Bitter chocolate bust
Drug-resistant strain gains ground in city
Girl killed, 7 injured in accidents
Abduction over cellphone theft
Beeline for Madhyamik model
Don’t mess with moustache, showcaused purser tells
Postal staff paralyse services
ONGC to boost oil exploration
150 rebels to surrender in Assam
Militants raid Hindu ashram

Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
Health officials on Tuesday cracked down on shops selling confectionery in Burrabazar after complaints from prominent city schools that a large number of their pupils, aged between five and nine, fell ill after eating chocolates they won at a fete on December 3.

At day’s end, the officials seized a massive stock of chocolate bars, mostly imported from Turkey, from a shop on Canning Street.

They said the shop had sold the “spurious and stale” chocolates to the organisers of the fete.

Javed Khan, overseer of Calcutta’s health as member of the mayor’s council, said the officials had found prima facie evidence that the chocolates had long gone stale but were still being sold after tampering with the expiry date on the wrappings.

The civic authorities will lodge a case against the owner of the shop in the municipal magistrate’s court after they receive the requisite report from the office of the public analyst.

The health officials swung into action on Tuesday after the complaints lodged on Monday by several prominent city schools, including St.James’, which had put up a stall at the fete organised by the Diocesan Education Mission, an affiliate of the Church of North India, on the grounds of St Paul’s Cathedral.The fete was organised to raise funds for a new church-run school at Baranagar.

Other CNI-run schools that had set up stalls were Pratt Memorial, St Thomas’ of Kidderpore and Howrah and St John’s Diocesan. T.H. Ireland, principal of St James’, wrote to Khan about the children, many of them in kindergarten, who had come down with diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting after they ate the chocolates they had won in a lottery at the St James’ stall.

“The children found the stall very attractive as it was loaded with foodstuff and confectionery, which they could easily win in the lottery,” said Manjushree Sinha, whose daughter, a pupil of Pratt Memorial, attended the fete.

The teacher of another school wrote to Ireland, saying that her child had come down with a severe stomach disorder.

Ireland’s school had purchased 200 bars of chocolate from the Canning Street shop. Ireland wrote to the CMC: “I regret to inform you that the date of expiry mentioned on the wrappers were tampered with. May we request you to kindly ensure that others are not deceived by the shop.”

Subrata Basu, superintendent of the civic food laboratory, said the chocolates seized had “turned smelly and discoloured”. Md. Khalil, owner of the shop, was out of station.

The teachers who placed the order on the shop said the samples they had tasted were good, but the supplies that reached the stall were stale. “We had ordered imported chocolates, but when the cartons were opened, we found they contained very ordinary stuff,” said Morris Menezes, St James’ vice-principal.

A spokesman for the shop said it had been importing and selling chocolates for four years without any complaints. “It is not possible for us to know whether the printed expiry dates have been tampered with.”    

Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
Chest specialists on Tuesday said the tuberculosis situation in the city was “horrible” and growing worse by the day. Not only is the number of new cases being detected with the disease on the increase, but a significant number of patients are turning out to be infected by the more dangerous, multi-drug resistant strain.

Since a sophisticated Bactec machine (which determines the nature and number of drugs a patient has become resistant to) was installed on the premises of the Bengal TB Association, as much as 34 per cent of the 886 tests conducted have shown that patients are not responding to two drugs.

“Tuberculosis treatment involves taking up to four different types of drugs for a continuous six to nine months. But if one out of three patients turn out to be resistant to Rifampicine and INH — two of the best drugs in the basket — it definitely becomes a cause of worry,” said Dr Manish Pradhan, secretary of the association.

More harrowing is the fact that these drug-resistant patients can infect up to 10 new persons in a year. “The germ, mycobacterium tuberculosis, spreads through the air through fine droplets whenever an infected person coughs or spits. If a person’s defence mechanism is weak, he gets infected,” Dr Pradhan said.

The prevalence of HIV has worsened the situation. “Each one of us has small amounts of the TB germ in us, which a normal person’s immune system can ward off. But if a person has HIV, then TB is one of the first infections that is manifested,” said Dr Ranjan Das, who is the organising secretary of a national conference that will take up these issues.

The spread of the drug-resistant TB strain in Calcutta has so far mainly been due to irregular or inadequate drug treatment. “After a patient has taken medicine for about a month, he or she starts feeling better, and has the medicine every alternate day or even discontinues it,” Das said.

“This is dangerous, for the germs have not died out completely. They mutate and when the patient falls ill again, and become resistant to the drugs taken earlier. A patient is suspected to have resistant TB when there is no improvement after month or so of treatment,” Das added.

Once a patient is diagnosed with drug-resistant TB, the cost of medication goes up to Rs 9,000 a month (second line drugs). Even then, there is only half a chance of cure, for 50 per cent do not survive.

The 55th national conference on TB and chest diseases, beginning on Thursday, will have about 500 delegates from India and abroad discussing various issues, including the efficacy of the BCG vaccine. Such a meet is being held in the city after a gap of 12 years.    

Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
A 15-year-old schoolgirl was killed and seven persons were seriously injured in separate accidents in the city on Tuesday.

A motorcyclist among the injured was hit by an IPS officer’s Ambassador on Deshapran Sashmal Road.

The first mishap occurred around 6.30 am on Cossipore Road, when a Class X student of Adarsha Madhyamik Vidyalaya, Rita Kumari Sau, was run over by a truck near Udayanbati.

Rita, who was going to school riding on the pillion of her brother Manoj’s motorcycle, was killed on the spot. Manoj was admitted to a local nursing home. The truck driver fled, leaving the vehicle behind. Later, he was chased by locals and handed over to the police.

A 38-year-old porter was seriously injured when a speeding minibus on the Howrah-Belghoria route knocked him down on Strand Road. He was rushed to Medical College and Hospital. The driver fled, leaving the vehicle behind.

Arun Prasad Gupta, a 35-year-old motorcyclist, was seriously injured after being hit by an Ambassador on Deshapran Sashmal Road. Deputy superintendent of police (town) Subhankar Chatterjee said Gupta was hit by the Ambassador occupied by Arun Ghosh, chief vigilance officer of Calcutta Port Trust. Immediately after the accident, Gupta was taken to SSKM Hospital, where his condition is said to be critical.

Later, Ghosh and his driver went to Charu Market police station and surrendered themselves.

In another incident, five passengers of a private bus suffered injuries after the vehicle hit another private bus on Harish Mukherjee Road.    

Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
On suspicion that his friend had stolen his cellphone and some other valuables, a drunken Suraj Malhotra, heir to the Heera chain of hotels in the city, beat up garment exporter Omang Shah after a late-night weekend party at his Grant Street hotel, abducted him and kept him confined for “ransom” for over 12 hours at an Alipore house. Shah was rescued by the police after a tip-off.

According to deputy commissioner of police (south), Ranjit Pachnanda, 10 persons have been arrested. But Malhotra, who has been named as prime accused in this case, is “absconding”.

After Shah lodged an FIR at Alipore police station, a case of “kidnapping for murder” was lodged against Malhotra.

“He could easily have died from the beating that he suffered,” Pachnanda said. “Besides, Malhotra may have bumped him off to get his valuables back.”

Members of the Malhotra family, however, say Suraj is innocent. Neither his father nor his brothers was available for comment.

But a member of Suraj’s family, who did not identify herself, said: “Suraj has done no wrong; he is being framed.” But she admitted that she did not know why Suraj was absconding.

According to the FIR, whose contents the officer-in-charge of Alipore police station said have been corroborated by interrogation of those arrested, the incident took place on Sunday night during a “dinner get-together” at Hotel Heera, on Grant Street.

As the party was drawing to an end and most of the guests had left, Malhotra, the FIR said, suddenly discovered that his cellphone and some valuables were missing.

Finding none of the other guests around and Omang Shah about to board his car, Malhotra asked his henchmen to rush down and catch him.

Almost a dozen members of Malhotra’s staff beat him up mercilessly, till Shah almost collapsed. He was then put into a car and taken to a house on Judges’ Court Road at around 2.30 am on Monday and locked up in an apartment.

In the morning, a resident spotted a handful of men “suspiciously” coming in and out of the apartment.

Sensing that something was wrong, he called up Alipore police station, before informing Pachnanda.

Within an hour, at around 7.30 am on Monday, dressed casually in jeans and sneakers, four ‘decoy’ policemen drove up to the apartment and took up positions at different points.

Another, dressed as a newspaper vendor, knocked on the door of the apartment. As soon as it was opened, he burst in with the other policemen in tow.

They found Shah tied up in a corner and rescued him.    

Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
Bowing to pressure from guardians choosing Madhyamik over Delhi boards for their children, the government has decided to liberalise its policy on granting affiliation to new English-medium private schools. The government has already given the go-ahead to the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. This has resulted in at least six private schools being granted affiliation by the Board.

“We have no problem if the English-medium schools want to follow the Madhyamik syllabus,” said state school education minister Kanti Biswas. He clarified, however, that under “no circumstances” would the government bear “any financial liability” of any of these schools after they were recognised by the state secondary board.

“Some schools have been already given the approval to follow the Madhyamik syllabus. Many others are awaiting the final clearance,” said K.P. Malakar, general secretary of the association of owners of private schools in the city.

The ‘superior’ mathematics syllabus is said to be one of the main factors in making Madhyamik the right choice. “Guardians are opting for the Madhyamik syllabus as they feel that the mathematics course followed by the Delhi-based boards is not satisfactory in terms of preparing the students for the national-level competitive examinations,” claimed Malakar.

The fact that the Central Board has no branch office in Calcutta is another factor. “Everything is routed through Delhi. Even if their is a minor error in filling up forms, we have to wait for a clearance from the Capital, leading to unnecessary delay and tension,” said Swati Mukherjee, whose son studies in one of the CBSE schools that have come up recently.

Another deterrent is the “lack of choices” for admission to Class XI. “After passing Class X with a CBSE degree, most students struggle to find a place in the few schools. A Madhyamik student has so many choices of admission,” added Mukherjee.

Delhi Board students are also said to be at a “distinct disadvantage” while appearing for the West Bengal Joint Entrance Examinations as it is geared to the Madhyamik and Higher Secondary syllabii.

The no-English policy, imposed at the primary level in state-funded institutions in the Eighties, had resulted in a mushrooming of private English-medium schools in the city. With the government all but refusing affiliation to such schools, most of the institutions that cropped up during that phase gained affiliation to the Delhi Boards.

But now, with English staging a comeback in government schools and the rest of the syllabus being perceived as “more comprehensive”, Madhyamik is back in demand. Sources in the state school education department said that owners of such schools had recently approached the government to allow them Madhyamik affiliation. The officials told them that private schools would be allowed recognition once they fulfilled some basic requirements.    

Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
Indian Airlines (IA) has showcaused flight purser Joy Nath Victor Dey, who refused to shave off his moustache, in accordance with the airline’s norms, even after he was shifted to ground duty for his stubbornness.

Challenging the notice, Dey had filed a petition in the high court and Justice Ashok Ganguly will deliver his judgment within a couple of days.

A flight purser with Indian Airlines for several years, Dey had moved Calcutta High Court in December last year, challenging the airline’s strictures on the dress and personal appearance of pursers.

The airline’s circular states: “The hair should be neat and tidy and not touch the shirt collar. The face should be clean-shaven, without long sideburns, and moustache trimmed so as not to touch the upper lip.” Sikhs are exempted from these norms on religious grounds.

In his petition, Dey said he was not bound to follow the airline’s directive on the size of his moustache.

“No such guideline is specified in the service manual and how I want to wear my moustache is entirely my choice. My employers can’t run after me with a pair of scissors. Besides, when Sikhs are allowed to grow their moustache, how can they stop me?” he asked.

However, Indian Airlines’ advocate R.L. Majumdar maintains the service manual has, subsequently, been upgraded to include this clause.

An earlier court order had directed the airline to allow Dey to rejoin work as purser. However, his employers forced Dey to work on the ground and refused to take him back on board. Later, they had filed an appeal, demanding the quashing of Justice Ghosh’s order.    

Calcutta, Dec. 5: 
Calcuttans may miss out on their Christmas and New Year’s greetings cards as nearly 5,000 postal employees in the city on Tuesday joined the indefinite country-wide strike called by the three postal employees’ bodies.

As a result, postal services came to a grinding halt, with the 300-odd post offices in the city remaining closed. The employees did not turn up for duty. They are on strike in support of their nine-point charter of demands, including a wage hike.

Chief Postmaster-General, West Bengal circle, S.B. Bhattacharya, said that the rush of greetings cards begins from mid-December. “If the strike continues, we will have to make special arrangements,” he added.

Officials said that during Christmas and New Year, the city post offices together handle over 20 million greetings cards.

“From past experience, we find that postal strikes called for an indefinite periods in 1993, 1996 and 1998 did not last for more than seven to eight days. So, we hope that this strike, too, will be called off before the rush of greetings cards begins,” an official said.

Leaders of the joint council of action of the three striking postal trade union bodies — the FNPO, NFPE and the BPEF — held rallies in front of the postal service headquarters at Yogayog Bhavan, GPO and some other major post offices to press their demands.

“We have to sort about 2.4 million letters and parcels every day in the Calcutta postal zone alone. If the strike continues, one can well imagine what it will be like a few days later,” an official said.

Topping the list of demands are the implementation of the recommendations of the Justice Talwar committee on wage revision for the employees and extra-departmental employees being granted the status of postal department employees.    

Silchar, Dec. 5: 
The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) has drawn up a Rs 4,162-crore plan to boost oil exploration and output which now stagnates at 35 million tonnes a year.

ONGC’s chairman-cum-managing director Bikash Chandra Bora told The Telegraph here today that the plan envisaged intensive natural gas exploration in the off-shore areas of Mumbai High in the Arabian sea, better oil recovery from the 450 million-tonne reserve fields throughout the country and overhauling of structure and equipment now deployed at the onshore blocks in Assam and Gujarat. He said 15 out of the 100 wells drilled in Mumbai High were producing 85 per cent of their total capacities.

The new scheme plans to exploit the potential at Cambay basin, Gandhar, Lakwa, Rudrasagar and Geleki, he added.

Bora said the ONGC-Videsh, the overseas wing of the corporation, has successfully drilled crude oil in Vietnam. It plans to expand operations in countries like Russia, Indonesia, Venezuela, Iraq and Algeria.

He said the ONGC has bagged a global contract to drill three oil wells in Sylhet division in northeastern Bangladesh. The chairman, who is now on a two-day visit to the oil fields in Cachar district, assured that the corporation would expand drilling activities in the region on the basis of a recent pool of information on subsoil formations in the valley districts.

The data was compiled following extensive geo-scientific seismic studies carried out at the headquarters of the ONGC’s eastern region at Nazira and in Derhadun. According to Bora, ONGC’s Adamtila and Banskandi gas reserves in Cachar district have been churning out 150,000 cubic metres of natural gas per day. Though no significant amount of oil was discovered in Cachar, Bora hoped that the next stage of spudding at Narayanpur and Shabaspur would yield rich dividends.

To extract crude from the geologically-difficult Badarpur and Masimpur structures in Cachar region, the ONGC will use the state-of-the-art microbial enhanced oil recovery method to soften the sub-soil stratum for accessing the oil reserve.

Bora, who is set to retire in May, said the ONGC will convene a crucial meeting at the end of this month with the Nagaland government to find a consensus on ending the six-year impasse in drilling in Nagaland, a potential oil-bearing state.

Exploration in Nagaland was terminated in 1994 following a series of insurgent raids on ONGC installations. He admitted that S.C. Jamir’s demand for joint exploration by the Nagaland government and the ONGC has given rise to a piquant situation. Jamir contended that Nagaland was vested with special powers under Article 371 of the Constitution regarding ownership and transfer of land and its resources. But the ONGC was only willing to pay royalty to the Nagaland government.    

Guwahati, Dec. 5: 
Nearly 150 militants of the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) will lay down arms at an official function in Dipsur tomorrow morning.

The militants, who came overground are middle and lower- rank cadres of the outfit though there may a one or two unit leaders, sources said.

An official note said “a good number of young people have decided to return to the mainstream of the society by pledging to lead a normal life”.    

Agartala, Dec. 5: 
Barely 24 hours after desecrating an ashram set up by slain religious leader Shanti Kumar Tripura, militants of the National Liberation Front of Tripura raided another ashram at Jirania Khola yesterday and asked the inmates to stop all Hindu rituals and practices.

Police sources said a group of seven armed NLFT militants barged into the ashram at 4.30 pm and asked for Badal Debbarma, who heads all institutions set up by Shanti Kumar Tripura.

When they were told that Debbarma had gone out, the rebels threatened the 150 tribal inmates with dire consequences if they continued to perform Hindu rites at the ashram. The militants fled only after a large group of locals rushed to the ashram.

The militant raid triggered panic among inmates of the ashram, particularly because it was the second such incident in two days.

On Sunday, a group of militants had raided Shanti Kumar Tripura’s ashram at Chachu Bazar under Sidhai police station. The rebels destroyed a photograph of the slain religious leader — revered by both Hindu tribals and Bengalis — and assaulted four persons, including two female devotees who had come to the ashram for puja. A delegation from the Jirania Khola ashram met West Tripura district superintendent of police Anurag Dhankar on October 31 and demanded that a police post be set up in the area. However, the SP reportedly turned down the proposal and instead promised to intensify patrolling in the area.

A source in the ashram today said the police official’s promise was yet to be implemented. He said virtually nothing had been done to make the inmates of the ashram feel more secure since the killing of Shanti Kumar Tripura on August 27.

Altogether 11 ashrams, schools and orphanages set up by the slain religious leader in various parts of the state have been closed down by the NLFT.

Exodus of tribals: At least 35 Jamatya families have fled their homes in the remote Teiharchong village to take shelter in areas close to south Maharani market since the killing of Jaulushmoni Jamatya, a member of the Jamatya hoda (community council), on Saturday.

Sources said NLFT militants had warned the Jamatyas of dire consequences if they did not disassociate themselves from the anti-NLFT movement launched by Bikram Bahadur Jamatya, the Hoda Okra


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