Blame game over nexus needle
Notes of discord in land for Das music school
Auction bid for travellers’ booty
Taps run dry at hospital, distress call to civic body
Grand designs on New Market
Tagore’s rural Bengal, frame by frame
Monitor panel for disposal of hospital wastes
Trinamul pushes for hospital expansion
Dunlop screeches to a halt after suspension slap
Malaria deaths

 
 
BLAME GAME OVER NEXUS NEEDLE 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Aug. 20: 

Dum Dum cadre draw up list of ‘offenders’

For the police, it was a day of raids and arrests, interrogation and breakthrough. For politicians, it was blame-game time.

With the focus in the Sailen Das murder probe clearly being on the local leader-unscrupulous realtor nexus, rival factions of the CPM North 24-Parganas were busy on Monday trading charges over the involvement of some partymen in real estate deals in the Dum Dum area.

On Sunday, state CPM secretary Anil Biswas, while addressing a rally at Dum Dum to protest the murder of the municipality chairman, had made it clear that “neither the party nor the government” would protect any CPM member found guilty. “I have spoken to the chief minister, who has pledged that no efforts would be spared to bring the offenders to book,” Biswas said.

This has prompted a scurry among local party units to project a clean image to the top brass.

Certain Dum Dum-based CPM functionaries are reportedly preparing a list of local leaders who are known to be close to certain shady realtors and criminals. The black list will be placed before the CPM leadership soon.

A district secretariat member, close to the ruling clique of Amitava Nandi and Amitava Bose, is stated to figure high on the list.

Tension in the North 24-Parganas CPM unit is palpable. The police have made it clear that if a “free and full” investigation is allowed in the Das case, several top leaders in the area will be “severely embarrassed”.

Realising the need to make a visible demonstration of their bid to “clean up” the murky world of Dum Dum politics, the CPM unit plans to hit the streets from Tuesday. Local party leaders will organise demonstrations in front of six police stations — Nimta, Dum Dum, Bidhannagar, Lake Town, Rajarhat and Ghola — demanding the arrest of Das’ killers.

But amidst the display of unity, factionalism in the district CPM has come to the fore once again with the temporary appointment of a chairman of the municipality to replace Das. A section of leaders thought Kanan Das, wife of the slain civic chief, would be nominated. But the party lobby close to some influential leaders of district unit nominated Dipak Bhattacharjee as the acting chairman. It is almost certain that he will continue in the post.

   

 
 
NOTES OF DISCORD IN LAND FOR DAS MUSIC SCHOOL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
A week into the investigation of the Sailen Das murder case, the spotlight shifted to the Dum Dum municipality chairman’s dream project: His music school, Batayanik. The police have found evidence of bad blood between Das and a group of realtors over purchase of a plot for his music school.

According to reports, these promoters had their sights set on the five-cottah plot on UK Dutta Road, in Dum Dum. But their bid to buy the plot was thwarted because Das managed to bag it on the strength of his political clout.

The police are trying to ascertain whether Das, who was not municipality chairman then, had played the “party card” to secure the land on which the construction of Batayanik’s building had begun.

“We are not aware of any controversy over the plot on which the Batayanik building is coming up that may have been responsible for the murder of my father-in-law,” said Tripti Das.

As of now, the music school is located in a portion of the L-shaped ground floor of the building under construction. Another portion has been let out to an English-medium kindergarten. Batayanik, founded in 1975, now has 200 students and earlier operated from a rented house. It has branches at Barasat, Bongaon and Clive House, Dum Dum.

Das, a noted Rabindrasangeet singer, had earmarked the plot belonging to an engineering company. But a local realtor had already made a move to acquire the plot. Das, apparently, elbowed out the realtor with help from a CPM functionary, who was also a top official of the municipality.

Records say Das had bought the plot at a rate considerably lower than the market price in 1988. The plot cost Das Rs 1 lakh per cottah, as against the market price of Rs 1.45 lakh per cottah.

The realtor, part of a group of tainted promoters, had to forego the plot, though they had begun to bid for several housing projects in the Dum Dum municipality area. The group, since then, had been nursing a grouse against Das.

Investigators feel the grouse may have grown into hatred by the time Das, forced by a section of the North 24-Parganas district CPM, held up three building projects of the group after the death of vice-chairman Asit Das Sharma, on July 26 this year. Das Sharma had reportedly assured the group that he would clear the building plans.

The promoters had already taken several lakhs in advance from prospective buyers.

   

 
 
AUCTION BID FOR TRAVELLERS’ BOOTY 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
They deal in small change only; they top the hate-list of every other commuter for being bothered about nothing but the jingle of their black bags.

But slowly and silently, for the past 20 years, these much-maligned conductors, along with their comrades behind the wheel, have been filling up the Calcutta State Transport Corporation (CSTC) vault with things left behind by passengers.

And we aren’t talking small change here — the deposits run into lakhs. “About 1.5 kg gold and 2.5 kg of silver ornaments, along with other valuables, have been deposited in the vault over the past 20 years,’’ said Gurupada Konar, CSTC managing director.

“There are many honest drivers and conductors who bring the recovered goods to the office. We first try to track down the owner or wait for someone to claim the item. We return goods once they can show us some proof supporting their claim. But when no one turns up and we fail to trace the owner, we deposit the material in the vault,” explained Konar.

Now, the transport department has decided to “auction off” the stuff. “Unmindful passengers have left behind all kinds of things, from vanity bags, school bags, spectacles, water bottles, umbrellas, books and shopping bags to gold and silver rings, chains, wrist watches and wallets stuffed with cash.”

Realising that half of the stuff was “rotting away” in the locker, CSTC officials approached transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, who gave the go-ahead for the auction. “As there is hardly any chance of finding the owners of the goods, it is best that we sell them off. Otherwise, they will just lie there in the locker and be destroyed,” said Chakraborty.

To ensure “transparency” and “pre-empt accusations of graft”, the transport department will announce the public auction through newspaper advertisements.

“As it is for the first time that the CSTC will sell off these valuables, we do not want to leave any loopholes in the process, so that no one can raise questions over the sale being free and fair,’’ a senior official of the transport department said.

He added that “similar goods were lying at other corporation offices”, waiting to be auctioned off. A guideline to enable such a move was “being formulated”, he said.

   

 
 
TAPS RUN DRY AT HOSPITAL, DISTRESS CALL TO CIVIC BODY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
The SSKM Hospital authorities on Monday sent an SOS to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) as the chest, cancer and dialysis units of the hospital reeled under acute water crisis.

Executive engineer and assistant engineer of the Public Works Department (PWD), who look after SSKM Hospital, told surgeon superintendent Debdaipayan Chattopadhyay that water supply to the hospital’s main building, as well as the Ronald Ross building, Woodburn ward and chest and cancer buildings, could not be improved until the CMC increased its supply to the hospital.

The engineers said the hospital’s main underground reservoir was located in the dialysis unit and it was not receiving enough water from the CMC through the ferrule connection. Other buildings were being provided with water from the reservoir. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has asked the water supply department to take immediate steps.

Chief engineer, water supply, Dibyendu Roychaudhury said: “We have repeatedly urged the PWD to take bulk supply by the meter system. The civic authorities will then be able to meet all their requirements. But neither the superintendent nor the PWD has responded to the proposal.”

Roychaudhury said the water supply department has already increased the size of the ferrule, but even the largest ferrule will fail to meet the needs of the entire hospital. Beside the CMC supply, the hospital has its own deep tubewell. A few months ago, the executive engineer had raised a proposal to sink another deep tubewell to augment supply. The scheme was not implemented.

   

 
 
GRAND DESIGNS ON NEW MARKET 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
From Metiabruz to Massachusetts. It’s been a long and rewarding journey for Shakeel Hossain. The 43-year-old architect, a descendant of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, now works in Boston, but is still as passionate about his “dream project in Calcutta” as he was when he conceived it two decades ago.

Hossain’s design solution to “preserve the heritage character of New Market and create an avenue for funds generation”, continues to gather dust in the civic body headquarters. “When I heard that the Corporation was planning to demolish the New Market complex and build a 10-storeyed structure there, I instantly knew this was the same mistake that some European cities have made by bringing down heritage structures,” says the research-fellow of both MIT and Harvard.

In 1980, Hossain made a measured drawing of the existing structure, “figured out what should be kept and what should be demolished to create more floor space and generate revenue”. The civic authorities had termed the plan “very good” and promised to “look into it later”. He hasn’t heard from them since.

This, ironically, is exactly how Satyajit Ray had foreseen Hossain’s grand market makeover plan going. “When I had discussed my model with Ray, he was quite enthusiastic about it. But in the same breath, he had warned that it wasn’t going to be easy convincing the authorities and so I would do well not to kill myself over this dream scheme,” he recalls.

Hossain’s plan was to keep the “external wall” and the “meat and vegetable markets” intact. “I wanted to convert the area in front of New Market into an open public museum, bringing back the history of British Bengal by creating a continuous, interactive public stage debating the city’s past.”

Hossain, whose passage to Boston was via St Patrick’s, Asansol, Delhi School of Architecture and then MIT, had hit upon his New Market design solution keeping in mind the socio-economic scenario and the historical and cultural needs of the city. “My primary concern was how best to marry the needs and history of the city. Not like the New New Market, which is an atrocious, shocking structure, insensitive to culture, climate or surroundings,” he stresses.

Hossain believes that low rents and low income generation have been the bane of New Market, which has “refused to evolve and change with time”. New Market is not all the architect from Metiabruz with a “passion for cultural heritage” — and a five-year research project on Popular Indian Islamic Art and Architecture funded by the Smithsonian Institute and the American Institute of Indian Studies — is concerned about. “Having seen the city’s Muslim areas from close quarters when I roamed the streets as a kid with my mother (Tamanna Begum), I was fascinated by Kidderpore market, Entally market and the likes. I was always passionate about documenting these structures,” he remembers.

Hossain laments that Calcutta hasn’t retained its charm and that Park Street isn’t like it used to be. “We just can’t go on losing our heritage buildings one after the other. They must be identified for preservation or restoration, like London or even Mumbai has done... The problem with Calcutta is that the people are very sentimental about their heritage, but the city lacks activists to make things happen.”

   

 
 
TAGORE’S RURAL BENGAL, FRAME BY FRAME 
 
 
BY SUDESHNA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
Storm clouds gathering over the Padma, a woman following a meandering path, a flash of lightning splitting the night sky...

Myriad vignettes of rural Bengal that Rabindranath Tagore sketched in Chhinnapatra, a collection of his letters, came into focus during a slide show at Victoria Memorial on Monday. The one-hour show is a labour of love by Dr Noazesh Ahmed, a Bangladeshi scientist.

“The months that Tagore spent sailing during his zamindari tours of the districts in the early 1890s expanded his vision. His lyrical descriptions lend themselves perfectly to photography,” says Ahmed, who spent six years, taking time off from his work as an adviser to the World Bank and the UNO, to capture scenes on his Nikon 90X that fitted the descriptions in Chhinnapatra.

Ahmed hired a country boat and set sail, following the riverine route that Tagore would take — along the Padma, the Ichhamati and the Kartoya. “While I avoided the pockets where modernisation has left its mark, many areas near Silaidaha, Sajadpur and Patisar are still just as Tagore found them. I would spend hours waiting for the motor boats to disappear from view, to capture the solemnity of the silently-flowing Padma,” he recalls.

Three short stories — Post master, Giribala and Khokababur Pratyabartan — and three songs — Jagater anandajagne, Esho esho mor nath and Tumi nabo nabo rupe — have been used in the show. “I chose sections of letters and made sketches of the frames as they appeared on the mind’s eye,” explains Ahmed.

The scientist’s connection with Calcutta goes back to his childhood. “I spent a couple of years here in 1945-46. Theatre Road was so green then, paved with gardens. Then the World War started and Karnani Mansion, which could be seen from our Jhowtala Road flat, was taken over by US troops.” Dr Ahmed also recalls the young Chhabi Biswas who stayed in the neighbourhood. “We, the para boys, used to wait for his black Humber to zoom out when he went for shooting.”.

He visited “his favourite city” twice afterwards, the last trip being 28 years ago. “This time, I revisited the big banyan tree at Botanical Gardens. It’s like an old friend,” says the botanist. Another project close to his heart is the National Encyclopaedia of Bangladesh, to which he is a consultant editor. “It will be a 10-volume venture, containing everything on Bangladesh and lots on West Bengal,” he says, adding that about 40 scholars from Calcutta are contributing to the bi-lingual project.

   

 
 
MONITOR PANEL FOR DISPOSAL OF HOSPITAL WASTES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
The state health and family welfare department, frustrated with the civic conservancy department’s performance, has set up a seven-member committee to monitor the handling and disposal of biomedical wastes. The objective will be to prevent recycling of syringes, dextrose bottles, rubber tubes, gloves, cotton and bandages, and ensure their safe disposal.

As management of biomedical wastes requires specialised knowhow, the deputy chief municipal health officer, the chief engineer, conservancy, and experts from All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health have been included in the committee.

The committee will monitor the enforcement of the Biomedical Wastes Rules, relating to the separation, collection, transportation and safe disposal of the refuse, said principal secretary, health, Asim Barman.

The team inspected SSKM Hospital on Thursday and will organise a training camp for the staff of Calcutta Medical College and Hospital on August 30.

Deputy chief medical health officer R.N. Sanyal said the handling and disposal of wastes was found satisfactory at Woodburn ward of SSKM Hospital. But the casualty ward was in disorder.

Barman said there are 11,825 beds in 25 medical colleges and hospitals in the city, which generate at least 3,000 kg of biomedical wastes daily. But only a little over 300 kg are handed over to the CMC. If private hospitals, polyclinics and nursing homes are taken into account, the daily output would shoot up to more than 5,000 kg, he added.

However, senior conservancy officials think the move is a step against the Trinamul Congress-led conservancy department, which had refused to extend logistic support to the health department in its drive against illegal constructions in medical colleges and government hospitals.

The health department had approached the Corporation for pay-loaders, trucks and mazdoors for the August 11 drive at NRS Medical College and Hospital. But the civic department had declined help at the last moment. The operation was finally carried out by requisitioning six pay-loaders from Senbo.

Member, mayor-in-council, conservancy, Mala Roy, said she was unaware either of the formation of the monitor committee or the inclusion of chief engineer, conservancy, in the team.

   

 
 
TRINAMUL PUSHES FOR HOSPITAL EXPANSION 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
Trinamul-controlled Tollygunge Nagarik Parishad today sat in a dharna in front of M.R. Bangur Memorial Hospital in Tollygunge, demanding that the number of beds be increased and the hospital modernised.

Trinamul leader and Tollygunge MLA Pankaj Banerjee said a sprawling 14-bigha land, adjacent to the hospital and belonging to the health department, has been lying unutilised since it was acquired in the seventies.

Banerjee said there has been no increase in the number of beds since it was built in the fifties. The hospital is the lifeline for residents of South 24-Parganas.

“I had several discussions with Jyoti Basu regarding modernisation and expansion of the hospital. Later, I met Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and wrote to health minister Suryakanta Mishra. But there has been no response so far,” Banerjee said.

The vast plot of land has been taken over by illegal settlers. A visit to the site adjacent to the hospital revealed that a few hundred shanties had mushroomed on the slush with pigs roaming about freely in the filth and squalor. “Considering that the hospital is located in such unhygienic environs, immediate steps should be taken,” Banerjee added.

Superintendent of Bangur hospital Debashish Haldar said the land belonged to the health department, but there were no immediate plans to utilise it for expansion. “The land belongs to the health department all right but I have not come across any plans to utilise the land for expansion purposes,” he added.

Banerjee said the hospital had started with 600 beds and not one has been added in the last 50 years. “This is a prime land and as the local MLA, I know how land-sharks and promoters had eyed it in the past and tried to grab it illegally. We want the government to wake up from its slumber and immediately expand the hospital by constructing buildings on this plot,” the Trinamul leader said.

He pointed out that the hospital was built with an aim to cater to South 24-Parganas. “Just imagine the increase in population in the stretch between Tollygunge and Sagar Islands over the past four to five decades. Can this hospital carry the burden of patients without any expansion scheme?” Banerjee asked.

   

 
 
DUNLOP SCREECHES TO A HALT AFTER SUSPENSION SLAP 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Aug. 20: 
Barely 17 months after re-starting operations, the wheels stopped rolling at Dunlop India Ltd’s Sahagunj factory this morning when the management declared suspension of work.

This is the second time the Manu Chhabria-controlled company has declared suspension of work at Sahagunj. The last time was on February 7, 1998, after it was referred to the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction.

The company’s 3,800-odd employees learnt about the work suspension when they came to the factory in the morning to join their duty. The notice was put up at 3 am on the factory gate. However, the factory had stopped production in January this year.

In the 14-page notice, the company has mainly cited three reasons for the suspension:

Unnecessary delay by the BIFR in approving the revival scheme even though the promoter had brought in Rs 26 crore to carry on the holding operations

Agitation by the unions

Theft of raw materials from the factory about which no action had been taken

However, superintendent of police (Hooghly), N. Ramesh Babu, refuted the allegation, saying some rubber rolls which were stolen had been recovered and five persons arrested in this connection.

The notice, which was not circulated to the unions, says that in the present circumstances, the management felt insecure and decided to suspend operations.

Later, the company said in a press release that the management has been desperately trying to bring back the company on the road to revival. It had submitted a revival scheme to the BIFR, but it has been hanging fire for a long time.

Besides, Dunlop claimed, its employees have chosen not to support the company at a critical time and are “indulging in acts that are detrimental to the interests of the company”.

“Some of the irate workmen have unleashed a reign of terror in the factory. This has forced the management to suspend operations for safety of personnel and their families with immediate effect,” the company said.

Though the workers say they were aware something was brewing and had anticipated the management would take some drastic steps, when the notice was put up, Sahagunj turned tense.

The first indications of some “drastic step” were evident when the management closed down the canteen on Friday.

Employees, both affiliated to Citu and Intuc, staged a demonstration in front of the factory gate, protesting against the management’s move.

State commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen also slammed Dunlop’s management. “They are not interested in running the company. They are saying something to the BIFR and something to us. They have declared suspension of work at a time when the draft revival scheme is being examined by all the parties concerned.”

NRI promoter Manu Chhabria’s daughter Komal Wazir had met Sen and asked for a soft loan of Rs 25 crore against the mortgage of the company’s head office and sales office on Mirza Ghalib Street. Sen had then assured Komal that the matter would be looked into.

“We were examining the matter. But now that the company has declared suspension of work we will have to rethink on it,” said senior officials of the state industrial reconstruction department, which was looking into the affairs of Dunlop after it was declared sick.

Veteran Citu leader Chittabrata Majumdar said: “The promoter is unwilling to run the company. If he had wanted to run the company he would have waited for the final verdict of BIFR on the draft revival scheme. This is unfortunate.”

The employees will meet labour minister Mohammad Amin tomorrow to brief him about the development and discuss possible solutions.

   

 
 
MALARIA DEATHS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Asansol, Aug. 20: 
Two more people died of malignant malaria this morning in the Durgapur-Asansol industrial belt, taking the toll to 12 over the last fortnight. Official sources said more than 40 are in hospital with the disease.

Ganesh Munda (15) died this morning in Kalla hospital and another person succumbed in Asansol subdivisional hospital.

Assistant chief medical officer Dilip Dutta, Asansol, said the disease may have spread from Kustor in Bankura district.

At least 15 persons from Kustor tested positive for malignant malaria.

   
 

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