Writers’ block for mayor
Malaria claims season’s first victim
Ragpicker ruse in trader killing
Multiplex scripted on Metro site
The City Diary
Upper House lifeline for arts centre
Train of glory pulls out of Fairlie Place
Sit-in shadow on campus
Farewell to old firepower
City off KLM flight path

Calcutta, July 7: 
First Citizen beware, big brother is watching. In a move fraught with political implications, the Left Front government is set to acquire powers to rein in the mayor of Calcutta and all elected members of civic bodies across Bengal.

Municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya said on Sunday that the government would shortly amend key municipal Acts to assume powers to investigate charges of corruption levelled against all elected councillors making up the “city government’’. This includes the mayors of Calcutta, Howrah, Asansol and Chandernagore.

Two Bills will be moved in the current Assembly session for amending the Calcutta Municipal Corporation Act, 1980, and the West Bengal Municipality Act, 1993. This will allow the government to probe corruption cases against Calcutta and five other municipal corporations, besides 124 municipalities, Bhattacharya said.

The Trinamul Congress, the Opposition party with control over the largest number of civic bodies, including the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), fears that these amendments will be used as “political weapons”.

Once the Bills are passed, the government will enjoy sweeping powers to dismiss a mayor, a member of the mayoral council or a councillor in the municipal corporations, the chairman or any member of his council and municipal commissioners found guilty of corruption and misappropriation of funds.

The government will also be empowered to impose a ban on any elected member of any municipal corporation or municipality and force him/her to sit out future elections.

Bhattacharya said the government did not have “any right to take any direct action against civic representatives” even if they were found guilty.

“The state government spends Rs 1,330 crore every year on the corporations and municipalities and it cannot remain a mere onlooker any more,” announced the minister.

The other amendment, feel officials, is not so “politically loaded”. It brings employees of every municipal corporation and municipality under the scope of investigation by the CMC’s vigilance wing.

The main objective, Bhattacharya said, was to bring “more transparency” to the functioning of civic bodies and “put development interests before those of the pocket”.

In another major change on the anvil, the municipal affairs department is moving towards a reversal to the earlier system of having standing committees to help the chairman or mayor of a civic body run the day-to-day affairs, instead of a mayoral council.

Bhattacharya said this amendment, too, will be placed before the Assembly this session. But this change is likely to start from the 124 municipalities, with the chairman-in-council system facing the axe.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has welcomed this aspect of the reform package. “The government should start with the corporations first,” said the Trinamul Congress leader.

“The members in my council are just janjal (rubbish)… They think they are ‘mini-ministers’ and are more concerned about power, status, nameplates on their doors and red lights on their cars,” the mayor added.


Calcutta, July 7: 
For Nabendu Sarkar, 32, July was to be “the most important month” of his life. The architectural engineer from Jadavpur University was getting married on July 24, before going abroad for higher studies. But all that was not to be. On July 1, Doctor’s Day, Nabendu died of malignant malaria.

In “the first reported case of malignant malaria death” this season, Nabendu succumbed to the disease following “wrong diagnosis” by a physician and a polyclinic. On June 25, Nabendu returned to his Garia home early from office — a consultancy firm he had set up with three friends.

“Joy (Nabendu) said he was not feeling well. He was running a slight temperature. The next day, he said he had some urgent work in office and left,” recounted father Nagendranath Sarkar.

That day, the 1995 passout from Jadavpur University returned from office complaining of weakness and fever. “I consulted a doctor, who advised Joy to undergo tests for jaundice and malaria,” said mother Maya.

On Wednesday, the only son of Nagendranath and Maya went to a Bagha Jatin polyclinic for his malaria test. No trace of malarial parasite was found. “We consulted the doctor, who said it was just a viral fever and put him on some paracetamol and antibiotics,” said Maya.

Nabendu’s condition worsened within 48 hours and he started vomiting. “The doctor gave him some anti-vomiting medicines. But it just would not stop,” added Maya.

The doctor finally advised Nabendu to go in for another blood test for jaundice and malaria. The next evening, the pathological test results showed Nabendu suffering from jaundice, but no trace of malaria was found. So, the doctor started treating him for jaundice.

Nabendu’s condition deteriorated steadily. He told his doctor that he had acute pain in his back, shoulders and stomach and was passing black stools. “You are suffering from jaundice and these are the usual problems associated with it. But you can go in for another test as you are still running fever,” the doctor opined.

On Sunday morning, a representative from the pathological laboratory collected another blood sample from the Sarkar residence, but said the report would not be delivered before Monday. The next morning, July 1, Nabendu was not responding to his parents’ calls. He was rushed to a city hospital, where doctors diagnosed malignant malaria, not jaundice. It was too late. Around 5 pm, he died.

“Joy will never come back to us, but there are so many unanswered questions. Doctors at the hospital said the pathological laboratory and the doctor treating him were to blame. We don’t know what to do,” said Maya.


Calcutta, July 7: 
Killers in the guise of ragpickers gunned down a businessman in the crowded Sunday morning Kudghat market, sending shockwaves through the south Calcutta locality.

Around 10 am, Biswajit Mondol was making his way through Kudghat bazaar to meet a friend. The 42-year-old building materials supplier paid no attention to the two young ragpickers closing in on him, till they pushed him into a corner, whipped out revolvers and shot him in the chest and stomach from point-blank range.

Before the Sunday morning market crowd could react, the two ‘ragpickers’, in their 20s, dropped the sacks they were carrying and fled. Mondol, a resident of Kudghat, was rushed to M.R. Bangur Hospital, where he was declared “brought dead”.

As news of Mondol’s murder spread, shop-owners at Kudghat market downed shutters and some local residents set up roadblocks at several intersections to stall traffic and protest police inaction. The local market remained shut, but the road blockades were soon withdrawn.

“There is no sense of security among the business community in Kudghat. The law-and-order situation has never been so bad before,” shouted several shopkeepers, as a police team made its way into the market to restore order.

Deputy superintendent of police (town) Subhankar Chatterjee, who arrived on the spot and monitored preliminary investigations, admitted that two rival gangs were ‘controlling Kudghat’. “Mondol might have managed to strike some sort of a deal with one set, antagonising the other,” said Chatterjee.

Police combed the area, but failed to track down any of the assailants. “We have some leads about the gang which might have been behind the murder. We have never heard of ragpickers being hired to pull the trigger. The two youths must have been contract killers in disguise,” said a police officer of Regent Park thana.

Chandan Mondol, brother of Biswajit, appeared clueless about the motive of the murder. “We were just trying to earn a living… We did not have any enemies and I don’t know why anyone would want to kill my brother,” said Chandan.

This was the second such incident in the Kudghat market area over the past four months. Earlier this year, Babua Dutta, a local promoter, was gunned down by unidentified persons. The police are yet to carry out any arrests in the case.


Calcutta, July 7: 
A slice of Leicester Square or Covent Garden in the heart of Esplanade. Utopia? Maybe not. A “dream” multiplex model drawn up by Metro cinema promises to offer a whole new experience for cine-lovers. And it could even trigger a “holistic rejuvenation” of the Metro Channel, now in an advanced stage of urban decay.

The facelift formula drawn up by the management of the vintage cinema established by the Metro Goldwyn-Mayer stable in 1935, is being given shape by architect Dulal Mukherjee.

“We don’t want Metro to remain just a movie theatre. It will become a complete entertainment destination, offering something to everyone from eight to 80. We could even alter our sales pitch saying ‘we also screen movies’. We could have done it in our Mumbai Metro, but we owe this to Calcuttans,” says Hemendra Dave,CEO of Metro Theatre Calcutta Limited.

At the core of the diversification scheme will be a triple-screen multiplex, the largest seating 700 and two others accommodating around 400 and 350. “One of the smaller halls will have a deeper stage so that it can double as an experimental theatre hall,” says manager Sanjeev Khandelwal.

The theatres will have push-back luxury chairs, xenon-lamp projectors “for the ultimate light effect”, digital theatre sound with five amplifiers of 1,310 watts each, central air-conditioning, tele-booking and online credit-card booking. Plus, a games arcade, soda fountain, multi-cuisine food court, coffee bar, a books, music and gifts store, a film archive of old classics from big studios like MGM, Warner, Columbia-Tristar... Even a children’s corner, where kids can “be themselves” while the parents enjoy a movie.

But round the corner, at Lighthouse, the mood is quite the opposite. The cinema that had shut down to reinvent itself, has shelved its multiplex plan. “Despite the recent government push, cinema business in Calcutta is on a slide. So, while we’re planning an ice-skating rink, a multi-games arcade and restaurants, the theatre will remain single screen,” said John Mantosh, owner of Lighthouse and New Empire.

Twenty-nine-year-old Dave, however, is confident of a turnaround once the Corporation clears the project and the Metro multiplex is in place.

“We hope to make Metro the most happening place in town… Metro was the first cinema to bring magnetic four-track sound to the city with Ben Hur and we are again first off the blocks with a digital eight-channel sound track,” says Dave.

Dulal Mukherjee plans to sink in a twin-level car park for “around 40 cars” beneath the refurbished and “slightly raised” theatre complex. “It will be a conservation-cum-reuse project,” explains the architect, who wants to retain the entire façade of the “art nouveau” building, typical of the early 20th Century, “post-cubism style”.

Keen to look at the Metro multiplex project as part of a holistic urban renewal scheme for the entire zone, Mukherjee wants to link the marquee in front of the theatre to the Metropolitan Building through “a structured sidewalk”. The possibilities of including the now-shut Café de Monico in the larger picture, are also being explored. The aim: “to recreate the lost charm of Esplanade and give it the character of a truly international city square it was meant to be”.



Child’s death sparks mob fury

Mohammad Yusuf, 7, died of severe anaemia at a city hospital on Sunday. He was an inmate of an orphanage off Mohammad Ali Park. Yusuf was taken to Calcutta Medical College early on Sunday, where doctors detected that he was suffering from anaemia. He did not respond to medicines and died in the evening. Later, a mob ransacked the orphanage.

Yoga for prisoners

A four-week yoga programme will be launched at Presidency jail to help women prisoners cope with stress. Additional inspector-general of prisons, Dilip Chowdhury, said on Sunday that Satyam Seva Kendra, a city-based NGO, will start an “intensive yoga”course for women prisoners, including life convicts and undertrials, from Tuesday.

Shot dead

Bijoy Singh, a middle-aged man involved in several cases of snatching, was shot dead at Behala on Sunday by a rival gang. No arrest has been made.

Goons untraced

Nearly 24 hours after eve-teasers slashed a hawker with a knife for protesting against the harassment of a girl at Agarpara railway station, the police are yet to round up the criminals. The hawker has identified the youths to the police after his condition improved. Police have also interrogated the girl who was harassed on Saturday morning.


A seminar on ‘Academic trend, financial management and resource mobilisation in colleges’ concluded at Surendranath College on Saturday. Higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty spoke at the seminar, organised by Surendranath College in association with All Bengal Principals’ Council.

CA conference

Over 800 students and professionals from all over the country attended a conference organised by Eastern India Regional Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India on Saturday. The discussions revolved around legal, accounting, economic and social issues.    

Calcutta, July 7: 
The Academy of Fine Arts is in a shambles. Originally founded by Maharaja Pradyot Kumar Tagore in 1933, the academy, spread over 1.25 acre on Cathedral Road, needs to be urgently revamped. But financial crunch has stood in the way.

At this juncture, the authorities have approached all 16 Rajya Sabha MPs from West Bengal for financial help as the last resort.

Director Colonel (Retd) A.K. Das said on Sunday that the appeal to the Rajya Sabha members for funds was “one of our last-ditch efforts... We approached nearly 30 business houses in Calcutta, Mumbai and Delhi over the months, seeking funds, but no feedback came from them. At last, we have thought it wise to approach the MPs who can release funds from their respective quotas for development work in the state,” he added.

At least three of the 16 Rajya Sabha members have already promised to provide funds for restoration work. They get Rs 2 crore each for development projects across West Bengal.

The academy, of which Lady Ranu Mookerjee was president and chairperson till 1997, has Russi Mody at the helm of affairs these days. But with no financial assistance either from the state government or from the Centre, the academy finds it difficult to make both ends meet. The academy earns a meagre Rs 43 lakh a year by letting out its galleries, auditorium and theatre hall.

“We cannot even carry out regular maintenance work due to a paucity of funds. So, funds from outside are required for the upkeep of the academy,” said Das. Reports on a Rs 2.5-crore project had been sent to the remaining 13 Rajya Sabha members. “The response from three of them is encouraging. We are hopeful of getting a similar response from all 16 of them. We have, for the first time, undertaken a massive programme to upgrade the academy into an institute of international standards,” he observed.

Das said the academy holds nearly 180 art exhibitions a year, which fetch approximately Rs 5 lakh. This apart, the academy rents out the gallery to Tantuja for exhibiting saris.

Officers admitted that the academy had not been whitewashed for over a decade. Its five art galleries and the ground floor art museum, housing 2,700 precious exhibits, including 37 paintings by Rabindranath, have never been upgraded. Besides, paintings by other masters such as Jamini Roy, Atul Bose, Nandalal Bose and two of Tagore’s nephews are also stored there.

According to them, of the five galleries used regularly for holding visual arts exhibitions, at least two have to be upgraded to international standards, with provisions for air-conditioning, proper humidity control and illumination. The museum, too, has to be totally renovated on similar lines. “Until the museum is thoroughly re-done, it is impossible to preserve rare art objects,” they said.

Jayanta Bhattacharya, Trinamul Congress member of the Rajya Sabha, confirmed that the MPs, unlike members of the Lok Sabha, could allot funds from their quotas to any development work being carried out across the state. “Unlike a Lok Sabha member, a Rajya Sabha member is entitled to allot funds for restoration of school and college buildings and even cultural institutes anywhere in the state he hails from. I am ready to provide funds if a high-profile project is undertaken for restoration of the academy,” he said.


Calcutta, July 7: 
With the Central government refusing to let the Bengal bogey derail its bid to divide the Eastern Railway, Fairlie Place is set to lose its pride of place.

“Not only will the workforce in Calcutta be slashed, Fairlie Place will lose its reputation as the headquarters of one of the best railway zones of the country,” said a senior official.

Around 121 of the 282 officers and 3,421 of the 7,954 staff members at the landmark Dalhousie Square building head for Hajipur, headquarters of the new East Central Railway by October 1. East Central Railway general manager-designate S.C. Gupta left Calcutta on Saturday.

Senior railway officials posted at Fairlie Place admitted being “upset” about the “sudden move to divide Eastern Railway”. Losing the coalfields of Bihar, Jharkhand and Bengal will hit the Calcutta office hard. “The Dhanbad division alone accounts for coal freight movement of over 50 million tonnes a year,” one of them pointed out. And it was all controlled from Fairlie Place.

Eastern Railway’s freight revenue is no less than Rs 3,831 crore of its total revenue of Rs 4,800 crore. Eastern Railway’s coal belt will remain restricted to the Asansol division, where about 22 million tonnes of coal is moved to the thermal power plants in south Bengal every year. With the stretch from Howrah to Mughalsarai gone, Fairlie Place and the other offices in Calcutta will be overshadowed by their counterparts in the neighbouring states. “Most of the new projects are located in Bihar and Jharkhand,” admitted officials.

Another blow to Fairlie Place is the loss of status as controller of stores, catering to the entire logistics of the 4,245-km route. “Almost every item, from stationery to equipment, is procured in Calcutta and despatched to the Eastern Railway divisions. These purchases will be cut by half,” said officials.

With about 1,800 km going to East Central Railway, Fairlie Place will lose control of what is called “the grand chord”, reserved for fast passenger trains like the Rajdhani Express. “From Dhanbad to Mughalsarai, the Eastern Railway had built up probably the best tracks and the best signalling system on which the best of locomotives run. And it was all controlled from Calcutta,” said a senior official.

Fairlie Place, in its new, diminished avatar, will be left with the four divisions of Howrah, Sealdah, Malda and Asansol. It will also lose operational control over the Rajdhanis and Satabdis, once they cross the Bengal border.

“We used to see these premier trains through till Mughalsarai,” rued Eastern Railway officials.


Calcutta, July 7: 
Teachers of Women’s College, in Bagbazar, will hold a sit-in for three days on the campus from Tuesday to protest the authorities’ “arbitrary decision in deducting salaries of 16 colleagues”.

They alleged on Sunday that principal Shanta Dasgupta had deducted 12 days’ salary from the 16 teachers and informed them that their pay had been cut because of their unauthorised absence. The college has 24 teachers, including lecturers and professors.

The teachers claim they would get a day’s leave every week for academic pursuits. Recently, the principal did away with the system and forced them to attend classes every day.

“Dasgupta has recently introduced a certificate course on law and is forcing us to come every day. Not only that, she is allotting duties to teachers that are not included in their service conditions. She asks us to arrange the chairs and tables in a classroom. That is not a part of our duties,” the teachers alleged.

“We had taken our weekly study leave, as per the recent code introduced by the state government. The principal is, however, not ready to go by the government decision and has cut our salaries on her own whims,” complained a teacher.

The newly-appointed teachers in the college had refused to draw their salaries in protest against the principal’s decision to cut the pay of senior teachers. But the principal had threatened the new recruits with dire consequences. “She warned us that she would not confirm our posts if we sided with the senior teachers,” the freshers complained.

“The principal also stalled the promotion of five teachers for no reason at all. She is not sanctioning some retired teachers their retirement benefits. We have met the pro vice-chancellor (academic affairs) of Calcutta University, to which the college is affiliated, and informed him of our grievances,” the teachers said on Sunday.

The aggrieved teachers also met leaders of the West Bengal College University Teachers’ Association (WBCUTA) and apprised it of their principal’s “anti-teacher stand”. WBCUTA secretary Anil Bhattacharjee said on Sunday that he was aware of the developments in the college and had instructed the association’s north Calcutta unit to take up the matter with the principal, governing body members of the college and the Calcutta University authorities.

“We are concerned about the development in Women’s College. Discussions are underway at various levels to resolve the crisis,” he added.

Aggrieved college teachers, however, are determined to go ahead with the proposed three-day sit-in from Tuesday.

They intend to pressure the principal to withdraw her decision of a pay cut, clear the promotion of five teachers and run the college as per the university rules and regulations and in consultation with the college’s governing body. “We will be forced to adopt a more intensive movement in the days ahead if the principal refuses to accept our demands,” warned the teachers.


Calcutta, July 7: 
Fifty years after its debut as a regulation gun for the police in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal, the ubiquitous musket, hit by a spares shortage and obsolescence, is set to make its way out. Muskets are still used by constables in police stations for law and order and anti-crime duties.

Home department officials said on Sunday the government had decided to phase out the musket and equip the city and state police with advanced firepower, so they could take on criminals and terrorists who arm themselves with sophisticated weapons.

Additional director-general of armed police, Ranjit Mohanty, said the state police had already phased out the muskets this month and replaced it with self-loading rifles. “We are not issuing muskets any longer to the constables,’’ he said, adding that Ordnance Factory has stopped making the weapon and its spares.

Police sources said the knobs and bolts of the muskets have worn out and snags have developed in the firing system, but spares are not available in the market. Two dozen muskets misfired and malfunctioned during training at the Barrackpore shooting range last week, they added. The duty officer at the training centre has submitted a report to the commissioner of police on the malfunctioning.

The incident prompted the home department to issue directives to the city police to “initiate the process of replacing the muskets.’’ According to senior police officers, the musket was a popular weapon in pre-Independence India. The British police used muskets for law and order duties in Calcutta.

After Independence, the musket became the primary weapon of the city and state police.

Additional commissioner of police Kiriti Sengupta recalled his training days at the police academy with the musket. He said the musket can fire only a single round at a time. The rifle has to be reloaded and the latch tightened before the next round is fired. “The weapon’s range is about 1,000 yards,’’ Sengupta said.

Police sources said muskets gave way to .303 rifles in the 50s and 60s. “However, we carried on with the musket, as it proved effective in law and order duties,’’ Mohanty said.

But with the changing security scenario, police officers contended that their men stood no chance with the ordinary muskets.

The sources said the government was initially in a dilemma over what to do with the 50,000 muskets in the police armoury.

“It is not possible to stop using the musket overnight. So, we decided on Saturday to phase it out slowly in the police stations and keep it for ceremonial occasions only,’’ Sengupta said.

“We have enough sophisticated weapons and hence, instructions were issued to the armoury to stop issuing muskets to the constables,’’ Mohanty said.


Calcutta, July 7: 
With the departure of its last flight on July 10, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines will be moving out of Calcutta for the second time.

The airline, like other foreign airlines, shifted out of Calcutta in the wake of political violence in the early 70s. It returned in 1992. “We will be operating our last flight from Calcutta on July 10,” said a KLM official.

KLM’s withdrawal will leave only one direct flight to Europe by British Airways (BA). BA operates three weekly flights between London and Calcutta.

Director of the city airport Roshan Lal said KLM had conveyed to him its decision to move out of the city. “They informed me that they will wind up flight operations from Calcutta.”

The airline will, however, still have an office in the city for ticket sales, a KLM official said.

The departure of KLM leaves seven airlines operating international flights from the city. A spokesman of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) said KLM operated a weekly flight on the Amsterdam-Delhi-Calcutta route. Travel agency sources said the flight was very popular, despite the odd time of its arrival and departure.

On its reasons for moving out, a KLM spokesman said: “We are getting a good number of passengers in Delhi. So there is no point in coming all the way to Calcutta and paying heavy landing charges.”

But aviation sources said the reason was a Central order not allowing KLM to operate on the Amsterdam-Calcutta-Jakarta route, at the instance of Air-India.


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