Pay crores to duck tax axe
Letter in Madhyamik, nought for HS maths
Fine arts fester in fetters of mediocrity
Arson whiff in Firpo’s probe
The City Diary
Choking truth of lakes clogged by neglect
Fare fracas fuels Aug. 1 bus strike
Triumph trail at pay protest
Salt Lake lights up to perils of tobacco
All about the skin, under one roof

Calcutta, July 30 : 
It sprawls across a whole block of Park Street — a target tough for the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to miss, as it trains its property-tax gun on big buildings.

The crossfire over Karnani Mansions has taken a decisive turn over the past 24 hours, with the CMC and the police descending on it on Monday night but failing to turn off the taps, and the residents moving Calcutta High Court on Tuesday morning.

July 30 was the last day for payment of the Rs 2.33-crore tax bill slapped on Saturday, with the CMC threatening to cut water lines if the arrears were not cleared by D-Day. But the Karnani Mansion Residents’ Association was granted a two-day breather by Calcutta High Court when it challenged the validity of the CMC notification.

Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya, hearing the matter, in his interim order stayed the case till August 1 and fixed the next hearing for Wednesday. He has also asked the CMC lawyer to furnish a report stating details of alleged non-payment of water taxes by the residents and a break-up of the dues.

The landlord of the building, Karnani Properties Pvt Ltd, has been asked to appear in court as well. “I don’t know who will cough up the dues, the owners or the tenants. But if the dues are not cleared, water and drainage connections will be cut with police help,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee.

The landlord is reportedly not clearing the dues because of the low rent paid by tenants, many of whom send it directly to the rent control office. But tenants have said that the landlord had earlier refused direct payment in an effort to hike rates.

The residents have also been looking after the maintenance of Karnani Mansions themselves. Now, they are gearing up to “approach public forums” if the CMC blocks the sewer lines, fearing it could “lead to an epidemic”.

The landmark building houses seven restaurants, several showrooms, two schools, a bank and around 180 residential flats. According to residents, the civic authorities’ motives were clear from the manner in which “inconspicuous” notices were put up on Saturday night and a team of civic officials and cops turned up on Monday night to snap water supply.

More than 200 tenants gathered to stop member, mayor-in-council (water supply), Sovan Chatterjee, and his team. At around 2 am, municipal commissioner Debasis Som asked the team to back down. Besides three deep tubewells, there are six commercial and six residential filtered water connections on the premises.

Most of the eateries — including Bar-B-Q, Mocambo, Blue Fox, Moulin Rouge, Oasis, Olympia and Tung Fong — have their own water tanks, for which they claim they have paid water charges regularly. Many also have separate sewer lines. “But if the CMC does cut the lines for the whole building, it will still affect the ambience… We are, at this point, open to a negotiated settlement,” says a restaurateur.

But the mayor is adamant this makes no difference. “A tenant, even if he is not a defaulter in his water bill, cannot be spared, as the issue is one of property tax, not water charges,” he said.


Calcutta, July 30 : 
After scoring star marks in Madhyamik, Soumya Shankar Maulik of Siliguri High School for Boys was waiting eagerly for his Higher Secondary (HS) results. Not without reason: he had studied hard, answered all his test papers well, cleared the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and the common entrance test for medical studies in Karnataka.

Now, three weeks after he got his HS results, Soumya is doing the rounds of Calcutta High Court, trying to pick up the pieces of his shattered academic dream.

The reason is brutally simple: Soumya managed just 0 and 25 marks in the two papers of his favourite subject, mathematics. In chemistry, he scored 17 and 25. “How can a student, who had managed a letter in each of these subjects in Madhyamik, fail so miserably at the HS level?” asks advocate Ravishankar Chatterjee, who has moved the high court on behalf of the student.

Soumya has already applied for a post-publication scrutiny to the Higher Secondary Council and has petitioned the high court, seeking an order that his answer-scripts be produced. He has also appealed to the court that he be allowed admission to the medical course.

“The review is a sham unless the answer-scripts are shown to us,” says Chatterjee. “Besides, medical admissions close on August 8 and it is unlikely that matters will be resolved by then. We have sought the court’s intervention, so that a deserving candidate is not denied his chance.”

Soumya’s neighbours and school are standing by him in his “battle for justice”. They have promised his parents they will help meet all legal costs.

Chatterjee said the case was first moved before Justice Barin Ghosh, who refused to hear the matter on “personal grounds”. The case was then assigned to Justice Maharaja Sinha, who has fixed the hearing for Wednesday. Soumya is now staying with relatives in Chandernagore and travelling to the city almost every day. “He is spending sleepless nights, not knowing what the future holds for him,” says Chatterjee.

Secretary of the West Bengal Council for Higher Secondary Education, Jyotirmoy Mukherjee, however said that if there has been any error, it will definitely be rectified. “My message to all students with such inconsistent results is to please come directly to me with a certificate from their school principals, attesting their academic records. I will personally check their answer-scripts to see if we have erred,” said Mukherjee.


Calcutta, July 30 : 
Quite certainly, the fibreglass sculpture of the sleeping Buddha, with a young couple in jeans seated at its feet, which made Rabindra Bharati University (RBU) vice-chancellor Bharati Mukherjee see red, says it all. Without assigning any reason, Mukherjee maintained that the sculpture, which a student was commissioned to execute, is “unsuitable” for display at the entrance of its BT Road campus.

Such insensitivity also typifies the mindset of the mob of students who attacked their counterparts in the visual arts faculty successively on July 22 and 23. As a result, the examination schedule went haywire.

Visual arts students are still wary of returning to class, because their friends who live in the hostel have been threatened. And what is more serious, three teachers of the faculty, too, are staying away for fear they are on the hit-list of the rampaging students, who are all, reportedly, affiliated to the SFI.

Their fears have a basis in reality, because faculty dean Partha Pratim Deb did not go unscathed in the violence on July 22. As a mark of solidarity, teachers of the fine arts faculty of the Jorasanko campus marched in a silent procession on the BT Road campus on Tuesday afternoon and presented a memorandum to the vice-chancellor. Till September 2001, both faculties used to share Jorasanko, and over the years, there has been no sign of discord.

The violence and the tension are leaving their mark on the visual arts faculty, which, along with fine arts, are the strong points of a university not known for its academic prowess. In the past few years, the visual arts faculty has developed into one of the finest in the state, at par with Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan.

Of course, Mukherjee does not seem to have a very high opinion of Santiniketan either. Asked why she objected to students of the faculty wearing shorts, when they do so in Kala Bhavan as well, her response was: “Santiniketan is Santiniketan, Calcutta is a city.”

But don’t both institutions have associations with Tagore? She agreed that they do, but stressed that Rabindra Bharati has its “individuality.”

And this individuality is under threat. In the past few years the faculty has produced some very fine students who have become artists with a lot of promise. Slide shows, lectures and seminars have enlivened the teaching course, which has undergone a radical change. The base was built when Dharmanarayan Dasgupta used to be on the faculty. And now Partha Pratim Deb has improved on it. “Partha Pratim is a competent teacher and an equally good artist,” says Paritosh Sen.

Aditya Basak says: “Art history is carefully taught here. Partha Pratim is an experimental artist and this influences his students.”

Art historian Pranabranjan Roy comes out strong: “They have made surprising progress in the past 10 years. But the other faculties of the university are very weak. So, the violence was the outcome of jealousy. There is definitely a class difference too. They are worlds apart.”

So now, the visual arts faculty is expected to rough it out on BT Road. Without ventilation, the new Chitra Bhavan is a pressure cooker. There is no drinking water, no telephone, no sweeper. The teachers only hope that curbs are not placed on what is taught and practised here.


Calcutta, July 30 : 
The needle of suspicion in the Firpo’s fire probe is pointing towards arson. The police made this clear on Tuesday after sifting through the debris of circumstantial evidence and forensic findings.

Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner of police (detective department) said: “The forensic report clearly said the incident was not caused by a short-circuit. After going through the spot investigation report, we fear it was foul play.”

According to Mitra, the forensic report, which blamed the rapid spread of the fire on “combustible material” but not specified the items, has “changed the course” of investigation.

“We have not got any specific evidence against anyone. The shop-owners and the eyewitnesses will be called once again. We hope some more leads will emerge in the next few days,” said Mitra.

“We are also going through the list of shops and the material stocked in Firpo’s market,” said an official of the probe team, that was formed immediately after the April 23 incident.



Cremation stench overcomes Howrah

Members of the Ganatantrik Nagarik Samity of Howrah submitted a memorandum to district magistrate Vivek Kumar on Tuesday, protesting the “unbearable”stench which spread all over the town of Howrah while 20 unclaimed decomposed bodies were being burnt at Banshtala burning ghat on Monday evening. Subhas Datta, general secretary of the Samity, claimed that several people had fallen ill because of the smell. The district magistrate has been requested to take steps for proper functioning of the morgue and also for the regular disposal of unclaimed bodies, he added.

Carpenters held for theft

A carpenter was arrested on Tuesday in Gobra on charges of stealing gold ornaments and cash from a house in Topsia. According to the police, Rabi Das, the carpenter, stole ornaments worth Rs 20,000 from the house of Bandana Roy. Investigators rescued the booty from his possession. Das was in service at Roy’s house. Another carpenter of a private company was rounded up for stealing Rs 50,000 from the cashbox of the company. Sheikh Alauddin, the accused, was picked up from his Kolaghat house in Midnapore. Police said they were looking for Alauddin in connection with a number of thefts in the area.

Zinc oxide stolen

The Tangra police arrested a youth and recovered 24 packets containing zinc oxide worth Rs 35,000 from him on Wednesday. Police said Biswajit Dey stole the bags from a chemical factory in the area. Dey was picked up from his Mathur Babu Lane residence.

Body in river

The body of Mohammed Zahid, 50, was found floating in the Hooghly on Tuesday. He was identified as an employee of the CMC’s water supply department. Police said Zahid was missing for the past two days.

CM’s return

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will return to the city on Wednesday. He went to South Africa on July 23 to attend the 11th party congress of the South African Communist Party.

Anglo-Indian Day

Anglo-Indian Day will be observed in the city on August 2. Announcing this on Tuesday, prominent personalities of the community said it was on this date in 1935 that the term ‘Anglo-Indian community’ was defined. Anglo-Indian Day will be celebrated internationally every year on August 2. In Calcutta, with a population of more than 30,000 Anglo-Indians, the celebrations will comprise prayer services, exhibitions, panel discussions, entertainment and sporting events. The celebrations will continue till August 4.

Boy run over

Babai Belel, 11, was run over by a minibus in Howrah on Tuesday. Police said the driver lost control after the vehicle was hit by a truck. The drivers of both vehicles fled after the accident.

Civic penalty

Health assistant of borough-II and Trinamul Congress leader Pradip Debnath was suspended on charges of misbehaving with the medical officer and the executive health officer of the borough.    

Calcutta, July 30 : 
The Golf Garden Residents’ Welfare Association area map, put up to help visitors find their way around the south Calcutta neighbourhood, has three blue spots. They are supposed to stand for waterbodies. Four years after the signboard was put up, two of the three waterbodies do not have any water. The third looks set to go the same way.

The waterbody, that starts on the east of Prince Ghulam Mohammad Shah Road at Golf Green traverses the length of the Bikramgarh and Katjunagar colonies and ends in the vicinity of Jodhpur Park, is the best example of what is happening to an area known for its greenery and lakes. Commonly known as Ushar Jheel, the lake is slowly being eaten up by buildings, factories and garages that have encroached on it.

“Ushar Jheel is the largest waterbody in the area and it could have been much better utilised if the government had paid a little attention to this area,” said Shankar Biswas of the Rammohan Mission School at Lake Gardens and Tollygunge Development Council.

Other residents say this waterbody is going the way of Chittar Jheel, on the other side of Prince Ghulam Mohammad Shah Road. They blame the drying up of Chittar Jheel on government agencies like the Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT). The jheel was first drained to make way for the road that connects RCGC with Golf Green and the porous bed came in the way of refilling it, admitted CIT officials.

“It is true that if the water bodies can be rejuvenated then the area will look nice. But where will the CIT find funds for it? Participation of the local people is also needed,” said P.K. De, chief engineer, CIT.

What the CIT started is now being completed by another government agency, the West Bengal State Cooperative Housing Federation Limited. A “state government enterprise”, as the sign-board puts it, has already begun construction work to the west of the Christian Burial Ground. What is now land was, till a few years back, water.

But the other water-bodies — some still having water like the Madartala Jheel, the Colony Jala, the Pagla Babar Mazharer Jheel and some completely dry like the unnamed pond at Rajendra Prasad Colony (where even Trinamul Congress councillor of ward 94 Minu Gayen used to have a swim when she moved into the locality in the late 1970s) — have been eaten up primarily by private enterprise, with the administration turning a blind eye. “It’s surprising that government agencies, instead of helping us, are actively participating in the waterbody-gobbling activities,” said Gayen.

Private enterprise, almost always, takes the form of a multi-storeyed building on land that was once water. But it starts with clusters of small slums and garages, the kind that is stifling Madartala Jheel from all sides now. The occupants of these units have had to shell out anything between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 to goons who are loyal to one political party or the other. They dump the refuse into the jheel, gradually encroaching on it.

Pillars make their first appearance some time later and the buildings that sprout drive the local economy. The goon who “controls” the area brings in a promoter who has to buy building material from the goon’s henchmen and employ them to “guard” his property. Everyone gains — at the cost of the ecological balance of the area.

Jadavpur police station officer-in-charge Salil Bhattacharjee, however, said “prompt action” was taken whenever a specific complaint was lodged. “Only a few weeks back, we took action against a person who was trying to set up a garage by encroaching on a pond,” he added.

That, going by what the area looks like now, is too little too late.


Calcutta, July 30 : 
Nearly 20,000 buses in Calcutta and the districts, belonging to the Bengal Bus Syndicate, will go off the road for an indefinite period from August 1, the day the revised bus fare is to be enforced.

Another 26,500 buses under the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate will observe a token strike on Thursday to protest the government’s refusal to further revise the fare.

The minibus operators, however, are not joining the strike. Over 8,500 minibuses will boycott the revised fare for the first seven days, demanding that the “anomalies” in the announced fare be removed. The bus and minibus owners’ associations announced the protest programmes after a meeting with state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty on Tuesday failed to broker a truce.

Chakraborty threatened he would unleash cadre and bus employees to foil the owners’ attempts to inconvenience the public by the indefinite strike.

“I do not mind if they resort to strikes. Everybody has right to strike work but if they decide to carry on for an indefinite period, I am not going to take it. I shall deploy the bus workers against the owners to maintain normal traffic. Out of 65,000 bus workers, at least 60,000 will abide by what I say,” Chakraborty said. He urged the bus-owners “to be happy for the present with what has already been given.”

He added: “I have an open mind. The revised fare had been announced in the Assembly after the Cabinet had approved it. I cannot change the decision overnight. The revised fare had been fixed considering the interest of the passengers and the transport industry. I promise that I shall review the matter after three months.”

Ajit Saha, president, Bengal Bus Syndicate, said: “We shall have to quit this profession if we have to accept the revised fare. The decision on an indefinite strike stays, come what may.” According to him, diesel prices in 1999 were Rs 14.20 a litre and the bus fare for the first two km was Rs 2.50. “At present, when the price of diesel is Rs 19.61, including Rs 1 cess levied by the government, the fare of the first 2 km has been reduced to Rs 2. Nearly 80 per cent of the commuters travel less than 2 km,” said Saha. General secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate Sadhan Das said even though the syndicate has called a token strike on August 1, it might carry on indefinitely. The syndicate will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to decide, he added.


Calcutta, July 30 : 
The rally organised by the Association of Teachers’ of Anglo-Indian Schools on Tuesday, to protest the state government’s decision to slash their dearness allowance (DA), was successful despite the management of the Church of North India (CNI) deciding not to join it.

On Monday, the association’s movement had suffered a setback when, in a last-minute decision, the authorities directed the heads of all CNI schools not to keep their institutions closed or declare a half-day to allow their staff to attend the rally.

Despite opposition from the management, many employees from the CNI schools, however, managed to join the procession to show their solidarity towards the movement. At least, 50 employees from the two branches of the St Thomas’ schools in Kidderpore — both of them controlled by the CNI — took mass casual leave and attended the rally. As for those from La Martiniere for Boys and Girls, two more institutions controlled by the CNI, their management had made it clear through a circular that not more than three members from each school would be allowed to join the rally.

Association sources said members from most CNI schools were not able to join the rally on Park Street when it began. “The turnout appeared less when we assembled in front of St Xavier’s School, on Park Street. Later, a large number of teaching and non-teaching employees from the CNI schools joined us mid-way. By the time we reached S.N. Banerjee Road, however, the procession had assumed remarkable proportions,” said Ismail Nehal, president of the teachers’ association.

The rally terminated on Rani Rashmoni Road, where the association held a meeting to highlight its demands.

One of its major grievances was the state government’s refusal to fix their salaries in the revised scales, without taking into account their years of experience. They alleged that the government, at present, is ready to grant only six increments to teachers of Anglo-Indian schools, irrespective of the years he or she has put in.

“This is unjust, as in government-aided schools, salaries of teachers have been pegged taking into account their past experience, with effect from the year of their joining,” claimed D. K. Bhattacharya, general secretary of the association.

“The government is taking an unjustified step. While it has slashed the DA for teachers of Anglo-Indian schools to put them at par with our counterparts in the state-aided schools, it is unwilling to fix our pay-scales at par with the teachers in those schools,” the teachers said.


Calcutta, July 30 : 
The judiciary is belligerent, the administration has been threatening to act for the past year and awareness campaigns bombard the media beam. But smoking at public places remains rampant.

A meeting, held recently in the area, threw light on the increasing numbers of smokers in Salt Lake.

“Although we have organised seminars and held discussions on the ill-effects of smoking, Bidhannagar Municipality has failed to curb this social menace,” said Dilip Gupta, chairman of the civic body.

“There is a need to create awareness on the ills of smoking,” Gupta told Metro on Tuesday. Stating that he had given up smoking, the municipality chairman said the authorities “are thinking of some effective measures to curb smoking in public places.”

Sources said smoking is rampant in Salt Lake, particularly at the bus terminuses and the office areas of Sector I. “In the office areas, during lunch breaks, one can see innumerable smokers hanging around. Even those who do not smoke become para-smokers due to these addicts,” sources added.

On Sunday, a few social organisations of the township put up a rather novel campaign against smoking.

The meet was organised by the FD Block Association, Lions Club (Kankurgachhi branch), local tabloid Laban Hrad Sambad, the Indian Medical Association (Bidhannagar) and Prantik Medical and Research Centre.

The organisers released six self-portraits of Vincent Van Gogh, apart from hosting a discussion on anti-smoking. In 1885-86, the Dutch painter had jotted down several ills of smoking through his paintings, of which Skull With Burning Cigarette, a brilliant piece of art, underlined a message against smoking. “This is a unique effort,” said Robin Mondal, one of the leading painters of the Society of Contemporary Artists.

Ashim Chatterjee, director, Prantik, said: “Every year, 337 out of a lakh people die due to smoking. I predict that by 2020, more than 1,500 people out of every lakh will die for the same reason.”

Those present at the campaign stressed the need for sustained efforts against smoking. “Unless we check the smokers right now, besides health factors, I also see the environment getting polluted in our township. More brainstorming sessions and campaigns are necessary to control the menace,” said a resident.


Calcutta, July 30 : 
Are the latest cosmetics you are using right for your skin? Have you tried to find out whether that ulcer in your mouth is actually oral cancer, caused by chain-smoking? Do you know that nail-bleeding is related to a dangerous heart ailment?

All these questions can now be readily answered and skin-related ailments treated at a “comprehensive skin-care hospital” set up in Salt Lake a fortnight ago. The facility has a separate skin-care centre under one roof, known as Rita’s Skin Foundation, set up by dermatologist Subrata Malakar in memory of his wife and batchmate at National Medical College and Hospital, Rita Sharma, who died of breast cancer two years ago.

From a special wing on detection and management of oral cancer to a clinic on cosmetology, paediatric and geriatric dermatology, an exclusive outdoor centre on nail care, a dermato-surgery centre, and a special Puva (Psoralen Ultra Violet-A) facility for treatment of diseases like Psoriasis and Leucoderma — the centre seeks to address all aspects of skin care.

The hospital also has speciality wings for AIDS, leprosy, contact dermatitis and dermato-pathology among other sub-speciality clinics. At present, the multi-crore facility, spread over 6,800 square feet, has three floors. There are five in-house consultants and several other regular consultants visiting the hospital. Describing the skin hospital as a unique venture, dermatologist D.G. Saple of Mumbai said the fact that “national and international faculty members in skin-care would be interacting makes it very exciting… This will hopefully serve as an example for the rest of the country”.

Calcutta-based dermatologist Sandipan Dhar said: “No other institution in India has this kind of infrastructure.” The state government’s director of health, Prabhakar Chatterjee, too, said the skin hospital was the “first of its kind”. The hospital authorities, keen to turn it into a private college, have managed to rope in experts like Dr K.U. Schraluter of the UK, W. Westerhof from Holland, Dr J.H. Saurat from Sweden, and closer home, Rui Fernandez from Mumbai and A.K. Bajaj from Allahabad.

State-of-the-art machinery has been imported for several wings of the hospital, with a thrust on the oral cancer clinic and cosmetology. Apart from counselling on the hazards of tobacco consumption, patients can also undergo surgery and be administered chemotherapy for oral cancer.

The biggest draw till now is the cosmetology unit. From skin classification to checking whether a particular makeup or cosmetic is actually soothing for the skin, the cosmetology centre has answers for every query. A special machine, ‘Microdermabeder’, enables a person to find out whether her skin is allergic to the makeup, for just Rs 50. “We will also be able to tell the patient what composition should work for her skin and what has caused the small eruptions on her face,” said Malakar.

The nail outdoor centre set up at the facility deals with various skin ailments that initiate from a simple fungal infection in the nails. Several skin diseases, including fungal infections and nail bleeding, will be treated at the outdoor unit. A special wing to deal with paediatric and geriatric dermatology cases is also available. “Doctors often diagnose simple skin eruption cases among children as a major illness. All that will hopefully end now,” Malakar added.


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