Seven firms fall in fraud flushout
Common sense, and little else
Taxi helper strangled over fare
Battling odds, with smile and song
The City Diary
JU bends rules for job panel
Court order on malaria, water
SEB seeks 97 paise, gets only 11
Gas find fuels power project dreams
Cold war stalls district body

Calcutta, Dec. 7: 
As word of investor Parimal Chatterjee’s suicide spread on Friday, the police launched a fraud fund flushout, sweeping Calcutta, Howrah, North and South 24-Parganas.

Seven chit fund companies were busted and around 30 suspects rounded up in raids conducted by the CID and detective department sleuths throughout Friday. “All the firms have been sealed and lots of incriminating documents seized,” confirmed DIG, CID, V.V. Thambi.

Among the “big catch”, CID officials named Flural Housing Finance and Investment Company (India) Limited, Vasundhara Agro-Environment and Rose Valley Resorts. The companies raided on the Friday had, by CID estimates, defrauded investors of around Rs 150 crore. “Of the seven companies raided, six were engaged in fake plantation business,” said a CID official.

In most of the areas where the raids were carried out, aggrieved investors lined up, driven by the hope of recovering their money. At Domjur, in Howrah, trouble broke out with investors demanding that they be repaid before the office of the firm was sealed and the agents arrested. The CID officials had to call in reinforcements from Howrah to restore order.

The crackdown was sparked off by a complaint from a depositor against Flural Housing Finance and Investment, at one of its offices in Kshirishtala, Sonarpur.

“We arrested the firm’s director, Debaprasad Chatterjee, and his associates, Gopinath Banik, Ghulam Hussain and Sheikh Yani,’’ South 24-Parganas additional superintendent of police Rajesh Singh said. “Investigations revealed that Chatterjee had set up Flural a year ago with his associates. Their main office is on Park Street.”

Rose Valley Resorts, on Jessore Road, and Vasundhara Agro, in Salt Lake, were urging people to invest in plantations, offering absurd rates of return. More than 20 officials of the firm were arrested, said Thambi. “Neither are these companies registered with Sebi, nor do they have land holdings,” he added.

Green Age Agrotech in Bagbazar, Fortuna Agro Plantations on Lower Circular Road and Rainbow Greenfields on Tollygunge Road were raided. “Asit Pandit and Balai Chandra were picked up from Bagbazar, Ujjal Agarwal from Lower Circular Road and Sandip Sarkar from the Tollygunge firm,’’ police said.

Even as the cops went about smashing the cheat chain, director-general of police D.C. Vajpai and Calcutta Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty urged investors “to be judicious” and “turn to the nearest police station for help”.

According to the police bosses, every officer-in-charge of a police station would be imparted special training to deal with financial crime.

“I appeal to the people not to trust firms that offer abnormally high returns with their lifetime savings,” Vajpai said. ‘They are at liberty to seek help and advice from the OC at the local police station before putting in their money”

According to officials, many OCs have undergone a “crash course” on how to tackle the problem. They have, apparently, been briefed on how a non-banking financial company (NBFC) operates, the nature and range of RBI and Sebi regulations, and the verification of credit ratings.

“I cannot assure investors that they will get back their money,” Vajapi said. “But at least we can take a step forward and try to recover a portion of the invested amount if investors register a complaint with their local police stations or the CID.’’

Chakraborty appealed to Calcuttans to approach the financial-crime wing of the detective department with documents.


Calcutta, Dec. 7: 
Director-general of police D.C. Vajpai has called for a police-public partnership to smash the chit fund chain. He has assured people that the force is “ready” to tackle the problem with new-found skills and brand-new guidelines. The message from the top-brass is clear — when in doubt, approach your OC. The local police station has been instructed to:

Verify credit rating of NBFCs

Ascertain whether the interest levels are suspiciously above normal

Check whether companies have Sebi registration

Metro went to a couple of thanas on Friday evening to find out how much your OC knows about financial fraud:

First stop: A police station on the southern fringes of the city

Metro: Have you received any training to tackle cases relating to financial fraud?

OC: We attended a conference yesterday, organised by the CID.

Metro: What was the conference all about?

OC: The rise in the number of chit funds was discussed. We were asked to take prompt action.

Metro: Did you receive any tips on how to probe such cases?

OC: Nothing like that was discussed. Normally, we refer to IPC 420, 471 and 468 in such cases and I think these are enough to book these offenders.

Metro: Do you have any written guidelines?

OC: No, no. We don’t need all that.

Metro: What about checking the credit rating of companies?

OC: What?

Metro: And identifying high interest rates?

OC: That is common sense. How can a company offer rates as high as 20-25 per cent? These investors are suffering for their greed…

Metro: What about checking Sebi registration of such firms?

OC: Sebi-tebi kichhu na (We have nothing to do with Sebi). We are only concerned with RBI….

Next stop: A south Calcutta police station in the city’s business hub. The OC here is yet to receive any “formal training” on new-age crime.

Metro: Have you received any chit fund complaints?

OC: The maximum number of cheating cases are registered with us (he then proudly held forth on frauds of every kind).

Metro: How do you deal with aggrieved investors?

OC: We advise them to come with a court order. But they don’t do that, as they don’t want to spend money… But on the other hand, these greedy people, coming from as far as Barasat and Bongaon, are putting in hundreds to make lakhs. I just don’t understand this…

Metro: Are you equipped to handle such cases?

OC: The present system is inadequate. Specialised training is a must if we are to stop these white-collared criminals.


Calcutta, Dec. 7: 
Rs 65. That’s the cost of a human life. Twenty-seven-year-old Lakshman, a taxi ‘helper’, was strangled to death by two passengers who refused to pay the fare. The incident occurred late on Thursday at Noapara, in the Barasat police station area. One person has been arrested.

According to the police, two youths hailed the taxi at Motijheel, in Dum Dum, late on Friday. When they reached Mandela Lane in Noapara, the duo got off and asked driver, Milan Biswas, to wait while they fetched a patient who had to be rushed to Barasat hospital.

“But the driver refused to wait and demanded the fare, Rs 65. The youths slipped into a dark alley, without paying up,” said an officer of Barasat police station.

Suspecting that his passengers had no intention of paying the fare, Biswas asked his helper to follow them. That was the last he saw of Lakshman.

After waiting for over an hour, Biswas informed the Barasat police station.

A team of cops scoured the area, but there was no sign of the Lakshman. It was only after day broke that the police found the body by the roadside. “Lakshman was probably strangled with a nylon rope. The body was dumped in the bushes, a little distance away from the spot of the crime,” an officer of Barasat police station said.

Later in the day, the police picked up a local youth. “According to preliminary investigation, the young man we tracked down, was one of the passengers. We are on the trail of his accomplice, while probing all possible aspects of the case,” an officer of the Barasat police station said.


Calcutta, Dec. 7: 
Her father is a contract labour at construction sites in the Kalimpong hills. From childhood, life for Seema Chettri was a struggle, with one square meal hard to come by. But then, she found a ‘home’ and discovered the joys of music. Today, the 14-year-old plays Mozart on the violin like a dream, loves growing strawberries and delphiniums with Japanese technique, and aspires to be a lawyer.

Seema, her brother Sandip, Sony Rai, Subhas Rai, Ashok Lepcha and Biraj Biswakarma — all violinists in the choir of Dr Graham’s Homes, Kalimpong — and their choir singers have lined up a special treat for the people of Calcutta.

From Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph & His Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat to Elton John’s Circle of Life, Harry Belafonte to Phil Collins, Kenny Rogers to Dolly Parton… the Children’s City in Concert at St Paul’s Cathedral on Saturday evening promises to be a gig with a difference. For, it will showcase not just young talent, but the resolve of a clutch of kids battling the odds, with a smile and a song.

“For these kids, music is a way of life. They were all picked up from Father McGuire’s Gandhi Ashram in Kalimpong. In keeping with the back-to-basics philosophy of Dr Graham, they have grown up with the violin, viola and cello, even while grappling with abject poverty and distress at home,” explains M.J. Robertson, president and chairman, board of management of the school celebrating “a century of caring for children”.

Squeezing two hours every evening out of a busy exam-season study schedule, the Homes children have practised in earnest under the batons of “choir master” Shane Saviel, “music master” K. Upasak and Ruston Chaki, a Class XI student.

“We will play the third movements from the Mozart Quartets 11, 12 and 13,” smiles Subhas, whose “dad” barely makes ends meet by doing “odd jobs” back home. Little Subhas dreams of being part of the London Philharmonic Orchestra “some day”. His string companion Sony Rai, from the Sixth Mile neighbourhood in Kalimpong, loves the “challenge of Mozart” and wants to be a doctor “to serve humanity”.

The numbers for the concert were picked from the “tigerish tussle” of an in-house singing contest, recounts Robertson, who conceptualised the entire show. “We are very proud to do something for the people back in Kalimpong… This concert is a tribute to their strong will and ability to overcome,” signed off principal Lancelot J. Fuller, the choir organiser.



Inquest held into jail inmate death

An inquest was held on Friday morning into the death of Jagannath Acharya. The death of Acharya, 45, in Dum Dum Central Jail on Thursday, has evoked protest from the inmates, who alleged that he did not get medical attention when he complained of breathing problems on Thursday. Acharya has been in prison since May 1994, An official said though there are five doctors in the jail, they are rarely available. Superintendent Manoj Chowdhury, who has been asked to probe the death, claimed that the undertrial was ailing. Inspector-general of prisons Anil Kumar said on Friday that he had ordered an inquiry into the undertrial’s death. State Human Rights Commission (HRC) officials are expected to visit the jail on Saturday. Superintendent of police D.K.Chaki, attached to HRC, said they were awaiting a report from the local administration. “As soon as we get it, we will begin the investigation,” he added.

Hindu Hostel opens to Muslims

Three Muslim boarders on Friday got official permission to stay in Hindu Hostel, thereby becoming the first members of the minority community to be lodged there. The Independents’ Consolidation, while welcoming the three, criticised the Left Front government for not yet throwing open the doors of Carmichael Hostel and Baker Hostel to Hindus. All government hostels should accommodate boys and girls of all communities, members said.

BA Part-I results

Calcutta University announced its BA Part-I results on Friday, five months after the examinations were held, overshooting the self-imposed deadline of three months to declare results. More than 88 per cent students passed in the honours section and more than 52 per cent in the general category.

Elderly care

The Calcutta Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology will start an Elderly Care Outreach Team by mid-December to provide care for the elderly at their doorsteps. The team, comprising a geriatrician, a physiotherapist, a social worker and an attendant, will provide medical advice and simple therapy, besides referring the needy to specialists. The geriatric care unit, already in operation, will add a new package for senior citizens.

Boy rescued

A three-year-old boy, kidnapped from Salt Lake, was rescued from Mandirbazar, in South 24-Parganas, on Thursday night. Police said the child was kidnapped from his house on Wednesday by distant relatives. They demanded Rs 1 lakh from his father as ransom. But the police traced the gang from the phone call made to the cellphone of the boy’s uncle. Two persons were arrested in this connection.

Case filed

The Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth has filed a petition against the official trustee, the government of West Bengal and an Armenian social worker and representative of MP Beatrix D’ Souza, Max Gaulstaun, at Calcutta High Court. The court on Friday listed the hearing of the case for Tuesday, despite an attempt by the petitioners to withdraw it at the last moment. The case has brought to light the bitter infighting among the resident Armenians over church funds and trust benefits. A section of Armenians had alleged that benefits accruing from the trust funds were being misused.    

Calcutta, Dec. 7: 
In a controversial decision, Jadavpur University extended the tenure of the job-applicants’ panel which, when constituted two years ago, reeked of nepotism. The university executive council approved a six-month extension of the panel, violating its own statutes, admitted officials on Friday.

University rules stipulate that the panels, formed to fill up vacancies, can only run for a year from the date of their constitution, irrespective of the number of vacancies.

A recent meeting of the council, however, decided to go against the rules. It extended by six months the tenure of a panel formed in November 1999 to fill up junior assistants and junior assistant-cum-typists’ posts. The panel’s tenure, which expired on November 31, has been extended till May 2002.

The original panel, selected two years ago, had raised a lot of dust, with the university’s own records showing at least 40 of the 56 employees to be under-qualified. Many of them were direct dependents of university staff, of whom some were leaders of the CPM-backed Jadavpur University Karmachari Sansad.

A majority of the 56 empanelled candidates did not have typing skills, considered a must for a junior assistant-cum-typist’s post. One of them was under-age, documents with Metro reveal, and several others did not have the requisite qualification from any West Bengal board-conducted examination.

Officials pointed out that the university showed haste in recruiting the first batch of nine candidates from the 56 empanelled people; they were given appointment letters on December 1, 1999, a day after the November 30 controversial executive council decision to empanel them, despite “blatant irregularities,” officials said.

A senior official, however, defended the university’s stand. “Making a fresh panel requires a lot of money and time,” he said.


Calcutta, Dec. 7: 
The high court on Friday passed two directives, asking the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to file an affidavit on steps taken for malaria eradication and directing the state public heath engineering department, CMC and the Howrah Municipal Corporation to submit a plan on drinking water supply.

A division bench passed the order on malaria on a public interest litigation filed by Mir Abdur Rahman.

The petitioner alleged that the CMC had not taken appropriate steps to eradicate malaria. He demanded a court order directing the CMC to pay compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the family of malaria victims.

The directive on drinking water supply was passed on a petition by environmentalist Subhas Dutta, on behalf of Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Samity. Sample tests revealed that 60 per cent of potable water in Calcutta and Howrah was not fit for human consumption.

In Calcutta, drinking water at different government hospitals, Sealdah station and some educational institutions was found to be contaminated.


Calcutta, Dec. 7: 
CESC had demanded a 92-paise increase in its average tariff. The West Bengal Electricity Regulatory Commission granted it 9 paise. The state electricity board fared only marginally better.

It had sought a 97-paise increase, but today it was given an average tariff hike of 11 paise.

But domestic consumers will be hit more by the tariff increase than their industrial counterparts.

Domestic consumers will have to pay 22 paise more for a unit of power. From the present Rs 1.89 per unit, the rate is slated to go up to Rs 2.11 per unit.

For the high-tension industrial consumers, the increase is 5.17 per cent — from Rs 3.48 per unit to Rs 3.66. The board had sought a tariff of Rs 4.23 per unit.

The average increase for all categories works out to 11 paise: from Rs 2.59 per unit to Rs 2.70 for the year 2001-2002. The increase also takes into account the fuel surcharge.

For the last year — 2000-01 —the commission has recommended a 2 per cent increase in tariff. This is to be realised in five instalments.

“We have tried to reduce the cross-subsidy on industrial consumers. They will be given an additional discount of two to three per cent for efficient and off-peak use of power,” said commission chairman S.K. Phaujdar.

But the state electricity board is not happy with the recommendations. Board chairman G.D. Gautama said: “The recommendations are extremely disappointing. We will have to examine the 134-page recommendations and take some action.”

Power minister Mrinal Banerjee rose to the board’s defence. “Survival of WBSEB will be at stake. It is extremely disappointing. We will have to see what steps will have to be taken…. We will explore all possibilities,” he said.

Justifying its low tariff-hike recommendations, the commission said given the industrial scenario in the state, had the increase been hefty, industry would have moved out of the state.

The commission has asked the state electricity board to bring down its transmission and distribution losses — which are a drain on the power utility’s funds — to 20 per cent in four years.

For 2000-01, the board has been allowed to book the losses at 30 per cent. The incremental reduction every year has been pegged at 2.5 per cent.

Reacting to the recommendations, the All Bengal Electricity Consumers’ Association said allowing transmission and distribution losses to remain at a high of 30 per cent while reducing the cross-subsidy to domestic consumers would hurt the small households hardest. Their bills, the association said, would double while the impact on industrial consumers would not be much.

While offering to reward the board if it managed to bring down transmission and distribution losses beyond 20 per cent in four years, the commission blamed the power utility for not investing effectively to improve its transmission and distribution network to contain and reduce losses.

The commission has also questioned the overtime paid to board employees. The board had run up overtime payment bills of Rs 20.42 crore in 2000-01. This worked out to about 10 per cent of the total basic salary of the employees. The commission said this should be contained at Rs 5 crore.


Calcutta, Dec. 7: 
Buoyed by methane reserves in the Ranigunj-Asansol belt, the state government is planning to set up a gas-based power project at Durgapur, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said today.

A recent study has revealed that there are huge deposits of methane in almost all the 150 coal mines in the Asansol-Ranigunj belt.

Today, Bhattacharjee held a high-level meeting with Union power secretary Ashok Basu, GAIL officials and the National Thermal Power Corporation chairman to discuss the project.

The state-run Power Development Corporation Ltd (PDCL) will soon sign a memorandum of understanding with NTPC and GAIL, Bhattacharjee told reporters after the meeting.

“Primarily, we have decided to set up the new unit in Durgapur after extracting methane which is easily available in more than 150 coal mines in the Asansol-Ranigunj belt. The gas will be supplied through a pipeline in the Durgapur unit,” he said.

State power department officials indicated that the new unit will primarily supply electricity to industrial units in the Durgapur-Asansol belt. But later, it could even feed domestic consumers.

A senior official in the state power department said NTPC officials had raised the issue of the state government’s pending dues. It is learnt that the state electricity board will issue bonds to raise money from the market to pay NTPC.

Power minister Mrinal Banerjee, who attended the meeting, later told reporters that a Russian company had already agreed to explore for coal-based methane at Ranigunj. Indian companies such as the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Reliance and PDCL have also evinced interest.

PDCL will soon float a joint sector company for the purpose, the minister said. Banerjee, however, did not rule out other sources of gas supply from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

“There is a huge demand for gas among industrialists in Bengal. Companies such as Haldia Petrochemicals, Lafarge and Durgapur Steel Plant are willing to purchase the gas once available. Some companies are also contemplating supplying gas to households in Calcutta,” he said.


Calcutta, Dec. 7: 
An administrative impasse has stalled work at the South 24-Parganas zilla parishad office following a cold war between loyalists of former CPM legislator Sujan Chakraborty and associates of Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) chief and ex-district CPM secretary Samir Putatunda.

Two karmadhyakshyas of the zilla parishad have been forced to resign following pressure from Chakraborty’s lobby. The zilla sabhadhipati, a Putatunda loyalist, has also not been regular in attending office.

A senior district official said the sabadhipati’s absence was affecting the functioning of the parishad. “We cannot contact him for signing cheques. Some uncertainty has also arisen over a proposed literacy campaign in his absence,” he said, adding that district magistrate Alapan Bandyopadhyay was expected to intervene to resolve the deadlock.

Sources said Chakraborty had been lobbying for the sabadhipati’s post ever since his Assembly poll debacle. The PDS chief’s ouster only strengthened Chakraborty’s position in the district committee, they added.

Ganesh Pal, the karmadhyakshya in charge of forests, had recently resigned on “health grounds”. Earlier, the assistant sabhadhipati in charge of health, Saifuddin Ahmed, had also put in his papers. Sources said both Pal and Ahmed were “made to resign” by Chakraborty’s associates.

The karmadhyakshas feel they fell from the grace of the leadership because of their connections with Putatunda. The PDS chief, when contacted, said the CPM was resorting to “witch-hunting” to rid the committee of his followers.


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