What’s this heritage-feritage?
Senate split wide open on rename game
Thin plastic bags banned
Wanted: A suitable job for star prisoner
1000 bidis a day to keep twin on track
Butterflies and soldiers
CU doctorate for Chomsky
Subhas sees party as priest
CESC gets two-day blackout breather
Confident Mamata on district trail

Calcutta, Sept. 3: 
A waste of time and money. That’s what mayor Subrata Mukherjee feels preservation of heritage buildings in Calcutta amounts to.

“All this heritage-feritage looks great in a European city, but not in Calcutta, where ground realities do not allow room for such fancy stuff,” Mukherjee told Metro on Monday. “What is the point of preserving the architectural heritage of a city beset with basic problems? Economic progress and infrastructural development should top our priority list, not clinging on to the past.”

Mukherjee’s heritage building-bashing has evoked reactions ranging from amazement to anger and the mayor’s detractors have been quick to hint at a “realtor-civic body” nexus.

“I don’t understand what our mayor wants to say. Is he speaking as Calcutta’s mayor or a promoter’s middleman?” demanded Nirmal Mukherjee, CPM councillor and leader of the Opposition in the Corporation. “I think his outburst has been prompted by the fact that more than 1,300 old buildings in prime locations have heritage status and are, thus, out of bounds for promoters.”

Banani Kakkar, of PUBLIC, said: “I am truly astonished, especially since the Corporation has put in tremendous effort over the last few years to identify and preserve heritage structures… You can’t dismiss architectural heritage because it is integral to the identity of the city. If the mayor is serious about what he has said, we will have to roll up our sleeves and fight it out.”

The former CPM-led board at the Corporation had even engaged John Raw, a British expert on heritage structures, as consultant to its ‘save-heritage-buildings project’ in May 1999. Raw had visited various old buildings and drafted a proposal for their restoration and preservation.

On Monday, the mayor rubbished the “pointless exercise of preserving the past... We are spending lakhs on the preservation of the Nat Mandir of Sovabazar Rajbari. But tell me, how many of you have ever visited the place? I am sure that even if I pay you Rs 100, you will not agree to go there,” said Mukherjee.

This comes at a time when a controversy is raging over the demolition of the 180-year-old arched gateway to the Bishop’s residence on 5, Russell Street. Also, Rabindrasangeet exponent and sheriff Suchitra Mitra has recently complained of “threat calls” for her crusade against “unscrupulous realtors” over the building on 10, Sudder Street, where Tagore had penned the poem Nirjharer Swapnobhanga.

Mukherjee has been vocal in his opposition to the move of preserving the Sudder Street structure. When Mitra raised the issue with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee recently, the mayor had been quick to retort that “she had no business meddling in such matters”.

Iqbal Ahmed, Trinamul Congress councillor and chairman of Borough VI, who has been linked with the Sudder Street estate, dismissed Mitra’s crusade. “I don’t know who that elderly woman is. I am told she is an important cultural figure. But I have never heard of her. I only know Nayna (Bandopadhyay). To me, she is the queen of culture,” Ahmed said on Monday.


Calcutta, Sept. 3: 
To rename or not to rename. That is the question raging through the 146-year-old corridors of Calcutta University.

Calcutta or Kolkata University? At its meeting on Monday, the Senate was split wide open over the name game. Those for the motion to follow the government line insisted it was the “logical thing to do”; those against, claimed it “would lead to unnecessary confusion”.

With the heated debate remaining inconclusive, CU vice-chancellor Ashis Kumar Banerjee announced that a committee will be set up to weigh the options and take a decision on the matter.

According to Banerjee, an amendment to the Calcutta University Act would have to be passed in the Assembly for the institution to be renamed. “The proposal for an amendment will be forwarded to the state government only if the committee recommends the same to the Senate,” he added.

The renaming proposal was placed at the Senate meeting by Swapan Pramanik of the CPM. “Calcutta University is integral to the culture and tradition of the city… Since the name of the city has already been changed to Kolkata, it is only logical that the university should also be renamed.”

Pramanik promptly suggested two names – “Kolkata University or Kolkata Visva Vidyalay”. His proposal was supported by Ashis Ray of the CPM, Satyabrata Dasgupta of the RSP and Rabi Ray of the Forward Bloc. Surabhi Banerjee, pro vice-chancellor (academic) and Tarun Chakraborty, SFI leader representing the students, also backed the pro-changers.

Mihir Guha of the CPI was the first to oppose the ‘change-for-the-sake-of-change’ move. “Before Calcutta, two other cities in the country have been renamed. But their universities have continued with their earlier names of Bombay and Madras,” argued Guha. “So, we must not take a hasty decision on such a sensitive matter.”

Manoj Bhattacharya, another Senate member, urged the authorities to “retain the university’s present name”. He stressed the fact that a whole lot of confusion could then be avoided, especially in matters of communication with various universities and organisations around the world.

“At present, the university is using two names. In Bengali, it is referred to as Kolikata Visva Vidyalay in all official correspondences within the state. In English, the name University of Calcutta is used everywhere. Why can’t we continue with this system of using two names?” he asked. “The logical thing to do is changing Kolikata Visva Vidyalay to Kolkata Visva Vidyalay, while allowing the University of Calcutta to remain.”

P.N. Basu backed Bhattacharya and argued that several universities in the world have two names, one to serve a local and the other a global purpose. “For instance,” said Basu, “the University of Rome is also known as University of Roma and the University of Venice is also known as University of Venicia.”

Darkness at dusk: The city and its suburbs suffered prolonged power cuts on Monday evening as the CESC’s shortfall shot up to a staggering 215 mw at 7 pm. Vast areas of north, central and south Calcutta sweated through two to three hours of power cuts. CESC sources said the WBSEB supplied 150 mw, 200 mw less than demand.


Calcutta, Sept. 3: 
The state environment department on Monday banned plastic bags, thinner than 20µ (microns), in Calcutta and Salt Lake from September 15. The ban will be effected throughout the state from December 1, 2001.

Plastic bags have also been banned in the Darjeeling Hills, the Sunderbans and the coastlines of Digha and Shankarpur, said environment minister Manab Mukherjee. “We have asked the district authorities to implement the order, which has been ratified by the Centre,” Mukherjee said. The Calcutta and Bidhannagar municipal corporations have been asked to take necessary steps to ensure that the order is followed.

“Plastic bags used in markets are about 6 µ in thickness. These damage the underground sewerage system,” the minister said. The environment department has received complaints from the civic bodies about the damage thin plastic bags were causing to the environment.


Calcutta, Sept. 3: 
Rashid Khan has been served a “life sentence with rigorous imprisonment”, but it’s his jailors who are sweating it out at the moment.

Two days after the former satta don and his five associates were sentenced for their involvement in the Bowbazar blast of 1997, officials of the prison directorate have failed to decide what ‘rigorous work’ to assign to such a “high-profile, high-security” lifer.

According to the jail code, life convicts serving sentences up to 20 years and beyond have to be engaged in odd jobs, for which they are allotted daily wages ranging between Rs 13 and Rs 18, which is deposited in a bank account.

Hours after Rashid and his two associates were lodged in Alipore Central Jail, harried officials held an emergency meeting to find a suitable assignment for the “special prisoner,” sources said.

Jail superintendent Ramapada Bhattacharya said: “For the past eight years, it wasn’t a problem, as Rashid was a TADA undertrial who was kept confined in a secluded cell. But now, he has to be engaged in some rigorous work in the jail, in keeping with the court order, even if he moves the Supreme Court.”

Describing Rashid as an “extra-ordinary prisoner”, Bhattacharya made it clear that Rashid would not be allowed to socialise or work with other convicts, yet. A majority of those undergoing life sentence either work in the press, engaged in printing government forms, or help jail officials manage day-to-day affairs inside the prison.

“Rashid will not be allotted such odd jobs, as he has to be kept in a separate cell for security reasons,” Bhattacharya said.

Deputy inspector-general of prisons Dipak Chowdhury has suggested that Rashid might not be allotted work for “the next three months” on grounds of safety.

“This should not go against the court’s verdict, as a period of three months can be exempted. But from the fourth month, that is from January 2002, we will have to find some suitable work for Rashid inside the jail,”Chowdhury added.

Alipore Central Jail officials, meanwhile, confirmed that a circular has been issued, directing warders “not to hobnob” with Rashid or his family members, who visit him frequently. A few “trusted” warders have been posted in front of Rashid’s cell, where security has been beefed up.

“Rashid, an introvert, seems to take a keen interest in gardening. He is spending some time with convict Manoj Singh, who is often engaged in gardening just outside his cell,” a warder said.


Calcutta, Sept. 3: 
Sixteen years ago, they caught their first glimpse of the world together. When they were in Class IV, they blazed the tracks together. Today, identical twins Ranjeeta and Rita can only laugh — and cry – together over a cruel twist of fate.

Ranjeeta Rai is now a national record-holding sprinter; sister Rita supports her by rolling up to 1,000 bidis a day. Students of a public school near their Chinsurah home, they were spotted by a coach on the running tracks. There was no holding Rita back when it came to 200 m and 400 m races, while Rita’s shotgun speed over 100 m was unparalleled. But then, faced with poverty and personal tragedy, Ranjeeta and Rita had to make the hardest choice of their lives.

While they were in Class V, their father died of leukaemia. They both had to be pulled out of school and off the tracks. But then, coaches Swapan Haldar and Sudip Sengupta, confident of the girls’ talent but financially insecure themselves, presented them with an offer: They could bear one of the girl’s expenses. One of the sisters would have to stay at home to support the family.

Trim, roll, snip, tie. Rita’s hands never miss a beat. “I knew one of us would have to make a sacrifice… I decided that it had to be me,” she says. So, she has never gone back to school, or to the field. The 1,000 bidis she rolls a day earn Rs 36. The sisters live in a small hut in Rabindranagore Paschimpara, in Chinsurah, with their mother, who rolls another 500 bidis and does the housework. Their combined income amounts to Rs 50 a day.

Ranjeeta studies in Class X at a local public high school. She has taken part in various state level and national meets, including the zonal athletics meet in Haryana in 2000, where she broke the national Under-16 100 m record, clocking 12.28 seconds. “But this year, with my exams coming up, I am planning on going for a select few,” smiles the chirpy girl, pulling on her running shoes.

Her coaches – who buy her food and equipment and also pay for her tours – are currently grooming Ranjeeta for the Asian Games 2002 and the Junior Asiad the year after. The slender 16-year-old just recently has been granted a few “private scholarships” to cover some of her costs.

Rita — watching Ranjeeta limber up for her evening practice session — cannot speak of her choices without breaking down. Ranjeeta is constantly aware of the sacrifice, too. “Without her help and support, I would be nowhere… Rita never goes out. She doesn’t meet her friends. She just works all day,” says Ranjeeta, staring at her twin from a distance.

At the recently-held The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence, the sisters were honoured with The Shalini (Mimi) Rakshit Award for Excellence, Ranjeeta for her sporting achievements and Rita for her bravery.

The Rs 6,000 scholarship with the award will, in all probability, go into Rita’s wedding. And then, Ranjeeta may well have to hang up her running shoes.


Calcutta, Sept. 3: 
Memories of the butterfly-haunted hills of Assam, which later witnessed bloodbaths, rapid industrialisation that wrecked the ecosystem of that idyllic countryside, violence that arises out of the rising conflict between the state and the individual, insecurities that wrack us in the snug domesticity of our everyday lives.

One does not have to delve very deep to discover these impulses in Ashim Purkayastha’s textured, multimedia images. Butterflies pinned down with arrows, the lurking forms of soldiers, images of potential violence such as axes and trishuls and fists of fury recur in his works. Tiny death’s heads are printed on a huge lotus, symbol of a political party.

Purkayastha, an exhibition of whose works opened at CIMA Gallery on Monday, was born in Digboi, Assam, in 1967 and was trained at Kala Bhavan, in Santiniketan.

Images such as a house or a mosquito net that one usually associates with shelter produce only a false sense of security. The furniture in a topsy-turvy house flies around. A young man lies in bed but the tiny figure of an armed forces personnel is ever-present in the background. A couple of outsized matchboxes is displayed on a huge board covered with jute. The matchboxes are painted over with a bed, and a chest of drawers. Here again, a soldier puts in an appearance.

Nothing seems to provide the sheet anchor one is constantly looking for. There is nothing to keep these paranoid feelings at bay.

The artist’s work is also a strong commentary on consumerist culture, where everything is regarded as a product. He conveys this by pasting actual buttons on his images or painting on representations of such objects. The image of a bathroom complete with a shower and toiletries could have been out of an ad film. But he uses that image only to take on the culture that produced it. So, it is like a double-edged sword.

Purkayastha has a strong sense of design, which is particularly evident from the way he arranges matchsticks and motifs used repeatedly such as the eye, which could also be a vagina, and the diyas.

To express himself, Purkayastha has created a compulsive language. He uses a variety of materials from aluminium foil and rice paper to batches of matchsticks to build up a rich and complex “skin”. He pastes jute strings under the foil to produce a repousse effect.

Instead of a canvas, he often pastes on a sheet of glass the forms he created by making cut-outs from the shining foil. These silvery shapes and the shadows they throw on the wall interact to create even more complex forms.


Calcutta, Sept. 3: 
Acting on a directive from chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Calcutta University on Monday decided to hold a special convocation for conferring an honorary doctorate on Noam Chomsky, eminent Czech linguist. The degree will be awarded to the scholar when he visits the city in November.

The decision was arrived at during the university’s Senate body meeting on Monday. Sources said Bhattacharjee had written to Ashis Kumar Banerjee, vice-chancellor, on August 28, asking him to consider conferring a doctorate to the septuagenarian Marxist. Bhattacharjee’s proposal was unanimously accepted by the Senate.

In his letter, Bhattacharjee said a doctorate from Calcutta University would be a befitting gesture, as it is one of the oldest universities in the country.

Chomsky will be present in the city between November 19 and 23 to attend a function at the Institute of Social Sciences.

Sources in the university said Chomsky had been given a warm reception on his visit to Calcutta three years ago.


Malda, Sept. 3: 
For Marx, religion was the opiate of the masses. Today, Subhas Chakraborty took one step backward to take the interpretation one step forward: he said communism in Bengal was like organised religion.

On a day’s visit to supervise the construction of an indoor stadium in Malda town, Chakraborty made the observation when he and his officials and local CPM functionaries were passing by a temple that had just been commissioned by the Ramakrishna Mission.

“Nice to see that temple... why, communism too has assumed the form of organised religion in Bengal,” Chakraborty said when officials pointed out that he had been scheduled to inaugurate the temple. “Yes, I remember it. I could not make it because of my preoccupations,” Chakraborty said.

Malda district CPM secretary Jiban Moitra, minister Sailen Sarkar and zilla sabhadhipati Sephali Khatun were present when Chakraborty made the controversial statement on communism.

When reporters asked Chakraborty at the district circuit house to elaborate on his observation, the transport minister said beliefs and commitments of a communist in his ideology were similar to the ones held by a religious person.

His aides urged him to remain silent. “Subhas-da, beshi katha bolben na. Ekhane anek sangbadik achhe, ulto-palta likhe apnake fasiye debe (Don’t open your mouth. There are many journalists here who will not hesitate to put you in trouble by reporting all this),” they told him. Chakraborty heeded their advice.

After that the minister was all caution. When reporters pressed him to comment on the law and order situation in the state, the minister took the safe path, saying compared with other states, the law and order situation in Bengal was far better.

“After all, not a single journalist was killed in our state. Neither was any of them put behind bars illegally. But in Delhi and Orissa, there are a number of incidents where reporters have been killed or put into prison illegally,” Chakraborty told reporters.

Taking a cue from the top CPM leaders in the state, Chakraborty today refused to pay any importance to Mamata Banerjee’s decision to rejoin the NDA.

“West Bengal’s fate does not depend on Mamata Banerjee. Development of the state depends solely on the performance of the Left Front government here,” Chakraborty added.

He sanctioned Rs 50 lakh on the spot for the indoor stadium under construction. It was Sailen Sarkar, the minister from the district, who urged Chakraborty to complete construction of the stadium by November and said that work was delayed because of a paucity of funds. Chakraborty immediately sanctioned Rs 50 lakh. Already, Rs 1.5 crore has been spent on the stadium.


Calcutta, Sept. 3: 
The CESC Ltd today earned a two-day reprieve when the state electricity board agreed to not reduce supplies to the power utility below 210 mw during peak evening hours.

But today’s meeting between CESC managing director Sumantra Banerjee and state electricity board secretary Rajeev Dube failed to resolve the crisis. They will meet again on September 5 to review the situation.

The state electricity board has been regulating supplies to the CESC since August 28 for non-payment of dues. During the evening peak hours, CESC is getting only 210 mw, against its requirement of 330 mw. But the state electricity board had earlier threatened to reduce supplies further. A senior state electricity board official said as talks are going on, “we will not reduce power supply further to CESC as we had said in our letter to the power secretary on September 1”.

CESC had told the power secretary that it would not be able to pay the power purchase bill for the month of August and sought permission to pay up at a later date.

The company had also said that the bills payable in September and October will be paid in full. By October-end, the tariff award would have taken effect and from November onwards, there should not be any problems continuing with payment of current bills.

However, Dube, in his letter to the power secretary, had said that CESC was vague about payment of current bills and had made no commitment about the bills due for payment in July and August.


Calcutta, Sept. 3: 
She may have been humiliated in the Assembly polls, but Mamata Banerjee is confident of making a comeback in the 2003 Panchayat polls.

“Don’t underestimate the Trinamul Congress. We will stage a comeback with a comfortable majority in the Panchayat polls,” Mamata told a public rally in Nadia district this afternoon, launching her month-long tour of the districts in a bid to revamp her organisation. The meeting, attended by a modest crowd, was called at Aranghata in protest against the killing of a Trinamul supporter inside the party office last month.

Mamata, who was reinducted into the NDA at Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s instance last week, however, remained unusually silent at the meeting on her re-entry to the ruling coalition at the Centre. Referring to the lynching of dacoits in Nadia district recently, Mamata said the people had lost faith in the police.

“It is only because Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s police can’t tackle the law and order problem that the people are taking the law into their own hands and lynching dacoits,” she said.


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