Bulky books burden students
Hot & humid days ahead, warns Met office
Kidnap arrest
No-nonsense no to nuisance
Acts of assistance close to the heart
‘Industrial apathy cause of sickness’
IT course in dire straits
Pipeline row
Tight security at schools in Imphal
Tripura rebels out to woo Khasi outfit

 
 
BULKY BOOKS BURDEN STUDENTS 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, March, 23: 
A new chapter has been added to the battle over textbooks. With private publishers refusing to play it by the book and, allegedly, churning out one needlessly bulky volume after another, the government has decided to step in.

The state secondary and higher secondary education boards have been receiving a large number of complaints from students, guardians and teachers about textbooks brought out by private publishers containing much more material than prescribed in the syllabus. These “out-of-syllabus portions” are, apparently, being included without the knowledge of the state departments, after the publisher is given final permission and the ‘textbook number’.

With complaints pouring in, the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) has undertaken a survey to examine the extent of “diversion from syllabi” in textbooks. After completion of the survey, the government plans to introduce tougher policing of publishers.

“We cannot allow publishers to put this kind of unnecessary load on students. We have been receiving lots of complaints from various teachers,” said SCERT director Mohammad Refatullah.

“There is hardly any publisher who follows the Board’s rules for publishing textbooks. We are helpless, because we do not have the proper machinery to maintain vigil on such publishers,” admitted A .K. Chakraborty, president, West Bengal Council of Secondary Education.

Apart from the syllabus, the approximate price, the total number of pages, the quality of paper, the nature of binding and even the typeface to be used are supposed to be in accordance with the Board’s guidelines. But, allege teachers and guardians, most of these guidelines are flouted by private publishers on the profit trail.

Some publishers of school textbooks have reacted sharply to this slur. “It’s a move initiated by the Board to cover its own lapses,” claimed a private publisher. Bibhas Bhattacharya, one of the managing partners of Saraswati Library and vice-president of Booksellers and Publishers’ Association of West Bengal, provided a case in point: “The Madhyamik syllabus in geography was last changed in 1973. Many important developments and researches have taken place in the field in the past 28 years. Has the Board take any initiative to change the syllabus? The Board might not be interested in updating its syllabi. But authors of textbooks, as well as publishers, have a responsibility towards the students. We must make them aware of the latest developments in subjects they are studying.”

Students of Madhyamik and Higher Secondary institutions in Calcutta and elsewhere in the districts have to depend mostly on textbooks published by private publishers. “It is very difficult for the kids to follow these books, as most of them contain topics they are not supposed to study. Why should they be burdened by those bulky books comprising material which is of no use to them?” demanded a teacher of Hare School.

At the secondary level, children are required to study eight subjects from Class V to Class X. For this, every year, 48 different textbooks are required by a student in the Madhyamik stream. Of the 48, the Board publishes only 15.

“Since the books carry the official textbook numbers, guardians and students do not question their authenticity. Often, guardians, to play safe, force children to study the out-of-syllabus portions,” said a teacher of a school in Bhowanipore.

The situation is worse at the Higher Secondary level, with publishers not required to seek any permission from the Higher Secondary Council for bringing out textbooks for Classes XI and XII.

   

 
 
HOT & HUMID DAYS AHEAD, WARNS MET OFFICE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March, 23: 
Twenty-four hours after a Nor’wester cooled the city on Thursday night, the Met office warned of hot and humid days ahead, followed by a spell of rain next week.

“Thursday’s rain has left behind a huge amount of residual moisture. So, the wind dropped on Friday, making the heat more oppressive,” said R.N. Goldar, director of the Alipore Meteorological Office.

Thursday night’s squall was accompanied by prolonged power cuts in several areas of south, east and north Calcutta. This was caused by a major fault at the CESC’s 132-KV Majherhat sub-station around 9.55 pm.

The fault, “which had nothing to do with the storm”, was repaired and supply restored around midnight.

“Unless there is a major breakdown, we are confident of pulling through the summer comfortably,” a senior CESC official said.

Goldar said that Thursday’s Nor’wester hit Calcutta with a windspeed of 64 kmph. The storm was most severe at Dum Dum.

“The weather will be hot and sticky for the next few days, followed by another round of Nor’westers. This weather cycle will continue till early June, when the monsoon arrives,” Goldar added.

Met officials said that Thursday’s Nor’wester was the result of a trough of low pressure spread from Madhya Pradesh to Gangetic West Bengal. The trough was accompanied by a cyclonic circulation in the upper air over Gangetic West Bengal and its neighbourhood.

This resulted in a heavy incursion of moisture from the Bay of Bengal, which formed thunderstorm clouds over Calcutta and elsewhere in south Bengal on Thursday. The city sky remained cloudy early on Friday morning and there was scattered light rain in the city.

Train services on both Howrah and Sealdah sections were affected on Friday because of Thursday’s thundersquall.

Overhead wires and signals were damaged at a number of places. Daily commuters had to suffer as it took a long time to restore normal services.

   

 
 
KIDNAP ARREST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March, 23: 
A 16-year-old youth, Honey Jain, was arrested on Friday from his Shivtala Street residence on charges of plotting to kidnap classmate Indrish Ranka, 15, son of a wealthy Burrabazar businessman. Jain and Ranka, though friends, had fallen apart last year.    

 
 
NO-NONSENSE NO TO NUISANCE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March, 23: 
They tried patrols, clean-ups, and even art. Then the students of Tantia High School decided to take to the streets to protest the lack of police initiative in putting an end to an insufferable problem. The Jorasanko police finally stepped in on Friday to arrest 20 men for urinating on their school wall.

For years, the students of the Central Avenue school had tried everything in their power to stop offenders, but to no avail. Neither had the police, nor the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, taken any action, despite repeated requests from school authorities to put an end to the menace. Principal R.S. Upadhay said the problem had persisted over the past few years. “The worst affected are the children of the primary classes, who are housed on the southern part of the building, along the wall,” he explained.

“Sometimes it would become unbearable for the children to sit through classes because of the stench,” he added. Parents, inconvenienced while picking up their children, had also lodged numerous complaints with the school authorities.

Frustrated by the situation, the children tried cleaning up their school themselves. The kids dragged buckets of water to wash the wall, in an effort to get rid of the smell. “We thought they would realise what they were doing wasn’t right, and they would stop,” sighed one student. But there was no stopping the offenders.

These kids weren’t willing to give up the battle. They put down the buckets, and picked up their paintbrushes. “We decided to beautify the walls. We even missed some classes to paint a mural,” recounted a primary school boy. When even that failed to act as a deterrent, the students decided they would post a patrol in front of the wall, with two students keeping vigil daily. Though they finally had some success with the crackdown, it was back to square one when school was closed for vacations.

So, on Friday, when at last police took steps to end the daily ordeal, the smiles were of triumph. The little boys and girls from primary classes, who had taken such pains to beautify the school wall, came out for what will hopefully be the final clean-up drive.

Local CPM councillor Rehana Khatoon visited the school for an inspection, while a Calcutta Municipal Corporation official said that a public toilet would be constructed near the school soon.

   

 
 
ACTS OF ASSISTANCE CLOSE TO THE HEART 
 
 
SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, March, 23: 
Jagrani Kerketta, 22, is carefully washing a titanium-tipped needle-holder in the disinfector with her nimble fingers, while her friend and colleague Anita Muktibeck, puts a chest expander in the steam-and-gas sterilisation chamber and sets the timer.

Both are tribal girls, and these are highly sophisticated surgical instruments they are handling inside the state-of-the-art central sterilisation and store department (CSSD) of the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences, better known as Dr Devi Shetty’s hospital.

Jagrani hails from Simdega village, in Jharkhand, and Anita from Gumla, in Ranchi, and till two years back, both were struggling to rustle up two square meals a day in their shabby shanties back home.

Now, they can afford to send across almost Rs 2,000 to their families every month, after taking care of their daily needs.

It’s not a celluloid rags-to-riches story, but a unique project on women’s empowerment taken up by the super-speciality cardiac-care unit of the Asia Heart Foundation.

“Empowerment of women has always been one of our principal mottos and 99 per cent of our staff here at the Tagore Institute are women. Creating a captive cartel of CSSD staff is just a logical extension of this focus,” explains Dr Alok Roy, vice-chairman of the institute off the EM Bypass. The authorities were helped in their effort by Father Henry, who works among the tribal populations in the districts of Santhal Parganas and Palamau, Bihar, and Purulia, West Bengal.

The Mangalorean priest did the primary screening on behalf of the institute and picked 12 girls, mostly in their early twenties, who needed this rehabilitation most. Thus, Jagrani, Anita and the other girls went through an intensive, two-year training course at the Manipal Heart Foundation, Bangalore.

“The specialisation course was totally free and they were given a monthly stipend during training. Now, these girls draw a gross of Rs 3,716 a month and are qualified to work in central sterilisation units and operation theatres anywhere in the world. It’s not just a job for them, it makes them self-sufficient, something they could never have dreamt of earlier,” says Roy.

Thus, Saroj Honhaga, at 23, the seniormost girl at the CSSD, who hails from Jadugora village, in Bihar, can sponsor her younger brother’s studies back home and Sumitra Din of Purulia can take care of her ailing parents.

Buoyed by the success of the scheme, a second batch of 38 girls from Purulia will join the institute in April and will be trained in Calcutta and Bangalore. The success or failure of any surgical unit depends largely on its central sterilisation department and there is a countrywide paucity of trained staff in this field, thanks to the absence of speciality training programmes.

The cardiac institute’s endeavour to create a pool of resources augurs well for the city, too. “Even though we have been concentrating on tribal women till now, the doors of this institute are open for girls from needy families in Calcutta as well. The basic qualifications should be a school-leaving certificate and the ability to read and write,” says Roy.

—    


 
 
‘INDUSTRIAL APATHY CAUSE OF SICKNESS’ 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March, 23: 
City-based NGO Nagarik Mancha released its “study report on the plight of industrial revival in West Bengal” on Friday. The report provides an overview, blaming the “sickness” on the Bengal government’s lack of initiative in solving industrial problems, and giving industry-specific recommendations.

The 52-page report, prepared by an independent team of experts and professionals from various fields with inputs from workers and workers’ unions, was submitted to finance minister Asim Dasgupta in September 1999.

“But we are yet to receive any communication from the government on the plight of our report,” said Naba Dutta, member-secretary, Nagarik Mancha.

“Industrial sickness and the situation of the labourers in these sick units demand special attention from the government. Instead of coming up with concrete strategies, the government is only interested in winning elections by feeding people with fabricated statistics on industrial revival,” claimed Dutta.

   

 
 
IT COURSE IN DIRE STRAITS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March, 23: 
A new B.Tech course on Information Technology (IT) at Calcutta University (CU) is in the doldrums due to the authorities’ delay in releasing funds.

The money has already been allotted to the university by the state government to set up infrastructure for the course.

Students suspect that the entire amount has been diverted for other expenditure heads of the university. The state government, responding to a demand by the university’s radio physics department, had allotted Rs 20 lakh on March 3 for purchasing software, computers and other laboratory equipment for running the IT course.

As per the university rules, funds from the government have to be first deposited at the university’s central account, from where it is disbursed to the respective departments.

Students and teachers are aggrieved at the authorities’ negligence, as the funds will have to be utilised before March 31.

“We need more funds for setting up proper infrastructure and running the course. If the present amount of Rs 20 lakh is not utilised in time, the university will not get more funds from the government in the next financial year,” some teachers pointed out.

Hiron Kumar Banerjee, CU pro vice-chancellor (finance), however, said the university funds will be released to the radio physics department “within a couple of days.” Appropriate measures were also being taken to ensure that the university does not face any problem in seeking more grants from the state government if the present grant is not utilised by March 31.

He, however, denied the students’ allegations that the fund had been diverted for meeting other expenses.

The first batch of students have already been admitted last year. But the department is unable to run the course properly due to lack of adequate infrastructure.

Ashis Kumar Dasgupta, CU dean of technology faculty, said steps were being taken to ensure that the entire amount gets utilised within the current financial year.

   

 
 
PIPELINE ROW 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March, 23: 
With the Assembly elections round the corner, the parties are trying to steal a march over each other by seeking credit for development projects. CPM candidate for Entally constituency Md. Selim has painted the walls red in Bright Street, claiming credit for the CMC’s on-going water pipeline project. This provoked the Trinamul-run civic board to stop work, under pressure from local Congress councillor Shammi Jahan.

Member, mayor-in-council (water supply), Sovan Chatterjee said the work was not funded by the MP’s Local Area Development fund. But Selim, a Rajya Sabha MP, says he gave Rs 18 lakh. Jahan had “temporarily stopped work so people would know that Selim had nothing to do with it.” But work will resume soon, she said.

   

 
 
TIGHT SECURITY AT SCHOOLS IN IMPHAL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, March 23: 
Patrolling and frisking by police and security forces have been intensified in and around Christian missionary schools in the state’s valley areas. This was announced by Manipur chief minister Radhabinod Koijam today.

Security for missionary schools was beefed up following threats from militants. A militant outfit had demanded Rs 40 lakh from eight Catholic missionary schools in Imphal. When the schools expressed their inability to pay the amount, the militants slapped a fine of Rs 2 crore on them and ordered them to close down.

The matter was discussed in the Assembly today, when veteran Congress leader Rishang Keishing raised the issue during Question Hour. Giving his reply, the chief minister said the government was aware of the problem faced by missionary schools.

Koijam said except for Don Bosco School, Langjing and St Joseph’s School, Sangaiprou, all the other missionary schools were holding regular classes.

The chief minister, who also holds the home portfolio, told the House that cases have been registered in connection with the extortion demands, which were being investigated.

Many Catholic priests have been targeted by militants in Manipur over the past decade. Some of the priests have been killed while some of them have escaped attacks on their lives.

Catholic missionaries have been protesting against such attacks by militants following extortion demands. The latest incident has forced many Catholic priests and teachers who are not local people to flee the state. In many cases, local Manipuri teachers have been entrusted by the Catholic missionaries to run the Imphal-based schools. The chief minister today said the government has not received any claims for the payment of ex gratia from the next of kin of priests killed or injured.

   

 
 
TRIPURA REBELS OUT TO WOO KHASI OUTFIT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, March 23: 
The outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura is trying to strengthen its links with the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council of Meghalaya.

The move is believed to be aimed at ensuring the safety of NLFT activists who have to go to the Meghalaya capital for medical treatment and other purposes.

Official sources said NLFT “commanders” Rajkanta Debbarma and Upendra Debbarma visited Shillong last week and met HNLC chief Julius Donkuper. The NLFT duo reportedly sought permission to set up a well-equipped transit camp in Shillong or any other “safe area” within Meghalaya.

The HNLC, which is also keen to set up camps in the Khasi-dominated areas across the Indo-Bangladesh border, reportedly agreed to help the NLFT set up a camp in Meghalaya.

There is a sizeable population of Khasis in Sylhet district of Bangladesh. Most of these Meghalaya tribals are engaged in the betel leaf business.

Officials said the NLFT was desperate to assert its supremacy after suffering largescale casualties in a series of internal clashes.

The clashes began on July 12 last year when NLFT rebels killed 12 militants of the Bru National Liberation Front of Tripura. Nayanbasi Jamatya, one of the founder members of the NLFT, subsequently revolted against the outfit’s leadership, comprising Mantu Koloi, Dhanu Koloi, Kamini Debbarma and Biswamohan Debbarma.

Jamatya and his band of supporters deserted the NLFT hideout at Thangnan in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh and captured some camps in Sylhet district.

Continuing their offensive against the NLFT, the rebel leader and his supporters recently took control of the outfit’s Burunji Basti camp.

The camp is close to Reang Basti and Morahcerra, where a group of BSF and Government Reserve Engineering Force (GREF) personnel were ambushed yesterday.

Sources said the NLFT leadership had directed “commander” Tapan Koloi to rein in the Jamatya faction. It is the group led by Koloi which carried out yesterday’s ambush. Eleven BSF and GREF personnel were killed in the attack.

Tripura education: Despite tall claims by the ruling Left Front, the education system in Tripura lies in tatters owing to the unabated insurgency over the past eight years.

According to the Economic Review 1999-2000, tabled in the Assembly, the dropout rate among students from Class I to X is as high as 78.62 per cent. The national average for the same is about 69.42 per cent.

Official sources here said the dropout rate among tribal students living within the autonomous district council areas is more than 90 per cent because of insurgency.

In the just-concluded session of the Assembly, education minister Anil Sarkar had stated that only 20 schools within the ADC had stopped functioning. But Tripura Upajati Juba Parishad leader Rabindra Debbarma said out of 1,284 schools within the ADC, more than 50 per cent had closed down because teachers stopped attending classes for fear of militant depredations.

The education minister said posts of nearly 2,265 teachers including 306 for subject teachers were vacant. However, these could not be filled up.

   
 

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