business in this city. Calcutta just eats.”

Considering the limited profit in this business, selling off their showrooms must have been the only alternative left to these auctioneers. Originally in Park Street, Kashyap’s establishment had to move to “Metro gali” after they lost a court case.

So what’s ailing auction houses? Narendra Kumar Bakshi of Suman’s Exchange, on Russell Street, lists the problems that beset this business. “Holding an auction can be expensive. You get only 11 per cent commission, but have to pay for the catalogue and the extra staff necessary,” says Bakshi. So the profit is very limited.

Most importantly, people aren’t as crazy as they used to be about “foreign” goods, because imported stuff is freely available now. “Earlier, people would snap up used cosmetics and clothes so long as they were imported,” says Bakshi.

However, thanks to the proliferation of fakes, there is still a very good market for genuine antiques and carved teak furniture. Consulate auctions attract a good crowd, and if these are held on consulate premises, they fetch the “maximum price.” He admits that customers have become more canny. “But if rare books or a grandfather clock turns up, people will still fight for it.”


Calcutta, June 17: 
Within 48 hours of the government’s announcement on keeping the roads and pavements free, the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) demolished several hundred encroachments, including party offices of the Congress, Trinamul Congress and the CPM, on either side of the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass on Sunday.

Cops from Kasba and Tiljala thanas and from Parama Investigation Centre were joined by Rapid Action Force personnel during the drive. The team was led by additional superintendent of police (Industrial) Gyanwant Singh.

The chief engineer of CMDA supervised the eviction. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation provided two pay loaders and a dozen trucks for the drive, which razed business establishments, eateries, club rooms and temples.

During the demolition, some residents turned violent, saying they had not been furnished with prior notice. They threw stones at the police, who lathicharged to disperse them. Police sources said some local leaders and goons were running a racket of allotting government land on either side of the Bypass to encroachers.


Calcutta, June 17: 
The Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT) will sell off some of its prime plots to tide over an acute financial crisis. A strategy has been chalked out to raise at least Rs 50 crore by selling plots located in different parts of the city, including some upmarket areas.

Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said the plots would be auctioned to the highest bidders. “Details of the sale will be advertised in the dailies to ward off graft in the process. The money will be utilised for new projects and those which were stalled due to lack of funds,” he said.

According to the government policy, plots up to five cottahs will be sold to individuals and those up to 10 cottahs to housing co-operatives. The CIT will retain plots larger than 10 cottahs for its own projects.

The decision comes in the wake of a government instruction on resource mobilisation. “Instead of depending solely on government grants, we are trying to mobilise our internal resources,” said Satyabrata Chakraborty, officer-on-special duty, CIT.

The CIT, the oldest agency for carrying out development projects in city, was defunct for years. Its powers were curbed after the CMDA, another agency under the urban development department, was formed. At present, the CIT has merged with the CMDA.

Apart from working jointly with the CMDA, the CIT has its own projects. “We are building commercial and residential complexes and apartments for government departments on contract. Some companies have approached us to take up contracts for housing projects. But we are not financially sound enough to initiate any major project on our own,” Chakraborty said.

“The CIT had acquired plots to implement several projects. But as many of the projects were shelved, the earmarked land was lying vacant. Hawkers have encroached upon some of the plots,” CIT officials said, adding that they had already received offers for Rs 8 to 9 lakh per cottah for certain plots.

Large chunks of CIT-owned land are available at Ultadanga, CIT Road, Prince Anwar Shah Road and the Rashbehari connector to the E.M. Bypass.


Calcutta, June 17: 
Reeling under an acute shortage of staff and poor infrastructure, Calcutta University’s examinations department is struggling to complete the under-graduate exams before the university reopens after the summer vacation.

Nearly two lakh students are appearing in under-graduate exams, which began in May-end. Replacing its old system of holding major under-graduate exams over different months of the year, the university, in a bid to increase the number of teaching days in its affiliated colleges, has introduced the new system of conducting exams only during the summer vacations.

But, smooth conduct of the exams in the 200-odd affiliated colleges of the university in the city and the adjoining districts has come under a cloud because of poor infrastructure and inadequate staff strength in the examinations department.

Various complaints, like shortage of question papers and late arrival of packets containing the questions, have been pouring into the department office from exam venues over the past week, as officials found it difficult to tackle the rising workload due to overlapping of the exams.

There was confusion among B.Com Part-I students at a college in Behala and exams were held up as the number of question papers sent to the centre was less than the number of candidates.

BA and B.Sc Part-I exams began at least 15 minutes behind schedule at Kashiswari College as the university team carrying the question papers arrived late.

“These incidents could have been avoided had the authorities introduced the new system after ensuring proper infrastructure and recruiting adequate staff in the examinations department,” a university official said, preferring anonymity. “The controller of exams department, for instance, has only 150 staff now, which is grossly inadequate,” he added.

Lack of adequate facilities also impeded exams, he felt. “The authorities introduced the new system without bothering to upgrade infrastructure. Employees of the examinations department have to carry question papers to venues. One team, carrying papers to Kashiswari College, got stuck in a traffic jam and could not reach the centre on time.” This problem, he felt, could have been avoided had some of them been given mobile phones.

Onkar Sadhan Adhikari, controller of examinations, said despite constraints, officials of his department were trying their best to conduct exams smoothly. Other officials of the department, however, feared the university was staring at a major chaos at the time of publication of results this year.


Calcutta, June 17: 
Old battles die hard. Kshiti Goswami may no longer be the PWD minister, but his successor and RSP colleague, Amar Choudhury, looks set to continue the running feud he had with finance minister Asim Dasgupta.

The decision to put a private agency in charge of keeping Writers’ Buildings clean has set the stage for another round of PWD-finance department tussle that marked much of Goswami’s tenure and the relationship between the two departments, say officials.

Officials point out that it is not only the privatisation of cleaning-up operations at Writers’ that is at stake here; nor is this a clash of ego between two ministers or departments. This row, they explain, is symptomatic of the differences of opinion within the government over the issue of privatisation that a section of the ruling front wants to push through in several other more important sectors.

Choudhury, who replaced Goswami as the PWD minister after the latter lost from Dhakuria in the May Assembly polls, has assured employees that he will press for the filling up of vacancies in the PWD’s caretaking section.

This, say department officials, goes against the finance department’s stand on the issue. For the past few years, it has refused to approve the filling up of vacant posts in the section, forcing the public works department to recruit private contractors to clean up the seat of governance in West Bengal, they explain.

Officials say Choudhury’s assurance — the minister reportedly told a delegation of the State Government Employees’ Union (Nabaparjay) that he, too, was against privatising Writers’ clean-up and would do his best to repair the situation by pressing for fresh recruitment — is sure to upset the finance department headed by Dasgupta and reopen old wounds.

Goswami had repeatedly charged Dasgupta with blocking funds for road maintenance during his tenure; the public works department is responsible for maintaining most of Bengal’s roads.

Choudhury, say officials, is also unhappy with the way the decision was taken. The resolve to put a private contractor in charge of Writers’ clean-up was not followed by an invitation for tenders from interested parties, admit officials.

But despite Choudhury’s stand, privatisation — the purported enemy of communism — is slowly but surely spreading its wings inside the building which has been under the Left Front’s grip for the past 24 years.

Dasgupta and the finance department call the shots, say officials, despite cleaning up Writers’ Buildings being a part of the responsibilities of the public works department. And the finance department’s continued “stonewalling” of demands to fill up the vacant posts in the caretaking section has meant that much of the sprawling Writers’ Buildings — the floor-area would be over eight lakh square feet — is already in private hands, whether the PWD minister is happy with it or not. All 12 blocks, except the main VIP block where ministers and most departmental secretaries have their rooms, are now under private cleaners’ brooms.

The number of vacancies in the 100-member caretaking section is close to 25 per cent, say officials. “If one adds the number of persons on leave and those having their weekly off-days, it will be clear that Writers’ has to be handed over to private hands if we don’t want to raise a stink till the vacant posts are filled up,” said a senior PWD official.


Calcutta, June 17: 
A sizeable section of the Trinamul Congress’ youth wing seems to be upset over party chief Mamata Banerjee’s revamping of the organisation in the districts.

They say old-timers, many of whom have been with the party since its inception, were being ignored and late entrants put at the helm of affairs.

Mamata has reviewed the party machinery in Midnapore, Hooghly and North 24-Parganas, appointing retired IAS officer and MLA, Dipak Ghosh, as the chief in Midnapore and making MP and reputed skin specialist, Ranjit Panja, the chairman of North-24 Parganas unit. Youth leaders said both had little or no contact with grassroots politics.

They also protested against the way the Trinamul Youth Congress committee, comprising diehard supporters of Mamata, was disbanded last week, while leaving its president, Sanjoy Bakshi, untouched. Mamata’s aides and MLAs, Jyotipriya Mullick and Tamonash Ghosh, were appointed working presidents until a full-fledged committee is formed. Sources said Bakshi is likely to be replaced before the Esplanade rally on July 21.

It is believed that youth leaders, including Tapas Dutta, Sisir Laha, Tapan Roy, Shankar Ghosh and Farooq Reza Rabbani Beig, have urged the leadership to strengthen the party’s ideological base and restore democracy.

“We are in Trinamul from day one and now we are being neglected. For this, the youth wing committee was disbanded,” one of them said.

Trinamul sources added that prominent district leaders were ignored in meetings held to review the party set-ups in Midnapore and Hooghly. As a result, Tapan Dasgupta, who was in charge of the Hooghly Lok Sabha segment, has crossed over to rebel MP Ajit Panja’s camp.

The scene has been repeated in several other districts with Hasan Imam, chairman of the Arambagh Lok Sabha segment, and Bani Singha Roy and Arup Roy of Howrah turning dissidents. Dinen Roy and Sisir Adhikary of Midnapore and Ujjal Biswas of Nadia have taken similar steps.

Regarding Trinamul’s possible return to the NDA, the youth leaders urged Mamata to clarify the party stand on L.K. Advani’s statement before the Liberhan Commission, refusing to accept Babri Masjid as a mosque, and also to take into account the opinion of the grassroots workers.

The dissatisfied leaders argue that the party did not benefit by allying with the Congress. “In 1996, the Congress in Bengal got 82 seats and 38 per cent of the votes. In 2001, the Trinamul and the Congress together got 39 per cent votes and 86 seats. So the experiment with the Congress has failed,” said a leader.

Interestingly, MP Bikram Sarkar, who favours a return to the NDA, is also of the same opinion. “Our experimentation with the Congress failed. I feel we should immediately return to the NDA so that we can provide protection to our supporters, who are facing the CPM’s atrocities in rural areas,” Sarkar said.

Trinamul observers are now keeping a close watch on the rally on July 21, which is observed by the party as Martyr’s Day.


Gopiballavpur (Midnapore), June 17: 
Residents still rue the calm spring day in March when a troop of monkeys strayed into their town and decided to make it their home.

They have not known a day of peace since as the simians started running riot, paralysing normal life. Around 50 monkeys, each weighing about 60 kg and standing at five feet, have virtually taken over this semi-urban town on the banks of the Subarnarekha. They have attacked residents, damaged property and, according to some people, even tried to snatch children over the past three months.

They swing into action early in the morning, springing from one roof to another. Their hopping capers have smashed the shingles of at least 500 houses, angering and inconveniencing people particularly as monsoon has set in.

As the day progresses, the hungry bunch munches on fruits and vegetables that they can lay their limbs on in fields or kitchen gardens. For fun, they crush flowers and saplings. The destruction has been such that vegetable prices in local markets have shot up.

Attempts to chase or scare the simians away have not only been futile, but near fatal. In most cases, the monkeys have retaliated, swooping down from their perches and slapping and scratching quite a few residents.

Annoyed with the monkeys destroying the flowers in his garden, Subal Das had thrown stones to chase them away. The monkeys held their ground and one of them — the leader of group, according to Das — leaped up to him and slapped him.

“I suffered high fever for more than a week and had to take a course of injections as advised by the doctor. I am really very scared of the monkeys now,” said Das.

“It reminds us of the primitive age when humans and monkeys stayed together in forests,” said Saral Munda, another resident.

The terrified residents of Gopiballavpur have repeatedly sent SOS to the forest department, but to no avail. The forest department has washed its hands of the matter, saying it does not fall under its jurisdiction.

Tarun Acharya, forest range officer in Jhargram, admitted that he had received numerous complaints from Gopiballavpur and has advised them to contact the police.

But Gopiballavpur police station officer-in-charge Tapan Neogy — himself affected by the monkey menace — has said that he is unable to concentrate on this problem.

“We are busy with law and order problems of a greater magnitude. We have neither the time nor the necessary training to deal with these monkeys. We also don’t want to be reduced to a laughing stock, going out and handling the bunch of apes,” he said.

Faced with state apathy, the residents of Gopiballavpur seem resigned to more months of the rule of the jungle.


Berhampore, June 17: 
Four people were killed in two accidents on National Highway 34 in Murshidabad district last night.

Two speeding trucks collided, killing three and injuring five near Aira village under Nabagram police station.

One of the victims died on the spot while two others succumbed to injuries on the way to Berhampore hospital. Two were identified as Itulal Dafadar and Kalu Biswas, residents of Nadia district. The other victim is yet to be identified.

Police have impounded both vehicles.

The second incident took place near Bhabta village under Beldanga police station. A 40-year-old man was killed when a trailer, heading for Calcutta from Berhampore, knocked him down. The victim was identified as Mosharaf Hossein, an employee with the state’s land and revenue department.

Immediately after the incident, residents stopped a police jeep and pleaded with the personnel to chase the killer vehicle.

But the policemen, who were from the Berhampore police station, refused. “This area does not fall under our jurisdiction. You inform Beldanga police station. They will take action,” they said.

The enraged mob squatted on the highway in protest against police inaction. Around 11 pm, officials of Beldanga police station rushed to the spot.

As the force arrived, the demonstrators turned violent. They gheraoed the policemen and damaged their vehicle. The police had to resort to lathicharge to quell the mob. Seventeen people were arrested.


Maintained by Web Development Company