History razed to rubble
Malaria takes toll of three in team of 12
Promoter returns heritage plaques
Tinkering with tariff to broaden cell base
A gold card to cut tram losses
Sleuths line up raids in Mumbai
No cuts to cure kid’s heart condition
Security shield for Bowbazar blasts verdict
Jobs lost in govt labyrinth
Greed drives brother to butcher brother

 
 
HISTORY RAZED TO RUBBLE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 29: 
Seventy years of history were reduced to ashes in five hours. Police, investigating the blaze that gutted Rangmahal, one of the city’s oldest theatres, early on Wednesday, have not ruled out sabotage, though preliminary investigations suggest that the fire was caused by a short-circuit.

Police are considering the real estate angle as the theatre, standing on a bigha, is located near the Hatibagan crossing, a prime spot. One of Rangmahal’s owners, Lalit Kumar Kankaria, however, denied any plans to develop the property. “This is a big setback for us,” he said, claiming the “accident” had left him “dazed”.

Residents of the densely-populated locality first noticed the fire around 1.30 am. Some of them tried to douse the flames with buckets of water. “We first saw thick smoke billowing out of the portion of the hall just above the stage,” said Samar Das, a former theatre employee who now lives in a nearby slum. “We rushed out with bucketsful of water.”

But the fire soon spread to the western wing of the building.

The fire brigade was informed around 1.40 am but the first fire engine reached the spot at 2.30 am. For four hours, 24 fire engines fought the leaping flames. But by 6.30 am, there was no Rangmahal; only a soot-black portion of the auditorium stood among the ruins. State fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee visited the spot in the morning and ordered an inquiry.

Local people were furious at the fire department’s delay. “How could it take them 50 minutes to reach here when the streets were deserted?” asked a resident.

They were reminded of a similar late-night fire that had gutted the nearby Star theatre.

Established by a team of artistes led by Krishna Chandra De, Rangmahal was one of the earliest theatres in the Hatibagan culture-belt. The first play to be staged there was Bishnupriya, directed by Sisir Bhaduri.

Rangmahal nearly fell victim to a conspiracy to convert it into a cinema in the 1950s, but it was stopped when then chief minister B.C. Roy intervened on a complaint by artistes like Sarajubala Debi and Jahar Roy.

The slow decline of the theatre started in the late seventies. The Kankarias took over the theatre from Jiten Basu, also the owner of Prachi, in 1986, but were forced to stop production of plays in 1997. Turnout dropped and it became impossible to pay even one artiste from gate collections, Kankaria said.

The last play to be staged there by a professional group was Jai Jagannath. Of late, the theatre was being let out for social and cultural functions.

Tinderbox cinemas: The morning after, the city police slapped showcause notices on four north Calcutta cinemas for inadequate safety and security measures.

The police have zeroed in on these halls as they “don’t satisfy the government’s prescribed safety norms”, said Raj Kanojia deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, on Wednesday.

The halls-owners have been directed to improve the conditions within 15 days or “face stringent action”. Sources said police will close down these halls if they fail to improve conditions.

Kanojia said “another dozen cinemas” have been asked to improve conditions within the auditorium and review their electrical wiring and fire prevention measures.

   

 
 
MALARIA TAKES TOLL OF THREE IN TEAM OF 12 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 29: 
What was to be the field trip of their lives has left a trail of disease and death.

With Suman Saha, of Indian Art College, succumbing to malignant malaria at the Calcutta Medical Research Institute (CMRI) on Wednesday morning, the death toll in the team of 12 arts students has touched three.

On July 29, a squad from the Government Art College, Indian Art College and Chandpara Art College had embarked on a field trip to the Tabuhoser forests, in Jharkhand. The members returned to Calcutta on August 5, with exciting anecdotes, fond memories – and a killer infection.

One by one, they were taken ill and had to be hospitalised. “For the first four days, nothing was diagnosed. Then, blood tests confirmed the presence of plasmodium falciparum,” a friend of Suman recounted on Wednesday.

A large number of students and teachers had gathered at CMRI on Wednesday. “This has left us stunned. It was only the other day that the team returned from what appeared to be a remarkable field trip. Now, the remaining nine boys are living in fear and all we can do is wait and pray,” said a friend of Bhaskar, who is recuperating in CMRI.

A medical board, comprising experts, some from the School of Tropical Medicine, has been monitoring the case. “A lot depends on timely diagnosis of the type of malaria. These deaths are occurring because of complications arising from the parasite load increasing in the vital organs,” observed an expert with the School of Tropical Medicine.

Authorities of all the colleges involved have opened a control room at Government Art College. They have listed the blood groups of all students undergoing treatment and have appealed for blood. Efforts are on to bring all ailing students to CMRI, so that their treatment can be monitored by the medical board.

Asansol alert: Hours away from the city, a red alert has been sounded in the Asansol-Durgapur belt, where malignant malaria has assumed “epidemic proportions”, claiming 12 lives in the past three weeks. At least 35 persons are undergoing treatment in the area. Unofficial sources, however, peg the figure at around a hundred.

According to assistant chief medical officer of Asansol Dilip Dutta, the killer disease “might have spread from adjacent Jharkhand, as the first case which proved to be fatal had been reported from there”.

Burdwan chief medical officer (health) Pradyot Kumar Saha, in a missive to the health authorities of Asansol and Durgapur, warned that malignant malaria had assumed ‘epidemic proportions” in the industrial belt of the district.

A control room has been opened at the CMOH office in Burdwan to monitor the fight against the disease.

   

 
 
PROMOTER RETURNS HERITAGE PLAQUES 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 29: 
The three plaques on the gateway of 5, Russell Street, which established the heritage status of the masonry structure as well as that of the building it led to, are with the Shakespeare Sarani police station. Ranjit Pachnanda, deputy commissioner (south), said on Wednesday the police had put pressure on the promoter, Om Rajgaria, who was allegedly behind the destruction of the gateway on Saturday night, to return the plaques or else face legal action.

Rajgaria’s contractor returned the plaques, one of which vouched for the fact that it was the residence of Bishops Heber James, Turner and Wilson between 1826-1849, on Wednesday. Later, Sujoy Chakrabarty, police commissioner, went to the police station and inspected the plaques.

Tenants of the building — Kamlesh Agarwal, owner of a furnishing shop; Varguis George and his wife Dipali Bhattacharya; B. Jash, representative of the Church Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA); J.T.A. Singh, dealer in stocks and member of YMCA; and M.M. Sethia, estate agent — on Wednesday wrote to the chief minister, drawing his attention to the act of vandalism on a building identified as a heritage structure. Mark Antony, vice-president of an association of Anglo-Indians, accompanied them, as he felt the culture of his community was under attack. They are scheduled to meet Asok Bhattacharya, municipal affairs minister, on Thursday. The tenants’ association has written to the authorities of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA,) Delhi, which owned the property.

On Tuesday, they had met the police commissioner, and Varguis George said he was very supportive but pleaded helplessness because he could not act unless the Calcutta Municipal Commission (CMC) asked his force to do so. He has posted a picket on the spot.

An old photograph of the arched gateway, with eight beautiful pillars, has finally been located Somnath Mukherjee, who teaches art history at Government Art College, had taken it while doing a University Grants Commission project in 1972. Though it is not complete yet, documentation is ready.

The CMC will, in all probability, reconstruct the gateway.

   

 
 
TINKERING WITH TARIFF TO BROADEN CELL BASE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 29: 
Just eight days after the “simplify-and-slash” move by cellphone operators, it’s “calculate-and-cut” time for Spice, or Bharti Mobitel Ltd.

From Wednesday, the second cell operator in Calcutta introduced a brand new tariff plan in its “post-paid segment”. Besides a slash in monthly rentals, the package launches the 30-second pulse rate for the first time in town and reintroduces differential rates for incoming and outgoing calls (see box).

But for once, a Spice slash hasn’t rung in a Command cut.

Rajiv Sawhney, chief operating officer of the Hutchison associate said: “It’s nothing but repackaging of earlier rates and Command still gives the cheapest bargain to its customers.”

Spice, of course, dismisses all talk of “old rates in a new package”. The new plan, say officials, will satisfy Calcutta customers who, during a recent market survey, have strongly voted in favour of “doing away with commitments”.

So, for example, the Spice user under the All-rounder plan will now pay only Rs 599 as monthly rental, with “no minimum commitments”, while the Command user, in the Talk 795 segment, will pay Rs 395 as monthly rental and Rs 795 as commitment value. In the same segment, while the Spice user will pay 50 paise for every 30 seconds of an outgoing call, a Command user will pay Rs 1.15 per minute.

The Spice aim is to “bridge the gap of 20,000 customers” it has with Command. Deepak Gulati, chief executive officer, Bharti Mobitel, said: “We want to offer services at affordable rates, thereby enhancing the value proposition of our brand.”

Command, meanwhile, says rather than “tinkering with tariff”, it’s now concentrating on an “ad blitz as the clearest, strongest and widest” cell operator in Calcutta”, with 100 base stations, compared to 62 of Spice.

   

 
 
A GOLD CARD TO CUT TRAM LOSSES 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, Aug. 29: 
Alarmed at the depleting revenue collection, the Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC) is working on a proposal to make up for the loss by introducing gold cards for those commuting by trams. The aim is to rope in more passengers as life members.

According to official records, the CTC, which runs 180 tramcars daily on a 68-km stretch, incurs a loss of Rs 15 lakh a day. “We earn a paltry sum of Rs 2.7 lakh a day from nearly 1.7-lakh commuters,” says CTC chairman-cum-managing director Sudhir De. The government has to provide a subsidy of Rs 4.7 crore every month, he admits.

De feels gold cards will help the cash-hit company attract especially the aged, who prefer hassle-free rides. “A gold card will entitle a passenger to travel in trams for the rest of his life,” De said. A proposal has been sent to the transport department for its approval.

The gold cards will be pegged on the basis of a survey to be conducted soon, CTC officials said.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty came up with the idea a few weeks ago at a meeting with CTC officials at Writers’ Buildings. The minister told them that by introducing gold cards, the Society for Sports and Stadiums had wooed over a large number of sports-lovers as life members of the Salt Lake stadium, the officials added.

“The proposal will be ready by next month,” said Somesh Bhattacharya, chief project manager, operations.

nMelbourne mela: The transport minister is likely to lead a delegation to Melbourne in October-November for the Tramjatra festival. It is part of the government’s move to strengthen cultural ties between the two cities.

Michael Douglas, curator of the Melbourne-Calcutta Tramways Friendship group project, is camping in the city to invite Chakraborty and others to the festival. “We are looking forward to having over artists and CTC employees in Melbourne for a cultural celebration of trams,” Douglas said.

   

 
 
SLEUTHS LINE UP RAIDS IN MUMBAI 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 29: 
A team of CID sleuths left for Mumbai on Wednesday to pursue some leads on the four gangsters who kidnapped Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman.

Mumbai police officers said the CID team arrived in the evening and met with senior crime branch officers. “We are planning a massive raid tonight and hope to net the four criminals who kidnapped Roy Burman,’’ the officers added.

A Mumbai crime branch official said the sleuths had come with a list of names of sharpshooters and their prospective hideouts in Mumbai. The CID team said two of the four kidnappers had arrived in Mumbai earlier this week and are holed up in hideouts at Chembur, Byculla and Santa Cruz. Deputy commissioner, detention, of Mumbai Police P.B. Sawant confirmed that these areas are havens of the underworld.

Earlier a joint team of Mumbai police and state CID had raided the Dongra and Bandra areas to arrest Swati Pal, her husband Abdur Rehman, and Jamil Ahmed. Police said they had played an active role in Roy Burman’s abduction.

Seven teams, comprising crime branch officers, will carry out simultaneous raids in Chembur, Byculla, Santa Cruz, Bandra and Dongra for the gangsters.

   

 
 
NO CUTS TO CURE KID’S HEART CONDITION 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Aug. 29: 
On Mahashasthi last year, little Jhuma’s colourful world came crashing down and their Tollygunge Railway Colony home was shrouded in a pall of gloom. The eight-year-old girl was afflicted with a rare cardio-vascular condition which could have triggered a brain haemorrhage any moment.

It’s almost a year now and Jhuma can look forward to pandal-hopping this Pujas with kid brother Raju. Ravaged by dreaded ‘aorto arteritis’ or Takayasu’s Disease, which propels upper-body blood pressure to abnormal levels, the slender girl has been given a fresh lease of life by a city hospital through a non-surgical closure “not done to this extent before”.

“Jhuma’s case is quite unique in the sense that she had narrowing along the entire length of the aorta, the main artery which supplies blood to the body, a condition which can’t be treated by surgery,” explains Dr Vikas Kohli, director, paediatric cardiology, Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences on the EM Bypass.

The girl had severe hypertension and the blood pressure in the upper limbs was 220 and rising. “This is a clear symptom of a relatively more common congenital condition called ‘coarctation’, where the constriction is only at one point. But when an angiogram revealed she had aorto arteritis, the only viable option before us was stent deployment — putting metal stents all along the length of the narrowing to hold the aorta wall open. In children, the margin of safety in this procedure is very narrow,” says Dr Kohli.

Such a procedure would normally cost around Rs 1.5 lakh. “Theirs is a needy family and each of the stents she needed would cost around Rs 40,000.”

Parents Dilip and Jayanti scraped together around Rs 70,000 from donors and charity organisations and RTIICS bore the rest of the cost.

The six-hour procedure was successfully carried out on August 18, using three stents from top to bottom of the narrowing.

“There was an instantaneous improvement as the blood pressure plummeted to 130/90 after the intervention, which has further come down to 110/80 now,” smiles Dr Kohli, whose original research in paediatric cardiology in the US had won him special awards from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association.

“We almost can’t believe Jhuma can lead a normal life again,” murmurs father Dilip, who had to give up his mechanic’s job to run from pillar to post for his beloved daughter’s treatment. “The stents will become part of her system within six months and when she becomes a young lady, all she might need is further opening up of the stents through a routine procedure,” Dr Kohli reassures Jhuma’s folks as the smiling little girl makes her way back home.

   

 
 
SECURITY SHIELD FOR BOWBAZAR BLASTS VERDICT 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 29: 
The judgment in the Rashid Khan explosion case will be delivered on Thursday by city civil court judge Pranab Deb.

Khan and five “accomplices” were arrested after an explosion at 267, B.B. Ganguly Street, near Lalbazar, opposite Khan’s residence on March 16, 1993, left 69 people killed and at least 40 injured. The incident occurred a few days after the Mumbai blasts.

Police will make elaborate arrangements at the city civil and sessions’ court during pronouncement of the judgment, when Rashid and his associates will also be present.

Khan and his aides had initially been arrested on March 17, 1993, under the Explosives Act. Police said they stored huge quantities of explosives, including RDX, in the building. Later, the trial was shifted to a special Tada court. At least six judges have heard the case and a list of 195 witnesses made.

Coming close on the heels of the Mumbai serial blasts, the Rashid Khan explosion case had triggered speculation about his possible links with Dubai-based mafia don Dawood Ibrahim.

The city police claimed that the large amount of explosives stocked in Khan’s residence were meant to blow up “an important target of the city”.

The Supreme Court had spelt out a deadline of June 30, 2001, for delivering the judgment in the case, after which Tada judge Pranab Deb pleaded for an extension.

But, the apex court allowed a grace of only two months, the new deadline expiring on August 31. To date, the Tada court has examined 165 witnesses and has been able to round up the case.

Investigations revealed that political personalities had links with Khan, though no one was summoned by the court during the hearing of the case. The verdict has aroused great curiosity among the political fraternity as well as in underworld circles of the city.

   

 
 
JOBS LOST IN GOVT LABYRINTH 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 29: 
Connecting government departments may be the New Left’s new mantra for nirvana but a communication gap between two government wings has meant that nearly 700 jobless youths are going to remain jobless in this job-parched state.

The youths, whose names were forwarded to the public works department by the district employment exchanges in 1997, are still to appear before a selection panel that was supposed to take their interviews. Four years later, with new recruitments almost coming to a freeze and most applicants having crossed the age-limit for applying for government jobs, prospects of getting a job through the employment exchanges are remote if not non-existent.

The electrical wing of the PWD had informed all employment exchanges about 32 vacancies for the post of mazdoor in June 1997. The exchanges were asked to send the names of suitable candidates for interview. PWD minister Amar Choudhury, who was not a minister then, admitted that it was the convention to ask for a figure “at least” 20 times the number of vacancies.

The candidates got their call-letters after a wait of over a year. Identical letters asked them to appear before the interview board at the office of the executive engineer, West Calcutta Electrical Division, at P-16 India Exchange Place on May 4, 1998.

Most applicants turned up for the interview that day at the place they were asked to. But a notice pasted on the gates, informing them that the interview had been “postponed due to unavoidable circumstances”, greeted them there. They would be intimated about the next date and venue of interview by post, the jobless youths were told.

It has been a more-than-three-year wait since then. Most applicants are now 35-plus and have no chance of getting government jobs through the employment exchanges. Officials say none of the youths will get another call routed through the exchanges as their names have already been forwarded for one job and rules prevent them from sending up the same names for another job till they are recorded as having been unsuccessful in the first interview.

Most youths are still jobless and have given up any hope of finding a job in the private sector. “Which private-sector firm will give people like me, an over-the-hill unemployed youth, a job?” asked an applicant.

The youths have written to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, PWD minister Choudhury and senior departmental officials. Nothing has come out of them.

Choudhury admitted that a “communication gap” between his department and the employment exchanges had put the 700-odd youths in the situation they found themselves in. “Government departments often take years to complete the selection process and, at times, there is no intimation to the employment exchanges,” he said. That prevented the exchanges from sending up the names of candidates for other jobs, he explained.

Choudhury said the grievances of the youths were “genuine” and he would try to ensure such injustice did not recur.

   

 
 
GREED DRIVES BROTHER TO BUTCHER BROTHER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 29: 
Driven by greed, a 49-year-old man today hacked to death his brother and wiped out his family at Deganga in North 24-Parganas.

Yusuf Mandal, a 42-year-old homeguard, his wife Sahidun Bibi, 34, and their 16-year-old son, Mujaffar Mandal, were brutally murdered by Yusuf’s elder brother, Aftar. Yusuf’s 65-year-old mother, Ohida Bibi, was also injured when she tried to save him from her elder son. All three died on the spot as none of their neighbours came to their rescue.

Police suspect that a land dispute may have led to the incident. According to the statement of Ohida Bibi, Aftar, who stays in an adjacent house, along with his two sons, Saiful and Sariful, killed Yusuf and his family.

“We have registered a murder case against Aftar and his two sons on the basis of the complaint lodged by Ohida Bibi. All three accused have fled the area. We conducted raids but no one has been traced,” said S. Chatterjee, an officer of the Deganga police station. Three of Aftar’s relatives have been detained for questioning.

According to Ohida Bibi, the incident occurred when Yusuf was preparing jute-rope sitting in the courtyard. “I was in the room. Suddenly, I heard Yusuf scream. I came out and saw Aftar and my two grandsons, Saiful and Sariful, beating up Yusuf. Aftar suddenly took out a chopper and started hacking his younger brother,” she said.

“On hearing his father’s cries, Mujaffar, a Madhyamik examinee, rushed to the spot. His uncle and cousins dragged him to a corner of the courtyard. They slashed the boy’s chest and abdomen,” said the old woman.

Yusuf’s wife, Sahidun, was not at home. According to Chatterjee, she returned from a neighbour’s house to see her son being murdered. “As Sahidun rushed to save her son, Aftar first hit her shoulder with the chopper. She then tried to flee. But, after running a few yards, Sahidun collapsed on the road,” Ohida said, adding: “One of my killer grandsons brought a harpoon and started stabbing her. They then dragged Sahidun to the courtyard.”

So scared were the neighbours, who witnessed the incident, that they did not come to the rescue of the victims. “Aftar and his two sons were looking as if they had been possessed by the devil. I did not go forward to help Yusuf and his family as I did not want to sacrifice my life,” said Sukur Ali.

The police said Aftar had been eyeing the family pond. “He used to quarrel with Yusuf frequently. Last month, the police and villagers had settled the dispute and the two had come to an agreement. But later, Aftar refused to accept the agreement,” Chatterjee said.

   
 

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