Slowdown hits pros, props IT shops
5-year-old loses wrong tooth to callousness
Musical medley on streets of Calcutta
Residents ready with fear-fee to feel safe
Bypass mishaps leave one dead, three injured
Bengal licence test for drivers of public vehicle
Mahanta in jumbo mess
Sattriya dance in legal tangle
Help at hand for unruly children
Missive to Maneka for pet relief

Calcutta, April 22: 
“It’s lay-off season here... We’re on the razor’s edge... Some have started packing their bags to head home... What’s the job scene there?”

That’s what a 27-year-old electronics engineer from Jadavpur University, working with network equipment major CISCO Systems in the US, wrote to friends back in Calcutta, last week. She carried on about the slowdown scare: “I know of a company which, in pre-recession days, recruited 30 people from India, brought them over to the US, and had to terminate their services within a month.” Some have managed to land jobs with hefty pay-cuts. The rest, like 25-year-old Sourav, are desperately firing off CVs to IT firms back home.

Hundreds of young techies from Calcutta, who rode the dotcom bubble to the US last fall, are now busy working out the cost-benefit analysis for a return to the roots — much before they had anticipated.

Atul Takle, vice-president, corporate communications, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and Bhaskar Das, director, HR, Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTS), confirm that “queries” from US-based young IT professionals have been pouring in over the past two months. Coming back home and getting a “decent job” (read: acceptable pay-cut) will be easier said than done, warns Das.

If the mood in the (compelled-to) comeback camp is one of confusion, parents, too, appear to have “mixed feelings” at the moment. “I’m not sure how to react. I do share my son’s disappointment of having to cut short his US plans. But if he does find something worthwhile here, I’ll be the happiest,” smiles Deepak Das, whose 24-year-old son left last August to pursue a dotcom dream in New York.

The mood in the leading city-based software firms, however, is buoyant. Forget downsizing, they are sticking to their recruitment plans and gearing up for more projects coming their way in view of “the cost advantage” that India offers for off-shore projects. TCS, which employs over 15,000 people, has raised the recruitment numbers by 42 per cent, with plans to recruit 4,000 personnel this year. PwC is also out shopping for IT professionals for a host of major projects and CTS plans to visit 60 campuses with 1,500 offers to achieve its target of 2,000 recruitment this year.

Will the return of the batch of 2000 (and earlier) help arrest the exodus of skilled IT manpower from Calcutta?

“I’m not so sure. After all, these guys are coming back by default. Their bodies will be here, but their minds will still in the US,” says Bikram Dasgupta, CEO of Globsyn Technologies. “But the slowdown in US, which accounts for 56 per cent of the global software market, will lead to cost-control measures and the focus will shift to work on a project-to-project basis. This holds the key to success for companies which have a strong marketing network in US and the necessary infrastructure here.”

With US companies turning towards cost-effective IT solutions, the software industry here is “bound to benefit”.

Roopen Roy, executive director, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), feels “US companies will try to maximise their return on IT investments, and would want a bigger bang for the buck”.

Carrying Roy’s argument a step further, Amitava Moulik, director, eForce, says: “It’s a boon for us and we are looking at more projects from the US this financial year. Even our US office is now paying more attention to Calcutta and wants activity to be stepped up here.”

Companies like Skytech Solutions, Astralsys, eForce, involved in high-end consulting, are waiting for “more and more IT projects to be outsourced at off-shore development centres”.

In terms of a policy shift, IT firms are now ready to “explore other markets” and refocus on “the domestic market” which offers both “money and challenge”.

One casualty of the present slump will surely be the sky-rocketing salaries. No one is ready to put a figure to the fall, yet, but it’s apparent that both the back-from-the-US brigade, and those starting out, are now looking at more prosaic pay structures which, some feel, will help “restore a balance in the social system”.

Roopen Roy and others feel it’s the bodyshoppers who’ll be hit hard. The strain is already showing. Two Calcutta-based companies, whose revenue streams begin and end with bodyshopping, have asked “more than 100 people on their rolls” to queue up at the exit door. “We have been asked to quit as soon as possible, as all their growth plans have gone awry over the past few weeks,” said an employee, on condition of anonymity.

Dave Mukherjee, CEO of Astralsys, sums up the post-slowdown scenario: “It’s time for the survival of the fittest.” For both IT shops and pros.


Calcutta, April 22: 
Dentists at Dr R. Ahmed Dental College and Hospital on Saturday extracted the wrong tooth of a five-year-old child, not only delaying his cure but jeopardising the growth of his teeth as well. The incident perhaps justifies Governor Viren J. Shah’s concern about the quality of healthcare delivery in government hospitals.

The patient, Debojyoti Chandra, is suffering from caries, like any other child. In his case, it was a bit more acute. Eight of his 10 milk teeth, four upper and four lower, were affected by decay. His parents brought him to Calcutta from Danton, in Midnapore, for treatment. They were referred to the dental college, the most prestigious institute of its kind in eastern India.

He was first taken to the outdoor department on Wednesday, where his ticket (no. 931648) mentions “caries in upper DA and AD, as well as lower ED and DE.” (Milk teeth are referred to alphabetically, while adult teeth have numbers). The parents were directed to go to department 2C (pedodontia department) for further advice. Here, doctors observed that both upper Ds, or pre-molars, needed extraction. This time, the boy was referred to department 1A, where dental surgery on children is carried out. When father Debangshu Chanda, accountant at an ashram near Danton, took Debjyoti there on Saturday, he was surprised at the behaviour of the doctor there.

“So far, we had been getting proper attention. But when I presented this doctor with the ticket, which had the case history on it, he took a perfunctory look, an even briefer glance at my son’s teeth and, to my utmost concern, wrote extraction of upper E!” related the disgusted father.

“I pointed out that the two upper Ds needed removal and even tried to show him the first page of the ticket. But he brushed me aside and ordered me to wait outside. I thought the junior doctors would spot the mistake. To my horror, they had followed what the senior doctor had written.” Debangshu and his brother-in-law then rushed to the principal, Dr T.K. Saha, who admitted there had been a mistake and requested them to return on Wednesday “for proper remedial treatment by a good doctor.”

Dentists not associated with the hospital said the tooth that was removed would have fallen in natural course at age 12. The problem that Debojyoti will face is that his second pre-molar, which grows when a child is around six, will grow and take up the space of his first pre-molar. This can cause permanent disfigurement. The family plans to move the consumer court, “mainly to ensure that such mistakes do not occur with others in future,” said the boy’s father.


Calcutta, April 22: 
As dusk falls on Mohendra Bhattacharjee Road, Howrah, the tempo is rising on the uthon of a red, two-storeyed house. The sounds of the tabla, drums, an electric guitar and the strains of a kheyal blend effortlessly as a crowd gradually forms. Ryan, Mayookh, Zach, Siddhartha are merging music and form in a cross-cultural, trans-national musical mission...

Time Travil, a US-based band, has come to Calcutta to join Black Coffee, a ‘free the arts’ movement which started in the city a few months ago. They’ll play for anyone, anywhere, to promote the music they stand for — a fusion of Indian classical, funk, jazz, R&B...

Ryan Shah, 25, and Zachariah Jones, 23, sold personal belongings, including a car, precious CD collections and instruments back home in South Carolina, to finance a summer stint in Calcutta. With music gear and a set of clothes each, they arrived here on April 19, to team up with the band’s third member, Mayookh Bhaumik. “It took me exactly three minutes to convince the guys to drop everything and come to Calcutta. Within two weeks, they were on that plane,” grins Mayookh, the 23-year-old tabla player who shuttles between the US and India. Zach plays the electric guitar, while Ryan plays the drumset.

Time Travil’s music is distinctive for its experimental sound. Ryan does the tabla beat on the drumset, while Mayookh tries out African and Latin rhythm on the tabla. They’ll perform at concerts, and, in keeping with the Black Coffee philosophy, take their music to the people.

“We’ll play some more complicated experimental compositions, and some stuff with a lot of melody, too... Streets, clubs, halls... we’ll play anywhere we can,” says Ryan, who “struggled to find a tabla teacher for years” before coming to Calcutta to study tabla under Sabir Khan in 1999.

The half-Indian young man, whose father’s hometown is Baroda, has organised classical concerts back home in South Carolina. “None of the Indians back home turned up, but young Americans have been hugely excited,” he observes.

Zach who has been listening to Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan and Hari Prasad Chaurasia for years, is now learning ragas, from host Siddhartha Chaudhuri, or ‘Khanbhai’. “I can’t sing, but I strum tunes on my guitar,” grins the American, who wants to demonstrate “how the electric bass guitar should be played”.

After successful shows at Presidency College, Jadavpur University, and even a Jodhpur Park field, their next show is on April 26 at Rabindra Sadan, with an all-night gig at JU hostel to follow during the next week. Along with the Time Travil trio, local vocalist Siddartha Chaudhuri, Prithweesh Deb and Snehashish Mazumdar on the mandolin, will join in.


Calcutta, April 22: 
Safety in Salt Lake, it seems, comes for a monthly fee of Rs 30. The security deposit in Jodhpur Park is Rs 50 a month. If it’s Blue Cops in Salt Lake, it’s Anapol in Jodhpur Park.

Private vigilante groups are steadily gaining ground, and trust, in city localities. Blue Cops, which began operations in Salt Lake last July, now has over 500 members. Anapol, appointed in Jodhpur Park this April, is already responsible for 400 households.

Blue Cops projects itself as ‘crisis managers’. “Over the past couple of months, we have handled cases of extortion, crime, robbery, theft. But we also respond to medical emergencies. And of late, we have been involved in the resolution of a number of family disputes as well,” says Soumitra Banerjee, managing director of Blue Cops.

Banerjee, while insisting that they work “hand-in-hand with the local police”, does put down the sudden spurt in membership to the rising crime graph in the area.

“Before I became a member of Blue Cops, there had been three burglary attempts at my house,” says Jaideep Chatterjee of BD block. “I was left with no alternative, as the police merely told me to lock the doors and windows before going to sleep.”

If Salt Lake learnt its lesson the hard way, residents of Jodhpur Park have gone for professional vigil as “a precautionary measure”, to prevent cases of petty theft from going out of hand. Ten guards, under a supervisor, patrol the streets from 11 pm to 5 am, armed with sticks, torches and whistles.

“Our aim is to supplement the efforts of the police, as it is impossible for the cops to keep watch on each and every house in the large locality,” says Sakti Sengupta, vice-president of the Jodhpur Park Residents’ Association (JPRA).

In this south Calcutta para, the police are very much involved in the novel community venture. “We welcome all forms of co-ordination with the public,” says officer-in-charge, Lake police station, Anil Jana, who has pledged all help to the residents.

Not all residents feel safe with security going private. “This could well lead to anarchy,” says Sreya Sarkar, of AD block, Salt Lake.

Beside crime prevention, tackling medical emergencies figures high on the priority list of both Blue Cops and Anapol. The Salt Lake agency has already “attached over 150 doctors willing to respond to any kind of emergency within Salt Lake at any time of the night”.

JPRA secretary Tapan Ganguli feels “the presence of the private guards will help residents and doctors respond to an emergency without facing security problems”. Next on the association’s agenda are plans to provide non-formal education to slumchildren and organise regular meetings and functions in the area.


Calcutta, April 22: 
A young man was killed and three others were seriously injured in two accidents on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass on Sunday afternoon.

Mamtaz Alam, 23, a resident of Tiljala Second Lane, was run over by a speeding bus near the Mirania boat club on the Park Circus connector of the Bypass at 11.20 am. He was rushed to National Medical College and Hospital, where doctors declared him dead.

A huge crowd gathered on the spot to protest rash driving, hurling brickbats and other missiles at passing vehicles. The mob also manhandled traffic constable B. Gurum, who was on duty at the Parama island then. Traffic was disrupted for well over an hour.

Officials of Topsia police station rushed to the spot to quell the violence and arrested three people for “vandalism”. The area remained tense and a police picket was posted in the vicinity.

An hour later, in a collision between a Calcutta Municipal Corporation lorry and a Bengal Police vehicle at Mathpukur, on the Bypass, five members of the National Volunteers Force (NVF), travelling in the police vehicle, were injured. Three of them have been admitted to Calcutta Police Hospital in a serious condition. The other two were discharged after first aid.

Police said the Corporation lorry, travelling at a high speed, lost control and swerved to come directly in front of the police vehicle. The lorry driver has been detained for interrogation.

Residents are getting jittery over the rising incidence of mishaps along the Bypass. “We have made repeated appeals to the local police to post more personnel and slap stiff fines on drivers found speeding,” said a resident of Topsia.


Calcutta, April 22: 
Drivers holding licences issued by states other than Bengal will have to obtain fresh ones from the motor vehicles department to ply commercial vehicles in the city and elsewhere in the districts on a permanent basis. According to a new set of rules framed by the transport department, they will have to appear before the motor vehicles department for a physical, technical and aptitude test. Fresh licences will be issued only to those passing the test.

“We must check whether the drivers are aware of traffic rules and are fit to drive heavy vehicles, even if they hold licences from other states,” said a senior officer of the transport department. According to the Motor Vehicles rules, anyone with a driving licence, irrespective of the issuing state, can drive anywhere in the country. At least 50,000 drivers, with licences issued from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, operate taxis, autos and Matador vans in the city, transport department sources said.

T.V. Venkatraman, public vehicles department director, said the police, the transport department and the public vehicles department would have to collaborate to pull up the huge number of drivers. A special group, comprising the transport department, police, environment department and motor vehicles, will monitor the situation.

“In the past three months, nearly 2,000 bus and taxi drivers were booked for violating traffic rules. Besides, licences of about 200 drivers, found responsible for mishaps, have been seized. Most of them had licences issued by other states,” said a motor vehicles inspector.

“Drivers with licences issued by us also violate traffic rules and drive despite being physically unfit. But we can pick them up easily, as they have to approach us either for renewing licences or paying up their taxes,’’ Venkatraman said.

The Bengal Taxi Association (BTA) and West Bengal Truck Operators Association have welcomed the move. “We shall not object if a driver is found unfit and incapable of driving a commercial vehicle,” said BTA president Bimal Guha.


Calcutta, April 22: 
A problem of “elephantine” proportions is staring Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta in the face.

Led by the Congress, the Opposition has accused Mahanta of violating the Election Commission’s model code of conduct by being party to the inclusion of live animals in a procession taken out by Asom Gana Parishad supporters here yesterday.

As Mahanta set out to file his nomination for the Dispur Assembly seat, AGP activists took out a procession led by three elephants, the party’s election symbol.

The Opposition was quick to seize the opportunity to have a go at the ruling party. It said the inclusion of elephants in the AGP procession was tantamount to violation of the model code of conduct. State chief election commissioner Bhaskar Mushahary said there could be a case against the AGP. “It (the use of elephants) may be construed as a violation of the model code of conduct. I have asked officials to verify the allegation. I can say only that much now,” he said.

PCC spokesperson Pankaj Bora said his party would take up the matter with the Election Commission. “This is not the first instance of the chief minister violating the code of conduct. The AGP-led government made a large number of official appointments after the code came into effect,” he added. The Congress has already informed the Election Commission of the alleged appointments .

AGP leader resigns

The AGP today received a setback when one of its senior leaders and former agriculture minister Debo Kumar Bora resigned from the party for being denied an election ticket.

Bora also resigned from the post of deputy chairman of the Assam Planning Board.

The disgruntled leader will file his nomination for the Titabor seat as an Independent candidate. He will be up against AGP candidate Hemanta Kalita.

Bora, one of the student leaders who anchored the Assam Movement, was elected to the Assembly from Titabor constituency in 1985. In his resignation letter to the chief minister, Bora said he was insulted by “junior party leaders” after being denied a ticket.

“But despite my informing you about the happenings, no step has been taken against them. The way the party leadership ignored me and hurt my sentiments, I had no option but to resign,” he wrote.

Saying that the AGP had lost its “originality”, the former minister said, “With the limited powers I had, I did try to mend the party’s ways.

But my efforts came to nought.” Bora contested the Jorhat seat in the last Lok Sabha elections, but lost to Congress candidate Bijoy Krishna Handique.

He said the AGP had deprived him of his due “for the last 10 years”.

Bora was one of the persons who drafted the AGP-led government’s ambitious “Vision 2000 Plan”.

He is also credited with introducing the concept of forming agricultural land management committees (Pathar parichalana samitis) during his tenure as the AGP’s first agriculture minister.


Guwahati, April 22: 
The controversy over the nomenclature of Sattriya dance refuses to die down. Five months after Sattriya was accorded the status of a “major Indian dance form”, the Sankardev Sangha has decided to move court on the issue.

The organisation wants the dance renamed as “Sankari Nritya” after its creator, sixteenth century saint-reformer Srimanta Sankardev.

The Sangeet Natak Akademi granted Sattriya the status of a “major Indian dance form” on November 15 despite opposition from the Sankardev Sangha.

General secretary of the sangha, Hariprasad Hazarika, told The Telegraph over phone from Nagaon that his organisation was determined to ensure that “justice” was done to Sankardev. “We will move court soon, seeking renaming of the dance form as Sankari Nritya,” he added.

The sangha had moved the Gauhati High Court on November 13 last year, seeking a stay on the Sangeet Natak Akademi’s decision to accord the status of a national dance form to Sattriya.

The court admitted the writ petition, but the Sangeet Natak Akademi went ahead with its announcement two days later.

Hazarika said his organisation would file a “title suit” in a civil court “in a day or two”. The sangha’s headquarters is in Nagaon and it is most likely to file the case in the district sessions court.

“We are not against the dance form getting national recognition. But we feel the nomenclature of the dance should reflect the name of its creator,” Hazarika said.

The sangha, he said, submitted a memorandum to the prime minister and the Union minister for information and broadcasting on April 8. It included two resolutions adopted at the Dhemaji conference of the organisation in February. Apart from renaming Sattriya as Sankari Nritya, the sangha wants Sankardev’s birth anniversary to be declared a national holiday.


Guwahati, April 22: 
When the phone rings at the small office of the Childline service in the city, it is not always a plea for help.

Some of the callers, mostly children, want to hear nursery rhymes too. “We have no other option but to oblige,” said Jitumoni Dutta, co-ordinator of the service. “These children may be under the impression that we are running an entertainment service for them,” he added.

But Dutta is not complaining. The response to the city’s first helpline for children has been overwhelming. “Ever since we started the service in January, the phone has virtually not stopped ringing,” Dutta said.

The harried parents of a child, who refused to go to school, approached the helpline. “Can you help us?” pleaded the father, a doctor. Dutta said the “childline” will help the parents too. “We will try to talk to the boy in school and find out his likes and dislikes. This may bring about a change in his behaviour and help the parents,”


Agartala, April 22: 
She is not the fiery animal activist who takes up cudgels for the sake of the animal kingdom on the streets.

Yet, if there is a paradise for animals on earth, it is the home of Shukla Chakraborty. The 40-something lady’s family indeed has God’s plenty — a girl and tribal boy, both orphans, and 30 cats and 20 dogs in all.

However, Chakraborty — a clerk in the social welfare department — is finding it difficult making both the ends meet.

Saddled with the burden of maintaining her unusual family, Chakraborty has shot an SOS to Union minister for social welfare Maneka Gandhi.

She justifies her “holy mission” to upkeep her “children” citing the Upanishads. Speaking to The Telegraph from her ancestral home at the Bijay Kumar Chowmuhuni here, she said, with spiralling prices, “procuring the daily ration of eggs and milk for the kittens and puppies is getting difficult”.

Years ago, she set out searching for a job armed with a master’s degree in education. One of the six siblings born to the late Sanskrit “pundit” Jogeswar Chakraborty, it has been a hard coming. First, it was difficult to “get education”, and then struggle for a job.

After the untimely demise of her parents, she took up a job at the local temple to earn a pittance by reciting from the Bhagwad Gita.

Chakraborty has been fond of animals since she was a child. Her neighbours said she was a “natural friend” of animals and birds. “Animals are invariably drawn towards her,” said a close friend.

“When I was of marriageable age, there were no groom to marry an unemployed girl. But now my hands are full,” she said, reasoning why she had no plans to get married. “I am very happy with my family,” she added.

Chakraborty feels that the Union minister, known for her crusade for animal welfare, would be able to help her. Though she is pinning her hopes on Maneka Gandhi, from whom she hopes to hear very soon, she harbours no illusion.

“We will survive, somehow,” she said, as the canines and felines huddled around her. Her message to Gandhi was simple: poverty affects animals too.


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