Police-public partnership in festive high
Protests greet hospital reform
Fizzle-out fears for Diwali night fireworks
Maidan soldier bites the dust
The City Diary
Hands-on route to all-round growth
Roadblock for night bus service
Common tips to combat natural disasters
Four Presidency courses await final clearance
Bengal buries crime decree

Calcutta, Nov. 1: 
The festive crowds were more, but the traffic snarls were less. So, what was the secret of Calcutta Police’s puja-management success this year?

Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty believes “small, but significant, changes” in puja planning and “a certain flexibility” did the trick. Other officers put it down to “better co-ordination” between Calcutta and adjoining districts.

The police-public partnership peaked during the Pujas, pointed out the police commissioner. “Hundreds of volunteers from various organisations worked like policemen without uniforms. We will honour them all for their help,” Chakraborty told Metro.

This time, the planning started 60 days before the Pujas. A series of co-ordination meetings between the city police, the district authorities and the railway police identified last year’s failures and suggested measures for a smoother flow. “We laid special emphasis on the crowd-circulation plan. We tried to anticipate the movement of puja revellers and plan accordingly. I guess that worked,” said joint commissioner of police (traffic) Sandhi Mukherjee.

Topping the crowd-control list were properly-constructed barricades to keep the thoroughfares free. Then, there was the deployment of special teams, led by an inspector-in-charge, to keep no-parking zones vehicle-free.

Goods vehicles, this time, were stopped outside city limits — in North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, and even Murshidabad and Midnapore.

“We also publicised our traffic plans through the media, leaflets, booklets and puja guides,” said Mukherjee.

Special arrangements were made at 15 major puja pandals, from College Square to Jodhpur Park. For traffic snarls at vital points, ‘mobile’ trouble-shooters were at hand. “We worked out this new strategy of introducing sergeants and constables on motorcycles,” said Chakraborty, explaining how “the flexibility to make mid-course corrections” helped enormously.


Calcutta, Nov. 1: 
Work at government hospitals was hit on Thursday following an agitation by special duty attendants (SDA), who had been asked to vacate the hospital premises.

The government, by an official order, banned SDAs in hospitals in the city and state from Thursday. Hundreds of SDAs sat in a dharna at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, National Medical College, SSKM Hospital and RG Kar Hospital.

The Trinamul Congress-led union of SDAs at SSKM Hospital gheraoed superintendent D.D. Chattopadhyay, and director of the Institute of Post-Graduate Medical Education and Research A.K Maity for over two hours. The SDA union threatened to paralyse work at the hospital if the government did not withdraw its order within three days.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the government is determined to bring about discipline in hospitals. “Just as SDAs will not be allowed inside hospitals, the doctors, too, will have to follow certain rules. They will have to don aprons and the Group-D staff will have to come to work in uniforms,” he added.

However, Bhattacharjee explained that doing away with the SDA or ayah system did not mean that relatives of patients would no longer be allowed to engage attendants. “They will be given cards, which will enable them to attend to the patients. They are free to hand over the card to anyone, including special attendants,” the chief minister explained.

An SDA at SSKM Hospital, Badal Adhikari, said: “Some of us have been working here for more than 30 years. How can they turn us out just like that?”

The hospital superintendent said: “We have only executed a government order. Henceforth, either a family member of the patient or attendants engaged by them will be allowed to stay.”

Some patients’ relatives, however, appeared unhappy with the government decision. “Not all of us have the skill to look after a patient,” said Kumkum Sen at SSKM.

At NRS Hospital, the SDAs were asked to vacate the premises by superintendent S.K. Rudra. “But the government’s decision will only work if the number of nurses and junior doctors is increased,” said Rudra.


Calcutta, Nov. 1: 
Party-pooper or guardian of the good? In a bid to implement a Supreme Court directive restricting the use of fireworks, Calcutta Police has set a 6 pm to 10 pm curfew for “burning and bursting of fire-crackers’’ on November 14, the night of Kali Puja.

Even the popular phuljhuri, has been banned after 10 pm, police said. Anyone flouting the ban would be penalised, said deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Banibrata Basu.

Basu also clarified that if a child breaks the rule, his parents would be hauled up.

Police have banned noisy crackers like dodoma, chocolate bomb, rocket, tubri, dhani patka, kali patka, chatpati and chuchobaazi. “Any cracker, producing more than 90 decibels within five metres, is automatically banned,’’ Basu added.

Joint commissioner of police , traffic, Sandhi Mukherjee said the cracker market would come up on the Maidan by the end of this week. The Firecracker Dealers Association, on Thursday, assured the police that crackers would be sold only from the Maidan market, Mukherjee added.

Police have asked organisers not to inaugurate their Pujas before November 13.

Restrictions have also been imposed on the use of loudspeakers. “Organisers are permitted to use loudspeakers only between 7 am and 11 am and 6 pm and 9 pm,’’ Basu said. Loudspeakers cannot be used within 100 metres of hospitals or nursing homes.

In a move aimed at discouraging Kali Puja organisers from going in for huge idols, the police have announced strict immersion rules at ghats bordering the Circular Railway route.

“Organisers have been warned that idols over 16.5 feet will not be immersed at ghats between Gwalior and Bagbazar,’’ Basu said. The DC, headquarters, explained that idols exceeding that height would pose a threat to overhead electric wires along the Circular Railway route.

Organisers with larger idols will be diverted to the ghats in the Port area. The last date for immersion has been fixed at November 17.


Calcutta, Nov. 1: 
The Maidan has lost one of its endearing landmarks. One of the two fabled soldiers, part of the cenotaph built in memory of World War I heroes, close to the Red Road, was knocked off its pedestal by a speeding bus on Thursday morning. The cemented head and the rifle of the statue, lying on the ground, were missing.

The statues of the two soldiers with helmeted heads bowed and rifles held upside down, were situated on either side of a concrete cenotaph constructed by the British.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Banibrata Basu, claimed that a CTC bus, moving at break-neck speed, crashed into the structure early in the morning.

CTC sources, however, pointed out that there were no bus services at such an early hour.

Police are also investigating whether miscreants vandalised the cenotaph. “There are reports that some miscreants had stoned the statues. We are looking into this, although it appears improbable,” said Basu.

The Hastings and the Park Street police are trying to trace the missing head and rifle of the soldier’s statue. A police picket has been posted at the spot.



Boy electrocuted at puja pandal

Five-year-old Rikki Rajak was electrocuted when he touched a live wire protruding out of a temporary electric box at a puja pandal in north Calcutta on Thursday. Witnesses said Rajak and his friends were playing cricket on K.C. Bose Lane, next to the pandal of Aamra Sabai, which was being used for Lakshmi puja. Oblivious to the danger, Rajak went to retrieve the ball and was electrocuted as soon as he touched the wire. Rajak’s friends informed his father Murali, a trader, who rushed to the spot and took him to RG Kar Hospital. But by then, Rajak had died. Tension began brewing as news of his death spread. A police picket was posted in the area. Deputy commissioner of police, north, K.L. Tamta said his department has started a case of rash and negligent act against the club. Later in the evening, Rajak’s body was sent for post-mortem. Local residents flayed the puja committee, holding them responsible for the death.

Goods seized on train

Railway police on Thursday seized contraband goods worth lakhs from the Sealdah-bound Kanchankanya Express. Among the seized goods were sophisticated video cassette digital players and foreign-made batteries. According to Gangeswar Singh, superintendent of railway police, Sealdah, the goods were hidden under the flooring and in panels of the train. The police began searching the train at Barrackpore station. Surprisingly, the driver halted the train at Bidhannagar station, near Calcutta, though the signal flashed green, Singh said, adding that the driver was in cahoots with the criminals.

Three arrested

Three persons have been arrested in the past 24 hours in connection with the killing of a taxi driver. Police said Probhas Roy, alias Chhotka, was shot dead by unidentified men on October 17. On Wednesday night, a police team picked up Bapi Bhuniya from a hideout in Rabindra Sarani. Bhuniya confessed to killing Roy in a fit of rage. Later, Munna and Azan Ali were picked up on the basis of Bhuniya’s statement. A country-made pistol was recovered from them.

Cash snatched

Sukumar Nandi, a resident of Sodepur, was attacked by miscreants at Kalyani on Thursday. The robbers snatched a bag containing Rs 40,000 after slashing Nandi with a razor. Nandi, who was rushed to hospital, said the money was for paying labourers.

Road mishap

A Border Security Force truck spun out of control and crashed into a shanty at Panchpota, in North 24-Parganas, on Thursday. Police said an unidentified woman died on the spot, while four others were injured. The killer vehicle was impounded.

Pension tech push

The state government’s pension department in Salt Lake will be computerised shortly. Work has already begun on the project which would cost around Rs 4 lakh. The decision to computerise the department was taken at a recent meeting.    

Calcutta, Nov. 1: 
Kitchen-gardens to bio-fertiliser, mapping to immunisation, micro-credit to medicine, no area has been left untouched in Swanirvar’s efforts towards village development. The NGO working in 20 villages around Baduria, North 24-Parganas, just 60 km from Calcutta, and 10 km from Bangladesh, has persisted in its effort to create a self-sufficient and sustainable community.

Started 12 years ago by Calcutta-based Sujit Sinha, Tirthankar Mukherjee and 15 village youth, the NGO is working in education, health, agriculture and micro-finance. Most of the NGO’s 100 employees live in the project area, and the work is conducted hand-in-glove with youth, farmers, women, and even panchayats.

Swanirvar’s main endeavour in the field of education has been to bring back a locally-relevant curriculum, with hands-on techniques. Fifteen pre-primary schools have been set up in the densely-populated project area, with 1,150 kids, and 1,350 who have already passed out. Three primary schools for 480 kids have been set up on “popular demand”. An academic module, with practical and vocational training, has been devised for high-school students during vacations.

“The current academic curriculum teaches nothing about village life, dwelling on world history and geography at the primary level,” says co-ordinator Sujit Sinha. So, alongside the syllabus, Swanirvar students are taught geography and history of their own areas.

“If we ask them to find out about their village history, they will ask the village elders and piece it together. So, learning becomes a process of discovery, both enjoyable and instructive,” stresses Sinha.

Swanirvar is networking in Calcutta with the District Primary Education Programme for re-introduction of practical learning in the school curriculum.

Under the Kishor-Kishori Bahini project, over 220 local youth in the Baduria, Deganga and Swarupnagar blocks, have undertaken road repair, animal immunisation, plant grafting, disinfecting tubewells and de-worming. They have also made land-use maps, conducted surveys on eating habits and have grown kitchen gardens. Cultural events like singing, dancing and drama are also taken up regularly. Health awareness, with an emphasis on prenatal and antenatal care and blood-donation camps is another focus area.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Swanirvar, which is supported by CRY, CARE, as well as the British group, Friends of Swanirvar, amongst others. Convincing the community to adopt sustainable, eco-friendly farming has been an uphill task. “Encouraging them to use less fertiliser and pesticide is difficult, because that means a lot more time spent in planning, besides more man-hours tending to crops,” explains Sinha.

A recently-launched micro-finance scheme has already seen the formation of 200 self-help groups, with 3,000 women under them. Over the year, 440 small loans have been taken by the village women for land-lease, paan cultivation, pig, cow and chicken rearing, sewing machines and madur, bidi and paper-bag making. Some have set up businesses in groceries, timber, fruits, garments and medicine.

The next step for village empowerment is to strengthen the panchayat. “We have already been working with it on various issues like flood and disaster management, which they have responded to positively,” concludes Sinha.


Calcutta, Nov. 1: 
The government is determined to stick to the start-up date of November 11. But the Calcutta State Transport Corporation (CSTC) union, controlled by Citu, CPM’s labour arm, appears all set to oppose the launch of late-night bus services.

Ever since state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty announced the much-hyped programme to help citizens faced with medical emergencies, for instance, or early morning travel, the CSTC has been in a collision course with the belligerent employees’ union.

A desperate CSTC deputy director, in charge of operations, P. K. Joardar, on Wednesday, called up union general secretary Narayan Saha, seeking his co-operation, but in vain. Efforts to organise an emergency meeting between CSTC officials and union leaders have also fallen flat with Chakraborty in New Delhi for the past two days.

“We shall continue our protest even if we are forced to toe the government’s line,” warned Saha. He argued that late-night services would not help the needy commuters but instead encourage criminal activities in government vehicles.

“If criminals travel in late-night buses, then who is going to protect our conductors and drivers,” an angry Saha said adding, “The decision has been taken without taking our opinion.”

Saha pointed out that it would have helped people if the authorities had converted some buses into ambulances and run them from the depots spread across the city.

“We have nine depots starting from Thakurpukur in the extreme south to Nilgunge in the north and if ambulances are provided to each of these depots, then people could have requisitioned them at late hours, just over the phone,” he suggested.

However, an undeterred CSTC management refused to cow down and said launching of the programme would not be deferred. “We are carrying out a government order and no one has the guts to violate that,” warned CSTC managing director G.P. Konar.

He also rejected the union leader’s contention about criminals travelling in late night buses. “We shall make adequate police arrangements for vehicles to be used for late-night services,” he added.

Admitting the growing hitches with the Citu union, Joarder said the authorities are still hopeful of reaching a consensus with the union leaders. “As a last resort, we may have to fall back on the minister to organise a meeting with the union leaders to rope them in,” he said, adding that a dialogue will be slotted immediately after Chakraborty returns from New Delhi.

According to Joardar, initially eight buses will start from Barrackpore, Barasat, Howrah and Thakurpukur and will return covering burning ghats and key hospitals like Howrah General Hospital, Medical College, SSKM, Shambhunath, Bangur, Ruby General Hospital, etc.

The vehicles will also ply through Howrah and Sealdah stations to pick up stranded passengers.

He said the minimum fare would be much higher than what is charged during day time. “Though we have not finalised the rates, the minimum fare must be between Rs 5 and Rs 10,” he added.


Calcutta, Nov. 1: 
A pro-active integrated system of flood forecasting and disseminating the information to people is a better way to reduce the impact of flood in comparison to reactive response to relief and rehabilitation. The message came out during the first-day deliberations at the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef)-organised three-day international symposium on IT-based flood forecasting, warning and participatory management systems.

During the inaugural programme on Thursday, attended by representatives from various government agencies, research and academic outfits, NGOs discussed issues pertaining to flood forecasting, communication of the warning signals and community-based disaster preparedness.

Efficient utilisation of mobile telephony, fibre optic cable and micro-wave stations also cropped up during the discussion. While inaugurating the symposium, Surya Kanta Mishra, minister for panchayats and rural development, stressed the need for effective use of technology to minimise people’s miseries during times of natural calamities.

A Unicef-commissioned status report on flood forecasting and warning system in the state, prepared by S. Mukhopadhyay, former dean, faculty of agriculture, Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya, was released at the function.

“The forecast warning system suffers from several loopholes, extending from age-old and inadequate instrumentation, lapses in data recording, bureaucratic delays in analysing data and communicating the risk to people,” Mukhopadhyay said.

Unplanned agriculture and lack of proper bank management were responsible for the flood situation in certain districts, he added.

The experts on disaster preparedness proposed the setting up of community-based flood defence units to warn people of risks associated with such calamities.

“Coordination between these units and agencies like Indian Meteorological Department, Irrigation and Waterways Department, Central Water Commission, Damodar Valley Corporation is very important in this regard,” said Ashok Sarkar, director of Spade, a Calcutta-based NGO.

To build up an on-line forecasting system communicable to the people, the UN agency has plans to kick off some pilot projects in the state’s river system.


Calcutta, Nov. 1: 
Presidency College officials on Thursday feared that aspiring post-graduates may be deprived of the opportunity to study the four newly-introduced masters courses in the college this year.

Despite tremendous demand to procure admissions, the college has not been able to begin the four new post-graduate courses, as the authorities are still awaiting the final approval from the state higher education department.

“Our institution is controlled by the government. No matter what the demand is, we will start admissions only after we get full clearance from the higher education department,” said Amitava Chatterjee, principal of the college. According to him, the first-year classes in post-graduate courses in most universities have already started before Puja vacation.

He added that with the vacations ending next week, most students would be unwilling to make the change once they have begun elsewhere.

“We doubt if at all we can start teaching from the current academic session and even if we can, we don’t think that we will get bright students, who are likely to have taken admission elsewhere,” said Subrata Lahiri, a teacher of the college.

After getting a clearance from the Calcutta University Syndicate, the Presidency College authorities had decided to introduce post-graduate courses in Geography, Botany, Hindi and Physiology. Preliminary clearances for running the four courses were also given. “It is surprising that the government had earlier given us the green signal and now that we are prepared to run the course, the government is dilly-dallying in giving the final nod,” said a senior teacher of the college.

Naturally, the teaching faculty is worried about the quality of students who would opt for Presidency’s post-graduate courses in mid-session.

However, most students are of the opinion that they would still enrol at Presidency since the library facilities are much better than other colleges. P.K. Ganguly, director of public instruction, said the college should not have any problem in beginning the process of admission once they get the administrative order.

Traffic disrupted: Traffic in the Lake Town area was thrown out of gear on Thursday after residents of Dakshindari took out a procession, protesting the deteriorating law and order. Traffic was also disrupted in some areas of Dum Dum.

The agitators expressed concern over the spurt in clashes between rival groups. A child was killed near a local club a few days ago after two groups of miscreants lobbed bombs at each other. Several persons were injured in the incident, they claimed. Senior police officers assured them of all possible help.


Calcutta, Nov. 1: 
The state government today gave up the move to promulgate the Prevention of Organised Crimes Ordinance, bowing to pressure from the CPM politburo and major Left Front partners.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said his government would try to introduce a Bill in the winter session of the Assembly for passing an Act to combat organised crimes in the state.

“On second-thoughts, we found it would be wise not to rush through with the Ordinance,” Bhattacharjee said. “We decided not to introduce the Ordinance immediately, even though the Cabinet had passed the draft with a view to fighting a special type of menace that the state has for some time been facing.”

The opposition from within the Front, Bhattacharjee confessed, had surprised him because the last Cabinet meeting had unanimously approved the Ordinance. “At that point I thought there would be no objections from any quarters. But in a democracy we have to honour everyone’s views,” he said.

The chief minister said his personal view was that there should be a tougher law to deal with organised crime, especially after the kidnap of shoe magnate Partha Pratim Roy Burman, Khadim’s co-owner. “However, I have told my colleagues to send in their suggestions so that these, if found acceptable, could be incorporated into the proposed Bill,” he said.

The government’s decision not to go ahead with the Ordinance coincided with the visit of Union minister Pramod Mahajan, who met Bhattacharjee to discuss the ruling communists’ opposition to the Centre’s proposed Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.

The information technology and parliamentary affairs minister said Bengal and all other opponents of the Central Ordinance would do well to accept it because of the ground realities.

“We wanted to provide all the state governments with Sten guns and machine guns through the Ordinance to combat terrorism. But if some states think they will fight terrorism with sticks, they are welcome.”

Mahajan also discussed IT-related joint venture proposals with the chief minister.

Expanding on the need for the crime Ordinance in Bengal, Bhattacharjee said it had “been misunderstood and misinterpreted”.

“There is no provision of keeping someone behind bars without trial for six months. The accused will have every right to pray for bail,” he said. “But what we want to ensure is that the bail prayers are granted only after the public prosecutor has been given a chance to argue. It should not be a one-sided affair.”


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