Scorcher Sunday season’s hottest
Swift route, high and low
To Tagore, in the name of the father
The City Diary
Click tricks come cheap
Campus course on poll facts
Defiance over auto stand cleaves Salt Lake CPM
Special care for special folks
Extortion arrest busts arms racket
Twin deaths under wheels

 
 
SCORCHER SUNDAY SEASON’S HOTTEST 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 19: 
A scorching sun and unbearable humidity made Sunday the hottest day of this season. The mercury soared to 37.9 degrees Celsius, two degrees above normal, in the afternoon, the highest this year. The maximum humidity was 91 per cent.

The Alipore Meteorological Office said there were no indications that Monday would be any different. The maximum temperature may climb further in the next 24 hours, to around 39 degrees.

Officials said that even though a maximum temperature of 37.9 degrees was recorded at Alipore, it could be higher and close to 40 degrees in other areas of the city that are more congested and devoid of greenery.

“Sunday became hot and suffocating because of a very high maximum temperature, coupled with high moisture content in the air,” said R.N. Goldar, weather office chief.

Sporadic power cuts in the city on Sunday evening added to the discomfort, as the shortfall in the CESC-served areas shot up to about 30 mw.

CESC sources blamed the power cuts on fluctuations in frequency and a supply shortfall from the DVC.

The sources said that even though it was a holiday, the demand for power shot up. “The heat is so oppressive that many people chose to run their air-conditioners non-stop,” they added.

Met office sources said that on the radar, some thunderclouds had been spotted over Agartala. “However, we don’t think there will be much rain in the city immediately to cool it,” they added.

The sultry weather set in from Saturday evening, when the mercury touched 37.2 degrees, combined with a maximum humidity of 95 per cent.

Goldar said Calcutta was deprived of rain on Saturday, though south Bengal districts like Bankura, Purulia and Burdwan, experienced smart showers. “Who knows, the temperature may also climb over 40 degrees. In the summer of 1994 and 1995, Calcutta had recorded a maximum temperature of 41 degrees,” said Goldar.

On Saturday, there were frequent and long hours of power cuts in many areas. A strike at Budge Budge hit the CESC supply to the city.

By night, the power situation had improved, but sleepless citizens crowded the roofs and balconies of their homes, seeking some respite from the sweltering heat.

Doctors suggested frequent intake of water, preferably mixed with glucose, to avoid dehydration. They also recommended the use of an umbrella, as exposure to such gruelling heat could lead to a stroke.

A few persons, including some children, fell ill and were treated at the emergency ward of Calcutta Medical College and Hospital on Sunday, hospital sources said.

Weather office sources, however, said that the season of the Nor’westers had not yet ended and a few more could be expected before the onset of the monsoon, slated for June 8.

“We often find in this season that two or three days of intense heat and humidity are followed by a Nor’wester and rain, which brings some relief. Even though we are predicting the formation of thunderclouds over some areas of the city for Monday, we can’t predict rain because the situation is not favourable yet. It is difficult for us to say at the moment what will happen on Tuesday or Wednesday. We are keeping a close watch on our radar and satellite pictures,” said a weather office official.

Principal demand: Students of Dinabandhu Andrews College demonstrated at Garia on Sunday, demanding the immediate appointment of a principal.

The post fell vacant after former principal Haraprasad Samaddar was elected president of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education.

   

 
 
SWIFT ROUTE, HIGH AND LOW 
 
 
BY SUVRO ROY AND TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, May 19: 
Flyovers and underpasses by the dozen line the government’s roadmap to traffic management in the city. For this, the administration is chalking out plans to access investment to the tune of Rs 600 crore.

According to urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya, the anticipated explosion in human and car population over the next 10 years can only be tackled with flyovers and underpasses. “There is little scope to widen the existing roads in the city proper and the average speed of traffic is dropping alarmingly,” said Bhattacharya.

While calculating the projected growth rate of vehicles, the transport department has found out that the public vehicles department registered 5,000 vehicles last month.

The flyovers will cost between Rs 40 crore and Rs 60 crore each. The cost of the underpasses is being worked out. “To combat the growing traffic congestion, we have to increase road space. We can do that only by constructing flyovers and underpasses,” said B.K. Sadhu, chief traffic and transportation planner. Calcutta has about 6 per cent of road space, of which one per cent has been encroached upon by hawkers, he added. Delhi has a road space of 23 per cent, Mumbai has 18 per cent and Chennai 17 per cent.

The government is, however, facing a cash crunch. It has already taken Rs 340 crore from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) to construct flyovers at Gariahat, AJC Bose Road, Park Street and Lockgate Road. Work on the AJC Bose Road flyover is in progress. The JBIC has struck down the government’s proposal to fund its proposed flyover at Ballygunge Phari.

While the Gariahat flyover has already been commissioned, the one on AJC Bose Road is scheduled for commissioning by August 2003. The flyovers coming up on Chowringhee Road, over Park Street, and at Lockgate Road are scheduled for completion by November 2003.

Another flyover connecting Vivekananda Road with Strand Road will cost an estimated Rs 64 crore. The project will be carried out jointly by a consortium of three companies — Shristi, Srei and Cleveland of UK — and the West Bengal Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation (WBTIDC). Funds will be pumped in by the consortium and work on the flyover is expected to begin after the Pujas.

“We do have several options… Provisions can made in the state budget and then Central assistance may be sought. Or else, we will have to approach foreign agencies and financial institutions and bodies like Hudco, IDBI, LIC, WBIDC and the IRBI. We can also involve private firms on a build-operate-transfer basis,” said T.K. Mitra, director, project planning unit of the CMDA.

The underpasses for vehicles will come up at Patipukur, Narkeldanga Main Road, Beleghata Main Road, Dunlop Bridge and Chaulpatty Road, near Nicco Park.

There will be six more underpasses for pedestrians on the EM Bypass near Science City; the EM Bypass near Salt Lake stadium; VIP Road at Baguiati; VIP Road at Keshtopur; B.T. Road at Sinthee; and B.T. Road at Dunlop Bridge. Pedestrian underpasses have also been planned for the Circular Railway stations at Strand Road, Burrabazar, BBD Bag and Eden Gardens.

   

 
 
TO TAGORE, IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER 
 
 
BY SAMARJIT GUHA
 
Calcutta, May 19: 
His father had always wanted to capture a Tagore dance drama on celluloid. A decade after his death, Sandip Ray is ready to film Mayar Khela on a stylised format.

Satyajit Ray, who had immortalised Rabindranath’s prose on screen with Charulata, Teen Kanya and Ghare Baire, had set his sights on Balmiki Pratibha. But that was not to be. Now, his son is hoping to adapt Balmiki Pratibha for the computer screen, after Mayar Khela.

Come August, Sandip will go behind the camera, with Dakshinee, the Rabindrasangeet training institute in south Calcutta, providing the resources and infrastructure. The film, presented by the New Jersey-based ISS Infoway, with an office in Salt Lake, would then be downloaded on to a CD-ROM.

Hours before leaving for San Francisco, Sandip said: “Tagore’s songs and dance dramas have always had a special place in our family. My father regretted not being able to use even a portion of the dance dramas in his films. As for Mayar Khela, my father’ s assistant Nityananda Dutta had used a lot of songs (sung by Ruma Guha Thakurta) in his film Baksha Badal, starring Aparna Sen.”

Dakshinee’s principal Sudeb Guha Thakurta — whose students will comprise the cast of the film — was the one to rope in Sandip. “We have often staged Mayar Khela in our annual functions. Babu (Sandip) has seen all of them and so when I proposed that he direct this project, he didn’t take long to say yes,” smiled Guha Thakurta.

Since Mayar Khela is a fantasy drama, Sandip is undecided whether to shoot an opera style (with live performances) or stick to the film format with songs being recorded separately. “Shubranil Chatterjee, Saikat S. Roy, Samik Pal, Debangana Dasgupta and Kamalini Mukherji will play the five main characters,” said Guha Thakurta. The one-hour- 45-minute film has been budgeted at Rs 2.5 lakh.

The response to its Geetabitan Live project has encouraged ISS Infoway to explore the Tagore market worldwide. CEO Gurudas Sarkar is gearing up for the second phase, of which Mayar Khela, Balmiki Pratibha and Phalguni form an integral part. Phalguni will be filmed by singer Debashish Roychoudhury.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

New Alipore blockade

Traffic was disrupted in Sahapur, in the New Alipore area, on Sunday afternoon after 200 people put up a series of roadblocks. Police said roads were blocked by residents of some unauthorised buildings, which the Corporation demolished on Saturday. The blockades were removed later after police intervened.

Identity must for cell link

Following a March 2002 Central circular, the city-based cell operators — Command and Airtel — have made proof of identity mandatory for new pre-paid connections. Earlier, the requirement was limited to only post-paid users. Both companies have also urged their existing users to submit name, address and proof of identity at the earliest.

Counterfeit

A consignment of forged currency was stopped near Dum Dum, following the arrest of a person and the seizure of several notes of Rs 100 denomination on Saturday evening. The arrested man, Ashraf Ali, confessed that he was planning to enter the city with the notes. Further raids are on to nab his associates.

Drug arrest

The North 24-Parganas police claimed a major breakthrough in their campaign against drug peddlers, with the arrest of Bishwajit Das on Sunday. Police said Das, a heroin peddler, ran a racket in the Dum Dum- Basirhat area.    

 
 
CLICK TRICKS COME CHEAP 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, May 19: 
Pay Rs 499 to log on to a computer course. Cough up between Rs 10 and Rs 25 every hour to learn the latest click tricks…

Fully air-conditioned computer training centre with 40 computers up for sale…

Be it the price or place — the great shrinking feeling has gripped the software training industry in town. Starting from basic courses to high-end modules and even career programmes, plummeting prices has become the survival strategy for the ‘computer classes’ . Announcing scholarships to offering festive discounts for Christmas or Valentine’s Day, New Year or Diwali — the last year has seen training institutes lining up a slew of sops to lure students steering clear.

Dipping enrolment figures in the past 12 to 15 months has even forced a national brand to down the shutters of its regional office and relocate its plush centre from the city’s business hub to a southern residential area. “We are creating new price points… And we will fill a lot more gaps in between,” said a spokesperson of market-leader NIIT. The institute operates in 38 countries with over 2,510 centres and offers courses ranging between Rs 500 and Rs 1,35,000. Besides introducing new products like Career Edge, SwiftJyoti at affordable prices, NIIT has also increased the scope of scholarships like Bhabishyajyoti to help more students. “We understood that the economy was going through a bad phase and our customers wanted us to reward them in terms of lowering prices and we did that,” he added.

From national players like Aptech, SSI, Pentasoft and STG to regional players like LCC Infotech — almost all institutes have joined the price-cut war. A beginners’ course with basics in fundamentals, MS Office and Internet costs anything between Rs 400 and Rs 2,000, as opposed to Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,000 even a year back.

Fees for long-term career courses have come down from Rs 45,000 and Rs 90,000 to Rs 30,000 and Rs 60,000. Short-term modular courses are now available in the price band of Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000, against Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000 12 months ago.

LCC Infotech Ltd has recently launched Kiran Jyoti courses by announcing hourly rates to match ‘happy hours’ at cyber-cafés. “Students can come and pick up the modules of their choice and pay anything between Rs 10 and Rs 25 per hour. The lowest package in this scheme is just Rs 399,” said Sourav Roy, corporate business head, LCC Infotech.

To bring back students, the training companies have also started unbundling long-term career courses and customising them to suit the changing need of the hour. “Career courses have been the mainstay of our business, but they have taken a beating. We are focusing more on module-based programmes, where the student can learn the product of his interest in a short period,” said the centre head of an Aptech franchisee. A year back, the company’s ACCP programme was divided into four semesters and the students had to enrol for at least a year. But the new ACCP Worldwide programme is split into eight modules and one can log into the course for only three months.

“Many of the institutes were selling awareness and literacy programmes as career courses and charging premiums. It was okay when the market was good, but they have had to reduce the prices once the chips were down,” summed up Bikram Dasgupta, chairman, TechnoCampus.

Shortening the programme, lowering the price and tailoring the course to specific need-groups have become the name of the game, with enrolment in almost all three major categories witnessing a slump in the past year. NIIT has recently launched the Bengali version of SwiftJyoti, priced at Rs 500. Besides, both NIIT and Aptech have centres for elder citizens and women and LCC Infotech has dedicated courses for kids.

   

 
 
CAMPUS COURSE ON POLL FACTS 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, May 19: 
Rabindra Bharati University (RBU) at Jorasanko, central Calcutta, will be the first university in the country to introduce a course on psephology.

Sabyasachi Bose Roychowdhury, head of the university’s political science department, said on Sunday that a research unit will be set up initially under the department. “Later, we will offer a full-fledged course,” he said.

“We plan to launch our research unit on the lines of the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), which has achieved tremendous success in helping news agencies conduct election analyses. There is no similar unit in any university in our country. We will be the first to launch a course on the subject, which is increasingly gaining importance,” said Roychowdhury.

RBU vice-chancellor Bharati Mukherjee had hinted at the new course in her recent convocation address. The university’s officials and teachers are now busy working out a syllabus.

Roychowdhury said they will first create a complete database on the elections held in West Bengal since 1952, with help from the state election commission. “We have spoken to chief election officer Sabyasachi Sen and he has agreed to help us compile the database,” Roychowdhury said.

The research unit that will precede the full-fledged course will prepare demographic, socio-economic and other profiles of each Assembly and Lok Sabha constituency in Bengal as a first step towards compiling the database. Special emphasis will be laid on preparing the profiles of constituencies close to the border. Studies will be conducted on whether infiltration from the neighbouring countries, like Bangladesh, has any role in influencing poll results in Bengal.

Like the CSDS in Delhi, the new unit will supply statistics and database on elections to newspapers or the electronic media for their poll surveys. “We plan to charge a fee, like the CSDS does,” said Roychowdhury.

RBU sources said the new course will be run with revenue from the sale proceeds of its database. “We will set an example on self-reliance. The state government is insisting that the universities earn more to minimise the financial burden on it. Calcutta and Jadavpur universities have already initiated measures to earn extra revenue,” the sources added.

But smaller universities, like RBU and Vidyasagar University, which do not have engineering or technology faculties, are finding it difficult to generate revenue. “Our aim is to run the new course independently. Our database will help the media and others interested in studying pre-poll and post-election analyses,” Roychowdhury asserted.

   

 
 
DEFIANCE OVER AUTO STAND CLEAVES SALT LAKE CPM 
 
 
BY SANJAY MANDAL
 
Calcutta, May 19: 
The feud within the CPM in Salt Lake has come out in the open again with the local leaders defying the municipality over an illegal stand for autorickshaws. The auto stand, which does not have the approval of Bidhannagar Municipality, has been functioning for several years.

On May 1, the local CPM leaders, after celebrating May Day, hoisted a signboard of the Citu-controlled autorickshaw union on the stand. However, acting on a written complaint by Tulsi Sinha Roy, Trinamul Congress councillor of ward 12, municipality chairman Dilip Gupta ordered that the board be pulled down. Municipal employees went and removed the board.

This angered the local leaders of the ruling party and the CPM-backed auto operators. They met the chairman last week and agreed not to put up any more signboards. But, later, defying the chairman, they put the board back again.

“I specifically told them (the auto operators) not to put up the board. It is illegal. This is not expected of them,” Gupta told Metro. “I told them they had not taken any permission from the municipality for that auto stand. I have asked them to meet the convener of the civic transport committee, Ashim Guha, and act on his directives,” Gupta added.

Guha added: “I have heard about the trouble over the stand. Let them come to me and we will decide on a course of action.”

But the chasm in the CPM in Salt Lake has intensified over the issue. “We don’t support the way the municipality singled out our case,” complained a leader of the CPM’s Salt Lake local committee, on condition of annonymity. “There are so many illegal signboards and hoardings all over Salt Lake, but only the board put up by Citu was singled out. Our protest is against this. It has caused resentment among members of the auto operators’ union,” he said.

The CPM leaders had erected a similar board on the spot about two years ago and, following complaints, the municipal authorities pulled it down. But this time, the local party leadership decided to defy the chairman.

A section of the local leadership is also irritated by this act of open defiance. “There are some elements within the party who are creating trouble,” a senior CPM leader of Salt Lake said.

“Putting up the board is not important, but it is a step towards giving the unauthorised auto stand a semblance of legitimacy,” said Trinamul councillor Sinha Roy.

She said it was wrong to have an auto stand on a narrow road on which two schools are located. It has added to the traffic chaos. She alleged that illegal activities, including drinking and gambling, take place at the auto stand, causing discomfort to the area’s residents. Some of them have written to her to have the stand removed. “We want the stand shifted to ease traffic woes on the spot,” a resident said.

   

 
 
SPECIAL CARE FOR SPECIAL FOLKS 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, May 19: 
Nandalal Brahmachary, a retired captain in the Merchant Navy, who had to face the ordeal of a pacemaker implant twice over, was a troubled soul even a few months ago. At 65, any cardiac emergency can be harrowing, but the principal of Maritime Education Training and Research Institute (“I believe in staying active”) now breathes easy.

Like Brahmachary, R.K. Dhar of Dwarika Nath Ghosh Lane, Alipore, who has a right-sided block in his heart and is approaching 70, feels that a big load has been taken off his shoulders. Both have enrolled as members of the Senior Citizens Club at the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences (RTIICS), at Mukundapur, off the EM Bypass.

“We at RTIICS realise our prime responsibility of caring for the elders, whom we lovingly, and with dignity, call Senior Citizens. In our own little way, and with help from all our well-wishers, we have focused our concerted efforts towards creating a very special wing, for our very special senior guests. They will be treated with care, for all cardiac-related diseases, including investigative and intervention procedures,” explains Dr Alok Roy, vice-chairman of the super-speciality hospital.

The eligibility for the Senior Citizens Club is 60 years and above and the membership fee for joining the club is Rs 250, valid for a period of one year. Eminent cardiologists provide free consultation to the members from Tuesdays to Saturdays at the outpatients department (OPD), besides advice on periodic check-ups.

A discount of 10 per cent is offered on all packages offered by the hospital to any member who gets admitted. This facility is applicable after 20 days of becoming a member and issuance of the Gold Membership Card.

The Senior Citizens also enjoy a 25 per cent discount on all OPD diagnostic tests and a 10 per cent cut on all lab tests. For any cardiac emergency, the patient is picked up from his/her residence by the hospital ambulance. “This is most reassuring, as it is very difficult to get hold of an ambulance at short notice, particularly at night,” says Sanjit Majumdar of Survey Park, Santoshpur, who has enrolled his mother, Maya Majumdar, in the Senior Citizens Club.

“The facility is also for parents whose wards are away, living in anxiety. All they have to do is register with RTIICS and we will take care of the rest,” assures Dr Roy. Raj Kumar Gandhi and his wife, in their early sixties, have both registered with the club, precisely for this reason. “We don’t have any cardiac problems at present, but since we stay by ourselves, we needed a protective umbrella to feel secure, which this Senior Citizens Club provides,” says Gandhi, who runs his family’s export business.

Apart from the mental peace, the members also value the “special treatment” they receive at the hospital. “I have been to a number of health-care facilities all over the country and there are not too many places where the staff is as sensitive to the needs of the elderly as at the RTIICS. For a heart patient who lives alone and far away from his loved ones, a little understanding and encouragement can go a long way,” smiles Brahmachary.

   

 
 
EXTORTION ARREST BUSTS ARMS RACKET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 19: 
A few weeks ago, the city police picked up the trail of an arms racket operating out of north Calcutta. Days later, they stumbled upon the man behind the operation — Ram Kumar Sankar, better known as Ramuabhai.

Having unleashed a reign of terror in the Burrabazar, Hare Street and Posta areas, the 28-year-old goon’s luck finally ran out on Sunday morning. He was arrested in Howrah, from where he had been operating.

For the past year, Ram Kumar had shifted his base from Posta to Bhairab Dutta Lane, in Howrah. This followed a police crackdown on his operations.

The cops were also keeping a close watch on his gang war with Gopal Tiwari, another extortionist of Burrabazar. But Ram Kumar continued to wield clout over central and north Calcutta.

“He would handpick gang members who knew the lanes and bylanes of both Calcutta and Howrah,” said a police officer.

After being on his trail for the past few months, the cops closed in late on Saturday, after deputy commissioner (central) Zulfiquar Hasan received information that Ram Kumar was holed up in a house-cum-godown on Bhairab Dutta Lane. A police team reached Howrah after midnight and surrounded the decrepit building. After warnings issued over a public address system failed to draw a response from Ram Kumar, policemen stormed the house and rounded him up. He was whisked away to Lalbazar for interrogation.

Police said Ram Kumar had earned notoriety in central Calcutta after he eliminated some members of the Gopal Tiwari gang. “There was a bitter rivalry between Tiwari and Ram Kumar,” said Hasan.

After making money through killings and extortion, Ram Kumar recently set his sights on arms deals. It is suspected that he would smuggle in arms from Bihar and Jharkhand. “We have seized several illegal weapons from him. We hope to get details of the racket from him,” said Hasan.

   

 
 
TWIN DEATHS UNDER WHEELS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 19: 
A seven-year-old boy and a 72-year-old woman died in separate road accidents on Sunday, causing widespread protests against reckless driving.

In the first accident, Milani Sardar was run over by a a Tata Sumo at Bishnupur early on Sunday. Police said the vehicle knocked the woman down while she was crossing the road.

Bystanders rushed her to the nearest hospital, where she was declared brought dead. Later, hundreds of residents of the area blocked roads to protest the accident. The killer vehicle remains untraced.

In the second accident, Rinku Haldar was knocked down and killed by an autorickshaw on Belgachhia Main Road around 4.05 pm. Police said the boy was crossing the road near Rashmoni Bazaar when the speeding auto crushed him. Bystanders were stopped by other auto drivers from chasing the vehicle.

News of the boy’s death sparked an hour-long roadblock by a mob of 300. The auto has been inmpounded, but the driver is absconding.

   
 

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