Partyman says: Just carry on
Woman in taxi robs, assaults teacher
Three killed in spate of mishaps
London bride in dowry torture
Faculty body snubbed, JU launches 3 sections
New address to ease people pressure
The City Diary
Road to reform for slaves of addiction
Alumni join hands to revive alma mater
Antique idol back in temple

 
 
PARTYMAN SAYS: JUST CARRY ON 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
Goodbye 2001, Hello 2002. As Calcutta partied the last night of ‘01 away, some went on a club crawl, others on a disco hop, while a few preferred to stay put at home, with family, friends and TV.

Leading the charge of the big-bash brigade was Jyoti Basu, no less. The octogenarian ex-chief minister accompanied Lord Swraj Paul to Space Circle, just when Shiva was getting into the groove.

The organisers of the do at the Teghoria club pushed the pause button to put Basu on stage, amidst whoops and claps: “I am happy to be amongst you… I don’t want to make a long speech. Just carry on with the party.”

The dancing thousands throughout the city did just that, taking a break only to SMS friends and folks. According to Command and AirTel, the number of outgoing New Year’s greetings, post-midnight, crossed 300,000 for each operator.

If Basu was soaking in the sights and sounds at Space Circle, successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was closeted in his Palm Avenue flat with the family.

Here’s a peek at who was where when the clock struck 12.

Manjit Bawa, painter: “I had gone to Alipore zoo in the afternoon to watch the animals. It was unbelievable… one of the longest queues I’ve seen in my life. I spent the night in Taj Bengal, and had a Chinese dinner with friends.

Raima Sen, actress: “At midnight, I was in the car trying to get to Park Street with friends. We started at Big Ben, moved on to two private parties, before rounding it off at Tantra. We had a blast”

Derek O’ Brien, quiz master: “It was my first New Year at Tollygunge Club. I was with my family and we had dinner there. I have already decided to spend the next 31st at Tolly. But I had to leave by 1.30 am to conserve energy for the races.”

Y.C. Deveshwar, chairman, ITC: “We had a private family dinner at home to ring in the New Year.”

Pallavi Chatterjee, actress: “I was stuck in a traffic jam, on my way to CC&FC from Golden Park, when the curtains came down on ‘01. I was stranded near Park Street. I then dropped into a friend’s party, from where we went to CC&FC, and finally to Winning Streak.

Subrata Mukherjee, mayor: “I am a teetotaller. So, it doesn’t make sense to go party-hopping. Besides, I hadn’t been able to visit my in-laws after the Pujas. So, I used this opportunity to offer Bijoya greetings to my in-laws and stay the night at Kankurgachhi.

Tanushree Shankar, dancer: “I spent a cosy New Year’s eve at home with my mother, her twin sister, another aunt and a couple from Birmingham. At midnight, I was very much home, while my daughter was all over town.”

Sujoy Chakraborty, police commissioner: “I spent New Year’s eve with the family. We had a quiet dinner… just what I like.

   

 
 
WOMAN IN TAXI ROBS, ASSAULTS TEACHER 
 
 
BY SUVRO ROY
 
Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
Beware of a woman travelling in a taxi, who asks you for the time, or for directions. Or you could well suffer the fate of Saurav Ghosh, a Kala Bhavan graduate from Santiniketan.

It was Saturday evening on Rashbehari Avenue. Ghosh, now an arts teacher in Delhi, was waiting to take a bus to Rabindra Sadan. Suddenly, a taxi pulled up in front of him. A young woman opened the door and asked: ‘Dada, kota bajey (What is the time)?’

As Ghosh checked his watch, the woman ‘attacked’ him, showering blows and abuses. Before he could realise what was happening, Ghosh was shoved into the taxi, flanked by the woman at one door and a young man at the other.

“As the taxi sped off towards Hazra, the woman began to abuse me again. She threatened to tear off her clothes and create a scene if I did not hand over my purse and other valuables. The youth, who initially sat silently, later started threatening me,” Ghosh recalled.

Ghosh handed over his purse, containing a few hundred rupees. The woman allowed him to keep some “important papers”, but snatched his watch and grabbed his Raybans, which she returned when she found the glasses to be ‘powered’.

By then, the taxi was nearing the Netaji Bhavan Metro Rail station. The woman ordered the driver to stop at a relatively-deserted spot and ordered Ghosh off. “I alerted the traffic constable standing nearby, but he refused to pay heed to my complaint,” alleged Ghosh, who then walked to a friend’s house on Lower Rawdon Street.

He lodged a complaint (no. 204, dated 30.12.01) with Kalighat police on Sunday.

The police admitted that the case was “unique”. As an official of the detective department said: “We have never encountered such a modus operandi before. An organised gang must be behind this incident.”

The police took Ghosh around the Rashbehari and Hazra areas on Sunday evening to see if he could identify his assailants.

The detective department has taken up the matter and cast its net to try and nab the woman and her accomplice.

   

 
 
THREE KILLED IN SPATE OF MISHAPS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
The new year opened with a string of road accidents, claiming three lives. Among the victims were a 28-year-old woman and a newspaper hawker. At least 15 persons were injured. Bystanders also damaged two private buses on Alipore Bridge after a luxury bus ran over a woman employee of Presidency Jail.

Sutapa Das was killed when her speeding Maruti Omni hit a roadside lamp-post on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. She died on the spot. Four co-passengers, including husband Nirmalya, were admitted to hospital. The Omni was headed for Science City from Salt Lake.

In the second accident, a speeding lorry knocked down Tapan Mohan Ghosh, 34, at the intersection of Eden Hospital Road and C.R. Avenue around 6.30 am on Tuesday. Das, a resident of Bagbazar Street, was rushed to hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead. The driver fled with his vehicle.

Akhtar Hussain, 21, was run over and killed on Central Garden Reach Road early on Tuesday. Another youth, Md. Taiheet, the victim’s friend, was injured.

Seven persons were injured when two buses on routes of 12 and 75 collided on Kingsway, near Eden Gardens, around 10.45 am. The injured were hospitalised. Police impounded the buses but both drivers managed to flee.

Maheshwar Das was knocked down by a taxi on Chittaranjan Avenue. Das, a resident of Mirza Ghalib Street, was admitted to hospital and his condition is critical. The taxi was impounded but the driver fled.

Aruna Roy, a 55-year-old employee of Presidency Jail, was knocked down by a luxury bus on Alipore Bridge. Hospital sources said her condition is critical.

   

 
 
LONDON BRIDE IN DOWRY TORTURE 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
Sonia, born and raised in London, tied the knot with Abhijnan Ghosh in Calcutta on October 28, 2000. Now she is fighting a legal battle with her husband, owner of a contractor’s firm, after allegedly being tortured physically and mentally by her in-laws.

Sonia’s father, Bob Ghosh, is a London-based businessman. The 25-year-old graduated in law from the University of London. She is an expert driver and swimmer.

She filed a formal complaint on October 29 with Gariahat police station against her husband, father-in-law, mother-in-law and sister-in-law after they allegedly tortured her to extract a hefty dowry. City police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty directed the detective department to probe the matter.

Responding to the husband and his family’s prayer for anticipatory bail, the court has directed the police not to arrest them till the disposal of the case. The date for a final hearing would be raised later.

Sonia’s was an arranged marriage. “My father was given the impression that Abhijnan had done his MBA from Melbourne University and was earning Rs 7 lakh a month. Both claims proved false. We were engaged at Calcutta Swimming Club on October 1, 2000.”

Sonia returned to London thereafter, whereas her father flew to Kathmandu on business.

“Within a week I received an SOS from my would-be mother-in-law, urging me to return to Calcutta immediately as her days were numbered. I tried delaying my return, saying I could not without my father. But she pleaded with me and ultimately, I flew first-class to reach Calcutta by mid-October,” Sonia said.

After Bob’s return to Calcutta from Kathmandu, the couple registered their marriage on October 28 and proceeded to London. The husband returned to Calcutta after three weeks. Sonia stayed on to complete her studies. She returned to Calcutta towards February-end and held a reception on March 3, 2001.

After returning from their honeymoon in Port Blair, her ordeal began. Her in-laws tortured her regularly for dowry, she alleged. Then in August, she was thrown out of their house.

   

 
 
FACULTY BODY SNUBBED, JU LAUNCHES 3 SECTIONS 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
There’s confusion on the campus, with Jadavpur University (JU) unveiling three new departments “without the mandatory clearance from the faculty council”. The move has, allegedly, been made under pressure from the ruling CPM, to pack the new faculties with party faithfuls and tilt the scales in the elections to the varsity Court, slated for February 20.

University officials confirmed on Tuesday that the departments of sociology, information technology and adult continuing education had been opened on December 15, “bypassing the faculty council”.

According to the Jadavpur University Act, the creation of a new department must be cleared by the faculty council concerned. There will be two teachers in the adult continuing education department, two in sociology and one in IT.

Registrar Rajat Banerjee, however, claimed that the university executive council and the Court had been kept informed about the move. “There was no irregularity involved in the opening of the new departments,” insisted Banerjee.

The numbers game in the battle for Court berths is hotting up as the university’s highest policy-making body influences the choice of the vice-chancellor. The term of the present incumbent, Ashok Nath Basu, expires in mid-2002.

According to sources, a section of the CPM is “not happy” with vice-chancellor Basu. This, despite the university having recently won five-star status from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC).

Another honour bagged by the varsity during Basu’s tenure is an award from the University Grants Commission (UGC), recognising it as a potential “centre of excellence”. It is learnt that the CPM is backing pro vice-chancellor Ashok Thakur for the top post in JU.

A measure of the importance attached by the CPM to the elections in Jadavpur and Rabindra Bharati universities is reflected in the number of notices in this regard from party secretary Anil Biswas to supporters, published in the CPM mouthpiece over the past few days.

In the last Court elections, 15 teachers were elected to the varsity’s highest body, of which only six were known to owe allegiance to the CPM. The rest of the nine teachers belong to various rival camps. This time, the CPM is desperate to pack in more party loyalists in order to exert greater control over the varsity’s administrative affairs.

The CPM lacks a majority in both the teachers’ and students’ constituencies of the existing Court. Of the six student representatives, two are SFI supporters, while the rest belong to the Naxalite-controlled union.

In the three faculties of arts, science and engineering, the SFI is a dominant factor in only the first. In science and engineering, pro-Naxalite unions hold the upper hand.

“The CPM has failed to win the confidence of both teachers and students. The party is depending solely on government nominees, nominees from the chancellor and representatives from a number of institutions, like the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education and the West Bengal Council for Higher Secondary Education to run the university,” said a senior teacher, on condition of anonymity.

Altogether, 13 members in the university Court come from different constituencies, like government nominee, chancellor’s nominee, the Board, the Council and the National Council for Education (NCE).

   

 
 
NEW ADDRESS TO EASE PEOPLE PRESSURE 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
It takes a township to take the load off a big city. Putting this principle of urban development into practice, a megaplan has been drawn up to make Calcutta a better place to live in.

The government has decided to create a “new” township near Barrackpore, in the northern suburbs. The development will come up on a 20,000-acre circular plot 16 km off Calcutta and will accommodate 1.5 million people. This will achieve what Salt Lake has failed to do — take the population pressure off the city centre.

The proposal for the new city was drawn up by RITES, the railways’ planning agency, and submitted to the government by the Railway Board four years ago.

Government sources felt the project is now feasible after extension of the suburban railway service up to BBD Bag and the beginning of construction of the Dum Dum-Barrackpore Expressway by CMDA. It now takes only about 35 minutes to reach BBD Bag from Barrackpore by train.

Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said it was the need of the hour to build a new city near Calcutta. “We are already working on two new townships in Sonarpur and Dankuni. Work on Rajarhat is also in progress. We are examining the RITES proposal as well,” he added.

It will be a circular city, with a radius of 9 km. The central business district has been planned like a longish, triangular slice of cake on the eastern side with a three-km diameter.

The centre of the circle will house a circular central park with a half-kilometre radius. “In the centre of the park, a 200-metre tall tower will be erected with a spherical stainless steel ball on top, reflecting sunlight,” said an official.

Apart from the central business district, the new city will also have three separate residential sectors, a dedicated area for warehouses, industries, and an area for those whose land would be acquired to implement the project.

RITES mentioned in its report that efforts to improve the quality of life in Calcutta will never succeed unless an effective new city is created to house at least 3.3 million of the city’s population.

The report claimed Salt Lake was not planned to take a substantial load off the city’s population and described the township as “a fungal growth of unplanned urbanisation.” It said that the 5,000-acre township was incapable of providing Calcutta, which has a night population of four million, permanent relief.

The report also pointed out that by taking similar steps, London had reduced its population from 4.4 million in 1931 to 2.45 million in 1971.

“The government never considered the report earlier because it was preoccupied with the Rajarhat project and the extension of the railway link from Barrackpore to BBD Bag via Dum Dum had not yet been completed,” said an official.

Once the authorities realised that the Rajarhat township alone can’t ease the pressure, there has been a rethink on the RITES report and a decision on the project, now being examined by various agencies, is expected soon.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Bomb scare sparks Metro security drill

Metro authorities beefed up security at all the stations on Tuesday after a bomb scare on Monday evening. There was panic at Dum Dum Metro station on Monday when an employee overheard a conversation among three youth about blowing up the station. He ran to the control room and told the station master what he had heard. The station-master informed the security in-charge of the station and also contacted the Lalbazar bomb disposal squad. Personnel from Government Railway Police as well as Lalbazar rushed to the spot with bomb-detecting equipment and a sniffer dog. By then, the three youth whose conversation created the panic had disappeared. Police failed to track them down even after an extensive search.

Fog at Delhi delays flights

All morning flights to New Delhi were held up at Dum Dum airport due to dense fog over the New Delhi airport. The first Indian Airlines flight from the city airport was held up for five hours on Tuesday morning and finally took off around 10.30 am. The morning Jet Airways flight left the airport after 2 pm, several hours behind schedule. An Indian Airlines flight from New Delhi arrived around 1.30 pm, instead of 9.30 am. As a result of the delay, the same flight which plies on the Calcutta-Guwahati sector, was delayed by over five hours.

Sealdah eviction

After getting an assurance from urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya about resettlement, about 550 hawkers of the Sealdah railway station area vacated the place on Tuesday. However, some hawkers are still occupying the place. Later in the evening, the Citu organised a meeting on the Sealdah station premises and criticised hawkers who did not vacate the area despite the government’s assurance of rehabilitation.

Copyright protest

A section of Youth Congress workers demonstrated at Rabindra Sadan, demanding the extension of copyright on Rabindranath Tagore’s writings and keep the same in the hands of Visva-Bharati.

Fall on tracks

Sovarani Dutta, 55, a resident of Nungi in Budge Budge, was seriously injured when she fell on the Metro tracks at Rabindra Sarobar station on Tuesday. She was taken to MR Bangur Hospital with head injuries. Her condition was stated to be critical. Dutta was returning home after visiting the hospital for a check-up, sources said.

Power bill boycott

SUCI started a CESC bill boycott movement on Tuesday. The party supporters demonstrated in front of CESC offices. Sujit Biswas, secretary of All Bengal Electricity Consumers Association, said they have appealed to consumers not to pay the enhanced electricity charges.

New railway chief

Amar Singh took over as the general manager of Metro Railway on Monday. He joined the Indian Railway Engineering Service in 1966.

Shot dead

Swapan Mondal, 28, was shot dead at Bishnupur, on the southern fringes of the city, on Tuesday. Mondal had a criminal background.    

 
 
ROAD TO REFORM FOR SLAVES OF ADDICTION 
 
 
BY SANKAR SRIDHAR
 
Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
Ahhou, 42, was a slave to brown sugar for 15 years. Doctors advised his parents to help him switch to alcohol, which was “less harmful”. But that was hardly any help. After countless detoxification attempts and relapse scares, Ahhou was finally admitted to Arunoday Midway Home, Narendrapur. Now, 20 months later, he has not only taken rapid strides on the road to recovery and is also part of a seven-member counselling team at the home.

This ‘occupational therapeutic community’, now in its 25th year, was the first drug-rehabilitation centre in the eastern region. The sprawling midway home — accommodating a dormitory, offices, recreation units, prayer rooms, a picturesque garden (with a gaggle of geese cared for by the inmates) — is infused with a quiet spirit of freedom. “The walls signify only the end of our plot of land,” says Sujit Guha of the centre. “It is not there to restrict our movement.”

Having built a reputation to reckon with in the past 25 years, today the crack team of counsellors and clinical staff chalk out programmes for clients, who hail from not only all parts of the country but also places abroad, like the UK and Canada. “You can’t know what you are doing, till you don’t know what you have done,” another counsellor says, explaining why all the clinical staff are themselves recovering substance-users.

Working together with their better-known sister concern, Calcutta Samaritans, and other independent agencies, the clinical staff stands by the addicts throughout the recovery process that begins with the detoxification and ends with “instilling in them the confidence to take on life without drugs,” says Tanmoy Bose, warden. Detoxification is a process of flushing out the toxins deposited by the chemical, and therapy includes counselling and indulging them in activities. The clients who show good comebacks are allowed to go and meet their families once a week. “This shows them that we trust them,” says Tanmoy.

The clients come from all strata of society — doctors, engineers and IAS officers with chronic drinking problems, to slum-dwellers who are hooked to heroin and brown sugar. A major section of the affluent segment is in the 17-30 age group, while girls as young as seven are admitted from the poorer stratum. “Curiosity, peer pressure, family expectation and neglect are the projected culprits, but weakness of will is the main cause,” asserts Mridula Bose, the warden. “No addict is ready to accept that he is a slave to the chemical.”

Even after recovery, their troubles are far from over. Shunned by society and ostracised by family, they find it hard to adjust to normal life. “It may take years to regain the trust they have lost,” says Simon, a counsellor, adding that “those not strong enough usually suffer a relapse”. To help them, the midway home has a ‘family support system’ at 8A, Ripon Street that meets every Saturday. This group educates families regarding the mental state of the patients, suggesting ways of easing tensions. Many of their past clients have also built groups, that meet at intervals to share their joys and sorrows. “ This interaction helps them deal with the situations,” explains Bose.

Funds are, however, hard to come by. Limited to well-wishers or the grateful families of the recovered users, sponsors are difficult to find. “Recovery is a long-term process that can take years,” Ahhou says knowingly. And no one is ready to fund for such long periods of time.

The centre’s objective does not stop with rehabilitation. “We need to spread the message that one does not need this pseudo-support to tide over troubles,” says Tanmoy. “If we can cull the demand, supply will stop on its own.”

   

 
 
ALUMNI JOIN HANDS TO REVIVE ALMA MATER 
 
 
DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
South Suburban Branch School, a well-known institution in south Calcutta, which started a downhill journey 10 years ago, is now turning the bend, thanks to efforts by ex-students. The 75-year-old institution has former students across the country and abroad, and its appeals for aid have been heard. Already, help has arrived from New Jersey, Pondicherry and organisations like CESC.

The school, which was set up in a house on Sarat Bose Road in 1926, produced eminent alumni like high court judges Umesh Chandra Bandopadhyay, Prabir Samanta and Asit Bishi, head of the department of history, Jadavpur University, Chittabrata Palit and Purnendu Chatterjee of US-based The Chatterjee Group.

The school has Classes V to XII, with arts, science and commerce streams. In the early 1990s, bickering broke out between a section of teachers and the management, leading to litigation that affected the institution’s affairs. The school stopped receiving government aid for not filing audit reports, the teaching and non-teaching staff stopped getting their salaries and power supply was disconnected.

In September last year, Calcutta High Court appointed an administrator to resolve the impasse in the school. Administrator Gour Chandra Baidya worked overtime and in November, organised a seven-month pay packet for the teachers. The balance will be cleared after submission of an audit report.

The number of students, too, dropped sharply to a mere 114 from 1,200. On hearing of the sorry state of affairs, a group of former students decided to come forward. In November 2000, they formed the South Suburban Branch School Ex-Students’ Association. “The ruin was brought about mainly during the tenure of Mihir Kiron Biswas as secretary,” alleged Kshitimohan Chakraborty, vice-president of the association.

Echoing the view, the present teacher in-charge, Sasanka Sekhar Pal, said: “It was Mihirbabu who mismanaged the school affairs. During his tenure, the library and laboratory were closed down.” Former headmaster Sunirmal Bhattacharya charged: “Mihirbabu took several decisions without informing me. He took away the keys from me and brought in false allegations against me.”

Biswas, when contacted, was on the defensive. He said: “How can I be responsible for all these ills? I was secretary for a brief period. The school is now run by an administrator. If I have caused so much damage, let the authorities sue me.”

But the ex-students’ association is not interested in complicating matters further. “Our sole aim is to run the school smoothly and restore its former glory. So, we are running from door to door for donations. We have received aid from former students in Pondicherry and New Jersey and we have been assured of help from another ex-student in California. Moreover, former students in the CESC helped us get back our electricity connection. Even Purnendu Chatterjee has assured us that he will help,” said Bhattacharya.

The ex-students’ association is preparing to observe the platinum jubilee of the school from January 4 to January 7. “We will make the platinum jubilee of our school a befitting tribute to it and for this, we have chalked out an elaborate programme,” Bhattacharya added.

   

 
 
ANTIQUE IDOL BACK IN TEMPLE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
After a week-long search for a 300-year-old antique idol, the police struck gold on Tuesday.

It was a cold wintry night in Swarupnagar, North 24-Parganas, when Pandit Rabi Das noticed the asthadhatu (eight metals) idol of Radha missing. The temple door lock had been prised open and the idol, along with the gold jewellery, was missing. “There have been attempts to steal the idol, but we fobbed off the thieves over the years. This time, we failed,” Das sobbed to the police.

The police, under supervision of SP (Barasat) Rahul Srivastava, started investigations. “When we learnt that the antique idol was worth Rs 10 lakh, we realised the thief was a smart one,” said Srivastava.

The foot-long idol, weighing around 10 kg, could not have vanished unless there had been an inside job. Residents of Melangapara seemed equally baffled. “The idol has been part of our lives for so many years. We can hardly believe that someone from our village stole it,” said Ananda Bannerji, a resident.

On Monday, the telephone rang at Swarupnagar police station and a resident of Melangapara called to say he had seen the idol stashed in a ramshackle shanty, a few km away from Swarupnagar town.

Late in the evening, a few officers of the thana, under supervision of Srivastava, stormed the spot and found the idol. Within hours, a 19-year-old youth, later identified as Panchu Pal, was rounde up on charges of theft.

“Panchu confessed that he had sold all the jewellery to someone. We cannot identify this receiver for the sake of investigations,” said a senior police official.

During interrogation, Panchu confessed that he planned to steal the idol two months ago.

“I had drawn up elaborate plans and even carried out a trial run. I was afraid to smuggle out the idol, so well-known in the area,” Panchu said.

The police suspect he might have had other associates who are eluding the police net. For now, however, villagers of Melangapara are happy that the idol has been restored.

   
 

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