Cut house tax, make them pay
Drug �n� rob man held
Court admits Saha plea
Budding heart doctor beats the odds
The City Diary
Party clout shuts school gates
Overnight rain floods city streets
Abduction racket busted, five arrested
Doctors urged to go easy on fresh-blood demand
Shah stress on art of living

Calcutta, June 24: 
The 50-year-old property tax, every Calcutta houseowner�s pet hate, is all set to be slashed to an appreciable extent. This is part of a government policy initiative to be announced, and is aimed at urban renewal across Bengal.

Urban development and municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya said on Monday the measures being finalised will seek to optimise earnings from the tax after trimming it. It will encourage property-owners to square off outstandings as well as comply with it readily.

The government is contemplating slashing the property tax by at least 10 per cent. Now, it is pegged at 40 per cent of the assessed value of a landed property, Bhattacharya said.

A 10 per cent cut in calculating incidence of tax on assessed value means a saving of Rs 200 per month for the owner of a 1000-square-foot flat in Calcutta proper.

�We want to move into a low tax regime, too, in tune with the prevailing trend across the country,� Bhattacharya told Metro. �Once we are able to soften the edges of the tax by reducing it, property-owners will be encouraged to pay up. We can channelise the money collected into urban renewal all over Bengal.�

Under the existing system, the official assessor calculates the value of a taxable property in and outside Calcutta on the basis of the per-square-foot rent of the premises.

Among the proposed measures are:

Examining the possibility of calculating tax on the basis of the location of a taxable building or apartment

Assessment and reassessment of a property by its owner

Compatibility with the West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act, which asks a tenant to share a portion of the house-owner�s tax burden proportionate to the space occupied by the tenant

Tax relief for educational institutions

The government will push amendments to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation Act, 1980, and the West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993, to prune the civic property tax, Bhattacharya said.

The time for introducing the two amendments is yet to be fixed, though the government has the next session of the House in mind. Once passed, they will trigger off similar amendments to the Acts governing Howrah and other civic bodies. Although property tax is charged all over Bengal, the cut is expected to cheer up the Calcutta house or flatowner the most. The tax is a crushing burden in the city, particularly in wards 1 to 100.

Urban development experts have been suggesting that the government revise the tax structure for optimum earnings, trimming defaults and better utilisation of funds.

The findings of an ongoing survey support the planned policy initiative. Conducted by the municipal affairs department, in consultation with the Central valuation board and various civic authorities, the survey seeks to identify ways of boosting the earnings of the civic authorities through minimum tax and maximum coverage.

Besides, Bhattacharya�s department is in touch with the civic authorities of Mumbai, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad, where property tax has already been restructured.

Bhattacharya said he will soon invite mayors across the country to a workshop in Calcutta to share their experience of the management of the property tax with civic bosses of Calcutta, Salt Lake, Howrah and other municipal areas. He is already in consultation with them.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said he will forget political differences and support the initiative on property tax for the greater good of Calcutta.


Calcutta, June 24: 
He would strike up a conversation with young students visiting the National Library, over a cup of tea or even a glass of water. He would slip something into the cup or the glass. This would make the students drowsy and before they could realise what was happening, he would empty their bags and pick their pockets.

Mohammad Qader�s drug-and-rob luck ran out on Sunday. Everything was going according to plan when he �befriended�� yet another youth near the Alipore Zoological Gardens and offered to take him inside National Library for a cup of tea. The youth was a cop on an anti-crime patrol. Qader was promptly arrested and taken to Alipore police station.

Pinaki Mandal, officer-in-charge, Alipore police station, said on Monday that they had received six complaints in the past 10 days, all from youths who were drugged and robbed on the National Library campus. �We were flummoxed,� admitted Mandal, after an anti-crime patrol on the National Library campus failed to spot the culprit.

Of the six complainants, four were students from New Alipore, Rashbehari Avenue, Ekbalpore and Behala. Their tales of woe were similar.

The starting point of the conversation with all the victims was Qader asking them how to get enrolled as a member of the reading section of the library and whether he would be allowed to take the books home for some time, police said.

Soon, Qader would offer a cup of tea or a glass of water. �It was very hot and I was longing for a cup of tea,� Salauddin, 26, told investigators.

Qader would then ask his victim to wait as he went to a mobile vendor or the canteen to get the tea. There, he would add some chemicals to the liquid, police suspect, as the victims would feel drowsy after a few sips.

�My head was reeling and I lay down on the lawns,� Salauddin told the police. �I could feel him (Qader) taking out the wallet from my pocket and removing my gold chain, but I could not stop him,�� he added.

Police said Qader confessed that he would target �gullible young men� to drug and rob. �We hope to recover the stolen material, though Qader claims to have sold off the gold chains and rings,� Mandal said.

National Library director Shyamal Chakraborty could not be contacted and other officials declined comment on a �police case�.


Calcutta, June 24: 
A division bench of Calcutta High Court on Monday admitted an appeal filed by US-based doctor Kunal Saha, challenging an order of Justice K.J. Sengupta. The judge had disallowed an earlier petition by Saha, seeking removal of Ashok Chowdhury as president of the West Bengal Medical Council during the hearing of a complaint lodged by him against three doctors in the Anuradha Saha death case. Saha, in his petition, alleged that Chowdhury was biased and it was impossible to get a fair verdict from him.

The division bench of Justice A. Ganguly and Justice I. Banerjee also directed the counsel of the petitioner to serve a copy of the petition to the All-India Medical Council, to make it a party to the case. The court fixed the matter for hearing on July 3.


Calcutta, June 24: 
He has made it to the top-100 list of the joint entrance examination (JEE) for medical students. So have 99 others. But Bappaditya Halder is the son of a handicapped railway hawker, who barely manages one meal a day. He has one pair of trousers but not the money to take a bus from Howrah station to attend the JEE preparatory classes at Entally Academy. But he never abandoned his dream to become a doctor or the determination to make it come true.

�I have always wanted to be a heart specialist,� smiles Bappaditya. �There were so many people who laughed at me and advised me to sell socks on local trains, like my father. But my parents believed in me and the academy guided me towards my goal,� adds the 19-year-old fan of �Sachin and Feluda�.

Dr Amiya Maity, Bappaditya�s mentor at Entally Academy, remembers the day, about a year ago, when a handicapped man, Dhananjoy Halder, came to meet him. �My son is obsessed about becoming a doctor and even talks in his sleep about becoming a heart specialist. Can you please explain to him that I can�t afford the Rs 15,000 fees needed to get him enrolled at the academy?� asked Dhananjoy, who earns Rs 25 a day.

After going through Bappaditya�s school-leaving marks from Bansberia Municipal High School, Maity decided to place the matter before the Academy board of directors, with a request to consider the �special� case. A few days later, Dhananjoy was told the fees would be waived for his son.

�I was delighted,� recounts Bappaditya. �But I quickly realised that I would have to work harder than most students, as they had access to many more books and other sources of information.� Bappaditya wrote the JEE at the Calcutta Madarsa Centre. �I knew this was my chance to make my dreams come true, so I wasn�t nervous during the exams,� says the boy from Tribeni, in Hooghly district.

Last week, Bappaditya was informed by the academy that he had made it to the top-100. �I knew he was a good student, but he has definitely surprised us all with his splendid show,� said Maity. Dhananjoy is �delighted� with his son�s showing. But he is also worried where the money for the MBBS course will come from.



Court blocks CMC inheritance rule

The Calcutta High Court on Monday passed an interim order restraining the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) from giving effect to its notification taking away inheritance rights of shop-owners of the markets controlled by the civic body till further orders. Justice B. Bhattacharya, however, made it clear that the owners, who would enjoy the inheritance right while the matter remained pending, did not have the liberty to hand over the shop to a third party. Associations of traders of the S.S. Hogg Market and the College Street market filed a petition before the high court, challenging the CMC notification. The petition came up for hearing on Monday.

Player held for twin murders

Police rounded up a former first division football player Abhijit Roy Chowdhury on Monday from his Madhyamgram residence, in Barasat, for his alleged involvement in twin murder cases. Police said the accused had fled the area immediately after the murder of a local promoter, Babu Shankar. Another youth of the locality, Debu Das, was murdered a few days ago. Das was abducted from in front of his Bankimpalli residence and shot dead in a nearby field. Abhijit�s name came up during investigations into both the cases. �We were acting on a tip-off that Abhijit would return home on Sunday,� said a police officer.

Passenger hurt

A middle-aged person was injured on Monday, when a minibus rammed against a tram at the crossing of Mayo Road and New Road in Alipore. The driver fled, but the bus was impounded.

Emergency landing

All emergency units at the Dum Dum airport were put on full alert on Monday when the commander of an Agartala-bound plane sent a message that he would make an emergency landing. Indian Airlines� Airbus 320 took off from Calcutta around 10.45 am but developed a technical snag soon after. It returned to Calcutta after about 30 minutes. The plane landed safely with 149 passengers and crew members. Later, the stranded passengers were flown to their destination by another plane, an IA spokesperson said.

Civic protest

Left Front councillors organised a demonstration in front of mayor Subrata Mukherjee�s office at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation on Monday. Leader of the Opposition and CPM councillor Nirmal Mukherjee alleged that after the Trinamul Congress came to power, the administration had �totally collapsed�. They also met municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya at Writers� Buildings.

Criminal arrested

A criminal, Bam Nayak, was arrested from the Sonarpur railway station area on Monday morning. Police said Nayak was wanted in a number of cases. A cache of arms was recovered from him.

Chickens killed

Around 150 chickens died when the van in which the birds were being transported skidded off New Road, in Alipore. The driver slammed the brakes to avoid a collision with a tram on Monday morning. The van crashed into the tram, killing the chickens.    

Calcutta, June 24: 
A girls� school in Madhyamgram is under siege by Forward Bloc activists over the authorities� refusal to entertain �requests� for admission to Class XI.

The activists blocked entry to the school, located five km from the airport, on Saturday, demanding that all Class X pass-outs of the school be admitted in the next class, irrespective of their results in Madhyamik 2002.

Teachers and managing committee members of A.P.C. Balika Vidyalaya were refused entry and the girls, too, stayed away on seeing �unknown� men on the campus.

Committee members, under pressure from the local Bloc leaders, say they are hoping for an �amicable settlement�. They admit that the incidents over the past few days have shown that segregating education from politics is a �very difficult task�, despite the Left Front government�s recent attempts at doing so.

�The recent directives to stay away from educational institutions has, apparently, not percolated down to the ground level,� said a managing committee member of the school.

Bloc leader and local MLA Saral Deb, however, said his party�s activists were only responding to �popular sentiments�. He added: �It was only after receiving numerous complaints about irregularities in the admission procedure and being goaded by the girls� parents that our activists had gone to the school.�

Activists of Chhatra Bloc, the party�s student wing, submitted another deputation to the school authorities on Monday.

�Our boys have been warned not to take the law in their own hands and maintain an atmosphere conducive to teaching,� Deb said.

The managing committee members and teachers, however, on condition of anonymity, said things were not as were being made out to be. The lone humanities section of Class XI does not have the teaching strength or the infrastructure to admit more than 80 students, they say. So all pass-outs from the school cannot be accommodated.

�Around 80 students have passed out from our school. If we admit all of them, irrespective of their results, we will not be fair to those who have done better and stay in the neighbouring areas,� said a senior managing committee member.

�Admitting a third-division pass-out from our own school and turning down the application of a meritorious girl will not be fair,� a teacher explained. �Besides, we have to take into account the school�s future,� she said. �We cannot admit comparatively weaker students and then have a very poor Higher Secondary result two years down the line,� she added.


Calcutta, June 24: 
Incessant rain through Sunday night affected rush-hour traffic on Monday morning for over four hours, with most streets lying inundated. The non-stop rainfall took its toll on central, south and north Calcutta roads.

To protest the waterlogging in her area, councillor of ward 41 Rita Chowdhury squatted on Central Avenue from 11.55 am, along with her supporters.

A civic spokesman said stretches of Theatre Road, Free School Street, Hungerford Street, Park Street, Elgin Road, Southern Avenue, Chittaranjan Avenue and Ultadanga were submerged. �Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) officers were asked to take steps to drain out the water. We were forced to divert traffic off major roads,�� the police said.

The Lalbazar control room said most office-goers in vehicles were stranded from 9.45 am to 11 am. Arterial roads, like Little Russel Street and Middleton Row, being narrow, added to the congestion. Vehicular movement was also affected on Ballygunge Circular Road, AJC Bose Road, Hatibagan and Sealdah.

Minister for irrigation and waterways Amalendra Roy has asked mayor Subrata Mukherjee to channelise Central funds for easing the waterlogging problem in Calcutta.

�The problem is nothing new, but when the Centre spends crores on Delhi roads, why not for Calcutta?� he asked, while speaking on the budgetary grants for his department in the Assembly.


Calcutta, June 24: 
An inter-state racket in abduction was busted on Sunday night following the arrest of five criminals, including a youth, who had jumped bail in a murder case at Vaishali, Bihar. Bowbazar police trapped the criminals after they had assembled at the Mahatma Gandhi Road-Rabindra Sarani intersection on Sunday night, intending to kidnap a businessman.

Sources said the criminals had called up the businessman at his central Calcutta residence and demanded Rs 5 lakh. They had threatened to abduct him if he failed to pay the money by Sunday evening. Police said the businessman is a fruit merchant. His name is not being revealed for the sake of investigation.

Deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan, said the mastermind, Santosh Sau, 25, and his associates � Surya, Shyam Sahani, Baiju Sahani and Manu Soren � were arrested on Sunday. Earlier, Sau had been arrested for murdering a youth at Vaishali and was put behind bars. He had recently jumped bail and had come to the city with his associates.

�These criminals are in touch with the Biharis working in Burrabazar. One of the local contacts had informed the gang about the businessman,�� said an officer of Bowbazar police station. Following threat calls by the criminals, the businessman contacted Bowbazar police, who traced the calls to public booths in central Calcutta.

On Sunday, Sau and his associates warned the businessman that this was his last chance to �cooperate�� with them. They even threatened to kill him if he sought police help. Later, five policemen, posing as aides of the businessman, accompanied him to the spot. As soon as the criminals arrived, they were rounded up. Arms and ammunition were seized from them.

Police said the gang had planned to escape in a Matador, posing as labourers. The Matador has been impounded. �We suspect that the gang has been involved in other criminal activities in the city as well. We have got in touch with the Vaishali police for details on them,�� Hasan said.


Calcutta, June 24: 
State health minister Suryakanta Mishra has urged the city�s doctors not to demand �fresh blood� for transfusions, since pure blood is always available at blood banks.

Inaugurating a blood donation camp at Salt Lake on Monday, the minister said the scenario in the city and elsewhere appeared to be confusing, with more and more doctors insisting on �fresh blood�, despite the fact that blood stored in reputed blood banks was fresh.

�I am baffled, like most patients� families, when doctors insist on fresh blood, discouraging supplies from registered blood banks. They must understand that there is no difference between blood drawn from a donor and kept in the bank two days ago, and blood drawn 20 days ago,� Mishra said.

Sources said patients undergoing critical surgery, like open-heart or a bypass, often require fresh blood directly from the donor as there is less chance of blood clotting. In other cases, patients can buy blood from banks, which if used within the expiry period, will have the same effect.

The minister�s appeal follows the state health department�s findings that doctors were �unnecessarily insisting on fresh blood,� despite the fact that blood stored in banks was pure, if availed of within the expiry period.

City doctors admitted that due to vast improvement in the storage facilities in blood banks, things are now better. �Patients can nowadays easily buy blood components, like platelets and RBC (red blood corpuscles), from three or four leading blood banks in the city,� said a senior medical practitioner.

At the camp, Mishra announced elaborate plans to set up state-of-the-art blood banks in the city, which would be able to store blood components separately. �We are planning to introduce this facility at all government hospitals,� Mishra said.

State finance minister Asim Dasgupta, who attended the camp, organised at Bidhannagar Government College, promised more funds for blood banks. Admitting to a shortage of blood at the banks, Mishra said efforts have to be made to organise more blood camps to meet the shortage during this time of the year. More than 200 people attended the camp at Salt Lake on Monday.


Calcutta, June 24: 
Now is the time to restore an �ethical dimension� to our values and way of life. This was the underlying message of Governor Viren J. Shah�s speech at the silver jubilee of the enshrinement of Sri Aurobindo�s relics at Sri Aurobindo Institute of Culture, in Ranikuthi. �We are witnessing today a disturbing erosion of our moral values,� Shah said. �Corruption and dishonesty are spreading their tentacles into every segment of society. The restoration of an ethical dimension to our values and way of life is the need of the hour.�

He referred to Sri Aurobindo�s writings, in which the sage had stressed the need for the spiritual development of society. Sri Aurobindo had written: �The radical defect of all our systems is the lack of development of the spiritual element � the soul in man� which is his true being.�

Shah said that unfortunately for most individuals today, and for mankind collectively, morality sometimes gets lower precedence to material and technological advancement. �The dramatic advancement in technology in recent times, however, has widened this morality gap, endangering our civilisation,� Shah said.

He added that the task of bridging this gap is important if a disaster is to be averted. �The spiritual forces of education and moral values have to be effectively mobilised on the institutional and personal levels,� he said.

For the people of Calcutta and of this state, Shah said, the relics are of particular significance. �It is in Bengal that Sri Aurobindo was born and received his early education,� Shah said. �It is here that he availed of the opportunity to imbibe the nationalist fervour that was soon to transform the Indian renaissance into a full-scale freedom movement.�

Earlier, honorary secretary of the institute Ranjan Mitter said that June 24 was a landmark for the institution, since 25 years ago on this day, the relics of Sri Aurobindo had been brought from Pondicherry and installed here.

Present on the occasion were former army chief and Rajya Sabha MP, General Shankar Raychoudhury, former minister and CPM leader Prasanta Sur and former MP Phulrenu Guha.

Raychoudhury said when he was in the army, he had visited the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry so that he could motivate the jawans. �We need more institutions like this, where one can be a true Indian,� he said.

As part of the celebrations, students of Future Foundation, run by the institute, paid tribute to Sri Aurobindo.


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