Hit job at heritage house
Sleuths at Roy Burman doorstep for kidnap clues
Tech park on sick unit grave
Lone crusade of the long-distance runner
Civic clean-up in Salt Lake
US safety steps at Beleghata lab
700 college posts to be filled
Cop to curb extortion gangs
CAG faces summons on housing report

Calcutta, Aug. 26: 
A simple masonry arch with a plaque was all that it had to indicate the antiquity of the house next to the glass-fronted ITC building. But vandals backed by realtors wrecked the historic gateway that led to 5, Russell Street, on Saturday midnight without leaving behind any trace of their crime. By Sunday morning, the entrance was cleared of all debris. The vandals, reportedly a gang of 50, even patched up the scars with a mix of cement and sand.

This 180-year-old building was home to the first bishops of Calcutta before another residence was built on Chowringhee Road. The marble plaque atop the arch read: “This building was the Episcopal Palace from 1826-1849 and was occupied by Bishops Heber James, Turner and Wilson.”

Lower down, another inscription went thus: “National Council of YMCA of India, Burma & Ceylon, general office.” The other claim to fame of this house was that it was headquarters of the Young Men’s Christian Association in undivided India. Even the third plaque, inscribed with the words, “The building is donated by YMCA of Australia”, was missing.

In 1997, the gateway and the building were identified by the government’s expert committee as heritage structures for preservation by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) under Section 425B of CMC Act, 1980. Though they were not declared heritage structures, nonetheless, on no account could they be demolished.

The CMC has filed an FIR at Shakespeare Sarani police station against the act. Bishop Raju commented: “It is deplorable and I am sad to hear it.” Member, mayor-in-council, Rajiv Deb, blamed a promoter.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said: “I will take up the matter with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee so that the culprits are arrested.” He said the CMC would never sanction any building plan on the plot.

Chief municipal architect and town planner Saroj Ghosh said the house and the gateway to the premises at 5, Russell Street were included in the list of CMC’s heritage structures, the serial numbers being 298 and 307, respectively.

According to a rent receipt with Kailash Agarwal, owner of a furnishing shop, the National Council of Young Men’s Christian Association of India, New Delhi, is the owner of the sprawling 32-cottah compound.

A tenant, Zach Patnaik, who is president of the Evangelical literature depot and has lived in the house since 1968, said: “The Rajgarias now claim to be the legal caretakers of the building. When the gateway was demolished on Saturday midnight, one of the Rajgarias was present.”

The Rajgarias were not available for comment over the telephone on Sunday.

Varguis George, another tenant who was born and raised there, said: “Realtors had done the same thing with Darbhanga House, next to Tata Centre, on Chowringhee. This promoter is part and parcel of an entire system that is destroying Calcutta.”

Patnaik, who has decided to bring the matter to the notice of the British High Commissioner and the Archbishop of Canterbury, said when he asked the vandals what they were up to, they replied that they were repairing the gate. A man instructed the others to complete the work in three hours’ time. Next morning, Patnaik failed to recognise the gateway to his house.


Calcutta, Aug. 26: 
The CID has decided to “formally approach” the Roy Burmans to seek their “cooperation” in piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of the Khadim’s kidnap case.

“Investigations have reached a crucial stage. And we do feel that the family is not divulging all details about the case. So, we will enforce the law if necessary,” a senior CID officer said on Sunday. “The cooperation of Parthapratrim Roy Burman and his family is of vital importance, as the four abductors who came from Mumbai and their Calcutta-based contacts are still at large.”

The Khadim’s vice-chairman, according to sleuths, has “not responded positively” to repeated requests from the CID to shed “more light” on where he had been confined between July 25, when he was abducted from Tiljala, and August 2, the day he returned to his Salt Lake residence in a rickshaw, then a taxi.

“All he has told us is that the place was too dimly-lit for him to reconstruct the hideout… We are quite sure that he knows more than what he is telling us.”

Admitting that the multi-agency probe — despite making “good” progress with the arrest of 11 persons, including Swati Pal — had failed to round up the abductors and their local facilitators, a senior CID official said it was time the Roy Burmans helped them fill in the blanks. “We need to know the identity of those who used to call up and threaten Roy Burman before the abduction. We also need information about Roy Burman’s tours in India, especially about the people he would meet when he was in Mumbai.”

CID inspector-general Partha Bhattacharya, meanwhile, categorically stated that there was no evidence yet about the involvement of any “woman from Calcutta”. College student and model Panchali, who had been “dragged into” the case by media reports, had “no link, whatsoever” with Swati, Bhattacharya clarified. “Besides our own probe into this angle, Swati, too, has never mentioned Panchali to us.”

Panchali’s family called on Bhattacharya on Saturday and wanted to know why her name had been been dragged into the case. “It has all been very embarrassing,” Bhattacharya admitted. “But all we can do is say that we have nothing against the girl .”

The multi-agency probe team has failed to trace any record of Md Shafique’s “operations on Indian soil”. Officials, however, confirmed that Dubai-based Shafique had travelled to Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Pakistan “several times” in the past few months. “He heads a gang which is now desperate to establish itself in India,” say officials. Abdul Rehman, Swati’s ‘husband’ in Mumbai, went to Dubai twice before the abduction and stayed with Shafique.


Calcutta, Aug. 26: 
On the grave of Old Economy will be built the pillars of New Economy.

Bengal Enamel, a sick company closed for the past 10 years, is yielding place to West Bengal’s first technology park. The spot where the factory, shut down since 1991, was located will accommodate the hi-tech park — complete with an animation studio having a virtual-reality centre, multiplex cinemas and a technology college — from December 2002, if everything goes according to the ambitious plans drawn up by Tara International.

The enamel factory, which the management says will “definitely be reopened”, will shift west of Ghoshpara Road at Palta, about 20 km north of the city, yielding the 15 acres to the east of the road to the hi-tech park. Though there were no plans to shut down Bengal Enamel permanently, this relocation — where enamel would give way to IT — could be seen as “a sign of the changing times”, said T.S. Ganguli, director of both Tara International and Bengal Enamel.

The firm’s motive behind going for the Rs 25-crore project in a state that has given other parts of the country a headstart in IT is simple. “The market today is global,” Ganguli said. “Even if we don’t get business worth a single paisa from West Bengal, we should not be unduly worried.”

The examples of the other animation studios in Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi have given Tara International the necessary confidence to go ahead with its grandiose plans. According to industry estimates, the Indian animation studios put together have exports worth Rs 1,200 crore. “That is a small share of the global market, which is worth $25 billion, but they have definitely made a very good start,” said Ganguli. “We intend to follow in their footsteps.”

But profits are not Tara International’s sole concern; there’s also the wish to see Kumropotash and Hunkomukho Hyangla share the worldwide animation stage with Tom and Jerry and The Flintstones. “If they (the West) can have their own heroes in animation, why can’t we?” asked Ganguli.

The firm has initiated moves — with some help from the state information and cultural affairs department and the British Council — to popularise animation in Calcutta. “We got 300 respondents who wanted to participate in a forthcoming workshop featuring British animation expert Laura Knight. But not one of them was an expert in this field,” a Tara spokesman said.

Plans for an animation film festival in January 2002 at Nandan have also been drawn up. These two programmes — and the hi-tech park which will also boast of bowling alleys and multiplex cinemas, besides a degree-awarding technology college — are sure to make Calcutta an “animated city” before long, hopes Tara International.


Calcutta, Aug. 26: 
He was submerged by an avalanche in Siachen, attacked by a leopard in Leh, assaulted by dacoits near Etawah. But nothing could throw Bagicha Singh off his chosen path – from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, on foot.

For the 58-year-old oilseed farmer from Kurana village of Haryana’s Panipat district, life is a long and winding high-risk highway.

Bagicha received the Arjuna Award in 1986 for his twin conquests of Mount Everest (in 1981 and 1983) without oxygen and then toured 54 countries on a bicycle “for peace and national integration” over 12 years (during which he was shot in the head by a terrorist in Jalandhar).

This time, the wiry Haryanvi is out to cover the country on foot. His crusade is against “politicisation of sports, drugs and alcohol abuse and adoption of unfair means in exams”. Having set off from Kanyakumari on February 22, 1995, Bagicha arrived in Calcutta a couple of days ago, having traversed 154,000 km.

“Calcutta’s warmth and affection have overwhelmed me… This will inspire me on my last lap, which should be another 6,000-7,000 km,” smiles the grey beard.

Covering around 60 km on an average every day, with his 60-kg knapsack and twin Tricolours on his back, the mountaineer-cum-marathoner has chosen a circuitous route to “go into the heart of the districts and villages where the real India lives and spread my message of fairplay”.

Bagicha, who had ran the marathon in two hours and 16 minutes in 1966, has already trekked the south — Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Thrisoor, Mysore, Bangalore; the west — Goa, Daman, Pune, Latur, Aurangabad, Surat, Porbandar, Dwarka, Mumbai; the north — Rajasthan, Punjab, Jammu, Kargil, Siachen, Leh...

Bagicha wants to “roam the streets of Calcutta” for a couple of days more before he hits the road again. He’s off to Siliguri from here then on to Darjeeling, Sikkim, Bhutan, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland. After traversing the Northeast, Bagicha will take a north-western turn and head straight for the capital.

“I plan to reach Delhi in January next year and meet the Prime Minister,” he says.

Will that be the end of the road for Bagicha? “No way,” he declares. “I plan to set up a mountaineering-and-marathon academy in Pune.” A “friend” has donated 10 acres of land on hilly terrain, “ideal for training”. And that’s where Bagicha hopes to realise his ultimate sporting dream — “producing ek-do Olympic medal-winners”.


Calcutta, Aug. 26: 
Stung by swelling allegations of corruption, the Salt Lake civic authorities have decided to pull up their socks. The Bidhannagar municipality has taken a policy decision to switch departments of employees who have been working for five to seven years in a particular department.

Officials claim Salt Lake is the first civic body to take such a step. “As there is no scope to transfer employees from one municipality to another, we can at least shift them to another department,’’ said Debasis Bose, chief executive officer, Bidhannagar municipality.

Bose, also sub-divisional officer of Salt Lake, feels the policy of rotation can weed out corruption. Complaints of graft, mostly regarding sanction of building plans, issuance of no-objection certificates, mutation and trade licences have been on the rise in Salt Lake.

The Opposition Trinamul Congress has already submitted a memorandum to municipal chairman Dilip Gupta and launched an agitation against corruption among a section of the civic staff. The clean-up drive will first see the employees at the “tainted” departments shifted elsewhere, like conservancy, street lights, drinking water and roads. For others, it will mean a change in job profile.

“We have been very strict in sanctioning building plans. We want to ensure that there is no corruption in the lower level,’’ said Sunil Dutta, chief engineer of the municipality.

The CEO didn’t claim that the municipality was absolutely corruption-free. “We can only say that we don’t tolerate corruption. Action is taken immediately if charges against any employee are proved,’’ Bose said.

The Trinamul has demanded that the municipality appoint its own employees, instead of taking staff on deputation. At present, out of 258 employees, 244 are on deputation from the irrigation department. The CEO has ruled out that possibility, as it’s only a ‘C’ grade municipality, “entitled to 20 employees at the most”.


Calcutta, Aug. 26: 
The National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) in Beleghata will be among the seven centres in the country to have a laboratory with high-level biosafety measures to contain infections from spreading to research workers and the local community. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an Atlanta-based global thinktank for communicable diseases, will provide technical expertise and guidelines on how to build, run and maintain these “level-3 risk containment” laboratories.

CDC’s director in the office of health and safety Jonathan Richmond said: “When completed, these labs will be safe enough for handling micro-organisms that lead to diseases like TB, AIDS, e-coli, polio and measles. Even malaria and dengue can be prevented from spreading to researchers and technicians when they conduct tissue culture in these labs.”

The stress in level-3 measures is on de-contaminating the air system through hepafilters and ductwork and the liquid effluents by autoclaving. “Special airtight ceilings and floors, and an ante-room are also required,” said Richmond. “There are four levels of risk containment in labs. Most of them in India have level-2 measures, where the infectious agents handled are a greater risk to the person working with them, but not to the community.”

The government is not aware of any level-3 labs in India. “But I have been told that the army and the National Dairy Development Board have one each,” Richmond said. The other centres — the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, Delhi, National Institute of Virology, Pune, Enterovirus Research Centre and Institute for Research and Reproduction (both in Mumbai), and the TB Research Centre in Chennai — are also units of the Indian Council of Medical Research.


Calcutta, Aug. 26: 
The problem of teaching staff shortage in about 350 colleges for want of suitable applicants for the 700 vacant posts reserved for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe (SC/ST) candidates may be resolved soon.

Following a Calcutta High Court order on Thursday, the state government has decided to de-reserve the posts and fill them up with applicants from the general category.

The proposal to de-reserve the SC/ST teaching posts was considered by the government two months ago after some principals from state-aided colleges approached chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to point out vacancies in the reserved category in their institutions.

But the government did not take action because some SC/ST candidates had appealed to the high court against de-reserving the posts. The case was, however, decided in favour of the government.

“This is the first time that such a large number of SC/ST teaching posts are being de-reserved. The academic standard of the colleges will improve and the students, too, will benefit once the vacant posts are filled,” said A.K. Banik, chairman of the West Bengal College Service Commission, which recruits lecturers in state-aided undergraduate colleges.

Authorities in many of the state-aided colleges were finding it difficult to maintain the teaching standard because of insufficient staff. Vacancies in the SC/ST posts compounded the problem.

Since creation of new posts involved additional expenditure, the government considered de-reserving the SC/ST posts to bridge the shortage.

According to Banik, the college principals have been asked to prepare a list of vacant posts. The institutions will be required to seek permission for de-reservation from the state tribal welfare department.

Once the department confirms the vacancies, the colleges will be required to send their applications to the commission along with the state government’s permission.

“We will then prepare the panels for the respective colleges and refer the candidates from the general category. We hope to fill up all the posts by next year,” said Banik.

However, if a suitable SC/ST candidate is found, the person will be offered a job.


Calcutta, Aug. 26: 
A.K. Maliwal, who has been appointed deputy inspector-general of police (industrial grievances cell), today said he intends to stop extortion of money from industrialists, managers and workers by organised gangs.

Maliwal, who yesterday handed over charge as Midnapore district superintendent of police to K.C. Meena, said he would coordinate the work of the intelligence bureau, police records section and other departments to protect the interests of industrialists and workers. He would also interact with trade unions to maintain industrial peace.

Before leaving for Calcutta, the DIG said one of his duties would be to gather information about international gangs engaged in the abduction of industrialists and other criminal activities. Maliwal said he planned to strengthen the intelligence network and identify local criminals who serve as facilitators to the gangs.

The new post has been created following the abduction of shoe baron Parthapratim Roy Burman by an inter-state gang of criminals with international links.

Khadim’s owner Roy Burman’s kidnapping was the second involving a key figure in the state’s business circles. Before him, Exide chief Satyabrata Ganguly had been abducted while taking a morning walk. Both were released allegedly after payment of a handsome ransom.

Recent incidents of attacks on factory managers in suburban areas have also shaken the industry and prompted the government to think of measures to address the security problems of industrialists and their representatives.

Several chambers of commerce had urged the state government to take steps to curb criminal activities. The Left Front government, which has been stressing on rapid industrialisation, responded positively to their plea and decided to create the industrial grievances cell to take care of their security problems.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee ordered creation of the new post to instil confidence among industrialists who appear to be panicking after the recent kidnapping.

Maliwal, who is believed to be in the good books of the chief minister, had handled the May Assembly polls in Midnapore efficiently.

While most parties had apprehended serious law and order problems, there was no significant violence in the district on polling day. Killings in Keshpur, Garbeta and Pingla marked the run-up to the elections but polling day was peaceful.

Maliwal’s latest appointment is seen by many as a reward for the performance during the polls.


Calcutta, Aug. 26: 
Public Accounts Committee chairman Subrata Mukherjee today said he would summon the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to discuss the report on the housing department.

Housing minister Gautam Deb had challenged the CAG report, which said the department had incurred a loss of Rs 43.18 crore by selling land at a throwaway price. The report, which was placed in the Assembly, also said the selection of private companies for joint ventures was improper.

Asserting that the observation was not true, Deb said he did not know where the CAG had got the figures from since it had not consulted the housing department. “As per the norms, the CAG is bound to submit its draft report to the ministry concerned to seek its opinion before making a final report. But it did not bother to do so,’’ he added.

The CAG had sent a part of the draft report to the ministry, he conceded, but said there were a lot of discrepancies between the draft and final report.

“It is a serious allegation made by the housing minister. If it is a fact, then the reliability of CAG will be questioned. I shall discuss the matter with Deb and accordingly summon the CAG,’’ Mukherjee said. There must be some communication gap, he added. The PAC chairman said everything would be clear once both the CAG and the housing department officials were allowed to have their say.

Deb is preparing to move court against the CAG and has got chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s nod for the purpose.


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