Pay a price to play the game
Youth’s hand of protest hacked off
Blasts in Buddha backyard
No facts on the house that Firpo built
The City Diary
Traders tread strike path
Trinamul protest over Tiljala attack
Varsity water raises purity queries
Govt sees tuition-spurn rush
CPM’s Oh, Calcutta!

Calcutta, May 13: 
Trinamul Congress mayor Subrata Mukherjee appears set to invade a territory that the ruling Marxists have been careful not to tread.

In a never-before move that is going to hurt institutions patronised by the city’s upper crust, Mukherjee on Monday said he would slap an amusement tax on the elite clubs with horse-racing, golf and cricket facilities.

Expectedly, the move is being viewed as unfair by these institutions. The Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC), slapped with a notice to cough up a million rupees as “preliminary” tax, is the first off the blocks in the strike-back.

“When we received a communication a few weeks ago to this effect from them (the civic authorities), we wrote back asking for a clarification. This is very confusing, because we are being asked to pay the tax under Section 422 of the CMC Act, applicable only to cinemas and sundry others. But I thought the issue would get sorted out,” said Vineet Verma, chief executive officer, RCTC.

Though Verma declined to elaborate on his club’s response to the mayor’s initiative, the RCTC is believed to have pointed out that the grounds (the race-course) used by it belonged to the ministry of defence. Besides, it questioned the CMC’s locus standi in claiming amusement tax.

Mukherjee has forwarded the file to CMC legal representative Aloknath Ghosh, with express orders to seek expert opinion.

It all started with the mayor sending notes to the RCTC and the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC) — even the Cricket Association of Bengal, headed by Jagmohan Dalmiya, would not be spared, he promised — asking them to share their revenue with the CMC.

The CMC’s logic, as put to the clubs: you are using prime space in the heart of the city to organise programmes that result in millions being earned; so why don’t you start paying amusement tax, like other organisations in the city, to the CMC?

Every ground in the city that is used for more than five hours at a stretch for profit-making will be brought within the amusement-tax ambit, the mayor told Metro on Monday. “The CMC’s revenue department has sent similar notices to RCGC and will send such notes to every club, including the CAB and Tollygunge Club,” he added.

“I do not have a problem if you sing Rabindrasangeet within the confines of your home,” Mukherjee said. “But the CMC will ensure that you pay amusement tax if you sell tickets for a performance of Tagore’s songs,” he warned.

Going by the signs emanating from the targeted clubs, the mayor has a fight on his hands. The clubs have indicated they will “resist” all efforts to collect the tax. A spokesman for the general committee overseeing the RCGC said: “We have not got any communication from the CMC so far, but the very idea of such a tax is ridiculous.”

According to Bablu Kolay, joint secretary, CAB: “We have not addressed the issue yet. Let’s see how they plan to collect the tax.”


Calcutta, May 13: 
Members of Amra Kajon, a local club that doubles as the headquarters of a satta racket in the Naihati-Barrackpore industrial zone, hacked off the hand of a youth on Sunday afternoon.

Bapan Saha paid the price for protesting the “criminal activities” being carried out in the club at Duttapara, in the Naihati area of Barrackpore sub-division. Bapan was admitted to Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Hospital in Kalyani.

Tapan Jyoti Banerjee, the doctor treating Bapan, said on Monday night: “He was admitted in a critical condition, as he had lost a lot of blood. He should have been brought to hospital earlier. But he has responded to treatment and is now out of danger. We will keep him under observation for a few days.”

The miscreants hurled bombs when confronted by some residents of the area. They managed to flee before policemen from the local Bijpur thana could rush to the trouble spot.

According to some residents, Amra Kajon had become a den of vice. “Bapan, who had recently got a job with Hukumchand Jute Mill, had been protesting against the criminal activities on the club premises for some time. He was even trying to unite the people against the rowdies who had taken over the club,” said one of them.

An official of Bijpur police station later said a gang of eight club members came looking for Bapan on Sunday afternoon. “They landed up at his place and when Bapan came out on to the balcony, they pounced on him… One of the hoodlums whipped out a chopper and slashed off the youth’s hand, wrist-downwards,” he added.

Alerted by Bapan’s screams of pain, some neighbours came out of their homes and tried to stop the goons. But they hurled bombs at the crowd and managed to escape. Some bystanders rushed to Bapan’s aid, while others informed the local police.

As news of the attack spread, tension ran high in the area. People gheraoed the policemen, who reached the spot an hour after the attack on Bapan.

The mob then kept the policemen confined to a room for over an hour and a half, blaming them for “deliberately not curbing criminal activities” in the area.

“They (the police) are responsible for what happened to Bapan. The Bijpur police station had been alerted about the criminal activities in the club, but no action was taken against the culprits. The criminals were moving around freely, without the policemen even questioning them,” alleged a local resident.

N. Halder, who lives in the area, complained: “The club controls the district-wide satta racket. Besides, the members sit and drink in the club every night and create a ruckus. We are threatened with dire consequences by club members whenever we try to raise our voice against these anti-social activities.”

“We have regularly told the local police about the activities in the club and the reign of terror by its members. A number of clashes have taken place in the area over the past few months,” added Halder.

The police failed to carry out any arrests till late on Monday. “A hunt is on to track down the culprits. We have already alerted thanas in the adjacent districts of Calcutta, Nadia and Hooghly. A breakthrough is expected soon,” said an official of Bijpur police station.


Calcutta, May 13: 
Tea-time peace was shattered in chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s neighbourhood on Sunday evening as goons exploded bombs to terrorise rivals and residents of Palm Avenue.

Despite the area being a high-security zone, witnesses said the criminals arrived in a private car around 6 pm and hurled three bombs at a new highrise apartment block on Palm Avenue. “It was done to terrorise residents and rivals,’’ said deputy commissioner of police, detective department-II, Pradip Sanyal. “Four youths hurled the bombs and ran away. Officers from the Karaya police station reached the spot within minutes, after being alerted by a patrol vehicle, and arrested Sheikh Badshah, of Lower Range.”

Residents insisted that this was no stray incident. They alleged that Bright Street, Broad Street, Palm Avenue — all within a kilometre’s radius of the chief minister’s residence — had become notorious for “anti-social activity”. Speaking on condition of anonymity, residents of Palm Avenue and Bright Street said crimelords Bhola, Dilu, Jamal and Parsi Pervez were often engaged in armed clashes in the area. “They extort money from promoters, traders and shop-owners,’’ they said.

Investigations revealed that Bhola, Dilu, Jamal and Parsi Pervez were engaged in a fierce turf battle, close to the chief minister’s residence. “With several new buildings coming up on Palm Avenue and its surrounding areas, there has been a spurt in criminal activity. The sound of the siren signalling the CM’s presence is as much a part of our lives as the explosion of bombs, indicating how active the criminals are in this area. Why can’t the police do something about it?’’ demanded a resident.

Sunday night’s incident has “shaken up’’ the police. Sources said police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty has ordered a review of security arrangements in the VVIP area. “It is not prudent to discuss the details of VVIP security arrangements, but we are intensifying patrolling,’’ confirmed Chakraborty.

Officials of the special branch of the city police, in-charge of VVIP security, said a “special high-security ring’’ has been thrown around a kilometre of the chief minister’s home. On Monday evening, there was an elaborate cop cover at Palm Avenue. Several areas were raided to flush out criminals, but no arrests were carried out.


Calcutta, May 13: 
Missing files, tax bills sent to owners of an automobile distributor’s firm but addressed to the trustees of a ‘late’ landlord, and no trace of the descendants of the person who — in between the car-pusher and the Raja — gave the building on Chowringhee a name and an identity.

Long before a late-night blaze at Firpo’s wiped out a colourful chapter from the pages of our past, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) had managed to “lose” the facts about the Firpo’s that was. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, while admitting that the CMC does not have most papers pertaining to Firpo’s origins, has pointed an accusing finger at municipal employees affiliated to the CPM for the “theft”. “It suits some people for the Firpo’s papers to go missing,” said Mukherjee.

“Without the papers, including the original building plan sanctioned by the civic authorities, it will not be possible for the CMC to prove what really existed there,” said director-general (building) Ashok Raychaudhuri. “The promoter rebuilding the structure can easily accommodate his own business interests and it will not be possible for the CMC to prove which part is sanctioned and which isn’t.”

A riveting debate revolves around the age of the building that housed Angelo Firpo’s legendary restaurant. The day after the Firpo’s fire, state fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee had said the building was “150 years old”. But the first CMC document referring to the building — a plea from Firpo seeking permission to erect a crane for the bakery — is dated 1929. Two more applications for remodelling were received in 1938 and 1945 from the descendant of Sicilian Gaetano Firpo. This, said CMC officials, was proof that Firpo’s was still a bakery in the 1930s.

Newspaper advertisements from 1925, however, would put CMC officials in a spot. A 21-cm x 17.5-cm advertisement inserted in December 1925 invites Calcuttans to “An Evening Out”, asking them to “Dine at Firpo’s” and lures them with a “Souvenir Ball”.

The ownership pattern of the restaurant is also not clear. The plot originally belonged to the Mullicks of Pathuriaghata. The tax bills, however, retain the names of Jitendra Mullick and Dhirendra Mullick, trustees of the late Raja Rajendra Mullick. But the bills now go to a private firm (Auto Distributor, owned by one Rajen Poddar) at 36, Jawaharlal Nehru Road.

For the mayor, these are all pieces that fit into an intriguing jigsaw. It was the CPM, he claimed, that had allowed the Poddars to convert the then defunct restaurant into a market, disregarding Mukherjee’s stop-work notice issued in 1976, when he was municipal affairs minister. “After the CPM came to power, minister Prasanta Sur allowed them (the Poddars) to go ahead with their money-minting plans,” Mukherjee added.

But there is no document with the CMC to show how the Poddars took control. Two weeks of paper hunt have failed to yield results. “The original plan isn’t there in the records section,” director-general (building) Raychaudhuri admitted.



Teen slips from train, woman heckled

A woman was heckled on charges of forcing a youth off the ladies compartment of a Santipur local on Monday morning. Police said Sharat Nanda, 16, had boarded the compartment along with some other young men. Three women protested and forced them off the train at Belghoria station. But four of them, including Nanda, failed to jump off as the train pulled out of the station. Witnesses said Nanda stood near the door and as the train slowed near Dankuni railway bridge, his hands slipped from the rod and he fell. Passengers, including the other men who were earlier forced out of the ladies compartment, accused the three women of throwing him out of the moving train. While two of them managed to slip away at Dum Dum station, Maya Bhattacharya, 40, was surrounded by the mob. GRP officials rescued her and took her into custody. Nanda, who was admitted to Sagar Dutta Hospital, told the police he had fallen accidentally.

Housewife kills self

A 32-year-old housewife, Tanuja Biswas, set herself on fire at Sradhhananda Park on Monday morning. She was admitted to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Police said Tanuja went up to the terrace of the four-storeyed apartment where she lived and set herself ablaze with some kerosene oil. Police said she was “depressive”.

Dacoits held

Four dacoits were arrested from Sodepur early on Monday. Police said a gang of eight had assembled near the Sodepur flyover. Four of them managed to flee. Police also recovered a pipegun.

Governor pardon

Governor Viren J. Shah on Monday intervened to withdraw the suspension order against the “errant” constable caught napping in uniform on the Raj Bhavan premises. Metro had reported that Shah found the constable, S. Karji, snoring away while he was making the morning rounds of the campus. Ashok Bandopadhyay, officer-in-charge of Raj Bhavan, said on Monday that the Governor pardoned the constable after he apologised. Karji will rejoin duty on Tuesday.

Shot dead

A 32-year-old man, identified as Minchu, was found murdered at Baguiati on Monday morning. Police said Minchu was shot from point-blank range and two bullets had pierced his chest. The incident was the result of a rivalry among local goons, police said. Several cases were pending against Minchu in local police stations.

Power survey

WBSEB employees will undertake a door-to-door state-wide consumer survey beyond normal office hours in different areas without any remuneration. This move was initiated to improve consumer services at a meeting between the management and the representatives of different trade unions. Eight teams, comprising a minimum of two members of the workmen’s union, have already started a survey in Madhyamgram, in North 24-Parganas. According to a WBSEB spokesperson, this is the first time in the history of the utility that employees are going to participate in a survey beyond office hours.

Run over

A 40-year-old unidentified man was run over by a lorry in the South Port area early on Monday. The driver fled with the vehicle.    

Calcutta, May 13: 
With the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA) firm on going on an indefinite strike from Friday, the Confederation of West Bengal Trade Associations, too, has decided to down shutters of all the 15 municipal markets the same day.

The traders will protest the “Draconian rules and taxes being wrongfully collected” by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).

Confederation president Feroze H. Ali said on Monday that more than 15,000 members from nearly 40 prominent trade associations of the state would participate in the one-day strike.

He said the Confederation had organised a 72-hour strike in June 2000 on the same issue. While the state government was cooperating with them, the CMC was not ready to listen to the Confederation demands, he added.

“Land and land revenue minister Abdul Rezzak Mollah has promised to look into our demands when we called on him on Monday,” Ali added.

Quoting a circular issued by the CMC on December 18, Ali said: “The civic authorities are trying to snatch the shop-owners’ inheritance rights.” He criticised the circular, which called for auction of the shop after the owner’s death, to the highest bidder. “This act will destabilise a shop-owner’s hard-earned revenue and jeopardise his existence,” he added.

Confederation members also resented the manner in which the CMC was disregarding the government’s Action Taken Report, asking it to make renewal of trade licences mandatory once in three years, collecting fees through banks and streamlining trade activities.

A.K. Arora, Confederation general secretary, said members would extend support to the two-day strike, beginning Thursday, called by the Traders’ Federation of Calcutta Municipal Markets.

On the cinema strike from Friday, Rabindra Agarwal, EIMPA president, said a meeting will be convened on Tuesday to decide on the course of action.


Calcutta, May 13: 
CPM workers in Tiljala assaulted a woman activist of the Trinamul Congress late on Sunday. In protest, Trinamul workers demonstrated in front of the police station on Monday, demanding arrest of the culprits. So far, only one person has been rounded up.

The incident took place at Adarsh Nagar, on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, when the Trinamul activist, Dipu Das, was returning home. Das had recently joined the Trinamul, after working for the CPM for years. Witnesses said Das was alone when the assailants, owing allegiance to the CPM, attacked her with iron rods and bamboos. An unconscious Das was admitted to National Medical College and Hospital in a serious condition.

Tamonash Ghosh, MLA, said that Das had been targeted for a long time, since she led an exodus of 267 CPM workers to the Trinamul. He said: “Local CPM leaders Tapan Mondal and Barun Mondal were instrumental in Sunday night’s attack. We were anticipating this for a long time, for which we had even informed the police but they did nothing. The CPM’s plan is to create terror in the minds of the locals. We have informed chairperson Mamata Banerjee about the attack.”

A CPM leader, however, denied his party’s involvement in the attack. He blamed Trinamul workers, who wanted to create trouble in the area.

Officer in-charge, Tiljala police station, Subir Chatterjee, ruled out a political motive in the attack.

According to Chatterjee, trouble started over the construction of a urinal in front of Das’ residence. “When Das’ neighbour, Tapan Mondal, objected to the construction, a quarrel ensued, following which both parties attacked each other. In the chaos, Das was injured. Immediately after the complaint was lodged, we had arrested Mondal and are now conducting raids in different areas to fish out the other culprits,” he added.


Calcutta, May 13: 
A recent study into the quality of water served at Jadavpur University (JU) has revealed the presence of chemicals — mainly the artery-blocking calcium and magnesium, besides iron and salinity — in quantities higher than World Health Organisation-permitted levels.

While teachers, students and non-teaching staff, who live on the campus, queue up at a recently-installed Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) tap, officials say the focus has shifted back to the quality of water JU provides to its day-scholars and boarders.

Adding to the woes is the refusal of the company that purifies the water supplied to many departments to get the water tested by Jadavpur University’s School of Environmental Studies (SoES).

“We had finalised plans to get the water tested in our laboratory,” SoES director Dipankar Chakrabarti said. “Even a date was fixed, but the firm’s representatives did not turn up,” he added.

Instead, the firm certified the water “pure”, officials said. “I am not disputing the firm’s findings, but the refusal to get the water tested by a JU department has, naturally, given rise to suspicions,” a senior official told Metro on Monday.

Officials say the firm has installed over 100 purifying machines all over the university. But many places, they admit, have been left out.

The main concern for the university is the ‘watering-hole’ in front of the administrative building, which is used by visitors, and the taps that supply water to the teaching and non-teaching staff quarters and students’ hostels.

The university has three deep tubewells functioning regularly. Of them, only one has salinity and iron content below the maximum permissible level. One has a very high salt content (about 1.5 parts per trillion) and the other a high dose of iron (about thrice the permitted level of 300 micrograms per litre), making it unfit for drinking, bathing or washing clothes.

Chakrabarti, however, is more concerned about the levels of calcium and magnesium, that cause cardiac problems by blocking arteries. The water on the campus has at least twice the WHO-permitted level of 100 mg per litre, recent tests have revealed.

“Besides, many parameters (nickel, chromium, mercury, boron and thalium) are not tested at all,” Chakrabarti said. “The only saving grace is that arsenic has not been detected in JU waters,” he added.

The residents’ thumbs-down to the water JU serves is evident from the queues in front of the CMC tap, say those on the campus. The tap, they add, has proved to be a great leveller, with professors waiting for their turn behind the students.


Calcutta, May 13: 
State finance minister Asim Dasgupta today said the government was “overwhelmed” by the response from school teachers on sending in their declarations about giving up private tuition.

“I heard from school education minister Kanti Biswas at 3 pm that about 98 per cent of secondary school teachers in the state had submitted their declaration forms,” Dasgupta said.

Ending a fortnight of uncertainty on whether teachers would be paid salaries till they submitted the forms, the finance minister said he had given orders to begin immediate disbursement of teachers’ salaries for April.

He stood by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s stance that all teachers would be paid salaries, irrespective of whether they submitted the forms or not. The state runs up a bill of nearly Rs 900 crore as salaries to its teachers.

The softening in the government’s position comes in the wake of several teachers’ associations calling for a statewide strike on May 16. Even the CPM-backed All-Bengal Teachers’ Association (ABTA) has been critical of the government.

However, Dasgupta said: “We are successful in carrying forward the first step in discouraging government-paid teachers from indulging in private tuition.”

“I hope that those who have not given in their forms will do so within the next month,” the finance minister added at Writers’ Buildings.

He said higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakravarty was in touch with college and university teachers’ bodies to sort out the private tuition ban.

Kanti Biswas met district inspectors of schools to review the processing of the declaration forms and discuss the issue of pending ones.

Representatives from eight Left teachers’ bodies met Biswas during the day to discuss the release of salaries. Talks were also held on improving the quality of teaching following the ban on tuition.

However, the SUCI-dominated Secondary Teachers’ and Employees’ Association and the Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association are gearing up for the May 16 strike. The Secondary Teachers’ and Employees’ Association secretary, Ratan Naskar, said a delegation would meet Biswas to reiterate their demand to scrap declaration forms.

“It is immaterial whether we get our salaries or not, but this submission of a form in lieu of salaries impinges on the dignity of the teaching fraternity,” Naskar said.

State agriculture minister Kamal Guha of the Forward Bloc also criticised the manner in which the government was seeking declaration from the teachers.


Calcutta, May 13: 
Calcutta, for the CPM, is proving to be the final hurdle.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas today admitted that Calcutta’s voters were proving to be a difficult proposition for the party. Underlying the CPM’s recent efforts to concentrate on the elusive urban voters, Biswas said the party was determined to reverse the trend.

Addressing a meeting organised by the Calcutta District Left Front Committee to mark the government’s one year in office, Biswas said despite the Front’s successive victories in the Assembly polls, the shying away of the city’s voters still rankled.

Notwithstanding its anti-Left stance, Calcutta was still the safest metro, Biswas said. The proof: the city hosted 17 all-India conferences — of political organisations and others — over the past six months.

“All of them (other parties) come here to hold their conferences as they consider it the safest venue,” the state party secretary said.

“Calcutta continues to be an exception,” Biswas said, adding, however, that its citizen’s anti-CPM stance was a “matter of regret”.

“We have to convince the people of Calcutta that the Left Front government is their government, too, and they should not feel isolated from it,” he said.

Biswas felt that events outside the state — especially the Gujarat carnage — now gave Calcutta an opportunity to showcase its advantages, with peace heading the list.

“But fundamentalists are very active here as well and are conniving with foreign agents to disturb Bengal,” he said and cautioned the party cadre to be wary of “frustrated political forces” that might encourage fundamentalists.

Dwelling on last year’s Assembly polls, Biswas said the Trinamul Congress lost because of sudden changes in its electoral strategies that confused voters. Besides, its efforts to unleash terror in Midnapore, Bankura and Hooghly districts backfired, he added.

Biswas claimed that some Left radical forces in Midnapore and other south Bengal districts recently “confessed” that they had a secret understanding with the Trinamul in the run-up to the Assembly polls. “This is very dangerous for a democratic set-up and those leaders are now regretting for what they did to try defeat the Left Front,” he said.


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