Flight toll in runway ruckus
Bill unpaid, SEB signals power cuts
A cult corner for King Khan
The city diary
Search for lost slice of Asian legacy
Row at CMC over failure of tax scheme
Hawker-cop nexus in station crime
Cardiac-care agenda for schoolkids
Bandh switch-off for IT
Govt softens eviction stand

Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
One flight cancelled; another delayed. Not for fog or bandh. But for belligerent passengers “holding Indian Airlines to ransom on the runway” for over three hours.

As Calcutta went through the motions of yet another bandh, all the action on Thursday morning was at the airport. It began with a Hyderabad-Bhubaneswar-Calcutta flight being diverted to the city after failing to land at Bhubaneswar, due to “inclement weather”. The flight hovered over the Orissa capital for “over an hour”, before turning towards Calcutta after being denied permission to land due to bad weather.

Trouble had been brewing on flight. Matters came to a head when the plane landed at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Interational Airport, with 22 passengers refusing to disembark and demanding that the same flight, which was to have carried on to Tezpur-Dimapur, be rescheduled to Bhubaneswar, “where the weather had apparently cleared”.

From the moment the pilot announced the diversion and requested passengers “to get off at the city airport for lunch and board a subsequent flight to Bhubaneswar”, things reportedly turned ugly.

“I just had a chat with Bhubaneswar. The weather’s cleared… We won’t get off. Take this flight to Bhubaneswar at once,” one of the passengers said. The rest supported his demand and refused to deplane.

The stand-off continued for three hours, with frantic parleys between senior Indian Airlines officials and the adamant passengers failing to make much headway.

The general manager (commercial), the deputy general manager (in-flight operations), the flight security manager, the airport manager and a host of other officials were deployed to try and resolve the matter.

“Shortly after noon, they were persuaded to deplane and brought to the airport lounge,” said regional director of Indian Airlines Vikram Badshah.

But by then, the damage had been done. “This diverted flight, which was scheduled to leave for Dimapur-Tezpur, got delayed by several hours,” he added.

The flight to Bhubaneswar finally departed around 4.20 pm. “We decided not to give in to the irrational demand of some of the passengers, as we could not risk our pilots’ lives. It was strange behaviour from some educated people,” said Badshah, who was monitoring the developments at the airport from his Chittaranjan Avenue office.

The tantrum thrown by the the Bhubaneswar-bound passengers claimed a casualty — the Calcutta-Visakhapatnam-Chennai flight, which was despatched to the Orissa to resolve the crisis, had to be scrapped.

“It is very difficult to land at Visakhapatnam after sunset, so that flight was cancelled and, instead, diverted to Bhubaneswar, where these 22 passengers were accommodated,” Badshah said.

The same flight returned to the city later in the evening with 90 passengers.


Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
Dark winter evenings await Calcutta, with the West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) deciding to slash power supply to CESC from Thursday.

“We have decided to restrict the power supply to 120 mw,” said G.D. Gautama, chairman, WBSEB. “We will gradually increase that, but CESC should start clearing its dues. Unless that is done, we will not supply to meet their demand.”

The CESC evening peak-period demand from the WBSEB is about 280 mw to 300 mw. With the Board cutting supply, Calcuttans must brace for “45 minutes to hour-long power cuts on a rotational basis” every evening.

Matters have been compounded by CESC’s own generation problems, pegging production down at around 685 mw to 700 mw, against the normal mark of 800 mw to 850 mw.

“We had informed CESC in December-end that if payment against the current monthly energy bill, amounting to Rs 25.30 crore, besides the late payment surcharge on the instalment amount of Rs 4 crore against the old dues, were not received within January 2, we would be constrained to restrict power supply to them. They have not got back to us to date,” said Gautama.

The power tussle in Howrah goes on, with the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) threatening to further slash supply from Saturday if CESC fails to clear its dues by Friday. At the moment, DVC is supplying 25 mw, against the demand for 50 mw.

“If payment is not received by January 11, DVC will have no other alternative but to increase the limited hours of stoppage of power supply to CESC from January 12. The new timings of stoppage will be from 9.30 am to 12 noon and from 3.30 pm to 6 pm, for a period of another seven days from January 12,” said a DVC release on Thursday.


Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
The red ‘Chhaiya Chhaiya’ jacket last seen gyrating on top of a moving train, the steely glint of Emperor Asoka’s sword, the plaintive violin of a music teacher spreading the message of Mohabbatein — all at the foot of a three-foot statue of a towering tinseltown star. The ‘dreams unlimited’ of the Shah Rukh Khan Fans’ Club are reaching reality point with a homage centre to their hero.

The Khan who stole Hrithik Roshan’s thunder in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham had, initially, asked his Calcutta-based club not to make “a museum” in his honour. But his 70 devoted fans — from schools and colleges across town — are determined to create their own cult corner at Sinthee More, near ISI. The statue (a replica of which will be sent to wife Gauri) will be unveiled later this month.

The memorabilia will arrive with the King Khan himself, if all goes as planned, in April. “We are planning a concert with Shah Rukh on Poila Boisakh in the city,” says fan club initiator Arnab Roy, who has “spoken to Shah Rukh and the Mumbai event liaison” about a “three-star package, including Aishwarya and Raveena”, with Babul Supriyo and Sonu Nigam thrown in. The “Rs 1 crore-gala” is being promoted by Dream Lightz (from Dreamz Unlimited and Arch Lightz, of course), an event management company also being launched by the fan club. The first event they’ve tied up with is a Valentine’s Day bash.

But it’s not just a song-and-dance routine for Shah Rukh’s fan brigade. They’ve been busy with AIDS awareness programmes and street theatre with under-privileged kids. And now, they plan to promote Bengali films. “Tollywood is suffering because of the lack of organised publicity. We will approach producers with a pre-release promotional package and give the faltering industry more visibility,” explains the 23-year-old Arnab.

All this, despite the fans’ disappointment with what is set to be the biggest blockbuster of the year: ’K3G’. “We are not happy with the film at all. Though Shah Rukh’s performance was good, the film didn’t touch our hearts. Asoka is the kind of film we want to see him in,” complain the followers, who felt Karan Johar ‘borrowed’ too many scenes from Aditya Chopra hits and Lagaan. Switching allegiance from one Khan to another is ruled out, but Dil Chahta Hai was their choice for film of the year. A word of caution for SRK: Fresh, not flogged, is what even the most ardent fan is waiting for.



Man stabbed on way to work

An employee of Eastern Railway, Nani Gopal Mondal, was stabbed by miscreants when he was coming to office at BBD Bag on Thursday morning. An officer of the Hare Street police station said the miscreants attacked Mondal with sharp weapons as soon as he got off the bus and took away Rs 100 from him. He was admitted to BR Singh Hospital. No one was arrested in this connection.

Writers’ panic over cops

There was panic on Thursday morning when a seven-member team of Punjab Police took up position in front of Writers’ Buildings, armed with AK-47s. The policemen from Punjab were here to collect Electronic Voting Machines (EVM), without informing the city police. Seeing the armed men enter Writers’, employees contacted security agencies. There was confusion when the Lalbazar control room replied that it had was no information about them. Two deputy commissioners rushed to Writers’ Buildings and spoke to the Punjab policemen. Later, they were taken to the Lalbazar headquarters and asked to deposit their arms in the custody of city police.

Airlines exchange

The exchange numbers of Indian Airlines’ city booking office —221, 225, 234, 236 and 237 — have been changed to 211. The change was implemented after BSNL installed an optical fibre at Airlines House on Chittaranjan Avenue.

Sagar specials

To help pilgrims visiting Ganga Sagar Mela from January13 to 15, Eastern Railway will run three pairs of special trains — one between Sealdah and Kakdwip and two between Lakshmikantapur and Kakdwip. The special trains will run via Lakshmikantapur - Kashinagar (nearest railhead for Ganga Sagar).

Hawker ousted

Residents of Survey Park, in Santoshpur, evicted a meat-seller on Thursday for obstructing traffic movement. Residents complained that the stall-owner had been repeatedly asked to move but he did not pay heed.

Locality inundated

A vast low-lying locality between Ambedkar bridge and Ballygunge pumping station has been inundated with sewer water since Wednesday, after the state irrigation department raised embankments in the storm water channel near Bantala without giving prior intimation to the drainage department. Local councillor Javed Ahmed Khan said more than 50,000 people living in wards 59, 65 and 66 had been affected by the inundation.

Psychiatry meet

The third day of the four day 54th annual Psychiatric Conference was held at Science City on Thursday. Speakers from all over the country and abroad spoke on the theme ‘Mind and Society’. Later, the delegates took part in a brain-storming session to find ways to cure depression-related ailments, Dr R.R. Ghosh Roy said.


The name of theatre personality Dipendra Sengupta was mis-spelt in the Calcuttan of the Week column in Thursday’s edition. The error is regretted.    

Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
Asia Centre, the dream child of K.P.V Nair, 56, was born out of the need to foster a Pan-Asian cultural consciousness in India. Realising that such a consciousness can be achieved only through people-to-people contact in the fields of art, business and communication, Nair (who prefers being called a “civilisational activist”) has visited some of the remotest areas in Siberia. This includes Yakutia in the Arctic circle in the north-east and Altia in the south-west, on aeroplane, train and foot to reindeer-pulled sledges.

“Altia, better known as the ‘lost slice’ is so isolated, that legends abound of a people who have mouths on their heads and eyes on their chests,” laughs Nair, in the city for the interactive event, From Atlai to the Arctic: Exploring Trans-Siberian Asia’, to be held at Gorky Sadan between 11 and 17 January. This will be a sequel to last year’s show held by Asia Centre’s sister-forum India International Art Centre.

With the objective of conducting research on the legacy of the Asian countries and to encourage ‘cultural diplomacy’, among other things, Nair wishes to establish India as the “mother culture”. Funding the venture himself, the businessman classifies his “methodical madness” as a “frenzy that surpasses reason”.

The places that he visited were not opened to visitors until as late as 1994, “and many people there only know that a place called India exists, and nothing more”. Corresponding with consulates and museums, the completion of planning and formalities took more than three months, but today he feels it was “worth the wait”.

Alone, with only a local guide provided by his travel agent, Nair was the first ever Indian to set foot at Khomei, Tuva republic. He was treated as royalty there, with the cultural minister making arrangements for his stay at a suite which had previously hosted The Dalai Lama and Boris Yelstin. “ That was the time that I felt that I was actually doing something for the country,” he reminiscences. The businessman in him assures that there are “unending possibilities” in trade and commerce there, and adds: “It’s high time we shifted our attention to the east.”

In an eventful month full of unique experiences, Nair remembers the “unfolding of a bizarre event.” In the republic of Kakhassia, central Siberia, he witnessed a handful of Japanese NGO volunteers digging up mass graves where around 50,000 Japanese prisoners of World War II had been buried. The skulls and bones were piled up to be cremated, “as per the Shintoist faith”.

Photographs and videos of such macabre findings will mingle with the magnificent at the Gorky Sadan show, to be inaugurated by Governor Viren J. Shah. Nair, meanwhile, is already making plans to “wrap up the venture” with a trip to Kamchatka sometime in June ‘02. “That will satiate my passion for the time being,” he smiles.


Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
The mayor and the civic revenue officials traded charges for the failure of the CMC’s interest-waiver scheme. The scheme was implemented to realise outstanding property tax from landlords.

Mukherjee pointed out that almost 1,000 employees of the revenue department had failed to sort out 28,000 application forms in the five-month timeframe. “Though the collection target was Rs 150 crore, the department’s tardiness limited the amount to Rs 40 crore,” he said.

The revenue department officials countered that the mayor and municipal commissioner Debasis Som were breaking all precedents by passing orders for re-assessment of premises.

“The municipal commissioner had even forced the revenue department to withdraw rent attachment orders issued against landlords,” officials said. Both Mukherjee and Som, however, denied giving such orders.


Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
In a bid to stop spiralling crime on platforms, the Railways have decided to evict hawkers from Sealdah and Howrah stations.

At a recent meeting with police officers, the authorities submitted documents revealing police involvement in all sorts of crime on the platforms.

Railway officers say most hawkers on the platforms are actually criminals or protected by them. On Thursday, Arvind Sharma, Eastern Railway general manager, said he was determined to get rid of the anti-socials from the stations.

According to sources, the nexus between the police and the criminals in allotting space on platforms, too, has been revealed. A railway officer showed documents, seized from the criminals and hawkers during raids at the two stations, which revealed that the latter had paid Rs 30,000 as protection money for a period of four months. In Sealdah, a criminal would have to shell out Rs 45,000 to the police to “operate on the premises.”

“These policemen have divided Howrah station into two zones, while Sealdah station has been handed over to one gangster,’’ the officer said. The railway authorities said there are 700 illegal hawkers at Sealdah station, and nearly 1,000 at Howrah. The gangsters, who allot spaces to the hawkers, collect a daily cut of Rs 10 from everyone.

The authorities also showcased instances where space inside both the stations were “sold’’ to criminals, who turn it into a den of vice at night.

“They run a thriving racket after the last trains have departed. The police know about this but have not taken any action,’’ an officer said.

Railway officers said there have been 65 incidents of snatching and robbery in Howrah and Sealdah stations in the past four months, compared with just 33 in the five months before.

The police assured the railway authorities of their support in cracking down on the dens of vice at the two stations.

Director-general of police D.C. Vajpai told Metro that his department would co-operate with the railway officials. “We will look into the allegations,’’ he said.


Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
Concerned at the growing incidence of heart ailments among Indian adults, a city-based super-speciality hospital has decided to take cardiac-care to schools and spread awareness at the grassroots level.

Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences (RTIICS) has joined hands with Sri Aurobindo Institute of Culture for conducting a free heart check-up camp and presentation at The Future Foundation School on January 11. A similar camp was organised earlier at Lakshmipat Singhania School.

“Our basic aim is to educate children on how to form a healthy heart for a lifetime, stressing the need for exercise, right diet and the right attitude to life,” explains Dr Vikas Kohli, director of the paediatric cardiology department, RTIICS, who will lead the team of doctors at the camp. He will be assisted by Dr Poonam Kohli and Dr Sanjeev Garg.

The cardiologists will screen the children for traces of heart ailments and any student found with a condition, will be offered free diagnostics at the RTIICS facility in Mukundapur.

An audio-visual presentation — ‘Let’s talk about our heart and health’ — will be made by Dr Kohli, to be attended by students from Classes V to XI, who “already have the topic of human heart in their curriculum”.

“We will try to emphasise the importance of physical activity in a child’s life and suggest that they spend less time in front of the TV and do some vigorous activity for 30 minutes at least four times a week,” says Dr Kohli.

Eating healthy is also high on the cardiac-care agenda for schoolchildren. “The students, once they learn what junk food is and what it does to the body, can go home and educate their parents in turn,” says Dr Garg.

The hospital has approached a number of schools for holding similar camps. “We want to cover as many schools as possible to raise awareness among the future citizens,” says a senior official at RTIICS.


Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
Blame it on the bandh. The Salt Lake Electronics Complex (Saltlec), the IT hub of the state, went into shutdown mode on Thursday, as did many other companies.

Other big players, such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), also chose to keep their units shut for the day and, instead, work on Saturday.

Expressing his dissatisfaction over the shutdown, Siddhartha Mukherjee, vice-president of Cognizant Techonology Solutions’ Calcutta operations, said: “At a time when things are bad, such bandhs do nothing to improve the situation. It is also sad to see a revival of the bandh culture in the state.”

Working on a Saturday will not help, as their other offices in India and overseas will be closed on that day, Mukherjee added.

Pritwis Mukerjee, director of PwC, says they had to organise overnight lodging facilities for the staff, since some projects could not be postponed.

BNKe Solutions, the only international call centre operating in the city, however, has been able to function normally by arranging lodging facilities for its staff. “We can’t afford to keep our operations closed when the US works,’’ said chief executive officer Brigadier Suresh Menon.

According to Chiranjib Rudra, director, STPI Calcutta, since IT was being given priority status in the state, steps to bracket it into the emergency services should be taken.

“Since a major chunk of the work in IT is related to overseas client-servicing, such a step would help the sector continue with its work and not suffer any revenue losses,” he said.

D.P. Patra, newly-appointed state IT secretary, says: “Though I am unaware of any complaints from the IT industry, I will discuss the setting up of a helpline cell at West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corporation (WBEIDC) to attend to requests in cases of emergency.”

Patra’s resolve came in response to the industry’s complaint that the (WBEIDC) managing director could not be reached for the past two days. A number of companies located at Salt Lake had complaints about the state’s nodal promotional agency, keeping itself aloof when some executives sought assistance for maintaining normal operations on the bandh day.

“The managing director just refuses to attend calls. He is perennially busy at meetings,’’ said a top official of a company, who sought to find out if the the company’s guest-house in the vicinity was available for official purposes.

An inquiry by Metro revealed that the five-room guesthouse was unoccupied.


Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
In an about-turn on its no rehabilitation policy on encroachers, the state government has decided to provide “temporary accommodation” to people occupying the western approach of the proposed flyover at Bondel Gate, in Ballygunge.

“We will decide what to do with them after the flyover is complete,” said Rabin Deb, MLA. Instead of simply evicting them, as the government did in the case of encroachers along Tolly’s Nullah, the Bondel Gate settlers have been asked to move to rooms constructed under the flyover from January 20.

The flyover construction has been stalled for the past few years, as people in about 55 temporary structures adjacent to it refused to vacate. The flyover, which towers over the railway tracks, is expected to free static traffic at the Bondel Gate level-crossing.

The run-up to the government’s softer stand began on January 4, when Deb and PWD minister Amar Chowdhury went to the spot and spoke to the encroachers.

Chowdhury, however, was not supportive of the idea of the encroachers shifting under the completed section of the flyover.

“Basically, I am opposed to the idea because legally, there should not be any residential quarters below a flyover viaduct. I have registered my objections on this score. But one thing is clear, the encroachers will have to shift by January 20,” said Chowdhury.

Deb said that accommodation under the flyover would be allowed only to those who stick to the deadline. He said the PWD would begin work on the western approach soon after January 20. The railways would simultaneously begin construction on the stretch, directly above the tracks.

The PWD has also constructed shops for those removed from the eastern side of the railway tracks. “As most of the encroachments on the eastern side were shops, we had no problem in getting them shifted. We had promised that we would build proper structures for them below the flyover approach,” said Deb.

Despite that, he was still unsure about the future of the 55 families. “We will see whether the government takes the responsibility of these people and sends them elsewhere or asks them to pay for the rooms provided under the flyover,” Deb said.

Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya clarified that the 55 families were tenants on thika land and possessed the right for alternative accommodation. “This is not a step back from our policy of no compensation for encroachers,” he said.


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