Black veil over Victoria
Flyover raises dry-day fears
Charged with kidnap bid, jailed with lunatics
Comeback call for 9 o’clock wail
The City Diary
Letter pointer to victim’s estranged husband
Airport guards rewarded after security breach
Smoke signals spread beyond Calcutta
‘Rowdies’ thrash bailiff
Centre steps up asbestos ban bid

 
 
BLACK VEIL OVER VICTORIA 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 2: 
At 80, Victoria Memorial is one of the most distinguished landmarks of this 310-year-old city. But now, for no fault of its own, the fair monument is starting to lose its looks.

Victoria Memorial, warns the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), is going the Taj Mahal way. Dilip Biswas, chairman of Board, said on Tuesday that the Memorial needed “immediate remedial measures”, like the ones taken to restore the sheen of the Taj.

“I was shocked to see the way the outer surface of Victoria Memorial has blackened,” Biswas told Metro. “I had been out of the city for the past few years, so I had not seen the monument for a long time. But when I visited it on Saturday, I immediately noticed how it has lost its sheen. On closer inspection, I realised that a black layer has deposited on the outer surface.”

According to Biswas, the Memorial ran the risk of “accelerated decay” because of the construction work of and the traffic diversion for the flyover coming up on AJC Bose Road. “The decision to construct such a large flyover so close to a national monument, without taking any precautionary measures, defies logic,” observed the CPCB chairman.

Curator Chittaranjan Panda put Victoria’s woes down to “the growing menace of auto-emission” from the thousands of vehicles passing by every day.

“We are extremely worried about the condition of the structure. As the first step, we decided to plant trees all around. But this upset visitors, who objected to the view of Victoria being blocked by the foliage,” said Panda.

Experts say the main factor for “the loss of sheen” is the deposition of black soluble carbon compounds in the minute crevices of the marble surface.

Built at an estimated Rs 1 crore, the Memorial, commissioned in 1921, clearly requires an immediate salvage operation.

The starting point, says Biswas, is the setting up of “a sophisticated air-monitoring station” close to the Memorial to gauge the pollution level.

The CPCB chairman, meanwhile, said he would hold a meeting with members of the Victoria Memorial Trust and ask them to plant as many trees as possible around the monument. “We will request the government to sit with the police and find out if movement of traffic can be diverted from the Victoria Memorial area. A road map must be chalked out to ensure that fewer smoke-belching vehicles pass by the monument every day,” added Biswas.

Dipankar Chakraborty, a Jadavpur University scientist specialising in the field of environment, had been the first to sound the alert after carrying out a research on preservation of the Memorial. “The emission from the incessant flow of vehicles is wreaking havoc on the historic building. Construction of the flyover will cause even more harm to the monument and no one can save the marble from losing its shine now,” Chakraborty said.

Environment activist Subhas Dutta alleged that the government had been “wrongly focussing” on external beautification and illumination of the Memorial. “In the process, real problems, like the ravages of air pollution, have not been attended to,” he said.

   

 
 
FLYOVER RAISES DRY-DAY FEARS 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Oct. 2: 
Will the Gariahat flyover solve the traffic problems of south Calcutta but create an “irreversible water crisis”? That’s the question raised by mayor Subrata Mukherjee, who insists that the problem caused by the flyover lies not on the surface, but deep down under.

“South Calcutta, home to nearly three million people, will be hit by an unprecedented water crisis in 2002 because of faulty planning of the Gariahat flyover,” the mayor warned on Tuesday.

Mukherjee alleged that the Hooghly River Bridge Commission (HRBC), executor of the project, had planned out the 800-metre flyover “without making arrangements for an alternative underground water mains” between Dover Lane and Bondel Gate.

The 48-inch water mains running below Gariahat Road carries 20 million gallons of filtered water every day from the Auckland Square booster pumping station to south Calcutta homes. Under instructions from the mayor, the civic authorities have stopped “foundation work” on stretches covering the water mains or sewer lines. This will resume only when the HRBC agrees to underwrite the cost of around Rs 2 crore for shifting of the mains between Dover Lane and Singhee Park, on Gariahat Road, to parallel lanes like Mandeville Gardens.

The civic authorities explain that repairing a leak or breach in the underground concrete mains would be “absolutely impossible” if the iron columns were allowed to come up on the stretch without an alternative line of supply.

“In the event of any major repair work, the iron columns of the flyover will have to be dismantled first. That is the enormity of the problem we are envisaging,” said Sovan Chatterjee, member, mayor-in-council, overseeing water supply.

According to the HRBC, the Rs 35-crore flyover will be commissioned by March 2002 and there was no provision for incurring an extra expenditure of Rs 2 crore. “The civic authorities tell us now that they need an alternative water mains, for which we must foot the bill. That is completely out of the question,” said HRBC vice-president Buddhadeb Mukherjee.

Interestingly, Larsen&Toubro, constructing the flyover at Beckbagan, has asked the HRBC to ensure relocation of the 60-inch water mains between Lower Rawdon Street and Ballygunge Circular Road. But Senbo, executing the Gariahat project, had not raised the question with HRBC.

Mukherjee, meanwhile, is determined to stop the commissioning of the Gariahat flyover till matters are sorted out. “As long as I occupy the mayor’s chair, I will not allow commissioning of this monstrosity if it affects the quality of life in south Calcutta. No Calcuttan will ever forgive me if I allow the flyover to come up.”

   

 
 
CHARGED WITH KIDNAP BID, JAILED WITH LUNATICS 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Oct. 2: 
Emlan Oraon’s ordeal began on July 26, when she arrived in the city from Ranchi. With her brother and parents, Emlan, 25, arrived at Calcutta Hospital, where her brother was to be treated.

As Emlan waited with others in the compound, one of her relatives announced that the doctor had ordered an immediate operation on her brother. Even as the family was deliberating, a shocked Emlan simply took off and started walking down the streets.

She does not remember how far she walked, but somewhere, she met a young child and sought directions to Entally, where one of her relatives stays.

In a sudden twist of events, the Taltala police arrested Emlan on charges of attempting to kidnap the boy from the S.N. Banerjee Road-Rani Rashmoni Road crossing at Esplanade. She was produced in court and then taken to Presidency Jail. But unable to press charges against her, the jail authorities clubbed her with the mentally challenged.

All along, her parents and Alipore police were frantically looking for her. Alipore police even informed the missing persons squad of the detective department.

Till Tuesday, Emlan was living a “cursed life’’ for what she claims to be no fault of hers. Her hands and feet were tied to four points within the cell.

According to Sutapa Chakraborty of Keertika, an organisation which works for the mentally-challenged, Emlan suffered a blackout after she heard of her brother’s condition. “The operation was risky and expensive too,’’ said Sutapa.

Sutapa was one of the three persons, who visited Emlan in jail. She said her organisation will move the chief metropolitan magistrate’s court on Wednesday for Emlan’s release.

What could prove an embarrassment for the government is the fact that three people, including a psychologist, Rubena D’Silva, who visited Emlan last week, have ruled her “mentally stable’’ and “perfectly normal.’’

However, the Presidency Jail authorities claimed that her behaviour was “extremely violent’’ and so they were forced to lodge her with the mentally challenged.

When the duty officer at Alipore thana was asked on Tuesday whether the police had any knowledge of the girl, he said they were still looking for her.

Deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan, said Oraon was arrested on charges of attempting to kidnap a child. “She was remanded to jail,’’ Hasan added.

According to deputy commissioner of police, south, Kuldeep Singh, the police have little to do but activate the missing persons squad . “We investigate only if the missing person is involved in any crime. Otherwise, we just pass on the information,’’ he said.

   

 
 
COMEBACK CALL FOR 9 O’CLOCK WAIL 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Oct. 2: 
Wailing sirens were a way of life in the 60s or 70s, when the country fought three wars. They were used as a powerful motif of factory life in the average Bengali film. Many Calcuttans would even set their watches to the wail at 9 am.

But, for the past 20 years, the high-pitched sound of the antique alarms is almost mute, except for an infrequent 9-am reminder. Most of the 103 of them, perched atop buildings, are defunct, bearing silent testimony to the city’s past.

This Puja, however, the sound of the sirens may just be back, as efforts are under way to get them repaired.

As the air turns thick with speculation about yet another war, the civil defence department has decided to overhaul the sirens. The department has been promised Central funds, which it had sought two years ago, during the Kargil war, but did not get.

The sirens were installed during World War II and the Chinese aggression in 1962 to warn Calcuttans of a possible air raid. Till the Bangladesh war in 1971, the sirens operated perfectly.

But thereafter, their purpose ceased, thus making most of them defunct. Exposed to rains and other incidental hazards, the sirens have developed snags. Most of them have also lost the protective iron cover.

During the Kargil war in 1999, the civil defence had taken an initiative to overhaul all the city sirens. Many of them were repaired at the time.

“We had demanded Rs 1.5 crore from the Centre to repair the defective sirens, but the funds did not arrive,” said an official.

Most of the sirens are fitted on the roofs of important buildings, like Akashvani Bhavan, Indian Museum and Mahajati Sadan. But it is not known how many of these are in working condition.

Minister of state for civil defence Sreekumar Mukherjee said 90 of the total 103 sirens were fitted with a special electrical connection so that they could be operated from a central location.

“We could operate all the 103 sirens from a central point in the civil defence headquarters near Lalbazar. But lack of maintenance has rusted the system. We are planning to revive the system soon,” the minister assured.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Met office signals clear sky

lRains lashed the city for the third consecutive day on Tuesday but the weatherman held out the promise of clearer skies from Wednesday. Alipore Met Office director R.N. Goldar said the low pressure, which had developed off the Orissa coast on Sunday, lay over south-west Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday. There was 14.9 mm of rain in the city between 8.30 am and 5.30 pm. Goldar said the monsoon would retreat around October 7. Governor Viren J. Shah leaves after garlanding the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on Gandhi Jayanti at the

Hurt in explosion

Three persons were injured after crude bombs wrapped in a plastic bag exploded in a private bus in Howrah on Tuesday. Police said a drug addict was carrying the bombs. The bombs exploded after someone kicked the bag. A woman and the bus conductor were among the injured. Passengers were quickly evacuated. The injured were taken to hospital. The drug addict was arrested.

Bangla fishermen

Fourteen Bangladeshi fishermen were arrested at Gosaba, in South 24-Parganas, on Tuesday as they did not possess valid documents. They had come in a trawler, carrying 250 quintals of hilsa. Police seized the trawler and the entire consignment of fish was sold in front of the police station at Rs 5 a kg.

Cops feted

The Ladies Circle of Calcutta felicitated 17 policemen on Tuesday for exemplary performance at a programme entitled ‘Knights in Khaki’. Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty was present as chief guest.    

 
 
LETTER POINTER TO VICTIM’S ESTRANGED HUSBAND 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 2: 
The mysterious letter found beside the body of Mousumi Ghosh in Belghoria is being attributed by the police to her estranged husband, Shyamal Ghosh. A team has left for Cooch Behar in search of her killer.

Mousumi, a housewife, was found dead on a road in Belghoria on Saturday morning. Her throat had been slit with a sharp weapon. Police suspect that her husband, Shyamal, might have killed her in a fit of pique. “He is our prime suspect,” inspector-in-charge of Belghoria police station, Mahadev Chatterjee, said.

Investigations indicate that Shyamal, along with a close friend, had planned the murder well in advance. “He wrote the fictitious Food Corporation of India letter to Mousumi, asking her to collect the dues of her father-in-law. The manner in which the letter was written indicates that he had meticulously gone through official FCI letters,” a Belghoria police official said. Shyamal’s father, Jagannath Ghosh, had retired from the FCI a few years ago and is suffering from various ailments.

Raids are also under way on the northern fringes of the city to trace Mousumi’s first husband, Amal Banerjee, who stays near her father’s house in Bijpur, in North 24-Parganas.

“We have obtained several leads,” superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas, M. Harisena Verma, said on Tuesday.

While over the past few days, the police questioned neighbours in Bijpur about Mousumi’s relationship with her first husband, on Tuesday they quizzed relatives about her marriage to Shyamal.

   

 
 
AIRPORT GUARDS REWARDED AFTER SECURITY BREACH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 2: 
What was billed as the “toughest security net” at the city airport, following a hijack threat by the militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, came a cropper when a newspaper vendor managed to sneak into the high-security zone and expose the lapses.

Instead of penalising the guards posted in the cargo area for this security lapse, superintendent of police (Airport) O.P. Gupta decided to “reward the men who finally stopped the intruder” and “let off the offender with a fine of Rs 100.”

On Monday, catching the “ever-alert” security guards posted at the cargo entry point unawares, the intruder, in his 30s, walked past the Indian Airlines cargo gate and wandered inside.

Unchallenged, the man decided to venture further into the high-security zone, watching flights take-off from close range.

He was finally detected by two guards on the tarmac but by then, he had made a mockery of the “high security” imposed for the past two days.

“The man was penalised and the guards who caught him have been rewarded with Rs 100 each,” said the SP.

A tight security ring was thrown around the city airport from Sunday after the outlawed fundamentalist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, threatened to hijack a flight within two days.

All personnel are being frisked and people without tickets are not being allowed inside.

A senior police official said on Monday they were on the “highest alert” following reports of the hijacking attempt.

The alert report sent to all senior security officials in Calcutta reads: “A Muslim fundamentalist group plans to hijack a flight from our country within two days.”

Security was beefed up at the airport after the militant group, which has claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, issued the “threat” on all airports of the country.

Meanwhile, the city airport is yet to get reinforcements of two more battalion of security personnel. The request was made to the state government after the security review meeting at the airport. “We have been given a small force as part of contingency measure. But, we have asked for more companies,” the airport director, Roshal Lal, told Metro on Tuesday.

The meeting discussed how security measures were being hampered due to lack of adequate personnel.

Factory gutted: A lamp manufacturing unit in Srikrishna Daw Lane was gutted on Tuesday afternoon. A few people sustained minor injuries. A short-circuit is reported to have caused the fire.

   

 
 
SMOKE SIGNALS SPREAD BEYOND CALCUTTA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Oct. 2: 
The Central Pollution Control Board has taken a leaf out of Calcutta’s book, deciding to commission studies on the effects of air pollution on urban health in other cities. “The study is definitely worth replicating in other cities so that we can pinpoint the cause and sources of ill health due to air pollution,” said CPCB chairman Dilip Biswas after a presentation of research data and slides at the State Pollution Control Board Office on Saturday.

A team from the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute and Calcutta University department of zoology, under the sponsorship of the State Pollution Control Board, has been studying the effects of air pollution on non-smokers in the city for the past five years. New insights have shown that air pollution is causing diabetes and lung cancer among Calcuttans.

Biswas said the research would be able to determine what effects man-made pollutants were having on human health. “This will provide us an insight into how well we are tackling industrial and automobile pollution in our cities,” he said.

According to the presentation, drivers, traffic policemen, street hawkers and garage workers were the most vulnerable. They also belonged to the very high-risk group facing lung damage and other clinical effects.

The study, compared with similar tests conducted on rural people facing minimal air pollution, shows that:

People in Calcutta have four times the number of cells fighting foreign organisms in their lungs than rural people;

The high demand for cells fighting foreign bodies in the lung’s air sacs called alveolar macrophage is resulting in the bone marrow producing defective ones which have weakened walls and die prematurely;

Some samples have thrown up evidence to suggest that non-smokers had lung injury similar to smokers;

The average incidence of diabetes in Calcutta was about 10 per cent compared with the national urban average of 3 per cent;

At least two per cent of the people examined are certain to have lung cancer;

Non-smokers in Calcutta have injuries in the lung airways that many smokers have.

According to Dr Manas Ranjan Roy of the Chittaranjan National Cancer Centre, the high incidence of diabetes, especially among traffic policemen and drivers, indicated that air pollution was affecting glucose metabolism. “The body is unable to break down sugar causing diabetes,” he said.

“We have also seen that two per cent of our 1,312 non-smokers have ‘tadpole cells’ in their sputum sample. These people will get lung cancer for sure,” he added.

Also, there were very high deposits of iron, which is a carcinogen, in the lungs. This was from dead red blood cells which come out in the lung cells from damaged air sacs. Dr Roy said Calcutta tops the lung cancer list in Indian metros.

The research has indicated that air pollution not only affects the lungs but progressively weakens a person. “There are blood coagulation defects which can lead to heart diseases and strokes,” Roy said.

Benzene and hydrocarbons, inhaled from petrol engine emission have been known to cause leukaemia and cancer, respectively, the researchers said.

   

 
 
‘ROWDIES’ THRASH BAILIFF 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 2: 
A bailiff of the Calcutta High Court was allegedly beaten up by Trinamul workers in Baruipur when he went to serve notice of a case filed by CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty against party MLA Arup Bhadra. Chakraborty had challenged the election of Bhadra, who defeated his rival by five votes in the Assembly polls. Following Chakraborty’s petition, the high court had directed him to serve a notice to the MLA. Chakraborty’s counsel informed the court that the notice was sent thrice to Bhadra, but he was not available at his residence.

Following this the court directed the registrar to send a messenger to serve the notice to Bhadra. The registrar asked one of the court’s bailiffs to go to Baruipur and hand over the notice to the MLA so that he could take part in the case as a respondent.

Last Friday, an affidavit was filed before the court on the bailiff’s behalf, stating that he was severely beaten by “rowdies”, who were known to be Trinamul workers of the area. Chakraborty’s counsel said he would ask the court to issue an arrest warrant against Bhadra. Chakraborty alleged in his petition that Bhadra won the election through rigging and manipulation during counting of votes.

   

 
 
CENTRE STEPS UP ASBESTOS BAN BID 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 2: 
Taking a cue from countries that have banned asbestos, the union environment ministry has set up an expert panel to review asbestos-related health hazards and asked it to submit a report in six weeks.

The committee was formed following pleas from environmentalists to immediately ban use of asbestos pipes in supply of drinking water. Experts have been saying down the years that asbestos is highly carcinogenic and the chief cause of lung cancer.

The eight-member panel has been asked to “comprehensively examine related aspects and submit the report with suggestions.” Members on the panel include environment ministry joint secretary V. Rajgopalan, Central Pollution Control Board member-secretary B. Sengupta and directors of institutes dealing with occupational health hazards.

In a recent memorandum, the environment ministry said: “Many advanced economies have either banned or are in the process of banning manufacturing and use of asbestos due to its known health impacts. In India, occupational health surveys have indicated significant adverse impacts on workers in asbestos industries.”

Acknowledging that “more and more countries are phasing out the manufacture and use of asbestos products and replacing it with alternatives,” the ministry said there was urgent need to evolve a comprehensive policy on the asbestos sector.

Environmentalist M.C. Mehta, who has been crusading against asbestos, said: “All asbestos products, including asbestos cement pipes, have direct links with cancer. All such products should be immediately banned to save the lives of millions exposed to this hazard everyday.”

The veteran Supreme Court lawyer was in the city to inspect storage facilities for cement pipes used in supplying drinking water. He said the incidence of diarrhoea, gastro-enteritis and jaundice in the state is directly linked to “sub-standard cement pipes.”

But Brig. A.K. Sethi, executive director of Asbestos Information Centre, disagreed. “The contention that asbestos cement pipes used to supply drinking water are a sources of poison is totally incorrect and bereft of any scientific findings,” he said.

Sethi said the issue has been reviewed at length by the World Health Organisation, which said “the general consensus is that imbibed asbestos via drinking water supplies poses no assessable risk to the health of the consumer”. He also pointed out that the contention that dust from asbestos cement pipes during manufacturing and storing can cause cancer is “a figment of the imagination and prompted by vested interests who wish to misguide the public and malign the asbestos cement industry.”

The expert committee, working in tandem with voluntary organisations seeking a ban on asbestos, has been asked to evaluate and review the “impact on public health from use of asbestos-based products and review the health status of workers”.

   
 

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