Eye camp robs two of sight
Legislation leash for spit, smoke brigade
Band of blood sisters
Hospital settlers evicted
Just a green scarf to breach barriers of bias
Forgotten fountain back in flow
The City Diary
Fake skin racket swamps trade in real thing
GE man goes talent-scouting in colleges
Funds dispute stalls girls’ school in Salt Lake

Calcutta, Nov. 20: 
It held out the hope of .clearer vision.. But a cataract camp, organised at Barasat by the Red Cross Relief Society (RCRS) and the North 24-Parganas district administration last month, has blinded two and left 18 others battling post-operative eye infections. .

This is an extremely unfortunate incident and should definitely not have occurred in the first place,. chief medical officer (health) Aniruddha Kar, also vice-chairman of RCRS, said on Tuesday. He, however, insisted that the patients were responding to medication. .The moment I learnt about the infection, I took all necessary steps to help them,. Kar added.

Twenty residents of Barasat and adjoining areas like Deganga, New Barrackpore and Madhyamgram, had assembled at the RCRS camp on October 11. There was trouble from the beginning, doctors of Barasat State General Hospital admitted on Tuesday.

First, a doctor from the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology did not turn up. Then, there was an .acute shortage. of space and patients had to be put up at a building adjoining the clinic. Finally, the operations were conducted in a room without adequate weather control.

Three doctors . all surgeons from the Barasat hospital . were roped in for the operations, which started around 11 am. All patients had initially been told they would be released the same evening but were later asked to stay back. .

We were suddenly told we wouldn.t be allowed to go home before next morning,. recounted Mohammad Kushlal Mandal of Bhasli village,who lost his eyesight.

On the morning of the 12th, the doctors. worst fears were confirmed by test reports . all patients had developed acute endophthalmitis. .We were then told we would be taken to a private hospital in Calcutta,. said Mohammad Yasin, also of Bhasli, who is on the brink of blindness.

The patients were brought to a private hospital in two batches; 12 on October 12 and eight others the next morning.

Tests confirmed ‘severe damage to the inner eye-structure because of the infection..

Three were immediately operated on and treatment on the rest started simultaneously. Most of the patients were given injections in the inner eye, and a few responded ‘satisfactorily., district health officials said.

The victims blamed their plight on the doctors and complained of being misled. .Whenever we go to the RCRS clinic for followup treatment, we are assured that there is nothing wrong with our eyes,. says Hemanta Das, one of the victims. .But I know that I am gradually losing my eyesight.We are suffering for no fault of ours..

Doctors say they have identified the problem that probably led to the infection. .The infection could have occurred from unsterilised equipment, impure water and inadequate infrastructure at the operation theatre,. they said, adding that most cataract camps had similar problems.

District magistrate H.K. Dwivedi, chairman of the district RCRS unit, has promised to .look into the matter..


Calcutta, Nov. 20: 
The state government is formulating an Act against smoking and spitting in public places. The Smoking and Spitting Act, which will enable law-enforcers to arrest offenders on the spot, is scheduled to come up in the Assembly this winter session.

Health joint secretary (law) Pareshnath Sen said on Tuesday: .It will be a bailable offence, but even some arrests will spark fear among those smoking in public places. Bus conductors will be empowered to evict smokers, while a strict vigil must be imposed at railway stations, courts, educational institutions and, of course, hospitals,. Sen said.

Health department officials, however, are not optimistic about the efficacy of such an Act. In a state where ministers . from chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to health minister Surya Kanta Mishra . head the list of high-profile smokers, formulating the Act will be far easier than implementing it, they fear.

Same goes for spitting in public. Though .looked down upon, especially in the urban centres., officials say spitting is a .regular habit. for many, which will take a while to curb.

Officials say the move to enact such rules follows the recent Supreme Court directive asking governments to ban smoking in public places.

But they admit that a lot more needs to be done, besides publicising the court directive on TV and in newspapers, as the government is now set to do. .

The government could have easily enforced the apex court directive in places it has a direct control over,. said a health department official. .But when you have a culture that tends to support smoking and absence of willpower at the very top to take tough steps, there’s nothing much that rules can do..

The proposed Smoking and Spitting Act will also aim at banishing pan masala from public places.

The government here is yet to receive copies of the Supreme Court ban on the sale of pan masala,. Sen said. But he admitted receiving information that the governments of Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, New Delhi and Rajasthan had already banned the sale of .tobacco in the chewable form..

The Supreme Court blanket ban covers a period of five years starting Tuesday. The proposed law cracks down on smoking and chewing tobacco in public places by making it a cognisable offence. But it makes no attempt to curb the sale of pan masala and the like. .This is a loophole in the Act, but it will, hopefully, be plugged by the Supreme Court directive once it is received and enforced in the state,. a senior health department official said.


Calcutta, Nov. 20: 
Bound by the solidarity of a shared destiny, the inmates of the Liluah centre for destitute women queued up on Tuesday to offer blood to 16-year-old Namita Bhattacharya and .bring her back home.. Namita, an inmate of the Liluah home, is suffering from leukaemia and is battling for life at SSKM Hospital. .

We don.t want her to leave us,. was the simple explanation from .Namita’s seven sisters. camping at SSKM. Detected with the disease over two years ago, the teenager now requires four units of A-positive blood once a month.

Initially, Namita required a unit a month. But now, she is in danger of running out of donors. .We approached several organisations, including Red Cross, after the blood bank at the hospital said it had run out of A-positive stocks,. said Liluah home superintendent Reba Das.

On Monday, the officials at the destitute home announced that Namita was not well and she required blood. .We were overwhelmed by the response. Almost everyone, including Sabita and Mundori, who had donated blood two weeks ago, raised their hands to volunteer..

The home has about 300 inmates, but only 50 could be considered for blood donation as the rest were either under 18 or in no physically condition to make the grade.

A group of three was first sent to SSKM on Monday morning. But the cross-matching with Namita’s blood failed and they all had to return disappointed.

On Tuesday morning, the women weren.t taking a chance. A group of seven, aged between 25 and 35 years, left their Liluah home for SSKM. .We were all praying as the cross-matching took place,. confessed one of them. .We heaved a sigh of relief when the blood of at least three of us matched Namita’s,. she said.

Rita, Sujata and Mita were the ‘saviours. of the day. Momentarily, the gloom of their everyday existence seemed to have lifted as they grabbed the chance to help Namita battle on. .

When they hugged the sick girl in her room, Namita managed a weak smile. On Monday, she had realised that the hunt for blood had failed and she had almost given hope,. said a home official.

Namita has been undergoing treatment at SSKM for the past three months. Her doctors say blood transfusion will help her survive but not cure her fatal disorder. And she has no one but her much-maligned ‘sisters. at the Liluah home by her side in her fight for life.


Calcutta, Nov. 20: 
As part of its clean-up drive in city hospitals, the state health department joined hands with the police on Tuesday to remove an office on the ground floor of the state-run Lady Dufferin Hospital, in Bowbazar. The office had been forcibly occupied by Intuc, trade union arm of the Congress.

Minutes after the eviction, a few dozen beds were placed in the reclaimed space and patients put in them.The space had been taken over by the trade union over 20 years ago. At least 17 families that had settled on the hospital premises were also evicted during the day.

A large portion of the government-run maternity centre has, for some time, been under siege of unions belonging to both the Congress and the ruling CPM.

Determined to reclaim the space, health secretary Asim Barman slapped a seven-day ultimatum on the unions to vacate, but to no effect. Senior health officials held a meeting with the city police to work out an eviction strategy.

Superintendent Sikha Adhikari said the hospital was losing nearly Rs 2.5 lakh annually in terms of rent for beds alone, because of unauthorised occupants. .We are happy that patients will get back their space,. she said, adding: .Our repeated pleas have so long fallen on deaf ears..

A large contingent of policemen, along with some hospital staff and health department officials, took up position on the ground floor in the morning to evict the union members. The drive lasted nearly three hours. .

There was a mild protest from the encroachers but they had to yield to pressure,. said deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Banibrata Basu.

The police put the room under lock-and-key and pasted a notice on the door warning against trespass.

Intuc leaders, however, complained of police harassment and assault. .We demand an impartial probe,. they said. Some of them plan to take up the matter with mayor Subrata Mukherjee, state unit chief of the Intuc.


Calcutta, Nov. 20: 
Inequality without barriers is the question Sarah Jones addresses in Women Can.t Wait! And on Tuesday morning, the New Yorker broke artistic barriers to take her message straight to .the people who matter.: Students. .

An all-women’s college, yeah, even I went to one,. Sarah exclaimed, as she took centrestage in the packed auditorium of Loreto College. Sarah,who attended the .elite, allwomen’s.Bryn Mawr college, in Pennsylvania, took no time to .connect. with her young audience.The 50-minute performance that had riveted the diverse audience at Gyan Manch on Monday evening seemed to have an even greater impact on the college students.

In the one-woman show performed without sets, 27-yearold Sarah brings eight women from different parts of the world to life by changing her voice, height and accent, with a green scarf as her only prop. .I was too stunned to speak. Before this, I thought it was only women in India who have to bear the brunt of their husbands, boyfriends and governments.Now, I realise that women all over the world face the same problems,. said an overwhelmed 19-year-old.

The response from the teachers, during an interactive session,was similar. .In times of war, it becomes evident that men are aware of differences that divide man, but it is women who are conscious of the similarity that binds them,. observed one.

The response of the students seemed to make it a mission accomplished for the poet-activist. But Sarah, the realist, insists that this is just the start. The message conveyed by the play, commissioned by Equality Now, an international human rights organisation, is one against state-sanctioned discrimination. But,while laws are .glaring symbolic problems., Sarah admits that .change has to start at the level of socialisation of children., teaching them to accept women and men as equals. .

Think of discrimination against women as discrimination against half the population,. challenges Sarah, addressing a wide range of issues, like rape exemption, honour-killing and female genital mutilation, across the globe, from India to Kenya and France.

Sarah, who is .just waiting for the day the show is retired., believes each community must find its own method to promote equal rights. .I am not going to come in here and say that you have to teach the way they taught me back home, because that wasn.t perfect either..

From laws against letting women work at night, to .female castration. practised in Africa, the actress who appeared in productions such as The Vagina Monologues chose a wide range of problems to show that .women all over the world are treated like second-class citizens..

Sarah, who believes there is a .continuum of inequality. connecting women everywhere, said: .What does it mean to say that people are .more. or .less. equal in different countries? It’s just a matter of degrees. Even Hillary Clinton can.t drive in Saudi Arabia..

Anti-feminist sentiment has not passed Sarah by, either. .Men have come up to me to ask me why we should have a women’s centre and not one for men. They should think about the situation of women before they talk about injustice perpetrated against them.. For her, resistance from patriarchy is no longer the issue. .We have to move beyond that, and say .Now what?


Calcutta, Nov. 20: 
Its old-world charm has, over the years, caught the eye of those walking down East Esplanade Row. It has found pride of place in an artist’s sketch-book and fondly christened .forgotten fountain.. Today, after decades of neglect, this beautiful piece of Victorian structure in Calcutta has won back its looks and is even set to get back into the flow of things.

Till even a few months ago, those passing by the high court would have scarcely believed that beyond the foliage stood the forgotten fountain, captured by writer-artist Desmond Doig in one of his sketches of old Calcutta.

Manish Chakraborty, architect and conservator, had written to former PWD minister Kshiti Goswami in October 1999, highlighting the plight of the .forgotten and vanishing fountain..

Some eight months ago, the PWD started restoration work on the monument. The foliage was cleared and the concrete pillar blocking the view of the fountain façade substituted with iron rods. .

New waterpipes have been fitted and the fountain will soon have water flowing again,. said S.R. Banerjee, chief engineer,PWD.

The fountain, according to Doig, was erected in memory of William Frase McDonnell, vice-chancellor of the Bengal Civil Service from 1850 to 1886. Going by the inscription on the stone, which has now faded, McDonnell was awarded for bravery in Shahabad district.

The lion’s head carved in front of the monument with a drinking bowl below it is the most ornate element of the fountain. Gangadhar Rao, an octogenarian who owns a teastall nearby, recounts the gurgling of the water flowing out of the lion’s mouth and falling into the bowl below. .The horses would gather here for a drink from the stone trough that used to be here. Now, it lies in front of the Town Hall and nobody seems to know that its original place was in front of the fountain,. he says.

A fencing of iron rods and concrete pillars was erected by the PWD years ago to protect the structure. But one of the concrete pillars was placed right in front of the lion’s head and the fountain was forgotten. As Doig wrote: .Someone with that good civic lack of taste that plagues Calcutta has had a monster iron-and-concrete fence erected within inches of the fountain. Only dismantling the fountain would have done more to hide it from view..

That’s what has now been done to revive the fountain and restore a slice of history.



Auto-driverís arrest sparks blockade

A 68-year-old man was seriously injured when a speeding autorickshaw knocked him down at the intersection of Beleghata Main Road and Munshibazar Road on Tuesday morning. The injured, identified as Rajdeo Singh, a resident of Raja Lane in Ballygunge,was admitted to NRS Hospital.His condition was stated to be critical. Police impounded the vehicle and arrested the driver. As the news of arrest spread, at least a dozen auto drivers blocked Beleghata Main Road, in front of B.R. Singh Hospital, demanding his release. The roadblock was withdrawn after policemen rushed to pacify the mob.

January signal for cable TV hike

There’s bad news for cable TV viewers at the turn of the year, with major broadcasters set to effect hefty hikes in tariff. The STAR package is likely to cost Rs 39.50, come January 1, 2002, from the present Rs 28.75 (including STAR Gold), according to city cable operators,who claim they have been verbally informed about the jump by STAR officials .45 days in advance., according to prior commitment. It is learnt from market sources that ESPN-STAR Sports, too,will increase rates from the current Rs 15 to around Rs 26.

Biswas better

. Anil Biswas,CPM state secretary, has recovered. He underwent a gall bladder operation at a city nursing home on Monday.Visitors were not allowed to meet Biswas on Tuesday, nursing home sources said.

Trains disrupted

.Local train services on Eastern Railway’s Howrah-Burdwan section were affected for nearly half an hour after a lorry broke down at a levelcrossing in Liluah on Tuesday morning. Services were restored after railway authorities removed the lorry.

Deputy mayor ill

. Deputy mayor Meenadevi Purohit fell unconscious in the conference room of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation on Tuesday during the demonstration of a pilot project on malarial database.Officers called in the CMC’s doctors. Member of the mayor’s council in charge of health, Javed Ahmed Khan, said Purohit was running a fever and had skipped meals.

Canal clean-up

.The second phase of eviction along Tolly’s Nullah will begin in January 2002, urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said on Tuesday. After attending a meeting to discuss the eviction drive, the minister said there were more than 2,000 unauthorised houses along the eightkm stretch between Kudghat and Garia that will be dismantled during the new year drive.

Rally for salary

.At least 289 members of Samabay Karmachari Samity courted arrest on Tuesday.Police said at least 300 members staged a rally on Rani Rashmoni Road around 2 pm, demanding salaries and arrears. Later, the members broke the police cordon and courted arrest. All of them were taken to Presidency Jail and freed on bail in the evening.

Vidyasagar Mela

The 11-day Vidyasagar Mela will begin from December 21 on the Maidan. The theme of the fair this year is .Education and Development.. The fair is being held on the Maidan for the past eight years to promote awareness about social welfare. .    

Calcutta, Nov. 20: 
The number of seizures of fake .tiger-skin. in the city in 2001: .Numerous.. The number of originals seized during the same period: .Only one..

That is how the balance sheet reads for the state wildlife wing of the forest directorate.With the wing now having its hands full making seizures of skin that only look like having belonged to tigers, officials of the directorate say . half in jest . that they may well end up forgetting what original tiger-skin looks like.

Not that they will regret it, they add.

The racket in fakes, explain officials, is the result of the wildlife wing’s crackdown on the sale of tiger-skin in the city and its periphery.

With even nails and paws proving hard to get . and sell . those indulging in the banned trade are now turning their attention to fakes. .

Sunday’s seizure of fake skin by the city police is only the latest in a series of such discoveries,. said a senior official of the wildlife wing.

The crackdown on the trade in tiger-skin and other bodyparts has resulted in seizures of fakes from hideouts at .the unlikeliest places., say officials.

For instance, a collection of fake skin was seized following a raid on a construction site in the Behala area; the skin was dumped between rows of bricks kept aside for the construction.

Another seizure, more recently, came from the footpath in front of B.C.Roy Hospital for children in Beleghata.A third occurred near a Calcutta Municipal Corporation pump-house off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. .

The seizures, most of which were from places we never thought of, point at a rampant racket in fake tiger-skin,. a senior forest directorate official told Metro. .

The seizures also point at the fact that the original poachers are now taking a backseat and yielding place to a new breed of racketeers involved in the fake trade,. he added.

Officials, however, can.t help but point out the irony behind the burgeoning trade.

The fake-sellers cannot be charged under the Wildlife Act or any serious crime, because they are not trading in originals, say officials. .

Most of them,when arrested, can only be charged with fraud,. one of them said, regretting the fact that they could not be charged with even the Prevention of Cruelty Act, as it was .almost impossible. to prove that the fake skin-sellers actually killed the animals whose hide they had dressed up as tigers..

The seizures, say officials, indicate an inter-state ring behind the racket ending in Calcutta. Investigations have led officials to believe that the racket originates in either Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka; those arrested on Sunday spoke only Kannadiga, officials said.

Though the fakes do not yield a very high price . each skin is sold off for as less as Rs 1,000 . the trade is .extremely profitable. for the racketeers as the risks involved are not so high and the capital (needed for painting the skin of a dog to pass it off as tiger-skin) is not much, officials say.


Calcutta, Nov. 20: 
GE Capital, India, has taken a significant step towards setting up a call centre in Calcutta. Pramod Bhasin, president of the Indian outfit of the global IT services major, visited Lady Brabourne and Scottish Church colleges, met some of the Writers. top-brass, before leaving for Bangalore, on Tuesday.

According to sources,GE Capital will take .around two months. to finalise its move to Calcutta. .Right now, they are busy deciding the location for their fourth centre, which will be either Chandigarh or Jaipur,. said a government official.

Bhasin had attended the ICE (information, communication and entertainment) summit and met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Monday. He started Tuesday at Lady Brabourne College where he met teachers and enquired about the .quality of students. and their English-speaking skills. He also wanted to get an idea about prevailing salary-levels for graduates in the city. .

We were told that the company was considering coming to Calcutta and so, was assessing the quality of human resource-supply from city colleges. He was also keen to know that, given a chance, whether our students would be willing to work in night shifts,. said Dr Gopa Dutta, principal, Lady Brabourne College.

Accompanied by Webel officials, Bhasin then went on to Scottish Church College. According to principal Dr Kalyan Kumar Mandi, the GE president made it clear that .the most important selection criterion. would be good communication skills in English. .

We could also make out that the company was more interested in recruiting girls. They even seemed keen to start short courses on communication skills in colleges, once they decided to come to Calcutta,. Mandi observed.

Bhasin had to call off his visit to Loreto College and head straight for Writers., where he had a series of meetings with Amit Kiran Deb, secretary to the chief minister, chief secretary Manish Gupta and IT minister Manab Mukherjee.

Government officials, apparently, assured Bhasin of .full cooperation. in GE Capital’s bid to set up its fifth IT services centre in Calcutta. .He was told that be it land or any form of infrastructural facilities, the government was committed to extend support to the company,. an official of the IT ministry said on Tuesday.

Though GE Capital representative refused to disclose details of their Calcutta plans, Bhasin, apparently, has made it clear to government representatives here that they were ‘seriously exploring the possibility of setting up an IT-services centre in the business hub of eastern India.

Bhasin even gave rough estimates of the number of possible recruitments in the first year of operations and the salary levels that GE Capital was looking at. .He was referring to a start-up salary level of around Rs 5,000 for fresh graduates and recruitment of around 1,500 to 2,000 people in the first year itself,. a government official said.


Calcutta, Nov. 20: 
A tussle between two departments . school education and finance . has stalled the construction of a government-run, Bengali-medium high school for girls at Salt Lake.

The dispute between the departments has inconvenienced a large number of guardians in Salt Lake, who are unable to admit their wards to Begum Rokeya Smriti Rashtriya Balika Vidyalaya, which is presently functioning from the BD School.

Worried over the government’s failure to begin construction of the proposed building, guardians and local residents of Salt Lake have joined hands and set up a forum to persuade the government. A 60-cottah-plot at CJ Block in Salt Lake had been allotted to the institute two years ago.

Sources in the education department said construction of the proposed building was delayed since the state finance department did not clear the proposal. Sources added the finance department was still sitting on the scheme, even after the State Planning Board (SPB) has cleared it.

Officials said it took a long time to start the construction as the finance department had referred the scheme to the SPB after it found that the approximate cost of the project is Rs 2.5 crore. According to government rules, any project exceeding Rs 2 crore requires an approval from the SPB. Education department officials alleged that the board had cleared the scheme two months ago. But the finance department has still not released the funds.

However, officials at the finance department said that the scheme would be cleared only after examining the funds allotted to the school education department in the current year’s budget for setting up buildings.

School education minister Kanti Biswas said that construction of the building would soon begin, as the departments concerned have given their green signal. .It will function from its new campus from next year,. he added.

Concerned over the lack of girls. schools in the area, residents of Salt Lake, Maniktala and Baguiati had approached the state government. Bowing to guardians. pressure, the government opened the school in May 2000 but a year has passed and not even the boundary wall has been constructed. The guardians complained that BD School had given only eight rooms to Begum Rokeya for running Classes I to X. .

Begum Rokeya has turned away many students for want of adequate space,. said Supratik Das, a guardian. The school aimed at accommodating 2,000 students. It has only 462 students on the rolls now.


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