Ban plea on tuitions rejected
Hairline cracks cripple Metro
Bouquet of telephone services
Dual frisking at airport
Patch of ‘paradise’ in neglected north
Realtors draw up code of conduct
Govt draws blank on RDX raids
‘ISI agents buying land in Northeast’
Minister flays Centre’s move
Cong joins Opp. allies in Manipur

 
 
BAN PLEA ON TUITIONS REJECTED 
 
 
BY TAPAS GHOSH
 
Calcutta, Jan 5 
The government’s plan to stop the practice of private tuition by teachers of state-run schools suffered a jolt on Wednesday as Calcutta High Court rejected a public interest petition on this count.

Presiding over a division bench, Chief Justice A.K. Mathur rejected the petition, saying: “What role does the court play if a person can afford to send his children to a private tutor to secure a brighter future for them?”

The bench declined to hear petitioner Pratul Chandra Sinha’s plea that state-run and state-aided schools were violating the fundamental right to free education by forcing parents and guardians to pay hefty entry and other fees.

“Neither will the court interfere in the matter ,nor will the petition be treated as a Public interest litigation”, Justice Mathur said. The courtroom was packed to capacity.

Petitioner Sinha, himself a lawyer, filed the petition early in December, seeking the court’s intervention into the long-debated issue of the involvement of government schoolteachers in running private coaching centres in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal.

In his 16-page petition, Sinha had argued that a large number of teachers, despite drawing handsome salaries, were increasingly neglecting their duties in school as they were building up parallel and flourishing careers giving private tuitions.

“It is a disturbing trend,” Sinha said. “Many of these teachers force guardians and parents to send their children to their homes or coaching centres for private tuitions . They cannot be avoided on the fear that the pupils concerned might come to harm.”

He urged the high court to ban private tuitions, claiming that almost all the teachers’ lobbies were opposed to the practice and that the government was seriously trying to get the teachers to put a stop to running money-making private coaching centres.

According to estimates, fifty per cent of 150,000 teachers working in 10,300 schools — of them 26,000 are attached to 580 institutions in Calcutta — are devoting the bulk of their time and attention to private tuitions.

Directed by the bench to make a contribution to the hearing, Bikash Bhattacharya, advocate-general of Tripura, rejected the petitioner’s contention that education was becoming a high-cost affair.

All Bengal Teachers’ Association general secretary Atikryam Sanyal said the lobby was against private tuitions, but at the same time, was not sure if it could be stopped by legislation.

CPM state unit secretary Anil Biswas, undisputed education czar, would not comment. School minister Kanti Biswas is away in north Bengal.    


 
 
HAIRLINE CRACKS CRIPPLE METRO 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 5 
Rush hour Metro Railway services were disrupted for about one-and-a-half hours for the second successive day on Wednesday owing to cracks in the rails. It was virtually a repeat of Monday’s incident.

On Wednesday, the services were disrupted from 9.42 am to 11.20 am after hairline cracks were detected in the tracks between Esplanade and Park Street. Subsequently, 26 trains were cancelled.

On Monday, Up services between Tollygunge and Dum Dum were disrupted from 11.30 am to 1 pm owing to fractures in the tracks at Netaji Bhavan station.

Metro Railway general manager I.I.M.S. Rana said he had sought a report on what caused the “rail fractures”. “We are going to examine the flaws and find out how to prevent them. We are going to overhaul the entire system of laying rails,” Rana added.

Angry commuters, however, refused to be placated by words alone. “They (the Metro authorities) have failed to offer smooth services. The other day, there was a fire in the Metro’s power sub-station on Park Street. On Monday, train services were affected owing to cracked rails, and it has happened again today,” said Ujjal Bose at the Esplanade station.

Sharmila Sen, who takes the Metro from Tollygunge to Park Street to attend office, said that except for the first few years, Metro services have often been disrupted for various reasons. “Sometimes it was the defective doors in the green coaches or a power failure in the tunnel. There have been fires in the coaches. These cracks are something new but it is alarming,” she said.

General manager Rana said that occasionally, these hairline cracks, which cannot be detected with the naked eye, often developed in the rails owing to subtle manufacturing defects. “These cracks are so fine that trains can pass over them. But we don’t allow it. The cracks may widen with the pressure of each train. So, as soon as a crack is detected, we stop train services for immediate repairs,” Rana said.    


 
 
BOUQUET OF TELEPHONE SERVICES 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan 5 
Calcutta Telephones is to offer a host of new services to users in the city.

The general manager (planning), Calcutta Telephones, S. Maity, told The Telegraph that televoting, premium rate service, universal number and virtual private network will be introduced by the end of next week.

Televoting: A paid-for service to companies enabling them to conduct opinion polls on a specific telephone number. Calcutta Telephones will compile the statistics and hand it over to them.

Premium rate service: Offered to VIPs, doctors, etc, who receive a high number of calls. They will be allowed to fix a special, higher per-minute tariff for incoming calls. The revenue thus generated will be shared between the called party and Calcutta Telephones.

Universal number facility: A customer is offered a four digit bar code instead of a regular telephone number. This, when dialled, will divert the incoming call, depending on the time and origin of the call. For example, doctors on the move can use this facility to route calls received on the universal number.

Virtual private network: A special package, at a special rate, it will be a kind of PBX for closed-user groups (those who make frequent calls to one another).

Calcutta Telephones hopes to provide as many as 1.8-lakh new connections in the year ending March 2000.

It also plans to link multi-storeyed office complexes in central Calcutta with an optical fibre network, taking it to the doorstep of various Internet Sevice Providers (ISPs).

This will enable ISPs to gain a higher bandwidth ( frequency range of a transmission channel), thus ensuring faster Internet connectivity.

According to Maity, the optical fibre network will help Calcutta Telephones fulfill the long-standing demand for higher bandwidth from 100-200 customers in the area.

Regarding the start of regular cellular services in the city, DoT has set a target of 5,000 subscribers each for both regular cellular and wireless users in local loop technology. A thousand additional connections for the cellular service will be provided in Haldia and a provision of 1,000 wireless connections has been planned for other centres.

In the national Internet backbone (NIB) plan, Calcutta, along with all other metros, has been earmarked as A1 node. So, the city is all set to get the best telecom infrastructure to ensure fastest connectivity.

And the West Bengal Telecom circle will shortly put in place a dedicated infotech corridor to provide the backbone to the state government’s information technology (IT) programme, announced at the Biswa Banga Sammelan on December 30.

At least 17 district centres across the state ( designated C-nodes), including Siliguri, Kharagpur, Asansol, Behrampur, Purulia, Bankura and Raigunj, will be connected to the city by an independent Internet highway.

Currently, only three district centres are connected to the state capital.    


 
 
DUAL FRISKING AT AIRPORT 
 
 
BY OUR AIRPORT REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 5 
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose international airport has been marked as the “most sensitive” airport in the eastern region.

From now, passengers will be frisked twice by security agencies in the presence of airport officials — once in the ‘security check’ area, and again at ‘ladder points’ before entering the aircraft.

This is part of an anti-hijack, anti-sabotage programme, to be enforced strictly at all “sensitive airports” in the country.

The ban on entry of visitors, imposed since the hijack of IC-814, will continue till January 31. Commandos will remain posted at the airport.

Two other airports in the northeast, Guwahati and Imphal, have been declared “sensitive” by the Civil Aviation Security Bureau.    


 
 
PATCH OF ‘PARADISE’ IN NEGLECTED NORTH 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Jan 5 
After Subhas Chakraborty accused the CMDA of neglecting north Calcutta, the forest department will develop the “most beautiful spot of the city” in this area.

The department will take financial assistance from promoters, possibly for the first time in its history.

Forest minister Jogesh Barman, though not a Calcuttan, has reportedly been convinced by Chakraborty’s allegations made a couple of days ago about the city’s disproportionate development and beautification projects and decided to develop “the most beautiful spot of the city” in the north.

The forest department, with financial assistance from promoters, is planning to beautify a two-km stretch along VIP Road between Ultadanga and Lake Town.

The department has estimated that the project will cost Rs 50 lakh. But the cost might go up, as the department has many other ideas for beautifying the spot.

There are at least 10 small and medium-sized waterbodies in the area. A fountain will be installed in the biggest waterbody, which may attract local people as well as those who use VIP Road.

Forest department sources said Barman was keen on developing the area with financial support from private parties. “Already, he has had several meetings with senior forest officials and he has given the green light for implementing the scheme,” a senior forest official said on Wednesday.

The forest department also plans to use the Kestopur Canal opposite the spot for boating. “This portion of the canal has recently been desilted and it is possible to use it for boating. It could make a little profit,” said Maniklal Pathak, deputy conservator of forests.

He said all the waterbodies in the area will be resuscitated to construct observation towers in the middle of each pond. Wooden bridges will lead to the towers in the ponds. “People will be able to relax atop these towers, while sipping tea or coffee,” said Pathak.

Residents of several multistoreyed buildings close to the area have assured the forest department of their cooperation in developing the area as the most beautiful spot in the city.

“You will see rare bushes and creepers in this beauty spot after we develop it,” boasted Pathak.

A senior official, however, said the government had plans to beautify both sides of VIP Road as it is the major entry point to the city from the airport. “Foreigners use this road to enter Calcutta and we have plans to beautify the entire VIP Road and its adjoining areas,” the official said.

Almost all the 10 waterbodies in the area are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. “We will keep these waterbodies free from mosquitoes. The fountain on the biggest waterbody will work day and night and there will be no scope for mosquitoes to breed. Other waterbodies will be used as observation towers and we will spray anti-mosquito chemicals every day in these waterbodies,” the senior forest department official added.    


 
 
REALTORS DRAW UP CODE OF CONDUCT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan 5 
Taking public criticism to heart and yet bogged down by legal problems, a number of city realtors have begun a major exercise in improving relations with prospective buyers and government representatives.

As a part of this drive, the City Developers’ Forum is organising a four-day fair — Home Front 2000 — from Thursday at the Metro Plaza on Ho Chi Minh Sarani. The forum has roped in state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty to inaugurate the fair. Housing department officers are likely to attend it.

“This is our first attempt to collaborate with the government, statutory bodies and the public at large,” said Amar Nath Shroff, forum president.

He said on Wednesday this four-day event would help city realtors build up a new image. “We are being dubbed as a bunch of dishonest promoters grabbing land for the real estate business. We must utilise this four-day event to dispel the popular notion,” Shroff observed.

The forum is also working out a code of conduct to curb the activities of errant developers. “We intend to bring about an automatic accreditation for forum members in their dealings with customers and third party agencies. Henceforth, we will haul up erring members ourselves,” said forum secretary Sushil Mohta.

Other points of the forum’s self-imposed rules include construction of quality products within a time schedule, no escalation of prices in case of delay in delivery of the property and proper documentation.

Besides, buyers will be able to learn infrastructural and technological details of quality projects. Equipment manufacturers and suppliers of building materials will display their products.

There will be nearly 100 stalls put up by various financial institutions such as Hudco, HDFC, Citibank and HSBC. Buyers will learn about the scope of financial opportunities for them by interacting with the institutions. The realtors will at the same time highlight problems they have been facing following the enactment of the West Bengal Building (Regulation of Promotion of Construction and Transfer by Promoters) Act, 1993. The Act has come into force from 1998.

“The current laws have sometimes become an impediment to handing over the ready flats to the buyers within the scheduled time limit,” said a forum member. Admitting that there were loopholes in the law, particularly those relating to registration of flats, Amal Ghosh, housing department secretary, said camendments were being worked out to help the developers.

The deputy commissioner (detective department), Narayan Ghosh, said: “The police are hardpressed to deal with errant promoters. This is welcome if some right-thinking developers work towards identifying the dishonest ones among themselves.”    


 
 
GOVT DRAWS BLANK ON RDX RAIDS 
 
 
FROM A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan 5 
The police have drawn a blank after conducting raids in an attempt to unearth an RDX consignment allegedly smuggled into the city on Tuesday night.

The police are tight-lipped about the tip-off about the explosive material despatched to the metropolis by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

“We were told that the consignment entered from Bangladesh through Karimpore in Nadia district,” said a senior official of the detective department.

Police had, apparently, gathered information about a group of seven youth, most probably Bangladeshis, who had sneaked into the city on Sealdah-bound trains with the RDX and put up at hotels in central Calcutta.

Following the tip-off, plainclothesmen kept vigil at Sealdah, while sleuths carried out night-long raids in hotels in Sealdah and adjoining areas.

A section of officials described the tip-off as a deliberate “false alarm” triggered by terrorists to monitor the reaction of security agencies in the city.

The intelligence network dealing with subversive activities is being revamped. Some agencies have been asked to search all lorries entering or leaving the city at night. “We cannot ignore such information after receiving several warnings from the Union home ministry about ISI agents,” said a senior official.

Park Street robbery: A gang of armed youth looted a sari emporium on Park Street, near the local police station, and escaped with saris and Rs 2 lakh in cash, on Wednesday evening.

No arrests have been made so far, police said.    


 
 
‘ISI AGENTS BUYING LAND IN NORTHEAST’ 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Jan. 5 
Union minister of state for water resources Bijoya Chakraborty today alleged that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agents were buying land from poor people in Assam to set up a permanent base to launch anti-India propaganda and foment communal tension.

Chakraborty said the ISI was pumping in money in huge quantities to create serious law and order problems in the state. “Several underground minority organisations like the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA), are gaining ground with all kinds of assistance from the ISI,” she said.

“We feel the people who had migrated to the state from Bangladesh and subsequently acquired Indian citizenship should stand united to foil any kind of intrusion by the ISI,” she said, adding that about 30 ISI “agents” were lodged in the state’s jails at present.

The Union minister also criticised former state minister Rashidul Haque for his “provocative” statements on the minority issue. “He should avoid making such statements,” she said.

Criticising the state government for the deteriorating law and order situation, Chakraborty said the AGP-led government should “abstain from politicising the police force.”

The Ulfa and Sulfa problem would not have been so serious if the police force was not politicised, she added.

“Everyday there are several killings in Andhra Pradesh. But the state is forging ahead as the chief minister is taking keen interest in the process of development,” Chakraborty said. “If Andhra Pradesh can take up so many development schemes inspite of the killings, why not Assam?” she questioned.

Rebel gunned down

Security forces gunned down Bodo Liberation Tiger Force’s self-styled action group commander of Nalbari district, Jogesh Boro, at Sapkata near Tamulpur this morning.

Sources said troops of 21 mountain division had raided the village acting on a tip. When the militants opened fire, the jawans retaliated killing the 25-year-old rebel on the spot.

Boro’s body was handed over to the Nalbari police. It was later sent to the civil hospital for post mortem. A .315 countrymade rifle and two rounds of ammunition were recovered.    


 
 
MINISTER FLAYS CENTRE’S MOVE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Jan. 5 
Union minister of state for water resources Bijoya Chakraborty said here today the Centre’s recent decision to withdraw Excise duty concessions on cigarettes and pan masala for the Northeast was “not right”.

Chakraborty told newspersons that she would take up the matter with the Prime Minister and the Union finance minister.

The finance ministry withdrew the Excise duty exemption on the two products, granted by the Centre on July 8 last year, through a notification on New Year’s eve.

“I think the decision is not right. Though it is not in my hand, I will have to see under what circumstances it could happen,” Chakraborty said. “For the past few days I was busy with some work and could not go through the notification,” she added.

Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta also lashed out at the Centre yesterday for its arbitrary decision to withdraw the exemptions. In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mahanta described the decision as a “retrograde step”.

Mahanta said the decision was a bane for the region as people would stop investing in the “industrially backward” Northeast. He said three tobacco units had already been set up in the state and had also started commercial production.

Chakraborty said the state was lagging behind due to lack of initiative on part of political leaders and bureaucrats.

“It is very sad to see that the chief minister also has no political will to work for the people of the state,” she added.

“From time to time, the Centre has been releasing funds from the central non-lapsable fund. But the state government shows no initiative to utilise them,” the Union minister said, adding that recently her ministry had released Rs 600 crore for the region. “But, I do not know how the money will be utilised,” she added.

Criticising bureaucrats who hail from states outside the region, Chakraborty said most of them spent more than 25 days in a month outside the region. “In such a case how can you expect development here?” she asked. “Even in my ministry, there are officials who are not interested in working in the northeastern states,” she said.

Chakraborty said she had recently asked a joint secretary-level official to quit within 24 hours for his “lack of interest” in working in the region.    


 
 
CONG JOINS OPP. ALLIES IN MANIPUR 
 
 
FROM OINAM SUNIL
 
Imphal, Jan. 5 
Opposition parties in Manipur have forged a broad alliance to defeat the BJP and the ruling Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) in the Assembly polls slated for early March .

Congress is the latest entrant to the alliance formed prior to the Lok Sabha polls in September. The Manipur People’s Party (MPP), CPI, CPM and the Janata Dal (Secular) had formed the Secular Democratic Front (SDF).

PCC President O. Ibobi Singh told The Telegraph today that all the five parties have officially agreed to form the alliance and the list of common candidates will be finalised on January 10.

Singh said the Congress high command has already agreed to the PCC’s stand on the issue.

According to the PCC president, the alliance will be on two lines. One will be to field common candidates and the other will be stage “strategic friendly fights.” He expressed hope that the alliance will succeed in fielding common candidates in at least 50 per cent of the total seats.

The Congress has appointed observers to assess the ground situation in all blocks and districts. A final report on the ground reality will be submitted to Ibobi Singh on January 7 after which the PCC’s steering committee will take a decision. Similarly, all the constituents of the Opposition alliance have despatched their teams to assess the ground situation.

State CPI general secretary Pheiroijam Parijat said the alliance will be able to finalise its candidates for 40 seats in the valley by January 10. For the 20 seats in the hill districts, a final decision will be taken by January 12, he said.

Parijat stressed the importance of “strategic friendly fights” in many valley constituencies to defeat the BJP and MSCP candidates.

The CPI general secretary hoped the new front will be able to form the next government in the state. Sources said the Congress and the MPP were likely to get the major share in seat allocation as the two parties were stronger than the others. However, the biggest beneficiary of the alliance may turn out to be the CPI.

The Opposition’s morale received a boost after state transport minister Morung Makunga resigned from the W. Nipamacha Singh ministry yesterday. Makunga has also not applied for a MSCP ticket.

Sources said though Makunga was still a MSCP member, he may defect to the Congress and become the Opposition candidate from his Tengnoupal constituency.    

 

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