City under watch

By bappaditya paul

West Bengal government has decided to bring practically the Kolkata and the two adjoining urban hubs of Howrah and Rajarhat New Town under CCTV surveillance so to improve the level of policing and curb crime. The ambitious plan will cost an estimated Rs 104 crore under the Safe City Project to be co-funded by the Union government.

CCTV CamThe Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which is overseeing the project, has asked the Bengal government to submit a detailed project report (DPR) by March next year and the target is to complete the CCTV cameras installation by March 2015.

According to state government sources, after the Delhi gang rape case, the MHA had in February this year envisaged the Safe City Project for six cities ~ Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Kolkata. The Centre approved the project as a sub-set of the Modernisation of State Police Forces Scheme with a 60:40 cost sharing formula between the Centre and the respective states; the Centre’s total contribution to be provided in two years (2013-14 and 2014-15) as Non-Plan allocation, is Rs 432.90 crore.

Howrah BridgeLast week, a director-level officer from MHA visited the Bengal state secretariat Nabanna in Howrah and held a meeting with state Chief Secretary Sanjay Mitra and Home Secretary Basudev Banerjee, asking them to expedite the project.

“This is a very ambitious project that will see installation of thousands of CCTV cameras equipped with video analytics and facial scan mechanism at all important installations and roads, procuring of trauma care ambulances and putting in place a citizen policing mechanism. Since several of our important establishments are also located in the adjoining towns, it has been decided that entire Kolkata, Howrah and the Rajarhat New Town will be brought under the purview of the project,” said a senior official in the state Home Department.

Victoria Memorial“This will be very different from the existing CCTV monitoring mechanism of Kolkata Police wherein those manning the control room manually look for any suspicious movements. In the new facility, the video analytics will automatically track any vehicle moving at high speed or at unusually low speed, capture its number plate and send alert to the nearest police post. Also, if some individual enters an important building or area with say a backpack and after sometime leaves the place empty-hand, the video analytics will automatically alert the security personnel along with close-up photograph of the person,” he added.

A CCTV Control RoomOnce commissioned, the new surveillance system will be integrated with the existing CCTV monitoring system put in place at the city airport, various railway stations, road intersections and buildings in Kolkata, Howrah and Rajarhat New Town. “Both Kolkata and the respective district police will man the new facility through multiple control rooms.”

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 26 November 2013.)


Boarding pass kiosks for Kolkata airport by January

By bappaditya paul
Flying out of N S C Bose International Airport in Kolkata, you may have often wondered why despite travelling with only a cabin bag you are required to queue up for the boarding pass and why the city airport too cannot have automated boarding pass dispensers like its counterparts in Delhi or Mumbai.

NSC Bose Airport new passenger terminalWell, come January and you will breeze through to the check-in counter. The N S C Bose International Airport authorities have procured five automated self-serving kiosks using which a flier will be able to check-in for a flight and take print-outs of their boarding pass without queuing up before the check-in counters manned by airline staff.

A flier will merely have to type the ticket PNR and the kiosk that looks like an ATM  will dispense the boarding pass. The entire process will take five to seven minutes depending upon the user; fliers will not be required to pay anything for availing the facility.
Automated boarding pass kisok The kiosks will function under a Common Use Self-Service (CUSS) mechanism, which means they will not be dedicated to any particular airline; a kiosk will dispense the boarding pass of the airline whose PNR is provided as input.

The kiosks, in particular, will come in handy for those flying without luggage or those travelling light; fliers commuting with check-in bags will have to get their boarding pass the conventional way.

“The kiosks arrived at the airport a few days ago and are now being tested for commissioning. They will be integrated with our common check-in mechanism and thrown open for passengers in January,” said a senior Airports Authority of India (AAI) official based at the airport. “The kiosks will be placed at the airport’s departure level at five different spots.”

A check-in counter at Kolkata airport The kiosks, known by their trade name AirportConnect Kiosk, have been supplied by SITA, a multinational IT firm that specialises in IT and telecommunication services for the aviation industry. SITA has been already managing the common-use check-in and boarding facility for all airlines at Kolkata airport ever since flight operations were relocated to a new passenger terminal in March this year.

The procurement of AirportConnect Kiosks at Kolkata airport is part of a seven-year agreement that AAI and SITA inked in February this year for the latter equipping 25 airports in India with a common-use passenger processing system. Apart from Kolkata, the AirportConnect Kiosk will also be introduced at Chennai and Pune airports.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 24 November 2013.)

Darjeeling tripartite meet on 22 Nov


By bappaditya paul    

With the situation in Darjeeling gradually returning to normal, the state government has finally agreed to hold a tripartite meeting involving the Centre and the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) to discuss the functioning of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). The tripartite meet will be held in Kolkata on 22 November.

Darjeeling ChowrastaThe state government had earlier turned down a Central government proposal for a tripartite meet on 23 October. The GTA Act gives exclusive power to the state government to convene a tripartite meeting.
A meeting of the GTA Sabha to elect a new chief executive is unlikely before the tripartite meet, a state government source said. Going by the GTA Election Rules, a minimum 10-day notice is to be served to GTA members for holding such a meet.

According to sources in the state Home department, Mr K Skandan, an additional secretary in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, will represent the Centre in the tripartite meet on 22 November; the GJMM is yet to finalise the composition of its delegation.

Mamata BanerjeeA day before this, a bipartite meet will take place between the state government and the GJMM in Kolkata on 21 November. This is to arrive at a consensus about the specific agenda for the tripartite discussion. Although the exact venue for both the bipartite and tripartite meetings is yet to be finalised, in all likelihood, these would take place at Nabanna in Howrah.

While the state government is consistent on its stand that there shall be no dearth of funds if the GJMM runs the GTA properly, the Hills party in its turn may raise the demand for some additional powers. However, unlike before, the GJMM has moved away from the hostile attitude towards the state and is now toeing a reconciliatory line.

GJMM flagIn an indication of the continuing bonhomie, the GJMM Kalimpong MLA, Mr Harka Bahadur Cheetri, today called on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at Nabanna. He later told reporters that following a request from their end for the release of jailed 10 GTA members and 1,400-odd GJMM activists, the CM has assured that “their release will be facilitated on the basis of priority” and not en masse.

“We have reassured the CM that for us (the GJMM), the development of the Hills is now number one on the agenda and the agitation is second. We want to collaborate with the state government to realise the goal. The CM, on her part, has said that there shall be no dearth of development projects for the Hills,” the GJMM MLA said.

Nabanna in Howrah ~ Bengal's new seat of powerOn being asked about the possibility of the GJMM and the Trinamul Congress tying up for the next Lok Sabha polls, Mr Chhetri did not rule out such a proposition. “I am not authorised by my party to make a comment on this. But my personal opinion is that if we can work together for
development, we can also work together on every other front.”

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 8 November 2013.)

New Kolkata Metro fares with 25 – 85 per cent hike comes into effect

By bappaditya paul

The new fares in Kolkata Metro Railway, with a hike ranging between 25 to 85 per cent, has come into effect from 7 November, Thursday. Kolkata Metro AC rakeAccording to the new fare structure, Metro will now charge Rs 5 for a journey up to five km, Rs 10 for 5-10 km, Rs 15 for 10-20 km, Rs 20 for 20-25 km and Rs 25 for 25-30 km.

Till Wednesday, the fare used to be Rs 4 for a journey up to five km, Rs 6 for 5-10 km, Rs 8 for 10-15 km, Rs 10 for 15-20 km and Rs 12 for 20-25 km and Rs 14 for 25-30 km.

While the bonus granted on smart cards has been reduced from the previous 20 to 37 per cent to a flat rate of 10 per cent, irrespective of the amount recharged; the Metro has altogether done away with the Re 1 concession that smart card users used to get on every ride.

However, commuters purchasing a smart card now, which will continue to cost Rs 100, will get the benefit of Rs 44 ride value. This is because the security deposit for smart card has been reduced to Rs 60 from the previous Rs 100.

Smart cards can now be recharged up to Rs 1,000 at a time as against the previous limit of Rs 500. Kolkata Metro trainThe Minimum Multi Ride (MMR), Limited Multi Ride (LMR), General Multi Ride (GMR) and Extended Multi Ride (EMR) cards will not work anymore and those commuters possessing a MMR/ LMR/ GMR or EMR card will have to deposit the card at Metro counters so to get it converted into a regular smart card.

The unused ride value will be credited to the regular smart card that the Metro will issue to the commuters without a fresh charge.

Kolkata Metro Railway runs a total distance of 27.217 km from Noapara in the city’s northern fringes to Kavi Subhash (New Garia) in the southern fringes.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 7 November 2013.)

Goa sea beaches to get prefabriated washrooms

by bappaditya paul

The Goa government has decided to install prefabricated wash-cum-changing rooms on all sea beaches in Goa for the convenience of tourists and also to keep the beaches clean. A sea beach in Goa Tourists, in particular women, going for sea bath away from their place of accommodation, often face difficulty for want of washrooms on the beaches. This also leads to the beaches getting dirty, as many-a-times tourists feel compelled to defecate in the open.

To address the issue, the Goa government has taken up a project wherein prefabricated wash-cum-changing rooms will be installed on all the sea beaches in Goa. According to the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) managing director, Nikhil U Desai, the project will be implemented on public-private-partnership (PPP) mode. A prefabricated washroom“We will earmark specific sites on our beaches and private enterprises will install the prefabricated wash-cum-changing rooms. The government will not charge anything for the land provided on short-term lease and the private entities will take away the entire revenue earned from the users of the facility,” Mr Desai said. “We are floating a tender for the project by November-end and all our major beaches such as Candolim, Calangute, Baga, will get the wash-cum-changing rooms by January next year. The remaining beaches will get the facility by April.”

Goa has a total of 18 popular sea beaches spread over the North and South Goa districts.

The Goa government specified prefabricated wash-cum-changing rooms can be installed in 10 days and they are an eco-friendly ones with inbuilt mechanism for clearing of the waste for disposal away from the beach. As an added advantage, the facility will also have cloakroom where tourists will be able to deposit their belongings before venturing into the sea.   A poular sea beach in Goa“The charges will be very minimal, say, the minimum will be Rs 5 for using the urinal and the maximum Rs 25 for a freshwater shower. Our aim is not to earn anything from the project but is to offer our tourists a much-needed facility and ensure that our beaches remain clean,” the GTDC managing director added.

Mr Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of Sulabh International, has welcomed the Goa government move. “Putting up toilets, bathrooms is a welcome move and is very appreciable. But the crucial thing is their maintenance.”A beach in GoaAppreciating the initiative, Kolkata-based environmentalist, Subhash Dutta, said that West Bengal should emulate this for its sea fronts. “During the last Gangasagar Mela, 459 makeshift toilets were dug around Maidan in Kolkata and after the pilgrims left, the place remained scattered with faeces. I hope good sense will prevail upon our state government and like Goa, it will also install washrooms on our beaches such as Digha, Mandarmani and Bakkhali and save them from getting polluted day after day,” Mr Dutta said.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This is an elaborate version of a report that first appeared in The Statesman on 6 November 2013 under a different headline.)