Gates opens windows to Calcutta
Punjabi spread for Bengal’s guest
Annual signal for house tax hike
Boy run over on Bypass, mob goes on rampage
Monalisa too tough for cops
April date for teachers’ tests
Crafts fair to develop four villages
Curriculum with a vision
Thiyam’s theatre turns 25
Congress seeks Trinamul help

 
 
GATES OPENS WINDOWS TO CALCUTTA 
 
 
BY KUNAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, April, 6: 
Microsoft is coming to Calcutta. The West Bengal government and the Seattle-based software giant will sign a memorandum of understanding on three or four projects by the end of April. State chief secretary Manish Gupta, who met Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chief software architect, in Seattle last month, underlined the projects the software developers are set to take up:

E-governance, using the XML platform and systems

Setting up a training facility for IT faculty

A centre for excellence to develop higher level IT skills

A computer peripherals development unit in the city

Both sides agreed to increase cooperation to attain excellence in the field of IT, at the end-March meet between senior Microsoft officials, Gupta and West Bengal Electronics Development Corporation managing director S.K. Mitra.

Microsoft was eager to sign the MoU as early as possible. “We will get necessary clearance from the Election Commission, as polls are due in May,” a confident chief secretary said on Friday.

Microsoft India chief Rajiv Kaul is expected in the city next week to finalise the MoU, though the exact structure of the projects is yet to be worked out. “The training facility is of utmost importance, with a growing number of IT institutes, in addition to computerisation of almost every stream of education,” Gupta stressed.

The training facility will be launched in Calcutta, but the chief secretary said there were long-term plans to set up various regional centres. “Trainers from Microsoft will be here for this purpose, and we expect to attract brains from all over the country too,” Gupta said.

Microsoft wants to introduce its XML systems to facilitate e-governance. Extended Markup Language (XML) is a tool to create documents such as clearance certificates and applications, needed in day-to-day governmental functioning, which are easy to transmit across the Web.

The centre for excellence, as per Microsoft’s plans, will provide solution for other institutes and IT professionals as well, catering to the entire eastern region.

There is also a strong possibility of a Microsoft peripherals development unit in the city. “They were keen on a hardware development centre here,” said Gupta, who visited a similar unit in Seattle. Microsoft develops CD changers, keyboards, mouse and wireless receivers, among other things.

“Bill Gates is not unaware of the pace of IT development in West Bengal, and Microsoft will play a big role by coming here. It will be the ultimate boost for Bengal,” Gupta said.

Finally, Gate’s advice to the West Bengal IT chiefs: Goals and plans are not enough. The clincher is to achieve targets in the shortest possible time, to reach the benefits of e-governance to the people.

   

 
 
PUNJABI SPREAD FOR BENGAL’S GUEST 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, April, 6: 
Dahi-ke-kebab, murg sheekh kebab, tandoori aloo, paneer tikka, macchi masala kebab, Zaranji daal, Zaranji kabuli naan, paneer makhani, Zaranji raan, ras malai, zafrani kulfi...

That’s the Punjabi spread from Zaranj for Bengal’s high-profile guest at Raj Bhavan on Saturday afternoon.

Ghee bhaat, luchi, shukto, chholar daal, doi potol, mochar ghonto, golda chingri malai curry, chicken Goalondo, maansho kosha with Bangla polao, bhetki paturi, daab chingri, aamjhol, doi, rosogolla...

That’s what William Jefferson Clinton would have been able to tuck into, had Kewpie’s, the speciality Bengali restaurant on Elgin Lane, been asked to lay out Saturday’s lunch table.

Clinton might insist he’s “just a citizen”. But he’s still the city’s most-talked-about visitor in a while. And the ‘guess who’s coming for lunch’ game at Raj Bhavan has only been matched by the ‘guess what the guests will have for lunch’ puzzle.

In a hush-hush operation, monitored by Governor Viren J. Shah, North-West Frontier food was picked as the gourmet of choice. “Clinton had, apparently, loved what he had tasted at the Bukhara in Delhi’s Maurya Sheraton,” explained an insider. So, Zaranj, on Chowringhee Road, was chosen as the kitchen to cater to Clinton.

The ‘what’ to serve matter having been resolved, it was the ‘how much’ to serve question that Zaranj was left grappling with, late on Friday. The guest-list till morning stood at 45. But at 3.30 pm, it hopped to 54, before jumping to 75 at 7 pm. The banquet is being planned as a buffet, with a separate sit-down arrangement for 12 ‘special’ guests, along with Clinton and the host. But it’s still not clear whether Clinton, who has steered clear of food at private parties on this tour, will actually eat.

The fact that the guest of honour will be denied a taste of Bengali cuisine has not gone down well with some. “It’s a pity that Clinton will come to Calcutta but not taste Bangali food. I’m sure he would have been left licking his fingers after shukto or paturi. He must come back to eat the real food of Bengal,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee.

Saturday’s whirlwind trip will see Clinton touchdown at Calcutta airport at 9. 30 am. He will drive to Mother House, where he will pay homage at the tomb of Mother Teresa. From there. he’ll go to Shishu Bhavan, the orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity. The 13-car convoy is expected to arrive at Raj Bhavan around 12.30 pm. Clinton might drop by at the IT Park in Salt Lake, before leaving the city around 3 pm.

Traffic will be restricted on New Park Street, AJC Bose Road, at Park Circus, Government Place North, CIT Road and the EM Bypass, “as and when required”.

   

 
 
ANNUAL SIGNAL FOR HOUSE TAX HIKE 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, April, 6: 
House tax in Calcutta is set to be hiked at the rate of two per cent a year as part of a planned reform of the levy structure after next month’s Assembly election, civic officials said on Friday.

Working on an amendment to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) Act, 1980, the officials said the present practice of a minimum 10 per cent hike every six years would be replaced with an automatic annual rise in the tax.

An estimated 650,000 house-owners will benefit from the planned amendment. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said: “We want to make the hike an across-the-board, annual affair. The practice of revaluation every six years is at the root of corruption, as well as harassment of citizens.”

The CMC earns about Rs 170 crore a year from levying house tax on 650,000 owners, the bulk of whose property, according to a survey, is “awfully under-assessed.” The present combined valuation of the buildings , being narrow at Rs 275 crore, does not offer much scope for operating a realistic house tax.

The upcoming restructuring of the mode of paying house tax is an area where the two rivals — the communists at Writers’ Buildings and the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine in the CMC — have reached an agreement after setting aside their differences on various other issues.

Mayor Mukherjee and his men got down to fashioning the draft amendment only after state municipal affairs minister Asoke Bhattacharya concurred with the proposal and assured them of the government’s support in course of a recent meeting .

The 20-year-old Act will be amended after the constitution of the Assembly next month.

House tax, or property tax, in Calcutta is a contentious issue because the civic authorities administer it in a clumsy fashion, often failing to carry out the revaluation of the buildings on time.

One cited reason for the delayed revaluation is the shortage of skilled inspectors in the CMC’s building department which, however, does not fully explain the travails of the house or property owners in Calcutta.

All the CMC’s attempts in the past to reform the cumbersome revaluation system came unstuck because a powerful nexus of corrupt building assessment inspectors and middlemen, who capitalise on the helplessness of the house-owners.

Minister Bhattacharya was not available for a comment, but his department officials said the government was favourably disposed towards the amendment because it promises benefits for tax-payers. However, it will be applicable only to those buildings which remain unchanged in respect of addition, alteration or use during the interim period.

   

 
 
BOY RUN OVER ON BYPASS, MOB GOES ON RAMPAGE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 6: 
Traffic on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass was disrupted for more than two hours on Friday after a seven-year-old boy was killed in an accident in the Tiljala area. A number of cars were damaged by a stone-throwing mob, which also tried to set fire to passing vehicles. However, timely police intervention saved the situation.

The mishap occurred near Uttar Panchannagram. Samir Singh, nicknamed Raja, was hit by a taxi speeding towards Garia while he was crossing the road on his way to school.

Manindra Dutta, witness to the accident, said: “The killer taxi sped away while Raja lay in the middle of the road, bleeding profusely.” Residents of the area took the boy to National Medical College and Hospital, where he was declared “brought dead”.

A mob blocked the expressway for more than two hours from 11.30 in the morning, demanding that traffic police be posted in the area and the errant driver be arrested. Sunil Singh, the victim’s father, said: “My son, Raja, and daughter, Moyna, usually go to school together. But today, Raja went alone and it was the last day of his annual exams. I was not home at the time of the mishap. I was informed by my neighbours that my son was seriously injured in an accident. On returning home, when I heard the news, I couldn’t believe my ears.”

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee expressed concern over rising number of accidents on the Bypass — there have been 10 mishaps in the past five days — and asked the police to find out what measures could be taken to discipline traffic.

   

 
 
MONALISA TOO TOUGH FOR COPS 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, April, 6: 
They went, they pleaded, they came back empty-handed.

For the third time in three weeks, the police made a move to pick up Monalisa, accused of “sexually torturing” two fellow-inmates at the Liluah Home for Destitute Women, on Friday morning. The two teenage girls had attempted suicide recently, and blamed Monalisa and her gang for pushing them to the brink with sustained abuse. The Howrah sub-divisional judicial magistrate had taken cognisance of the complaint and ordered the police to produce the accused before the court. At 11 am on Friday, a deputy magistrate, a district social welfare officer and other officials accompanied a police possé to the gates of the Liluah home. But in an action replay of the previous two occasions, Monalisa was ready for the cops. She and her followers bolted the doors of their cell from within and refused to respond to the request of the police party to accompany them to court.

The officials waited for over an hour, taking turns to plead with the inmates to cooperate with them. But there was moving Monalisa. “Go back... I won’t open the door,” hollered the 20-year-old from behind closed doors. Deciding to play it safe rather than force the issue, the officials beat a retreat around 12.30 pm. “The SDJM has ordered that Monalisa be produced before the court. Unless the court says that she should be arrested, the police cannot force the inmate to accompany us out of the home,” explained a senior police official. The cops are clearly handling this case with extra care, as any disturbance caused by them in the women’s home can lead to further complications for the force.

The Howrah district administration has, however, taken up the matter on a directive from the state social welfare department. The department has asked the district administration to submit a report on the case, reported in Metro last week, “as soon as possible”.

Sunil Gupta, district magistrate of Howrah, said that an official of deputy magistrate rank has been asked to look into the matter. “We are taking this matter very seriously. I have ordered deputy magistrate M.N. Bishu to probe the matter and submit his report soon,” added Gupta. On Friday, Bishu led a team, comprising district social welfare officer Dolly Pal and district project officer Manoj Dey, to inspect the home. A group of policemen followed. Bishu, who had gone there to try and interrogate Monalisa, drew a blank. “I won’t answer your questions. Go back. I won’t come out,” she shouted back at the deputy magistrate.

Reba Das, home superintendent, voiced helplessness. “We have tried our best to make Monalisa understand. But our requests have absolutely no effect on her,” she confessed. With Monalisa refusing to comply with the court order, the fate of the two victims of her alleged torture — who have been shifted from the rescue section to an observation cell — remains shrouded in uncertainty.

   

 
 
APRIL DATE FOR TEACHERS’ TESTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 6: 
After a gap two years, the state College Service Commission is all set to conduct the State-Level Eligibility Test (SLET) for recruiting teachers to over 300 state-aided colleges in the city and elsewhere in the districts.

The test will be held on April 8 at nine centres in Calcutta. Three more centres— Burdwan, north Bengal and Tripura — will also host the examination.

The examinations could not be conducted in 2000 because the University Grants Commission (UGC) withheld clearance. According to existing rules, the College Service Commission requires an okay from the UGC afresh after every two years for conducting the SLET.

Ajit Kumar Banik, chairman, state College Service Commission, said a team of UGC officials visited their office in September last year and conducted an inspection of the infrastructure and other facilities.

According to Banik, the UGC team expressed satisfaction with the facilities in its inspection report and, accordingly, the commission was granted permission to conduct the examination in January 2001. “The dates for conducting the examination were fixed by the commission after the UGC sent its approval in January,” he said.

According to Banik, 8,597 examinees sit for SLET this time, against the nearly 5,500 candidates who had appeared in 1999.

The commission this time has decided to remodel the examination pattern to ensure a higher success rate. The success rate in SLET examinations held in the recent past has been extremely poor, which has caused the commission difficulty in sending up an adequate number of suitable candidates to fill up the vacant posts of teachers in colleges.

   

 
 
CRAFTS FAIR TO DEVELOP FOUR VILLAGES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 6: 
It’s a crafts exhibition with a cause. The Rotary Club of Calcutta Chowrenghee is bringing ‘stylised art’ from all over the country for Parampara 2001, a fundraiser for their social projects.

Organisations from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Jaipur, Meerut, Allahabad, Nagaland and Calcutta will be participating in the exhibition at the Ice Skating Rink from April 17. The exhibition will feature handicrafts from Apanalaya, the one-year-old club’s vocational training centre for 60 girls from the Tangra bustees.

In addition to vocational training, the club conducts a women’s literacy programme in the area. But the Tangra project is only one of the club’s endeavours. It has started a rural development project, the main beneficiary of the fundraiser. Four villages in Bhangore, South 24-Parganas, have been adopted.

“We met the villagers to assess their needs,” explains club president Sangita Todi. Health and dental camps have already been held. A school building is being renovated, with plans to construct bathrooms for all 500 huts in each village. Road improvement and provisions for safe drinking water are also on the anvil.

An adult leisure centre has also been set up, in association with Manovikas Kendra. The New Alipore centre, to be inaugurated later in the month, will serve as an informal training centre for challenged adults to learn social skills.

The club further plans to expand its existing free tuberculosis treatment centre in Kidderpore to other areas of Calcutta.

   

 
 
CURRICULUM WITH A VISION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April, 6: 
A two-day conference for teachers, parents and counsellors of challenged children at Manovikas Kendra started on Friday morning. The All-India Special Education Conference was organised by Manovikas Kendra Rehabilitation and Research Institute for the Handicapped (MRIH) and the United States Education Foundation, India.

The seminar, with the aim to “share perspectives on the formulation and implementation of emerging and recognising procedures of clinical diagnosis and assessment”, is being coordinated by Dr Eric Kruger. A Fulbright scholar, Kruger has been working with Manovikas Kendra since January, and now wants to introduce a new concept in the field of education for special needs children: the design-down method. A more “goals-oriented” approach, the technique involves student-to-student assessment of abilities.

“Teachers first need to have a vision of where the individual student should be by the end of school. They then design the curriculum he/she should follow, backwards, to reach that end,” explains Kruger. This method, according to the professor of education at the East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, has rapidly gained acceptance in the US.

Speakers include Satish Girimaji, Alka Nizamie, Manoranjan Singh and K.C. Panda. Methods of testing and tracking a student’s development will also be discussed at the meet. “The theories are definitely in place here,” says Kruger. “But implementation is the problem.” Kruger stressed the need for ‘teamwork’ in schools, as well as the greater role of parents. “In the US, parents are the main vociferous force behind education of challenged children. Parents need to get more involved with schools and legislation to ensure that their child has the best possible opportunities,” he said.

A shop for the students of the school creative club, Manokriti, was also inaugurated. Jute bags, mats and rugs made by the children, as well as packaged biscuits, bhujia and masala muri will be sold at the store on the Manovikas Kendra campus.

   

 
 
THIYAM’S THEATRE TURNS 25 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, April 6: 
Noted Manipuri theatre director Ratan Thiyam’s Chorus Repertory Theatre is celebrating 25 years of its existence. Formed here in April, 1976, this repertory is perhaps one of the best-known professional theatre companies of the country.

Addressing a news conference at the theatre complex today, Thiyam said the yearlong silver jubilee celebrations would begin tomorrow with a religious function. On April 11, state Governor Ved Marwah will open the “Shrine” playhouse of the company.

Thiyam, who has served as director of National School of Drama in the late Eighties, said he, along with a disciplined and sincere group of theatre workers, had started the company with the motto, “only the bread if not butter”. He said in spite of reaching great heights, he has received no help from the state government to keep theatre alive.

   

 
 
CONGRESS SEEKS TRINAMUL HELP 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, April 6: 
Tripura Congress president Birajit Sinha today called on state Trinamul Congress chief Sudhir Ranjan Mazumder at the latter’s residence. He sought support for the Congress candidate for the May 10 byelections to Banamali Assembly constituency.

The seat under Agartala town had fallen vacant following the killing of Congress legislator Madhusudan Saha recently.

Sinha tried to convince the Trinamul leader that there was a “strong sentiment” in the constituency in favour of slain Saha’s brother Mahitosh Saha.

The Banamalipur block Congress committee had unanimously decided to field Mahitosh Saha as the party nominee. The PCC also ratified the decision yesterday and resolved to recommend the name to the party high command.

An eight-member team of state Trinamul leaders led by convenor Ratan Chakraborty are now in Calcutta to convince Mamata Banerjee that the party could open its account in the state if Chakraborty was nominated .

The CPI has nominated party secretary Prashanta Kopali as the Left Front candidate for the elections. The CPI commands support of the Forward Bloc and RSP also. However, the CPM is still silent over the issue.

Rebel negotiations

Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga is acting as a mediator between the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura and the Centre, apparently at the behest of the Union home ministry.

The chief minister has already held several rounds of discussions with senior NLFT leaders. Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar has been informed about it.

Zoramthanga told a team of visiting journalists that peace would be restored in Tripura.

   
 

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