Mystery death in Hedua waters
Search to Net parents for Ria
CESC hike protest on Supreme Court path
Tax the sport, spoil the spirit
The City Diary
A nest to nurture woman power
Cinema strike deferred
Death Squadron days with Netaji in charge
Pool peril for learners
Revenue rap for mayor

 
 
MYSTERY DEATH IN HEDUA WATERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
A 15-year-old girl died during a routine early morning swim in the Hedua waters on Tuesday, leaving in her wake a trail of unanswered questions. The body of Puja Jalan — fished out after more than three hours of the tragedy — had apparently “not taken in any water”.

Neither the Burtolla police nor the National Swimming Association (NSA), in charge of the swimming sessions, would venture beyond saying that Puja could have died of a stroke or a sudden cramp. “We can’t say what led to Puja’s death till we get the post-mortem report,” said inspector S. Majumdar of Burtolla police station and investigating officer D.K. Kundu. NSA general secretary Sanat Ghosh echoed their view.

Puja, a Class IX student of Welland Gouldsmith School in Bowbazar, had been swimming in the north Calcutta pool for the past four years. She was accompanied by her sisters (Payel and Sonu) and cousin (Shagun) to Hedua on Tuesday. None of them could, however, throw any light on the mysterious death — the first, according to the Association, in recent memory. The NSA was established in 1924 with around 4,000 members.

Puja was the eldest daughter in the Jalan family living at 20, Sahitya Parishad Street. Like almost all summer mornings, Puja — accompanied by her sisters and cousin — left home for the last time, just before 5 am on Tuesday.

The 5 am to 6 am slot is reserved for women at Hedua and the three girls — except young Sonu — lost no time in jumping into the pool, measuring 120 m in length and 50 m in width. They kept swimming till 6 am, when Payel and Shagun stepped out of the pool.

“We thought Puja must have left the water before us,” Payel later said. With no sign of Puja, the girls asked some NSA officials to look for their sister. Shagun left for the Jalan residence, less than a kilometre away, to alert the family.

The NSA officials, meanwhile, contacted the police for divers and pressed some of their expert swimmers into service. Puja’s body was finally recovered around 9.45 am, from a point in the pool about 15-feet deep. Medical College and Hospital pronounced her “brought dead”.

Puja’s family and friends alleged that there were not enough trainers at the Hedua pool on Tuesday morning. Her uncle, Sajjan Jalan, and her father’s friend, Vikram Kothari, said the NSA management did not have the requisite number of trainers for so many swimmers.

Ghosh, however, refuted the allegations, saying the club employed 15 trainers for every shift. “Puja was a fairly good and experienced swimmer and the trainers were there to attend to the beginners,” he added.

   

 
 
SEARCH TO NET PARENTS FOR RIA 
 
 
BY DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
Remember Ria, the two-and-a-half-year-old girl who lost her parents in an accident on Kona Expressway in mid-April, but miraculously survived the mishap herself before being rescued by a local tea shop-owner?

The girl now has a website, floated by a South 24-Parganas government official, looking for “kind-hearted persons” who will not mind sharing their home and their lives with her.

Ria’s parents, Ranjit and Chaitali Naskar, were among the 22 persons killed while on a pilgrimage to a Shiva temple at a place called Nanna in Howrah. The Matador, carrying villagers from Ganne Gangadharpur village of Maheshtala in South 24-Parganas, crashed into a truck and turned turtle on Kona Expressway, just after crossing the Vidyasagar Setu.

Ria, like everyone else, fell out of the van. But, unlike others, her fall was miraculously cushioned by the dense undergrowth beside the road. The baby lay in the bushes for over an hour, till her cries drew the attention of a local tea-seller who took her home and called a doctor to attend to her. Ria, the doctor confirmed, had practically escaped unhurt.

She was later taken back home by an uncle from the site of the tragedy.

Ria now lives with her uncle, Sanatan Naskar, and has to her credit a fixed deposit worth Rs 50,000 sanctioned by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The chief minister had visited the village in South 24-Parganas soon after the mishap and sanctioned Rs 25,000 for the next of kin of the deceased, Rs 12,000 for the injured but Rs 50,000 for little Ria.

The money was handed over to Naskar who announced that he was going to open a fixed-deposit account for Ria with the amount.

But that did little to resolve the concern Alipore sub-divisional officer Dibyendu Sarkar felt for Ria.

“We were really worried about the future of this girl. What will happen to her when she grows up? Where will she go? This sparked the web-wide search for a ‘sympathetic couple willing to adopt her’,” said Sarkar.

The website gargi_ghosh @vsnl.com, floated by Sarkar, asks for “parents” willing to adopt little Ria and give her a ‘sweet home’. “Gargi Ghosh is the name of the block development officer of Thakurpukur-Maheshtala, within which the Ashuti gram panchayat (of which Ria’s village is a part) falls,” added Sarkar, explaining the name given to the website.

The website seeking a new life for Ria, was floated on May 12, World Mothers’ Day.

   

 
 
CESC HIKE PROTEST ON SUPREME COURT PATH 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
Within hours of a Calcutta High Court judgment allowing the CESC to hike power tariff, consumer activists in the city decided to take their case to the Supreme Court.

“The court’s decision will affect more than 17 lakh CESC consumers in Calcutta, parts of Howrah, Hooghly, North and South 24-Parganas. We cannot remain spectators, we will have to approach the Supreme Court,” said Mala Banerjee, president of the Federation of Consumer Associations of West Bengal, on Tuesday.

Banerjee also said that the consumers’ associations would take to the streets from Wednesday to protest the “unusually steep” hike in power tariff, from Rs 3.36 to Rs 4 per unit. “We are left with no option but to launch a sustained agitation against this move,” she added.

Reiterating what the Federation had pointed out earlier, she said the CESC should go all-out to stop illegal hooking. “This would prevent huge losses the power utility is incurring and thus make such a hike unnecessary.”

The entire process of the power tariff hike was marked by consumers being shut out — from boardroom deliberations to the courtroom drama. And now, all households in the CESC loop will not only have to shell out the extra amount every month but also cough up ‘arrears’ from April 1, 2000.

Biswajit Sengupta of the Consumers’ Action Forum said Bengal was one of the few states that did not have consumer representatives in the body that deliberates on power tariff.

“We have no say in the matter and consumers are kept in the dark,” Sengupta said. He pointed out that in many states, like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, there was scope for the consumer being represented in the power tariff regulatory boards.

“We have demanded in the past that the CESC change its auditors but no one has listened to us,” Sengupta pointed out. He said there were instances when the forum had asked for a white paper from the CESC on their billing procedures, but to no avail.

“We are still at a loss about what is going on and all we are asking for is transparency,” was Sengupta’s appeal.

The working president of the Bengal Federation of Consumers’ Organisations, Prabir Basu, however, was less critical. “The decision will definitely affect consumers of the CESC, but they also have the liberty to move the Supreme Court,” Basu said. “But it must be said that the division bench of Calcutta High Court must have weighed the pros and cons before arriving at such a crucial decision,” he added.

   

 
 
TAX THE SPORT, SPOIL THE SPIRIT 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
After targeting hotels and cinema halls, the ‘spoilsport’ mayor has now trained the tax gun on his next target — slapping an amusement levy on “elite clubs” offering golf, cricket and horse-racing. And the clubs are anything but amused.

“How can the mayor justify this fresh levy? We are not a profit-making unit and hence, shouldn’t come under the ambit of this tax,” argues Arabinda Bose, vice-president, CC&FC, which has a long tradition in the flannelled game. He goes on to add that the club never sells tickets over the counter for any event and that members and their guests are invited to social get-togethers. “Hence, the question of seeking an amusement tax doesn’t arise.”

Besides, the matches the CC&FFC hosts are “amateur in nature” and can’t be liable for taxes. “It’s different with the CAB, which makes money out of gate sales at the Eden Gardens. We have always tried to promote sports and this tax, if and when it is actually levied, will spell a setback for sports in Calcutta,” Bose fears.

Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC), which has been asked to cough up “an ad hoc Rs 10 lakh” as ‘preliminary’ tax, is equally peeved with the whole issue. “It’s rather confusing, since we are already paying nearly Rs 7 crore to the government every year as cumulative betting taxes, which is a significant amount. So why this fresh burden?” asks Vineet Verma, secretary and CEO, RCTC.

Verma has already sought a clarification from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) on three grounds — the racecourse doesn’t come under the purview of Section 422 of the CMC Act; the course is located on defence land; the club doesn’t receive any services from the Corporation, and hence, should not be expected to fork out taxes. “This arbitrary amusement tax will be one more nail in the coffin of the sport, which is already struggling to stay afloat in the city,” he laments.

Tollygunge Club, one of the favourite haunts of the city’s golf enthusiasts, would also be hit by Subrata Mukherjee’s new tax tool. However, the authorities are adopting a wait-and-watch policy for the time being. “We will wait for the specifics of the CMC demand. On the face of it, though, any tax that is imposed will have an adverse effect on the club and its sporting activities,” observes Air Commodore K.B. Menon (retd), chief executive and managing member, Tollygunge Club.

While the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC) authorities refused comment on the issue, it is learnt that members have resented the mayor’s move to burden the second-oldest golf club in the world outside the British Isles. As an old-timer on the club circuit put it: “Any tax on sport is a deterrent. Clubs had always been kept out of the tax net on the premise that members provide entertainment for themselves. This had allowed club culture to endure in Calcutta. Now, that concept is set to change all of a sudden.”

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Former BSF man arrested for fraud

John Topno, former head constable, Border Security Force (BSF), was arrested on charges of duping four youths with promises of jobs in the paramilitary force. Topno had taken Rs 8,000 from each of the youths and brought them to the BSF’s South Bengal headquarters on Lord Sinha Road on Tuesday. Topno’s former colleagues spotted him with the youths and informed their seniors. He was detained and later handed over to the Shakespeare Sarani police.

Held in Puri for Howrah death

Rakhal Das, a resident of Howrah, was arrested on Monday night in Puri in connection with the murder of a businessman, Prabhat Bhattacharya, on December 17. Police netted Das at a Puri hotel, where he was holed up with two of his brothers. The district police said that Das, who enjoyed political patronage, had been eluding the dragnet for the past six months. Das was brought to Howrah on Wednesday morning and produced in court.

Kasba blaze

A fire broke out in a building storing chemicals and adhesives in the Phase-II area of the Kasba Industrial Estate, near Ruby General Hospital, on Tuesday evening. Twenty-one fire engines battled for two hours to control the blaze.

Criminal couple

A couple, arrested for cheating several people, was remanded in judicial custody by the magistrate at Alipore on Tuesday. Police said Tapas Roy and his wife Mala took money from a number of persons to buy them apartments in and around the city. The duo was caught when one of the buyers complained to the police that the receipts the couple had issued were false.

Port Blair flight

Alliance Air will operate an additional flight from Calcutta to Port Blair and back on Friday. The flight CD-8285 will leave Calcutta at 4.15 am and reach Port Blair at 6.15 am. The return flight CD-8286 will depart Port Blair at 6.45 am and reach Calcutta at 8.45 am, according to an official release from the Indian Airlines on Tuesday.

A 10-per cent concession in fares would be available to passengers, travelling from Port Blair to Calcutta and Chennai, from Thursday. The one-way adult fare from Port Blair to Calcutta will be Rs 7,105, while the fare from Port Blair to Chennai will be Rs 6,575. The newly-introduced concessional fare is applicable only for journeys commencing from Port Blair from where the tickets would have to be purchased.

Jamshedpur don

lIn a swoop at a central Calcutta hotel on Tuesday afternoon, Jamshedpur-based don Hidayatullah Khan was rounded up. DC, central, Zulfiquar Hasan said Hidayatullah was wanted for more than a dozen cases of murder and extortion in Jamshedpur. A sophisticated revolver and ammunition were recovered from him.

Goon in net

A criminal was arrested and three improvised pistols recovered from him in the Lakes on Monday night.

Mamata rally

Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee will address a rally at Anandapur, in the Tiljala area, on Saturday.    

 
 
A NEST TO NURTURE WOMAN POWER 
 
 
BY SANKAR SRIDHAR
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
110, Satindra Pally, Garia. Hemmed in by Boral on one side is a plot sprawled over 10 cottahs, amidst sylvan surroundings. Donated to the Sri Aurobindo Institute of Culture more than two decades ago by freedom-fighter Shantisudha Ghosh, it stands out in an otherwise ordinary locality. Formerly Shakti Centre and christened Sri Aurobindo Seva Trust and registered only last year, it is an institution that is working its way towards liberating and empowering underprivileged woman.

Set up as a production unit to cater to the Ashram’s demand for agarbattis, a permanent order from the Pondicherry counterpart for the supply of 2,400 gamchhas came as a bonus in the early 1990s.

“But with everybody working overtime trying to establish the Arun nursery and the high school, Future Foundation, at Regent Park, Shakti Centre did not rank among the trustees’ top priorities. So the motive behind setting up the centre was gathering dust,” recounts Ranjan Mitter, honorary secretary and principal, Future Foundation, and trustee, Seva Trust.

Now that the school has established itself, the focus is back on the Trust. Mitter is not satisfied with it meeting the captive requirement of the Ashram alone as that would limit his late mother’s dream woven around the uplift of neglected women. He has launched a pilot project aimed at giving them a fighting chance to “break the shackles” in some cases and “bring home some much-required money” in others.

The endeavour has already grown from three to 20 in number, with each woman being trained in making incense sticks prepared on Vedic formulations, block-printed saris, cooking spices and handloom articles. “It is already showing signs of success,” said Shikha Guha, a volunteer who has been attached to the organisation from its inception.

An expert has also been flown down from the south to look into “publicity and marketing”. The products that will be launched over the next few months will be available at the Ashram and departmental stores in the city.

Guha, however, has been busy holding interactive sessions on basic sanitation and hygiene, meditation and prayer. Classes in painting and other handicraft have also been started for children from the slums “to ensure a viable avenue of self-employment”.

Even though the Institute of Culture ‘cross-funds’ the Trust at the moment, Mitter is confident that it will soon grow to become a self-sustaining unit.

“The Cultural Institute is proof of how dedication, hard work and faith can convert a vision to reality, and this will be no different,” he asserts. “It’s a huge city and we did not conceive the plan on the Utopian notion of banishing poverty forever. We can only offer selfless service and hope to make the lives of a few people better.”

   

 
 
CINEMA STRIKE DEFERRED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
The Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA), which threatened to close down cinema halls across the city and elsewhere from Wednesday to protest the assault on a member, deferred the strike on Tuesday.

The move follows a letter of apology from the members of the Eastern India Motion Pictures Representatives’ Association (EIMPRA), who were allegedly involved in the assault. Earlier, Shankar Dutta, general manager, Radhika Enterprise, and an EIMPA member, was heckled by EIMPRA members, protesting the deputation of a rival wing member to oversee the ticket collections at a city theatre. An FIR was lodged with the Bowbazar police, demanding the arrest of EIMPRA secretary J.A.Kalam, who was present during the assault.

EIMPA president Rabindra Agarwal said on Tuesday that the strike was deferred after Kalam apologised to the association. A protest rally, which was supposed to be taken out from the Association office to Esplanade, was also called off.

   

 
 
DEATH SQUADRON DAYS WITH NETAJI IN CHARGE 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
He had ferried the dead and rescued the injured during three days of relentless carpet-bombing of Berlin by the British in 1943. A founder-member of the INA’s western arm, the Freies Indien in Germany, and a close confidant of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, he rose to become captain of his company and commander of the elite Death Squadron, eluding the British dragnet time and time again.

Till he became the last Freies Indien member to be arrested after the War ended in 1945, Gorachand Dey had been the spearhead of countless tricky assignments. Now, at the ripe young age of 81 and still ramrod straight, Dey lives in virtual oblivion in the bylanes off Sealdah, with just the faded black-and-white photographs of his Freies Indien days with the “supreme commander” for company.

“I had applied for Central government pension in 1980 and since then, eight-10 reminders have fallen on deaf ears,” says the last surviving member of the Freies Indien, which was set up with the help of Hitler. Nor was he summoned to depose before the commission probing Netaji’s ‘disappearance’. But Dey is far from downcast, steeled as he is by years of high-risk combat in Europe. “I don’t believe in criticising the authorities for their apathy. Instead, I try to stay positive and enjoy life within the perimeters of discipline I have chalked out for myself.”

It was this streak of pragmatism that threw him into the deep end at a tender age. Dey had left for Saarfeld Saale in Germany when he was just 17, to intern at Irmisher Machine Company and “pick up tricks of the metal trade to help our family business”. It was May 1939 and war broke out three months later, forcing him to shift to Berlin as an engineering student. “War production had already started at Irmisher and my employers didn’t dare keep me at the factory any longer since I was a British subject,” he says.

He was among the 300-odd Indians called up by Netaji to be interviewed for the INA at a Berlin hotel. “Netaji, who was in disguise, extended me an offer to join forces with him, but warned me to weigh the consequences before taking the plunge. The first prize for siding with his cause could be death, the second prize a life term, the third prize a grave injury and so on, he told me.”

Dey was clear about what he wanted to do and was not going to pass up a chance to be among the first 40 soldiers to take oath for Netaji’s INA in Berlin. Rigorous training in all modes of combat followed in the challenging terrain of Koenigsburg and later, in France, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Dey had to double as an interpreter, and liaise with the headquarters in Berlin “as I had picked up the language in Munich shortly after landing in Germany”.

The young engineer from Huzurimal Lane, near Santosh Mitra Square, became the commander of INA’s Death Squadron formed in 1943. “Our brief was to fly by night and effect a parachute-landing in India,” he remembers. After a series of arrests and subsequent releases in transit camps in Czechoslovakia, Austria and Rome, Dey and two of his colleagues were banished to a camp close to Hamburg.

“The original order was ‘to be hanged to death’, which was later altered to ‘town arrest’ in Brownschwig at Jawaharlal Nehru’s behest,” he recounts. Dey was finally released in December 1946 and returned to Calcutta on January 26, 1947, “to a hero’s welcome”.

He remembers Netaji as “an extraordinary leader with a strong sixth sense” that helped him survive five attempts on his life by the British in Germany. “He could sniff danger from a distance and was always ready to alter course,” says Dey, convinced that Netaji is “still alive” and living in some remote place “by his own book”.

   

 
 
POOL PERIL FOR LEARNERS 
 
 
BY STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
Twelve hours after 15-year-old Puja Jalan was drowned in the National Swimming Association pool, at Hedua, another swimmer Ankita Sau, 7, hurt herself while preparing to get into the pool at the Indian Life Savings Society (ILSS), in south Calcutta.

Amar Sau, Ankita’s father, alleged that there was jostling among the learners at the poolside when somebody pushed her into the water. “There was no trainer around to rescue her. The mother of another child pulled Ankita out of the water and informed me,” he said. Other parents complained that there was too little space and too many swimmers at the ILSS. Ankita received no medical help, either.

Arun Chakraborty, chief swimming trainer, ILSS, admitted that Ankita was probably pushed while learners were jostling for space. “We do have a doctor on the premises,’’ he said.

A tour of the three major swimming clubs — ILSS, Calcuta Sports Association and Lake Friends in Rabindra Sarovar — revealed that incidents like the one on Tuesday are only waiting to happen.

Chakraborty said the length of two swimming pools for the trainees were 32 metres and 40 metres. The depth of water is between three-and-a-half feet to seven-and-a-half feet. “We have 21 trainers to keep an eye on around 160 swimmers between five and 20 years,’’ Chakraborty added.

According to Bengal Amateur Swimming Association (BASA), the training programmes are governed by rules framed by the FINA, the world apex swimming body.

Swimmer Masudur Rahman Baidya and assistant secretary of BASA, Dippriya Mitter, said the clubs were supposed to adhere to the following guidelines:

In case of novices, one trainer should guide not more than three students

The depth of the pool should not exceed 9 feet at any level for first-time swimmers and those who had crossed into the second level.

Water should be properly chlorinated. Rahman said that the water should be transparent to enable trainers to keep a watch on the feet movement

Water should be bacteria-free

There should be provisions for life belts

Mitter said there were currently 32 clubs affiliated to BASA. The association checks on the medical fitness of trainers. But a tour of the premier swimming clubs revealed that most of them flout the rules.

   

 
 
REVENUE RAP FOR MAYOR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
The Opposition in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) criticised mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s stand of not utilising the revenue earned from the waiver of interest scheme to clear civic contractors’ dues. The CMC owes Rs 180 crore to the contractors. According to the mayor, of the Rs 180 crore, around Rs 150 crore had been incurred by the former CPM-led civic board.

Mukherjee said the waiver of interest scheme to realise outstanding property tax was allowed by the government on the condition that the revenue earned would be utilised for development projects. Hence, he decided not to “misuse” the extra revenue of Rs 120 crore, earned through these schemes.

“Had the former CPM-led board paid its share to the contractors, our burden would have come down to only Rs 30 crore,” said Mukherjee, adding that money was never a constraint with the CPM board.

Sudhanshu Sil, CPM leader and former member, mayor-in-council, roads, said: “The mayor is fond of purchasing and that is why he has been vocal against the financial liability.” He said the government allowed the waiver of interest scheme to Mukherjee to help him tide over the liabilities left behind by the former board.

“The mayor is misleading everyone by saying that paying off the contractors’ dues is not an investment for development. He forgets that contractors are engaged for development work and not for construction of private buildings,” added Sil.

   
 

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