Subrata spanner in cable work
Shift signals tannery trouble
Alcoholic stigma on killer constable
A lesson to learn, a hand to hold
The City Diary
Staff-cut protest rocks garden
Stung doctor turns out patient in labour
Madarsa shadow on meet
40 injured in boiler blast

Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
Mayor: I will pull out all the cables laid under the city roads and not allow them to work. They are destroying our roads.

Reliance: Our project would have helped improve the quality of life here. But the mayor’s hostile attitude could force us to revise our Calcutta plans.

A war of words has broken out — over dug-up roads and pavements — between Subrata Mukherjee and the Reliance group. Currently executing its Calcutta end of the Rs 995-crore National Optical Fibre Infrastructure Project, Reliance officials on Friday warned that the mayor’s stance had cast a shadow over the city scheme.

“This communication window will be 10,000 times more efficient than the existing system available in the country,” said Kalyan Sarengi, vice-president (projects), of Reliance. “We have finished laying the cables in all other states, as well as the districts of Bengal. We have fallen behind our schedule in Calcutta by a year because of non-cooperation from the mayor’s office. If he (Mukherjee) wants, we are ready to abandon our project in the city,” added Sarengi.

Municipal commissioner Debasis Som had called Sarengi to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) on Wednesday and conveyed the mayor’s “displeasure” over Reliance “destroying” roads and pavements while laying the cables.

On Thursday morning, at the instance of Pradip Ghosh, member of the mayor’s council, the police seized all the barricading material of a contractor engaged by Reliance in the Muchipara area. “I was acting on the mayor’s directive,” confirmed Ghosh. Later on Thursday, chief secretary Sourin Roy received a copy of the letter from Reliance to the municipal commissioner, expressing its “dissatisfaction” over the mayor’s outburst.

According to an agreement, Reliance will pick up the tab for road repairs and give a bank guarantee at a rate of Rs 25 per metre to the CMC for a year. Besides, it will give 25 per cent of the total cost for restoration to the CMC as supervision charges, amounting roughly to Rs 100 crore for laying 1,200 km of cables.

Sarengi said once complete — “hopefully by June” — the fibre optic network would revolutionise cable TV, cellular phones, ISD, STD and Internet connections. The main exchange will be located at Kona, in Howrah.

Not everyone in the CMC is backing the mayor’s resistance to Reliance. Anup Chatterjee, member of the mayor’s council in charge of roads, has challenged Mukherjee’s statement on road damage. “The mayor should not interfere in such matters without consulting me and my engineers,” said Chatterjee. “Reliance is doing better road-restoration than the CMC, Calcutta Telephones and the CESC put together,” he added.


Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
A day after the Supreme Court refused to extend beyond February the deadline to relocate 530 tanneries at the Calcutta Leather Complex, city tannery-owners said the move would trigger an “environmental disaster” in the entire zone.

The tannery-owners met throughout Friday to chalk out a plan of action. The issues discussed by the steering committee were the still-incomplete CLC, pending allotment of plots and the absence of a common effluent treatment plant (CETP).

“We are devastated by the absence of any options,” a steering committee member said after the meeting. He pointed out that about 140 small tanneries that are yet to be allotted land will be the worst hit by the court order.

The state industries department also took stock of the situation during the day. Industry secretary Jawhar Sircar spoke to the tannery-owners and their representatives and assured them that the government would do its best to make the relocation as painless as possible.

Eastern India exports about Rs 1,400 crore worth of leather goods a year. Stating that the apex court order had sounded the death knell for the industry in eastern India, tannery-owners said the very purpose of shifting to the CLC at Karaidanga, near Bantala, will be defeated.

The effluent treatment plant will take at least another two years to set up in Bantala, the tannery-owners pointed out. In the absence of this plant, once production of finished leather begins at the CLC, the effluent or waste water will be released in the surrounding areas. Millions of gallons of fluid waste will carry toxins like chromium, alkalis and other waste products.

“The waste water is used by the eastern wetlands area for fisheries and for growing vegetables and paddy, which has the danger of being contaminated and rendered unfit for human consumption,” a tannery-owner pointed out. The apex court had been repeatedly told that unless the CETP was in place, relocation would be counter-productive.

In the absence of an effluent treatment plant, the promoters of the CLC, M.L. Dalmiya and Company, have brought in a mobile chrome recovery unit from the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI). This mobile unit, the tannery-owner pointed out, had too small a capacity to handle the waste generated by their factories. “It has a capacity to recover chrome from 20,000 litres of effluent a day, while the tanneries will churn out anything from six to seven million litres daily,” they said.

Another problem for the tannery-owners is Bederait village, comprising about 50 huts, located in the middle of the 1,000-acre CLC facility. The government is scheduled to shift this settlement to the edge of the complex.

The relocation of the tanneries began in 1996, when green lawyer M.C. Mehta filed a litigation in the Supreme Court.


Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
The chinks in the armour of the city police came out in the open on Friday, with initial investigations revealing that constable Biswajit Mondol was a “chronic alcoholic’’ and known to suffer from “bouts of insomnia’’.

The Second Battalion constable, on the job since 1998, had been “ticked off’’ thrice earlier by his seniors for “irrational behaviour and drinking during duty hours”.

Mondol shot Calcutta Telephones guard Pratyush Karmakar on Thursday night, after an alleged altercation over “a plate of boiled rice’’. Karmakar died on the spot. Mondol fled, but later surrendered to the police.

Mondol was posted as guard at a vital installation, the Tiretta Bazaar Telephone Bhavan. Officers admitted that it is dangerous to equip policemen like Mondol with loaded revolvers.

The Calcutta Telephones authorities said they pay over Rs 30 lakh every year for the policemen who guard the installations round the clock. “Why hire the police to get our men killed?’’ asked a senior area manager of Calcutta Telephones. “Our guards are quite capable of handling our security,’’ he added.

Joint commissioner, armed police, Raj Kanojia, said his department was investigating the lapses in the case. “But in a 25,000-strong force, there are bound to be some black sheep,’’ Kanojia said.

Chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones S.P. Chakraborty and other officers met the chief secretary and home secretary during the day.

Sources said chief secretary S.N. Roy and home secretary Amit Kiran Deb have conveyed to police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty their unhappiness over the alleged security lapse.

Senior officers of the Second Battalion are expected to supervise the duties of their men posted at vital installations. The initial probe revealed that it had not been carried out on Thursday.

Meanwhile, central Calcutta’s business district was crippled as Karmakar’s colleagues at the telephone exchange bristled with tension. “We are trying to defuse the situation. The workmen are still tense,’’ said general manager, headquarters, P.K. Chattopadhyaya.

According to Calcutta Telephones’ general manager, south, Gopal Bose, there are 100 guards like Karmakar, known as chowkidars, in exchanges around the city. Late on Friday evening, the chowkidars gathered quietly at the morgue behind the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital to express their sympathies to Karmakar’s family.

“He was our sole bread-winner,’’ wept Karmakar’s brother Prabir. Two other brothers, Sanjeeb and Sandeep, were huddled in grief with sisters Gayatri and Maitreyee. Karmakar’s parents are dead. “We will take his body to our Bansberia house,’’ Sandeep said.


Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
Language and pigmentation were no barriers, nor was the vast difference in professional pursuits. It was the “feeling towards fellow humans and the recognition of good work done” that made Ben Bradshaw, a senior minister in the British Cabinet, spend time with sex workers at Sonagachhi on Friday afternoon.

Tony Blair’s minister for international security and south Asian affairs had no official capacity during his visit to Calcutta’s largest red-light area.

A discussion with Cabinet colleague Claire Short before leaving for India and his special interest in HIV/AIDS made the fair-haired man, in his mid-forties, decide that he must see for himself how these sex workers and members of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) had “achieved so much”.

Over the past 10 years, the Sonagachhi Project has put Calcutta on the world map. Bradshaw is not the first VIP from a rich country to visit the narrow lanes and bylanes of Sonagachhi, wanting to see first-hand “the tremendous work done.” Clinton administration’s secretary of state for health and human development Dona Shalala trod the same path in December 1997, praising several schemes taking shape then.

“You are doing very well. Keep it up,” Bradshaw said with a broad smile, sitting on a cot in a small room of a building in Imam Bux Lane. Kusum, ‘owner’ of the room, smiled back. She is one of the hundreds of women who have learned to pack off a client if he refuses to wear a condom.

Bradshaw chatted and held hands with the sex workers. He was accompanied by Rob Young, British high commissioner in India, and John Mitchener, deputy high commissioner based in Calcutta.

“We have a lesson to learn here,” Bradshaw said later. “HIV and STD cases are increasing again in the UK. We must replicate the condom promotion drives followed here to bring down the infection rates back home.”



Zee-Turner blocks beam on RPG

The Zee-Turner conglomerate has switched off signals to its bouquet of 17 channels to the RPG Netcom beam on Friday evening, affecting more than eight lakh cable homes in Calcutta. “We had no option but to switch off the service temporarily, since the operators were not ready to sign a fresh agreement on the new rates, effective February 1. We get paid for less than 20 per cent of the actual connectivity from Netcom and had sought a rise in declaration levels to meet costs,” said Sunil Khanna, CEO, Zee-Turner.

An official spokesperson for Netcom said: “We feel sorry that discussions and negotiations between cable operators and Zee-Turner have not yielded any results. We hope a mutually satisfactory solution to pending issues will be arrived at sooner rather than later.”

The broadcasters are also hopeful that a quick rapprochement can be reached and that operators will “see reason” soon. The cablemen, however, want a firm assurance that there won’t be a fresh rate hike inside “at least one year”.

Id traffic regulations

Traffic restrictions, including pedestrian movement, have been imposed on Bakr Id on Saturday. All vehicles will be diverted or rerouted between 4 am and 12 noon on Manicktala Main Road, Narkeldanga Main Road, Gas Street, APC Roy Road, Raja Dinendra Street, North Sealdah Road, Keshub Chandra Sen Street, MG Road (between Rabindra Sarani and College Street), Zakaria Street, Madan Mohan Burman Street, Lenin Sarani, Rabindra Sarani (between Canning Street and Tara Chand Dutta Street), Colootala Street, Rabindra Sarani and CR Avenue, Rani Rashmoni Avenue between Jawaharlal Nehru Road and Govt. Place East, Red Road, Dr Suresh Sarkar Road, DC Dey Road, Convent Road, Beleghata railway bridge, Convent Road bridge and New CIT Road. Traffic will also be restricted on Number 4 Bridge (Park Circus), AJC Bose Road (from Ripon Street to Shakespeare Sarani), Sambhunath Pandit Street, Gopalnagar Road, Garden Reach Road, Watgunge, CIT Road (Puddapukur) and pockets of Diamond Harbour Road. Vehicular traffic may also be diverted as and when considered necessary.

Bleach plea

Justice A. Ganguly, the fourth consecutive judge of Calcutta High Court entrusted with the case, refused to hear the application filed by Peter Bleach, a Purulia armsdrop case accused, and returned the brief to Chief Justice A.K. Mathur for fresh assignment.

Heritage tram ride

The Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC) and INTACH on Friday announced a heritage tram ride in the city. The first ride will be on Sunday. The date has been chosen to commemorate the first tram ride on city tracks on February 24, 1873. The heritage ride will initially be organised on Sundays at 8.30 am. It will cover a 12-km stretch along BBD Bag-Bidhan Sarani, travelling by Star Theatre, Arya Samaj Temple, and return to Esplanade at 11.30 am. The ticket has been fixed at Rs 100. Passengers will be served free breakfast. CTC officials said a luxury car with two compartments has been designed with modern facilities for the ride. There are also plans to start a tram service between Sealdah and Howrah stations.

Writers’ return

Minister of state for irrigation Ganesh Mandal, desperate to get back to Writers’ Buildings from his Salt Lake office, will have to wait a while before being able to leave the township. PWD minister Amar Chowdhury, also of the RSP, ruled out chances of Mondal’s immediate return to Writers’ on Friday. Chowdhury said: “Shortage of rooms in the VIP corridor had forced us to bifurcate several rooms to accommodate the ministers. Finding a room there is out of question now.”

A PWD building is nearing completion on Camac Street, where some departments are likely to be shifted “within a couple of months”, he added.

Saha death case

Justice Kalyanjyoti Sengupta of Calcutta High Court on Friday turned down an appeal by Kunal Saha, husband of the deceased Anuradha, to exclude West Bengal Medical Council president Ashok Chowdhury from the council’s committee, which is hearing Saha’s complaint against physician Sukumar Mukherjee.

Metro snag

Metro Rail services were disrupted for 15 minutes from 8.57 am on Friday because of a power cut. Commuters staged a demonstration at Shyambazar station.    

Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
Visitors to the Botanical Gardens at Shibpur were put to inconvenience on Friday as employees of the garden went on an agitation, protesting a decision of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) to retrench staff at the garden and in other BSI offices in Calcutta.

As a part of its “expenditure reforms” drive, the BSI has decided to slash staff strength all over the country. Employees in the city are particularly worried, as Calcutta, being the BSI headquarters, is likely be worst hit. Of a total of 1,400 employees, more than 800 are based in Calcutta itself. The staff fears that if the retrenchment decision is implemented, more than 550 of them will lose their jobs.

More than 70 scientists engaged in research at the Botanical Gardens are also concerned at the BSI’s retrenchment decision. They feel it will affect their research projects. Along with the employees, they have written a letter to the ministry of environment and forests in Delhi, demanding withdrawal of the retrenchment drive.

“The BSI is a premier research organisation and adequate manpower is the key for conducting the projects. A lot of important research in medicinal and other plants are conducted at the Botanical Gardens. We have told the ministry concerned about the problems we may face in our research by the curtailment of staff,” said A. Paramanik, a BSI scientist.

The Centre had set up a committee for introducing expenditure reforms in the BSI and Zoological Survey of India.

The committee has recently submitted its report, on the basis of which the BSI launched its drive to retrench employees. The committee report suggests that each officer should not have more than two subordinates. There are only 150 officers in Calcutta.

M. Sanjappa, director, BSI, admitted the retrenchment move. “However, the government has not finalised a staff cut. The committee’s suggestions have been announced but no positive decision has been taken,” he said.

The employees began a relay hungerstrike on Friday. Asit Baran Chattopadhyay, general secretary of the Botanical Survey of India Employees’ Association, said other agitation programmes will follow.


Behrampore, Feb. 22: 
The patient was in labour, but the doctor had an axe to grind.

Vijaya Sarkar writhed in pain at a state-run hospital in Behrampore, but Dr Subrata Dutta allegedly refused to attend to her until her brother took back a complaint he had filed against the doctor.

Vijaya — a resident of Kashipur under Domkal police station — was admitted to Matri Sadan yesterday.

The family received the first jolt when the doctor insisted that the woman get an abdomen X-ray done from a particular clinic.

“I was compelled to take her to the clinic one-and-a-half-km away,” said the woman’s brother, Manas Sarkar.

But the matter reached a flashpoint when Manas found that a sticker had been pasted on his sister’s forehead mentioning her blood group as O-negative. But hers was O-positive.

“The nurse asked my relatives who were waiting in the hospital to bring two bottles of O-negative blood. They got it because they were not aware of my sister’s blood group. But luckily, I was around and stopped the nurses,” said Manas.

Furious, Manas lodged a complaint against Dr Dutta with the hospital superintendent, who then summoned the doctor. He admitted the mistake, but today, when the woman was in labour, he allegedly asked the relatives to either take her away or drop the complaint.

Vijaya’s relatives chose to move her to a nearby nursing home where she delivered a male baby minutes after she was admitted.

District magistrate Manoj Panth has ordered an inquiry into the incident. He has directed the sub-divisional officer to submit a report immediately. “The allegation is very serious. Anyone found guilty will not be spared,” he said.

The hospital superintendent said: “I admit the doctors and the nurses on duty then should have been more careful while testing the blood.”


Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
The recent madarsa controversy, originating from chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s reported statements linking a section of these religion-teaching institutions with anti-national activities, found its echo at the 20th state CPM conference that began here today.

Though there was little firework and the conference proceeded on predictable lines, there were some issues — like this controversy — that kept the leadership busy hearing delegates from the districts.

Party leaders from the districts having a large minority population appeared more worried about the fallout of the controversy, sparking a debate on the role of party mouthpiece Ganashakti and prompting other district leaders to raise issues peculiar to their areas.

The party top brass faced uncomfortable questions about the coverage that even Ganashakti gave to Bhattacharjee’s statements that might have hurt minority statements. District leaders made it clear that such statements — and controversies — were best avoided a year before the state went to the panchayat polls.

Other district-level issues — and worries — dominated the second session of the day. Leaders from Bankura and Midnapore — at the receiving end of the onslaught from the People’s War — concentrated on the issue of Left extremist terror and those from the rice-bowl of the state, Burdwan, seemed disgruntled about the Bhattacharjee regime’s apparent failure to come to farmers’ aid despite the backing they officially received because of the government’s support-price for the paddy crop.

Around 20 local-level party leaders have died in the past two years and five after the Left was voted back to power in May 2001, allegedly at the hand of the Naxalite guerrillas. The Bankura and Midnapore leaders’ concerns were shared by leaders from Hooghly. Questions were raised about the government’s failure to protect leaders of the party which is the major partner in the government.

Burdwan, Midnapore and Hooghly leaders also concentrated on the government’s failure to stand by farmers at a time when the price they are getting for paddy has hit an all-time low. Why, despite the support-price announced, did the government fail to prevent the government-controlled price from going to middlemen instead of the farmers, the leadership was asked.

But everything did not go against the government. The Bhattacharjee regime’s enthusiasm about work-culture and discipline seemed to have rubbed off on the party with politburo member and Left Front chairman Biman Bose requesting delegates to take their seats on time.

“So many of us are here that it will take some time for everyone to file in and reach their seats,” Bose said. “It will be better if you start taking your seats before the scheduled start,” he added, before asking former chief minister and party elder statesman Jyoti Basu to repeat the same request.

“Your telling them may have a better effect,” he explained to Basu. Basu responded gamely and his chiding delegates to match the government’s concentration on speed had some effect.


Barakar, Feb. 22: 
At least 40 people were injured last night after a blast ripped through the boiler at a chemical works factory at Chunabhati under Kulti police station here.

The incident occurred the day the factory re-started production after a five-month closure.

Eyewitnesses said a massive blast rocked the boiler at Aditya Chemical Works around 9.30 pm. The explosion shook the entire area with some buildings developing cracks.

Munni Devi was sitting in front of her house with her three-month-old child when a piece of metal hit her. She sustained serious injuries and was rushed to hospital.

An angry mob later ransacked the factory office and set it on fire alleging that the owner was running the unit without skilled operators.

In 1995, one person died when a similar incident took place in the factory.

“The factory is running illegally in the midst of a tribal colony without licence since 1995 and we have complained several times to the administration after the accident in 1995 but all went unheard,” said Rabil Laik, a resident.

Debojyoti Saha, the officer in charge of Kulti police station, said: “We are investigating whether the factory was running without licence and skilled operators.”

Police have registered a case against Mintu Saraf, the factory owner.


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