Double-dealing on Presidency
Cop in every corner keeps festive spirit in check
Dust settles over Saltlec storm
Horse-powered tour of heritage city
March for martial art
No subsidy for Gridco
Alumina clash sparks exodus
Manipur leaders jittery over govt’s survival
Minor girl abducted in Tripura

Calcutta, Dec. 24: 
With Anil Biswas, state CPM secretary and Bengal’s education potentate, still opposed to the idea, powerful Left teachers’ lobbies on Sunday voiced their protest against any move by the government to grant autonomy to Presidency College, one of the state’s few extant institutions of any worth.

“We are going to resist any move to grant autonomy to Presidency College because we believe it will soon create a layer of pampered teachers and students,” said Subrata Lahiri, a teacher at Presidency and also general secretary of the West Bengal Government College Teachers’ Association.

The lobbies’ inflexible stand on the proposal by the University Grants Commission (UGC) for making Presidency and a few other institutions autonomous by bringing them out of the Left-dominated Calcutta University’s orbit appears to stem from a ruse whereby the government in public supports the UGC proposal, but still manages to block it through programmed opposition by the lobbies.

“Presidency is a national institution. So, the issue (autonomy) is a serious one and needs to be discussed seriously by academics and other quarters concerned. We in the party, too, acknowledge the gravity of the issue, but it is not scheduled for any discussion in the near future,” said Biswas.

By ruling out the possibility of an early settlement, Biswas signalled the party’s hard stand, in sharp contrast with higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty’s assertion last week that the government was now in favour of granting autonomy to Presidency and three other colleges. On condition, however, that the teachers’ bodies accept the proposal.

“Our government is ready to grant autonomous status to Presidency and some other premier institutions if they fulfil all the conditions stipulated by the UGC. But we will not take a decision unless the proposal is fully supported by teachers. We have asked them to discuss the issue ,” Chakraborty had said on Tuesday.

On condition of anonymity, education officials said Chakraborty’s observation reflecting the government’s view on one of the most thorny issues of recent times is actually aimed at neutralising the UGC’s growing pressure on this count. The CPM control freaks are unwilling to liberate Presidency and other institutions as that might force the party to ease its stranglehold on the education system, where it has the last word on all decisions, and academic and administrative appointments, vice-chancellor downwards.

Echoing Biswas, party ideologue Nirupam Sen said the government would find it difficult to grant autonomy to Presidency, Brabourne, Bethune and Maulana Azad colleges if the teachers’ bodies did not find any merit in the proposal.

There are indications that the West Bengal College and University Teachers Association and Calcutta University Teachers’ Association will intensify their movement in the days ahead. Sources in the Left teachers’ bodies said once autonomy is granted to colleges like Presidency, the institutions will develop their respective creamy layer of teachers with super salaries and lavish perks. The students, too, will be considered privileged.

Left teachers’ bodies said there was another side to the autonomy issue. “A student with a degree from Presidency will have no problem enrolling for higher studies or seeking jobs, whereas those who pass from an autonomous but lesser-known college definitely will,” a teacher said.

“There is, indeed, a need for decentralisation as the workload in the universities has increased. But autonomy is not the solution,” said another member of the Government College Teachers’ Association. Manindranath Ray, president of the West Bengal College and University Teachers Association, said his organisation will discuss the matter at its executive committee meeting.

According to a Calcutta University Teachers’ Association member, the autonomous colleges will gradually lead to commercialisation of education, a “dangerous trend... Moreover, when the UGC spoke of autonomy, it suggested promotion of financial autonomy. Now it is talking about academic autonomy. The UGC itself is not clear about its policy,” he added.

The Left Front had opposed the Centre when it included autonomy to colleges as part of its education policy.


Calcutta, Dec. 24: 
The police have made elaborate arrangements for the festive week, spanning Christmas and New Year’s day. Sixteen hundred policemen have been deployed to check drunken driving and revelry on Park Street and its neighbourhoods till the New Year’s day.

“We are determined to maintain law and order and will not tolerate any eveteasing or indecent behaviour by homeward-bound revellers from hotels and restaurants in the Park Street area,” said deputy commissioner of police (headquarters) Narayan Ghosh. Plainclothesmen will be posted on various streets where the clubs, hotels and restaurants are located.

The areas under surveillance include Park Street, Taltala, Karaya, Bhowanipore, Ballygunge and Alipore. A special team of policemen will make the rounds in the zoo to prevent over-enthusiastic visitors from jumping into the tigers’ enclosure, in the wake of the recent incident in which tiger Bob mauled a man to death.

A few years ago, a drunken man had jumped into the tigers’ enclosure, garland in hand. Tiger Shiva killed him.

A strict vigil will be maintained on cars flouting parking rules and honking horns. A senior police officer said cars parked illegally will be towed away to the nearest police station.

He said hotels and restaurants, including 11 bars, will be allowed to remain open till 1 am on December 25, December 31 and January 1. Permission to hold floor shows has been given to eight city hotels, he added.

Detective department sleuths will fan out all over the city in plainclothes to keep an eye on shop-lifters and pickpockets

Plainclothesmen will also be posted during the next one week in front of major shopping centres in the city, including those in New Market and its adjoining areas.


Calcutta, Dec. 24: 
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s great IT dreamtown might not wear a dusty look for long. Howls of protest from software shops in Salt Lake Electronic Complex have prompted “immediate steps” to prevent dust pollution, caused by Hidco trucks ferrying earth-fill from Nalban bheri to the Rajarhat construction site.

S.K. Mitra, managing director of Webel, brought the matter to the notice of commerce and industry minister Bangsagopal Chowdhury, who informed the chief minister last week.

Bhattacharjee immediately asked housing minister Gautam Deb to take all necessary steps to ensure that the Rajarhat construction did not affect the electronic complex.

Deb explained that Saltlec is situated just between Nalban bheri and Rajarhat. “We understand that dust pollution can affect the sophisticated equipment and work environment... but Rajarhat is a huge project and work is in progress on a war footing.”

Hidco, the agency implementing the much-touted Rajarhat township project, is excavating about 60 acres of wetland at Nalban bheri, opposite SDF and Infinity, to fill up the low-lying land at the project site.

Sanjay Mitra, managing director of Hidco, met Webel representatives last week and assured them that preventive measures would be taken soon. It has been decided that

The 200-odd Hidco trucks plying everyday will be covered and water poured on the earth-fill to prevent dust from flying.

Trucks will be diverted to avoid the SDF Building and minimise damage caused to the electronic complex

Roads around the complex will be washed everyday

Hidco will give prior intimation to Webel if an excess amount of earth-fill is to be carried on any given day

Hidco will keep in touch with Webel to resolve any problems arising out the construction

Mitra has conveyed the decision to commerce and industry secretary Jawhar Sircar and to the chief minister’s office.


Calcutta, Dec. 24: 
Christmas-Eve traffic at Esplanade was held up on Sunday afternoon. Not by michhil or dharna, but by a concourse of phaetons! The 14 regal horse-drawn carriages trundling down Esplanade were taking 52 tourists from 10 countries on a conducted tour of some heritage spots in town, from Town Hall to Victoria Memorial.

Organised by the regional tourist office of the Government of India and the tourism department of the state, it was the first ‘official’ attempt to promote Calcutta as a “heritage destination”.

Stephen Philip of New Zealand sure was impressed. “I just read that the name of your city has been changed... I hope you do not change these magnificent buildings. They make me feel like I’ve suddenly gone back in time,” said the young man, enjoying a tea break on the lawns of the Museum.

His fellow-travellers, too, seemed to be having the time of their lives. Flagged off from Town Hall around 2 pm by G.N. Roy, former chief justice of the Supreme Court, the tour took visitors from Germany, Spain, Chile, Taiwan, Australia, Japan, USA, Belgium, Canada and United Kingdom to High Court, Millennium Park, GPO, Writers’ Buildings, Great Eastern Hotel, Raj Bhavan, Statesman House, Tipu Sultan’s mosque, Indian Museum and Victoria Memorial.

The carriages, commandeered from Metiabruz, Kidderpore, Howrah, Sealdah and the Maidan, were escorted by two police vans. A car with loudspeakers fitted on top kept up a running commentary on the history of the Calcutta landmarks.

“This is the first such promotion tour in the country. Calcutta was obviously the first choice,” said A.K. Banerjee, regional director (east), ministry of tourism.

The blueprint of the heritage tour was drawn up around November last year.

The cities short-listed were Delhi and Calcutta. The ministry of tourism took six months to select Calcutta over Delhi as it scored in terms of traffic, security, pollution, and proximity of heritage buildings.

The half-day tour was conducted with the help of Air India, Calcutta Police, Indian Museum and Oberoi Grand. “We plan to co-ordinate with the city hotels and make this an annual event,” said Ratan Chandra Mahapatra, director, state tourism department. The ministry of tourism plans to put a Rs 4,000 tag on the trip.

From the look of things, that would hardly dissuade the likes of Wang-su-Fen of Taiwan. “Ith iz a wandarfool zarney,” was all she could manage in halting English. But her bright eyes and wide smile said it all — she was on a ride to remember.


Calcutta, Dec. 24: 
The basic substance of architecture
Is all about creative conjecture
To stick to the schematic
Or be enigmatic
Makes the experience so full of garniture

For anyone feeling iffy and on the backfoot about the architectural chaos of Calcutta, where the genteel grandeur of Gothic architecture clashes raucously with mindless modern structures, a chat with Balkrishna V. Doshi is like a cobweb-dispelling sunbeam.

This visionary architect is never overtly critical nor condescending. Ever since I have known him, he has struck me, not as a plaster-of-Paris architect, but as a philosopher and a poet. Even at the architect’s convention that brought him to the city, his presentation was not through slides, but he talked of things which are “a celebration of life.” A theme that he has reiterated many times.

Elaborating on this thought, privately, with me, he spoke, not in brick-and-mortar terms, but in lyrical terms of how “celebrating architecture can be a life-nourishing event”.

Let me share the imagery with my readers, the way it was conveyed to me. Balkrishna Doshi talks of the changing seasons, which induce occasions and each occasion has a spin-off effect. The monsoons begin after a hot, dry, cloudless summer, the clouds then appear. They cast shadows. Temperatures begin to change, humidity increases. The peacocks and other birds and animals thirst for water. Then the rains come. The temperature drops, the rain-washed earth gives off its fragrance to quench our senses. And then the water. Which gushes from the pipes and the rooftops and sees a flurry of activity — the plinths, the verandahs, the balconies, the courtyards, the jambs, all become active.

Children rush out to make paper boats and sing and dance and bathe in the water. The elders sit in the deep verandahs and watch, the authorities check water levels, the farmers wade through sheets of water to their lands, shops extend their awnings, vendors rearrange their goods. All functions change. There is a transformation. Change in space, form, character. In colour, texture, material. This is it. Architecture, in this context, is everywhere and all-encompassing. It is in the street, curb, plinth, wall, verandah, gargoyle, courtyard.

“When all structural elements participate, it becomes architecture. Because it has become alive. It has become a part of life, part of the total environment.’’ Without its existence, no functions would have been enhanced or activated.

Space to breathe

Where does all this lead us to? And what is Doshi’s diagnosis of the current trends in city building and in what he dreams of for future generations? When he talks of the fact that architects need to think not only of the immediate product, but of the total environment which it should encompass — waterbodies, greening, energy conservation — he reinforces what we have seen in this city.

When he was asked to design mass housing for Harsh Neotia’s multi-tiered concept for all levels of society, Doshi made it conditional that large areas of space would have to be left free even if it meant a few less buildings. Seeing the wide open areas in the Udita-Udayan-Utsarg complex today, with the verdant lawns, the sculptures, trees, walkways, recreational spaces, is to believe in Doshi’s holistic approach to creating an environment for living. And for making a transition between the individual and community spheres of activity.

He believes that the new cities of tomorrow will be linear cities and places of living where the quality of life becomes a majority player. Where you “think beyond your lifespan” and not for the immediate needs of the moment.

Doshi’s students and shagirds are as creative as the maestro himself. While I chatted, we were joined by Mukul Agarwal, who runs a highly-creative lifestyle showroom, The Address, in the heart of the city. She was a student at Doshi’s School of Architecture in Ahmedabad and recalls how even though he was the founder of the school, he was highly approachable. His office, “which was like a temple” for them, was a marvel of creation, with half of the office beneath ground level and a waterbody over the roof. His associate, Sohan Nilkanth who continues to live and work in Calcutta, is a creative clone of a different sort from his guru — for the sarod player in him sometimes outdoes his architectural expertise.

Fusing traditions

This is probably what Doshi inspires in his approach – the sense of song, joy, abandonment. His designing of Udita certainly inspired Chandrababu Naidu, who has got him hooked into creating Cyberabad in Hyderabad. The biggest challenge is to synergise all that is best in the old town with the ultra-modern concepts required for a cyber city. Just as had been done with Vidyadhar Nagar, proximate to Old Jaipur. To quote the architect: “If New Delhi was the conquest of nationalist expression over the Colonial agenda and Chandigarh was a complete reversal of the urban traditions of India, intended to make Indian architects and planners think afresh, Vidyadhar Nagar is almost the ultimate answer representing ideas and innovation... its premise, like Jaipur, is both metaphysical and physical.”

He feels that sustainable development accompanied by environmental consciousness and resource conservation will dominate the practice of planning and architecture. He also sees great potential for the emergence of small communities of enlightened persons coming together to share and practise ideals, based on the principles of sustainability not only of a physical nature but social and intellectually, too.

And yes, if we are sharing his architectural thoughts, may we also see what the philosopher-architect has to say about the nine sure ways to perish in the business future:

Be a prisoner of the familiar, shackled by comfortable ways of doing things

Prolong all your yesterdays because they were good to you

Resist change because it costs money and may not work

Ignore the new realities of both technology and methodology

Pay no attention to the fresh and vital minds of the well-educated youth

Believe that you can survive the future without a plan for change

Disregard the demand for innovation in all the facets of your business

Continue to fight rearguard action, hoping tomorrow will take care of itself

Practise the greatest sin of marketing: making what the market wants to buy.

But WAIT. Doshi envisages a new world of smaller, greener, healthier settlements with control over time and space. “Freedom, choice, opportunity, security, safety and dignity will be assured. Building with high and low technologies, living life at one’s pace, becoming aware of one’s purpose in life, relating to the global and personal world at will, sustaining in harmony with one’s self and the macrocosm will be the only goal in such communities.”

Ah Kolkata! Will we ever see such umbrellas of utopia?


Calcutta, Dec. 24: 
Over 100 child-members of the Bengal Taekwondo Association marched with their seniors along the Chowringhee-Maidan area on Sunday to promote the Korean martial art. Boys and girls, between four and 16, in their Taekwondo whites and coloured grade belts, began the march from the southern gate of Victoria Memorial with placards in their hands. ‘Taekwondo for a better tomorrow’ read a placard. The rally proceeded along Chowringhee Road, Outram Road, Casuarina Avenue and Queen’s Way.

The children displayed their Taekwondo skills near the race course. Amit Karmakar, Suparna Ghosh and Mahashweta Ghosh demonstrated the hammer kick and the flying kick, breaking several brick tiles at a height of four to five feet. Sixteen-year-old Sharmistha Singha did a turning kick in the air, breaking two tiles at a height of six feet.

“Taekwondo is the only martial art that helps in the growth of children,” said Gautam Chowdhury, the association’s president. “Taekwondo-trained people can not only defend themselves but are also disciplined and mentally strong,” he said.

The Taekwondo Association is hosting the two-day 20th Senior National Championship in Calcutta from February 3 next year.


Bhubaneswar, Dec. 24: 
The state government has decided not to provide any kind of subsidy to the Grid Corporation of Orissa as well as the four electricity distribution companies, namely Nesco, Wesco, Cesco and Southco.

The Orissa Electricity Regulatory Commission, the body which formulates tariffs for electricity consumers, had earlier asked the state if it can provide subsidy to these companies so that they do not suffer losses in case the power tariff is not revised. The four distribution companies have already petitioned the commission to hike the power tariff in the state. In a letter to the commission, the state energy department has said the state government is not in a position to provide subsidies in view of the critical state of finances. The state government has argued that bringing down transmission and distribution losses would generate more revenue for these companies and would not warrant any increase in the tariff.

The four distribution companies as well as Gridco have asked for additional revenue to increase their revenue base. Cesco, one of the distribution companies, has appealed to the commission to hike the power tariff to offset the losses it suffered due to the supercyclone last year in districts like Jagatsinghpur. While refusing to subsidise the distribution companies, the state government has said any rise in tariff would send a wrong signal and may turn public sentiments against power reforms. It has also drawn the commission’s attention to the public concern regarding the functioning of the four distribution companies, particularly billing and attending to complaints about low voltage and disruption.

The state government also expressed serious concern over Cesco’s failure to resume power supply to 716 lift irrigation points in the cyclone-affected areas although more than a year has passed after the cyclone. Besides, 281 new lift irrigation points have not been provided with electricity, the state government said.


Berhampur, Dec. 24: 
Nearly 35 families have fled their homes in Maikancha village under Kashipur block of Rayagada district due to the ongoing tension over an alumina project there.

A lobby has been persistently opposing the project, and even clashed with those supporting the construction. Most of the villagers are taking shelter at Kashipur.

Three tribals were killed and seven injured in police firing at the village on December 16. The police had to open fire when villagers opposing the project in the Kashipur area clashed with the police team which had gone to probe the attack on Biju Janata Dal leaders on the previous day.

The tribals have called a bandh on December 28 to protest against the police firing. They alleged that supporters of the BJD, BJP and the Congress were lobbying in favour of the the plant.

Former Kashipur sarpanch and BJD leader Krushna Mohapatra told The Telegraph over phone that the anti-alumina group in the Mikancha village were being instigated by “some outsiders”.

However, the political leaders from Rayagada district appear firm on their decision to allow construction of the plant as it would lead to development.

However, sources said the proposed alumina project by the Utkal Alumina International Limited is unlikely to affect the villagers.

Port arson: Cargo operations at the Gopalpur port was hampered following a clash between two rival labour groups. Police are guarding the port area since yesterday after tension spilled over to the nearby villages.

Ganjam police sources said the situation was under control and operations would resume soon. Sources said the labourers of Sana Arjipalli and Kandara Arjipalli villages clashed and went on rampage. Residents of Kandara alleged that nearly 10 houses were destroyed in the arson.


Imphal, Dec. 24: 
Leaders of the ruling United Front of Manipur are no longer confident about the survival of their government. Deputy chief minister L. Chandramani Singh, who arrived here yesterday after a trip to New Delhi, said the Centre “may not” impose President’s rule in the state.

Chandramani Singh said a trial of strength has to be conducted on the floor of the Assembly for ending the current political impasse. “We will resign if we are defeated in the Assembly,” he added.

The deputy chief minister said the Centre could take any action it wanted after the trial of strength. “We have to finish the trial of strength as soon as possible so that people can know who commands the majority,” he said. He claimed that Central intervention before the trial of strength would not be a good step.

Defending the UFM government, he said the law and order situation in the state was far better that that of Assam and Tripura. He, however, could not give a clear picture of the state’s financial position. Chandramani Singh said President’s rule was not the solution in Manipur and emphasised the need to strengthen democratic institutions.

Chandramani Singh had gone to New Delhi to convince leaders of the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. But he did not have much success. The Manipur State Congress Party leader then tried to woo some central Congress leaders. “They (the Congress leaders) are our old friends. There is no harm in meeting them,” said Chandramani Singh yesterday. He, however, refused to divulge the names of the central Congress leaders whom he met.

Chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh has already sent feelers to state Congress leaders to work out a formula on the formation of an MSCP-Congress coalition. Though negotiations are on between senior MSCP and Congress leaders, nothing concrete has emerged till now. For Nipamacha Singh, a tie-up with the Congress seems to be the last option for the survival of his government.

Nipamacha split the Congress in December 1997 to form the MSCP. Many Congress leaders are still bitter about the event. Sources said the Congress is now insisting that the MSCP should return to the Congress fold, though the chief minister has only proposed an MSCP-Congress coalition.

The MSCP is unhappy over the indication by Union home minister L.K. Advani about the imposition of President’s rule in Manipur.

Advani stand: Advani today said the Congress has so far not been forthcoming in its support to the government to deal with the situation in Manipur, which has been witnessing political crisis coupled with heightened militancy, adds PTI. “The Manipur Governor met me three days back. I may be having discussions with the chief minister shortly,” he said.


Agartala, Dec. 24: 
A group of National Liberation Front of Tripura militants abducted a non-tribal eight-year-old girl from a remote area under Udaipur police station in South Tripura district yesterday.

A posse of policemen and Tripura State Rifles jawans had launched a search in the area. However, the abducted girl — identified as Toma Mitra — is yet to be traced.

Sources said the NLFT rebels are yet to release the two boys abducted earlier this month from a passenger jeep in Sabroom subdivision. The militants had demanded a ransom of Rs 5 lakh from the family. The family members of the boys had requested the outfit to release them on humanitarian ground, sources added. The abduction triggered ethnic tension in the subdivision and nearby areas in South Tripura.

In a separate incident, a United Bengali Liberation Front militant — identified as Paritosh Pal — has been arrested from Amar Colony under Kalyanpur police station. A .38 pistol, large quantity of ammunition and incriminating documents were recovered from him.

In another incident, extremists raided Tuichigram, a tribal hamlet under West Tripura district yesterday and beat up three CPM members. The injured were admitted to G.B. Hospital here.

Film festival

Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar today inaugurated the Fifth Agartala Film Festival at the Rupasi cinema hall. The weeklong festival, organised by Cine Delve, got under way with the screening of Atmiya Swajan, Raja Sen’s critically-acclaimed film on urban life and erosion of family values.

Sarkar made a case for production of more films in the genre of “parallel cinema”, saying the purpose of cinema was not just to entertain the people, but also educate them. Apart from the chief minister, the inauguration ceremony was attended by information minister Jiten Chowdhury.


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