Blueprint for business hub
Special force for airport security
Morning swoop nets Gabbar men
Lawmen lack bullet basics
Hammer shadow on CID home
The City Diary
Driven by will, brooms in hand
Airport arrests blow lid off money racket
Funds crunch hits flower show
Call centre to bridge communication gap

Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
The message: Clear up the mess in the central business district of Calcutta and create some basic infrastructure, like a financial services zone, for industry to prosper.

The response: Let’s do it now; let government and business work hand-in-hand for a better Calcutta.

When industry minister Nirupam Sen met city industrialists and businessmen at a central Calcutta club on Wednesday evening, the blueprint for improvement had already been studied and a basic approach worked out.

Last week, Bengal Initiative had drawn up a list of steps to improve Calcutta, especially the central business district, and handed it over to Sen. What members of the business community wanted to know from him was: Would it have the government’s backing?

“That was the first step,” said Bengal Initiative chairman Amiya Gooptu. “If the government said it was with us, we would consider a major hurdle crossed and the other issues could then be worked out.”

The organisation’s efforts on the health sector had paid off: Most of its suggestions to minister Suryakanta Mishra had been accepted and implemented. Now it was the industry minister’s turn.

“He didn’t disappoint,” Gooptu said after Wednesday’s meeting. “We had a fruitful discussion on ways of raising funds and transforming the central business district.”

Sen, himself, seemed confident that the project would work. “The proposals are good...The government and business should now work together to make them happen.”

The thrust is mainly on the central business district encompassing Strand Road, Netaji Subhas Road, India Exchange Place, Old Court House Street, Esplanade East, Chowringhee Road, Park Street and Circular Road.

“Calcutta is fortunate to have a well-defined central business district, like Hong Kong or London, and tapping its potential should not be difficult,” Gooptu said. “It is also the highest tax- paying area in the city and deserves a special scheme.”

Some of the proposals which are being worked on are:

A new look for the central business district, which may involve “adoption” of some old buildings by the corporate sector along with the government; subsidy upto 50 per cent for restoration of important buildings

Special tax concession for building maintenance

Make the entire area a hawker-free zone with sponsored shelters, bus-stands and pavements

Revival of a project to set up a Bengal International Centre, along the lines of Delhi’s India International Centre

Development of a financial services district along the lines of New York’s Wall Street; one section of the central business district should be identified for such offices and provided with specialised facilities, like dedicated phone exchanges, power sub-stations and car parks

Construction of day-night car parks in the business district through private investment

But the minister admitted that though things looked “promising”, the issue of funding was yet to be resolved.


Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), poised to take charge of Calcutta airport, suddenly finds itself pipped at the safety post by a special task force. The CISF will take control at the airport from December 24. But in the wake of the December 13 attack on Parliament, security of the city airport will soon be taken out of the CISF hands and entrusted to a “specially-created task force”.

The home ministry, it is learnt, has drawn up elaborate plans to hand over major airports to “a properly-trained outfit”, capable of handling “security crises at strategic points”. In effect, the role of the CISF will be reduced to a stop-gap arrangement.

“This will definitely be a good move as and when it comes into effect. Airport security is of utmost importance. Those who are entrusted with the task of security cover at airports must have a specialised knowledge of how the place functions. This is one area in which the special force will score over the CISF,” a senior Civil Aviation Bureau official said on Wednesday.

The special force, to be created after screening “hand-picked” officers from law-enforcing agencies, will undergo rigorous training in handling sophisticated gadgets, detecting explosives and frisking passengers. The outfit will also have to go through basic training in flight operations and be well-versed in the interiors of various aircraft.

The decision to choose a special force was taken after receiving feedback from 20-odd airports where the CISF is undergoing training, prior to take-over. The Intelligence Bureau, too, has advised the government to assign airport security to a “properly-trained” team. “Intelligence Bureau officials have expressed reservations about handing over airport security to the CISF,” an aviation official confirmed.

“This is a highly specialised job, requiring specialised skills. How can a para-military force like the CISF take charge of the airport after being trained by the policemen they will be replacing?” demanded a senior Intelligence Bureau official.

For the past few weeks, 300-odd officers of the CISF have been undergoing training under senior police officials associated with airport security. The CISF, which failed to meet the deadlines on security take-over of the city airport, has finally agreed to take charge of the perimeter area from next Monday. This follows a prod from the superintendent of police (airport) O.P. Gupta, urging the force to take charge “immediately”. The airport police will, however, continue to monitor the rest of the security network.

Building fire: A fire broke out in a building on Waterloo Street, in central Calcutta, late on Wednesday. Six fire-tenders were pressed into service and flames were doused within an hour.


Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
In an early morning swoop on Wednesday, the police have arrested three criminals. One of them had employed Gabbar to carry out a contract killing to settle scores with rivals. This was disclosed by deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan.

Hasan said Mohammad Shakeel, Taj Mohammad and Bangshi had assembled in Beniapukur to carry out a dacoity when they were arrested.

Interrogation revealed that they had links with Gabbar. “Shakeel had appointed Gabbar to kill one of his rivals, Katta Sahid, for a fee of Rs 5 lakh. Gabbar was initially given Rs 75,000 and the rest was to be paid after the murder,” said Hasan. “But Gabbar was arrested before that.”

The officials interrogating Gabbar said he used to maintain a number of “sub-gangs” in Bangalore, Rajasthan and Delhi, besides many in Calcutta.


Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
Last September, a sleepy east Calcutta neighbourhood awoke to loud shouts, blaring horns and screeching tyres as a posse of policemen chased a gang of goons. When the distance between the two narrowed, a young IPS officer leading the pursuit, whipped out his service revolver, took aim at one of the rear wheels of the fugitive vehicle and fired three shots in “Dirty Harry” style. End result: Three bullets thudding into a tree trunk, way off target, as the goons made good their getaway.

Fact, not fiction; rule, not exception. The truth about our trigger-unhappy top cops is out – A survey byMetro has revealed that hardly 10 per cent among a few hundred officers of the inspector, sub-inspector and officer-in-charge rank, have fired a gun in the past decade. It’s no better with the 10,000 constables, as less than a hundred visit the shooting range regularly.

With the city being put on a high alert in the wake of the attack on Parliament, police bosses in private admit to doubts about the firearm-fitness of the force.

“If anyone does not want to go for shooting practice, what can be done? These people have not pulled trigger for a long time, and I know for sure they will never visit the range now,” says police commissioner Sujay Chakraborty.

According to the Police Regulation Bengal (PRB) and Police Regulation of Calcutta (PRC), annual range practice is “mandatory” for policemen up to the rank of sub-inspectors. But topping the list of common cop complaints is “lack of space” for shooting practice. The present range offers scope for small arms (pistols and revolvers) firing, only. For rifles and other firearms, policemen have to head for “far off” Barrackpore.

An officer-in-charge of south division said: “Officers cannot attend shooting practice sessions because of their chaotic schedules. So, there are a number of officers who have never fired during their tenure as inspectors.”

According to Sanjoy Mukherjee, deputy commissioner, eastern suburban division, frequency of “target practice” depends on the prevailing law-and-order situation.”

Both the city and the state police use .38 Smith and Wesson and Webley Scott revolvers, with Calcutta Police also using .32 Colt pistols. “It is useless to carry these revolvers unless one practises at a range regularly,’’ a senior police officer said.

But the likes of Debasish Roy, DCP (reserve force), who oversees security at Writers’, continue to be confidence personified. “Don’t worry, sleep well. If a terrorist comes along, we will finish him off like this,” he says, as if swatting a fly. According to him, all his 1,700 constables are “marksmen”, who “will rise to the occasion” whenever required.

Additional director general of police, training, Ranjit Mohanty, one of the rare regulars on the range, however, admitted that the force needs to brush up its shooting skills. “`I agree that policemen should regularly practise shooting… We will try and monitor this from now on,’’ he promised.


Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
It’s rent pay-up time for the government, and the hammer looks set to fall first on Bhabani Bhavan. In a landmark order on Tuesday, the Alipore court directed the government to sell off the CID home in order to pay off a north Calcutta landlord denied his dues for 53 years.

According to judge A.K. Das, the building in question had been requisitioned by the government in 1948 and the accumulated rent dues amounted to around Rs 6 lakh. The government has, allegedly, not taken any steps to pay the rent, despite several orders from the courts. Urging the government to “offset the losses” suffered by the landlord, the judge said the proceeds from the sale of Bhabani Bhavan should be handed over to the aggrieved.

The house on 2, Nirod Behari Mullick Road, had been rented, from Suryanarayan Saha, “to store milk the government was then importing”. The government was to pay Saha a monthly rent of Rs 18 per 100 square feet. His son, Satyanarayan, filed a petition in 1963 demanding that the government clear their dues. Later, he moved Alipore court demanding that the rent be increased to Rs 60 per 100 square feet. But the lower court fixed the amount at Rs 25 per 100 square feet, which was then upheld by Calcutta High Court.

The government continued to default. Satyanarayan then slapped a contempt case on the government. Having lost this case, the government now faces “attachment” of Bhabani Bhavan by the court. “If the government continues to sit on the court order, we will file an execution suit seeking the immediate sale of Bhabani Bhavan,” Krishna Dhan Banik, representing the Sahas, warned on Wednesday.

The court’s dramatic decision on erstwhile Anderson House, on Alipore Road, was welcomed by a section of the legal fraternity. “The government has made it a habit to ignore court orders. Such strict verdicts are necessary to shake the government out of its callous attitude,” said lawyer Sujit Mitra.

Lawyer Subroto Mookherjee added: “At least five such cases are pending against the government, with dues running into lakhs and the matter running for decades.” Some lawyers accused the government of “double standards”. As counsellor Uttam Majumdar put it: “How can a government which is not paying its own rent dues, take the lead in enacting a new tenancy law in favour of house owners?”



Four arrested for trader’s murder

A child shops for Christmas at the Kids Fair at the Ice Four persons have been arrested in connection with last Monday’s brutal murder of scrap iron businessmen Prabhat Bhattacharya at Bally, in Howrah. During extensive raids in Howrah, Hooghly and Midnapore districts, Howrah police netted the four, including Samir Roy, brother-in-law of local BJP leader Rakhal Das and Babulal Ghosh, a prime accused.

Youth hit by minibus

Gaurav Mishra, 20, a resident of Dum Dum Road, was seriously injured after a minibus knocked him down in front of Ganesh Talkies, on Rabindra Sarani, on Wednesday evening. Police said the bus, trying to overtake another vehicle, hit Mishra around 5 pm, before speeding away. He was rushed to RG Kar Hospital with multiple fractures. The police later impounded the bus.

Fee-hike protest

Over 500 Trinamul Congress activists demonstrated against the “steep hike” in electricity and hospital charges on Wednesday afternoon in front of the Alipore district magistrate’s office. Police said the demonstration which began around 2 pm, went on for two hours. Senior officers intervened to disperse the agitators.

HC holiday

Calcutta High Court will remain closed from December 24 to January 6 for Christmas. A vacation bench will hear important cases during this period.

Civic panel

Eighteen months after Trinamul Congress won the Calcutta Municipal Corporation elections, not a single ward committee has been formed, though the state government had issued a notice for formation of these ward committees one year ago. The Opposition has alleged that developmental work is being stalled in the absence of the borough committees. The Trinamul leaders feel such committees will simply “increase annual expenses”.

Maidan festival

Banga Sanskriti Utsav, being held in the city after a gap of 23 years, will commence on Thursday at the ITF Pavilions opposite Park Street. As part of the inauguration programme, a colourful procession will be taken out from the foot of the Gostha Pal statue on the Maidan. A number of cultural events will be presented in this 12-day festival featuring artistes from Tripura, Assam and Bangladesh.


Traffic came to a standstill on VIP Road for over three hours following a collision between a Matador van and a taxi. Residents blocked the road, protesting rash driving and demanded arrest of the drivers who fled immediately after the accident. Later, senior police officials pacified the demonstrators.


City police have drawn up a chargesheet in the case where a female student of a prominent north Calcutta college was “beaten up and drugged by friends” before her photographs were taken “in various stages of undress”. The chargesheet will be submitted to the City Civil Court on Thursday and the judge will hear the case in camera.    

Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
Subhasri, Swagata, Rupsa and Bidisa begin their day with broomsticks, buckets and hand-pulled carts, collecting garbage from the pavements. They, along with a crew of students from the Holy Child Girls’ High School, have undertaken a drive to remove the dirt and grime from their surroundings. But it has been quite an uphill task, with pavements of the area taken over by hawkers, the roads transformed into a dumping ground and the school boundary wall used as a public urinal.

The students, however, aren’t afraid of crossing the threshold. They pay regular visits to slums near their CIT Road school to hold awareness drives on health and hygiene. “By the second visit, we found the area surprisingly clean,” smiles Nilima Chanda, one of the supervisers of the project. The kids hold talks and demonstrations about diseases like malaria, cholera and jaundice. “They are good listeners and always ask a lot of questions. They are open to whatever suggestions we have for them,” says Subhasri Basu, a student of the school.

Students also pay regular visits to local residents, requesting them not to throw garbage on the road. They patrol the streets and urge passers-by not to purchase anything from illegal pavement vendors.

At present, the project is being run as a part of the Better Calcutta Contest, a programme conducted by Indian Chamber of Commerce in various city schools. “We don’t intend to stop until we have cleaned up our environment as best we can,” says Sister Philomina, headmistress of the school.

The project also involves the evening school students — around 200 kids from the neighbouring slums. These children are first trained in health and hygiene so they can implement the safeguards in their own homes.

In recognition of the students’ hard work and enthusiasm, the project has been included in the curriculum of work education and moral science. Over 2,000 students participate in the initiative headed by Class VIII students, under the guidance of four teachers. “More and more students are getting involved in the project… If we all pitch in, we know that we can really make a difference to our locality,” smiles one of the project leaders, Rupsa De Sarkar.

The police had helped the student effort by removing the rubber and leather scraps dumped near the school. But after approaching the Corporation for help in their clean-up drive (even writing to the mayor about the appalling conditions about a year ago), the school squad realised that they had “no alternative” but to do it themselves.

Students and faculty had sought the help of the councillor, but this yielded no results. When the walls of the school started to be used as a urinal, they reached the end of the tether. “Not only is it unhygienic, it also became a source of embarrassment to students, teachers and guardians,” says Sister.

After efforts to build a Sulabh Complex across the street failed, they asked for permission and funds to grow a garden and put up an iron railing on the pavement adjacent the school wall. “After repeated applications, we were sanctioned funds for just an iron railing, which we haven’t seen a paise of until now. That is why we took up our own cleanliness project,” says the headmistress.


Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
The state security agencies busted an international racket in money and arms transaction following the arrest of a Gujarati couple from Netaji Subash International Airport recently. The couple were reportedly planning to travel with forged passports.

According to initial investigations, the couple had paid Rs 1,000,000 to middlemen in the country and abroad through hundi and hawala channels.

On the basis of information provided by the couple, police picked up a man, Prasanta Chatterjee, from eastern fringes of the city. Investigations revealed that Chatterjee is the Calcutta contact of the racketeers and stays at Linton Street.

Officials from the internal security of the Union ministry are currently in the city and are co-ordinating with their Calcutta counterparts.

The arrested couple —Vikhabhai Prahladdas Patel, 52, and Lilaben Patel, 50, — are from Mehsana in Gujarat. According to reports, Vikhabhai is well off though the sleuths are unable to trace the source of his income.

According to Vikhabhai, he had got in touch with two men in Gujarat, who promised to provide him “greener pastures” in the US. Vikhabhai told the police that the men had demanded Rs 1,000,000 for the job, which included air tickets, travel, lodging, food, passports and visa.

The money was supposed to be paid in hawala transaction through Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Calcutta route. Vikhabhai said the group-leader also demanded that he include three bags in his luggage. However, Vikhabhai claimed he was not aware of the consignment.

The youth told him that they would load the baggage, suspected to contain arms, in Amman where the flight will stop before leaving for US.

Accordingly, Vikhabhai and Lilaben arrived in the city on December 12.

They were received at the airport by Chatterjee, who put them up at a central Calcutta hotel. A couple of days later, they were given tickets for a Royal Jordan flight.

But Vikhabhai’s suspicious behaviour at the airport alerted policemen, who challenged him. Chatterjee was reportedly waiting outside the airport since he was instructed by the racketeers to put Vikhabhai and his wife on the flight.

“When we checked Vikhabhai’s passport, we found it was in the name of one Mihir Das of Krishnagar,’’ said deputy commissioner of police, security control, P. K. Chatterjee. Both Vikhabhai and Lilaben were interrogated for an hour.

“Surprisingly, though Vikhabhai’s photograph was false, we found that the US visa was genuine and granted from the counsel’s office in Calcutta,’’ a security official added.

“With the arrest of the trio, we hope to get more information on the racket that’s spreading far and wide,’’ DC, security control added.


Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
With a financial crisis threatening its existence, the Calcutta Flower Growers Association, on Wednesday, sought the state government’s help to organise its annual show at the Assembly.

Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim has written to the forest minister, Jogesh Burman, for a grant of Rs 1,00,000 to host the show.

The flower show at the Assembly will be followed by a competition to encourage growers for their excellence and dedicated service for the development of floriculture.

The association organises the show in collaboration with the state Assembly Secretariat. According to association sources, the show is usually held towards the end of December or first week of January.

In his letter to the minister, Halim said this year’s show is dedicated to late filmmaker Satyajit Ray to commemorate his 80 th birth anniversary.

As an honour to the legend, the association has decided to display a photo exhibition of his works in a gallery alongside the flower show.

Speaker Halim mentions in his letter that many floriculture organisations and government agencies have been invited to participate in the show this year.

The flower show at the Assembly attracts thousands of visitors and florists. Forest department sources acknowledged that the show helps in creating awareness among people to grow flowers.

The state forest secretary, C.S. Samal, admitted that his department has received letters from the association and the Speaker.

“They have demanded an increase in grant to organise the show. The minister is examining the proposal,’’ he said.

Samal said the parks and gardens wing of the forest department also takes part in the flower show at the Assembly .

“It is a colourful show where rare varieties of dahlia, chrysanthemum and roses besides other kind of flowers are showcased,’’ Samal added.

The secretary of the association, Girish Chandra Bhattacharya too has appealed to the state government for the Rs 1-lakh grant, citing “financial constraints’’.

A sizeable part of the expenditure is incurred in awarding prizes to the florists, Bhattacharya claimed in his letter to the forest minister.

Forest department sources said florists from north and south 24-Parganas, Bankura, Birbhum, Howrah, Hooghly and other districts have already arrived in the city for the show.

“Officers of our department will encourage them to grow flowers and organise shows in the districts,’’ Samal said.

“Our target is to ensure flowers in every house of the city and districts,’’ he added.


Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
Setting up call centres seems to be the flavour of the season. Within a month of Zee Capital checking out the skill set available in Calcutta and expressing its intention of setting up a call centre here, Calcutta-based Happy Software Solutions has announced its plan of launching its call centre operations by June 2002.

“It’s true that there is an overall slowdown and the IT industry is going through a difficult period. But recent developments clearly indicate that the demand for application services like call centres will increase over a period of time,” said Sushil Poddar, chairman of the Happy group of companies.

The company, which runs 22 cyber cafes in the city under the brand name Happy e Zon, has already tied up with technology partners for the project and has decided to start operations at the heart of the business hub in Calcutta and “not” in Salt Lake.

“We have formally signed up with Wipro, Global Telesystems and Cincom for software and hardware support,” added Poddar.

To set up the facilities with state-of-the-art technology, the company is planning an initial investment of over Rs 10 crore for the 120-seater call centre, which will be promoted under the brand name MRP Global Ltd.

“Business integration is the key reason behind branching out to call centres. Besides having our chain of cybercafes, we also deal in hardware, software and computer education in association with Datapro. So, for us, starting a call centre is the logical next step,” he explained.

According to Poddar, generating business and sustaining it with delivery of quality products should not be difficult.

“Availability of skilled human resource at reasonable rates is a big advantage in a city like Calcutta. Before putting them on line, we will organise extensive training programmes for which we have already started chalking out modules for our employees,” he mentioned.

Poddar is bullish about the business prospects, where the company will be doing back- office jobs for both local and global companies. With the help of Cincom, the company has initiated discussions with various potential clients.

“Till now, the response is quite positive as some of them have expressed their desire to off-load a part of their work to us,” said Poddar.

While the company is entering into new business domains, it’s also in the process of consolidating and expanding its original line of business. They have set up a target of taking the number of Happy e Zon centres to 50 by March 2002, and 100 by 2003.

“All the existing 22 centres, are owned by us. But now we have started looking for franchisees to open up centres at various key locations in Calcutta,” he mentioned.

There are product development endeavours, too. To encourage surfing, the cyber café chain is launching a surfer’s card priced at Rs 12,345 with unlimited Internet access in any of the Happy e Zon centres in the city.

To make the card more attractive, the company is tying up with five star hotels, health clubs, discos and restaurants in order to woo the customers. “We are sure that the offers would be lucrative enough for the customers to buy our cards,” added Poddar.


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