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Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said the government has started to clear the decks for Chatterjee�s 5,000-acre Lake Land village project, which envisages setting up of a sprawling township with a global institute for science and technology (GIST) and a host of subsidiary research centres thrown in.
�Mark my words, the project is going to be located in the city and nowhere else. He (Chatterjee) is certainly building the Lake Land Village here. He has already bought some of the land,� Bhattacharya told The Telegraph on Tuesday. According to The Chatterjee Group (TCG) sources, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has asked Purnendu Chatterjee to set up the first campus �immediately�.
Two years ago, Chatterjee had approached the state government with his plans of building the township. And while the state pondered over the project, the chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka were busy queuing up to try and get Chatterjee and his GIST units to their respective states.
Chandrababu Naidu, S.M. Krishnan and Keshubhai Patel have sent in written assurances of providing �all facilities and support� to Chatterjee for his project.
�Nothing doing. It has all been decided. Purnendu Chatterjee is setting up the institute here,� said Bhattacharya. The state government will announce some policy decisions soon to facilitate clearance of the project, Bhattacharya said. This implies exemption from the Land Ceiling Act and township status for the project.
Chatterjee, one of the major promoters of the Haldia Petrochem project, proposes to set up the 5,000-acre township off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, 16 km from downtown Calcutta.
Chatterjee has already approached higher education department officials and discussed the project with them. An appointment with higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty has been sought. Besides tying up with the University of California, Berkeley, GIST is in the process of enlisting the support of Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Stanford.
It will offer bachelor�s, master�s and doctoral degrees. The syllabus will conform to international standards and professors based in foreign universities will visit the institute regularly.
GIST, which will have six campuses all over the country, has already tied up a $ 300-millon sponsorship from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. The list of sponsors includes Desh Deshpande of Sycamore Networks, Arjun Malhotra of HCL, Vinod Khosla of Kleiner Perkins and Vinod Gupta of InfoUSA, besides Purnendu Chatterjee of TCG.
Apart from GIST, plans have been drawn up for a cancer research centre, a bio-technology research centre, an information technology research centre, etc.
Somnath Chatterjee, WBIDC chairman, is said to have written to the chief minister requesting appropriate measure to ensure that GIST comes to Calcutta.
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It has now set a number of conditions, including the imposition of fresh taxes, before it releases any further funds for infrastructure development in the city.
The bank is threatening to withhold the latest loan package to CMC, unless its conditions are met.
Of the Rs 1,557-crore package, 70 per cent was to be given by the ADB and the remaining 30 per cent was to be shared by the state government and CMC .
The conditions set by the ADB include optimal utilisation of the infrastructural facilities to be created and impositon of taxes on all users of these facilities.
The ADB is talking tough because over the past 20 years, various funding agencies have invested over Rs 200 crore to create civic infrastructure for Calcutta. But most of these facilities remain unutilised.
�We must be more careful about optimum utilisation of the new infrastructural facilities to be created with the funds provided by the ADB since the loan amount is really needed by the CMC,� said municipal commissioner Asim Barman.
A CMDA engineer who is now in the CMC said that if at least 70 per cent of the Rs 200 crore had been utilised properly, there would have been no need to approach the ADB for such a large loan now.
He said during recent meetings, ADB experts had repeatedly warned that unless the funds are used prudently, further loans will be withdrawn.
The proposed funds are to be utilised for the construction of underground sewer lines, solid waste management and revamping of outfall channels and canals. The project will have to be completed in five years.
Earlier, the CMDA had spent crores of rupees to lay out underground sewer lines on the southern fringes of the city, like Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur. But in these areas, septic tanks are still in use, as the sewer lines have not been connected to the houses.
Under the proposed project, the new underground sewer lines coming up in the Behala, Jadavpur and Cossipore areas will be connected to the houses for a fee.
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Traders as well as the chambers of commerce were against the government�s decision to shift the trade activities of Burrabazar to Kona in Howrah.
�The government could not fully evict the hawkers who ply their trade illegally on city pavements. How can you expect established Burrabazar traders to move out after investing Rs 20 to Rs 30 lakh in salaami and another Rs 5 lakh in decorating their establishments?� asked S.M. Kasera, chairman, trade sub-committee, Bharat Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
In Burrabazar, traders were in a sullen mood. None of them were willing to shift their business all the way to isolated Kona.
�We have been trading in spices, pulses and other grocery items for the past 70 years in Burrabazar. This room from where we are carrying out business is worth at least Rs 20 lakh. How can I take such a risk?� said Pradip Lodh of Raja Katra.
Like Lodh, Suresh Lakhani, egg merchant, and Prakash Sharma, fruit-seller, are equally reluctant to move to Kona, and the traders� bodies plan to put up a unified resistance against the government move.
�Burrabazar has been one of the prominent trading hubs of eastern India for nearly a century now. How can the government shift us to a relatively unknown area? We will not go,� declared a determined Sharma.
Told that shifting the Burrbazar wholesale markets to Kona was part of the city�s beautification programme, traders said that if Calcutta were really to look like any international city, then the �entire north Calcutta and half of central Calcutta will have to be demolished.�
Traders who claimed on Tuesday that business was dull, shuddered at the prospect of having to �start all over again.�
�Burrabazar is most centrally located and is easily accessible from both Howrah and Sealdah stations. Customers will simply not go to Kona,� stressed Ramapada Mistry, fruit-seller.
Apart from being generally disinclined to settle down in a new place, the traders are worried about the heavy expenditure of setting up new offices at Kona.
�We trade in lakhs per day. How can we shift to a place about which we know little? We do not even know about the infrastructure that will be made available to us � from where will the telephone and electricity connections will come?� wondered Ram Sharan Trivedi, a trader in grocery items.
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Both individual and corporate buyers are hurrying to take delivery because car prices go up by at least Rs 20,000 from April, following an increase in sales tax to 12 per cent from 5.7 per cent.
Prospective buyers began inquiries from March 22 ,when state finance minister Asim Dasgupta announced a new sales tax rate for the 2000-2001 financial year. �But today, it appeared that the inquiries were really serious and I believe we will be left with no stock on April 1,� said Deepak Loyalka, of Siddharth Automobile, who sells Mahindra and Mahindra jeeps, Uno and Sienna cars.
Loyalka said he has a stock of 60 jeeps, 25 Unos and 15 Siennas, all of which he expects to sell within this week.
M.D. Jindal of Machino Techno, the oldest Maruti car dealer in the city, said sales during March would be about 500 cars, with a bulk of them taking place this week. Machino Techno officials said there is an additional demand for the Wagon- R, Maruti�s �tall-boy� four-wheeler. But since the car is sold strictly against bookings and there is a six week waiting period, the dealer could do little.
Lexus Motors, dealer of Telco cars, is likely to be out of stock next week. Amit Ganguly, sales manager, said the company sold 27 Sumos and 60 Indicas between March 1 and 22. But as the rush for buying cars started after the state budget, there was a spurt in sales during the past five days. Lexus sold 90 Indicas and 55 Sumos. The dealer has a stock 100 Indicas and 30 Sumos. Ganguly said it was likely the entire stock will be exhausted within the next three days.
Hyundai and Daewoo, the two Korean automobile companies, also reported heavy demand. J.P. Kedia of K.B. Motors, dealer of Daewoo cars, said he had sold 60 of his stock of a little over a 100 Matiz cars since the state budget was presented last week. The rest will be sold before the week runs out, he expected.
Hyundai Motor�s regional manager V.K. Jain said the city dealers had a stock of 50 Santros and 10 Accents. These have either been sold out or have been committed for delivery, Jain reported.
ven the beleaguered Hindustan Motors finds a heavier demand for its Ambassador cars. Jigor Shah of Shah Automobiles, which deals in Lancers and Ambassadors, expects to sell 30 cars by the end of the month. Apparently Hindustan Motors� scheme to share the insurance premium with the dealers and an advertisement campaign reminding buyers that Ambassador prices will shoot up by Rs 22,000 in the new sales tax regime has been attractive enough. Besides Hindustan Motors has also told its dealers that car prices would be increased by Rs 5,000 from April 1.
The boom in sales, however, was not reported for cars priced upwards of Rs 6 lakh. State finance minister Asim Dasgupta had said while increasing the sales tax to 12 per cent, as per the uniform sales tax to be followed all over the country, that the luxury tax on cars priced above Rs 6 lakh will be abolished.
This has neutralised the impact of the hike in sales tax rate in the Rs 6 lakh-plus segment. One dealer, however, said there was an increase in inquiries by corporates.
But dealers like Jindal worry that sales could drop drastically from next month. He said Bihar was yet to implement the uniform sales tax rate. There was the possibility that consumers in Bengal might prefer buying cars from Bihar if the neighbouring state did not increase sales tax.
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The city police has ordered a probe into the lathicharge on the teachers. But that has not mollified the Opposition. Police arrested 29 men, including Pal.
Last year, Pal and his associates had vandalised the Victoria Memorial grounds to protest the authorities� decision to allow London-based industrialist Laxmi Narayan Mittal to hold a reception for his son�s wedding.
Around 2 pm on Tuesday, about 50 Youth Congress activists, posing as passersby, gathered at the north gate of the Assembly. They gathered suddenly and started shouting slogans in an area where prohibitory orders under Section 144 are in force. The police were caught off guard.
The Youth Congress workers also shouted abuses against chief minister Jyoti Basu�s son, Chandan, calling him corrupt. Shortly afterwards, Pal made an appearance and, along with his supporters, tried to force his way onto the Assembly premises. This led to a scuffle and the police made a lathicharge to keep the agitators at bay.
In what was obviously a planned move, another group of Youth Congress workers assembled in front of the south gate of the Assembly at the same time and took the battle a few steps further, hurling crude bombs and stones at the policemen.
Even though none of the securitymen was injured seriously, five bombs exploded near the police pickets. The police, however, managed to prevent the activists from entering the Assembly by throwing a double security ring around the gates.
With fresh reinforcements arriving from Lalbazar about 20 minutes later, the securitymen chased the activists away. Even as the police and the activists fought a pitched battle, panicky passersby fled the scene.
There were protests in the Assembly, too. Opposition MLAs raised slogans against Monday�s lathicharge. They put up posters condemning the police action on the walls of the Assembly lobby. They demanded action against the �guilty� policemen.
Deputy commissioner, headquarters, Nazrul Islam, said policemen were forced to lathicharge the teachers as they tried to violate prohibitory orders. �They were not injured in the lathicharge. They were injured when they fell on the road while fleeing,� he claimed.
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Kalyan Bhadra, leader of petroleum dealers, said on Tuesday: The fuel sold at city pumps is being adulterated at the installations that fill up the tankers.� He demanded the government carry out independent checks on fuel samples to prevent adulteration.
�The colour of the fuel supplied differs from pump to pump and the oil companies pay no heed. Unless fuel quality is monitored, enforcement of emission standards alone can�t reduce pollution,� Bhadra pointed out.
N.K. Moitra, deputy general manager of Indian Oil and region sales co-ordinator for the oil companies, denied the charges. �We have stringent quality control systems and the fuel supplied is what we claim it to be,� Moitra said.
The state environment department has approached the oil companies, who have agreed to release samples for testing. �Our officials will collect the samples and the oil company labs will test the fuel,� a senior environment department official said on Tuesday.
The India 2000 norms came into effect from November 1 last year, for only private, non-commercial vehicles. From April 1, all vehicles come under its ambit.
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Three people carrying a sheaf of what appeared to be fake ration cards were detained by the police on Tuesday from near a ration shop in south Calcutta. Officials said the impounded cards were sent to senior food department officers for verification.
State food minister Kalimuddin Shams said his department had started the process of withdrawing old ration cards from the market and replacing them with new ones. �We know that fake cards are in circulation and so we have decided to speed up the process of new photo-ration cards. We hope to complete the process of replacing the cards by the end of this year,�� he added.
According to Shams, the new cards will be available from local ration shops.
�A card-holder will have to deposit the old one, which will be sent to the zonal office for verification. The card-holder will also have to submit a passport-size photograph to the local ration shop,�� explained the minister.
Senior food department officials were involved in a series of meetings through the day. Sources said food secretary Dipak Rudra urged the officials to speed up the process of withdrawing old cards and replacing them with the newer, sleeker, photo-cards.
Police said ration cards are being sold for Rs 2,000 a piece in different areas. Investigations show there are 50,000 fake cards in circulation. Officers of the enforcement branch swung into action on Tuesday morning after being tipped off about forged ration cards, bearing the seal and signature of authorised persons, being sold from zonal and divisional ration offices.
�It is very difficult to distinguish between the original and fake ration cards. The racketeers are experts at the job and run a well-oiled operation,�� explained deputy commissioner of police Ranjit Pachnanda.
�The racketeers have already raked in about a crore of rupees by selling these fake cards,�� said a police officer.
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The Congress has charged BJD candidate and industrialist Baijayant Panda with defaulting on repayment of bank loans to the tune of Rs 655 crore, while the Naveen Patnaik-led party has accused Radhakanta Nayak � an Independent candidate backed by the Congress � of changing his religion twice to reap �undue benefits�. According to the BJD, Nayak�s name also figures on a list of �corrupt officials� prepared by the Central Vigilance Commission and posted on its website on February 24. Nayak is a retired IPS officer.
The BJD has fielded Birbhadra Singh and Panda for two of the three seats Orissa has in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP candidate is state party chief Manmohan Samal.
The BJD has 68 legislators in the 147-member Assembly, while the BJP has 38 and the Congress 24.
There are eight Independent legislators who were previously members of the BJD (four) and the BJP (also four). All eight legislators contested the polls independently after being denied party tickets.
The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has three legislators, while the CPM, the CPI, the Trinamul Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) have one each.
According to preliminary estimates, Birbhadra Singh is certain to win tomorrow�s election, but Panda is short of eight votes,
With Independent legislators likely to make the difference, both the BJD and the Congress are going all out to woo them.
Sources said the four Independent legislators who were previously with the BJD had already pledged their support to the party.
Likewise, the Congress is also believed to have convinced the other Independent legislators to back Nayak.
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School and mass education minister Bhagabat Behera announced the decision in the Assembly today after ruling and Opposition members accused the public schools of fleecing parents and depriving teachers and urged the government to reign them in. The Bill will be tabled in the next session of the Assembly.
Behera also agreed to the members� demand to set up a House committee to probe the �sorry state of affairs� in these schools. He said he would also consider the demand for reservation of seats for children from economically-backward families.
Behera said he would try to fill 13,000 vacant teachers� posts in the state-run schools to improve the quality of education and dissuade parents from sending their children to private schools. He asked finance minister Ramkrushna Patnaik to clear his proposal. Patnaik smiled, but did not say anything. �Finance or no finance, the social sector will not be neglected,� Behera said. Cutting across party lines, the legislators alleged that the private schools were increasing their fees inordinately, but their teaching quality was substandard. Raising the issue through a call attention motion, Biju Janata Dal member Pradip Maharathi accused the private schools of commercialising education. He said the government had no control over these schools, whose only aim was to make a profit.
Congress legislator Suresh Chandra Routray said English medium schools were mushrooming alarmingly in the state. Many of them were running illegally without the approval of the government or any education council like the Indian School Certificate Examination (ICSE). Many also lacked the basic infrastructure, including adequate classrooms, he added. He demanded a legislation to �control� these schools.
BJP member Bibhuti Bhusan Harichandan said the so-called public schools catered only to children from rich families. He said these schools were a source of �social discrimination� because the poor could not afford the high fees and donations that parents were required to pay.
Behera said parents were sending their children to private schools because government schools had failed to live up to their expectations.
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Observers feel support from the Bahujan Samaj Party and some Independent legislators will be enough for the RJD to remain in power in Bihar after the proposed state of Vananchal is carved out of 18 south Bihar districts.
The BJP, the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United) account for 40 of the 81 Assembly seats that will come under Vananchal. With the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (Soren) having 12 of the remaining 41 seats in its kitty, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance can expect to have a clear majority of 52 seats in the proposed state.
This will leave the Congress, which won only 11 seats in south Bihar in the just-concluded elections, no other option but to sit on the Opposition benches.
The 11 Congress legislators from south Bihar have all been accommodated in the Rabri Devi ministry, but they would have to forfeit their posts once Vananchal comes into being.
As far as the remaining 243 seats in Bihar are concerned, the RJD accounts for 112 and the Bahujan Samaj Party five. With the Congress left with only 12 legislators, the RJD can hope to retain power without any difficulty.
Though Congress president Sonia Gandhi has pledged her party�s support for the creation of Vananchal, it is unlikely that party legislators who have been given ministerial berths would step down without a murmur of protest.
A section of Congress legislators in the state has already begun lobbying with the RJD for revival of the Jharkhand Area Autonomous Council.
�Having come back to power after a decade, the Congress is in no mood to quit easily. Most of the 22 party legislators have tasted power for the first time and it is natural for them to be reluctant to give it up,� an observer said.
Congress legislators in the state believe that only a rejuvenated Jharkhand Area Autonomous Council, comprising the Congress and the RJD, can check the growing popularity of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in the south Bihar districts.