Monks defy diktat on teachers
A generation lost to lead from fuel fumes
City contact of kidnap gang evades CID swoop
Weight watch drive nets 100 trader cheats
Cameras play monitor in classrooms
Auto drivers in road rage rerun
Malaria Day on August 20
Webel venture funds flow
Violence mars KSU bandh
UCM firm on release of all 41 protesters

Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
The government move to teach the Ramakrishna Mission schools a lesson or two about recruiting teachers has set the stage for another showdown.

Three years ago, the government had stopped providing financial assistance to two Mission-run primary schools in Calcutta after the monks had refused to discontinue the teaching of English or allow the government the right to appoint heads of such schools.

This time, the education department has directed the Mission authorities to “fill vacant teaching posts with candidates recommended by the school service commission”. The monks have opposed the fiat, labelling it a government move to pack their schools with “Left Front faithfuls”.

In a demonstration of defiance, the Mission authorities have conveyed to the government their decision to fill vacant teaching posts in their Baranagar school with candidates from the employment exchange.

“We have just been made aware of the government’s decision, which is not in tune with the system we have been following for years. We have asked our superiors at Belur Math to take it up with the government. This decision calls for wider discussions among the heads of institutions,” said Swami Sanatanananda Maharaj, secretary of Baranagar Ramakrishna Mission, on Tuesday.

“It is not possible for us to allow the Ramakrishna Mission schools to recruit teachers through the employment exchange. Like all other schools, they will have to go to the commission. They cannot claim to be the sole beneficiary of a special system,” retorted school education minister Kanti Biswas.

The education department “underwrites” the cost of salaries of teachers of all Mission schools, along with those of their counterparts in other institutions. Also, the Act governing the school service commission precludes any institution availing of government funds for meeting the teachers’ wage bill from following an “exclusive system” of recruitment.

“The Act was formulated by our law-makers. There is no such provision in the Act by which we can allow the Mission schools to enjoy this benefit,” added Biswas. “Only schools in the defined category of minority institutions can follow an exclusive teachers’ recruitment system. But the Mission schools have ceased to be in that category following a Supreme Court directive.”

The monks are “completely against” the government move, as they believe teachers recruited through the school service commission, who are “often just graduates”, will make it difficult for them to “maintain high academic standards” in the long run.

The state school service commission was set up in 1999 to recruit teachers for state-funded schools. The Mission-run institutions have, however, continued to recruit teachers through employment exchanges.

Education department officials have confirmed that the option of stopping assistance, in terms of teachers’ salaries at Mission schools, is being looked at. “We have written to the RKM authorities regarding this,” an official said.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
Calcutta’s children, especially those studying in schools located on busy streets, are suffering from “very high lead content in their blood”. The contamination is being squarely blamed on the leaded petrol used by automobiles.

A study, concluded in March 2001, has chronicled a toxic profile of the blood collected from 310 city children. The findings of the survey, sponsored by the state environment department and conducted by the Regional Occupational Health Centre, are alarming.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) safe range of blood spans from 0.5µg/dL (micrograms per decilitre) to 1.0 µg/dL. In Calcutta, a significant percentage of the sampled children had blood-lead levels up to 15 µg/dL and more.

Research indicates that blood-lead levels of 10 µg/dL in children result in “lowered intelligence, reading and learning disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention span and hyperactivity”. It can also cause anaemia and affect the nervous, endocrine, renal and reproductive systems, besides causing cause respiratory problems, especially in winter.

The aim of the survey was to target children studying in schools located near “busy traffic intersections” in the city.

The authorities of eight city schools — three each in central and north Calcutta and two in south Calcutta — and three in Howrah agreed to let the researchers collect blood samples.

In Calcutta, 310 blood samples taken from children aged between 10 to 12 years.

In the three rural schools of Howrah, 161 samples were collected and the blood lead level average was pegged at 6.6 µg/dL.

The blood samples were sent to the National Institute of Occupational Health in Ahmedabad, which is the WHO reference laboratory for lead monitoring. The alarming results were made available recently.

Even though the switchover to unleaded fuel was officially made in January 2000, the damage has already been done.

Experts feel that more than 90 per cent of the lead-contamination of blood came from petrol before the makeover. The state environment department plans to run a similar survey a few years later to gauge the impact of the makeover to lead-free petrol.

In the United States, the switch to lead-free petrol was completed by 1995. Consequently, average blood-lead levels in children dropped from 16.5 µg/dL between 1976 and 1980 to 3.6 µg/dL between 1992 and 1994. The United States, as a whole, saw a decline of 78 per cent.

Blood lead continued to remain in America’s children as contamination comes from deteriorated lead paint and through drinking water contaminated by pipes and fixtures containing lead. In India, however, lime-based, rather than lead-based, paint is more commonly used.

Also, drinking water pipes are made mostly of iron and polymers nowadays. So, leaded petrol is where the problem lies.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
In a late-night swoop on Monday, a CID team led by senior officers stormed the premises of a voluntary organisation in Salt Lake and picked up four men in connection with the abduction of footwear baron Parthapratim Roy Burman.

Based on “classified information” that the city contact of the Dubai-based gang, suspected to be behind the abduction, was holed up inside Adhyatwik Ishwariya Vishwavidyalay’s home in Salt Lake, senior CID officials threw a tight security cordon around the premises from 11 pm.

All entry points were closed, as senior officers searched the premises till 2 am. “The person we were looking for had already fled. Someone may have tipped him off,” said a senior CID official.

Four men belonging to the organisation were taken to the CID headquarters for questioning. One of them came from Farukabad, in Uttar Pradesh, a month ago. CID officials verified from UP police that the man has a dubious record.

CID officers seized several “incriminating documents” from the premises, before sealing the room of the owner, Rabindranath Das, a marine engineer, employed with the Navy. Das had left for Farukabad a few days ago.

“Das has been arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police twice,” a CID officer said. Several unknown persons from Mumbai and Hyderabad have stayed at the organisation during the past two months.

The CID has alerted its counterparts in other states to keep a tab on the organisation.

In 1998, the UP police charged Das in four rape cases. The organisation has units in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and several places in Andhra Pradesh. “Das founded our organisation in 1987 after he left his job in the Navy,” said a member.

CID officials were interrogating the four till late in the evening.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
A consumer affairs department drive to net traders cheating consumers has revealed that Calcuttans are the most short-changed lot in West Bengal. More than two-fifths of the traders caught during the drive in July were from Calcutta alone; of the 244 traders in the consumer-affairs trap in West Bengal, around 100 were from the city, state consumer affairs department minister Narendranath De said on Tuesday.

Gariahat market yielded nine traders who used various dubious means to cheat consumers.

A market at Sakher Bazar, in Behala, yielded the maximum number of 24 unscrupulous traders. Next on the dishonesty count was College Street market — it yielded 16 traders who duped consumers.

Some other markets in Calcutta where the drive netted traders who cheated clients were Kalighat (10 traders caught), Hatibagan and Bidhan Market on the Maidan (eight each), Posta (seven), Poddar Court and Lake Market (six each), Rashmoni Bazar (four traders netted) and other markets in Behala and near Bondel Gate.

Outside city limits, cheats among traders were found at markets in Chinsurah, where state consumer affairs minister Narendranath De is the traders’ association president. Traders fobbing off consumers were found at various markets in Hooghly, North and South 24-Parganas, Malda and Howrah. The July drive was the most successful — 244 unscrupulous traders were caught, against 49 and 80 during similar drives in May and June, respectively.

Faulty scales were the commonest means of cheating customers. Besides vegetable-sellers and grocers, cloth merchants, petrol stations, jewellers, gas-dealers and public-sector gas-bottling plants, too, were exposed.

The consumers’ loss was the department’s gain; the drive netted more than Rs 4 crore as fines in the last financial year, besides seizures. This has inspired the department into pegging its target for this financial year at Rs 8 crore.

The consumer affairs department plans to ensure that the average consumer is not conned. Each district will have an information centre to put consumers wise; besides, every district will have a consumer protection cell headed by the district magistrate.

More consumer courts will be opened in north Bengal, along with the formation of a circuit bench at Alipurduar, and three regional centres — with laboratories to test samples — are also expected to come up in the next few months.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
He knows when you are sleeping

He knows when you’re awake

He knows when you’ve been bad or good

So be good, for goodness sake!

Not Santa Claus, this time. City schools are adopting the Big Brother approach to “improve academic services and security”.

Salt Lake’s St Francis Xavier’s School and North Point Senior Secondary Boarding School in Teghoria have installed sophisticated surveillance camera networks on campus. St Francis Xavier’s, a co-educational school, has opted to instal a close-circuit television system to “improve the school’s results”. Twenty-three cameras, with an audio set-up for public address, have been installed by Vijay Eleks Corporation on an “experimental basis” in classrooms, corridors, playground and even the staff room. “We want to keep a closer watch on students. This way, we can see which children are inattentive or if classes are being disrupted.” It provides the added function of “ensuring syllabi are completed and taught in the correct fashion,” says principal Sheela Chopra. “Last year’s ICSE results were very disappointing, with a failure rate of around 24 per cent. This surveillance system should help us improve,” school administrator G. C. Bahuguna adds.

The camera in the staff room is being removed, following “objections” from some faculty members. But the kids seem least bothered about being watched. “If this improves results, we are happy,” smiles Class X student Abhilasha. “It has reduced the amount of cheating during tests, too,” chips in Vinay. While students have become “more cautious” in the classroom, they “ignore” the bubble-lens when on the playground.

North Point has fitted eight cameras in the main school building and three in the hostel. The network is monitored from the office of founder-secretary Meena Sethi Mondal. “It helps to control the school, with 1,200 students from Lower Nursery to Class XII, in a more disciplined manner,” she feels. “The reaction has been very positive... When we have such technology at our disposal, why not use it?”


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
For the second consecutive day, militant autorickshaw drivers held the city to ransom, blocking the busy Mahatma Gandhi Road and Central Avenue during peak hour. Thousands of home-bound commuters were stranded as the three-wheeler operators demanded that the police ignore their traffic violations and allow them to park their vehicles in the middle of the road. On Monday, autos had blocked Chetla Central Road, in south Calcutta, after a senior police officer pulled up one of them for violating traffic rules.

According to officers at Lalbazar traffic control room, the north-south and east-west corridor was blocked for more than an hour and a half from 4.45 pm. The auto drivers pushed and heckled policemen and refused to clear the road. With the situation spinning out of control, police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty directed the acting DC, central, Jayanta Basu to reach the spot with a big contingent and clear the road.

The trouble started when an auto suddenly swerved from Mahatma Gandhi Road towards Central Avenue, jumping the police signal. The three-wheeler grazed a pedestrian, who identified himself as Susanta Mondol of Baguiati, waiting to cross the road.

Witnesses said Mondol hailed policemen standing nearby. The cops demanded the driver’s licence. The driver refused to oblige and began to shout, alleging police harassment. His colleagues joined him and parked their vehicles in the middle of the road bringing traffic to a standstill.    

Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation will observe the first Malaria Day in the city on August 20. A six-day intensive campaign, starting on August 15, has been drawn up. Lions Club of North Calcutta and other NGOs have stepped in to participate in the programme. Ten mobile clinics will be deployed and Lions Club will shoulder the expenses for fuel, doctors and lab technicians, said member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan.

On August 20, 1897, Sir Ronald Ross had achieved a breakthrough in detecting the malarial parasite during his experiment on Hussain Khan at Ranigunge, in Hyderabad. Ross confirmed his discovery in the Presidency General (PG) Hospital laboratory, in Calcutta, in 1898. He was awarded the Nobel prize in medicine in 1902 — the first from Calcutta — and knighthood in 1911.

The thrust of the anti-malaria drive will be on destruction of breeding grounds of mosquitoes, identifying carriers and their treatment, Khan added.

Health workers will recheck blood samples of those who had been treated at civic clinics between February and May to detect the presence of gametocytes, the primary stage of malarial parasites, explained chief municipal health officer Sujit Ghosh.

The Corporation is also distributing booklets to private practitioners, explaining the use of a uniform drug regime.


Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
The Rs 10-crore venture capital fund created by Webel to encourage entrepreneurial endeavour in Bengal has started to flow. The board of the asset management company of the venture capital fund in Webel decided, on Tuesday, to disburse the first round of funding to two local firms.

The beneficiaries: Risk Management Solutions and Netwing Communication. Risk Management Solutions, promoted by Dr G. Sanyal and Abhijit Biswas, will be given Rs 10 lakh initially to help build a product for corporate equity risk assessment. Netwing Communication, promoted by Joydeep Chakraborty and Debasish Mullick, will get Rs 15 lakh to provide better networking solutions.

Webel, which invited applications from potential entrepreneurs in January, received around 75 entries. Risk Management Solutions was already being incubated by Professors Rahul Roy and Arkodeb Chatterjee of IIM and Indranil Biswas, executive director, finance, Webel, for the past six months. Netwing Solutions sought funds to set up fibre optic-based local and wide area networks and build tools for better network performance.

“We have studied their systems extensively and feel the products will have a global market,” S.K. Mitra, managing director of Webel, said on Tuesday. “We basically looked at the existing value proposition of the idea, the potential market for the product, the novelty of the idea and the entrepreneurial instincts of the applicants.”

Webel will “regularly review” the progress of the two projects and the question of “second-round funding” will arise only after “product prototypes are ready” and deemed “satisfactory”. According to Mitra, Webel will provide “all assistance” to such projects “which may create an Infosys or a Wipro in Bengal”.

The beneficiaries have been asked to form companies in which Webel will have equity participation. “The details are being worked out at the moment... We will keep the exit option open, but the association will not be for less than three years,” said Indranil Biswas.


Shillong, Aug. 7: 
The Meghalaya capital erupted in flames as the 48-hour Khasi Students’ Union bandh began this evening.

Students went on the rampage and torched a government vehicle in front of the state forest and environment department office at Lachumiere. The vehicle belonged to the wildlife wing.

The annual meeting of Northeastern Council slated for Friday has been postponed indefinitely in view of the bandh. NEC sources said they have received a communiqué from the state government advising the council to put off the meeting.

The northeastern chief ministers’ meeting on insurgency convened by Mawlong on Saturday has also been postponed.

Eight government vehicles were torched since last night. While mining and geology minister D.P. Iangjuh’s official vehicle was set ablaze near Mission Compound at Mawkhar, a jeep belonging to the directorate of economics was torched near Mawlai.

Office-goers hurried past the blazing forest department jeep on their way home while others watched it go up in flames from a distance.

Range officer E.L. Langstieh said he had parked the vehicle on the road. “I don’t know who did it. Someone informed me that my vehicle was burning and I rushed out,” he said.

The bustling city became deserted by 5 pm. Tourists and visitors checked out of hotels to escape the two-day bandh.

The students’ union had earlier announced a 24-hour bandh but extended it to 48 hours later in retaliation to the promulgation of the Meghalaya Preventive Detention Act under which several KSU members were arrested.

Security has been tightened in the city following threats by the KSU to launch a “Manipur style” agitation in the state. Unidentified men pelted stones at chief minister E.K. Mawlong’s residence last night. However, police denied the incident.

The chief minister today reviewed the law and order situation along with home minister T.H. Rangad and senior police officials.

Altogether 15 people were arrested for last night’s arson. Superintendent of police G.H.P. Raju said three of the arrested persons were identified as HNLC members.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Rangad said the situation was fluid in view of the twin threats from the students and insurgents. “The call by the militant outfits to boycott Independence Day celebrations has made things more volatile,” he said. The protesters have targeted only government property so far.

“We are not overlooking anything. We are trying to keep things under control,’’ Rangad said when asked if the government feared more trouble.

He dismissed allegations by the KSU that the government has failed to address its demands and said the agitation was “unjustified”.

“I was the chairman of the Cabinet sub-committee formed to look into the KSU demands and we submitted the report on the inner-line permit, infiltration and other issues raised by the union. They know that we have done our best,’’ Rangad said.

The state government, however, will not initiate any disciplinary action against the “absentees” on the bandh days.


Imphal, Aug. 7: 
The United Committee, Manipur today announced a fresh stir to demand the “unconditional” release of all 41 protesters arrested during the anti-ceasefire agitation. The UCM has asked the state administration to drop all charges against the detained protesters.

The UCM said it will force “closure” of all government offices from tomorrow till August 14. It will also prevent plying of government vehicles. Water supply, electricity, postal and telecom services, banks, hospitals and the media have been “exempted” from the purview of the agitation.

The organisation has appealed to all voluntary organisations to stage sit-in protests for four days between August 9 and 12. The demonstrations would also act as mass awareness programmes on the NSCN(I-M) ceasefire issue and Manipur’s territorial integrity, the UCM added.

Addressing a news conference here today, UCM convenors Sapamcha Jadumani, Kh. Ratan and Udoy Thongam said the agitation would be intensified if the administration did not release those arrested by August 13. They said people would also resort to courting mass arrests from August 14.

The arrested protesters include 12 leaders of the All-Manipur Students’ Union (Amsu). Amsu president S. Shyamchand and secretary general C.L. Khongshai are now lodged at the Sajiwa jail here.

The state administration has, however, rejected the demand saying that the UCM should apply for bail for the release.

“Why does not the administration arrest all the people of Manipur as it was a public uprising?” Kh. Ratan asked, adding why should the government target a few people when the entire population took part in the agitation.

Holding the Centre responsible for the violence, Jadumani asked, “When the Centre rectified its mistake by withdrawing the NSCN(I-M) ceasefire from Manipur’s areas, why should the state administration target the protesters?” He added that the issue was raised by the UCM when it met the Prime Minister and the home minister in New Delhi last month. The home ministry is yet to issue a notification regarding deletion of the words “without territorial limits” from the controversial NSCN(I-M) ceasefire agreement, he said.

The UCM has already written to the ministry demanding an official notification in this regard.


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