Courtyard of charm in clutter
Afghan in Asansol jail to be shifted
Beards & babies, birds & bees
The City Diary
State-of-the-art scanner lies idle
Locals cry foul over club
Book fair ends on success note
Police await duped investors
Buddha snubs Singhal on meet
Flower mart to bloom at Howrah

Calcutta, Dec. 9: 
If the technical committee reviewing the Parkomat project thinks there is a good alternative site, I will not hesitate to shift the parking lot from Lindsay Street — mayor Subrata Mukherjee, mulling the shift of the automated monster from New Market, on Thursday.

Metro had provided Calcuttans who care with just that — a comprehensive model to transform the entire New Market area into a pedestrian zone, free of vehicular traffic, with cars parked at a distance. With public opinion against Parkomat-II building up, Metro reverted to the urban planners who had drawn up the first model. What you now see is a modified version: A New Market minus the chaos of today

The verdict is out: The area around New Market and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation building is not just about heritage. It has a strong urban character of its own and the courtyard in front of the market in Lindsay Street needs to be preserved.

The primary prerequisite for creating a zone of lively activity is not to allow vehicular traffic to mix with pedestrian traffic. For this to happen, the shopping and entertainment district around New Market should be converted into a pedestrian plaza, with vehicular traffic banned, except for a few hours, from 9 pm to 7 am.

The vibrant character of the area can be enhanced with tree-lined walkways, attractive food kiosks, music corners — creating enough movement and excitement for shoppers and filmgoers. Inspiration can be drawn from a host of urban meeting places all over the world, like the Quincy Market in Boston, Leicester Square and Covent Garden in London. At all these popular hangouts, specific stretches are freed of vehicular traffic during peak hours and cars are kept at a distance.

Option 1: Three-level car parking for vehicles from north, plus pedestrian mall at Chaplin Park

Chaplin Park is a dead zone, a neglected backyard of all the buildings surrounding it. The western wall of Chaplin cinema and the eastern wall of the Oberoi Grand, both turn their backs to it. Towards its south lies the claustrophobic back wall of New New Market. The park doesn’t touch the people at all and its surroundings are taken over by hawkers or parking-lot rowdies.

There should be a central plaza in the park, with a split-level spatial pattern and a three-level parking provision, two tiers in the basement and one on ground level.

The ground-level parking will look like a raised pedestrian mall, with fringe landscaping. Steps from all sides will lead up to an open space that can be utilised for theatres, music concerts and to house eateries in tensile tents.

The facility can be linked to the CMC building through a skyway. The idea is to create something like the Times Square in New York. While Times Square is sunk in, the Chaplin Park plaza will be elevated to provide a view of the pedestrian walkways around. Design inspiration can also be drawn from Charles Correa’s Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal, which uses the split-level concept to tone down the harshness of the built form as one looks out onto the lake.

Hawkers in the area should be encouraged to use wheelbarrows, or alternatively, knock-down structures, to keep the area neat and clean.

Option 2: Multi-level parking space under existing Maidan Market after renovation; multi-level car-parking space and pedestrian plaza opposite YMCA, across Chowringhee

The Maidan Market is in a sad state, but extremely conveniently located. The market needs to be knocked down and a new structure built with two-level basement parking, plus one on the lower ground level. The market can be shifted to the upper ground and first-floor levels.

A slope garden to camouflage the parking lot will tone down the harshness of the facility, as it has to blend with the Maidan greens. An extra shopping zone can be sunk in, accommodating food kiosks.

Another parking plaza can be built opposite the YMCA across Chowringhee, preferably of low elevation, with two levels in the basement and interactive landscaping. People can park their cars and cross Jawaharlal Nehru Road via a skyway which connects to Humayun Place, with escalators on either side.

The parking facilities should be able to house more than a thousand cars, with the cost being recovered through skyway toll and by leasing out parking space.

Option 3: Parking lots within the fish and vegetable markets and one near the old Hogg Market

Multi-level parking space can be created within the markets, preserving the grid pattern. This will lead to a revamp of the grossly under-utilised area, which has long been a zone of squalor with dilapidated buildings, traffic snarls, shops eating into road space, filth and clutter.


Calcutta, Dec. 9: 
An Afghan national, Afridi Khan, alias Imran, languishing in Asansol sub-divisional jail since September 24, will be shifted to a Calcutta jail on security grounds, inspector-general of prisons Anil Kumar said on Sunday.

“Imran was arrested under Section 14 of the Foreigners’ Act for overstaying in the country and subsequently jailed. But he has developed psychological problems in jail,” said jailor Nazrul Islam, when contacted in Asansol.

According to Islam, Imran hails from Sultania village, in the Pakhikar district of Afghanistan. Special security has been provided to him in the wake of the ongoing war in his country. The sub-divisional magistrate has already approved of his transfer to a Calcutta jail.

Jail sources, however, said Imran has been behaving rudely with other inmates. “He feels lonely, frustrated and has attempted suicide twice,” said an official. The presence of an Afghan has posed a “problem” for other inmates. “We cannot allow him to leave his cell as the inmates tease him,” he added.

In another development, the prison directorate has decided to tighten the security in three jails in Calcutta. The decision was taken in the wake of a sudden increase in the number of inmates.


Calcutta, Dec. 9: 
As soon as a half-day workshop finished at a city school a few days ago, a Class XI boy took aside one of the visiting instructors and said: “Sir, I think I have a problem. I’ve had intimate relations with three girls. Will I get a disease?”

The workshop was on adolescent healthcare and one of the several that West Bengal Voluntary Health Association (WBVHA) has been holding for students of Class VIII and above in schools in the city and districts.

The boy was told about the risks he and the girls, with whom he had relationships, were exposed to. He was also guided on how to inculcate behavioural and attitudinal changes.

Last Thursday, Arjun Ghosh listened attentively to what the speakers on the dais had to say. A few seats away, Nivedita Saha blushed at what was being said. Both, students of Class VIII from different schools, asked questions they had wanted to ask for quite some time.

The ice is breaking. After years, conventional taboos and inhibitions are being shed to keep up with the changing times. NGOs, teachers, parents and the government have realised that students need to know about sex and adolescent health, so that they can tackle problems and take the right decisions.

Arjun and Nivedita were among the 1,260 students, 13 years upward, from 20 schools in 16 districts of Bengal, who participated in the first-ever state-level conference on adolescent healthcare. The daylong meet, held at the Indian Institute of Training and Development at Thakurpukur, was organised by the WBVHA and the department of health and family welfare.

“Knowing one’s body, the physical and mental changes that occur and the reasons behind them have become essential for all persons above 12,” said minister of state for health Pratyush Mukherjee. “Your health is in your hands, especially during adolescence… Why we get a beard, why physical changes occur, what menstruation is, the process of human reproduction — you have a right to know to all these. Asking questions on this is not a crime,” he said.

Serious diseases like AIDS and the changing cultural scenario brought about by TV and other media have necessitated changes “on an urgent basis”.

The adolescent’s mind today is “like a blotting paper, with the capacity to absorb knowledge at a rapid rate”. It was imperative that the youth received the right information, for inappropriate knowledge, like medication, could have adverse effects, warned Dr G.P. Dutta, member, planning board.

Teenagers fired salvo after salvo at the speakers on stage, that comprised counsellors, teachers and doctors. The queries ranged from “How do we tackle a very good friend when he or she wants to be intimate?” to “Why do adults change channels on TV when we enter the room?”

For Pushmita Biswas and Pompa Das, both Class IX students of Tollygunge Girls’ School, exposure to such topics was not the first. “We got to know about the human reproductive system and diseases like AIDS last year.” Representatives of the WBVHA had visited their schools, armed with videos. The school is among the four model schools in the state that has taken up sex education on a regular basis.

“Today, whenever questions on such issues are asked, we have no hesitation in answering,” said Chiana Basu, economics teacher at Tollygunge Girls. “The girls are more like our friends. These discussions have made interaction with students, even on other issues, a lot easier,” she said. WBVHA officials said they had plans to hold a bigger convention at Netaji Indoor Stadium soon to enable more children to attend.



New Market to stay open till 9 pm

New Market will remain open till 9 pm from December 1 to December 31, according to Pervez Khan of S.S. Hogg Market Welfare Association. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has permitted shop-owners to keep their establishments open from 10 am to 9 pm, including Saturdays and Sundays. Usually, the market closes at 7 pm. On Saturday, the market downs shutters at 2.30 pm.

Teachers’ body elections held

Elections to the Association of Teachers of Anglo-Indian Schools were held on Sunday. Ismail Nehal of St James and Dilip Bhattacharya of La Martiniere for Boys were elected president and general secretary, respectively.

Domestic dies

Kajal Das, 18, a domestic help, fainted and died in a house in the Karaya area on Sunday. Police said he hailed from Orissa. After he lost consciousness, Kajal was rushed to hospital, where doctors declared him dead.

Birth anniversary

Dakshineswar Ramakrishna Sangha Adyapith distributed clothes and food among 3,000 people, including 45 physically-challenged, on Saturday on the 111th birth anniversary of Sri Sri Annada Thakur. On the occasion, Tapan Sikdar, communication minister, and Shyamal Sen, chief justice of Allahabad High Court, launched two ambulances and inaugurated ultrasonography and physiotherapy units.

Science seminar

Doctors Club of B. R. Singh Hospital and the Centre for Medical Education and Research, Eastern Railway, organised its 31st annual scientific seminar on Sunday. Educationists and railway officials attended.

Civil defence day

Altogether 900 volunteers of Eastern Railway’s headquarters, Sealdah, Howrah, Liluah and Kanchrapara divisions, including 400 female volunteers, participated in the 29th annual civil defence day held at Liluah on Thursday.    

Calcutta, Dec. 9: 
The only Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine in a government-run hospital in Bengal is lying “idle” in Calcutta’s Bangur Institute of Neurology.

Even as rates of several procedures, tests and cabin charges go up by an average of 40 per cent from December 1, the government has turned a blind eye to the possibilities of revenue-generation from this state-of-the art equipment, officials admit.

More important is the three to four-month waiting list to get the diagnostic procedure done on an ailing patient, corroborating price-hike critics’ views that the increase in charges is not commensurate with improvements in hospital services.

Installed late last year at Bangur Institute of Neurology, near SSKM Hospital, trial runs of the machine began in January. Former chief minister Jyoti Basu inaugurated it in February.

The Rs 6.5-crore equipment, with a strong 1.5 Tesler magnet that enables all functional imaging facilities with spectroscopy, was the pride of the state. Not even the private sector had such technology.

When the proposal had been placed on Basu’s table in 1997-98, he had asked why the machine was so costly, when the one at the joint-sector AMRI Hospital cost around Rs 4 crore. The explanation was: If the government was investing such a huge amount, it had to be in the latest-generation equipment with technology that would last at least 10 years.

But nine months later, the machine is being grossly under-utilised. With a capacity to carry out 40 procedures a day, only eight to 10 patients undergo MRI scans a day. And all because there are not enough trained technicians to operate the machine.

Ironically, even after paying the full charges of Rs 3,500 for a general brain MRI (this rate has not been revised with the other hikes), a patient will have to wait three full months, if not more, till his turn comes along.

“Many patients are forced to get the procedure done in the private sector. Very few can afford to wait that long, especially in emergency situations,” said a senior doctor at the institute.

Technicians who operate the CT scanner at the institute are now operating the MRI. With one of them on leave at any point of time, only three are available to run the MRI. “The technicians’ rosters are being rotated with duty at the CT scanner, which is not feasible,” the doctor pointed out.

The lack of manpower, including the absence of a resident medical officer at the institute, has been one of the reasons why emergency CT scans have not been carried out during the night for the last three years. Up to 70 CT scans are, however, performed during the day with the Japanese “workhorse” scanner installed after the first one broke down in 1991.

“The scanner is now generating profits for the institute and the department,” said Prof Manoj Bhattacharya, head of the department of neurology at the institute. “Similarly, a proposal had been submitted in 1999 to then health minister Partha De that would have had the MRI breaking even within five years of its installation,” he said.

“This would have been possible if 28 cases were done every day 300 days a year at an average of Rs 4,000 each, with a provision for 30 per cent free cases,” Bhattacharya added. “At this rate, in another five years, the government would have generated enough funds to buy another MRI machine.” The Planning Commission had even passed the proposal.

“But ultimately, only a quarter of the manpower required to achieve this is now available. That, too, when a bright B.Sc graduate is all the qualification that is required for a technician, who will undergo training at the institute itself,” the professor lamented.

“Just increasing prices is not enough. The health department grossly lacks hospital management skills and techniques. It’s a glaring example of being penny wise and pound foolish,” a senior doctor pointed out.


Calcutta, Dec. 9: 
Residents of the Baishnabghata-Patuli satellite township have lodged a complaint with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya and a host of CPM leaders, about a section of local youths, who are reportedly constructing a club-house on a plot belonging to the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA).

The club members are scheduled to meet Bhattacharya on Monday to seek his support in resolving the impasse. The area lies in the constituency of the chief minister.

Residents are worried about the construction that is taking place inside the new housing complex and submitted their complaints to the CMDA, seeking intervention.

A girls’ school, located near the site of construction, is another cause of worry. Residents claim the youths are carrying out construction without valid permission from the CMDA.

“The CMDA had asked for Rs 2.73 lakh from the club for a plot of about 600 sq ft. The members have not yet paid up but are carrying on with the construction,” said a resident, on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, CMDA officials visited the site and asked the youths to stop the construction as the agency had not yet received money from the members against the plot of land.

Ignoring the warning, the members went ahead with the construction, which is now almost complete. Regular meetings of the club have already started on the premises.

“The construction of the club has not yet been finished. But the youths, many of whom have criminal backgrounds, have started visiting the locality every day and threatening those protesting against them,” alleged another local resident.

Minister for Sunderbans development Kanti Ganguly who is also an influential leader in the Jadavpur belt, has been apprised of the situation and has assured the residents that he will not allow construction of any club in the area.

Some Left Front leaders, like Biman Bose, too, have been approached by the residents to stall the construction.

Rail link: The Circular Railway will carry passengers to the main business districts of Calcutta from remote areas like Hasnabad, Gede, Ranaghat and Dankuni soon. Officials of Eastern Railway said on Saturday that EMU coaches will be introduced on the Circular Railway from December 16.


Calcutta, Dec. 9: 
Only in its second year, the Dhakuria Book Fair 2001, ended attracting some big names from the Bengali publishing world — Ananda Publishers, Punashcha and M.C. Sarkar.

They were among the 24 stalls that book-lovers got to visit at the 10-day fair. Constraints of space — the fair was held on the Dhakuria Station Palli Club grounds — prevented the organisers from accommodating more publishers, said secretary of the fair Tapan Mitra.

Besides books, the fair also included a magic show by Dodo, songs by Pratul Mukhopadhyay, and poetry sessions by Sunil Gangopadhyay, Nabanita Dev Sen, Dibyendu Palit and Nirmalendu Gautam.

Another fair at Uttarpara, called Samanway, sold books worth Rs 16 lakh, said organiser Dilip Yadav . Also ending on Sunday was a fair at Sonarpur, organised by the Sonarpur Thana Samanway Committee. This 50-stall affair had more visitors from the rural belt, organisers said.


Calcutta, Dec. 9: 
The CID has urged depositors of non-banking financial institutions (NBFCs) to meet sleuths with proper documents to facilitate investigation into the chit-fund scam.

“Our investigation is hamstrung by lack of complaints from duped investors,” deputy inspector of general of police (CID) V.V. Thambi said. “We appeal to duped investors to come and meet CID officers with necessary documents,” Thambi added.

About 500 investors today thronged the Bankshall court where Sanjeev Kapoor, the director of City Securities, was produced today. Kapoor was remanded in police custody for further interrogation. Investors then flocked to the police headquarters at Lalbazar to meet the officer in charge of the case.

“I had invested around Rs 80,000 in City Securities. I did not imagine that I would lose it all because of the nefarious designs of the promoters,” Pradip Kumar Gupta said.

“I am a retired person. I was lured by their attractive advertisements in leading newspapers,” Gupta added.

His son, who is studying electronics engineering in Kolaghat, is in his final year. Gupta had invested the money in an effort to help his son settle down and was planning to withdraw the principal amount and the sum assured next week. However, the police crackdown on NBFCs put paid to his plans.

Soumangshu Bhowmick had invested a smaller amount than Gupta. But he, too, had no clue about how he could get his money back. “There are investors who have put in their life savings. Who knows what will happen to them,” said Bhowmick.

Most of the investors had met senior police officers including, the deputy commissioner of police (detective department), Soumen Mitra and the officer of the detective department dealing with the case. “Apart from sympathy, I don’t think they have anything else to offer. One sub-inspector asked me to think of ways of getting back my principal amount,” said one of the investors.

A few months ago, some investors had got back from City Securities some of the money they had put in. “They gave around Rs 2,500 a long time ago,” an investor said.

The CID has also launched a manhunt for two directors of Srijoni Finance and Investments, a NBFC based in Lake Town. Yesterday, the department had arrested several persons and sealed Srijoni offices.

Police picked up seven persons of yet another city-based company from Amdanga, North 24 Parganas. Barasat additional superintendent of police Rahul Srivastava said Fural Finance Housing and Investments was under the scanner for some time.

“Most of the investors were from Calcutta and the company had promised high returns on the principal amount,” said the police officer.


Calcutta, Dec. 9: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today turned down a request from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for time for a meeting with its working president, Ashok Singhal, who visited Calcutta for a day.

VHP officials made several futile calls to the chief minister’s Palm Avenue residence and his office since morning seeking an appointment for Singhal with Bhattacharjee. Only a few days ago, DMK chief and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, a former friend of the Left, refused to meet Singhal citing ideological differences.

The VHP chief was in the city as part of his country-wide programme to garner support for the construction of the proposed Ram temple at Ayodhya.

“I have heard about Singhal moving around the country for getting support for the proposed Ram temple. But we have already made our stand clear on this matter and consider the VHP a communal outfit, engaged in destroying the country’s secular fabric,” observed former chief minister Jyoti Basu.

The CPM leader said he did not know whether the VHP had contacted Bhattacharjee. “But I can tell you that Buddha (Buddhadeb) has no intention of meeting Singhal,” Basu said. Bhattacharjee was not, however, available for comment.

VHP organising secretary Ravi Shankar Bhattacharya later told The Telegraph the organisation was “hurt” at the way chief minister had, “despite our several phone calls to his office”, refused to meet their leader. “Singhalji is meeting everybody across the country to garner support for the proposed Ram temple. We tried an appointment with Buddhadebbabu and failed,” he said.

In a related development, Singhal held a closed-door meeting with key VHP functionaries at Keshab Bhavan during the day and asked them to send over two lakh Rambhaktas from Bengal to take part in the 100-day long Sri Ram Mahayogna, beginning on February 17.


Malda, Dec. 9: 
The state government plans to build an international-standard flower-market complex at Howrah.

Addressing a workshop on Flowers, Fruits and Vegetables at Malda College today, food processing and horticulture minister Sailen Sarkar said initially Rs 13 crore has been earmarked for the project, which would take off soon. “We want to develop the country’s largest flower market in Howrah with all facilities for preservation and marketing of flowers,” he said.

The state government will take the land where the complex will come up on lease from the Port trust, Sarkar said.


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