Test fees up for joint entrance
Laloo’s Bihar is like Taj Mahal
New Market shop-owners beat up cops
Rs 30,000 snatched from Posta trader
Boulevard barriers broken
Drive against power theft
Pension delay irks councillors
Busmen block fresh entry bid
Medical feats region’s firsts
Curtains drawn on low-key book fair

Calcutta, Dec. 12 : 
Turning market-savvy, the government is going to raise funds for restructuring the state-conducted Joint Entrance Examinations through a sharp increase in the test fees from 2001.

Joint Entrance board officials said on Monday that the 60,000-plus students who take the examination every year for studying either medicine or engineering in a state-run or private institution would be required to fork out Rs 350 each for enrolment and the examination form, against Rs 250 at present.

For candidates appearing in the examinations for both the branches, the pay-out would be higher at Rs 450 each, up from Rs 275 now. Broken up, the cost of enrolment would appear to have been substantially increased, compared to the price of the form, which the officials said would remain unchanged at Rs 100.

“Students from the relatively low-income groups, seeking entry into medical or engineering studies, will be inconvenienced by the fee hike.But we are helpless. The fee hike is the only option we have to raise funds for the restructuring we are attempting on a large scale,” said Amal Jyoti Sengupta, chairman of the state Joint Entrance board.

Sengupta, also vice-chancellor of Bengal Engineering College, Shibpur, a deemed university, said the government was forced to restructure the Joint Entrance Examination system because of various factors.

The restructure plan envisages:

nEvolving a standardised syllabus for Joint Entrance tests;

nSetting up question banks to enable the authorities to change sets of questions at the last moment and, thus, prevent leaks; and

nConducting spot evaluation of scripts, as part of which the examiners will sit together and award marks in an “unbiased” manner.

One of the major factors for the rethink was the mushrooming of Joint Entrance coaching centres in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal. By the Joint Entrance board’s estimate, a vast number of students every year get themselves admitted to the coaching centres by paying hefty fees, hoping the institutes will help them secure their goal.

Several city-based publishers are also cashing in on the craze, publishing books containing model questions and answers — all sub-standard, according to the board officials — and selling them at exorbitant rates.

“What we are witnessing is a very dangerous trend,” commented a senior teacher of Jadavpur University, who is also a member of the board. “Coaching centres and made-easy books are of no use, because we measure aspirants on the strength of their knowledge of the Higher Secondary syllabus.”


Calcutta, Dec. 12 : 
Russi Mody: What do you have to say about the population problem plaguing the country? (This, addressed to a gent with nine kids, draws a twitter or 12 from the 300-odd crammed into the Indian Chamber of Commerce conference hall).

Laloo Prasad Yadav: Ab population ka problem to hai. Par aap (economist) Malthus ka naam sune hain ki nahin? Malthus saab ne kaha tha ki natural justice sab theek kar dega... (The Ladies Study Group gathering dissolves into giggles and guffaws.)

There was no doubt who the star of the Monday morning Interaction was. It was Laloo all the way. In trademark Hindi, the former chief minister of Bihar, flanked by wife Rabri Devi and LSG president Madhu Neotia, held forth on computers and corruption, US elections and the ozone layer...

Starting off with a “mananiya mukhya mantri” salute to wife Rabri, Laloo took no time to settle down. Tailoring his speech to the setting — over 200 ladies resplendent in chiffons, silks and shawls — he expressed his admiration for women: “Mahilayon ko hum Lakshmi maante hain.”

Having struck the right chord instinctively, he went on to regale the audience. A sample of Laloospeak:

On IT — Information is okay, lekin sirf technology se kya hota hai? What happened in the US elections? So many computers, aur ab sab unglee se vote gin rahen hain ke nahin?

On the ozone layer — How can Westerners accuse us of damaging the ozone layer? With so many ACs and cars, they will turn ozone layer into a machchardani (mosquito net).

On Bihar — Bihar is like Taj Mahal. You have to see it to believe it. I invite you all to come to Bihar and experience it for yourselves. And if you want to invest, I promise all help...

On Laloo, the PM — Dilli hamara hai, and I will definitely make it there with your blessings and the first thing I’ll do is learn to keep everyone happy.

Through all this, the chief minister of Bihar sat silently, leaving the stage to her husband. And as the crowd cried for more, the showman bowed out with the promise of “Hum phir ayenge, jaroor ayenge.”


Calcutta, Dec. 12 : 
Three policemen of the detective department, including the officer-in-charge of the anti-terrorist cell, were beaten up by a section of shop-owners and employees in the New Market area when they were in pursuit of a Bangladeshi citizen on Monday morning.

Sabir Ahmed, the officer-in-charge of the anti-terrorist cell, was injured in the head and chest. Constables Sriram Singh and S.H. Khan were punched on their faces. The bleeding cops had to abandon the chase and rush to Taltala police station to lodge an FIR. A raid later netted five persons named in the FIR on charges of assaulting the cops.

Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Banibrata Basu, said the incident occurred when the plainclothes sleuths were on the trail of Mohammad Digar, a Bangladeshi national suspected to be holding a number of fake passports.

Digar has been under surveillance after being named by two criminals arrested last month. Fake passports and papers had been recovered from them.

A couple of days ago, the anti-terrorist cell received a tip-off that Digar was camping at Gulshan Lodge, on Collin Street. On Monday morning, the sleuths saw Digar leave the lodge and walk towards New Market. They followed him.

As soon as Digar entered Bengal Art Corner, a shop in New Market, and placed a bunch of dollars on the counter, the sleuths surrounded him and asked him to proceed to Lalbazar for interrogation.

Digar raised an alarm and shop-owners and employees rushed to the spot. Shop-owner Md Iqbal attacked Ahmed. Others joined in to assault the cops. In the melee, Digar managed to escape.


Calcutta, Dec. 12 : 
A gang of four young men snatched Rs 30,000 from a Burrabazar businessman on Monday morning. However, local people ran after them through the crowded road after the businessman raised an alarm, and managed to collar one of the culprits.

They started to beat him up, but policemen from a nearby outpost rescued the injured man and admitted him to Vishuddhananda Hospital. His three accomplices managed to flee with the money. Police seized a country-made revolver and four cartridges from Munna Gupta, the arrested youth.

Police said that around 10.30 am, the businessman was going to a nearby bank to deposit the cash. As soon as he came out of his office on Shibtala Street, in the Posta police station area, the four men snatched the leather bag containing the money from him.

Traders of the Burrabazar area said snatching and robbery had become a regular feature there. They were not at all happy with the role of the local police. Businessman had held demonstrations and observed token strikes several times to protest the rising incidence of crime. In spite of assurances from the police, no action has so far been taken to curb crime in Burrabazar and Posta.


Calcutta, Dec. 12 : 
The city’s only proper boulevard is in peril. Serene Southern Avenue, for long a cool oasis of greenery in the grime of chaotic Calcutta, has been invaded and ravaged by encroachers.

A gang of miscreants has been hard at work in the cover of the night, stealing the iron fences that guard the patches of green on the traffic dividers, allowing settlers to move in.

Since May this year, the gang has stolen 26 iron posts and more than 100 grills. The gardens on the islands are maintained by the state forest department, which has lodged a number of complaints with Lake police station since May.

Range officer, urban and recreational forestry, T.K. Chatterjee, lodged the first FIR on May 12. Since then, several complaints have been filed.

The encroachers have also felled costly trees like mahogany and saal to make way for their ‘homes’ and also for use as firewood for their chulhas. The children use the greens as playgrounds.

“When I go out for my morning walk, it’s so depressing to see all those settlers sullying what used to be the most scenic street in the city,” says A. Mukherjee, who has been living in a highrise on Southern Avenue for years.

Senior forest officials claim they have identified the leaders of the gang and informed Lake police station. So far, however, the police have failed to arrest anyone.

Palash Das and Chattu Singh were identified as the kingpins of the rogue gang. “But neither of them was arrested and no recovery made,” alleged M.L. Pathak, deputy conservator of forests, who has written to deputy commissioner of police (south) Ranjit Pachnanda, informing him about the “inaction” of his force.

Pathak complained that the two persons named in the FIR have been threatening forest department employees in charge of maintenance of the island gardens.

A.K. Jana, officer-in-charge of Lake police station, claimed they have recovered some of the stolen fences, but could not arrest the thieves. “Some local drug addicts engaged in petty theft are involved in the stealing of the iron fences on Southern Avenue. We are trying to track them down,” he added.


Calcutta, Dec. 12 : 
Plagued by a significant increase in cases of power theft, the CESC is gearing up to tackle pilferage.

Almost 30 per cent of the consumers draw power illegally, sources said. Most cases are reported from Howrah, Tiljala, Topsia and Tangra, the hub of small industries. Eighty per cent of the disconnected meters belong to the small industries of these areas.

Recently, an industry on D.C. De Road and an institution on Sherif Lane were found to have accumulated dues of more than Rs 1.5 lakh by adopting unfair means.

The number of pilferages in these six months has already equalled the previous year’s figure. A CESC spokesperson said the amount realised in fines is expected to double this year.

Illegal means are now being adopted even in affluent areas like Loudon Street and Park Street, a source said.

On November 22, three persons were arrested in the Lake area for power theft.

CESC officials admitted that their employees were also involved in cases of pilferage.

In a knee-jerk reaction, the power utility has launched a massive counter-offensive. In the first six months of the current financial year, it has removed about 20,000 hookings. The loss-control cell has started regular surveillance of pilferage-prone supplies, constant monitoring of the consumption pattern of high-end supplies, as well as routine visits to installations for physical checks and regular raids to remove hookings and tappings from overhead network.

However, the threat of physical assault to the team members conducting a raid is a problem.

Usually, three or four persons go to disconnect an illegal connection at any individual’s residence while in case of a factory, the number is 10 to12. They are accompanied by the local police.

A spokesperson for the CESC said there is constant interaction with the legal department, as quick legal guidance and intensive follow-ups in courts are essential for the success of the mission.

“Our whole programme is aimed at reducing transmission and distribution (T&D) losses and generating more income,” the CESC spokesperson said.

He added that plagued by the growing T&D losses, the CESC is gearing up its machinery to tackle pilferers, who have reportedly become techno-savvy. “They are trying to find out new ways and means to outwit us and find loopholes in the working of even the new meters,” he said.

This loss is the single major area of concern for the company. The figure, which stood at 19 per cent five years ago, has climbed to about 23 per cent, the spokesperson said. “The loss control cell is determined to outsmart the pilferers and bring down system losses,” he added.

Quiz: An inter-school quiz contest started on Sunday at Kodalia Girls’ High School, Subhasgram, in South 24-Parganas. Participants were drawn from 31 schools. The contest will continue till January 2001. Bandana Maity, headmistress of Rani Rashmoni High School, one of the participants, said the quiz is mainly for students of Bengali-medium schools.    

Calcutta, Dec. 12 : 
All councillors in the Corporation are up in arms against the delay in disbursing pension to the elderly poor. The Centre grants Rs 100 per month to about 50,000 people through the CMC. But the practice has been discontinued for more than eight months due to non-availability of funds.

CMC leader of the Opposition Kanti Ganguly said mayor Subrata Mukherjee and mayor-in-council, bustee, Pradip Ghosh were making conflicting statements.

Trinamul and BJP councillors, too, have indicated their disatisfaction. “We are facing criticism as we are in power”, a councillor said. The mayor said: “I have already allotted Rs 1.07 crore for the purpose last month, diverting funds from other heads.” Ghosh has been directed to distribute the money in presence of the local councillor, he added.

Earlier, the fund was disbursed through money orders and a sizeable portion was drawn by ghost receivers. However, Ghosh said: “The CMC cannot help it if the Centre does not release funds.” He hoped that the recipients would get the pension along with an arrear for about four months before Id-ul-Fitr as he had arranged “funds from other sources.”


Calcutta, Dec. 12 : 
The impasse continues over opening the Calcutta-Siliguri route to fresh private bus operators, with the existing operators opposing the move initiated by the state transport department.

At present, 213 private buses and 200 state buses ply on the route daily. The Calcutta-Siliguri route, through National Highway 34, has been kept open exclusively for state transport services and state tourism buses, including one run by the Bhutan government.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said on Saturday that a decision would be taken only after a discussion with the finance and transport ministers.

The issue has also exposed the strained ties between the CPM transport ministers Subhas Chakraborty and his deputy, Susanta Ghosh. Ghosh, a close aide of the chief minister, objected to Chakraborty’s decision to throw open the route to more private bus operators. He argued that the move would cripple the state services on this route, as the government had already invested Rs 100 crore to buy new buses.

Ignoring the objection, the transport department declared in a notification on November 22 that fresh permits would be issued to private operators on the Calcutta-Siliguri route. But the North Bengal State Transport Corporation submitted a memorandum to Chakraborty, saying it would disrupt the plan to introduce 300 new buses on long-distance routes linking north and south Bengal.

Besides, the Calcutta-Siliguri Bus-Owners’ Association, which has been plying the maximum buses on this route for the past 15 years, joined Ghosh to block the entry of new private bus operators.

Association leaders said on Friday that legal action would be taken if new permits were issued. They claimed that the buses on this route were incurring heavy losses, which would be aggravated with the addition of new fleets. They have urged the chief minister to intervene in the matter.


Calcutta, Dec. 12 : 
Two medical events have taken place in the city recently, claimed to be for the first time in eastern India. The first, in the field of cardiology, was carried out last week at B.M. Birla Heart Research Centre on three patients with advanced heart failure.

The process, called cardiac resynchronisation therapy by bi-ventricular pacing, was carried out by senior consultant cardiologist Anil Mishra by using electrical pulses to synchronise the pumping of the heart’s ventricles. A device called INSYNC was implanted, and all three patients have shown significant improvement.

Some distance away, at Mediview Nursing Home on Broad Street, a tumour was removed from the right adrenal gland through laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery, also for the first time in the region.

The procedure was performed by laparoscopic surgeon B. Ramana and his team on a 49-year-old housewife from Salt Lake without making a long incision.

They overcame two major risks: of severe bleeding during and after surgery, and a rise in blood pressure that could have led to brain haemorrhage and cardiac arrest.


Calcutta, Dec. 12 : 
Five minutes to eight, it’s pack-up time at Academy of Fine Arts, where the 10-day-long British Book Fair draws to a quiet close. Aveek Sen, a middle-aged visitor lingering around the stalls, rues: “It was only today that I got to know of this book fair. And that too, by chance”.

The low profile kept by the 3rd British Book Fair in Calcutta seems to be one of the reasons for its inability to attract visitors. With over 14 major publishers presenting thousands of fiction and non-fiction titles at a 10 per cent discount, the turnout was lesser than expected.

Harish Gullani of Octopus India (a Delhi-based distributor of British books) says: “Being one of the conveners of the Calcutta Book Fair, I know how crazy Calcuttans are about books. We have about four million visitors to the Calcutta Book Fair every day. But here, we had about 1,500 visitors, of which a maximum of 20 per cent actually made purchases. If we had a large banner outside or given more attention to publicity, we might have fared better.”

The book fair, launched way back in 1992 in Mumbai, has been subsequently held in some of the major cities across India — Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Kochi and Pune.

The objective of holding this exclusive fair is to create greater awareness of the availability of a wide range of British publications in local markets and promote the existing range of Indian reprints of British books. There were stalls in every gallery of the Academy and visitors could browse in more comfort than at the city book fair on the Maidan.

Some of the stalls had apparently done much better than the others “because they were able to cater to public tastes,” said a British Council spokesman.

Vikram Tanna of Timely Book Centre said: “We sold a lot of fiction titles, like Ruskin Bond and Satyajit Ray, but our Addison Wesley Computer books were the major rage.”

At India Book House too, K. Babu said their sales were greater than at the 1996 and the 1998 fairs.

Devika Chatterjee, publicity in-charge of Oxford University Press, said: “OUP always sells well, in spite of the escalating prices of books. We did rather well with dictionaries and Oxford India paperbacks.” Cambridge University Press has also sold a number of Cambridge low-priced edition school books and Indian reprints.

One highlight of the fair was, in fact, a reprint. J.R. Family Learning Pvt. Ltd brought out the first Indian reprint of Gray’s Anatomy, a seminal work for medical students. Screening of two British films and a lecture on ‘Digital Libraries’ were some of the other attractions at the fair.


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