Visa watch on willow visitors
Scourge stalks family of three
Shot-in-arm strategy for tanneries
Chuck chicken, here’s meat to eat
The City Diary
Security cover for Science College
EM Bypass blocked after fatal mishap
Machine mess halts work at medical school
Apex court nod sought in death case
Home alone & ‘orphaned’

Calcutta, March 8: 
Even before Sourav Ganguly catapulted into instant stardom with his back-to-back centuries at Lord’s and Trent Bridge in the summer of ‘96, he knew the English conditions like the gap between point and cover. After all, he had been to the Blighty several times before to wield the willow, as part of summer trips organised by cricket-tour operators.

But for the 70-odd starry-eyed cricketers padding up in the hope to do a Sourav, the door of opportunity to an English summer is fast swinging shut. British visa officials in Calcutta, alarmed at the growing number of flannelled wann-abes clamouring to catch the first flight to Heathrow, are ready to run their pen through every application pushed by “fraudulent” operators.

“The matter is under review at the moment. We are concerned about a growing trend of abuse among a section of tour organisers. We are checking with the rest of our offices and there does seem to be a serious case for tightening the process this time. At the slightest hint of trouble, we will have no option but to cancel the whole tour,” says a visa department official at the British Deputy High Commission, on Ho Chi Minh Sarani.

It is learnt that the British visa offices have been told by immigration officials to be more vigilant, post-September 11. Sources in the deputy high commission office, however, maintain that the likes of the Sunil Gavaskar Foundation for Cricket (SGFC), “which have always had their papers in order”, will continue to sail through.

Gavaskar — who has been “extremely particular” about maintaining audited accounts of the tours — asked Raju Mukherji, technical director, SGFC, to ensure everything was in order the minute he heard about the tours coming under the special security scanner.

“These tours are very essential for the development of the players’ skills and personality,” says ‘Sunny’ Gavaskar.

Summer cricket tours for budding players were first organised by Kailash Gattani, in the mid-Eighties. Trouble started about five years ago, when two members of Modern Cricket Club of Jamshedpur, touring under Baldeb Gossain, “disappeared” on foreign soil and Gossain was blacklisted. Sanjoy Das and his Galaxy Club from Calcutta faced similar problems.

Some operators promise youngsters contracts in amateur English league clubs, like Claverham, Wellington or East Huntspill, against hefty tour fees in excess of Rs 80,000 per player, while others sell ready contract letters, printed on “look-alike” letterheads, “procured” from clubs in Somerset, Dorset, Devon or Kent, for anything between Rs 20,000 and Rs 30,000.

A ‘genuine’ club contract can give an amateur cricketer a neat purse of Rs 1.5-2 lakh in four months through a summer job. But these contracts are often sold to those who have little or no connection with the game and just want to slip into a foreign land in the guise of a cricketer. Those who land up at Heathrow, contract letters in hand, often find that ‘their’ clubs don’t have a clue about any such agreement. Some SOS their parents, frantically seeking pounds to tide over the crisis. Others rough it out, sleeping on cramped dormitory floors and scavenging for food.

“How can a club in an English countryside give a Calcutta boy a season’s contract without ever seeing him at the nets?” asks Mukherji. Cricketer Satrajit Lahiri, who has been taking promising youngsters to the UK for the past four summers with Calcutta Colts, hopes this “wonderful avenue” remains open and “genuine operators” are allowed to carry on.

But the clampdown on a clutch of unscrupulous operators threatens to queer the pitch for young cricketers hoping to be blooded in the Blighty. Arindam Ghoshal, who took 14 boys to Somerset in 2000, was refused permission to tour last year, as papers of quite a few visa applicants in his team were “not in order”. Ghoshal, who plans to tour Kent this July, says: “We are aware that visa officials are going through papers with a tooth-comb and we will be careful not to slip up.”

Kaustav Lahiri, 23, has been playing summer cricket in English amateur leagues for four years. Now, he has decided to tie up with Techno-India Engineering Institute for sponsorship and turn “tour operator with a difference” — the visa counter willing.


Calcutta, March 8: 
The icy hands of death are ready to snatch a 31-year-old housewife and her six-month-old son, courtesy an ‘irresponsible’ husband, who hid the fact that he was infected with AIDS.

A few years ago, the couple, from Park Circus, was unaware of the death threat. Today, the woman sheds silent tears.

Sources said Supratim (name changed), a small-time trader on College Street, married Satarupa (name changed) a couple of years ago. Supratim’s doctor, who was aware that he frequented brothels, advised him not to marry. Supratim was even urged to inform Satarupa about his sexual habits.

But peer pressure willed otherwise. Supratim did not disclose the fact to his wife that he was a possible AIDS carrier. The couple was married off with much fanfare.

Last year, Satarupa delivered a boy. Today, all three are affected by the dreaded virus.

Doctors attending on the couple and their baby consider their’s a lost case. “We are trying our best to ease the pain but there is not much hope. The husband is responsible for the tragedy,” they aver.

At the School of Tropical Medicine, Satarupa and her child are a picture of helplessness. “Ours was a love match. We met in college and courted each other for five years. I did not know he would frequent the red-light areas. If I had had even an inkling of it, I would have stepped out of the relationship,” Satarupa lamented. She blames the family physician for not informing her of Supratim’s habits.

Satarupa, a graduate from Calcutta University, is bitter about the agonising betrayal. She now harbours tremendous hatred for Supratim. “All of us will die within a few years but I am more concerned about my child, who got infected during my pregnancy. Believe me! I just cannot look at his face. Whenever I hug him, I cannot hold back my tears,” she told this correspondent. Her parents are sympathetic, but Satarupa blames Supratim for her condition.

A repentant Supratim regrets the tragedy that has befallen on his immediate family. “Had I not been swayed by my folks, this would not have occurred. It was my family who forced me to get married and today, they are treating me, my wife and son like outcasts,” he says. He confesses that he would love to hold his child, but does not have the courage to tell Satarupa about it.

Doctors say Supratim’s days are numbered. His weight has reduced drastically and his food intake is almost nil. “We are looking into the degree of the child’s infection. At the moment, only prayers can save him,” they add.


Calcutta, March 8: 
An action plan to ‘restart’ the tanneries in east Calcutta was put into motion on Friday. Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) experts and Union industry ministry officials met some tanners and state government officials to chalk out a “cleaner production strategy” for the Supreme Court to consider.

“What we are trying to do is draw up a comprehensive production and process management programme for the tanneries in Topsia, Tangra and Tiljala, till they can be relocated at the Calcutta Leather Complex (CLC) in Bantala,” industry sources told Metro.

From March 1, over 500 tanneries in the city are facing closure, following a Supreme Court directive. CLRI director T. Ramaswami, the institute’s research council chairman S. Ramachandran and A.K. Sinha of the Union commerce and industries ministry discussed the problem at length with tannery-owners and government officials.

The CLRI plans to prepare a proposal for the “quantitative reduction in the pollution load”, generated by the east Calcutta tanneries, to be placed before the Supreme Court.

The aims are to:

Cut the salt used in the tanning process

Replace synthetic tanning agents with eco-friendly chemicals

Introduce a cost-effective, on-site chrome recovery technology

Use water recycling to reduce quantity of input

Industry sources said the experts would meet state industries department officials on Saturday to finalise the action plan.


Calcutta, March 8: 
Move over maachh-bhaat. Turkey pie’s here. The Bengali henshel (kitchen) in the city — so long an arena for only the Ghoti-Bangal warfare with a limited range of weaponry like the chingri (prawn) and the ilish (hilsa) — is witnessing a change. Courtesy: the state animal resources development department’s recent move to add turkey and rabbit to the list of farm-produced animals and take more than a keen interest in the assembly-line production of ostrich.

It’s a smallish farm, tucked away in a quiet Tollygunge locality, that is engineering the change. And if the crowd on Tuesdays and Fridays — the only days when eggs are sold — is anything to go by, then this single farm is changing the way the average poultry-owner on the fringes of Calcutta looks at his coops.

Besides Tollygunge, the turkey, so long confined to New Market during Christmas and Easter, looks set to spread its wings to the markets in the city and in the fringe areas, say government officials in charge of running the Tollygunge-based farm.

From the poultry to the kitchen is a small distance, they explain. “We sell thousands of eggs of quails and guinea fowl every year and poultry-owners are gradually coming to know that we are into turkey as well,” an official said. “If even 10 per cent of the eggs we sell come back to the market after incubation, then the city and its surrounding areas are looking at a food revolution of sorts.”

The figures should tell the story. The number of quails — of a not-endangered Japanese species — sold from the farm in the last financial year was “around 50,000” and the number of eggs sold was “at least two-and-a-half-times times that number”. That figure should witness “a dramatic rise” by the end of the current financial year, claim officials. And guinea fowl (cheena murgi in local parlance), sells “many times more” than quails.

Turkey was introduced a few weeks ago and the response has been “very good”. Many of the regular quail-buyers have, apparently, switched to turkey for mass-producing because of its “sale-ability and visibility”. “Calcutta, with a very strong Anglo-Indian tradition, has grown up on stories of turkey as a Christmas speciality and it will not be surprising if the bird makes its appearance in more urban and suburban markets within a few months,” an official said.

Already, the farm sells more than 300 young birds every week, though the sale of the adult bird is not so encouraging. “But the sale of eggs is the surest indicator of a change in the very near future,” officials said.

The turkey goes for Rs 120 a kg, the quail for Rs 16 a piece and the guinea fowl for Rs 80 a kg.

But the big clients, led by the five-star hotels, have not yet shown any interest in the ‘neighbourhood’ bird. “Most of them still prefer to bring them from Bangalore,” a senior official said. “As soon as we can meet their demand with a steady supply, we are sure they will come to us.”

Rabbits are being produced at three government farms at Gobardanga (in North 24-Parganas), Midnapore and Kalyani, say officials.

But mass-producing them in a farm within the city limits will not be possible in the near future because of the space crunch, they admit.

Also in the pipeline is the ostrich. “Some independent farms have started producing them on an experimental basis to first ascertain whether it makes good business sense. Only then will we decide whether to produce ostrich-meat on a large-scale.”



Missing trader found murdered

The Uluberia police on Thursday recovered the decomposed body of Vishal Dugar from a canal at Shimla village in Howrah. Dugar, a 30-year-old resident of Lake Town, was missing since February 23. The businessman’s family members had filed a missing person’s diary with the Hare Street police station. A district police official said: “We came to know about the identity of the person from the licence in his pocket. The Hare Street police station was contacted and officials came over and identified the body.” The body has been sent for post-mortem and investigation is underway to determine the motive behind the murder. “A love triangle might be the cause,” said an official from the Uluberia police station.

HC verdict in Iskcon case

The Calcutta High Court passed a judgment on Friday, stating that an Iskcon branch president has to function under the authority of the Iskcon Bureau, a decision which may end the on-going controversy over the Calcutta temple management. Adridharan Das was recently ousted as president of the Calcutta branch by the Mumbai-based bureau, a decision Das has contested. According to a statement issued by current co-director Dayaram Das, the court further stated that it would not restrain the Mumbai-based bureau from interfering with its local functioning, but the bureau did not have the power to suspend a member of the organisation.

Vendor assault

At least seven newspaper vendors, including a woman, were assaulted by Railway Protection Force personnel at Howrah station on Tuesday, according to a statement issued by Paschim Banga Sambadpatra Bikreta Samity. All of them were taken into custody, but later released on bail. The Samity has demanded that the railway police immediately stop harassing newspaper vendors and the railway administration settle the dispute over demarcating space for selling newspapers. Nitan Nandi, secretary of the Samity, alleged that the vendors were often arrested and kept in police lock-ups “for eight to 10 hours”, and their newspapers were seized. They were also forced to pay fines ranging between Rs 700 and Rs 1,000, he alleged.

Held for fraud

The detective department of the city police arrested four directors of Save Earth, a non-banking financial institution, on charges of duping depositors. A hunt has been launched for Sanjay Mishra, the managing director of the concern.

Tracks blocked

Passengers of the Howrah-bound Coromandel Express and Bangalore-Guwahati Express suffered as a mob blocked the tracks at Jaleswar station on the Kharagpur division of South Eastern Railway to protest the arrest of a number of ticketless labourers. The disruption continued for more than three hours and many local trains had to be cancelled.

Intruder alarm

City police chief Sujoy Chakraborty on Friday inaugurated an intrusion alarm system at the Lalbazar police control room. The device, once installed at home, is activated in case of any intrusion. This automatically sets off an alarm in the Lalbazar control, alerrting the police immediately and helping them track down the house.    

Calcutta, March 8: 
The police have identified Calcutta University’s (CU) Rajabazar Science College as a potential centre for terrorist attacks.

Senior police officials visited the campus on Thursday evening and advised the university authorities to beef up security at the gates. “Sophisticated research is conducted in the laboratories by scholars and scientists here on a regular basis. These need to be protected,” the police said.

The university authorities on Friday tightened security arrangements, restricted entry of outsiders and made it compulsory for all students, employees and teachers to present their identity cards before entering the campus. “We have discussed the steps taken to protect the college and we will strictly follow police instructions in this regard,” said a CU official.

The special branch of city police had sent a report to commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty, mentioning that Rajabazar Science College might be a potential terrorist target. “The Union home ministry officials tipped us off that terrorists might try to sabotage classified research work,’’ the official said.

According to a ministry source, anti-sabotage checks have been carried out on the campus and plainclothesmen deployed to keep track of visitors. “We are putting everybody, including the faculty members, under scanner,’’ said the special branch officer.

The authorities have directed all departmental heads to ensure that they report unknown faces to the university’s guards. “Never in the past were we required to get our bags and other belongings checked before entering,” said a senior teacher.

University sources said the police inspection is significant as the state election department had just completed a 15-day-long exercise for revision of voters’ lists on the campus.

Thousands came to the college during the past 15 days to register themselves. According to sources, the police were concerned with the manner in which the university had allowed so many people to enter the campus.

Sources said the police team had examined the laboratories and adjacent rooms, where confidential research is conducted. They also inspected enclosures where people had assembled for revision of the electoral rolls.


Calcutta, March 8: 
Traffic on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass came to a standstill for an hour on Friday morning, after a road mishap. Nikhil Biswas, 30, was run over by a Matador while on his way to VIP Market around 9 am.

Biswas, a bank employee, had reached Netaji Nagar when a Matador coming from the opposite direction ran him over. An injured Biswas was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was declared dead.

Residents chased the Matador but the driver fled. Later, a roadblock was set up to demand his arrest and installation of traffic signals on the spot.

Samir Aich, local Trinamul Congress leader, said: “This stretch is becoming extremely accident-prone. We have been seeking traffic guards for a long time but the authorities don’t listen to us.”

Sources said most accidents on the Bypass go unaccounted for. “Only the major ones are brought to the notice of the higher authorities, and then forgotten,” they added.

According to Aich, a mother and child were recently killed on the same stretch and the authorities were not informed of the mishap.

Subir Chatterjee, officer in charge, Tiljala police station, said while the traffic on the Bypass is controlled by Calcutta Police, the South 24-Parganas district police looks after the law and order. Chatterjee added: “After Friday’s accident, senior officers from Lalbazar have promised to post traffic guards on the Bypass from Saturday.”


Calcutta, March 8: 
Research on HIV and viral diseases is suffering at the School of Tropical Medicine (STM), one of the premier institutions in the country, because of a lack of initiative on part of the state government and the management.

The institution, harking back to the Raj for research and referral treatment of tropical diseases, has fallen into a state of neglect in the past couple of years.

A sophisticated machine, donated by World Health Organisation (WHO), brought here at least a month and a half ago, is gathering dust on the ground floor, instead of the laboratory of the virology department.

P. K. Sarkar, STM director, failed to provide an explanation on the plight of the machine, though doctors at the virology department claim they are waiting to use it.

“I do not know why the machine is lying unused for more than a month. We will look into the matter,” said Sarkar.

Sources at STM said that a letter had been sent to the management to make sure that the machine is immediately despatched to the research section, but it continues to lie unused.

“We are yet to get a reply on why the machine has not been used for important findings on AIDS detection and other research work. Maybe Sarkar knows,” said a doctor, preferring anonymity.

STM doctors, meanwhile, narrate a number of woes, hamstrung as they are by lack of basic equipment and inadequate manpower.

“Presently, there is only one faculty member, instead of five, at the virology department and we feel the acute dearth of modern gadgets and kits, like PCRs, refrigerators and bio-safety hoods,” said one of the doctors.

Dhruba Kumar Neogi, head of the virology department at the STM, said: “The government has done virtually nothing to improve infrastructure at the virology department. We are ill-equipped to carry on any kind of research work.”

The department, which once shared fame with the likes of Pune’s National Institute of Virology and Delhi’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases, is being completely ignored. “How do you expect us to handle an epidemic when the state government does not provide us gadgets and kits necessary for the detection and investigation of the cases? They have promised things, but never delivered them,” said Neogi.


Calcutta, March 8: 
The final judgment by Alipore court in the Anuradha Saha death case was temporarily delayed on Friday after chief judicial magistrate Ananda Raha sought clarification from the Supreme Court on whether his court can proceed with the concluding arguments and final disposal of the case.

With the withdrawal of two defence witnesses from the list of five, originally submitted by the three accused doctors, the magistrate closed the hearing on Friday.

He sought a clarification in an order passed on Friday, on the basis of a petition filed by complainant Kunal Saha, seeking the transfer of the case, that was pending disposal in the apex court.

Two doctors — nephrologist Arup Dutta and uro-surgeon Krishnendu Mukherjee — who were called in by the defence as experts and not as material witnesses, had expressed their inability to make themselves available for cross-examination for the next three weeks.

They also challenged a petition, which sought the recall of a defence witness —matron Sutapa Chanda of AMRI — on the basis that they required time to cite the case laws in this regard. The prosecution has sought the re-examination of Chanda in view of new documents related to the case being discovered.


Calcutta, March 8: 
Life for five-year-old Jahanara Khatoon (not her real name), lodged in the government-run Dhruvashram welfare home at Barasat, in the suburbs, did a turnabout on Friday. Suddenly, she was ‘orphaned’. So were eight other minors, including four boys, all below 14, kept at the Home for safe custody.

The children were caught unawares when they were told that their parents had left them behind on their way to Bangladesh. All six Bangladeshis, including two women, apparently parents and relatives of the children, were in the Presidency Jail since March last year. On Friday morning, armed with a court order, the jail authorities handed them over to the police, who took them to the Indo-Bangla border for deportation.

The children, according to Home sources, kept asking for their parents. Naturally, the Home officials have only words of consolation to offer. “We are merely custodians of the children. We cannot help it if their parents are deported to Bangladesh,” said an official of social welfare department, which looks after the Home.

On March 17, 2001, the Government Railway Police (GRP) arrested at least 15 Bangladeshis, including nine children, on the Naihati station premises for camping without valid passports. “They were arrested under Section 14 of the Foreigners’ Act for not holding valid passports and produced before the Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate (SDJM) the next day,” said an official of the Intelligence Bureau. The 15 were subsequently sent to Presidency jail and lodged there till Friday.

Inspector-general of prisons Anil Kumar said the parents were sent back to Bangladesh after they had given an undertaking that they were ready to leave their children behind. “Though we are worried about the fate of children, we have to act on the basis of the statement by the Bangladeshis,” he added.

He said the children were segregated from the parents and had to be lodged in the welfare home, in accordance with a Supreme Court order. “We cannot keep children in the jail along with their parents, as the apex court has a clear directive on this issue,” he added.

Regretting the children’s plight, jail officials said it would be difficult for them to return to Bangladesh, in the absence of their guardians. “With their blood ties severed, the children will rot in the Home unless someone comes forward to bail them out,” added Dilip Chowdhuri, additional inspector general of prisons.


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