Last stop ahead for streetcars
Canal protest barrage hits stonewall
Mayor’s monolith, for god’s sake
Surrender order in bribery case
No-shows at new colleges
The City Diary
3 die in twin accidents
Class after class to check tuitions
Writers’ meet on factory impasse

 
 
LAST STOP AHEAD FOR STREETCARS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Sept. 20: 
Opening the floodgates of protest from environmentalists and pollution-watchers, the state government on Thursday all but announced that the days of the eco-friendly tram are numbered in the city. It is only a matter of time before tramcars give way to more buses, it announced.

Move over trams, welcome buses: This was the message of a number of state ministers at a seminar organised by the CMDA to draw up a masterplan for traffic and transportation management. “It is time to do away with trams,” finance minister Asim Dasgupta said, adding: “That is the only way we can provide more road space. In fact, doing away with trams would mean 76 km of extra road space.”

Anticipating that such a move could provoke the trade unions, Dasgupta assured them: “There will be no retrenchment and CTC employees can work on the additional number of buses that will ply on the then widened roads.” Discussions will be held soon with the unions on this issue.

Dasgupta was supported by both transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and environment minister Manab Mukherjee.

The latter said: “Trams, which are pollution free, cause more environmental damage than buses. They slow down traffic and lead to snarls during rush hour, creating unimaginable air pollution.”

Chakraborty concurred, but felt that a few of the trams should be retained for “heritage value”. “I feel trams must have a token presence as a symbol of the past,” he said. “The oldest mechanised mode of transport in the city should not be totally phased out.”

To bolster their case, the government cited figures to prove that the tram is the most “expendable” mode of transport in the city. While 60 per cent of commuters use buses and 20 per cent jointly use the Metro, Circular and local rails, only one per cent commutes by tram. The rest use either water transport, taxis, auto-rickshaws or private cars. “This shows why trams must be taken off the road,” Dasgupta said.

If trams are withdrawn from APC Roy Road, AJC Bose Road and Diamond Harbour Road, the streets can be converted into six-lane thoroughfares, Dasgupta added. Similarly, B.B. Ganguly Street, Rashbehari Avenue and Gariahat Road can be widened, as the boulevards on which the trams ply can be done away with.

“There will be much more traffic discipline and the speed of vehicles will increase three-fold,” Dasgupta asserted.

Environmentalists reacted with caution to the government announcement. “I think it is essential to look at both sides of the picture,” said R.M. Kapoor of Times Research Foundation. “Since trams are pollution-free, they should be kept on certain routes, but removed from congested and narrow roads like Rabindra Sarani, Mahatma Gandhi Road and B.B. Ganguly Street.”

Environmental crusader Subhas Dutta was emphatic in denouncing the government’s move. “The queen mother of all transport must stay. It is not only eco-friendly, but less hazardous. Political leaders don’t understand environment; an expert group should decide. I will sue them if any unilateral decision is taken.”

Chairman of the state human rights commission Justice Mukul Gopal Mukherjee would like to have the last word on this. “The tram is the ideal mode of transport for the under-privileged and handicapped people of this city and for them, the tram should stay,” he said. “It is pollution-free, safe and a reliable mode of transport. Also, it is very much a part of this city. If trams can run in Melbourne and Sydney, why not in Calcutta?”

   

 
 
CANAL PROTEST BARRAGE HITS STONEWALL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 20: 
There is no stopping the Tolly’s Nullah eviction drive scheduled for Saturday. The government, on Thursday, rejected a plea to “push back by a fortnight” the removal of about 5,000 illegal structures along the canal.

“We are committed to the ouster of encroachers, as directed by the high court. This is necessary to make Tolly’s Nullah navigable and ensure extension of the Metro Rail from Tollygunge to Garia,” municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya said.

The efforts of settlers along the canal, between Garia and Kudghat, suffered a setback when the Supreme Court declined to stay the eviction drive slated for September 22 and fixed October 1 for the next date of hearing.

Back in Writers’ Buildings, some Naxalite factions and the Suci, which have formed a joint forum to oppose the eviction, met Bhattacharya on Thursday. Suci MLA Debaprasad Sarkar, head of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), Sujato Bhadra and convener of the anti-eviction forum Arijit Mitra urged the minister “not to evict the 5,000 families without arranging proper rehabilitation”.

Shaktiman Ghosh, leader of the Hawkers’ Sangram Committee, has also joined the forum. “We were ready to co-operate with the government, provided they allowed us two weeks to vacate the place after building our own houses,” said Ghosh. “But now, we have no option but to oppose the drive.”

Thursday also found Mamata Banerjee plotting her way at the eviction site. The Trinamul leader convened a meeting of party councillors, legislators and MPs to devise ways of opposing the ouster.

“We are against eviction without rehabilitation.” The chorus, during the day, rose from the likes of Trinamul leaders Saugata Roy and Pankaj Banerjee and Left Front councillor Chanchal Ghosh. But the Corporation, where mayor Subrata Mukherjee is all for the drive, was quick to display documents showing Roy, Banerjee, and Ghosh among signatories to an earlier agreement for eviction. The agreement did not specify rehabilitation.

Congress leader Somen Mitra, meanwhile, observed that the re-excavation of Tolly’s Nullah was “urgently required” for the city’s development. “But the need for rehabilitation of the settlers cannot be overlooked by the government or the civic authorities,” he added.

The mayor, meanwhile, was buoyant about Saturday’s clean-up drive. “I hope to gift Calcuttans a new-look Adi Ganga after the Pujas,” Mukherjee said.

   

 
 
MAYOR’S MONOLITH, FOR GOD’S SAKE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 20: 
It’s not just another rule-flouting Durga Puja in town. It’s the mayor’s puja. But Ekdalia Evergreen, Subrata Mukherjee’s annual showpiece, besides breaking almost every road rule in the book, has severely inconvenienced cars, pedestrians and shopkeepers passing through Gariahat.

The hawkers are back, so are the puja shoppers. Calcutta’s most populous school is just round the corner. Add to that the flyover under construction and the ravaged roads. The result: A corridor of chaos, which could have well done without the confusion caused by the mayor’s grand puja plans.

Mukherjee, while admitting that the 60-ft-by-85-ft pandal in the middle of the road was causing problems to cars and pedestrians alike, urged the people of south Calcutta to “bear with us for a few days’’. He promised to “depute volunteers” to ensure smooth flow of traffic and “speed up construction of the pandal”.

That’s small consolation for the police, struggling to introduce a semblance of method to the madness at Gariahat. “More than 7,000 vehicles ply through Gariahat Road at any given time during peak hours,” deputy commissioner (traffic) M.K. Singh said on Thursday. “We were diverting vehicles through Ekdalia Road, Dover Road, Cornfield Road and Mandeville Gardens to ease the pressure on Gariahat Road because of the flyover construction. But with the big-budget puja organisers encroaching on three-fourths of Ekdalia Road, caring little about the effect on traffic, we are left with no option but to somehow maintain a flow of vehicles in the area.”

A recent traffic police survey on the spot has found 5,000 people walking around Gariahat “at any point of time in the pre-Puja days’’. The shoppers and traders have been hit hard by the mayor’s puja. “Given the current situation of Gariahat, how can the mayor act in such an irresponsible manner?’’ demanded Rajib Ghosh of Mandeville Gardens.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Banibrata Basu said a police team would go on a “surprise visit” to Gariahat between September 28 to September 30 and inspect conditions. The final permission to puja organisers will be given on October 5. “We will withhold permission to Ekdalia Evergreen Club or any other puja organiser, which encroaches on city roads and hampers movement of pedestrians and flow of traffic,’’ Basu warned.

   

 
 
SURRENDER ORDER IN BRIBERY CASE 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 20: 
Calcutta High Court on Thursday directed Ganesh Singhania, owner of Beni Engineering Company, to surrender before the trial court and depose in the Beni bribery case, in which two key Citu leaders were caught two years ago.

Singhania filed a petition challenging the order of trial court, which had asked the police to arrest and produce him as he was repeatedly away during hearings.

The prosecution said Singhania had lodged a complaint with the police that the two leaders— Raman Bhattacharya and Lakshmi Kanta Chatterjee — had taken Rs 4 lakh from him to take over the company.

A criminal case against the two leaders had been started on the basis of Singhania’s plea.

   

 
 
NO-SHOWS AT NEW COLLEGES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 20: 
When Avijit Mukherjee left for Bangalore last week to study computer science, a private engineering college in Howrah had to scout around for yet another seat fallen vacant. After passing out of a central Calcutta school, Mukherjee took the Joint Entrance Examinations (JEE). Having failed to make it to the leading institutions, he enrolled at a private engineering college in Howrah. But, at the first opportunity of getting out of the state, he did.

Mukherjee represents a trend of ‘no-shows’ in the newly-set-up private engineering colleges in and outside Calcutta. The signs are clear: Students at local private colleges, which the government has encouraged in the past two years to stem the tide of young talent leaving the state, opt out as soon as they get a break in another state.

The 30-odd private engineering colleges in the state — which account for over 500 seats, nearly 60 per cent of them in Calcutta — have several vacant slots. “There is no way you can stop these students . The institutions here are no less expensive, but are short on infrastructure and poor in quality,” education officials admitted on Thursday.

R.K. Singh, spokesperson for Bengal College of Engineering and Technology, however, said: “It is not because of poor infrastructure. It is more because guardians have a wrong notion that the new private engineering colleges are not well-equipped. In fact, there are many colleges like ours that have excellent infrastructure.”

The central selection committee of JEE, at the behest of the government, has lined up a counselling session for Sunday where a aspiring engineers, figuring in the lower half of the merit list, will be urged to enrol at local private colleges. The counselling session at Calcutta Information Centre will be the fourth since the announcement of JEE results in July. The previous sessions failed to rope in enough students to fill in the blanks.

“As far as we are concerned, counselling sessions will be organised till each seat in the private colleges is filled,” said P.K. Ray, convener of the JEE board’s central selection committee. The JEE merit list originally consisted of 20,000 students for filling up nearly 6,000 seats in all state-aided and private engineering colleges. Faced with a growing number of no-shows, 5,000 students were added to the list.

“Going by the trend, the government’s primary objective to privatise engineering education has flopped badly. We must learn from the fact that students figuring high on the merit list are refusing to look at these private colleges as a serious academic option and try to set things right,” said an official.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Suspended for inmate death

An assistant sub-inspector of Dasnagar police station in Howrah was suspended after Lalan Das, 28, committed suicide in the lock-up by hanging himself from the ceiling on Wednesday. Police said on Thursday that the youth was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly torturing his wife. After the news of Das’ death spread, local residents, led by Trinamul Congress activists, gheraoed the police station at night, alleging foul play. Police had to resort to lathicharge as the mob attacked the cops. Some policemen were injured in the melée. Later, a Trinamul Congress spokesman said the party would move the Human Rights Commission.

Dry Howrah

Water supply in the Howrah Municipal Corporation area will be suspended on Friday from 9 pm to 10 pm due to repairs at the water works plant. Municipal sources said if work was not completed by night, supply of water on Saturday morning might also be delayed.

Accident

Union minister of state for communication Tapan Sikdar and his driver had a close shave after the car in which they were travelling was hit by a private bus at Munsi Bazar on Thursday. The headlights were damaged. The driver fled with the bus after the accident. However, its licence number has been noted.

Roadblock

lAuto drivers put up a roadblock at the crossing of Canal Road and Beleghata Main Road on Thursday for about an hour to protest an alleged assault by passengers on a driver. The blockade was lifted after the local police intervened.

Fake currency

A grocery shop owner, Suraj Shaw, was arrested for trying to pass off Rs 3,500 in fake currency to a Posta businessman on Thursday evening. Shaw, had bought sacks of onions from Prabadhanath Dey and insisted on making the payment in 500-rupee notes. The onion merchant became suspicious and informed the police.    

 
 
3 DIE IN TWIN ACCIDENTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 20: 
Three persons were killed in two road mishaps in the city on Thursday. A visually-challenged couple, Mahilal and Saraswati De, residents of Sakher Bazar, in Behala, were trying to cross the road when a tram on route 37 ran over the woman. Saraswati, 42, was taken to Vidyasagar Hospital, where she was declared dead. The tram driver fled after the accident.

Mahilal and Saraswati were small-time traders, out on their usual rounds when the mishap occurred. Mahilal was discharged from hospital after first aid.

After the accident, local residents blocked Diamond Harbour Road till 9 am.

In the second incident, 22-year-old Mohammed Yasin was killed when he was trapped between two lorries at the crossing of Auckland Road and Strand Road at 8.30 am. The incident took place when the driver of a bus on route 41 lost control of his vehicle and hit a pedestrian, Rajaram Mahato, 50. The bus then rammed into a parked lorry. The lorry crashed into another lorry, killing Yasin. Traffic remained suspended for nearly an hour till policemen from Hastings thana brought the situation under control. Both Yasin and Mahato were declared dead when taken to the hospital.

   

 
 
CLASS AFTER CLASS TO CHECK TUITIONS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 20: 
The All Bengal Teachers’ Association (ABTA) has decided to hold free coaching classes in state-aided schools in Calcutta to prevent students from approaching private tutors. The move is being seen as a direct bid by the CPM-controlled organisation to help the Left Front, which has decided to introduce a Bill banning private tuition in state-aided schools.

The special classes, to be conducted by ABTA-affiliated teachers, will be held on all working days after class. “To stop private tuitions, it is first necessary to prevent students from approaching tutors,” ABTA leader Ajit Bag said. “The proposed coaching classes are a move in that direction,” he said.

But anti-CPM teachers’ organisations have alleged that students are driven to private tutors by inadequate infrastructure and the poor academic standards of most state-aided schools. They are planning to launch a statewide movement against the government’s plan to ban private tuition. The proposed Bill is just a ploy to cover up the government’s failures on the education front, spokespersons of these organisations said.

West Bengal Headmasters’ Association general secretary Prithwis Basu felt students would hardly benefit from ABTA’s decision, as very few students would agree to stay back after hours.

The ABTA has units in every state-aided school. Many of the units in the districts have already started the centres, says the ABTA leadership. “The response among students is quite satisfactory in the districts and we hope the scheme will work out well in Calcutta too,” they hoped.

There would not be any infrastructural problems, Bag said, as school managing committees — also controlled by the CPM in most cases — and non-teaching employees had assured the ABTA of cooperation.

The ABTA move has come as a shot in the arm for the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. “We have started a campaign against private tuition,” board secretary Pradyut Haldar said. “We have been urging teachers to discontinue the practice at every seminar and meeting,” he added. Welcoming the ABTA decision, Haldar said students would “definitely” benefit from the scheme.

ABTA leaders say there is a belief among parents that wards fare well in examinations only if they take private tuitions. ABTA hoped its classes would dispel the “false notion”.

   

 
 
WRITERS’ MEET ON FACTORY IMPASSE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 20: 
A tripartite meeting will be held at Writers’ Buildings on September 26 to resolve the problems faced by the workers of Hindustan Motors.

The factory’s Citu and Intuc units on Thursday met acting chief minister Mohammad Amin, who is also the labour minister, at Writers’ and submitted a memorandum, highlighting the problems faced by the employees. Consequently, Amin has asked the labour secretary to hold a meeting on the issue on September 26.

Citu leader Santasri Chatterjee said on Thursday that the factory management refused to pay bonus and ex-gratia to the employees, which they had been enjoying for the past 20 years.

“The management is also trying to freeze the dearness allowance, adjustment of leave or the without-pay scheme during non-production day, refixing of production incentives and performance bonus. They are also likely to withdraw the canteen and hospital facilities,” Chatterjee alleged.

In 1998, Hindustan Motors had reduced the staff strength from 12,000 to 8,500. Still, wages would be paid irregularly. “For the past few months, the management, with some ulterior motive, has been declaring a few working days as Non- Production Days (NPD) and no wages are being given to the workers against those NPDs,” Chatterjee said.

The management has moved the high court as the government had refused to allow it to lay off the employees. “We are grateful to the government for not allowing the management to lay off its employees,” Chatterjee added.

   
 

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