Classroom cracks in plaza push
Five-star status makes CU campus of choice
Stride the skyway at Dhakuria
Greasepaint, arclights and a lot of action
The City Diary
IT majors cry foul over insurance network deal
Cash-strapped Great Eastern ready for facelift
Rent hike damper on Maidan fireworks mela
State seals fate of illegal bheris
Mamata steps up protest heat

 
 
CLASSROOM CRACKS IN PLAZA PUSH 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Oct. 15: 
Calcutta International School (CIS) is under siege. The school, with 560 students, faces an uncertain future in the shadow of its looming neighbour — Forum, the 200,000-sq-ft, air-conditioned shopping mall anchored by Shopper’s Stop. Construction of the mega mart has left tiny tots in the CIS nursery with the fear that they may come back after the Pujas to see their colourful classrooms no more. Piling work for the plaza is on in full swing, but at a cost too high for the Lee Road school, the only one in the city offering the “O” and “A”-Levels University of London certificates. Cracks have appeared in classrooms, the boundary wall has collapsed, the field is now closed to the kids.

On Monday, when piling began directly behind the nursery rooms, the school authorities hit the panic button. “Over 90 children between four and six years study in those classrooms. We cannot take any risks, so we are calling up parents to tell them not to send their children to school,” said an anxious Nonda Chatterjee, principal, CIS.

The school’s 18, Lee Road premises had been leased from S.M. Shroff, who is also director of Sunsam Pvt Ltd, the promoters of Forum. “The lease has expired in 1984. They are illegal tenants, but I have not taken any steps to evict them as it is a school, ” claimed Shroff.

The school admits that the lease has expired. “But every time we have broached the topic of renewal, Shroff has told us that we need not bother,” countered Chatterjee. “The nursery rooms have been drawn into the market’s original plans. This is part of a diabolical plan to damage the building and seize the property.”

Realising the threat, the school committee filed an anticipatory FIR with the Bhowanipore thana last Friday and has decided to move a writ for an injunction to stop construction of the market complex by Heiglers Development and Construction Co, also owned by Shroff.

On Monday, Shroff sent a letter from Heiglers to both the school and the Bhowanipore thana, alleging that there are “several unauthorised and illegal constructions” on the school premises and that “if some untoward accident should occur, we certainly would not be responsible for it”.

Shroff has not asked CIS to pack up. “But when we reviewed the plans for Forum, we found that the area where the nursery now stands was included as open space inside the market complex,” alleged a parent of a CIS student and a renowned architect. This Shroff dismiss as a “lie”.

CIS is a haven to children of foreign consuls, politicians and industrialists. Former chief minister Jyoti Basu’s granddaughter Doel is among the ‘star’ students. Dinesh Trivedi, Trinamul Congress all-India general secretary and chairman of the school’s management committee, whose son is in Class VI, said: “The realtors are trying to take us for a ride. We have been very civil in our dealings... Legally, no one can touch the school.”

CIS had earlier requested that precautions be taken against such damage caused by construction. “We had asked for steel-piling to be put in place to minimise damage to the building. They did not do that in time.” Now, it is the piling that is doing all the damage. The boundary wall adjacent to the site has crumbled, the soil of the field has sunk, the noise is unbearable. “Our children love this school… We can think of no alternative,” shrugs J.R. Jones, whose daughter Rachael studies in nursery, while Danielle is in Class V. “There is so much noise now, it is hard to concentrate,” agrees Danielle.

Teacher Sutapa Lall was in class, not more than 10 feet away from the piling, when the ground beneath her shook. “Water seeps in while we are studying,” she explained, pointing at wide cracks in the wall.

For the moment, there is just one fear: The building may collapse before Saturday, when the school closes for the Pujas.

   

 
 
FIVE-STAR STATUS MAKES CU CAMPUS OF CHOICE 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Oct. 15: 
The “five-star” status accorded to Calcutta University by the National Accreditation Assessment Committee (NAAC) has started paying dividends. The university has received about 8,000 to 10,000 more applications for admission to post-graduate courses, compared to yesteryear, and a bulk of them are from other states.

The science or technology faculties are the top draws, with over 30,000 applications for 1,200 seats. “This is definitely a lot more than we have been receiving in the past,” M.K. Sengupta, secretary of the science and technology faculties, confirmed on Monday. “Most of the applicants are from outside the state. We were initially surprised by this trend, so we asked the students what had led them to apply in greater numbers. The almost unanimous reply was the five-star status that the university has received from NAAC.”

University sources said the applications have come in not only from neighbouring states like Orissa and the Northeast, but also from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

“We have noticed a similar trend in the arts section,” said Bimal Mukherjee, dean of arts. “This year, we have received at least 20 to 30 per cent more appications from other states than we have in previous years. This, we believe, is largely due to the new-found NAAC status.”

According to Sengupta, “what is really interesting is the applications coming in from the south and the west.” A “five-star status”, conferred by NAAC, an autonomous body set up by the University Grants Commission (UGC), is based not only on a university’s academic performance but also on its infrastucture. The award determines the amount of UGC funding.

University sources pointed out that apart from the NAAC award, the students’ performance in the National Eligibility Test (Net), held to recruit teachers to state-aided colleges across the country, had also tilted the scales towards Calcutta University.

Said Ajit Banik, chairman of the West Bengal College Service Commission: “The fact that students from our university have figured on the Net merit list has had a definite impact.”

On the flip side, however, some Calcutta University under-graduates aspiring for courses of their choice at the post-graduate level, have found themselves missing the bus. Though outside admissions are fixed at five per cent of the seats available in any given course, unlike other years, this year the quota has been quickly filled up.

“As a result,” concluded Sengupta, “in our post-graduate courses, we are able to accommodate only those with high first-class degrees.”

   

 
 
STRIDE THE SKYWAY AT DHAKURIA 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Oct. 15: 
Stranded at Dhakuria, petrified to take the perilous plunge to reach Dakshinapan? Don’t fret. Soon, you won’t have to dodge breathless traffic. Just step on the escalator, walk the overpass and cross over.

Calcutta will, before long, have its first escalator-driven aerial pathway. This cross-the-road bridge for pedestrians will come up on Gariahat Road (South), at the chaotic corner that is Dhakuria, one of the city’s most accident-prone zones, the civic authorities announced on Monday.

Over the years, the area has become very congested, with a manifold increase in traffic flow, thanks to the Dakshinapan shopping complex, Indian Oil Bhavan and AMRI Apollo Hospitals, besides rapid urbanisation on both sides.

The skyway, which will have two escalators running up and down on either side, will be constructed jointly by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and Indian Oil Corporation, at an estimated cost of Rs 5 crore.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said on Monday that tenders for the project will be floated immediately after the Pujas and construction will begin by year-end. “The escalators will help pedestrians get on to the bridge. We have seen that people don’t use the existing footbridges, risking crossing the busiest roads instead, because the climb is too steep,” he added.

“As a result, the footbridges at Ultadanga crossing, on APC Road near NRS Hospital, on VIP Road at the Lake Town crossing and on CIT Road near Bidhan Sishu Udyan, are hardly used by pedestrians. This will be the first footbridge in the city with escalators.”

An official of the Indian Oil Corporation said the company has already sanctioned Rs 50 lakh to the CMC for the footbridge and construction will start after clearance from civic authorities.

Local Trinamul Congress MLA Saugata Roy said he had requested the Indian Oil authorities to provide funds for the project and they had agreed. Roy also met Mukherjee a couple of months ago and requested him to take up the project in earnest.

“I am under tremendous pressure from the residents of Dhakuria for a footbridge which will help them cross the busy Gariahat Road. I hope, it will come up soon”, Roy added.

It is learnt that the CMC had earlier decided to construct a subway in the area, but later decided an overhead footbridge would be a better option.

   

 
 
GREASEPAINT, ARCLIGHTS AND A LOT OF ACTION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 15: 
Salt Lake residents need flee to the city no more for entertainment. They’ll have to look no further than a sprawling complex in IB Block, close to Charnock City, housing an auditorium for film screenings and stage productions, an amphitheatre and an art gallery. The Rs 8-crore Central government project will be ready this winter.

Terracotta tiles, panelling from the Northeast, Bankurar ghora and a Konark sundial will greet visitors to the Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre (EZCC). Lighting boxes and greenrooms “for plays and performances of the highest calibre”, a projection room for film festivals and translation facilities for national and international seminars will be installed at the auditorium. The centrally air-conditioned hall, with plush push-back seats and state-of-the-art fire-prevention equipment, will accommodate 600 at the lower level, while the balcony will add 300. The ramps and the lift-size will be tailored to meet the needs of those in wheelchair, too.

The amphitheatre, behind the auditorium block, can host up to 350 spectators. In the basement will be a workshop, music and rehearsal rooms. Structural provisions have been made for a four-floor museum that will feature art and artefacts from the eight regions — West Bengal, Manipur, Assam, Orissa, Tripura, Sikkim, Bihar and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands — which come under the purview of the EZCC.

“The centre combines influences from the handicrafts of the states,” says Dipak Majumdar, general manager, projects, of Development Consultants Limited, the architects behind the building.

Film festivals, from Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak, to mainstream cinema will find a place at the IB Block complex. Folk dance and multi-lingual drama festivals will be featured regularly.

“We will invite artistes from the other zonal centres to perform here,” says Ranajit Samaddar, programme and liaison officer, EZCC. A tie-up with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations is also on the cards.

The objective: To make the centre the cultural hotspot of the township. “We will try to do something there every day to take quality entertainment to the people,” adds Samaddar.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

State lines up fleet for night bus service

Calcutta may get its first late-night state bus service after Diwali, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty said at Writers’ Buildings on Monday. The minister said his department had ordered 1,200 buses to beef up the current strength of the Calcutta State Transport Corporation’s (CSTC) fleet of about 1,000 vehicles. Four hundred vehicles have already been acquired in September. The proposed late-night CSTC services would be available between midnight and 3 am on a few specific routes in the city. According to the minister, the buses would ply, on an hourly basis, linking Howrah and Sealdah stations, government hospitals and crematoriums initially.

Chakraborty admitted that in all major metros, public transport services were available till late in the night. “Calcuttans travelling in buses do not go for late-night jaunts like people in other metros. They need to travel at night only when there is an emergency, like visiting ailing patients or organising a cremation and catching an early morning train,” Chakraborty said, adding that the proposed services would not be profitable, as passengers were likely to be few.

Star theatre takeover

Civic authorities will take over Star Theatre on Wednesday. A fire had damaged the theatre a few years ago. The CMC will acquire the stakes from the family owning it. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee will sign the papers on this count at 4 pm on Wednesday, officials said. Representing the family of former mayor Gobinda Chandra De, the original owners, will be one of the descendants — actress Sabitri Chattopadhyay — as well as MLA Sadhan Pande and Trinamul Congress official Atin Ghosh. Mukherjee said the civic authorities would invest about Rs 10 crore in rebuilding Star as a modern, air-conditioned theatre with a shopping complex attached to it. “We are committed to rebuilding Star,” Mukherjee said.

Puja guide

The city police published their Puja guide on Monday. The booklet contains details of traffic restrictions on major roads during the Puja days. City police commissioner Sujay Chakroborty described the guide as a complete map for pandal-hoppers. For the first time, the police have published the guide in Gurmukhi to help truck drivers know the road directions. It also contains suggested routes for the immersion procession.

Slum samaritan

Noorjahan Bibi, a slum-dweller of Basirhat, helped an 11-year-old girl return home on Monday. Police said Anita Roy, the girl, was missing for the past one month. She was lost while returning from a relative’s house. Anita’s parents lodged a missing diary at Barasat police station. Noorjahan had noticed Anita lying unconscious at Sealdah railway station. “Anita could not remember anything clearly. The only place she mentioned was Barasat. Noorjahan went around from door to door in Barasat searching for Anita’s home. She finally succeeded on Monday,” said an official of the Barasat police station.

Case adjourned

Peter Bleach (picture above), sentenced to life in connection with the Purulia armsdrop, was back at Calcutta High Court on Friday to argue his own case. His plea for bail was rejected as the Bench comprising Justice Noore Alam Choudhury and Narayan Chandra Sil adjourned the “extraordinary” matter till November 23. Counsels representing the Union of India and the CBI blamed the state government for failing to inform the Bench about the Russians’ release in July 2000.

Youth shot dead

A 28-year-old youth was killed at Lake Town on Sunday night. Lakhoa Singh, the victim, was shot from point-blank range. He died on the spot. The incident is reportedly a sequel to gang rivalry. Police said five men came to a club and called Lakhoa. As he came out, they opened fire and sped away. No arrest has been made.

Strike called

The CITU-affiliated union of state transport employees has called a day’s token strike on October 19 in support of its five-point charter of demands, which includes pension at par with state government employees. Thumbs Up TO shree wankaner yuwak mandal for organising a medical camp where diabetes check-up and blood grouping were done free of cost    

 
 
IT MAJORS CRY FOUL OVER INSURANCE NETWORK DEAL 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Oct. 15: 
It’s the biggest tech tender floated from the city by public-sector insurance giant National Insurance Corporation (NIC) as part of its computerisation programme. And it’s run into trouble.

The Calcutta-headquartered insurance major invited bids this May for 970 servers, 4,310 personal computers, 2,158 printers and networking of its entire set-up. The prospect of around Rs 50-crore-worth of business saw both local and global IT majors like IBM, Compaq, Wipro, HCL and Accel ICIM pitching hard for the project.

Six months into the tender announcement and after a series of technical and financial evaluation of the bids, Compaq is all set to clinch the deal. Though NIC is yet to sign up with Compaq, it has already sent refund letters on their bank guarantee to the other players, who are levelling allegations of “malpractice” against the insurance major.

Protest letters from the firms denied have reached the corridors of North Block. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has also been alerted. The war of words could well take a turn towards the courtroom, with the Wipros and HCLs contemplating legal action against the manner in which “NIC is granting the contract to Compaq”.

When contacted, no one in the upper echelons of NIC was willing to comment. B Ramanujam, senior GM, NIC, said: “It’s an internal matter of the company and I don’t have anything to say in this connection.”

Sources in NIC, however, confirmed that the finance ministry had got wind of some “malpractice” and despatched a letter to the Corporation to look into the matter before signing the final contract papers with Compaq.

An Accel ICIM employee, on condition of anonymity, said: “After the technical evaluation, NIC had selected HCL, Compaq and us for the price bid. Despite calling for revised bids after two rounds of demonstration, the authorities opened both the earlier and revised bids during the selection process. They even violated the established norm by not disclosing the prices quoted by the bidders in the presence of representatives of all parties.”

Both Wipro and HCL have voiced discontent over the process, as it “lacked transparency”. Questions are being raised about technical issues as well. “It’s amazing to note that despite the availability of latest Pentium IV machines, NIC has decided to go for the older and dearer Pentium III versions,” said a senior HCL official.

These questions, raised by IT majors through “formal letters” to NIC have remained unanswered. “They haven’t given us any explanation to the points we have raised,” claimed an HCL employee.

“The entire tendering process looked shady from the very beginning, with middlemen approaching us at every step to fix the deal in our favour,” he added.

   

 
 
CASH-STRAPPED GREAT EASTERN READY FOR FACELIFT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Oct. 15: 
With the proposed handover of Great Eastern Hotel being temporarily shelved, the management has undertaken a number of measures to improve its flagging image and cover up a Rs 20-lakh loss every month.

“Things are really looking up ever since we have been able to reduce the losses,” said tourism secretary Pranab Ray, who has been overseeing the hotel as its chairman since July. “We have already been able to bring down the losses from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 16 lakh per month,” he claimed.

Admitting that the hotel is overstaffed, Ray said efforts are on to reduce the staff strength. “We are planning to introduce an early retirement scheme (ERS) instead of voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) for those who have completed 50,” he said, adding that “over 475 staff for only 160 rooms are really taxing on the management”.

According to Ray, the management has also approached the Institute of Hotel Management, Taratala, to conduct intensive training courses for those below 50 years of age.

This apart, the management has decided to promote its bakery unit and products. It has for the first time tied up with the West Bengal Co-operative Milk Producers’ Federation to sell its bakery products through 60 Mother Dairy outlets in Salt Lake and in south Calcutta.

“We have decided to launch the project on November 19,” said hotel member secretary, K.P. Sinha.

According to Sinha, at least 11 varieties of bakery products —French rolls, packet rolls, tiffin cakes, heart cake, assorted pastry, choco-boat, brown tarts, cheese straws, bread sticks and fruit cake — will be available at affordable rates in the Mother Dairy outlets. “We shall initially start with 60 outlets and open up another 50 by the year end,” he added.

Officials said such outlets would be shortly opened at Writers’ Buildings and state government offices at Salt Lake.

The move to expand the scope of bakery products is obviously aimed at recovering the financial losses the unit has been incurring ever since the Corporation stopped taking its products since May.

In a move to rope in more customers, the management has plans to introduce discount facilities. “We are considering heavy discounts to those who avail rooms of tariff above Rs 2,200,” Sinha said adding discounts will also be allowed on food and drinks.

The management has sought Rs 65 lakh for renovation.

Officials say at least 40 per cent of the rooms are being redone in addition to three restaurants. “The entrance of the hotel will be restructured, ” said C.L. Banerjee, PWD engineer, presently overseeing the renovation work in the hotel.

   

 
 
RENT HIKE DAMPER ON MAIDAN FIREWORKS MELA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Oct. 15: 
The annual fireworks mela on the Maidan looks uncertain this year, with the state government slapping a hefty rental on the stall-owners for the second year.

According to the Burrabazar Fireworks Dealers’ Association, the dealers, numbering about 80, will have to shell out about Rs 6 lakhs for the space. Last year, though the mela was held, the association did not pay up in protest as the rates were hiked abruptly.

Till 1999, the rate was Rs 85,000 for holding the fireworks bazaar in the safety of the Maidan. The dealers have approached the finance department with a plea for a concession, but has drawn no assurances have come forth yet.

The fireworks mela is being held on the Maidan since 1995, when the police banned the sale and display of fireworks in the congested China Bazaar and Canning Street areas of Burrabazar for reasons of safety.

The state government, since then, had allowed the fireworks dealers to set up stalls at a concession. “This was allowed as we were complying with a police directive on the safety of the traders as well as customers,” the dealers said. But this time round, the Public Works Department, which is custodian of the Maidan greens on which the melas are held, has pleaded helplessness.

According to PWD sources, the finance department has issued a circular stating that full ground rent has to be levied on all profit-making ventures on the Maidan.

“As it is, we face a slump in sales, with the virtual ban on crackers in West Bengal. This extra burden on our members will force us to abandon the mela this year,” said Sunil Dutt, the secretary of the dealers’ association.

Finance department sources said some way out of this crisis would be worked out in the coming week. The police, on the other hand, have cleared the fireworks mela from November 7. The seven-day mela, if held at all, will be located on the Maidan across Academy of Fine Arts and will stretch till opposite Birla Planetarium.

To compound matters, the state government has hiked the ground charges from 10 paise a sq ft to 25 paise per sq ft. The mela is held on a total ground area of 288,000 sq ft. “The state government charges ground rent for a total of 13 days, as we need three days before and after the mela to construct and dismantle our stalls,” Dutt pointed out. If the government does not work out a formula to suit the fireworks dealers, Dutt said an emergency meeting will be convened later next week will discuss the crisis.

   

 
 
STATE SEALS FATE OF ILLEGAL BHERIS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 15: 
The state government has taken a fresh initiative to seal all illegal fisheries or bheris located in various parts of North 24-Parganas district, particularly in the Basirhat sub-division.

Instructed by the irrigation department, the district administration has drawn up a plan which it will implement with the help of the police.

The irrigation department has already made a list of illegal bheris located at Hasnabad, Malancha, Kalitala, Sashan, Minakha and Sandeshkhali where thousands of acres of agricultural land have been converted to bheris.

According to the district administration, all bheris are functioning illegally as none of the owners has taken the necessary permission from the authorities.

In Basirhat and its adjoining areas, nearly 6,000 bighas of agricultural land were converted to bheris earlier this year. The affected blocks include Bakpukur, Ankipur, Rajapur and Jafarpur.

The crackdown on bheris comes close after the government decided to form an expert committee to put an end to illegal fisheries, believed to be responsible for last year’s devastating floods.

After the local authorities got whiff that farmland was being converted into bheris in Basirhat, it asked the local police in January to take stock of the situation and demolish the illegal embankments.

But sources said the police were under pressure from a section of the CPM which backed the bheri-owners.

They added that the Basirhat police station had ignored repeated intimations from the sub-divisional officer and block and land reforms officer of Basirhat.

The SDO (Basirhat), in a letter (dated January 11, 2001) to the officer-in-charge of Basirhat police station, said: “The desired action report has not yet been received by this office yet, although the matter is an important one…. Priority may be given in this regard.”

The matter was first raised by the Centre for Communication and Development, a voluntary organisation fighting against illegal bheris.

“The villagers have lodged a series of complaints, but they have not bothered to listen to us,” said a spokesman for the organisation.

Based on the first information report filed against eight persons, an inspection team of government officials and village pradhans visited the affected areas and found that all government norms had been flouted and prime agricultural land had been converted into fisheries.

An office memo of the land and land reforms office (memo No-1070/BLR-B-HAT) clearly states that “…about 500 Scheduled Tribes will lose their belongings…. The accused persons are making an offence in presence of the government machinery… and violating the government order.”

The memo sent to all senior government officials, including the additional district magistrate (North 24-Parganas), said: “Immediate steps (should) be taken against the accused persons for unauthorised extraction and conversion of agri-land (into fisheries).”

   

 
 
MAMATA STEPS UP PROTEST HEAT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Oct. 15: 
Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and over 100 party MPs, MLAs and city councillors courted arrest on Rani Rashmoni Road today while protesting against the “humiliation of party MLAs in the hand of the ruling CPM-led government”.

To add fuel to the agitation was the incident on October 9, when party MLA Sougata Roy was stopped from entering Writers’ Buildings.

Among those who courted arrest today were four MPs, 52 MLAs and 60 councillors. Police said altogether 107 people were arrested, including 22 women.

“Our MLAs are being humiliated. Fundamental and democratic rights are being infringed upon. An unannounced emergency is on in Bengal,” the Trinamul leader said before courting arrest.

Mamata was last arrested about eight years ago when she had taken a deaf and mute rape victim to Writers’ Buildings to seek the audience of then chief minister Jyoti Basu and sat in a dharna in front of his chamber.

Trinamul MPs, MLAs and councillors today assembled near the Gandhi statue on Mayo Road at around 1.30 pm. Mamata joined 15 minutes later. They then marched to Rani Rashmoni Road via Jawaharlal Nehru Road around 2 pm. The party claimed it had not disrupted traffic.

The activists wore white aprons with ‘Save Democracy’ written on them. They were taken away in four private buses to the Presidency Jail from where they were released.

   
 

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