The mystery of the body bag
Suit for zoo animals
The City Diary
Book-lovers’ den to private-sector bank
Officer assault in telecom row
Drug peddler gives police the slip
Parties join school unrest over a slap for smoking
Bandwidth battle hots up
President poll safe from rail row fallout
Wheel re-invented in education policy

 
 
THE MYSTERY OF THE BODY BAG 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 12: 
A body inside a sack dropped off by some men in a taxi at a north Calcutta locality before sunrise on Friday sent policemen on a wild-goose chase.

At the end of the day, more than three dozen police stations in the city and more in Howrah, North and South 24-Parganas were grappling with the mystery of the body bag. Chopped at the base of the skull and shot in the chest, officials said the man’s body bore definite marks of torture. Police pegged the victim’s age at 30-plus.

Witnesses — all pavement-dwellers — claimed that a taxi, with “about four men” inside, dropped off a sack containing “something heavy” before daybreak on Raicharan Sadhukhan Road. The taxi sped off, not giving residents a chance to raise an alarm.

After some time spent in speculating about the bag’s contents, residents decided to call the police. “We could not make out what was inside the bag, but the manner in which it was dumped led us to call the local police,” a resident said, adding that the lane along Ultadanga Main Road had never witnessed anything like this.

Deputy commissioner, eastern suburban division, Sanjoy Mukherjee, said the body bore several wounds, including a bullet-injury in the chest. Initial investigations had drawn a blank, he admitted. “Despite information passed on to three dozen police stations in Calcutta and several more in the neighbouring districts, we can’t say anything beyond that he was probably murdered somewhere else and the body was dumped here,” he added.

The man had his hands and feet tied with yellow cloth and detectives said he appeared to have been tortured before being killed, said deputy commissioner, detective department, Soumen Mitra. “We suspect he was murdered either late on Thursday or early on Friday,’’ he added.

Mitra, too, admitted that the police were still clueless about either the man’s identity or the motive behind the murder. Besides making out from his clothes that he probably came from a middle-class family, there was nothing that could be said before the post-mortem was carried out at R.G. Kar Hospital.

The incident created quite a sensation in the Raicharan Sadhukhan Road area, with residents appearing concerned about what had happened at their doorstep. What has left the cops even more bewildered are the two tattoos on the victim’s left hand. “The tattoos, appearing to read something like MSS, are highly unusual,” an Ultadanga police station official said.

   

 
 
SUIT FOR ZOO ANIMALS 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 12: 
The green bench of Calcutta High Court on Friday heard a petition filed by People for Animals, Calcutta, represented by Maneka Gandhi, Russi Mody, Joy Karlekar and others, demanding “active intervention” of the court to improve the condition of animals in Alipore zoo.

The division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice J. Biswas directed the wildlife department of the state of West Bengal and the Central Zoo Authority to file affidavits stating their stand with regard to the allegations and fixed the next hearing after four weeks. “Most animals in the zoo are under-fed and in need of special attention,” claimed the petitioner, seeking a showcause against the zoo.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Drug board warning for chemists

The Drug Control Board will take action against chemists who do not refrigerate medicines that need to be preserved in a cool place. An official of the board said on Friday that adequate measures will be taken against those who violate this rule. A notification will soon be issued in this regard, he added.

Emission test units pulled up

The city traffic police and the motor vehicles department cancelled the licences of four auto-emission testing centres on charges of issuing fake pollution-under-control certificates. Police conducted a surprise raid and discovered that these auto-emission centres did not have the requisite infrastructure to issue the pollution certificates.

Dacoits held

Four armed dacoits were arrested from Taltala on Thursday night. A huge cache of arms was recovered from them. Police said five men had planned to loot a shop. They were spotted by a police patrol and rounded up. One of the gang members fled on a motorcycle.

Power protest

Residents of Bansdroni, on the southern fringes of the city, demonstrated in front of the West Bengal State Electricity Board office on Friday. They were protesting frequent power cuts in the area for the past three days. They were led by local Trinamul Congress leader Subrata Chowdhury.

Sahgal attack

Members of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly and supporters of the Students Federation of India on Friday condemned the attack on Presidential candidate Lakshmi Sahgal in front of the Mumbai press club by the BJP student wing. Rabin Deb of CPM and Gobinda Roy of Forward Bloc said in the Assembly that those who attacked “freedom-fighter Sahgal” should be condemned.

Three arrested

Three criminals wanted for murder and extortion in the Dum Dum area were arrested from Muchipara on Friday afternoon. Acting on a tip-off, the police raided a house and picked them up.

Roadblock

Thirteen Youth Congress activists were arrested near Raj Bhavan for demonstrating against nationalised banks alleging that they were not issuing loans to the unemployed. Police evicted the activists, who squatted on the road blocking traffic for some time. They were later released.

Demolition row

Some residents of the Sealdah railway quarters demonstrated in front of the Divisional Railway Manager’s office on Friday protesting the demolition of a slum. The demonstrators were led by local Congress MLA Somen Mitra.

Dry station

Passengers travelling by long-distance trains from Howrah station have alleged that some railway employees were creating an “artificial crisis of drinking water” by turning off the taps and forcing them to purchase bottled water. Railway officials denied the allegations. The taps, they said, were turned off due to technical reasons.    

 
 
BOOK-LOVERS’ DEN TO PRIVATE-SECTOR BANK 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT AND ANIEK PAUL
 
Calcutta, July 12: 
It’s official now. The erstwhile British Council Library (BCL) buildings on 5 and 7, Shakespeare Sarani, have a new occupant: UTI Bank.

The landmark on one of the city’s busiest roads will house the private-sector bank’s main Calcutta branch, zonal office, an RBI-approved currency chest and a service branch.

UTI Bank’s decision to move out of Lords building, on AJC Bose Road, was triggered by the chaos created there by the construction work for the flyover.

“The search for new premises took a little over two months, during which time we looked at a number of prime properties in the city,” said a senior bank official. The BCL property was acquired on a 10-year lease by the bank, earlier this week.

The only hitch in deciding in favour of the BCL property was its accessibility. Shakespeare Sarani being a one-way street, there were doubts about customer convenience in reaching the bank. But the central location, competitive price and the existence of a number of corporate houses in the vicinity clinched the deal. The total available space is around 60 cottahs (43,000 sq ft). UTI Bank has taken the entire building at 5, Shakespeare Sarani and a part of the 7, Shakespeare Sarani premises: a little over 22,000 sq ft. The owners have retained the driveway to the library, the cafeteria and the rear lawn.

Though both buyer and seller are tight-lipped about the details of “one of the biggest” real estate rent deals in the city of late, industry observers consider it a boost, in view of the “dull and depressed” rent market for commercial properties.

“The going rate for rented commercial properties in that locality varies between Rs 30 and Rs 50 per sq ft. So, it’s a fair deal for both parties,” said Jitendra Khaitan of Pioneer Properties, a leading real estate broker.

According to industry sources, UTI Bank will pay more than Rs 10 lakh per month as rent, besides a hefty up-front sum.

Real estate heavyweight Mahendra Jalan, too, is favourably inclined to the deal. “A number of properties in prime locations are on the block, but there are hardly any takers. A case in point is India Steamship House, in BBD Bag, opposite Great Eastern Hotel. State Bank of India, owners of the building, are trying to sell it for the past six months, but buyers have steered clear till now,” said Jalan.

UTI Bank officials are now busy drawing up plans to shift into their new address at the earliest. “As per our schedule, work to refurbish the interiors will start by the middle of this month, once we decide on the architect. The interiors will be given the modern bank look, but we won’t make any structural changes to the building’s exteriors. We expect work to be complete by Pujas,” said a senior official.

   

 
 
OFFICER ASSAULT IN TELECOM ROW 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 12: 
A demonstration by Calcutta Telephones officers in the office of a senior West Bengal Telecom official on Thursday has sparked off a row, unheard of in the government-sector organisation’s history.

Telecom officials, a day after the incident, alleged on Friday that the BSNL sister concern was trying to sabotage its chances in its fight with private-sector giant Reliance.

The CalTel men had tried to persuade the telecom general manager (Calcutta SSA) N.N. Banerjee to roll back several “customer-friendly” initiatives that he had drawn up to prepare for the battle against Reliance.

From a proposal to clean up toilets to instal ‘may-I-help-you’ counters at important West Bengal telecom installations, the union, armed with a public address system, protested every measure thought up by the authorities.

Its logic was the same as is usually seen during all landlord-tenant disputes: why should West Bengal Telecom, that operates out of many rented buildings, spend thousands to “develop” property that essentially belongs to others?

Besides, there were the usual slogans against the “official-contractor” nexus that would bleed the BSNL to loss.

It’s not these slogans, however, that had raised West Bengal Telecom’s hackles. “Rather, it was the blatant show of force by CalTel officers inside a West Bengal Telecom general manager’s chamber and the insidious manner in which every customer-friendly initiative was being torn apart,” a senior official told Metro.

“Why should we continue to have toilets that remind one of run-down government offices? Why should consumers continue to roam about our offices unattended?” Banerjee himself asked on Friday.

“When I reminded the demonstrators of the challenge from Reliance, which they, too, would have to face, they abused me,” he said, adding that he was preparing a detailed report that would be submitted to his superiors.

The agitators reportedly entered Banerjee’s chamber around 11 am, when he was in the middle of a meeting, and left after 5 pm.

In the interim, they made free use of the public address system and, possibly for the first time, even refused to let the gheraoed official use the toilet.

Calcutta Telephone’s general manager, marketing, R.K. Mishra, said: “West Bengal Telecom is a sister concern. So there is no reason for us to fight this corporate war. We have our own priorities and shall proceed accordingly. Banerjee is a colleague and I think he has made such accusations because he is emotionally disturbed after Thursday’s incident.”

   

 
 
DRUG PEDDLER GIVES POLICE THE SLIP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 12: 
The police swooped down on Tiljala on Friday to round up drug peddler Bhutan, who operated in the New Market-Park Street area. The sleuths stormed Bhutan’s house but he escaped minutes before the raid. Officers suspect one of their colleagues forewarned him.

Sources said Bhutan heads a gang that sells drugs in front of theatres and schools, luring students and teenagers into the web. Local businessmen and residents had been lodging complaints with Taltala, New Market and Park Street police stations about the rise in drug-peddling in the area.

The traders told the police that even girls were selling drugs near Lighthouse and New Empire. “The menace affects our business. No respectable person or family wants to drop into our shop,’’ a trader complained.

Residents said the peddlers operate freely on Marquis Street, Free School Street, Kyd Street, Janbazar, Taltala, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, Ripon Lane and the surrounding areas.

Deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan, said Taltala and New Market police stations have been asked to step up the drive against peddlers. “I have spoken to the officers on Thursday and drawn up a plan to check this menace,’’ Hasan said.

According to Prabir Das, officer-in-charge, Park Street police station, Bhutan’s brother Makra and three of his associates, earlier arrested, had informed the cops about Bhutan’s Tiljala address. They even hinted that Bhutan had links with junior officers of Park Street and Taltala police stations. “He frequents his Sandal Street residence and the police are aware of it. There are rumours he is staying with a friend in GG Khan Road, in the Tiljala area,’’ said another drug-peddler, who operates in Topsia.

   

 
 
PARTIES JOIN SCHOOL UNREST OVER A SLAP FOR SMOKING 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 12: 
Tension prevails at the Gopalpur Sikshaniketan High School, in Maheshtala, after a teacher reprimanded some students for smoking in a classroom. Sources said the incident took place on July 9, when some boys were caught smoking during recess. Teacher Batakrishna Roy, when informed of the incident, rushed to the classroom and caught the students in the act.

The students tried to flee when they saw Roy, but he managed to catch three of them and slapped them. “The students were asked to submit a written undertaking that they would not repeat the act,” sources said.

Later, some of the students complained to their guardians about Roy. The parents of one student, Rajkumar Sardar, resented the punishment meted out by the teacher. A group led by Sardar’s parents arrived at the school and assaulted Roy.

Roy is a member of the Left-backed teachers’ organisation. Following the assault, he reported the matter to party workers and lodged an FIR at Jinjira Bazaar police station.

Trinamul Congress workers, getting wind of the incident, took up cudgels for the students who were slapped by Roy. “The teacher is known to create trouble for no reason,” said local Trinamul Congress leader Jayanta Sen on Friday.

He threatened to hold a demonstration in front of the school on Monday against Roy for punishing “innocent” boys.

Additional superintendent of police, industrial, Rajesh Kumar Singh, said: “I have asked the officer in-charge of Jinjira Bazaar police station to submit a detailed report on the incident, so that the guilty can be pulled up.”

   

 
 
BANDWIDTH BATTLE HOTS UP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 12: 
There’s a bandwidth battle in town, with the Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) aggressively marketing its SoftNET services to information technology (IT) and telecom companies here.

At the Infinity building in Salt Lake Electronic Complex (Saltlec), STPI is setting up a scalable 32 Mbps optic fibre-based bandwidth hub to provide high-speed data communication services. The building has around 20 occupants, like Bharti Mobitel, Citibank, HDFC, Global Telesystems, BNK e-solutions, and their bandwidth requirements are met by the VSNL hub in the intelligent building.

“The STPI mandate is to provide all relevant support to software exporters. Now, with SoftNET, we are trying to explore networking alternatives for better data communication needs,” says M.P. Dubey, additional director, STPI. The move to market bandwidth by setting up facilities at the same location is being seen as the non-profit Central government organisation’s bid to challenge the supremacy of VSNL, the telecom giant from the Tata stable.

STPI officials are pitching hard to convince telecom players, IT companies and call-centre operators to try their offering, at rates “around 20 to 25 per cent less than” VSNL. “According to their presentation, they will charge around Rs 1.60 lakh per annum for 64 Kbps connectivity. We pay around Rs 2.40 lakh for the same to VSNL. Competition will surely push prices down and improve quality of services,” says an Infinity-based IT-preneur.

Although STPI officials have denied sparking a price war with VSNL, their official stand reads: “Our quality of service and rates are going to be better than the alternatives.” Besides, the organisation is also drawing up plans to offer similar facilities in other parts of the state. The reaction from VSNL has been cautious. “All tariff decisions are taken centrally and so, at the regional level, we can’t comment on our future strategy,” said P. D. Gupta, chief general manager, VSNL.

Last year, Central minister Pramod Mahajan had inaugurated STPI’s international gateway at Saltlec. And using this backbone, STPI is offering SoftNET services, which will include international private leased circuit, high-speed Net access, video quality conferencing, rooftop gateway support and captive networks. “VSNL already has a hub in our building and now, with STPI setting another, it could help boost IT investment in the state,” says Biswajit Chaudhuri, of Infinity building.

   

 
 
PRESIDENT POLL SAFE FROM RAIL ROW FALLOUT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 12: 
Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee said today her current standoff with railway minister Nitish Kumar will not come in the way of her party’s decision to support the candidature of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam during the presidential poll on Monday.

Mamata and other party MPs will cast their votes in favour of the NDA candidate as decided earlier. “We do not intend to raise a hue and cry over the railway minister’s move to bifurcate Eastern Railway before the presidential election. However, our party MPs will become vocal in the Lok Sabha over the issue (the railway bifurcation) as soon as it resumes its monsoon session,” a senior party leader said today.

Mamata expects Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to take up the bifurcation issue with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes in the next couple of days. She will unveil her strategy to stall Kumar’s move after the presidential poll if Vajpayee fails to come up with a solution “that will protect the interests of both Bengal and Bihar”.

The Trinamul leader remained silent on the issue for the second consecutive day today, but has permitted her party’s youth wing to organise a “rail roko” across the state tomorrow.

Sanjoy Bakshi, president of the Trinamul Youth Congress, said party workers will block tracks for fifteen minutes to register their protest against Kumar’s move to carve out important divisions from Eastern Railway to create a new zone.

Bakshi today wrote a letter to the NDA convener, protesting against the burning of Mamata’s effigies in different parts of Bihar by Samata Party workers. He said the Trinamul Youth Congress expected Fernandes to take strong steps against those responsible. “We can also resort to similar tactics to counter them, but our leader has specifically directed us not to do anything which may strain relations between the two states,” he said.

Nirmal Maji, general secretary of the youth wing, said tomorrow’s rail roko will be a token and peaceful protest against the proposed bifurcation. “However, we will launch a militant movement over the issue after our public rally on July 21,” he said.

Sources said the Trinamul intends to use its Martyrs’ Day rally as a launching pad for a sustained agitation against the bifurcation.

The Trinamul Youth Congress is in constant touch with the railway employees’ unions, which are also protesting against the move.

   

 
 
WHEEL RE-INVENTED IN EDUCATION POLICY 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, July 12: 
With its decision to cut back on admissions to undergraduate courses, the ruling communists have come full circle.

In its push for reforms, Pramode Dasgupta’s assembly-line education for the masses has been forsaken. Instead, its pitch now is more elitist with higher education being preserved as the domain of the fewer and more “academically inclined” students.

CPM sources said this was a decision waiting to be taken. The winds of change have already touched the education system. English has been reintroduced at the primary level, fees have been restructured, education — both medical and technical — has been privatised and a code of conduct for teachers set in place.

Sources indicated that the decision to cut down admissions has already been approved by the Left Front education cell where the consensus was to reduce pressure on Calcutta University and encourage students to either seek admission in open universities or opt for vocational studies.

Yesterday, at a meeting of the undergraduate council of Calcutta University, the issue was elaborately discussed and it was decided that the university should open centres “to facilitate the process for low-end students to get admissions to open universities”.

“The choice before us was simple,” said a member of the council. “We had to reduce admissions to the university to improve the quality of education. We only get to realise the enormous task before us when we receive the examination forms from various colleges. The problem has to be nipped in the bud.”

The university’s pro vice-chancellor, academic, Suranjan Das, said this step is essential if Calcutta University has to qualify as a centre of excellence. “Jadavpur University has done it. If we also have to achieve this distinction, we have to do it with a lower weight of students on us,” he said.

The CPM-dominated West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association (WBCUTA) has backed the decision of the university authorities. “All education commissions, including the Bhabatosh Dutta commission, say a balanced teacher-student ratio should be maintained to ensure that quality education is imparted,” said Anil Bhattacharya, general secretary of the WBCUTA. Our association will extend full cooperation to the university authorities to implement its decision.”

The Principals’ Council of West Bengal, too, is supporting the government’s decision. It has decided to hold a meeting soon to figure out ways of starting study centres to facilitate the entry of those students into open universities who fail to make it to Calcutta University.

“Unless this step was taken, it would have meant the end of Calcutta University,” said Swapan Sarkar, the principals’ council’s general secretary. “This had to be done in the wider interest of meritorious students who were suffering as they were not receiving proper education and were faced with the prospect of delayed results. At the end of the day, it was the teachers who were being blamed.”

   
 

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