Frames of dark despair
Man gunned down in club rivalry over real estate
Pay-per-class plan in colleges
Triangle of turbulence, winds of change
Retrenched staff picket kidney centre
Civic graft charge barrage opens slur floodgates
Bandh over factory arrest
Buddha takes lead in e-governance
Govt buys time on World Bank health project
Forget roads, fly to Sikkim

 
 
FRAMES OF DARK DESPAIR 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, June 1: 
Seventy-two days and running... The cinema strike has outlasted every recent Bollywood release. And for Aamir Khan fans waiting to catch Lagaan at a nearby hall, there’s just one worry: Will their hero’s first home production give the Calcutta big screen the slip when it’s released on June 15?

Amidst the longest cinema strike in the last two decades in town, trade sources hinted that Lagaan “may not be released in Calcutta because there are no major halls available at the moment”. The final decision will be taken after a distributor is appointed this weekend. Just 17 halls are open in the city, with no solution to the employer vs employee stand-off, over pay hike and other demands, in sight.

“With Amitabh-Akshay’s Ek Rishtaa going strong, we cannot take on Lagaan,” confirmed Prem Dave of Metro cinema. At the south Calcutta biggie, Priya, Konkona Sen Sharma’s debut film Ek Je Achhe Kanya’ s “phenomenal opening” on Friday has all but shut out Lagaan, said owner Arijit Dutta.

It’s not just the Bollywood-watcher who is being deprived this summer. Hollywood hot favourites like Tailor of Panama and Pearl Harbour could have been running at Globe this month, but for the strike. Today, the Pierce Brosnans and Ben Afflecks are nowhere to be seen, as hall-employees indulge in a lazy round of cards during matinee show time.

Films are certainly not the only casualty of the shutdown. Vendors, whose sole income came from audiences, have been hard hit. Shyam Sharma, who has a small chips-and-popcorn stand outside Lighthouse, laments that “sales have gone down from Rs 500 a day to about Rs 50”. Kamala Devi Sharma has been looking after her husband’s snack stalls, both within and outside Orient, for as long as she can remember. “We are lucky if we have 15 customers during the day, when we normally had over 1,000,” she sighs, at Sharma Snacks Corner, just beside the ticket counter of the deserted hall.

Even worse hit are the vendors who sold refreshments in the theatres. “They come by now and again, to see if the halls are open, and then leave, dejected,” Sharma says. Most have gone back to their villages in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, to try and start life anew. The rest are struggling to support their families by taking loans from friends and relatives, assuring them that the “halls will open soon”.

There are groans and grumbles galore from the students’ camp, as well. “Just a few halls are open, and the same films are playing at all of them,” complains Tanushree Ganguly, who has just finished her Part I exams at JD Birla College.

Bowling has emerged as the biggest ‘timepass’. “Footfall has increased from 500 to 800 a day at our alley since the summer holidays have started,” says Sandeep Agarwal, director, Sparkz. “We are sure one of the reasons is that the halls are closed.”

The ever-expanding list of losses overshadows the few success stories of the past two months. Pratibaad has enjoyed a record-breaking eight-week run. “We feel we could have done better, had the rest of the halls been open,” feels Prasenjit. But Rituparna is quick to point out how Aghat and Shood Ashol have been stalled “as there is no point in releasing big-budget films in small theatres”.

The impasse, meanwhile, goes on and on. Bipartite talks are on between the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA) and the Bengal Motion Pictures Employees Union (BMPEU), while the last tripartite meet with the ministry of information and culture was on April 19.

“We will not back down until an honourable settlement is reached,” asserts employees’ union general secretary Swadhin Aloke Mukhopadhyay.

Halls-owners maintain that any pay hike is impossible until the government addresses their demands. Says Arijit Dutta: “With the situation as it is, we don’t mind the halls being shut, because we are making less losses. But the strike may well lead to audiences losing the habit of going to the movies.”

   

 
 
MAN GUNNED DOWN IN CLUB RIVALRY OVER REAL ESTATE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 1: 
The attack was deliberate, daring and deadly. A 30-year-old man was gunned down at the intersection of Alipore Road and Raja Santosh Road on Friday morning. The victim was later identified as Abdul Hakim Khan, alias Manoj, a building materials supplier. One of the suspects has been arrested.

At around 11.50 am, Manoj and elder brother Rajkumar were standing in front of the Alipore Kalyan Samity club office on Raja Santosh Road. A gang of six goons, toting country-made revolvers, approached the duo. A couple of the criminals called out to Manoj, before firing twice, from point-blank range. The bullets pierced his head and stomach. The miscreants fled before other members of the club could realise what had happened. Manoj was rushed to Calcutta Medical Research Institute, where doctors declared him “brought dead”.

As news of the killing spread, more than a thousand residents of the area took to the streets. They practically held the cops of New Alipore thana hostage on the spot, protesting police inaction in the area. A section of the mob ransacked a local club, allegedly a criminal den. People squatted on the streets, throwing traffic on Alipore Road and Raja Santosh Road out of gear for around four hours from noon. The Trinamul Congress claimed that Manoj was “an active party member”.

Rajkumar lodged a complaint with New Alipore police station and named five goons — Kana Sidhu, Jugna, Babna, Babu Gope and Shyamal Das. The police, while combing the area, netted Das. Raids have been intensified to track down the rest of the accused. Raj Kanojia, deputy commissioner, headquarters, said the murder was a fallout of a running feud between two local clubs. Kana Sidhu, the main accused, had allegedly killed local rival Bhola Mohapatra in January 2000, on the same spot. Sidhu then established the Netaji Subhash Sangha, which sparked off a bitter rivalry with Kalyan Samity, which continued to influence the real-estate deals in the area.

Tension mounted recently over rumours of highrises coming up on the Dalmia grounds in the area. Sidhu and his associates tried to enrol as members of the Kalyan Samity. But Manoj, an influential member of the club, refused to allow Sidhu and gang entry.

“Manoj, who was popular as a singer in the area, had made it clear that there was no place for criminals in Kalyan Samity,” said a local youth on Friday. “He paid the price for opposing these criminals, who roam the area without any fear of the police. Manoj’s murder is yet another example of how the police allow criminals to rule the roost.”

Rajen, another brother of Manoj, confirmed that “for the past six days”, Sidhu and his aides had been threatening him. “We had informed New Alipore police station, fearing that Manoj’s life was under threat. But the police did nothing to stop Sidhu... And now, we’ve lost our brother,” said Rajen.

   

 
 
PAY-PER-CLASS PLAN IN COLLEGES 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, June 1: 
As a first move towards setting things right in higher education, the Left Front government has planned to recruit more part-timers in state-funded colleges and to improve teaching standards in such institutions in Calcutta and the districts.

In accordance with a recent directive of the University Grants Commission (UGC), which it initially opposed, the government has planned to make it mandatory for all part-time teachers to pass either NET or SLET. The ruling CPM, which has all along pampered teachers of state-funded schools and colleges for political and electoral reasons, will introduce a system of productivity-related salaries for college teachers, something it has never done earlier. Under the proposed system, teachers’ remuneration will be determined by the number of classes taken.

Satyasadhan Chakraborty, state higher education minister, said the system of paying “class-basis” remuneration to teachers had been introduced already in some colleges. He, however, was reluctant to elaborate the plans, saying: “Before we implement the plans, the issues will have to be placed before the higher education council. I cannot comment on our plans until they take a concrete shape.”

State higher education department sources said the government planned to fill the bulk of existing teaching posts in colleges, currently slotted exclusively for full-time teachers, with NET or SLET-qualified part-timers. They will be recruited when posts fall vacant after phase-wise retirement of existing teachers.

Leaders of the CPM-controlled West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association, however, ruled out any such move. “It is an absurd proposal. Under no circumstances can the government recruit part-timers to fill the post of a full-timer. We will definitely oppose the move if it is implemented,” said Shayamapada Pal, veteran leader of the association.

According to the association’s members, the government has not informed them about the plans.

Government sources said the move to engage more part-timers stems from the realisation that the services rendered by a large number of teachers in state-aided colleges was not as satisfactory as expected, even after upward revision of their salaries.

The plans also aim at checking private tuition by college teachers. Over the past few years, the government has drawn flak from various circles for its failure to bring private tuition under control and check irregular attendance of teachers. “The complaints against private tuition will automatically reduce if most teachers are paid on the basis of the number of classes taken,” said a higher education department officer. Teachers hold about 12,000 permanent posts in over 340 colleges in the state.

Officers of the West Bengal College Service Commission, which conducts NET and SLET, said they were aware of the UGC circular, which suggested that the government make induction of NET or SLET-qualified part-timers mandatory. “We will begin the process of conducting tests to recruit part-timers as soon as we get the government’s nod,” said A.K. Banik, commission chairman.

   

 
 
TRIANGLE OF TURBULENCE, WINDS OF CHANGE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 1: 
The laid-back world of the Anglo-Indians of Calcutta has suddenly been rocked by the turbulence of a three-cornered contest for the nominated seat in the West Bengal Assembly. Gillian D’ Costa Hart, sitting MLA for the past 10 years, is running for a third consecutive term. But she faces stiff competition in the form of quizmaster and man-about-town Barry O’ Brien, and Antony Sayers, of the breakaway Kolkata Association of Anglo-Indians. Both have thrown their hats into the representation ring, “for the sake of change”.

The race for the Anglo-Indian seat in the Assembly clicked into gear on Friday with representatives of a large section of the community from Calcutta, Howrah, Santragachhi, Asansol, Kharagpur, Durgapur, Adra, Darjeeling, Kalyani and Dum Dum announcing their support for the candidature of Barry, “the community’s new hope”, at a gathering at the Calcutta Rangers Club tent on the Maidan.

The refrain from the elder statesmen of the community, who gathered at the rally-behind-Barry show and have all written to the chief minister, backing their candidate, was: “It’s now or never.” Barry was projected as the “young, energetic and effective worker”, “available and accountable”, and hence, “the popular choice”.

Rev. Father Patrick Eaton, vice-principal, St Xavier’s College, kicked off the proceedings, saying: “Barry is just the kind of leader the community needs today. Most of the earlier MLAs have flooded us with tall promises, without ever fulfilling those.” Hockey legend Leslie Claudius was enthusiastic about Barry’s candidature, too. “He is young, innovative and has genuine concern for people. We need someone like him to protect our community’s interests better,” he said. Sister Marissa, founder of the Marian Education Centre for school drop-outs, felt: “It’s time to shake ourselves out of the lethargy and look ahead.” Barry himself vowed to ensure that “every Anglo-Indian kid goes to school”, that the elderly get better care and that the community’s healthcare and housing needs are properly addressed.

Sayers, who is backed by Marc Anthony, president of the Kolkata Association of Anglo-Indians, claims he has his finger on the pulse of the under-privileged sections of the community. Lashing out at his opponent, Sayers said: “The O’Briens are positively elitist and represent the haves in the community. They don’t have any idea about the real problems that the city’s Anglo-Indians face. Besides, they want to make this a family monopoly.” Sayers also dismissed D’Costa Hart’s contribution as “negligible”. “Fifty per cent of the common people of the community haven’t even heard her name, let alone benefit from her work.” D’Costa Hart could not be contacted, as she was out of town. But Melvyn Brown, editor of the newsletter Anglo-Indian, said: “She has done a lot for the community and deserves accolades, not brickbats”.

Assembly Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim felt that the Anglo-Indian community “needs immediate help to preserve its heritage and culture”. He insisted that the government, which is to choose the candidate for the nominated seat, won’t be influenced by propaganda and that the people’s voice would be heeded.

   

 
 
RETRENCHED STAFF PICKET KIDNEY CENTRE 
 
 
BY DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, June 1: 
Admission of patients has been stalled by an agitation at Wockhardt Hospital and Kidney Institute, on Rashbehari Avenue, where a contractor’s men are blocking the gates since Monday. The employees lost their jobs after the hospital refused to renew the contractor’s licence.

Wockhardt set up shop with a medical centre in 1988 and its kidney institute was opened about 20 months ago. The centre conducts acute renal operations and treatment. It hopes bag an organ transplant licence from Delhi soon. It is affiliated to Harvard Medical Institute, Boston (US).

Sumedha Sen, hospital general manager, said: “Our doctors and consultants, para-medicos and administrative staff are permanent employees. But house-keeping, security and maintenance and pantry services are given out on contract. One contractor performed unsatisfactorily, and allegations against his men included forceful demands for tips, organising accommodations for families of outstation patients and stalling work in the hospital. Under the circumstances, the management decided not to renew the contract, which expired on May 25”.

The contractor accepted the termination but his men, under political patronage, adopted a violent course of action. On May 28, a mob of 40 gathered to shout slogans at the hospital. They set up a picket at the gate and even blocked the dhobi and other staff from entering.

The agitators, however, denied the allegations. They said: “We are not stopping anybody from entering the hospital. The hospital has driven us out, though some of us served it for more than 10 years. They have rendered us jobless to cover up their misdeeds, including misappropriation of funds.”

Tulsi Mukherjee, Congress leader spearheading the movement, said: “The agitation will continue till the retrenched staff are reinstated by the hospital. I have already spoken to the chief minister and labour minister on the issue.”

   

 
 
CIVIC GRAFT CHARGE BARRAGE OPENS SLUR FLOODGATES 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, June 1: 
Reacting to a mounting barrage of corruption charges against the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya has cautioned mayor Subrata Mukherjee to “play by the rules”. In a letter sent to the mayor, Bhattacharya has enclosed a 17-point set of instructions that he wants the civic administration to follow for greater transparency and accountability.

“I shall abide by the rules and place his very precious letter very carefully in my file,’’Mukherjee responded.

Bhattacharya’s letter had said: “The responsibilities and duties of a civic body have been well defined in the civic rules, in which there is a clear directive that the civic administration be made more transparent and accountable to the people. Though you are aware of the rules, I am drawing your attention to this issue once again,’’ the letter added. The minister has asked the mayor submit a report on steps he has taken in response to the missive within July 31.

The mayor responded: “From the very first day in office, I have taken the initiative to rid the Corporation of corruption and maintain transparency. It is the CPM board that headed the Corporation for years that had indulged in corrupt practices and destroyed work culture. I am trying to repair the loss,’’the mayor said.

The minister’s letter stressed on proper utilisation of funds, adherence to people’s problems and proper functioning of ward committees. It called for strict steps to check corruption, illegal appointments, financial indiscipline and work culture violations.

“We aim to run the Corporation properly, as per rules and regulations. The government has given the civic body enormous power, so it can work for the people, keeping in mind their problems and aspirations. We shall not tolerate any deviation from the rules,’’ Bhattacharya said at Writers’ Buildings. “We often receive complaints about citizens being denied proper service. Many persons have even contacted me directly, seeking my intervention in some cases,’’ the minister said. The major allegations had been against the building, tax, licence and health departments.

“I admit that the civic body must abide by rules and regulations. Nor do I want a confrontation with the minister over any of the allegations. What I want to know is why these instructions were not sent to the civic body when the CPM was running it. At that time too, Bhattacharya had been running the same ministry,’’ Mukherjee said. He credited the Trinamul board with having launched a drive against graft.

   

 
 
BANDH OVER FACTORY ARREST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 1: 
Citu workers forced shops in some parts of Jadavpur to down their shutters on Friday to protest the arrest of two workers of Bengal Lamps for allegedly assaulting officials of the urban land ceiling department.

While life was affected around Prince Anwar Shah Road and the Bengal Lamp factory, there were no untoward incidents and the 12-hour bandh passed off peacefully. Wednesday’s arrest of two Bengal Lamp workers, affiliated to Citu, had sparked off protests and roadblocks by a section of the irate workers. Even policemen were threatened, leading finally to the release of the arrested workers.

The workers had also alleged that a portion of the factory land “had been sold illegally”. However, the authorities at Bengal Lamp clarified on Friday that the allegation was “baseless”. According to Ramona Adhikari, director, Bengal Lamp, “the land in question does not belong to the company... and the management of the company is not in the process of selling any land belonging to the company.”

Adhikari added: “The company is registered under the BIFR and the land of the company may only be sold by an asset sale committee, convened under the direction of the BIFR, with the permission of the state government, in accordance with their policy for revival of sick industrial units in the state.” The authorities also clarified that the assault by the workers did not occur on the factory premises. Neither was any member of the management present there, nor were any of them assaulted.

Additional superintendent of police (industrial), South 24-Parganas, Gyanwant Singh, said the situation was now under control and peace had returned to the area once again.

   

 
 
BUDDHA TAKES LEAD IN E-GOVERNANCE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 1: 
Cyberabad is coming to town.

The state public works department is almost through with making Writers’ Buildings and other government offices in Calcutta part of a single network. When they are through with their job, West Bengal will become the first state in the country to have an entire secretariat — comprising all ministers and departmental secretaries — which is part of a single network.

The move, estimated to cost about Rs 2.25 crore, will speed up communication between departments by allowing the important ministers in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s “Do-it-now” Cabinet to go in for “application-sharing and collaborative work”.

Five to seven important ministers, including the chief minister himself, Nirupam Sen (commerce and industry), Suryakanta Mishra (health) and Manab Mukherjee (infotech), are slated to have VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), which will allow them to work on the same file at the same time on the computer while sitting in different offices.

When they share files and collaborate, they will be making use of a technology which is only two years old and which is a novel idea in governance anywhere in India, say Writers’ officials.

Writers’ Buildings, add officials, will then be one up on Chandrababu Naidu’s Hyderabad; the state secretariat will become the first in India to be part of a single wide area network (WAN).

WAN will comprise various government offices at Writers’ Buildings, New Secretariat Building, Mayukh Bhavan, Sech Bhavan and Jalasampad Bhavan; each of these single units will be part of individual local area networks (LANs), say officials.

When Writers’ and other state government offices do become parts of a WAN, they will be able to communicate with the rest of the world by e-mail with their own domain name.

Officials have already submitted some options for the government domain name like “writerscal.gov.in” or “writersbuildings.gov.in”. “It’s now up to the BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited) authorities to select the right one for us,” a senior official told The Telegraph.

“Eighty-five per cent of the work is over,” a senior state government official told The Telegraph. Ninety-one of the 120-odd personal computers necessary for the purpose have already been installed by the electrical wing of the public works department and the rest are scheduled to be installed shortly.

Discussions with BSNL officials are also over and payments have been made. The department has set July 15 as a target for itself. “By that date, we want to be through with the whole process,” a senior Writers’ official said.

Even before that, the task of making offices at the different buildings parts of individual LANs may be complete, he added; for instance, New Secretariat Building may become a LAN by as early as the second week of June.

Officials are now busy feeding in data into the system; they include the basic rules and regulations, like service-rules and accounts-rules of every department, and the entire state budget for the financial year 2000-2001, say officials.

   

 
 
GOVT BUYS TIME ON WORLD BANK HEALTH PROJECT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 1: 
The government has again sought time from the World Bank to complete the development drive in the health sector.

Suryakanta Mishra, who has been assigned the health portfolio, which, along with industry, is on top of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s priority list, today urged representatives of the World Bank to give the government two more years to complete the project funded by the institution.

A team from the bank, which gives loans for development, is visiting the districts to assess the progress in welfare work in the hospitals and health centres.

The Rs 701-crore West Bengal Health Services development project includes overall development of 214 block and district hospitals, construction and renovation of buildings, purchasing modern equipment, providing training to technicians and para-medical staff.

The project, started in 1995, was to have been completed this year. The World Bank loan has to be repaid by the government with interest.

“We could not do much work during the first three years because of several problems, but there has been massive progress during the last two years. We have asked the World Bank officials to extend the deadline by two years so that it can be completed in a systematic way,” Mishra said at Writers’ Buildings.

The World Bank team, led by Taher Nawaj, arrived in the city yesterday and is visiting hospitals to find out what the government has done to improve facilities. Apart from Mishra, the officials today met finance minister Asim Dasgupta and chief secretary Manish Gupta.

“They have expressed satisfaction over the work progress and will submit their report and recommendation on Saturday. After obtaining their report, we shall take our next course of action,” Mishra said.

A World Bank team had visited some hospitals last year on a similar mission. The officials had then expressed their dissatisfaction over the tardy progress of development work.

Mishra said the health department has started grading hospitals on the basis of their activities and services provided.

A consultant has been appointed to grade the hospitals. The minister added that the gradation would be done by physical assessment after taking the opinion of doctors, administrators and patients.

Child death probe

Mishra has ordered an inquiry into Wednesday’s death of a child at Bidhan Sishu hospital.

Health department officials, including Sisir Saha and P. Haldar, will conduct the inquiry to ascertain whether there had been lapses on the part of the hospital authorities. Mishra said the officials had also been directed to ascertain if the hospital lacked proper infrastructure.

Concerned over the agitation in the hospital, the government has decided to set up a police outpost inside its premises. Mishra today took up the issue with police commissioner Sujay Chakraborty.

   

 
 
FORGET ROADS, FLY TO SIKKIM 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 1: 
Good news for tourists to Sikkim. The hill state will soon be on the air map of the country.

Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling announced today that the Centre had earmarked a fund of Rs 50 crore for an airport which can be used by small Dornier aircraft. Chamling has been in the city for a few days and inaugurated the Sikkim House yesterday.

Sikkim tourism minister K.T. Gyaltsen said PWD engineers had already begun work on the airport, which will be located at Pakyon, about 45 minutes from Gangtok. The project is expected to be completed within two years.

The state is now accessible only by road — NH-31A is Sikkim’s lifeline, connecting it with Siliguri’s plains. The nearest airport is the one in Bagdogra. The governments of West Bengal and Sikkim are now trying to get Bagdogra declared as an international airport.

Chamling said the priority sectors for his state were tourism, power, education and health. He also emphasised the need to link Sikkim by railway with the rest of the country.

“A policy decision was made by the Central government that all states in the country will have railway links. I hope the government will soon see to the need of the hill state,” he said.

The chief minister said the air and rail links will boost tourism in the state. At least 50,000 people in the state are involved in the tourism industry. Sikkim hosts about 2 lakh domestic tourists and 25,000 foreign tourists every year.

Chamling pointed out that his state suffered in case of any agitation in Bengal because NH-31A remains cut off. “Each time there is a bandh in Darjeeling, our supplies are cut off and we suffer a loss of Rs 3 crore daily,” he said. “I have already written to GNLF chief Subash Ghising on this and have received a positive response,” he added.

The chief minister said Sikkim was the most peaceful state in the country, considering the international borders around it, and should be given a “peace bonus” by the Centre.

“We have borders with China, Bhutan and Nepal. Bangladesh is also very close. But we are the most peaceful state and the Centre should officially recognise us. Even during the elections, when there was so much violence in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, not even a bird was hurt in Sikkim,” Chamling said.

The chief minister added that Sikkim also needed a university and hospitals and urged the Centre to assist the government.

Chamling said he would try to seek investments for his state. He has already met representatives of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and has invited it to visit the state. “A team from the CII will visit Gangtok in the last week of June. We have drawn up a list of priority sectors. We have a 8,000-MW hydel potential and we welcome entrepreneurs ready to harness the potential and convert it to electricity,” he said.

   
 

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