Records row shadow on test results
Ansari shows kidnap route
Snag trips power plant
Steaming or iced, coffee’s the choice
The City Diary
Price to pay for a patch of green
Blacklist threat to errant examiners
Salaries paid while roads rot
Tagore comes alive at Town Hall
Private bid for roam run

Calcutta, May 9: 
A face-off between the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education and a private computer company, assigned to prepare marksheets for Madhyamik 2002 before being struck off the rolls, may jeopardise the careers of 580,000 examinees.

With the company refusing to return some documents essential for the publication of results, Board officials say they will be hard put to publish the results by the stipulated May 31.

The Board terminated the contract after the company was found to have committed gross errors in preparing the results of Madhyamik 2001. “They compiled the results and after publication, we found many mistakes. A candidate reported that she had received a marksheet for Madhyamik 2001 which she had not taken,” Board officials said.

The errors put the Board in an embarrassing situation, as parents and students blamed it for the mess. This prompted the Board to appoint another computer firm, the officials said.

The Board claimed the errant company had not yet returned the documents, despite repeated reminders, after the contract had been terminated on April 5 this year. The documents, the officials said, had been given to the firm to help prepare and publish the results. “We tried our best to recover the documents, but failed,” the officials added.

According to the firm, the communication from the Board terminating the contract reached it on April 8. Its officials said the letter, dated April 5, asked for the documents to be returned within 48 hours.

“We received the letter on a Monday. Since we are closed over the weekend, we could not return the papers. On April 8, some Board officials reached our office, accompanied by a police team, to take away the documents. They harassed our staff and clients,” the officials alleged.

It is learnt that the Board had signed an agreement with the company on July 16 last year. As per the agreement, the Board had handed over to the company important documents relating to registration of students who will be appearing in this year’s Madhyamik. “The Board also wanted us to proceed with printing the enrolment forms for Madhyamik 2002,” a spokesman for the computer company said.

When the contract was terminated, the company moved Calcutta High Court. Board president Haraprasad Samaddar refused comment, as “the issue is pending before the court”.

The company officials, however, denied the allegation of errors levelled by the Board. “They had engaged two other firms before we assisted them. One of themmust have made a major mistake in compiling data. We should not be blamed for that.”


Calcutta, May 9: 
Three months after Aftab Ansari’s arrest, the anti-abduction team at the city police headquarters still receives frantic calls from businessmen about kidnap threats, which they believe are being masterminded by Ansari from behind bars.

Senior police officers scoff at the idea, saying that it’s not the Dubai-based don but “the ghost of Ansari” who is behind it all.

The city police are worried that after Ansari’s arrest, small-time criminals are shifting their operations from theft and burglary to abduction. “It’s easy money. They know they can earn lakhs from abductions,” said deputy commissioner (central) Zulfiquar Hasan. Often, they invoke the name of Ansari to terrorise their targets.

Take the example of Buro Chaki, a small-time thief-turned abductor and ganglord, who has never been arrested since 1991.

Chaki has formed a new gang and heads the list of the 13-odd outfits shortlisted by a special police team working in New Alipore, Lake and Tollygunge, among other places, to crack down on thieves-turned-abductors.

To make matters worse, the police do not have any photograph of Chaki in their files. “He is very elusive. We hear he is a good marksman. But that’s where our information ends,” says a senior officer.

Other criminals involved in extortion rackets now don’t hesitate to abduct businessmen if they don’t pay up. The city police is flooded with complaints of extortion by people like Sentu and Babulal Dutta, who have all formed separate gangs. “These people have become a menace in the past few years,” said deputy commissioner of police (south) Kuldip Singh.

Apart from goons like Sentu, there are others like Michael, a one-time henchman of Manojiya, of the Burrabazar area, who switched allegiance to Manjit Singh Mange, and shifted base to Gujarat to carry out abductions.

The detective department of the city police is gearing itself up to fight this form of crime, with more emphasis on understanding the psyche of these criminals and prolonging negotiations with abductors, instead of acting hastily.

Two years ago, a Mullickbazar businessman, Jai Prakash Gupta, was shot dead by his captors after city police detectives threatened them with dire consequences. “We have learnt from past mistakes and are better prepared to handle this kind of crime now,” said deputy commissioner of police (detective department) Soumen Mitra.

“In the past month, we executed 150 warrants of arrests. Even after the arrest of Chikna Raju and Chand, there are still two to three criminals at large,” said deputy commissioner (eastern suburban division) Sanjoy Mukherjee.


Calcutta, May 9: 
Large parts of the city and its adjoining areas suffered power cuts on Thursday afternoon when a unit of CESC’s Budge Budge thermal plant tripped after a technical snag.

Power department sources said this led to power cuts in north, central and south Calcutta ranging between 15 minutes and an hour.

The snag, which occurred around 1.15 pm, was repaired and the unit brought back in stream around 2.45 pm.

Power cuts were reported from Lake Town, Bangur Avenue, Sribhumi, Kankurgachhi, Raja Subodh Mullick Square, Entally, Beckbagan, Sarat Bose Road, Golf Green, Jadavpur, Jodhpur Park and Lake Gardens.


Calcutta, May 9: 
A gang of five takes off after college for an adda over a steaming mug and a quick bite. A squabble erupts over which way to head: Park Street, Elgin Road, Ballygunge, Camac Street… It’s coffee, coffee everywhere, with many a drop to drink.

Calcutta’s new lifestyle drink has been spreading rapidly over the past four weeks. From trusty old Flurys, a snazzy Aqua Java outlet or cosy Cafetiere, suddenly there are choices of café latte and capuccino aplenty. Two branches of Barista have opened in Calcutta in just over a month; Coffee Pai has recently lifted the lid on its brew on Camac Street; Caffeine, which had its home in Hazra, is to serve it up at its new Gol Park avatar later this month.

If that wasn’t enough for those in search of a caffeine kick, Barista will be opening three more branches in the next four months, with Aqua Java ready to add a seventh edition to its success saga. Coffee Pai also plans to franchise the brand further over the next few months.

Why the sudden craze for coffee corners? The universal opinion of market entrants is that there’s only one way the Calcutta coffee graph is headed — skywards. “Once the city had a taste of good coffee at a few places, they just went crazy,” believes Naveen Pai, the 25-year-old behind Coffee Pai. So Naveen set up the 32-cover outlet in collaboration with Pankaj Poddar of Thandai’s.

Ravi Deol, MD, Barista, has “always believed that Calcutta was a critical market”. The national coffee chain was busy working out the logistics to introduce the name with a splash. “The response at both Gurusaday Road and Park Street has been phenomenal. We aim to offer multiple retail options to a growing clientele,” says the Delhi-based Deol.

“A happy, joyful place on high-street” is the brand proposition Barista chooses to maintain, while the sip ‘n’ snack experience is supplemented with fun options like Pictionary and Scrabble, magazines to browse and even guitars to strum. And the crowds, especially the young, are happy to linger.

Having tasted “phenomenal success” with Caffeine’s tiny outlet on Hazra, Rajdeep Ghoshal is ready to expand with a 45-cover coffee shop at Gol Park. Rajdeep had also designed the Coffee Pai interiors. “We are not competitors,” smile Rajdeep and Naveen. “We are trying to introduce Calcutta to a kind of culture.”

Adding another dimension to the “let’s grab a coffee” buzz, Coffee Pai now has a TV to cater to the World Cup craze, which will give way to a corner for recitation, performances and readings. Caffeine will have a large-screen TV for films, starting with a month-long Hitchcock fest. And both have stuck to “music to appeal to a more mellow clientele”.

Aqua Java, with six outlets in the city, will soon be opening in Salt Lake, where Barista also plans to enter. Saket Agarwal, 22, who launched his brand in 1999, is confident that the client-pie is big enough to go around. “The market will expand and shift to the brand that offers the best quality,” says Saket, who has recently introduced tea and “Asian-flavoured” coffees, to add to the bestsellers like Crunchin’ Java and Iced Rocky Road.



Task force to combat dacoity

A special task force has been formed to combat the sudden spate of dacoities in Barasat, in North 24-Parganas. The team, headed by two senior IPS officers, constitutes hand-picked personnel from six police stations. Superintendent of police Harisena Verma said the team members will meet regularly to review the functioning of the task force.

Chartered bus strike

At least 12,000 chartered school and office buses will go off the roads in the city and its suburbs on Friday, following a one-day strike called by the West Bengal Contract Carriage Owners and Operators’ Association. This is to protest the “illegal plying” of numerous private car-pool services. “We will launch an indefinite strike if our demand is not met,” association general secretary Himadri Ganguly said on Thursday.

Trader shot

Goutam Gayen, a trader on Panditiya Road in the Lake police station area, sustained bullet injuries when two men shot him on Wednesday night. He has been admitted to Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratisthan where his condition was reported to be stable. No one was arrested, the police said on Thursday.

Book released

A book of poetry, entitled Bharat Katha, written by Bijon Singha Roy, on the story of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala, was released by former chief secretary Rathin Sengupta at a function at St Joan’s School in Salt Lake.

Orphan care

A city-based NGO, Satyam Seva Kenda, has decided to adopt destitute and orphan girl children languishing in Presidency jail. Spokesman for the NGO P.C.Rateria said on Thursday that they had written to inspector-general of prisons Anil Kumar with the proposal. The organisation has carried out yoga sessions for convicts in three central jails — Alipore, Presidency and Dum Dum —over the past four years.

Platform razed

lGovernment Railway Police demolished an illegally constructed platform in Barrackpore on Thursday. Railway police said the platform was constructed without their permission.

Cup beam alert

Ten Sports, the sports channel which was launched on April 1, has reiterated its position as the “only legal and authorised broadcaster” of the 2002 Fifa World Cup in India. Chris McDonald, chief executive, Taj Television Ltd, said on Thursday: “Obtaining a signal from any other source is an offence and is liable for prosecution.” It is learnt that cable operators in the city are hoping to catch the signal of a Korean free-to-air channel, which will beam the Cup live.

Man killed

A 45-year-old man, Mohammed Yunus, was shot dead near Titagarh railway station on Wednesday night. Police said Yunus was murdered by unidentified assailants on his way home. He had a criminal record. Harisena Verma, superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas, said raids are on to flush out the culprits.    

Calcutta, May 9: 
What is the price you pay for land on the Maidan? Re 1 a year. Unbelievable, but true. That is what each of the 45 clubs on the city’s biggest green patch pay to Calcutta Police as annual service charges, recorded as “rentals”.

Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty is a trifle embarrassed about the annual revenue — Rs 45 — and says it has all got to do with the rates as prevalent in the pre-Independence days. “A proposal to increase the rentals is now with the government. Let’s see what can be done about it,” Chakraborty says. “The rates are so low because no revision has taken place over the years.”

In the record books, the annual charge of Re 1 is defined as “rent” to be paid by a club. In reality, the police collect the money on account of facilities such as water, sewerage and drainage that the public works department provides.

Clearing the confusion, Chakraborty said his department holds “administrative control’’ on the Maidan on behalf of the state government. “The government provides drinking water, sewerage and drainage. On behalf of the state government, we collect rent from the clubs for maintaining such facilities,’’ said Chakraborty.

The clubs deposit the rent at the Maidan section of the Lalbazar headquarters and a receipt is issued by the office of the deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, on behalf of the commissioner. “We have been paying Re 1 as rent to the police since the pre-Independence days,’’ said Swapan Bal of East Bengal club.

Anjan Mitra of Mohun Bagan Club said that even though the army is the “landlord” of the Maidan, police permission has also to be taken before any function is held there. “We have to take permission from both army and the police authorities. No event can be held on the venue without the sanction of both parties,’’ he said. Iqbal Ahmed of Mohammedan Sporting Club, however, said the clubs are in a quandary as the army and the police authorities harass them over “granting permission.”

Chief of staff, Eastern Command, Lt-Gen J.R. Mukherjee, said the army’s intention of controlling the Maidan is to ensure proper security of Fort William. “The army has classified the Maidan into blue zone, red zone and green zone, according to security consideration,’’ he said. Mukherjee, however, refused to comment on why the police are collecting rent on what is the army’s domain. “It is to be decided by the Centre and the state government,’’ he added.

Sources said DC, headquarters, Sivaji Ghosh, has ordered a review of activities of the clubs on the Maidan. Police say some of the clubs are not engaged in sporting activities. “We will be visiting the Maidan to check the clubs and their activities,’’ said an officer in the Maidan section.


Calcutta, May 9: 
Calcutta University has for the first time decided to take the state government’s help to ensure “disciplinary action” against “errant” teachers who would refuse to examine answerscripts for the on-going BA, B.Sc and B.Com (pass and honours) exams.

“We shall request the higher education department, which has representatives in governing bodies of different colleges, to blacklist such teachers,” pro-vice-chancellor (academic) Suranjan Das said on Friday.

According to Das, the government’s intervention is necessary as the number of “errant” teachers is on the rise these days. “The government may either stop promotional avenues or go for pay-cut to rein them in,” he said.

Das said the university has prepared a list of teachers who usually avoid checking answerscripts. “We shall issue showcause notices to them and if their explanation is unsatisfactory, the matter will be referred to the government,” he said. This move will expedite publication of results, he added.


Calcutta, May 9: 
The cash-strapped Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has wasted nearly Rs 50 lakh in paying wages to at least 500 ‘idle’ workers in its two hot-mix plants, while the city’s roads are in need of an immediate fresh coat.

Workers at the twin plants have been idle for want of raw material as contractors refused to supply stone chips on credit, until at least 25 per cent of their dues — Rs 5.91 crore — is cleared by the civic authorities.

The two plants are located at Palmerbazar and Goragachha, at which 1,000 tonnes of road-repairing material, like bitumen, stone and sand, are daily mixed in hot chambers.

“Besides unproductive expenditure on salary, what is of serious concern is the waste of two crucial pre-monsoon months for repairing the roads,” said member, mayor-in-council, roads, Anup Chatterjee. The repairs were essential, as activities would remain suspended for about four months during monsoon, he added.

Chatterjee brought the matter to the notice of mayor Subrata Mukherjee in March, who in turn directed municipal commissioner Debasis Som to release Rs 1 crore as part-payment to the contractors. The money is yet to be released.

A senior engineer in the roads department pointed out that repairs had suffered last year, too, as the civic authorities had failed to create a buffer stock of bitumen due to shortage of funds. Then too, he pointed out, the CMC had incurred a loss of Rs 20 lakh as wages to 500 idle workers.

According to the civic engineers, of the total 1,500 km of road network in the city, 800 km require a fresh coat.

Roads which require immediate attention include Strand Road, Strand Bank Road, Chittaranjan Avenue, James Long Sarani, S.N. Roy Road, Beleghata Main Road, Narkeldanga Main Road, Belgatchhia Road, Raja Subodh Mullick Road, Barrackpore Trunk Road and around 100 peripheral roads, Chatterjee said.


Calcutta, May 9: 
Rabindranath Tagore came alive on Thursday. Visitors at the 141st birth anniversary celebrations of the bard of Bengal sat wide-eyed as he sang and recited his creations, all the while nodding and moving his eyes and hands.

His life-size replica and performance are just one of the 20 exhibit areas that will be open to the public from Friday at the Kolkata Panorama. Situated on the ground floor of the Town Hall, the multi-media exhibition was inaugurated by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Thursday.

“When the Mayor approached me about the date of inauguration of the panorama, I suggested that Rabindra Jayanti was appropriate,” said Bhattacharjee. “Some things may be incomplete but, as historian Barun De (who was present at the function and has contributed to the documentation) has said, the panorama is open to changes and suggestions,” the chief minister added.

“This is India’s first story-telling museum that uses high-tech gadgetry,” said Saroj Ghosh, director of National Science Museums, and at the helm of setting up 25 other “jadughars”, including Science City.

Ghosh told Metro Kolkata Panorama is in no way a traditional museum. The exhibit area has been divided into 20 compartments and traces events, literature and culture, education, industry and the freedom struggle. “We have reconstructed period settings and related the past not through books or films but through state-of-the-art technology,” said Ghosh.

Computerised circarama, virtual reality, animatronics, walk-through dioramas, sound, light projections, shadow movements and a host of other media have been used to present history in an impressive format. Representatives of the Calcutta Museum Society, which runs and maintains the panorama, said the public would be allowed entry in batches of 25.

Speakers lauded the collective effort of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, the Calcutta Museum Society, artist Bikash Bhattacharjee, industrialist Harsh Neotia and the state municipal department for the resuscitation of Town Hall.


Calcutta, May 9: 
Calcutta Telephones is exploring the possibility of collaborating with a private mobile service provider to boost its cellular connectivity and rope in more subscribers. Telecom officials said the authorities have already tied up with MTNL in Delhi and Mumbai and BSNL in Patna and Jharkhand to offer roaming facilities to customers.

Chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones S.P. Chakraborty held a meeting with senior officers on Thursday to discuss the project. Telecom sources said CalTel’s cellular services are lagging behind the market leaders — Command and AirTel — as it is unable to provide roaming facilities to customers. Currently, Calcutta Telephones’ cellular services are restricted to the city and suburbs.

In comparison, Command and AirTel offer roaming facilities throughout the country and even abroad. While Command and AirTel have more than a lakh subscribers, Calcutta Telephones has a little over 10,000. “But once we start offering the roaming facility, we are sure to rope in more subscribers,” an official said.

To boost connectivity, the authorities are planning to tie up with private mobile service providers, operating in the districts of West Bengal.

“It is important that we extend roaming services to the rest of the state as well,’’ said general manager, new services, Amit Bhattacharya. “We are initially concentrating on the tie-ups. The technology required to set up the roaming facility is almost complete in selected areas and we hope to introduce the services from next month,’’ said Chakraborty.

Although the West Bengal Telecom circle is also readying itself to set up its own cellular network in the state, the Calcutta Telephones authorities seem to have more faith in private companies.

“We cannot delay the project any more. We are losing heavily, since we are not able to provide roaming facilities,’’ a senior Calcutta Telephones official said on Thursday. “We have started a dialogue with a private operator and if things work out as planned, the tie-up should be ready within the next few months,’’ he added.

At the same time, Chakraborty is not willing to write off the possibility of a tie-up with the West Bengal Telecom circle. According to Calcutta Telephones sources, initially, the authorities will not make any drastic change in the rates for roaming facilities.

“We will think of effecting a major change in rates after we are able to connect countrywide. But first, we have to ensure smooth services,’’ an official said.


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