Whistles of heart

By bappaditya paul

Tarun Goswami is not known in Kolkata for what he does for a living and he will, probably, take a little more time before he gets famous throughout India for what he does out of passion! And this persistent drive for elevation~ from the mundane to sublime ~ is what keeps this 51-year-old youth moving and restless all the time.Tarun GoswamiMr Goswami is a master of singing-whistling, a very out-of-box form of performing art that leaves a listener mesmerised. To put it simply, he can sign any number of songs through whistling. But don’t consider this as simple as it sounds!

“I rehearse for two-hours every day on my own. Besides this, I rehearse once-in-a-week with my team of musicians; this lasts for more than four-five hours,” he says. “Routine rehearsal is a must to keep the vocal cords smooth for the whistles to flow.”

For a working journalist that Mr Goswami is by profession, maintaining this rehearsal schedule is not an easy task. “One ought to be a strict disciplinarian for this,” he says.

Ask him how he picked up such an unusual passion and Mr Goswami will share an anecdote that will leave you amazed. “I was barely seven or eight year old that I started to whistle whatever songs I listened; it came spontaneously. I will roam about our house at Bhowanipore whistling every now and then.”

After observing him doing this for a while, his mother Shefali-Devi misconstrued the passion. “She thought I was whistling to the classmates of my elder sister who used to visit our house frequently. Maa gave me a solid bashing and warned me not to whistle ever again.”

But on the contrary, this apparent bane worked as a boon for him. Now he became adamant that he wanted to sing through whistle; he began practicing on Bengali songs ~ both traditional and modern alike. “I picked up several songs on my whistles over the next two-three years but those lacked the touch of a melodic fine-tuning. I was feeling the need for a formal training.”

Salil Chowdhury But who will teach you something that anybody hardly practices as an art form? Here came handy a school friend who was a relative of music maestro Salil Chowdhury. “One day he took me to Salil-babu at the latter’s Ballygunge house and told him that I wanted to learn music to be able to whistle in melody. Salil-babu asked me to whistle some songs that I knew; on listening those he said: Tui parbi (you have the potential). I will train you.”

For several years Mr Goswami trained with Salil Chowdhury and began to perform in closed circles. Whoever listened to his whistles, showered praises and advised him to follow this up. Finally, after passing out from college, he joined the team of famous musician V Balsara and started appearing in professional performance.

“I performed with Balsara-ji wherever he went. There was a very memorable performance in Bombay. He used to pay me some honorarium on the basis of every single performance.”

V Balsara

After Balsara’s demise in 2005, Mr Goswami formed his own team with six musicians who now support his whistles by playing background score. These days he performs on a host of occasions ~ at marriage ceremonies, anniversaries, private parties and so on and so forth; the whistles include both Hindi and Bengali songs.

“The money that comes from such performances gives my team sustenance, for barring me, music is the livelihood for the rest of them all,” he explains.

In 2013, Mr Goswami and his team performed at Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi at the invitation of President Pranab Mukherjee.

But of all the one performance that Mr Goswami personally enjoys the most is the one that he presents in Kolkata on 7 December every year. For the past few years, Uttam Mancha at Hazra has become a permanent venue for this annual whistling festival. In addition to tickets that are sold through different distribution channels for the event, Mr Goswami personally sends out invitations to those who appreciate good music.

Dipankar Chowdhury, a bureaucrat with West Bengal government and a connoisseur of music, who attended the event themed on Kishore Kumar last December, was totally mesmerised.

Tarun Goswami

“The effortlessness and brilliance with which Goswami ‘sung’ transported many in the packed audience to the melodious and nostalgic past of the 60s and 70s,” Chowdhury observed. “Each word of each song has a distinct whistle-sound, as well as the tone and subtlety; Ek palaker ektu dekha.. and Mere naina sawan bhado.. were rendered with such equal aplomb that one is only left to wonder the amount of time, energy and effort required for such perfect reflections of the original songs.”

No wonder, Mr Goswami is credited for uplifting and popularising whistling from being a lazy time-pass or tease tool of wandering youths to an art form that is inviting kudos from every heart that loves music.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India.)

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Kolkata airport gets a website finally

By bappaditya paul
As they say, better late than never! The Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata has finally got a website where people can get information about flights and other related logistics within a few clicks.NSC Bose International Airport, Kolkata, new passenger terminal

The website ~ http://www.kolkatainternationalairport.com ~ comes 18 months after the airport threw open a Rs 2,325 crore new passenger terminal on 20 January 2013.

In the absence of a website fliers were facing difficulties in getting basic information such as status of a flight or availability of accommodation for overnight stay at the airport and so on.

The newly launched website comes with real time updates for all arriving and departing flights from two-three hours preceding the current time till the morning of next day with relevant information such
as scheduled time, expected time, assigned check-in counter, assigned departure gate, assigned conveyer belt and the latest activity status for a flight, viz, security check, boarding, boarding closed, on schedule, arrived or delayed.

The good thing is, people seeking information about a flight can register on the website just by entering their name and e-mail address; the system will automatically provide updates via mail. But unlike in the USA or UK, no updates  will be available on mobile phones; one will have to depend on e-mail alerts on his/her smart phone. The website has a version for surfing on mobile devices. A check-in counter at Kolkata airportAnother major shortcoming is that the website does not offer flight status information for the entire day; the status update is available for a window period that starts from two/three hours preceding the current time.

There is a search box to look for desired flights but it also
does not show the status of a scheduled flight that may have arrived, departed or got cancelled several hours before on the current day.   Boeing B-787 aircrat Information about accommodation at the airport, airport shops and eateries, medical and transport facilities, lost baggage, etc. has been provided.  Names of key airport officials are also there on the website with contact numbers.But neither accommodation nor transport can be booked on the site.

There is an amusing lapse on the website: in the about section it states that a new passenger terminal was being constructed at the airport. The fact being the new terminal with 20 million annual passenger capacity was thrown open for fliers on 23 March 2013.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 17 August 2014.)

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Reel and reality of Kolkata Metro help-lines


By bappaditya paul
A young woman travelling in a crowded Metro train is being constantly shoved by a man; she feels uncomfortable and moves away. The man repositions himself and continues to harass the woman, compelling her to directly ask him to behave. But this warning too going in vain, the woman rings up the Metro Help Line from her mobile phone. Officials manning the help line acts promptly and the man is arrested by Railway Protection Force the moment he steps of out of the train at a next Metro station.No Signal 1This is a promotional video that Metro Railway airs day in and day out on TV sets installed on platforms of all its stations. Now cut to the reality:

Last Monday, Antara Kanungo (24) boarded a Metro from Netaji (Kudghat) station for Central and got a corner seat in the ladies’ section. A flock of young men boarded the train from Rabindra Sarobar and stood huddling together beside the door; one of them rested his back on the handrail of Antara’s seat. She requested the youth to stand straight; instead of obliging, he gave her a dirty look and asked her to travel by taxi if she was averse to such touch. A co-traveller voiced a protest only to be booed down by the loutish youths.

Outraged, Antara dialed the Metro Help Line from her mobile but alas there is no signal on her Vodafone connection! The co-passenger with Airtel connection offers help but the signal fails her as well.No signal woman“I felt so helpless. The man got down at Esplanade much before I stepped out on the Central station platform and my phone’s signal became live again,” Antara said in a frustrated tone.

It is, however, not an issue with Vodafone or Airtel signal alone; mobile signal of no operator is available in Metro trains when they pass through tunnels. Signals are partially available only on Kolkata Metro ticketing areas and platforms where the operators have installed “repeaters or micro BTS” for which they pay an annual license fee to Metro Railway. These repeaters or micro BTS have a low coverage area.

But as if oblivious of this, Metro Railway in January this year introduced two help lines ~ a Women Help Line and Security Help Line ~ to enable passengers to contact from moving train should there be a need.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), whose members include almost all big private mobile operators, are not willing to shoulder the blame.
“There is no (mobile) signal as the tunnels are not wired with network,” said Mr V K Cherian, COAI’s director corporate communications, without clarifying whether their members would take initiative to address the issue.No SignalAsked about the modalities on which private operators were charged for installing micro BTSs at Metro stations and why they were failing to ensure connectivity inside the tunnels, Metro Railway’s Chief Traffic Manager (CTM) Mr K V Rao, refused to respond. “This is not linked to public interest and hence I will not respond,” Mr Rao said in a rude tone unbecoming of a senior railway officer. In Metro it is the CTM who looks after all commercial aspects such as renting out a space or facility to a private entity.

Metro Railway spokesperson, Mr R N Mahaptra, however, said that they were “working closely with all operators to ensure mobile connectivity inside the tunnels.”

In December 2013, at a cost of Rs 18-crore, Metro had introduced in its trains and tunnels a dedicated internal mobile telecommunications facility called GSM-R for the use of its train drivers. Metro sources said that the plan now was to lease out a bandwidth from GSM-R to the private mobile operators so that they could provide connectivity to the subscribers.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 3 August 2014.)

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New SEC Upadhyay has task cut out for him


By bappaditya paul

Mamata Banerjee’s bete noir Mira Pande will complete her tenure as State Election Commissioner on 21 July and Susanta Ranjan Upadhyay, a retired WBCS officer, will fill in her shoes the next day.

Susanta Ranjan Upadhyay

Susanta Ranjan Upadhyay

But notwithstanding the “friendly to government” tag that some sections have awarded to Mr Upadhyay, it will be difficult for the new SEC to back out from the legal battle that Mrs Pande is leaving behind over holding elections to 17 civic bodies in the state.

Legal and civic poll experts say that under Article 243U of the Constitution, it is the SEC’s obligation to hold timely elections to civic bodies. “It is immaterial who is in office: the poll panel can not shy away from this Constitutional obligation. It shall have to exploit every Constitutional avenue to conduct the polls,” said a retired High Court judge unwilling to be named.

Article 243U, clause (1) reads: “Every Municipality, unless sooner dissolved under any law for the time being in force, shall continue for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting and no longer.” Clause (3), sub clause (a) further makes it clear that polling to a civic body shall be held: “before the expiry of its duration specified in clause (1).

West Bengal state election commissioner Ms Mira Pande

West Bengal state election commissioner Ms Mira Pande

The five year term of 17 civic bodies in the state ~ Mal, Kaliaganj, Gangarampur, Madhyamgram, Rajarhat-Gopalpur, South Dum Dum, Dum Dum, Rajpur-Sonarpur, Maheshtala, Uluberia, Dankuni, Egra, Sainthia, Asansol, Kulti, Islampur and the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad ~ is expiring between 17-31 July.

The Bengal government however, does not want the polls till next year on the excuse that it is monsoon now and some of the civic bodies in question are to be restructured. This made Mrs Pande move the Calcutta HC.

“Before moving to the High Court, we wrote the state government numerous times. The government sat on the matter till early June when it wrote back saying that the polls could not be held before the civic bodies were restructured and a favorable season sat in,” said a senior SEC official. “This reasoning is absurd as civic polls had been held in the peak summer of 2009. Also one cannot defer the polls for a prolonged period on the excuse of restructuring; restructuring can be carried out after the polls.”

Mamata Banerjee A Calcutta HC advocate, not linked to this case, pointed out that the new SEC’s options have been limited by the fact that Mira Pande meticulously followed all procedures before knocking the court.

“Mr Upadhyay can not get into a fresh negotiation with the government as the latter has shut that possibility,” he said. “The best-case scenario will be that the High Court asks both the parties to propose an amicable solution to it; this can only happen if the government blinks in favour of an early polls, at least in those civic bodies, that are not being restructured. As regards the rest, under Section 14 (4) of the West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993 the government can appoint administrators to run them till the restructuring is complete.”

Of the 17 civic bodies whose elections are due, seven feature in list of municipalities that are to be restructured or upgraded.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 20 July 2014.)


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Municipality upgarde to take at least a year


By bappaditya paul

Trinamul Congress government wants to postpone elections to 17 municipalities in the state till November on the pretext that it will by then upgrade seven of them into corporations. But going by the West Bengal Municipal Act 1993, the upgrade process will take at least a year, making it clear that the November deadline is fictitious. Mamata Banerjee cartoon courtesy Deccan ChorinicalSection 3 to 9 of the WB Municipal Act that deals with the formation/constitution of municipal areas in the state, lay down a procedure so elaborate that it will take 12-13 months to upgrade an existing municipality or form a new one.

The process includes issuing a notification by the Governor both in the official gazette and in newspapers, declaring the intention to create / upgrade a municipality. Following this, the common public shall have to be given three months to put forward their opinions/ objections in writing and these shall have to be disposed off in another one month.

The government will then issue a notification announcing the formation / upgrade of the civic bodies for which public opinion had been sought; another notification specifying the number of wards in each of these civic bodies will follow in close succession.

West Bengal state election commissioner Ms Mira Pande

West Bengal state election commissioner Ms Mira Pande

Since the government wants to set up four new municipal corporations, in the next step it shall have to draft and enact separate legislation for each of them. Such legislation, among other matters, shall mention whether the SEC or some other body is to carry out the delimitation for the new corporations.

Once that is done, the assigned body will take up the delimitation exercise, which going by conservative estimate, will take at least four months to complete.

Next comes the task of reserving seats/wards for women and SC/ST/OBC categories. The Municipal Elections Act stipulates that the draft for the reservation shall be published at least 10 weeks before the day of polls; the final reservation shall be published at least seven weeks in advance. This in effect means it will take at least three-four months to complete the reservation process and the elections can be held only after this. Nabanna in Howrah ~ Bengal's new seat of powerThe state Cabinet had on 26 May announced the decision to create four new municipal corporations by clubbing 23 municipalities and merge another 13 municipalities with three existing corporations.

Of the municipalities to be upgraded, seven municipalities feature in the list of 17 municipalities whose term end in July. These seven municipalities are ~ Asansol, Dum Dum, South Dum Dum, Madhyamgram, Maheshtala and Rajarhat-Gopalpur.

Citing the proposed upgrade, the state municipal affairs secretary wrote to the State Election Commission (SEC) on 17 June stating that instead of now, the government wants to hold elections to the 17 municipalities in November as the upgrade would be completed by then.   Calcutta High Court

The matter is now pending before the Calcutta High Court after the SEC flied a writ petition seeking intervention to hold elections to the 17 bodies before their term expires; the next hearing is fixed for 11 July.

Keeping in mind that the state election commissioner Ms Mira Pande is due to exhaust her tenure on 21 July, she will not be able to hold the elections even if the Court rules in favour of the poll panel. “She will at best be able to issue the notification and the next commissioner will complete the poll process,” said a senior SEC official.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 28 June 2014, under a different headline.)

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Kolkata squats on Metro extension projects


By bappaditya paul

Mumbai threw open its first Metro route last Sunday (08 June) and other cities across India are moving fast to catch up.

But even as Metro services have spread in other cities, Kolkata is literally squatting on 102.50 km Metro extension projects that have the potential to revolutionise transport facilities in the city. Ironically, Kolkata was the first in India to get a Metro system way back in 1984; its existing north-south Metro route is 27.27 km long.

A view of the ongoing Joka-BBD Bagh Metro project near Behala.

A view of the ongoing Joka-BBD Bagh Metro project near Behala in Kolkata.

The 102.50 km Metro extension in Kolkata is spread over six projects and they were sanctioned between 2008 and 2012. But even after the lapse of so many years, the projects have made little progress due to non-availability of land and lack of cooperation from different agencies of the state and Central governments.

Going by a rough estimate, till date only 26 per cent of the work has been completed and going by the complex nature of the hurdles, none of the officials involved with the projects are willing to hazard a guess as to when they will be ready.


Length: 4.50 km.

Sanction year: 2010-11.

Estimated cost: Rs 411.06 crore.

Status: 1.93 km stretch incomplete.

Reason: 319 encroachments on railway land between Noapara and Baranagar. Owing to this, a private contractor appointed by Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) backed out last year.

Way out: RVNL now looking for a new contractor and state government’s assistance to remove the encroachments.



Length: 18.13 km.

Sanction year: 2010-11.

Estimated cost: Rs 2582.55 crore.

Status: Work stalled. Two work orders issued to L&T for Airport to Barasat stretch cancelled.

Reason: 800 encroachments on railway land between Noapara and Airport and 1,884 encroachments between Airport and Barasat.

Way out: Metro Railway has written to Railway Board to truncate the route at Airport; wants state’s intervention to remove the 800 encroachments.

A stalled work site of the East-West Metro Corridor project beside Howrah station's old complex.

A stalled work site of the East-West Metro Corridor project beside Howrah station’s old complex.


Length: 18.72 km.

Sanction year: 2010-11 & 2012-13.

Estimated cost: Rs 2913.51 crore.

Status: No progress beyond the construction of 7.5 km elevated portion between Joka and Majerhat.

Reason: Union Finance Ministry yet to give permission for a 300 metre stretch that will pass through Kolkata Mint premises at New Alipore. Defence Ministry yet to grant permission for a near 5 km underground stretch between Mominpur and Maidan. State government yet to complete land acquisition for a 25-acre plot at Joka needed for Metro car-shed.

Way out: Speedy NOC from Finance and Defence Ministry; proactive steps by state government for Joka land acquisition.



Length: 32 km.

Sanction year: 2010-11

Estimated cost: Rs 4259.50 crore.

Status: Only 35 per cent piling work complete and some pillars erected on stretch between Ruby and Patuli More on E M Bypass and in New Town.

Reason: KMC wants RVNL to pay Rs 251 crore for 20,000 square feet land for two elevated stations near Pragati Maidan police station and Bartaman Building on E M Bypass. Villagers stalling work on 150 metre stretch of land near Hidco Bhavan in Rajarhat claiming that it belongs to them.

Way out: RVNL ready to pay only a token amount to KMC on the logic that Metro is a public utility service. Hidco’s intervention to end the stalemate at Hatihara.



Length: 14.50 km.

Sanction year: 2010-11

Estimated cost: Rs 2069.60 crore.

Status: Work has not moved an inch on the Barrackpore route.

Reason: KMC yet to relocate two underground water pipelines (60” and 42” in diameter) that run along BT Road along the proposed Metro route. 1,250 encroachments on state government land beside BT Road along the proposed alignment.

Way out: Relocation of the water pipelines and removal of encroachments.

Kolkata Metro AC rake



Length: 14.67 km.

Sanction year: 2008-09

Estimated cost: Rs 2,984 crore.

Status: Around 60 per cent of the elevated stretch between Salt Lake Sector V and E M Bypass complete; underground stretch between Phoolbagan and Sealdah station complete. Work stalled between Sealdah and Howrah Maidan.

Reason: The alignment between Sealdah and Writers’ Buildings yet to be finalised; some land owners at Bowbazar have moved to High Court opposing land acquisition for the Metro route. State government yet to give KMRCL a 400 square metre piece of land on Brabourne Road (near Writers’ Buildings) for the underground tunneling work up to Howrah Maidan.

Way out: Early allotment of the plot on Brabourne Road and state’s proactive role to end the legal impasse over the Bowbazar stretch.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 15 June 2014.)

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Noapara-Barasat Metro route to truncate at airport


By bappaditya paul
Kolkata Metro Railway authorities have approached the Railway Board to truncate the Noapara-Barasat Metro corridor at the city airport as the project is making little progress due to land hurdle at the Barasat-end.Indian Railways New LogoThe move comes a year after the Metro authorities foreclosed or cancelled the two work-orders that it had issued to L&T for laying a 5.7 km Metro track between the Airport and Barasat owing to encroachments on the proposed alignment. This was part of the 18.13-km Noapara-Barasat Metro corridor sanctioned in 2010-11 at an estimated cost that now stands at Rs 2,582.55-crore.

According to sources, Metro Railway has written to the Railway Board early in May with a modified plan to construct a 1.7 km underground Metro line in the airport premise, as they do not see the possibility of any headway in the project beyond the airport.

Noapara Metro Railway station, Kolkata.

Noapara Metro Railway station, Kolkata.

“In the original plan for Noapara-Barasat Metro corridor, there is the provision for a 5.6 km underground route in and around the airport. But since encroachment on railway land is not allowing progress on the full stretch, we have urged the Board to allow us to terminate the route at the airport itself, which can be achieved by constructing a 1.7 km underground track instead,” said a senior Metro Railway official. “Work on the stretch between Airport and Barasat can be taken up later if we get the land in future.”

The modified plan will necessitate augmenting the infrastructure of the Metro car-shed at Noapara to park additional rakes for running trains up to the airport. Originally, the plan was to construct a car-shed at Barasat to park and feed Metro rakes for the entire route.

“The Board is empowered to approve the modified plan as this is an already sanctioned project and there is no need to take this through the Rail Budget route. We are hoping that the Board will give us a go ahead soon,” another Metro officer said.Metro AC trainBut even if the Railway Board approves the modified plan, it will not be all clear for the near 6 km Metro route from Noapara to the airport. There are around 800 encroachers sitting on railway land along the proposed alignment near Dum Dum Cantonment and Jessop-siding.

Till now, Metro authorities have been carrying forward construction work for the elevated portion on the route where the land is encroachment-free.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 11 June 2014.)

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