Clear path for clean-up
Kitchen swoop on clubs
Acquitted for abduction, arrested for cell swipe
Rights fight ends under bus wheels
Jumbo phone panel off the hook
The City Diary
Special police booths to assist puja shoppers
Homeless and left in the lurch
Teachers’ boycott at BE College
V-C gheraoed over job row

Calcutta, Sept. 26: 
Mamata Banerjee was away, and so were her boys. There was no ‘commando’ force nor any resistance in the path of the bulldozers and payloaders.

Signalling a distinct climbdown, the Trinamul Congress stayed away from Tolly’s Nullah as a 1.5-km stretch between Garia and Bansdroni was cleared of squatters on Wednesday. This was the second phase of the eviction drive. Over the weekend, a stretch of 2.5 km on either side of the canal was cleared. The drive is expected to continue on Thursday.

More than 400 structures were razed during Wednesday’s six-hour drive, which began under supervision of a 700-strong police contingent, led by South 24-Parganas district magistrate Alapan Bandyopadhyay and superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly. Overseeing operations was inspector-general (south Bengal) Prasun Mukherjee. When the drive ended six hours later, they had not encountered even token resistance.

With the conclusion of Wednesday’s eviction drive — which at one point of time threatened to sour relations between Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and mayor Subrata Mukherjee — 700 structures stand demolished along a four-km stretch along the canal, dredged in the 1770s. The state government plans to clear an eight-km stretch between Garia and Kudghat, which will, among other things, facilitate the extension of Metro Railway from Tollygunge to Garia.

Despite the war pitch that the Trinamul had been building up over the eviction, the party’s all-India general secretary, Mukul Roy, said on Wednesday that they were helpless to stop the drive. “What can we do in front of payloaders and bulldozers?” he asked.

General secretary Madan Mitra said the party’s emphasis has now shifted to rehabilitation. “We are concerned about the plight of those rendered homeless. We will now have to look after them and not abandon them, like the Marxists have done,” he said.

But there are not too many takers for this. The refrain among those evicted was: “Mamatar andolan sob dhappa, ora amader niye khelchhe (Mamata Banerjee’s anti-eviction movement is a farce, they are playing with our lives).”

Wednesday’s operation started with two payloaders and saw, for the first time, the involvement of Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority staff. About a hundred of them helped men from the irrigation department and the South 24-Parganas district administration.

Officials played an important role in pre-empting any trouble. They stopped the drive for over an hour from 11 am on a request from shop-owners of Rathtala, who wanted time to shift their wares. The administration waited another 30 minutes to allow a section of evicted people, including children, finish their frugal lunch of khichri on the same spot.

The first hour saw the stretch between Usha Bridge and Bansdroni Bridge being cleared. A party office of the RSP, which controls the irrigation department was among the structures demolished.

Three bystanders were injured in a mild lathicharge. And a small rally by the anti-eviction committee proved a non-starter, with very few people turning up.

At Writers’ Buildings, municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya made it clear that the Rs 1600-crore Asian Development Bank-funded project for improvement of Calcutta’s canals did not endorse the rehabilitation of all those ousted.

“We have made it clear to the bank that only those with valid documents of their property rights would be rehabilitated,” he said.


Calcutta, Sept. 26: 
After restaurants and hotels, it’s time for the clean-kitchen brigade to target clubs. Member, mayor-in-council, health, Javed Ahmed Khan ran into resistance when he and his civic team, along with some members of the electronic media, tried to barge into the Saturday Club kitchen on Wednesday afternoon.

Khan later claimed he had “prior permission” from the club to inspect its kitchen and announced that he would report to mayor Subrata Mukherjee how he had been “physically stopped by club members”... He threatened “not to renew the club licence if the sanitary condition of its kitchen was not improved within a fortnight”.

Khan even said he was considering “filing an FIR against club officials” for trying to stop the civic swoop. “Some club officials stood in the way and tried to prevent me from entering the club even after I disclosed my identity,” he alleged. “But I finally managed to enter the kitchen, which was shabby, with foodstuff lying in the open. There was stagnant water and the kitchen was too small.”

T.P. Ray, president of Saturday Club, however, said: “Our members, including my predecessor Prem Nayar, wanted to ascertain the team’s identity before allowing the members in. That is the usual practice. When Mr Khan was asked to identify himself, it seemed to become an ego problem with him and there was an exchange of words.”

Ray also questioned Khan’s intentions. “Why did he visit our club with members of the electronic media?” he demanded. “We maintain high standards of hygiene in the club. Our kitchen is very clean and conforms to the best of standards, but we will welcome any positive suggestions from the civic authorities.”

Nayar, past president of the club, added: “The civic officials just barged on to the premises with camera and crew, without informing anyone. They were only asked to identify themselves. No one was pushed around… The team then inspected the kitchen and picked up samples of oil and chilly.”

The CMC team, led by Khan, also raided the kitchen of the Automobile Association of Eastern India (AAEI). But the AAEI kitchen escaped Khan’s ire as the Ballygunge Circular Road premises are under renovation. The member, mayor-in-council, was shown around by secretary Kalyan Bhadra. “We explained that we are in the process of getting things in order,” Bhadra said.


Calcutta, Sept. 26: 
The “tortured innocent” of yesterday is the villain of the piece again today.

Debojyoti Roy, then 23, had hit the headlines as the prime accused in the controversial Sharad Nangia kidnap case in 1999. He was part of a group of teenagers that had allegedly attempted to abduct the cellphone dealer.

Later, human rights activists took up Debojyoti’s case and said he had been “inhumanly tortured” and framed by Calcutta Police. He was too young to have masterminded the crime, they said, and he was soon released.

But on Tuesday night, Debojyoti was arrested once again, this time by the South 24-Parganas police, for having committed a string of crimes, all connected to cellphones.

According to the deputy superintendent of police, town, South 24-Parganas police, Subhankar Chatterjee, Debojyoti was arrested from Dhakuria railway station while trying to con a cellphone dealer and steal a few handsets from him.

Investigations revealed that Debojyoti, posing as a railway officer, would ask cellphone dealers to meet him with handsets so that he could select a model for his staff. The police said he would lure the dealer by saying that he required “quite a few” sets for his senior staff.

In four such cases, he called the dealers to Dhakuria station and then, with a few of his accomplices, fled with the sets. A few months ago, he had tricked cellphone dealer Sandip Mondal to part with a few handsets.

On Tuesday, he had asked another dealer, Subham Poddar, to meet him. The venue was the same. Through his business contacts, Poddar had heard of what had happened to Mondal and asked him to accompany him. Mondal obliged.

On reaching the station, Mondal hid in a corner, while Poddar waited for Debojyoti and the others to arrive. When the “deal” was under way, Mondal recognised Debojyoti. He raised an alarm.

Debojyoti and an accomplice, Raja Datta, attempted to flee. But the platform was crowded and soon, they were overpowered by waiting passengers.

“It was a trap that the two cell phone dealers had laid as they suspected that the caller inquiring about handsets from Poddar was the same man who had robbed Mondal,” said officer-in-charge of Jadavpur police station, Salil Bhattacharya.

Debojyoti and Raja, held for robbing and cheating, were remanded in police custody till Saturday by Alipore police court.

Mill fire: A fire broke out in a coconut oil mill at Nilganj, in North 24-Parganas, early on Wednesday. The mill was gutted and some adjacent buildings damaged. Fifteen fire engines fought for more than four hours to control the blaze. Police detained one person for interrogation.


Calcutta, Sept. 26: 
A headmaster, who had come from Salboni, in Midnapore, to participate in a rally demanding better amenities for schools for backward-class children, was crushed under a bus near the Gandhi statue at the Mayo Road-Dufferin Road crossing, on Wednesday. He had strayed from the rally to fetch water for his thirsty son.

Subhas Mahato, 43, headmaster of Bhangabandh Adibasi Shishu Shiksha Niketan, died before he could be taken to SSKM Hospital. He was one of the 12,000 participants in the rally, most of whom came via Howrah and Sealdah stations. The rally was organised by the All-Backward Classes Relief and Development Mission.

Mahato, who had brought his son along, left the rally to fetch water, police said. He stepped on to the road just as the lights turned green, police said.

A Calcutta State Transport Corporation bus, plying on the Calcutta-Bihar sector, led the pack of vehicles rushing at Mahato and crushed him under its wheels. Mahato’s colleagues and other rallyists, seeing him on the road, immediately blocked the busy crossing. Some others took him to hospital. The blockade was lifted following police intervention 30 minutes later, around 3.15 p.m.

The driver and conductor of the killer CSTC bus were arrested.

President of the organisation and former MP Subodh Hansda later led a delegation to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee but was denied an audience. The organisation was demanding better infrastructure for schools for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes children. He said most primary schools in the state were in poor health, but schools for SC and ST students were worse.


Calcutta, Sept. 26: 
Telephone Advisory Committees (TAC) count: 398.

Prime criterion for membership: Proximity to politicians who matter.

Maintenance cost: Rs 70 lakh-plus per annum.

Performance: Negligible.

Now, with D being dialled for dissolution of all TACs in the country, the jumbo-sized CalTel committees go off the hook. Worst hit will be the numerous “relatives, friends and family retainers of politicians” gifted with clout, thanks to their place in the TAC.

Calcutta Telephones, home ground of Tapan Sikdar, minister of state for telecommunications, is among the “fattest TACs” in the country, along with Hajipur in Bihar — from where just-removed Cabinet minister Ram Vilas Paswan hails.

Figuring in the Calcutta list of 398 are friends, relatives and even the family priest of the powers-that-are. A close look at the list reveals that politicians of every hue have pitched in with their “candidates”. So, the brother of a Trinamul leader, defeated in the May Assembly polls, shares advisory committee space with a TV baron under the CBI scanner, and a senior CPM leader.

Calcutta Telephones, like its counterparts elsewhere, has already initiated moves to inform TAC members of the decision taken by the communications ministry. “We have also started disconnecting telephones which the members got due to their position,” a senior BSNL official said.

The mounting expenditure , rather than the argument of redundancy following corporatisation of BSNL, sounded the death knell of the TACs, observed senior officials in Calcutta. Each TAC member of Calcutta Telephones was entitled to 1,150 free calls every cycle. Even if each call cost Rs 1.26, CalTel alone spent over Rs 70 lakh every year on maintaining the TAC.

The free calls weren’t all. Each TAC meet from time to time meant a huge expenditure, especially in crowded committees like those in Calcutta. “It was a free tea-party at government expense,” a senior BSNL official observed.

Till a few years ago, the circles and metros had smaller-sized TACs, which were supposed to interface between government and the public. But over the past year or two, politicians — Sikdar and Paswan, according to officials, are most to blame — had vied with each other to pack the committees with people close to them.

The result: A resident of Panchpota, in South-24 Parganas, becoming the member of a Calcutta TAC and a resident of Kankurgachhi becoming the member of Calcutta (South)’s TAC. “Obviously, a person from Panchpota would not have a clue to the problems faced by subscribers of Ballygunge, reducing the role of the advisory committee to a farce,” an official said.



Buddha stuck in Writers’ lift

lChief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and finance minister Asim Dasgupta were stuck in the VIP lift after a power failure at Writers’ Buildings. Both Bhattacharjee and Dasgupta had come out after a meeting with department officials to discuss the public distribution system in West Bengal. Power supply was disrupted around 10.50 am just after they had stepped into the lift. The lift was manually taken to the first floor. Power supply was restored after five minutes.

Road mishap

lA.K. Bhattacharya, a middle-aged man, was injured when the Maruti he was driving was hit by a Matador van near Tata Gate on the Bypass on Wednesday. Police said Bhattacharya was admitted to NRS Medical College and Hospital. The driver fled with the Matador after the accident.

Civic official dies

lArjun Ghosh, vice-chairman of Dum Dum municipality, died of a cardiac arrest at his PK Guha Lane residence on Wednesday. He was a member of CPM. He was 67 and is survived by his wife and three sons. Ghosh’s death comes close on the heels of the assassination of chairman Sailen Das. A holiday was declared at the civic body.

Traffic bulletin

lCity police chief Sujoy Chakraborty on Wednesday released a traffic bulletin at the Lalbazar police headquarters. The bulletin contains details of the achievements of the traffic police in 1998-2000. It has been published jointly by Calcutta Police and Indian Oil Corporation. M.C. Sachdeva, IOC executive director, was present on the occasion.

Shop burgled

lBurglars took away Rs 25,000 from a paint shop in the Burrabazar area on Tuesday night. Police said the burglars broke in through the ceiling. No one was arrested in this connection.

Hoax calls

lThere was a bomb hoax at Eastern Railway’s head office at Fairlie Place on Wednesday morning. Two calls were received at the counter where tender applications of contractors are submitted. The first call was made around 11 am and the second about 15 minutes later. A police team, led by Rachpal Singh, inspector-general of ER Railway Protection Force, searched the entire building with the help of a sniffer dog but found nothing. No one was allowed to get in or go out during the four- hour search, railway sources said. Another hoax call was received at Max Mueller Bhavan, but there, too, an intensive search yielded nothing.    

Calcutta, Sept. 26: 
With barely four weeks to go for the Pujas, the police on Wednesday installed special booths at strategic points near major shopping plazas to assist shoppers.

A police officer said a survey last week showed that puja shopping had begun in full swing. Apart from a booth at the main gate of New Market, on Lindsay Street, eight others have been installed elsewhere in the city.

In north Calcutta, booths have been set up at the crossings of Mahatma Gandhi Road and Kalakar Street, College Street, the Shyambazar five-point crossingand Hatibagan. In central Calcutta, booths have been set up below the Sealdah flyover and off Shriram Arcade. In the south, booths have been opened in front of Dakshinapan and Ballygunge AC Market.

“We have found out that puja shoppers in Calcutta and those who come from the suburbs often need assistance, which we will provide. When shoppers lose the way or face harassment in shops, the booth assistants will help them out,” said G.C. Biswas, deputy commissioner (II) in charge of traffic.

Traffic sergeants and officers, besides mobile vigilance squads, will man the booths. Plainclothesmen will also roam shopping plazas, on the lookout for pickpockets and shoplifters.

“From experience, we know that a large number of pickpockets and shoplifters from North and South 24-Parganas throng the city markets. There are also gangs that arrive from states like Bihar. So, we are keeping a close watch on the markets this time,” said an official.

The traffic wing of the city police has also warned shoppers against people or porters, who may offer unsolicited help, like hailing a cab or carrying shopping bags. “These so-called porters look for an opportunity to dupe shoppers. A well-dressed lady may approach a shopper weighed down by baggage and offer to hail a taxi. If he or she agrees, the lady may even call the taxi and open the door for you. By the time you are in the cab, you may find a few bags are missing or your purse slit open with a blade,” a traffic official said.

Apart from these, there are thousands of shoppers who converge from the suburbs at Sealdah and Howrah stations.

“There are many who lose their way or turn up at the wrong market. There may be some who want to reach the nearest public telephone booth or fall ill,” an official said.

Another aspect the assistance booths will address is the harassment of shoppers at the hands of traders and shopkeepers. The police have found out that shoppers, particularly from the suburbs and first-timers to the city, are often harassed by a section of shopkeepers.

“We step in when we receive specific complaints. Our people will intervene if they come across incidents of harassment,” an official said.


Calcutta, Sept. 26: 
They don’t know who to blame: The CPM, which once allowed them to build their homes along Tolly’s Nullah and whose government is now evicting them, or the Trinamul Congress, whose leader promised to stay by them when they were losing their homes, but played truant.

Now, at least 4,000 people evicted by the state government have nowhere to go. Almost 700 families are sleeping on pavements. They spend the day running behind leaders and organising rallies, but there’s no one to listen to their cries.

These uprooted people saw a little hope on Saturday when Mamata Banerjee rushed to the spot and promised a demonstration at Garia More for an indefinite period. “When she left the place unnoticed, we were convinced it was yet another bluff. When we asked her men, they simply replied that Didi would return next morning. Since then, we have not seen her here,” said Pankaj Ghosh, one of the evicted persons.

To express their ire against politicians, those evicted held a rally on Sunday with a slogan: Andolaner namé natak bondho koroon (stop play-acting in the name of protest). The locals have decided to ban entry to Trinamul leaders. “None of them came here and neither will we allow them any more. We will fight alone,” said Susmita Pramanik.

Altogether, 323 families were evicted from the stretch between Garia railway station and Garia Bridge on Saturday. Locals are providing most of them with two meals, while some have taken refuge at their relative’s places. The evicted have just one thing to say: “The government is saying that we are leaving home on our own but it is totally incorrect.” Sapna Dalui, who has been living here since 1968, said: “How can we leave willingly? Where will we go? The government is lying.”

A 42-year-old woman said her son, a Class IX student of Boral High School, will not be able to appear for his examinations. Police had beaten him up on Saturday while he was protesting the drive. Another victim, Meera, said: “My husband, Swapan Sarker, went to Jadavpur police station on the first day of the eviction. He has not returned.”


Calcutta, Sept. 26: 
Classes at Bengal Engineering College (Deemed University) were paralysed on Wednesday as teachers stayed away, protesting the authorities’ failure to meet their financial demands. Classes were suspended but examinations were exempted from the strike.

Leaders of Bengal Engineering College Deemed University Teachers’ Association, however, threatened to strengthen their movement if their demands were not met before the Pujas.

Citing the plight of the teachers, Santanu Karmakar, general secretary, said they were in dire straits due to the university’s failure to deposit provident fund contributions for the past seven years.

“Our PF contributions are being deducted from our salaries every month. But the entire amount is being kept in a suspense account. We are not only losing on interest but are also unable to take loans,” said Karmakar.

The college, which was earlier an affiliate of the Calcutta University, was converted to an autonomous deemed university in 1993.

The teachers said with the change in status of the institution, the status of the employees should have changed automatically. “But the authorities had not made proper negotiations with the government on the new status.” This has led to complications for the employees over availing of PF and other post-retirement benefits. Nothing has been done, despite several reminders to the authorities, the teachers alleged.

The other demands of the teachers include payment of arrears and implementation of career advancement schemes.

Amaljyoti Sengupta, vice-chancellor of the deemed university, said the government had assured to release an order regarding clearance of employee retirement benefits.


Calcutta, Sept. 26: 
Subhankar Chakraborty, vice-chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University (RBU), was gheraoed on Wednesday by supporters of the RBU unit of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the students’ wing of CPM.

The activists gheraoed Chakraborty for hours, protesting against his refusal to provide employment to two candidates as Group-D staff. The candidates were recommended by two SFI leaders of the university.

Around 3.30 pm, members of the SFI-controlled students’ union forcibly entered the vice-chancellor’s office and demanded retraction of the decision not to recruit the candidates. When Chakraborty refused, the students locked him in his office, disconnected his telephone lines and even switched off electrical connections. They shouted slogans and refused to leave the office till their demands were met.

“We cannot allow students to interfere in the university’s administrative affairs, no matter which party they belong to. They have no right to stall recruitment in this manner,” said a university official.

The SFI agitation started last week, when union members came to know that the two candidates had not been called for an interview. The authorities had earlier decided to interview candidates on September 23 and September 24. But the interviews had to be postponed, as the SFI threatened to launch a movement. Trouble erupted as the vice-chancellor was preparing to hold fresh interviews. Students said they opposed the recruitment, as the university had not followed prescribed rules.


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