Sharpest drop in decade
Kasba case wrapped up, Buddha tells victim’s kin
Police to enforce school bus order
Teaching the teachers to teach English
Gang warfare erupts in Tiljala
Undertrial dies in custody
Few takers for introspection
Vigilante unit assaults cops
Good deeds spread cheer in Howrah’s dingy slums
Jamatya leader hacked to death by rebels

Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Calcuttans, brace yourselves for the chill. Sunday’s sudden four-degree drop in minimum temperature, from 17.5 degrees Celsius to 13.6 degrees Celsius — the sharpest fall over a 24-hour period recorded in the last 10 years —— had people scurrying for their woollens.

The weather office said on Monday that after a brief lull over the next couple of days, the temperatures are expected to drop sharply again.

Even though the minimum temperature rose by 0.7 degree to 14.3 on Monday, officials said that about a week from now, winter will intensify again when the high-pressure belt over Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which weakened on Monday, becomes stronger and pushes the North Wind more vigorously towards Calcutta.

“For the next six days, the minimum temperature will hover around 14 degrees Celsius. Then, this high pressure will strengthen and lead to an increase in the North Wind’s speed in Calcutta and elsewhere in Gangetic West Bengal. The wind sweeps across Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar before reaching Calcutta,” said deputy director of the Alipore Met office, Mihir Guha.

Met officials said that Sunday’s sudden drop in temperature was caused by a strong high-pressure belt over Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which drove the North Wind through snow-covered Kashmir, then Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and on to Calcutta.

The minimum temperature in districts like Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia have plummeted even further, compared with Calcutta. On Monday, Purulia recorded 9 degrees, Bankura 9.7 degrees and Midnapore 11.6 degrees. In Darjeeling, the minimum temperature on Monday was 9.2 degrees.

“It is still snowing in Kashmir and the minimum temperature there on Monday morning was minus 4 degrees. In Amritsar and its neighbourhood, the minimum temperature is around zero and Bihar, UP and MP are faced with a moderate cold wave. Under the circumstances, we cannot rule out another sharp drop in the minimum temperature a week from now,” an official said.

Monday’s minimum temperature of 14.3 degrees was a degree below normal. “Today’s temperature is nothing unusual. Around this time of the year, the minimum temperature is generally 15 degrees with a degree’s upward or downward fluctuation. What is really unusual is Saturday’s four-degree drop in the minimum temperature,” Guha added.

He said that winter this year was, in fact, late by about five days. “We generally have winter set in by November 20. This year, it came five days later. We usually consider the period between December 15 and January 10 as the coldest period of winter. Over the past six decades, the weather office has recorded a lowest of 7.2 degrees at Alipore in 1966 and 6.1 degrees at Dum Dum in 1945,” said Guha.

The cloudless Calcutta sky now, according to deputy director Guha, is ideal for winter.

The sale of sweaters picked up during the day, with people making a beeline to buy woollens at prominent city markets.    

Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told Shyamal and Jonaki Ghosh, parents of Kaustuv, who was killed by dacoits at Uttar Purbachal on November 19, that “all culprits” had been arrested.

“I am very sorry that I cannot bring your son back and I have no words to console you,” Bhattacharjee told Kaustuv’s parents when they met him in his office at Writers’ Buildings on Monday morning. “But I assure you that the culprits have been arrested.”

To this, Kaustuv’s father said: “Please take appropriate action so that no parents lose their son in this manner.” Bhattacharjee promised “appropriate action” against Kaustuv’s killers.

A gang of about 20 dacoits had raided Ghosh’s house, shot the 19-year-old student of computer engineering, beat up his parents, and looted cash and ornaments.

Jonaki Ghosh started to recount the night of horror but was stopped by Bhattacharjee, who told her he knew all about the incident. “Do not hesitate to tell me if you need anything,’’ Bhattacharjee told her.

Later, speaking to newspersons, the chief minister said he had requested Shyamal and Jonaki Ghosh to call on him. “When I had visited their house a day after the attack, Kaustuv’s father was unwell,” said Bhattacharjee.

When asked whether the government would announce any compensation for the family, Bhattacharjee said the family had not “asked for anything”, but he had assured them of “every assistance”.

The Kasba killing, in the chief minister’s constituency, had caused near-panic on the southern fringes of the city, forcing Bhattacharjee to drive his police force into full action mode.

While commending the police for rounding up the chief accused in the Kasba dacoity, Bhattacharjee has asked them to “take special measures in tackling dacoits” and also urged his cadre and the local residents to be “more alert”.    

Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Armed with a Supreme Court ruling, the police are all set to apply safety norms for school buses. The traffic wing of the police will launch a fortnight’s awareness campaign for bus operators and school authorities next week.

In a recent order, the Supreme Court has asked all schools and agencies, who use their vehicles to carry pupils, to follow the 10 directives whereby it is imperative to have the first-aid box, a water-tank and the fire-extinguisher in each and every school bus.

The Delhi police have already begun a drive to ensure all school buses follow the directives.

There are number of private schools, such as Ballygunge Shiksha Sadan, South Point, Modern High, Ashok Hall, Sri Shikshayatan and Mahadevi Birla, who have their own buses.

There are others, like Carmel Convent, Birla High and St John’s Diocesan, who avail of chartered buses. A kindergarten student of Sri Shikshayatan was run over by a school bus inside her own school a few months ago.

Acting DC (Traffic) K.L. Tamta said if the school authorities and bus operators ignored the directives even after the 15-day campaign, stern action would be taken against them.

At present, 650 buses belonging to the West Bengal Contract Carriage Owners and Operators Association ply in the city. These buses carry 20,000 students of different schools everyday.

Himadri Ganguly, joint secretary of the association, said they are ready to follow the Supreme Court’s directives. Said Ganguly: “We always welcome such steps to prevent accidents. We do not have a clear idea of safety measures required for a school bus. We will take part in the awareness campaign.”

School authorities, too, are ready to cooperate with the police. “We welcome the court’s directions. If the police call us, we will participate in their awareness campaign, And, of course, we will follow the directives,” said P. Acharya, principal of Ballygunge Shiksha Sadan.

A spokesperson of South Point School said its authorities were not aware of the Supreme Court directives, but they are willing to take part in the campaign.

Tamta said an order will be issued to apply all the court directives and police will be very strict about ensuring that they are followed.

According to the Supreme Court’s order, a school bus-driver should have five years’ experience. “We will check if the drivers have enough experience. If they are found wanting, action will be initiated against them,” Tamta added.    

Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Teach the teachers what to teach the students. That seems to be the motto of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, struggling to cope with the government’s decision to re-introduce English at the primary level in about 8,000 schools.

“Many of our English teachers are poor in pronunciation and lack proper teaching methods. The government had instructed school teachers to converse in English with the students during classes. But about 95 per cent of the teachers and students have not developed communication skills,” said Prithwis Bose, leader of the West Bengal Headmasters’ Association.

As a first step towards schooling the teachers, the Board has decided to train about 40 from all districts in Bengal, including eight from the city, with the help of the British Council. Two experts from London are expected to conduct a workshop on English teaching in mid- January. These 40 teachers will then be considered “resource persons” and engaged by the Board authorities to improve the skill and ability of English teaching at the secondary-level schools throughout Bengal.

Arun Kiran Chakraborty, president of the Board, said: “After the training, these teachers will go back to their respective schools and help other teachers improve their communication skills and the ability to teach English at the secondary level.”

There are plans to select “at least two teachers from each district”. If necessary, different teachers’ organisations will be asked to select their representatives, on the basis of experience and academic excellence.

The State Council for Educational Research and Training had, in the past, organised teachers’ training programmes. But this is the first time that a proper workshop is being organised with the help of the British Council.

The drive to “improve the standard of English teaching” in government-sponsored schools is ultimately aimed at wooing students from private English medium institutions. At present, about seven lakh students are enrolled in the 8,000 seconday schools in the state. The Bengal government had abolished English from the primary level in 1981, but was forced to reintroduce it in 1998, following a state-wide agitation by several teachers’ organisations, students and parents bodies. Now, English is being taught from Class II.

But the re-introduction of English at the primary level has not solved the fundamental problem of the poor standards in teaching the language. “The wide gap between private and government schools is highlighted in the standard of English. There is no denying the importance of English as the universal language in today’s competitive world. Without a basic command over the language and the ability to communicate in it, our students will be severely handicapped,” observed a Board official.    

Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
At least four persons were injured on Sunday night after two groups clashed over the supply of building materials in Tiljala, in the city’s southern fringe. Both groups fired and hurled bombs at each other. Five persons have been arrested.

Trouble broke out on Sridhar Roy Road, where a multi-storeyed building is coming up. At around 10 pm, some local youth chased materials supplier Dilip when he came to the site. They asked him to leave and threatened him with dire consequences if he returned. They told him they would supply building materials henceforth.

Dilip returned after a short while with some armed youth, who started hurling bombs immediately after alighting from a taxi.

On hearing the bombs go off, the local goons stepped out with bombs and pistols and started retaliating. Both the groups were then locked in a bitter fight, breaking the silence of the night.

Javed Khan, local Trinamul Congress councillor and member, mayor-in-council (health), said on Monday: “Both groups that clashed on Saturday belonged to the CPM. They have created hell in the area with the help of local goons.”

However, a local CPM leader, who denied the allegation, said: “None of our party members was involved in this clash. The area was quite peaceful but trouble started erupting only after the recent Calcutta Municipal Corporation elections.”

Aloke Sen, a local resident, said the spurt in clashes in the area was rooted in the rivalry among several groups of anti-socials. These anti-socials, who allegedly roam the area as ‘promoters’, supply building materials of inferior quality and anyone who fails to buy from them is threatened with dire consequences.

Jugal Kishore Mukherjee, officer-in-charge of Tiljala police station, said: “Dilip was quite new in this profession. He was trying to capture the area with the help of his henchmen. We have already arrested five persons involved in this incident and hope to arrest the rest within a day or two.”

ail services resume: Rail services on the stretch from Bandel, Katwa, Salar, Karna Subarna to Azimgunge, on Eastern Railway’s Howrah division, will be restored from Tuesday morning.

The ER authorities have checked the rail tracks by running empty rakes on Monday. The Bandel- Katwa-Azimgunge section was seriously affected in the recent floods.    

Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Archan Champati, a 30-year-old undertrial prisoner and resident of Santragachhi, died in Howrah on Monday. He was arrested two months ago on charges of abetting his wife, Minati, to commit suicide. Minati had hanged herself with a sari at her in-laws.

Archan was arrested on a complaint lodged by his neighbours, who said he would beat his wife regularly and instigate her to kill herself. Sources said Archan’s condition started deteriorating after his arrest and he had to be treated in hospital. He was rushed to Howrah General Hospital a few days ago after he fell unconscious and complained of asphyxiation. Police have ruled out foul play behind the death.    

Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
It seems that we have thrown the baby with the bathwater, said Professor P. Krishna, trustee of the Krishnamurti Foundation India. He added: “In a bid to be secular, we have not only thrown out the illusory differences of religion but also left no space in our society for true religious thought. Scientific progress alone is not enough. The study of the self is essential to generate a flowering of virtue.”

He was addressing a 50-strong gathering at 10, Deodar Street,where a 10-year-old Self-Education Centre was making a fresh start.

Back in 1990, J.K. Patnaik, inspired by the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti, set about providing Calcuttans with the much-needed space for spiritual enquiry. Now in his 70s, the reputed physicist has decided to hand over charge to the Foundation.

Dwijen Sarkar, who remembers how he had to wrest the Deodar Street plot out of the clutches of anti-socials and businessmen, feels he has tried fruitlessly to give shape to Patnaik’s dream. “The general public is apathetic to such projects. Even now, we have only a few regular visitors. We have even lost many valuable books from the library,” he rues.

Open every Saturday and Sunday, the centre is a spacious, four-storeyed building. The top floor houses a spacious meditation room, or Silent Room, which is bereft of any icon.

Below is an auditorium, where audio/video recordings are played, not only of the teachings of Krishnamurti but also on subjects like alternative medicine, animal husbandry and Western classical music.

On the floors below are two free libraries on general subjects (books on other religions, etc) and the complete works of Jiddu Krishnamurti.

The recent workshop at the centre primarily discussed ways of improving the Calcutta scenario.

The organisers hope to do this by involving schools and colleges in the centre’s activities by organising debates and seminars on different facets of everyday life.

Advertisements and cultural events, they hope, will arouse public interest in self-awareness through introspection, as Jiddu Krishnamurti advocated.    

Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Four policemen of the Intelligence Branch were roughed up at Tiljala on Sunday by members of a local vigilant party, who mistook them for dacoits.

Around 10.30 pm, five policemen of the IB went to a multi-storeyed building in Tagore Park. As soon as their Tata Sumo stopped, members of an RG party closed in. Sensing trouble, the driver drove off. This confirmed the RG party’s suspicion. They chased and caught four of them.

The policemen tried to establish their identity but failed. Some “outsiders”, who had joined the argument, started to heckle them. They were left locked in a room. The local police later came and rescued them.

“We had come to reach some household items to Mahendra Sharma, a colleague, who has recently taken a flat on rent here. We did not bring our identity cards as we did not foresee such harassment”, one of the five said.

“Some days ago, seven persons came to this house in a Tata Sumo and asked the caretaker to keep silent. But we reached on time. Yesterday’s incident took place due to a misunderstanding. How could we believe them without any proof of identity?” an RG party member countered.

Jugal Kishore Mukherjee, officer-in-charge of Tiljala police station, said on Monday: “Last night’s problem could have been avoided if the local people were not so aggressive.”    

Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Abida Khatooaz, 14, proudly holds up the beautiful tortoise she has woven with jute fibre and colourful beads for her friends to see. Rabia Khatun and her sister Amiya are also keen to show off their handiwork, chic little purses made of the same stuff.

They are among the several hundred girls, mostly daughters of poor divorcees or young widows, all gainfully occupied at vocational training centres run by United Brothers Association in Howrah. Such centres at Bakultala, Anandnagar, Bankra and Tulsiberia train the girls in tailoring, weaving and other crafts, providing them with a tool to face the harsh challenges of life.

The seeds of this comprehensive development centre in the semi-urban and rural outskirts of Howrah district were sown way back in 1972, when Mohammed Kamruddin, a permanent health worker in the Pilkhana medical unit of Dominique Lapierre, met Brother Gaston Gradjean, a Swiss missionary working in the south Howrah slums.

Gradjean was so taken up by Kamruddin’s “zeal and commitment”, that he decided to stay back and improve the lot of the under-privileged in the district, hand-in-hand with the diminutive homoeopath (Kamruddin had obtained a homoeo degree from a night college).

UBA started off as the Royal Sporting Club in 1982. “We used to organise funds for weddings, funerals and help out people in emergencies like serious illness, thefts, burglaries or fire. But there’s so much suffering in these areas that our limited resources were simply not enough. So, we applied for registration and Royal Sporting became UBA in 1986,” explains Kamruddin.

“Dominique dada” was largely instrumental in organising overseas funds for UBA’s projects, along with his wife, Brother Gradjean (now Dayanand), Melanie Doutaz and Father Bernhart of Germany. “But, foreign funds alone can’t help mitigate the suffering in the slums. We have 33 dedicated field officers who, through their untiring efforts, bring a little cheer to life in the dingy slums,” says Kamruddin whose parents migrated from Uttar Pradesh in 1952.

UBA now has a plethora of welfare projects like the charitable homoeopathic dispensaries in the bustees of Tikiapara, Bankra and New Bustee Nazirganj.

“I don’t have money to pay the bus fare to Howrah General Hospital,” says Khurshid Ahmed, who takes his ailing daughter Raquiba to the Nazirganj clinic. The social welfare development project offers scholarships and school uniforms to students, subsidises medical treatment for the needy and organises free eye operation camps. The Talibia Memorial Institute in Bankra provides education to 300 students, besides giving them library facilities.

The Self-Help Easy Employment Project (SHEEP), started by Brother Dayanand, helps those passing out from the vocational training-cum-adult education centre to become self-employed. A housing project started by UBA in 1982 rehabilitated 47 families of rickshaw-pullers and brick-kiln workers who “used to live on pavements”.

“One of our dream projects is Mariam’s Kinara, a rehab home for retired sex workers who starve on the streets of Howrah. Land has already been acquired in Bankra for the purpose,” says Brother Dayanand, suffering from acute asthma.

UBA recently found another overseas ally in Tetra Pak of Sweden, which donated milk to the Belari Polly Bikash Samity for children suffering from malnutrition. Part of the Tetra Pak milk was diverted to flood-ravaged Murshidabad by UBA and Kamruddin made a number of trips with his field workers, reaching relief material to remote villages.    

Agartala, Dec. 4: 
Preparations for the plenary session of the Jamatya Hoda (community council) have received a jolt with the killing of a Hoda member last night.

Police sources said Jalushmoni Jamatya (38), a surrendered militant and a government employee, was hacked to death in remote Teiharchong village under Udaipur police station last night. Jamatya was on his way to Haticherra village in south Maharani area to attend a convention of the Moyal Hoda (regional Jamatya council) when he was waylaid by NLFT marauders. His body was recovered by the police from Udaipur this morning.

The killing has sparked tension among the Jamatya tribals on the eve of a crucial Hoda convention. The two-day session, to be chaired by council chief Bikram Bahadur Jamatya, on December 9-10 is expected to chalk out a foolproof strategy to counter NLFT depredations. It will be held at Hadupa village under Teliamura police station.

Bikram Bahadur said the session will reconstitute the Jamatya community council and draw up a strategy to counter NLFT interference in the religious rites of the Hindu tribals.

Jamatya, who is revered both by tribals and non-tribals because of his sustained campaign against violence and militancy, said over 500 delegates representing 321 Jamatya-dominated localities would attend the session. Bikram Bahadur said the Jamatya Hoda was a non-political body committed to the social uplift of the community.

Official sources, however, fear that the NLFT may subvert the session and security around the site has been beefed up to prevent any untoward incident.

The fear stems from the fact that on December 9, a high-powered VHP delegation led by the outfit’s international secretary Acharya Giriraj Kishore will arrive here to take part in a series of programmes.

The VHP will launch an agitation against the conversion of Hindu tribals and non-tribals to Christianity by the Church in the region. The VHP has set up “dharma suraksha” committees to counter forced conversion drives by the NLFT in the Hindu-dominated areas. Local VHP leaders are also planning to set up a committee of Bajrang Dal activists in the state. The VHP’s decision was announced shortly after former Tripura National Volunteers chief Bijoy Hrangkhawl decided to constitute a volunteer force comprising 12,000 tribal youth in response to the anti-NLFT stand taken by Jamatyas, Chakmas, Uchoi and Koloi trial communities. Vatican envoy’s visit: Vatican ambassador to India Lorenzo Baldisseri paid a day’s visit to the state yesterday to inaugurate the newly-constructed bishop’s house, “Jibjyoti”. Addressing a meeting, attended by the 10 bishops of the Northeast and Governor K.M. Seth, Baldisseri said peace and amity were imperative for national development. He said the Catholic Church here was working for the poor and the downtrodden.

VHP sources, however, questioned the motive behind Baldisseri’s sudden arrival. They said the visit was probably aimed at stimulating the sagging morale of the Catholic community in the face of the NLFT’s onslaught backed by the rival Baptist Church.

Border fencing

A high-level technical team from Delhi will arrive here shortly to supervise fencing along the Indo-Bangladesh border.

In the first phase, 120 km of the state’s 856-km border with Bangladesh will be fenced. The fencing will cover 400 km of the porous border. Highly-placed sources in the Border Security Force (BSF) said fencing work would be done on the Punjab model to make it foolproof against infiltration, particularly in the hilly terrain. Sources said at present nine BSF battalions were posted along the border and two more battalions would be deployed soon. The Union home ministry has already sanctioned Rs 8 crore for initial fencing work, they added.

Inspector-general of police, Border Security Force (Tripura, Cachar and Mizoram sectors) Arvind Rohan said the BSF was helping other paramilitary forces and the state government in fighting militancy besides discharging their normal duties.

“Last year BSF jawans shot dead two militants and arrested 63 while nine militants have been captured this year though,’’ he said. He added that the BSF was also trying to stem illegal border trade.    


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