Blaze-battlers in line of fire
Back-to-work bustle at bank
Ceiling cave-in seals salvage hopes
Vision of hope in darkness
The City Diary
Back to work amid ruins in the dark
Mother-son in net for fraud
Hacked by dacoits, saved by youths
Poll panel nod
Wetland market plan draws flak

 
 
BLAZE-BATTLERS IN LINE OF FIRE 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, April 25: 
Lack of planning, rusty reflexes, a vague idea about water spots… The departmental post-mortem into Tuesday night’s operation at Firpo’s has put firemen in the line of fire.

With the embers of the Jawaharlal Nehru Road market still smouldering, fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee’s turned the heat on fire brigade officials on Thursday. At a special fact-finding session in his Writers’ Buildings office, Chatterjee blamed the fire-fighting failure on faulty planning and lack of ‘match fitness’.

The minister made it clear that the ‘post-mortem’ conducted into the first few hours of fire-fighting at Firpo’s on Tuesday night portrayed the blaze-battlers in poor light. The firemen were clueless about the “location of various water reservoirs near Firpo’s” and failed to “utilise the resources on time”.

The probe revealed that the “delayed decision” to use the water from the Manohar Das Tarag slowed down the salvage operation. The firemen did not have a clue about the existence of an underground water reservoir at Chaplin Park and Oberoi Grand. “Jol achhe, kintu parichiti nei… (There is enough water, but no knowledge of the location),” was how the minister described the debacle.

Chatterjee, “extremely unhappy” with the turn of events on Tuesday night, told his senior officers that they must get their act together at once. “I have decided to make mock fire-drills a must for every fireman. They must be quick on their feet,” he later said, adding: “If only they had utilised the water from Chaplin Park a little earlier…”

The probe focussed to a great extent on the delay in drawing water from Chaplin Park and a lack of on-the-spot leadership. “When I reached Firpo’s on Tuesday night, I realised very little could be done to save the market. So, I took a decision and asked the men to save the adjacent buildings, which they did,” said Chatterjee.

To battle the blaze, firemen on Tuesday used water from Manohar Das Tarag, Chaplin Park and more than 450,000 gallons from 50 fire tenders. Water was being sporadically sprayed on the spot, well into Thursday afternoon.

Slipping into combat mode, the minister on Thursday held a meeting to finalise the time and venue for the proposed drills. The fire services directorate also announced an additional grant of Rs 4.5 lakh to speed up the water reservoir identification and mapping and preservation of waterbodies project, undertaken by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) after a fire had gutted New Market nearly 15 years ago.

The fire services directorate, the Indian Army and the CMC had then set out identifying water reservoirs at Chaplin Park, Sovabazar, Nimtala Ghat, the Indian Museum, the Oberoi Grand, Hotel Hindustan International… Rs 2.5 lakh has been spent by the CMC, but the project was going nowhere till the Firpo’s fire served as a rude awakening, sources said.

   

 
 
BACK-TO-WORK BUSTLE AT BANK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 25: 
On instructions from UBI chairman Madhukar, bank officials are at work on a war footing to restore operations at the Firpo’s market branch, ravaged in fires on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The branch hopes to resume operations from Friday.

On Wednesday, the bank had suspended cheque deposits at all 100 branches in the city. Customers turned up on Thursday too, but were unable to deposit their cheques. “Branch managers had been instructed not to collect cheques from customers till further notice,’’ Madhukar said.

The chairman and senior officers later visited the Firpo’s branch to check the damage and supervise contingency operations. Madhukar told Metro on Thursday that the authorities had successfully set up a replacement service branch on the third floor of the bank’s headquarters on Old Court House Street.

Computers have been brought from Mumbai and installed to resume operations, he said. “We have conducted a test run and sent instructions to zonal managers to resume collection of cheques,’’ Madhukar said.

The bank staff are reportedly unwilling to return to the Firpo’s branch, “even if the government wants us to reopen the office”.

   

 
 
CEILING CAVE-IN SEALS SALVAGE HOPES 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, April 25: 
A major portion of the roof of the charred Firpo’s market collapsed on Thursday evening, dashing the hopes of a large number of shopkeepers, who thought they would salvage goods that had survived the blaze.

The roof came crashing down while fire-fighters were rummaging through the debris and putting out the embers. No injuries were reported. “We sent across a few vehicles to Firpo’s to remove injured people to hospital. Fortunately, there were none,” said Zulfiquar Hasan, deputy commissioner of police, central division.

Shopkeepers said the roof cave-in shut out their chances of retrieving items that might have survived the fire.

The roof collapse also prevented officials of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) from entering the shopping complex. The CFSL officials had arrived to collect samples of debris from Firpo’s to determine the cause of the fire.

CFSL director N.K. Nag admitted that his men could not enter the charred cage of the shopping complex because of the roof collapse on Thursday evening.

“We have to collect samples of the debris from several points and examine them before we can arrive at a conclusion on the cause of the fire. I have asked the fire brigade and civic officials to clear the rubble as soon as possible,” Nag told Metro.

He also asked fire brigade officers to lift the chunks of concrete which caved in with the help of cranes, instead of crushing them and dragging them out. That would facilitate the forensic fact-finding team in collecting samples.

On Thursday afternoon, firemen broke open the rolling shutters of shops facing Jawaharlal Nehru Road with gas cutters to gain access to zones from which smoke was still rising. They sprayed water into several shops to douse the embers.

The firemen climbed up ladders to salvage whatever goods they could lay their hands on in the north-west corner of the first floor. They handed down jute bagsful of watches, jewellery and gift items.

Many shopkeepers heaved a sigh of relief to find their wares, including suit lengths, shirts and dress material, unsinged by the fire on the ground floor.

“Last night, when the second fire broke out, I thought my shop would also be gutted. The late-night shower may have saved the day for us,” said the owner of a shop on the ground floor, who salvaged almost his entire stock on Thursday.

Mangled steel, chunks of concrete and several air-conditioning machines hung precariously on the northern side of Firpo’s.

S.I.S. Ahmed, director-general of fire services, who also heads the five-member inquiry committee, said: “We are going through all the aspects. Nothing can be disclosed until we get the report from forensic experts.”

Fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee said his department was contemplating a Bill to impose service charges for fighting fires in commercial complexes. His department was also discussing with the police a project to impart to young policemen “the basic knowledge about how to deal with such situations,’’ the minister added.

   

 
 
VISION OF HOPE IN DARKNESS 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, April 25: 
Husain is in a black mood. Black is the colour of the “phenomenon of violence that has become a universal feature”, says the artist, whose exhibition of paintings and installation opens at CIMA Gallery on Friday evening. The gallery will be draped in sable, the lights will be dim, and shadowy figures (actually plywood cut-outs) will dance in the gloom.

The centrepiece is a huge canvas depicting soldiers in fatigues. A nude with a child walks amid them, and above are two charging bulls, all in same drab shades of grey, khaki and black. “But the soldiers don’t carry any arms. They are not triumphant. They are not defeated either. They capture a moment in life which is unresolved”, says Husain, who is superimposing his own images on the frontpages of dailies of significant days like September 11 and the Godhra train carnage. “It is a combination of art and journalism,” says the artist, whose mental agility is only matched by his physical hyperactivity. Here is a man who never sits still unless he is painting.

It is all designed to make visitors feel uncomfortable. The music of Hitler’s favourite composer Wagner will be played at a very high pitch “so that visitors can’t stay for more than two minutes”.

These works are inspired by Rembrandt’s Night Watch, which he saw 40 years ago, and was overwhelmed by the “sheer power of creation”. By comparison he finds Picasso’s Guernica “journalistic”.

Part of this vast installation, covering almost the entire floorspace and ceiling of the gallery, will be a khatiya with a naked, soiled doll lying on it. And next to it, an antique double-barrel gun.

With his dramatic lines, Husain has executed some drawings on paper and acrylic sheets of a bull under attack, a cockerel and a nude, and a nude with a large pistol pressed against her stomach, a soldier holding a bayonet and a tree with human beings dropping off it like fruit.

So why does he paint when he feels that the “manifestation of conflict is always there in the whole history of mankind”? And when artists “can’t give any solution”? Because creative people “offer visions to mankind… Fleeting moments, which are enough to sustain the sanity of mankind”, says the man who never gives up.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
Calcutta, April 25: 

Youth shot by guard at Kasba bank

Mohammed Rafiq, 25, was injured when he, along with two others, tried to force their way into a bank in Kasba on Wednesday evening and the security guard opened fire. Police said the three reached the bank when it was about to close. The security guard stopped them at the gate and an altercation followed. The guard fired from his gun, injuring Rafiq. The two others managed to flee. Rafiq was admitted to hospital where his condition was stated to be critical.

Run over by lorry

Mohammed Israel, 22, was run over by a lorry near Kidderpore, in the west Port police station area, on Thursday. Police said Israel was crossing the road when the vehicle knocked him down. He was taken to hospital where he was declared brought dead.

Held for extortion

The North 24-Parganas police arrested two extortionists of the Ultadanga and Lake Town areas on Thursday. The team picked up Sona Thakur and Sheikh Mokhtar from a hideout in Madhyamgram. A revolver and a razor were seized from them.

Shop robbery

Three youths entered a mobile phone outlet in Entally and decamped with cash and four cellphones worth several thousand rupees on Thursday afternoon. The police managed to catch one of the youths, identified as Javed, and seized a revolver from him.

Student hangs self

Keya Dasgupta, 15, hanged herself from the ceiling fan of her residence in Howrah town late on Wednesday. Police said Keya, a Madhyamik examinee this year, was suffering from depression.

Trader missing

Raja Saha, a Gariahat-based businessman, is missing since April 20. Officers probing the case said a missing diary had been lodged and a search was underway.

New council head

Sujata Sen, currently manager, programmes and communications, British Council (BC), East India, is taking over as the first Indian director of the Council, East India, from Saturday. Sen has new plans for the library which will offer new online resources — electronic databases that will give access to journals and papers on management and information technology. A new video-conferencing facility, too, is opening. The English literature section will still be the largest, and the focus will be on contemporary English writing. The Council has theatre tours planned later this year.

Criminal arrested

The Jorasanko police arrested Nasim, alias Nat, a close associate of Gudda. Nasim was picked up from a hideout on Thursday. A revolver was seized from him.

Horticulturist dies

Horticulturist Dr Sunil Kumar Mukherjee died recently in Calcutta. He was 88. Mukherjee was known for his work on the origin and improvement of mango and grape and identification of their clones.

Hurt in collision

Two persons were injured, one of them seriously, after two lorries collided on BT Road, in the Cossipore police station area, late on Wednesday.    

 
 
BACK TO WORK AMID RUINS IN THE DARK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 25: 
Struggling to breathe inside a smoke-filled room while negotiating dirty water lapping his feet, P.R. Krishnan is busy finalising details of the next Warner Bros mega release Collateral Damage, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Despite chunks of charred concrete falling at the adjacent Firpo’s market, Krishnan was back to work at the partially-damaged Leslie House on Thursday morning. “I know it is risky, but what can be done. The show must go on,” said the manager, sitting in his first-floor office.

Pointing out at a chunk of loose concrete, Krishnan said that the smoke and water all around was making life difficult. “There is so much accounting and other managerial jobs to do but I don’t have a choice,” he added.

Like Krishnan, most of the 70-odd office owners at the century-old Leslie House are back in business. Among them is Prasun Mondol, the personnel manager of one of the oldest company in India, Tyre Corporation. “We are short on man-power and, therefore, cannot lose time. This is our head office and any delay will cause problems in branches throughout the country,” Mondol said.

The network in all the offices has collapsed and fax and telex machines are not working, but determined employees are trying to clear most of the pending work.

Vinod Bhalotia of Iden Graphics, a glowsign board manufacturing company on the second floor, has lost goods worth thousands, not because of the fire but due to theft. “Taking advantage of the fire, miscreants stole our goods on Tuesday night. We have lodged a complaint at the Taltala police station, but the goods haven’t been recovered so far,” lamented Bhalotia.

Jagannath Roy of M.K. Shipping and Chartering Company, which was partially destroyed by the fire, was busy drafting letters as others modes of communication were not working. “For us, it is an endless wait till electricity is restored. I am told this could take ages. We are still trying to piece together whatever has been left over,” Roy added.

   

 
 
MOTHER-SON IN NET FOR FRAUD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 25: 
A 45-year-old woman and her son were arrested from Birati, on the northern fringes of the city, on charges of running a fake placement agency and duping three youths with lucrative job offers abroad. The woman was produced in court and remanded in police custody till May 5.

Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner, detective department, said the woman had taken Rs 1.5 lakh from two youths in 2001. “We received the complaint a month ago when the victims came forward,” he added.

Ghosh promised three youths — Subir Sengupta, Rabindranath Das and Joydeep Chatterjee — that she would give them jobs in the Maldives. She took Rs 67,000 from Sengupta and Rs 82,000 from Das in May 2001.

Ghosh, then, took the youths to Trichi for medical tests in October 2001. The youths had to wait there for over two months.

On returning to Calcutta, they demanded their money back. The woman told them to wait another two months. It was then that they contacted the police.

   

 
 
HACKED BY DACOITS, SAVED BY YOUTHS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 25: 
Had it not been for four young men of a local club, 40-year-old housewife Manju Anchalia, resident of Malanga Lane, in central Calcutta, would not have been alive today.

Anchalia’s right palm and fingers were almost severed and her face badly bruised when three dacoits took turns in hitting her with choppers and rods to prevent her from raising an alarm. The club members nabbed one of the miscreants. Two others fled, leaving behind the cash and jewellery.

Thursday was like any normal day for Anchalia. With her daughter at college, son at school and husband, Narendra, at his BBD Bag insurance office, she was alone in her second-floor flat with domestic help, Ramu, engaged six months ago. Ramu hails from Balasore, in Orissa. Anchalia went for a bath a little before 11 am. When she came out of the bathroom, she found three outsiders in her bedroom, armed with choppers and rods.

Alarmed, she called out to Ramu, who slipped out of the flat. The three bandits took over. They tied Anchalia’s hands and feet to a leg of the bed and clamped a big piece of sticking plaster to her mouth.

Officer-in-charge of Bowbazar police station, A.K. Das, said while the dacoits were tying her up, she kept requesting them not to kill her. “She told them about her 12-year-old, deaf-and-mute son and that she needed to be alive to look after him. She offered them the keys to the almirahs and asked them to take whatever they wanted,” he added.

While the dacoits were busy rummaging through the almirahs, taking out cash and jewellery, Anchalia stood up and reached out for the grill of an open window, and managed to let out a groan. At this, the dacoits threw her on the floor, hacked at her right palm with choppers and hit her face with a rod.

Bipul Mukherjee, who lives in a second-floor flat opposite the Anchalias, heard her groan. He rushed down to inform other members of his club — Miley Mishey Sangha. With three others — Uttam Barman, Raju Saha and Krishnendu Mukherjee, who were playing carrom — he ran to the Anchalias’ house. “The dacoits, realising that people were at hand, sped past me, leaving their loot behind. My friends waiting on the road caught one of them,” said Bipul. He freed Anchalia and rushed her to hospital. The dacoit who was caught was identified as Narayan Behera and he, too, hailed from Balasore.

   

 
 
POLL PANEL NOD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 25: 
Jana Unnayan Mancha, a Calcutta-based organisation formed two years ago, has been registered by the Election Commission of India as a political party under Section 29A of the Representation of People’s Act. The party’s president, former city sheriff Sanat Biswas, has recently received a letter to this effect from the Commission.

The Mancha is not “just another political outfit” with links with or leanings to any big -brother party, Biswas said. It is made of like-minded individuals, many of them of good standing and background, who joined hands after being disillusioned by the non-performance in several areas by established political parties and leaders.

At its first meeting, Mancha members agreed that democracy had been defiled and the election process dominated by money, muscle and the mafia. Corruption had become a way of life. “The common man is the loser, and this has been going on for too long,” the 12-member central committee said.

The Mancha has already enrolled over 100 members — all “dedicated to the nation.” The chief objectives of the party are to promote grassroot awareness and foster national consciousness.

Other than Biswas, its members include authors Narayan Sanyal and Manoj Dutta, eye surgeon Kanchan Chatterjee, sitarist Jaya Biswas, chartered accountant Rajat Sengupta, social worker Mala Banerjee and professors Mihir Sinha Roy and Sudhir Ranjan Ghosh.

   

 
 
WETLAND MARKET PLAN DRAWS FLAK 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bolpur, April 25: 
The Trinamul Congress-run Bolpur municipality has filled up a vast wetland to construct a market complex, defying a ban on filling up waterbodies.

The civic body started filling up the wetland with garbage collected from the town. Initially, residents thought that garbage had been dumped there because of a shortage of disposal space.

“We felt that something was wrong when we learnt that, despite having two dumping grounds, the municipality is dumping garbage in the plot. Slowly, they filled up three-fourths of the wetland,” said Bankim Ghosh, a resident of the area.

Filling up any wetland is banned, says subdivisional officer A.N. Mullik. “I shall take appropriate action. If it has already been filled, we shall take steps to bring it back to its earlier condition,” he added.

   
 

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