Vengabus comes through, from street to stage
Mamata fire halts mayor
Presidency plan vetoed
Where three is company
The City Diary
Varsity salary grants cut
Eviction at hospital puts staff in a spot
Tram fadeout irks LF allies

Calcutta, Sept. 21: 
8.10 pm… The ‘Venga, Venga’ cry was just gaining momentum when the whirr of helicopter blades filled the September evening air. And the crowd of 8,000 and more at the Salt Lake stadium helipad grounds on Friday knew the moment had finally arrived. No helicopter was in sight, but the Vengaboys were in the house…

A deafening roar went up. As a deep baritone announced that “party people across the world were uniting”, Calcutta decided it could not be left behind. The Dutch quartet bounded on stage with Ho Ho Vengaboys and everyone was on their feet. The warm-up with Shankar Saini belting out bhangra numbers had got them going, but this is what they were waiting for.

Teens, tweens, girls, boys, sari-clad women, fathers with their children got busy “shakin’ the room” with the “world’s greatest party animals”. From the first track, Kim, Roy, Yorick and Denice flowed straight into the energetic hit, Boom boom boom. The crowd outside the enclosure gates was swelling as fast as the one inside. The fans who couldn’t get in were dancing as happily, (some atop a truck), as their luckier counterparts, front and centre.

The slower third track, Sha la la, came to an end, and the dancing stars took a pause to address their fans in Calcutta. The “absolutely amazing” crowd had already proved they were “definitely party people”, declared the bubbly Kim. “We love you, India” they proclaimed, as perfectly co-ordinated as their dance routines, to shrieks galore.

All the screaming in the afternoon was coming from girls of Rani Birla. That’s where the Dutch band had paid a visit after the Shakespeare Sarani college had won a Pepsi promotion to get a taste of the pop stars on campus. The girls’ high-pitch scream on seeing their “favourite band” up close coaxed the quartet into a two-minute jig to Brazil. “Vengaboys is really the coolest band around,” enthused Ambareen and Fatima, Class XI students, on their way to pick up tickets for the concert later in the evening.

While the only Indian word the band has picked up may be “kama sutra”, the down-to-earth foursome has definitely taken a look around town. Instead of the tourist staples, Roy and Kim headed for shopper’s stops like Swabhumi and Dakshinapan to buy furniture on Thursday, while Denice and Yorick headed for a round of golf on the Tolly greens.

The Vengaboys attracted quite a bit of attention on the streets, too. “We were stuck in traffic, when a car full of girls managed to spot us through the tinted glass and started waving. So we rolled down the windows to say ‘hi’, and they were so kicked they started shrieking that they were all coming to our concert,” smiled Kim, happy at the chance to “make someone’s day”.

This was the fourth show, after appearances at Ahmedabad, Chandigarh and Lucknow, and the squad is moving on to Hyderabad next. The band is “very disappointed” that the Guwahati show has been cancelled, and even more upset their itinerary has been cut short. Pakistan has been struck off the list, following the US attacks. But after being the “highest-selling international artistes in the India”, they hope to come back for more. The reason for this marathon tour of the smaller cities: “India is a huge country, and we want to reach out to as many people as possible.” And they just might, in future, take up the Bollywood brigade’s half-serious film and video offers.


Calcutta, Sept. 21: 
The proposed eviction of settlers along Tolly’s Nullah reached flashpoint on Friday, casting a shadow over the drive planned for Saturday. It was high drama on Friday evening, as Calcutta Municipal Corporation chairman Anil Mukherjee put in his papers, opposing the drive. This left mayor Subrata Mukherjee, one of the architects of the clean-up drive, isolated.

In a dramatic turnaround to his earlier ‘eviction on Saturday at any cost’ stand, Mukherjee said on Friday: “I have written to the government, asking that the drive be put off till October 1, pending disposal of the special leave petition filed on this count in the Supreme Court. But I am not going to quit… Even if it means ending up like Sailen Das, with a bullet in the head, I am going to hang on.”

The mayor’s climbdown, after the past few days’ pronouncements to the contrary, followed a stormy meeting with Mamata Banerjee, who publicly criticised his stand. “ I will throw myself before their (the government and the Corporation) bulldozers. I will block the road to Tolly’s Nullah myself, but I will not allow this drive to take place. If they feel like it, they can raze my house to the ground,” Mamata thundered.

A beleaguered Mukherjee bought peace with his own party, bowing to Mamata and announcing his decision to distance the Corporation from the drive. “I have not asked him to do anything according to my wish, I have left everything to his conscience,” Mamata said, indicating to her associates that participation in the drive would backfire on the Trinamul’s pro-poor policy.

Like the Trinamul, the Tolly’s Nullah storm rocked the Left Front boat as well. Smaller partners like the CPI, Forward Bloc and RSP, at a meeting, forced the CPM on the backfoot by recommending a go-slow on the drive.

“We have asked the government to slow down its drive to evict the settlers. There will be a token eviction on Saturday and we will campaign in the area to convince the settlers to vacate the place on their own. The excavation of the canal is very important for the extension of Metro Railway up to Garia and improvement of city’s drainage system,” said Biman Bose, Left Front chairman.

At the Front meeting, RSP state secretary Debabrata Bandopadhyay and CPI state secretary Manju Kumar Majumdar asked why the CPM leadership had decided on the clean-up without finalising rehabilitation plans. Former chief minister Jyoti Basu, who attended the meeting, chided Front partners for “publicly criticising” the government’s decision before discussing the issue internally.

Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya confirmed in Burdwan that “only illegal settlers and those living within 20 feet from the Nullah banks” will be ousted. “Those who have valid documents of their land and property will be rehabilitated and those living outside the 20-foot mark will not be evicted. We will begin the first phase of the eviction on Saturday,” he reiterated.


Calcutta, Sept. 21: 
Presidency College’s efforts to check the exodus of students hit a stonewall at a meeting of the Calcutta University Syndicate on Thursday. On the suggestion of many of its former students, Presidency College had forwarded a proposal that it be allowed to teach applied economics at the post-graduate level.

However, the Syndicate, the university’s highest policy-making body, turned down the proposal, telling the college that it had to stick to pure economics. A year ago, the CU Syndicate had turned down a similar request by Presidency College to start a post-graduate course in applied geology.

In the current proposal, Presidency College had mentioned that applied economics at the post-graduate level was not taught in eastern India. “We are shocked at the CU decision. There is a tremendous demand among students to study applied economics at the post-graduate level as it offers greater job opportunities,” said Amitava Chatterjee, Presidency College principal and a senior teacher of economics.

But Chatterjee is determined to wage a “battle” for introduction of the subject. “We shall go to the higher education minister, we shall knock at every door till our proposal is accepted,” he said.

Calcutta University has sought refuge behind “archaic” rules in turning down the Presidency proposal. “The rules do not permit us to allow affiliated colleges to teach applied economics,” a Syndicate member said. “To allow this, we will have to change statutes, which is a long-drawn process.”

The Syndicate has okayed a Presidency proposal to introduce post-graduate courses in physiology, botany, geography and Hindi.

The Syndicate response has disappointed teachers, who hope the authorities “will see reason”.

“It is unfortunate that the university has not simplified its old rules. Presidency had been trying to introduce a course in applied economics for a long time. Students will definitely benefit if the college is allowed to teach the course,” said Kalyan Sanyal, a senior teacher of Calcutta University.

Economist Dipak Banerjee says: “It is a great pity that the proposal was turned down. I hope an opportunity will soon present itself where the Syndicate can review its decision.”

The Syndicate also decided on Thursday that students who failed to secure 40 per cent in the Part II (honours) examination, but managed to get at least 30 per cent, would be declared passed, but without honours.


Calcutta, Sept. 21: 
It’s going to be a reunion to remember. Three chief ministers will return to college and share the dais during the golden jubilee celebrations of the Presidency College Alumni Association. The alumni has lined up an impressive array of programmes during the year, including an address by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But the buzz on the College Street campus already is about the reunion of Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

The two ex-chief ministers are on first-name terms; Bhattacharjee, for them, is generation next. No one knows what direction the conversation between the veteran Congressman and the two CPM leaders will take. But what the alumni is excited about is that this get-together will turn the spotlight back on Presidency College’s “contribution to the state and the country”. The date will be finalised according to the convenience of the three CMs, once the present incumbent is back from his Japan tour. Also attending the programme will be finance minister Asim Dasgupta, excise minister Prabodh Sinha and Union minister Satyabrata Mookherjee.

The alumni, however, would not like “eastern India’s oldest college” to be known as a breeding ground for politicians alone. So, the association’s golden jubilee will bring academicians, legal luminaries, poets and journalists together. Among those returning to their alma mater in December will be Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. A December date has also been set for an address by the Prime Minister at a seminar to honour Shyamaprasad Mookherjee, another alumnus, in his birth centenary year.



Death on Metro tracks

A 50-year-old man committed suicide by jumping in front of an incoming train at Central Metro station on Friday night. The victim is yet to be identified. Police said the incident occurred at 7.09 pm when a Tollygunge-bound train was approaching the station. The victim could not touch the third rail but his body was mangled. It was removed from the tracks around 7.45 pm. Till then, train services to Tollygunge were suspended.

Killed in blaze

Rajen Mishra, 22, died when a fire broke out at the staff quarters of Lodha Estate, a private firm in the Jorasanko police station area on Friday afternoon. The flames gutted the first floor before the fire-fighters reached the spot. Three engines were pressed into service to douse the blaze, which was brought under control after over two hours. Mishra’s charred body was rushed to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital where the doctors pronounced him dead. According to fire brigade officials, a short circuit might have caused the fire. According to police, Mishra was sleeping in the room where the fire broke out. He was on night duty on Thursday.

Shop burgled

Dacoits looted Rs 1.8 lakh from a garment shop on Bidhan Sarani early on Friday. Police said the miscreants broke open the window shutters and unlocked the iron chest where the money was kept. No arrest has been made.

Imam on US

The Shahi Imam of Calcutta’s Tipu Sultan Masjid has urged the Centre not to get involved in the United States war. The US was one of the “fountainheads” of terrorism, the Imam said. “The US has been the country responsible for promoting terrorism in almost all parts of the world.”

Run over

A mob went on the rampage on Chetla Central Road after a 50-year-old man, Kalpataru Chakraborty, was run over by a CESC truck on Friday morning. People pelted stones at two private buses to protest rash driving. Police said the truck driver was trying to overtake two private buses. Police impounded all three vehicles and arrested the drivers. The blockade was lifted after police officials intervened.

Tech colleges

Higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty on Thursday emphasised the need for more engineering colleges in the state but said the government was unable to meet the demand due to its limited resources. Addressing students and the faculty of the newly-founded Bengal College of Engineering and Technology in Durgapur, Chakraborty said the private sector should come forward and set up more engineering colleges in the state. He lauded the efforts of the college authorities to build an adequate infrastructure within a short time. Classes started at the sprawling 15-acre new engineering college from September 3.    

Calcutta, Sept. 21: 
Calcutta University is likely to face a cash crunch in the coming months, with the state government deciding to reduce salary grants to the tune of Rs 6 crore. The decision may pose a problem for the university authorities in paying monthly wages to nearly 3,600 teaching and non-teaching employees.

The state government has reportedly taken the decision after noticing a prolonged failure on the part of the authorities to fill up vacant posts of teachers, officers and non-teaching staff.

At present, more than 200 posts in the university are lying vacant. “But that has not stopped the university from drawing funds to pay salaries on their account,” sources in the university said.

Revising the CU’s main demand of nearly Rs 66 crore as salary grant for the current financial year, the state finance department has decided to allot only Rs 60 crore for the purpose. The finance department has recently sent a letter to the university informing the decision.

“We may face acute financial problems due to the sudden deduction in salary grants. Academic activities may be hampered, as we will have to curtail expenses to clear the salaries to teachers and non-teaching staff,” said Hiron Kumar Banerjee, CU pro vice-chancellor (business and finance).

Banerjee, however, said that the government had reduced the funds in view of the additional expenditure borne by it to clear three years’ arrears to university teachers during the last financial year. “We have never drawn excess funds,” said Banerjee.

According to him, the university requires more than Rs 5 crore a month for paying salaries to 600 teachers and nearly 3,000 non-teaching staff. The sudden cut in grants will inconvenience the university because of the recent implementation of enhanced pay-scales for teachers and non-teaching staff in the state.

University sources said following the government’s decision, it has already started introducing cost-cutting measures, which also includes expenses in research and developmental projects.


Calcutta, Sept. 21: 
Doctors and staff at SSKM Hospital were caught in an embarrassing situation on Friday when hospital authorities launched a drive against unauthorised occupation of doctors’ quarters as well as unauthorised constructions on the premises .

The doctors were occupying the quarters even though they had been transferred long ago. A team of policemen, health and civic officials went to the hospital at around 7 am and started the eviction drive. Deputy commissioner of police ( South), Kuldip Singh and Deb Dwaipayan Chatterjee, the sergeant superintendent, oversaw the drive that went on for almost six hours.

Later, five doctors were evicted from the quarters and 50 unauthorised constructions demolished. Only a well-known nephrologist, was allowed to stay as he had a court order.

“We had announced for the past three days that unauthorised occupants would have to leave hospital premises by Friday. All of them were given sufficient time to move out,” said an official.

However, the occupants were miffed at the turn of events. Arati Biswas, a doctor, complained of assault, which was denied by Chatterjee.

Biswas said, “The quarter is in the name of my husband who is also a doctor, now posted in Howrah. We have the court order to stay but they were not willing to listen. They have even disconnected the electricity.”

However, Chatterjee denied the incident.

Among the veteran doctors who were asked to vacate was Jayanta Basu, a senior nephrologist, now attached to Sambhunath Pandit Hospital.

In this regard, Chatterjee said, “Basu has already acquired a permanent accommodation. He has been given time to move to his new residence and there is no problem in this regard.”

Sukesh Pahari, brother of Subrata Pahari, who is now posted in Bankura said, “The men came to our quarters and did not give us any time to present our case. They simply threw away our belongings. Dada knows nothing of the eviction. We don’t know where we shall go.”

Kishen Lal Balmiki, a group D staff, who was staying in the premises, with his family for more than 20 years, said, “I have requested the authorities to provide quarters but they never paid heed. Now I don’t know where I shall go with my family.”

Rupchand Balmiki, Dinesh Balmiki, Suraj Pal Balmiki and others, who are staying in pucca constructions for more than two decades made similar complaints.

On the issue, Chatterjee said, “They may not get the quarters for lack of space but they cannot be allowed to stay in the hospital compound.”


Calcutta, Sept. 21: 
Left Front partners on Friday took on the CPM over three of its ministers indicating at a seminar on Thursday that trams would be withdrawn from the city. The allies found the decision “unilateral” and said that they should have been consulted before such an action was contemplated.

However, Left Front chairman and CPM Politburo member Biman Bose assured them that neither the Front nor the government had so far decided on the withdrawal.

The Left Front meeting turned stormy, with the CPI decrying the statement made by finance minister Asim Dasgupta on Thursday.

Dasgupta told a CMDA-sponsored seminar that slow-moving trams should be replaced by buses in the days ahead. Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and environment minister Manab Mukherjee had supported him.

In another development, a delegation of the CPI-controlled union in the Calcutta Tramways Company called on chairman-cum-managing director Sudhir De and urged him to ensure that trams were not phased out from the city streets.


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