Union clout clouds court writ
Cash calls land three in cop net
Funds nod for heritage
Enter, friendly phoneman
Ali and all others trapped in space jam
The City Diary
A method in his ‘madness’
Salt Lake hots up over dry taps
Cable bridge between twins
Kalighat in throes of cholera, 17 in hospital

Calcutta, April 15: 
The SFI is a stronger force in Calcutta University (CU) than the rule of law. At least, as far as the university’s law department is concerned.

Three years after Calcutta High Court upheld a CU decision to bar 150 students who did not have the requisite attendance, the university – admittedly at the prodding of the CPM-backed students’ union – has allowed 50 of them to bend the rules and keep their academic record intact.

The 50 students — with SFI backing — will first appear for a ‘special Part III’ examination in May. Two months later, they will sit for the Part IV examination with other students.

This, as the university’s own rule book suggests, is illegal. A student cannot appear for two exams in a single academic year in the five-part L.Lb course.

CU’s controller of examinations Onkar Sadhan Adhikari admitted that the decision followed a demand from “a section of students”. But the decision was taken only after a careful read-through of the university rules, he added.

The CU authorities decided not to publish the results of 50 examinees of L.Lb Part I examinations because they had not attended the required number of classes in 1999. Simultaneously, 100 PartIV candidates were debarred from appearing for their exams for the same reason.

Both sections lost a year, as they had to re-appear for their relevant papers in 2000. Exactly three years later, the university seems to have woken up to the prospect of the 50 students losing an academic year. The decision to hold ‘special’ exams for them, so that they can appear for both the Part III and Part IV papers in a single year, follows that concern, say officials.

The other section of students (who have passed out by now, after losing one academic year) — and their guardians — have come together and decided to move the high court as they feel that the university decision violates the earlier verdict.

“The decision to hold the special examination for one section of students amounts to violation of the court order,” said one of the guardians, Anima Das. “It gives an opportunity to the errant students to make up a year’s lost time and, thereby, evade the punishment the court had deemed fit for them,” she added.

Other guardians said the decision reeked of “political bias”. “What about the other 100 who have lost a year? Why should they be penalised?” one of them asked. “Is it because they have passed out and their support is no longer required on the campus by the union?”

“The CU softening its stand for only one section is grossly unfair,” said another guardian, A. Mukherjee. “We will also take this up with the higher education department officials.”

The SFI, however, claimed their demand was legitimate. “We are happy that the authorities have accepted our proposal,” an SFI spokesperson said.

Officials said clearing the 50-student batch was essential as the university was introducing a new L.Lb course from the next academic year. “These students would have been inconvenienced if they were not allowed to complete the course now,” a senior CU official explained.


Calcutta, April 15: 
For the past week, two textile merchants from Posta were being threatened over the telephone to cough up Rs 2 lakh or face dire consequences. Among other instructions, the callers warned them against informing the police, claiming that they had contacts among the cops.

On Monday, the law caught up with the three criminals — Sachin Sonkar, Raja Raghu and Bijay Jaiswal — on Strand Road, while two others managed to escape. According to the police, arms and ammunition were recovered from the trio, who was remanded in police custody. “The gang had gained notoriety for terrorising businessmen from Burrabazar and Posta,’’ the police added.

After the businessmen from Posta complained, two police officials from the local outpost, posing as a ‘couple’, informed the gang that they would be waiting with the money on Strand Road on Monday. The criminals arrived in a white Maruti and stopped in front of the ‘couple’. Sonkar, Raghu and Jaiswal got off the car and tried to snatch the bag from one of the cops.

“Raghu was toting a revolver, while the others were carrying sharp weapons,’’ said deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan. As the criminals grappled with the policemen over the bag, additional forces surrounded them. Sensing danger, two of the accomplices, who were waiting in the car, reversed and sped away.

According to Posta police, they had been informed that Sonkar and Jaiswal had been threatening and extorting three other Burrabazar merchants during the last week of March.

“Initially, most traders are reluctant to lodge complaints, fearing an attempt on their lives. In the last case, we had to convince the two businessmen from Posta to trust us. We had even provided them with security guards,’’ Hasan added.


Calcutta, April 15: 
The Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), which owns Metropolitan Building in Esplanade, has sanctioned Rs 5 crore for restoration of the building.

The restoration plan involved an expenditure of more than Rs 4 crore, according to Dulal Mukherjee & Associates, which has been appointed consultant for the restoration project. Work is expected to begin before the Pujas.

The seven-member permanent heritage committee of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) had recently cleared the restoration plan for the building, according to chief municipal architect and town planner Saroj Mohan Ghosh.

The Union finance ministry has allotted Rs 8 crore for the restoration of Currency Building, in B.B.D. Bag.

It is partially demolished and will be taken over by the Archaeological Survey of India to rebuild it.


Calcutta, April 15: 
A senior Calcutta Telephones official calls you at home, chats you up, makes polite inquiries about your health and your family and then asks whether you have any complaint about your phone. Wrong number? But that’s exactly what the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) subsidiary has in store for its high-end subscribers.

With the Reliance group gearing up to unveil an aggressive marketing strategy, Calcutta Telephones has decided to introduce a “corporate structure” to remain competitive. Plans have been drawn up for what a senior Calcutta Telephones official called “a total image makeover”.

A vital constituent of the plan is employing account managers — just like in multinational banks — for high-end subscribers. The new set-up will have officials at various levels filling the new post. “We have already identified general managers, deputy general managers, divisional managers and sub-divisional engineers for the purpose,” said a senior BSNL official. “Each account manager will be given the responsibility of a certain number of high revenue-yielding subscribers. They will have to ensure that we do not lose these valued customers to Reliance,” he added.

The bottomline, according to BSNL officials, is that the revenue-yielding customers will have to be given personalised care and officials need to strike up a personal rapport with them. Calcutta Telephones now earns around Rs 1,000 crore from its 13 lakh-odd subscribers. And it is the roadside STD/ISD booth that has ended up earning a hefty percentage of that amount, say officials. Some booth-owners have already been contacted by Reliance officials and asked what incentives would prompt them to leave the CalTel umbrella.

Large corporate groups, banks, government offices and top-bracket businessmen are the other major contributors to the Calcutta Telephones kitty. BSNL officials say chief general manager S.P. Chakraborty has already held several high-level meetings to throw up innovative plans to counter the Reliance offensive.

An internal exercise has started to identify officials with ‘PR’ qualifications and skills. Officials admit that Calcutta Telephones suffers from “serious image problems and deficiency in liaison skills”.


Calcutta, April 15: 
Harry Potter is here, but there’s no place for Will Smith’s Ali in the ring; Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Collateral Damage will soon hit New Market, while Johnny Depp’s From Hell waits in the wings, in vain. There’s a big-screen space jam in town. And distributors, with all the hot releases this summer, are tripping over each other to woo the sole ‘commercial’ cinema still screening quality English films: New Empire.

With Globe shutting down after being slapped by the Corporation with a water bill of nearly Rs 40 lakh, Lighthouse closing before renovations, Jamuna long gone, Metro and Chaplin switching to Bollywood blockbusters, the Calcutta film-buff will miss out on some of the best and many among the rest.

The juggling has already begun. New Empire has been booked straight through November, with films even being slotted for January 2003. So, Lord of the Rings, doing well enough to carry through a couple more weeks, was pulled off screen for Harry Potter. With no other hall for it to shift to, those who have missed the Oscar-nominated Rings may have missed it for good. After Harry Potter, Collateral Damage, Star Wars: Episode II and the Spielberg film starring Tom Cruise, Minority Report, are lined up.

“What are the summer holidays without lots of latest English films to choose from?” asks Ravi of St Xavier’s College. Bad luck for students waiting to catch the animated hits Monsters Inc and Ice Age, the war movie starring Nicholas Cage, Windtalkers, The Scorpion King with The Rock (of WWF fame), Jackie Chan’s The Tuxedo, Anjelina Jolie in Life or Something Like It and the digitally-remastered ET. Men in Black II, Stuart Little II and Spiderman are also in the queue.

With no sign of the water war ending at Globe, 20th Century Fox is caught in the hall crunch. “New Empire is the only option, or Nandan when it is available,” explains Paresh Manjrekar, sales and marketing manager, India, 20th Century Fox. A Beautiful Mind, a Paramount picture, has been released in Delhi mid-March, but will not be seen in Nandan till April-end.

Things are looking bleak at Lighthouse, still awaiting permission to start work on a multiplex. “In its existing form, with a capacity of 1,350 and occupancy of around 25 per cent per show, the hall was not feasible financially,” says a spokesperson for Lighthouse. The multiplex, with two halls to accommodate 650 and 250, is scheduled for completion by Puja 2002.



Ansari aide in police custody

The city police on Tuesday brought Raju Anadkar, a close associate of Dubai-based gangster Aftab Ansari, on transit remand from Rajkot for his role in the attempted abduction of a city-based businessman in 2000. Anadkar was produced before a magistrate and remanded in police custody for 14 days. According to police sources, Anadkar not only planned various operations with Ansari in Dubai, but would also keep tabs on wealthy businessmen. “He helped Ansari choose his targets and carry out the abductions. The two of them together had tried to abduct a shipping tycoon,” a senior officer of the detective department said.

Youth attacks dhaba owner

A youth was arrested for firing on the owner of a dhaba in the Lake Market area late on Sunday. Police said the youth, identified as Rajesh, attacked the owner in an inebriated state over a delay in serving food to him and his friends. The injured man was taken to a nearby hospital with a bullet injury in his arm. He was stated to be out of danger.

Cell service

AirTel will organise free handset service camps for its Calcutta consumers. The camps for AirTel and Magic subscribers will offer the following: 20 per cent discount on all handset spare parts and accessories, free servicing of all Motorola handsets and an exchange offer on any Motorola handset with a Motorola T-190 model priced at Rs 6995 with a discount of Rs 1100. The camps will be held at the Howrah AirTel Connect till April 16 and at the Theatre Road Connect on April 17 and 18.

Hospital timings

The neurosurgery outdoor department of the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital will function on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 9 am and 2 pm. The indoor department is expected to start functioning within three months. Any patient requiring emergency surgery till then will be treated at the National Neurosciences Centre, Peerless Hospital, at government rates, health secretary Asim Burman said.

Traffic bulletin

City police chief Sujoy Chakraborty will release the annual traffic bulletin for 2001 on April 18. Senior officers and representatives of Indian Oil Corporation will also be present at the function.

Gujarat rally

Naxalite leader Kanu Sanyal will address a rally organised by the Left Front at Sahid Minar on Wednesday. The rally aims to express solidarity with the riot victims of Gujarat. Sanyal had last addressed a Left Front rally in the city in 1992 to condemn the demolition of Babri Masjid.    

Calcutta, April 15: 
Among birds, magpies are known for their irresistible urge to collect things at random. Some human beings, too, are similarly inclined. They can’t help hoarding whatever they can lay their hands on, never mind their market value.

Parimal Ray, 66, was bitten by the collector’s bug in childhood. He, along with his pals in Shyamananda Road, would visit the barracks on Ballygunge Circular Road, to watch the goras play football. Apart from the candy the goras gave them, for Ray an added attraction was the colourful packets of cigarettes he could collect, and which he found aplenty in the barracks.

“This is a kind of madness,” exclaims the moustachioed man, whose living room is lined with priceless sculptures of the Pala period. On a wall hangs a lifesize print of Queen Victoria, who could not have looked more unamused, and a large enamel signboard, one of the 150 in his collection, that will be displayed soon at an exhibition organised by adman Ram Ray. There is definitely some method in Parimal Ray’s “madness.”

From colourful foreign stamps he had, quite early, graduated to post-Independence Indian stamps, his special interest being in first day covers and blocks of four. He became friendly with Vasanta Choudhury as coin collection became a passion.

He could not, however, lavish as much time as he would have liked to on his varied interests because he worked for a Japanese exim company, where they were so strict about punctuality, it hardly left Ray any time to himself.

If he needed an expert opinion, he could always consult Radhaprasad Gupta. “Thanks to our common interests, his (Gupta’s) erudition didn’t come in the way of our friendship,” says Ray. Later, even Satyajit Ray, too, would drop by to borrow period pieces for shoots.

Soon, he says, the really rare coins were priced out of reach. About two years ago, when he had already retired, he was sitting at an opticians’ establishment, when a little boy passed by carrying a large enamel signboard. This happened to be an advertisement for Firpo’s bread, and R.P. Gupta had, years ago, pointed out a similar one near College Street. The boy parted with it for a mere Rs 30, and now it hangs in Ray’s sitting room.

Ray began to raid junkshops and auction houses for more such weather-proof enamel signboards, which once could be seen in every streetcorner, but have now given way to either painted or vinyl billboards. He discovered that about five collectors from Canada, Bangkok and the US descend on Calcutta every winter to buy these up.

“I could not compete with them. They paid anything from Rs 5,000 to Rs 500 for each,” says Ray. “But since I had known the dealers for ages, they would sell them for a pittance,” he adds. Ray has signboards promoting “swadesi” goods, tea, cigarettes, bidis, petroleum and gramophone discs. A catalogue of his collection will be published during the exhibition.


Calcutta, April 15: 
Bidhannagar Municipality is the third civic body in the state to impose water tax, but Salt Lake residents say other things have remained the same.

Most of the water still comes from the same old deep tubewells, brackish and with solid particles. With summer approaching, the township has already begun to grumble about dry taps. The situation will only worsen, they fear, resulting in yet another season of buying water for a hefty price.

The centralised organisation of the residents — Bidhannagar (Salt Lake) Welfare Association — has already taken up issue with the municipality. “Although the authorities have imposed a tax on water, there has been no qualitative improvement or quantitative rise in the water we get,” complained association president Narayan Basu.

“We are not getting water from the Tallah-Palta network as promised,” added secretary of the citizens’ forum of AK Block, S. De Sarkar. The problems of the past — a high chlorine content in the water — remain, he alleged.

Mayor-in-council in charge of water supply and electricity Tapan Talukdar admitted that the grievances were true. Despite assuring the municipality of providing eight million gallons every day, the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) was not supplying more than three million gallons a day, he said. “They have expressed their inability to supply more than that,” he added.

Talukdar, however, defended the decision to slap a tax on the water supplied by the municipality. “We have to renovate the iron-treatment plants of 16 water tanks and also instal new plants at Dattabad, Purbachal and AB-AC blocks,” he said.

To add to the municipality’s woes, it has already been slapped a bill of Rs 78 lakh by the CMDA. “We have to clear that immediately,” Talukdar said.

The decision has not gone down well with the Trinamul Congress. “The authorities had initially said they would foot the CMDA bill only after clarifications,” leader of the Opposition Anupam Datta said. “The decision for immediate payment is a backtrack on its words,” he said.

The water tax bills will be sent on a quarterly basis to the residents and the municipality is going by the government directive of pegging it at 30 per cent of the property tax, without exceeding Rs 75 or going below the Rs-30 limit.


Calcutta, April 15: 
Come May Day and the two Banglas will come closer to each other, via the small screen. Four friends — Manas Kumar Basu, Indrajit Ghoshal, Ashok Valechha and Rajib Sarkar — have put their heads and pockets together to “build a bridge” across the border by striking a common chord between cable and satellite (C&S) homes in West Bengal and Bangladesh.

The foursome has formed an independent company, Kolkata Telefilms Pvt. Ltd, for round-the-clock distribution, promotion and marketing of Channel I, “Bangladesh’s most popular satellite television channel”, in India. For this, the city-based youngsters have tied up with Impress Telefilms Ltd, the “largest production house in Bangladesh” and owner of Channel I.

“We will be responsible for providing the channel with Indian (read: Calcutta) content on Indian time-band, targeting pockets of Bengali-speaking audiences in the 126 countries where Channel I penetrates,” says Rajib, one of the directors of Kolkata Telefilms. To start with, Channel I will be distributed in Mumbai and Delhi, besides Calcutta and the districts of Bengal.

The four friends firmly believe they can soar above the competition in viewership ratings, by virtue of the “uniqueness” of the content the channel would offer. “We will focus largely on issues and areas of common interest to Bengalis on both sides of the border, like cuisine, travel, cinema, theatre and poetry,” smiles Manas, confirming that all technical support will come from the Impress Telefilms headquarters in Dhaka. Impress provides substantial content to both the state-controlled BTV and private terrestrial channel Ekushe Television.

Beamed from the PAS-10/4 satellite and uplinked from Singapore, Channel I has boarded the RPG Netcom distribution platform in Calcutta. “Within three months of the launch, we hope to achieve about 80 per cent penetration of the city’s C&S households,” says Rajib, who has been in the electronic media for over a decade.

Kicking off with four-and-a-half hours of programming on Indian prime time, ending with a movie around midnight, Channel I claims to be the “first digital Bangla channel”. Besides screening black-and-white classics of the Uttam Kumar-Suchitra Sen era and current-day Tollywood hits to an eager audience across the border, the friends are happy that they can draw heavily from the large repertoire of Bangladeshi films Impress has in its quiver.

“They have rights to more than 60 per cent of the films produced in Bangladesh, which paves the way for a healthy exchange,” says Manas. The quartet is also keen to provide a common platform for popular music from both sides of the border on the channel. “Just as Runa Laila and Sabina Yasmin strike a familiar chord in Calcutta, similarly Kabir Suman and Indranil are lapped up in Dhaka,” says Rajib. A cross-border exchange of Bangla rock, the contemporary craze, is also in the offing through Channel I.


Calcutta, April 15: 
More than 50 people have been affected and 17 of them admitted to Beleghata’s Infectious Diseases (ID) Hospital, following an outbreak of cholera in two wards (Nos. 72 & 73) in south Calcutta from Sunday afternoon.

Twelve of the 17 were released from the hospital on Monday. The affected areas are parts of Harish Mukherjee Road, Girish Mukherjee Road, Patuapara and Kalighat Road.

“I have sent a medical team to these areas. Civic dispensaries have been kept open round-the-clock and distribution of halogen tablets and oral rehydration solution (ORS) have already begun,” said member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan, on Monday.

According to officer on special duty (health) Atanu Mukherjee, the medical officials were not sure whether the outbreak was caused by contamination of water or consumption of hilsa.

A hospital spokesman, however, said no fresh cases came in after Monday noon. According to a civic conservancy official, two labourers’ quarters on Harish Mukherjee Road, comprising nearly 150 families, have been the most affected.

Following complaints from local councillors Anil Mukherjee and Goutam Hari Chatterjee, member, mayor-in-council (drainage and sewerage), Rajib Deb, and member (water supply) Sovan Chatterjee visited the area on Monday.

The water supply department has collected samples to be tested in the civic laboratory, said Chatterjee.

A similar outbreak had taken place at Sahapur, in Behala, during the Pujas. The cause of the outbreak could not be ascertained, as the samples of prasad turned stale before the tests. At least 100 people had been taken ill after eating prasad at a local puja pandal.


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