Colonel mopped up crore in deposit dupe
Core team to combat malaria
Strike call over fares
Centre for the wealth of wellness
The city Diary
Woman as cross-border commodity
Compassion, tinged with a grain of Spain
Twin protests cripple city
Suave face of swindle in a bank
Behala bays for traffic space

Calcutta, July 9: 
A decorated armyman was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly “cheating” people of lakhs of rupees by making them invest in about half-a-dozen bogus funds he had floated over the past six years.

Police said Colonel (retd) P.K. Choudhury, a resident of Salt Lake, was arrested from his Marquis Street office and produced in Bankshal court, where he was granted “conditional bail”.

Zulfiquar Hasan, deputy commissioner of police, central, said Choudhury, recipient of the Vishist Seva Medal (VSM), used his contacts in the army to lure investors, including serving and retired army and navy officers and their wives.

“It’s amazing the way this man conducted his business,” said Hasan. “He used former and serving jawans and havildars to collect the money on his behalf. We are yet to arrive at a final figure but, according to our estimates, he mopped up close to a crore. All his offices have been sealed.”

An officer of the engineering corps, Choudhury retired from the army in 1995 after a distinguished tenure. He floated the Sapper group a year later. He operated out of Fort William and a state-run hotel, besides offices in Kalyani, BBD Bag and Marquis Street, where Sapper is headquartered.

“He would offer his ex-colleagues and friends high interest rates and flexible moneyback options on their deposits,’’ said Hasan, adding that “incriminating documents” had been seized from Choudhury’s offices. “We suspect that over 50 people were cheated. Many senior army officers and other depositors have lodged complaints against Choudhury,” he added.

The Sapper group comprised Sapper Infotech, Sapper Finance, Sapper Management, Sapper Construction, Sapper International and Sapper Drift and Art. “These were all fictitious firms, as the Sapper group only dealt with investments,’’ said Hasan.

A retired navy officer complained to the police on Monday that he had invested in Sapper, but the post-dated cheque which the firm had issued had bounced. The wife of a former brigadier lodged a similar complaint on Monday. Choudhury had, apparently, pleaded “temporary financial instability”.

A team of police officers from the central division raided Choudhury’s office late on Monday evening, while he was preparing to leave for home. He pleaded innocence, admitting that he was “unable to repay the depositors” because a few other firms had borrowed hefty amounts from him and not repaid on time.

Police said senior army officers at Fort William have been approached to help probe the Sapper scam.


Calcutta, July 9: 
Three malignant malaria deaths in the city within the past eight days. Over 200 victims of the same parasite battling to survive. Another 800 benign patients admitted in hospitals in the city and the adjoining areas.

So what can the authorities do to terminate the menace? Almost nothing.

“In Calcutta, we cannot get rid of malaria ever. The people will have to live with malaria every year, as the circumstances and living conditions in our city are conducive to the spread of malaria,” P.K. Sarkar, director of the School of Tropical Medicine (STM), said on Tuesday.

“People have to be prevented from sleeping on pavements. They happen to be the main carriers of the parasite, as they are exposed to mosquito bites. Unless a new malarial vaccine is discovered to replace the standard treatment, and all potholes and fresh-water breeding grounds of malarial mosquitoes are removed, there is no hope of getting rid of malaria. However, it can be controlled to a certain extent,” said Sarkar.

Alarmed at the malignant malaria outbreak ahead of the peak season (August-November) and the deaths of Nabendu Sarkar, 32, Md Yusuf, 7, and Sanjukta Dubey, 32, mayor Subrata Mukherjee said on Tuesday a “special committee was looking into the outbreak and is taking all necessary measures to stop it from turning into an epidemic.”

Apart from urging the people to sleep under mosquito nets, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) is also ensuring the draining of puddles formed after rain, and removal of heavy vehicle tyres abandoned near garages and green coconut shells from roadsides, in the hope of controlling the outbreak to a certain extent. At Writers’ Buildings, health department officers held a meeting on Tuesday and discussed the situation.

Admitting that scientists here lacked the technological infrastructure to work on malarial vaccines, Sarkar said it was worrisome that both physicians and the man in the street had wrong ideas about malaria.

“I would not like to blame doctors, but many still believe that malarial fever can only be detected if the blood sample is collected when the patient is running a very high temperature. The entire concept is absolutely wrong, as the blood sample should always be collected when the body temperature has cooled down,” he added.

“Ideally, blood tests should be conducted when the fever is rising or is at a relapsed stage,” said Nirmalya Banerjee, veteran physician and president of the Calcutta branch of the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

“We are conducting workshops and seminars, challenging the myth surrounding malarial detection. We have even asked doctors to counsel people on the malarial outbreak and how to avoid the disease,” said Dr Banerjee.

“We had a joint conference with CMC medical officers a few weeks ago in a city hotel to ensure that the people understand they are dealing with a dangerous disease and take appropriate precautions,” Banerjee added.


Calcutta, July 9: 
Unhappy with the revised rates announced by the government, all taxi associations and a section of private bus operators in the city have threatened to launch an “indefinite strike” from August 1, the day the new fares come into effect.

Minibus operators will take a final decision on joining the proposed strike after a meeting on Thursday.

Members of Bengal Taxi Association, Calcutta Taxi Association and Calcutta Metropolitan Taxi Drivers’ Union met on Tuesday. “If the minimum fare is hiked to Rs 14 from Rs 12, passengers will prefer not to travel by taxis,” observed Bimal Kumar Guha, general secretary, Bengal Taxi Association. But he added the hike for every additional 200 metres (Rs 1.30 from Rs 1.20) “is not good enough”.

Ajit Saha, president of the Bengal Bus Syndicate, said the government move was “illogical and the fare hike unacceptable”. The Bengal Bus Syndicate has opposed the minimum fare being slashed from Rs 2.50 to Rs 2, “when a litre of diesel costs Rs 18.61”.


Calcutta, July 9: 
They are responsible for keeping Michael Schumacher, Ronaldo and Sylvester Stallone match, or fighting, fit. They ensure the cutting-edge fitness of Formula One teams like BMW, Ferrari and McLaren, top football clubs like Inter Milan, Ajax Amsterdam and Barcelona FC, besides the Australian and English cricket teams.

Now, Technogym, “global leaders in fitness programme and equipment”, are ready “to satisfy the fitness and wellness needs” of Calcuttans. The Forum, the 200,000 sq ft shopping mall-cum-entertainment complex coming up at the Lee Road-Elgin Road crossing, has signed a build-equip-operate contract with Technogym, Italy, and Geo Spa, UK, for a state-of-the-art spa-cum-fitness centre.

“Unlike very large body-building facilities currently in vogue, we believe in a mid-sized studio spa where, apart from wellness, there is a chance for meeting and creating new friends,” says Rashmin Perla, country manager, Technogym India.

Technogym, which provides customised fitness regimes to sporting and celluloid superstars, also airlifts a complete fitness centre for Ferrari’s Schumacher to all the F1 stops at its own cost. It is also the official supplier of fitness training equipment to the British Army, Nato armed forces in Europe, besides the Dutch, German and Italian army, navy and air force. The Technogym-Geo Spa combine is looking to open up “independent centres” in Hyderabad, Chennai and Coimbatore, besides Calcutta.

“We are glad to bring to Calcutta the world-renowned Geo Spa brand, a landmark in itself. We didn’t want to provide just a shopping experience at our mall, but a complete destination, with tonic for body and spirit,” explains Rahul Saraf, managing director of The Forum.

The total emphasis of this 6,000-sq ft facility will be “wellness”. Contrary to the current trend of weight-loss clinics and crash diet courses, the spa will concentrate on overall fitness, which includes strength and flexibility training, aerobics, lifestyle counselling, family time and image clinic.

Memberships of The Forum Geo Spa will come at Rs 12,000-15,000 per year for individuals and Rs 20,000 for a couple.

“These rates are far less than those at five-star hotels as well as the competition, and The Forum Geo Spa members can use fitness studio spas anywhere else in the world where there is a Technogym Geo Spa,” says Saraf.

In the Elgin Road complex, slated to open its doors in December, the Geo Spa will have a 3,000-sq-ft fitness studio with a focus on “continuous improvement in the physical condition of the user”. This includes measured improvement in the condition of the heart too — “a facility no other equipment brand in India can offer” — and a relaxation and therapy spa area.

“Technogym will bring to Calcutta the Cardio Theater for the first time, a sophisticated device which monitors pulse and heart rates during workouts through chest bands and hand sensors, and also stores them for future reference. These data could prove invaluable for the doctor and could help prevent a heart attack. Such vital information can also be carried on the person while travelling, so that the doctor has something to fall back upon in case of an emergency,” explains Saraf.

During non-peak hours at The Forum Geo Spa, visiting specialists will treat and monitor post-paralytic and post-cardiac intervention patients. The club will maintain medical records of all its members as monitored by the Cardio Theater.

To add to its sports and fitness product-mix, The Forum is also lining up big lifestyle labels like Puma, Nike, Sketchers, Wilson and Speedo. Besides, Shoppers’ Stop, the anchor, will bring in a large-format Royal Sporting House store, “another first for Calcutta”.



300 lawyers court arrest against Act

Three hundred lawyers, including chairman of West Bengal Bar Council Saradindu Biswas, courted arrest on Tuesday while protesting against the implementation of the West Bengal Premises Act. With the implementation of this Act, executive officers of the government would be introduced as judges instead of judicial officers in legal disputes between landlords and tenants. Advocates alleged that the government’s decision “curbed their fundamental rights”.

Admission plea thrown out

A division bench of Calcutta High Court, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice J. Biswas, on Tuesday dismissed an appeal filed by the guardian of a student seeking admission to Class V at Patha Bhavan. Challenging the school’s admission process in the secondary section, the petitioner sought an order directing the school authorities to ask students of the primary section to sit for an admission test. After his petition was dismissed by Justice Amitava Lala, the petitioner filed an appeal. The division bench observed that the procedure followed by Patha Bhavan Secondary School during admission of students of Class V was absolutely valid.

Diamond hoax

Anju Jain, 33, a dealer in diamonds, was arrested on Tuesday on charges of cheating a customer of diamonds worth Rs 25 lakh. Jain was rounded up on a complaint lodged by Howrah-based businessman Lakshmi Narayan Toswal.

Peddler held

Waheb Mondal, 40, was arrested from Barasat for carrying heroin on Tuesday. Police had been on the look-out for Waheb for peddling drugs in different areas.

Twin suicides

Two youths committed suicide in two localities of the city on Tuesday night. Jabbar was found hanging from the ceiling of a room in Burtola. Another youth killed himself in the Amherst Street area. Police said both were victims of depression.

Fee-hike protest

Members of the All-India Democratic Students’ Organisation submitted a memorandum to the vice-chancellor of Calcutta University (CU) and stalled traffic on College Street on Tuesday, protesting CU’s decision to increase non-collegiate fees from Rs 50 to Rs 400. They also regretted the varsity decision to reduce about 1,000 seats in graduation courses.

Foreign trip

Left Front chairman and CPM Politburo member Biman Bose will visit Canada and the UK in mid-July. Though the trip is at the invitation of friends, it is learnt that Bose will address a number of gatherings in both countries to highlight the achievements of the Left Front government’s 25 years in office.

Teachers’ rally

Teachers and employees of various government-aided schools will march from Subodh Mullick Square to the state Assembly on Wednesday to submit a memorandum to the chief minister. The rally has been called by the joint movement committee of school teachers and employees.    

Calcutta, July 9: 
That cross-border trafficking and child prostitution are significant problems in two red-light areas in north Bengal has been conclusively proven by a survey commissioned by Sanlaap, a Calcutta-based NGO. A study, for a clearer picture of the role of the trafficker, madam and pimp in the red-light areas of Calcutta — of which there is currently “only anecdotal evidence”, owing largely to the “mafia stronghold” — is also underway.

The Calcutta survey will highlight the role of trafficking and “the controlled subversive machinery” that operates in the red-light areas. “With the stronghold of sexual health programmes and the mafia, in areas like Sonagachhi, there is an information bottleneck. Many women, directly involved with sexual health programmes, are forbidden to discuss issues like trafficking and child prostitution for fear of losing their jobs, making it difficult to get such facts in Calcutta,” said a Sanlaap spokesperson.

The nexus in the districts, being relatively new, the women are more forthcoming with information about their plight. The north Bengal survey was conducted in the Dinbazar red-light area of Jalpaiguri, and Changrabandha in Cooch Behar, near the Bangladesh border, where 66.6 per cent of the women surveyed were from Bangladesh. Of the total number of women surveyed here, 89 per cent reported that they had been trafficked, lured by either promises of jobs or marriage. In Dinbazar, the number of trafficked women was lower, at 13 per cent, with most being victims of second-generation prostitution.

“Public officials had been denying that cross-border trafficking of women for commercial sexual exploitation occurs in these areas. This is the first conclusive evidence that a large number of women come here from Bangladesh,” said Sanlaap officials.

In Changrabandha, the surprising statistic is the high level of women inducted as minors. Six per cent started servicing clients between the ages of 10 and 12 years, 44 per cent between 13 and 15 and 38 per cent between 16 and 18, totalling 88 per cent. This figure was lower in Dinbazar, where three per cent had joined between 10 and 12 years, and 49 per cent between 16 and 18 years.

Though in both areas the number of respondents who were still minors at the time this survey was conducted was few, they had all been inducted at an early age, suggesting the existence of “hidden” child prostitution. “We expect this to be a much greater problem in the red-light areas of Calcutta,” Sanlaap officials added. At any time, there are an estimated 100,000 women involved in prostitution in Calcutta, 40 per cent of whom are minors.

Most women in the Dinbazar and Changrabandha areas named Border Security Force (BSF) and police as major clients. In Dinbazar, 78 per cent of respondents have had BSF guards as clients, with 66 per cent naming the police.

From the Changrabandha area, 33 per cent of women reported having border security officers as clients, while 54 per cent of respondents here have had policemen as clients. While the BSF personnel are most often “paying clients”, policemen usually do not pay, according to respondents.

The survey, supported by local NGOs Gana Unnayan Parshad and Human Development Centre also found that around 23 per cent of women in Dinbazar and 30 per cent of women in Changrabandha have suffered gynaecological diseases in the past two years.

The recommendations on the findings include greater vigilance at the border to prevent trafficking, sensitisation programmes for police and judiciary, income-generation schemes and provision of ration and voters’ cards for the women.


Calcutta, July 9: 
Mongoli used to beg on Park Street, on the orders of her mother. She had too many mouths to feed, so she used her young children to make both ends barely meet. “I fought with her mother for months, before she finally agreed to put two-year-old Mongoli in my hands. Now, she helps bring in a lot of new girls,” says Mongoli’s benefactor, Carlos Duran San Roman.

Mongoli, touching six now, is still visited by her mother, but she has otherwise managed to shut the doors on her past. She is now sponsored by Hollywood star Penelope Cruz, one of “her two girls”. She has a home to stay in, a school to go to, friends to play with and a life to look forward to.

Mongoli and over a hundred girls from the streets owe their good fortune to Carlos, the Spaniard who made Calcutta his home and its under-privileged children his family, four years ago. What has helped Carlos pursue his mission are “his friends in high places”. Among the celebrity campaigners for Carlos’ Sabera Foundation are Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz and Ricky Martin, the last two having already visited the Kalitala home for girls. Both Cruz and Martin “thoroughly enjoyed” their stay in Calcutta, says Carlos. “They ate all the meals with the kids, spent hours talking to them, sang with them, played with them. They were inseparable from the girls during their entire visit.”

The youngsters had precious little to cheer about. Some orphans, some streetchildren and pavement-dwellers from Calcutta, and others from poor rural areas, feel this is their ‘second chance’. “These kids have faced more in their young lives than we will in a lifetime. They lived with pain, violence, sex, abuse, death every day. They have been exploited by everyone, including their own parents,” the bespectacled man passionately points out.

It all began with Carlos’ friendship with Spanish singer Nacho Cano, who was with Penelope Cruz before her rise to stardom. “Nacho comes to Calcutta to do volunteer work for Mother Teresa. In 1998, he made a documentary in Calcutta to raise money to build a home at Kalitala. I offered to do it. In the process, I found a girl who I tried to help, and very soon I had five in my flat in Golf Green. So, Nacho and I decided to turn the Kalitala building into a home for girls,” explains the professional builder.

Four years down the line, the Kalitala building is home to “over 124” girls, with a swimming pool, auditorium and music room on the cards. A children’s hospital-cum-girls’ home is also under construction nearby. Sabera now has many international sponsors from Spain and US for their various projects, which include vocational training in sewing, music lessons and a free-for-all tuberculosis clinic.

Two girls at the home have recently started training in the Park Hotel kitchen, and are “excited about beginning their cooking lessons soon, on condition that they continue with their studies”.

Another 10 of them will be headed for Los Angeles in the Puja month — to visit Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas. Both are ardent fans of the Kalitala girls’ home. “Melanie has just set up a Sabera office in Los Angeles, California. This October, she and Antonio are hosting a charity dinner at their home to raise money for us. Ten of our girls are going to perform there,” says Carlos. Two young girls have already been to LA last year to meet several Hollywood big names. The next star coming to Kalitala, if all goes well, will be Antonio Banderas. Will Cruz and Cruise be next?


Calcutta, July 9: 
A day-long dharna by the Trinamul Congress in front of the Eastern Railway headquarters at Fairlie Place, along with a series of roadblocks by the Congress in south Calcutta, brought the city to a standstill for hours on Tuesday. While the Trinamul Congress organised the sit-in to protest the Eastern Railway’s bifurcation, Congress workers blocked roads since the morning against increased transport fares from August 1.

Commuters are likely to undergo the same ordeal on Wednesday, when Trinamul partymen will protest at Esplanade East on the bifurcation. Chairperson Mamata Banerjee is expected to lead the rally.

The dharna at Fairlie Place on Tuesday stalled traffic for several hours. Howrah-bound vehicles had to be diverted through Strand Bank Road as Trinamul workers from Howrah, Hooghly and North and South 24-Parganas converged on the spot from different directions. Office-goers faced a harrowing time and many were stranded for hours as traffic was stalled.

Though Mamata had announced earlier that her party would not resort to demonstrations on weekdays, nearly 10,000 Trinamul workers and party functionaries laid a virtual siege on the crowded BBD Bag area for hours. The party chief, however, did not attend Tuesday’s programme to avoid a controversy.

Instead, party leaders, including mayor Subrata Mukherjee and leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Pankaj Banerjee, addressed the gathering. Mukherjee said he would continue to protest the Centre’s move to bifurcate the Eastern Railways. “I cannot sit idle when the Centre is trying to shift the Eastern Railway’s headquarters to Bihar,” he warned.

Trinamul MP and chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Sudip Bandopadhyay, said the party would fight tooth and nail to frustrate the proposed bifurcation. “This is a calculated attempt by the Centre to deprive the city of its landmark. We must resist the move at any cost,” he added.

Trinamul Youth Congress chief Sanjoy Bakshi announced that partymen would organise a five-minute token ‘rail roko’ in the state on July 13 and launch a signature campaign against the bifurcation the same day.

In a related development, Congress workers squatted on Rashbehari Avenue and Hazra Road to protest the decision to increase bus, tram and taxi fares. Effigies of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and transport minister Subhas Chakraborty were burnt.


Calcutta, July 9: 
Police have stumbled upon a case of cheating in a few branches of United Bank of India (UBI) where suave, well-dressed youths wait to identify gullible customers and cheat them of several thousands of rupees.

Deputy commissioner of police, south, Kuldip Singh, said special teams have been formed to tour banks and keep an eye on the conmen from Wednesday.

A high-level UBI delegation, led by chief manager, security, Arun Bhattacharya, met Singh at his Park Street office on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the matter. At the end of the meeting, UBI decided to issue a do’s and don’ts list for its customers .

Police suspect that two dozen UBI customers in various branches have been cheated by these youths, although none are willing to lodge complaints with the police. Chief regional manager of UBI S. Biswas told Metro that the suave youths, wait for hours near the bank counters, to prey on gullible customers.

“They pick on frail and simple customers. A conversation is struck up, often with the youths offering to guide them to deposit and withdraw money from the counters,’’ Biswas said.

Soon, they gain the trust of the customers and jot down their addresses and telephone numbers. The youths then reach the homes of the customers and offer them lucrative items, like a city doctor’s directory, shoppers’ guides or household goods at a heavy discount. “They con the customer into making the payment by cheque. The careless customer often writes the cheque with enough space in front of the dotted line on the amount column,’’ Biswas said. The youths then doctor the cheques, filling the blanks to inflate the amount.

Citing an instance, the manager of UBI’s Deshapriya Park branch, Bikash Saha, said a youth, Amitava Choudhury, had waited in the branch last month for more than an hour to select his victim, Sukhendu Shekhar Bhattacharya. “Choudhury struck up a conversation with Bhattacharya and even dropped in to the latter’s office to convince him into issuing a cheque of Rs 300 for a directory,’’ Saha said.

“Choudhury doctored the cheque and inflated the figure to Rs 30,300. The counter clerk turned suspicious and informed me. I got in touch with Bhattacharya and he rushed to the branch,’’ the manager added. Choudhury was handed over to Lake police station. Police and the bank’s authorities warned customers to be careful and inform the police whenever “friendly” strangers approached them.

“The customers can inform the bank manager or the local police station,’’ Singh said.


Calcutta, July 9: 
Traffic snarls on Diamond Harbour Road during rush hour have become a nightmare for commuters. The worst-affected stretch is the one between Behala tram depot and Number 14 bus stand. Despite pleas to check the menace, the civic and police authorities have been slow to respond to the situation.

Recently, an irked Trinamul Congress councillor from Behala and chairman of Borough XIV, Anjan Das, lodged a complaint with South 24-Parganas district magistrate Alapan Bandopadhyay against the police for not tackling the issue.

“Police inaction is responsible for the chaos that takes place every day in Behala. Though the conservancy chief of Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), Mala Roy, convened a meeting of local police officers on March 30 to resolve the crisis, no one turned up,” Das alleged.

Commuters complain that trucks, carrying fish from Andhra Pradesh, unload their consignments during peak hours, thereby creating a major traffic snarl. Sources said the unloading takes place twice a day. The first convoy comes around midnight and leaves around 5 am, while the second lot comes around 11 am and departs late in the afternoon. “It is the second lot that is responsible for the unprecedented road blocks,” they added.

Diamond Harbour Road is the main thoroughfare for traffic coming from Kakdwip, Diamond Harbour and Raichak going towards Esplanade. With a number of schools and hospitals in the area, patients and students too have to bear the brunt of the vehicles moving at a snail’s pace.

Councillor Das said: “ The situation has created a headache for us. Sometimes, there are more than a dozen trucks, which start unloading at the same time. Moreover, they pollute the area, since some of the goods often spill out.”

When the meeting convened by Roy failed to take place, councillor Das then brought the matter to the notice of the local police but for reasons best known to them, they chose to ignore it.

On March 30, a major drive was all set to clear the Behala market area of leftovers and garbage but at the last minute, the force was withdrawn. “When I asked the market committee to sort out the problem, they told me that an agreement with the Behala municipality had been drawn up. I have now asked the committee to show me the agreement papers, following which I intend to pull up the errant truck-owners,” said Das.

Officer in-charge, Behala police station, Subhas Sen, when contacted, said: “ We are aware of the problem. I have held several meetings with the market committee and we are hoping that the problem will soon be resolved.”

Apart from the trucks creating an environmental hazard, vendors, too, are adding to the woes of the residents. “We have been driving the illegal vendors out of the area but they keep coming back. To solve this problem once and for all, we have decided to hold a meeting with councillors and politicians,” added Sen.


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