Protest pitch in petrol pinch
Trader abductor denies murder
Pass-out mars pass-out drill
Road curbs on king’s travel route
The City Diary
Green course withers in classrooms
Teen thief dies in fall from factory wall
Trained teacher policy gets high court nod
Posta ring found, 2 held
Helping cops tackle the suicide-prone

 
 
PROTEST PITCH IN PETROL PINCH 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, June 27: 
Let the figures speak for themselves, say the victims feeling the petrol pinch.

In the past four months, more than 70 per cent of the petrol pumps in the city and Howrah inspected by the state government’s department of legal metrology had petrol-vending machines that were defective. Either the calibration had been tampered with or they had defective meters.

The net result was that the consumers were getting less for their money. So, are the owners of most of the 1,100 petrol pumps in the city and Howrah cheating their customers?

The Council of Consumer Guidance Centre (CCGC), a consumer rights group, says yes. For the past few months, the Council has been acting as a watchdog for the department of legal metrology, ferreting out consumer grievances, reporting them to the authorities and even accompanying them on raids.

“We have been observing the functioning of the petrol pumps for quite some time now and we have found that they are cheating their consumers in various ways ” said CCGC secretary A. Karmakar. “We have also been accompanying the legal metrology department on their raids on petrol pumps and have had a ringside view of how the pumps are cheating customers. Judging by my experience, I can tell you that this malpractice is rampant.”

The raids have been slow and have touched only the tip of the iceberg, said Karmakar. About 45 petrol pumps have been raided in the city and its periphery and almost 30 of them have been found with defective meters. “This figure, even though small, is indicative of just how widespread this practice is,” Karmakar said. “For every 10 litres of fuel you buy, you could get cheated of half a litre.”

Since this is the first time that raids are being carried out in such a systematic way, almost all the pump-owners booked are first-time offenders. They have been fined Rs 5,000 each. “It is the first time in a very long time that such raids are being conducted,” Karmakar said.

S.K. Jana, deputy director of the legal metrology department, which falls under the state government’s ministry of consumer affairs, said he would not like to divulge the extent of the raids, as it is an “ongoing process... All I can say is that we are keeping a close watch on the activities of the petrol pumps and I can assure you that such raids will continue till all the culprits are booked,” he said.

General secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates, Sadhan Das, is more forthcoming in his criticism of the functioning of petrol pumps. “On an average, pump-owners swindle about Rs 200 from each bus-owner,” Das alleged. “We have complained to the government and have been promised strong action.”

The West Bengal Petroleum Dealers’ Association, however, refutes this. “This is absurd,” said its general secretary Jaydeb Sarkar. “We never indulge in malpractices. The discrepancies that have been detected are because of obsolete machines. Most of the vending machines in the city need to be replaced and the onus for this is on the oil companies.” He, however, admitted that there were a few “black sheep” among the pump-owners.

The CCGC, along with bus operators, has asked the government to set up an expert committee to examine the issue.

   

 
 
TRADER ABDUCTOR DENIES MURDER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 27: 
Thirty months after he sparked panic in Calcutta’s trading community by abducting a Mullickbazar businessman from a city thoroughfare and then, allegedly, killing him, Raju Naik is now trying to convince investigators that he was responsible “only for the kidnap, not the murder”.

Naik, arrested late on Monday “almost by chance”, admitted to sleuths that he had plotted Jaiprakash Gupta’s abduction in November 1999, but blamed the murder on an associate.

Naik was picked up from the busy suburban railway station of Sonarpur during a special raid by the Government Railway Police (GRP). The police had been closing in on Naik, who had fled to Bihar after Gupta’s murder, over the past two months, said CID special superintendent of police Manoj Malviya.

Malviya, who was deputy commissioner, detective department (special), when the scrap-iron trader was abducted, had zeroed in on the hideout near Dum Dum airport, where Gupta was being held. With the cops on their heels, Naik and his associates had reportedly panicked, shot Gupta, dumped the body in a pond and fled.

Monday’s raid — described by officials as a “general anti-rowdy raid, even though there was a possibility that Naik could have been around” — caught both the GRP team and Naik and his associates by surprise.

Though three of his accomplices managed to escape, Naik and an associate were arrested. A revolver and a few rounds of ammunition were recovered from them, police said.

Naik told interrogators that he was going to a “friend’s’’ house in Sonarpur and claimed that he had “abandoned the path of crime”. Police, however, claimed they had definite information that Naik had taken shelter in Sonarpur to evade arrest. “We are trying to locate this friend of his and it won’t be long before we arrest all his associates,’’ CID officials said.

Deputy commissioner, detective department, Soumen Mitra, said Naik was in the custody of the Sonarpur GRP. “We will move court to take him in our custody in the Jaiprakash Gupta murder case,’’ said Mitra. “Naik is the leader of the gang which kidnapped Gupta and we have reason to believe that he killed the businessman.’’ The CID might also claim Naik’s custody, as the agency had several cases against him, officials said.

Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty confirmed on Thursday evening that sleuths had begun interrogating Naik.

On the run since Gupta’s murder, the Orissa-born goon had first fled to neighbouring Bihar. Naik, who used to operate in the Barrackpore-Barasat areas, is believed to have returned to the city in October 2001. “He was trying to renew his criminal contacts,” said a sleuth.

   

 
 
PASS-OUT MARS PASS-OUT DRILL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 27: 
It was a ‘pass-out’ parade in more ways than one. Five constables, raring to join duty with the Calcutta Armed Police from Friday, passed out on the Police Training School grounds, on AJC Bose Road, during their final-day parade, on Thursday morning, attended by the police top brass, including commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty .

Just as Chakraborty was taking the salute from the 150-strong passing-out batch, the five ready-for-the-force recruits slumped to the ground, one after the other, “out of exhaustion”.

But the police commissioner brushed aside the incident. “They did not lose consciousness. They were just feeling dizzy and so they sat down on the ground. There was nothing exceptional about it,” Chakraborty told Metro late on Thursday.

But the reason for the sudden, almost synchronised, ‘pass-out’, claimed members of a red-faced force, was “difficult to fathom”.

As a source put it: “This was a routine parade, marking the culmination of a six-month training schedule for a fresh batch of armed police personnel. There was nothing strenuous about the exercise, apart from the fact that it was quite a lengthy affair. But the five constables must have forgotten some basic requirements, like keeping their feet moving while standing at one place, to avoid cramps and fatigue.”

The ‘show of strength’, that started at around 7 am on Thursday, was interrupted with the five ‘fallen’ constables being stretchered off to the barracks for ‘first aid’. They were revived with water and refreshed with rest.

“We were taken completely by surprise. First, one of them fell down. And before we could realise what was happening, there were five of them on the ground… The parade went on after they were taken away, but the rhythm had been upset,” said an officer.

“While the exact reason for the ‘collapse’ cannot be pinpointed, one look at the constables would suggest why it happened. All the five who passed out hardly have the physique to fit the bill,” said a senior police officer, on condition of anonymity.

“And what can a six-month training module achieve? It is absolutely useless and once they join the force, they never work towards becoming stronger and fitter. No wonder people are fast losing faith in certain sections of the force,” he added.

   

 
 
ROAD CURBS ON KING’S TRAVEL ROUTE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 27: 
Traffic will be restricted in central and south Calcutta in view of King Gyanendra’s visit to the Kalighat temple on Friday morning and his departure from the city in the evening.

Police said J.L. Nehru Road will be closed to traffic from 8.40 am. The king’s convoy will move from his hotel in central Calcutta through Ashutosh Mukherjee Road, S.P. Mukherjee Road and Kali Temple Road, to reach the temple. Restrictions will be lifted for only half-an-hour after the king reaches Kalighat.

The king is expected to be back in his hotel by 10.15 am. Traffic will be diverted through arterial roads during this period. The king’s entourage will leave for Dum Dum airport at 3.05 pm. “The convoy will pass along J.L. Nehru Road, Park Street, New Park Street, EM Bypass and VIP Road. These roads will be closed to traffic for 45 minutes from 2.45 pm,” the police said.

HS results: The results of Higher Secondary 2002 will be published on July 2. Sources in the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education said the results will be available on the Net from 11 am on Tuesday at www.wb.nic.in/wbchse, www.tathyabangla.org, www.calcuttatelephones.com and www.wbresults.nic.in/wbchse.

Marksheets will be handed over to the schools from 32 distribution centres across the state. Students can also check their results at the Calcutta Information Centre between 11 am and 8 pm on Tuesday. Ten “toll-free” telephone numbers will be installed at National Informatics Centre at Salt Lake and the Calcutta Information Centre.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Court seeks papers in Khadim’s case

The sub-divisional judicial magistrate of Alipore on Thursday directed the superintendent of central jail to be present in court on Friday with all the documents relating to the Khadim’s case. The order was issued on the basis of an allegation levelled by lawyers of Happy Singh, one of the accused in the case, stating that his client was languishing in prison for a year. The police had not even submitted a chargesheet against Singh to date, they alleged. “After 180 days of his arrest, we filed a bail petition for him, but have obtained no order from the court yet,” the lawyers said.

Admission row at school

Trouble broke out at Barisha Girls High School, in Behala, over admissions to Class V. Police said hundreds of guardians blocked Diamond Harbour Road to protest the school’s refusal to directly admit its own students to Class V. The school authorities had asked the students to appear for an admission test along with applicants from other schools. This stand infuriated the guardians, police said. The blockade was lifted after the police intervened.

Petrol strike off

The state Petroleum Dealers’ Association has postponed its proposed strike in July, “indefinitely”. The strike was planned after prices of petroleum products were hiked without increasing dealer’s commissions. The withdrawal was announced after senior government officials assured dealers that talks were underway with the Centre on the issue.

Power theft

Eight persons were arrested and over a hundred hookings removed by the CESC and the police during joint raids conducted in several places of Kasba and Tiljala in the southern part of the city, and Sankrail in Howrah, on Thursday.

CMC emblem

Acting chief health officer of the CMC Atanu Mukherjee was showcaused by member, mayor-in-council, health, Javed Ahmed Khan for organising a civic reception for two retired chief municipal health officers on the occasion of Doctors Day. Khan claimed that Mukherjee had used the CMC emblem on the invitation card without seeking the permission of the mayor-in-council.

Death in pool

A 40-year-old man died after he accidentally fell into a swimming pool in Bally on Thursday. Efforts are underway to identify him and also find out the circumstances under which he fell into the pool.

Man drowns

A contract labourer, Sankar Mondal, was drowned on Thursday when he was cleaning the Bagjola canal. Police said Mondal was a resident of Tiljala. He was taken to RG Kar Medical College and Hospital where he was pronounced brought dead.

Run over

Ranen Sen, 58, was run over by a lorry in Liluah, Howrah. The accident occurred late on Wednesday when the victim was crossing the road on his bicycle. Local residents put up a blockade in the area demanding the arrest of the driver, who had fled leaving the vehicle behind. Later police arrested the driver and impounded the vehicle.    

 
 
GREEN COURSE WITHERS IN CLASSROOMS 
 
 
BY JAYANTA BASU
 
Calcutta, June 27: 
B.Sc student Santanu Sen, Mahua Kar, appearing for BA exams from a central Calcutta college, and third-year B.Com student Khairul Islam have one thing in common. Like 62,500 students from around 175 colleges under Calcutta University appearing for either the pass or the honours finals in any stream, they have to appear for a 50-mark compulsory exam in environmental sciences.

But rarely have they had the chance to attend classes on the subject. “About six classes were held in our college, with only a few students attending, often because they would clash with honours or pass classes,” explains Santanu. However, most colleges claim “at least 50 environment classes” were held, with most students in attendance.

Prof Sudip Banerjee, coordinator for M.Sc in environmental sciences and one of the architects of the subject’s introduction at the degree level, admitted to the lack of initiative from most institutions. “We have asked colleges to take 50 theory classes a session, avoiding practicals for lack of infrastructure. The syllabus was drafted so all students, irrespective of specialisation, could learn the basics of environment,” says Banerjee. “We even arranged training for college staff, though many were not given any responsibility,” he added.

Now, tutorials on environment have started blossoming, with students coughing up about Rs 400 to scrape through with the minimum 15 marks in the compulsory paper. “So, tutors and publishers are benefiting greatly from the existing set-up,” adds the environmentalist.

Dr S.K. Sur, principal of Behala College, admitted the lack of enthusiasm among students, adding that it would “take another three or four years to get going”. Sri Sikshayatan has given relatively more importance to the paper, with classes being held regularly, but the principal is sceptical about the future of the subject “without scope for fieldwork and a more holistic approach”.

Dr Dhrubojyoti Ghosh, environmentalist and chief environment officer, government of West Bengal, said recently that if a bridge between environment education and the job market could not be established, there would be no motivation to take the subject seriously.

In January 1988, a Supreme Court order from Justice Venkatramaiah and Justice K.N. Singh in the M. C. Mehta vs Union of India and Others case on pollution of the Ganga and other environmental problems stated: “It is the duty of the Central government to direct all the educational institutions throughout India to teach at least for one hour in a week, lessons relating to the protection and the improvement of the natural environment.” It further specified that “the Central government shall get textbooks written for the said purpose and distribute them to the educational institutions free of cost”.

Subhash Dutta, environmental activist, believes that “environment education is nothing but a farce of the highest order”. Justice (retd) Bhagawati Prasad Banerjee agrees. “I don’t know whether the Supreme Court verdict has been complied with properly anywhere in the country. In developed countries like Australia, they start teaching environment from kindergarten. But we remain unconcerned.”

The West Bengal Pollution Control Board is “not involved” with the introduction of environmental education. “We developed the syllabus of environmental studies for police and administrative personnel about three years ago,” said senior officers of the board. However the training courses have been discontinued for “unknown reasons”.

But it is smooth sailing for college students. “Almost everyone has passed the green test,” a university official informed.

   

 
 
TEEN THIEF DIES IN FALL FROM FACTORY WALL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 27: 
A teenager died when he slipped off a 25-foot wall of a telecom factory in Alipore on Tuesday. The boy was allegedly trying to escape with a bagful of copper wire in the night. Two people have been detained for interrogation.

Officer in charge, Alipore police station, Pinaki Mondol, said the unidentified body was found near a bush, adjacent to Tolly’s Nullah, late on Wednesday. The boy had reportedly died of head injuries.

Sleuths believe that the body had been lying in the bush for the past two days. “The body was decomposed. The boy had probably slipped while trying to scale down the Tolly’s Nullah side of the wall, after stealing the wires. His head was nearly smashed. So far, no one has come to claim the body, nor can we locate his family,’’ said an investigating officer on Thursday.

The incident has blown the lid off a network of thieves who pilfer copper wire and other material regularly from the factory. Alipore police said they were investigating reports that equipment worth lakhs are being pilfered at regular intervals.

Mondol said the security officers of the factory and senior officials have been summoned to discuss the incident. “We suspect that some of the factory workers and security guards are involved in the racket. Our officers are investigating all angles,’’ Mondol said.

Investigations revealed that the teenager had managed to cut across the barbed-wire fence on the wall and then tie a rope to a tree next to the wall. “We assume he slid down the rope to enter the factory premises. We are sure that some of his associates helped him across the wall,’’ said an officer. According to Mondol, at least four others were involved in the theft bid. “ We suspect that the gang operates from Ekbalpore. An unused dirt lane from the factory leads directly into the Ekbalpore area. The gang could have availed of this lane,” said Mandal.

“The operation could not have taken more than 45 minutes, but when the boy fell, the others escaped, leaving the stolen goods behind. He could have been alive when his associates deserted him. The spot outside this side of the factory is full of thick shrubs and bushes. Moreover, it is slippery. A false landing could cause an instant death in Tolly’s Nullah,’’ added the officer.

The general manager of the factory was not available for comment on Thursday. The company has reportedly initiated an inquiry to trace the insiders who helped the thieves.

   

 
 
TRAINED TEACHER POLICY GETS HIGH COURT NOD 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 27: 
Primary schools in Calcutta and elsewhere in the state will have more trained teachers, following a stamp of approval on the state government’s new rule with regard to recruitment of teachers for these schools.

The state government, in 1991, enacted a new rule under the West Bengal Primary Education Act,1973. According to the rule, at least 50 per cent of the teachers of state-run and aided primary schools should graduate from basic training colleges or other recognised institutions.

Accordingly, the government had asked the employment exchanges to send the names of trained candidates for appointment as teachers in different primary schools.

About 500 candidates from primary schools then filed a writ, challenging the decision of the government.

Their counsel, A.K. Jana, argued in the court that his clients were senior and more experienced than the trained candidates, whose names had been recommended by the employment exchange.

Jana said: “The new rule is discriminatory. My clients have cleared Madhyamik, Higher Secondary or equivalent examinations much earlier than the recommended candidates.”

He demanded that the court nullify the new rule, as it was ultra vires to the Constitution.

Justice Ghosh dismissed the petition. He added that for the sake of citizens, primary education should be strong and more trained teachers should be appointed in these schools.

In his verdict, Ghosh also contended that a move by the administration should always be welcomed if it was for the benefit of the education system

The judgment benefited the candidates who had undergone training in teaching, in the hope of securing jobs in primary schools.

Meanwhile, the government has taken steps to train a number of primary teachers by introducing basic training courses in different parts of the city and suburbs.

Before enacting the new rule, the state primary education department had conducted a study on the academic environment in different primary schools.

The study found that private schools were doing well, as they had appointed trained teachers for their institutions.

Indrajit Sen, standing counsel of the government, appearing on behalf of the primary education council, welcomed the judgment and said that the observation of the judge would set a precedent for the future.

According to legal experts, in matters of education, the state government was definitely getting into the good books of the judiciary.

“Recently, the state move to ban private tuition by teachers has also received the stamp of approval from the judiciary,” they said. Advocate Sitaram Samanta assisted Sen in getting the court nod.

   

 
 
POSTA RING FOUND, 2 HELD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 27: 
Barely 48 hours after a 32-carat diamond ring, worth over Rs 75 lakh, was stolen from the Roys of Posta Bazaar, the police recovered it early on Thursday from a house in Bijoygarh. Two persons, Indrajit Dafadar and an associate, Keshav Kumar Sana, were arrested.

On Tuesday, Dafadar and Sana went to the Roys’ residence on Maharshi Debendra Road. Sana posed as a prospective buyer of the ring. When the ring was being displayed, Dafadar, brandishing a toy pistol, snatched it. The duo escaped before the Roys could raise an alarm.

Later, sleuths started raiding hideouts. “We located Dafadar in Bijoygarh after interrogating middlemen in Posta,” said Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner, detective department. A force rushed to Bijoygarh and rounded up Dafadar. The ring was found in an electrical switchboard. Later, Sana was also arrested.

   

 
 
HELPING COPS TACKLE THE SUICIDE-PRONE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 27: 
Officials of North Port police station are all set to get trained in counselling the suicide-prone in the city. Lifeline, a suicide protection centre, has decided to train the cops on the basics of counselling.

The move was initiated following a report in Metro, describing how North Port police station officials have been counselling people who have survived suicide attempts from Howrah bridge. “We want to do this together,” said Sukhsan Singh, director, Lifeline, on Thursday.

H.N. Mandal, additional officer-in-charge, North Port police station, was relieved that the Lifeline has taken the initiative to train the policemen. “Sometimes, it is very difficult to make the victims see reason. We are grateful that Lifeline is helping us in our endeavour. It makes our job lighter,” said Mandal.

The Lifeline authorities, who counsel more than 25 people a day, had earlier contacted senior officers at Lalbazar to seek permission on training policemen. “After a series of meetings, the project was finally given the go-ahead. North Port is the only police station in the city to be entrusted with the job,” said a Lifeline coordinator.

“Right now, we have no infrastructure to appoint experts and psychologists. That is why we welcome Lifeline’s involvement,” said Mandal.

The first round of training for the policemen is already underway. Officers are being made aware of the basics to tackle suicide-prone people. “After the initial training, we have a clear picture of the sensitive areas of the human mind. However, we need more sittings,” added Mandal.

   
 

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