Mayor grounds Subhas flyover
‘Teaser’ lawyer finds backers
Booked for going by the book
Govt seal on civic body’s water war
The City Diary
Haven of hope with a practical touch
Lease of life for heritage house
Threat calls in ‘rape’ fallout
The complete chemist
Cops thumb down hospital pipeline project

Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
The New Left’s showcase flyover may not get off the ground after all.

The Rs 70-crore Vivekananda Road flyover, Bengal’s first infrastructure project to be executed on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis, is now mired in political power play.

A key government official said on Tuesday that the project is “on the ice” even before construction has started, following strong resistance at various levels of the government and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC). “Unless someone takes charge right now, the flyover construction programme will be difficult to implement,” he added.

Work is already several months behind schedule. Tired of waiting for the lights to turn green from red, British technical experts, who were in the city for the past seven months, left in July. Pressing the panic button, the Vivekananda Skyroad Limited (VSL) — a modified version of the consortium that had been awarded the flyover contract — moved Calcutta High Court on August 2 and won a ruling against possible repeal of the contract without compensation.

Government and CPM officials in the know said doubts have arisen over the project as the VSL and its funds-providers have expressed apprehension over the “ego hassles” and other obstructions from agencies like the CMC.

Subhas Chakraborty’s transport department had conceived the flyover project. Once commissioned, it would connect Vivekananda Road and Howrah bridge, spanning a crowded 2.5-km stretch through Burrabazar, Kalakar Street and adjoining areas. The VSL, according to the contract, would operate and maintain the flyover for 25 years, including two years marked for construction, and recover its investment of about Rs 50 crore. The government had pledged to invest Rs 16 crore.

But mayor Subrata Mukherjee wrote to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, raising the following points of objection:

The agreement between the government and the VSL must be cancelled and a fresh one put in place with the CMC in it, because the flyover will come up on land owned by the civic body.

Rows of shops proposed by the VSL under the flyover are unacceptable, as they will defeat the purpose of the project by aggravating the chaos on the streets below. The VSL had planned to raise at least Rs 20 crore through the shops.

“I do not recognise any contract that does not take into account our position,” said mayor Mukherjee. “As the landowner, I must know how they (the government and the VSL) propose to exploit my land. Besides, what is the need for that flyover after the government has decided to set up two truck terminals at Kona and Ariadaha to ease congestion?” he demanded.

Bhattacharjee then asked a high-power committee, comprising the chief secretary, home secretary and senior bureaucrats, to chart a course of action. The committee is still deliberating the issue, but sources said it is keen to rework the contract, keeping the CMC in the picture. This will reduce the transport minister’s role.

The buzz is that Mukherjee, acting as a cat’s paw for an influential section in the government, is increasingly hardening his position. “He (the chief minister) agrees with me entirely,” claimed Mukherjee. Bhattacharjee’s attempts to industrialise Bengal will be dealt a body blow if the flyover contract falls through. For one, a stakeholder in Vivekananda Skyroad is Cleveland, the world’s oldest bridge-makers — the Howrah bridge was made by it — which has teamed up with Srei International and Shristi Construction.

It had acquired a 10 per cent stake and will not let things pass if forced to drop the project. Financial institutions, too, will take a serious note of the treatment being meted out to VSL by the state machinery.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta and urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya met CPM leaders of the Calcutta District Committee on Saturday to allay fears about the project.

Sources said Dasgupta, a known Chakraborty-baiter, has also expressed reservations about the project and briefed the flyover review committee accordingly. The district committee has, however, made it clear to the party leadership that a further delay would spark popular outrage in congested north Calcutta, eagerly awaiting a chance to fly over the chaos below.


Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
If it was Sealdah court on Monday, it was the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s (CMM) court on Tuesday.

A section of the city’s legal fraternity rallied behind a colleague, who had allegedly teased a girl and then tried to force her to withdraw her complaint, throwing two of the city’s most important courts off track on consecutive days.

A section of lawyers first refused to attend hearings at Sealdah court and then struck work at the CMM court, protesting the “habitual police harassment of lawyers” and demanding that the deputy commissioner (eastern suburban division) be called to court to explain the police action against their colleague.

Though Sealdah court refused to pay heed to the demand — the magistrate concerned said he could not intervene when the law was taking its course — the recalcitrant lawyers stood their ground. They claimed what advocate Durjoy Sengupta had suffered was the latest in a series of incidents of “police harassment on the legal community”.

Sengupta, along with Soumen Pal, a physiotherapist, and Anupam Bandopadhyay, a Central government employee, have been accused of harassing a girl on the EM Bypass and then threatening her to withdraw the complaint against them.

A lone voice of protest rose against the lawyers from within the community. Bankshal Court Bar Association president Bishnu Charan Ghosh resigned on Tuesday, but later said his resignation did not mean that he was opposed to the line taken by the others. “I support my colleagues’ stand against regular police abuse,” he said, clarifying that he had resigned as he felt “slighted” at not being consulted before his colleagues embarked on the protest path. “I am with my colleagues on this issue… The police even chained him (Sengupta) while producing him in court,” alleged Ghosh.

A section of the community, however, condemned the lawyers’ decision to rally behind a colleague accused of “serious wrongdoing”.

Saradindu Biswas, former chairman of the West Bengal Bar Council, said: “Advocates must show exemplary behaviour.” Calcutta High Court advocate Supradip Ray added: “Many young lawyers feel they can do anything as they know the law.”

The younger section, firmly behind Sengupta, alleged that the police never lost an opportunity to harass members of the legal fraternity. They demanded that the West Bengal Bar Council “take up the matter more seriously” and call for a statewide agitation, including a ceasework, to protest police high-handedness.


Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
It has taken Niladri Shekhar Pal only seven months to realise what exactly the government means when it says it’s implementing a series of health reforms. Pal, just into his seventh month as a house physician at a leading government medical college, has been slapped with a showcause notice by his department for daring to question the non-availability of a senior doctor in the intensive cardiac care unit (ICCU).

Pal, saddled with sole responsibility of the ICCU at Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital (CNMCH) on the evening of July 18, put down the absence of a residential medical officer (RMO) or medical officer (MO) till 9 pm on the treatment-card of one of the patients. The patient died three days later.

The hospital authorities have taken serious exception to Pal’s “unethical and unjustified” comments, asked him to show cause why no disciplinary action should be taken against him and also demanded a written apology.

Government notifications issued in September and November last year make it mandatory for full-time MOs and RMOs to be available whenever required, “notwithstanding their duty hours”. That was not the case on July 18, when Ram Chandra Sinha of Santoshpur was admitted to the ICCU with left-ventricular failure and a heart-stroke.

Pal, finding no senior doctor around, made several attempts to contact the RMO and MO. Not finding anyone, he put on record the absence of seniors on Sinha’s treatment-card, first around 6.30 pm and then twice more before 9 pm.

Help finally came in the form of a medical officer, who joined duty at his stipulated hour. Sinha died at 4.50 am on July 21. Pal then came under severe pressure from his seniors for the ‘report’. He was handed the showcause notice on July 23, which he refused to accept. The college council met on August 13 and demanded a written apology.

Director of medical education Chittaranjan Maiti said: “His (Pal’s) action has landed his seniors in trouble but I don’t find anything wrong with what he did… We want the matter to be sorted out amicably.” CNMCH principal Dipti Basu added: “The department has asked him to show cause for his action and I think the matter will be resolved within the department.” Pal, meanwhile, refused comment, as it would be “improper” for him to say anything when his “superiors” were handling the case.


Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
Divided in ballot battle, but united in water wars.

The Left Front has chosen to back the Trinamul Congress-BJP civic board on the issue of reclaiming property-tax dues.

At a hearing of the case in Calcutta High Court on Tuesday, additional government pleader Debasish Kargupta supported the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) move to turn off the taps on premises identified as property-tax defaulters.

Some landlords and residents, hit by the ‘dry’ drive, have challenged in the high court the rule empowering the CMC to disconnect water lines on failure to pay property tax.

Counsels on behalf of the petitioners said the CMC rule, amended by the government in 2000, was ultra vires and against the interests of the common people. “Water supply cannot be stopped if the water tax has been paid but the property tax has not,” they alleged.

Appearing on behalf of the state, Kargupta said the amended rule of the civic body had been approved by the government “to benefit the common people”. He added that the rule provides the taxpayer enough opportunity to pay his dues, plus enjoy a rebate if the tax is paid in time.

Kargupta said the water connections were being snapped to realise “a tax on properties that had not paid their dues for more than a year”.

CMC counsel P.K. Roy said the civic body had been forced to take this drastic step as a number of occupiers were “deliberately” not paying their property taxes.


Calcutta, Aug. 20: 

Jodhpur Park cop net fails to trap goons

Police on Tuesday laid a trap, on Tuesday, to arrest criminals who were threatening to kidnap the son of the director of a south Calcutta-based construction company. Sleuths and CID officers waited at a construction site in Jodhpur Park, but the criminals did not turn up. Police sources said the company is constructing four multi-storeyed buildings in Dhakuria, Jodhpur Park and Jadavpur. Two persons, one of them calling himself Gabbar, would telephone the director and demand Rs 20 lakh. They threatened to kidnap his son if he failed to pay up. Detectives installed a caller-line identification machine on the telephone and traced the calls to different PCOs across the city. The caller’s voice was recorded on three occasions. After Tuesday’s failed bid to net the goons, the police are keeping the builder under surveillance.

Pollution kit for Memorial

The West Bengal Pollution Control Board has decided to install a pollution-detection gadget at Victoria Memorial. The indigenous machine will detect the extent of pollution in the air around the Memorial, claimed Board officials. Memorial officials have also approached police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty to protect the expensive machine from miscreants.

Bail in Wakf case

Hamimul Huda, held in connection with the multi-crore Wakf scandal, was granted bail by the chief metropolitan magistrate on Tuesday, after 59 days in custody. Huda had to pay Rs 10,000 as security deposit. The magistrate directed Huda to report to the police officer investigating the case, every alternate day. Huda was arrested by the detective department on June 22 in connection with the scam. The accused had earlier unsuccessfully appealed thrice before the court for bail.

Meet on parenting

A convention on parenting children between 0-5 years, entitled ‘Who put butter on the butterfly?’, will be held on August 24 at Tollygunge Club. The speakers include Meenakshi Atal, headmistress, The Heritage School, Brendan Maccarthaigh, CEO, Serve, Derek O’Brien, educationist Neena Singh, and Suchitra Guha of Tata Steel.

Hawkers evicted

CMC personnel, with the help of the police, pulled down 50 illegal structures erected by hawkers in and around Jodhpur Park on Tuesday. Local councillor Ratan Dey had brought the matter to the notice of the civic authorities, following complaints from residents.


Mayor Subrata Mukherjee asked municipal commissioner Debasis Som to showcause Trinamul Congress MLA and trade union leader Sovan Chatterjee, also a civic employee, for threatening Som with “unpleasant consequences”, following an altercation between the two, in the presence of subordinate officers. After the matter was reported to the mayor, he urged Som to take action.

Canal bank cleared

More than 400 encroachments along the Town Headcut Canal embankment were removed on Tuesday by irrigation department officials at Panchanantala to clear the path for re-excavation of a sewerage channel. Officials said encroachment and siltation had reduced the designed bed width from 59 feet to 23 feet.    

Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
A world to fall back on, a measure of happiness and a sense of fulfilment is the hope that Uttarayan holds out for the mentally challenged. A day-care centre in Salt Lake and a residential unit in Arambagh have provided a safe space for those for whom society has no easy options.

Started by Dr Sunipa Sinha (Roy) in 1986 with three children, Uttarayan now has 50 regular students. The BJ block centre operates from 12 noon to 4 pm, with kids of all ages and even some adults in their 30s dropping by. Some academic skills are imparted to the children suffering disorders, including autism, Down’s Syndrome, attention deficiency syndrome and other developmental and learning disorders. Usually these do not extend beyond basic lessons in mathematics, English, Bengali and Hindi. Rather, the emphasis is on practical skills and socialisation.

“Most of these children, even the borderline cases, cannot study beyond the Class II level,” explains principal Ajanta Dasgupta. So the teachers concentrate on imparting skills like counting money, which will help in practical life. “Even after years of training, many children just cannot learn how,” confesses Sinha. Combing hair, brushing teeth and buttoning shirts are some more everyday tasks taken up. Children are divided into groups according to ability, not age.

“When the kids come to us at a young age, there is a lot we can do with them. But the older they are when they arrive, the harder it is to undo the faulty habits,” adds Sinha. Parental and family hurdles are often hard to combat. Some children are not brought in till they are quite old. “For years, parents try for admission in mainstream schools. When that fails, the kids are made to sit at home,” says Sinha, also a counsellor at the Indian Institute of Management, Joka.

The Arambagh home, born of adversity in her personal life, has been operational for the past four years and accommodates 22 boys and girls. Sinha’s niece is mentally challenged and was brought up by her mother. “When my mother passed away, she wanted us to take care of the girl,” she recalls.

At the home, the inmates have a daily schedule, which keeps them busy. They make notepads, rugs, bags, other handicrafts, as well as sauce and packaged spices. These are sold at fairs held locally, as well as at the annual Salt Lake mela.

More than profits, it is productivity that Uttarayan is concerned about. “Even our older children feel frustrated because they think they are a burden,” Sinha explains. So future plans include starting a small kitchen so they can cater to local offices and setting up a photocopy shop in Salt Lake and a bakery in Arambagh.


Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
At long last, Metropolitan Building, the most visible structure on Chowringhee, will get a facelift. In 1998, the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), after much procrastination, appointed Dulal Mukherjee & Associates consultant for its refurbishment. Later, a pilot project was undertaken by Calctech India to restore a panel of the building facing S.N. Banerjee Road.

That was completed in March 2000, and though it was spotlessly white for a couple of months, after being exposed to pollution and damp for so long, it looks as grimy as the rest of the building that once used to be Whiteway & Laidlaw, the most fancy department store on this side of the Suez.

Meanwhile, a beautiful and large stained-glass atrium inside the building, which was in a precarious state, collapsed and its fragments are lying in a heap. The huge ground-floor space, which was for years occupied by the USIS and its library, still lies vacant. With every new day, the state of this heritage building becomes visibly worse. But now, the time seems to be close for it to gain a new lease of life.

Amit Yadav, deputy chief engineer, LIC, Eastern Zonal Office, said the earlier tender for restoring the building was rejected on technical grounds. On June 8, LIC put in a new advertisement, inviting prequalification applications from contractors. The work was divided into two halves — one for the exterior of the building, and another for the interiors. So, separate applications had to be made.

The estimated cost of repairing the external façade is Rs 70 lakh. The time of completion is 24 months. For the internal area, Rs 400 lakh is the estimated cost and it is to be completed in 30 months. Four contractors have applied for doing up the façade, and 10 for refurbishing the interiors. But barring Calctech India and Mackintosh Burn, few, if any, of the applicants have any experience in restoring old buildings.

A spokesman for Dulal Mukherjee & Associates says when it comes to the interior, it is a question of strengthening, repair and renewal, and dressing up the service lines and electrical wiring. For this part of the job, the tender will be floated in September. But where the façade is concerned, it will be done within this month itself. About the atrium, no final decision has been made yet, he said, but the LIC is not interested in building a new structure.

Yadav, too, is quite unambiguous on this point. There is no question of making alterations in a heritage building. He said Governor Viren J. Shah had summoned him and the regional manager (estate and office service, LIC), to expedite restoration of the building. Although LIC was getting Metropolitan Building repaired now, how long could it continue to do so, he wondered. For, the tenants pay a nominal rent, and neither the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) nor the state government has granted LIC any special privilege for maintaining a heritage building.

Yadav said 15 per cent of the repair work on Queens Mansion, on Park Street, is complete and the CMC is satisfied with the quality of the job done by Caltech India. Esplanade Mansion, which is in reasonably good repair, too, will get a new coat of paint. The CMC clearance is awaited.


Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
“You have gone too far… The time has come for your entire family to end up in Katapukur morgue, where rodents will eat your flesh.”

A familiar voice had been threatening Uday Kant Thakur on the telephone for the past few days, warning him of dire consequences if he proceeded with a case against two persons, including a promoter, who had framed his 11-year-old son, Sonu, in a rape case.

After Alipore court exonerated Sonu of all charges on February 28, 2002, saying that the boy was framed and the case was “a clear violation of human rights,” Uday Kant had immediately appealed to the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC), but the commission, strangely, refused to accept the application.

It was only after a series of reports appeared in Metro (July 5 and 11), revealing the commission’s apathy and how the boy had spent nearly a month behind bars with hardcore prisoners, Justice Mukul Gopal Mukherjee conducted a suo motu probe into the matter. Earlier, he had discussed the issue with the commission members.

Accordingly, a few days ago, Uday Kant submitted a fresh statement to deputy superintendent of police (human rights) T.K. Sanyal and furnished all the relevant documents to him.

“The officer told me that an inquiry was on and he would personally examine all the witnesses and visit the place where the alleged rape took place. He assured me that it was a genuine case and I need not worry,” Uday Kant said on Tuesday.

Just when Uday Kant thought his nightmare had ended, he received a threat call in his office on August 2.

“Drop all charges or you will pay a heavy price. You have not learnt your lesson, it seems. I will call again,” the male caller advised Uday Kant, before hanging up the phone.

“Initially, I ignored the call, but they kept coming. The calls were made to my office and the caller seemed well-informed about all my movements. He even threatened to kill me,” said the frightened man.

Moreover, an unidentified person turned up one day at Uday Kant’s Deshapran Sashmal Road residence, in the Tollygunge area, and asked him to withdraw the case.

Upset over the threat calls, Uday Kant lodged a complaint with Shakespeare Sarani police station and also the rights commission, explaining in detail how his family life has been disrupted over the past week.

“I am feeling extremely insecure as a result of the threat calls,” he wrote in his complaint. A senior officer said the case was under investigation.


Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
Health check-ups, home and office delivery of medicines, sessions on nutrition and a host of diseases, like diabetes and asthma, and even insurance, all for free, for the entire family. These services and more will soon be made available in Calcutta in a big way. The Medicine Shoppe, with one outlet in the city since November ‘99, is set to add 25 centres in the next two years.

“The Family Pharmacy” is what they call themselves, with more than just a touch of professionalism. To become a member, all a customer has to do is make a purchase. His records are filed upon registration, and thereafter, the required medication is supplied to the customer, without prescription. There is a rapport maintained between the pharmacist (a qualified chemist), the doctor and the patient. The whole family can be registered in this way, and its medical history maintained for three years.

“Calcutta is a conservative market, so we wanted to test the waters first,” said R.C. Gandhi, director of Medicine Shoppe India. “The response has been really good, so now we intend to expand at a much faster pace, and do what we have done in Gujarat and Mumbai, like franchising supermarket chains. A huge, untapped sector is the petrol pump, and we are talking to oil companies about creating outlets in gas stations here.”

Services offered at The Healers, the Middleton Street branch of Medicine Shoppe, includes a kiosk for information on any health problem, an ayurvedic, homoeopathic and health foods section, corporate-sponsored information seminars on various diseases and an area-wise directory of medical services. New features planned include 24-hour pharmacies and an ambulance service.

The free insurance cover is a big bonus. In a tie-up with private insurance provider Bajaj Allianz, there is step-by-step scheme for personal accident and household security.

Customers spending a minimum of Rs 2,400 in the first three months can avail of accident insurance worth Rs 50,000. For those spending Rs 6,000 in six months, the insurance is worth Rs 1 lakh. For another Rs 3,000 spent in the next three months, there is an offer of household insurance of Rs 1 lakh for earthquake, fire and flood.

Says Kantibhai Doshi of Healers: “The volume of customers has really increased at our shop since we became a branch of Medicine Shoppe. The number and variety of offers attract customers and keep bringing them back.”

The concept of Medicine Shoppe is owned by the US-based Cardinal Health Inc., and the Indian franchisee is Melrose Trading Co. Pvt Ltd, which has authorised 35 branches of the Shoppe country-wide, with plans to increase the figure to 500 by 2006.

“The advantage for the consumer is that we have standardised the outlook of the pharmacies,” explains Savio D’Souza, marketing manager.

“The ambience is very important for first impressions. We have imported the US model and adapted it to Indian standards. So, all the branches are air-conditioned, cleanliness and hygiene is given the highest priority and counselling is given by qualified staff, who are not just dispensing medicines but offering all-round service,” D’Souza adds.

Adds R.C. Gandhi: “That is why, although it looks like a tall order, we are confident that we will achieve our expansion target.”


Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
The police have turned down a proposal by the SSKM Hospital authorities to dig up AJC Bose Road and Harish Mukherjee Road for relaying sewerage pipelines.

Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty reportedly rejected the proposal on Tuesday, adding that traffic in south Calcutta and areas near the hospital would be affected. “There is no question of allowing the authorities to dig up AJC Bose Road and Harish Mukherjee Road. It is the main link road, connecting the southern parts of the city to the north and central business areas,’’ he said on Tuesday.

Officers said if the proposal was accepted, traffic on Harish Mukherjee Road, Cathedral Road, D.L. Khan Road, Hospital Road, Sambhunath Pandit Street, Shakespeare Sarani, Rawdon Street, Loudon Street, Woodburn Road and Queensway would be affected. “We will permit them to go ahead only if they build a nine-inch concrete stretch on the dug-up patch, below which the pipelines can be laid,’’ Chakraborty added.

Deputy commissioner of police, traffic, M.K. Singh, said with AJC Bose Road already dug up because of the flyover, “there won’t be any road space left if more digging is permitted”.

Surgeon superintendent of SSKM Hospital, D.D. Chatterjee, said the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC) had damaged the sewerage lines while working on the AJC Bose Road flyover. “The underground pipes are broken and water is accumulating in the hospital compound and on the premises. It has become a health hazard,’’ Chatterjee said.

“For the moment, we are using heavy pumps to drain out the water, but the situation goes out of hand during the rainy season,’’ he added.

Chatterjee said there was a meeting between the police and the SSKM authorities last Saturday, where the modalities of relaying the underground sewerage lines were discussed. He, however, denied that the police commissioner had refused permission to dig up the roads. “We have another meeting on Saturday with the police where the problems will be sorted out,’’ Chatterjee said.

Singh claimed he was not aware of the development. “The contractors have categorically informed us that it is not possible to erect a concrete structure in the area and allow vehicles to ply while work is proceeding underneath,’’ he said. A minimum of 21 days would be required to dig up roads, lay the pipes and clear the heap, sources said.


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