Wed on paper, fret not later
Demolition drive rips billboards
Protest banner on pacemakers
If the sun shines, the lights come on
The City Diary
Minister at helm irks hotel staff
Power bill hits Howrah supply
Feb. date for canal ouster
Court rejects RBI plea in chit fund case
Smooth route to meet for CPM

Calcutta, Jan. 4: 
For Soma Ghosh (not her real name), marriage had turned out to be an ordeal. In the face of constant harassment by her in-laws, she finally decided to leave her husband last year, hoping to start life afresh. But now, she’s running from legal pillar to police post, desperate to seek redress and move on. She has failed to even register a divorce case in Alipore court, as her marriage had not been ‘registered’.

Soma is not alone. A large number of Calcutta housewives continue to suffer domestic violence because of their failure to annul marriages that hadn’t been registered, in the first place.

According to a survey carried out by the West Bengal Legal Aid Services or Lasweb, the “low level of marriage registration” has contributed significantly to the “continued torture and harassment” of as many as 30 per cent of Calcutta housewives by their in-laws.

“It is a strange situation. Many highly-educated families display pathetic ignorance when it comes to this simple requirement during marriage,” said Gitanath Ganguly, executive chairman, Legal Aid. “It is really surprising how an educated woman displays this kind of ignorance. As a result, she finds herself in trouble when it comes to securing maintenance, property or other benefits at the time of annulment of marriage.”

A Supreme Court ruling requires every marriage in the country to be registered, but the ruling does not automatically translate into enforcement. “To date it is a directory ruling,” clarified Ganguly.

According to the Legal Aid findings, barely 2.5 per cent of the total marriages in the city are registered. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) registered around 250,000 births in 2000. Around 200,000 marriages are known to take place every year, of which only around 10,000 were registered in 2000.

Armed with the findings of the Legal Aid survey, the Marriage Registrars’ Association has approached the government for a notification regarding the “mandatory registration” of marriages.

“What the government can do as an important first step is to ask its employees to furnish marriage registration certificates within a specific period of the wedding,” said S.S. Gupta, president of the association, adding that some Central departments and public-sector undertakings had already taken a decision along these lines.

According to Justice Noor-e-Alam Chowdhury of Calcutta High Court, though the court was well aware of how the “low level of marriage registration” was prolonging the trauma of many married women and their families, it had to conduct itself within the framework of law. “Judges cannot go beyond the rules framed in the Acts of the Constitution. So, a divorce suit in an unregistered marriage has to be viewed as such, ” said Chowdhury. “Marriage registration should be declared a must by the administration and enforced accordingly.”

Lawyer Sailendu Rakshit, specialising in divorce suits, feels blame for the low marriage registration figures must be shared by the people. “In the absence of proper registration, it becomes very difficult to prove that the divorce case in question relates to a legally-solemnised marriage,” said Rakshit. “The people must be more responsive to the apex court ruling.”


Calcutta, Jan. 4: 
The Special Action Squad of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, along with conservancy department workers, swung into action on Friday and removed over 25 billboards that were blocking three heritage buildings. The drive was the first phase of the month-long operation.

Mayor-in-council (conservancy) Mala Roy said the drive was initiated after billboard agencies and advertising companies failed to respond to the letters despatched by the civic body.

“They were warned before the Pujas. Even reminders went unanswered,” said Roy.

The demolition team reached Writers’ Buildings around 2 pm, from where six billboards were brought down, some of them covering St Andrew’s Church. “We did not meet with any resistance,” said Roy.

Later, the team dismantled hoardings in front of Asiatic Society, on Park Street, and the Indian Museum.

The dismantling programme follows a detailed meeting held at the civic body headquarters in February last year, where a list of 102 heritage buildings and sites, eclipsed by billboards, was drawn up.

“We will complete the entire process within a month. The decision has been taken and all 66 advertising agencies concerned have been ticked off. It is now up to them to act or face the consequences,” Roy added.

Deputy commissioner of police (traffic) M.K. Singh said that a police contingent was in position during the dismantling drive.

“We had to take adequate protection, as the drive was carried out during peak traffic hour. However, everything went off smoothly,” said Singh.


Calcutta, Jan. 4: 
Concerned at the rising number of “indiscriminate” permanent pacemaker implant (PPI) cases conducted and “medical packages” offered by city hospitals, People for Better Treatment (PBT) has vowed to take up cudgels to try and standardise the procedure.

Describing the indiscriminate use of pacemaker implants and soaring medical costs as “unimaginable” and “barbaric”, Dr Kunal Saha, president of the newly-formed PBT, said he would initiate a “mass movement” on the issue. Saha said he has received several complaints where patients had to cough up thousands more than the stated amount, which is “unthinkable” in any developed country.

Launching a diatribe against certain sections of doctors, Saha said the medical body “must wake up to the issue and initiate some form of action against culprits, not only in PPI cases, but in other areas of medical practice as well”.

Raja Sen of Garia Station Road was lured by the reputation of a newly-formed cardiac speciality hospital, which had a package offer of Rs 15,000 for a PPI. “I was told my mother had developed some complications and I ended up footing Rs 24,000, apart from the cost of the pacemaker.”

Arunavo Pal of Chakdah, Nadia, has vowed he will never go back to SSKM Hospital, where his father Gouranga Pal had undergone PPI two months ago. “The doctors told me everything would be covered within Rs 58,000, but I had to spend more than a lakh as they implanted a dual-chamber pacemaker, which a specialist later told me was completely unnecessary,” he said.

Meanwhile, mayor and Indian National Trade Union Congress (Intuc) president Subrata Mukherjee has entered the fray by launching an attack against “malpractices” in the medical services.

Intuc, with a substantial presence among technical and general staff in major city hospitals, is planning a large-scale agitation against the hospital authorities to protest “indiscriminate” and “unnecessary use of pacemakers” and “packages” that drain patients financially.

Mukherjee said: “We cannot allow doctors and hospitals to play around with people’s lives.” Intuc has already asked its members to mobilise opinion on the issue. “We have asked the hospital authorities to bring greater transparency in their packages and also direct doctors to conduct detailed investigations before deciding on pacemaker implants,” said Intuc general secretary Ramen Pandey.


Calcutta, Jan. 4: 
A little bit of sunshine. That’s all it takes for two women in Bijoygarh to light up their homes, surf the Net or switch on their favourite TV shows.

Swapna Roy, an engineer from Jadavpur University, and her friend Papia Sengupta have harnessed solar energy and converted it into alternating current (AC). What’s more, the south Calcutta duo claims that the process is perfectly affordable. “So far, the direct current (DC) derived from solar energy has been used to light up streets and houses, operate fans and heat up water. We thought if we could come up with low-cost gadget to convert the DC to AC, then it could become very popular for household use,” said Swapna.

The JU engineer, along with Papia, has been running Surya Enterprise, in Bijoygarh, for the past six years, marketing various electrical goods. Now, they are dishing out lanterns, street-lamps, bulbs, calling bells, transistors, fans, water-heaters and cookers which can be run with solar power. “A whole range of electrical and electronic goods can be operated with the AC supply generated from our machine,” said Papia. “After you instal the gadget, the sunlight comes free and there is no pollution. If the sky is not cloudy, you can operate anything, from your computer to your electric iron.”

Swapna’s husband, also an engineer, has been roped in to help market the photo-voltaic cell-based gadget, which promises to help at least some Calcuttans cut down on their CESC and SEB bills. But the utility is not restricted to urban boundaries, insists Swapna. “Solar energy converted to AC can be used effectively in the rural areas which are yet to be electrified or where power supply is erratic. For instance, village schools can impart computer education with the help of our gadget.”



Youth jumps to death on Metro tracks

A 23-year-old man jumped to his death on the Belgachhia station tracks on Friday morning, throwing Metro services out of gear. Police said the youth, later identified as Amit Mukherjee, a resident of Belgachhia Road, entered the platform after buying a one-zone single ride ticket around 10.15 am. After waiting for a while near the flight of stairs, Mukherjee suddenly jumped in front of a Tollygunge-bound train which entered the platform around 10.24 am, witnesses said. Services resumed around half an hour later. Seven pairs of trains had to be cancelled, disrupting rush-hour schedule till noon.

CM role sought in cable trouble

Federation of Consumer Associations, West Bengal, has urged chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to personally intervene into the “ad hoc and haphazard” manner in which cable TV operators are charging consumers for cable connections. The federation claims it has been “flooded with complaints” of uneven rates from consumers not only in Calcutta and the suburbs, but from the districts as well.

Held for murder

Hanif, alias, Laga, was arrested in the Karaya police station area on Friday on charges of murder. A pair of blood-stained scissors was seized from him. Jamil Ahmed, alias Kalua, 19, has been stabbed to death on Thursday night when he was sitting in a tea shop on Broad Street. Gang-rivalry is believed to be the reason behind the murder.

Scholar cremated

P.N.V. Shastri, eminent Sanskrit scholar, who passed away on Thursday, was cremated at the Keoratala burning ghat. He died of a heart attack at the age of 82 and is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter. Over 5,000 followers from south Calcutta joined the funeral procession to pay homage to Shastri, who was an expert in the Puranas and the Vedas.

Power theft

The CESC and the police in joint raids on Friday evening snapped 250 illegal connections from Jyotish Roy Road in Behala, Kalikapur and Purba Palli in Purba Jadavpur. Nine persons were arrested, a CESC spokesperson said.

Trains rescheduled

The Up and Down Howrah-Delhi Janata Express will be terminated at Mughalsarai and the Up and Down Sealdah-Delhi-Lalquila Express will be terminated at Kanpur till January 10, according to a press release issued by the Eastern Railways. There will be no services of the Howrah-Delhi Janata Express between Mughalsarai and Delhi and the Sealdah-Delhi-Lalquila Express between Kanpur and Delhi. The decision was taken due to dense fog over the Northern Railway line beyond Mughalsarai and consequent problems being faced in train operations.


Shri Sudhangshuji Maharaj will lay the foundation stone for Anand Dham, at Karunamoyee More, near Tollygunge Metro station, on Saturday morning. To be built by the Anand Dham Vishwa Jagriti Mission Trust, the complex will house a school, a college, a medical centre, a temple, a prayer hall and a marriage hall.    

Calcutta, Jan. 4: 
Minister for tourism Dinesh Dakua on Friday took over as chairman of Great Eastern Hotel after present incumbent and principal tourism secretary P.N. Ray decided to join a private firm in Mumbai. A notification on Dakua’s appointment by Governor Viren J. Shah was issued on Thursday.

Dakua’s appointment, say sources, has evoked protest from the hotel staff. “The government abolished the system of ministers running the hotel in June 1997. I personally feel Dakua, saddled with other responsibilities, will be unable to supervise the administration,” said Pijush Roy Chowdhury, member of the Citu-controlled staff and workers’ union.

However, hotel member-secretary K.P. Sinha said there was nothing unusual in the appointment. “I am of the opinion that the hotel, which has already got a facelift, will be better managed with the minister at the helm,” he added.


Calcutta, Jan. 4: 
With Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) deciding to supply 30 mw less to Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC), residents of Howrah will face hour-long power cuts from Saturday. CESC has an agreement with DVC for supply of around 50 mw of power.

The R.P. Goenka-controlled company, which needs 1000 mw during peak hours, also gets support of about 295 mw from the West Bengal State Electricity Board.

The move to regulate power supply to CESC has been taken by DVC following an order passed by Calcutta High Court on December 24. The order gives DVC the liberty to disconnect power supply to CESC due to default in payment of bills. The private power facility reportedly owes DVC arrears to the tune of Rs 66.07 crore.

Earlier, on December 21, the court had directed CESC to make an interim payment of Rs 8 crore to DVC.

The court order has prompted DVC to take the decision to snap power to CESC twice a day — from 10 am to 12 noon and 3.30 pm to 5.30 pm — initially for a period of seven days. “We will review the situation after seven days. If CESC fails to pay us after that, we will stop supplying power,” DVC officials said.

According to a CESC release, DVC has announced restriction of supply to the company because of its inability to pay Rs 8 crore by December 24.

CESC managing director Sumantra Banerjee has written to DVC, saying that the company has made a payment of Rs 5 crore in the last week of December and will pay the balance by middle of January.

In the letter, Banerjee said: “Our tariff proposal for 2001-02 includes an estimated Rs 60 crore of imports from DVC this year. Regrettably, the regulatory commission (West Bengal Electricity Regulatory Commission) has disallowed any imports from DVC in 2001-02. We are appealing before Calcutta High Court on January 7 that given the network constraint, DVC imports are essential in order to supply to Howrah.”

The press release issued by the company says that until such time the matter is resolved, CESC has promised that it will pay DVC its monthly import bills and clear the arrears (undisputed) at the rate of Rs 2 crore a month from February.


Calcutta, Jan. 4: 
The second phase of Operation Tolly’s Nullah, on the Kudghat-Hastings route, will be conducted in February. Over 1,800 people are likely to be displaced in the drive to clear the canal banks of unauthorised settlers.

District magistrate (South 24-Parganas) Alapan Bandopadhyay told Metro on Friday that “final preparations are underway and notices will be issued to the illegal settlers”.

In order to chalk out details of the drive, the state government has formed a committee, comprising city police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty as chairman, Bandopadhyay himself and superintendent of police (South 24-Parganas) D.K. Ganguly among other officials.

After the drive is over, the irrigation department will start work on excavating the Adi Ganga, a long-standing plan of the state government.

During the Pujas, the first phase of eviction saw hundreds being displaced between the proposed Tollygunge-to-Garia Metro Railway stretch.

The drive also covered parts of Naktala and Bansdroni, before the Trinamul Congress, led by chairperson Mamata Banerjee, staged a demonstration and stalled the eviction.

The eviction, however, was completed after two days.


Calcutta, Jan. 4: 
The additional chief judicial magistrate today instructed the Reserve Bank of India to hand over to Calcutta Police its reports relating to investigations of chit funds, giving a boost to the state’s campaign against corrupt finance companies.

The apex bank was unwilling to share the reports with police, despite RBI governor Bimal Jalan’s promise to Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta of “full cooperation”. The police had asked the RBI to hand over the reports after it came to light that the apex bank had investigated the “books and accounts” of some chit funds — one of them as early as in August 2000.

On December 21, the Sealdah court had issued a notice asking the RBI to make the investigation reports available to the police. Though the bank had handed over some reports, the police felt it was “unsubstantial”.

The court issued another notice on December 29, asking the RBI to hand over all documents, including correspondence between the RBI’s central and Calcutta offices, regarding the investigations. The RBI claimed that the documents demanded by the police were confidential.

Interestingly, the apex bank has maintained that it does not have authority over “unincorporated” finance companies. A RBI spokesperson had recently asserted that the Calcutta office had sent a “decoy” to gather information but no investigation against any “specific firm” had taken place. “We simply do not have the authority,” she said.

Disputing the apex bank’s claim of confidentiality, the police said: “According to the Evidence Act, documents can be withheld only if their disclosure affects public or greater national interest. We need the RBI’s investigation reports in the interest of the public. There are thousands of investors who had invested money in these firms. One of them has even killed himself.”

After hearing arguments for two days, the court today instructed the RBI to hand over the documents to the police.

In a related development, many investors have filed police complaints, saying they were “induced” to deposit money with these firms as they were shown an RBI memorandum indicating that the dealings of the firms had been probed by the RBI.

The RBI had probed the dealings of at least two chit funds — Citi Securities and Indian Securities. While Citi Securities was investigated in August 2000, Indian Securities was probed in April 2001. In January 2001, the Calcutta Police asked the RBI’s non-banking finance companies section to probe the dealings of chit funds, but the RBI had said it did not have the authority.

By saying that chit funds were outside its purview, the RBI concealed that it had investigated the dealings of Citi Securities and followed it up with a probe into Indian Securities, again without informing the police.


Calcutta, Jan 4: 
The CPM state leadership is unlikely to face any challenge from within the party over ideological matters during the 20th state conference, as most of the dissident leaders seem to have lost the enthusiasm to raise contentious issues.

Realising that the people have rejected Saifuddin Chowdhury’s Party for Democratic Socialism and refused to listen to the political issues he had raised within the CPM, disenchanted CPM leaders have now deemd it prudent to keep a low profile.

Though some of the dissident leaders had planed to raise the same issues that had led to Chowdhury leaving the organisation, they would rather not meet the same fate as the PDS leader.

With the PDS not winning even one seat during the May Assembly polls, the dissidents have decided not to raise contentious issues, such as too much dependence on democratic socialism and suppression of minority groups within the party, during the state conference to be held from February 22.

Some important party functionaries, such as former CPM South 24-Parganas district secretary Samir Putatunda, had joined the new organisation floated by Chowdhury. Many in the CPM who had also morally supported Chowdhury.

Some of these leaders had even planned to raise, during the state conference, the issues over which Chowdhury had left the party. But now, many of Chowdhury’s followers in the CPM have abandoned these plans.

The 20th state conference will be held in Calcutta in February on the basis of resolutions being drafted for the 19th party congress by the CPM central committee, which is holding a three-day session in the city from today.

However, both the party congress and the state conference have lost their significance as the CPM leadership has already settled controversial issues during the special party congress held in Thiruvananthapuram. Major issues such as the CPM joining a coalition government in Delhi and identifying the main enemy between the Congress and BJP have also been sorted out during the special conference.

In the party’s Bengal unit, there are no major differences among senior party leaders on ideological issues. But the party is facing factionalism in districts like North 24-Parganas, Calcutta, Hooghly and Nadia over control of party centres.

Admitting this, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said they had managed to hold organisational polls at different levels without any trouble between party leaders.

“Only 4-5 per cent of our local zonal and branch committees were formed on the basis of elections. The rest of the bodies were reorganised through consensus among party functionaries,” Biswas claimed.


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