Court trips cop race to save Writers’
Power unit fault fans despair
Suicide over parents’ row
Sunny side up, scurry to stay cool
The City Diary
Sound of silence heard for a decade
Row over party office plot
Meaningful sojourn, lifelong bond
Safety ride on aero-bridge
The goddess beckons

 
 
COURT TRIPS COP RACE TO SAVE WRITERS’ 
 
 
BY TAPAS GHOSH AND BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, May 21: 
Writers’ Buildings may come under the auctioneer’s hammer if the city police does not compensate a litigant.

Threatening to render the government homeless is a court order, issued early this year, calling for the attachment of the sprawling, multi-storeyed Writers’ Buildings. The order was prompted by the city police’s failure to compensate a company in Kabitirtha Sarani, in Watgunge, to the tune of Rs 44.67 lakh on account of the machinery it had seized from the company’s premises in the 80s.

After going on appeal before a division bench of Calcutta High Court, police on Tuesday were ready to approach the court for vacating the attachment order, on the grounds that they had managed to deposit Rs 30 lakh in response to the court order. However, the case could not be heard, as the presiding judge did not attend court.

Though senior officials claimed they had already given Rs 30 lakh to the company, a spokesman for Leslie and Khettri, legal representative of James Alexander and Company, told Metro: “We are unaware of it. All we can say is that they have not paid either the commission or the rentals.”

For the past few weeks, senior police officers have been seeking legal advice on how to get out of the precarious situation and also going through bundles of old documents of property disputes stashed away in the city police headquarters.

The damage-control exercise involved changing the advocate and roping in advocate-general Balai Ray to work out a magic formula and save the government from further embarrassment.

The battle for Writers’ dates back to the early ‘80s, when James Alexander and Company, located on Netaji Subhas Road, filed a case against Calcutta Police, demanding immediate return of their machinery, worth several lakhs.The machinery, company officials said, had been seized by the police when they requisitioned a vacant plot owned by James Alexander and Company next to Watgunge police station to convert it into a garage.

The company obtained a de-requisition order from court, which required Calcutta Police to return the machinery and also pay rent to the company for occupying the property without “legal rights”.

According to company officials, the inventory revealed that several items had not been put on the list. The twist in the tale came when the company filed a fresh appeal in court, asking for compensation for the loss of the machinery.

In 1996, the court ordered Calcutta Police to pay Rs 44.67 lakh as compensation to the company. The police failed to comply.

After countless hearings, the court ordered early this year that Writers’ Buildings be attached and the company compensated from the sale proceeds. “We will go on appeal against the attachment order,” said police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty.

   

 
 
POWER UNIT FAULT FANS DESPAIR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 21: 
Tuesday was a day of heat and sweat for Calcutta, as a slight drop in temperature was accompanied by a nearly two-fold rise in relative humidity, prolonged power cuts and water scarcity.

The maximum relative humidity, pegged at 43 per cent on Monday, shot up to 77 on Tuesday and made up for the drop in mercury, from 43 degree Celsius to 41.7 degree Celsius.

An 80-year-old woman in Lake Town died of heat stroke on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after she was taken ill. Two pavement-dwellers succumbed to the scorching sun and a traffic constable was admitted to hospital with heat stroke.

Chhaya Ray, a resident of Lake Town, developed high fever after stepping out briefly on Monday to escape the stifling heat indoors. She died on Tuesday before she could be shifted to a nursing home. A 45-year-old pavement-dweller from the Hastings area died soon after being admitted to SSKM Hospital. Another elderly pavement-dweller from the same area died before he could be taken to hospital.

A Jorabagan traffic guard constable, Tapan Kumar Majumdar, collapsed on Central Avenue, in front of Mohammad Ali Park, around 3 pm. He was rushed to Calcutta Police Hospital, where he is recuperating.

Power cuts plagued Calcutta after the second unit at Budge Budge collapsed late on Monday. Repairs, warned sources, would not be complete till Wednesday evening. The unit contributes 250 mw and its tripping resulted in a 160 mw shortfall by Tuesday noon. Also, a snag at three circuits, spread over two West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) supply stations in Belur and Liluah, resulted in CESC receiving 95 mw less power.

Though state power minister Mrinal Banerjee said the WBSEB had been asked to “help out” CESC and Board officials assured the power utility of “unrestricted supply”, the damage had been done. Calcuttans — from Lake Town to Kidderpore, from Dunlop to Garia — sweated it out. Writers’ Buildings and Lalbazar, too, suffered power cuts during the day.

The Infectious Diseases Hospital at Beleghata was swamped by patients, mostly children, suffering from enteric diseases. More than 275 patients were admitted on Tuesday, against the 75 admissions on Monday.

The still fans and dry taps sparked trouble as residents hit the streets at the Colootola-Rabindra Sarani crossing and on Vivekananda Road on Tuesday. At both places, the show of protest lasted around 40 minutes.

Amidst the despair, there was some respite in sight for advocates. Saradindu Biswas, chairman of the West Bengal Bar Council, issued a circular on Tuesday, stating that advocates in subordinate courts would be allowed to move a case without turning out in the traditional black gown and coat during summer. According to the circular, advocates are now free to wear a white shirt, black tie and black or brown trousers. The decision was taken by the Bar Council of India, Biswas said, following complaints from advocates suffering from “asthmatic condition” in the oppressive heat.

   

 
 
SUICIDE OVER PARENTS’ ROW 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 21: 
Upset by her parents’ frequent quarrels, 14-year-old Nabanita Nandy swallowed sleeping pills and killed herself at her Pratapaditya Place residence, in south Calcutta, early on Monday.

Nabanita was a student of Class IX in a prominent south Calcutta school.

Tollygunge police said on Tuesday that Nabanita’s father, a high court lawyer, objected to his wife working for a private firm. “The couple often fought over the issue, which left the child depressed,” they said.

Sources said the police often had to intervene when fights broke out at the Nandy residence. “We had been to the Nandy home just last week, after the girl telephoned the police station, saying there was trouble in the house,’’ said a senior officer.

On Monday, the parents reportedly rebuked Nabanita when she tried to intervene and pacify them. At this, the girl locked herself in her room and swallowed some sleeping pills. When her parents found her, she had lost consciousness. They rushed her to hospital, where she was declared dead.

   

 
 
SUNNY SIDE UP, SCURRY TO STAY COOL 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA AND NISHA LAHIRI
 
Calcutta, May 21: 
Air-conditioners and ice creams; soft drinks and light cottons — to beat the heat, Calcutta is struggling to stay ‘cool’.

With a heat wave searing the city since Sunday, air-conditioners and room coolers are hot property. Most dealers agree that “demand is exceeding supply”, with manufacturers struggling to meet the requirements, and customers queuing up. “We have sold 40 coolers, 18 air-conditioners, more than 50 fans and about 12 refrigerators in the past two days, more than we usually sell in a summer month. We have customers who have paid us and are waiting for delivery, but we have run out of most items,” said Debajit Roy, of Peerless Bazaar, on Tuesday.

In desperation, most customers aren’t even going through the motions of selection, added Jiten Chawla, of Cams Corner, on Camac Street. “Usually they come in, look around and then decide. Now, they come in, pick up whatever is available and want installation within hours. We are heading for a crisis, because the demand has far exceeded expectations.”

Soft-drink majors have reported distress calls from their city outlets. “Many of our outlets are completely out of stock. Aquafina has been selling fast, with Pepsi being sold out,” said a Pepsi spokesperson on Tuesday. Roadside outlets have reported the highest sales, with 300ml bottles the fastest movers. According to a roadside vendor in the Esplanade area, the past three days have seen “bumper” sales. “We have sold at least three or four crates of mineral water and cold drinks more than usual,” grinned Benarsi Gupta.

At both Westside and Pantaloons, the accent is on light-coloured cotton garments. “People are going for cottons even for club wear,” says a Westside spokesperson. The summer range at Pantaloons is the top draw. “There are hardly any customers coming in during the day, but after 5 pm, there is three to four times the footfall we generally see,” said a Pantaloons Gariahat official.

Ice-cream outlets have had a mixed response. “No one wants to venture out in the afternoon, but in the evenings, the shop overflows with people and we make up for the day-time losses,” says S. Guha Majumdar of the Kwality Walls outlet at Scoop on Strand Road. The new Baskin Robbins outlet on Rawdon Street is banking on free delivery service, “for customers who feel it is too hot to step out for an ice-cream”.

Nicco Park is feeling the heat, with the gate count showing a sharp drop compared to May 2001. On Monday, 1,585 people visited the park, compared to 2,804 last year, and 4,655 came in on Sunday, against 6,646 in 2001. But the number of visitors at Iceland, the snow-filled amphitheatre, has been on the rise, with 658 visitors dropping by on Mondays, compared to 374 a week ago, and Sunday’s figures shooting up from 1,556 last week to 1,744 this week. “People do not have a problem paying Rs 30 extra for some respite in Iceland,” says Abhijit Sen, of the Nicco group.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Cable blackout on Thursday

Cable operators have called a 24-hour all-Bengal token strike from the morning of May 23, to protest “arbitrary rate hikes” of pay channels by broadcasters. Signals to cable homes will remain switched off from 10 am on Thursday to 10 am on Friday, according to Tarak Saha, spokesperson for the joint action committee of cable operators. “We are also demanding abolition of the package system, resorted to by the broadcasters, and better security for operators,” said Saha. RPG Netcom operators are still in negotiation with Ten Sports and indications are the channel will be switched on just before the World Cup kicks off on May 31.

Fraud accused shot dead

A 35-year-old man was shot dead by unidentified assailants at Baidyabati near Serampore, late on Monday. Nagendra Prasad Yadav was shot from point-blank range and died on the spot. Police said the incident took place when Yadav was returning home from work. A probe revealed that the victim had duped several people of lakhs by promising jobs.

Boy killed

A four-year-old boy died and his mother was seriously injured when a stove exploded at the staff quarters of Bandel Thermal Power Plant. Police said the accident occurred when the woman was cooking. The boy, Raju, was rushed to Chandernagore Hospital where he was pronounced brought dead. The woman’s condition is critical.

Nimtola plans

Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said on Tuesday that the Nimtola burning ghat would be beautified and made pollution-free. The minister announced this while inaugurating a children’s park at Chandernagore as part of the Ganga Action Plan. According to the minister, findings revealed that the burning ghats were responsible for pollution in the area and it would be made mandatory for all ghats to instal electric crematoria.

Canning murder

Mosto Sheikh, 25, was killed by unidentified persons at Srinagar, in the Canning police station area, in South 24-Parganas, on Tuesday morning. Police said Sheikh was involved in anti-social activities. Two persons have been detained in connection with the killing.

Train services hit

Train services were disrupted for over an hour-and-a-half on Tuesday on Eastern Railway’s Barasat-Hasnabad section due to obstruction by residents between Barasat and Sondalia stations. The demonstrators were demanding a new station at Kajipara. Earlier, a drive was carried out to stop an illegal halt at Kajipara. A train on the Hasnabad-Sealdah route had to be cancelled due to the disruption.

Toilet petition

In a mass petition on Tuesday, residents of Doctors’ Lane sought the civic authorities’ intervention to prevent the illegal construction of a toilet and a urinal at the CPM local committee office. Members of 26 families alleged that the party workers were trying to construct a septic tank in the area.    

 
 
SOUND OF SILENCE HEARD FOR A DECADE 
 
 
BY SUDESHNA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, May 21: 
Several kids in uniform are playing at the gates. On seeing unfamiliar faces approach, they stop and pose questioning glances. “Head ma’am, which way?” Immediately everyone breaks into excited gesticulations. Some beckon the guests to follow them. The lack of language hinders neither communication nor hospitality.

Helen Keller Badhir Vidyalaya (HKBV) in Mukundapur, off the EM Bypass, is playground and classroom to more than 200 such children who can hear and utter only the sound of silence. The school, which draws students from even neighbouring states like Assam and Tripura, has turned 10 this year.

HKBV has come a long way from the modest beginning in 1992. “We had a room at Jadavpur Stadium and barely half a dozen students,” headmistress Madhumita Dutta recalls. The shift to the present three-storeyed premises took place in 1995. The school now teaches till Class VIII. But before a child reaches Class I, he has to pass through five preparatory years. “We have to train them in communication skills before they can be initiated into mainstream education,” Dutta points out. Thus five-year-old Santu Sarkar has to attend speech and voice-culture classes before picking up the three R’s. Sitting in front of teacher Madhumita Kansari, he hears her utter the vowels through his earphones connected to the speech trainer. “The machine amplifies whatever little sound he hears,” she explains. In a mirror, Santu sees both himself and his teacher as they pronounce the vowels together.

More advanced sense-training classes involve identification of a range of objects and sounds. In an adjacent room, the table is lined with instruments — drums, cymbals, whistle, bells… Eight-year-old Polly’s eyes are covered by a fellow-student. The teacher plays the instruments one by one and Polly, in her third year at HKBV, has to identify the sound later by pointing at the instrument from which it emanates. Her brother Pritam is trying to pronounce the names of fruits in another class.

“The younger these children come to us the better, as the nerves get stiff with age and they face more difficulty in speaking,” Dutta says. Those who come in as late as in their teens or even later are taught to utter the basics of communication like name, address and numbers, and then enrolled in the vocational training courses. HKBV has many options — book-binding, tailoring, clay-modelling, doll and umbrella-making.

According to Karabi Kundu, the Bengali teacher who doubles up as the tailoring instructor, challenged students concentrate much more than normal kids. The view is shared by “mime sir” Dilip Das. “They can imitate so well,” he says. The students make the idol for the school Saraswati puja themselves. Their dolls and umbrellas also sell well in fairs, the headmistress informs.

The school, with state Sunderbans development minister Kanti Ganguly as its president, has been graced by visits of numerous celebrities like Sunil Gavaskar and Mithun Chakraborty. But it is among their own students that the teachers find their stars. Santanu Haldar, of Class IV, has won a national painting contest organised by Nehru Children’s Museum. Ram Singh is the athletics champion. Last year, he topped 200m at the handicapped children’s meet. What rank does he expect this year? The 16-year-old promptly raises a single finger.

   

 
 
ROW OVER PARTY OFFICE PLOT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 21: 
There is controversy over the plot on the EM Bypass which Trinamul Congress councillor Javed Khan has gifted to his party for the construction of Trinamul Bhavan.

At a press conference at Writers’ Buildings on Tuesday, Sunderbans development minister Kanti Ganguly accused Javed Khan of donating a controversial plot of land for building the Trinamul Congress party office. “I have also written to the mayor that Javed Khan has no right to gift this land to anyone as it does not belong to him,” he said.

Khan countered the charge. “I am ready to resign from my councillorship if Ganguly can substantiate his allegation. But he should be ready to resign if he fails to prove his allegation,” the mayor-in-council member said. Ganguly was “misinforming people” by quoting false documents, he alleged. Khan said he would write to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, giving details of the plot, with a request to restrain “the semi-literate colleague” in his Cabinet.

   

 
 
MEANINGFUL SOJOURN, LIFELONG BOND 
 
 
BY SANKAR SRIDHAR
 
Calcutta, May 21: 
Sushma Basu, Jharna Munshi, Chhaya Dhar and gang have, for the past three decades, juggled various occupations and engagements to work towards the uplift of women, education of the young, bringing about a consciousness among the socially challenged and serving the old and infirm.

With a core group of 10 women school-teachers, college professors and government officials, they formed a league of daily passengers who had ‘reserved’ seats in the ladies compartment on the M-212 Burdwan local in the morning and the M-230 local in the evening.

Though their “lifelong” bond began with their passion for playing cards, a temptation they still can’t resist, it was the regular picnics they went for during the weekends, to spend time with their kids, that cemented it.

“It was the prospect of severed ties on account of retirement that prompted us to form a club where we could still get together,” recalls Manjushree Munshi, secretary of the West Bengal Ladies Tourist and Cultural Association, formed in 1972.

At the outset, their activities were limited to going out on weekend tours, arranging cultural programmes and helping the needy with clothes and food. The scale was small, the funds were limited. But as word of their endeavour spread, donations started trickling in. “Understanding that we were no longer only 10-strong, we threw the club open to interested women,” says Deepali Saha, one of the founder members. With growing numbers and more funds, an executive committee was formed to steer the association.

Today, the club has 350 members. Recently, the association trained some women in batik printing. After learning the skill, some have set up their workshops while the rest teach at the club’s batik printing school. Plans have also been finalised to teach more women the techniques of food preservation, screen-printing and weaving. An old-age home for women, Sarada Sadan, has been set up in Chandernagore. This apart, the women work with the Indian Red Cross Society for the spread of literacy.

The frenetic work schedule has not slowed these senior citizens down. They are convinced that only “full use of time can make our sojourn in this world meaningful”. Believing that “life begins at 40”, they still organise tours, which have taken them all over the country and also to Russia, Thailand, Mauritius, Java and Singapore.

“On these trips, we get a chance to relax and take a breather,” says Shefali Nandi, president. “Occasionally, if our husbands are keen, we allow them to join us,” she laughs, before adding that whatever they have been doing would “never have been possible without the support of our families”.

   

 
 
SAFETY RIDE ON AERO-BRIDGE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 21: 
With hostilities escalating on the Indo-Pak border, the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BOCAS) and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), in charge of security at the airport, have directed the authorities to have more aero-bridges installed for boarding and landing of passengers and reducing the movement of people inside the tarmac.

The CISF and BOCAS said this would reduce the access of airline employees to the tarmac. “Calcutta airport is among the high-risk airports in the country. There are intelligence reports of Pakistani ISI-aided terrorists making attempts to hijack planes and creating disturbances,’’ a senior inspector-general of CISF said over the telephone from Delhi.

At a recent meeting with the Airports Authority of India, commissioner of BCAS, Veramma Auvelli, and director-general of CISF, H.J. Dora, had stressed the need to transport passengers to aircraft through the aero-bridges.

Now, buses carry passengers from the terminal buildings to the aircraft, which are parked about half a kilometre from the buildings.

Airport officers said about a dozen buses belonging to Air Sahara, Jet Airways, Indian Airlines and other airliners ply on the tarmac.

CISF officers in Calcutta said that while reviewing the security arrangements of the city airport last week, they noticed that too many people moved around on the tarmac.

“Some of them are drivers of passenger buses. There are others who guide the passengers into the buses and also help them disembark near the aircraft and board the flight,’’ said S.S. Kirpekar, inspector-general, CISF in Calcutta.

Citing security manuals and personal experience, CISF officers argued that although all of them have the security clearance to move around on the tarmac, it is easier for terrorists to lure junior airline officers.

“With the situation prevailing in the country, we cannot take chances. We have to take everything into consideration,’’ Kirpekar said.

According to airport manager P.K. Srivastava, the city airport has four aero-bridges.

“On a few occasions, passengers, especially on late evening flights, have used these aero-bridges. But we definitely need more of them to convert completely from the bus service boarding and landing system,’’ a senior officer of Calcutta airport said.

Airport director Roshan Lal said two more aero-bridges will be installed soon. Private airliners have welcomed the decision to instal more aero-bridges so that authorities can do away with the system of transporting passengers in buses to the aircraft from the terminal buildings.

Speaking over the telephone from Delhi, chief executive officer of Air Sahara Uttam Kumar Bose said that aero-bridges would reduce security hazards and facilitate faster and easier boarding and landing of passengers.

A spokesman of Jet Airways agreed with him.

   

 
 
THE GODDESS BECKONS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 21: 
The state tourism department is now banking on Goddess Kali to attract tourists to the city. It plans to refurbish the Kalighat temple and its surroundings. The revamp is likely to include cleaner water for the pilgrims to bathe in, a jetty on the banks of the Adi Ganga and a bridge, a shopping complex and the works.

That apart, the department is also toying with the idea of opening a West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation office at the Kali temple in Varanasi to woo visitors from Uttar Pradesh.

The concept plan, submitted by Boston Pledge (an organisation of NRI Bengalis, who want to improve the state) and prepared by Modular Consultants, was submitted to the department more than a week ago, state tourism department secretary R.K. Tripathi said on Tuesday.

The draft envisages an overall facelift for the temple, built by the Sabarna Roy Choudhurys of Barisha in 1809, and its environs. From a comprehensive improvement in the supply of power, plans include dredging the five-km stretch between the temple and the sluice gates, a prayer-cum-meditation centre and a parking lot, at a cost of more than Rs 65 crore.

The following details are included in the concept plan:

A re-development project for the temple (Rs 1.2 crore)

A centre for the famous patachitras (Rs 40 lakh)

An improvement of the surroundings and beautification of the temple (Rs 1.9 crore)

Development of the riverfront (Rs 30 crore)

Dredging (Rs 18 crore)

Better power and water and drainage facilities (Rs 3.5 crore)

An administrative block and pilgrim facilitation centre (Rs 1.5 crore)

Medical facility (Rs 24 lakh)

Surveillance (Rs 2.5 crore);

Reconnaissance survey and awareness campaign (Rs 70 lakh)

Boston Pledge, officials said, had put out the assurance that it would take care of the funding. “It will arrange for grants and subscriptions from US-based NRIs and overseas financial institutions and the money, according to details being worked out, will be handed over to a trust, to be floated specially for this purpose,” Tripathi said.

But first, the government has to approve the private agency’s proposal, he added. Several government departments and agencies, like the urban development department, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority will be involved in the project as well, Tripathi said.

For the Varanasi temple, built by the erstwhile rulers of Cooch Behar in 1856 and now owned by the Bengal government, the department has plans to construct two buildings.

One, according to the details available, will have 23 rooms to accommodate the pilgrims and the other will have four luxury suites and a shopping arcade.

   
 

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