Police pitch to block parking
SFI victory lap trips on imposter impasse
Hotel taps dry in tax dues trap
The City Diary
Forever children, with chins up
Court plea to IAF on job
Hospital fleeces poor patients of Rs 3 lakh
CU sports medicine course on track
Teachers get pension dues
Life through a lens, fruitfully

Calcutta, April 1: 
The search for the brain behind the idea of a parking lot under the Gariahat flyover ends at deputy commissioner (traffic) M.K. Singh’s door. It was he who conceived the idea that mayor Subrata Mukherjee grabbed with both hands.

Singh’s predecessors to the post — that largely determines how Calcutta’s traffic will flow or flounder — however, are hardly happy with the proposal. A section of former deputy commissioners (traffic) and others who spent years in the traffic department have even decided to petition police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty.

Singh, however, remains convinced that his proposal will help reduce congestion near the Gariahat crossing. “This is an extremely important project, as it will help us stop the parking of vehicles near the Pantaloons showroom, which has become a nuisance,” Singh told Metro.

Traffic department officials, however, say there are other ways of tackling the “nuisance”.

There are a number of buildings and garages owned either by the government or the Calcutta Municipal Corporation in the area, which can be converted into parking lots, they explain. But the powers-that-be in the traffic department are also pitching for taxi-stands on both sides of the flyover and a police cubicle.

“What is the logic behind eating up carriageway-space below the flyover? This will only add to the traffic chaos,” warned a former deputy commissioner (traffic) and now a deputy inspector-general. The delegation that will meet Chakraborty with the plea to scrap the parking-lot plan will base their argument on the following points:

qNorth and east-bound vehicles from Rashbehari Avenue (to the west of the crossing) will be caught in traffic snarls likely to be caused by the cars queuing up to enter or leave the parking lot. Why can’t a parking lot be created behind the Gariahat market, or at the old fire brigade station on Dover Lane?

qParking lot attendants will invariably try to push in more than the proposed capacity of 200 cars, which will encroach on the carriageway. Instead, the police and the CMC should plan a proper parking plaza

qTaxi booths on either side of the flyover are unnecessary, as they have never worked in the city. Besides, there are enough taxis in the area to meet the demand of passengers

qThe Gariahat police station is a stone’s throw away and there is little justification in installing another traffic-police cubicle at the congested crossroad. Also, there are patrol cars manning the area to maintain law and order

qThe plan will impact traffic movement in large sections of south Calcutta if Gariahat is thrown out of gear


Calcutta, April 1: 
The first-ever conquest of the Presidency College students’ union by the SFI looks set to be soiled by controversy.

The police have established that one of the backers of the students’ wing of the CPM studied in the college for over two years with “a false identity”, after gaining admission on another student’s marksheet.

Senior Calcutta Police officers admitted on Monday that they had succeeded in establishing the veracity of the allegations levelled by the Independents’ Consolidation (IC), which had brought together various students’ wings on a common anti-SFI platform.

Deputy commissioner (detective department) Soumen Mitra said a police probe had found the youth, claiming to be Siddharth Shah, was actually Shrishyam Jaiswal, who had joined the college with Shah’s marksheet.

Shrishyam Jaiswal continued to study for over two years as Siddharth Shah, who studies at Rishi Bankim Chandra Chatterjee College in Naihati. Jaiswal, a resident of Hooghly’s Champdani, is now in his second year of Hindi honours.

The SFI victory, made possible to a large extent by the presence of two celebrity daughters — Ajanta Biswas (father CPM state secretary Anil Biswas) and Suchetana Bhattacharjee (father chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) — had ultimately taken shape when Jaiswal shifted his stand. The poll scale had tilted towards the SFI after Jaiswal switched allegiance at the last minute. With the IC and the SFI both claiming victory in the most closely-fought polls to the college students’ union till date, Jaiswal’s move — he was elected a class representative by IC votes — clinched the contest for the SFI.

With IC members alleging that their rivals had used strong-arm tactics — “flooding the college with outsiders” when the 61 class representatives went to vote for the college panel — to influence the result, the police probe comes as a major embarrassment for the SFI.

The IC has already demanded a repoll to the constituency that elected Jaiswal. This constituency has five class representatives and even if the IC manages to win a majority of one in a possible repoll, the SFI victory could prove short-lived.

Principal Amitava Chatterjee, however, refused to comment. “I have just cursorily gone through the report of the police probe and it would not be fair on my part to say anything more now,” he said on Monday.

“I was busy in a meeting and the report arrived very late in the day… But I will recommend the strongest possible action against the guilty student,” added the principal, who also promised to probe the possible loopholes in the system that had allowed Jaiswal’s entry into the college as Shah.

The college had asked the police to probe the matter. Deputy commissioner Mitra said the police would not arrest Jaiswal till the college authorities filed an FIR. “We can initiate a move on our own, but will not do so in this case,” he added. “The marksheet is genuine but it belongs to Shah and not to Jaiswal,” Mitra said.

“It’s possible that Shah may not have known what use his marksheet was being put to. He may have also misplaced it,” Mitra added.


Calcutta, April 1: 
Launching an initiative to recover huge tax arrears, the civic authorities on Monday morning disconnected the filtered water supply to The Oberoi Grand and Hotel Hindusthan International.

However, the two hotels immediately moved Calcutta High Court, where Justice A. Lala passed an interim order for restoration of water supply within 24 hours.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said that both hotels had applied to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), seeking to avail of the waiver of interest scheme. The CMC had offered waiver of interest on outstanding property tax if it was paid by March 31.

The mayor said the CMC had sent tax bills to the two hotels to the tune of nearly Rs 6 crore. “But, they (the hotels) did not pay the money till Sunday. So I ordered that their water lines be cut, as per the provisions in the CMC Act,” he added.

A team of CMC officials, led by assistant director of the conservancy department, Swapan Mahapatra, visited the Grand and disconnected its water line on Monday morning. “We have paid all our dues to the CMC. It’s all up-to-date and current. We owe the civic body nothing,” said Nazreen Haidar, communications manager of Oberoi Grand.

After snapping the water line of the Grand, the CMC team proceeded towards the HHI. “We don’t owe the CMC that much money and there is a dispute on this score. A case is being heard in this regard. We informed the CMC officials about it and showed them the relevant papers. But they were not satisfied and cut our water line,” said Sanjeev Kapoor, general manager of the hotel.

The judge fixed the matter for hearing after a week. CMC counsel Ashoke Das Adhikary said that the civic body would appeal before a division bench on Tuesday against the interim order.

Senior advocate Pradip Ghosh, on behalf of Oberoi Grand, first moved the court against disconnection of water supply. “Due to this illegal act of the CMC, guests at the hotel, including a number of foreigners, are being put to inconvenience,” he said. Ghosh also denied allegations that the hotel had not paid over Rs 4 crore in taxes.

Mayor Mukherjee said the CMC would continue to disconnect waterlines of tax defaulters. “I will not allow business houses to mint money at the cost of the civic body,” he added. He set up a special task force under his direct control to take action against property tax defaulters, both domestic and commercial. He said there were 1.5 lakh defaulters in the city, who owe the CMC tax to the tune of Rs 300 crore.



Minister firm on private tuition ban

The state government’s order banning private tuition by teachers of state-aided schools and colleges has come into effect from April 1, according to state finance minister Asim Dasgupta. “We spend Rs 5,000 crore on the teaching system and we will not have teachers irresponsibly indulging in private tuition,” said Dasgupta, at Writers’ Buildings on Monday. A professor at Calcutta University, Dasgupta appealed to “his colleagues” to “return home right after classes”. He hoped that the teachers would start submitting the periodical declaration affirming that they were not taking classes in private. “If there are shortcomings in the infrastructure, we can straighten them out with the Rs 50-crore loan from Nabard,” he said. The finance minister said he would also rationalise the teacher-student ratio in consultation with the education ministries. “It is going to be a painful process but the government is firm on its decision,” Dasgupta stated.

Medical strike draws Asim ire

The government has taken “serious exception” to the day-long token strike observed by medicine shop owners on Monday. “I spoke to representatives of the shopowners’ association at my residence on Sunday and requested them to call off the strike,” said finance minister Asim Dasgupta, on Monday. He said although the shopowners had said that they would ask members to reopen stores by the afternoon, the strike continued through the day. Dasgupta said that the half per cent “re-selling” tax levied on shops doing business of more than Rs 20 lakh annually would not be waived. The Centre’s delay in introducing the value-added tax structure was also responsible for hiking the sales tax on medicines from 8 per cent to 8.8 per cent, he alleged. The finance minister said the sales tax on medicines in Bengal was among the lowest.

Body found

A 45-year-old unidentified man was found dead on the Sealdah flyover early on Monday. He was taken to Nilratan Sirkar Medical College and Hospital, where the doctors declared him “brought dead”.

Youth drowns

A 22-year-old youth drowned in the Hooghly on Monday when he went for a bath. The body of the youth, a resident of Muchipara, was traced later near the Gwalior bathing ghat.

McKinsey denial

Consultancy company McKinsey is not doing any work for the Corporation. A spokesperson for the company said McKinsey had not made any recommendations to the CMC since it is not serving the civic body.

Cargo concern

The Air Cargo Agents Association of India has expressed concern over the closure of the tanneries. Over 900 tonnes of leather, worth over Rs 2,000 crore, was being exported every month via scheduled flights and freighters. Cargo carriers, as well as around 1,000 employees of forwarding agents and sub-agents, will be hit by the decline in exports. However, the introduction of the Calcutta-Guwahati-Bangkok Air India flight will facilitate export to Southeast Asia, a large importer of Indian seafood, the Association said on Monday.

Woman hurt

A 65-year-old woman was seriously injured when a private car mounted the pavement of Ballygunge Circular Road on Monday afternoon. The woman, who is yet to be identified, was taken to SN Pandit Hospital, where her condition was stated to be critical.

Goons arrested

Sudip Jana alias Phatka, a close associate of ‘Sashan’ Swapan, was arrested on Monday at Prem Chand Boral Street. Two revolvers were seized from him. Bancha, an extortionist, was earlier picked up near the Sealdah Railway Car Shed. A revolver was found in his possession.    

Calcutta, April 1: 
Shakuntala Das has been a topper for the past three years. But last year, the 13-year-old’s academic future had come under a cloud. The Class V-student of Patipukur Pallysree Vidyalaya, whose father left home when she was a child, did not have enough money to pay for her books or tuition until her mastermoshai offered to foot her bill.

Tales such as this are more common than not at the Rishi Aurobindo refugee colony. Fortunately for Shakuntala, she found benefactors who supported her interest in a continued education. After her mother beat her up, Shakuntala’s friend Seema and ‘Kaki’, her mother, took her in. Now, she rarely goes home for meals. At her new-found home, she can study for as long as she likes, thanks to a luxury that was elusive earlier: electricity.

Most of the children in the area are in public schools, with some of the younger ones attending Sahaj Path, run by Prayasam, a Salt Lake-based NGO working for awareness and education in the area.

The non-formal education centre teaches 30 children more than just the fundamentals of literacy. Health, hygiene and values are central to their learning through song, dance, drawing and role-plays, harnessing creativity.

Future plans of the school, towards which parents also contribute, include further hygiene lessons and teaching of professional skills — like teaching of traffic signals for older children and how to learn and respect the family trade.

But for many at the 12,000-strong slum off VIP Road, there is no respite. Most of the adults here are day labourers, domestic help, potters or craftsmen. There were no roads or drains until January, and sewage is constantly backing up. “There are mosquitoes and flies all the time. The stench is awful,” complain seven-year-old Rakhee and Papiya. This land, paid for time and again by occupants, belonged to the Circular Rail, but now has been taken over by the United Central Refugee Council.

Shibashish and Sujan, around eight, run towards what appears to be a garbage dump. Though dumping of refuse in the area has gone down, there are still a few open spaces left for conservancy workers to utilise. “This is our playground,” the duo shouts excitedly, pointing to the vast stretch of rubbish, peppered generously with plastic bags.

They make their way to a far-end of the ‘field’, where there is a patch of green. “See, this is where we jump around.” The ground here is springy, as this is where the grass has grown over marshy refuse. “Once I fell in and I sunk in up to my neck,” recalls Sujan. There is a trace of sadness when asked why they chose this patch as their playground. “Where else do we play?”

Now, heading the list of demands from the kids is a library, a “huge shift” in psyche, feels Amlan Ganguly of Prayasam. ‘Sabar Jonye Swasthya’ is the health fair they are holding on April 7, supported by Unicef. This is easy work for the “area health minders” — the children who go from house to house, building awareness, conducting surveys and encouraging cleanliness. Fighting forces political and social, these kids are keeping their chins up, trying their hardest to be kids.


Calcutta, April 1: 
The high court on Monday requested the Indian Air Force to reinstate former Squadron Leader Projesh Banerjee, removed from services on medical grounds.

Banerjee, who fought at Kargil three years ago, had told the court he had been removed not because of a mental disorder, as alleged by a section of IAF doctors, but because of professional rivalry. The bench, presided by Chief Justice A.K. Mathur, dismissed Banerjee’s writ demanding judicial intervention and compensation, but requested the IAF to consider his case sympathetically and reinstate him.

Banerjee joined the IAF in May 1979 and was promoted as Squadron Leader in May 1992.

Though he suffered “severe stress” after witnessing a road mishap in 1998, he had recovered before the Kargil conflict, he told the court.


Calcutta, April 1: 
Medical College and Hospital (MCH) has reportedly been collecting ‘confinement charges’ from poor patients of Eden Hospital (labour wing) without government authorisation since December. Sources said the drive has made the state health department richer by at least Rs 3 lakh.

Medical College superintendent K.K. Adhikari, who took over recently, admitted the allegation and said every patient “fleeced” would be refunded.

“Till December, we did not have any government order to realise confinement charges from free-bed patients,” he admitted. “The matter is serious and I will ask the accounts department for a clarification,” he added. He promised to book the culprits.

The incident came to light when Abdul Jabbar, a resident of Rajabazar, complained to the Janaswasthya Raksha Committee on Monday that his wife was not being discharged from hospital because he had failed to pay the confinement charge.

Asmin Begum, a free-bed patient at Eden Hospital, was to have been released on Sunday but was kept back as Jabbar did not pay Rs 50 as confinement charge. On Monday, when he went to clear the sum, he was told he would have to fork out Rs 300.

“We were shocked to hear of the allegation and immediately contacted the hospital administration,” said Anshuman Mitra, Medical Service Centre spokesperson.

Superintendent of Nilratan Sirkar Medical College and Hospital Shyamal Kumar Rudra expressed surprise at the incident. “There is no provision for realising confinement charges from patients occupying free beds, even in the new government order,” he said.

Director of medical education Chittaranjan Maiti later said he had requested Adhikari to meet him so that the matter could be sorted out. “We will refund the money,” he added.

The Medical Service Centre members said they would include the issue in their anti-government protests in hospitals later this week.

President of the Calcutta Branch of the Indian Medical Association Sudipta Roy, too, demanded a probe into the malpratices by a sitting judge of the high court.


Calcutta, April 1: 
Come September and Calcutta University’s (CU) plans to introduce a specialised course in sports medicine will be realised. A batch of 30 freshers is expected to enrol for the first session.

Vice-chancellor Asish Banerjee described the course as a “unique opportunity” for young doctors. “We had sanctioned it in 1996-97. I am glad the course will finally get underway in the next academic session,” Banerjee added. The classes will be held at the Institute of Post-Graduate Medical Education and Research.

Somenath Naskar, a final-year MBBS student of Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital, was happy at the introduction of the course. He, along with Soumabho Gupta, another final-year student, said: “We are looking forward to the course.”

The course will underline aspects of sports medicine, including sports psychiatry, sports physiology, sports anatomy, sports cardiology and orthopaedics. “It is now the era of specialisation. The field is different from physical medicine or physiotherapy, in the sense that students undergoing the course will get to know in detail about muscle functioning. They will also get to learn certain aspects of the human anatomy,” said Dr Sunil Thakur, one of the instructors.

City doctors described the course as a welcome change. “A doctor with a sports medicine certificate will be able to study a sportsman’s psyche, as well as his health, better,” said cardiologist Dr Prakash Hazra. Dittoed physical medicine specialist Kamal Sinha, who felt “a sportsman in the making would get a lot of benefit from a specialist, who would be able to impart treatment in a scientific manner.”

Faculty members, comprising heads of government-run medical institutions and private practitioners, including Dr Ajit Maity of Institute of Post-Graduate Medical Education and Research, Dr Manoj Bhattacharya, dean of medical faculty, Dr C.R. Maity, director of medical education and Dr Thakur, will work out the basics of the course, including the fees. “We will meet within a month to finalise the details before the first batch of MBBS doctors enrol. Candidates will be selected after screening of marksheets and extensive interviews,” said Dr Thakur.


Calcutta, April 1: 
The state has nearly cleared all pending pension for retired primary and secondary teachers.

State finance minister Asim Dasgupta said on Monday that by March-end, his department had cleared 130,000 applications for pension. About 2,500 applications poured in every month from government facilities, including teaching institutions.

The state exchequer had to shell out nearly Rs 256 crore to clear the dues. “We still have to clear about 7,000 cases by next month,” Dasgupta said.

The minister said he was working out a system with the state education ministers, so that applications were processed fast by the schools as well as the district inspectorates. “I want to clear all the cases within 30 days,” said Dasgupta. He has also written to Yashwant Sinha to review the decision on interest rates on provident fund and small savings.


Calcutta, April 1: 
“I liked the way they were sitting and gossiping,” said Shampa Sharma, 13, pointing out a picture of an all-woman adda.

Shampa is just one of the 110 children who have been clicking away at “life as we see it” for the past five months. All the children, aged between 8 and 15 years, are part of the Unicef-supported ‘experimental’ 15-month ‘visual literacy campaign’.

The programme, covering the Sethbagan, Tollygunge, Bowbazar and Titagarh red-light areas, has been framed by photojournalist Suvendhu Chatterjee and Kushal Roy and run by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee.

The objective is ambitious — to impart knowledge of child rights through the medium of photography and provide a foundation for promising talent. “Photography is one of the cheapest yet strongest means of visual expression, and it is time we considered it more than just a pastime,” feels Chatterjee.

Unicef has deviated from policy to fund the project that aims to show the kids that “even they are an integral part of society”.

The moments frozen on celluloid, with their PC-33 Pentax cameras, were on display at the weeklong Shanti Utsav held at Salt Lake recently.

“Ranging from their mothers dealing with ‘customers’ to lighter moments of children at play, their photographs are as hard-hitting as they are moving, giving us an insight into what they are exposed to,” says Roy.

Asserting that the project was not about giving some marginalised children a crash course in photography, Chatterjee added that 25 of the most talented will be taken for excursions where they can shoot in “new and challenging environs, as opposed to shooting in their own locality”.

To give the camera-wielding kids a fighting chance, Chatterjee is preparing the ground for an exhibition abroad “to raise money for their future use”. The Star magazine of Germany has already approached the organisers for publishing select photographs. “Chhobimela, the popular biennial photo-exhibition of Bangladesh, will also showcase their works but what we are eagerly awaiting is communication from the World Press Photo to allow a few of the children to form part of their children’s jury,” says Chatterjee.

With Unicef backing the cause and their new-found skills with the camera giving kids something to smile about, the unique project is ready to fly on the wings of hope.


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