Bust shadow on building boom
Race club plea on tax
Four dacoits flee police custody
Scalpels to scar, not to cure
The City Diary
Healer duo in compassion zone
HelpAge plans multi-aid centre
Handful of rice begets education for all
Dark streets spark crime
Quacks held for ‘magic cure’

Calcutta, July 11: 
Look no further. This is your dream house, in a dream setting, at a dream price…

These aren’t castles in the air; this is as concrete as it gets. Everywhere you look — from Baguiati to Garia, Ballygunge to Tollygunge — brick-and-mortar dreams are being sold to Calcuttans like never before. And the city has responded with a frenzy: home loans have gone through the roof and the buyer age profile has plunged through the floor.

But does the building boom have ‘bust’ scrawled on it? Ponder this. Over the next couple of years, more than 40 million sq ft of residential built space will be up for grabs in Calcutta. This translates into at least 40,000 apartments. Murmurs of “supply outstripping demand by nearly three times, leading to huge unsold stocks”, are already doing the real-estate rounds.

A dipstick study conducted by Calcutta Metropolitan Group (CMG) — makers of the tallest tower in town, Hiland Park — in 2000, indicated that around 5,000 flats, in the Rs 10-lakh-plus category, are sold in the city every year. Even accounting for a 20 to 30 per cent growth in demand, the explosion of supply being readied for possession by 2004, “seems scary”, admit some developers.

“It’s some kind of a herd mentality. Just because four guys did well in this area of business, 400 others decided to join in and make hay,” observes Sumit Dabriwala, managing director, CMG. “It’s unfortunate that this industry has no entry barriers and almost anyone can enter the fray. All you need is a plot of land at your disposal. There is hardly any effort to study the present or projected demand.”

But as the ‘build-like-there-is-no-tomorrow’ bandwagon rolls, real-estate development has established itself as “the most bullish of industries in the state” and the housing finance companies are cashing in. With the industry looking at “sub-10 per cent interest rates” for the first time, cumulative home loans disbursed every month in the city have touched Rs 75 crore.

“Our role has been that of a facilitator and we are glad to have been able to contribute to the phenomenal growth in this sector,” says P.K. Mukherjee, regional manager, HDFC, which has “almost 70 per cent market share” in housing finance. “For the moment, the outlook seems bright and people can afford to be choosy, with so many quality options available”.

Sales have also been boosted by selling agents like MMG, N.K. Realtors and Pioneer Properties, who are persuading fence-sitters and the young salaried class “to buy today”. MMG, for one, has doubled its business volume in six months. “Demand for quality housing is riding a high. Returns on investment may come down from 40 per cent now to 15-20 per cent in two years,” says CEO Arunava Mondal. “Property developers will then have to build first and then sell. This will weed out the smaller players.”

Mondal, who estimates around 500 apartments selling every month in the 900 to 1,100-sq-ft bracket, says: “The buyer age profile has already dropped from 45-plus to 30-plus. We are looking at a Rs 1,000-crore-per-year industry, as the population moves to the north-east and south-east of the city.”

The thrust areas are the New Town in Rajarhat, Tollygunge, Santoshpur and New Garia in the south-eastern fringes. Enjoying per square foot ‘price of place’ are Jodhpur Park (Rs 1,500-1,650), Tollygunge (Rs 1,550-1,700) and Santoshpur Bypass (Rs 1,200-1,500).

Rahul Saraf, director, Sunsam Properties, adds a note of caution: “There are tough times ahead. The first-timers could burn their fingers and queer the pitch for serious developers, too.”

Harsh Neotia, who triggered the well-integrated housing revolution with Udayan, The Condoville, however, stresses that “in case of over-supply, builders with credibility will survive”.


Calcutta, July 11: 
Former Army chief and presently Rajya Sabha member, General (retd) Shankar Roy Chowdhury, and four other members of Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC) moved a petition in Calcutta High Court on Thursday, seeking an order setting aside two notifications issued by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), claiming Rs 10 lakh by way of amusement tax from RCTC for the current financial year.

Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya directed the CMC not to effect the notifications till July 18 and fixed the matter for a final hearing on July 17.

The judge postponed the case on a request by CMC counsel Aloke Ghosh, who said he had been served a copy of the petition only on Thursday noon and was yet to receive any instruction from his client.

Gen. Chowdhury and the others expressed the fear that the CMC and mayor Subrata Mukherjee might ask the club to stop its racing activities if it failed to pay the amount demanded.

Petitioners’ counsel Samaraditya Pal told the court that the CMC had no right to claim amusement tax from the club as the land for the race course was the defence ministry’s and did not belong to the CMC.

Pal also argued that there was no provision in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation Act for demanding amusement tax from the racing club. So, if the CMC stuck to its demand, it will amount to an “illegal act”. RCTC said it could not afford to pay the exorbitant amount of Rs 10 lakh annually as amusement tax, for which the CMC had already slapped two notices on it.

The CMC counsel, however, said he would produce all the documents to prove the validity of the civic body’s claim on the eve of the final hearing of the case. “I have all documents, but they are not with me today,” he added.

Justifying the demand notices served on the club, the mayor said the CMC had every right to ask for amusement tax since RCTC provides its members with all sorts of civic facilities, including a regular supply of drinking water.

Gen. Chowdhury, however, refused comment when contacted by Metro on Thursday. “The case is sub judice and we should not comment on it before consulting the appropriate authorties,” he added.


Calcutta, July 11: 
Four criminals escaped from the clutches of Burrabazar police on Wednesday night. They had been rounded up near 40, Strand Road, earlier in the evening. Police said they were carrying guns, ammunition and bombs and had gathered to raid a businessman’s office in the building.

Deputy commissioner, central, Zulfiquar Hasan, admitted on Thursday that the four managed to slip through the narrow lanes and bylanes of Strand Road in the cover of darkness. “We, however, managed to arrest Akhtar Hussain and Bishendu Bhowmick, who were with the four on Strand Road,’’ Hasan said.

A revolver and five rounds of ammunition were seized from Bhowmick. But officers admitted that those who had escaped were carrying more arms.

Sources said Hasan has summoned the officer-in-charge of Burrabazar police station, Sukumar Chakraborty, and sought an explanation. An inquiry was ordered into whether the police had bungled the raid.

Hussain told his interrogators later that they had planned to rob a businessman’s office on Strand Road. One of the gang was known to an employee of the firm. The man, now absconding, had even supplied the criminals with a sketch of the office.

Burrabazar police said the four youths were involved in several dacoities in the area. “They come from different districts of West Bengal, meet at a common point and plan their course of action,’’ an officer said. Bhowmick hails from Serampore, Hussain lives in Howrah while three of those who fled are from Nadia.


Calcutta, July 11: 
From paediatric surgeon to general surgeon to urologist. Two-year-old Sumit Bose went under the knives of three surgeons — for five failed operations — to cure a congenital birth defect of the genitals, before reaching the right operating table. His problem was finally corrected by a fourth doctor, a plastic surgeon, in a complicated sixth operation.

The experience, specialists say, could have been “completely avoided” had the first doctors refused to treat a condition beyond their area of expertise. “The tissues were all gone by the time he got to my table,” says plastic surgeon Sandipan Gupta. “Due to the previous multiple incisions, we had to be very careful. People don’t understand that plastic surgery is a specialised treatment about rearrangement of tissues, correction and reconstruction, in congenital or acquired conditions.”

Plastic surgeons feel the onus is on medical practitioners to refuse patients if the problem does not come under their specialisation. “There are few cosmetic surgery cases that general surgeons don’t have a go at first,” says Gupta, who recently received a saddle nose (deformed) patient, a congenital problem that needed reconstruction by a plastic surgeon, but had already been treated by a general surgeon.

Most people are unaware that problems like incisional hernia, cleft lip, cleft palate, tissue degeneration, skin tags, face tumours, birth marks and moles, among other problems, require “specialist treatment by a plastic surgeon”, claim city-based specialists.

Take Asima Sarkar, who went to a dentist for treatment for a cleft lip. The dentist did not bother to inform her this was actually the domain of a plastic surgeon and put her under the knife. “Unless both doctor and patient understand the issues and nature of the ailment, patients will continue to suffer,” adds Gupta.

“There are some borderline cases, like tumours near the face, for which patients do turn to general surgeons for removal. They are eventually left with scars on the face, which may have been less visible had the procedure been performed by a plastic surgeon,” says cosmetic surgery specialist Dr A.K. Prasad.

Reacting to Sumit’s travails, Dr Anirban Bose said: “Only a plastic surgeon is fully aware about the layers of tissues in the human body and so can conduct such a surgery.”



Truck overturns to kill cleaner

A cleaner of a truck was killed on Thursday morning when the truck carrying wood chips overturned on Vidyasagar Setu. Police said the driver of the truck was admitted to SSKM Hospital in a serious condition and the truck was impounded. He later died in hospital.

Actor couple injured

Theatre artistes Chandan Sengupta and his wife Sutapa of Shudrak theatre group were seriously injured when the taxi they were travelling in was hit by another vehicle on the EM Bypass. Both of them were admitted to Ruby General Hospital in a critical condition. Chandan was later released while Sutapa is still in hospital.

Hospital probe

Surgeon superintendent of SSKM Hospital Debdwaipayan Chattopadhyay has instituted a two-member committee, under head of the cardiology department Manotosh Panja, to inquire into the alleged charge of dereliction of duty by a resident medical officer leading to the death of Duryadhan Panda on Wednesday. The committee will submit its report by Saturday. Members of Panda’s family have been asked to appear before the committee on Friday.

AirTel plea

Cellular service provider AirTel on Thursday asked its pre-paid subscribers to provide proof of identity by July 20, failing which their connections will be withdrawn. Driving licence, photo-identity card, photo credit card, arms licence, passport or income-tax PAN card can be used as proof of identity. The appeal comes in the wake of a Central government directive to discourage misuse of cell phones by “anti-national elements”.

CalTel releases CD

The Calcutta Telephones released the city telephone directory on a compact disc on Thursday. General manager, marketing, R.K. Mishra said the CD would be available for Rs 100 from the commercial officers of telephone exchanges.

Baguiati bandh

A 12-hour bandh called by supporters of the Democratic Youth Federation of India was observed in Baguiati on Thursday. The bandh was called to protest the murder of a youth, Biswajit Das, on Wednesday night. Police said one person was arrested in this connection.

Advocates’ fete

The bar association of Calcutta High Court will felicitate 17 senior advocates who have completed 50 years in the profession on Friday in a function, presided over by Chief Justice A.K. Mathur. Bhakti Bhushan Mondol, Pratap Chandra Chunder, Bishwanath Vajpai and Soumendra Chandra Bose are among the 17.

Fare-hike protest

Members of Joint Council of Bus Syndicate on Thursday organised a rally at Esplanade to protest the government’s fare hike. They will organise another rally on Sunday. “We urge the government to review the revised fares, failing which we will go on strike from August 1,” said syndicate president Sadhan Das.    

Calcutta, July 11: 
Brother Gen Kelsang Sherab was giving a discourse on how to overcome nightmares, in Rotterdam in 1997. “I was so impressed by his meditation methods that I decided to try the technique on a woman whose nightmares I was trying to dispel. And it worked wonders,” recounts Gen Kelsang Monlam, who, like Sherab, connected with Buddhist spiritualism at an early age to find a way out of “the inner emptiness” and to help people in distress.

The British-Dutch duo, which uses the powers of the ‘Medicine Buddha’, prayers and meditation techniques, to heal physical and mental suffering, was in town for a week as a first step towards including Calcutta on their succour map. “This is our first visit and we are overwhelmed by the compassion and openness of the people. We have been to the other three metros to help the diseased and halt spiritual degeneration. We hope to do our bit for this city on our next trip,” says Sherab.

Both disciples of Geshe Kelshang Gyatso, they grew up in the opulent West. Sherab lived in Manchester and then in Blackpool, and “knew what I wanted to do” after making a few trips to the Dharma Centre in Ulverston in the Lake District. “I majored in chemistry from King’s College, London. But the material existence of the West never appealed to me and in time, I moved out,” says the Briton.

Monlam, who also had a leaning towards “Indian spirituality and Hinduism”, was born and schooled in Tilburg, Holland. “I learned eastern fighting sports like taekwondo, taichi and aikodo and later practised rajayoga for relaxation and meditation,” she says. Monlam became a nun in 1999, after “realising that Buddhism can heal the mind”. Her aim was to help trauma patients, which she could do only after she picked up the techniques of purifying the karmic seeds, “the root of all sickness”.

Both now practise their art of healing in Moscow, where conditions are “much worse” than in India. “Since the Russians don’t have the material refuge as in the West, it is easier for them to cross the threshold and embrace Buddhism, like in India. As opposed to Buddhist intellectuals who simply exchange notes at the coffee table, our teaching is meant to be integrated into our daily lives. We call it the New Kadampa Tradition,” Sherab smiles.

The laid-back nature of Calcutta has struck a chord with the faith healers. “There is a measured pace about this city which is refreshing, quite contrary to the high-speed madness that is Mumbai,” says Monlam. The duo visited Ashari, the animal hospital on the EM Bypass run by People For Animals, on Thursday to do a crash-course of healing techniques with the vets there. “We also tried to help a young widow cope with the loss of her husband. We hope to help many more next time,” Sherab signs off.


Calcutta, July 11: 
HelpAge India, one of the largest supporters of old-age homes in India, announced a model project in Calcutta.

The director-general of HelpAge, Air Marshall (retired) Vinod Patney, who was in the city on Thursday, said HelpAge has acquired a property in Alipore for a multi-aid project. “We plan to start a day-care centre as well as provide medical support for the poor,” said Patney. Vocational training will also be imparted at the centre, he said.

“The objective of my visit was to oversee our ‘Joined hands campaign’. We are seeking public support,” said Patney. Several corporate houses, he said, had expressed their desire to help the organisation.

Apart from running over 100 old-age homes and several income-generation programmes, HelpAge India has mobile medicare units catering to senior citizens in slums. It also provides financial assistance in the form of micro-credit to senior citizens.


Calcutta, July 11: 
He speaks in barely a murmur through his grey beard, but his tired eyes dance with the evidence of a five-year-old dream come true. It was a mission which consumed the frail 80-year-old ‘educationist-in-spirit’. An ambition inexplicable for a man without a day’s formal learning, but with a “visionary zeal to educate”.

Sukai Chacha, now paralysed on the right side after suffering a stroke, has lived to see all his grandchildren in school. To do so, Chacha, or Sheikh Sukurani, went from door to door in his village Kapasharia, begging for handfuls of rice, not a grain of which he touched, though he lived in abject poverty. Selling the rice, he collected enough money, over four years, to construct a two-room school building, sans the roof.

But things have changed in Kapasharia, 30 km from Calcutta, in Hooghly district, after Chacha received the Dr Mrs N.B. O’Brien Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award for a Teacher at The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence’ last August, which carries with it a Rs 25,000 cash prize.

Though Chacha is confined to a madur in his mud hut, the village now has a school — with two rooms complete and four more on the way — and 250 students on the rolls, who would have had no chance of a high-school education. “A fire like this is rare. The school would never have come so far without Chacha,” says Shiraz Ali Khan, one of six voluntary teachers at Shiksha Niketan High School, set up for Class V to IX students.

The majority of students — more than 180 of them — are girls. Masura, around 20 years old, had to drop out of school as a child after her father died. “I do whatever work I can find in the village. Usually it is rope-making, dyeing or sewing… I used to study at home, as much as I could, because I always wanted to. I am so happy that we have this school now,” grins Masura. “By Allah’s grace, if I pass my exams here, I would love to study further.”

Local schools are too expensive — at around Rs 175 a month — and too far away for most students. Esmtara Khatun, suffering from heart trouble, stopped going to the school in neighbouring Tajpur because she couldn’t make the long walk every morning. “But now I can continue my education,” smiles the 18-year-old.

And even for those who are able, the alternative schools are hardly an option. “Our kids usually do not get admission to the local high schools, which never judge by merit,” says Haider Ali, who grew up in Kapasharia, and is now continuing Chacha’s work of finding funds for the school. He has appealed to the state education department for support for the school, “meant for backward minorities”. Says Ramchandra Ghosh, maths teacher in the village for over four years: “We are working now with the hope that the government will come forward… that our efforts today will one day find recognition.”

Though Chacha may not be able to see his granddaughters Hafiza and Rukshana making steady progress, even a day before his recent illness, he was sitting in class, watching his dream take shape, breathing life into the small school with only two blackboards and floor mats for the children. And the teachers and students alike will remember these words from Sukai Chacha for years to come: “Finally, our village can come out of the darkness, which has kept it in the shadows for years. Only through education will we find our way.”


Calcutta, July 11: 
The Salt Lake police, bogged down by the recent spurt in crime, are further hit by the increasing number of “dark zones” in the satellite township.

A number of thoroughfares and bylanes are insufficiently lit, providing the perfect cover for criminals to escape. “Several roads and bus terminuses in Salt Lake are not properly lit. It provides an easy getaway for criminals,” complained police officer Sujay Chanda. “We are discussing the problem with the Bidhannagar Municipality,” he added.

Officers are of the opinion that the recent spurt in cases of snatching, theft and vehicle-lifting are largely due to insufficient and damaged streetlights.

Municipality officials admit that some of the important roads — Second Avenue, Karunamoyee Main Road, Kadapara Road, Grand Street and Cross Roads 6 and 7 — besides the three important bus terminuses at Karunamoyee, AJ and GD Blocks, are not well lit.

Narayan Basu, president, Bidhannagar Welfare Association, said: “A man was recently stabbed on a lane between CB and CC Blocks, in a stretch that was pitch dark.” He added that the municipality would do well to maintain the streetlights and thereby prevent criminal activities in the area.

Tulsi Sinha Roy, Trinamul Congress councillor from Ward 12, alleged that 100-watt bulbs, instead of the usual sodium vapour lamps, light important roads. “At least three bus terminuses have absolutely no lights, making it unsafe for women to wait there in the evenings. Goons are often spotted drinking and gambling at the bus-stands,” she added.

Roy says she has informed the civic authorities about the problem and yet no action has been taken. “The authorities’ indifference is shocking,” she said.

Another councillor Sabyasachi Dutta, of Ward no. 10, feels that the police and the municipality are to share the blame for the recent spurt in crime.

“In Sector I, at least 15 to 20 lamp-posts have been damaged by cable television operators. During our board meeting, we had intended to ask the cable television association to shell out Rs 5 lakh as security deposit, with which we could have repaired the poles. But the chairman rejected the proposal, for reasons known to him,” Dutta said. According to him, misappropriation of funds in the municipality is one of the main reasons for poor illumination of roads in Salt Lake.

When contacted, Dilip Gupta, chairman, Salt Lake municipality, agreed that the funds crunch was, indeed, one of the main reasons for the badly-illuminated streets. “Maintenance costs have escalated. Besides, we are unable to pay the hiked tariff of the West Bengal State Electricity Board,” Gupta told Metro.


Calcutta, July 11: 
Two quacks, Shyam Sundar Agarwal and Sudarshan Dhandania, were arrested on Wednesday for selling cowdung and urine and passing it off as “magic medicine” to unsuspecting customers. The duo was operating from a shop on 122, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Jorasanko, when a complaint from a local drug controller put the police on their trail.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Shibaji Ghosh, said Agarwal and Dhandania had been running the racket for the past six months. “They would dupe customers by assuring them that the medicine would cure chronic diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis. The bottles were priced at Rs 500 and above,” said Ghosh.

The duo would prey on customers from the low-income group, comprising labourers and traders from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. According to the police, neither Dhandania nor Agarwal revealed the contents of the medicine to the customers. “It is a magic drug,’’ is all they said.

Jorasanko residents, however, allege that the police were aware of the racket but did not take action, so far. “In fact, Agarwal would openly flaunt his connections with the top brass at Jorasanko police station,’’ said Sujit Gupta, a resident.

On Thursday, Enforcement Branch officials, posing as patients, went to the shop, asking for the “magic medicine”. They, too, were given the same bottle. “When the police asked Dhandania about the contents of the bottle, he was reluctant to reveal the secret. Later, he confessed that the bottles contained cowdung and urine,” said Ghosh. The duo was brought to Lalbazar and remanded in police custody. The bottles have been destroyed.


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