Act of god, hand of man
Death-trap tag on three halls
Identity, in black and white
Get-real strategies in B-school
The City Diary
Kargil veteran fights for justice
Impure water in lock-up
Attack site shifted twice
Mayor slaps Mamata with ‘whimsical’ slur
Pressure for peace meeting

Calcutta, Sept. 11: 

Nature vs neglect in collapse cause

The day after the dead had been carried away and the debris cleared from the entrance of Society cinema, the post-mortem of the portico crash held centre-stage at both the government and the civic headquarters.

On Tuesday morning, the government set up a seven-member inquiry team “to probe the circumstances (read: years of neglect) leading to the collapse of the hall portico” that left three dead and several injured and also the sloppy salvage operation.

One of the three victims has been identified. Sixty-year-old vendor Laddu Sau had made the Society portico his place of work for the past few years and was a resident of neighbouring Shib De Lane. He had no chance of escaping the crash.

Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) officials, meanwhile, were engaged in a blame-it-on-nature game. CMC director-general (buildings) Ashok Raychaudhuri said: “It was lightning, during Monday evening’s downpour, that caused the collapse of the structurally-sound portico of Society.”

The CMC did take over Society on Tuesday, prompting protests from hall manager Zahiruddin Khan about the move being “illegal”. But then Khan, along with hall-owner S.H. Firozi, were arrested for “causing death by criminal negligence”.

The government and civic machineries swung into action with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee visiting the injured at SSKM Hospital. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee promised CMC jobs to the next-of-kin of the dead and the permanently disabled.

State municipal affairs department minister Asok Bhattacharya was directed by the chief minister to “get a thorough inquiry conducted” into the cause of the mishap. He was also asked to devise methods by which recurrence of such incidents could be prevented in a city with a large number of old and crumbling buildings.

Bhattacharya, who admitted that the rescue operation could have been speeded up, met state fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee and police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty to finalise the composition of the seven-member probe team and its terms of reference.

Besides identifying the cause of the collapse and the role of the police, CMC and the fire brigade in the rescue operation, the probe team has been asked to identify old buildings and highrises in poor condition.

“They are going to concentrate on schools, places of worship and cinemas first, as they witness a convergence of people,” said the municipal affairs minister.

The team has also been authorised to “offer suggestions” on how to streamline the whole process of disaster-management. “The inquiry team will recommend the machinery needed for such rescue operations, tell us what do for proper maintenance of such machines and give us an idea of how much funds we need to put a proper disaster-management system in place,” Chatterjee said.

The CMC — despite some of its officials insisting that it was lightning that caused the collapse — also formed a team to ascertain the “structural condition” of city buildings “used by the public”.


Calcutta, Sept. 11: 
Society was a picture of serenity the morning after an awning collapse that killed three, injured more than 15 and shook the city on Monday evening.

But some other cinemas in Calcutta remain death traps, warn the police. Cracks have appeared on the portico of Khanna cinema, in north Calcutta. New Cinema, on Dharamtala Street, has not taken adequate fire-safety measures yet. Regal, nine steps away from the Corporation headquarters, is dangerously cramped for space.

Calcutta Police had served showcause notices on all four halls — Society, Khanna, Regal and New Cinema — on September 6. They had been accused of “improper maintenance and inadequate safety measures, which will endanger lives of cinegoers’’.

The hall authorities have been given time till September 22 to “improve conditions” and “submit a report”.

Both the police and the Corporation have warned of “drastic action”, if the hall owners fail to comply with the “safety and security” specifications. “We will carry out another round of inspections after receiving the report from the cinemas. If we are not satisfied with the provisions, we will cancel their licences,’’ Raj Kanojia, joint commissioner of police, said on Tuesday.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee backed the police line: “We will definitely take action against hall authorities who do not follow basic safety norms.”

According to Kanojia, the authorities of these four halls had been pulled up on for flouting four basic safety measures — the entry and exit points were too narrow; the toilets were in poor condition and there was no proper provision for drinking water; adequate fire-safety measures had not been taken and the no-objection certificate from the fire department had not been obtained; the structural conditions of the halls have not been reviewed for years and so, cracks have appeared at several places.

The hall authorities, however, appeared unfazed. Some even alleged that the police and fire departments were “unnecessarily harassing” them. Supriya Kanjilal of New Cinema admitted that he had received a showcause notice, but alleged that he was being “unfairly targeted... They have pulled us up for lack of drinking-water facilities, inadequate fire-safety measures and poor maintenance… We had been forced to suspend maintenance work during a strike that extended over a month,” claimed Kanjilal.

S.K. Jha of Regal cinema, on S.N. Banerjee Road, said they had “immediately repaired” cracks that had appeared in a section of the portico under which several thousands pass every day.

“We have already improved our fire-safety measures. But yes, the entry and exit points are extremely narrow and the staircase leading to the projection room on the first floor is cramped… We have replied to the showcause notice,’’ Jha added.

The authorities of Khanna cinema hall refused comment.


Calcutta, Sept. 11: 

Metro helps you figure out the facts on a government circular asking for changes in the number plates of vehicles:

What does the circular issued on August 21 by the Union ministry of road, transport & highways say?

It says that all new vehicles being registered from September 28, 2001, shall be required to have “high-security registration plates”

It allows all existing registered vehicles to make the change within two years from the new rule’s enforcement, that is, by September 28, 2003

What are the requirements of the new tamper-proof plates?

The plates shall be 1 cm thick and made of aluminium

The markings will be in English and embossed and hot-stamped by approved vendors

In case of commercial vehicles, the background shall be yellow. Private vehicles shall have a white background. The lettering shall be in black for both

A chromium-based hologram is to be applied by hot stamping on the top left corner of the plates. The 20mm x 20mm hologram shall have an Ashoka emblem with “Bharat Sarkar” and “Government of India” written vertically on left and right, respectively

The plates will have to be fixed with a snap-lock on the premises of the registering authority and on surrender of the old plates

The letters IND in blue should be inscribed on the extreme left of the plate, and should be quarter the size of the main markings

Any other requirements?

A third registration mark, in the form of a self-destructive, chromium-based hologram sticker is to be affixed on the inner left top of the windshield. The sticker (100mm x 60mm) shall contain

(I) name of the registering authority

(II) registration number of the vehicle

(III) laser-branded permanent identification number

(IV) engine number

(V) chassis number

Why is this being done?

To ensure security and prevent counterfeiting of number plates; also, make it difficult to smuggle cars. The Ashoka emblem is to put an official seal on the number plate, so that cars can be easily identified, especially in neighbouring countries

Will the implementation be done in a phased manner?

Don’t panic, there is no hurry. Even though the new regulations legally come into force this month, the state transport department, the regional transport office and the public vehicles department are not rushing you

As far as new cars are concerned, the state government has written to the Centre requesting for an extension, as it does not have the requisite infrastructure to provide the tamper-free plates by September 28

Number plates of cars, including old ones, will have to be changed by the owners at the time of renewal of tax tokens / blue book / fitness certificates, etc. That is the only time that the authorities will insist on a change of number plate colours. Otherwise, no one will be prosecuted for keeping to the old colours

The owners will have to change the number plate colours at their own cost at any place of their choice

Who will provide the tamper-proof number plates?

Vendors, certified by four testing agencies already appointed by the Centre

Cost involved?

“Affordable”, assure transport officials

How realistic is it to implement the recommendations by September 28?

Impossible, say state transport officials. Extensions have been asked for and an assurance has been provided that it will be granted


Calcutta, Sept. 11: 
Let’s get real. That’s the latest buzz in B-school. Taking a significant step forward from ‘case studies’, a team of eight at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, has canned its first ‘live project’ on campus.

Welcome to the month-old Industry Advisory Cell at IIMC, the first such initiative by management students in the country. This is the door corporates are knocking on these days as they come shopping, not for personnel but for ideas.

The brainchild of second-year student Swagatam Biswas, the fledgling body – formed to give corporates the cutting edge with strategic solutions provided by tomorrow’s managers — means serious business.

That’s what a Mumbai-based outfit of a global financial services company found out recently, having roped in students to give shape to “innovative product ideas” and formulate “viable business plans” for a new range of products. “The company presented us with the basic plan. We have suggested two brand new ideas, besides reassessment of some existing opportunities,” says Swagatam, an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus.

The ‘live’ assignment, bagged by the eight-member IIMC team formally in August, comes as “a great challenge”, as two major international consultancy majors are also working on the same project. “They are specialists, but just imagine the strength of our cell if you consider the vast resources available at IIMC in various functional areas,” smiles Swagatam.

The get-real group has also taken the help of Professor Purushottam Sen for the project. “The higher probability of us coming up with out-of-the box ideas must have influenced the financial major’s decision to involve us,” observes Amit Garg, also in second year. The first phase of the project is through and the final business plan will be ready by the second week of October.

And this is just the beginning. Two more projects have come the Advisory Cell’s way. “For one, we will be providing strategic consultancy to a reputed manufacturing company,” is all that Swagatam is willing to disclose at the moment.

With projects from the real world trickling in, students have started queuing up for a place in the cell. A process of shortlisting is on and a business-development team has already been created to make the students’ pitch professional. “The money involved is important, but the biggest advantage is the exposure to live projects, which come handy during the placement interviews,” feels Amit.

The leaders of the initiative are confident that the success of such projects will “set a new trend” in Indian industry. “This is an established concept in B-schools in the West,” they say, “but business corporates here are yet to adopt this model. Our Cell will rewrite the rules.”



Bank notes fly on city street

On Tuesday afternoon, a pedestrian’s briefcase, containing money, suddenly burst open on Old Court House Street, scattering Rs 500 and 100 notes all over the road. Pedestrians watched the bank notes flying in the air. Some even tried to grab them. Two constables of Hare Street police station noticed two men trying to collect the notes strewn all over the road and helped them in the salvage operation. The two, carrying similar briefcases, were taken to the police station for questioning. The briefcases, containing Rs 13 lakh, were seized and the men put behind bars after they failed to provide a satisfactory explanation. Later, it was learnt that the money belonged to a Crooked Lane-based Howrah gas company. “The employers claimed that the money was meant for labour payments. We have told them to submit a petition in court,” said a police officer.

Road mishap

A 45-year-old man was killed when a private bus knocked him down on Rani Rashmoni Road on Tuesday afternoon. The victim was identified as Mrinal Dutta. Police said the incident occurred when the victim was trying to cross the road. The driver of the bus managed to escape.

Woman run over

A 45-year-old unidentified woman was run over on the tracks of Circular Railway near Outram Ghat on Tuesday evening. The woman was walking along the railway tracks and was hit by a Dum Dum-bound train. Police said the woman was from Uttar Pradesh and had come to take a holy dip in the Hooghly.

Bike thief held

A two-wheeler thief was arrested on Tuesday from south Calcutta. Buddhadev Khan, the arrested person, was involved in a number of motorcycle thefts. In course of an investigation, the police came to know that Khan, along with an associate, had stolen a number of two-wheelers from Calcutta. With the arrest, the total number of two-wheeler thieves arrested in past two weeks has shot up to 20. “They send the two-wheelers to Bangladesh through the Bongaon and Majdia border,” an officer said.

Power tapped

WBSEB conducted extensive raids in Baruipur, Barasat and other parts of North and South 24-Parganas. About 3,000 illegal connections were unhooked and nine persons, including two women, were arrested. The team seized electrical appliances, gadgets and wire worth Rs 15 lakh.

Chicago address

Vivekananda Bhabadarsha Samanwaya Parishad observed September 11 as World Fraternity Day to commemorate Swami Vivekananda’s address to the people of the US in Chicago. On the occasion, the Parishad took out a procession and tableaux from the base of the statue of Swami Vivekananda on the Maidan. The procession ended at Dakshineswar Adyapith Temple.


The 81st death anniversary of noted Tamil literary figure Subramania Bharati was celebrated at Gol Park on Tuesday.

G. Venkatesh, president of Bharati Tamil Sangha, and T.S. Srinivasan, member of the Sangha’s executive committee, garlanded a statue of Bharati .

Passengers of a luxury bus were looted at Basanti, in South 24-Parganas, on Tuesday. Police said the dacoits boarded the bus at Alipore, the terminus. When the bus reached Basanti, they brought out revolvers and went on a looting spree.    

Calcutta, Sept. 11: 
Flight Commander Prajesh Banerjee, who flew into Pakistani territory during the Kargil conflict, is now fighting a different battle — against the Indian Air Force (IAF). The war veteran will now stand in court, pleading “justice” without help from a lawyer.

Banerjee, who joined the IAF in 1979, alleges he was released from service on January 18, 2000, after he refused to go through electric shock therapy at Delhi Base Hospital. He had “fallen foul of his immediate superior”, Banerjee said. Delhi High Court had supported his contention when his wife asked for an order on the “harmful” treatment.

The Flight Commander was served six showcause notices in a day (July 11, 1999), the last for not polishing his shoes properly. He had been admitted to Delhi Base Hospital, where he was treated with electric shock therapy without informing his family.

He was also threatened with termination after he refused to undergo the treatment on the advice of doctors, including those from Delhi and National Medical College in Calcutta.

Banerjee has approached the division bench of Calcutta High Court, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice G. Gupta, challenging an earlier court order which gave him a “partial victory” by stating that he could demand compensation from the IAF only through a lawsuit.

Banerjee now demands that the court order be reinstated and adequate compensation be provided for the “harassment” he has had to undergo.

The next date for hearing has been slated for November and he is now brushing up legal textbooks at his Durgapur residence.

Banerjee, who has served in the IAF for over two decades, occupied the position of 14 Squadron’s Flight Commander during the Kargil war.


Calcutta, Sept. 11: 
The civic health department has decided to write to Calcutta Police commissioner Sujay Chakraborty and DC (headquarters) Banibrata Basu to check the quality of drinking water served to prisoners in the central lock-up of Lalbazar. The civic body feels the quality of water is not up to the mark.

Member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan, said the civic health department has also police permission to collect samples of water from the central lock up. The dispute over water arose after CMC chairman Anil Mukherjee and Khan courted arrest last week in connection with Trinamul Congress law-violation to protest the law and order situation. They were taken to the central lock-up after arrest and detained for more than five hours.

When Anil Mukherjee was thirsty, the police gave him a glass of unclean water. It tasted different too. Mukherjee was told by the officer on duty that it was the water they themselves drink and serve to prisoners.


Calcutta, Sept. 11: 
The nine criminals, who chalked out the plan to kill Dum Dum municipality chairman Sailen Das, had to change the spot of attack twice.

With the arrest of Ismail, one of the three professional killers who gunned down Das in front of his U.K. Dutta Road residence on August 13 morning, the police are now armed with “a lot of evidence”. “We have documents to help us establish that the murder was a brainchild of former civic body chairman Sudhir Bhattacharya,” said one of the investigators.

Ismail was interrogated for over 12 hours. He told the police that first they had selected the connecting road between Jessore Road and Dum Dum railway station. “In mid-July, we decided to attack Das at the intersection of Station Road and the narrow lane leading towards the municipality office. But a few hours before the operation, we were directed to change the spot,” Ismail told the investigators.

Police said Bhattacharya had decided to avoid the spot for two reasons — it is too close to the civic headquarters and the road has only one outlet, towards Jessore Road.

“Then, we were told to select a spot on Jessore Road. We were not happy with the choice. But after conducting a spot survey, we chose the intersection of Jessore Road and Dum Dum Station Road,” Ismail said.

“In the first week of August, Ismail, along with his two associates, took up position on Jessore Road in front of the Jessop factory. They knew Das would travel to his music school, Batayanik, in Barasat. But Das cancelled the trip,” said a police officer.

Bhattacharya then lost patience and directed S.B. Kamat to fulfil the mission within a week.

After keeping a close eye on Das’ movements, they decided to attack him in front of his house. “The other places Das used to frequent were too risky for them. So, they did not have any other option,” said an investigator.

Before the appointed day of the attack, the hitmen made a three-day survey of U.K. Dutta Road and the areas close to Das’ residence. Police said: “The area was safe for the goons as U.K. Dutta has three outlets towards Jessore Road,” the police said. After watching Das’ movements, they decided to attack the civic chief during the day.

However, Ismail claims never to have seen Bhattacharya. “We never spoke to him directly. We got all the instructions through Debasish Ghatak, alias Bhoba,” Ismail told the police.


Malda, Sept. 11: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee today called Mamata Banerjee “whimsical and erratic” and blamed her for resigning from the Vajpayee ministry and teaming up with the Congress in the run-up to the Assembly elections in May.

Mukherjee, who was on a two-day visit to the district, pointed his finger at the Trinamul Congress chief during a meeting with workers at a new party office in Malda town.

In Calcutta, embarrassed Trinamul leaders said this evening that Mukherjee’s barbs would be exploited by rebel MP Ajit Panja and other dissidents.

The mayor’s relationship with Mamata had soured after he was forced to backtrack on the issue of hawker eviction from city roads, at Mamata’s insistence.

“This is unbecoming of Subratada. Mamata had made him mayor,” said a key Trinamul leader. Mamata was not available for comment.

Her “whimsical attitude has taken a heavy toll on the party’s image,” Subrata told partymen in Malda. He, however, hastened to add that the party could bag the 60 seats in the Assembly due to Mamata’s personal charisma.

Impressed by the plush party office, Mukherjee said he had a desire to build a Trinamul headquarters in Calcutta but could not, fearing Mamata’s criticism.

“I, too, wanted to build a grand party headquarters somewhere in Calcutta but did not dare to do so because this could incur Mamata’s wrath,” he said.

“It so happens that I have built a decent party office with all my effort but Mamata refuses to visit it and instead raises questions about spending a huge amount for this,” the mayor said.

Mukherjee said organisational work could be better performed if Trinamul had its own furnished office. “There is no doubt that people are joining Trinamul everyday but we are handicapped due to the absence of a decent party office,” he said.

The mayor was, however, optimistic about the party’s growth in the next five years. “This is true that we have lost this time but are confident of rebuilding the organisation in the coming days to combat the ruling communists,” he said.

Mamata has made a “great mistake” by resigning as railway minister, Mukherjee said. “Though she did not take the decision alone, to my mind this was a step in the wrong direction,” he added.

However, when contacted in Calcutta, Mukherjee denied having blasted Mamata while talking to party workers in Malda.

Mukherjee also criticised state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee for trying to woo back Congressmen who had joined Trinamul.

“The Congress has no future in Bengal and I strongly believe that those keen on rejoining the Congress will be disillusioned soon,” he added.


Calcutta, Sept. 11: 
Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee today called for an all-party meeting on law and order instead of one to put an end to obstruction of roads and railway tracks as suggested by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

She said the law and order situation in Bengal was one of the worst and Bhattacharjee should first address this issue. “The government is taking no steps to control violence unleashed by the cadres of the ruling party.”

Mamata said roads and tracks are blocked only when people want to protest against the law and order situation. “No one obstructs roads or tracks for nothing. There is a reason and it is mostly worsening law and order,” she added.

She criticised Bhattacharjee for ignoring the Opposition’s demand for an all-party meeting on law and order. “We don’t understand why Buddhababu is not calling an all-party meeting on law and order. It is during his time that the situation has worsened,” she said.

Mamata indicated her party will not back PCC chief Pranab Mukherjee if he contests the next Rajya Sabha elections. “I can say that Trinamul has been bitten once and so it may definitely feel twice shy,” she said.


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