‘Walkman’ Shah sidesteps siege
E-mail hand-delivered from cyber post office
Death sparks bus arson
Mercury up, Met office sees cold spell ahead
Christie’s miniature mystery
Edinburgh surgical course comes to city
Lara plants awareness sapling
Girls bag slogan contest honours
Club stand-off continues
Manipur Governor summons Assembly

Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
The ‘Bonnet Dance’ was on in full swing as Governor Viren J. Shah emerged from the Assembly building at around 3.30 on Monday afternoon. Perched on top of his Contessa were Sanjay Bakshi and Dilip Das of the Trinamul Congress, with a number of other legislators, mainly from the Congress, sprawled all around it.

Hands flailing and feet stomping the bonnet of the car, they were letting out hoarse cries against the Governor. Shah’s driver had fled to the safer confines of the Assembly building.

But, as a bemused Shah walked into the mellow winter sunshine, he quickly turned the tables on the legislators and the spotlight firmly on himself. “Come along with me,” said Shah, gesturing to the officials and newsmen who had thronged around him. “I like walking, it is good for health, let us walk to Raj Bhavan.”

With these words, he strode off briskly, with out-of-shape policemen gasping behind him. The ‘historic walk’ — the first journey home on foot by any Governor here — had just begun.

The initial reaction of pedestrians near Akashvani Bhavan and Eden Gardens was one of bewilderment. Was this really Viren J. Shah jaywalking down the street? Why had he abandoned his convoy of cars?

As they nudged each other for answers — with some of them even rushing towards him before being stopped by securitymen — the kurta-pyjama-clad Governor was clearly enjoying his walk.

Oblivious of traffic screeching to a halt on Council House Street as he and his entourage walked down the middle of the thoroughfare, Shah tried to wave away the unruly behaviour of the legislators.

“Such things happen in a democracy,” Shah said nonchalantly. “You can witness such incidents in Parliament too. Four days have been allotted in this Assembly session to discuss my speech, so the legislators who are protesting will get enough time to raise the issue on the floor of the House. That would be a better way to voice their grievances.”

But newsmen accompanying him wanted more. How did it feel, walking back to Raj Bhavan? Was this a publicity gimmick? What did he feel about the law and order situation in the state, given the ruckus created by the legislators?

Ignoring the other questions, he dwelt briefly on law and order. “I am happy with the situation and with the action taken by policemen to maintain peace,” he politely said.

Then, cocking his head a little and smiling impishly, he remarked: “The legislators are not children. Who am I to try and teach them manners?”

By this time the hands of the clock had moved closer to 3.45 and the West gate of Raj Bhavan was ahead. Stepping on to the gravel path, along with secretary N. Saggi and his aide-de-camp, Shah waved to the others who were stopped at the gates, a satisfied smile on his face. “That is all for today,” he announced, beginning the final stretch home.

Later in the day, Assembly Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim said Shah had called him up at 2 pm and conveyed his desire to walk back to Raj Bhavan. “He is the head of this state, so who am I to stop him from walking back home?” Halim asked.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
The next time the postman comes calling, it might well be that you’ve got ‘mail’. For, he could be delivering an e-mail to your doorstep. Giving old economy postal service a dramatic e-twist, messages will soon be down-loaded from the Net, converted into hard copy, and then hand-delivered from post-offices.

E-post, as the electronic service to be introduced at select post offices has been christened, will be available in three categories:

)Economy: e-mail to be despatched by ordinary post, at Rs 10 per message

)Premium: e-mail to be sent by speed post, at a cost of Rs 15 per message

)Extraordinary: e-mail to be delivered by a ‘special messenger’ from national speed post centres only, at Rs 20 per message

The sender of the message will not only have to mention the complete postal address of the recipient, he/she will also have to mention the category of postage. The one hitch being, the recipient refusing to pay up for a message. What the postman does then, is not quite clear yet.

Announcing the e-scheme on Monday, Union minister of state for communication Tapan Sikdar said e-post would first be introduced in West Bengal, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. There will be a dedicated e-team at over 200 post-offices in these five states. “These five have been chosen, keeping in mind the large number of people from these states who live abroad,” Sikdar said.

The demand for such a service, said the minister, has been “growing rapidly”. “With private players cashing in through various speed post schemes, we cannot afford to lag behind,” he stressed. “The objective of e-post is to provide an efficient and prompt communication facility to consumers,” Sikdar added. “The scheme will also help generate some profit to lessen the burden of government subsidy,” Sikdar said.

The post-offices earmarked for the tech initiative will, in effect, be turned into cyber cafes. In Calcutta, 22 post offices have been identified: GPO, Burrabazar, Bowbazar, Writers’ Buildings, Beleghata, Circus Avenue, Beadon Street, Dum Dum, Ballygunge, New Alipore, Sarat Bose Road, Alipore, Park Street, Esplanade, Bidhannagar (CC Block), Belgachhia, Sech Bhavan, Cossipore, Ghughudanga, Behala, Regent Park and Tollygunge. They will all be “beautified” and provided with Internet connections “at the earliest”.

To popularise the scheme, the postal department has decided to go for an advertising blitz.

The move is being viewed as “feasible” from some IT quarters. “The plan sounds highly workable. It’s a welcome step, as it will increase the common man’s access to e-mail, and will be so much faster than an ordinary letter posted from, say the US,” observed Siddhartha Mukherjee of Cognizant Technology Solutions.

A member of the postal department, however, voiced scepticism. “All this system will do is increase paperwork, push up costs, create enormous junk mail, and a whole lot of complications for the postal staff,” he said, on condition of anonymity.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
Violence rocked Tiljala on Monday after a 23-year-old youth was run over while two private buses were trying to speed past each other. The victim, identified as Dinesh Singh, died on the spot.

Hundreds of residents of the nearby slums rushed to the spot and set two buses on fire. They even threw stones at officials of Tiljala police station, who had arrived to quell the violence. Seven policemen were injured in the attack. Three fire tenders were rushed to control the blaze.

The mob prevented the police from removing the victim’s body, which it placed on Naskarhat Road and held a demonstration demanding the immediate arrest of the drivers. The police went on a lathicharge to disperse the agitators.

The accident occurred at the intersection of Naskarhat Road and Picnic Garden Road. Two buses on route 39A, headed for their terminus, were trying to outspeed each other. Singh, who was on his bicycle, was knocked down by another bus coming from the opposite direction. He fell and was crushed under the wheels. The driver fled with his vehicle.

As soon as news of the accident spread, at least 400 people from the nearby Tagore Park and Panchannagram rushed to the spot and stopped one of the buses. Then, the rampage began. Stones were hurled at all passing vehicles. Traffic ground to a halt on Naskarhat Road.

One section of the mob emptied the fuel tanks of the vehicles stalled on the road and sprinkled the diesel on two buses, including the errant one they had stopped, and set both ablaze.

Jugal Kishore Mukherjee, officer-in-charge of Tiljala police station, said both the buses were gutted before the fire brigade could reach the spot. “We found only the charred skeletons of the vehicles. The drivers and conductors had fled,” he said.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
Calcuttans went without their woollens on Monday as the minimum temperature soared. Weathermen said the temperature is expected to rise further in the next three days. Alipore Met office director R.N. Goldar said that even though the early morning (minimum) temperature on Monday was 13.4 degrees Celsius, the mercury climbed to about 21 degrees at 8.30 pm on Monday.

“The temperature is rising because of an anti-cyclonic circulation of air over the north Bay of Bengal. Under its influence, a lot of moisture has moved in over Gangetic West Bengal and the North Wind has weakened. The night and day temperatures will increase further during the next few days,” Goldar said.

The minimum temperature is expected to climb to 14 degrees, 15 degrees and 16 degrees Celsius on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

“But, this is certainly not the end of winter. There will be another cold spell by the end of this week. The winter generally stays till mid-February,” Goldar added.

The atmosphere had already become moisture-laden, with the relative humidity rising to 98 per cent on Monday. Goldar predicted early morning mist in the days ahead.

“However, chances of rain are remote, as the incursion of moisture is not that heavy,” he added.

Held for cellphone theft: Two teenagers were arrested on Monday on charges of stealing three cellphones. The accused were picked up from their residences in Ekbalpur.Police recovered a cellphone from their possession.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
The controversy over the fake Manjit Bawa in the Christie’s sale in New York on September 20, 2000, never seems to die down.

When Mallika Sagar, Christie’s representative in India from the first of this month, and Laura Lindsay, director, British pictures, Christie’s, were in the city last week to attend the opening of an exhibition of restored paintings at the Victoria Memorial Hall, Sagar said: “Initially, he (Bawa) knew we had the painting. We had it cleared through him. We have consultants in Delhi (Vadhera art gallery) to do it. So, there is no room for doubt. But mistakes do happen.”

She stressed that Christie’s had a signed letter from Bawa certifying the painting as his own, which he later said was by his understudy, Mohinder Soni. “It’s one person’s word against another’s. What the truth is we will never know,” she said.

Sagar explained that in the case of living artists, Christie’s consultants are in touch with the artist. If the artist is dead, they try to find out its provenance — the lineage of owners and when it was painted. Research books and catalogues are consulted, and they keep their eyes and ears open to detect similar work.

“It is like putting together pieces of a puzzle. If there is any question about something, we reject it. Christie’s has to be convinced.”

And Christie’s did the same with the controversial Bawa miniature. Sagar received the letter from Bawa disowning the painting on the morning of the sale and it was taken out soon afterwards.

A livid Manjit Bawa, who was in his Delhi studio, said over the telephone on Sunday: “I have been painting for 45 years. If I gave my painting, how can I withdraw it? I never cleared the painting. I was in Calcutta at that time and I saw the catalogue. Christie’s doesn’t give a damn about Indian paintings. They are very careful about European art. I am suspicious about what they are doing in India.”

Sagar, who was in Delhi by Monday, stood by her earlier statement, saying: “Initially he didn’t react to it one way or the other. At the time of the auction I was in New York organising it. My Bombay office tells me he knew it.”

Bawa apart, Sagar, who is based in Mumbai, said $ 650,000 was raised at the first-ever contemporary Indian art sale in New York last year. Kalighat paintings, Hemen Mazumdar, Husain, Gaitonde, Atul Dodiya and Ganesh Pyne were the winners of the sale. “Prices have more than doubled because of international awareness,” she said. In April, Christie’s will hold the first sale of contemporary Indian paintings in Singapore.

Apart from NRIs from all over the world, an increasing number of non-Indians were showing interest in contemporary Indian art — people from the Far East, America, UK and collectors from Europe, Singapore, South America and Australia.

Laura Lindsay, who specialises in theme sales, shifted the focus from contemporary to art that harks back to the Raj. For the first time, an exclusive Art of India sale will be held in September in London. “We will keep it very small. Only top quality pieces — the very best of Indian fine arts that would be of interest to museums,” said Lindsay, who has been with Christie’s for over 20 years and has been organising the Visions of India sale annually for the past five years.

In 1999, she held the India at Christie’s sale, where Indian jewellery, Visions of India works and 20th century Indian art all went together under the gavel. To promote it, viewings, guided tours and events were held. This auction coming close to an Islamic sale, gave ample opportunity to people coming from abroad to plan their stay, and encouraged cross-marketing.

Though Christie’s does not source any material from India, Lindsay admitted, “About a third of the Raj-related items are sold to Indians. India has an enduring appeal.”


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh has recently recognised Calcutta as a centre for conducting its post-graduate surgical training programmes and the MRCS (Ed) examinations, a development which is considered a milestone in medical education in the city.

The recognition will help surgeons from not only the state but the whole of the eastern region. Calcutta is the third city in the country, after Mumbai and Chennai, to be conducting examinations for excellence in surgery.

“Earlier, students wishing to attain the degree had to attend courses and appear for examinations in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Singapore,” said Prof Gautam Sen, secretary of the Indian chapter of the Royal College.

Though the Indian chapter was set up 14 years ago, holding of training and conducting of examinations started in the country three years ago.

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh is one of the oldest alma maters for surgeons in the world, and was established way back in 1505. It is the only royal college that has extended the facility of holding its courses and examinations outside the UK.

“Senior members of the college visit the various centres twice a year to see whether the high standards of surgical teaching are being maintained,” said Dr Parthapratim Gupta, consultant paediatric surgeon and professor in surgery at the Institute of Child Health.

He and Dr Sanjay De Bakshi, also a consultant surgeon, have been appointed tutor surgeons on behalf of the Royal College. They will be conducting the “basic surgical skills course,” designed by the college, in Calcutta. The venue is likely to be the Institute of Child Health, Dr Gupta said.

The Indian chapter has already conducted this course twice. With the selection of Calcutta as a new centre, two more courses will be held in February and May. Visiting surgeons from the UK will also be present during the five-day course.

Through the efforts of the Indian chapter, 104 young surgeons from the country have become Fellows of the Royal College over the past two years, Prof. Sen said.

The college is also involved in developing links with leading medical institutions, in both the public and private sectors, to establish a structured training programme for post-graduate surgical trainees.

“This training and the proficiency achieved will have a direct impact on the quality of surgical care delivered to the people,” said Dr Gupta.

The college’s recognition for Calcutta comes at a time when the Medical Council of India, the autonomous body empowered to formulate medical courses and grant permission to institutions to hold them, has rejected a proposal for starting under-graduate courses at SSKM Hospital.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
“Lara Dutta zindabad,” cheered villagers, as Miss Universe left Kochpukur, South 24-Parganas, on Monday.

“It’s incredible to see these kids. It’s incredible to see their mothers,” whispered Lara, leaving a schoolroom in the village of 200 residents.

Goodwill Ambassador for United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and spokesperson for the Face-to-Face campaign, Lara is back in India to “assess the needs of her country’s youth”. On Monday, she met with adolescents in Kochpukur, one of the 60 villages that have been turned around by the efforts of Nishtha, a non-government organisation working for women’s empowerment.

Greeted by a shower of flower petals, villagers performed an aarti before she settled down for a chat with the help of a translator. Next, Lara made history, as the first woman to ever perform the briksha ropan ritual in Kochpukur, or the ceremonial planting of a sapling, customarily reserved for men. Five women danced around the pretty woman in peach chikon salwar kameez, hair pulled back, holding a green coconut in her hands. As she planted the seed, women gathered around, blowing conchshells.

Supported by the Family Planning International Assistance (FPIA), Nishtha attracted the UNFPA’s interest because of its far-reaching work through mahila mandals and peer educators.

“Lara wants to work with adolescents and sexual health issues. But she realises the importance of a holistic approach,” Brooke Johnson of the UNFPA informed.

Sitting amongst enthusiastic ‘kishors’ and ‘kishoris’, as the educators are called, Lara tried to find out about their work and problems.

Showing Lara the charts used to teach fellow-villagers about the human body and AIDS, they sat patiently for their turn. “How do you feel studying side-by-side with the girls of your village?” Lara asked the boys. “We used to think that the girls cannot do anything, but now we realise that they can do everything we can,” Brajogopal Mondal, an 18-year-old kishor, said.

Her advice to the boys and girls: “First decide what you want to be. Whether it is Miss Universe, doctor or engineer, education is the best gift you can give yourself. Nothing can stop you, or stand in your way, if you have an education.” Fifteen-year-old Jonaki Koyal, who helps out at the school, seems to have made up her mind. No crowns for her. She wants to be a social worker.

The mahila mandals, mobilised by Mina Das of Nishtha, have changed the face of the villages. From schools for children, drop-outs and the elderly, to awareness campaigns about health issues, to a weekly clean-up of the village, mothers, daughters and sons get together to do it all.

Lara is scheduled to visit the Tangra slum on Tuesday morning, where CINI has organised a special training session on sexual and reproductive health, and a women’s clinic afterwards. Her trip will end in Mumbai, where she will visit a women’s training centre at the UNFPA Skills Development Centre.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
For the second consecutive year, girls from city schools have walked away with the honours in the Calcutta Police-conducted annual slogan-writing competition for schoolchildren for generating awareness against rash driving.

Anshu Bansal a student of Class IX of Mahadevi Birla Girls’ Higher Secondary School has been chosen the best writer in English. ‘Start early, drive carefully, reach safely’ is Anju’s message to reckless drivers. Her slogan is being used on hoardings at major traffic intersections. “It is brief but gives a complete picture of road safety,” DC, traffic, K. Harirajan said.

Sanjukta Patra, a student of Madhya Kolkata Balika Vidyalaya, has been chosen the best slogan writer in Bengali.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
The management of The Saturday Club Ltd has refused to “accede to unjustified and unreasonable demands” by the employees’ union, choosing to keep its doors shut for the second day. The club had decided to suspend all operations from 6 am on Sunday after employees, pressing for a charter of demands, had gheraoed and threatened vice-president T.P. Roy who had to be “rescued” by the police on January 16.

“The suspension of operations of our club shall continue till unequivocal assurances are forthcoming from the employees and/or their union that they shall refrain from acts of indiscipline, high-handedness, intimidation and abuses directed at committee members,” said club secretary N. Allay.

Club president Prem Nayar added: “We will not resume operations till we sort out the problem. We won’t be unduly rigid but we’ll have to see that the club remains viable and financially sound.”

The Citu-affiliated union, representing the 170-odd employees, is agitating against the management’s decision to do away with the club’s own medicare facilities which ran parallel to the statutory ESI scheme and to freeze the Club Special Dearness Allowance (CSDA) at last December’s rates.

The management felt the club’s additional manpower cost burden “will be Rs 90 lakh should we comply with all the demands in the charter”. Nayar said: “Out of an annual turnover of Rs 3.5 crore, we spend Rs 1.75 crore on the staff.”

Bina Sen, vice-president of the employees’ union, said: “If the club remains closed indefinitely, the employees will starve and we are ready to sit with the management and the labour commissioner for negotiations.” Sen maintained that the club management “should have been more sensitive” in dealing with the news of ex-employee Gautam Roy’s “sudden and sad demise”.

The management maintained that Roy had been “dismissed following charges of financial irregularities after a proper enquiry and with all dues”. The employees’ union, however, said Roy’s sack letter was “never despatched” and that he was “a victim of the management’s whims”.

The closure of this institution steeped in tradition hasn’t gone down well with most members. “The employees here are paid at least 25 per cent more than their counterparts in other city clubs. Unless the management rationalises the employee benefit structure, the club will be forced to down shutters in five years,” said S.C. Bhalla, a member.


Imphal, Jan. 22: 
Manipur Governor Ved Marwah today directed the Speaker to reconvene the adjourned winter session of the Assembly by February 6.

“The adjourned third session of the seventh Manipur legislative Assembly should be reconvened immediately — in any case not later than February 6 — to take up for consideration the no-confidence motion against the council of ministers, which has been already admitted,” he stated.

The Governor wrote separately to chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh in this regard. “All my earlier letters and messages were ignored. The current state of affairs cannot be allowed to remain unchanged for an indefinite period,” he said.

Marwah’s intervention has added a new dimension to the controversy over adjournment of the winter session on December 1.

The Speaker had extended the time limit for taking up the no-confidence motion for discussion on the ground that the Assembly hall was yet to be repaired. He said non-availability of funds had delayed repair work.

Ruling and Opposition legislators clashed inside the Assembly on December 1, damaging microphones and furniture. In his letter to Nipamacha Singh, Marwah said a team of officials headed by the chief secretary should get in touch with the Assembly secretary immediately and ensure that repair work is completed soon. He said the Assembly hall should be ready to host the winter session within 10 days. The Governor’s directive sparked a bout of frenetic political activity in this capital town. While the ruling United Front of Manipur met at the chief minister’s residence to chalk out its strategy, the Manipur Democratic Front leadership held discussions at the Speaker’s bungalow.

The Opposition camp, which has been backing the Speaker as an “alternative chief minister”, is in a quandary as it still does not have the numbers to oust the Nipamacha Singh ministry.

In spite of its best efforts, the Opposition has been unable to make a dent in the 35-member legislature wing of the UFM. Instead, the leadership tussle in the MDF has helped Nipamacha Singh keep his flock together.


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