Fear sparks security shield
Carat count robs gold glitter
Teen captive without cause
The City Diary
Old brick buildings high on heritage
Street food meet minus vendors
Jewellery stolen from temple
Daughter of labourers, child star of Delhi stage
Assets sealed in Gabbar case

Calcutta, Dec. 13: 
Suddenly, it seemed that the battlefields of Kargil had descended on the lush green lawns of the Assembly — A senior police officer posted at the state legislature on Thursday morning.

Is there a war going on here? I’ve never been frisked like this ever before in my life — Trinamul Congress MLA Monturam Pakhira, as he made his way into the House.

We have information that extremists, with the backing of Pakistan’s ISI, are operating in West Bengal; we have been forced to take special measures in the Assembly — Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to MLAs after the suicide squad attack on Parliament House .

If it could have happened in Delhi’s high-security House of Representatives, then the state Assembly is sitting on a powder keg. This is the first thought that crossed the mind of state director-general of police D.C. Vajpai, as he received the news of the attack on Parliament House shortly before noon on Thursday. He immediately called up the chief minister, briefing him about the happenings in the Capital.

And, after that, the panic buttons were pressed and heavy security deployed on a war footing. “I spoke to the police commissioner and squads of the Black Cat commandos were immediately despatched to the Assembly,” Vajpai said.

As Vajpai, along with home secretary Amit Kiran Deb, rushed there, to be followed shortly by police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty, the entire House had been sealed and those entering the premises were being frisked.

There were several firsts at the Assembly on Thursday. Let alone the MLAs, even ministers’ cars were stopped and searched. Police personnel were not spared either: senior officials were seen examining the identity cards of some plainclothesmen.

“This is no time to take chances,” said commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty. “No matter who you are, you will not be spared a security check. This is the message we have given to all officials and policemen.”

As a red alert was sounded across the state and policemen scurried to guard all vital installations, even the most optimistic of cops admitted in private that they would be “sitting ducks” against a suicide squad attack in the city.

“If such attacks can take place in Srinagar and Delhi, where security preparedness is far higher than here, we stand that much less chance to prevent it,” an official said. “Besides, there are threats from all quarters in and around the city.”

The chief minister underlined this message in the Assembly. “Organisations like the Kamtapuri Liberation Organisation and Ulfa are very active in some parts of our state. They have links with the ISI… We should also not under-estimate the PWG and the MCC, which are very active in Midnapore,” he said, adding: “Every week, we receive threats that our airport and the Rajdhani Express will be blown up… We have to stop this at all cost.”

Through the day, commandos took up positions not only in the Assembly but at the state government’s headquarters at Writers’ Buildings, the New Secretariat, Akashvani Bhavan, Doordarshan Kendra, Telephone Bhavan, Raj Bhavan and even at the Palta and Tala waterworks.

Chief secretary Sourin Roy and home secretary Amit Kiran Deb stationed themselves in the Assembly through the day, monitoring the situation from a makeshift control room.

The chief minister himself was supervising all arrangements and held a special security meeting with his senior officials. Among the places identified as vulnerable were Howrah and Sealdah stations, the airport and some government offices and establishments.

Even the authorities at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation decided to beef up security and introduce photo-identity cards for its 46,000 employees. “We have to take these measures even though it is a mammoth task,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee. “The way things are going, unless we put this chaotic place in order, it may become a soft target for extremists.”


Calcutta, Dec. 13: 
A survey of Calcutta’s jewellery shops, conducted by the Bureau of Indian Standards in collaboration with the Federation of Consumer Associations, West Bengal, has revealed that all that glitters is not gold, at least not pure gold.

About 70 per cent of the shops in the survey were selling gold ornaments that were not 22-carat pure, as was being claimed. On testing, the purity levels were found to be around 18 carats. Some of the jewellery items tested were as low as 16 carats.

Gold industry sources on Thursday said that 22 carat gold costs Rs 450 a gram, while 19 carat gold is around Rs 364.

The Bureau carried out the survey recently, simultaneous with the introduction of a “hallmarking” system of gold jewellery. The Reserve Bank of India has asked the Bureau to start this international system, by which the customer is assured of the purity of the gold.

“We bought ornaments from 22 shops in north and south Calcutta, as well as in Salt Lake and the Park Circus area, and jewellery from 15 of them were found sub-standard,” said P.K. Mullick, director (marks) in the Bureau’s eastern regional office. The ornaments, bought with funds specially allotted by the Bureau for the operation, were sent to Delhi for tests as the city, till last month, did not have such a centre.

The need to introduce hallmarking has arisen after several countries importing gold jewellery from India have complained about the standards and purity. About 80 per cent of the ornaments exported are supposed to be made in 22 carat gold.

European countries and the West Asian nations practise hallmarking. A standardising authority — in India’s case, the Bureau — issues licences to jewellery shop-owners, who are then entitled to test their ornaments at the “accreditation” centre.

Mullick said a minute laser stamp is then embossed on each piece of jewellery, guaranteeing the buyer of its purity.

“Calcutta now has a regional testing centre, which opened last month at Ideal Plaza, on Sarat Bose Road,” said Manash Mukherjee, manager (east) of the World Gold Council.

Similar surveys have been conducted in four other cities in the country. The findings have been similar. “Jewellers in Calcutta are not aware of the stringent requirements of hallmarking,” defended Bablu De, general secretary of the Swarna Shilpa Bachao Committee.

“That is why ornaments sold as 22 carat turn out to be of lesser purity when tested. Hallmarking requires every inch of an ornament to be of equal purity, even the soldering. Once the system is introduced, the situation will slowly change,” De added.


Calcutta, Dec. 13: 
Fifteen-year-old Mithun Ruidas walked free on Thursday afternoon, after having lost four precious months of his life in the darkness of prison cells — and for no apparent fault of his.

The sub-divisional judicial magistrate of Barrackpore allowed Mithun to return to his Burdwan home with his mother. He was picked up while “wandering aimlessly’’ in Khardah on August 12, charged under Sections 109 and 41 of the CrPC for petty theft and remanded in jail custody. The “innocent” teenager had been confined to Dum Dum Central Jail ever since.

An NGO, Keertika, brought the boy’s case before the Barrackpore court, that led to his release on Thursday. “I want to go home and meet my friends,’’ smiled Mithun, while leaving the courtroom with mother Hema and some cousins.

For Mithun, described by his family as “a brilliant student”, the nightmare began sometime on August 10. “He told me he was going to visit a friend, but he never came back… He had been really disturbed by the death of his father and would often wander off alone. When he did not return, we lodged a complaint with Pranthika phari,” recounted Hema. Mithun was picked up by the Khardah police on the night of August 12. “We booked him on petty cases and forwarded him to court on August 14, as he appeared to be moving around suspiciously,’’ a duty officer at Khardah thana said. The court remanded Mithun in judicial custody.

At Dum Dum Central Jail, the teenager was “bullied and ragged” by hardened criminals. Within a month, he had to be shifted to the prison’s medical ward. Doctors said he was suffering from schizophrenia.

Psychologist Rubena D’Silva, who visited Mithun in jail, said: “The boy was suffering from mental trauma after losing his father and then being imprisoned for no fault of his.”

According to Sutapa Chakraborty of Keertika, Mithun’s condition has improved over the past month. “For this, he must thank a convict called Deepankar, who took pity on the boy and protected him from other criminals,’’ she added.

The Dum Dum jail authorities, too, seemed relieved to see Mithun go. “The boy was really missing his family and friends. He would keep crying, begging us to let him go back home,’’ an official said.



Alipore judge hurt in road accident

Sessions judge of Alipore court Ajit Das was injured when the Ambassador he was travelling in collided with a Fiat on Hospital Road on Thursday evening. Das was taken to SSKM Hospital, where his condition was stated to be critical. The car was impounded and the driver of the Fiat arrested.

Killer buses claim two

A 70-year-old man, Ramesh Chatterjee, was killed in an accident on Thursday when he fell from a private bus. Chatterjee was taken to SSKM Hospital, where he was pronounced brought dead. In another accident, a 36-year old woman was killed in an accident near Rajabazar on Thursday when she was hit by a private bus. In both cases, the drivers fled with the vehicles, police said.

Tram tour

Two special trams toured different routes of south and north Calcutta to publicise Vidyasagar Mela, to be organised by Banga Saksharata Prasar Samiti from December 21 to January 1, 2002, on the Maidan. Left Front chairman Biman Basu toured south Calcutta in one of the trams on Thursday, along with students and eminent citizens.

Balsara wish

Musician V. Balsara, on Thursday, requested mayor Subrata Mukherjee to lay his body to rest in the Tower of Silence, at Narkeldanga, in accordance with Parsi rites. Five years ago, Balsara had requested then mayor Prasanta Chatterjee to cremate him at the Keoratala burning ghat.


The last date for filling up forms for the scholarship examination conducted by Primary Education Development Board, West Bengal, for students of Class IV has been extended till December 21. The examination will be held from February 11 to 15, 2002.

Court order

Justice K.J. Sengupta of Calcutta High Court on Thursday directed the counsel of Kunal Saha to serve notices on the West Bengal Medical Council. The judge passed this directive after the lawyers representing the council alleged that the court had heard Saha ex- parte as they had not been served copies. Kunal, husband of Anuradha Saha, who had, allegedly, died due to wrong treatment, has filed the case seeking court intervention into the alleged “illegal act” of the council, deferring his hearing from December 18 to March 3, 2002. Saha had lodged a complaint with the council against Dr Sukumar Mukherjee, blaming him for his wife’s death.

Actor dead

Actor Ujjwal Sengupta, 60, died of cardiac arrest on Thursday. His son is actor Jishu Sengupta.

Chit fund arrest

The CID on Thursday arrested a director of Srijoni Finance Company from Lake Town in connection with the chit-fund scam.

Medical unit

Speaker H.A. Halim will inaugurate the surgical ITU unit and audiology department of Bangur Medicare Research Institute at Thakurpukur on Saturday.    

Calcutta, Dec. 13: 
Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has stressed the need to conserve buildings which are not listed heritage structures, but are “integral part of our historical legacy”. ASI director-general Kasturi Gupta Menon made this observation on Thursday while speaking at the inauguration of a four-day seminar on conservation of historic brick buildings in north Calcutta, being held at Max Mueller Bhavan.

The seminar-cum-workshop, conceptualised by Action Research in Conservation of Heritage (ARCH) and the German Centre for Crafts and Preservation of Historic Monuments (ZHD), Fulda, is being hosted by Max Mueller Bhavan in association with ASI.

Menon said ASI was committed to preserving “India’s rich built heritage” and was “ready to fund any partnership project with NGOs” on specific conservation efforts in Calcutta. “We will be glad to share our expertise with agencies, because it is very important to have well-trained conservators and site managers to appreciate the subject. Bohemian ideas like pulling down the Writers’ Buildings and constructing a monstrous 10-storeyed structure there must be nipped in the bud,” she added.

Manish Chakraborti, practising conservation architect and secretary, ARCH, felt the moment was just right to build up steam on conservation of old buildings. “In the last five years, there has been a perceptible change in the attitude of the authorities towards restoration and repair of old monuments. The Town Hall project really kick-started the movement in Calcutta which has so many fabulous brick constructions in dire need of attention,” he observed.

Chakraborti felt lack of knowledge on protection techniques and tools as well as a tendency to “over-restore” has led to the extensive damages to brick buildings in north Calcutta. The workshop aims to sensitise architects and restoration experts about the importance of “traditional and authentic” repair methods and materials.

“We hope to take strands from this seminar and work hand-in-hand with ASI to return the old monuments of Calcutta to their original glory, even though the Survey protects just one building in the city as of now, the Metcalfe Hall”, he said.

Experts at the workshop have identified two buildings in north Calcutta for hands-on work, from preliminary assessment to damage-mapping to actual repair procedures including specification of materials. These are a crumbling temple on Masjidbari Street and an old courtyard building on Nayan Chand Mitra Lane.

Demonstration of repair methods, laying of bricks as well as mixing of lime and mortar to “demystify” the process of restoration, will be held at Swami Vivekananda and Vidyasagar’s residences.

Manfred Gerner, founder of ZHD and leader of the German team of experts helping out on this project, stressed the need to maintain built cultural heritage, without which “a useful economy is not possible”. He said preservation of historic monuments should be regarded as part of environment protection.

City-based architect Santosh Ghosh agreed it was absolutely imperative to factor in eco-sustainability while doing restoration work and spoke about the need for “adaptive re-use” of old buildings. “Just like Venice has great character and attracts tourists without having too many architectural milestones, north Calcutta, too, has a strong character that can be enhanced by proper urban conservation,” he said.


Calcutta, Dec. 13: 
A seminar on ways to improve the city’s street food — on which about two million office-goers survive every day — was held without a single food vendor or consumer at the Town Hall on Thursday.

And the experts, who participated in a ‘technical session’ later in the afternoon, had material culled six years ago for them to base their observations on.

But it was a case of the morning showing the day. The introductory session got underway 35 minutes behind schedule, with state health minister Surya Kanta Mishra waiting for mayor Subrata Mukherjee to turn up.

Usually not given to a show of emotion in public, Mishra vented his ire on the seniormost Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) official he found before him — municipal commissioner Debasis Som. “You are the organisers and you are the ones who invited me here. How can you keep me waiting?” he thundered.

As a red-faced Som tried to retrieve the situation by telling him that the mayor would arrive in “two or three minutes”, he got a five-minute ultimatum from the minister.

“I am waiting for five more minutes,” Mishra said tersely. The programme got underway in a couple of minutes without the mayor, who turned up around 11.45 am, asking Mishra — and the others waiting for him — to “excuse” him.

Though there was no further hitch — except the illegible slides flashed on screen to represent the available information — the representatives of hawkers’ unions in Calcutta seemed miffed about the seminar proceeding without the presence of a single vendor.

“How can a seminar on street food be held without the people who are directly involved?” asked general secretary of the Calcutta Hawkers’ Sangram Committee Shaktiman Ghosh.

“We asked the organisers to invite at least some hawkers but no one listened to us,” he said, adding that it seemed the organisers — the CMC and the All-India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health ( AIIHPH) — were interested only in getting the seminar underway to show that funds provided by agencies like the World Health Organisation were being utilised.

The programme guide listed a “representative of a consumers’ union” as a participant, but no CMC official could locate him/her when asked to.

Officials said “someone was asked to come in from Gujarat” for the seminar on Calcutta’s street food but added they were not sure whether he was present at the Town Hall while the seminar was being held.

Dean of biochemistry, AIIHPH, and nutrition department head Indira Chakravarty, whose research findings were presented on Thursday, admitted that her study had been conducted way back in 1995. “There has been no other research, but we plan to start on a fresh study soon,” she said.


Calcutta, Dec. 13: 
Residents of Mahamayatala, in Sonarpur, on the southern fringes of the city, are agitated over the theft of ornaments from a Kali temple in the area. The theft was carried out on Wednesday night by goons who broke open the main door of the temple.

The head priest detected the theft early on Thursday when he opened the main door for the early-morning darshan.

According to Sajal Das, a resident: “Immediately on entering the temple, the priest discovered the idol of Lord Shiva in pieces. The temple was ransacked. The criminals escaped with costly ornaments of the deities and some utensils used for puja.

The theft irked the residents of the area, who demanded an inquiry and immediate arrest of the culprits. Another resident, Ratan Saha, said: “The ornaments were worth Rs 50,000 or more. Moreover, they have antique value. Most of them were donated by local zamindars and rich men long ago”.

On getting to know of the incident, circle inspector of Sonarpur Sahabul Hossain rushed to the spot with a contingent of police and pacified the crowd. “We are making a list of the items stolen from the temple with the help of the priest and members of the temple committee. Going by the mode of operation, we think the culprits are locals. So, it won’t be long before we nab them and recover the stolen goods,” he said.

Civic repairs: The Left Front Opposition in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has rapped the road department for its failure to repair streets in central Calcutta, Tangra, Topsia, Tiljala, Kidderpore, Metiabruz, Garden Reach, Behala and Rajabazar. Leader of the Opposition Nirmal Mukherjee said roads in these areas were in a deplorable condition and the department was not taking any effort to repair them. “It is for the first time the roads didn’t get a facelift before Id-ul-Fitr,” he said. CPM MLA and former mayor-in-council member (roads) Sudhanshu Sil said a 300-km patch required immediate repairs.


Calcutta, Dec. 13: 
Dream debuts are made of stuff like this. When a Delhi-based television channel was looking for a little girl to audition for a serial, the candidates included hundreds from the Capital’s premier schools. But finally, a five-year-old girl, born to labourer parents, bagged the role.

Mansha is one of the 150 child members of Literacy India, a non-government organisation (NGO) run by Captain Indrani Singh, Asia’s first woman commander of Airbus 300.

Mansha, along with 32 others from Literacy India, will arrive in Calcutta with Singh on December 19 to perform in a play, Ali Baba and Forty Thieves. The play is scheduled to be held on December 21 at Gyan Manch.

Her role in the serial fetched Mansha Rs 500, a princely sum for her parents, who could never dream that their child would be able to earn an amount equivalent to their monthly salary. They are daily-wage earners.

Literacy India had been set up by Singh six years ago, with the objective of providing educational facilities to the poor and downtrodden children of Delhi, so that they may grow up to be “productive members of the society”.

“Educational opportunities are important. But I feel a lot of emphasis should be given on personality development and to do this, exposure of children to extra-curricular activities, especially the performing arts, is very important. In fact, this realisation has made me enthusiastic to provide opportunities to children like Mansha, so that they are able to make use of their latent talents,” said Singh.

Singh’s tight schedule often bogs her down, but according to her, people like Kapil Dev and Rajmohan Gandhi have always been by her side. “Without their support, I could not have managed all this,” says a grateful Singh.

The Calcutta show of Ali Baba and Forty Thieves will be the seventh one. Previous performances have already earned accolades in the theatre circle. The play also has performances by Srivardhan Trivedi and Il Amitoz of the National School of Drama (NSD), while the music has been composed by Arjun Sen.


Calcutta, Dec. 13: 
The police on Thursday sealed bank accounts and the flat of a former model as part of the investigations into contract killer Gabbar’s network. Gabbar was arrested on Monday night on murder and extortion charges.

The detectives raided the woman’s flat on Park Street early on Thursday, following leads provided by Gabbar in course of interrogation.

“She is not the only one we are going to track down,” said deputy commissioner (central) Zulfiquar Hasan.

“Many people had connections with Gabbar. Therefore, we are planning to contact a lot more in different areas,” said Hasan.

The woman, who works at a city hotel, is believed to be absconding. On Wednesday night, investigators raided a couple of spots that Gabbar would frequent. They also checked out hideouts in the suburbs to locate his associates.

The team took Gabbar to Sonarpur, Mullickpur and Baruipur, in South 24-Parganas.

According to the police, two of Gabbar’s associates — Sona and Naushad — are on top of the wanted list, since they can provide vital information.

Though the police failed to locate the woman and her mother, they interrogated a relative for hours.

The police reportedly managed to gather some important information on Gabbar.

A police officer said they would interrogate Gabbar’s mother and wife and hope to derive vital clues to the cases he was allegedly involved in.

Moreover, the police will seek permission from the court to interrogate Trisha, an undertrial at Presidency Jail.

According to sources, Trisha may provide clues that may help nail Gabbar.

Investigations also revealed that Gabbar had links with underworld criminals like Swapan Sridhar, Sheikh Nadeem and Sheikh Vinod.

“Several hideouts in the Sonarpur and Mullickpur areas were combed to trace Bikash Gomes, Gabbar’s brother-in-law, who was reportedly his right hand,” informed an official.

The authorities also hinted that Gabbar would be produced at different criminal courts.

“We need some time to tie up the loose ends of cases in which Gabbar and his associates were involved for the past four years,” said an officer.

The home department of the state government has reportedly asked the police to make arrangements so that chargesheets against Gabbar can be framed within 90 days of his arrest.


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