Cops armed to break blockade
City traffic in twin traps
Roadblock ban drives Trinamul to the streets
Con couple in police dragnet
Hardware park for tech push
Balancing books and biz basics
The city diary
Infotech slump to biotech boom
Sheriff draws flak for death rule remark
IT conglomerate comes a-calling

Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
No road blocks, no rail-rokos. Do what you must to keep these passages free for the public. Those are the ground rules laid down by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government to give the police the authority to foil the bandh on Thursday and “prevent inconvenience to the people”.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Banibrata Basu, said on Tuesday that the police have been instructed to lathicharge demonstrators who deliberately hold up traffic on city streets. “The state government has issued clear instructions to crack down on those who block roads to demonstrate their point,” Basu said.

The police announcement comes in the wake of a government notice last week prohibiting any kind of obstruction on roads and rail tracks.

“From local ruffians to political leaders, everybody takes to the street on some pretext or the other, as a mark of ‘protest’,’’ said deputy commissioner of police, traffic, M.K. Singh.

In a clear warning to para dadas and politicians alike, the city police promised to implement the keep-the-roads-clear order, even if it meant coming down hard on all those staging a sit-in. Gone are the days of watching from the sidelines or pleading with the protesters to give way, they said.

“We will use force, if necessary, to implement the new directive,” said Basu. “We will initiate specific cases under Sections 341 and 283 of the Indian Penal Code against the agitators. They can be punished with jail sentences ranging from a week to a month, in addition to a fine of up to Rs 2,000.’’

The “acid test” for the force will be on Thursday, when the Trinamul Congress will pitch its weight behind the SUCI to make the bandh, called against the government’s policies, a success.

At Writers’ Buildings on Tuesday, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee administration made it clear that normalcy would be maintained on January 10. The chief minister has instructed his ministers to attend office and directed the police force to clear roadblocks at the first hint of trouble.

According to the Lalbazar traffic police control room, an average of five roadblocks are reported every day. Last year, over 2,000 roadblocks were recorded, with reasons ranging from accidents to political protests. Just a week into the new year, over 20 blockades have already been reported.

Environmentalist Soumen Ghosh quotes Union petroleum ministry figures to show that in Calcutta, over 100 litres of petrol and diesel are wasted every day with vehicles stuck in jams caused by roadblocks.

Lalbazar findings show that in the aftermath of a roadblock, it takes over an hour for the flow of vehicles to return to normalcy. “Traffic piles up, blocking movement of vehicles on both sides of major thoroughfares, inconveniencing thousands, just for the whims of a few people. We will not tolerate it from now on,’’ Basu warned.

Citing a few instances to highlight the range of road-shows, the traffic police control room said Burrabazar locals had recently squatted on the arterial Mahatma Gandhi Road to protest lack of civic amenities.

At the other end of town, local ’dadas’ in south Calcutta had blocked Sarat Bose Road for hours to protest an accident.

And Congress leaders of the Manoharpukur Road area had overrun the busy S.P. Mukherjee Road a couple of days ago to protest a murder.

Basu said on each of these occasions, movement of vehicles in the areas was paralysed. “We have information that ambulances carrying patients were stuck in traffic jams because of the roadblock,’’ he added.

Trinamul Congress leader and city mayor Subrata Mukherjee has supported the drive against roadblocks, but opposed the proposed police action against protesters.

Mukherjee, who was at the forefront of the jail bharo march on Tuesday, said: “Roadblocks inconvenience thousands of commuters. It is unethical…. But in a democracy, nothing should be done with force. The government should build up public opinion against roadblocks, instead of letting the police loose on protesters.”


Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
What’s stopping Calcutta traffic from hitting the fast lane? Hawkers and on-street parking, say the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and the CMDA.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has urged municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya to take “immediate action”, through the newly-formed Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Committee, to combat these “twin evils”.

Convinced that hawkers (“a good number of them not Calcuttans”) are denying pedestrians the use of pavements and on-street parking is causing narrowing of carriageways, Mukherjee said: “Due to these two factors, vehicles cannot move at more than 19 kmph along most of the city’s arterial roads. There are certain stretches where cars can only move at 5 kph.”

A recent survey conducted by the CMDA has revealed how “on-street parking” has cut the width of the carriageway significantly and contributed to the slowing down of traffic in several areas.

According to Sudhanshu Sil, chairman of CMDA’s central tender committee, 25 per cent of all arterial roads in the central business district area, extending from Vivekananda Road in the north to AJC Bose Road in the south, is taken up by parking lots. The CMDA survey shows that the city needs parking space for 2,800 cars in the BBD Bag and adjoining areas, up to Bidhan Sarani, and 1,600 cars in the Esplanade area, up to Park Street.

Besides exploring the possibility of creating more parking lots, a few measures are now being considered by the CMC and the state government to improve traffic conditions in Calcutta:

Relaxation of building rules if the ground floor is utilised as a commercial parking lot under CMC control. The owner will be allowed to raise extra floors if the parking lot can accommodate a minimum of 25 cars

Parking fee to be hiked during peak business hours in the BBD Bag area

A ban on parking on all major arterial roads in the central business district area

“Serious thought should be given to generating off-street parking facilities at select locations,” Mukherjee said. Admitting that Parkomat was not the answer to parking problems, the mayor clarified that the next automated parking complex would be commissioned only after the one on Rawdon Street had received a good enough response.


Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
With 48 hours to go for the SUCI-sponsored bandh, the Trinamul Congress on Tuesday took to the streets in defiance of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s prohibition on roadblocks.

Led by Mamata Banerjee, thousands of Trinamul supporters threw afternoon traffic out of gear in the Esplanade-Park Street belt.

Protesting ‘anti-people’ policies — like increased education and hospital fees, hike in electricity tariff and the ban on road and rail blocks — 7,000 Trinamul members, including Mamata, Pankaj Banerjee, Subrata Mukherjee, Saugata Roy, Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, Mala Roy and Ranjit Panja, courted arrest on Rani Rashmoni Road around 3 pm. They were taken to Presidency Jail, from where they were released.

Addressing the crowd from a makeshift dais atop a Matador van before her arrest, Mamata announced that her agitation would continue against Bhattacharjee’s “kala kanoon (black law)” prohibiting road and rail blockades.

“We will launch a jail bharo in every district over the next month. I will personally lead every agitation and court arrest with my supporters,” she declared. The law-violation campaign will conclude at Midnapore on February 10.

According to Subrata Mukherjee, it was the Trinamul’s duty to protest Bhattacharjee’s “Draconian” ban on road and rail blockades. “We don’t support rail roko, rasta roko or rallies on weekdays. But Buddhababu’s black law has compelled us to take to the streets,” the mayor added.

Suspended Trinamul MP Ajit Panja lashed out at the jail bharo programme. “How can Mamata launch a law-violation programme when she herself displayed scant regard for the party constitution during the recent organisational polls? Where is her Bengal package ? Has she forgotten it ?” he demanded.

The Bengal package was far from the agitation agenda, as several processions converged at the Gandhi statue on Mayo Road from Hazra, Raja Subodh Mullick Square, Girish Park and Hedua. Traffic along Chittaranjan Avenue, Bidhan Sarani, Esplanade, Ashutosh Mukherjee Road, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Brabourne Road and Strand Road was severely disrupted.

Hundreds poured in from the districts in Matadors, via Sealdah and Howrah stations.

From Mayo Road, the protesters marched towards Rani Rashmoni Road to violate prohibitory orders, under Section 144 CrPC.

The police had kept around 50 private buses ready at Esplanade. The Trinamul leaders and their supporters were herded into these buses and driven to Presidency Jail.


Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
It could have been a plot straight from a potboiler. A fleeing duo taking refuge with another couple till the latter decides to fund their own wedding through a “fake” ransom drama.

Three months ago, Malti Chaudhuri, 17, daughter of a Patna policeman, fled with boyfriend Ashok Kesri (names changed) to Calcutta. Their search for shelter ended at Baguiati at one Raju’s house.

Raju and friend Meenakshi were in a similar situation, facing parental opposition over different communities. In course of time, the foursome became friends and would confide in each other. One day, Malti and Ashok called up a set of friends in Dehra Dun and later, left for the hill station.

Soon after reaching there, Malti realised that she had left behind some photographs. She called up Raju, who promptly despatched some of the keepsakes to the Dehra Dun address.

It’s here that Raju hit upon the idea to double-cross the couple. He called up Malti’s father about 10 days ago, asking him to come to Calcutta with Rs 3 lakh, pretending that the couple has been kidnapped. Chaudhuri did as he was told, but like a true cop, alerted his colleagues here in the city.

On Sunday, Raju agreed to meet Chaudhuri in front of an eatery on VIP Road at 1 pm. Since Chaudhari was accompanied by plainclothesmen, Raju spotted them and changed the venue to Nalban. “Come alone,” he barked. But even at Nalban, he did not face Chaudhuri.

Around 3.30 pm, Chaudhuri’s mobile rang again. “Reach Maniktala Haldiram by 5.30 pm,” Raju ordered. When Chaudhuri and the cops reached the spot, one of the policemen spotted a couple on a bike he had seen at Nalban. Drawing up, he heard the girl telling her friend to change the venue again.

The duo was challenged by the cops and tried to flee. “They confessed to the crime and have been remanded to a fortnight in police custody,” deputy commissioner (detective department) Soumen Mitra said on Tuesday.


Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
A state-of-the-art IT plaza and a detailed study to understand the industry better — that’s what the Computer Association of Eastern India (Compass) has on its click-board for the future.

The association has asked the state government for a two-acre plot near Salt Lake to build an IT plaza. The government, in ‘do-it-now’ mode, has offered Compass land near Rajarhat and Nonadanga. Announcing this on Tuesday, Compass president Arun Jalan said the five-storeyed ‘hardware park’, spread over two lakh sq ft, would be the first of its kind in the region.

“Of the area, almost 120,000 sq ft will showcase products of various vendors from this belt. The remaining 80,000 sq ft will be used for an auditorium, shopping mall and a training centre for the under-privileged. We are also planning to build a hotel with 20 rooms,” said Jalan. The Rs 20-25 crore project will be completed within a year of land allotment, he added.

In a bid to “promote the hardware industry” in the region in an organised manner, Compass has appointed IMRB to conduct an extensive survey amongst its members.

The aim is to identify “areas of strength and weakness” of manufacturers and distributors. The survey is underway and will cover all 213 members of Compass.

“This will help vendors and resalers in the region understand their weaknesses and improve services,” said Jalan. Compass will be holding its seventh exhibition from January 11, at which chairman V.K. Bhandari expects transactions to the tune of Rs 30 crore, against last year’s figure of Rs 15-20 crore.


Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
Rohit Saraogi and Premjit Chatterjee were just out of school when they decided to launch an event-management firm, They have been working with school fest committees for the past year. “We specialise in web development, cyber services and animation for fests,” explains Rohit, a second-year B.Com student at Bhawanipur College. Now, their agency has diversified into sound and lighting. “We wanted to share our experience with our juniors,” smiles the 20-year-old.

Enterprise doesn’t get much younger than this. And school fests, once perceived as pure fun, have become the ideal forum for launching young careers. High-school and college students, deciding to do what they do best, are busy floating event management companies to join hands with school fest organising committees. Animation, sound, lights, design are usual services provided by the students, for the students.

With fest budgets starting around Rs 50,000 and going into lakhs, it’s more than worth their while. Brothers Lav and Kush Nahata and friend Rahul have registered a company of their own, Figure 8. Kush, the youngest at 17, still a student at Don Bosco, Park Circus, says: “We charge around Rs 10,000 a day for animation, while the rest depends on the budget. But the main reason was that we didn’t want to sit idle after exams… We wanted to have something that looks good on our resume.”

Father Manipadam, principal of Don Bosco, Park Circus, puts it down to the “individual initiative” of students “interested in multimedia” and looking for real-time practice.

There’s plenty of scope for that, with the school fun calendar packing in up to three fests a month during the season.

But how do these student pros balance books with business?

“Studies are first priority, of course. We manage our schedules so neither our studies nor work suffers,” says Pankaj Kankaria, a second-year student of St Xavier’s, who, along with his friends, started Hair-Raising FX last year. “We know how to g o about organising fests in a more efficient manner than the school committees. They pay us according to their budgets and we get the job done. That’s the bottomline.”

With event-managers entering the picture, it means less legwork for the organising committees. This is the downside, according to Shubail Farook, District Interact Representative and a Class XII student: “By hiring event managers, the value of such events is lost.”

But for the industry, this young interest is a positive sign. As Mahashweta Sen of Integral PR sees it: “If students decide early that event management and public relations is their vocation, it is good for them and for the industry as a whole.”



Two-year-old run over by lorry

A two-year-old child died when a lorry knocked her down on Strand Bank Road on Tuesday morning. The incident took place when Amina Khatun was trying to cross the road. She was taken to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, where the doctors pronounced her dead. The driver was arrested and the vehicle impounded.

Roadblock after accident

Two persons riding a motorcycle were injured in a mishap at Sakherbazar, in Behala, on Tuesday morning. Both the injured, Raju Mollah and Sheikh Allauddin, were admitted to Vidyasagar Hospital, where their condition was stated to be critical. Police said the accident occurred at the intersection of Satyen Roy Road and Diamond Harbour Road. The two were hit by a CSTC bus. As the news of the accident spread, local residents blocked Diamond Harbour Road for over half an hour, disrupting traffic movement. The blockade was lifted after officials from Thakurpukur police station intervened.

New AG feted

Members of the High Court Bar Association on Tuesday felicitated newly appointed advocate-general (AG) of the state, Balai Ray. A number of high court judges and advocates of other courts were also present on the occasion. Ray is the second advocate to become advocate-general of the state. The other AGs were appointed from among members of the Bar Library Club.

Hostel strike

Nearly 1,000 employees of around 50 hostels run by various universities and undergraduate colleges in the city stayed away from work on Tuesday in response to a state-wide indefinite strike called by the hostel workers’ union. Calcutta University authorities said casual workers would be deployed to run 17 hostels from Wednesday so that students were not inconvenienced.


Professor Walter Kohn, winner of the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1998, recently laid the foundation stone of a building for the Jagadish Bose Centre of Excellence for Student Scientists on the Rashbehari connector of EM Bypass. The centre, which aims to identify, nurture and motivate science students, had been set up 40 years ago. The state government has provided the land to the institute for setting up its office building.

Students clash

Six students of Calcutta Medical College and Hospital were injured when two groups clashed on the hospital premises on Tuesday night. Police said a dispute arose among the students over some posters being ripped off the walls. No arrests were made.

Firing probe

A youth was injured when an unidentified man fired a pistol on Monday night on Ezra Street. A probe has been ordered into the incident.

Bank meet

The ninth conference of the bank employees’ federation will begin on Wednesday at Aban Mahal. State secretary of the organisation Pradeep Biswas said the three-day conference would discuss the Centre’s banking policies. Thumbs Up TO students participating in road safety week 2002 which continues till Sunday    

Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
While the craze for Information Technology is on the downslide, a professor at the University of California advocates a combination of IT and bio-tech for the future. Arunava Mazumdar, professor and vice-chairman, instruction, mechanical engineering, at Berkeley, feels that despite IT running its entire course vis-a-vis jobs and academics in the West, it’s time to look elsewhere.

Mazumdar, who was in the city on an “edu-vacation” tour, has been delivering a series of lectures all over the country, and some more in Singapore. “The IT boom is definitely over but seeing the condition of the country, I think the prospects of bio-technology are bright,” says the professor, who has also been discussing the idea with Jadavpur University and the Indian Institutes of Technology.

According to him, the scope of privatisation of bio-technology is demonstrated by companies such as Ranbaxy. Jadavpur University pro vice-chancellor Ashok Ranjan Thakur agrees with him. However, biotechnology not being an organised sector in West Bengal as yet, it does not offer enough employment oppotunities. “Some of those who graduate with bio-technology do find jobs in places like National Laboratories but in the absence of industries, most suffer,” explains Thakur.

“If I have to explain graphically, I would say bio-tech is in the early part of the ‘S’ curve. Seeing the devastations in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, plus the rising population, I feel India should invest more in bio-technology. We have tremendous resources but absolutely zilch know-how,” says Mazumdar.

During the course of his interactions at Science City and JU, Mazumdar met many students, who were keen to pursue the subject.

While Thakur points to the strong response to bio-tech in India — almost 300 applications for 12 seats at CU and a similar situation at JU — Indians studying abroad mostly stay away from such courses on offer at ace universities like Stanford, Harvard and Berkeley.

“My perception is that since IT is a money-spinner, wannabes opt for it without realising that bio-tech will pay in the long run. The core technology is slow, so developing the concept takes longer than developing software. So the burnout is much slower,” says Mazumdar.

According to him, the marriage of bio-tech and info-tech will become essential when telemedicining hits big time. “I foresee a day when telesurgery will take place in India,” adds Mazumdar.


Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
Sheriff-designate Sunil Gangopadhyay has come under fire for his alleged “anti-court” comments. Lawyer and Trinamul Congress MLA Arunava Ghosh on Tuesday appealed to both the judiciary and the administration to take action against the author.

In an interview telecast on Doordarshan on December 29, Gangopadhyay had allegedly said he would not put his signature to a death sentence even if the high court asked him to do so.

In letters addressed to Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Ghosh alleged that Gangopadhyay’s comments amounted to contempt of court.

He demanded that Gangopadhyay should either apologise or not be appointed sheriff. The party would hold an agitation during Gangopadhyay’s oath-taking ceremony if he refused to seek the court’s pardon, he said.

In the said letters, Ghosh categorically mentioned the functions of the sheriff and described it as a statutory post. He said, "during the admiral cases and session trials sheriff has a duty to perform. It Sheriff under whose supervision properties are attached and sold by the court. Not only that when the high court passes the order of arrest in the contempt proceeding, the Sheriff carries out the order."

He opined that the post of the Sheriff was not above the law and he would bound to perform the duty what the court would ask him to do.

Later, in the evening while contacted, the Trinamul leader told The Telegraph they would hold an agitation during the oath taking ceremony of the Gangopadhaya if he refused to beg pardon for his statement.


Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
The pink-slip panic in the Salt Lake Electronics Complex (Saltlec) notwithstanding, the future’s not all that bleak for Bengal’s “IT hub”. One of the world’s largest conglomerates looks poised to set up a call centre in Sector V and tap the state’s “rich human resources”.

According to sources, senior GE officials came down to Calcutta twice last month in search of “proper office space” in the city. They had a series of meetings with officials from Webel, the state’s nodal IT agency, which controls infrastructure issues in Saltlec. “It’s almost certain that GE has made up its mind to set up shop in Calcutta,” said a senior Webel official.

“They (GE officials) seem to be in a hurry to kick off operations in Calcutta. Surprisingly, they didn’t ask for land. Instead, they requested us to organise for around 100,000 sq ft of built-up space in Saltlec,” said a senior state government official.

“They seemed to like the place offered in the Bengal Intelligent Park. The area there is around 60,000 sq ft and if they require more, we can make that available,” he added.

When contacted, a GE India spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s proposed Calcutta operations, for “purely business” reasons. “GE has tremendous faith in the brainpower of India and we continue to explore the opportunities to leverage this intellectual talent. The West Bengal government has been very helpful in providing information and we appreciate their support and encouragement,” he said.

In November 2001, GE India president Pramod Bhasin had discussed the proposed call centre with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, IT minister Manab Mukherjee and then IT secretary Jaya Dasgupta, during a visit to the city to attend the CII-organised ICE summit.

Bhasin had also visited a few colleges to gauge the manpower availability in town and inquire about the schedules of students willing to work at the proposed call centre.

Word of GE opening a call centre in Calcutta has reached its Hyderabad and Gurgaon office. “Now, it’s just a matter of time before GE comes to town. But they are unlikely to start with a huge workforce of around 5,000, like they did in Hyderabad and Gurgaon. Initially, they seem to be gearing up to employ 1,500 to 2,000 people, many of them students,” said a state government official, who has been interacting with GE officials.


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