Escape from chaos crossroad
Tech school talks fail
Razors drawn in prison van
Flying colours for Moustache Man
Living memories of David McCutchion
The City Diary
Crackdown on civic tax sharks
Howrah drive to map disease-prone areas
Buddha nod for growth panels
Security scan on industrial zones

Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
Painter Wasim Kapoor is fed up of being stranded at Esplanade. A resident of Prafulla Sarkar Street for the past 40 years, he has had to negotiate the corridor of chaos almost every day. “I must have spent half my life negotiating traffic snarls at Esplanade. All major art galleries are in south Calcutta and I dread the thought of crossing this stretch to visit an exhibition,” said Kapoor.

This summer, the government promises a smoother passage for the painter and thousands of Calcuttans caught at the crossroads. The government has taken up a Rs 7.88-crore scheme to “rearrange traffic” at Esplanade. Transport department sources said the government was determined to ease congestion at Esplanade, where over 54,000 vehicles pass between 8 am and 8 pm every day.

Traffic planners said the project revolves around a “Y-shaped road” connecting Rani Rashmoni Avenue and Esplanade East, slated to be ready this June. Traffic arriving from the south, along Jawaharlal Nehru Road and bound for C.R. Avenue or Bentinck Street, will be allowed to carry on straight past Metro cinema. But vehicles on J.N. Road, bound for Lenin Sarani, will be diverted down one arm of the ‘Y’ to Esplanade East.

Traffic from the Maidan, Behala and Kidderpore areas, arriving along Rani Rashmoni Avenue, will be diverted to Esplanade East through the other arm of the Y. “This includes cars bound for C.R. Avenue, Lenin Sarani and Bentinck Street, as well as the few headed for Grand hotel or New Market,” said a transport department official.

The one ‘plus’ arising out of the revised road rules will be the ‘no right turn’ stricture on vehicles travelling north along J.N. Road. “The improved traffic engineering will ease congestion at the Esplanade East crossing, near the K.C. Das sweet shop. It will also help speed up traffic movement. At present, the average speed at the crossing is about 10 kph. After the project is complete, we expect the speed to double,” said Bibhas Kumar Sadhu, chief traffic and transportation engineer of the transport department.

A sophisticated traffic signalling system will be installed at the Dorina crossing, more guard-rails will be erected and the western flank of J.N. Road will be widened between the intersections with S.N. Banerjee Road and Lindsay Street. “The side of J.N. Road handling the north-bound traffic is narrower than the flank for south-bound traffic. We must sort this out. We will also level out the ditch at the J.N. Road-Lenin Sarani intersection,” added Sadhu.

The Hooghly River Bridge Commission (HRBC) started work on the project stretch last year, with funding from the Japanese Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC).


Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
The crisis continues at the state-promoted Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) at Salt Lake. Thursday morning’s meeting between students and Anup Chanda, principal secretary, technical education, failed to resolve matters.

The alumni handed over a list of demands to Chanda during their two-and-a-half-hour meeting. They want the transfer of 6.4 acres to the institute in three days and construction of IIIT’s own building, besides a deemed university status for the tech school within six months.

Md Salim, minister in charge of technical education, will meet the students on Friday to try and defuse the crisis. “We won’t attend classes unless there are signs of action,” said a student.


Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
In a major breach of security, undertrial Seukumar Razzak, a henchman of Sheikh Vinod, slashed rival gangster Sheikh Mohammad Siddique Gaffar, alias Gudda, in a police van.

Both were being taken to Alipore court from Presidency jail on Thursday afternoon.

Gudda struck back with a blade, which he had hidden in his trouser waistband. As the two scuffled on the floor of the van, other prisoners, including Vinod, attacked each other and soon, the skirmish turned into a free-for-all.

Preliminary investigations indicated that the scuffle was the fallout of a turf rivalry between Gudda and Vinod.

The incident has highlighted the lax security in jails and also in prison vans, as the police failed to detect the weapons being carried by the criminals. Razzak, too, had hidden a razor in his trouser waistband before boarding the police van.

“How can criminals lay their hands on weapons in jails and prison vans? They are screened before they board the van. We suspect that some policemen had helped them smuggle in the weapons,’’ an officer said.

Additional commissioner of police Kiriti Sengupta said the prison van was carrying 19 undertrials. Taking advantage of the chaos, some of the criminals attacked the security guards and tried to escape.

The van driver, however, thwarted the bid by driving the van onto the court premises. Reinforcements were sent for and the police managed to separate the warring groups.

According to Alipore police station, three policemen and six criminals were injured in the melee. Gudda, Razzak and three other criminals were taken to SSKM Hospital and treated for their wounds.

The hospital authorities said Gudda had knife wounds on his throat, chin and right shoulder. “We had to stitch him up,” said a doctor. The policemen were discharged after first-aid.

Lalbazar sources said the deputy commissioner of police, reserve force, Debashis Roy, who went to the spot to probe the incident, has been asked to submit a report on the incident. Sengupta said the police are probing the security breach and the guilty police officers would be booked.

According to deputy commissioner, central, Zulfiquar Hasan, Gudda had been charged with a dozen murders and extortion cases. His area of operations stretched from Rajabazar, Narkeldanga, Maniktala, central Calcutta and the port. “We rounded him up in Asansol last year, when he was attending the burial of a family member,’’ he added.

Vinod and Razzak operated in Behala, Tollygunge, Jadavpur and Sonarpur. They have been charged in over two dozen cases of dacoity, murder, rape and extortion.


Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
Victor Joynath De can keep his moustache and his flying gear, too. The purser with Indian Airlines — “given compulsory retirement” from January 11, 2001, for refusing to shave off his precious handlebar — won a landmark verdict at Calcutta High Court on Thursday.

Justice Aloke Chakraborty backed De’s right to keep his moustache and directed Indian Airlines Ltd to “reinstate him” immediately. The court, however, chose not to comment on whether he must resume service as a purser.

De’s troubles can be traced back to July 10, 1998, when the airlines authorities issued a circular stating: “Hair should be neat and tidy and flight personnel should be clean-shaven (except Sikhs), with neatly trimmed moustaches not beyond the upper lip.” This was an extension of an earlier notification that simply said: “Moustache, if worn, will be neatly trimmed.”

De, who sports a “big moustache”, refused to accept the ‘snip’ circular. “All other categories — in the uniforms, dress and deportment circular issued to crew members — were acceptable, but my client refused to compromise when it came to the question of trimming his beloved moustache,” explained advocate A. Barat, who initiated proceedings against the airlines, challenging the validity of its notification.

When De did not toe the trim line, the authorities first grounded him. Then, when he moved court protesting the “injustice”, he was pushed into “compulsory retirement”.

On Thursday, Justice Chakraborty observed that the rule framed by the airlines with regard to “moustache and long hair” had not been included in its original operations manual. “With regard to moustaches, the respondents (Indian Airlines) were not having the power to make prescription merely by circular without making a provision in the operations manual,” the judge ruled. “The petitioner (De) not complying with the said requirements regarding moustaches could not be ground enough for exercising the power to effect compulsory retirement.”

Victor Joynath De was not available for comment till late on Thursday. But his family members confirmed he would rejoin work — after 13 months — on Friday morning.


Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
A leaning terracotta tower shaped like a dagger. A huge pile with an octagonal pinnacle overgrown with creepers reminiscent of Brueghel’s Tower of Babel. A panel depicts the arrival of the steam engine.

The darkened Prince Hall of Victoria Memorial came alive with these bright images in vivid colours as they were projected by George Michell to illustrate his McCutchion Memorial Lecture on Wednesday evening. It was meant to commemorate the 30th death anniversary of the man who had extensively documented over 12 years the terracotta temples of Bengal in the 60s when he took these photos. David McCutchion used to teach at Jadavpur University then.

The clarity of the transparencies and their sparkling tints left the audience wonderstruck. One wished Michell had shown more of the photographs, particularly the ones taken in Bangladesh. In what state are the temples in now? There was no one there to answer that question.

Michell, 57, who has done extensive research on Indian architectural history over the last 25 years and has several publications to his credit, did not retell the story of McCutchion’s death in Calcutta at 42. Instead, he related how he became involved with David’s unfinished work and the academic material he had willed to Robert Skelton, then curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Before McCutchion’s death in 1972, he had already won a grant to carry on his research. Though Michell knew little about Bengal terracotta temples, in 1975 Skelton chose him to continue the research as his specialisation was Early Chalukya architecture. In 1978, he began his work in right earnest. He stretched the funds meant for a couple of months over three years and travelled extensively in Bengal districts and Bangladesh.

McCutchion had already classified the temple architecture. As Michell says: “Others like Hitesh Ranjan Sanyal, Pranab Roy and Amiya Bandopadhyay had done some documentation. McCutchion, often accompanied by Tarapada Santra, was the first to do it systematically through all of Bengal. He travelled extensively by bicycle, by local train and on foot.” The passion had developed from an amateur weekend interest. He had documented 1,620 temples, most of which “don’t exist bureaucratically”, and took 15,000 photos. All the academic material is now in the custody of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

However, he had not done an extensive survey of sculpture. Michell selected key monuments from his archive, made drawings of architecture and sculpture and verified dates. What was missing from the archive was the map, without which it was impossible to locate all the temples.

But a CPWD engineer had already done the mapping. Michell chanced upon Shambhunath Mitra, who admired McCutchion’s temple monograph, in National Library. “This gave geographical precision to David’s work.”

When Mitra followed in McCutchion’s footsteps, many temples were already derelict or had been vandalised, but he marvelled at the man’s measurements “correct by half-an-inch.” Mitra has documented them in black and white.

This collaboration resulted in a 1984 compendium of articles and visual material titled, Brick Temples of Bengal: From the Archives of David McCutchion. The Centre for Studies in Social Sciences has inherited Sanyal’s photos. Soon, the Centre for Archaeological Studies and Training, Eastern India, will bring out a commemorative volume on McCutchion and Sanyal. As the well-attended lecture proved, McCutchion lives on in our memories.



Property strife led to trader murder

Investigation carried out by the police in the past 24 hours has revealed that a property dispute among relatives of Satyendra Prasad Singh was the reason behind his brutal killing. Shortly before he was murdered, Singh had lunch with a visitor, who helped Singh wash the utensils before suffocating him to death and than slitting his throat. “Singh had amassed huge property in the past few decades which some of his relatives were trying to acquire. One of them could be behind his death,” said deputy commissioner of police (North) K.L. Tamta on Thursday. A police team has left for Midnapore to trace the killer. The timber and cotton merchant was murdered in his Strand Road flat on Wednesday afternoon. Singh has three sons—all engineers residing abroad. “His wife, who was away from home, and his three sons are expected to reach Calcutta soon,” police said. Evidence has been found that Singh had decided to sell one of his shops, which was being opposed by relatives who wanted a share of the property, said Tamta. “We are checking the property documents to see whether any of them had reasons to be aggrieved,” said an officer of Jorabagan police station.

Students issue court threat

A group of students of Shibpur Bengal Engineering College found responsible for creating trouble on the campus in December, have threatened to file a case against the authorities for not allowing them to attend classes. They claimed that they should not be punished now as the inquiry has yet to be completed.

House on auction

Calcutta Municipal Corporation will place Burlow House, 60, Chowringhee Road, on auction to realise outstanding property tax of over Rs 60 lakh from the owner of the house. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said when the Corporation issued a decree in July to the owner of Metal Box, Vinod Krishna, one Vinod Bajoria appealed to Calcutta High Court and obtained an interim stay order. Justice Barin Ghosh on Thursday dismissed the appeal, vacating the interim order.

Nature fair

In association with the World Wide Fund for Nature, Concern for Calcutta has organised a nature fair at Loudon Street. The fair, which will continue till Saturday, features exhibitions and workshops, theatre, craft competitions and poetry workshops.

Petrol strike

Several of the Indo-Burma Petroleum (IBP) service stations ran dry in the city after a day-long strike called by some employees at the IBP factory in Budge Budge. It was learnt that the strike was called after two CITU workers were allegedly suspended by the management. The workers refused to allow loading and unloading in the area, which hampered supply of diesel and petrol to various service stations.

Spell check

The finals of the inter-school SpelLinc Competition will be held at Rabindra Sadan on Friday. Students of over 75 students are taking part in the contest.

Seminar on books

The department of English, Jadavpur University, is organising a seminar entitled ‘Towards Book History in India’ at the HL Roy auditorium on Friday and Saturday. Exhibitions on rare books and printing will also be mounted.    

Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has asked municipal commissioner Debashis Som to book ‘corrupt’ assessment inspectors for whimsically imposing exorbitant house tax rates.

“It is an offence to extort money from a house-owner, under the threat of a tax burden,” said Mukherjee. “I have received complaints that civic inspectors have been imposing a heavy tax on a few occasions,” he added. The mayor has directed Som to pull up errant civic inspectors following complaints from rate-payers.

Sources said inspectors-turned-extortionists in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) had started minting money by intimidating rate-payers during assessment visits.

Despite the mayor’s circular, under Section 171(9), setting higher limits for tax during revision, tax-payers who were not yielding to bribery demands are facing up to 1,000 per cent hikes in their property tax.

Four files lying with the mayor point to malpractices by assessment inspectors:

On 5G, Tiljala Road, the annual property tax of a hut, fixed at Rs 3,000, has been raised to Rs 30,900 during revision

On 77, Topsia Road, annual tax fixed at Rs 2,050 has been raised to Rs 24,000. There has been no change in the house structure or its usage in the interim period

At 1/B/4/H, Chhatu Babu Lane, in the Entally area, when the owners approached the assessment inspectors, they were asked for extra money

On Rajendra Mitra Road, a house has been registered as an ice-cream factory, raising the tax

Property tax in Calcutta is revised at an interval of six years. There is a standing circular that if a particular property does not undergo a “change in character” — both in terms of usage and dimension — during the interim period, the hike cannot be more than 10 per cent of the existing amount.

Besides, specific instructions, under Section 171 (9) of the CMC Act, 1980, have been printed on the reverse of the tax bill, stating that in case of houses in the slums, the hike cannot be more than 15 to 18 per cent of the existing tax rate.

Sources said when house-owners approach assessment department officials to lodge their grievances, they are asked to cough up a little “extra” to settle the dispute.


Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
The National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) on Thursday began an exercise to map the areas in Howrah town and elsewhere in the district that are prone to enteric diseases, such as diarrhoea.

A team from NICED visited Howrah General Hospital on Thursday to take stool samples of patients suffering from enteric diseases.

“The samples will be examined. We will carry out the exercise for a year, so that we can get an idea on the incidence of the disease in Howrah. Then, we will examine the water samples of these areas to detect the source. This will help us combat the disease,” S.K. Bhattacharya, NICED director, told Metro.

Another team of NICED officials will visit Satyabala Infectious Diseases Hospital, Howrah, and collect samples from patients.

Superintendent of Howrah General Hospital H.K. Chanda said a drive to combat enteric diseases is being conducted for the first time.

“Such drives should have been taken up by the Howrah civic body, but it lacks the adequate infrastructure. So, we requested NICED, a specialist body, to carry out the drive. Once we identify the areas prone to diseases, we will be able to handle an outbreak,” said Chanda.

Officials from NICED, including Deepika Sood and Mihir Bhattacharya, visited the Howrah General Hospital on Thursday morning and made the rounds of the wards.

“People mostly suffer from water-borne diseases. In many areas, drinking water is contaminated and leads to enteric disease,” said the NICED officials.

Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) officials did admit a few days ago that the drinking water was acidic and unsafe for consumption.

Engineers in the water supply department of HMC had said that the ‘Ph’ level of the water was lower than that recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“A sustained drive throughout the year is crucial for identifying the areas prone to enteric diseases. That is why we will carry out the drive for a year. Incidence of enteric diseases is lower during winter and higher during monsoon. So, a prolonged drive will help us detect a pattern in the incidence of the disease in Howrah,” said the NICED officials.


Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has given the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) his go-ahead to form six sub-committees that will oversee and co-ordinate urban development in the city and suburbs. The 70-member MPC was formed last year.

State urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said on Wednesday that key persons have been chosen to head each of the committees.

Bhattacharya will chair a 12-member executive committee, which will decide on core matters pertaining to development in Greater Calcutta and the metropolitan areas. The sub-committees will look after education, environment, traffic and transportation, water supply and drainage and sewerage.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee is part of the executive committee, besides being chairman of the sub-committee in charge of water supply. Gopal Mukherjee, Howrah mayor, has been roped in too.

“To bring an understanding in specialised areas — traffic and transportation — we have roped in the general managers of Metro Railway and Eastern Railway,” Bhattacharya added.

“We have decided to set aside two per cent of the total development outlay each year and provide funds for municipalities, based on their performances,” said Bhattacharya. The move was recommended by the state finance commission but could not be implemented last year due to the elections.


Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
Ten days after state CPM secretary Anil Biswas emphasised the need to set up local vigilance groups, in the wake of the January 22 attack on the American Center, the South 24-Parganas police administration has taken the initiative to form the first batch of such groups.

Sources said the areas within the district, on the southern fringes of the city, are being treated as top priority.

The district police authorities have decided to concentrate on the industrial areas, including Tiljala, Kasba, Jadavpur, Regent Park, Behala, Thakurpukur, Metiabruz and Maheshtala. There are 29 police stations in the district, of which 11 lie in the industrial areas.

“Areas like Tiljala shot into prominence after the abduction of Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman. Jamaluddin Nasir, accused in the American Center attack, was also arrested from the same area. Moreover, most of the arrests in connection with the Khadim’s abduction took place at Tiljala,” said an official.

The vigilance groups, comprising people from different walks of life, will keep an eye on new arrivals. The groups will also maintain vigil on public telephone booths and cars making frequent visits to an area at night and will work in tandem with the local police.

“On Sunday, we have called a meeting to finalise the committee in our area,” said Kamal Chowdhury, officer-in-charge of Regent Park police station.

Rajesh Kumar Singh, additional superintendent of police (industrial), said: “The groups will be monitored and will not be allowed to take the law in their own hands.”


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