72-hour brake on buses
Basu says no to special status for chair
Woman burns herself to ward off evil eye
Knees under knife in Vajpayee wave
She stands on her own so others may walk
Seat crunch hits zoology honours students at CU
Settlers thwart high court expansion plan
Deadline set in kidnapping case
BJP councillor puts seal on demand for Koshala
Assam police chief replaced

Calcutta, Nov.1: 
Life in the city will be thrown out of gear on Thursday, with 4,500 private bus and minibus owners launching a 72-hour strike demanding increased fares, in the wake of hike in prices of petroleum products.

Taxis, government buses, chartered buses and auto-rickshaws will ply as usual and Metro Rail services will be normal.

The government has decided not to oppose the strike.

“We know that bus fares will have to be increased. But we are waiting for the Centre to announce something definite on the rollback of prices. We have learnt that an announcement is likely on Thursday. So, we have to wait. The bus and minibus operators have a democratic right to go on strike demanding higher fares. We will not oppose the strike,” transport minister Subhas Chakraborty said at Writers’ Buildings.

He added that chief minister Jyoti Basu wrote to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Wednesday, requesting him to take an immediate decision on the “vital issue”.

A memorandum has also been sent to Vajpayee by the Left Front.

The private bus and minibus owners alleged that they had been “let down” by the transport minister.

“He had assured us at a meeting on October 10 that fares of private buses and minibuses will be increased from November 1... We are now going in for a three-day strike. If the government does not increase the fares, we will be forced to launch an indefinite strike,” said Ajit Saha, president of Bengal Bus Syndicate.

Private bus-owners have demanded a minimum fare of Rs 3 for the first six kilometres. For the next two, they have demanded 50 paise more and another 25-paise hike for every subsequent four kilometres.

The minibus-owners have demanded a minimum fare of Rs 4 for the first two kilometres and Re 1 for every subsequent kilometre.

“The increase in fares should not only be on the basis of hike in the price of diesel. There has been a 40 per cent rise in the price of spares and a 20 per cent hike in the price of various types of lubricating oil over the past year,” pointed out Sadhan Das, general secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates.

Taxi-owners, however, said they were giving the government another week to sort out matters.

“The transport minister has indicated that there will be some kind of announcement on revision of fare structures of public transport vehicles by November 7. So, we will wait till then,” said Kalyan Bhadra, president of Bengal Taxi Association.    

Calcutta, Nov.1: 
Trust Jyoti Basu to have the last word in the kissa of the kursi he will be vacating on Friday.

Under pressure from comrades to allow the wooden chair that has been his seat of power for the past 11 years at Writer’s Buildings to be preserved as a “part of history”, Basu put his foot down on Wednesday. The outgoing chief minister asked successor Buddhadev Bhattacharya to direct public works department minister Kshiti Goswami to “drop all plans to preserve the chair”.

Much to Goswami’s disappointment, Bhattacharya announced on Wednesday evening that the plan, ratified so vociferously at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, was being “abandoned” at the chief’s request.

“Jyotibabu is not at all keen to have the chair preserved as a piece of history,” Bhattacharya said. “But I will not sit on the chair that Jyotibabu has been using for such a long time,” he added.

Instead, Bhattacharya plans to shift the chair he is using presently to the chief minister’s chamber. “Jyotibabu’s chair is the property of the public works department and it will probably have it removed,” he said.

Basu had insisted during his final Cabinet meeting that there should be no move to preserve a “piece of furniture”, as it amounted to “deification”, which a true Marxist could not allow.

But he was opposed by adamant colleagues, who insisted that they would “defy him this one time during a Cabinet meeting”.

Goswami remained firm on his stand that the chair ought to be taken out of Writers’ Building and kept as a memento. He had even directed PWD officials to act accordingly. Officials said a carpenter was to polish the 2 ft-by-2-ft chair before it was taken away to the PWD archives.

Defying the chief minister-designate’s directive, state irrigation minister and senior RSP leader Debabrata Bandopadhay said on Wednesday that the chair would be preserved “despite Basu’s reservations... The chair is precious to us.”

State fisheries minister Kiranmoy Nanda also felt that the chair “must be preserved for posterity”. “I personally pleaded with Basu at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting to allow us to preserve the chair. Over a dozen Cabinet colleagues, including transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, environment minister Manab Mukherjee and fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee supported me,” he said.

Several bureaucrats at Writers’, who’ve watched Basu in action for years, said on Wednesday that his chair should be “specially kept aside” as it symbolised a unique phase in Bengal’s political history.    

Calcutta, Nov.1: 
Convinced that it was the only way to ward off the evil spirits haunting her family, a 35-year-old housewife set herself on fire early on Wednesday. The victim was identified as Bijoli Ghosh, of the railway quarters in Narkeldanga.

The deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Narayan Ghosh, confirmed that “superstition” and “fear of black magic” had led to the suicide. No complaint was lodged with Narkeldanga police station, and no arrests carried out till late on Wednesday.

The incident took place around 6 am when Bijoli was alone in the house, where she had been living with husband, Kamal Kumar Ghosh, and daughter Sayantika for the past six years.

Her husband told the police that he woke up around 5.15 am and left home a little while later to escort their eight-year-old daughter to the bus stand.

“As soon as my daughter boarded the school bus, I returned home and noticed the door locked from inside. I knocked on the door, but there was no reply. Then, I started banging against it and shouting out Bijoli’s name. I realised that something was wrong,” Kamal Kumar, an employee of a private firm, said.

In his desperation, he managed to open one of the windows and look in. To his horror, he found his wife engulfed in flames.

On failing to break down the door by himself, he called out for help. By the time neighbours gathered on the spot and smashed opened the door, it was too late.

Bijoli’s charred, lifeless body lay on the floor. She was rushed to R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital where she was declared “brought dead”.

Preliminary investigation revealed that trouble in the Ghosh household began a year ago when Gouranga Saha and family moved into an adjacent flat.

There was constant friction between the Ghoshs and the Sahas over the slightest of things.

“Bijoli Ghosh was convinced that the new neighbours had cast an evil eye over her happy family. This became something of an obsession with her and she started to believe that Gouranga Saha was casting a black magic spell over her household,” said Narayan Ghosh.

She convinced her husband to shift out of the quarters before the neighbours “destroyed her family”. Kamal Kumar Ghosh started constructing a house at Keshtopur, but a funds crunch forced him to stop midway.

But time was running out for Bijoli. Desperate to purge her household of the evil spirit, she decided to kill herself.    

Calcutta, Nov.1: 
She’s had it done twice, once before Prime Minister Vajpayee had it done and once on Wednesday. Sixty-year-old Sabita Ganguly has had total replacement of both her knees, and she did not have to travel all the way to Mumbai for it.

Before June this year, the Chinsurah-based housewife had to traverse the 40-odd km to Peerless Hospital by ambulance and wheelchair, for she could barely bend her knees because of rheumatoid arthritis. “She suffered intense pain whenever she moved her joints and when she walked, she would just about drag her feet,” said husband Santosh Ganguly, a retired secondary school teacher.

The right knee was operated on by orthopaedic surgeon Probir Kumar Banerjee on June 7. “The improvement was remarkable. She dragged just the left leg and was pining to get the other one corrected as well. As soon as the doctor said it was okay and as soon as we could muster resources, we got it done. When Mr Vajpayee was operated on, we knew what was happening,” said the former teacher, who had even felt slightly elated while explaining the procedure to his neighbours.

But not everyone was as much in the know as he. The Prime Minister’s operation has opened the eyes of hundreds of people in and around the city, usually above the age of 60, who suffer from either rheumatoid arthritis or degenerative osteoarthritis. Medical sources say about 60 per cent of those who have crossed 60 have these problems, of whom the condition of up to 20 per cent is suitable for surgery.

“The media exposure that the Prime Minister’s operation received has increased awareness about the problem and that a remedy is possible,” said Banerjee, who has done over 860 total knee replacement surgeries since 1994 at Peerless Hospital. Inquiries have gone up almost 10 times, and dates till December-end have been fixed.

Indeed, after Vajpayee made it fashionable, many Calcuttans are willing to put their knees under the scalpel for joint replacements in city hospitals. The members of at least two businessmen’s families had even gone to Mumbai with all relevant papers and X-rays to consult Chittaranjan Ranawat while he was in Mumbai.

“But they came back disappointed, for they did not learn anything more than what they already knew after meeting doctors here,” the surgeon said.

Wednesday’s operation took a little over two hours. “It was done under general anaesthesia. We used the low-contact, stress-bearing knee, or rotating platform procedure,” Banerjee explained.

“The procedure for one knee, including hospital stay and medicine, involves about Rs 1.2 lakh,” said P. Dutta-Ray, the hospital’s chief marketing manager. And the risks? Says Banerjee: “The most serious threat is the possibility of infection. There could also be a misalignment, which could result in persistent pain and restriction in movement.”

If the operation is successful, at least 90 per cent of the original leg movement can be regained, and the parts last for about 15 years.

The operation is carried out at several other centres, including Kothari Medical Centre, where seven to eight cases are attended to in a month. Hospital super S. Sahay says enquiries have increased from last month, as has been the case at the Bhattacharya Orthopaedic Research Centre at Narainpur, near Koikhali. Ranawat himself has performed a few replacement surgeries here.    

Calcutta, Nov.1: 
It’s nine in the morning, and the sound of children praying in unison can be heard all over the school on Gurusaday Road. This is no ordinary school. It is run by a young woman who lost the use of her legs in childhood all because of a doctor’s mistake. When she was only a month old, a doctor made a near-fatal blunder. But she was not to be subdued by it.

Gunjan Tibrawalla (27) decided to treat that as a challenge, and the endeavour of her life has been not to surrender to fate. Now, she has become her own mistress. And she has proved that a handicap is no hindrance.

Gunjan, who has a mind that is ever alert, always wanted to work with children: “I was only waiting for the right training and adequate knowledge which would enable me to do what I wanted.”

But, unfortunately, she could not get any formal degree, as the system as it existed then had many gaps in it. This is where the Indian Montessori Centre stepped in and provided her with all the help she needed.

Ultimately, Gunjan succeeded in opening Innocent Smiles, a Montessori school for children on January 18, 1995. She was backed by teachers trained at the Indian Montessori Centre. In 1998, another branch opened on Hazra Road.

Gunjan is helped in her activities by sister Anuja and sister-in-law Sharmila, who manages the Hazra branch. Anuja helps with Gunjan at the Gurusaday Road branch.

Besides indoor activities, Innocent Smiles encourages a lot of outdoor action too, like swimming and physical training, to help in the overall development of the child. The school believes in catching them young and introduces them to computers at three-plus.

She studies her charges carefully and has noticed that they take to a box of water colours and crayons at an early age. Similarly, the children love to work with mathematical apparatus, particularly the strip boards.

“I feel this concrete knowledge they get builds a very strong foundation for future studies,” comments Gunjan.

Similarly, they introduce languages the phonetic way, which makes studies very interesting and simple for the children. “Children really enjoy the simple manner in which they do history and geography via the cultural subjects,” she says.

It gives her a sense of happiness when she sees children enjoy learning, participating in various activities and learning how to handle equipment. The children are given ample independence necessary for physical and emotional development.

“A child is never forced to do anything. He works of his own will and for as long as he wants,” she says.

Gunjan is so busy working she hardly has time for rest.

She reaches school by nine every morning and is with the children till 12.30 pm. After lunch, she starts planning for the next day. The evenings she spends with her family.

“I don’t like a siesta or to sit idle,” she stresses. The school is open from Monday to Friday and on the other days, students are prepared for interviews in different schools.

Gunjan has big plans for her school but there is hardly any space to execute her plans. But being the gutsy woman that she is, she has taken it up as a challenge.    

Calcutta, Nov.1: 
Forty first-class honours graduates in zoology from Calcutta University have begun an indefinite sit-in in front of CU’s main administrative building demanding admission to the post-graduate course.

They have been refused admission to CU’s M.Sc course in zoology though all of them scored above 60 per cent marks in the university’s B.Sc Part II examinations this year, with honours in the same subject.

The students, most of whom studied the B.Sc course in various colleges in Calcutta, have been running from pillar to post ever since the B.Sc Part II results were declared in July. But there has been no positive response from either the government or the university so far, they said.

University registrar Tapan Kumar Mukherjee said this was a serious case that needed to be discussed at the Syndicate meeting. He, however, did not specify either when the next Syndicate meeting would be held or how the students would be accommodated.

The situation is a fallout of a government decision to introduce honours courses in a large number of colleges in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal, sources in the university said. However, the government had not taken any measure to increase the number of seats in the corresponding post-graduate courses.

This has resulted in a sharp rise in the number of successful candidates in zoology, which, subsequently, led to a rise in the number of first-class students. In Calcutta, the master’s course in zoology is taught in Calcutta University, Presidency College and Maulana Azad College. The courses taught by the two city colleges are affiliated to CU.

There are approximately 95 seats for general-category students in the three colleges. Things went out of hand as 136 students have obtained first class only from the general category. According to sources in the university, this year, nearly 800 students had taken the B.Sc Part II (zoology) examinations. Usually, 500 to 600 examinees write the test.    

Calcutta, Nov.1: 
After the pavements, the seat of law. Eviction problems are in the way of the expansion of the high court. Even though funds are ready, the construction of the proposed third building has yet to start as the Assembly authorities have failed to rehabilitate their employees, settled on the land.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu was to have laid the foundation stone of the building prior to his retirement. But that is unlikely now.

The plot in question is owned by the Assembly. Situated opposite the north gate of the Assembly, it was earlier a tram depot. Later, encroachers erected stalls there. In a bid to stop them, the Assembly authorities gave permission to their Class IV staff to settle there. Meanwhile, the high court asked the state government for the plot and was granted it.

Recently, the Assembly requested the high court authorities to accommodate its staff members living there in the vacant court staff quarters. But the request was turned down. Sources say the proposed building can solve the space crunch faced by the high court. Many judges do not have a proper court room. As a result, disposal of cases is being hampered, an official said.    

Calcutta, Nov.1: 
Sub-divisional judicial magistrate, Alipore, S.P. Chakroborty, has directed the Calcutta Police detective department to submit a final report on the Sharad Nangia kidnapping case by November 11.

The magistrate issued the order on Tuesday on an appeal by Jayanta Roy, father of one of the accused in the case, stating that the investigating agency was delaying the chargesheet. Nangia, a cellphone businessman, lodged a complaint with the police on November 11, 1999, stating that he was kidnapped by three youth, Debojyoti Roy, Chandan Saha and Hridaynath Roy. However, Narayan Ghosh, new deputy commissioner, headquarters, who was chief of the detective department till Tuesday, said: “Our investigation is complete and we will submit the final report on the day directed by the magistrate.”    

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 1: 
The demand for a separate Koshala state in Orissa got a shot in the arm after the municipality of Sambalpur town passed a resolution last evening.

The resolution, moved by BJP councillor Golak Bihari Mishra, was accepted unanimously by the Congress-dominated 29-member council. Sambalpur municipality chairman Anand Jena and 28 other councillors put their seal of approval on the resolution which highlighted the “neglect and stepmotherly attitude” of the rulers of Orissa since Independence.

Copies of the resolution have been sent to the Centre, the state government, the district collector and the revenue divisional commissioner.

Talking to The Telegraph from his Sambalpur residence over the phone, Jena said a separate Koshala state has become necessary as the Western Orissa Development Council has failed to safeguard the interests of the people of the region. “The BJD-BJP alliance government is no better. They have failed the people,” Jena, a Congress member, added.

The plan for a separate Koshala state envisaged carving out of 15 districts of southern and western Orissa. These include Koraput, Kalahandi, Sambalpur, Bolangir, Sundargarh and Keonjhar.

The name of the “state” has been derived from the erstwhile princely state of Koshala of the 12th century, which included the present-day Chhattisgarh and some western Orissa districts.

The resolution criticised the state government for “neglecting development projects in Sambalpur”. Jena said the government was so “callous that it brought down the number of beneficiaries under the Annapurna Yojana from 264 to 100”. It had also transferred the lone doctor in the maternity hospital, he added.

The demand for a separate Koshala state had been raised by BJP legislator from Bolangir Balgopal Mishra recently. Another Congress legislator from the region had also supported the demand at a recent function.

The Sambalpur Lawyers Association recently passed a resolution demanding the formation of a separate State. The BJD and the BJP have distanced themselves from the move. State BJP president Manmohan Samal and BJD secretary-general Prasanna Acharya refused comment on the resolution. However, the state Congress bigwigs are believed to be opposed to the creation of a separate Koshala State.

The Sambalpur Municipality chairman said it was up to the state to take action on the resolution. “We have made our points clear. If the government sits silent, then we would think about our next course of action,” he said.

Staines case: A sessions court here admitted a petition from Chenchu Hansda who was sentenced to 14 years’ detention by a juvenile court in the Graham Staines murder case.

The petition sought a stay order on the directions issued by the juvenile court.    

Guwahati, Nov. 1: 
Heads continued to roll over last week’s Nalbari massacre as the Assam government today removed director-general of police P.V. Sumant and appointed Hare Krishna Deka as the new police chief.

Deka, a Sahitya Akademi award-winning poet and an IPS officer of the 1968 batch, was hitherto the additional director-general of police (special branch).

Sumant’s removal from the “hot seat”, a move perceived as having political undertones, came on a day when the state spontaneously observed a 12-hour bandh in protest against the killings. The bandh was called by the Asom Yuba Parishad, the youth wing of the ruling Asom Gana Parishad. A silent procession was also taken out in Nalbari town.

Sumant’s new assignment will be as chairman-cum-managing director of the obscure Assam Police Housing Corporation. He is apparently being “punished” for failing to arrest the spurt in mass killings by militants.

No less than 30 people, including 5 policemen, have been killed in the fresh bout of violence in the state. The killings are believed to have been orchestrated by the proscribed Ulfa. Apart from relieving Sumant of the DGP’s post, the government — facing a barrage of criticism for failing to rein in the militants — has decided to replace the Nalbari deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police. The official notification is expected to be issued in a day or two.

Sources said the decision to replace Sumant was taken at a Cabinet meeting chaired by Mahanta before he left for the United States on Monday.

The government’s knee-jerk reaction to the Nalbari incident has raised eyebrows as it did not take similar steps against the deputy commissioners and superintendents of police of Tinsukia and Dibrugarh after the recent massacre of 15 people, 11 of them from the Bihari community.

Political factors came into play as the AGP found itself in a tight corner after the Nalbari killings.

Apart from the Lower Assam town being an AGP stronghold, what hastened Sumant’s removal is the fact that the community to which 10 of the Nalbari victims belonged is a major contributor to the ruling party’s coffers.

Immediately after taking charge, Sumant’s successor talked tough, saying he would use all the resources at his command to end violence in the state. He said there was a “pattern” to the recent killings, something that indicated the ISI’s involvement.

Deka also claimed that though the Ulfa leadership had earlier “rejected” the ISI’s strategy to carry out massacres, the outfit may have finally adopted it “just to make its presence felt”.    


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