Near-mishap in Metro door trap
Mamata halts mayor on hawker eviction drive
Big brands in bright-light bazaar
School guard injured in verandah collapse
Green vehicles get green signal
Bengal brief for B-brigade
Home truths for happy parents
Yes minister, but no MLAs
Handcuffs on ‘CBI’ cheat
DVC meet on head office shift

Calcutta, June 26: 
It almost turned out to be another horror ride on the Metro. In a repeat of the incident that took place last Tuesday, in which a man travelled from Sovabazar to Girish Park trapped between the sliding doors of a train, another man had an almost similar experience on Monday morning.

Pradip Bhowmick, 31, was getting off the train at Kalighat at 10.30 am, when he was trapped between the doors that were sliding shut. Unable to move and terror-stricken, he found to his horror that the train had started moving.

His fellow-passengers came to his rescue. They squeezed him out of the train and pushed him on to the platform. Stunned at his providential escape, he did not even lodge a formal complaint with the Metro Railway authorities. He only told them about his horrifying experience.

The matter went unreported till Tuesday evening, when Bhowmick finally decided to lodge a general diary with Kalighat police station, as well as the Metro Rail authorities. Bhowmick said he would have been spared the trauma had the Metro officials done their maintenance work properly. He had tried to step out of the train at the last moment, and through doors sliding shut, because the door he had been waiting to get out of simply did not open.

“When I found that all the doors, except the one in front of which I was standing, opened at Kalighat station, I had no option but rush to an adjacent door to get off the train,” Bhowmick said on Tuesday at Metro Rail Bhavan. “Strangely, till Jatin Das Park, even the defective door had been working perfectly.”

Metro officials are also at a loss to explain how the train started moving even though the door had not closed. Officials said when the doors of the train are almost shut, a green signal flashes and allows the train to move. In Bhowmick’s case, the gap between the two sliding doors was “major” and should not have allowed the train to move.

“We are trying to find out whether the train actually started moving or whether it just rolled a bit on its own after the driver released the brakes,” said Jayanta Mitra, chief operations manager of Metro Rail. “We will check to see if Kalighat station is on a downward gradient, which would have allowed the train to roll.”

In his complaint, Bhowmick said he was travelling in the first compartment from Tollygunge. When he tried to clamber out of the train at Kalighat, the door closed on him while “my head and half my torso were out of the train.”

He added: “After that, I found the train moving. Then I heard people shouting and suddenly, I was lying on the platform... I was so shaken that I took leave from office and came straight back home. In fact, I did not step out till this (Tuesday) evening, and that too, at the behest of a friend who insisted that I lodge an official complaint.”

Bhowmick said he did not want anything from the Metro authorities. “I only want security for passengers and answers to a lot of questions on safety,” he said.

Metro officials are searching frantically for some answers.


Calcutta, June 26: 
Better a mayor denied than hawkers duped. Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday slammed the brakes on Subrata Mukherjee’s drive to rid city streets of hawkers.

At a news conference — her second after the electoral debacle — Mamata clung to her pro-poor image. “We are against eviction of hawkers in principle. In a state where there are 6.5 million registered unemployed youth and the small and big industries are shutting down every other day, thousands of people are barely making both ends meet by selling a variety of wares on city pavements. So, hawkers should not be evicted unless there is a comprehensive rehabilitation package,” she said at her Kalighat residence.

“We will, however, restrict them, so that pedestrians are not inconvenienced... We would also like to see Calcutta clean and green,” she added.

Mamata stressed the need to draw up a “comprehensive rehabilitation package”. “We hope the state government will assist us in this regard,” she added.

With this, Mamata has clearly overruled the mayor, who has been spearheading the hawker- hatao move. Mukherjee, seated beside Mamata at the conference, did not utter a word. Sources close to the mayor, however, said that Mukherjee accepted the Mamata line on the hawker issue “in the interest of the party”.

“What Mamata says does not make any sense. Who will monitor the so-called restrictions to be imposed on hawkers? If half the pavements are taken up by them, pedestrians are bound to be inconvenienced,” said Mukherjee loyalists.

Mamata, who held a marathon meeting with party councillors and MLAs at Maharashtra Niwas on Monday night, said a 10-member committee, headed by the mayor, had been formed to look into the “various options” on how to restrict the hawkers. The committee will also submit its recommendations on rehabilitation of encroachers lining both banks of Tolly’s Nullah.

“Hawkers will have to leave at least three feet of the pavement for pedestrians. They will not be allowed to construct any structures. All these modalities will be finalised by the committee,” said Mamata.

The problem of hawkers was “nothing new” for Calcutta, she said. “They have been here since Partition. It was chief minister B.C. Roy who first allowed them space to earn their livelihood. They have been there throughout the Left Front regime.”

The ground reality, according to sources, is that Mamata is “apprehensive” about the implications of an eviction drive.

“She fears that her pro-poor image will take a beating, as the drive will involve police action and use of force against hawkers,” said a confidant.

At Monday night’s meeting, while the mayor and a large number of councillors were in favour of hawker eviction, Saugata Roy, Pankaj Banerjee, Sadhan Pandey and Sanjoy Bakshi were opposed to it. Matters came to a head when the mayor threatened to resign if hawkers were not evicted from 21 thoroughfares. But by Tuesday evening, consensus overruled conflict.


Calcutta, June 26: 
Grab a bite at Pizza Hut, pick up a crystal showpiece from Swarovski, check out your favourite titles at Crossword or sip a Capuccino inside Funky Orbit while the kids freak out on the jungle gym there or fetch their favourites from Kids’ Kemp. All this after you have shopped for your favourite brands in an assembly line of speciality stores — under one roof.

With the large-format retail revolution well and truly on track, Calcuttans are warming up to the “lifestyle experience” in shopping. Come Pujas 2002, they’ll have a sprawling, sparkling new destination: Forum.

Developed by Sunsam Properties (P) Ltd, in consultation with Jones Lang LaSalle, the 200,000-sq-ft, air-conditioned, shopping mall coming up on Elgin Road will have a central atrium to guide shopping traffic, escalators and walkways, a welcome desk, maps on every floor, multi-level valet parking, rest areas, a mix of restaurants, speciality stores, music and jewellery shops, a bookstore and a bowling alley.

After Shopper’s Stop took up anchor position with a 60,000 sq ft space spread over four floors, the Pizza Hut deal is all but sealed. Big brands like Swatch, Victoria’s Secret, Lladro, Royal Sporting House, Swarovski, Funky Orbit, Crossword and ITC Wills Sport are all expected to set up shop at Forum. Others, like Kids’ Kemp, are looking for franchisees.

Says Rahul Saraf, director, Sunsam Properties: “Research shows that only about five per cent of the shopping basket is made up of need-based items. The rest is impulse buying, which can be provoked by strategic tenant-mix and positioning”.

“That’s what we want to do at the Forum, convert footfalls into purchase by providing a sea of choices. It’s not just about big brands. There’s space for everything, from bindis and churis to popcorn and candy,” Saraf adds.

One of the critical USPs of the city’s “first dedicated international shopping mall” will be a 50,000 square feet food and entertainment centre — an indoor amusement park with a roller-coaster ride, a “wet ’n’ wild” for kids, a variety of virtual reality games, a gym-cum fitness centre for members and visitors, with indoor tennis and squash courts.

“The fourth floor will house top-of-the-line products, from Swiss watches of all makes to sound systems from Bose and Nakamichi,” promises Saraf. Pallazzio, an exclusive jewellers chain from Mumbai, will provide the glitter on this seat of style.

Sunsam Properties, which is replicating the same Forum model in Bhubaneswar, to be completed by March 2003, is also looking at a second large-format retail mall on the E.M. Bypass. “We are on the lookout for land around Science City for another two-level Forum with a multiplex and a flat mall. The idea is to make Forum a brand name for a retail chain and we are looking at the eastern region to begin with,” says Saraf.

The Elgin Road mall will also invite “local stalwarts” in various segments like fashion boutiques, speciality eateries and other enterprises to set up shop under the “big umbrella” and gain from the “exposure”. Space will also be provided for events and exhibitions to encourage local artistes and craftsmen.


Calcutta, June 26: 
The security guard of Mitra Institution, in south Calcutta, was seriously injured when a second-storey verandah of a building beside the school collapsed on him on Tuesday morning. The victim, Monohar Das, was admitted to SSKM Hospital by neighbours. His condition was improving in the evening.

Eye-witnesses said at about 9.20 am, a portion of a verandah of an old building to the right of the school caved in. Pedestrians and local residents were taken by surprise. Eye-witness Pradip Raut said had the incident occurred an hour later, the casualty figure would have soared, as students reach the school by that time.

The cave-in has has added fuel to the demand to demolish old buildings, especially those along busy roads. Asis Roy, member of Better Calcutta, a city-based NGO, said: “A few years ago, when the portico of an old building collapsed at Esplanade East, injuring seven persons, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation had promised the demolition of all projecting verandahs of old buildings. The promises were never kept,” he added.

Mrinal Kanti Biswas, member of another city-based organisation, said the CMC should conduct an immediate survey of old buildings. “There are hundreds of condemned buildings in the city that should be razed as soon as possible,” Biswas said.


Calcutta, June 26: 
Passengers can breathe easy at last. Thanks to alternative energy sources, a double bonanza has been lined up for the city choking with pollution.

Come Friday, the country’s first solar-powered autorickshaws will hit the streets. For the other good news, the wait will have to be a little longer — till the Pujas, when battery-driven buses will ply in the crowded BBD Bag area.

The West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency has tied up with Scooters India Limited, a government of India undertaking, to give Calcutta the first two of the country’s solar-powered autos. Talks are on with the Union and state governments for commercialisation of the service but initially, the two autos will be run by the WBREDA itself.

The autos, which score over the petrol-run vehicles by being able to accommodate nine passengers, will run on batteries powered by solar energy, to be tapped by the WBREDA’s solar power plant at Salt Lake.

The power plant operates by day — when the autos will be ferrying passengers between different points of Salt Lake — and the batteries will be recharged at night. “The 72-volt batteries, on being charged, will allow the auto to run for a distance between 80 km and 100 km,” said WBREDA director S.P. Gon Choudhury.

The battery-bus venture, too, will start off on three wheels. The government will test waters by running two battery-run three-wheelers from Friday, which will travel on short routes. These are six and nine-seaters, procured mainly from Scooters India and Mahindra & Mahindra. The batteries, costing around Rs 50,000, are rechargeable and can last a maximum of 80-100 km.

Battery major Exide Industries Limited (EIL) will supply the electric vehicle (EV) batteries to Calcutta State Transport Corporation (CSTC).

The CSTC will run 20 buses in the first phase. The government also plans to raise the strength of the State Transport Corporation’s fleet by another 500 such buses.

Gautam Chatterjee, director (industrial) EIL, said the government was already running two such buses on a trial basis between Ultadanga and Salt Lake. The cost of the batteries for the buses is Rs 1.5 lakh.

The government is considering a 50 per cent subsidy for buyers of both types of vehicles, which will make them competitively priced. The autos will ply in the Salt Lake area.


Calcutta, June 26: 
The official position is that no government representative will be there at the 21st Banga Sammelan, to be held at Lowell, in Massachusetts, from July 6 to 8, in keeping with the new cost-cutting mantra. But, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has personally urged his trusted business brigade to embark on an American conquest of sorts and put up a strong pitch for the state.

It is learnt that the chief minister is keen to utilise the forum, to be attended by more than 10,000 Bengalis, to attract investment into the state. At a special meeting on Monday, Bhattacharjee assigned specific responsibilities to some city-based industrialists, who are almost sure to attend the three-day conclave in Boston.

Besides asking the likes of Bhaskar Sen, S.B. De and Surendra Lakhotia of the A.V. Birla group to look out for investors in “any knowledge-based industry, food processing and plastics and diversified jute products”, Bhattacharjee has also told them to locate potential partners to create centres of excellence in academics and research in West Bengal.

“The chief minister wants foreign participation in an advanced institute of social science at Calcutta University, a genetic engineering centre at Bidhan Chandra Krishi Visva Vidyalaya, an environmental sciences centre at Bengal Engineering College and a biotechnology centre at Jadavpur University,” said Bhaskar Sen, past president, Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industries and the Calcutta co-ordinator of the Banga Sammelan.

The focus of this year’s Banga Sammelan will be the renaissance of Bengal and the meet will explore the possibility of utilising the time, skill and monetary resources of the Bengalis settled abroad for the growth and development of the state and the country.

Seminars, workshops and panel discussions will be held to identify how Bengalis, irrespective of their address or profession, can contribute towards all-round development of the state’s artistic, cultural, economic, intellectual and spiritual instincts.

The speakers will include Rajat Gupta of McKinsey, Partha S. Ghosh of Partha Ghosh and Associates, Purnendu Chatterjee of TCG, Desh Deshpande of Sycamore Networks, communications expert Sam Pitroda and former bureaucrat and MP Nitish Sengupta.

“We have also decided to create a fund for Bengal with a contribution of $ 1,000 from each participant,” said Sen.


Dabgram, June 26: 
Kalu Ghosh can’t hide his joy ever since he unexpectedly became “father” at a marketplace. For Kalu and his wife Banoshree, a childless couple, happiness has come in the form of a one-year-old child “gifted” to them by a destitute mother.

But the celebrations are tempered by apprehension about the future of the child, christened Saurav, and the legalities of the bizarre adoption.

Kalu, a 40-year-old painter, got the child from Sita Halua, a frail woman who was willing to “gift” the starving baby to anyone who would be ready to take him. Kalu and his wife jumped at the offer and paid Rs 300 to the woman, which he says he gave her as bus fare. The people who witnessed the exchange insisted that an “agreement” be drawn up then and there, stating that Sita had “donated” the child to Kanu and Banoshree.

Cradling her “grandson”, Bhagyarani Ghosh, 60, burst into tears over the family’s good fortunes. “My prayers have been answered. My childless son has been gifted with a son. The child now belongs to us and we will bring him up as our own.”

Bhagyarani doesn’t believe Kalu did anything wrong by bringing the child home. “It was in fact a noble gesture on his part to give a proper home to a destitute child. I don’t know if it is wrong in the eyes of the law. But we are all happy that my son has got a child of his own and the child a home,” she gushed.

But Banoshree is as concerned about her “son’s” health as she is of his future. “The child is very weak and malnourished. I took the child to a doctor today. I intend to bring him up as a normal and healthy child. But with police interrogating my husband on the nitty-gritty of the adoption of the child, I’m apprehensive about his (the baby’s) future with us,” she says.

“Please tell us what will happen to the child. Can we keep him or will the police take him away from us? One police official hinted last evening that we may be charged with kidnapping. They have been insisting that the biological mother of the child be brought to them so they can verify the entire deal that was reached between my husband and the woman who gave us the child,” an apprehensive Banoshree added.

The Jalpaiguri police have washed their hands of incident, saying it did not take place within their jurisdiction, and asked their counterparts in Siliguri to inquire into it.

Additional superintendent of police, Jalpaiguri, R Shiv Kumar said: “Though Kalu was initially interrogated by the Bhaktinagar police, after verifying that the incident did not take place within our jurisdiction, we have handed the case over to the Siliguri police in Darjeeling district.”

Siliguri additional superintendent of police Ajoy Kumar said: “We have checked out the case and found nothing wrong with it. What Kalu Ghosh has done was on humanitarian grounds, which is nothing wrong. There is really no merit in taking any action against Ghosh for what he has done.”


Calcutta, June 26: 
The CPM’s diktat on House rules appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Despite repeated reminders by the party leadership to its MLAs to attend the Assembly regularly, several legislators today skipped the proceedings. Interestingly, all of them had submitted some written questions seeking replies from ministers.

Though the ministers were present during the first half of the Assembly proceedings, the MLAs were not and their questions remained unanswered.

Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim took serious exception to the absence of the members and warned that all legislators should attend the Assembly regularly.

Two CPM MLAs, Bankim Chandra Hazra and Abu Ayesh Mandal, had submitted a number of questions to the Speaker, all addressed to minister for animal husbandry Anisur Rahaman and relief minister Chhaya Ghosh.

The ministers were present to give replies, but the legislators themselves skipped the Assembly proceedings.

“Abu Ayesh Mandal had informed me that he will not be able to attend the Assembly today. But I had not received any information from the other MLAs who skipped the proceedings during the day,” Halim said.

Apart from the CPM members, the Congress’ Ajoy Dey and West Bengal Socialist Party MLA Brrahmamoy Nanda were also absent despite placing questions before the House.

Halim told the Assembly that many MLAs had complained against ministers for not being present in the Assembly to reply to their questions. But today the tables had been turned.

Trinamul Congress MLAs protested against the absence of ministers in the House. Only two ministers, Probodh Sinha and Kamal Guha, were present in the Assembly when Kanika Ganguly of the CPM was speaking during mention hour in the morning.

Trinamul members led by Sougata Roy, Subrata Mukherjee and Tapas Roy drew the Speaker’s attention to the empty Treasury benches. “Not a single minister is present in the House now and we demand the presence of ministers during the entire session of the Assembly,” Trinamul MLAs were heard shouting.

MLAs from the treasury benches, however, objected to Trinamul’s allegation about the absence of the ministers. “Two ministers are here and your allegation is baseless,” they shouted back.

Minister for jails Biswanath Chowdhury said while replying to a question from the RSP’s Tapan Hore that the government had set up a committee comprising members of West Bengal Women’s Commission and Women’s Development Council to review the conditions of widows living in Varanasi.


Burdwan, June 26: 
Burdwan police today arrested a person on the charge of cheating people by posing as a CBI officer.

Dilip Das, a resident of Chatterjeehat in Howrah, was produced in court and remanded in police custody.

The officer-in-charge of Burdwan police station, Samar Pandey, said Das used to collect money from people by promising them jobs. He had fitted a Tata Sumo with hooter and red lamp, like the ones used by VIPs, to convince people that he was a CBI officer.

But Das’ luck ran out when a few months ago he demanded Rs 50,000 from Chowdhury Moinuddin, a resident of Keshabgunj Chati, promising him a kerosene oil dealership from the chief minister’s quota.

Moinuddin initially refused to pay, but yielded after much persuasion. After waiting in vain for a few months for the promised licence, Moinuddin complained to the police.


Ranchi, June 26: 
The Damodar Valley Corporation will meet in Calcutta on June 29 to discuss the proposal by the Jharkhand government to shift the headquarters of the corporation from Calcutta to Ranchi.

The Jharkhand government is keen on the corporation shifting it headquarters to what it called its mother state. The Jharkhand Assembly has also passed a resolution seeking the transfer.

DVC board member and Jharkhand Electricity Board chairman Rajib Ranjan told The Telegraph that a proposal to this effect has already been submitted to the DVC board, which includes, besides Ranjan, chairman J.C. Jaitley and West Bengal power secretary A. Burman.

Ranjan said the DVC does not supply power to West Bengal and with the corporation generating more than 80 per cent of its power from Jharkhand. He pointed out that Jharkhand was also the sole consumer of DVC power.


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