Barriers fall to final push
Last-ditch thrust to kidnap probe
Widow clears Sudhir name
Four held in Bihar for Posta killing
Clean-up calendar for belching buses
The City Diary
Foul-play whiff in CMC awards
AIDS, apathy and awareness
Govt slashes budget of 3 varsities
Reshuffle blow to drive for clean kitchens

 
 
BARRIERS FALL TO FINAL PUSH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 29: 
The protima’s gone, the pandal’s still there. The Pujas are over, the crowds are still there.

The madness at Kasba took a dramatic turn on Monday as thousands surged through breaches in the Bosepukur Sitala Mandir earthen-cup wall. The Durga puja organisers, under police instructions to keep all pandal gates closed, could do little to resist the crowd crush.

The image of the goddess had been immersed on Sunday. But people started gathering at the Bosepukur pandal, made memorable by the use of around 1.5 million bhars by artiste Hari Projapoti, from 7 am on Monday. They waited for hours for the gates to open. The organisers, who had cordoned off the site with mammoth tin sheets, refused to relent.

“The police have told us not to allow any more people into the pandal. Besides, the main platform on which the pandal had been placed has become weak and started subsiding, as a result of the continuous stream of visitors. Please try and understand,” pleaded the organisers, as traffic on the Gariahat approach to the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass slowed to a crawl.

By noon, the hordes, dressed in their Puja best, could wait no longer. Suddenly, the barricades to the Bosepukur bastion fell. Men, women and children tore down the tin sheets, broke through the bamboo-and-cane stick barriers and made a dash for the pandal.

“My parents, who came down from Kerala for the Pujas, were supposed to return last weekend. But they deferred the journey in order to take a closer look at this artistic marvel, which we just could not approach during the Pujas. How can we possibly go back without entering the pandal even today?” demanded Priya Venkat, a resident of Golf Green.

Volunteers and organisers kept on warning people of the dangers of entering the pandal. “We appreciate your sentiments. But please understand that the pandal is in a precarious condition and a tragedy could occur anytime,” said Bandan Raha, who had conceptualised the design.

Others, like Kajal Sarkar and Bijon Mukherjee, added: “You are going inside at your own risk. We are not going to be responsible for any accident that might occur.”

But no one seemed to be listening. “This is our third attempt at entering the pandal. The organisers cannot stop us today,” declared Gayatri Mondal, who had come all the way from Madhyamgram, along with her two children, on Monday morning.

A policeman trying in vain to control the crowds and clear the road for traffic, said: “The pandal can collapse any moment. But no one seems to care. All they are bothered about is entering the pandal that has captured the imagination of Calcuttans this Puja.”

The organisers were left wondering how long the magic spell of the earthen-cup pandal would last. “We are in a real fix. There is constant pressure from the police, who want us to dismantle the pandal immediately. But visitors flocking to the pandal are insisting that we do not destroy this wonderful piece of art,” they said.

What had started early on Monday continued till late in the evening. With hundreds of onlookers continuing to invade the pandal, the police turned up around 6.30 pm and urged the puja organisers to dismantle it at once. But, bowing to popular pressure, the organisers pleaded helplessness.

At around 8 pm, however, as the crowds thinned, the puja organisers started to dismantle the mammoth structure.

   

 
 
LAST-DITCH THRUST TO KIDNAP PROBE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 29: 
In a knee-jerk reaction to the court order setting Mohammad Taslim, alias Chunnu, free, the CID has stepped up efforts to consolidate charges against the other accused in the Parthapratim Roy Burman kidnap case.

Chunnu was granted bail on Sunday, following the investigating agency’s failure to file a formal chargesheet against the Tiljala crimelord, 90 days after his arrest. Three days earlier, Roy Burman’s driver, Nabakumar Mondol, had been released on similar grounds.

Pushing the Khadim’s probe pedal, CID officers have been set a four-step task to wrap up the case and prepare chargesheets against all the 15 accused and arrested. The sleuths have been directed to:

Arrest all local contacts of Dubai-based mastermind Farhan Malik. The list includes Aftab and Rajen

Locate the hideout near the city where Roy Burman was kept from July 25 to August 1

Trace the car which was used to take Roy Burman to the hideout

Track down the doctor or quack who had attended to Roy Burman in the hideout

The CID top brass on Monday refused to view Chunnu’s release as a “setback” to the probe. “The quality of the investigation will not be hampered at all. The moment we are satisfied with the evidence we have gathered, we will file chargesheets against those arrested in the case,” said DIG, CID, V.V. Thambi.

A section of CID officials, however, expressed apprehension that it would be “difficult to gather the remaining evidence or arrest other local contacts” following the release of Chunnu.

The Tiljala strongman, who was released from Alipore jail late on Sunday, was not available for comment. “He has not returned home yet. He is probably undergoing treatment at a local nursing home,” said his wife, Taslima Khatoon.

Hundreds of local residents in the area, who had flocked to catch a glimpse of ‘Chunnu Mian’ at his C.N. Roy Road residence, left disappointed. Md. Marood, a businessman, described Chunnu as “the protector” of local residents. “He will be back soon. We are all waiting for his return,” said Marood. “We will take out a huge procession once Chunnu Mian returns,” added others.

A small section of local businessman, however, voiced concern in the wake of Chunnu’s release. “Tiljala is a much safer place now. Anything can happen when he returns,” they said.

Subir Chatterjee, inspector in-charge of Tiljala police station, stuck to his stand of not allowing Chunnu back into the area. “Chunnu harbours criminals. I will never let him set foot in Tiljala, as his return will spark a spurt in criminal activity in the area,” he announced.

   

 
 
WIDOW CLEARS SUDHIR NAME 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 29: 
In the eyes of the police, he is “the murderer of a close friend”.

In the eyes of the grieving widow, however, he remains her husband’s “mentor and friend”, who couldn’t possibly have committed such a crime.

In a lengthy preface to a just-published biography of Sailen Das, his widow Kanan says it is “hard to believe” that Sudhir Bhattacharya had masterminded the murder of the Dum Dum municipality chairman.

“I find it really difficult to believe that he (Bhattacharya) was behind the tragic and violent death of my husband…. Police now tell us that the man Daktarbabu (Das) respected so much, was the mastermind of the murder. This comes to me as a surprise,” writes Kanan Das.

The book in Bengali, Anandadhwani Jagao, also contains articles by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, sheriff Suchitra Mitra and state CPM secretary Anil Biswas. It was released recently by Bhattacharjee at Writers’ Buildings.

“He (Bhattacharya) was extremely fond of my husband. He was like an elder brother to him… In fact, he was our local guardian,” writes Kanan Das, recounting the long association of the two families.

“We used to visit his house on various occasions. Sudhirbabu and his beautiful wife, Aloka, always stood by us, especially in our days of sorrow,” Kanan Das adds.

In the preface, she touches upon the times when Bhattacharya helped Das become secretary of the municipality hospital and then set up the music school, Batayanik.

Das, a popular leader-cum-Rabindrasangeet singer, was shot dead on August 13 at the doorstep of his Dum Dum home.

The police made a string of arrests, culminating at Bhattacharya’s door. The 82-year-old former chairman of the Dum Dum municipality was accused of being the murder mastermind.

Ananyabrata, son of Sailen Das, had reacted sharply to news of Bhattacharya’s arrest.

“I am not ready to believe that Sudhirbabu had masterminded the murder of my father,” he had said. The court set Bhattacharya free on bail, criticising the police for its failure to fix charges in the two-and-a-half months that he was in jail.

Bhattacharya was unavailable for comment on Monday. When contacted, Kanan Das said: “I have written everything in my article. I have nothing else to say in this matter.”

   

 
 
FOUR HELD IN BIHAR FOR POSTA KILLING 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 29: 
Four people, including a sardar of local coolies, were arrested in Begusarai, Bihar, on Sunday morning for snatching Rs 2.9 lakh and murdering a godown employee in the Posta area. Police said the four men confessed to the crime during interrogation.

According to the police, the miscreants accosted Amit Mitra, their victim, on Jain Temple Road on September 13,while he was on his way to a bank to deposit the money. One of them opened fire from point-blank range and then, the group fled with the money. Mitra died on the spot, as the bullet pierced his chest.

After investigations, the police came to know that sardar Pramod Singh, better known as Jhagru in the Posta area, was the mastermind behind the operation.

“He actually tipped off the gangsters about the money. Pramod disappeared from Posta immediately after the incident. It was his disappearance that helped us solve the case,” said Soumen Mitra, DC, DD-I.

Pramod was linked to a number of snatching and dacoity cases in Posta, he added. “He was basically an informer. He never took part in the action,” said Mitra.

Acting on a tip-off, police officials conducted a pre-dawn swoop at Kurha village, in Begusarai, and netted the four miscreants. The three others have been identified as Mohammad Akbar, Ranjit Paswan and Rajesh Shani. Rajesh had shot Mitra.

Morning walker dead: A 75-year-old man died during his morning walk at Botanical Gardens on Monday. He complained of a chest pain and was rushed to a nursing home, where he died a few minutes after admission. Doctors said he had suffered a cardiac arrest.

   

 
 
CLEAN-UP CALENDAR FOR BELCHING BUSES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 29: 
The state transport department is fighting hard to stay a step ahead of the law. The high court’s Green Bench has set November 19 as the deadline to the transport department for filing its report on how it proposes to clean up the pollution mess, caused mainly by its smoke-belching buses. Officials are working overtime to give the finishing touches to its set of rules on making Calcutta a better place to live in.

After the court’s nod, these rules will become law, with effect from January 1, 2002. “The new traffic laws, mainly directed against errant buses, both government as well as private, will drastically bring down pollution levels in the city,” said state transport department officials. “If there is any let up on our part in implementing the rules, we will be hauled up for contempt of court,” they added.

Some of these rules are:

All buses will have to undergo mechanical tests to determine the extent to which they are polluting the atmosphere. This will, in effect, mean that older buses will have to give way to newer ones

The traffic department has determined that more the bus stops, the more pollution they cause, as they slow down traffic. It has, therefore, been decided that the distance between bus stops will be increased, causing minimum inconvenience to commuters. “For the sake of the environment, people should be ready to sacrifice a little,” an official said.

A formal boundary of the city is being drawn up and buses from the districts, which are the worst offenders, will be stopped at city limits. Thereafter, passengers will have to disembark and be “transhipped” to city destinations in newer, less polluting buses

The state government will impose a hefty fine or penalty on buses that stop midway to pick up passengers. “In its last hearing, the Green Bench had observed that pollution was also caused by non-fuel factors,” said Manik Das, additional government pleader in all environment-related cases. “This means traffic snarl-ups, of the kind caused by buses stopping in the middle of the road. So this, too, has to be rectified.”

As asked by the Green Bench, the state government will clarify its position on phasing out old buses from the city roads and implement the Euro II for commercial vehicles. “We have been asked to explain why we have not been able to do what Delhi has already done,” an official said.

“We hope to sort things out by next year,” said transport minister Subhas Chakraborty. “But a part of the problem lies with the people here. Even if there is a law, people will try and break it, just to have their way. We really have to overcome this.

”    

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Trinamul agitation plan to free councillor

Sister Nirmala of the Missionaries of Charity handing over the national youth award to Sapna Gurung of Darjeeling at a youth convention on the St Xavier’s College grounds on Monday. Twenty young achievers from all over the country were felicitated at the function. Picture by Kishor Roy Chowdhury The Trinamul Congress will start a movement against the arrest of Mantu Sanyal, councillor of ward no. 34. Swapan Samaddar, member, mayor-in-council (building), and also a party councillor, said on Monday that some people had conspired to tarnish Mamata Banerjee’s image. He also alleged that these people had joined hands with the CPM. Sanyal was arrested early on Sunday for trying to murder Nabakumar Das, a local resident. Meanwhile, the police said that four other persons named in the FIR were still at large but would be arrested soon. Samaddar said that his partymen had already spoken to Mamata about the agitation programme.

762 protesters court arrest

At least 762 members, including 70 women, of the State Special Attendants’ Union courted arrest on Monday afternoon after demonstrating on Rani Rashmoni Road to protest the state government’s recent decision to discontinue their services in state-run hospitals. The members first assembled at the intersection of Park Street and Chowringhee. The procession then marched towards Rani Rashmoni Road, from where the police arrested the members.

Housewife found hanging

A 19-year-old housewife was found hanging at her Dakshindari residence, in the Lake Town police station area, on Monday. Police suspect a family quarrel could have led to the incident. However, neighbours said that they had never found the victim depressed during the past year of her marriage. Police are now looking for her in-laws, who are absconding after the incident. Police could not confirm whether the incident was a case of suicide or murder as the post-mortem report is awaited.

Engine rams truck, helper killed

Bahadur Mahato, 30, helper of a truck, was killed and the driver seriously injured when an engine hit the vehicle at a level crossing at Shalimar, Howrah, on Monday morning. The truck was carrying sugar bags. The helper was trapped under the bags. Railway officials are conducting a probe into the incident.

Mamata lauds swift road repairs

Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee lauded member, mayor-in-council (roads), Anup Chatterjee, for repairing most of the roads before the Pujas. Chatterjee said the CMC had to spend an additional Rs 3 lakh to hire labour for the work. More than 600 km of roads were attended to in three weeks.

Immersion clash

Six people were injured when two groups clashed at Maheshghat village, in Bishnupur, over immersion. Twenty people were arrested.    

 
 
FOUL-PLAY WHIFF IN CMC AWARDS 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR AND DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Oct. 29: 
This is one puja hangover that the city or the Calcutta Municipal Corporation could have done without. The Purashree Sharad Samadar — instituted by the CMC to recognise puja committees for their contribution to the festive and religious fervour — seems to be snowballing into a controversy in the year of its inception itself.

Some puja organisers are alleging that the panel of judges did not visit their pandals at all. Taking into account the “widespreadness” of the charges, mayor Subrata Mukherjee has asked for a probe into the functioning of the award committee to “prevent a recurrence” of the fiasco in future.

What may mean even more embarrassment to the Trinamul-controlled civic board is the fact that the list of protesters against the “hoax” includes Trinamul chairman of Borough X Aroop Biswas, who was the brain behind Suruchi Sangha’s recreation of Baradi, a village in Bangladesh that has contributed, among others, Lokenath Baba and Jyoti Basu. “I will meet the mayor and apprise him of the entire fiasco,” Biswas said. “There is some foul play,” he added, referring to the awards, which included prize money of Rs 1 lakh.

Daring those who implemented the concept of giving awards on behalf of the CMC “to show even a video-clipping of the New Alipore puja”, Biswas, alongwith members of the mayor-in-council like Mala Roy and Anup Mitra, demanded a probe into the incident.

The CMC award finally went to Bosepukur Sitala Samiti, Mudiali and Nyarabagan.

Roy, who, with mayor-in-council (roads) colleague Anup Mitra, looked after the implementation bit, said the CMC received around 250 applications for the award. “We took the panel around some of the pandals, shot video-clips of the others and asked the panel to deliver its verdict,” she said.

The panel included actors Chiranjeet and Madhabi Mukhopadhyay, author Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay, painter Ganesh Haloi, former footballer Sukumar Samajpati, mime personality Jogesh Datta and artist Uma Siddhanta.

Anup Mitra echoed the views on the selection of the winners. “The panel met at the CMC headquarters on Saptami, saw the video-clips, shortlisted about 45 for special attention and then went around those pandals,” he said.

Not so, say most of the organisers whom Metro got in touch with. Trinamul Borough X chairman Biswas was sure that no one came to see or shoot his recreation of the Bangladeshi village.

S.P. Chatterjee, of Dhakuria’s Babubagan, reacted similarly. He was sure that no CMC judge had turned up. Abhay Chatterjee, one of the organisers of the Bagbazar Sarbajanin Durgotsav, “did not see” any CMC eye or camera to look up the Puja either.

Ganesh Haloi would not be drawn into the controversy. “All I can say is that I went around 20-30 pandals that I was asked to visit by the CMC higher-ups,” he said.

Madhabi Mukhopadhyay, however, was not sure how many pandals she had gone to: “It could have been more than a hundred.” Asked whether it was possible to cover 100 pandals in crowd-choked Calcutta in 14 hours, she admitted it was “difficult”. “But from Saptami evening to Ashtami morning, we did not take a minute’s break,” the actress said.

The mayor admitted that he had been “forced” to ask for a probe. “That there have been several complaints suggests the possibility of mismanagement at some point of the implementation,” he said. “It’s also embarrassing for eminent personalities who agreed, very graciously, to be on our panel of judges,” he added.

   

 
 
AIDS, APATHY AND AWARENESS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 29: 
Two incidents during this year’s Pujas have brought to the fore the stark contrast in knowledge about AIDS. On Ashtami, a businessman from Behala committed suicide by jumping in front of a train at Burdwan. The police retrieved a note that said he had taken his life fearing he had contracted AIDS. Tests showed he had not. The businessman’s family later said he had been suffering from intermittent fever, was losing weight and had recently started complaining about a severe pain in his throat. Though he had not consulted a doctor, he had got to know that these were symptoms of being infected with HIV.

On Nabami, a group of 11, four of them women, infected with the virus, were able to enjoy the festivities as much as possible.

Thanks to the efforts of a north Calcutta-based voluntary organisation, they were taken to various pandals all around the city, given new clothes and lunch.

   

 
 
GOVT SLASHES BUDGET OF 3 VARSITIES 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Oct. 29: 
The government has decided to slash the revised budget for 2001-2002, presented by three universities. The decision has hit Calcutta University (CU), Jadavpur University (JU) and Rabindra Bharati University (RBU), which have already placed their respective revised budget proposals with the government for its approval.

Explaining the reason behind curtailing of budgetary allocations, higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty said the government wanted the universities to be economically self-reliant. “However, we will see to it that they do not face any financial problems. We will examine the revised budget estimates of the universities and try to provide financial support as much as we can,” the minister added.

The state government has reportedly asked CU to reduce its expenses by about Rs 10 crore. JU has been asked to cut its revised budget estimate by Rs 12 crore, while RBU will have to reduce its expenses by Rs 4.25 crore.

“But this was not unexpected. Governor Viren J. Shah, who is also chancellor of the university, asked us to utilise our own property to mobilise funds. Shah was probably the first chancellor, who attended the budget meeting of the university Senate on March 28 and urged the authorities to turn self-reliant,” said a senior official of Calcutta University.

The university has already taken several steps to generate funds on its own by selling out property. Still, it is finding it difficult to pay leave salary, gratuity and pension commutation to about 1,400 retired employees, as the state government has refused to reimburse the amount.

“Making payment to 1,400 pensioners has imposed a heavy burden on our funds and these are our additional liabilities, for which we have not yet received anything from the government,” said Hiron Kumar Banerjee, pro vice-chancellor (finance) of CU.

“We are already spending Rs 50 lakh per month from our own funds to pay the salaries of teachers and employees of the university,” said Banerjee. Compelled by the state government to curtail its financial expenditure, the university has already increased a number of fees, like registration fees, to earn revenue.

Admitting that the government has instructed the university to curtail costs, Banerjee said it was expecting more financial assistance from the state government after the Pujas. The CU authorities have to bear an additional financial burden following a revision in the pay-scale of teachers and employees.

“We are also paying arrears to our teachers and staff, following the pay-scale revision. As a result, our budgetary claim looked hefty,” a senior university official said.

The pro vice-chancellor (finance) of Jadavpur University, Ashok Thakur, admitted that the state government had not approved the revised budget estimate of the university in toto and asked it to curtail some expenditure.

“I have not yet seen the government order, but my staff told me about it. We will curtail our non-academic expenditure to go by the government order,” Thakur said.

An RBU official said the university had submitted the revised budget estimate to the state government by September-end. “Recently, we were informed by the government that it would not be able to approve the budget estimate in toto and curtail it by Rs 4.25 crore,” he added.

   

 
 
RESHUFFLE BLOW TO DRIVE FOR CLEAN KITCHENS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 29: 
Finally, the city’s hotel and restaurant lobby appears to have got what it has been trying for weeks: Applying the brakes on the drive against unclean kitchens and rampant food adulteration.

Last week, when the city was virtually shut, thanks to Durga puja, municipal commissioner Debasish Som “reorganised” the food laboratory where samples are collected from eateries by putting a new official in charge.

Signalling what can be termed as the burial of the clean-kitchen campaign, Som brought Atanu Mukherjee out of the CMC’s chest clinic at Tollygunge into the food-testing laboratory.

As a result, chief municipal health officer Sujit Ghosh and superintendent of food laboratory Subrata Bose, the two arrowheads of civic health boss Javed Khan’s clean-kitchen campaign, find themselves sidelined.

Khan had invited protests from city hoteliers and restaurateurs, who went to the mayor complaining that the campaign, being reported in the media, was affecting their business.

Subrata Mukherjee, who had overseen the framing of the order till October 25, was not available for his comment. But Khan said: “It is disgusting that despite being the head of the department, I was not consulted on the order.”

CPM leader of the opposition Nirmal Mukherjee said: “The authorities have set a precedent by equipping a low-ranking official with powers to monitor his superiors. Why, they have even placed a law-cum-special officer in the office of the commissioner to supervise his work.” But Som said: “To assign special duty to a civic official does not require to follow eligibility criterion.”

Nearly two dozen posts of food inspectors are lying vacant, as a result of which the department finds it difficult to undertake any drive against food adulteration. A spokesman in the civic food laboratory department said that in the absence of a competent superintendent, it would now be impossible to file a case against an adulterator.

Sources pointed out that the civic raids had been stopped since February at Burrabazar, on an order from the mayor’s office.

   
 

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