Corpn bows to market mantra
Scholars suffer staff go-slow
Fire off runway
Lucre lures teens into arms of carrier crime
Raise a water pouch when Sachin lifts a six
Clean-up drive that saves lives
Varsity ropes in private firm to vet job-seekers
Sex workers UN-bound
STAR refuses to roll back fee hike
Highrises raise quake risks

Calcutta, March 7: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation promises to do what the government has failed to — privatise to cut losses and streamline activities.

Every year, the CMC has been losing a staggering sum of Rs 120 crore on services which have no direct bearing on its civic duties. But now, turning market-savvy, the cash-strapped Corporation has decided to downsize and privatise all such services.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said on Wednesday that the CMC has carried out a survey identifying a number of “fund-wastage areas”. These “unproductive sectors” include primary schools, maternity homes, foundry shops, motor vehicles workshops, community halls, hot-mix plants, slaughter houses, markets and ambulance services. “These have no direct bearing on our civic tasks but we have to shell out over a hundred crores to maintain them,” said Mukherjee. “This can’t go on. So, now, we have decided to lease them out to private entrepreneurs and NGOs,” he added.

The move will, in the long run, enable the CMC to save Rs 80 crore a year on maintenance costs alone. The mayor said that in no other country do civic bodies carry out the functions that the CMC is engaged in at the moment. “Why should we run maternity homes and ambulance services when the entire health department of the state government is there for it?” he asked. But Mukherjee said the privatisation process would be a gradual one.

However, in an assurance to the workers, he said the 5,000-odd employees in these sectors will be “relocated” in various departments of the CMC. This will, of course, mean an embargo on fresh recruitment.

“The government can take a leaf out of the CMC’s book if it really wants to cut down on wasteful expenditure,” the mayor declared. The CMC spends Rs 14 crore annually to pay salaries to more than 1,200 teachers engaged in its 306 primary schools. “But in most schools, there are not more than 20 students. As local residents do not send their wards to CMC schools, the teachers, too, have virtually no work,” said an official of the CMC’s accounts department.

Similarly, the civic authorities are spending Rs 6 crore every year on 10 maternity homes and heart clinics, which are in a shambles. All the 30-odd civic markets are running at a loss.

In New Market alone, the CMC incurs a loss of Rs 2 crore every year. The foundry shops the CMC runs manufacture manhole and gullypit covers, which bring in around Rs 25 lakh a year. But in the bargain, the CMC spends around Rs 10 crore annually, just to maintain them and pay the employees. At the CMC’s Entally workshop, where the civic body’s vehicles are repaired, nearly Rs 15 crore is spent every year, for service worth Rs 2 crore or less.


Calcutta, March 7: 
National Library, the largest and one of the oldest repositories in Asia of books, documents and journals, is in trouble.

A large section of its staff, affiliated to Citu, have resorted to an unofficial “go-slow” that is affecting scholars, students and readers. They are facing difficulties in getting the books and documents they require, as a section of the employees is agitating against some decisions taken by the Centre, specifically, the department for human resources development.

The agitators have not served any notice to the library authorities about their protest but have been silently going slow on their work, inconveniencing approximately 1,000 readers and scholars who go to the library every day. Many of them complained to the authorities that they were not getting the necessary books and journals and often could not find any staff member for assistance.

A Calcutta University lecturer said the library had recently acquired some new titles. “But when we requisition them, they are refused. On making persistent inquiries, we are told that the books are yet to be catalogued and cannot be given.”

Strangely, two librarians’ posts are vacant since 1995. The library authorities have recently urged the Centre to raise the issue with the Union Public Service Commission, which recruits people for the library. Former librarian Kalpana Dasgupta had gone to Delhi in 1994 on deputation, where she still is.

The other librarian has not been appointed for over six years. “This post is for an SC/ST candidate and we are not getting any suitable candidate,” said a senior library official.

Also, no full-time director has taken up office after D.N. Banerjee retired in 1997. “Banerjee, a retired IAS officer, was granted extension thrice by the Centre,” the library official added.

The present director of the Indian Museum, Shyamal Kanti Chakraborty, is looking after the library as its director. “But he is very busy with the museum and cannot devote much time to the library,” the official said.

Chakraborty, however, said he was trying hard to improve the library and its functioning. “I am looking after the library only for a couple of weeks. Naturally I require some more time to understand its problems,” he added.

The Centre had recently instructed the library authorities to reduce its strength of employees by 10 per cent. This instruction has created a stir among the employees, who claim they are “overworked”.

President of the Citu-dominated employees’ association Rathin Das said there were 784 sanctioned posts in the library, of which about 150 were vacant. “Curtailment of another 10 per cent jobs will make it difficult for us to function properly,” he added.

Another union official said the Centre and the library authorities planned to abolish the posts of book-binders. The Centre has issued a circular asking the library authorities not to recruit anyone to this post unless he has passed Madhyamik.


Calcutta, March 7: 
A grassy patch bordering the inspection road on the western side of the international runway of Netaji Subhas International Airport caught fire on Wednesday morning. As a result, the landing of four national flights — two Indian Airlines and two Alliance Air — was delayed by about 20 minutes each. The aircraft were asked to hover above the airport till the flames were doused by eight fire tenders.

“The cause of the fire, which occurred at around 8.05 am, is still unknown,” said a senior official at the airport fire station. According to him, the grass, which was “extremely dry”, must have “caught a stray spark from an unidentified fire source”. To prevent recurrence, the grassy patch will be “watered regularly”.


Calcutta, March 7: 
The arrest of Ajay Singh, 19, and Bikash Mondol, 18, on a local train at Belur on Tuesday has set the police on the trail of a racket involving teenagers. These boys are drawn into the world of crime by local goons, who pay them for “odd-jobs”.

Ajay and Bikash were caught by plainclothesmen of the Government Railway Police. A loaded six-chamber revolver and some ammunition was seized from them. The teenagers would have been paid Rs 600 by a ‘dada’ for delivering the stuff to a ‘contact’ in Rishra. Both the boys, arrested under the Arms Act, were produced in a Howrah court on Wednesday morning and remanded in jail custody for 14 days.

The officer-in-charge, Belur GRP, Subrata Bhaumick, said: “The number of such teenage ‘carriers’ is rising alarmingly. Criminals are using these boys to transport small arms and ammunition without raising suspicion. We are on the trail of these kingpins.”

Ajay, a student of a government school in north Calcutta, and Bikash, a school dropout, are residents of Singhi Bagan, in the Jorasanko police station area. During interrogation, Ajay, the son of a small-time businessman, said: “In my para, there is a ‘dada’ who works in a jewellery shop. He would often give me some pocket money. One day, he handed me a box and asked me to deliver it to a friend in Rishra. He promised to pay me Rs 600 for the job.”

Ajay returned home that evening, opened the box and discovered the revolver and some cartridges. “I immediately went back to ‘dada’ and told him I would not be able to carry out the task,” Ajay told investigators. But the man convinced the boy that it was no crime to merely transport arms from one place to another. “He also told me that he had many friends in the railways, who would ensure that I would not face any trouble,” added Ajay. The teenager, still a little apprehensive, requested friend Bikash to accompany him.

The two set off for Rishra early on Tuesday. Some plainclothesmen, on their routine rounds of the compartments, noticed the boys “huddled together by the window”, looking distinctly uneasy. On questioning, the truth came out.

On Wednesday, a teacher at Ajay’s school appeared “shocked” at the dramatic turn of events. “He was such an enthusiastic young boy. Any event in school, any social activity, and you would invariably find Ajay in the forefront... All this is most unfortunate,” he said, adding that Ajay’s name would soon be struck off the rolls.

A friend of Ajay’s confirmed that he would “hardly get any pocket money” from his father. But for the past six months, he always seemed to be carrying enough money to take his friends out regularly, and buy trendy clothes. Ajay’s elder sister seemed shattered. “He was never involved in any trouble... Now, we don’t what will happen to him.”


Calcutta, March 7: 
The Calcutta police on Wednesday announced a string of measures to tighten security at the Eden Gardens, as well as streamline matters during the India-Australia second Test match, beginning here on Sunday.

Some of these measures are:

No bottles, including water and soft drink containers, will be allowed into the grounds. This will also be announced on all tickets. Instead, 300 ml water pouches, at Rs 1.50 a piece, will be sold on the premises.

It was the water bottle, flung at players during the Indo-Pak Test match in 1999, which had disrupted the match and almost led to calling off of the game.

There will also be taps at different points of the stadium, to which all spectators will have access.

Ninety food kiosks will be set up. To ensure that these function smoothly, policemen will ensure that people stand in queues and there is no unseemly scramble in front of the counters.

lThe number of seats in the stadium has been reduced by 550 to provide the police with more space to manoeuvre in case of a crisis, as well as allow them to move more freely in the stadium.

Gate number 4A, near Akashvani Bhavan, which would remain locked, has now been widened to prevent the rush at Gate 4, through which 10,000 spectators were let in. Now, the load will be divided to prevent any untoward incident.

Policemen with handheld metal detectors will be positioned at all the gates. Besides, special gates with metal detectors will also be set up.

A control room with closed-circuit TV sets will monitor the activities of spectators. But policemen have been given special instructions not to misbehave with anyone. If any trouble breaks out, they have been instructed to simply to show the spectators the door, instead of swinging into “action”.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed and hope that everything goes off smoothly,” said deputy commissioner of police, central, Raj Kanojia.


Calcutta, March 7: 
In the middle of the blaring horns and speeding autos of Elliot Road, the All Bengal Women’s Union Primary School is a haven for the under-privileged. But when classes give over at 3.30 pm, the school comes to life, with boys and girls in cream-and-maroon uniform, marching purposefully forward, mosquito net and chart in hand.

For the students of Class III and IV have a special mission: to rid the area of malaria. Elliot Road, Bedford Lane, Beniapukur and Mullickbazar, where most of the kids live themselves, is the ground they have covered so far.

The school, with just over 200 students from Montessori to Class IV, is situated in the All Bengal Women’s Union (ABWU) compound, where the famous Bengali eatery, Suruchi, is also situated. The school is run by the Union, for children from under-privileged backgrounds. And while it was started for the inhabitants of the Children’s Welfare Home, their shelter for orphans, now it has opened doors to boys and girls from neighbouring slum areas as well.

About 70 kids split up in four groups and take to the streets every fortnight. They have their agenda clearly laid out. They perform a mime which demonstrates how malaria is contracted, and steps which can be taken to reduce mosquito-breeding.

“Most people don’t even know that using mosquito nets can stop malaria. And if they know, they say that they can’t afford one,” explains 12-year-old Manija. Using charts and signs, the groups explain the importance of blood testing, using mosquito repellents, keeping their homes clean, draining stagnant water. And they also spread the word about the free medicines available from CMC clinics.

Then the groups, supervised by a teacher, clean the roads and sprinkle bleaching powder. “We sweep our own campus every day, so we know how to do all this,” grins Class IV student Sagari Biswas.

The project was started two years ago by the then principal Meena Dasgupta. Supriya Sengupta, current principal, has taken over the project, with the help of the entire faculty. “Many of the kids are first-generation learners, and hygiene may be a problem in their own homes as well,” explains Sengupta. “We have noticed a distinct reduction in the numbers of our children down with malaria during the last year,” she adds.

Sushmita, holding up a sign saying “Mosquito means malaria”, nods her head vigorously when asked if she enjoys working on the campaign. “We save lives,” she declares. “Now everyone is so afraid of us that they start cleaning up when they see us approaching from a distance.”

Having won second prize in the Better Calcutta Contest health category, the school now has the funds to expand the scope of the project. “We want to start providing bleaching powder, because many people complained that they can’t afford it,” says the principal. “We would also like to spread out over a larger area soon, maybe even as far as Park Circus,” she concludes.


Calcutta, March 7: 
Calcutta University is ready to recruit over 100 non-teaching staff — all in a day’s work. The pre-election recruitment drive is being carried out through a city-based private agency, the first such instance in the CPM-dominated university’s long history.

Sources said the move to fill up the 100 non-teaching posts by the end of the month will allow the ruling party to tom-tom this as a “success” in the run-up to the polls. It didn’t take the authorities long to realise that the existing infrastructure of the university was “inadequate” to conduct such a recruitment exercise. With time ticking away, the university that conducts a record number of 600 examinations every year decided to engage a private agency for the purpose.

According to sources, the advertisement on vacancies in the lower-subordinate and junior-assistant ranks was published in a lone city-based English daily last month. But 20,000 applicants are expected to turn up. University registrar Tapan Mukherjee, head of the recruitment body, remained tight-lipped about the “highly-confidential” recruitment process. A. Deb Choudhury, head of the private organisation in south Calcutta which will be conducting the recruitment tests, also refused to comment on the matter.

But varsity sources said the private agency would conduct written tests for the recruitment. The final selection and interviews of the candidates will be conducted by the university’s recruitment section.

Sidheswar Ghosal, leader of the CPM-controlled employees’ union, admitted that never before had the university appointed a private agency for such an exercise. “We appreciate the authorities’ decision. The university is recruiting so many employees at a time after many years. So, nepotism and other irregularities could not have been ruled out. The decision to rope in a private agency is welcome,” added Ghosal.


Calcutta, March 7: 
The debate perhaps is as old as the profession itself. Nevertheless, Calcutta’s sex workers are determined to seek decriminalisation of their trade at the world’s highest forum: The United Nations.

The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee proposes to raise the issue at a special UN General Assembly session on HIV/AIDS to be held in end-June. The high costs to society, economy and life in member-countries caused by the disease have compelled the international organisation to convene such a session. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is expected to attend the session. The Delhi regional office of UNAIDS, the joint body of six UN organisations combating AIDS, has assured the Calcutta committee that it would forward its proposal to the selection panel, Dr S. Jana, advisor to DMSC, said.

The International Network of Commercial Sex Workers has also made a similar proposal. “In fact, all the sex workers’ organisations that will be represented at the session will have this single demand.”

About 80 per cent of HIV transmissions in developing countries have been through heterosexual sex, and commercial sex workers have a major role in checking this.

“A proper environment is needed for safe sex work, and official sanction, like in the Netherlands and parts of Australia, will help in condom promotion, negotiation with clients on safe procedures, and a resultant low rate of spread of the virus,” Jana explained. The decision to go to the UN was taken at the conclusion on Tuesday of the Millennium Mela at Salt Lake stadium, a four-day meet attended by sex workers .

A regional network of commercial sex workers in South Asia was also formed, with members from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. Sri Lanka and Pakistan are also likely to be included, Jana said. “The network will have three main areas of activity: HIV/AIDS, trafficking and violence against sex workers.” The first official meeting will be held in New Delhi on April 7.

The DMSC is also considering contesting the coming polls.


Calcutta, March 7: 
Kyunki Saas..., KBC, Jammin’ and Baywatch are likely to remain out of bounds for Calcutta cable and satellite homes for a while.

The stalemate over the STAR package continues with no immediate settlement in sight, as STAR refuses to roll back its announced package rate, which works out to Rs 25.75 for Calcutta operators minus STAR Gold.

STAR has ruled out negotiations with city cablemen, who feel “the 54 per cent hike, slapped with a mere five-day notice period, is too stiff” and not acceptable at all. The package has been off the city beam since March 1.

“More than 70 per cent service providers in the rest of the country have accepted our new package rate (Rs 30) and we don’t see any reason why we should make an exception for the Calcutta operators. The hike actually works out to a mere 30 paise per subscriber per day for the entire bouquet,” Yashpal Khanna, senior vice president, corporate communications, STAR India Limited, said on Wednesday.

STAR maintained that “underdeclaration of subscribers” was the main reason for the hike. “We get paid for only about 16 per cent of the more than 10-lakh cable connections in Calcutta. Effectively, we get paid less than Rs 4 per subscriber per month, thanks to the rampant under-declaration,” said Khanna.

The cablemen, on their part, have vehemently opposed these charges. “The average declaration is at least 60 per cent, if all the channels are taken into account, and for STAR Plus, it is as high as 80 per cent,” said Tarak Saha, spokesman for the joint action committee of cable operators in and around the city.

Among their other demands are transparency on MRP for each channel, cutting down on advertisement time and doing away with the package system.


Calcutta, March 7: 
Japan evinced keen interest in sharing seismic expertise with India to “reduce” damage by earthquake, even as experts allayed fears of “impending” tremors in the city at a two-day global seminar on the ‘Role of Geological Surveys in the 21st Century’, at the Ashutosh Birth Centenary Hall.

The seminar, attended by 23 delegates from 18 countries, was part of the year-long celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Geological Survey of India (GSI), set up by Thomas Oldham on March 4, 1851.

“We plan to include India in Phase IV of our active fault-mapping for predictions of earthquakes in eastern and south-eastern Asia,’’ said Hirokazu Kato, deputy director-general of the Geological Survey, Japan. The first three phases have already been completed.

Local geologists felt that the city was in no “imminent’’ danger of a devastating earthquake because of its alluvial and clay soil base. Dr John Whitney of the Geological Survey of United States, however, sounded a note of alarm on the existing building code in the city. According to him, the spurt in highrises signalled trouble for the city, as it exerted “built’’ pressure on the ground — one of the major “man-made” factors responsible for the Gujarat earthquake.

The need for better disaster management and sustainability of environment has also prompted the GSI to redefine its role. In a charter, ‘Challenges before the Earth Scientists for the Third Millennium’, GSI director-general K. Krishnanunni stressed the need to “ensure adequate supplies of critical resources, documenting and preventing irreversible alteration of environment and mitigating the effects of natural calamities’’.

However, geologists expressed concern over the worldwide “downsizing’’ of surveys, saying it would limit the scope of work. The International Consortium of Geologists, which met separately, resolved to “push through” survey reforms and better geo-networking in the wake of shrinking government outlays.

“The thrust will now be on environment, sustainable development of resources and prevention of natural hazards. Conventional activities, like prospecting, will have to take a backseat,’’ said H. Zeegers of the French Geological Survey.

Union minister of state for mines Jaysingrao Gaikwad Patil, who released the first comprehensive Mineral Atlas of India, also urged geo-scientists to pursue a goal of sustainable development instead of concentrating their “energies in conventional geological activities”. Stressing the need for more rural-based programmes, the minister said the GSI was trying to re-orient itself to suit the needs of the masses. “The GSI is no more urban-centric. It is now more development-oriented and people-friendly,’’ he said.

According to Patil, monitoring of environmental degradation and natural hazards is the priority in the GSI’s “changed scheme of things.’’

Releasing a special commemorative stamp at the Town Hall on the occasion, West Bengal Governor Viren J. Shah said GSI’s “seismic monitoring’’ studies needed to be augmented.

“Even today, we are unable to predict or understand the reasons for expected seismic hazards in a region and can only ensure post-disaster relief,’’ he said.

But Peter Robin Brett, former president of the International Union of Geological Surveys, put things in perspective: “It is very difficult to predict earthquakes, even for a geologist with all his sophisticated techniques. All we can do is prepare an inventory of data and hazard logical guesses.’’


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