Hygiene hazards haunt schools
Clogged Palta filters raise dry day spectre
Viewer power steers city STAR war
Cinemas shut over pay hike demand
Maruti dealers drive hotel plan
Soul-Surfing
Koijam mulls Esma to end oil strike

 
 
HYGIENE HAZARDS HAUNT SCHOOLS 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY, AMIT UKIL AND
 
Calcutta, March 22: 
When nine-year-old Sanjukta Mukherjee’s fever kept on recurring in spite of medication some months ago, her doctor recommended a urine culture test. It turned out to be positive; she had been infected by the e-coli bacteria, a germ that is transmitted usually through unhygienic toilets.

During consultations with the doctor, her parents vouched that she had not used any public toilet except for the one at her school, in central Calcutta, during the period that the infection could have been contracted. In all probability, the unclean school toilet was the source of infection, the doctor said.

The Mukherjees are not the only parents whose children have suffered. Repeated petitions to the city’s civic authorities have compelled the Corporation’s health department to conduct a survey of the state of hygiene in schools. And the findings of the first part of the study are alarming.

At least 20 per cent of the schools in south Calcutta — including South Point and Gokhale Memorial — have been found to lack satisfactory arrangements for drinking water. In some schools, toilet facilities and lighting arrangements in classrooms are said to be insufficient. Other problem areas include the state of ventilation, the condition of canteens, and the need for exhaust fans and windows.

The civic authorities have written to South Point, urging the management to “take necessary steps to rectify the problems as quickly as possible”. South Point administrator Siddhartha Mitra, however, contested the findings of the “routine” inspection. “We increase the number of toilets in keeping with the rise in number of students. Besides, we insist that children should bring their own drinking water from home, especially till Class IV,” said Mitra.

Also, two separate studies, one by the All-India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health and the other by Unicef, have concluded that quite a few girls have been dropping out of school because of improper toilet facilities.

A Unicef official confirmed that this has also occurred in some schools in Calcutta.

The CMC’s health department had launched its survey two months ago in 10 wards under Borough VIII. The report was submitted to member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan, last week. The points considered during inspection were: the number of students enrolled, the condition of seating, provisions for safe and adequate drinking water, the number and conditions of toilets and urinals, ventilation and illumination in the classroom.

The first round of the survey covered schools located on Southern Avenue, Rashbehari Avenue, Hazra Road, Gokhale Road, Harish Mukherjee Road, S.P. Mukherjee Road, Lee Road and areas up to Dhakuria Bridge.

“Water supply arrangements were found unsatisfactory in Gokhale Memorial Girls’ School, South Point School, Children’s Academy on Hazra Road and Calcutta Institution School on Lee Road. Lighting arrangements were unsatisfactory at Sishu Vidyalaya in Kansaripara,” Khan said. Drinking water facilities, toilets and other aspects were found unsatisfactory at M.N. Boys’ and Girls’ Institute, Bhowanipore Memorial Primary School and Deshapran Birendranath High School.

Sulekha Mukherjee, mother of a Class III student at Gokhale Memorial School, alleged that her daughter had been suffering from an e-coli infection for months.

She, like many other parents, feels that her daughter had contracted the disease from toilets in school, and expressed concern over the inadequate drinking-water supply in school, especially during summer. The school’s caretaker, Pradip Ghosh, said a new water tank was being installed.

“Hepatitis A and E, leading to jaundice, e-coli diseases, diarrhoea, urinary tract infections and typhoid are common problems among students,” confirmed paediatric consultant Tridib Banerjee. “Proper care of toilets is essential, especially till a child is about 10 years old,” he added.

Chief municipal health officer Sujit Ghosh claimed that in most schools surveyed, toilet and drinking water facilities had not kept pace with an increase in the number of students. “We will inform the director of school education and the secretary of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education about the deplorable condition of education hygiene in these schools... The survey in all 15 boroughs, comprising 141 wards in the city, will be complete by the Pujas,” said Ghosh.

   

 
 
CLOGGED PALTA FILTERS RAISE DRY DAY SPECTRE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 22: 
Summer’s here, and so is water scarcity. Dry days are ahead for several parts of the city reeling under a 30-million-gallon water shortage.

Malfunctioning of filter beds and water treatment plants, coupled with the commitment of the authorities to supply filtered water to the Salt Lake and South Dum Dum municipalities, have crippled the water-supply system.

Also, most of Calcutta will go without water on Saturday as the Tallah-Palta pumping station will be shut down for repairs.

Shortage of drinking water forced several hundred residents from Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur to stage a demonstration in front of the Corporation building on Thursday. “All we demand is drinking water. Is that unjust?” cried the protesters.

Member, mayor-in-council, water supply, Sovan Chatterjee said the crisis would continue till March-end. “The filter-beds at Palta are infested by microscopic organisms, like zooplankton and phytoplankton, from the river Hooghly. This has hit the city’s water supply system,” he said.

According to Chatterjee, the Tallah-Palta network produces 180 million gallons of filtered water a day. As a result of the filtered beds being choked and the 20-million gallon water treatment plant being shut, the daily production had dropped by 30 million gallons. “If the supply of 10 million gallons of filtered water to Salt Lake every day is taken into account, the net shortfall today can be pegged at 40 million gallons,” said Chatterjee.

A senior engineer at the Palta Waterworks said there are 88 filter-beds in Palta, with 10 of them normally kept on stand-by. But to supply excess water during Holi, the Corporation operated all the filter beds. “This led to the beds being choked with micro-organisms,” the official said. “We are trying to tackle the problem by applying chlorine and copper sulphate solution in the Hooghly waters and sedimentation tanks before diverting them to the filter-beds,” he added.

The 20-m-gallon-capacity treatment plant had come up with French know-how at a cost of Rs 15 crore. The government had borne the cost of setting up the plant on condition that 10 million gallons of filtered water would be supplied to Salt Lake every day.

   

 
 
VIEWER POWER STEERS CITY STAR WAR 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, March 22: 
Viewer’s voice is starting to call the shots in the STAR war. The joint action committee of cable operators in and around the city is sticking to its guns of boycotting the STAR bouquet to protest the Rs-9 price hike. But three weeks into the stand-off, the clamour for channels like Star Plus, Star News and Star Movies is forcing individual operators to bow to viewer pressure.

With the last ball of the thrilling India vs Australia series having been bowled, and the Oscars round the corner, the mandate for STAR channels is gaining ground.

This has prompted two operators in south Calcutta to instal decoder boxes — against a refundable deposit of Rs 5,000 per channel — for beaming STAR in their particular areas. On condition of anonymity, fearing a backlash from the committee, the two joint-venture partners of SitiCable admitted that they had been inundated by calls from cable homes demanding the return of STAR. “We are here to serve our customers. It’s been 21 days since the boycott began. How long can we ask the people to wait for popular shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati?, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, and the Oscar Movies?” demanded one of the operators. Thanks to their initiative, STAR is back on beam in stretches of Southern Avenue, Lake Road, Prince Anwar Shah Road, Swiss Park and Lake Gardens.

“The two operators have taken the boxes from us. From this morning, they have been beaming Plus and Gold only, due to a technical hitch. But we are sorting that out and Movies should be back before the Oscars,” said Rajeev Sharma, manager, distribution and marketing (East), News Television (India) Ltd or STAR, on Thursday. Earlier, five independent operators had refused to toe the boycott line, for the sake of their customers in Dum Dum, Dakshineswar, Howrah and a stretch of Southern Avenue. “Already, more than 10,000 homes are connected (out of around 8 lakh cable homes) and we have received enquiries for decoders from operators on Gurusaday Road, Garcha and Sunny Park,” confirmed Sharma.

But the committee maintained that “no operator” has broken the STAR boycott pact. “On principle, we will discourage any operator to show the channels in an individual capacity. Besides, there hasn’t been any significant viewer pressure for STAR channels till now,” claimed Supratim Halder, chief of Cable Television Operators’ Association.

Ramesh Chandra Dubey, the Park Street cloth merchant who was the first to land a Rs 50-lakh jackpot on KBC?, summed up the mood in the STAR-struck camp, “If we are willing to pay the extra amount for our favourite channels, who are they (the operators) to decide what we are allowed to watch?”

   

 
 
CINEMAS SHUT OVER PAY HIKE DEMAND 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 22: 
Nearly 750 cinemas in the state will remain closed from Friday, with the hall employees’ forum calling an indefinite strike demanding a revised pay structure.

The Bengal Motion Picture Employees’ Union (BMPEU) has demanded a 70 per cent hike on basic pay, which the owners, under the umbrella of Eastern India Motion Picture Association (EIMPA), have refused to accept.

At a meeting at Writers’ Buildings with labour minister Shanti Ghatak on Thursday, the workers’ rejected the owners’ offer to hike basic pay by 30 per cent. Both EIMPA and BMPEU have adopted a rigid stand, Ghatak said, adding that a revised pay-scale for cinema employees was long overdue.

BMPEU joint secretary Swadhin Aloke Mukherjee said the government’s suggestion of a new pay structure through negotiations, with an interim ad hoc increase in wages, was turned down by the hall-owners. “We have no alternative but to go for an indefinite strike,” Mukherjee added.

EIMPA spokesman Pradip Dey said the cinema-owners’ body was not in a position to concede the demands of the staff until the government provided relief, such as a hike in service charge on tickets.

Dey said if the strike continued, the owners would incur a loss of about Rs 10 crore a month.

A few theatres like Metro, Priya and Basusree, employees of which do not belong to the union, are likely to remain open. “We have urged the police to ensure peace at these cinemas if the owners keep them open,” said Pulak Mukherjee, EIMPA functionary who attended Thursday’s meeting, adding that a control room at the association’s head office in Esplanade will be set up to monitor the situation.

   

 
 
MARUTI DEALERS DRIVE HOTEL PLAN 
 
 
BY SUTANUKA GHOSAL
 
Calcutta, March 22: 
The Tatas may have backed out of their second hotel venture in the city, but the Jalans have stepped in for their maiden foray.

Jalan Distributors, one of the leading Maruti dealers in the city, is setting up a three-star hotel opposite Ruby General Hospital on the Bypass. A company, Jalan Intercontinental Hotels Limited, has been floated for the purpose.

“We have already taken possession of a two-acre plot on the Bypass for a three-star hotel-cum-commercial complex. The project cost has not yet been estimated, but we hope to start in 2002,” said P.K. Jalan, promoter of Jalan Distributor. State tourism minister Manab Mukherjee said: “The Jalans are serious about the project.”

Meanwhile, the Corporation will soon float a tender to sell off the nine-acre plot on the Bypass returned by the Tatas. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said the plot will be awarded to the highest bidder. “It may not necessarily be a hotelier,” he said.

The Tatas had acquired the plot for Rs 15 crore to add to their Taj chain. Last year, they returned the plot, stating that the city did not have the potential for another five-star hotel.

The tourism minister said the government has no more land for sale on the Bypass. “Applications are pouring in for three-star hotels in the area. We have asked buyers to identify plots in New Town, near Rajarhat,” he said.

Park Hotel, promoted by the Apeejay Group, for instance, want five acres on the Bypass to set up a five-star hotel. “If they identify the plot on the Bypass, the government can negotiate the deal on their behalf. However, they have yet to come up with any concrete proposal,” Mukherjee said.

The minister hoped that West Bengal will attract major hotel chains once the five-star ventures of Hyatt Regency and ITC Welcomgroup start operation.

   

 
 
SOUL-SURFING 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, March 22: 
Three-and-a-half-year-old Sandra was taken away from her parents due to “abuse and neglect”. Adopted by the Robinsons, she constantly moved and talked, ignored verbal directions, suffered from disrupted sleep-patterns. She had imaginary friends, and both parents and child were unable to develop a nurturing relationship. The family was advised to go in for arts therapy. Over a period of two-and-a-half years, using dance, art and play, Sandra slowly developed a trustful and secure relationship with her parents. Then, finally, she opened up and spoke about incidents of sexual abuse by her birth parents and other adults, before gradually coming to terms with her anger and pain.

Sandra is just one of the many children who have been helped by arts therapy to express deep emotion necessary to build trust and attachment. An alternative to conventional psychiatry and therapy techniques, there are four main tools used: dance, art, music and drama. In India, non-verbal therapy is still in the “pioneering stages”, but British Council has brought two workshops, one on dance movement therapy (DMT), and the other on art psychotherapy, to the city.

The two-week dance-movement workshop is being facilitated by Laurence Higgens and Janet Kaylo, from the Laban Centre London, while Oihika Chakrabarti, a consultant with the Child Guidance Clinic at the Tata Institute of Social Services (TISS), is conducting the arts therapy seminar.

Kaylo was in Calcutta last September for a session with dancers of the city. But this time, the two classes are being attended by teachers and counsellors from various NGOs, most of whom want to pick up skills to help in their work with emotionally and physically challenged children and adults.

“People are looking for an alternative, or a supplement, to the GP’s bottle of pills,” explains Higgens. “Creative arts have something very powerfully healing about them,” he adds. This is the principle operating behind the use of the arts for therapeutic purposes.

After completing her Masters from Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan, Chakrabarti studied art therapy at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Though it is “still a growing area”, she has worked with around 10 emotionally and behaviourally challenged children over the last year. And after conducting workshops at SNDT and St Xavier’s, Mumbai, she’s planning to set up the first full-time arts therapy school in the country.

Mind-mappings

The participants feel the possible benefits already. According to Koeli M. Ghosh, a teacher at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, painting is an important tool for creative expression. “This could be a big help to our students, many of whom suffer from low self-esteem. These techniques allow you to express yourself, without articulating everything,” she explains.

The terms ‘art’ and ‘dance’ may be misleading, because methods do not include conventional dance or artistic styles. The art group is working with materials such as shells, wires and wood shavings, while for the dance participants, the emphasis is on learning how to get in touch with their bodies. “It is not just about interpreting the paintings or the works. It’s about an exploration of inner feelings and projection of the self,” explains Chakrabarti.

“That body and mind are separate is a very western concept,” feels Higgens. “We work with the body, because it is inextricably connected with mental and psychological processes, but is not to be confused with physiotherapy.”

Higgens has found DMT most helpful while working with autism and emotionally disturbed and destructive children, as well as adults with deep psychological disorders. Janet, on the other hand, used it with patients suffering from chronic pain, “often the physical embodiment of deeper emotional problems”. For Kaylo, DMT is just one of the ways to express emotion. “Everyone has to find a medium which is right for them. DMT is one of the most primal modes of getting in touch with the inner self.”

Rhythmic release

The workshops are divided between theoretical discussions and ‘experiential groups’. The art group has been ‘body-mapping’ and making ‘self-boxes’, techniques which stimulate an external projection of self. “Various processes are being demonstrated, but it is up to the individual to take away what they need in their sphere of work,” says Chakrabarti.

In a self-box, any material can be used. Koeli Ghosh’s self-box reveals her love of music, art and glamour. She has used spoons, magazine clippings and old lipstick to present her feelings. “I felt exhausted after creating this. It helped me lose some stiffness,” she smiles.

Debjani Rakshit and Krishna Mukherjee from the Oral School for Deaf Children feel that art therapy is “ideal” for their students. “We use largely visual modes of instruction, and this is perfect,” explains Rakshit. Sharmila Mukerjee, the dance instructor at the school, is attending the DMT workshop. “We have already found that dance, meditation and yoga have an effect on our students. And this can create a much larger impact because of the psychological aspect,” she feels.

The dance workshop is teaching physical awareness. “For example, posture often indicates a state of mind. So by working on the physical support system, we can effect psychological supports as well,” says Higgens. “Study of psycho-somatic illness show that mental and physical health are connected,” feels Kaylo.

During the Thursday morning exercise, the focus was on leg muscles, and the connections between pelvis and hip.

“How do your heels feel...,” asks Kaylo in soothing tones, as the teams of two move rhythmically, in perfect spontaneous coordination with each other. The ‘dance’ resembles no traditional form, but the emotional release is clear. “In therapy, feelings must be felt to be accepted and integrated and that is what we prompt,” they explain.

For the acceptance of arts as a tool for developmental work, British Council, Calcutta, is keen to set up a full-time training course. “Non-verbal therapy is not only useful to give vent to anguish, but could also be used to help kids express sheer joy,” says Veena Lakhumalani of the Council.

   

 
 
KOIJAM MULLS ESMA TO END OIL STRIKE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, March 22: 
Manipur chief minister Radhabinod Koijam today blamed the Assam Oil division of Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) for trying to “escape” from their responsibility of supplying fuel to the state.

Referring to the impasse between the government and transporters of petroleum products over compensation to 15 oil tankers damaged in recent rebel attacks, Koijam said the onus for paying compensation lay with the IOC as the tankers were hired by the corporation. He, however, said the government was ready to provide security to the IOC for transportation of petrol, diesel and kerosene.

The chief minister stated this in the Assembly today while replying to a call attention motion moved by veteran Congress leader Rishang Keishing. Stating that the strike by the transporters had created scarcity of oil in Manipur, Keishing asked the government to spell out its policy on the matter.

Koijam, in his reply, said the state was only a consumer. He, however, assured all help to the IOC in solving its problems.

He said the owners of the 15 tankers, burnt down by militants on March 8, demanded Rs 3 lakh each. The transporters have now refused to resume their services after government turned down their demands.

The chief minister charged the petroleum transporters with holding the state to ransom by making irrational demands.

He warned the transporters of stern action if they continued harassing the public. Koijam also hinted at the possibility of invoking the Essential Services Maintenance Act, if required.

Koijam also said the IOC had handed over its Imphal depot to state food and civil supplies department.

Expressing surprise over this, the chief minister said he had already filed a complaint with Union petroleum minister Ram Naik. He said about 84 oil tankers were now stranded at Khatkhati.

Nearly 60 Manipur Rifles personnel had already reached Khatkhati to escort the tankers, the chief minister said.

He accused an Assam MLA of creating trouble and preventing the tankers from proceeding to Imphal.

About security arrangements, Koijam said the Army patrolled the highway three times a week and the troops provided proper security on these days.

He said the government had tied up with Army to allow safe passage of tankers on the days when the Army undertook “road opening patrol”.

The chief minister said his government identified six points between Imphal and Mao for establishing police posts.

   
 

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