Hotspot pitch in city hardsell
Crackdown on corrupt cops
Car chaos and monkey mess
A dream one can call home
The City Diary
Single-seat repoll at college
Salt Lake squatters’ plea rejected
Just a step to stop smoking
No widow of Picasso, she
Teachers to protest against salary delay

Calcutta, April 7: 
“How long does it take you to reach home from office?”

“How many times did power cuts affect your work yesterday?”

“How much are you paying as rent every month?”

“How much are you paying for a bucket of water?”

The agenda: a billboard blitz in various state capitals

The aim: giving Calcutta a competitive edge

Taking a cue from the cola wars, the West Bengal government has decided to hard-sell Calcutta and woo investment to the state. Questions highlighting the “negatives of other metros and drawing attention to the positives of Calcutta” will form the basis of Bengal’s latest “above the line” marketing drive.

If things move as planned, the ad lines will become part of the skyline in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore this summer.

The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) is in the final stages of formulating this yearlong campaign, soon to be placed before the ministry of industry and commerce for clearance.

“The state scores high in terms of availability of continuous water and power supply, huge talent pool at low cost, cheap accommodation and stability. The campaign will be designed to leverage on these positive advantages and invite investments in both the hard-core manufacturing sector and the service industry,” says Gopal Krishna, managing director, WBIDC.

According to Krishna, the entire campaign will revolve round the changes that have taken place in the state over the years and the competitive advantages Bengal enjoys over others. “The main focus of the campaign will be to prompt the investing community to start considering West Bengal as a possible destination,” he adds.

This marks the beginning of a new marketing strategy, with the focus, for the first time, being on projecting the state as a hotspot for the service industry.

Backed by suggestions from consultancy major McKinsey, the government will pitch for investments in information technology, agri-business, petrochemicals, retail chains, leather, steel, cement and jute. McKinsey is also helping the government organise “focussed investor meets” in various cities.

WBIDC has already sounded out leading advertising companies for the nationwide campaign. “The decision on the agency will be taken by the end of April,” says Atri Bhattacharya, executive director, WBIDC. The outlay for the campaign to is pegged at around Rs 1 crore.


Calcutta, April 7: 
Three hundred policemen, from the rank of constable to inspector, have been suspended in the past six months for “moral degradation, dereliction of duty and corruption”. Ten sleuths from the detective department have also been pulled up for similar reasons.

How deep is the rot in the city police force? Last week’s incident at Garden Reach, where two policemen were suspended for assaulting a truck driver who refused the cop’s “request for some money”, has raised this ugly question. Constable Nirmal Chandra Sil was, in fact, found guilty of “biting the hand that refused to pay the bribe”.

The city’s top cops are a worried lot. “There is a general moral degradation all around. But that’s all the more reason why the police force should be extra vigilant and set a good example,” said Banibrata Basu, DC (headquarters), who has been responsible for taking over 50 policemen to task for various misdemeanours.

K.L. Tamta, DC (north), added: “A policeman is a good citizen in uniform and people are the police without uniform — these are the words that every cop has to swear by before joining the force. These are words that no policeman can ever afford to forget.”

Moves are afoot to try and address the issue “in all seriousness”. The orders from the top are clear: spare no policeman for the slightest dereliction of duty if you want people to keep faith in the force. Plans for departmental seminars to tackle the malaise have also been drawn up.

“Once a complaint is lodged, a inquiry committee is set up and asked to ascertain the truth at the earliest… Ten of my men have been found guilty over the past six months and all of them have been punished,” said Soumen Mitra, DC (I), DD. The crackdown on the corrupt will continue, he promised.


Calcutta, April 7: 
We need a chaotic parking bay at Gariahat to put an end to “Hanuman flyovers designed by monkeys”. That’s the line of logic taken by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), hell-bent on going ahead with the parking bay under the Gariahat flyover.

“All flyovers constructed over the past three decades, including the one at Gariahat, have been conceptualised and designed by monkeys,” member, mayor-in-council (slums and parking), Pradip Ghosh said on Sunday.

“It is to put an end to all Hanuman flyovers that the mayor has asked me to use the space below the Gariahat flyover as a parking lot, as it will add to the traffic chaos,” he added.

Wondering what’s up? “We know that the parking lot under the flyover will cause even more traffic snarls in south Calcutta. This will highlight the Himalayan nature of the blunder and may well prompt the government to put an end to such ill-planned flyovers,” explained Ghosh.

The Trinamul Congress member of the mayor-in-council made it clear that “even if the state government and the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners decide to use the Gariahat tram depot as a parking lot, we in the CMC will stick to the plan of a parking bay under the flyover”.

Justifying the stand, Ghosh said this was the first time they had got the opportunity to protest the government’s practice of commissioning flyovers on CMC roads without consulting civic officials. According to the CMC lobby, led by mayor Subrata Mukherjee, if the government is really interested in solving the city’s traffic woes, it should focus on underpasses, not flyovers. “Besides failing to add any road-space to the already-cramped city, the flyovers are ugly. Underpasses could be the alternative and play an important role in future,” said Ghosh.

Flyovers, according to Ghosh, have already “killed all prospects of growth” in the Netaji Subhas Road-Brabourne Road area and in Sealdah. Gariahat, south Calcutta’s largest commercial hub, could well end up being the third casualty of flyover folly.

“Being a resident of Sealdah, I have seen the damage wreaked by the flyover there,” said Ghosh, organiser of a mega Durga Puja at Santosh Mitra Square. “The Gariahat flyover will also turn out to be a high-cost, zero-benefit project,” he warned.

Several senior police officers and traffic experts have already warned against a parking lot under the Gariahat flyover. They have said that such a move would slow down traffic at Gariahat even further and the ripple effect will be felt over a large part of south Calcutta. But the Corporation is adamant to paralyse Gariahat today, hoping to prove a point for tomorrow.


Calcutta, April 7: 
Anima Ray is 62, retired and a widow with a 25-year-old disabled son, Dolon. Ratna Singh, much younger than Ray, has lost her husband and is alone in her efforts to bring up daughter Amrita, 14, afflicted with cerebral palsy. P.S. Mitra and Saswati Mitra, parents of 18-year-old Parikshit, are both working. But fear of Parikshit’s future casts a constant shadow over their present.

All these parents, united by a cruel fate and bound by silent tears, have embarked on a dream project: Swapnaneer (a house of dreams). Maybe, it’s more an attempted escape from a nightmare haunting the parents of autistic, mentally-challenged and multiple-disability afflicted children in the city.

The struggle to take care of their children is not the issue, they say. The nightmare lies in the question: what will happen to my child if something happens to me? “I don’t think I have too many years left,” concedes Ray. “But I just can’t die, not till I know that Dolon is in responsible hands.”

In Ray’s dilemma lies the foundation for Swapnaneer, a safe house for children of a lesser god. The project that Prayas — one of the dozens of groups comprising parents of such children — is giving shape to has already started in a two-storeyed house on Moore Avenue, in Regent Park, in the form of Will-Power and Debshishu. The first is a project that grinds spices and then sells them. “It’s more push-sales,” admits P.S. Mitra. The second is a day-care centre that combines some sort of vocational training for kids and some parents.

But the final step for Swapnaneer, the building that these kids can call home, will take a couple of more years and a lot of resources. “We have identified some plots along the E.M. Bypass for the construction of the building,” says Saswati Mitra. “We have appealed to the government to help us with at least some land — the project report we have prepared says we will need at least 2.5 bighas — and have also approached the World Bank for aid,” she adds. A response is still awaited.

Prayas has already identified 10 couples who will be the first residents — along with their children — of Calcutta’s first “living centre for a community that is, at best, ignored and, at worst, pushed deliberately to the fringes”. ‘Normal’ siblings of the afflicted children will be given an option to stay, say Prayas’s members. “Having a younger member who will continue to look after Amrita will, obviously, be a blessing,” says Ratna Singh.



Varsity leave order sparks rally threat

Members of the Calcutta University (CU) Employees’ Unity Centre were agitated on Sunday. They threatened to hold a demonstration and submit a memorandum, protesting the university’s decision to make it mandatory for employees of Ballygunge Science College to seek permission from the administrative heads before taking leave. According to members of the Unity Centre, such a decision went against the CU’s leave rules, which empowered only departmental heads to grant leave to the non-teaching staff of their departments.

Free flats for slum-dwellers

The Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratishthan has constructed free ownership flats at Bagmari, in the Maniktala area, for 74 slum-dweller families. The flats will be inaugurated on April 14, said Swami Sarvalokananda, mission secretary.

Realtor attack

Three unidentified miscreants barged into the home of Mahesh Agarwal, a promoter, in Sahapur colony, near New Alipore, on Sunday and fired at him with an improvised revolver. Agarwal’s condition is serious.

Police station raid

A 100-strong mob from Muraripukur stormed Maniktala police station and went on the rampage, damaging several vehicles, on Sunday. In the morning, a Maniktala police team had raided a spot in Muraripukur and arrested seven persons over an illegal construction, sparking the evening attack. Police lathicharged the mob and arrested another 11 for rioting.

Teenager missing

Pritam Sarkar, 14, has been missing since April 3 from his home at Vivekananda Park, in Purba Jadavpur. Police said Pritam’s father Pradeep, a businessman, lodged a complaint on Sunday after a futile search.

Burial ground plea

The Mohammedan burial board has sought civic intervention against illegal fishing by draining out the waterbody at the Bagmari burial ground. The board said the local police was not cooperating with it.    

Calcutta, April 7: 
Presidency College does not intend to hold a repoll to five seats in the students’ union after the possible expulsion of a second-year student, who had won the election as an SFI backer.

Re-election will be held only to a single seat that will fall vacant after the possible expulsion of Srishyam Jaiswal, college sources said on Sunday. Jaiswal, an SFI-backed candidate, was found to have gained admission to the college on a forged marksheet and studied there for two years.

The SFI’s majority in the Presidency College students’ union may suffer a setback if re-election is allowed in all the five seats of second-year arts.

Supporters of the Independent Consolidation (IC), who were trounced this time after having controlled the union for the past few decades, have already called upon the college authorities to allow a re-election to all the five seats.

The college will hold a meeting of its disciplinary committee this week to finalise its decision on Jaiswal’s expulsion. After determining what action is to be taken against Jaiswal, the authorities will debate on the IC demand for a repoll to the institution’s election tribunal committee.

“We have examined the election rules of the college, which say re-election can be allowed in a single seat only, given the present situation,” said Subrata Lahiri, senior member of the teachers’ council of the college.

Ramprohllad Choudhury, leader of the SFI’s Calcutta district committee, however, said the SFI would continue to head the union even if re-election is held in the single seat. “We are not going to lose majority, as we have already formed the new committee, comprising newly-elected SFI candidates,” he added.

According to Choudhury, the SFI’s majority will not be affected as at least two of the candidates who had promised to support the IC had backed out and submitted a declaration extending support to the SFI.

Going by the initial election results, the SFI majority looked uncertain if Jaiswal was to face expulsion, as the SFI was only a single seat ahead of the IC. Of the 61 seats in the union, the SFI won 31 and the IC 30. But the tables have turned with the SFI managing to wrest the support of two candidates who had earlier decided to vote for the IC.


Calcutta, April 7: 
The Salt Lake administration, prodded by the state government, has decided to turn down appeals for rehabilitation from squatters who will be evicted to make way for the new road linking Dum Dum airport with the E.M. Bypass. The proposed road will bisect Salt Lake and skirt the new township of Rajarhat.

Following instructions from the “top brass”, the CPM has also washed its hands off the encroachers. “We won’t demand any compensation for the encroachers, as it will set a precedent, fanning similar demands for rehabilitation everywhere,” a senior member of the party’s Dattabad local committee said.

The first phase of the eviction of encroachers along the banks of the Eastern Drainage Canal is likely to start on April 21. The deadline was fixed at a meeting at Writers’ Buildings last week, chaired by state urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya and attended by senior officials.

“We will gradually remove all encroachers from the Bidhannagar Municipality areas,” a senior municipality official said. “A monitoring team will be set up to ensure that they don’t return,” he added.

There are more than 700 families of squatters occupying the stretch of land from Nalban in Sector IV to Sarat Abasan in AS Block, in Sector II of the township. Most of them are settlers from Lalbag, Bhagawangola and Jalangi of Murshidabad, Canning and Basanti, of South 24-Parganas, and Midnapore. There are some from Bihar too. Most of them work as labourers with government contractors, pull rickshaws, collect garbage and work as domestic help.


Calcutta, April 7: 
Hundreds of schoolchildren and members of NGOs hit the road on Sunday, placards in hand — brushing shoulders with theatre and television personalities — in a never-before campaign to persuade Calcuttans against smoking or urinating in public.

The outcome was beyond the expectations of even the chief organisers — World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) — as hundreds of Calcuttans stepped out of their homes to join the rally, expressing solidarity with the campaign.

“Sunday’s was the first of several campaigns initiated on World Health Day. The support has been unbelievable. We will continue our rallies,” said WWF director Shakti Ranjan Banerjee.

At 8.30 am, one set of marchers set off from Deshbandhu Park. Theatre personality Rudraprasad Sengupta joined the rally with 200 odd-members. Similar rallies were brought out from six different points of the city, including Loudon Street, Jessore Road, the base of the Netaji statute and Karunamoyee, in Salt Lake. Actor Sabyasachi Chakraborty participated in the rally taken out from Park Circus Maidan. All marchers converged on Curzon Park, where they resolved to enforce the ban on spitting and smoking in public.


Calcutta, April 7: 
Calcutta did not see the Picasso retrospective. However, Marie-Laure Bernadac, who curated the show, had, on the request of Victoria Memorial Hall and Les Amis de la France, agreed to drop by in Calcutta and introduce the Picasso Museum, Paris, through a slide presentation.

In spite of the good intentions of all concerned, the talk was undone by bad management. Those present on Saturday evening at Victoria, roasted inside the hall. The carousel went phut and the lights refused to go up.

Her talk may have ended in confusion but there is no denying that Bernadac is an authority on the protean master, who dominated 20th Century art. Having been in the curatorial business since 1977, she has witnessed the reaction against Picasso following his death, and the later revival of interest in the artist whose Neo-Classical and experimental phases closely followed each other.

Bernadac’s first assignment was at the Pompidou Centre, which she left after three years in 1980. The French government was looking for a curator to select and instal works and do catalogues and books on Picasso Museum. Hôtel Salé, where it opened, was a derelict 17th Century mansion abandoned for 20 years. It took five years to be restored. It is “half new and half old” now.

“The Hotel was selected because Picasso always chose old buildings for his studios. The contrast between the classical building and his contemporary forms was striking. The Hotel has an intimate atmosphere, like a house. It is also in the centre of Paris. But now it is a little too small for storage,” says Bernadac, who speaks English with a heavy Gallic accent.

She was there for 10 years after its opening in 1985, during which time she mounted seven exhibitions and published several books. Among them was a book on Picasso’s automatic poetry — half poetry and half diary.

In 1987 she organised an exhibition on late Picasso, the erotically-charged phase when he was “obsessed by couples, embraces and kisses. Lots of young painters rediscovered him then.” The museum signalled a Picasso revival when his new style of painting and sculptures — small contructions — were discovered.

Thereafter, Bernadac returned to Pompidou. Then she moved on to the contemporary art museum in Bordeaux. But in 2001, she returned to Paris to curate the retrospective in India. She had a tough time getting her act together, what with the ministry of culture jealously guarding the treasures. Even after admitting her interest in the master, she makes it clear that she did not want to put him in a mausoleum. She wants to explore. “I did not want to become the widow of Picasso.”


Calcutta, April 7: 
The non-CPM lobby in the CPM-controlled West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association (WBCUTA) has planned a day-long dharna at the association office here on Tuesday to protest against irregular payment of salaries to college teachers across the state.

It is learnt that association vice-president Arun Chatterjee, treasurer Bidyut Roy and six members of the executive committee will participate in the sit-in much to the embarrassment of the CPM leadership, which is trying to scuttle the agitation.

“We cannot sit idle when payment of monthly salaries to nearly 12,000 teachers from 336 government-sponsored colleges in the state is uncertain. As a last resort, we have decided to hold the dharna to put pressure on the ruling CPM,” said an aggrieved Chatterjee. He criticised the CPM leadership in the association for its refusal to take up the matter with the government despite “several reminders”.

Among the 38 executive committee members, only eight are non-CPM teachers. It is believed that the WBCUTA leadership is reluctant to take up the issue with the higher education minister as the government is run by the CPM. “We are more worried about our leadership which is not ready to take up the issue with the state government because the CPM is running the state. We want to put pressure on the WBCUTA leaders and are organising our dharna for this,” said Tarun Naskar, an executive member of the association.

Chatterjee said they had met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on August 1 last year and told him teachers of government-sponsored colleges were not receiving salaries regularly.

“Bhattacharjee had assured us that the government would consider our case sympathetically. But we are not getting our salaries on time. We have not got a single paisa from the state government in January and February. Salaries for the two months were disbursed in March. But the teachers of government colleges and even schools are getting their salaries regularly. We don’t understand why the government is not paying our salaries on time like the teachers of government colleges and schools,” Naskar said.

Anil Bhattacharjee, general secretary of the CPM-controlled body, could not be contacted as he is out of town. But Shyamapada Pal, a senior executive member, admitted that anti-CPM teachers will hold a dharna in front of their office on Tuesday.

“We have already discussed the problem faced by the teachers of government-sponsored colleges. We admit that the teachers of these colleges are not getting salaries on time. Still, we are grateful to the state government for still paying the salaries to the government-sponsored colleges. The governments of Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Karnataka have already stopped paying salaries to the teachers of government-affiliated colleges. But our government is still paying salaries to teachers of such colleges,” Pal said.

WBCUTA’s indifference towards the demands of university teachers recently forced some of them, members of the CPM-controlled body, to break away. Those who formed the separate association of university teachers alleged that WBCUTA was primarily an association of college teachers and had been neglecting the problems of teachers of the state universities.


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