Pillars of power, towers of terror
Pillars of power, towers of terror
Big Apple of eye too far
A designer’s dream reduced to rubble
The City Diary
Put flight tickets on hold, wait for clouds to lift
High alert at key offices, stations
Reliance plans oil hub in Haldia
Tender feud takes toll of Trinamul leader
Old Left drowns CM reforms tune

 
 
PILLARS OF POWER, TOWERS OF TERROR 
 
 
BY AMIT BASU
 
Sept. 12: 

INSIDE WTC

My office is on the 40th floor of WTC1. I had just walked into my cubicle on Tuesday morning, put my cellphone in the drawer and unlocked my work station when we felt a crash and the building swayed like a small boat in a rough ocean. It was shaking so hard that I had to grab the desk to keep my balance. I came out of my cubicle and looked out of the window to find debris flying down. The first thought that crossed my mind was: ‘It’s an earthquake… Or is it a bomb?

Someone shouted out that a plane had hit us. I headed for the staircase I’d come back for my briefcase and cellphone once things settled down. Smoke filled the staircase as people rushed down. No one had a clue about what exactly had happened. A guy with a radio confirmed that a plane had hit us. “Was it an accident?” I asked. People gave me a “what-else-could-it-be?" look. Then, the guy with the radio announced that something had just happened to WTC2, as well. I was convinced it was an attack, not an accident. Anyway, we kept running down, stopping occasionally for the fire-fighters to go up.

We were still doing fine. The first sign of the tragedy was when the security people led some women past us. They had their arms kind of ‘deskinned’. It was just as if the skin had peeled off.

When we reached the 10th floor, there was water all over, with the sprinklers going wild. The ground floor was submerged in ankle-deep water on the floor. I later realised it had taken me over 30 minutes to make that journey down the stairs I’ll never forget. When we came out of the building and looked up, that’s when I realised what had really happened. What a sight!

We kept walking away from the towers and stopped at a store to make phone calls. Just as I stepped out of the store after calling my wife Debjani to tell her I was safe, I heard a noise that kept growing louder before a loud bang. There was absolute panic, with thousands of people running all over the place in a mad rush to avoid what seemed like a massacre.

People were screaming that another plane had hit the other tower and that “they” could strike anywhere, anytime. Then, there was a rumble and we realised that a tower was crumbling. We were suddenly engulfed in thick clouds of smoke and dust. We kept running north, further and further away from WTC. I eventually reached midtown, was stuck there for a long time. It took me over seven hours to get back home from my office that was.

Amit Basu, who completed his Ph.D in mathematics from Kalyani University, is an IT consultant with Lehman Brothers

   

 
 
PILLARS OF POWER, TOWERS OF TERROR 
 
 
BY GAURAV TEJWANI
 
Sept. 12: 

OUTSIDE WTC

It was a pleasant sunny Tuesday morning. It must have been around 8.30 am when I walked into office in the World Financial Centre–III (commonly known as the Lehman Brothers Building), the nearest highrise to WTC.

Just a narrow stretch separates the two buildings. Sitting in my cubicle, I was planning out my day’s work.

Suddenly, there was a huge explosion. I rushed to the window to see what had happened. The sight was unbelievable — the top of WTC was on fire. Before I could realise what had happened, instructions for vacating our office were served. I rushed out of the building with the others.

Standing on the Besey Street, I stared up at the WTC tower. I could hardly believe my eyes. The fire, the smoke and the commotion on the street — the entire scene was mind-blowing, so unreal.

Suddenly, I realised that I must contact Neil Barve and Maheswar Reddy, my classmates at IIMC and colleagues at Lehman. I used my cellphone to contact them and confirm that they were safe. Minutes later, my cellphone died on me. Both Neil and Maheswar joined me on the other side of Besey Street.

Just as we were trying to figure out what was happening, something flew over us and there was another huge explosion. It was only later that we realised that the speeding object above us had been an aircraft. The second tower was also on fire. We started running for safer spots and reached an open area within five minutes.

Till then, we couldn’t imagine that the twin towers would actually come crashing down. But suddenly, a small chunk of a tower crumbled. This triggered a wave of panic.

Realising that the giant towers could collapse any minute, we started running for safety. I turned around and saw people jumping out of the windows of WTC. It was crazy! The air was full of dust and the acrid smoke of gasoline was all-pervasive. It was like a rain of rubble.

The cops and fire-fighters were rushing towards the spot and barking out orders to evacuate the entire area. Once we were out of the danger zone and had reached midtown, I heard people around us discussing the 1993 bombing at WTC. We had to walk back to Newport. It took us more than five hours to reach home.

Gaurav Tejwani, from IIM Calcutta, is an investment banker with Lehman Brothers

   

 
 
BIG APPLE OF EYE TOO FAR 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Sept. 12: 
He is the “lost” New Yorker in Calcutta today. Sitting in a café in Chowringhee Lane, gulping down a pile of noodles, Tab Ottman is the uncertain American, not sure where to go or what to do.

Shattered by images of the World Trade Centre crumbling to dust on Tuesday, Ottman just wants to return to New York, his home for the past 30 years.

But he can’t. He doesn’t know how his folks are; whether they are dead or alive.

He has tried calling home every hour on the hour, but the lines are all jammed. He has queued up at the Sudder Street cyber cafés, but the Net result has been disappointing. He has spent most of Wednesday visiting travel agents, desperate for a ticket back home. To no avail.

With flights back home uncertain, Ottman is among hundreds of American tourist “trapped” in the city. Low on funds, with visas running out, they were running from pillar to post on Wednesday.

“My visa will permit me to stay in India only for the next seven days,” Ottman said, sitting at the Blue Sky Café on Sudder Street with girlfriend Jenney Warren.

For the past couple of weeks, he has been travelling to different tourist destinations in the country and Calcutta is his last stop.

Ottman had intended to use the full term of his visa and leave for New York some time next week. But what he saw on TV on Tuesday evening changed all that.

“Now, I just want to get back as soon as possible… I could not believe my eyes when I saw my proud New York being reduced to ashes; I can’t believe that when I return to New York, I won’t see the World Trade Centre again,” Ottman said. “But my immediate worries are two: How my folks are and when I can return home.”

Ottman’s father works in the New York stock exchange and often visits the World Trade Centre. “I don’t know if he was there last morning. I am praying to God that my father has the strength to go through this without me by his side.”

There is another thing that Ottman is “really hassled” about: What does he do if he fails to get on a flight back home in the next seven days? Who does he approach for help? He went to the US Consulate on Wednesday but found it shut.

Late on Wednesday, a spokesperson of the US Consulate in the city confirmed that the offices of the Consulate and the American Center will reopen on Thursday.

“In Calcutta, we have not opened any helpline for American tourists. On Wednesday, all matters were being handled directly by the Embassy in Delhi,” the spokesperson added.

Deputy commissioner of police (security control) P.K. Chatterjee said on Wednesday that the visas of stranded American tourists “could be extended on humanitarian grounds if the situation so demanded”.

   

 
 
A DESIGNER’S DREAM REDUCED TO RUBBLE 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Sept. 12: 
Earthquakes and other natural calamities, yes. Fire, yes. But an aircraft ploughing into its stomach? Sadly, no.

Twenty four hours after the twin towers of the World Trade Centre crumbled to dust on Tuesday, Gopal Mitra, one of the architects who had designed the highrise in the early Sixties, still cannot believe what he had seen unfolding on his television screen.

“It is a case of one irony being heaped on another,” said Mitra, sitting before a model of the WTC at his office in Tollygunge. “The building was equipped with one of the finest fire-fighting systems in the world. Yet, it was finally devastated by one. It had every kind of arrangement to protect it from earthquakes, fierce winds and fires. It was indestructible. But when we designed it, we did not work in one thing: That one day, 50,000 litres of air turbine fuel would first be pumped into its stomach and then it would be set alight. It was this that did it in.” As one of a team of architects from Minoru Yamasaki and Associates, one of the firms that had designed the structure — the other being Emery Roth and Sons — Mitra had been involved in the WTC project right from its inception. “It was the fuel that finally generated the fire and the heat that melted the stainless-steel rods supporting the walls and led to the disaster.”

Mitra explained: “In its time, the WTC was a pathblazer and represented a breakthrough in architectural engineering. The uniqueness of the building was that its walls were skin-stressed. This means that unlike highrises at that time, the walls were self-supported and did not depend on the roofs and floor to stand erect; they were directly linked to rigs. Today, this technique is widely used but has not yet been bettered.” He added: “When we had designed it, we had never dreamt that one day it would be the target of a terrorist attack and that it would be destroyed in this manner; life was not that complicated in those days.”

A Kharagpur IIT graduate, Mitra had joined Minoru Yamasaki and Associates a few years before the project began. “We had some of the best men in the profession for the WTC project,” Mitra said. “Besides the Japan-born Yamasaki, who was a US citizen, the chief modeller was E. L. Tungsten. There were others too — a Chinese-American called William Ku and Dr Killing. We had a great time designing the structure. I was young then and I remember how I drew sketches of the structure over and over again till my seniors approved of it.”

“It was a different thrill,” said Mitra, “because we were designing the tallest building in the world and that made us overcome a whole lot of constraints. Only, what we never realised then was that in such a short time, it would be reduced to ashes.”

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Bail for Trinamul leader

Dibendyu Biswas, a Trinamul Congress leader and chairman of Borough 8 of the Corporation was arrested and later released on personal bond on Wednesday. Biswas, a lawyer, was wanted for allegedly assaulting a family court magistrate in 1994. Another Trinamul MLA, Asoke Dev, wanted on the same charge, could not be found. As news of Biswas’ arrest spread, students of three major law colleges in the city went on a strike. They went to Bankshal Court to protest the arrest.

Purulia armsdrop

During the hearing of the Purulia armsdrop case in Calcutta High Court on Wednesday, state public prosecutor Sudipta Moitra informed the court that a mercy petition was filed before the President on behalf of the five Latvians by the Russian embassy. CBI counsel B.R. Ghosal argued that the petition for mercy was the admission of guilt. “So the court will have to decide whether their appeal challenging their conviction order by the trial court will be maintainable,” he said.

Road mishap

A 45-year-old woman, Manu Roy, was run over by a private bus on route 202. She was rushed to RG Kar Medical College and Hospital, where her condition was stated to be critical. The driver of the bus fled with the vehicle.

Water crisis

Shortage of alum has sparked a crisis in treatment of the city’s drinking water at the Palta and Garden Reach plants. Member, mayor-in-council (water supply), Sovan Chatterjee, said the suppliers had refused to supply alum unless an amount of Rs 25 lakh outstanding to them was cleared immediately. The CMC agreed to pay Rs 8 lakh but they did not accept.

CMC accident

CMC mayor-in-council members, Swapan Samadar and Javed Ahmed Khan, escaped an accident after a chunk collapsed from the ceiling at the main gate of the civic headquarters on Tuesday evening.

Traffic hit

Traffic in the Beleghata area was disrupted for about three hours on Wednesday, following a clash between autorickshaw-drivers and policemen. A constable was injured.    

 
 
PUT FLIGHT TICKETS ON HOLD, WAIT FOR CLOUDS TO LIFT 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Sept. 12: 
Ringing telephones, a thousand anxious voices, but the same queries from the other end: “When are flights to the United States resuming? How safe will it be to go when the flights resume?”

Most Calcuttans with plans to go to the US in the immediate future are not ready to cry off their American safari. Nor are those with relatives in New York, the city which bore the brunt of the hijack attack and is likely to account for most of the deaths. Wait and watch seems to be the general response in Calcutta, which has a few thousand probashis in the US.

The wait-and-watch veneer, however, cannot hide the anxiety, say those attending the calls. “There’s only one question we are having to field today,” said Sita World Travel spokeswoman S. Sharma. “We are advising people to hold their patience for two more days, by when, hopefully, things will become clearer,” Sharma told Metro. But that was easier said than done, she added, admitting that some of the more anxious callers were keen on cancelling their tickets.

“A lot of persuasion was required to convince them to stay in queue,” said another Sita official. But if things did not improve in the next two days, there could be a queue for cancellations instead, he added.

But, with lines to representatives in the US jammed, the agency was as anxious as its clients, he admitted. “We can understand how difficult it is becoming to remain calm, especially when one has relatives living near the targeted areas,” Sharma added.

Gautam Mukherjee of Club 7 shared SoTC’s and Sita’s predicament. “The future, hopefully, will be better than the present,” was all he could say.

Travel agencies said the number of cancellations, which were yet to assume alarming proportions, could increase manifold if the US skies remained off-bound for airlines. The sooner the skies reopen, the easier will it be for them to convince passengers not to cancel bookings.

SoTC, which conducts package tours to the US, is scheduled to send out a batch of 25-odd tourists next week. Now, however, SoTC staff here are as anxious as them about the tour coming off. “We have been in touch with our counterparts in New York and Washington D.C.,” said sales officer Sunil Menon. “But, by the look of things, even they won’t be able to tell us anything concrete before 48 hours,” he added.

The airport, however, was a picture in contrast. It was a near-normal day, with only four American tourists — who came to check whether any flight to their country was on, and went back after cancelling their tickets when they got ‘no’ for an answer — standing out among the visitors who came from places as diverse as London and Hong Kong, airport officials said.

But security has been beefed up, insist senior airport officials. “More checks are being made at the points of entry,” said airport superintendent of police O.P. Gupta. Inner-ring vigilance had been stepped up as well, he added, though it was in place since mid-August, when fundamentalist organisations had issued threats against key installations.

There was a further review of security on Wednesday in view of the multiple hijacks in the US, Gupta said. “But the threats we face are from organisations far different from those that carried out the attacks there,” he added.

A special passenger monitoring cell was opened on Wednesday to help those willing to leave for the US, Airlines Operators’ Committee chairman Gautam Sarkar said. “We are awaiting further orders from the Central government on steps we can take to help passengers to and from the States,” he added.

   

 
 
HIGH ALERT AT KEY OFFICES, STATIONS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 12: 
Security has been beefed up in Calcutta following Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on America. Armed guards have been deployed on Wednesday in front of major establishments, including American Center, the US Consulate and the British Consulate.

Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty said the number of security personnel in front of foreign embassy offices was increased. Police officers were asked to keep a close watch on embassy offices round-the-clock. Security has also been stepped up at Metro stations, where commando personnel was deployed.

Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner, headquarters, said 18 extra armed policemen have been posted in front of American Center and the US consulate office on Ho Chi Minh Sarani. Six more are standing guard at the British Consulate office on Ho Chi Minh Sarani.

“Security personnel have been asked to keep a strict vigil on these three foreign establishments. If required, we will strengthen the security arrangements further,” Basu said.

However, Calcutta was not under any threat, Basu added. “But, a special order has been issued to all the divisional deputy commissioners to beef up security in their jurisdictions. Elaborate arrangements have been made to avert criminal activities. A standing force has been readied for any emergency and a number of police teams will patrol the city,” Basu added.

The detective department of Calcutta Police has also been geared up. The watch section has been directed to keep a strict vigil on suspicious persons and check their belongings.

Plainclothesmen will patrol round-the-clock at various key bus termini, including Esplanade and Ultadanga. The North 24-Parganas police have been directed to check buses plying between India and Bangladesh. The personnel posted in the frontier areas have been put on alert.

Railway police personnel were instructed to keep vigil at major stations, including Howrah and Sealdah. “Government Railway Police (GRP) have been asked to check the luggage of passengers getting off long-distance trains and those who are boarding trains with metal detectors,” said Gangeshwar Prasad Singh, superintendent of railway police, Sealdah.

   


 
 
RELIANCE PLANS OIL HUB IN HALDIA 
 
 
BY PALLAB BHATTACHARYA
 
Calcutta, Sept. 12: 
Bengal is no longer an untouchable for Reliance Industries Ltd. After telecom, Reliance is planning to set up the largest oil terminal in this region at Haldia. The total investment has been pegged at around Rs 800 crore, the second largest in the private sector after Haldia Petrochemicals.

While a Reliance spokesman declined to comment on the proposed investment, sources familiar with the development said the company has plans to make Haldia a major oil hub from where it can cater not only to the eastern region, including parts of Uttar Pradesh, but also to Bangladesh.

“Reliance has already sent a consignment to Bangladesh and received very good response. So, setting up a large oil terminal along with transport facilities, both inward and outward, makes sense,” sources said.

They added that the amount Reliance is investing is rather hefty for an oil terminal. “The company has long-term plans to make it its eastern hub for its oil and other products, including LPG,” they said. The company has a large oil terminal at Jamnagar in Gujarat near its refinery.

The sources said it was possible that Reliance would set up an exclusive jetty in Haldia as well as a captive railway track. “Moreover, there could be a bottling facility for the LPG as well,” they said.

Confirming the development, Haldia Development Authority chairman Laxman Seth said the company has already acquired 30 acres of land in the port town.

Asked about the plan, a senior Reliance official said the company is “very serious” about the project. “But there are other important factors also which we will look into before making the investment. Acquiring land is only a small part of the project,” he said.

Reliance also has plans to raise its crude refining capacity from 27 million tonnes to around 35 million tonnes in the next couple of years.

“Unlike Indian Oil, which has refineries and oil terminals at various places, Reliance has a refinery only at Jamnagar. So, for them it is important to set up oil terminals closer to the market in view of next year’s oil sector deregulation,” the sources said.

State industry minister Nirupam Sen was not available for comment. West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation officials refused to comment on the project.

Seth said another Mumbai-based company, Hindustan Seals Ltd, has acquired 50 acres to set up a Rs 135-crore factory to produce aluminium rolls. Triton Corporation Ltd has also acquired 50 acres for a Rs 39-crore tin melting facility at Haldia.

In a bid to attract more industries to Haldia, the HDA had taken up at least 100 downstream projects for infrastructure development, PTI quoted Seth as saying.

A barge jetty at Raichak was also among the important projects coming up in collaboration with the state transport department, for which Rs 1 crore had been spent.

The National Highways Authority had approved Rs 300 crore to make a 59-km stretch four-lane between Haldia and Mecheda to ease traffic flow, Seth said.

   

 
 
TENDER FEUD TAKES TOLL OF TRINAMUL LEADER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Kharagpur, Sept. 12: 
Gautam Choubey’s murder last night, which triggered a 12-hour bandh in Midnapore today, was the fallout of a protracted feud between two rival groups over purchase of railway scraps, police said.

According to detectives investigating the murder, Gautam, elder son of the late CPI MP, Narayan Choubey, had lately become the target of a hardened criminal, Ram Babu, who controlled the money-spinning but often violent scrap business in the district.

District superintendent of police K.C. Mina is also convinced that a tender racket is the prime motive behind the murder. He said police have begun a combing operation to nab Gautam’s killers. Six armed men gunned down Gautam a few hours after he was made the president of the Trinamul Congress’ youth wing of Midnapore district. Gautam’s body was handed over to his relatives after post-mortem.

Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee along with mayor Subrata Mukherjee and other leaders rushed there this morning to pay a visit to the bereaved family members. Though the bandh passed off peacefully, Mamata threatened to take to the streets if the culprits were not arrested within 24 hours. There was trouble when the police did not allow local Trinamul leaders to bring out a procession with Gautam’ body.

Mamata, however, met Gautam’s wife Hema and tried to console her. But a grief-stricken Hema initially could not speak but later burst out: “Why have you come now when everything is over? Can you return my husband?”

   

 
 
OLD LEFT DROWNS CM REFORMS TUNE 
 
 
FROM ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Calcutta, Sept. 12: 
Suddenly, the new face has started looking like the old, familiar one. While chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee keeps alive the image of the New Left that won him the May elections, his party seems unable — or unwilling — to change the old spots as yet. In less than a week, contrary signals have come thick and fast, making one wonder if the CPM’s old agitational politics would spoil Bhattacharjee’s reform party.

It would be simplistic to assume that Bhattacharjee can function independent of the party line. But an impression was gaining ground that he was working in tandem with the party on his agenda for change. This has received a jolt over the last few days.

No more of rail or road blockades on “trivial” issues, Bhattacharjee suggested at a Left Front meeting and offered to seek the cooperation of arch-enemy Trinamul Congress and all others in making the idea work. That he even mooted the idea was something of a major break from the past for the Left that was nurtured and then catapulted to power by decades of agitprop. Significantly, his was also the party’s voice on this.

But the old faith was articulated by Jyoti Basu, icon of the old guard, when he told a rally of transport workers last Sunday that they should not “surrender” their “right to strike” even to the Left Front government. A Subhas Chakraborty-acolyte, Lakshan Bhattacharyya, went one step further. He threatened to “immobilise” the state unless the transport workers’ demands were met, reminding them that the Citu unions controlled 70 per cent of the workforce.

It was not Basu alone who sang the old tune. State CPM secretary Anil Biswas came to Basu’s defence, saying the party had never talked of giving up the right to strike. Moreover, around the same time that Bhattacharjee was setting his new agenda, his party came up with a bagful of agitation programmes.

Reviving memories of long years of anti-Centre rhetoric, the party actually began a month-long agitation against the Vajpayee Government’s economic and education policies from September 7.

Bhattacharjee himself fired the first shot with his conclave of non-BJP chief ministers on “saffronisation” of education. Synchronising with the annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington, party activists plan to stage sit-ins and other protests all over West Bengal on September 27 and 28.

Taking the cake was however the party’s slogan, “Tala toro, majoot bato (break the locks and distribute the stores),” that calls upon the cadre to take to violent means to protest against the starvation deaths in different parts of the country.

Bhattacharjee might have to curse the slogan if Mamata Banerjee steals it here, drumming up stories of such deaths in some remote corners of Bankura and Purulia. The party has now recanted on this.

It is not the same question as the party’s intervention in governance. The sudden surge of agitational politics would raise more fundamental questions about both Bhattacharjee and his party. It is possible that investors and employers would begin to have old suspicions.

They will start doubting if the CPM had changed at all. The workers too could be confused about the conflicting signals coming from the chief minister and the party bosses.

It would be naive to expect the CPM to completely abandon the old politics of mass agitation. Not even Bhattacharjee, who freely talks of “past mistakes”, can quite forget the old rhetoric.

That is why his government would talk and take steps that would be remarkably similar to pro-reform soundbites of Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha or disinvestment minister Arun Shourie while, at the same time, Bhattacharjee would remain the party-faithful by endorsing agitational politics.

There will be more of this when the Centre effects the labour reforms. Bhattacharjee will need to reassure all those who gave him the mandate for change that an unreformed party will not take his game away.

   
 

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