Private role in civic projects
Three-year hunt for missing marksheet
Traffic freezes as parties rally
Cable operators turn Net savvy
Death closes malaria camp in Salt Lake
Genuine versus ‘barefoot’ doctors
Thousands throng funeral
Police step up clamour for modernisation
Meghalaya budget session on March 16
BJP dithers over joining Nipamacha

 
 
PRIVATE ROLE IN CIVIC PROJECTS 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Feb 28 
Turning market savvy, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has rounded up private participation to initiate city development projects worth Rs 25 crore .

The CMC has taken up joint venture projects to build commercial and market complexes, community halls and new-look labour quarters on Prince Anwar Shah Road, AJC Bose Road, New Alipore and B.K. Pal Avenue.

It has decided that the projects will be implemented by private companies at their expense on a build-operate-and-transfer (BOT) basis. The corporation’s decision follows a review of projects it had taken up in the past 20 years. It concluded that the projects it was implementing on its own were making tardy progress.

The companies with which the corporation will tie up will hand over the projects to the CMC only after they have ensured profitable returns for themselves.

This is the first time the CMC’s project and development department has entered into joint ventures for development of its own properties. “At least Rs 50 crore have gone down the drain in the past 15 years in the name of developing civic properties and we are no longer interested in taking up projects on our own,” municipal commissioner Asim Barman said.

By investing just 6.5 cottah of land, valued at Rs 18 lakh, as its paid-up capital, the CMC has allowed a private developer to build a complex on B.K. Pal Avenue, in north Calcutta. In return, the CMC will finally get a property worth Rs 30 lakh in the form of space for a ward office and two community halls, one of them airconditioned.

The chief engineer (projects and development), Nilangshu Bose, said in all four projects, land is the CMC’s only investment. A MoU for a Rs 8-crore project had been signed with the Gargs for development of a 46-cottah plot close to the approach road to the old Durgapur Bridge in New Alipore.

Besides getting a royalty of Rs 1.5 crore, the CMC has been assured 20,000 square feet of floor space for its own use. As the New Alipore area lacked health care facilities, the CMC has decided to set up a modern diagnostic centre on 10,000 sq ft. Two multi-purpose community halls will also be created in the rest of the floor space.

By investing 26 cottahs occupied by the CMC’s labour quarters on AJC Bose Road, the CMC stands to gain several thousand square feet of office space. It will also rehabilitate its labourers in quarters with better living conditions. The total cost of the project is Rs 6.5 crore.

The CMC’s labour quarters on a 26-cottah plot on Prince Anwar Shah Road will be similarly developed by a private promoter at a cost of Rs 4 crore. Here, too, the CMC will get about 10,000 square feet of office space, in addition to better living quarters for its workmen.

All four projects are slated for completion by 2004.

“Without going in for joint ventures, it is impossible for the CMC to give a facelift to its labour quarters,” Barman said. Ruling out the possibility of developing the other labour colonies on Judges’ Court Road, Alipore Road and Mirza Ghalib Street on its own, Barman said over a dozen projects had been taken up but not even one had been completed so far. Deadlines for completion have already been overshot by seven to 10 years.

From now, the projects and development department will only formulate the modalities of the joint venture and monitor them, he added.    


 
 
THREE-YEAR HUNT FOR MISSING MARKSHEET 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Feb 28 
A student of Calcutta University’s political science department, who had written her MA Part II examinations in 1997, has neither received her marksheet to date nor does she know whether she passed or failed.

The youngest of three children, Sunanda comes from a middle-class family and both her parents are ailing. But for the past two-and-a-half years, she has shuttled at least a hundred times between College Street — Calcutta University’s main administrative campus — and Alipore — where the university’s political science department is situated — to get her marksheet.

“When I went to College Street, the officers there said my marksheet had been sent to Alipore. The next day, when I went to Alipore, the employees in our department said the marksheet was in College Street,” said Sunanda.

“This has been continuing since August 1997. There is no hope of getting the marksheet yet,” Sunanada said. “It is surprising that almost three years have passed and yet, nobody seems to know where my marksheet has gone or how it disappeared,” added Sunanda.

The deputy controller of examinations of Calcutta University said Sunanda’s results had been incomplete. On August 16, 1997, the results section of the university had despatched Sunanda’s marksheet to the Alipore campus.

But Alipore campus officers said: “The marksheet has not reached us to date. We are helpless. We give students their marksheets when they arrive here.”

Both Sunanda and her parents are shocked because neither the officials at College Street nor the ones at Alipore seemed to be at all concerned. Sunanda appealed to the controller of examinations in 1998 in writing and requested him to look into the matter. Later, she had approached other officials of the examination and results sections of the university but they did not pay any heed to her pleas.

Sunanda has not given up hope though she does not know her exam results yet. “I still hope some day the marksheet will reach Alipore,” says Sunanda.

Without her marksheet Sunanda has not been able to take up any job offers for the past three years. She has also been unable to apply to any institution to study a professional course.

Unfortunately, Sunanada hardly has any earning member in her family. Her mother is ailing, besides being an acute diabetic. Her father, too, cannot work because of deteriorating health. “In this situation, a job is a very essential for me,” says Sunanda.

Sunanada always wanted to become a teacher. In spite of financial constraints, her parents were willing to make any sacrifice to enable their daughter to complete her post-graduation in political science.

“All my efforts have gone in vain,” cried Sunanda’s mother.    


 
 
TRAFFIC FREEZES AS PARTIES RALLY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb 28 
Paying no heed to the public interest litigation (PIL) filed in Calcutta High Court a few days ago seeking a ban on rallies on weekdays, political parties brought the city to a grinding halt on Monday.

The city’s central business district was the worst hit. Traffic came to a standstill on Lenin Sarani and other roads leading to Esplanade, Netaji Subhas Road, Brabourne Road and India Exchange Place, as Youth Congress chief Paresh Pal and his supporters hit the streets around noon.

Youth Congress processions from various points of the city converged opposite Metro cinema, demanding President’s rule in West Bengal for the deteriorating law-and-order situation.

Deputy commissioner of police (traffic), K. Harirajan, said that traffic had to be diverted along a number of roads.

A demonstration by teachers on Rani Rashmoni Avenue added to the chaos. As did a meeting organised by the employees’ union of the CESC, affiliated to Citu, in front of Victoria House, at the intersection of Bentinck Street and Chittaranjan Avenue.

At Entally, residents blocked AJC Bose Road after a girl, knocked down by a private bus on Sunday evening, died at NRS Hospital on Monday morning. In the south, a demonstration in front of the Ranikuthi telephone exchange by Trinamul Congress workers disrupted traffic in the morning.

While commuters suffered, most political parties sought to justify the traffic-stopping rallies.

“When we take out processions, we do so with the purpose of protest. On Sundays or holidays, all offices and business establishments are closed. So, the whole purpose of holding a rally is defeated,” said Ashoke Ghosh, state secretary of the Forward Bloc.

“It is our fundamental right to protest the government’s failures through public demonstrations,” said BJP leader Paresh Dutta.

But Trinamul Congress MLA Subrata Mukherjee said: “It is the ruling Left Front which should set an example by not holding rallies on weekdays.”    


 
 
CABLE OPERATORS TURN NET SAVVY 
 
 
BY RENUMR KAKKAR
 
Calcutta, Feb 28 
A group of cable operators has begun negotiating with Global, a Chennai-based Internet Service Provider (ISP), to bring to subscribers in Calcutta Internet-over-cable. Chennai’s first Internet-over-cable service began last week (February 26) with Cyberwave Internet Solutions Ltd tying up a revenue-sharing arrangement directly with cable operators in the southern part of the city.

Calcutta cable operators who have begun talking to Global could end up queering the pitch for RPG Netcom, which is the city’s largest cable channel provider. Nearly 90 per cent of the cable operators in the city provide homes and offices with RPG Netcom’s services.

RPG Netcom, too, has been working on a plan to give Internet-over-cable but the operators are exploring the possibility of delinking their Internet services from RPG Netcom’s cable television business. This could be a severe blow to RPG Netcom’s plans, because it has already tied up with ISP Satyam Infoway for Internet business.

The operators are also negotiating with Caltiger, the other private ISP in town. A spokesperson for Caltiger refused to comment but a source among the operators claimed they were exploring all opportunities.

If the operators find an ISP that promises more lucrative business, the Internet-on-cable competition in Calcutta could pit RPG Netcom-Satyam against the new service that might be a tie-up with Global or Caltiger.

The cable operators are holding negotiations on the quiet. A group of them recently visited Chennai and Mumbai to see how the service was run. Some of the cable operators have a large subscriber base in south Calcutta. They are planning to set up a separate company with a minimum capital of Rs 50 lakh.

A survey is being conducted by Relations Consultancy & Marketing across the city for the Forum of Cable Operators which has about 7,000 members to assess the demand for Internet-over-cable connection. Asked if their agreement with RPG Netcom would be nullified if the cable operators did not take the Internet service offered by it, one cable operator claimed: “It is not binding on us to take Internet connectivity from RPG Netcom. If we do it ourselves, we will be able to give better service even though it will be easier for us to go with RPG Netcom. We are not averse to taking risks. After all, we first began the cable TV services in the city in 1991.

Tarak Saha of the Forum of Cable Operators said: “”Cable operators want to stand on their own feet. There have been many meetings on this issue between us but nothing is finalised.”

Cable operators admitted there had been feelers from Caltiger as well as Siticable and Star TV.

An RPG Netcom source said the company had little idea of the move by cable operators to chart an independent course. He said the company is committed to providing Internet connectivity by June. “Satyam is working on the tariff and business plan to be offered to cable operators,” he said.    


 
 
DEATH CLOSES MALARIA CAMP IN SALT LAKE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb 28 
Alarmed at the recent disturbance over the death of a child, the Salt Lake authority has asked the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) to stop organising medical camps there.

A group of specialist doctors from NICED, an organisation run by the Centre, would organise free medical camps to prevent and cure malaria and enteric diseases at Mahisbathan and adjoining areas of the township. Medicine, too, would be given to patients.

But the doctors and other employees of the institute were assaulted by a mob led by Trinamul Congress councillors Chameli Naskar and Sabyasachi Dutta on February 18. This followed the death of a 10-year-old boy, Uday Haldar, allegedly after taking medicine given by camp doctors. The troublemakers alleged that the boy was given wrong medicine, which led to his death.

S.K. Bhattacharya, director of NICED, said the boy was given chloroquine, which cannot kill. “The boy was suffering from cerebral malaria which caused his death. There was no medicine to save him at that stage,’’ Dr Bhattacharya said.

NICED officials said the police misbehaved with them, instead of helping them. The health department has ordered an inquiry.

Salt Lake municipality chairman Dilip Gupta and sub-divisional officer Debashis Bose said they did not have any information on the NICED camps. “I know the institution organises medical camps but no more than that, because they neither inform me about their activities nor do they seek our approval,’’Gupta said.

He said he had asked the camp to be closed till the inquiry report arrived. He made it clear that if any organisation wanted to hold any camp, it must get in touch with the civic authority.

The institute took up the matter with health minister Partha De. The director of medical education, Shyamal Bandopadhyay, and NICED officials met De and home secretary S.N. Roy to report the matter. De has summoned the Salt Lake chairman.

“The NICED is a reputed organisation. We should be proud that the doctors organise camps for the poor. If the local authority does not help, the camp will remain closed and people will suffer,’’ Bandopadhyay said.    


 
 
GENUINE VERSUS ‘BAREFOOT’ DOCTORS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb 28 
State health minister Partha De has rejected a plea by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) to scrap a new medical course meant for community health service officers — former “barefoot doctors” — who can be despatched to the districts.

De, who met an IMA delegation on Monday, said the first batch of 105 students attending the bachelor of medicine (diploma) course conducted at the National Medical College was in no way “inferior” to other doctors. “They are being taught by the same teachers who conduct the MBBS course,” declared De.

The IMA, however, plans to move court to prove the course is being run “illegally” and without the sanction of the Medical Council of India. It fears such a course will force many MBBS doctors to serve under community medical service officers who will take over as block medical officers.

The new three-year course has drawn 327 candidates trained in 1980 under the government’s “barefoot” doctor programme. The course had been run to fill in the blanks in the state’s rural healthcare system. “These people have already studied for three years and will be doing so for another three years. Does this make them inferior to others?” wondered the health minister.

De said once the course was complete, the diploma would be registered under the West Bengal Medical Council and “they will be authorised to write prescriptions and issue death certificates within the state”. But the IMA is convinced the exercise is aimed at undermining “genuine doctors”.    


 
 
THOUSANDS THRONG FUNERAL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Feb. 28 
“Why did they have to kill him? Why can’t they kill those who are really evil?” wailed Nagen Sarma’s niece as his body was placed on the pyre at the Nabagraha crematorium this afternoon.

Hundreds of sympathetic eyes looked on as the young girl wept inconsolably along with some other relatives. “This is what Nalbari has given you. We had asked you so many times not to go there,” she said.

What they overlooked was the fact that though Nalbari district is one of the last remaining strongholds of the Ulfa, the Nalbari Assembly constituency had returned Sarma to the House three times in succession since 1985.

Sarma was put to rest with full state honours with a large number of dignitaries and common people attending the cremation. Among those present were Governor Lt. Gen. (retd.) S.K. Sinha, chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and his ministerial colleagues, commander of the 51 sub-area Brig. K.P. Nanjappa, chief secretary P.K. Bora, director-general of police P.V. Sumant and dissident Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) leader Pulakesh Baruah.

Earlier this morning, Sarma’s body was brought from his official residence to the state secretariat and the Assembly before being taken to the AGP headquarters, the All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU) headquarters and the public works department (PWD) and forest department offices for the people to pay their last respects.

A large number of AASU leaders also turned up for the funeral as Sarma was one of the two leaders who had revived the students’ organisation after the Emergency had left it almost defunct. The other leader, Lalit Rajkhowa, had predeceased Sarma.

The rented house of Makhan Barpatra Gohain, Sarma’s personal assistant, in the Hatigaon area of the city wore a deserted look as his family left for Mariani in Jorhat district with his body today. Gohain, who was staying at Hatigaon with his wife and three daughters, had laid the foundation of his own home only a few days ago.

8 Ulfa men killed

At least eight Ulfa militants were killed in an encounter with security forces in Upper Arunachal Pradesh today. Official sources here confirmed the incident saying details were awaited, adds UNI.

Another Ulfa militant was killed in an encounter with the Army near Halem railway station in Assam’s Sonitpur district yesterday. However, one of his associates managed to escape under the cover of darkness. The slain militant was identified as Samaihi Burman. Nearly 500 gm of explosives, two detonators, two metre cordex and some incriminating documents were recovered from the site, an official report said.

Two central committee members of Ulfa were killed and two policemen injured in an encounter last night at Aosangtang basti in Nagaland’s Mokokchung district, bordering Jorhat district of Assam, reports our Jorhat correspondent.

The slain militants have been identified as Aditya Baruah alias Bhaskar Dutta and Samiran Bhuyan alias Rituraj. Both were from Nagaon district.

The militants were arrested by the Jorhat police at Neemati, the ferry ghat which connects Majuli island with the mainland, in the early hours yesterday. They were taken to Nagaland to identify the location of an Ulfa camp.

The police team was attacked by militants while it was on its way to the camp. In the ensuing encounter, two members of the armed police were injured. The Ulfa duo accompanying the police team tried to escape but were killed in the crossfire, police sources said. The police team returned after the encounter.

The injured policemen have been shifted to the CRPF hospital in Guwahati. However, sources alleged that the police team went berserk after two of their colleagues received bullet injuries and shot dead the captured Ulfa rebels. The incident comes in the wake of intelligence reports that Ulfa militants have set up camps in the jungles of Nagaland bordering the districts of Upper Assam.

Several computer discs, digital diaries and incriminating documents had earlier been recovered from the slain militants.    


 
 
POLICE STEP UP CLAMOUR FOR MODERNISATION 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Feb. 28 
Alerted by the high security risks to the lives of VVIPs, particularly ministers residing in the state capital, the city police have submitted a modernisation proposal for approval from the state government.

A police source said, “Another reason why we need to modernise our infrastructure is the rapid growth of the city, both in size and population.”

The source also pointed out, “The United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) has targeted VVIPs in the city in the past.” Chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta had survived an assassination attempt on June 7, 1997. State municipal administration development minister Biraj Kumar Sarma was fired upon eight months later on February 11, 1998. The plan mooted by the police is better known as the geographical information package system.

The proposal, if cleared by the government, would enable the police to have easy access to every “minute detail” of the city at the click of a mouse and help in “effective control”. The proposal was mooted after unabated infiltration from all corners of the city was found to have posed a serious security threat.

“The city has become a breeding ground for all kinds of suspicious elements, whether they are rebels of different militant outfits or Bangladeshi infiltrators,” a senior official told The Telegraph. He added the lack of an effective monitoring system has set daunting tasks for the police to keep track of every incident.

Oil India Limited (OIL) has recently completed a similar survey of all existing pipelines in the state. Sources said the survey was undertaken after militants increased attacks on oil pipelines.

Sources said at least a couple of private firms have submitted prepared land cover mappings of the city to the authorities.

“These firms, including Amtron, have approached us in this context and prepared three-dimensional and aerial images of the city,” a source said. These images would give vivid pictures of each and every area of the city.

“These will help the police to launch a foolproof anti-crime offensive,” he said, adding the system also facilitates “lively pictures” of every household. “But for this, marking of the houses is a must,” the source said, adding that effective steps have already been taken by the authorities.

Another significant aspect in the implementation of the system is that the police will be able to keep tabs on every city tenant. The city police, who have admitted that they are facing hassles, recently initiated a survey of tenants in all rented houses.

The system, which will carry out a total study of all routes of the city, will also help the police make “alternative arrangements” when required.

“In most cases, landlords are ignorant about the antecedents of their tenants. And the latter have been found to take undue advantage of this,” the source said. He also recalled instances where rebels of underground outfits have taken shelter in disguise.

Bandh today

Security has been tightened throughout the state to block any attempts by the Ulfa to foil the 12-hour Assam bandh tomorrow. The bandh has been called by the ruling Asom Gana Parishad in protest against the killing of state PWD and forest minister Nagen Sarma. Director-general of police P.V. Sumant said adequate security measures have been taken to prevent any untoward incident during the bandh. He said additional forces have been deployed in all sensitive areas and strict instructions issued to all the district headquarters.

“There should not be any laxity in security control,” another senior police official said. He pointed out that there was every possibility of the militant outfit trying to create disturbance during the bandh. A red alert has also been sounded in the state.

Sources said the issue is sensitive as it involves the killing of a popular leader. “While the party workers would try and make the bandh a success, Ulfa may try and cause disturbances,” a source said. The Army is also on alert, he added. State sports and youth welfare minister Moidul Islam Bora, who is also party spokesman, claimed that the bandh will be a total success. He said all the district committees of the AGP have been asked to maintain peace.    


 
 
MEGHALAYA BUDGET SESSION ON MARCH 16 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, Feb. 28 
The Meghalaya government has recommended March 16 for commencing the budget session of the Assembly.

The government has also approved the proposal for acquiring a guest house at Vellore in Tamil Nadu.

Chief secretary J.P. Singh said a 71.70 square metre flat would be bought from the Tamil Nadu Housing Board at a cost of Rs 6,95,000 keeping in view the large number of people who went there for medical treatment.

The Cabinet also decided to explore the possibility of building a Meghalaya house at Sion, New Mumbai.

The government had acquired a half-acre plot of land there in 1993 for Rs 50 lakh.

Official sources said lack of financial resources had so far prevented the government from developing the area.    


 
 
BJP DITHERS OVER JOINING NIPAMACHA 
 
 
FROM OINAM SUNIL
 
Imphal, Feb. 28 
The BJP is divided over the issue of joining hands with chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh in forming the new government in Manipur. Nipamacha Singh, who is also the president of the ruling Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP), has invited the BJP to join the new government.

BJP national secretary in charge of the Northeast P.B. Acharya and state BJP president H. Bhubon Singh today held talks with Nipamacha Singh and deputy chief minister L. Chandramani Singh. Talking to newsmen after the meeting, Acharya said the BJP was seriously considering the option of joining hands with the MSCP. He said the BJP wants an honest coalition and will not impose any conditions if it joined the government.

Nipamacha Singh also confirmed that he had extended an invitation to the BJP. Referring to the BJP’s demand FOR framing a common minimum programme, Nipamacha Singh said if the BJP wanted to add something to the programme of the United Front of Manipur (UFM), it would be considered. But he said no point from the UFM’s agenda would be deleted under pressure from the BJP. The MSCP and the Federal Party of Manipur constitute the UFM.

However, the BJP could not elect the leader of its legislative wing today due to infighting. Following sharp differences among the two contenders for the post — Bhubon Singh and former chief minister R.K. Dorendra Singh — the BJP high command is likely to step in and take the final decision.

BJP sources said while Bhubon Singh has agreed to join the government, Dorendra Singh was against such a move. The MSCP’s hand is suspected in the rivalry between the two BJP heavyweights. Sources said that all aspirants to the chief minister’s post in every party wants to tame Dorendra Singh and are trying to add more fuel to the BJP’s leadership tussle. Dorendra Singh, a very senior politician, is well-versed in the art of toppling governments.

In contrast, the Congress Legislature Party unanimously elected Radhabinod Koijam as its leader. Addressing a press conference here today, Koijam, AICC observer Bhubaneswar Kalita and former chief minister Rishang Keishing alleged Nipamacha Singh has used police commandos in the elections.

Koijam said the Congress will play a constructive role in the Opposition, both inside and outside the Assembly. He said the splitting of the Manipur People’s Party (MPP) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) by Nipamacha Singh was an unhealthy practice.

Nipamacha Singh today increased his tally to 39, after his party won the Thanlon seat and increased its strength to 23. The FPM has six legislators. All the four NCP legislators are in the process of merging with the MSCP. The three MLAs of the breakaway MPP have also decided to merge with the MSCP. One MLA each of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Janata Dal (Secular) and an Independent have increased the tally to 39.

NCP general secretary Vijay Dubey today met Governor Ved Prakash Marwah and urged him to take steps to release its MLAs, who he alleged are being “confined” in Nipamacha Singh’s official bungalow.

Talking to newsmen today, Dubey alleged the MSCP has used police commandos to pick up their MLAs and before confining them in the chief minister’s bungalow.

The MSCP camp today paraded the NCP and MPP legislators before newsmen at the chief minister’s bungalow. The MLAs claimed they had come to Nipamacha Singh’s camp to take part in the government.    

 

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