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Mamata slams Centre for proposal to sell part of its stake in LIC

Mamata slams Centre for proposal to sell part of its stake in LIC

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday slammed the central government’s proposal to sell a part of its shares in LIC, describing it as a plan to “ambush” the legacy of public institutions.

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman earlier in the day said the insurance behemoth will be listed as part of the governments disinvestment initiative.

The Centre proposes to sell a part of its holding in LIC through initial public offer, she said, while unveiling the Union Budget 2020-21.

“I am shocked and appalled to see how the central government plans to ambush the heritage and legacy of public institutions. Its the end of sense of security. Is it also an end of an era?” the CM said in a tweet.

Established in 1956, LIC is fully-owned by the central government and has the highest market share in the life insurance segment in the country.

 

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End of security: Didi on LIC plan

End of security: Didi on LIC plan

Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has termed the Union budget an effort to ambush the legacy of India’s “public establishments” as she criticised the BJP-led Centre for its proposal to sell shares in LIC.

“I am shocked and appalled to see how the central government plans to ambush the heritage and legacy of public institutions. It’s the end of a sense of security. Is it also the end of an era?” Mamata tweeted.

Trinamul insiders said the party’s opposition to the Centre’s divestment initiatives had received public support. They said Mamata could intensify her protest against the privatisation spree in the run-up to the crucial 2021 Assembly elections.

A minister said Mamata knew that almost 60 per cent of families in Bengal had at least one LIC policy. “People will feel insecure because of this budget proposal,” he said.

Criticising the budget, Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra said the Narendra Modi government had sent the Indian economy into ventilation as it had overlooked basic requirements.

Amit Mitra
Amit MitraTelegraph Picture

“Our GDP growth rate is 11 years low and the investment figure of the country is 17 years low. While private consumption is seven years low, agriculture output is four years low. But none of the areas was addressed in the budget,” Mitra said in a video message.

The finance minister also questioned the cut in allocations for health, education, SC/ST development and agriculture.

He pointed out that the Centre had put the rural poor and the common people in trouble by cutting allocation in the 100-day job scheme and the national health mission.

“The real problem of the country at this moment is unemployment…. But we did not hear anything about employment opportunities in the budget,” Mitra said.

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Budget nod to turn Old Mint into museum

Budget nod to turn Old Mint into museum

The Old Mint on Strand Road that has been lying in ruins for decades will be turned into a museum, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in her budget speech on Saturday.

The building will house a “museum on numismatics and trade”, she said.

“Four more museums from across the country shall be taken up for renovation and re-curation so that a world-class experience can be offered to visitors,” she said.

A heritage conservationist said the proposal was not new. Former Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi had mooted the proposal during his tenure. “Even the Prime Minister spoke of the plan to have a museum during his last visit to the city,” the conservationist said.

The building has only a few old machines inside and a strong room.

The Strand Road building was not the first mint in Calcutta. Metro had in 2000 reported that the first mint was set up where the present General Post Office stands. It was then shifted to Church Lane, the road to the west of St John’s Church. The third mint came up at the Strand Road address.

The magnificent structure has some flowerpots arranged on its steps at present. A couple of white lights focus on the building in the evening.

A heritage enthusiast said the imposing structure cannot be seen from the road because of the incomplete Vivekananda Road flyover that runs above the road in front.

“The flyover has completely destroyed the view of the building from outside,” he said.

The Old Mint is listed as a Grade I structure in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s Graded List of Heritage Buildings. Four addresses — 47,48, 68 and 69 Strand Road — have been listed as Old Mint on the Graded List. The Alipore Mint started operating in March 1952.

The Old Mint campus now serves as a transit camp and the headquarters of 167 battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force, a former CRPF officer said.

“The main building is empty. CRPF personnel lives on the campus but not inside the heritage structure.”

Another Calcutta structure — the Indian Museum — found mention in the finance minister’s speech on Saturday.

“Our Prime Minister in January 2020 had announced the re-curation of the Indian Museum in Calcutta, which is the oldest in the country,” she said.

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Building permit in 15 days

Building permit in 15 days

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation will make it mandatory to apply for a building permit online from April 1 and convey its decision about the proposed building within 15 days, mayor Firhad Hakim announced on Saturday.

Some of the changes:

  • A single window system is being created. The owner of a property or its architect will no longer need to collect no-objection certificates from various government and CMC departments. A common application form will have to be filled and the CMC will get NOCs from relevant departments. A few NOCs like that of the land ceiling limit have to be collected by the architect.
  • The proposal will be cleared or rejected (with reason) within 15 days. Currently, the average time needed to obtain a building permit for large projects is 323 days.
  • The architect will design and allow commencement of the construction of a building up to three-storey and whose land area is not more than 200sq m after giving a declaration that all rules were being followed. The CMC will check when the plinth level is ready.
  • A real estate developer can allow flat owners to occupy a flat only after getting a completion certificate from the CMC.
  • If an owner finds that any portion is still being built after the flat has been handed over, he/she can complain to the CMC and the developer will be penalised.
  • There will be a trial run of the system from March 1 before it becomes mandatory from April 1.
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Unto the promised land

Unto the promised land

Sheherwali means city-dweller. The term “sheherwali” was used to refer to the Oswal Jains who travelled from small towns of Rajasthan in search of business opportunities 300 years ago and finally made Murshidabad their home. “Thereafter, whenever they were asked where they were from (during their travels), they would say ‘sheher se aa rahe hain… we are from the city’. Calcutta did not even exist then,” says Pradip Chopra, president of the Murshidabad Heritage Development Society, which works for the restoration and revival of heritage in Bengal’s Murshidabad district.

“They called themselves sheherwali thereafter, instead of sheherwala, perhaps for the lyrical effect that comes from using the feminine suffix,” says Chopra. The first Sheherwali family to settle down in the area was the family of Manik-chand. Hirachand Galera, Manik-chand’s father, had wanted to leave the arid state of Rajasthan. He left his village, Nagaur, and settled in Patna, which was a major trading hub then and from there, he moved to Dhaka.

Murshid Quli Khan, the first nawab of undivided Bengal, appointed Manikchand his personal banker. According to Bikram Dugar, whose ancestors were among the first wave of Sheherwalis to arrive in Murshi-

dabad, it was Manikchand who encouraged the nawab to leave Dhaka and establish a city bearing his own name. The nawab heeded his bidding, and the city of Makshudabad came to be known as Murshidabad. And then came a time when Manikchand became the royal banker. He was also given the title of “Jagat Seth” or banker of the world.

As his business grew, Manikchand invited a number of Jain merchant families from Rajasthan. Says Chopra, “Most of the Jain merchants visiting these parts were pilgrims to Shikharji, now in Jharkhand, an important Jain pilgrimage.” Some of the oldest Sheherwali families of Murshidabad were the Naulakhas, Singhis, Nahars, Dugars and Shrimals. Of course, today most of them have moved out to different geographies; only about 5,000 Sheherwalis continue to live in Bengal.

Bikram Dugar
Bikram DugarSourced by Telegraph

The Sheherwalis settled down on the banks of the Bhagirathi river around Azimganj, Jiaganj, Lalbagh and Cossimbazar. It is said that the combined wealth of the Sheherwalis of Murshidabad was more than the wealth of the British aristocracy.

In the 1914 book titled Murshidabad, L.S.S. O’Malley of the Indian Civil Service quotes from a document wherein commander-in-chief of British India, Robert Clive, writes, “The city of Murshidabad is as extensive, populous and rich as the city of London, with this difference, that there are individuals in the first possessing infinitely greater property than the last city.”

O’Malley notes that the bandit, Mir Habib, looted Jagat Seth of “full two crores”. He also writes, “…so amazing a loss which would distress any monarch in Europe affected him so little…” The book also mentions how in 1866, while the neighbouring districts of Nadia and Burdwan collapsed, there were no casualties reported from Murshidabad and neither did its people seek government relief.

The Kathgola Palace in Murshidabad
The Kathgola Palace in MurshidabadAnindya Sankar Ray

Dugar, who is in his 70s, is the descendant of one Budh Singh. Chopra says of the Dugar family, “Bikrambabu’s house was bigger and more grand than the Buckingham Palace. It was designed by French and Italian architects. They lived like emperors, not just kings.”

According to Dugar, the Sheherwalis then made their fortunes through moneylending, banking and trade. He uses two adjectives for the community — raeesi (affluence) and nazaqat (sophistication). As if to illustrate his point, he says, “My uncle would never eat the part of the mango he held as it would become slightly soft and soggy.” The Sheherwalis played Holi with saffron and rose water instead of colours; the pichkari and baalti were of pure silver.

Much is always said about the Sheherwalis’ wealth, what remains unsaid is how they mingled with their adoptive home. Chopra points out that the language they speak in is itself a testimony of the mixed heritage — Farsi, Urdu, Rajasthani, Hindi and Bengali. Members of the community built temples and dharamshalas, hospitals and educational institutions. It seems the first girls’ school in Murshidabad was founded by a Sheherwali.

Dugar pauses in his narrative and clarifies that Sheherwalis must not be confused with Marwaris. He says, “Sheherwalis came here and adapted to the culture and embraced the traditions of the new place while keeping their own traditions intact.”

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Tallah bridge shut from today

Tallah bridge shut from today

The 57-year-old Tallah bridge, a key link between Calcutta and northern fringes, will be shut down at midnight on January 31 to facilitate its demolition.

Commissioned in 1962, the bridge has lost much of its load-bearing capacity and engineers fear it can collapse any moment.

The engineers’ report prompted the Bengal government to decide to dismantle the bridge and build a new one. Demolition is likely to take around three months.

PWD engineers said men and machines for demolition would move in on Saturday. “In the next few days, they will start pulling down the structure from the Shyambazar-end,” said an engineer.

The demolition will result in large-scale traffic diversions. In some cases the detour will be as long as 6km.

Police officers said congestion was unavoidable because the roads through which vehicles would be diverted were not wide enough for the extra load.

“We will fine-tune the diversion plans after analysing the problem-points over the next few weeks,” a senior officer at Lalbazar said.

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Tallah alternative routes start today

Tallah alternative routes start today

The Tallah bridge is scheduled to be shut down on Friday midnight and police have prepared multiple alternative routes to reach the five-point crossing in Shyambazar from BT Road.

Metro gives the low-down on the alternative routes, all of which will come into effect on February 1.

BT Road-Shyambazar

Route 1: Turn right from Chiria More to take Khagen Chatterjee Road, Cossipore Road, Chitpore bridge and Girish Avenue to reach Central Avenue.

Detour: Close to 3km.

Expected travel time: Around 27 minutes.

Problem areas: Khagen Chatterjee Road and Cossipore Road teem with pedestrians throughout the day. Footpaths are missing along both roads.

Trucks move in and out of the rail siding and contribute to congestion on the two roads.

The Cossipore bridge is in bad shape with iron rods coming off the railings.

Route 2: Move towards Shyambazar from Chiria More to reach Paikpara crossing and turn left to reach Raja Manindra Road, Milk Colony and then Belgachhia and Shyambazar.

Detour: Close to 5km.

Expected travel time: Around 25 minutes.

Problem areas: Raja Manindra Road is not wide enough to handle too much traffic. The Belgachhia bridge remains congested with traffic moving in either direction.

Traffic is reduced to a crawl near RG Kar Medical College and Hospital.

Route 3: Turn left from Chiria More to take Dum Dum Road, Northern Avenue and Belgachhia to reach Shyambazar.

Detour: Close to 6km.

Expected travel time: Around 35 minutes.

Problem areas: Northern Avenue remains choked with buses, minibuses and small vehicles.

BT Road from south

Route 1: Head straight towards Bagbazar from Central Avenue. Take Girish Avenue, Chitpore bridge and the Lockgate flyover to reach BT Road.

Detour: Close to 3km.

Expected travel time: Around 14 minutes.

Problem areas: Shanties take up the footpath near Women’s College and pedestrian movement is unrestricted. A few private bus stops take up a part of the road space in this area.

Vehicles from Galiff Street and Rabindra Sarani pour on to Girish Avenue near Chitpore bridge. So, the northward movement from Central Avenue is not smooth.

Route 2: Take Chitpore bridge from Bagbazar and head straight bypassing the Lockgate flyover.

Detour: Close to 3km.

Expected travel time: Around 27 minutes.

Problems areas: Inadequate road width and heavy traffic load.

Route 3: Take Cossipore bridge from Bagbazar and head straight to reach Dunlop via Gopal Lal Tagore Road or turn right to reach Khagen Chatterjee Road and then BT Road.

Detour: Close to 3km.

Expected travel time: Around 30 minutes

Problem areas: Cossipore Road is not wide enough to accommodate heavy traffic. There is no divider and lorries keep coming in and out of the rail yard and godowns located along road. There aren’t enough traffic signals.

Gopal Lal Tagore Road is notorious for pedestrian crossovers and evening markets, which take up a portion of the road on either side. There’s negligible police presence.

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Survey cloud on schemes

Survey cloud on schemes

The Bengal government’s decision to stall all surveys in view of protests over the new citizenship matrix has halted the biannual update of lists of beneficiaries of development schemes, holding up the addition of new receivers.

The lists of beneficiaries of several projects such as the Integrated Child Development Scheme and the National Social Assistance Programme have to be updated regularly to include new names and strike out those who no longer meet the criteria.

The surveys are carried out in January and July.

“The surveys could not be done this January. We have to make do with the old lists as no new allotment can be made for fresh beneficiaries until the surveys are completed,” said an official. “Usually, the Centre and the state share the expenditure under the schemes on a 60:40 basis. It is not clear whether the central allotment will arrive if the updated lists of beneficiaries are not prepared,” he added.

A bureaucrat said they were trying to add beneficiaries only if anybody was coming forward with requests to be included. “But the problem is we cannot add a large number of beneficiaries through this mode. Without surveys, new beneficiaries cannot be brought under the net and allotments cannot be sought for them,” he said.

Some other officials said the Bengal government had to put all survey-related work on hold as people across the state were in panic over the amended citizenship law and a possible countrywide rollout of the NRC, and had been confusing surveys for development schemes with a suspected data-collection drive for the citizenship matrix and turning violent.

Another official pointed out that the delay in carrying out the surveys could affect new beneficiaries.

“Under the ICDS, children up to six years are provided with supplementary nutrition, pre-school non-formal education, immunisation and regular health check-ups. The list of beneficiaries needs regular updating because of the age ceiling and the birth of children,” the official said.

Officials said the lists of beneficiaries under the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme, Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme and the National Family Benefit Scheme also needed to be regularly revised.

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TMC refugee cell workshop

TMC refugee cell workshop

The refugee cell of the Trinamul Congress organised a workshop against the amended citizenship act at Nadia’s Cooper’s Camp on Friday as part of preparations for Mamata Banerjee’s public meetings in Bongaon and Ranaghat.

“The first such state-level workshop was held at Cooper’s Camp under the Ranaghat South Assembly segment, where all residents are rehabilitated refugees,” a source said.

Cooper’s Camp has several rehabilitated refugee colonies, where the residents were given land rights last year as part of the Trinamul government’s attempts to woo refugees from Bangladesh settled in India for years.

In Nadia’s 10 refugee-dominated Assembly segments, Trinamul’s refugee cell has decided to complete organising such training-cum-workshops before February 4 when the chief minister will address a rally in Ranaghat town.

A source said the objective behind the workshop was to train party workers so that they could undertake door-to-door campaigns against the new citizenship matrix in refugee-dominated areas to counter the growing influence of the BJP.

Trinamul’s refugee cell president Mukul Bairagya said there were at least 121 Assembly segments in Bengal where refugees are a decisive factor. “Our objective is to clear our stand before them so that they are not misled by the BJP’s propaganda,” Bairagya said before adding that 121 workshops would be held.

The BJP has been trying to cash in on the refugee vote bank, particularly that of the Matuas, claiming that their long-awaited demand for citizenship can only be materialised through the CAA.

The promise has yielded political dividends to the BJP as a significant portion of the community has swung in favour of the BJP, which helped the party win two Matua-dominated Lok Sabha seats — Ranaghat and Bongaon — last year.

Now Trinamul is trying to win them back.

“There are at least 50 lakh refugee voters scattered across at least 14 districts in the state. In about 43 Assembly segments in Nadia and North 24-Parganas, they form around 45 per cent of the electorate. We will try to reach out to them to advice them that they should not appeal for citizenship as proposed by the new amendment of the Act,” Bairagya said.

“We will make them realise that making an appeal would be a sort of self-declaration as an outsider. We will warn the refugees against falling into the BJP’s trap.”

The refugee wing of Trinamul has decided to train 1,000 workers as resource persons from each refugee-dominated Assembly segment so that they can take up the party’s campaign against the CAA.

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TMC plans bhaat-jaat protest over CAA

TMC plans bhaat-jaat protest over CAA

The Trinamul Congress women’s wing has drawn up a protest plan with the objective of bringing the focus to bhaat (rice) in response to every question of jaat (creed) that the BJP throws at the nation in its alleged attempt to distract the masses from the real issues.

In addition to meetings, rallies, demonstrations and sit-ins, the frontal organisation has planned a mega march on International Women’s Day on March 8 from Sraddhananda Park to the Dorina Crossing at Esplanade.

The march, said sources, is likely to be led by Mamata Banerjee.

Bhaat is our address, our commitment, our existence, our religion, our right, our jaat. For every jaat-related distraction they try to cause, we will drag them to the bhaat-related questions. That is what our country needs. That will be our unwavering focus,” Trinamul Mahila Congress chief Chandrima Bhattacharya said.

“Especially with the new citizenship regime, they are trying to get people to look away from what really matters. We will never allow that to happen,” she added.

The bhaat-jaat reference has been popular in the discourse of the pan-India protests against the Narendra Modi government’s citizenship thrusts. The bhaat-over-jaat concept was first floated by lyricist Varun Grover in his poem Hum Kaagaz Nahi Dikhayengey (We will not show papers) that became one of the anthems of the movement. The final stanza of the poem says: “Tum jaat-paat sey baantogey/Hum bhaat maangtey jayengey (You will try to divide on the basis of caste and creed/We will go on demanding rice)”.

“Without a doubt, the BJP has failed this nation, its economy and its people — especially the women — and women are taking a stand, fighting back. Because it is women who still handle most kitchens in the country and form the backbone of every home, we thought the bhaat-jaat theme is apt and timely,” said Bhattacharya.

The women’s wing, in keeping with Mamata’s promise of upping the protest ante after Saraswati Puja, on Friday announced its plans to organise protests with participants brandishing handis.

“We will go big with the handi. It is popularly associated in Bengal with the cooking of rice. Besides, it will also represent the handi’r haal (abject state) to which the BJP has reduced the nation’s economy,” said Bhattacharya.

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