Mega makeover model for SSKM
Trade bandh fails to roll back Rent Bill
Cloud on Parkomat funds
Woman dies in fall from highrise
Fast resort to save The Refuge
If the world’s a stage, these players are special
Online career portal launches Calcutta chapter
Skull scam probe sought
State runs worst fleet of buses, says audit report
Vintage firm with a view

 
 
MEGA MAKEOVER MODEL FOR SSKM 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
Today, a mosquito factory. Tomorrow, a centre of excellence. State health minister Surya Kanta Mishra and a delegation from Bengal Initiative agreed on Wednesday to transform SSKM Hospital into a centre of excellence.

The decision to accord autonomous status to SSKM had already been taken by the government. The hospital’s governing body was disbanded and an action plan laid out to streamline SSKM’s activities.

The proposal itself had been submitted to former health minister Partha De way back in 1999 by Bengal Initiative. The new incumbent, Surya Kanta Mishra, has studied it and given the go-ahead to Bengal Initiative to implement the proposal. The minister requested the Bengal Initiative team, comprising eminent physicians Saibal Gupta, Abirlal Mukherjee, Saroj Gupta and S.K. Mukherjee, to draw up a blueprint for SSKM’s transformation. “The minister knows the proposal thoroughly and so the talks went off without a hitch,” said Initiative chairman Amiya Gooptu.

“What we have suggested is that the facilities need upgradation, the equipment needs to be modernised and personnel trained to operate and maintain them,” Gooptu told Metro.

Bengal Initiative is appalled because Calcutta has earned a bad name as a city where top-class treatment facilities are not available. “We do not want to keep on hearing about people going to Chennai or Delhi for medical attention,” Gooptu said.

Mishra, who had heard Bengal Initiative’s case at an interaction with it last June, had set up the Wednesday dialogue. “We reviewed the health scenario without mincing words. He agreed with what we had to say,” Gooptu said.

The minister was not averse either to seeking overseas help, both technical and academic, to accord the status of a centre of excellence to SSKM. “A part of the project will be the regular exchange of information with overseas institutes, as well as reciprocal visits between physicians,” Gooptu said. The physicians present at the meeting have promised voluntary involvement in organising seminars and consultations for upgradation.

When SSKM turns autonomous, it will no longer have a direct link with the government. It will not remain in bureaucratic control either. It will have a separate syndicate and governing body formed through election, as in the case of universities.

The syndicate and governing body will have absolute power to take up improvement plans, implement and monitor them. The health department will, however, formulate a policy which the institution will have to follow.

Besides, SSKM will be allowed to raise funds on its own. The government will provide a financial grant under particular heads, including salary and wages of doctors and non-medical staff.

“SSKM is a prestigious teaching hospital. We want to make it a model, an institute of excellence. We are considering all ways to achieve this,’’ the health minister said.

   

 
 
TRADE BANDH FAILS TO ROLL BACK RENT BILL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
Land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah insisted on Tuesday that the West Bengal Premises Tenancy (Amendment) Act was not at all “pro-house owner”, as alleged by the Confederation of West Bengal Trade Associations.

“It is a balanced Act. Tenants had been enjoying all the advantages for decades as the Act was lopsided. But the amended one restores the equilibrium,’’ claimed Mollah, even as the daylong trade bandh called by the Confederation to protest the “anti-tenant” bias of the Act proved to be quite a success

Labelling the bandh call “unethical”, Mollah said: “It is most unfortunate that the traders do not have the patience to wait for a couple of months, even though we have decided to amend three provisions of the Act, to meet their demands. I have clearly stated in the Assembly that points involving continuation of tenancy, ceiling of rent and fixing of rent will be amended, for which a Bill will be tabled in the winter session of the House... If they (the traders) now want to amend 16 provisions, which means that the entire Bill must be changed, that is not possible.”

The trade bandh called to protest the introduction of the Tenancy Act proved a success, with most shops in the city downing their shutters. All major shopping centres — from Burrabazar to Chandni Chowk, New Market to Gariahat — wore a deserted look three days before Rakhi.

Feroze H. Ali, president of the Confederation, said the successful bandh sent a “clear message” to the government that it must “pay heed to the demands of traders”.

The minister, however, maintained that the bandh was “partial” and had “no impact in the districts”.

Mahesh Singhania of the Federation of West Bengal Trade Association, which had opposed Wednesday’s bandh, said the strike “should have been withdrawn” as the government had “already promised to amend three controversial provisions of the Act.”

Mollah, meanwhile, made his position clear while meeting mediapersons at Writers’ Buildings. “If an Act is to be amended, it must first be introduced in the House. It is most unfortunate that a section of traders is objecting to the very introduction of the Act.”

Dismissing the fear expressed by the Confederation that the new Act would enable the houseowner to “evict” the tenant, Mollah said that “no tenants could be evicted under any circumstances within two years of the introduction of the Act”.

Mollah also clarified that houseowners would not be allowed to “hike the rent” arbitrarily. “They will have to follow the provisions of the Act, which clearly mention that the rent hike must be fair,” he said.

“We are open to discussion on the issue but we are clear that the new Act must be introduced to boost the real estate sector and give houseowners the confidence to let in tenants. At the moment, there is a slump in the building business and landlords are extremely apprehensive about giving their houses on rent,” said Mollah.

   

 
 
CLOUD ON PARKOMAT FUNDS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
The CPM-led opposition in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, with more than a little help from the Congress, on Wednesday charged mayor Subrata Mukherjee with sacrificing the interests of tax-payers and using their money to benefit a private firm.

Simplex Projects, they charged, was set to gobble up the cream of CMC funds from Parkomat, the computerised car-parking plaza at the Park Street-Rawdon Street crossing. An analysis of the terms of agreement between Simplex and the CMC would reveal that the firm was set to garner the lion’s share of profits after using the CMC’s resources, CPM councillor and MLA Sudhangsu Sil alleged.

The CMC is investing Rs 3 crore in the Rs 8.45-crore project, whereas Simplex is coughing up only Rs 2.25 crore; the rest of the money is being taken as a loan by Simplex. Besides, say the mayor’s detractors, the deal does not take into account the land for the project — being given, again, by the CMC at zero cost — which, at a prime central Calcutta location, will be worth several crores of rupees.

The agreement stipulates that the CMC will get five per cent of the turnover, whereas Simplex will corner a whopping 90 per cent of the profit; the CMC’s meagre share of the annual estimated turnover of the project — Rs 60 lakh — will take it 300 (at Rs 3 lakh every year) years to recover its cost, a simple calculation shows. The estimated lifespan of the project is 50 years.

Mukherjee, however, refuted the allegations. “The entire project will become the CMC’s sole baby after 20 years,” he said. “The CMC will have no responsibility for the repayment of the loan or the amount being invested by Simplex, whose share comes to Rs 5.45 crore,” he added. Besides, it was the previous CPM-led board that had signed the MoU with Simplex and the CMC’s part of the cost — Rs 3 crore — was being paid at the state government’s direction, he asserted.

Sil, however, says that 20 years from now, when the CMC will get all the profit, the project will be a “second-hand” one.

“The CMC will be left stranded with the last 30 years of the project, when operational and maintenance costs will be correspondingly higher.”

   

 
 
WOMAN DIES IN FALL FROM HIGHRISE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
A 22-year-old housewife killed herself by jumping off the fourth floor of a building on M.G. Road, in Burrabazar, on Wednesday. The police have detained her husband and in-laws for interrogation.

It was around 10 a.m. and M.G. Road was a lot less busy than usual because of the trade bandh, when the woman, later identified as Aparna Dixit, or Poppy, jumped from her fourth-floor apartment. Residents of the area, mostly traders, rushed her to Marwari Relief Society Hospital, where she was declared dead.

Ram Ratan Sew, a local trader, said: “We were chatting among ourselves to while away time when we heard a thud and saw a woman lying in a pool of blood beside the tram tracks. She was still alive. We called her folks repeatedly, but no one came down. She was taken to hospital, where she was declared brought dead.”

Meena Agarwal, a neighbour, said: “Poppy was beaten up by her husband and in-laws regularly. They were married for four years and didn’t have children.”

On receiving information of the suicide, officials from Burrabazar police station took away Poppy’s husband Dilip, her mother-in-law and sister-in-law for interrogation. Dilip, who works for a private firm, later admitted to torturing his wife.

According to Burrabazar police, Dilip’s father is a businessman. “They hail from Kanpur. We have recovered a letter written by Poppy to her parents, in which she urged them to take her away, or else they wouldn’t see her alive again,” said the officer-in-charge.

   

 
 
FAST RESORT TO SAVE THE REFUGE 
 
 
BY SUDESHNA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
A 100-year-old orphanage in Bowbazar is facing a crisis arising out of political power play. With no resolution in sight, the 200-odd students of The Refuge have decided to go on a hungerstrike from Thursday.

The controversy centres around two staff members, Ujjal Roy and Satyakam Hajra, who are reportedly close to local Trinamul Congress councillor Pradip Ghosh. According to governing body members of The Refuge, the two employees, themselves former students of the home, had long been trying to “run the show”, with active support from Ghosh. On May 20, Roy and Hajra decided to evict the family of the orphanage sweeper, living on the premises for three generations. “They pelted stones at the family, threw away their utensils and assaulted them. An FIR was lodged with Muchipara police,” said Arghya, an inmate.

A general meeting was scheduled on May 25. “When we arrived, the students were shouting slogans, demanding the ouster of Hajra and Roy. It was then decided that they would not be allowed in till the police case was resolved,” secretary Rita Banerji said.

Matters came to a head when a student of Class VI, Raju Naskar, levelled charges of “assault” against five other students and some staff members. Raju later admitted he had done so under instructions from “Babuada (Ujjal Roy)”.

According to the inmates, the local councillor is trying to force the governing body to reinstate the duo. “On June 19, a meeting was convened to appoint an auditor. But Ghosh and his men disrupted proceedings, saying the meeting would be cancelled if the expulsion of Roy and Hajra was not discussed. They heckled the governing body members and tore the pamphlets that we had submitted citing our grievances,” students alleged.

When contacted, Ghosh said: “I will see to it that Hajra and Roy are reinstated. They were working for the good of the orphanage.” Dismissing allegations of employing strong-arm tactics, he said: “Whoever says so, let him face me. The state is governed by political leaders. How can anything run without us?” On being informed of the hungerstrike planned by the students, Ghosh appeared unperturbed: “I am not bothered about what some motivated people do.”

The students, meanwhile, are determined to go ahead with their hungerstrike till order is restored at The Refuge. “Hajra and Roy are up to all kinds of mischief, which hamper our studies and destroy the peace of the home. This cannot continue,” said Gobindo, a student of Class X.

   

 
 
IF THE WORLD’S A STAGE, THESE PLAYERS ARE SPECIAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
The show was on full blast. The children of Ashutosh Institution were matching steps to Hriday amar nachere ajike.

Seated in the second row, among the audience, was Lipika Dasgupta, merrily swaying to the rhythm, oblivious of the cacophony around her. When the routine ended, it was she who clapped the loudest, beaming in whole-hearted enjoyment.

Dressed in a multi-coloured ensemble and headgear as “the hunter” in Kalmrigaya, Lipika was waiting, like many others around her, to take the stage.

The occasion: An inter-school cultural competition at the Eastern Railway Officers’ Club auditorium. But it wasn’t about winning or losing. Being there was all that mattered for these mentally-challenged children.

The day-long meet, organised by Bodhayan, an association of “parents of persons with mental retardation”, had drawn 14 schools to the Sealdah venue.

This was the 11th edition of the annual event. “The aim of the show is socio-cultural integration. A primary requirement of participation is that parents, teachers and siblings will have to perform together with the challenged student,” explained Anuradha Pal Chowdhury, joint secretary of Bodhayan. So, in every group item, a teacher or a mother was seen dancing or singing along with the kids.

This year, there was a novelty. Two ‘normal’ schools — South Point and St James’ — had been invited “to take the message of integration one step forward”. Each school was given 15 minutes to put up a composite performance. Since recorded music was not allowed, live performance was the order of the day.

Despite the obvious handicap, the show witnessed a wide variety of colourful performances — from garba to bhangra, from patriotic songs to plays.

In some cases, like the item put up by the school Pradip, the kids hardly did a thing. But as the director of Pradip, Dr Mallika Banerjee, pointed out at the outset, it was “a brave step” for the autistic children to have made it to the stage.

Some of the children just roamed around, drawn by the blaze of the arclights, while others just stood silently. One kept up a wail, visibly irritated with the pair of wings glued to her back for the role of a butterfly. But they drew a warm applause, nonetheless, for in the spirit of this special contest, these children were all winners.

As Anindita Dasgupta, one of the judges, summed up, such a show lifted the spirits of the guardians and brought some cheer into the lives of the children.

Varied as the kids were in levels of capability, it was pointless to rank them. Yet, for academic interest, Noble Mission was declared “the best”, followed by Alor Disha and Uttarayan, while Behala Bikashan was awarded the Champion of Champions trophy.

   

 
 
ONLINE CAREER PORTAL LAUNCHES CALCUTTA CHAPTER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
India’s “first online career management portal”, JobsAhead, opened its Calcutta branch on Tuesday. Spurred by the large number of resumés received from the city — 35,000 out of the portal’s eight-lakh registered jobseekers — the Delhi-based company took the decision to open a Calcutta chapter. Alok Mittal, chief operating officer of the portal, said: “The expansion will help us offer more local employment opportunities to jobseekers in Calcutta. Building sales and servicing infrastructure here will help us expand the market rapidly.”

Apart from the IT industry, which has been “an early adopter of e-recruitment”, the last six months have seen a “very good growth from old economy clients as well”, according to Mittal.

Announcing the launch of an Ahmedabad office, too, JobsAhead has established its presence in eight cities including Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Chennai and Hyderabad. The expansion comes soon after the third round funding from Chrysalis Capital & Angel Investors, to the tune of Rs 11 crore, has been clinched. Part of this will go towards the development of infrastructure in new cities.

JobsAhead offers opportunities in professions like IT and telecom, engineering, medicine and marketing, as well as alternative careers like modelling, entertainment and tourism. The portal, which includes self-assessment tests, case studies, discussions and interviews, is “the leader” in the e-recruitment market in India, with a 55% share, servicing 3,100 multi-nationals and Indian clients across both IT and non-IT segments.

   

 
 
SKULL SCAM PROBE SOUGHT 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
Alarmed at the discovery of a flourishing racket in human skeletons in the Beniapukur area, a delegation from the Mohammedan Burial Board has decided to meet commissioner of police Sujay Chakraborty and demand “a probe into the smuggling of skeletons and skulls from burial grounds for commercial purposes”.

Members of the Board will also request him to “beef up security” at the graveyards. Bishop P.S.P. Raju has also expressed concern over the skeleton scam.

The civic health department recently unearthed an illegal racket in anatomical specimens where hundreds of human skulls and skeletons of men, women and children were found, ready for despatch in the heart of the city at 4A, Dihi Srirampur Road, under the jurisdiction of Beniapukur police station.

Vinesh Aroon, the kingpin of the skeleton-smuggling racket, was arrested by the police and the specimens seized.

At an emergency meeting on Tuesday, the Mohammedan Burial Board took a resolution, expressing concern over the matter. Vice-chairman of the board Mumtaz Alam said on Wednesday that most of the skeletons and skulls were from the Gobra, Topsia and Hindu burial grounds. Dihi Srirampur Road was selected as the hub for its proximity to the burial grounds.

Member, mayor-in-council (health) Javed Ahmed Khan, who had led the raid, said Aroon, the owner of the firm, ‘Young Brothers’, failed to produce a valid trade licence for his business and account for the procurement of skeletons and skulls.

From the price list, it was found that he would charge Rs 8,000 for an articulated human skeleton (male or female) and Rs 9,500 for an articulated child skeleton. A human skull, complete in 22 parts, cost Rs 3,000 and a foetal skull Rs 1,300.

Local people alleged that they were never allowed to enter the premises of the firm and its owner passed himself off as a medical book-seller. Medical students visited his firm frequently.

During the raid, Khan faced opposition from the CPM local committee when committee member Tulsi Chakraborty challenged his authority to enter the premises without a warrant. He also prevented photographers to take pictures of either the skulls or of the owner of the firm.

Run over: A 50-year-old woman was killed when a speeding lorry knocked her down at Shibpur, in Howrah. Police said Ranu Mukhejee, the victim, was trying to cross the road. Police impounded the killer vehicle but the driver fled.

   

 
 
STATE RUNS WORST FLEET OF BUSES, SAYS AUDIT REPORT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
The government-managed transport sector lags miserably behind private operators when it comes to providing an efficient and economically-viable mode of communication to the people of Bengal. This, according to the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s report.

In a scathing attack on three of the state-managed transport corporations — Calcutta State Transport Corporation, North Bengal State Transport Corporation and South Bengal State Transport Corporation — the CAG report has indicted them for a below-par performance in every aspect, ranging from fleet-utilisation to dangerous driving. Despite enjoying subsidies that run into hundreds of crore, these corporations account for only 12 per cent of buses that run on the road.

The government sector in Bengal lags behind its counterparts in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh or Haryana in everything except accident figures, says the report. CSTC buses, during the past four years, have been involved in .59 to .85 accident for every lakh kilometre traversed. The figure varies between .33 to .57 for SBSTC buses.

Only NBSTC — with .13 to .35 accident for every lakh kilometre covered — is anywhere near the all-India figure that ranges between .24 and .32. The large number of accidents has made the corporations poorer by Rs 2.24 crore, with that amount being payed as compensation to accident-victims.

The Association of State Road Transport Undertakings rules say the staff:bus ratio should never exceed eight; CSTC, however, employs more than 12 people for running every bus, NBSTC more than 11 and SBSTC over nine. Haryana, on the other hand, has less than six staff members for every bus, Andhra Pradesh a little less than seven and Uttar Pradesh a little more than seven. So, CSTC pays Rs 23.64 crore every year for maintaining its excess staff, NBSTC Rs 10.45 crore and SBSTC Rs 3.11 crore. “No corrective step has been taken to control” the unnecessary spending, the report adds. The operational cost of the three corporations is higher than the all-India figure, the revenue earned lower than the national average. An overwhelming 91 per cent of NBSTC vehicles, 84 per cent of CSTC buses and 78 per cent of the SBSTC fleet are more than four years old. This, when rules require at least 60 per cent of the fleet be “under four”.

The dip in passenger:revenue, Rs 3.21 crore between 1996 and 1999, is quite alarming. “The earnings of even private operators are higher,” the CAG report remarks. The government, too, has done its best to keep the corporations in the red, the CAG report alleges. For example, the corporations are yet to get Rs 5 crore for accommodating passengers on government-provided passes. But “social welfare” can’t be an excuse for poor performance or non-performance, mentions the report.

   

 
 
VINTAGE FIRM WITH A VIEW 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals (BCPL), the “first indigenous business venture in this part of the country”, has decided to make “export” its market mantra in this, its 100th year. The company, set up by Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy in 1892 and “incorporated” in 1901, is also exploring the possibility of a joint venture with “a European chemical major”.

Unveiling the ISO 9002 company’s future plans on Wednesday — the eve of BCPL’s centenary celebrations — Probir Roy, managing director, said: “BCPL is on the right track to reclaim its past glory... We are entering into a joint venture with a European company soon. The company holds the largest share in the international agriculture and animal husbandry disinfectants market. BCPL will help it manufacture and distribute its range of products,” announced Roy. Though he declined to divulge the name of the company, he said the deal would be “clinched within a couple of months”.

The company, which was once linked to the country’s nationalist movement, has already registered its presence in the Myanmarese market and is poised to enter Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Referring to the “financial health” of the company which had been referred to BIFR, Roy said: “Now, we are operating in a net profit situation. From 1993, the company has been growing at an average rate of 20 per cent, much above the national average of 15 per cent for pharmaceutical companies.”

According to Roy, the company had been able to trim its workforce “from 2,200 in 1987 to 900” through reorientation of the labour force and VRS packages. “Following the BIFR recommendation, we will further reduce it to 865,” added the managing director.

Making it clear that BCPL was ready to take on the challenges of an increasingly-competitive market, Roy said: “From now on, the focus of our recruitment will be on bolstering our marketing team. Though quality of our products is our main strength, we have realised that marketing also plays a very important role. We have also decided to broaden our product range from its existing number of 17 and hit the shops with more market-friendly products.”

The BCPL board is also chalking out various plans to utilise its vast real estate, “lying underutilised” in various parts of the country.

   
 

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