Legal shot at Parkomat
Investors cry foul over scam bust
Roads priority for progress
Family first for turf turnaround
The City Diary
Puja over, pandal blocks school door
Green signal for north canal system
Station clean-up by Saturday
‘Wing’ rendered immobile
Mishap spate leaves 1 dead

 
 
LEGAL SHOT AT PARKOMAT 
 
 
BY TAPAS GHOSH AND DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Protest over the proposed Parkomat on Lindsay Street took a turn towards the courtroom on Tuesday. Anish Biswas, lawyer and son of a prominent Trinamul Congress MLA, moved Calcutta High Court seeking “a direction” against mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s plans to construct a parking plaza between New Market and Globe cinema.

Biswas filed a public interest litigation (PIL), praying that the mayor, who is No. 2 in the Trinamul ranks, be “restrained from taking any further steps” in the direction of Parkomat-II.

The petitioner has also urged the court to constitute a “committee, comprising eminent Calcuttans”. The group, well-versed in preservation of architectural heritage, urban design aesthetics and city growth management, should be directed to furnish a report on the feasibility of having a huge, mechanised parking bay on Lindsay Street, Biswas stated.

Supradip Roy, counsel for the petitioner, told the court that a large number of Calcuttans had shown interest in lending their name to the petition. “ I am sure that many others will back the case and join us when it comes up for hearing within a couple of days,” said Roy. “When it’s a question of the sentiment of the citizens, the judiciary has the right to intervene,” he added.

According to the petitioner, “a number of his (Mukherjee’s) own partymen are against the decision… The mayor should take the opinion of the government and the citizens of Calcutta before deciding on the location of the Parkomat,” said Biswas.

The mayor, however, stuck to his stand. “I am not bothered by all this… As far as I am concerned, this parking bay is absolutely necessary to save the dying New Market. If New Market dies, what will these heritage-wallahs say?”

The proposed parking lot, he insisted, will help revive New Market’s fading fortunes. Once commissioned, he said, the Parkomat will bring a large number of people to the “dying” market, as they will be able to park their cars comfortably.

“For me, it is far more important to save New Market from extinction rather than to save its Raj façade or a stretch of road along which someone had walked 100 years ago. I am not against heritage preservation, but it must not be divorced from ground reality,” Mukherjee said.

Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya declined comment on the controversy, but his department officials said the government would seek a report from the mayor regarding his plans for parking lots in the city.

“I am ready to forward such a report whenever I am asked to,” retorted the mayor. “The Parkomat on Lindsay Street is the only viable solution to the parking problems in the area and it will not lead to chaos there.”

   

 
 
INVESTORS CRY FOUL OVER SCAM BUST 
 
 
BY ANIEK PAUL AND PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Arijit Haldar (name changed on request) collected the monthly interest on his investment of Rs 1.5 lakh from the Indian Securities’ office on Ganesh Chandra Avenue, at around 1.30 pm on Monday. Just as he was about to leave, the police raided the firm and arrested its owner, Ajay Kumar Gupta, on charges of “cheating and misappropriation of public money” .

Haldar, along with hundreds of other investors lured by “amazing returns”, was left high and dry.

On Tuesday, investors faced with the prospect of “huge losses”, flocked to Bankshal Court, where the 13 people arrested in the chit fund bust were produced and remanded in police custody till December 18.

“I had invested my superannuation benefits in Indian Securities and now, there is absolutely no hope of recovery,” cried Haldar, 55, who recently opted for voluntary retirement.

Haldar was joined by around 350 others. “None of these eight firms had defaulted in meeting their commitments to their investors, unlike Citi Securities. How can the police seal these firms on grounds of cheating?” they demanded, They even debated moving court in defence of the accused.

Around 30 desperate investors managed to sneak into the courtroom and voice support for the argument of lawyers defending the accused. “There were no specific complaints against the firms and so the charges of cheating are not tenable,” they claimed.

Back at Lalbazar, the police, besides asserting the “firms’ complicity with Citi Securities” angle, were busy playing the blame game.

Senior officers accused the Reserve Bank of India of “laxity” in dealing with complaints. “We had conducted an inquiry against a few firms last year and found them flouting RBI and Sebi guidelines,” said Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner of police, headquarters. “We had even told the RBI to freeze the bank accounts of the dubious firms. But, surprisingly, the RBI refused to act,” Basu added.

Later in the day, finance minister Asim Dasgupta stepped in to reiterate the government’s commitment towards setting up a joint vigilance team, comprising state and city police officers, along with RBI and Sebi officials.

“We have frozen the bank accounts of all eight firms raided on Monday. We want to recover the money and return them to the people who were cheated… We will then weed out these unscrupulous operators,” said Dasgupta, urging the regulatory bodies to keep a close watch on “shady firms” and the police to smash the “entire network”.

According to sources, the names of 13 IPS officers had cropped up during last year’s probe. “All of them were attracted by the high rate of interest,” said an officer of the detective department. “Prominent among them was a retired IPS officer, who had invested Rs 2 lakh, at a promised interest of over 120 per cent.”

The CID, meanwhile, has urged investors to register complaints against chit funds at local police stations. “We have opened a special cell at the CID’s headquarters in Bhabani Bhavan to deal with such cases,’’ said DIG, CID, V.V. Thambi.

   

 
 
ROADS PRIORITY FOR PROGRESS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
The first task of the newly-constituted Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Committee (CMPC), will be to improve the network of roads in the city. The CMPC, which held its maiden meeting on Tuesday, will “provide the city with adequate infrastructural support to cope with its growth”.

A draft plan, drawn up by the municipal affairs department of the state government, was handed over by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Sources said Bhattacharjee asked the CMPC members — among them urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya, mayor Subrata Mukherjee, Trinamul leader Ajit Panja and CPM MLA Rabin Deb — to go through the draft and forward suggestions on ways to streamline the city’s transport system.

Bhattacharjee is reported to have told the meeting that this was essential as the city was “undergoing economic growth and it needed support from the administration”.

Along with this, what was needed was an “integrated monitoring” of Calcutta’s filtered water supply, healthcare, education, employment opportunities and pollution control.

“All these activities will have to go hand-in-hand,” a source said, adding: “It appears from what the chief minister said that the road infrastructure would get priority. The entire effort of this new body is geared towards the needs of the city 25 years hence.”

The CMPC has been formed to monitor the functioning of the CMC, CMDA, the municipalities and the panchayat samitis that fall in the greater area. It will keep in mind the future needs of the city and work for it.

As part of this process, it will prepare an integrated masterplan for the Calcutta metropolitan area.

Asok Bhattacharya said: “The 1,785 sq km that comprises the Calcutta metropolitan area is the industrial and commercial hub of eastern India. It is essential for us to develop it to its fullest.”

Almost 50 per cent of the state’s workers are concentrated in this area, which stretches from Budge Budge in South 24-Parganas to Bansberia in Hooghly. Calcutta city proper alone accounts for 20 per cent of the total employment figure in the state.

Subrata Mukherjee rushed to defend the government against accusations of ineffectiveness hurled by his partymen. “We must keep politics out of this,” he said. “Future generations will never forgive us if we harm the development of this city for the sake of politics.”

   

 
 
FAMILY FIRST FOR TURF TURNAROUND 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Fresh horses for the courses; gala gift hampers and lucky prizes; special incentives for owners and trainers; brand new super-speed betting terminals… This winter, it’s fun to be back at the races and the turnstiles are rolling fast.

The Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC) has unveiled a whole new value-added packaging plan to shore up interest in the sport and to bring the family crowd back to the races. For once, wives aren’t cribbing about horse-crazy husbands, say turf club officials. They are, in fact, crowding the course — for if they are lucky, they can return home with a colour television or an automatic washing machine.

Tying up with a white-goods major for lucky draws on entry tickets for gift hampers is just one among the many attractions the authorities have lined up this season. “Even though off-course betting has shown a rise in recent years, interest in live racing in Calcutta, our core product, has dwindled. We have been left behind by other centres,” admits RCTC CEO and secretary Vineet Verma.

As a first step towards a turf turnaround, the club formed an expert panel to revive “direct buying” of horses. “We went out with money in our pockets, procured a dozen ready-to-race horses and entered them in the breeze-up sale this October,” says Verma. All these race horses have been sold at the auction. Buoyed by this success, RCTC has decided to buy 12 to 15 two-year-old horses, the “seed capital for any centre”.

Making the races a family day out heads the list of things to do. The move to pick “10 big race days” from the national calendar for its lucky draw contest with Sony has already hit its stride. Now, club officials are ready to petition the government to allow children below 18 into the course.

Maharashtra has already opened the stalls for children, with a “no-betting stricture”, and if the Bengal government follows suit, the family scene at the Calcutta course could hit a canter.

With members’ comfort a must, the club has kicked off a seven-year plan for infrastructure upgradation. “To bring back people to the races, we are working on various areas, like more user-friendly members’ boxes, personalised service and, of course, more consumer-oriented schemes to attract the family crowd,” says Verma.

The turf club is also offering a number of incentives to encourage owners. An appearance money of Rs 1,000 every time a horse races pays for part of the feed. For trainers, a special incentive of Rs 10,000 is up for grabs for every new horse with an owner introduced to the turf club. This has increased the in-station field by “more than 50”.

Stake money has been hiked by 20 per cent on an average and every first-time race horse is being provided with free transportation. Besides, 100 new super-speed betting terminals have been installed to augment turnover.

The results are already showing. After only five race days into the winter season, there has been a 14 per cent increase on the totalisator, the club’s official betting machinery. An 18 per cent rise in turnover with licensed bookmakers and a 10 per cent swell in attendance point to the beginning of a grand revival.

“The incentives to attract more race-goers and to have larger fields have been received very well. On its debut, the scheme to win prizes upon betting at the totalisator saw the tote collection soar,” observes B.S. Bala, president, Calcutta Racehorse Owners’ Society.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Two held with 17 tortoises

The Tiljala police seized 17 tortoises from the Madkhali area on Tuesday morning and arrested two persons in this connection. Police said they received a tip-off that several tortoises were being clandestinely sold in the market. Seven out of the 17 tortoises were dead.

Night fire razes Canning market

The 150-year-old Canning Market was razed after fire engulfed it late on Monday. At least 25 shops were destroyed. Five fire engines took more than 12 hours to fight the blaze. Property worth lakhs was destroyed. Sabotage has not been ruled out.

Shells seized

The Port police seized several boxes from the docks, which contained conch shells. Police said the boxes were sent from Nicobar Islands. The name and address of the receiver later turned out to be fictitious. The handling agent, Mohammed Faiaz, was arrested and the shells seized. Police said the buying and selling of conch shells are banned under the Wildlife Protection Act.

Run over

A 22-year-old youth was run over by a lorry in the Bijpur area of Barrackpore. Police said the incident occurred around 9 am when the youth was crossing the Jonpur bridge. Local residents refused to allow the police to ake the body away and disrupted traffic for over an hour. Normalcy returned after the intervention of police officials.

Truck theft

Following a complaint lodged by businessmen of Howrah against the rising incidence of truck thefts, the district police, in a night-long raid, arrested two persons in this connection, Pappu Yadav and Raju Yadav. They were picked up from Bally. Two trucks were recovered from their hideout. They are suspected of heading a gang of truck smugglers. Further investigation is on.

Protest plans

Trinamul Congress MLAs met Governor Viren J. Shah on Tuesday and submitted a memorandum, opposing the state government’s decision to increase hospital charges and school fees. Later, Trinaul Youth Congress workers decided in a meeting that they would observe a law violation programme at Esplanade on December 21 on the same issue.

Special trains

South Eastern Railway will run 25 pairs of special trains, including 20 pairs of superfast trains, between December 14 and January 18 to tackle the extra rush of passengers during the winter, according to railway sources.

Birth anniversary

The birth anniversary of Baba Muralidharan will be celebrated on Wednesday at Jyotirmai Club, 37/ 1A Garcha Road, at 4 pm. Two spiritual books Shri Guru Gita and Sadhana Panchakam will be released.

Five arrested

Five youth were arrested on Tuesday on charges of snatching valuables in the Behala and Thakurpukur police station areas.    

 
 
PUJA OVER, PANDAL BLOCKS SCHOOL DOOR 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
The puja vacation is over and most children are attending school full time, except the 184 students of Madhyamgram Kabi Guru Primary School, situated on the northern fringes of the city.

Established in 1955, the school is faced with a peculiar problem. The entrance is still blocked by a Kali puja pandal. Close to a month has passed since the festival was held but nobody seems to have spared a thought for the problem faced by the students. The organisers of the puja, Rabindra Pally Athletic Club, reportedly backed by prominent CPM leaders of North 24-Parganas, have “promised” the school authorities that they would “remove the structure” but “in their own time”.

On November 17, the day the school was to reopen, teachers and students were shocked to find there was no way they could enter. “After pleading with the organisers, a part of the structure was removed, but nails, rods, bamboos and other litter remained strewn near the entrance, forcing us to abandon plans of taking classes,” said a school staff member.

Faced with such a situation, the school staff tried to reason with the organisers, who assured them that “things would be taken care of”. But days passed and nothing was done.

Being too scared to approach the police or the municipal authorities, the school staff asked the students to enter through the rear, “paddling through sewerage”, spilled from nearby toilets. “We placed some bricks to save the children’s uniforms and our saris from being stained. What else could we do?” lamented a teacher, requesting anonymity.

The trouble compounded after parents complained that iron nails (used to construct the pandal) left in the playground were causing injuries to their children. “My daughter loved to play on the grounds. But it is dangerous now. I do not want her to get hurt,” said Anima Modak, a parent. Her sentiments are echoed by other guardians.

The school now is forced to give over at lunch break. “Normally, the school runs till 4 pm, but we have asked the parents to take their children home at 11.45 am. All through the day, we keep the students inside classrooms so they don’t go out on the ground and get hurt,” a teacher said. The annual sports meet, held on the playground every year, seems unlikely to be held this time.

While most members of the Trinamul Congress board of the local municipality blamed the CPM leaders for the situation, chairman of the municipality Rathin Ghosh pleaded helplessness. “If I don’t give permission for the puja, I will be accused of being vindictive. This is an extremely unfortunate situation,” he said.

Ward councillor Debabrata Das was equally “helpless”. “We had to face the same problem at the school when we planned to hold the pulse polio programme there. But what can I do about it? I will request the organisers to remove everything soon,” was all he would say.

A senior member of the club, who refused to give his name, said the puja was a “great hit, and no one has dared to write about it.” Amitava Bose, CPM district secretary, who is said to organise the puja, said he was unaware of the problem.

Informed of the situation, district literacy officerAjay Ghosh told Metro that he “would personally look into the issue”.

   

 
 
GREEN SIGNAL FOR NORTH CANAL SYSTEM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Close on the heels of its success in removing settlers along Tolly’s Nullah, the government is all set to kick off restoration of the north canal system in Calcutta. The project, on the backburner for some time, has bounced back into the government’s development agenda following a joint initiative.

After studying the techno-feasibility report prepared by British Waterways, industries and commerce minister Nirupam Sen gave the 18-month project the green signal on Tuesday.

The chief minister is expected to put the final seal of approval on the project during Wednesday’s meeting with officials from the British Waterways, West Bengal Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation (WBTIDC) and ICICI-West Bengal Infrastructure (I-WIN).

“Initially, the government was not sure about the feasibility of the project in view of the settlers along the canal system. But now, it is confident and has assured us that eviction of illegal settlers will not pose a problem to the project,” said D. Sengupta, managing director, I-WIN.

But some NGOs, present at Tuesday’s meeting, were quick to express “apprehension” about the feasibility of eviction, on the Tolly’s Nullah clean-up model. Questions on “maintenance of ecological balance in the Sunderbans” were also raised, as the project aims to “promote tourism” in the region by using the canal system.

The Rs 61-crore public-private partnership will involve restoration of the entire north canal system in the city, comprising Circular canal, New Cut canal, Kestopur canal and Bhangarkata khal. According to the report, the restoration of the 43-km canal connecting Chitpore and Kulti will solve a number of existing problems in the city. “It will facilitate urban mass transit and rural transportation, freight movement and tourism in the region. Besides, the restoration of canals will convert an environmental hazard into a productive asset,” assured G. Millar of British Waterways.

Chitpore will “become the transport exchange point” in the proposed system, with 21 terminals. The report estimates a daily passenger flow of 28,000 to 47,000 in the urban areas and 14,000 to 17,000 in the rural stretches of the canal. Freight movement will be around 180,000 tonnes a year. Though the fare structure for passenger traffic by boats and steamers is yet to be finalised, the report proposes “Rs 5 per 10 km” and “Rs 11 per 33 km” in the urban and rural stretches, respectively.

The report has suggested setting up of a joint-venture canal company with 50:50 debt to equity ratio. “The Planning Commission has promised a grant of 50 per cent of the cost of canal restoration, which is pegged at Rs 32 crore. Hudco has already given Rs 9 crore for canal excavation and the remaining cost will be shared by the private sector and the state government or its agencies,” said Sengupta.

   

 
 
STATION CLEAN-UP BY SATURDAY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya reiterated on Tuesday that hawkers will be evicted from Sealdah station by December 8, despite Citu’s objections to the move.

Bhattacharya also asserted that “it will not be possible” for the government to rehabilitate the oustees. “The railways have earmarked a plot close to the station and the hawkers can ply their trade there,” the minister added at Writers’ Buildings.

A number of trade unions, including Citu, will meet Bhattacharya on Wednesday to discuss the eviction.

The government planned to clear Sealdah station of encroachers last weekend, but the eviction was put off on protests from Citu, which runs the largest hawkers’ union in Sealdah.

   

 
 
‘WING’ RENDERED IMMOBILE 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Calcutta Telephones was forced to “lay off” its mobile service for some time on Saturday, after almost a week of its launching. The service, named Wing, “hung” for 150 minutes during peak hours, forcing BSNL officials to blank out all users from the network.

Telecom officials blamed it on a snag in switching operations, but the experience proved an “ordeal” because of the time involved, officials said. “That the problem was preceded by a high-profile inauguration and a publicity blitz that lasted nearly a year created an awkward situation for us,” a BSNL official admitted to Metro.

The BSNL decided to initialise the system from scratch after blanking out every customer. According to officials: “We hope we don’t have to do this again.”

The problem, according to officials, lay in the ministry’s insistence that the BSNL launch its first mobile services in Calcutta, the capital city of minister of state Tapan Sikdar. “The pilot project should have been launched in a less-crowded city, with weaker private-sector competitor,” a BSNL official admitted.

Saturday’s problems also revealed a rift in the BSNL top brass. Though the private-sector operators use the New Technology (NT) system, the BSNL went ahead with an indigenous version developed by C-DoT.

The latter’s supporters say developing desi technology at a lower cost is much better than paying through the nose to MNCs, but the general opinion is that no compromise should have been made with the technical aspects.

Officials, however, say they have no cause for worry as Wing’s subscriber-list is soaring. Figures available show that more than 2,600 customers have already been connected and they include a substantial number switching over from private operators. The craze is definitely for the pre-paid service, say officials. An overwhelming 2,300-plus of the 2,600 figure have opted for it.

“We have also decided to increase the number of base stations to 86,” Calcutta Telephones general manager (new services) Amit Bhattacharya said.

   

 
 
MISHAP SPATE LEAVES 1 DEAD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
With members’ comfort a must, the club has kicked off a seven-year plan for infrastructure upgradation. “To bring back people to the races, we are working on various areas, like more user-friendly members’ boxes, personalised service and, of course, more consumer-oriented schemes to attract the family crowd,” says Verma.

The turf club is also offering a number of incentives to encourage owners. An appearance money of Rs 1,000 every time a horse races pays for part of the feed. For trainers, a special incentive of Rs 10,000 is up for grabs for every new horse with an owner introduced to the turf club. This has increased the in-station field by “more than 50”.

Stake money has been hiked by 20 per cent on an average and every first-time race horse is being provided with free transportation. Besides, 100 new super-speed betting terminals have been installed to augment turnover.

The results are already showing. After only five race days into the winter season, there has been a 14 per cent increase on the totalisator, the club’s official betting machinery. An 18 per cent rise in turnover with licensed bookmakers and a 10 per cent swell in attendance point to the beginning of a grand revival.

“The incentives to attract more race-goers and to have larger fields have been received very well. On its debut, the scheme to win prizes upon betting at the totalisator saw the tote collection soar,” observes B.S. Bala, president, Calcutta Racehorse Owners’ Society.

Rash driving claimed a life and left several wounded in a spate of accidents on Tuesday.

Around 8.50 am, 22-year-old Rabi Singh, a newspaper vendor, was hit by a CTC bus on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, near Narkeldanga. He was crossing the road on a bicycle. Singh was taken to NRS Hospital, where doctors declared him dead. Four passengers on the bus were also injured.

A few yards away on the Bypass, a Corporation vehicle knocked down an unidentified elderly man. The driver took him to NRS Hospital. The man’s condition is now stable, Lalbazar sources said.

In another accident, a private bus knocked down Sanjiv Bhowmick on B.T. Road, near Chunibabu Market, around 9.35 am. Witnesses said the vehicle spun out of control while the driver was trying to overtake another vehicle. Bhowmick, who was standing on the pavement, was knocked down. The driver is absconding. Bhowmick was taken to RG Kar Hospital.

In the fourth incident, a private bus mounted the divider in front of the Police Training School near Race Course. The driver was trying to avoid colliding with a lorry. Four passengers were injured.

Around the same time, a 77-year-old woman was knocked down by a private bus at the Park Street-AJC Bose Road crossing. Passengers forced the driver to take the victim to SSKM Hospital. Her condition is critical, police said.

A middle-aged man was injured after he fell off the foot-board of a private bus at the DPS Road-Tollygunge Circular Road intersection. Police said the driver, in a hurry, did not notice the man getting off the vehicle. He was admitted to Bangur Hospital.

On Manoharpukur Road, eight persons were injured when a taxi rammed into a Matador.

Concerned over the spurt in accidents, the police top brass held a meeting during the day to review the situation.

   
 

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