Call check in terror wake
Airport cops under cloud block probe
Campus crisis off and on
Birdie in hand worth two in boardroom
The City Diary
NGOs draw flak for stray explosion
Crackdown on Howrah autos
Apathy robs child activist of award nomination
Art blooms in natural setting
Cong seeks all-party meet on madarsas

Calcutta, Feb. 4: 
RAS and Router, channel-monitoring and conferencing. With e-mail and cellphones becoming the favoured communication options for the terror industry operating from the city and elsewhere, Calcutta Telephones — in tandem with other communications and home ministry wings — has put people using the services under the scanner as never before.

The focus of the service provider has widened over the past few days to include keeping an eye on subscribers, say senior BSNL officials.

The prod, they confirm, has come from Delhi. One such circular to mobile service-providers in the city, including Calcutta Telephones, directs them to pursue “rigorous bona fide verification of users”. A senior BSNL official admitted: “We may initially irk some consumers when we ask for properly-documented proof of their address and other details. But we cannot, like some of our competitors, promise ‘no jhanjhat’ connections so easily.”

The surveillance on cellphones and their users has already paid dividends, say officials. “We have received requests from the Intelligence Branch to trace calls made several hours ago without being given the full five-digit number. And we have been able to respond to the demand,” one of them disclosed.

Besides the “routine” monitoring of land-lines, increased surveillance of e-mail has become another priority, following disclosures by arrested terrorists that they used city cybercafes to plan the terror strikes. Here, however, Calcutta Telephones takes a backseat and wings like the West Bengal Telecom Circle and VSNL — and private ISPs like Satyam and Caltiger — take over.

Gadgets like RAS, or remote access server, and the Router come in handy, say officials. The Router acts like a transaction log by telling which Internet addresses have been accessed. It may not, however, have sufficient memory to store all the addresses and is made to dump the information on another machine.

The ubiquitous telephone booth with STD/ISD, and sometimes conferencing, facilities has not been forgotten in this hi-tech battle.

West Bengal Telecom Circle, in “close collaboration” with intelligence agencies, has replicated Calcutta Telephones’ scan on mobile-users and VSNL’s surveillance on the web by keeping an eye on the STD/ISD booths operating from within a few kilometres from the Bangla border.

A home ministry channel-monitoring wing, based near Kanchrapara, off the North 24-Parganas-Nadia border, is also tracing all ISD calls being made through Calcutta Telephones and nearby West Bengal Telecom exchanges. The emphasis, say officials, is on calls being made to countries like Bangladesh and those in the Gulf.


Calcutta, Feb. 4: 
The drive aimed at cleaning up police corruption at Calcutta airport has run into the first wall of resistance, with the indicted policemen trying to make the witnesses, who saw the uniformed men “in action”, retract their statements.

A series of reports in The Telegraph triggered off the probe into the police-tout nexus at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, senior probe officials said.

This was the “most serious” inquiry into allegations of police involvement with touts who could have posed a security threat to the key installation, they admitted.

The completed probe report, ordered by inspector-general (South Bengal) Prasun Mukherjee, was forwarded to director-general of police D.C. Vajpai on Monday. “Now it’s up to the superiors to punish the officers found guilty,” an officer connected with the probe said.

The role of several policemen posted at the airport has been questioned in the report, say officers.

Among them are sub-inspector Sushil Biswas, already under suspension for escorting two suspected gun-runners with forged passports through the Immigration counter on December 13 last year, the day Parliament came under attack in New Delhi.

Biswas was caught in the act while trying to escort Vikhabhai and Lilaben Patel to the counter, with a request to the Immigration personnel to allow them to board a Royal Jordan Airlines flight.

A surprised Biswas admitted he was “asked by a DSP to escort them”. Two separate inquiries — one by the bureau of civil aviation security and the other by the home ministry — are also underway.

But efforts to subvert the probe persisted, officers said.

Those trying to rig witnesses include a deputy superintendent of police. At the centre of controversy, he has “personally requested several witnesses” to retract their original statements to the police.

“We have evidence to suggest that a deputy superintendent, along with two other officers, in a desperate attempt to save their skin, requested a number of witnesses to retract their original statements,” a senior police officer connected with the probe told The Telegraph.

“But one of the inspectors has refused to do so,” the officer added. “He was threatened but being aware that any modification of his original statement may land him in trouble, has stuck to his guns,” he said.

Without going into the consequence of the probe, officers said it had managed to identify several policemen who maintained links with touts operating just outside the airport premises.

The airport police – now looking after the area outside the airport and law-and-order within the protected area — has been asked to crack down on touts operating around the airport, say officials.

Special IG (Presidency Range) Gautam Mohan Chakraborty met the officers concerned at the airport a few days ago and conducted an on-the-spot inquiry.

Several senior officers have already been moved out of the airport, following the CISF take-over on February 1.

Superintendent of police (airport) O.P. Gupta, who was to get a plum posting within the area of jurisdiction of Calcutta Police, was suddenly transferred to the crime records bureau in Salt Lake.

“It will take me a month to complete all the pending work here before I join my new post,” Gupta said on Monday.


Calcutta, Feb. 4: 
Resolution at Shibpur. Revolt at Salt Lake. That was the campus-crisis count on Monday, with the BE College (Deemed University), well on the road to normalcy, but the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) suffering its first day of a student strike.

Students at Shibpur assured the authorities of “all support”, as the college geared up to resume examinations — suspended since the December 23 clashes on campus — from February 6.

But at IIIT, billed as the click cradle of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s tech dreams, there were no immediate solutions in sight. Students pressed the boycott button, protesting the authorities’ “total failure” in fulfilling their promises. They are refusing to return to class at the Technical Teachers Training Institute, in Salt Lake, till the intervention of the chief minister.

Swapan Bhattacharya, director, IIIT, confirmed that no classes could be held on Monday, as the students stayed away. “I have informed the secretary of the technical education department about the day’s developments. We have formally invited the students’ representatives for a discussion on Tuesday,” he said, adding that “all possible measures” will be taken to end the impasse as soon as possible.

The students, however, were in no mood to participate in the patch-up process. “We have put up with the sorry state of affairs for two years now. This time, we will not back down until the chief minister steps in and assures us better facilities… We will have an open-house at night to decide whether we will meet the director on Tuesday,” said a student.

Entrepreneurs associated with IIIT felt it’s time the government reviewed its policy towards the institute. “The administration has very little say in the functioning of the institute and all decisions, down to the smallest financial detail, are routed through government departments. You can’t expect a centre of excellence to run like this,” pointed out one of them.

According to another Salt Lake-based IT-preneur, the government must heed the students’ protests. “It has been talking about granting deemed university status to IIIT, but it is yet to apply to the human resources development ministry. The process will take around two years. If the application is dashed off, the first batch of students will be able to get their B. Tech degrees. Such a move will send out a positive signal to students,” he added.


Calcutta, Feb. 4: 
The golfing green is the new boardroom address in town. Business on the fairways hit a hole-in-one last weekend, with a tournament organised by the diplomatic community of Calcutta tallying more MoUs than birdies.

By the time Governor Viren J. Shah teed off the Consular Corps of Kolkata invitational golf tournament on the Tolly greens, the business ball had already been driven deep. The two-day meet, conceived to “improve the image of the Consular Corps and provide a platform to exchange business and cultural ideas”, has opened up a magic box of international trade opportunities for ‘backyard Bengal’.

According to consular sources, “a number of bilateral deals” have been struck with corporate firms of various participating countries in areas like food-processing, packaging, heavy engineering and IT, with many more in the pipeline. The meet saw 54 teams, comprising 216 players, including ambassadors and trade representatives from Germany, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Japan, France, The Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, Thailand, South Africa and others.

“We are very pleased with the response the event has elicited and we hope our attempt to unite countries will facilitate closer business and social ties on the golf course,” dean of The Consular Corps of Kolkata, A.N. Zolotukhin, had said at the launch of the meet.

But the impact — measured by business deals discussed and struck — has far exceeded expectations. “The idea behind the tournament was to promote Bengal as a business destination and to remove some of the myths regarding our city among overseas corporate investors through their consular offices. And I must say it was a grand success,” said Satish Kapur, honorary consul of Finland.

“Thanks to the perfect organisation of the tournament, I believe very friendly ties in all sectors have been created. It is a great means to improve the image… of Calcutta and West Bengal,” is how Herve Baibaret, commercial counsellor, embassy of France, put it.

German consul-general Wolfgang Seiwert, deputy dean, Consular Corps, felt the tournament was held in “an extremely cordial atmosphere”, with the mood “very upbeat”.

According to B.P. Bajoria, honorary consul-general of Denmark who, along with Kapur, had taken the lead in organising the “ground-breaking meet”, the golfing carnival has “changed the entire perception about Calcutta” among the foreign diplomatic staff and corporate firms.

Among corporate executives who signed up for the meet were Jesper Balser, CEO of Danish firm Navision Software Ltd, one of the richest individuals in the Scandinavian country, Peter Zuber and Hans Weselshed of Seimens.

Several firms from Germany, Denmark and France have now shown interest in coming down to Calcutta and doing business with top corporate houses here. “They are all keen on golf-cum-business trips to the city and we hope to host at least five such foreign delegations between now and September,” said a Consular Corps representative.



Mayor green light for Parkomat-II

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Monday gave the green signal for an underground computerised parking plaza, Parkomat II, under Chaplin Park, adjacent to the new complex of New Market. It will be the second venture between the CMC and Simplex Projects Limited, and will accommodate more than 100 cars. The project would cost around Rs 8 crore. If necessary, the underground one-lakh gallon capacity reservoir at Chaplin Park, kept ready for the use of the fire brigade, will be dismantled. Alternate water sources would be created for the fire brigade, said Mukherjee.

Suicide on Metro tracks

Metro Railway services were disrupted around 5 pm on Monday when an unidentified person committed suicide at Belgachhia station by jumping in front of a train coming from Dum Dum. As a result, trains from Tollygunge were shortterminated at Girish Park. Metro authorities said the body was sent for postmortem and efforts are on to identify him.


Traffic on NSC Bose Road in Tollygunge was disrupted for about an hour on Monday afternoon when residents protested the demolition of a building by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC). Police had to resort to a lathicharge and take the help of the Rapid Action Force to remove the blockade. Officer-in-charge of Regent Park police station Kamal Chowdhury said the CMC officials went to the spot without informing him. They did not even carry adequate equipment to demolish the unauthorised portions of the building. The residents brought out a procession condemning “police atrocities”.

Book Fair food test

Civic health department officials collected food samples from the Book Fair grounds for laboratory tests. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said if the samples failed to pass the test, the CMC would file a case against the fair organisers.

Two run over

A 60-year old man, Anil Kumar Bhandari, was run over by a minibus near Shyambazar five-point crossing on Monday. He was taken to RG Kar Medical College and Hospital where he was pronounced brought dead. In another accident, Mahendra Ram, 40, was run over by a bus at the Rashbehari Avenue crossing. He was taken to SSKM Hospital, where his condition was stated to be critical, police said.

Vigil for Howrah

The Railways have decided to set up close-circuit TV sets at Howrah station to keep a watch on “unwanted activities” on the premises. According to railway police sources, security is being beefed up since the vital installation could be the target of a terrorist attack.

New HC judges

Three new judges will take oath of office in Calcutta High Court on Wednesday. The advocates to be appointed judges are Jayanta Biswas, Maharaja Sinha and Indira Banerjee, said high court sources.    

Calcutta, Feb. 4: 
The civic authorities have been forced to pull up non-governmental organisations (NGOs) over a surge in the stray dog population. At least four NGOs, given charge of sterilising the strays, have submitted a dismal figure, registering only 5,000 sterilised dogs against a population of a lakh.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has asked the health department to issue notices to the NGOs, asking them to produce their monthly reports on the number of dogs sterilised.

“It is ironical that the canine population is swelling in direct proportion to the claims of sterilisation by NGOs in the city,” said Mukherjee.

According to member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan, complaints are pouring in from almost each of the 141 wards. “We have received many complaints, but action is taken only against rabid dogs,” said officer on special duty (health) Atanu Mukherjee. Strays caught from hospital compounds and government premises are handed over to NGOs in Dhapa for sterilisation, he added.

Prominent NGOs, such as Calcutta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, People for Animals, Friends of Dogs and South Calcutta Animal Welfare Society, were given the responsibility of sterilising the strays.

But the rate of sterilisation was so low that it failed to produce any perceptible reduction in the stray dog population in the past four years, said a health official. “We sterilise about 3,000 dogs a year,” claimed managing trustee of People for Animals, Debashish Chakraborty.

According to him, the hue and cry over the rise in the number of strays was ‘motivated’, as the NGOs have thwarted a racket in dog skins.

“Strays cannot be checked effectively unless there is one NGO in every ward,” said Kaya Gupta, of Mother of Stray Dogs and Cats. She added that the Rs 300, needed to sterilise dogs and provided by the Central Animal Welfare Board, has been irregular.

The dog squad exists, but with about 70 employees and 20 trained supervisors sitting idle.

Even the netted yellow vehicles, supposed to scare away stray dogs, are rarely visible.


Calcutta, Feb. 4: 
The district administration in Howrah on Monday began their crackdown on autorickshaw-drivers as part of its four-plank strategy to facilitate the smooth flow of traffic and rein in unlicensed drivers.

The authorities said commuters and big vehicle drivers were most affected by such rash driving. “The situation is compounded by violation of traffic rules and transgression of the passengers’ limit, laid down by the government,” they said.

“We are concerned over the rise of unlicensed autos. During a drive, it was discovered that out of 900 auto-rickshaws, only 432 had official permits. From now on, no permit will be issued to any driver,” said Vivek Kumar, Howrah’s district magistrate.

The transport ministry has already announced that auto-rickshaws will not be allowed to carry more than four passengers and the right view of the driver is not to be blocked.

Fines to the tune of Rs 200 will be imposed. Additional regional transport officer Ranjan Sen said: “We have been receiving complaints from bus drivers that automen make it extremely difficult for them to ply on the streets.”

Kumar added that all bus routes would be directed one-way, including those that were exempted last time.


Calcutta, Feb. 4: 
West Bengal went unrepresented in the 2001 National Award for Children’s Welfare.

Amar Kanti Ghosh, former computer instructor in Jhargram, who went out to tribal villages to bring their children into the mainstream, missed the bus to represent the state for the awards. The mix-up was reportedly due to a Salt Lake-based government wing’s indifference to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s efforts at improving work culture.

From April 1996 to August 2001, Ghosh worked with more than 200 tribal children living in Pukuria, near Jhargram. In an area known for dropouts, Ghosh not only succeeded in keeping many of them in school but also ensured that some passed the Higher Secondary examinations. Educationist and former vice-chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University and Burdwan University, Ramaranjan Mukherji, certified the credentials.

When the Left was being sworn at Raj Bhavan last May, Ghosh was doing the rounds of the social welfare directorate at Salt Lake. Armed with certificates ranging from the one given by a CPM MP to one given by an Opposition MLA, to a couple more given by educationists, he knocked on the door of almost every social welfare directorate official, but did not leave them impressed.

Faced with the simplest of tasks — forwarding his application and certificates to the Union human resources development ministry after an on-the-spot inspection, if necessary — a section of officials chose not to heed the chief minister’s emphasis on work culture.

The application was submitted on May 7, the same week Bhattacharjee gave his “Do it now” sermon to state coordination employees from Writers’ Buildings.

Social welfare director J. Sundarashekhara, while admitting that the state went unrepresented at the 2001 National Award for Children’s Welfare, said nothing could be done against the official in charge of the relevant section. “He has retired and it is very difficult to start an inquiry now,” he said.

The work done by Ghosh was novel, officials admitted.

“It required just a patient perusal of the application and, if necessary, an on-the-spot inspection,” one of them said.

The then principal of Jhargram Raj College, D.P. Mitra, also hailed Ghosh’s work. Direct beneficiaries of Ghosh’s work included many from the Lodha and Sabar communities, Mitra said in his verification certificate. Ghosh even arranged for free computer classes for his “wards” at the Jhargram Raj College computer centre.

Equally impressed were politicians from both ends of the spectrum. Jhargram CPM MP Rupchand Murmu spoke of Ghosh’s “excellent performance”. His work was exceptional, Murmu told the directorate, if one considered the fact that Ghosh received no “financial assistance” from the government or any NGO.

And Opposition Jharkhand Party (N) MLA Chunibala Hansda, for once, agreed. So did the local unit of Bharat Sevashram Sangha. Besides educating them, Ghosh had worked towards changing the social, cultural and hygiene habits of the tribals, the Sangha admitted.


Calcutta, Feb. 4: 
Paintings were growing on trees and sculptures were sprouting from the lawn of a biggish garden house in Baruipur last Sunday morning. The works were easy on the eye and the guests — some artists, some socialites — were appreciative of the way they were displayed.

Art blooming in the lap of nature. This was the launch party for Art Space India, hosted by its director Chitrotpala Mukherjee, who is a collector of art herself. Her ultimate aim is to create a space in her four-bigha garden house, where works of art can be exhibited amid sylvan surroundings. A foundry for ceramics and pottery will also be set up there.

Mukherjee was inspired by an art festival being organised for the past 10 years by Bridget Fraser, director, Barn Galleries, at Henley on Thames, which is a town 40 miles from London. With a rustic setting, the town has a concentration of big spenders, says Fraser, who had started off as a lawyer.

Years ago, she and her husband, an architect, had moved into a derelict 18th century barn, which took five years to restore. She started the festival by holding an exhibition of sculptures in the gallery and the lawn.

“It has grown right down the field. People like the environment,” she says. Visitors get to know about it mainly by word of mouth. Some of them are on the gallery’s mailing list. Road signs are strategically positioned and the two openings every year attract about a thousand people. This three-week exhibition is part of a larger festival, Oxfordshire Art Weeks Festival of the Visual Art, held from mid-May to June.

Any practising artist can apply for participation and they receive 300-400 applications each year. “It is meant for artists trying to find a foothold. There is a lot of competition,” says Fraser.

Though it began in a small way, now sales are “brilliant.” It has encouraged young couples to start their “art fund”. Last year, sales hit the £ 200,000-mark. In February 2001, Mukherjee happened to visit the festival and was “really impressed by it”.

Mukherjee and Fraser hit upon the idea of an exchange of artists from UK and India. As the first phase of this collaboration, Fraser has brought down five British artists — Tim Slatter, Sheilagh Jevons, James Naughton, David Morgan and Lucy Ryan — along with an exhibition entitled ‘Another Landscape’. These were exhibited in Calcutta first and now in Delhi.

In May, Mukherjee will take Debabrata De, Shipra Bhattacharya, Somnath Maiti and Dipankar Sinha from Calcutta and Delhi-based Chameli Ramchandran to the Henley Festival. The target date for opening the Baruipur gallery is Puja 2002.


Calcutta, Feb. 4: 
Congress chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, today called upon the state government to convene an all-party meet to discuss the “sensitive” madarsa issue.

“We want an open discussion and also the publication of a white paper on the matter as it is related to the sentiments of the minority community,” Das Munshi told reporters at the state Congress office this afternoon.

Criticising chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for some of his recent statements against madarsas, particularly unaffiliated ones, Das Munshi said the issue should have been addressed in a way that the sentiments of the minority community were not hurt. “But it is regrettable that… they have started feeling isolated,” he said. “Those found fomenting communal passions must be brought to task but not all madarsas (should) be treated in the same light.”

Along with Das Munshi, Siddhartha Shankar Ray kept the pressure alive on the CPM, announcing today that he had written to Bhattacharjee yesterday highlighting the plight of the minority community in the wake of the administrative action against them. “It was nice of Buddhadeb to ring me this morning and acknowledge the receipt of my letter and I strongly feel that he would act accordingly,” he added.

Ray suggested that the government should set up a “credible machinery” with important leaders of the minority community to probe charges against a section of madarsas.

He, however, warned Bhattacharjee against some officials, saying: “Do not accept any report at face value. It is my experience that certain dangerous prejudices exist in a section of our bureaucrats…. I have come across this many a time. I, therefore, implore you to create an atmosphere of goodwill, trust and confidence among the Muslims.”


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