Heritage hope for city hub
Civic face-off
Left veers right on Navodaya route
The City Diary
Raichak address for hoteliers’ school
Ray of hope for Great Eastern revival
Outlawed outfits push in men, vigil stepped up
Tram jumps rails, sparks roadblock
2 held for dancer’s disappearance
Shibpur college heads to discuss normalcy route

 
 
HERITAGE HOPE FOR CITY HUB 
 
 
BY SUVRO ROY
 
Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
A ‘total preservation policy’, defining heritage areas in and around Calcutta, will be unveiled in January 2002 by the newly-appointed state heritage commission.

State urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said on Tuesday that the policy would recommend preservation of BBD Bag, New Market, Jorasanko, the Hooghly riverfront, Kumartuli, Kalighat, the Maidan, College Street, Rabindra Sarani (former Chitpur Road) and large parts of north Calcutta for the special place they occupy in Calcutta’s history. Special provisions will be made to protect and preserve heritage structures in the city and its adjoining areas.

“A primary point of focus is BBD Bag, or Dalhousie Square. This is a vital heritage zone and the government is determined to preserve and maintain it. We will protect the heritage structures in BBD Bag at any cost,” Bhattacharya said.

Putting the preservation plan into action will be far from easy. The primary problem being a funds crunch, with the Finance Commission having sanctioned just Rs 6 crore in the last fiscal year towards preserving the city’s heritage structures over the next four years.

Bhattacharya said the government plans to enlist the support of NGOs and the chambers of commerce in this endeavour.

The heritage commission is now going through lists drawn up by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and the department of Land Use and Development Control Plan. The CMC has listed over 1,000 heritage spots.

Pratap Chandra Chunder, chairman of the heritage commission, told Metro that he had convened a meeting on January 21, 2002. “We expect to formulate a policy on heritage preservation by the end of next month. We have already gathered data on heritage preservation from the US, Canada and Scotland,” added Chunder.

The CMDA, meanwhile, is drawing up a masterplan on the development of the Calcutta Metropolitan Area (CMA) for the next two decades. “It has also recommended several steps for conservation of heritage, which will be taken into consideration,” said Bhattacharya.

The CMDA has suggested that funds for heritage preservation be raised by lottery. “During the Raj, there was a lottery committee set up to raise funds for maintenance of civic amenities, like drainage and sewerage. We can set up a similar committee to preserve and maintain our heritage structures,” said a senior CMDA official.

Among the CMDA’s recommendations is the implementation of a “comprehensive traffic policy” in heritage zones, “reducing visual pollution” and “re-using heritage buildings”.

   

 
 
CIVIC FACE-OFF 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
Trinamul Congress councillors and mayoral council members are irked at municipal commissioner Debashis Som’s decision to seek expert opinion before taking up engineering work in city wards. At present, work orders are issued as demanded by the local councillor. “I have merely followed the mayor’s orders,” said Som.

According to member, mayor-in-council, roads, Anup Chatterjee, the move will stall all development work in the city.

   

 
 
LEFT VEERS RIGHT ON NAVODAYA ROUTE 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
Fifteen years ago, they had ridiculed Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s vision of a “state-run model school chain across India”. Today, Bengal’s ruling communists have woken up to the need for a Navodaya.

Education officials said on Tuesday that a hunt is on for 30 acres — a pre-requisite for setting up a Navodaya — at some sites in the Calcutta Metropolitan Area, Rajarhat and South 24-Parganas. “We want construction work to start by the next financial year. For that, we must finalise the location without delay,” one of them added.

Rajiv Gandhi had picked up the concept of Navodaya schools, under a unified syllabus, from China and drafted it into the national education policy in 1986. Bengal, Tripura and Tamil Nadu had opposed it, while most other states have established the school chain over the years.

According to education department officials, the CPM’s path to Navodaya may have been paved by the decision to re-introduce English at the primary level two years ago. Politburo member Jyoti Basu and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, apparently, called for a rethink on the issue when the BJP-led Centre modified the model school syllabus to allow the state’s mother-tongue, besides English and Hindi, to be the medium of instruction.

School education minister Kanti Biswas recently met Union human resources minister Murli Manohar Joshi and expressed the government’s desire to set up a model school without delay. A team of officials, headed by special secretary (education) Debasish Bose, visited Navodayas in Trivandrum, Kochi, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh to take a closer look at the system and prepare a model for the Bengal school.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, meanwhile, confirmed that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation was ready to give the government 30 acres along G.T. Road.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Two killed in road mishaps

Two persons died in separate incidents of road accidents in Habra, North 24-Parganas. A 38-year-old man, Satyaranjan Pal, was killed when a speeding truck knocked him down on Gobardanga Road. Pal was admitted to RG Kar Medical College and Hospital but succumbed to his injuries later. The driver managed to flee with the vehicle. In another incident, a 65-year-old woman, Bilwasundari Sarder, died when a Matador hit her on Jessore Road. She was rushed to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

File pile-up in mayor’s office

More than 350 files relating to disciplinary action have piled up in the mayor’s office in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation since January. Sources in Subrata Mukherjee’s office said since the mayor remained preoccupied most of the time, officials did not get a chance to place the files before him for clearance.

Flights rescheduled

In view of the foggy conditions prevailing over the city and Agartala, Indian Airlines has rescheduled its flights IC 745/746 on the Calcutta/Agartala/Calcutta sector. Earlier, IC 745 used to leave Calcutta at 8 am and reach Agartala around 8.50 am. The return flight, IC 746, departed from Agartala around 9.30 am to reach the city around noon. Henceforth, the flights will leave Calcutta around 11.10 am and reach Agartala at noon to avoid the dense fog. Most of the morning flights have been rescheduled to leave the city a few hours later.

Off with red light

Deputy mayor Meena Devi Purohit has ordered the dismantling of the red-light from her car in view of the recent controversy over the eligibility for the privilege. All the members of the CMC mayor-in-council except Javed Ahmed Khan and Hridayanand Gupta, use red lights on their cars, said an officer in the secretary department.

Oil quality check

State environment and information technology minister Manab Mukherjee launched the first mobile laboratory to check the quality of fuel sold from Bharat Petroleum Corporation’s Pure for Sure pumps in the city. This mobile lab will go for surprise checks at various pumps and take samples for instant checking. This is the first mobile lab of its kind from an oil company in the city. More such labs will be launched as part of the Pure for Sure movement in the coming days, company sources said.

Hurt in accident

Two persons were seriously injured on VIP Road at Baguiati when a private bus knocked them down on Tuesday morning. Police said the bus also hit a taxi while trying to escape. Local people hospitalised the two injured. They chased the bus and finally managed to intercept it at Kestopur More. The driver was handed over to the police.

Phone services

The Calcutta Telephones on Tuesday expanded its wireless on local loop services to 13 other stations. Earlier, the telecom utility had started the WLL sevices on three stations on an experimental basis. The WLL technology allows subscribers to use mobile handsets within a 3-km range from the base of the phone.    

 
 
RAICHAK ADDRESS FOR HOTELIERS’ SCHOOL 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
Come July 2002 and city students aspiring for plum positions in the hospitality industry will have a new finishing school to go to, with a built-in facility for hands-on training. The Institute for International Management and Technology, Bengal, will open its doors inside The Ffort Radisson campus in Raichak next year.

Being set up by GGL Hotel & Resort Co Ltd, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University, UK, and with support from Radisson Hotels International, USA, the Rs 5-crore fully-residential B-School will start with 50 students. It will offer a three-year B.Sc honours degree in hotel and restaurant management. The first IIMT in India is already operational in Gurgaon.

“Students at the institute will have the unique experience of learning at an establishment attached to a deluxe resort and gain on-the-job practical exposure in various Radisson hotels in India and abroad,” says Anil Ghei, senior general manager (operations), The Ffort Radisson, Raichak, and head of the group’s hospitality division.

Oxford Brookes University, “a world leader in hospitality management and research studies”, will provide all the critical manpower and course material, besides being actively involved in the running of the school.

Apart from having access to the large infrastructure of the Ffort itself, the students can also participate in the activities of the hotel. “It’s a win-win situation for both. The students get exposure to tried and tested infrastructure and the school benefits by drawing on the guest faculty,” says Ghei.

The complex, which is nearing completion by the poolside of the Ffort, will be inspected by a delegation from the UK university which will give its formal approval in January. “IIMT, Bengal will open up huge opportunities for those who want to be in the hospitality industry. It’s a pity we have so much to show and so little tourism. All that is sure to change soon, throwing up new jobs,” says Harshavardhan Neotia, managing director of GGL Hotel & Resort, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gujrat Ambuja Cements Ltd.

Among a host of new initiatives undertaken at The Ffort, is a 12,000-sq ft spa, the “first of its kind in eastern India”. Designed by award-winning architect Prabir Mitra, the Rs 1.5-crore health spa, which will use herbal and ayurvedic techniques, is being set up in collaboration with Serena Spa of Maldives with a profit-sharing arrangement.

The spa will offer “holistic rejuvenation” packages customised for its clientele. It will have specialised treatment rooms for medical, cosmetic or de-stressing purposes, a “spacious” gym, relaxation and hydrotherapy. Customised beauty, slimming and detoxification programmes will also be on offer.

A dedicated health food restaurant-cum-lounge will be commissioned in the resort to complement the spa facility. All the ingredients will be grown organically in the resort’s own herb gardens.

The Ffort is adding two presidential suites to its infrastructure, besides refurbishing all the existing 60 rooms. A host of new activities are being added to the club area like pool, air hockey and bowling astro-turf. A 100-seater home theatre and a self-help café will also feature in the Ffort’s second-phase plans.

   

 
 
RAY OF HOPE FOR GREAT EASTERN REVIVAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
The decade-long controversy over Great Eastern Hotel is likely to end with the hotel unions letting the government know that they have no objection to a handover to a reputed group. Last week, a delegation of the unions met senior government officials, including the member-secretary and the chairman of the heritage hotel, to “extend their support to the government” in their bid to hand over the hotel to a private group.

General secretary of Great Eastern Hotel Staff and Workers Association Ramen Pandey said: “We asked them to float a global tender and invite bidders across the world. The meeting was fairly successful. We are optimistic that the government will look into the worker’s interest, while making their decision.”

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, who is also president of the workers’ association, backed Pandey at a recent iftar party.

Tourism secretary and chairman of the hotel Pronab Roy told Metro a “strategy paper” was being prepared by the government on the hotel’s future. “It definitely has to be handed over to a hotel group. Of late, the union’s stand on the hotel has been a welcome change, although this never was the main issue.”

Buoyed by union support, the state government is understood to be planning their next course of action, which involves inviting fresh tenders. To boost bids from more hoteliers, the government has decided to introduce a new Bill in the Assembly for amendment of a clause in the hotel’s undertaking Act in 1989, which stipulates that buyers must upgrade it to five-star category.

Instead, the new buyer can now concentrate on revamping the three-star hotel, without worrying much about upgrading its star category. This was also one of the reasons for the last-minute backout by French hotel giant, Accor Asia Pacific, from the takeover race. “The demand for five-star hotels has decreased considerably worldwide and the city is also getting two more five-star hotels in the near future. I think this move to retain the three-star category will also encourage more bidders,” Roy said.

The hotel recently plunged into another crisis after the authorities found it difficult to pay salaries and service charges of the staff. In order to bail out the hotel, the state government released Rs 80 lakh in phases to meet the immediate requirements, including salaries, outstanding bills and small-scale repair work. However, the hotel needs an extensive facelift before the handover.

The staff strength of the hotel, earlier known as Auckland Hotel, has also plunged from 1,200 to 510. The workers facing retirement in the next few years are likely to be shifted to non-operational zones and youths inducted in their place, a state government official said. An attractive VRS scheme is also on the cards, he added.

Earlier, the government’s bid to hand over the hotel to Accor did not materialise after they failed to find an Indian financier.

The employees’ union had also opposed the handover of the hotel to Accor after the group announced its plans to shift the existing employees to a 100-room Yatri Nivas and recruit fresh hands. The union told the government that they would run the hotel themselves. However, with the significant change in the union’s stand, things are likely to look up now.

   

 
 
OUTLAWED OUTFITS PUSH IN MEN, VIGIL STEPPED UP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
Calcutta Police on Tuesday launched a combing operation after intelligence reports said activists of the outlawed outfits Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad have sneaked into the city with a view to creating political unrest.

The stepped-up vigil was ordered following reports that several politicians, belonging to the minority communities, were on the hitlist of the outlawed groups.

One of them, an Opposition Trinamul Congress MLA, on condition of anonymity, said he had been receiving regular threats from unidentified callers. “The calls have been so regular that I have begun to feel insecure. Now, I have hired private security guards to man my residence,” he said.

Calcutta Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty said on Tuesday: “We have activated our anti-terrorist cell, in addition to all our regular wings. There is no specific complaint as yet, but the intelligence reports are far too disturbing to ignore. It’s a big city, where all the entries and exits cannot be fully checked. Even then, we are doing our best to keep tabs on new arrivals.”

The combing operation is focussed on various pockets of central Calcutta, including Zakaria Street, Free School Street and Ripon Street, apart from some parts of north and south Calcutta, including Ramgarh and Sonarpur.

Many guest-houses, nursing homes, clinics, hotels, lodges and rooming facilities in central and north Calcutta have been placed under the scanner, officials said, adding that they were also continuously sharing intelligence with the police in other states.

According to intelligence reports received through the Union home ministry, batches of Lashkar and Jaish operatives have arrived in the city on forged Bangladeshi passports.

“We have enough evidence to suggest that the militants arrive in the city on Bangladeshi passports, which are forged,” an official said, adding that it was relatively easy to enter the city posing as Bangladeshis coming in for advanced medical treatment.

The arrest of Dawood Merchant Rauf from a city hub in connection with the alleged murder of music magnate Gulshan Kumar revealed that he had used a Bangladeshi passport, under the name of Bapi Das, to sneak into the city.

Even Arshi Rezak Khan, alias Rajan, Lashkar contact man and main accused in the abduction case of Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman, held a Bangladeshi passport.

The police have so far obtained a list of hardcore criminals with possible links to Lashkar and Jaish.

“We have enough evidence against some of the criminals, who are passing on information to Pakistan-based militant outfits in the city. Most of these criminals are so hard-up for bigtime money that they are willing to do anything,” an official said.

According to reports, one of the home-ground criminals, accused of committing political murders in Bihar, has taken refuge in a Ripon Street apartment belonging to his brother.

Despite several attempts by the police to nail him down, he escaped the dragnet at the last minute. “We anticipate that the outlawed outfits will target such criminals for garnering information,” said an official.

   

 
 
TRAM JUMPS RAILS, SPARKS ROADBLOCK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
Residents of Rabindra Sarani put up a roadblock because a tram jumped the rails, spoiling the Christmas mood in north Calcutta. Around 9.30 am, a tram plying near the ancestral home of Rabindranath Tagore jumped the rails and climbed on to the pavement. The driver managed to halt the vehicle and evacuate the handful of passengers on board.

A group of youths, who were watching the accident from a distance, started harassing the driver. “The tracks have simply disappeared. What am I to do?” the driver pleaded. The youths then turned their ire at the civic authorities. “The condition of the road is bad. Why don’t the authorities do anything about it?” they demanded.

Around 10.35 am, hundreds of locals put up road blockades on various points of Rabindra Sarani, protesting the lack of response from the Calcutta Tramways Corporation (CTC) in removing the derailed tram.

Officers in the traffic control room at Lalbazar woke up to the situation and ordered reinforcements to bolster the police party, trying their best to persuade the locals to lift the blockade.

Senior police and CTC officials also joined and finally convinced the mob to lift the blockade an hour later.

“Why is the CTC always late? We won’t lift the blockade unless they remove the tram from the footpath right now,” the youths reportedly told the police. The CTC team finally towed away the tram around 1 pm.

   

 
 
2 HELD FOR DANCER’S DISAPPEARANCE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
Behala police on Tuesday arrested two people in connection with the alleged disappearance of a city-based dancer in Mumbai. The teenaged dancer left for Mumbai on August 31.

“My daughter has either been sold off or killed. It’s been several months since we heard from her,” her father said. The man, a private bus driver, lodged a complaint with the police on Tuesday. “The people who brought my daughter’s employers to my house are nowhere to be found,” said the dancer’s father.

In August this year, two men — one of them called Lama — arrived at the dancer’s Behala home with a contract for Rs 6,000 for her to dance in Mumbai nightclubs. “They said they had heard about her dancing skills and were keen on taking her to Mumbai,” the father said. The men paid Rs 3,000 as advance.

Initially, she called back a few times to say she was fine. However, from the middle of September, the calls stopped. “I approached one of the men, a resident of Maheshtala, on the southern fringes of the city, to help me locate my daughter. But he failed to do so,” her father told policemen on Tuesday.

Officer in-charge of Behala police station Subhas Sen said: “After the father’s complaint, we have arrested two persons. Their names are not being revealed for the sake of investigation.”

The duo was picked up from Maheshtala and Behala. The men confessed they had seen the girl at a nightclub outside Mumbai a month ago. “They claim they do not know her whereabouts, but they might be misleading us,” an officer said.

   

 
 
SHIBPUR COLLEGE HEADS TO DISCUSS NORMALCY ROUTE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
A day after Bengal Engineering College (Deemed University) was closed “indefinitely” following clashes and violent protests on the campus, vice-chancellor Amal Jyoti Sengupta convened a high-level meeting on Wednesday to discuss a return to normalcy. The controller of examinations, registrar, the dean of faculties and the dean of students will attend the meeting.

Clashes broke out on Sunday night between a section of students and hostel employees after an incident at the college gate. On Monday, the vice-chancellor’s driver was beaten up and his car damaged.

Following this, Sengupta ordered that the college be closed indefinitely and the hostels be vacated at once. About 1,700 students were asked to leave the hostels under police vigil. Some of them were taken to Esplanade to proceed homewards. They were, however, assured that once normalcy returned, they would be called back to the campus.

Sengupta said on Tuesday that his primary objective was to restore normalcy at the college. “I am worried at the turn of events and my primary aim is to restore normalcy. My car was attacked by a mob and some of them even tried to set it on fire,” he said.

It was not possible to hold some of the examinations because the college had to be shut down, Sengupta added. “I will try and find out a way to conduct the examinations after we re-open. Fortunately, most exams were over when the incident took place,” he said.

On the other hand, lying on a bed at Howrah General hospital, Krishna Nayak, alias Kesto, an employee of hostel no. 10, who was beaten up by a section of the students on Sunday, narrated his woes. Krishna said: “I was watching television in my second-floor quarters when I heard a loud thud. Some students entered the room, looking for my son, Kumar. When I told them he was not around, they dragged me down and beat me up.”

Krishna, an employee of the college for the past 35 years, suffered injuries on his head and body. He said: “They hit me on my head with bricks. Then they took me to the bathroom and poured buckets of cold water on me.”

The attackers, however, fled after they heard some people approaching the Nayaks’ residence. Krishna was removed to hospital by an employee of the university. On Tuesday evening, Howrah superintendent of police C.V.Muralidhar said: “We have made elaborate arrangements to maintain a strong vigil on and around the college campus to prevent any further untoward incidents.”

Murder protest: Residents blocked Naihati’s Robertson Road to protest the murder of CPM activist Mahadeb Saha. They also held a demonstration in front of Naihati police station, demanding arrest of the killers. Saha was murdered on Monday night on his way to the market. A group of four miscreants first beat him up, then one of them fired at him from point-blank range.

   
 

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