Bigger tab for Madhyamik
Sealdah connector to Bypass
Mamata warns critics with twin expulsions
Mishap puts picnic party in hospital
CMC stalls Metro high hopes
Five bodies found in Northeast
Fog masks death run
Police custody for Ulfa leaders
Nitish-Paswan tussle frays saffron fabric
Infant mortality on the rise in rural Assam

 
 
BIGGER TAB FOR MADHYAMIK 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Jan. 9 
Another hurrah for Manmohan Singh, India’s original freemarket guru. Learning a late lesson from him, the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education has begun to chant the market mantra.

Dropping its worn-out socialistic economic ideas, the board, which conducts the Madhyamik examinations, has all but finalised plans for a steep hike in the fee it has been charging its examinees for nearly three decades.

Once the board’s executive committee meets and puts its seal of approval on the proposal this week, the board will arrange to charge from 2001 a fee of Rs 100-plus, instead of Rs 34, from each candidate.

Madhyamik is one of the country’s toughest and largest school-leaving examinations.

“I am still looking into the fee hike proposal. Let us see how things work out,” says board president A.K. Chakraborty.

The fee hike is likely to be hefty for two reasons. First, the present fee, Rs 34, has been in operation for nearly 30 years.

Second, the board will try to make a sort of a killing now, because it knows it is not likely to get another opportunity to raise the fee in the years to come.

What has forced the hike is the state government’s decision not to provide the board any longer with an annual cushion of Rs 18 to 20 crore.

Nearly 80 per cent of the allocation goes towards meeting an ever-ballooning wage bill, holding of examinations, paying examiners’ and invigilators’ fees, transportation costs and the maintenance of several Board offices.

After receiving a stern one-liner from the education department last month — “Expand your resource mobilisation in the natural way” — the board has had to look at a few options — almost all of them impractical — and settled on a fee hike from 2001.

The board reckons that the present exercise must fetch it at least Rs 8 crore, up from the present Rs 1.80 crore a year collected by way of examination fees from approximately 600,000 boys and girls from 13,000 schools affiliated to the board.

“We have asked them to put their finances in order because it is not possible for us in the government to go on underwriting the cost of the board’s working,” said an education department official.

“They have got to do something, because every year their budget is going up by a few crores of rupees,” he added.

The board is hesitant to go in for a sharp increase in the examination fee as it might anger various leftist students’ and teachers’ lobbies.

The school education department justifies a hike in examination fees, even if there was no directive from the government, on the ground that the last such increase was 25 years ago.

“The cost of holding examinations has gone up tenfold. If we don’t increase the fee now, then we must know when it will actually be done,” officials said .

How have costs soared in the past 25 years?

Not so long ago, an examiner would be paid at the rate of Re 1 per answerscript assessed.

At present, the examiner is paid at the rate of Rs 2.50, which is still abysmally low.

From the board’s point of view, even this is a strain on the pocket, if the increase in the number of examinees is taken into account.

Over the years, the board’s expenditure has shot up even further with expansion of its regional centres in the districts.    


 
 
SEALDAH CONNECTOR TO BYPASS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 9 
The city is getting a brand new bypass, this one connecting Sealdah with the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, skirting the busy Beleghata Main Road.

The Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) have jointly taken up a Rs 1-crore project to convert the existing Chaul Putty Road for the purpose. The 3.5-km stretch is due to be ready by November.

Municipal commissioner Asim Barman said the new bypass will help ease traffic along Radha Nath Chowdhury Road, Convent Road and at Munshi Bazar.

“For construction of the road, 51 labour quarters of the CMC’s drainage department behind Palmer Bazar pumping station will be relocated.” said Barman.

According to chief engineer (roads) Sajal Banerjee, the rail bridge over Sealdah (South) section on Beleghata Main Road, near NRS Medical College Hospital, will be widened to cope with the increase in traffic.

“Chaul Putty Road is there, so what needs to be done for a full stretch of road between Sealdah and the Bypass is to join the missing links by constructing bridges over the canals,” Banerjee said.

According to a spokesman of the CMDA, this would also enable goods vehicles from Shyambazar to reach the industrial belt of Beleghata, Tangra and Topsia, without entering the city limits.

“Topsia and Tangra-bound goods traffic could be diverted along the canal bank roads instead of being allowed to enter APC Road and Beleghata Main Road. But two bridges will have to be constructed for the purpose,” said the spokesman.

The CMC had earlier started constructing the foundation of a bridge across the canal between Canal South Road and D.C. Dey Road, but had abandoned the project midway.

If this bridge had been completed, Tangra would have already been connected with Beleghata.

Mayor Prasanta Chatterjee is pushing for the construction of another bridge, about 350 metres south of the existing Khalpul bridge, linking south Sealdah with Chaul Putty Road.

“We have accepted the proposal and the work on construction of bridge will start soon,” said the CMDA spokesman.

According to CMC estimates, daily vehicular movement from the city centre to the rapidly- developing eastern corner of Calcutta has gone up by four times in the past five years.

“This has prompted us to take draw up such drastic measures,” said an official.    


 
 
MAMATA WARNS CRITICS WITH TWIN EXPULSIONS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 9 
Trinamul Congress chief and Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday expelled two leaders from central Calcutta, Arun Hazra and Asit Roy Choudhury, serving notice to dissidents in her party.

These is the first time party members have been told to leave. Hazra and Roy Choudhury are old loyalists and have been part of the Trinamul since its inception in August, 1997.

The move is being viewed as a warning to old loyalists not to criticise her decision to induct top-ranking Congress leaders into the Trinamul.

Hazra and Roy Choudhury had led processions and held public meetings in central Calcutta last month against the induction of Congress veterans like Subrata Mukherjee and Jayanta Bhattacharya. There is considerable resentment against prominent Congress leaders, who, since joining the Trinamul, have been given top party positions.

Subrata Mukherjee and Jayanta Bhattacharya have been empowered by Mamata to chalk out a strategy for the Calcutta Municipal Corporation elections in May. Bhattacharya was also appointed party spokesman, replacing MP Sudip Bandopadhyay who has been made the party’s chief whip in Parliament.

Many of the old hands have been feeling that they were being sidelined. The rebels were resentful that these leaders of the Congress, once dubbed the CPM’s ‘B’ team by the Trinamul chief, were now being given positions of importance.

Before the rebels could organise themselves for a revolt, however, the Trinamul replaced the Congress as the main opposition party in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. And, it was Mukherjee and Bhattacharya who carefully orchestrated the defections in the Congress camp.

The expulsions come within 48 hours of Congress heavyweight and former Leader of the Opposition, Pradip Ghosh’s decision to join the Trinamul.

“Mamata felt that it was the right time to silence the rebels. With former Congress councillors helping the Trinamul enjoy the status of the principal opposition party, she will not allow accusing fingers to be raised against them,” observers said.    


 
 
MISHAP PUTS PICNIC PARTY IN HOSPITAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 9 
A picnic party of 40 was injured, 12 seriously, when their speeding bus overturned and fell into a roadside ditch at Ramkrishna Palli colony, in the Liluah police station area, three km from Howrah town, on Sunday morning.

The injured, including seven children and 16 women, were admitted to Howrah General Hospital.

Eleven were later referred to Medical College Hospital in Calcutta because of the serious nature of their injuries. Police said the incident occurred around 8.15 am on Bombay Road when the picnic party from Ghoshpara, in Bally, was proceeding to Brace Bridge via the Kona Expressway.

Additional police superintendent (town), Howrah, Vineet Goel, said the accident occurred when the bus driver attempted to avert a collision between his vehicle and a cart crossing the road. The bus overturned and fell into the muddy ditch, he added.

Local residents started rescuing the trapped passengers before the Liluah police arrived. Fire brigade officials helped extricate some of the injured.

“The bus rolled into the slushy ditch and the passengers were trapped in it. They were slowly suffocating, but continued shouting for help,” said Balai Samanta, a local resident. Samanta said before the fire brigade arrived, a few of the passengers had been pulled out and sent to hospital.

Ashok Ghosh, admitted to Howrah Hospital with head injuries, said: “The condition of the road was not too bad. Our bus was running smoothly. At first, I heard a loud screech as the driver slammed the brakes. Suddenly, the vehicle swerved and then overturned. After that, I can remember nothing.”    


 
 
CMC STALLS METRO HIGH HOPES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 9 
Not much seems to be going right for the Metro Railway at the moment. After a week of service disruptions due to cracks in tracks, smoke and sparks, the Metro’s plans to rake in an

additional Rs 50 crore by adding floors to its existing buildings and selling them as office space have been scuttled.

On Wednesday, the civic authorities, citing a 30-year-old agreement, have refused to grant permission to Metro Rail for its “commercial plans”.

“We gave the land to Metro Railway for the specific purpose of running trains. An agreement was signed to this effect. They can’t violate it by building extra floors for commercial use,” said municipal commissioner Asim Barman.

A team of Metro Rail officials will meet Barman on Thursday to discuss the matter.

Having suffered a net loss of Rs 38 crore during the last financial year, Metro Railway is looking for new avenues to earn revenue.

Ever since the Metro fares were hiked in 1998, there has been a steady decline in ticket sales.

A study to identify ways of earning additional revenue suggested that the Metro Railway could add floors to the existing Metro Rail Bhavan near Park Street and to the Tollygunge, Central and Netaji Bhavan stations.

Metro Rail Bhavan, for one, is outside the purview of the agreement the railway signed with the CMC in the early 1970s.

A Metro Railway official said that the places listed were “prime locations” and would fetch a good price.

“We have found that we will be able to sell at least 45,000 square metres of space for commercial use and raise Rs 50 crore,” said I.I.M.S. Rana, Metro Railway general manager.

On the current controversy with the CMC, Rana said: “Everything can be sorted out across the table. Our officers are in constant touch with the CMC. Whatever we do, we will do after consulting the CMC.”

Meanwhile, the Metro has intensified its drive to raise additional revenue from sources other than ticket sales.

It earned Rs 90 lakh in 1998-1999 from advertisements on the station premises, the mezzanine floors and in its coaches.

“During the first seven months of the current fiscal year, we have already earned Rs 1.5 crore,” Rana added.

So, the CMC move comes at a critical time for the railways. To make matters worse for the Metro, the municipal commissioner has asked the railway authorities to pay up its dues as the CMC was cash-strapped.

“The Metro Railway is yet to pay Rs 6.58 crore — the price of the sprawling 21 acres we gave them to construct their car shed at Noapara, in Dum Dum,” said CMC’s chief valuer and surveyor, Sadhan Thakurata.

He said the Metro Railway authorities had also not paid for about six acres of the CMC had given them for construction of stations, pump houses and air ducts.

“The land has been valued at a minimum of Rs 20 crore,” Thakurta said.    


 
 
FIVE BODIES FOUND IN NORTHEAST 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Jan. 9 
Upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district was tense following the recovery of five unidentified bodies from Bongaligaon near Disangpani under Namrup police station this morning.

While two of the bodies bore bullet marks, three others had severe cut marks on necks. sources said. The hands of all the bodies were tied behind their back and they were clad in their undergarments.

Police have recovered three handmade pistols from the spot besides several empty cartridges of AK-47 assault rifles and pistols. The bodies have been sent for post mortem.

Senior police officials with additional troops have rushed to the spot to take stock of the situation. A massive manhunt has been launched to apprehend the culprits.

Pointing a needle of suspicion towards the Ulfa, a police official said nothing can be ascertained till investigations were over.

Farmer killed: A farmer was killed and another injured by suspected Bodo militants in Assam’s Nalbari district, official sources said here today, adds PTI.

Suspected Bodo militants attacked the two farmers near Barabari village with sophisticated weapons while they were going to a relative’s place yesterday.    


 
 
FOG MASKS DEATH RUN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Jan. 9 
Twelve persons were killed and eight injured early this morning when two trains mowed down a group of passengers who were crossing the tracks amid a thick fog near Mokama station, nearly 63 km from here.

The passengers had disembarked from the Mokama-Janata local at Punarkar station and were making their way through the dense fog to a bus stop. Punarkar being one of the nondescript stations, does not have a railway crossing nor an overbridge. The fog which reduced visibility to zero in the railway station area, prevented the hapless men from noticing that two trains, the Delhi-Guwahati Rajdhani Express and Howrah-Delhi Janata Express were closing in on the station. By the time the Rajdhani blew its horn, it was too late. The train ran over 10 passengers on one of the tracks. The Janata, which was coming from the opposite direction, crushed two more on the other. Caught unawares, some of the other passengers, who were a little ahead, were also knocked down by the speeding trains. Eight of the seriously injured have been admitted to Punarkar and Barh hospitals.

Mahesh Yadav, an eyewitness, said, “The familiar tracks have suddenly turned into a killing field. Dismembered parts of bodies were strewn all around the railway lines while blood trickled down.”

After the accident, angry residents hurled stones at the trains. The Rajdhani had stopped at the station. Senior political leaders, including former railway minister Nitish Kumar, visited the accident site and met the injured.

He has urged senior railway officers to probe why the Mokama passenger was still at the station despite a signal and why the men crossing the tracks were not warned of the trains’ arrival through a microphone.

“We get down from the train and cross the tracks regularly. There was no warning that the Rajdhani was about to pass,” said Surendra Paswan, an injured passenger, at Punarkar hospital. The residents said more lives were spared as it was Sunday. “On normal working days, vegetable and other vendors squat on the tracks. The daily market also draws a large crowd,” one of them said.

   


 
 
POLICE CUSTODY FOR ULFA LEADERS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Jan. 9 
Arrested United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) leader Chitra Dihingia and his four accomplices were today remanded in police custody for 12 days.

Dihingia was arrested along with four senior Ulfa leaders from the central publicity office of the banned outfit at Upper Lachumere in Shillong yesterday.

The five militants, two of whom are women, were brought to the city yesterday. They were produced before the Kamrup district chief judicial magistrate this afternoon.

Additional superintendent of police (city) P.K. Dutta said the militants have been booked under Section 25 of the Arms Act and Sections 121, 121 (a) and 10/13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. He said the case of the five arrested militants has been taken up by Basistha police.

The five militants are being interrogated by top police officials. A senior official said they have got certain vital clues from the arrested militants.

“The seized documents are being scrutinised thoroughly,” the official said, expressing the hope that it will throw more light on the outfit’s activities.

The police are likely to carry out a series of raids on the Ulfa’s hideouts.

Apart from Dihingia, the two other captured rebels are Pradip Bora alias Dipak Bora and Bimal Chetri alias Bimal Saikia.

The two female activists are Juli Bora alias Roma Deka and Sanghamitra Bora, wife of top Ulfa leader Swapnanil Deka Raja.    


 
 
NITISH-PASWAN TUSSLE FRAYS SAFFRON FABRIC 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Jan. 9 
The severe cold wave sweeping the state has failed to lower the political heat in the capital with the Samata Party-Janata Dal (United) rift deepening further.

The Samata Party today said it would not relent from its demand for more seats in the Assembly polls even if the Janata Dal (United) threatened to dilute its anti-Laloo stand.

“How can you blackmail us in the name of Laloo Prasad Yadav?” asked Samata Party spokesman P. K. Sinha. Taking a cue from the ego clash between George Fernandes and Sharad Yadav at the national level, battlelines over the leadership issue have been drawn between Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan in the state.

While Paswan today said he was unable to “read Nitish Kumar’s mind and was baffled by his absence during talks,” Sinha told newsmen on behalf of Nitish Kumar that the Janata Dal (United) should approach BJP for negotiation on seat sharing if it wanted to contest as a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) constituent.

Sinha made it clear that party candidates would contest the poll on the mashal (torchlight) symbol instead of the arrow which “we had taken up as a symbol of unity in the last parliamentary elections. Our pact with the BJP will continue and if the Janata Dal (United) wanted to share seats as an NDA constituent, it should approach the election committee of the NDA. We are not concerned with the Janata Dal (United),” Sinha said.

The hardening of the Samata stand over the dispute has embarrassed the BJP and outraged Paswan. The Janata Dal (United) leader said, “The Samata Party has forgotten that we are not fighting a battle to test waters on individual strength. If it is a fight against Laloo Prasad’s misrule, all these minor imponderables must be overlooked and we should stick together. But this is unfortunate.”

However, the Samata Party is adamant. In elaborate statements, the party has dwelt how its vote-share increased “from 8,000 per segment in 1995 to 46,550 in 1998, the highest among all the recognised parties, whereas there has been a steep fall in the Janata Dal (United) votes which came down from 37,400 per Assembly segment in 1995 to 18,430 per Assembly segment in 1998”.

The party also claimed that in 1998 when it contested 21 seats, it bagged 10 seats and was placed second in nine seats. The Samata Party vote percentage also increased from 15 per cent to 41 per cent in 1998.

Paswan, however, said statistics were poor ways of self-propaganda. “The Samata should remember what it had done when it had contested alone in the 1995 polls. “It had won only six seats. The 1995 polls should be the barometer for analysing party positions,” Paswan said.

The stout defence of its position by the Samata Party today indicated that Nitish Kumar, while publicly announcing his lack of interest for the chief minister’s post, wanted to carry on the campaign against Sharad Yadav and Paswan.

The Samata Party is trying to disassociate itself from the Socialists in a bid to woo the upper caste Bhumihars, Rajputs and Brahmins.

Party ideologues here said even in the last Lok Sabha polls, the Paswan factor fetched marginal Dalit votes. The Yadavs and the Muslims did not tilt towards the Samata Party.    


 
 
INFANT MORTALITY ON THE RISE IN RURAL ASSAM 
 
 
FROM ROOPAK GOSWAMI
 
Guwahati, Jan. 9 
Poor natal care and shoddy infrastructure in rural areas have led to a spurt in infant mortality rates in Assam.

With only 22 per cent of deliveries getting “skilled attention” in the state, chances of child mortality before the age of five is high. Nearly 142 children die in Assam before they reach the age of five despite the fact that female literacy rate in the state is much higher than the rest of the country.

Mothers in rural Assam still prefer the services of dais (midwives) while giving birth to their children as there is an acute shortage of women doctors in the rural Assam.

According to a random household survey, only 29.7 per cent deliveries in Assam are institutional, while 39.2 per cent women seek treatment for natal complications.

Voluntary Health Association of India activists said dais charge Rs 250 to Rs 500 per visit as there are hardly any qualified doctors in rural areas.

The problem is that an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) in Assam has to cover an area of 19.22 square km while in Kerala, the effective area of an ANM is limited to under 6 square km, which implies a walking distance of less than 1.5 km.

The hostile terrain also makes it difficult for the female health worker to cater to the patients. A study conducted by the European Commission on improving reproductive and child health services in the region said creating awareness was not enough.

It had to be backed up by improvement in service delivery. Though family planning awareness among married women is high, actual use of contraceptives was much lower.

It must be kept in mind that the public sector is the main provider of reproductive and child health services in the region which is not the case elsewhere in the country. “The emphasis should be on improving service delivery rather than demand generation” the report recommended.

“The utilisation levels have remained low, except immunisation levels.

“The increase in immunisation levels appear to have been brought about by hectic campaigning rather than by services delivered through the routine mode,” the report stated.

Health experts feel that in view of the state’s diverse demography, it would be prudent to select a district having a significantly low population density and analyse the spread of population at the sub-district level and then decide the approach to be followed for service delivery within each sub-district level.

The campaign mode will not help increase the percentage of deliveries handled by trained hands. “It would be better to identify educated persons from low population density areas and provide them with skills comparable to an auxiliary nurse midwife which would help the public sector in arranging service delivery on fixed days,” the report suggested.

The report said a proper management structure should be chalked out at the district level and roles and responsibilities of programme managers should be defined in the plan of action.    

 

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