Blackout after Santa arrest
Cold New Year after warm Christmas
Buddha nod for new IT complex
Solace and a sense of bonding
Little prodigies of the globe at science congress
Impounded car clean-up drive hits dead-end
Hazardous chemicals haul raises death-trap bogey
With a li�l song on his lips
Three hacked in harvest row
Damper on Mamata show

Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
It could well be darkness at midnight this New Year�s eve on Park Street. On Wednesday evening, with barely four days to go for the big night, Calcutta�s favourite festive street was plunged into semi-darkness as the Park Street Shopowners� Association switched off the decorative lights as �a mark of protest against police high-handedness�. And the protestors have no intention of switching on the lights even on the last night of 2000.

Owners and staff of hotels, restaurants and other shops on Park Street are extremely upset after police stopped the traditional horse-cart Santa tableau on Christmas evening. �The man dressed as Santa Claus had his red costume ripped apart and was arrested, along with the horseman and two electricians who were putting finishing touches to the festival lights,� said U.K. Ghosal, convener, Park Street Shopowners� Association.

�We had no option but to confiscate the cart and arrest the persons under Section 283 of the Indian Penal Code for road obstruction, because Park Street is a restricted area and we couldn�t allow Santa Claus to disrupt traffic and distribute chocolates to kids,� said Prabir Das, officer-in-charge, Park Street police station. �Besides, they didn�t have any written permission from the hackney-carriage department or valid papers for the horse-cart,� he added. Park Street police have submitted chargesheets against the arrested, while the cart languishes in the thana courtyard.

�Santa has been coming to Park Street on a horse-cart for the past 10 years and it has become an integral part of Christmas celebrations on Park Street. Like every year, we had obtained permission from the police and although they give us only verbal permission most of the time, never have they stopped the carriage,� claimed Ghosal.

Although the arrested were released on bail later, the shopowners decided to switch off the multi-coloured lights which line the pavements and trees on the street. These were jointly put up by the shopowners for the last six years, before which illumination was done individually. So, on Wednesday evening, while the street lamps glowed and the billboards shone, Park street was a shadow of its normal, Christmas-week self.

The shopowners, who have also decided not to take out the Santa cart from next year, are well aware of the fact that a poorly-lit Park Street will be a huge dampener on the festive spirit that grips the heart of the city on New Year�s eve.

The mood of gloom was already evident on Wednesday evening. �It�s so disappointing to see Park Street like this at this time of the year,� said Sudipto Banerjee of Jodhpur Park, while strolling down the street with his family.

Besides the disappointment, the switching-off of the special lights can add to the chaos on 31st night.

�Last year itself, there was a near-stampede on the pavements which were cordoned off. It could get much worse this time if parts of the streets are shrouded in darkness,� observed a hotelier on Park Street.

The police top-brass is totally in the dark about the trouble on Park Street.

�I have no knowledge of any such horse-carriage Santa coming to Park Street on Christmas Day. We hadn�t received any application seeking permission for the tableau,� said deputy commissioner (traffic) K. Harirajan. �But such slow-moving vehicles surely impede traffic,� he added.

DC headquarters Narayan Ghosh, too, didn�t have any information about �Santa�s arrest�. �I am not aware of such a tradition on Park Street and don�t recall anybody seeking permission for a tableau,� he said.

The shopkeepers alleged the police had played party-poopers last year, too. A proposal to make the stretch between Russell Street and Flury�s out of bounds for vehicular traffic was shot down and a large video screen installed on Park Street torn down.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
Calcutta is mid-way into the last week of December but winter is playing truant.

Going by the heat experienced during the day and the temperatures recorded by the Alipore weather office over the past few days, the city is going through an unusual warm spell.

The weatherman, however, predicts that the mercury will dip by New Year�s eve and the first week of January will be �cold�.

�This spell of super-normal temperature is due to a cyclonic circulation in the upper layers of atmosphere, which has resulted in a cloud cover over the city,� a weather office spokesperson said on Wednesday.

He said even a partial or thin layer of cloud over the land results in a temperature rise. The cyclonic storm over Sri Lanka and southern India has nothing to do with this phenomenon, he asserted.

The official added that cold wind from northern India was not blowing for the past few days. �This wind plays a major role in bringing down the temperature during winter,� he added.

As a result, the minimum temperatures over the past few days (and their deviation from normal) have been: 14.6 degrees Celsius (+1) on Saturday; 14.3 (0) on Sunday; 15.3 (+1) on Monday; 16.2 (+2) on Tuesday and 15.4 (+1) on Wednesday.

Even on Wednesday, people were compelled to turn on fans and air-conditioners. �Unless the cold can be felt, how can one say it�s winter?� wondered Shyamalee Basu, a homemaker.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
In keeping with his thrust on information technology, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Wednesday unveiled plans to set up an IT complex in the city. The complex, to be the first of its kind in the state, will be built by Webel.

The decision on the IT complex was taken on Wednesday at the board meeting of the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), of which the chief minister is chairman. It was decided that the complex will come up on a 100-acre plot at Nonadanga, near Santoshpur, on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. Bhattacharjee directed urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharjee to allot 50 acres of CMDA land to Webel immediately.

He instructed officers to look for another 50 acres adjacent to the existing site or, if necessary, acquire land for the purpose.

Bhattacharjee said such a big complex was an absolute necessity in view of the 100-plus projects lined up in the state by reputed companies from India and abroad. �Besides, others have evinced interest,� he said.

The state government has already allotted land to a number of IT companies at Saltlec, which is now chock-a-block. �I want all IT projects to come up in a particular complex which will have all infrastructure facilities required,�� the chief minister said.

The electronics complex in Salt Lake was built by Webel in the late Eighties after the Centre refused to provide funds for it.

The IT complex will be the second major and the most prestigious project to be implemented by Webel. According to the plan unveiled by the chief minister on Wednesday, the IT complex will have all the requisite infrastructure facilities.

According to sources, Webel will bear the cost of construction and if necessary, WBIDC may be involved.

The state government has already formed a separate department for IT recently and Bhattacharjee�s decision to set up an IT complex proves information technology is high on his agenda.

At the board meeting, Bhattacharjee instructed engineers and officers to speed up different on-going development projects taken up by the CMDA.

Reiterating the government�s tough stand on work discipline, the chief minister, in the presence of the departmental minister, said he would not put up with shirkers.

Another major decision taken at the CMDA board meeting was launching a self-employment programme for unemployed urban people. The chief minister asked his Cabinet colleague Ashok Bhattacharjee to frame self-employment programmes without delay.

The CMDA will also help in the overall development of Haldia. The chief minister asked CMDA officers to take part in infrastructure development of the industrial town.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
Every week, Ishita Mukherjee heads for the forest department�s animal rescue centre at Salt Lake, where a langur waits for her. The actress spends a lazy afternoon, playing with the langur, feeding it and generally monkeying around.

There is nothing filmi about this exercise. For Ishita is undergoing psychological therapy at the centre.

The time spent with the langur, which she fondly calls Bitiarani, gives her a chance to recover from the loss of a baby langur last month.

Haiku, the baby langur, crushed by a speeding vehicle on Vidyasagar Setu on October 18, died in Ishita�s arms 20 days later. No amount of CT scans and medical attention could save Haiku.

Traumatised at the loss of the baby animal, Ishita sank into deep depression. Turning for psychiatric counselling, she was advised by her doctor to forge a friendship with another langur. �I knew that I would not be able to keep a langur as a pet since they are protected by law, so I approached the wildlife wing of the forest department, where I knew rescued animals were kept,� Ishita said.

�She wept inconsolably when she came to meet me,� recalled conservator for forests (wildlife), S.K. Das. Das gave her permission to go and spend time with the female langur at the rescue centre.

And now, there�s a strange bond between the two.

The day after Christmas, Ishita visited the centre with a bagful of fruits and a plum cake from Nahoum�s. After being fed the cake and the fruits, Bitiarani started �styling� the actress� hair. �She does this everytime,� smiled Ishita.

Hair-styling over, it was time for the langur to have her back, head and belly stroked by Ishita.

M.K. Bhaumik, range officer in charge of the rescue centre, is a sympathetic audience to the �therapy� session. �The langur, rescued from a meatshop owner near New Market, is a very gentle animal... She has almost adopted a five-month baby brought to the rescue centre from Chakdah, where its mother died of a fall,� he added.

Ishita, who is also the secretary of the Howrah Animal Welfare Organization, feels that her visits to Salt Lake centre are really helping her to fight her depression.�I come here between shootings and feel at peace spending time with my Bitiarani... She does more good to me than any amount of medicines and counselling can,� she said.

�Till now, I thought that pets like dogs and cats gave you a sense of belonging and a strange solace. But this experience has opened my eyes to the entire animal world,� she added.

Running the animal welfare organisation, again between shooting, also keeps Ishita busy. She has 50 maimed, ill and dying dogs at home. She frets over all of them but for the moment her greatest fear is that �the forest people will have to set my Bitiarani free�. To prevent such a move, she�s already written to the authorities, urging them not to separate her langur from her.

Mishaps kill 3: Three persons were killed and three injured in two road mishaps at Basirhat, in North 24-Parganas, on Wednesday morning. A Maruti from Calcutta collided with a truck, killing two occupants, Swapan Ghosh and Pradip Ghosh. Three others were injured. In the other mishap, Mangal Karmakar was run over by a tourist bus.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
The National Children�s Science Congress was inaugurated by Union minister for science and technology B.S. Rawat at Bengal Engineering College, Shibpur, on Wednesday. Rawat announced that a National Innovation Fund of Rs 100 crore will be created to encourage more students to participate in such exhibitions. Grants for technological and scientific research will also be increased by one per cent within five years.

The theme of this year�s congress, being financed by the Union ministry of science and technology, is �Indigenous scientific knowledge for a better tomorrow�. The sub-topics are health and hygiene, food and agriculture, energy and material. About 650 students from all over the country, Qatar and Germany were present at the venue to demonstrate their models before a panel of evaluators, comprising eminent scientists and professors. But participants from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka failed to turn up.

The projects of the state�s congress winners have been selected for this event, which will be on display for three days. The winners on the congress will participate in the International Children�s Science Congress, scheduled for next year. Eminent scientist Yash Pal said the congress will encourage more students to study science. �I am very romantic about my work. This congress will rekindle the romance of science among the little prodigies sitting before me,� Yash Pal said.

Dignitaries present included school education minister Kanti Biswas, minister for public works Kshiti Goswami and former vice-chancellor of Calcutta University Sushil Mukherjee.

�It is a significant occasion for me,� said 15-year old Martin Duyster, who has come all the way from Germany. �This is for the first time that I am visiting a foreign country. I never thought I would be able to meet students of my age from this country,� he added.

�Indians are so different,� said Suhail Rahman from Qatar. �People from each state speak a different language and besides, they also look different!� he exclaimed.

Apart from demonstrating 600-odd science projects, the students will also engage in various other activities. Senior and eminent scientists of the country will interact with them on issues such as material science, water management and bio-technological advancements. Teachers, who have escorted the students to the congress, have some activity in store for them, too. Workshops will be held for them each day on scientific map preparation, resource mapping and ways of preparing low cost teaching aids.

Science research institutes, such as Bose Institute, Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Zoological Survey of India and Botanical Survey of India will also put up their exhibits. Nature clubs have also been asked to set up stalls.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
The Trinamul Congress-led Corporation has hit a dead-end in its drive to clear the scores of impounded vehicles dumped in front of various police stations and behind the Lalbazar headquarters.

The civic authorities are accusing the police of not heeding repeated requests to clear them.

�We are helpless,� said Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner of the detective department. �There is a lack of parking space within Lalbazar. But we keep only those vehicles outside our headquarters that are connected to cases and needed for ready reference.�

Mala Roy, city conservancy boss, disputed this claim, saying that the police simply did not care about these metal monstrosities that crowd entrances to most police stations. �I have repeatedly asked them (city police) to remove the vehicles to the dumping grounds at Dhapa and Bantala, but they just don�t care,� said Roy, mayor-in-council (conservancy) of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

Roy said the conservancy department is unable to maintain these areas unless the police do a clean-up job. The worst offenders, according to her, are Lalbazar, Bhowanipore and Park Street police stations.

�Most of the vehicles that have been dumped are in a dilapidated condition and worth nothing more than scrap. On one hand, we are trying to keep the roads clean and penalising people who are parking their vehicles illegally, while on the other, the protectors of the law are parking the seized vehicles illegally,� she added.

In Razabazar Lane, the street behind Lalbazar police headquarters, residents alleged that the road had been virtually converted into a junkyard, obstructing movement. Chandrakant Mavani, a resident, said: �We have even approached the commissioner of police but no action has been taken.�

Businessmen with offices around Lalbazar came up with another complaint, this time about the police parking their vehicles wherever they please. �The police park their vehicles all around Lalbazar,� said a businessman. �If they find our vehicles parked anywhere near the zone, they will fine us. They have turned Razabazar Lane into a filthy place,� he added.

The two most offending police stations, however, plead helplessness. �We cannot remove a seized a car immediately,� said Prabir Das, officer-in-charge, Park Street police station. �Moreover, the number of cars seized in my area is more compared to other areas. I want to keep the space in front of my station clean. But it is not possible because I cannot keep these vehicles anywhere else,� he added.

�We are under compulsion to keep a seized vehicle for at least six months if we do not find a claimant,� said Sadhan Kumar Das, additional officer-in-charge, Bhowanipore police station. Seized vehicles cannot be disposed of until an order from the court is obtained, he pointed out.

�If the CMC wants to clear the vehicles, let it do so with the court�s permission,� Das added.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
The recent discovery of a large quantity of explosive and inflammable material stored in a residential complex in south Calcutta has given rise to fears of accidental blasts.

The pollution control board, police and the fire brigade have, however, not taken stock of this potential danger lurking in different parts of the city.

Some weeks ago, the environmental appellate authority shut the godown storing such chemicals and metal powders of a Tamil Nadu-based company in an apartment building in Dr Sarat Banerjee Road. The pollution control board was asked to send an investigation team and it reported the presence of aluminium and magnesium powder and other hazardous chemicals.

Besides, repeated inspections proved that among the vast array of material stored in the largely residential area some, like nickel powder, were proven carcinogens. The investigations revealed that the company and its two subsidiaries had been using the godown for 25 years.

The appellate authority, headed by Justice B.P. Banerjee (retired), held that the company shift the godown to a safer place to �prevent the area from being polluted, save the people from explosion, causing destruction and having regard to the fact that the people have a fundamental right to live in a pollution-free environment.�

Justice Banerjee and the two other members of the appellate body, Arunabha Majumdar of the All-India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, and Sabooj Bhowal of Jadavpur University, had sought a bank guarantee of Rs 50,000 from the company and asked it to shift before Kali Puja.

Justice Banerjee said the authorities had not assessed the damage such godowns could cause . �The civic authorities and the fire brigade grant licences without going deep into the matter. It is just an exercise in raising revenue,� he said.

�In the near future, we will ask the agencies concerned what has been done to unearth such hazardous godowns,� Justice Banerjee said, referring to the fire in a godown at Dasnagar, in Howrah, some time ago when a fireman had died of toxic fumes.

Kalyan Bagchi, chairman of the pollution control board, said the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority has been conducting a census of industrial units in the city. The pollution control board-sponsored survey has listed over 10,000 industrial units. �Unearthing such godowns will be difficult, as they occur in isolation. There are no smells, vibrations or other irritants that will make people report to us,� Bagchi said. He claimed that after the Dasnagar incident, the Customs had submitted a list of godowns storing hazardous chemicals and the board had looked into the matter.

Deputy commissioner of police (headquarters), N.C. Ghosh, said that during the investigations into the Sarat Banerjee Road case, the police had unearthed one more godown at Entally, which was also shut down. �We had promptly sealed the storage facility and informed the pollution control board,� Ghosh said.

But the environmental appellate authority believes that there are many more such potential death traps around.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
You may have seen him singing for the children having a riot at Raj Bhavan on Christmas-eve. Or maybe it was at Tollygunge Club on Wednesday, at a late Christmas party for under-privileged children at Tollygunge Club.

�They knew every single song... I didn�t even need to sing the words,� gushed singer Sandeep Vyas. But even if you�ve missed him so far, you will have a chance aplenty to catch him in action.

From Calcutta to Cape Town, �Calcutta�s Ricky Martin� is everywhere. With a li�l song, a li�l dance, and lots of attitude.

�I place a lot of emphasis on marketing myself,� explained Sandeep, clarifying that he is not a singer, he is a �singer-performer�. A concept which has gone down well, particularly with Indians abroad.

Perhaps it is because his gig is so diverse. R.D. Burman may be �one of his favourites�, but he can sing Megadeath numbers with equal ease. Bhangra to Latin, the 26-year-old can sing, and swing, to it all.

�There are a lot of people more talented than me. You have to work out, look good and dress well, offer something different. I don�t sing for myself,� said Sandeep.

Travelling with younger brother Sanjeev, his DJ and manager, their �minus-one� act means that they use only pre-recorded music.

�It helps, because we can use more instruments than a live band ever could�, said Sandeep. �Also, it allows us to move from party to party, club to club with the minimum hassle.�

No wonder he performs at around 8 to 10 dos a month. And then there�s his personal record: 12 appearances in two nights at various city clubs and hotels last year.

�Just back from Kathmandu and Bangkok�, he has much on his agenda for the months to come. Apart from performing at The Telegraph Baleno 31st Nite at the Tollygunge Club, he is in the process of cutting a solo album, as well as getting his tunes together for a tour of South India, to perform at the launch of a private club.

Not to mention shows scheduled in London and Ohio next year.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
Three SUCI activists were today hacked to death and their bodies riddled with bullets by alleged CPM supporters in a clash over harvesting rights at Shyamnagar village in the Joynagar police station area of South 24-Parganas.

The dead were identified as Manirul Sardar (30), Hasem Sardar (28) and Zakir Sardar (32). No arrests have been reported so far.

Police said the three, who were working in a field, were attacked around 9.30 am by a gang of masked men armed with revolvers and sharp weapons. The assailants hacked them with choppers, then pumped bullets into their lifeless bodies before fleeing.

Other farmers, who were working in the field at the time, chased the gang but gave up when the attackers burst bombs to scare them off. The village is 40 km from the Joynagar police station.

�At least a dozen of them came with revolvers and choppers and the victims were unarmed. They were CPM supporters who came with their face covered with masks. They came on foot. After going some distance they crossed the Moni river and disappeared into a nearby forest,� Paresh Giri, a SUCI worker in Joynagar, said.

A local CPM leader, however, denied the allegations and said the murders were a sequel to squabbles within the SUCI.

�The three workers were murdered by a rival faction of the SUCI and we have no role in it,� he said. �Frankly, our organisation in that area is weak compared to that of the SUCI.�

But at Writers� Buildings, far from the blood-soaked turf in the districts, news of the killings had not reached till afternoon. When told about the incident, senior SUCI leader and MLA Debaprasad Sarkar said he would soon find out the details.

�The CPM attacked our workers without provocation,� said SUCI leader Kalipada Mallick. �In 1998, they had killed five of our workers in Bhubaneswari, which is just a few kilometres from Shyamnagar village. At that time also they denied having anything to do with it. But those who were arrested belonged to the CPM.�

The circle inspector of Baruipur, Sahabul Islam, and the officer-in-charge of Joynagar police station, Satyabrata Bhattacharjee, have left for Shyamnagar with a big contingent.

Though the SUCI is crying foul, additional superintendent of police (rural) Sanjib Basu said the victims had �criminal records and were wanted in a number of cases�.

�In today�s clash both the groups were armed. But as Shyamnagar is a remote place, it took at least four hours for the police to reach the spot,� he said �Our men had to walk at least 10 kilometres to reach the village.�

But Mallick disputed the police claim, saying they �cooked up� the story to hush up the incident. �The victims were innocent,� he said.

�They were killed as they vehemently opposed CPM activists in the area from spreading their influence. Even after the murder of five of our party workers in 1998, the police described them as criminals which later proved false,� he added.

According to him, the �main motif� behind the attack was to capture the area. �The local CPM,� he said, �knows it will lose this seat this time also.�

Mallick said the crime rate here was higher as the area was industrially under-developed. �Most people,� he said, �have no other occupation except cultivation. And that too is seasonal and almost a one-time job.�


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
Commuters demanding a halt-station today forced railway minister Mamata Banerjee to cut short a visit to commission train services in the Kashinagar�Kakdwip section.

The commuters from Nischindapur squatted on the tracks to press their demand for a stop at Nagerhat, blocking the inaugural run which Mamata was scheduled to flag off.

After waiting in vain for nearly 30 minutes for the rake to reach Kakdwip, 90 km from Calcutta, Mamata commissioned the section by unveiling a plaque and left for the city by road.

The train was eventually flagged off by the general manger of Eastern Railway, I.I.M.S. Rana.

Mamata said the section would allow pilgrims from all over the country to reach by train up to Kakdwip during the Ganga Sagar Mela.

She said this would step up the tourist traffic to Bakkhali, the Sunderbans and adjoining areas. She requested the state government to provide land for speeding up the construction of railway link from Kakdwip to Namkhana.

Mamata said the Kashinagar�Kakdwip line has been constructed within a short time since land was granted by the state government in July this year.

However, she added that the work could have been completed faster if the land was given earlier. She said the construction of a railway line between Tarakeswar and Bishnupur was facing a problem because of the non-availability of land. The function was attended by Radhikaranjan Pramanik, MP from Mathurapur, and Asoke Giri, MLA from Kakdwip of South 24-Parganas.

The railway said the Bhagirathi Express would resume its run up to Lalgola from Sealdah from Thursday.

The train�s reach had been curtailed after floods caused extensive damage to tracks and bridges in September.


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