Guardians on the warpath
Silence meets Shah memo
Ransom call to boy’s mother
Canine hero’s last assignment
The City Diary
‘White elephant’ lands CMC in deep waters
Showcasing ugliness under the ground
Firpo’s fate fans civic dissent
Clampdown on NGO eye camps
Tolly canal clean-up from May 15

Calcutta, May 7: 
The St Thomas schools, Kidderpore, were closed indefinitely on Tuesday, following an agitation by guardians and parents over the recent fee hike.

Tension prevailed in the area from 7 am on Tuesday, as more than 1,000 guardians assembled in front of the schools on Diamond Harbour Road, defying Section 144 and obstructing entry of willing students, teachers and employees.

The situation was brought under control after the intervention of senior police officers, including deputy commissioner of police, port, Harmanpreet Singh, and officer in-charge, Watgunge police station, Nasim Ali.

A large segment of the guardians decided not to send their wards to school from Tuesday until the management rolled back the fee hike after a logical explanation. They made the decision following a meeting with the local MLA and councillors on Monday.

“We have asked the school authorities to look into the guardians’ demand after a discussion with the board of governors of the schools and the Church of North India, which controls the two institutions. Guardians, too, have been asked to ensure that nothing untoward happens during the protest programmes. We are keeping a vigil around the school to prevent outsiders from creating trouble,” said Ali.

On Tuesday, guardians initially held a sit-in on the pavement along Diamond Harbour Road. But around 8.30 am, they threatened to block the road when the authorities refused to consider their stand.

Earlier, the authorities put up a notice on the main gate about the decision to keep the two schools closed till further notice. It also said that though classes would remain suspended, guardians must deposit their wards’ fees before the second week of May, when the schools close for summer vacation.

After waiting for an hour, when guardians were gearing up to obstruct traffic, policemen, picketing in front of the school from early morning, intervened and asked the agitators to wait till the arrival of the DC (port) and officer in charge, Watgunge police station.

The guardians finally decided not to block the road. Later, the police held a meeting with the authorities, in the presence of guardians’ representatives, where it was decided that their grievances would be looked into.

Last Thursday, guardians of St Thomas Church School, Howrah, blocked roads to prevent students from attending class.


Calcutta, May 7: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s “Do it now” slogan seems to have lost its way in transit to ‘far-off’ Bikash Bhavan.

At the receiving end of the state higher education department’s silence is the Raj Bhavan office of Governor Viren J. Shah, who is also chancellor of every university run by the government.

The Governor’s office, in a rare written admission, has gone on record acknowledging that the state’s First Citizen is still “awaiting” clarifications he sought after receiving a memorandum — seeking his intervention in removing various ills plaguing the state higher education department — more than nine months ago.

The memorandum that has succeeded in forcing the Governor’s office to acknowledge his long — and unusual wait — came from the All-Bengal State Government College Teachers’ Association, another officer said.

The first association memorandum to Shah came in July 2001. It sought redressal for, among other things, the way the department functioned in keeping pending a long list of vacancies in prestigious government-run institutions, like Presidency College, and “arbitrary” transfers that smacked of favouritism.

Shah’s office acknowledged receipt of the letter and wrote back to association president Benoy Bhushan Chakraborty, assuring him of an appointment “after some time”.

The “points raised” in the memorandum were being “looked into”, secretary to the Governor Dilip Rath wrote on July 11 last year.

But, since the Governor’s office did not respond even after nine months, Chakraborty sent a reminder on April 1 this year. Raj Bhavan was very prompt in responding to the reminder and acknowledged receipt within four days.

“I am desired to acknowledge receipt of your letter, dated 1.4.02,” Rath wrote to the association on April 5.

“His Excellency would consider meeting” an association representation “after some time, as he is awaiting a report on your earlier memorandum from the higher education department of the state government”, the letter added.

When the original association memorandum was sent, nearly one in every three teaching posts in government colleges was vacant.

Raj Bhavan officers said government departments usually do not take so long to respond. “But this case concerns a department where the Governor is also in direct charge of the institutions and is, therefore, even more unfortunate,” one of them admitted. Higher education department officers said the department had no reply to the issues raised in the association memo.


Calcutta, May 7: 
A 17-year-old boy, Pratik Dasgupta, has been missing from his Shyampukur residence since Monday. His mother, Kaberi, received a phone call from an “unknown person’’ on Tuesday morning, demanding a Rs 8-lakh ransom. The police, however, could not confirm it as a kidnap.

Pratik reportedly left home on Monday evening for a friend’s place. “Since I knew his friend, I was not worried,’’ Kaberi told the police. But when the boy did not return till late in the night, she called up the friend, who told her that Pratik had not come to his place. Around 10 am on Tuesday, Kaberi received the ransom call. K.L. Tamta, deputy commissioner, north division, said: “The incident is fishy. We are not sure whether the boy was abducted or he has gone away on his own.”


Calcutta, May 7: 
For Samrat, it was duty before self. The six-year-old German Shepherd, whose last ‘posting’ was with the Latbagan Dog Squad at Barrackpore, died in harness two weeks ago. But not before he had trudged over four km against the wishes of his keepers to track down a criminal. The man was involved in a dacoity a day earlier at a Jagaddal jute mill.

Around 10 am on April 16, the dog squad received a message from Jagaddal police to the effect that a dacoity had taken place at the Waverley Jute Mill staff quarters the evening before. The police were clueless.

Dog squad officers summoned Samrat, an Alsatian with an impeccable record. He had won a medal at the All-India Police Duty Meet two years ago, chief coach Sailendranath De said on Tuesday.

Samrat set out with his keepers, Biswajit Barui and Jeevan Thuppa, for the mill. He spotted what everyone else had missed: drops of blood in the compound. Under the April sun, Samrat followed the trail down Kanchrapara Road and lanes.

Samrat started running straight north, not heeding his keepers’ warnings to take it easy.

He ran into the Bhatpara State General Hospital and headed for a bed where Rakesh Banshphor, alias Malik, was lying. He had been admitted with bomb blast injuries.

Policemen followed Samrat into the ward and caught sight of Banshphor trying to make off. Before he could, the criminal was arrested.

Then, suddenly, Samrat collapsed. He was taken to Jagaddal police station and given a bowl of glucose water. An SOS was sent to the Latbagan headquarters to keep a vet ready.

A police vehicle set out from Jagaddal. Samrat survived till it crossed the headquarters gate. But before the vet could help, Samrat collapsed. He did not rise again.

The death certificate was matter of fact. No mention of his heroism. But his ‘colleagues’ gave him a burial worthy of a hero. Samrat was laid to rest at Latbagan itself.



School bus strike on May 10

Hawkers remove their wares during an eviction drive on Canning Street on Tuesday. Picture by Kishor Roy Chowdhury School and office buses, run by private operators, will go off the road on May 10, in response to a one-day strike called by the West Bengal Contract Carriage Owners’ and Operators’ Association. Himadri Ganguly, general secretary of the association, said on Tuesday that they were demanding a ban on private car pool services for the past year. “The state government is not taking action against this practice,” he alleged. He claimed that owners of more than 1,300 school buses were members of their association and at least 80,000 students of different city schools avail of their services. Ganguly said a number of private car-owners “illegally” use their vehicles to carry office employees and students, causing losses in their business. “Even teachers of some prominent city schools are engaged in this illegal trade,” he alleged.

Arrested for protest murder

Tapas Saha was arrested in Barrackpore on Monday in connection with the murder of Sanjit Das. The total number of arrests in the case has gone up to four. Sanjit was recently murdered on a bus when he protested against eve-teasing. Tapas had been absconding since then. The police are on the look-out for Raju, who had shot Sanjit.

Detained at airport

A Delhi-bound passenger was detained for interrogation at the airport on Tuesday for allegedly overwriting the expiry date on the licence of his revolver. According to airport police superintendent O.P. Gupta, the passenger, Col. P.S. Dadwal, was to fly to Delhi by the Indian Airlines morning flight. He was allowed to leave after he signed a declaration. But his revolver was confiscated.

Utpala Sen better

The condition of singer Utpala Sen improved on Tuesday. Sen was admitted a few days ago to SSKM Hospital for treatment. Hospital sources said she was suffering from cancer and neurological problems. The government is bearing the expenses of her treatment and a medical board has also been constituted, hospital sources said.


A middle-aged woman committed suicide at her Behala residence on Monday night. Police said the woman was suffering from depression as she had run up a huge debt.

Fruit auction off

In a special mayor-in-council meeting on Tuesday, the civic authorities decided that no open-road auction of litchis and mangoes would be allowed in the Sealdah- Kolay Market area. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee had to convene the meeting as the conservancy officer of the area refused to carry out the ban order issued by chief engineer (conservancy) Arun Sarkar. The officer said he had been advised by the mayor-in-council member to ignore the chief engineer’s order. “This cannot be tolerated,” said mayor.

Journalist dies

Veteran journalist Anadinath Pal, 89, passed away recently at his Haltu residence. He was associated with Anandabazar Patrika for a long time. He is survived by his wife, son and daughter.

Taxis to ply

The Bengal Taxi Association has withdrawn its strike which was deferred till May 7. The decision was taken following a meeting with the transport minister.    

Calcutta, May 7: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) seems to have hit a sandbank with a vessel that has long outsailed its utility.

Jalabahi, a vessel belonging to the CMC’s ‘water supply to shipping department’, was once used to supply water to the ships that docked at Kidderpore. The CMC spends Rs 1.93 crore a year on this department and the 70-odd employees’ salary, who hardly have any work. But the expenditure is proving to be “a burden on the cash-strapped CMC”, says mayor Subrata Mukherjee, as the number of ships docking at the port has dropped and those that still do so refuse to take water from the CMC.

Since August 1997, the vessel — with the CMC since its inception — has been docked at Bandhaghat, off Salkia in Howrah. It was sent to a private shipping company for repairs, which were completed more than two years ago. The ship still lies anchored there, while the CMC top brass is engaged in a brain-wracking exercise over what to do with, what officials call, the “white elephant”.

Officials say two factors have prompted them to consider winding up the entire department. With the Hooghly drying up, most ships that now sail to Bengal come as far as Haldia. Besides, the few ships that can come up as far as Calcutta don’t consume CMC-supplied water.

“We can’t shift the 70 employees as they have been trained in jobs which the CMC no longer requires,” admitted the mayor, adding that the CMC would soon decide on the future of the department.

The department recently shifted its office to Wellington Square and its chief engineer, Ashis Gupta, has also been transferred. Gupta had written to the CMC on how the ship could be put to use and help earn the civic body over Rs 1 crore annually, officials said.

The shipping firm, which was engaged for the repairs, had recently asked the CMC to take the vessel back and pay up pending charges, but the civic authorities were not paying heed, officials of the firm said.

The CMC, they said, had asked the firm to sell the ship on its behalf and deduct the repairing charges. “We have taken the initiative to sell it off but have yet to be offered a proper price,” one of the firm’s proprietors, Subhas Bhattacharya, said. “No one is ready to buy the ship because it is specifically meant to supply drinking water,” he added.

The ship, which has four tanks with a 200-tonne capacity to hold water, cannot be modified – at an affordable price – to carry passengers or freight. “Indian Oil had once shown interest in the ship. But they, too, have not got back to us, as the ship is not going to serve their purpose,” a senior CMC official said.


Calcutta, May 7: 
Commuters walk out of Kalighat Metro station right into a multi-cultural heaven, where divinities such as Mother Teresa, Ma Kali and Guru Nanak coexist. To the right of the turnstile, that is the way out, is erected an altar that looks banal enough to have been conceived by somebody who never gave up aspiring for the first prize in sit-and-draw contests. Or else by MLA Sobhan Deb Chattopadhyay, who took delight in defacing the walls of houses in his constituency by painting horrendous pictures on them, instead of writing election slogans.

A large triptych depicts the two presiding deities of Calcutta — Kali, of pilgrimage fame, who, according to one school of opinion, gave the city its name; and Mother Teresa, who conferred on the city the dubious distinction of being synonymous with abject poverty. Kali’s image wears garlands of fresh, blood-red hibiscus. Both the Kali temple and Mother Teresa’s Nirmal Hriday stand cheek-by-jowl close to the Kalighat Metro station.

The third deity in this pantheon is Guru Nanak. His presence in the hallowed company of the two metropolitan deities is justified by the fact that a gurdwara stands behind the station. All three are painted by somebody innocent of the art of wielding brush and paint.

But that’s not all. The entire Metro stretch showcases such ugly and ill-conceived daubings. Entering the undergound is like a descent into a hell where all things designed to please our eyes cease to exist. We talk about “visual pollution” when it comes to large hoardings on terraces and street corners. In the Metro, such an assault on our finer sensibilities is unmitigated.

If the walls of a certain station are not bare and grey, or lined with billboards, they are lined with a series of pictures that relate to the history or name of the neighbourhood.

And with the exception of the two named after Rabindranath, the pictures are uniformly hideous.

Samir Banerjee, senior public relations officer, Metro Railway, says six stations have been beautified, and there are plans to give a facelift to some more. These “beautified” ones are Rabindra Sarobar, Kalighat, Netaji Bhavan, Girish Park, Jatin Das Park and Rabindra Sadan. This is done through open tenders. Even taking into account all other expenses, there should still be enough for decent murals, if any are to be provided at all.

Banerjee says there is no panel that makes decisions on how exactly the stations should be beautified. No such concept exists. The engineering department has the last word in such cases. And one can safely assume that their decisions do not hinge on aesthetic considerations. In fact, the reverse is true.

So, tackiness prevails. Worst of these are Jatin Das Park, Maidan, Esplanade and Sovabazar. At Jatin Das Park, the theme is our freedom struggle. Going by the amateurish depiction, perhaps no better way could have been conceived to heap indignities on the people who wrested independence for us.

Keeping in mind its athletic associations, Maidan station shows people at play. The ludicrously slipshod nature of these drawings is only equalled by the triteness of the “period” pictures at Esplanade. Sovabazar station has bare walls. But an entrance is mounted with a panel in bas relief that shows a nautch performance. Its lopsided figures are painted a lurid gold.

Overground, a wall of this station is painted with scenes from Bagbazar history. Both the paintings and their captions bear the unmistakable stamp of unskilled labour. Calendar printers would certainly reject the “Gandhilila” on the walls of the station named after the Father of the Nation.

Metro inflicts these hideous sights on us at considerable public expense. Rs 64 lakh was earmarked for Rabindra Sarobar; Rs 46 lakh for Kalighat; Rs 40 lakh for Netaji Bhavan; Rs 36 lakh for Girish Park; Rs 50 lakh for Jatin Das Park; Rs 54 lakh for Rabindra Sadan.


Calcutta, May 7: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee and member (building) in his council Swapan Samadder are issuing contradictory statements over the future of fire-ravaged Firpo’s market on J.L. Nehru Road.

A day after the fire destroyed nearly 150 shops in the market, Mukherjee had announced that he would not sanction construction plans on the site.

On Tuesday, Samadder said: “I don’t understand what Mukherjee is saying. The civic authorities cannot refuse construction proposals if these conform to the rules.”

During a meeting with the Association of Firpo’s Market Shopkeepers and Traders a few days ago, Mukherjee reaffirmed his stand, adding that he would only entertain proposals for a parking lot.

The association met him with a proposal to reconstruct the gutted shops. He told the traders that he had already written to the state government for requisition of the premises and hoped it would be granted.

But Samadder pointed out that the car park plan would have to wait.

“Until a notice requisitioning the premises is served by the state government, we cannot prevent repairs on the premises for safety and security reasons,” Samadder said.

According to Mukherjee, the Mullicks are the ‘recorded’ owners of the plot, while the Poddars are managing the property as lessees. So, confusion prevails over whose construction proposal should be sanctioned.

“The Poddars must either get the plot mutated in their names before submitting a construction proposal, or submit a construction proposal after securing a power of attorney from the Mullicks,” the mayor said.

A spokesman in the mayor’s office said the Poddars have already contacted Mukherjee with reconstruction proposals. Samadder, however, thought the Poddars will not come forward without a fresh agreement with the Mullicks, since their lease is slated to expire by this decade.

Director-general (building) Ashok Roychaudhury said his department had served two notices on occupants of the market plot on April 24.

In one, the shop-owners, whose premises have been gutted, were asked to vacate in three days, while in the other, the building department asked those with partly-burnt shops to rebuild their structures, under the supervision of Corporation engineers, after demolishing the damaged portions.

“Both notices were served under provisions of the CMC Act,” said Samadder. Calcutta High Court had subsequently stayed the implementation of the two notices till May 7. Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya on Tuesday directed the CMC to file a report on the damages when the matter comes up for hearing next.

On Tuesday, Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya, hearing the case, allowed the CMC to remove the debris. He also ruled that if necessary, demolition can be carried out for further repairs, but the original area must be photograhed before razing it.


Calcutta, May 7: 
Sujata Ganguly,76, had undergone cataract surgery in her right eye at a health camp organised by a Tollygunge-based NGO. Within 12 hours of the surgery, conducted in a local school building, Ganguly developed serious post-operative complications and, within a month, she lost her vision.

Anjum Sardar and Monoranjan Biswas, in their 60s, are two others who have lost their vision, following corrective eye surgeries at a camp in Dum Dum, organised by a Nagerbazar club.

With complaints pouring in from various quarters about patients developing serious complications after undergoing surgeries at NGO-organised eye camps in schools, community halls and club buildings, the state government has put a ban on all such surgeries, conducted outside the purview of reputed government hospitals.

“It is time we put an end to such a practice. The surgeries will have to be conducted only at operation theatres,” said director of health services, Dr Prabhakar Chatterjee, on Monday.

The state government had been deliberating on the issue of banning NGOs from organising such camps over the past few years, but a firm step in this regard was not taken so far.

A Central government inquiry a year ago revealed that West Bengal was topping the list of people losing their vision due to operations conducted at local clubs. “While enforcing the ban, we have tried to ensure that the Central government guideline is followed. From now on, only government-appointed doctors will handle camps at well-equipped centres,” Dr Chatterjee asserted.

The health department, too, found that the basic norms were being flouted by NGOs while conducting eye camps. A circular issued by the health department and signed by health secretary Asim Barman states that “complaints have been lodged where requisite hygienic standards have not been maintained, particularly in the areas of quality care, during surgery and post-operative care.”

Earlier this year, the Centre stopped disbursement of over Rs 50 lakh in North 24-Parganas, after it found that NGOs had submitted details of fictitious eye camps, while the district blindness control society was not aware of it.

Apart from enforcing a ban on NGO-organised eye camps in the city and elsewhere, the state health department has also laid down guidelines stipulated by the ministry of health and family welfare.


Calcutta, May 7: 
The government will start desilting Tolly’s Nullah, between Kudghat and Hastings, from May 15. Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said on Tuesday that now there was no problem in taking up a dredging drive on this stretch as the illegal settlers had been evicted.

The irrigation department would carry out the desilting of the Nullah between Kudghat and Chetla, Bhattacharya said. Mackintosh Burn will dredge the stretch up to Hastings.

Bhattacharya, however, said that the desilting of Tolly’s Nullah in the four-km stretch from Garia to Kudghat would not be taken up before 2004 as the Metro Railway extension project is already in progress.

“Work to extend Metro Railway will not be completed before 2003. Only a little stretch from Garia has been completed so far,” he added. Bhattacharya, however, said that there were complaints that accumulated water due to the Metro work was not being drained out properly.

“Monsoon is just a month away and the accumulated water could pose a threat to the drainage system in the southern suburbs. The collected water should be pumped out immediately,” said an official.


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