Mayor takes on heritage storm
Number plate norm change to curb crime
Job offer in stampede death wake
No kidding, some of the games are risky
Shower drowns city streets
Bail refused in Das murder
Buddha equips schools with vocational training
Panthers on Nepal prowl
Minister unwraps biotech plans
Pranab pre-empts Trinamul barb

 
 
MAYOR TAKES ON HERITAGE STORM 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Sept. 4: 
The Left Front government seems to have lost its faith in the Trinamul Congress-led Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s ability to take care of the city’s heritage.

A day after mayor Subrata Mukherjee said the cash-strapped city-managers did not have the wherewithal to take care of Calcutta’s “heritage-feritage”, state municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya said: “My attention has been drawn to newspaper reports on the mayor’s sentiments, which I find difficult to understand.”

The civic board lacked the requisite aesthetic sense expected of a responsible agency, department officials said. That was one of the main reasons why a separate Heritage Commission, which would replace the CMC as the heritage-preserving entity, had been formed.

Mukherjee, however, stuck to his guns. The process of identifying some structures as “heritage buildings”, while ignoring others, was done without any logic, he felt. “The house where Suhrawardy used to live is now a heritage building. Can you tell me why the buildings in which Prafulla Sen and Prafulla Ghosh lived do not deserve similar treatment?” he asked on Tuesday.

But irrespective of whether the mayor is for or against heritage buildings, about seven tenants of 5, Russell Street on Tuesday served a legal notice on CMC. The tenants and others wrote the August 25 demolition of the heritage archway that led to the heritage building without prior consent of the CMC was in violation of the provisions of Section 392 of the CMC Act, 1980. The building at 5, Russell Street was the residence of Bishops Heber James, Turner and Wilson between 1826-1849.

They alleged that promoter Om Rajgaria masterminded the plan to demolish the gateway, and urged the CMC to immediately institute proceedings under Section 610 of the Act for such a violation.

Mukherjee, meanwhile, continued his diatribe against the process of identifying heritage. He recalled that Amartya Sen, during his last visit to Calcutta after winning the Nobel prize, had visited a home in Jadavpur. This prompted the last CPM-led CMC to put up a signboard in front of the building, Mukherjee recalled. “It so unnerved the residents of the building — they thought it, too, would be turned into a heritage building — that they approached the CMC straightaway, refusing to acknowledge that Sen had visited them,” he said

Mukherjee made a distinction between public buildings, like the fire-ravaged Star theatre, and private residences. “Star gave birth to a whole new theatre movement and was built with money from the public,” Mukherjee explained. “But some private property where an arch was built to commemorate the visit of an archbishop can’t be equated with Star’s importance,” he added.

But if public response to Mukherjee’s comments on Monday was anything to go by, his ‘logical’ stand hasn’t found takers. His office was swamped with angry calls and the CMC website got some hate-mail as well.

G. M. Kapoor, Intach convener-secretary, said: “They might as well sell off the marble of Victoria Memorial and raise funds if heritage buildings are not important.”

Opposition leader in the CMC Nirmal Mukherjee added: “The mayor is advocating the cause of those who don’t respect the city’s sentiments and Bengali heritage.”

   

 
 
NUMBER PLATE NORM CHANGE TO CURB CRIME 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 4: 
Black on yellow for public vehicles; black on white for private ones. All embossed and stamped on chromium-based hologram. That’s the number plate norm laid down by the government, apparently “to curb counterfeit and crime”. D-Day for implementation: September 20.

In the first step towards introducing “uniformity”, the government has decided to “ban all number plates written in Bengali or other vernacular languages”.

“All lettering should be in English and the letters and figures embossed and hot-stamped on chromium-based hologram,’’ said deputy commissioner of police, traffic, M.K. Singh, on Tuesday.

Now, private cars have figures and letters in white on black, while “transport and commercial vehicles” have figures and letters in black on white. “This has been the practice since Independence,” police said. According to Singh, there are 8 lakh private cars and 2.5 lakh “transport vehicles” including taxis, lorries, Matadors, autorickshaws and hired cars in the city.

“From our point of view, the number plate is the most important accessory of the vehicle, as it determines the owner. And the first thing criminals do is switch number plates,’’ a police officer said. In a bid to prevent this, the number plates shall now be fastened with “a non-removable snap-lock fitting system”.

The specifications for number plates are: 200mm by 100 mm for two and three-wheelers; 340 by 200 mm for light motor vehicles; 500 by 120 mm for passenger cars; 340 by 200 mm for medium commercial vehicles, heavy commercial vehicles and trailers.

An added feature will be the letters ‘IND’ in blue on the left corner of the number plate. This will be one-fourth the size of the registration figures and letters. “This shall be applied by hot-stamping and be integral to the licence plate. This will be easy to spot from a distance and ensure that the figures stay intact for five years,’’ Singh said.

   

 
 
JOB OFFER IN STAMPEDE DEATH WAKE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Sept. 4: 
A job for Dilip Bhattacharya’s elder brother; a probe into Monday morning’s mishap at Fort William. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has offered the first and ordered the second.

Twenty-year-old Dilip, who had come to Calcutta from Geonkhali, in Midnapore, on Sunday night to queue up for a recruitment drive at the Eastern Command headquarters, was killed in a stampede early on Monday.

In Burdwan on Tuesday, Bhattacharjee described Dilip’s death as “most unfortunate” and promised a job for Sukumar, the victim’s eldest brother. Dilip’s father Durgapada is a Group-D employee with the irrigation department and caretaker of the irrigation bungalow at Geonkhali. Dilip’s body was brought to the village in an Army truck for cremation at the confluence of the Rupnarayan and Haldi rivers on Tuesday afternoon.

“I have sought a report from home secretary S.N. Roy why 8,000 men had been called to Fort William and how the incident occurred,” the chief minister said.

Local MP Lakshman Seth, meanwhile, dashed off a fax to defence minister Jaswant Singh, describing the “callous attitude” of the defence personnel at Fort William and “demanding adequate compensation for Dilip’s family”.

At the Eastern Command headquarters in Calcutta, the inquiry conducted by the police revealed that army personnel posted at the recruitment gate on Monday had “lost control”, as “utter confusion” reigned minutes before the gates were to be opened for enlistment to begin. Senior officers connected with the probe described the accident as “avoidable” had the army personnel been alert.

A preliminary report was submitted to police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty on Tuesday. A final report will be ready in the next couple of days, sources said.

In the course of their investigation, the police learnt that a “few army personnel” had opened the gates around 5.20 am to inspect the serpentine queue of aspirants. The army personnel then, apparently, wanted a second queue to be formed near the gate. This, in all probability, triggered pandemonium, with a surge to get to the start of the second line.

The police alleged that “ignoring standard norms”, members of the zonal recruitment office (ZRO) had not kept them posted about “the gates being opened for inspection” or “the formation of a second queue”. Investigations further revealed that “recruitment rallies are not usually held” at Monday’s site and the police were informed about the shift “at the last minute”.

The army on Tuesday cleared the debris from the perimeter area of the recruitment site that had turned into a death trap for Dilip, set up barricades and went on with the recruitment.

Thousands of young men gathered in front of the recruitment gate from early morning. Among those who queued up were some who could not appear for the tests on Monday after the stampede claimed Dilip’s life.

“It (the accident) was horrible… But most of us are so desperate to secure a decent job that we’ve all come back for a second chance,” one of them said.

   

 
 
NO KIDDING, SOME OF THE GAMES ARE RISKY 
 
 
BY SUDESHNA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Sept. 4: 
How safe is some of the playground equipment in Calcutta? Not very, if a report prepared by Sharehouse Charitable Foundation (SCF), a city-based NGO, is anything to go by. The SCF has taken the government’s much-touted tourist destination, Millennium Park, as a case in point.

“Most of the equipment installed at the park does not conform to international safety standards prescribed by the International Playground Association,” alleges Mary Ann Dasgupta, SCF managing trustee. “It is not enough to set up rides that look nice if they can be dangerous for kids. Many public parks and school playgrounds in Calcutta contain faulty equipment. But it is especially upsetting that a government project, launched with so much fanfare, did not look into the basic safety aspects,” says the ex-assistant headmistress of Modern High School.

The illustrated report and a booklet on safety standards were couriered to the CMDA in June. The NGO has received no response to date. When contacted by Metro, CMDA superintending engineer Chunar Dey, who is in charge of the park’s maintenance, acknowledged receiving the report.

“The equipment was installed by Mumbai-based Arihant Play Systems, which has set up similar rides in other parts of the country. There has been no equipment-related accident in the 21 months that the park has been opened… Repairs are carried out as soon as defects are detected,” declared Dey.

Park authorities, however, were quick to draw attention to another “potential safety hazard” – some of the visitors themselves. “People do not follow instructions. Adults take rides meant for toddlers. And if they are asked to get off, they lodge complaints. On Sundays, you will find six young men on a swing that can take a maximum of three. If this continues, it will become extremely difficult for us to maintain our equipment,” officials say. As for the SCF report, Dey says while he welcomes “suggestions from all quarters, things cannot be dismantled overnight”.

The SCF report zeroes in on several pieces of equipment which “cause concern” and suggests technical changes: “No equipment should be more than 3 metres in height, which is the maximum from which a child can fall and not suffer a concussion on a soft sand surface. Many rides at the park are much higher and since tough compacted earth is used as the base, a fall is liable to have serious consequences. The incline of the both the slides is too steep. The steps up the rides also do not have enough protection to prevent a child from slipping between two rungs. The see-saw needs a rubber tyre underneath the seats to absorb the shock of the climb-down, which hurts the spinal column otherwise.”

   

 
 
SHOWER DROWNS CITY STREETS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Sept. 4: 
Heavy rain on Tuesday lashed the city and its adjoining areas, crippling traffic on the major arteries. Tram services remained suspended in several areas, as the tracks were waterlogged.

The shower submerged Elliot Road, Park Street, Ho Chi Minh Sarani, Shakespeare Sarani, Beleghata Main Road, Tangra, Topsia and Kankurgachhi. Tram services were disrupted in Kankurgachhi, APC Road, Moulali, Elliot Road and Chitpur for a few hours.

“This was a normal monsoon shower following the local development of thunderclouds since the morning,” said R.N. Goldar, Alipore Met Office director. “The axis of the monsoon trough is now passing through Bihar, Jharkhand and Gangetic West Bengal. Tuesday’s rains were under its influence.”

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s rain gauge at Palmerbazar, near Beleghata, recorded 100 mm of rainfall — one of the heaviest recently — between 1.15 pm and 3.30 pm. Jodhpur Park, Ballygunge, Ultadanga and Chetla received 82 mm, 71 mm, 40 mm and 34 mm, respectively. The Met office, however, recorded only 24.9 mm at 5.30 pm. “It appears the thunderclouds had not developed uniformly over the city,” said Goldar.

   

 
 
BAIL REFUSED IN DAS MURDER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 4: 
Sudhir Bhattacharya, former chairman of Dum Dum municipality and alleged mastermind of successor Sailen Das’ killing, was produced at the sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s court at Barrackpore on Tuesday. Acting SDJM Soumyabrata Sarkar refused him bail and remanded him in jail custody till September 13.

The former chairman had to wait for over six hours in the court lock-up for the magistrate’s order. After the hearing, the magistrate went to his chamber and asked for copies of the confessional statements. The confessional statements of three accused — Dilip Shil, the owner of the motorcycle used in the operation, Ibrahim, who hired the two-wheeler from Shil, and Debasish Ghatak, who allegedly engaged three professional killers — were recorded on Saturday.

Bhattacharya was to have been taken to Barrackpore sub-jail. But in consideration of his health, he was taken to Dum Dum jail, where he can be treated, if necessary, in the jail hospital. However, the medical certificate issued by doctors of SSKM Hospital mentioned that Bhattacharya’s physical condition was “not bad” at present.

S.P. Kamat, the Group-D employee of Dum Dum Municipal Hospital who was allegedly engaged by the former chairman to kill Das, refused to make any statement. Instead, Kamat, who was limping while entering the courtroom, accused the police of torture. Indicating injury marks on his legs, he shouted from the dock that the police had beaten him up during interrogation.

Biplab Biswas, Bhattacharya’s lawyer, alleged that police had tortured Kamat to force him into issuing statements against Bhattacharya.

According to police sources, the trio, which made its confessional statement, did not mention Bhattacharya. They confessed to playing a role in the conspiracy but said they did not have any idea whether Bhattacharya was behind it.

“But we have enough evidence against the former chairman,” a police official said.

   

 
 
BUDDHA EQUIPS SCHOOLS WITH VOCATIONAL TRAINING 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Sept. 4: 
Vocational training will be made compulsory in Madhyamik and Higher Secondary schools, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said.

“We should have introduced compulsory vocational training in each and every Madhyamik and Higher Secondary school much earlier. We are already late. We are now ready to make it compulsory with immediate effect,” the chief minister said while inaugurating a new building of the Institute of Technology at Burdwan University.

He felt compulsory vocational training was needed to create more job opportunities for students.

The chief minister admitted that many students who qualified the Madhyamik could not be accommodated in Higher Secondary courses because of scarcity of seats. “Nearly four lakh students pass the Madhyamik examination every year. The demand for seats is so high that even a large number of students who pass the Madhyamik securing first division marks cannot be accommodated in Higher Secondary courses,” he said.

Bhattacharjee, however, regretted that his government still requires to borrow knowhow from universities in other states. He said it was unfortunate that his government had to bring hybrid seeds from Bangalore after the floods last year. “Jadavpur University is well known for its research in genetic engineering. I was sorry to find that the research carried by the university could not be utilised by us,” he said.

The chief minister also expressed concern that the universities had not been conducting need-based research.

“So much research is being carried out here in our state. I am surprised to find that not a single university has shown any interest in finding out why the production of mangoes in Malda district is not the same every year,” the chief minister said.

Bhattacharjee said that, along with promoting information technology, his government plans to take every possible measure to develop biotechnology and pharmaceutical engineering.

   


 
 
PANTHERS ON NEPAL PROWL 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Sept. 4: 
There’s nothing official about it yet. But there are indications to suggest that abducted Siliguri businessman Mukesh Agarwal has been released in Nepal.

Neither police, nor Mukesh’s family members are speaking, but a special investigation team left for Nepal this evening on their mission — codenamed Panther 4 — to nab the abductors.

Mukesh, the owner of an amusement centre called Millennium Paradise, was abducted on August 20 when he was about to return home. It is now believed he is in a “safe house” in Nepal.

This belief was strengthened when Bihar police today disclosed names of the members of a Bihar mafia cartel responsible for the kidnap.

“Though we have identified the mafia cartel involved, we have yet to arrest anyone,” Purnea superintendent of police K. Surinder Babu said over the phone.

“The mafia cartel includes the Brijesh Tewari-Nandu Singh gang from Kishanganj and the Pappu Singh gang from Bishanpur. We also believe the Chotu Rajneesh gang based in Araria is involved.”

Surinder Babu said though the Bihar gangs executed the kidnap, the entire operation was masterminded by two Siliguri-based “ringleaders”: Sittu and Sentti. Both are in their mid-twenties, both are clean shaven and of Punjabi origin.

After abducting Mukesh, the gang headed towards Bahadurganj, barely 10 km from the Indo-Nepal border. But they kept shifting base.

“When police turned the heat on the gang, they first abandoned the kidnap vehicle — a white Tata Sumo — at Bahadurganj and slipped into Nepal,” the police superintendent said.

He ruled out the possibility of the gang being still holed up in Bihar.

“We are also certain that the Siliguri masterminds have fled to Nepal along with the rest of the kidnap gang. The mafia cartel has a well organised network of safe houses and support bases in the eastern Nepal industrial town of Biratnagar,” Surinder Babu said.

A member of the special investigation team, neither confirming nor denying that Mukesh had been released, said: “Though the identity of the masterminds has been established, we are still in the dark about their whereabouts.... Though we have reasons to believe that a ransom demand has been made though relatives, and the family may be negotiating on their own with the abductors, nothing has come to light about the release of Mukesh,” the official added.

   

 
 
MINISTER UNWRAPS BIOTECH PLANS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 4: 
Minister for IT and environment Manabendra Mukherjee said today that the state’s biotechnology policy was “almost ready” and would be formally announced in a couple of months.

During his inaugural address at a seminar on “Emerging Business Opportunities in the Field of Biotechnology” organised by the Merchants’ Chamber of Commerce, Mukherjee reiterated the Bengal government’s commitment to give “top priority” to biotechnology. “To facilitate research and development in biotechnology, we are planning to set up a centre of excellence in Jadavpur University,” the minister announced.

Earlier, Union department of biotechnology secretary Manju Sharma gave a detailed presentation on the Centre’s initiatives to “promote biotechnology as a lucrative business proposition”. She said the government was working on an “incentive package and other facilities” for industries in the field of biotechnology.

The bureaucrat also announced that a venture capital fund would be set up for small players.

   

 
 
PRANAB PRE-EMPTS TRINAMUL BARB 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Sept. 4: 
State Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee reiterated that the party would not go along with the Left.

“On some specific issues, we may join forces with the CPM against the ruling BJP-led coalition at the Centre. But that does not mean that the Congress has tied up with the Leftists,” Mukherjee said this afternoon, to pre-empt the Trinamul Congress from cornering the state Congress on Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s participation in the meeting of non-BJP chief ministers against the BJP’s saffronisation of education called by her Bengal counterpart, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

“If the BJP is accused of manipulating education for its own purpose, the CPM can be charged with committing the same sin in Bengal,” Mukherjee said. The party had already registered its protest against the CPM’s move to politicise education, he said.

The PCC leader said the Congress had spearheaded the movement in this regard. “Our Uttar Pradesh party unit has already registered its protest against the BJP’s irrational move,” he added.

Mukherjee said the PCC executive will soon meet to work out its agitational programmes against the ruling communists. “In Bengal, the CPM is our main enemy and for that reason we will not hesitate to collaborate with other non-Left forces to corner the party,” he added.

PCC vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya said district-level Congress leaders have been asked to continue their support to Trinamul-led municipalities and panchayats.

   
 

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