Mayor mulls monster shift
Four-in-one cinema at food ‘n’ fun centre
Bullets fly on peril platform
Role reversal for rare research
The City Diary
Bollywood bill added to cable beam
CLI solution to firemen’s hoax-call fix
Life sentence for husband
One counter, many halls
Girl rescued in Mumbai

Calcutta, Dec. 6: 
Faced with a tough government directive, a virtual mutiny in his ranks and growing public resentment, mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Thursday showed the first signs of a rethink on Parkomat-II.

Under pressure — apparently from chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — Mukherjee agreed to review the proposed automated parking plaza on Lindsay Street. The mayor, on Thursday, announced the setting up of a technical committee to “look into various aspects of the proposed project”.

The technical committee will examine whether there are alternative sites available for a multi-tiered parking lot in the New Market area.

“This is not my pet project, nor is it a prestige issue for me. If they think there is a good alternative site, I will not hesitate to shift the parking lot from Lindsay Street,” the mayor stressed.

According to Mukherjee, the chief minister has asked the civic board to “review” the project in the wake of the controversy over its location.

The view gaining ground is that not only will the monstrous structure dwarf the grand façade of New Market, it would also add to the traffic chaos in the entire area. Bhattacharjee was not available for comment.

Three senior officials, Swadesh Chakraborty, engineer-in-chief, Nilangshu Bose, chief engineer, project and development, and Saroj Mohan Ghosh, chief municipal architect and town planner, will constitute the review committee.

But the mayor insisted that he was not losing ground to the heritage lobby. “The review committee will not look at the heritage aspect at all,” he said. “Its brief is to assess the technical and other related aspects of the project. As far as we are concerned, a parking lot on the scale we have planned will actually help revive the dying market commercially. The proposal is being backed by at least 5,000 shop-owners,” he said.

If there was pressure from the chief minister’s office, there was criticism from much closer quarters. Pradip Ghosh, a member of the mayor’s council and overseer of slum development and parking lots in the city, chose Thursday to blast Mukherjee’s Parkomat plans.

“The proposal is hare-brained,” observed Ghosh, promising to try and “sensitise” the Trinamul Congress leadership to the problems arising out of the multi-tiered parking plaza coming up on Lindsay Street.

Ghosh advocated a car park below Chaplin Park, which could have easily accommodated “500 cars at half the cost of Parkomat-II”.

In a scathing attack on automated parking plazas, Ghosh termed them “money-spinning machines which cause public nuisance”.

“I had turned down the proposal for Parkomats, but for some inexplicable reason, he (Mukherjee) has cleared them without consulting me.”

Ghosh alleged that the civic body, under Subrata Mukherjee

s leadership, has “lost sight of its original objective of fulfilling basic needs of the people, rather than pandering to the rich”.

While his colleague was spitting venom, Mukherjee was in Hyderabad and unavailable for comment.


Calcutta, Dec. 6: 
Amitabh Bachchan or Al Pacino; Kareena Kapoor or Catherine Zeta Jones? Want to be spoilt for screen choice under one roof? If things go according to a ‘golden’ plan, cinema-crazy Calcuttans will have a four-in-one multiplex in the summer of ‘03.

“The one thing I have heard a lot of Calcuttans complaining about is why there is nothing like the PVR Anupam or Priya complex here. To plug that gap on the city’s entertainment map, we have decided to give Calcutta its first multiplex,” says B.S. Gujral, director, Gujral Group of Hotels.

So, coming up “somewhere on Camac Street” will be a one-stop food-and-film centre. The 70,000-odd sq ft, nine-floor plan includes a food stop-cum-shopping centre on the ground floor, four cinemas on the first and second floors and a recreation centre on the third floor. Floors four to nine will be a budget hotel, crowned by a “giant, column-free banquet”.

Terming it the ‘total entertainment centre’, the man who has given the city The Golden Harvest & China Valley, The Golden Park Hotel (and, perhaps, more importantly, London Pub), says the halls will have a capacity of “600, 400, 300 and 200, with the stress on audience comfort”. English and Hindi films will be screened, with the option of a movie moving from a bigger to a smaller hall with dwindling popularity.

To turn this centre into a prime destination, Gujral is raring to rope in “an international food chain like McDonald’s or Wimpy’s” on the ground floor. The recreation centre above the cinemas will have “a six-lane bowling alley, pool tables and other sporting facilities, besides snack bars”. The 70-room “budget hotel” will have speciality restaurants, health club, swimming pool… A disco, despite the success of London Pub, is out “for the moment” as the pool of nightclub crawlers in Calcutta “remains limited”.

The Rs 60-crore project will be funded by various financial institutions, assures Gujral, confident of wrapping things up “within 16 months of its kick-off in February 2002”.

This apart, the Gujral Group is ready to carry its “core competence” forward with a hotel-management institute. This fully-residential school for aspiring hotel staff will be located at Haldia, with the chain’s Golden Retreat hotel. “Let’s face it, the quality of hotel staff that we get in this part of the country is inferior to that in other parts,” says Gujral. “So, we decided to stop complaining and do something about it.”

According to general manager Kanishka Mazumdar, the Haldia institute will welcome 120 students in March 2002. “We are in the process of tying up with a foreign university... The stress will be on combining theory with training at the Golden Retreat,” he explains.


Calcutta, Dec. 6: 
The Budge Budge railway station turned into a battlefield for a full rush-hour on Thursday morning. Three youths were “seriously injured” during a shoot-out between rival gangs on the platform.

Trouble erupted around 10 am, as two gangs led by Bapi and Raju squared off. Passengers and policemen dived for cover with bullets being fired and bombs being hurled.

As office-goers and students rushed out of the station, a handful of Government Railway Police (GRP) personnel tried to tackle the situation. Horribly outnumbered, they beat a hasty retreat, witnesses alleged.

Later, passengers joined hands with the GRP to return to the platform and drive out the goons. Three of the injured youths were found lying on the tracks and were admitted to a local hospital. The condition of two is said to be critical.

Local residents then staged a demonstration at the station, protesting “police inaction” in the wake of “repeated incidents of violence in the area”.

Additional superintendent of police (industrial) Rajesh Kumar Singh said: “Both groups have been involved in a territorial tussle in the area. All three youths injured in the shoot-out have criminal records. We are on the trail of the rest of the gang.”


Calcutta, Dec. 6: 
It’s a role reversal of sorts. After welcoming hordes of students from Calcutta, the University of Cambridge is now sending some of its own to participate in “special projects” here.

Reuben Mann has set it rolling. From the master of engineering course in the University of Cambridge, the 25-year-old has landed in Shibpur Bengal Engineering College (Deemed University) to pursue research related to “removal of arsenic contamination from drinking water” in the nine districts of Bengal.

“Never before have we received a scholar from such a prestigious institution. The university has selected Shibpur as we have done some outstanding research in the field of arsenic contamination,” says Anirban Gupta, a senior teacher, under whom Mann is carrying out his research.

The boy from Britain, now doing the rounds of arsenic-affected areas in North and South 24 Parganas, concurs: “ I am impressed by the standard of research in the field of arsenic contamination and the kind of facilities available here. I will definitely tell my juniors to come and conduct research in specialised areas here.”

Mann’s research is aimed at unearthing a low-cost technology for tackling arsenic contamination in groundwater. “There is no arsenic problem in my country. But I spent my childhood in Africa, where I found lots of problems related to the quality of water. As I grew up, I developed a keen interest in water engineering,” he explains.

Since his work will be “based entirely on Bengal”, where the arsenic-affected zone stretches for around 23,000 sq km, Mann plans to send all his observations back to Shibpur. “I will request the college to forward my observations to the government here so that the technology can benefit the people of Bengal,” he concludes.



Rs 75,000 snatched at gunpoint

Unidentified robbers snatched a bag containing Rs 75,000 from two persons in Beniapukur on Thursday morning. Officer in-charge of Beniapukur police station, Premabrata Majumdar, said that around 11.30 am, two agents of a multinational company were on their way to the Bank of Baroda in Beniapukur, when they were accosted by the goons on Sundari Mohan Avenue. The men snatched the bag at gunpoint and fled from the scene. The agents, who had come from Naihati in North 24-Parganas, lodged a complaint with the police. No one has been arrested so far.

Art gallery reopens

Chitrakoot Art Gallery will open from Friday, the CID announced on Thursday. CID had sealed the Ballygunge gallery after owner Prakash Kejriwal was arrested on charges of selling stolen paintings of Hemen Mazumdar to a Delhi auction house. According to officials, though Kejriwal is currently in jail, Chitrakoot would be opened for art lovers. A vigil would, however, be maintained at the gallery.

Traffic disrupted

Traffic was hit at several places on Thursday following processions and accidents in the city. At Bidhan Sarani, traffic was thrown out of gear when a commuter, Anjan Das, 25, was hit by a tram and was taken to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital. Later, residents put up a blockade for nearly an hour. At 11.30 am, about 6,000 Congress supporters took out a procession from Raja Subodh Mullick Square causing traffic snarl. Around 1 pm, about 1,000 Naxalites marched from Raja Subodh Mullick Square to Shahid Minar, condemning Poco. The Bahujan Samajwadi Party brought out another procession condemning the policies of the state government. Around 2,500 members of the Urdu Co-ordination Committee took to the streets, from Raja Subodh Mullick Square to Rani Rashmoni Road, to voice various demands.

Shops gutted

Two auto-component shops on Biresh Guha Street in the Karaya area were gutted early on Thursday. Fire-brigade sources said it took four engines more than an hour to douse the flames. There were no reports of damage or injury. Another fire broke out in a factory adjacent to Baranagar Jute Mill on Thursday.

More flights

To cope with the rush on Port Blair and Aizwal sectors, Alliance Air will operate additional flights in December and January. The Calcutta-Port Blair flight will operate on December 21, 26 and 28, January 2, 4 and 9, while the Calcutta-Aizwal flight will operate on Dec 17 and 24, Jan 7 and 14.

SFI protest

The Students Federation of India (SFI) held a demonstration on Thursday on the Calcutta University campus, protesting the examination system followed in the university and other state-aided institutions. Thursday’s programme was the first phase of a statewide SFI movement in support of demands, related to improvement of the education system.    

Calcutta, Dec. 6: 
There is more bad news in store for the city cable TV viewer. He will now not only have to shell out more for the favourite soaps or sports programmes, but also for the daily dose of Bollywood, on the cable video channel.

Even as cable homes brace for a rate hike in STAR, ESPN, DD Sports and other pay channels, Showtime Advertisement has come to Calcutta to seek its pound of flesh. The Hinduja Group company, which owns cable and home video copyrights for “more than 70 per cent Hindi feature films produced in India”, is putting a price on its Bollywood beam.

“We are asking for royalty of Rs 5-7 per connection per month from the cable operators for rights to air the 2,000 Hindi features in our stable,” Purushotam Samraj, Showtime managing director, said on Thursday at an interface with operators and the media.

Cable royalty, a hitherto unheard of concept in this part of the country, will come as an added blow to the consumer who is all set to be hit by another hike in subscription rates soon. With all major satellite broadcasters announcing fee hikes for their pay channels, city cable and satellite homes, which had to soak an increase just a few months back, will probably have to shell out Rs 25-30 more per month, come January.

Showtime, which claims it has successfully realised cable royalty in Delhi and Mumbai, is meeting major cablemen’s unions in the city, to press their demand. “This trade has been running with copyright infringement for many years and we want to correct that. We hope Calcutta operators will co-operate with us, failing which we will have to seek legal action,” Samraj said.

It is unlikely, though, that the cablemen will yield to this “fresh menace” readily. “The consumer is not used to paying for his daily movies on cable video. We will have to seek their feedback on this. If they don’t want to pay, we can’t force them. Besides, like the broadcaster, the video rights owner should also come forward to increase consumer awareness,” said Tarak Saha, secretary, Forum of Cable Operators.

Saha admitted it won’t be possible to absorb the cumulative rate hike being effected by the major broadcasters. “The revisions add up to nearly Rs 50 and as things stand now, we will have to pass on between Rs 25 and 30 to the consumer, or, alternatively, take any one package off the beam,” he said.

Shankar Chatterjee of Cable Television Operators’ Association, the other major cablemen’s union in the city, agreed that a subscription hike is imminent.


Calcutta, Dec. 6: 
All fire stations in the city will get caller line identification (CLI) machines within a month, fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee said on Thursday.

This is aimed to curb the rising number of hoax calls that the fire department is receiving, sending firemen into a flurry of fruitless activity. “We want to identify the culprits and initiate police action against them”, Chatterjee said.

A recent study by the fire service department revealed that 15 per cent of the calls made to city fire stations turn out to be false. Fire stations in Calcutta and Howrah received 1,953 calls between April and November this year, of which 897 were bogus.

Chatterjee said many callers refuse to disclose their identity even in genuine cases. “So we have to check out every spot. But these pranks must stop,” he added.

A recent study by the fire service department revealed that 15 per cent of the total calls made in city fire stations are turned to be false. “But the tendency among a section of uncivilised people to harass the fire brigade has increased significantly over the past nine months. The fact that 897 of the total 1953 calls made during the period were false is a pointer to our claim. We want to stop this at any cost to save public money and harassment of the fire department employees who risk their life to fight blaze”, the minister said.


Calcutta, Dec. 6: 
In a judgement on Thursday, the sixth additional district and sessions judge of Alipore sentenced Suman Gayen to life imprisonment over dowry torture charges.

His father, Sunil, was sentenced to 10 years while mother, Arati, will spend seven years in jail.

Suman’s wife, Maitrayee, 22, had died mysteriously at her in-laws’ house in Mahestala in 2000.

Mahestala police had earlier registered a murder and dowry case against the trio.

In a separate verdict, the judge also fined Suman Rs 2,000, Sunil Rs 1,000 and Arati Rs 8,000 holding them guilty under Section 498 IPC.

According to public prosecutor Asim Das, Maitrayee married Suman on February 28 in 1996. Maitrayee’s parents, reported-ly, paid a huge amount of money and valuables in dowry.

The first few years were peaceful. Trouble started when Suman demanded Rs 50,000 from Maitrayee’s father, Shyamal Biswas, to set up his business.

When Maitrayee’s family refused, she was “mentally and physically’’ tortured. Maitra-yee had even left her in-laws’ residence to stay with her parents.

Later, Maitrayee’s father paid Rs 20,000 to Suman and brokered an uneasy truce. But the peaceful phase was only temporary.

In May 2001, Maitrayee’s parents were informed that she had committed suicide.


Calcutta, Dec. 6: 
Come 2002 and the long queues outside movie halls could well be a thing of the past. IT&T Entertainment Services, a Delhi-based management company, plans to create a network across six metros to enable purchase of movie tickets from multiple locations.

The company has already finalised discussions with five cinemas in Calcutta — Priya, Metro, Lighthouse, Mitra and Bharati. “We have started laying our network in these halls by computerising the box-office ticketing,” said Karana Verma, chief operating officer, on Thursday.

“It will no longer be necessary for moviegoers to queue up to see their favourite movies,” says Verma. “Our networking can help them purchase tickets in bulk for multiple halls.”

Verma says all halls would be connected to a central system in Gurgaon. “There will be no further manual ticketing in any of these halls. All one has to pay is a premium of Rs 10-15, depending on the price of the ticket,” adds Verma.

The project is expected to take off by December-end or January. The facility is already available in Delhi.

The company plans to network at least 30 halls in the second phase.

Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad are the other cities where the company will set up their infrastructure.

Verma said the company will also be setting up kiosks at strategic locations. “We have already identified 25 spots in the city.” The kiosks will be based on the franchisee model.

Verma adds that the West Bengal government was the quickest in giving clearance to the networking project.


Calcutta, Dec. 6: 
Police rescued a city girl Pompa Adhikary, 17, from a hotel in Mumbai, early this week. Two persons were arrested in this connection. Pompa was brought to the city with the accused on Wednesday night.

According to deputy inspector-general of police, V. V. Thambi, one Mamata Sardar had lured Pompa with a job offer in Mumbai.

Mamata had, reportedly, sold Pompa to one Zuber Khan for Rs 50,000 in Mumbai, who made her work as a bartender in shady hotels. Pompa, somehow, managed to smuggle a letter to her parents in Calcutta, which paved the way for her rescue.

Superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas, Harisena Verma said Mamata’s dubious links are being traced.

“We are investigating whether she had tried the same with other girls,” said Verma.


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