Stolen Girl seized from carpenter
Cops led on decibel dance
Shah prod, varsity nod for course
Housewife’s body on river bank
A banner raised, a burden shed
The City Diary
On the panel but not in post
Garbage piles up at New Market, probe okayed
Thursday log-in for four city schools
Convict moves rights body on jail assault

Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
Memory was intercepted at a high-profile auction in Delhi earlier this month. The Girl with the Pitcher, part of The Wet Cloth series, was retrieved from a central Calcutta home on Thursday.

With this, both Hemen Mazumdar masterpieces, stolen from the Chowdhurys’ ancestral home in Bhandarhati, Hooghly, in December 2000, have been recovered. In the process, the CID claims to have busted an “international art-theft racket” originating in Calcutta.

Inspector-general of police, CID, Partha Bhattacharya, said the second stolen Mazumdar was discovered in the Muchipara house of a carpenter, Chandan Dhar. He was arrested, along with three associates, on Thursday morning. Sambhu Das, an alleged broker in the art racket, was also rounded up.

The painting was then brought to the CID headquarters at Bhabani Bhavan, where it was identified by a member of the Chowdhury family. CID officials pegged the price of each painting at “not less than Rs 15 lakh”.

Investigations revealed that Dhar is a carpenter who specialises in repairing and polishing old furniture in the homes of art connoisseurs. Bhattacharya said Dhar had been working in the Chowdhury household around the time the Hemen Mazumdar paintings, gifted to the family by the artist himself, went missing.

Dhar, the CID said, had a keen eye for paintings. “He knew the value of paintings and had links with art galleries and auction houses,’’ said deputy inspector-general of police, CID, V.V. Thambi. “Once he had identified a masterpiece, he would plan a smooth swipe. His band of labourers, all small-time criminals, would wait for their chance and remove the painting from the wall.”

It was Dhar who had allegedly sold Memory to Prakash Kejriwal. The owner of Chitrakoot gallery, arrested after the painting was stopped from going under the hammer at a Bowring’s auction in Delhi and traced to the south Calcutta gallery, disclosed during interrogation that Sambhu Das had brokered the deal between Dhar and him. “Das had put Kejriwal in touch with Dhar and he pocketed a hefty commission when Memory changed hands,” a CID official said.

The Chowdhurys are “relieved” that the paintings have been retrieved and have praised the police for “prompt action in a country where art theft is so rampant”. A member of the family said: “It might take days, or months, before we can take the paintings back home. We at least know they are in safe custody.”

The Wet Cloth series, he said, depicted a typical Bengal village scene, where a woman, after having her evening dip in the river, is fetching water home in a pitcher, wet sari clinging to her. The Girl with the Pitcher shows her leaning against a wall, holding on to the pitcher. “The unique feature of this painting is the vacant, haunting look in her eyes. It bears the same stamp of sensuality that marks all the frames in this series.”


Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
Chhat puja revellers led the police on a decibel dance through the city and its suburbs through Wednesday and early Thursday.

The bursting of crackers and the blaring of loudspeakers marked the celebrations, as the cops struggled to cope with the flood of complaints. Police said 292 persons had been rounded up from different areas of the city. Five kg of banned crackers and 12 microphones were seized.

Matters took a violent turn on Thursday morning when two groups of Chhat revellers, from Jorabagan and Rajabazar, clashed on AJC Bose Road.

The Rajabazar youths later ransacked two clubs in the Jorabagan area. A large police force was pressed into action and several culprits were arrested.

Police admitted on Thursday that “the decibel levels had shot up in the Ballygunge, Gariahat, Hazra, Bhowanipore and Kalighat belts, where there is a large concentration of Biharis”.

Popular Bihari and Hindi numbers, combined with fireworks, made life miserable for local residents, they added.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Banibrata Basu, said revellers in various parts of the city were bursting banned crackers. “We received a large number of complaints, especially from south Calcutta,’’ Basu said.

The cops argued that they were at the receiving end of the cat-and-mouse-game that went on till Thursday morning.

“Whenever we received complaints, our men would rush to the spot where revellers were bursting crackers. But more often than not, they would disappear as soon as the force would enter the area,” an official at Lalbazar said.

Sources said complaints also came in from Central Avenue, Burrabazar, Dunlop, Belghoria, Beleghata, Entally, Sealdah, Watgunge and New Alipore.

Gitanath Ganguly, special officer appointed by the high court to monitor sound pollution, blamed it on the police. “It is shameful that the police have failed to enforce the ban on crackers,’’ Ganguly said on Thursday.

Officials of the pollution control board, too, reported a large number of complaints against the bursting of crackers.

“What can we do? The failure of the decibel drive was evident on Kali puja night and Chhat puja was no different. It is up to the police to implement the law,” a board official said.

According to the police, the Dhakuria lakes bore the brunt of the Chhat puja aftermath. The lakes were overrun by the revellers, forcing hundreds of morning walkers to steer clear of the area.

A group of angry morning-walkers later went to Lake police station to lodge a complaint against the “unruly revellers” who had flooded the area. “We shall take up the matter with the higher authorities, as the local police have failed to stop this menace the morning after every Chhat puja,” said a senior citizen, denied his morning stroll.


Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
A combination of student and gubernatorial pressure has prompted Calcutta University to give a mid-term go-ahead to a bachelor’s degree in business administration. “We have conducted a survey of many of our affiliated colleges to identify those with the infrastructural requirements, including library facilities and staff strength, to start such a course,” said Ranajit Chakraborty, head of department of business management, Calcutta University.

The four institutions to make the grade are St Xavier’s College, Bhawanipur Education Society, Ashutosh College and Acharya Prafulla Chandra College. While three are set to begin classes by January, St Xavier’s has, apparently, decided to wait till the next June-July session.

“There has been a growing demand for a business administration course among students. The decision to introduce a course in the middle of the term is, probably, unprecedented in the history of the 146-year-old university. But it has been taken keeping in mind the needs of today’s students,” said Bhabatosh Banerjee, dean, faculty of commerce and management department, Calcutta University.

Varsity sources confirmed on Thursday that it took Governor Viren J. Shah’s intervention to set the business administration course rolling. “The Governor, who is also chancellor of Calcutta University, was inundated with requests from students to introduce a full-fledged business administration course at the under-graduate level,” disclosed an official.

Driven by the students’ demand, Shah contacted state higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty and requested him to make arrangements for the course to be introduced in the current academic session itself. “It was the chancellor who took the initiative and pressed for the introduction of the course as soon as possible. So, despite the session having started in July, the admission tests for the new course will be held in December and classes in three of the chosen colleges will commence from January. Other colleges will be identified in the second round,” an official said.

To ensure that quality is not compromised, the admission procedure will be controlled directly by the university, not by the individual colleges. “A centralised entrance test will be conducted and the varsity will screen applicants in order of merit,” said Chakraborty.

In another first, an admission form for the business administration course has been priced at Rs 1,000. The funds from the sale of the forms will be used to conduct the joint admission tests on December 9.


Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
They had come to the city barely a month ago. Dhanraj Sharma, 32, and Kaushalya, 28, were staying with his brother Pawan, a manager of a jute mill in Bally. On November 17, Kaushalya stepped out to buy something from a neighbouring shop. She never returned.

Worried family members got in touch with Bally police station. “We searched the homes of relatives and friends, but she was not in any one of them,’’ Pawan said.

The brothers approached the CID on November 21, seeking help to locate Kaushalya. Deputy inspector-general V.V. Thambi said on Thursday evening, Howrah police informed his office that a body resembling Kaushalya’s was lying on the banks of the Hooghly near Ballyghat. “It is bloated and she was drowned,’’ Howrah police said.

Senior CID officials accompanied Pawan to the ghat. The body was identified and later sent for post-mortem. Initial reports said that Kaushalya had no reason to commit suicide. The couple was happily married and had two daughters. Then how did she die?

Dhanraj and Kaushalya moved to Bangalore five years ago. “Dhanraj was keen on business but his initial efforts to set up a factory failed. It was then that he decided to shift to Bangalore, where he was helped by a few relatives and friends,’’ a kinsman said.

In Bangalore, Dhanraj set up a plastic factory, in which he invested a large sum. In the initial years, business flourished. The losses started last year. “We investigated the matter and found this was not cause enough for Kaushalya to commit suicide,” Thambi said.

Pawan agreed. “There was no friction between them or with their children,’’ he said. The family has not lodged any complaint.


Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
India has often been marked for violence against women, beginning right from the womb and continuing till death. To mark the International Fortnight Protesting Violence Against Women that begins on November 25, organisations in the city are hosting a series of events that will highlight such issues and provide a rare insight into the problems underlining the main theme.

Swayam, an NGO, is hosting workshops, songs, readings, exhibitions and films to mark the fortnight. At Shahid Minar, the group has chosen to exhibit posters on violence against women under the theme, ‘Half the Sky’. This will be followed by a play, Bhalo Chheley, depicting domestic violence and sexual harassment. The focus then shifts to Academy of Fine Arts, where the group holds a series of exhibitions (Nov. 2-Dec. 1) under the title ‘Against The Tide’.

The festival on women’s rights kicks off at Nandan on December 1 and continues till December 6. An interesting workshop on violence against women with Right Track will be held at Bedey bustee, off Brace Bridge.

A human rights organisation, Sanlaap, too, chips in with a film festival at Nandan and a performing arts festival at Swabhumi. According to an official of the group, the fortnight of campaigns is an annual event, because women continue to experience gender-based violence. “The target audience includes everyone, as women will have experienced some form of violence or gender-based discrimination,” said the official.

The films to be screened during the fortnight are Rituparno Ghosh’s Dahan, Aparna Sen’s Sati, Train To Pakistan, Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay and a Bangladeshi film, Duhshomoy. “The performing arts section at Swabhumi will see artistes from Nepal, Bangladesh and, of course, our own people, like Anasua Mazumdar and Moon Moon Sen ,” said Roop Sen of Sanlaap. On November 28, the group will host the play Rape (Ek Balaatkar) at Oxford.

Animation films under the title Wicked Women Wayward Heart will showcase Seagull Foundation for The Arts’ tribute to the theme. On November 28, there’s Erica Russell’s Feet of Song and Gillian Lacey’s Murder Most Foul, among others. The next day will see Nicole van Goetham’s Greek Tragedy, an Oscar-winning allegory of women shedding the burden imposed on them by the traditions of the western civilisation. On November 30, three films will be screened. All shows are at 6 pm.



Student slashed at railway station

A second-year commerce student of a prominent city college, who had protested against an incident of eve-teasing on a train earlier in the day, was allegedly slashed with a razor late on Wednesday evening. Railway police said Sohini Sarkar was attacked by an unidentified youth as soon as she got off a local train at Sodepur station on Wednesday evening. The Sarkar family has, however, refused to lodge a complaint. “The girl’s parents did not want to lodge a complaint, but we started a suo motu case,” said a railway police official.

Kidnap protest stalls trains

Train services on the Sealdah main section of Eastern Railway were disrupted for two hours from 2.30 pm on Thursday, after a group of residents obstructed the tracks at Naihati station to protest the kidnapping of a local girl a few days ago. Five pairs of Main line locals had to be cancelled and many were delayed. The Up Teesta Torsha Express was stopped by the agitators at Naihati station for about two-and-a-half hours, till the agitation was withdrawn. Shuttle services, however, were maintained up to Barrackpore.

Parkomat debut

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will inaugurate Parkomat, a computerised parking plaza, at the junction of Rawdon Street and Park Street at 10 am on Sunday. The function will be presided over by mayor Subrata Mukherjee. State municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya will be chief guest, a Calcutta Municipal Corporation official said.

Free-tripper drive

During massive checks in October, South Eastern Railway has collected Rs 89.25 lakh towards fare and penalty from 72,249 cases detected without or with improper tickets. Apart from these, an amount of Rs 31.90 lakh was realised from 87,034 unbooked luggage cases. Altogether, 198 persons were prosecuted in special checks conducted by the SER in association with RPF jawans.

Housewife killed

A 26-year-old housewife, Munira Bibi, was allegedly killed by her husband, Abdul Rahim Laskar, a resident of Keyatala, in Baruipur, South 24-Parganas. Officer in-charge of Baruipur police station, Pradip Roy, said the couple were living separately for the past few months.

B.Sc Part I results

The results of Calcutta University’s B.Sc Part I (honours and general) examinations will be published on Friday, sources in the university’s controller of examinations department said. The examinations were held in June.

Honorary D.Litt

Calcutta University on Thursday conferred an honorary D.Litt degree on Professor Noam Chomsky for his outstanding contribution in the field of lingusitics and human philosophy at a special convocation.

Power protest

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has lined up a 48-hour sit-in from November 26 in front of the CESC office on Chowringhee to protest the proposed hike in electricity rates. Mukherjee, all his mayors-in-council members and Trinamul Congress councillors will assemble on the spot at 10 am.    

Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
Suparno Lahiri, a resident of Maniktala Main Road, was elated on seeing his name on the panel, released by the School Service Commission (SSC) last year for the 1999 examinations.

With the fate of three younger brothers depending on his job, Lahiri was hopeful that everything was going to be all right. More than a year later, his hopes of securing the much-needed job have begun to erode. “I don’t have any clue what fate has in store for me. Every query to the authorities is met with vague replies. It is becoming very difficult for me to run the household with my meagre income,” he said.

Lahiri’s is not the lone case. Uncertainty looms large over the fate of over 2,000 candidates inducted in the final panel of the 1999 School Service Commission (SSC) examination for 30,000 vacant posts in 50 different subjects.

Sources say that malpractices in the recruitment system is costing hundreds of deserving candidates their jobs, while a large number of candidates with CPM connections have received their appointment letters.

“The SSC is deliberately keeping the appointments on hold, despite a large number of vacancies in subjects like chemistry, Bengali, history and political science. Their plan is to accommodate candidates of their own choice,” alleged a senior member of the headmasters’ association.

Meanwhile, the job seekers, running from pillar to post, have lost hopes of getting their promised jobs. “My name figures on the final list released by the SSC. But strangely, nobody has any idea when I will get my appointment letter,” laments a 27-year-old youth, who appeared from the Calcutta sector.

“Some say the list is for a year, others say it will be extended. There are others who claim that some candidates, whose names do not figure on the panel, are being given jobs clandestinely. Others ask me to try again,” added the disgusted candidate.

Over 5,000 candidates were initially inducted into the final panel for jobs in various schools in the city and districts. More than 3,00,000 had applied.

The prospect of a secure job, a lucrative pay packet and a relatively easy examination were enough to drive thousands to apply and clear the first phase of the written examinations on August 15, 2000.

The candidates then sat through the second phase of written examinations in November 2000, followed by a final interview in the middle of December.

Thousands soon appeared on the final panel, but that was the last time they heard anything positive from the authorities.

When asked, chairman of the SSC Arun Kiran Chakraborty said the final panel was released on the basis of a 5:15 ratio, which means that for five posts, 15 people are inducted in the panel.

It is a gradual process, but once the vacancies are met, there is nothing much to do. At times, the panel is extended beyond the one-year deadline to accommodate more candidates.

Arko Roy, a candidate from Dum Dum, however, refuses to accept the explanation.

“Even if the ratio is to be believed, I was ranked within 120 of the total number of 178 candidates in the physics panel. Yet, I have been told that I don’t stand a chance of making it to the final panel. What is the use of clearing the examinations and finding that the bridge is still too far away? I have spoken to everybody concerned, but no one has given me a convincing answer so far,” Roy said.

Like Roy, there are hundreds who have been promised jobs, but may never get it eventually.


Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has ordered an inquiry into how garbage is piling up in the new complex of S.S. Hogg Market, while the contractor is drawing Rs 12.5 lakh every month for removing it.

Mukherjee has asked for a report from municipal commissioner Debasish Som. His attention was drawn to the litter pile-up by member, mayor-in-council (conservancy) Mala Roy, who visited the new complex accompanied by assistant director (conservancy) Swapan Mahapatra.

The mayor suspects the contractor has been submitting inflated and false bills without rendering proper services. Roy and Mahapatra said they had to hold handkerchiefs to their noses while in the new New Market as the mounds of garbage and overflowing drains were stinking.

Mahapatra showed Roy the door of the garbage shaft,which had come unstuck with the load of garbage within.

Preliminary investigation reveals that the contract for conservancy services in the complex had been awarded to a firm called Tenacity.

Records in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) accounts department reveal that while payment to contractors has been slashed because of a funds crunch, Tenacity was being made regular payments.

Secretary of New Market Shopkeepers’ Welfare Association Pradip Chakraborty said never in the century-plus history had New Market been as filthy as now. This deplorable situation of conservancy services persists in New Market despite its proximity to the civic headquarters, he added. Some shopkeepers alleged that the durwans were letting out space in the new complex as godowns for hawkers’ stocks at night. Most of the goods stocked were of combustible material, they added.

CMC’s director-general of projects and development Nilangshu Bose said earlier that his department looked after conservancy services in the new complex of New Market till 1999, after which the responsibility was handed over to the market department.

Member, mayor-in-council (market), Samsuzzaman Ansari, was not available for comment.


Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
The state government’s computer education programme in schools may take some more time to be impemented fully, but for the students of four schools in Calcutta, logging onto computers is just a click away.

Thanks to the US-based Schools Online, which has charted out an ambitious plan to take computer education to 60 non-elite schools across six cities in the country, some students will get a chance to familiarise themselves with computers. The project, which envisages setting 10 P III computers with multimedia kit, digital camera, deskjet printers and ISDN connection, has already covered 35 schools in Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad. Now, it’s the turn for schools in Calcutta and Delhi.

“The project aims to take information technology and computers to the economically-backward sections of society. Initially, we planned to extend our support to 10 schools in all the six cities. But the World Trade Center crash on September 11 delayed the process and we have decided to scale down the number from 10 to five in the first phase of the project,” said Shyam S. Agarwal, director, Abso Software, which is co-ordinating the project for Schools Online in Calcutta. Though he declined to set a date for the next phase of the project, he said “it won’t take long.”

As of now, four city schools have been identified for installation of these facilities at a budget of Rs 6.5 lakh each. They are Binodini Girls at Dhakuria, Jodhpur Park Boys’, Jawaharlal Nehru Vidyapeeth in Kidderpore and Beleghata Deshobandhu Boys. To run the computer centres effectively, Schools Online is conducting training programmes for teachers. The first round was conducted by Intel for 40 teachers.

Computer centres at these schools will be formally inaugurated on Thursday in the presence of Kamaran Elahian, a US-based non-resident Iranian, who is the brain behind the organisation. According to Agarwal, the schools are selected on the basis of economic criteria. “We want to select schools where students come primarily from lower middle-class families and the monthly fees are not higher than Rs 25,” he said.

As the objective of the project is facilitating computer literacy among the under-privileged, the schools won’t charge any extra fees. In the first year, Schools Online will provide the financial and technical resources for maintenance of infrastructure, which will later shift to the schools.

“We are also trying to suggest to them possible ways and means to mobilise funds necessary to maintain the infrastructure,” added Agarwal.


Calcutta, Nov. 22: 
A convict, languishing in the Dum Dum Central Jail for the past eight months, allegedly suffered “inhuman torture” at the hands of warders last month.

The startling news came to light only on Wednesday, when a team of officials from the state Human Rights Commission visited the jail on the basis of a one-page letter from Mahadeb Nandy, alleging that he was “severely beaten up” by some junior warders at the instance of a head warder during Durga puja.

Nandy, sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment on charges of rape, had been shifted to the Dum Dum jail from Presidency Jail, in Alipore, eight months ago.

Jail sources confirmed on Thursday that Nandy was also admitted to the jail hospital with serious injuries on his head and body. “Senior officials tried to hush up the matter but were caught on the wrong foot when they came to know that the convict had already brought it to the notice of the rights panel,” they said.

Chairman, human rights commission, Mukul Gopal Mukherji, told Metro on Thursday that he had taken cognisance of the case after receiving a letter from the convict.

“We cannot ignore a complaint, especially from a person in custody,” Mukherji said, adding: “The officials who had visited the jail are probing whether he was physically tortured or not. The guilty will be punished.”

Officials at Writers’ Buildings said the prison directorate had also ordered an independent probe into the matter.

When contacted, Dum Dum jail superintendent Manoj Chowdhury admitted that some warders had beaten up Nandy during the Pujas for not being present when the head-count was being conducted.

“We were extremely worried when Nandy was found missing during the head-count after the prisoners were being returned to the respective cells from the jail courtyard,” he said.

“The incident must have angered some warders, who beat him up for his delay in reporting to them,” he added.

Chowdhury, however, confirmed that Nandy’s injuries were not serious and he was treated on the spot. “I had no idea that he had written to the rights panel,” he added.

In a related development, members of the RSP-controlled Paschim Banga Kararakshi Samity alleged on Thursday that warders were being made “scapegoats” in the case.

“Warders must have acted under the direction of senior officers, who wanted to hush up the case. We want them to be punished first,” said a Samity spokesman.


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