�Twister� tears down 60 trees
Two-year stay on school funds cut
Armed youth take builder hostage
The City Diary
Overcoming odds, making a mark
Goon flees after firing at woman
Pitch team push for farm sector
Water tax pips property levy
High praise for Howrah film
Power regulator moves SC against tariff veto

Calcutta, May 27: 
Trees uprooted, walls smashed, lamp-posts bent out of shape, overhead wires dangling on deserted streets� Ballygunge Circular Road, off-limits for Monday morning traffic, resembled a scene straight out of Twister.

A Nor�wester had ripped through several pockets of south Calcutta early on Monday. And nowhere was it more devastating than in the stretch between St Lawrence High School and Ballygunge Science College on Ballygunge Circular Road. Other affected areas included Ballygunge, Hazra and Bhowanipore.

Weathermen said even though the windspeed recorded at Alipore was 78 kph, it may have touched 100 kph in some areas. The storm raged for about three to four minutes from 2.16 am, resulting in an immediate five-degree drop in temperature, from 27.5 degrees Celsius. There was 15.8 mm rain till 8.30 am on Monday.

�A Nor�wester has different windspeeds in different areas. While in Alipore it was 78 kph, in Dum Dum it was 62 kph. From the devastation, it appears that the windspeed may have been around 100 kph in a few pockets of south Calcutta,� said Alipore Met Office chief R.N. Goldar.

This would explain how 60-odd trees were uprooted in the city. Of these, 20 were on Ballygunge Circular Road, 10 in Hazra and seven inside Bhowanipore Ladies Park. A portion of the boundary wall of St Lawrence High School collapsed under a tree that toppled during the storm and the main entrance was blocked. �I have never seen such destruction on Ballygunge Circular Road,�� said Father Anil Mitra, principal of St Lawrence.

The Tripura House wall and three adjacent ones were damaged. Three lamp-posts in that narrow stretch were left hanging precariously. A milk booth was swept off and landed 50 yards from where it stood near Ballygunge Science College. Residents who dared to take a peek described the storm as a �terror twister�.

The durwan of a building adjacent to Tripura House, which is let out for weddings, recounted: �I was sleeping by the gates when the storm broke. Suddenly, I saw something like a whirlwind. Then, one by one, the trees started toppling.�

At Sankharipara, in Bhowanipore, the storm swept away tiles from the roofs of about 50 shanties. Residents alleged that many of their belongings had also been blown away. Angry residents blocked Debendranath Ghosh Road and heckled police officers who had gone there to inspect the damage.

�We have lost many of our belongings� And the tiles are so expensive. Some government officials have assured us of compensation for the damage,�� said Subir Basu, a resident.

The main approach to Bhowanipore police station from Beltala Road was blocked by a tree.

Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) employees were working overtime to cut the uprooted trees into pieces and clear the roads for traffic. In Beltala, Puddapukur and Lovelock Place, trees had blocked stretches, forcing traffic diversions. �The trunks are tough and we need more men to cut them and clear the streets with cranes. But only one crane has been pressed into service, slowing us down,� complained a CMC worker.


Calcutta, May 27: 
The meeting between a team of Anglo-Indian school principals and school education minister Kanti Biswas on Monday could put the Church of North India (CNI) authorities in a spot.

Biswas said the government may keep in abeyance for the next two years its plans to slash funds for payment of dearness allowance (DA) to the teaching and non-teaching staff of Anglo-Indian schools. He assured the principals � none from CNI-run institutions � that he would soon meet finance minister Asim Dasgupta to discuss the feasibility of a temporary stay on the funds cut to 69 Anglo-Indian schools.

�The principals have sought two years� time to make alternate arrangements to bridge the funds gap. We will be able to take a final decision after a nod from the finance department,� Biswas announced after the meeting.

This provides a twist in the tale in the face-off between CNI schools and guardians following a fee hike, justified only by the government move to slash funds. The government had recently sent a circular to all Anglo-Indian schools informing them about its plans to slash funds for payment of DA, from 132 per cent to 41 per cent.

Various guardians� associations have decided to approach the authorities of CNI schools after the summer vacation, demanding a rollback of the fee hike. �The management had given us in writing that it was forced to increase the fees only because of the government�s decision to slash funds to the schools. Now, if the government keeps its decision in abeyance, the management will also have to revert to the old fee structure. Otherwise, we will launch an agitation,� said P. Ghosh, member of the guardians� association of St Thomas Girls� School. The CNI-controlled school in Kidderpore had witnessed a prolonged agitation by guardians following the hike in fees.

After Monday�s meeting, principals of non-CNI schools said the school education minister had assured them of settling the issue �by next week�.

�The minister was sympathetic and understood our problem. He promised us that a positive step would be taken so that the functioning of our schools is not affected,� said Gillian D�Costa Hart, principal, Welland Gouldsmith School. Hart, the MLA representing Anglo-Indians in the state Assembly, was a member of the delegation that met Biswas.


Calcutta, May 27: 
After the recent murder of a promoter in south Calcutta and the abduction of a north Calcutta businessman, a central Calcutta builder was taken hostage on Monday afternoon.

According to Taltala police, five youths in a Tata Sumo stormed the office of Baseer Ahmed at 42, Imdad Ali Lane, behind New Market. Baseer, 42, was supervising work at a construction site around 1 pm when the youths, armed with revolvers, demanded that he accompany them. Witnesses said he was pushed into the vehicle, which sped away.

�There were five of them. We were too scared to protest,�� said a worker at the site. His colleagues informed Baseer�s family. A while later, Baseer�s family got a telephone call. Sources said the kidnappers have asked for Rs 5 lakh for his release. His relatives have been warned not to call the police.

�We have registered a kidnapping case at Taltala police station,� said DC, central, Zulfiquar Hasan. Police said Baseer was promoting five buildings in the area. Residents of Imdad Ali Lane and its surrounding areas alleged that a gang of extortionists had unleashed a reign of terror in the neighbourhood. Family members of Baseer told Metro on Monday that he had refused to pay �protection money�� to the goons.

And this is no isolated incident. Mahesh Agarwal, a Behala-based promoter, had refused local extortionists and was shot dead earlier this year. Last month, businessman Dinesh Singhania was kidnapped from the Ultadanga area. He returned home the next day. Police suspect the Singhanias paid a hefty ransom.

Initial investigations suggested that Baseer had been taken to a hideout outside the city. �We suspect Raju and Vikas, two local goons, had a role to play in the kidnapping,�� a police officer investigating the case said.

According to a sleuth, jailed crimelords Gabbar and Gudda have been monitoring operations in the area through �remote control�.

Late on Monday, the Taltala police � which admitted receiving complaints of extortion from the area � picked up three youths for questioning.



Bridegroom�s bus in ditch, 40 hurt

At least 40 persons, including five children and 10 women, were injured when a private luxury bus, carrying a bridegroom and his relatives, skidded off Diamond Harbour Road and rolled into a roadside ditch near Kakdwip, in South 24-Parganas district. Five of the injured were shifted to MR Bangur Hospital as their condition was stated to be critical. The rest of the injured were admitted to Diamond Harbour sub-divisional hospital. Police said the incident occurred when the driver of the Calcutta-bound bus from Namkhana lost control over the vehicle.

Roadblock to protest mishap

A 22-year-old youth was run over early on Monday on Beleghata Main Road. The victim was identified as Sujit Das, a local resident. Residents of the area put up a roadblock, which was lifted after police intervened.

Cup telecast rights

Ten Sports, the �only legal and authorised broadcasters� of the 2002 Fifa World Cup in India, has announced the sale of terrestrial rights for the �deferred live� telecast of four matches to LMB Holdings of India, according to sources in Taj Television, which owns the channel. The terrestrial rights deal with LMB Holdings, of which B4U is a part, include the opening match, the two semi-finals and the final, on a six-hour deferred basis, besides a daily highlights package. The deal means that the onus of negotiations with Doordarshan for the four Cup games now rests with B4U.

Man electrocuted

A 46-year-old man was electrocuted at Barrackpore on Monday. The deceased was identified as Pranab Roy Chowdhury, a pharmacist of Jawahar Lal Nehru Hospital in Kalyani. Police said the incident occurred when the victim was trying to remove an electric wire that snapped in his courtyard during Monday morning�s storm.

Shift proposal

A group of environmental activists has urged the government to rehabilitate shanty-dwellers along the canals which are being dredged. Representatives of Calcutta 36, a forum of NGOs, met municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya at Writers� Buildings on Monday and handed over a strategy paper. �Both the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank are against outright eviction and the government should see to it that these poor people do not suffer any further,� said C.R. Dutta, convener of the forum. According to Debananda Chatterjee, architect, there are over 275 acres occupied by defunct factories, which can be used for rehabilitation. �There is enough space along the Beleghata canal, from the EM Bypass to Maniktala Bridge, where people can be shifted at a low cost,� Chatterjee said. The group urged the minister to implement the Union government�s scheme for the rehabilitation of evicted people to use the land along the canal. �The minister has promised to consider the suggestion,� Dutta added.

Husband jailed

A man was sentenced to seven years� rigorous imprisonment by the additional sessions judge of Howrah court on Monday. Laltu Kole was arrested on charges of abetment to commit suicide. His wife Iti Kole, 32, had hanged herself at their home in Domjur, Howrah. Thumbs Up TO howrah police for launching a website where residents of the district can lodge complaints over e-mail from July    

Calcutta, May 27: 
Puspa Maity, a visually-challenged girl and inmate of Calcutta Blind School, Behala, has scored 74 per cent in Madhyamik 2002, the results of which were declared last week.

After noticing her interest in academics, the blind school authorities had her vision checked at their clinic and arranged for a free operation at the Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratisthan, on Lansdowne last month. Puspa�s sight was restored a month after the operation.

Puspa has scored 598 out of 800, missing the coveted �star� position by two marks, said Ashoke Choudhury, principal, Calcutta Blind School. According to rules of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, an examinee is awarded a �star� if he or she scores 600 out of 800.

The school has telephoned Puspa�s parents about her success in Madhyamik 2002. Belonging to a poor family from Paschim Midnapore, Puspa�s feat has delighted her family.

�She is now back in her village, as the doctors have advised her rest for the next two months,� said Choudhury.

Choudhury regretted that Puspa would have to stay back in her village and take admission in one of the local schools. �Her parents will not be able the bear the expense of sending her to Calcutta for Higher Secondary,� he added.

Puspa had joined the Calcutta Blind School in Class VII, where she was provided free accommodation and education. �Puspa is intelligent and can do well under proper guidance. We are sorry that we cannot keep her in our hostel any longer, as we do not have provisions for Higher Secondary students,� said Choudhury.

According to the principal, besides Puspa, the overall performance of his institute has been good this year. Ten candidates had appeared from the school, including six girls and four boys. All of them have been placed in first division.

Suparna Koyal, another visually-challenged girl, has stood first in the school, scoring 618 out of 800. Another girl, Shila Biswas, came second among those who appeared for Madhyamik 2002 from the school.

�We are happy that the time we spent on Puspa was worth it. She has, in fact, set an example for others that despite adverse circumstances, it is possible to excel in studies,� one of her teachers said.


Calcutta, May 27: 
Residents of Sahapur, in Behala, were irked over the police�s lack of initiative in tracking down a criminal, who shot a woman, Rina Adhikari, late on Sunday. The culprit was reportedly seen in the area after the incident but till Monday evening, he had not been rounded up. The incident took place near the Sahapur police outpost.

Rina was taken to SSKM Hospital, where her condition is stated to be critical. Sources said the criminal, Totan Kanji, had come to the Adhikaris� residence around 10.30 pm, asking Rina�s husband, Bhola, to step out. �When Bhola did, Totan asked him to sign a paper, permitting his mother-in-law Malina Mirdha to live on the premises without paying rent. Bhola refused. Then, Totan brandished a revolver and pushed him against a wall. Meanwhile, Rina, on hearing the argument, came out. Totan fired at her. The bullets pierced her abdomen and she fell to the ground. Her assailant disappeared into the darkness,� sources added.

Dipti, Rina�s daughter, said: �We had retired for the day after dinner when the incident took place. My mother became a victim when she went out to see what was happening.� Totan�s family could not be located.

Doctors at SSKM Hospital have extracted a bullet from Rina�s abdomen but are not sure if more bullets are lodged inside. �Nothing can be predicted for 48 hours. We need to take more X-rays to find out if there are more bullets in her abdomen. Her condition is still not stable,� said a doctor. Bhola has confirmed that Totan fired several shots. The police have recovered an unused cartridge from the Adhikaris� courtyard.

�The incident took place last night and yet the police came only this morning. Moreover, the officer in-charge is always trying to shield Totan, although complaints against him had been lodged for quite some time. Even in this case, the officer was initially reluctant to register our complaint but finally, when the neighbourhood turned up, he was forced to do so,� said a resident, on condition of anonymity.

The officer in-charge of Sahapur outpost, however, denied that he had been protecting Totan.

Later, additional superintendent of police, industrial, Rajesh Kumar Singh, said that a hunt has been launched to track Totan. �We will surely put him behind bars,� he said.


Calcutta, May 27: 
Size doesn�t always matter. This is the brief for the investment scouting team � comprising top-notch government officials and McKinsey executives � from Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee�s Bengal.

So, besides focusing on large investments, the pitch team is trying its best to bring in even �smaller and not-so-impressive� investments into the state. �These investments can effect a significant change in the agriculture and allied sector in the state. We expect this sector to emerge as the major employment generator in the next two to three years,� said a senior West Bengal government official.

The calculations are based on the initial outcome of the scouting for investments in IT and agriculture, which started in November last year, following the commissioning of consultancy major McKinsey by the state government. While investments in IT have remained elusive, the prospect of funds flow in agriculture seems much �brighter�.

Government sources indicate that the formalities of sealing the deal with poultry products giant Venkateshwara Hatcheries is in the final stages and the next three to four months will spring more surprises.

�Our focus is on getting the best players in the various segments of the value chain to benefit both the farmers and customers. The investment figures may be smaller when compared with industry, but the impact will be immense. Besides lowering prices, the existence of bigger players at various stages will ensure productivity growth and product standardisation,� said the official.

According to him, talks are on with a Tata Group subsidiary company for providing extension services like seeds and technical knowhow to the farmers. �Besides, we are negotiating with one of the largest fast-moving consumer goods companies in the country in the processed food category,� said the officer. The government is also selling the state�s potential in shrimp farming and fisheries.

But the investment hunt is not limited to a marketing exercise alone. To lend support to the countrywide initiative, the government is working on creating a conducive policy environment. �The contract farming policy is on the drawing boards and will soon be finalised,� the official said.


Calcutta, May 27: 
Filtered water from the Garden Reach waterworks has registered a price hike that outstrips the price of soft drinks in the past 10 years. An unprecedented nine-fold hike (about 800 per cent) has been slapped on residential connections in registered cooperative housing estates, whereas the market price of soft drinks registered a 60 per cent hike in the same period.

�We started levying charges on filtered water supplied to registered housing cooperatives from 1990. The initial rate was 45 paise per 1,000 litres. It is now Rs 4 per 1,000 litres,� said chief engineer Rajat Mohan Chatterjee of the Central Municipal Water and Sanitation Authority (CMWSA).

Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), municipalities, Calcutta Port Trust (CPT), the railways and housing cooperatives, which had, so far, not paid for filtered water, started receiving monthly bills from the CMWSA. The bill, in some cases, shot up to lakhs, as the backlog has been included. According to Chatterjee, the CPT is repaying its Rs 1.25-crore arrears in instalments of Rs 15 lakh per month.

The CMC recently received outstanding bills to the tune of Rs 200 crore for the 60 million gallons of filtered water it received daily from the Garden Reach waterworks since 1985, for supply in Tollygunge, Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur.

�Before paying off the CMWSA, I must realise taxes and service charges from all government establishments, including Writers� Buildings and the Garden Reach waterworks,� said mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Monday.

Sources say the CMWSA is being harsh in realising water bill dues from household consumers. �Pay up or we cut lines,� is the underlining statement.

Dakshini, a housing society in Akra, is an agglomeration of 123 lower-income group (LIG) flats. Recently, it received outstanding bills to the tune of Rs 26 lakh, besides the current monthly bill of Rs 21,000 for filtered water. �I will have to sell off my flat to pay my share of the bill,� said K.L. Saha, a retired bank employee. �I bought this flat by coughing up Rs 30,000 in 1987. Now, my share of the arrears of Rs 26 lakh will be something to the tune of Rs 21,138. How am I going to raise that kind of money?� he asked.

Similarly, around 112 ownership flats in Sampa Mirzanagar Government Housing Phase-II received a monthly water bill of Rs 80,000 from the CMWSA. �How is it possible? I pay Rs 146 as property tax a month, while the CMWSA is forcing me to pay Rs 714 every month for filtered water,� said K.G.G. Siddiqi, a flat-owner.

Chatterjee added that in calculating outstanding bills, no interest had been charged on the arrears and the computation has been made on the basis of different rates which were effective at different points of time.


Calcutta, May 27: 
They thought it would never see the light of the projector. Mired in red tape and thwarted by roadblocks, their dream documentary almost didn�t get off the ground. But suddenly, everything fell into place, the cameras started rolling and they were on their way.

What started off as an experimental student project, is making waves on the global short-film circuit. Howrah Howrah, a 26-minute documentary made by film students from Germany and Calcutta as part of the year-long German Festival in India 2000-2001, has got rave reviews in a string of festivals in Picciano, Granada, Leipzig, Prague, Munich and other cities.

Directed by Till Passow and shot by Lars Lenski, both students from HFF Konrad Wolf Film Academy in Potsdam, Berlin, the film was a collaboration project with students of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI).

Canned in Calcutta over 10 months in 2001, the film has also given a city student a place in the sun. Sudip Chattopadhyaya, a 34-year-old graduate from SRFTI, who had edited the documentary, has received a shot in the arm, with the film�s success propping up his fledgling career.

Shot on the platforms of Howrah station, it was among the three nominations at the International Documentary Festival, Amsterdam, and won special mention with the Fipresci film critics� award.

Howrah Howrah also won the best documentary prize at the 14th International Short Film and Animation Festival in Dresden.

But, the real high for the crew and young Sudip came at Santiago, Chile, where the film bagged the best documentary award and he won the best editor award. �It was quite overwhelming for me, since I got an international professional technicians� award for a students� film at a major fest,� smiles Sudip, who has specialised in digital and film editing.

�We shot 95 cans of 35 mm stock, which means six hours of footage, something of a technical rarity in these parts,� says Sudip, who edited the entire material on a Steinbeck machine at SRFTI.

For Till, Lars, Sudip and the rest, the first screening of the documentary at Gorky Sadan last year was a �wonderful experience�, because �so many children from the station platforms turned up�. Sudip, who has been vastly influenced by late cinematographer Subrata Mitra (�Subratada taught me how to love the editing machine�), was invited to introduce the film at a three-day special film session of the 35th Biennial Young Artiste Festival at Torino for below 35-year-olds.

Recognition has come in the form of a script collaborator�s job in a Bengali film by German filmmaker Florian Gallenberger, maker of the Oscar-winning I Want To Be. It will be shot in Calcutta by Gallenberger who visited SRFTI in February.


Calcutta, May 27: 
The State Electricity Regulatory Commission today filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, challenging the Calcutta High Court order that struck down the commission�s recommendations on revised electricity tariff in CESC-served areas.

The high court had also marginalised the power board by ordering a 17.5 per cent hike in CESC�s tariff in a May 14 judgment, putting a question mark on the usefulness of the commission.

Last Friday, CESC had announced new rates � the sharpest hike in tariff in recent memory � citing the high court order and said it would be collected from next month.

The state power commission�s lawyers, Diptendra Narayan Roy and Mukul Rohatgi, moved a special leave petition in the apex court. The case is expected to be heard either on May 29 or the first available day thereafter.

The commission�s chairman, Justice S.K. Fauzdar, said he received a copy of the high court judgment late on Friday and after going through it, thought it fit to challenge it in the Supreme Court.

�We are moving the apex court following certain observations on the jurisdiction of the commission by the high court. We have also sought a full stay on the high court judgment,� said Fauzdar.

The other principal power-supplying agency, the State Electricity Board (SEB), is looking with interest at what the Supreme Court has to say about the commission�s petition because the SEB, too, had sought a hike similar to that of CESC.

After the power commission announced its recommendations, a dissatisfied SEB had also moved the Calcutta High Court.

However, if the apex court grants a �full stay� on the high court�s judgment, then CESC will not be able to implement the new electricity rates it announced last Friday. �We will have to abide by whatever the Supreme Court says,� said a senior CESC official.

The power regulatory commission was set up in the state two years ago under the provisions of the Electricity Regulatory Commission Act of 1998. The functions of the commission include determination of tariff, regulation of power purchase and promotion of competition among power-supplying agencies and efficiency.

The commission fixed the tariff for Calcutta and rest of Bengal for the first time in September last year after hearing the power utilities, the consumer lobbies and the industrial sector.

All the five utilities in Bengal � CESC, SEB, Durgapur Projects� Limited, WBPDCL and Dishergarh Power Supply Company � had moved the high court against its recommendations.

Explaining the delay in filing the appeal in the Supreme Court, a power commission official said: �Even though the order was passed on May 14, we only received a copy of the judgment on May 24. Then the weekend came. So we could file the petition in the Supreme Court today.�


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