Dawn rain with kiss of death
Funds order for tannery effluent unit
Suit slap on water wars
Student snub for minister missive
The City Diary
Damage control at Dum Dum
Consumer courts lose review load
Root cause of fewer trees
Govt signals rent hike
Bowring’s opens shop at last

 
 
DAWN RAIN WITH KISS OF DEATH 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
Torrential overnight rain and subsequent waterlogging severely disrupted life in the city till early afternoon on Monday and even claimed the life of a teenager. Many schools were forced to declare a ‘rainy day’, while attendance figures at offices dropped sharply.

The rainfall was the highest this season, with the Alipore weather office and many of the Corporation pumping stations recording more than 107 mm for the first time this year. “There was a downpour between 1.30 am and 4 am, while a drizzle continued for another two hours,” said the weather office.

The rainwater on the roads took a tragic toll when 14-year-old Pinky Saha was electrocuted while wading through water in the Bhowanipore police station area. Pinky was escorting her three sisters back home from school when she strayed very close to a switch-box at the base of a submerged streetlight on Heysham Road.

Before she could realise she was in a danger zone, Pinky was pulled towards the switch-box by its electro-magnetic field and electrocuted. She lay in the water for half-an-hour, with no one daring to go near her for fear of being electrocuted. A flower-seller tried to pull her away but received electric shocks twice.

It was finally left to the police to pick Pinky up after the CESC had switched off power in the area. She was taken to SSKM Hospital, where doctors declared her “brought dead”.

Lightning struck Park Street police station at 3 am on Monday. Deputy comissioner, south, Kuldeep Singh, said all electrical equipment, including computers, air-conditioners, lights and fans were damaged.

In north Calcutta, a part of the second-floor verandah of a three-storeyed building off Girish Park collapsed amidst the torrential rain. Between 1.45 am and 6 am, the pumping station at Palmer Bazar recorded 108 mm, while at Mominpur station, it was 102.5 mm. “The Dhapa lockgate station measured 95 mm, and Birpara 107 mm,” said Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s drainage department chief engineer Dilip Sanyal.

The weather office corroborated the figures. “Till 8.30 am, Alipore recorded 107.3 mm, while our office in Dum Dum totalled 229.7 mm over a 24-hour period,” said director K.K. Chakraborty. This season’s previous highest at Alipore was on July 2, when 106.9 mm of rain was recorded.

Chakraborty said the downpour was caused by a weakened low pressure trough over Calcutta, which combined with a cyclonic circulation. It also led to good amounts of rain in the parched districts of Purulia and Bankura. “The city may experience one or two rather heavy showers on Tuesday,” the Alipore weather office warned.

Rainwater flooded major thoroughfares, ranging from shin to knee-deep, before daybreak. The water started receding around noon. This time, however, the delay was not just due to inadequate pumps and restricted sewage systems.

“A high tide in the Hooghly and power cuts at several pumping stations hampered the drainage process,” said chief engineer Sanyal. “We had to send an SOS to the CESC for resumption of power at the Dhapa pumping station, where power cuts lasting between one and two hours disabled the machines.” The stations at Palmer Bazar and Belgachia were similarly affected.

A major casualty of the rains was rush-hour traffic. “South Calcutta was worse hit than the north,” said a traffic department official at Lalbazar. Southern Avenue, Gariahat Road, Rashbehari Avenue, Rawdon Street, Camac Street, Park Street and Free School Street were waterlogged till 2 pm.

“But the situation on and around the AJC Bose Road flyover zone was disastrous. Hungerford Street and a portion of Camac Street to the north of the ongoing construction, Hospital Road and Shambhunath Pandit Street to its south were still under a foot of water at 3 pm. This is because all the drainage outlets have been blocked,” confirmed an official. As a result, even Red Road was clogged.

For the first time this year, Circular Rail services “had to be suspended after 36 inches of rainwater stood on the tracks at the Ultadanga Road station,” said an Eastern Railway official.

   

 
 
FUNDS ORDER FOR TANNERY EFFLUENT UNIT 
 
 
OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT IN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 12: 
The Supreme Court on Monday directed the West Bengal government, as well as the Union of India, to “release immediately” Rs 3.47 crore each to Dalmiya & Co. This, said the division bench, comprising Justices M.B. Shah and D.M. Dharmadhikari, would enable the company to complete by October the construction of the effluent transport system (ETS) at the Calcutta Leather Complex (CLC), where polluting units must be shifted.

In an interim order, the justices said the ETS has to be established in zones 1-8 as the first step. Dalmiya & Co. had filed an affidavit stating that the initial cost worked out with the government covered only the construction of the effluent treatment plants (ETPs). The transportation lines, or the ETS, would involve additional expenditure, on part of the firm, outside the contractual obligation.

But the state government and the tanneries association opposed this plea, contending that the cost worked out was for the completion of the entire project, including establishment of transportation lines. Appearing for the Calcutta Tanneries Association, counsel Deba Prasad Mukherjee contended that according to the cost worked out, the tanneries had already paid Rs 600 per square yard and that the Dalmiyas must complete the work now.

The counsel said the court had given the tanneries permission to file their replies to Dalmiyas’ contention within four weeks. Within this period, the state and the Centre should pay the designated amount to the company. Thousands of tanneries will shift to the CLC once the ETPs and transportation lines are completed in the complex dogged by controversies.

   

 
 
SUIT SLAP ON WATER WARS 
 
 
OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
The civic body’s strategy to realise its property-tax dues by waging a water war against errant landlords has come under the court scanner. The validity of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s (CMC) tax-collection tactic by turning off taps has been questioned, with the first hearing on the matter ending inconclusively on Monday, only to resume on Tuesday.

That the hearing of the petition before Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya had struck a chord was evident from the hundreds who flocked to the courtroom. Anindya Mitra, on behalf of Nilambar Finvest (Pvt) Limited and others, moved the petition challenging the validity of Rule 275 (1) (a a) of the CMC Act and sought an order declaring the rule “ultra vires” and “unconstitutional”.

Mitra told the court the CMC had modified the rule to disconnect a number of water connections of citizens whose property taxes were allegedly pending.

“Even though the occupants or tax-payers have paid their water taxes, the CMC has either disconnected their waterlines or threatened to do so for those who have not paid their property taxes yet,” Mitra said. He argued that when the occupants had paid their water taxes, it was “unwise and illegal” on the part of the CMC to stop their water supply.

P.K. Roy, appearing on behalf of the CMC, said the civic authorities have the responsibility to provide civic amenities to the citizens, including regular supply of water. Similarly, the citizens should shoulder the responsibility of paying their taxes in time. “Otherwise, the civic body is entitled to take penal action against a tax defaulter,” he added.

Roy also argued that the amendment to the civic rule in question was according to the provision of the Indian Constitution and that was why it could not be declared ultra vires.

For the past eight weeks, a number of petitions have been filed in the court by various occupants, including some important traders and businessmen, challenging the notices of the civic authorities threatening to disconnect water connections for non-payment of property tax.

The water supply to two city hotels and some buildings was disconnected but later restored, following an ad hoc payment of pending property taxes.

About a fortnight ago, the CMC had disconnected water connections in most of Karnani Mansions, with residential blocks, office premises and popular restaurants on Park Street.

Following a face-off between a section of occupants and the CMC, the tax tussle reached the courts, with the civic body being directed to restore water connections to some premises. The matter is pending with the court.

   

 
 
STUDENT SNUB FOR MINISTER MISSIVE 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
What the government proposes, the SFI opposes. This is what appears to be happening in Presidency College, where one of the members of the students’ union is the chief minister’s daughter.

A few days ago, higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty observed that the government does more for Presidency College than the institution does for society, and directed all colleges run by it to increase the number of seats. On Monday, Presidency College’s SFI-dominated students’ union declared that it would allow this only if the college’s existing infrastructure was improved. Earlier, it was decided that the college authorities would finalise the expansion plan at a meeting on Monday. But now, with the SFI stepping in, the meeting has been put off.

Students on Monday submitted a memorandum to college principal Amitava Chatterjee, which said: “We welcome the proposal. But before increasing the seats, the authorities must see that all the departments have the required infrastructure …”

Following the minister’s instruction, Chatterjee discussed the issue with all heads of departments of the college on Friday and decided to hold a meeting of the college teachers’ council to finalise the matter. Sources in the college said the meeting was postponed after the students’ union threw a spanner in the works.

Ankur Sarkar, assistant general secretary, Presidency students’ union, said since the college building has been declared a heritage structure, it cannot be expanded to solve the space problem.

The government’s order has confused teachers as it contradicts a recent Calcutta University (CU) decision to slash seats in all its affiliated colleges to improve the quality of education. Suranjan Das, CU pro vice-chancellor, academic, said: “The government cannot take a unilateral decision and ask a college to increase its seats.”

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Visitor ban at airport on I-Day eve

Entry of visitors to the terminal buildings of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport has been banned as a precautionary measure ahead of Independence Day. The ban, clamped at 1 pm on Monday, would continue till further notice, airport director Roshan Lal said.

Hatey Bajarey Express looted

Passengers of Hatey Bajarey Express were looted on Sunday night. Some of the passengers who had tried to resist the dacoits were injured. Superintendent of Government Railway Police (Sealdah) Gangeswar Singh said the dacoits boarded the train at Sealdah and got off at Shyamnagar with more than Rs 75,000. Later, the passengers lodged a complaint with the GRP at Shyamnagar.

Road mishap

A rickshaw-puller was hit by a Maruti van on Vivekananda Road on Monday morning. Police said the victim was taken to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital where he died.

Rape protest

A silent protest was staged on Monday in front of Sealdah Court, where the case of an 11-year-old girl raped by her uncle at his Maniktala residence, was being heard. The girl had later died in hospital. Jabala, a social welfare organisation working with children, led the demonstration against the accused. They demanded speedy justice for the victims’ family and appropriate punishment for the rapist.

Malaria prevention

Cases of malignant malaria have dropped by 32 per cent in the city in comparison with the 2001 figures, civic health authorities said. According to officer-on-special duty (health) Atanu Mukherjee, the CMC has started an intensive awareness campaign against the disease by setting up booths at 32 important crossings.

Twin-murder probe

A probe has been initiated into Saturday’s twin murder at Haritakitala, in Sonarpur, on the southern fringes of the city. Superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, Deb Kumar Ganguly said on Monday that preliminary investigations showed that both Tarubala Bhattacharya and her daughter-in-law Dipali were murdered for their property. Forensic experts have taken away blood-stained scissors, clothes and beddings for examination. Dipali’s only daughter Chandana Roy was interrogated to find out who else would inherit the property.

Five held

Five goons were arrested in Jagaddal, on the northern fringes of the city on Monday. Police acted on a tip-off and raided a hideout of the criminals. Firearms, bombs and bomb-making materials were recovered.

Pirated cassettes

The city police seized about 2,200 pirated cassettes worth Rs 1.5 lakh from a shop in the Chandni Chowk area on Monday. Police said the shop-owner, Mohammed Aslam, was arrested from Girish Bose Road in Howrah.    

 
 
DAMAGE CONTROL AT DUM DUM 
 
 
BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
From dollar-flicking to arms infiltration, complaints galore have prompted the Union civil aviation ministry into ordering an immediate revamp of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Dum Dum.

At a time when the Airports Authority of India (AAI) is trying to woo foreign airlines back to the city, the AAI and the CISF top brass have put their heads together to bring about a damage-control exercise to salvage the image of the airport.

“I had a discussion with senior CISF officials. We have decided to review the security process and change some personnel. Our objective is to present a clean image of the airport,” said airport director Roshan Lal on Monday.

It has, therefore, been decided that the airport security will be reinforced with well-trained CISF personnel, who will be able to deal with the security and maintain a congenial atmosphere at sensitive zones.

Around 50 handpicked CISF officers from different airports of eastern India will be deployed shortly at Dum Dum airport. “These officers are extremely efficient and have been well-trained in manning high-security zones. We have decided to rope in five men from Bagdogra, Guwahati, Port Blair, Silchar and the northeast airports. They are likely to boost our image considerably,” a CISF spokesman told Metro.

The civil aviation ministry, after taking note of the complaints lodged against a section of the CISF men and the need for more well-trained men, has sanctioned additional reinforcements for the CISF too.

“The additional staff is required to strengthen security,” a CISF spokesman said. Out of the 726 allotted personnel, the CISF had sanctioned only 620 men at the airport, causing great difficulties to the force.

Later, left with no alternative, it requisitioned for an additional 120 men on a temporary basis from various industrial units in the state. These men, who are still on duty, are not aware of specialised security measures at the airport. “We haven’t faced problems with these men when it comes to frisking passengers, but they do have problems at the X-ray machine scanning,” an officer admitted.

After reinforcements arrive, the CISF will in all probability shift the 120 men to different areas or derequisition them. At present, there are 30 sub-inspectors at the airport, who have been assigned to handle high-security zones. In order to boost the sagging morale of the CISF, the ministry has also sanctioned more bulletproof jackets and sophisticated rifles.

It has also been decided that the new recruits will have to obtain a formal certificate of training from the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS).

Earlier, the BCAS had raised objections, stating that since the 120 men had not received any formal training, they could not be allowed to handle a high-security zone.

   

 
 
CONSUMER COURTS LOSE REVIEW LOAD 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
It’s a welcome breather for consumer courts in the city and elsewhere, now reeling under a backlog of cases that runs into three figures.

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has signalled an end to the countless filing of petitions and counter-pleas, with the sole motive of buying time and delaying justice, by directing all consumer courts in the country to immediately stop reviewing their own verdicts.

The recent ruling by commission president Justice D.P. Wadha decrees that no consumer court in the country has the “jurisdiction” to review an order it had passed. Consumer courts in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal will now be saved the “ordeal” of going through endless petitions, which are responsible for the huge backlog of cases, say state consumer affairs department officials.

The commission has, instead, directed that all those seeking reviews of their cases should go to a higher court. Officials admit that most of the pleas made to consumer courts, asking them to review their own verdicts, are defeating the very purpose of providing speedy justice to ordinary people for which the courts were set up.

“Often, members of the Calcutta District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum or the West Bengal Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission have to hear pleas for a review of their own judgements,” said a senior consumer affairs department official. “In many instances, it turns out that the cases were filed to buy time for the party which lost the original case,” he added.

Figures available at the department prove the apprehensions correct. Around 113 cases were filed with the state commission last month, 26 of them fresh cases and the rest appeals against lower courts. During the same period (the month of July), the state commission managed to dispose of only 13.

Cumulatively, the commission, working out of Bhabani Bhavan, has more than 2,300 cases pending at the moment, say officials, adding that this story has been repeated in every other consumer court in Calcutta or other district headquarters.

   

 
 
ROOT CAUSE OF FEWER TREES 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
The growing population in the city and the subsequent lack of space has prompted the civic authorities to abandon a roadside tree-plantation drive, falling short of an ideal green cover of 15 per cent.

While the national standards for green cover in the urban areas call for a minimum of 15 per cent, it stands at only nine per cent in Calcutta. “It means only a 3.3 per cent extra area of the city proper could be brought under green cover, despite continuous efforts in the past 30 years,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Monday.

According to him, of the 104 sq km of the city proper, only 5.7 per cent were green in 1963 and around 7.2 per cent in 1985. “Currently, it is almost nine per cent. Actually, a conscious effort for planting roadside trees started only in 1985,” the mayor said.

Henceforth, saplings will be planted only to replace dead or uprooted trees. There is an absolute space crunch when it comes to planting new trees, which is why the programme has been called off, said member, mayor-in-council, parks and gardens, Hridayanand Gupta.

Following allegations from house-owners that the roots of roadside trees, planted by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), are damaging their buildings, the CMC has decided not to plant saplings of Krishnachura, Radhachura and Pakur in the city, “since their roots spread haphazardly”.

According to the CMC’s senior horticulturist, Ranojit Samanta, the existing Krishnachura, Radhachura, banyan and Pakur trees will be gradually replaced by Arjun, Neem and Chhatim because the roots of these trees do not spread.

In the wake of the postponement of the tree-plantation programme, gardening at the parks will be re-oriented, with bush-type plants, like hibiscus, Togor, pine and Gandharaj and other hedge-type plants, said Gupta. “We are re-orienting our 13 nurseries on this line,” he added.

While the CMC is re-orienting its activities at parks and gardens, the department, of late, is facing a funds crunch. “We have no tree-guards or earthen pots to grow the saplings. We require a supply of 15,000 earthen pots and 20,000 tree-guards annually, but this year supplies have been nil,” said a senior officer at the Tala nursery. “In the absence of a fresh supply, polythene bags are being used to grow saplings in our nurseries,” he said.

   

 
 
GOVT SIGNALS RENT HIKE 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
Housing minister Gautam Deb said on Monday that the state government will increase the rent of government flats in several housing estates of the city.

This is the second time in its 26-year regime that the Left Front government will increase the rent of flats.

“I had raised the rent of government flats a few years ago. I believe those who are living in such flats are capable of paying more, which is why I am again increasing the rent,” Deb said.

Sources in the housing department said the hike would cover all types of flats. Most government housing estates in the city are located in upmarket areas and a number of ministers, officers and several influential citizens occupy them.

“Even chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and I live in government housing estate flats. I think no one occupying these flats will object to the rent-hike decision, because they would never get homes at cheaper rates,” Deb added.

   

 
 
BOWRING’S OPENS SHOP AT LAST 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
Bowring’s Fine Art Auctioneers Private Limited is at last settling down in Calcutta and its address is Shyam Kunj, Apartment # 25, 12B, Lord Sinha Road. Ever since Bowring’s announced that they will open shop here, enthusiastic callers have been demanding to know what their address is.

Patrick Bowring, deputy chairman of the first full service auction house in India, said on Monday that people are invited to get items valued free on September 27 and 28. A panel of seven experts from the UK will be in office to make free assessments. They will assess the value of British paintings and Indian contemporary art, clocks and watches, carpets and textiles, works of art, jewellery, silver and vertu, and porcelain and ceramics. For now, stamps, coins and guns are not on their list. Interested people should call 282-3311 for an appointment.

People may bring things of little commercial value but that may lead to the discovery of something valuable. Bowring remembers how at a valuation announced by Sotheby’s (he was employed there earlier before he joined Bonham’s) in England, people patiently stood eight deep with their items or photographs of these. In Calcutta, he expects a crush at the Oberoi Grand where the assessments will be made between 10 am and 6 pm. Even if the people are not willing to part with the items they want to get valued right then, he is hopeful that they may sell them in future. Bowring’s will give advice on restoration and preservation of items. “Over-restoration and over-cleaning can affect the value of items,” he said.

Calcutta, he said, has a team of well-trained restorers at Victoria Memorial Hall but it badly needs a restoration studio that will undertake commercial work. Bowring’s is “seriously looking into” the possibility of starting a training programme in restoration. Though now experts are being flown in to make valuations, “in time, people here will be identified to be trained up in various fields.” But he made clear that Bowring’s will not buy anything, because “the moment we buy, there will be a serious conflict of interests.” Their integrity will take a beating.

On January 13-16, 2003, a sale will be held in Calcutta of paintings, works of art, furniture and carpets, but right now, Bowring is excited about the sale of film memorabilia in New Delhi between October 19 and 23. The items date back to the silent era in the 1920’s. Patrick Bowring expects many film institutes and museums to be interested in the sale.

He counts young professionals and collectors in specific fields among the buyers, and the “auction will make us aware of a lot of new collectors.” He does not rule out the possibility of international buyers attending the sale, but they are primarily targeting the local market.

   
 

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