Winter wind due back in day or two
Cricket break in power play
Ray faces wrath on campus
Nasser, there and everywhere
The City Diary
Court grace for Lake clean-up
Abducted child freed from Kanauj
CalTel hangs up on Writers’
Sen takes up cudgels for Jessop
Priya ruffles Cong feathers

 
 
WINTER WIND DUE BACK IN DAY OR TWO 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 18: 
Those who thought winter had bid adieu are mistaken, said the weatherman on Friday. Officials at the Alipore meteorological office said the North Wind was being blocked temporarily by a series of upper-air circulations, but the condition was likely to dissipate in two or three days.

Early-morning fog was forecast in the airport area, but officials ruled out fog at Eden Gardens, where the cricket match will be played on Saturday.

The minimum temperature has risen considerably over the past few days. Friday’s minimum temperature was 19.3 degrees Celsius, five degrees above normal. The maximum temperature stood at 29.1 degrees, two degrees above normal. Sources at the weather office said the rise in temperature was caused by the upper-air circulations that had blocked the winter wind.

On Thursday, the block lay above sub-Himalayan West Bengal and Bihar and caused rain in north Bengal, Bhagalpur and Patna. On Friday, it shifted to Assam. Another circulation lies over Jharkhand and Bihar, with a third hovering over western Uttar Pradesh.

Upper-air circulation has developed over coastal Orissa and Gangetic West Bengal, too, causing incursion of moisture over Calcutta and the districts. “This inflow of moisture has increased the humidity and raised the temperature,” an official said.

Under the combined influence of these circulations, rain is likely in the districts, particularly Birbhum, Nadia and Murshidabad. “But, there is no immediate forecast of rain in Calcutta proper,” said an official.

Met office sources said this sudden rise in temperature in the middle of January was not unusual. Upper-air circulations are known to develop at this time of the year, they said.

   

 
 
CRICKET BREAK IN POWER PLAY 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 18: 
A truce call for cricket; a 24-hour breather amidst days of darkness. That’s what the West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) has promised Calcuttans waiting to catch the India vs England One-Day International on TV.

SEB chairman G.D. Gautama said on Friday that the Board would lift its restriction on supply to the CESC for 24 hours from Friday midnight, to ensure “uninterrupted supply of power for Saturday’s showdown at Eden Gardens. “But, mind you, we are only doing it keeping in mind the thousands of cricket fans in Calcutta. From Saturday midnight, the restriction on supply will be re-imposed,” warned Gautama.

The Board’s announcement came on a day that saw power cuts ranging from two to five hours being reported from all over the city. The shortfall in the morning and evening peak hours touched 200 mw.

Despite Saturday’s respite, the power situation is not expected to improve until January 29, when a 250-mw CESC unit at Budge Budge, now being overhauled, is scheduled to resume normal production.

Power minister Mrinal Banerjee’s warning to the CESC on Thursday — clear your debts with the SEB or be ready to hand over Howrah — prompted the power utility’s vice-chairman, Sanjeev Goenka, to meet chief-secretary Sourin Roy at Writers’ Buildings on Friday.

Roy later said Goenka had assured him that this “was a temporary phase” and the situation in the city would soon return to normal. Goenka, added Roy, had also told him that CESC managing director Sumantra Banerjee would soon take a decision on whether the power utility was willing to part with its territory.

CESC sources said Sumantra Banerjee held a series of meetings on Friday to explore ways of raising funds to repay the Board.

“Last year, we paid Rs 280 crore to the SEB for the power purchased between January and December. We also paid Rs 83 crore towards arrears. We just fell short by Rs 18 crore. We will be able to resume paying our arrears from February,” the managing director told Metro.

In Howrah, the CESC has over four lakh consumers, with an annual revenue of about Rs 400 crore.

“In the territory, the CESC does good business with a large number of industrial consumers. We have also built four sub-stations there to augment the system and spent about Rs 20 crore on equipment. Obviously, we don’t want to part with Howrah,” a CESC official said.

Maidan haul: Police arrested 15 scalpers from the Maidan area on Friday, while they were selling tickets for Saturday’s India-England tie at the Eden Gardens. Nearly two dozen tickets were recovered from them.

   

 
 
RAY FACES WRATH ON CAMPUS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 18: 
Former chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray was heckled when he visited Presidency College on Friday.

A group of students shouted slogans when Ray came to hand over rare photographs to principal Amitabha Chatterjee. The former chief minister is a member of the college alumni association.

“I feel the students were misguided and that is why they were shouting slogans. At the same time, I didn’t want the police to take any action,” he told Metro.

Ray said policemen and college staff cordoned him off. “Why should I be embarrassed? I understand the sentiments of the students and above all, this is my college, where I had spent my youth,” he added.

Onlookers said as soon as Ray stepped out of his car and walked towards the principal’s chamber, members of the college students’ union, affiliated to a Naxalite faction, mobbed him and shouted slogans: “Go back Siddhartha Ray, Comrade Swaraj Duttar khooni, door hato (Go back, killer of Naxalite leader Swaraj Dutta).

Ray had visited the college last month to attend a function commemorating 50 years of the alumni association.

Also present was Jyoti Basu, another old student of the college. Ray had then promised that he would gift four of his old photographs to the association.

Two of the photographs show Ray and his father, both having represented the college cricket teams.

The former chief minister stayed for 15 minutes, before he was escorted out of the college.

   

 
 
NASSER, THERE AND EVERYWHERE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Jan. 18: 
First floor: Nasser Hussain’s lads only. But they are all over the place, chatting up the chef, hanging out at the Hub, watching TV, digging into all kinds of Indian food (mutton rogan josh and chicken tikka jhalfrezie) from Sonargaon…

Second Floor: Sourav Ganguly’s boys only. They are keeping to themselves, insisting on room service, sticking largely to vegetarian dishes, with South Indian topping the taste charts…

The Rest: Guests gaping at the cricketers, visitors waiting to catch a glimpse…

That’s the tale at Taj Bengal, with both the Indian and English teams camping there before the fight under floodlights at the Eden Gardens on Saturday. For the Alipore hotel, which has been hosting cricket teams in the city for “12 years now”, the past week has “revolved almost entirely around the cricketers, especially because the security this time has been unprecedented”.

The spotlight may be on the Indians occupying 26 rooms on the second floor, but it’s the 29-room-strong English squad that’s bowled over the hotel staff.

“They are a disciplined, nice and jovial bunch,” says executive chef Pradeep Khosla. “Unlike the Australians, who had sent a long list of demands, down to the brand of flavoured yoghurt they wanted, the English have not been at all fussy. They’ve experimented with all kinds of Indian, Italian, Far-Eastern and Burmese cuisine and asked me about the preparations.”

Most of the Indians, by contrast, have stuck to their “dosa, sambar and rice, palak, corn and vegetarian curries”. Their only common call — “diet cola”.

For Taj, hosting cricket teams and handling the hype and hoopla surrounding them has become something of an action replay. But The Oberoi Grand remains the destination of choice for commentary team and crew.

It’s no exception this time, with the WorldTel team, boasting stars like Ian Botham and David Gower, putting up at the Chowringhee Road hotel. “The entire contingent, including teams from various countries here to cover the match, have taken 55 rooms,” said a spokesperson for The Oberoi on Friday.

It’s become something of a tradition now for the two biggest hotels in town to split players and the rest. This, said officials, was due to a long-standing agreement between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Taj group. “In cities like Bhubaneswar, where Taj does not have a presence, players stay at The Oberoi,” said the Grand spokesperson, and the hotel will “definitely make a pitch to play host to cricketers in Calcutta once the agreement between Taj and the BCCI lapses later this year”.

Till then, all off-the-pitch action is at the Taj, the spotlight is on the Sachins and Souravs, with the Thorpes and Flintoffs emerging surprise favourites for staff and guests alike.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Schools told to list obscene billboards

City conservancy chief Mala Roy on Friday asked the Board of Secondary Education for a list of obscene billboards in front of educational institutions. In a letter to the Board, Roy requested Haraprasad Samaddar, secretary of the Board, to direct school principals to inform the civic authorities at 244-6015 if the roads leading to the institutions required maintenance. Roy is also planning a rally against such billboards. She added that the conservancy department had recently pulled down an obscene hoarding on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass and another at Alipore. According to civic estimates, there are 685 hoardings in the city, of which 2,034 are on private land. The CMC earns an annual revenue of Rs 5.5 crore from hoardings.

House burnt, nine held

Within 12 hours of the murder of two youths in Dhakuria, houses were damaged and a building was set on fire on Friday. On Thursday, Nepal Mondal and Lalu were killed at Panchanantala by local criminals. On Friday, a raid was conducted in the area and nine persons were arrested. One of them was named in the FIR, police said.

Suicide

A 28-year-old housewife committed suicide by consuming pesticide at her residence in Howrah on Thursday night. Police said a search has been launched for her husband, who is absconding since the incident.

Shops gutted

Two shops were gutted at Dakshindari, in the Lake Town area, on Thursday night. Fire brigade sources said the fire may have been caused due to a short-circuit. However, there was no report of any injury.

Aviation security

The University of Civil Aviation has for the first time set up a full-fledged training centre for aviation security at Netaji Subhas International Airport in Calcutta. Union civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain will inaugurate the centre on Saturday. According to sources, the Centre will impart training on all aspects of aviation security, including anti-hijacking, anti-sabotage and handling of explosives.

Turtles seized

About 1,500 turtles belonging to endangered species were seized from Beleghata and South 24-Parganas by forest officials and the police on Friday. In Beleghata, 44 Ganges soft-shell turtles were seized, while a raid in Joynagar, South 24-Parganas, yielded 150 turtles belonging to the same species. A woman was arrested and two others were detained by Joynagar police under the Wildlife Protection Act. Gangs based in Shuklagunj, in Kanpur, and other parts of Uttar Pradesh are suspected to be engaged in smuggling out turtles. While the turtles are sold illegally in city markets for consumption, the shells are transported for manufacture of medicine. The UP Police have been contacted in this regard.

Prayer meet

Bangiya Christiya Pariseba will organise a prayer rally on Sunday in front of St Teresa’s Church, Moulali, in memory of the martyrs of fundamentalism, general secretary Herod Mullick said.    

 
 
COURT GRACE FOR LAKE CLEAN-UP 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 18: 
The Railways will have to wait till April 30 to evict illegal settlers between Ballygunge and Tollygunge stations. On Friday, a division bench of the high court stayed the earlier order that had set the eviction deadline for January 25.

The bench, comprising Justice T.K. Chatterjee and Justice S.K. Mukherjee, directed petitioner Sougata Roy, MLA, on behalf of Dhakuria-Tollygunge Railway Bastu Sangram Samiti, to file an affidavit, saying that the settlers will vacate the stretch by April 30. Roy has to file the affidavit in 10 days.

Roy, on behalf of the Samiti, had filed a petition on January 11, urging review of the directive to evict squatters from either side of the tracks by January 25. A bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice S.K. Mukherjee, had directed the state government and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation to extend all co-operation to the Railways during the drive.

About 800 families have been occupying a 3.5-km-stretch between Lake Gardens and Tollygunge stations for over a decade. Up to 9,000 people use the Lake’s water daily for washing and bathing, resulting in environmental hazards.

Trinamul Congress MLAs Arunava Ghosh and Kalyan Banerjee, who are also members of the Bar Association, moved the petition on behalf of Roy. They claimed 30,000 people would be rendered homeless if the eviction was carried out.

The order, which had asked the Railways to complete the eviction by January 25, is based on petitions filed by three organisations — the Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Committee, which was the first to initiate proceedings in 1997, the Rabindra Sarobar Bachao Committee and the Paribesh Dushan Rodh Committee.

Divisional railway manager D.C. Mitra said: “The court modified its order as the petitioners prayed for time. Among them are many Madhyamik and Higher Secondary candidates.”

   

 
 
ABDUCTED CHILD FREED FROM KANAUJ 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 18: 
A nine-year-old boy, kidnapped a month and a half ago from Barasat, was rescued from a village in Kanauj district of Uttar Pradesh on Thursday. The boy was produced at Barasat court and handed over to his mother. Police arrested a person for masterminding the abduction.

Police said Jayanti Roy, a resident of Malipara, lodged a complaint with Barasat police station saying that her son, Babushona, was missing from December 4. “Jayanti is a divorcee,” the police added.

Trouble started when a man called Manoj Srivastav, alias Vinod, from Uttar Pradesh, started harassing Jayanti. “Vinod turned hostile after Jayanti rebuffed his advances. We suspect he kidnapped Jayanti’s son and took him to his village, Sandra, in Uttar Pradesh,” said a sleuth.

A few days after the abduction, Jayanti spotted Vinod in the Colony More area of Barasat. She notified some members of a local club, who grabbed Vinod and brought him to the police station, said an officer.

Vinod broke down during interrogation and confessed that he had abducted the boy. Rahul Srivastav, additional superintendent of police, alerted his counterpart in Uttar Pradesh.

Srivastav also sent three policemen and two youths from the local club to rescue the boy. “Babushona was found in Vinod’s uncle’s house, though the family had no idea who he was.We brought him back to the city,” said an officer.

   

 
 
CALTEL HANGS UP ON WRITERS’ 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 18: 
Had Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee picked up the phone in his office today, he would have found the line was dead. His was one of nearly 250 telephones in Writers’ Buildings that went out of service today.

Official sources claimed Calcutta Telephones had withdrawn the service following non-payment of bills amounting to around Rs 2 lakh.

“This is the first time that a situation of this nature had occurred,” finance minister Asim Dasgupta said later in the evening.

Officials claimed it was not surprising that the lines went dead. “The mandarins at Telephone Bhavan had suspended the utility as the government had not sent the cheque on time,” a top official said.

However, Gopal Bose, general manager, Calcultta Telephones, south, claimed the incident had nothing to do with non-payment of bills. “A mechanical problem led to the incident,” he said. There are some 700 telephone connections in Writers’.

The situation would have been compounded had the chief minister been in town. But apparently even he could not be contacted in Siliguri through normal means. His Cabinet colleagues, however, felt the brunt. The finance minister, the health minister, the sports minister and the PWD minister and their offices were among those affected by the “communication cut”.

It was around 11.30 am that officials and staff realised that calls could not be made, though incoming calls were being received without any problem. Whenever the receivers of the direct connections were picked up, a taped voice said that the service had been temporarily suspended owing to non-payment of dues. In some telephones, a long, engaged tone replaced the dial tone.

Many senior bureaucrats were seen fishing out their mobile sets to make important calls after their private secretaries could not get the outside numbers they sought. “This is one occasion where we have realised the usefulness of this modern technology,” remarked one bureaucrat.

Several enquiries were made at the PWD offices, which look after the payment of bills of about 105 telephone connections at Writers’. But the minister at the helm of the department, Amar Chaudhuri, was away at Eden Gardens to attend a steering committee meeting prior to Saturday’s big ball game. It was around 5 pm that he could brief reporters on what had happened.

At first, Chaudhuri tried to make light of the situation. “It seems to be a cable fault-like problem.” But when specifically asked, he said there appeared to be a foul-up with the pay and accounts department in sending the payment to the telephone authorities.

“I cannot say for sure. I myself got to know about the problem around 2 pm. But I had to rush to the ground for the meeting and could not find out where the hold-up in releasing the payment lay.”

He explained that the bills had been sent some time ago to the pay and accounts department for preparing and sending cheques. “There was a delay, but the payment was made today after the due date,” he said. “I will make a detailed enquiry on Monday. This is the first time that such a thing has happened.”

A bewildered Dasgupta later said he could not understand why the telephone authorities had acted in this way.

“I have learnt that the delay in payment was only for one day. The PWD is responsible for clearing the bills. I have asked the finance secretary to probe whether the pay and accounts department was responsible and, if so, who was responsible for the delay.”

He took umbrage over the action taken by Calcutta Telephones, even saying that he would write to the Centre.

   

 
 
SEN TAKES UP CUDGELS FOR JESSOP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 18: 
State public enterprise minister Nirupam Sen will soon write to Union disinvestment minister Arun Shourie protesting against the Centre’s decision on Wednesday to sell to a private party 72 per cent stake of Jessop, a Central government undertaking.

Sen found the Union government’s decision “most frustrating, particularly at a time when the company was looking up”.

The company, which has 1,500 employees and had incurred a loss of Rs 49 crore till March 31, 2001, earned a profit of Rs 1.52 crore till December 2001.

The Centre could have revived the company with the money the government has decided to waive as the Jessop’s outstanding loans to the government in the interest of the intending buyer, Sen told The Telegraph today.

The state had “extended all concessions for the survival of the company”, Sen said. It has already sanctioned a soft loan of more than Rs 30 crore towards sales tax dues and purchased its head-office building in Calcutta at a high price despite financial constraints, he added.

The joint secretary of the public enterprises department sent a letter to his counterpart in New Delhi, urging him to take a positive step to revive the company. He pointed out the sacrifices employees had made by accepting voluntary retirement schemes and deferred salaries.

   

 
 
PRIYA RUFFLES CONG FEATHERS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 18: 
State Congress leaders did not know what to read into the signals. Congress chief whip in the Lok Sabha Priya Ranjan Das Munshi came to Calcutta yesterday, and held a closed-door meeting with Trinamul Congress leader and Calcutta mayor Subrata Mukherjee. But he did not meet Somen Mitra, just back from Delhi and recovering from his bypass surgery.

A senior PCC leader tried to explain it as some “personal business” between Das Munshi and Mukherjee. But he added: “However, such a gesture on the part of a senior Congress functionary definitely sends a wrong signal to grassroots-level workers.”

Mitra confirmed that Das Munshi did not meet him, but refused to comment.

PCC sources, however, claimed that this could be part of Das Munshi’s gameplan to stall Mitra’s possible elevation to the post of state unit president in place of Pranab Mukhrjee.

“Convinced that Mitra is the only alternative if Mukherjee steps down in view of his pre-occupation in Delhi, Das Munshi is desperate to rope in Subrata loyalists in the PCC to frustrate the move,” they added.

Ties between Das Munshi and Mitra soured when the latter appeared to develop close ties with Mamata Banerjee during the May elections.

PCC vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya, however, said this was a non-issue as Pranab Mukherjee himself agreed to continue as PCC chief till the panchayat elections, slated for 2003.

“The high command is busy overseeing the upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Punjab and Manipur and is least bothered about any change of guard in the Bengal Congress,” he added.

But he added that it would have been nice had Das Munshi also called on Mitra. “Congress workers wanted him to visit Somen also,” he said.

Das Munshi, now camping in the capital, said tonight that yesterday’s meeting with the mayor was a personal visit and had nothing to do with politics. “It doesn’t make sense to read politics into the meeting,” he said, adding that he had met Mitra twice when he was admitted at the Escorts hospital.

Mukherjee also claimed that there was nothing much to be made of Das Munshi’s visit. “We know each other for quite a long time and Priyada just came to see how I was faring as mayor of Calcutta,” he added.

   
 

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