Parkomat bailout with parking ban
Fortune from forged tickets
Nature trail on shady greens
Political twist to varsity din
Maids held for theft
The City Diary
Luck favours Lucky
Apologetic CM sticks to strike guns
Buddha salvo at govt staff
ISI feeds on Bengal hawala racket

Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
A month after the gala opening of Parkomat, the writing is on the Rawdon Street walls — Calcuttans have steered clear of the much-touted parking plaza. And with good reason — they continue to park their cars in the area, at half the Parkomat price.

Inaugurated with much fanfare by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on November 25, it has picked up “just a few hundred rupees” in parking fees, against a projected monthly figure of Rs 9 lakh.

This has prompted Parkomat’s prime mover, mayor Subrata Mukherjee, to push the panic button. The mayor on Thursday sought the government’s help “to ban parking of cars on streets within a 500-metre radius” of the giant structure.

Mukherjee met urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya and police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty and explained that without a notification from the government banning parking near the plaza, people would not use the Parkomat.

The mayor had his way. At the meeting, it was decided that the deputy commissioner of police (traffic) would issue an official notification prohibiting parking of cars “within a 500-metre radius of Parkomat” from January 2, 2002.

The parking fee beyond the 500-metre radius will also be raised to steer Calcuttans towards Parkomat. It was also decided that guardians of students of nearby La Martiniere School will be allowed to use the Parkomat at a concessional rate.

“We decided to prohibit parking within a 500-metre radius of Parkomat because it has not taken off well. People are not using it and are, instead, parking their cars at much cheaper rates across the road or in nearby lanes,” said Bhattacharya.

Not for the first time, the government has bailed the mayor out when his partymen have refused to back his play, Trinamul sources said. Mukherjee, apparently, turned to Bhattacharya in desperation after Pradip Ghosh, member of the mayor’s council in charge of parking, refused to stop parking on and around Rawdon Street. This, despite a resolution taken in this regard at a meeting of the mayor’s council.

Ghosh has been a vocal critic of the Parkomat scheme, alleging that it would result in a drop in revenue earned by the CMC from fee-parking zones. He had even boycotted the inauguration of the parking plaza.

Trinamul sources said Ghosh has refused to cancel licences given by the CMC to co-operatives collecting parking fees near Parkomat. This was in “violation” of a CMC agreement with Simplex Projects Limited on the matter.

“I know that the parking co-operatives can no longer function near the Parkomat. But I cannot say whether I will cancel their licences, till I speak to the mayor about this,” Ghosh said on Thursday.

But the mayor was buoyant. “Everything has been sorted out at the meeting. Pradip Ghosh will not be a problem, because I had spoken to him before I left,” said Mukherjee.

Simplex, meanwhile, has decided to wait a while before approaching the mayor for a review of revenue-sharing. According to the present agreement, Simplex is supposed to pay the CMC around 15 per cent of parking fees collected from Parkomat.

“The civic authorities are aware of the present problem and I am sure they will find a solution,” said Gautam Dasgupta, senior manager (commercial), Simplex Projects Limited.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
Posing as a stern ticket-checker, 48-year-old Sunil Das had duped free-trippers for the past 23 years, and made a fortune for himself. But the wheel of fortune turned full circle on Wednesday night, when vigilance officials of Eastern Railway caught him red-handed at Naihati station, on Sealdah’s Main section. They seized his ticket-punching machine and forged identity card.

When the officials visited Das’ house to wrap up the case, they were dumbstruck at the wealth he had accumulated in his spacious, marble-fitted home at Naihati, on the city’s northern fringes. Das was handed over to Government Railway Police (GRP) on Wednesday night.

According to the officials, Das had duped the railways of several lakhs. “Our vigilance officials will also check his bank books to arrive at the exact figure he earned in the past two-and-a-half decades,” said an official of Eastern Railway.

“Das disclosed the name of a retired employee, who had allegedly helped him in the racket. We will interrogate the person,” said Gangeshwar Prasad Singh, superintendent of railway police, Sealdah. “Now, we are trying to find out from where he got the forged receipt books,” Singh added.

Das had all the gear of a ticket-examiner. The laminated ID-card, identical to the original, a black coat, a ticket-punching machine and the forged receipt book, to penalise free-trippers.

He would collect money from platform no. 4 of Naihati station. At times, he would be a travelling ticket examiner – boarding the local trains to ferret out free-trippers between Sealdah and Naihati stations. “No one would suspect him,” said Singh.

The railway authorities came to know about the conman last month, when a passenger from Shyamnagar was asked to display his ticket at Sealdah station. He had produced the penalty receipt issued by Das.

“The ticket examiner found the slip faulty. He forwarded it to the higher authorities. After confirming that the receipt was forged, vigilance officials swung into action,” said a railway official. It took them over a month to track down Das. They boarded a Naihati-bound local, posing as ticketless passengers, and laid a trap at different railway stations. Each time, Das eluded them.

On Wednesday, after a tip-off, a team of four officials went to Naihati station. Das was caught red-handed, collecting fines from ticketless passengers and issuing his forged receipts.

Singh said: “It seems implausible that none of the checking staff at Naihati station was aware about Das duping passengers and the railways for 23 years. The GRP will investigate that angle.”


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
The public-private partnership is now venturing up the garden path. A part of Banabitan, the forest department-run greens in Salt Lake’s ‘central park’, is being handed over to a private firm to develop an “educational theme centre”.

M.K. Nandy, principal chief conservator of forests, said on Thursday: “We are looking at developing an environmentally interesting and educational theme park, the first of its kind in the city.” At present, the forest department charges Rs 5 per person for entry to Banabitan.

According to sources, the park has become “a den of vice” and there have been several complaints from Salt Lake residents. “Once we have the theme park in place, these activities will, hopefully, be controlled,” Nandy added.

About 20 acres of the 50-acre Banabitan will be handed over for the new theme park, on temporary lease. The forest department will retain the rest of Banabitan and run it like it does now. “There are regular users of the park, who might object to the entire area being handed over to the developers,” explained Nandy.

A city-based export firm, LGW Industries, has approached the forest department with a project proposal for the park. The government, apparently, refused LWG permission to turn section of the park into an amusement centre. “There are other amusement parks in the city. We want to build up a purely educational facility at Banabitan,” a forest department official said.

A spokesperson for LWG said they were tying up with the Ahmedabad-based Centre for Environmental Education. “We intend to invest around Rs 8 crore on a build-operate transfer (BOT) system. The centre will draw up the details of the facilities that will be provided in the park,” the spokesperson added.

The forest department has already got the privatisation proposal cleared from the urban development department and Bidhannagar municipality. “We will soon hold a meeting with the developers, prior to drawing up a memorandum of understanding,” said a senior forest department official.

The theme park is sure to provide nature trails, displays of flora and butterflies. With an eye on the wetlands, the new-look park will also touch upon aspects like waterfowl and their habitat.

“The nature trail will take visitors on short but informative walks. We are looking at state-of-the-art displays and interactive systems that will enable children to learn more about their environment and the flora and the fauna around them,” the LWG spokesperson explained.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
A couple of days after the Jadavpur University (JU) convocation, at which Governor Viren J. Shah, also the JU Chancellor, had rapped the students for not maintaining silence, a section of employees and teachers blamed the university administration for the unpleasantness.

The aggrieved teachers urged the authorities to pull up those who were responsible for managing the audience at the convocation. According to them, negligence of duty by these event managers, who had been in charge of the auditorium, had led to the commotion.

Employees and teachers threatened that they would meet the vice-chancellor and the registrar and submit a deputation, demanding that there will no recurrence of the incident in future.

“The incident has put a black mark on the university. The students alone cannot be blamed. In fact, the entire incident had taken place as the administration had not chosen the right persons for the job,” said a senior teacher, preferring anonymity.

The employees pointed out that Monday’s incident was the result of the authorities’ “high-handedness” in appointing only those among the employees who are “sympathisers of the ruling party”.

They cited the case of the two teachers who were asked to monitor the students at Monday’s function. Both are known to have CPM affiliation. And neither is popular with the students.

“The incident would not have taken place, had some student-friendly teachers been given the job,” the employees said.

The students’ failure to maintain silence in the back rows had annoyed the Chancellor at the function. The students continued to be “unruly” despite vice-chancellor A.N. Basu requesting them to “maintain silence”.

The din continued even when Shah stood up to address the gathering. This finally prompted him to compare the convocation with a recent function at a village school, which he had attended. He told the gathering that the rural students, though they understood very little of his speech in Hindi, at least maintained a receptive silence.

Registrar Rajat Banerjee said steps would be taken to ensure that decorum is maintained at similar events.

The students, however, said they were unhappy about the way the incident was highlighted in the media.

According to them, despite the students disturbing the function, the Chancellor had praised them for their academic performance.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
The police arrested two domestic helps from the Southern Avenue residence of former confidential assistant to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Partha Raha, on charges of thefts in south Calcutta.

The Raha family, reportedly, had been in the dark about the maids’ criminal past. Detectives discovered that the gang had dug a hole in a portico in the neighbourhood, not far from Raha’s house, where they stacked the booty.

According to Dhiren Ray, a cousin of Raha, six policemen, including a lady arrived in a jeep around 3.30 pm and informed him that the maids were involved in a series of thefts. The duo — Gauri Bera, 45, and her daughter, Sumita, 18 — were then taken to Lalbazar where they confessed to the crime.

According to preliminary investigations, Gauri and Sumita were a part of the gang, that originated in Midnapore. The main culprit, Mithun, who networked the thefts, is missing.



Cop somersault in bank fraud case

Author Sunil Gangopadhyay greets economist Amartya Sen at Banga Sanskriti Utsab on the Maidan on Thursday. Artist Shuvaprasanna is seated. Picture by Pradip Sanyal The city police on Thursday clarified that Prasenjit Pal Choudhury, described on Wednesday as the “mastermind”, of the idea of procuring loans from Allahabad Bank for 29 teachers, had in fact impersonated as a teacher. “We are closing in on the mastermind, who has high connections and is qualified,” a senior police official said. Deputy commissioner of police (detective department), Soumen Mitra, on Wednesday had told reporters that Pal Choudhury was the “mastermind”, who impersonated as headmaster of Sarada Vidyalaya and Bhutnath Mahamaya Institution.

On Thursday, police said the mastermind is still at large, but has been identified. During the course of investigation, police also found that two persons had impersonated as headmasters. “We have several leads and are probing whether bank officials are involved in the case,” an official said.

Gabbar aide arrested

Sunita Huda, 45, an associate of arrested criminal Gabbar, was picked up on Wednesday night from a hideout in central Calcutta. Police said Huda had provided shelter to Gabbar and is believed to have connections with other criminals. Police, after intense grilling, procured names of several criminals from Huda. She has been remanded in police custody.

Investors’ protest

About 300 investors of IFB Finance Ltd, a non-banking financial company, put up a roadblock on Camac Street, around 1.30 pm on Thursday. The protesters alleged that IFB, despite a Company Law Board (CLB) schedule directing a refund of the deposited money, had flouted the order. The police arrested 23 investors, including two women. The detective department, which had earlier probed the case, has written to the CLB and Reserve Bank of India to find out whether IFB had flouted the schedule.

Man run over

Gautam Saha, a motorcyclist in his forties, was run over by a minibus on Prince Anwar Shah Road on Thursday morning. Saha, a resident of Regent Park, was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Winter casualty

The cold wave claimed its first victim in the city on Wednesday night. A 53-year-old pavement-dweller was found dead in front of Bangabasi College. The minimum temperature was 12.7 degrees Centigrade.

Traders’ bandh

The Traders Federation of Calcutta Municipal Markets will observe a bandh on December 28, protesting a CMC circular. The circular takes away the right of inheritance of stall-holders in municipal markets. A delegation met S. Ansari, mayor-in-council, marketing and lighting, in this connection.

Software launch

Sampurnaa, the first software tailor-made for women, was launched in the city on Thursday. Softweb Technologies, which launched the product, said it contains information on housekeeping, investments, utilities and personal data.

Lecture at IIM

Padmabhushan Professor P.V. Indiresan will deliver a lecture on technological progress, equity and ethics on Friday. The seminar will be held at IIM, Calcutta.    

Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
On silver screen, he might be playing a villain in Sanjay Gupta’s Kaante (also starring Amitabh Bachchan), but in real life, actor-singer Lucky (Maqsood) Ali earned a temporary reprieve from Calcutta High Court. On December 24, judge Sujit Burman Roy passed an order staying his arrest warrant, issued by a lower court, till two weeks after the bench resumes in January.

Ali’s lawyers, Sekhar Basu and Debashis Kundu, had appealed against the order issued by the Sixth Metropolitan Magistrate of Bankshal Court.

According to Kundu, a dispute over payment arose between Ali and BMG Crescendo, the company which produced his hit album Sunoh and the songs of which, like O Sanam, catapulted him to instant fame. Ali claimed that the company had defaulted on royalty terms.

The company’s management then filed a defamation suit under Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC. The hearing went on for months. Ali, based in New Zealand, claimed he was not aware of the case and, hence, could not brief his lawyers. The judge subsequently issued an arrest warrant against him. The summons was served at his Mumbai residence.

But Ali’s lawyers said the summons was sent to the wrong address. “The court sent the summons to a different address in Mumbai. Ali never stays there,’’ Kundu added. “In Mumbai, he usually puts up at a five-star hotel in Juhu,’’ he added.

When the summons went unanswered, the magistrate declared Ali a ‘proclaimed offender’.

According to Kundu, Ali’s chartered accountants brought the suit to his notice during a recent visit to Mumbai. “We have petitioned the high court that the defamation case filed by the music company is short on evidence. The entire matter is based on hearsay and there is no evidence that Ali has defamed them,’’ Kundu added.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
A day after making harsh comments on state doctors and hospital staff, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today retracted them following pressure that increased overnight, especially from the CPM-controlled co-ordination committee of state government employees.

The Indian Medical Association and the Association of Health Service Doctors also conveyed their protests to the government and the CPM leadership.

Bhattacharjee, however, defended the spirit in which the comments were made. At a rally in Jalpaiguri on Tuesday, the chief minister had taken to task doctors and staff of government hospitals who shirk their duties and go on strikes. “Such delinquent doctors would be taken by the scruff of their necks and thrown out,” he had said.

At a rally in Malda today, Bhattacharjee apologised for the comments but reiterated that the tendency of a section of doctors and staff to neglect duty and go on strikes would not be tolerated. “I admit such remarks should not have been made in the first place,” the chief minister said.

The “public apology” came shortly after the brief meeting Bhattacharjee had with leaders of the co-ordination committee, who conveyed to him their dismay over what they termed his uncharitable remarks. Yesterday, state IMA president Subir Ganguly, too, had described the chief minister’s comments as “unfortunate”. State CPM secretary Anil Biswas had defended Bhattacharjee’s stand.

“I admit that my language was indecent. I regret the remarks and want to apologise,” Bhattacharjee said. But he stuck to his contention that hospital employees and doctors should be more diligent in maintenance of duty hours.

“Many of them do not go to the hospitals on time. Some doctors run private nursing homes and neglect their hospital work, thereby denying patients the much-needed health care. Babies often die in hospitals for lack of care and attendance. We have to change the system that has been followed for the past 24 years. People now want a change and we intend to live up to their trust and expectations,” the chief minister said.

Bhattacharjee said patients at many hospitals were not getting the food they were supposed to eat. He reiterated that the government would no longer permit processions or agitations in hospitals. “We are determined to take the strongest possible steps to ensure medical care for the people,” he said.


Malda, Dec. 27: 
Yesterday it was the turn of the doctors. Today, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made it clear that he was in no mood to tolerate indiscipline among state government employees.

The chief minister ruled out objections against introduction of smart card and e-governance in state government offices to ensure punctuality and speedy disposal of files. He was addressing the closing ceremony of the state conference of the co-ordination committee of state government employees.

The co-ordination committee had criticised the decision to introduce smart cards for monitoring attendance. The committee’s state secretary, Smarajit Roychowdhury, felt that by introducing the cards the government would project state employees in a bad light. “It is the actual work and not mere punctuality that should be the priority in work culture,” Roychowdhury stated.

Bhattacharjee, however, felt that punctuality should be the top priority for a better work culture in the state. “Unless our employees come to office in time, how can one expect them to complete the day’s work before leaving the office. My advice to you (employees) is to be punctual, responsible and behave like true gentlemen,” Bhattacharjee told the gathering of government employees.

The chief minister refuted the allegation that the decision on smart cards and e-governance had been taken without consulting the co-ordination committee. He added that the “e-governance model will be different” from that of Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu.

Bhattacharjee also criticised the BJP’s war cry against Pakistan, saying it was aimed at winning the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. He, however, said Pakistan was responsible for the spurt in terrorist attacks.


Siliguri, Dec. 27: 
The thriving hawala racket in north Bengal is helping Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) fund militants in the north-east and facilitating Maoist rebels in neighbouring Nepal fund their arms purchases from the region.

Concerned over the growing links with militant outfits and its growing dependence on the clandestine money-transfer channel, central and state intelligence agencies and the local police have started an investigation into the racket.

“We are concerned with the growing dependence of both the ISI and the militant outfits on the hawala hub in Siliguri. Following the intelligence bureau inspector general’s recent memorandum regarding the racket, we are preparing a list of the 30-40 hawala operators operating out of Siliguri,” said a senior state intelligence official.

“The commercial town’s importance and the thriving black market has virtually turned Siliguri into a major hawala hub. Besides catering to major cities like Calcutta, Delhi, and Mumbai it has spread its tentacles to the entire north east and even neighbouring Nepal,” the official added.

The ISI finds the channel convenient to fund outfits like the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) through hawala. The arrest of NDFB militants from a Siliguri hotel established that ultras were using the hawala channel to procure weapons and other sophisticated communication and computer hardware from Siliguri.

“Though only a small amount of cash was recovered from the three NDFB militants arrested from a Siliguri hotel, the “shopping” list of the militants included several powerful hi-range cordless telephones, computers, and sophisticated weapons. The list was worth several lakhs of rupees,” the official said.


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