Presidency star stuck
Mother’s lone vigil for sons
Hot debut on hospitality horizon
Girl pushed off bus crushed by wheels
The City Diary
Shake a leg but stick to rules
15 cops hurt by SUCI brickbats
Palta clone at Dhapa for added gallons
Church shuts gates on family
Mamata spits fire on Advani

Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
Presidency College has missed the boat, yet again. After Loreto, Asutosh College looks set to win the much-sought-after National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) rating.

NAAC, an autonomous body set up by the University Grants Commission (UGC), monitors the infrastructure in state-aided universities and colleges.

It is on the basis of the NAAC ratings that the UGC allots development funds for these institutions.

For the second year running, Presidency failed to make the NAAC grade, thanks to the government’s attitude towards Central assessment of state-backed colleges in Bengal.

The college authorities had, around two months ago, submitted all relevant papers to the state higher education department, for them to be forwarded to NAAC. But the papers have remained stuck somewhere in Bikash Bhavan.

“Our application is still lying with the government,” confirmed Presidency College principal Amitava Chatterjee.

He admitted that he and his colleagues were “worried” about the delay. “It is unfortunate that our institution may get the NAAC rating much later for no fault of ours.”

The state higher education department, however, hardly seemed perturbed. “We have a lot of time in hand to submit the application,” said the director of public instruction Pijush Kanti Ganguli. “We will do it in good time,” he assured.

NAAC officials said they were “concerned” at the delay of submission of applications from Presidency and other colleges like Maulana Azad, Lady Brabourne, Bethune and Goenka. All these institutions need to route their applications through the state government, which explains the delay.

“We expected a better response from government-run institutions in Bengal,” said senior NAAC spokesperson Lata Pillai, from Bangalore.

Loreto was the first among the state’s 340 under-graduate colleges to get a four-star rating from NAAC in 2000.

Asutosh College looks set to enter the star chamber, with a NAAC team expected to inspect the south Calcutta college later this month. “We are happy that Asutosh College is ready for accreditation,” said Pillai.

For the NAAC rating, all colleges are required to send in their applications requesting the Council to inspect their institutions. NAAC has set March 2003 as the deadline for submission of all applications.

The UGC has decided not to allot funds to any institution if it fails to get a NAAC rating within the stipulated time. So, the rush in colleges to get their papers in order and dash off the application to the Council.

Pijush Kanti Ganguli, however, is convinced that Presidency’s image will not take a beating if it is pipped to the NAAC rating by Asutosh. “We are sure Presidency will get a higher rating from NAAC and that is what matters, not when the rating is given,” announced Ganguli.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
For the past seven months, Mithu (not her real name) has been waging a lonely battle to get her two sons back. The duo, one seven and the other nine, was taken away by her estranged husband in January.

Despite the court’s orders that the husband, a chartered accountant, and his two sons be produced in court, the police have been unable to do so. Worse, from June, the father and the two boys have been missing.

Mithu’s woes began last year when she discovered a passport application form in her husband’s wardrobe, which mentioned another woman’s name as his wife. Shocked, she rummaged further in the drawers to discover another document, this time, papers related to a Lake Town apartment which said that the owners were her husband and the woman mentioned in the passport application.

When confronted, the husband admitted that he had married another woman who lives in Kurseong. Mithu decided to move out with her two sons and stay with relatives in Sonarpur.

Then she moved Alipore court for a divorce, and got an injunction restraining her husband from taking custody of the boys. The husband challenged the order in the high court. But the lower court order was upheld.

On January 7, the husband arrived at Mithu’s Sonarpur house, dragged the two boys into a car and drove off to his house in Gariahat.

Mithu went back to court. But before that, she filed an FIR with Sonarpur police station. At Alipore court, where a criminal case was lodged against her husband, a warrant of arrest was issued against him. But the man managed bail. This happened more than once while the hearings were on.

Matters then shifted to the high court. Mithu’s lawyer Biswajit Bose told the court that despite the injunction, her husband had “snatched” the duo and disappeared.

In June, a division bench of Justice Ashok Ganguly and Justice Hrishikesh Banerjee asked the officers-in-charge of Gariahat and Lake Town police stations to produce Mithu’s husband and her two sons in court. A similar directive was also given to the detective department of the city police.

A month later, the police informed the court that the man had disappeared with his sons and second wife. The court then directed the CID and the detective department to trace the missing father and his two sons.

On Wednesday, the CID and the detective department told the court they had been unable to trace the ‘family’. The court has given the sleuths till August 25 to produce the missing persons.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
It’s the first five-star in the city with an international label, and it’s all set to woo the business traveller. The Rs 145-crore Hyatt Regency Calcutta, promoted by Asian Hotels, is not paying heed to pessimists predicting doom for the hospitality industry in the city. They are firmly looking towards the future which will, they insist, bring in the bulk, vis-à-vis booming business in the gateway to Bengal.

Industry estimates that the “large inventory of five-star hotel rooms in Calcutta” can only be justified by three years of industrial growth”, S.K. Gupta, MD, Asian Hotels, agrees that this is a “long-term investment in infrastructure”.

Says Praveen Chawla, general manager, Hyatt Calcutta: “We are aiming for around 35 per cent occupancy in the first few months.” With most guests expected to be business travellers, the hotel offers a host of facilities like a business centre and a 600-square-metre Regency Ballroom, in addition to the speciality business brand, Regency Club.

But local traffic is also a priority. To catch the attention of the Calcuttan, the sprawling 235-room hotel plans to arrange “at least eight high-profile events a year”, says Chawla. Weddings are a key focus, with “fun and interactive buffets” on the platter.

Price wars are also set to change the face of the five-star battle in town. Hyatt is offering an introductory rate of Rs 2,500 for Guest Rooms for the first three months, after which the ‘rack rate’ will go up to Rs 7,500.

There will now be more discounts on bulk bookings and corporate contracts. “The concept of ‘rack rate’ is a thing of the past. These days, it’s all about negotiating rates across the table,” says Samir Khanna, general manager, Taj Bengal.

Five-star hotels in the city officially have around 80 per cent occupancy, which industry observers insist must be taken with a barrel of salt.

“Calcutta never had much business traffic from abroad. So 9/11 and the travel advisories have not had any significant impact on the properties in Calcutta,” adds Amitabh Rai, resident manager, Oberoi Grand.

He also feels the competition is welcome. “Calcutta can now host large conventions that it could not in the past for want of proper accommodation.”

With the coming of Hyatt, occupancy at the Taj and Oberoi Grand is likely to fall. “Hyatt is entering the market with aggressive tariffs. This may affect our occupancy in the beginning, but in the long run, it is going to even out,” says Khanna.

Aggressive tariffs aside, Hyatt will be banking on Club Prana and Klub K to click. Prana, to open shortly, will have state-of-the-art spa and various sporting facilities. Klub K, scheduled to open in a few months, will be a “fun pub”, with drinking, dining and dancing. It will, promises Hyatt, give Tantra and London Pub a run for their fun crowd.

About 80 per cent of travellers to the city are here on business, the other 20 per cent comprising flight crew and tourists. “What we need is investment in the state to justify 900 hotel rooms in the city. We hope the state government’s efforts to sell Bengal as a destination for investment bears fruit,” says Khanna.

S.K. Gupta, for one, feels Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is “a nice person with a clear mind”, so investment should come naturally to Bengal. “When we made the Hyatt in Delhi in 1982, everyone asked us ‘What happens after the Asian Games?’. But things have worked out and everyone is prospering,” adds the man behind the upcoming Mumbai Hyatt.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
The conductor of a private bus, in a hurry to stay ahead of another bus on the same route, pushed six-year-old Namakshi Mukherjee off the footboard. The child, who was following her parents off the bus, was run over by the rear wheels on Diamond Harbour Road on Tuesday night.

Namakshi urged her parents, to rush her to a hospital. One hour past midnight on Tuesday, she died.

Lalbazar control room officer-in-charge S. Mitra said the driver of the bus, on route 83, escaped with the vehicle.

Locals at a roadside kiosk helped the parents hire a taxi and proceed to Behala Balananda Brahmachari Hospital. The hospital does not have an emergency section. The doctors present there advised Moumita and Bapi Mukherjee to take Namakshi to Calcutta Hospital.

“In the taxi, she was groaning about the pain in her stomach. Her clothes were soaked in blood. Namakshi was desperate to live,’’ sobbed her mother.

At Calcutta Hospital, she was taken to the emergency ward and later transferred to the Intensive Care Unit. The child battled for her life for two hours.

Moumita teaches in a private school in Kidderpore, while Bapi is a professional singer. Namakshi was a student of KG-II at National Gems School, in Behala. The Mukherjees live off Arcadia, close to Ashoka cinema, in Behala.

The couple had gone to visit Moumita’s maternal uncle at Kidderpore on Tuesday. Moumita had turned six on Monday and Tuesday’s dinner was a belated celebration.

The family boarded the bus on the journey home at 10 pm. “The bus was empty but was moving slowly, hoping to pick up passengers,’’ recounted Moumita.

As the bus left Taratala, the driver suddenly accelerated. “We realised that another bus on the same route was following our vehicle. The conductor, all of sudden, was in mad rush to pick up and drop passengers,’’ she added.

The Mukherjees left their seats much before the bus neared their stop. “The bus stopped almost in the middle of the road, blocking the other one behind it,’’ Moumita said. Bapi got off, followed by Moumita.

“The conductor had signalled the driver to start even as Namakshi was on the last step. I saw him push her down and she fell as the bus started. The rear wheels crushed her stomach and hips,’’ Moumita said.

The two buses sped away even as local residents raised an alarm. Behala police has registered a complaint against the bus driver and the conductor, but neither of them was arrested till late on Wednesday.



Lynched for theft of electric wire

Two persons died and two were seriously injured when residents of Kalikapur, in Sonarpur, caught them stealing overhead electric wire, worth about Rs 1 lakh, early on Wednesday. The victims were identified as Sahadeb Mondal, 19, and Sadhan Mondal, 20.They were residents of Canning, in South 24-Parganas. Some policemen were also injured when they tried to stop the mob from beating up the thieves. Early on Wednesday, residents noticed some men piling reams of electric wire on a truck, additional superintendent of police (industrial) Rajesh Kumar Singh said. They chased and caught four of them, who were beaten up. The injured persons were at first admitted to Sonarpur hospital. But as the condition of two deteriorated, they were transferred to MR Bangur Hospital, where they died. Local CPM leader and former MLA Sujan Chakraborty said the injured persons worked for a local contractor.

CMC appeal in waterline case

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC ) has filed six separate appeals before the division bench, challenging the order of Justice Bhaskar Bhatacharya, in connection with cases relating to disconnection of waterlines to different premises. Justice Bhattacharya had ordered the CMC to restore water supply to six occupants of Karnani Mansion, on Park Street. CMC counsel Ashok Das Adhikari argued before the court that the order of the trial court was “arbitrary”. The division bench of Justice S. Banerjee and Justice S.P. Sinha adjourned the case till Thursday.

Crime protest

Residents of Dhakuria, Babubagan and adjoining areas in south Calcutta gheraoed Jadavpur police station on Wednesday night to protest the sudden spurt in criminal activities in the locality. They later submitted a memorandum, threatening to launch a sustained movement if the police failed to arrest the miscreants.

Death of burns

A 35-year old woman and her nephew died of burns in Barasat on Wednesday. Police said the victims were identified as Supriya Bhadra, 35, and Mritunjoy Sinha, 28. Both of them were in the kitchen when a stove burst. They were taken to Barasat Hospital, where they died.

Aid office to reopen

The registered office of the Legal Aid and Advice Society will be reopened on Thursday on the ground floor of Calcutta High Court Centenary Building, working chairman of the society B.N. Vajpayee said. Chief Justice A.K. Mathur, chairman of the Society, will preside over the occasion, at which PWD minister Amar Roy Chowdhury will also be present.

Train services off

A new route relay interlocking system at Sealdah will be commissioned on August 9. A traffic block will be imposed at Sealdah for this purpose from midnight to 5 am. During this period, trains will be short-terminated to and from Dum Dum.

Break-in bid

Residents of Dhakuria chased away some youths on Tuesday night when they tried to enter the post office by breaking open a window. Police said the youths were seen moving suspiciously and hurled bombs on being chased. No one was injured.    

Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
Picture this. It’s 3 am on a monsoon night. As the city sleeps, a night-club of a south Calcutta hotel is wide awake — the music is on full blast, the dance floor is crowded and the youth brigade is freaking out. What’s wrong with a group of teenagers having some fun, you could ask. Lots, say the police.

Spurred on by complaints from parents about their children “not coming back home till morning and keeping bad company” and alarmed at growing security concerns over “criminal elements using night-clubs as haunts”, the police have decided to bring these funspots firmly under the scanner.

Last weekend, the police carried out surprise checks on three night-clubs and found one open beyond the Cinderella hour, which for this hangout was 2 am. This followed a flood of complaints from parents about their children — often under the age of 18 — frequenting night-clubs and not returning home till early morning. They also expressed concern over the growing propensity among teenagers to smoke, drink and experiment with drugs.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to schoolchildren drinking and taking drugs in public places,’’ says Calcutta Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty.

According to the police, there are eight bars and restaurants which have the licence to host live bands in the evening. “We will keep a strict eye on all of these,” says Chakraborty, who has, apparently, formed a special team for the night vigil.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Sivaji Ghosh, says there are unconfirmed reports of singers often “overstepping the line of propriety and inciting the audience to act in an obscene manner”.

The police commissioner is taking “personal interest” in the matter, confirm officers. Chakraborty told Metro on Wednesday that the police team would examine the following points while checking out discos, bars and restaurants:

Boys and girls below 18 are not allowed to drink in discos.

Authorities should prevent drug abuse on the premises.

No one should indulge in what amounts to obscenity in a public place.

Bars and restaurants with licences for live bands should ensure that the performers do not join the crowds on the dance floor.

What happens if a night club is found flouting these rules? Ghosh warns that these guidelines must be followed before any licences are renewed. “We will be extremely careful while issuing and renewing licences,” he says.

Confirming that this night drive was no shot in the dark, Chakraborty says the police will monitor the night- clubs and are drawing up plans to impose more restrictive measures.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
They had borne the brunt of the baton on Tuesday, but on Wednesday, they picked their spot and their hour to hit back.

SUCI activists, beaten up by the police for protesting the bus-fare hike at Esplanade, overran Bidhan Sarani, in north Calcutta, and attacked the few policemen on duty there on Wednesday evening.

Around 15 cops were injured as more than 150 SUCI members pelted them with stones. The clash lasted over an hour, from 4.35 pm. A contingent from Lalbazar arrived and fired 10 rounds of teargas shells to disperse the mob and rescue their colleagues.

Deputy commissioner, headquarters, Sivaji Ghosh, said the SUCI had not announced its agitation, as is mandatory. SUCI leaders retorted that they were not bound to tell the cops in the wake of what happened at Esplanade on Tuesday. Witnesses said batches of SUCI workers began to arrive at the intersection of Bidhan Sarani and Arabinda Sarani around 4.15 pm. They blocked the busy crossroad and shouted slogans against the police.

The police picket on the spot urged the protesters not to hold up traffic. But the SUCI workers, allegedly, brushed them off. When Asim Ghosh, officer-in-charge of Burtala police station arrived, he was greeted with brickbats. The protesters then launched an offensive, armed with lathis and stones. Asim Ghosh withdrew from the area with his men and alerted Lalbazar.

Fifteen policemen, including a few women, were injured. Sivaji Ghosh later said five SUCI supporters were arrested.

Normalcy in the area was restored around 5.30 pm, with deputy commissioner of police, north, K.L. Tamta, camping on the trouble-spot.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) will set up a 100-million-gallon water treatment plant, half the size of its Palta waterworks, at Dhapa, as part of the Rs 2,000-crore development schemes in the city’s metropolitan area. The newly-formed Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Committee has drawn up the schemes.

The sub-committees of the planning committee submitted their sectoral development proposals at a meeting on Thursday. The meeting was chaired by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, also chairman of the water supply development sub-committee, proposed the utilisation of the CMC’s twin pumping stations for unfiltered water at Mullickghat and Watgunge to augment overall supply of filtered surface water in the city by about 100 million gallons a day.

He said the city would need a steady supply of 287 million gallons of filtered water daily by 2025 and for this, a provision for 425 million gallons of plant capacity should be created.

The Palta waterworks is currently producing 220 million gallons a day and no further augmentation is possible, following the commissioning of another 40-million-gallon water treatment plant there.

The Garden Reach waterworks of the Calcutta Metropolitan Water and Sanitation Authority (CMWSA) can supply, at best, 95 million gallons a day. “Hence, we must definitely take up a scheme to set up another 100-million-gallon-capacity water treatment plant right now,” said the mayor. He added that the CMC generates 60 million gallons of unfiltered water daily, which is wasted.

Since the Palta capacity is saturated and the eastern fringe of the city has started experiencing a tremendous growth, a need was felt to set up a treatment plant on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.

“It will be cost-effective, as about 40 per cent of the set-up for the proposed scheme is already available at Mullickghat and Watgunge,” said chief engineer Dibyendu Roychaudhury. According to him, the Mullickghat and Watgunge pumping stations could be used as lifting units for drawing water from the Hooghly. “And their lifting capacity could be augmented from 60 million gallons to 100 million gallons daily,” he said.

“The network of pipelines is ready up to Sealdah and Park Circus. What we need to do is extend the existing pipelines to the site of the proposed treatment plant on the Bypass,” Roychoudhury added.

A senior engineer of the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority pointed out that the commissioning of a 100-million-gallon water treatment plant would require an investment of Rs 125 crore. “But it could come down to Rs 80 crore if the CMC’s twin pumping stations could be utilised for the purpose,” he added.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
The dingy lane off Burrabazar meanders through a maze of shops and snakes past an oblong, whitewashed building with an imposing black wrought-iron gate. It opens on to a spacious courtyard, immaculately laid lawns and a spartan shrine. At a glance, the building exudes warmth.

But then you run into the gun-toting private securitymen at the entrance of the Armenian Church on 2, Armenian Street. They grill visitors and say: “There is some problem between the Church and the family and no one is allowed to visit them.’’

The family the guards refer to are the Stephens, residing on the third floor of the staff quarters near the entrance. Entry of visitors is barred on the grounds that the “Church does not allow outsiders within the staff quarters.” For the past six months, the Stephens have been living under “virtual house arrest”.

A dispute over the “residency tenure and a consequent eviction suit slapped by the Church” has resulted in the alleged violation of the family’s “basic human rights”. It has also turned the spotlight back on the trouble among the handful of Armenians in the city.

The head of the family, Paul Stephen, who has been residing in the quarters for the past 14 years with his ailing wife and five children, has now moved the National Human Rights Commission, alleging “harassment by the Church authorities, denial of basic amenities and coercion”.

The family has also lodged a formal complaint with the Burrabazar police, seeking “restoration of basic amenities suspended by the Church’’. According to the complaint (dated July 26), “…For the past six months, the Church authorities have been harassing us by barring all people, including doctors, mechanics, visitors, relatives and friends from entering our flat. The Church authority has directed the security guards to stop all our visitors at the gate. The gates close at 8 pm and even if there is an emergency, they are not allowed to be opened.”

The clampdown by the Church almost cost Paul Stephen’s ailing wife her life. The lady, who had her second heart attack on Tuesday night and is battling for life in hospital, nearly died last month. “My mother had her first heart attack on the night of July 23. But the Church refused to open the gates, despite repeated pleas that it was an emergency,” says one of the Stephen children. “We could not take her to hospital at night, even though her condition was critical. The doctor, too, was not allowed to come in. We had to wait till the morning. This time, too, she could not be taken to the hospital right away and had to be kept under observation at home for a few hours.”

A decade-long dispute between the Stephen family and the Church has come to a head with an “eviction and injunction suit” being slapped on them this April. Church chairperson Sonia John refused comment, despite repeated attempts to contact her.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
The Trinamul Congress today adopted a resolution blaming the deputy Prime Minister and the railway minister for engineering Eastern Railway’s bifurcation “which will not only impede West Bengal’s development but also harm eastern India’s economy as a whole.”

The resolution was adopted at a convention at the historic Town Hall where several former vice-chancellors and academicians extended their support to Mamata Banerjee’s anti-bifurcation stir.

The resolution, which described L.K. Advani as “a source of extra-constitutional power at the Centre” and Nitish Kumar as a minister “devoid of all moral scruples”, reiterated the party’s pledge to “fight a last-ditch battle to stall the move”. It urged the people to unmask the “new Curzons and Mountbattens who are out to divide the country once again”.

The Trinamul leader was unusually aggressive in her address, indicating that her party’s continuation in the NDA at the Centre would become uncertain if the bifurcation was not revoked by August 13, the deadline earlier set by her.

“Let there be a number of zones to benefit other states. But we will not tolerate any attempt to harm Bengal’s interests and must resist it at any cost,” she said.

Recalling that Rabindranath Tagore had begun a movement on this day in 1905 to stall the partition of Bengal, Mamata said the people of the state would “re-create history by resisting the bifurcation”.

“We will join hands with the people of Jharkhand to stall the dangerous attempt to cripple the economy of eastern states,” she added.

Ridiculing the CPM’s charge that her stir was fomenting provincialism, the Trinamul chairperson said: “We are only trying to do what Tagore did in 1905 to prevent the British from partitioning Bengal. Was Tagore provincial?”

Mamata later tied rakhis on the wrists of visitors as a symbolic gesture of national unity.

Speaking on the occasion, former Union education minister Pratap Chunder Chunder hoped that good sense would prevail on the Centre to revoke the bifurcation.

“We must see to it that Bengal is not deprived of its dues,” said former Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Dilip Sinha.

He took a dig at the ruling Left Front, saying: “They are trying to enter into a secret deal with the Centre to allow the bifurcation.”

Former vice-chancellor of Calcutta University Santosh Bhattacharya said there was nothing wrong if people protested against any attempts that would harm the interests of their state. Describing the CPM’s stand on railway bifurcation as “full of contradictions”, Bhattacharya wondered why the party was indifferent towards Bengal’s interest.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said the party would collect two crore signatures and organise a protest rally shortly at the Brigade Parade grounds if the Centre did not revoke the proposed bifurcation.


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