Shopper’s hub at oldest club
Mamata and mayor make up for makeover
Scam stink in desk deal
Pappa, Mamma and dollops of pop
The City Diary
Court signal for sports channels
Cop patrols for sensitive pockets
Higher, faster, swifter: Sport in right spirit
Drug-bust cell under-staffed
Care and comfort for the elderly

Calcutta, Oct. 21: 
A shopping centre and a health club for its members; Bengali books for its library; a website for the wide world. The world’s oldest social club outside London is ready to ring in the changes.

The 174-year-old Bengal Club is determined to stay in tune with the times. With the under-45 brigade, slowly but surely, making its presence felt on the membership rolls, “changes” have become a necessity, say senior club members.

It’s the shopping centre on the club premises — a first in its history — that is expected to “excite” members the most. The club’s 900-plus members can look forward to hefty discounts, much higher than those available at the local grocer’s or a shopping complex.

“We understand that, at the end of the day, practical considerations count much more than other things,” says Bengal Club president Amiya Gooptu, adding that the proposal has already been approved by the committee.

Two mezzanine floors have been earmarked for the purpose and the 1,500-sq-ft space will stock most kitchen necessities. “From dry fruits to sausage, from the soft drinks that the club makes for its members to imported cheese, the everything-under-one-roof shopping centre will ease home-making worries for club members,” explains Gooptu.

The club, which was built on a snake pit and opened its King Cobra-engraved doors to Indians 12 years after the country’s Independence, will add a state-of-the-art gymnasium before the year-end. “Though the number of under-40 members can still be counted on the fingers, the club must start making adjustments for the future from now,” says a club veteran.

The decision to include Bengali books in the club’s 5,000-book library was, however, prompted by other reasons. “The absence of Bengali books from the shelves of our library is actually an embarrassment,” admits Gooptu. The move to give place to Tagore, Sarat Chandra and Bankim beside Shakespeare and Shaw is “belated” for a club in Calcutta, most members feel.

All these changes will find a prominent place in the club’s website,, scheduled to be launched within a fortnight. Everything, from the club’s history — it was established in 1827 with 129 members (only six from the business community) — to its plans for the future, from facilities it provides to its members to the daily menu, will figure in the PricewaterhouseCoopers project.

Another recent value-addition has been The Bengal Club Bulletin. The second edition of the four-page bulletin, dated October-November 2001, announces the latest tech move: “In the ongoing quest to provide Bengal Club members… with every possible modern facility, arrangements are in progress for the creation of The Bengal Club’s own website….”

If the stress is on “innovation”, it is still moored in “matters cultural”. As the current Bulletin carries on: “Among the innovative programmes planned for the near future are shows of old classical films, both English and Hindi, recital of Agomoni songs, play-readings and social meetings with important individuals…”


Calcutta, Oct. 21: 
Mamata Banerjee has made a move to bridge the great ‘development’ divide between the mayor and herself. After months of opposing every step taken by Subrata Mukherjee — with her pet ‘pro-people over pro-development’ argument — the Trinamul Congress leader has decided to back off and allow the mayor’s modernisation machine to roll on.

Alarmed by the labels of “anti-development and troublemaker” being hurled at her over the Tolly’s Nullah eviction, Mamata has now told Mukherjee that she wants to play a “ positive and meaningful role” in Calcutta’s development.

On Sunday, civic officials said they would be able to unveil a host of post-Puja development projects for the city, thanks to the rapprochement between the two Trinamul heavyweights. Mamata, it is learnt, will, in the coming months

Roll back opposition within the Trinamul to Mukherjee’s endeavour to modernise Calcutta

Support the mayor in executing all projects that have an impact on public welfare

Do her bit, including mobilising funds, to help the Calcutta Municipal Corporation tide over its worst cash crunch in years

Mamata, say sources in the civic body, has okayed a string of CMC proposals — a malaria hospital in Kalighat; the plan to make it mandatory for roadside eateries to use disposable plates and bowls to serve food; revamping of a tuberculosis hospital in Cossipore; turning Chaplin Park on Cornfield Road into a children’s playground.

Ever since he became mayor, Mukherjee has been on a collision course with Mamata. Their face-off hit the headlines, with Mamata voicing her opposition to the mayor’s move to oust hawkers from city streets. Mukherjee had even threatened to resign when Mamata opposed the drive to evict encroachers along Tolly’s Nullah. But later, Mamata forced him to toe her line.

“Mamata has now realised that the mayor’s stand on the Tolly’s Nullah eviction was pragmatic and she has decided to support him,” said a senior Trinamul leader.

Mukherjee’s plans to set up the country’s first malaria hospital in Kalighat in the three-storeyed building constructed to rehabilitate Gariahat hawkers evicted during Operation Sunshine have been opposed by former party councillor and Mamata confidant Dilip Majumdar.

When Mamata came to know about it early last week, she immediately informed Mukherjee that “no one will be able to stop a malaria hospital” from coming up there.

Mukherjee has already held talks with soft drink giant Coca-Cola, which has “agreed” to share the burden of running the malaria hospital at Kalighat.

Mamata also told the mayor that she “appreciated” the kitchen crackdown in restaurants and hotels and the anti-malaria drive launched by the civic body.

She has “okayed” member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan’s proposal to make it mandatory for roadside eateries to use disposable plates and bowls, but has “advised” him to announce the decision to food vendors all over the city and give them some time to switch.


Calcutta, Oct. 21: 
A decision by the Calcutta University authorities to hire benches and desks from a local decorator for a hefty sum to conduct an examination has drawn flak from the auditor and a section of employees.

In an unprecedented move, the university authorities spent Rs 4 lakh for hiring seating apparatus from a local decorator for conducting a part of the current year’s under-graduate law exams.

The matter has come under the CU auditor’s scanner, following complaints from a section of the staff that the authorities had “misused the amount”. They said the classrooms where the examinations were held were “fully furnished with adequate chairs and tables”.

Alleging an “unfair deal” between a section of the officials and the decorator, the employees said in their complaint that the furniture was “unnecessarily” hired from the decorator as he was a “sympathiser of the ruling party”.

The auditor has sought an explanation from the university’s office of the controller of examinations, seeking details of the expenditure and a clarification on what prompted the hiring of the furniture.

Employees have also lodged a complaint with Hiron Kumar Banerjee, the university’s pro vice-chancellor, finance and business, demanding an inquiry into the matter.

“Our auditor is looking into the matter and his report is expected to be ready after the Pujas. Appropriate action will be taken, if any irregularity is detected,” said Banerjee. He said it was the first time that the university decided to change the venues of the law examinations and conduct some of the papers only on the Alipore and Hazra Law College campuses.

“We had no option but to hire chairs and tables, as we had to accommodate so many students on these two campuses,” Banerjee said. Till last year, L.lB examinations were held at the university’s four affiliated law colleges in the city.

According to Banerjee, the university had to stop holding the examinations at these four colleges to check incidents of “cheating” by candidates.

The employees are determined to take up the matter with the state government if the authorities fail to take action against the “culprits”.


Calcutta, Oct. 21: 
October 18, 2000. A newborn is abandoned near a garbage vat on Vivekananda Road, in north Calcutta. Neighbours wake up to the discovery of a destitute girl. Police arrive and take the infant to Matri Mangal hospital, from where she is shifted to the childcare centre at Marwari Relief Society.

October 18, 2001. Vasudha Jhingan is thrilled to be the centre of attention at her first birthday party, being celebrated in style at the Fort William hall. For ‘father’ Sashi and ‘mother’ Roopa, welcoming the 100-odd guests, it’s one of the “happiest” days of their lives. And Vasudha’s gurgle of delight betrays no shadow of her pavement peril last autumn.

But what prompted the Jhingans to apply for custody of an abandoned baby? “Life was so dull without a child. We would go about our daily chores mechanically… She has been god’s gift to us,’’ says Sashi, a businessman.

On October 18 last year, Roopa first saw the baby in a television news programme. The next day, she read about the baby in Metro. “I was drawn to the baby after I read the report and saw her photograph,” recounts Roopa. The couple rushed to Marwari Relief Society to see the child. They lost no time in applying to Bankshal Court and, subsequently, to Alipore civil court for custody.

Life for the Jhingans has changed dramatically. The day in their Jodhpur Park home starts at 5.30 am. “We wake up to Vasudha’s call of ‘pappa’ and ‘mamma’,’’ smiles Roopa. From then on, the baby takes centrestage — pulling at curtains, knocking at the closet, clambering on to the sofa…

“She is extremely fond of western music and breaks into dance steps when she hears the beat,’’ says Sashi. “She also loves going out, especially to a shopping arcade where there are lots of people and lots of lights.”

The Jhingans are already chalking out grand plans for their daughter’s education and future. But what if her ‘real’ parents return to claim Vasudha? “Vasudha is our daughter. We will never give her to anyone,’’ declare the Jhingans.



Burglary bid foiled, criminal arrested

Talatala police arrested a criminal of the Burtola area on Sunday while he and three associates were planning to commit a robbery in New Market. A patrol party chased the gang. His associates escaped. The criminal is being grilled for information about his associates.

Dhakuria pandal pulled down

Jadavpur police cracked down a puja committee in Babubagan as they failed to get a licence from the authorities. Police said the committee planned to organise a puja near Binodini Girls’ School. The authorities had refused permission but the organisers were going ahead with the pandal construction. Police pulled down the structure.

Woman held for fraud

Thakurpukur police arrested Barnali Ghosh, who had cheated several people of more than Rs 1.1 lakh. Police said Barnali, a resident of Harish Mukherjee Road, had come to Thakurpukur to a client’s house when a neighbour, whom she had cheated of several thousand rupees earlier, spotted her and raised an alarm.

Free clinic for kids

A free clinic for children with abnormal behaviour was opened recently at Hatkhola Institute in Sovabazar. The clinic is run by Medical Bank, in collaboration with National Institute of Behavioural Sciences, and will be manned by a psychiatrist and two psychologists. The clinic will remain open on Thursdays between 7 pm and 9 pm and can be contacted at 554-0084.

Peace procession

A peace procession, taken out by Ekta Social Welfare Organisation from Gandhi Bhavan at Beleghata, proceeded through Raja Rajendralal Street, the Phoolbagan crossing, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Sarani and ended at Rajabazar. Farzana Alam of the organisation said the initiative was taken to make people aware of the need for peace.

Festive lunch

About 2,500 orphans from 11 homes in and around Calcutta were given a festive lunch by Lions Club of Calcutta Vishal.    

Calcutta, Oct. 21: 
The Pujas are set to bring in cheer for cricket fans in certain parts of the city, deprived of ESPN and STAR Sports of late, pending a connectivity-linked dispute between the broadcaster and operators. They might catch some action in the ongoing tri-series, after all.

Purvi Communications, the SitiCable headend which caters to nearly a lakh cable homes in Park Circus, Beckbagan, Gol Park, Gariahat, Dhakuria, Bhowanipore, Chetla, Kalighat and other areas in south and central Calcutta, is likely to get the sports channels back on beam soon, following a court order issued on Saturday.

On an appeal filed by Purvi, the court of the civil judge (senior division), Sealdah, directed defendants ESPN Software India Ltd to “restore and reactivate the satellite signals to the plaintiffs, in accordance with the agreement dated 27.12.2000”. The court has requested the broadcaster to “comply with the court order dated 20.10.2001” and “immediately restore satellite signals”.

“We are expecting the channels to switch on signals by tomorrow itself,” said a SitiCable spokesperson on Sunday. An ESPN spokesman, contacted in Mumbai, maintained that the “signals will probably be restored for the time being”, but couldn’t comment on the “future course of action”. A similar court order has directed ESPN Software to continue “supply of existing service lines till 31.12.2001” to Calcutta Communications, another headend.


Calcutta, Oct. 21: 
The police have made elaborate arrangements to guard the “sensitive” pockets of the city and its fringes to ensure a hassle-free Durga Puja. Police vehicles will be deployed for intensive patrolling to prevent any untoward incident during the festivities.

The areas which have been earmarked as “sensitive” include Rajabazar, Garden Reach, Metiabruz, Kidderpore, Topsia, Tiljala and other adjoining areas. Mobile vans with six police officials, including a senior officer, will patrol these areas round-the-clock, said Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner, headquarters.

Nearly 15,000 policemen on duty will be assisted by volunteers and NCC cadre, sources said. Seventy mobile vans fitted with wireless sets will roam the roads.

Taking a cue from the city police, South 24-Parganas police officials have also stepped up security measures.

Deb Kumar Ganguly, superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, said several NGOs and 5,000 trained volunteers will join about 5,000 policemen for the vigil.

In areas with a mixed population, at least 10 mobile vans will be deployed between Saptami and Dashami. “We have made special arrangements, since the number of pujas this year has soared to 2,292, against last year’s 2,142.”

Nearly, 7,000 persons, including some wanted criminals, have been netted in weeklong raids from different areas. About two lakh firecrackers and several firearms were seized from them.

Rajesh Kumar Singh, additional superintendent of police, said: “This year, we have drawn up an elaborate guide map to help pandal-hoppers. The maps will also help policemen reach out to people in case of any emergency.”

“Mobile police will not only keep a vigil but also provide other services, such as giving first aid, calling an ambulance, etc. Through these measures, we also want to enhance our interaction with the common people,” said Subir Chatterjee, officer-in-charge of Tiljala police station.


Calcutta, Oct. 21: 
Olympians of a different kind were in the making at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy (IICP) last week. Hosting the eastern zone finals for the Abilympics, over 250 physically and mentally-challenged people came together to prove their abilities, irrespective of disability.

From batik and painting to web-page design and computer assembly, the competitors from West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Mizoram and Assam battled it out in over 40 events designed to test vocational skills between October 17 and 19.

“The meet is open to children with any disability, from the visually-challenged and hearing-impaired to students with cerebral palsy as well or orthopaedic disorders,” said Ranu Banerjee of IICP, regional vice-president for the meet. The teens enrolled for events of their choice, with some more popular than others.

“A meet of this kind tries to look at the abilities of people with disability, not their disability,” adds Banerjee.

The children were enthusiastic; their mood, positive; the spirit competitive. But there was room for everyone, and every skill. The web-page design competition just had one competitor, while the water-colour painting round had dozens. Deepak, a student of IICP who paints with his foot, qualified for the national painting finals.

The event, sponsored by the ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment and Human Resources Development, is an “eye-opener”, say the organisers. Take the electronics assembly round, held at the Webel office in Taratala, as IICP did not have the necessary facilities. Impressed by the skills of the three participants, the officials enquired whether they might even be interested in professional placements. Judges, called in on the final day, included Shamlu Dudeja, Doel Sen and Bibi Ray.

The chess tournament made its mark on the panel from Alekhine Chess Club, which said the kids would be able to hold their own in the international arena, too.

The meet, under the aegis of the National Abilympics Association of India, was hosted by the Taratala institute to give students from over 35 organisations a chance to make it to the national finals in Delhi next year.

Calcutta schools at the meet included Manovikas Kendra, Reach, Aasha and Mentaid, as well as girls and boys from the host school. Competitors of around 15-years of age were selected, so by the time the 6th International Abilympics are held in 2003, the participants will be all around 18. These were the first-ever eastern region selections for the six-year-old competition.


Calcutta, Oct. 21: 
Concerned over the steady influx of drugs into the city, the Centre has initiated a move to strengthen the city unit of the Narcotics Control Bureau and bring the organisation under the direct control of the ministry for home affairs.

The move follows a high-level probe by a Central intelligence agency, which says a large number of youth in city have easy access to contraband drugs. The probe also found that while the anti-narcotics cell of the city police “was ignorant” about the basics, the city unit of the NCB was burdened with extra-work pressure.

“The findings have been startling. With the kind of infrastructure and manpower available with the NCB, it is impossible for them to work properly, leave alone catch drug-peddlers,” said a senior NCB official, quoting the probe report.

The city bureau, with 13 investigating officers and one superintendent, is supposed to control the drug menace not only in the city and districts, but also the North-east, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the newly-formed twin states of Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. Admitting to the poor staff strength, superintendent of NCB D.K. Ghosh told

Metro:“We are aware that the Centre is planning to bring the bureau under the home ministry. One cannot deny that lack of manpower is seriously hampering our work.”

At present, the bureau functions under the department of revenue (finance ministry). The superintendent admitted that while “heroin-trafficking was increasing by the day in the city,” the NCB was doing “whatever it could to control the menace.”

Earlier this week, a Bengali honours student of a city-based reputed college was arrested on charges of drug-peddling. The Union home ministry’s move to arm the NCB with more powers, in terms of officers and infrastructure, follows the twin failure of the NCB and the city police to check drug-inflow. Most officers who are transferred to the anti-narcotics cell of the city police do not have any experience in controlling drug abuse.

This “lack of knowledge” was cruelly exposed during an interaction workshop held at the National Academy of Customs Excise and Narcotics in Bidhannagar. “The narcotics cell of the city police failed to answer basic questions on narcotics. How can we expect them to check the drug menace, if they are unaware of the variety of narcotic drugs and its effect on the human body?” an academy official told Metro.

One question most city police officers failed to answer was the definition of “Psychotropic Substances.” Worried at the pathetic showing by his officers, deputy commissioner of police (special) Pijush Pandey is laying stress on more exposure for officers at narcotics workshops and greater interaction with NCB officials in busting drug hideouts.

The issues discussed at the meeting included the location of “secret laboratories” in the city and districts and the “drop zones” for drug consignments to Calcutta. The NCB has recently identified Berhampur, Nabadwip, Burdwan, Harwood Point and Chengail, on South Eastern Railway sector, as “drop zones” for drug shipments arriving from Nepal, Bangladesh and Uttar Pradesh.


Calcutta, Oct. 21: 
Sayantani had begun its journey by helping lonely old people with company when they needed it most. Now, the Salt-Lake based organisation has decided to extend its scope to sensitise the younger generation about old-age solitude and other allied ills.

The NGO has decided to launch an intensive programme to create awareness among the youth about problems faced by the elderly.

Sayantani, which has been working with elderly residents of Salt Lake for the past six years, carried out a survey which revealed that most people in old age suffer from some kind of mental trauma, which the younger generation can’t relate to. This leads to loneliness.

The findings were sent to the state government for perusal and after going through the report, the social welfare department has agreed to offer the necessary help to create such awareness.

“Our aim is to ensure that each and every elderly person lives a happy life. But this is a Herculean task, which we can’t possibly complete on our own without the help of the government. We are happy that the social welfare department has extended support for the cause,” said Rina Bhaduri, a spokesperson for Sayantani.

The government has agreed to provide funds for organising workshops and seminars to motivate people to help the aged. The first such government-sponsored workshop will be organised by Sayantani in Salt Lake on November 10, to be attended by psychologists working on old age problems and social workers.

“We must devote more time to older people. Most of them suffer from loneliness and depression, mainly due to loss of physical strength as a result of the ageing process. They can overcome this mental condition only if they are given proper attention and care by the younger ones in their surroundings,” said Urmi Chattopadhay, a Salt Lake-based psychologist who is scheduled to attend the workshop.

Sayantani is the first organisation in the city to have introduced a unique scheme of providing company to well-to-do elderly persons in Salt Lake who live on their own. The NGO members visit the old residents who have to live alone as their children are settled abroad or are away in other parts of the country.

Besides providing company, Sayantani also takes the old people out for medical check-ups, movies and cultural programmes.


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