Old, frail but not alone
Nod for 12 engineering colleges
Star-daughter debut hits Censor stonewall
Road plans scrapped, go-ahead for buildings
Sangh finds fertile ground for shakhas
Cong, Trinamul differ on House
Abducted teenager rescued in police raid

 
 
OLD, FRAIL BUT NOT ALONE 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, May 20: 
She had attempted suicide twice, after losing her husband a few years ago. Neighbours tried to have the 70-year-old and her daughter thrown out of their own south Calcutta flat, saying they were “a problematic family”.

Unable to ‘connect’ with her mother and with no one to turn to for help, the daughter called Dignity Foundation, a senior citizen’s organisation. Foundation members first paid a few visits to give the old lady “companionship”. Then, she tried to take her life again. “She called me immediately afterwards, to ask for help,” relives Foundation member Deepak Mitra. The Foundation immediately stepped up its efforts, spending more time with her, taking her out on outings to the theatre, and various functions. “Soon, we began to see her smile again,” recounts Mitra.

This lady is not alone in her depression and isolation. Unprepared for old age, most often lonely and financially insecure, Calcutta’s senior citizens are crying out for company, hankering to be heard.

But instead of waiting for the government to act or wishing their children were by their side, an increasing number of senior citizens are rising to the self-help challenge.

They are stepping in where the “system has failed them”, to lend a hand to those who have no one else to turn to with everything from companionship (regular phone calls, housecalls, and oldies’ days out) to healthcare (counselling, medicine supply and help at the hospital). Organisations of, by and for the old are throwing the city’s senior citizens a lifeline and giving them a reason to go on.

‘You are retired but not tired. The rest of your life is the best of your life,’ is the warcry of the Indian Association of Retired Persons (IARP). With a member base of over 2,000, the Association is striving to make the lives of the elderly a little more productive, a little more comfortable. “Around 75 per cent of our members are alone, because their children live abroad or in other cities,” explains founder Dr Subir Dutta, who borrowed the idea from the American Association of Retired Persons, which has a membership of “36 million Americans”, a powerful pressure group. Before beginning work in 1997, IARP financed a survey by a Calcutta University student which revealed that loneliness was a serious problem for 70 per cent, while health was the overriding concern for 90 per cent. Around 70 per cent felt that they would rather move out of their homes than stay with their families.

Exerting pressure on the authorities to introduce “special medical facilities for geriatrics” and set up “liveable old-age homes” figure high on the agenda of the old-age organisations. But lobbying is not the only priority. Spreading cheer is important, too.

Take Krishna Basu, IARP secretary. At 63, she is “reliving her college days” thanks to new-found friends at the Association. Both of her sons live abroad, while she stays at Park Circus, with her husband and 87-year-old mother. She and her husband go to the US to meet their children once a year, while her mother stays back. “I don’t have to worry, because people constantly drop in to check on her,” she smiles.

The sense of “relief” that these veterans’ organisations generate, is spreading far and wide.

“Earlier, I would always be on the edge, calling up my folks every other day to check if they were okay. Now, with these organisations just a phonecall away, and their members in constant touch with my parents, I am much more relaxed, while they seem to have found a new purpose,” says Deepak Biswas, 36, in Seattle on a three-year stint.

Jialal Gupta, 79, who travels from Howrah to Keyatala Road for monthly meetings, medical camps and social functions held by the IARP, says: “I cannot explain in words what this means to me.” Gupta lives with his family, but has become a life member, not only because of the company, but also because of the range of medical discounts available for members.

“We still have some brain left,” assert members of Fraternity, another association started by senior citizens in south Calcutta. Though they cannot turn back time, they are eager to contribute to society for as long as they can. Fraternity is also trying to cut to the root of the problem as they see it, the growing generation gap”, by holding regular interactive meets with the youth.

   

 
 
NOD FOR 12 ENGINEERING COLLEGES 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, May 20: 
The state government has greenlighted a proposal for setting up at least a dozen new private engineering colleges in Calcutta and the districts. However, final approval by the Centre’s statutory body, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), is awaited. Concerned at the dismal conditions in private engineering institutions that have come up during the past two years, the AICTE authorities have taken a strong stand and decided not to approve any of the proposals unless they met all the parameters.

“Most of the existing private engineering institutions operating in Bengal are not up to mark. We cannot allow the institutions to run with sub-standard infrastructure any more,” said S. Bhattacharya, AICTE regional officer in Calcutta.

Of the dozen proposed colleges, five are likely to come up in Calcutta. Over the past two years, nearly 18 private engineering institutions have come up in Calcutta and in the districts. But meritorious students still opt for government-run institutions, like Jadavpur University, Shibpur Bengal Engineering College and Durgapur Regional Engineering College. Over the past two years, those placed in the first 1,000 positions of the joint entrance examination merit list have plumped for government engineering institutions.

According to AICTE sources, students shun the private institutions because of their poor infrastructure. Their fees are far too high. At Jadavpur and BE College, the maximum tuition fees are Rs 200 a month, against Rs 45,000 a year in private engineering colleges. Moreover, there is uncertainty about placement once a student has graduated from such an institution.

Most private engineering colleges started functioning from 1999-2000. Their first batch of graduates will pass out in 2003.

Today, 5,000 seats are altogether available in the government and private colleges in West Bengal. Yet there is an exodus of students to other states, particularly Karnataka and Maharashtra, to seek admission in private engineering institutions there.

To improve the quality of education in private engineering colleges here, the AICTE recently decided to go in for tougher rules for setting up them up.

According to the revised rules, an engineering college must have adequate land — a minimum of five acres in Calcutta, 10 acres in any district town, and 25 acres in villages. In addition, it is mandatory for the organisation to have Rs 50 lakh in fixed deposit for a period of 10 years.

The organisation must have the AICTE as one of its partners in the fixed deposit. The rules were much less rigid two years ago, when the state government first gave its clearance for opening such colleges.

S. Bhattacharya, AICTE regional officer, said organisations seeking to open new colleges here have been asked to submit their documents by month-end. This is the first time in the past five years that the Left Front government has greenlighted so many new private engineering colleges together.

P. K. Ray, convener of the selection committee of the state joint entrance board, said with the opening of the 11 new colleges, the total number of seats in engineering courses in the entire state is likely to rise from 5,000 to 7,000.

The new colleges are likely to have a capacity of 60 students in each department. They will possibly be allowed to open three departments initially. Admission will be through joint entrance tests organised by the state-controlled joint entrance board.

   

 
 
STAR-DAUGHTER DEBUT HITS CENSOR STONEWALL 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, May 20: 
It’s for adult eyes only, says the Censor Board. It’s a film about the Bengali middle-class with universal appeal, insist the director, distributor and star.

Ek Je Achey Kanya, the debut vehicle of Aparna Sen’s daughter Konkona Sen Sharma, has hit a stonewall with the morality monitors and the makers of film sticking to their conflicting stands. The “psychological thriller”, also starring Sabyasachi Chakraborty and Debasree Roy, is slated to hit the halls on June 1.

Supriya Chattopadhyay, one of the Censor Board members who vetted the film in which jealousy drives Konkona to try and kill Debasree, Sabyasachi’s girlfriend, says the decision to award an ‘A’ certificate was unanimous. “We all felt that the theme of the film is definitely not suitable for adolescent children. As a teacher, I feel that the film could have a harmful impact on children,’’ she adds.

According to director Subrata Sen, four jurists on the board had objected to the last sequence in the film in which Konkona, dressed in a black pleated skirt and black top, eyes the new paying-guest in her house while licking a chocolate bar. “When we refused to agree to a cut, as the scene is integral to the film, the board, which found it ‘suggestive’, decided to clamp an ‘A’ certificate,’’ alleges Sen.

Konkona, who plays Rhea in the film, says: “I don’t think it deserves an adult certificate. But I’m sure it won’t stop audiences from coming to watch the film.’’

“It’s a clean, thought-provoking film with no provocative scenes,’’ claims Arijit Dutta of Piyali Films, distributors of Ek Je... “The Censor Board is full of people who have no idea or knowledge about films, but with the authority to sit in judgment.’’

Dutta is particularly upset over the “double standards” displayed by the board. “Some of the recent releases like , Utsab and Dekha had far more provocative and suggestive scenes than Ek je..., but they escaped the Censor’s scissors and managed to get away with a universal-viewing certificate.”

His argument finds a backer in Utsab’s director Rituparno Ghosh. “We have had much more violent and provocative films which were passed by the Censor Board for universal viewing. In Utsab, for instance, there was a lovemaking sequence. Frankly, I don’t understand the Censor Board’s yardstick for judging a film,’’ Rituparno Ghosh says.

   

 
 
ROAD PLANS SCRAPPED, GO-AHEAD FOR BUILDINGS 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, May 20: 
The government has decided to lift the building ban along 43 city roads earlier earmarked by Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT) for construction of new roads or for widening of existing ones.

The decision follows the recommendation of an expert committee formed by the urban development department to cancel the project proposals.

This move will give the green signal to builders along the AJC Bose Road-Kamardanga Road (south) AJC Bose Road-Mcleod Street stretch, the Kamardanga Bridge approach road, from Convent Lane to Pottery Road, and Dum Dum Road to Cossipore Road.

According to CIT officials, most of the projects had been planned long ago, some dating back to pre-Independence days. But the CIT notification banning building along roads earmarked for either construction of a new road or widening of an old one stayed in place.

Under pressure from landowners, the urban development department had relaxed the ban and given the go-ahead for construction of two-storeyed buildings on these plots, provided that the builders gave an undertaking that the structure would be demolished, without any compensation, if the road project was implemented at any given time.

Many landowners chose not to start construction, rather than give such an undertaking. Others built houses flouting the rules.

“The CIT had taken up grand plans for construction or expansion of roads. They did not implement the projects and yet, kept the alignment alive for years. Even the CIT chose not to acquire the land, resulting in a stalemate... Why should I give an undertaking for construction of building on my own land?’’ demanded P.K. Ghosh, an aggrieved landowner.

The urban development department then constituted an expert committee under the chairmanship of CMDA director-general Subodh Bhattacharya. The committee recommended that 43 projects be cancelled and 15 retained.

“After looking into every aspect, we have concluded that most of the projects cannot be implemented as a number of buildings have already come up on the earmarked plots. So, we have recommended that the projects be scrapped and landowners allowed to construct as per the building rules,’’ explained Bhattacharya.

Officer-on-special duty, CIT, Satyabrata Chakraborty, admitted that a number of people were being inconvenienced with the projects being kept alive needlessly.

“Realising their problems, and the fact that the projects cannot be implemented, this decision has been taken,” said Chakraborty, adding that the recommendations of the expert committee would be submitted to the departmental minister soon.

   

 
 
SANGH FINDS FERTILE GROUND FOR SHAKHAS 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, May 20: 
For once, intelligence agencies in West Bengal feel they cannot share their boss’ enthusiasm.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has gone on record that one of the positive outcomes of the just-concluded Assembly polls was the BJP’s failure to win a single seat. Intelligence agencies, however, are not exactly cock-a-hoop about that; for, the Sangh parivar patriarch, the RSS, is silently — but fast — spreading its base in the state, they say.

Most encouraging for the RSS — and, potentially, most depressing for Bhattacharjee — is the organisation’s fast-increasing shakhas in the state. That number now stands at 1,500, up by 25 per cent from the figure of 1,200 around this time in 2000.

Besides, RSS training camps in the state and the Northeast for the youth as well as the 60-plus generation have recorded a significant rise in the number of participants this year.

The prourha shiksha barga for the retired and the old from Bengal will have 75 participants this year, selected from a figure many times that number, when it gets underway in Coochbehar on June 6. The number in last year’s camp for people of the same age-group was 40. Besides, there will be 25 participants exclusively from Assam in the camp, up from last year’s 15. The situation now, compared to that only three years ago when all northeastern and eastern states worked hard to get enough volunteers for merely a common camp in Bihar, has enthused the organisation no end.

“The number of volunteers has been kept deliberately under limits as our Coochbehar camp can accommodate only so many people,” a senior pracharak connected with the procedure said.

The principal source of glee for the RSS, however, is not the increasing number of aged participants; the almost-similar rise in the number of “serious” young participants is a far bigger reason for the happy mood in the organisation despite the Left Front’s comeback to Writers’ Buildings.

The number of participants the state unit is sending to the three-year-end tritiya shiksha barga camp in its Nagpur headquarters stands at 55 this year. While the figure is not a very big jump from last year’s number, RSS members conceded, the fact that the state unit had to send back many times more than that number has perked up the RSS.

“We could not send all short-listed candidates from the state as the Nagpur headquarters cannot accommodate more than 1,200 persons for a one-month camp,” a pracharak told The Telegraph.

“And all those we were forced to keep back passed the repeated screenings and had agreed to give up everything to totally devote three-four years exclusively to Sangh work.”

The enthusiasm has percolated to lower levels with the first-year and second-year training camps for swayamsevaks at Bethuadahari in Nadia, Raiganj in North Dinajpur and Uluberia in Howrah getting a better-than-ever response this year, say RSS pracharaks.

The CPM, expectedly, is not very enthusiastic about the developments. CPM state secretary Anil Biswas admitted that the increasing number of RSS shakhas in the state was not something that the party was very happy about. “We feel that the trend is very dangerous and must be checked for the sake of communal harmony in the state,” Biswas said.

   

 
 
CONG, TRINAMUL DIFFER ON HOUSE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 20: 
State Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee today said his party will not always toe the line of primary partner Trinamul Congress in the Assembly.

The Congress will play the role of a constructive opposition party, striving to “oppose, expose and isolate” the ruling party. The stand is in marked contrast to Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee’s threat: “We will not accept this shameless (Left) government. Our MLAs will give a befitting reply in the Assembly. It will be a tit-for-tat in the Assembly.”

Explaining the Congress stand, Mukherjee said: “It will depend on the situations and issues. The issues on which we will support Trinamul will be decided by the leader of the Congress legislature party. But going by leader of the Trinamul Congress legislature party Pankaj Banerjee, that party is also thinking in terms of playing the role of the opposition within the framework of parliamentary democracy,” he said.

Mukherjee also made it clear that the Congress had not boycotted Friday’s swearing-in ceremony of the new Left Front Cabinet along with Trinamul.

“I could not attend because I was out of station. Somehow the MLAs, too, did not attend. But at no point of time did we boycott the swearing-in ceremony,” he said.

The CLP today unanimously chose Atish Sinha as its leader in its first meeting presided over by Mukherjee. Only five MLAs were absent. Speaking to reporters, Mukherjee said Sinha would choose the CLP whip and the other office bearers.

The PCC secretariat met this evening to assess the Congress-Trinamul combine’s poll debacle. Tomorrow, the party executive will discuss how to strengthen the party organisation in the districts.

   

 
 
ABDUCTED TEENAGER RESCUED IN POLICE RAID 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 20: 
The 14-year-old son of a city businessman, who was abducted on Friday, has been rescued from a village in Panskura on Saturday night.

Deputy commissioner (detective department-special cell) Sanjoy Mukherjee said Shahibur Rehman was kidnapped by a business associate of his father. A resident of Karaya road in south Calcutta, Atiar had lodged a first information report at Beniapukur police station, accusing fellow businessman Zahir Hussain of kidnapping his son.

Police sources said Atiar had suffered a huge loss few months ago and was in need of money. Atiar took money from Zahir promising to return the same “within a couple of months”. He failed to return the money inspite of repeated reminders. Police sources added that Zahir planned to kidnap Atiar’s son to settle the scores and teach him a lesson.

Along with two other anti-socials, Zahir kidnapped Rehman on his way to school on Friday morning at about 8.30 am. The first ransom call came at the residence of Atiar’s uncle at Taltala around 7.30 pm demanding Rs. 40,000 as the first instalment.

“We at once understood that the abductor must be a close family friend of Atiar, otherwise it won’t be possible for him to know the phone number of Rehman’s uncle,” an officer said. When more calls were made, they were traced to Chapadali, a village in Panskura in Midnapore district.

A special team consisting of sleuths from the detective department and the Beniapukur police station left for Midnapore on Friday night. The team, along with Midnapore police raided the village. Rehman was rescued from a thatched hut although his abductors got news of the raid and fled the scene.

   
 

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