Dry drive to mop up house-tax dues
CU whip on stricter honours entry rules
Crude bomb goes off on Metro track
Rate-parity call in chaotic cabledom
The City Diary
Shah pat for results record
City drug trail leads sleuths to UP
Deadline for discos
Green-zone draft gathers dust
Shock waves for kidney stones

 
 
DRY DRIVE TO MOP UP HOUSE-TAX DUES 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Aug. 5: 
Turn off taps to extract property tax dues. Adopting this line of action, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has decided to train the tax gun on 70 city premises to extract arrears amounting to Rs 40 crore.

Most premises on the hit list are in central and south Calcutta. The water supply department will carry out the crackdown over the next few weeks, under the supervision of municipal commissioner Debasis Som, on the basis of a roster drawn up by the mayor’s office.

The water supply department has so far cut off lines to 29 premises — including Karnani Mansions — in a bid to realise outstanding property tax to the tune of Rs 16 crore. Around Rs 11 crore has come into the civic coffers following the ‘dry’ drive.

“I will not allow businessmen to ply their trade and earn profits at the expense of the tax-payer,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee. “We are serving ultimatums to those landlords who, despite having huge amount of property tax dues to the CMC, did not apply for waiver of interest and to those who, even after applying for waiver of interest, did not pay the dues,” he added.

Explaining that the defaulting landlords had left the civic body with no choice, the mayor said: “The CMC will pay a power bill of Rs 30 crore a year to produce and distribute filtered water. Will the CESC excuse us on the grounds that Rs 150 crore remains unrealised by way of property tax?”

The crackdown that had started with the Oberoi Grand and Hotel Hindusthan International, turned to various highrises, from Lansdowne Road to Middleton Street. Filtered water supply has been denied to seven premises for about a month as the owners have not coughed up their dues.

The spotlight is now on Karnani Mansions, with the tax dues touching Rs 2.33 crore, and a midnight swoop severing water supply. The tax tussle over the Park Street premises is now being dictated by directives from the high court.

The government, meanwhile, has decided to allow the CMC to accept outstanding property tax without interest accrued on it, till August 31. This implies an extension of a month for those landlords who have already applied for tax waiver but have failed to cough up their dues. No fresh application will, however, be accepted. So far, Rs 120 crore has been collected under the waiver of interest scheme from defaulting landlords.

   

 
 
CU WHIP ON STRICTER HONOURS ENTRY RULES 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 5: 
Worried because about 30 to 40 per cent students are forced to drop out of honours to take up the general courses midway every year, Calcutta University (CU) has asked all colleges under its jurisdiction to make the admission process to the honours courses more stringent.

In a directive circulated among CU-affiliated colleges in the city and the neighbouring districts of North 24-Parganas, South 24-Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly, the university has told college managing committees that “care should be taken to conform to the regulations” during admission. Few colleges actually followed them till this year, officials said, explaining the necessity for a fresh circular.

“We have asked colleges to ensure that the choice of subject in the honours course — and the combination picked for the pass papers — are strictly regulated, in accordance with the university directives,” CU pro vice-chancellor Suranjan Das told Metro on Monday.

The rule-book says a student wanting to take up a subject for specialisation must have scored at least 50 per cent in the aggregate and at least 45 per cent in the particular subject of his/her choice in the Higher Secondary or equivalent examination; alternatively, he/she may also have 45 per cent in the aggregate and 50 per cent in the subject opted for as the honours choice.

The university has told colleges to keep in mind the directive they have been given — and strictly apply it — while scrutinising applications for enrolment in honours courses, say officials.

“But almost every college, even the reputed non-government colleges, usually take in a lot of students for the honours courses who, in reality, may not be able to fulfil the requirments of the syllabus,” a CU official said. He, however, admitted that colleges faced “immense pressure” from students and their guardians, and were often forced by students’ unions to give in to the “unjust” demands.

Officers, however, say most of these students find out after a few months that they are not cut out for the rigours of the honours syllabus. After failing in internal college examinations, they opt for the three-year general course. This course, teachers and officers say, is “much easier”.

This switchover in the middle of the course, however, places students in a predicament, as they discover that their labours of a few months or a year have gone down the drain.

Officials of colleges say they, too, have to put up with a lot of extra paper-work and “administrative problems” — understandable, when they have to accommodate a large number of students in the general classes — because of the switchover.

The university circular, they say, will take care of their problems. The circular will make their job of turning down “requests” during the admission season easier, particularly in colleges known to have “strong” students’ unions, they add.

   

 
 
CRUDE BOMB GOES OFF ON METRO TRACK 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 5: 
For the first time in its 18-year-old history, a crude bomb, possibly left behind by bandh supporters, went off on the Metro Rail tracks on Monday. No one was injured in the explosion.

Shivaji Ghosh, deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, said the explosion occurred at Netaji Bhavan Metro station in the afternoon.

A constable of the Government Railway Police (GRP), deployed to patrol the platform, noticed a small container on the edge of the platform on the Dum Dum-bound track.

“The constable thought the metal container looked unsightly on an otherwise clean platform. He decided to kick it, so that it landed on the tracks,” said Ghosh.

As soon as the container fell on the tracks, it exploded with a flash. The few commuters waiting on the platform panicked and started running towards the exits. After conducting preliminary investigations, police came to the conclusion that the container was a crude bomb.

“We did not want to take any chances. We called up the Lalbazar police headquarters and officers of the bomb disposal squad arrived,” said a Metro employee, who was on duty during the incident.

An extensive search by the Lalbazar team for clues drew a blank. Train services were disrupted for over 20 minutes.

Later, the Metro authorities faced more problems when the motorman of the first Tollygunge-bound train found a packet wrapped with a plastic-sheet under his seat.

“He panicked and started running away from the rake,” said a source.

Soon, a message was sent to the control room and senior officers arrived. GRP personnel surrounded the first compartment. Commuters were told to leave the platform for a few minutes.

“Police removed the packet. They found it was a bundle of old newspapers,” added Ghosh. The first train to Tollygunge left at 7.30 am, half an hour behind schedule.

   

 
 
RATE-PARITY CALL IN CHAOTIC CABLEDOM 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Aug. 5: 
Blackouts, territorial acrimony, under-declaration, sub-standard service, undercutting. These troublesome tags have stuck with the cable television business in Calcutta. The recent midnight drama in a police station to restore the ESPN-Star Sports beam has hardly helped matters.

This, however, witnessed the first concerted move to bring a semblance of order to chaotic cabledom. A cost divide with the other metros was quick to take centrestage. The bottomline — the average Calcutta consumer pays nearly half of what his counterpart does in Mumbai and Delhi. And this cannot go on.

A closed-door meeting on Saturday saw all three tiers of the industry — the broadcaster, the multi-system operator (MSO) and the cableman — coming to a common table for the first time in town. The principal purpose was to roll out the regional chapter of the Indian Cable & Broadcasters’ Federation (ICBF), formed earlier this year. The larger motive was to get everybody under one roof to address common problems and standardise operations.

SitiCable chief Jawahar Goel, brother of Zee boss Subhash Chandra and prime mover behind ICBF, has taken the unity moves to various cities, before stopping over in Calcutta. The “informal tête-à-tête” was attended by representatives of broadcasters, including STAR, Sony and Zee-Turner, the top-brass of the two MSOs in town, RPG Netcom and SitiCable, and leading ground-level operators.

While various issues were touched upon, one central theme was how to increase funds flow and raise revenue stacks. “In Delhi and Mumbai, the average payout per consumer per day for cable television is Rs 10-12. By contrast, the Calcutta average is only around Rs 6. This disparity has to be bridged if the industry is to sustain itself,” said an operator who attended the meeting.

While in a few areas of Calcutta, monthly cable subscription rates have been hiked to Rs 300 and above, there are pockets where the cost to the consumer is as low as Rs 100, thanks to rampant under-declaration.

While all three players were unanimous on the need to bring about some parity in rates, an appeal was made to operators to weed out the menace of under-declaration, even if it means a financial setback in the short term.

Expressing concern over the Calcutta trend of beam blackouts over rate hikes, Goel suggested “token strikes” of maybe an hour during non-prime time, instead of taking a channel completely off the air.

“This doesn’t antagonise viewers and also protects the image of the industry,” he said. Cable viewers were denied ESPN-Star Sports last month till the administration flexed its muscles.

RPG Netcom chief executive Ashim Dutta, a member of ICBF, felt such interactions were “conducive to building a congenial atmosphere and bringing greater unanimity among the industry players on various issues, including the conditional access system (CAS)”.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Dunlop employee commits suicide

A 44-year-old employee of Dunlop India Ltd hanged himself at his Chinsurah residence on Monday. The deceased was identified as Chinmoy Ghosh, a resident of Abinash Mukherjee Road in the Chinsurah police station area. Ghosh’s family members noticed him hanging from the ceiling early on Monday. He was rushed to the Imambara Hospital, where the doctors declared him “brought dead”. Police said “acute poverty” drove him to suicide. “Ghosh lost his livelihood after the closure of Dunlop’s Sahagunj unit. He was finding it difficult to feed his four-member family,” said an officer of the Chinsurah police station. According to Geeta Ghosh, the victim’s wife, Chinmoy had been suffering from depression for the past few months. He had to borrow money from the local money-lenders to pay for the education of his two sons.

Uncle in police custody for rape

The uncle of the 11-year-old girl who allegedly raped her at his Maniktala home on July 17 was sentenced to seven days’ police custody on Monday. Police said the man was produced in Sealdah court and remanded in Maniktala police custody. The girl had died on July 31.

Nitish funds pledge

Railway minister Nitish Kumar has assured Metro Railway that funds will not be a constraint for extension of services from Tollygunge to Garia. He has also promised funds for taking the Circular Railway from Prinsep Ghat to Majherhat, Dum Dum Cantonment to the airport and Ultadanga to Lake Town. Kumar made these commitments at a recent meeting attended by Railway Board members and general manager, Metro Railway.

Crossfire

There was tension in Phoolbagan following a clash between two groups of goons on CIT Road on Monday morning. Police said both groups hurled bombs and exchanged fire. Later, three persons were arrested in this connection.

Law seminar

The Constitutional Law Society of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences organised a seminar on ‘Recent Supreme Court guidelines on electoral reforms and the response of the political parties’ on Sunday at Salt Lake. The speakers expressed their views on how the reforms can be implemented for the benefit of the nation.

Rail roll of honour

The Indian Railway pavilion bagged the ‘most tourist-friendly stall’ award at Travel and Tourism Fair-2002. The three-day fair concluded on Sunday. The main attraction of the pavilion was Eastern Railway’s on-line reservation facility, equipped to entertain inquiries about trains, destinations and fares. Interactive CDs with railway information, run on computers with self-operated monitors, and audio-visual information on hill railways were major draws, Eastern Railway sources said.

Police officer ill

Officer-in-charge of Fatal Section Traffic police S.R. Nag complained of chest pain while attending a meeting in the chamber of police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty on Monday afternoon. Nag was admitted to a nursing home. His condition is stable but he is still under observation.

Media interface

An interface between journalists and the administration was held at the South 24-Parganas district headquarters in Alipore recently. District magistrate Alapan Bandyopadhyay led a forum of 150 journalists in a workshop on the relationship between ‘The nation, the society and the media’. The programme was organised by the South 24-Parganas information and cultural affairs department and the South 24-Parganas Journalists’ Association.    

 
 
SHAH PAT FOR RESULTS RECORD 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
 
Pleased with the recent drive by Calcutta University (CU) for timely publication of results, Governor Viren J. Shah, who had been highly critical of the university’s functioning in the past, has congratulated the officials for taking the right steps in improving work culture.

Shah called up Ashis Banerjee, CU vice-chancellor, and Suranjan Das, pro vice-chancellor, academic, and expressed happiness over the university’s initiative to publish the results of two major under-graduate examinations — including BA, B.Sc, B.Com Part II (honours) and BA and B.Sc Part II (general) — in record time this year.

He also congratulated the officials for taking a decision to provide quality education at the under-graduate level by stopping all the 200-odd colleges, affiliated to CU, from admitting excess students. “I am happy to see that the university is working hard to prove its ability,” Shah told Metro.

The Governor added: “One deserves to get appreciated for good work. I personally called up the vice-chancellor and the pro vice-chancellor to express my happiness at their efforts to publish the results in record time.”

Shah, who is also chancellor of the university, while addressing a convocation in 1999, had lashed out at the authorities for the huge backlog in Ph.D theses of research scholars. He had also criticised the university officials for inordinate delay in conducting annual audits.

After several years, the university has been able to publish the results of two major under-graduate examinations before the stipulated 90 days. In the past, it took as long as eight months, thereby jeopardising the career of many students.

After the 1999 convocation, Shah, concerned with CU’s delay in various spheres, sent a number of instructions, asking it to step up measures to conduct its annual audits on a regular basis. He also emphasised that it should ensure timely publication of results of all examinations as well as Ph.D theses.

“The university’s audit reports are gradually getting up-to-date. I am happy to see the authorities working hard in all respects in which they were previously lagging,” said Shah.

Pro vice-chancellor Das, too, expressed his happiness over the Governor’s appreciation. “He has advised us to keep up our good work. We are trying hard to follow his instructions,” he said.

   

 
 
CITY DRUG TRAIL LEADS SLEUTHS TO UP 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 5: 
Picking up leads from investigations carried out in the city and several parts of the country, sleuths of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) raided a multi-crore factory at Rampur, in Uttar Pradesh, on Sunday, and busted a racket in amphetamine tablets.

Speaking to Metro on phone from Delhi, NCB director-general M.K. Singh said Asad Kutta, a Dubai-based aide of mafia don Dawood Ibrahim, had set up the factory and recruited several youths to run it. Singh said Kutta is currently in Dubai and the NCB will press the Union home ministry for his extradition.

NCB officials said 400 kg of ATS and Mandrax tablets, worth around Rs 50 crore, and several kg of raw material to produce the tablets were seized from the factory during the raid by the sleuths.

Following a tip-off that youths were peddling Mandrax and ATS to potential customers, especially foreigners, on Kyd Street, Free School Street and Park Street, the police detained three people on Sunday. While interrogating the detained youths, the sleuths got several leads on the way the racket was flourishing in the city. Underworld sources said both ATS and Mandrax were becoming increasingly popular with students.

“The tablets are priced at Rs 6 a piece. One tablet is potent enough for a ‘high’,’’ said an insider. Each Mandrax and ATS tablet weighs around five milligrams, he added.

NCB officials working on the leads detained a few more youths from other parts of the country. On Sunday, they raided the factory at Rampur and picked up around 18 people from the premises. Some others fled. “We have arrested an associate of Asad from the factory. On being grilled, he revealed the method of operation. It was through him that we came to know that Asad is currently in Dubai,’’ the NCB director-general said.

Detectives said Kutta had arrived in Mumbai last week from West Asia on a forged passport and had even presided over a meeting of the underworld criminals. He had supervised a “dry run of the consignment from the Rampur factory to various cities through Mumbai”.

   

 
 
DEADLINE FOR DISCOS 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 5: 
Fed up of having their children return home when it’s time for morning-walkers to start their day, parents have turned to the police to make sure that night clubs turn off the music before it’s too late. This has prompted Lalbazar to keep a close watch on such hangouts, with the right to raid without even informing the local police station.

“The move was initiated following a number of complaints from parents reaching the police headquarters in the past two months. They are complaining that their children are spending the whole night at the disco,” said Shivaji Ghosh, deputy commissioner, headquarters. “We have decided to monitor the timings of bars and night clubs.”

As part of this drive, a special team, led by one of the deputy commissioners of the detective department, raided a night club in south Calcutta this weekend and found it open till around 3 am, one hour beyond the scheduled time of closure. There were around 50 to 60 young men and women on the dance floor at that hour.

The club’s officials were asked to report to the police headquarters with all relevant papers. “The club has permission to remain open till 2 am and if they violate the norms, we will have to take action against them,” said Ghosh.

In a recent meeting with the night club authorities at Lalbazar, the police instructed them to shut their bars by 11 pm, except under ‘special circumstances’.

The police are aware of the revenue raked in by night clubs, which have become an integral part of the city’s entertainment industry. In a recent move, police have, in fact, decided to speed up the process of awarding licences to bars and night-clubs, slowed down by the three-tier system of verification.

The local police station conducts its inquiry, the detective department investigates whether the applicant has a criminal record and then the traffic police ascertains whether the shop could cause traffic problems.

“We are not against bars and night clubs. But they must follow the rules. Because of the elaborate procedure, there is a huge backlog of applications for licences and renewal of old ones,” admitted a senior police officer.

Last, year, the city police had mopped up Rs 68 lakh through the granting and renewal of licences. This, despite the fact that hundreds of applications could not be processed. By speeding up the procedure this year, officers believe they can generate “at least Rs 75 lakh”. Defaulters are being identified and will be told to fall in line or pay the price.

Besides the trade licence, bars and night clubs have to obtain separate licences from the police. The fee, fixed by the state government, depends on the size of the establishment. The police licence has to be renewed every year, for a special fee.

Despite all this, the police have regularly failed to meet its revenue-collection targets. “The three-tier check is mandatory but we are trying to speed up the process. I have instructed the officers concerned to clear all pending cases. It is possible that many people even avoid getting a licence because of this lengthy procedure and we end up losing revenue, ” said Ghosh.

The police are now trying to bring more transparency into the evaluation system.

   

 
 
GREEN-ZONE DRAFT GATHERS DUST 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 5: 
The green belt has hit a red signal. A year and a half has elapsed since mayor Subrata Mukherjee unveiled grand plans for the Green Calcutta project. But not one step has been taken towards creating the much-hyped green belts.

In a bid to give the city a “new and fresh look”, the civic body had signed an MoU with the Agri-Horticultural Society of India (AHSI), early in 2001. The 182-year-old Society then submitted a proposal outlining the model for implementation and defining the scope of work in February 2001.

“The CMC asked us to provide guidance and technical know-how for implementation of the project. We gave them a detailed proposal, but we continue to await the go-ahead,” says M.K. Jalan, president, AHSI.

The proposal included adoption of a priority-based beautification strategy for prime locations in the city and gave a list of sites, like the airport, railway stations, the riverfront, some heritage spots and the Maidan area. According to the MoU signed between the CMC and the AHSI, the civic body was to earmark some prime spots for the first phase of beautification.

To meet the expenses, AHSI requested the CMC to rope in sponsors. The proposal also suggested the setting up of a core committee, with “NGOs and eminent Calcuttans”, to oversee the project. The AHSI was to conduct the “zoning of areas” for development, prepare the schedule and agenda of activity, specify the material and labour requirement and estimate the cost and budget for various programmes.

“But there was no delivery from the CMC,” says Jalan. According to the AHSI, the CMC inaction is not limited to only this MoU. Officials say the civic body hasn’t got back to them on their proposal to beautify the stretch between the Zoological Garden and Judge’s Court Road, in Alipore.

Hridayanand Gupta, mayor-in-council, parks and gardens and trees plantation, denies the charge of inaction levelled against the CMC. According to him, the problem lies in the paucity of funds. “We have an annual fund of Rs 3 crore, which we split between developing and maintaining parks, gardens and trees. We need sponsors to carry on the project and we expect the Society to take some responsibility in generating funds, rather than blaming us,” says Gupta.

Reiterating the commitment of the civic body towards Calcutta’s beautification, he adds: “Recently, we have started improving Mohammad Ali Park and we want to take on more such projects. We look forward to associations like AHSI for help in implementing such projects.”

For the moment, though, it is the flyover-and-rain-ravaged streets that will dominate the cityscape, with the green belt a distant dream.

   

 
 
SHOCK WAVES FOR KIDNEY STONES 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Aug. 5: 
A procedure to treat kidney stones is now on the middle-class table. The process, which replaces the traditional invasive operation’s two-week recovery time with just 45 minutes in the operation theatre, without even an injection, has been “unpopular” in Calcutta due to its “prohibitive” price tag. But former Oxford teacher and urologist Dr Amit Ghose has created a centre designed to remove this hurdle.

Oxford Stone Clinic, a “hi-tech uro-speciality clinic” at 55, Chowringhee Road, to be inaugurated on August 14, has already had a successful test-run in Calcutta, treating 35 patients in a month. The day-care centre, with no overnight facilities, keeps overheads at a minimum. Extra-Corporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy is not a new procedure. But at the Oxford Stone Clinic, the price is half, or less, of what it costs in the few other clinics in the city. “I had a patient who needed the procedure desperately, but could not afford it. When he asked me if I was letting him die because he didn’t have the money, I had to say yes, because I didn’t have the equipment,” explains Ghose.

So, he set out to change that, investing “almost Rs 1 crore” in the lithotripter alone. The centre has been designed for multiple-users. “I want other doctors to come and use this facility as well,” says Ghose, a consultant with Wockhardt and Kothari Medical Centre.

People in this part of the world are more prone to stones because of the high sweat factor. When the kidney’s filtration processes do not work properly, salts get deposited in the organ, leading to stones. But the problem is that many patients do not seek treatment in time.

The usual operation for kidney stones requires a 14-inch incision, between two and three hours on the table, physically cutting the kidney to remove the stones. It can lead to complications, resulting in removal of the organ as well. Common recovery time is around two weeks.

The lithotripter is a doctor’s table with a semi-circular cut, attached to a console with a “therapy head” and an ultra-sound monitor. The patient lies down, with the round head rising to make contact with the skin. Shock waves are emitted, which are no more painful than a “slap on the hand”, that effect only the stone, causing its disintegration. Then the patient proceeds to a recovery room for rest and can be back home in “an hour”. The particles are subsequently flushed out through urine.

There are conditions, of course. The procedure works best with smaller stones as particles from larger stones may not be flushed out easily through natural processes. Some candidates may need more than one session for full disintegration. But for most patients, the treatment comes at a price of Rs 10,000, with discounts for those who cannot afford it. “I have given discounts to at least 15 of my patients… It is a morale boost for a doctor as well,” says Ghose. Despite this, with the “overwhelming response” even prior to the launch, he anticipates the model breaking even in three years.

Ghose is also planning to build a bridge with Oxford University. “I would like to create a formal link by the year-end,” he says. Long-term plans include creating a centre for minimally-invasive procedures.

   
 

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