Hostage drama over puja pay-up
Great Divide on growth map
Sued over food hue
Stopwork sign on plaza off school
Kid patrol on pandal crusade
The City Diary
Teleshop hits staff stonewall
Kumartuli caught in kerosene crisis
Knuckle-rap for potato hoarders
Probe order on graft at morgue

 
 
HOSTAGE DRAMA OVER PUJA PAY-UP 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Oct. 16 : 
Extortion in the name of puja subscription assumed an ugly face in Calcutta on Tuesday. The organisers of a community puja in Lake Town abducted two employees of a car showroom and tried to hold them hostage till the management gave in to their demands of a hefty ‘donation’.

The Lake Town police freed the two staff of Sankalp Motors, dealers in Ford, Piaggio and Maruti cars, on VIP Road, but refused to register any complaint till they were ordered to do so by North 24-Parganas superintendent of police M. Harisena Verma. Vijay Bothra, managing director of the Bothra Group, owners of the showroom, also alleged that he was threatened with “time in the lock-up” before Verma’s instructions came.

The police, instead of arresting members of the club, detained six showroom staff, including Bothra Group scion Prashant Bothra and showroom manager Indira Banerjee. They were asked to “negotiate” with the abductors.

It all began at around 10.30 am on Tuesday, when 20-odd members of Golaghata Puja Sammilani knocked on the Bothra Ford showroom doors. One of them handed over a ‘receipt’ for Rs 10,000 to the showroom staff.

“My staff told them that a festival should be celebrated with money given voluntarily,” Prashant later said. According to the complaint filed by him at Lake Town police station, the puja organisers left after about 15 minutes, but with two employees — Suman Chatterjee, a clerk, and Tapan Chakraborty, a salesman — as hostage. “Bring the money to our club and get back your colleagues,” they told the other staff.

Six Bothra employees accompanied Prashant to Lake Town police station. A team from the thana set out for the club. The team returned with the hostages, followed by more than 25 members of the club. The club members started threatening the Bothra employees. “The inspector-in-charge and his subordinates refused to register any complaint and asked us to strike a deal with the abductors,” Prashant alleged.

Vijay Bothra arrived around 3.30 pm. He claims inspector-in-charge S.N. Roy asked him: “Are you the Governor or what?” When Bothra requested him to take down the case, Roy apparently told him he would “have to spend some time behind the bars” if he pushed his complaint.

It was only after Bothra called up the SP from his mobile that Roy allowed him to register the complaint. By then the crowd had swelled to about 200.

Lake Town police station refused to comment. “Nothing of the sort has happened at the police station,” Roy told Metro. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Verma, however, promised to pursue the matter. “I’m going to ask the Lake Town police to answer the charges,” he said. “We will get to the bottom of this mess.”

   

 
 
GREAT DIVIDE ON GROWTH MAP 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR AND DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Oct. 16 : 
North Calcutta: ageing; South Calcutta: growing.

North Calcutta: decline; South Calcutta: development.

Fed up with these stereotypes, legislators and councillors of north Calcutta have come together to showcase the “original Calcutta”, which, they say, has suffered at the expense of “the upstart south” for far too long. And to try and bridge the great divide.

North Calcutta people’s representatives, including MLAs and borough chairmen belonging to all parties, and even ex-Calcutta Municipal Corporation chairman Purnendu Sengupta, have put their names to a memorandum addressed to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee .

Why should the gravy train (carrying bridges, flyovers, housing complexes, new roads) be headed south, they demanded. Every single paisa of the Rs 1,700-crore Asian Development Bank loan was going to be pumped south of Esplanade. South Calcutta is expanding and appropriating all private investment, too, with hospitals, schools, shopping malls and restaurants, alleged the “save north Calcutta” club.

“The discrimination started from Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s tenure in 1972,” said Sadhan Pande, one of the founding members of the club. The divide, according to observers, is largely political. Ray is a resident of Beltala Road, in south Calcutta, Jyoti Basu lived in Hindusthan Park; the current CM lived in Shyampukur, but has long moved to Palm Avenue. Even leader of the Opposition Mamata Banerjee hails from Kalighat and the city’s mayor, Subrata Mukherjee, is a resident of Gariahat.

The north only had Ajit Panja, who was state health minister under Ray and later went to become a Union minister. “But he didn’t have any development plans for the north,” Pande was quick to add. There was also Prasanta Chatterjee, mayor before Mukherjee. But he only went around the slums, Pande claimed, pointing out that north and central Calcutta contributed only 10 out of the city’s 22 MLAs.

“North Calcuttans, like old Calcutta, are laid-back,” said mayor Mukherjee. “This is reflected in the north Calcutta legislator’s lack of zeal.” CPI leader and ex-CMC chairman Purnendu Sengupta said: “Most ministers and policy-makers, after Bidhan Roy’s death, have been south Calcuttans… North Calcutta is now becoming like a deserted village. Those who do well move either to south Calcutta or Bilet.”

Calcutta’s decline cannot be checked without arresting the northern slide. “Development of the part from where the city began is a must,” says the north Calcutta club.

   

 
 
SUED OVER FOOD HUE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 16 : 
The report from the food-testing laboratory has arrived. Central Calcutta’s Amber now finds itself in the frying pan, with the civic authorities filing a case against the restaurant in the court of the municipal magistrate.

The offending item, civic officials say, is the colouring used in the chicken biryani, samples of which were picked up in a recent raid on the Waterloo Street restaurant. The findings say the colouring used is banned under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act.

But Amber is not the only restaurant under the scanner. The CMC has found that all is not right with food samples picked up from New Kenilworth, Shehnaz, Bawarchi, Gill Palace and Ghazab, against whom cases had been filed earlier.

The other establishments raided by the civic officials are Astor, Silver Grill, Golden Dragon, China Haus and China Gardens. Though the CMC had not picked up food samples from there, they found the kitchens unhygienic and given them a month to clean up.

Member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Khan, however, gave a clean chit to the samples of chilli powder picked up from Amber. Also, the biryani colouring was better than the quality used by Ghazab, which used the carcinogenic “metallin yellow” variety, an industrial colouring agent.

“The colouring used by Ghazab is really harmful,” Khan said. “In comparison, Amber’s is more benign. But, as we see it, they are just as guilty of flouting rules.”

Amber’s owner, S.K. Khullar, disputed the CMC findings. “I do not know how they jumped to this conclusion,” he said. “There is absolutely no chemical or anything harmful used in our food. What we use are natural agents, like saffron. Justice will prevail and the final verdict shall be in our favour.”

Meanwhile, municipal magistrate A.K. Sengupta found a pulse merchant of Burrabazar adulterating his stocks of arhar dal with metallin yellow to enhance its colour. He has ordered that the director of the company, Omar Mondal, be imprisoned for six months and a fine of Rs 1,000 be imposed.

   

 
 
STOPWORK SIGN ON PLAZA OFF SCHOOL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 16 : 
There is an uneasy silence at Calcutta International School (CIS). On Tuesday, a temporary order to stop construction of the market plaza on the adjoining premises, 10/3, Elgin Road, has been issued by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).

The construction has caused the boundary wall of the Lee Road school to collapse and cracks to appear in the classrooms.

“We have given the builders, who are also the landlords of the school premises, a notice to stop piling work. A school cannot function like this,” said the director-general, buildings, CMC, Asok Roy Chowdhury, who inspected the site on Tuesday. “We have called the builders for a meeting on Wednesday. Construction will resume as soon as they take the necessary precautions to protect the schoolchildren from any untoward incident,” he added.

The school authorities, who have been told by Roy Chowdhury to “call back the students”, are relieved. “The pounding and the vibrations have finally stopped… At least now we know that the students are safe,” said principal Nonda Chatterjee. The school authorities have also filed a writ for an injunction to have the construction stropped.

A guardian-staff meeting has been called on Wednesday evening. “We have been thinking of shifting the school for some time now, but the problem is to find a central location,” explains the principal. “But we certainly cannot remain here in this situation.”

S.M. Shroff, landlord of CIS’s 18, Lee Road premises and director, Sunsam Pvt Ltd which is building the megamart Forum, has denied receiving any stopwork notification from the government.

   

 
 
KID PATROL ON PANDAL CRUSADE 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Oct. 16 : 
We have never seen a Durga pratima up close. Sometimes, catching a glimpse of the asur only, sometimes the devi’s face. When will it be our turn?

This time, apparently. A special patrol will be on the prowl this Puja, checking out how ‘child-friendly’ our pandals really are. The team of five schoolchildren — Nivedita from La Martiniere, Shayan from CA English Medium, Salt Lake, Gaurab from St James, Shibashish from Patipukur Boys and Jayeeta from Lake Town Govt Sponsored Girls High School — will do the rounds of the pandals on Panchami, questionnaires in hand . They will speak to kids of the area, as well, to get a low-down on the adults in charge.

On Nabami, the judges will hand out the award for the Best Child-Friendly Puja, from Nerolac, Unicef and Prayasam, a Salt Lake-based NGO. “We want to include everyone in the fun — from the tiniest child to someone in a wheelchair,” is what Nivedita has to say. “More often than not, kids come back disappointed, not able to see the pratima,” adds Amlan Ganguly, co-ordinating the Prayasam effort.

The kids decided to go into Puja action a few months ago. Working with physically-challenged children from Reach for a clean-up Calcutta project, Paye Paye Kolkata, they realised that lots of their friends never even get to go into a pandal. That was the signal for the child army from schools like La Martiniere, Don Bosco, St James and Future Foundation to step in and do something novel.

On October 23, Saptami, the judges and their friends, Prayasam volunteers, 80 kids from the Rishi Aurobindo squatters colony in Golaghata and another 80 children of Salt Lake rickshaw-pullers will take to the streets for a Puja Parikrama. Their brightly coloured T-shirts will bear a simple message: Pujar range shishur dak, shob jayegaye shanti thak” (In the spirit of the Pujas, the children are crying out for peace everywhere).

A bus will take the child brigade from Salt Lake to south Calcutta, then back to the far north to check out the hotspots. The kids have shortlisted around 35 must-sees, supported by Nerolac, Studio PrintArt, and Prayasam.

Little Jayeeta, on the Puja panel, is excited about the prospect of seeing so many thakurs. “Usually, I just get to see the ones around my house,” confides the Class VII student. This 12-year-old judge, who stands 4’6’’ in her tiny shoes, has a pet peeve: She can never see the pratima from tip to toe.

Puja-hoppers should also look out for child volunteers at select pandals. Kids from the locality will be setting up stalls, passing out leaflets for the Global Movement for Children, signing people up for Unicef’s Say Yes For Children project, talking about the Paye Paye Kolkata cause, enacting plays, organising drawing competitions. “The committees at Telengabagan, Karbagan, Maddox Square, Ahiritola, Belgachhia Sarbojonin Durgotsab Committee and Satadal have all offered space free for the stalls,” concludes Ganguly.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Thursday date for B.Com Part I results

Dancers’ Guild puts up a performance at Swabhumi on Tuesday. Picture by Kishor Roy Chowdhury The results of this year’s B.Com Part I examinations of Calcutta University will be published on Thursday, Onkar Sadhan Adhikari, controller of examinations of the university, said on Tuesday. Nearly 25,000 examinees had appeared for the examinations, held in June 2001. University sources said the marksheets would be distributed among the colleges from the controller’s office on Thursday afternoon. The examinees are expected to get their results from the colleges on the same day. Since the Puja vacation is scheduled to begin from Saturday in most colleges, the authorities of the respective institutions have been asked to ensure that the students get the results on time.

Puja police aid booths ‘illegal’

Roads in front of big community pujas would be washed twice a day during the pujas, city conservancy chief Mala Roy said on Tuesday. She also created a controversy by dubbing all police assistance booths set up during the Pujas as illegal. The police do not pay the requisite tax to the civic authorities, she alleged. Rubbishing Roy’s contention, additional commissioner of police S.I.S. Ahmed said the police would set up 15 assistance booths in different parts of the city. A senior police official pointed out that the police never realise charges from the CMC for rendering help.

Dacoits held

Three dacoits were arrested by the Beniapukur police on Tuesday and stolen goods recovered from them. Deputy commissioner of police Sanjoy Mukherjee said Liyakat Ali Jamadar, along with Md Habib and Md Shakeel, had planned an operation on October 10 at a Sundari Mohan Avenue apartment. Two of them were caught and later, Liyakat and another person Balwant Chauhan were picked up from Baruipur, in South 24-Parganas.

Ammo parcel

The police on Tuesday seized a parcel containing a revolver and eight rounds of ammunition from the Burrabazar post office. Police said the parcel was addressed to a Jorasanko resident, Ram Shankar Chaurasia. Although Chaurasia escaped, the police claim to have obtained vital leads, which might lead to his arrest. Investigations revealed that Manoj Gupta, a resident of Sabzi Mandi in Kanpur, had sent the parcel to Chaurasia.

Das memorial book

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, on Tuesday, released a book on the slain Dum Dum municipality chairman Sailen Das, at Writers’ Buildings. The book, edited by Tushar Pradhan, contains remembrances by the chief minister, sheriff Suchitra Mitra, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas among others. Das’ widow Kanan Das was present at the function.

Sealdah volunteers

The railway authorities on Tuesday disbanded volunteer ticket collectors of the Sealdah division. The decision was taken after several complaints were lodged that the volunteers were harassing passengers. The railway authorities have asked passengers not to show tickets to these volunteers.

Media planner dies

Sushen Saha, one of the pioneers of modern media planning and former marketing consultant of ABP Ltd, passed away in Mumbai on Tuesday at the age of 72. He was suffering from cancer. Saha, who is survived by his wife and four children, started his career as an internal auditor with Hindustan Lever and then moved on to Lintas. Later, he became the city media head of Clarion and then, was associate vice-president, media research, HTA. Thumbs Up TO indian oil corporation for launching Gold Card Circle memberships aimed at enhancing customer satisfaction    

 
 
TELESHOP HITS STAFF STONEWALL 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Oct. 16 : 
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited’s plans to increase subscriber base and protect clients from corrupt lower-grade staff in Calcutta has run into rough weather, following resistance from a section of employees and contractors’ labourers.

The much-hyped ‘teleshop’ scheme of Calcutta Telephones — a BSNL wing — introduced with fanfare during the corporate body’s first ‘birthday’, envisaged a phone of one’s choice for every customer; several models of telephones in various colours would be shown to potential subscribers.

Some areas of Calcutta Telephones, falling within the north, west and south divisions, were earmarked for the inaugural trial run. But the scheme, which proposed weeding out corruption at the ground level during installation of sets for new subscribers, has failed to take off in some areas initially reserved for the test run.

A section of BSNL employees and labourers working for company contractors has resisted all efforts for smooth functioning of the scheme, say BSNL officials.

At risk are the corporate body’s ability to compete with the private sector — it will soon have to compete with private players when it introduces cellular phones — and its plans to allow subscribers sets of their choice, say officials, admitting that it is a “hiccup” to be resolved without delay.

BSNL’s intentions were noble enough, they stress. Most of the allegations come during a subscriber’s first interface with lower-grade employees or contractors’ men, when the subscriber gets the set and has it connected to the exchange by them and, invariably, has to pay them a certain “token of appreciation”, admit officials.

This new scheme planned to do away with that by limiting the lower-level employees’ ability to coerce new subscribers, officials said. “Once subscribers don’t have to depend on linesmen for a high-quality, trouble-free set, they are less likely to be browbeaten into paying hefty tips,” so ran the logic.

The scheme is functioning in Bidhannagar without problems — subscribers even got packets of sweets on October 5 when it started — but employees and labourers have ensured a speedbreaker at Alipore and Serampore, where subscribers are now getting only numbers of their choice but not the sets.

The employees mostly belong to the Left-supporting unions, like National Federation of Telecom Employees or the BSNL Employees’ Union and the labourers of big contractors who, more often than not, have links with politicians, say BSNL officials. “It is, therefore, very difficult to rein them in,” a senior official said.

The officials, however, said efforts were under way to make employees and non-BSNL labourers see reason.

   

 
 
KUMARTULI CAUGHT IN KEROSENE CRISIS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 16 : 
The public distribution system at Kumartuli seems to have conspired with the weather gods to push artists in the largest idol-making hub of the city on the backfoot.

An acute scarcity of kerosene — absolutely essential in the very wet run-up to the festive season this year — has pushed up the price of the commodity in the black market. This has escalated the average Kumartuli idol-maker’s expenses and has left him struggling in one of the commercially worst seasons, as the city gears up to celebrate the annual festival.

When the skies are wet, kerosene is as essential as clay, say Kumartuli’s idol-makers. Despite their best efforts, which mean an additional covering of tarpaulin sheets on the clay models, not a single artist in Kumartuli can boast of idols spared by the rains this year.

It is here that kerosene becomes so important. “We use the fuel to operate the small hand-made blow-torches that we use to dry up the moisture that accumulates on the clay models,” explained Sanatan Pal. “We can’t apply colours on the clay till it dries up sufficiently,” he added.

With the somewhat more-than-usual swish of the monsoon tail refusing to leave Calcutta even in the week before the Pujas, artists depended on the official PDS outlets for their quota of kerosene. But these outlets — there are two near Kumartuli — let the idol-makers down in their hour of need, complained Prasanta Sen, another Kumartuli artist.

With kerosene, which comes at less than Rs 10 a litre from the PDS outlets, not available there, Kumartuli was forced to look elsewhere. ‘Help’ was at hand — in the form of the local groceries — but they began demanding and getting Rs 16 for every litre of kerosene.

With the city — and Kumartuli — getting its daily dose of heavy afternoon rainfall, every extra millimetre of rain implied an additional purchase of kerosene, idol-makers said. “With not a drop from the PDS outlets, we were forced to turn to the groceries and ended up overshooting our budget by a few hundred rupees for every set of idols,” Sen added.

But the income has not increased correspondingly, Sen’s colleagues say. Organisers usually negotiate with the idol-makers a few months before the Pujas and prices, therefore, remain static when the delivery is actually made.

Kumartuli is now looking to the next Puja, that of Goddess Kali, to help it overcome the crisis. Kali Puja, however, is celebrated on a less grander scale, say idol-makers. Most sculptors in the idol-making district — except the big names — have resigned themselves to a lose-lose situation this year, they add.

   

 
 
KNUCKLE-RAP FOR POTATO HOARDERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 16 : 
The government on Tuesday issued a warning to traders hoarding potatoes and onions, leading to a sharp rise in market prices.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Tuesday directed the police and the agricultural marketing department to conduct raids against hoarders and cold storage owners.

Agricultural marketing minister Chhaya Ghosh said potatoes were being sold at Rs 9 a kg. “The popular Jyoti variety is being sold at Rs 9, while Chandramukhi is Rs 8.30 a kg,’’ she said. Prices have risen by Rs 4 a kg in the past week and a half. Onions are being sold at Rs 11. The department fears that prices may escalate further if immediate action is not taken.

The minister directed Posta Merchants Association, the apex body of potato and onion traders, to release all items from the cold storage by November 30. “We will seal the defaulting cold storages,’’ she warned.

Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty told Metro that the Enforcement Branch was raiding city markets. EB sources said the police had summoned Gurupada Sinha, one of the biggest distributors of potatoes in Calcutta, and Ashok Gupta, an onion distributor, and warned them of stern action if investigations found them guilty of hoarding.

According to Ghosh, the state consumes 300,000 tonnes of potatoes every month, of which the city needs about 50,000 tonnes. She attributed the current crisis to three reasons:

Cold storage owners are not uniformly distributing items

Wholesale distributors are hoarding potatoes and onions to create an artificial crisis

Sellers in the local market are also hoarding stocks

Raids were conducted at markets in Lansdowne Road, Hatibagan, College Street, Rashbehari Avenue, Gariahat, Kidderpore and Jadubabu bazaar. A few suspects were detained, an EB official said.

   

 
 
PROBE ORDER ON GRAFT AT MORGUE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Oct. 16 : 
Chief medical officer of South 24-Parganas, Dr Bhaskar Bhattacharya, on Tuesday ordered a probe into alleged corrupt practices at the Mominpur morgue.

Officials said that numerous complaints had reached Bhattacharya over the past few months over involvement of some morgue staff in illegal activities, including harassment while handing over bodies for post mortem.

The dilapidated morgue was recently renovated on an order from the Green Bench of Calcutta High Court. In his writ, environmental activist Subhas Dutta alleged that the morgue was polluting the area with an offensive odour. The government, he said, did not take any action to improve conditions there.

Inadequate staff has led to bodies piling up at the morgue. Bottles containing visceras remain stacked for years, as policemen rarely carry them to the forensic laboratory for tests.

Bhattacharya admitted that the morgue has only one undertaker (dom) as permanent staff . The others are on contract. “We have to depend on casual undertakers,” he said.

Additional chief medical officer P.B. Das is at the helm of affairs, with three doctors to assist him. Post-mortem is carried out on at least eight to 10 bodies daily.

Sources said undertakers assisting doctors in post mortem often demand cash from kin who come with bodies. Exorbitant amounts are collected by middlemen, who call the shots in the morgue complex. This apart, there are allegations against the staff failing to secure the bodies properly after post mortem.

An expert panel formed on the basis of an order by the high court to oversee modernisation of all 49 morgues in the state suggested that the cooling facilities be improved first.

It recommended that Rs 47 crore be spent on the revamp.

   
 

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