Parking push to car crawl
Funds run dry for schools
Air-India back on global route
Breath of hope in asthma cure
Drug stores at hospitals to stay open
Live life king-size, amid the green and clean
The City Diary
Pioneering woman photographer chose never to turn a pro
Fake indents rake in crores
Howrah alert on hospital waste

 
 
PARKING PUSH TO CAR CRAWL 
 
 
BY SUVRO ROY AND DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, March 31: 
Estimated speed of vehicles plying the Gariahat route after the flyover comes up: 40-45 kmph

Estimated speed of vehicles along the same route if parking zones are housed below the flyover: 10-15 kmph

There is a traffic disaster in the making at Gariahat. On April 14, the day south Calcutta hopes to hit the fast lane with the inauguration of the flyover, mayor Subrata Mukherjee also intends to unfurl his Grand Plan: turn the space below the flyover into parking lots.

This, claims the mayor, will not only solve “all parking problems” in the Gariahat area, it will also create a buffer against encroachment by beggars and hawkers. “My experience,” says Mukherjee, “is that unless that space is converted into a parking lot, vagabonds and hawkers will move in and create an absolute mess. This has proved true in the case of the Brabourne Road and Sealdah flyovers.”

But city planners and traffic consultants have rubbished Mukherjee’s proposal. “The net result of Mukherjee’s plans, if they are implemented, would be to defeat the very purpose in constructing the flyover,” said Anup Chatterjee, member of the mayor’s council in charge of roads. “The idea of the flyover is to speed up traffic and not cause traffic snarls, as would be the case if parking lots mushroom below the flyover.”

Terming the mayor’s parking proposal “foolish” and “short-sighted”, town planners have raised the following points:

The flow of traffic, especially during rush hour, when nearly 40,000 vehicles pass through Gariahat Road, will be drastically slowed down. Traffic planners say while a car is being parked, it will automatically hold up the flow, causing temporary traffic jams. Similarly, when a car emerges from the parking lot, it will cause traffic snarls. This could slam the brakes on smooth flow of traffic every 1.25 minutes.

“The very purpose of a flyover — which is meant to double road space — would be lost,” said Sadhan Pande, Trinamul Congress MLA and chairman of the sub-committee on transport in the Assembly. “Traffic along the original Gariahat Road will move at snail’s pace.”

It has also been calculated that during rush hour, more than 500 cars require parking space in the Gariahat area. But the space below the flyover will be able to accommodate only 200 cars at any given time. So, there will be cars unsuccessfully trying to enter the parking area, not knowing whether there is any parking space available there. This will have the cumulative effect of further slowing down traffic.

Dilip Dutta, former chief project manager of the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners, which has undertaken the flyover project, said when the flyover had been conceived, there were no provisions for a parking lot there.

“We had decided at a meeting with artists like Bijon Choudhury and Prakash Karmakar that the space below the flyover should be beautified, along the lines of some European countries. It has been four years since then, but nothing seems to have come of it.”

Dutta warned against a parking lot under the flyover. “Traffic congestion will only increase if this is done. A parking bay should be located away from the flyover area, only then can it be utilised most efficiently.”

Ministers in the Left Front government, too, are appalled at the mayor’s proposal. State urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said that a parking lot would only “add to the chaos” at Gariahat.

“Vendors will crowd the parking lot, which will soon be used as a public toilet,” he warned. Back from a trip to Hyderabad, Bhattacharya added: “There are seven flyovers in Hyderabad and the space below each of them has been converted into a garden… It looks very beautiful.”

State transport minister Subhas Chakraborty concurs: “The idea of the flyover is to double road space to ensure smooth traffic flow. We have not received any proposal so far… If we find that the parking lot will just be making a mess of things, we will not allow it.”

   

 
 
FUNDS RUN DRY FOR SCHOOLS 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, March 31: 
Ten-year-old Bipasha (name changed on request) studies in a ‘special school’ in Golf Green. She is autistic and is slowly learning to recognise the world around her. But this could be Bipasha’s last year in school, for no fault of hers or the school authorities’.

April could be the cruellest month for the 20-odd ‘special’ schools in and around the city and the 3,000-odd ‘children of a lesser god’ they are trying to educate.

A Central government circular, threatening to cut the grant-in-aid that these ‘special’ schools receive, has left the institutions — and the students’ parents — unsure of the future.

Officials at most of these institutions admit that the Central social justice and empowerment ministry circular gives enough indication that the policy shift will hit them where it hurts.

The circular, besides urging these schools to “mobilise” their “own financial support system”, tells them to “recover charges from the beneficiaries”.

The availability of funds for assistance to the “voluntary sector” is limited, the circular says by way of explanation, and adds that funds given to the ‘special’ schools will be cut down to zero in a phased manner.

For the older institutions, the grants will be slashed by 20 per cent every year, leading to a stoppage of all grants in five years. The newer institutions have been given a grace period of five years, with the funds flow to be stopped in 10 years.

Most of the schools say mobilising their “own support system” is easier said than done. “It will be very difficult to sustain ourselves if the government sticks to this stand,” says Shukla Bhaduri, chief of Mentaid, in south Calcutta.

Sumanta Sen Ray, one of the moving forces behind Pratibandhi Kalyan Kendra in Bandel, says: “Grants are already being curtailed, with the government doing away with the 10 per cent rise, decided long back, to take care of the hike in prices.”

Nandini Sen, also of the Kendra, adds: “We receive more than Rs 20 lakh in grants which allows us to take care of the teachers’ salary-component. It will be very difficult for small organisations like us to raise that kind of money on our own.”

Parents of mentally-challenged children are bracing for the blow.

“The first thing that the schools will do to survive is to pass on the financial burden to parents,” warns Arnab Sengupta of Atmapratyay, a parents’ support-group. “It will become impossible for many middle-class families to bear the expenses, especially if they have more than one challenged child,” Sengupta observed.

Parivar, the all-India umbrella organisation of such parents, has taken up the issue with the Centre. But its members in the city admit that getting the government to shoulder the burden of more than three per cent of Indians suffering from mental retardation will be “very difficult”.

   

 
 
AIR-INDIA BACK ON GLOBAL ROUTE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 31: 
Air-India is ready to resume its international flights from Calcutta.

The airline, which had restricted itself to a ferry flight from Calcutta to Mumbai for the past two years, will operate two weekly international flights from Mumbai to Bangkok, via Calcutta and Guwahati, from April 4.

The flight on Thursdays will cover the Mumbai-Calcutta-Guwahati-Bangkok-Guwahati-Calcutta-Mumbai route.

The flight path for the one on Mondays will be Mumbai-Calcutta-Bangkok-Guwahati-Calcutta-Mumbai. The flight time for the entire circuit will be around 12 hours.

Passengers from Calcutta to Bangkok via Guwahati will not be charged extra for flying to Guwahati en route to Bangkok.

S.N. Biswas, Air-India’s manager for the east, said the air link would increase tourist traffic and boost trade and industry in the region.

   

 
 
BREATH OF HOPE IN ASTHMA CURE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 31: 
Doctors are enthusiastic and patients hopeful about a new class of allopathic drugs for asthma. Some chest specialists in Calcutta have already started prescribing the drugs that end a 30-year drought in the development of a new line of therapy for asthma.

The drugs, the generic names of which are Zafirlukast and Montelukast, have been in use in the US, Europe and Japan for the past five years. “These drugs are well-established in the West. Numerous trials have been carried out. But no trial reports on patients in India have yet been published,” said consultant chest physician Dhiman Ganguly.

“The initial response from most patients I am treating has been satisfactory. It has especially helped where the responses to conventional asthma medication, like cortico-steroids or broncho-dilators, are nil or limited,” Ganguly added.

The medication, an add-on therapy that should not replace existing treatment modalities, has a biochemical action on the lung cells. “It works as a leukotriene blocker and helps prevent inflammation of the lungs,” explained Ganguly.

Chest specialist P.S. Bhattacharya — who took part in an unofficial trial and found five out of 10 patients gaining “substantial relief” after use of Zafirlukast — has been prescribing the medication for childhood asthma, exercise asthma and asthma from aspirin hypersensitivity.

But it’s too early for conclusions to be drawn. As broncho-specialist Ranjan Das put it: “We will have to wait a year before the results can be scientifically proven in Indian conditions.”

   

 
 
DRUG STORES AT HOSPITALS TO STAY OPEN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 31: 
Medicine shops throughout the city and state will remain closed on Monday in response to a token strike called by the Bengal Chemists and Druggists’ Association. A meeting called by the finance minister on Sunday over the issue was held too late for the association to inform its members, especially in far-flung areas.

The association is protesting the inclusion of medicines on the list of items that this year’s budget is imposing a sales tax surcharge and a turnover tax on. On March 15, its members made an appeal to the chief minister, finance and health ministers for reconsideration and withdrawal of these new taxes.

But there has been no response to the letters, till the meeting at Asim Dasgupta’s residence on Sunday. The minister apparently did not even know that an appeal had been made, association president Bipin Mehta said. The CPM party congress between March 19 and March 24 may have been the reason.

“The minister assured us he would look into the problem and requested us to withdraw the strike,” said Mehta, who attended Sunday’s 40-minute meeting.

An association meeting held later decided that it was too late to inform 30,000 members in all the districts, 12,000 of them in and around Calcutta alone. It is going ahead with the closure. “One shop near each hospital and pharmacies inside hospitals will remain open. If there is any difficulty in getting medicine, one may call the association office at 242-8944 or 210-4537 or my office at 235-0777/0362 between 10 am and 6 pm,” Mehta said.

Two of the Dhanwantary chain of drug shops, one at AMRI (440-3998) and the other at the newly-opened Park Hospital (281-7833) on Rawdon Street, will stay open. “In addition, we will have a free home-delivery service for emergency cases. This will be available only on Monday,” said head of the Dhanwantary chain, Rajiv Khandelwal.

   

 
 
LIVE LIFE KING-SIZE, AMID THE GREEN AND CLEAN 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, March 31: 
Air-conditioned entrance lobby, video security check-post, landscaped gardens, hi-tech health club, cooking gas bank, Internet connection, water-filtration plant, jogging trail, ATM, launderette, kindergarten… the works. Home is not just about four walls any more. It’s about value-addition and city developers have gone into overdrive to give home-seekers “a little more value for money”.

The seed of this trend was sown when visionary architect-planner Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi redefined community living in this city with his ‘home-plus’ concept in Udayan – The Condoville, “a neighbourhood of condominiums” built by Bengal Ambuja Housing Development Limited. Doshi’s concern for “quality of life” has since found backers aplenty and the home-plus theme has caught on, leading to a string of real-estate developments that promise to change the way people look at residential projects, besides redrawing the city skyline.

From Natural Heights on VIP Road to City High on Prince Anwar Shah Road, the brick-and-mortar destinations promise to redefine the way Calcuttans will live before long. So, while Space Town, off VIP Road, woos buyers with Calcutta’s only heated swimming pool and rock-climbing in its adjacent club, Space Circle, Hiland Park, at the south-eastern extremity of the city, flaunts its 1,75,000-sq-ft shopping, food and entertainment mall and its ISO 9002 certification to sell hi-tech highrises, including the tallest tower in town.

“There is a definitive trend towards value-addition these days and all our clients strive for something extra to attract the prospective house-hunter,” says architect Dulal Mukherjee. “He looks for a well-equipped health club and an aesthetically-pleasing landscaping, foolproof security, techno-savvy features for style and comfort, and an unsullied environment. All these can be accommodated only in projects having the space to play around with.”

With promoters tailoring their supply model to the shifting demand pattern of potential residents, the ‘don’t mind living an hour away from office if it’s worth it’ trend is finally here to stay. Jitendra Khaitan of Pioneer Properties, marketing agents for Natural Heights on VIP Road, says: “Lots of open space and greenery are what people want around their residences, which can’t be provided in small developments and in congested localities.”

The health club is one ubiquitous USP of the modern-lifestyle apartment concept. “The young executives of the city, who are flocking to these new-age housing complexes, have a pent-up demand for club culture. A club inside the housing complex allows them smooth access to facilities which are otherwise frightfully expensive or inaccessible,” says M.J. Robertson, CEO, Lifestyle Division, Sanjeevani Projects Ltd, makers of Space Town and Clubtown.

The new-look residential complexes also reflect a new-found green-clean commitment of realtors towards residents. Sample this: Even before the first shovel hit the ground, the promoters of Hiland Park commissioned Ernst and Young to conduct a comprehensive environment impact and assessment (EIA) study. “At our development, safety is an intrinsic part of the project,” says Sumit Dabriwala, managing director, Calcutta Metropolitan Group Ltd, developers of Hiland Park.

It’s all about lifestyle these days. “The new breed of white-collar professionals is looking for high-end housing with optimum space utilisation, functional features and hassle-free procurement procedure,” says Sushil Mohta, managing director, Merlin Group and secretary of the City Developers’ Forum. “This has prompted more and more builders to join the organised real estate, which is a healthy trend,” he adds.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Cops suspended for midnight extortion

An assistant sub-inspector and a constable of the Garden Reach police station were “suspended” on Sunday for the harassment and extortion suffered by Md Fakhruddin Khan, a lorry driver, at their hands. The action was taken after the victim and some residents of the area gheraoed the local thana on Sunday morning to protest Saturday night’s incident. The lorry driver was reportedly stopped by the cops on Garden Reach Road around midnight and asked to cough up some money. When Khan refused, the cops dragged him out of the lorry, beat him up and snatched Rs 750 from him. On Sunday morning, Khan and some local residents staged a demonstration at the police station demanding action against the guilty cops.

Cargo capacity increased

KLM, a private airline, has increased its cargo capacity for customers in eastern India. The facility will help Calcuttans ship more goods in and out of the city. The airline, presently offering customers a capacity of 15 tonnes per week, will raise it to 35 tonnes per week, directly to Amsterdam and onward to other destinations. KLM has also shifted its day of operation from Sunday to Wednesday, starting April 3.

Workshop

A workshop, featuring social activist Asghar Ali Engineer, was organised by the Communal Harmony Front at Presidency College on Sunday. Participants at the three-hour workshop included educationists Sushil Mukhopadhyay, former Calcutta University vice-chancellor, and Sunanda Sanyal, former member of the Ashok Mitra Commission.    

 
 
PIONEERING WOMAN PHOTOGRAPHER CHOSE NEVER TO TURN A PRO 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, March 31: 
With cautious steps, an elderly woman moves into a New Alipore living room, using a “walker” for support. A broken femur has impaired her movement. She is carefully dressed, and, on the face of it, has nothing to set her apart from hundreds of carefully-dressed women of her age.

Yet, as the ongoing exhibition mounted by the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, has revealed, she is Debaleena Majumdar, one of our first women photographers, though she herself would be the last person to lay any claims to any pioneering effort. Photography was not for her the means of breaking what may be perceived as the shackles of domesticity. On the contrary, she nurtured her talent within the safe environment of her home. Exposing herself to the world outside would have been unthinkable for one as conservative as she. “I was not like the girls of today, dressed in jeans, camera slung from the shoulder,” she stresses, lest one missed the point.

Majumdar, 81, says she was raised in Ramnagar, in Varanasi, where her father was principal of the maharaja’s school. They were very close to the royal family. Her father was an amateur photographer. He used a studio camera and developed and printed his own pictures. Majumdar had an elder sister and a twin, Monobina, who later married Bimal Roy. But she was the only one to take to photography.

When she was 12-13, her father gifted her an Agfa Brownie. She was not satisfied with its fixed focus, and two years later, he gave her a Zeiss Ikoflex, followed by a Rolleicord, which gave her a lot more flexibility. Not very adventurous herself, Majumdar was content to photograph pets and people close to her and her immediate surroundings. The purdah system prevailed in Ramnagar, and by the time she was 11, she could not venture out unchaperoned. When she went for the occasional outdoor shoot, her hefty driver would invariably escort her.

So when at 18-19, she won the first prize after sending her entry to the salon of the engineering college affiliated to Benaras Hindu University, Majumdar died a thousand deaths before going up to the dais to receive the award. Even as the joint secretary of the UP Amateur Photography Association, her father would be present when the secretary came to meet her. “I know people would laugh at this, but there was no question of rebelling. I am old-fashioned,” she says with quiet conviction.

After her marriage, she came down to Calcutta. She continued taking photographs, but only of her family members. “Sometimes mine were the only pictures of some old relatives and I would feel sad when these were displayed during shraddhs,” she says wistfully. On her trips abroad, she took candid shots and landscapes. But she admits was never “trigger-happy” and never wasted a single frame.

Majumdar has twice acted as chairman of the Photographic Association of Bengal and her stills have been exhibited in salons all over India from Sind to Madras. But ask her if she would ever have liked to turn professional? With a firm “No” she explains that she would never willingly compromise her artistic independence.

   

 
 
FAKE INDENTS RAKE IN CRORES 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, March 31: 
Three Calcutta-based companies have come under the CBI scanner for using forged documents for booking 107 Bangladesh-bound rakes. The fraud cost the government of India Rs 200 crore in just two months last year.

Investigations conducted by the railway vigilance commission revealed that three city-based firms, dealing in food-grain exports, had submitted fake indents and procured the rights for 107 rakes that were scheduled to carry foodgrain to Bangladesh despatched by various firms.

As a result, foodgrain worth several crores could not be sent to Bangladesh on time. This resulted in a large quantity of foodgrain, waiting to be despatched across the border at a nominal rate, being destroyed.

Around 30 wagons are required to form a single rake, which generally carries 55 tonnes of goods per wagon.

When contacted in Delhi, chief vigilance officer (northern railways) Hari Ballal Sharma said: “We have completed our probe and have found that the three Calcutta companies had submitted fake documents, including bank undertakings and letters of credit. As a result, they secured rights to the rakes, which they were not entitled to. We have cancelled their registration and sent all the necessary documents to the CBI for further action.”

The three companies are said to have sold the rights of most rakes in the grey market, at much more than the Rs-7- lakh-per-rake cost shelled out as hiring charges. One of the firms had used the fictitious address of a Chennai company to clinch the deal.

Among the 107 fake indents discovered by the vigilance commission, one company alone filed 70, while two other companies accounted for 37.

Investigations further revealed that two former senior railway officials were involved in helping the three companies strike the deal. “We have evidence to suggest that there are several other railway personnel of Calcutta involved in the racket. Efforts are on to expose their dubious role and put them behind bars,” said a senior official of Eastern Railway.

After the vigilance commission completed its inquiry, the CBI gathered information about the role of senior railway officials who had allegedly tried to hush up the case, before Ballal unearthed the racket.

“We believe this racket had existed for several years and it is only now that it has come to the fore. We will, however, get to the bottom of the case,” added a senior vigilance commission official.

Convocation date: The annual convocation of the Calcutta University Senate for conferring degrees will be held on April 5 at 11 am at the university’s centenary hall, said deputy registrar M.R. Ghosh Dastidar on Sunday.

   

 
 
HOWRAH ALERT ON HOSPITAL WASTE 
 
 
BY A CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 31: 
The Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) will seek chief medical officer of health M.K. Ghosh’s intervention in its drive to stop recycling of hospital waste, leading to health hazards.

“We are not getting enough waste material from the major hospitals of the district. This may be due to a racket in smuggling of waste material. We fear it is being recycled in an unscientific manner,” said an HMC official.

Ghosh will seek reports from hospital superintendents on the matter. “This is a serious complaint and we are probing why the amount of hospital waste is decreasing by the day. Normally, 300 grams of waste are expected from each bed in the hospitals. But I have to crosscheck on the exact amount that is being collected daily,” he added.

   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company