Court cover for clean cars
Chennai eye care sets sights on city
Deaths on killer bridge
Where have all the bunkers gone?
The City Diary
Dial for blood at your doorstep
Breathing fire on tinderbox cinemas
Space jam at burial ground
Teenager on ‘tryst with God’
Water supply doubled to tide over crisis

Calcutta, June 11: 
For those unsuspecting motorists who carry “pollution under control” certificates and yet have to part with a hefty fine to the police for polluting the air, there is some comfort from the court.

Chief Justice A.K. Mathur of the high court, delivering his judgment in a public interest litigation moved by Chama Mookerji, has recently ruled that neither the police nor the motor vehicles department can demand fines or even confiscate documents in case a spot-check reveals that the car is polluting the air. That is, of course, if the owner or driver is carrying a “pollution under control” certificate issued by a government-authorised testing centre.

In his ruling, the chief justice has laid down the norms, step by step, under which polluting vehicles can be put back on track.

As a first proviso, Chief Justice Mathur has said only Central rules relating to pollution by motor vehicles shall apply; those sections of the West Bengal Motor Vehicles Rules relating to pollution shall stand repealed.

Further, the ruling said that in case the police or the motor vehicles department found a car polluting the air during a spot check, they would have to give the car-owner a grace period of seven days to get it tested at an authorised testing centre of the authorities’ choice and submit a “pollution under control” certificate within that period.

If the car passes the pollution test, the authorities cannot take any action against the owner. Even if the vehicle is found to be polluting the air, the owner will have to be allowed a period of seven days to get the fault rectified, get the car rechecked at the authorised testing centre and then submit a certificate.

It is only when the owner fails to meet the deadline and flouts the instructions of the authorities that action, initially in the nature of a fine and thereafter suspension of registration, can be initiated against him. The suspension will be lifted only after the fault is rectified and a pollution certificate submitted.

Chief Justice Mathur states in his ruling: “If the vehicle is found to be polluting, an opportunity has to be given to the driver or the person in charge of the vehicle to get his vehicle rectified and submit it for testing by the concerned authorised testing station and obtain a certificate that the vehicle is now within the pollution limit. It is only in case of a failure to comply with such direction that it will entail a penalty.”

The chief justice reasons that if the car-owner, caught by the police for polluting the air, is carrying a certificate issued by a government authorised station, then it would be unfair to “saddle” him with a fine or confiscate his car documents. But if this is done, “it is in violation of the rules and the checking authorities would be acting beyond their power… This is not conceivable under the law.”

The director-general of police, West Bengal, has been directed to issue instructions to all his subordinates in charge of traffic to comply with this order.


Calcutta, June 11: 
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee: It’s a privilege to have a doctor of your stature in my chamber. What can my government and I do for you?

S.S. Badrinath: Sir, I would like to set up an eye hospital in Calcutta and have come here to inspect a probable site.

Bhattacharjee (leaning forward excitedly): Is that so? That’s great news for the city and I could be one of your first patients. I don’t think you remember, but I had once been to your Sankara Nethralaya with an eye condition. Calcutta surely needs a facility like that and the government will definitely support you.

Badrinath: Your words give us courage, sir. We are keen to serve the people of this wonderful city and repay, to some extent, the faith and confidence reposed in us over the years.

The pioneer of modern eye care in the country, Dr S.S. Badrinath, Padma Bhushan and honorary consultant to the President, is keen to bring his fabled, cutting-edge treatment procedures to Calcutta. And he found his biggest backer in Bengal on Tuesday — chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Badrinath, chairman of Sankara Nethralaya, or the “temple of the eye” in Chennai, was in town on a day’s visit to assess facilities at a proposed Salt Lake location and then discuss the project with the chief minister and health minister Suryakanta Mishra at Writers’ Buildings.

“The idea of an eye hospital in Calcutta was planted in my head by Dr Devi Shetty, who invited me to bring the Nethralaya expertise to a hospital in Salt Lake his trust has recently signed an MoU with. Since our thought processes are quite similar, as far as delivery of quality healthcare is concerned, I agreed to join hands with him,” said Badrinath, on plans to set up the first Sankara Nethralaya branch outside Chennai.

Asia Heart Foundation (AHF), which took over management of the Rotary Medical Research Institute in Sector V, Salt Lake, from June 1, plans to operate a diabetes-management centre on the three-acre premises.

In the closed-door noon meeting with the chief minister, in the presence of AHF vice-chairman Alok Roy, Badrinath, accompanied by his wife and a reconnoitre team, expressed his desire to kick off with a cataract unit in the first phase of Sankara Narayana Nethralaya, the tripartite venture involving AHF and Rotarians.

“Cataract is a major cause of blindness and it is important to have enough able cataract surgeons. I would like to start with at least 75 procedures a day with a mix of paying and free patients, like we have in Chennai. We would also like to train local doctors in advanced cataract care,” he told Bhattacharjee. Besides, there would be provision for tele-ophthalmology, using the city facility as the hub and “reaching out to remote areas via tele-medicine, a technology AHF chairman Dr Shetty, based in Bangalore, has used effectively at the RTIICS”.

Bhattacharjee, warming to the proposal instantly, stressed the need for a centre of excellence in ophthalmology and promised total infrastructure support for a “full-fledged eye hospital” in the city. “People flock to your Chennai hospital for treatment and a facility like that in our backyard would be most welcome,” he smiled, adding that the government would “look for a larger plot”, should they need to expand.


Calcutta, June 11: 
Two persons were killed around 1.45 pm on Tuesday when the scooter they were riding collided with a stationary bus on the eastern slope of Vidyasagar Setu.

Police said the bus had developed a mechanical fault and a flat rear tyre. Mechanics changed the tyre but were unable to make it operational. It was parked on one side of the slope of the bridge. Police said Arjun Rai, 50, who was driving the two-wheeler, died on the spot and the unidentified pillion-rider succumbed to his injuries in hospital.

“The scooter hit the bus from behind while the mechanics were working,” said deputy commissioner of police M.K. Singh.

“They were driving the scooter at a high speed. The bus was parked in one corner of the slope and there was enough space for other vehicles to pass safely. Even after taking a turn on the bridge, they did not apply the brakes. So, they lost control and hit the bus,” said Jamil Akhtar, a witness. “The two-wheeler hit the bus with a bang. Rai’s head dashed against the backlight and he slumped on the road. The pillion-rider, too, hit the bus and fell senseless,” said Akhtar. Rai, a resident of Gopal Chowdhury Lane of Howrah, was pronounced dead in SSKM Hospital.

Tuesday’s accident adds to the sequel of crashes on — or just off — Vidyasagar Setu. And it has turned the spotlight back on the ill-maintained bridge, with its missing signages, faulty lighting and broken railings and road dividers.

M.K. Singh, who put the death toll on the Setu this year at seven, said the scooterist had probably lost his way, as there is no glosign on the bridge to indicate directions. “The railings and road dividers are broken and illuminated boards to indicate speed limits and other traffic signs have been missing for a long time. I have written several letters to Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC),’’ he said.

HRBC vice-chairman A.K. Pal countered the charge: “Thieves have stolen the hugely expensive retro-reflective information board, which indicated direction. It is the duty of the police to prevent the theft of the signages and they have failed. They have not been able to recover the information board either.”

Pal said he had seen the broken railings and had ordered repairs. A senior HRBC officer said that instead of interfering in the functioning of the HRBC, the police should improve traffic movement in the city.


Calcutta, June 11: 
Suddenly, after the American Center attack, they were all over the place — at police stations, railway stations, vital installations, strategic intersections… Sandbags were ‘in’ and security was the buzzword.

In all, 70 sandbag bunkers came up, for the first time in post-Independence Calcutta, to provide additional security cover. But that was then. Now, most of these bunkers wear a bedraggled look, reduced to sand lumps in varied hues.

Take the bunker at the entrance to the main section of Sealdah station. The security shield is now a garbage dump and a common urinal. Abandoned by its sentries just a month after the January attack, the stinking bunker, with torn and leaking sandbags, is an assault on the senses.

In the wake of the recent “terrorist threat” to Writers’ Buildings, security at vital installations, including railway stations, are being beefed up. But when three railway police constables went to Sealdah on Monday, they could not step behind the bunker in decay.

“The frenetic activity with which the bunker was set up has now died down,” admitted Gangeshwar Prasad Singh, superintendent of Railway Police, Sealdah. “Its condition has also come to our notice. We will soon clean and renovate it and post sentries there,” he promised.

But Sealdah is just one of the 70-odd sandbag bunkers gone to seed in a city said to be under the shadow of the gun. The one near Tangra is used by shopkeepers of the area as a dump, making it an eyesore on the EM Bypass.

The sandbag bunkers outside 42 police stations have been long abandoned by their sentries. For the past two months, they serve only as a reminder of a security scare that was.

Justifying the abandoning of bunkers, an officer of Hare Street police station said: “With shortage of personnel, it is not possible for us to post sentries at the bunkers round the clock. And at the moment, the sentries are required for more important duties.”

Deputy commissioner of police (headquarters) Shivaji Ghosh said it was “not necessary” to always post personnel at the bunkers. “They are deployed there when the need arises.” Admitting that some of these bunkers needed repair, Ghosh added: “These will be carried out as soon as funds and the situation permit.”

Sources at the police headquarters said the force had spent about Rs 3 lakh to set up the bunkers, some of which even have corrugated plastic shades.

“They now bear solemn testimony to the fact that a terrorist attack had once taken place in Calcutta,” said a senior police officer at Lalbazar. “But now, with Writers’ under threat, these sandbag bunkers are back under the security scanner.”



Security drill, stall eviction at Writers’

The city police on Tuesday conducted a drive to evict privately-run canteens inside Writers’ Buildings. Only a few stalls, run by the employees’ co-operatives, were spared. Deputy commissioner of police (headquarters) Shivaji Ghosh said during the day that the police would review the situation on Wednesday and decide whether to remove hawkers and makeshift food-stalls from around Writers’.

Policemen also ran a ‘deftness drill’ at Writers’ around 2 pm during which they shut all the six entry points. A little before 2 pm, the Lalbazar police headquarters flashed a message that terrorists had struck at Writers’. Policemen swung into action and closed the six gates within a few minutes. Only the west and the central gates were kept open for ministers, officers and other employees to get out. Sources said senior police officials kept Tuesday’s surprise drill a secret under instructions from police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty. “Such surprise drills will be conducted off and on,” Ghosh said.

Channels in number game

ESPN-STAR Sports has sought an increase in connectivity declaration from cable TV operators functioning under the RPG Netcom umbrella, sending them into a huddle on Tuesday evening. It is learnt that the joint-venture company of the two sports channels has demanded added numbers “to the tune of 1.5 to 2 lakh” from the multi-system operator (MSO). The broadcaster’s annual contract with RPG Netcom expired in May.

“We have met Netcom officials and told them to sort out the distribution of this fresh connectivity load with ESPN-STAR Sports,” said an operator. “It’s unfair if this burden is thrust upon everyone at a flat rate, since the declaration rates are uneven throughout the city. Only the MSO has the actual numbers.”

RPG operators plan to meet their SitiCable counterparts on Wednesday to garner support on this issue. The channel twins’ pact with Siti ends in September, and after that, its operators fear a similar demand from ESPN-STAR Sports.

Order on wetland

Calcutta High Court on Tuesday passed an order of status quo on the filling up of a wetland on Vinoba Bhave Road, in Behala. The owner of the 34-bigha wetland filed a writ petition before the court during the day alleging that “even though the land was not a waterbody the state fisheries department had acquired the area”. The petitioner’s counsel said his client had not received any government notice asking him to show why his property would not be acquired as a wetland.

Additional government pleader Debasish Kargupta said the first notice of acquisition was served to the owner on March 8, 2002. “But as the owner did not respond, the fisheries department had to issue a second notice asking him to show cause by June 7,” he said. The government took possession of the land on May 28. The matter will come up for hearing on July 2.

Ansari in city

Aftab Ansari, the main accused in the terrorist strike on American Center, was brought to Calcutta from Tihar Jail on Tuesday. He will be produced at Bankshal court on Wednesday where a copy of the chargesheet filed by the city police will be handed over to him.

Irregularity charge

CPM leader of the Opposition in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation Nirmal Mukherjee alleged an irregularity of Rs 2.5 lakh in procuring dresses for schoolgirls by Trinamul Congress member mayor-in-council Moinul Haque Chaudhury. Mukherjee claimed the dresses were procured without inviting a tender and Haque Chaudhury was the supplier.

High court fire

A fire broke out at the main gate of Calcutta High Court on Tuesday morning. The fire brigade doused the flames in 20 minutes. A short circuit is suspected to have sparked the fire.

Three injured

Three pavement dwellers, including a child, were injured when a taxi mounted a pavement of Chetla Road on Tuesday afternoon. They were admitted to M.R. Bangur Hospital. The driver has been arrested.

Talent hunt

Jagadish Bose National Science Talent Search has invited applications from students of Class XI of Northeast states and three hill districts of north Bengal. The last date for submission of forms is August 20.    

Calcutta, June 11: 
Next time you see a delivery boy navigating Calcutta traffic, he may not be rushing off with sustenance of a culinary kind. The Haemophilia Society Blood Bank has taken to home delivery to ensure a safe route for life-saving fluids.

Run by the Haemophilia Society of India, Calcutta chapter, the blood bank has been supplying blood and blood components to various city hospitals and nursing homes for some time now. But since June 1, they have started supplying to homes against a doctor’s prescription. Whole blood, packed cell, fresh frozen plasma, cryoprecipitate and platelet concentrate are just a phone call away.

“People are running helter-skelter for blood that they are sure is of good quality,” says society secretary N.K. Chadha. The Society, set up by parents of haemophiliacs in 1983, provides free or low-cost transfusions to haemophiliacs at the care centre on the E.M. Bypass, past Ruby General Hospital. “Our blood is safe, because most of our recipients are our own children,” explains Chadha, whose son suffers from the genetic disorder. So tests for HIV I and II, Hepatitis B and C, syphilis and malaria are conducted on each unit of blood. The three-month window period for detection of HIV is the only fear.

After a distress call to the centre at 426-3739/8273, a representative from the blood bank goes to the hospital or residence to collect a blood sample of the recipient. Cross-matching is done back at the centre, after which the units are sent off on the scooter, packed with ice. Blood can be safe, transported in this manner, for up to six hours, assures Dr Chhanda Dhar, in charge of the bank. But the target is delivery within three hours.

Donors holding the Haemophilia Society Blood Donor Credit Card are entitled to blood free of service charge, while “non-donors” pay Rs 100, in addition to the charge per blood unit.

The Society runs one of the only banks which “fully utilises a unit of blood”. By separating whole blood into components, more than one patient’s needs are met from one unit. Cryoprecipitate can be used by those with Haemophilia A, packed cells by those suffering from anaemia and thalassaemia as well as operation candidates, cryo-poor plasma for Haemophilia B patients, platelets by those with leukaemia and plasma for burn victims and liver disorders.

Future plans include a 24-hour helpline and a network with other banks to ensure that there are “no refusals due to shortage of blood”.


Calcutta, June 11: 
After closing down Haldiram Bhujiawala’s kitchens, minister for fire services Pratim Chatterjee has now set his sights on a number of air-conditioned (AC) markets and cinemas in the city and Howrah, for flouting basic fire prevention norms.

The fire services directorate has prepared a list of AC markets in Calcutta and Howrah and seven halls in the city, which are not adhering to appropriate fire safety guidelines and do not have the necessary infrastructure to evacuate people during an emergency.

Speaking to Metro on Tuesday, the minister said his department was putting the final touches to the crackdown programme. “The air-conditioned markets are a death trap. They do not have proper exits or fire-fighting devices to combat big accidents. God knows what will happen if a blaze breaks out with thousands of shoppers trapped inside. The same goes for the big halls in the heart of the city. They are all facing closure, as the department cannot wait indefinitely for them to upgrade their facilities,” the minister said.

“In the first phase, we have listed around 20-odd cinemas that are flouting rules. Initially, however, we will pull up the top six, before going for the rest,” the minister said.

In the wake of the devastating fire that ravaged Firpo’s market recently, the fire services department embarked upon a survey a few weeks ago to find out potential ‘towering infernos’ in the city.

The survey revealed that while some areas were inaccessible, making it difficult for fire tenders to enter the area, several did not have fire emergency exits.

“The situation is pathetic in Howrah. I wonder who gave people permission to construct markets in such congested areas. An inquiry should be held to pull up corrupt officials,” the minister said.

Fire department officials found that faulty electrical wiring in most buildings were also a potential risk for fires in the city and fringe areas. “I wonder whether the CESC has ever asked building-owners to replace old wiring in the wake of accidents. Besides wiring, the meter boxes in some of the buildings look in bad shape. They should have been replaced long ago,” said Chatterjee.

“Even the Corporation market is in a shambles when it comes to fire-safety norms. But at least there are several exits, which can help people escape during an emergency,” the minister said.

In order to give the entire crackdown a comprehensive look, the fire department has decided to join hands with insurance companies, the city and Howrah police and the CESC. Apart from AC markets and cinemas, the minister has decided to take up the issue of clearing hydrants in Howrah. The Howrah Municipal Corporation had started the work of listing and evaluating the hydrants, but work could not be finished on time.


Calcutta, June 11: 
The burial ground at Gobra, off Park Circus, is likely to be shut down from next week for want of space.

Last week, officials of the Muslim Burial Board had informed mayor Subrata Mukherjee that lack of space had forced them to decide on the closure. Sources said over 35 burials are conducted at Gobra daily.

There are three grounds at Gobra, covering 140 bighas, and each of them is opened for burial by rotation at an interval of three years

About a million Muslims, living in Entally, Mullickbazaar, Park Circus, Esplanade, Taltala, Topsia, Tiljala and Bediadanga will be inconvenienced with the closure of the burial ground.

The second unit, scheduled to function from April, could not be opened due to lack of infrastructure. “An investment of Rs 20 lakh is necessary to make the second unit operational in the next few years,” said member, mayor-in-council, health, Javed Ahmed Khan.

Work at the second unit includes earth-filling, construction of roads, electrification and lighting arrangements, completion of office rooms and arrangement for drinking water.

“We had submitted reminders to the civic authorities but the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) did not disburse the funds required for setting up the infrastructure,” said Mumtaz Alam, vice-chairman of the Muslim Burial Board.

Following a deputation by a member of the board, Khan, too, had insisted on immediate release of funds but due to unknown reasons, the mayor and the municipal commissioner were reportedly indifferent to the idea.

“The contractors are reluctant to work at the burial ground until their dues of Rs 25 lakh are cleared,” said Alam. The budget for maintaining the seven burial grounds in the city had been slashed from Rs 94 lakh to Rs 20 lakh by the mayor, Khan added. “Unless the second unit is thrown open to public, the board will be forced to refuse burials,” Alam added.

“There is enough space in the present burial ground, though I agree that there is a need for commissioning the second unit at Gobra,” said officer-on-special duty, health, Atanu Mukherjee.

Regarding the slashing down of the budget, Mukherjee said that Rs 20 lakh is more than enough to cover the expenses. A member of the board, however, said the health officer’s claim was “foolish”.


Calcutta, June 11: 
A 14-year-old boy and a 35-year-old man killed themselves in the city on Tuesday morning.

Gaurav Saha, a student of Class IX, killed himself after repeatedly telling his parents about his “impending meeting with God”.

The distraught parents cried: “How would we know that our religious boy actually wanted to end his life?”

Residents of Harish Neogi Lane, in north Calcutta, were shocked to hear of the boy’s death. Sources said Gaurav had got up early in the morning and had breakfast with his parents and grandmother. “He looked happy and said he wanted to finish off some work,” the sources added.

Back in his room, Gaurav fastened the windows and the door, before sitting down to pen his suicide note. Later in the day, when Gaurav’s grandmother entered the room, she found his body hanging from the ceiling and raised an alarm.

The Maniktala police was informed. The suicide note, placed on his desk, read: “No one is responsible for my death. Please give my share of the property to my younger brother.”

Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Soumen Mitra, supervising the probe, said: “The police have, so far, failed to find the cause of death, other than the boy’s obsession with meeting God early.” Investigations revealed that Gaurav was an introvert and did not have many friends. Of late, he had started spending more time at the prayer room and dropped hints that he “was eager to meet God”.

The sleuths spoke to his father, Gopal Saha, a trader, for several hours on Tuesday, trying to check out the property angle. Relatives and friends of Gaurav will be questioned on Wednesday.

In the other suicide, Rajesh Kumar Das, admitted to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, killed himself on his second attempt. Das was in hospital for consuming pesticide in an apparent bid to end his life at his Baranagar residence on Sunday. He was recovering on Tuesday, when he jumped off the terrace from the third floor of the building.

“Das was alive when we got to him. But he succumbed to his injuries around 3.30 pm,” said hospital superintendent Dr K.K. Adhikari.

Police confirmed that he had been suffering from depression. His family will be questioned on Wednesday.

Taxi hijack bid: Residents of Lake Town foiled an attempt by a gang of eight to snatch a taxi on Sunday night. The gang boarded the taxi posing as passengers. The driver raised an alarm when they tried to overpower him and passersby started chasing them. The goons then got off the taxi and fled.


Calcutta, June 11: 
The civic authorities in Howrah have finally decided to solve the water crisis plaguing the town and its adjoining areas for quite some time. Announcing the plan, Chanchal Bandopadhyay, municipal commissioner, Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC), said supply of water will be doubled to solve the long-standing crisis. The civic body will supply about 62 million gallons of water after completion of the present project.

“For the past few months, we were worried as different wards in Howrah were hit by water scarcity. We are laying a new pipeline in collaboration with the (CMDA) to augment the water supply to the population that has increased manifold,” said Bandopadhyay.

The proposal was mooted a couple of years ago but the project had to be stalled as the Botanical Gardens authority did not allow the CMDA to lay the pipeline that was to pass through the garden. “Having realised the gravity of the situation now, the garden officials finally gave their consent and work is going on in full swing. The ongoing project will be completed soon bringing relief to the residents,” said a senior official of the civic body.

Residents of the central business district of Howrah, however, allege that the situation cannot be addressed unless the civic authorities take action against highrises that are pumping off water from the main source of supply in the locality.

“Water pressure has become so weak that it takes a lot of time to fill up the overhead tanks. Yet, no one pulls up the highrise residents. The rest of the town is suffering due to the indifferent attitude of the civic body,” said Somnath De, resident of Shibpur.

Senior citizens feel that those tapping water should be penalised. The Corporation will soon impose water tax to improve the maintenance. “Discussion is on to fix the rates,” said Dilip Sen, acting mayor.


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