Lines locked in cell spurt
Death drives schools to review bus rules
Le Meridien plans hotel, PC Chandra seeks tie-up
Quiz book beeline for Big B show
Car park plan for sheds by the jetty
Dream cheque for one, doors shut on another
Pen and palette meet for water
2 officials showcaused for flouting court order
Bihar officials on 7-day strike
Marathon bomb in Ulfa arsenal

 
 
LINES LOCKED IN CELL SPURT 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 24 
“The Spice/Command number you have called is currently not available. Please try after some time.”The frequency of this response whenever a mobile phone number is called is growing.At first, callers thought that the mobile user had switched the set off. But that is not always the case.

With the number of mobile users growing every day, and incoming calls being made free, the base stations of the cellphone companies are getting clogged with calls. Up to 50 per cent of the connections cannot be made.

The base station is a transmitting station operated by the cell companies. They are equipped with radio transmitters that convert the electric signal, generated by an incoming call, into the electro-magnetic signal that is received by a mobile set.

With a large number of complaints being registered with Calcutta Telephones, chief general manager K. Ramanujam has called a meeting of the two cellphone companies operating in the city, Command and Spice, next week.

“The cellphone companies will have to upgrade their base stations and the network they have with our junctions. They will have to increase the number of base stations and apply to the telecom department for access to more junctions,” he said. Telecom officials said that between the two cell companies, they have about 100 bases stations in the city.

According to sources at the telecom department and Command and Spice cellular company officials, there are around 1.5-lakh cellphone connections in the city. Department officials said they were being flooded with complaints from subscribers who are unable to get connected to a cellular number from an ordinary telephone.

However, officials explained that the probability of getting connected from one cellphone to another was higher, as a person who is mobile and is using a cellphone can move away from the zone of one base station which is clogged to another which is relatively free.

The problem was discussed at a recent meeting that minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar had with senior officials of Calcutta Telephones. The minister has asked for an inquiry into the matter. “A base station cannot handle more than 600 to 800 calls at any given point of time,’’ Ramanujam said.

Telecom officials said ever since cellular service providers waived incoming call charges, there has been a huge increase in the number of calls from an ordinary phone to the mobile phone.

When a subscriber dials a cellular number, the signal knocks at the base station. If an empty path exists, the calls get through to the switching circuit and then to the cellular number. But if the base station circuit is jammed to capacity, which it often is, the subscriber will not get through.

Vice-president, operations, of Command, Sankho Chowdhury, however, says the problem can be rectified by the telecom department. “Why is the government not implementing the ‘calling party pays’ system? We have invested a lot of money on infrastructure and it not possible to pump in any more money for base stations,’’ Chowdhury said. “The government has to reciprocate now,’’ he added.

Sources in Spice and Command said that the situation is better in the other cities, as Calcutta is the only city where incoming calls on a cellular line are free.

“This is at the root of all the problems,” a cellphone official said. “The moment incoming calls are paid for, almost automatically, the number of calls will decrease and the base stations will get less busy.”

“We have to convince the cellphone companies to increase the number of base stations,” Ramanujam said. “The solution has to lie there.”    


 
 
DEATH DRIVES SCHOOLS TO REVIEW BUS RULES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 24 
Alarmed by the tragic accident on the premises of Shri Shikshayatan that claimed the life of a kindergarten student, principals of most city schools have chalked out plans to ensure safe passage for their students.

Five-year-old Pragya Dalmia was crushed under the rear wheels of the school bus that was to drop her home after classes last Thursday.

Schools with their own buses have cautioned drivers and attendants, while those who rely on chartered buses have asked the operators to “take proper care of the children”.

The state school education department has told the heads of government-run schools to take “appropriate measures” to safeguard against an accident.

Schools have requested the police for an adequate number of men to be posted outside their gates when classes start and break for the day.

Notices have been circulated to guardians, asking them to ensure that their children followed the schools’ bus rules strictly.

Ashoke Hall, Mahadevi Birla, South Point, Ballygunge Siksha Sadan, Balika Siksha Sadan, Bethune and Sekhawat Memorial are some of the schools that have conducted special meetings to review the situation.

“Even before the accident, our teachers and employees maintained a strict vigil on children when they boarded and alighted from the school buses. After the accident, we are taking extra precautions to make the system foolproof,” said P. Acharya, principal of Ballygunge Siksha Sadan.

Mahadevi Birlal, which runs 18 buses for its 3,000 students, held an emergency meeting with its drivers and attendants. “Our teachers and other staff members manage the buses very well. But we wanted to remind them of their duties after the tragic death of the child,” said a school official.

The four branches of Ashoke Hall held a similar meeting to review the system followed by them. “We want the bus drivers and attendants to be extra careful about carrying the children,” said an official of the Minto Park branch.

Chhaya Sengupta, headmistress of Bethune, said: “The chartered buses we use are parked outside our compound. I have told the students that they must queue to board the buses and under no circumstances will they be allowed to get off till they reach their destination.”

Anup Chatterjee, joint commissioner of police (traffic), said the city police maintain a system to control traffic congestion in front of schools every morning and afternoon. “But it is not possible for us to man the buses parked on school compounds. For that, the schools will have to devise their own methods,” he added.    


 
 
LE MERIDIEN PLANS HOTEL, PC CHANDRA SEEKS TIE-UP 
 
 
BY SUTANUKA GHOSHAL
 
Calcutta, Aug. 24 
It’s all happening in the world of luxury hotels here. The Park is pitching for one. The Taj is planning to pull out of another. Now, enter, Le Meridien.

Forte Hotel group of UK, owners of the Le Meridien label, has approached the state government to set up a hotel in the city. State tourism minister Manab Mukherjee told The Telegraph: “Forte Hotel has written to us that they are keen on setting up a hotel in the state. We have asked them to submit their proposal to us, which we expect to receive soon.”

Chandras Green Project Limited, a company owned by jewellers P. C. Chandra, has come forward to be a partner in Forte’s hotel venture.

“The state tourism minister informed us that the Forte group is keen on setting up a hotel in the city. Since we want to enter the hotel business in a big way too, the minister advised us to have a talk with the Forte group. We have already written to Forte, asking them about their plans,” said a senior official of Chandras Green Projects Limited.

The minister said the government can provide land to the Forte group on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. However, sources acquainted with the project plan said Forte might not want to open another hotel on the Bypass, because two five-star hotels — Sonar Bangla of the ITC Welcomgroup and Hyatt Regency — are already coming up there.

The Chandras are running a small hotel on CIT Road near Moulali. They are also setting up a 60-room hotel at 15, Camac Street. “We have not yet classified the category of the proposed hotel. We will apply for such a categorisation once the hotel is complete,” the official added. They have also acquired land on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass to set up a resort.

The Forte Hotel group runs 406 hotels worldwide. Apart from the five-star brand Le Meridien, the group owns two, three and four-star brands like Porthouse, Heritage and Travel Lodge.

In India, the hotel chain has roped in different franchisees to use the Le Meridien label.    


 
 
QUIZ BOOK BEELINE FOR BIG B SHOW 
 
 
BY CHARLES NANDI
 
Calcutta, Aug. 24 
The short cut to a ‘crore’ passes through a bookstore. The megabucks mania sparked by Kaun Banega Crorepati? has spawned quite another craze in the city — for quiz books.

According to several publishers and bookstore-owners, people from all walks of life are desperately seeking Q&A books to brush up their general knowledge and gear up for a dream date with Amitabh Bachchan.

“Earlier, we used to sell around 90 copies of general knowledge books every month. Now, the sale has shot up to over 200,” said a spokesperson for Chuckervertty, Chatterjee and Company Ltd, at College Square. Some publishers have been quick on the draw, coming out with new quiz books to cash in on the Crorepati craze. Raju Dey of Children’s Book Store, on Bankim Chatterjee Street, said publishers like Dreamland, P. K. Paul and others have come up with brand new GK books.

Dreamland has hit the market with Be A Millionaire By Winning TV Quiz Contests-Quiz Time in four parts, the cover featuring the Big B with a bunch of aspiring millionaires, and the back-cover depicting three ‘lifelines’. Bano Crorepati, published by P. K. Paul and priced at Rs 75, is also much in demand. “We have sold at least 450 copies in no time at all. They are not being picked up by just jobless youth or students of competitive examinations. Everyone, including a large number of housewives, is making a beeline for the book,” said Raju Dey.

Quiz books like Kaun Banega Crorepati Hangama by Indica Publications, Tiny Tot Publications’ G. K. Quiz For All, Derek O’ Brien’s First Book of 1000 Questions, Bournvita Quiz series, Manorama Year Book, and Siddharth Basu’s Mastermind India are selling like hot cakes. Stocks of Rupa’s Thousands Quiz of biology, physics, movies, environment and other subjects have run dry at many book stalls in the city. “I am definitely ready to spend Rs 200 on quiz books to try and win a few lakhs in the contest,” said Debabrata Ganguly, an employee of the post and telegraph department, who has been desperately dialling away to book a berth on the Bachchan show.

“There has been a sudden spurt in the sale of general knowledge books ever since Kaun Banega Crorepati? started,” said Mahadeb Kundu, of Boys Book Stall. Added Somen Dey, manager, National Book Store: “The show has left most people dreaming about becoming lakhpatis, f not crorepatis, overnight.”

The only effort involved, it would seem, is brushing up on GK, and dialling L for Luck.    


 
 
CAR PARK PLAN FOR SHEDS BY THE JETTY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 24 
The days of parking problems in the city’s central business district may soon be over. The Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) has decided to develop its abandoned sheds between Fairlie Place jetty and Canning Street into parking lots.

This move is aimed at solving to a large extent the perennial parking problem at India Exchange Place, N.S. Road, Fairlie Place, Clive Ghat Street, Lyons Range and Canning Street. It is also expected to ease traffic flow to Howrah station.

The proposed parking space covers an area of 20,000 sq metres. “Initially, we will develop 5,000 sq metres, which should accommodate 500 cars,” a senior CPT official said.

Tenders for the project have already been floated and the CPT is said to have received three bids to date. The first parking zone is expected to come up at the fourth Calcutta Jetty.

The prospective bidders for the zone are Pioneer Cooperative Car Parking, Servicing and Construction Society Ltd, United Cooperative Fee Car Parking Collectors’ Society Ltd and Park Street Fee Parking Cooperative Society Ltd. The proposed rent per 100 sq metres is Rs 4,122.

The move to convert CPT’s abandoned sheds into parking lots initially came from the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI). A BCCI official said CPT chairman H.P. Roy was “upbeat” while chief secretary Manish Gupta and Calcutta Police officials were “very positive” about the proposed move.    


 
 
DREAM CHEQUE FOR ONE, DOORS SHUT ON ANOTHER 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 24 
While one basks in jackpot glory and is hounded by the media, the other cuts a forlorn figure, punched by his father and dumped by his school, his dream date with the Big B in tatters.

For Ramesh Chandra Dubey and Jitendra Rajak, life unfolded on contrasting notes on the city’s 310th anniversary. The phone at the Dubeys’ Park Street sari shop never stopped ringing as kudos kept pouring in.

Ramesh, who authored history by winning a cheque for Rs 50 lakh on the Kaun Banega Crorepati? game show — the highest till date — was untouched by it all and had his feet firmly on the ground. “I just got lucky,” he said matter-of-factly.

“The only time I thought of the money was on the 15th question. With Rs 50 lakh in the pocket, it wasn’t probably wise to risk it all,” he smiled. Ramesh’s “wisdom” won him the megabucks and also gladdened the Big B’s heart.

“Yeh mera sobhagya hai — it’s my pleasure (to have you here),” countered Amitabh Bachchan when Ramesh said he had never dreamt of being up there with his hero. Bachchan, whose charisma has salvaged many episodes of Crorepati from floundering participants, was understandably pleased with Ramesh’s bright showing.

Far from the glitz of Park Street, a shanty on the pavement of M.S. Road near Rajabazar tram depot was a picture of despair. Ten-year-old Rajak had fled home again, this time after a spanking from his father, Shyam, a dhobi, who smacked his son for his addiction to Crorepati and for stealing Rs 600 from his piggy-bank to fund the trip to Mumbai. “I alone know how I meet his school fees of Rs 150 every month. Mera sab armaan toot gaya,” wept the washerman.    


 
 
PEN AND PALETTE MEET FOR WATER 
 
 
BY SUDIPTA BHATTACHARJEE
 
Calcutta, Aug. 24 
To mark the city’s 310th birthday, poets and budding artists came together to give Calcuttans a sense of awareness about the fast-depleting water level. At a gathering at Birla Academy, overlooking Rabindra Sarobar, talented youngsters matched wit and skills to come up with some unique posters.

Entitled “Jol dao aamar shikoré (water my roots)” based on poet Bishnu De’s translation of John Hopkins’ sonnet, the unique interaction will continue on Friday, when mayor Subrata Mukherjee will unveil the exhibition of poems and paintings.

Poets Subodh Sarkar, Chaitali Chattopadhyay, Shreejato, Jaya Mitra, Mandakranta Sen, Mallika Sengupta, Sanjukta Bandhopadhyay and Mridul Dasgupta created poems, while visual arts students of Rabindra Bharati University brought them to life on hand-made paper.

According to Amlan Ganguly of Prayasam, the NGO which organised the ‘workshop’, the aim was to raise awareness about the inequities of distribution, gross misuse and waste of water in the city. What better occasion than the city’s birthday? And what better way to make a point than with poems and paintings?    


 
 
2 OFFICIALS SHOWCAUSED FOR FLOUTING COURT ORDER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, Aug. 24 
The Gauhati High Court has issued showcause notices to Manipur chief secretary Rakesh and higher education commissioner W.L. Hangshing for violating the court’s orders banning the regularisation of the services of 107 part-time lecturers of government colleges in the state.

Initiating a contempt of court case, Justice S.K. Sema directed the two officers to file replies within two weeks.

Though the High Court had banned publication of regularisation results in its orders on June 13 and June 16, the department on August 14 went ahead by issuing an order regularising the services.

There was a major controversy in the state after it was alleged that the education department had flouted University Grants Commission (UGC) norms in regularising the services of the aforesaid teachers.

The department has regularised the services of the lecturers as per a government order published in the Manipur Gazette on November 17, 1999.

The government order stated that 50 per cent of the vacancies may be reserved for part-time lecturers. Currently, there are more than 600 part-time lecturers serving in different government colleges and the department has decided to regularise the services of 107 of them.

Earlier, petitioners H. Roybala Devi and four others had challenged the government’s order in June this year in the Gauhati High Court.

According to UGC norms, a candidate must pass the National Eligibility Test (NET) or its equivalent to be eligible for a lecturer’s post, besides securing 55 per cent marks in the postgraduation.

Counsel for the petitioners Ashok Potsangbam, who is a former state advocate general, argued that the government’s order violates the constitutional provisions. He said the state cannot make any law for the matters included in the Concurrent List if Parliament enacted a law in the same subject.

He said the UGC Act was passed by Parliament in 1956 and the rules framed by UGC were binding for all universities and colleges. Potsangbam said in the event of a conflict between Centre and state over a matter listed in the Concurrent List, the Centre shall prevail. Potsangbam said the state government violated the constitutional provisions by not honouring the UGC rules.

Justice H.K. Sema, in his order on June 16, had directed the state government that if any selection was done by relaxation of educational qualifications of part-time lecturers as fixed up by the UGC, the results cannot be declared.    


 
 
BIHAR OFFICIALS ON 7-DAY STRIKE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ranchi, Aug. 24 
Over 3,200 gazetted officers affiliated to Bihar Administrative Service Association (BASA) today proceeded on mass casual leave for seven days to press their demands, including revised pay scales and security. The association’s demands include providing basic grade pay scales of Rs 8,000-13,500 to gazetted officers as agreed upon by the state government during talks with association office-bearers on March 29, 1999 besides arranging guards for officers.

The officials have also demanded increase in retirement age to 60 and better perks and promotion policies. Secretary of the Bihar Administrative Service Association (BASA) Sunil Kumar Singh today said those involved in law and order duty have also joined the strike. The ceasework will continue till August 30. Deputy commissioners have been asked to make their own arrangements for maintaining law and order in their respective areas.

Singh said a review meeting has been fixed for August 28 at Patna to take stock of the situation arising out of the ceasework and draw up an action plan for the future.

As an emergency measure, deputy commissioners of various districts have assigned additional district magistrates and retired magistrates law and order duties.

Association president W.N. Singh and general secretary G. Das claimed that the strike was total as all association members stayed away from work, adds PTI from Patna.

He said the association would launch an indefinite strike from August 31 if their demands were not met.    


 
 
MARATHON BOMB IN ULFA ARSENAL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Aug. 24 
Assam militants have acquired sophisticated timing devices, which offer underground outfits the luxury of operating on a larger timeframe — often running into years — while triggering blasts.

Till now, militants could programme their devices for 12 to 24 hours, but the new timers — fitted with microchips — professes to imbue insurgency with cutting-edge precision.

“Usually we sanitise the venue — say of an Independence Day function — where the chief minister is scheduled to address a gathering a week or so before the programme so that no time bomb can be planted under the rostrum. But now we have to conduct the exercise everyday to ensure fool-proof security,’’ said a security official summing up the changed scenario.

In analog and digital timers, which are now almost obsolete, explosives had to be programmed for a 12-hour or a 24-hour period.

These timers worked on the basic principles of analog and digital watches, the former completing a full circle within 12 hours and the latter working on a 24-hour cycle.

“The microchip — the nerve centre of computers — has upgraded technology. Timers fitted with microchips, which function in the same manner as the RTC (real time clock) chip of a personal computer, can be programmed for longer periods even more than a year,” said a senior police official.

“The explosives basically remain the same. Only the new timers pose a threat,” he added.

“These are very sophisticated devices known to be used only by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and a few militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir backed by the ISI,” the police official said. The Ulfa, too, is backed by the Pakistani intelligence agency and has links with the LTTE.

Assam police got a wind of the state-of-the-art timing devices on August 14 last year after being tipped off by two arrested ISI agents in the city. They subsequently raided strategic points at Rajsahi in Bangladesh and seized a huge cache of RDX and other explosives including a few timers.

On August 15 last year, chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, in course of his Independence Day speech, “inadvertently” disclosed the seizure from ISI suppliers while lauding a joint team of Assam and West Bengal police for the feat. However, to avoid an inter-state row, West Bengal police declared that the seizure was made under Bhaktinagar police station in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district.

The “delayed timer” mentioned by West Bengal police in the seizure list was the “timing device fitted with microchips” and the police quoted intelligence reports as saying the Ulfa had finally acquired such timers. They suspect that even Bodo militants possess these sophisticated timing devices.    

 

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