Rain cheque on road repairs
Alarm over airport ‘crash’
Five days too few, say JU teachers
Patiala pegs for Puja nights
The City Diary
Subway boon for southern chaos
Two dead, two injured in spate of mishaps
Fakes gag music industry
Escalator brake on market sales
Gabbar flees cop net on tip-off

 
 
RAIN CHEQUE ON ROAD REPAIRS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
After the god of small things, the god of road repairs? Taking a potholed shot at mayor Subrata Mukherjee, who has been insisting that the city streets be set right before the Pujas, roads overseer Anup Chatterjee said on Wednesday that it was a task “beyond even God”.

Chatterjee, member of the mayor’s council in charge of roads, explained: “Why me, even God can’t maintain city roads with Rs 20 crore a year… The ritualistic pre-Puja repair of city streets with bitumen mixture is nothing but a sheer waste of tax-payers’ money to fill contractors’ pockets.”

The bottomline: It will be a bumpy — and, maybe, even a waterlogged — ride for Calcuttans as they go pandal-hopping this year.

Chatterjee, a Mamata Banerjee favourite, held a meeting with Mukherjee on Tuesday and pointed out that it’s too late to go about repairing roads before the Pujas.

“There’s nothing more we can do with a meagre annual allotment of Rs 20 crore,” he told the mayor and requested him to take up a “long-term project” of metalling roads at an estimated cost of Rs 500 crore. “There is no point in continuing with the present system of repairing roads at a cost of Rs 1.33 lakh per km a year, as it all goes down the drain in a few months.”

CPM leader and former member, mayor-in-council, Sudhanshu Sil, however, rubbished Chatterjee’s argument. “How was it possible for us to maintain roads on the same budget?” Sil demanded on Wednesday. He raised the question of the annual grant of Rs 5 crore by the government to the Corporation for maintenance of city roads under the head ‘basic minimum service’ against utilisation certificates. “How can the Trinamul Congress-led board submit utilisation certificates if they don’t work?” Sil added.

Senior Corporation officials blamed the condition of roads on the rains. “The regular inundation of roads has reduced their longevity. Roads with the surface done with mastic asphalt last longer and require less maintenance. But as it is costlier, it is not possible for us to give such a coating on all road surfaces,” said chief engineer (roads) Sajal Banerjee.

As if to spite the civic authorities struggling to cope with complaints about potholed roads, gusty winds accompanied by sharp showers have been lashing the city and its neighbourhood since Tuesday evening.

The weather office at Alipore described the cloudbursts as “normal monsoon rain” caused by the combined impact of two low-pressure troughs. Rainfall of 15.7 mm had been recorded till 5.30 pm on Wednesday.

The weatherman said that a trough of low pressure extended on Wednesday from the north Bay to the north Andaman Sea across the east-central Bay, with cyclonic circulation over the north-west Bay and adjoining coastal Orissa reaching up to 3.1 km above sea level. Another trough of low pressure, which developed on Tuesday morning, stretched from Bihar to Manipur. “These two low-pressure troughs over the sea and land caused the rains,” an official said.

“It is probably the last swish of the monsoon tail. The monsoon will probably bow out in the next four or five days,” said R.N. Goldar, director, Alipore Meteorological Office.

Corporation officials, however, said they had kept all pumps on full alert. Member, mayor-in-council in charge of drainage, Rajib Deb, said Wednesday’s rains did not affect the arterial roads. But waterlogging was reported from several low-lying areas.

On Wednesday, Calcutta Police submitted to the mayor a list of roads requiring “special” attention of the roads, conservancy and lighting departments in the run-up to the Pujas. “It is a long list and I have handed it over to the chief engineers. With the help of the police, we will try and ensure a smooth passage for pandal-hoppers,” the mayor said.

   

 
 
ALARM OVER AIRPORT ‘CRASH’ 
 
 
BY OUR AIRPORT REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
It was a crash of a different kind that sparked panic at Netaji Subhas International Airport on Wednesday morning. A chunk of the false ceiling at the domestic terminal came crashing down on an official of the UK department for international development (DFID), Peter Davies.

Davies, first secretary with the DFID and based in Delhi, was having breakfast in the first-floor restaurant run by Oberoi Grand, around 8 am, when the chunk collapsed on his head. He had already checked in with the Jet Airlines counter for his journey back.

Davies suffered a deep gash from his left temple to the back of his skull. Blood splattered on his shirt as he toppled off the chair.

An airport official said Davies was taken to the medical unit of the Airports Authority of India for first-aid. Officials arrived from the British Deputy High Commission in Calcutta and rushed him to a city nursing home. “His condition is now stable. He may require a few stitches,” said a deputy high commission official.

As soon as the chunk caved in with a crash, passengers panicked and rushed out of the restaurant. Fearing that the entire ceiling may collapse, people working in the offices nearby, too, scurried down the steps and gathered in the ground-floor domestic lounge.

“The incident has left us shaken. We, who fly frequently, have to breakfast or lunch at the airport restaurant. This is most unfortunate,” said a passenger.

Senior airport officials rushed to the spot and assured passengers and employees that steps would be taken to prevent repitition of such accidents. They ordered a thorough inspection of the false ceiling and similar constructions at the airport.

The authorities closed down the restaurant and ordered a total dismantling of the false ceiling. An FIR has been lodged against the contractor who had put up the ceiling. He has been blacklisted from all restaurant contracts.

“We don’t know what went wrong. Maybe the cave-in was caused by the vibration of the aircraft, as we are not very far from the tarmac. We are going to rebuild the ceiling and have already awarded the job to another contractor. We should be able to reopen the restaurant in another week or so,” said an official of the restaurant.

A portion of the concrete roof of the Indian Airlines booking office, at the corner of the domestic terminal, crashed a few years ago. No staff member was in the room. Only a computer was damaged. The airport authorities were blamed for poor maintenance.

Three detained: Customs officials on Wednesday detained three Bangladeshis for trying to smuggle gold biscuits and ornaments. Officials said Md Anwar, Nasiruddin and Salim Ahmed came from Bangkok and had boarded the Indian Airlines flight IC723, bound for Dhaka. The flight, scheduled to depart at 2.35 pm, however, did not take off after the pilot noticed three men huddled inside the toilet, dividing gold biscuits among themselves. He informed the air traffic control which alerted security personnel.

   

 
 
FIVE DAYS TOO FEW, SAY JU TEACHERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
Trouble seems to be heading Jadavpur University’s way. On Wednesday, a large section of the teachers threatened to agitate against the authorities’ decision to introduce a five-day-week system. The ruling party-controlled executive council of Jadavpur University (JU) turned down its teachers’ appeal to retain the six-day week . It passed a resolution to implement a five-day-week for both teaching and non-teaching staff.

JU has been working by the six-day-week system ever since its inception. This, according to the teachers, was one of the major factors which had helped the university attain the ‘centre of excellence’ status.

Work at the university was affected on Wednesday as members of the Karmachari Samsad and Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA) held demonstrations

While JUTA members demonstrated at the university gate opposite the 8B bus terminus, the Samsad members held theirs in front of the conference room. The Samsad finally won as the council confirmed that the five-day-week system will soon be introduced.

Tarun Naskar, general secretary, JUTA, said his association would not accept the decision. “We are shocked to see the authorities ready to accept the demands of the employees, even at the cost of harming campus activities,” he added.

Protesting Wednesday’s decision, JUTA has decided to observe a ceasework on October 12. Swapan Ghosh, general secretary of Karmachari Samsad, who is also a member of the council, criticised JUTA. According to him, the Samsad’s demand was legitimate, as all other universities in the state had introduced the five-day system.

A senior official of the university, however, said that the decision to introduce the five-day week has been taken on the basis of a government order.

   

 
 
PATIALA PEGS FOR PUJA NIGHTS 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
This Puja promises to be a wet one — and we aren’t referring to the warning from the weather office. Instead, it is Writer’s Buildings that has uncorked a Puja bonus for tipplers.

According to a government directive, retail shops selling India-Made Foreign Liquor will be allowed to do business till 11 pm and all bars in Calcutta will have permission to remain open till an hour after midnight during the Pujas. All this to ensure that neither Calcuttans nor tourists are left high and dry.

In what marks a new-found liberal attitude towards alcohol — an absolute no-no till the other day— the ruling communists are also considering a proposal from the tourism department and the hoteliers’ lobby for a waiver of the ban on sale of liquor on Ashtami and Dashami. “We are yet to arrive at a decision regarding the proposal. Even though Nabami falls on a Thursday this time, we have already informed owners of shops and bars that they can conduct business that day,” said an excise department official. At present, liquor off-shops down their shutters at 9 pm and bars shoo away customers by 11 pm. So, from October 23 to October 26, the closing time of the 93 bars and the 107 off-shops in town will be extended by two hours.

State tourism minister Dinesh Dakua recently held a meeting with his department secretary Pranab Roy, some well-known travel agents, hoteliers and the police to prepare a blueprint for attracting tourists to the city at the time of different festivals. The hoteliers and travel agents urged the minister to take steps to extend the business hours of the liquor shops and bars.

“We have received proposals and demands from different quarters to extend the closing time of the off-shops and bars, at least during the Puja days. We feel the demand is justified and have drawn the attention of the excise department to it,” Roy said.

Excise department officials justified the move to keep the spirits flowing late into the Puja night: “People are in a festive mood during the Pujas. A large number of tourists visit West Bengal during the festive days. The closing hours of the off-shops and bars will be extended to cater to the Puja revellers.’’

The Left Front government, which once considered consumption of liquor a symbol of “decadence”, did not issue a single liquor license for about 13 years. But of late, it has started showing a flexible attitude in this matter. The bottomline being that the liquor industry rakes in the revenue, the government has now started issuing liquor licenses for off-shops and permission for opening bars.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Sunday rally route

Sunday’s mahamichhil will start from Deshapriya Park, in south Calcutta, at 1 pm and terminate at Deshabandhu Park, in north Calcutta, after passing through Sarat Bose Road, AJC Bose Road, APC Road, Maniktala and Raja Dinendra Street. Left Front chairman Biman Bose said on Wednesday afternoon that the procession will avoid important market centres where puja shoppers will gather. A cultural programme organised by Turning Point on World Mental Health Day at Kala Kunj on Wednesday. Picture by Aranya Sen

Das murder case

The confessional statement of Biswajit, one of the three assailants who shot Dum Dum municipality chairman Sailen Das in front of his house on August 13, was recorded by the fifth judicial magistrate of Barasat on Wednesday. The magistrate took an hour and a half to record the statement. The alleged mastermind of Das’ murder, Sudhir Bhattacharya, former chief of Dum Dum municipality, was granted bail by the high court on Tuesday. But Bhattacharya has not been released, since the Dum Dum jail authorities have not completed the required paper work.

Six arrested

Six dacoits, who had assembled at Singhibagan, in the Burrabazar police station area, were arrested on Wednesday. Maneesh Rai and five associates were chased by policemen on patrol. Five choppers were also seized.

Plea admitted

Calcutta High Court on Wednesday admitted a contempt petition filed by US-based physician Kunal Saha against the chairman and the secretary of West Bengal Medical Council for disobeying a court order on March 13. Justice Pinaki Ghosh asked the Council to submit a report within 12 weeks. Saha had alleged that his wife Anuradha had died due to negligence on part of local doctors.The hearing has been scheduled for October 16.

Civic renaming

The CMC will rename its bustee development department as nagar pally development department. The proposal was accepted at a meeting on Wednesday. Thumbs up to Boy’s Own library & Young Men’s Institute for organising a health check-up camp on Sunday on the club’s Goabagan premises from 10.30 am. Medicines will be distributed    

 
 
SUBWAY BOON FOR SOUTHERN CHAOS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
With the commissioning of a 161-metre subway connecting the busy Deshapran Sashmal Road, perennial traffic chaos near Tollygunge tram depot and Metro Railway station may finally be a thing of the past.

Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who had flagged off the Rs 6-crore subway project as railway minister in November 1999, will commission the facility on Saturday. Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty is likely to be present on the occasion.

Traffic in Tollygunge, Bansdroni, M.N. Sen Road and adjoining areas is expected to ease considerably after the subway opens. The subway, work on which had begun in July 2000, can be used by 15,000 commuters at a time.

Metro Railway, it is learnt, had approached Nitish Kumar, Union railway minister, for inaugurating the facility, but Kumar declined, saying Mamata would be the right choice, since it was she who had conceived and okayed the project.

“It is her brainchild so, in the fitness of things, she should be invited to commission it,” Kumar is believed to have said.

With commuters spilling on to two inter-locked arteries, Deshapran Sashmal Road and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Road, traffic movement through the intersection had become difficult over the years, making the area around the Metro Railway station and the tram depot one of the most accident-prone in Calcutta.

The tram depot area connects major roads, such as those from Behala, Kudghat, Golf Gardens and Garia.

The concentration of auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, taxis and scores of narrow strips around the intersection, through which several important bus routes run to and fro Garia, Naktala, Bansdroni, Kudghat, Karunamoyee and other places, has also been contributing to the chaos. Added to the woes of commuters is the bad condition of the roads, which are full of potholes and slush, especially during the monsoon. It is expected that the new subway should improve the conditions of the area, with lesser people using the road now.

   

 
 
TWO DEAD, TWO INJURED IN SPATE OF MISHAPS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
Two persons were killed and two others, including a policeman, injured in separate accidents in the city in the past 24 hours.

The spate of accidents in such a short span has shocked senior police officers, who went into a huddle to find out ways to prevent rash driving.

According to police sources, 78-year-old Jaya Joshi was knocked down by a private bus at the crossing of Rashbehari Avenue and S.P. Mukherjee Road on Wednesday morning.

Eyewitnesses said she was crossing the road when the bus knocked her down.

The driver was trying to overtake an autorickshaw and Joshi came in the way of the vehicle. She died on the spot. The driver is absconding.

In another accident, Susanta Biswas, 35, was run over by a lorry at Tala bridge, in north Calcutta, on Tuesday night.

Biswas was walking down the road when the lorry knocked him down. He was taken to hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries. The lorry driver fled.

M. Manna, a traffic sergeant, was on duty on Wednesday afternoon at the crossing of B.K. Pal Avenue and Nimtala Ghat Street when an autorickshaw hit him. Manna, bleeding profusely, was taken to hospital, police sources said. The driver of the autorickshaw has been arrested.

An unidentified 35-year-old woman was knocked down by a private bus on Sarat Bose Road on Wednesday morning. Police said the woman had come in front of the vehicle all of a sudden while trying to run to the opposite pavement. She was saved as the driver applied the brakes in the nick of time, eyewitnesses said. The injured woman was taken to hospital, where doctors said her condition was stable.

   

 
 
FAKES GAG MUSIC INDUSTRY 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
Nachiketar Abishkar, a cassette featuring two budding artistes, had hardly been released a week when Taal Audio proprietor Debasish Ghoshal stumbled upon the tape selling on the pavements of BBD Bag at less than half the printed price, under another label. Ghoshal was shattered.

All that the Taal Audio boss could draw consolation from was the fact that he was not the only one to suffer at the hands of “pirates” who have “killed the music industry” in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. And the piracy wave peaks during the Pujas.

“In Calcutta, nearly 40 per cent of the cassettes sold in the market are either pirated or counterfeits,” says J.S. Gupta, regional sales manager, east, The Gramophone Company of India Ltd, owners of the Saregama (formerly HMV) brand. “We sold more than 70 lakh cassettes of Kaho Na… Pyar Hai and our assumption is the counterfeiter has sold an equal amount. Almost all our releases are available in the pirated market at Chandni Chowk,” adds Gupta.

Of the total market size of around 2.7 million cassettes per month in eastern India, only about 1.8 or 1.9 million are original, add industry experts. Thus, fake makes like Mega Sound, Red Rose, Digital Audio Track (DAT) and Yamaha rule the pavements, with the hotspots being Chandni Chowk, Free School Street, the hawkers’ market below the Sealdah flyover, Old Court House Street and Howrah Station.

Though copyright violation in the music industry is now a cognisable, non-bailable offence, with up to three years’ imprisonment and Rs 2 lakh penalty, around nine million cassettes are pirated in eastern India every year.

The Indian Music Industry (IMI), a watchdog set up by major recording labels to police copyright infringement, says it has begun to curb the menace. “We have whittled down the incidence of piracy from more than 50 per cent to about 30 per cent in the East, since we started the anti-piracy wing in Calcutta in December 1997. Now, you will find such tapes being sold only on the pavements, not in stores, except a few in the Chandni market,” says Bhudeb Chakrabarti, former DIG, CRPF and co-ordinator, IMI eastern region.

The industry doesn’t feel IMI can eradicate this menace alone. “The tapes seized don’t constitute even one per cent of the pirated products. Unless the consumer is made aware of the situation and the government wakes up to the enormous revenue loss, the situation will remain alarming,” observes Gupta.

Ashok Gupta, proprietor of Symphony, says: “When the consumer had to choose between a price tag of Rs 25 and Rs 35, he would often opt for the better-quality tape. But now, with the price gap much wider, pirated cassettes have become very popular again,” he observes.

How does the consumer figure out a fake? The inlay card will be poor in quality, the cassette will not have the name of the company on the leader tape, the requirements of Section 52A, name and address of the owner of the copyright or the year of the publication. “The surest way to guard against piracy is for the customer to ensure that the store replaces a defective product,” opines Dipra Jha of MusicWorld.

   

 
 
ESCALATOR BRAKE ON MARKET SALES 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
It’s war. And, according to Puja shoppers and shop-owners of Ballygunge New Market, one of the biggest air-conditioned shopping complexes in the city, it’s not exactly fair.

A section of the plaza, located at the Gariahat crossing, which is one of the busiest shopping venues in the run-up to the Pujas, is witnessing an unusual occurrence — dipping sales figures — thanks to a non-functioning escalator between the first and second floors.

The matter has even gone to the Calcutta District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, which has given a ruling asking the makers to restart the escalator, but shop-owners say it may have come a little too late to light up this festive season.

With very few customers willing to climb up to the second floor in the absence of the escalator, the sales this year are nowhere near last year’s figures, says the association.

“It’s actually less than half of last year’s figures,” association president Pijush Chaudhuri said. From jewellers to sellers of bags, from garment-sellers to those dealing in shoes, every section has been affected. Last year, more than 10,000 customers would flock the second floor alone every day. This year, the figure is less than 3,000.

The escalator, commissioned by Otis, stopped functioning in August. The association filed a case against the firm in the consumers’ forum, alleging that it was not maintaining the escalator despite taking maintenance charges. “The association has never failed in making timely payment to Otis,” its lawyer, Prabir Basu, told the court.

Otis replied that though it got the maintenance charges on behalf of the users from the shop-owners, the promoter of the building was yet to pay more than Rs 8 lakh as commissioning charges. “The amount has been due for the last seven years,” Otis manager (sales and service) A.K. Sinha said.

The court, however, ruled that shop-owners and shoppers could not be harassed for someone else’s — the promoter’s — alleged fault. Just as the telecom department could not penalise one subscriber if another subscriber did not pay a bill, Otis could not harass the shop-owners and shoppers for alleged non-payment by the promoter of the building, the court explained. It directed Otis to resume services at the earliest.

The October 5 order has come as a “definite boost”, say shop-owners, but add that this Puja is already a “lost case” for them. They have tried everything — even distributing leaflets on the ground floor, asking shoppers to climb up the stairs — but till Tuesday, the complex looked cut off from the rest of Gariahat.

   

 
 
GABBAR FLEES COP NET ON TIP-OFF 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 10: 
Calcutta’s most-wanted fugitive criminal, Rashid Alam, alias Gabbar, was in the city for three days last week. According to detectives, Gabbar arrived on Wednesday and was here till Saturday. The police were aware that Gabbar would be here, but claim that their plan to trap him misfired at the last moment.

Sources in Lalbazar said an officer of the anti-rowdy section, known to be close to the gangster, had tipped off Gabbar minutes before a police team, led by an officer-in-charge of a central Calcutta police station, stormed his den. The OC reported the matter to his superiors. Gabbar fled to associate and friend Naushad’s Biharsharif hideout, in neighbouring Bihar, on Saturday night.

Gabbar, one of the main accused in the Sanjiv Jhulka murder case in May this year, has been on the run since then. His associates — Ranvijay Rathore, Trisha Agarwal and Sabnam — were arrested but he remained elusive. According to officers of the anti-rowdy section, Gabbar had run out of money and was forced to return to the city to rustle up funds. Detectives claim Gabbar’s associate Naushad had called up a friend from Biharsharif and told him that Gabbar is staying with him. Police got to know about the call as Naushad’s friend is also close to a police officer.

   
 

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