Umbrella law to save ponds
Monsoon bottleneck for south Calcutta
Exams off on Friday
Lonely battle for brother
The City Diary
Portrait of pox goddess in Canada
Pictures in pure colour, glowing light
Private buses signal strike
Howrah teens drug target
Collision sparks cadre clash, two dead

Calcutta, June 5: 
There will be one single law to protect waterbodies from the hands of unscrupulous realtors in and outside Calcuttta. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made this clear on Wednesday, World Environment Day.

“There are many laws under different departments for the protection of ponds and other wetlands. We want to have one strict legal provision to protect these environmentally-important areas,” Bhattacharjee said, while addressing the gathering at Paribesh Bhavan, the state pollution control board’s headquarters, in Salt Lake.

Bhattacharjee’s blunt remark puts the lid on the ongoing controversy between the state fisheries and environment departments over “contradictory laws” governing wetlands.

Fisheries minister Kironmoy Nanda had opposed an environment department effort to bring in a new law that provided for filling up of “environmentally unimportant” wetlands for the sake of development in urban areas. Nanda had even announced stricter provisions for the existing Inland Fisheries Act.

The chief minister, however, made it clear that the single law would have severe penal provisions. “We want to make this law so strict that if someone has committed an offence once, he will think twice before repeating it,” warned Bhattacharjee.

“I receive many complaints about the misdeeds of promoters,” said Bhattacharjee, naming Behala, Dum Dum and parts of North 24-Parganas as the “most vulnerable”.

“Now, we have drawn up a list, as well as a map of these waterbodies, and I will issue instructions to all agencies concerned to protect them for the sake of the environment,” said Bhattacharjee on Wednesday.

Taking the pollution watch from waterbodies to city streets, Bhattacharjee reiterated his government’s policy to convert old taxis and buses from using diesel to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a promise he had made last year on the same occasion, at the same venue. “We are gradually working towards the shift from diesel to LPG as we do not want the transport sector to suffer economically,” he explained.

The state government is waiting for a private firm to put in place its LPG distribution and conversion infrastructure.

“Once this is in place, I can approach the taxi and bus associations to go in for the conversion in a time-barred manner,” said Bhattacharjee. But he clarified that Calcutta would not go the Delhi way, where the sudden switch to CNG has caused trouble and even sparked strikes.

With automobile pollution contributing to over 50 per cent of the city’s air-pollution load, environment minister Manab Mukherjee said it was time the transport sector took some responsibility in the matter.

“If the transporters want leniency from the government, the city’s public, too, can demand cleaner air from them,” Mukherjee said at the function. The minister conceded that as far as phasing out old diesel engines was concerned, “the challenge remained”.

Mukherjee said that the laws governing motor vehicles had been amended to allow for the conversion to LPG-run engines. He, however, echoed the chief minister’s view that the government was against any “economic setback” during the switchover period.


Calcutta, June 5: 
This could be the mother of all traffic bottlenecks — and for 18 months, no less.

Even before south Calcutta can heave a sigh of relief at the completion of the Gariahat fly-over, comes the Southern Avenue speedbreaker. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) decision to embark on a mega storm-water pumping station project during the monsoons is expected to render several stretches in the area off-limits for vehicles and pedestrians.

When complete, the Southern Avenue Lifting Station Project is expected to take the load off the Ballygunge pumping station. It will pump out 150 cusecs of rainwater from the streets bordering the Dhakuria Lakes, Lansdowne Road and Southern Avenue, into Tolly’s Nullah.

From the western part of Rabindra Sarobar to the Tolly’s Nullah, the pipes will run six to seven feet underground, taking Menoka cinema, the West Bengal Public Service Commission building and even the Metro Railway in its stride. Number of crossings to be negotiated: 35.

So far, so good. But now for the bad news. Throughout an 18-month period, one stretch or another of Southern Avenue will be carved up. On Wednesday, the section opening on to S.P. Mukherjee Road was blocked, leaving only one lane open for both up and down traffic. This transformed the junction into a traffic policeman’s nightmare.

On Thursday, the boulevard near Gol Park, already affected by reconstruction of the roundabout, will be targeted. And the tree-lined pavements will be taken over by temporary sheds housing the workers, making them out-of-bounds for pedestrians.

The two-km-long Southern Avenue and the pavements will be dug up and left to “settle down” for the 18-month period so that metalling it later is “easier”. Though a large section of CMC engineers felt the work should not start with the monsoon ready to set in, mayor Subrata Mukherjee said any delay would lead to an escalation of cost.

“We would have started the work long back but had to wait till the Gariahat flyover was complete,” Mukherjee said on Wednesday, adding that this delay alone would cost the civic body Rs-1.5 crore.

Admitting there would be “some traffic dislocation”, the mayor said the city should be prepared to take this — just like the construction of Metro Rail and flyovers — in its stride. Mukherjee also brushed aside allegations from CPM councillors that south Calcutta was being favoured. “Did we raise a ruckus when the Thanthania pumping station was coming up in north Calcutta?” he demanded.


Calcutta, June 5: 
Calcutta University has postponed all its 17 post-graduate and under-graduate examinations slated for June 7, in view of the 12-hour Bengal bandh called by Trinamul Congress on that day.

The BA and B.Sc examinations that were to be held on Friday, will be conducted on June 8. The time and venue of the examinations remain unchanged.

The new dates for the remaining examinations will be announced later.

Jadavpur University and Rabindra Bharati University, too, have postponed all their examinations scheduled for that day. Shibpur Bengal Engineering College (Deemed University), too, will hold all exams on June 8, instead of June 7.

The Institution of Engineers (India) said sections A and B exams, scheduled for June 7, will be put off.


Calcutta, June 5: 
They were brothers in arms, lost then reunited on the battlefields of the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971.Three decades later, one of them is on a lonely quest in an alien country, searching for his younger brother, who went missing in India nine years ago.

Seated quietly in a corner of a ground-floor room of Calcutta High Court is Dilip Datta, a Bangla mukti yoddha commander, who led a small group in the Chittagong hills during the ‘71 war. Today, he is struggling to survive in Calcutta, stitching together Rs 50-60 a day by despatching court notices across the country.

“The lawyers here have been generous enough to help me… They know that the money I earn is needed to fight my case and to locate my brother. Last heard, Monilal was being held by the BSF in Rajasthan,” says Dilip, fighting back tears of despair.

It all began on April 12, 1993, when Monilal Datta landed at Ajmer from Dhaka to participate in the Pushkar pilgrimage, along with a relative from Bowbazar, in Calcutta. Monilal checked into a local hotel, where he was asked to produce his passport. After a thorough search, he realised to his horror he had left his passport behind in Bowbazar. Rejecting his requests to contact his relative’s home in Bowbazar, the hotel authorities handed Monilal over to the local Kotwali Sadar police station in Ajmer.

Monilal, however, managed to persuade the local police to send a telegram to Bowbazar. “I am in trouble, please come with passport and money at police station Sadar Kotwali, Narayandass,” was the message conveyed to Calcutta.

Dilip, who was then in Bowbazar, immediately set off for Ajmer with Monilal’s passport. There, he was told by the police that his brother had been handed over to the BSF (72 Battalion, Khajuwala) for deportation to Bangladesh.

That was April 13, 1993. “I left for Bangladesh soon after, and waited for months for Monilal to return. When he did not show up, I decided to leave for India once again,” says Dilip.

On August 9, 1994, Dilip reached Calcutta, this time armed with diplomatic letters, including one from the Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka.

“I was very hopeful that somebody could tell me about the whereabouts of Monilal, but I soon realised that nobody was willing to say a word about him,” says Dilip.

Three years of futile searches saw Dilip lose all his life’s savings. He then filed a writ petition against the Indian government, through the Jaipur-based People’s Union for Civil Liberties in 1997.

The hearings continued and Dilip returned to Calcutta, where a relative got him the high court job. “The hearings have been endless and I have lost all my money and belongings. I do not even have money to fight the ongoing case, which is at an important stage. The lawyers give me whatever they can for despatching their notices around the city… I have now sought asylum in Calcutta,” sighs Dilip.

Last year, Dilip brought his family over to Calcutta. “We have been staying in a slum in North 24-Parganas. I am struggling to feed them every day. So, how can I go to Jaipur to pursue the case? As far as my brother is concerned, the last information I had was that he had been shot dead near the Indo-Bangladesh border. However, no one is willing to say that officially.”

With every passing day, Dilip’s hopes of finding his brother are diminishing. But what frustrates him the most is the failure to get to the truth. “My quest will not end till I know what happened to my brother. But the truth, perhaps, will forever elude me,” he says, before trudging off into a dimly-lit high court chamber.



IA reschedules flights for bandh

Indian Airlines has rescheduled flights due to a bandh call by Trinamul Congress on June 7. The flights IC 201 and IC 402 to Delhi have been combined and will leave Calcutta at 7 pm. The flight CD7261 on Calcutta\ Bhubaneswar sector and flight CD7272 on Calcutta\Nagpur\Hyderabad sector have been combined and will operate on Calcutta\ Bhubaneswar\ Nagpur and Hyderabad sector, leaving Calcutta at 6.45 pm. However, the flight CD7269 operating on Calcutta\ Jaipur\Ahmedabad\ Calcutta sector has been cancelled. Arrangements have been made to operate all other flights as per schedule. Passengers have been requested to recheck the departure timings before leaving for the airport and ensure that they reach well in time. Important telephone numbers: duty manager 511-9846, Enquiry 511-9433\9637, 511-7415 and 211-4433

CMC ambulance hits youth

A 25-year-old youth was hit by a Calcutta Municipal Corporation ambulance on Rabindra Sarani on Wednesday. The youth, Gopinath Das, succumbed on way to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital. Police said the accident occurred while Das was crossing the road. The driver was arrested and the vehicle impounded.

Injured by tanker

Two teenagers were critically injured after a water tanker of the Calcutta State Transport Corporation hit them on Wednesday morning near Taratala police station. The boys, identified as Rakesh Panja, 17, and Bappa Das, 14, were crossing the road on a bicycle. They were admitted to SSKM Hospital. The driver has been rounded up and the vehicle impounded.

LPG helpline

LPG customers can contact the following LPG Emergency Service Cells for gas leakage or any other emergency. These cells will function beyond the working hours of the respective LPG distributors. Tollygunge (P.L. Gas Service): 435-7268, 435-1581 Calcutta West (Fancy Cook): 458-8400, 445-8113 North Calcutta (Som Services): 245-1299, 246-3866 East Calcutta and Salt Lake (Calcutta Flames): 356-0957, 352-9391, 354-9297 Shyambazar (Cooklean): 9610-603737, 9610-610737 (pager) Howrah (Deep Gas Service): 661-7185, 661-7263

Environment day

The Sahara India Pariwar on Wednesday observed World Environment Day at its city headquarters. A seminar on the occasion underlined the need to protect the environment. The meet was attended by tourism secretary R.K. Tripathi, S. Kumar, general manager, human resources development, Sahara India, and environmentalists. In collaboration with the state Pollution Control Board, the company also organised a sit-and-draw at Netaji Indoor Stadium where nearly 1,000 children participated.

New police stations

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will inaugurate three new police stations — Maidan, New Market and Girish Park — on Thursday at Sisir Mancha. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee will be present.

Boatman drowned

A boatman was drowned in the Hooghly near Uluberia, in Howrah district, on Tuesday evening.    

Calcutta, June 5: 
A huge hall in Vancouver. About 300 Canadians are glued to their seats. Before them, on a makeshift platform, is being enacted a Sitala pala, an ode to the goddess of pox, worshipped in rural Bengal. It is a solo act and the performer is flowing in and out of roles, switching from ‘heaven’ to ‘earth’, slipping from ‘male’ to ‘female’. As the one-hour act draws to a close, ‘she’ freezes into a pose — resplendent in a red Benarasi, crowned and bejewelled, third eye in place, a broom and pitcher in hand — as Goddess Sitala.

The show has been put up over the past eight years at numerous corners of the state. But the Canadian audience at the Roundhouse Community Hall gets to see a lot more. As the lights dim, Sitala shifts to a side of the stage and starts taking off her costume. Simultaneously, slides of her assuming the Sitala persona flash on a screen in the back. Before long, it is a bare-chested man in pyjamas who is standing with his hands clasped in front of the audience. The transformation from Chapal ‘Sitala’ Rani to Chapal Bhaduri is complete, even as the reverse process ends in the slide sequence.

The gasps are all too audible before the hall breaks into an ovation. “Oh god, it’s a man,” is the buzz that goes around.

The Chapal Bhaduri show was the opening act of Dialogues with India, an Indo-Canadian cultural exchange programme. The prima donna of the 50’s-60’s jatra spent the remaining days of the workshop interacting with young artistes, answering queries, through translator Sunandini Banerjee, on a range of topics — doing women’s roles, life as a gay, Hindu religion, Calcutta...

“It was a completely new experience, right from the flight on the pushpak rath (aeroplane) to being in a foreign land of so many tall buildings,” Bhaduri recounts.

But after a week of sharing the spotlight with the likes of Nalini Malani, Anand Patwardhan and Atul Dodiya in Canada, it’s back to being an out-of-work artist in the city of his birth.

Yet Chapal Rani was the prima donna of the jatra world for over two decades. The 50s and 60s stand testimony to his stellar performances —Marjina, Sultana Rizia, Janhavi — during his long innings with Natta Company, a leading jatra house. A couple of accounts brings out the acting prowess of the son of Prabha Devi, Sisir Bhaduri’s leading lady.

“I was playing Janhavi Debi, Michael Madhusudan’s mother, at Rabindra Sadan in 1967. Uttam Kumar and Supriya Debi were in the audience. After the show someone told me that Uttam Kumar was looking for Janhavi. When I went to him, he could not make out that I was the actress he saw on stage.”

If kudos from Bengal’s greatest matinee idol speak of his histrionic abilities, another account illustrates how becoming he looked as a woman. “In those days, jatras would be held in the open on a circular playing area surrounded by the audience. The actors would have to make their way on and off the stage through the crowd. Once I was waiting for my cue in a red sari, a little away from the stage. A group of youth, perhaps intoxicated, grabbed my hand and tried to push me into a waiting car. I started screaming and my fellow-actors rushed to my rescue,” he recalls.

Bhaduri’s lean days dawned in the mid-70s when women started to act on stage themselves. After two decades in the wings, Sitala has given the performer in him a fresh lease of life. But each show brings just around Rs 100-120. “Add to that a government grant of Rs 300 a month. It doesn’t come to much. Moreover, the season lasts only about three months, in which I get around 40 calls,” he says. Applications for a government flat have not borne fruit either.

Yet the 62-year-old has no regrets. Performing the Goddess, a documentary on his Sitala show in 1999, gave him “a second birth”. If another Seagull Foundation for the Arts venture works out, he will actually be back on the city stage with his Ekmukhi Sitala show, complete with the transformation finale.


Calcutta, June 5: 
To the touch they could not be more different. But when transparent, glass takes on the quality of water. Physicists may have evidence to the contrary, but to laypersons, light seems to shine through both mediums with equal ease. When touched with colour, glass takes on a hard gem-like quality. The hues spring to life when light shoots through. The glory of light turns the vibgyor into molten rubies, sapphires, emeralds and topazes. So the experience of viewing stained glass is as sublime as that of listening to Bach.

In India, we may have nothing to match the beauty of the stained glass windows in the medieval churches of Europe, but Calcutta itself can boast a Burne Jones and William Morris design in St Paul’s Cathedral and an entire courtyard lined with glass of blinding hues at the Madan Mohan temple in Kumartuli. There are some wonderful secular examples in old mercantile offices and in private homes, including some modern ones.

But nowadays, unless it is in the form of pretty lamps, we hardly ever set eyes on this art form. It is expensive, fragile and hard to get, because there are few trained practitioners in our country.

Unknown to most, a studio which barely employs half a dozen hands has been quietly executing a goodly number of stained glass panels commissioned by people and institutions from all over the country. The tiny, grey-haired woman who has made this possible is Katayun Saklat. Her stained glass studio could be seen as an extension of her endeavour, perhaps not conscious, to encourage people who need more than a kindly word to be galvanised into action.

To begin with, Saklat had employed hearing-impaired young people from the group Action Players. Some have worked for years. Nitu Walia, 26, a talented actress, has been with her for eight years and is “very happy” that she has done so, she explains with the eloquent language of her hands. Rajdip Banerjee, 30, speech impaired, joined later but is “artistically inclined” and cuts glass skilfully.

Sukumar Paik, 24, is the studio manager. Nasima Khatun, mother of two, commutes all the way from Mullickpur. Kajal Roy comes from Garia and still loves it. “All of them can execute an entire panel independently,” says Saklat. “With glass, every stage depends on the accuracy of the previous stage. If you cut glass accurately, you can fit in the lead accurately. Otherwise, you have to make constant compromises,” she says.

Saklat, who was trained by Patrick Reyntiens, eminent British stained glass artist, has been consistently working on this medium since the early 80s. In those days, she had only one person to help her but she, nonetheless, she had decked out a large Calcutta house with her work. Raw material was scarce. She had no access to lead calmes required to outline and hold together the carefully-cut pieces of glass, which together form a stained glass panel. She faced the same problem with glass. Today, franchisees in Mumbai import glass and lead calme is sourced locally.

Saklat and her team have in the recent past created seven large panels for the Zoroastrian fire temple in Metcalfe Street, and have held a huge exhibition of over 100 pieces at the Art Today gallery in New Delhi. Currently, they are executing a 77-sq-ft dome-shaped panel for a hospital in Mumbai. The motif is the Tree of Life and the “colour scheme is more like spring” because of its associations with hope. “I am using a lot of greens and champagne, ruby or blood red,” says Saklat. Semi-precious stones and crystal, too, are being used.

But what they lack is space. Now the studio is in Lansdowne Lane, in Beltala. It is the sixth place they have shifted to.


Calcutta, June 5: 
All modes of public transport, except taxis, trams and state buses, will go off the roads next week on a common plank of protest: increase in the price of diesel and “harassment” by the police and the Public Vehicles Department (PVD), in the wake of the Bantala mishap last month-end, in which 46 people were killed.

Private bus-owners have called for a two-day strike from Monday, while minibus and chartered bus operators have threatened to go on an indefinite strike from the same day.

The private bus-owners have also demanded a minimum fare of Rs 4, with a 40-paisa hike for subsequent stages, following the increase in diesel prices. For minibus and chartered bus operators, however, the “harassment” by police and PVD officials is the main concern.

Owners of private buses, minibuses and chartered buses said that ever since the Bantala mishap, police and PVD officials were springing surprise checks on buses and slapping huge fines on them. There are about 7,000 private buses, 2,200 minibuses and 1,300 chartered buses operating in Calcutta and Howrah.

The strike has been restricted to Calcutta, Howrah and their adjoining areas, where the “harassment” is most rampant.

Taxi operators, except for those controlled by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, however, have no immediate plans to go on strike. They have demanded an increase in fare. While they are satisfied with the minimum fare of Rs 12 for the first two kilometres, they want an increase of 30 paise per 200 metres over the existing rate.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty held a meeting with representatives of the two major bodies of private bus operators — Bengal Bus Syndicate and Joint Council of Bus Syndicates — on Monday morning and urged them for a fortnight’s time, during which he would discuss the fare hike demand with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and other Left Front partners. The minister also assured them he would instruct PVD officials and the police not to pull up buses indiscriminately.

“We are not convinced with the assurance, because reports of harassment kept pouring in all day even on Wednesday,” said Tapan Banerjee, joint secretary, Joint Council of Bus Syndicates.

The Progressive Taximen’s Union, controlled by Trinamul, said taxis under its fold would stay off the roads on Friday, coinciding with the 12-hour bandh call.


Calcutta, June 5: 
Alarmed over the increase in number of drug peddlers in Howrah town and its adjacent areas, the district administration has drawn up elaborate plans to tackle the problem.

Rajesh Kumar, superintendent of police, said the district administration had set up a team to check the menace after being flooded with complaints from guardians that drug-peddlers were targeting schoolchildren in Howrah.

“Policemen in plain clothes have been deployed to thwart the drug network,” Kumar said. Areas like Pilkhana, Bantra, Shibpur, Sankrail, Abada and Nalpur were under police focus, as drug peddlers have set up bases there. Heroin and brown sugar are being sold in paper packets and marijuana has become the current teen favourite, Kumar added.

“These drug-peddlers have a very good network and are targeting young boys and girls who have hardly any knowledge of the severe effects of these drugs. So, we have to be very alert. Parents, too, should keep a close watch on the movement of their wards,” added a senior officer of the intelligence branch.

Sources said children from affluent families are lured by the drug network, as they can afford the price and can easily create peer pressure on other students.

Once the students get addicted, they get involved in petty crimes to raise the money for their daily dose. Recently, interstate drug racketeers have joined this group and they are doing quite well for themselves in the district, especially in the minority and lower-income group belt, the sources added.

“Intravenous drug users are also on the rise in the district and this is a posing a serious threat not only to the students of different schools but also to the community. Intravenous drug users risk getting infected with HIV. Most of the students are aware of neither this nor the effects of the drugs on their metabolic system. Once they try to give up they develop withdrawal symptoms and de-addiction is a long-term process,” said Pradipta Bhakta, a general physician of Howrah.

Senior police officials also requested Howrah’s citizens to inform them at the earliest if they have any feedback on the drug network and its modus operandi.

“We are trying to sensitise the student community, as they are the vulnerable group. School teachers, too, should play an active role and regular sessions should be held in collaboration with us,” said a police officer of Howrah.

Officers from police stations added that unless sleuths swung into action immediately, the situation was bound to worsen.


Calcutta, June 5: 
Two persons, both CPM activists, were killed in an intra-party clash at Paglahat, in the Bhangor area, south of the city, late on Tuesday. Trouble broke out after a Tata Sumo, carrying a group of men, all CPM cadre, collided with a milk van, owned by a person belonging to a rival CPM member.

A few persons seated in the van objected to the Sumo being driven rashly. The vehicle’s occupants, led by Khoka Babu Mollah and Mafizul Baidya, got off and beat up a milkman, Kanu Gain, also a CPM cadre.

Reinforcements arrived in the form of other villagers, who chased away Mollah and his men. Swearing revenge, Mollah sped away in the vehicle towards Ghatakpukur.

The group spent a few minutes recruiting more men and ammunition and started towards Paglahat to eliminate Kanu Gain and his associates.

Kanu’s supporters, who had increased in number, were waiting in a deserted corner near Paglahat. A tree trunk was placed in the middle of a road and two dozen men swooped down on Mollah’s car when it arrived. They pulled out Mollah, Baidya and a few others and beat them up mercilessly. The car was damaged and the bodies left on the road.

An hour later, a police contingent reached the spot and chased away both gangs, who were still fighting a pitched battle. From early on Wednesday, sympathisers of those killed blocked Basanti Road and also attacked some villagers. A battalion each of the Rapid Action Force and Eastern Frontier Rifles was posted in the area to maintain peace.


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