School signals broker ban
Buddha bullish, Mamata mute
Restaurant shut in kitchen crackdown
TRACK’s in place, hackers beware
Teachers await leave rules
Cable project skirts roadblock
Train runs over deaf vendor
Panja ready for truce talks with Mamata
Power cut stalls trains
Permits must for danger-boats

Calcutta, June 25: 
With increasing public concern at, and harassment from, brokers who promise ‘sure-shot’ admission to the city’s reputed schools during the annual enrolment rush, St Lawrence School has taken a path-breaking and novel step to eradicate the middleman menace.

The administration — the school is one of the best-known institutions run by Jesuit fathers — has put up two notices in English and in Bengali on the gates, warning guardians against being conned by brokers.

Taking the St Lawrence cue, some other reputed city-based schools, like South Point and Welland Gouldsmith — which turn away many times the number of children they can accommodate — said they would try to make guardians aware of corruption during admission. The annual enrolment rush, involving thousands of anxious parents and stressed-out children, means a windfall for the police-politician network that is often accused of being behind the racket.

The St Lawrence notices follows complaints from guardians, school officers say. A woman recently told the school authorities that she had given all her ornaments to a man who promised to get her son admitted to the school. She never saw the man again. Father K. Thotta, a school officer, said: “This was the most tragic complaint we have ever come across.”

The authorities have received complaints from guardians, who wanted to put their sons in Class I, about a man, who claimed he was a teacher and demanded Rs 15,000 from them for “development work”. In exchange, he promised to fix things. Several guardians paid up, and that was the last they saw of him. The authorities could not identify the man. The increasing number of complaints, the authorities felt, was belittling the institution’s hard-earned “prestige and reputation.”

The St Lawrence notice reads: *Parents are strongly warned against seeking assistance of brokers who extract exorbitant amounts of money for getting their wards admitted under the false claim of donation to the school for development work.

*No donation is accepted at St Lawrence at the time of admission. Donation at the time of admission amounts to bribing.

“Why should we Fathers be blamed for the money others earn by dubious means?” asked Father Anil Mitra, vice-principal of the school’s Higher Secondary section. “We can’t allow this to continue. This time, we have put up the notice for the HS section only. But we will put up such notices every year for admission to every class,” he said.

Other well-known schools say they may consider similar measures to minimise harassment of parents. N.G. Khaitan, vice-president of South Point School, admitted receiving similar complaints during admission season. Once the school had informed the police and the offender was caught, he added. “We, too, will put up such notices if we receive large-scale complaints from guardians,” said Khaitan. Gillian D’Costa Hart, principal of Welland Gouldsmith, too, welcomed the move.


Calcutta, June 25: 
He will; but will she? When mayor Subrata Mukherjee met do-it-now chief minister Buddhadeb Battacharjee at his office in Writers’ Buildings on Monday afternoon to invite him to the Trinamul-led CMC council’s first anniversary on July 8, the answer was: “Do it, and I’ll be there”.

But what about Mukherjee’s leader Mamata Banerjee? While confirming Bhattacharjee’s participation in the “grand affair” on July 8, where he is going to eulogise the present council’s achievements, the mayor was mum on whether Mamata, too, would grace the occasion. “I don’t know whether she will attend,” is all Mukherjee would say. The reason for the mayor’s testiness: His differences with Mamata on issues ranging from hawker eviction to civic taxes, as well as her unpredictability.

Mukherjee made it clear that at the gala, he would reaffirm his commitment with the Left Front on policy matters, especially on the removal of hawkers and encroachers along Calcutta’s canals.

And, on such an occasion, would Mamata like to be face-to-face with the chief minister, whom she has labelled a “mafia don” and accused of rigging the polls? Though the lady herself was not around for any comment, her camp followers cried foul.

Mukherjee also invited municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya to the function. However, Bhattacharya was non-committal about being there. “It is a Sunday and I usually devote the weekends to my constituency in Siliguri,” he said.

“But I have spoken to Buddhadebbabu and he has agreed to attend,” the mayor said.

Mukherjee’s invitation to the Left Front ministers, particularly the chief minister, is being interpreted as a move to cement the working relationship he has shared with Writers’ Buildings.

Mukherjee has been more forthcoming than even most in the Left Front government in underscoring the need to free Calcutta of encroachers. Unlike the Marxists, and to the displeasure of his party chief, he has even declared that rehabilitation of the evicted hawkers was out of the question.

“There is no end to encroachment and there is no end to rehabilitation,” Mukherjee had quipped after one of his recent meetings on the Tolly’s Nullah evictions with Bhattacharya. “Will this become a government for rehabilitation only and not progress?” he had asked.

Even on the removal of hawkers from the 21 main thoroughfares of the city, the mayor’s stand has always been in line with that of the Left Front, ever since Operation Sunshine in 1996.

The mayor, administrative circles observe, is not one to create complications just for the sake of opposition. “He knows perfectly well what the tenets of civic governance are and acts accordingly,” a senior municipal department official pointed out.

But by Mukherjee’s own submission in the recent past: “Show me one issue where I have stood against a government decision this past year. Yes, we have differences, but we also know how to solve them.”

It is precisely this that has been irking Mamata no end.


Calcutta, June 25: 
Operation ‘Clean Kitchen’ is gathering steam. Following a crackdown on Monday, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has decided to slap a notice on a star hotel off Shakespeare Sarani and order closure of a popular restaurant on Park Street.

The CMC team, led by member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan, collected samples of food items from the hotel following a complaint that more than 25 doctors and students of post-graduate medical science had suffered “food poisoning” symptoms after eating there earlier this month.

“We will serve a notice to the hotel management, asking them to improve the standard of their kitchen,” Khan said.

Civic officials found flies, cockroaches and rats ruling the roost at the Park Street eatery. Lungis and kurtas of cooks and their help were hanging in one corner, while leftovers were spilling out of an open drum in another.

Used crockery was piled up in a basin. When deputy chief health officer R.N. Sanyal asked for a glass of water, he found it teeming with “tiny particles”. This restaurant had been served a notice two years ago. But it has, obviously, done precious little to clean up its act.

Next on the CMC team’s inspection list for the day was a Chinese restaurant in east Calcutta. Here, flies were found in the kitchen and there was no facility for hot and cold water to wash dishes. The eatery has been given a month to improve the “health and hygiene” conditions.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has convened a meeting with representatives of Hoteliers’ and Restaurants Association on Tuesday as part of the Corporation’s kitchen crackdown. The civic food inspector and medical officer of Borough VII has already been showcaused for “dereliction of duty” after the kitchens of some popular eateries on Park Street, Russel Street and Shakespeare Sarani were found wanting.

The food inspectors are expected to pay surprise visits to hotels and restaurants, collect samples of cooked food and verify the qualsity of the cooking medium, raw fish, meat and vegetables. They also have to submit regular reports to the chief municipal health officer on the overall condition of the eateries.

“We cannot just blame these establishments. It is the civic body’s moral responsibility to ensure safe food and a clean environment for all patrons of these eateries,” observed Khan.


Calcutta, June 25: 
Hackers, beware! It may be time to lose sleep after robbing Netizens of their due share. Having invested a year and nearly Rs 3 crore, the Calcutta-based office of the Union ministry of Information Technology’s standardisation, testing and quality certification (STQC) directorate has come up with ISM: TRACK, which could be the answer to defence and business organisations’ prayers for effective measures against hacking.

The project involves imparting training to organisations so they can safeguard their information system against hackers. The fruition of the Rs 2.75-crore project comes at a time when the biggest concern for organisations — ranging from business houses to those in the defence sector — is the “loss of information”, say officials at the STQC’s IT Services wing. “There is the perception of a growing threat that secret information, which is an organisation’s biggest asset, may be disclosed, modified or made unavailable by misuse, error or theft,” said officials at the Saltlec wing, selected as the nodal centre to coordinate the project on information security management system.

It’s here that ISM: TRACK steps in, said STQC IT Services director Mitali Chatterjee. The objectives — to protect the accuracy of data and make them convenient to access for the rightful user — were kept in mind while designing the course for organisations willing to take help, at an affordable price, from recognised experts, she added.

The course, which took a year to develop after the project was approved in July 2000, will feature a three-day, hands-on training programme for representatives from organisations and cost Rs 4,000. Going by the number of big names which have already queued up, the rush will outlast the first phase, which starts on Wednesday.

Defence sector institutions like the Defence Research and Development Organisation, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Interim Test Range have already shown interest in the course, say officials. Software giants like PricewaterhouseCooper, Tata Consultancy Services, Globsyn and CMC, banks (including the nationalised United Bank of India), financial institutions, chartered accountancy firms and even government departments like Tripura’s industry department, have already confirmed their participation.

The state-of-the-art centre can now accommodate representatives from 25 organisations. By August, it will be able to accommodate 40.

The safeguards to be implemented, described in BS7799 and ISO17799, the best internationally-recognised information security practices, can never be a guarantee against hacking, as hackers are constantly developing their skills, admit STQC officials. “But we can guarantee one thing: The system will monitor, notice and prevent recurrences by its in-built cycle,” one of them asserted. “The system will constantly self-evolve — like hackers — to build up an effective wall against cyber-crime.”

STQC IT Services will conduct information-security risk assessment jobs as well for organisations. A two-day workshop will be held in August. The directorate also has plans to launch an internationally-accredited certification scheme on information security management for organisations.


Calcutta, June 25: 
Nearly 5,000 college teachers in the state are anxiously awaiting the Governor’s assent to the new leave rules for them.

Governor Viren J. Shah, who is also chancellor of Calcutta University, has yet to give his assent to a proposal of the university syndicate in this regard.

The syndicate, which had drafted the proposed leave rules about a year ago, is likely to take up the issue for discussion at its meeting, scheduled on July 3. The CPM-controlled West Bengal College University Teachers Association (WBCUTA) has also discussed the issue at its executive committee meeting held on Thursday.

The chancellor gave his assent to the new code of conduct for college and university teachers, drafted by the syndicate, a few weeks ago. But he is silent on the proposed leave rules. The two proposals were sent to the chancellor by the university authorities in December.

The new leave rules will be attractive for college teachers, as there will be provision for leave encashment. At present, college teachers are not allowed to encash leave as there is no provision in the existing rules and regulations.

Under the existing rules, a college teacher cannot save more than 120 days of his earned leave. Once the new leave rules are implemented, he will be able to save earned leave of 240 days and take the benefit of the leave encashment scheme.

Another bane of the present leave structure is that in case of transfer, the teacher concerned is not entitled to any earned leave. As a result, college teachers often face problems, as their only option is to apply for casual leave. The new leave rules are likely to remove such difficulties.

WBCUTA general secretary Anil Bhattacharjee, also a syndicate member, said the issue had been taken up during the executive meeting on Thursday. “We will raise the issue at our next meeting, too,” he said.

Sikha Sengupta, another member of the syndicate, said college teachers were anxiously awaiting the implementation of the new leave rules, as it will benefit them financially and also help them render smother service.


Calcutta, June 25: 
The impasse over laying of optical fibre cables under Calcutta’s streets has ended with Reliance Infotech agreeing to hand over road repair funds to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

The project, which will provide part of the e-governance backbone to the state government, has been hanging fire for the past six months. Reliance had made it clear that it would repair the roads after laying the cables.

But the CMC maintained that the agencies that dug up roads did not restore them properly. This impasse had delayed the project which will, among other things, provide free digital data transfer connections to the state government.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had to intervene and ask municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya to convene a meeting with mayor Subrata Mukherjee and other CMC councillors to sort out the issue.

At a meeting attended by the mayor, Bhattacharya and chief secretary Manish Gupta on Monday afternoon, a representative of Reliance Infotech called up to tell Bhattacharya that the company would comply with the CMC terms. The company has already started work in Salt Lake, where the municipality has agreed to the Reliance Infotech terms.


Calcutta, June 25: 
A deaf potato-seller, who left behind his hearing-aid in his shop, was run over while crossing the railway tracks at Jadavpur station on Monday morning. Seventy-year-old Gouranga Sikdar failed to hear the whistle of an approaching train and the warning shouts of passersby. He died before he could be taken to B.R. Singh Hospital, at Sealdah, three stations away.

Sikdar, who sold potatoes at Palbazar, near Jadavpur station, was going to buy cakes for his grandchildren. The Sonarpur-bound train hit Sikdar just before entering the station. His nephew, Tapan, said his uncle had settled at Mukundapur, along the E.M. Bypass, after migrating from Bangladesh in 1970. Sikdar is survived by three jobless sons and three daughters.


Calcutta, June 25: 
Days before his convention of party dissidents at Mahajati Sadan, rebel Trinamul Congress MP Ajit Panja today hinted that he was not averse to a rapprochement with Mamata Banerjee “in the interests of the party”.

Reacting to Mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s offer to broker peace between him and Mamata, Panja said he was not yet aware of such a move. “But,” he said, “I am ready to hold discussions with anybody if it helps strengthen the organisation.”

Panja said he is in constant touch with Mukherjee and will have no problems if he takes the initiative to work out a deal provided Mamata agrees. “I have no differences with Mamata, but I only want her to grow up and judge everything judiciously without falling into the trap of the coterie controlling her,” he added.

The dissident MP, however, said he would not cancel Saturday’s proposed convention if an agreement is reached. “We have lined up the convention to strengthen Trinamul which needs a thorough overhaul. I’m confident that grassroots workers will get a new direction from this convention,” he said.

Leaders close to Panja pointed out that it would be difficult for him to reconcile differences with Mamata because it concerns Trinamul’s policy vis-à-vis the BJP and the Congress. While Panja is in a hurry to rejoin the Central coalition and wants the Trinamul to snap ties with the Congress, Mamata is opposed to the idea since there is no immediate consensus on the issue.

In the posters printed for the convention, Panja has reiterated that the party never quit the NDA and there was a need for more democracy inside Trinamul. He also dubbed the alliance with the Congress “unholy”.

Echoing Panja, Hooghly Trinamul leader Tapan Dasgupta, who recently joined the rebel MP’s camp, said he still considers Mamata as his leader. “But Mamata should rise above petty politics and do justice to everybody,” he said. Besides Dasgupta, a string of Trinamul leaders joined Panja’s camp today. Among them are Bani Singha Roy, a Trinamul leader from Howrah who was once close to Mamata, and Dilip Das, former MLA from Raigunj.

Leaders from Trinamul’s youth wing wrote to Mamata today, demanding that she come clean on her stand on rejoining the NDA. These leaders, representing south Bengal districts, held a meeting in Calcutta yesterday.

The youth leaders, most of who held prominent posts in the disbanded Trinamul Youth Congress committees in Calcutta and in the districts, also asked Mamata to spell out her “clear stand” on the NDA by July 15. These leaders, however, maintained they are not rebels and had no intention to join the Panja camp.

“We are reformers, not rebels. We are very much with Mamata and we want reforms within the party,” said Tapas Dutta, a vice-president in the disbanded committee. But they warned they would not hesitate to take a drastic step if Mamata did not announce her stand on the NDA by July 15.


Calcutta, June 25: 
Train services were disrupted for over an hour during rush hour on both sections of Sealdah when the overhead power supply snapped, creating havoc for office-goers and examinees.

Many students taking Calcutta University’s Part-I examinations broke down when they found they were stranded in between stations in cramped coaches with no idea when power would be restored. By the time the trains started moving again, students had lost over an hour.

Besides suburban trains, long-distance services were disrupted. While 12 local trains were cancelled, 30 long-distance trains, including the Sealdah Rajdhani, were detained at different stations.

According to an Eastern Railway official, trouble started around 9 am when the Titagarh grid of West Bengal State Electricity Board failed to supply power. Railway authorities then decided to take power from the Sonarpur grid. But this grid also failed, bringing train services on the main and south sections of Sealdah to a halt.

The Titagarh grid supplies overhead power for the main and north section while Sonarpur grid feeds the south section. As soon as the two grids collapsed, train services on the Krishnagar, Dankuni, Bongaon, Baruipur, Lakshmikantapur, Canning and Diamond Harbour lines stopped.

With several trains stranded between stations, passengers had no option but to remain inside. “We could not run a shuttle service as there was no overhead power,” the rail official said.

Eastern Railway claims train services returned to normal from 10.20 am, but it took more than three hours to clear the passenger rush.

Train service was also disrupted between Krishnagar and Lalgola when a group of angry commuters squatted on the tracks at Bethuadahari for over four hours from 7.20 am. They were protesting against the late arrival of the Sealdah-bound Lalgola Passenger.

The train arrived Bethuadahari 35 minutes late due to speed restrictions on the Krishnagar-Lalgola section because of restoration work. Railway engineers are working round-the-clock to improve the condition of tracks and bridges which were damaged during last year’s devastating floods.

“We also intimated the passengers over public address system and repeated advertisements that speed restriction had to be imposed on that section as restoration work was still going on,” the official added.


Malda, June 25: 
The government will not allow mechanised boats to ply without proper registration, minister of state for transport Narayan Biswas said today.

Biswas, who arrived here yesterday to probe Saturday’s boat capsize at Manikchak in which 60 people were feared drowned, said registration will be made mandatory for mechanised boats to prevent such mishaps.

The minister met district officials at the Malda circuit house yesterday after visiting the site of the mishap. He expressed concern over the poor rescue operations being carried out by government agencies.

Biswas admitted that the administration has at present no control over the mechanised boats carrying passengers beyond capacity.

The minister said the plying of these boats should be monitored by India Water Ways, a Central agency, but the district administration has neither the necessary infrastructure nor do the boatmen know the regulations.

Malda district magistrate Ajitranjan Bardhan said block development officers and officers-in-charge of different police stations have been asked to prepare a list of ghats and which department should look after them. They should also make a detailed list of the number of boats plying daily from these ghats.

Though the boat has been recovered, no further bodies have been fished out from the river. However, the family members of the untraced passengers are still waiting on the banks of the river, expecting the bodies to surface.

Adul Motalab of Uttarpalash village was waiting since early morning in the hope of getting back the body of his 11-year-old daughter. Motalab, who runs a tea shop in his village, was going to the weekly market in Mathurapur with his six family members. All except his youngest daughter, Rabina, were rescued by the local residents.

“I have come here for Rabina. I shall take away her body whenever it floats. On that day, all of us came ashore except my Rabina,” said a weeping Motalab.

Resentment has been growing among the people with the administration virtually giving up the search operation. Family members of those still untraced are continuing the search on their own.

Bardhan later said that BDOs and SPs have been asked to keep vigil and inform the administration if bodies are detected.


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