Drugged, robbed by domestic
MLA quits ‘unilateral’ school board
Ransack over dark days
Cable countdown to football frenzy
The City Diary
Mayor claims govt nod for parking plan
Sixth arrest in trader murder
Court allows Society to reopen doors
Fun tools for learning
Biotech bond with Cuba

Calcutta, May 17: 
A Burrabazar businessman and his wife were battling for life and their younger son, a student of IIT (Kharagpur), was undergoing treatment on Friday, after the three were drugged by their servant, who fled with cash and jewellery worth lakhs.

Police said Sushil Mohta, 55, his wife Sheela, 50, and son Nitin, 20, were admitted to Marwari Relief Society Hospital on Friday morning after being drugged by their domestic help late on Thursday, in their Jadulal Mullick Road apartment. Doctors said Nitin was “out of danger”, but his parents’ condition was critical.

Sushil Mohta deals in conveyor-belt spares from an office in Chandni Chowk. His elder son, Nikhil, is with a multinational consulting major in Mumbai. Nitin is a second-year mechanical engineering student at IIT, Kharagpur.

The Mohtas have been living on the second floor of a four-storeyed building at 2D, Jadulal Mullick Street, for the past 30 years. Nitin was home for the summer holidays. They had hired Ramu, in his mid-20s, as a domestic help on Tuesday evening, said Dulal Chakraborty, officer-in-charge of Jorabagan police station. “A case of drugging and robbery has been registered against Ramu,” added Chakraborty.

From his hospital bed, Nitin recounted the events of Thursday night: “Ramu would help my mother cook dinner… After the meal, my parents sat down in the drawing room to watch TV, while I went into my room to ring up some friends… We always have some milk before retiring for the night. Ramu served us milk at around 10.45 pm.”

Minutes after having the milk, Nitin started feeling dizzy. “It was as if the whole world was turning upside down,’’ he recalled. The next thing he remembers is waking up around 7.30 am.

“I was still feeling extremely dizzy, but I managed to reach my parents’ room’’ said Nitin. “I tried to wake up my mother and then my father, but neither responded. I then called out for Ramu, but there was no reply. I realised that we had been robbed.”

Struggling to stay awake, Nitin then rang up two of his friends and a relative for help. “But I could not stand and fell on the ground,’’ he said.

The friends arrived to find the three in drugged stupor. The door of the almirah was open and it looked as if all valuables had been stolen. The three were rushed to Marwari Relief Society Hospital. Sunil Kundu, the doctor attending to the Mohtas, confirmed that they had been fed “heavy sedatives”.

There was no trace of Ramu till late on Friday. Following this incident, police commissioner Sujay Chakraborty has again urged Calcuttans to “register details about their domestic help” with the local police station.


Calcutta, May 17: 
The chairperson of the board of acting governors of La Martiniere Schools and nominated member of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, Gillian Rosemary D’Costa Hart, has resigned from the board in protest against the manner of its functioning and the way in which the schools were being run.

In a letter to Bishop P.S.P. Raju, ex-officio president of the board, on Monday, Hart has pointed out that the “unilateral manner” and the “decisions that are being taken are such that I cannot and will not be a part thereto nor ascribe to them.” It contains at least 10 reasons that compelled her to make this move.

Bishop Raju said her resignation was being accepted. “But a detailed reply and clarifications in writing will be given after June 10, on my return from the UK.” He left Calcutta on Friday on an invitation from the Bishop of London.

The letter, a copy of which is with Metro, says “some important matters are being decided by one or two board members without a prior meeting of the board.”

It adds: “The situation has reached such a state that one of the board members, who is also doubling as honorary secretary, though not permitted under the (schools’) constitution, has started presuming that whatever he writes, directs or decides … tantamounts to the board’s communications and directions. This is wholly unacceptable.”

Two recent decisions and developments involving the schools also find mention in the letter. “The new admission policy, which cost the schools over almost half a lakh of rupees, was a total waste because, ultimately, the old policy was resorted to.”

Metro had reported on the new system being introduced in schools “overseen” by the Church of North India (CNI), in which admissions would be processed by computers and finalised by a five-member panel, three of whom would be nominated by the Bishop. Resentment had been voiced by several quarters over this.

The second decision was “the hurried hike in school fees which, according to me, was totally unjustified at this stage,” writes Hart, the first woman to become governor and chairperson of the La Martiniere schools. “Since my conscience will not allow me to serve as chairperson or acting governor on the board where normal protocol is not always maintained, I tender my resignation,” she concludes.

“I don’t understand why she wants to step down all of a sudden. The developments that she mentions have been taking place since November. Nothing was done without her consent,” Bishop Raju said. “She is either mistaken or cannot remember. And several points she has raised are her own opinions.”

All members of the board of acting governors have been sent a copy of the letter. They include Percy Jones, who is also the honorary secretary, Neil O’Brien, Rev. Andrew Simmick and J.R.V. Alfred, who joined the board as its sixth member last year.

“I cannot comment on this until after the issue is tabled at the next board of acting governors’ meeting,” said O’Brien. The board meets once a month, and the last meeting was on May 14, a day after the resignation letter was written. But neither Raju nor Hart attended that meeting and the issue was not raised.

“The fact that the Bishop has decided to accept her resignation without raising it and discussing it at a board meeting reflects the unilateral manner of functioning, as she has alleged,” said an official of the school, not wanting to be named. “It is a pointer to the shape of things to come in CNI schools,” he said.


Calcutta, May 17: 
The frustration of suffering frequent power cuts through hot, humid nights reached flashpoint late on Thursday, with residents of Behala ransacking the CESC office at Taratala and heckling the utility’s employees trying to repair a fault. A police picket had to be posted in front of the office to avert further trouble.

CESC officials confirmed on Friday that their workers had gone to repair a 6-KV high-tension line that had tripped in the New Alipore-Sahapur area on Thursday evening. But while carrying out the repairs, a 33-KV high-tension line developed a snag, plunging the entire area into darkness.

“This sparked trouble, with residents of the area storming our South-West district site office at Taratala, heckling our engineers and assaulting one them,” said a CESC official, adding that south Calcutta was suffering “brief bouts” of load-shedding due to “fluctuations in the frequency of power supply”.

Susanta Sen, a resident of S.N. Roy Road, said on Friday that residents of the area had been on the edge for the past three days. “Every evening, there are power cuts from 6.30 pm to around midnight. We have repeatedly requested the CESC employees to address the problem. But they have done nothing,” alleged Sen.

Late on Thursday, when some residents of J.K. Pal Road, S.N. Roy Road, Sahapur Main Road, Taratala and the adjacent areas went to the CESC office to complain about the power failure, an altercation broke out. “When we went to the CESC office to lodge yet another complaint, the officials’ attitude towards us was extremely callous,” they claimed.

Shakti Mondal, a resident of the area, later blamed Thursday night’s fracas on the “CESC’s refusal to respond to consumer grievances. The prolonged power cuts have not only affected daily life, but also hit emergency services, like hospitals,” he claimed.

Some residents, however, claimed that “anti-socials” present on the spot damaged furniture and telephones of the office and assaulted some employees.

G.P. Som, an officer of Taratala police station, said: “A case has been filed against miscreants for destroying public property and assaulting CESC employees on duty. We are on lookout for the trouble-makers.”


Calcutta, May 17: 
It took just a fleeting moment of sublime skill to ignite the passion. After Zinedine ‘Zizou’ Zidane’s dream volley clinched the Champions League late on Wednesday, soccer-crazy Calcutta is well and truly on the World Cup boil.

With just 13 days to go before holders France kick off Japan-Korea 2002 against Senegal, the city can’t wait to welcome Zidane, Ronaldo and Beckham into their drawing rooms. And pockets of the city are already tuned in to the World Cup countdown. Ten Sports, the new pay channel of Taj Television Ltd, which has “exclusive Indian rights” for the quadrennial showpiece, is already available in SitiCable areas and hopes to penetrate the rest of the city well before the Cup kicks off.

“We had no option but to accept the channel at its card rate (of Rs 14 per connection per month), since Ten Sports will be the only one beaming the World Cup,” confirms a SitiCable spokesman. Ten Sports, which has bought the Cup rights from KirchMedia of Germany, has been switched on from all three SitiCable head-ends.

“We are in dialogue with RPG Netcom (the other multi-system operator, or MSO, which feeds 75 per cent of Calcutta’s cable homes) and are hopeful of signing a deal with them soon,” says R. Kapoor of Cable Distribution Network, a division of HMA Udyog Ltd, distributing Ten Sports in India.

RPG Netcom-affiliated operators admit that the clamour for the channel will rise as May 31 approaches, particularly with Siti already beaming it. “They are asking for Rs 14 per point, which is rather stiff, since we don’t know what the channel has to offer after the World Cup fever dies down. If they don’t scale down their rate, chances are that the channel will be on only during the month-long meet and then discarded,” observes an operator.

RPG Netcom chief executive Ashim Dutta says the MSO is “in negotiations” with Ten Sports. “We are in dialogue and hopefully something agreeable to all the parties can be worked out soon. The World Cup is still two weeks away and a decision will be reached before that,” he assures.

Sources in the trade say that the MSO is just buying time and weighing other options, like the possibility of a Korean free-to-air channel or Doordarshan (reportedly in talks with Ten Sports) beaming the Cup live. “If they yield to the Rs 14 card rate so soon, they lose bargaining power. They would like to wait till the 11th hour and squeeze out a good deal,” observes an industry-watcher.

Ten Sports, owned by Bukhatir Investments Ltd and headquartered in Dubai Media City, is confident it can continue to make hay even after the Cup ceases to shine. “We have rights to Formula One, the cream of golf including the British Open, the Ryder Cup and the European PGA Tour, WWF and lots more,” says Mohit Mehra of Ten Sports, the channel which already claims a national penetration of 18 million cable homes.



Cops told to produce mayor in court

Justice P. Roy of Calcutta High Court on Friday directed the police to ensure the presence of mayor Subrata Mukherjee before his bench on May 21. Mukherjee has allegedly flouted a court order by not being present in court on Friday in a contempt case. Legal experts say the police can ensure the mayor’s presence only by taking him into custody.

Paresh Chowdhury, a retired assessment department employee of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), had moved the high court, alleging that the authorities suddenly stopped paying him pension. The court directed the CMC to release his pension. A few months later, Chowdhury filed a contempt petition, saying he was still without pension.

The judge then directed the mayor to attend court on Friday, when the contempt matter would come up for hearing. But CMC counsel Alok Ghosh told the court he would represent the mayor. The court directed Ghosh to ask the mayor to attend court after recess. At 2 pm, the CMC counsel said he failed to contact Mukherjee either at home or in his office. The court then asked the police to produce Mukherjee on Wednesday.

The CMC counsel told the court that the petitioner’s pension was being disbursed. Later, he said the CMC had stopped paying the pension as the petitioner would collect money from people, posing as a CMC employee.

School wins stay on eviction

Around 1,000 students of Paterson Day School, on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Street, and their parents were overwhelmed on Friday on hearing the order of Calcutta High Court Justice P.K. Samanta, who held that a status quo would be maintained with regard to the school premises.

The school, established in 1953, was run from 14, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Street, owned by Bishnudev Mallik. The owner had obtained a decree of eviction from a trial court against the school. Raja Tarafdar and Avijit Siraz, counsel for the school, pleaded before Justice Samanta to stay the order. Justice Samanta has asked the school authorities to make an ad hoc payment of Rs 2 lakh to the owner of the premises, with an assurance of a monthly payment of Rs 15,000 as rent.

Trade bandh rift

Differences cropped up on Friday between two traders’ lobbies on the two-day bandh that began on Thursday. The bandh was called to highlight the grievances of traders and shopkeepers against the Calcutta Municipal Corporation regarding some of its recent decisions and increases in civic charges. Mahesh Singhania of the Federation of West Bengal Trade Associations, while supporting the bandh covering 24 CMC markets, said the decision to call a bandh had been “taken hurriedly, without going into the required process of negotiations”.

Fee-hike case

Calcutta High Court on Friday admitted a case filed by the parents of students of St Thomas Church School, Howrah, challenging the legality of the authorities’ decision to hike the fees. The matter will come up for hearing after the summer vacation of the court.

Body recovered

The body of Abhijit Chatterjee, 23, who was brutally murdered at Barasat on Monday, was recovered on Thursday. Two of his friends were arrested. Police said his friends took him to a lonely spot and gave him liquor laced with drugs. Then they strangled him and slit his throat with a sharp weapon.    

Calcutta, May 17: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said on Friday that the government has endorsed his plans for a shopping complex-cum-car park on the site where Firpo’s market stood, till a fire gutted it on April 23. The mayor, who met urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya on Friday, said that the minister had approved his plan.

Mukherjee said he had summoned the Poddars, lessees of the market. “I want to hear them out before I go ahead with my plans. Of course, they have to clear their dues. I cannot allow the place to remain an eyesore for an inordinately long period.”

Mukherjee said it would be unwise to keep the prime plot unused for long. “Under no circumstances will we allow the owners to build a highrise on the plot,” he added. The mayor also ruled out the possibility of shop-owners resuming business on temporary arrangements. “Who is going to take the risk? The shop owners had met me with the demand, but it is impossible. The property does not belong to the Corporation, it is privately-owned. I cannot even ask someone to begin reconstruction, since the owners are not here,” he said.

Mukherjee is, however, not happy with the government’s “soft and sentimental attitude” towards the owners. “I wonder why no arrests have been made as yet,” he said.


Calcutta, May 17: 
One more criminal, Sonu Singh, was arrested at Dum Dum Park on Friday in the Aurobindo Chakraborty murder at Lake Town on Wednesday. Six people have so far been arrested for the murder of the trader in his newly-opened shop in Lake Town.

On Friday, four of the arrested — Mohammad Salim, Mohammad Raja, Anwar and Kurban — were produced in Barrackpore court. The mastermind, Pintu Paswan, was arrested a few hours after Chakraborty was gunned down on Wednesday.

Sujoy Chanda, sub-divisional police officer, Bidhannagar, said a hunt was on to pick up half-a-dozen criminals, such as Bashir and Akram, who figured in the police records as extortionists and traffickers. Paswan operated in the Lake Town-Dakshindari-DumDum belt, he said. All the arrested have been remanded in police custody for a fortnight.

A delegation of medicine retail-sellers, representing the Bengal Druggists and Chemists Association, met officers of Lake Town police station on Friday, demanding steps against criminals. In a memorandum to the officers, the traders also demanded action against politicians and a section of local police officers who, they alleged, were giving shelter to criminals. “Without the police-politician nexus, these criminals cannot survive,” they said.

On Thursday evening, leaders of the CPM and its labour wing, Citu, Jahar Ghosal, Anup Mitra and Palash Das, held a meeting where they promised to pressure the police to round up criminals of the area. “We are sure many criminals will be netted soon,” they said.

Following Thursday’s roadblock in the Ultadanga area, the mood was hostile towards the police and certain politicians who, according to residents, encouraged the gangs and, at times, even use them for their anti-social activities.

Despite assurances from the police that measures would be taken to curb criminal activities in the Lake Town-Salt Lake area, residents were sceptical.

Sources said speculation was rife whether an influential CPM leader from the Dakshindari area would find himself in a tight spot following the revelation that one of the arrested, Mohammad Salim, is his brother. The local CPM is divided on the issue, with the leader’s supporters claiming that he should not be blamed for his brother’s criminal activities. The Opposition, however, alleged that Salim could not have flourished without his brother’s support.


Calcutta, May 17: 
Calcutta High Court on Friday allowed the owner of Society cinema to reopen the auditorium, following an undertaking given by him to the bench. The court has allowed traders, on the same premises, to resume business.

The hall-owner has affirmed in court that he will not hold the Calcutta Municipal Corporation responsible if any portion of the building collapses, said Indranath Mukherjee, counsel for the owner.

Society’s portico had collapsed last year, killing at least two people. The hall was shut down since then.

PCB chairman’s post challenged: Trinamul Congress leader Tarak Singh on Friday moved a public interest litigation ( PIL) before the division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice J. Biswas, challenging the appointment of state environment minister Manab Mukherjee as chairman of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board.


Calcutta, May 17: 
Teaching aids for young children is not a new concept in Calcutta, but it’s taken a while to catch on. New Wave Teaching Aids has been struggling along since the 1980s, with a few loyal customers in eastern India. However, with the recent explosion in Montessori schools in the city, more and more tot schools are turning to them for fun activities outside the curriculum.

Neena Deb, who has been heading New Wave for the past decade, says: “We have toys, flash cards, puzzles, etc., for children from the ages of one to about seven. They are aimed at developing manipulative, cognitive and sensorial skills in toddlers. We also have language tools for the older ones.”

Nandini Choudhury of Miranda Hall Montessori gets “primary aids” from Hyderabad, but turns to New Wave for some innovative tools to entertain and educate kids. “Teaching aids are very helpful for the children, because it makes learning fun,” she says.

Although most teachers agree that, sadly, there is not really much of a market for such products in Calcutta, New Wave toys have proved useful.

Jayashree Mitra is a teacher at Manovikas Kendra, a school for children with special needs. She points out that a lot of teachers make their own teaching aids. But some special New Wave do come in handy.

“For example, their flash cards are very useful for our hearing-impaired and mentally-challenged students. They are very colourful and bright, so the children love to look at them. After repeated usage, they know what the object is, and can point to the pictures when they want something.”

Neena Deb says that after repeated suggestions from parents, they are in the process of making an album of flash cards for children with special needs, one that the parents can carry with them. “So that if they want a glass of water, for instance, they can point it out without much difficulty.”

Jayashree Mitra adds that because the products are reasonably priced, they are affordable “for a government school like us, as well as many parents”.

Vandana Kanoria is the directress of Kislaya Montessori, as well as president of the Association of Montessorians in the city. She stresses the fact that these tools, although not part of the official curriculum, are essential to the all-round development of the child.

“It helps them perfect skills like hand-and-eye co-ordination at a young age, and develops their intelligence. That is why we have exhibitions for parents at our schools. They need to encourage their child,” she adds.


Calcutta, May 17: 
The West Bengal government is holding talks with a Cuban institute to set up a centre of excellence in biotechnology in the city.

“The Havana Institute of Biotechnology has shown keen interest in joining hands with us and I have spoken to their scientists,” chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said today.

The chief minister was speaking at the launch of the state’s biotechnology policy at Writers’ Buildings.

Bhattacharjee said a committee is already on the lookout for a suitable candidate to be appointed director of the centre. “We will start work on the centre as soon as we find a suitable candidate,” the chief minister added.

He said the Cuban institute has begun work on a similar project with the Haryana government. “I told them that their second collaboration in India should be with Bengal,” Bhattacharjee said.

The centre will have state-of-the-art infrastructure for research by skilled professionals.

According to the policy paper, the centre will have links with all existing academic and research institutes involved in development and research in biotechnology.

The policy also underlines the need to set up research centres in universities and encourage institutions to take up the subject seriously.

“We need to look at issues like the environment and the preservation of our biodiversity through research,” the chief minister pointed out.

Bhattacharjee said he has also got in touch with an NRI lobby called the Boston Pledge urging it to participate in the project.

Besides agriculture, the main thrust area will be medicine. “We have to use our own resources to provide medicines and diagnostic aids for our people who depend too much on multinational brands,” the chief minister noted.

The state’s higher education department and the department of science and technology will supervise the setting up of the centre.

Bhattacharjee said the initial investment will amount to around Rs 5 crore.

The policy also lists a string of incentives for the biotech sectors. The state has promised waiver of electricity duty, subsidies in capital investment and interest and employment generation. The government has also listed additional incentives for investments in biotechnology.

Bhattacharjee said the project has invited a healthy response from the private sector. “We already have an Indian concern which has tied up with an Italian company to do business in pineapple exports in north Bengal.

“Let me assure you that there will be no problem in getting the incentives, especially in the fields of biotech and information technology,” the chief minister said.

He added that he would personally make sure that all upcoming industries get proper incentives.

The policy places special emphasis on the protection of agriculture from transgenic plants. For this, the government has decided to set up bioethical and biosafety committees that will give advice on the introduction of transgenic plants for commercial agriculture.

The committees will function within the domain of Indian laws regarding DNA guidelines under the Environment Protection Act.

The state plans to develop transgenic cereal crops, edible vaccines in plants and fruits like bananas, besides improving the produce of other agricultural and horticultural items.


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