Time runs out for tanners
Station eateries under scanner
Destitute take to self-defence
Woman run over by bus
Dying to live, living to die
The City Diary
Little Bangladesh off Park Street
Net gains on small screen
Traffic snarls choke city
Hired hands in Habra murder

Delhi and Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
The fate of over 500 tanneries in east Calcutta was all but sealed on Wednesday, when the Supreme Court rejected a plea by the government and tanners to extend their relocation deadline in the Calcutta Leather Complex (CLC) beyond February 28.

The tanners will have to shut down operations from March 1, following the Supreme Court’s ruling, but observers said the order would probably take effect only after the court hearing scheduled for March 5.

A bench, comprising Justice M.B. Shah and Justice B.N. Agarwal, refused to grant the tanners time to comply with its 1996 directive for shifting to the CLC in Bantala, on the eastern fringes of the city. Tanners and tannery workers have decided to hold a protest rally on Thursday.

The government, a large section of the industry and M.L. Dalmiya & Company, the agency responsible for running CLC on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis, “were hopeful” that their joint plea for deferment would be accepted, in view of the time-barred relocation plan. Kapil Sibal, counsel for the BOT agency, placed the time-barred plan for the court’s consideration.

But Manu Singhvi and S.S. Kumar, representing the tanners’ lobbies, contested the plea, to which the court said it would hear them again on March 5. However, the bench made it clear it would not dwell upon the level of readiness of the complex.

In August 2001, the apex court had granted the government six months to comply with the directive on setting up a common effluent treatment plant (CETP) by February 28.

Advocate-general of West Bengal Balai Roy submitted before the court during Wednesday’s hearing that an effluent transport system, common chrome recovery units and mobile chrome recovery units would be functional within six days.

With time running out for the state’s leather industry, government officers declined comment. “We are yet to receive a copy of the order and we are not in a position to comment,” said state industries secretary Jawhar Sircar.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the court had not issued any orders to the government. Asked if M.L. Dalmiya & Company was responsible for the delays, Bhattacharjee admitted that some time had been lost in getting the leather complex ready. “But work is progressing and we hold monthly reviews, but now the promoters will have to speed up,” Bhattacharjee added.

Tannery representatives were away in Delhi attending the hearing. But they have already chalked out a protest plan, starting with Thursday’s rally.

“The court order sounds the death knell for the industry in eastern India and the forced shift will spell environmental disaster for the entire zone,” they said.


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
Resuming its clean-kitchen drive against eateries, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has decided to crack down on railway food outlets from Friday. The CMC will assist the railways in cleaning up eateries at Howrah and Sealdah stations.

The railway board has decided to get food samples from eateries on the two stations tested at the CMC laboratory. It had earlier approached Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) for the tests, but the civic body expressed its inability to help out for lack of infrastructure. “We have neither a food laboratory nor a public analyst,” pointed out an HMC official.

Deputy chief medical director of Eastern Railway Mihir Kumar Chaudhury on Wednesday called on member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan, to fix the rates for the services to be provided by the CMC. “The tentative rate is Rs 300 per sample,” said Khan.

The board has also directed the regional railways to intensify the drive against vendors and contractors selling adulterated food on platforms, said a railway spokesperson. “Complaints about inferior food and mineral water have been pouring in,” Khan said.

It was decided at the meeting that civic food inspectors will collect samples of food items, soft drinks and mineral water from the station in the presence of the railway health officials. “The report from the public analyst will be handed over to the railway authorities,” said Khan.

The CMC is also drawing up plans to check the quality of food served in fast-food chains across the city. It has recently sued one such outlet for using artificial colours in tandoori items.

“We have also received complaints that the food sold in some of these outlets is stale,” Khan said. He mentioned instances of packed cakes being sold long after expiry date. “All complaints are being looked into before the raids begin,” Khan said. “The earlier drive against hotels and restaurants had been a grand success and we plan to repeat the performance.”

In the first phase, food outlets next to educational institutions will be targeted. “We don’t want children to suffer because of unscrupulous traders,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, the Saturday Club authorities have appealed to the CMC on Wednesday to withdraw the case against them. The civic health department had booked the club as samples of cooking medium were found below par, added Khan.

Metro snag: Metro Rail services were disrupted for over 45 minutes on Wednesday afternoon when a Dum Dum-bound train developed snags at Girish Park station. The station authorities directed commuters to vacate the compartments. Six trains had to be cancelled, a Metro Rail spokesman said.Calcutta, Feb. 27:


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
They’ve been hapless victims for long enough. It’s time for them to fight back.

Around 50 inmates of the Liluah Home for Destitute Women have embarked on a crash course in karate. And it’s no fun and games for the girls, all between 12 and 18 years. “They are learning karate to survive. They have taken to it as a serious weapon of self-defence,” said a home official.

The cry for a karate training camp rose from the inmates. “Every inmate has a painful story. Most of them have faced torture and abuse when no one came forward to help them. Now, they want to learn to defend themselves better,” said a home official.

The learners, say home staff, are not pulling their punches. “They are really getting into the groove. We recently organised a competition between inmates and students of some local schools. Our team ranked second,” said Reba Das, superintendent of the Liluah home.

At the moment, young inmates from the Observation Cell have been drafted into the programme. “Inmates of the Rescue Cell are also keen on signing up. But we are restricting membership to the younger lot for the moment,” officials said.

The “temperament” of an inmate is also being taken into account before allowing her to join the camp. “Some of the inmates are really aggressive and have a history of unruly behaviour. We are not allowing them to join, as it could create a law-and-order problem,” an official said.

Initially, the training schedule was twice a week. “But now, we have asked the trainer to come thrice a week. The inmates are keen to practise regularly. We are even thinking of approaching the social welfare department to allow inmates to participate in district and state-level competitions,” said Das.

The district administration, which monitors the home, has been supportive of the endeavour. “We will definitely stand by the inmates. If they pursue this and start performing well, we will do what we can to encourage them. If necessary, we will... even send them outside the district to participate in competitions,” said Vivek Kumar, district magistrate of Howrah.

Superintendent Das is hopeful that their new-found self-defence skills will help the girls approach their future with greater confidence. “Most of them don’t know where they’ll go or what they’ll do after they leave the home. But once they know they can defend themselves better, they will feel less unsure about stepping out,” said Das.


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
A 62-year-old woman was knocked down and killed by a private bus near Hedua, in north Calcutta, on Wednesday evening.

Police said that the unidentified woman was crossing the road when a private bus, in a bid to overtake another, knocked her down. “All we could learn is that the woman is from the Goabagan area. The bus has been impounded, but the driver managed to flee,” said a policeman.

Eyewitnesses said around 6 pm, they heard a screech of brakes and saw the mangled remains of a person under the rear wheel of a bus. “It happened so quickly. We tried to find the driver, but he had fled,” they said.

Within seconds, residents blocked the road and tried to set the bus on fire. A police patrol arrived, but the mob refused to let it remove the body. The blockade crippled traffic along Bidhan Sarani, Central Avenue and B.T. Road. The agitators against rash driving turned down repeated requests from the local Burtola police station, before withdrawing the blockade at 6.45 pm.


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
Subhankar (name changed on request) was a bright student who left home for Surat to earn a living and help his family in Howrah at age 16. He was 20 when he returned home, late last year, with AIDS. He died late last week, abandoned by his parents, who could not afford the treatment, and ostracised by family and friends for his “infectious” affliction.

The inadequacy of AIDS awareness campaigns by government agencies and NGOs came into sharp focus yet again as Subhankar succumbed to the scourge and its stigma. For the three months that the AIDS victim stayed at home, his parents refused to send him to the School of Tropical Medicine (STM), as advised by a local doctor. And for the rest, he was an “untouchable”, because of his “highly-infectious disease”.

Now, Subhankar’s parents are a picture of remorse. “He was a meritorious student but could not appear for his Madhyamik exams as he decided to help us out by earning for the family,” recounted his father on Thursday. “He got to know about the opportunities in the diamond-cutting trade in Surat and went off four years ago. He came back a few months ago, with AIDS.”

Subhankar’s father, who is partially paralysed, has been out of a job for a few years, ever since the paint factory he worked in downed shutters. “My son fell ill in Surat and doctors there advised him to undergo various tests. He was soon detected with AIDS. He refused to come back here, as he was afraid of facing the family.”

He finally came back home when the end was near. A local doctor advised the family to shift him to the School of Tropical Medicine, but Subhankar’s parents asked him to bear the expenses of his own treatment, as they were in no position to foot the medical bill. The young man chose to stay put at home, instead, waiting for death.

“For the past few days, he was telling us that he could no longer bear the excruciating pain. ‘The sooner I die, the better it will be for everyone’, he would say. When he came back from Surat with AIDS, we were furious with him for destroying our lives, our reputations… Now, we regret that he died without any treatment. It’s all over,” said the father, tears welling up, as Subhankar’s mother wept inconsolably.



Court overrules CMC parking order

Calcutta High Court on Wednesday ruled that the Calcutta municipal commissioner had no right to disallow parking of vehicles on any city street. “Only the mayor-in-council can prevent parking of taxis on city roads,” the court observed. While passing the interim order, Justice Barin Ghosh allowed taxi drivers to park on Sambhunath Pandit Road, Harish Mukherjee Road, Duff Road and B.N. Bose Road during the night till further orders. The Taxi Workers’ Association had filed a petition, alleging that the CMC commissioner had recently issued an order asking them not to park on the roads even though they had permission from the police.

Biman in HC contempt case

Left Front chairman and CPM leader Biman Bose attended Calcutta High Court on Wednesday following a contempt of court petition filed against him by a resident of Bhatpara, in North 24-Parganas. The petitioner had alleged that Bose made some comments in a public meeting at Howrah which had lowered the dignity of Calcutta High Court. The division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice G. Gupta granted him four weeks to file an affidavit.

Woman hurt

A 25-year-old woman was seriously injured on Tuesday night when she was cooking on a gas oven at her Belgachhia Road house. Police said she was admitted to RG Kar Medical College and Hospital, where her condition was stated to be critical.

Flights withdrawn

Indian Airlines has withdrawn flight IC 747/748 on the Calcutta-Kathmandu-Calcutta sector on Tuesdays, on March 5, 12, 19 and 26 due to operational reasons. Passengers booked on the above flights have been rebooked on the preceding days, i.e., March 4, 11, 18 and 25. However, the flights to and from Kathmandu will operate as per schedule on Mondays and Saturdays, Indian Airlines sources said on Wednesday.

Urs specials

Eastern Railway will run a pair of special trains on the occasion of Urs Utsav between Howrah and Chandanpur on March 1 and 2, and 16 and 17. The train will stop at all intermediate stations en route.

Car thief caught

A middle-aged man, Absar Khan, was arrested in Phulbagan on Wednesday while trying to escape with a stolen car. Police said Khan had stolen the car from Bhowanipore.

SAI chief gheraoed

The director of Sports Authority of India, at Salt Lake, was gheraoed by the security staff for retrenching 21 workers. A police team went to the spot and rescued the director.

Shot dead

A 22-year-old youth was shot dead at Hajinagar, in Naihati, North 24-Parganas, on Tuesday night. Police said the man was killed because of gang rivalry. No one was arrested in this connection.    

Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
Free School Street has turned into a Little Bangladesh over the past six months. Thanks to a cross-border tourism boom, dozens of offices of travel agents and money changers and hotel owners and eateries have mushroomed along a 200-meter stretch of the street.

Local travel agents have tied up with Bangladeshi inter-state bus services like Keya Paribahan, Eagal Paribahan, Sohag Paribahan and TokyoLine to ferry passengers across the border in Tata Sumos, help them clear the customs office and put them on to the Bangladesh buses running between Benapole, Dhaka and Chittagong.

Local travel agent Mann Tours’ Aziz Barick, who ferries Bangladeshis across the border, claims to have recorded the entry of around 12,000 Bangladeshis through the Benapole-Petrapole border during December 2001-January 2002. On an average, 20 Bangladeshis have travelled by Mann Tours coaches to Dhaka and Chittagong from Calcutta in the past one month.

Some hasty shopping in Park Street and New Market, check-ups at the city’s best clinics, sight-seeing trips to Science City and Nicco Park, rounded off with “Bangla meals” served at eateries with evocative names like Chattogram Hotel, Radhuni and Kasturi. That’s how the average Bangladeshi likes to spend his day in Calcutta.

“We cater specially to the Bangladeshi tourists and have a wide choice of their favourite and staple dishes,” says Prince restaurant’s manager Pankaj Majumder. So Dhakai morag pulao, kacchi biriyani cooked with the small-grained kaljira instead of the usual basmati to acquire the special Padma-paar flavour, chingri bhuna, shutki bharta, ilish cooked in kochushaak..even special breakfast items like mutton bhuna khichri, paya and tehari are served up by cooks from Chakdah and Shantipur in Nadia. Even Mughlai eateries like Mehfil have included fish on their menu.

“The new business area is proving to be a boon for East Bengal settlers in Nadia,” Majumder says. To woo ‘foreign’ customers, pomfrets are printed as rupchanda and the aarh fish is spelt as airh on the menu cards in keeping with the opaar-Bangla accent; boiled vegetables and mashed fish preparations are called bharta, and the thick-grained chamarmaniis used instead of Calcutta’s favourite atap for cooking rice to lend the authentic touch.

If they want beef — which Bengali restaurants do not serve — there are always places like Khaleq Hotel, which are cheaper, says Ranjit Bikash De, owner of Chattogram Hotel, which used to be Cafe 48 six months ago.

Eateries, cubby-hole hotels and travel agencies catering to the rising flow of tourists from across the eastern border stand almost back-to-back. Afsa Hotel, New City Lodge, Royal Palace, Afreen International, Hotel Neelam, Green Star, Time Star, VIP International -- they range from the “very reasonable” (Rs 250 for a double room with attached bath), as Rahman calls them, to the expensive.

Little by-lanes and off-shoots from the main thoroughfare — like Mushtaq Ahmed Street — are crammed with lodges, tiny travel agencies like Jupiter Travels which sport welcome banners -—“Bangali bhaider salaam.”

Travel agent Aziz Barick ferries Bangladeshis to Benapole to put them on to Eagal Paribahan buses. According to Barick, once the tourists find a toehold here, they filter out to Park Circus, Mominpur, Thakurpukur — where new lodges catering to Bangladeshis have come up. There is a constant flow of tourists asking for bus timings, booking details and ISD facilities to Bangladesh.

As a result, Jupiter Travels has branched out into an ISD booth. Telephone booth-owners like Md Sharif — 80 per cent of whose customers are Bangladeshis — now have foreign exchange facilities. “We are fully dependent on Bangladeshis for ISD calls made from our booth,” says Jupiter’s manager S.K. Saha.


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
Gurbachan Singh of Mani Towers thinks it’s a fantastic concept, which is here to stay. Moutushi Ghosh, however, is curious, but ready to experiment.

House no. 105G, Block F, in New Alipore, is the hub of much activity these days, where people want to know the procedures involved in subscribing to Internet connections, through cable television — the latest entrant in IT industry.

Tired of waiting for his turn to surf the Net at busy cybercafes, Rajib De Sarkar decided to contact Inderaj Singh of Satellite Vision, a local cable operator, the first in the city to provide such facilities to Calcuttans.

“The speed is fantastic. My telephone lines do not get jammed and neither do I have to worry about the money I have to cough up for extra hours of surfing. Moreover, the rate seems affordable for now,” feels Rajib, a resident of Taratala and a database manager of a company.

Subscribers now have to pay anything between Rs 600 and Rs 1,200, depending on the package. A night package involves surfing between 9 pm and 6 am, costing a subscriber Rs 600, while a total package, providing unlimited supply of Internet connection from the main ISP hosted in Bangalore, costs a subscriber Rs 1,200. “We have just started the project. We are working on the various slabs and rates before finalising them,” says Singh.

On October 31, Singh started a test run, with little hope of the concept working in a business-unfriendly city like Calcutta.

On Wednesday, he received a call from the internet service provider (ISP) and promoter VXL Instruments Pvt Ltd, a Bangalore-based company, asking him to go ahead beyond west New Alipore and sell the concept to people in areas like Behala too.

VXL Instruments, which deals primarily in computer hardware, has made its presence felt in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and has plans to secure control of the market in Calcutta. For the moment however, only those who have computers at home, can avail of the facility.

“We are using cables connected from the main server, set up in our New Alipore office, to reach the subscribers and then onto the PC through a distribution mode. People are still very curious about the project. The advantage lies in the fact that people do not have to pay monumental telephone bills,” says Singh.

A spokesman for VXL told Metro that optic-fibre cables, ensuring more speed and mileage, would very soon replace the cables used now for the venture.

“Subscribers will then get a Lancard (networking gadget) and a keyboard, which will help them surf the Net on their good old television. We are hopeful that we can introduce the concept within the next few weeks,” the spokesman added.


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
Traffic was thrown out of gear on Wednesday by a huge procession taken out by the followers of Sant Ravidas on his birth anniversary. About 25,000 people took part in the rally.

Madhyamik examinees, schoolchildren and office-goers faced a trying time on their way home in the afternoon.

The procession began around 2 pm from Rabi Das Sarani, off Bridge no. 4 in Park Circus. It continued through Sundari Mohan Avenue, Moulali, Lenin Sarani, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, Bentinck Street, Park Street, New Park Street and ended back at Rabi Das Sarani.

The devotees took three hours to cover the distance but traffic movement became normal only after sunset. To ease the congestion on the thoroughfares, the police diverted Sealdah-bound traffic to Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.

Another snarl near the Assembly in the morning resulted in chaos around BBD Bag and Esplanade areas.

M.K. Singh, deputy commissioner of traffic, said: “The problem was aggravated as the procession passed through both city and Bengal police areas.”


Calcutta, Feb. 27: 
Bhisma Roy, a 25-year-old youth, was murdered early on Wednesday at Habra, on the outskirts of the city. The body was first spotted by residents near a school ground. The victim’s throat had been slit with a sharp weapon. Three criminals have already been rounded up in connection with the incident. One of them, Sushanta, is believed to be the mastermind, while the other two are hired hands. “We are looking for another youth who was also present during the killing. His name cannot be disclosed for the sake of investigation,” said Rahul Srivastav, additional superintendent of police.

Bhisma reportedly had no criminal background. Explaining the motive behind the killing, the police said he had borrowed Rs 1,500 from two of his friends to start a business. When he failed to return the money within the deadline, the friends started roughing him up. “He had an altercation with one of goons, who threatened to kill him if he failed to pay up,” said Srivastav.

According to the victim’s neighbours, one of the goons came to Bhisma’s house around 8 pm on Tuesday and called him out. “Sensing nothing amiss, Bhisma went out with the youth,” said a resident. “The duo went to the grounds of Bhudeb Smriti Balika Vidyalaya, where three others were waiting,” said the police.

Investigations revealed that the playground, where the murder took place, was venue of an impromptu liquor party, organised by Bhisma’s ‘friends’. “All of them, including Bhisma sat down to drink,” said Srivastav.

As soon as news of the murder spread, the police started combing the nearby areas and arrested the criminals. “The hired hands — Bhola and Sukumar — were known to Bhisma. We are checking whether they had any criminal record or not,” said Srivastav. The miscreants tied the victim’s hands and covered his face before slitting his throat. Police, however, failed to locate the killer weapon.


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