Cheat check with weight watch
Coffins, not blessings, from shrine
Book dream dons dust jacket
CU monitor panel on sex abuse
Smart card boon for car-owners
Kharagpur kick:‘Computer’ for Rs 10
Go-it-alone in Bengal alone
Skies cloud over as giant waves lash Digha
Miscreants beaten to death
Cong protest disrupts train services

Calcutta, July 22: 
You lose Rs 30 on every purchase of Rs 200 that you make in the market. And that’s official.

According to a recent survey conducted by the legal metrological department, earlier known as the weights and measures department, Calcuttans are robbed of no less than Rs 1,000 crore a year by “rogue” traders using faulty hand-held scales and weights, said Amal Kumar Roy, controller of legal metrology.

The civic authorities have, till now, refused to shoulder any blame for failing to check the rampant use of faulty weights in markets. But the startling revelations have forced the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to revise its ‘weight and watch’ policy.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has directed member, mayor-in-council, market, Samsuzzaman Ansari, to help the legal metrological department by providing space for installation of digital balances in all civic markets. “Any consumer suspicious of the weights being used by a shopkeeper can immediately run a check with the digital balance,” the mayor said.

Welcoming the move to do away with hand-held scales in 22 CMC-owned markets, Anup Chandra, secretary, consumer affairs department, said: “From cooking gas to petrol pumps to jewellery shops, short-changing of customers is rampant... We will definitely co-operate with the CMC.”

According to Chandra, 20 traders in Gariahat market had been booked this month by the department for cheating customers. The use of faulty weights was also detected among 30 per cent of vendors and traders during inspections at Hatibagan, Posta, Rashmoni Bazaar, Kalighat market, Lake market and College Street market. The department has recently booked several jewellery shop-owners for using “defective scales” and “uncertified weights”.

A shortage of up to two kg in a 14-kg LPG cylinder was detected by inspectors. At a number of petrol pumps, shortage to the tune of 200 ml in every five litres supplied has been detected.

But why has it taken so long for the authorities to react? The metrological department blames it on the CMC. “We have repeatedly urged the market department of the CMC to introduce digital balances as most hand-held scales (dari-palla) used by shopkeepers are faulty. But no action has been taken,” alleged an official of the metrological department.

The department recently directed all traders to maintain a register of balances, duly signed by its officials. All other scales are liable to be “seized” by the government. The department has also decided to crack down on the wooden dari-palla that was banned in 1985 under the Standards of Weights and Measures Enforcement Act, but continues to be in use in almost every marketplace.


Calcutta, July 22: 
A pall of gloom descended on Belur and Liluah, after bodies of Asim Ghosh and Surajit Konar arrived late on Sunday night. Both were Amarnath yatris, killed in Friday night’s blast.

The flight from Delhi, carrying the bodies of the two friends, touched down at the airport around 8.40 pm. The wooden coffins were handed over to the two families at the cargo exit of the airport.

From early on Sunday, residents of Ramanath Bhattacharya Street flocked to the house of Asim Ghosh, killed in the blast in Seshnag, about 19 km from the Amarnath shrine.

When news trickled in on Saturday, members of local clubs and friends decided not to inform his family. “We finally broke the news to Asim’s mother and sisters on Sunday. Till Saturday, we were hoping he might still be alive,” said Saurav Das, a neighbour.

Madhusudhan Ghosh, Asim’s father, wept inconsolably while recounting how his son “had planned the trip months in advance.”

The mood was similar at Dinar Street, in Liluah, where people gathered at the house of Surajit Konar, after reading newspaper reports of the tragedy in southern Anantnag. “Surajit’s father, Hari Prasad, has not touched food since Saturday,” said a neighbour.

Konar had graduated recently and planned to set up his own business. “All our dreams are shattered. We could hardly believe the news, but television and newspaper reports finally convinced us that he had died,” a relative said.

What added to the confusion was news that a person named Kanwar Surjit, from the same area, figured in the list of the dead. “The confusion fuelled some hope in us, but it faded soon, as it turned out to be an error of identities,” the relative added.

Back at Ramanath Bhattacharya Street, over 400 local people gathered in the area on Sunday afternoon, all keen to head for the airport to receive Asim’s body. “It was difficult to control the crowd. Finally, we managed to accommodate around 250 people in several Matador vans. They left early in the evening,” said Deepak Choudhury, a neighbour. It proved a hectic day otherwise, too, for Choudhury and the Purohits, who live adjacent to the Ghosh household. “We were trying our best to console the family and help out in every way,” added Choudhury.

Asim Ghosh and Surajit Konar had left for Amarnath with three other friends on July 16, hoping to “be back with Shiva’s blessings”. “Asim was the brightest of the five. The others were trying their hand at odd jobs of late,” said Tapan Purohit.

At Shib Chandra Chatterjee Street and Peary Mohan Mukherjee Road, in Belur, and Strachi Road in Liluah, the relief was palpable. Family members of Alok Das, Kallol Sarkar and Chanchal Dhar were counting their blessings and awaiting the safe return of the three friends who had survived the blast.


Calcutta, July 22: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s dream project, a permanent book fair in the heart of the city, may take some more time to shape up. Bhattacharjee is reportedly “unhappy” with the project report submitted by Celcius Technologies, a Chatterjee Group company owned by Purnendu Chatterjee. The chief minister told the Publishers and Booksellers’ Guild, during a felicitation it organised for him earlier this month, that the report had some “inadequacies”.

Taking the cue, the Guild is hunting for another consultant. “We are likely to employ another consultant, like IBM or Wipro,” Guild general secretary Kalyan Shah said. The proposed centre, at the Shakespeare Sarani-Jawaharlal Nehru Road junction, will, naturally, be delayed by “some time”.

It was during Calcutta Book Fair 2001 that Bhattacharjee first mooted the idea of a World Book Centre, where publishers would be able to display their titles throughout the year and where any information about the trade would be available. “Why should the book fair be a temporary affair?” the chief minister had asked, promising all help if the Guild was interested.

The Guild was quick to approach The Chatterjee Group, one of the principal investors in Haldia, to prepare the project report. Two expenditure models proposed by Celcius are: A capital outlay of Rs 1.16 crore and annual expenses of Rs 1.92 crore, or Rs 80-lakh capital and Rs 88-lakh annual expenses. The expenses can be borne, the report adds, either by the government alone or in association with private enterprise. According to some senior Guild members, both options seem “impractical”. “In the age of downsizing, the government may not invest such a large sum. And which private agency would bear such huge expenses at its own risk?” asked one.

The revenue model suggested by the report — by selling books and display space — may also not be “feasible”. Will local publishers be foolhardy enough to take up shelf-space in a prime spot at a huge price, when all of them already have showrooms at the heart of the boi paara along College Street, wonder most publishers. The condition of their trade won’t allow them to take such risks, they say.

Celcius chief operating officer S. Ganguly, however, said the firm had yet not heard anything from the government about its report. “This is a three-way project and we may or may not be the third party besides the government and the Guild... But our biggest concern is that the project shouldn’t be another loss-making proposition,” observed Ganguly.

Guild general secretary Shah isn’t too confident about the centre being “commercially viable” in a hurry. “I have told the CM that we’ll need at least a decade to make the centre profitable... Even the book fair took some time to come out of the red.”


Calcutta, July 22: 
It’s taken a complaint of “sexual harassment” lodged by a female employee against a colleague on the Ballygunge Science College campus for the Calcutta University authorities to sit up and take note of the Supreme Court order directing employers to ensure proper security for women at the workplace.

The syndicate — the university’s highest policy-making body — has decided to set up a committee to outline steps to ensure that “no woman employee” is exposed to “any kind of sexual harassment” on any campus of the university.

The move to implement the apex court directive follows appeals from a section of female teachers and employees, urging the authorities to ensure their safety. They, in turn, were responding to a recent complaint from a woman, who alleged that a male colleague had tried to “molest” her while she was on duty on the Ballygunge campus.

A University Grants Commission (UGC) letter directing Calcutta University to take “adequate steps” to provide security to all women employees has also played a part in the setting up of the watchdog committee.

“Considering that nearly 20 per cent of the university’s staff are women, it is necessary to take concrete steps, in compliance with the Supreme Court and UGC directives on sexual harassment,” said Syndicate member Shyamapada Pal. “This is the first time the 146-year-old university has taken such a step.”

Pal, however, denied that the Syndicate’s move was in response to any specific complaint. “The UGC has made it mandatory for all universities registered with it to follow the court order on checking sexual harassment on the campus,” he explained.


Calcutta, July 22: 
Technology looks set to score over tout raj at the public vehicles department (PVD) in Beltala. The transport department is finally ready to introduce smart cards for car-owners.

The all-in-one card will be the blue book-cum-driving licence to take care of registration, tax payment, transfer and maintenance of other records connected to the vehicle. The move is aimed at simplifying matters, speeding up the process, and eliminating the middleman racket at the PVD. “The micro-processor card will ease the pressure on the PVD and check corruption. People will enjoy prompt service and touts will have to look elsewhere,’’ said transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.

“Once the multi-utility card is introduced, neither owner nor driver will have to queue up for hours or wait for weeks to get a car registered or transferred. Simply come to the counter, present the card and everything will be done instantly,’’ added PVD director T. V. Venkataraman. According to officials, the PVD has to maintain records of “nearly eight lakh vehicles” in the city. That leads to bottlenecks and paves the way for touts. The micro-processor card will have all data related to the vehicle encrypted. Driving licences being used at present will be converted to a smart card.

Initially, the microprocessor cards will be introduced for vehicles plying in the city and those registered with the PVD, Beltala. Later, the service will be extended to 25 regional transport offices, spread all over the state.

Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the transport department, is implementing the project. “We have just floated tenders for the project and the response already is quite positive. As it is a new technology, it will take some time to provide cards to all eight lakh-odd vehicle-owners and another two lakh drivers,’’ said G.G. Bhattacharya, managing director, Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation.

Officials from the department pegged the cost of the smart card “at around Rs 350”. This will be collected from vehicle-owners.


Kharagpur, July 22: 
For those bent on a psychedelic trip, the password is easy to remember: computer.

And the price for the trip? An affordable Rs 10.

Welcome to Kharagpur, where you can launch yourself on a high from a neighbourhood paan shop.

Ask for “computer”, fork out the tenner, and out comes the cigarette stick, stuffed not with tobacco, but grass.

Those in search of instant nirvana need not even waste time rolling a joint. The high comes ready-made.

The peddlers (paan-shop-owners), decided to use a password — “computer”, in this case — to screen out policemen and anti-narcotics department officials.

They go in for a double-check, though, just to make sure they don’t fall into a trap laid out by some law-enforcing official who has cracked the code. But the second check involves mostly relying on instincts: observing the buyer for a while before producing the “computer”.

If the paan-shop-owner feels the craving addict is actually a policeman in disguise, then he won’t deliver the cigarette.

This has turned out to be a booming business for the paan-shop owners at Puri Gate near the IIT Campus, Jhapetapur, the railway quarters close to Andhra School, Methor Basti and other places.

Like with computers, there are differences in quality — and price. The much-sought-after “Manipuri computers” — cigarettes stuffed with ganja from Manipur — come for Rs 20.

But not everyone is convinced they are getting the “unadulterated” stuff. Says a disillusioned rickshaw-puller, Sheikh Mushtaq: “Most of the sellers are mixing tobacco with sleeping pills and passing them off as ‘Manipuri computers’. Sleeping pills are ground and reduced to powder and mixed with tobacco,” he adds, digging into the details.

Sellers say they get their supplies from Assam and Sambalpur. Most of their buyers comprise a section of IIT and college — and even school — students, and some rickshaw-pullers and railway porters.

Inspector-in-charge of Kharagpur Town police station Tarun Das said police recently seized 15 kg of ganja and arrested some persons who brought the consignment from Assam.

He admitted, however, that it was difficult to control the sale of ganja.

Police also had information that the drug mafia was using some lepers to bring ganja from Sambalpur or Tata, he added.

But that’s just one of the police’s problems. They are now having to reckon with tea-stall-owners who have taken to selling country liquor.

The code for a glass — which comes for Rs 6 — is thanda cha. Many of the tea-shops at Nimpura, Mathurakati, New Settlement and Gate Bazar are involved, he added.


Calcutta, July 22: 
Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee’s announcement of no immediate return to the BJP-led coalition at the Centre appears to have disheartened a section of party MPs, particularly those keen to rejoin the NDA.

However, at her informal meeting with the MPs last night a few hours after the annual rally, Mamata is believed to have indicated that she has not closed the option of returning to the NDA and the just-unveiled go-it-alone policy was meant for Bengal only.

At least four Trinamul MPs — Bikram Sarkar, Krishna Bose, Ranjit Panja and Akbar Ali Khondakar — have been mounting pressure on Mamata, insisting that it was essential to return to the NDA to save hundreds of party workers being attacked by the CPM cadre in the districts.

The MPs, who left for Delhi this evening to attend tomorrow’s monsoon session of the Lok Sabha, are expected to raise the issue with Mamata after she reaches the capital tomorrow.

The Trinamul chief whip in Lok Sabha, Sudip Bandopadhyay, who cancelled his trip to Delhi because his mother was unwell, is likely to go to Delhi on Tuesday.

At yesterday’s rally, Mamata had said that she would function on her own without waiting for support from Delhi. She, however, kept mum on whether she would return to the NDA.

“We had a feeling that Mamata might highlight the party’s stand on the NDA as the monsoon session of Parliament begins tomorrow,” said Bikram Sarkar.

The issue was also hotly debated when Mamata met party MPs over dinner at Krishna Bose’s south Calcutta residence.

Though the meeting was described as “informal”, sources said the Trinamul chief wanted it to be held to make clear her stand that her go-it-alone policy was meant only for Bengal.

She also assured the MPs that the return to the NDA is not a closed chapter and will be taken up after the current session of the Lok Sabha, which is expected to continue till August 31.

She hinted that her party might extend issue-based support to the NDA as “we are not sitting in the Opposition”.

She also hinted that the party will wait and see how the BJP fares in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections scheduled for the end of this year.

“If the BJP does not fare well in the UP polls, then we will be held in higher esteem by the BJP and its allies,” she was reported to have told the MPs.

Mamata also told the MPs that she would speak to Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi to shift her seat from ministers’ gallery. She promised the MPs that she would share seats with them in the zone allotted to the Telugu Desam MPs.

Bandopadhyay said now there was no immediate possibility of the Trinamul rejoining NDA as the Lok Sabha begins tomorrow.

“Sitting with the Desam MPs is as good as being in a neutral zone. Beside us there will be BSP leader Mayavati and other Opposition MPs,” he added.


Midnapore, July 22: 
First came the waves, then the rains.

Tourists in Digha, enjoying the weekend, were only too eager to ignore the gigantic waves, but the heavy downpour sent most scuttling for cover.

The waves, some 20 feet high, hit the guard wall on Sunday, and then crossed it.

But tourists defied warnings played over microphones and ventured into the sea.

Some like Jonaki Sarkar, on a honeymoon at the seaside resort, actually enjoyed the experience. “We tied the knot a week ago. I was first reluctant to come here, but now I am very happy. This is a wonderful experience,” she said.

But not all were as brave. “Even sitting in the hotel balcony, the waves seemed so near. I wonder what would have happened to me had I been anywhere near the guard wall,” said Mome, another tourist.

As gigantic wave followed gigantic wave, law-enforcing officials had a tough time keeping tourists away from the sea.

“I even reminded them that a few months ago, a couple and their young child were dragged into the sea. But nobody was listening,” said OC Sudhansu Bera.

The fishing trawlers did not return owing to the rough seas. Although there were no reports of accidents, the administrators were monitoring the situation.

“The beaches are increasingly becoming unsafe these days. We are trying to shift tourists to New Digha now,” said Ananda Mohan Banerjee, administrator, Digha Development Scheme.

“Very few know that the original Digha village is buried deep under the sea. The place now known as Digha is actually a village called Khadalgobra. Recently, Gangadharpur, a village on the north side of the sea, was washed away,” Banerjee added.


Serampore, July 22: 
Two miscreants were beaten to death by local residents in Rishra today when they returned to the area after a long absence.

They have been identified as Raju Das (24) of Kshudiram Pally and Sachindra Burman (25) of Netaji Pally.

A spokesman at the Rishra police station said Raju and Sachin were arrested on several occasions and they used to extort money by terrorising people. They left the area several months ago after being chased away by residents.

On Sunday night they came back to Kshudiram Pally and planned to take revenge by committing a robbery, he added.

Superintendent of police (Hooghly) N. Ramesh Babu said the two killed belonged to Uday’s gang, which was involved in a number of robbery and murder cases in the area. Uday, now absconding, has over 50 illict liquor outlets.


Calcutta, July 22: 
Train services in the Howrah-Bardhaman and Tarakeswer sections of the Eastern Railways were disrupted for about an hour today as Youth Congress activists blocked the tracks at Belur.

They were protesting against the killing two Amarnath-bound pilgrims from the area in Seshnag on Saturday.

The workers shouted slogans against the BJP government for its failure to contain the rising violence in the Valley.

They also criticised Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf for the attack on innocent and unarmed pilgrims.

Many passengers remained stranded in different stations between Howrah and Bardhaman. They found it difficult to reach their destinations even after train services were restored.

PCC vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya said those killed were key party functionaries. While Surajit Konal was the Seva Dal chairman of the Bally Block Congress, Asim Ghosh was a Congress worker.

Local Congress leader and former MLA Supriya Bose demanded compensation from the Centre for its failure in ensuring security to the pilgrims.

“The tragic incident would not have happened had the security forces been more vigilant after the failed summit between Vajpayee and Musharraf,” he added.

Gloom continued to prevail on Ramanath Bhattacharya Street and Dinar Street in Belur Bazar area today as the police failed to say when the bodies would reach Calcutta.


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