Tanners down shift shutters
Teen in search of golden mean
Court backs state ban on landfill
Sleuth swoop on UP hitman
Hello, Tollywood, let’s shoot
The City Diary
Flights of fancy, palette full of paint
Sparks fly over Dhapa gas
Passport arrests blow lid off police-tout nexus
Hush-up hint on airport theft of Boeing spares

Calcutta, March. 1: 
It is the first day of the Supreme Court-enforced shutdown of the city’s tanneries in the dingy lanes of Tiljala, Tangra and Topsia.

Barring a few tanneries, all 523 have stopped work, fearful of the immediate consequences and worried about the future. They blame the government, the promoters of the leather complex as well as themselves for the present state of affairs.

Workers went about cleaning up the shopfloors, uncertain about whether their paltry earnings would dry up in a day or two. “If our workplaces are shut for a prolonged period, we will be compelled to turn to crime,” said Bachchu, who works for a Chinese tannery in Tangra

Owners, on the other hand, are weighing their options. The Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation has offered land at Rs 300 per square metre at a place called Amarnath.

“The rate includes all components, whereas we have paid Rs 600 for the same area and will have to share the cost of the common effluent treatment plant,” a tanner said.

Some tanners were finishing leather using the “dry” process. “This we hope is not illegal, as it does not pollute the water,” a Chinese tanner said.

Down in Tiljala’s bylanes, the air was heavy with the stink of decomposing skin. Brahmdeo Ram sits on a charpoy beside the liming pits. Pit-owners are trying to figure out what to do in the days ahead. “We must begin a movement to focus on our plight,” Brahmdeo said. He has nowhere to go but he won’t disobey the Supreme Court’s directive either.

“We have been in this trade for six generations and we know nothing else,” said a forlorn Surinder Sarya, who manages brother Hargopal’s lime pits.

“We either sold or pawned whatever gold we had to book about 600 square metres in the Calcutta Leather Complex (CLC). If we can’t run our tanneries, we won’t have anything left for our families,” Surinder said.

S.S. Kumar of Titan Leather in Topsia sits in his office above his tannery. Kumar, who is also a member of the steering committee set up to oversee the relocation of the tanneries to the CLC at Bantala, is pinning his hopes on the hearing scheduled for March 5.

“We are going to place before the Supreme Court a time-barred schedule by which we should be able to begin production at the CLC from October this year,” Kumar said. The time schedule will be aimed at a realistic relocation.

Chiu Chien Ching, managing director of Mow Chong Leather, in Tangra, says: “I am not very optimistic about the March 5 hearing.” He is not happy with the quality of the CLC land. “We will have to spend more to raise the land level so that we are not flooded out during the rains,” Chiu said.

Tannery-owners are tight-lipped about the fate of their workforce. “It is up to individual owners to decide what they will do with their workers,” Kumar said.


Calcutta, March. 1: 
Rukmini, 16, dreads the evenings when her parents force her to sit at the study table for hours. Palash, 17, resents being pulled up by his teacher for watching television, instead of concentrating on his books. Sutapa, 11, feels humiliated because her parents insist on ‘screening’ her friends.

“Why do parents and teachers insist on pressuring us?” asks 19-year-old Sujit. “They are too busy imposing their views on us and are hardly bothered about what we want.’’

Voices of anger and anguish rose from around 70 members of GenX who converged at Rabindra Sadan to protest “peer pressure and interference from parents, teachers and elders’’.

Sahay, the city unit of the US-based Children International, had organised the interactive session for teenagers to give vent to their views. Parents, too, were allowed to counter their children’s criticisms.

“Actually, nobody listens to the children. The elders, including parents, take them for granted and impose decisions on them,’’ says Neeraj Agarwal, director of Sahay. The hour-long session threw up more questions than answers. But it did provide an insight into the teenage mind, in its clarity and its confusion.

“Earlier, we would mingle freely with boys and girls of our age. Now, suddenly, our parents resent our spending time with boys. Why should it be like this? Why can’t boys and girls be friends without bothering about pressure from parents?’’ asked a girl.

“Our parents, teachers and elders should change their attitude towards us. Instead of ordering us about, they should treat us like friends and explain what they expect from us,’’ said a young boy.

The parents, too, had their say. “Our experience tells us that if we allow teenaged boys and girls to associate freely, we fear trouble, often ending in premature pregnancy,’’ claimed Pravas Halder, one of the more vocal members of the parent brigade.

“Teenagers are immature and prone to mistakes. They always need guidance. It is a time-tested process. It is natural for them to complain when they are not allowed to do exactly what they want. But they will realise later that it is for their good,’’ added Ashok Sengupta.

The final prescription for a “healthy parent-teenager relationship” — tread a middle path, with understanding being the byword.


Calcutta, March. 1: 
Calcutta High Court on Friday put its seal of approval on the state government’s decision not to allow any construction on waterbodies in the city and elsewhere in Bengal.

A case was lodged by an environment body — Jalabhumi Bachao Committee — against the proposed Lake Land Village, a housing complex on a waterbody off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. When the suit came up for hearing on Friday, a division bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice S.K. Mukherjee, disposed of the matter, saying the government’s ban on such constructions was final.

Additional government pleader Debashish Kar Gupta told the court that the state pollution control board had not issued a no-objection certificate to Lake Land Village. The project was to have come up on a vast waterbody, across Darda and Kapasati mouzas, in Bhangar, Sonarpur and Tiljala police station areas, on the city’s southern fringe.

“The government will not allow construction on any waterbody identified in the map prepared under the supervision of the high court-appointed special officer,” Kar Gupta added. The map was prepared in 1993 when another environmentalist group, PUBLIC, had urged the court to take necessary steps to save the wetlands from land sharks.

On the basis of this map, the government enacted the West Bengal Fisheries Act, 1995, banning all types of construction on waterbodies. Violations of the provisions can draw severe penal action. “If it is found that a construction has taken place on any wetland, there is a provision in the Act to demolish the construction and restore the wetland,” pointed out Kar Gupta.

The high court also dismissed a case, filed by Abul Kalam, complaining that the government was not adhering to its wetlands preservation Act. The petition was rejected as the government maintained that it had not allowed any construction on any waterbody anywhere in the state.


Calcutta, March. 1: 
Ajmal Khan, a “sharp-shooter from UP”, was arrested on Friday from a Royd Street apartment. Acting on a tip-off, a city police team surrounded the house and picked up Khan, days after his arrival in Calcutta. Sleuths said they had recovered documents, arms and ammunition from the hideout.

Deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan, confirmed that Khan had been rounded up but refused to divulge details. “We are cross-checking his antecedents and whatever information he gave out during initial interrogation,’’ Hasan said.

Members of the detective department are following the lead that Khan’s “underworld contacts in Dubai” had directed him to “assassinate some political leaders of national importance” and foment trouble in Calcutta.

Sources said Khan, who was produced in court on Friday afternoon, had named some of his Bhubaneswar-based associates. A police team left for Orissa late on Friday.


Calcutta, March. 1: 
Sharmila and Raakhee, Nandita and Vasundhara, Mahima and…

The summer of ‘02 will see some of the most beautiful actresses from Bollywood and beyond descending on the Tollygunge studios. The reasons range from “good role” to “sounds interesting”; “return to the roots” to “let’s explore”.

From Aparna Sen (who has just shot Mr and Mrs Iyer with Rahul Bose) and Rituparno Ghosh (who has Sharmila Tagore, Raakhee and Nandita Das in Shubho Muharat); from Swapan Saha to Prabhat Roy — it’s the celluloid season to sign stars from “out of Calcutta”.

Till now, Mahima Choudhury’s Calcutta connection has been limited to one of the city’s favourite sporting sons. But this April, the Pardes girl is set to star in Swapan Saha’s next production. While Saha, Bengal’s king of kitsch, is tightlipped about his casting coup, studio sources confirmed that the Mahima-Prasenjit pairing is very much on.

At around the same time, Prasenjit will be playing a “thief with a golden heart”, who is given shelter by doe-eyed Vasundhara Das, in Prabhat Roy’s yet-untitled film. The Bangalore-based star of Monsoon Wedding has “liked the script”, but the director is saying nothing more. Prasenjit, however, is more forthcoming: “I am excited that a beautiful actress like Vasundhara has been cast opposite me.”

Does the rush for ‘out-of-city’ leading ladies mark a watershed? Is this how the Tollywood top-draw void will be filled? “There is a certain vacuum and it’s time for some faces to be discovered, some to be reinvented. Maybe we are moving towards a certain homogenisation of cinema, where it isn’t essential for an actor from Bengal to star in a Bengali film,” says Rituparno Ghosh, whose Shubho Muharat goes on the floors next week.

Raakhee, who plays Rangapishima in Rituparno’s adaptation of The Mirror Cracked, will be returning to the Calcutta studios with “bitter-sweet” memories.

“Last time I came to Calcutta, I was doing a film called Phiriye Dao that ran into all sorts of trouble.” Now, she’s “really looking forward to working with Rituparno” and is hardly bothered about the far-from-perfect conditions in Tollywood. “As artistes, we have to condition ourselves to everything. It’s okay if the Tollygunge studios are without some extra facilities.”

Raakhee will be working with Sharmila after Daag 30 years on. Both veteran actresses will work for free.

For Nandita, the Rituparno film comes close on the heels of Mrinal Sen’s Swadesh. “I’m actually looking forward to spending some time in Calcutta and exploring the city without being ‘touristy’ about it,” says Nandita, who has been in talks with Rituparna for Chokher Bali for quite a while. “In Shubho Muharat, I play a journalist, quite unlike anything I’ve played before. The character’s quite like me and I’m even using my own clothes.”

According to an industry veteran, the star-studded summer could well prove a turning point for Tollywood: “Take away Prasenjit and Rituparna and you are left with no bankable stars in Calcutta. So, it’s only logical that the hunt takes producers and directors who can afford it beyond the borders of Bengal.”



Boy kidnapped on way to school

Natiz Faruq Ibrahim, 10, was kidnapped from Syed Amir Ali Avenue on Friday morning. The boy was dragged into a taxi by four youth while on his way to school around 6.30 am. The miscreants rang up the boy’s house on Hare Krishna Ghosh Lane and demanded Rs 5 lakh as ransom. “A family dispute might be behind the incident,” police said.

Man stabbed in New Alipore

A 32-year-old resident of New Alipore was hit in the neck and the head with a chopper by some local goons on Thursday night. The injured man, identified as Ajoy Samanta, was rushed to Calcutta Medical Research Institute, where his condition is stated to be critical. One suspect has been rounded up, police said.

Leader visit

General John Gowans, the world leader of the Salvation Army, will visit the city on March 6. He will meet local church leaders and visit some of the Army-run centres in the city.

Wall collapse

Residents of the Corporation labour quarters on Garden Reach Road demonstrated on Friday when a portion of the boundary wall collapsed in the morning on being hit by a taxi. Faiyaz Ahmed Khan, councillor of ward 75, said the building was in a dilapidated condition for a long time. Later, member, mayor-in- council, drainage and sewerage, Rajib Deb, municipal commissioner Debasis Som and borough chairperson Ruby Dutta visited the spot.

School agitation

Normal functioning of Calcutta Boys’ School has been affected for the past few days following an agitation by some guardians protesting a decision to increase tuition and other fees from next month. Guard-ians said when the authorities had hiked fees in 2001 they had assured them that facilities for students would be improved. But nothing had been done. This time the fees have been hiked by approximately Rs 200 per month for all classes.

Award ceremony

The prize distribution ceremony of Sishu Mela at Victoria Memorial will be held at Mahajati Sadan on Sunday at 4.30 pm.

GSI celebration

The closing ceremony of the celebration of 150 years of Geological Surve of India will be held on the office premises in Salt Lake on Sunday at 11.30 am.    

Calcutta, March. 1: 
If you think a tiny girl of two years would be more preoccupied with painting herself than a canvas, you may be right. But if you wait for the melting mood to set in, you could witness strokes that provide deep insight into a fertile and spontaneous imagination.

It was with this in mind that artist Eleena Banik took a troupe of 20-odd children, aged between two and six years, to the greens of Dhakuria Lakes, for a two-day open-air art session.

There were no rules, nor were there any conventional canvases. The girls and boys were given umbrellas, earthenware pots and jars, kites, and if they so desired, paper, to splatter with colour as they chose.

For the 30-year-old Eleena, the “installation” work with the children on Thursday and Friday was part of a larger project. She started with the children at the Kanoria Centre for Art, Ahmedabad, who had witnessed the trauma of the earthquake first-hand.

Then, last year, she conducted a workshop for Sanlaap with children who had been rescued from the red-light areas. Her most recent sessions that concluded on Friday was held with children from Shamil, a crèche in south Calcutta. She also has plans to work with challenged children and those from orphanages.

“I wanted to study the difference in imagination and its manifestations in children from different backgrounds,” explains the graduate of Kala Bhavan and the Glasgow School of Art, UK.

And the difference was clear. The kids from the red-light areas, according to Eleena, displayed a maturity obviously absent in the “children of privilege”.

“They were much more conscious of the worldly ills, and were often reserved in their expression,” she adds. On the other hand, the children in Ahmedabad and from Shamil were much more spontaneous and innocent. “They are at their imaginative and impulsive best at this stage of their lives,” Eleena observes.

Six-year-old Aaheli Guha couldn’t agree more. Her umbrella is a wealth of colour. Her “design” includes her own house, a small flower in her garden, the “andhokare bhooteder taal gaach”, glowing bright green on black, in front of her house (palms that are home to six ghosts).

“I am probably going to be a painter when I grow up, but I am not sure. You can get back to me when I am 20,” she dismisses, paint-spattered cheeks widening into a broad grin.

The smile is what matters, say officials at Shamil – Chhotoder Pathshala. “We do not believe in imposing a rigid classroom-bound system on the kids. We would rather spur the creativity of the child through the rhythm of painting and music, interspersed with reading text,” says principal Alakananda Guho. “The art workshop is an extension of our endeavour towards comprehensive personality development of a child.”


Calcutta, March. 1: 
In an apparent show of defiance, member of the mayor’s council in charge of conservancy Mala Roy, asked department officials not to assist a team from the Gas Authority of India (GAIL) of Delhi, bypassing an order from mayor Subrata Mukherjee. Caught in the crossfire was municipal commissioner Debashis Som, who had asked the conservancy officials to accompany the GAIL team to Dhapa on Mukherjee’s orders.

Som reportedly left his office early on Thursday and has told aides that he will give serious thought to whether to continue as municipal commissioner.

Som, who attended the GAIL programme at Dhapa, on specific instructions from the mayor, incurred Roy’s wrath. “I know he (Som) left for Dhapa alongwith other officers to attend the GAIL function on Thursday, but now he must rethink whether he wants to continue as commissioner,” Roy told Metro. Asked to comment on Roy’s statement, Som said: “I prefer not to be dragged into controversy.”

Sources in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) said that when the mayor, now in Bangalore, was informed about the goings-on, he was furious with Roy and said he had the right and power to overrule any decision taken by any of his council members.

“Roy should be aware that the mayor has the legal powers to overrule her decisions on the conservancy department. There is no place for ego in administration,” said Mukherjee.

GAIL, a Central government unit, had approached the mayor in June 2000 to tap methane gas from the CMC’s dumping ground at Dhapa for commercial use. It also contacted the municipal commissioner last week and fixed Thursday for the survey.

The agency, thereafter, went ahead and made adequate arrangements at Dhapa for the inaugural function.

When Roy learnt about the development, she directed all conservancy officials not to attend the function or assist the GAI team.

Chief engineer of the conservancy department, Arun Sarkar, informed Som about it, who immediately contacted the mayor in Bangalore. Mukherjee, however, directed Som to instruct the chief engineer to accompany him and assist the GAIL team.

When Sarkar told Roy about mayor Mukherjee’s decision, she finally allowed him to assist the GAIL team at Dhapa at his “own risk”.

In a late development, Roy had reportedly threatened to resign. She tried to contact Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee and plead her case, but the latter was not available.


Calcutta, March. 1: 
Calcutta Police and the Regional Passport Office (RPO) passed the buck on Thursday over allegations of foreigners getting themselves Indian passports with fake documents.

Police said six touts were arrested for helping foreigners obtain Indian passports with fake documents. More than half-a-dozen passports were seized recently and Rs 50,000 recovered from the arrested.

While the police blamed officials at the RPO for aiding the touts, the external affairs ministry officials held the law-enforcers responsible. Minister of state for external affairs Omar Abdullah has even turned the needle of suspicion on a section of police officers who were supposed to investigate the antecedents of the applicants.

Speaking to Metro over the phone, Abdullah said: “The police are supposed to check and verify the documents before submitting their report. In most cases, the checks are conducted perfunctorily.”

The minister added, however, that despite stringent measures, if inquiries reveal that there was some blunder by the staff at the passport office in Calcutta, his department would take action.

The minister’s statement comes in the wake of the arrests of a dozen Bangladeshis from the city and its suburbs.

Police said the arrested persons were found to have links with terrorist organisations in Karachi. “Some of them were even trained by militants in Karachi,” sources said.

Most of these Bangladeshis crossed over to the city in early January and managed to obtain Indian passports, according to officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

City and North 24-Parganas police recently arrested three Bangladeshis, including the son of a senior forest officer, from Dhaka.

The arrest revealed an organised passport scam, indicating a nexus between passport officers and police officials.

Three criminals were recently picked up from Belghoria and Dum Dum. It was detected that the three had given their residential address at Sonarpur. “Although the address was genuine, we never found persons by those names. On further investigation, we found that the persons were Bangladeshis and a middleman named Gopi had helped them acquire passports,’’ a senior CID inspector said.

Police arrested Gopi and brought him to Barasat police station. He told the sleuths that the trio — identified as Saidur, Hamid and Amin — had paid him Rs 25,000 for the passports.

According to the CID officials, they have gathered enough evidence to link the trio with Kashmiri jihadi groups.

“Two of them had been to Karachi and trained with the militants. They were involved in hawala deals and smuggled arms and ammunitions,’’ said North 24-Parganas superintendent of police Hari Sena Verma.

The three were interrogated at Barasat police station on Wednesday. “We hope to make a few more arrests within a short period,’’ he said.

Enteric research: Beleghata’s Infectious Diseases Hospital will soon have a separate “centre of excellence on gastro-enterology” to serve as a research-cum- treatment centre. District hospitals and health centres will refer critical cases to it.

Addressing the 45th foundation day of the hospital on Friday, health minister Surya Kanta Mishra said the proposed centre would go a long way in expediting research on different kinds of enteric diseases.


Calcutta, March. 1: 
The Boeing-737 spares, worth Rs 4 crore, stolen towards 1998-end from the Indian Airlines engineering complex at Dum Dum airport, have still not been retrieved, officials said on Friday.

The director of vigilance, Indian Airlines (IA), had even conducted a preliminary inquiry into the theft but three years have elapsed and the “IA authorities are now trying to hush up the case”, sources alleged. “We are sure the authorities are trying to shield some senior officers,” they added.

The store, on the airport premises, from which the parts were reportedly stolen, is heavily guarded. Senior IA officials record each transaction in the register. “Yet, no one has an inkling how the Boeing spares were stolen,” said an official.

Sources said some of the stolen spares have reuse value, since Boeing-737s are still flown. Ever since the Boeing company stopped manufacturing 747 spares, accessories of the plane are much in demand, the sources said.

Around 15 to16 years ago, the sources recalled, aircraft spares were stolen from the premises and later recovered from a nearby pond. Some time ago, the hooter of the siren, at the main gate of the engineering complex, was stolen. “Besides, modern cooking appliances worth lakhs, have been stolen from the canteen over the years and yet no action has been taken,” the sources added.


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