Problem of plenty at IT school
Hi-flyin’ granny chases a dream
CBI to grill bookie brothers
Campaign by day, but clear out by dusk
Private touch to spruce up Salt Lake parks
Footbridge, cabway for Howrah passengers
Fast lane to fusion food
Kidnappers send feeler
Naxalites behead minorityactivist
Tribals snatch hostage from rebel custody

 
 
PROBLEM OF PLENTY AT IT SCHOOL 
 
 
BY KUNAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, June 18 
The government’s showpiece Indian Institute of Information Technology, Calcutta, has been swamped with applications in less than a fortnight since it announced admissions to its first course.

An amazing 10,000 applications have poured in since the announcement on June 4 for just 60 seats for the graduate diploma in information technology (GD-IT). S.K. Magon, member-secretary of IIIT-C’s governing council, expected the number of applicants to swell by hundreds more by the last date of application — Monday, June 19. The institute is run at temporary premises in Globsyn’s Salt Lake Techno campus.

Even though it is a state venture, the government has been careful to rope in professionals from industry in the IIIT-C management. In many ways, the management of IIIT-C is a litmus test for the state’s education managers. Will it rank with the best professional institutes or will it go the way of other government initiatives, where unskilled administrators and unions rule the roost?

It has started with a tremendous amount of goodwill and students are convinced it will guarantee a ticket to fine careers in knowledge-based businesses. Prospective students crowd the Techno campus office, as well as the office of Educational Consultants India Limited, the quasi-government body entrusted to conduct the entrance examination, for inquiries.

Nearly 4,000 applicants are from states other than Bengal. Long queues — sometimes with as many as 500 students — snake out of EdCIL’s office. EdCIL has been mailing exam details, including dummy test questions, along with the admit cards to every eligible applicant. Apart from centres in the state, the entrance examination will also be held in in Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad, Guwahati, Jamshedpur and Rourkela.

The four-year course will cost each student Rs 40,000 a year. Each student will have a personal computer with an Internet connection. The Hyderabad IIIT, which had announced the commencement of its graduate course for 2000-2001, is charging a course fee of Rs 20,000 per semester.

The computers are being bought and will be in place before the inaugural course begins from August 14. However, the institute still does not have its own website. “We are aware of this and I assure you that before the next batch of GD-IT students come in, we will have downloadable forms on our detailed website,” Magon said.

The institute is planning a post-graduate programme from 2000-2001. The post-graduate course will have 40 seats.    


 
 
HI-FLYIN’ GRANNY CHASES A DREAM 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 18 
When Jennifer Murray was starting out from home this time, her mother asked her to “say a little hello” to Calcutta when she landed there. “It was here that my parents spent two wonderful years before the Second World War. My father died last year, and so, this brief stopover in Calcutta holds special significance for me,” said the Briton, hours after arriving in the city, 18 days into a round-the-world-in-86-days odyssey in her helicopter.

Grandmom Murray, who turned 60 last Sunday while flying over the Saudi Arabian desert, is aiming to be the first woman to “solo circumnavigate the world in a helicopter”. She has already earned a place in the millennium edition of the Guinness Book as the first woman to pilot a helicopter around the world in 1997.

Driven by the dream of “places to see, people to meet and records to set”, Murray is sharing the spotlight on this trip with Colin Bodill, who aims to become the first person to circumnavigate the world in a microlight. The record-breaking adventure trip, named NOW Challenge, is sponsored by Pacific Century Cyber Work’s Network of the World and aimed at raising $1 million for Operation Smile, a voluntary organisation providing reconstructive facial surgery to children in 16 developing countries.

Murray, for whom life began at 54, when husband Simon bought a helicopter and she took to the skies, has taken up the Challenge for “the feeling of being first”, “the cause of the kids”, and “to prove to women in general and older women in particular that if you have a dream, go out and do it, it’s never too late to start”.

For the textile designer-cum-artist-cum-photographer-cum-pilot, the “really tedious part” of flying through 33 countries is “the number of forms to be filled up”. “But in India, at least, the officials have been most apologetic about the red tape,” laughed the high-flier. In fact, China is being bypassed to avoid “bureaucratic hassles.”

On 31 May, when the helicopter had lifted over the white cliffs of Dover, leaving her husband, three children and two grandchildren behind, Murray had said a silent prayer: “Oh God! Please let me come back.” And with over 15,000 nautical miles stretching between home and her, she knows that “anything might happen”.

But on Sunday afternoon, Jennifer Murray’s thoughts were just on “hailing a taxi and taking a spin around a city I have heard so much about”.    


 
 
CBI TO GRILL BOOKIE BROTHERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 18 
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Sunday told the city police that it will interrogate the three bookie brothers arrested in Jorasanko on Friday.

Sources in the CBI said the agency has found out that Rajkumar, Anjan and Pawan Saraf and their father, Mohanlal, have links with syndicate bosses in Mumbai, Delhi and other places.

“We want to find out whether these men knew one Mukesh Gupta or MK. It might be too early to link the Sarafs with MK, but we are leaving no stone unturned,’’ a senior deputy inspector-general of the CBI told The Telegraph from Delhi.

The CBI has launched a massive hunt throughout the country for MK, who was named by the indicted South African captain Hansie Cronje.

The eastern region CBI chief, Upen Biswas, went to Delhi to attend a meeting where officers in charge of investigations are likely to pass on some documents.

The CBI sources in Calcutta, quoting their Delhi counterparts, said some city bookies, supposedly close to a few Indian cricketers, had brokered a deal.

According to the detective department of the city police, Rajkumar, Pawan and Anjan were arrested in a flat near Mohammad Ali Park, in the Jorasanko police station area.

Documents seized disclosed that people across the city and the suburbs had made bookings on the ongoing test matches at Sri Lanka and England.

Police seized cellphones, telephones, computers and incriminating documents from the flat.

The Union sports ministry, too, has evinced interest in the arrest of the Sarafs.

Sources said Union minister of state for sports Shahnawaz Hussein asked his officers in the city to find out details of the arrest of the bookies and their revelations to detectives.

Sources said both the sports ministry and the CBI are currently probing a report that bookies and middlemen had contacted a few Indian cricketers during their stop-overs in city hotels en route to centres in neighbouring states where they played matches.

Police said the three brothers had so far has denied having links with either the betting syndicate or with the elusive MK.

To unearth their links, police have sought from cellphone companies print-outs of the calls received and made by the Sarafs.    


 
 
CAMPAIGN BY DAY, BUT CLEAR OUT BY DUSK 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, June 18 
It’s a world where work begins after the day is done. Where politicians on the poll trail have to play it by the rules laid down by sex workers — canvass during the day, don’t disturb after dusk.

Sonagachhi, the largest red-light area of Asia, is a formidable vote-bank in Ward 18 of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. And so, politicians contesting the civic poll are scurrying to modify their election campaign plans.

Last week, mayor-in-council member and CPM candidate Sudhangshu Sil was slated to address an election meeting at Sonagachhi’s Palatak Club in the evening. But at about 3 pm, CPM leader Rabin Deb burst into Sil’s chamber at the CMC and asked him to rush to the meeting immediately, so that it could be wrapped up before evening.

Usha, Kabita, Bobita, Asha and Rama had informed the local party leaders that the pre-poll meetings “should be held between 3 pm and 4 pm”.

“To honour the demand of the sex workers at Sonagachhi, the CPM local committee has decided to reschedule the timings of the meetings there from evening to afternoon,” Sil told The Telegraph.

With sex workers accounting for 10,000 out of 23,000 voters, Ward 18 is won or lost at Sonagachhi. About 50,000 sex workers inhabit the 500-cottah redlight area where the annual business transaction is pegged at Rs 400 crore. Besides, women from all over India, a large number from Bangladesh and Nepal flock here to earn a livelihood.

In 1995, CPM candidate Krishna Kumar Sarkar had won the ward by a margin of 10,178 votes. “He had won about 7,000 votes from the Sonagachhi area,” said local party activist Jyotirmoi Mukherjee.

This time, as Sil goes about seeking the support of the sex workers with folded hands, he is told bluntly, “We will vote for you if you save us from the exploitation by police and local touts.”

“I promise you a better working condition here,” replies Sil. He says he has already taken up the matter with the officers of Burtola police station.

“I will do something to rehabilitate aged sex workers,” he adds, referring to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation project for developing its Charles Allen Market, on Rabindra Sarani, in north Calcutta. This will generate more than 20,000 square feet of floor space, of which 5,000 sq ft will be reserved for a rehabilitation scheme for the sex workers.

“They will be given jobs, like tailoring, handicraft, etc. The sales proceeds will be utilised for their benefit,” Sil pledged.    


 
 
PRIVATE TOUCH TO SPRUCE UP SALT LAKE PARKS 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, June 18 
The Salt Lake administration is roping in private firms to clean up, beautify and maintain parks and traffic islands in the township. Community halls will also be set up in all the 64 blocks.

There are nearly 50 parks in Salt Lake, most of them littered with garbage and over-run with wild shrubs. The decision to call in the private agencies will be welcomed by the residents, who have been demanding such a move for a long time.

“In the absence of lawns or benches in the parks, people can’t sit in comfort for a while and enjoy the fresh air in the evenings,” said Pratima Haldar, a housewife of BB block. The accumulated garbage and waterlogging only make things worse.

Some local clubs have cleaned up a few parks on their own initiative so that they can play football and cricket. A few coaching clinics are also organised by the clubs in the parks.

But after dark, most of the parks, which don’t have lights, “become ideal hideouts for criminals,” a resident said.

“We have submitted a number of deputations to the municipal authorities, asking them to instal lights and beautify the parks, which are now an eyesore in an otherwise clean township,’’ said P.K. Saha, a spokesman for the residents’ committee. “But till now, no action has been taken.”

The Salt Lake police have admitted that the unlit parks are criminal hideouts. They have raised the issue with the municipal authorities, asking for sufficient lighting arrangements.

Salt Lake Municipality chairman Dilip Gupta said his administration has chalked out elaborate plans to give the parks “a new shape and create an attractive atmosphere.”

He said the help of private organisations is imperative in this endeavour, in view of the soaring costs of maintenance.

The parks will be handed over to private concerns for beautification, according to schemes prepared by the municipality. These organisations will be allowed to either put up their own hoardings and glow signs, or those of other companies in and around the parks, thus generating funds for maintenance.

The renovated parks will have sufficient halogen lights, concrete benches and proper arrangements for games, including cricket pitches. There will also be separate paths for morning walkers, a proper drainage system and lawns.

“We have received good response from a number of concerns keen to join the beautification drive,’’ said Debashis Bose, Salt Lake’s sub-divisional officer. It is learnt that Standard Chartered Bank, HDFC Bank, HSBC, Laban Hradh Sambad and Gujarat Ambuja have shown interest in the project.    


 
 
FOOTBRIDGE, CABWAY FOR HOWRAH PASSENGERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 18 
Howrah station will soon get a new cabway and a footbridge to make life smoother for the commuter.

D. C. Mitra, general manager (projects) of Rites, a wing of Indian Railways, said the new taxi lane, 1,800 feet long and 25 feet wide, will come up near Platform Number 21 in the new station complex.

“Work for the project, which will cost nearly Rs 7 crore, will start shortly,” Mitra added.

The overhead footbridge, connecting all platforms from Numbers One to Seven, has already been sanctioned by the railway ministry.

This will enable passengers to cross over from one platform to another more easily.

“This will prevent people rushing from one end of a platform to another to catch trains,” Mitra said.

Railway officials said construction work for both will be finished within five months.

One lane of the new cabway will lead directly to Bankim Setu.

“As a result, passengers bound for Vidyasagar Setu and other parts of south Calcutta can now take a cab from the new station complex and bypass the traffic snarls in front of Howrah station,” said Mitra.

Police officials said nearly 60,000 taxis ply in and around Howrah station every day and seven lakh commuters use the station daily.    


 
 
FAST LANE TO FUSION FOOD 
 
 
RITA BHIMANI
 
Calcutta, June 18 
For the book browser and shopper in Calcutta’s newest landmark, Landmark, there could be no more ideal catchment area than Starlit Café. As you walk down a flight of steps into a deeper recessed area that is the café, it takes you back to the shopping malls in western cities. The concept is ditto, but the culinary approach, although labelled New Age cuisine, is Indian and Ayurvedic in origin, international in its variety. Which means that this is a combo of fast food plus health food, with western overtones. Simple?

Not quite so. What is this food all about? Nouvelle cuisine? Naah! That conjures up a spectre of sparse food painted on to a fancy plate. Organic food, perhaps? Yuk! Too clinical. Fitness food then? Not really. Fusion comestibles? We’re now getting nearer the New Age food that has been created by 38-year-old Sandip Nowlakha.

At the Starlit Café, what he has done is apply the research of our ancient sciences which identifies complex factors that influence your health. These are simplified into three fundamental elements of human nature called Vata (air), Pitta (fire), and Kapha (water), all of which govern the activities of mind and body. New Age food is a formulation of recipes consisting of ingredients which balance these three key elements.

The result: a wide menu, totally vegetarian, where every item is presented under these three heads, depending upon which type you fit into! Meeting Sandip in his Starlit Café, brilliantly illuminated with natural sunlight through a skylight, I was transported back to the days in 1982, when, as an even younger man, he had set up Corner Cafe. Situated at the corner of Lee Road and AJC Bose Road, it was easily accessible to my mother, who used to regularly send for burgers and pizzas whenever we unexpectedly dropped in.

Nowlakha was an earnest, bright-eyed youngster who was doing his B.Com at the time and the concept of takeaway vegetarian food was very novel then. In fact, both Corner Café and Garden Café in Alipore (Calcutta’s answer to the drive-in), proved popular from the very beginning. The Garden Café was the first dosa joint to introduce cheese dosas and it boasted of 81 varieties of dosas! Many a dosa and pizza festival was hosted by them. Improvisation came to this lad, who made sure that the take-away boxes were insulated with recycled paper, a technique imported from Japan. Other innovations came in the form of ‘seva’ and we saw a series of advertisements, spearheaded by Nowlakha, on a “We Care” theme — anti-drug, anti-dowry, while physically they even cleaned up parts of Calcutta.

Meanwhile, such far-flung places as Hawaii and Germany saw him giving his expertise, the former in a restaurant called ‘Divinity’, which served, among other things, rice crepes and lentil doughnuts. In Germany, as a consultant to an ashram near Frankfurt, he helped set up the Ayurvedic part of the programme, complete with mud packs and oil treatment. And closer home, there’s a 100-room Art of Living ashram in Bangalore where wife Sashi, who is involved with the movement, and even their children spend time, the kids often sitting through four-hour pujas and devotion.

It has been 20 years since he set up those early cafés, during which time his fast-food chain has spread to eight Indian cities as well as a number of turnkey franchises. There’s also been considerable diversification into paper, steel, offshore banking, agro-forestry, entertainment parks and plantations in South India, where organic coffee is grown.

The B. Com degree has been topped by a professional Food Service and Marketing degree from Switzerland and a Taco Bell training for franchising.

What has really set off this idea of New Age cuisine is the closeness to the Art of Living movement of which he is a founder-member. The courses are vastly popular with many age groups in Calcutta, but obviously what is unique is the idea of a café where even the interiors have been inspired by mysticism. To create, in his words, “an environment encompassing the galaxies and radiating energy and happiness”.

The logo has been carefully thought out, with the guiding Dhruva star in the centre. The predominant blues are exciting, yet soothing. Everywhere, the attempt is to elevate and expand the customer’s horizons. In the café, you are given a questionnaire which establishes your body type. You then go into the Vata, Pitta, Kapha menu, which is a spread of American sandwiches and burgers, English fries, French waffles, German potato creations, Italian pizzas and Indian idli-dosas. There’s also Lebanese falafals and Mexican nachos and tacos, both of which cuisines are to be commended.

To appease hunger instantly, the English potatoes topped with ajwain salt and the baby corn served with hummus dips are ideal. The waffles are the ones to be had more leisurely, particularly the sweet toppings of jaggery, honey or strawberry. The cheeseless pizzas are perfect for the diet watcher and I would plump for the corn-onion-capsicum number.

A variety of beverages, from herbal teas to fizzy drinks with unusual flavours, completes the range. What could really interest customers, quite apart from the pleasure of a quick meal in elevating surroundings in the middle of a shopping plaza, is the idea of accessing their brands. The sauces, salad oils, salts, teas and herbal drinks are in the process of being branded and packaged. It is all a very new concept and you always wonder — will Calcutta be able to sustain this novelty? Let us hope that a scion of this very exclusive Murshidabad community will make his mark with food that’s fit for us and makes us fit.

An anecdote Nowlakha shares with us talks of how he walked all the way once from Pune to Mumbai barefoot and the very next week, took off on the Concorde to attend his brother’s wedding. Maybe some more of this kind of enthusiasm could be the garnish needed for altering and guiding our city’s low-libidoed tastebuds.    


 
 
KIDNAPPERS SEND FEELER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Silchar, June 18 
In a significant development, the Hmar People’s Conference (Democratic), a Christian tribal outfit responsible for the abduction of six Neepco officials, has agreed to negotiate with the Mizoram government for peace. The outfit has expressed its desire to eschew violence and come overground.

Mizoram home minister Tawnluia told The Telegraph over telephone from Aizawl today that the outfit recently sent feelers to his government for “unconditional talks.” Tawnluia said the HPC(D) hinted that it was not averse to talks in Aizawl. The outfit’s willingness to negotiate came to light when Mizoram government official T. Liansaima, a Hmar tribal, spoke to HPC(D) chief Lalmingthanga Sanate and other leaders of the outfit in Manipur’s Tipaimukh subdivision last week.

Liansaima was asked by the Mizoram government to negotiate the release of Neepco officials, abducted by the outfit from the power corporation’s Tuirial project site in March. The outfit earned the goodwill of the Mizo people when it released the hostages “unconditionally’’ last week after keeping them in captivity for 74 days.

Tawnluia said the Mizo National Front government was ready to rehabilitate the HPC(D) cadre, if they surrendered after peace talks. The HPC(D) is a breakaway faction of the Hmar People’s Conference (HPC), an outfit formed in the early Nineties. After operating in northeast Mizoram for a few years, the HPC signed a truce with the Mizoram government. Another Hmar outfit, the Hmar Revolutionary Force, also disbanded after 16 activists surrendered. The government announced a rehabilitation grant of Rs 10,000 each.

The HPC(D) with a cadre-strength of 60, controls the hilly stretch between Manipur and northeast Mizoram. It has been rallying for an autonomous Hmar state.The Mizoram government has agreed to vest the Hmar Development Council with more power and funds.

Two of the six Neepco employees, who were released by the Hmar militants on Tuesday last after a 74-day captivity, were hospitalised for medical tests, adds PTI. Junior engineers Lalsanga and Lalrinkima were admitted to the Aizawl Civil Hospital.    


 
 
NAXALITES BEHEAD MINORITYACTIVIST 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ranchi, June 18 
Ultra-Left Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) activists beheaded a member of Ali Sena, a minority radical group, at Narkopi on the Ranchi-Lohardaga border in south Bihar late last night.

Sources said over 100 MCC cadre stormed Narkopi and dragged out Alim Mian, an Ali Sena activist, and beheaded him. The incident triggered communal tension in the village and a police team led by senior superintendent of police Gupteshwar Pandey rushed to the spot. Irate residents refused to let the police send the body for post mortem in protest against the spurt in extremism.

However, the body was brought to the Narkopi police outpost after protracted negotiation and sent to the Rajendra Medical College for post mortem. Patrolling has been intensified in the area.

Security strengthened: Police sources today geared up to foil a Jharkhand Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Parishad rally slated for tomorrow.

The parishad, a CPI-ML (Party Unity) front, is planning to commemorate Birsa Munda’s death anniversary. It has mobilised hundreds of volunteers from Gumla, Lohardaga, Hazaribagh and Singhbhum.

Police sources said checkposts and entry points have been sealed and incoming vehicles to the city are being thoroughly searched.

The parishad is also rallying for the creation of a separate Jharkhand state. The delay in the formation of a separate state, entry of multinationals and the alleged role of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in disrupting the ethnic and cultural identity of the tribals are some of the causes being espoused by the organisation.

The parishad has urged people to force the government to ensure their rights over land and forest and oppose capitalist forces impeding development of the region.

Tea subsidy

Tea Association of India (TAI) has urged the Centre to include Tripura in the newly-introduced subsidy scheme for tea industries, reports PTI.

In a letter to commerce minister Murasoli Maran, P.K. Sarkar, secretary and labour advisor of the association’s state unit, said inclusion of the state in the subsidy scheme would help the gardens. The average selling price of tea in the auction market has dwindled to Rs 32 per kg against the production cost of Rs 60 in Tripura. The gardens are facing closure due to poor price realisation and high rate of excise duty, he said. The Centre has approved subsidy at the rate of Rs 5 per kg to gardens upto 12 hectares.    


 
 
TRIBALS SNATCH HOSTAGE FROM REBEL CUSTODY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, June 18 
A tribal youth was hacked to death while a non-tribal abducted by militants was rescued by tribal villagers in separate incidents during the past 24 hours in the state.

Police sources said at 7.30 am today, two tribal youth travelling on a bicycle to Rukia Kobra under Jirania police station got involved in a scuffle with three non-tribals in the Bhumiheen colony area. The non-tribals attacked them with sharp machetes, killing Ranjit Debbarma, 26, on the spot. His companion, Achin Debbarma, 27, escaped with minor injuries. The killing triggered tension in the Jirania police station area.

Security forces arrested 14 people in connection with two militant attacks yesterday which claimed four lives, add agencies.

In a separate incident, a large number of tribal residents of three villages rescued an abducted Bengali quack yesterday. Police sources said Sasanka Sarkar, a quack of Pitra village, was abducted from Dewanbari village on Friday by militants after he had gone there to treat a patient.

All the tribal men and women of Barmura, Brajendranagar and Khowaimura villages together launched a search operation yesterday. They found the doctor in a militant hideout on the border of Amarpur and Udaipur subdivisions and asked the militants to release him. When the militants refused, the villagers snatched Sarkar from their custody and escorted him to Pitra market.

When the Bengalis in the market realised what had happened, they celebrated the occasion by distributing sweets. The incident is the first of its kind in Tripura.

New Governor

The appointment of Lt. Gen. (retd.) K.M. Seth as the new Governor of the state has evoked mixed reactions. While the ruling Left Front is maintaining a studied silence, the Opposition has warmly welcomed the change of guard.

Official sources here said the Union home ministry had earlier offered to appoint Lt. Gen. (retd.) V.R. Raghavan to the post. But the general refused on the ground that he did not want to go to Tripura. Later Gen. Seth was appointed to the post. Reacting to the appointment of Gen. Seth, CPM party secretariat member Bijan Dhar said, “We won’t give any reaction now. Let him join and work, we will see.”

But the Opposition BJP-Trinamul Congress combine welcomed the appointment. Trinamul Congress president Sudhir Ranjan Mazumder and BJP spokesman Brajesh Chakraborty said, “We welcome the change of guard in the Governor’s house but the change should have been effected earlier.” Tripura Upajati Juba Samity general secretary Rabindra Debbarma, however, said, “The change has come after everything in the state has been destroyed. Let us see what else the Governor can offer.”    

 

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