Brazil ‘bandh’ at high noon
Road-level projects axed
Football fever and festive fervour
The City Diary
In obscurity and neglect
Panel to combat waterlogging
Hunt for woman peddler
Cops on guard get life-saving jackets
Loan scheme for civic sweepers irks mayor
Youth dies in fall off billboard

Calcutta, June 20: 
Brazil vs England. Ronaldo vs Beckham. Attacking flair vs Midfield control. Popular choice vs Experts’ pick…

It’s a final before the final at high noon on Friday. And it promises to be a real city-stopper. For soccer-crazy Calcuttans, showdowns don’t get bigger than this. For 90 minutes (or more) on Friday afternoon, the city promises to slip into “bandh” mode — in front of the small screen — for the quarter-final that matters. Work can wait.

That was definitely the mood at Writers’ Buildings on Thursday. Those who were actually planning to come in to work on D-Day were busy booking their chairs in the ministers’ chambers. The most popular ministers on Friday will be Subhas Chakraborty, Kamal Guha, Manab Mukherjee and Naren De, whose chambers will have a full house tuned into Ten Sports.

No such luck for Cup-crazy cops at Lalbazar. Trust the politicians to spoil their fun. With Mamata Banerjee lining up yet another roadshow near the Gandhi statue off Park Street, before the spotlight shifts to Netaji Indoor Stadium for the Left Front conference at 2 pm, the police will be on their toes — instead of being glued to the TV.

“Everyone wants to see the match,” admitted Shibaji Ghosh, deputy commissioner, headquarters. “But with two important programmes clashing with the match timing, there will be heavy deployment of forces and officers will be busy monitoring the situation from the HQ.”

The civic headquarters will be headless till 3 pm, when mayor Subrata Mukherjee walks into office after watching the quarter-final at his Ekdalia Park residence. “I will be happy if England wins,” he said.

Two schools, one in the heart of the city and another on its fringes, jumped on to the Japan Cup wagon. La Martiniere for Boys bowed to student pressure to be let off at 11 am, well in time for the kick-off. In an “unprecedented” move, Ramakrishna Mission, Rahara, announced a holiday for the match.

From Narkeldanga to Naktala, the city was a sea of yellow and green on Thursday. From streamers to flags, bulbs to billboards, it was Brazil all the way. ‘We are with you Brazil’ — the writing was on the walls, with Ronaldo towering over everyone else. “The giants of Brazil have always had a special place in the hearts of Calcuttans. We will all watch the match in our club,” said a trio in Tollygunge, dressed in the colours and numbers of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho.

From hole-in-the-wall para clubs to star hotels; pavements outside TV stores to Metro platforms, there’ll be Calcuttans huddling everywhere to catch a glimpse of Scolari’s boys in yellow taking on Eriksson’s men in red. The Oberoi Grand, for example, will put up large screens at The Chowringhee bar. The Metro cinema large screen in the lobby promises to be a popular destination for 1,208 football fans.

But if Brazil is the perennial emotional favourite here, the expert’s money could well be on England. “England have better organisation all through,” warns Subhash Bhowmick. Chuni Goswami holds out a little more hope for the Brazil fan brigade: “The English defence seems better drilled, but Brazil has players who can turn a match on its head with their individual brilliance.”


Calcutta, June 20: 
Hello flyovers, goodbye surface-level improvements.

That is now the motto of the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC), which has been entrusted with the task of overseeing not only the construction of the flyovers, but also several projects at the surface level to improve the flow of traffic in the city.

After having spent more than Rs 40 crore on a Japanese consultant to study how traffic could be better managed in congested areas of the city, the HRBC has now decided to abandon almost all the surface-level projects. This includes realignment of tram tracks, widening of roads and construction of pavements in the Shyambazar, Maniktala and Esplanade areas.

“We have dropped all surface-level projects at Shyambazar and Maniktala and a few in the Esplanade area,” said HRBC vice-chairman Anil Krishna Pal. “We feel it will not be worth investing in the improvement of these areas.”

This, in effect, means that roads will continue to be clogged and congested, with tram tracks spilling unevenly on the surface of some of the busy thoroughfares of the city. Even the tram tracks between the Gariahat-Rashbehari crossing and the Gariahat depot, uprooted during the construction of the flyover, will not be relaid.

Now, the tram tracks will be relaid only in Esplanade, while the construction of a road across Curzon Park will be completed. The rest will have to be forgotten. The total savings: Rs 15 crore, of an initial project cost of Rs 20 crore.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has a question here: if the government felt that improving these areas would not be worth the investment, then why did they get the Japanese agency to undertake the feasibility survey in the first place?

Out of the Rs 40 crore, nearly Rs 15 crore was spent on the surface-level survey, the rest for the flyover studies. “After all, this is the tax-payers’ money that is being spent and it is all going down the drain,” Mukherjee said. “As an MLA, I demand a probe into the reasons behind this colossal wastage.”

Says Pal: “Times change and so do priorities. That is what has happened in this case.”

Chairman of the Assembly sub-committee on transport Sadhan Pande feels that not only does the scrapping of the surface-level projects need to be examined, but a probe should be ordered into how the Rs 400-crore loan assistance by the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund of Japan is being utilised.

“The people of West Bengal have to repay the loan over a period of 20 years, starting 2007,” he said. “The interest will amount to Rs 102 crore and, therefore, those who are paying it, have a right to know how the money is being utilised.”


Calcutta, June 20: 
Even before they have put the death of Aveek Tarafdar behind them, Metro Railway officials are “readying” themselves for crowd management during the final stages of World Cup 2002. Engineering student Aveek slipped and fell on the Metro tracks while watching a World Cup match at Rabindra Sadan.

Officials are now, admittedly, “very jittery” at the prospect of “hosting” Friday’s Brazil-England showdown, the semis and the final. And a few months down the line, they could be faced with an even bigger challenge: the first Durga Puja when the Metro Railway will be screening pandal-scenes on TV, courtesy Incoda.

On Puja days, the number of Metro passengers crosses the three-lakh mark. Incoda, the transmission agency that works out of a fourth-floor room at Metro Bhavan, beaming five sets of programmes for the 17 stations, has big plans for this festive season. “Imagine a family coming from Dum Dum being able to see the Babubagan puja in Dhakuria,” said Incoda systems manager Deepak Bhattacharyya.

“The crowds were almost unmanageable last year,” a Metro Bhavan official said. “This year, with the TV sets, things are going to be far tougher.” And it’s not just Durga Puja that Incoda has in its ‘festive’ plans. “After this, we also plan to modify our programmes to conform to the mood of special days, like Rabindra Jayanti and Independence Day,” says Bhattacharyya.

Metro’s chief operations manager P.K. Chatterji said they were aware of the problems posed by popular TV beam on platforms. “That is why we have begun regular announcements, asking passengers to be careful while watching TV on the platform,” he said. “Our staff have been directed to ask viewers not to venture beyond the white marker, a metre away from the edge of all platforms.”

But Shrabani Sengupta, Aveek’s grandmother, is not convinced. “Khela ekhono baki achhe (Many games are left),” she said. “My grandson may not be the last victim of Metro Railway’s money-making mission.”

Another warning, four months ago, that the railway ministry chose to ignore has not met with any response. Former fire officer S.N. Kundu, in a letter dated February 4, had pointed out “the lack of logic” behind installing TVs for commuters and said fire-safety measures were more important than Metro’s idea of “infotainment”. Will Aveek’s grandmother’s plea meet the same fate as Kundu’s advice?



Youth held for theft attempt in bank

Sher Mohammad, 25, was arrested at a branch of the United Bank of India inPatipukur on Thursday for allegedly stealing Rs 5,500 from a customer. Police said Mohammad approached a middle-aged woman, Supriya Roy, who had gone to the bank to withdraw money. Roy was counting the money and, when Mohammad offered help, handed Rs 5,500 over to him. Mohammad tried to slip out with the money. Customers and bank employees managed to corned him and beat him up. He was then handed over to the police. Later, an irate mob damaged a police van in front of the bank.

Tied up in knots

A 28-year-old man was arrested near Basusree cinema on Thursday when he forcibly tried to marry his fiancee. Police said Rana Goswami of Ranikuthi stopped his girlfriend near Basusree on S.P. Mukherjee Road and put sindoor on her forehead. Local residents caught hold of Rana and handed him over to the police. Rana told the police that they had been friends for the past five years but the girl’s father was against the marriage.

Stay order

Justice B. Bhattacharya on Thursday passed an interim order staying the operation of the demand notice issued by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to the Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) claiming Rs 22 crore as property tax. The CMC had threatened to disconnect water connection to the CPT if it failed to pay up.

New tech school

Future Institute of Engineering and Management, a new engineering and technology institute, has come up on Sonarpur Station Road. The institute, approved by AICTE and affiliated to West Bengal University of Technology, offers four engineering degree courses and BA degree courses in business, computers and optometry. The current student count at the institute is 60 per course, and the cost is Rs 31,200 a year. Students will be counselled on management and finance. Moves are on for corporate tie-ups to provide placements.

Child injured

A child was injured when a minibus collided with a private bus in Thakurpukur on Thursday morning. Police said the child was admitted to Vidyasagar hospital in a critical condition. Both the drivers were arrested.

Traders robbed

Miscreants looted around Rs 2.5 lakh from three leather traders at Barasat on Thursday. Police said the traders were returning home with the money from Topsia. The dacoits intercepted their car and took away the money at gun-point.

Writers’ fire hazard

Writers’ Buildings has no fire or smoke alarm in spite of a number of accidents in the past two years. The matter came to light after a fire broke out recently in the room of the social welfare minister. On Thursday, fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee said the PWD should instal fire-fighting machines in the building.    

Calcutta, June 20: 
Waves of nostalgia will overwhelm visitors (if there are any) the moment they step into the Government Industrial & Commercial Museum at 45, Ganesh Chandra Avenue. Which decade of the 20th Century have they rewound to?

A circular glass showcase, that is supposed to revolve but does not, contains perfectly-made models of utensils, equipment, crockery, umbrellas, ivory products and cycles meant for Liliputians. As one peers into the case, one is instantly transported to post-Independence Bengal, when it was the leader in industry. For the labels display names last heard of in the 70s or thereabouts – Joy Engineering Works, Spencer Aerated Water, Sen Raleigh, Lily Biscuit. All of these were wiped out of the industrial scene ages ago. Does Benoy Bhusan De, who made these industrial and architectural models, still exist?

Few are even aware of the existence of this museum, that dates back to 1939. The formerly revolving showcase of miniatures (some items missing now) was set in motion in the presence of Bidhan Chandra Roy in April 1962. And it has not been updated since. The intimidating showcases of teak and Belgium glass add to the funereal gloom of the hall, where the exhibits are on display.

Part of the floorspace has been taken over by another government department. So a terracotta Durga from Bankura, standing about nine feet tall, had to be removed and it was damaged in the process.

The museum has an information cell meant for entrepreneurs and a library of rare books, too. But when was the last time anybody from the corporate sector or any academician visited the museum?

It has a section on traditional arts, and another on industry as “modern” as the 60s. The former section boasts a fabulous collection of intricately-carved ivory, Dhokra pieces, patachitra, canework, articles made of mother of pearl, and almirahs crowded with fabulous toys from the districts.

Even rarer is the textile collection. But the primitive fashion in which it is displayed is bound to take its toll on their silk and cotton bodies. Conservation is an unheard of word here. The beautiful kantha is heavily worked with yellow and red floral and geometric motifs. Hare Krishna is written with thread in Bengali along the border. But the white background is badly stained.

The saris could be out of a wish-list. Dhakai muslins, some with butis, Bishnupur silks from Bankura, Balucharis, Jamdanis, gold tissue saris with paisely motifs, Dhakai tangails, Shantipuris, Dhakai odnas light as mist, and to quote the labels, (many of which are misspelt) “Dhakai Kalpana torchi”, “Lal sating gila butidar”, “Lavender sari”, “Dhakai Radio border”, “silk Hawai” and the indigo Nilambari, elaborately worked with zari. This is the stuff that legends are made of, but neglect could turn them into a handful of dust.

Another government organisation, with a rich collection of textiles but which could do with some looking after is the Weavers’ Service Centre. These are some 5,000-6,000 invaluable saris and samples woven at the centre itself, which opened in 1959.

They are loaned out for exhibitions, and occasionally they are returned in tatters, like a dhupchhaya Baluchari. Since they are all lumped together, a proposal has been sent for showcasing them.


Calcutta, June 20: 
In a last-ditch effort to prevent waterlogging, the state government has formed a coordinating committee with officials from various agencies.

Municipal affairs minister Bhattacharya on Thursday convened a meeting at Writers’ Buildings with officials from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), the CMDA, Metro Railway and the state irrigation department to take stock of the situation.

“I have asked the CMC to clean the sewer lines immediately and ready their pumps so that stagnant water can be drained out as quickly as possible,” Bhattacharya said. “We are particularly concerned with the eastern and south eastern fringes of the city and the stretch along Tolly’s Nullah.”

The minister said the Metro Railway was supposed to clear the obstructions on Tolly’s Nullah by June 15. The irrigation department, too, has deferred dredging the Beleghata canal due to a technical fault in the pumps.


Calcutta, June 20: 
Police are on the lookout for a 25-year-old woman charged with peddling drugs in the south and central Calcutta areas.

Two criminals picked up on Wednesday night confessed to their interrogators that Bobby, a woman in mid-twenties, headed a gang of drug peddlers.

Mustaque, alias Makra, and Sheikh Samsad were rounded up from Sandal Street while they were selling drugs in plastic packets to a group of youth on Alimuddin Street, in Haji Mohammed Mohsin Square and the Goltalao areas, said officer-in-charge of Park Street police station Prabir Das.

“We recovered drugs worth more Rs 2 lakh from them. During interrogation, Mustaque and Samsad revealed their links with a vast drug racket operating in central and south Calcutta,’’ Das said.

Mustaque and Samsad told interrogators that there were two dozen criminals in the gang and they peddled mostly in front of schools on Park Street and AJC Bose Road.

Das added that the gang would sell drugs to youths on Ripon Street, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, New Market, Taltala, S.N. Banerjee Road, Lenin Sarani, Metcalfe Street and the surrounding areas.

According to Mustaque, the gang would meet at Bobby’s Topsia Road hideout every morning. At these meetings, Bobby distributes the consignment of drugs among the criminals and chalks out the target areas for peddling. The gang then disperses in groups with the packets. Each group usually comprises three members. The drugs are packed in small plastic containers and stocked in a leather bag.

Police said the peddlers, armed with country-made revolvers to scare away violent addicts, arrive in the target areas around 9 in the morning and loiter around for about three hours until noon. They return around 3 pm and move about for potential buyers till the evening. The gang is back in Bobby’s Topsia Road residence by 8.30 pm.

Samsad told the police that Bobby had “good links’’ with a section of local police officers.

“We have information that the woman moves around in a private car and operates through a cellphone. We have cracked her mobile phone number and hope to track her down soon,’’ Das said.

Explaining the modus operandi of the gang, the Park Street OC said the gang hangs around schools and strikes up a conversation with students. “They convince them that the stuff in the plastic packets will give them a wonderful feeling which they have never experienced before. Many students and youths fall into the trap. However, they make the students promise to keep the matter confidential,’’ Das said.

“Some residents of the area complained that they had noticed a few peddlers pushing drugs in the area,’’ Das said.

“We picked up our investigation from there and activated our sources in the area. We were tipped-off that Mustaque and Samsad would be on Sandal Street to peddle drugs on Wednesday afternoon and despatched a team to round them up,’’ a police officer added.


Calcutta, June 20: 
With the American Center fiasco fresh in their minds, the police have arranged for bullet-proof jackets for cops on duty in front of sensitive establishments. The city being on red alert, following a Central directive that terrorist attacks are likely on key landmarks, the department is leaving no stone unturned in upgrading the force.

Sources said police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty has directed his department to ensure that policemen and commandos on security duty in front of the American consulate, British deputy high commission, Writers’ Buildings, Assembly House and other such sensitive sites wear bullet-proof jackets.

According to the officials, the jackets are thick enough to resist bullets from carbines and AK-47s. Kiriti Sengupta, additional commissioner, said in the first phase, around 130 jackets are being distributed to the policemen.

Officer Raj Kanojia confirmed that the commandos and policemen, chosen for security duty in front of vital installations, have been asked to wear these bullet-proof jackets. “We tested the 130 shields last week from different distances. The jackets are foolproof,” he said.

Sources said officials fired from 9-mm pistols, carbines and AK-47s from five, 10 and 15 yards and the bullets did not penetrate the shields.

On Thursday, the constables, however, complained that they were finding the shields too heavy. Each shield weighs more than four kg. “We have to wear a shield on either side. The two shields add up to almost nine kg, which makes it difficult for us to walk while carrying heavy rifles,’’ complained one of them.

Sengupta said light jackets weighing five kg are available, too, but they are expensive. Sources said the department has submitted a proposal to the government to order some light jackets. “We need another two dozen of these jackets immediately,’’ he added.

“The drive for bullet-proof jackets should have begun much earlier. In that case, we would not have lost a few of our colleagues during the American Center attack,” a police officer said. “In fact, when we came to know that the city is turning into a militants’ hub, we should have taken steps to procure these jackets. The jackets are likely to boost the confidence of the cops at sensitive establishments,” he added.


Calcutta, June 20: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has taken serious exception to the conduct of council member Mala Roy in holding a press conference to announce a policy decision on Tuesday. The decision, reportedly, has neither been discussed with the mayor nor ratified in a mayor-in-council meeting. Sources said Mukherjee had asked Roy to send a proposal to him for scrutiny.

“There is nothing wrong in the announcement made by me. I don’t have to seek permission of the mayor or mayor-in-council before introducing disbursement of salaries among sweepers through cheques,” said Roy. “I took this decision for the benefit of the financially-weak civic employees in my department. I would like to point out that a number of CPM leaders praised me over telephone for the announcement,” she added.

On Tuesday, Roy had announced that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) had come to an arrangement with Bank of India to help sweepers in the conservancy department avoid perpetual indebtedness to moneylenders. Disclosing the scheme, she said the bank would sanction personal loans up to Rs 50,000 and house loans up to Rs 3 lakh at 13 per cent annual interest. The CMC would stand guarantor.

The announcement created confusion among the sweepers and employees on Wednesday.

The mayor was in a spot when Trinamul Congress-led CMC Mazdoor and Employees’ Union leader Sovandeb Chattopadhyay told him that more than 50 sweepers had approached the union office for loans and had inquired as to where they should apply. When Mukherjee expressed his ignorance on the issue, Chattopadhyay produced copies of newspapers that had carried reports on Roy’s press meet.

Subsequently, municipal commissioner Debasis Som, mayor’s officer-on-special duty Shaktibrata Ghosh and chief of municipal finance and accounts Abdul Wahid told the mayor that Roy had never discussed the proposal with them.

“As mayor, I came to know of a vital policy decision through a newspaper,” said Mukherjee on Thursday.

“Can I take away a portion of an employee’s salary to clear his dues? Moreover, if the CMC is to take any such policy decision, it should be taken for all the 45,000 employees working here,” the mayor said. “It is up to the bank whether they want to sanction the loan at their own risk or not,” he added.


Calcutta, June 20: 
He was young. And had a dream. He wanted to go abroad, like his brothers and friends, and embark on a promising career.

But when his dreams failed, nothing stopped Philips Liu, 27, on Thursday morning, from killing himself by jumping off a billboard on the roof of his Bentinck Street apartment, where he lived with his family. The incident occurred around 7.15 am on Thursday.

The family has informed the police that Liu was suffering from depression. But during investigation, the police are reportedly stumbling on other clues that could have possibly led Liu to take his life.

According to deputy commissioner, detective department, Soumen Mitra, Liu was in the nude and sitting on the billboard when he lost his balance and fell. “A crowd below was asking him to get off the billboard and while he was trying to do so, he fell,” said Mitra.

Officer in-charge, Bowbazar police station, A. K. Das, however, refused to divulge details, saying that he was awaiting the post-mortem report.

Liu’s death has stunned the neighbourhood. A commerce graduate from St Xavier’s College, Liu was a trained computer engineer. A pianist, he used to play for a city hotel on AJC Bose Road in the evenings.

Liu’s three brothers had migrated to Canada and are working there. He was waiting for a chance to join them, but his brothers were not able to arrange anything for him. His father runs a shoe shop near their apartment.

Speaking of Thursday’s incident, a neighbour said that Liu’s mother was not present in the house and his father was asleep when he took his life.

“First we heard a thud and then a cry from the ground floor. When we ran down, we found Liu in a pool of blood on the road. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was declared dead,” said the neighbour.

Donald Hou, owner of a shoe shop on Bentinck Street and a family friend, said: “Liu was a bright man. His death has left us stunned.”

“We are also examining the angle of his being involved with a woman at work, which could have forced him to kill himself,” said Bowbazar OC Das. “Already, we have interrogated several of Liu’s friends and relatives to ascertain the exact cause behind his committing suicide,” said Das.


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