Four-fold fee hike for Madhyamik
Medical malady: Empty classes, faulty courses
Road rights row in rally raj
The City Diary
Puja buzz for Calphones cell service
Dutch grant for schools
Moustache case verdict next week
A hub of history with a story to tell
Bill pill for poachers
Bhopal rerun fear in state industry hub

 
 
FOUR-FOLD FEE HIKE FOR MADHYAMIK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
About 500,000 students, scheduled to appear for Madhyamik 2002, the largest school-leaving examinations in Bengal, will be required to shell out a hefty fee.

After a gap of 25 years, the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education announced on Thursday a four-and-half-fold fee increase, from Rs 34 to Rs 150 per student. “We will start notifying schools about the hike shortly. It becomes effective from February 2002,” said Haraprasad Samaddar, Board president.

Education officials said on Thursday night the Council for Higher Secondary Education, too, has proposed a five-fold fee hike, at Rs 250 per student.

Thursday’s fee hike was initiated by former Council chairman Sudin Chattopadhyay in the wake of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s drive for reforms in the field of education. By the Board’s estimate, nearly 20 per cent of the examinees will find it difficult to pay the revised exam fee. The Board will ask schools to help out the students.

It is yet unclear how the education department will react to the hike. Sources said school education minister Kanti Biswas has asked the two bodies not to ignore the affordability factor while effecting the hike. “You must keep in mind that the fee hike should not go beyond the level of university fees,” Biswas reportedly told the Boards.

However, the hike is almost equal to the fee proposed by Calcutta University. It is learnt that CU plans to peg the minimum fee at Rs 140 per student.

A few Board members had opposed the hike, arguing that it would hurt financially-weak families. But Board president Samaddar overruled their opposition, saying the hike had become imperative in view of the rising cost of operations. According to Samaddar, even after the hike, the Board would have to shell out a subsidy of Rs 100 per candidate.

“This hike does not give us any breathing space.We cannot expect the government to continue holding our hand if we settle for a paltry hike,” Samaddar argued.

In a separate development, the Board raised the remuneration of its examiners, though in small measure. From now, an examiner will receive Rs 3 for each script assessed, as against Rs 2.25 earlier.

“What we pay our examiners is less than peanuts. But the raise in their emolument must be interpreted as a good gesture on our part,” Samaddar said. A head examiner will get Rs 1,000, up from Rs 800, apart from a travelling allowance of Rs 200.

It is learnt that the examination committee had decided to increase the test fee ahead of the Assembly polls on May 10, but held back the announcement because of the elections.

The Students’ Federation of India, the ruling CPM’s student arm, has no plans to protest the fee hike. “We are not opposed to it. All we want the government to do is protect the interests of the financially-weak candidates,” said Somnath Bhattacharjee, SFI state president.

   

 
 
MEDICAL MALADY: EMPTY CLASSES, FAULTY COURSES 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
Come rain or shine, a large number of under-graduate medical students in Calcutta make it a point to attend Letuda’s “classes”. They listen with rapt attention as the intern explains the intricacies of medicine “after hours” on the National Medical College premises. During college hours, however, most classes are sparsely attended, while some go empty.

At the other end of town, a retired professor of surgery loves to conduct classes from his Salt Lake home. Under-graduate students from the four medical colleges in town flock to attend his tuitions. Even though he retired about 10 years ago, students insist these sessions are far “more useful” than attending college.

Health minister Surya Kanta Mishra on Monday expressed serious concern over the quality of medical graduates being produced by the colleges and set up a special four-member fact-finding committee.

Enquiries made by Metro reveal a sordid state of affairs in the medical colleges of Calcutta. “The minister has said that the quality of students graduating has deteriorated. We admit that the practical knowledge of medical graduates has been going down year after year, but then how are these students given pass marks? Doesn’t this indicate that the system is rotten?” asked a final-year student of Calcutta Medical College, who topped the joint entrance examination in his batch.

“Classes are not exam-oriented. With such a vast syllabus, time management is of the essence. Often, there is a big gap between two classes, and it becomes very difficult for us to attend both,” he added. As an example of the gap between what is taught and what appears on the question paper, he explained how lectures in malaria and dengue dealt with theory, while students were quizzed about how to diagnose a patient with fever, which is never taught in class.

Prof. S.N. Banerjee, principal, Calcutta Medical College, claimed that the attendance in theoretical classes was “adequate”, but admitted that “more hands-on training” was required for “bedside learning” in hospital wards.

A student of National Medical College alleged that many professors and lecturers were far too busy treating patients to give them time. “Classes going empty is not news, but fully-attended classes is,” quipped a student of R.G. Kar Medical College. At Calcutta Medical College, students make it a point to attend paediatrics and pharmacology classes. “It makes more sense to study the rest at home,” a final-year student said.

Some feel that a residential set-up for both would improve attendance and results. “Teachers should be given accommodation on or near the campus,” said Arnab Sengupta, joint secretary of the Medical Teachers’ Association. “The college libraries have not added medical journals for 10 years, there are no teaching aids, and teacher-student interaction is not encouraged.”

The situation was much better at AIIMS, or even BHU, Sengupta claimed. “The syllabus here needs to be reviewed as the present system deprives students of vital practical exposure, which is why they are not confident when they step out.”

   

 
 
ROAD RIGHTS ROW IN RALLY RAJ 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee proposes. His party disposes.

The CPM was joined by major partner CPI in the evening after mayor Subrata Mukherjee had done his bit on Thursday morning to thwart the chief minister’s initiative three days ago for a consensus against blocking roads and rail tracks.

An argument between the police and the mayor created chaos around Park Street at about 1.30 pm. Mukherjee was leading a procession of over 4,000 Intuc workers to a function at Kala Mandir, when he was stopped by the police on Mayo Road.

An angry mayor demanded why he was being stopped when Section 144 was not in force. He also asked the police to arrest him. But later, he led the procession via Kyd Street, a route chosen by the police. To allow the procession to carry on, the police also blocked traffic along Free School Street.

“This resulted in utter chaos. I have enough civic sense and was taking the procession in a single file. I will definitely write to the chief minister about it,” Mukherjee told Metro. But he avoided queries on why he decided to take out a procession on a working day. “Can’t we expect something better from the mayor of Calcutta?” asked a policeman on duty.

But if lack of civic sense was to be expected from an opposition party, the Left themselves fared no better. The traffic snarls, which had begun around 1.30 pm, turned more chaotic with processions by the Leftists.

Rallies brought out by the CPM’s youth and students’ wings — the DYFI and the SFI — and the CPI’s labour arm, Aituc, threw rush-hour traffic out of gear, inconveniencing students and homebound commuters. With scant regard for Bhattacharjee’s appeal, about 5,000 people, belonging to the women, teachers and bank employees’ chapters of Aituc, assembled at Esplanade around 4.30 pm and marched along Jawaharlal Nehru Road towards the American Center, demanding “peace”.

The rally slowed down traffic along Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Chittaranjan Avenue, S.N. Banerjee Road, Park Street and Lenin Sarani. The police stopped the procession, led by CPI leaders Gurudas Dasgupta and Manju Kumar Majumdar, soon after it crossed Park Street. The CPI leaders wanted to proceed towards the US consulate on Ho Chi Minh Sarani but were prevented by the police. They dispersed in front of American Center, after holding a meeting.

Apart from the road blockades, the Trinamul-led workers’ union at SSKM Hospital marched in a procession inside the hospital to gherao superintendent D.D. Chattopadhyay against “rampant corruption” in the hospital.

This was a clear violation of health minister Surya Kanta Mishra’s order to ban rallies in hospitals. Union leader and Trinamul general secretary Madan Mitra alleged that in the cardiology department, pacemakers were being fitted on heart patients who do not require them.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

2 hurt in house collapse

Two persons were injured after the portico of a dilapidated building collapsed on Thursday afternoon on Raja Dinendra Street. One of them, identified as Bishwanath Roy, was rushed to Calcutta Medical College Hospital in a serious condition. Police said around 2 pm, the portico of a two-storeyed building collapsed on an adjacent building that housed a club, Naba Jagaran. The collapsed portion blocked the entrance to the club and debris hit two members, Roy and Gopal Saha. Despite the Corporation declaring the building as condemned, the owner did not evacuate a large number of illegal occupants, alleged a tenant. The owner, Nirmal Jaiswal, who stays in nearby Kailash Bose Street, is absconding.

Airport alert

Visitors were banned from the perimeter area of the the city airport international terminal on Thursday, following news of the Alliance Air hijacking drama. The ban, enforced at 4.30 am, continued till 9.30 am. Security in both the domestic and the international terminals was “intensified”, following Wednesday’s events. Vigil has been stepped up considerably, security personnel said.

CM’s Tripura visit

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will leave for Tripura on Friday. He will address the Democratic Youth Federation of India’s state conference there. This will be his first visit to the state after assuming office.

Agitation

About 300 employees of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation demonstrated in front of the civic headquarters to press for various demands, including payment of salary dues and pension.The demonstrators were led by members of the Calcutta district committee of the Citu    

 
 
PUJA BUZZ FOR CALPHONES CELL SERVICE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
Calcutta Telephones is all set to launch its cellular services this Puja.

Union minister of state for telecommunications Tapan Sikdar held a meeting with telecom officials on Thursday to give finishing touches to the tariff structure. According to chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones, S.P. Chakraborty, the utility has commissioned 65 base stations across the city.

The telephone authorities expect to cover the city and its suburbs. About a dozen base stations are in Jadavpur, Sonarpur and Baruipur.

According to sources, there is a probability that Calcutta Telephones will begin its cellular operations before the Pujas. The authorities said the telecom utility has made ‘immediate’ provisions to market 5,000 SIM cards of various denominations. The minister is expected to make an announcement on Friday.

According to senior telephone officials, the utility will operate with the same Global System for Mobile (GSM) technology used by private cellular operators. “A subscriber can use any GSM handset available in the market and instal our SIM card,’’ an official said.

The utility has set up different rate structures, which includes cash card, where a subscriber can buy talking time of a certain denomination valid for a particular period.

The authorities said the USP of the utility’s cellular service would be its “reach, affordability and service.’’

“The network will cover areas such as Baruipur, Sonarpur and beyond Amtala on the southern fringes of the city and Kalyani, Howrah and well past Chinsurah in Hooghly,’’ R.K. Mishra, area manager of Jadavpur Telephone Exchange, said.

Calcutta Telephones authorities cited two reasons, which enabled them to market the SIM cards at competitive prices.

“We are not required to pay the licence fee and there is no need for widescale advertisements, like private operators,’’ an official said.

Chakraborty said the cards would be available from the commercial offices of 31 telephone exchanges across the city. “We are in the process of opening teleshops in these exchanges and SIM cards will be available from there,’’ he added.

The trial run has been successful. When asked whether 65 base stations will be sufficient to cover such a huge area — considering private operators have commissioned more than 100 base stations — officials said they have checked to find the stations sufficient to cover the areas.

   

 
 
DUTCH GRANT FOR SCHOOLS 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
Round Table Netherlands has come forward to help in infrastructure development of primary schools in and around the city. As part of the club-to-club twinning programme, taken up in conjunction with the corresponding Round Tables in Calcutta in the ‘Freedom Through Education’ drive, the Dutch have already provided funds to three of the nine Round Tables in the city and aid for two more is on the way.

In the Dutch-India Programme, the cost of setting up or infrastructure development of a primary school is shared between the Indian and the corresponding table in the Netherlands. Under this scheme, Round Table 4 has already received 11,000 Dutch Guilders (approximately Rs 1.80 lakh), while Round Tables 17 and 34 have got 14,000 Dutch Guilders (Rs 2.25 lakh) each. RT 12 and RT 63 have also applied for Dutch aid and the funds are due shortly.

“We will provide the structure, pay salaries of the staff if required, provide all educational tools, mid-day meals and arrange regular medical camps with the Dutch aid, complemented by the money we are raising,” said Anirban Banerjee, chairman, Round Table Area 4, which covers all the nine tables in Calcutta besides two in Patna and three in Orissa.

RT 4 has adopted a school in Kairapore, on the Kalyani Expressway, RT 17 the Dhamua Balika Vidyalaya near Diamond Harbour and RT 34 the Manmohan Round Table Academy in Barasat. Table 12 has identified a primary school in Bishnupur. “We have raised about Rs 2 lakh through the Royal Bengal Corporate Quiz and another Rs 2.25 is being sent by our Dutch counterparts. Almost the entire money will go towards building the infrastructure for the four classrooms and one toilet for the 400-odd students, who come from needy families,” says Gautam Jatia, past chairman, Table 12.

Round Table India is a member of the worldwide organisation of World Council of Service Clubs (WoCo) and Round Table International. The Dutch aid for the twinning programmes, part of a nationwide project, is being routed through the National Board of Netherlands.

“All the projects taken up by Round Table revolve around the child and the primary schools programme is being carried out alongside Project Sikshalaya, aimed at educating streetchildren, under the guidance of Sister Cyril of Loreto Sealdah, where again, we have made some value additions like mid-day meals, cultural exposure, etc. By this year-end, we are expecting around Rs 12 lakh in aid from our Dutch friends for five schools,” Banerjee adds.

   

 
 
MOUSTACHE CASE VERDICT NEXT WEEK 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
The final hearing in the Vijay Victor Ghosh-Indian Airlines case ended on Thursday and the high court is likely to pass judgment next week.

Counsel P.K. Das, representing Ghosh, said his services as flight purser were terminated illegally by Indian Airlines.

In 1999, Ghosh was grounded by the airlines over an issue of ‘moustache-trimming’. Ghosh had then filed a case in the high court, claiming that growing a moustache was his fundamental right. Though he was taken off the purser’s job, the airlines had offered him services elsewhere but Ghosh was not interested. Later, the airlines suspended him.

Justifying the suspension, airlines official R. Mazumdar said Ghosh’s services were terminated as the company assessed that he would not be able to withstand the pressures of his present job after he turned 54. “So, he lost out on the job,” Mazumdar said.

But according to Das, the issue was not that of pressure or age but of the “(in)famous moustache” that Ghosh refused to trim.

Das added that Ghosh did not develop his moustache overnight. “When he joined Indian Airlines decades ago, he had the same growth,” Das said.

The counsel defended the petitioner by saying that ever since a dress code was enforced among Indian Airlines flight staff, Ghosh’s moustache became an eyesore for the authorities.

In between, there were signs of an out-of-court settlement between the airlines and Ghosh, but later, the agreement was nullified as both parties disagreed on the length of moustache to be trimmed. The bid to settle the issue out of court took almost three months but when both parties failed to come to an agreement, the case went back to the high court.

Ghosh’s unusual case is the second of its kind, after airhostesses had taken the company to court over wearing contact lenses in 1996. The judgment went in favour of the airhostesses.

   

 
 
A HUB OF HISTORY WITH A STORY TO TELL 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
At 200, it is the oldest Raj Bhavan in the country. At 80,000 sq ft, it is among the most sprawling. The mansion modelled after Kettleston Hall in Derbyshire has been a hub of history and the depository of all things artistic. But the complete story of the place and its people is yet to be told.

To fill in that blank, Governor Viren Jeewanlal Shah is lining up a book on the building that has been his home for the past 23 months. “It’s something that the Raj Bhavan and Calcutta deserve,” Shah said on Thursday.

The idea cropped up “a few months ago”, during the restoration of Raj Bhavan by the Governor and First Lady Anjana Shah. “So many people told me that there were no written records or reference material about the house since 1935. One thing led to another and we decided to start work on a comprehensive book,” recounted the Governor.

Co-ordinating and editing the entire effort is Ina Puri. Involved from the start of the restoration process, especially in relation to the paintings, she has spent the past few months researching Raj Bhavan and contacting those who can contribute to the cause. “It will be the first book on Raj Bhavan, but it will be more than just a history book. We aim to narrate the history of the house in a humane manner. A book of substance, it will also be reader-friendly and a visual treat,” assures Puri, who has even sourced material from Alan Trinton, chairman of the Calcutta Tercentenary Trust, at Chelmsford.

“While doing the rounds of Raj Bhavan, we immediately felt the need for an inventory. Several paintings and artefacts were missing and we stumbled upon old books and even a billiards table that no one knew existed,” said Puri.

Among those who will be approached for the “very special book” are designer Rashmi Kaleka, art historian Tapati Guha Thakurta, architect Probir Mitra, academician Sukanta Chaudhuri, historian P.T. Nair, photographer Sunil Dutta and senior artists like Jogen Chowdhury, Manjit Bawa and Ganesh Haloi.

The foreword will be penned by the Governor, who Puri credits with having “opened up the gates of Raj Bhavan to the people” and leading the editorial effort from the front. “It is still in the formative stage, as lots of people need to be consulted. But it will definitely be a quality product which will record the past and chronicle the new life that the Raj Bhavan has got,” concluded Viren J. Shah.

   

 
 
BILL PILL FOR POACHERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
Alarmed at the rampant poaching of the Royal Bengal Tiger in the Sunderbans, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today moved to amend the Wildlife Protection Act to save the animal from extinction.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Wildlife Protection Week, Bhattacharjee said only an amended Act would equip the government to deal with poachers.

“A Bill proposing the amendment will be presented in the Assembly in the coming session. Without adding teeth to the Act, we cannot hope to combat poaching. As I am committed to saving wildlife, toughness will not be found wanting,” he said.

The state government is also in the process of building up a special force that would act as a deterrent to poaching as well as attacks on the animal by villagers.

“It is most unfortunate that a section of villagers in the Sunderbans has become the worst enemy of the Royal Bengal Tiger for the animal’s precious skin,” Bhattacharjee said. “After the amendment, they will not dare to look at a tiger, I can assure you.”

Bhattacharjee also announced enhanced compensation for people who fall prey to tigers. In case of death, the amount of compensation has been raised to Rs 30,000 from Rs 20,000 and for injuries, the amount is Rs 10,000 instead of Rs 5,000.

The chief minister also sought a report from the state forest department on the killing of a tiger in Kultali on Tuesday.

State forest minister Jogesh Burman, who was also present at the meeting, said his department would submit the report soon.

On Tuesday, a tiger had strayed into Kishorimohanpur, a village under Kultali police station, and mauled six villagers. In retaliation, angry villagers manhandled two forest department officials, snatched their rifles and killed the tiger. Additional superintendent of police (rural) Rajesh Kumar Singh said five persons have been arrested in connection with the incident.

Time and again these incidents have shown that the king of beasts in Bengal is not safe, even in its own habitat.

The forest minister said: “Our officials have gone to the villages to see for themselves why such attacks are often organised on the animal. Tigers often enter human habitats in the Sunderbans in search of food. They attack villagers out of fear.”

Admitting that Royal Bengal Tigers were often killed in the Sunderbans, Burman said a blueprint for preservation of tigers and other wildlife would be submitted to the chief minister soon.

   

 
 
BHOPAL RERUN FEAR IN STATE INDUSTRY HUB 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Haldia, Oct. 4: 
Bhopal may not be the last chemical disaster. Closer home, Haldia is waiting to explode.

Midnapore district officials are alarmed at the huge quantities of inflammable chemicals that the big industrial units have stocked up without taking adequate precautions.

The state’s showcase project, Haldia Petrochemicals, is among the sinners. Both the district magistrate and the superintendent of police have expressed concern over the lack of security at the petrochemicals project.

The Haldia Development Authority held a meeting recently with senior district officials and expressed concern over the situation.

According to top officials, the entire Haldia industrial town is virtually sitting on a volcano.

Sources said Indian Oil Corporation installations have a stock of more than 60 tonnes of oil and other inflammable articles.

A huge quantity of different highly inflammable chemicals, including plastic granules, naphtha, battery and benzene produced by Haldia Petrochem, Hindustan Lever, Exide, Shaw Wallace and Mitshubishi was also stocked at different places.

The additional district magistrate has called a meeting on Friday with industry representatives, the fire brigade, inspectors of factories and some other departments to assess the situation and take steps to prevent a disaster.

According to fire brigade officials, fire-fighting arrangements in Haldia are very poor. “We are ill-equipped to tackle any major fire in Haldia,” said R.G. Bhowmik, station officer of Haldia fire-fighting station.

He said though many of the industries have their own fire-fighting arrangements, they are not modern enough.

“I have drawn the notice of the state government several times and urged officials to provide us with modern equipment and vehicles to keep ourselves prepared for any major fire, but all went unheeded,’’ said a senior fire brigade officer of Haldia.

He recollected how the local people were frightened when lightning struck an IOC oil tanker and his people had to fight the blaze for more than six hours.

District superintendent of police K.C. Meena admitted that there was a lack of security arrangement in the major industries.

“There is no arrangement for security checks at the gates of Haldia Petrochem’s factories. There are no metal detectors, no close-circuit TVs. Even photo identity cards have not been made compulsory for all employees,’’ Meena said.

He said there was no bomb detection or disposal squad within the factory premises.

Meena has requested all the major industries here to instal caller-line identification systems after many of them complained that they were receiving hoax calls.

   
 

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