Mamata muzzles brother bash
Green signal for 5 new parking plazas
Pilot project for private partners
Software hub charts success graph
Cops hurt in arrest bid
The City Diary
Rajarhat twin near Dankuni
CalTel cell service fails to connect
Electronic guide for roads to avoid
Selling experience, not the product

Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
A behind-the-scenes family drama, laced with political power play, cut short a “musical extravaganza” and forced Subrata Mukherjee to step in for Bappi Lahiri, late on Saturday. All this was enacted outside Mamata Banerjee’s Harish Chatterjee Street home, with the Trinamul Congress chairperson away in Delhi. But she, apparently, monitored every move and slammed the brakes on the bash, as it would “tarnish her image”.

Saturday was billed to be the big night for Swapan (better known as Babun), one of Mamata’s brothers. His club, Kalighat Sports Lovers Association, had organised the musical medley, climaxing with the entry of Bappi Lahiri around midnight.

It was smooth-going, till Mukherjee breezed in, instead of Bappi and band. “I am the mayor of Calcutta and I promise you a much bigger musical nite, with stars from Mumbai, very soon. But tonight’s function stands cancelled due to unavoidable circumstances,” he told the multitude, that stood stunned by the sudden turn of events.

“Actually, Bappi Lahiri could not make it and that is why the programme had to be cancelled,” Mukherjee said on Sunday afternoon. That, said Trinamul insiders, was just the “official version”. The soiree was, actually, stopped following Mamata’s “direct intervention” from Delhi.

“Trouble began when two of Mamata’s brothers tried to stop Swapan from organising the programme but failed. They contacted her in Delhi and told her it would tarnish her political image,” said a Mamata loyalist.

On Saturday afternoon, Mamata reportedly flew into a rage and rang up Swapan. “Tora ki amakey merey phelbi theek korechhish? Aamar bhai hoye Bappi Lahiri ke niye gaan-baajna kortey ke bolechhey? Ekhuni bandho kor. Toder gaan-baajnar janney aamar party aar raajnitir khoti aami sajhya korbona (Have you decided to ruin me? How can you, being my brother, organise a Bappi Lahiri nite? Stop it at once. I will not allow your musical programme to damage my party or political ideology).”

Mamata then called up Mukherjee. “Subratada, aapni ekhuni eshob bandho koroon (Subratda, please go and stop all this immediately),” she told the mayor. Mukherjee contacted Swapan at once, asked him to call off the programme and then rushed to the spot for damage-control.

Mamata was not available for comment at her Delhi residence as she was busy attending a meeting in Parliament House. When contacted, Swapan refused to comment on the fiasco. “Let me think about it. Please ring me up later,” he said.

“Mamata is a victim of family politics. On a number of occasions, she has hauled up her brothers for misusing her name,” said a senior Trinamul leader.

The “dubious dealings” of some of Mamata’s family members have also come into focus, following ex-footballer Prasun Banerjee’s complaints regarding “her coterie”. Banerjee, who has been with Trinamul from the start, has recently decided to distance himself from the party.


Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
The country’s first multi-level, fully automatic and computerised parking complex was inaugurated in Calcutta on Sunday, with buoyant authorities announcing that the city will have five more of the same.

New Market, BBD Bag (opposite Writers’ Buildings), and a space next to Millennium Park on Strand Road are next in line. Two more will come up later, one at Sealdah and the other at a yet-to-be-determined spot in north Calcutta. The first Parkomat, built near the Rawdon Street-Park Street crossing, is a joint venture of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and Simplex Projects. It will be operational from the first week of December.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said there has to be “more than one” Parkomat in Calcutta. “It’s a question of changing attitudes. The city’s growth is making us look to the West for urban development solutions. There is no politics involved here. The only objective is improvement of Calcutta.”

Inaugurating Simpark, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said he was instructing chief secretary Manish Gupta to “clear the relevant files within the coming week.” Saying that Calcutta had shown the country another modern concept, Bhattacharjee admitted that the city had several complex problems.

“With about 10 million people living in or coming to Calcutta every day, several steps have to be taken to maintain discipline and order. Our filtered water supply is the best in the country, the garbage disposal system has improved, residents are not told to leave the bustees like in Mumbai. But, the problems far outweigh the successes,” the chief minister added.

“The city is a concrete jungle without roads. While road surface in Calcutta has not increased from six per cent, the number of cars has. Ten lakh vehicles ply in the city today, and in 20 years, this number is expected to shoot up to 30 lakh,” said Bhattacharjee, adding, “five flyovers are coming up with Japanese funding. But we don’t have proper maps of the underground water and sewage channels, which has hampered progress.

Forging new ties with the Trinamul Congress-led civic body, Bhattacharjee agreed that there can be no room for political differences over “the improvement of Calcutta”.


Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
The ground rules of infrastructure development in Calcutta could be rewritten, with the government poised to bring in new legislation on Public-Private Partnership (PPP).

The proposed Bill, in the final stages of preparation, will allow agencies responsible for the city’s development — most notably the CMDA — to hand over the task of building infrastructure to private partners.

The decision, okayed by state urban development and municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya, has already been approved by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Details of the proposed legislation have been sent to departments like housing, transport and PWD for their comments and suggestions. “After their perusal, the draft will be placed before various chambers of commerce,” a senior government official said.

But the key-words of the proposed change in policy are likely to be “zero-investment for the government (read: Public, first of the three Ps)”.

The state government, according to the proposal, will invite a Private (the second of the Ps) Partner (the last P) for developing infrastructure at its own cost.

The pilot project of this break-from-past policy is likely to be the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass-VIP Road connector that will bisect Rajarhat. “The government will, if possible, not spend a single paisa on the Rs 40-crore project,” an official said.

The private partner will be asked to shoulder the entire financial burden, say officials, adding that it this is going to be the “first major road project in India to be developed at zero cost to the government”.

Other states, like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, have similar models for infrastructure development in the industrial sector but have not ventured into public utilities, like roads and housing projects, they add.

The process to short-list consultants for the pilot project is on. The government does not have any expertise in selecting private partners,” an official admitted, stressing the necessity for consultants, “at least in the early stages”.

A vital aspect of the proposed law will be “fairness in competition” and “transparency”, a senior public works department official said. “Adverse comments by auditors against the process of selection of private partners in the past were kept in mind when the government decided to go ahead with this move,” he added.

The private partner can expect certain “considerations”. This may include sole advertising rights for a stretch of road built by the partner, or land at some place for its own benefit, or even a sum of money payable annually that will be insignificant when compared to the cost of construction.

The move, admit officials, marks a “major shift of stance” for the Left Front government, which still claims to be “anti-private sector” and sees various evils in the privatisation process.

“This departure from policies of the past has been prompted by the need of the hour. The cash-strapped government has been made more jittery by the increasing wariness of financial institutions in forking out huge loans,” they concluded.


Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
If numbers tell the story, the Software Technology Park in the Salt Lake Electronics Complex, is on the fast track to success. Recessionary trends have failed to slow down exports from “the software hub of Bengal”.

According to the latest figures available with Webel, April to September 2001 has witnessed a 2.6-time rise (around 160 per cent) in software exports over the corresponding period in 2000. “There are around 77 firms under the Software Technology Park scheme here. Every month, they are required to send reports on their performance. We collated the last six months’ figures for an internal assessment and it’s heartening to note that the Saltlec park is doing far better than the others,” said S.K. Mitra, managing director, Webel. Mitra attributed this rise to the “new companies” that have registered with the park and the “steady performance” of some of the major players.

N. Zindal, director-general, Software Technology Parks of India (STPI), confirmed that the Saltlec park’s rise in exports (“a crucial indicator of performance in the IT sector”), was “well above the national growth average” of around 30 to 40 per cent, among 21 existing software parks. “Despite the small base and hence, higher growth potential, the achievement is, indeed, commendable at a time when delays in decisions have dried up flow of projects,” observed Zindal.

Industry watchers are “happy” with the Saltlec-based tech park’s performance at a time when the “biggies” in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai are content with “below-average growth figures”. According to a leading software consultant: “The biggest advantage for Calcutta stems from the composition of business. Here, companies rely more on off-shore projects, while down south, the accent was on body-shopping. So, despite the poor show of some of the local companies, the downturn in business in Saltlec is not as severe as it’s in the south.”

Software exports from Saltlec, which houses companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers, Tata Consultancy Services and Cognizant Technology Solutions, have gone up from $ 21 million in the first six months of 2000-2001 to $54 million. This, when the National Association for Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) has slashed growth target for 2001-2002 to 30 per cent, from earlier projections of a little over 40 per cent. Though the Saltlec park contributed $ 77 million to the total $ 4-billion export generated from the STPI scheme in 2000-2001, officials in the state IT ministry are confident that the “share will go up substantially this year”.


Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
Two policemen were injured when they tried to arrest a criminal, Naushad, near New Market, on Sunday. Naushad had stolen more than Rs 3 lakh from his employer, a fruit merchant in Jorasanko, a couple of days earlier. The fruit merchant, whom the police did not name for sake of investigations, had recruited Naushad a year ago.

On Friday, the merchant noticed Rs 3 lakh missing from his cash box. Naushad, too, had disappeared. Jorasanko police then detained two friends of Naushad. During the course of investigations, the police were tipped off on Saturday that Naushad was holed up in a house in the New Market area. According to sources, this was his occasional hideout.

With the police at his doorstep, Naushad tired to fight his way out of trouble. In the ensuing scuffle, two policemen were injured. But officers finally manage to net Naushad. He was brought to Jorasanko police station. During interrogation, Naushad confessed to having stolen the money. The cash has been recovered.



Chinese fabric seized on Darjeeling Mail

Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Calcutta zonal unit, recovered Chinese fabric worth Rs 10 lakh after conducting raids on the Darjeeling Mail at Sealdah on Sunday. Harshvardhan Chauhan, additional directorate-general, said the fabrics were discovered after removing the vinyl floor cover and wooden floorboard of the compartments. These were kept in 141 packets. He said in another search on November 23 at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Indian currency to the tune of Rs 3 lakh was being sent illegally through speed post to Singapore.

Scholarship test

The West Bengal Board of Primary Education will organise its 11th scholarship examination for students of Class IV on February 11, 2002. Students of all state-aided primary schools in Calcutta and the districts will be able to write the test. The last date for submission of forms is December 18, sources in the board said.

Fishseller killed

A 30-year old fishseller, Sohrab Ali Sardar, was killed by his nephew, Liaqat Ali Sardar, at Baruipur, in South 24-Parganas, early on Sunday. The murder followed a quarrel over the purchase of fish.    

Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
With population in Calcutta increasing by leaps and bounds, the government has planned to set up a satellite township near Dankuni, 15 km from the city, to accommodate about two lakh people.

This will be the second government-sponsored satellite township after Rajarhat, which will come up in another four years.

The new township will come up on either side of the Durgapur Expressway near Dankuni. To reach the proposed township, one can commute through the second Hooghly bridge and then motor down the Kona Expressway and Bombay Road. An easier route, however, will be down Vivekananda Setu in Dakshineswar.

While the West Bengal Housing Board is carrying out construction of Rajarhat township, the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) has been assigned the Dankuni project.

Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said while the basic infrastructure for the Dankuni project, such as drinking water and the sewage system, is likely to be completed by 2003, the project will be completed by 2004.

The new township will come up on 400 acres, at an estimated cost of Rs 7,000 crore.

The government will start acquiring land for the Dankuni project from the middle of 2002. Notifications for acquiring land for the project have already been made. The government will offer flats or plots to those whose land will be acquired for the project.

Sudhansu Sil, member of the CMDA’s executive committee, said there will be a hospital, market complex, schools and community centres in the proposed township. The final decision on construction of the second satellite township was taken during the executive committee meeting of the CMDA on Tuesday.

Plots at Rs 1.25 lakh a cottah will be up for sale. However, the CMDA will also construct flats for lower, middle and upper-income groups. The price structure of these flats has not been fixed yet.


Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
The Calcutta Telephones’ much-touted cellular services came a cropper with most subscribers, who had deposited money and obtained cards on Friday, still awaiting network connection.

Already, a few subscribers are returning the SIM cards to the dealers.

Minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar had inaugurated Calcutta Telephones’ cellular services on Friday with a long-distance call to Union minister Pramod Mahajan in New Delhi, an effort that hit a snag in its budding stage.

The telecom authorities had announced that services would start from Friday evening. A Jadavpur subscriber had applied for Plan 300 of the post-paid scheme on Friday morning. His name was first on the list of applicants in the Jadavpur telephone exchange.

“I had to deposit attested copies of my voter’s identity card as proof of my address and citizenship. I deposited Rs 1,800 for Plan 300 and the authorities gave me a SIM card and a cellular number,’’ said Amitava Majumdar of Jadavpur.

The telecom authorities had told Amitava that the card would be activated within 48 hours.

“My card was not activated till Sunday afternoon. I dialled the customer care helpline, only to be told by the operator that it would be activated soon,’’ he said.

Subhojit Dasgupta of Lake Market, another post-paid subscriber, said he was given a SIM card and a cellular number but the card has not been activated till Sunday evening.

“The authorities had announced a free airtime package for 45 days since Friday, a scheme that interested me tremendously. But now I have already lost two days for no fault of mine,’’ Dasgupta added.

Subscribers of pre-paid cards are already complaining on the delay in activation and accessibility of network. A few subscribers have even returned the cards to dealers.

“I bought a pre-paid SIM card but could not activate it even after three hours of adjusting,’’ said Soumen Ghosh of Sarat Bose Road. “From the moment I installed the SIM card in my handset, a recorded message came on the line, which said the validity of the card has already expired,’’ he said. “The dealer also tried in vain,’’ he said. A disgusted Ghosh then returned the card to the dealer and took a refund.

However, a Calcutta Telephones official brushed off such complaints as “initial hiccups which accompanies the launch of a new service.’’

“This is an absolutely new experience for us and we are learning from our mistakes. There will be a marked improvement in services after about two weeks,’’ said a senior general manager of Calcutta Telephones.

The authorities said around 400 cards have been sold so far. “We expect a better response from Monday,’’ they said.


Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
It’s 10.50 on a Tuesday morning. You have five minutes to reach Esplanade, but the traffic on Rawdon Street is slower than a snail. A desperate turn towards Minto Park finds the area clogged. Then, a determined twist towards Park Circus gets you nowhere. By the time you find a way out of the vehicular vortex, it’s nearly noon…

There’s good news for Calcuttans caught in traffic jams. Embarking on a project to tell people which roads to avoid and which to take, the police have decided to instal portable electronic display boards at busy intersections.

The boards will not only alert commuters about traffic trouble up ahead, but will also steer them clear of the snarl.

“The display boards will give reasons for the diversion and inform people about all alternative routes available to them,” explained M.K. Singh, deputy commissioner (traffic).

Singh told Metro that such boards would initially be put up at BBD Bag and the Park Street junctions on Monday. They will be fixed on the guard-rails that divide roads and control traffic.

At BBD Bag, the board will be placed near Writers’ Buildings, while the Park Street sign will be positioned near Jawaharlal Nehru’s statue.

“Such electronic devices are prevalent only in Mumbai. In Calcutta, we will introduce it in a phased manner,” said Singh. “The cost involved for such installations is quite high. In future, we have plans to instal such boards at vital points like Gariahat, Sealdah, Shyambazar and Hatibagan.”

It was the traffic department of the police that had initiated the idea and its gearing-up for “swift execution” of the system.

“Construction of flyovers at Gariahat and on AJC Bose Road has thrown traffic out of gear in large parts of south Calcutta, at the moment. Besides, the entire system collapses the moment a procession takes to the streets or an accident occurs. The introduction of such modern devices will help Calcuttans on the move,” Singh said.

According to the police, traffic management in Calcutta has some inherent problems. There is only six per cent road space for motorists, while the requirement is 26 per cent. “So, we have to introduce innovative systems to ensure smooth flow of traffic,” say the police.


Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
Imagine a city club taking its members to the theatre, or to the Eden Gardens for a Test match, or on a trek up the Himalayas…Utopia? Not exactly. Simon Shepherdson, executive director of Hong Kong-based International Leisure Consultants, plans to give all these and much more “value” for members of Space Circle, his first signature design in Calcutta.

Shepherdson, who grew up in the verdant greens of Newcastle, and has designed several top-notch clubs and leisure facilities in South-east Asia, Australia and Europe, is keen to bring in “the international clubbing experience” to Calcutta. “Today, people are money-rich, time-poor and we are trying to give them back some quality time. My aim in Calcutta is to bring in a quality experience, like throwing in a birthday party or a wedding anniversary gala for members and taking them out for cultural evenings and various entertainment as well as adventure pursuits,” explains Shepherdson, who now has to fly in and out of the city quite frequently to oversee construction of the club off VIP Road, near the airport.

The British lifestyle and leisure consultant, who has designed Ravenswood Sanctuary, “an upscale golf-cum-residential project” outside Perth, feels Disneyland epitomises the “experience economy”. For Shepherdson, “that is the pinnacle… They are not selling a product. It’s an experience and you are immersed in it”.

While predicting “stiff competition” from five-star hotels and entertainment centres coming up in town, the Englishman is confident about his Calcutta dream project. “We have to be proactive instead of reactive, which is the key, and work harder to grab a share of people’s time, giving them a controlled environment and absolutely personalised service, somewhat like what we have done with Rockwell Club in Manila,” he says.

The “sense of community” which characterises the Bengalis, is also reflected in the city’s passion for clubbing, feels the leisure expert. “We are taking advantage of this yearning by building for them facilities which are socially relevant. For instance, we are backing indoor cricket and not bringing in Thai kick-boxing, which is unlikely to appeal to the people here,” observes Shepherdson, who insists that a member should feel “a sense of pride and recognition” the moment he walks into “his club”.


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