Spotlight on cop casualty count
Lakhs lost to fake medical camps
Ragging sets off protests
Teaching teachers how to go about IT
The City Diary
Trade body boost for Tollywood
Service with a plot to rob
Wife charred, husband flees
Subrata stokes power flames
Kidnapped child freed in Bihar

Calcutta, Nov. 28: 
A taxi-driver, prosecuted by a sergeant at Panchanantala, near Dhakuria, crosses the Dhakuria bridge, takes a U-turn and mows down a man in uniform standing at the crossing. The cop, not the sergeant who had booked the cabbie, dies on the spot.

A head constable is run over by a truck on B.T. Road, near Cossipore police station, on October 22, while returning from the market. He had just a year’s service left.

The city’s traffic police, responsible for the “safe and orderly movement of vehicles”, are increasingly falling victim to the chaos on Calcutta streets.

With six cops, including a sergeant, ending up on the wrong side of hit-and-run cases in the past four months, the Lalbazar top-brass has been forced to take a closer look at the casualty count.

The probable reasons offered for the rising runover rate are as varied as “rash driving” to “desperation to pocket bribes”.

Senior officers, on condition of anonymity, admitted that “bribe collection” was one of the factors being addressed while studying the pattern of the accidents.

“The death of personnel, on and off duty, in road accidents, is a source for concern,” said an official. “In an attempt to understand the trend, we are analysing each case.”

A preliminary survey has found rash driving — mostly by taxi and truck-drivers — to be responsible for most mishaps.

The police were quick to put the blame on the laxity of the motor vehicles department staff for failing to check the tout raj at Beltala.

“Most of these drivers get their licences through touts,” says M.K. Singh, deputy commissioner (traffic). “Many of the truck-drivers don’t know how to drive a heavy vehicle in a metropolitan city and have no clear idea about traffic signals and instructions,” he adds.

Officers also blame the deaths of their colleagues on “poor illumination of most city streets, a perceptible rise in cases of drunken driving at night and the first indication of road rage after a haul-up for traffic violation”.

Most of the mishaps now under the scanner occurred “either early in the morning or late at night”, when the streets are relatively empty.

“That’s the time when some traffic policemen try to stop a speeding vehicle, either on legitimate grounds of suspicion or to pocket a bribe from taxis or trucks. Either way, it leaves them vulnerable to a driver, who can just step on the pedal, hit the cop and speed off into the darkness,” observes an officer.

But Singh refuses to bring the bribe angle into the probe of policemen road deaths. “Many of my boys take it as a challenge to stop traffic rule violators and end up risking their lives,” he says.


Calcutta, Nov. 28: 
A secret probe initiated by the Union ministry of health and family welfare has unearthed a racket routed through fake medical camps run by “unrecognised” NGOs.

The probe team, which recently toured Calcutta, concluded that “over the past few years, several NGOs have submitted fictitious bills, amounting to several lakhs of rupees, to the state health department”, for conducting medical camps.

“We discovered several Calcutta-based NGOs, which were not recognised, laying claims to medical camps conducted by them,” said A.P. Jain, national consultant to the Union ministry of health and family welfare, from New Delhi.

Jain was part of the probe team that visited the city. “I do not remember the names of the numerous NGOs… They had not even obtained the necessary clearance from state authorities for the camps. I have already submitted my report in this connection for appropriate action,” Jain added.

According to estimates, “over one lakh organisations”, functioning as NGOs in West Bengal, are either “not registered or have not renewed their registration”.

They, however, continue to enjoy NGO status, courtesy “active assistance” from a section of the district authorities.

A senior official of the state health and family welfare department confirmed that the Central probe had found evidence of “at least 25 city-based NGOs” registering “false claims” of conducting medical camps.

“There are hardly any inquiries. Everything is sorted out by a section of the government machinery helping NGOs obtain money from the Centre against fake medical camp bills,” said a senior official, assisting the probe.

The lid was blown off the racket a few weeks ago when the North 24 Parganas-based District Blindness Control Society (DBCS) requested the Union health and family ministry, through the state government, “to disburse over Rs 48 lakh” to NGOs in the district for “voluntary work to prevent blindness”.

The disbursement of the Rs 48 lakh has now been stalled. Society chairman and district magistrate of North 24-Parganas H.K. Divedi said: “Some organisations seem to have conducted medical camps without proper permission from the authorities. We will definitely haul them up.”


Calcutta, Nov. 28: 
Students of City College, on Amherst Street, held a demonstration on Wednesday, protesting the ragging incident which saw three “outgoing seniors” being arrested on Tuesday.

Hostelites demanded “immediate expulsion of all outsiders from Rammohun Hostel”, where a third-year student had been “teased and tortured” on Monday night.

Parents of the victim, who had been treated at Marwari Relief Society Hospital, visited the hostel on Wednesday and spoke to superintendent A. Roy and some students.

Residents of Midnapore, they requested the hostel authorities to ensure that “such incidents are not repeated in future”.

Amherst Street police station has also asked the hostel authorities to take “strict measures to restore discipline in the hostel”.

The student had, apparently, been ragged over his belief in a religious order. A team from the order visited the hostel and spoke to the victim and some of his batch-mates.

Hostel superintendent Roy, meanwhile, has given a detailed account of the incident to the Calcutta University. Varsity officials, however, refused to comment on the matter.


Calcutta, Nov. 28: 
PowerPoint presentations, digicams, blackboard, or perhaps, just a smile. Calcutta’s teachers have gone back to school to keep pace with the times and put available technology to the best possible use.

Assembly of God Church, The Heritage School and Future Foundation have plugged into a novel concept of education, driven by the ethic that “human technology” is what it takes to produce well-rounded students equipped to face the future.

“It is a crazy situation if teachers know less than students about technology. Though no one can replace teachers, computers are a part of the future now,” says Lawrence W. Hartnett, principal, Assembly of God Church, which has signed up for the K-10 scheme, within the Networked Learning programme.

“Teachers have already undergone training and have learnt how to use things like PowerPoint and are making worksheets, notes and presentations for their classrooms,” says Hartnett. Currently, teachers till Class VIII have been initiated, with plans to extend the programme till Class X. According to the veteran principal, it is the younger children who are “the most excited” about the new techniques.

Being taken to classrooms by Schoolnet, a subsidiary of Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services, Networked Learning is not about teaching children IT. It is about enhancing education through the use of technology. So, while the programme does familiarise kids with computers and other innovations, the focus is on teaching teachers to use tech as a teaching tool.

The Heritage School, near Ruby General Hospital, off the EM Bypass, has introduced Schoolnet tools in Classes I to V. “Our teachers learnt how to use technology from the first day of classes,” observes headmistress Meenakshi Atal.

Feedback, so far, has been positive. “Once you are comfortable with the technology, everything is much quicker.” It is mandatory for teachers at The Heritage School to take “at least two technology-enabled lessons” a week.

Schoolnet’s training programme lasts up to three years, with regular visits to the schools to monitor progress for three years beyond that. “We are integrating the whole learning process for a system that works,” says a spokesperson for the Mumbai-based company.

Teachers are encouraged to identify problem areas and then find ways to work around them. Like “All the Right Angles”, a software designed by trainers to teach how to measure angles with a protractor. “A teacher usually has to show each student how to use a protractor individually, and if they don’t understand it the first time, chances are they never will,” explains Schoolnet.



Mayor calls council meeting on malaria

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has called a special meeting of his council on Thursday to review the malaria situation in the city. Member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan said though there had been a spurt in malignant malaria, the overall incidence of the disease was less than last year. Quoting health department data, officer on special duty (health) Atanu Mukherjee said over 68,000 Calcuttans suffered from malaria last year. The total number of people affected with malaria this year so far is “a little over 49,000”.

Rat attack in theatre

A member of the audience, Amalendu Mukhopadhyay, was bitten by a rat while attending a show at Girish Mancha on Tuesday evening. In the recent past, six more complaints of rat menace in the hall were registered. But Girish Mancha sources blamed it on people entering the hall with foodstuff, despite it being strictly forbidden by hall authorities.

Three hurt

Three persons were injured in separate accidents in the city on Wednesday. Ananda Gopal Biswas, 57, was injured when a private bus slammed into him at Esplanade. He was taken to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital in a critical condition. Biswas was going to his office at Taher Mansion. In another incident, two youth were hurt when they were hit by a private car near Rabindra Sarani. They were admitted to RG Kar Medical College and Hospital. In both cases, the drivers fled with the vehicles.

Assault charge

Members of the Waterbodies Preservation Committee of Baranagar have decided to inform the chief minister and the Left Front chairman about the assault on their members, allegedly by local CPM workers, when they were protesting the filling up of a pond. Rani Biswas, a member of the committee, said on Wednesday that the incident was also reported to the fisheries minister. The incident took place on Tuesday.

I-T office

Income-tax offices will remain open on Guru Nanak Jayanti, November 30, to facilitate the filing of returns under Scheme 1/6. The deadline for filing returns under the scheme is November 30.

RPF arrest

Uttam Mazumdar, who was arrested by Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel at Howrah station on Tuesday, was produced in court on Wednesday and released on bail. Mazumdar was arrested while returning home after visiting his brother at Howrah General Hospital, despite having a valid ticket. His brother Gautam, reportedly, fell ill after being “harrassed” by RPF personnel on November 20. A case has been filed. Uttam alleged that since then, RPF personnel have been threatening him.

Tourism expo

Destinations 2001, a tourism expo organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), will be held from November 30 to December 3 at Netaji Indoor Stadium. The tourism ministers of West Bengal, Sikkim and Chhattisgarh will address the gathering on the opening day. A week-long Sikkim Festival will be held at Swabhumi coinciding with the expo.

Train timing

The Howrah-Dhanbad-Ranchi Shatabdi Express will leave Howrah at 6.15 am from December 1. The timing of the return train remains unchanged.    

Calcutta, Nov. 28: 
Modernisation as the mantra for a Tollywood turnaround. That’s what the Bharat Chamber of Commerce is harping on, in order to attract investment and revolutionise the city’s film and television industry.

The Chamber has formed an entertainment committee, comprising actors, directors, producers, distributors and also exhibitors. On top of the things-to-do list is a “film city”, modelled on the lines of the one in Hyderabad.

“A proper film city could totally transform the present marketability of Bengali films and at the same time provide tremendous employment potential,’’ says H.M. Bangur. president of the Bharat Chamber of Commerce.

“If the state government adopts the right approach, it will not be difficult to find sponsors for the project. Many business groups here still attach a lot of sentimental value to supporting a serious artistic endeavour in the city of Satyajit Roy and Ritwik Ghatak,” he adds. But the lead, asserts Bangur, has to be taken by the state government. “A suitable plot is a pre-requisite for the project and that has to be provided by the government.”

The Chamber will be meeting chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee soon to discuss the project in detail and formulate a policy regarding creation of infrastructure including government patronage on production, exhibition and redeployment of funds.

A background paper prepared by the Chamber observes: “The film sector does not require heavy incentives from the government, whereas, if the government plays a catalytic role it can provide true impetus for transformation of the film sector and, in the process, earn more revenues.”

Actors like Soumitra Chatterjee, Prasenjit Chatterjee, Rituparna Sengupta and Pallavi Chatterjee, director Goutam Ghosh, producers, distributors and exhibitors have been inducted in the entertainment committee recently formed by the chamber.

According to Pallavi Chatterjee, “The support of the state government is an absolute must for a project like the film city. But above all, the project must be viable and a culture of professionalism must be fostered. For instance, a proper system of grooming young talent has to be put in place if the industry is to grow and grow fast.”

The “revival” of the film industry in Bengal will also have a “tremendous impact” on employment in this and allied sectors. Various segments like dubbing, editing, sound recording and music, which are directly dependent upon the film industry, will all benefit if the mega project takes shape, feel Chamber officials.

According to Bangur, the Tollygunge film industry was, at one time, “superior” than Bollywood. “Our aim is to restore the glory of the Bengali film industry through an organised, professional approach. We, as a trade body, would like to facilitate investment in this sector and play a role in the revival process,” he says.

A certain section of city-based businessmen is keen to pitch in, as well. “Entertainment does seem to be the emerging sector. Tollywood must be at the centre of such a move, but with a definitive policy guideline and support from the state government. Otherwise, the industry will never grow beyond the districts of Bengal,” says a young entrepreneur keen to invest in Tollywood.


Calcutta, Nov. 28: 
For three years, he slogged in his master’s kitchen, gaining his trust, besides a job in his factory. For the next three months, he hatched a plot to rob the factory. But on Wednesday, when Sahadeb Mandal gathered with his associates near his master’s factory, he ran out of luck. Sleuths in plain clothes were waiting for him.

Mandal, a resident of Canning, in South 24-Parganas, started as a cook at the Tollygunge Road residence of Uday Raj Mandani, owner of a cosmetics-manufacturing unit on Mahim Haldar Street, near the Hazra crossing, three years ago.

His sincerity impressed Mandani, who got him a job at his factory as a bearer.

“Within a day of joining duty, Mandal set about plotting after he saw cash to the tune of Rs 8 lakh as daily collections of the factory,” said deputy commissioner-I (detective department) Soumen Mitra.

Soon, Mandal got in touch with five criminals — Matiar Rahman, Jainal Sardar, Nayeem Mollah, Aminuddin Mollah and Dayan Ali Naskar — from the Baruipur-Canning belt, in South 24-Parganas, and started planning the dacoity. Some of the meetings were held near Mandal’s residence in Canning, police said on Wednesday.

Mandal even made an elaborate sketch, guiding the criminals on the routes they should take within the factory. “We recovered the sketch from Mandal on Wednesday,” a Lalbazar official said.

Around 1.30 pm on Wednesday, Mandal and the others assembled near Basusree cinema at Hazra, waiting to catch a taxi that would take them to the Mahim Haldar Street factory, less than a kilometre away.

A team from the detective department, however, had already been tipped off. Twelve plainclothes men approached the six-member gang and cordoned them off, catching passers-by on the busy Ashutosh Mukherjee Road unawares.

Later, the policemen unarmed the criminals and rounded them up into a waiting van.

Police later claimed that the tip-off and the eventual arrests prevented “large-scale” bloodshed within the factory. “That the gang was quite serious in its intent was revealed by the weapons they had brought along,” a police official said. The cache yielded three revolvers and three choppers.


Calcutta, Nov. 28: 
The police on Wednesday began a manhunt for Anees Akhtar, 33, of Ekbalpore, on charges of setting ablaze his wife, Maslekha Begum, 25, on Tuesday. Maslekha died in the Burns Ward of SSKM Hospital. Akhtar’s mother was arrested on charges of torture.

Deputy commissioner of police, port, Harman Preet Singh, said Maslekha’s neighbours on Bhukailash Road noticed flames in the Akhtar residence on Tuesday night. They broke open the door and took Maslekha to SSKM Hospital, where she was admitted with 90 per cent burns.

Maslekha’s father, Abdul Halim, said his daughter would complain of frequent torture by her in-laws. “I spoke to Anees last week to sort out the problem. Instead, he demanded Rs 50,000 for a trip to Dubai. I have already paid him enough to expand his business,’’ Halim said. The Anees-Maslekha marriage turned sour after four years and two children. “Anees and his brothers regularly tortured my daughter for money,’’ Halim said.

According to sources, unable to bear the torture any more, Maslekha protested, which resulted in Anees setting her on fire.

“The Akhtar family tried to play down the incident. On our persistence, they said Maslekha had met with an accident,’’ a neighbour said. Anees, his father and two brothers fled the scene.


Calcutta, Nov. 28: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s assertions that the members of his council have no powers and cannot take any policy decision sparked off fresh rows in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) on Wednesday.

“I have sought legal advice and had an interpretation of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation Act, 1980, drawn up to back my statements,” Mukherjee had been saying and reiterated on Wednesday.

His statements and his tendency to take unilateral decisions has irked his council members, including deputy mayor Meena Devi Purohit. On Wednesday, they protested again, causing a sharp divide between him and the rest of the team.

The issue has snowballed into a major controversy, with the members of the mayor’s council refusing to accept his statements. They say members can take independent decisions and if the mayor wants to interfere, he will have to consult the member concerned or thrash it out at a properly-convened mayor-in-council meeting.

“We refuse to accept that we do not have any decision-making powers. We have taken our oaths of secrecy independently as members of the mayor’s council. If what the mayor says is true, then we find no reason for being administered the oath,” said most members in the mayor’s council on Wednesday.

To add fuel to the fire, a former mayor, who ruled the CPM-led civic board for a decade, Prasanta Chatterjee, rubbished Mukherjee’s claim and said that the members of the mayor’s council had every right to take independent decision concerning their respective departments.

Irked members of the mayor’s council include Anup Chatterjee (roads), Pradip Ghosh (bustee and parking), Shamsuzzaman Ansari (market), Javed Ahmed Khan (health), Moinul Haque Chowdhury (education), Swapan Samaddar (building) and Hridayanand Gupta (parks and garden).

Citing a case in which his agreement with a private company on laying optical fibre cables was overruled by the mayor, without it being discussed in a council meeting, Anup Chatterjee said: “If such things continue, then there is no need for us to attend office. A day may come when members of the mayor’s council like us will stop coming to the CMC. We have not been given charge of our departments only to be insulted.”

Another member of the mayor’s council, Pradip Ghosh, pointed out that the Rule 33 of the CMC Act has clearly laid down the powers of the members. “I will not tolerate any interference in my department,” he added.

Mayor Mukherjee, who is also a Trinamul Congress MLA, has had several brushes with party leader Mamata Banerjee, particularly over the eviction of hawkers. But, in the end, he sailed through because of the backing of his council mates.


Calcutta, Nov. 28: 
After 12 hours, the police traced the son of a businessman, abducted by his servant and taken to Dumka, in Bihar. The culprit, however, could not be arrested.

Siddharth, 2, son of Anil Agarwal, of B.K. Pal Avenue, was kidnapped on Tuesday by Niraj. Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, said: “Niraj was engaged by the Agarwals two weeks ago as the other servant, Ramchandra, had gone on leave.” But Niraj decided to quit and demanded his salary.

“On Tuesday, when Niraj went to buy sweets with Siddharth and did not return, the Agarwals lodged a complaint,” Basu said. The police found the Agarwals’ neighbours, the Pandits, had relatives in Dumka. On giving them Niraj’s description, the relatives helped the police rescue Siddharth.


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