Revamp route for VIP Road
Extension bar on varsity teachers above 60
Salt Lake ashram head held in UP
Hope bridges hearts, builds homes
Rare tumour removed
Youth lynched at Thakurpukur
KLO head-hunter held in police swoop
Cancer blame on asbestos pipes
Fee-hike protest threat in hills
March debut for Santhali

Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
Traffic jam at Teghoria; bottleneck at Baguiati; left stranded at Lake Town; utter chaos at Ultadanga. That, on any given weekday, sums up the drive into town from the airport.

Not for long, promises the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government. Recognising infrastructure as the first step to industrialisation and determined “to pave the path to the development highway”, the authorities have finally decided to revamp the road to Calcutta.

VIP Road, at present a street of stoppages, is target number one. The CMDA, PWD, the transport, housing and urban development departments are involved in a mega project to ensure free flow of traffic on the thoroughfare.

“Both habitat and traffic are increasing rapidly in the eastern and north-eastern parts of the city, creating tremendous pressure on VIP Road. If adequate steps are not taken now to distribute the traffic load at different points, the situation will soon become uncontrollable,’’ said G.G. Bhattacharya, managing director, Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation.

The projects lined up to ease traffic on the VIP Road-EM Bypass stretch include four flyovers, two pedestrian overbridges, one mini flyover, and a service road.

Of the four flyovers, two will connect VIP Road with Salt Lake, across the Keshtopur canal. One will start from the main entry point of the new township near the Hudco building and terminate on VIP Road near Lake Town.

Another will start from Baisakhi Abasan (AG Block) and end at VIP Road near Keshtopur. Both flyovers will be constructed by the CMDA. “We shall start construction of these two flyovers as early as possible. Vehicles coming from Salt Lake will be able to avoid the congested Ultadanga crossing to hit VIP Road,’’ said urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya.

Another flyover, being built by the PWD in association with Hidco, will start from Baguiati on VIP Road and end near Rajarhat township.

The fourth one is coming up beside Ambedkar Bridge, on the E.M. Bypass near Science City. This is part of the Bypass-widening project taken up by the CMDA.

A pedestrian overbridge has been planned by the PWD at Sribhumi to cross VIP Road and then enter Salt Lake. Construction of a three-lane service road, along the eastern side of VIP Road from Ultadanga to the Netaji Subhas Bose International Airport, has already been started by the PWD.

Once the service road is ready, all “slow-moving and short-distance vehicles” will be diverted off VIP Road and almost all entry-exit points on the thoroughfare, except those at Lake Town, Keshtopur, Baguiati and Kaikhali, will be closed.

A mini-flyover has also been planned by the PWD at Lake Town over the VIP Road, to allow vehicles coming from Lake Town or adjoining areas access to VIP Road without cutting into the flow of traffic.

Ultadanga has been a crossroad of chaos for some time now, with traffic from the south, north and east converging at the point. According to those working on the VIP road revamp project, once the two flyovers at Ultadanga and Baisakhi are complete, the traffic load on the eight-point crossing will be “reduced drastically”. As an official put it: “Once vehicles from Salt Lake and the EM Bypass start taking the flyover to hit VIP Road, Ultadanga will be able to breathe easy.”

Residents of the airport-Ultadanga stretch aren’t ready to rejoice, yet. “We have been hearing about grand government plans to speed up traffic on VIP Road for quite a long time. We will only believe it once we see it,” said Debi Sen, who has been living in Lake Town for the past 20 years.


Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
After reducing the retirement age of teachers of state-aided schools and colleges, the government has now taken a move to introduce a no-extension policy for teachers of all state-funded universities, including Calcutta, Jadavpur and Rabindra Bharati.

The government plans to stop re-employing university teachers after they have crossed 60. The existing system allows for a five-year extension of service for teachers of state-funded universities in the city and elsewhere after they have retired at age 60.

Despite strong opposition from various teachers’ bodies, the government, in phases, had fixed the age of retirement of school and college teachers at 60 over the last 10 years. Like their counterparts in universities, teachers in state-funded colleges too enjoyed the five-year re-employment scheme after 60. There was no re-employment facility for schoolteachers who retire at 65.

Sources at the state higher education department said the move to introduce the no-extension policy for university teachers follows a recent decision of the government to stop providing re-employment facilities to employees of all organisations and institutions availing of “substantial grants” from it for the payment of their salaries. Recently, the government, too, has released an order in this regard, the sources said.

“Since the universities avail of grants from the government, the order is obviously applicable to them. But we are yet to send any circular to the universities in this regard,” said R.K. Ray, joint secretary, higher education department.

The government, however, has already instructed the universities to seek the opinion of their teachers on this issue. Education department sources pointed out that a large number of teachers, too, have sent their options on retirement age to the government.

The five-year-long re-employment period, at present, is divided into four parts with the first phase stretching up to two years.

During the remaining three years, the contract is renewed at the end of each year. However, teachers of various universities have come down heavily on the government’s move and demanded its withdrawal.

According to the teachers, the state government had recently given them an assurance that it would not change the existing practice of re-employing teachers in universities when the Centre had sent a directive asking it to fix their retirement age at 62.

“We are going to oppose the move. The government cannot take a decision on its own without consulting the teachers’ bodies,” said Tarun Naskar, general secretary, Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association.

The members of the CPM-controlled organisation of the government-aided universities in the state welcomed the move as the government has plans to adequately compensate the teachers if the retirement age is fixed at 60.


Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
Rabindranath Das, wanted by the CID as a suspect in the kidnapping of Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman, was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police on Saturday. Das, 60, who runs an ashram, Adhyatwik Ishwariya Vishwavidyalay in Salt Lake, was picked up from a ramshackle house on the outskirts of Farukkabad.

Inspector-general of police, CID, V.V. Thambi, felt the arrest of Das can throw up significant leads in the case. “We are on the right track,’’ he said. Das had escaped minutes before CID personnel raided his place last week. Investigations revealed that Das has close links with the Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai underworlds. Three of his associates have been detained for interrogation.

According to Uttar Pradesh inspector-general of police Vikram Singh, Das worked as a “fixer” for a Dubai-based gangster, “identifying potential kidnap targets”. Businessmen with “a lot of liquid cash” are said to be prime targets. He helped identify Roy Burman as a “target” and passed on information about his movements to the Dubai group. Police suspect Das even helped the gang identify prospective hideouts in city suburbs.

“We have evidence to suggest he had considerable say in the kidnap blueprint,’’ said a senior UP police DIG in Lucknow. Police are cross-checking information that the kidnap mastermind from Uttar Pradesh has stayed in his Salt Lake ashram with his associates for “a period of time”.

Sleuths suspect Das worked for the Fazlu-ur-Rehman gang. Fazlu, who hails from Bihar, is currently in Dubai. “Fazlu is a notorious don. We don’t have any extradition treaty with Dubai and hence, it is not possible to bring him to the country to face trial,’’ IGP Vikram Singh said.

Das told investigators that the ransom transaction was conducted through hawala operators in West Asia. “He said the entire abduction was monitored on cellphones from other cities. Das claimed the kingpin was keeping in touch from Mumbai but we have to cross-check and verify his information,’’ a senior officer said. “Das has a dubious record and was arrested twice before on charges of rape,” a UP police officer said.

Initial investigations revealed five youngsters from Sarai Mir village, in Azamgarh district, had arrived in Calcutta and several unidentified people from Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh and Hyderabad have been staying in the ashram for the past two months.


Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
It was a warm summer morning in 1996. The venue was an old banyan tree. Goutam, Rantu, Raghu, Lali and some other para boys in Sanjher Atchala, in Shibpur, Howrah, had assembled to attend an “emergency meeting”. They had two major topics to discuss — to save local landowners and residents from being “cheated” by unscrupulous realtors flocking to the area ever since Vidyasagar Setu had come up; and to find a way out of their unemployment problem.

“The only solution is setting up a real-estate business ourselves,” announced Abhijit Ghosh, popularly known as ‘Katy’. “Let’s do it,” chorused the rest. The very next day, Asha Builders, with 28 friends as partners, was born. Today, Asha Builders has constructed 12 buildings and provided accommodation to 140 families, mostly belonging to the middle class. Six buildings are “under construction” and 14 more are in the pipeline.

“At present, we have 34 partners and all of us are friends. We don’t want any of our friends to be employed in the company and so we have all become co-owners. We haven’t heard of any company with so many partners,” smiles Ghosh. “The profit is shared among all the partners, and everyone draws a small salary each month to run their families.”

And it’s all with a mission: To save locals from landsharks. To safeguard the rights of residents, “the first instalment” is taken only after the completion of the ground floor. Recognising the “sincerity and integrity” shown by these “boys from the para”, landowners in the area are increasingly entrusting their plots to Asha Builders.

Friendship has not affected the professionalism of the outfit, the partners insist. “All our projects are time-bound. Since we cater to a middle-class clientele, who invest their lifetime’s savings and dreams in these flats, we are extremely strict about meeting our deadline,” says Ghosh. “If a group fails to meet the deadline, a certain ratio of its share in profit is deducted.”

What happens after the real-estate demand in the area ends? “By our estimates, we’ll run out of work by 2006. So, we are already chalking out plans for a farmhouse and also an “ananda ashram”. All this will enable us to employ and serve people, besides keeping us all occupied,” explains Ghosh.


Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
An extremely rare and malignant tumour, with an incidence of about one in two million people, was successfully operated on recently at Westbank Hospital in Howrah.

The patient, 62-year-old Satyaranjan Saha, was subsequently given radiation therapy at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, where he was told by doctors that he was one of the very few to have come out of this operation and survived.

“They told me that the tumour, called a chordoma, is extremely uncommon and there were only one or two cases where surgeons had removed it cleanly,” Saha said.

A chordoma is an unusual tumour, believed to arise from the notochordal (tissue at back of embryo which is obliterated by the development of the vertebrae) remnants. The tumour, which occurs in the late middle ages, grows slowly into the surrounding tissues and is always malignant.

For two years, Saha visited doctor after doctor, from general physician to orthopaedic consultant. He was diagnosed with various diseases, from arthritis to spondylitis. But no treatment or medicine could help him.

Finally, a CT scan carried out at the Jawaharlal Institute of Post-Graduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) at Pondicherry showed that he had a tumour between the last lumbar vertebra and the tail of the backbone (coccyx). It was identified as a chordoma. The retired official from Braithwaite was, however, told that there were no surgeons in Pondicherry who had any experience in operating on such a tumour. He then decided to see what could be done in Calcutta.

Saha was lucky. A surgeon specialising in rectal cancers had just joined Westbank after seven years in England. Partho Sen had carried out, or was associated with, 10 chordoma surgeries of the lower back during his tenure at Greenwich District Hospital, a referral centre for such operations. Sen took up the case. “What convinced me was that the prognosis was good; the tumour had been detected at an early stage and had not yet spread to the bladder or bowel.” He and orthopaedic surgeon Kunal Sengupta carried out the operation in March.

“It took three hours... Had something happened, the patient would have been disabled for life,” Sen recalled. The tumour was 8 cm by 6 cm, larger than a tennis ball. The 30 sessions of radiation Saha went through in Mumbai also went off successfully. “I was getting ready to face death. But now, doctors say I can live 10 more years,” smiled Saha.


Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
Within 24 hours of eight youths being lynched at Kakdwip, in South 24-Parganas, another youth was battered to death at Thakurpukur on Sunday. A second was admitted to Vidyasagar Hospital in a critical condition. Two revolvers and some cartridges were recovered from them.

On Sunday at noon, three armed youths raided a cycle shop at Ketopole, in Thakurpukur, and demanded money from the father of the shopowner. They brandished revolvers and threatened to kill him if he refused to pay up.

Batakrishna Pal’s cries drew other shopkeepers and members of a local club adjacent to the shop. Before they arrived on the scene, the trio began to run. The crowd chased them for a distance, caught two of them, and beat them up severely. One died on the spot. He remains unidentified. Another, Samir Naskar, is in hospital. Kalyan Moitra, officer-in-charge of Thakurpukur thana, said: These youths had struck terror among traders of the area with their extortion demands.”


Siliguri, Aug. 12: 
The Cooch Behar police arrested a hardcore Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) militant from Maheshcharo under Mathabhanga police station on Saturday.

Acting on a tip-off, the Mathabhanga police last night raided the house of Santosh Burman alias Shyamal Burman in Maheshcharo village and arrested him.

Police said Burman, who received arms training from the Ulfa, returned to his native village in 1999. “We suspect that Burman was acting as a talent scout, looking to infuse new blood from among the Rajbonshi youths,” Cooch Behar superintendent of police Kailash Chandra Meena said.

“We had been on the lookout for Burman, who was part of the second batch of KLO militants who received advanced arms training in the Ulfa hideout in the Bhutan jungles,” Meena added.

Burman had joined the Ulfa’s Nichula command camp in south Bhutan near the Kalikhola area on the Indo-Bhutan border in June 1996. Burman’s technical or code name, Jabber Ali, revealed that he was part of a joint training team, including 64 Ulfa men.

The arrest has exposed the concrete links the extremist KLO and the other north Bengal separatist groups, like the Kamtapur Peoples’ Party and its other frontal organisations like the All Kamtapur Students’ Union and Kamtapur Women Rights Forum, share with the Ulfa. Burman has admitted that he and other KLO activists underwent advanced arms training in the use of 9 mm pistols, AK-56 and universal machine gun at the Ulfa’s central headquarters in Sandupjungkar in southeastern Bhutan.

Meena said the arrested activist has revealed that his batch was trained by Himanshu Choliya, the Ulfa commander, and KLO commanders, Mihir Das and Pabitra Singha.

“Burman has said that the elusive KLO chairman and commander-in-chief, Jeevan Singh alias Tamir Das, had supervised the training session between July and August in 1997. The batch was later sent to the Ulfa’s Dewthang camp for further “unarmed” combat training for another two months. The trainees then spent three years at the Ulfa headquarters learning the ropes of guerrilla warfare. The KLO trainees also took part in joint Ulfa-KLO operations in Assam and north Bengal over the past two years,” the district police chief added.

Burman has told interrogators that the KLO has managed to stockpile a huge cache of sophisticated arms, including assault rifles and 9 mm pistols.


Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
Thousands of people in the state die of cancer and water-borne diseases every year. Experts feel carcinogenic asbestos cement pipes used to supply drinking water are often the carriers of the poison.

Investigations by the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health and the National Test House indicate that “norms relating to manufacturing and storing of asbestos cement pipes are flouted”. The study showed that leaching of asbestos fibre “from sub-standard pipes” used to supply drinking water could caused fatal diseases.

Prompted by reports of a jaundice outbreak in Hooghly last week, the institute analysed samples of drinking water taken from the pipes of Uttarpara. “We found the water to be highly contaminated. Cracks in the asbestos pipes allowed sewage water to seep in. We have asked the municipal authorities to immediately notify residents about the potential hazards and take necessary precautions,” institute director K.J. Nath said.

Last week, about 50 people were diagnosed with enteric in Asansol. Again, cracks in asbestos pipes allowed contamination of drinking water.

The Supreme Court and the Bureau of Indian Standards have accepted that dust from asbestos cement pipes during manufacturing and storing can cause cancer.

However, officials of the public health engineering department seem unruffled. “The pipes are safe. One must understand that asbestos cement pipes are cost-effective,” the chief engineer said.


Siliguri, Aug. 12: 
The Gorkha students’ body has threatened to launch an agitation against the implementation of the enhanced college fees if their demand for a special exemption for hill students is not met.

A delegation of the All-Gorkha Students’ Union (AGSU) made the demand in a memorandum to higher secondary education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty. “The state government’s decision to increase tuition fees for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Darjeeling Government College is uncalled for,” it said.

“Increasing the tuition fees is not a serious problem, but the rate of increase is disturbing and not at all in the interest of students of the hill region, who are not only educationally backward but are economically backward too,” said AGSU president Roshan Giri.

“The exorbitant increment without taking into consideration the plight of the students owing to the economic crisis they are passing through is an out and out anti-student and dangerous conspiracy,” Giri added.

The delegation, which also met urban development and municipal affairs minister and local CPM legislator Ashoke Bhattacharya in Siliguri on Saturday, said: “If the state government fails to consider the hill students’ demands sympathetically, we will resort to a consorted agitation till our demands are met. Lest the uncalled for situation of chaos and confusion takes place, we demand special exemption for hill students in view of the educational and economic backwardness of the hills.”


Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
The government has decided to introduce Santhali language in the Madhyamik syllabus from the next academic session beginning March.

Academic circles view the move as an attempt to placate the 30 lakh Santhalis in the state before the panchayat elections in 2003. They said the Left Front suffered heavily in areas dominated by Santhali people in the last Assembly elections.

School education minister Kanti Biswas today said the government has agreed to include Santhali in the Madhyamik syllabus to fulfil a long-standing demand of the backward tribe. “We have asked the Board to take initiatives so that the language can be introduced from the next academic session”, he said.

Asked if this was an attempt to snare Santhali votes, he replied in the negative. “You may interpret it anyway but, for us, this is the need of the hour as the Santhali population is on the rise,” he said.

The board has set up an expert committee to work out the modalities for the inclusion of the language at the secondary level. Dhirendranath Baskey, one of the members, said they had planned to introduce the language with the original Santhali alphabet. But a survey suggested that most Santhalis do not study the language; they study Bengali as first language.

“We have, therefore, drafted the syllabus for the language in Bengali letters. Printing of books for the language will also be in Bengali alphabets. Interested Santhali students can take up the language as their optional paper as second language,” Baskey added.

The 30-lakh Santhali population live in nine districts — Purulia, Bankura, Midnapore, Hooghly, Burdwan, Birbhum, Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur. Moreover, their numbers are on the rise in Jalpaiguri district. A few Santhalis also live in some pockets in Darjeeling district.

Interestingly, four schools in Bankura have already appointed teachers for the language. They were appointed last year and the language is going to be introduced in classes from March next year.


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