Licence glut clogs leather complex
Annexe thrust to healthcare
SFI wrests Presidency, sets sights on JU union
Tracks of travail, train of tragedy
The City Diary
‘Hawa Mahal’ under siege
Truck driver in ransom net freed
Globe closed over tax dues
Halls hit apathy hurdle
Bengal police on infotech highway

 
 
LICENCE GLUT CLOGS LEATHER COMPLEX 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 20: 
A new question mark has appeared over the proposed relocation of tanneries in the Calcutta Leather Complex (CLC), where new units are tipped to use up critical inputs going beyond the limits set for the site.

At the root of crisis lies the government’s failure to monitor clearances from the state pollution control board (PCB) for new units. On Wednesday, officials said they had “just discovered” that 217 tanneries, with consent from the PCB to set up shop, would together cross the 1,000-tonnes-a-day production limit set for the entire CLC at Bantala.

“We did not bargain for this… The site is to house at least 531 relocated tanneries and also several new ones. We will have a tough job on hand if we allow 200 or 250 units to upset the benchmarks and use up the critical inputs meant for the entire site,” a senior official said.

Director of industries Moloy De was not available for a comment as he was away, but officials said the issue would be tackled at a meeting of the state industries department, the PCB and the tanners on Thursday.

The government’s attention was drawn to the impending crisis at least two months ago, knowledgeable sources said, but it chose to pass on the buck to the PCB. However, in the absence of a clear-cut policy directive, the PCB went about the job of issuing the NOCs by its book.

As things stand, once the two inter-locked benchmarks — 1,000 tonnes of production at a groundwater consumption rate of 30 million litres a day — are touched, no more tanneries can be granted the consent to begin operations at the CLC.

“Our hands are tied, as we have to follow the environmental norms laid down by the law and the common effluent treatment plant (CETP) design is not equipped to handle more than 30 million litres a day,” said K.S. Ramasubban, chief executive officer of the PCB.

It is learnt the government, realising the gravity of the situation, contacted the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) for tips on how best to resolve the problem. The CLRI had pegged the CLC’s projected capacity at 1,000 tonnes of leather a day after taking into account the availability of water from three underground aquifiers.

Investigations revealed that the new units, that had been granted consent at the CLC, had asked for more water, as they wanted to expand their production at the new site. “There was no monitoring of the present level of production of the tanneries operating out of three tanning colonies — Topsia, Tangra and Tiljala — either by the government or any of the agencies concerned.”

Industry department officials were tightlipped when asked what they proposed to do with the tanneries that might not find place in the CLC.

   

 
 
ANNEXE THRUST TO HEALTHCARE 
 
 
BY SUVRO ROY AND BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, March 20: 
In a bid to distribute the flow of patients at the five major medical colleges and hospitals in Calcutta, the government will send cases to 15 state-run hospitals in and around the city from April.

“We have decided to append the smaller hospitals, which are under-utilised, to the five major hospitals to improve health services,” said Prabhakar Chatterjee, director, health services.

Explaining the scheme, health officials said patients will be referred to hospitals such as Lady Dufferin, Abinash Dutta Hospital, Vidyasagar Hospital, Salt Lake State General and Bagha Jatin Hospital, whenever a dearth of beds or cabins arises.

Doctors from the bigger hospitals will be asked to attend on the patients in the respective ‘annexe’ hospitals. “For instance, if an expecting mother wants to deliver at the Eden ward of Medical College and there are no beds, she will be referred to Lady Dufferin in Bowbazar, where doctors of the Eden ward will attend on her,” said Chatterjee.

Sources said patients from R.G. Kar would be sent to Abinash Dutta Maternity Hospital, near Sovabazar, if the former could not provide beds.

“R.G. Kar is usually overcrowded due to a rush of patients from North 24-Parganas. We often see mothers-to-be made to lie on the floor, in the absence of beds. Abinash Dutta Hospital is under-utilised and beds are readily available there. All we need is to upgrade the smaller hospitals. We have to set up proper operation theatres and instal sophisticated equipment in the smaller hospitals,” said an official.

Chatterjee said medical students could also accompany their seniors to the annexe hospitals to study cases. “The new system will cut the load on the bigger hospitals and improve the treatment standards,” he added.

Officials said the concept of the annexe hospitals was being debated in the health department for some time and workshops were held to find out its feasibility. It was pointed out that the under-utilised smaller hospitals, scattered in and around the city, would be of great help if patients could be diverted there.

“At least 4,000 patients crowd the outdoors of the main hospitals daily. In the emergency department of Medical College and Hospital, nearly 20 appendicitis operations are conducted every day. If we can shift even part of the load to smaller hospitals, the quality of treatment is bound to improve,” a health official said.

Chatterjee added that the mindset of patients and their families, too, have to be tackled effectively. “We can only do that once the smaller hospitals match the standards of their bigger counterparts,” he added.

City doctors have welcomed the idea. “The pressure on the major medical colleges is unimaginable. This system will help improve the overall quality of health services, ” said Dr D. K. Sarkar, senior surgeon, SSKM Hospital.

   

 
 
SFI WRESTS PRESIDENCY, SETS SIGHTS ON JU UNION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 20: 
The Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the CPM’s student wing, stormed the prestigious union of Presidency College on Wednesday, defeating the Independent Consolidation, the main apolitical students’ body that has been in power for the past decade.

Wednesday’s victory for the SFI at Presidency is significant. Despite its success in wresting control over the students’ unions in most of the middle-ranking colleges in Calcutta over the past two decades, it had not been able to gain in three prestigious institutions — Presidency College, the engineering faculty of Jadavpur University and Shibpur Bengal Engineering College (Deemed University).

According to reliable sources in the party, after having won the Presidency union elections, the SFI’s next target was Jadavpur’s engineering faculty, presently under control of Naxalite groups, and the BE College union, now with the Chhatra Parishad.

On the Presidency campus, tension ran high on Wednesday after a series of complaints by the anti-SFI lobby of irregularities in the election process.

Despite an order issued by principal Amitava Chatterjee on Monday prohibiting entry of outsiders into the college till the completion of the poll process, many senior leaders of the SFI, including those of the CPM Calcutta district committee and other institutions, like Calcutta and Jadavpur universities, were seen supervising the election all afternoon. They were, however, ordered off the campus later by the principal.

As the names of the elected SFI candidates were announced by the authorities, non-Presidency student leaders of the SFI smeared coloured powder on students of the college. This sparked tension and anti-SFI members complained to the authorities about the ban order being violated.

Fearing further trouble, the policemen on duty requested the principal to ask the SFI leaders to leave the premises. The SFI members, however, claimed they had not interfered in the election process and were present on the campus to greet the elected office-bearers of the union.

Earlier, around noon, a section of students complained that one of the elected SFI candidates had taken admission in the college two years ago on the basis of a fake marksheet.The principal forwarded the complaint to the election tribunal.

“We are looking into the allegation. After preliminary investigations, we did not think the marksheet or other documents the candidate had submitted to the college were fake,” said Chatterjee. Students who lodged the complaint have also been asked to substantiate their allegation within 48 hours.

Some students alleged that the SFI had not allowed an elected Independent candidate to enter the campus to cast his vote.

   

 
 
TRACKS OF TRAVAIL, TRAIN OF TRAGEDY 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, March 20: 
When Rita Das sat down on a bench at Sealdah station, weak and dizzy on a chilly December morning in 1998, little did she know what the future had in store for her. The 21-year-old returned home at Bijoynagar, in the Barasat area, escorted by the police on Tuesday night, to learn that she was now an orphan.

Father Ananda had thrown himself in front of a train soon after her disappearance in 1998 and her mother died a few months ago. Rita now has only her 80-year-old grandmother to console her. Rita, the only child, was pampered by her parents. However, her fortunes took a downswing after a local train ride to Sealdah on a December morning over three years ago.

“I was feeling weak after the ride and as I got off the train, my head started reeling. I sat on a bench. Then I cannot remember what happened,” Rita told Rahul Srivastav, additional superintendent of police, Barasat.

When Rita came to, she found herself sitting on a pavement in Delhi. “It was around midnight. I was too weak and not in a position to walk properly. I started looking for a shelter. But a few minutes later, the local police picked me up on charges of loitering,” Rita told the police.

She was produced in court and sent to a government-run home, Nirmal Chhaya. Rita, along with 14 other girls, was housed with hardcore women criminals arrested on different charges. Neither the Nirmal Chhaya authorities nor the Delhi police bothered to inform the CID or the Bengal police about Rita, though she repeatedly furnished them with her home address. “I kept telling the Delhi police my address. But they would not listen to me. I told the home authorities to contact my family. But my pleas fell on deaf ears,” Rita told Srivastav.

However, luckily for Rita, an NGO called Stop launched a movement in Delhi, protesting against the system of lodging innocent women with criminal inmates in cells. The NGO also demanded that Delhi High Court order the immediate release of all 15 women, among them Rita, who were rescued by Delhi police from different places.

Srivastav said Delhi High Court recently directed the authorities concerned to release all the women detained without any charges and hand them over to their relatives. Rita was the only Bengali woman among those released. Stop then handed over Rita to a Calcutta-based NGO, Sanlaap, and sent her to Calcutta.

Rita could recall the moments in Delhi blow-by-blow. But how did she reach Delhi ? She doesn’t have a clue.

When Rita arrived at her Bijoynagar home on Tuesday night and knocked, 80-year-old Taramoni Das opened the door for her grand-daughter. With her failing eyesight, it took Taramoni a few minutes to identify Rita. Then she broke into tears and told Rita what she had lost in the past three years.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Mayor announces partial rollback

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee announced a rollback on the hike in charges on water tankers, birth certificates and burial, following criticism from party members and opposition from CPM councillors. The mayor on Wednesday said citizens will have to pay Rs 10 for a birth certificate if it is obtained within a year of the birth. The budget proposal for 2002-2003 had raised it to Rs 100. Though he slashed burial fees from the proposed Rs 100 to Rs 75, he has retained the hike from Rs 170 to Rs 250 in the case of crematoriums. He also announced that the CMC would levy Rs 10 lakh per annum on race courses. Charges for water tankers will be Rs 350 instead of Rs 500.

Roof cave-in at SSKM

There was panic among the patients in Edward Building of SSKM Hospital on Wednesday when a portion of the roof caved in. However, no one was injured, hospital sources said. Adequate steps will be taken to repair the building, which has been declared a heritage structure by the government, sources said.

CMC demolition

On Tuesday night, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation carried out eviction operations on S.P. Mukherjee Road, Ashutosh Mukherjee Road and Harish Mukherjee Road. Two pay-loaders and 12 trucks were pressed into service. There was no major altercation, except heated arguments at Jagubabu’s Bazaar in Bhowanipore. About 50 unauthorised structures were demolished by the CMC men.

Woman injured

A middle-aged woman was seriously injured when she was hit by a private bus on Ramkrishna Ghosh Road, in Cossipore, on Wednesday morning. Police said the woman was travelling in a rickshaw. She was taken to hospital in a critical condition. The driver of the bus fled with the vehicle.

Suicide

A 27-year-old man committed suicide on Tuesday night at his Saktibagan residence, in Cossipore. Police said the body was found hanging from the ceiling of the man’s bedroom on Wednesday. He had not left any suicide note.

Man shot

There was trouble in Gopal Mukherjee Road on Wednesday morning after two persons shot at a man and then dragged him into a waiting Tata Sumo and drove off. Police said the man, who used to work in a transport company run by one Md Zafar, picked up a quarrel with the assailant and his friend, Md Aslam, who had earlier been arrested in connection with a bank dacoity in 1996. Deputy commissioner of police (North) K.L. Tamta said efforts are underway to trace the culprits.

Parlour raid

The Howrah police seized about 100 cassettes of pornographic films from a video parlour on Tuesday night. Police said the raid was conducted on the basis of a tip-off. An employee of the parlour was arrested in this connection.

Station eviction

Eviction from the Sealdah station premises of Eastern Railway may start in April. ER sources said the eviction was to have started in March. The drive was delayed after railway employees faced trouble while evicting illegal occupants from the Kalyani station in February.    

 
 
‘HAWA MAHAL’ UNDER SIEGE 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, March 20: 
It is difficult to miss this “Hawa Mahal” in Chitpore bang opposite the seat of the Tagores. Laden with dust though it is, with its rows of small windows and elegant arches facing the tram tracks it could not but be from the deserts of Rajasthan. But like a lot else in this huge sprawling building constructed towards the end of the 19th Century and spread over 52 cottahs, looks are deceptive. To its 200 tenants and their families it is Ganesh Garh.

Now the fate of this ornate four-storey building along with that of its tenants hangs in the balance as the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) declared it unsafe in a notice dated March 5, and which reached 263 Rabindra Sarani (earlier 374 Upper Chitpore Road, according to the building plan dated 1894) on March 15.

Before that, on February 28, an engineer from the building department of CMC had hung a board on the gate declaring that the building was unsafe. It has been involved in a legal wrangle since 1981, but things have only recently come to a head as the Ganesh Garh Tenants Welfare Association is spoiling for a fight with the Lakhotias who are its current landlord.

By all appearances, Ganesh Garh is a dilapidated structure, overgrown with saplings and garlanded with electrical wiring. Besides the residences, there are shops selling marble statuettes, musical instruments and stationery. The ornamental entrance opens on to a huge yard, which has a well and a temple.

The main building itself is on the right hand side of the portal and has two courtyards within. The maze-like structure branches off in several directions, which can be reached by staircases. While some sections of the house are swept regularly, most of the narrow stairs are smeared with paan spittle.

Most families occupy single rooms and share toilets – one or two per floor. The ceilings look battered, and in one corridor there is a gaping hole above. But there is solid ground underfoot. In dramatic contrast, everything is brand new inside most rooms. These have fancy floors, and some of them show obvious signs of affluence, because apart from shop hands, some rich businessmen call it their home. They are willing to put up with the stench of urine but never part with the boxes they live in.

Ganesh Garh was part of the Cossimbazar Raj Wards Estate and Maharaja Sris Chandra Nandy used to be the manager of the estate. In 1967, after the death of Sris, his widow, Maharani Nilima Prova Nandy, and son, Maharaj Kumar Somendra Chandra Nandy, sold it to Great Bengal Properties and Construction Private Limited, one of whose directors was Samit Chandra Nandy, son of Somendra.

The property was leased to Laddu Gopal Bajoria. The 50-year lease ended in 1981 and Bajoria went to court so that the lease could be continued.

In between, Great Bengal Properties had tried to sell off the building to Chandra Nath Banik, director of Model Land Trust Limited. But the deal fell through after Banik was imprisoned.

In 1995, Great Bengal Properties finally sold the building to Amar Chand Lakhotia, a former tenant, for Rs 24 lakh. Bajoria has gone up to the Supreme Court but his case has been rejected. Curiously, on his behalf, his darwan, Lal Bihari Singh, still collects rent. Says Singh: “Only about 30 tenants pay rent which is a paltry Rs 25-30. The Lakhotias have stopped paying rent since 1995, when they bought the building.”

Now the tenants allege that the Lakhotias are trying their best to throw them out. Though no written notice from the Lakhotias to that effect exists, on October 17, 2001, a man claiming to be a bailiff did ask the tenants to vacate the building where they have lived for generations.

As the last resort, the tenants’ association has sought permission from CMC to carry out repairs on their own. The high court, too, has been moved. The ruling comes soon.

   

 
 
TRUCK DRIVER IN RANSOM NET FREED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 20: 
An abducted truck driver, Ishaque Ali, was rescued from Kidderpore and the kidnappers arrested on Wednesday.

Sources said four youths — Mohammad Aslam, Abdul Rehman, Ghulam Mohammad Ali and Mohammad Ilias — dashed their Maruti against a lorry on Strand Bank Road, near Howrah, on Tuesday evening.

The four were reportedly drunk. Ilias, who was at the wheel, is alleged to have lost control and hit the truck.

Forcing truck driver Ishaque to get off his vehicle, the four began assaulting him. Nobody came to Ishaque’s rescue. Later, the four put him in their Maruti and took off for Howrah.

From there, they proceeded to Bichalighat, in Garden Reach, and then parked the car near Kidderpore.

They forced the injured driver to disclose the name of his employer. The lorry belonged to Inland Transport Company. Ilias then called up the company owner on his cellphone and demanded a ransom.

The owner sought the help of an officer in the traffic department, Anumoy Saha, who told him to record the kidnappers’ cellular number. Saha also told the owner to ask the gang to come to a spot on Strand Road on Wednesday afternoon to collect the ransom.

The owner was asked to register a complaint at Burrabazar police station.

When the gang called on Wednesday afternoon, the owner directed them to a spot near Strand Road for the ransom. At the appointed place, two officers of Burrabazar police station, posing as transport company employees, stood with a bag.

As soon as the youths arrived, they were rounded up. The driver was rescued from Kidderpore.

   

 
 
GLOBE CLOSED OVER TAX DUES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 20: 
Century-old Globe cinema was shut down on Wednesday after the Calcutta Municipal Corporation disconnected its water lines. Globe’s owner, Arijit Dutta, said the CMC has slapped a fine of Rs 40 lakh by way of property and water taxes. “On Wednesday, the water line was cut and we were forced to shut down,’’ Dutta said.

In tandem, the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA) has threatened to shut down other cinemas in the city indefinitely if the CMC does not roll back the newly-imposed tax on theatres. EIMPA chairman Shyamal Dutta told Metro on Wednesday that the new tax of Rs 500 per show was too heavy. According to Dipen Mitra, senior EIMPA office-bearer, hall-owners pay the CMC between Rs 40 and Rs 45 per show. The new hike would spell disaster for them.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said saving the halls was not the civic body’s job. “They have to cough up the money. The tax structure of cinemas has not been reviewed, though prices of tickets have shot up,’’ he added.

   

 
 
HALLS HIT APATHY HURDLE 
 
 
BY SANJAY MANDAL
 
Calcutta, March 20: 
Plans to set up at least eight cinema halls in Salt Lake appear to be heading nowhere, with residents appearing ‘satisfied’ with television programmes and an occasional drive to city halls.

In the masterplan of Bidhannagar, eight plots were earmarked for cinemas. Of them, four were in DD Block, in Sector I, and two each in Sector II and Sector III.

Construction of one hall — Shubham — started at DD block but was not completed.

Officials say that the incomplete structure is now being used as a godown by its promoter to store cement.

Manju Banerjee, Trinamul Congress councillor of ward no. 6, confirmed the allegation. “The owners wanted to inaugurate the hall last year but I prevented them from doing so, since the interiors were yet to be completed.”

While officials at the state urban development department say they have no information on the plans, the Bidhannagar Municipality authorities claim that they have not received any such scheme since the inception of the civic body.

“I don’t remember the construction of theatres being discussed at the board meetings of Bidhannagar Municipality recently,” said Sudhangshu Sekhar Ganguly, vice-chairman of the municipality.

Debashish Bose, SDO and executive officer of Bidhannagar, said: “If private entrepreneurs are not interested in constructing cinemas, then what can the authorities do?”

The Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA) officials feel a hall in Salt Lake will not be a profitable venture.

   

 
 
BENGAL POLICE ON INFOTECH HIGHWAY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 20: 
Spurred by a directive from the Centre, West Bengal police is speeding up its modernisation drive to tackle increasing acts of violence and terror.

One of the top priorities is installing a computer network linking all 407 police stations. “All these police stations will be directly linked to the Bengal police headquarters at Writers’ Buildings,” said deputy inspector-general of police Ranjit Pachnanda, who is in charge of the modernisation drive.

Apart from quick exchange of information, the network will help create a crime data bank across the state. Pachnanda said the Bengal government had sent a Rs 160-crore modernisation plan to the Centre for the year 2000-01.

   
 

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