Audi rash kills Air Force jawan at Red Road Republic Day drill

Abhimanyu Gaur, Air Force & killer Ambia Sohrab
Abhimanyu Gaud (left) and Ambia Sohrab in file photographs.

By bappaditya paul

A YOUNG Air Force jawan’s life has been cut short after being run over by a car that intruded onto Kolkata’s high security Red Road this morning (13 January) while a drill was on for the upcoming Republic Day parade.

Prima facie, the authorities are viewing this to be a case of accident caused by rash driving, but other malicious motive is not being ruled out as yet.

Abhimanyu Gaud, only 21 years of age and hailing from Surat in Gujarat, had joined the Air Force in 2013. After training, he has been serving his first posting as an Airman at the Kalaikunda Air Force Station in Bengal’s West Midnapore district since July 2014.

He came to Eastern Command headquarters Fort William last week on being deputed as a drill instructor for the Air Force team that is to take part in the Republic Day parade at Red Road.

Like other days, the parade drill began at Red Road at 6 in the morning. Facing towards Raj Bhavan, the drill had a Kolkata Police team positioned first, followed by teams from the Army, Navy, and the Air Force, in respective order.

Gaud, being the Air Force drill instructor was at the tail end. He was engrossed into the task that a white German-make Audi luxury car sped in from Khidderpore-end and rammed onto Red Road by breaking the movable iron barricades. The car hit Gaud from behind less than hundred metres away from the War Memorial at Fort William.

The car then took a U-turn, and drove towards Khidderpore for some distance, and then came to a grinding halt after turning auto-lock. The driver fled by abandoning the car there; but before that, he tore off the registration details that were printed on papers.

A severely injured Gaud was rushed to the Army’s Command Hospital at Alipore in south Kolkata located barely 4 km from the accident site. Gaud succumbed to the injuries minutes after being taken there.

Police have seized the killer Audi car that belongs to Mohammad Sohrab, who had won the 2006 West Bengal Assembly election from the now abolished Burrabazar constituency as a Rashtriya Janata Dal candidate. He switched over to Congress in 2009, and is now with the Trinamool Congress that he joined in 2011.

Ambia Sohrab
Ambia Sohrab

The car was bought from a showroom in central Kolkata on 04 January, and the police suspect that Mohammad Sohrab’s son, Ambia Sohrab, was driving the car when the accident took place this morning.

What is intriguing the investigators from the Maidan police station is that, Ambia is quite familiar with driving, and yet he ran into the no-entry zone at Red Road and rammed into the barricade.

Kolkata Police commissioner, Surajit Kar Purkayastha, who visited the accident spot, said that police have got the CCTV footages of the accident, and they were hoping to arrest the driver soon. “It appears that there was only one person in the car then. We are investigating all aspects as to what led to the accident,” he said.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who paid a visit to the Command Hospital to see the deceased Airman, said that police would deal with this strictly. “Such people do not have a right to drive car. They deserve strict punishment,” she said.

The family of the deceased Airman is flying down to Kolkata from Surat later this evening. The family has plans to take his mortal remains back home for the last rites.

Eastern Command chief spokesperson, Wing Commander SS Birdi, said that the parade drill will be continued at Red Road from tomorrow as per its usual schedule. “But Kolkata Police shall have to put in place more deterrence and vigil to ensure that no vehicle can foray in during the drill hours when Red Road is notified as a no-entry zone,” he said.

(Bappaditya Pail is editor NEWSMEN. This report first appeared on on 13 January 2016.)

CPM revives Singur dream at mammoth Brigade rally

CPM Yechuri at Brigade plenum rally
CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury addressing the rally at Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata on 27 December.

By bappaditya paul

WITH party activists filling Brigade Parade Ground to the brim, the CPI-M leadership on Sunday (27 December) revived the dream of industry at Singur, a move that had thrown the Left Front out of power about five years ago.

Singur now lies trapped in a legal battle between the Mamata Banerjee government and the Tata group, and the 1,000-odd acre land there now lay idle with neither industry having come up nor farming taking place.

Addressing the mammoth rally organised on Sunday at the start of the CPI-M’s third plenum since inception, CPI-M leadership made it clear that their main plank for the 2016 West Bengal Assembly polls would be “restoration of democracy” in the state by throwing out the Trinamool Congress, and creation of jobs for the unemployed through industrialisation.

All the leaders ~ from Biman Bose to Brinda Karat, Md Selim to Sitaram Yechury, Manik Sarkar to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Surjya Kanta Mishra, launched a scathing attack on the Trinamool and BJP in the same breath.

But significantly, barring the Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, none uttered a word against the Congress, the Left’s one-time favourite punching bag. Rather they spoke of “broadening” the Left-democratic front to take on the “Trinamool-BJP combine.”

CPI-M Bengal state secretary and Polit Bureau member Surjya Kanta Mishra was more direct about the focus of the CPI-M in the next Assembly polls.

“It is us who can again take up industrialisation in Singur. It is us who can set up industry in Nayachar, in Purulia’s Raghunathpur to Salboni in Midnapore. We need to create jobs, jobs and jobs for lakhs of unemployed youths in Bengal,” Mishra said.

Giving another specific direction, he urged CPI-M workers to “sharpen the sickles.”

“The sickle that is there on our flags, the sickle that is there at your homes, is our strength, our weapon. If the sickles have acquired rust, sharpen them once again and get prepared for the fight,” Mishra said.

Brinda Karat said that those who had thought the red flag had faded away should come and have a look at the mammoth Brigade rally today. “The fight now is to out throw the undemocratic and anti-women, anti-people Trinamool government from Bengal, and we would do it.”

CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury maintained that the enthusiasm of the crowd he witnessed today has been unforeseen. “I have attended many Brigade rallies before, but the enthusiasm that I am witnessing today is extremely encouraging. The crowd has given the right feedback, and now the only slogan is Trinamool Hatao, Bengal BachaoBJP Hatao Desh Bachao.”

Upbeat by the huge turnout, Md Selim announced amidst huge applause, that today’s rally was “not a show of strength, rather, this rally is to challenge the Trinamool.”

(Bappaditya Paul is editor, NEWSMEN This report first appeared in the NEWSMEN on 27 December 2015.)

Central troops for all Bengal poll booths in 2016 Assembly polls

Election Commission Kolkata review meet

By bappaditya paul

EACH and every polling booth in West Bengal will be manned by Central troops during the Assembly elections in the state next year and the state police shall have no role to play in the polling premises, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi said in Kolkata today.

This is to negate the possibility of bias on the part of the state police, an allegation that has been widespread in the civic and panchayat polls held in Bengal in recent times.

“There will be 100 per cent deployment of Central armed forces. We will ensure Central armed personnel in each and every booth. Central troops will also be engaged in area domination exercise; there will be at least 2/3 layers of security cover and arrangements to ensure that voters can come out and exercise their votes without fear,” Zaidi told a news conference this evening.

“The Election Commission and its observers drawn from outside the state, will supervise, deploy and monitor the booth-wise and personnel-wise deployment of the Central forces,” he said hinting at curtailing the role of district superintendents of police, who usually chalk out the deployment plan.

As of now, there are 77,000-odd polling booths in Bengal, and the number may go up by a few more hundreds when the ECI undertakes a booth rationalisation exercise early next year.

The three-member ECI full bench, comprising CEC Zaidi and Election Commissioners A K Jyoti and O P Rawat, was in Kolkata today holding the first review meeting for the Bengal Assembly elections tentatively scheduled for April-May next year.

Zaidi said that the Central troops would be sent to Bengal for the polls “well in advance.” Representatives of all the Opposition political parties, who called on the ECI bench at the Lalit Great Eastern Hotel in central Kolkata during the day, demanded that Central troops be sent to West Bengal at least two months in advance.

Faced with barrage of complaints of bias against several bureaucrats and senior police officers in the state, the CEC made it clear that ECI has zero tolerance for such tendency.

“All officers in the state, who will be involved in the election process, have been asked to be fair and impartial,” he said adding that, ECI would review the performance and track records of bureaucrats and senior police officers in Bengal at a later stage to ensure that no biased officers are involved in the poll process.

Zaidi informed that around 31 lakh people had applied for enrolment of names in the voter list in Bengal in the annual roll revision and 26 lakh of them have been accepted.

“The applicants who have been rejected for want of valid documents etc will be able to seek redress once the final roll is published on 05 January,” he said. The redress can be availed under the continuous update process of electoral roll at the DM or SDO offices.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor, NEWSMEN This report first appeared in the NEWSMEN on 10 December 2015.)

Work on Haldia – Varanasi waterway to start by February

Nitin Gadkari at MCC event

By bappaditya paul

WORK on the proposed national waterway project from Haldia to Varanasi will start by February next year, Union shipping, road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari said today (01 December 2015).

“The first phase work for the 1,620 km long waterway was to begin in December but it got delayed due to some issues. The work will now surely start in next two-three months,” the minister said speaking at a session organised by MCC Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Oberoi Grand here this afternoon.

Gadkari said that as part of the project, 30 water ports will be developed between Haldia and Varanasi, and there will be three major hubs at Haldia, Sahebganj (Jharkhand) and Varanasi.

“We have tied up with an international expert agency for an early and effective implementation of the project. On completion, the waterway will offer a major boost to both goods and public transportation as the cost of water transport is much less as compared to road and rail,” the minister said.

He said that at present, water transportation in India is only 3-5 per cent of the total transportation. “Whereas, we have a 13,000 km riverine routes spread over 14 states. That’s why we are now focusing on developing waterways and the allied infrastructure.”

The Union minister also informed that a new dredging technology will be shortly introduced at the Kolkata Port in collaboration with the IIT Chennai and this will cut down the annual cost of dredging by about Rs 1,50 crore.

“Right now, Kolkata Port spends around Rs 450 per annum in dredging. The new technology will bring it down by anything between Rs 150-200 crore. The technology will be put in place in next one month,” he said.

Meanwhile, asked to comment on the recent arrests of three ISI suspects in Kolkata who had been associated with the Trinamool Congress in the past, Gadkari said that it was unfortunate that appeasement of terrorists was taking place due to vote bank.

“National security is not a question of politics and it should never be politicised. But unfortunately, the situation in the country is such that for vote-bank, appeasement of terrorists and terror organisations also happens,” Gadkari said on the side line of another event in the city this morning.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor, NEWSMEN. This report part appeared in NEWSMEN on 01 December 2015.)

Nobody’s Agenda     

Car on bad road

By bappaditya paul

BARAK Valley, the hub of Bengalis in Assam, was very tense this September.

Recovery of a buffalo horn in a temple near Silchar had caused communal tension in the three districts Valley that has near equal share of Hindu and Muslim populations.

BJP, still riding on the fast diminishing Modi Wave in that part of the world, was quick to act and en cash on the crisis by whipping up the Hindu sentiments.

It organised a bandh in Barak Valley on 29 September over administration’s alleged failure to act against the “desecration of the temple by Muslim mischief makers”. That was preceded by torching of vehicles and sporadic clashes in Silchar streets on 25-26 September in the immediate aftermath of the “desecration.”

Understandably, the offspring of Barak Valley, living away from home for bread or education etc, were all very worried. Because, when compared to the glitz and glamour of mainland India, they know, peace is the only treasure Barak Valley has.

You talk to people back home in Silchar, Karimganj or Hailakandi and most are apprehensive that in the run up to the Assam Assembly elections next year, such communal tension will rise.

BJP, in particular, is ever active to “awaken the dormant Hindu masses” over even a petty crime or road accident involving a Muslim. This could well be a strategy of the saffron party to galvanise support against the Congress. After all, going by the pervert adage ~ all is fair in love and war!

Yet, the question that bothers is, does the BJP really need to bank on Hindu “sentiments and pride” to throw out the Tarun Gogoi government in Assam? The answer simply lies in the roads most travelled, quite literally.

The roads in entire Barak Valley nowadays are such a hell that it will make people in Bihar feel proud over the potholed roads that they had to endure till 2008-09. This is true not only to the state roads; the condition of at least two National Highways passing through Barak Valley is nothing but a shame on India.

Bad Road

Take for example the Silchar – Imphal National Highway that runs from Badarpurghat to Jirighat in Assam’s territory. In literal terms, no road is left of this 74 km stretch; it is rather the amalgamation of hundreds of potholes.

The scene is same, or may be even worse, as regards the Silchar – Agartala highway via Karimganj. Assam portion of this highway runs from Malidhar on the Meghalaya border to Churaibari on Tripura border.

In contrast to the hellish state of the these two arterial roads, the condition of the Silchar – Aizwal, Doboka – Silchar (via Halflong) and Dhaleswar – Bhairabi  (via Hailakandi) National Highways are way better, albeit barring some select stretch.

The mystery behind this can be unraveled by some really easy statistics!

Of the 40 km stretch of Silchar – Aizwal highway that falls in Assam, 37 km is maintained by the Border Roads Organisation of the Centre and only 03 odd km rests with the Assam Public Works Department (National Highway division).

Thus it’s no wonder that the initial few km from Silchar to Aizwal is hell. The remaining major portion of the road is smooth, albeit it might not be at par with the metaphor Lalu Prasad once used involving Hema Malini.

As regards the 277 km Doboka – Silchar (via Halflong) highway: 246 km is with the National Highway Authority of India and only 31 km is with the Assam PWD (NH division). Most of the 31 km stretch that lies with the Assam PWD is in shambles.

The 89 km Dhaleswar – Bhairabi (via Hailakandi) National Highway is entirely under the Assam PWD. But it is in better shape and people give credit for this to the foul-mouthed Assam Congress minister Gautam Roy.

When it comes to the Assam portion of Silchar – Imphal National Highway, the entire 74 km stretch was brought under the Assam PWD (NH division) since 2007. The case is same as regards the 111 km Assam portion of the Silchar – Agartala highway via Karimganj. To say the least, these two roads are hell!

Yet, one would be shocked to find that this is a non issue for the Opposition political parties back there ~ be it the BJP or the All India United Democratic Front (AIDUF) led by perfume baron and Lok Sabha MP Badruddin Ajmal. Ironically, for the AIUDF, Barak Valley is a strong base and it even has a MP from Karimganj and a MLA from Katigora.

This is perhaps because, to make the hellish road condition an issue against Assam’s Congress government, the BJP and AIUDF would be required to do some homework and spend more energy than they are used to. And even after this, the dividend in elections will be uncertain as compared to the time-tested Hindu-Muslim narrative.

POST SCRIPT: A caveat is imperative here for the sons and daughters of Barak Valley living outside: please avoid visiting your homeland until the 2016 Assam poll nears and Tarun Gogoi government had carried out some patchwork on whatever is left of the roads in Barak Valley. Else, you run the risk of losing the longing for going back to your roots ever again!

Instead sit back in Delhi, Bangalore or Kolkata and watch Congress Silchar Lok Sabha MP Sushmita Dev discuss national issues on NDTV and Times Now, and take pride in the fact that someone from your backward land has got this opportunity. But please, don’t expect her to talk about bad roads back home: after all the bar of a LLM from King’s College London is much above the mundane roads!

Also, do give a like to the photograph on Facebook of Badruddin Ajmal feeding bananas to stray cows in Mumbai at a time when the intolerance debate is very hot in the country.

And if you don’t hear much about the BJP Silchar MLA Dilip Pal, rest assured, he is busy holding Hindu Jagaran Rallies to deter the desecration of any more temples in Barak Valley.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor, NEWSMEN. This report first appeared in NEWSMEN on 29 November 2015.)

Bengal plans hidden button camera for Kolkata traffic cops

By bappaditya paul

Button Camera

WEST Bengal government is planning to equip the traffic cops in Kolkata with hidden cameras to deal with incidents of misbehaviour by traffic violators and vice-versa.

The plan, recently mooted by Kolkata Police commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha, is now under active consideration of the Bengal home department, which is headed by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Going by the proposal, while out on the road on duty, each of the traffic constables and the sergeants of Kolkata Police will carry a button camera hidden in their uniform. Such cameras will wirelessly stay connected to the central traffic control at police headquarters Lalbazar and stream both video and audio.

Traffic cops will not be able to switch off the cameras as per their wish, because the feed will be under constant monitoring at the control room. Thus, whenever there is an allegation of undue action or misbehaviour by a traffic cop, the video will be reviewed to verify the allegation.

Likewise, police will be able to expose traffic violators, who misbehave with traffic personnel and then cry foul instead. This is particularly true as regards the affluent class and those having links with the politicians in power. An incident like this had taken place in May this year at Jadavpur involving the niece of Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee.

Asked about this, Bengal home secretary Basudev Banerjee said: “Kolkata CP had recently visited London with the Chief Minister and there he saw the effective use of hidden cameras by traffic police. The police in the USA and several other European countries also use such cameras. Thus, he has recently sent a formal proposal to us on this.”

But how soon the plan can be implemented? “We are now actively considering the proposal and are examining the various aspects of it. The plan will then be placed before the Chief Minister for her to take a final call,” Banerjee said.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN, West Bengal, India. This report first appeared on on 30 October 2015.) 

Kolkata airport’s runway to be closed for 6 months for repair, but airlines put a condition

Airport Runway

By bappaditya paul

KOLKATA airport management has decided to close down the airport’s main runway for a six month long repair exercise beginning 1 November, but the airlines have put a condition for this.

The Airlines Operators’ Committee (AOC) at Kolkata airport says that the authorities shall first have to waive the restriction from the A-Taxi Track located next to the secondary runway, before undertaking the repair exercise.

The restriction now in place, bars aircraft movements on the A-Taxi Track when another flight is landing on or taking off from the secondary runway. AOC maintains that unless the rule is relaxed, the flight schedule in Kolkata will suffer and this is the last thing the airlines can afford.

Kolkata airport is owned by the public sector firm Airports Authority of India.

According to Ashoke Srivastava, the deputy director of Kolkata airport, they are all geared up to start the resurfacing work for the 3,800 meter long main runway from 1 November and the work will take at least six months to complete.

Resurfacing primarily involves laying a fresh coat of bituminous over the entire runway and the exercise is overdue for Kolkata’s main runway by over four years now. Together with the installation of a CAT-III-B approach lighting system, the exercise is estimated to cost around Rs 86 crore.

“As a result of the resurfacing work, we will completely close down the main runway from 1 November – 20 November. After this, the runway will remain closed for 11 hours daily during daytime for the remaining of the six months,” Srivastava said.

“But this 11 hour closure that we have planned from 20 November might be extended to 24 hours a day if need arises. A decision will be taken on this on 17 November when we will review the work progress,” he added.

Flight operations to and from Kolkata airport will be maintained during this six month period on the secondary runway, which is a little shorter in length. But if a flight faces an emergency mid-air, it will be redirected to Bhubaneswar (if it is a domestic flight) and to Lucknow or Dhaka (if it is an international flight).

Maintaining that there would be no major flight disruptions due to the closure of the main runway, Srivastava said, at best there might be some rescheduling. “But this rescheduling will depend on the individual airlines and not us.”

But AOC chairman Sarvesh Gupta said that there was no question of them tweaking the flight timings.

“The winter schedule is already published and the airlines have sold tickets. Hence, there is no question of us making any changes to the flight timings. Instead, we have made it clear that the runway resurfacing work can begin only if the restriction on A-Taxi Track is waived during the period.”

Gupta added that he had made this very clear to the airport management during the last meeting with the AOC. “I had had asked them the write to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) seeking the relaxation, but they have been very tardy to do so till now.”

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN, West Bengal, India. This report first appeared on on 17 October 2015.) 

One year 75 days turbulent tenure that Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya had as Bengal election commissioner

S R Upadhyay

By bappaditya paul

SUSHANTA Ranjan Upadhaya, the 62-year old frail man, who stepped down as Bengal state election commissioner on Tuesday evening, have had a turbulent tenure during the 1 year 2 months 15 days that he remained in the chair.

Upadhaya, a 1980 batch West Bengal Civil Service (Executive) officer, had taken over as the state election commissioner on 21 July 2014, a day after firebrand Mira Pande had exhausted her term.

Upadhaya, was the first WBCS cadre to be made the poll commissioner, a post that had all along been occupied by IAS officers ever since the West Bengal State Election Commission came into being in 1994. He had served in the Raj Bhavan secretariat from 2001 to 2014, till he was appointed the poll panel chief.

On the first day in office, Upadhaya had told journalists that he does not “want to fight with anybody” and “would like to sort out all issues with the state government amicably.”

This was in marked departure from the stand that his predecessor Pande had taken in order to hold timely elections and ensure deployment of Central forces for panchayat polls against the wish of the Mamata Banerjee government.

As a result, Upadhaya has from day one been accused for surrendering to the state government and lacking the mettle that is expected of a person holding a Constitutional position of the poll commissioner.

In fact as if in verification of the accusation, he had withdrawn the litigation that Pande had filed in the Calcutta High Court for the conduct of elections to 17 civic bodies that Banerjee wanted to delay.

Subsequently, the election to Kolkata Municipal Corporation was held this year on 18 April and in another 91 civic bodies (including 10 out of the 17)  on 25 April, as per the wish of the state government.

Widespread rigging had marked that poll as well and on the face of severe criticisms from the Opposition and the media, Upadhaya was so upset that he had actually decided to step down immediately after the vote counting on 28 April.

On that occasion, he backed off following the persuasion by a very senior officer of the state government, who had advised him to ignore such criticisms.

But after what happened on Monday, Upadhaya, who is a native of Chandannagore in Hooghly, could not take it anymore.

On Monday, a delegation of the ruling Trinamool Congress leaders led by party secretary general Partha Chatterjee was in his chamber for about four hours till afternoon, pressing for a new counting date for the Bidhannagar (Salt Lake), Bally and Asansol civic polls which Upadhaya had put off so to probe all allegations of rigging.

Chatterjee had told reporters that the party would hold a protest march to the SEC office on Tuesday if the poll panel did not announce a new counting date by then. Barely three hours after this, Upadhaya told a news conference that the civic polls counting would be held on Friday 09 October, which was a dramatic U-turn from his previous stand.

Asked about the reason for his resignation, Upadhaya said tonight: “I had to announce the new counting date after a Trinamool delegation came to me for the second time around 8 pm on Monday and demanded that we announce a new date at once. No political party or for that matter anybody, should compel a Constitutional body to take a decision under pressure.”

In close circles, Upadhaya has said that he could not withstand the “humiliation and pressure” that he had to face on Monday and made up his mind to step down in the night itself.

A thorough gentleman, he communicated this to a senior officer on Tuesday morning so to allow the state government prepare to tackle the exigency. He walked out from his official quarter at the Raj Bhavan complex in the afternoon and submitted his resignation to Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi.

Upadhaya now plans to lead a leisure life at his native place, since whoever becomes the poll commissioner, is deemed to be have retired from active civil service even if the person had not turned 60 years.

Moreover, Upadhaya had exhausted his service tenure in 2013 itself and was serving Raj Bhavan on extension as an officer on special duty.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN, West Bengal, India. This article first appeared on on 06 October 2015.) 

Not Digha, make Siliguri the Goa of Bengal

Opinion Honda Activa ad 2

By bappaditya paul

IN JULY Honda Motorcycle released a television commercial for its Activa 3G scooter. The still is from the one minute ad, filmed by the Indian arm of international Japanese advertising company Dentsu Marcom.

The ad kicks off with a group of people singing the retro hit Jhum jhum kauwa bhi dholak bajayacheel cheel chillaake…arey wah wah wah in a moving train that is passing through a picturesque hill terrain.

It is then that a singer spots the new Activa 3G passing by with a father-daughter duo on ride and the jingle is instantly twisted to Activah Vaah Vaah. The Activa and the train move together for a while amidst greenery and then bid adieu while crossing another Activa with a couple waving with joy.

Now, you must be thinking why the hell this article is spoiling your leisure by narrating a TV commercial! More so when many have seen the advertisement umpteen times.

For those who don’t know yet, the advertisement has been shot at the Siliguri end of Kurseong hill and the train is heritage Toy Train of Darjeeling. The places it shows include Garidhura, Dudhia, Tindharia and Sukna, which is barely 11 km from Siliguri town.

But then that’s not a big deal! Several Hindi movies have been shot in the past in Darjeeling. The last famous one was Barfi in 2012.

Those of you who have been to Goa, every now and then discover in TV ads and Hindi movies that several of them have been shot in Goa, in places like Fontainhas, Calangute beach, Fort Aguada and so on.

Compare the scale of ad or film shoots in Goa vis-à-vis Siliguri-Darjeeling and you will figure out, the beach capital of India is far ahead.

One simple reason for this is Goa’s proximity to Mumbai (Bollywood) ~ it is 609 km by road and an hour by flight. Siliguri on the other hand is located 2,246 km away. Going by the economy of film production, a film crew thus is unlikely to choose Siliguri over Mumbai.

There is another reason though. The pro-film shoot infrastructure and environment that Goa offers is unparalleled in India. Be it the large number of hotels, resorts, all-weather roads, a clean city and above all, a friendly people and political culture.

Compare this to the grater Siliguri. Despite a few star-rated hotels coming up off late, it till date will not be able to host high-class accommodation to 500 people at a time.

Most of the arterial roads such as Hill Cart Road, Bidhan Road and Sevoke Road remain chock-a-block for most of the times. Last week’s addition to this was massive water-logging ~ at least 20 per cent of which was the result of poor conservancy service.

Then, there are political rallies and protests every now and then that make commuting in Siliguri a real hazard. Sometimes, the Siliguri plains also compete with the ever restive Darjeeling Hills in calling snap bandhs.

Now the obvious question is: should Siliguri give up its political consciousness, bury the voice of dissent, throw away small-time vendors and transport operators from its streets so to make way for film shoots or song and dance, as many would love to call it?

The reply is: no. Just regulate all of them to make Siliguri a better place to live in and visit.

To begin with, in the short-run, earmark fixed stoppages for city-autos which are a major cause for traffic snarl and the noise they generate make one feel running away from Siliguri.

For the long-run, phase out the city-autos by placing an embargo on new permits. Do not wait for a Calcutta High Court to do this as it had been in the case of pushing out diesel-petro auto-rickshaws from Kolkata.

More small buses for city service, similar to the ones introduced with JnNURM funds in the past two-three years, will be a good replacement for city-autos.

A blanket ban on manual rickshaws from entering S F Road, Kachari Road, Hill Cart Road, Bidhan Road and Sevoke Road is another step needed to decongest Siliguri. Believe you me, people in developed cities will find it absurd on seeing that Siligurians want a rickshaw to commute within a half km radius of Bidhan Markat and Seth Srilal Market!

To compensate the rickshaws, reassign them to internal and para routes where people struggle to get one now. There will be hiccups initially, but one can stay assured by looking at the example in Kolkata that poor rickshaw pullers will not be robbed of livelihood

Next, earmark a centralised venue in the town for all sorts of protests, instead of hitting the Hill Cart Road and Hashmi Chowk that are a hot favourite for such manifestations in Siliguri as is Esplanade in Kolkata.

For example, Bagha Jatin ground can serve as the central venue for all demonstrations and protest gatherings. Given the spurt in media and the corresponding need for news, politicians and civil society groups can rest assured that reporters and cameras will hunt them even there.  

Next comes the issue of improving and creating infrastructure that can en-cash on Siliguri’s superb geographic position. It is such a lovely place where, if you are apprehensive of being booked for traffic violation now; a 10-minute drive later to the northeast direction, you should be careful of bumping on wild elephants!

Bengal government has taken two key steps towards this: the Gazaldoba Tourism Hub (about 20 km from Siliguri) and the Animal Safari Park at Shorea on the outskirts of Siliguri at an estimated cost of Rs 225 crore.

These two projects, if implemented as planned, will offer high-class accommodation to visitors and open up a new window for wildlife and leisure tourism in Siliguri.

They have the potential to draw ad and film shoots from Tollygunge film industry in a more organised and frequent manner. This is possible only if all stake holders, especially the local politicians, administration and hospitality industry work hand-in-hand.

From this point of view, instead of Digha as Mamata Banerjee desires, Siliguri has all the potential to become the Goa of Bengal. Surely, this is not too much to wish for on World Tourism Day!

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN, West Bengal, India. This article first appeared on on 27 September 2015.) 

No NOTA for 3 Oct civic polls in Bengal but EVMs first time for rural elections

Featured Image: The official NOTA symbol designed by National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and released on 18 September 2015. Photo courtesy: Nizil Shah on wikipedia
Featured Image: The official NOTA symbol designed by National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and released on 18 September 2015. Photo courtesy: Nizil Shah on wikipedia

By bappaditya paul

Kolkata, 23 September: VOTERS in Bengal will once again miss out on the option to press the None of the Above (NOTA) button during the 3 October civic polls in three urban bodies and the Siliguri rural polls.

This is because Mamata Banerjee-led state government has not amended the related legislations to allow the state election commission (SEC) to introduce NOTA for local body polls. This is despite a brief session of the Bengal Assembly presently being underway since 18 September.

The SEC will however, for the first time, put to use electronic voting machines (EVM) for rural polls in the state during Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad elections and the panchayat by-polls elsewhere. Till now, the use of EVM was limited to Assembly and Lok Sabha polls.

“In response to our latest reminder, state panchayat department wrote to us about 20 days ago saying, the government was unable to amend the Panchayat Election Rules and hence NOTA option would not be available for the coming polls,” said Bengal state election commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay.

“We had sent a similar reminder to the municipal affairs department but are yet to get a reply.”

Upadhayay added that in response to a query, Election Commission of India has replied that it had introduced NOTA from the 2014 Lok Sabha polls following a Supreme Court order in 2013 and it did not require an amendment to Central election laws because of the SC ruling.

“But we cannot do so without the panchayat and municipal election rules being amended. Not only Bengal, several other states have failed to do this so far,” he said.

To bring in NOTA option, amendments are necessary to the West Bengal Municipalities (Conduct of Elections) Rules, 1995, and the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Rules, 2006.

Thus, the civic polls voters at Bidhannagar-Rajarhat, Bally, Asansol and the rural poll voters in Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad on 3 October will either have to choose a candidate or abstain from voting altogether.

Notwithstanding the upset over NOTA, SEC’s move to use EVMs for rural polls will be a big relief for voters in 520 booths in Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad elections and in another 1,111 booths for the panchayat by-polls elsewhere in the state. This will reducing the time taken in casting a vote and also expedite the vote counting scheduled for 7 October.

SEC has around 25,000 EVMs and a part of them will be used for the 3 October polls.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN, West Bengal, India. This article first appeared on on 23 September 2015.) 

%d bloggers like this: