Cricket rules in midnight drama
Rights panel shuns boy framed for rape
Name game knocks man off flight
Cancer crusade in the family
The City Diary
Cash crunch sparks cop job freeze
Mayor digs underground in funds hunt
Lockgate fuels flood fears
A future stitched with hope ‘n’ hardship
Wrestling to tone up force

Calcutta July 4: 
A police station doubled as a boardroom in the dead of the night to ensure that the deadlock over the twin sports beam was broken before dawn and ‘live’ sports action on ESPN returned to Calcutta cable homes, hours before Thursday’s India vs England tie.

With the RPG Netcom-SitiCable vs ESPN-Star Sports face-off showing no sign of ending till late on Wednesday, the police swung into action — spurred by images of sports fans taking to the streets when the crucial Brazil-England World Cup tie was blacked out by a technical snag in some pockets.

The drama was enacted inside Park Street police station around midnight, where the warring parties were herded into a room and “instructed” to sort out their differences on the spot, even as some top cops waited in an adjacent room. The service providers and ESPN Software officials came out of the huddle with a ‘magic solution’ that had eluded them for nearly three weeks of blackout and three days of the blame game.

“Yes, the matter was resolved at Park Street police station and we had to step in to impress upon the two parties the gravity of the situation, with cricket fans missing out on India’s tour of England,” confirmed Kuldeep Singh, deputy commissioner of police, south. Singh, along with deputy commissioner, headquarters, Shivaji Ghosh, were key players in the midnight drama.

They were acting on instructions from the top (read: Writers’ Buildings and Lalbazar) to “bring the channels back before Thursday’s One-Day International at any cost”.

“We are very happy that the tremendous consumer demand for ESPN and STAR Sports has enabled RPG Netcom and SitiCable to withdraw their decision to switch off the popular channels,” said Sricharan Iyengar, vice-president, affiliate sales, ESPN Software India Limited.

The broadcaster is believed to have benefited from the late-night deal, struck under “intense administrative pressure”.

“RPG Netcom has agreed to declare a substantially higher number of connections (said to be around 2.6 lakh points, against the earlier 1.95 lakh, amounting to a rise of nearly Rs 1.9 crore per annum) and we expect them to honour the commitment,” Iyengar added.

The multi-system operators (MSOs), however, maintained that this is just a “temporary truce” and that commercial negotiations are still on.

“We have decided to switch on the channels, keeping the sports fans of Calcutta in mind. We hope to work out a viable agreement with the broadcaster over the next few days,” said RPG Netcom chief executive Ashim Dutta.

Cable operators, who invariably find themselves in the line of fire from sports fans denied their favourite fare on TV, have welcomed the return of ESPN-STAR Sports. Tarak Saha, secretary, Forum of Cable Operators, thanked “the state administration and the police” for taking the initiative in resolving the impasse. “Seventy per cent of the operators wanted the channels to come back,” said Saha, hinting at “some vested-interest groups” stalling the resumption.

Earlier on Wednesday, negotiations had broken down after ESPN Software India dismissed as “a sham” the MSOs’ “final offer” of Rs 4 lakh, or a five per cent hike in connectivity disclosure, and threatened to take the cricket beam to the streets of Calcutta — through mobile vans, link-ups with movie halls, clubs and hotels.


Calcutta July 4: 
Twenty-seven months of torture. That is what Sonu Thakur, 11, and his father have gone through. And the nightmare refuses to end.

On March 28, 2000, Sonu was arrested by Regent Park police for allegedly raping a four-year-old girl. Two days later, on the basis of the police report, the boy was sent to Dhrubashram, a juvenile home in Ariadaha, where he stayed for nearly a month among young criminals.

A medical examination of the “victim”, however, revealed that she had not been raped and the allegations against Sonu were false. The boy was granted bail on April 26, 2000.

But the police ignored the medical report and went on to file a chargesheet against Sonu.

On February 28 this year, the case was dismissed by the sub-divisional magistrate’s court, Alipore, on the basis of the medical report.

The judge reprimanded the police for inept investigation and utter apathy towards the child. He also pointed out that the case was a “clear violation of human rights” and that Sonu was framed by some people who wanted the family to vacate its Regent Park home, at the behest of a realtor.

In the court order, the judge had observed:“This is a clear violation of human rights and a glaring example of how insensitive the police can be.” During the court proceedings, the police had also admitted that the arrest of Sonu and the subsequent chargesheet was a mistake.

“The investigating officer, in his report, has prayed for condonation for such a misdeed. Such prayer for condonation will certainly not compensate the mental agony and social stigma suffered by the child,” the judge observed in his order.

Buoyed by the court order, Sonu’s father, Uday Kant Thakur, an employee of a private firm, lodged a formal complaint against the police and narrated the events to the West Bengal Human Rights Commission on April 20 (case no. 472/WBHRC).

A few weeks ago, Thakur received a letter from the Commission, which refused to accept the application.

The Commission’s deputy registrar wrote back to Thakur, saying that the case was not accepted on the grounds that the “allegations related to judicial proceedings,” a reason that has left Thakur bewildered.

“I have consulted many legal experts, who have all opined that once the case was dismissed in court, there was no reason why the human rights panel could not accept my appeal and give my son justice. I have now decided to file a writ petition against the Commission for refusing my application,” he said.

Contacted by Metro, WBHRC registrar Shankar Coari said on Thursday that he was not sure why the complaint was turned down. “There are hundreds of complaints lodged every day. I guess this case landed with a member and not the chairman himself. The member might have turned it down. Please ask the complainant to file a second application and we will reconsider the case,” said Coari.

Meanwhile, back home, Sonu is still leading a life of agony. “I can’t sleep and have no idea what will happen to me. I still vividly remember the days spent in custody and the hell I had to go through,” he said.

A determined Uday Kant, is however, hopeful that justice will be done some day.


Calcutta July 4: 
What’s in a name? Lots. Just ask Samar Ashraf Khan. Or is it Nazeem Mohammed Merchant?

For the first time at Calcutta airport, a 27-year-old man was arrested on Wednesday evening for trying to leave the country with a passport in which only his name was not his own. Samar Ashraf Khan was stopped from boarding a Thai International flight to Bangkok on Wednesday by immigration officials and arrested for travelling with his “own passport.’’

Deputy commissioner of police, security control, P.K. Chatterjee, said the only “difference’’ was that Khan had changed his name to Nazeem Mohammed Merchant in the passport to obtain a visa to travel to Thailand. “His contacts in Bangkok were getting ready to apply for a visa to the US,’’ a senior officer of the immigration department said.

This is the first time that such a racket has been detected. Touts are active in Mumbai, Calcutta, Singapore and Bangkok, Chatterjee said. Khan had been refused a US visa when he applied for it from his Mumbai residence.

Police said immigration officers at the airport checked Khan’s passport and saw that his photograph had not been changed. The cut marks and other distinctive features, too, remained intact. Even his Bandra address was correct. But police became suspicious because he fumbled when asked to name his parents. He kept fumbling through the grilling. Then, the police decided to arrest him.

Khan, a commerce graduate, got in touch with touts when he was refused a US visa. They advised him to change his name, but neither his address nor his snap, and apply for a fresh passport, police said. Khan paid Rs 25,000 to touts to obtain the passport and visa to Bangkok. He arrived in Calcutta on Monday and stayed with a friend in central Calcutta. The friend was to inform his contacts in Bangkok that Khan had boarded the flight.

Security control officers got in touch with the crime branch of Mumbai police to check on Khan’s antecedents and for information on the touts who had helped him get the passport.


Calcutta July 4: 
The Majumdars of Behala were “shattered” when all three wives of the house were detected with breast cancer. Now, after prolonged treatment, the three are better and have found a new mission in life — helping poor cancer patients, some of whom they met and bonded with, while undergoing radiotherapy. Rama Majumdar and her sisters-in-law are determined to do whatever they possibly can to support “at least some of the 20,000-plus cancer patients” flocking to various medical colleges of the city every year.

Rama, 50, a resident of Behala, clearly remembers the April day in 1997 when she first made her way to the radiology department of Medical College and Hospital with husband Ramesh, an assistant manager with the State Electricity Board (SEB).

“I was so scared, seeing so many patients waiting in the corridors, that I wanted to run away. But the doctors convinced me to undergo radiotherapy and explained how countless cancer patients were suffering due to lack of treatment,” recounts Rama.

The Majumdars were struggling to come to terms with Rama’s condition when they received a double blow – news that her two sisters-in-law were also suffering from breast cancer.

The regular visits to the hospital exposed them to the sufferings of cancer patients who just couldn’t afford the treatment. “There were people suffering from various types of cancers, some we had never heard of. Most could never afford the expensive medicines and had even stopped coming to the hospital,” Rama continued.

During a routine check-up, she approached the head of department (radiology) Medical College and Hospital, Dr S. Ganguly, with the proposal to “help poor patients with nominal donations”.

Rama and Ramesh first donated medicines worth Rs 8,000 to the hospital’s radiology department, followed by another consignment of medicines worth Rs 7,500, a few months later. The medicines were all distributed among poor cancer patients.

“I still remember the days when we used to cover our face with handkerchiefs, fearing an infection while passing by a cancer hospital. But today, such a hospital has become an integral part of our lives and the other patients our brethren,” says Ramesh.

As word spread about the initiative taken by Ramesh and Rama, people started reaching out to them. The family, for one, rallied round them. Rama’s sisters-in-law, co-sufferers of cancer, joined forces with the husband-wife crusaders and the movement gained momentum.

“We managed to raise Rs 30,000 and bought medicines for the poor patients at a subsidised rate,” says Ramesh.

Help came in the form of Chowringhee Blueprint pharmacy, which offered to supply medicines at subsidised rates.

The Majumdar family also began receiving phone calls from a number of cancer patients, who had heard about their mission. “We were all alone, wondering what we could do for thousands of people suffering from cancer. But with fellow cancer patients coming forward to help, we hope to raise more funds in the future and make a significant difference,” said Ramesh.

A few weeks ago, a local club, Barisha Kishore Sangha, stood up to be counted — it would organise a mega fund-raising show in Behala. “The response has been overwhelming so far. Flat-owners of a few multi-storeyed buildings in our locality have voiced their eagerness to help cancer patients who cannot afford the expensive treatment,” added Rama.

Doctors at the radiology department of the hospital are thrilled with the developments. “I hope this serves as an example and motivates all those who have the resources, but lack the will to help,” said Dr Ganguly.



Malaria count 30 in north Calcutta

At least 30 people have contracted malaria in north Calcutta over the past week. According to CMC sources, ward 15 has been the worst affected. With several pockets of the city being inundated, the mosquito population has gone up in the area, leading to the spread of the disease. The CMC, along with the state health department, has undertaken an anti-malaria drive.

Expansion plan for park

The Millennium Park will be extended by 300 metres on one side and 500 metres on the other. Expansion will also take place across the river, where an 800-metre park will be developed along Foreshore Road in Howrah. A floating restaurant will also be opened on the Calcutta side. A workshop will be held on riverfront improvement, with the London Riverfront Association, English Heritage and the CMDA among the participants. The decision was taken during urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya’s recent visit to the UK. The government also plans a similar riverfront park at Chandernagore, Bhattacharya added.

Youth run over

A lorry ran over a youth at the intersection of EM Bypass and Beleghata Road, in east Calcutta, on Wednesday night. Residents said the youth had got off a taxi and was on his way to a friend’s house in the neighbourhood when the accident occurred. Members of a local club witnessed the accident and took the youth to Nilratan Sirkar Hospital, police said. The injured youth did not regain consciousness and died later at night. The driver of the lorry fled with his vehicle.

Man kills self

Govinda Auddy, 40, a resident of Alipore Road, hanged himself in his residence on Thursday. Police said he had frequent quarrels with his wife.

Hit by bus

Sibaprasad Sau, 31, was hit by a private bus on route 12C on Dock East Road, in the port area on Thursday. Police said Sau was crossing the road when the accident occurred. He was taken to SSKM Hospital. The road was blocked for half an hour demanding the arrest of the driver. He was later arrested and the vehicle impounded. Sau has been declared out of danger.

Visa clarification

John Mitchiner, British deputy high commissioner to eastern India, clarified on Thursday that after meeting chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Wednesday, he told the media that the restrictions on British travellers, particularly those on a business trip to India, had been eased from June 26. The British government, Mitchiner stated, had not placed any restrictions on issuing visas to Indian nationals.

Criminal shot

Police shot Subhas Bala, a criminal, in an encounter at Aswinipalli, Baguiati, on Thursday evening. Bala was wanted in a dozen cases of murder, dacoity and extortion. A team raided a house at Digantika Ghat in Salt Lake where Bala had come to meet associates, additional superintendent of police Rahul Srivastava said. Three policemen were injured when the criminals hurled bombs. Bala escaped towards VIP Road. The Baguiati and Rajarhat police combed the area in search of Bala. He was spotted near Aswinipalli where the shoot-out took place.

Knocked down

A 40-year-old man was knocked down by a car on Thursday. Bulan Dasgupta was walking along Pratapaditya Road when the driver of the car lost control of the vehicle and hit him, police said. Locals blocked the road for an hour to protest the rise in accidents in the area. The driver was arrested and the vehicle towed to the Tollygunge police station. Dasgupta was taken to SSKM Hospital, where his condition was stated to be stable.

Suicide threat

A drama unfolded late on Wednesday in Ramesh Banerjee Lane, in Kanchrapara, North 24-Parganas, after a mentally-challenged youth climbed a banyan tree and threatened to jump off. Fire brigade personnel had to be called early on Thursday to persuade the youth to climb down.

HS counselling

The Society for Nature, Education and Health will conduct a free counselling programme for Higher Secondary students over the weekend at the NIIT Bandel Centre at Siba Plaza on GT Road.    

Calcutta July 4: 
Faced with a funds crunch, the home department has frozen the recruitment of constables “till further notice”.

Officials say nearly 4,000 vacancies exist in different sections of the police department, resulting in a major resource crisis. “The government has informed the police that it will not be able to allot funds to fill up the vacancies. They have been asked to make do with the available staff for the time,’’ said a joint secretary of the home department on Thursday.

Sources in the police directorate said the only way to mobilise the situation is by withdrawing constables from “less important zones” and deploying them elsewhere.

“With a red alert sounded in the city in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the American Center and other incidents of violence, the waste of manpower for non-productive camps, such as canteen and gardening, is hardly justified,’’ said an inspector-general of police at Writers’ Buildings.

On Wednesday, director-general of police D.C. Vajpai held a meeting with senior officers to announce the government’s decision. Confirming the freeze on recruitment, additional director-general, armed police, R.K. Mohanty said officers have been asked to review the deployment of force in and around the city.

“Officers are profiling the list of internal commitments. There are several areas where extra policemen have been posted. Such postings are being looked into,’’ Mohanty said.

Presently, the force comprises 80,000 personnel between the city and state police. Senior officers, citing statistics, said around 25,000 men have been posted for “unimportant” work like canteen-manning, gardening, sweeping and cleaning duties.

Sources said another 15,000 have been deployed at “camps in non-productive sectors and guarding senior officers.’’ According to officials, on an average, 5,000 policemen in the city and the state report “sick” daily.

According to the department manual, the district superintendent of police, in consultation with the Intelligence Branch officials, decides on areas to be manned by policemen.

Citing examples, officials said temporary police camps had been set up in Kasba, Tiljala and Jadavpur after residents complained of a spurt in criminal activities. But even a year later, policemen at these camps have little to do.

“When the security environment is thick with tension, the posting of every man matters,’’ said a senior officer. “We have decided to withdraw policemen from non-active camps and post them at the headquarters,’’ he added.

Mohanty, who has been entrusted by the home department to review the deployment of the force, refused to elaborate on how many camps will be closed down or the number of policemen to be withdrawn from different sectors.

“We are working it out. It can be anywhere between 15,000 and 20,000 from areas all over the state,’’ he said.


Calcutta July 4: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee is at it again. Just back from Japan, he is raring to replicate the model of optic fibre cable running through underground brick sewer tunnels. The aim: to channelise funds generated by letting out these IT tunnels into maintaining the city’s sewer lines.

“The brick sewer network of Tokyo was more than a century-old like Calcutta’s when they started utilising it as underground resource. They have already laid about 643 km of optic fibre through the sewerage pipes,” Mukherjee pointed out.

He said the advantage of the underground network would be two-fold — IT companies will avail of the CMC’s existing network of 180 km of brick sewer and about 1,200 km of pipe sewer lines without digging up roads; and the Corporation will utilise the funds generated for maintaining the silted sewer system.

Mukherjee has directed member, mayor-in-council (drainage and sewerage) Rajib Deb to draw up a plan of letting out such tunnels to IT firms.

“It is a cost-effective proposal,” said civic chief engineer (drainage and sewerage) Dilip Sanyal. According to him, thoroughfares like Park Street, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, AJC Bose Road, APC Road and Rashbehari Avenue are covered by the brick sewer network. The manholes at an interval of every 50 metres offer easy access to the underground cable network.


Calcutta July 4: 
Engineers in the state irrigation department and the drainage and sewerage department of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) expressed concern over the closed lockgate in Topsia on Thursday. According to the engineers, in case of a shower, several areas in south Calcutta, including Ballygunge, would be inundated.

Irrigation minister Ganesh Mondol and member, mayor-in-council, drainage and sewerage, Rajib Deb, are slated to conduct a joint inspection in the Tiljala- Topsia area on Friday. They will visit Palmer Bazar and Topsia pumping station to inspect the low-lying areas which are flooded by the outflow channels. Local councillors Javed Ahmed Khan and Snehangshu Roy will accompany them.

“As an immediate relief to the people living in the area, we have decided to submit a proposal to the irrigation department for digging a 70-foot channel, connecting the storm water channel and the town head-cut canal, near Ambedkar bridge,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Thursday.

Deb assured that if the project got the go-ahead, work would take only a week to be completed.

Following a discussion with Deb on Thursday, Khan had agreed to open the lockgate half-way to allow the stagnant water in south Calcutta to drain out during a shower.

Deb also requested the irrigation authorities to depute a man at the lockgate so that he could control the operations in case of an emergency.

Deb said irregular dredging of the storm water channel between Ballygunge and Kultigong has been primarily responsible for the flooding at Topsia.

Silt was scooped out downstream from Bantala bazar to Karaidanga and some portions in the upstream, resulting in the emergence of an island midstream, higher by about 8 feet than other parts of the channel-bed, Deb pointed out.

“We are yet to receive any information on the 70-foot channel project, near the Ambedkar bridge,” said chief engineer, irrigation, Biswatosh Sarkar, also in-charge of the city drainage management.

He pointed out that the irrigation department had been conducting desilting operations for the outflow channels. This would take another two to three years to complete. The operation has been suspended after monsoon set in. “I hope the situation is better this season,” said Sarkar.

Meanwhile, four more people suffering from diarrhoea, had been taken to National Medical College and Hospital on Thursday.

The Corporation’s health unit distributed halogen tablets and metrogyl to the people in Topsia. Residents have also been advised to drink boiled water.


Calcutta July 4: 
Mongoli, 12, works with her mother, younger sister and brother, selling bhutta all day, to eke out a living. Her father is an alcoholic, and usually even before they are able to buy a meal with their meagre earnings, he blows the money on the bottle.

Saraswati, 13, too, has to earn her own living. “My father is dead and my brothers are useless. My mother works far away. She leaves early every morning and comes back at night. Both of us work as domestics,” she explains matter-of-factly.

The vocational classes organised by The Rotary Club of Calcutta Chowringhee is all about giving these destitute girls in Tangra a way out of the endless drudgery. Started in 2000, the Apnalay project teaches the girls stitching, embroidery and jute work, with occasional workshops on subjects suggested by them — a beauticians’ course or a talk on health and hygiene. Topping their wishlist now is English and computer classes, so they “can get decent jobs”.

“Despite their daily misery, these girls have such a zest for life. They are so eager to learn and pick things up so fast,” says Sangeeta Sood of the Rotary Club involved with the Apnalay project.

Rinku, 12, has never been to school, though it is her dream. “My parents would send me if we had the money, but the people for whom I work get very angry if I say I want to stop working,” she says.

Pinky, 14, used to go to school, but poverty and family obligations forced her to drop out. “I want to learn, just like everybody else, but I have to work to support my family. Some day, if I get educated, I will be able to do something better,” she murmurs.

The products these girls stitch together are often sold at exhibitions and fundraisers organised by the club. Some of the girls are already employed. “I have a boutique, where I employ some of the girls. Sometimes they are paid by the hour, sometimes by the volume of work. The respectability of the job gives them a sense of dignity,” explains Sood.

“Last December, we supplied the Christmas party gifts to Kenilworth Hotel. Such bulk orders help. We have 40 girls at the moment, but we plan to expand,” she adds.

Sisters Barna, 20, and Aparna, 19, stand out among the lot. Both draw their motivation from the dream of an independent life and a better future.

“With my first pay, I bought myself a salwar suit for the Pujas. It was a great feeling,” Barna smiles. She hopes to work in a beauty parlour.

Says Neeta Sethia, a psychologist involved with the project: “These girls were so reticent in the beginning. The three hours they spend here is their happy time and they have become noticeably more confident.”


Calcutta July 4: 
If everything goes as planned, policemen in Calcutta could very well be taking wrestling classes from professionals. The proposed programme, still under consideration, is part of a drive to improve the physique of the average cop.

According to Kiriti Sen Gupta, additional commissioner of police, wrestling would help policemen build their physique as well as make them proficient in hand-to-hand combat. “We have held talks with a wrestling organisation and classes will start soon,” said Sinha. Initially, the training would involve the constables.

According to sources, the idea was conceived when the police top brass was exploring ways of toning up its officers’ physique. There have been repeated instances in the recent past when policemen have put up a poor show because of their lack of fitness.

“With terrorist presence established in the city, we cannot afford to be complacent,” said a police official.


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