Pop-a-pill cure at your peril
Bad stomach after discovery of bad roads
250 Pakistanis missing
A feast for a king, but for the eyes only
The City Diary
Bagjola eviction after Pujas
Salt Lake protests steep hike in cable TV rates
Front whip clobbers hospital chief
Showcause on medics
Puja or exam, CPM rallies for march

Calcutta, Oct. 7: 
A brightly-lit medical store near New Market is chock-a-block with customers at 7 pm. Dilip Chatterjee, a middle-aged teacher, walks in and asks for amoxycillin capsules: “I am feeling feverish and have a sore throat.” Sekhar, the young pharmacist at the counter, tries to argue that such a broad-spectrum antibiotic is not necessary for a common cold. But the customer insists on the antibiotic: “I think I have pharyngitis and only amoxycillin will work.”

Meet the hypochondriac Calcuttan who prefers to treat himself rather than pay a visit to the doctor in a city where self-medication is a way of life. “At least 20 persons walk into a drug store every day to buy medicine without a prescription. They are not just hypochondriac, they are pamphlet doctors, as they often insist on specific antibiotics,” says Bepin Mehta, president, Bengal Chemists’ and Druggists’ Association.

A recent survey carried out in three states — West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu -— by the Indian Statistical Institute has revealed that “more than six per cent” of the people in Calcutta and elsewhere in the state indulge in self-medication. The figure in Tamil Nadu is “less than one per cent”. Also, the per capita annual medical expenses among people seeking treatment in Calcutta is the highest, at Rs 1,373. The per capita annual medical expenses in the districts is Rs 909, against an average of Rs 225 in Tamil Nadu, the survey adds.

Be it headache or acidity, fever or a stomach upset, a large number of Calcuttans just walk into a drug store and buy the medicine of their choice, over the counter, without bothering about side-effects or other consequences.

But why do medicine stores meet the hypochondriac’s demands? According to Mehta, the local drug store-owner “cannot afford to turn the customer away and, after all, even the government is doing nothing about it”.

The health department, fully aware of the problem, is finally planning a crackdown. “We will soon launch a drive against the practice of selling medicines over-the-counter without prescription,” assures health secretary Asim Barman.

S. Das, director of health services, is quick to blame it on the chemists. “We know that a large number of people indulge in self-medication, but what can we do? According to the Indian Drugs and Cosmetics Act, no medicine store can sell stuff without a prescription from a registered medical practitioner, but that’s exactly what they’re doing here,” says Das, adding that the “advertising blitz” of popular pills is also encouraging people to treat themselves.

Doctors warn that the long-term consequences of self-medication can be “disastrous”. “I have seen at least 800 cases of a person bleeding profusely only because he or she had taken an aspirin for a headache,” says gastro-enterologist Nabakumar Pal. “People take a few capsules, don’t complete the course and become resistant to the particular drug.”

Then are those who practically live on acid-blockers like Zinetac and Famtac after meals. “Very few people understand that the prolonged use of such drugs exposes the G.I. tract to infections like pneumonia, diarrhoea and dysentery,” says medical practitioner Debashis Saha.


Calcutta, Oct. 7: 
The realisation that he neither has the stomach for the potholed streets of Calcutta, nor for chaat and churmur — that’s been the sum total of the mayor’s day of discovery on Friday.

The around-the-town trip that cost Rs 2 lakh has left Subrata Mukherjee upset over bad roads, and with an upset stomach. Close on the heels of his ‘bumpy’ day out, the mayor has convened an emergency mayor-in-council meeting on Tuesday to “do something” about the deplorable condition of the city’s streets.

“Within a fortnight, millions of pandal-hoppers will take to the streets during Durga Puja. Can you imagine their plight if they encounter such potholed roads all around?” asked Mukherjee, grounded since Friday night.

The mayor blamed his upset stomach on the knick-knacks at Swabhumi (his final stop on Friday’s tour), rather than the sumptuous lunch (Rs 850 per plate) of bhetki paturi, hilsa, pabda, mutton curry, malpoa and doi at Aaheli, in Peerless Inn. During ‘high’ tea at Swabhumi, Mukherjee had enjoyed lots of chaat and churmur, besides curd sprinkled with red chilly powder. “I have now realised that though I am fond of chatting, chaat does not suit me,” he laughed, on Sunday.

Mukherjee was even forced to skip the tea meet following the first election of the Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Committee on Sunday. “ Though I was the host, I returned home immediately after casting my vote. I was in no condition to entertain the 141 guests who had converged from six districts,” he said in the evening.

But a bad stomach will not slow down his drive against bad roads, promised the mayor. Tuesday’s will be the third emergency meeting in the 15-month tenure of the Trinamul Congress-BJP board of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation that the mayor has convened over the “failure” of his council members. The first one had brought the activities of the Sovan Chatterjee-led water supply department under the scanner. The second one was convened following a dispute in the conservancy department.

This time, the focus is on the “non-performance” of member, mayor-in-council (roads), Anup Chatterjee. Complaints from councillors and borough chairmen, from Trinamul and CPM camps, over the “horrible condition of city streets” have been piling up on the mayor’s table. And on Friday, he got up, close and personal with some of the potholes. “It is too late now to repair all roads before the Pujas. But we must draw up a plan to repair as many as possible in the next two weeks,” the mayor said.

According to a senior engineer with the CMC roads department, around 800 km – of the total 1,500 kms of city streets – require immediate repair. These include Strand Road, Strand Bank Road, C.R. Avenue, James Long Sarani, S.N. Roy Road, Beleghata Main Road, Narkeldanga Main Road, Belgachhia Road, Raja Subodh Mullick Road, Fern Road, B.T. Road and about a hundred peripheral roads.

Yet, the Corporation’s two hot-mix plants at Palmer Bazaar and Goragachha have remained idle for weeks for want of raw material like bitumen, stone and sand.


Calcutta, Oct. 7: 
The city police have lost track of about 250 Pakistani nationals who entered Calcutta in the last few years, thanks to a faulty registration system.

All of them had entered the city with proper visas and registered their names with the Special Branch, but disappeared soon after.

“Our attempts to trace the missing Pakistanis have hit a stonewall as we don’t have a proper system of keeping tabs on these people. Still, we are trying to locate them,” said a senior Special Branch official and a member of the probe team.

The vigil on foreign nationals visiting the city is being intensified on city police chief Sujoy Chakraborty’s orders.

“There is a process of tracking down missing foreign nationals. But we face a problem while cross-checking on sponsors and relatives of foreigners in the city, which makes our task difficult,” Chakraborty told Metro.

Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials felt the figure is even higher than 250 and said that the state government should have woken up to the issue of the missing Pakistanis much earlier and not in the wake of the recent terrorist strikes in New York and Washington.

“Several batches have entered the city and disappeared from the Garden Reach, Kidderpore, Tiljala and Picnic Garden areas,” said an IB official.

The IB is particularly worried following a Union home ministry warning that members of Pakistan-based Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and terrorist outfits, like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Harkat-ul-Mujaheedin, may sneak into the city and that some of them may have been “assigned the task of recruiting cadres to destabilise” the city and the adjoining districts.

After the Kargil war, army intelligence officials discovered that Lashkar cadre, with the aid of a city-based fundamentalist outfit owing allegiance to Jamaat-e- Islami of Pakistan, were on a “recruitment drive” at Bholarhat, in north Bengal.

The latest warning from the Union home ministry was sent to the state government a week ago. “It stated that cadre of the Jaish-e-Mohammed are likely to enter the city to carry out subversive activities, including hijacking of aircraft from the city airport,” officials said.


Calcutta, Oct. 7: 
It’s well past lunchtime, but Ranajit Roy Chowdhury is busy cooking at his Behala workshop. A recipe book is lying beside his stove, open at the ‘chana masala’ page. The chana is ready, the gravy remains. Already on the table are pizza and chowmein, masala dosa and rabri, chocolate sundae and cheese spinach soup…

Hold it! It’s a feast for your eyes only. The magic ingredient for all that’s on Roy Chowdhury’s menu: Petroleum by-products.

For the past 15 years, Roy Chowdhury has been devising methods to use paraffin and vaseline to cook up delicacies. Now, he’s ready for his first exhibition in town. “I used to make clay models of fruits and vegetables earlier. But those were not lifelike. My research is aimed at producing dishes which will be visually as appealing as freshly-cooked food,” he smiles.

One look at the tempting rosogolla, with syrup dripping on to the plate, and you know what he’s talking about. It’s all but impossible to catch out this just-to-stare-at-not-to-swallow ‘fake’. Take the four-course Bengali thali on offer. The alu bhaja looks just right for a fun munch; the fried brinjal has a greasy and cracked look; the meat curry looks thick and spicy.

Paraffin, says the lean, bespectacled man in his fifties, can be used to make both coloured and transparent articles. “The trick is in the choice of chemicals and the temperature at which they are heated… I think I am the first to develop this cuisine sculpture. So, I am in the process of applying for a patent.”

Then, Roy Chowdhury is looking at a market in the hotel and advertising industry. “When five-star hotels hold food festivals, they need to put items on display all through the duration of the event. Every now and then, the food becomes stale and has to be replaced,” he points out.

The ‘food’ items, he claims, do not get discoloured, are easily washable and so will serve as a more cost-effective replacement even in the ad world where ‘dummy’ dishes are used. In Roy Chowdhury’s kitchen, the manufacturing cost of a rosogolla is Rs 10, while that of a pizza is around Rs 150.

The man who used to edit a weekly newspaper (Khabar Binyas), run a magic group (Galaxy of Tiny Magicians) and an audio drama team (Sraban), has given up everything for his cuisine-sculpture cause. “It’s a painstaking procedure. Everything has to shaped with bare hands while the mould is still hot and malleable. While alu bhaja can be made in around half-an-hour, mixed-fruit chutney is a tougher proposition, taking as much as eight hours at a stretch.”

Just like in ‘real’ cooking, the start is with basic ingredients. For instance, cheese, spinach gravy and roasted almond have to be made separately. The gravy is then poured into a bowl, interspersed with layers of almond and cheese blocks. So, it looks life-like from the side, too, in a transparent container. Air-conditioners or fans are ruled out in this ‘kitchen’, as that might result in temperature fluctuations. But on hand, always, is fire-fighting gear. “Though the finished products are safe, the chemicals we use are highly inflammable,” explains student Chitrani Chakraborty.

Roy Chowdhury is driven by the dream of a museum full of his food items. But for now, he has lost his appetite. The self-professed gourmand of yore now cringes from the smell of cooked food and survives mostly on unending cups of tea.


Calcutta, Oct. 7: 

Blockade follows mishap

Ali Reza, 52, died at SSKM Hospital on Sunday evening, a few hours after he was knocked down by a Maruti in Kidderpore. Police said Reza was standing in a corner of the road when the car hit him and overturned. The accident sparked tension in the area and hundreds of local residents put up a blockade.

Cars collide

Five persons were injured when a Maruti collided with an Ambassador at the Strand Road-Woodmount Road crossing on Sunday afternoon. The injured, all occupants of the two vehicles, are in hospital.

Run over by bus

Traffic was disrupted on VIP Road on Sunday after Sajal Chatterjee, 36, was killed in an accident at Baguiati. Police said Chatterjee was run over by a private bus, heading towards Barasat. Residents blocked the road for an hour from noon, demanding arrest of the driver.

Students on fast

Over 100 members of the West Bengal Madrasah Students’ Union organised a day-long hungerstrike on Sunday at Haji Mohammad Mohsin Square to protest the West Bengal government’s apathy towards Madrasah education.

Channel blackout

ESPN and STAR Sports were blacked out of nearly 1.5 lakh cable homes in the city after SitiCable switched off the signal of the popular sports channels from its two headends at Park Circus and Bidhan Sarani on Saturday evening. It is learnt that the broadcasters are demanding a 40 per cent rise in existing connectivity, but the operators are agreeable to increasing declaration by only 10 per cent. According to a SitiCable spokesman, the impasse is likely to continue for a few more days.    

Calcutta, Oct. 7: 
After evicting unauthorised settlers along Tolly’s Nullah, the government plans a similar operation to remove hundreds of shanties on both sides of Bagjola canal, in Dum Dum. The demolition plan is ready and will be implemented mmediately after the Pujas.

Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said it was imperative to desilt the canal if Dum Dum and parts of north Calcutta were to be saved from waterlogging during the monsoon. The irrigation department and a number of municipalities in North 24-Parganas have been assigned to carry out the job, the minister informed.

The Housing and Urban Development Corporation (Hudco) has sanctioned Rs 88 crore for desilting Bagjola and some other canals in North 24-Parganas to spare the northern fringe of the city and Dum Dum from inundation every monsoon. The municipalities assigned to assist the irrigation department in carrying out the desiltation include Dum Dum, South Dum Dum, North Dum Dum, Panihati, New Barrackpore and Khardah. The Rajarhat-Gopalpur municipality and Barrackpore II panchjayat samity are also included in the programme, as the canal flows through these areas too.

The decision to evict the unauthorised settlers along Bagjola canal was taken during a meeting between finance minister Asim Dasgupta and the district administration of North 24-Parganas and the municipalities in Barasat on April 13 last year. But the eviction could not be carried out for lack of coordination between the irrigation department and a three municipalities in Dum Dum. Now, it has been decided that South Dum Dum municipality will carry out the drive after the Pujas in Bediapara, where illegal settlers line the banks of Bagjola canal.

The metropolitan drainage circle of the irrigation department had already desilted about 8 km of the lower Bagjola canal at a cost of Rs 4.5 crore. The portion was cleared without any resistance because there were no settlers in the area. But the drainage circle could not take up the job in the upper stretch of the canal because of hundreds of shanties located there. A sum of Rs 13 lakh has been earmarked for the job.

The irrigation department, with assistance from North Dum Dum municipality, has completed desilting the Sonai canal at a cost of Rs 5 lakh. Desiltation of the Cantonment canal, too, has been conducted jointly by the Dum Dum municipality and the irrigation department for Rs 21 lakh.

Another portion of the Cantonment canal was cleared at a cost of Rs 34 lakh by the irrigation department and Dum Dum municipality. The Rajarhat-Gopalpur municipality and the irrigation department have desilted a third stretch of the Cantonment canal at a cost of Rs 52 lakh.

An official of the irrigation department said desiltation on a portion of Bagjola canal is difficult because of encroachment of either side of the canal by unauthorised settlers. “We have to evict the settlers there to enable the irrigation department desilt the canal,” said Atin Roy, CPM councillor of South Dum Dum municipality.


Calcutta, Oct. 7: 
Salt Lake residents have protested the “disproportionate” cable subscription rates charged by operators in the township. An “excessive hike” in monthly charges has raised the fee from Rs 150 to Rs 200.

Operators have disconnected over 300 homes that have refused to pay the new rates. Block associations have even sought the intervention of finance minister Asim Dasgupta and municipal chairman Dilip Gupta.

Dasgupta has requested the cable operators not to disconnect lines for non-payment of the new charges till a settlement is reached among residents, operators and municipality. He and Bidhannagar sub-divisional officer, Debasis Bose, have called for a meeting with the block representatives, cable operators and councillors to end the stalemate.

Linkmen Pvt Ltd is the lone RPG Netcom operator in Salt Lake. The company has 42 sub-operators that provide connections to homes.

For the past five years, monthly charges ranged between Rs 130 and Rs 150, which have been increased to Rs 180 and Rs 200. Siticable, on the other hand, charges a maximum of Rs 100.

Manimoy Saha, spokesperson for the newly formed cable TV viewers forum, alleged that Linkmen is “exploiting its monopoly position” to charge rates disproportionate with the rest of the city. The Forum has demanded a “uniform rate structure”.

Cable operators have said the administration has “no right” to set the rates. “It is our private business and we should be allowed to fix rates as per our discretion,” said Partha Banerjee, director of Linkmen.

According to Banerjee, Linkmen spends Rs 150 per subscriber, including Rs 131 to RPG Netcom and laying of lines and maintenance.

“The municipality does not want to intervene in the internal affairs of a private concern, but we must protect the rights of Salt Lake residents,” said sub-divisional officer Debasis Bose.


Calcutta, Oct. 7: 
Leading a mob of angry CPM cadre, Left Front chief whip Lakshmi De today roughed up Calcutta Medical College superintendent Sachchidananda Sinha in front of his wife and colleagues inside the hospital campus.

“The goondas were raining blows on my husband while Lakshmibabu stood like a Bollywood villain beside his white Ambassador,” Sinha’s wife Soma told The Telegraph.

Sinha’s son Rupam got hurt while trying to save his father. He was later treated for a broken arm while the superintendent received deep cuts under his right eye.

Sinha’s fault: he had ordered the demolition of a CPM labour wing office on Eden Hospital Road following a directive from health minister Suryakanta Mishra that no hospital campus would henceforth accommodate unauthorised settlers. The labour wing office falls under the Vidyasagar constituency, which sent De to the Assembly.

Sinha also apparently overstepped his brief in forcing out 27 unauthorised people staying on the campus, all of them allegedly De’s henchmen. “He received a list (of names from De) and was told not to force them out,” Soma said.

De arrived at the hospital in his official car at 11.30 am accompanied by about 50 men, armed with chains and rods. They proceeded to wardmaster Subrata Neogi’s office where they roughed up him and the gatekeeper for not telling them Sinha’s whereabouts.

De and his supporters then walked towards Sinha’s two-storeyed quarters and called him out. Sinha came down to meet De, a member of the hospital managing committee and a regular at the hospital premises, and was taken aback when the CPM leader started abusing him.

Not long after, the mob started raining blows on Sinha. When Rupam, in Calcutta on vacation from Bangalore where he is a medical student, came to his father’s rescue, the mob thrashed him as well. “I saw them twist his right hand,” Soma said.

Nobody came to Sinha’s rescue. Doctors and hospital employees stood around watching De and his mob manhandle the superintendent and his son but not a finger moved to help.

In the FIR lodged with Bowbazar police at 1 pm, Rupam named De as the leader of the mob that beat up his father. The police arrived too late to be of any help.

De could not be traced till late in the evening. His family denied knowledge of his whereabouts. “He went out in the morning and was scheduled to attend a CPM Bustee Federation conference at Sealdah,” was all they said.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, however, knew more about what had happened. “Lakshmi came to our Alimuddin Street headquarters this afternoon and told me about the incident,” he said. “There was a demonstration on the campus against Saturday’s eviction of encroachers. But he told me that he left the spot before the violence started.”


Suri (Birbhum), Oct. 7: 
The state has issued show-cause notices to 14 medical officers working in primary health centres in the district and stopped paying salaries to four government doctors on grounds of dereliction of duty.

Chief medical officer of health Bijan Mandal said the whip was being cracked to prove that the state health department did not approve of corruption and indiscipline in hospitals. “There were several allegations against whom action has been taken,” he said.

This is the first time that the department has taken action against so many departmental doctors. The move follows several warnings by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and state health minister Suryakanta Mishra that stern action would be taken against habitual shirkers.

Officials said the move indicated that the state government was serious about reforms in the health sector. Those who had been asked to show cause were habitually late for work and spent only a few hours in office, they said.

There were also several complaints that they were busier with their private practices than the health centres and demanded money from poor patients. “They even sell medicine supplied by the government to the hospitals to their patients,” an official said.

A resident of Jajigram village said doctors were seldom found at the health centres. “They are found in their chambers outside the health centres where we have to go and pay huge sums of money if we want proper treatment,” Sanatan Mandal said. “We have repeatedly told the panchayat and the block development officer of our experiences, but they have turned a deaf ear.”

When allegations against the medical officers began pouring in from various quarters, the district administration ordered an inquiry. A three-member team in disguise was sent to crosscheck matters at the health centres.

“After an investigation, the allegations were found to be true. We identified 17 doctors more busy with their private practices than the health centres,” a senior health department official said.


Calcutta, Oct. 7: 
Bent on launching its protest against US imperialism, the CPM today said it would not cancel next Sunday’s mahamichhil though school service commission exams are scheduled the same day and the pujas would be hardly a week away.

“We have no reason to cancel the rally since the decision was unanimously taken at the Left Front Committee meeting on October 5,” Biman Bose said.

But the Left Front chairman clarified that at the time of fixing the rally date, the Left had not been aware the exams were beginning the same day.

“We now know that the SSC will hold an exam that day. The exam will be conducted in two halves — the first half will start at 10 am and the second at 1 pm. We request candidates not to leave their venues after the first half. Our rally will start at 1 pm from Deshapriya Park and end at Deshbandhu Park at about 5 pm. Candidates will not face problems reaching their exam venues because there will be no traffic congestion in the morning,” Bose said.

“We also know that the pujas are a big festival and people from all walks of life participate in it. Those who have to catch long-distance trains or planes should reach railway stations or airports before the rally starts. We have no intention of disturbing public life, but we want to register our protest against US imperialism and we feel we can do this by holding the rally,” he added.

The CPM or the Front have not yet decided the rally route. But it is estimated that about one lakh people will participate in the rally that will take about four hours and cover 10 km between Deshapriya Park in the south and Deshbandhu Park in the north.


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