No privilege passage at airport
Boston Pledge for Bengal projects
CBI signals baby-swap suits
Tax revamp in neglect trap
Gospel truth & nonsense
The City Diary
Varsity plans open library on holidays
EM Bypass murder review
Tech turnaround recipe for Tollywood
State veto casts long shadow on teachers’ pay

 
 
NO PRIVILEGE PASSAGE AT AIRPORT 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
It’s Monday evening, minutes after the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) has taken control of the international terminal at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Airport. A minister’s personal assistant (PA) saunters up to an assistant commandant (AC) of the CISF: “The minister’s son-in-law is travelling abroad. I would like to accompany him till the security check. The minister has asked someone from your unit to escort his son in-law as well.”

The young CISF officer shoots back: “You are free to accompany the passenger to the lobby, like everyone else, but not beyond. And please buy a ticket to enter the terminal…”

There’s bad news for babus at Writers’ Buildings and the sundry corridors of power in the city. So used to “VIP treatment” at every public place, they will now have to get a taste of life more ordinary at the airport.

A day after taking over the security reins at the international terminal of the airport, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) made it clear that “there will be no special treatment for VIPs and VVIPs from now on”.

Bala Krishnan, commanding officer, CISF, told Metro on Tuesday: “Our boys will not make any exception. All state ministers, MLAs and MPs will have to follow the rules and go through the normal frisking procedures, along with other passengers.”

Saying no to “special favours for VIPs” is just one of the things on the CISF roadmap as it prepares to launch a massive “clean-up drive” at the airport.

“I cannot describe the kind of corruption that has crept into the airport. It will probably take us months to identify all the corrupt people around and weed them out,” a senior CISF officer asserted.

On Tuesday, an AC of the central force caught a passenger “handing over a Rs 100 note” to an official for not putting his baggage on the X-ray machine. “I immediately got hold of the passenger and asked him what he was doing. He seemed perplexed and calmly said that he was willing to pay some money if he was spared the harassment of putting his baggage on the machine,” the officer said. His bags were immediately opened and “a lot of undisclosed cash was found in them”.

In what is turning out to be a “dirt-finding” mission, the CISF has also come across a complaint register, with hundreds of grievances registered against policemen and immigration officials at the international terminal.

One of the complaints lodged against security personnel on Sunday reads: “This was disgusting… One of the security personnel was asking me for money like a beggar. To quote his words: ‘This is our last day at the airport. From tomorrow a different force will take over, so please give us something’.”

Parvesh Prakash, a passenger travelling to Bangkok on IC 727 on December 26, 2001, writes in the complaint book: “The immigration officer asked for money for food and snacks. I did not give him anything, neither did he insist, but it does not look good that an immigration officer should be begging.”

No action has been taken against any of these officials, despite written complaints from passengers.

   

 
 
BOSTON PLEDGE FOR BENGAL PROJECTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
First, international consultancy major McKinsey. Then, apex business body Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). Now, non-resident Indians.

The West Bengal government is knocking on every door of opportunity to lure investments into the state. Somnath Chatterjee, chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC), on Tuesday, signed an MoU of joint initiative for “the development of the state” with Mridul Pathak, representative of The Boston Pledge (TBP), a North America-based organisation of NRIs.

Chatterjee unveiled three ‘mega’ projects — a Rs 20-crore ayurvedic medicine centre to first develop Rhinozon and combat rheumatism; a Rs 60-crore urban renewal programme in the Kalighat area to turn it into an “environmental paradise”; and the setting up of the Bank of Bengal, with the mandatory equity of Rs 200 crore and more.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, present at the signing ceremony, said: “The government is keen to work closely with TBP. We have identified industry, trade, education and health as the areas where we want their help to bring in investment.”

Bhattacharjee also welcomed the move by TBP to set up the Bank of Bengal to fund entrepreneurial ventures of the younger generation. “We will submit specific proposals to the authorities concerned to get the necessary clearance for the bank,” he promised, expressing happiness over the “growing interest” by NRIs in the development of Bengal.

Chatterjee, on his part, gave a detailed account of the state’s industrial achievements, with the implementation of “86 projects, worth Rs 2,194.54 crore, between January and December 2001” and the establishment of 492 downstream industries for Haldia Petrochemicals.

The mood at the WBIDC office was bullish, but most industry-watchers were in wait-and-watch mode. “There’s a lot of hype at the moment… For one, it’s very difficult to understand why they need a bank, as the banking sector is flush with funds. Projecting the bank as the panacea for the state’s industrial development is nothing but shying away from the real problems plaguing growth prospects,” said a chamber representative, on conditions of anonymity.

Terming the TBP proposals as nothing but “cosmetic changes”, an industrialist called for some “concrete action” from the government which could “actually influence” the decision-making process of an investor.

“Look at the lack of government initiative in improving the Calcutta-Haldia or Calcutta-Siliguri highways or the condition of Kulpi port. What happened to the Great Eastern Hotel privatisation? What about the industrial parks? These are questions a potential investor will ask, rather than which NRI is investing what,” he added.

   

 
 
CBI SIGNALS BABY-SWAP SUITS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
The CBI, probing the baby-swap case, will file criminal charges against the authorities of Sishu Niwas medicine ward of the Medical College and Hospital and M.R. Bangur Hospital if they fail to produce the admission register, peon book, discharge khata and death report.

Additional director of CBI Upen Biswas reportedly held a meeting after the high court censured the agency for filing a ‘vague report’ on Monday. Sources said Biswas pulled up his officers, who said the hospitals were not cooperating with the probe.

Biswas was not available for comment. Superintendent Amit Garg, who filed the report in the high court, is out of town. The report said that the peon book, documenting transfer of Keya Bhattacharya’s baby from the ward to the nursery on May 27, 1998, was missing. The peon book also records the newborn’s weight and sex. Sources said the peon book has been “burnt” to eliminate facts about the swap.

   

 
 
TAX REVAMP IN NEGLECT TRAP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
Calcuttans buying property, either domestic or commercial, are weighed down by a tax burden, while files containing a proposal to slash the annual tax by nearly 40 per cent are gathering dust at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).

To give the tax structure a a new look, the authorities had decided to take the National University of Juridical Sciences’ assistance, but the proposal never materialised. Finally, the authorities themselves decided to slash the rate from 40 per cent to 25.

However, the new rules required an amendment to Chapter 12 of CMC Act, 1980. The amendment proposal has been drafted but is yet to be sent to the municipal affairs department.

“The civic rules have outlived their utility and are deterrent to the growth of commercial activities in the city,” mayor Subrata Mukherjee told Metro.

“Is it fair to force a citizen to cough up Rs 12,000 as annual property tax for a 1,000-sq-ft flat?” he asked. Commercial owners will have to shell out around Rs 18,000.

The tax scenario has, officials say, caused the emergence of five categories of landlords:

THE BENEFICIARIES who do not pay taxes, as their annual valuation has been shown in the records as being under Rs 300. About 40 per cent of city buildings fall under this category

THE PRIVILEGED-I who own big houses and pay meagre sums as property tax. They include owners of property in Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur, and pay only Rs 12 crore to the CMC as tax for the 300,000 buildings in the area

THE PRIVILEGED-II who own big houses in the core areas of the city but pay less tax by submitting false bills

THE PROVIDERS who number about 300,000, live in the core areas of the city (from wards 5 to 90) and pay Rs 160 crore annually

THE DODGERS who own illegal structures in erstwhile colonies and areas such as Garden Reach, Metiabruz, Kidderpore, Tiljala and Topsia and don’t pay tax at all

The CMC has targetted over 200,000 illegal and unassessed buildings to augment its income in the budget for the financial year 2001-2002.

It has been estimated that the CMC’s annual tax revenue may go up by about Rs 100 crore if these buildings can be brought under civic tax net.

   

 
 
GOSPEL TRUTH & NONSENSE 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
A man with floppy hair, wearing dark glasses and a black tie, hobbles into view on a walking stick. Facing viewers, he is rooted to a spot on the ascending staircase of an escalator in the London Underground. On either side of him, hosts of commuters either move up or down the stairs in perpetual motion.

The blind man in this video repeatedly recites: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”, occasionally punctuating it with gibberish. Then, without any prelude, rousing music starts playing, and the blind man shoots up the stairs as the chorus raises its voice triumphantly. Ascent to heaven? Deliverance of the soul?

Mark Wallinger had to be whisked away to the ruins of the bar on the ground floor of Metro cinema. It seemed to be the only quiet corner available on Tuesday morning in this hall of vanished art deco splendour. The pre-eminent 42-year-old British artist, who represented his country last year at the Venice Biennale, seemed glad for it.

Known for the frequent interminable pauses in his speech, Wallinger had suddenly become quite voluble and provided the footnotes to his complex, multi-layered video, shot in the station named Angel. Wallinger was in town to participate in the Sidewinder project that is meant to foster a greater understanding between Indian and British artists. His video is now being screened at CIMA Gallery, which, along with the British Council and Goldsmiths College, London, organised Sidewinder.

“My work veers between nonsense and satire,” declares Wallinger. In his video, he acts out the fictitious character Blindfaith and the scene could be The Last Judgment.

The climactic music is Handel’sZadok the Priest. Similarly, he has used Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere in another recent video, Threshold to the Kingdom.

There the camera records people getting past the immigration officers and entering the United Kingdom, as if it were the Kingdom of Heaven. “It was similar to confessional and absolution.”

On the Angel video, Wallinger says: “I was fascinated with St John’s Gospel (which he recites in the video). I learnt to speak it phonetically backwards.” Which amounts to blasphemy. What the camera records as a viewer is played in reverse.

So while his work expresses the wish for a transcendent reality, it is also “double-edged”.

His irreverence is always in evidence. Threshold to the Kingdom demonstrates that “religion coerces people in the same way that state power is omnipresent”. And “the idea of gospel truth is literally nonsense”.

Wallinger wields the weapons of satire, humour and moral commentary to critique the themes of identity, class and race in Britain’s multi-cultural society. “My earlier work was more satirical. In the 80s in Britain, you were either for or against Thatcherism. But now the politics has shifted.”

He says this has been his first “great opportunity” to visit India and interact with Indian artists.

Along with a group of other British artists he arrived in December-end. On the first leg of their trip, they toured Orissa. There were “moments you can’t predict” — like the boy of six making “heartbreaking music” on his flute in a poverty-stricken village.

Although he was familiar with certain Indian artists, the collaborative efforts of Sidewinder have brought him closer to their works.

“I have been interested and intrigued by how one operates as an artist in India.” However, he doesn’t feel it will bear fruit immediately — perhaps “in the months and years ahead”.

But Wallinger doesn’t give up hope. “Something unpredictable may happen.”

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

CU staff cries foul over sign-in rules

l The Calcutta University Employees’ Unity Centre on Tuesday demanded that the new attendance rules for university staff be scrapped and the previous method be restored. Members of the employees’ body submitted a memorandum to vice-chancellor Ashis Banerjee and members of the Syndicate, the highest decision-making body, protesting the new rules that had come to effect from January 1, 2002. It has been made mandatory for employees to record their arrival and departure timings in the attendance register. "We are protesting the increase in working hours by 30 minutes as we feel it is undue interference of the government in the affairs of the university. The fundamental rights of university employees have been encroached upon. By imposing the rules, the government is trying to create an impression that we are not serious about our duties,” said B. Chatterjee, secretary of the employees’ body. He also said that in the 145-year history of the university, regular work like conducting examinations and publication of results have never been affected by negligence of university employees.

Held for bid to murder trader

Seven persons were arrested in Asoknagar in North 24-Parganas for allegedly trying to kill a local businessman. According to the Asoknagar police, the gang had demanded a huge amount from the businessman of Bratipara. When the trader refused to pay up, they plotted the murder, under the leadership of a local goon called Bilu.

Bomb scare at UTI

There was panic at the Unit Trust of India office in BBD Bag on Tuesday. According to the police, the office received a call around 10 am, claiming that the building would be “blown off soon”. Bomb squad officials from Lalbazar reached the spot around 10.45 am and launched a combing operation. But nothing was found during the search lasting over an hour.

Fog disrupts flights

Dense fog disrupted air traffic at Calcutta airport on Tuesday till 9.45 am. No plane could take off or land at the airport due to poor visibility over the airfield. More than 10 morning flights of Indian Airlines, Alliance Air and Jet Airways, including those to Kathmandu and Bangkok, were delayed by hours.

Arms dealers

Two carpenters of Baranagar in north Calcutta were arrested on Monday night for their alleged involvement in arms trading. The two, Prem Sharma and Manoj Mistry were running a carpentry shop at Baranagar. At night, the accused used to sell weapons to miscreants, the police alleged. A stolen motorcycle and two revolvers were recovered from the shop.

Panja treatment

Suspended Trinamul Congress MP Ajit Panja has been advised to go to London for treatment. Panja is now admitted in a nursing home in Salt Lake, with pancreas trouble. The doctors attending to him felt that since Panja had earlier undergone treatment in London, he should go back for further investigation.

New railway chief

Sunil Sengupta took over as general manager, Eastern Railway, recently. He has served in South Eastern Rail way, Western Railway, Central Railway, RDSO, Diesel Locomotive Works, Varana-si, and Railway Board.    

 
 
VARSITY PLANS OPEN LIBRARY ON HOLIDAYS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
Jadavpur University is considering a proposal to keep its library open even on Sundays for the convenience of both teachers and students. The university, after being accorded the five-star status and the centre for excellence award, is now mooting proposals to improve facilities on the campus.

“Our first plan is to keep the library open even on Sundays. Recently, we have recruited some Grade II assistant librarians. They have been asked to stand by so that they can provide their services anytime. We are also planning to engage students from the library science department on Sundays. I am sure such practical skills will benefit the students, too. Moreover, their interaction with the library staff will help them broaden their knowledge base,” said Rajat Banerjee, registrar of the university, on Tuesday.

Research scholars, too, are likely to benefit from the university’s plans. “Presently, a scholar has to seek special permission from the registrar for working in laboratories during holidays. The university is now planning to authorise the heads of the departments to give the scholars permission to work on holidays,” said an official.

The executive council of the university has recently decided to implement uniform leave rules for employees and officials from June. The state government had instructed the university to introduce the rules in June 2000.

Following the government directive, the university will have to introduce a five-day week system instead of the existing six-day system.

Once the new five-day system is introduced, students and scholars might find it difficult to attend classes on Saturday because it will be treated as a holiday.

Under such circumstances, the university is now planning to continue extending facilities to the students and scholars. “Teachers too are free to conduct classes on holidays and Saturdays but they have to give prior intimation to the authorities for taking classes on holidays. We are also planning to depute some of the employees on Saturdays, for which we will also prepare a special duty roster,” the registrar said.

The Jadavpur University Teachers Association (Juta) has objected to the university’s plan to introduce a five-day week system from June.

The JUTA has written to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, seeking his intervention in preventing the university from introducing the new system.

   

 
 
EM BYPASS MURDER REVIEW 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
The Tiljala police is going to “re-investigate” the Bunty Jhulka murder case.

A senior police officer told Metro that since Gabbar, the key accused in the case, has been arrested and several loopholes in confessional statements of others arrested have been plugged, the police now have “to take a fresh look at the case”. A request has been put to the court in this regard.

The trial of the case, which was scheduled to start on Monday, was postponed as a result. The police did not produce Gabbar before the court as his interrogation was not yet over. The three other accused in the case — Trisha, a sales girl, her lover Ranvijay Rathore and Fatman — were all produced.

Gabbar, who was absconding for a long time, was arrested a few weeks ago. The Tiljala police station had already filed a chargesheet against him. Sanjib Jhulka, alias Bunty, was murdered on May 20, 2000. Gabbar has reportedly confessed to the murder.

In this case, the police were able to furnish charge-sheets against the accused persons within 90 days of their arrest, which has not been observed in several other cases.

Sanjib Jhulka alias Bunty was murdered at China Town on May 20, 2000 and a few week ago, the prime accused in the case, Gabbar was arrested by the police. During sustained interrogation, he confessed murdering Jhulka. The police also learnt that the murder was a case of contract killing contrary to earlier belief that it was a case of revenge killing. A .45 colt, valued at Rs 2 lakh was recovered by the police from one of Gabbar’s hideout.

   

 
 
TECH TURNAROUND RECIPE FOR TOLLYWOOD 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
Out with a 50-year-old censorship Act. In with new, more liberal legislation, which will allow “every grown man to watch an adult film” and give “every filmmaker the right to include a kissing scene”.

The Indian film industry is gearing up for a new censorship law to replace the Cinematograph Act, 1952. Censor Board chairperson Vijay Anand, in Calcutta this week, is paying visits to nine cities to meet board officials and filmmakers and gather inputs about what the industry wants from the new law, which will be drawn up at a meet in Hyderabad within three months.

While the country is churning out 900 films a year, in Tollywood, production has dipped, according to Anand. On his first visit to Calcutta since 1998, the maker of films like Guide and Tere Mere Sapne is happy to see that the city is “as alive as ever”, but on the film industry, he is less upbeat. “Tollygunge may be strong in terms of content, but it is lagging in technology. Unless they improve form, how can cinema here advance?” he asks, citing Hyderabad and Chennai as examples of “international-standard facilities”.

But Bengal is still an “important region”, and all cuts are now “open for discussion”, for which Anand has sent letters to directors and industry officials in the city.

“As a filmmaker, we would always include 25 per cent extra violence, so censors wouldn’t cut what we actually wanted to keep. I am trying to encourage directors not to ruin their films like that.”

The word “obscenity” can be interpreted in so many different ways, feels Anand. “Censorship is such a subjective issue. From Trivandrum to Guwahati, there are many differences in the way decisions are taken, because there is no school that can teach you this kind of the thing,” says the younger brother of Chetan and Dev Anand.

The 2002 Act hopes to bring about some “serious changes”. Having seen “over 300” films after taking the chair three months ago, his first move was to step up speed of review. “We have been passing films within 24 hours of producers coming to us, which is not something the industry has ever seen.”

Censor guidelines of 11 countries, including the US, France, Sweden and Australia are being studied for revamp ideas, with a three-month deadline from the government to give shape to the new law.

Another point of contention in the industry is that satellite channels broadcast uncut versions of films censored for screening in halls. “Doordarshan is the only channel that follows our cuts, which gives other broadcasters the upper hand.” But DD’s propensity to throw out scenes above and beyond what the Censor Board snips, has also come into question.

   

 
 
STATE VETO CASTS LONG SHADOW ON TEACHERS’ PAY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
It will take some time before teachers and employees of Anglo-Indian schools in Calcutta can draw an enhanced pay cheque, as recommended by the Fourth Pay Commission.

The uncertainty arises following the state government’s unwillingness to increase its annual allotment of Rs 25 crore towards payment of salaries.

According to sources, instead of increasing the allotment, the government now wants the school managements to bear the additional amount.

“It will be difficult for the state government to increase its budget for private institutions, as most of them already charge high tuition fees and earn huge revenue,” said Kanti Biswas, state school education minister.

The government had been providing funds for the salaries of teachers and employees of Anglo-Indian schools since Independence. The objective was to promote education in the community, the sources added.

The state government’s assertion towards non-payment of the additional grants has raised concern among nearly 5,000 teachers and employees of the 70 Anglo-Indian schools in Calcutta.

This is also the first time that the government has not cleared the dearness allowances for teachers and employees of Anglo-Indian schools before Christmas and New Year.

“We’ve been running from pillar to post for the past month to get the bills cleared, so that the employees could collect their dues in the first week of January. We are still not sure whether the Anglo-Indian school directorate has cleared the bills or not,” said Ismail Nehal, president, Association for Teachers of Anglo-Indian Schools and a senior teacher of St James School.

Dilip Bhattacharya, teacher of La Martiniere for Boys, said: “We require at least Rs 8 crore more than the stipulated Rs 25 crore for the current financial year to meet the expenses for paying the enhanced dearness allowance till March 2002.”

The association members have urged the government to reconsider its stand and take necessary measures so that the schools can function effectively.

“Our demand is legitimate, since most of the Anglo-Indian schools are very old and have provided top-class education all along . This has been proved by the demand among guardians to educate their wards in this category of schools. We wish the government takes notice of the fact and does the needful,” said Bhattacharya.

   
 

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