Tax the tap for funds to flow
CBI asks for terror list with Calcutta connection
Fun-biz frowns at mayor’s budget blow
Cut the cause, spare the patient
The City Diary
Crusade that’s Kerala
Leprosy campaign
Night ride on heritage tram
Merger proposal in health sector
Gang of six cleans out traders on bus

Calcutta, March 17: 
Beijing and Hong Kong do it. So do Delhi and Mumbai, though with a lesser degree of success. Now, it’s Calcutta’s turn to make water a marketable commodity.

Come midsummer, and Calcutta’s middle-class will have to pay for the water the entire city uses.

The four-lakh-strong middle-class households in Calcutta will be brought under the water tax net. The tax, to be determined by the size of the ferrule that supplies Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) water to a household, will vary between Rs 100 and Rs 200 annually, say officials.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee confirmed the decision on Sunday but added that the Trinamul Congress-controlled CMC was only implementing a decision taken by the Left Front government and announced by state urban development and municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya in 1999. “I am just the implementing authority,” Mukherjee added, in a bid not to alienate the middle-class voter.

There are about 2.45 lakh filtered water connections in the city and around 1.95 lakh of the connected establishments do not pay anything for the filtered water they consume.

The CMC, to date, has not charged those using ferrules with diameters of 10 mm and 15 mm. Only those using 20-mm and 25-mm ferrules pay Rs 480 a year and Rs 780, respectively. But, with most houses having 20-mm or wider ferrules being divided into separate flats, each flat-owner has to pay very little.

“The tax will now be charged on the basis of the number of tax-payers in a particular building and not the ferrule-size,” the mayor said.

The state government has also sent instructions to all municipalities in the state to impose water tax, which will not be less than Rs 30 per month. Those running civic affairs in Maheshtala and Budge Budge have already implemented it.

Bidhannagar Municipality now collects a nominal amount from Salt Lake residents as water tariff, which is included in the house-tax figure. But residents of this elite township, too, will have to pay at least Rs 30 per month henceforth.

“The CMC now earns only Rs 10 crore from water tax annually but ends up spending over Rs 100 crore to maintain the water supply network,” the mayor said.

The CMC, say officials, has approached the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for a Rs 1,245-crore loan for setting up infrastructure to supply water and manage the sewer lines in the added areas of Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur. The ADB, they add, has been urging the CMC to impose water tax on all Calcuttans as a condition for the loan.

The water tax net will also be broadened to include 200 commercial establishments in the metering system and hike the amount from Rs 10 for every 1,000 litres to Rs 15.


Calcutta, March 17: 
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has requested the Bengal government to furnish a list of criminals under the scanner for carrying out “remote-control terror tactics” in Calcutta from their hideouts in Dubai and Sharjah.

CBI director P.C. Sharma sent the missive to Writers’ Buildings on Friday, state home department officials said. Also on the demand-list was a detailed resumé of the militants’ current activities in the city and elsewhere in the state. When contacted in Delhi, Sharma said the agency had “always worked on information shared by the West Bengal police authorities’’.

CBI officials said they were in the process of preparing a list of criminals — several with a Calcutta connection — now suspected to be in hiding in Dubai.

Once the Bengal government complied with the request, the agency would pass on detailed information about the suspects to the Dubai police chief.

The CBI chief had “an informal discussion” with his United Arab Emirates counterpart during the Interpol Colombo conference last month. The Dubai police chief had, apparently, assured Sharma of support.

CBI authorities in Delhi alleged that several militants have been to Tiljala, Topsia, Metiabruz and its surrounding areas recently. “We have information that militants like Nasim Khan, alias Altaf, Abdul Aziz, alias Mistri, Amir Reza Khan, brother of Asif Reza Khan, and many others involved in anti-national activities have been in Calcutta over the past few months,’’ said a senior deputy inspector-general of the CBI.

The interrogation of American Center-attack mastermind Aftab Ansari — who had been deported from Dubai — and information culled from sources have led sleuths to believe that Amir is currently in Dubai. Besides Amir, there were “at least five other criminals from Calcutta” now in hiding in Sharjah, Dubai and other West Asian cities.

“We have passed on this information to the state home department,” a senior CBI official said. “Once we inform the Dubai authorities and they track down the suspects staying there, we will urge the external affairs ministry to press for the militants’ deportation.”

Minister of state for external affairs Omar Abdullah confirmed over phone from Delhi that the Centre would take up the issue of deportation of criminals from Dubai with the UAE authorities once the CBI prepared a list of criminals operating from there, with “pinpoint” information about their hideouts.


Calcutta, March 17: 
The mayor’s civic budget blow on cyber cafés, clubs, discos and bowling alleys has sent alarm bells ringing through ‘e-biz’ in town. The ‘fun’ industry is viewing Subrata Mukherjee’s move to target new-age pursuits of GenX as a real spoilsport.

“This is a major blow. On one side, they talk of inviting more investment in entertainment and on the other, they levy a tax like this, which will seriously affect business,” laments Sandeep Agarwal, director of Sparkz, the eight-lane bowling alley in Alipore. Subrata Mukherjee has slapped a Rs 30,000 per channel per year civic tax on bowling alleys.

With two lanes making up one channel, the biggest bowling destination in Calcutta will have to shell out Rs 1.2 lakh. Sparkz, with an average crowd count of 300 per day — against the targeted 800 — fears it will have to pass on the budget burden.

“A 10-frame game now costs up to Rs 125. We might have to raise it to Rs 150 and lose clients in the process. At this rate, no one will come forward to invest in this industry,” complains Agarwal.

Tantra, the high-voltage chill-out zone on Park Street, is hardly jiving to the idea of coughing up an additional Rs 15,000 this year. “This extra burden comes when we had just slashed entry charges from Rs 400 to Rs 250 per couple on weekends,” says manager Nitin Saxena. The entry fee, warns Saxena, could go up to Rs 300 again, bringing the 500-plus Saturday night footfall “by at least a hundred”.

Cyber cafes on Sunday were still grappling with the “Rs 1,000 per screen per annum” diktat and chalking out an escape route.

RCGC CEO Neeraj Bhalla, however, said the “Rs 10,000” per-year levy on golf clubs was “manageable and need not be passed on”.

The Rs 20,000 per year tax on clubs was put in perspective by M.J. Robertson of Space Circle: “While this is not a debilitating blow, the authorities should be sympathetic towards such new-age business.”


Calcutta, March 17: 
When Arpita Sarkar, 42, was told by surgeons at SSKM Hospital that a cancerous tumour could be taken out from her breast without her having to undergo mastectomy (surgical removal of breast), she was confused. She became speechless when she heard that the operation would cost only Rs 1,350.

“How can a cancerous growth be removed completely without losing a body part at such a low cost?” she wondered.

On Thursday, six months after the operation and follow-up therapy, Arpita has only words of praise for the doctors.

Started on a trial basis in Italy in the late 1990s, this specialised surgery, known as breast conservation therapy (BCT), is now being performed for the first time in state-run SSKM.

What makes the surgery at SSKM significant is the unbelievably low cost. Patients can undergo BCT here at a nominal rate of Rs 1,350. The usual follow-up therapy costs Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000. At some of the reputed nursing homes and private hospitals in the city, BCT costs between Rs 16,000 and Rs 20,000. The follow-up therapy at private hospitals is double that.

Senior surgeons attached to private hospitals admitted that the low-cost BCT would be a godsend for common people. “This treatment should be encouraged in government hospitals. There should also be an awareness campaign about the follow-up, which is very vital,” said Aniruddha Bose, noted surgeon and specialist in breast reconstruction attached to several private hospitals.

Breast cancer being the commonest form of cancer among women, 50 to 70 women in every one-lakh population in Calcutta fall victim to it. However, experts believe that the incidence rate has shot up in the past few years. In India, breast cancer is prevalent among women mostly in the age-group of 30-40, unlike Western countries, where it is prevalent in the 50-60 age group.

“BCT can be only performed on patients in the early stage of breast cancer,” said D.K. Sarkar, a surgeon of SSKM, and an integral part of the team that has perfected BCT.

To boost awareness, a new breast-screening clinic opened recently at SSKM. In the past five months, the hospital has treated six breast cancer patients who opted for surgery, against two to three per month a year ago. Of them, two to three patients undergo BCT every month.



Club organisers held after clash

Nine members of a club in Garia were arrested after a clash on Saturday night. Police said on Sunday that the clash broke out when the club’s organisers misbehaved with some artistes attending a programme. They also damaged several houses in the area. The secretary of the club has also been rounded up, police said.

Ailing singer’s house burgled

Robbers escaped with gold ornaments, saris and more than Rs 1 lakh from the house of Utpala Sen, eminent singer, on Saturday. The Karaya police picked up Mala Haldar, a domestic help employed by the bedridden Sen a few months ago, for the theft. Haldar was located by a police team at a relative’s house in Tollygunge on Sunday.

Death from blow

A youth died after being hit by his elder brother in Sonarpur on Sunday. Police said Sudipta Das slapped his brother Kunal during an argument. Kunal, who fell to the ground, was taken to hospital, where he was declared dead. Sudipta has been arrested.

Muharram run-up

A security ring was thrown around Garden Reach Circular Road after a pre-Muharram procession, comprising 200 people, was taken out on Sunday. On Saturday evening, DC (Port) H.P. Singh convened a meeting to check details of security arrangements in the run-up to Muharram.

Harmony rally

Left Front activists on Sunday took out a rally for communal harmony from Gariahat to Shyambazar. Around 6,000 supporters took part in the rally, which started at 9 in the morning.


The Zee-Turner bouquet, which was switched off by the broadcaster following a rate-hike dispute with cable operators, is likely to be back on the RPG Netcom beam “in a couple of days”. Operators claim they have obtained a verbal assurance that Zee-Turner won’t hike rates again in a year.    

Calcutta, March 17: 
When Kathakali exponent P. Govindan Kutty walked out of New Empire on a December evening after a performance in 1949 and left for Ahmedabad, little did he realise that he would return to the city six years later to spend the rest of his life here.

“I returned in 1955, and this time I stayed on,” said the 74-year-old dancer, who lives in Dover Lane with wife Thankamani, herself a famous dancer.

Kutty is now among the 3,000 Nairs from Kerala who have become part and parcel of the city and have formed the Calcutta Nair Service Society (CNSS). “Initially, I missed Kerala, but now I am in love with the city,” he said.

Kutty has been associated with the CNSS since its inception in 1977 and is a prominent member. “The members of the society, too, love Calcutta as much as I do and are always trying to do something good for it,” Kutty said.

In its silver jubilee year, the CNSS is setting up a charitable hospital, a school, a hostel for working women and a community hall.

It has acquired 17 bighas near the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass for the purpose.

“Our dream is to build a classic school to impart education at minimum expenditure,” said S. Suresh Kumar, general secretary of the society, who is also an assistant director in the Union commerce and industry department.

P. Radhakrishnan, vice-president of the society, said the school will be open to all.

Founded in 1977, about 650 families are CNNS members. The society operates from its office in Lake Gardens.

The Nairs are well established in Calcutta. Some work in senior positions in corporate houses and various government departments.

The society’s present activities include medical assistance, which comprises an emergency hospitalisation fund and assistance to the aged and the challenged. It provides aid during natural calamities, and also helps out during festivals and religious programmes. The women’s wing, too, organises programmes and publishes a monthly newsletter, titled Deepti.

The society provides scholarships to meritorious students and books to poor students. It also celebrates traditional festivals of Kerala, like Onam.

Prabha Menon, who manages the women’s wing, said: “We have a library with a good collection of rare books. One can come here and read them.”


Calcutta, March 17: 
Doctors treating leprosy patients in hospitals in and around Howrah town on Friday expressed concern over the high dropout rate of the patients and wanted the health administration to intensify an awareness campaign. “I think the dropout rate will be around 50 per cent,” said a senior health officer of Howrah.

“Surprisingly, at least half the patients drop out in the middle of treatment. Most belong to a floating population, and after taking two doses of medicines, they return home in Bihar, Orissa or Andhra Pradesh, without informing us. If they tell us, we can give them the remaining doses under the Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT) scheme,” said a dermatologist attached to the Howrah district hospital.

The view was echoed by a field worker. “These people are still superstitious and do not want us to visit their homes. The problem is compounded by the stigma attached to the disease. So, we meet them at cinemas and playgrounds, or else other secluded places,” he said.


Calcutta, March 17: 
Responding to passenger requests from across the city and its neighbourhoods, the Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC) has decided to introduce “heritage tours on tram” at night on the eve of Bengali new year’s day.

Now, Sunday morning is the only time when the ride can be availed of.

“Unable to accommodate passengers, the service will be extended to nights on Sundays from April 14, a day before Poila Baisakh,” said Sudhir De, CTC chairman-cum-managing director.

De said on Sunday that he had discussed the matter with officers from the Indian National Trust for Art and Calcutta Heritage (Intach) and the tourism department. With the onset of summer, efforts are on to aircondition both the coaches. Some technical problems are delaying the process.


Calcutta, March 17: 
Taking the cue from Maharashtra and Gujarat, Bengal has decided to bring drug control, food control and the drug control research laboratory under one umbrella.

Officials said the proposed merger would increase co-ordination among the three key administrative bodies and improve the quality of work in the health sector.

“We have already instituted a commission to expedite the matter at the earliest,” an official attached to drug control said.

At present, the departments have separate offices. Drug control issues manufacturing licences and sells drug licences. It also supervises whether drugs available in the market are of standard quality and keeps tabs on spurious drugs. However, drugs are tested at the drug control lab on Convent Road.

The food control authority, set up all over India under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, monitors quality of food and checks adulteration. It is entitled to take action against people who flout norms.

“Recently there have been some problems regarding co-ordination of these three vital wings. Allegations regarding corruption at the office of the food control and the state drug control research laboratory have also cropped up .We want to steer clear of all these controversies by stepping up surveillance at all levels,” health department officials said.

Drug controller P.K. Sarkar said spurious drugs made their way into the open market despite “our strong surveillance”. “We feel that a composite body comprising three organs handling drugs and food will go a long way to help weed out adulteration,” he said.

Sarkar said there were proposals to set up a reference public health laboratory with state-of-the-art technology at the School of Tropical Medicine. Sarkar is a director of the school.

“We want to upgrade our existing infrastructure to make it a more sophisticated research centre and diagnostic laboratory. The modernisation package includes all departments like virology, microbiology, helminthology and others.”


Malda, March 17: 
Armed dacoits looted over Rs 3 lakh from several Malda-based businessmen on a bus bound for Sarisahat late on Saturday.

Posing as passengers, the gang of six boarded the West Bengal State Transport Corporation bus from Malda town around 9 pm and allegedly told the driver that they would get down at Farakka. But once the bus reached a desolate place, a few km away from Englishbazaar, they began looting the 50-odd businessmen. Two persons were later arrested from Kaliachawk.

Local businessmen put up a roadblock at Englishbazaar this morning, demanding arrest of the bus driver and conductor. They alleged the duo were hand in glove with the dacoits and had let them board the bus despite protests. Long-distance bus services were thrown out of gear till late in the afternoon.

The businessmen alleged that the driver switched off the lights and proceeded slowly after the bus pulled out of the terminus. “The driver even misled a police patrol party by saying that he was not carrying any “extra passengers,” they said.

Superintendent of police (Malda) Pankaj Dutta said he would look into these allegations. “Raids are being conducted everywhere to nab the miscreants,” he added.

A businessman, who lodged a complaint with the police, said minutes before the bus set out, the passengers asked the driver not to take on extra people. “He did not listen to us. In fact, the six men who later turned out to be dacoits, said they would get down at Farakka,” he said.

Soon after the bus crossed Englishbazaar, a member of the group of six, took position near the driver’s seat while the others stationed themselves at other points in the bus. “I noticed that a passenger put a gun to the driver’s head and asked him to take an alternative route running parallel to the national highway. The bus soon stopped in a desolate place, where they started to snatch our belongings,” a passenger said.

From briefcases to bags and watches and wallets, the dacoits stuffed everything into large sacks before fleeing. The operation lasted between 15-25 minutes. A few passengers, who tried to resist, were beaten up. Two were slashed with a sharp cutting weapon.

After the incident, the driver ferried the injured to a hospital and then drove to Englishbazaar police station, where the passengers raised slogans demanding that he and the conductor be arrested.


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