Govt building projects for private firms
Post-graduate exams face flood pushback
Together to live and let die
Goldsmiths duped, youth make off with 9-kg haul
Girl, mother electrocuted
Kerb kids in aid drive for deluge-hit
Metro gets gates to stem losses
Students warned
No word on relief for firing victim
Soren flaunts support base in trial of strength

Calcutta, Oct. 22: 
In a departure from a decades-old policy, the Left Front government has decided to hand large construction projects on the fringes of Calcutta to the private sector.

So far, these projects were being implemented by the government�s public works department. The policy change, dramatic for a political grouping that swears by large government role, has been prompted by frustration at the slow pace of work of government agencies and accumulating charges of corruption.

Carter Burgess, a US company, will build the Rs 650-crore Vivekananda Bridge across the Hooghly on Calcutta�s northern limits near Dakshineswar, once the Central Cabinet gives its green signal.

Another private company will be engaged under a build-operate-transfer (BOT) contract to construct a four-lane flyover on VIP Road from Keshtopur to Teghoria, a stretch of about 1.75 km. The flyover, made necessary by burgeoning traffic on the road to the airport, will cost Rs 100 crore. It will also connect the upcoming Rajarhat township.

Only cars moving at high speed will be allowed on the flyover, which will be out of bounds for buses and minibuses. Over a lakh vehicles use VIP Road every day, causing bottlenecks particularly on the stretch between Keshtopur and Teghoria.

Public works minister Kshiti Goswami said advertisements will be out in newspapers soon, inviting proposals from companies, including foreign ones.

�Even though the advertisements will not seek reponse only from private companies, but they are aimed at them. The willing construction company will have to implement the project on a BOT basis. They can recover the money spent from toll tax during the next 30 years,� Goswami said.

�Once Vivekananda Bridge is ready, Carter Burgess can collect higher toll from commercial vehicles like trucks. But on the flyover, toll will be lower, because trucks will not be allowed on it,� he said.

In the bridge project, government participation will be restricted to a minor funding of Rs 70 crore by the Centre and Rs 10 crore by the state and that, too, at the request of the US company, Goswami said.

Public works sources said initially, the PWD was to build the flyover, but then it dawned on the government that funds crunch would delay construction. �So, I asked my engineers to find out if a private builder will agree to construct the flyover... Of course, everything will have to be done according to PWD plans,� he added.

The department has engaged firms to build footbridges across VIP Road. Selvel, which constructed the footbridge at Lake Town a year ago, has been asked to do a similar job at Sreebhumi at an estimated cost of Rs 70 lakh.    

Calcutta, Oct. 22: 
Calcutta University (CU) is contemplating a postponement of some post-graduate examinations, scheduled to begin next month, on persistent demands from students affected by the floods in the districts.

�We are seriously considering a deferment of some examinations in response to student demands,� said Ashis Kumar Banerjee, CU vice-chancellor, on Sunday.

Banerjee said he will hold a meeting with officials of the university�s controller of examinations department this week to discuss the demand.

The examinations, scheduled to begin between the first and third week of November, are MA (English), MA (Bengali) and MA (linguistics).

Examinees from North 24-Parganas and Howrah have submitted a memorandum to the authorities, saying they are not prepared to write the tests because of the floods. They have sought more time to revise their syllabi.

University officials said the flood has also affected post-graduate students from remote districts like Midnapore, Birbhum and Burdwan.

Though they stay in hostels, the Puja vacations had seen them returning home and getting trapped in the deluge.

�A majority of them is either marooned or helping family members rebuild their homes,� said an official. A few who have returned to their hostels spoke of the devastation unleashed by the floods and their inability to prepare for the tests.

�My family was marooned by the time I reached home in Murshidabad for the Pujas,� said Anasuya Mondal, a student of the linguistics department. Anasuya�s hostel in south Calcutta was closed for the festival.

Some students from Amta, in Howrah, and Bongaon, in North 24-Parganas, said their textbooks had been washed away in the deluge.

Another section of students, however, is concerned over Calcutta University�s delay in finalising the decision on the announcement of a revised schedule for the examinations.

They alleged they had written several letters to officials of the examinations department, informing them about their inability to sit for the examinations.

Officials of the department, however, said the examination dates had been set much earlier. �It creates a lot of complications if the tests have to be rescheduled,� they said.    

Calcutta, Oct. 22: 
It was a Sunday evening meeting of a motley group of people in south Calcutta. But it was no conventional adda session over cha and singara. Instead, the old and the young, the academician and the student, had come together to discuss the �only certainty in life�: death.

The evening witnessed the resolution to set up an association to generate public opinion about �the right to die with dignity�. In other words, it was a rare, organised effort to take a sympathetic look at euthanasia in the city.

The invitation to join the meeting didn�t go out in the form of formal cards, but as a small advertisement in the personal column of a daily, in late September, requesting all those who believe in euthanasia to contact 78-year old Nripendranath Samaddar.

The septuagenarian, who has successfully run businesses as diverse as tea and paint, was �thrilled� with the response from Calcuttans. �Why can�t we have euthanasia if our mythology has tales of icchamrityu and banprastha? I was toying with the idea of setting up a euthanasia club for some time since my retirement from business. I am sure that today�s meeting will lay the foundation towards that objective,� said Samaddar.

Different issues involving euthanasia were discussed at length by the participants, who were meeting each other for the first time.

Issues like religious compulsions and political considerations involved in legalising the right to die with dignity were raised by a participant from the armed forces.

While S. Chopra Chatterjee, an IIT professor, analysed the bio-ethical issues attached to the subject, Joydeep Mukherjee of Barasat Cancer Hospital probed its medical aspects and the legalities were deliberated upon by advocate Deepankar Chatterjee.

The group was unanimous on �voluntary euthanasia� in case of a terminal ailment. But the possibility of broadening the scope to �choosing death at one�s will� sparked a debate, with a majority condemning it as �nothing but suicide�. Debadideb Dutta of a reputed helpline in the city took it a step further, with the warning that �legalising euthanasia may lead to an increase in suicidal tendencies.�

The age profile of the participants who flocked for the first meeting was a clear indication that the subject concerns not the geriatric alone.

What Chetna, a post-graduate student of psychology at Calcutta University, said at the meeting would strike an instinctive chord in so many of our homes. �My grandfather was suffering from terminal cancer and he wanted to die. But the law didn�t permit him and the poor man had to bear the pain for years. I, myself don�t want to undergo a similar situation in my life.�    

Calcutta, Oct. 22: 
Greed for a �good price� saw five jewellery workers play into the hands of two conmen who cheated them of nine kg of gold ornaments, worth Rs 50 lakh, on Saturday evening.

Deputy commissioner of police (detective department) Narayan Ghosh said the two youth, who had identified themselves as Rakesh and Sushil to their �victims�, had rented a flat from Nanda Kumar Shaw on Saha Lane, near Muktaram Babu Street, under Jorasanko police station jurisdiction, about 15 days ago. They deposited Rs 5,000 with the landlord and promised to pay up another Rs 60,000, which they never did.

On Saturday evening, six jewellery workers from Baranagar came to the flat as the youths had promised them �good business� if they deposited their gold ornaments with them.

After playing perfect hosts by serving them snacks and soft drinks, the two young men informed the goldsmiths that the buyer, who was in the adjacent room, wanted to see the ornaments.

Five of the six agreed to hand over their stuff. The sixth, Basudev Samanta, insisted that he would rather meet the businessman directly. After waiting for an hour, the goldsmiths suspected foul play and entered the next room, only to find it empty.

The youths had escaped through another exit, leaving the hapless goldsmiths in the lurch.

A complaint has been lodged with Jorasanko thana and the police are on the lookout for the duo. �The two may have escaped to a neighbouring state,� said Ghosh.

Ornaments stolen: The idol of a 300-year-old temple in Uluberia, about 20 km from Calcutta, was stripped of its ornaments worth Rs 70,000 on Sunday morning. Two persons were arrested in this connection.    

Calcutta, Oct. 22: 
A minor girl and her mother were electrocuted at their residence on Premchand Boral Street, in central Calcutta, late on Saturday.

Three persons, including the secretary of a local club, were arrested early on Sunday in connection with the tragic incident. The arrested were found guilty of stealing power from the victims� house for Kali Puja.

Eyewitnesses said it was little before midnight on Saturday when Guria Bag, 12, was electrocuted while shutting the front gate of their residence after dinner. She screamed as she received a severe jolt after touching a live wire hanging from the gate.

Hearing her cry, Guria�s mother Jayanti (47) rushed to her rescue. Within minutes, both fell to the ground, unconscious.

Guria�s father Giri, some members of the local club and electricians working at a nearby Kali Puja pandal, came running to their rescue. They extricated Guria and Jayanti from the live wire with the help of wooden planks and bamboo poles. They were rushed to the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital where both were declared dead.

As news of the tragedy spread, residents of the area demonstrated at Muchipara police station, demanding arrest of the guilty. Police conducted raids and arrested Chandan Ghosh, secretary of local club Yuvak Brinda, organiser of the Kali Puja, Sunil Ghosh, owner of a local electrical shop and Ajit Das, the electrician who had left the live wire dangling on the gate.    

Calcutta, Oct. 22: 
The amount is insignificant and may not have drawn the same attention as the Rs 1 crore Mrinal Sen contributed to the chief minister�s relief fund from his MP�s quota. But the gesture by a bunch of urchins in north Calcutta speaks volumes of their generosity and eagerness.

About 150 children between four and 12 collected Rs 301 by giving up their �pocket money� so that relief could be sent to those hit by floods in the districts. What made the difference is that these children themselves suffer from want. They are children of street-dwellers and sex workers.

Over a seven-day period, the children, who attend an informal school called Shopan, sacrificed the paltry 50 paise or rupee that they get from their parents as pin money. This money was collected in sealed tins with slits and handed over to Medical Bank, a voluntary organisation based in Sovabazar that is delivering relief material to the flood victims in Nadia and North 24-Parganas.

�We saw pictures in newspapers of what the floods had done to many people. When Medical Bank volunteers asked us if we wanted to help, we agreed,� said 11-year-old Deba Sardar. He has been living on the pavement at the crossing of Jatindra Mohan Avenue and Raja Nabakrishna Street for the past 10 years. His father, Nemai, drives a cycle van and earns about Rs 50 a day. Mother Malati works as a help in a few households, and their earnings just about get Deba and his two siblings two square meals a day.

Rupa Sardar (10) is not so lucky. She is an orphan looked after by a teenaged brother, who pulls a rickshaw. �I buy biscuits and lozenges with the money Dada gives me sometimes,� she lisped, wearing a frayed frock. �But I don�t mind giving some money for the tin. They (flood victims) need it more than we do.�

Standing next to her, a year younger, was Sulekha Sau, whose sartorial turnout was better. She stays with her mother Malati on Abinash Kabiraj Street, one of the many lanes in Sonagachhi. �I saw the destruction that the floods had wreaked on TV,� she said.

She had given Rs 3 from the pocket money. There were several other children of sex workers who had contributed their bit for flood relief. Members of a local club, Tarun Srithi Sangha, had told them what they could do if they wanted to.    

Calcutta, Oct. 22: 
With Metro Railway losing more than Rs 2 lakh daily as some passengers travel with invalid tickets when gates are kept open during the peak hours, the authorities have decided to upgrade the entry-exit points by installing about 40 new automatic gates.

The new exit gates, which are irreversible, unlike most of the existing gates, will allow passage in only one direction, Metro Railway sources said.

Jayanta Kumar Mitra, chief operational manager of Metro Railway, said: �When there is a rush, our staff don�t have any option but to unlock the gates and allow passengers exit without punching the tickets.�

About 700 passengers were caught by the authorities for travelling with invalid tickets and a fine of Rs 35,000 was extracted from them last month.

The new gates, made by a French company, will arrive in the last week of December and will be installed in February next year. Official sources said Dum Dum station has been allotted the maximum number of gates � around five. Other stations on the priority list are Chandni Chowk, Girish Park, Rabindra Sarobar and Rabindra Sadan.

Samir Chandra Banerjee, Metro Rail spokesman, said: �The number of gates are still not sufficient to cope with peak hour rush. We need another 60 at least.�

About 250,000 passengers use the Metro daily, generating a revenue of around Rs 10 lakh. Official reports said about 56 million people commuted by the Metro in the 1999-2000 financial year, generating a revenue of Rs 82 crore.

After the gates are installed, Metro Railway will launch a massive public awareness campaign against passengers travelling without valid tickets. The fine will be increased from Rs 58 to Rs 200, sources said. Metro Railway also plans to replace the software at the gates, after being flooded with complaints of disorder. �Till then, we have started issuing monthly tickets with a plastic coating to prevent premature demagnetisation,� Mitra said.    

Calcutta, Oct. 22: 
Boarders of Scottish Church College Hostel were reprimanded by the police on Saturday night for bursting banned crackers and teasing girls on Saturday night.

Police sources said some residents of the area had earlier complained against the hostelites for creating a disturbance in the area. The hostel superintendent has assured the police he will look into the matter and punish the errant students.    

Guwahati, Oct. 22: 
The family members of 24-year-old Badal Das of Hojai who was killed in Friday�s shootout among Armymen at Guwahati railway station, grope in uncertainty as authorities are yet to announce any compensation. Das was the only fender for his family comprising his widowed mother and a younger brother. The victim owned a small grocery shop at his village.

While the government is yet to announce any relief, North East Frontier Railway authorities distanced itself stating that Das had not �died in any railway accident or due to any kind of negligence on its part�.

�We cannot pay any compensation as the death did not result from any train accident nor because of any negligence on the part of the railways, � N.F. Railway general manager B.M.S. Bisht said.

Despite four Army jawans being killed in the shootout, the Army is yet to come out with any official statement on the incident.

The victim�s mother and brother can only hope for a paltry sum of Rs 5,000 as ex-gratia relief from the Kamrup district administration.

Kamrup deputy commissioner D.N. Saikia told The Telegraph that he would take up the matter with the railways and the Army authorities. He, however, said the maximum amount of ex-gratia his office can award is only Rs 5,000.

Government Railway Police sources said Das had come to Guwahati for a check-up of his Jaipur leg.    

Patna, Oct. 22: 
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief Shibu Soren is fighting a losing battle for the chief minister�s post.

Having exhausted all his political manoeuvring skills, Soren today flaunted his support base at a mammoth rally in Ranchi today.

The rally, officially called to celebrate the creation of a new state, was intended to drive home the point that he was still the undisputed leader of Jharkhand and �it was he who had shaped the destiny of the region by spearheading the statehood movement for the past three decades.�

Despite the large turnout and political rhetorics by Soren and his allies to whip up public sentiment in favour of Jharkhandi groups, the JMM chief may not be able to motivate the National Democratic Alliance against installing a BJP chief minister. �It will either be us or no one else,�� thundered the self-styled �Guruji� but the NDA remained unfazed.

According to analysts, the NDA knows that Soren cannot afford to quit the alliance at this juncture to form a �viable alternative� with the help of the Congress and the RJD.�

The Congress, which has 11 members in the new House, will not support Soren as the chief minister. Leaders like Furkan Ansari and Bagun Sumbrui have said they would oppose Soren�s candidature �as an alternative to an NDA-led government��.

The Congress will also steer clear of RJD in the region for any truck with Laloo Prasad Yadav will harm its poll prospects.

Soren�s reluctance to quit the NDA is evident from the fact that he has never publicly announced his decision to quit the party. The reasons are not far to seek. Soren has been chargesheeted in the murder of his aide Sashinath Jha and the CBI special court has ordered his arrest in the disproportionate assets case. Severing ties with the NDA will make him vulnerable to the disparate forces at play.

Besides, Soren knows that the 12 JMM legislators, on the strength of whose support he managed to hitch his wagon to the NDA, may desert him if he wriggles out of the alliance. Veterans like Joba Majhi have hinted that the MLAs can tilt the balance in favour of NDA if Soren decides to quit.

The BJP, on the other hand, knows it can benefit from Soren if the latter foregoes him claim to the chief minister�s post. The party, which garnered support from all other tribal groups, does not enjoy Santhal support. This has been the stumbling block in its consolidation of base in the Santhal Parganas.

The BJP is apprehensive that if Soren walks out with 12 legislators in tow, it can inflict �heavy damages� on the new government.

The BJP is reportedly working overtime to woo RJD and JMM dissidents. �We have been helped by a perception among RJD legislators in Jharkhand that they can never come to power without aligning themselves either with the Congress or the BJP,�� said a BJP leader here. Initial attempts by Laloo Prasad Yadav to woo Soren seemed to have suffered setbacks since the tribal leader did not respond to his overtures.

Instead he has trying to drum up support from all splinter groups to forge a broad forum and polarise tribal votes for the next election.

Observers feel that if today�s trial of strength fails to reap immediate gains, it may become a rallying point for the JMM chief to further the cause of �Jharkhandi sentiment�� for long-term political mileage. Soren will now try to campaign against an �alien government�� for not having rent the air with cries of Ulgulan (revolt) for a separate state.    


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