Teen to youth, spent in jail
Action plan on green car gets into gear
Blame game over numbers
Wheels jam reel action at Tollywood
The City Diary
Software update for rogues’ gallery
Swimming pool ripples over building sanction
Come, soak in some wellness
Marksheet ringleader still at large
Practical solution to public nuisance

Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
Then, he was 14. Now, he is 28. All this while, he’s been lost in the shadowy confines of cramped prison cells. But in all these years of a teenager spending his youth behind bars, the state’s juvenile justice court has not been able to hear Souvik Bhowmik, even once.

The crime in question occurred in Hartukitala Lane, a Maniktala police station area, on February 29, 1988. An “anti-social” of the area, Rajesh Agarwal, was murdered in broad daylight. At least five persons were arrested later for their alleged involvement. Souvik, alias Prince, was picked up in March 1989. The police said the razor used in the murder belonged to the 14-year-old.

Four of the accused were tried in the city civil and sessions’ court, but Souvik was sent to the juvenile court for trial. Since then, the only journey that the young man has made is to court and back — first to Dhruvashram, in Belghoria, and then to Alipore Central jail. Every time in court, for the past 13 years, the same words are repeated: “The documents relating to the case are lying with the high court, so the case cannot be heard today.”

Now, there’s a twist in the tale — a new reason for Souvik’s agonising wait to be prolonged. The government has decreed that a board be set up to hear all cases related to juvenile crime. But the board is yet to be formed. Souvik was last produced in the juvenile court, in Salt Lake, on July 29. Now, he awaits the formation of the board before he can give voice to his wait for justice.

Rabishankar Chatterjee, Calcutta High Court advocate fighting Souvik’s case, said: “His mother has all but lost her mind. For the past 14 years, she has been knocking on the doors of advocates with one prayer, ’Ukilbabu, amar chheleyke baachaan. O chhara amar ar keu nei. O phire eley ami apnar fees diye debo’ (Please save my son. He is all I have. I will pay your fees once he is back home).”

Chatterjee has “prayed for a certified copy of Souvik’s case history” at the juvenile court. “I will get the copy next week. Then I will file a petition before Calcutta High Court, praying that the case against Souvik be quashed,” he said. If the normal legal procedure had been followed and even if Souvik had even found guilty, his term would have ended by now, said Chatterjee. “So, there is no reason for him to remain behind bars any more.”

Gitanath Ganguly, executive chairman, West Bengal Legal Aid Services, said: “In the present case, the accused can claim that the delay in justice is amounting to interference of his legal rights and a loss of liberty.”


Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
Complying with a Supreme Court directive, the state government on Friday finalised its action plan to make vehicles plying in the city and other parts of the state more eco-friendly.

State transport minister Subhas Chakraborty will place the plan before transporters’ organisations and environmentalists on Saturday to seek their views, before sending it to the apex court.

The Supreme Court had set an August 16 deadline for submitting the action plan.

The crux of the plan is that all vehicles, be they petrol or diesel-driven, will either have to conform to Bharat II norms or be converted into LPG-driven cars. Vehicles more than 15 years old will get a year to switch over, while those between eight and 15 will get an additional year to adapt to the new rules, after a notification to this effect is issued.

Auto-rickshaws and other three-wheelers will have to make the switchover to LPG, with those over 12 years old getting a one-year period to convert and those between 10 to 12 years getting a two-year grace period.

Since buses cannot be run on LPG, they will either have to change their engines to conform to the Bharat II norms, or go off the road. This is because CNG is not available in the state.

For the moment, heavy goods vehicles have been spared, as truck terminals are being constructed on the outskirts of Calcutta and other major towns in the state, beyond which they will not be allowed to proceed.

Earlier, the state government had decided to scrap all commercial vehicles more than 15 years old. However, after a hue and cry was raised by transporters’ organisations and taxi associations, the government decided to re-examine the proposal. About 80 per cent of buses and taxis in the state are more than 15 years old.

“The notification to implement the action plan will be issued after the Supreme Court approves of it,” said Prashant, joint secretary of the transport department, after a meeting at Writers’ Buildings on Friday.

The government will almost certainly feel the heat from the transporters at Saturday’s meeting, largely because of the costs involved in effecting the changes.

For instance, if a taxi does not conform to the Bharat II norms, it will have to get a new diesel engine which does. In case it wishes to use LPG, it will first have to change to a petrol engine, as a gas kit cannot be fitted to a diesel engine.

“We realise the new rules will cause a lot of problems and add to the costs of vehicle-owners, but we are helpless as we have to comply with the apex court’s orders,” said Subhas Chakraborty. “We shall help the owners as far as possible,” he added.


Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
Deliberate fudging of facts to sheer carelessness; political manipulation to a faulty mechanism… The reasons for voters outnumbering residents in 13 wards of Calcutta, and being only marginally less than the populace in around 65 others, range from conspiracy theories to ground realities.

State census director Vikram Sen, who had earlier blamed the ‘believe-it-or-not’ findings squarely on the voters’ list, said on Friday: “After going through the report (Metro, on Wednesday), we will consider raising the matter at the highest level.”

With the lid blown off the gross ambiguity between the census report of 2001 and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) voter list of 2000, the reaction from political quarters has been spontaneous.

“We always suspected that the census report was faulty… I personally feel at least two million people have been left out from the final tally,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee.

“I don’t know whether it is part of a larger design or sheer callousness, but what matters is that this is going to affect the city’s development, as all kinds of funding and loans depend on the census. We have already registered our protest with the authorities,” added the mayor.

The implementing agency for Census 2001 in Calcutta was the CMC. “But the CMC team did the work under our guidelines,” explained census officials.

Survey agencies said the methodology left a lot to be desired: “How can you generate quality survey results with so many unskilled people with so little training?”

The “shock” over the numbers game cut across party lines. CPM leader Mohammad Salim said: “Not as a minister, but as a common citizen, I strongly believe that there should be a more updated mechanism for such surveys and there must be a provision for cross-checking.”

On the other side of the floor, Partha Chatterjee, Trinamul Congress MLA, said: “We will demand a probe, as it is clear that the fault lies with the Census report or the voter list or both.”

Senior Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya added: “We previously believed that the problem lay with the voter list, but it is now apparent that even the census was conducted in a lackadaisical manner.”

An academic also raised the point of credibility: “How can you expect national and international funding agencies to come forward if this is the quality of our database?”


Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
Drivers have slammed the brakes on Tollywood. For the past 24 hours, the Tollygunge studios — normally busy with small-screen action — have worn a deserted look, with the drivers’ guild refusing to ferry equipment or carry artistes and not allowing production managers to use rent-a-car services.

Actors steered clear and technicians lounged around while talks at the New Technicians’ studio between the drivers’ guild — demanding “better pay” — and the producers’ body — resenting the “pressure tactics” –— failed to break the deadlock. “We will not work for such low wages,’’ declared the drivers. “We will not accept their unjustified demands,’’ retorted Krishna Daga, chairman of the producers’ section of the Eastern Indian Motion Pictures Association.

Trouble had been brewing for the past few months and flashpoint was reached on Tuesday night when the drivers assaulted a production manager, Bablu Hazra, in Tollygunge.

The drivers have been demanding a pay hike since April. Production managers signed an agreement on May 5, promising to pay drivers an extra Rs 100. “But the producers have refused to pay the amount and we cannot pay from our pockets,’’ said Sujit Hazra of the production managers’ guild.

Mahendra Soni of Sree Venkatesh Films said: “The demand is unjustified, as they are paid more than the market rate. Studio drivers get Rs 275 for eight hours, with overtime. We also pay for the petrol. Why should we pay them any more?’’ According to Soni, the industry is losing no less than Rs 5 lakh every day because of the “forced and illegal stoppage of work by the drivers’’. Senior artistes have called for the dispute to be resolved with any further loss of mandays at the studio.



Loan-scam raid on nationalised banks

As part of a drive against corruption, the Central Bureau Investigations (CBI) raided several nationalised banks in the city and the suburbs on Friday. Deputy inspector-general of police, CBI, Lokenath Behera told Metro from Delhi that sleuths investigating a multi-crore scam of fraudulent withdrawals from the banks under loan schemes had conducted the raid after two months of intense investigations. CBI officials said all those under the scanner who had taken loans from the banks had failed to pay back. “We suspect that a section of bank officials was involved in the scam. Several rules were bypassed while sanctioning the loan to these persons,’’ Behera said. CBI officials in the city said sleuths seized several incriminating documents. “We have to study these documents and then pin reponsibility,’’ a senior CBI officer said. Investigations are on and more raids are likely.

Locals ‘seal’ liquor shop

Residents of Bapujinagar, led by Trinamul Congress MLA Saugata Roy, took upon themselves the task to “seal” a liquor shop in their locality on Friday. The move came a day after newspapers flashed a Calcutta High Court directive forbidding liquor shops within 1,000 feet of educational institutions, hospitals, places of worship and bathing ghats. Students of a local school joined in the movement, blocking the Jadavpur-Garia stretch of Raja SC Mallick Road for more than an hour from noon. The off-shop is, allegedly, located within 100 yards of Bapujinagar Sammilita Udbastu Vidyalaya. Its licence was issued just before the last Assembly elections. Residents have been protesting against the off-shop ever since. District magistrate Alapan Bandyopadhyay, however, said there was “nothing illegal about the shop”.

Plastic bag raid

The state pollution control board (PCB) on Thursday conducted raids jointly with the police on manufacturers and traders of plastic carry-bags less than 20 micron in thickness. Raids were conducted in Burrabazar, Colootola, Canning Street, Armenian Street, Sealdah, Kaikhali, Cossipore, Jadavpur, Behala and a number of areas in Howrah, North 24-Parganas and Hooghly. Environment minister Manab Mukherjee said this was the first raid carried out since the use of plastic bags less than 20 microns thick was banned on January 1.

Trader shot at

A businessman, Pintu Bera, was injured when he was shot at in Shyamapally, Behala, on Friday. Police said one of Bera’s friends fired at him from a revolver during an argument. Bera was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. Two persons were arrested in this connection, police said.

Road mishaps

Two persons were injured in separate incidents on Friday. A milk van hit a lamppost on BT Road and skidded against an adjacent bus stop, injuring Raj Kumar Rajaji. He was admitted to RG Kar Medical College and Hospital in a critical condition. Jogesh Chandra Ghosal, 45, was knocked down by a bus on route 45B at the Hazra Road-Lansdowne Road crossing. Ghosal was admitted to Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratisthan.

School chess

August 10 is the registration deadline for the 15th The Telegraph Horlicks School Chess, from August 16 to 27 at Gorky Sadan. Those interested, born in or after 1986, can apply at Alekhine Chess Club, Gorky Sadan. Bring four colour photographs, a copy of your birth certificate and proof of school studentship.    

Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
After failing to get an effective feedback on the photo-identity kit of criminals, the city police have sought the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the US law-enforcing agency, to create a prominent portrait of a criminal on the run.

The detective department recently wrote to the FBI asking for a book — FBI Facial Catalogue — where information on how to create a clear picture of a criminal from information provided by witnesses, is provided.

“It is not possible to combat new-age crime through decade-old flimsy gadgets. Now is the time to modify our photo-identity kits. If we get hold of the FBI book, it will be an asset,” said an official of the detective department. According to sources, the book suggests how to use the Facial Identification Software while creating a photograph.

“All along, our artists could draw two-dimension sketches, but this software will help us get a three-dimensional picture that is much clearer,” said the official.

He added: “The book also highlights the samples of different facial identification marks. It mentions that sometimes, a witness knows how the eyes of a criminal are, but cannot explain. The software will help the witness decide on the type of eyes.”

Sources said the portrait parley has not achieved any success recently.

“After collecting statements from a number of witnesses, an artist had drawn a sketch of Sadaquat, one of the three terrorists who went on a shooting spree in front of the American Center on January 23, killing five policemen. The picture failed to convince the officers who were either injured or escaped narrowly in the attack. Sadaquat is still at large,” said an official.

Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner, detective department, overseeing the American Center probe, said: “This is the time to upgrade our photo-identity kit to fight high-tech crime. We are stressing on improving the existing portrait parley as agencies, including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the state police, always seek our assistance on sketches.”

According to Mitra, he will soon start using the software to create a clear picture of a criminal or a victim. “With the help of this software, it will become easy for us to create an accurate photograph.”

The software will provide sleuths with a data bank of facial identification marks, sources said. “There will be 20,000 pairs of eyes, 15,000 pairs of noses, 10,000 lips, 7,000 pairs of ears and also 5,000 hairstyles to choose from,” added Mitra.


Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
A portion of a building, housing the Bidhannagar Swimming Association in Salt Lake, has not been sanctioned, sources claimed on Friday.

The two-storeyed club building, in BF Block, housing a gymnasium, an accounts office and the staff quarters of the club, has stirred a hornet’s nest, with senior club members alleging that the building plans have not been sanctioned.

“The new building, where the gymnasium has been set up, is illegal. Moreover, the original building’s construction plan, too, cannot be located in the planning department or any other department of the state government,” a member told Metro.

The club, which has around 2,000 annual members and over 5,000 seasonal members, is celebrating its silver jubilee this year. The controversy over the building’s sanction is likely to hot up during the annual general meeting of the club, to be held on August 11.

Dilip Gupta, chairman of Bidhannagar Municipality, who is also president of the swimming association, feels the controversy is unnecessary. “Those who are raising the question of the building plans should not be associated with the club at all,” he said.

According to him, the erstwhile Metropolitan Development Authority constructed the building and the land belongs to the urban development department.

“The swimming club is a tenant on a lease basis. The property belongs to the government and was constructed during the time of the notified area authority. Later, the notified area, under the enactment, was converted into the municipality,” Gupta said. He added that the club is taking up some development projects in the future. “Surely that will be done in compliance with rules and laws,” he added.

Prasenjit Dutta, secretary of the club, said: “We hope to regularise things as soon as possible. The development work will be done in proper manner.”

Sabyasachi Dutta, Trinamul Congress councillor of ward 10, where the building is located, said the matter needs to be settled immediately. “I had protested about such irregularities. However, things are yet to be settled,” said the councillor, also a member of the club.

Apart from the club building, members are also irked over the installation of a deep tubewell on the premises two years ago. “The soil in Salt Lake is sandy and when the pipe of the deep tubewell becomes porous, it will suck in soil and water, endangering the neighbouring buildings,” a senior member alleged.


Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
Wrap yourself in mud harvested from natural thermal lakes in Italy, re-mineralise the body with salt shipped from Dead Sea, banish those travel blues with a jet-lag massage, or simply pamper yourself with a citrus fruit body scrub.

Club Prana, which opens its doors to Calcuttans by the middle of this month on the Hyatt Regency campus, promises to be the “first holistic state-of-the-art spa and rejuvenation facility” in the city, marrying “best practices” in traditional Indian ayurveda and new-age therapies chic in Europe and the US.

“We are choreographers of experience rather than order-takers, and try to anticipate guest needs instead of being reactive,” says Gordon Tareta, director of spa operations, Hyatt International Corporation.

Tareta, who is in town to oversee final touches to Club Prana, stresses that it will be comparable to the best Hyatt properties all over the world, “from Tokyo to Florida”.

The 10,000-sq-ft spa has a health club powered by Technogym equipment, well-appointed locker rooms, beauty salon and treatment suites, with dedicated courtyards and gardens and an ayurveda centre. Traditional and exotic treatments, like the Indian sun massage, Swedish and Shiatsu massage, Vichy shower or a monsoon massage and papaya body-polish will be on the menu alongside international and traditional therapeutic massage treatments.

“Our strength is our locker rooms, which provide a range of hydrotherapy options, including sauna, Jacuzzi, steam room, whirlpool, cold plunge and fun shower. Hydrotherapy is a rage in the West now and the Kneipp Institute in Germany has perfected the magic of hot and cold water,” says Tareta.

It stimulates circulation and improves lymphatic drainage, pushing the toxins out of the body. “A half-hour monsoon massage leaves the body relaxed and rejuvenated,” he adds. The spa’s health club also offers squash and tennis facilities and the latest in cardio-vascular monitoring equipment.

The Chicago-based wellness expert is confident that spa will soon be big in this part of the world. “True, only about seven per cent of the global population has had any spa experience, but the fledgling industry is set for a quantum leap. Club Prana will be Calcutta’s gateway to this wellness culture which is hot in the West and south-east Asia,” smiles Tareta.

The Hyatt spa hopes to be comfortable with a membership base of 400 to begin with. “Our worldwide resource network enables us to add quickly to facilities and rituals,” he signs off.


Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
Humayun Kabir, 32, alleged to be the mastermind behind the fake marksheet scandal that was busted on Thursday, could not be located till late on Friday. Kabir fled his Behala residence minutes before the officials from Lalbazar surrounded the area on Thursday. His wife, however, has been detained for interrogation.

Sleuths launched a probe following a complaint lodged at Park Street police station on Monday by Gopa Bose, deputy secretary of the West Bengal Board of Higher Secondary Examinations. The authorities informed the police when they found irregularities in seven marksheets of Madhyamik 2002 of a south Calcutta school. The fake marksheets were delivered to the school in a sealed envelope of the Board.

Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner, detective department, said the sleuths got the lead on Humayun after interrogating the arrested duo, Partha Bhattacharya and Biman Ghosh, on Thursday. “Humayun, the mastermind, is known as a magician in the area. He has a number of agents in the city and districts, who rope in prospective clients,” said Mitra. “He was rounded up after last year’s Higher Secondary examinations on the same charges, but managed to get out on bail. He has been behind the fake marksheet racket for the past four years.”

According to sources, Humayun has earned lakhs through this racket. He has a telephone booth and a well-furnished flat in Behala. “He would prepare fake marksheets from a colour Xerox machine and type in the false marks,” said an official.

The investigators also questioned a number of students who had obtained false marksheets from Humayun. “But none of the students has been arrested so far,” added Mitra.


Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
It’s a mission no child should need to take up. Perforce, however, some kids have put their heads together and taken the first step to curb a common neighbourhood menace: Men urinating on walls.

Interact Club members at Chowringhee Kindergarten and High School inaugurated a urinal on Sudder Street on Friday, which they hope will be a deterrent to those opting for public options. “We do a survey of the area every year and one of the main complaints of all residents and shopkeepers has been about this,” explain the Class X students who rushed from the morning inauguration to their moral science exam.

The children, many of whom are from underprivileged backgrounds themselves, raised the Rs 9,000 necessary to construct the two-stall unit through school fundraisers and threw in the prize money they received at the Better Calcutta Awards. They have hired a sweeper to clean the green-tile urinal twice daily, for Rs 250 a month. “We will come and inspect it every day to make sure it is cleaned properly,” explains Abur Salman. Even the girls will make their share of the rounds. “This is the only practical solution,” says Afsana Bano. “If you want to do good work, you can’t shy away from such things,” shrugs Manju Raghani.

The Chowringhee Lane-school has been busy combating civic ills in the area, having already tackled the waterlogging problem and the mosquito infestation with help from the authorities. When they turned their attention to this “unstoppable problem”, the authorities of the Indian Museum and Lytton Hotel did raise objection. “They did not want the urinal in front of their buildings. But there was no other space,” observes Md. Ali Shamim. Finally, local councillor Vijay Khatik intervened on the children’s behalf. Success is reward enough for these girls and boys. “Now, most of the problems of the neighbourhood have been addressed. It is a great feeling,” they chorus.


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