Troubled water runs deep
Deadlock over live action
Airport security eye blind to knives
Dance makes a dream come true
The City Diary
Music academy strikes new chord
Court order on test script
Treatment with trust
Metro faces cop action over book fair shift
Flight back to fetters

 
 
TROUBLED WATER RUNS DEEP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
The death by electrocution of a young man in waterlogged Topsia sparked mob fury late on Tuesday. Residents blamed the civic authorities for the tragedy.

As water receded from the rest of the city after the heavy downpours on Monday and Tuesday, Topsia and Tiljala continued to reel under kneedeep inundation on Wednesday.

At around 10 pm on Tuesday, as 19-year-old Mohammad Sultan stepped out of his house on Topsia Second Lane, he was electrocuted and died instantly. The culprit: a live wire that had snapped and fallen on the waterlogged road. Just a day before, three-year-old Mohammad Munsef had succumbed to an attack of enteric disease as sewage seeped into the drinking water lines of the locality.

Grief turned to anger on Wednesday morning, as residents stormed the office of local councillor Javed Khan and forced him to shut the lockgate of the stormwater channel. They said that water, spilling over from this channel, was responsible for the flooding of the area.

They were not too far from the truth: more than 70 per cent of the city’s water drains out from this channel and low-lying Topsia and Tiljala bear the brunt during the monsoons. Residents of this area also threatened that if the civic authorities got the police to force open the lockgate, they would attack the pumping stations and shut them down. Till Wednesday night, the stalemate continued.

This spells trouble for the rest of the city. If the lockgate of the stormwater channel continues to remain shut, the next downpour will submerge large parts of central and south Calcutta. There will be no route for the water to drain out.

If, on the other hand, the lockgate is forced open and the locals carry out their threat to paralyse the pumping stations, the normal drain and sewerage water will accumulate. For the civic authorities, there is only one way out: find a way to get the water out of Topsia and Tiljala.

The game of passing the buck has already begun. “The fault lies with the state government,” said member, mayor in council, Rajib Deb, in charge of drainage and sewerage. “The storm water channel is overflowing because the irrigation channels into which this water drains are clogged. The government should have made sure that they were desilted before the monsoons.”

Javed Khan has a suggestion. If a 70-foot canal is dug near east Calcutta’s Ambedkar bridge, most of the accumulated water will find a way out into the agricultural lands. But who will take the plunge? The job will have to be carried out by the agricultural department, which says it does not have the funds. Civic officials say it neither has the will.

Meanwhile, the off-and-mostly-on waterlogging since the monsoons descended a month ago has taken its toll on the residents. Besides the two deaths, diarrhoea has assumed near-epidemic proportions, with around 20 people having been admitted to the Infectious Diseases Hospital over the last few days.

“If there is a hell in Calcutta, it is this,” said resident Mohammad Salim, recently back from New Delhi. “It is impossible to live here.”

Emotions are running high in Topsia and Tiljala and the police are worried the situation might spin out of control. And unless a way out is found, most other parts of the city will soon start feeling the flood.

Wednesday was relatively dry, but Thursday might not be. What happens then?

   

 
 
DEADLOCK OVER LIVE ACTION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
For sports-lovers waiting to catch the India vs England One-Day International at Chester-le-Street and the Wimbledon Centre Court action live on Thursday, the picture till late on Wednesday was as bleak as it gets. The stalemate over the return of ESPN and STAR Sports, the twin channels knocked off the menu by both RPG Netcom and SitiCable, could not be broken. But the multi-system operators (MSOs) promised to try and contact ESPN’s top bosses “through the night” to work out a temporary solution before Thursday’s match.

The negotiation process hit a stonewall after ESPN Software India Pvt Ltd “rejected downright” the MSOs’ “last offer” of an additional Rs 40-lakh revenue (roughly a five per cent hike in connectivity, against the 65 per cent sought by the broadcaster) per year. “This is a sham of an offer, making a complete mockery of our efforts to enable millions of sports lovers in Calcutta to watch the triangular series and Wimbledon,” said Sricharan Iyengar, vice-president, affiliate sales, ESPN Software India.

RPG Netcom chief executive Ashim Dutta countered: “It is most unfortunate that all our efforts towards reaching an early solution, as desired by the state administration and the police, have come to nought. What we had offered ESPN Software is all that the operators could garner. But the broadcaster has maintained a very rigid posture.”

The MSOs pleaded helplessness. “Unless the operators are able to raise the money from the subscribers and pass it on to us, we are unable to meet the broadcaster’s demands,” Dutta added.

Under growing pressure from cricket fans, a section of operators is keen to work out a “stop-gap” solution. “For the sake of our sports-loving viewers, we have appealed to the MSOs to switch on the channels immediately,” said Tarak Saha, secretary, Forum of Cable Operators.

ESPN Software officials, who were engaged in “independent dialogue” with operators till late on Wednesday, offering them decoders, are raring to take the beam battle to the service providers on Thursday. “We are setting up screening facilities at leading hotels, restaurants, clubs and pubs. We will also tie-up with a few cinema halls for special screenings and hire audio-video vans to go around the city to bring the match live to Calcuttans,” promised Iyengar.

The service providers, though, claimed that ESPN and STAR Sports have lost their premier positions in this segment. “While for the football World Cup, we had to pay Ten Sports, for the cricket World Cup, we will have to turn to Sony Max. In spite of this, ESPN-Star Sports has jacked up its revenue collection in Calcutta from Rs 3 crore to Rs 7 crore in two years,” argued Soumen Roy Chowdhury, resident director, SitiCable. “Their present demand is unreasonable, because then the operator will have to demand something like Rs 400 from a consumer every month.”

   

 
 
AIRPORT SECURITY EYE BLIND TO KNIVES 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
Three new X-ray machines — two in the domestic terminal and one in the international — have been put in place. But the security screen at the airport remains anything but foolproof.

Barely eight days after the Airports Authority of India (AAI) decided to replace the old X-ray machines, for their failure to detect banned substances stashed inside bags, a four-inch-long Swiss knife slipped past the security eye. It was detected in the handbag of a passenger minutes before she boarded a Thai Airways flight from Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport last week.

The ‘security lapse’ on June 29 comes within days of Indian Airlines security staff detecting a “toy pistol” in a passenger’s handbag, at the domestic terminal, after it had passed the new X-ray machines without a blip.

These security slip-ups have sparked another round of the blame game at the city airport. A month ago, four swords made their way through the security ring, before being detected by Air-India personnel in charge of Thai Airways flight operations.

A week after that, a few more knives had slipped past the X-ray machines and metal detectors, before being detected at the last moment. The AAI faced flak for the lapses for allegedly “sitting on” a proposal to instal new colour X-ray machines at the airport.

So, the move to replace the X-ray machines was speeded up. “The argument forwarded by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) then was that the obsolete X-ray machines were to blame. But what about the latest incident?” asked a senior AAI official.

On June 29, a passenger, Barbara Rekkha, went through security check and her handbag passed the X-ray machines, unhindered. As she prepared to board the Bangkok-bound TG-314, she was stopped at the “secondary-ladder point” check, introduced by the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security following the September 11 terror strike.

The Air-India security staff, handling agents for Thai Airways, had detected a four-inch-long Swiss knife stashed inside her handbag, just before she boarded the bus.

The knife and bag were seized, but the passenger was allowed to proceed to the craft. “All blades more than two-and-a-half-inches long and all Swiss knives have been banned,” said an airport official. The matter was reported to the chief of Air-India security, S. Baidya. “The CISF and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security are handling the case,” Baidya told Metro.

A CISF spokesperson refused comment, as their “commanding officer was on leave”.

   

 
 
DANCE MAKES A DREAM COME TRUE 
 
 
BY SAMARJIT GUHA
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
They have learnt their Kathak from Pandit Birju Maharaj; they have matched the moves of Madhuri Dixit. And now, they can’t wait for Devdas to hit the halls in their hometown.

The release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘classic love story’ on July 12 will mark “a dream come true” for Luna Pan, Debosmita Mukherjee, Pallabi De and Swati Ghoshal, all students of the Kathak legend and all in their twenties. It’s been a year since the four city-based dancers starred in “an important sequence” of the latest celluloid rendition of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s tragic tale of love and loss. The Kathak quartet shared the spotlight with Chandramukhi (Madhuri), Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan) and Chunilal (Jackie Shroff). The song, Kahe Chedo, is rendered by Birju Maharaj, Kavita Krishnamurthy and Madhuri.

“The thumri Kahe Chedo, composed by Panditji, involves all the lead characters barring Paro (Aishwarya Rai). The sequence symbolises Chandramukhi’s first signs of love for Devdas, watched with great interest by Chunilal. She confides in us, her companions. It was a pleasure performing with Madhuri,” says Luna, who picked up her first Kathak steps at Padatik and is now a senior student of Birju Maharaj. This was not her first brush with Bollywood, having danced to Panditji’s tune and the Ajoy Chakraborty-Parveen Sultana duet in the 2001 megahit, Gadar.

For the four, it all started on a cold December morning last year in Delhi where they were put through the paces by Panditji. “In Mumbai, once the shooting started, we realised the level of commitment everyone had towards the film. For the song sequence, each line was broken into minute shots. The shooting would often go on beyond midnight,” recounts Pallabi. “We were never treated as junior dancers on the sets,” adds Debosmita.

The girls from Calcutta can’t stop gushing about ‘Chandramukhi’. “Primarily, it stemmed from the respect we all have for Panditji, but then all of us bonded like long-lost friends. Besides being a great actress, she is perfectly at ease with Kathak. In between shots, we would often be discussing Kathak movements. On the last day, all of us, including Madhuri, were crying. It was like a bond being severed.”

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Britain relaxes visa restrictions

The British government will relax visa restrictions for Indians, especially those visiting the isles on business. The restrictions were put in place after the September 11 terror strikes on America. This was stated by British deputy high commissioner John Mitchiner at Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday, after a meeting with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. “I also told the chief minister about the proposed visit of our minister for international development to Calcutta this winter,” Mitchiner said. The visit will be marked by seminars and interactions between city-based industrialists and members of the UK delegation.

Chargesheet in builder murder

The detective department of the city police submitted chargesheets against 10 accused persons in the Mahesh Agarwal murder case. Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Soumen Mitra said the accused have been charged under Sections 302, 120B of the IPC and the Arms Act. The charges were framed in the court of the sub-divisional judicial magistrate of Alipore. Mitra said crimelord Jishu Jain had masterminded the killing of the New Alipore builder from prison and all those arrested were his associates.

Youth killed

Tension prevailed in Shibpur, in Howrah, after Laltu Dey, 26, was killed by a business partner on Tuesday night. Police said there was a dispute after which his partner Dhananjay Debnath stabbed him. Debnath was arrested on Wednesday, superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar said.

Homoeo seats

Howrah-based Nitai Charan Chakraborty Homoeopathy Medical College and Hospital, a private institution, has recently increased its student admission capacity from 50 to 75. The college authorities have been trying to increase student strength since 2001. The sanction letter was despatched by the Central Council of Homoeopathy, New Delhi, recently.

Tech varsity results

The first-year semester results of the West Bengal University of Technology will be published on July 5 at 3 pm. Students can log on to the university’s website www.wbut.net and type in their roll numbers to access their results. The examinations were held between May 20 and June 5.

Amartya in town

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is scheduled to arrive in the city on Thursday en route to Santiniketan to visit his mother. Sen will return to the city on July 7. He will meet state finance minister Asim Dasgupta in the evening. He leaves for Bangkok on July 8.

House collapse

An abandoned two-storeyed house on APC Road, adjoining Saraswati Press, collapsed on Wednesday morning. No one was injured. Officials of the Corporation and the fire brigade went to the spot to clear the debris.

Transport meet

State transport minister Subhas Chakraborty on Wednesday met owners of pool cars ferrying students and office-goers. The police would not take action against them if the vehicle carried a label bearing the name of the school, he assured them. The Private Carriage Owners and Operators Association has threatened to call an indefinite strike over this.    

 
 
MUSIC ACADEMY STRIKES NEW CHORD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
Even a few years ago, it was unthinkable. In 1978, when ITC set up the Sangeet Research Academy (SRA) at Tollygunge, the idea was to promote Hindustani classical vocal music. The quaint bungalow on the vast expanse of green has played host to many a music legend and it remains “a paradise for aspiring vocalists who strive for perfection in the guru-shishya parampara”.

But 24 years later, SRA is no longer just a cradle for wannabe vocalists. It has opened its door to those honing their skills in sitar and sarod. The initial response to the project suggests that it has struck the right chord.

Says Vijay Kichlu, former director, SRA: “Though the academy is primarily meant to train vocalists, the opening of the instrument section is not a bad idea. Anything that adds to the academy is always welcome.” Kichlu added that in selecting students, the academy always assesses “natural talent” and “endurance levels”.

For executive director Amit Mukherjee, the ‘opening up’ of SRA has been a challenge worth taking. “The idea was floating around for quite some time to open an instrument section but we are bound by a governing body. So, a clearance was necessary,” said Mukherjee. “Once the idea was approved, we quickly got down to the task of inviting students. We chose five, all above average. They are now being trained by sarod maestro Buddhadeb Dasgupta.”

And those who thought Dasgupta’s repertoire was limited to the sarod can visit the academy to see him playing the sitar with elan, surrounded by enthusiastic scholars. “We were looking for someone who could devote some time and he (Dasgupta) was more than happy to train the aspirants,” says Bonnya Basu, spokesperson for SRA.

For Tumpa Roy, Tirthankar Banerjee, Dwaipayan Roy, Abu Hussain and Supratik Sengupta, the three-hour training, thrice a week, under Dasgupta’s discerning eye, is expected to pay dividends when a jury convenes to assess their work in March 2003.

All of them agree it has been a great learning experience. “Though I used to learn from Soumitro Lahiri, when I expressed a desire to enrich my knowledge under Buddhadebbabu, my guru had no objections. I am glad that the academy started the instrumental section,” said Tumpa, in her early-20s.

What happens after the training? “We have often been asked about the future of aspiring instrumentalists. We say this is a good platform where you can not just learn, but also listen to a rare music collection, record at the academy studios, perform at the auditorium and also mingle with legends. Moreover, we provide scope for scientific research,” says Mukherjee. A case in point: the “surprise visit” of Pandit Ravi Shankar when the auditions of the five scholars was on, a couple of months ago, which did “wonders to their morale”.

   

 
 
COURT ORDER ON TEST SCRIPT 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
Justice Barin Ghosh of Calcutta High Court on Wednesday directed the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education to produce the history answer-script of Madhyamik 2002 candidate Pinaki Patra on July 15. The court directive came in response to a petition filed by the candidate, after he averaged 87 per cent in all subjects, except history, in which he scored only 11 marks.

Pinaki’s counsel told the court that the managing committee of Nabipur Saralabala High School, Murshidabad, from where he sat for the test, was supporting his case. “The teachers are sure that Pinaki deserves better marks,” he added. According to the teachers, Pinaki had scored 75 per cent in history.

Meanwhile, more and more parents, dissatisfied with their wards’ performance in Higher Secondary 2002, were banding together to file cases against the Council. Advocate Supradip Roy, who fought a legal battle last year, demanding that answer-scripts of Madhyamik and Higher Secondary be attached with the marksheets, told Metro that the trend of filing cases against the Board was lesser this year.

“But after the Higher Secondary results, many candidates, especially those from city schools, are seeking a court order against the Council,” he said.

   

 
 
TREATMENT WITH TRUST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
Where would you go for a chest X-ray or a comprehensive diabetes management plan? Or for that matter, consult a paediatrician for your kid, all under one roof?

Apollo Health & Lifestyle Limited (AHLL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Apollo Group of Hospitals, has unveiled plans to set up a chain of 15 franchised clinics, including around five in Calcutta, to address day-to-day healthcare needs of the entire family.

Announcing the project in the city on Wednesday, Ratan Jalan, CEO of AHLL, said: “Diagnostic as well as curative healthcare facilities are often too fragmented and far apart for the common man. We are looking at neighbourhood health centres, with consistently superior quality in both clinical and non-clinical areas, to provide value for money to the middle class.”

The company plans to launch 250 such clinics across the country by 2004, eight to nine by this financial year itself. Apart from the five-odd in Calcutta, such clinics will also come up in Howrah, Asansol, Siliguri and Durgapur, besides Jharkhand, Bihar and the North-East.

Set up on leased premises of 4,000-5,000 sq ft, ‘The Apollo Clinic’ will offer, besides specialist consultation services, diagnostic facilities and specially-designed preventive health check-up packages, a 24-hour pharmacy, complete disease-management programmes, counselling and tele-medicine. These family clinics will also offer facilities to patients for seeking a second opinion from experts located elsewhere in the country.

“Today, the three deadliest killers are heart disease, cancer and stress, which have a lot to do with lifestyle. We want to play a role in lifestyle modification, or at least inculcate a habit of regular check-ups, because we sincerely believe there is enough money in keeping people well if you can do it right,” Jalan smiled.

To “do it right”, the Apollo Group, making its first organised foray into healthcare in the east, is banking on people’s trust. “Since we believe trust can be built through proper communication, as much emphasis will be laid on empathy and reassurance as on cutting-edge technology.”

The company plans to price its healthcare delivery “reasonably”. For instance, while a random blood sugar test will cost Rs 40-45, a specialist consultation will come for between Rs 150 and 200.

Each clinic involves an investment of Rs 2 crore and the franchisee will be screened “meticulously” for both background and commitment. Once a franchisee is identified and the site finalised, it will take around four months for the clinic to be up and running.

A customised training module has been developed by IIM Bangalore and NIS Sparta and administered to the franchisee and the staff of the clinic, while GE Medical Systems IT has provided the clinic-management software. Architecture, interiors, signage and project execution have been created by Alfaz Miller.

   

 
 
METRO FACES COP ACTION OVER BOOK FAIR SHIFT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
Faced with the prospect of having to shift Calcutta Book Fair, as the upcoming Park Street flyover has spilt onto the Maidan by nearly 100 feet, the police have threatened action against Metro Railway for not clearing waste material dumped in the area.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Shibaji Ghosh, met the station commander, Calcutta, and senior army officers on Wednesday to discuss the issue. “I will write to the Metro authorities to clear the litter, failing which they will be penalised,’’ he said.

Government sources said while the army is the caretaker of the Maidan, the police are in charge of law and order. For construction on the Maidan, permission has to be taken from the army. Calcutta Book Fair, the Handloom Expo and Lexpo are all held on the Maidan, from the Park Street-J.L. Nehru Road intersection till Rabindra Sadan.

The army and police officers on Wednesday took a close look at the space available on the Maidan where the Book Fair and other carnivals are held. They agreed that constructing stalls on this patch would be difficult.

According to a report, Metro Railway had dumped construction leftovers on this patch of the Maidan, opposite Metro Bhavan, while laying out its tunnels and rakes.

With the flyover taking up around 100 feet of that patch, the police feared there would be a space crunch when fairs are next held.

“The fairs are usually held in winter, for which preparations begin from September. The stretch has to be ready by August-end,’’ Ghosh said. “Armymen told us that they had reminded the Metro Railway several times in the past to clear the patch, but nothing had been done,” he added.

A Metro Railway official, when contacted, admitted that concrete waste has piled up in the pocket but added that the authorities were trying to remove it as soon as possible.

   

 
 
FLIGHT BACK TO FETTERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 3: 
Twenty-one days after he conned a sentry and escaped, criminal Biplab Biswas was back in Bidhannagar (north) police station lock-up late on Tuesday.

Deputy commissioner of police, eastern suburban division, Sanjay Mukherjee, said Biplab had come to the Ultadanga area to meet an associate, when he was rounded up.

“Biplab was spotted moving in the area with a handcuff. Three policemen passing by noticed him talking to a man,’’ said an officer. When they questioned him on the handcuff, he tried to bluff his way out. Meanwhile, the other person vanished. The suspicious cops brought Biplab to Ultadanga police station.

During the course of interrogation, the police came to know that Biplab had escaped from Bidhannagar (North) police station lock-up three weeks ago. The Ultadanga police then contacted their counterparts in Bidhannagar, who took him in custody.

Biplab was arrested on June 6 from the Bidhannagar area on charges of snatching and harassing women. Police said incidents of snatching and robbery had increased in the area and complaints had piled up at the Bidhannagar (North) police station.

Acting on a tip-off, the police laid a trap and Biplab was caught. He was remanded in police custody and kept in lock-up. Police suspected that he was part of a bigger gang operating in the area.

Senior officers interrogated Biplab to track down his associates and recover the stolen goods. However, they were unsuccessful in their efforts, since Biplab did not open his mouth.

According to the officers, he was involved in three major incidents of crime in the area.

On June 12, Biplab complained of a stomach ache and asked to be led out to the toilet. While the sentry waited outside, Biplab locked the door and escaped through the window.

“He had twisted and bent the window rods that were rusty and escaped before the guards could raise an alarm,’’ an officer said. Till Tuesday morning, the Bidhannagar (North) police had failed to locate him.

During the course of interrogation on Wednesday, Biplab said he had initially gone to his sister’s house in Hooghly. He had been able to take off one of the handcuffs, but was unable to remove the other.

He stayed at his sister’s place for some time but soon ran out of money. “I knew if I returned, the city police would catch me. I was waiting for a suitable time to come to Calcutta. Unfortunately, I had to meet a friend in Ultadanga on Tuesday, where I got caught again,’’ Biplab said.

The Bidhannagar police are making sure that Biplab does not try to escape again. “We will keep an eye on him so that he does not try to hoodwink our guards,’’ said a senior officer.

   
 

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