Wanted for a dozen deaths
Political cover in a life of crime
Teachers brace for bleak Xmas
Free flow to battle the bottle better
The City Diary
One-roof cure centre for eye ailments
Church funds plea dropped
Net spread for fraud firms
Music for your ears, at your fingertips
India base for global media investment major

 
 
WANTED FOR A DOZEN DEATHS 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Dec. 11: 

Sleuths link supari spree to Gabbar graph

Shaking a leg on the dance floor or pulling the trigger from point-blank range — Mohammad Rashid Alam, better known as Gabbar, is equally at ease with both. The city police’s prize catch in its crime crackdown, the smartly-turned-out 26-year-old is both a showman and a cold-blooded criminal.

After interrogating him through Monday night, cops put Gabbar down as the “pioneer of supari killing, Mumbai-style”, in Calcutta. “He killed three people in the past six months and has taken the contract for six more murders, for Rs 15 lakh each. The targets include some businessmen and all those who hired him are based in Calcutta,” said Zulfiquar Hasan, deputy commissioner of police, central division.

“Preliminary investigations point to Gabbar’s involvement in 22 cases, including 12 murders,” added Hasan, who had formed a special team immediately after the murder of Sanjiv Jhulka, alias Bunty, in May this year, to net “one of India’s most wanted killers”. His trademark: Firing from point-blank range and a life in the fast lane, laced with wine and women.

Going by police records, Gabbar was first arrested in 1994 in the Park Street police station area on charges of rioting. “His crime graph rose fast and furious. In 1995, he committed six crimes, including murder, extortion and kidnapping. He was arrested for the last time on August 30, 2000, for attacking policemen in the Dum Dum area. He was granted bail in January 2001,” Hasan said.

Out on bail, Gabbar launched “a large-scale extortion racket” in the Park Street, Shakespeare Sarani, Taltala, Topsia, Entally, Beniapukur and Rajabazar areas. “After killing Bunty, he fled Calcutta. He remained on the run for over a month as he gave us the slip in Ajmer, Delhi, Patna, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Siliguri,” said Hasan.

Realising they were up aga-inst a “real smooth operator”, the sleuths engaged in Operation Gabbar decided to try “special tactics”. Hasan explains: “We realised that Gabbar’s main weakness was women. So, when we learnt that he was slipping in and out of the city, we decided to track him with the help of his female friends,” said Hasan.

Acting on information passed on by some girls, police had been raiding the Beniapukur, Park Street, Topsia and Tiljala areas for the past three weeks. Finally, the cops cornered Gabbar in Gold Star club at Kankurgachhi. The seven-month chase was over within a few minutes.

“Gabbar had, apparently, come back to Calcutta to see his wife, who is expecting their first child. He would flit from one hideout to another, waiting for an opportunity to visit his wife at their Taltala home,” said a sleuth.

With the arrest of Gabbar, the police are poised to re-open a number of “unsolved” murder cases. “What we have realised is that Gabbar changed the style of murder operations in the city. It was just along the lines of the Mumbai underworld — start with a supari and end in a daring daylight shootout from close quarters,” explained Hasan. “So, we have decided to review all those cases over the past few years that seem to bear the Gabbar mark.”

Topping the list of review cases is the murder of a Parsee woman, shot down on the morning of June 25, in Mangoe Lane, by two youths on a motorcycle.

   

 
 
POLITICAL COVER IN A LIFE OF CRIME 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Dec. 11: 
A victorious CPM MLA from a Calcutta constituency leads a procession through the bylanes of central Calcutta soon after the result of the May 2001 Assembly polls. Leading the way, with the MLA, is a 26-year-old youth on a motorcycle. A photographer steps up to click the MLA who says: “Not now, please.”

The photographer agrees. The boy on the bike whips out a revolver, fires a round in the air and rides off. The MLA is relieved and says that the photographer can now click away.

A life of crime under political shadow — that’s what it was for Mohammad Rashid Alam, alias Gabbar, before Monday night, when he was arrested from a Kankurgachhi club. The club was frequented by associates of a prominent Trinamul Congress MLA from an east-central Calcutta constituency. And three years ago, Gabbar was arrested from a rooftop on Alimuddin Street, the lane that lends its address to the CPM headquarters.

Monday’s arrest has changed all that. No leader of either the CPM or the Trinamul would comment on the arrest. A CPM MLA from a south-central constituency raised the issue in the Assembly on Tuesday, blaming an Opposition MLA for sheltering Gabbar. But the one pointing the accusing finger on Tuesday was at one time known to have provided a protective umbrella for the 26-year-old criminal.

Committing his first crime when he was barely 20, Gabbar seemed to have learned the art of political tightrope-walking very fast. The area where he grew up— the Taltala-Ripon Street-Park Street belt — switched political loyalties often.

In 1995, with three attempt-to-murder cases and one assassination charge under his belt, Gabbar caught the eye of local politicians.

A prominent Congress MLA and his councillor brother soon took him under their fold, playing him against Nadim, Gudda, Chikna Raju and Manwar, then under the Left Front banner. Gabbar was content under opposition patronage till 1998, when he was arrested from the Alimuddin Street house rooftop, signalling a switch of sides.

Gabbar remained in the ruling party’s patronage till May 2001, when he killed Bunty on the Bypass and fled town.

He returned to the patronage of the Trinamul MLA who backs Gold Star club.

   

 
 
TEACHERS BRACE FOR BLEAK XMAS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 11: 
A bleak Christmas and New Year awaits the staff and teachers of Anglo-Indian schools in the city, many of whom are run by the Christian Missionaries.

The state government has decided not to release funds for paying the dearness allowance (DA) of teachers and non-teaching staff of nearly 70 Anglo-Indian English medium schools, most of whom are located in Calcutta and its adjoining areas.

As a result, the schools will not be able to pay a bulk of the salaries to teachers and the non-teaching staff before Christmas.

The government’s decision to hold funds will inconvenience nearly 4,000 employees, including nearly 1,500 teachers, belonging to the Christian community, who are working in the institutions. “It almost spoils the festive mood,” complained a teacher.

Concerned with the development, leaders of the Association of Teachers of Anglo-Indian Schools in Calcutta met the officials of state Anglo-Indian school education directorate on Tuesday and urged them to take necessary measures to release the funds as soon as possible.

Sources in the education department, however, said the government decision to block the funds for the Anglo-Indian schools follows complaints about the failure on the part of such institutions in removing certain irregularities in the pay-scales of the teachers and employees. “We have been noticing such irregularities for a long time and yet nothing was being done about it,” said an official.

“We are concerned about the manner in which the government is delaying the release of funds to the schools. We cannot allow it to prevent the Christian staff members from availing the full payment of their salaries before the festival,” said Dilip Bhattacharya, senior teacher of La Martiniere for Boys and general secretary of the association.

Even though private bodies, mainly Christian missionaries, run the Anglo-Indian schools, the state government had been practising the system of paying dearness allowance to their teachers and non-teaching staff for years.

   

 
 
FREE FLOW TO BATTLE THE BOTTLE BETTER 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Dec. 11: 
Here’s to the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s less-stringent liquor laws. From Alcoholics Anonymous.

The government decision to give licences to more bars and foreign liquor retail stores in the city and its suburbs and scrapping dry days has found support from unlikely quarters: the Double A.

Striving to help alcoholics back on their feet throughout the world, Alcoholics Anonymous feels the free flow “makes much more sense” than creating a dry state like Gujarat. “It will, in fact, help in our fight against alcoholism,” say AA trustees in town, for their all-India conference.

The meet is returning to the city after eight years and AA members welcome the fact that the government’s attitude has definitely changed for the better. “Denying the problem is the worst possible start to tackling alcoholism,” feels the organisation, which has around 500 members in its Calcutta chapter.

For one, the decision to do away with dry days implies fewer deaths from consumption of illicit liquor, they explain. The recent government-held lottery for awarding licences to more bars and retail shops is also “not a bother”. Making liquor available to people who would like to down a peg or two in a bar nearer home or buy a bottle from the neighbourhood liquor outlet does not necessarily translate into more alcoholics, feels the AA. “There’s a distinction between alcoholism, which is a disease like any other, and consumption of alcohol,” a senior AA trustee explains.

A marketing person for most of his life — which involved several visits to dry states like Gujarat — he refuses to believe that difficulty to procure alcohol translates into a drop in the number of alcoholics. “I managed to stay wet in the permanently ‘dry’ state,” said the man, who would prefer to remain anonymous.

As a means to improve its interface with government wings, the AA has already approached Calcutta Municipal Corporation with suggestions to extend a helping hand to its employees. “We have asked mayor Subrata Mukherjee to provide us with an opportunity to work from the borough offices,” an AA trustee said.

The government agencies, however, could do more in spreading awareness, senior AA trustees said.“Very few people recognise that alcoholism is a disease… And the government has not succeeded in spreading this message,” they added.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Trains disrupted in Howrah, Sealdah

Train services were disrupted on the Sealdah and Howrah sections of Eastern Railway on Tuesday. On the Sealdah section, services were hit from 5.45 am to 6.45 am between Dum Dum and Naihati due to an overhead power failure. An overhead mast dashed against the derailed wagon of a goods train on the Titagarh yard line. Services were disrupted again from 9.32 am to 10.30 am between Naihati and Bandel when passengers at Hooghly Ghat protested the late running of trains. On the Howrah division, train services were disrupted from 9.47 am to 10.32 am due to failure of overhead power supply.

Bomb scare on Delhi flight

A Delhi-bound Jet Airways plane was held up at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport for three hours on Tuesday after a bomb scare. According to airport police superintendent O. P. Gupta, an anonymous caller rang up the Delhi office of the airlines to claim that a bomb had been placed in the plane, coming from Calcutta. Security officials searched the luggage of the passengers, who later boarded another aircraft.

Writers’ fire

A fire broke out in the audit section of the finance department, on the first floor of Writers’ Buildings, on Tuesday morning. The fire was doused in 10 minutes.

Court closure

Calcutta High Court will remain closed from December 24 to January 6, 2002, for Christmas. A full court meeting of the judges decided to extend the Christmas holiday from January 1 to January 6.

Bail rejected

A division bench of Calcutta High Court on Tuesday rejected the bail petitions of Subhasish Sinha (husband), Pronab Sinha (father-in-law) and Annapura (mother-in-law) in connection with Smritee’s death in 1999. Smritee and her two-year-old daughter were found dead with burn injuries at the Chinsurah residence of the Sinhas. Neighbours complained that Smritee was tortured for not being able to provide a diamond ring to her husband.

Magician lynched

A man was lynched at Khalisa, near Durganagar, in Dum Dum, on Tuesday morning. Residents said the man, pretending to be a magician, was beaten to death as he had tried to molest a housewife.

Mishap death

A 35-year-old unidentified person was killed when a lorry overturned on Chittaranjan Avenue, in Jorasanko, early on Tuesday. Police said the vehicle, loaded with tomatoes, hit the divider and overturned.

Jawans injured

Two CRPF jawans were injured on Tuesday when their van collided with a luxury bus on Strand Road, near Babughat.

Cheat held

A BJP worker was arrested in Asokenagar, North 24-Parganas, for taking bribes amounting to Rs 1 lakh from locals, assuring them jobs in the telephone department.    

 
 
ONE-ROOF CURE CENTRE FOR EYE AILMENTS 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 11: 
Little Parama’s parents feared for their child’s future as the six-year-old struggled with a serious sight disorder. With lazy eyes, or amblyopia, robbing her of 50 per cent vision, the outlook was gloomy for Parama, to say the least. Two years on, her condition has been corrected and studies are no longer an insurmountable task. Her parents are relieved.

Seven-year-old Avik Chakraborty needed surgery to get his squint corrected and today, he is completely cured. Like Parama and Avik, countless others have benefited from the “state-of-the-art ophthalmic relief under one roof” provided by Sunetra, a non-profit-making, self-financing eye institute at Survey Park, Santoshpur.

Set up by the husband-wife team of ophthalmic surgeon Amitava Biswas and optometrist Neena Biswas in 1995, this eye-care facility is fast becoming Calcutta’s answer to Chennai’s Sankara Nethralaya, albeit on a smaller scale.

“During my 13-year stay in South India, first at CMCH, Vellore, and then at Sankara Nethralaya, I noticed people travelling out of West Bengal for medical treatment almost at the drop of a hat, often quite needlessly, much to the stupefaction of the medical fraternity down south,” observes Dr Biswas, director of the centre.

“I wanted to put all the best practices from my days at Vellore, Chennai and AIIMS, Delhi, together and establish a service-oriented, comprehensive eye-care centre to address the needs of the people of Calcutta and adjoining areas,” explains Dr Biswas, who has trained under renowned eye surgeon Dr S.S. Badrinath.

Keeping in mind the limitations of a small clinic, on December 1, 1997, Sunetra was brought under the administration of Calcutta Eye Research Foundation, a registered charitable trust managed by a board of trustees.

Team Sunetra, which also includes ophthalmic surgeon T.K. Samanta and optometrist A.K. Mondal, besides others, conducted a free check-up camp for the 300-odd children of Udayan on Children’s Day last year. “The kids were examined for amblyopia, ocular motility disorders, vitamin-deficiency syndromes, external infections and retinal disorders,” recalls Dr Neena Biswas.

“We do at least one free check-up clinic a month, and the revenue foregone towards treatment of indigent patients last year amounted to Rs 10.63 lakh,” declares Dr Biswas, who “pioneered multifocal foldable intraocular lens (IOL) implant to treat cataract patients in eastern India”.

Phacoemulsification, glaucoma surgeries using anti-cancer medicines and cataract extraction in eyes with uveitis are some of the other areas of speciality for Dr Biswas, who frequently conducts workshops in his clinic “to share ideas and discuss new areas of research” with fellow eye specialists.

   

 
 
CHURCH FUNDS PLEA DROPPED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 11: 
The high court on Tuesday allowed the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth to withdraw the petition against official trustee, government of West Bengal, and Armenian social worker Max Gaulstaun. However, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh rapped the petitioners for seeking to restrain Gaulstaun from attending the Armenian Church council meet. He also allowed the respondents and the petitioners to file a fresh application.

The petition, which sought to restrain Gaulstaun from attending the church council meeting and taking part in the committee elections, was filed on November 29 by Khaitan & Co on behalf of the official trustee. The government of West Bengal, which controls the trust funds and church estates, was also made a respondent.

Gaulstaun said he would move a fresh petition on Wednesday, seeking dissolution of the council and fresh elections. The official trustee was not available for his comment.

   

 
 
NET SPREAD FOR FRAUD FIRMS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 11: 
The non-banking financial companies (NBFC) scam took a turn on Tuesday with the CID arresting a Hindustan Petroleum (HP) employee and his wife on charges of collecting money from the company staff on behalf of Citi Securities.

The arrest of Sanjib Kapur, of City Securities, had blown the lid off the chit-fund chain and put the police on the trail of other unregistered finance firms perpetrating a fraud worth crores of rupees.

Investigations revealed that the employee in the security section of HP’s Budge Budge factory had opened a branch of Citi Securities in his wife’s name at office. “He started the racket a few months ago by distributing brochures of the company and promising absurdly high returns. In this manner, he collected Rs 50 lakh within six months… We have checked records to find that 99 per cent of the depositors were HP employees. Mondal had even issued post-dated cheques to the investors. They complained once the the cheques began to bounce,’’ said deputy inspector-general, CID, V.V. Thambi.

In a continuing clampdown on NBFCs, detectives arrested Nirmal Das, an agent of Furore Housing and Finance Company Limited, from Jangipara, in Hooghly. Das had duped depositors, CID sleuths said after going through documents seized from his home and office.

On Tuesday, the police produced P.D. Chomal at Bankshal Court. Chomal, a Calcutta Stock Exchange broker, arrested for offering a trading terminal to Citi Securities, moved the high court seeking bail on “health grounds”. The court remanded him in jail custody, rejecting his bail application.

The detective department is likely to round up more brokers for alleged links with the chit funds in the coming days. Sources said, at least three more brokers have been identified. “We will soon go after the other brokers linked with the chain,” a senior officer said.

“Analysis of the documents will give the police some idea of the amount that can be recovered from the firms,” said a senior officer. “However, much appears to have been siphoned off,” he added.

“Much of the money invested in these fraud firms was unaccounted for, and may forever remain unclaimed,” another officer said.

   

 
 
MUSIC FOR YOUR EARS, AT YOUR FINGERTIPS 
 
 
MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 11: 
To set just the right mood while teens shop, grab a bite or shoot some pool, the jukebox has arrived in the city. For Rs 5, you can choose from around 5,000 international tracks, and even make a dedication.

Five outlets — Dropin on Lord Sinha Road, Megabowl in Metro Plaza, Scoop at New Empire, BQ’s on Free School Street and Top View at Vaibhav Market — have now installed QJam.

Launched by the Chennai-based Real Image Media Technologies Pvt Ltd, QJam is the “first ever touch-screen digital jukebox”, which can store up to 5,000 tracks at a time.

The music will be kept current, with the latest chartbusters being uploaded daily from Chennai. A tie-up with Charms Companion, a brand set up by VST Industries Ltd to promote the arts, brings in artistes under the Virgin Records banner. So, pop stars like J.Lo to Queen, Britney Spears to Michael Jackson to a broad selection of rock, classical, instrumental, jazz and Latin music, will be just a touch away. International singers with Sony and BMG will also be available.

Currently, the 1,500-song selection is available free, as an introductory offer. Soon, as more songs are uploaded, music enthusiasts can go through the menu and choose the song they want to hear.

They then pay Rs 5 at the cash counter of the store and be given a token bearing the code number of the chosen track. Once they insert the token, they can also record their dedication. The requests are kept in queue and played through the music system of the outlet. The selection of music will also change regularly.

“We wanted to target places where the youth spend their time. Soon we will include Hindi songs as well,” explained Rina Kakkar, brand manager, QJam. Provisions have also been made for advertising through the machines, as well as running contests. Plans include installation at bowling alleys, college canteens and entertainment centres.

Response has been “very encouraging” so far, according to QJam. “Charms is trying to increase its brand visibility and Calcutta is one of its strongest markets,” adds Kakkar. Similar units have been installed in Pune, Hyderabad and Vizag.

“We have been waiting for something like this for a long time... Not only is it fun making dedications, we can hear the songs of our choice, when we want it, without buying the whole CD,” grins Megha, a 17-year-old just about to drop in her token at Scoop.

   

 
 
INDIA BASE FOR GLOBAL MEDIA INVESTMENT MAJOR 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 11: 
Mindshare, the global media investment management company, has finally decided to launch its India operations on January 16, simultaneously in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Calcutta.

The Calcutta outfit of the $ 16.5-billion global company, with offices in 61 countries, has been created by merging the media departments of HTA, Contract and O&M. According to Andre Nair, CEO of the south Asian region of Mindshare, the company will focus on “increasing the share of a consumer’s mind” for the clients’ brands and attaining the market leader’s slot. Despite the talks of economic recession, he is bullish about the company’s prospects in India. “The GDP growth projections may have been scaled down recently, but unlike some of the other countries, the Indian economy is still growing,” he says.

Though Mumbai and Delhi will be the company’s biggest markets, Calcutta promises to be a vital business centre for Mindshare. “We expect the city to continue offering good business volume in cigarette, paints and shoes, for starters. We will remain focused to consolidate our position and will also explore new opportunities,” adds Nair.

Besides launching its India operations with a bang, the company has plans to intensify its activities in the region. “We want to use India as a base to promote our business in the region. By May 2002, we expect to have our offices in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” announces Nair.

According to the silver-haired CEO, born to a Malayali father and British mother, the competitive advantage of Mindshare will stem from economies of scale, owing to its size and understanding of both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the Indian market and its constituents. “Besides the access to WPP resources, the biggest advertisement conglomerate in the world, we are very rich in human capital. Here, too, we will get some of the best brains because of the merger. I am visiting all our offices in the country to meet the staff and translate their potential into performance,” says Nair, drawing upon 21 years of experience in the industry and a degree in psychology.

Right now, Nair and the Mindshare team are busy extracting the key findings from their 3-D research. Following the merger, the company spent over six months on this research to analyse the diversities of the fragmented Indian market. “We studied 20 product categories and 50 brands to identify the nature of relationship of consumers with various product categories, the degree of bonding with brands, extent of their exposure to various forms of media and their media habits,” he explains. The results, according to him, will help companies optimise their media spends by communicating the message to the target audience at minimum cost.

Underlining Mindshare’s commitment to its people, Nair makes it clear that the company, which has over 3,800 on its rolls worldwide, doesn’t have plans to cut its 400-strong workforce here.

   
 

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