Turf tussle over Maidan tent
Spice ‘snag’ robs CalTel of lakhs
Cash call in Gabbar return
Full stop: Smoke and spit at own risk
The City Diary
No confidence in Front motion
Patience key to payback, says Asim
Gangs shatter Pailan peace
Now, documents go digital
11 clinics booked for scan misuse

 
 
TURF TUSSLE OVER MAIDAN TENT 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
Whose Maidan is it anyway? The territorial tussle over the city’s greens has taken an intriguing turn, with the army and the police refusing to yield an inch over a club of contention.

The case of the Hindusthan Mitra Club, which has been asked to pack up and leave the Maidan by the army, got rolling in Calcutta High Court on Wednesday. With the army treating the Maidan as its own property, but the police laying claim to large stretches, the status of the greens could be decided in court.

The Hindusthani Club came into being in 1948. Two years later, it set up a tent — no permanent structure was allowed on the Maidan for security reasons — and changed its name to Hindusthan Mitra Club. In December 2000, the army served a notice on the club, asking it to fold up its tent, as the space was not being utilised for outdoor games.

Earlier this month, the club moved the high court against the directive and made Calcutta Police a party, as the force is in charge of ensuring the rule of law on the Maidan. Joint standing counsel Debasish Kar Gupta, appearing on behalf of the police, argued that the army had “sole control over only two of the three zones” of the Maidan.

“The red zone comprises Victoria Memorial and Fort William, the blue zone comprises areas of the Maidan adjoining the red zone, while the yellow zone, where most of the club tents are situated, takes up the rest of the Maidan,” he said.

Drawing upon documents from the pre-Independence period, he stressed the point that “the Union government and the army were in sole charge of the red and blue zones”, but “the yellow zone was under the control of the state government and Calcutta Police”.

It was the Bengal government which maintained order on the Maidan, Kar Gupta claimed. “It was bound by only one condition, not changing the landscape of the Maidan by erecting buildings… These rules continue to govern the Maidan, so the army has no right to ask any club to remove its tent,” he added.

The GOC, Eastern Command, however, has a different take. It’s more a question of security, with the Eastern Command headquarters situated on the Maidan, said army officials. “The area surrounding Fort William is also a protected place and we have to ensure security for national monuments like Victoria Memorial and Shahid Minar,” they added.

The army vs police case has pushed ajar a door of opportunity for what most town planners have been proposing as an alternative to the proposed Parkomat-II on Lindsay Street: A proper parking plaza where the Maidan Market now stands. The Corporation has, till now, dismissed this suggestion, saying that it’s army land where no construction will be allowed.

   

 
 
SPICE ‘SNAG’ ROBS CALTEL OF LAKHS 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
The private vs public battle for the Calcutta airwaves has begun. A fortnight after Calcutta Telephones launched its mobile services, it was forced to forego “revenue running into millions” because of “a hitch”, allegedly caused by Spice.

Calls from CalTel lines were reaching Spice-served mobile lines, without being registered on BSNL meters. Frustrated at being “cheated”, BSNL chose to hit back, blocking its subscribers’ access to Spice lines, forcing a truce within 72 hours of the wires being crossed.

Though senior Bharti Mobitel officials — Spice being the company’s brand-name of cell service in Calcutta – blamed the trouble on an “inadvertent technical problem”, BSNL officials rubbished the claim.

“Whatever be the reason, it couldn’t possibly be inadvertent… How come Spice did not lose any revenue during that period?” demanded a senior BSNL technocrat.

Bharti Mobitel CEO Deepak Gulathi, however, stuck to the tech trouble line. “Such problems keep occurring. We are in the process of changing the switching technology from Nokia to Siemens over the weekend, which has caused the problem… We are even ready to sit with BSNL officials to discuss how we can compensate for their loss over the said period,” Gulathi said on Wednesday, adding that “partners who would be working in the same field for years” could not afford to carry on such battles.

CalTel, however, was not buying the argument. The problem began on Saturday evening but, with offices being closed for the weekend, BSNL woke up to the problem on Monday. “Before the first half of Monday was over, our offices had been besieged by complaints from PCO owners that no call to Spice-users was registering on their meters,” a BSNL official said. A quick check of calls from other CalTel lines to Spice numbers confirmed the problem. “Every call that was being made showed up zero meter-reading,” the official added.

“Discreet requests” made to Bharti Mobitel by BSNL officials failed to yield results. It was then that BSNL thought of striking back. The more modern exchanges were alerted and an “over-ruling command” was used to rectify the problem wherever possible.

“But the losses kept mounting from exchanges still using older technology,” said officials. The BSNL top brass then decided to hit Spice where it hurt — blocking every CalTel subscriber’s access to the private operator.

“We took the drastic step around 4.30 pm on Tuesday. We were left with no other option, as efforts to initiate dialogue with Bharti failed to take off,” a BSNL official said.

By 8 pm, calls from Calcutta Telephones to Spice were back on the meter beam and being billed. A truce had been declared in the airwaves war.

   

 
 
CASH CALL IN GABBAR RETURN 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
It was not his pregnant wife, but the lure of six more contracts to kill that brought Mohammad Rashid Alam, alias Gabbar, back to Calcutta.

He badly needed the money to keep his gang going, Gabbar confessed during interrogation, which started on Tuesday night and was continuing till late on Wednesday.

But Gabbar has shown no sign of cracking, say the officials interrogating him. He even asked some of his interrogators to join his gang if they felt they were under-paid. “I will send you to Mumbai,” he promised.

Deputy commissioner, central, Zulfiquar Hasan, admitted that Gabbar was proving “a hard nut to crack... He is not volunteering any information on himself,” he said. “But we are lucky to have got him before he went on another contract-killing spree,” Hasan added.

Officer-in-charge of Hare Street police station Ratanlal Mukherjee echoed his boss. “I have never faced such a criminal in my life. He never twitched a muscle while facing our questions and kept on bragging about his flashy lifestyle,” he said.

Investigators are now looking for Gabbar’s brother-in-law, Bikash Gomes, who is wanted for two murders in Jorasanko and Tiljala. “Apparently, Gomes helped him take refuge in Gold Star Club,” Hasan said.

Also figuring high on the police hunt is a well-known footballer of the Kankurgachhi area. “This man knew Gabbar’s real identity. He told Bablu Sengupta, the club member arrested along with Gabbar, to arrange shelter for him,” a senior official said, refusing to disclose the footballer’s name as it would hamper investigations.

Residents of Kankurgachhi are still to get over the fact that their club gave refuge to a dreaded criminal. “We knew him as Karan, a promoter,” a resident said, adding that Gabbar, was popular with the local youths.

“He arranged a blood donation camp in the area a couple of weeks ago and distributed fruits among the donors. He promised that he would help us build a better clubhouse,” a member of the club admitted on Wednesday.

Club members realise that their patrons were well aware of Gabbar’s real identity. Hasan said: “We are looking for three other club members who helped Gabbar during his stay in Kankurgachhi. We will also instruct jail warders not to allow mobile phones into his cell.”

   

 
 
FULL STOP: SMOKE AND SPIT AT OWN RISK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
An unprecedented double-barrelled legislation was passed in the Assembly on Wednesday, making smoking and spitting a cognisable offence in Calcutta and the rest of Bengal. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, himself a heavy smoker, said his government would deal with public smokers and spitters with a heavy hand. “There will be no laxity in implementation,” Bhattacharjee said at Writers’ Buildings.

The West Bengal Prohibition of Smoking and Spitting and Protection of Health of Non-Smokers and Minors Bill was unanimously passed by the House, but not before Opposition members raised a few issues related to its implementation.

The Bill bans smoking and sale of cigarettes and bidis and chewing of gudakhu, gul (tobacco powder), pan masala, zarda, khaini, gutkha and snuff in public places .

Earlier, seeking provision of alternatives to smokers, Saugata Roy (Trinamul Congress) pointed out that there should be an arrangement for smoking rooms in certain public places, like public offices and court buildings, where staff and visitors spend long hours. Even educational institutions and libraries should have secluded rooms on the same reasons.

Roy sought that the 10-metre demarcation (originally 100 metres in the draft Bill) around educational institutions for the storing, selling or distribution of tobacco products be dropped. “Some roads in the city have schools in a row. A large number of shops would have to close down,” he reasoned.

Pointing out that health minister Surya Kanta Mishra, who introduced the Bill, was himself a smoker, Abdul Mannan (Congress) doubted whether the provisions would actually be enforced. “The chief minister, the health minister and several other chain-smoking ministers should follow the new rules and set an example.”

Discussion on the Bill extended from the allotted 30 minutes to over an hour. Speaker H.A. Halim rejected objections raised by Opposition members about the need to table the Bill now, when a final ruling was pending in the Supreme Court.

The chief minister told mediapersons later: “Neither am I nor are you above the law.” Asked whether smoking zones would be set up, he replied: “Let’s implement the law first. There might be some provisions later.”

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Wall collapses on 12-year-old girl

A 12-year-old girl, Seema Das, was killed and many more injured when a wall collapsed on S.P. Banerjee Road at Alambazar, in Baranagar, on Wednesday. Police said the incident occurred around 8 am when Seema, along with a few others, was drawing water from a tap. All the injured persons were taken to Baranagar State General Hospital where Seema died. Later, local people demanded proper drinking water facilities in the area. The councillor intervened and promised to look into the matter.

Fog hits train services

Train services from Howrah and Sealdah were delayed on Wednesday due to heavy fog, which reduced visibility and made it difficult for drivers to spot the signals. Eastern Railway sources said passengers of both long-distance and local trains were affected.

Missing girl

Parents of 10-year-old Shilpa Pal will request Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to help them find their missing daughter when he visits Shantiniketan. Shilpa, a student of Class III of Pathabhavan of Visva-Bharati, has been missing from her residence since November 20. Her parents have knocked on several doors but without any success. They suspect that she might have been sent to Mumbai. On the basis of their complaints, the police made two arrests but have not been able to track her down.

Hotel strike

A section of the employees of Indian Tourism Development Corporation observed a day’s token strike at Hotel Airport Ashok on Wednesday. However, normal services were not hampered.

Metro stairs

Metro rail authorities are now considering construction of mechanised staircases instead of escalators. A spokesperson of the railway said the final decision will be taken soon. About 20,000 to 25,000 passengers use the stations every day.

Dacoits arrested

Seven youths, wanted on charges of dacoity, were arrested from their hideout in Mograhat, South 24-Parganas, on Wednesday. Police said some stolen valuables were recovered from them.

Held for theft

Two criminals, identified as Paritosh Karmakar and Farid Ahmed, were arrested in Sonarpur on charges of stealing two-wheelers in the city.

Trains for Kurla

The South Eastern Railway has decided to run five pairs of superfast special weekly trains between December 16 and January 15, 2002. The train will leave Howrah every Tuesday at 11.15 pm, reaching Kurla every Thursday at 7.40 am. On the return journey, the train will leave Kurla at 8.20 pm every Sunday, reaching Howrah at 4.45 am every Tuesday. The train will have one AC-II tier, two AC III-tier, seven sleeper class and two general class coaches, other than pantry car facilities. The winter special will run in addition to 10 pairs of Kurla-bound superfast winter specials announced earlier. Booking is already available from all computerised reservation centres.    

 
 
NO CONFIDENCE IN FRONT MOTION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
The verdict — 73: 60 against the motion.

The Left Front’s no-confidence call against the Trinamul Congress-led civic board was grounded for the third time on Wednesday. Leader of the Opposition Nirmal Mukherjee’s motion against CMC chairman Anil Mukherjee was rejected in the civic House. A Left Front member did not turn up because of illness but his absence did not matter because of the margin of the majority.

The result poured water on the CPM’s hopes of gaining support of 15 Congress councillors. Rather, violating the party whip, nine Congress councillors who had joined the Trinamul Congress soon after the formation the Trinamul-BJP board in the CMC, voted in favour Trinamul-led board.

The House on Wednesday was presided over by Trinamul councillor Jyoti Prasanna Das Thakur. CPM’s Nirmal Mukherjee contested that chairman Anil Mukherjee had “no moral right” to preside over the civic House as he had resigned from his post in protest against the mayor’s stand of supporting the state government’s eviction drive on the banks of Tolly’s Nullah two months ago.

“Anil Mukherjee announced at a press conference that he had submitted his resignation letter to the mayor,”said the Left Front Opposition leader.

Countering the Opposition claim, mayor Subrata Mukherjee said it was for the first time that a no-confidence motion had been brought on the basis of a newspaper report. He demanded a copy of the resignation letter from the Left Front in support of the motion brought by their leader. To this, CPI leader and former mayor-in-council member Chanchal Ghosh said Anil Mukherjee did not send rejoinders to newpaper offices to date against the report.

The mayor said the no-confidence motion had been brought by the CMC Left Front to cock a snook at chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who had advised his party councillors “not to disturb a gentleman like Anilda”. Bhattacharjee said this at the inauguration of Parkomat at Rawdon Street, Mukherjee recalled.

“They are trying to prove that the CPM is not governed by the chief minister,” he said.

Leather complex

Work on the common effluent treatment plant (CETP) of the proposed Calcutta Leather Complex (CLC) will begin in February, signalling the final stages of completion of the 1000-acres facility. “We are going to decide on the tender bids on December 20,” said cottage and small-scale industries minister Bangsagopal Chowdhury on Wednesday.

The CLC is coming up at Karaidanga, on the eastern fringes of the city. Progress has also been made in getting the infrastructure around the CLC planned.

Both the state government and the promoters of the CLC, M.L. Dalmiya and Company, are under a Supreme Court order to get the CLC operative by February 2002.

   

 
 
PATIENCE KEY TO PAYBACK, SAYS ASIM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
Investors duped by unscrupulous non-banking financial companies in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal will have to bide their time before getting their money back, the government said on Wednesday .

“The process of securing the relevant court orders, so that the money invested by the people can be returned, is a long-drawn one. I appeal to the victims to hold their patience,” said finance minister Asim Dasgupta at Writers’ Buildings.

To date, Dasgupta said, 17 firms had been raided and 41 arrests made. The bank accounts and property of the firms, as well as the owners, have been either sealed or attached.

The government and police have been working with the RBI and Sebi officials in a bid to stem the mushrooming of illegal investment firms in the state. “We have asked the police and the small savings directorate not to spare even the weekly markets in the rural areas, where these operators distribute handbills,” Dasgupta added.

According to RBI and Sebi estimates, about Rs 100 crore have been collected by these firms from people lured into investing money at very high interest rates. Dasgupta reiterated the government’s intention of bringing in laws to tackle the situation. The government is studying similar laws enacted by Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

“I can assure you that ours will be tougher,” the finance minister said.

   

 
 
GANGS SHATTER PAILAN PEACE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
Alarmed at the rise in gang violence at Pailan, on the southern fringes of the city, the police on Wednesday beefed up security in the area.

The crackdown came after residents of the area sought protection at the CID headquarters at Bhabani Bhavan.

Rival gangs reportedly clashed on Tuesday night, with bombs, swords and sophisticated firearms, that upset thepeace in the Pailan neighbourhood, and made the residents scurry for police help.

When the local police arrived on the spot, they realised they were outnumbered. Soon, reinforcements were rushed in, led by additional police superintendent Rajesh Singh.

The force then charged at the criminals once again. It was then that the goons escaped into the marshy village fields.

Singh later said 52 criminals had been rounded up and a large quantity of arms and ammunition seized.

Investigations revealed that rival crimelords Shankar and Sagar Manna, and their groups, clashed over a lucrative industrial plot left ‘vacant’ by the death of local don Munsef Mullah.

Mullah was shot dead by one of his associates in the middle of 2001. After Munsef’s death, rival Sanat Naskar, with the help of Sagar Manna, started controlling the area.

Bishnupur police said the area is lucrative for crimelords because of the upcoming resorts, clubs and industries. By a reliable estimate, the gangs collect anywhere between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh a week as “protection money.’’

Munsef’s aides, Bhola Mir and Tarun Baidya, were lately marshalling resources to ‘re-capture’ Munsef’s territories.

Bhola and Tarun sought the help of another ganglord, Shankar of Thakurpukur, in their clash against Sagar.

On Tuesday night, Bhola, Tarun and Shankar bombed territories held by Sagar and his cohorts. They also fired at Sagar’s boys, who were sitting at a roadside kiosk.

Pailan turned into a battlefield as Sagar’s boys retaliated.

“The area echoed with the sound of bombs and bullets. We telephoned everywhere for help,’’ said Sanjoy Halder, a local resident. Halder, along with a dozen others, had arrived at the CID headquarters in Bhabani Bhavan to seek protection from the police.

“We have time and again complained to the local police station against Bhola, Rashid, Tarun, Sagar and Shankar. They roam freely in the area and, yet, the police claim they have no clue to their whereabouts,’’ said Subir Naskar, another resident.

Additional police superintendent Singh claimed that his men were combing the area for the goons. “We are working on some clues and we hope to nab them at the earliest,’’ Singh added. The residents, however, were terrified of the continuing violence. “During the night, it becomes virtually impossible to venture out,” said one of them.

Balcony collapse: Three people, including a woman and a child, were injured when the balcony of a police quarters on Amherst Street collapsed on Tuesday. Police said that the flat belongs to Munsi Kalam, sub-inspector of Shyampukur police station. The injured were admitted to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital.

   

 
 
NOW, DOCUMENTS GO DIGITAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
If government-run printing presses remind you of question papers or legal documents in stodgy print, think again. Saraswaty Press has become the first government press to diversify into the world of CD-ROMs and digital maps.

Forced by a slowdown in the data-entry and data-processing business and, to top it all, petty rivalry, the Dunlop unit of the press — taken over by the state government in the 70s after running into losses — is now into manufacturing and selling CD-ROMs, digitalising maps and documents and making electronic photo-ID cards for voters.

The press, which is one of the few success stories in the dismal field of public undertakings in the state, is now handling Union and state government projects, say public undertakings and industrial reconstruction department officials. “It is even handling CD-ROM projects for the state election commission’s office and the Union ministry of communications,” a senior departmental official added.

However, the government press’ foray into the IT world was more of a “forced decision”, officials admitted. “A small entrepreneur can afford to keep a profit margin as low as 30 paise for each page of data-processing,” managing director of Saraswaty Press, Subodh Majumdar told Metro. “Being a government agency, we cannot modify our price-structure in accordance with the demands of the market,” Majumdar admitted. Besides, the press was a big unit, employing hundreds, like other government-run units, officials said.

The decision to move into a field where there was “very little chance of unfair competition” was prompted by these factors, Majumdar added.

   

 
 
11 CLINICS BOOKED FOR SCAN MISUSE 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
A large number of clinics and nursing homes in Calcutta and the districts are operating ultrasonography (USG) machines without licences, officials in the state health department admit.

The admission follows summons on Tuesday by the Supreme Court on the health secretaries of 11 states, including West Bengal, asking them to report on the steps taken on the implementation of the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994.

“We have initiated cases against 11 such centres operating in Calcutta,” Dr B.R. Manna, joint director of health services, told Metro. The cases were registered at the high court on Wednesday. “These centres have not applied for licences, despite notices and repeated announcements in the media.”

Health department sources said they had traced 107 USG machines in Calcutta alone, and only 72 had licences or had applied for them. The Supreme Court had, in 1999, ordered all states to comply with the provisions of the Act.

Based on a petition filed by a non-government organisation, which said that USG machines were being used for illegal sex determination, the apex court had ordered all states to submit quarterly reports on the action taken to implement the provisions of the Act.

On Tuesday, a division bench of the court summoned the health secretaries of 11 states to appear personally on January 29 to explain the steps taken. The order gained importance after the latest national census revealed abnormal male-female sex ratios in several states in the country, mainly resulting from female foeticide.

The bench expressed doubts about the willingness of officials to implement the provisions of the Act. That the authorities were yet to process the majority of USG licence applications, let alone send inspectors to check whether any irregularity was taking place, corroborate these views.

“The chief medical officers, who are the licensing authorities in the districts, have not submitted their quarterly reports to the health department,” an official admitted. Health secretary Asim Barman, however, said the state was complying with the Supreme Court order.

   
 

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