Cops grounded for cash grab
Scholars take dropout door
Volte-face on waterbody
Brick by brick, a bridge with Germany
Subway to nowhere finds no takers
No sign of missing girl, two detained
The City Diary
Traffic tips through video
Politicians, stars byte the bait
Court seal on district divide

 
 
COPS GROUNDED FOR CASH GRAB 
 
 
BY DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY AND AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 29: 
The three constables had rushed to help those injured in a Maruti car-Tata Sumo pile-up at Chitpur late on Saturday. As order was restored and the crowd had dispersed, the three law-keepers slipped away with a bagful of cash from one of the vehicles.

On Thursday, the trio — Abdus Saboor, Amal Saha and Maniklal Munshi Sarkar — were suspended for “robbing an employee of a private firm of Rs 2 lakh” on the accident site.

“It is a shocking incident,” said K.L. Tamta, deputy commissioner of police (north). “ I have ordered a departmental inquiry. If they are found guilty, they will be punished so that no policeman dares to tarnish the image of the force in this manner.’

Officer-in-charge of Chitpur police station Santiprasad Roy confirmed that he had directed the trio to man Chitpur Road. According to the logbook, they left the thana at 10 pm on Saturday. After doing the rounds of the area, they to took up position on Chitpur Road.

At around 11.30 pm, a speeding Tata Sumo, carrying five youth, crashed into a Maruti car. Among those in the Sumo was Pawan Agarwal, an employee of a private firm, on his way to the owner’s residence to deposit Rs 2 lakh in cash. He had kept the bag of money on the rear seat.

People gathered around the two smashed cars. Some helped the injured out of the cars, while a few went to call the cops.

Enter, Saboor and Saha with their rifles, along with Munshi Sarkar. They hauled up the five youth in the Tata Sumo for “drunken driving”. As two of the boys pleaded innocence, witnesses said Saboor scanned the Tata Sumo, while Saha combed the Maruti car. Saboor, allegedly, discovered the bag, saw what was inside and informed his colleagues.

“Initially, Saha and Munshi Sarkar were hell-bent on herding the five youth into the two vehicles and taking them to Chitpur police station,” recounted a witness. “But they suddenly dropped the idea after Saboor whispered something to them. They told them all to leave the spot and register their complaint later.’’

As the cops disappeared, Agarwal discovered that the bag of cash was missing. He raised an alarm, before heading straight for Chitpur police station. There, he recounted his tale and accused the constables of “stealing” the money.

Santiprasad Roy promptly summoned the policemen. All of them denied having taken the money and, instead, accused Agarwal of “disorderly conduct and causing a nuisance in the thana’’. But Agarwal refused to back down. His cries for help drew in a large number of local residents.

At this point, Roy decided to inform Tamta about the peculiar situation. Tamta directed the OC to investigate the matter and retrieve the money.

On Thursday, additional commissioner of police Tapan Chatterjee confirmed that the three constables had, indeed, stolen Agarwal’s bag, containing Rs 2 lakh. “They have returned the money,” he added.

   

 
 
SCHOLARS TAKE DROPOUT DOOR 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Nov. 29: 
When Sutapa had joined Calcutta University as a research scholar of botany five years ago, she was driven by the dream of completing her research in four years and then working as a scientist. Marriage and motherhood have put an end to that. Today, her research remains incomplete. Her scholarship has been discontinued after she failed to submit her thesis within the stipulated period…

Madhavi, of the university’s physiology department, had to surrender her UGC scholarship one year into her research as marriage took her away to north Bengal…

Sutapa and Madhavi are just two of the “promising women scholars” on the list of research dropouts that has left Calcutta University’s science department worried. At present, 75 per cent of post-graduate students and research scholars in the university are women. The majority of young men with brilliant records steer clear of academics, say varsity officials.

“While screening applications, we invariably find women with more impressive academic records than the male aspirants. The women also fare better in the entrance tests,” says Manab Kumar Sengupta, secretary of the science and technology faculties of the university. “It is a matter of concern that we are losing such high-performing students, who could turn out to be good scientists if they complete their research and stick to the profession.”

Worried by the trend, university officials have even made it a point to remind women candidates during the “final interviews” that they must submit their theses within the stipulated time, despite family factors.

Subjects where women research scholars outnumber the men by far are chemistry, botany, zoology, physiology, psychology, chemical engineering, applied chemistry and applied physics.

The other side to the dropout rate among women research scholars is the “waste of financial resources”. With the likes of Sutapa and Madhavi availing of the UGC scholarship — which ensures a minimum monthly remuneration of Rs 6,000, plus other allowances — and then failing to complete their research, is a “drain” of government funds.

“The practice needs to be stopped. We can’t afford to lose good students in this manner, as this affects the overall research output of the university,” says Sengupta. “The process to motivate women students to complete their research and contribute to the profession has begun,” he adds.

Varsity officials, meanwhile, have contacted their counterparts in Delhi, Mumbai and Andhra Pradesh to discuss the matter. “But in no other university did we find such a high enrolment of women research scholars, and so the problem is not as acute,” a CU official said.

   

 
 
VOLTE-FACE ON WATERBODY 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 29: 
The high court-appointed special officer, who had declared a wetland — the controversial Padmapukur in Dum Dum — as “not a waterbody” about a year and a half ago, changed his mind on Thursday while submitting the second report to the judge. The new report says: “Padmapukur is six feet deep and full of clear water.”

Padmapukur hit the headlines a few months ago when the state fisheries department claimed it was a wetland and announced that the area had been distributed to fishermen for pisciculture on a co-operative basis.

But, a city-based businessman, Arun Poddar, claimed that he owned Padmapukur, spread over 3.75 acres.

The status of Padmapukur attracted attention in the wake of the murder of Dum Dum municipality chairman Sailen Das, who reportedly wanted to ward off any construction on the waterbody.

Special officer Dilip Seth, in his report a few months ago, had said that Padmapukur was full of hyacinth and aquatic grass and “only ankle-deep water was found in the north and north-west corner of the plot.”

Seth’s volte-face on Thursday raised eyebrows in the legal circles.

Poddar moved court a year and a half ago, demanding its intervention in the dispute.

He claimed that he had bought the area, which was shali (a plot where construction can take place) from one Jyotirmoyee Devi of Calcutta, to set up an engineering college and a housing complex.

He also told the court that Kalyani University had already granted affiliation to the proposed college. The petitioner said that the housing department had decided to build a complex in the area and that there was no bar to construct buildings on the land.

Appearing on behalf of the state, junior standing counsel Debasish Kar Gupta opposed Poddar’s move and said that the petitioner had bought the land by paying Rs 4 lakh only and had not paid the stamp duty at the time of the purchase.

“So, his purchase was not in accordance with the law and the government does not recognise him as owner of the plot,” Kar Gupta claimed.

He also said that the state government had requisitioned the plot for 10 years and was initiating a dialogue with the owner of the land to acquire it.

“If the claims of the petitioner are true — that the area is shali land — then the law will not permit him to own such a large plot in an urban area, as it will violate the Land Ceiling Act. If the land is under ceiling, then the government has every right to acquire it for a better purpose,” Kar Gupta added.

   

 
 
BRICK BY BRICK, A BRIDGE WITH GERMANY 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Nov. 29: 
It’s back to bricks for Rostock and Calcutta. Architects and restoration activists from Germany are joining hands with local experts to develop a “red thread” for the conservation and redevelopment of brick buildings in the city.

“Our main aim is to revive brick, the oldest pre-fabricated building material, as the staple fabric for buildings in Calcutta. This is the best-case scenario in this historic city because of the flat land and scarcity of wood and stone,” explains Manfred Gerner, professor for building conservation techniques at the institute for constructive design, University of Erfurt, and founder-chief of the German Centre for Crafts and Preservation of Historic Monuments.

According to Gerner: “Calcutta is one of the best examples of architecture in bricks as also of damage in bricks because of air pollution, humidity and lack of maintenance… A perfect case-study for brick experts.”

Gerner was in town on Thursday to prepare the ground for a seminar and practical training workshop on ‘Conservation of historic brick buildings’, to be held at Max Mueller Bhavan from December 13 to 16, in association with Archaeological Survey of India and Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

The specific objectives of the four-day workshop are “to prepare a checklist of instruments for repair and conservation of brick buildings in Calcutta and to initiate a centre for technical advice” to owners of listed heritage buildings.

“It’s actually a story of two red lines,” explains Gerner. “The German red line, through slides and sketches, will cover the entire spectrum of brick buildings, from the kind of clay used, to the process of burning, the mixing of mortar for the protective plaster, damage evaluation and causes, besides repair and restoration techniques. Our Indian colleagues will present a similar red line for Calcutta.”

The seminar-cum-workshop has been conceptualised by Gerner and Manish Chakraborti, secretary, Action Research in Conservation of Heritage, Calcutta. Gerner, 62, who has piloted the high-profile restoration of the Cathedral of Konigsberg in Kaliningrad, will be joined by his German colleagues Sabine Freyburg, Uwe Rodiger and Bernhard Gaul, for the seminar. While Freyburg is a brick expert, Rodiger and Gaul specialise in damage assessment and application techniques, respectively. Architects and town planners, including K.T. Ravindran, A.G. Krishna Menon, Dulal Mukherjee and A.P. Gupta, conservation experts and various agencies will attend.

“This seminar will be the starting point for a fruitful collaboration with Germany in a very important area,” says MMB director Ingrid-Maria Keimel-Metz, who has taken the initiative to build the brick bridge.

   

 
 
SUBWAY TO NOWHERE FINDS NO TAKERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 29: 
The Tollygunge Metro subway, constructed at a cost of Rs 6.44 crore and inaugurated barely two months back, hardly has any users these days thanks to a gap of a few hundred metres between the point where it ends and the point where the busy Tollygunge station starts.

Former railway minister Mamata Banerjee laid the foundation stone on November 22 two years ago and it was she who, despite not being the minister, inaugurated it as the ministry, after her return to the NDA, thought it fit to allow her to do the honours. But an overwhelming section of commuters — most of them also belong to the Calcutta (South) constituency and have been her voters for the past decade — has avoided it.

The subway’s fate, however, is in sharp contrast with that at the Sealdah station. The 141-metre sub-way now takes much of the load off the above-the-surface pathway. But the passengers’ preference can be explained; it connects the station to the nearby Sealdah court and the taxi-stand and bus terminus.

The reason for the Metro subway not finding favour, admit Metro Railway officials, is not very difficult to seek. Though it saves commuters the hazards of the busy three-point crossing where Deshapran Sashmal Road, Baburam Ghosh Road and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Road meet, the effort it involves — they have to climb down and then up quite a few stairs — is not worth the trouble, they say.

Eleven accidents occurred at the busy junction between 1999 and 2000 and, till March this year, the number of accidents at the spot was three. In 1996 and 1997, there were 15 mishaps at the crossing. “We had to do something,” a senior Metro official said. “The number of accidents did not show any sign of decreasing,” he explained.

But most of the 5.75 lakh passengers arriving at Tollygunge and the 5.5 lakh leaving the station every year had yet to use it, he admitted. “Most, however, would have used it had the subway extended a few metres— the path is now more than 160 metres long — to cover the distance to the station proper,” he explained.

Passengers confirmed the Metro officials’ guess. “It is difficult for me to go down the stairs and climb up again to use the sub-way,” Shantimayee De, a Tollygunge resident and a regular user of the tube, said, despite admitting that it was “safer” for an elderly woman like her to use the underground path.

Utpal Basu, another Metro user, said using the sub-way to catch trains from Tollygunge was a time-consuming affair. “I find it easier to negotiate the three-point crossing to reach the station rather than using the subway,” he explained.

Metro officials admitted that “initially” there were plans to extend the subway to both the up and down platforms of the Tollygunge Metro station. The plan had not been totally scrapped but he could not say “at the moment” when it would materialise.

   

 
 
NO SIGN OF MISSING GIRL, TWO DETAINED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 29: 
The CID has detained two suspects in connection with the abduction of a 10-year-old student, Silpi Pal, from Naihati.

Deputy inspector-general of police, CID, V.V. Thambi said the two suspects were being interrogated.

Silpi is supposed to have been abducted on November 20 around 7.30 pm from Naihati. “She had gone out to visit a neighbour. But she never reached,” Silpi’s mother Pratima said. The Class III student of Pathabhavan in Santiniketan was back in Naihati on vacation.

Thambi said the CID had alerted its counterparts in Delhi and Mumbai, where Silpi might have been taken. West Asia is also a probable destination, he said.

Earlier, three persons, including a woman, had been arrested. But Silpi’s father, Samir, alleged that the police were not serious enough. “They have no clue and are constantly pressuring us for information. I will request the chief minister to speed up investigation,’’ Pal said.

Pal said mother Pratima Pal and grand mother Renubala Pal are in a state of shock.

“We are at out wit’s end. She is my only child. There has not been any ransom demand so far,’’ Samir Pal said.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Buddha prod for eviction at Sealdah

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Thursday directed transport minister Subhas Chakraborty to take immediate action for removal of hawkers from the Sealdah station area. The chief minister held a discussion about hawker eviction in the area at Thursday’s Cabinet meeting. Bhattacharjee asked the transport minister to conduct the drive in consultation with urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya.

Bill to speed up teacher intake

The state government on Thursday decided to introduce a Bill in the Assembly to stop delays on the part of various state-aided schools in recruiting teachers from the panels prepared by the state school service commission. The decision was taken at the state Cabinet meeting on Thursday in view of complaints that many candidates who had qualified in the school service commission tests were denied employment opportunities due to delays on part of the authorities of the respective schools in selecting candidates.

Traffic gadget

The city police on Thursday installed an ATAS (advanced traffic announcement system) glowsign at BBD Bag on Thursday evening. The signboard, the first of its kind in the city, will keep drivers posted about the traffic situation prevailing in the city, including accidents, if any, traffic jams and diversions. DC, traffic, M.K. Singh unveiled the gadget.

Lawyer held

Sheikh Ranjan Biswas, a lawyer of Barasat civil court, was arrested on Wednesday night. Additional superintendent of police, Barasat, Rahul Srivastava said a country-made revolver and a few rounds of ammunition were seized from him. “He has been charged under the Arms Act,” Srivastava added.

Court duration

The high court judges in a meeting on Thursday decided that the court must be held 210 days in a year. The decision has been taken in the wake of a directive from the Supreme Court ordering all high courts to remain open for at least 210 days in a year.

Train schedule

The Eastern Railway will follow the Sunday time schedules for plying of suburban and circular trains on its Sealdah division on November 30, December 17 and December 25, which are all all public holidays.

Rs 2 lakh snatched

Traffic on Diamond Harbour Road was disrupted for more than two hours from 10 am on Thursday following the snatching of Rs 2 lakh by armed criminals from businessmen coming to Burrabazar from Sarisha, in South 24-Parganas. The blockade was lifted following police intervention.

Man shot

Trouble broke out in Topsia late on Wednesday, after a criminal from Ekbalpore, Sheikh Jahangir, was shot by three men. Police said one of the criminals, Sheikh Asgar, was caught by local residents and beaten up. Both men were rushed to hospital in a critical condition.

Expressway MoU

The state government will sign a memorandum of understanding on Friday with the Malaysian government which will construct two expressways connecting Calcutta with Haldia and Kulpi ports. The Malaysian minister for works will meet Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Writers’ Buildings.

Corrigendum

The report ‘Shah prod, varsity nod for course’, published on November 23, wrongly mentioned Bhabotosh Banerjee as the dean of Calcutta University’s commerce and business administration faculty. The present dean is B.K. Basu. Banerjee is the former dean. The error is regretted.    

 
 
TRAFFIC TIPS THROUGH VIDEO 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 29: 
Traffic rule enforcers have decided to pull up violators and educate them on copybook driving through video films and cassettes at the Police Training School (PTS) in south Calcutta.

The hour-long video, divided into two parts with a 15-minute break, will have clippings on traffic rules and regulations. Deputy commissioner of police, traffic, M.K. Singh, is hoping to discipline the errant drivers through this scheme. “Though the video presentation is drab and boring, I think it will have the necessary psychological effect on the errant drivers. The film will hammer home traffic regulations and provide useful tips to the drivers,’’ Singh said on Thursday.

The punishment for errant drivers, too, is novel: First-time violators will have to bear a half-an-hour session of the film, while subsequent violators will have to stay longer. In a lighter mood, Singh said that such punishments would make violators think twice before breaking rules.

According to traffic department sources, 1,500 drivers are prosecuted every day for violating traffic rules. Police said about eight lakh vehicles ply on city routes, of which 15,000 are private buses and 35,000 taxis. Statistics indicate that 80 per cent of violators are bus and taxi-drivers. Most bus-drivers are prosecuted for rash driving, while taxi-drivers violate no-parking, no-entry and one-way regulations.

Singh said the police would initially focus on buses, taxis and auto-rickshaws. “I have already written to the bus syndicates and taxi unions for their co-operation,’’ he said.

Singh added that though novel punishment schemes have been introduced, it would not affect the passengers. “We will make sure that an errant bus-driver reaches the terminus before reporting to the PTS for the punishment. Similarly, taxi-drivers will have to drop passengers to their destinations before reaching the PTS,” Singh added.

Sleuths in plain clothes have been posted on six accident-prone bus routes. The sleuths will report traffic violations to the police, who will then catch up with errant drivers. “Once the idea catches on, we will cover all routes,’’ said Singh.

   

 
 
POLITICIANS, STARS BYTE THE BAIT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 29: 
Come December 2, and it will be time for the people’s representatives to go back to the classrooms. More than 150 MLAs of West Bengal Assembly have already confirmed their presence at a crash course in computer basics at the Council Hall of Assembly House.

The legislators will be joined by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim and IT minister Manab Mukherjee for a session with Dr Sugata Mitra, head of research and development at software training major NIIT.

The session is part of NIIT’s plan of taking computer literacy to over 100,000 people in 27 countries on World Computer Literacy Day. A special 10-hour, four-session training programme — SWIFT Jyoti — has been designed for the occasion, which coincides with the institute’s 20th foundation day.

From politicians to performers. The training major, with over 3,000 centres in India, has also drawn up plans for a separate session for the who’s who of the local entertainment industry. “A seven-day training programme at the Technicians’ Studio in Tollygunge will be kicked off on that day,” added Sinha. According to the organisers, the response from the film industry is “phenomenal”.

From Soumitra Chatterjee and Deepankar De to Chiranjeet and Roopa Ganguly — all have confirmed their presence for the training programme, which aims to turn Tollywood techno savvy.

“The initiative is another step in bridging the digital divide and using IT for the development of the nation. Besides the Union IT ministry, most states are collaborating with us to use this occasion and increase the number of computer literates in the country. We expect around 8,000 MPs, MLAs and corporators logging on for the programme,” said Tulika Sinha, zonal head, NIIT.

SWIFT Jyoti, “besides exposing first-timers to the machine and its applications, will cover how to browse the Net and check e-mail,” said Sinha. Preparations to convert the Assembly Council Hall into a classroom have started with the help of officials from Webel and the state IT ministry. Also lined up is a session at Nicco Park for under-privileged children.

   

 
 
COURT SEAL ON DISTRICT DIVIDE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Nov. 29: 
The bifurcation of Bengal’s largest district, Midnapore, remains a mere formality with the move receiving stamps of approval from both Calcutta High Court and the state Cabinet today.

The high court’s full bench of 38 judges presided over by chief justice A.K. Mathur unanimously approved the state government’s decision to bifurcate Midnapore around the same time the state Cabinet ratified the government decision — taken in principle earlier — at Writers’ Buildings.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee informed his colleagues that administrative work for the purpose would start soon. “The decision has already been taken and the Cabinet has approved it. Besides, we have taken opinion of people from all walks of life, including all political parties. What we have to do now is start administrative work which will take some more time,’’ Bhattacharjee said.

Sources at Writers’ Buildings said the government was planning to make a formal announcement on the issue on December 17, the foundation day of the Tamralipta National Government, a milestone in Indian freedom movement.

Earlier, Bhattacharjee had sent an official request to the chief justice of the high court to examine his government’s decision to bifurcate the district and give judicial approval. The chief justice, accordingly, convened a full-bench session today and heard the matter in detail before approving the government’s proposal to bifurcate the district in the interest of better administration.

The government needs judicial approval before changing the present administrative setup of any district as the district judicial system is under the direct authority of Calcutta High Court. There will be two district-level courts in future, instead of one at present. District judges are appointed by the high court.

The Congress has given its consent to the bifurcation but the Trinamul Congress is silent on the issue. Trinamul leaders were present at the all-party meeting held in Midnapore but did not make any comment. The government, however, is not in a position to wait for the opinion of the party.

Midnapore has a population of over 1.3 crore with an area of around 13,781 sq km. After it is divided, the eastern part of the district will include Tamluk, Haldia and Contai and have an area of 4,476 sq km. West Midnapore will comprise Kharagpur, Jhargram and Ghatal and have an area of 9,304 sq km.

The state administrative reforms committee under the chairmanship of former finance minister Ashok Mitra had recommended bifurcation of 24-Parganas, West Dinajpur and Midnapore districts in 1977 to ensure better administrative control.

Since then, West Dinajpur and 24 Parganas had been bifurcated. Midnapore was left out mainly due to political reasons.

   
 

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