Evening eclipse on exams
Cops and cabbies on collision course
City ‘heartline’ for Northeast
Polls push Tenancy Act off the tracks
Gita as guide to moral values
Rallies grind traffic to a halt
Sex worker’s ear slashed in scuffle
NGO initiative on stray dogs
220 years of Sino settlers
Opp. keeps leadership open

 
 
EVENING ECLIPSE ON EXAMS 
 
 
BY SUVRO ROY AND MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
The worst nightmare of students — preparing for exams by candlelight — is back. With barely a month to go for the Class X finals, regular power cuts after sundown in several CESC areas are troubling many among the 3.5-lakh examinees. On Tuesday, principals of some prominent Madhyamik, ICSE and CBSE schools said they would seek “the government’s intervention”.

All major school-leaving examinations are slated for the last week of February. “This is the most crucial time for preparations. The power cuts every evening have put the students under tremendous pressure. We will request the power department to supply uninterrupted electricity in the run-up to the exams,” said L.W. Hartnett, principal of Assembly of God Church, and A.K. Chakraborty, president of West Bengal Board of Secondary Education.

Power cuts have been plaguing Calcutta and Howrah since January 3, when the state electricity board (SEB) slashed its supply to CESC by about 120 mw, stating that the private power utility had been holding up payment of dues to the tune of Rs 960 crore. This has resulted in a shortfall of 120 mw to 150 mw in the evenings, plunging the city and its adjoining areas into darkness after 6 pm. The power cuts continue for one to three hours. That’s exactly what happened on Tuesday evening, with the shortfall in the CESC areas pegged at 125 mw.

The evening blackouts have forced households to stock candles and lanterns. “This is the most crucial time for us. We can’t afford to lose two to three hours of vital study time every evening,” complained Ayan Mukherjee of St Thomas’ Church School, in Howrah. Like Ayan, Debasmita of Calcutta Girls’ and Debapriya Ghosh of Lake Town Government School are also feeling the strain. “But for the emergency light, it would have been impossible for me to prepare,” said Debapriya, a Madhyamik candidate.

Their teachers are in agreement. “Thorough and repeated revision of the syllabi is most important at this stage... We are planning to take up the matter with CESC,” said D.K. Bhattacharya, a senior teacher of La Martiniere School for Boys and general secretary of the association for teachers of Anglo-Indian schools.

As students suffer, there’s no solution to the power play in sight. The Board has charged CESC with “underpaying” its monthly bills, too. “In December, CESC paid only Rs 17 crore, against a bill of Rs 27 crore,” said a senior SEB official. “CESC should pay the current dues in full and give a liquidation plan for the Rs 960 crore it owes the Board,” he added. The CESC, however, dismisses the charges.

But the private utility has confirmed that efforts are on to step up generation by the end of the month “for the sake of students”. “The 250-mw first unit at Budge Budge and a 67.5-mw unit at the Southern Generating Station in Garden Reach will be back on stream before January-end,” said Sumantra Banerjee, CESC managing director.

   

 
 
COPS AND CABBIES ON COLLISION COURSE 
 
 
BY STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
Taxi-drivers and traffic policemen are on a collision course. While the cops have intensified the drive against cabbies flouting road rules, taxi-drivers are crying foul over “police atrocities”.

“Taxis will stay off the road between 11.30 am and 1 pm on Wednesday as a mark of protest against police high-handedness,” said Kalyan Bhadra, president of the Bengal Taxi Association.

The strike call comes in the wake of “an unprovoked attack by the police” on taxi-drivers on Monday afternoon. Trouble had broken out on Sarat Bose Road when the police hauled up “illegally-parked taxis”.

The Bengal Taxi Association, the Calcutta Metropolitan Taxi Drivers’ Union and the Calcutta Taxi Association alleged that the policemen had “needlessly started smashing the taxis’ bonnets with batons and lathis”. This prompted them to call a “symbolic strike on Wednesday.

“They cannot browbeat the police with strike threats. I have sent the taxi union bosses several photographs showing illegally-parked vehicles and hundreds of complaint letters against cabbies from Calcuttans urging us to take action. But no action has been taken by the union bosses,’’ retorted deputy commissioner of police, traffic, K. Harirajan. “The taxi drivers are backed by powerful politicians... but we have decided to take the errant drivers to task.”

The police cracked down on “illegal parking of taxis” on city streets on Tuesday. Officers from local police stations and traffic guards booked at least 45 drivers at New Alipore, Rashbehari Avenue, Gariahat, Ballygunge, Sarat Bose Road, Camac Street, Hazra, Kidderpore, Shyambazar, Hatibagan and several other points. Several drivers were warned for stalling traffic on Park Street, Camac Street, Esplanade, B.B.D. Bag and Shyambazar.

Trouble erupted at Tollygunge and on Rashbehari Avenue where a section of taxi-drivers was seen arguing their case with the cops, and threatening to launch “an indefinite agitation”.

There are 10,000 taxis plying on the streets every day, with 85 fixed stands all over the city, where drivers can park their vehicles and wait for passengers. But these stands are often empty, with taxi-drivers parking their vehicles near important intersections to pick up passengers.

Hospital protest

Students and teachers of Garia Engineering College held a demonstration in front of Ruby General Hospital, on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, on Tuesday evening, alleging that the hospital authorities had demanded Rs 15,000 to admit a student of the college who had been knocked down by a lorry on VIP Road on Sunday. Sumanta Mukherjee, 22, was then shifted to Calcutta Medical College, where he died. The protest lasted half an hour.

   

 
 
CITY ‘HEARTLINE’ FOR NORTHEAST 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
Calcutta will soon offer a heartline to the Northeast “at no extra cost”.

The Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences, Dr Devi Shetty’s state-of-the-art super-speciality heart hospital at Mukundapur, off the E.M. Bypass, is extending its services through tele-cardiology “beyond space and time”.

“It’s a simple process of linking those areas in the Northeast which lack proper cardiac-care facilities to the superstructure here in Calcutta through satellite,” explained Dr N.K. Singh, commissioned to implement the project. “Tele-cardiology will enable patients in Tripura, Assam or Nagaland to avail of medical treatment and post-surgical follow-ups at Dr Shetty’s hospital here,” Singh added.

The GE medical division will supply equipment for the hook-up on long-term lease and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will provide V-Sat linkage free of cost for images to be transmitted on a broad bandwidth.

The first such centre to be linked to Calcutta “in two months’ time” is a government hospital in Udaypur, Tripura. “A compatible software — either Sun Solaris or Windows NT 2000 — will be used to digitally compress a medical image (like an echo cardiogram) at that end and beam it up with the satellite. Here, in Calcutta, the same software will enable us to decompress that image and see it clearly,” said Dr Alok Roy, vice-chairman of the Tagore hospital.

“A patient from the Northeast, who has undergone surgery in our Calcutta hospital, need not make repeated trips back to the city for check-ups. He can get that done from his native place itself through tele-cardiology, as all diagnostic reports will be seen by the doctors on-line. Eventually, we plan to link up the entire country via satellite,” said R. Udayan Lahiry, administrator.

“The biggest constraint could be the human element. Medical professionals will have to change their mindset to reach out for this facility,” observed Singh, who felt judicious use of this technology can cut down medical costs incurred by 30-40 per cent.

“In the US, tele-medicine has helped save $ 3 billion a year,” observed Singh, who has studied the model extensively.

Besides taking quality cardiac care to the masses, tele-cardiology can “also produce skilled surgeons through satellite education and spread awareness to prevent late complications”, felt Dr Ashutosh Raghuvanshi, clinical director and senior cardiac surgeon.

   

 
 
POLLS PUSH TENANCY ACT OFF THE TRACKS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
Taking into consideration the Assembly polls round the corner and pressure from some traders, the government has put the West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act, 1998, into cold storage. The Bill, which received the President’s assent last year, has drawn flak from both tenants and traders, who threatened to launch an indefinite trade bandh if it were implemented.

The state government has, consequently, decided to table the rules on the Act during the ensuing winter session of the Assembly, but not to issue the necessary notification. “We will table the rules related to the legislation, but it does not mean we are going to implement it. We have not yet decided on the notification for various reasons,” said Suryakanta Mishra, land and land reforms minister, whose brainchild it was.

“We have framed the Act, but there is no compulsion to implement it. It is for the state government to decide,’’ Mishra said.

This is the first time that the Left Front has been compelled to backtrack on a vital piece of legislation, despite enjoying absolute majority in the Assembly. Apart from tenants’ and traders’ bodies, a sizeable number of top CPM leaders and some important Cabinet ministers were opposed to the Act in its present form.

Alimuddin Street mandarins felt implementation of the “pro-landlord” Act would alienate urban middle-class and lower middle-class voters before the polls.

Sources said the party leadership recently summoned Mishra, who also is a state secretariat member, and directed him to put the Act into cold storage till the election was over. Since Mishra is no. 2 in Buddha’s Cabinet, he will be allowed to table the rules as a face-saving measure.

Several Cabinet ministers convinced chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee about the adverse effects of the Act. They reasoned that since nearly 95 per cent of the urban population comprises tenants, and most small traders, implementation of the Act would further erode the votebank. Apparently, the chief minister himself wants changes in some of its provisions. “We may have to go into some provisions of the Act,” said Ashok Bhattacharjee, urban development minister.

The West Bengal House-Owners’ Association, which threatened to agitate if the government fails to implement the Act, has not taken kindly to the decision. A spokesman wondered how a government could sit over a piece of legislation it had framed itself even after receiving the President’s nod.

Mahesh Singhania, spokesman of the West Bengal Federation of Traders’ Association, welcomed the move.

   

 
 
GITA AS GUIDE TO MORAL VALUES 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
Chanting slokas from the Gita has gained the status of an extra-curricular activity in English-medium schools of Calcutta.

Authorities of such schools say this has nothing to do with inculcating the spirit of Hindutva among students. Instead, it is an attempt on their part to introduce a high standard of moral values among the youth of this generation.

Attending the Gita-chanting classes is not a must. Only those willing to do so can attend them, school authorities said.

“The classes are not compulsory. At the same time, each and every student is welcome to attend the classes,” said Kajari Mukherjee, principal of Rajasthan Vidya Mandir.

Heads of institutions said they had introduced the chanting of slokas in students’ activity programmes so that children could develop an interest in the scriptures at an early age. Later, they would automatically learn to appreciate the scriptures.

K. Gayatri, who teaches Gita-chanting at a number of schools, said students of most institutions were picking up the style and pronunciation very fast. The classes were becoming very popular and many new students were joining them every month.

Acknowledging the popularity of the classes, Malini Goyal, principal, Mahadevi Birla Girls’ High School, said when the classes started three months ago, there was poor student response. “We are surprised to see the way more and more students are becoming interested in it. I believe this will definitely help students follow the right direction in life,” said Goyal.

Noticing the rising popularity of the Gita, a city-based religious group will organise a city-level competition for school students on chanting Gita slokas in November. A number of English-medium schools in Calcutta has approached the organisers for participation in the competition.

Moreover, a large number of students from some elite schools in Calcutta, like La Martiniere, St Lawrence and Carmel Convent, will individually participate in the competition.

The participating schools are: Mahadevi Birla Girls’ School, National School for Girls, Rajasthan Vidya Mandir, Bhawanipur Education Society, Ramnarayan Singh Memorial and Valley Green Montessori.

The Ashok Hall group of schools and South Point plan to participate in the competition from next year. A senior official of South Point said the school was planning to introduce the Gita-chanting classes when the it reopened after the Puja holidays.

Members of Chinmayananda Mission, which is organising the Gita -chanting competition, said they were holding classes in the mission offices where a large number of students from elite schools were joining daily.

   

 
 
RALLIES GRIND TRAFFIC TO A HALT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
A string of rallies by various political parties brought traffic to a halt in large parts of Calcutta on Tuesday.

The Left Front organised a meeting at Rani Rashmoni Road to condole the death of CPM leader Kalipada Haldar, who was recently murdered.

Processions led by Left Front constituents — the CPM, CPI, Forward Bloc and the RSP —arriving at Rani Rashmoni Road from 2 pm from various parts of the city, North and South 24-Parganas, disrupted traffic approaching Esplanade.

Commuters stranded in buses and taxis in Esplanade made a beeline at the Metro Railway stations.

Cars, buses, minibuses and taxis were stranded on Chittaranjan Avenue, Lenin Sarani, S.N. Banerjee Road and Jawaharlal Nehru Road as the processions slowly made their way towards Rani Rashmoni Road.

At Moulali, supporters of a CPI(M-L) faction formed a human chain around 2.30 pm, throwing traffic out of gear along APC Roy Road, AJC Bose Road and the surrounding areas. Traffic along CIT Road and Park Circus was also severely affected as a result.

Traffic in the Esplanade area was again disrupted around 6 pm as Left Front supporters began dispersing from the Rani Rashmoni Road meeting.

The Mayo Road area faced a similar situation in the afternoon, after Trinamul Congress supporters marched to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi there, to sit for an indefinite dharna, demanding a CBI probe into the Chhoto Angaria incident.

In north Calcutta, a rally taken out by the DYFI, the CPM’s youth wing, blocked a part of Sovabazar Street in the evening.

Earlier, DYFI supporters had marched in procession from Bagbazar to Sovabazar. Consequently, traffic in Shyambazar, Bhupen Bose Avenue and on Grey Street was severely disrupted.

   

 
 
SEX WORKER’S EAR SLASHED IN SCUFFLE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
Thirty-year-old Putul Gupta, supervisor of a clinic for sex workers in Kalighat, was seriously injured on Tuesday after a local anti-social chopped off her ear-lobe. Putul was rushed to SSKM Hospital, where she is battling for life. Another sex worker, Nisha, 24, and her husband Tapa, alias Sanjoy Choudhury, were arrested in this connection.

According to the officer-in-charge of Kalighat police station, trouble started in the afternoon following an altercation between Putul and Nisha over a client in Kalighat. When Nisha’s husband, Tapa, came to know about the matter, he allegedly beat up Putul and she, too, hit him back.

Tapa took out his razor and tried to slit Putul’s neck but, in the scuffle, chopped off her ear-lobe. Putul fell to the ground, bleeding profusely.

Later, local sex workers protested the incident and demanded security. Putul, a sex worker, was also in-charge of Usha Co-operative Multipurpose Society for sex workers.

   

 
 
NGO INITIATIVE ON STRAY DOGS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
There are approximately 200,000 stray dogs in the city’s lanes and bylanes, with the number increasing by leaps and bounds.

And as the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s (CMC) suggestion to “catch and kill” has infuriated animal lovers, the only solution in sight is to sterilise stray dogs.

Again, who will do the job? The government has neither funds nor staff, while the CMC lacks the expertise to handle sterilisation of dogs.

The All Lovers of Animals Society, one of the oldest non-government organisations in the city caring for animals, has stepped in to take up the onus.

The Society has claimed to have sterilised 850 strays in Salt Lake and is now focusing on the city’s thoroughfares.

This complicated and gigantic task has been spearheaded by three young housewives — Indrani Banerjee, Vijaya Mukherjee and Malini Bhakt — who are being guided by the organisation’s secretary, Dr D.R. Marwa, and vice-president S.N. Banerjee.

The Society will celebrate its golden jubilee at Ashutosh Centenary Hall on January 20. Union minister and crusader for animal rights Maneka Gandhi will inaugurate and address the function, referring to the animal birth control programme.

A panel discussion will be held, comprising state animal resources minister Anisur Rahaman, Human Rights Commission chairman Justice Mukul Gopal Mukherjee, mayor Subrata Mukherjee, Chandannagar Municipal Corporation mayor Amiya Das, Justice Samir Kumar Mukherjee and film actor Victor Banerjee.

They will discuss ‘Animals in Human Society’. Dr Asim Bhattacharya, vice-chancellor of West Bengal University of Animal and Fisheries Sciences, will raise the motion.

   

 
 
220 YEARS OF SINO SETTLERS 
 
 
BY SUDESHNA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
Sin Nien, the Chinese New Year, promises to be bigger and brighter this time. Come January 24, the Year of the Snake will mark the 220th anniversary of Chinese settlement in India.

“The Chinese in India trace their history to Yang Atchew, a sailor, who, in 1780, landed near Budge Budge at a place now named after him as Achipur,” says Paul Chung, president of the Indian Chinese Association. Atchew’s petition to Governor-General Warren Hastings for land and Hastings’ response, dated June 19, 1778, granting 650 bighas near Budge Budge as “encouragement to so industrious a people as the Chinese to settle in these provinces” are the first written records of Chinese settlement in India.

The association is bringing out a diary with details of the chronological landmarks of Chinese settlements in Calcutta — how Atchew set up the first sugar mill of Bengal, the birth of Chinatown, the effects of the Sino-Indian war in 1962, growth of Chinese schools...

Rickshaws, the diary tells us, were introduced in Calcutta by Chinese merchants in the early 1920s. The diary has been compiled by Jennifer Liang, a researcher.

Preparations for cultural programmes are on in full swing. “The main show will be a lion dance on January 21 in Tiretta Bazaar. There will be performances by 10-11 groups, comprising Chinese youth from different parts of the city. On the 23rd, New Year’s eve, we will be busy with sau uk, the spring cleaning, so that the Kitchen God gives a good account of the household to the Jade Emperor. Offerings will be made in each house to keep the god in good humour when he makes the annual trip to heaven. On New Year’s Day, we have a grand feast of vegetables to tempt the God of Wealth,” explains Dominic Lee, the chief organiser.

An added feature of the festivities this year will be a motorcycle rally from the China Temple in Achipur to China Town on February 4. “Achipur is of both historical and cultural significance to us. There is a shrine to earth deities, Thu Tai Kung and his wife, Thu Tai Phow, who are believed to have saved Atchew and his crew from being drowned in a storm. Every Chinese family in Calcutta makes an annual pilgrimage on New Year’s Day to the red, horse-shoe-shaped tomb of Atchew,” explains Lee.

“The commemoration is aimed at increasing historical awareness among our youth, who are increasingly becoming distanced from their roots,” says Chung. A special wish from the community to the lion god when the mausee (lion-dancer) makes his door-to-door rounds after the dance to offer blessings and collect the hung-pao (red packet) offerings on New Year’s Day.

   

 
 
OPP. KEEPS LEADERSHIP OPEN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, Jan. 16: 
The Opposition Manipur Democratic Front (MDF) today said its leadership issue was open and would be decided in a democratic manner.

The MDF’s move is seen as an attempt to woo Union minister of state for food processing Thounaojam Chaoba Singh, an arch rival of chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh in the ruling Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP).

MDF convenor Nimaichand Luwang told newsmen that they would democratically elect a leader after the Nipamacha Singh-led United Front of Manipur (UFM) ministry was toppled.

“Those MSCP leaders who want to join the MDF after splitting the party can also claim the leadership or participate in electing the new leader,” he added.

Luwang, however, was categorical that the new MDF leader, who would head the next government, would be elected democratically after Nipamacha Singh’s government was toppled.

Sources said the MDF’s move aimed at winning over Chaoba Singh’s supporters. The Union state minister commands about five to six legislators in the 31-member MSCP legislature wing. As Chaoba Singh also harbours the ambition to return to state politics, the offer could prove lucrative, they added.

The MDF formed a three-member committee at a meeting today to negotiate with MSCP dissidents. The committee comprises Luwang, Manipur People’s Party (MPP) chief O. Joy Singh and senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader C. Doungel.

However, Joy Singh, who is also the MDF spokesperson, said the leadership issue could not be imposed on the MDF by MSCP dissidents, but should be settled democratically once the Opposition got the magic figure which would enable them to set up an alternative government.

Reacting to the split in the Congress, Joy Singh said the merger of 10 Congress legislators with the Samata Party had strengthened the Opposition’s position.

The MDF said it wanted to reconvene the Assembly session to dispose off the no-confidence motion against Nipamacha ministry. He, however, demanded that the chief minister should stop confining his ministers and legislators at his residence.

Joy Singh said the MDF would urge Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy to reconvene the Assembly session which was adjourned sine die on December 1. The MDF’s stand on this issue is a move to please Governor Ved Marwah who has already asked the Speaker to reconvene the session without further delay.

When asked about the possibility of the Governor proroguing the winter session and summoning a fresh one, Joy Singh said in such an eventuality the Governor would have to address the House as it would be the first session of this year. But it would not be proper for the Governor to address the House when a no-confidence motion is pending against the government, he added.

Luwang said they were preparing to officially inform the Speaker on the merger of the Manipur Regional Congress Party and the Progressive Federal Party of Manipur with the Samata Party. The merger at party-level was announced in New Delhi a few weeks ago, but the formal merger in the House was yet to take place.

The Samata Party’s strength in the House can be recognised as 13 only after the Speaker puts his official seal on the merger. As per the rules, the Speaker has to be informed of the merger within 30 days. Luwang said they would send the statement to the Assembly within the stipulated time.

   
 

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