Sweat it out this sauna summer
More areas in malaria sweep, CMC in caution overdrive
Varsity move to market vintage Tagore
Anglo-Indians to boycott Mary
New birth, death registry forms
Consensus on civic services fees
Mawlong chants stability mantra
N-E police wireless set stolen
Rebels killed
Rs 6 crore for repair of historic Assam road

 
 
SWEAT IT OUT THIS SAUNA SUMMER 
 
 
BY CHARLES NANDI
 
Calcutta, March 8 
Spring is hot but it’s only the beginning: a gruelling summer lies ahead, with record humidity levels likely to make Calcutta feel like it were in a pressure cooker.

Relative humidity is likely to peak in July after the monsoon sets in but even before the rains, Calcuttans can expect little respite, weathermen have predicted.

Average humidity levels in the past five years during the peak period of July-August have been around 80 per cent.

This year, it is expected to touch 90 per cent. This means the discomfort level — or the sweat factor — is likely to be higher than ever before.

The weatherman, however, is not pressing the alarm bell.

“People will not faint on the roads. But there definitely will be a fair degree of discomfort,” said the deputy director-general of the Alipore meteorological office, M K Guha.

His office will issue a daily “discomfort index” for the public along with the weather forecast.

The index is prepared on the basis of the maximum humidity and maximum temperature of the day.

Guha said humidity will be pushed up by a combination of two factors: first, the excessive rain that Calcutta has been receiving and will receive this year and, second, moisture-laden winds coming in from the Bay of Bengal.

“Calcutta has been receiving increasing quantities of rainfall in the last five years,” said Guha. Before that, the quantum was less, resulting in lower levels of humidity.

An analysis of the past five years reveals that the city received an average of 50.6 mm in April and 103 mm in May, 279.5 mm in June and 326.5 mm in July. The average for August was 313.8 mm.

“Before 1995, these levels in the city were less, resulting in lower levels of humidity,” Guha said.

Meteorologists said that because of the excess rain, the atmosphere was saturated with moisture.

And a high content of moisture in the atmosphere results in a sharp rise in humidity.

Studies have revealed that this increase in winds from the Bay pushes out dry winds from the west, taking humidity levels to between 85 per cent and 90 per cent.

Guha, however, said the maximum temperature was not likely to go up this summer.

“Many may find the summer unbearable. That will not be because of the rise in maximum temperature but because of the rise in humidity.”

Statistics with the weather office show that April is usually the hottest month in the city. The average temperature would hover around 40.1 degrees.

The hottest temperature recorded — 42.8 degrees Celsius — was on April 25, 1954.

May will be slightly better. The mercury is likely to dip to around 39.7 degrees.

The rise in humidity will be especially uncomfortable for heart patients, who may sweat profusely. It could also aggravate respiratory trouble for some people.

But the weatherman brings happy tidings for those in the cold drinks, chilled beer, glucose water and air-conditioning businesses.    


 
 
MORE AREAS IN MALARIA SWEEP, CMC IN CAUTION OVERDRIVE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 8 

With the number of malignant malaria-prone zones in the city rising from six to 14 over the past 18 months, the civic authorities took to the streets on Wednesday to launch an elaborate anti-malaria campaign.

Earlier, Chetla, Ballygunge, Topsia, Kalighat, New Alipore and Bhowanipore had been identified as high-risk zones for malignant malaria. Recently, Girish Park, Sealdah, Haji Mohammad Mohsin Square, Palm Avenue, Taltala, Southern Avenue, Tollygunge and Prince Anwar Shah Road have been added to the dreaded list.

Waking up to the enormity of the problem, civic health officials have set up 28 booths at important intersections to “educate people about malaria, its prevention and treatment”. This drive will continue till March 16.

The main theme of the campaign is to convince people that malaria is not a killer disease and that its eradication requires people’s participation.

Warning against the growing incidence of malignant malaria in the coming months, the civic authorities advised citizens to “go in for a blood test in case of fever” and to “use mosquito nets at night”. Those returning to the city after touring north Bengal, or the forest areas of Orissa and Bihar, were asked to be “extra cautious”.

A sample survey conducted by the CMC for January-December 1999 revealed that about 40 per cent of 50 million Calcuttans were carrying malarial parasites in their blood. Till February this year, 55 people in the city have died of malignant malaria, and the menace is clearly on the rise.

Chief municipal health officer Sujit Ghosh said the average ratio between benign and malignant malaria, which was 80:20 in the city for about a decade, now stands at 73:27. The casualty figures, however, have not risen proportionately as people have become far more aware of the “need for early treatment”.

The CMC has been conducting an anti-malaria awareness campaign for two years now. According to Ghosh, the message that malaria is not a killer disease and that a malaria death is caused mainly by the doctor’s ignorance has reached the people.

“If doctors follow the treatment guidelines of the national malaria control programme, no patient can die of malaria,” said Ghosh, adding that a comprehensive campaign “requires an extra annual budget of Rs 300 crore, whereas the annual budget of the CMC is Rs 500 crore”.

During the drive on Wednesday, health officials and entomologists displayed enlarged photographs of narrow open spaces between two adjacent buildings in central Calcutta which were permanent breeding grounds for mosquitoes. As these spaces were privately owned and inaccessible, it was not possible for the CMC to conduct an anti-larvae operation there.

These slides were used to highlight the need for people’s participation in the programme.    


 
 
VARSITY MOVE TO MARKET VINTAGE TAGORE 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, March 8 
If music be the food of fulfilment and funds, play on.

Rabindra Bharati University is becoming market-savvy with a cause by setting up a Rabindrasangeet centre where people can pay to listen to Tagore songs of their choice. The facility will fulfil a long-standing demand of music lovers who have often approached the university, seeking to lay hands on those Tagore songs which are not readily available in the market. So, the move is aimed at generating funds by presenting a collection of old and rare songs to city connoisseurs.

“The pay-and-listen centre will be a unique one in the city where people from all walks of life can access a rare collection of Rabindrasangeet sung by great singers of yesteryears,” claimed vice-chancellor Subhankar Chakraborty.

Chakraborty, who has been working on the project for the past few months, said the centre will be housed at the university museum on the Jorasanko campus. It will be inaugurated on the poet’s 139th birth anniversary on May 8.

The vice-chancellor said the university has in its possession more than 100 spools of old Tagore songs sung by the poet himself, Sahana Debi, Dinendranath Thakur, Amiya Thakur, Menaka Thakur, Sailaja Ranjan Majumdar, Suchitra Mitra and Kanika Bandopadhyay.

“We intend to bring out audio-cassettes, cut discs and even print CDs from the songs preserved in the spools,” said Chakraborty. “People coming to this centre can use the gramophone, audio tapes or a CD player.”

University officials said those interested will have to first fill up a requisition form inscribing the first one or two lines of the specific songs they want to hear, as well as the singer’s name.

At a dress rehearsal on March 4, university students and teachers under the vice-chancellor’s guidance, filled up mock requisition forms and listened to Tagore songs on a gramophone. “We started by playing a song sung by the poet himself, which proved to be an unforgettable experience for those present,” said Chakraborty.

Several Rabindrasangeet singers have applauded the university’s move.

“Calcutta is a seat of culture and this centre will be a huge bonus for Tagore lovers,” said Sumitra Sen.

Subinoy Roy, another exponent of Tagore songs, felt this centre would also attract fans from other parts of the country and from abroad as well.

Those using the centre will have to cough up a ‘listening fee’ over and above the Rs 5 for entry into the museum. Noted Rabindrasangeet exponent Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, however, feels the university should not charge any fees from those interested in listening to vintage Tagore songs at the centre.    


 
 
ANGLO-INDIANS TO BOYCOTT MARY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 8 
All 25,000 Anglo-Indians in the city will boycott Ismail Merchant’s film, Cotton Mary, Anglo-Indian MLA G.R. D’Costa Hart told the Assembly on Wednesday.

Part of the dialogue where a character says: “Anglo-Indians have the worst of the British and the worst of the Indians in them” has riled the community.

They feel there are many such scenes which show them in a bad light and depict them as “petty thieves and trouble- makers.”

Hart raised a strong demand at the West Bengal Assembly urging the state government immediately to censor Cotton Mary or ban it totally for “denigrating” the Anglo-Indian community. The state government, however, maintained silence.

Raising the issue in the Assembly, Hart requested deputy chief minister and minister for cultural affairs Buddhadev Bhattacharya to ensure that the film was not shown at Nandan, where only quality films are screened. Hart hoped that Bhattacharya would take her demand seriously.

“Ours is a small community. We will not be able to show our protest in any other manner,” she said.

“It is unfortunate that today, when the world is celebrating International Women’s Day, chauvinists like Ismail Merchant are still making movies that degrade women — especially those belonging to the Anglo-Indian community,” said Hart.

Not only Anglo-Indians, even Christians have not taken kindly to the scene where a young Christian girl, who happens to be the main character, flirts with a young man within a church.

Madhur Jaffrey plays the role. They also alleged that a mockery has been made of the Lord’s Prayer.

Reverend Father Faustine Brank of the Roman Catholic Church condemned the alleged mockery of the Lord’s Prayer.

“I have not seen the film myself. But I have heard about the film. As a priest, I would strongly object if there is really a mockery of the Lord’s Prayer,” he said.

Anglo-Indians felt that usually, films like Cotton Mary, where one of the main characters belonged to their community, were very popular among them. Most Anglo-Indians do not miss a chance to see such a film.

“Films like Out House and Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringhee Lane were also woven around the characters of Anglo-Indians. Aparna Sen’s film had portrayed the life of an Anglo-Indian teacher who is revered and loved by her students for her love and affection for them. Cotton Mary is totally out of touch with the Anglo-Indians and Christians of today’s India,” Hart regretted.    


 
 
NEW BIRTH, DEATH REGISTRY FORMS 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, March 8 
On a home ministry directive, new birth and death registration forms will be introduced in Calcutta from next month.

The new forms will seek more personal details than are now asked for with the objective of building a wider statistical base to study economic conditions, social habits and health.

An estimated 4,000 births and 6,000 deaths are registered in the city every month.

“The idea is to form a micro-level demographic database,” says municipal commissioner Asim Barman. “The exercise will be monitored by a seven-member committee, headed by the registrar-general of India.”

According to the chief municipal health officer of the CMC, Sujit Ghosh, under the Birth and Death Registration Rules, 1999, the birth certificate forms will be expanded to include 20 categories of information, while in case of deaths there will be 16.

Some of the more personal details to be included in the birth certificates are: educational qualification of parents; religion and occupation of parents; the number of children they already have; whether or not they have come to the city recently; mode of delivery of the child, whether natural or Caesarian.

In case of death, data to be logged in includes: social habits of the deceased; whether he/she was a smoker or consumed alcohol; whether the deceased was a habitual consumer of pan masala and so forth

Under the revised rules, if a birth or death has not been registered within a year, an affidavit from a notary public, to be submitted by the CMC, will serve the purpose.

Civic officials said the new system will provide faster access to data on changes in social behaviour and demographic patterns than what is provided by the census every 10 years. It will also be more accurate and credible, and provide an opportunity to follow up the information present in the certificates.    


 
 
CONSENSUS ON CIVIC SERVICES FEES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 8 
Agreeing to toe the line drawn by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), representatives of various political parties have said that civic services can no longer be provided “free of cost” to citizens.

This was what came out of a workshop on Wednesday attended by a ‘fact-finding team’ of the ADB, chairmen of the 15 borough committees, representatives of the chambers of commerce, and several city-based NGOs.

The ADB team, led by Graham S. Jackson, is in the city to clear the decks before disbursing a Rs 1000-crore loan to the CMC from September. The ADB experts stressed the importance of “loan recovery potential” as a primary precondition for the disbursement of the loan meant for revamping the city’s drainage and sewerage network and laying of new brick-sewer lines in the Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur areas.

This was enough to convince the civic officials, representing several mainstream political parties, that the tax-base for drainage service, filtered water, etc., must be widened. “We have already started imposing drainage taxes and introduced water meters to widen the tax net,” said municipal commissioner Asim Barman.

Graham S. Jackson has also asked the CMC to take over maintenance of the city’s drainage outfall channels from the irrigation department.

There are 17 outfall channels through which sewer water and storm water of the city flows through Kultigang to finally reach the Bay of Bengal.    


 
 
MAWLONG CHANTS STABILITY MANTRA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, March 8 
Fifty-four-year-old Evansius K. Mawlong was sworn in today at Raj Bhavan, heading a fifth coalition government in the state during the past 24 months.

He was greeted with a round of applause at the Durbar Hall of the Raj Bhavan when he walked in with former chief minister B.B. Lyngdoh.

Mawlong, attired in a Khasi traditional costume, with a jainspong (Khasi turban), a Khasi warrior’s silver chains and a jain ryndia (shawl) wrapped around his shoulders over his western suit, was administered oath of office by Governor M.M. Jacob. A 28-member strong two-tiered council of ministers, including some from outgoing chief minister B.B. Lyngdoh’s ministry, was also sworn in.

The coalition comprises the leading United Democratic Party, the Nationalist Congress Party, the BJP, the Peoples Democratic Movement and two Independents. The total strength of the new coalition is 36.

This is Mawlong’s first stint as chief executive. He resigned yesterday from the post of Speaker which he had held since the beginning of this term in February 1998.

Though there was bonhomie during the swearing-in ceremony, former minister of health in the B.B. Lyngdoh Cabinet, Donkupar Roy Lyngdoh was conspicuous by his absence. His name was in the list of ministers to be sworn in today. Mawlong played down his absence saying he was out of station. Mawlong also dropped Lyngdoh loyalist Bires Nongsiej from the council of ministers. Nongsiej was a Cabinet minister in the outgoing ministry. Mawlong said both would be sworn in during the next few days. However, the swearing-in of another Lyngdoh loyalist, former power minister Martle Mukhim, helped stem speculation.

Mawlong patiently spoke to newsmen, saying his government would be one that “works”. He promised to implement the long-neglected agenda of the UDP, particularly the poll promise to hand over investigations of nine major financial scandals to the CBI. He said his priorities would be development, peace and security and maintenance of law and order.

The new chief minister said the state has suffered because of political instability but was confident that his government would be stable. “We will complete the remaining part of the term,” he said. Leader of the Opposition D.D. Lapang, former chief minister Salseng C. Marak and senior Congress legislator and former Cabinet minister D.N. Joshi were also present.

Patience pays

It has been a long wait for Mawlong. He missed being chief minister in 1988 when he was president of the United Democratic Party, because he lacked the support of his party MLAs.

Being a member of the Hill State Peoples Democratic Party which he had split to merge with the UDP, Mawlong was something of a political hybrid in Meghalaya politics. He was yet to win the confidence of the rest of the UDP men, who were mostly former members of the Hill Peoples Union, an arch rival of the HSPDP.

He was coaxed instead into accepting the Speaker’s post, which has always played a major role in government formation in the state. As Speaker, Mawlong bided his time and did his best to keep the UDP flag flying.

It was apparent during the past two years that without a protective Speaker like Mawlong, former chief minister B.B. Lyngdoh would not have lasted so long. Mawlong’s protectiveness went to the extent of suspending the voting rights of an MLA just before the Congress-led Opposition brought a vote of no-confidence against the Lyngdoh government.    


 
 
N-E POLICE WIRELESS SET STOLEN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, March 8 
A high- powered wireless set attached to superintendent of police (wireless) Samarjit Kanungo’s official vehicle was stolen from the police headquarters recently.

State police sources said the high-powered set had 17 channels and its theft would lead to the leakage of sensitive information to the police department.

“To prevent leakage of intelligence all other wireless sets of the same band will have to be withdrawn,” sources said.

Suspecting the involvement of collaborators of militants in the administration, sources said the wireless set had been fitted to the SP’s vehicle a fortnight ago.

Another police wireless set was stolen in 1993 but the matter was hushed up. “An internal investigation has been launched into the theft,” sources added. In a separate incident yesterday, a Bengali civilian Bhupal Shil (40) was beaten up by a group of All-Tripura Tiger Force militants in Dushki area under Teliamura police station in West Tripura.

He was admitted to the Teliamura hospital with multiple injuries. In another incident, Rambabu Reang (40), a tribal teacher in Mailak school under Amarpur sub-division was abducted on his way back home from the market yesterday.

His wife Nalmati Reang (37), filed an FIR with the police yesterday saying her husband had been abducted for his refusal to pay “tax” to the NLFT.

Forty Bengali families in Satcherri village under Simna police station bordering Bangladesh abandoned their homes and took shelter in the Simna high school fearing militant attack.

But Tiger Force rebels, who crossed over from their base in the Bangladesh, injured a non-tribal woman and her children in the village. Official sources said efforts were underway to persuade the families to return home.    


 
 
REBELS KILLED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, March 8 
The Army shot dead two hardcore Ulfa activists at Balapara near Sarthebari in Lower Assam’s Barpeta district last evening.

The Army raided the village where the militants were hiding. On seeing the jawans, the rebels opened fire.

The security forces retaliated and overpowered the militants after a heavy exchange of fire, which continued for more than 45 minutes, defence sources said.

The militants, identified as self-styled second lieutenant Ananda Rabha and “Corporal” Pabitra Koch died on the spot. One universal machine gun (UMG) and an AK-56 assault rifle with large quantities of ammunition were recovered from them, sources said. The troops also gunned down an NDFB militant near Barimaka in Nalbari district early this morning.    


 
 
RS 6 CRORE FOR REPAIR OF HISTORIC ASSAM ROAD 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, March 8 
The North Eastern Council (NEC) has recently approved Rs 6.08 crore for the overall improvement of the historic Dhodar Ali road in Upper Assam.

Sources in the NEC said Rs 45.92 lakh have also been earmarked for the construction of one side drain along the road. “The administrative approval for the project has been granted recently,” the sources said.

The source said of the total 212-km stretch, the NEC had initially taken up renovation of 100 km under its Seventh Plan. It was being executed by the public works department.The condition of the road, despite financial assistance from the NEC, was deplorable. Sources made it clear that the NEC extended financial help to the government with the sole aim of developing the road.

“It is the duty of the PWD to utilise the fund properly,” the source said. Under the Seventh Plan, the NEC released Rs 15.18 crore of which the state government could spend only Rs 10.93 crore leaving Rs 4.24 crore unutilised till December 1999, the source said.

The NEC, over the past two months, sanctioned or approved 34 projects, including those in the health and medical sector. An amount of Rs 35 lakh has been sanctioned for the development of infrastructure at Sri Sankardeva Netralaya, the super-speciality eye hospital in Guwahati.

Sources said Rs 3.5 crore have been sanctioned for the improvement of infrastructure in the Regional Medical College at Imphal. The council has also sanctioned Rs 17.2 lakh for the upgradation of the Regional Institute of Pharmaceutical Science and Technology, while administrative approval of Rs 2.8 crore for the institute has also been granted.

The schemes also include construction of five RCC bridges in Meghalaya, improvement of airports in Northeast and anti-erosion measures.

IOC expansion plans: The Indian Oil Corporation today unveiled its expansion plans for the Northeast amounting to over Rs 200 crore. M.C. Sachdeva, executive director, Indian Oil(marketing division) eastern region said these projects include providing additional tankages at North Lakhimpur, Silchar, relief depot at Passighat and others.    

 

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