Child falls to killer needle
Devdas cries foul over cable beam
Twin strikes by Mamata men
All work, first play for Zeenat
The City Diary
Family feud cloud over property sale
Hazards of a neglected highrise
Monitor body for disability Act flaws
Felling of trees banned in Salt Lake
Campus aflame over sculpture

 
 
CHILD FALLS TO KILLER NEEDLE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 25: 
Another horror story in medical treatment was scripted on Thursday, when a four-year-old girl died in Howrah after being administered two injections — by a homoeopath.

This is the tale of Priyanka Hela, of Tikiapara, as narrated by her father, Shankar Hela, an employee of a local bank, and corroborated by additional superintendent of police (Howrah) Rajeev Mishra.

For the past few days, Priyanka had been unwell, suffering from rashes, which her parents believed was chicken pox. To get some relief — “My daughter simply could not sleep because of the discomfort and pain,” Shankar said — they took her to a local homoeopath, Gopal Chakraborty, who gave her some pills. “He said he, too, believed it was a case of chicken pox,” Shankar added.

But, apparently, the pills did not have any effect and, according to Priyanka’s parents, her condition worsened. “She was in agony on Wednesday night and we could not bear to see her suffer so,” Shankar said. On Thursday morning, she was rushed to Chakraborty.

He examined her and, before her father could even ask why, Chakraborty had pushed two injections into her. Mishra said the vials indicated that she had been administered a combination of Decadron, a steroid, and Deriphyllin, a bronco-dilator, plus Taxim, an antibiotic. “The doctor told us that these were life-saving medicines and had been administered as the patient was sinking,” Mishra said.

But instead of improving, the condition of little Priyanka got worse. After some minutes, her hands went limp, her eyes rolled back and her head lolled. “I knew there was something terribly wrong,” Shankar said. Priyanka was rushed to Howrah General Hospital, but by then, it was too late. The doctors in the emergency ward declared her dead.

As news of Priyanka’s death spread, and her parents narrated the events of the morning, her neighbours pinned the blame on Chakraborty. Soon, a crowd had gathered and attacked the doctor’s chamber.

Seeing the crowd approach, Chakraborty fled into the building. But the mob ransacked his chamber. The police arrived in time to save the doctor from the mob’s fury. They whisked Chakraborty away and later arrested him.

The doctor told the police that when Priyanka was brought to him on Thursday morning, “he believed she was suffering from bronco-pneumonia and thus, decided to administer the injections,” Mishra said.

Only the post-mortem report will reveal why Priyanka died on Thursday. Administered in proper doses, the combination of drugs injected into her is considered “safe” by doctors. But no one knows how much was injected.

But one thing is sure: A homoeopath has no business administering injections, that too of allopathic drugs. “This is totally unethical,” said president of the Homoeopathic Medical Association of India Ramkrishna Ghosh Mondal. “The Hahnemann school of homoeopathy rejects the idea of injections.”

Director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee said he would inquire into the matter on Friday.

   

 
 
DEVDAS CRIES FOUL OVER CABLE BEAM 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, July 25: 
Who needs to queue up outside the hall if Devdas has already come a-calling at home? After watching the police “do nothing” while they lose “Rs 5 lakh every day” to the cable beam, city exhibitors have taken their battle against video piracy to FICCI.

Arijit Dutta, Eastern Indian Motion Pictures Association vice-president, left for Mumbai on Thursday to meet the trade body with documents to prove that pirated versions of Devdas and Bend It Like Beckham have made their way into cable homes. “We are losing Rs 5 lakh a day and police have done nothing,’’ he alleged.

The FICCI entertainment committee is due to meet over the next few days. “I will show them how such pirating is killing the industry, and I will request them to take it up with the Central home and information and broadcasting ministries,’’ added Dutta.

Box-office collections of Devdas — showing at Mitra, Priya, Metro and Navina — have almost halved in the second week. Dipen Mitra said first-week collections had crossed Rs 6 lakh at Mitra, while the second saw only Rs 3.4 lakh coming in. Collections at Metro touched Rs 14 lakh in the first week, but crashed to Rs 8 lakh this week. At Priya, the figure dipped from Rs 11.5 lakh to Rs 8 lakh.

Exhibitors claim this is solely due to “the illegal screenings”. A spokesperson for Columbia Tristar, distributor of Bend It…, has attributed the “drastic drop” in footfall at Roxy to this as well.

Complaints have been received against cable operators across the city for screening Devdas and Bend it… This has prompted city police chief Sujay Chakraborty to look at “legal checks” to stop cable operators from running private movie channels. “We have seized several pirated copies of these films, but we can’t keep an eye on every cable operator,’’ he admitted.

   

 
 
TWIN STRIKES BY MAMATA MEN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 25: 
Pulverising a police station and paralysing a hospital — all in a day’s work for Trinamul Congress leader Madan Mitra.

Thursday morning saw Mitra unleash double-trouble in town, blocking the patients’ path to SSKM Hospital and then snatching a rogue taxi-driver from cop clutches.

Mitra and his men, owing allegiance to the Progressive Taximen’s Union (PTU), unleashed a campaign to free Kailash Pandit, 25, from the Maidan police station. The cabbie had been arrested for violating a traffic signal near Rabindra Sadan and driving without proper documents on Thursday morning.

Deputy commissioner of police, traffic, M.K. Singh, said Kailash tried to zoom off even after a policeman, A.K. Ghosh, had ordered him to stop for jumping a traffic light. “Ghosh chased the taxi and intercepted it,’’ Singh said. “The driver then could not produce a driving licence or documents of the vehicle. So, he was brought to Maidan police station by Ghosh.’’

Sources said the driver’s brother, Bulbul, is a close associate of Mitra. As word spread that the policeman had “assaulted and kidnapped” Kailash, Mitra’s army swung into action.

They blocked Harish Mukherjee Road, in front of SSKM Hospital — where Mitra was staging another demonstration to protest a breakdown in CT scan services — for more than half an hour, demanding Kailash’s release. “We will not lift the blockade till he is set free,’’ shouted PTU members, preventing patients from entering the hospital premises.

Officers from the Bhowanipore and Maidan police stations got in touch with Mitra in SSKM to negotiate a settlement. The police finally pacified the PTU supporters and assured them that Kailash would be freed.

The roadblock was lifted and vehicles were allowed to enter SSKM Hospital again.

“We finally had to release Kailash, although he could not produce his driving licence or proper documents for the vehicle,’’ admitted an officer of the South Traffic Guard.

Mitra later denied that he had urged his supporters to block the road to SSKM. “I was in the hospital when my associates told me that the police had arrested a taxi-driver without any reason, severely assaulted him and taken him away. There was no trace of him,’’ Mitra said. “I contacted the Lalbazar control room to find out what had happened. Angry drivers had blocked the road in front of the hospital, but by the time the police told me where he was, I had instructed them to remove the blockade,” Mitra added.

M.K. Singh later said the taxi had been detained and charges framed against the errant driver.

   

 
 
ALL WORK, FIRST PLAY FOR ZEENAT 
 
 
BY SAMARJIT GUHA
 
Calcutta, July 25: 
She’s planning to Boom on the big screen but slip silently (Chupke Chupke, that is) on to the stage — and that, too, in Calcutta. Zeenat Aman is back in business, dividing her days between Dubai, for Kaizad Gustaad’s film, and Mumbai, for “reading sessions” of Ramesh Talwar’s next play.

When the ageing Bollywood star decided that her acting swansong could well be on stage, Talwar was quick to sign her up for Chupke Chupke, written by Sitangshu Yasheshchandra.

The play premieres at Kala Mandir, under the aegis of Sangeet Kala Mandir, on September 7 and 8.

The Hare Rama Hare Krishna girl in red shirt and the Satyam Shivam Sundaram woman in white sari will be playing “a monogamous mistress”, called Lalan, in her stage debut. She is an insecure Goan girl, battling the odds. But the play, comprising actors from the Marathi stage, ends on a “positive note”.

“For the past few years, I have been watching some of Ramesh’s plays and even presented a few of them. We got talking about Chupke Chupke and before I knew it, I was hooked. The play really suits me as I am now,” says Zeenat.

Calcutta as first stop is part of the plot. Explains producer Sanjay Ghoradia, who also essays a small role in Chupke Chupke: “Zeenat is committed to the part, but her image as a glamorous star has lingered. So, we decided to play it safe and premiere the play in Calcutta, which laps up theatre in any form.”

Talwar, who is likely to star opposite Zeenat, adds: “We do not want to take the chance of her withdrawing into a shell under harsh scrutiny in other cities. We would rather that she gains confidence in Calcutta and then move to Chennai, Mumbai and other metros, before heading West.”

The director has made another concession so Zeenat can be comfortable. “The Goan angle has been introduced keeping in mind Zeenat’s anglicised Hindi. Now, nobody can point fingers at her diction,” explains Talwar, director of films like Basera and Doosra Aadmi, who put Jaya Bachchan, Pooja Bhatt and Shatrughan Sinha on stage.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Rickshaw van turns turtle, man killed

Mohammad Selim, riding a rickshaw van, died when the vehicle overturned while negotiating a sharp bend at the intersection of Jawaharlal Nehru Road and SN Banerjee Road on Thursday morning. Police said the driver was arrested and the van taken to the New Market police station.

Blockade in power protest

Residents of Topsia blocked Gariahat Road on Thursday morning to protest frequent power-cuts in the locality and the hike in tariff. Police said traffic came to a standstill in the area for more than an hour from 10.30 am.

Shops closed

Traders of Canning Street kept their shops closed on Thursday to protest rise in crime in the area. Police said criminals lobbed bombs in front of two shops on Canning Street on Wednesday night. According to traders, two groups of criminals are fighting for ‘control’ of the area.

Man injured

A motorcyclist, Biswajit Ghosh, was injured when a private car hit him on Goshtho Pal Sarani near Akashvani Bhavan. Ghosh was taken to SSKM Hospital while the driver of the car escaped with the vehicle.

Bandh call

The local unit of the Congress has called a 12-hour bandh in Garulia, near Barasat, on Friday, demanding the immediate arrest of the murderers of Class XII student Israj Jahan. She was missing since Tuesday and parts of her body were discovered in two gunny-bags on Wednesday. The Chhatra Parishad unit of Garulia called for a day’s closure of educational institutions on Thursday.

Effigy-burning bid

Thirty Youth Congress supporters gathered near the west gate of Raj Bhavan and tried to burn an effigy of transport minister Subhas Chakraborty on Thursday afternoon. Police chased the demonstrators away and arrested 26 activists.

Film festival

A two-day non-fiction film festival on “pluralism” started at the American Center on Thursday. Featuring documentaries made by Indian and American filmmakers, the fest also includes interactive sessions with directors. Issues faced by tribal and minority communities were in focus in the wake of “cultural upheavals” in the two nations, said American Center director Rex Moser. Among the films to be screened on Friday are award-winning children’s movie Just a Little Red Dot, directed by Mitra Sen, and Shigehiro Ryuke’s The Quran and the American Dream, on the growing popularity of Islam in the US.    

 
 
FAMILY FEUD CLOUD OVER PROPERTY SALE 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS 
Siblings squabbling for a larger piece of the cake have blocked the sale of a prime piece of property at 59 A, B, C and D Park Street. This happens to be the address of the landmark Victor Brothers, the auction house which their mother, Josephine Diewty Mehra, had established in 1941, and also of the flats which the five siblings and some tenants occupy. A man is ready with a cheque for Rs 6 crore (dirt cheap considering its location) to buy it but there seems to be no way out of the legal tangle.

Apart from slapping innumerable cases, individually or in groups, to impede the sale or simply to make things difficult, the favourite occupation of the siblings seems to be slinging mud at each other. They have, of course, been instigated by people who try to fish in troubled waters and confuse matters.

Josephine died on March 28, 1998, and in her will she left directions to the effect that the Park Street property and a house in Shillong should be sold after her death and the sale proceeds should be divided into six equal parts. Of this, five go to her two sons, Victor (living in London) and David Mehra, and three daughters, Sheila Sandhu (Delhi resident), Lily Morant (living in London) and Gloria Walker (living in America). The sixth part would be reserved for charity.

Josephine’s five offsprings were to execute the will but she made it clear: “If any of them challenges this will or acts contrary to my wishes, he or she will forfeit the legacy given to him or her. In such event, his/her/their share will stand vested in the remaining sons and/or daughters in equal share.” Ironically, Josephine had taken these measures to avoid any “controversy”.

Her two daughters, Sheila and Gloria, were the only ones who applied for obtaining probate of the will. Victor contested the will. But Calcutta High Court held the “allegations contained in the petition were mere assertions made frivolously and without any respect to the last wishes of the testatrix”. So the application was dismissed on April 17, 2000. Later Victor appealed against that order and lost. Lily and David, too, had petitioned for inclusion of their names as executors, but their plea was also dismissed by the high court.

While both Gloria and Sheila were out of town, Harvinder Singh Sandhu, the man to whom both had given power of attorney, had signed a document whereby the property is to be sold through “original side”, that is the court. That is another wheel within a wheel.

Much water has flown under the bridge since then. Gloria claims that her sister Sheila and she are the only executors, and she is the only one to produce documentary evidence to that effect. David’s lawyer claims all five siblings are executors and that the property can only be sold through the registrar of court. Victor, too, produces a public notice, which appeared in The Shillong Times of July 11, 2002, to the effect that all five siblings are executors. Again, Gloria chose to ignore it because she has not seen any court papers to prove its veracity.

This mutual recrimination is hindering the sale of the property. Gloria says Prasanna Kumar Jain has offered Rs 6 crore for the property — Rs 1 crore for each sibling and the rest for charity, as her mother had desired. This is a comedown from the Rs 18 crore that was offered in September 1995 when her mother was still around. Even then Victor had stopped the sale, she alleges. And now it is litigated property and not many will be willing to touch it.

   

 
 
HAZARDS OF A NEGLECTED HIGHRISE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 25: 
It’s the tallest building in town and a short cut to chaos. The total available floorspace in the 22-storeyed building on Chowringhee is around 372,000 sq ft. But today, only 1,65,000 sq ft of prime property in Chatterjee International Centre (CIC) is occupied. Two years ago, around 220 offices boasted of 33A, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, as their address. The number has nosedived to 80.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) declared Chatterjee International unsafe in the summer of 2000, when part of a parapet of the higher floors collapsed, killing one person and injuring several others. Fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee sent alarm bells ringing in the Assembly last fortnight, labelling the building a “fire hazard”.

The reasons for the exodus of the SBIs and BHELs from CIC range from “lack of basic amenities” to “serious safety hazards”. But everyone — from the CMC to the two warring factions in the building — is busy passing the buck. The civic body wants to steer clear of controversy, the former building society wants the present committee dismissed and the present one wants complete control over the building. Caught in the middle are the “5,000-odd” people entering the 23-year-old, 22-storeyed building every day.

“Both present and former societies responsible for the building’s maintenance have failed to perform their duty. It’s an eyesore, besides being unsafe. Now, it’s time for us to step in,” said Meena Devi Purohit, deputy mayor, CMC.

Ashok Roychoudhury, director-general, buildings, CMC, said: “Though the building is structurally sound, a lot of issues have remained unattended to. I have convened a meeting with the CIC society members and will soon announce our next course of action.”

Gaurav Swarup, president of the present CIC society, refutes the “unsafe” tag on the building. According to him, corporate houses moved out due to lack of basic facilities, like electricity and lifts. He blamed the earlier society for its failure to “instal and commission” a proper fire-fighting system. “Now, with some legal issues being sorted out, we hope to effect changes,” he announced.

Mahesh Gupta, general secretary of the former society, countered: “From installing electronic meters to removing a hazardous fire-fighting platform, we have done a lot for the building.” He blamed the present society for its non-compliance of CMC directives, like banning parking in the basement. “They have recently created permanent structures in the building, defying CMC rules. In case any fire breaks out, this will block the entry of the fire-fighters,” he warned.

   

 
 
MONITOR BODY FOR DISABILITY ACT FLAWS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 25: 
Even as the state social welfare department officials admit that several provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, remain unimplemented, the new Union minister of state for social justice and empowerment said his department would set up a body to investigate the delays and assist in quick enactment.

“We have the funds and the programmes but we need to implement them,” said minister Satyabrata Mukherjee on Thursday. He was inaugurating a workshop organised by the National Association for the Blind in the city. “Persons with disabilities do not need sympathy, they need to be brought to the mainstream,” he said.

In the seven years that the Act has been enforced, a number of measures for the disabled still remain to be fulfilled. Confirming this, social welfare department commissioner R.M. Jamir said the first problem that needed to be tackled was enabling the physically-impaired to have “face-to-face meetings.”

He said accessibility to public places, like educational institutions, offices and theatres, cannot be achieved if these establishments did not have ramps or specially-equipped elevators for people with disabilities.

“The Building Act has to be modified and architects sensitised. We have held talks with the PWD on this issue. The civic bodies should not permit the sanction of public buildings and apartments if they do not provide such facilities,” he said.

Jamir also urged NGOs to produce more textbooks in Braille, including those for technical studies. Another deficient area was the non-fulfilment of the three per cent job reservation for the physically-challenged. “To achieve this, employers in public and private sectors need awareness and motivation,” Jamir said. “There are certain subjects that the visually challenged can teach,” he added.

The workshop, the first of its kind in the state to address various issues concerning the visually-challenged, was organised by the Bengal chapter of the National Association of the Blind. Participants asked officials about the implementation of the National Trust Act. “We have set up district-level committees, except in Paschim Midnapore. The trust will help families find suitable guardians for disabled children, in the event of the parents’ passing away. According to the Act, the trust will look after the inheritances of such children,” Jamir said.

But state branch general secretary Dilip Loyalka challenged this statement. “The committees may have been set up on paper but in reality, not a single block-level official or grassroot functionary of the government (the implementing agency) knows about the trust.”

The day-long workshop was presided over by Rajendra Vyas, all-India secretary of the association, who, like Loyalka, is visually-impaired. Based in Maharashtra, he said similar problems existed in Mumbai “but red-tapism seems to be more in Bengal”.

   

 
 
FELLING OF TREES BANNED IN SALT LAKE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 25: 
Alarmed at the erosion of its green cover, the Salt Lake municipality has clamped a ban on the felling of trees. The civic board, which met on Thursday, decided that neither commoner nor councillor would be allowed to fell a tree, whatever the reason. Even trimming of branches has been banned.

Bidhannagar Municipality has left with the pollution control board (PCB) the final decision on felling or trimming trees. “Earlier, the respective ward committees were empowered to decide. But after allegations that many big trees have been cut in the name of trimming, we have decided to impose the ban,’’ municipal officials said.

“The PCB will inspect and earmark trees that need to be felled or trimmed. It will also decide on the amount that needs to be trimmed. As the subject is entirely environmental, we felt the PCB was the right body for the job and residents should have no objection,’’ said municipal chairman Dilip Gupta.

Several clubs, NGOs and environmentalists have alleged that many big trees in the township have been felled.

Advertising agencies and hoarding-owners have been accused of rampant felling along the main roads in a scramble for ad space. Objections have been received from councillors of both the ruling CPM and Trinamul Congress.

According to Thursday’s board meeting decision, the ward committees will submit proposals on trees that need to be felled or trimmed in their respective wards.

The proposals will be forwarded to the PCB, which will give the nod after a verification.

   

 
 
CAMPUS AFLAME OVER SCULPTURE 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, July 25: 
In the wake of the campus clash at Rabindra Bharati University (RBU) on Monday and Tuesday and the subsequent setting up of a dress code for the visual arts department by vice-chancellor Bharati Mukherjee, the students on Thursday staged a sit-in and went on a hungerstrike.

Another drama unfolded on the campus on Thursday, when vice-chancellor Mukherjee refused permission to instal a controversial sculpture of Gautama Buddha at the university gate on BT Road, inviting students to tag the authorities as “Talibans”.

The larger-than-life sculpture depicts Buddha in a reclining position, with a couple sitting at the base. The sculptor, Apurba Majumdar, a fifth-year student from the Andamans, was initially elated when his 20-foot-long exhibit, made of fibreglass, was transported from Jorasanko to the B.T. Road campus last month.

But his euphoria was short-lived, as the university authorities decided not to instal the work at the main gate, calling it “obscene” and a violation of the sanctity of the institution, directly connected with the legacy of Rabindranath Tagore.

“The authorities also asked me not to proceed with my work. In fact, they asked for a refund of the balance of Rs 15,000, granted to me by former vice-chancellor Subhankar Chakraborty,” said a disappointed Majumdar. “I have already paid back Rs 4,000 to the authorities,” he said.

When contacted, Chakraborty claimed he had not seen Majumdar’s work. “If any sculpture is obscene or offends religion of any kind, I will never support it. However, the inner meaning of the artwork is more vital and I see no harm in a couple being shown sitting at the feet of Buddha to convey the message of love. Don’t students sit together in class?” Chakraborty asked.

As a consolation, the vice-chancellor said the statue would be installed in front of Chitra Bhavan, throughout Majumdar’s tenure at the university. “After he leaves, he will have to take it away with him,” she added. “I am not finicky about such things, but at the same time, I must be conscious about the decency of the institution,” she stressed. “They (the faculty of visual arts) could call the sculpture a ‘reality of life’ but not everything can pass off in the name of art,” she added.

A senior officer on the B.T. Road campus, on condition of anonymity, said: “Such an artwork is unfit for an educational institution. It is more suited for Valentine Day programmes.”

An office-bearer of the SFI unit agreed and said it was the crudest form of spreading Buddha’s message of love.

   
 

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