Row over road repair rap
Partners list maladies for Big Brother to remedy
Power payback parleys flop
Lightning kills schoolboy
GenX just won’t mouth mother tongue
Govt washes hands of schools for tiny tots
3 found murdered
Bus operators in bridge route spat
Muzzle muddies kidnap puzzle
Low on health, high on work and tech

 
 
ROW OVER ROAD REPAIR RAP 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH AND DEBASISH CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Wednesday delivered a repair rap to roads overseer Anup Chatterjee, asking him to spruce up the streets by the Pujas.

Mukherjee, target of much public ire over the abysmal condition of roads, turned the heat on his member, mayor-in-council (roads), a Mamata Banerjee loyalist. This set off a chain reaction.

Chatterjee, who asked the mayor for Rs 5 crore to get the roads back in shape before the Pujas, was ticked off: “What have you been doing all this while? It’s unbelievable that there has been no work in the past six months.”

Chatterjee, who later met municipal commissioner Debashis Som, will take up the matter with Mamata Banerjee on Thursday and ask her to rein in the mayor.

The roads overseer will meet the mayor again on Thursday. “She (Mamata) is concerned,” Chatterjee told Metro. “So am I. But it seems not everyone in the CMC is as interested in getting the funds for road repairs.”

The mayor, too, feels Mamata is “justifiably” concerned and admits that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation roads department has not done any comprehensive maintenance work for quite some time.

Caught between the war of words lie the city’s potholed roads. Engineers fear the condition will deteriorate, with the Corporation running out of funds and raw materials to carry out repairs. Over half of the city’s total road-length of 1500 km is now in desperate need of repairs.

Though stretches which require immediate attention are spread all over the city — from the west (Strand Road) to the east (Beleghata Main Road and Narkeldanga Main Road); from the southeast (James Long Sarani) to the northeast (Belgachhia Road); from the extreme north (B.T. Road) to the extreme south (Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick Road) — there is a territorial tussle, even within the Trinamul. Most feel that the roads in the south are getting more attention, as Trinamul bigwigs, including both Banerjee and Mukherjee, represent constituencies located there.

Chatterjee admits that the roads are in “pretty bad” shape and accepts that there’s a certain imbalance in the bad-road distribution between the north and the south. He blames the tram tracks in most of north Calcutta, citing examples of College Street, Grey Street, Mahatma Gandhi Road and Rabindra Sarani. “I am trying my best to address the problem,” he said. “But no one understands that I need a lot of money — at least Rs 5 crore — to do a proper job,” he added.

But Chatterjee fears that it might already be too late to set things right before the pujas. Contractors have refused to accept fresh orders as the CMC owes them Rs 180 crore and the CMC’s own buffer stock of stone-chips and bitumen has fallen to a record low, say officials.

   

 
 
PARTNERS LIST MALADIES FOR BIG BROTHER TO REMEDY 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
There is trouble in the Left Front. And the cause is Calcutta.

The non-CPM Left Front partners have launched a movement to make the city a better place to live in. The first step in this direction was taken by the CPI Calcutta District Committee on Wednesday, with members meeting chief secretary Manish Gupta with a list of demands for “better transport, medical, power and urban management” in the city.

The CPI secretariat is “dissatisfied” with the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government for “delivering precious little” even after 110 days in power. “The basic problems are becoming acute, with no solutions in sight… The alarm has to be sounded by someone,” said Chanchal Ghosh, member of the CPI state secretariat.

In the letter to the chief secretary, the CPI has demanded that he “instruct the departments concerned to work towards setting things right”. Some of the issues raised by the CPI are:

Cleaner hospitals and a better environment for patients

Better quality of healthcare and non-refusal of admission for critical cases

Regularisation of state bus services and increase in fleet strength

Increase in number of trams on existing routes

Upkeep and protection of tram tracks and equipment

Proper rehabilitation of shanty-dwellers along the city canals

No eviction of hawkers without alternative arrangement

Stepping up of policing to curb criminal activity

Resolution of the power imbroglio to restore normal supply

The CPI, along with the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and the Forward Bloc, are chalking out plans to “continuously draw the attention” of Writers’ Buildings to “the existing maladies” in day-to-day city life. “This is just the beginning. We will meet the chief minister very soon with our charter of demands,” said Chanchal Ghosh, member of the CPI state secretariat.

That the lesser Front partners need to address these issues came up at a recent meeting of the CPI’s Calcutta District Committee. While propounding its responsibility as a Front partner, the party resolved to “highlight the people’s plight” before the government.

According to Ghosh, the issues will be repeatedly raised at the meetings of the Left Front, as well as in inter-party discussions. “We will also urge the CPM to create pressure on the government and its machinery so that things do not go out of hand,” Ghosh stated.

Former PWD minister, RSP’s Kshiti Goswami, welcomed the proposal and supported the ‘popular movement’, but added that the CPI had not approached his party yet for support. “Being members of the Left Front does not mean we can afford to ignore the plight of the people,” Goswami pointed out. “But our aim should be to energise the government machinery and not just discredit it.”

   

 
 
POWER PAYBACK PARLEYS FLOP 
 
 
BY SUTANUKA GHOSAL
 
Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
CESC’s demand at dusk from WBSEB: 300 mw. WBSEB supply: 125 mw, and dropping. The result: dark and dismal evenings.

With the West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) slashing evening supply to CESC by 175 mw, power cuts ranging between two and three hours plagued parts of the city from Wednesday evening. “Of the peak evening demand of 1226 mw, there was a shortfall of 205 mw. So, the city experienced rotational power cuts from 6.30 pm,” a CESC spokesperson said.

From August 28, WBSEB has been restricting supply to 210 mw as CESC has failed to clear its dues. On Tuesday, with CESC continuing to plead inability to pay, the Board slashed supply to 150 mw. “From Wednesday, we have decided to supply only 125 mw to CESC,” confirmed Rajeev Dube, secretary, WBSEB. “We know that Calcuttans are facing problems, but unless CESC comes up with a feasible proposal to clear our dues, we are unable to supply power as per their requirement,” he added.

The sharp slash in power supply was sparked by the failure of talks between WBSEB and CESC on Wednesday. CESC managing director Sumantra Banerjee and Bhaskar Roychowdhury, director (finance), met the WBSEB secretary and C.M. Bachhawat, member (finance and accounts), with a pay-back proposal.

“The proposal is not acceptable to us as it does not give a proper outline of how the dues will be cleared,” said Dube. “We have asked them to submit a fresh proposal on Thursday morning. We will examine the proposal first and then call a meeting with CESC officials. There is no point in calling meetings without a feasible proposal from CESC.”

A CESC spokesperson, while admitting that the matter remained “inconclusive”, added that “Sumantra Banerjee will meet WBSEB officials on Thursday and resolve the matter”.

Senior WBSEB officials reiterated their need to recover the dues — amounting to Rs 49 crore against current bills and Rs 36 crore against outstanding bills — “immediately” from CESC. “The West Bengal Power Development Corporation (WBPDCL) is putting pressure on us to clear its dues. They are unable to pay Coal India because of this bottleneck. Coal India has given an ultimatum to all its consumers. Unless the Board clears its dues, the Corporation will not be able to pay back Coal India. This may even result in shutdown of thermal power plants in West Bengal,” a WBSEB official warned.

   

 
 
LIGHTNING KILLS SCHOOLBOY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
A Class V student of St Mary’s, Dum Dum, died in school after he was struck by lightning on Wednesday afternoon. Bhaskar Dey was playing in the rain when the accident occurred around 1.20 pm.

Bhaskar, who lived in neighbouring Sethbagan, in Bediapara, arrived for classes around 11 am, to find that school had broken at 10.50 am because of Teachers’ Day celebrations. “He decided to stay back, till his aunt came to collect him in the afternoon,” police said. Leaving his satchel behind in class, Bhaskar ran towards the school grounds to play football in the rain with the hostel boys.

Around 1.20 pm, he fell in a heap after he was struck by lightning. “For a few seconds, we did not realise what had happened,” one of Bhaskar’s playmates told Dum Dum police officials. He was rushed to a hospital in Shyamnagar, where doctors declared him “brought dead.” The body was handed over to his aunt, who had been his guardian since his parents separated a few years ago.

   

 
 
GENX JUST WON’T MOUTH MOTHER TONGUE 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
The 73-year-old Bhawanipur Gujarati Education Society School has hit a language barrier. The school on Heysham Road, set up by city-based Gujaratis “to ensure better education of their children and preserve the community’s rich cultural heritage in an alien land”, is now clearing the decks to scrap Gujarati from its syllabus.

Justifying the proposal, which will be placed shortly before the executive council and the board of trustees for approval, Heena Gorsia, secretary of the Society, said: “In view of the declining demand for Gujarati as a second language from the student community, we think it’s wise to discontinue it.”

Records from the school register support the observation of declining interest in Gujarati as a subject. “Ninety per cent students would opt for Gujarati as their second language even two to three years back, but the number is dwindling very fast and has come down to around 50 per cent now,” says Gorsia.

Reacting to this trend, Anjana Shah, wife of Governor Viren J. Shah said: “It’s a matter of regret that after the British have left India, more people now want their children to learn English. This, in itself, is not bad, but they must not ignore learning their mother tongue. They don’t even speak their mother tongue at home these days. For me, the pleasant surprise is that in Calcutta, as I have also observed in the UK and USA, Bengalis always speak their language and do not ignore it. I, therefore, feel sorry that the Gujaratis in Calcutta are reluctant to learn their mother tongue. I hope this trend will reverse.”

A “lack of interest” is not the only factor going against Gujarati. Gorsia points out “unavailability of quality teachers” as a serious problem. “We have just two teachers – one of them rendering voluntary service — for 400 students and it’s very difficult to continue this way,” she admits.

Gorsia’s argument is supported by Jitendrabhai Majithia, secretary of the 109-year-old Calcutta Anglo Gujarati (CAG) School. “We don’t get good young teachers to fill up the vacancies created after retirement of our senior teachers.”

Gujarati remains the first language in this West Bengal Board school on Pollock Street, where till 1985-86, all subjects were taught in Gujarati. Now, English is the medium of instruction.

“Gujarati is our mother tongue and we will try our best to inculcate knowledge of this language in the next generation. The rest is up to them,” observes Majithia.

Not every Gujarati teenager is ready to junk the language, just yet. As Ruchita Doshi, a Class X student of Bhawanipur, put it: “Ours is a rich language with high literary value. Some of my friends may not be interested in the subject, but I strongly feel the need to continue with Gujarati as a subject in our school.”

It will take many more like Ruchita Doshi to save the language from being consigned to pages of the past. “The move to drop Gujarati appears to be a practical one. But if there is evidence of a serious demand for the language from students, the decision will most definitely be reviewed,” assures Gorsia.

   

 
 
GOVT WASHES HANDS OF SCHOOLS FOR TINY TOTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
The government cannot accept “any responsibility” in the field of pre-primary education. This was made clear in a statement issued in response to a petition filed in Calcutta High Court seeking “greater regulation of Montessori and pre-primary education”.

Adhikar, a Salt Lake-based NGO, had filed a suit in June against the department of education, West Bengal government; the chairman, Bidhannagar Municipality; the ministry of education and social welfare, Delhi, and several kindergarten/Montessori schools of the city. The NGO had called for these agencies to formulate guidelines to prevent the “victimisation of children by greedy institutions posing to be kindergarten/ Montessori schools”.

N.L. Basak, “principal secretary of the state school education department”, writes in his response: “Within the present financial parameter of the state government, it is well nigh impossible for it to shoulder any further financial burden for taking any responsibility for pre-primary education.”

Basak adds that “the state government fully agrees to the statement that utmost care should be taken in setting, running and conducting educational institutions, particularly pre-primary institutions”.

The reply has left Amitava Das Gupta of Adhikar astonished. “It is ridiculous that while the government has no laws, it agrees that care should be taken, but still refuses responsibility to monitor pre-primary education,” he said.

In the petition, Das Gupta had alleged that the government has turned a blind eye to such schools “without basic amenities or infrastructure”. Das Gupta condemns the government stand as “cruelty towards children in the most essential phase of development”.

Adds the activist: “Just because of a budgetary constraint, such a major issue cannot be ignored.” But the education department document mentions clearly that “the state government is not till date involved in any academic pursuit in… either nursery, kindergarten or the like”, and has “no legal instrument at present to guide, control or direct any institution imparting pre-primary education”.

Sister Cyril, principal of Loreto Day School, Sealdah, however, feels that though the “quality of some such schools is questionable”, it is “more important for parents to be aware of the environment they are introducing their children into” before making a choice of pre-school.

   

 
 
3 FOUND MURDERED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
Three young men were found brutally murdered at Baguiati and in Habra, North 24-Parganas, on Wednesday. No arrests could be made, however, till late on Wednesday.

At Baguiati, the bodies of two youth were found near Chandiberia power house, with multiple injuries. Police said they may have been murdered elsewhere and their bodies dumped on the spot.

Immediately on being informed, a large contingent of policemen, led by Ujjal Mukherjee, officer-in-charge of Baguiati police station, reached the spot. One of the youth was wearing trousers and a full-sleeved shirt. The other was in shorts and a half-sleeved shirt. Later, one of them was identified as Dinabandhu Mondal, alias Habu, a country liquor vendor. The other was identified as Prasanta Sardar.

The discovery of the bodies sparked tension in the area. A police picket has been posted in Baguiati and raids are continuing to net the culprits, a senior officer said.

In the other incident, the body of a 30-year-old man was found near Kumromath, in Habra. His throat had been slit with a sharp weapon and his body bore several marks of injuries. The youth could not be identified till late at night. An officer of Habra police station said that the youth may have been murdered elsewhere.

   

 
 
BUS OPERATORS IN BRIDGE ROUTE SPAT 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
The cash-strapped Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC) has locked horns with Calcutta State Transport Corporation (CSTC) over the plying of buses on Vidyasagar Setu.

The CTC has protested the CSTC’s move to introduce its buses on Vidyasagar Setu, which is used solely by the former’s buses. The transport department has convened a meeting to resolve the impasse.

A fortnight ago, the transport department for the first time green-signalled the CSTC on running its long-distance buses on two routes along Vidyasagar Setu.

The CSTC had been permitted to ply its buses from Esplanade to Jagatballavpur and from Esplanade to Jagadishpur, via the Setu, said transport department officials on Tuesday.

Protesting the move, CTC officials said it would affect their services. Nearly 52 out of 250 CTC buses ply along the bridge daily. The CTC introduced its buses between Esplanade and Udaynarayanpur, which will also cater to passengers from Jagatballavpur, only last month, sources said.

“The introduction of CSTC buses on Vidyasagar Setu will tell upon our sale of tickets. We are desperate to make up for the loss incurred by running trams. Our bus services, introduced in 1992, yield better results than the trams,” said CTC chairman-cum-managing director Sudhir De.

Unfazed by the CTC’s concern, CSTC’s managing director G.P. Konar said: “We have got the government’s order and are working out the modalities for plying the buses on the two routes.”

   

 
 
MUZZLE MUDDIES KIDNAP PUZZLE 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Sept. 5: 
The 12-day-old Mukesh Agarwal abduction drama has taken a new twist with conflicting statements being issued by the West Bengal and Bihar police.

While north Bengal police authorities are maintaining a studied silence on the issue, their Bihar counterparts, aiding the ongoing investigations, have been more forthcoming.

But today the Bihar police also clamped shut, apparently unwilling to be drawn into any controversy.

This followed a conflicting statement issued by inspector-general of police (north Bengal) N.R. Das.

Purnea superintendent of police K. Surinder Babu had told The Telegraph that the Bihar police had recovered the kidnap vehicle, a white Tata Sumo, which was abandoned by abductors at a secluded spot on the outskirts of Bahadurganj, bordering Nepal in Bihar, last Saturday. He maintained that the gang may have possibly slipped into Nepal.

Rebutting the claim, Das reportedly denied the recovery of the Tata Sumo. He claimed that Surinder Babu had denied making such a statement on the vehicle’s recovery.

Deputy inspector-general of police (Purnea) A.K. Upadhayay was reluctant to comment on the issue. “It is better that you ask the Bengal police about the progress of the investigation into the Mukesh Agarwal abduction case. We are only providing assistance to them and our job ends there. The Siliguri police will be in a better position to divulge the details of the progress of the case, not us,” he said.

The needle of suspicion pointing towards the suspected eastern Bihar-based kidnap cartel being involved was first disclosed by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee barely two days after Mukesh, the owner of an amusement centre, Millennium Paradise, on Sevoke Road in Siliguri, was abducted at gun-point by half-a-dozen armed miscreants on the night of August 24.

Bhattacharjee reportedly said a Bihar-based kidnap mafia gang had abducted Agarwal and the state police had sought the help of their Bihar counterparts.

The chief minister had instructed the local police to accord top priority in rescuing the victim and solving the abduction drama.

The special investigation team (SIT) was subsequently formed to investigate. It was headed by superintendent of railway police Ajoy Kumar.

The Purnea SP, however, added that the district police were continuing their raids on all known criminal hideouts in the district in the off-chance that the abductors were still holed up there.

“We are maintaining constant pressure on all the known criminal hideouts. The suspected abduction cartel has so far eluded the police dragnet. But we are now almost certain that the gang has slipped into neighbouring Nepal. Undercover police personnel are also keeping a watch on the Indo-Nepal border to nab the gang,” he said.

   

 
 
LOW ON HEALTH, HIGH ON WORK AND TECH 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
It was meant to be a programme that would recharge the state government employees of the Hooghly administration and usher in a modern-day computer-friendly work culture.

A medical check-up was part of the package called “Sculpture Your Work Culture”. But none could have bargained for the findings of the check-up.

Of the 700 people attached to the Hooghly district magistrate’s office, around 200 people were diagnosed with high blood sugar, arthritis and melancholia.

The test, held at the behest of district magistrate Subrata Biswas, revealed that over 25 per cent of the staff suffered from blood sugar. Arthritis was detected in 105 employees. Around 100 were suffering from depression.

Biswas claimed that after counselling the condition of at least 50 per cent of the employees improved. “We have also procured a weighing machine and gadgets to measure blood pressure for the use of employees,” he added.

Along with the fitness drive, the offices are being computerised. Biswas claimed employees, who had been paranoid of computers, are now making a beeline for the machines.

“All officers up to the rank of deputy magistrate have been given PCs and directed to make inter-departmental correspondence with me only through e-mail,” the computer-savvy district magistrate said.

Biswas has also set up a portal — hooghly.com — with downloading facilities. “It is just like the district gazetteer of the British period, only in a more sophisticated and thoroughly updated digital version,” Biswas said.

   
 

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