‘Custody’ suicide foxes cops
Holiday call spoils family fare
City scores in entrance test
Net for knowledge taxed for fun
The City Diary
From streets to hall, jingle all the way
Rajasthan CM to open city unit
Need and neglect ail cop hospital
40 bodies claimed in bus mishap
Trust cries foul over house deal

Calcutta, May 28: 
A 34-year-old man, desperate to end his life, jumped into the Hooghly late on Monday. But his swimming skills saved the day. He was spotted by a cop while clambering ashore and taken to North Port police station. There, in the toilet, he spotted an iron rod. He hanged himself from it, using his shirt for a noose.

Saidul Mandal’s suicide has put the police in a spot. Worried that the ‘custody’ death may put the West Bengal Human Rights Commission and other such organisations on their trail, the police are busy preparing a detailed report on the case.

When Saidul left his Baduria residence in North 24-Parganas late on Monday, he was driven to despair by the discovery that his wife had been cheating on him. He went to Babughat and jumped into the river from a boat around 1 am, said H.N. Mandal, additional officer-in-charge, North Port police station. “But he survived because he knew how to swim,” the officer added.

Saidul finally clambered on to the river traffic jetty near the Eden Gardens Circular Railway station. He was hauled up by river traffic police guards Akram Hossain Khan and Bishwaranjan Jana. They informed the police station around 3.30 am. Moments later, officers from the thana arrived and took Saidul along. “The man was looking very tired,” said the additional officer-in-charge.

The police reportedly offered him two cups of tea and snacks before questioning him about his suicide bid. “He was not put in the lock-up, as he had not been arrested. We only detained him and planned to contact his family after daybreak,” an officer said.

Four policemen were on night duty. Sub-inspector Dulal Chandra Bhadra was the duty-officer, who recounted how Saidul began weeping when questioned about the reason for trying to end his life.

“I don’t want to live anymore… For whom shall I live?” he reportedly told the cops after narrating his tale of trauma.

Around 5 am, Saidul asked for permission to go to the toilet, outside the police station. Constable Kamakshya Sen was asked to escort him.

After about 10 minutes, Sen became suspicious. He asked one of the sweepers, Ramnath Malik, to check inside. Malik discovered Saidul hanging from his shirt, which had been tied firmly round an iron road.

Sen and Malik raised an alarm. Other policemen from the thana rushed to the spot and pulled Saidul down. He was rushed to Medical College and Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

“It’s very difficult for anyone to explain how someone can take his own life inside a three-foot-by-four-foot toilet,” said an officer of the North Port police station. And the iron rod that Mandal had used to hang himself was something that the police had not even noticed till Tuesday’s tragedy.

The police, desperate to prove that this was not a case of custody death, have already started preparing a detailed report that will be sent to the state human rights commission.

“We don’t want to take any chances,” the additional officer-in-charge said.


Calcutta, May 28: 
Beware of calls to your home or office, informing you that you are the “lucky winner” of a lottery and that you are entitled to a free holiday. Over a hundred Calcuttans have fallen for this ruse and have had to suffer for it.

The couples — singles not allowed — have been invited over to the office of a “travel company”, told that they could visit one of several tourist spots around the country and stay gratis at some of the finest hotels there. Food and other expenses, like laundry, would, of course, have to be paid for.

It is here that the catch lay. All those who availed of this scheme had to pay through their noses for their food at prices several times higher than the other “paying” guests. Sometimes as high as Rs 70,000 for a week’s food consumed.

On Tuesday, the police cracked down on Country Inn, the ‘travel company’ that had been organising such trips and duping people. The manager has been arrested and the premises sealed. “Their trick was simple,” said DC, DD, Soumen Mitra. “They managed to get a list of people and called them up to tell them that they had just won a free holiday. Once they had brought them over to their office for discussions, the clients were told they would have to pay a nominal registration fee and for the paperwork.”

This “fee” ranged from Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000, depending on what the lucky ones were willing to pay for. The hotels where the agency was offering accommodation were many times more expensive and so the “travel company” found many takers.

“But it is only when they returned and told us of their travails and filed complaints with us that we realised that a con game was on,” Mitra said. “We are now checking if the hotels were hand-in-glove with the travel company. We shall initiate action against them as well.”


Calcutta, May 28: 
Calcutta is the best in JEST — and this is in all seriousness. For the city, pushed out of the top slots of almost every all-India entrance examination, there’s some good news at last.

In a remarkable success story, students from Calcutta — and some other parts of Bengal — have come out on top in this year’s Joint Entrance Screening Test (JEST). It is essential to clear this test to pursue post-graduate studies and post-M.Sc research in the top-bracket institutes of India.

The results of the written exams, held this February, were announced recently. For a change, the top-50 merit list gives the city and the state quite a bit to cheer about. Thirty-two of the top 50 are from Calcutta and its hinterland. And more than half — 117 of 228 — of the successful candidates are from the state, a majority from Calcutta University, Jadavpur University and Kalyani University. There are others from Burdwan University, IIT (Kharagpur) and North Bengal University.

The 14 institutes, for which students from all over the country are competing, include the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Astrophysics, the National Centre for Biological Sciences and the Raman Research Institute, Chennai’s Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Institute of Physics (Bhubaneswar), the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics and the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (both based in Pune), Allahabad’s Harishchandra Research Institute, the Ahmedabad-based Physics Research Laboratory and S.N. Bose Institute of Calcutta.

The stiffest competition, said scientists from the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), was for the 45 seats in the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences and the S.N. Bose Institute. “These are the three institutes where it is possible to do research immediately on completion of the two-year post-graduation course,” said Jayanta Bhattacharjee of the theoretical physics department of IACS.

Senior teachers of Calcutta and Jadavpur universities, however, say the varsities, despite their strong showing, need to do some soul-searching. “We must ask ourselves why our brightest students, who have opted for the path of serious research, are intent on leaving their own universities,” a senior teacher of CU’s chemistry department said.

“Good students would obviously like to go in for research in top-bracket institutes which give them a three-year time-frame for research. This is one aspect our varsities must address in order to retain the best young minds,” said a senior CU teacher.


Calcutta, May 28: 
“Imposing amusement tax on cyber cafés which provide utilitarian service is absurd” — Rajshekhar Agarwal, managing director, Junction 96. “People flock to cyber cafés not for information, but for various forms of digital entertainment” — Dipankar Dey, CMC officer in the amusement tax department.

It has been hailed as the gateway of information and a tool to bridge the digital divide. But for the CMC, the Internet is nothing but a medium of entertainment. And now, the CMC vs cyber café dispute is taking a turn towards the courtroom.

In a recent circular, the CMC has slapped amusement tax on all cyber cafés. Owners have to cough up Rs 1,000 for each of their Internet-connected personal computers (PCs) by June 2002 for renewal of their trade licences. This has drawn reactions ranging from disgust to despair from large cyber café chains to the neighbourhood Net shop. “Apart from Calcutta, we operate in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Indore. But CMC is the first civic body to slap amusement tax on the industry,” says Rajshekhar Agarwal, managing director, Junction 96.

The cyber café chain, with 14 centres in the city and 40 all over India, is set to challenge the CMC decision in the court of law. The Junction 96 officials have dashed off a letter to the civic body, objecting to the linking of ‘amusement’ with cyber cafés and conveying their refusal to pay up. According to Agarwal, the centres with Internet-connected PCs serve as “gateways of information” for both students and professionals. “Besides, they give people the chance to stay in touch. This absurd move will hit the common man,” he warns.

But CMC officials are unfazed. “It’s true that the Internet can be used for acquiring information, but we all know what people flock to cyber cafes for,” said Dipankar Dey. The CMC officer is confident of mopping up the revenue target from the 500-odd cyber cafes in the city. “Last year, the directive was not properly enforced. But this year, over 100 cyber café-owners have already paid up.” Among them is Happy e-Zon, with 12 centres. “We are against the move, but we paid up to avoid any hassles,” said Sushil Poddar of Happy e-Zon.

But for the para players, the new levy has spelt doom. “The competition in the market has driven hourly surfing rates down to Rs 15-20. Now, if amusement tax is imposed, we will have to down shutters,” said the owner of a small cyber café in New Alipore. But the retired government employee, who put his life’s savings to set up the centre, has not lost hope. He expects intervention from the Buddhadeb ‘IT for all’ Bhattacharjee government.

That, given the stand taken by state IT minister Manab Mukherjee, seems unlikely. “I can’t comment on the issue as the CMC didn’t consult us before imposing the tax on cyber cafes. Besides, I don’t think that the matter has any relevance to IT. It’s a purely commercial issue, where the civic body wants to tax the profit,” said Mukherjee.



Kidnapped builder returns in cab

Central Calcutta-based builder Baseer Ahmed, kidnapped from his office behind New Market on Monday afternoon, returned home in a taxi around midnight on Monday. However, neither Basheer nor his family members are willing to say how he managed to get away. Police suspect that Baseer’s family paid a ransom to secure his release. Sources said a local criminal mediated the deal. Deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan summoned the crime officers of Jorasanko, Hare Street, Burrabazar and Taltala police stations on Monday night to chalk out plans to trace the kidnappers. Baseer had been picked up from Imdad Ali Lane and taken to an unknown destination blind-folded. He told the police that he had travelled in a Tata Sumo for an hour. The second half of the journey took them over kuchcha roads, he claimed. His captors were taking instructions over cellphone, he added.

Shootout at Behala, 3 hurt

There was a shootout at Arya Palli, in Behala, late on Monday. Three people suffered injuries and were taken to MR Bangur Hospital for treatment. They were released on Tuesday morning after being administered first-aid. Local residents said two groups of criminals exchanged about six rounds of fire. Trouble broke out while they were drinking in their hideout. Chor Tabla, an associate of local crimelord Jishu, had an argument with Madan over payment of monthly hafta to the police. Tabla took out his revolver and opened fire. The bullet missed Madan and struck an associate. Madan then opened fire. Both of them are absconding.

Goon untraced

Raids were carried out in several areas on Tuesday in search of Toton Kanji who had opened fire on Rina Adhikari on Rai Bahadur Road, in Behala, on Monday. Toton is suspected to be hiding on Panditiya Road, in the Lake police station area, sources said. On Monday, Toton had shot Rina following a dispute over the goon demanding that the Adhikaris put up one of his relatives “without any rent”.

Gang rivalry

A eunuch, who was allegedly kidnapped by a rival faction on Monday from Beleghata, returned on Tuesday evening. Earlier, a demand was made for Rs 30,000 as ransom. A complaint was lodged with the Beniapukur police station and local Trinamul Congress MLA Paresh Pal was approached. The two groups have settled their dispute, deputy commissioner (eastern suburban department) Sanjoy Mukherjee said.

Metro services hit

Metro Railway services were disrupted on Tuesday morning as the doors on a train were not functioning properly. The train which left Tollygunge at 10.20 am was detained at Rabindra Sarobar and Kalighat stations for four minutes each. As a result, the next two trains had to be rescheduled, officials said.

Protest plan

Howrah District Congress Committee will organise rallies on Thursday to protest the attack on district youth Congress president Bibhas Hazra. The protest agenda also includes erratic power supply and other administrative shortcomings, district Congress president Pulak Das said on Tuesday.

Madhyamik row

Trinamul Congress is staging a demonstration in front of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education office since Monday to protest the printing of a wrong date on Madhyamik 2002 certificates. But the move has scuttled a programme announced by Trinamul Chhatra Parishad leaders. Initially, youth leaders Baiswanar Chatterjee and Sajal Ghosh had thought the demonstration would be a one-day affair. Accordingly, they had asked guardians of candidates to contact them with faulty marksheets to be forwarded to the Board for correction. Party leader Mamata Banerjee has, however, announced an “indefinite” agitation and asked all party leaders to join in. Chatterjee and Ghosh have been asked to keep a record of which partymen are attending the sit-in.

Hawker meet

Hawkers from all over Asia will meet at a conference to be held in Dhaka in November. This was decided at the conclusion of a three-day convention on ‘Street vendors and the urban poor’ held in Calcutta. Organised by the Hawker Sangram Committee, the city meet has adopted the ‘Kolkata Declaration of Street Vendors & the Urban Poor’. May 26 will be observed as International Hawkers’ Day.    

Calcutta, May 28: 
The crowds at Nandan were wondering what all the excitement was about. Peels of laughter, awe-struck gasps punctuated by shocked silence rang from Nandan-II, screening Jurassic Park 3.

The audience: 300 street-children, destitutes and orphans. The event: the third Street Children Film Festival organised by Calcutta Avant Garde. The institute for the development and rehabilitation of streetchildren, the helpless and the handicapped has been hosting such a festival every alternate year.

This time, children from the platforms of Howrah and Sealdah stations mingled with those from various homes like Don Bosco Ashalayam, Baachbo, Calcutta Social Project, Vidyasagar Academy and one backed by CRY. The guests of honour included writer Dibyendu Palit and Rochita Talukdar from Unicef.

“The children come from a strata that is ostracised, humiliated and abused,” said Tapati Mukherjee, president, Calcutta Avant Garde. “And this is an effort to help them interact with others like them and enjoy themselves.” And enjoy they did. “This is the most fun I’ve ever had,” smiled Pooja Kumari, 10.

“Statistics show that around 50 lakh children are deprived of their daily necessities and are subject to labour in order to sustain themselves. They have no childhood, and recreation and entertainment are things they do not associate with,” said Dr Hiranmay Saha, chairman, Juvenile Welfare Board, West Bengal.

Nothing other than the bare feet and the worn dresses, however, suggested that the children had been robbed of their childhood. Their smiles were bright and their eyes were twinkling on their day out to the movies.

Films like Dr Doolittle and Jingle All The Way have been hand-picked by the volunteers. “Though the films are all English, there are a lot of animals in each, and that is something children always enjoy,” said Sourabh Mukherjee, secretary of the organisation.

Formed in 1996, with only 10 volunteers, Calcutta Avant Garde has big dreams of working for the uplift of deprived children. The success of the festival, which has found the support of corporate houses and individuals, has given it a fillip.

“We are collaborating with other NGOs to mobilise communities for participation in primary school activities and alternative schooling,” says Mukherjee. Free medical and health check-up camps, education centres and schools for the physically and mentally handicapped have already been set up.


Calcutta, May 28: 
Ashok Gehlot, the chief minister of Rajasthan will inaugurate the Calcutta chapter of Rajasthan Foundation on August 4. Vinod Ajmera, executive director of the foundation, announced this on Tuesday at a press meet at Rajasthan Information Centre.

“The main objective of the foundation is to facilitate the process of socio-economic development in the state with help from non-resident Rajasthanis,” said Ajmera. The foundation, which has offices in Coimbatore and Chennai, was set up after the first international Rajasthani conclave in Jaipur in September 2000.

An executive committee headed by a president would look after the functioning of the city chapter. “Besides meeting representatives of various Rajasthani associations in the city, we also called on eminent industrialists like Harsh Neotia and H.M. Bangur to seek their help for the foundation. The response from them has been very encouraging,” he added.


Calcutta, May 28: 
Inadequate infrastructure and government apathy have turned senior police officers away from the Calcutta Police Hospital in Mominpore. Insiders say only constables and sub-inspectors avail of the services, since the cost of treatment is subsidised.

“The 300-bed hospital lacks modern equipment, among other things. Recently, we installed an ultra-sonography (USG) machine, but what we lack are an auto-analyser for the pathological laboratory and instruments for keyhole surgery,” said D.P. Acharya, superintendent.

Doctors frequently complain of being overburdened, apart from lacking instruments to conduct surgeries.

Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty, however, said that modern equipment will soon be installed. “The auto-analyser and laparoscopy machines will be installed soon. I am working at that,” Chakraborty said.

Subrata Narayan Sarkar, special additional commissioner of police, admitted that senior officers hardly avail of the services at the hospital. “Senior officers get themselves treated at reputed nursing homes and later claim reimbursement. Of course, there are exceptions,” he said.

Superintendent Acharya confirmed that senior officers have not visited the hospital recently. “Kiriti Sengupta, additional commissioner of police, and Nazrul Islam, deputy inspector-general of police, modernisation, would come here earlier but not any longer,” he said. He feels that once the facilities are upgraded and sophisticated equipment installed, officers would definitely avail of the services.

Acharya added that the Kolkata Police Family Welfare Centre (KPFWC) donated a new USG machine after repeated requests. “We are looking forward to help from the police commissioner, who has already done a lot for the hospital. Moreover, chairperson of KPFWC, Debadyuti Chakraborty, has assured me she will try to upgrade the hospital’s facilities,” said Acharya.

Sources said though doctors retain services till retirement, emphasis should be laid on quality treatment. “Our pay packet does not allow us to get treated at reputed hospitals. So, we have to be content with whatever is available here. Only when the condition of a patient deteriorates is he or she referred to a well-known hospital,” said an ailing policeman.

According to Acharya, since it’s a service hospital, the government does not have plans for privatisation in the near future. “Red-tapism should not stand in the way of modernisation, as it causes problems for the hospital authorities, apart from policemen and their families,” he said.


Calcutta, May 28: 
Nearly 24 hours after the road mishap at Chowbhaga, South 24-Parganas, relatives identified and claimed 40 bodies from Nilratan Sirkar Hospital. Till late on Tuesday, six more bodies remained unidentified.

Sub-divisional officer, Alipore, Dibyendu Sarkar, said: “We will keep the rest of the bodies in the morgue for another five days for relatives to claim them.”

On Monday, 46 people, including women and children, were killed when the bus in which they were travelling from Ghatakpukur fell in a canal at Chowbhaga.

Villagers retrieved most of the bodies. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee visited the spot on Tuesday.

For the villagers of Bamunia, Chandipur, Bodra, Narayanpur, Padmapukur, Malancha, Kharamba, Tardah, Bamultala and Kantatala, it was a nightmare, as most of them had lost a few relatives in the mishap.

District magistrate Alapan Bandyopadhyay and superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly supervised the salvage and handover of the bodies at the hospital.

Sunderbans development minister Kanti Ganguly was also present at the hospital on Tuesday. “On behalf of the administration, we have decided to ease the plight of the victims’ families,” he said.

Confusion prevailed over the toll. According to villagers of Bhangore, the bus was carrying around 100 passengers. Mohammad Khuda Bux, a villager from Bodra, said: “We are doubtful about the death figures released by the government. A number of villagers are still missing.”

The administration has ensured that the Basanti Highway is cleared for vehicular movement. “On Tuesday, traffic movement was normal. We have posted guards to check the speed of vehicles,” said Rajesh Kumar Singh, additional superintendent of police, industrial.

The state government and the zilla parishad plan to organise a programme to laud the villagers who rescued the passengers from Chowbhaga canal and from river Matla, during an earlier boat mishap. A government official said that the chief minister would attend the programme.

Trinamul sources said their chairperson had spoken to mayor Subrata Mukherjee for compensation to the affected families.


Calcutta, May 28: 
A trust, of which state fisheries minister Kiranmoy Nanda is a member and his father the chairman, is set to take the ministry of youth welfare to court over alleged breach of contract. The trust has already issued a legal notice to the department.

Monomoy Nanda, the minister’s brother, told Metro on Monday: “We are waiting for a reply from the youth welfare department. If they fail to respond, we will take them to the court.”

When contacted on Monday, Monomoy, his brother Brahmomoy and other members of the trust said they had handed over a building in Puri, owned by them, to the youth welfare department in July 11, 1993.

According to the agreement, it was decided that the welfare department would construct two apartments on the premises.

“We had agreed that one of the flats would be allotted to those who are sent on deputation to Puri, while another would be reserved for pilgrims,” the trust members said. It was also agreed that the department would renovate the building before renting it out.

“The department, however, is not abiding by the terms of the agreement,” the Nandas alleged. The building is registered with the Ganadhar Trustee board of Contai, in Midnapore.

According to government sources, a number of houses had been donated to the youth welfare department for turning them into hostels and guest houses.

“But in many cases, terms and conditions have not been adhered to and such establishments have often been neglected. For instance, in Mukutmanipur, a huge house had been donated to the department, but for want of renovation and prospective customers, it is languishing,” sources added.


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