Over the edge, under ground
Murder or suicide, that is the question
State council clears doctors
Stupid Cupid with an air gun
The City Diary
Light of hope in a life of abuse
Police go on overdrive to clear carriageways
Vet allowance shadow on pet care
Back to business for beauty baroness
HIV couple hounded out

Calcutta, June 19: 
The warning was on the wall much before Aveek Tarafdar was crushed to death under the wheels of a Metro train on Monday. He was one of the countless commuters jostling for a foothold to catch a glimpse of the World Cup matches showing ‘live’ on Metro platforms.

More than a year before Metro Railway started “entertaining” commuters, who were, anyway, supposed to spend no more than a maximum of 10 minutes on the platform till the next train pulled in, a senior official had pointed out the perils of allowing TV sets to invade the underground.

“I was not convinced that the idea to instal television sets on platforms was right,” the officer, who is no longer with the railway outfit, told Metro on Wednesday. “Despite the revenue that would accrue, I felt that attractive programmes would lead to snarl-ups on platforms and cause jostling, which could prove dangerous,” he added.

The safety hazards of having television sets on platforms have not been missed on officials who are still serving in Metro:

All Metro platforms are not of regular width; Chandni Chowk, say officials, is narrow near the ends. People who do not take this into account run the risk of miscalculating their distance from the edge of the platform

Metro platforms with a row of pillars at the centre, instead of two rows along the rims, appear narrower (the Rabindra Sadan platform, where the 24-year-old B.E. College student fell to his death, is an example). This, again, can cause an error of judgment

Though Incoda, the transmission agency, has tried to ensure that one needs to stand in front of the TV to view the action, some passengers continue to keep an eye on the screen even while boarding the train. This can prove fatal

It is for these reasons that no other underground passenger service of repute has televisions on platforms, say officials.

Metro, according to senior officials, gets an annual payment of “around Rs 20 lakh” from Incoda. The lure of this hefty revenue, the officials pointed out, appears to have tilted the scales for the loss-making, cash-strapped outfit. But station-level officials, rattled by Monday’s accident, say they have had enough of televisions on platforms. “Our seniors must decide what they want us to do,” said a station master, managing one of the busiest central Calcutta stations. “On the one hand, they ask us to enforce the rules strictly, which means penalising any passenger staying for more than 20 minutes on the platform. On the other, they are encouraging indiscipline by arranging to show these matches that last for over 100 minutes,” he said.

A Metro Bhavan official agreed: “Metro, by showing programmes that last more than 20 minutes, is actually encouraging passengers to break the rule.”

Even the unions appear to have seen the point. “Several commuters have pointed out to the Metro staff how the crowd in front of the World Cup-beaming monitors refuses to move till the final whistle is blown,” said Metro Railway Workers’ Congress president Madan Mitra. “The platforms resemble any other para club now. The job of the Metro is to provide transportation, not entertainment,” he added.

But Incoda’s systems manager Deepak Bhattacharyya said a detailed survey was carried out before the television sets were lodged on the platforms. “Viewing from the egde of the platform has been made impossible,” he added. “Most of the money we spent on research and development revolved round our over-riding safety concerns for commuters.”

The deal with the Metro authorities was that Incoda would finance the setting-up of the infrastructure, including the TV sets installed in the platform, and pay an annual contract amount. In return, Incoda would generate income from advertisements.

“We have spent more than Rs 50,000 on every box (there are 120 29-inch, flat-vision monitors in the 17 stations) to make viewing from anywhere, except directly in front of the sets, impossible,” said Bhattacharyya.

But Monday’s tragedy on the tracks has made it clear that a vital element had not been factored in before installing TV sets on platforms — the craze for World Cup 2002 in Calcutta, which could push the crowd over the edge.


Calcutta, June 19: 
As more information emerges about Swastik and Paramita Dutta, the couple found dead under mysterious circumstances a few days ago, there are that many more questions that the police have no answers for.

On Wednesday, the police questioned over a dozen friends, relatives and colleagues of the couple and gathered numerous details about their relationship. But that is not leading them anywhere.

The police learnt that on June 12, Swastik and Paramita had quarrelled over the phone. Swastik was in Durgapur, supervising a project. His wife was at their Muraripukur home in Calcutta.

“It was apparently after this conversation that Swastik cut short his trip and rushed back the next morning,” according to deputy commissioner, detective department, Soumen Mitra. “We are trying to find out whether there is any link between the deaths and this quarrel.”

On Tuesday the police said that the post-mortem report had revealed that Paramita had either consumed copper sulphate or it had been administered to her. But doctors have said that this chemical produces such an intense burning sensation that she would have screamed and struggled in pain.

But when the police discovered her body in the bedroom, everything, even the bedspread, was neatly arranged. There was no sign of any struggle.

Besides, if she had screamed in pain in the middle of the night, her neighbours would have surely heard her.

Again, if Paramita had consumed the poison herself, her husband would have known and alerted their neighbours, called the doctor or tried to rush her to hospital. Once again, none of this appears to have happened. So, had the chemical been administered to her by her husband?

The police have also found that the apartment in Belghoria which Paramita had rented last year, was only for a period of five months, from August to December. Her friends said she had a foot injury and had rented the apartment because it was close to her college. But she had not shifted into the apartment even temporarily. She used to stay in the Purbachal Housing Estate with her husband and use the one in Belghoria between classes.

Mitra said Paramita had told her friends she was pregnant. But the post-mortem report negates this possibility.


Calcutta, June 19: 
The West Bengal Medical Council, at a closed-door meeting at its office on Tuesday, decided to maintain its stand in the Anuradha Saha death case. It “acquitted” all three accused doctors — Sukumar Mukherjee, Abani Roy Chowdhury and Baidyanath Halder — of the charges against them.

Council sources said Pijush Dutta, counsel Kunal Sahahad been summoned on Tuesday. “But no one turned up, and so we iterated our earlier stand.” On the phone from the US, Saha told Metro: “My lawyer was asked to attend the council just two days ago. He did not attend in protest.”


Calcutta, June 19: 
As evening fell and the Kalighat temple area came alive to the sounds of piety, it was time for a 34-year M.Phil student to get busy. Ashish Banerjee would studiously pull out an airgun, hide behind the window of his S.P. Mukherjee Road house and take pot-shots at passing girls.

Ashish’s luck ran out on Tuesday evening, when the Kalighat police trapped him with the help of a ‘decoy’ policewoman. Two air pistols, three .22 airguns and eight boxes of pellets were seized from the first-floor apartment of the house, between Ujjala and Basusree cinemas.

“He is a brilliant student. He graduated from Maulana Azad College and then secured a first class in MA in history from Calcutta University (CU). Ashish is currently doing his M.Phil from CU,’’ said Jayanta Das, officer-in-charge of Kalighat police station.

The move to snare the trigger-happy eve-tease was set into motion on Saturday. Mita, a girl in her mid-20s, was walking down the pavement in front of Ashish’s house when something struck her left hand. “She bled profusely but could not figure out what had hit her. Her friends took her to a local doctor, who told her she had been hit by a pellet,’’ said Das. Mita lodged a complaint with Kalighat police station.

The next day, another young girl, Jolly, suffered a similar pellet injury on her hand. She also complained to Kalighat thana and, like Mita, deposited the pellet with the police.

“We were initially stumped by the two strange complaints. Our officers spoke to local hawkers and traders in the area but could not figure out who had fired the pellets. Then, we decided to send a decoy and catch the culprit red-handed,’’ said Das.

Both incidents had occurred between 5 pm and 6.30 pm on the same spot. “We sent a policewoman with a few other cops to the spot on Tuesday evening. She paced up and down that stretch of S.P. Mukherjee Road. Suddenly, a pellet flew past the policewoman. But the cops keeping a watch had spotted the airgun being fired from the first-floor window of a nearby house,” said Das.

The officers knocked on the Banerjee door. Ashish, who lives with his widowed mother, let them in. A thorough search of his rooms revealed the air pistols and air guns, along with the pellets. He was taken into custody and brought to Kalighat police station. “We have booked him under Section 324 of the Indian Penal Code for causing grievous injury,’’ said Das.

During interrogation, Ashish told the police that he used the air guns and the air pistols to shoot birds while visiting Diamond Harbour and nearby areas on weekends. “Initially, he insisted that he used the guns at home to scare away cats. But when we matched the pellets which had been deposited by Mita and Jolly with those recovered from his house, he confessed,’’ Das said.

Ashish was produced in Alipore court on Wednesday afternoon, where he was released on bail.



Impure tag slapped on bottled water trio

Action will be taken against three manufacturers of bottled mineral water under the Food Adulteration Act for disregarding the stipulations of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). This was announced by director of health services, Prabhakar Chatterjee, at Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday. He refused to divulge the name of the three. The BIS rule stipulates that mineral waster is to be manufactured from spring water. But some companies were not following the guidelines. BIS had issued licence to 40 companies for production of water. If convicted, the owners of the three companies will face a seven-year imprisonment term and a fine of Rs 2,000. The government will soon order a random survey of mineral water produced by the other companies, Chatterjee said.

Teen injured in balcony cave-in

Sanjay Mukherjee, said to be a budding footballer, was injured when a concrete slab fell on him at Bagbazar on Wednesday morning. Police said the balcony of an apartment was being repaired when the accident occurred. Sanjay, 14, was walking down the footpath when the slab fell. He was taken to National Medical College and Hospital. Three labourers were arrested.

Floating body

The body of a 22-year-old woman was found floating in a pond at Dum Dum Park, in the Lake Town area, on Wednesday morning. Police said the woman had been missing for some days.

Train schedule

South Eastern Railway has decided to run the 2421/2422 Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express via Kharagpur and Adra, instead of Howrah, from July 1. The 2421 Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express, leaving Bhubaneswar at 10.40 am, will reach Kharagpur and Adra at 3.30 pm and 6.25 pm, respectively. The train will arrive at New Delhi at 10.10 am the next day. In the return direction, the 2422 New Delhi-Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express, leaving New Delhi at 5.15 pm, will reach Adra and Kharagpur at 8.15 am and 11.15 am, respectively, the next day. The train will arrive at Bhubaneswar at 4.45 pm, with stops at Cuttack, Balasore, Kharagpur, Adra, Gomoh, Gaya , Mughalsarai and Kanai.

No text books

The Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association on Wednesday said several state-aided primary schools were yet to receive text books in Bengali, English, arithmetic and science. These books are distributed free by the government. According to Kartik Saha, general secretary of the association, these books were supposed to have reached the schools by May 7.

Bangladeshi held

A 32-year-old Bangladeshi, Piyush Kanti Saha, was arrested at Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday. He was found moving “suspiciously.” Police later found out that he had gone there to get an Indian passport.

Taxi hijack bid

Four youths were arrested at Barasat for trying to hijack a taxi on Tuesday night. Police said the youths got into the taxi near the Ultadanga bridge. A search is on for the two other members of the gang. Thumbs Up TO reserve bank employees association for donating Rs 50,000 to the mother of Malay Das, who was killed for protesting against eve-teasing    

Calcutta, June 19: 
The 10-year-old heard her neighbours arguing. As the couple raged on, she gathered enough courage to call the police and warn them that “the young wife” might try to commit suicide. The police were prompt and a life was saved. But this act of courage would scar the girl for life. Her father, angered by his daughter’s “audacity”, grabbed a cooking spatula, put it in the fire, and then hit her across the face with it. Her cheek was burnt and an eye was damaged. The father remained unrepentant: “She’s my daughter. If I wish to hit her, I will. It’s nobody else’s business.”

There are thousands of children in the city who face violence every day. “They are victims of and witnesses to it,” says Monideepa Nandi, of the Institute of Psychological and Educational Research (IPER). “They are so used to physical battery that if you tell them they don’t have to accept this senseless violence, they think you’re mad. As children, girls and boys face violence. As they grow older, the boys gradually become the abusers and the girls continue to suffer. It’s a vicious circle they don’t know how to get out of.”

IPER has 16 centres in the city, with over 5,000 children in their care, including those facing sexual, physical and emotional abuse, usually from their own families. The institute’s aim is to increase awareness of rights among the children. Kids who did not know how to read or write are now enrolled in formal schools. And some of those who used to be beaten or prostituted, are now able to say no.

A 14-year-old was used by her grandmother to service clients. Now a domestic worker, and under the guidance of the ‘didis’ at IPER, she has realised that what her grandmother did was wrong, and she doesn’t have to go through that again. A 13-year-old has to deal with her unemployed and alcoholic father, who beats her mother, her siblings and her, in a drunken rage every night. A five-year-old gets up at 3 am to fetch water, sweep the floor and wash dishes. But if she finishes her work on time, she gets to go to IPER’s centre on Prince Anwar Shah Road, to spend a few pleasant hours studying or playing. She is coping with memories of being abused by a stranger who offered her chocolates.

A rebellious 13-year-old left her house and is now a domestic worker in a house in Dum Dum. “I give all my money to my parents. I don’t need it. The family I live with gives me what I need. I don’t like being a maidservant, but I have no choice. I won’t go home. The area I live in is very unsafe. There are many bad men there who harass me. But I will never get married. When I am 18, I will join the army,” she declares.

If some of these teenagers face a present burdened by menial labour, others have their futures sealed off with matrimony traps. Take this 14-year-old. She is in Class VIII and desperately wants to finish school. But her family has other plans. “It doesn’t matter what I want to do with my life, because they have already arranged my marriage to a relative’s son. I was in love with a boy, but… he doesn’t come near me after my relatives beat him up and threatened him,” she says, shyly.

These are the kind of cases that IPER works with every day. Margaret, a volunteer who has come down from UK for a few months, says: “I was shocked by the conditions that these children live in. Even having someone to talk to is a big deal for them.”

IPER offers vocational training, like embroidery and jute work. The products are sold to raise money for the organisation. Other projects on their agenda include health awareness workshops, regular medical check-ups, a meal every afternoon (which is often the children’s only one of the day), counselling sessions, drug rehabilitation for their parents and community projects with social workers. All this, despite a funds crunch.

At a women’s community meeting to raise awareness against violence, several men stormed the gathering, alleging that IPER was “ruining the women…, putting wrong ideas into their heads”. That is the mindset IPER is battling to create a better tomorrow.


Calcutta, June 19: 
A number of steps are being taken on a war footing in Garia, Jadavpur, Regent Park and Behala to ensure optimum use of carriageways. Already, a number of illegal structures have been demolished in Garia, Ganguly Bagan, Taratala and Behala Chowrasta for free flow of traffic.

District superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, Deb Kumar Ganguly, said: “We will clear the blocked carriageways within two months and ensure free vehicular movement.”

Sources said the main bottlenecks are at Garia and Bansdroni, in Regent Park, Ganguly Bagan and Bagha Jatin, in Jadavpur and Behala. Earlier, the Garia bridge was expanded to ease traffic but that did not help, as the extended portion was occupied by autos, Matador vans and vendors.

Deputy superintendent, traffic, Shakil Ahmed, said: “Apart from the demolition programme, we are taking other steps to streamline traffic. In Garia, the auto-rickshaws will have to be disciplined. At present, the autos park in three rows but from now, only one row will be allowed. Moreover, they will not be allowed beyond the white border. Buses plying from Sonarpur, Baruipur and other places will not be allowed to pick up passengers except from scheduled stops.”

At Bansdroni, residents complain of the chaos created by bus terminus on route 205. “Soon, these buses will be shifted to an adjacent plot. No one will be allowed to park on the main road,” asserted Ahmed.

In Behala, to clear the carriageway, shops on footpaths have been demolished and auto-rickshaws and Matador van-owners and drivers have been asked to park their vehicles away from the main junctions.

Autos and the pavement markets have been creating traffic snarls at Bagha Jatin. The situation becomes worse during monsoon. “On Tuesday, I had gone to the spot and found the situation beyond the control of a single constable. But since we are handicapped by a staff crunch, it will take some time to regulate the traffic. Meanwhile, we have already booked about 50 auto-drivers for violating traffic rules,” Ganguly said.


Calcutta, June 19: 
What will be the fate of animals if they fall ill when government veterinary hospitals shut down after 5 pm? Or even during the weekends, when such hospitals are closed? Should they continue to suffer?

This is the issue being highlighted by veterinary doctors in the city, after the West Bengal University of Animal and Fisheries Sciences decided to introduce a non-practising allowance (NPA) for teaching doctors at the institute in May this year.

The argument goes like this: most of the better city vets are attached to teaching institutions. If NPA is made compulsory, then none of them can practise after working hours. So, what will happen to those whose pets fall ill after sundown?

Unlike in the case of humans, there are no emergency services in veterinary hospitals. So people have to depend on private clinics, many of which are run by vets, who practise after teaching hours. Most vets say that people have to utilise the services of quacks, who will end up killing the animals.

The practice of NPA was started in veterinary hospitals in the city as well as in the state by the government a few years ago. This meant that doctors who accepted the NPA could not practise in private. At the University, it was launched only a few months ago.

However, accepting the NPA has not been made compulsory by the state government’s animal resources development department. An official of the department said: “For the moment, we cannot make NPA compulsory, as we do not have the infrastructure to provide for alternate arrangements. For this, we would require several crores.”

But there is apprehension that what is on the anvil may soon turn into reality.

“There are very few good vets in the city and almost all of them are teaching at the university level. Unless they are allowed to practise, it is the common people who will have to suffer,” said a spokesperson of the Calcutta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Besides, the spokesperson added, it is very difficult for a vet to turn away a person who has come with an ailing pet. “That would be tantamount to an act of cruelty,” he said. “We would never allow it.”

So far, a clause in the notification that had been issued has come to the aid of the University. It says: “The government reserves the right to declare some of the posts practising, if it is felt necessary to do so in public interest.”

University vice-chancellor Asim Bhattacharya agrees with the “public interest” factor. “Our doctors here are most welcome not to accept NPA and, instead, practise in private after their working hours. This is necessary in public interest, as there can be emergencies and good doctors are not always easy to come by. We have no objections to doctors turning down the NPA,” he said.


Calcutta, June 19: 
Vandana Luthra may have made it to the big screen, but she isn’t likely to return to it very soon. The beauty specialist behind VLCC appears as Anil Kapoor’s slimming mentor in Badhaai Ho Badhaai,which was released on Friday. But in Calcutta for a “routine inspection” of her Shakespeare Sarani centre, and to finalise the opening of two more, she made it clear that she prefers her workaholic ways to lounging with tinseltown’s glitterati.

“Ten days on the sets of my Gurgaon centre while the shooting was going on was too much,” says the 43-year-old entrepreneur, with 43 centres across the country. Anil, who had to put on around “eight or nine kg” for a genuine look (it couldn’t all be done with latex), apparently lost it at VLCC, in real and reel life. “The movie and our brand gelled perfectly well,” smiles Vandana, who has just acquired licences for a state-of-the-art outlet in Dubai.

When initially approached by director Satish Kaushik for a tie-up, Vandana turned him down. “I liked the concept, but I couldn’t afford crores for in-film branding.” But Kaushik decided to go ahead with the VLCC connection. And the movie, “targeted at the masses”, fits into VLCC’s current repositioning as an “affordable brand”.

But for the beauty baroness who has also signed on as brand ambassador for global mineral water major Evian, it’s back to business, sorting out some trouble with the planned Kankurgachhi branch. “We will be opening a centre in Salt Lake instead, in a couple of months.” That should be followed by another outlet in Alipore, a fitness centre and a training academy.

The VLCC Health Kitchens will soon be dishing out corporate lunch packs in DLF, Gurgaon. “Executives with a largely sedentary lifestyle put on weight. So we are providing healthy lunches to various companies.” Starting with around 20,000 packs in Gurgaon next month, Calcutta will get a taste of this concept when a fitness centre — featuring a salad bar and food counter — opens. A Calcutta branch of Vandana’s training academy, which currently has 2,300 students in long and short-term courses, is also on the long-term agenda.


Calcutta, June 19: 
The combined efforts of the state government and NGOs to ensure sympathetic treatment for HIV-positive people suffered a blow on Wednesday when a patient in Howrah was hounded out of his home by his parents. The man’s wife, also HIV positive, was thrown out too.

Sanjay Singh (name changed on request) and his family, originally from Bihar, had settled in the town seven or eight years ago. Sanjay, a lorry-driver, was the only earning member in his family. During trips to other states, he would frequent brothels, from where he reportedly picked up the infection.

“I was not aware of AIDS. One day, I went to a brothel in Mumbai with my helper and other truck-drivers. I presume I picked up the infection there,” said Sanjay. His wife, too, tested positive in the Elisa test a few months ago.

The couple decided to hide the condition from their families, but after a while, the wife broke down and told her in-laws about the disease. Sanjay’s parents are, however, convinced that the infection is contagious and forced the couple to leave home.

“My parents think it is a curse and asked us to leave immediately. They told me that since the cost of treatment is beyond our reach, it was advisable that we shift to Bihar and stay there,” Sanjay said.

The wife returned to her father’s home at Belur but has asked Sanjay not to follow her.

Doctors at the School of Tropical Medicine (STM), however, have provided temporary relief to Sanjay. He is getting regular treatment at the centre.

“Mercifully, I am getting all cooperation from the doctors. I am terribly shaken by the way my parents and my wife deserted me,” he lamented.

Anurita Mukherjee, counsellor at STM, said Sanjay’s case is not an isolated one. The centre, according to her, gets a regular procession of such patients with similar backgrounds.

“When such patients arrive, we try to counsel the patient and the family as they need moral, psychological and financial help to cope with the trauma,” said Mukherjee.


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