Parkomat put on hold
Preacher turns prisoner
What makes men on top tick
Friend in net for executive murder
Grassroots goals for golden oldies
The City Diary
Jaisalmer painted in Jersey
Fair dealings on AIDS
Vacant posts taint table fare
Campus clamour over pay delay

Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), bowing to public pressure, on Tuesday decided to shelve the “monstrosity” — a Parkomat in front of New Market — that threatened to overshadow the facade of the heritage shopping plaza.

Instead, mayor Subrata Mukherjee delved under the Chaplin Square greens to try and solve the area’s parking blues. He unveiled plans for an underground parking space opposite the CMC headquarters. Though he would not go on record about the CMC dropping its New Market Parkomat plans, senior CMC officials confirmed that the Chaplin Square underground parking lot was replacing the project.

All that Mukherjee would say was: “We are not thinking of the Lindsay Street Parkomat for now. Neither is Simplex, the Rawdon Street Parkomat’s promoter, interested in another similar venture at the moment. They are suffering major losses with the Rawdon Square automatic parking plaza going empty. Instead, we are exploring the possibility of constructing an underground parking lot under Chaplin park.”

Officials said one of the factors that had led the CMC to explore an alternate parking arrangement was the “unexpected upsurge” of resentment that the Lindsay Street project had generated.

“It was spawning a lot of public illwill and forced us to look for a different location for the parking lot,” an official said.

Mukherjee’s grand dreams for the square, apart from the parking lot that will accommodate around 100 cars, include a subway to connect the new complex of New Market with the CMC headquarters, which will open out on S.N. Banerjee Road. This, say officials, is proof that Chaplin Square is, indeed, a replacement for the New Market Parkomat.

“The project cost will be around Rs 5.5 crore,” the mayor said on Tuesday. “We have pinned our hopes on a partner who will agree to develop the project on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme,” Mukherjee added. But, with vivid memories of a similar CMC project five years ago — where not one prospective partner had responded — the mayor clarified that the CMC would only wait for “some time” for the BOT scheme to materialise. “If no one responds to our proposal, the scheme will be a self-financing one by the CMC,” he promised.

CMC officials, however, added that it was also a case of being once-bitten-twice-shy, with Simplex staring at “unimagined” losses at Rawdon Street.

Simplex pegs its annual loss for the Parkomat at Rs 45 lakh and that, say officials, is enough reason for its saying ‘no’ to the New Market project.

With the plan to bail out the Rawdon Street project — by banning parking within a 500-metre radius of the Parkomat — not being enforced by the police, the parking lot, with a capacity of around 500 cars a day, has been drawing less than half the number.

Architect Dulal Mukherjee, who had provided Metro with an alternative design solution to the parking problem in the New Market area, expressed “delight” at the CMC decision to drop the New Market Parkomat.

“I thank and congratulate the mayor and his team for having had a rethink on the Parkomat and deciding on Chaplin Square as the venue for an underground parking lot,” he said.

Mukherjee, who had suggested that the Square be utilised for parking and be turned into a pedestrian zone, added: “Chaplin Square, as it is now, is totally under-utilised. Parking will at least make the area functional. However, the civic authorities’ responsibilities don’t end by merely making space for a hundred cars. Extreme care should be taken to ensure that the vehicular movement pattern is regulated properly.”

Mukherjee warned that the design of the project should be handled “very delicately” so that the “essential character of the area is not disturbed”. He called for transparency in the design solution by inviting popular participation in the process.


Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
Till January 30, Aditi Biswas (not her real name) was a “respected” teacher to over a dozen women convicts and undertrials of Presidency jail.

She would teach them tailoring and sometimes lectured them on how to steer clear of the primrose path.

But ironically, police picked her up on prostitution charges and she’s landed in the same jail where she used to preach.

Biswas was assigned to teach inmates on behalf of a city-based NGO engaged in counselling them and also in conducting vocational courses. She had to languish in jail till Monday, when she was produced in court and granted bail.

Pratik Dutta, officer-in charge of Bishnupur police station, in South 24-Parganas, said on Tuesday that Biswas was arrested, along with 11 others, at a resort on January 30 on charges of immoral trafficking.

“Biswas met me during the day to say that she was lured to the resort and that she is a member of a city-based NGO,” he said, adding: “We shall have to continue the case, as she has been arrested on specific charges.”

Jail sources said some women prisoners lodged a protest with superintendent S.R.Hussain two days ago and also decided to stay away from the counselling programmes, being carried out in the jail by the NGO.

They said the inmates will also submit a memorandum to minister for jails and social welfare Biswanath Chowdhury when he visits the jail on Wednesday.

“Some inmates, particularly convicts, told us Biswas had offered them gifts while taking tailoring classes,” said a senior jail officer. He said a probe was ordered to find out if she was trying to lure inmates away from the jail.

Inspector-general of prisons Anil Kumar said on Tuesday he had already blacklisted the NGO concerned. A monitoring cell is being set up at every central jail, including Alipore, Presidency and Dum Dum, to oversee the on-going NGO projects.

The prison administration has decided to introduce identity cards for members of NGOs enlisted for jail programmes. Their antecedents will be checked before ID cards are issued.

Asked if they were aware of Biswas’ activities, the secretary of the NGO concerned said her job was terminated last November, following complaints against her from the jail. She claimed the NGO had nothing to do with her any longer.

However, Nandini Ghosh, social welfare officer attached to the jail, said the NGO never informed the jail that Biswas had been sacked.


Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
CEOs in the city are low on “vision and charisma”, but enjoy “a high degree of follower confidence” and “display decisive capabilities”. They are less bothered about religion and superstition than their staff. It’s cost control and economic contribution to the nation that the men at the top are concerned about, far more than their subordinates. But when it comes to sales volumes and employee welfare, both leaders and followers are on common ground.

These are some of the findings of a recent survey conducted by the Eastern Institute for Integrated Learning in Management (EIILM). The Waterloo Street-based institute conducted the Global Leadership and Organisation Effectiveness (GLOBE) research study, commissioned by the Wharton School of Business.

The exercise in India is monitored by the Indian Institute of Management, Indore, with XLRI and EIILM handling eastern India. The preliminary findings of the study — commissioned to identify and predict the “impact of cultural variables to effective leadership” — will be presented to a select gathering of CEOs on Wednesday. It will later be published by Wharton in a book.

Professor Amit Sengupta, director, EIILM, said: “The study essentially aims to identify leader behaviour from two sources. The first one is obviously from the recorded interview of the CEOs and their response to a structured questionnaire. The other source is their followers’ response on leaders and their various leadership attributes.”

To capture the leadership pattern in the state, EIILM identified 40 prominent CEOs in West Bengal from a cross-section of industries, ranging from heavy engineering to financial services and consumer goods. Head of institutions, like Visva-Bharati and Bethune College, were also interviewed by the team of researchers, led by Kumkum Mukherjee of the behavioural sciences department, EIILM.

Besides interviewing the leaders, the researchers despatched structured questionnaires to nine followers (subordinates) in each of the organisations. “To have a representative sample, we have had multinational firms on the one hand and typical family-owned companies at the other extreme,” explained Sengupta.

The survey, conducted over a period of six months, also spells out how “status consciousness, malevolent approach and lower confidence on employees” on the part of the leader are the principal reasons behind “employee dissatisfaction” in the city. “These findings, which vary across regions, clearly bring out the role of political and cultural environment on leadership traits,” said Sengupta.


Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
The police on Tuesday said they had a “major lead” in the Lake Gardens murder case, with the arrest of a software businessman “involved in the crime”.

On January 28, Pranendra Roychoudhury, a shipping company executive, was shot dead at his Lake Gardens residence doorstep, apparently for turning down a Rs-25,000 extortion demand.

Introducing a “love angle” to the crime, the police said that rivalry over a woman had led to the murder. Software businessman Subhasis Talukdar, a friend of Roychoudhury’s, was initially detained for interrogation and later arrested under Section 302, IPC, (conspiring to murder).

According to the deputy commissioner, south, Kuldip Singh, a hitman was probably hired to carry out the killing. “We are now following up certain leads on the hitman,” Singh said.

The police ruled out a simple case of extortion as Roychoudhury had never received any threats. “We have checked with his family and the firm he worked for,” said officer-in-charge of Lake thana Anil Jana.

Besides, the police say, no extortionist would demand Rs 25,000 and expect an on-the-spot payment before gunning down someone.

The police said they had also checked out various other angles — including Talukdar’s disappearance after the murder, even though he and Roychoudhury were good friends.

Flyover demand: Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has demanded a tripartite agreement among the state government, a private partner and the CMC on the proposed construction of a flyover from Girish Park to Posta.


Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
Friends from the class of ‘61 in Presidency College; acquaintances from Coffee House addas; batchmates from the civil services…

They’ve all got together to try and make a difference. “You can justify a lifelong pension only on quid pro quo service to society,” says Nirmal Sinha of Swayam (Self Reliance and World Wide Access for the Young Aged and Marginalised ) People’s Foundation. “We read a lot of Sartre and Camus, and dreamt of a revolution, a new India. Swayam personifies that,” he adds.

The NGO is working in the field of employment, education, literacy for the challenged, computer training, healthcare and sundry social sectors. The Swayam office in FD Block, Salt Lake, has been monitoring rehabilitation and care of streetchildren and sex workers, non-criminal women prisoners and awareness programmes in rescue homes in the districts.

The education programme at the SOS village, Calcutta chapter, involving children from Classes VIII to X, has prompted the likes of the Corporation and Webel to donate computers for the cause. “This certificate course in computers has not only opened new avenues for them, but has also instilled self-confidence,” says T.C. Basu Mullick, secretary, SOS.

The popularity of the courses is evident from the flood of e-mail requests from organisations like Anandalok Hospital, Liluah Rescue Home and Sukanya women’s home. “With our limited means, we cannot afford to extend our services to more children,” admits the Swayam team.

Patrons now include scientists, academicians, litterateurs and retired civil servants. Aware of the “dearth of funds”, these “senior citizens with a difference” have been pooling in part of their pensions for the implementation of several projects.

Beside a grant from Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s trust Pratichi, there is no help forthcoming, “But we will make it past the arduous road that lies ahead,” declares Arati Sinha, founder and “spirit” behind the movement. “We don’t want to waste our time on seminars and workshops to discover hometruths. We are satisfied doing real grassroots work.”

Working with two other teachers at Sukanya on non-formal education, she is “overwhelmed by their interest and dedication”. Swayam is busy with the “location-finding” for setting up 50 non-formal schools at Amdanga, in Barasat, and Basirhat to reach out to child labourers in brick kilns.

“The paucity of funds is a major constraint,” says N. Krishnamurthy, president of Swayam. “Insufficient manpower is also taking its toll,” adds the former chief secretary of the Bengal government.

The cash crunch is a serious concern, with the budget allowing for the teachers no more than Rs 400 a month. But the problems have not put paid to their plans. The ‘golden oldies’ are making up with enthusiasm what they may have lost in terms of energy over the years.

Friends from other parts of the country, inspired by their effort, are keen to set up chapters of Swayam. Plans are also on for computer-related projects and jobs like medical transcription, census or election work to enhance interface and raise funds. “Thanks to modern medicine, we won’t die until we kill ourselves,” laughs Sinha. “And till then we will quietly do our duty.”



Mayor sacks aide planted by party

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee abolished the post of his confidential assistant, reportedly “to get rid of a mole planted by the Trinamul Congress headquarters”. The mayor’s confidential assistant, Asish Chakravorty, received a telephone call from the officer-on-special duty (OSD) in mayor’s office, Shaktipada Ghosh, on Monday night, communicating him of the “unpleasant decision”. He advised him not to come to office from Tuesday. The mayor’s office will now be looked after by his close associate from Intuc, Debiprosad Roychaudhury. “I have no complaint against Asish. I just want to cut the running cost of my office,” the mayor said. Chakravorty was appointed CA to the mayor by Harish Chatterjee Street. “Didi (Mamata Banerjee) has asked me to manage the party headquarters on Harish Chatterjee Street from Wednesday,” Chakravorty said.

Shanties burnt, woman hurt

Five shanties were gutted and a 35-year-old woman, Anita Chatterjee, suffered serious burns on Tuesday. The fire broke out after a gas cylinder exploded in a shanty on Baghbazar Street. The woman was admitted to RG Kar Hospital, where her condition was stated to be critical. Five fire tenders were pressed into service to douse the flames. Four other shanties were also damaged.

Fair water fails test

The civic water supply department sent a notice to the organisers of the Book Fair on Tuesday as most of the water samples collected from the fair grounds failed to pass the test. Member, mayor-in-council, water supply, Sovan Chatterjee, said seven of the 11 samples showed a bacteriological count much higher than the permissible limit.

Six hurt in mishaps

Six persons were injured in four accidents on Tuesday morning. In all the cases, the drivers were arrested and their vehicles impounded. Two girls were knocked down by a taxi at the intersection of CGR Road and Dock East Boundary Road, in the South Port area. Both were taken to SSKM Hospital. A 30-year-old man was hurt when a Maruti van crashed into the guard railings of Howrah Bridge. The unidentified man was hospitalised by passersby. In another incident, Ramlal Rai, a handcart-puller, was injured when a Matador van knocked him down near Phariapukur, in the Shyampukur area. Rai was admitted to RG Kar Hospital. Local residents managed to catch the driver. Two persons were injured when a Matador van skidded off Reformatory Road in Alipore. Police said Mahdi Hussain, the driver, and his help, Nurul Islam, were admitted to SSKM Hospital.

Airport ban lifted

The ban on visitors at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose airport was lifted on Tuesday. The ban was imposed after the strike outside the American Center.

Hindi SMS debut

For the first time in the city, mobile phone users will be able to send messages in Hindi. Subscribers of Command can avail of the ‘Hindi SMS’ scheme from Wednesday at the existing cost. The message will have to be typed in Hindi phonetics using English alphabets and sent as an SMS by prefixing 456 to the recipients number.    

Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
Our photographer caught him in the act. Ian Rolls was painting the Fire Brigade headquarters on Free School Street in shades of ochre and red. He liked its grid-like form, accentuated by shadows. He didn’t mind the people peeking over his shoulders. They often fetched him tea.

The 44-year-old artist has visited the city for over four winters since 1991. First, as part of the team that was involved in restoring the large colonial paintings in the Victoria Memorial Hall collection. This time, he is down with an exhibition of his own paintings, now being mounted at Galerie 88.

Rolls is from the tiny island of Jersey. Living there could be a frustrating experience. For breathers, he gets away from it periodically. Rolls went to Bristol Art College and Coventry Art College, which was at the centre of a strong art language movement. But this upsurge of experimentation, with which UK has been identified for the last decade, didn’t leave its mark on Rolls’ practice. His works are based on traditional skills and techniques.

Back in Jersey, he started off as a picture framer. He met a restorer and though Rolls was interested in the latter’s work, the man insisted he should be trained first. So a two-year course followed at Newcastle. Subsequently, he worked in London as a private restorer.

One of his assignments took him to Hongkong. On his way back, he stopped over in India for five weeks. He travelled from Kashmir to Kerala and that “gave me a real taste for India.” It also brightened his palette. That was in 1984.

In Jersey once again, he set up as a private restorer. Simultaneously, he continued to paint and hold shows. In early 1990, he became involved with the restoration project in Calcutta, and that, in more ways than one, played a crucial role in his life and career. For the four years that followed, Calcutta used to be his home through January and February.

The first set of images he painted here was exhibited in Jersey in a show called From Jersey to Calcutta. He had the privilege of seeing India from a perspective that was different from the tourist’s. Perhaps in an access of enthusiasm, Rolls declares: “Indian people are extremely sweet-natured,” and qualifies his statement: “Sure they have another side, which I didn’t get to see.”

It was in Calcutta in 1995 that he met his future wife, Ruth, a German restorer, who was part of the Victoria Memorial team. His five-and-a-half-year-old son was born of that marriage. In Jersey, Rolls decided to work full-time as an artist, while Ruth continues as a restorer. Since so much of his life has centred around Calcutta, he became “emotionally attached” to it and it was significant that the current exhibition be held here.

Rolls’ watercolours and gouaches painted in Jersey are tiny. The colours are strong, the lines and geometric forms even stronger. Rajasthan viewed through the filter of his mind appears in a series of abstract shapes that, however, are easily recognisable. The walls of Jaisalmer fort. The deep purple shadows cast by an overhanging balcony on sun-bleached sandstone. Pottery arranged in a niche. Corrugated tin sheets in a Calcutta slum. Rolls of rainbow-coloured plastic sheets in Chandni Chowk. Rolls practises transcendental meditation and “I wanted to induce this feeling of meditation when drawing. I let things happen spontaneously.”


Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
Efforts at creating awareness on AIDS took a novel turn at the 27th Calcutta Book Fair when, for the first time, HIV-infected people were made to interact with visitors to the fair.

Representatives of the Kolkata Network of Positive People (KNP+), who have about 120 HIV positive as members now, are available at the ‘stall’, allotted to the AIDS Prevention and Control Society (stand no. 42) to interact with the public.

This is in addition to the literature and advice given by those manning the stall.

The society has collaborated with and NGOs, to set up the stall, designed by Suchismita Ghatak, daughter of film-maker Ritwik Ghatak. “They are free to use any legal method to attract the fair visitors,” said an official of the society. “Such occasions are just right to educate the public on the virus.”

Besides inviting people affected by HIV, the dotcom organisation has also displayed a “human statue” that is covered in white and stands erect. “The person stands erect for almost three-and-a-half hours; not even batting an eyelid. A lot of people walk in out of curiosity to see the statue,” said the organisation’s director Ranjan Sen.

The Book Fair authorities have no qualms about the proposition and its execution.

“In fact, despite the AIDS Society approaching us at the last minute, when we were appraised of the cause, we allotted a stall immediately,” said Booksellers and Publishers’ Guild secretary Kalyan Saha. With a daily turnout of nearly 40,000 people, doubling on weekends, the exposure to the cause is extensive.

“Quite a number of visitors have asked me about the disease,” said Anup Saraogi, general secretary of KNP+.

“The obvious question is on contraction of the disease. I have no hesitation in telling them on how one contracts the disease, the preventive measures and the likely medicines to check its spread.”

One of the problems Saraogi and the other members face is the cost of anti-retroviral drugs that can arrest the growth of the virus. Till a breakthrough is achieved, the medication has to continue. “It would be a help if the state government, like the Centre, waived the tax imposed on such medicines,” he said.


Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
You have been served stale fish at a restaurant in the Howrah Maidan area. All you can do is pay for the meal and walk out.

If you want to lodge a complaint with the civic authorities, they will not be able to help, as the Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) does not have food inspectors, leave alone a public analyst. The HMC areas have become an adulterator’s paradise.

In the absence of inspectors, However, the civic authorities are oblivious to the fact. The food inspectors’ posts have been lying vacant for the past seven to eight years.

Asked why the vacancies were not being filled, deputy mayor Dilip Sen said: “Some time ago, the HMC had tried to appoint food inspectors, but the candidates were not qualified.”

Mayor Gopal Mukherjee said there were fresh attempts to choose candidates but the civic body drew a blank again.

“Food adulteration is a rising menace and we are definitely concerned. I admit that the absence of food inspectors and public analysts will take its toll on the health of the town’s residents,” said Mukherjee.

Officials said in the absence of the necessary machinery to check adulteration, residents were at the crossroads. “They don’t know who to turn to. Also, a court of law will not entertain a case on food adulteration unless it is supported by a report from a public analyst,” an official said.

Sen admitted that the situation was alarming and the issue needs to be addressed immediately. “When I took charge as deputy mayor, I had raised the issue several times. The mayor and I are still trying to find a way to solve the problem, but the absence of qualified staff stands in the way,” Sen said.

Howrah’s residents have come to terms with the fact that adulteration will continue to pose a health hazard as long as the HMC does not have a microbiological laboratory to test food samples.

“For example, the civic body has no infrastructure to test stale meat or even fast food. Some time ago, we had learnt of mustard oil adulteration in our area and approached the HMC authorities to launch a drive. But in the absence of any authority, the issue was not looked into,” the residents complained.


Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
Around 2,000 teachers from more than 100 colleges in the city are not getting their salaries on time. There are about 330 affiliated colleges all over the state, of which more than 100 colleges are in the city and its suburbs.

The delay in receiving salaries has, naturally, antagonised the teachers, who are planning to take up the issue with higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty.

The CPM-controlled West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association (WBCUTA) has convened a meeting on Thursday to discuss the impasse.

Association chief Manindranath Roy said on Tuesday the teachers were aggrieved with the state government’s failure to pay salaries to them on time.

“There is no particular date for payment of our salaries. Sometimes, we get it during the first week of a month, and often during the last week,” said Roy.

“We will discuss this issue during the executive committee meeting on Thursday,” Roy said.

The aggrieved teachers will demonstrate on the College Street campus of Calcutta University (CU) on Wednesday.

Similar demonstrations will be held in all state universities on Wednesday, a WBCUTA member said on Tuesday.

However, there is discontent in WBCUTA, as the non-CPM members are angry with the leadership for not organising any movement to regularise the payment of monthly salaries.

Aggrieved members became vocal during a meeting of the WBCUTA held on Monday and criticised the leadership for not taking up issue with the government.

“Minister Chakraborty is more busy in inaugurating private engineering colleges than regularising the salaries of the teachers,” the non-CPM members told the WBCUTA meeting on Monday.

However, Chakraborty, when contacted, refused to comment.

“It is unfortunate that the government is not serious in regularising the payment of salaries, though it keeps talking about the responsibilities and duties of teachers,” a senior WBCUTA member said, on condition of anonymity.

Sources say the WBCUTA leadership is worried about the move by the non-CPM members as some of the executive members have already floated a separate association.

The new association was formed recently because the WBCUTA, predominantly an association of college teachers, failed to fight for the cause of teachers.

Under pressure, the WBCUTA leadership has agreed to take up the issue of the college teachers’ pay with the state government. It is learnt that the leadership will meet Chakraborty to place the demand raised by the teachers.


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