Rat maze under Maidan
Turf tussle on Salt Lake plots
Power play over twin sports beam
Arrests seal lid on racket in diamonds
The City Diary
Consumer courts shift base
Rift wastes watt plan
Route permit crackdown on buses
Ransack, arrest follow blackout at soccer-time
Trader hangs himself in godown

 
 
RAT MAZE UNDER MAIDAN 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
From SSKM Hospital to Curzon Park, via the Victoria Memorial Hall, with hundreds of alleys and off-shoots — all underground.

This is not another grandiose transport project that may never see the light of day. This is, instead, the expanse of a labyrinthine colony built without engineers — by rats on the run.

The rat route that would surely have intrigued the Pied Piper of Hamlyn was discovered during work on a four-storeyed building to house patients’ relatives who choose to stay the night at SSKM Hospital.

The phenomenon came to light when, while laying the foundation of the building, workers found innumerable holes, about five feet below the ground, stacked with leftovers, foils of tablets and capsules, swabs and biomedical wastes, said SSKM Hospital surgeon-superintendent Deb Dwaipayan Chattopadhyay.

“The trail finally led to Curzon Park, opposite Raj Bhavan, after travelling under Victoria Memorial, with identical items being found at all the places,” he added. The maze is much older than the other tunnel in the city, the Metro Railway. Zoological Survey of India experts peg its age at “anything between 50 and 70 years”.

Not content with a linear route, the city’s rats have tried to extend in an east-west direction too, with a network of tunnels in the direction of AJC Bose Road.

“The discovery aroused my curiosity,” Chattopadhyay told Metro, adding that the hospital had always been prone to invasions by the rodent. The SSKM campus — from the emergency ward to the staff quarters and the operation theatres — is infested by rats, say hospital officials. Chattopadhyay said he intended to plug the rats’ entry routes.

The construction of the new building has already plugged the holes and the rodent problem has come down significantly since work started, hospital sources claimed.

The Rs 1-crore SSKM project will be able to accommodate 40 men and 20 women and is likely to be commissioned before Durga Puja 2002.

“I don’t know how long this new-found peace will last,” Chattopadhyay said. “But the rodent brigade, barracked under an area ranging from Victoria Memorial in the south to Curzon Park in the north, will definitely not give in so easily,” he feared.

Alipore Zoological Gardens director Subir Kumar Chaudhuri said it was “quite possible” that rats had taken over the area under the Maidan, as the sprawling fields gave them a taste of their natural habitat. “Even rats face a problem in burrowing in areas dense with buildings because of all the cement and concrete,” he said. Therefore, it was logical for them to confine themselves to the patch of green in the concrete jungle.

Zoological Survey of India scientists, too, confirmed that rats were quite capable of burrowing underground tunnels extending from SSKM Hospital to Curzon Park, and even further. “It is highly probable,” said officer-in-charge of the bird and mammal section A.K. Mandal.

The city’s rat populace could be divided into two groups — the Lesser Bandicoot Rat (commonly known as the metho indur) and the Norway Rat, he said.

Mandal, a few years ago, conducted an indentification test on the rats and their habits in the Curzon Park area and found them to be of the Lesser Bandicoot variety. Those rats, he said, had a “strong burrowing habit”.

Mandal, who also stayed on the SSKM Hospital campus for some time, said the rats he saw there were of the same variety. “The Norway Rat has a less strong burrowing habit and prefers pipes to crawl up and down,” he said, ruling out any possibility of their involvement in the north-south corridor.

The existence of “far longer tunnels” has also been recorded, the zoo’s zoological assistant for rodents & bats, M.K. Ghosh said.

   

 
 
TURF TUSSLE ON SALT LAKE PLOTS 
 
 
BY SANJAY MANDAL
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
Salt Lake is resembling a battlefield, with the civic authorities and 23 ward committees engaged in a turf tussle over who has the authority to determine what constitutes an unauthorised plot-transfer and what makes construction illegal in the township.

It began with Bidhannagar Municipality asking ward committees to stop harassing plot-owners. Municipality chairman Dilip Gupta wrote to one of the committees, saying that the municipal authorities and a committee set up by the department of urban development — which have already identified 1,200 illegally-transferred plots — are “most qualified” to perform the role of watchdog.

But the order asking the secretary of ward no. 10 to desist from determining the status of plots and the constructions coming up on them has been struck down by a Calcutta High Court interim injunction. Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya, after hearing the complaint filed on behalf of the ward committee by Trinamul Congress councillor Sabyasachi Datta, has decreed that the ward committee be allowed to function according to the West Bengal Municipal (Ward Committee) Rules, 2001.

“Those instructions will not prevent the ward committee from functioning strictly in accordance with the rules,” the order said, referring to the “instructions” given by the municipality before allowing the lessee and the promoter to go on with the construction at the plot.

Ward committee secretaries and municipality officials admit that this case is “representative” of many conflicts in the municipality, which do not reach the high court. “Over 40 per cent of the plots in ward 10 are being illegally transferred,” alleged secretary Bijan Mukherjee. Municipality officials claim the 40-per cent figure “is inflated”.

Officials of ward 10 had first objected to the construction of a building at CF-285 and drawn the municipality’s notice to certain “irregularities” in November 2001. But, in December 2001, municipality chairman Gupta wrote to the ward committee, stating that it had no authority to investigate the matter. Gupta alleged that the ward committees did not have a “single technical man” to determine such “complicated matters” and so, the decision to ask them to steer clear of the plots of contention was “unanimous”.

Salt Lake CPM councillor Chandan Ghosh backed Gupta’s stand: “We are against illegal transfer of plots but neither do we want unnecessary harassment of the public.” Trinamul Congress councillor Sabyasachi Datta, however, felt the municipality was trying to “unnecessarily browbeat” the ward committee and, therefore, moved court.

Former high court judge and Salt Lake resident Justice Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee, however, felt this interim order would not act as a precedent. “It’s an order about a particular case and, as ward committees function under a municipality, it will have the final say,” he said.

   

 
 
POWER PLAY OVER TWIN SPORTS BEAM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
The top-brass of the two service providers who have blocked the Wimbledon and the cricket tri-series beam; representatives of the sports channels that have gone ‘off the air’ in Calcutta cable homes; a top cop and a senior bureaucrat…

They were all there on Monday evening, some trying to understand why the cables were crossed, others struggling to work out a solution and not deprive sports-lovers in the city of their favourite cricket and tennis fare. By the end of it all, RPG Netcom and SitiCable on one end of the table and ESPN Software India (owners of ESPN and STAR Sports) on another, had taken “the first step” towards bringing to Sourav-Sachin fans India’s next One-dayer versus England, “live on ESPN” from Chester-le-Street on Thursday, and tennis buffs the final rounds of Wimbledon, “live on STAR Sports”.

“The fact is that the World Cup is over and interest has immediately swung back to cricket,” said an operator. “The demand for the double-header at Lord’s and The Oval, which India won, forced many of us to show recordings of the two matches on our video channel.” And the pressure to return ESPN and STAR Sports to the drawing rooms of cable homes has not just come from cricket fans. The prod for a quick rapprochement has come from the state administration and the police top brass. The presence of “a top cop” and a “very senior bureaucrat” at Monday’s closed-door meeting proved how keen the administration was to “avert a repeat of the riot-like situation which arose after a technical snag blacked out the England-Brazil match in parts of south Calcutta and Howrah”.

With Writers’ Buildings and Lalbazar entering the picture, chances of a quick reconciliation between the multi-system operators and the broadcaster have brightened. RPG Netcom, with almost 80 per cent market share of cable homes in Calcutta, had knocked the two sports channels off its beam on the midnight of June 18, after ESPN Software India had sought “a 65 per cent hike” in connectivity disclosure. SitiCable joined the blackout simultaneously in a show of solidarity. The joint-action force formed by the two MSOs had contended that ESPN and STAR Sports “no longer enjoy their prior prime position”, and hence, had forfeited their right to call the shots.

After Monday’s meeting was adjourned till Tuesday (when the Joint Action Committee of Cable Operators will also attend), an ESPN Software spokesperson said from Delhi: “We met the MSOs in Calcutta. We are willing to meet them again to find an early solution to all the outstanding issues.”

Amidst the power play over ESPN and STAR Sports, the fear of Ten Sports being dumped after the World Cup appears unfounded. The Dubai-based channel lining up the Morocco Cup tri-nation cricket meet in August, besides Formula One, the British Open and Ryder Cup golf, is here to stay in Calcutta — at least for the time being.

   

 
 
ARRESTS SEAL LID ON RACKET IN DIAMONDS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
City police on Monday claimed to have busted a nationwide racket in illegal buying and selling of diamonds.

Police said four accomplices of diamond racketeer Raju Sethia were detained during simultaneous raids across the city from Sunday night to Monday morning. Sethia was arrested recently and is now in Presidency jail.

Sources in Posta and Burrabazar police said the four accomplices of Sethia, all big-time diamond brokers operating in Gujarat and Maharashtra, blew the lid off the multi-crore illegal transactions in diamonds in the course of interrogations during the day. Police are unwilling to reveal their names for the “sake of investigations.’’

Deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan, said Sethia is one of the country’s leading diamond brokers. He has a gang of henchmen which steals diamonds and sell them to national and international buyers.

“There are more than a dozen cases pending against him at Posta and Burrabazar police stations. Gujarat and Maharashtra police have sent feelers, seeking to interrogate him,’’ Hasan said.

Posta and Burrabazar police officers, quoting investigation reports, said Sethia had amassed crores through “illegal buying and selling of diamonds.’’ Sethia’s henchmen procure diamonds from “high-value traders in various cities of Gujarat and Maharashtra.’’

According to insiders in the diamond trade, the modus operandi of the mafia is to force traders to part with diamonds at a price much lower than the prevailing market rates. “The transactions are made under a veil of secrecy. It is done in the grey market, without any documentary evidence of the deal,’’ Hasan said.

Criminals also steal diamonds from merchants at gunpoint. The stolen diamonds are packed in special cases and sent to clients.

According to underworld sources, some businessmen in Calcutta and other metropolitan cities are in touch with the diamond mafia. The transactions are made in hawala.

The businessmen, in turn, strike a deal with “interested buyers and diamond merchants.’’ They then direct a middleman to take the diamonds to the merchants.

The mafia does not deal directly with the merchants. There is a general fear that diamond merchants might leak information about the illegal transaction to security agencies.

Sethia and his henchmen sell diamonds to businessmen at rates much lower than the market price. Senior police officers are interrogating Sethia, but he is not spilling the beans.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

CBI report on baby swap in early Sept

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Monday informed Calcutta High Court that it would submit its final report on the infamous baby swap case “by September first week”. The Medical College and Hospital authorities had handed over all the relevant documents related to the case to the CBI, said Supradip Roy, counsel on behalf of Anup Bhattacharya, husband of Keya, whose baby went missing from the hospital in the first week of June 1998.

Tuesday date for HS results

The West Bengal Council for Higher Secondary education will publish the results of Higher Secondary 2002 on Tuesday. Council president Jyotirmay Mukherjee will declare the results official at 10 am, sources said.

Sahgal visit

Presidential candidate Lakshmi Sahgal will arrive in the city on Tuesday morning for her election campaign. She will address a rally organised by the Left parties, before being felicitated by students at Park Circus. From there, she will go to the Assembly and meet members of the House. In the evening, she will be felicitated by the Left Front at the University Institute Hall, where Jyoti Basu, Ashok Ghosh and Biman Bose will be present.

Struck by lightning

A 23-year-old woman, Sumitra Mondal, and her three-year old daughter, Binita, died in their sleep on Sunday night when they were struck by lightning at their Bishnupur home.

Lawyers’ strike

Lawyers of two subordinate courts of two districts have launched an “indefinite strike” protesting two separate issues. While the Bolpur lawyers of Birbhum are on a ceasework since Friday for non-availability of stamps and non-judicial stamp paper worth Rs 10, the Jhargram advocates in West Midnapore are up in arms since June 11, demanding the arrest of the policemen who had allegedly assaulted their colleagues. The State Bar Council, Calcutta High Court Bar Association and West Bengal Pradesh Congress Lawyers’ Cell have also protested both the issues.

Royalty for CM

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has deposited a royalty of Rs 75,000 from his cassette sales to the chief minister’s relief fund. This was for the sale of about 32,000 cassettes titled Hey Mahajiban, in which Bhattacharjee recites poems penned by his uncle, Sukanta Bhattacharjee. Singer Indranil Sen, who had produced the cassette under the Prime Music banner, said he planned to bring out an album of the chief minister reciting his favourite poems. “I have promised to present him a gold disc before the Pujas, so good are the sales,” Sen said, after meeting Bhattacharjee at Writers’ Buildings on Monday.

Shot on O-Rail

Rabi Ghosh, 36, was shot dead in a railway compartment on Sunday night. Police said Ghosh’s body was found on Monday morning, in a train running between Prinsep Ghat and Gede.

Road mishap

Four persons, including a girl, were killed in an accident at Barasat on Sunday night. Police said a truck hit a van-rickshaw in which they were travelling.    

 
 
CONSUMER COURTS SHIFT BASE 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
Consumer courts in Calcutta are shifting from the Bhabani Bhavan complex in Alipore to the central business district, much to the chagrin of the consumers, whose interests the courts are supposed to take care of.

The shift was contemplated so that the courts could function from a place where most of the city’s business — and, consequently, unfair trade practices — are conducted, said senior consumer affairs department officials on Monday.

The move is going to further distress the “already harassed” consumers, who go to court to seek redress, say consumers and various organisations.

Several cases are transferred from one city forum to another and many consumers go to the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission to appeal against the lower courts’ verdict; all the courts functioning from the same building obviously helps consumers, they explain.

The government, however, sees no basis in this logic and instead would like to concentrate on the advantages of the shift.

“Besides the obvious advantage of relocating the courts to places with better infrastructure from the cramped space at Bhabani Bhavan, we are also moving towards putting the legal meteorology section in every district near the consumer courts,” consumer affairs department joint secretary Shantanu Chatterjee told Metro.

One of the courts is being moved to Lindsay Street and the other to Brabourne Road, which will help as many of the cases originate from Calcutta’s business district, say officials.

This logic, however, has not appealed to consumers. One of the organisations, Council of Consumer Guidance Centres, has already placed on record its dissent and a move is afoot to challenge the government order in court.

“The shift will definitely help, but not the consumers whose interests the department and the courts are supposed to protect,” said CCGC president Anil Karmakar.

“Small organisations, like ours, often keep two cases in the two different units on the same day as that saves money and time,” he said.

That the city units and the State Commission functioned from the same building helped consumers, who needed to collect their certified copies from the lower courts to appeal against unfavourable verdicts at the highest state forum, said member of the State Consumer Protection Council, Prabir Basu.

Meanwhile, the State Commission president, Justice S.C. Datta, is in the dark about the shift. “I have not been consulted or officially intimated,” he said.

\    

 
 
RIFT WASTES WATT PLAN 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
A ‘civic battle’ has broken out between mayor Subrata Mukherjee and member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), Mala Roy. An early casualty: a Rs-40 crore garbage-to-electricity project, the only one of its kind in eastern India.

With the garbage spilling on to the streets of Calcutta this monsoon, the project, which can burn up to 2,000 tonnes of trash every day to produce 100 mw of power, has come under a cloud. The mayor has taken custody of all relevant files and directed municipal commissioner Debasis Som not to allow the conservancy department to “do anything” without his consent.

“I am not comfortable leaving the important project in the hands of the conservancy department,” Mukherjee told Metro, over telephone from Delhi. “I have, instead, decided to involve the project and development department,” he added.

Mukherjee has also launched a “vigilance probe” into allegations of a Rs 2-million kickback related to the project. Choosing not to elaborate on the issue, the mayor said he “had heard about it”, but would “take a closer look into the matter” before arriving at any conclusion.

Conservancy chief Roy, meanwhile, steered clear of the controversy. “The project is yet to be finalised and things are still being discussed with the mayor, who visited the Dhapa dumping ground with me on Saturday,” said Roy. On the power tussle between the two departments of the civic body over the project in jeopardy, she said: “It is immaterial which department implements it, as long as it is implemented by the Corporation.”

But with Mukherjee taking the vital project off Roy’s hands and handing it over to Som, the “bad blood” between the mayor and conservancy chief has spilt out in the open, say officials. The Roy-led conservancy department had sent the relevant files to chief engineer (conservancy) Arun Sarkar who, in turn, kept them locked in his chamber. Sarkar was on leave when Som urged his personal assistant to open the chief engineer’s chambers and hand over the garbage-to-electricity project files.

Though a last-ditch bid to salvage it by inviting fresh global tenders could be in the offing, chances of the project getting back on track appear slim, say civic officials.

The CMC, meanwhile, has received several proposals for the garbage-fed power-generating unit at Dhapa. An expert committee was formed to weigh the pros and cons and a global tender floated to set up the unit that would utilise plasma technology and work on a build-operate-own-transfer (BOOT) basis.

Four firms submitted five tenders and two of them, Terrsases Technology and Bangladesh-Cambridge, were shortlisted. Bangladesh-Cambridge got the nod, as it offered to use up 2000 tonnes of garbage every day to churn out 100 mw that would be fed to the regional grid. The firm agreed to sell power at Rs 3.5 per unit and pay an incentive of $ 1 per tonne to the CMC.

   

 
 
ROUTE PERMIT CRACKDOWN ON BUSES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
The police on Monday cracked down on private buses, plying on routes prescribed by the motor vehicles department but without valid permits. According to Lalbazar traffic control, seven private buses on route 21, plying between Esplanade and Behala, did not have proper authorisation from the department.

The buses were towed away to the nearest police station. “The licences of the drivers were impounded and the owners summoned for an explanation,’’ said S. Moitra, officer-in-charge, Lalbazar. On Monday afternoon, policemen stood at important intersections in Tollygunge and New Alipore and pulled up errant bus-drivers. “We will conduct the raids in the afternoon, so passengers are not inconvenienced,’’ Moitra said.

According to deputy commissioner of police, traffic, M.K. Singh, there have been regular complaints that several private buses were plying without valid documents.

“A bus-owner has to obtain a permit from the motor vehicles department allowing him to drive on a prescribed route,’’ Singh said. “We had received complaints from the department and bus unions that a large number of private buses was ferrying passengers illegally,’’ Moitra said.

   

 
 
RANSACK, ARREST FOLLOW BLACKOUT AT SOCCER-TIME 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
Residents of Garia and Sonarpur blocked roads on Monday morning to protest the arrest of three people on Sunday. The trio was held for assaulting West Bengal State Electricity Board officials (WBSEB) and ransacking their office at Garia.

According to the residents, unprecedented power cuts in the two areas deprived them of viewing the World Cup finals on Sunday evening.

Subir Das, one of the protesters, said: “We were watching the game when the lights went out. After 15 minutes, when we found that supply was not being restored, we rang up the WBSEB office in Garia but no one picked up the telephone. Even after half-an-hour, the lights did not come back, depriving us of watching an exciting game.”

Later, the agitated group went to the electricity office and asked the men on duty when supply would be restored. “Apart from not giving us a satisfactory answer, the workers tried to drive us away. In the chaos, some anti-socials, who had joined us without our knowledge, started ransacking the office,” said Das.

When the situation spun out of control, the officials sought police assistance from Sonarpur. “The force arrived and arrested three people on charges of ransacking and destroying furniture,” said Chandan Sen, another resident. “ In fact, the people arrested were actually innocent, while the guilty went scot-free.”

Ujjal Mukherjee, public relations officer, WBSEB, said: “On Sunday evening, supply was cut off in Sonarpur as a 11-KV feeder line tripped. On getting the news, our men started out to repair the line, but before they could start work, some people started assaulting them and the work was left unfinished. Later, we lodged a complaint with the police, who rounded up three people.”

Sahabul Hossain, officer in-charge, Sonarpur police station, said: “The arrests were made after a complaint was lodged by the WBSEB authorities. We are interrogating the trio.”

Man run over: Teacher Dhiman Hazra, 47, was run over and killed by a truck on Diamond Harbour Road on Sunday while he was returning home after watching the World Cup finals at a friend’s home. The incident took place around 7.30 pm. The truck has been impounded. The driver fled after the accident.

   

 
 
TRADER HANGS HIMSELF IN GODOWN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
A 38-year-old businessman hanged himself at his Nandalal Mullick Lane office-cum-godown, in the Girish Park police station area, early on Monday. The body of Radheshyam Agarwal was found by his family around 5 am. No foul play has been detected.

After preliminary investigation, police say that a financial crisis may have led Agarwal, a trader in mustard oil, to take his life. “His business was running at a loss. He had borrowed money, which he could not repay on time,” said Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner, detective department.

According to Mitra, the family had no inkling of Agarwal’s intention of killing himself. He had retired on Sunday night, as usual, with his wife and two children. “Around midnight, while the family was sleeping, he left his residence,” added Mitra. At 4 am, when Agarwal’s wife woke up, she did not find her husband by her side. “The family and the neighbours tried to locate him at many places, before discovering his body at the Girish Park godown,” said the police.

The family told the police that Agarwal was depressed for the past few days but did not disclose the reason behind the depression. “We had no inkling that he would take such a drastic step,” one of the relatives said.

   
 

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