Post-terror tourism tumble
Tenants allege arson after eviction threat
Trader, wife slashed by servant in dacoity bid
London calling, take a Boeing
4 pandals face safety lawsuits
The City Diary
Durga debuts in Seychelles
Vishnu on view at museum
Tainted official barred from varsity
From billboards to big prizes, companies target the customer as king

Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
The local guide-cum-interpreter is jobless. The cabbie on Sudder Street sits idle. The hotels are charging less than half but are still half-empty. Operators, who bring in tourists from the West, say it’s as bad as it gets. And the state tourism department is wondering what happens next.

Consider the scenario: A central Calcutta hotel, which has around 40 foreigners this time of the year, had only five European and not a single American on Wednesday. Rajesh Das earns around Rs 400 daily during the Pujas as he takes his “English-speaking” clients around the pandals. This year, he has not come across a single American tourist looking for an interpreter. A tour-operator has suspended all conducted tours to the US and Western Europe. The bottomline: “Things can’t be worse.”

Nearly 100,000 tourists checked into Calcutta last year. With most of the peak season still left, about half that number had checked into the city by July 2001. But post-WTC, the 2001-2002 figure would be lucky to cross 80 per cent of last year’s, a tourism department official admitted.

State tourism minister Dinesh Dakua is a worried man. “This is a ripple effect of the world crisis and the government is helpless,” he admitted. “I have been told of hundreds of cancellations,” he said, adding that the government was trying to make up the shortfall in the Western-tourist inflow by attracting tourists from other parts of India.

Silent Valley, one of the bigger tour-operators from Calcutta, handled more than 80 Westerners last year. “This year, we have had as many cancellations as confirmations,” managing director Sahir M. Latif said.

World Express Travels and Tours has a cancellation percentage of 70. “We handle more than 2,000 tourists during this season,” Gautam Banerjee said. “The picture was very encouraging till September 10. But September 11 changed all that. We will be lucky if we can achieve around one-third of last year’s figure.”

The scenario is dismal on the hotel front. Calcutta has 2,000 rooms in star-category hotels and 4,000 elsewhere. During the October-March season, Lytton, favoured by Westerners, has around 35 Americans and 60 Britons on its rolls at any given time. On Wednesday, the hotel was playing host to only seven from America and 22 from the United Kingdom, Lytton official Chandan Ghosh said.

Fairlawn has scaled down its tariff structure by at least 20 per cent but is still waiting for guests to arrive. “This morning, we were forced to offer a room to an Israeli tourist for only Rs 900, which is at least a third of what we charge from tourists brought by travel agents,” Fairlawn official Rabindranath Pal said. “We have 100 per cent occupancy during this season. But we have only five Europeans and not a single American now.”

Though Oberoi Grand and The Taj said they have not been affected, executives at both hotels added that they were “watching world events closely”. The New Kenilworth saw a few cancellations of business meetings and banquets immediately after September 11, recounted manager (sales and marketing) D. Contractor. “But the situation is slowly improving,” she added.

The export-market is just as sluggish. World Tours and Travels sends out at least 40 tourists to the US-West Europe circuit in the October-November period. This year, “with zero inquiries”, the firm was forced to suspend operations altogether, a spokesman said.


Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
A fire in a building in Barasat, on the northern fringes of the city, has set off a conflagration, with the tenants complaining to the police that their landlord had “masterminded” it.

At around 11 pm on Thursday, a two-storeyed house on 96, K.B. Basu Road, in Barasat, went up in flames. The ground floor is unoccupied, with the few rooms being used as a godown by the landlord, Ashok Roy, who lives elsewhere.

The first floor is occupied by Ajit Ghosh and his family. They have been tenants there for the past 30 years. For several years now, Roy has been trying to evict Ghosh and has even started a case.

In 1999, the court issued a stay on any move to oust the tenants. Subsequently, after more legal wranglings, the court last week threw out the landlord’s eviction case. This, the tenants believe, angered the landlord.

So, late on Thursday, when the fire broke out, the first thought on their minds was that it was a deliberate attempt to “smoke them out” of the premises. In their complaint to the police, the Ghosh family said the circumstances back their conspiracy theory.

The Ghoshes added in their complaint that they were sitting for dinner when they smelt strong petrol fumes. They rushed to the verandah, to see a young man sprinkling petrol around the house and into a ground-floor room.

A hue and cry was raised. But that did not stop the man from striking a matchstick and throwing it at the house. The flames started licking the ground floor before beginning a slow climb up. Suddenly, there was an explosion, as chemicals stored in the godown blew up.

The complaint says the young man was overpowered by neighbours, and, “confessed” to having been paid to commit the crime. “Ever since the adverse court ruling, our landlord had been threatening us that unless we left, he would burn us to death,” said Ajit Ghosh’s son, Arindam.

Roy could not be contacted as he has not been home since Thursday night. “We sent police teams to contact him but we found him away,” said sub-inspector of Barasat police station, I. D. Mollah.

SP, North 24-Parganas, M. Harisena Verma, said all aspects of the case were being investigated and action would be taken. “This is a very serious incident and action will be taken after the local police and the fire brigade complete their investigation.”


Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
A 65-year-old businessman and his wife survived an attempt on their lives at their Ezra Street residence, in central Calcutta, early on Friday morning.

Govind Jhunjhunwala, a perfume merchant, and wife Pushpa were sleeping in their bedroom on the third floor of their 17, Ezra Street apartment when their servant, Ajay Behera, 22, attacked them with a razor. The Jhunjhunwalas live alone in their five-room apartment. Their sons and daughters are in Delhi.

The couple had recruited Ajay about a month ago for cleaning the apartment. He had been referred to the Jhunjhunwalas by a couple of domestics from an adjoining building. According to fellow-domestics, Ajay was a bright young man. He would accompany Pushpa to the market and run errands for the family.

While others put up in a servant’s quarters downstairs, Ajay slept in the apartment. He soon came to know the details of Jhunjhunwalas’ valuables and the locker where the family kept a large amount of cash, the police said.

On Thursday, Govind watched television till late in the evening before going to bed. Pushpa was in bed in an adjoining room by 9. 30 pm. Both kept the doors of their respective rooms ajar. Ajay, too, went to sleep around the same time as Pushpa, police said.

At around 2.30 am on Friday, Govind, “a light sleeper”, heard someone shuffling around in his room. He got out of bed and switched on the lights to find Ajay moving around in the room.

Before Govind could react, Ajay attacked him with a razor and slashed his employer on the face and body. The businessman cried for help while trying to defend himself. He fell on the bed, blood oozing from his face and the wounds on his body. Hearing the commotion, Pushpa woke up.

Ajay panicked and turned towards her. He slashed her on the arms and body. Pushpa fell on the floor. Ajay opened the door and fled. Police said he could not take away any valuables. Pushpa then mustered the strength to summon the durwans and other servants. Neighbours took the Jhunjhunwalas to Belle Vue Nursing Home. Police later said Pushpa was “fine” but her husband’s condition was “serious”.

Sleuths have traced Ajay to a village near Balasore, in Orissa. A police team has been sent to arrest him.


Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
Earlier this year, it was threatening to withdraw flights from Calcutta. On Friday, British Airways confirmed two “exclusive flights”, to and from London a week.

Despite the air-travel industry suffering its worst slump in years, British Airways is offering the new Boeing-777 “Calcutta-dedicated services” from October 29. Flights to London will no longer be via Delhi or extended to Dhaka. Announcing the new services, airline general manager for South Asia Alan Briggs said that British Airways had undertaken several measures to cut down costs, post-September 11. He admitted that bookings on flights to London from India had “come down by almost 15 per cent”, even though the flights to India were full. “Flights to Pakistan have been suspended, but services to India have not been affected,” confirmed Briggs.

The man, who was largely instrumental in not having Calcutta struck off the British Airways map, recounted: “The whole episode started in February 2000, when the government of India granted us the ability to terminate flights anywhere in the country. We had 60 flights to India and five to Dhaka through Calcutta. Our London-Delhi flight, which used to be extended to Calcutta, was almost always full till Delhi. There was no need for the extension to Calcutta from the airline’s point of view. I then suggested that the Calcutta sector should not be omitted, and this led to five months of talks with the West Bengal government and the various chambers of commerce. There was a consensus and the dedicated flights from this month-end is the outcome.”

The airline’s cost-cutting measures included layoff of 7,000 staff (12.5 per cent of the airline’s total work force), 10 per cent pay cuts for senior staff, a cessation on increments for 12 months, withdrawal of 20 aircraft from its fleet and cancellation of services to some destinations, mainly in Europe. These steps are expected to save £55 million.

The airline’s latest acquisition, the Boeing-777, has been refitted and redesigned with “21st century air travel” features and amenities. The Calcutta-London-Calcutta sector will have a new “traveller-plus” class, in addition to the first, business and world traveller (economy) class. The traveller-plus class has features like “an LCD TV on the back of each seat, seven inches more legspace and bigger seats”. The business class, for the first time, will have provisions for a fully-flat bed next to the passenger’s seat. British Airways manager in eastern India Joseph Homem said the cuisine will have a “local flavour”, based on customer feedback from the region.”


Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
Four north Calcutta puja committees will be hauled to court by the state fire services department for flouting safety norms. Minister Pratim Chatterjee said on Friday that his department had lodged complaints with the police against these committees, whom he was reluctant to name. “You will come to know when we slap the suits on them,” Chatterjee said.

Fire officers have been on a routine inspection of puja pandals and found these four flouting power and fire-safety norms. “They have used highly inflammable material for the pandals. Some have hazardous power connections,” the minister added.

About 1,900 firemen will be on duty till Diwali. Eight temporary fire stations will be set up for the Pujas.



No bail for Das murder accused

Calcutta High Court on Friday rejected the bail prayer of S.P. Kamat, main accused in the Sailen Das murder case. The bench, however, granted bail to Tapas Bhattacharya , another accused in the same case. Das, chairman of Dum Dum municipality, was shot dead in front of his residence on August 13. Subsequently, on August 23, Kamat, an employee of the municipality, was arrested in connection with the murder.

Roadrage after mishap

Trouble broke out on Kona Expressway in Howrah when a Matador knocked down a doctor, identified as Amitava Manna, 45, on Thursday night. A mob gathered at the spot and set the vehicle ablaze. Police said Manna was riding a scooter when the Matador hit him from behind. He was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Normalcy was restored after police intervened. The Matador driver was arrested.

Stay on closure

A division bench, comprising Justice Altamash Kabir and Justice P. Bose, on Friday, ordered a stay on the closure of Durgapur MAMC. Trinamul Congress legislator Kalyan Banerjee, on behalf of MAMC Shramajibi Union, had filed a writ, challenging the validity of the closure notice issued by the management on September 2.

Satta swoop

In a night-long raid across South 24-Parganas, 28,000 crackers, revolvers, bombs cartridges and Rs 10,000 was recovered by the police from satta dens. Police said some criminals were arrested.

Wet day clearance

The government on Friday permitted all bars in restaurants, clubs and hotels in the city to remain open till midnight on all Puja days, including Ashtami and Dashami, which have been dry days in previous years. Retail shops selling IMFL will be allowed to close at 11 pm, except on Ashtami and Dashami, when they will have to remain closed.

Puja power

CESC has taken elaborate measures to ensure proper lighting arrangements during the Pujas. This year, 2,300 puja committees have taken temporary connections from CESC. Six thousand employees will be on duty and 162 mobile vans will travel round the clock in different areas with technicians to repair any fault. CESC’s emergency puja service will be available 24 hours from Saptami to Dashami. In case of delay in repairing faults or in an emergency, customers can call 98310- 83700 and 98310-79666, a CESC spokesperson said on Friday.

Hospital opens

A 50-bedded hospital with ICCU and ITU facilities has been inaugurated in Thakurpukur, Behala by health minister Surya Kanta Mishra. The Bangur Medicare Research Institute also has two specialised units — the advanced institute for head, neck and ENT microsurgery and a trauma care unit. The latter “would enable prompt medicare at affordable rates for the people of the region,” said institute chairman N.G. Bangur.

Night trains

The Sealdah division of Eastern Railway will run five pairs of special suburban trains at midnight between October 24 and 26 to clear the Puja rush. The trains will run between Sealdah and Ranaghat, Bongaon, Baruipur, Dankuni as well as between Ranaghat and Krishnanagar in both directions. They will stop at all stations en route. The Howrah division will also run four pairs of specials to Bandel, Burdwan and Tarakeswar around midnight of Ashtami, Nabami and Dashami.

NAAC tour

lA team of officials of National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) on Friday visited Rabindra Bharati University to examine the infrastructural facilities and the academic standards of the university. The NAAC officials are likely to send their report next month.

Robbers sentenced

City sessions judge R.D. Kundu on Friday sentenced Nilu Chakraborty, 36, and five of her associates to eight years’ rigorous imprisonment. On August 1998, the gang had looted Rs 2.5 lakhs from an employee of a private company on Pathuriaghata Street. Witnesses said Nilu had led the operation.


Tridipta Banerjee,32, was electrocuted while drinking water from a tap at Lake Avenue, in south Calcutta. He was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead. Thumbs Up TO nagarik swasthya sangh for organising a free eye operation camp on Pathuriaghata Street    

Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
For Tapas Chattopadhyay, a resident of Howrah, a puja organiser cum purohit, it was unlikely that he would travel abroad on such occasions.

But on Friday, Chattopadhyay’s wishes were fulfilled as he caught the flight to Seychelles for the first ever Durga puja there. The trip and the stay in Seychelles are being sponsored by a small but humming Indian community, settled in that country.

Hailing from a middle-class family in Howrah, Tapas is well known in his locality for his efficiency in managing pujas. At Seychelles, Chattopadhyay will not only help organise the puja but also double up as the purohit.

“I cannot believe that I am finally going abroad. Everything has happened with the blessings of Maa Durga. I am so happy,” said Tapas before leaving for Dum Dum airport .

The puja will be held in all its traditional finery. “The immersion of the idol which is normally not allowed abroad will be held at Seychelles. The Lakshmi puja, which is held a week after the immersion, will also be celebrated,” said Tapas. Although the expenses for his trip will be borne by the organisers, Tapas was not sure whether he would be paid for his services.

Over the years, Tapas has developed an expertise in organising major religious festivals of Bengalis. Later, he also started doubling up as the purohit whenever required.

A gentleman, whose son stays at Seychelles, happened to see Tapas while he was conducting a Puja at Shibpur in Howrah last year . When the gentleman came to know from his son Arup Das in August that some of his Indian friends in Seychelles were interested in organising Durga puja and that they needed a good organiser-cum-purohit, he recommended Chattopadhyay.

“I was returning home one evening when a friend told me about the offer. I thought it was a joke till Arup called me from Seychelles.” Tapas had just one regret. This pujas, he would not be able to spend with his daughter and family.


Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
A Vishnu idol belonging to 10th century AD, which was being smuggled into Bangladesh through Karimpur border in 1986, will be the major attraction in the Indian Museum from Saturday.

Museum authorities have decided to display the idol for a month from Saturday amid tight security arrangements.

Calcuttans will be able to view the idol made of black basalt stone and weighing about 25 kg, which will be kept at the ground floor of the museum. The idol is 60 c.m. high and 22.5 c.m. in breadth.

The image, recovered by the police in 1986 from three smugglers was handed over to the museum authorities on Tuesday.

Shyamal Kanti Chakraborty director, Indian Museum, said on Friday that they had taken stringent security measures to display the idol as “this is a very rare collection and is very precious for our museum.”

“The idol is unique from the viewpoint of iconography since sitting Vishnu without a Garuda is very rare. The image was probably made in the 10th century A.D during the Ballal Sen regime,” Chakraborty said.

After the idol was recovered, it was lying with the Karimpur police in Nadia district since June 17, 1986. The chief judicial magistrate of Krishnanagar has recently asked the police to hand over the idol to the Indian Museum.

“The idol has been kept inside a non-breakable glass box for security reasons,” said Chakraborty.

Apart from the Vishnu image, there are 101 idols of Lord Ganesha, which are on display in the same gallery. The idols were donated to the museum by the late Basanta Chowdhury last June.

“The idols which we received from Chowdhury are precious which is why we have kept them in the special gallery,” an official said.


Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
Officers and supervisory staff of Calcutta University have opposed the authorities’ decision to refuse permission to a senior official to attend duty for his involvement in a police case.

They say the case is unconnected to university affairs.

The matter came up for discussion at the university’s Syndicate meeting, at which the authorities rejected the officers’ appeal. The officers demanded that the employee concerned be allowed to attend duty, as he had not shown any negligence at work.

When the official came to the university on Monday and sought to rejoin duty, he was not allowed to sign the attendance register and asked to leave. Protesting this, officers and supervisory staff members met vice-chancellor Ashis Kumar Banerjee. They demanded that he be allowed to attend duty from Saturday.

“There is no reason why the official should not be allowed to work, as his arrest is in no way connected to his performance in office. He is an efficient worker and should not be prevented from joining work,” said one of his colleagues, preferring anonymity.

The authorities, however, turned down the colleagues’ appeal on the grounds that going by the university’s rules, the official could not be permitted to join work until the authorities examined the police reports and the charges framed against him.


Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
Banners lining the festive streets are few, over-the-counter bonanza is big; the casual passerby is passé, the customer is king. That’s the theme for the grand Puja promo dream 2001.

There’s at least a couple of Mercs and a dozen luxury cars, audio systems and all-expense-paid holidays up for grabs in the run-up to the big days. City sellers have clearly graduated from ‘discounts’ and moved on to redeemable coupons, gift items and much, much more.

Above-the-line advertising is down and consumer-centric below-the-line promotions are in. Though overall spending has declined, “below-the-line promotion” has burgeoned, confirm industry experts. With the sole exception of the cellular wars — Spice vs Command — others have cut down on ad spending, but not at the cost of their “customer care”. The Cola conflict, for once, has taken a backseat, with cell majors, garment sellers and the white-goods sector on the hard-sell.

Spice and Command have doubled their ad-spends. “Our target is to promote cellular connections through a package deal as the best gift one can give this Puja,” says Rajiv Sawhney, CEO of Command.

For existing subscribers too, there’s discount on food and beverages, Puja booklets and cheaper airtime. Spice has come up with Pujor Bonus to counter Command, with Sourav Ganguly as their most visible face.

“It’s becoming very difficult to keep track of the different gift schemes which the companies — led by Philips, Samsung and Sony — are offering to their customers this time,” admits a multiple brand dealer of TVs, music systems and home appliances.

The strategy seems to be working. As Prasun Banerjee of Sony puts it: “The market was dull, but it’s picked up this week.”

Samsung claims that its sales have shot up by 40 per cent, while Philips officials say that if it hadn’t been for the rains, all their targets would have been met.

“The market wasn’t growing and we had to come up with a bang,” says M.J.Z. Mowla, senior vice-president and spokesperson of Bata.

Bata, which has traditionally been content with discounts, is offering an entire range of freebies, besides promoting its ad-campaign this time. Competitors Khadim’s and Sreeleathers — which rely heavily on pricing — have had to reduce their spending, confirms S.B. Dey, chairman of Sreeleathers.

Coke and Pepsi are spending less than last year — even if marginally — with a sharper consumer focus. “A more targeted advertising” is the cola catchword. Besides offering more to sip for less, there are trips to Bangkok and cricketing excitement in South Africa lined up for the lucky lips.


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