Twin troubles for cops
A bullet in the melee
Mayor target: Writers’ tax
Give the jalopy a run for its money
The City Diary
Selling Indian art to Indians in India
Staff appeal to break hall impasse
Seizures at Firpo’s
In the dark over cable disorder
Candid frames of carnage

 
 
TWIN TROUBLES FOR COPS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 29: 

A helmet hurled in fury

Traffic around Writers’ Buildings on Monday was thrown into disarray when a constable took off his regulation helmet and smashed the windscreen of a minibus, besides hitting the driver on the head. The reasons for his outburst: a slow-moving traffic and a careless driver.

The Lake Road-bound minibus had reportedly grazed constable Samir Kumar Sanyal, while he was directing traffic on Brabourne Road. An angry Sanyal took off his helmet, smashed the windscreen of the minibus and then took a swipe at the driver, cracking his head.

The injured driver had to be admitted to Medical College and Hospital. Later, a transport operator was arrested on charges of blocking traffic.

The sudden outbreak of violence caused a paralysis around Writers’ Buildings, throwing traffic out of control for nearly an hour. Bystanders, angry at the turn of events, heckled the constable and his superiors, who rushed to the spot for damage control measures. Efforts to rescue Sanyal from mob fury went in vain. Finally, the police resorted to a lathicharge and brought the situation under control at around 4.30 pm.

Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner (headquarters), said the minibus (WBY 2066), on route no. 111, was heading towards Lake Road from Howrah. The driver, Shankar Das, was picking up passengers from unscheduled stops, causing a traffic bottleneck. “Maybe, this irked the constable,” sources said.

But according to Khokan Dey, conductor of the minibus, the driver was steering slowly, trying to negotiate rush-hour traffic, when the vehicle grazed Sanyal. “The constable lost his temper, took off his helmet and smashed the windscreen. When the driver protested, he was hit on the head with the helmet,” said Basu.

Passengers got off the minibus and surrounded the constable. “He was assaulted by some bystanders before officers from Hare Street police station could reach the spot,” added Basu. A force, led by sub-inspector C. Roy Mukherjee, managed to rescue Sanyal, who was then taken to Calcutta Police Hospital. The mob also heckled Mukherjee and other policemen when they tried to intervene and restore normalcy. They were joined by the drivers, helpers and passengers of other minibuses, who put up a roadblock, adding to the chaos on Brabourne Road.

The situation turned uglier when Mukherjee started threatening the demonstrators. “Aami ekhane danga korte ashini. Raasta theke shore jaan, na hole lathicharge korte hobey (I have not come here for rioting. Clear the road, otherwise I will have to resort to a lathicharge),” he told the mob.

As soon as additional forces arrived from Lalbazar, the cops swung into an indiscriminate lathicharge. Even women were not spared, bystanders said.

Witnesses complained that the lathicharge erupted without a warning. Before leaving the spot, the cops rounded up Sarbesh Kumar Roy, a transport operator who lives on B.T. Road, for leading the demonstrators to put up a roadblock.

Zulfiquar Hasan, deputy commissioner, central, said: “A case will be initiated against the constable on the basis of the complaint lodged by the bus conductor.”

   

 
 
A BULLET IN THE MELEE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 29: 
A constable sustained bullet injuries and a criminal on the run was caught after a pitched battle between the police and criminals on Bechulal Road, in Entally, on Monday afternoon. Residents barred their doors and shopkeepers downed their shutters during the hour-long clash.

Constable Joydeb Das caught a bullet fired by criminal Mohammad Isfar. The bullet pierced Das’ forearm. Isfar, a Gudda associate, was arrested but two of his associates managed to flee.

For the past few weeks, the Entally police had been after Isfar, popularly known as ‘Chand’, of Tiljala Lane, for unleashing terror in the area.

Chand had slipped out of the police dragnet several times and continued to terrorise shopowners and promoters in the Tiljala and Entally belts.

On Sunday, the Entally police were tipped off that Chand, along with two associates, would visit a construction site to demand money. “They had been threatening a man for a long time and we decided to nab him,” said a senior police officer.

At around 2 pm on Monday, sub-inspector S.B. Chakraborty, along with three constables, made their way to Bechulal Road, where Chand was to arrive with his associates. They knew that the criminals would be armed and were adequately prepared.

About 45 minutes later, a constable noticed Chand and his associates and signalled to his officer. Chand found himself hemmed in by policemen.

While the sub-inspector asked him to surrender, Chand tried to break free. He whipped out a revolver and fired at constable Joydeb Das, who was in his way.

Luckily for Das, the bullet hit his left forearm. Two other constables pounced on Chand and snatched the revolver from his hand. After a brief scuffle, that saw the criminals and the policemen exchanging punches, Chand was pinned down. His associates, however, managed to escape and disappeared into the bylanes of the area.

Chand was whisked away to the police station. Senior police officers said they had been on Chand’s trail for a long time. “He has several cases of extortion pending against him. He was also wanted in connection with a murder,” said an officer of Entally police station. According to the officers, a special team will comb Narkeldanga and Entally in search of a few other associates of Chand. “He has given us several names and we hope to net them soon,” an officer said.

The police are also trying to find out the connection between Gudda and Isfar and the fact that Isfar was controlling a lot of operations after Gudda’s arrest a year and a half ago.

Bus monitors: In a move to tame errant drivers, policemen in plain clothes will travel on buses and keep tabs on them.

Deputy commissioner of police, traffic, M.K. Singh, said a team of three policemen has been deployed on private and public buses to check whether the drivers are halting their vehicles at designated stops.

If the driver is speeding unnecessarily or is not following the route charted by the public vehicles department, the cops note down the deviations on a printed sheet they carry with them. The challan is later sent to the owner of the vehicle.

   

 
 
MAYOR TARGET: WRITERS’ TAX 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, April 29: 
After being slapped with a Rs 10-crore bill by Calcutta Police for accompanying civic officials on demolition drives over the past five years, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) is setting out to settle “scores” with the state government.

It decided, for the first time ever, to begin an assessment of Bengal’s seat of power — Writers’ Buildings — in a bid to “recover” arrears from the state government for its “property” at BBD Bag. According to the CMC Act, the state government has to pay property tax for the buildings and structures owned by it, says deputy municipal commissioner (revenue) N.K. Roy.

But before the mayor and his men could strike back in revenge, officers in the CMC’s assessment department have thrown a spanner in the works. They want to know how to implement the move to tax Writers’. “How do we raise a property tax bill for Writers’ in the absence of a readily-available address?” asked one of them.

In the map prepared by R.B. Smart between 1903 and 1912, the premises of Writers’ Buildings had been recorded as 12-14 Dalhousie Square, North. The map shows that the building housed three offices — the Bengal Secretariat Civil Office, Bengal PWD Office and the Bengal Secretariat Press.

But in the CMC’s assessment register, the address is recorded as 16, Dalhousie Square, North. The total area of the premises recorded in the register is 16 bighas, 18 cottahs and 15 chhataks.

The reason for the CMC being unable to correctly record the address of Writers’ is the fact that a property tax bill had never been raised on it since Independence. “The CMC had never sent any property tax bill for this building,” said H. Maity, senior official in the caretakers’ wing of Writers’.

Besides Writers’, also on the CMC hit-list was the state electricity board’s gas turbine station at Kasba. Again, the officials are in a fix, as the station does not have a proper address.

Officials add that an assessment of the sprawling 30-bigha Kasba generating station would fetch more than Rs 50 crore as dues. When contacted on Monday, superintending engineer of the gas turbine station Asit Sikdar said: “We don’t pay tax to the CMC.”

   

 
 
GIVE THE JALOPY A RUN FOR ITS MONEY 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, April 29: 
Exit: Roadside garage mechanics, durwans and drivers and the word-of-mouth campaign so essential when you want to sell your used car or buy a second-hand one

Enter: Big players, who will put their stamp of approval on the used car you buy after going through a reality check on its history (past ownership, mileage, year of purchase), making the process similar to the one you go through when you buy a new car

The second-hand car-market in Calcutta, most of which is now controlled by grey-market operators, like the local garage mechanic or the neighbour’s driver, seems set for a overhaul with major players — professionally-run firms, one of them no less than the distributors of automobile majors — taking the new role seriously.

Calcutta, according to industry estimates, now has more than 25,000 new private cars hitting the road every year. And the number of cars that changes hands every year should be in the 15,000-18,000 bracket, with the grey market accounting for about 70 per cent of this figure.

The entry of Tata’s eastern region distributors Lexus Motors in this sector now looks set to revive the market, with many of the major and middle-level players planning to match Lexus step for step. Global Motors, one of the major players operating from north Calcutta, has already chalked out plans to tie up with an authorised distributor of a major manufacturer, which will issue some sort of a certificate to the buyer of the second-hand car. “We plan to start issuing something to customers, on the lines of the Lexus Certificate,” proprietor D. Biswas told Metro. The firm was already giving customers free after-sales service for a year, he added.

Swapan Sadhukhan, speaking for Ritchie Motors, an important player, admitted that it was not yet giving such certificates to customers. “But we do an extensive check on a car’s antecedents and then go for reconditioning, if needed,” he added.

All this, admits North Calcutta Car Bazar proprietor Amar Shankar Sau, puts the customer in a win-win position. Smaller players, those concentrating on the local-level market like his firm, could be in for some trouble. “When major players get down to business, it definitely means some sort of re-adjustment for us,” he said. But the customer could be the ultimate gainer in such a scenario.

The Lexus Certificate , given to a car after a seven-stage check (this includes a check on its past life, past ownership, extensive practical tests and even a cross-check of its finances, follows a similar programme conceived by Maruti for cars from its own stable. Called Maruti True-Value, this scheme has already supported a growth in the second-hand Maruti market in Delhi, say trade sources here.

“The second-hand car-market can only grow,” feels Lexus Certificate chief Binod Agarwal. “People will start showing more interest the moment they are sure of the seller’s credibility,” he said, adding that trust and credibility cannot be expected from the local broker.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Police custody in Dum Dum case

Dulal Banerjee, the alleged mastermind of the recent twin murders in Dum Dum, was remanded in police custody till May 4 by the chief metropolitan magistrate of Sealdah court. Mukherjee, who had been admitted to SSKM Hospital after he had complained of chest pain, was released from hospital on Monday.

Mayor absence sparks walk-out

Left Front councillors walked out of the civic house meeting on Monday as the mayor and most of his council members were absent during the post-lunch session to answer a motion brought by CPM councillor Provakar Mondol. Mondol had brought a motion against the “high-handedness” of civic assessment officers who “arbitrarily raised property taxes of houses”. Announcing that the mayor would answer the question, chairman Anil Mukherjee waited for about half an hour, but he was not available. By the time the mayor returned, the Opposition had left.

Dry Howrah

Supply of filtered water in the Howrah Municipal Corporation area will be suspended from 2 pm to 10 pm on Thursday on account of repairs to be carried out on the main pipelines at the Belgachhia trenching ground. “All efforts will be made to restore normal supply by the next morning,” Asoke Guha, secretary of the Corporation, said.

Channel off air

Channel I, an Indo-Bangladeshi joint-venture satellite channel, has been switched off by RPG Netcom, “pending regulatory issues”. Netcom officials maintained they had problems with part of the channel content. It is learnt that a tobacco commercial was at fault. However, Rajib Sarkar, one of the Indian directors of Channel I, said the channel went off due to “technical reasons” and will be back “in a week” with a separate Indian feed.

Suicide in Hooghly

A 55-year-old man committed suicide by jumping off a launch into the Hooghly on Monday. Police said the man, Kashishwar Chakrabarty, was on his way to the high court from his Dankuni residence. His body could not be recovered till late on Monday.

Sleeping on the job

The Alipore police initiated an inquiry against two constables for sleeping during duty at important road intersections. Officer-in-charge of Alipore police station Pinaki Mondol, who was on night duty, noticed the constables sleeping. The policemen have been given a week to offer an explanation.

Held for eve-teasing

Five youths were arrested in the Behala and Thakurpukur harassing girls. Police said the youths riding motorcycles, would harass girls returning from school.

Library protest

The National Library Staff Association on Monday protested irregular services in the library section. The association submitted a charter of demands, which included immediate implementation of the Delivery of Books Act and improved facilities for readers.    

 
 
SELLING INDIAN ART TO INDIANS IN INDIA 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, April 29: 
In 1989, a painting by Vivan Sundaram, titled Fisherwomen of Bombay, sold for Rs 210,000 at the Timeless Art charity auction. In March this year, the same painting fetched Rs 11 lakh at an auction organised by Bowring’s fine art auctioneers, held at Oberoi Towers, Mumbai. It had appreciated more than five times over a period of about 13 years.

So Patrick Bowring, deputy chairman of the auction house which opened exactly a year ago to sell the art of India in India for Indians, has reason enough to exclaim: “I have this question to ask. Have share investments achieved similar results?”

Patrick Bowring, who is in his mid-50s, began his career in Sotheby’s in 1969. He stuck it out in the British painting department right up to 1997.

“I enjoyed coming here for many many years,” he says. His first encounter with 20th Century Indian art was fortuitous — in the hotels he used to stay in during his visits to the country.

During his stint with Sotheby’s, Bowring held seven or eight auctions of this art in its country of origin.

Little wonder, he always wanted to open an auction house meant exclusively for this country. It was “low priority” for global players such as Sotheby’s and it was virgin territory.

“Myself and my friends equally shared the view that India needed an auction house of its own. The sourcing is in India and the selling is in India, too. We sell whatever is available in India”.

Besides himself, P.R.S. Oberoi, chairman of the Oberoi group of hotels (in a “purely personal capacity”), and Christopher Elwes, who worked for Christie’s for 13 years and was later chief executive of Bonham’s, were involved in creating Bowring’s. “The equity is widely spread and includes private individuals interested in art” — fifty-fifty Indian and British.

Bowring’s held its first sale in November in Delhi. Of the 136 lots, about 80 were contemporary works. “We have broken a lot of new ground in the past six months. We sold over a million dollars of Indian art. Three items were sold for Rs 20 lakh each — Hemen Majumdar, Nicholas Roerich and Gaitonde. Some other pictures made Rs 10 lakh quite comfortably — Raza, Husain, Sundaram and Stefan Norblin.” A lot of new faces were interested in bidding. What Bowring did not mention is that it did not speak very highly for the tastes of the buyers. Norblin, for example, is little better than kitsch.

“The 20th Century art market has an established auction record. We were very much testing new areas, such as carpets, textiles, silver, glass, ceramics, marble statues, European porcelain … whatever is available in India,” says Bowring.

Bowring is upbeat about the Indian art mart. “There is a huge variety of markets which could be developed in the future. Jewellery is one area we are looking at. Stamps and vintage cars have possibility. But it will take four to five years. We are going through an exploratory period,” he says. In the course of this year, Bowring’s will hold sales of film memorabilia and house contents, besides contemporary art.

   

 
 
STAFF APPEAL TO BREAK HALL IMPASSE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 29: 
Realising that they will not be paid for the month of April, the employees of Globe cinema on Monday appealed to municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya, seeking a reopening of the hall that had closed down on March 19.

The 60-odd employees, in a letter to Bhattacharya, sought his intervention in the impasse.

The hall was shut after the civic authorities hauled up the owners over non-payment of property and water taxes to the tune of Rs 40 lakh.

“The employees are paying for the owner’s misdeeds. What they are appealing for is quite justified, since they have to support their families,” said Swadhin Aloke Mukherjee, joint general secretary of Bengal Motion Picture Employees’ Union.

Arijit Dutta, owner of Globe, contacted on Monday, pleaded helplessness. “The civic authorities have taken a very rigid stand. They have asked us to deposit at least 75 per cent of the arrears before negotiations. It is not possible for us to cough up such a huge sum so soon,” said Dutta.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) had sent Globe the notice “out of the blue and without any discussion”, Dutta claimed. “The notice came over the weekend and we had very little time to react. Moreover, we had to shut the hall quickly, as the water lines were disconnected,” he added.

Dutta said that even though the hall was shut from March 19, the employees were paid for the month. “But I told my staff that I won’t be able to pay them from April unless the situation improved. So, they cannot complain that I did not inform them in advance,” he added.

When he took the hall on a long-term lease from the Globe Theatres Private Limited in 2000, Dutta was unaware about the outstanding tax, he said.

Director (films) Dilip Basu admitted that the employees’ union at Globe had submitted a memorandum to him recently, seeking the government’s intervention.

“We have told the delegation that we don’t have any role to play in the deadlock. The matter would have to be sorted out between the Globe cinema authorities and the CMC,” said Basu.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, however, is firm on his stand. “Globe cinema owes us Rs 40 lakh and we want the money urgently. We are not ready to make any kind of compromise in realising property tax dues,” he asserted.

   

 
 
SEIZURES AT FIRPO’S 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 29: 
A city police team, on the directive of State Forensic Science Laboratory (SFSL) officials, collected a few samples from the debris of Firpo’s market on Monday morning.

The SFSL team arrived on the market premises on Monday morning and worked on the northern side of the ground floor. The police seized a few burnt wires, a meter box and a jerrican.

All the items were packed and handed over to the SFSL officials. The team will analyse the samples to detect whether “sabotage” played a role in the sudden fire that ravaged the market on Tuesday.

Shop-owners, who still hung around, hoping to salvage lost goods, were agitated at the seizure of the jerrican from the charred remains of a fruit-seller’s shop.

“The can proves that someone had set the market on fire. It confirms the sabotage angle,” a few of them said.

Senior police officers, however, refuted the allegations. “The can probably contained water, certainly not inflammable liquid. There are hundreds of such cans and other items strewn all over the place. We have seized whatever the SFSL team wanted us to,” said an official.

Rajen Poddar, who had apparently acquired the Firpo’s plot on lease from the Mullicks, was not at home when a police team went to meet him on Monday. The police were told that he is recuperating in a nursing home.

Police chief Sujoy Chakraborty said: “We will wait for the outcome of the SFSL probe before taking action against the culprits.”

State fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee said that he, too, was waiting for the SFSL report before charting the next course of action. “I have been told that it is difficult to find out the real cause of such massive destruction. But, I am hopeful that the experts will be able to get to the root cause,” he said.

Back at Firpo’s, the SFSL team said that it will be collecting further samples from the market, once the debris is cleared. Almost 2,000 square feet of the roof had caved in after the fire. “Though the SFSL officials want us to check out everything, the debris is making things difficult,” said the police official.

Earlier, a group inspection by the police, the fire brigade and the CMC discussed ways of demolishing the building. According to fire brigade officials, the idea to raze the building was tricky, since a portion of it could damage the adjacent Leslie House.

   

 
 
IN THE DARK OVER CABLE DISORDER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 29: 
It’s been almost three weeks that cable and satellite (C&S) homes in and around Calcutta have been experiencing disturbances in certain channels. But, the two multi-system operators (MSOs) in the city, RPG Netcom and SitiCable, are yet to crack the mystery of the “terrestrial interference”.

“We are just taking care of the symptoms, as the root cause of the disturbance is yet to be detected. It is well outside the purview of our technical capabilities to locate the epicentre of the problem, which seems to be constantly shifting,” admits Ashim Dutta, chief executive, RPG Netcom Ltd, which distributes the signal to more than 75 per cent of the C&S homes in Calcutta.

Dutta says the problem is only with the digital channels and not the analog ones. “We have checked all fronts and found out that it has basically to do with downlinking. The interference is sporadic and not coming from a fixed installation, making our task of detection doubly difficult.”

Debasis Gupta, deputy general manager, RPG Netcom, is convinced that “some bursts of radio traffic are being generated at intermittent hours on a hopping frequency, which is interfering with the wide frequency band of satellite television”.

According to industry sources, this could be due to a number of reasons, like trials on wireless in local loop (WILL) or code division multiple access (CDMA). These experiments on trial frequencies may be carried out by cellphone and pager companies, or even basic service providers.

RPG Netcom officials confirm that the disruption was “much less” during the weekend and on the day of the bandh, which strengthens the theory of terrestrial interference, rather than a solar phenomenon. “So many new services and technologies are being tried out in communications these days. Any of those signals might interfere with cable TV,” says an industry watcher.

Netcom, which has already informed the ministry of communications about the problem, has tried to minimise the disturbance by readjusting and shielding its dishes to block the interference. “We have been able to deal with 85-90 per cent of the channels this way. But the location of the problem is the core issue. Once the root is identified, the remedy shouldn’t be hard to come by,” says Dutta.

Both the MSOs have approached the Wireless Monitoring Organisation in Maheshtala, an agency under the department of telecom, for help. “But, it seems they don’t have adequate equipment to launch a proper detection drive and are waiting for help to arrive from Delhi,” says Suresh Sethia, SitiCable operator.

An engineer in the wireless monitoring agency, while confirming that they don’t have the technical equipment at the moment to crack the puzzle, says: “We have told them (the MSOs) to come through the proper channel (read ministry of communications). We will then look into the matter.”

Sethia has even called up PAS-10 satellite officials in Singapore. “I was told that such an interference could even be caused by a warship stationed somewhere within range and using its radar to generate signals,” he says.

Whatever the reason for the intermittent distortion of images on TV, viewers are foxed and anxious. “The picture suddenly melts into pieces, which hurts the eyes and is distracting as well. With the World Cup round the corner, we are worried we won’t be able to enjoy the games to the hilt,” says Indrasish Sarkar of Salt Lake.

   

 
 
CANDID FRAMES OF CARNAGE 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, April 29: 
“Can you bring back everything to me, the way it all was?” He didn’t have an answer to the poser of the 11-year-old, who had seen his parents and sister butchered and his home burnt down before his own eyes. He knew there was no way he could mend the child’s immaculate past.

Soumitra Dastidar let his camera do the talking and can the carnage in Gujarat. The 42-year-old city-based documentary film-maker, who fancies as his subject any issue of human interest, from insurgency in the North-East to flesh trade in Madhya Pradesh villages to land feuds in Bihar, is confident he has captured the “real picture” of the riots, post-Godhra. Vignettes of barbarism and destruction, which people on the outside looking in might find “hard to stomach”.

Shame, a 30-minute montage of the violence and its numbing aftermath, which should be ready for the projectors “by the first week of May”, is a scathing attack on the perpetrators of the massacre and “a direct appeal to the masses to come forward and combat fascism”. Even for someone steeled by excursions to the guerrilla hideouts of Maoists in the forests of north Telangana, in Andhra Pradesh, and the hilly underground of Nagaland, Gujarat has been a “chilling experience”.

“It is a genocide out there, sponsored by the BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal,” says Soumitra, just back in town from shooting in Gujarat with his three-member crew. “Rehabilitation is non-existent and if you can call living in the open with just the blue sky for roof over your head as relief, then there’s relief. What we saw on the streets and meadows of Gujarat is in no way less brutal than the excesses of Nazi Germany,” the scribe-turned film-maker recounts with anguish.

Soumitra, who received national and international acclaim last year with his “dream project”, a documentary on the Maoist guerrillas of Andhra Pradesh, would like to present Shame as “evidence in court” to nail chief minister Narendra Modi. “Some of the footage I have is too brutal to beam, but I guess the world needs to be shaken by the real picture of Gujarat. We felt like we were among the ruins of an ancient city razed to rubble. Only, this was no natural calamity. It was organised man-slaughter.”

The crew, which slipped into the riot-ravaged state in the guise of a fact-finding team, had to rely more on candid frames shot with a hand-held camera. “We were helped a lot by Citizens Initiative, a forum of NGOs, besides individuals,” says the director.

Gujarat was a tailor-made subject for Soumitra, who quit a media job to “feel and document the India outside the mainstream”. He assisted Katherine Burze in her documentary on Soumitra Chattopadhyay, produced by Ismail Merchant (“who taught me to dream”) and would like to approach the department of culture for a commercial release of Shame at Nandan.

“Even if it runs for a couple of days, the proceeds can clothe a few kids in Gujarat. I won’t stake claim to the gate money,” he says.

   
 

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