Swipe girls stalk trains, malls
Dry summer fear for plant repair
Wanted man held after encounter
Liquor licences by lottery
Keen to pay to clean up Lakes
Uniform drug regime to combat malaria
Posers for IT whizkids
Funds ready, hall stalled
Highrises safer in quakes
Dance of life & death

Calcutta, Feb. 19: 
Scene 1 � An attractive young woman approaches a middle-aged man on a local train. Slowly, but surely, she strikes up a conversation. Soon, she�s pouring her heart out. Her husband�s a brute, her son died in an accident a few months ago... She starts weeping inconsolably.

Suddenly, she lets out a shriek and starts accusing the man of �misbehaving� with her. Before the man realises what�s hit him, he�s surrounded by a gang of young men and forced off the train at the next station.

As suddenly as they had hemmed him in, the gang disappears into the crowd. But by then, it�s too late, the man discovers that all his belongings are gone

The arrest of Gita Roy, 35, and Usha Chakraborty, 30, on a train at Belur on Sunday night, threatens to blow the lid off girl gangs on the prowl in Howrah and Calcutta. Gita and Usha were arrested by the Government Railway Police on charges of pilfering and picking pockets.

Three young men �escorting� them, however, managed to escape. Gita and Usha were produced in Howrah court on Monday, where they were granted bail.

Scene 2 � An attractive young woman sidles up to a middle-aged man in New Market. Hesitant at first, she soon chats up the man, who�s certainly not complaining at such unexpected attention. Minutes later, she fades into the crowd. When the man stops at a shop and reaches for his wallet, he finds it missing.

This, says the detective department of the city police, is happening at Curzon Park, the Maidan, Esplanade and Park Street.

�We have arrested a number of women pickpockets from New Market, Park Street and Esplanade,� said Banibrata Basu, city detective chief. �They generally operate in crowded areas, like shopping malls or in front of cinema halls,� he added.

Some follow the stealthy tactics of the New Market �markswoman�, others opt for the Gita-Usha modus operandi. They stalk their prey, engage him in conversation, and then create a �scene�, accusing him of �teasing� them.

In the ensuing chaos, the gang manages to pick the hapless man�s pocket, or, in some cases, slip away with his suitcase.

According to Basu, the �watch section� of the detective department has been put on the alert for such gangs in the city.

�Most of the girls are smart enough to attract the attention of the men they target. They pick their spot and their moment carefully, leaving the victim with very little chance of getting away,� said a sleuth.

Superintendent of railway police (Howrah), D.P. Tarenia, said passengers who do not travel frequently and are spotted alone, prove to be �soft targets� for these criminals. �There are several other gangs engaged in similar crime, but these women are real smooth operators. They steer clear of daily passengers and are quick to spot their victims,� added Tarenia.

According to police sources, Gita and Usha had formed their own gang recently. �These two have been arrested at least thrice earlier,� said Subrata Bhaumik, officer-in-charge, Belur GRP station. �They have 12 such cases pending against them at various police stations in the area.�

Members of the girl gang, hailing from Howrah, Hooghly and the South 24-Parganas, are always well dressed. �They often sneak into crowded trains to pick pockets, besides using the �other� tactics on emptier trains. They bank on the fact that people generally do not suspect them,� said a sleuth.


Calcutta, Feb.19: 
The city faces a major crisis of filtered water for about two months from Tuesday as the 20-million-gallon-a-day-capacity water treatment plant, built with French technology at Palta, will be shut down for overhauling. As a result, the total production of the Tala-Palta network will come down from 180 m to 160 m gallons daily.

As per capita consumption of filtered water in the city is 40 gallons a day, shutting down the plant will affect more than 50,000 Calcuttans. Member, mayor-in-council (water supply) Sovan Chatterjee said on Monday: �The plant can�t be pressed into service again before Bengali New Year�s Day (April 14).� However, the water supply department will try to maintain adequate supply of filtered water to tax-payers, he added.

Former member, mayor-in-council (water supply) Archana Bhattacharya blamed the Trinamul-BJP board for causing the problem in the sophisticated treatment plant by �over-working it� during the Pujas.

A senior engineer in the water-supply department said the plant uses the pulsating process to treat water. Due to a snag in the plant, the soil, instead of floating up, started settling on the plant bed and the filter plates collapsed under the weight of the accumulated soil. There are three filter beds in the plant and five-ft-thick deposits of silt in all of them. Chatterjee said replacement filter plates were being brought from Delhi.

He said mayor Subrata Mukherjee had already apprised urban development and municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharya of the situation, saying it would not be possible for the CMC to supply filtered surface water to Salt Lake.

The plant came up at a cost of Rs 15 crore and the government shouldered the expenses on condition that 10 million gallons was to be supplied daily to Salt Lake.


Calcutta, Feb.19: 
Police shot Mohammad Abbas, 28, wanted for three murder cases, at Metiabruz on Monday afternoon after he lobbed bombs at them, injuring two constables. Three policemen who were on Abbas� trail spotted him near Makalihat, after which the encounter took place.

They shouted at him to halt in his tracks and surrender. Caught unawares, Abbas turned around and gestured that he was giving himself up to the law.

South 24-Parganas superintendent of police, Deb Kumar Ganguly, said the policemen started moving towards him with handcuffs on the ready when Abbas suddenly scooped out bombs from a bag and hurled them at the officials.

The policemen scurried for cover as Abbas kept on hurling bombs at them. They stepped back and opened fire but by then, the criminal and his associate had made a dash towards the fields.

Despite their wounds, two policemen chased him through the fields. They ran through the open fields and kutcha roads. Abbas, familiar with the terrain, zig-zagged through the village huts and hid behind a tree. The police team lost track of him and had almost given up the chase when an old man from one of the huts indicated where Abbas was hiding.

Policemen took up position and started firing. Abbas retaliated with bombs but after half an hour, everything was silent. Holding aloft their revolvers, the team closed in on the criminal. They found Abbas, lying on the ground, bleeding profusely. He was unconscious. His associate, however, had managed to escape.

Ganguly said Abbas was admitted to hospital where his condition is serious. He is being treated for two gunshot wounds.

A manhunt has been launched for Abbas� aides, involved in three recent dacoities in the area. Metiabruz police said they hope to recover large quantities of arms and ammunition from the hideout.


Calcutta, Feb.19: 
The government on Monday cleared the decks for an additional 23 liquor shops in Calcutta and 12 for Howrah. A lottery was held to pick new licensees from among 4,800 applicants.

Under the watchful eyes of the judges � two former sportsmen, P.K. Banerjee and Nikhil Nandy, and the head of the physics department of a city college, S.K. Dutta � lots were drawn at Girish Mancha to decide on additional liquor licensees for the twin cities.

�Nowhere in the country is such a transparent system at work to determine retail liquor and country spirit outlets,� said Arun Mishra, state excise commissioner. �As far as I know, the outlets in other states are auctioned.�

Calcutta and Howrah are going to get the new liquor shops after nearly 12 years. The government realised that no matter how hard it tries to control the number of outlets, the consumption of liquor will continue to rise across Bengal owing to several factors.

A measure of the growth in consumption can be gauged from the fact that the government�s excise earnings, currently estimated at about Rs 160 crore, are rising at the rate of 15 per cent a year. Liquor companies are reporting steady rise in sales.

Though the lottery was held smoothly, the government will not publicise the names of the new licensees till the disposal of four cases now before Calcutta High Court and the state tax tribunal, Mishra said.

The government will release nearly 250 new licences for India-made foreign liquor shops and country spirit vendors across Bengal.

Mishra said the lotteries for determining new licensees in the districts would be held in phases in district headquarters in the coming days. For example, a lottery will be held on February 22 in Midnapore to decide on new licensees for Midnapore east, Midnapore west and Purulia. Similarly, a lottery on February 26 or 27 will decide on licensees for Darjeeling.

By a quick estimate, the government�s earnings from selling of application forms stand at Rs 1.25 crore.


Calcutta, Feb.19: 
The Dhakuria Lakes. Oasis of the south. A patch of green, a splash of water, provided you look beyond the litter and shut out the squalor. But now, according to a survey carried out by a team from Jadavpur University, Calcuttans are keen to clean up the Lakes, and pay for it.

The study, conducted by the department of economics, Jadavpur University, has found that almost all those who frequent the Lakes are willing to pay an entry fee � between Re 1 and Rs 2 per visit � to help maintain and beautify the area. A door-to-door survey was conducted under researcher Santanu Roy Chowdhury, for three months. The sample size of around a thousand was divided into six user groups � residents along Southern Avenue, water-sports users, land-sports users, visitors to the Lions Safari Park, religious users and morning walkers-cum-casual visitors.

Trained enumerators quizzed all categories of users of diverse income groups and offered them two schemes: One � a tax/ticket/user charge on a daily-use basis, depending on whether the person is a local resident, a general visitor or a member of the various clubs in the area. The second � an annual payment scheme.

�Residents of Southern Avenue and the religious users expressed the least willingness to pay, but others were much more forthcoming,� said �principal investigator� Dr Gautam Gupta, a reader in the department and an expert in environmental economics.

The study aims to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the environmental upgradation of the area. According to figures available with the researchers, the CIT gets Rs 60,000 as annual revenue from the clubs, while around Rs 18 lakh per annum is needed to maintain the present state of disrepair in the 192-acre expanse.

�It is expensive to maintain a closed waterbody like Rabindra Sarobar, especially when there are 10,000-15,000 people in the neighbouring slums who use the water for bathing and washing,� observed Dr Gupta. �A self-sustaining scheme is essential. And the best thing about this study is that it yields a figure that is not imposed from above, but has emerged from the users themselves.� The report will be submitted to the CIT on completion of the project.


Calcutta, Feb.19: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation is gearing up to counter the malaria menace well ahead of the monsoon this year. Two new programmes have been chalked out to help both treatment and prevention of the mosquito-borne disease.

One is to formulate and implement a uniform drug regime for malaria treatment. �Incorrect or inadequate prescription of anti-malaria drugs leads to severe complications,� said Dr Nirmal Maji, assistant secretary of the Indian Medical Association�s Calcutta branch. An uniform drug regime will ensure the right medicine in the right doses for malaria patients, he said.

Calcutta has been categorised as a �high-risk� area in the recommended drug schedule and doctors have been advised to administer chloroquin to all cases of fever, irrespective of sex and age, including pregnant and lactating women, deputy chief municipal health officer R.N. Sanyal said.

The following schedule is to be followed before confirmation of infection in an adult:

Day I: Four chloroquin tablets (150 mg each) and six primaquin tablets (7.5 mg each)

Day II: Four chloroquin tablets

Day III: Two chloroquin tablets

If blood samples confirm infection with Plasmodium falciparum, no further treatment with chloroquin or primaquin is required. If infection is caused by Plasmodium vivax, then no further chloroquin is to be given. But to prevent a relapse, two 7.5 mg primaquin tablets should be prescribed for five days. However, pregnant and lactating women will not come under this particular regimen.

A good number of patients remain carriers of the parasite in its gametocyte form (the early stage) even after recovery because of improper treatment, Maji said. Such carriers act as the main suppliers of the parasites to mosquitoes, which spread the disease through their bite.

The second programme is to examine blood samples of those treated for malaria in the past six months to check whether they carry gametocytes, said Javed Khan, member, mayor-in-council, health. �Such carriers will be given medication to kill these gametocytes, so when mosquitoes multiply after the rains, the disease will not spread,� he said. Civic health workers will visit patients treated in CMC clinics between June 2000 and January 2001 from the month-end. A notification in this regard will be issued soon.


Calcutta, Feb.19: 
Teams from 24 of the city�s largest IT companies battled it out at the CATS MouseCtrl Quiz on Saturday night.

With quizmaster Siddhartha Basu in control, the questions were largely non-technical and corporate, to test the participants on areas outside their specialisation. CATS, or Computer Associates TCG Software, is a joint venture between Computer Associates and The Chatterjee Group.

Eight three-member teams survived the preliminary rounds.

Questions such as �Name the first cyber cafe in India�, audio and visual rounds, and questions for the audience, packed into the glittering ballroom of the Oberoi Grand, kept everyone on their toes.

Though Compaq Computers walked away with first prize of tickets to Paris and a personal computer, a tie-breaker was called for between CTS and Usha Martin Telekom to decide the second prize winner.

Finally, Usha Martin came out on top, with a ticket to Singapore, as well as a free stay. CTS won a music system as well as a cell phone.


Calcutta, Feb.19: 
Higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty laid its foundation stone with much fanfare six years ago. But the �proposed� auditorium for the Sarojini Naidu Women�s College in Dum Dum, mired in petty politicking, remains just that � a �proposed� auditorium.

The college authorities had earmarked Rs 10 lakh for the project in 1995. Officials alleged that the CPM-controlled governing body of the college has been dragging its feet ever since Union minister Tapan Sikdar sanctioned Rs 1 lakh from his local �MP�s quota�.

Former CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta had also sanctioned Rs 1 lakh to the college authorities for the project. The teaching and non-teaching staff members, alongwith the students, had managed to collect another Rs 6 lakh.

The entire amount is now lying unused with the college authorities. Principal Bonty Roy refused to comment. �This is an internal matter of the college,� was all that he would say.

Former principal Juthika Sengupta said the Dum Dum municipality had floated a tender for the construction of the auditorium on January 28, 2000. �But I don�t know what is going on now, as I retired last year,� she added.

Sources said a section of college teachers, owing allegiance to the CPM, visited the district magistrate�s office in Barasat and pleaded with the authorities not to begin construction with the �inadequate funds� collected from the MPs.

�But they never mentioned that another Rs 6 lakh had been collected by the staff and students,� complained one of the teachers.

�We have suggested that the initial work can start with funds collected from the MPs alone, but the college authorities are delaying the project for reasons best known to them,� said an official at the district magistrate�s office.

Gurudas Dasgupta confirmed he had given Rs 1 lakh following a request from the college authorities. �But I really don�t know why the project is yet to take off.�


Calcutta, Feb.19: 
Contrary to popular belief, tall buildings are �more often than not� safer than smaller structures in the event of an earthquake, claimed experts on Monday. At an interactive session organised by the developers of Hiland Park, which will be the tallest building in Calcutta, structural engineers and builders fielded questions arising in the wake of the Gujarat quake.

�The taller buildings are usually better-designed, taking into consideration both the static and the dynamic load factors. For instance, given the soil quality in Calcutta, which comes under Zone 3 on the seismological map, the maximum permissible static load is 30 tonnes per sq m. While it is virtually impossible to make a totally quake-proof structure, city buildings need to provide for a seismic load of between five and six on the Richter scale,� said M.K. Roy of M.N. Consultants Pvt Ltd, one of the seniormost structural engineers in the city.

Besides the fact that tall buildings are always made on deep-file foundations, they are more ductile, and hence, can withstand shock better.

�Tall buildings are like palm trees, which sway a lot during gusty winds, but seldom fall to the ground, unlike smaller structures which have little lateral ductility,� observed architect Dulal Mukherjee, who has designed Hiland Park.

�Most of the modern-day tall structures factor in the IS 13920 norm � a special ductile detailing of reinforced concrete structures subject to seismic forces,� explained A.B. Choudhury, another senior structural engineer.

Sumit Dabriwala of Calcutta Metropolitan Group Ltd, which is developing Hiland Park, felt the Republic Day killer hasn�t impacted the national real-estate market in a big way.

�The demand paradigm won�t change overnight. But the catastrophe can trigger a shift from quacks to reputed developers as the end-users wake up to the safety parameters which ridiculously low-cost housing can never factor in,� he said.


Calcutta, Feb.19: 
Ganesh Pyne is not the most prolific of artists. His one-artist exhibitions are the rarest of rarities and they turn out to be events. Little wonder, his just-concluded show of recent drawings at Vadhera Art Gallery in the capital city was a crowd-puller. Unlike the drawings of many artists, these are not the bare bones of a work which are fleshed out later in a painting. Pyne�s drawings are meticulously finished and are as carefully executed as his temperas.

These drawings are done with pen and ink on paper, with charcoal on a tinted ground, with charcoal and crayon on paper, with ink and crayon on paper and with crayon on cloth.

Here, we are in familiar Pyne country once again � areas of his mind which are partly lit, partly concealed in shadows, and partly immersed in darkness.

This haunted, twilit territory is suspended between life and death. Here, skeletal forms are animated with sparks of life, and the spectre of doom hangs over living beings. It is created by the magic of lines, countless millions of them, crisscrossing each other to form a dense meshing. The delicacy and deftness of execution reminds one of miniatures.

Pyne had perfected his draughtsmanship skills after graduating from the Government College of Art and Craft, Calcutta, when jobless as he was, he could not afford to buy colour. With the simple tools of paper, charcoal and pen, he succeeded in conjuring up fantasy worlds where death was not the termination of life. They coexisted in his mental space.

Later, he used these jottings as the blueprint for his temperas, which, thanks to the limitations of the medium, could not be altered in any significant manner. As forms emerged from the hatchings, he developed them into full-blown works. Later, these would be easily transferred to the canvas through the medium of tempera.

Pyne dips into his unconscious, that vast repository of myths and individual and collective memories, to develop his images. The bird�s bones have dried up. Its eyes are sockets. But yet it stretches its plumed wings as if in an attempt to fly. The flame of life, the skeletal remains, the flower in bloom and the shade are all reminders of evanescence and transience. Death is revealed in the apparition of the menacing warrior whose face has been erased. These are all recurrent images in their various incarnations in Pyne�s works. Even a familiar scene like a clothesline in a balcony takes on a dreamlike quality.

Perhaps for the first time, Pyne has invoked a phantom presence. Is it a scene from a seance? Although it is far from frightening, Pyne seems to be reverting to his childhood days which would have lost their spirit without the goose bumps raised by ghost stories.

Pyne�s training as a cartoonist under his mentor Mandar Mallik left its mark on his worldview. His skill in comic representation, honed over the years, became even sharper. The trapped insect has the head of a grasshopper and the body of a spider. The bird with its wicked look is worthy of Sukumar Ray or Tenniel.

Pyne�s lines have a steely strength about them. Witness the streak of light the Chhau dancer holds in his hands. This diagonal line invests the composition with dynamism. The dancing figure, whose mask reveals more than it conceals, seems to leap into life.


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