New-age poisons prey on kids
Passport photo-fix nets youth
Stay on pump licence slash
Wanderlust ways: more trips for less
The City Diary
Lessons laced with love and hope
Canal ferries crime into Salt Lake
Central alert sparks cop crackdown
Facelift funds too late
Flood taunt for Delhi ‘jaunt’

 
 
NEW-AGE POISONS PREY ON KIDS 
 
 
SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
Four-year-old Pritha cannot do without the battery-operated miniature version of her Mercedes-Benz. Her mother suffers from anaemia and is on an iron-boosting tonic without consulting a doctor. Perfumes jostle for space on their dressing table, along with a bottle containing a termite-deterrent solution. Mosquito coil finds pride of place on a table...

Faced with a wide variety of “choices” they never had before, Calcutta’s children are discovering new methods of making their way to city-based hospitals, even as their parents plead with doctors to “do something” to get the “new-age poisons” out of their system.

A gradual shift in the city’s lifestyle — with battery-operated toys entering homes and popping a pill becoming a habit — is contributing to a radical shift in the nature of poisoning cases doctors are being asked to handle.

Doctors treating paediatric poisoning — most of the difficult cases are handled at government-run institutions, with even private healthcare centres referring them to the five teaching medical colleges in Calcutta — say around half the patients they deal with come following ingestion of relatively “new-age” substances that have entered Calcutta households in the “very recent past”.

Though a substantial chunk of paediatric-poisoning cases is still caused by the intake of kerosene, the “new-age causes” like the slimmer nickel-cadmium batteries, mosquito coils, perfumes and the medicines used by their parents — often “recommended” by the local chemist — are catching up “very fast”, warn doctors.

“We get around 120 cases of children suffering from acute poisoning every year,” says Medical College and Hospital’s paediatric department resident medical officer-cum-clinical tutor Subhasish Bhattacharyya. The figures at Calcutta National Medical College (CNMC) and Hospital and Nilratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital, say doctors there, are similar.

“Very recently, I came across a case where a two-year-old child had gobbled up some liquid mosquito-repellant,” says consulting paediatrician Krishna Pan. Another paediatrician, B.R. Sikdar, agrees that the city is witnessing a “new trend” in cases of children’s poisoning. “The cases that we get now can, sometimes, be very baffling, because of their deviation from older and ‘more conventional’ causes,” he adds.

A doctor at CNMC says “at least two out of every five cases” involve “uncommon” causes and calls for a “poison-information centre (helpline)”.

The new ‘poisons’, say doctors, often lead to a different set of complications, to which there isn’t any ready antidote, forcing them to target the symptoms.

For example, with ‘pencil’ batteries growing slimmer — and living longer — by the day, the use of harmful metals like nickel and cadmium, along with sulphuric acid, is also increasing.

Mosquito coils contain pyrethroid compounds like permethrin. Deodorants, too, often have chemical compositions that vary widely from the older perfumes. Naphthalene balls reduce the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.

“We, therefore, usually, go for the symptom, instead of targeting the nature of chemicals ingested,” says Bhattacharyya. The symptoms haven’t changed overnight. Allergic reactions like sneezing, running nose, tremors and asthmatic attacks are still the commonest symptoms, doctors add.

For parents dealing with ‘poisoned’ kids, the doctors have this to offer as ready-to-reach home remedies before contacting a doctor:

The white of eggs and milk are easily available toxin-absorbers

Water can be used to induce vomitting, but not in case of volatile oily substances, like pheneol or kerosene.

Do not delay contacting a qualified paediatrician immediately or rushing the child to the nearest government/private healthcare institute.

The mortality rate, say doctors, is not comparable with cases of adult-poisoning. Children invariably swallow substances poisonous to the system accidentally and, therefore, stop immediately after they find the taste not appealing to them, say doctors. This explains the low mortality rate of “less than 10 per cent”.

   

 
 
PASSPORT PHOTO-FIX NETS YOUTH 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
Jayesh Govardhanbhai Patel, a 22-year-old Gujarati youth, was arrested at Calcutta airport on Monday night for carrying a passport in which the photograph had been tampered with. Patel is from Mehsana, in Gujarat.

According to investigators, Patel had left the country in 1998 for Bangkok, where he claimed he had taken up a job in a hotel.

In Bangkok, he met Bahadur Singh from Chandigarh. Singh apparently told Patel that he could find him a better job.

Patel said he rose to the bait. In the first week of August, Singh said he had a job for him. He asked Patel to meet him in Mumbai in August-end. Patel wanted to travel home first and then proceed to Mumbai. Singh, apparently, agreed and even paid Patel’s airfare to Gujarat and Mumbai. After buying the ticket to Calcutta, Patel claimed that Singh asked him to exchange passports with him.

Singh convinced Patel that the Indian security authorities were taking a “closer look” at people arriving from Gujarat, and so, he should change the photograph on the passport to avoid detection by the immigration authorities, an Intelligence Bureau officer added. Patel was obliged to Singh for paying his airfare and agreed to the proposal.

Immigration officers at Calcutta airport discovered that the passport photograph had been replaced and the signature on it seemed a bit out of place.

Patel broke down on being grilled. Police are cross-checking his version. They have got in touch with their counterparts in Gujarat and Mumbai. A case was started against Patel.

   

 
 
STAY ON PUMP LICENCE SLASH 
 
 
OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
Calcutta High Court on Wednesday stayed till Monday the cancellation of licences of 22 more petrol pumps in the city as well as in other parts of the state.

Over the past few days, the high court has been flooded with cases filed by people whose petrol-pump allotments have been cancelled following of a decision taken by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In all, 51 such petitions have been filed in the high court so far.

The plea of the petrol-pump owners was the same: they were ordinary citizens with no political influence and they had obtained their allotments through just and honest means. There was, therefore, no justifiable reason for the cancellation of their licences.

Acting as the leader of those representing the petitioners in court, senior counsel Ajit Kumar Panja told Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh that his client had obtained a “confidential” document from Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), directing its units to “immediately” cancel the licences of pump-owners who had received their allotments after January 2000 and take over the premises.

“In fact, the IOC units had been asked to personally hand over cancellation documents by August 16,” Panja told Metro. “The orders will follow by post later.” The documents have been submitted to the court, he said.

The court directed that no action in any manner be taken without the court’s permission on cancellation of licences of the 22 petrol pumps till Monday, when it would hear the cases again.

The 29 other petitions, already pending before the court, would also be heard on that day.

Some other lawyers argued before the court that a number of people in the state would face penury as they had invested “everything” in the pumps. They contended that the decision to cancel all the allotments was “hasty” and would harm some “helpless people”.

Appearing on behalf of the IOC, Aninda Mitra said he would require time to explain the fuel firm’s stand. The court will hear the IOC’s explanation on Friday. Mitra had prayed before the court not to issue a stay order. But this was turned down.

   

 
 
WANDERLUST WAYS: MORE TRIPS FOR LESS 
 
 
DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
They don’t stray far from home; they spend the least on holidays; they stick to railway stations and steer clear of airports. Yet, Calcuttans remain the ‘most valued customers’ for the tourism industry. A recent dipstick survey by Fairfest Media Limited, organiser of travel and tourism fairs in Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Chennai and Bangalore, has pieced together a portrait of the Calcuttan as a budget traveller who prefers ‘frequent’ over ‘far’ .

“It’s true that an average Calcutta tourist spends least when compared with his counterparts in other metros. Highest preference for travel by rail is another index of budget tourism observed among average Calcuttans. But the sheer volume of the people leaving the city every year makes Calcutta the biggest attraction for all stakeholders in the travel and tourism industry,” says Sanjiv Agarwal, chairman, Fairfest Media.

He supports his argument by comparing footfalls in the five cities during the fairs. While the three-day affair drew crowds ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 in other cities, 30,000 Calcuttans trooped into Netaji Indoor Stadium, the only venue in the country where an entry fee of Rs 20 was slapped to curb the crowds.

“We found only one of five respondents in Calcutta with international travel plans, while every third respondent in Delhi and Mumbai wanted to go abroad for his or her next vacation. In Chennai and Bangalore, it was one out of four,” adds Agarwal. The visitors to the five fairs were asked their average budgets per trip within and outside India and their favoured mode of transportation.

“The tourism industry in the country has grown, but the travel behaviour of Indian tourists had never been studied. So, we decided to collect primary data on budgets and preferences during the fairs,” says Agarwal.

The plan now is to collate the findings, zero in on specific trends — like Calcutta’s low-spend sojourns; Delhi’s preference for road travel; a boom in Bangalore — and build on them for a boost to business.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Roadblock hurdle in CM convoy path

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s scheduled route to Writers’ Buildings from the CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street had to be diverted following a road block on AJC Bose Road near Mullickbazar on Wednesday. A 300-strong group of locals obstructed traffic movement around 10.30 am on both flanks to protest prolonged power cuts in the area. The protesters had anticipated the arrival of the chief minister’s entourage and put up the blockade. Bhattacharjee reached Writers’ Buildings via SN Banerjee Road and Rani Rashmoni Avenue.

Snapped SSKM sewerlines

The Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC) will restore the sewerlines of SSKM Hospital, which had been severed accidentally during the construction of the AJC Bose Road flyover. The roads within the hospital remained waterlogged till Wednesday morning. A meeting of the HRBC, the CMC and the SSKM Hospital authorities was held, where the decision to restore the sewerlines was taken. Surgeon superintendent D.D. Chattopadhyay said the SSKM authorities were not consulted before taking up the construction work of the flyover.

Bomb scare

A bomb scare on the eve of Independence Day sent employees of the Alipore Mint scurrying outside the building. Police said around 9 am, the Taratola police station received an anonymous phone call, claiming huge quantities of RDX and other plastic explosives had been stashed in a corner of the Mint. The building was evacuated and a bomb disposal squad was called in. The police abandoned the search after three hours.

Suicide

A 22-year-old housewife, Mithu Ghosh, committed suicide at her Shibpur residence by consuming a bottle of pesticide on Wednesday. The woman was rushed to hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The police later arrested Mithu’s husband and in-laws on charges of torture.

Dowry death

Krishna Haldar, 26, was allegedly murdered by her husband on Wednesday at her Khardah residence. Santosh Haldar, the accused, is absconding. After conducting preliminary investigations, police found that the in-laws connived with the victim’s husband to torture the newly-wed for dowry. Police later arrested the mother-in-law, on the basis of a complaint lodged by the victim’s family.

Puja site meeting

The South 24-Parganas police top brass and the district magistrate met the committee members of the Bosepukur Sitala Mandir puja on Wednesday to discuss the shift order from the present site on the Rashbehari connector. “We have offered to hold the puja on a 15-cottah plot behind the present site and use an outlet off the main road for the exit. A police team will check the site,” a Puja committee member said.

Aid for cop kin

Family members of the five policemen shot in front of the American Center on January 22 will receive financial aid on Saturday. The money will be handed over at a function organised by the Calcutta Police Association. A blood donation camp will be organised as a mark of respect to the policemen.

Founder’s day

Siddha Yoga Meditation celebrates Divya Diksha Divas of its founder Swami Muktananda on Thursday afternoon at Kala Kunj.    

 
 
LESSONS LACED WITH LOVE AND HOPE 
 
 
MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
They call her the “second Mother Teresa”. But Mahnaaz Warsi had the strength to stand up to her mentor as well. The social worker struggling for funds had no trouble returning a Rs 100,000 donation from Mother Teresa on the suspicion that she wanted her to convert to Christianity.

“Now, see, the same amount of money has come back to me with so much honour,” smiles Mahnaaz, who has had to battle personal tragedy since she was just six months old. For her heroic efforts to bring education, health and happiness to her neighbourhood, Jannagar, and beyond, she has been selected for Stree Sakti Puraskar 2001. Prem-E-Asha is the organisation she had set up around 15 years ago in her attempt to bring education to the Park Circus slum, which now reaches out to children and women in Cossipore and Baruipur as well.

When Warsi was in the cradle, a firecracker went off accidentally, severely burning both her legs. “Only my mother was at home, and she lived her whole life in purdah,” reminisces the striking woman dressed in a white sari, head proudly bared. A local doctor bandaged up her legs. “When my father came home he rushed me to the hospital.” But the damage was done. When the doctors peeled off the bandages, little was left.

Years of care gave her back the use of her legs. “I was always aware of the fact that I was different. My father would tell me that because I walked with a limp then, I would go much farther later in life,” laughs the 37-year-old. She still suffers heart trouble as a result of the burns, and though she manages to move around, she does not have normal use of her legs.

Mahnaaz started teaching when she was just nine. “I found a few girls loitering around the neighbourhood and I asked them if they were in school or not.” The ‘no’ she received in response was enough for her to start class. With nowhere to go in the locality, Mahnaaz and her pupils headed for the Park Street cemetery. “I had no idea where I was, so I made the graves my classrooms,” she recalls. Objections from locals fearing she and the kids would be “possessed by ghosts” put an end to these early endeavours.

Her father’s death left a huge void in her life, and the young girl had to take control of the family. Her elder brother had fallen prey to drugs, and Mahnaaz spent years and money they didn’t have trying to get him successfully rehabilitated.

Trying to make ends meet by giving tuition, she slowly went back to social work, starting out with St Xavier’s and the Missionaries of Charity. She then went to Jaipur for training in work with leprosy patients.

“After that, Mother Teresa gave me the cheque. But I just didn’t want to accept it. My identity as a Muslim or Hindu should not affect the kind of work I do.” She and the Mother continued to have a “close association”, and pictures of the two together dot the small principal’s room of the Jannagar school.

Now, Mahnaaz provides education — formal and non-formal — to around 340 boys and girls across four centres. Very popular are vocational-training classes for women, including sauce and incense-stick making, tailoring, cooking and a beautician’s course. She does not accept donations and manages with whatever some of her students give her. But that does not stop her from providing micro-credit to women wanting to set up small businesses.

Mahnaaz has been working with sex workers as well, providing information on health. “Many of them later want out, and I have given them shelter and training till they can stand on their feet.” The locality she lives and works in comes with its own set of problems.

“Young girls are burnt by their families quite often when they discover an unwanted pregnancy.” Mehnaaz tries to counsel such families. “Only by forcing them to stop and at least hear us out will our neighbourhood, city and country ever improve.”

   

 
 
CANAL FERRIES CRIME INTO SALT LAKE 
 
 
SANJAY MANDAL
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
Although the footbridge on the Keshtopur canal, in Salt Lake, was demolished by the authorities to check the entry of criminals into the township, residents feel the purpose has been defeated. The goons are using an alternate ferry service to gain access to the area.

“The basic purpose of demolishing the footbridge has been foiled. Criminals can still enter Salt Lake on the ferry,” claimed Manas Sen Chowdhury, secretary of the AL Block residents’ association. “There is no police guard there,” Sen Chowdhury pointed out on Wednesday.

The ferry service continues till 10 pm, making it easier for the goons to enter the township in the dark, residents alleged.

“We cannot prevent someone from crossing the canal on a boat,” said Baidyanath Mondal, executive officer of Bidhannagar Municipality. He added that the main objective of demolishing the footbridge was to check vehicular theft. “It is not easy for someone to steal a motorcycle and escape on a boat,” he added.

M. Harisena Verma, superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas, promised to look into the issue. Two footbridges on the Keshtopur canal were demolished on July 13 this year, under Verma’s supervision.

However, the demolition of one more near Bidhannagar East police station had to be deferred after residents went on a protest campaign.

There has also been discontent among residents regarding the illegal hutments along the banks of the canal, stretching from AK to AL Blocks.

“Illegal trade in country liquor, drugs and other activities carry on in this belt,” said Anupam Dutta, leader of the Opposition in Bidhannagar Municipality.

He added that local councillor Tulsi Sinha Ray and he had approached the authorities several times, demanding eviction of the encroachers. “But till now, they have taken no action,” Dutta alleged.

   

 
 
CENTRAL ALERT SPARKS COP CRACKDOWN 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
A warning note from the Central intelligence agencies that reached the state home department on Tuesday evening sparked a cop crackdown on the eve of Independence Day. The missive referred to the threat of militant groups, with the help of local criminals, triggering trouble on August 15.

A 12-hour drive on Monday morning saw 565 rowdies being rounded up from different parts of the city and its suburbs, sources said. A large quantity of arms and ammunition was seized from them.

The divisional deputy commissioners of police and other senior officers supervised the special offensive that was aimed at flushing out criminals from various pockets of the city and pre-empting any strike that might be planned to disrupt the August 15 functions and spark panic.

Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty said: “The security agencies have warned us about a threat perception, but we are taking every precaution to ensure a trouble-free Independence Day... There is no major cause for concern.”

Sources said Chakraborty met the officers of six vital installations to inform them about the security threat and review police preparations. Quoting the Central security agencies, officers said a special security cordon will be thrown around Victoria Memorial, Writers’ Buildings, the American Center, the Calcutta Telephones building, the Indian Museum and the Cossipore Gun and Shell Factory.

Chittaranjan Panda, secretary and curator of Victoria Memorial, confirmed on Wednesday that “there is a security alert and the police have taken certain steps to ensure that the structure is not harmed”.

Chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones S.P. Chakravarty said the telecom authorities have intensified security at the building. “We are in touch with the Central and state security agencies,’’ he added.

Police said detectives are monitoring the movement of “outsiders’’ in Tangra, Tiljala, Narkeldanga, Entally and other sensitive pockets.

Deputy commissioner of police (headquarters) Sivaji Ghosh said 5,500 policemen will patrol the streets on Thursday.

Special security arrangements have been put in place near Writers’ Buildings and some areas of central Calcutta, where chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and other dignitaries will gather for a flag-hoisting function on I-Day morning.

Sivaji Ghosh said Tiger mobile patrols will be stationed at 28 sensitive points across the city. This apart, local police stations have been directed to monitor round-the-clock security arrangements in their areas.

“We request Calcuttans to inform the Lalbazar control room if they notice anything even slightly suspicious on Thursday,’’ said Sujoy Chakraborty, appealing for “help from the people” to prevent any untoward incident on August 15.

   

 
 
FACELIFT FUNDS TOO LATE 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
With barely eight weeks to go for the Pujas and the monsoon in full fury, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has only 30 days to complete the facelift of the city’s 1,500-km road stretch.

“Thirty days is the minimum we need to repair the city’s roads,” said chief engineer (roads) Sajal Banerjee on Wednesday.

Even if there is no rain for several days before the Pujas, senior engineers in the CMC feel that bad roads will continue to irk residents of a number of areas in the days ahead.

Though no maintenance was carried out on the roads for almost a year, the city civic authorities released Rs 4 crore for the revamp recently.

“Better late than never, though it is doubtful whether all the roads and streets can be covered in this limited time,” said Anup Chatterjee, mayor-in-council, roads.

He said no repairs could be carried out over the past 12 months due to a lack of funds and time crunch. “Moreover, a strike by the civic contractors threw our projects off schedule. The contractors refused to supply stone chips as the municipal commissioner had not cleared their dues,” claimed Chatterjee.

According to him, the non-supply of stone chips has resulted in the CMC incurring a loss of Rs 1 crore, apart from the wages that had to be paid to 400 idle workers at the Palmerbazar and Goragachha hot-mix plants for the past six months.

The Palmerbazar plant produces 667 tonnes and Goragachha 333 tonnes of hot-mix daily.

“The Palmerbazar plant resumed operations when it got the funds but had to be closed down soon because of the rain,” said Chatterjee.

The CMC usually spends Rs 20 crore annually to maintain the city roads, but after last year’s Pujas, hardly Rs 8 crore has been disbursed by municipal commissioner Debasis Som for the repairs.

“I don’t take decisions alone,” said Som, when contacted on Wednesday.

According to Som, of the total of 1,500 km of roads in the city, the stretches that require a fresh coat add up to 800 km. Almost all the roads require “urgent patchwork”.

Roads that require immediate attention are Strand Road, Strand Bank Road, Chittaranjan Avenue, James Long Sarani, S.N. Roy Road, Beleghata Main Road, Narkeldanga Main Road, Belgachhia Road, Raja Subodh Mullick Road, B.T. Road and about a hundred peripheral roads, Som said.

“This is the third year that the CMC has failed to repair the roads before the Pujas,” said former member, mayor-in-council (roads), Sudhanshu Sil.

Meanwhile, requests are pouring into the civic road department from councillors and puja organisers to repair the roads before this year’s Pujas.

“How can I convince them that I have neither the funds nor sufficient time to accede to their requests?” said Chatterjee.

   

 
 
FLOOD TAUNT FOR DELHI ‘JAUNT’ 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
Urban development and municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya on Wednesday criticised the Trinamul Congress-run Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) for failing to tackle waterlogging in the city, after the torrential downpours on Monday and Tuesday.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee and his council members were in Delhi to participate in Mamata Banerjee’s sit-in against the Eastern Railway bifurcation while the city was submerged.

According to Bhattacharya, if members of the mayor’s council stay away from office for days, “it is not possible for the officers alone to tackle the situation”. Bhattacharya said he would speak to the mayor about this.

“How can you combat widespread waterlogging with just officers? The mayor and his colleagues should not have left the city without making alternate arrangements. People will harbour a poor opinion about elected representatives,” he added.

Mukherjee, who returned to the city on Tuesday evening, reacted sharply to Bhattacharya’s statements. He said the drainage system of the city was in a shambles because the earlier CPM-run civic board had not done its job.

“Bhattacharya has raised some foolish issues. Even if we stayed back in the city, could we have prevented the waterlogging? The Left Front did precious little to improve the drainage network of Calcutta in the past two decades. Don’t people remember that former chief minister Jyoti Basu had visited London when the state was reeling under floods?” he asked.

Bhattacharya, however, said the state government would co-operate with the civic authorities to prevent waterlogging in future. He said there had been heavy rains early this week, which led to the inundation of vast areas. “Water had even entered the SSKM Hospital compound,” he said.

Civic sources said that one of the reasons for the delay in pumping out the accumulated water was a power crisis, that rendered the pumps useless over the two days.

   
 

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