Smoking Buddha blocks puff ban
Crackdown on cars with new parking rules
Strike delays films’ release
Doctors welcome desi Viagra for Rs 12
Council interface for ‘faultless’ HS
Sparks fly over malaria toll
Amsu bandh cripples life
Tripura hosts heritage show
Minister admits lapses in Bangla war festival
Blackout hits trade at Chilka tourist spot

 
 
SMOKING BUDDHA BLOCKS PUFF BAN 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Jan.18: 
Under pressure from the “chain-smoking” chief minister and the powerful tobacco lobby, the health department has decided not to table the proposed anti-smoking Bill during this winter session.

According to sources at Writers’ Buildings, Bhattacharjee directed health minister Partha De to “hold the Bill” as it needed “modification”. The chief minister has, apparently, suggested imposing “restrictions” rather than a ban on smoking in government offices or at public places.

“We shall modify some provisions of the Bill before placing it in the Assembly. We are holding discussions with the law department in this regard,” said De. “We do not aim to stop smoking through legislation. What we want to ensure is that a non-smoker is not affected by a smoker. So, if someone is smoking in an open place instead of a closed chamber, it might not cause harm to others... We are redrafting the Bill after taking all these factors into consideration,’’ he added.

Denying “pressure” from any quarter, the health minister said the “emphasis will be on increasing people’s awareness about the dangers of smoking”.

But top officials from ITC did meet the health minister at his Writers’ Buildings chamber on Thursday and urged him not to “bring in any Act that would affect the industry”.

They submitted a memorandum to the health minister protesting the proposed Bill.

“The government can bring in any Act prohibiting smoking, as long as it does not affect the industry. Imposing restrictions on selling and advertising cigarettes is not acceptable,’’ said an ITC official.

The tobacco major had earlier written to the chief minister expressing “serious reservations” over the proposed smoking ban. Several other cigarette manufacturers have also come out strongly against the ban threat.

Acting on the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Union health department and Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, the state government had decided to draft a Bill prohibiting smoking in offices and public places. The Bill also suggested a ban on spitting in public.

The Prohibition of Smoking and Spitting at Public Places Bill was ready to be tabled in the Assembly during the current session. According to the draft Bill, smoking was to be banned in government offices, on buses and at various other public places. Selling and advertising of cigarettes were also to be prevented within 500 metres of any educational institution.

The Bill proposed turning Writers’ Buildings into a ‘no-smoking’ zone. The 3,000-odd employees who have been identified as smokers would then have had to come out of the red bastion for a puff.

“If an employee smokes 10 cigarettes daily, he has to go out 10 times, wasting more than an hour a day. This will lead to a chaotic situation outside Writers’,” said a senior employee of the irrigation department.

Among those who would be badly hit by the ban are about 12 ministers, led by the chief minister, and no less than 50 senior bureaucrats who are heavy smokers.

Last week, when De initiated the move for Cabinet clearance of the Bill, Bhattacharjee, apparently, told him that he was against it in the “present form” and asked for “modification”.

Sources at the chief minister’s secretariat said Bhattacharjee felt there was “no justification” for such a Bill to be tabled. “Though the Centre has advised us to introduce an anti-smoking Act, no state government has done so yet. The Delhi government had imposed a rule banning smoking in public places but was then compelled to amend it,” a senior officer of the health department said.

   

 
 
CRACKDOWN ON CARS WITH NEW PARKING RULES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan.18: 
It was seven crucial minutes, stuck in the middle of a traffic jam on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road last week, with illegally-parked vehicles blocking half the street, that led city police commissioner D.C Vajpai to order a wide-ranging drive on Thursday and a review of all parking arrangements across the city.

On his way to attend an important function in north Calcutta, Vajpai was delayed on Friday because of the chaotic traffic conditions in large parts of central Calcutta. On instructions from him, a review meeting of all senior officials was held on Wednesday, at which it was decided to tackle the problem in a “head-on” fashion.

Vajpai overruled objections raised by a number of officials about “inadequate staff” and himself ordered the drive that began from nine in the morning on Thursday. Policemen cracked down on slow-moving vehicles on large parts of central and south Calcutta, seizing over 150 rickshaws and handcarts and clearing the streets of illegally-parked vehicles.

More importantly, the city police announced a revision of parking rules, aimed at making travelling smoother on busy streets. Officials said the police will be speaking to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation authorities and ask them to undertake a “sharply upward” revision of all parking rates.

“We hope the civic authorities will agree. With increased parking fees, which should be quite steep, there will be fewer cars parked on the streets,” an official said. Officials said the parking fees are “ludicrously low” compared to international rates and should be hiked to bring about some parity. “We know we cannot raise it to absurd limits, but at least some effort should be made in this direction,” the official said.

Some of the new parking rules that came into effect from Thursday are:

Parking will not be allowed on roads which are seven metres or less in width, like Mangoe Lane and Creek Row. So far, parking was allowed on one side of such roads.

Parking will be allowed only on one side of roads between nine and 12 metres wide. Earlier, parking was allowed on both sides of these thoroughfares, like Ganesh Chandra Avenue and a stretch of Free School Street.

On streets more than 12 metres wide, like Chittaranjan Avenue and Jawaharlal Nehru Road, parking will be allowed only along some stretches on both sides.

“The entire initiative will be undertaken in phases,” said deputy commissioner of traffic, K. Harirajan. “We have started the drive on an experimental basis from Thursday.”

Only after the police are satisfied will a formal notification be put out in the papers informing the public about the new rules, officials said.

The police have also submitted a proposal to the state government, urging it to develop a vacant plot adjacent to Manohar Das Tarag into a parking plot.

“There is not enough parking space in the Lindsay Street-New Market area and unless we develop some parking plazas around here, there will be serious problems of traffic,” Harirajan said.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation had undertaken an ambitious project to construct a Parkomat — a three-storeyed automatic car parking plaza — at Humayan Place, next to New Market. Not only has the project got delayed, but priority has now shifted a similar project on Rawdon Street.

   

 
 
STRIKE DELAYS FILMS’ RELEASE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan.18: 
Calcuttans will miss out on Karisma Zubeidaa Kapoor and Kuch Khatta Kuch Meetha Kajol this weekend. Nearly 750 cinemas in the city and elsewhere in Bengal will stay shut from January 19 to 21 because of a strike called by employees demanding implementation of a revised pay-scale.

Both Bollywood blockbusters will hit the halls on Monday, three days after their countrywide release. Distributors of two Bengali films — Shesh Bichar and Janak Janani — have pushed back the release date from January 19 to 26.

The employees’ body, the Bengal Motion Picture Employees’ Union, has demanded a 70 per cent hike in basic pay. “If there is no response from cinema-owners, we will announce an indefinite shutdown,” warned Swadhin Aloke Mukherjee, union joint secretary. Cinema employees’ pay was last revised in 1996, he said.

The executive body of the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association has declared the strike “illegal”, as it was called without a fortnight’s notice. Hall-owners said they would incur a loss of around Rs 2 crore in the strike. “We will not yield to any unreasonable demand, even if the staff go on an indefinite strike,” said Bijoy Khemka, association vice-president.

   

 
 
DOCTORS WELCOME DESI VIAGRA FOR RS 12 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan.18: 
It’s arrived. The wonder drug that could help a large segment of the male population suffering from erectile dysfunction, especially between the ages 40 and 70.

Chemists in the city have stocked up sildenafil citrate, the basic ingredient of the revolutionary drug Viagra. Four of the six Indian companies that were last week given the green signal by the Drug Controller of India have entered Calcutta with their products, that cannot be purchased without a prescription.

In all four, the drug is the same, and is available in three doses: 25 mg, 50 mg and 100 mg.

The prices are surprisingly low, compared to the rates at which the smuggled Viagra was being sold in the grey market.

For example, Sun Pharmaceuticals, which held its official launch in the city on Thursday, has priced the drug at Rs 12 for 25 mg, Rs 18 for 50 mg and Rs 27 for 100 mg. Their product is called Edegra.

Cadilla has also supplied drug stores with its product, called Penegra, as has Torrent (Endoz) and Ranbaxy (Cavetra). Edegra, however, is more commonly available.

The drug has already been prescribed by city doctors. Dr Uday Choudhury, consultant psychiatrist, has got a feedback from six of the eight patients he has prescribed the drug to in the last four days. “All have said they have had good results.”

Dr Dipak Mukherjee, consultant urologist, has been prescribing the drug (Viagra) for quite some time for those who could import it. “Sildenafil will now be easier to get, now that it has been officially sanctioned.”

Even doctors attached to government hospitals do not see any harm in prescribing the drug. Dr Subhankar Choudhury, senior endocrinologist at SSKM Hospital, said: “With the new drug not being that expensive, it will be possible to prescribe it to more patients.”

A man, married for the last three years, was among the first to pick up a strip of Edegra from a central Calcutta drug store on Thursday afternoon, albeit with a prescription. “This could well help to turn around my marriage,” he said.

Global studies say that about 52 per cent men between 40 and 70 suffer from dysfunction today. In India, one of every 10 patients has the problem.

“In India, men do not come forward with their problems. Hopefully, awareness will grow, now that an answer is available,” said Shyamal Ghosh, senior vice-president of Sun Pharma.

   

 
 
COUNCIL INTERFACE FOR ‘FAULTLESS’ HS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan.18: 
The West Bengal Council for Higher Secondary Education has decided to meet the heads of all Higher Secondary (HS) institutions in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal.

The heads will be asked to ensure smooth conduct of the HS examinations, due to begin from March 20.

This is the first time the Council has organised meetings with the headmasters immediately before holding the HS examinations. Headmasters of nearly 2,500 HS institutions, many of which are in Calcutta, will attend the meet.

“We have already started the process. The first session of the meeting was held at Behrampore on Wednesday, where the response was very good,” said Council president Sudin Chattopadhay.

Last year, the Council had to face agitations from a section of students after the publication of results, who allegedly found certain anomalies in the marksheets of some examinees.

Sources in the state education department said the movement had put the Council in an embarrassing situation, which finally prompted the authorities to take appropriate measures in making the examination system as much “faultless” as possible.

The Council had showed the answer scripts of the examinees, who had complained of gross mistakes in their marksheets, to mediapersons after the agitation last year.

Chattopadhyay, however, clarified on Thursday that the Council’s decision was not a result of last year’s movement. “We have initiated the move to improve the over-all functioning of the Council,” he said.

Apart from examinations, the heads of institutions will also be instructed to ensure proper academic standards round the year and improve the administrative functioning as well.

   

 
 
SPARKS FLY OVER MALARIA TOLL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan.18: 
The CMC and the state health department are on a collision course over malarial death figures in the city. The 12-member malaria advisory committee, comprising state and Central government health officials, at a meeting on Monday, admitted that the civic health department had succeeded in curbing malaria in the city by 60 per cent till October this year.

But the figures for the last two months have stirred up a controversy. The government has yet to process the data for November and December. But a deputy director of the state health department, who attended the meeting, claimed that if the malarial deaths in November and December were included, the death toll this year might surpass that of last year’s.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said the CPM is out to undermine the “spectacular achievement of the Trinamul-BJP board in controlling malaria.” He added: “The malaria death toll this year till October was only 25, against corresponding figures of 53 and 64, respectively, in 1998 and 1999. The CPM is fabricating data as the party thinks the CMC’s success will weigh for the Trinamul Congress in the impending Assembly elections,” the mayor said.

The CMC will demand names and addresses of victims, who died in November-December, from the state health department, he added.

Member (mayor-in-council), health, Javed Ahmed Khan has directed all borough executive health officers to check their respective data for the two months.

Malaria breaks out in April and peaks post-monsoon in August and September. This year, the incidence of malaria in the peak period was the lowest in the past five years, chief municipal health officer Sujit Ghosh said.

Refuting the claim of the state official, that about 16 deaths occurred due to infection by the plasmodium vivax parasite, Ghosh pointed out that a malaria patient could not die of vivax infection.

Khan pointed out that the month-wise malarial statistics showed a steep upward trend over the previous year till June, when the Trinamul-BJP board came to power in the CMC. But by September-October, the malaria graph dipped by about 60 per cent over the last year.

   

 
 
AMSU BANDH CRIPPLES LIFE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, Jan. 18: 
The 24-hour statewide bandh called by the All-Manipur Students’ Union paralysed normal life in Manipur today.

The general strike was called in protest against the attack on Amsu president Khoirom Gourashyam yesterday by unidentified gunmen. Thirty-one-year-old Gourashyam, who is also the president of the Manipur University Students’ Union, was shot at by unidentified gunmen at the Amsu office located inside the D.M. College campus here.

The Amsu president, with bullet injuries in his chest, survived the attack.

All markets throughout the state remained closed during the general strike today. But there were no untoward incidents. The bandh began at midnight last night and will continue till midnight tonight.

In an attempt to make the bandh a success, Amsu supporters burnt tyres and sprayed Mobil oil on roads in different parts of the capital city.

The transport system was completely paralysed and people remained indoors, fearing violence. The streets were deserted and security personnel deployed at several points of the city.

Educational institutions remained shut and work in most government offices was severely affected as only a few employees attended. Indian Airlines and Jet Airways, however, operated their flights as usual.

The Amsu president has now been admitted to J.N. Hospital in Imphal East. Doctors said he was out of danger. The attack has shocked the entire student community of the state, with many organisations condemning the attempt on his life.

The Manipuri Students’ Federation, while terming the incident as unfortunate, said the attack was a blow to the students working for the uplift of society. Students’ unions of the LMS Law College and the Oriental College and the Kuki Students’ Organisation have condemned the attack.

Five unidentified young men entered the Amsu office yesterday at 1 pm and attacked the union president inside his room. While three of them waited outside the Amsu building, two assailants went inside the union president’s room. The attackers, however, could fire only one round at Gourashyam and the bullet pierced the left side of his chest.

Gourashyam was immediately rushed to the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences hospital. After his condition became stable, he was shifted to the security ward of J.N. Hospital as the RIMS Hospital does not have adequate security. Police have been searching some places in the city in an attempt to trace the attackers, but no arrest could be made till this afternoon.

Many women organisations (Meira Paibis) have also flayed the attack on the Amsu president. The Amsu has demanded that the assailants should disclose their identities and spell out the reason behind the attack.

Amsu general secretary Premananda Yumnam said they could never imagine that gunmen would attack the president of a students’ union which was serving the people and students of the state.

   

 
 
TRIPURA HOSTS HERITAGE SHOW 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, Jan. 18: 
The first heritage festival of Tripura gets underway tomorrow on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Mata Tripureswari temple in Udaipur, the erstwhile capital of Tripura.

The government has made extensive plans to celebrate the festival through a series of cultural programmes. The fabled Tripureswari temple, one of the 51 Hindu shrines dedicated to Goddess Kali, was set up by King Dhanya Manikya (1490-1520) in 1501 near a lake.

According to Rajmala, the royal chronicle of the Manikya dynasty, Dhanya Manikya was ordered by Goddess Kali to set up the temple and bring an image from Chittagong (in Bangladesh, which then was a part of Manikya’s kingdom).

The imposing temple was accordingly set up by the king. The Shankaracharya of Sringeri Muth in Tamil Nadu, Swami Bijayendra Saraswati visited the temple in 1999. He had himself performed puja there. He was also the first Shankaracharya in the 900-year history of Shankar Muths to have crossed the Brahmaputra to worship the deity in the Tripureswari Temple.

Information minister Jiten Chowdhury, who is the head of the celebration committee, said artistes of national and international fame would arrive here to participate in the cultural programmes. Chowdhury said an open-air theatre and a garden will be set up around the temple. It will be named after the founder of the temple King Dhanya Manikya, one of the most powerful rulers in the history of the state. A large number of pilgrims have arrived for the festival.

   

 
 
MINISTER ADMITS LAPSES IN BANGLA WAR FESTIVAL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, Jan. 18: 
In a new twist to the controversy over the just-concluded “Bangladesh Liberation Festival” here, Tripura information minister Jiten Chowdhury yesterday admitted that the Left Front government had failed to organise the event properly.

“The manner in which the festival was organised left a lot to be desired,” he said.

Chowdhury’s candid admission comes at a time when the state government is facing flak for its failure to involve the people of Tripura in the festival. Even those who participated in the 1971 war were conspicuous by their absence.

Highly-placed sources said the Awami League leadership was keen to jointly organise a “liberation festival” in Tripura in recognition of the role played by the people of the state in the 1971 war.

Tripura’s population was only 15 lakh before the conflict, but it doubled when an equal number of people from Bangladesh took shelter here to escape the military offensive launched by Pakistan on March 25, 1971.

After tentative discussions, leaders of Tripura and Bangladesh constituted a celebration committee last year. But trouble started when two CPM leaders differed on the composition of the committee. One of these leaders made changes in the committee without informing the other, sources said.

The shoddy work done by the organisers of the festival came to light on January 11, the day it was inaugurated.

There was lack of co-ordination among the organisers, resulting in low attendance at Rabindra Bhawan, the venue of the festival.

Chowdhury left for Calcutta the next day and returned only after the festival was over.

Taking the cue, the state’s largest-circulated daily, Dainik Sambad, published a report on how the organisers had made a mess of the festival.

The CPM mouthpiece, Desherkatha, retaliated immediately and accused Dainik Sambad of publishing a baseless report. The mudslinging continued for three consecutive days before both sides called a truce.

The information minister’s statement yesterday is, however, likely to ignite a fresh debate.

Chowdhury subtly criticised both the organisers and the people of Agartala while raising the issue at a function. He said the festival would have been a grand success had the people of the state been more cooperative.

   

 
 
BLACKOUT HITS TRADE AT CHILKA TOURIST SPOT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Berhampur, Jan. 18: 
Rambha, a major tourist destination on the banks of Chilka lake, is in the dark for the past 17 days.

At nightfall, power supply is cut off to all the street lights and public places in this small township which depends mainly on tourism and fishing for its livelihood.

This is proving a major problem for tourists who flock here at this time of the year.

Southco sources said they had cut off power supply since January 2 because of non-payment of dues by the Rambha Notified Area Council. They said they had intimated the local body about the long-standing arrears and had also warned them that power supply would be discontinued if the bills were not paid in time.

Rambha Notified Area Council sources alleged that Southco had suddenly and astronomically hiked electricity charges. Rambha being a small township, its local governing body does not have a major financial income and deposits and is largely dependent on government grants for the running of the local body.

Rambha Notified Area Council chairperson Santilata Sethi said initially Southco authorities had agreed to accept a specific amount towards the electricity bills.

But when council officials went to pay the amount on Tuesday, Southco officials at Rambha refused to accept the amount and demanded full payment.

The members of the Notified Area Council have approached the Ganjam collector to get the power supply resumed as the blackout is affecting tourism in the town.

Sethi gheraoed the Southco office in Rambha yesterday, demanding resumption of work. She said if the Southco failed to resume power supply, she and her supporters would disrupt the work of their office in Rambha.

Sethi said accidents and antisocial activities had risen in the tourist township because of the blackout.

She said she had written to the executive engineer of Southco on January 12, requesting him to resume power supply to the street lights as it was hampering public life.

But Southco authorities are not willing to consider any public grievance, she lamented.

Mother prawns smuggled: Ganjam police today unearthed a racket, involving smuggling of mother prawns from the Orissa coast to Andhra Pradesh.

Chatrapur circle inspector Girija Shankar Rath said the police yesterday seized three vehicles carrying 27 mother prawns to Andhra Pradesh near Rabha. Six persons were also arrested.

Rath said each mother prawn was sold for Rs 50,000 in Andhra Pradesh. He said the mother prawns had been caught from the deep sea near Paradip and were being transported live to Andhra Pradesh to be sold to prawn breeders. Each mother prawns weighs more than half a kg.

Police sources said they have handed over the seized mother prawns to the assistant director of fisheries.

Traditional fishermen on the Orissa coast have long been demanding a check on the smuggling of mother prawns. Police sources said trawlers operating in the deep sea captured the mother prawns and sold them for Rs 36,000 each. They are later smuggled to Andhra Pradesh where they are sold at a higher price.

   
 

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