A pigsty to block the sky
Dealers paint a dirty picture
Rs 10 lakh snatched from banker
JU says no to contract tutors
The City Diary
Watch your back at lawless Lakes
Airport cops in limbo
A Rajghat for Tagore at Nimtala
Late results log out students
Campus flap over wings

Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
The darkness that is about to descend on a city in search of a noon can squarely be blamed on an ‘Autumnal Patriarch’ — Subrata Mukherjee — whose dark and dismal corridors of ineffectual power have suddenly been lit up by the brilliance of billboard-splashed parking plazas.

I have, in the past, never let up on my criticism of the Marxists, who have tried their hand at everything, from painting the Monument red to utterly destroying the fabric of Technician Studios in Tollygunge. But the arrogant Buddha has tamed and his conversion to soft-nosed capitalism has brought a breath of fresh air into the stale stench that for decades pervaded Alimuddin Street... So what is our mayor aspiring to achieve by the desecration of space — open land, that is the proletariat’s right to acquire and preserve or plough?

Calcutta’s New Market is where one got bagher dudh at one time. No visit to Calcutta was ever complete without a tour of the zoo, the museum and the New Market. Over the past couple of decades, Calcutta has lost most of its style and nowhere is it more evident than in the disappearance of some of the oldest stores in New Market. The hats and walking sticks have been replaced by briefs andbanians, proclaiming fronts as bold as our mayor’s brains. The Y-front leads every old citizen of Calcutta to simply ask Subrata Mukherjee, why?

The greatest menace at New Market is where one should park after one has figured out how one should enter the lot, at hours determined by indeterminate wristwatches swatched on constables’ wrists. So how do we solve this terrible problem of parking space outside the New Market? Simple. Build a parking lot. Now why didn’t anyone think of that simple solution for soooo many years?

Having derived our modern architectural heritage not from the ‘Lutins’, but street ‘Lumpins’, we do need wide open spaces and so, by a natural process of uncivilised evolution, the Sir Stuart Hogg Market shall soon become a chaotic Bay of Pigs. The inconceivable mural by a purist like M.F. Husain (prominent in the CMC model of the “automated” parking lot our mayor is so proud of) will look down upon our destiny and a futuristic sty.

For years, people have wanted the front of New Market converted into a walking area, like the Covent Garden in London. At a recent adda organised by one of India’s foremost nuclear scientists, the entire front of New Market was cleared to create an atmosphere of a country fair, where everything from jhal muri to cheap water colour were sold to people whose purchasing power is minimal, but whose hearts and minds are a reservoir of a cultural wealth and heritage that we cherish.

I am sure Subrata’s heart shall not bleed to destroy this city’s façade. But if it did, he would trace his bloodlines back to people who understood that it was the Mughal Gardens around the Taj that enhanced its beauty and it’s the grounds of the Victoria Memorial that have made it the last refuge for old walkers and young lovers.

When Husain wanted to paint Knightwatch in a Delhi gallery to produce his Guernica depicting the horrors of Afghanistan, by a cruel twist of fate, the power went off and Delhi’s elite toasted the darkness and an empty canvas. But when you see Rembrandt’s Nightwatch in the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam — now considered his greatest masterpiece, it is the only painting on the wall of a large room, and to think that it had once been rejected by the mayor (!) of Amsterdam — or any of his other great masterpieces, one is amazed at how the focal point of his paintings occupy the tiniest of areas on a canvas that is left with wide open spaces. They are masterpieces for all the space that’s been left around the focal point of interest.

Yet, these spaces have a tonality bringing out what the artist wants to show and tell you, just like a lush lawn with flowers and paths outside the New Market would attempt to bring back a flavour that we may have lost forever.

After I read the tragic story of our mayor’s dreams that might soon become our worst nightmare, I took a stroll this morning to the New Market just to stare at it. Florists were busy making bouquets and garlands, fruit vendors were yelling competitively, fishmongers were carving fillets with a finesse that only belongs to ojhas, vegetable vendors were selling exotica like leek, avocado, celery and thyme at unbelievably low prices.

I walked past cackling hens and the egg section where you can buy small desi to giant goose eggs, and through the shop that sells the finest whole cream and paneer that money can buy, and away to the Maidan, wondering how behind me florists were now making wreaths for everything that seems to be dying or is killed in Calcutta.


Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
The Hemen Mazumdar episode was just the tip of the iceberg. The CID said on Wednesday that several paintings of Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose have also “illegally” found their way into galleries and auction houses in Delhi and Mumbai and that the “connection” runs right to their counterparts in the city.

“We had sent teams to Mumbai and Delhi and checked out the collections of art galleries and auction houses there,” said DIG, CID, V.V. Thambi, who is investigating the case.

“We were amazed to find that they have in their possession paintings by the Tagores and Bose, which they cannot account for. Initial interrogation of the gallery-owners there have led us to some art dealers in the city. Some auction houses are also involved in smuggling out these treasures to clients,” Thambi added.

Thambi said that after the arrest of gallery-owner Prakash Kejriwal and the recovery of the two Hemen Mazumdar paintings, owned by Hooghly’s Chowdhury family, the police had traced another art “handler”, also based in Hooghly. It was the latter who provided information on how the racket in Bengal school paintings has been flourishing internationally.

“A few more arrests in this connection and we will be able to reveal a lot more about the racket,” Thambi said. “A painting restorer in Delhi, who had been helping Kejriwal restore some of the paintings in his gallery, has helped us a lot in tracing the way in which some of these works of art have travelled. This scam runs into several crores.”

After initial investigations, it has been found that a couple of these paintings belonged to rajbaris in Hooghly and Burdwan but were stolen, only to land in auction houses outside the state.

“We have started examining the complaints and are trying to get these paintings back to their rightful owners,” Thambi said.

He also appealed to all those who have found valuable paintings and other artefacts missing from their homes to lodge a complaint with the police. “This way, we can trace more people behind the racket and complete the chain of the missing links in this case.”

Meanwhile, the Chowdhurys have decided to move court to have the two Hemen Mazumdar paintings, recovered by the police recently, returned to them.

The court had directed the police to have the first painting kept in the custody of Victoria Memorial and may issue a similar instruction in the case of the second painting as well.

“But we feel that since the two paintings rightfully belong to us, they should be handed over to us, instead of being kept with the Victoria Memorial authorities,” a member of the family said. “Before a final decision is taken about the second painting, we shall place our appeal before the court. We hope our plea is accepted.”


Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
A senior bank officer was robbed of Rs 10 lakh in New Alipore on Wednesday afternoon. A gang of three motorcycle-borne youth used chilli powder and a revolver to snatch the cash bag.

The UBI’s G-H Colony branch in New Alipore ran short of cash on Wednesday afternoon. Around 1 pm, deputy manager M.M. Bhandari left the bank, along with peon Shyamal Ghosh. They went to UBI’s Chetla branch, picked up Rs 10 lakh and headed back to New Alipore in a taxi.

As they were crossing Block K, three young men on a motorcycle blocked the path of the taxi. One of the goons whipped out a revolver and approached the men in the backseat.

Two others hurled some chilli powder at Bhandari, Ghosh and the driver.

Blinded momentarily, the two passengers could do nothing to stop their assailants from snatching the bag containing the bank money.

By the time they recovered, the three goons had disappeared and a small crowd had gathered on the spot.

The police are placing part of the blame on the “callousness” of the bank officials. “If they had informed a police patrol in the area that they were carrying so much money, we could have provided them with security cover for the stretch,” said Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner (I), detective department.

According to Mitra, the “modus operandi” of the goons had rarely been used in south Calcutta. “The chilli powder-revolver combination is typical of north Calcutta, but it now seems that such gangs have infiltrated the south.”


Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
A CPM-packed executive council at Jadavpur University could not save the Left Front government the embarrassment of seeing one of its first forays into education reform — appointing university teachers on contract — stumble and stall.

The university backtracked from becoming the first in Bengal to employ teachers on contract after a stormy executive council meeting on Wednesday. The administration-backed move, powered by the overwhelming pro-CPM lobby, ended in a whimper under sustained opposition, mainly from teachers.

“A proposal sent by the university administration to the executive council for approval is usually perceived to have become law, as the council is packed with members owing allegiance to the ruling party,” said a senior university official. But on Wednesday, with a majority of the teachers sticking to their anti-contract stand and others in the council “hardly putting up any resistance”, officials were forced to work out a compromise — appointing new teachers as “visiting faculty on consolidated pay”.

The university, for the past few days, has been witness to hectic behind-the-scenes lobbying by the administration to push through the proposal. The official line taken by the administration was that its decision to push for on-contract teachers was prompted by a proposal originating from the information technology department.

But an official note sent by the department to the university finance officer said the “best possible option” was to get more permanent teachers’ posts approved by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the state government. With the process being a time-consuming one, however, the department stressed that it was “absolutely imperative” to recruit two more teachers, with “immediate effect, to continue normal academic activities”. By 2003, the IT department would need at least nine teachers (three professors, three readers and three lecturers), the note added.

The university agreed and finalised plans to recruit the two teachers on contract for a period of five years. A section of teachers and officials, however, saw a “hidden agenda” in one clause included in the plans — that the five-year contract could be “cancelled” after the end of even the first academic year if the teacher’s performance did not prove “satisfactory”.

It was this that prompted the “anti-teacher policy” outcry at Wednesday’s meeting, which silenced the executive council and thwarted the bid to introduce a service contract for teaching staff.



Hindu Hostel row over outsiders

Superintendent of Hindu Hostel Tarun Bera was gheraoed by students late on Tuesday after they protested the presence of outsiders in the hostel. The gherao was lifted on Wednesday with the superintendent acknowledging that “some SFI activists had threatened a boarder” in his presence. He promised to take up the matter with the authorities. The hostel, where outstation students of Presidency College, Maulana Azad College and Goenka College of Commerce and Business Administration put up, is under the Presidency College administration.

1 dead, another hurt in blast

A youth was killed and another injured when they were manufacturing bombs in Tangra on Tuesday. Police said the two, identified as Pintu Debnath, 38, and Kanai Das, 30, were admitted to Nilratan Sirkar Medical College and Hospital. Pintu succumbed to his injuries early on Wednesday, while Kanai is missing from the hospital, police said.

Horse death

Rana, a police horse, died under mysterious circumstances last week after eating at the police stable on S.N. Banerjee Road. Officials said on Wednesday that a doctor attended to Rana after it fell ill, but it did not respond to treatment. The body was sent for post-mortem.

Body found

The Park Street police recovered the decomposed body of a 76-year-old Anglo-Indian man from the second floor of his McLeod Street apartment on Wednesday evening. The deceased was identified as Tim Hilly, who had been residing in the apartment for several years. Police said Hilly might have suffered a heart attack and died last week.

Educationist dies

Uma Sehanovis, the Left-wing activist and educationist, died on Tuesday at her home in Calcutta. She was 82 and had been suffering from cancer. Sehanovis was one of the leading lights of Youth Culture Institute. She will be remembered for her role in the growth of South Point School and Patha Bhavan.

Teenager missing

A 13-year-old girl from central Calcutta went missing early on Wednesday. According to police, the girl, a student of a well-known English-medium school, left her house around 6 am for tuitions. She was last seen near the Park Circus seven-point crossing. Police have alerted the neighbouring districts.

Road repair

The Corporation has decided to modernise road repair in the city by deploying a cold recycling machine imported from Germany. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said on Wednesday that the trial run of the Rs 1.5-crore machine will begin on Raja Dinendra Street next week. The new process will not involve heating bitumen, he said. The machine can lay three square metres of road surface a minute.

Run over

Traffic was disrupted in Belghoria, following the death of a 45-year-old man, Netai Shaw, on Wednesday. Police said Shaw was hit by a lorry near Dakghar More.

Canning fire probe

Traders have demanded an enquiry into the blaze that gutted Canning market on Tuesday. They have also sought resettlement of all those whose shops were damaged.    

Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
Sunita Sengupta (not her real name) had come out of a cinema hall near the Lakes in south Calcutta after the evening show. As she and three of her friends, all in their mid-twenties, began to walk towards Deshapriya Park to hail a cab home, two youth appeared from nowhere and snatched a necklace from Sunita.

A bewildered Sunita watched helplessly as the youth faded into the darkness. Stunned for a moment, the quartet went to a policeman, who directed them to Lake police station. But the officer-on-duty told them that the area of crime fell under the jurisdiction of the Charu Market police station.

A bewildered Sunita and her friends then trudged to Charu Market where the duty officer re-directed them to Tollygunge police station. In disgust, Sunita thought it better to forget the incident. “But I have vowed not to venture out in that area after dark. It is too dangerous,’’ she said.

The incident showcases how eve-teasing and snatching are on the rise near Rabindra Sarobar. The area falls on the borderline between the areas under the Lake and Tollygunge police stations. Criminals take advantage of this ambiguity of jurisdiction. As a result, most incidents go unregistered and the police claim they are not aware of such acts, “officially’’ that is.

Unofficially, however, the cops, too, are aware of increase in crime near Rabindra Sarobar. “Previously, evening walks in the area were a pleasant experience. But last week, when I was strolling with my friends, three boys started following us and passed lewd comments,’’ said Priyanka Banerjee of Lake Road.

Another group of rowdies “supervise’’ the parking lot opposite the movie hall, near a medical centre. “They have no authorisation to collect parking fees. But one simply cannot avoid them,’’ said Anjan Mukherjee of Bompas Road.

According to figures available with Lake and Tollygunge police stations, 23 incidents of eve-teasing and 17 incidents of snatching took place in just the past one month. Even the officer-in-charge of Lake police station, Anil Jana, admitted that there has been a rise in such incidents. But though Jana claimed that the situation shows signs of improvement, an officer in-charge of an adjoining police station felt otherwise.

Deputy commissioner of police, south, Kuldeep Singh admitted that as the area falls between two police stations, victims are often confused. “But there are mobile police vans, which can definitely help people in distress. Victims need not necessarily go all the way to police stations,’’ Singh added.


Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
Confusion prevails in the state police over the decision to put the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) in charge of airport security.

Not one officer seems to know where and when the 950-odd policemen, associated till now with the security of Calcutta airport, will be relocated after the CISF takeover.

Nearly a month after the 650-strong CISF contingent landed in the city, the policemen can be seen huddling in groups, armed with a bag of queries: “Do you know anything? Where will we be posted next?”

Uncertainty has been dogging the policemen posted at the airport for several years.

Superintendent of police (airport) O.P. Gupta was not aware whether he would be part of the skeleton staff, required to maintain law and order in the airport. “If the district stays, then I stay. Otherwise, I guess I will have to move on. But I have not heard anything till date,” he said.

The word doing the rounds in police circles is that the airport police station might be merged with the North 24-Parganas district unit. “Logically, it should be worked out this way, if the airport district doesn’t remain, but I have no news at all,” says superintendent of police (North 24-Parganas) M. Harisena Verma.

When asked about the fate of the airport police force, post- CISF takeover, DIG (headquarters) Narayan Ghosh said: “Nothing has been decided on their relocation. It has not been decided where and how to distribute this huge force.”

The only positive sign, so far, has been the eventual take-over by the CISF. However, the training process, too, had its share of controversies, with several CISF officers complaining of the “hostile attitude” of some state police officers, who were “apparently peeved” with the takeover.

Although the CISF jawans have been put into perimeter- guarding already, around 150-odd CISF officers are currently undertaking a dawn-to-dusk training under the state police, Bureau of Civil Aviation and various airlines on anti- hijacking and security of key installations.

Commanding officer of the CISF, Bala Krishnan, said his men would “most probably” take complete charge of the airport security this Christmas (December 25).

Confusion started right after the CISF first missed the October 17 date of landing in the city. Then, they missed another date late in November and an early December schedule to take charge of the airport’s security.

The SP has finally dashed off the CISF commanding officer a letter, asking him to take charge of the security process by December 24.

Until then, all the state police officers can do is wait. “If they are supposed to take charge, then it should happen soon. Let us be relieved of our present duties and get to wherever we have to go,” a senior police officer said.


Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
The Trinamul Congress-run civic authorities will join hands with a ruling CPM legislator and Rabindra Bharati University (RBU) to develop Rabindranath Tagore’s cremation spot at Nimtala burning ghat.

According to mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Wednesday, there are plans to develop the spot into a tourist centre.

“Like Rajghat in Delhi, Tagore’s cremation spot can be developed so that people touring Calcutta can drop by to pay homage to the poet. I want all Calcutta-bound tourists to visit Nimtala like they do Rajghat in Delhi,” Mukherjee said.

The proposal for developing the spot was first mooted by Sudhanshu Sil, MLA from Jorabagan, and backed by Rabindra Bharati vice-chancellor Subhankar Chakraborty.

Maintaining that politics would not be an obstacle, the mayor said he had “okayed the proposal when Sudhanshubabu (Sil) sought the civic body’s help to get the things done”.

Mukherjee added: “If necessary, I am ready to discuss the matter with the vice-chancellor and university officials. The developed spot, close to the Jorasanko campus, will be an added attraction for visitors to the university.” The mayor said he would send officials to make a preliminary survey.

Sil said: “This is part of our move to develop the city’s northern zone, which has remained neglected for years. A spot where icons like Tagore and Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy were cremated is no less important than other parts of the city.”

Sil said he and vice-chancellor Chakraborty would soon initiate a dialogue with the mayor and state tourism department officials. Outlining the project, he said all roads linking Nimtala Ghat have to be widened and illuminated to bring in the tourists.

This apart, the tourism department will be approached to provide government vehicles.

“We will have to create an ambience so the spot draws tourists,” Sil said, adding: “As part of the project, we shall play Rabindrasangeet round-the-clock.”

Officials of the RBU also offered to do their bit. Vice-chancellor Chakraborty said the university has decided to take possession of a two-storeyed building adjoining the cremation spot so that cultural programmes can be conducted regularly.


Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
Over a dozen honours graduates in computer science have been denied admission to the post-graduate courses of Calcutta University and are facing an uncertain future due to late publication of the results.

To top it all, seats are limited at the university’s Science College at Rajabazar.

The students have approached higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty and the West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association (WBCUTA) for intervention in the impasse, which is threatening their academic careers.

Both Chakraborty and Anil Bhattacharya, WBCUTA general secretary, have promised to look into the matter, but the graduates’ fate remains uncertain.

The students submitted a memorandum to Chakraborty at Bikash Bhavan, in Salt Lake, on Monday.

They asked him either to increase the number of seats at the Rajabazar Science College or open a post-graduate stream in computer science at Bengal Engineering College (Deemed University), Shibpur.

At present, the Science College is the only campus where the subject is being taught at the post-graduate level.

The number of seats for students in the post-graduate courses of computer science in Calcutta University, inclusive of all associated streams, is 48.

Of these, 10 are reserved for B. Tech students, eight for Information Technology (IT) candidates and remaining 30 for the M.Sc course.

However, this year, of 81 successful B.Sc Part II candidates in computer science (honours), as many as 57 got a first class and 14 others, from Surendranath College (Sealdah), Acharya Prafulla Chandra College (Madhyamgram) and Rashtraguru Surendranath College (Barrackpore), secured between 55 and 60 per cent.

Sources said of the 57 students who secured first-class marks, 48 have already been admitted to the post-graduate courses.

Five other degree-holders have sought alternative studies, but the remaining four are yet to get admitted, as the number of seats is 48.

“We have been running from pillar to post to continue higher studies in computer science, but it seems we have hit a dead-end,” said a spokesperson for the affected students.

The spokesperson said a delay in the publication of results also denied them the opportunity to sit for the School Service Commission (SSC) examination or seek admission to Benaras Hindu University’s (BHU) post-graduate course in computer science.

“The B.Sc Part II results were expected towards the end of July or the first week of August, but they were published only in the last week of August,” she said.

Classes had already started at the Rajabazar Science College a fortnight earlier, she complained.


Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
Blame it on the birds, but classes at Calcutta University’s Rajabazar Science College were badly disrupted over the past few days. The cause of disruption: A family of owls and some pigeons.

However, the university authorities refuse to buy the story. With the situation spinning out of control, the faculty has — after having exhausted every option — taken up the matter with the authorities.

“I believe the college has never faced this kind of a problem in its 145-year-old history,” said science faculty secretary M.K. Sengupta. “It is not possible for us to kill the birds but, at the same time, we are definitely concerned about the problem and will try to do something to make it easier for the teachers,” he added.

The owl menace started last Thursday after employees discovered a family of at least three, sheltered in one of the rooms adjacent to a laboratory in the chemistry department, on the topmost floor of the building.

“It is virtually impossible to concentrate on our work with their wings flapping all the time,” a senior teacher said.

Seeing the family spread its wings — sometimes all three fly together from one corner of the room to another — the teachers have turned wary. “A whole day’s work can be undone if one of the owls chooses to fly inside the lab,” one of them said.

The owls hide themselves in the wooden ventilators of a small office, say employees. “But constantly trying to shoo them off so that their droppings do not soil important papers does stretch our patience,” they added.

As for the pigeons, teachers say every morning, the rooms show definite signs of having been taken over at night. “In the laboratory, all papers and furniture are soiled with pigeon droppings and we have to spend an hour cleaning the stuff,” says a teacher, who takes classes at the Meghnad Saha Building.

University officials, however, blamed teachers and students for not being careful enough to shut the doors and windows properly. “They leave windows and doors half-open, providing easy access to the pigeons,” the officials said, adding emphatically that they would not allow anyone to hurt the birds. “Instead, we will soon issue a notice making it mandatory for teachers, research scholars and students to properly close the windows every day,” they added.


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