Tale of torture ends in flames
Mayor joins cracker-men chorus for festive blast
Applicant also on selection panel
Truism sans element of camouflage
The City Diary
Victimised, says Sudhir
Nod for NRI funds cell
Geared to the challenges of survival
150 trapped in mine cave-in
Militants strike under cover of darkness

 
 
TALE OF TORTURE ENDS IN FLAMES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 11: 

Mother, 12-year-old son charred to death, in-laws arrested

When they broke down the door, all they could see was the mother and son in a last embrace. Through the smoke, they saw the mother almost charred, and the clothes of her son in flames. It was as though the son had made a desperate attempt to save his mother from a terrible death.

Till Ruma Mitra’s neighbours burst into her house in Kasba’s P. Majumdar Road on Wednesday afternoon, it seemed that things were normal. Her husband, Parthasarathi Mitra, his parents and brother and his sister-in-law were chatting in the drawing room, oblivious to the tragedy unfolding in an adjoining room.

By nine at night on Wednesday, 30-year-old Ruma Mitra, a Punjabi girl married to a TV mechanic, had died of 100 per cent burn injuries. On Thursday morning, her 12-year-old son, Ankur, a student of a prominent south Calcutta school, succumbed to his burns.

Ruma’s husband and in-laws have been arrested. They are the only people who know the full story. And, till Thursday night, they were not talking.

The neighbours, however, tell a story of an inter-racial marriage first fraying at the edges and then turning into a tale of trauma and torture. Ruma’s in-laws, unable to accept their son’s “love marriage”, unburdened their wrath on her and Ankur.

“Till investigations are complete, we will not know how the fire broke out or how the two died,” said officer-in-charge of Kasba police station S.R. Dutta. “But the neighbours tell us that Ruma was all but driven to death by her in-laws’ ill-treatment.”

For Lakshmirani Basak, who lives next door, it is simply a story of an “unforgiving family in an unforgiving city... For the past few years, I have been observing what has been going on in that household,” she said. “And it is a very sad story to relate.”

Lakshmirani said that initially, there was tension between the in-laws and Ruma, but Parthasarathi, then working in a public sector company and drawing a healthy salary, managed to paper over the problems. He was the bridge,” Lakshmirani recalled.

The “major problems” began when Parthasarathi lost his job and had to depend on his parents for upkeep. Her in-laws got the upper hand and Ruma’s troubles multiplied. “From whatever I have seen and heard,” Lakshmirani said, “Ruma was driven to the brink of insanity.”

Sapna Sengupta, another neighbour, said: “Ruma and her son were outcasts in their own home. They were not allowed to interact with the others and a plate of food would be thrown at them in a corner room, where the two had to share basic amenities. Through all this, Ankur managed to do very well in school. Everyone said he was a good student.”

What made matters worse, said Pankaj Mitra, who had helped in shifting mother and son to hospital, was the almost routine beatings that Ruma was subjected to. First it was the in-laws, then even Parthasarathi would join in, while his son watched helplessly.

Ruma’s brother, Suman Singh, has admitted this in an FIR filed at Kasba police station. He said his sister would implore him to take her back home. “People realise the folly of their actions when it is too late,” rued Dutta. “If Singh had listened to his sister, at least she would have been alive today.”

   

 
 
MAYOR JOINS CRACKER-MEN CHORUS FOR FESTIVE BLAST 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Oct. 11: 
What’s Diwali without some noise? What are celebrations set to the sounds of silence? Subrata Mukherjee’s outburst on Thursday against the ban on crackers in the city was echoed by fireworks-makers from Sivakasi, later in the day.

Both the mayor and the fireworks lobby were protesting the West Bengal norm of banning crackers crossing the 90dB (decibels) sound barrier recorded at a distance of five metres. Alleging that the ban had “taken the fun out of the Festival of Lights”, Mukherjee added: “I am not against a decibel limit being set by law, but I want policy-makers to review the decision and allow crackers for the festivities… If the bursting of crackers is illegal, then generators and pumps, slogan-shouting and honking of horns should all be silenced.”

Brushing aside talk of crackers being dangerous, he said: “I am not saying set someone’s house on fire during Diwali. All I want is to bring back some spirit in the Pujas.”

The Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association (Tanfama), too, was loud in its protests against the West Bengal standards, “which are stricter than that prescribed by the country’s Environment Protection Rules”. As per the Centre’s norms laid down by the National Committee on Noise Pollution Control, the national standard is 125dB measured at a distance of four metres. “Crackers manufactured under the West Bengal norms would produce a sound lower than that of the clapping of hands,” claimed Tanfama secretary K. Mariappan.

According to a scientist with the state pollution control board (PCB), the 90dB norm had been set to an available Central pollution control figure in 1989. This has resulted in Sivakasi only selling “light, not sound,” to Burrabazar traders. “The loss of the Bengal market has resulted in a Rs 20-crore drop in our business,” Tanfama representatives pointed out. They presented a four-year study on the effects of noise pollution from fireworks conducted by the National Physical Laboratory and the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, in New Delhi.

The study exposed 30 volunteers, between 10 to 32 years, to continuous firecracker explosion from a distance of four metres. The scientists did not detect any loss of hearing among the subjects even by exposing them to noise levels up to 132dB.

The association further pointed out that:

The sound frequency generated by fireworks was well below the tolerance level of the human ear

The duration of a firecracker was a few milli-seconds, which did not affect the ear

Firecrackers are used only during major festivals and for a few hours. Hence, the risk factor is very low

A recent test conducted by the National Physical Laboratory on samples of Sivakasi fireworks, however, nailed them at well above the national limit of 125dB. “These should be banned immediately,” was the Tanfama position.

   

 
 
APPLICANT ALSO ON SELECTION PANEL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 11: 

Jadavpur University in a fix as ‘expert’ turns up as job-seeker

Dual role, double trouble. Confusion prevailed at Jadavpur University on Thursday after it was found that an applicant for the post of professor in the pharmaceutical engineering department had already been appointed an expert in the selection committee for the same post.

The candidate, said to be the principal of a private engineering institute in Orissa, has also been included as an expert in the selection committees set up by the university for filling up two vacant posts, including those of a lecturer and a reader in the same department.

The authorities have included him in all the three selection committees as a nominee of the chancellor of the university, selected by the state education department.

Expressing concern over the incident, Satyasadhan Chakraborty, state higher education minister, said: “Under no circumstances can a member of a selection committee be allowed to be apply for a post. I will look into this.”

Members of the executive council said: “The university’s appointment rules have no such provisions. We have never come across such gross irregularities.”

Generally, the chancellor’s office sends across to universities the names of experts for the selection committees, according to an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “In this case, we had no information whether any of the experts recommended by us had applied for a post,” he said.

There was resentment among teachers and employees when the interviews for filling up the lecturer’s post began. The candidate was present in the committee for interviewing the applicants.

Members of the executive council, including senior teachers, sought an explanation from vice-chancellor Ashokenath Basu and demanded that the candidate either be excluded from the committee or asked to withdraw his application.

Basu was not available for his views. There were exchanges between members of the executive council and senior officials of the university at the council’s meeting on Wednesday, when the issue was raised. The members demanded rejection of the candidate’s application.

Registrar Rajat Banerjee, also one of the members of the selection committee, refused comment.

Store stormed: Five armed youths looted Rs 10,000 and other valuables from Nut-khut, an eatery on VIP Road, near Ultadanga, around 5 pm on Thursday. The youths, two of whom had firearms, stormed the shop and asked the cashier to pay Rs 10 lakh. On being denied, they ransacked the eatery, beat up the staff and assaulted customers, before speeding off in a waiting taxi. No one has been arrested.

   

 
 
TRUISM SANS ELEMENT OF CAMOUFLAGE 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Oct. 11: 
He will be remembered in this part of the world as creator of the India International Centre, the India Habitat Centre and Ford Foundation in Delhi. But American-born architect Joseph Allen Stein, who passed away in North Carolina last Saturday, had his roots very much in Calcutta. He was 89 and is survived by his wife and two sons.

An associate of renowned American architect Richard Neutra, Stein had moved to India after the Second World War and was the first professor of the degree course in architecture at BE College, Shibpur, the maiden course of its kind in the country. Later, he was head of the department of architecture and town planning at BE College from 1952 to 1955, before shifting base to Delhi, where he lived and worked for 40 years. He retired and returned to the US in 1995.

“Calcutta’s loss was Delhi’s gain. Had ‘Sir’ opted to stay back in Calcutta, he could have contributed to our city’s skyline,” said architect Santosh Ghosh, who was “privileged” to have been Stein’s student in Shibpur. Ghosh feels Stein’s best work in West Bengal was his first, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. A model township in Durgapur was his other major contribution in the state. “He used the different elements of nature and blended those with consummate ease to create purely functional buildings with space. Sophisticated detailing marked all his creations, but he was never lavish or extravagant,” added Ghosh, who last met his mentor two years back in the Capital during an exhibition showcasing works of Indian architects.

“Stein’s contribution in detailing in post-Independence architecture is the greatest and his respect for the material he used enabled him to create beautiful, yet simple, structures. Like the three stalwarts of contemporary architecture, Miess van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, he was from the Romantic school, believing in truism without any camouflage,” said architect Dulal Mukherjee, “saddened” at the news of Stein’s death.

“He always believed architecture had a lot to imbibe from Indian heritage and he taught his students so. He had a loving nature and was extremely fond of the college campus, as well as the Botanical Gardens, where he often went for long walks,” recalled Manju Haldar, current head of the department of architecture and town planning, BE College. The department will hold a condolence gathering on the campus on Saturday.

Stein was awarded the Padmashri in recognition of his contribution to Indian architecture in 1992 and was the only architect to be honoured with the doctor of philosophy degree by Chennai University. He last came to Calcutta in February 1993, on an invitation from the USIS.

Among his significant creations are the Icrisat in Hyderabad, the Kashmir Conference Centre in Srinagar and the Australian High Commission building in New Delhi. Stein even collaborated with Balkrishna Doshi to create various signposts, one of those being the IIM, Bangalore campus. The architect had also been instrumental in launching the Technical Cooperation Mission (TCM) scheme, under which American academicians would come and teach in Indian institutions.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Airport eatery cave-in probe

The airport authorities have ordered an inquiry into Wednesday’s collapse of a false ceiling at a restaurant inside the airport in which a first-secretary of the British high commission was injured. The enquiry followed a complaint from the British deputy high commission, airport superintendent of police O.P. Gupta said. It will be probed whether inferior material went into the making of the ceiling or whether vibrations because of aircraft movement had any part to play in the mishap. SUCI activists burn an effigy of US President George W. Bush to protest attacks on Afghanistan at Raja Subodh Mullick Square on Thursday. Picture by Aloke Mitra

Road mishap

An unidentified middle-aged man was crushed to death between two buses on Thursday evening at the Maniktala crossing. Police said the man was crossing the busy intersection when he got trapped between two vehicles. An irate mob attempted to put up a road block, which was thwarted by a police team on patrol.

Painting contest

A painting competition, organised by Sreeleathers, was held recently in the city in which 79 localities took part. Each locality was given a canvas to paint on the Pujas. Eminent artistes Ganesh Haloi, Niranjan Pradhan and Wasim Kapur will pick the winners.

Cricket betting

As the Indian cricket team gears up for the tri-series encounter against Kenya on Friday, bookies of Calcutta, Howrah and Dum Dum are wagering on “spread betting”, a new concept in city punter circles. If India bats first, they are expected to score 290 runs, while Kenya have been placed between scores of 195 and 205. Several bookies have been identified. “Some bookies who were out of action last year have resurfaced,” police said.

Six held

Six people were arrested and five bombs recovered from an abandoned house in Muchipara in central Calcutta. A police team raided the place early on Thursday.    

 
 
VICTIMISED, SAYS SUDHIR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 11: 
Slogans, garlands and tears marked the return of the 82-year-old former chief of Dum Dum’s civic body on Thursday.

Around 1.15 pm, Sudhir Bhattacharya, alleged mastermind in Dum Dum municipality chairman Sailen Das’ murder, returned home after Calcutta High Court granted him bail on Tuesday.

When Bhattacharya reached his residence, his daughter-in-law Sampa opened the gate.

Earlier, son Chandan had escorted him from jail. As a tired Bhattacharya entered his house, the maid drew the collapsible gate shut, with the followers shouting outside his residence: “Sudhirbabu zindabad”.

Bhattacharya headed straight for his bedroom, where wife Aloka was waiting.

Looking at her, he said: “Don’t worry. I’ve returned home and now the truth will out.”

Aloka said nothing, only tears rolled down her cheeks.

Though the court granted him bail on Tuesday, Bhattacharya had to stay behind bars till Thursday, thanks to paper-work hassles.

Bhattacharya’s first reaction after being released on bail was that he was a victim of police and administrative conspiracy.

Talking to Metro, Bhattacharya said: “I have not paid even 50 paise to kill Sailen, who was like my brother. I was quite affectionate towards him.”

Bhattacharya, who held the chair of a civic body chief for the longest time in West Bengal’s municipal history, said: “I will fight till the truth is revealed.”

Recalling the day when he was taken into custody, the former civic chief said: “Initially, I thought it was some kind of routine inquiry. On August 24, I went straight to Dum Dum police station. As I entered, they asked me to sign on the arrest warrant, which I did. Surprisingly, they produced me before the court the next day, 32 hours after the arrest. Seven police officials, including then superintendent of police Kuldeep Singh, surrounded me and started questioning. When they repeatedly asked how much I had paid to kill Das, I told them ‘If you ask me this question a thousand times or even cut off my tongue, my answer will be the same’,” recalled Bhattacharya.

   

 
 
NOD FOR NRI FUNDS CELL 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Oct. 11: 
Within three weeks of his return from Japan, his first overseas trip after assuming office, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has initiated the process of setting up a full-fledged NRI cell to facilitate foreign investment in the state. The cell will have both industry and government representatives on its board and a powerful secretariat will be in place to carry out the day-to-day operations of the independent body.

According to sources in Writers’ Buildings, the proposal for the cell had been lying with the chief minister’s office “for some time... After the Japan visit, the files have been reopened,” said a senior government official. He added: “The chief minister’s office has already set the ball rolling and a formal announcement on the structure and the scope of the cell will be announced shortly.”.

Bhaskar Sen, a city-based industrialist, feels the cell can “work wonders”, with the likes of McKinsey’s Rajat Gupta and Partha Ghosh and Associate’s Partha Ghosh on its board. “Setting up the cell with the objective of networking with NRIs and pitching for investments in the state is expected to kick-start a new phase of activity. Each industrialist on the board will be entrusted with specific responsibilities with regard to a particular country,” said Sen, after his 30-minute discussion with the chief minister on Thursday. “The chief minister is keen to invite people in areas like education, software training and research.”

An official said: “Rajat Gupta will be in Calcutta later this month and the final decision is expected to be taken then.”

Reacting to the news, Nazeeb Arif, secretary-general, Indian Chamber of Commerce, said: “The opportunities have never been explored to the fullest and a proper networking can change the scenario in the state. But, to reap the benefits, an effective delivery system has to be in place.”

   

 
 
GEARED TO THE CHALLENGES OF SURVIVAL 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Oct. 11: 
It’s time for class at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy (IICP). Deepak uses his feet, as others would use their hands, to draw, write and even eat. He is studying hard, as are Sudipendu, Deep, Antara and Soumen, who have five years to appear for the Class XII exams.

It’s lunchtime at the Taratala school. Attendants and teachers help the kids take out their tiffin and eat their meal. Some manage on their own. Others, who cannot afford to bring food from home, make their way to the school kitchen for plates of steaming rice and egg curry.

Finally, it’s games time. A dozen boys are playing carrom with ma’am. As one boy tries his moves at the chessboard, little Debika Das sits in her wheelchair, reading Hada Bhodar Golpo, giggling to herself.

Debika, quiet today, had caused quite a sensation when the gang from the Institute acted out her stirring poem at The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence, where they were handed The Patton Award for ‘A school that cares’.

Starting out with the same number of students as it had classrooms — two — in 1974, IICP has now spread its wings to help over 200 children in Calcutta and many more across the country.

There are 175 kids in the day school, as well as around 40 in the twice-a-week extension service. The school has recently got National Open School affiliation for senior secondary classes. “Each child has a separate goal sheet, prepared by teachers and social workers in consultation with parents,” explains principal Anita Varma. The goals are reviewed each month, to track the child’s progress.

The students are divided into three groups. The literacy section follows a largely academic curriculum. The functional academics — the most populous group — place a greater emphasis on vocational aspects, such as tie-and-dye or how to make diyas, bags, jewellery.

In the special learning unit, the severely learning impaired are taught basic communication-skills tasks, such as feeding and bathing, and even watching TV.

The walls of the Taratala school, too, have a tale to tell. Photographs of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, on separate visits, line the wall to the side of the lobby. In the office, a Manjit Bawa print, handed over by the artist himself, hangs between pictures drawn by the children. On the opposite side, in a simple black frame, hangs a sketch of a flower by M.F. Husain, scribbled on a visit to the school.

Upstairs is the training centre, with silk-screen printing cell, computer room and the catering unit, supplying to staff and well-wishers — from British Council to the Taratala thana. This is part of the income-generation scheme for physically-challenged adults.

A sleek, newly-constructed building to the back of the compound houses the hydrotherapy unit. Water exercises, acknowledged as effective physiotherapy, involve trainers as well as parents, to ensure that each child has constant attention in the shallow water.

On the second floor there is a respite care unit. Three flats see the children through the challenges of survival on their own. “We also need a place to keep the children in case of an emergency at home,” explains Shubhra Chatterjee, head of the communications cell.

IICP has a diagnostic clinic on Thursdays, with social workers and physiotherapists in attendance. Children are examined for cerebral palsy and parents are taken through the paces of home management and a cognitive development programme. Training is also conducted on campus, both post-graduate and shorter courses.

It has been a labour of love for the staff, parents and students associated with the IICP. And having broken the barriers of poverty, misconception and ignorance, there are still miles to go to the finish line.

   

 
 
150 TRAPPED IN MINE CAVE-IN 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Oct. 11: 
At least 150 people are feared trapped in an abandoned coal mine which collapsed following the sinking of a large area surrounding it at Lalbandh in Asansol on Wednesday.

At Writers’ Buildings, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, however, said the Burdwan district administration has been asked to ascertain the size of the disaster and the number of casualties, if any.

“As I gather, so far there has been no reports of any casualty,” Bhattacharjee said, adding that the administration had also been directed to find out if the illegal miners were local people or poor labourers from neighbouring Jharkhand.

“In fact, a part of the affected area belongs to Jharkhand. Our administration is now in touch with its counterpart in that state.”

In Dhanbad, Ashok Mehta, chairman and managing director of Eastern Coalfields Ltd, too, said no casualty has been reported in the large-scale subsidence about 24 hours ago.

According to police in Asansol, the accident occurred in a long abandoned coal mine located in a private land near ECL’s Ghorandi colliery. Though abandoned, the mine has always drawn people from neighbouring areas, who have made a tunnel to excavate coal illegally for the past 15 years.

“There are more than 200 abandoned collieries in the area which have become subsidence-prone following random excavation of coal from them. We have been telling the ECL to seal them permanently, but they chose not to listen. Our job is not to either guard the mines or keep an eye on movement of people to and from them,” said Narayan Ghosh, deputy inspector-general of police.

Local people said like always, about “100 to 150” people entered the tunnel to excavate coal on Wednesday and almost all of them were still inside when the mine collapsed.

“We know what we are talking about, for we go to that mine ourselves to excavate coal every day,” say Anu and Guljar Sheikh, two brothers from Pathuria village.

“It is sheer luck that we are alive today because we did not go down the tunnel on Wednesday as we had some important family work to do. But about the casualties we are pretty sure, for many men and women of our village, who went down, have not returned home. In one house, there were 35 people who eked out a living excavating coal. You go and check, they have just disappeared.”

The administration, however, said it was difficult to offer a detailed picture at this point because the subsidence had occurred across five bighas of land, making it “almost impossible” for rescue workers to try and reach the victims, if any, at a drop of over 20 feet.

“Since it was an illegal mine, entry or exit points were not defined. So, the rescue workers cannot get to the bottom at their will,” an official explained.

Haradhan Roy, a former CPM parliamentarian, who reached the site with a big team, said he had “heard groans and faint cries for help” from under the tons of debris.

   

 
 
MILITANTS STRIKE UNDER COVER OF DARKNESS 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Oct. 11: 
Thirty-two-year-old Goyanath Roy, the RSP unit secretary of the Churabhandar gram panchayat area in Jalpaiguri, had been working against the extortion demands of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation at Jalpesh Hat.

Last night, he paid the price with his life.

As usual, Goyanath stepped into friend Swapan Sarkar’s medical shop, barely 100 metres from the police camp near Jalpesh Kali Mandir.

Sometime later, suspected KLO militants also walked into the medicine shop. They were carrying AK-47 rifles.

By the time they came out, Goyanath was dead, hit on the chest and head. His friend was injured.

An eyewitness said the militants took advantage of a power cut to target the RSP leader. “Goyanath died on the spot, but Swapan survived. He was rushed to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital,” a resident said.

Though the shop was barely 100 metres from a permanent police post, the assailants managed to flee before the police could react. “They fled towards Salbari forests under cover of darkness,” the eyewitness said.

Additional superintendent of police, Jalpaiguri, Anant Kumar, said: “We suspect the operation was carried out by KLO militants, who, besides generally spreading panic, wanted to snub out resistance to their extortion demands. We are also investigating the sudden power cut. It is possible some local sympathiser had switched off the main connection at the appointed hour.”

He said the operation was similar to the KLO strike in June. “Goyanath had been campaigning against the militants and was on their hit list. The KLO had threatened him earlier,” Kumar said.

   
 

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