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Friday, Aug 12, 2022
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Kolkata Korner

Calcutta High Court says that land at Singur was acquired for the Tata small car project there through fraudulent means and the CM has only himself to blame for the embarrassing position he finds himself in...

Kolkata Korner
Kolkata Korner
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

Fraudulent Means
The beleaguered Bengal Chief Minister has suffered another blow with the Calcutta High Court holding that land was acquired for the Tata small car project there through fraudulent means. What led the Court to arrive at this conclusion was the casual manner in which the state's representatives submitted records and documents on the land acquisition. The court had asked the state government to submit proper documents on the acquisition of land and the full details of the deals, such as whether the land was sold by the owner willingly, at what price, the details of the rehabilitation etc. But even though the state had ample time to file these details before the court, it didn't do so, leading the court to observe that the state government's claims that most of the land was sold by the farmers voluntarily could be false. 

In fact, the state government, particularly Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has been saying for quite a long time now that most of the land was sold voluntarily and the land-losers as well as sharecroppers are happy with the whole deal. He has been promising to release all these details. The state industrial development corporation has given out some figures, but these have been disputed by opposition parties. That the state government's claims may not be actually true is evident from the ground reality at Singur even today—there exists quite strong opposition to the land acquisition even now. 

The court's observation is a well-deserved rap on Bhattacharjee's knuckles: he has been anything but transparent on the Singur issue. In fact, he has been high-handed, dismissive of opposition and had even adopted strong-arm tactics to beat opponents into submission. His officers should have known that the court would take a critical view of the issue—the striking down of prohibitory orders under Section 144 that was imposed at Singur by the Calcutta High Court earlier this month should have been enough of an indication. But the state government ignored the court and treated the judiciary with the same contempt and disdain it reserves for other organs of the state. Friday's scathing criticism is, if anything, a well-deserved one. And Bhattacharjee has only himself to blame for the embarrassing position he finds himself in...

Good Sense
At long last, good sense has dawned on the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Thanks to its commissioner, Alapan Bandopadhyay, who has to be credited with displaying courage to call a spade a spade—that is, terming the ugly promenade over the underground parking lot and shopping complex in front of New Market (or Hogg’s Market) an "architectural disaster". As Bandopadhyay said recently, there cannot be uncontrolled diversity in design in an area, especially those of public spaces. Another important principle he underlined was that stakeholders should be consulted and involved in all projects and there has to be design control machinery, like an urban arts commission. Hopefully, from now on, the KMC will invite opinions and ideas from the citizenry before embarking on any project so as to ensure, in Bandopadhyay’s words, aesthetically designed structures and spaces in Kolkata. Bandopadhyay, an accomplished bureaucrat and a person known for his good and aesthetic sense, seems like a breath of fresh air among the rusty, musty, tradition-bound babudom of Bengal that has produced ugly, soulless, kitschy and bland structures that have made large parts of Kolkata utterly hideous.

Simple Solutions
Those who’ve visited the misadventure outside New Market will know Alapan Bandopadhyay was talking about. But Bandopadhyay isn’t one of those bureaucrats who just talk. At a gathering of architects and town planners the other day, renowned restoration expert Vikas Dilawari put forth some suggestions on salvaging the promenade outside the New Market. Bandopadhyay promptly invited him to the area the next day, took down the suggestions and ordered his subordinates and architects involved in the project to carry out the changes promptly. Dilawari’s suggestions were simple: use non-invasive colours and materials that won’t scream for attention and take away from the visual appeal of the heritage structure of the New Market, re-paint aluminum claddings gray over the existing bright red and yellow, replace the flashy tiles with cobblestones, use soft lights and urge owners of buildings on the vicinity to paint the exteriors of their structures in shades of white or pale yellow so that the brick-red and yellow exterior of New Market stands out. Dilawari’s suggestions amply prove how visual appeal is all about aesthetics and how little it costs to lend a touch of finesse to a structure or space.

Welcome Revival
While on New Market, this majestic structure that is an integral part of Kolkata’s rich heritage, is set for a glorious revival. The KMC has finalized a Rs 200 crore revival plan that’ll involve revamping the entire market to enable it to compete with he shoppers-friendly malls that have mushroomed all over the city. The 132-year-old market, originally known as Sir Stuart Hoog Market after the then KMC chairman, was built exclusively for the British who didn’t like rubbing shoulders with the ‘natives’ in the bazaars of the city. The revamp will keep the Gothic exterior (designed by an architect, R. Bayney of the East India Railway Company who was rewarded with one thousand Rupees—a fortune in those days—for his design) of the market intact while the interiors would be made glitzy and converted into two storeys instead of the existing one floor, thus creating an additional three lakh square feet of space. The project will be a joint venture between the KMC and a private party. Once complete, the new New Market will offer Kolkatans a whole new shopping experience. The KMC must be congratulated for conceiving this revamp plan instead of bowing to pressures to dismantle the old market and allow construction of another steel and glass shopping mall in its place.

But, Brickbats…
But it's not that the KMC has been doing everything right of late. Earlier this week, it issued a reminder to all shop-owners of the city to include Bengali in their signboards. A team of Councillors and KMC officers went around some parts of the city, from shop to shop, asking shop-owners to re-paint their signboards. The whole exercise, and the sentiment behind it, is a retrograde and condemnable one and smacks of extreme and unfortunate parochial tendencies. The civic representatives and officials would do well to concentrate on other pressing matter—like ensuring regular collection of garbage, proper repair of roads or that the city doesn’t go under water this monsoon. Pray, why should it be mandatory to use Bengali on shops’ signboards? This should be the sole discretion of the shop-owners; and the sole factor a shop-owner would base the decision on is commercial, not parochial. Is the Bengali language so embattled and under threat that its use be made compulsory in commercial signboards? And anyway, this is hardly the manner in which to popularize a language or ensure its survival.

Bata Boot
The recent impasse in 19 prominent Bata stores in Kolkata over the sacking of 11 store managers and suspension of 150 employees is indicative of the unprofessional mindset of the workforce here. The dispute centres around the stores employees’ refusal to heed the company directive to keep the showrooms open till 9 pm. Bata, battered by competition from other manufacturers with more efficient production lines and leaner workforces, took advantage of the amendment in the West Bengal Shops & Establishments’ Act that allows stores to remain open till late evenings and on weekends. The Act was amended in order to give a fillip to the retail sector. But Bata employees, long accustomed to a pampered existence, 10am to 8 pm work schedule and one-and-half day off every week (Bata stores shut shop Saturday afternoons and remain closed on Sundays, even though those of competitors remain open 365 days a year from morning till late evening), resisted the change and even six months of talks couldn’t convince them. This, even when the management assured them that the rotational duty roster system would be introduced to ensure that no one has to bear the extra workload. Hence, the Bata management’s decision to boot out the managers and suspend errant, unreasonable and lazy employees. Employees and managers of Bata showrooms in the rest of the country have, however, heeded the company’s directive. This only proves that Kolkata’s workforce, long pampered by political parties and encouraged to be militant, undisciplined and shirkers, aren’t employable at all. The Bata management’s decision is timely and appropriate.

Tables Turned
One can’t but help commenting on the irony of the changed circumstances. In a stark departure from the past when political parties would rush in to support the employees, this time, no party has rallied behind the Bata employees even though the sacked managers belong to a union that’s affiliated to the CPI’s AITUC. On the contrary, the Chief Minister is learnt to have expressed concern over the wrong message the Bata employees’ adamant stand would send out to potential investors in the retail sector in the state. He’s reportedly (and rightly so) keen that the Bata employees be made to see reason and made to fall in line. Other politicians, including those of the CPI, have been circumspect and have refrained from overtly supporting the employees. Now, hopefully, with the lack of political support they’ve always banked on and taken for granted, the Bata employees would fall in line and learn to work sincerely and honestly. I would say that they can’t be blamed wholly for acting in an unreasonable fashion—decades of pampering and political protection even to gross acts of indiscipline have made them what they are today: lazy, inefficient, unruly, undisciplined and downright unproductive. Almost a decade ago, when the then Managing Director of the company, Keith Weston, was manhandled and slapped by Bata employees’ union leaders (angered by the company’s decision to suspend three employees who had assaulted the welfare officer) during a visit to the factory at Batanagar near Kolkata, the political parties (including Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s party) smiled and looked the other way. No wonder, then, that the Bata employees believe they don’t have to work to get their salaries and bonuses.

Kupamanduk
That’s the ‘frog-in-the-well’ syndrome that most Bengalis of Kolkata suffer from. Yet another manifestation of this is the attitude that the Uchcha Madhyamik, or higher secondary, examinations conducted by the state council of higher secondary education, is the best board exam in the country. And similar exams conducted by the other boards, including the CBSE and the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (that conducts the ICSE and ISC tests) are not at par with the state board exams. And that is why, year after year over the past 39 years that the Uchcha Madhyamik exams are being held, the colleges in Bengal arbitrarily slash marks of CBSE and ICSE students to bring them at par with Uchcha Madhyamik students. The standard of the Uchcha Madhyamik is much higher than CBSE or ISC, the allotment of marks is stricter in the state board exams and hence, the colleges argue, the deduction of marks of ISC and CBSE candidates. It is a different matter, however, that on an average, ICSE and CBSE students tend to perform much better than their state board counterparts at the college and university level and are much more successful in life and career. If only the state board would conduct a survey and find the fate of its past ‘star’ performers, it would have discovered that most are small-time doctors, engineers and mid-level babus, leading a nondescript existence, perhaps even a life less ordinary! So much for the high standards Bengal’s educationists never tire of boasting.

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