Lifetime�s labour lost
Clean-up order puts small units in a spot
Govt ignores tinderbox report
Five cages high-risk, tiger victim identified
Hygiene tips for food vendors
Tech school hints at Bengal bypass
Bihar smells �conspiracy� in crop crisis
Move to help ban-hit tribals
Opp. questions Nipamacha�s secular image
New space centre for N-E

Calcutta. Dec. 17: 
It was 4.15 am on Canning Street. A few early risers on Sunday morning suddenly noticed smoke billowing out of the first floor of 33, Canning Street, popularly known as Churipatty.

�I first smelt the pungent odour of burning plastic. Then, I looked out of my bedroom window and saw smoke coming out of the first floor of the market building across the street. The fumes were hard to detect in the dark, but it was clear from the odour that something inside Churipatty was burning,� said Sanjoy Vohra, among the first to raise an alarm.

As word spread, so did the flames. Even before the fire-brigade personnel could arrive on the spot, the spark had turned into a devastating blaze that was to engulf the four-storeyed Debiprasad Market, spread to six adjacent buildings, destroy nearly 350 small shops and ruin several trading families by evening.

�The firemen were informed immediately after the fire was noticed. But three fire tenders turned up after an hour and a half and only one had water. The hydraulic ladder was also not functioning,� alleged Suresh Pande. �If only they had turned up on time...�

Even as local residents did their bit to try and fight the blaze, the fire-tenders struggled to get their act together. �Why are they taking so much time? Can�t they get water from the Ganga?� screamed S.K. Sen, a bangle-shop owner who had stocked up for Id. �We are small traders and we live on daily earnings. I don�t know how I can make up this loss,� Sen wailed.

The fire started spreading in the afternoon, after 32 engines had battled it for eight hours and failed. The inflammable stuff, the gas cylinders, and then the chemical godown fuelled the fire, during a period when very few fire-tenders were around.

�We even had to supply diesel to the fire tenders as they did not come to the spot with enough fuel,� said Jograj Duggal, a member of the Byabasayi Samiti of the market.

While no one was sure what had started the fire, the shop-owners chose to blame it on �a short circuit� and point accusing fingers at owner Vijay Gupta. �Despite our repeated requests to redo the electrical wiring in the building, Gupta did nothing,� claimed Ramesh Singh, who lost his shop and his livelihood.

While some traders tried to retrieve whatever little stuff they could, others just stood there, devastated.

�My son had told me to get my shop insured, but I did not pay heed... My 50-year-old shop was reduced to ashes in front of my eyes and I could do nothing,� said Kamal Dey, 65-year-old owner of Pratap Stores.

Bharati Mitra, owner of Ajanta Stores, couldn�t fight back her tears. �The shop I had set up with my own hands has gone up in smoke. What will I do now?� she lamented.

By evening, a pall of gloom hung as heavy as the smoke over the area. �Zindagi bhar ki kamai raakh ho gai,� said Raja of Ganesh Stores. �This building will be demolished and replaced by a modern marketing complex... but we are finished.�


Calcutta. Dec. 17: 
The December 31 clean-up-or-wind-up deadline set by the high court has sent manufacturers scrambling for information on clean technology for their production processes. Many small units, which are under the scrutiny of the state pollution control board are, however, in the dark about their status and responsibilities.

The manufacturers are far from belligerent. �We have to honour the directive of the court. We are not in favour of a confrontation, we want a solution,� a small unit manufacturer said.

�We are in a real spot here,� said Deepak Dasgupta, secretary of the Federation of Small and Medium Industries of West Bengal (Fosmi). �We are in touch with the board and are looking for solutions to this very dangerous development,� he added.

There is very little help from the government to help the labour-intensive small-scale sector to upgrade its technologies, Dasgupta says. �Even the subsidy scheme for installing pollution control devices has expired last March,� the Fosmi secretary pointed out.

�When we set up shop around Calcutta, there was no urban development. Now, with rapid urbanisation, we have come under fire,� Dasgupta said. �Look at areas like Picnic Gardens, Topsia, Bagmari, Sonarpur and Barasat, and you will know what I mean,� he said.

Dasgupta said the federation will hold a meeting with manufacturers of pollution control equipment on December 21. �The meeting will mainly discuss what can be done for units manufacturing ceramics,� the secretary said.

With the high court verdict, small units manufacturing chemicals, ceramic and even nuts and bolts are in for a shutdown from New Years� Day, 2001.

Chemical manufacturers with units around the city seem to be totally in the dark about their future. Acid and Chemicals Manufacturers Association Limited secretary Manish Kundu claims �we have never been told whether we are offenders or in the clear.�

Association vice-president, Sanjib Kothari said over the past year or so, chemical units located in Bagmari have been asking the CMDA for an alternative site. There are about 101 units in the area. �It would be ideal if we were given an exclusive zone for chemicals. We could then have a common effluent treatment plant,� Kothari said.

�The pollution control board should also act as a pollution management body and help us with their expertise,� Kothari said. He said they were yet to receive notice about the December 31 deadline.

According to Kundu, the board still monitors our industries but we get no feedback at all. He said the board, in a letter in 1997, had approached them for �cooperation� in evolving a strategy for chemical units. �We furnished them with every detail but are yet to see the results,� Kundu said.


Calcutta. Dec. 17: 
The fire at Canning Street market could have been avoided had the fire services department and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation heeded the opinion of the expert panel set up recently by the government. The committee had identified over 1,000 buildings, including Canning Street market, as fire-prone. Officers said nearly 350 markets, 20 petrol stations, four LPG godowns and 35 kerosene outlets, too, are similar hazards.

The report said the government has been cautioned about 500 buildings, including 150 markets, where preventive measures should be taken immediately.

Concerned over the increasing number of fires in and around the city, the government asked a team of experts, comprising officers from the fire services and municipal affairs department, to conduct the survey in August. The report was submitted the next month.

Quoting from the report, officers said some of the hazardous buildings are Temple Court, Chatterjee International Centre, Ezra Street market, Canning Street market, Chandni Chowk market, Old China Bazaar Street market, Southern market, and a large number of Burrabazar buildings.

Almost all the buildings in Canning Street and the Burrabazar police station areas are fire-prone because of congestion. Most of the hazardous buildings are located in north and central Calcutta, including the central business district zone.

The expert committee has recommended demolition of some old buildings, immediate renovation of a few of them, and replacement of the electrical lines already in a shambles.

Though the government promised to implement the recommendations, nothing has been done yet. The fire services department says it is the civic body�s responsibility to take measures on a war footing against unsafe buildings. The Corporation, too, is trying to pass the buck, saying it can only help the government implement the plan.

�Yes I admit that over a thousand buildings in the city are unsafe and fire-prone. We have served notices on the owners concerned, instructing them either to vacate the buildings or take adequate preventive measures,�� said fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee. He stressed it was the Corporation�s duty to take further action against those buildings.

Countering the minister�s claim, mayor Subrata Mukherjee said the government cannot disown its responsibility. �I want to know why the government has remained silent for so many years, while hundreds of makeshift shops and offices have been opened in hazardous buildings just in front of Writers� Buildings,�� Mukherjee said.

He said a team of experts will visit fire-prone buildings soon to make an on-the-spot survey, adding: �Let the fire services department either demolish the buildings or compel their owners to take adequate preventive measures. We will assist them.��


Calcutta. Dec. 17: 
Five enclosures of Alipore Zoo have been tagged �high risk� and the man mauled to death by Bob, the tiger, on Saturday evening, has been identified.

The victim, Afsar Hussain, 26, a resident of Topsia Lane, was identified by his brother on Sunday. Afsar, who entered the tiger�s enclosure and paid with his life, is said to have been suffering from �mental problems�.

Probing the bizarre incident, the police placed the tiger zone, the newly-constructed white tiger enclosure, and the rhino, alligator and chimpanzee enclosures in the �high-risk� category.

�It is not possible for the authorities to stop intruders from entering the animal enclosures,� said deputy commissioner, port, Zulfikar Hasan, expressing unhappiness over the height of the fencings of these enclosures.

After a tour of the zoo on Sunday morning, officer-in-charge of Watgunge police station Naseem Ali said three factors had been taken into consideration:

Low fencing � The fences around the rhino and chimpanzee enclosures are just two feet high

Very few securitymen � The zoo authorities said there are only 14 security guards to man animal enclosures and keep an eye on thousands of visitors

No warning signals or public address system to alert or educate visitors.

�There could be a repeat any time of what happened on Saturday evening. The Alipore Zoo authorities are not equipped to prevent such a thing,�� Ali said. After the morning survey, Hasan and Ali suggested to the authorities that the �open grazing of animals� be stopped. But the authorities have turned down the request. �Open grazing of animals and safety arrangements have been dictated by the Central Zoo authority. Any change in the existing system will have to be ratified by them,� a zoo official said.

But through all this, visitors kept pouring into the zoo from Sunday morning. �More than 25,000 people visited the zoo till evening,�� said deputy director S.K. Choudhury.

And everyone made a beeline to catch a glimpse of Bob, the nine-year-old tiger, seen pacing his cage for the most part of the day. Seven policemen patrolled the spot from where Afsar Hussain had clambered over the fence on Saturday.


Calcutta, Dec. 17: 
A team of experts from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations will visit the city early next year to train food vendors on ways of reducing the risk of contamination, mayor Subrata Mukherjee said on Sunday.

Workshops will be held for vendors at which proper ways of cooking, preserving and serving food will be demonstrated.

�Using and storing of drinking water by vendors will be emphasised, as water-borne diseases are prevalent in the city,� Mukherjee said.

The FAO decided on the workshops at its recent meeting in Bangkok, where the mayor of Calcutta presented a gloomy picture of Calcutta�s roadside food. At the Bangkok meeting, Mukherjee had reported that there were 1.30 lakh food vendors in the city, selling items ranging from malpoa to jalebis and chicken biryani to masala dosas.

He said the FAO had insisted on licensing the food vendors, too, but the proposal was stalled because of strong opposition from Calcutta and Bangkok.

A senior civic official pointed out that in the mid-1990s, Tushar Talukdar, then police commissioner, placed a proposal to provide licences to vendors. The proposal was accepted by the state government but could not be implemented as the Calcutta Municipal Corporation was against it.

�If hawkers are licensed, it would be impossible for the authorities to restore the pavements,� the official pointed out. Moreover, it will also trigger of an exodus towards Calcutta from the neighbouring states.

Hawker Sangram Committee leader Shaktiman Ghosh said the committee is organising a national conference on the hawker issue early next year in the city. Hawkers� representatives from several Asian and European countries will be invited.

�Hawking is a socio-economic reality which supports a number of families,� he said. �As long as hawkers are branded as encroachers, only the political leaders and police will be benefited in extorting money from them.�


Calcutta, Dec. 17: 
Purnendu Chatterjee is �happy� with the performance of his four IT ventures in Bengal, but The Chatterjee Group boss is not sure whether the state will host one of the six centres of the much-hyped Global Institute of Science and Technology (GIST).

�West Bengal, with its intellectual heritage, is indeed a strong contender, but we are yet to take a final decision,� said Chatterjee, on Sunday. The patrons of the Global Institute have submitted their proposal to the ministry of human resources and are awaiting final approval. �We have decided to set up an initial corpus of $ 1 billion for this no-profit project, with stress on research, and have already mobilised 50 per cent of the funds from Indians settled abroad. We have also signed an MoU with the University of California, Berkeley,� he added.

Research, said Chatterjee, will also be the focus of the Indian Chemical Engineering Congress 2000, to be held in the city from Monday. Chatterjee, the chairman of the national organising committee, said around 1,600 delegates will attend the four-day meet with the theme �convergence in technological diversity�.

On Haldia Petrochemicals, Chatterjee clarified that the �experience is in no way a negative one, it�s part of our collective growing�. He expressed confidence about downstream projects coming into the state, but warned �it will come with a lag�.


Patna, Dec. 17: 
The Bihar government and the Centre are engaged in a war of words over grounding of the crop-procurement scheme, aggravating a winter of discontent for farmers in the state.

The �proxy battle� began after the Food Corporation of India refused to procure rice from Bihar this week.

Various farmers� organisations in the state have warned of a law and order problem if the Centre and the state government do not resolve the issue soon.

While Union civil supplies minister Shanta Kumar has been blamed for the crisis, the RJD-Congress combine believes Union agriculture minister Nitish Kumar is also involved in the �conspiracy�.

The alliance believes the National Democratic Alliance has sparked the crisis with the intention of putting the state government in a spot of bother and taking advantage of the situation.

�The FCI has refused to procure crops from Bihar at the Centre�s behest. The motive behind the decision is to make the farmers suffer and turn the heat on the state government,� said water resources minister Jagdanand Singh, who is from the RJD.

Not to be left behind, the NDA�s refrain has been that the state government is not the least bit concerned about the farmers� plight.

As the war of attrition between the Centre and the state government continues, the farmers of Bihar cannot help but feel that they have been left in the lurch.

On an average, Bihar produces 70 lakh tonnes of rice annually. The yield has been better this year, with the net produce estimated to be over 90 lakh tonnes.

The plan to set up procurement centres for the farmers did not take off due to the showdown between the state and the Centre. To make matters worse, Bihar is yet to begin negotiations for direct export of paddy due to lack of a licence. Even Bangladesh, which used to buy rice from neighbouring Indian states, has now turned to Thailand.

Chief minister Rabri Devi has decided to lead a delegation of MPs of her party and the Congress to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, while leader of the Opposition, Sushil Modi, has announced that he will meet the Union food and civil supplies minister to end the controversy over procurement of rice from the state.

The decision not to procure rice from Bihar was announced by the FCI�s senior regional manager (Patna), Raju Lal, through a notice issued to all district offices of the corporation.

�It has been decided not to accept paddy from primary agricultural credit societies,� Lal said.

The notice also asked the district offices of the FCI not to purchase voluntary levy rice till a scheme was approved by the Centre. Singh said it was unfair of the FCI not to procure rice from Bihar, while making an exception for Punjab and other states. �The FCI has procured rice worth Rs 8.5 crore from Punjab this year. It is leaving out Bihar due to alleged lack of storage space. This despite the fact that the state government has offered FCI 67 of its own godowns,� he said.

Countering the criticism, leader of the Opposition, Sushil Modi, said, �Why is the state government not procuring paddy on its own? Nowhere in the country is the FCI involved in direct procurement of crops,� he said.

Militant outfits backing various farmers� organisations may jump into the fray soon, say observers.

Ganja destroyed

Illegal ganja crop on a three- acreplot has been destroyed by police at Raghopur in Vaishali district of Bihar. Superintendent of police Shobha Ahotkar said despite the ban on ganja cultivation, farmers of Saidabag village had planted ganja on the plot of land. The police raided the village yesterday and destroyed the ripe crop, she said. The riverine area of Raghopur is infamous for illegal ganja cultivation.


Shillong, Dec. 17: 
The Meghalaya government has proposed an innovative village reserve forest scheme to bring larger areas under forest cover. The aim of the project is to arrest eco-degradation in Meghalaya.

Senior officials of the department of forests and environment said the scheme has been suggested with the main objective of meeting various requirements of tribal villagers.

A large section of the rural population, mostly in the West Khasi Hills district, which is primarily dependent on the forests, has been suffering following the Supreme Court�s ban on the use of forest products.

�We are planning to develop the reserve forests to meet the requirements for fuel and other non-timber forest products of the people of the state,� an official said. �This can only be done by creating wood lots near their villages with their active support,� he added.

The forest officials said the innovative scheme would not only create employment opportunities but also curb the adverse effects of environmental degradation due to unplanned felling during the past few decades.

�The villagers will have to provide us with land in their respective areas for plantations,� the forest official said.

A village forest protection and development committee would be constituted for each plantation centre. The area of each village reserve forest would be more than 10 hectares, he added. Task forces have been constituted in each district to identify critical catchment areas for developing plantations, the official said.

The members of the task force would also seek advice from the MLAs for selection of sites for raising plantations under the scheme.

Moreover, for raising the plantation, the village dorbar, represented by the headman and the secretary, would have to sign an agreement with the forest department. The divisional forest officers of the social forestry division would be the project-implementing officers in the respective areas.


Imphal, Dec. 17: 
Manipur chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh is constructing a temple inside the premises of his official bungalow. The move has been criticised by Opposition leaders, who have warned that it goes against the secular ethos of the state.

The temple is now nearing completion. However, it is not clear whether it will be a Hindu or a Sanamahi temple. Sanamahi or Meitei marup is the indigenous religion of the Meiteis, the dominant community of Manipur. Nipamacha Singh is from the Meitei community which follows both Hindu and Sanamahi religions.

The construction comes at a time of a controversy over illegal construction of churches of various denominations in government quarters. Thirty churches have so far been constructed illegally in quarters owned by the state public works department in Lamphel and Langol housing complexes here. Senior PWD officials have already called for a detailed report on the illegal structures from the engineers in charge of Lamphel and Langol complexes.

Sources said the chief minister has gone ahead with the temple construction on the compound of his official bungalow without prior approval from the concerned departments.

Congress leader Nimaichand Luwang was the first to raise the issue last week. He said there is a standing order of the government which prohibits construction of any structure related to religion inside official quarters. Luwang criticised Nipamacha�s action and termed the construction of the temple illegal.

Luwang said, �The chief minister should always maintain a secular image. We condemn the construction of a temple on the compound of his official bungalow.� Manipur People�s Party chief O. Joy Singh said if the head of a government indulges in such activities, it would be difficult to control other officials.

He said the chief minister�s bungalow was not the permanent residence of Nipamacha Singh. �Tomorrow if a Christian or Muslim leader becomes chief minister and starts constructing a church or mosque inside the bungalow, what will be the condition of the state?� he asked.

Adding that Manipur is a multi-religious state, he said a chief minister should not indulge in the construction of a temple on the premises of his official bungalow. Former chief minister and Congress leader Rishang Keishing also protested against the construction, saying, �How can Nipamacha Singh construct a temple inside the chief minister�s official bungalow?� He demanded that construction be stopped immediately.


Shillong, Dec. 17: 
A proposal has been submitted to the North Eastern Council to set up comprehensive natural resource information systems for the northeastern states by the Indian Space Research Organisation, Isro chairman K. Kasturirangan said this here yesterday.

Kasturirangan, a pioneer of the country�s space research programmes, delivered a lecture last evening at the Military Engineering Services headquarters here on certain aspects of ongoing space activities and outlined future programmes.

The ISRO chief, who is also the secretary of the department of space research, said once the North Eastern Space Application Centre starts functioning, the region�s rich resource potential could be fully harnessed for the development of the remote northeastern frontier states.

�We are setting up the required infrastructure for Geo-Information Services at the new centre,� Kasturirangan said. The data would be of �great help� to development of agriculture and water resources, he added. The new space centre, which is a joint venture of the department of space and the NEC, is likely to become �fully operational� from August 2002, he said. �Land has been allotted to us at Barapani.�


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