Hike in taxi, bus and tram fares
Babudom on busy street
Slash seal on school DA
Kick off with Korea in Calcutta
Fire-risk tag on highrise
The City Diary
Trading charges over dues deadlock
Policy push for better billboards
Gabbar kin held at Posta for death threat to traders
Calcutta Parsees go online

Calcutta, July 8: 
Commuting in Calcutta will be costlier from August 1. Hailing a cab will cost a minimum of Rs 14, as opposed to Rs 12 now; bus tickets will cost around 20 per cent more; first-class tram fares for the first stage will go up from Rs 1.75 to Rs 2.50…

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty announced the revised fare structures of buses, minibuses, trams, long-distance buses and taxis in the Assembly on Monday. The Opposition staged a walkout almost immediately, protesting the “irrational hike,” and boycotted the remainder of Question Hour.

Transport associations, too, are “not satisfied” with the hike, but for different reasons. The taxi associations say the hike for the additional 200 metres (Rs 1.30 from Rs 1.20) is not good enough. Bus operators are unhappy with Rs 2 as the fare for the first 2 km. They will decide on their course of action on Tuesday.

Even though the minimum bus fare has come down by 50 paise to Rs 2 for the first two kms, most bus passengers travel between two and six km and will have to pay Rs 3, which is a hike of about 20 per cent.

According to Chakraborty, the hike had “become inevitable” after the recent increase in the prices of high-speed diesel and motor spirit. “With market forces regulating the prices of fuel and lubricants, we will have to find a standard practice for restructuring fares,” he added.

With this in view, a “scientific mechanism will have to be evolved after consulting all concerned”, so that transparency and improvement in public transport services can be maintained, said the minister.

The aim: to arrive at a “long-standing, commonly acceptable formula” for the future increase in fares, “hopefully before the Pujas”.

Special buses operated by the CSTC and the CTC, as well as the “midi buses” run by the WBSTC, will charge a minimum fare of Rs 3, with an increase of 50 paise for every subsequent stage.

This amounts to a hike of about nine per cent over existing fares. The fare hike on long-distance buses, both inter and intra-state, ranges between eight and nine per cent.

Chakraborty said taking into account all modes of transport, the “overall increase”, on an average, was about 15 per cent. “Of this, six per cent will go towards the increase in costs of fuel and lubricants, while the remaining nine per cent will account for the rounding-off of fares. The additional revenue will meet administrative costs and help improve services,” he concluded.


Calcutta, July 8: 
Megastores, eateries, foreign banks, consulates and now, a seat of governance. With 4, Camac Street set to throw open its doors to Writer’s Buildings babus and a few hundred government employees later this year, the police are already baulking at the added traffic-security pressure this creates on the throbbing thoroughfare.

The third major government office, after New Secretariat and the Salt Lake complex, will be occupied by the agriculture, agriculture marketing and architecture wings of the public works department (PWD). The nine-storey secretariat is opposite the popular 22, Camac Street, which houses retail giants Pantaloons and Westside and restaurants Grain of Salt and Pizza Hut.

Can Camac Street bear the strain? Not really, warn the police, which view the move to shift the government departments here as “unscientific”. “With so much happening on Camac Street and the construction of the AJC Bose Road flyover in progress, the human and vehicular traffic is already difficult to manage. The secretariat will add to the congestion,’’ said a senior police officer.

But it’s the congestion at Writers’ Buildings that the government is worried about. Planned and designed by the PWD and constructed by Mackintosh Burn, the Camac Street building, with office space of about 32,000 sq ft, was completed this January at a cost of Rs 14 crore. “It was constructed to ease the pressure on Writers’. In fact, we need more space to shift some other offices,” said Amar Chowdhury, PWD minister.

The Camac Street area is now one of the busiest in Calcutta, with more than 100,000 people visiting the shopping plazas and eateries on weekdays, according to police estimates. Around 1,000 commuters, including shoppers, office-goers and residents are on Camac Street every minute, at any given point of time during peak hours. The number of cars hitting the street every minute in rush hour is 120, which will go up to 140 once the government building is occupied, say the police. Four mobile police vehicles will have to patrol Camac Street.

“The pavement is congested with eateries and people hopping from one market to another,’’ said deputy commissioner of police, M.K. Singh. “We are currently reviewing the traffic engineering in the area. We may have to shift the fee-parking zone and alter some one-way regulations,’’ he added.

Compounding matters for the cops is the presence of two ‘high-security buildings’ round the corner — the US Consulate and the British Deputy High Commission on Ho Chi Minh Sarani. The British Council Library has recently moved to Camac Street.

According to Writers’ sources, the ministers whose departments are to be shifted are lobbying hard to stay put in the “ultimate seat of power”.

But 4, Camac Street is busy getting ready to host them. The star attractions are two auditoriums — one with a capacity of 240 and the other 125 — with state-of-the-art equipment and a four-language interpretation system. “We may hire them out for seminars and conferences for additional revenue,” said S.R. Banerjee, technical adviser to the PWD minister.


Calcutta, July 8: 
A steep hike in tuition fees appeared imminent on Monday in nearly 70 Anglo-Indian schools, most of them located in the city.

Kanti Biswas, school education minister, said in the state Assembly his government is determined to drastically slash dearness allowance (DA) for employees of such institutions.

Replying to a question raised by Gillian Rosemary D’Costa Hart, MLA representing the Anglo-Indian community, Biswas said the government would pay dearness allowance to the teaching and non-teaching employees of Anglo-Indian schools at the rate of 41 per cent of their basic salaries, which is at par with the amount paid to the staff of government- funded schools.

While making it clear that the government would not grant dearness allowance to the Anglo-Indian schools at the existing rate of 132 per cent of the basic salaries of the employees, Biswas, in his statement, indicated that the government might consider allowing a year’s time to the schools for finding out a solution to the funds shortage expected to arise out of the DA curtailment.

After receiving the government circular on the DA cut, the heads of the Association of Anglo-Indian Schools had recently appealed to the government not to implement its decision for the next two years.

Biswas said his government was determined to curtail DA, as it has been found that most Anglo-Indian schools charged high tuition fees but paid extremely low basic salaries to their employees.

Hart, who is also principal of Welland Gouldsmith School, denied the charge. “The state government itself had framed a formula for Anglo-Indian schools for fixing the salary structure of their teachers and employees. We have been preparing the bills for the DA on the basis of the formula prescribed by the government. Now that the government has decided to slash the DA, we should be given some time to find out a solution,” said Hart.

“Ultimately, the parents of our students are going to suffer if we are forced to hike tuition fees abruptly,” she said.

Principals of other schools, too, expressed concern, as they said most students of Anglo-Indian schools come from middle-class families and the extra burden following the DA cut will have to be borne by them.

Meanwhile, many Anglo-Indian schools have written to guardians last week to inform them about a rise in tuition fees if the government refused to accept the demands of the heads’ association.

Ismail Nehal, president, Association of Teachers of Anglo-Indian Schools, too, expressed concern over Monday’s development in the Assembly.


Calcutta, July 8: 
The afterglow of South Korea’s World Cup success could bathe soccer-crazy Calcutta as well. Korean linguist and Tagore scholar Byung Hee Kwon, who, along with wife Sung, has already built the first significant bridge between Calcutta and Seoul through the Korean Culture & Language Center, is keen to follow it through to the football field.

After crying himself hoarse cheering the national team with the Red Devils in Seoul’s city centre, Byung has returned to his adopted city with a mission. He wants to connect Calcutta with Korea through a shared passion — soccer. “I have been moved by the sheer enthusiasm for the game in this city. This energy can be channelled only through right exposure. My institute can help in this regard.”

Byung, who has already put in place a student-exchange programme between Calcutta University (CU) and Chonbuk National University in Korea, is exploring avenues of similar communion in football. “On behalf of my Center, I will talk to Korea University and Myungji University in Seoul, which have the best soccer programmes in their curriculum, to try and facilitate training visits for promising players from Calcutta,” says Byung, who is amused that Indian soccer captain Bhaichung Bhutia looks “so much like us”. The vice-president of the Salt Lake Korean centre, which opened its language course in January, also feels it is possible to import Korean coaches to help in grassroots soccer projects in Calcutta.

The language expert has been joined in his efforts to bring a little bit of Korea to Calcutta by Hwa Kyeong Lee, a renowned novelist. Lee is in town for the next two years to teach Korean language at CU. “I am happy to be in this vibrant city with such a rich literary and cultural tradition. I can talk about Korean culture to my students here and brush up on my Tagore as well,” she says. The 37-year-old writer teaches Korean literature in Chonbuk University.

The student-exchange programme between Chonbuk and Calcutta is kicking off with the first candidate, Lopamudra Acharya, leaving for Korea later this month. “Next year onwards, two students from CU will visit Chonbuk University every year on a fully-sponsored trip, including pocket money,” explains Lee.

As part of his continued efforts to bring Korea and Calcutta closer to each other, Byung is hosting a group of 15 heads of Korean NGOs on a three-day reconnoitre visit from Tuesday. “The team, commissioned by the provincial government of Chonbuk, will visit various orphanages, schools for destitute children and primary health centres in and around Calcutta and assess areas of possible collaboration with local NGOs. Help could be forthcoming in education, rural development and medicare,” feels Byung. Chonju Technical College, a leading Korean institution in IT hardware, is also keen to set up an IT research-cum-education centre for underprivileged students in Calcutta.


Calcutta, July 8: 
As many as 5,000 people working in the city’s tallest building, Chatterjee International Centre, are in danger in case a fire breaks out. The Assembly on Monday voiced concern over the condition of the building, situated off the Park Street-Chowringhee Road crossing.

Fire minister Pratim Chatterjee told the House the building’s caretakers had been repeatedly warned about its precarious condition. The fire department and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation had even put up notices on the building, warning the public about its condition. A passerby was killed three years ago when a portion of a ledge on one of the floors had crashed onto the pavement below.

Chatterjee said the inquiry report on the Firpo’s market blaze would be ready by July 22. The original date for the submission had been June 23. The delay was because the forensic report was not yet ready, he said.



HC admits Saha plea against council

Calcutta High Court on Monday admitted the petition filed by US-based doctor Kunal Saha seeking an order to set aside the verdict of the West Bengal Medical Council which acquitted Sukumar Mukherjee, a physician, of charges of negligence in the treatment of Anuradha Saha. Justice Pinaki Ghosh, however, rejected Saha’s plea to pass an interim order staying the order of the council. The court asked the respondent to file an affidavit and fixed the matter for hearing after three weeks. Saha has filed two separate cases against the council. The other case, demanding removal of Ashok Chowdhury from the post of president during the hearing of Saha’s petition by the council, was moved before Justice K.J. Sengupta, who had rejected the plea. Saha had filed an appeal before the division bench challenging the verdict of the trial court. The hearing of the case has been fixed on July 15.

Acquitted in murder case

The fifth additional district judge of Barasat on Monday acquitted all the five accused in the Debal Sharma murder case for lack of evidence. Sharma, a CPM leader of Naihati, was murdered in front of the party office in Mitra Para on June 18, 2000. According to the police, five cyclists hacked him to death. An FIR was lodged against the five, leading to the arrest of Anjan Dasgupta, Basudev Pal, Sintu Roy, Biswanath Pal and Bhola Kundu. Thirty-eight witnesses deposed before the court during the trial, which ended on June 20, 2002.

Run of rumours

There was panic in Kakdwip, on the southern fringes of the city, after two rumours spread in the area. The first was about two Bangladeshi ships full of arms and ammunition sailing towards Kakdwip. The second rumour was that Thai brigands were about to attack the Sagar Islands. A heavy police contingent was posted to keep a watch on the situation.

Eye-care machine

Sunetra, an eye-care centre in Santoshpur, has acquired a “state-of-the-art” perimetry machine, which will help in diagnosis of glaucoma. The Humphrey Field Analyzer II 750I machine, “the first of its kind in eastern India”, was inaugurated by L. Vijaya, head of glaucoma services, Sankara Nethralaya, on Sunday.

Criminal caught

Residents handed over a criminal to the police at Mallikpur on Sunday night. Four persons were entering a dhaba near the Mallikpur station when a revolver fell out of the pocket of one of them. The three others managed to flee. The Baruipur police said the goon was wanted in several cases. A revolver was recovered from him.

HS error protest

Roshni Sen, who stood first in the Higher Secondary examination in 1984 securing 916 marks, is writing a protest letter to the president of the Council for Higher Secondary Education for “a wrong announcement”. The council president had declared that after 25 years, a girl, Pramita Mitra, had secured the first place in the examination. Roshni, a former student of South Point, said the council president “should not have made the remark without checking his facts”.    

Calcutta, July 8: 
The Salt Lake municipal authorities and the state electricity board (SEB) are trading charges over unpaid taxes and service payments. While the SEB claims that the civic body owes it over Rs 5 crore as electricity charges, the civic body claims that the power utility has a tax backlog of Rs 6 crore.

Municipality chairman Dilip Gupta on Monday refuted the charges, saying it pays the Board in monthly instalments. “During a recent meeting, we had asked the SEB to prepare a statement on the exact arrear amount, so that we can arrive at a correct figure on liabilities of both the organisations. But, till now they have not responded.”

Asked what steps the municipality would take if the SEB disconnects supply, Gupta said: “We, too, can disconnect the water and sewerage lines of the SEB sub-stations and its headquarters at Bidyut Bhavan over non-payment of taxes. But, we don’t want to resort to such steps, as they are service providers. The issue of disconnecting and stalling services will not solve the problem. So, we have asked them to clear the dues as soon as possible.”

On its part, the SEB said it found no credibility in the stand taken by the civic authorities. “Our dues, too, have to be cleared by the municipality,” a senior SEB official said, adding: “We will definitely clear their dues but there is no point in inter-linking the issues.”

Gupta, however, admitted that despite the municipality arrears being a huge amount, it was difficult to take action against it. “Talks are on to resolve the issue. We had earlier cut the power supply to some markets in Salt Lake. However, connection was restored after the municipality cleared a part of the dues. If we disconnect power supply to major areas, it will unnecessarily inconvenience the residents. The deadlock needs to be settled at the earliest,” he said.

Board sources said that there are 20 civic establishments, apart from the municipality headquarters at Poura Bhavan — all bulk consumers of SEB — and the monthly average bill comes to the tune of Rs 20 lakh. “But since 1980, the municipality has not paid us anything,” the SEB sources claimed. “However, 100 per cent collection is being made from non-government consumers against demand and there are no unpaid dues in that sector,” an official said.

To break the impasse, a high-level meeting was held between the Board and the municipality some time ago. A decision was taken that accounts personnel of both organisations would take necessary steps to work out an agreement and try to solve the crisis.


Calcutta, July 8: 
Alarmed at the way clubs and organisations are setting up billboards on Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) land and buildings, the civic authorities are considering a switch of policy to control visual pollution. On Monday, mayor Subrata Mukherjee said the CMC would revamp its policy on billboards through improvised technology. “The move is expected to create a sense of aesthetics in billboards,” he said.

In its new policy, the CMC is expected to charge less per square foot of ad space. According to CMC findings, clubs on either side of Eastern Metropolitan Bypass are letting out CMC land to instal billboards for monetary gains. Similarly, some NGOs running their units on CMC land and buildings have now started earning revenue by letting out space to advertising agencies.

A civic officer pointed out that the Tuberculosis Relief Association building near Bridge no. 4, in Park Circus, has giant billboards on its terrace, distracting its original purpose. “We had given them a building to run a hospital and not mint money by selling space,” said the officer. There are over 2,500 billboards in the city, of which only 1,000 are legal, he added. The CMC earns over Rs 3 crore annually by letting out space for billboards in different parts of the city.

Meanwhile, the much-publicised civic campaign against obscene billboards failed to evoke a response, as the Trinamul Congress-led board could not constitute a committee on time. In June 2001, the civic authorities had announced that they would form a committee to pull down obscene billboards. However, Mukherjee and members of his council do not want to be involved in “unnecessary” controversy over the issue. “It is more essential to form a new policy to encourage technology in the billboards,” said Mukherjee.

Outdoor advertising agencies have welcomed Mukherjee’s logic and said they are ready to sit for a discussion. “In advanced cities across the world, billboards are allowed to be put up only if they do not cause visual pollution. In Tokyo, Paris, London, Beijing and Singapore, the many modes of advertising actually enhance the aesthetic aspect of the cityscape. But here, we are still in the tin-and-canvas era,” said P.K. Chatterjee of Selvel. He said more encouragement should be given to unipoles, tri-ads, screens and neon signs.


Calcutta, July 8: 
The city police claimed to have made significant inroads in the underworld with the arrest of Vikas Gomes in the Posta police station area late on Sunday. Gomes was charged of murder, and has a dozen cases pending against him in courts.

“Gomes is the brother-in-law of gangster Rashid Alam, alias Gabbar, who is now in jail. He was running his own network in the city for quite some time,” said deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan.

The police were on Gomes’ trail for the past three months. “But he proved to be elusive and had been evading arrest for quite some time,’’ Hasan added.

Last week, Gomes had demanded Rs 13 lakh from two Burrabazar businessmen, the police said. He had been calling up the businessmen from phone booths in south Calcutta, threatening them with abduction if they failed to shell out the cash. He even hinted that he would kill them if they refused to pay.

Following a complaint lodged by the businessmen, the police held a meeting, at which Hasan directed his officers to step up vigil in a bid to trap Gomes. Initially, Gomes had set Saturday as the deadline for the businessmen to pay the money, but later extended it to Sunday, following a plea by the duo.

Sources said that with trader Jayprakash Gupta’s murder fresh in their minds, the police were not willing to take chances with Gomes. He was known to be a sharp-shooter. Two years ago, he had killed a central Calcutta businessman, Kishor Hirawat, and dumped his body in the South Port police station area even though the businessman had paid him money.

On Sunday, accompanied by an unidentified policeman, one of the businessmen arrived at the pay-off spot on Hanspukur Road, in Posta. After surveying the area, Gomes approached the duo, while his associates checked out the neighbourhood to see whether policemen were lurking around.

When Gomes demanded the bag of money, the accompanying cop caught him by his hand and slid on the handcuffs.

Pulling out a revolver, he held Gomes at gun-point, while calling for his colleagues at the police station. By then, a mob had gathered on the spot. “We would have shot him dead, but it was not necessary,’’ an officer said.

On Monday, Gomes was produced in court and remanded in police custody till July 16.


Calcutta, July 8: 
What does a once thriving and prosperous community, which has dwindled to a figure so small that it can easily be overlooked, do to make its presence felt all over the world, and in cybserspace, too? Do something which perhaps no other community in this city or elsewhere has done before — create an interactive site on itself. The web address, www.calparsees.com, is self-explanatory.

There are just about 700 Parsees left in Calcutta but they have proved to the world once again that they are quicker on the uptake than their cousins in Mumbai, towards whom the former maintain a condescending attitude. Let us not forget that Mumbai used to be a small fishing village, whereas Calcutta was till 1911 the capital of this country.

So, the site conceived by the Calcutta Zoroastrian Community’s Religious and Charity Fund was launched on May 28. Other sites on the community already exist. But they were launched either by institutions or religious bodies. This is the first one to bring the community together. “This has more human interest, with more photographs,” says a member of the small group that created the site. They plan to link it with other sites as well.

The Calcutta Parsees already have a quarterly newsletter named Gavashni. But they felt they should get a little more high-tech. Gavashni always acted as a link between Parsees, who had left the city but still yearned for it. The site was meant to be newsy and by clicking on to it, ex-Calcuttans could get feedback on all institutions run by the community. Like the personal columns in newspapers, it provides information on births, deaths, weddings and Navjot. It carries a calendar of events, which is so important for so tiny a community struggling to retain its identity. And not to forget pages from Gavashni.

There are news flashes. For example, it announces that journalist Bachi J. Karkaria is the first Indian to be appointed to the World Editors Forum. Karkaria, whose family used to bring out a newsletter from their printing press in Ezra Street, has contributed two articles. In the first, she invokes memories of her father. The second is about the superiority of ilish to Alphonso mangoes. Both written by a neo-Mumbaikar with an unfair bias for the city of her youth.

Parsees.com also focuses on anybody who has done something worthwhile. For example, currently the spotlight is on Cavas Tamboli, whose blindness never acted as a deterrent.

The site tries to be youth oriented. Young people who have taken part in any interesting activity are encouraged to report on it. It has worked wonders for the elderly — although they were initially wary of PCs, they have turned techno-savvy almost overnight.

Time & Again juxtaposes the past with the present. A black and white of Cyrus Jamshed Madan, who won an elocution contest in 1974, is placed next to the colour print of his son, who bagged the same trophy 27 years later. The same goes for the hockey teams of today and 1933, and the cast of a play staged in 1958 and 2001.

What makes the site valuable for non-Parsees is that it carries articles and photographs of the community’s colourful history and seven institutions. What would endear them to others is their ability to laugh at themselves. Could any other people describe themselves as “long-nosed, long-coated”?


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