School parks buses on Bypass
Civic body’s triple boon for builders
Great Eastern in pay default
Putting pupils on the ‘write’ track
College shuts door on girl with wrong subjects
Diamond Harbour hotel raid nets 14 couples
Settlers flushed out of port area
Rivals spurn Khaplang truce offer
VHP to pit Ram Mandals against Jharkhand church
Security forces comb Assam sanctuary

Calcutta, Sept.4: 
South Point school on Monday set an example by following the city police directive to park its buses at a separate place near Ruby General Hospital on the E.M. Bypass, five kilometres from the school compound.

After suspending its bus service for nearly a week, the school resumed it from Monday.

The half-yearly exams of the school, scheduled to have begun from Monday, were, however, not held. The authorities have postponed the exams till Wednesday in view of the confusion over when the bus service would resume.

Since South Point operates in two shifts, all its 13 buses had to shuttle thrice between the school at Mandeville Gardens and Ruby Hospital.

Though this is a makeshift arrangement, the school management was concerned as it would have to foot the bill for the additional 10 km per trip per bus.

Even the drivers and their helps are resentful about the new parking arrangement.

The site near Ruby Hospital, where the buses were parked for the first time on Monday, is an isolated area and there is not even a teastall in the vicinity. “We are the worst sufferers,” said a bus employee.

N.G. Khaitan, South Point vice-president, said the school was looking for a better site closer to the school where the buses could be parked permanently.

“Parking the buses at such a far off place may inconvenience the children. What will happen if the buses get stuck in a traffic snarl while trying to reach the school from Ruby Hospital?” asked Khaitan.

However, even now, a number of schools are parking their buses in front of their entrances, the police said.

“We have asked all the schools with buses not to park their vehicles on the roads. There are some who are still not following our instructions,” said Anup Chatterjee, joint CP, traffic.

The police have asked St John’s Diocesan School on Sarat Bose Road not to park their buses on Elgin Road. Sources at the school, however, said they had not violated any police instruction.

The police have recently imposed a ban on parking buses on roads outside schools in the city in view of the day-long traffic congestions they create.

The death of a five-year-old girl on the compound of Shri Shikshayatan last month is one of the reasons which prompted the police to launch a drive to keep the areas around some schools free of traffic snarls during school hours.

South Point suspended its bus services on August 28 in protest against the impoundment of one of its buses by the city police.

After the accident at Shri Shikshayatan, the police had asked the South Point management not to park their buses on the roads in front. Police ordered the the school to park the buses on the compound during school hours instead.    

Calcutta, Sept.4: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation has announced three significant revisions in building rules, expected to have a huge impact on both citizen and cityscape.

In his first major move, member, mayor-in-council, (building) Swapan Samaddar, slashed ‘mandatory open space requirement’ in building construction from 1.8 metres to 1.2 metres “to facilitate construction of dwelling houses on small plots by the middle class”.

Samaddar said this “special relaxation” would be granted only to “small plots” measuring up to three cottahs or 200 sq m. The height of these buildings would be limited to 9.5 metres (three-storey) and used for “residential purposes” alone.

In a another important development, to save citizens the undue harassment of getting their sanctioned construction proposals revalidated from the Corporation, the building department has decided to introduce the “automatic revalidation process” from Monday.

The sanction given to a building proposal remains valid for a period of two years. If someone failed to undertake construction within the two years, he/she had to make a fresh appeal for revalidation of the plan to the CMC.

This, of course, provided officials at the Corporation the chance to give the applicant a royal runaround and extract their pound of flesh in the process.

“From now on, if a citizen cannot undertake construction of his/her residential building within two years time, he/she can pray for revalidation, which would be granted automatically.for another two years,” said Samaddar. The facility of “automatic revalidation” of a sanctioned plan will be given four to five times to a person.

The third announcement of the day referred to the “completion” of unfinished highrises and commercial buildings. A number of constructions in different parts of the city have remained in an unfinished condition for about 10 years due to various disputes.

Samaddar said the builders will now be allowed to complete their construction in accordance with the construction proposals earlier sanctioned by the CMC.

But before resuming construction work, they would have to seek a fresh permission from the Corporation.

Following these announcements, over 2,000 plans awaiting sanction from the building department since May 1999 are expected to be cleared soon. Most of these construction proposals are from the Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur areas.

Welcoming the decisions as “judicious”, chief engineer (building) Ashok Roy Chaudhury said it would now be possible for a small plot-owner to construct a house. “The prospect of keeping a 1.8-metre-wide, open space on three sides of the house had forced many to stall building plans,” he added.    

Calcutta, Sept.4: 
Great Eastern Hotel, crippled by a fresh cash crunch, has deferred salaries and stopped payment of sales and luxury taxes to the state government.

The hotel pays around Rs 32 lakh as sales tax on food and beverages per month, while it forks out another Rs 1.5 lakh-2 lakh as luxury tax.

“We have stopped all payments since we have to clear the salaries of our 600-odd employees, which has already been deferred,” a Great Eastern Hotel official said.

As the oldest hotel in the city struggles to stay alive, the government is doing little to revive it, or make up its mind on opening the doors to private players.

Takeover proposals from French firm Accor Asia Pacific and Ajit Kerkar’s outfit, Tulip, are lying with the state government.

“We have received two bids. But we are yet to take a decision on the proposals,” state tourism minister Manab Mukherjee told The Telegraph.

The tourism minister will talk to employees about the future of the hotel at a meeting on Friday and is expected to take a decision “soon”.

The government had earlier said it would come up with “concrete revival proposals” for Great Eastern by August 14.

Great Eastern Hotel’s predicament has worsened in the past few months, leading to a situation where the hotel has been forced to declare that it would not be able to pay salaries for August on time.

“Due to an acute financial crisis, the hotel is not in a position to pay salaries for August on the due dates. In order to do so, the hotel has even stopped all mandatory payments, including statutory liabilities towards sales tax and luxury tax,” a notice issued to workers on August 31 stated.

According to sources, the finance department had sought clarifications on the proposals submitted by private companies.

“The finance department is now happy with the feedback. Therefore, it has cleared the files,” sources said.

Accor’s plan entails retrenchment of a majority of the 450 staff members presently at the hotel.

Sources said Accor plans to pump Rs 15 crore into its voluntary retirement scheme.

The company also plans to clear the dues of the hotel, which include income-tax, sales tax and electricity charges.

Meanwhile, senior officials of Great Eastern Hotel said the occupancy rate has dipped to 30 per cent, and its revenues from rooms have shrivelled to a measly Rs 15 lakh a month.

In addition, various government departments owe the hotel Rs 40-50 lakh in unpaid dues.

“The state government cleared a part of the dues last year. But the hotel is yet to receive anything from these departments this year,” the sources added.

“We all know that the gradual decline in business can force the closure of this grand hotel. We have been urging the state government to do something about it for the past few years. Why can’t they just make up their minds, instead of keeping our futures hanging in the balance?” demanded a section of the employees.    

Calcutta, Sept.4: 
“Marks will be deducted for spelling mistakes, untidiness and bad handwriting”—- this is the mandatory warning on the question papers of Madhyamik and Higher Secondary examinations. The note of caution is hardly ever noticed by students these days, who don’t really care about ‘how’ they write ‘what’ they write. But they often end up losing vital marks in the process.

Shiksha Samsad, a 26-year-old non-profitable organisation in Jodhpur Park, has recently launched a programme to help pupils hit the write track. Already, two dozens students, between Classes IV and X, from five schools in the area have signed up.

Samir Chattopadhyay, secretary of the organisation, said: “We have been teaching students to write neatly and clearly in both English and Bengali through a mathemetical and scientific method. If a student follows our format for even some time every day, his or her handwriting is bound to improve.”

Chattopadhyay noticed a decline in writing standards from the mid-80s. After conducting a thorough survey, he concluded that “lack of guidance” was responsible. “Even teachers at most nursery schools do not know to write properly. How can we expect them to teach pupils to write well?” Chattopadhay asked. He also blamed the appalling standards on the “the excessive use of the ballpen instead of the fountain pen and the way students grip the pen”.

“Good handwriting depends on pressure exerted and the flow of ink. All the letters, in both English and Bengali, do not require the same amount of pressure,” explained Chattopadhyay.

Sanker Bera, father of Subhankar who is attending the special classes, said: “It’s hardly been five weeks and I can already see a marked improvement in his handwriting.”

Manas Lahiri, one of the teachers, added: “It is good to see guardians coming forward. For quite some time now, parents and teachers seem to have stopped caring even if the child’s handwriting is illegible.”

That it’s never too late to try one’s hand at a good thing is proved by Rathin Chakraborty, a 32-year-old businessman from Baruipur. “When he turned up determined to improve his handwriting, we decided to admit him as our seniormost student,” smiled Lahiri.    

Calcutta, Sept.4: 
Satarupa Bose was admitted to the humanities stream of St Paul’s Cathedral Mission College on Amherst Street after passing her ICSE with a 67 per cent aggregate from Loreto Convent, Entally. Classes began on August 1. On August 18, Satarupa was called to the principal’s room and told that “the college could not allow her to continue”.

The reason: Satarupa did not have mathematics and science for the school finals and a circular from the Higher Secondary Council stating that these subjects are mandatory for admission to Class XI in all affiliated institutions had been unearthed well into the present session.

Two days later, she was refunded her tuition fees and handed a letter which said she had been “inadvertently admitted”. It also contained an appeal to other institutions to “see if you can accommodate her”.

Today, Satarupa is running from pillar to post, knocking on doors of institutions for a chance to piece together a shattered academic dream.

Says Anita Bose, Satarupa’s widowed mother: “When I went to collect the admission form, I was told that Satarupa’s marks were good enough to allow her admission on the spot. As a couple of colleges had refused to admit her because of her subject combination, I enquired if St Paul’s had such restrictions and was told that the college had not received such a circular. So, we were shocked when this happened.”

Paritosh Banerjee, acting principal of St Paul’s, admitted to the “oversight”. “Five students in our college are facing this problem. Actually, the clerks were under the impression that since these students were taking admission into the humanities section, their not having maths and science would not be a problem. After I assumed office on August 1, we received information that one of our students admitted last year with a non-maths ICSE background had been rejected during registration for HS exams. In the meantime, I had also found the circular from the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education stating that only those students from the ICSE board with science and maths were eligible for admission.”

Banerjee agreed that the circular, dated May 11, 1998, “must have reached the college long back”.

On being informed of the incident, Sudin Chattopadhyay, president of the West Bengal Higher Secondary Council, squarely blamed the ICSE board for the fiasco. “This practice of allowing students to opt out of science and mathematics at the pre-secondary stage itself is ridiculous. Knowledge of these subjects till Class X is indispensable in the interest of basic education. ICSE students who do not study these subjects are welcome to continue in their own board, but they cannot be accommodated in Madhyamik There is no question of our reviewing the circular.”    

Calcutta, Sept.4: 
Thirty-one people, including 14 couples, were arrested in a hotel at Diamond Harbour in South 24-Parganas, about 40 km from Calcutta, for alleged involvement in the flesh trade. Among those arrested were the hotel’s owner, the manager and a pimp.

Acting on a tip-off, a large police team raided the hotel and found the couples in compromising positions. The officer-in-charge of Diamond Harbour police station, who was part of the team, said on Monday he had visited the hotel pretending to be a customer. “After reaching the hotel, I booked a room and ordered a bottle of liquor and some food. I alerted my senior officers and other policemen who were standing outside. Immediately afterwards, they entered the hotel in a body and started to raid one room after another.”

Among those arrested were a lawyer of Alipore court and a senior officer of Calcutta Telephones. Even a mother and her 18-year-old daughter were picked up during the raid. Most of the arrested persons were from Behala, Thakurpukur, Garia, Bauria in Howrah and Swarup Nagar at Bongaon, in North 24-Parganas. All the arrested persons belong to upper middle-class families.

A large quantity of liquor and other objectionable items were found in the hotel rooms. The hotel owner and manager, too, were picked up to avoid allegations that the arrests were made in connivance with the hotel management to extract money from the arrested persons, police said. All the arrests were made under the Immoral Traffic Act.

Police added that the raid was conducted after some hoteliers complained about rivals involved in the flesh trade. They complained that this was also tarnishing the image their establishments.

Earlier, 42 persons were arrested in another hotel under the Immoral Traffic Act. Special drives will be conducted before and during the Pujas so bona fide tourists are not harassed, police added.

Such raids were also conducted in the resorts in the Bishnupur area, 20 km from Calcutta, on way to Diamond Harbour. A number of arrests were made there on complaints from local people and different social organisations.

Asit Bose, chairman of Diamond Harbour municipality, said: “ We are considering measures for putting a stop to such activities forever. It only vitiates the atmosphere of this place.”    

Calcutta, Sept.4: 
In one of the biggest drives to clear the city of illegal settlers, police and Calcutta Port Trust authorities evicted 5,000 people from the historic Basra Lines adjoining Netaji Subhas Dock in the West Port area on Monday.

Port Trust and state government sources said the decision to clear the locality was taken during a recent meeting between Union surface transport minister Rajnath Singh and state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.

Port officials said the area was important to them as they wanted to expand their container yard. The illegal settlers are relatives of labourers who once worked at the port.

“We have been trying to remove these illegal settlers for the past few years. The authorities served them with several notices but they stuck to their ground,’’ said Kanai Biswas, land inspector of the Port Trust.

Police said there are a large number of air shelters at Basra Lines where people took refuge during an aerial bomb attack during the 1945 war.

Deputy commissioner of police, port, Zulfikar Hasan, said people began to settle in the area over the past three decades. West Port police said many criminals on the run took shelter there before leaving for other places.

Senior police and port officers were huddled in a meeting on Sunday evening at which modalities of the eviction were worked out. A large police team accompanied the port officers to clear the area in a five-hour operation from 5.30 am on Monday.

The authorities lined up 50 trucks to take away the goods. On seeing the police, the settlers began to remove their belongings and vacated the houses.

But police had a tough time keeping a crowd of onlookers at bay. Some women surrounded the officials and demanded to know where they would put up at night.

“The authorities did not give us enough time to vacate the house. It is inhuman,’’ shouted Shanta Devi, a middle-aged lady whose family had been evicted.    

Kohima, Sept. 4: 
The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) today rejected the Khaplang faction’s offer of a three-month ceasefire from September 1. “We want unity and peace in all Naga-inhabited areas and not just in Nagaland,” the outfit’s “ministry of information and publicity” said in a statement here.

“We have always been opposed to the concept of a ceasefire within the so-called state of Nagaland only. The offer of a ceasefire (by the Khaplang faction) is nothing but an attempt to sabotage the possibility of unity among all sections of the Nagas,” it said.

Kholi Konyak, self-styled commander-in-chief of the NSCN(K), had offered a unilateral truce to the Isak-Muivah faction “in deference to the wishes of the Naga people and various organisations”.

In a statement on August 31, Konyak said certain groups and individuals were trying to create confusion in the “already muddled political arena”. He said the need of the hour was to mend fences and jointly work towards achieving the goal of “sovereignty”. Konyak said the NSCN(K) had always been willing to “forgive and forget” acts of aggression by the Isak-Muivah faction, provided the latter was repentant as well.

“Respecting the Nagas’ longing for peace and unity, the NSCN reaffirms its pledge to stick to the policy of forgive and forget,” the militant leader said.

Doubting Kholi’s intentions, the NSCN(I-M) said, “Why should he offer a ceasefire only inside Nagaland when his own people (the Konyaks) are living in Myanmar, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. This is nothing but an attempt to sabotage the peace process and prevent unity among all sections of the Nagas.”

Both the NSCN(K) and its rival outfit are under pressure to work out the modalities for a formal unification. However, the Isak-Muivah faction’s rejection of the truce offer is likely to drive the warring outfits further apart.

Zunheboto district was recently declared a “peace zone” in an effort to create a congenial atmosphere for unity among the two outfits. The Sumi Hoho, the apex organisation of the Sumi tribe, took the lead in convincing the warring outfits to cease hostilities in the district.

The Naga Hoho, which is the apex council of all Naga tribes, has also been trying to bring the two factions together. It has urged the rebel outfits to declare the entire state as a “peace zone”. Till last year, peace overtures made by the two outfits were restricted to cessation of hostilities prior to Christmas.

The NSCN(K), which is yet to sign a ceasefire agreement with the Centre, announced early this year that it was willing to participate in the Naga peace process.

Chief minister S.C. Jamir welcomed the NSCN(K)’s peace overtures, saying, “The outfit’s recent offer of a ceasefire is a welcome development. Every Naga should back the move.”

Joint secretary, Union home ministry, in-charge of Northeast, G.K. Pillai said the NSCN(I-M) interpreted the spirit of ceasefire between the two parties in “its own way. The NSCN(I-M) should understand the definition of ceasefire, which means an end to killings and violence,’’ he said.    

Ranchi, Sept. 4: 
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad claimed that it would dilute the growing influence of the church in the Jharkhand region through its Ekal Vidyalayas and Ram Mandals.

VHP central committee member Dharmanarayan Sharma told newsmen here today that the organisation has decided to set up the single-teacher schools and village committees or Ram Mandals to foil the Vatican’s “designs” to focus on Asia in the present decade.

Over 750 such schools have been set up and 125 full-time volunteers engaged in the region so far, said Sharma, who is also in charge of the Ekal Vidyalaya scheme. Many more will be opened soon to provide quality education to the village children as well as mobilise them and their parents under the VHP banner, he added.

Tribal boys and girls from the region were also sent to Ayodhya for a nine-month training on reciting Ram kathas, he said. Later they were sent to villages to open Ram Mandals and organise religious discourses, he added.

The Ram Mandals also co-ordinate religious activities in the respective villages, the VHP leader said. There are 850 VHP-sponsored village committees in South Bihar. The organisation has stepped up its activities following increasing attacks on Hindus in Tripura by the church-backed National Liberation Front of Tripura militants, Sharma said.

The killing of tribal Hindu saint Shanti Tripura, who was a senior VHP leader, by the extremists at his ashram last week is a reminder of the growing influence of church, he added.

A VHP-run hostel at Anandabazar in North Tripura was also set ablaze by extremists on July 8, while four abducted VHP activists still remain untraced, Sharma said. All district-level VHP committees have been directed to send memoranda to the President, the Prime Minister, the Union home minister and the Tripura Governor to highlight the recent spate of killings in Tripura. They will also press for “demolition” of militant bases along the border.    

Guwahati, Sept. 4: 
Security forces today advanced deep into the Manas National Park to flush out Ulfa militants taking shelter in the wildlife sanctuary since fleeing their camps in Bhutan.

Army, police and CRPF personnel cordoned off the park and its adjoining areas yesterday before launching a full-fledged offensive, director-general of police P.V. Sumant told The Telegraph.

Manas straddles both India and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Known across the border as the Royal Manas Park, part of the wildlife sanctuary’s Indian section is in Lower Assam’s Barpeta district and the rest under Bongaigaon district. Droves of militants reportedly sneaked into the national park following “infighting” in Ulfa camps across the Indo-Bhutan border. Additional director-general of police (operations) G.M. Srivastava said security forces swiftly moved into the park to prevent the rebels from using it as a corridor to other parts of the state.

He said the exodus of militants from Bhutan was confirmed when security forces heard gunshots being fired at Nanglang, 20 km inside Bhutan.

Nanglang is a riverine area in the Himalayan kingdom. The Ulfa has a transit camp there. “Immediately after hearing gunshots, police and CRPF personnel intensified patrolling along the border,” Srivastava said. The police official said Ulfa rebels were not feeling safe in Bhutan and were looking for an opportunity to enter Assam. “The majority of them have tired of jungle life and want to come overground. “But it is unlikely that the hardliners in the outfit will allow these militants to do so. The Nanglang incident could be a fallout of this,” he added.

Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who informed the Assembly on Saturday that at least 35 militants had entered Barpeta district from Bhutan, today confirmed that security forces were going full steam ahead with combing operations in Manas. Official sources said the Army has put personnel deployed along the Indo-Bhutan border on maximum alert following warnings that more militants of the Ulfa and the National Democratic Front of Boroland might try to sneak into Assam. A colonel of the 21 Mountain Division said two NDFB militants trying to cross over into Assam from Bhutan were killed in an encounter with security forces on the western fringes of Nalbari district, adjoining Barpeta, on Friday night.    


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