Dress code for art students
Short-circuit ruled out in Firpo’s blaze
Domestic gas in the pipeline
Cold to touch, with fire within
The City Diary
Romancing the written word
Get a hang of things, Khagenbabu tells you how
Nicco Park, Nalban in tax net
Ladies’ doctor for lock-up men
Number jinx in stolen car databank

 
 
DRESS CODE FOR ART STUDENTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
A sartorial spat has sparked campus clashes at Rabindra Bharati University. The BT Road campus has been engulfed in a conflict over how students should conduct themselves.

Violence on campus — leaving around a dozen students injured and not even sparing faculty members — has prompted the setting up of a one-man commission of inquiry by the vice-chancellor.

Trouble began soon after the visual arts faculty was shifted from Jorasanko to BT Road, where several other faculties and departments have functioned for years.

The 300-odd students of the new faculty have literally taken the campus by storm. Labelled “bohemian” by the existing set of students, they have caught the eye and sparked ire by “moving around in shorts and smoking openly, flouting the tradition of the university.”

More than 300 students of the faculty boycotted classes on Wednesday, demanding “security and a congenial atmosphere for the pursuit of art and culture”. They also demanded shifting of the entire fine arts department to the BT Road campus.

This followed Monday’s and Tuesday’s clashes, in which faculty dean Parthapratim Deb and two other professors, Dipankar Dasgupta and Surajit Chandra, were manhandled.

A student, Mrinal Kanti Roy of Jalpaiguri, had to be treated at RG Kar Medical College Hospital for arm injuries.

“It is unprecedented in my long tenure of 30 years of service in the university,” said Deb on Wednesday.

Vice-chancellor Bharati Mukherjee, however, said that a few teachers of the fine arts faculty were instigating the students. “It is unfortunate that the faculty provoked its students during the clash on Tuesday,” she added.

Mukherjee made it clear to Deb that his students would not be allowed on the campus or in the canteen in shorts. She also warned that girl students would not be allowed to smoke in the canteen or on the campus.

“I have no objection if the boys wear shorts and girls smoke while working in their studios,” Mukherjee said.

Deb defended his students, saying it was more convenient for them to wear shorts while handling clay or plaster of Paris and colours. “What they wore was never a problem on the Jorasanko campus,” Deb added.

The newcomers on the campus, who are outnumbered, alleged they were “constant victims of taunts, humiliation, teasing and mental torture”.

   

 
 
SHORT-CIRCUIT RULED OUT IN FIRPO’S BLAZE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
Exactly three months after a massive fire destroyed Firpo’s market, one of Calcutta’s landmarks, a State Forensic Science Laboratory report has ruled out a “short-circuit” as the cause of the blaze. The report says the fire may have been caused by the presence of inflammable materials in the market.

Police slammed the report as “inconclusive” in nature. The report does not also state where and how the inflammable material was stored and how it set off the blaze.

On April 23, a fire razed the restaurant-turned-market. Despite efforts by fire-fighters, it could not be saved, setting off speculation that the market had been set on fire. But there has been no circumstantial evidence to substantiate this.

“We have explored all possible angles so far. It does not seem that the fire would have hugely benefited anyone. No shop has made any major insurance claim either,” said a senior police officer connected with the probe.

Corroborating the “accident theory”, an officer said: “The laboratory report does not pinpoint the floor or the shop where the fire broke out. Neither does it specify the type of inflammable product responsible for the fire. Most of the shops had portable generators to deal with frequent power cuts. All these gensets obviously contained inflammable products,” he added.

Deputy commissioner of police (detective department) Soumen Mitra will hold a meeting with additional police commissioners and other officers to determine the next course of action in the Firpo’s fire probe.

“If we have to arrest somebody, we must be sure that there is enough evidence against him to submit a chargesheet,” the officer said.

   

 
 
DOMESTIC GAS IN THE PIPELINE 
 
 
BY PALLAB BHATTACHARYA
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
The Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL) plans to provide “hassle-free” domestic gas connections in the city through a joint venture with Greater Calcutta Gas Supply Corporation (GCGSC).

GAIL sources said the board has already approved the proposal and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) will soon be signed with GCGSC, a state government undertaking.

The plan is to distribute 50 million cubic feet of gas a day in Calcutta, connecting “over one lakh households over a period of five years”. According to GAIL officials, natural gas is “much cheaper” than LPG and “more convenient for consumers”, as the supply is through a pipeline, not cylinders.

Confirming the move, a senior executive of GCGSC said the draft MoU has been sent to the state government for approval. GAIL has already been operating in Mumbai and Delhi through joint ventures with British Gas and Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL).

“Both the joint ventures, Mahanagar Gas Ltd in Mumbai and Indraprastha Gas Company in Delhi, are successful in terms of getting a response both from domestic and industrial consumers. We are planning to implement the same model in Calcutta,” they said.

Mahanagar Gas, a 50:50 joint venture between GAIL and British Gas, has over a lakh of domestic connections and over 36,000 transport consumers. Indraprastha Gas, involving BPCL and GAIL, has over 4,500 domestic and 65,000 transport operators. While the total investment in the projects is over Rs 2,000 crore, the investment in Calcutta has been pegged at over Rs 750 crore, sources said.

GAIL is hopeful of bringing gas from either Bangladesh or Myanmar. “We are quite optimistic that we will be able to source gas from Bangladesh in the next couple of months, once the diplomatic issues are sorted out,” GAIL officials said. “The state is very strategically located, as several projects are currently going on in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Tripura. Once the negotiations are over, Calcutta will be the nearest location to use the gas from those places.”

British Gas, too, has shown an interest in joining the Calcutta venture. A British Gas spokesperson confirmed that “discussions with both GAIL and GCGSC are on” and a decision may soon be taken. “Calcutta is part of our plan to cater to the domestic as well as industrial consumers in the major Indian cities. Our experiment in Mumbai is very encouraging and we think we will be able to satisfy consumers in Calcutta,” he said.

GAIL has plans to lay pipelines throughout the state, with an investment of Rs 1,500 crore over the next five years. It is also working on gas reserves 300 km from the Digha coast.

   

 
 
COLD TO TOUCH, WITH FIRE WITHIN 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
A carat is actually one-fifth of a gram and the unit derives its name from carob seeds, five of which together weigh a gram

A diamond can never be see-through; a crystal that looks like a diamond but is transparent cannot be the real thing

The ‘girdle’ is another way to identify a diamond; it is bound to have the rough whitish and greyish look

Eighteen ‘students’ are now poring over the small wonders inside a ‘classroom’ at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC), seeking to fathom the mystery behind the world’s dearest stone and what sets it apart from lookalikes, often created with much greater care than the real thing.

Welcome to the city’s first workshop on diamonds for those outside the jewellery trade. When the five-day session — an expensive affair, with the fee for the course being Rs 4,250 — gives over, all 18 will know how to tell the real thing from the fakes and learn to grade them according to their pedigree and, of course, their price.

Students of the stone are armed with the ‘10-x loop’ — for the layman, it’s a lens that magnifies a diamond 10 times — the tweezer and the silvette (a leather strip, more often than not made of the skin of a deer, used to clean the stone). Suhani Jain, a trained gemologist, is also armed with similar equipment, besides a projector to screen the Focus Diamontaire, a film that focuses on diamonds, including a shot that shows what the stone looks from inside; strangely, it is very different from the glittering exterior, with darker shades predominating.

Suhani, who recently gave up her teaching job at Calcutta’s Siddharth Institute of Gemology, “fell in love with the diamond” when she saw one as a student of Class VII at M.B. Girls’ High School. “I desperately wanted to be inside it,” she says, after the session with her students.

Most of her 18 students are still studying in school or college or are housewives. “They don’t want to be duped when they are buying a diamond for themselves or their friends,” says Suhani.

Others, like exporter Prashant Sharma and interior designer Abha Neotia, who know the basics, have also turned up to “hone their identification and gradation skills”.

The workshop will get over on Saturday but Suhani feels the lessons will linger. As they say, diamonds are forever.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Cargo staff strike work at airport

No cargo was handled at Netaji Subhas International Airport on Wednesday due to a ceasework called by clearing agents. They were protesting the alleged manhandling of one of their colleagues by “outsiders” on Tuesday. According to customs sources, except diplomatic packages, newspapers and perishable items, imported cargo could not be cleared during the day. Approximately 30 tonnes of cargo are exported from the airport daily while an almost equal quantity of imported cargo arrives from different places at Calcutta. Airport police sources said four persons were arrested in connection with Tuesday’s incident.

Lawmen face flak over satta

Police chief Sujoy Chakraborty pulled up officers in charge of Gariahat, Lake, Jorasanko, Burrabazar and Posta police stations for failing to check satta operations. The move comes in the wake of complaints lodged by social groups and eminent citizens against police inaction. The lawmen have been asked to keep vigil on several areas, especially Satyanarayan Park, in Burrabazar. Officers of two police stations in north and south Calcutta were also reprimanded for refusing to register cases. Officers-in-charge of all 46 police stations were present at the meeting held at Lalbazar.

Road accident

Rekha Joardar, 35, was injured when she was hit by a car on Gariahat Road on Wednesday. She was admitted to a local hospital. The driver fled with the car, police said.

Dental college

The state government has opened a new campus of the R. Ahmed Dental College and Hospital in Sealdah at K.S. Roy TB Hospital in Jadavpur. A five-acre plot has been acquired for the purpose. Director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee said graduation and post-graduation courses will be introduced on the new campus if the Indian Dental Council gives permission. The number of beds in the hospital will double after the opening of the new building. At present, only 75 patients can be admitted to the hospital, he added.

Building collapse

Two pedestrians, one of them a woman, were injured when a portion of a building on Ganesh Chandra Avenue collapsed on Wednesday. The injured were identified as Malati De and Kallu Jadav. Both were admitted to hospital in critical condition, police said.

Run over

A middle-aged man was run over by a private bus on route 34B at the crossing of Bidhan Sarani and Arabinda Sarani at 8 pm on Wednesday. The driver of the vehicle fled.

Order on tax dues

The division bench of Justice S. Banerjee and Justice P. Sinha directed Sree Durga Agency Private Limited, owner of a highrise on Sarat Bose Road, to pay Rs 1.5 crore to the Corporation for restoring water connection. The bench also directed the firm to pay up the rest of its dues within a month. The company had Rs 4.1 crore pending in taxes. After it paid only Rs 40 lakh, the Corporation disconnected the building’s water connection, counsel Ashok Das Adhikari said. Company representatives said they would move the Supreme Court.    

 
 
ROMANCING THE WRITTEN WORD 
 
 
BY SUDESHNA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
A Masters in engineering, a PhD in management and a Fellow of strategic marketing at Templeton College, Oxford. Certainly not a career profile one associates with a writer of fiction. But for Kunal Basu — whose first novel, a 19th century historical romance entitled The Opium Clerk, has won critical acclaim — both identities hang easy on his shoulders.

“Oxford allows eccentrics to thrive,” he says, sipping his cup of café au lait. In effect, the foundation for this duality was laid early, in the milieu in which he was raised. “I come from a bookish household,” says Basu, whose publisher father Sunil Kumar counted Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Bishnu Dey, Subhas Mukhopadhyay and Kamal Kumar Majumdar among his friends.

“As a precocious child, I would eavesdrop on their conversations. Though I did not understand much, I was free to imbibe.” Add to this a “fantastic” family library and an early initiation into reading by mother Chhabi Basu, a feminist author. So, though the student of science was dealing with numbers in school (South Point) and “hating every moment” of it, at home he was looking at words.

This romance with the written word continued through his college life. Basu took shelter from the barren world of engineering workshops at Jadavpur University in writing and in theatre. “I was associated with Utpal Dutt’s People’s Little Theatre and wrote in Bengali for their magazine Epic Theatre.” Even after having experienced campus life across three continents over the past three decades (he taught for 13 years at McGill University, Canada, set up a business school in Havana, and is a visiting Fellow of Renmin University in China), the salt-and-pepper haired professor looks back at student life in the 70’s Calcutta as the “most vibrant”. “Street politics, theatre, stormy discussions over teacups — there was so much going on that one had a general feeling of being alive in an interesting time,” the university debate team member and erstwhile president of the engineering faculty student’s union says.

A journey to the US — to do his post-graduation at the Florida Institute of Technology — expanded Basu’s horizons. “Once I completed my MS in a record 16 months, I backpacked in the US and across Europe, and returned home with $100 in my pocket and a resolution to do everything but engineering,” he says.

A period of meandering followed, during which he tried his hand at copy-writing, freelanced for newspapers and went behind the camera for a film entitled Football. “1980 saw two major incidents of soccer mayhem on the Maidan. In the film, we tried to trace the genesis of social violence — what unleashes the latent emotions of individuals once they are herded in the galleries,” Basu recalls. Even then, he found writing the screenplay more interesting than shooting the film.

Basu would return to script-writing much later in the 90s for a documentary on the Baluchari sari called The Magic Loom. By then, he had started writing poetry and short stories for various American magazines. Yet it was not until Alan Ross, editor of London Magazine, picked up one of his stories, Lenin’s Cafe, for publication in 1997, did Basu take to writing in right earnest.

The shift from Canada to the UK, the hub of publishing, only facilitated the process. He found an agent and publisher “rather quickly” and in 2001, the hardback version of The Opium Clerk was out in Britain.

The “non-linear journey” has taken Basu across so many disciplines and digressions. Yet art remains his primary passion. “Since I cannot go back in time and join art school, all I can do is write about it,” he reasons. And that is what he has done in his forthcoming novel The Miniaturist which traces the adventures of a miniature painter in Mughal India.

   

 
 
GET A HANG OF THINGS, KHAGENBABU TELLS YOU HOW 
 
 
BY NISHA LAHIRI
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
Khagenbabu (junior) can tell your age “if you are between six and 59 years old”. He can bat his eyelashes, too. He will soon be able to converse, say whether the speaker is male or female, respond to his own name being called and make his way to the caller, circumventing all obstacles in the way. Khagenbabu is a robot, and an “intelligent” one at that. Although still in the research stages, he has a “bright future” and is destined for fame.

He is one of the projects at the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum (BITM), and his first public appearance is slated for “some time next year”, with plans to make him “more user-friendly than Khagenbabu senior”, who “retired” in 1995, after entertaining more than a million visitors.

BITM has over 65 different projects, seminars, workshops, fairs, contests and exhibitions through the year, pursuing its aim of giving children a non-formal educational experience in traditionally boring science subjects: “exciting their senses and igniting their passions” in a diverse range of subjects, from old-fashioned chemistry and physics, to new-age IT technology, electronics and robotics.

The state-level maths quiz was staged in July, with a state-level seminar on remote sensing and Puja vacation workshops on the cards for the next couple of months.

BITM, the eastern region parent body of the National Council of Science Museums (NCSM), draws over 200,000 visitors a year. “In terms of visitor statistics, we have reached our saturation point,” admits Samaresh Goswamy, director of BITM. “But our mobile science museum is a very successful venture, even though it is logistically and financially difficult. The bus is on the road in the districts for about eight months in the year, and those visitor figures are steadily rising.”

There are plans to renovate the two motive power galleries at the museum by 2004, with the latest technology on display. BITM also runs computer-based training programmes at very low prices for financially-backward unemployed youth.

“We do get funds from the Central government, but their policy is that we must be able to stand on our own two feet as much as possible. So, about 25 per cent of our expenditure is generated by ourselves,” says Goswamy.

“Our means for gathering funds include ticket sales, as well as making sets for science programmes on Doordarshan. We also sell our exhibits to foreign museums, things that visitors from abroad like. We sold eight of them to a museum in Singapore a couple of years ago,” recounts Goswamy.

There are galleries on motive power, popular science, electronics and many more, with the coal mine being the most frequented. There are daily demonstrations, audio-visual as well as ‘live’. One of the most popular aspects with the youngsters is the pet club, where one can “borrow” a variety of animals, to get an idea of what it takes to look after pets.

Drawing, quizzes, drama, film, community programmes — all with a dash of science, to encourage the “scientists of the future”. And if the BITM success story is anything to go by, fun is all it takes to get the children of today interested in science.

   

 
 
NICCO PARK, NALBAN IN TAX NET 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
The Salt Lake municipality has initiated a move to levy taxes on major commercial establishments, including Nicco Park, Nalban boating complex and the swimming pool located in the township.

The civic body also plans to include Yuva Bharati Krirangan (Salt Lake stadium) in its tax net.

The public accounts committee (PAC) of the municipality has prepared the proposal and submitted it before the civic board for ratification. The board is scheduled to meet on July 25, when it will take the final decision on tax collection.

The civic body has also initiated a move to levy taxes on all state, Central and semi-government offices in the township.

“Why should the big establishments be spared? They avail of all civic amenities but do not pay tax. Our stand is clear: everyone availing of civic amenities must pay tax,’’ said Salt Lake municipality chairman Dilip Gupta.

He has already started sending out tax bills to government offices, asking them to pay up immediately. “In case payment is delayed, we shall stop providing them with civic amenities, including water, garbage clearance and sewerage,’’ warned Gupta.

He said the municipality had to raise its funds and reduce dependence on the government. “The state government has specifically told us that we have to be self-dependent and carry out development projects without government funds. Naturally, to raise funds, we have to tap our own resources. So, the initial thrust is on tax collection. We are also planning other measures to raise funds,’’ Gupta said.

According to PAC chairman Asesh Mukherjee, there was a lack of initiative on the part of the municipality to tax business establishments. As Nicco Park and Nalban are joint-venture establishments and the stadium a government property, nobody dared to levy taxes on them.

Mukherjee said the state nod had made it simpler for them to tax government and semi-government properties.

The Opposition has supported the move by the Left Front to levy taxes on major establishments, including government offices. “To carry out development activities, we must increase our resources. Why should government institutions and profit-making organisations be spared from civic taxes?” asked Trinamul Congress councillor Tulsi Sinha Roy.

   

 
 
LADIES’ DOCTOR FOR LOCK-UP MEN 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
It took 14 years for Lalbazar to discover that all along, it had a gynaecologist to attend on male prisoners at the central lock-up, instead of a general practitioner.

Dr Avijit Hazra, gynaecologist, was sent on deputation to Lalbazar by the state health department in June 1989. “Initially, it was meant to be a stop-gap arrangement. Before Hazra was appointed, five doctors had quit the post in a nine-month span. Since no doctor was readily available at the time, we had to appoint him,” the Lalbazar top brass clarified.

On Wednesday, the health department suddenly realised that the “stop-gap” arrangement had dragged on for 14 years. “We admit that the arrangement was not right, and we hope to rectify the problem,’’ said health secretary Asim Barman on Wednesday. He added: “But so far, we have received no complaints against Hazra. He is a capable doctor and no one has criticised his diagnoses.”

According to Human Rights Commission officials, it is mandatory to appoint a general practitioner in jails. “The doctor is supposed to check the prisoners before they are sent to the lock-up. If there are any health complications, the prisoner is sent to hospital,’’ said commission chairman Mukul Gopal Mukherjee.

Sources said Hazra attends on more than 200 undertrials a day. “My work involves making rounds of the lock-ups at fixed intervals, besides attending a chamber on the premises,’’ Hazra said.

“He is a fine doctor. We have no problems with him at all,” certified city police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty. “His medical fundamentals are perfect. Besides, he refers difficult cases to specialists. In any case, I had no hand in his being posted at Lalbazar. That is the job of the health department.”

Officers on duty at the central lock-up said they had no complaints against Hazra attending to prisoners, other than the fact that he had specialised in gynaecology.

Hazra recalled having toured West Bengal districts before being posted at Lalbazar to monitor the health of prisoners.

   

 
 
NUMBER JINX IN STOLEN CAR DATABANK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
The databank of stolen vehicles, prepared after extensive research by the National Crime Records Bureau, is unable to locate the fact-file of vehicles whose engine and chassis numbers have been tampered with, according to deputy director S. Prakash.

“Right now, it is impossible to record vehicles with tampered engine and chassis numbers. If the system is made more hi-tech, perhaps some day we can register such vehicles,” said Prakash.

On Wednesday, Prakash handed over a compact disc containing information on 400,000 stolen and recovered vehicles in the country to city police chief Sujoy Chakraborty at Lalbazar.

According to statistics available, 315 four-wheelers and 750 two-wheelers have been stolen from the city this year. Detectives of the motor theft department admitted that racketeers tamper with the engine and chassis numbers to prepare fake documents and sell the stolen vehicles to unsuspecting customers. Sources said the police’s inability to retrieve the stolen cars has raised concern.

Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Soumen Mitra said from Thursday, people keen on buying second-hand vehicles could come to the inquiry counter of the detective department and fill up a form on details about engine and chassis numbers, besides its previous record. “The process will take an hour, but at least the buyer is briefed on the vehicle’s history,’’ he added. “The data will be upgraded every week.”

Both Mitra and Prakash said that people unable to make it to Lalbazar could mail their queries on second-hand cars to them. “After going through the data, we will definitely post them a reply,’’ Mitra said.

   
 

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