College chase for star status
Gym in office adds Spice to workload
Hawkers back on city streets
Kids on crusade to save walled-up park
Rajarhat gets separate drains system
Pauls launch scholarship foundation
Poll lures back guns, goons
Subtle shades, classic styles
AGP-BJP rift widens at end of campaign
Revolt against Manipur CM fizzles out

 
 
COLLEGE CHASE FOR STAR STATUS 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
There’s a star war on Calcutta campus. After Loreto College passed the National Assessment Accreditation Committee (NAAC), test with flying colours, it’s the turn of Presidency College to reach for the stars.

Stung by Loreto’s new-found five-star status, Presidency has prepared the paperwork and is poised to dash off an application for assessment by the Committee appointed by the University Grants Commission (UGC).

“We had not given much emphasis on securing the NAAC ratings as they are optional. But we have had a rethink,” said Amitava Chatterjee, principal of Presidency. At a recent meeting, the matter was discussed at length, with the teachers urging the authorities to apply for NAAC evaluation.

“We are now ready with all supporting documents to accompany our application to NAAC,” confirmed Chatterjee.

The state run-college’s stand is a shift from the ruling Left’s line to oppose the UGC injunction, making assessment of colleges and universities by the recently-formed Committee a condition for availing of the Commission’s funds. The government’s “clearance” for the NAAC application is expected to reach Presidency after the May 10 Assembly election, officials felt. Piyush Kanti Ganguly, state director of public instruction (DPI), however, said the application from Presidency had not reached him yet.

“Getting the NAAC stars is optional, but we do need greater UGC funding for our expansion plans,” an official of the education department said.

Presidency depends heavily on UGC funds to ensure smooth functioning of its four post-graduate courses. “In such a situation, the college cannot afford to risk UGC funding being blocked at any stage. This is one of the reasons why the authorities of the college are keen to invite the NAAC,” he explained.

The college authorities have already discussed steps to be taken before the NAAC team visits the campus. Sources at Calcutta University (CU) said that Presidency had taken the initiative for evaluation on the basis of instructions from members of the NAAC team who recently visited several CU departments and held an exhaustive meeting with principals from 30 colleges. At this meeting, the NAAC officials reportedly advised them to invite NAAC evaluation.

According to college officials, Presidency has all the requisite infrastructural facilities required for a five-star NAAC rating. But being controlled by the state higher education department, it cannot call in the Committee without government clearance.

The CPM-led government is said to be opposed to the idea of a Committee controlled by the Centre exerting such influence over state-run institutions. The Trinamul Congress, however, is all for the NAAC evaluation.

“Each and every college and university in the state should get NAAC ratings. The standardisation of educational institutions is extremely necessary for balanced development,” said Saugata Roy, contesting the Dhakuria Assembly seat.

   

 
 
GYM IN OFFICE ADDS SPICE TO WORKLOAD 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
With jobs in the city increasingly entailing sitting in front of computers for long hours, more Calcuttans with sedentary work are complaining about back aches and other related health problems. “Sitting for hours on end can lead to cervical and lumbar problems, while continuously looking at computer screens can lead to eye fatigue,” says Aparesh Ray, an expert in sports and occupational medicine. “You become static, there is no muscular movement and, coupled with unhealthy eating habits and smoking, the likelihood of illness increases,” he points out.

Now, imagine a work environment that enables you to be physically fit and mentally agile, where recreation and exercise are in the curriculum of your job. You are relaxed and have little worry about your health. Your concentration is up, your output is more and your boss is happy. “It’s possible, even in Calcutta,” says Ray. “The practice has been in vogue in the US and the UK for quite some time and has yielded results. Most of us lack awareness about the benefits. But creating such an environment may be a practical way to avoid falling ill, hospitalisation and huge expenses,” he says.

Health consciousness at work is, fortunately, growing and exercise, controlled diet and recreation are being included in the daily routine of an increasing number of sedentary workers. Gyms are becoming popular, and executives of several companies are making it a point to attend regularly.

Perhaps the first company in Calcutta to think, plan and execute a programme that includes all this for its staff is Spice Telecom. It has appointed Ray to set up a gymnasium on its new office premises at the Infinity Building in Salt Lake.

“We have several activities lined up for our staff,” says Spice’s chief operating officer Arun Kapoor. Some have already been implemented, like in-house intra-department football, cricket and an all-woman bowling team that participated in the Merchant’s Cup.” And now, on the sixth floor of the landmark building in Sector V, Spice has set up a gym, complete with treadmill, cycling machine, tummy trimmers and multi-gym apparatus for its 150 staff. “There isn’t any heavy stuff. We want our people to be healthy, not musclemen.” Kapoor has even suggested pasting pictures of the bosses on the punching bag. “Whenever someone wants to release tension or pent-up emotions, he or she can fire away!”

The air-conditioned gym, including showers and lockers, will start functioning from mid-May. Ray will be training the employees for two months, setting up training schedules and charts, so that there’s no excess exercise. He has also suggested a hand-stretching and deep breathing exercise to piped music before work starts every day.

Executives from other companies, like The Chatterjee Group and Cognizant Technology Solutions are attending gyms to relieve themselves of stress at the workplace. “They are being guided by me at the Jaideep Mukerjea Tennis Academy, also in Salt Lake,” Ray says.

   

 
 
HAWKERS BACK ON CITY STREETS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
Aided and abetted by political parties trying to catch votes, hawkers have staged a comeback on the pavements of the main thoroughfares in the city. “This has happened over the past six weeks”, said a civic conservancy officer.

He said soon after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee announced at an election meeting called by Citu, CPM’s trade union wing, that he had decided to allow hawkers to operate on pavements once again, they had returned in greater numbers than even before the Operation Sunshine days.

Civic officers, who took part in Operation Sunshine, said though roads and pavements belonged to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), yet political leaders were inviting hawkers to occupy pavements. Even pavements of streets which never attracted hawkers before, like Bentinck Street, Surya Sen Street, Beadon Street, Harish Mukherjee Street and Elliot Road were now being co-opted by newcomers.

CMC officers feel that soon after the elections, leaders will be forced to change their decision under public pressure.

   

 
 
KIDS ON CRUSADE TO SAVE WALLED-UP PARK 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA AND DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
Surrounded by hospitals, highrises, schools and a temple, lies one of the precious few remaining patches of green in the city centre: Victoria Square. It’s been over eight years since Calcutta has been able to see it, let alone use it. A 10-ft wall, covered in graffiti and a young, earnest voice of protest, is all that meets the eye of those passing through Albert Road, off Camac Street.

But now, the six-year-long joint effort of the nature clubs of La Martiniere for Girls and Boys, Ashok Hall and Birla High, coordinated by People United for Better Living in Calcutta (Public), to throw open the gates of the park, with a 155,000-sq-ft pond, is finally starting to pay off — at least in the form of promises from civic officials. Member, mayor-in-council (parks and gardens), Hridayananda Gupta, said on Tuesday that restoration work on Victoria Square would start after the monsoon. “Parks are the lungs of the city. We are on the lookout for a private sponsor to take responsibility of cleaning up and maintaining Victoria park,” added Subrata Mukherjee.

Last Saturday, municipal commissioner Debashis Som “assured” Bonani Kakkar of Public that the Square would be handed over to them for restoration. Public, along with the school kids, had submitted a detailed restoration plan for the park (see box) to the Corporation last August. “Even then, we’d been told that work on Victoria Square would start after the monsoon... Often, these remarks are made off-the-cuff and then other priorities crop up,” says Kakkar. So for the moment, the 50-odd students engaged in the Save Victoria Square campaign can only keep their fingers crossed.

Across the Square, another controversy continues to simmer at the Iskcon Temple. Recently rocked by violent in-fighting, the future of the temple, or at least the man holding the reins, is in question.

Adridharana Das, president of Iskcon Calcutta, was “suspended” last month by the Iskcon Bureau, the highest administrative power of the Society in India. Two properties are at the centre of the turmoil: 22, Gurusaday Road and Victoria Square.

The Gurusaday Road Iskcon premises is used for weddings and parties. In an internal letter, Adridharana was accused of charging Rs 3 lakh, and half that amount for other receptions, with “over 80 per cent paid in cash”. That money, according to the letter, was to be used for construction of a temple at Victoria Square. “Srila Prabhupada, founder of Iskcon, had in the 1970s expressed his desire to have a temple in the Victoria pond.... In 1993, Adridharana Das explained to the Iskcon authorities that it is possible to have a temple at this place, but it cannot be in the name of Iskcon as the pond is owned by CMC (then in CPM control) and the government... which will not give sanction... Therefore, it will be called an underwater aquarium project.”

Dayaram Das, co-director of the Mayapur temple, says: “Adri founded the Bengal Jana Kalyan Sanskriti Utthan Trust as a cover for the temple. All the money from the Gurusaday Road property was being used there, or so he assured us.” Adridharana, however, denies any direct involvement with the Trust. “There was never supposed to be a temple. The Trust had approached me for help a few years ago. I had agreed because the aquarium would have been good for the area... But nothing has happened since,” he says.

On June 12, 1993, the foundation stone for an aquarium at Victoria Square was laid by then chief minister Jyoti Basu. The Rs 10-crore Glory of Bengal, as the project was to be called, was a 7,000 sq ft aquarium with an air-conditioned hall at the centre.

At the helm of the private, non-profit, charitable Trust were Sitaram Daga, chairman, and Jugal Kishore Kajaria, managing trustee. “The project has been stalled right now because of the Corporation’s delay,”’ says Kajaria. Voices of protest were raised within days of the inauguration. The fact that the Hinduja Foundation was to be “the major sponsor” being the main point of conflict, especially from then municipal affairs minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Public later filed a case against the Corporation, on grounds that the project would harm the environment as well as the waterbody. When Asim Barman became municipal commissioner, the project was scrapped, as “the plans resembled a temple” and officials “did not feel the Trust had good intentions”. Now, Subrata Mukherjee has put the lid on any moves to revive the aquarium project: “We don’t think it prudent to allow any construction in the park for commercial purposes.”

But for the time being, Victoria Square is the messy playground for a family of pigs, alongside the foundation stone for the prize project, which still stands tall.

   

 
 
RAJARHAT GETS SEPARATE DRAINS SYSTEM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
Rajarhat will have its own sewerage system to drain out its waste. Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (Hidco), the implementing authority of the township, has arrived at this decision since the irrigation department will not allow additional discharge into the Bagjola and Keshtopur canals.

In a meeting with Hidco officials recently, irrigation department engineers said excessive silting has made the canals incapable of taking on any extra load. Sewage from the city and the suburbs are drained through the two canals, which ultimately fall into the Kulti Gang. “The canals can barely drain out the city’s waste,’’ an irrigation engineer said.

Housing minister Gautam Deb has instructed Hidco engineers to work on a separate sewerage system, estimated to cost around Rs 20 crore.

According to the plan, a canal will be dug along the boundary of the township, into which the waste will fall. This will be carried to the Bagjola and Keshtopur canals. The stretch where the two canals will carry refuse from the new township will be widened. Hidco has already paid the irrigation department Rs 20 crore for the purpose.

The projected population of the new township is around a million. Land has already been allotted in Phase I and allotment for Phase II will start soon.

“We shall provide all civic amenities, but it will take time to implement the projects,’’ Hidco officials said.

   

 
 
PAULS LAUNCH SCHOLARSHIP FOUNDATION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
Looking for resources to pursue your academic and creative interests abroad, or funds to carry on research work in a special area that can serve the masses? The Paul Foundation, launched on Tuesday by the Apeejay Surrendra Group, promises to provide a window of opportunity to deserving and needy students from the city and elsewhere in the country, through a string of scholarships to support higher studies in India and abroad.

“The scholarships are need-based, non-discriminatory and non-binding, for which, a corpus of Rs 4 crore has been set aside. If the response is encouraging, we can even think of Calcutta-specific scholarships at a later date. After all, this is our business headquarters and we have an emotional bonding with the city,” said Karan Paul, on the board of governors which will direct the work of the Foundation.

The Foundation will provide scholarships in five categories — for graduate studies in basic sciences, humanities and arts, for research grants involving overseas travel, for academic and professional courses in India, for creative pursuits and for professional courses for special people in association with the National Centre for Employment of Disabled Persons.

The scholarships are open to Indian residents below 30 and as a merit-cum-means grant, each applicant has to submit an authorised proof of family income not exceeding Rs 1 lakh per year.

Applications open on May 15 and the Foundation hopes to complete the entire process of selection by June 10.

   

 
 
POLL LURES BACK GUNS, GOONS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
The stakes are high; there are only 48 hours to go. And the administration is only too aware of this. In the weeks leading up to the polls, despite the best efforts of the police, arms have come in and, along with them, some of the criminals who had been kept at bay by the security officials.

“There is no cause for alarm and we are aware of all that is happening,” said Raj Kanojia, deputy commissioner, headquarters, of Calcutta Police. “We know what the criminals are up to and we are dealing with them appropriately.”

Kanojia added that there will be “massive police presence” at all the polling stations, on the streets and in all the sensitive areas where trouble is feared.

But intelligence officials also have information that the man wanted for the killing of mafia don Mughal of Garden Reach, Daren Mian, has found his way back to the city after being on the run for the past few months.

The death of Mughal, who enjoyed the patronage of the local CPM unit and had nursed the party’s fortunes in the area, has come as a setback to the party in the Garden Reach area. “With Daren Mian now vowing to elimate the CPM from the area during the polls, the Marxists have also scouted for muscle power to counter him,” admitted a police official.

Like Daren Mia, other hoodlums driven out of the city by the police have returned to the lanes and bylanes of Tangra and Topsia, and in the shanties of Topsia. “These people are sheltered in the homes of friends and associates and are from both sides of the political spectrum,” an official said. “We have information on some of them, but obviously many have escaped our notice.”

The police have gone on a security overdrive ever since chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen directed all city police stations to step up their drive against criminals.

   

 
 
SUBTLE SHADES, CLASSIC STYLES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
A bright academic career and specialisation in four different dance forms have earned her the distinction she deserved. Neena Prasad, a Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam exponent, is the first South Indian to receive a PhD in dance from Rabindra Bharati University. The degree was conferred on her at the university’s convocation on Monday. Her topic of research was ‘Lasya and Tandava in South Indian classical dance’.

Born in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, Prasad’s first stage performance was at age five. She learnt Bharatanatyam from Suchindram M.M. Pillai and, later, trained in the four forms under experts like Padmashri Vempati Chinnasatyam, Padmashri Adyar K. Lakshman and Vembayam Appukuttan Pillay.

Studies went hand in hand with an arduous training in dance. She holds a master’s degree in English literature.

Prasad’s forte is Mohiniyattam. This traditional dance form of Kerala has inspired her to explore its variety and subtle shades. Prasad improvises and renders modernity to Mohiniyattam without digressing from its fundamental aesthetics.

One of her recent productions presents Kalidasa’s Shakuntala in a modern perspective. Here, the docile and coy epic character boldly asserts her femininity. “My Shakuntala voices womanhood and is relevant even in this century,” Prasad says.

Prasad stresses on blending theory with performance. “I want to incorporate academics into the gurukul system. A firm grounding in theory enables dancers to communicate more effectively, as they gain an in-depth understanding of the subject,” says Prasad.

The danseuse has taken this intricate form overseas — to Berlin, Frankfurt, Bern Cologne and the Gulf countries.

   

 
 
AGP-BJP RIFT WIDENS AT END OF CAMPAIGN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, May 8: 
The political roadshow for Thursday’s Assembly elections in the state ended this evening, but the tussle between the Asom Gana Parishad and the BJP over the “friendly contests” only seems to be getting worse.

A day after Sushma Swaraj asked the AGP to vacate the Teok seat for the BJP candidate, BJP national vice-president Pyarelal Khandewal today urged the AGP to withdraw its candidates from all the seven seats where the two allies are engaged in “friendly contests.”

In a statement issued from New Delhi, the BJP leader claimed that his party’s candidates have “emerged stronger than the AGP candidates” in all the seven seats marked for “friendly contests.”

“Since the BJP candidates have emerged stronger in these constituencies, the AGP should withdraw its candidates from the seats so that there is no confusion among the voters,” he said.

These seven constituencies are Teok, Raha, Guwahati (West), Naobaicha, Barchalla and Hajo. He added that the AGP should also ask its supporters to vote for the BJP to prevent the Congress from taking advantage of any split in the votes. None of the AGP leaders were available for comment.

The AGP-BJP combine appeared to be creaking under its own weight with the state BJP also accusing the AGP leadership of “sabotaging” Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s rally here on Sunday.

Talking to newsmen before the start of Swaraj’s rally at Chandmari here today, state BJP president Rajen Gohain attributed the poor attendance at the Prime Minister’s rally to the “sabotage” by the AGP. “The AGP has let us down,” he said.

Not more than 3,000 attended the AGP-BJP combine’s rally at Judges’ Field, sparking speculation about the “health” of the alliance. Swaraj’s rally, organised to make up for the earlier flop show, met a similar fate, with attendance as low as 2,500.

Gohain, who till the notification for the polls was opposed to the tie-up because of the anti-incumbency wave, attributed today’s poor turnout to non-availability of buses.

The rally, which was supposed to start at 11.30, took off only at 1 pm. Today being the last day of campaigning, the organisers were hoping for the crowd to swell before the arrival of its star campaigner.

Swaraj, the last of the “star campaigners,” dubbed the elections as “extraordinary” on which the “future of Assam” hinges.

Though the meeting did not rise over the mundane, Swaraj still tried to make most of the rally by using her famed oratorical skills to blame the Congress for all the state’s woes, particularly influx and violence.

She lambasted the party for “not” condemning the attacks by the banned Ulfa on its workers but said that in politics there are no enemies: “there are only opponents.”

Appealing to the voters not to be cowed down by the threats of militants, she said these elections, being extraordinary, have seen the coming together of the AGP and BJP.

Congress and AGP workers clashed in Chaygaon this afternoon, causing injuries to many workers from both parties. The police had to resort to a lathicharge to disperse the unruly crowd.

In another incident last night, Ulfa rebels fired three rockets at a CRPF camp near Boko in Kamrup district. However, no one was injured, police said.

   

 
 
REVOLT AGAINST MANIPUR CM FIZZLES OUT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, May 8: 
Manipur chief minister Radhabinod Koijam is confident of surviving the revolt by the dissident camp after the BJP high command rejected state BJP legislature wing leader R.K. Dorendra Singh’s moves.

BJP national president Jana Krishnamurthi today directed Dorendra Singh to co-operate with the Samata Party-led People’s Front ministry.

“The Central leadership of our party is of the firm view that nothing shall be done by our party in Manipur to disturb the ministry headed by the Samata Party there,” Jana Krishnamurthi told Dorendra Singh.

The BJP president also sent a copy of the letter written to Dorendra Singh to Col. (retd.) Haobam Bhubon Singh. Bhubon Singh is the state higher education minister and a bitter rival of Dorendra Singh in the state BJP unit.

The Koijam ministry had faced a serious threat after 31 MLAs of the ruling camp, led by Dorendra Singh, revolted against his leadership.

The 31 MLAs were camping at the official residence of Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy. The dissidents were still in the Speaker’s camp, demanding a change in leadership inside the ruling front.

Jana Krishnamurthi had told Dorendra Singh to consult the Central BJP leadership if there is any problem in running the government.

The BJP president’s instruction to Dorendra Singh came after Samata Party leader and former defence minister George Fernandes took up the matter at the highest level with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

State BJP president M. Bhorot Singh today served a show cause notice to Bhubon Singh to explain why he disclosed internal problems of the BJP in public. Bhubon Singh said yesterday the toppling game played by Dorendra Singh, did not have the BJP high command’s approval.

The chief minister, after consulting Central Samata Party and BJP leaders yesterday at New Delhi about the political crisis, rushed back here today. He called on Governor Ved Marwah and briefed him on the political developments.

Sources said Samata Party leaders from Jharkhand also took part in the discussions on the Manipur issue in New Delhi yesterday.

Sources in New Delhi said Samata Party leaders from Jharkhand had threatened to pull out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in their state if the BJP toppled the Samata Party-led government in Manipur.

The threat is considered serious as the survival of the Babulal Marandi government led by the BJP depends on the Samata Party’s support.

State BJP president Bhorot Singh, who lost to Koijam in the last Assembly elections in Thangmeiband, in a statement today asked the chief minister to spell out the constituents of the ruling People’s Front and its strength.

Saying that the state BJP unit would abide by the advice of the Central leadership, Bhorot Singh’s statement said state leaders have conveyed news about the the current political developments to the BJP high command. Sources said the state BJP unit is unhappy over the way Koijam gave importance to Nipamacha Singh loyalists.

Talking to newsmen this afternoon, Bhorot Singh said the BJP has no intention to change the present Manipur government.

When asked why a show cause notice was served on Bhubon Singh, the state BJP president said the party only wanted an explanation from the senior leader.

The infighting in the state BJP unit has come out in the open following this revolt against Koijam’s leadership. The rivalry between Bhubon Singh and Dorendra Singh has created a sharp schism in the party here. While Dorendra Singh had led the revolt against Koijam, Bhubon Singh has been solidly behind the chief minister.

Central BJP leaders called a joint meeting with senior Samata Party leaders in New Delhi today. The meeting is likely to be attended by Fernandes, Jana Krishnamurthi and other senior leaders of the two parties.

The dissidents’ camp, however, is claiming that their numbers are still intact. The 19 Manipur State Congress Party MLAs who are now in the Speaker’s camp are still hoping to split their party and merge with the BJP. However, sources said one of the ministers came out of the dissidents’ camp this evening.

Koijam loyalists were in a jubilant mood after Jana Krishnamurthi rejected the Dorendra Singh-led revolt against the chief minister. They are hoping the dissidents’ camp will crumble by tomorrow.

Sources said Koijam may drop some of the dissidents from his ministry.

   
 

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