Jadavpur lines up fee hike
Disrepair dooms bridge of death
Just desserts on jamai shashthi
Zee treads STAR track, flashes rate hike signal
Hotel shadow on heritage house
CMDA focus on private funds
Sand theft alert in Salt Lake
Left Front code puts press gag on ministers
Do-it-now gang missing in action
Buddha prod pushes state to chart education revamp

Calcutta, May 28: 
Pay higher to study higher. That’s the latest market-driven mantra on campus. Making the first move to hike fees from a “ridiculously low” to a “realistic” level is Jadavpur University. If things go according to plan, the state-run institution will push up tuition and related fees by “up to 900 per cent”.

The authorities are scheduled to place their decision on the fee hike at the meeting of the university’s executive council on Wednesday for final approval. The existing tuition fees, varying between Rs 12 and Rs 20 per month, could jump to the Rs 200-400 range (see box). Registrar Rajat Bandyopadhyay said: “The move to hike tuition, examination, laboratory and library fees is both rational and quite inevitable.”

This move, coming just after the start of the summer holidays, is set to spark off strong protests from the students’ union. A delegation of union members from the engineering faculty met vice-chancellor Ashok Nath Basu and submitted a memorandum on Monday. “We have informed him about our plans to launch an intense and indefinite protest movement, starting Wednesday, if the fee hike decision is not reviewed,” said a student representative.

The union members are up in arms over the executive council’s “unilateral” decision to include the fee hike item on the agenda of Wednesday’s meeting, “without informing the students”. They alleged that the authorities had not even bothered to make public the findings of the inquiry committee, set up last year to probe student response to the proposed fee hike. The committee submitted its report last Tuesday. “It’s an extremely vital issue... There’s nothing wrong with the matter being discussed at this meeting,” claimed Bandyopadhyay.

“An issue related to a fee hike is what affects students the most. We are shocked to find that such a matter is being raised when most students are away on their summer holidays,” retorted Arpan Acharya, general secretary of the engineering faculty students’ union.

“The authorities had tried to hike the fees last July, but failed. This time, they have deliberately made this move during the holidays, but we will not allow such a steep fee hike, at any cost,” declared Sujoy Das, a leader of the students’ union.


Calcutta, May 28: 
Adipta Hazra had just passed his ICSE. On Monday, the 17-year-old zoomed out of his Shibpur house on his motorcycle for an early morning joyride into Calcutta. He was hit by a speeding truck on the Kona Expressway approach to Vidyasagar Setu. Hazra was declared “brought dead” at Howrah General Hospital.

Immediately after the accident, residents of the area gathered on the spot, blocked the road and held up traffic for about an hour. “Administrative apathy has turned this bridge into a death trap,” said one protester.

It was touted as the “wonder of West Bengal” in 1992. Nine years later, lack of maintenance and police patrolling have turned Vidyasagar Setu into a motorists’ nightmare. Eight accidents this month sums up the story.

Senior officials at the cash-strapped Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC) office admitted that the poor condition the bridge and its ramps was taking it toll.

Several stretches are badly potholed, while some portions have just crumbled with disrepair. A road divider on the bridge, that was mowed down by a lorry more than a month ago, continues to conspicuous by its absence.

“We do not have the money for maintenance,” said D.K. Dutta, chief project manager, HRBC.

“All we can afford is some patch-up work. We have managed to fill up some of the larger pot-holes, but they, too, open up after a shower, ” Dutta admitted.

No proper maintenance project has been carried out since 1992, as the state government has shot down every HRBC road or ramp-repair proposal. “The bridge is strongly built... But it’s time the authorities concerned pay serious attention to the bridge,” said Dutta.

Officials at Writer’s Buildings, however, seemed to think otherwise. “The bridge and its ramps are in perfect condition. They do not need to be repaired,” said D.M. Kanwar, principal secretary (transport), government of West Bengal, adding that funds “will be released promptly when the need arises”.

According to senior police officers in both Calcutta and Howrah, accidents on the bridge and its ramps are rising alarmingly. “No speed-breaker is allowed on the bridge or on its ramps. So, motorists do tend to step on the accelerator when they hit this stretch,” said Anup Chatterjee, joint commissioner of police (traffic). “We will soon launch a drive to rein in overloaded vehicles and rash drivers. We plan to set up a check-post at the base of each ramp. One has already been posted at the base of the bridge ramp on Kidderpore Road,” added Chatterjee.


Calcutta, May 28: 
It was jamai ador time on jamai shashthi at various railway platforms, courtesy Eastern Railway. But, it was jamai ador with a difference; there was no Coke to greet the sons-in-law, no murighonto as part of lunch and no mango slice or mishti doi for dessert. Instead, the welcoming, or jamai-boron, was done by a ticket-punching machine and a receipt book. It wasn’t free either, and escorting the sons-in-law were rather stern-looking police personnel.

If you’re still racking your brains about this rather unusual beginning, and end, to the favourite festival of Bengal’s sons-in-law, well, it was nothing except a drive by Eastern Railway to catch the errant jamais who were on their way to their shoshur-bari by train, sans ticket. In all, 580 jamais were greeted in this fashion at different railway stations. Among them, 430 were released, as they had enough money to pay the fine for ticketless travelling. But, the remaining 150 had to cool their heels behind bars at Sealdah station, as they couldn’t pay the fine.

The railway officials, nevertheless, were laughing all the way to office. The reason: the drive netted, besides some errant sons-in-law, Rs 45,000. Senior divisional commercial manager, Sealdah, Sushil Kumar, said: “We have been continuing the special check for the past month. But today, we earned quite a lot within a span of six hours. And it happened only because of the festival.”

At 8 am, a team of ER officials, led by divisional railway manager, Sealdah, D.C. Mitra, and two additional DRMs, started their cash-rich journey from Sealdah. The drive was to have targeted the 40-km stretch till Naihati, but ended only 23 km away at Barrackpore. The reason: There wasn’t any room in the compartments to accommodate any more ticketless jamais on the return journey. The team returned to office about six-and-a-half hours later at 2.35 pm, their pockets bulging with cash and the compartments brimful with the ticketless jamais.

But for some railway staff, at least, it was all work and no fun on jamai shashthi. The railway authorities had to press 150 staff from the Railway Protection Force and 110 Travelling Ticket Examiners into the drive. Eleven superior officers were there as well to teach the jamais a lesson. Sealdah superintendent of railway police Gangeshwar Prasad Singh, flush with the success of the drive, was, however, a worried man. The errant sons-in-law from Belghoria, Sodepur and Barrackpore were filling up his lock-ups, scarcely leaving any room for the criminals he is more comfortable dealing with.


Calcutta, May 28: 
Pay more for your satellite television entertainment. That seems to be the message transmitted to the cable TV subscriber by all the major broadcasters. Close on the heels of the STAR fee hike that had sparked a lengthy blackout of the package by the city cable operators, Zee Network is also raising its rates, effective June 1. With Sony, too, expected to come up with a package by July, the extra burden on the end-user could well be some 30 to 35 per cent, feel industry watchers.

Zee, which has two free-to-air channels on its menu — Zee TV and Zee News — and is charging Rs 11.50 for a basket of eight channels, has now announced a package of Rs 25 for nine channels. The package includes Zee MGM, Zee Cinema, Zee English, Zee Music, Alpha Bangla, Nickleodeon and Zee Education, besides the flagship Zee TV and Zee News. An alternative package on offer comes for Rs 30 and includes six regional language channels.

“It’s a stiff hike, more than double the present amount, and we are worried about the blow to the end-user, since there’s no way we can absorb this increase,” says Supratim Halder of the Cable Television Operators’ Association. “Yesterday, it was STAR, today it’s Zee and soon, it will be Sony. If all these packages are accepted, the average cable and satellite home will have to cough up at least 30-35 per cent more for its monthly entertainment on beam,” he adds.

Zee, however, is confident the consumer will pay up. “We are targeting the households as we know it’s not possible for the cablemen to bear the cost themselves,” says Sunil Khanna, vice-president, distribution, Zee Network.

Khanna says he had a “positive” chat with the cable operators and MSOs (multi-system operators) in the city and is confident a deal can be clinched before June 1. “The package is not being thrust upon the operators. They are free to pick channels of their choice from the a la carte menu as well.


Calcutta, May 28: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee prefers a court report on the heritage status, awarded by the civic body’s heritage committee, to the house on 10, Sudder Street. Mukherjee had sent back for reconsideration a proposal to grant heritage status to the building. A young Rabindranath Tagore lived in this house and composed ‘Nirjhorer Swapnobhongo’ during 1881-1882. Jyotirindranath Tagore, too, would live in this house. Twenty-year-old Rabindranath Tagore stayed here for a couple of times on his return from England and wrote Suprovat, which featured Nirjhorer Swapnobhongo.

Newly-elected CPM MLA Mohammad Salim and Suchitra Mitra recently met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and requested his intervention to preserve this building as part of Rabindranath Tagore’s heritage in the city. They also decided to move court to demand heritage status for the building.

A proposal by the civic body’s six-member heritage committee to award listed status to the buildings on 17, Balmukund Makar Road (a haveli-style house in the heart of Jorasanko), Mahanirvan Math in south Calcutta, and 10, Sudder Street, were placed before the mayor-in-council’s meeting. While Mukherjee accepted the proposal for the haveli and the Math, he returned the last for reconsideration without assigning any specific reason.

“It is the first time the CMC has returned for reconsideration a proposal on the preservation of a cultural and historical site,” said leader of the Opposition Kanti Ganguly.

CPM chief whip Sudhangshu Sil said vested interests lay behind the mayor’s unprecedented decision. Several commercial establishments operate from the three-storeyed building on Sudder Street, of which Hotel Plaza and Hotel Diplomat belong to Sultan Ahmed, Iqbal Ahmed and their kin. Both Sultan and Iqbal have recently switched loyalty to the Trinamul Congress from the Congress. Hotel Plaza has been carrying out business in the building since 1990.

The records of the heritage committee relating to the building show that the owner, Kumar Krishna Daw, occupiers and neighbours of the building welcomed the decision of awarding heritage status to it. “We never opposed the move to include the building in the city’s listed structures,” said Iqbal Ahmed.

According to heritage experts in the CMC, if enlisted, the building on Sudder Street will be categorised as a C-grade heritage structure. Sil also pointed out the CMC did not heed an appeal by the Diocese of Calcutta and the head of the congregation Rev. P.P.S. Raju, Bishop of Calcutta, to confer heritage status on Bishop’s House.


Calcutta, May 28: 
Private funding for better development seems to be the new keystone of the CMDA, under its new chairman and minister for urban development, Asok Bhattacharya. The minister on Monday pledged speedy development of the city and its suburbs. Bhattacharya said the focus will be on weaning away the CMDA from its dependence on budgeted funds. Projects could be implemented on a build-own-transfer basis or on agreements of deferred payment, he said.

The CMDA will lay stress on joint ventures for urban infrastructure expansion. “After we returned to power, many private firms offered to help set up civic facilities,” Bhattacharya said.

He also aims to complete all unfinished jobs. Bhattacharya agreed that several projects, like the Lake Gardens, Bondel Gate and Sonarpur flyovers, have been delayed due to the CMDA’s inability to tackle legal hurdles. “I will talk to the litigants,” he said. Recovering land belonging to the CIT from encroachers is also on his priority list.

Bhattacharya will chair a panel, including the mayors of Calcutta, Howrah and Chandannagar. He was nominated CMDA top boss by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who stepped down from the post. “I wanted the chief minister to continue as CMDA chairman, but Buddhababu insisted that I take over to speed up work,” Bhattacharya said.


Calcutta, May 28: 
Engineers and soil experts have sounded a red alert for Salt Lake. Buildings in the township may develop cracks or even collapse if digging up of vacant plots is not checked immediately. Truck-loads of silver sand are being illegally ferried out of Salt Lake every day. The sand — a truck-load costs at least Rs 750 — is reportedly sold to promoters at higher prices.

Sector V, where a large number of plots are vacant, is the area of operation. Other blocks, including DD, CB, LA, LB and FE, where chunks of vacant plots have been earmarked for several projects, are being targeted.

“At least 200 truck-loads of silver sand are being smuggled out of the township every day. The men come in large groups, dig up the sand and load it on to trucks within half an hour,” said Mahinder Singh, a security guard in Sector V.

Salt Lake was levelled with silver sand in the Sixties when it was being developed into a township from a vast expanse of wetlands.

“The entire township will be damaged as the soil under the buildings will trickle down to fill up the adjacent dug-up land. The foundation of Salt Lake, built on silver sand, will be further weakened if soil is steadily removed from vacant plots,’’ said P.B. Roy, an architect working in the township.

Salt Lake Municipality chairman Dilip Gupta has urged chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to prevent the theft going on over the past two years and ensure that plots are not kept vacant for too long.

“The police have taken no action, though the matter was brought to their notice several times. The four main entry and exit points in the township are manned by armed police round-the-clock. Special gates have also been set up to monitor the movement of vehicles. How can trucks get away in spite of such tight vigil?’’ Gupta asked. He has asked the local clubs and vigilance groups of the area to lend a helping hand to nab the thieves.

“The trucks enter the township after midnight and leave before dawn. Initially, we thought the soil was meant for some development projects in Salt lake,” said Pranab Roy, a resident of DD block.

Superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas, Kuldip Singh, said he had directed Salt Lake police station to step up their patrolling at night.


Calcutta, May 28: 
The Left alliance, toeing major partner CPM’s line, issued a code of conduct for its ministers today which puts a gag on ministers who want to jump the gun and talk to the press first.

The code, which will help the front get a firm grip over the functioning of the government, prevents ministers from announcing any policy decision to the media before consulting front leaders.

It also bars any minister from criticising the performance of another minister. “No minister of the front should criticise each other under any circumstance,” CPM politburo member Biman Bose, the acting front chairman in the absence of Sailen Dasgupta, who is ill, told reporters today.

Before meeting its ministers, front leaders held a separate meeting among themselves at the CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street where they differed over a single issue. The Left Front met at 10.15 am.

The CPI and RSP refused to ask their ministers to submit their annual plans to industry minister Nirupam Sen. The CPM had, however, asked all ministers to submit their annual plans to Sen. But the CPM had not clarified whether ministers of other front partners would also have to submit their plans to Sen.

CPI secretary Manju Kumar Majumder and RSP’s Debabrata Banerjee raised the issue at the meeting much to the embarrassment of CPM leaders.

All the three major front partners — CPI, Forward Bloc and RSP — had refused to submit their plans to Sen as he is not the chief minister. Later, the CPM agreed that other Front ministers will submit their plans to the chief minister. The industry minister was absent during the meeting.

Cooperative minister and Forward Bloc leader Naren De objected to the CPM’s proposal that a minister should consult the chief minister as well as the Left Front chairman in case of any difference with Cabinet ministers on any particular issue.

CPM budged and it was decided that ministers will consult the chief minister only.

If there was one point acting chairman Bose wanted to drill home into his ministers, it was that they would under no circumstance talk to the press before consulting senior leaders.

“We had noticed in the past that some ministers had announced major decisions to the media before those were discussed in the front. Later, the front had to approve the same. We don’t want a repetition,” Bose told the ministers.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty had announced a hike in the fares of private and minibuses sometime back before the matter was discussed at the Front’s meeting. Chakraborty, however, skipped the meeting.


Calcutta, May 28: 
Who is it for anyway, this “Do it now” slogan?

That was the buzz at Writers’ Buildings as employees turned up on time — or almost — to find the ministers missing.

As if that was not enough, power cuts plunged several departments into darkness in the morning, forcing the employees to do later, what they could have done then.

But more than that, what made the staff and two anti-Left employees’ unions spew venom was the ministers’ absence during three crucial hours in the morning.

They were away at CPM’s Alimuddin Street headquarters. Nobody had a problem with the ministers attending the meeting, but what they were protesting against was that this should have happened during office hours, and that too on the first working day of the week which happened to be the second Monday after the new government took over.

Besides, only a few ministers turned up at Writers’ after the meeting — to do in the afternoon what they could have done in the morning. Most went home, because they could do tomorrow what they might have done today.

This was not the first such meeting. Only last Friday, the CPM ministers had a session with the party’s think-tank. Again, during office hours.

So, who did the chief minister have in mind when he coined the “Do it now” slogan soon after his victory — ask the staff, who are turning up by 10:30 these days.

“What message does it send out to employees?” asked West Bengal Government Employees’ Union (Nabaparjay) organisational secretary Samir Ranjan Majumdar. “That it’s okay to skip the first few hours of office work for party work? Will employees get the same privilege?”

Writers’ unit president of the same union, Himadri Raychaudhuri, went a step further. “The government’s decision is beneath contempt or comment,” he said. “The sudden decision to lay stress on good governance and work culture is actually a political issue and has nothing to do with governance,” he added.

State Government Employees’ Federation (Unified) joint secretary Vivekananda Mandal sees in the new government’s “lip-service” to work-culture a “dangerous trend of instigating the public against government employees for any policy failure of the government”. “Who is going to account for the ministers’ delays in clearing files?” he asked.

Besides, the formal interaction between the government and the ruling front at a party headquarters was blurring the line between the party and the administration, he added. The pro-Left State Coordination Committee, however, saw nothing wrong in the ministry’s move. “They have gone out of Writers’ for what is, essentially, government work,” said Coordination Committee assistant secretary Jyotiprakash Datta. “They haven’t gone for any personal work.”

But even had they been there, they would not have been able to work, thanks to the frequent power cuts in several key departments, including health, finance, PWD and fisheries.

PWD (electrical) officials had an explanation: the sudden computerisation and the redistribution of ministers’ rooms meant an extra burden on the power lines which gave way today, they said.

But not many were complaining because they couldn’t do now what they shouldn’t have left for later.


Calcutta, May 28: 
The state government has decided to revamp the higher education system by adopting a time-bound programme. Prompted by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the higher education council is preparing the draft of the new programme.

An expert committee comprising eminent educationists, representatives from universities and retired teachers was formed to identify the lapses in the existing higher education system.

The committee blamed inadequate infrastructure, poor atmosphere of education, lengthy and complicated process of teachers’ appointment, lack of accountability of teachers, faulty method of evaluation and ancient syllabus.

A senior official at the higher education department said: “We are preparing the new system keeping in mind all those loopholes and weaknesses.”

Pabitra Sarkar, vice-chairman of the State Higher Education Council, said :“Though the students of Bengal are doing well in all-India examinations, the overall scenario is not good. Our students are still lagging behind other states in examinations like the civil services. Our aim is to change that.”

Higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty said the new system will cater to the need of students keeping the question of job opportunity in mind.

The new programme aims to:

Simplify the appointment process of teachers and fill up vacant posts immediately

Set up colleges of specialised subjects like photography, printing, computer operation, nutrition and physical education.

Introduce new subjects in the undergraduate syllabus

Build infrastructure in colleges, like well equipped laboratories

Encourage .private funding in general education.

Make .teachers accountable to students

Increase scope of higher education upto block-level

Establish work discipline among the students, teachers.


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