Heritage haunts old houses
Kashmir duty call claims captain
Presidency calls in cops
Passenger dies mid-air
Seeds of amity & harmony
The City Diary
At war, in a classroom
IT firm books big-league berth
Hostel hunt for Muslim girls
Deuba, CM in terror talks

 
 
HERITAGE HAUNTS OLD HOUSES 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, March 25: 
Your house is 100 years old and stakes claim to fame because a luminary had lived in it in the distant past. Like it or not, it is a strong candidate for heritage status.

Once it comes under consideration for such status, your woes begin.You cannot make any major additions and alterations without consulting the heritage committee of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).

This is the fear stalking thousands of owners of buildings marked for heritage status. They have begun to lobby with the civic authorities for a way out.

A list drawn up by the CMC, seeking to incorporate nearly 1,300 buildings and sites into the city’s heritage map, has sent some of the owners rushing to the CMC headquarters, requesting exclusion. Forty such petitions have reached the CMC, of 200 house-owners served heritage structure notices, said chief municipal architect Saroj Mohan Ghosh.

Prominent among the 40 buildings seeking to shake off the heritage tag are industrial units like Bengal Immunity, Lily Biscuit and Sur Industries, residential buildings housing the descendants of Keshub Chandra Sen and Hemchandra Bose.

CMC officials claimed that the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on R.N. Mukherjee Road, also figured on the list. No confirmation was available from the Chamber.

Officials said that once the buildings have been identified as heritage structures, no major addition or alterations can be carried out and the owners can be served with a notice asking them to maintain the buildings on their own.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said he has already asked the government and the newly-constituted Heritage Commission to formulate an architectural heritage preservation policy, in tune with the concerns of a developing city like Calcutta. “We must not get carried away by Western concepts while preserving our own architectural heritage. As it is, our city is ugly. We must not follow a policy that adds to the ugliness. An indiscriminate list of heritage buildings is not the solution,” he said.

Neither the government nor civic authorities has the funds to address the preservation of architectural heritage, the mayor said. So, the policy will have to encourage the owners of such structures to try and raise resources for their maintenance.

Mukherjee, however, made it clear that the CMC had no power to confer heritage status on any building or site, following the formation of the Heritage Commission last year.

The commission, in turn, pleads helplessness. “We are unable to function as we are yet to frame the rules and regulations under the West Bengal Heritage Commission Act, 2001. Till then, we are helpless,” said Pratap Chandra Chunder, chairman.

   

 
 
KASHMIR DUTY CALL CLAIMS CAPTAIN 
 
 
BY DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, March 25: 
The city has lost a braveheart to militants’ firepower in Kashmir. Captain Anirban Banerjee died after a prolonged gunbattle in Kupwara on Saturday.

Anirban, 24, is survived by his parents — his father, R.N. Banerjee, retired as a colonel — who live at the Mahavir Vikas Army Welfare Cooperative Housing Society complex in Salt Lake’s IC block. His mother, Shukla, is a schoolteacher. A sister lives in the United States.

The aged couple is now waiting for the arrival of their daughter from the US and the son’s body on Tuesday morning.

The Gorkha Regiment jawan was killed while he and his comrades-in-arms were trying to drive back militants, who had taken shelter behind a crest on Indian territory along the border with Pakistan.

Anirban’s unit made its first attempt on the militants’ hideout last Saturday (March 16). They were successful in pushing the militants back.

The militants, however, regrouped last week, according to information that reached the army headquarters. As Anirban and his unit approached the peak on Saturday (March 23), they were met with automatic firepower from the militants.

Bullets pierced Anirban’s heart and smashed his collar-bone. He died on the spot. Four other unit members were injured, one of them in the head.

Two militants died as well, according to information received by the army headquarters, but their bodies could not be recovered.

Anirban’s body was taken to Delhi on Monday, where it was received with full military honours. After it is brought here on Tuesday, it will be taken for cremation to Keoratala.

The news has left his parents numb with shock. They learnt of his death on Sunday morning.

“I couldn’t believe my ears,” Anirban’s father said on Monday. “It seemed as if the whole world was slowly crumbling around us,” Col (retd) Banerjee added.

Anirban’s last visit to his residence was in December, after which he was posted in the Kupwara sector.

The young soldier joined the army in 1999, after a two-year stint at the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, and then the Dehra Dun-based Indian Military Academy, said next-door neighbour A.K. Verma.

Another neighbour, Colonel Abhijit Chatterjee, remembered the times when Anirban would come back home. “He used to spread cheer not only at home but in the entire housing complex,” he recalled.

His family was planning to get Anirban married, his neighbours said. “His sister got married some time ago and his parents, especially mother Shukla, were insisting that he marry soon,” the neighbours said.

   

 
 
PRESIDENCY CALLS IN COPS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 25: 
Barely a week after the SFI won the union elections in Presidency College, the authorities on Monday called for a probe against a candidate, who had allegedly got admission to the college on a “fake” marksheet.

The probe has caught the college authorities on the backfoot. “Never before in the history of Presidency has the police been called in to probe an allegation of this kind,” said Amitava Chatterjee, principal.

“We did not find any irregularity in the documents produced by the student at the time of admission. At the same time, we cannot rule out the allegation. Since forging of marksheets is a criminal offence, we had to ask the police to step in,” added Chatterjee.

Members of the Independent Consolidation (IC), who controlled the college union for over a decade before being ousted by the SFI this time, had lodged a complaint last Wednesday, saying that Siddharth Shah, a student of the Hindi department, had got admission by producing a “fake” Higher Secondary marksheet.

Sources also hinted at the possibility of Shah’s real name being Sisham Jaiswal, a resident of Champdani, in Hooghly.

“It could be that the marksheet Jaiswal produced is not false but belongs to the original Siddharth Shah,” they added.

Subrata Lahiri, senior teacher, Hindi department, however, said that Shah’s performance had been quite satisfactory over the past two years, which is why he and his colleagues did not find the allegation acceptable.

IC members on Monday criticised the college authorities for not asking the police to start the probe the day they had lodged the complaint.

They alleged that the authorities had not called for a probe last week to avoid re-election to five seats, which in turn could have reduced the SFI’s chances of forming the union.

At that time, the SFI had won 31 seats, including that of Siddharth Shah, while the IC bagged 30. But later, the equations changed, as three candidates backed out, which reduced the strength of the IC from 30 to 27. This, the IC alleged, was the SFI’s “handiwork”.

The college authorities had lashed out last week at the allegation, saying the complainants had failed to provide any “substantial evidence”.

Ram P. Choudhury, SFI member in charge of the Presidency polls, denied the allegation that his party could not have formed the union if Shah’s candidature was cancelled.

   

 
 
PASSENGER DIES MID-AIR 
 
 
BY OUR AIRPORT REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 25: 
Mohammad M. Islam, 29, died mid-air on a Qatar Airlines Airbus-300, while approaching Calcutta, en route to Dhaka, from Doha, early on Monday.

According to airport sources, the commander of the aircraft flashed a message to the Calcutta air traffic control that he would make an unscheduled emergency landing with a sick passenger. All emergency units in the airport were put on alert.

When the plane touched down at Netaji Subhas International Airport at 6.30 am, medical officer A.K. Chatterjee was called in to examine Islam. He declared the passenger dead. According to Chatterjee, Islam had died as the plane was approaching Calcutta. A co-passenger later said Islam had died around 5.30 am.

As Islam was travelling alone, the plane was not allowed to leave Calcutta till officials of the Bangladesh deputy high commission identified him, said police officials at the airport.

After the no-objection certificate was issued, the plane took off for Dhaka around 11 am, with Islam’s body.

   

 
 
SEEDS OF AMITY & HARMONY 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, March 25: 
Grains of barley can hold the seeds of harmony. Deep down in Metiabruz, in what is regarded as the Muslim heartland of the city, a Bengali Hindu family had observed Muharram for well over a century. The Ghosh family used to build a jao-ka tazia, that is a representation of the tombs of Imam Hasan and Hussain, made of barley sprouts.

Thousands of devotees, cutting across the communal divide, would throng the tiny Imambara where it was installed and offered tiny replicas of horses, pomegranate blossoms, necklaces of silver and sweets.

The tradition continues, though the new generation of Ghoshes has handed over charge of the tazia to a Muslim family. They don’t have the time to tend the delicate shoots as they appear from the germs.

It all began when Wajid Ali Shah, after losing his crown, left Lucknow and settled down in Metiabruz. Ghosh paterfamilias was Wajid Ali’s guard. The deposed ruler died in 1887. His guard constructed the tazia 10 days before the procession was taken out.

A bamboo framework was built and the barley germs were sown into wads of cotton wool soaked in water, instead of soil. In a few days’ time, a green mausoleum would take shape, complete with a dome, which was decorated with tinsel. It was taken out along with the large procession that used to leave Sibtainabad Imambara, the large place of worship Wajid Ali built in 1864 and where he was finally laid to rest.

Manindra was the last of the Ghoshes to build the tazia.

But when Manindra Ghosh became old, his sons decided that they should hand over responsibility of building the tazia to the family of Afsar Jahan, who lives next to the Imambara where the jao-ka tazia was kept for 10 days. That was 10 years ago. Now, her son-in-law Sheikh Rashid lends her a hand.

This Imambara is inside an alley, one of the numberless dirt tracks of Bichalighat. The shrine is tiny and is covered with a sheet of plastic. Afsar, a middle-aged woman, remembers how earlier, the daughters of the Ghosh family would hang around at all hours of the day during Muharram.

Babul, the eldest member of the Ghosh family, says he still visits the small Imambara frequently during Muharram. They live in a tiny house across Garden Reach Road. But neither he nor his two brothers can spare any time, busy as they are with the family business.

At the end of 10 days, the tazia is carried to the burial ground in Ramnagar, under the Sibtainabad Imambara Trust, where water is poured over it to mark its end. Earlier, a water tank existed on the grounds, where it used to be immersed. But a factory has come up on it.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Dacoits raid Port Trust quarters

Seven dacoits stormed the Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) quarters, in the South Port police station area, and robbed three families early on Monday. Soumen Mitra, DC-I, DD, said the dacoits were armed with revolvers, choppers and iron rods and entered the quarters after slashing open the window net of a room. They decamped with cash and ornaments. The goons also beat up four persons when they refused to hand over the keys of their almirahs. No arrest has been made.

Schools to meet Buddha

Members of the West Bengal Association of Christian Schools will meet chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday. They will submit a memorandum seeking solutions to some of their long-standing problems. The demands include upgrading of 50 Bengali-medium schools run by Christian missionaries and filling up of vacant teaching and non-teaching posts in the institutions. Representatives of various missionary schools held a meeting in the city on Sunday, where they passed a resolution to launch a movement if their demands are not met by the government.

Woman burns self

A 22-year-old housewife committed suicide by setting herself on fire at Shibpur, in Howrah, on Monday morning. The deceased was identified as Noori Khatoon. The incident took place when the deceased’s husband went to visit a doctor. Police are trying to find out whether anything had forced the woman to commit suicide. No arrest had been made till late on Monday.

Body found

An unidentified body of a youth was recovered from the banks of the Hooghly in Batanagar on Monday morning. Morning-walkers noticed the body and alerted the local police station. No injury mark was found on the body. Police have lodged an unnatural death case.

Cop hurt

A constable of the Calcutta Armed Police was seriously injured on Monday when a Maruti car hit the scooter he was riding on Auckland Road. The constable, Kamal Krishna Aditya, was admitted to Calcutta Police Hospital in a critical condition. Police said the incident occurred when Aditya was on his way to office. The driver of the Maruti car was arrested and the vehicle impounded.

Youth killed

A 31-year-old youth was murdered at Madhyamgram, in Barasat, late on Sunday. The victim was identified as Debasish Das. The body was recovered with the throat slit. Police said a long-standing rivalry between local goons might have led to the murder. Das was wanted by the police on several charges, including murder. No arrests were made in this connection.

Iskcon garden

Iskcon announced plans on Monday to create a garden at the Mayapur temple in honour of late Beatle George Harrison, who donated $20 million to the movement. They also released a VCD at their Albert Road headquarters in Calcutta, entitled Memories of Prabhupada with George Harrison.    

 
 
AT WAR, IN A CLASSROOM 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, March 25: 
It’s going to be a haven for trainee pilots. Those flying MiG-21s at low altitude, combating enemy lines, can now return to base, without a single scratch to the aircraft.

Compare this to the fact that over 41 per cent of 147 aircraft, lost between 1991 and 1997, were mostly flown by trainees and the reason is clear why the defence ministry has given top priority to training under “simulated conditions”.

Making most of the change in the government stand is Calcutta-based Macmet India Limited, which has emerged as the largest simulation company of India. It is providing an entire gamut of simulators — flight trainers, submarine and ship bridge simulators, war gaming applications, apart from gunnery and tactical simulators for the defence forces, which officials feel has helped them in training the juniors.

“Simulated conditions, or virtual reality, help the trainee understand what it would be like at war without actually being in it,” a Military Intelligence official told Metro on Monday.

To add another feather to its cap, Macmet has emerged as the only Indian company to present papers at ITEC-2002, the premier simulation show to be held in Lyle, France, shortly.

It has also signed a contract with the Indian Air Force and the army to design flight-training devices and a gunnery simulator to train tank gunners. “We have developed a pilot simulator for a virtual reality system, using helmet-mounted devices, which exposes the ground forces to a warlike environment,” said P.K. Madappa, managing director of the company,.

The firm has also developed a state-of-the-art simulator of the actual control room at the Bakreswar thermal power plant, to be inaugurated shortly.

One of the highlights is the Action Speed Tactical Trainer (ASTT), used to train naval officers in making decisions under adverse conditions. The system comprises various student cubicles, equipped with situational displays and plotting facilities. Each cubicle is reconfigurable by software for different exercises, including ships, submarine or aircraft. The instructional staff has a “game control” centre, specifying goals and missions for the trainees.

The cost of the simulators range from Rs 20 lakh to crores, depending on the type and usage. Another simulator, currently being used to train freshers in the army, is the “Gunners Training Simulator”. It is used to train the gunner of a battle tank in detecting, tracking, aiming at and firing at synthetic targets.

   

 
 
IT FIRM BOOKS BIG-LEAGUE BERTH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 25: 
SkyTECH Solutions has become the “first city-based” IT services company to crack the SEI CMM Level 5, assessed by international consultancy major KPMG.

The award of the highest international standard for software quality process has come to the Saltlec-headquartered firm — a joint venture between United Airlines and The Chatterjee Group — specialising in process-driven software for airlines, transportation and logistics.

“The IT business grew in Bangalore after CMM Level 5 companies, like Texas Instruments and Motorola, set up shop there. SkyTECH’s achievement will have a positive announcement effect on the IT industry here,” said S.K. Mitra, managing director, West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corporation (WBEIDC), on Monday. “This will help the firm attract bigger international clients and improve the state’s branding in the IT industry.”

The certification lands SkyTECH in the big league of 45 CMM Level 5 software firms in the world. “For the past two-and-a-half years, we have been working really hard to get our house in order,” said D.K. Chowdhury, CEO, SkyTECH Solutions.

   

 
 
HOSTEL HUNT FOR MUSLIM GIRLS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 25: 
Encouraged by the growing interest of Muslim girls in academics, the government plans to construct more hostels for them in Calcutta and its neighbourhood.

“The lone hostel for Muslim girls in Park Circus is inadequate. So, providing hostels for them is our prime concern,” said N.I. Mollah, chief executive officer of the West Bengal Wakf Board, which looks after the upkeep of girls’ hostels.

Mollah said the board would discuss the matter at its meeting next month. According to him, the Park Circus hostel, with a capacity to accommodate 167 girls, has already been flooded with fresh applications.

“With the academic session beginning next month, we are already overburdened with new applications. We have to arrange for more accommodation,” he added. Nearly 1,000 girls from remote villages are lodged in various hostels, located in the district towns.

A four-storeyed building at Basirhat will soon be constructed to accommodate nearly 100 students. “The board is also looking for land on the eastern fringes of the city to open two more hostels,” Mollah added.

In a related development, the board has also decided to hike admission rates and maintenance charges at the Park Circus hostel and those in the districts from next month. At a meeting held last month, the board took a decision on the proposed hike.

“We have already decided to hike admission and maintenance fees from Rs 325 and Rs 50 to Rs 500 and Rs 80, respectively, from next month. Though several organisations have lodged a protest on the hike, we shall soon issue circulars to hostel superintendents to implement the revised charges,” said board officials. The proposed hike in admission and maintenance fees was necessary to improve the conditions of the hostels, the officials added.

Gulshan Ara Khatoon, matron, Park Circus hostel, said she was awaiting a circular from the board on the proposed hike. “The fee hike is justified, as funds are necessary to carry out repairs in the hostel,” she added.

Mohammad Quamarizzaman, general secretary of the Mardarsa Students’ Union, however, threatened to launch a statewide agitation, demanding a rollback on the proposed hike.

   

 
 
DEUBA, CM IN TERROR TALKS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 25: 
Security concerns, especially the activities of Nepal’s Maoist guerrillas and their possible links with the state’s radical groups, dominated talks between Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today.

The two leaders were closeted for more than 45 minutes at a city hotel this morning before Deuba left for Kathmandu.

Both the leaders expressed concern over the growing activities of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), which has joined hands with the People’s War Group (PWG) in some parts of Midnapore, Burdwan and Bankura.

Bhattacharjee briefed the Nepalese Prime Minister, who was accompanied by minister of state for foreign affairs Arjun Jung Bahadur Singh, on how the MCC-PWG combine is “killing innocent people, especially CPM supporters and leaders, and creating trouble in the state”.

Though neither Bhattacharjee nor Deuba briefed reporters on the outcome of the meeting, it is learnt the meeting was confined to militant activities in Bengal and Nepal and efforts taken by the two governments to curb it.

The two leaders agreed that the recent spurt in Naxalite activities is a matter of concern for both Bengal and Nepal.

Bhattacharjee urged Deuba to strengthen security along the Indo-Nepal border to prevent the militants from crossing over.

The government of Nepal has taken several steps to curb the subversive activities of the MCC. In the interest of both countries, a joint effort needs to be made, Deuba told the chief minister.

Bhattacharjee gave Deuba a detailed picture on security arrangements made by the state and Centre along the border. Home department sources said several MCC activists have already sneaked into Bengal.

   
 

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