Turf twist to power tussle
Guns blaze off Gol Park, goon killed
School Board in clean-up call
Police-tout nexus at airport
Cop cover drive at Eden
Mountain magic and chocolate charm
Destination Dalhousie for taste of Calcutta
The City Diary
Neglected teachers float parallel body
Varsities lock horns over nursing course affiliation

 
 
TURF TWIST TO POWER TUSSLE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 17: 
Clear your debts, resolve the power crisis, or be prepared to lose Howrah. That’s the message from the government to the CESC.

As Calcutta, Howrah and adjoining areas reeled under darkness, the government warned the RPG-owned power utility to be ready to hand over a part of its demarcated territory to the state electricity board (SEB). Expressing concern at the deteriorating situation, power minister Mrinal Banerjee confirmed that the SEB has proposed taking over Howrah from the CESC.

Through Thursday, the power minister’s office, as well as the offices of the two power utilities, were flooded with calls from anxious citizens. “They are even calling me at home to express their anxiety,” Banerjee said. “I am afraid I cannot say when the situation will improve,” he added. The power minister insisted that it was not “a pleasant job for us (to take over CESC areas). But there is no alternative. This is the first time the government has asked the century-old CESC to do such a thing.”

Banerjee, however, held out hope for cricket-lovers. “Special arrangements will be made to ensure uninterrupted supply of power to the CESC-served areas on Saturday for the one-day match at the Eden Gardens.”

At a meeting on Thursday morning, power secretary Kalyan Bagchi read the riot act to CESC managing director Sumantra Banerjee, saying that the SEB was ready to identify the areas it could take over. Senior power department and SEB officials, including Board chairman G.D. Gautama, attended the meeting.

The shortfall in the CESC-served areas shot up to 200 mw during morning and evening peak hours, leading to power cuts ranging from two to four hours in the city and its suburbs.

CESC officials, however, maintained that the utility had not defaulted in the payment of current dues and paid Rs 280 crore between January and December last year. Referring to the SEB’s decision to slash supply, they felt that “the punishment is not proportional to the crime”.

“We have paid our power purchase bill in full for the past 12 months and another Rs 85 crore in arrears. I reaffirm CESC’s commitment to pay the SEB for the power being purchased,” said Sumantra Banerjee.

The power minister said the government was not setting CESC a deadline, but warned that it wouldn’t wait too long.

   

 
 
GUNS BLAZE OFF GOL PARK, GOON KILLED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 17: 
A clash between criminals near the slums of Panchanantala and Kankulia, off Gol Park, in south Calcutta, resulted in the death of a goon, Nepal Mondal. The incident occurred around 3 pm.

Police said Gopal Das, a local criminal, sent his men to “eliminate” Bapi Haldar, who had been trying to extend his area of operations to Kankulia, Panchanantala and parts of Jadavpur. Das and Haldar had been on a collision course over turf rights.

Failing to locate Haldar, Das’ men swooped on a group playing cards in the area.

“They hurled bombs and showered bullets at Haldar’s men, before they could react,” said an officer of Lake police station. Haldar could not be traced in the area till late on Thursday, the police added.

Mondal, 25, died on the spot after receiving bullet and bomb splinter injuries. Four others, injured in the clash, were taken to nearby hospitals in a critical condition. “One of them is in bad shape, having taken a blast on his chest,” said an officer.

In the wake of the incident, shop-owners downed shutters and residents deserted the streets.

Deputy commissioner of police (South) Kuldeep Singh, who was supervising security at Eden Gardens, rushed to Kankulia Road with a large force. “We have rounded up seven people, but are now looking for the main culprits — Das and Haldar. More arrests will follow,” said Singh. A police picket has been posted in the area.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the Das-Haldar rivalry became more acute after the former was released from jail. Das is facing murder charges. “Haldar was trying to operate country liquor and satta dens in the area, which Das wanted to destroy. Das had been trying to eliminate Haldar for a long time,” said a police officer.

Inheritance order revoked: Pressure from Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee has forced mayor Subrata Mukherjee to revoke the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s (CMC) circular denying inheritance rights to the stall-owners in 23 civic markets.

In a revised order, the CMC is likely to allow inheritance of a stall by the wife of a dead stall-owner and for a period of five years thereafter to other legal heirs.

   

 
 
SCHOOL BOARD IN CLEAN-UP CALL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 17: 
The West Bengal Board of Secondary Education on Thursday asked the Calcutta civic authorities to help it develop students into better citizens by improving their school surroundings.

In a letter to mayor Subrata Mukherjee, the Board said: “A small child must be able to enter its educational institution in a happy and fresh frame of mind every day.” Haraprasad Samaddar, Board president, later told Metro: “Continual exposure to heaps of garbage, overflowing drains and vulgar billboards will negate our efforts to develop responsible future citizens.”

Apart from the letter, the Board also placed before the civic authorities a string of proposals for preventing students from “getting swamped by the waves of decadent culture.”

The Board has asked the mayor to remove all “obscene hoardings” from the city. “Please ask the companies concerned to stop advertising products or services using obscene pictures of men and women. The trend causes development of bad taste among children.”

Supporting the Board in its endeavour, Smarajit Roy, headmaster of Sanskrit Collegiate School, said many schools have been urging him to initiate action on this count for a long time.

The Board’s demand comes in the wake of its decision to undertake an elaborate scheme to upgrade state-aided institutions in Calcutta. “We cannot expect young boys and girls to develop good habits, like personal hygiene and cleanliness, if the surroundings of the schools are not clean and well-maintained,” said Samaddar.

Sources in the Board said officials recently visited a cross-section of state-aided schools in various parts of Calcutta and found that the surroundings of most of the institutions are poorly maintained.

“We have seen drains near the schools overflowing in many places and garbage piled up very close to many institutions. We have drawn the attention of the Corporation to this and requested it to look into the matter,” said Samaddar.

The Board has also found that a good number of schools in the city are situated in narrow lanes and bylanes. Approach roads are in a deplorable condition. The Board authorities have urged the Corporation to repair the roads and make sure that they are regularly maintained.

The Board was equally concerned with the kind of “indecent billboards” put by various companies close to the schools.

“This has to be stopped if the students are to be brought up as good citizens of the country. We will approach the higher authorities if the Corporation does not respond to our request to have the billboards removed,” said Samaddar.

Sources in the Board said the point has been raised following a series of complaints from parents of pupils between Class V and Class VIII. The guardians insisted that the “obscene advertisements” often had disturbing repercussions.

   

 
 
POLICE-TOUT NEXUS AT AIRPORT 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Jan. 17: 
After the howler, the hush-up. Days after the lid was blown off the December 13 episode at the airport, allegedly involving cops helping two passengers with forged passports to sneak through Immigration, desperate cover-up moves are on.

Sources in the police department said one of the accused, sub-inspector Sushil Biswas, has stated in his report that a couple of “unknown persons” claiming to be “SP saheb’s friends” had asked the SI to accompany them to the Immigration wing. “Efforts have been made to confuse the inquiry team by providing different versions of the duty rosters of December 13,” an official added.

The inquiry ordered following the Intelligence Bureau (IB) exposé has revealed how both Inspector-General of Police (South Bengal) Prasun Mukherjee and the regional deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) L. Singsit were “kept in the dark” about the incident. “One of my officers later told me the details,” admitted Singsit. “They are yet to provide me with an entire report on the matter, which they should have done much earlier.”

Mukherjee said: “I have asked DIG (Presidency Range) Gautam Chakraborty to give me a detailed report.”

The independent probe into the “affairs at the airport for the past year” has zeroed in on a police-tout nexus. The probe team has, apparently, gathered evidence about a section of police personnel in the immigration wing being “hand-in-glove” with touts operating outside airport. “There have been complaints that businessmen had to pay ‘extra’ at the counter. If a passenger is found short on cash, he is asked to contact some people waiting outside, ready to pay on their behalf, at 20 per cent interest,” said a senior BCAS official.

The probe is also focusing on a “police-passport racket” in and around the airport. A list of names of passengers with fake passports let through by certain immigration officials has been prepared. According to airport records, on November 7, 2000, a sub-inspector had tried to ‘help’ a passenger clear immigration without having his attache-case checked. “We found a video camera and a laptop hidden inside. The SI said he had been asked to ‘escort’ the man out of Immigration,” a Customs official said.

   

 
 
COP COVER DRIVE AT EDEN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 17: 
Police took over Eden Gardens on Thursday and threw a security ring over the area for the first one-day match between England and India on Saturday. Assisted by commandos, they took up post at the gates and near the Dr B.C. Roy Club House.

Metal detectors have been placed at entry and exit points. “It is clearly mentioned on the tickets that the right to admission is reserved. This is the first time that such an instruction is being printed on the tickets,’’ said deputy commissioner of police, Banibrata Basu.

Water-bottles, firecrackers, transistor sets and newspapers have been banned within the stadium. “We are, however, allowing cellular phones and tiffin boxes,’’ said joint commissioner of police, traffic, Sandhi Mukherjee.

The Babughat bus stand has been shifted temporarily to Prinsep Ghat for security reasons. Five people were detained on charges of hoarding tickets, amid police claims that scalpers were playing the field.

Eastern Railway will run three trains after the match. One will start from Circular Railways’ Eden Gardens station at 10.45 pm for Naihati. Another will start from Prinsep Ghat at 11 pm for Barasat. A Baruipur-bound third will leave Sealdah at 11.30 pm.

   

 
 
MOUNTAIN MAGIC AND CHOCOLATE CHARM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 17: 
Hoping to head off to Switzerland this summer, but don’t have a clue how to go about it? Hurry up and plan your dream holiday, for the Swiss tourism department has reached your doorstep.

In a bid to lure more Calcuttans to the favourite ‘song’ city for Bollywood filmmakers, the country’s tourism department, in conjunction with the Swiss embassy, is on a promotional visit to Calcutta. The objective: To explore the untapped local market and encourage more holidays to the Alpine destination from the city.

Regi Wittwer, sales and marketing manager of Switzerland Tourism, is optimistic that Calcutta will emerge as one of the top travel markets in India very soon. “Calcutta has enormous potential. We have information that small family groups, clubs and bigger groups are travelling to Switzerland. We are here to educate our agents to encourage more Calcuttans to visit our country,” added Regi.

Calcuttans travelling on Cross Air Ltd (part of SwissAir) to Switzerland from New Delhi and Mumbai will get an exclusive discount on airfare. “We can’t disclose the exact details, but there’s an exclusive offer for Calcuttans lined up right now,” confirmed Neelam Sengupta, sales manager (eastern India), SwissAir Transport.

Even the SwissAir Transport office on Chowringhee Road has been “fully equipped” with detailed information on travel tours and programmes to show Calcuttans the shortest and cheapest route to Switzerland. “We are here to brief people and help them out in every possible way,” added Sengupta.

Ritu Sharma, marketing manager (India), Switzerland Tourism, said: “For years, most Calcuttans wishing to travel to Switzerland did not know where to find out more about the country or whom to contact for reservations. All that is being taken care of now. We have expanded our liaison office with lots of facilities and information and have appointed several travel agents, recognised by the Swiss government. Every information will now be at the fingertips of Calcuttans.”

The tourist flow from India has been “very encouraging”, say officials, with Calcutta “slowly picking up”. Despite 2001 being a bad year for tourist flow worldwide, there were 3.3 per cent more Indians in Switzerland than in 2000. Till October 2001, over 81,400 Indians had travelled to Switzerland, around 10 to 15 per cent being Calcuttans — a steady rise from a meagre 5 to 7 per cent share of tourist traffic in 1998.

Statistics reveal that Indians are not only travelling to the famous Alpine resorts in Switzerland, but have been spending quite a bit, as well. “Indians spend around 400 Swiss francs (around US$ 300) daily, which is a lot of money compared to tourists from other developed countries, who end up spending only US$150,” said Sharma. With 2002 being declared “Year of the Mountain” by the United Nations and several summer festivals being planned till October 2002, Switzerland is the “place to be”, insists the European destination’s tourism team.

   

 
 
DESTINATION DALHOUSIE FOR TASTE OF CALCUTTA 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 17: 
Convert the central business district into an international tourist destination by offering “an authentic example of Bengali experience”. That is the prescription of Omar Khalidi, professor, The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The 46-year-old architect-turned professor was born in Hyderabad and studied at the Jawaharlal Nehru Technical University (JNTU) for a while before completing his architectural education in the US at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas. He is back in Calcutta for a two-day lecture tour, on invitation from American Center.

“I think the entire area (of Dalhousie Square) should be declared a heritage zone where new buildings should not be constructed and a lot of constraint imposed on demolishing old ones. A partnership should be sought with the private tourism industry to preserve the entire district or precinct, not just the individual buildings,” observes Khalidi, a specialist in “climate-conscious, vernacular and conservation architecture”.

He feels all colonial structures in the office area need to be integrated into the new economy and made part of everyday life through a chain of kiosks offering ethnic handicrafts, Calcutta cuisine, artefacts, theatre, music — anything that would provide access to the heritage of Calcutta and Bengal.

“In other words, once the global tourist is there inside the heritage zone, he should feel he has arrived in Calcutta, a great example of colonial architecture, a destination. He should see, taste and smell Calcutta for the total experience. At the same time, the zone should have all the modern facilities that a 21st century tourist expects. By offering that, Calcutta could say, ‘Hey, here is a city that has retained its character’.”

To realise the full potential of the proposed Dalhousie Square heritage zone, Khalidi feels a rational approach should be to link up with the riverfront. “Also, the river should act as an artery, not a barrier. It can mitigate traffic congestion, which is otherwise a big deterrent for the foreign tourist,” he says.

Conservation, however, has to be linked to commerce, according to the professor. “You can’t just preserve things for sentimental values. It’s never going to be successful unless there’s an income-generating angle to it. It should be able to sustain itself through other means. For instance, if the Writers’ Buildings has outgrown its utility, preserve it by all means, but convert it into something else, put it to some adaptive reuse that fits the bill. The authorities should be willing to take decisions that might hurt some sentiments in the immediate context, but in the long run, would be beneficial to everybody.”

Not every building is worthy of preservation, though, he feels. “Only those buildings which have an aesthetic or a historic value, or are examples of the architectural style typical of an era, should be preserved,” says Khalidi, stressing the importance of involving the private sector in preservation.

The more decentralised it is, the better it is for preservation, he feels. The private sector is unencumbered and hence, can take quick, rational decisions. “By inviting the private parties, we offer them big and famous names of these historic buildings and they offer the much-needed capital.”

The nature of buildings should be dictated by climate, economy and social habits and the tendency towards blind obedience to western models should be discouraged, feels Khalidi, whose three “most significant projects” are all in Saudi Arabia where he lived and worked for a year. These are: A school for challenged children in Riyadh, a primary school in a rural setting in Abha and a hospital in Jeddah built over 4,000-acres.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Policeman run over by lorry

A 42-year-old constable of the Belghoria police station was killed in an accident early on Thursday. The accident occurred near Dunlop when a lorry ran over the victim, police said. The driver fled with the vehicle after the accident.

Six cars gutted in Howrah

Six cars parked in a garage on Sarat Chatterjee Road, in the Chatterjeehat police station area, in Howrah,were gutted on Thursday. Police said the fire broke out early in the morning. The fire may have been caused by a short-circuit or cigarette stubs thrown by employees, who stay there at night, police said. Till evening, there was no report of injury.

Ward committees

A proposal to form committees in every ward was ratified at the Corporation house meeting on Thursday. The total number of members in a ward committee will be nine. The committee members will neither be allowed to use the official logo of the civic body on their letterheads nor be allowed to interact directly with the civic officials, bypassing the local councillor. A 12-point suggestion list was drawn up for the state government to frame the requisite rules. However, no provision has been made in the proposal as to how the expenses of running 141 such committees will be met.

Provident fund

The Provident Fund Organisation is hosting a seminar on ‘Service to Subscribers’ to discuss the modernisation effected in provident fund, pension fund and deposit-linked insurance schemes. It will be held at Rabindra Bhavan, Titagarh Municipality, on January 21 at 10.30 am. Alongside the seminar, arrangements have been made to issue pension and provident fund cheques to claimants on the spot.

Child dies

A three-year-old child, Sona Kalam, died when a kerosene stove exploded at Barrackpore on Thursday. Police said the child was admitted to RG Kar Medical College and Hospital with severe burns.

Probe ordered

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee ordered a probe into a survey which was conducted on the condition of sewerage and water supply network in the city in connection with a proposed World Bank project. The decision was ratified in the civic house meeting on Thursday with the Left Front’s support. The mayor has refused to clear the Rs 5-crore bill that was submitted to him for the project. The survey was conducted by two agencies during the tenure of the Left Front board in the CMC.

Bangalore special

South Eastern Railway will run an additional winter special between Howrah and Yashwantpur (Bangalore) on Friday to cope with the rush of passengers. The train will leave Howrah at 7 pm to reach Yashwantpur at 8 am on Sunday. It will have 15 coaches, including 10 second-class sleepers, three general-class and two SLRs. This is in addition to the 13 pairs of Bangalore (Yashwantpur)- bound winter specials announced earlier.    

 
 
NEGLECTED TEACHERS FLOAT PARALLEL BODY 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 17: 
Upset over the functioning of the CPM-controlled West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association (WBCUTA) and its failure to prevent politicisation of education, a section of teachers from Calcutta, Jadavpur and Rabindra Bharati universities is planning to form an association that will redress their grievances.

Interestingly, many of those who have initiated the move to float the new organisation are members of WBCUTA. Some of them even hold key posts in the CPM-controlled teachers’ body.

“It is expected that they will quit WBCUTA after the parallel organisation is formed,” sources said.

A convention will be held on Friday at Gandhi Bhavan, on the Jadavpur University (JU) campus, where the new organisation will be formed. The new teachers’ body — All Bengal University Teachers’ Association (ABUTA) — will function without any assistance from the CPM-controlled WBCUTA.

Chairman of ABUTA’s reception committee Dipendra Narayan Banerjee said that the increasing trend of politicisation, cheap populism and mediocrity were tarnishing the images of most universities.

“In this background, a large section of teachers feels it necessary to restore academic autonomy of the universities by guarding them against any sort of political intervention,” Banerjee said on Thursday.

“In this context, it has become imperative that teachers devote themselves to finding the causes of the education rot and create a healthy environment,” Banerjee said.

To date, no association has been formed exclusively for the university teachers to air their opinions in academic matters and protect their rights.

“Under these circumstances, we feel that there must exist a state-level organisation which should come to the aid of such teachers,” Banerjee added.

The CPM-dominated WBCUTA is an organisation of both college and university teachers. Sources say that most university teachers feel neglected by the organisation.

Most of the executive members of WBCUTA are teachers of under-graduate colleges. “University teachers are not properly represented in the WBCUTA leadership. As a result, the WBCUTA has deficiencies in fighting for their cause,” sources said.

When asked to comment on the recent move to form an independent organisation of university teachers, WBCUTA president Manindranath Roy said he had no idea about the decision. “WBCUTA was formed in 1926 and has been fighting for the cause of university and college teachers ever since. We don’t believe that just by forming another organisation, the problems of the university teachers will be solved,” he asserted.

   

 
 
VARSITIES LOCK HORNS OVER NURSING COURSE AFFILIATION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 17: 
The state government’s plans for privatising medical education suffered a setback due to a deadlock between Calcutta and Burdwan universities. The rift is reportedly over granting affiliation for running a post-graduate course in nursing to a city-based private hospital.

Ignoring Calcutta University (CU), B. M. Birla Heart Research Centre has sought Burdwan University’s affiliation to introduce a new course on the subject. This has embarrassed the CU, as B.M. Birla falls under its jurisdiction.

“Going by rules, Burdwan University cannot grant affiliation, as it is located beyond the jurisdiction,” said an official.

Sources say Burdwan University reportedly has no experience in running even under-graduate courses in nursing. Calcutta University had been running such courses, both at under-graduate and post-graduate levels, for a long time.

After Peerless Hospital, B.M. Birla will be the second private hospital to run a full-time post-graduate course in nursing.

The matter has come to the notice of the state higher education department, which has informed Burdwan University that it will green-signal the affiliation only if CU issues a no-objection certificate.

The CU authorities placed the issue at its Syndicate body meeting on Tuesday. Though they never reached a conclusion, members were curious to know why a Burdwan University affiliation was being sought.

The Syndicate members are expected to discuss the issue at its next meeting, scheduled two weeks later.

Admitting that B. M. Birla was not within the jurisdiction of Burdwan University, M.K. Chatterjee, registrar, said he was not aware what had prompted the hospital to seek the university’s affiliation.

He, however, added that there was provision in the rules to allow the university to grant affiliation to an institution beyond its jurisdiction, if it is issued the no-objection certificate.

“We have send the proposal to the state higher education department. We are now waiting for the government’s reply,” said Chatterjee. When contacted, a B.M. Birla official refused to comment on the issue.

   
 

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