Baby girl slaughter in census scan
Scam bust reveals cheat chain
Malaria toll 4 in Mamata belt
Lawman laments legal nadir
The City Diary
Tempers frayed over mayor’s guest list
Dislodged almirah kills bearer of wedding gifts
Hospital lines up trauma-care unit in Dhakuria
Rights rally for writer
Updated plan for Writers’ Parkomat

 
 
BABY GIRL SLAUGHTER IN CENSUS SCAN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 26: 
Female foeticide is on the rise in Calcutta. According to latest census figures, the sex ratio of girls (per 1,000 boys), in the age-group of zero to six, has “fallen from 955 in 1991 to 923 in 2001”.

This points to the fact that more and more parents-to-be in the city are going in for “pre-natal sex determination tests” and “liquidation of the female foetus in the womb”.

A senior health official said on Monday: “There is no denying the fact that clandestine activity to abort the foetus, if it is a girl child, has been going on in the city for the past six years. Most of these clinics are in south Calcutta.”

A closer look at the census figures reveals that the rise in female foeticide is almost proportionately linked to the sharp changes in the city’s demographic profile.

Driven by “societal pressures and customs”, such as dowry for a girl child, a growing section of the population appears to be resorting to female foeticide in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal, frustrating efforts towards gender equality, say health officials.

Both government officials and NGOs, however, are largely unaware of the provisions of the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, implemented five years ago. Senior health and family welfare department officials, led by minister Surya Kanta Mishra, voiced concern at a seminar on Monday aimed at creating awareness about the misuse of pre-natal diagnostic techniques.

Prof Jasodhara Bagchi, chairperson of the Women’s Commission, said she was unaware of what to do or where to go in case they got to know about a clinic carrying out pre-natal tests.

Deputy chief medical officer of health, North 24-Parganas, Dr Aniruddha Kar, said he did not know the terms of reference of the appropriate authorities and the advisory committee that had been set up in accordance with the Act.

“There are 72 USG machines registered in Calcutta, but minus the manpower, we are unable to monitor them,” said a health official.

Of the 18 districts in Bengal, only four have registered a “slight rise” in girl population.

“The zero-to-six age group was chosen to get a real and current picture of what is happening,” said D.K. Ghorai, state project director for reproductive and child health (RCH).

According to Ghorai, of the factors that could lead to a fall in girl sex ratio, the ground reality in the city was “most suitable and conducive” for sex-selective female abortions.

   

 
 
SCAM BUST REVEALS CHEAT CHAIN 
 
 
BY ANIEK PAUL
 
Calcutta, Nov. 26: 
Abhijit Dutta (name changed on request) lost his job a few months ago when the firm he was working in closed down. The 30-year-old resident of Dum Dum invested all his severance benefits in a Salt Lake-headquartered firm that had “paid up to 150 per cent return on investments through securities trading”.

Now, Dutta doesn’t know where to turn to. On Monday, the Salt Lake firm which was to have been his lifeline, turned out to have direct links with Citi Securities, now gone bust. “My money is gone,” cried Dutta, who will press for a refund of his principal on Tuesday, provided “the firm and its owner survive the night”.

Citi Securities promoter Sanjib Kapur was arrested on Saturday for cheating and misappropriation of public money, and remanded in police custody till December 6. The police are on the trail of his accomplices, as it is now clear that various investment firms in the city are interlinked.

“The chain has snapped with the fall of Citi and the whole thing is beginning to collapse. We are in the process of identifying Kapur’s associates and more arrests are likely to follow,” said Zulfiqar Hassan, deputy commissioner (central).

The Salt Lake-based investment firm is a case in point. With branches at Park Street, Hazra, Behala, Shakespeare Sarani and Ganesh Chandra Avenue, besides those in Delhi, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Lucknow, Bhagalpur, Kanpur, Siliguri, Jamshedpur and Asansol, the promoter admitted that he used to put “most of the money” into Citi.

“The firm offered 20 per cent returns per month, of which I disbursed up to 12 per cent to my clients. Now, that Citi has ran into trouble, I do not know what will happen,” the promoter said. “I tried to save Kapur from defaulting. We even held a couple of investor meets jointly to revive confidence. I did all this to protect my own investment in Citi, but failed.”

The scam could run into “hundreds of crores”, according to the police, but the claims are likely to be “far less”, as “much of it is black money”. Hundreds of Citi investors met on Monday outside the closed doors of the Dalhousie firm to chart out a course of action.

A group of 30-odd men even decided to sue Kapur to recover their investments. “Most of Kapur’s franchisees were drawn from among investors. We were given an extra two per cent commission on the business we generated, and so were lured into it. Now, we have huge commitments to keep to friends and relatives,” one of them complained.

   

 
 
MALARIA TOLL 4 IN MAMATA BELT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 26: 
The malaria menace has reached Mamata Banerjee’s doorstep. Four persons, all residing within 500 metres of the Trinamul Congress chairperson’s house, have succumbed to malignant malaria over the past 10 days.

Usha Sil of 33/2, Harish Mukherjee Road, was the first victim of the killer disease, on November 15. Then, Sandhya Adhikari, Abha Das and Mousumi Basu, all living within 200 metres of each other, died over the past week.

All deaths occurred in Ward 71, where Mamata, who is also in charge of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation board, is the most famous resident.

Going by the findings of a study carried out by the Environment-Governed Integrated Organisation (EGIO), this comes as no surprise. According to the Corporation database, prepared on the basis of information gathered by EGIO, the belt in which the deaths have occurred records a “61 per cent positivity rate of malaria”. Nearly 80 per cent of residents here don’t use minimum deterrents, like mosquito nets, the survey revealed.

One in every four households in the area has breeding sites in the form of permanent containers of water. Infrastructural shortcomings and lack of precautionary measures have made this area a potential malaria death zone.

   

 
 
LAWMAN LAMENTS LEGAL NADIR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 26: 
“There is a badly-felt shortage of competent para-legal persons here… Now, the word lawyer is synonymous with exploitation, corruption and long-drawn legal proceedings.” This, coming from N.R. Madhava Menon, vice-chancellor of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (WBNUJS), showed up the legal system in far-from-flattering light.

Grave concern, mingled with constructive criticism, marked Menon’s address at the 97th foundation day celebrations of Goenka College of Commerce and Business Administration on Monday. Worried at the “rapidly-falling standards” of law colleges in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal, he also unveiled plans to stem the rot in the system.

According to Menon, an acute dearth of competent persons in the legal profession was leading to a “peculiar” problem faced by organisations — they were often forced to go to court to settle disputes which could be resolved outside, just because they had no one to turn to, except lawyers passing out of “wayside colleges”.

Blaming West Bengal’s law colleges for failing to churn out good lawyers, he rued the fact that quantity had completely swamped quality. “We have a lot of legal graduates who have passed out from wayside colleges and they are not good lawyers,” said Menon. The legal profession, considered to be one of the most prestigious in the past, had now been besmirched by this churning out of quantity at the expense of quality, he added.

“The situation is quite dismal. The poor standards of education meted out by the colleges have led to an overall decline in the legal profession that used to imply justice for the common people,” Menon observed.

The diatribe of despair, however, was laced with hope for the future. Menon unveiled WBNUJS plans to introduce “a new three-year degree course in law”. The proposed course, Bachelor in Juridical Sciences, will train students to help private concerns and corporate houses take care of law-related matters. But completing the course — to be launched next year with a batch of 50 students — will only guarantee entry into the world of the “para-legal”.

This course, said Menon, would produce “well-trained legal personnel”, capable of tackling various problems and settling them outside court.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Mob gathers for Swati glimpse

Police had a tough time on Monday in trying to maintain law and order as curious onlookers gathered in front of the house at Baguipara, in Baguiati, where Swati Pal is staying after her release from jail. The CID arrested Swati for her alleged involvement in the abduction of Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman. She was granted bail by the Alipore court last week. Swati has been provided tight security cover by both the CID and the Baguiati police. A lady CID officer is staying with her round-the-clock. Visitors are not allowed access to Swati, police sources said.

Indus Valley invitation

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, a student of archaeology, has been invited to the excavated site of the Indus Valley civilisation by deputy lord mayor of Karachi city, Tariq Hassan. Hassan, Bonn mayor Siegbert Heid and Colombo mayor Omar Kamil are now in the city to attend a conference on ‘Urban Environment Management: Local Government and Community Action’, organised by the Institute of Social Science, New Delhi, and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, India. Mukherjee hosted an iftar party for them on Monday afternoon.

Suicide on tracks

A 35-year-old man committed suicide by jumping in front of a train at Madhyamgram, late on Sunday. Police said the deceased, Shambhu Debnath, was depressive for the past few years. His wife had filed for divorce. Shambhu was rushed to Barasat Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries on Monday morning.

Fatal fall

A 44-year-old man died after falling from the roof of a three-storeyed building at Barasat Bazar on Monday morning. Police said the deceased, identified as Budho, was sleeping on the roof. He died on the spot.

Road accident

A 65-year-old woman, Jamuna Mallik, was seriously injured when a minibus on the Howrah-Salt Lake route knocked her down at the intersection of Vivekananda Road and APC Road on Monday morning. The woman was admitted to Nilratan Sirkar Medical College and Hospital, where her condition was stated to be critical. The driver of the bus managed to flee with his vehicle.

Waqf building

Construction of a new office for the Waqf Board will soon get underway in the Beleghata area. CPM MP Hannan Mollah, the new board chairman, said work is scheduled to start by the first week of December. The Waqf Board currently comprises six elected members and five nominated ones.

Health scheme

The state government is planning to go for a joint sector scheme with a British organisation, National Health Service (NHS), to offer management courses for doctors and training of nurses and para-medical staff. It is also planning to set up a medical college in the city with the British company, a senior health department official said. An NHS delegation met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Monday. Health minister Surya Kanta Mishra, health secretary Asim Barman and the director of medical education were present. The chief minister, who showed interest in the scheme, agreed to allot a 54-acre plot at Kumud Shankar Roy TB Hospital at Jadavpur.

Student death probe

The SFI-affiliated students’ unions of five medical colleges in Calcutta on Monday demanded immediate completion of the inquiry, started by the police, to probe the “mysterious death” of a fourth-year student of RG Kar Medical College and Hospital. The students threatened to launch a movement if the culprits were not identified. The body of Soumitra Biswas was found hanging in a room of the college hostel in August.

Eve-teasing protest

Railway passengers, led by Trinamul Congress MLA Nirmal Ghosh, held a demonstration at Sodepur station on the Sealdah Main section, protesting against eve-teasers. They alleged that a group of youth had been teasing college girls and office-going women. The demonstrators threatened to gherao the superintendent of railway police if action was not taken against the culprits.

Corrigendum

The report ‘Swati plea for bail relaxation rejected’ in this column on November 22 wrongly mentioned P.N. Sinha as the sub-divisional judicial magistrate, Alipore. Sinha is the district judge of South 24-Parganas at Alipore. The error is regretted.    

 
 
TEMPERS FRAYED OVER MAYOR’S GUEST LIST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 26: 
Less than 24 hours after the launch of India’s first computerised parking plaza on Rawdon Street, a controversy is brewing in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) over the absence of mayor-in-council members, borough chairmen and councillors of Trinamul Congress and the BJP from the function and, later, the dinner on Sunday.

The most conspicuous absentee was mayor-in-council (slum development) Pradip Ghosh, who oversees parking affairs as additional charge. “Have you seen my name on the invitation card? Instead, there are the names of the municipal affairs minister, mayor and the municipal commissioner,” said Ghosh.

The CPM circle in the Corporation feels that by skipping the event, most of the Trinamul councillors were expressing their ‘no-confidence’ in Subrata Mukherjee.

Some Trinamul partymen accused the mayor of double standards. Mayor-in-council Ghosh pointed out that on Saturday, the foundation for the proposed Southern Avenue drainage pumping station was laid by municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya and the name of the member, mayor-in-council (drainage and sewerage), was mentioned on the official invitation card.

“Why was the same practice not maintained during Sunday’s inauguration?” he asked.

But, according to the officer-on-special duty (OSD) in the mayor’s office, Shaktipada Ghosh, the allegations are baseless.

Ghosh said: “Pradip was never a member of the mayor-in-council for parking. He was only asked by the mayor to look after parking affairs. So, the omission of his name from the invitation card is not wrong.”

A section of Trinamul councillors close to Mamata Banerjee said member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan, and borough chairman Ruby Datta suffered the same fate last week, during the inauguration of the Thalassaemia Foundation at Chetla.

Whereas the Parkomat inauguration by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Sunday was attended by five of the 10 members of the mayor’s council, the dinner at Park Hotel, hosted jointly by the CMC and Simplex, was attended by only two mayors-in-council members, Mala Roy and Rajib Deb.

The BJP was absent all along. Even CPM leader of the Opposition Nirmal Mukherjee and chief whip Amal Mitra skipped the dinner. Only two borough chairmen, Debasish Kumar and Arup Biswas, and four councillors — Provakar Mondol (CPM), Antara Mukherjee (RSP), Ratan De (Trinamul), and Ashoka Mondol (Trinamul) attended.

   

 
 
DISLODGED ALMIRAH KILLS BEARER OF WEDDING GIFTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 26: 
What was intended as a wedding gift for his cousin spelt doom for Rabindranath Chowdhury, who died when a steel almirah fell on him on Monday.

Chowdhury, 39, had volunteered to reach the almirah and other trousseau items in a Matador to his cousin’s in-laws’ house in Jadavpur after the wedding on Sunday. In the morning, he left the Barrackpore residence of his cousin in the Matador, carrying the gift items.

But tragedy struck around 8 am, when the speeding van hit an iron bar on the railway bridge on D.C.Dey Road, near Entally.

As soon as the van hit the iron bar, the almirah was dislodged and fell on Chowdhury, injuring him seriously. Other relatives travelling with him in the vehicle raised an alarm and stopped the vehicle. Locals, who pitched in with the relatives to rescue Chowdhury, then rushed him to the Nilratan Sarkar College and Hospital, where he was declared dead. The police later arrested the van-driver on charges of rash driving.

A pall of gloom descended on the Chowdhury family and neighbours when the news of the tragedy reached them.

In another incident, three people were injured, one of them seriously, at the crossing of Narkeldanga Main Road and Eastern Metropolitan Bypass when a Matador hit them from the rear. The condition of the cyclist is stated to be critical.

Police said the accident took place around 5.45 am, when the road was almost empty. The van first dashed against the cyclist and then hit two pedestrians.

Morning-walkers spotted the injured lying in a pool of blood and rushed them to Nilratan Sarkar Medical College and Hospital. The cyclist is still in hospital but the other two were released after first-aid. However, in the chaos the van-driver fled with the vehicle.

Later, Subir Chatterjee, officer-in-charge of Tiljala police station, said the accident could have been fatal if it had taken place during the day. He said efforts were on to track down the van-driver.

   

 
 
HOSPITAL LINES UP TRAUMA-CARE UNIT IN DHAKURIA 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Nov. 26: 
The AMRI Apollo Hospitals proposes to set up a trauma-care unit as part of its expansion plans in Calcutta. The trauma facility will come up in the new, six-storey building being built adjacent to the hospital’s existing infrastructure in Dhakuria. The group’s new diagnostic centre on Southern Avenue, focussing on preventive healthcare, is also expected to be commissioned by end-January 2002.

“We are looking at strengthening our neurological and orthopaedic departments by shifting these to the new building, and once we have these in place, the logical progression is, of course, a comprehensive trauma-care unit which Calcutta badly needs,” says Jose Verghese NM, chief executive officer, AMRI Apollo Hospitals.

The first phase of this expansion project, being built at a cost of Rs 22 crore, is expected to be completed “in another year and a half”, and will also house the cardiology department and operation theatres, besides adding another 120 beds to the hospital infrastructure. The Apollo group’s national network of emergency care services, which will cover Calcutta in the second phase to be launched by January 2002, will “nicely complement the proposed trauma unit”, feels the CEO.

Some of the important tools that will be part of the standardised service are a four-digit emergency number (1066), fully-equipped ambulances accompanied by trained personnel and an accident insurance card, making quality care affordable.

AMRI Apollo’s Southern Avenue investigation centre-cum-day clinic, coming up at a cost of Rs 3 crore, will offer routine as well as customised medical check-up packages, particularly in cardiology and endocrinology. “We will shift the ophthalmic, ENT and dental wings to that facility, which will otherwise concentrate on preventive healthcare, definitely the slant of the future,” declares the hospital chief.

It is learnt that the Apollo group is “extremely keen” to go ahead with the acquisition of the huge, state-of-the-art Duncans-Gleneagles hospital complex on the EM Bypass. The property is expected to change hands “by February next year” if negotiations “run their proper course”, because “a lot of prestige” is attached to it, according to sources.

This will be the first collaboration with a global healthcare major for the Apollo group, one of the pioneers of modern treatment facilities in India.

   

 
 
RIGHTS RALLY FOR WRITER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 26: 
City intellectuals and a pan-South Asia human rights group on Monday rallied for the release of journalist, writer and film-maker Shahryar Kabir, arrested last week by the Bangladeshi government on charges of ‘anti-national activities’.

Kabir, who was in Calcutta and went around the neighbouring districts to film the third part of his trilogy against communalism and fundamentalism in the sub-continent, was first detained by the immigration check-post at the Dhaka airport on Thursday. He was then arrested by the special branch and is still reported to be in prison.

Among the articles seized from Kabir’s possession were several copies of The Telegraph, which carried reports on the plight of Hindu families who fled from their homes in Bangladesh to West Bengal, following atrocities on them since October 1, the day Bangladesh went to the polls.

The signatories to Monday’s appeal to the Bangladeshi government included film-maker Mrinal Sen, educationist Amlan Datta and freedom fighter Phulrenu Guha.

The South Asian People’s Union against Fundamentalism and Communalism, which brought the artistes and intellectuals together, alleged that the Bangladeshi government was behaving in an “undemocratic fashion” by jailing people like Kabir on “flimsy grounds”.

The rights watchdog, which has offices in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, besides Bangladesh, will demonstrate in front of all Bangladeshi missions in the four countries, said principal co-ordinator of the group, Sambhu Prasad. “We will launch a concerted movement in other countries as well, to mobilise international opinion against the arrest,” he added.

Questioning the Bangladeshi government’s clampdown on Kabir’s work, Bidyut Debnath, another spokesman for the organisation, said Kabir was only shooting “reality”. “How can a documentary, which has live footage and shows reality, be considered conspiratorial activity?” he asked.

Kabir’s arrest, Phulrenu Guha argued, exposed the fragility of Bangladesh’s democracy. A democratic government should protect religious minorities and respect the views of “ideological minorities”, she said, adding that the present Bangladeshi government’s failure to do so revealed its true colour. “It appears that the government there is not sincere in its protests,” Guha said.

Monday’s rally against Kabir’s arrest followed an appeal by Reporters Sans Frontiers, a worldwide organisation of journalists, to the Bangladeshi government last week. Kabir is also the working president of Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, formed to weed out the pro-Pakistani elements in Bangladesh.

   

 
 
UPDATED PLAN FOR WRITERS’ PARKOMAT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 26: 
PWD minister Amar Chowdhury on Monday submitted “an updated Rs 28-crore scheme” for the city’s second automatic and computerised parking plaza to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The proposed underground complex will be at B.B.D. Bag, opposite Writers’ Buildings.

At the gala opening of the city’s first automatic and computerised parking plaza on Sunday, mayor Subrata Mukherjee had seized the opportunity to register a complaint with the chief minister.

A proposal for the second such parking complex, opposite Writers’ Buildings, had been gathering dust in the PWD department, Mukherjee informed Bhattacharjee.

The chief minister had immediately instructed chief secretary Manish Gupta to pursue the matter and “clear all files relating to proposals for parking complexes in the city”.

The PWD minister, however, denied any knowledge of the mayor having sent a file on the proposal to his department. “I have personally enquired about this. No such proposal has ever reached my department from the Corporation,” he said.

According to Chowdhury, the PWD had initiated such a scheme in 1998, pegging the estimated cost at Rs 20.5 crore.

The scheme covered a two-storeyed underground complex to accommodate 726 cars and another complex, replacing the BBD minibus stand, for 260 cars. Now, the estimated cost has risen to Rs 20 crore in the first phase and Rs 8 crore in the second.

The parking proposal includes a beautification programme by turning the area around Laldighi into a ‘green haven’.

According to chief engineer Sadhan Banerjee, the aim was to improve and beautify the area without tampering with the fundamentals.

But why did it take such a proposal three years to move from the PWD to the chief minister’s office? “The need for such a comprehensive parking and beautification plan might not have been so acute earlier,” said Banerjee.

“The process might also have slowed down after the transfer of PWD officials, who had taken the initiative, to other departments,” he added.

   
 

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