Baton blow to scam protest
Partymen put up hurdles for Parkomat
Teachers face holiday cut
Up for sale, Steamship House
The City Diary
Tested but marked absent
Inmate death ‘haunts’ home
Mega action plan for uplift of urban poor
Biman in allies’ line of fire
School Bill gives govt more teeth

 
 
BATON BLOW TO SCAM PROTEST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
The city’s biggest financial scam in recent times had its first violent spin-off on Monday. A few hundred investors from the Karaya area fought a pitched battle with the police after they were prevented from marching towards chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s residence, demanding justice.

The Palm Avenue-Darga Road belt in south Calcutta resembled a battlefield after the depositors, thwarted in their protest plans, turned violent.

The first brick fell on policemen at the Darga Road-New Park Street crossing around 12 noon. By the time the last baton fell on the protestors around an hour later, scores of them, and four policemen, lay bleeding.

Traffic along the stretch took another hour to return to normal.

As news of the violence and the subsequent police action reached Lalbazar, questions were raised on the use of excessive force. The orders over the past few days — to handle the duped investors with sympathy — were given the go-by as the law-enforcers panicked at the prospect of 700 demonstrators reaching Bhattacharjee’s home.

The rear-guard action peaked at the Palm Avenue-Broad Street crossing, with the protestors inching perilously close to the chief minister’s home, said deputy commissioner (headquarters) Banibrata Basu. The demonstrators — police claim there were 300 women in the 700-strong mob — suddenly veered off their path and surged towards the chief minister’s residence, shouting slogans and demanding that the state government retrieve their hard-earned money.

Police first tried to reason with them, but in vain. A scuffle ensued, which soon took the shape of a mild lathicharge. The demonstrators fled, but some of them regrouped at the Darga Road-New Park Street crossing a few minutes later.

They were soon followed there by the police. Cornered, they started pelting stones at the law-enforcers. Another lathicharge followed — this one much more violent — and when even that proved unsuccessful in dispersing the mob, policemen fired four teargas shells. This scattered the mob, but not before three passing vehicles were damaged.

Sheikh Sultan, one of the investors, blamed the police for the violent turn that their “peaceful” demonstration took.

Away in Bolpur, angry depositors ransacked the two-storeyed office of Flural, one of the finance firms closed down. Ten employees and 15 local agents have fled, say officials.

   

 
 
PARTYMEN PUT UP HURDLES FOR PARKOMAT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s proposed Parkomat-II has run into a roadblock set up by his colleagues in the Trinamul Congress.

MLA Sadhan Pande has asked the government to scrap the project on Lindsay Street, while Pradip Ghosh, CMC overseer of slum development and parking lots, has raised his voice against the scheme. In the process, Ghosh has incurred the wrath of the mayor, who is planning to relieve him of his portfolio.

On Sunday, Pande, also chairman of the Assembly’s standing committee on transport, said he had taken up the issue with transport minister Subhas Chakraborty. Pande met Chakraborty at the Assembly on Monday. He also protested the proposed Esplanade-Middleton Street flyover. According to Pande, the Rs 60-crore project, to be aided by Japanese grants, and the New Market Parkomat would spell doom for the city.

“Chowringhee will be a mess if the twin projects are given the go-ahead,” Pande warned the state transport minister.

“The proposed flyover will dwarf the Oberoi Grand and the Indian Museum, two of Calcutta’s most visible landmarks, besides destroying the wide thoroughfare,” Pande said.

Besides, he reasoned, the flyover would ultimately come down on Chowringhee, creating a bottleneck far worse than at present. He had a suggestion for the state government: Extend two lanes of the flyover across Dharamtala Street till Bentinck Street and Central Avenue. This will create two stretches that would ease the load on Chowringhee, he explained.

The city planners also have two acres on the eastern flank of the Maidan, bordering Chowringhee, from the ministry of defence which, in lieu, got 30 cottahs in Salt Lake.

“That stretch can easily be utilised to shift the flyover to the west,” Pande said. “That will help preserve the façade of the Grand and the Indian Museum, besides leaving Chowringhee untouched,” he explained.

The space under the flyover could be utilised to park at least 500 cars between the pillars, Pande said. “This will have a dual advantage: No extra money will have to be spent on creating a parking lot and roadspace will not be eaten up,” he added.

The same point has been raised by CMC council member Ghosh, who has not only opposed the idea of a “concrete monstrosity” blocking New Market, but has also voiced concern over the resultant removal of parking zones. “A lot of young boys eke out a livelihood from these parking lots. Our party was committed to their uplift, rather than pandering to the rich,” Ghosh had asserted.

On Monday, the mayor announced a ban on parking on Rawdon Street and Short Street, thus rendering redundant the parking lot attendants.

The ban was imposed without seeking the consent of Ghosh, CMC’s official in charge of the city’s parking arrangements.

Ghosh was against the removal of fee parking zones within a 500-metre radius of the Rawdon Street Parkomat, as it would rob employees of three parking co-operatives in the area of their livelihood. Mukherjee, however, said this was an inevitable aspect of development: “The same thing happened when buses replaced horse-drawn carriages. It is all a process of progress.”

   

 
 
TEACHERS FACE HOLIDAY CUT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
After government employees, it’s the turn of the teachers.

The state government has decided that teachers enjoy “too many holidays” and is mulling a rollback after discussions with their organisations.

State primary and secondary education minister Kanti Biswas told the Assembly on Monday that the government had definite plans to reduce the number of holidays for teachers.

But, lest the move be labelled “anti-teacher”, the government would act only after it had considered teachers’ opinion on the matter, he added.

Teachers now have 85 holidays per year; 80 of them sanctioned by the government and the other five depending on the school management.

According to the plans, the number of holidays may be brought down to 80.

The government’s plans to reduce the number of holidays, however, have evoked mixed reactions among the three-lakh-odd teachers and the associations representing them.

Though the CPM-controlled All-Bengal Teachers’ Association (ABTA) has welcomed the state government’s proposal, a number of other associations, affiliated to SUCI and Congress, have opposed it.

Schools now have 200 working days in a year and that, according to the primary and secondary education minister, is “far too few for completing the syllabus”. Besides, the change in the academic session — it now starts from May, instead of January— has, among other things, cut down the number of teaching days.

Biswas informed the Assembly that the state government had already set up committees to review the syllabi at the secondary and higher-secondary levels to reduce “the huge gap” between the two courses.

ABTA state secretariat member Prasanta Dhar said his organisation would not oppose the government plans.

But Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association general secretary Kartick Saha was in combat mode. “The state government, despite our opposition, introduced the present academic session 12 years ago,” he said.

The government’s current plans — to curtail holidays and increase the number of teaching days — had exposed its “faulty and illogical planning”, Saha added, promising to launch a series of protest programmes against the proposed move.

   

 
 
UP FOR SALE, STEAMSHIP HOUSE 
 
 
BY ANIEK PAUL
 
Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
It occupies close to 27,000 sq ft in the city’s business hub; the available office space totals around 1.1 lakh sq ft; five-storeys high, it towers above Great Eastern Hotel, from across Old Court House Street. But now, India Steamship House is up for sale.

With the real-estate market in Calcutta “still depressed”, the prime property is expected to fetch around Rs 12 crore. India Steamship House, along with a number of smaller properties, had been acquired from the K.K. Birla group by the State Bank of India, ICICI and Indian Bank for settlement of the company’s outstanding dues. The deal had been facilitated by the state finance department.

The building, and some of the other properties, are now being sold for “recovery” by the banks. Legal firm Sandersons & Morgan has been appointed for execution of the sale, while SBI is functioning as the ‘operating agency’.

The bank has set Rs 9.4 crore as the ‘reserve price’ for the property, implying that only tenders above that amount would be considered, Prasun Ghosh, partner, Sandersons & Morgan, said on Monday.

Real-estate brokers pointed out that about 65,000 sq ft of India Steamship House is “already tenanted”. Realty experts said the rented part is likely to be valued at Rs 1 crore. “The maximum price that one can expect for the freehold space — which is around 45,000 sq ft — is Rs 3,000 per sq ft. But given that there are so few interested parties, one should not expect anything more than Rs 2,500 for it,” a leading property dealer said. “What could depress the price further is the fact that the building is very old, and may require a lot of renovation.”

The demand for property in central Calcutta has sharply declined for want of parking space. “The commercial properties now in demand are those that have their own parking space… So, there are very few takers for commercial properties in the central business district. The few still looking for space are reluctant to buy, as the rent comes to around Rs 45 per sq ft per month,” explained a broker.

Following India Steamship House to the bid-block will be Octavius Centre, in Dalhousie, with “the reserve price for the 4,000 sq ft space a shade under Rs 1 crore”.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Family at Delhi door to find missing woman

After waiting for about two months for their mother to return home from a Himachal Pradesh vacation, Debasis Datta and his sister, Debjani, have appealed to Union home minister L.K. Advani to help them find out whether she is dead or alive. Rama Datta, 46, left for Himachal Pradesh with her children and husband, Amar, and friends on October 18 and arrived there two days later. On October 25, they left Manali by a government bus to go to Rohtang Pass. Her family continued the climb but she stayed back at the base as she had trouble breathing. When the family returned one-and-a-half hours later, Rama was nowhere to be found. A search with the help of the police and the villagers proved unsuccessful. They took up the matter with the CID after coming back to Calcutta. Deputy commissioner (special), detective department, Piyush Pandey said: “We are trying our best to get more information.” “I shall try to arrange an early meeting with the home minister and the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh,” Union minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar told Metro before leaving for Delhi.

PM on 2-day visit to city

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will be in Calcutta on December 14 and 15. Vajpayee will reach Calcutta late on Thursday and stay at Raj Bhavan. The next day, he will visit Santiniketan by helicopter to attend the convocation of Visva-Bharati. Later in the afternoon, he will return to the city to inaugurate the Bengal Ambuja housing complex, Udayan, on the EM Bypass. At 4.30 pm, the Prime Minister will attend a CII conference at Netaji Indoor Stadium before leaving for Delhi in the evening.

New govt cars

The state government will soon purchase 60 new cars to meet the demands of ministers and bureaucrats by spending about Rs 2 crore. However, leader of the Opposition Atish Sinha, who has also demanded a new car, does not figure in the list. Sinha has already expressed his displeasure over the omission of his name from the list, a government official said.

CMC Coke kiosks

Two Coca-Cola kiosks were opened by mayor Subrata Mukherjee on the Calcutta Municipal Corporation premises on Monday. All the mayors-in-council and general manager, franchisee operations, Debashish Deb, and the managing director of Taratala Soft Drinks Ltd, N.R. Goenka, were present on the occasion. Bottles of Kinley mineral water and 300ml and 150 ml glasses of Coca-Cola will be sold at the kiosks.

Salt Lake security

Plainclothes policemen will be deployed in Salt Lake to stop eve-teasing. Sub-divisional police officer, Sujoy Chanda said 19 youths have already been arrested for misbehaving with school and college students.

Girl rescued

A 15-year-old girl, kidnapped from Maniktala, was rescued from Varanasi on Monday. One person was arrested in this connection. Police are looking for his associate. The girl was taken to Varanasi by Jayprakash Prajapati and Sunil Prajapati on October 12. Her parents lodged a complaint against the two youths in court, which directed the police to rescue the girl. A police team went to Varanasi and rescued the girl.    

 
 
TESTED BUT MARKED ABSENT 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
Tarun Mitra (not his real name), who came to the city from Siliguri three years ago, hoping to bag a Calcutta University (CU) degree, has now decided otherwise. The university, which recently got a five-star rating from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, has decreed that Mitra was not present at examinations of two subjects in July this year, though invigilators confirmed his presence.

Faced with what the B. Com examinee from Ananda Mohan College calls an “existential” crisis — “How can I be marked absent when officials have corroborated my presence in writing?” he asked — Mitra has now decided to pack his bags. “I have decided to study in Siliguri instead of wasting another year here,” he said, referring to North Bengal University.

Mitra’s travails started on July 9 when he went to the Bhawanipur Education Society to appear for the language papers. “I was told that the list CU had sent did not have my name,” he said. “After seeing the admit card (roll no. 8226-111-0065), the invigilators realised there was a genuine problem and were kind enough to let me write the test,” he added.

But there was one condition — he would have to go back to the university and bring an allotment letter, confirming that he was a bona fide examinee, to the examination centre within a week. Mitra did just that. Officials, who issued him the allotment letter on July 13, told Metro that an “oversight” on the part of the university had resulted in the problem. “He was a bona fide examinee and was not at fault,” a section official admitted.

But Mitra’s problems were far from over. When the results arrived in October, he found he was marked “AA (absent)” in both English and Bengali.

Mitra has, since then, made the rounds of offices and result sections but without luck. CU controller of examinations O.S. Adhikari, however, refused to comment on the incident. Officials in the results section said such “stray cases could occur” , considering the “volume” of students CU had to cope with.

   

 
 
INMATE DEATH ‘HAUNTS’ HOME 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
Anamika died two days ago at the Liluah Home for Destitute Women, denied minimum medical attention as the resident doctor was missing. Now, the 30-odd inmates of the home are spending sleepless nights, terrified that her spirit has returned to haunt them.

The fear ran high on Sunday when two inmates, Ruma Karmakar and Tusu Nath, fell ill. Both of them had to be admitted to Howrah’s Jaiswal Hospital .

“Anamika was close to her room-mates. And that is why they are still feeling her presence around them,” said an official.

According to sources, most of the inmates were present when Anamika died. Anupama Kar, the doctor, left for her home in Konnagar on Friday evening.

The state welfare department has decided to take action against her. “We will ask her to show cause, since she had done it earlier too,” said J. Sunder Shekhara, a department official.

Surprisingly, Kar did not return to her quarters on Sunday. She resumed duty on Monday.

   

 
 
MEGA ACTION PLAN FOR UPLIFT OF URBAN POOR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
In a step towards global “slum upgradation”, national and international policy-makers, development workers and community stakeholders from over 30 countries have assembled in Calcutta for the Cities Alliance Public Policy Forum meet on Sustainable Partnerships for City Development.

The Cities Alliance was launched in 1999 with the support of the World Bank and United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, and 10 governments, including France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US, to “improve the living conditions of the urban poor”.

Awareness-building of and experience-sharing with Calcuttans on “inclusive approaches to city development” are some of the main aims of the three-day conference.

At the inauguration of the meet, on Monday, municipal affairs and urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya spoke of the Private Public Partnership initiative taken by the state government “that plans to leverage private-sector investment in both establishment of new infrastructure projects, as well as management of existing infrastructure and services”.

The conference, organised in cooperation with the Department for International Development (DFID), includes site visits for the 150 delegates to Saltlec, NGOs, slums and housing projects. Simon Kenny, adviser to DFID, said: “We are looking at slums not in isolation, but as part of a city, part of the dynamic. So, we will not simply look at uplift of shanty-areas alone, but, for example, how the IT sector can impact poverty in the city.”

The DFID is also involved with the Kolkata Urban Services for Poor (KUSP) project, in association with the CMDA. The elective body has had its first meeting, and will probably take six months to formulate an action plan. The DFID is expecting to provide a grant of between “(£) 50 and 70 million” towards this project.

Many representatives have also come for “international perspectives on urban planning”.

Paolo Teixeira, municipal secretary, housing and urban development from Sao Paolo, Brazil, is one such delegate. “Calcutta and Sao Paolo have similar problems, especially in terms of size. We, thus, feel we can benefit mutually from interaction regarding urban development,” he said.

Day I of the meet included a talk on the “challenges and the vision for the future” in Calcutta, with industrialist Harshavardhan Neotia, executive officer, CMDA, Prabh Das and Prof S. Choudhuri sharing their views. On Tuesday, Indian and Southeast Asian case studies will be discussed, followed by a closer look at some “innovative” Indian projects. Workgroups on “pro-poor partnerships to influence city policy” also figure on the day’s agenda. The final day will focus on “possibilities in Calcutta and West Bengal”.

   

 
 
BIMAN IN ALLIES’ LINE OF FIRE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
For Biman Bose, it could be stormy sailing at a Left Front meeting tomorrow with two allies — the CPI and the RSP — reaching for his jugular over the controversial Prevention of Organised Crime Act that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was forced to shelve.

The two allies are sore with the CPM which recently met partner Forward Bloc to discuss the anti-crime Act but did not invite the CPI and the RSP.

Tomorrow’s meeting is also expected to discuss the appointment of eminent lawyer and former parliamentarian Balai Roy as advocate-general. The post fell vacant after the government advised Naranarayan Gooptu to quit.

Bhattacharjee, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas and Front chairman Bose met Bloc leader Ashok Ghosh at the CPM headquarters a few days ago where the CPM leaders explained their stand on the proposed Act. After that, Ghosh withdrew his critical remarks.

Officially, however, the anti-crime Act does not figure on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting. But it is almost certain that the RSP and the CPI will raise the issue because they think the CPM had left them out of the meeting to drive a wedge between the Front allies.

However, Bose, Biswas, and Bhattacharjee are expected to try to stick to the carefully-crafted script for tomorrow’s meeting which will most probably seek to emphasise the style of functioning of Bhattacharjee’s government, grassroots-level performance of the Front and a few related issues.

All the three partners — Forward Bloc, RSP and CPI — had complained that there was hardly any unity among them at the grassroots level, though the Front leaders from Calcutta were claiming there was.

“Bhattacharjee held a Cabinet meeting a couple of days ago to discuss his plans on the proposed Act with his Cabinet colleagues. But he had not explained the Act to the Front leaders. We are still in the dark about it. Naturally, we may ask Bhattacharjee to elaborate his plans about the proposed Act during tomorrow’s meeting,” a senior CPI leader said.

The CPI had refused to comment on the proposed Act on the basis of a note given to them by CPM leaders a few days back.

   

 
 
SCHOOL BILL GIVES GOVT MORE TEETH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
Amid loud protests from the Opposition benches and a CPI member, the Assembly today passed the West Bengal School Service Commission Second Amendment Bill, empowering the government to stop financial aid and derecognise schools which would refuse to appoint teachers recommended by the commission.

School education minister Kanti Biswas, who tabled the Bill, pleaded that the amendment was a necessity as many schools were ignoring recommendations of the regional school service commissions while appointing teachers. The West Bengal Central School Service Commission and the West Bengal Regional School Service Commission were set up in 1997.

With the available infrastructure, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the commissions to prepare panels for recruiting assistant teachers against short-term vacancies in the secondary schools, Biswas said.

The minister also cited a court case in which Calcutta High Court had directed that if the recommended candidate was not appointed within 14 days, the secondary board should derecognise the school and the state government should stop the grant-in-aid to the school. The judgment was upheld by a division bench headed by the high court chief justice.

Today, CPI member Purnendu Sengupta joined the Congress and Trinamul Congress MLAs in questioning why the students or the teaching and non-teaching staff should be penalised for a school’s fault. Sengupta said the government could initiate steps against the managing committees, which flouted the government guideline.

Trinamul leader Sougata Roy alleged that the school service commissions were “in practice the extensions of CPM offices. People owing allegiance to the CPM comprise the commissions. There is no reason to believe that right candidates are chosen for the posts of teachers”.

Arunabha Ghosh of the Trinamul and Congress’ Asit Mitra called the Bill “draconian”.

It would only hit the students and the teachers of the schools concerned

   
 

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