Book blot on green bench
Newspaper hawkers lathicharged at Howrah
Dacoits scare away cops
Two minutes of silent mourning
Victoria sets a fee for morning walkers
April date for tax waiver mop-up plan
Police chief declares war on smoking in Lalbazar
SC/ST vacancies in church schools
Court orders old medicine destroyed
Drama for kids in distress

Calcutta, Feb.7: 
A “not altogether trustworthy” green bench, a “competitive” NGO sector and a “non-transparent” government are responsible for pushing Calcutta to the brink of an environmental crisis. Those are just some of the damning observations of German sociologist Hans Dembowski, in a book released at the Book Fair on Wednesday.

Taking the State to Court: Public interest litigation and the public sphere in Metropolitan India, which even refers to the “illegal” allotment of land from the chief minister’s quota, has made judges and lawyers associated with the Calcutta High Court green bench see red. “These are stupid remarks made by a person who is out to malign Calcutta High Court,” said former green bench judge Bhagawati Prasad Banerjee.

Noting that the study was undertaken during the last half of the 1990s, Banerjee said that the period was “the best in the green bench’s history”. “The bench passed a maximum number of orders against the government during this time,” Justice Banerjee pointed out.

Gitanath Ganguly, lawyer and special officer with the green bench, labelled the book a collection of “unfounded, vague allegations”. “Judges are never meant to be experts of a subject, but they are guided by experts,” he added. Ganguly referred to the role played by the green bench to gag loudspeakers. “The court did not spare influential Puja organisers and even hauled up politicians,” he asserted.

Hans Dembowski has studied the wetlands case, as well as cases concerning Howrah, in his book. He says alleviation of environmental problems has been slow and not up to the mark because of reasons created by the inefficient judiciary, NGO network and the government. The NGOs, Dembowski states, were very wary about “someone else getting too much credit”. This has stopped the groups from approaching the green bench together to pursue common goals.

“I do not agree with this conclusion,” said Ashis K. Ghosh, from the Centre for Environment and Development, at the book launch. The former director of the Zoological Survey of India pointed out that four NGOs had joined People United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLIC) when it had raised the East Calcutta Wetlands issue in the high court. “It was much the same in the case of the Indian Museum pond and Narendrapur bird sanctuary,” Ghosh said.

Subhas Dutta of the Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Samity, however, admitted to “certain gaps” in the NGO network in the city. Dutta, who is featured in the book, said: “I fully agree with Hans’ observations on the judiciary.”

Bonani Kakkar of PUBLIC, who had met Dembowski while he was in the city carrying out his research, said that she had not read the book and would not comment on it yet.


Calcutta, Feb.7: 
Pandemonium reigned at Howrah station when newspaper hawkers clashed with Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel early on Wednesday. Three persons were injured and traffic around the station was thrown out of gear for at least three hours as the hawkers took to the streets protesting the “high-handedness” of the rail police. Howrah and some adjoining districts went without their morning papers as the distributors struck work.

The reaction from Writers’ Buildings was scathing. “One woman RPF officer is now running the railway administration in the country. She is doing all these things from Delhi,’’ alleged chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, taking a swipe at Mamata Banerjee.

Bhattacharjee said he had received “written complaints” from hawkers, and asked home secretary Sourin Ray to “take up the matter with the railway authorities immediately”. Ray said steps are being taken by the state government railway police at Howrah station to ensure that there is no repeat of Wednesday’s “ugly incident”.

According to a spokesperson of the Trinamul Congress-affiliated hawkers’ union, the RPF jawans lathicharged them “without provocation”. “They suddenly turned up and ordered us to vacate the place. When we told them we were just sorting out the papers for distribution, they started hurling abuses at us for illegally occupying the place,” the spokesperson added.

A war of words followed, which soon led to a scuffle. This prompted the jawans to launch a lathicharge. The hawkers hit back with brickbats. Beaten back by the force, the hawkers regrouped and blocked all roads leading to the station, demanding that “the guilty jawans” be punished immediately.

With traffic coming to a halt, several passengers missed their trains. “I was in a rush to catch Shatabdi Express. After being stuck in a jam on the bridge, I started running, but couldn’t make it on time,” said Vinay Kheriwal, a businessman from Rourkela.

The hawkers’ unions have decided that no newspapers will be distributed from Howrah station “till the matter is resolved”.

The RPF, however, stuck to its ground. “We had been asking the hawkers for quite some time not to unload newspapers along the passageway for passengers. But repeated requests have fallen on deaf ears,” complained S.C. Shahu, security commissioner of the RPF outpost in Howrah. “We had no option but to resort to a lathicharge in the morning after some of the hawkers attacked the jawans... But I met union leaders later in the day to arrive at an amicable settlement,” he added.

Hit and run: Kuntal Kundu of ABP Ltd was seriously injured when he was hit by a private bus at the crossing of Mangoe Lane and Old Court House Street on Wednesday evening. He was admitted to SSKM Hospital.The driver fled with the vehicle after the accident, police said.


Calcutta, Feb.7: 
When the going gets tough, the cops get going.

This is what happened on Wednesday afternoon, when a gang of dacoits raided an apartment on New CIT Road and then fled under the noses of a group of policemen. The cops, too, fled, not after the criminals, but in the opposite direction, after a bomb was thrown at them to scare them away.

At around 3.30 pm, six dacoits forced their way into the fourth-floor apartment of the Palampurwalas, a family of rubber goods traders, and brandishing their revolvers at the four women present, demanded all their valuables.

While one of the women called up her husband at work to inform him of the raid, her three sisters-in-law stalled for time. Cottoning on to this, one of the dacoits hit Shireen Palampurwala on the head with a dagger, scaring the other three into quietly opening the cupboard and handing over to the dacoits gold jewellery, weighing about a kg, and Rs 35,000 in cash.

By this time, about 45 minutes since the dacoits had struck, Ali Asghar and Qutubuddin Palampurwala had rushed home, to find the front door ajar. As soon as Qutubuddin entered the apartment, the dacoits pulled him to one corner and shut the door. Asghar decided to bolt the door from outside to trap the dacoits.

Then, he rushed down and drew the main collapsible gate, all the while calling out to his neighbours for help. In a few minutes, a small crowd had gathered, which included three constables of Bow Bazar police station, on a routine patrol.

However, having collected their loot, the dacoits decided it was time to move on. They bludgeoned the door down with heavy furniture and then came down and smashed open the lock of the collapsible gate with a revolver butt.

Paying no heed to the crowd of people assembled, whom they waved aside with their weapons, they came upon the three policemen, who stood immobilised.

As if to shoo them away, the dacoits threw a county-made bomb at the cops and walked off towards Central Avenue. But even as the bomb burst, the three constables took to their heels, running as fast as possible and as far away from the dacoits as they could.

“Is this any behaviour from a group of policemen?” an angry Ali Asghar asked later. “Despite what happened, we stood our ground but the policemen fled.”

DC, DD (I), Banibrata Basu, said in defence: “The policemen were unarmed and carrying only lathis. What could they do in the face of a bomb attack?”


Calcutta, Feb.7: 
The city will observe two minutes’ silence at 3 pm on Monday to mourn the death of thousands in Gujarat. All vehicles on the road will be stopped and even programmes on television will not be aired for the period.

State transport minister Subhas Chakraborty said on Wednesday: “We will try to maintain silence all over the city. There will be no activity of any kind.”

A meeting has been called at Kshudiram Anushilan Kendra on Friday where government department officials, Doordarshan staff and cable operators will be asked to comply with the request.

Chakraborty has invited all-party leaders, chambers of commerce and student and youth organisations to participate in a silent walk from Victoria Memorial to Akashvani Bhavan on Monday.


Calcutta, Feb.7: 
Morning walkers won’t get their daily dose of fresh air free on the Victoria Memorial grounds from this summer.

Those who come for their constitutionals there between 5 am and 8 am will be charged Rs 15 per head, although after that period, entry will be free once again.

This decision, taken by the Memorial’s trustee board, has already been conveyed to Hastings police station, which is in charge of security on the grounds.

Earlier, the police station had written to Memorial curator Chittaranjan Panda, requesting him to charge an entry fee in the morning to ward off people who “indulge in indecent behaviour.” Many of them were arrested during recent police drives.

Two gates of Victoria Memorial open at 4.30 am in the summer. The museum opens at 10.30 am and closes at 5.40 pm, and the entrances to the grounds are shut at 6 pm.

The trustees rejected an earlier proposal of Memorial authorities to charge an entry fee all through the day as long as it is open to the public.

Memorial authorities said 3,000 people take a stroll in the gardens in summer, while in winter, the few who turn up do so late.

According to Memorial sources, morning walkers can collect a monthly coupon for Rs 300 or an annual coupon for Rs 3,000. The coupons will be transferable.

It is yet to be decided who is going to collect the fee and issue tickets at the three gates.

Memorial authorities said it has 162 regular and 82 casual employees. But they are reluctant to ask these employees to do the job. Chittaranjan Panda and the trustees will meet soon to make a decision.

Regulars are aghast at the decision. “It is expensive and not worth it. I will walk and jog on the path surrounding the gardens instead,’’ said one man, who walks seven times around the edifice every morning.


Calcutta, Feb.7: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s proposal to tide over the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s financial crisis by harnessing Rs 150 crore tax dues from 1.2 lakh defaulters by offering them a waiver of interest and penalty will be implemented from April.

Mukherjee submitted a proposal for the government’s approval on Monday. The municipal affairs department had asked him for his proposal after several rounds of talks between municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharya and finance minister Asim Dasgupta.

The proposed scheme contains the following suggestions:

Waiver scheme should be of one-time benefit and the opportunity extended to tax-payers to liquidate the dues. Under no circumstances will the period of the scheme be extended

Waiver may be granted to all categories of premises, whether residential, commercial or residential-cum-commercial

Waiver will be granted only on the full payment of the dues within the stipulated period

Defaulters who belong to the annual valuation category of below-Rs 18,000 will have the privilege of two instalments

Dues for bills up to March 31, 2001, will qualify for the waiver of interest and penalty

Waiver will be valid for six months, with effect from the date of commencement of the scheme

Defaulters will have to apply within two months from the date of the official announcement

Payments made before the commencement of the scheme in suspense account or against regular bills and outstanding demands with interest and penalty will not be included in the scheme

However, payments made on or after the commencement of the scheme, but within the stipulated period, will qualify

Tax-payers, whose cases are pending in courts or tribunals, will benefit from the waiver

The Corporation will take action against those who will fail to clear their dues

Municipal finance and accounts chief Shankar Dutta said house tax totalling more than Rs 350 crores is yet to be realised. If 50 per cent of the defaulters avail of the scheme, the civic body will be richer by over Rs 150 crore. At least 40 per cent of more than three lakh tax-payers default on payment every three months, Mukherjee pointed out.

As the rate of realisation was pegged at a meagre 10 per cent of the total amount, the quantum of total dues had been piling up fast. In 1986, mayor Kamal Bose had tried a similar move. Thousands of house-owners who responded to Bose’s call have been suffering since then, as the amount was deposited in the suspense account without adjusting the dues.


Calcutta, Feb.7: 
The police are set to ban smoking in Lalbazar. Highly-placed sources said police commissioner D.C. Vajpai has decided to start with a ban on smoking within the senior officers’ chambers and in the corridors of the three buildings in the police headquarters.

Senior officials said the ban will come into effect from the day Parliament ratifies the Bill to ban smoking in public places. Lalbazar has taken the lead in the state after the Union Cabinet unanimously adopted the health ministry proposal.

Sources said Vajpai summoned senior police officers on Wednesday morning to discuss the ban. According to an officer who attended the meeting, the non-smoking police chief urged his colleagues to “cut down on the dangerous habit’’.

“It will be fitting to initiate the ban in offices of our senior personnel. We can extend the ban to the corridors too,’’ Vajpai told his men. The police chief also directed divisional deputy commissioners to impose the ban at local police stations. There are 42 police stations and five divisional headquarters headed by deputy commissioners.

According to a hurried survey conducted by officers of the headquarter section, there are more than 1,000 chain smokers in the Lalbazar police headquarters. The list includes several deputy commissioners and joint commissioners. The survey also revealed that more than 70 per cent of the 10,000 city policemen are smokers.

Senior officers and policemen at local thanas welcomed the police commissioner’s initiative to ban smoking. “This will improve our health,’’ an additional commissioner said.

The anti-smoking brigade, too, welcomed Vajpai’s move. “It is a step in the right direction,’’ said crusader Ipsita Basu.

When contacted for his comments, Vajpai smiled. “Wait and watch,’’ he said.


Calcutta, Feb.7: 
More than 50 schools run by Christian missionaries in Calcutta and its adjoining areas are short-staffed, as the institutions are facing difficulty filling up the posts reserved for SC/ ST candidates.

Hirud Mullick, general secretary of the Bangiya Christiya Pariseba, an association of members of the Christian community, said on Wednesday that more than 200 teaching and non-teaching posts in these schools are lying vacant for the past few years, as suitable candidates could not been found.

The members on Wednesday threatened to go on a hunger-strike on February 20 if the government failed to withdraw within two weeks its order directing all Christian schools affiliated to the Madhyamik board to have reserved posts for SC and ST candidates.

The government order, issued nearly five years ago, is also applicable to all Christian colleges affiliated to state-aided universities, such as Calcutta University.

Authorities of various churches have been negotiating with the government for the past four years, demanding withdrawal of the directive.

At a meeting held between state education department officials and missionary school representatives on Tuesday, the latter’s appeal to the government for withdrawing the directive was turned down, Mullick said.

Church authorities have opposed the government’s move because it was becoming difficult for them to find SC and ST candidates with the requisite qualifications.

“The missionary schools, known for their academic standards, are now facing problems in imparting quality education as more and more teaching posts are falling vacant,” said an official of the Roman Catholic Church.

Citing an example, the official said that five posts had fallen vacant in a Church-controlled school recently. Candidates for three of the posts, meant for the general category, have been found.

But two posts reserved for the backward communities are lying vacant for want of suitable candidates.

However, the state higher education minister, in a recent order, has exempted the Christian colleges from following the directive.

“This is very confusing. How can the government have two rules for two similar departments?” Mullick asked.


Calcutta, Feb.7: 
Barely a couple of days after Governor Viren J. Shah requested chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to take steps to improve treatment facilities at government hospitals, the state health directorate has fallen foul with a bench of Calcutta High Court.

In a significant order, the court has asked the state director of health services (DHS) to remove immediately “all the old equipment and medicines” from Tangra Primary Health Centre.

The court order also gave the DHS the “liberty to destroy and dispose of” all medicines beyond expiry date, in accordance with the law, and ensure that they are not used for the treatment of patients. Justice Kalyan Jyoti Sengupta passed the directive on the basis of a report submitted by special officer C.R Panda, appointed by the bench.

Panda said in his report that he had to break open three cupboards at the health centre, as the keys were not furnished by the employees of the centre. The cupboards contained a large quantity of medicines, either in bottles with broken seals or well beyond expiry date.

Earlier, Manju Biswas, a doctor at the hospital, moved court alleging that a few doctors and employees of the health centre were involved in a racket of administering old medicines to the patients and also in selling these medicines outside.

Biswas said she had lodged a complaint with Tangra police station but the the officer-in-charge took no action.

The officer-in-charge was summoned and told to submit an affidavit clarifying his stand. The court expressed its dissatisfaction over the reason proferred by him for his inaction.


Calcutta, Feb.7: 
Art for the child’s sake. That is what the first Annual CHIP Theatre Festival, at the Academy of Fine Arts from February 6 to 9, is trying to promote. Drama for all the “disadvantaged children in pain, suffering amidst silence”, in Calcutta and beyond.

Children In Pain, or CHIP, was started four years ago “by a group of doctors and educationists concerned about the effect of the environment on children in the city”, according to trustee Dr Chandra Shekhar Mukherji.

“Pollution, accidents, marital discord... all contribute to the growing distress experienced by children,” says Mukherji, a consultant in pain management and neuropsychiatry.

Now, Nandikar, Rangakarmee, Nandipat and Sundaram have come together with CHIP to raise funds for children orphaned by the Gujarat earthquake, and spread awareness about the non-government organisation.

Tickets for Nandikar’s Shanu Roychowdhury, Rangakarmee’s Shobhayatra, Mrityu Na Hatya by Nandipat, and finally, Sundaram’s Alokanandar Putrakanya, are being sold at regular prices, but donations are welcome.

But the main aim is to “spread the word” about CHIP. “Rudraprasadda has promised to extend all the support he can for any future projects of CHIP,” smiles trustee Ina Puri. National personalities such as Manjit Bawa, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Anupam and Kiron Kher, have expressed their support for the organisation, and plan on coming to town with shows to support this cause.

CHIP has tried to reach out to the child who “cannot afford to even stay healthy”. Through projects in Tangra and Dhapa slums, CHIP has been working towards child education, vocational training, career counselling as well as some basic health care services.

Now, the NGO is about to embark upon a “dream project”: a children’s hospital. Construction of the first phase of the hospital is scheduled to start by September, on three bighas of land in Jadavpur donated to CHIP. The out-patient ward will include basic care and diagnostic services; rehabilitation for orthopaedic, rheumatological and other chronic disorders; a preventive medicine department, with a public information section; child development and psychological disorders and a clinical and research wing for chest problems. The construction of an in-patient ward will follow.


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