CU treads private path to medicine
Overcrowding cuts short soiree tribute
Girl shot at for cop tip-off
Halls reopen with a hike
Bachchan puja on Guru Purnima
Rail tickets from ATMs
Telehealth project debut
Me-first minister cracks whip
House bedlam over mill bloodshed
Buddha idol in claim tug-of-war

Calcutta, June 20: 
In keeping with the tone set by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s New Left, 145-year-old-Calcutta University has started shedding inhibitions about the entry of private institutions in the capital-intensive medical education.

Officers said on Wednesday that the university is set to grant affiliation to two prominent private hospitals in Calcutta for teaching post-graduate courses. On Tuesday, the university syndicate cleared a proposal granting affiliation to Peerless Hospital and said it was considering the same status for Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratisthan.

To begin with, Peerless will run a post-graduate course in neuroscience, and Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratisthan will conduct courses in medicine and surgery, when granted affiliation,.

“The CU move reflects a change in outlook,” said Shyamapada Pal, a senior syndicate member. On many occasions, the university has refused to recognise the initiatives of well-known private organisations which approached it for affiliation and permission to run medical courses.

So long, the university only granted affiliation to government institutions as far as teaching courses in faculties like engineering, medicine or management were concerned. Now, medical and engineering courses taught at the government colleges are affiliated with CU.

CU had rejected proposals to affiliate courses of renowned institutions like IIM-Joka, Technical Teachers’ Training Institute, Salt Lake, and another private hospital on Park Sreet, run by a US-based welfare organisation.

The university was so rigid in its recognition rules that it had rejected a request from state higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty when he urged then vice-chancellor R.N. Basu to grant affiliation to a new private engineering college coming up in Salt Lake two years ago. The engineering college finally approached Kalyani University and secured affiliation.

CU was rocked by a controversy when it rejected outright the appeal of the US-based organisation, which wanted to open a full-fledged nursing college in the city. The organisation finally had to drop the scheme.

Sources at the university said Peerless Hospital officials recently met the authorities and sought recognition for teaching a post-graduate diploma course in neuroscience. Some teachers and employees opposed the move, but the university decided to place the proposal for discussion at Tuesday’s syndicate meeting.

The syndicate set up a six-member panel to examine the infrastructure of Peerless Hospital. The committee included Manoj Bhattacharya, CU dean (medical), Prabir Sur, syndicate member and chief radiologist, Calcutta Medical College, and S. Banerjee, principal, National Medical College, apart from K.K. Hyder Siddique, a city-based cardiologist and syndicate member. “We will submit a report to the authorities within a month,” said Siddique.

CU will, in turn, study the report and refer it to the Medical Council of India. “The hospital will start teaching the course after the Council flashes the green light,” said a university officer.

The university will grant affiliation to the hospital only after a thorough examination of the infrastructure. “We will not compromise with the quality of education. Which is why we did not affiliate any private institutions earlier,” said a senior official.


Calcutta, June 20: 
A concert tribute to the pioneer of Bengali band music, Gautam Chattopadhyay, had to be abandoned at Sisir Manch on Wednesday evening, following pandemonium triggered by overcrowding.

The second annual tribute to the frontman of Mohiner Ghoraguli, the first-ever Bengali band, was to have featured a number of popular artistes and bands like Nachiketa, Lopamudra, Bhoomi and Chandrabindu. But the show had to be aborted shortly after it started, as hundreds of people tried to force their way into the auditorium. Hastings police had to disperse the crowd to prevent a stampede. No one was arrested or injured, confirmed DC, south, Ranjit Pachnanda.

“We never expected such a turnout. Last year, too, we held the event at the same venue, which holds about 400, and the auditorium was not even full. This time, there must have been nearly 700 people trying to get in,” said a spokesperson for organisers Ekhon Bisambad, promising that the concert would be rescheduled in winter, “either on the Presidency College grounds or at Lalan Mancha”.

“The response was quite amazing and I was touched to see so many people still remember my dad,” said Gaurav Chattopadhyay, son of the late band icon and drummer of rock group Lakkhichhara. “However, it needn’t have ended in chaos like this,” he added.


Calcutta, June 20: 
Rumi Ahmed, 19, who helped the police arrest a criminal last month, narrowly missed death after being shot in front of her Bright Street house on Tuesday night.

Police said a gang of four armed goons in a Maruti van screeched to halt behind the girl just as she was about to enter her house, and one of them fired from close range. The bullet pierced her left shoulder. The girl was rushed to National Medical College and Hospital, where she underwent surgery. Her condition is said to be stable.

Rumi was returning home around 9 pm on Tuesday when the Maruti-borne assailants attacked her. The four goons got down and approached the girl. One of them whipped out a country made revolver and fired.

Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner, detective department, said the bullet, fired from behind her back, hit her shoulder. Seeing the girl slump to the ground, the four assailants got into the vehicle and sped away from the spot.

Rumi lay on the ground, bleeding and shouting for help. Neighbours then picked her up and took her to hospital.

Noor Ahmed, Rumi’s father, has lodged a complaint with Karaya thana. He has sought security for his daughter, as she was clearly “under threat”.

Basu said one of the goons had been identified as Tauseef, a resident of Tiljala and a close associate of Sheikh Bhola, notorious extortionist of south Calcutta. Last January, Bhola had attacked a realtor in the Ballygunge area. But the bullet had missed its mark and the builder had escaped unhurt.

Preliminary investigation revealed that Rumi had tipped off the police about Sheikh Bhola’s whereabouts. The information provided by the girl had helped officers of the anti-rowdy squad round up Bhola last month.

“Rumi had helped the police round up Bhola. That must have triggered the attack on her,” said an officer of Karaya police station. The police are combing Tiljala and its adjacent areas to track down Tauseef and the other gang members.

Sunshine II: Mayor Subrata Mukherjee will talk to all parties before starting a hawker eviction drive in the city. He ruled out their rehabilitation elsewhere. Pradeep Ghosh, member, mayor in council, said efforts would be made to clear key carriageways. No permanent structures would be allowed on the pavements.


Calcutta, June 20: 
First, the good news: the longest cinema hall strike in the history of West Bengal has ended and most halls will reopen on Friday.

Then, the bad news: The price of tickets is set for a further hike, with the government agreeing to allow hall-owners collect “more service charges” from cinegoers.

The Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA) announced on Wednesday that it was accepting one of the main demands of the Bengal Motion Pictures Employees’ Union (BMPEU): Raising the rate of annual increment by 25 per cent for employees working in halls in the city, suburbs and district headquarters and by 22.5 per cent for those working elsewhere in the state.

Employees of over 170 of the state’s 800-plus halls and 56 of the city’s 98 halls had responded to the strike, which began on March 23, said EIMPA executive section chairman Tapandeb Mukherjee.

On Wednesday afternoon, labour minister Mohammad Amin announced the decision to raise service charges at Writers’ Buildings, where EIMPA and BMPEU leaders met him after their bipartite settlement. According to the decision, service charges collected by hall-owners are set for a threefold to fourfold increase. So, to catch Aks in an air-conditioned hall, movie buffs will have to fork out Rs 3, instead of the previous Re 1, as service charge.


Calcutta, June 20: 
July 5, Guru Purnima. There’s a new celestial power to be worshipped this year: Kalyug’s Narayan Avtaar, better known as Amitabh Bachchan.

The Amitabh Bachchan Fans’ Association will honour its favourite star during a four-month Amitabh Utsav, starting with a puja at the Dum Dum club house on July 5. “We will worship our devta in the way of a traditional Satyanarayan puja. In the evening, when Guru Purnima sets in, we will hold aradhana,” says association state secretary S. P. Kamat. Prasad, including sitabhog brought specially from Burdwan, will be distributed at a lunch for 2001 “under-privileged people” of the area.

These 1,000-odd Big B bhakts have more in store in honour of the “star of the millennium”. First up, four eye micro-surgery camps in Dum Dum for 1,000 patients, in association with Susrut Eye Foundation and Research Centre. A campaign will be launched to encourage residents of ward 21 to donate their eyes. According to Kamat, this is “a message from the Boss”, as both Amitabh and wife Jaya have pledged their own eyes.

In the run-up to the release of Aks on July 13, a blood donation camp in aid of thalassaemic children will be held at Priya cinema on July 8. The first 500 donors will be given free first-day-first-show tickets. From September 28 to 30, the Calcutta Information Centre will host the “Journey of a Legend” exhibition, with pictures and information for “crazed fans” who want to find out all they can about their guru. Essay, drawing and photograph competitions will also be organised.

A festival, with films like Deewar, Silsila and Agneepath, will follow at Priya, from September 28 to October 4. The finale: Amitabh and I, a book containing accounts of those whose lives “He has touched”, from friends to ticket-scalpers. “Amitabhji has promised he will launch it on his birthday, October 11, in Mumbai,” says Kamat.

To top it all, the association is hunting for a plot in the Dum Dum area to erect a permanent temple-museum to their hero. “We will have a complete collection of all his films. But the main attraction will be a statue of guruji. Anyone entering has to either read or listen to his endearing film lines, like a prayer... He must be God, otherwise how could he touch so many lives?”


Calcutta, June 20: 
State Bank of India (SBI) ATM cardholders commuting through Sealdah and Howrah will be spared the tedium of queuing up for rail tickets at the station counters. They will be able to buy tickets directly from the ATM counters in the near future.

In joint collaboration with Eastern Railways, SBI will first provide this facility to some 10 lakh suburban passengers who access Sealdah and Howrah stations daily. Later, the service will be available to big railway counters, like Ballygunge, Jadavpur, Sonarpur and others, said a spokesperson for the railway.

The facility will initially be limited to daily, quarterly and monthly tickets. “We will consider extending the scheme to long-distance reservations at a later stage,” said SBI chairman Janaki Ballabh. “We have teamed up with Indian Railways to dispense season tickets from the ATMs. Trial runs are in progress at Mumbai and Calcutta,” he added.

The SBI ATM card-holders will be given rail credit cards with individual security code numbers. The code numbers will give them access to ATM counters. When the scheme is implemented, SBI will be the only bank in the country to provide rail tickets through its ATMs, said Ballabh.

According to a railway spokesperson, the software required is being developed by Centre for Railway Information System (CRIS), a public sector undertaking, under the ministry of railways. The CRIS has also developed the software for the passenger reservation system for Eastern Railway.

Calcutta, at present, has 18 SBI ATMs and over 95,000 ATM cards have been issued by 41 branches. The bank intends to instal another 23 ATM counters in Calcutta by March 2002.

SBI plans to spread the network to the suburbs, from Joka to Kalyani and further on, to link Kharagpur, Asansol, Durgapur, Burdwan, Santiniketan, and Siliguri and Darjeeling, in north Bengal. The pilot project is already on and talks with SBI have reached an advanced stage. “We would like to ensure security in the entire system before launching the facility,” a railway source said.


Calcutta, June 20: 
The integrated telecardiology and telehealth project at the Siliguri sub-divisional hospital, being set up by Asia Heart Foundation (AHF) in collaboration with the West Bengal government, will be flagged off on June 24 by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

The project links the intensive critical care unit of the Siliguri hospital with Rabindranath Tagore Institute of Cardiac Sciences, Calcutta, a unit of AHF, and Narayana Hrudayalaya, Bangalore, over a wide area network using normal telephone lines and dedicated ISDN lines, which will be a secured point-to-point network.

The Siliguri ICCU can, thus, avail of the resource pool of these two super-speciality cardiac care units through telecardiology. Transmission of text and graphic files, one-to-one chat, video/net meeting using digital camera and other video-conferencing equipment, can all be done with the help of a dedicated software.

“Although no surgical intervention will be possible at the Siliguri end, all relevant medical data and reports can be transmitted through this communication technology, enabling super specialists in Calcutta and Bangalore to monitor the condition of patients,” said Dr Alok Roy, vice-chairman, AHF.

In the second phase of the project, clinical quality video-conferencing will be possible, in collaboration with Indian Space Research Organisation (which will provide a free V-Sat link for images to be transmitted on a broad bandwidth) and with Hewlett Packard. “Depending on the success of this project, we can extend the scope of telemedicine to other super-speciality areas, like nephrology, neurology or even cardio-thoracic surgery. But for the time being, our focus is solely on telecardiology. Next in line after Siliguri is Bankura, while several other proposals are also being considered in other districts,” said A.M. Chakraborty, state health secretary.

As part of a World Bank-aided scheme, the state government plans to set up ICCUs at all district and sub-divisional hospitals, “some with telelinks”, Chakraborty told reporters at the announcement of the Siliguri project on Tuesday evening.

The World Bank-funded scheme, slated to have been completed by now, is running way behind schedule and the health secretary fears a two-and-a-half-year time overrun.


Calcutta, June 20: 
Land reforms minister Abdul Rezzak Molla has put himself on the line.

Eager to implement Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s do-it-now slogan, Molla has instructed all district and block-level offices to put up notices saying that complaints of corruption and harassment against him, if any, should be mailed to the chief minister.

“Why? Is a minister a laatsaheb? People might have their bit to say,” Molla said today. If the chief minister wants to hold an inquiry on receiving a complaint against him, Molla said he would have nothing to say at all.

“I am a farmer and I know what transpires in the land reforms and records offices and how farmers suffer,” he said.

Molla has tried to send the signal that he means business. Yesterday, his department suspended a revenue officer in Nadia district on charges of corruption. “He was caught red-handed accepting a bribe of Rs 500 from a poor farmer,” he said.

Molla said he had instructed his department to display a notice in all offices asking the public to be vigilant against government employees. “If there is lack of transparency, corruption and harassment among the staff, put it down in writing in the complaint books available in this office,” is what the notice is supposed to say. “If you have any complaint against the minister, write immediately to the chief minister with all the details.”

That all was not well in his department became evident to the minister when he visited the office in Writers’ Buildings. “I cannot tell you what I saw,” was Molla’s candid admission. But he warned the “errant” staff that he will come on a “raid” after a fortnight and things had better get into shape.

“There is a saying that the land reforms department offices are coated in grease. Things need to be well-greased here in order to move,” Molla said. He admitted he alone could not weed out corruption and harassment, but promised to give it his best shot.

The minister has ordered that case diaries should be maintained and records should be kept of file movement. Each office will have to prepare a list of files moving between districts, the department secretary and the minister. This will help the minister keep track of when a file has been closed and when it will be closed.

The case diaries, which will record the employees’ work load and efficiency, will be scrutinised by their superiors every fortnight. The land reforms commissioner will compile these reports and hand them over to the minister once every three months.


Calcutta, June 20: 
A mill-worker’s death in police firing rocked the Assembly today with both Trinamul and Congress MLAs rising to their feet as soon as leader of Opposition Pankaj Banerjee informed the House about the incident in Bansberia.

Banerjee and his party colleagues, including Sougata Roy, and Abdul Mannan of Congress demanded that the House be adjourned till chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made a statement on the matter.

Despite Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim’s repeated requests to Opposition MLAs to calm down, they continued to shout, demanding a statement from Bhattacharjee. At this stage, Halim declared a recess.

When the House met for business in the second half, Opposition MLAs again demanded Bhattacharjee’s statement and staged a noisy walkout but returned after the Speaker assured that the chief minister would make a statement.

When Bhattacharjee rose to speak, Opposition MLAs, including Sougata Roy, disturbed proceedings.

An irritated Bhattacharjee sat down saying, “Okay, complete your speeches first and then I will speak.” But the Congress and Trinamul MLAs soon became quiet, allowing him to speak.

Bhattacharjee said a casual worker of the mill identified as Someshwar Rao was killed and two others were injured when the police fired five rounds. The two injured casual workers of the mill were admitted to hospital.

“The workers had been agitating at the mill for some time, demanding ESI facilities and permanent jobs for casual workers. The mill owners had already threatened to issue a lockout notice and the district administration had promulgated prohibitory orders under Section 144,” he added.

Bhattacharjee said trouble started after the casual workers of the mill, with the help of some outsiders, prevented willing workers from entering the mill.

“The agitators brickbatted the police already posted there, injuring five of them. The unruly workers also torched two police vehicles and turned violent. Police opened fire in which one person was killed and two others were injured,” he said, adding: “The situation is under control and 28 people have been arrested in this connection. Senior police officials are camping at the spot.”

He said he had asked the state labour department to intervene in the mill’s affairs. He also blamed some unscrupulous mill-owners for the deteriorating labour-management relations.

The Opposition demanded that the House observe two minutes’ silence as a mark of respect to the dead jute mill worker.


Panitanki (Indo-Nepal border), June 20: 
A priceless 15th century bronze idol of Lord Buddha that Indian customs officials seized at the Panitanki-Kakarvitta checkpost last month is now giving the authorities a headache.

For, the six-inch idol of Buddha in a padmasan posture and a crown of rare jewel, which is estimated to fetch $1 million in the international collectors’ market, has now a claimant: a Bhutanese subject.

Customs officials seized it during a routine check on May 3. The idol was in an unclaimed paper package. Though they believe it was being smuggled out of Bhutan to Nepal via the Sliguri-Panitanki-Kakarvitta-Kathmandu route, one Sangla Drukpa of Bhutan has claimed that the idol was part of his family heirloom.

Superintendent of customs, Panitanki border checkpost, B.R. Biswas, said: “I, along with my colleagues, seized the idol during a routine check on a taxi travelling from Siliguri to Kakarvitta. The idol was wrapped in paper. There were no claimants for the package. Apparently, the person who was carrying the package panicked seeing the men in uniform and quietly slipped away. We seized the idol and contacted the history department of the North Bengal University to authenticate if the idol was an antique.

“The seized idol turned out to be one of the rarest — a Vajrapani Buddha in a padmasan posture, according to Professor Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya of North Bengal University, history department. Inscriptions at the bottom of the idol suggest that the idol was crafted in Tibet sometime between 15th and the 16th century. There are very few idols of this period with a padmasan posture on a lotus and holding a vajra,” Biswas added.

“On June 12, Sangla Drukpa, a Bhutanese national now settled in neighbouring Kakarvitta in Nepal, claimed that the idol was part of his heirloom. Drukpa claims he had asked a neighbour from Bhutan to bring it over for him from Bhutan,” Biswas said.

“But as the idol is an antique it cannot be handed over to anybody without the claim being authenticated. We are investigating the matter. The claimant has not given any proper address of residence either in Bhutan or in Nepal. We suspect that the rare idol was possibly being smuggled out of Bhutan by an organised gang of transborder antique smugglers. It would be shipped out of Kathmandu to the West where there is a ready market for stolen idols and artefacts. It would possibly fetch over $1 million. The claimant could in all possibility be part of the gang, trying to retrieve the idol,” Biswas added.

Tea garden lockout

The management of the trouble-torn Nepuchapu tea garden today declared an indefinite lockout in the plantation following yesterday’s labour unrest which forced the police to resort to firing, injuring one garden worker.

Trouble broke out last evening in the tea garden in Jalpaiguri district after agitating garden workers turned violent.

Superintendent of police Ranvir Kumar said a group of garden workers assaulted the managerial staff, including the manager, assistant manager and the head clerk, over the employment of a clerical staff.

A police team rushed to the spot to quell the mob. However, the policemen, too, were attacked, forcing them to fire 15 rounds. A plantation worker and six policemen were injured in the clash.


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