Mayor, govt in tie-up to clear Tolly
Tinderbox notices slapped on 5 cinemas
Target Siemens for trade unions
Sweet-tooth cure now closer home
The City Diary
NE students find alumni support
Clinics get a month for clean-up act
Terror Tuesday hits skytech firm
Raids fail to trace Bangur dacoits
City elder and showgirl settle down to jail life

Calcutta, Sept. 19 : 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee and the ruling Left Front on Wednesday stitched together a “ grand alliance” to execute one of the largest drives against illegal settlers in recent times. This involves an eight-km stretch along Tolly’s Nullah and more than 4,000 families, starting Saturday.

The modalities of the eviction drive were finalised at a meeting with municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya at Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday.

While Mukherjee warded off attempts from within the Trinamul Congress to stall the drive, Bhattacharya turned down requests from Left Front partners to defer the eviction, citing a high court order on this count.

Mukherjee’s action is in sharp contrast to Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee’s “no eviction without rehabilitation” diktat, but the mayor sought to justify it, saying: “I am simply executing a high court order”.

The eviction of encroachers along the banks of the canal from Kudghat to Garia will make it possible for Metro Railway to extend services from Tollygunge to Garia. The Metro authorities had threatened to pull out of the project unless the stretch was cleared.

The eviction will also facilitate the construction of a road, south of the canal, from Kudghat to Garia, which will take much of the load off N.S.C. Bose Road.

With Mukherjee joining hands with Writers’, the only hope for the encroachers seems to be the internal strife within the Trinamul. Though Naxalites have succeeded in banding them together into a hastily-formed committee, the oustees — mostly from Mamata’s South Calcutta constituency — admit their only hope is a “sabotage” of the joint venture.

The stretch where the drive will be conducted comprises mostly commercial establishments. The first to be evicted — if things go according to plan — will be the owners of 100-odd shops of Purba Putiari market, near Kudghat, and the last, in the Garia area, will be the owners of assorted small industrial units. In between, especially in the Khashmahal area, are several homes of people mostly from Bangladesh and South 24-Parganas. There are some from Bihar and Orissa too.

Though Mukherjee has promised all possible support to the state government, Bhattacharya — fresh from the NRS Hospital experience, when CMC payloaders cried off the eviction operation there at the last minute — has convened a meeting of senior CMDA officials on Thursday to decide on a logistical fallback.

A battle, that involves a lot of money, has also started over the actual number of families to be evicted. Though Bhattacharya said at Writers’ that the CMDA would have to spend at least Rs 80 lakh on giving Rs 2,000 (as transportation cost) to each of the 4,000 families to be evicted, a 1988 CMDA survey put the number of encroaching families at only 600.


Calcutta, Sept. 19 : 
The slightest spark could turn several city cinemas into death traps. This has prompted the police to slap showcause notices on another five halls with “unsafe conditions” — Paradise, Bharati, Purna, Kalika and Bhabani.

The cinema-owners have been asked to reply “by September 26”. Police said the most glaring fault on their part was inadequate fire-safety measures. “These halls can turn into death traps in case of a fire,” said DC, headquarters, Banibrata Basu, on Wednesday.

The police had earlier issued similar notices to owners of four other halls, including Society, where the awning collapsed recently, killing three persons and injuring several others.

The ‘deadline’ for replying to the showcause issued to Regal, New Cinema, Khanna and Society expired on Tuesday. But only the owners of New Cinema and Khanna have sent in their replies.

In the showcause notice, the police have listed all other hazards that are common to the halls:

Fire extinguishers do not function properly; in several cases, it has been observed that the fire-fighting chemicals inside the equipment have either evaporated or become damp and useless

The capacity of the theatre is disproportionate to the number of exits

The gap between the rows of seats is too narrow to allow for an emergency

The staircase is ill-maintained and often crumbling

The toilets are in poor condition

On receiving the replies, the police will first study their contents. If the cops are satisfied with assurances from the hall-owners, they will be set a deadline to clean up their act.

If, however, the police find the replies “inadequate” or feel that hall-owners are “shrugging off their responsibilities”, they will forward them to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), with the recommendation that the halls be shut down.

“Normally, the CMC pays heed to our recommendation and issues closure notices to the halls concerned, forcing the owners to comply with the safety norms suggested by us,” Basu said. “We have to act tough if we are to prevent other tragedies taking place in city cinemas.”

Chairman of the exhibition wing of the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association Arijit Dutta, who represents hall-owners in the city, said it would “not be possible to implement all the recommendations of the police” due to an acute shortage of funds. “If we have to do all that the police are telling us to do, then the entire theatre will have to be thoroughly recast at an enormous cost,” Dutta said.

“But where are the funds for this revamp? It is only recently that hall-owners have been allowed to use their own discretion to hike ticket rates and a little more gate-money is coming in,” he said.


Calcutta, Sept. 19 : 
On Monday, the trade unions had rallied to support workers of the state-run National Jute Manufacturers’ Corporation (NJMC) who attacked members of a private firm on a pre-bid recce of the mill. On Wednesday, the unions threatened to launch a protest against telecom multinational Siemens “for downsizing units in Calcutta”.

The Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), a constituent of the ruling Left Front controlling the Siemens workers’ union through its labour arm, the Utuc, announced plans for the movement against the German multinational. The threat came in course of a meeting between state secretariat member Sunil Sengupta, acting chief minister Mohammed Amin and the local Siemens management at Writers’ Buildings.

“If this downsizing continues unchecked, I am afraid we, in the trade union movement, cannot be expected to keep our eyes shut and blindly support Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s bid to woo the private sector,” Sengupta informed Amin.

Till two years ago, about 450 employees worked in Siemens’ Calcutta establishments — one, a veritable landmark on the Rashbehari connector of the EM Bypass, near Ruby Hospital, and the other in Salt Lake.

But thanks to downsizing, the staff strength has shrunk to 123, Sengupta claimed. Siemens officials declined to comment, as they said the matter was being handled by their head office in Mumbai.

Amin, who also oversees labour, was asked by the union representatives to ascertain from the Siemens management how the strength of employees was reduced so sharply at a time when the firm had adequate orders in hand to execute. “They (the employees) are increasingly being encouraged to voluntarily retire on the grounds that the company is starved of orders. But our position is that this is not true,” the union representatives said.

Amin said the government was, “in principle”, opposed to retrenchment or job cuts. But, in “specific situations”, he added, the labour and the management must “appreciate and understand each other’s compulsions” and then take a stand. The union alleged that the Siemens management was pushing the downsizing pedal in Calcutta as it planned to “shift the company” to another state. “They are bent on creating an artificial crisis, for which they will blame the workers and, when the time is right for them, quit the state,” they claimed.

Sengupta and other trade union representatives, on Wednesday, also flayed the government for what they described as its “pampering” of the industry. They warned that the RSP would find it difficult to support Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s call to trade unions to shun the path of militancy. “It’s time the government woke up to the fact that various firms are taking advantage of its exaggerated pro-industry stance. Bengal will not gain if the government puts the lid on fair trade union movement without ensuring creation of more jobs,” Sengupta concluded.


Calcutta, Sept. 19 : 
A dedicated hospital for diabetics – that’s just what the doctor’s ordered for the city with a sweet tooth.

Rotary Medical Research Institute (RMRI) is coming up in Sector V, Salt Lake, solely to treat diabetics. The 40-bed hospital, the first of its kind in the region, will have various departments related to ailments resulting from high blood-sugar levels. Rotary International is spearheading the project. Rotary Foundation hopes to raise Rs 41.34 crore for the state-of-the-art equipment. Outdoor operations are expected to start by the end of the year.

“The decision to build a hospital exclusively for diabetic patients was taken after surveys revealed the lack of such a centre in the East,” says Prabhat Rohatgi, treasurer of the Eastern India Rotary Welfare Trust.

The number of people detected with Type II diabetes mellitus is rising alarmingly, say doctors (see box). It is estimated that by 2020, India will have the highest number of diabetic patients in the world. At present, the figure stands at 40 million. The only existing specialised treatment centre in town is the Sunny Park Diabetic and Endocrine Centre, which does not have arrangements for in-patient treatment.

The Salt Lake hospital will not only benefit Calcuttans but will also help patients from the East, Northeast, Nepal and Bhutan, says Rohatgi. “We are looking at the scheme to project Calcutta as a major treatment centre for all those who rush to Vellore or Mumbai at the slightest pretext,” adds Subhojeet Roy, president-elect of Rotary Club, Garden Reach.

The project received a major boost recently after a grant for modern diagnostic and other equipment was sanctioned by the Rotary Foundation, USA. The institute will have specialised wings for the treatment of related complications like heart disease, hypertension, renal disease, eye and neurological problems.

The centre will also stress on islet cell and pancreatic transplants required by severe diabetic patients. In addition, research on developing new methods of treatment will also be undertaken. A modern blood bank is planned on the three-acre site, with equipment donated by the US-based “Carter blood care centre.”

A panel of 120 doctors will form the backbone of the hospital. “We will also have several top-notch consultants from the city,” says cardiologist R.S. Majumdar.

RMRI will also have three speciality wings: A nephrology centre, a trauma-care centre and an eye hospital. The Rotary Club of Garden Reach, part of District 3290, comprising West Bengal, Andaman Islands and Nepal, has plans to start a thalassaemia unit on a 9,500 sq ft area in the hospital.



Jail custody for Happy

Happy Singh, alias Harprit Singh, and three others arrested in connection with the abduction of Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman, were remanded in jail custody till September 28 by the sub-divisional judicial magistrate in Alipore on Wednesday. All 14 persons arrested in this connection will be produced in court on the day. On Wednesday, Naba Kumar Mondal, driver of Roy Burman, Rabindranath Das and Chunnu Mia, alias Mohammed Tasleem, were produced in court. Their bail plea was turned down after public prosecutor Taj Mohammed appealed for their remand for the sake of further investigations. A close associate of Chunnu Mia, named Baru, was detained by the CID from Alipore.

A-I tickets

Air India has decided to step up security in the light of the recent terrorist attacks in the US. Passengers, who have booked tickets for the US and the UK before September 12, are required to inform Air India offices to retain their bookings. Bookings will be cancelled until reconfirmations are made at least five days prior to the date of departure. Those who bought tickets between September 1 and November 30 should contact Air India at 282-2356/59, 282-1187 or e-mail [email protected] or fax at 282-7875.

Home theatre

The Corporation has allowed construction of residential flats atop the Biswarupa theatre and a multi-storeyed market complex on the campus. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said owner Rashbehari Sarkar’s daughter Jayanti Mishra had already paid up Rs 2 lakh as tax dues to the CMC. The reconstructed theatre will accommodate 600 people.

Education fair

l The New Zealand Education Fair will start on Thursday in Calcutta, showcasing the best of educational institutions in New Zealand. The fair will be held at the Oberoi Grand from 11 pm to 6 pm. Interviews will be conducted on Friday from 10 am to 5 pm.

Murder weapon

l Police recovered the revolver that was used to kill Dum Dum municipality chairman Sailen Das on August 13 from a remote pocket in North 24-Parganas. The revolver was found in a polythene packet in a bush. The empty shell of a bullet was also found. The police got the information on questioning Ismail, who has confessed to having fired at Das. Ismail said he handed over the revolver to Chhotu immediately after the incident.

Power complaints

l CESC will introduce a round-the-clock ‘call centre’ to deal with complaints relating to failure or quality of power supply. Consumers will have to dial 1912 and quote the CESC consumer numbers to register their complaints. The facility will initially be offered to residents of central Calcutta. Consumer numbers starting with digits between 20 and 34 fall under this category. The call centre facility will be later extended to the entire CESC area in a phased manner, a CESC spokesperson said.    

Calcutta, Sept. 19 : 
Ivan, or L.R. Khawbung, is from small-town Manipur. The 18-year-old left home in the suburbs of Churachandrapur in 1998, and came to Calcutta to complete high school. After studying science in Scottish Church College, he joined Presidency College last year. But the second-year Sociology student is afraid that boys and girls like him will not be able to make it out of Manipur any more; that they may have to attend local colleges, where classes are held only occasionally and infrastructure is negligible.

Boys and girls from the Northeast may be losing their best academic option. With the implementation of a Central order denying “out-of-state” SC/ST candidates benefits, the large number of students from the seven states making a beeline for Calcutta colleges are facing a brick wall. To ensure preservation of “rights”, around 1,000 students from the Northeast have united in Calcutta to form the North-Eastern Students’ Forum.

The epicentre of the start of the student’s movement lies on College Street. And the migrants from the Northeast have found support from the home crowd at Presidency College, which adopted the home ministry’s rules during admissions for the batch of 2001. “We support their stand,” said college general secretary Julius Gomes.

Though the directive, issued in August 1984, pertains to all out-of-state students, those from the Northeast — the “most numerous applicants of this category” in Presidency — are the worst hit. On Wednesday, student representatives visited the backward classes welfare office of Writers’ Buildings. The meeting with principal secretary S. Barma and joint secretary A.K. Das “did not yield any results”, according to the Students’ Forum Members. “Now, we will go on a signature campaign. We will present a memorandum to the state and Central governments,” said Ivan.

Presidency College principal Amitava Chatterjee said: “The college is simply following guidelines passed by the Central government. If they overturn their decision, we will willingly comply.”


Calcutta, Sept. 19 : 
The West Bengal Pollution Control Board (PCB) will take action against clinics and nursing homes that don’t co-operate with the city municipal authorities in disposing of medical wastes. The PCB’s action follows a High Court green bench ruling, asking it to take steps to prevent health hazards caused by clinics and nursing homes.

The PCB has decided to slap a month’s deadline, from October 1, to the clinics to remove all wastes from their compounds. “We shall pull down the units if they fail to comply with the rules,” said a PCB official. The PCB will not renew the licences of these clinics from January either. The issue has been communicated to the state heath department, the official added.

The court order issued to the PCB was delivered on the basis of a petition by Subhas Dutta, an environment activist. Dutta had alleged that residents of Calcutta and Howrah faced health problems due to pollution. The court has issued a similar order to the PCB for Howrah.


Calcutta, Sept. 19 : 
The servers are blocked, the company intranet is inaccessible, work volume has slumped dramatically and the 100-odd employees face an uncertain future. The mood in the swank Saltlec (Salt Lake Electronic Complex) office of SkyTECH Solutions — buoyant till the afternoon of September 11 — is now dismal, with staffers even being “advised to cut down interaction with outsiders”. The shadow of Terror Tuesday looms over the firm developing and implementing software solutions in airline functions.

The one-and-a-half-year-old SkyTECH Solutions is a joint venture between United Airlines, Chicago, and The Chatterjee Group (TCG), New York. On September 11, two aircraft of the global aviation major took off from Boston and Newark. Flight 175, headed for Los Angeles, slammed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. Flight 73, flying to San Francisco, crashed in Pennsylvania.

SkyTECH Solutions, with marketing offices in Chicago and New Jersey and off-shore development centres in Calcutta and Mumbai, specialises in comprehensive software solutions in passenger service, cargo handling, flight operations, inventory management and personnel. From its Calcutta and Mumbai offices, a team of techhies has been managing a “major part of the huge database” of over 600 aircraft connecting 255 destinations in 26 countries.

But the attack on America has changed all that. The aviation sector has been hit hard and there’s a large question mark over the future of the off-shore units.

“In view of the large-scale retrenchment in Continental Airlines and Delta Airlines, discussions on review of the strategy of developing such critical software in off-shore mode and the risks involved has caused serious concern in SkyTECH,” he adds.

But in the longer run, the company may well be looking at “better business”, says an industry-watcher. “In view of the cost advantage in India, in comparison to the US, the slump in the aviation industry should not spell doom. Pure commercial consideration will drive more projects to the off-shore firm once the crisis is over.”

In Calcutta, senior officials of the company refused comment.


Calcutta, Sept. 19 : 
The eight-member gang, which looted businessman Ashwini Dhawan’s Bangur Avenue apartment and murdered his 42-year-old wife, Lovely Dhawan, on Tuesday, had operated through a local network of criminals. They had collected information about the businessman’s financial status. “Their information was specific, as they went straight to Dhawan’s apartment,” said a sleuth. According to officials probing the case, names could not be disclosed for the sake of investigation.

Police launched a massive search throughout Wednesday to track down the local contacts of the miscreants. Divided into three teams, the police stormed several hideouts in Dakshindari, Kestopur and Dum Dum areas. The Dhawans’ maid and security guard are being grilled by sleuths.

Overnight raids were also conducted in and around the Lake Town area to trace out local criminals. But no arrests had been made, said Harisena Verma, superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas. The goons had once been booked by the Lake Town and its nearby police stations.

Around 2 pm on Tuesday, eight dacoits stormed a second-floor apartment in Bangur Avenue and killed the housewife before escaping with valuables. An hour later, Piyush, Lovely’s son, returned from school and broke open the door with help from neighbours. According to sleuths, the goons apparently had no intention of killing Lovely, but gagged her when she tried to raise an alarm.


Calcutta, Sept. 19 : 
One is the former chairman of the Dum Dum municipality. The other used to be a nightclub dancer. They have little in common. But now, they share a common destiny — adjusting to life behind bars as undertrials in two of Calcutta’s most high-profile criminal cases in recent history.

Swati Pal, alias Moushumi, arrested from Mumbai in connection with the abduction of Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Barman, has been lodged in a separate cell of Presidency jail since the afternoon of August 23. And Sudhir Bhattacharya, alleged mastermind in the murder of Dum Dum municipality chairman Sailen Das, is confined to his cell in Dum Dum Central Jail.

But it’s the ‘star’ undertrial in Presidency Jail that has caused all the flutter. Swati, dressed in light brown salwar-kameez, is “distraught” over the sensation she appears to have caused. “Every day, when prisoners are unlocked, other jail inmates flock to Swati’s cell in the main block to catch a glimpse of the girl everyone is talking about… She gets really upset over this,” says a jail warder. “Swati also hates the headcount, six times a day, to ensure that no one has escaped.”

Otherwise, Swati, “initially a bit aggressive”, has learnt to adjust to life in captivity. “She is picking up the rules and becoming more cooperative,” says additional inspector-general of prisons Dilip Chowdhury. “She has stopped grumbling and we have thrown a security ring around her, in accordance with the court’s order,” adds P.D.Mondal, deputy inspector-general of prisons, (headquarters).

Swati starts the day early with her prayers. “She always puts on a sari and a bindi before sitting down to pray,” a warder says. “She is also fond of reading books, especially religious ones. She has requested access to the jail library.”

Swati, who “wept profusely and pleaded innocence” when her parents, Sudhir and Sobharani, visited her recently, often inquires about husband Jamel Ahmed, languishing in adjoining Alipore Central Jail.

Bhattacharya, meanwhile, has made his displeasure clear in Dum Dum jail. “He wants to be treated like a VVIP in jail, too,” observed a prison official. The former civic chief has even lodged “a protest” with the authorities against the “unhealthy conditions and lack of medical facilities” in the jail hospital.

“He has been most vocal, however, about the sub-standard quality of drinking water for prisoners. We once allowed him to collect a bottle of drinking water from outside, but now we are giving him boiled water,” said jail superintendent Manoj Chowdhury.


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