Test case to curb tuition
Clean-up at the Lakes, hope for heritage house
Fog havoc on flight path
Salt Lake sits in quake-peril zone
The City Diary
ASI keen on restoration role
Buddha sees light of truth
Mamata on a Delhi high
Security shield for PM
Minister clears air on power rate hike

 
 
TEST CASE TO CURB TUITION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
The best way to beat the private tuition trap is by introducing checks and measures where it matters most — inside the school.

Putting this into practice, South Point School has introduced a system involving a “separate academic unit” to set the question papers. This keeps out all teachers of the school, in a bid to put an end to efforts by students to “get a tip or two” about a forthcoming test paper.

Private tuition is rampant, despite the announcement by the state government in the Assembly this March, that the “evil practice” would be banned.

“It’s been an age-old custom for students to take private tuitions from schoolteachers and expect them to pass on some ‘inside information’ about what to study and what to leave out for the exams.

This move will minimise the risk of favouritism, which is an essential part of the private tuition system,” says an ex-teacher of the south Calcutta school, which has found a place in the Guinness Book for having the “largest number of students” under one roof in Asia.

While insisting that “none of our teachers is allowed to teach a student of South Point outside class”, vice-president N.G. Khaitan puts the “increasing tendency among students everywhere in the city to seek private tuition”, as a matter of serious concern.

“Private tuition breeds favouritism and a partisan attitude among teachers. It also makes the students inefficient. We have decided to adopt certain measures to ensure that each and every student gets proper attention and they are not required to seek even minimum help from private tutors for achieving better results,” stressed Khaitan.

Besides the step to keep out teachers from the process of exam paper setting, the South Point authorities have also kicked off a “continuous system” of identifying weaker students for “extra coaching”. Special coaching cells, monitored by teachers from various streams, are set up to help these students reach the desired academic level. These internal coaching classes are conducted at no extra cost to the student.

Another innovation to be introduced is the system of addressing a particular problem area of a particular class. If the performance of a large number of students from a particular section is found to be “below par” in a given subject, additional classes will be undertaken. This will enable students to make up lost ground, for a nominal fee.

“Once guardians are confident that their wards’ academic problems will be sorted out in school itself, the need for private tutors will diminish automatically,” concluded Khaitan.

   

 
 
CLEAN-UP AT THE LAKES, HOPE FOR HERITAGE HOUSE 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
Two rulings passed by the high court on Friday have given Calcuttans something to cheer about.

In an order that will help beautify and revitalise the Dhakuria Lakes, the green bench of Calcutta High Court authorised the Indian Railways to evict by January 25 all squatters from either side of the train tracks running parallel to Rabindra Sarobar.

This is the first time that a court has asked the railways to carry out an eviction drive in the city.

The bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice S.K. Mukherjee, also directed the state government and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to extend all cooperation to the railways in this drive.

About 800 squatter families have been inhabiting a 3.5-km stretch between Lake Gardens and Tollygunge stations on the Sealdah-Budge Budge section of the Eastern Railway for several decades.

Today, up to 9,000 people use the lake’s water every day for washing and bathing, polluting the waterbody.

The order was based on petitions filed by three organisations — the Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Committee, which was the first to initiate proceedings in 1997, the Rabindra Sarobar Bachao Committee and the Paribesh Dushan Rodh Committee.

A stalemate had arisen, as the state government and the CMC felt that the land being the railways’, they would have to carry out the eviction. But the railways had pointed out that the state government was supporting the squatters by giving them voting rights.

In 1999, the railways moved the Supreme Court, and got an order on June 18 this year, which said the high court was the competent bench for the case, and stipulated that it should hear the case in six months.

Preserve and protect

The second order by the same bench, this time hearing a public interest litigation (PIL), stops “anyone or any organisation” from demolishing or altering the original Bishop’s House on 5, Russel Street.

On the night of August 25, a group of people had broken down a portion of the gateway leading to the compound of the heritage building. Destiny Calcutta Association of Anglo-Indians moved the PIL, seeking the court’s intervention for preserving the 150-year-old building, in which the first Bishop of Calcutta had stayed.

The court also directed the officer-in-charge of Shakespeare Sarani police station to preserve the three marble plaques dismantled from the arched gateway that night. Counsel for the petitioners L.C. Behani told the court that the CMC had written to the YMCA in Delhi to repair the building to prevent further damage.

   

 
 
FOG HAVOC ON FLIGHT PATH 
 
 
BY OUR AIRPORT REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
Dense fog delayed around 20 flights for two to three hours and postponed one by a day at Netaji Subhash International Airport in Calcutta on Friday morning.

None of the flights could land or take off till 9 am, as the fog enveloped the airport and its surrounding areas, reducing visibility to well below the minimum aviation requirement.

The delayed departures left many passengers stranded at the airport. Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee was among those held up. Mamata was flying to Delhi to attend a meeting convened by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Her flight finally took off after 9 am.

A Silchar-bound domestic flight was one of the first planes to take off after the fog lifted.

Sources at the airport said a British Airways flight from London tried to land on Friday morning. It hovered over the airport for half-an-hour before flying off towards Chennai.

Similarly, a cargo plane of Kuwait Airlines could not land in Calcutta and headed for Dhaka. Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and Alliance Air flights, bound for Delhi, Mumbai, Agartala and Guwahati, were also delayed.

The British Airways flight diverted to Chennai is expected to return to Calcutta late on Friday or early on Saturday. “But we do not know if the weather conditions will improve on Saturday morning,” said an official.

The flight to London has been rescheduled to leave Calcutta airport at 9.30 am on Saturday. Indian Airlines has rescheduled its flights to Agartala and Port Blair for Saturday with the first flight for Agartala to depart at 2 pm and the flight to Port Blair to take off at 4.30 am.

Due to delayed departures, some domestic flights in the afternoon also took off much behind schedule. According to an airport official, it was time to explore the possibility of installing specialised equipment to minimise flight delays, along the lines of an innovation in Delhi.

The Met Office in Alipore said the formation of fog and mist over the city’s suburbs is likely to continue due to a combination of “dipping temperatures and high moisture content” in the air.

“The minimum temperature was 15.6 degree Celsius on Friday morning, while the humidity was around 98 per cent,” an official said. There was a cloud formation on Friday due to air circulation over Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Weather office sources said the temperature is likely to dip further, once the cloud cover lifts.

   

 
 
SALT LAKE SITS IN QUAKE-PERIL ZONE 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
Salt Lake is “more susceptible to quake damage” than Calcutta. That’s the conclusion reached by an ex-student of BE College, (Deemed University), Shibpur, now in Cambridge researching new technologies to minimise loss of life and property during earthquakes.

Subhomoy Bhattacharya, 26, is now in town, wrapping up his research covering “risk zones” in the world. A special mention has been reserved for Salt Lake and Rajarhat — two townships built on swampy land — as “more susceptible to quake damage” than the city proper.

“Scientists have already warned that Calcutta falls in the risk list. From now on, we must be cautious about what structures we build where,” said Bhattacharya. “It is not possible to prevent natural disasters or avoid casualties merely by predicting the quake time. But with our present knowledge, we can definitely ensure safety of structures and reduce loss of lives caused by building collapses.”

Bhattacharya explains why Salt Lake and Rajarhat are more prone to extensive damage caused by a quake: “The nature of soil plays a key role and the extent of destruction has been found to be maximum in townships built on landfills. This is because the soil particles of swampy lands are loosely bound. They liquefy very fast if the ground is shaken even by a mild earthquake. This weakens the ground surface on which the building stands, causing it to tilt and collapse.”

This, says the young researcher, is exactly what happened at Kobe, in Japan, in 1995, where concrete structures had been built after landfill. “Saving existing structures involves a huge expenditure, but at least the buildings at Rajarhat can be saved if certain parameters are kept in mind during construction,” says Bhattacharya.

The Shibpur passout, who will be delivering a lecture on his observations at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, next month, wants to ensure that his theoretical exercise is put to practical use. “I will be placing some suggestions regarding the safety of buildings in the proposed Rajarhat township to my former teachers at BE College and urging them to pass them on to the state government.”

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Fire at godown opposite Lalbazar

A fire broke out in a six-storeyed building on Lalbazar Street, opposite the city police headquarters, on Friday. Fifteen engines took over five hours to douse the flames. However, there were no casualties. A short-circuit may have led to the fire, sources said. According to locals, smoke started billowing from a godown of an electrical gadget-manufacturing company on the third floor of Todi Chambers around 3.30 pm. Members of the Todi Chamber Owners’ Association blamed the promoter of the building for the incident. “This is the tenth incident of fire in the past five years. Poor maintenance is responsible for all such incidents. Altogether, 80 offices and 60 shops are located here and yet, this is virtually a tinder box. The Corporation was informed long ago, but no action has been taken so far,” said Ravi Agarwal, secretary of the association.

Blaze at New Market

A fire broke out at an empty kiosk of the new New Market on Friday. The shop-owners were the first to spot smoke billowing out of the second floor of the building. Five fire tenders were pressed into service to douse the flames. However, there were no casualties. Sources said a short circuit might have led to the incident.

Hotel products

Mother Dairy and Great Eastern Hotel have entered into an arrangement whereby the hotel’s bakery and confectionery products will be distributed through select Mother Dairy outlets in Calcutta. The retail outlets of Great Eastern will stock Mother Dairy products, like yoghurt and packaged drinking water. The hotel will also serve the same to its boarders.

Green complaint

Singer Mrinal Chakra borty has complained to Chief Justice A.K. Mathur of Calcutta High Court that trees were being felled near his house at Ballygunge Place East. Chakraborty had earlier lodged a complaint with Gariahat police station but no action was taken. He alleged that a local promoter was behind the felling of the trees in the area.

CM’s address

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas on Friday ruled out the possibility of shifting chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s residence from Palm Avenue. The Union home department has asked all state governments to tighten the security around chief ministers after Thursday’s attack on Parliament.

Held for fraud

Krishna Mohan Ghosh, 58, was arrested for selling fake electric goods under the trademark of a multinational company from his shop at Nandaram Market, in central Calcutta. According to the police, sleuths, who were tipped-off, raided the shop on Friday afternoon and arrested Ghosh. They recovered the fake goods and sealed the shop.

AIDS camp

A four-day training session, organised by the National AIDS Control Organisation and State AIDS Prevention and Control Society, for NGOs from the northeast concluded at Salt Lake on Friday. The theme of the session was effective communication methods for HIV/AIDS.    

 
 
ASI KEEN ON RESTORATION ROLE 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
The Archaeological Survey of India wants a bigger role in conservation of Calcutta’s heritage buildings, provided the local authorities include it in their scheme of things.

After restoring Metcalfe Hall — the only monument in the city protected by ASI — the national body is all set to take up Currency Building as its next project in Calcutta. “It’s a majestic structure and we are keen to restore it,” ASI director-general Kasturi Gupta Menon said on Friday.

Menon, who feels the Dalhousie area should be declared a heritage zone, described as “atrocious” the mayor’s plan to put up a Parkomat in front of New Market. “It will kill the feel of the entire area and block the majestic market. Such an insensitive structure should never come up,” she said.

The undercurrent of discontent at being left out of most projects in the state is apparent among the ASI top brass. “Isn’t it strange that even when we have the expertise and the funds to help, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation hardly ever consults us while taking a decision? Besides, the ASI is not even a member of a single district heritage committee in West Bengal,” a top ASI official lamented.

Menon said as a first step towards playing a more meaningful role in preserving the “colonial splendour” of Calcutta, the ASI will soon start documenting the city’s heritage structures in tandem with an NGO, like it has done in Delhi with Intach.

   

 
 
BUDDHA SEES LIGHT OF TRUTH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
Industry-friendly chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was forced on the defensive today when the chairman of Godrej Industries, Adi Godrej, did some plainspeaking on the “anti-liberalisation” stance of the ruling party.

“We are learning the truth from the facts and we are changing our policies too. But we also have to take into consideration the economic conditions prevailing in countries like India. We may be a late starter, but we will catch up soon,” he said.

The chief minister was otherwise at his business best, going all out to woo industrialists at the National Council meeting of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). Most participants appreciated his stance.

Alex Von Behr, CEO of Coca-Cola India, said: “It appears that the chief minister means business. He sounds quite dynamic and pragmatic.”

D.S. Brar, CEO and managing director of Ranbaxy Laboratories, echoed him. As did R. Seshasayee, managing director of Ashok Leyland.

Bhattacharjee invited the Coca-Cola India chief to invest in fruit-processing units in the state. But Behr said the company has no immediate plans to do so.

When Raghupathi Singhania, managing director of JK Industries Limited, floated the idea of selling the state as a low-cost place for outsourcing products, the chief minister immediately extended an invitation to him.

Bhattacharjee also presented a report card of West Bengal before the business luminaries. He announced that despite the recession in the country, West Bengal has been able to attract investments worth Rs 1,811 crore till November in the current year.

He said that the state’s gross domestic product has increased by 7.6 per cent last year, which is substantially higher than the estimated increase of six per cent.

The state has done well in the information technology sector. “That our efforts have borne fruit is demonstrated by the fact that a number of IT majors have set up their units in the city. Software exports from the city have increased from Rs 250 crore in 1997-98 to Rs 935 crore in 2000-01.”

Reacting to a question raised by the Oswals of the Oswal group, Bhattacharjee said a textile policy is being worked out. “The state will come out with tea, jute and engineering policies soon,” he added.

Bio-technology is another important area which offers a vast scope for investment. “We have taken the decision to set up a centre of excellence in bio-technology. The government will soon announce its bio-technology policy.”

   

 
 
MAMATA ON A DELHI HIGH 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
Mamata Banerjee left for Delhi this morning after she got an urgent call from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) last night, re-igniting speculation of her return to the Cabinet.

Mamata, who was back in the city tonight with Vajpayee, told her aides before leaving that the PMO had urged her to attend an emergency meeting in the capital following the terrorist attack on Parliament.

The Trinamul Congress leader will accompany the Prime Minister to Santiniketan tomorrow for the Visva-Bharati University convocation.

Mamata is expected to be taken back into the ministry after the winter session of Parliament ends. But with the war against terrorism taking centrestage, the proposed Cabinet reshuffle might get delayed.

Trinamul supporters were happy that the Prime Minister had sought Mamata’s presence in the capital at a critical hour. “This shows that Vajpayeeji still attributes considerable importance to her suggestions in formulating policy-decisions. Her return to Calcutta on the same flight with the Prime Minister also augurs well,” a close associate of Mamata said.

The Trinamul chief is keen to get back the railways ministry. But it is possible that Vajpayee might offer her either rural development or surface transport as railways minister Nitish Kumar is believed to be unwilling to part with his portfolio.

The Trinamul leader has often told party workers that she prefers railways to any other portfolio, as she wants an early completion of the pending projects in Bengal. She has, however, always skirted the issue in public, saying a Cabinet reshuffle is the “Prime Minister’s prerogative.”

Mamata contacted party leaders Mukul Roy, Alok Das, Gautam Basu and Sanjoy Bakshi last night after receiving the PMO’s call and told them to chalk out a political programme to show solidarity with the Prime Minister in his anti-terrorism crusade.

“We must do something to strengthen the Prime Minister’s hands at this critical hour,” she said.

Accordingly, the student and youth wings of the party took out a procession this afternoon from Raja Subodh Mullick Square to the Gandhi statue on Mayo Road to declare “our firm resolve to protect democracy and national security against terrorist attacks”.

   

 
 
SECURITY SHIELD FOR PM 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
Security has been tightened for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s overnight visit to the state a day after the suicide strike at the heart of the country.

Vajpayee, who arrived in the city late this evening, will stay the night at Raj Bhavan and leave for Santiniketan tomorrow morning to attend the Visva-Bharati University convocation. He is the Chancellor of the university.

Later in the day, he will return to Calcutta to address two functions. He will visit the Udayan Housing Complex on E.M. Bypass and attend a CII-sponsored meet at Netaji Indoor Stadium. The Prime Minister leaves for Delhi tomorrow night.

Taking no chances, state and city police have deployed nearly 5,000 personnel, including specially-trained commandos and jawans of the Rapid Action Force, for his security.

In a first-time measure, a team of 15 crack commandos will form a ring around the Prime Minister.

Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Sujit Basu said that for the first time, the Prime Minister will not give away the degrees and diplomas for security reasons. He will only confer the Deshikottama on sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan.

About 2,500 securitymen have been deployed around Amrakunja — the venue of the convocation. The audience will be seated beyond a security ring of 45-feet radius.

Security forces today scrutinised the roads Vajpayee will take in Calcutta and in Santiniketan. Officials of the bomb squad took sniffer dogs to check the entire stretch from the airport to Raj Bhavan.

“Details of the Prime Minister’s security arrangements cannot be disclosed. Overall security arrangements in and around the airport have been beefed up,” said superintendent of airport police O.P. Gupta.

A 300-strong force of the state armed police was deployed in and around the airport from early this morning, he said.

Security forces today checked all cars on the route to the airport from VIP Road. Roadside trees and bushes were checked. Officials of the bomb squad also examined the bridge on Kestopur canal with explosive detectors.

   

 
 
MINISTER CLEARS AIR ON POWER RATE HIKE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec.14: 
Power minister Mrinal Banerjee today said the state government had no hand in the tariff hike in CESC and WBSEB areas, announced last Friday.

Banerjee told Opposition members in the Assembly that it was no use blaming the government because the tariff increase was announced by the West Bengal Electricity Regulatory Commission (WBERC).

“WBREC is a quasi-judicial body. The government cannot regulate its recommendations. If someone is unhappy, he is free to move Calcutta High Court”, he said.

The minister was speaking on a non-official resolution moved by Debaprasad Sarkar of the SUCI, expressing concern over the tariff increase. The resolution demanded that the “anti-people” decision be withdrawn immediately.

Banerjee said he had “reservations regarding certain issues relating to CESC, but so far as tariff is concerned, neither the power department nor the CESC had any say.” The motion was rejected by the House.

The CESC had demanded a 92-paise increase in its average tariff. It got 9 paise. WBSEB had demanded a 97 paise hike, but was granted only 11 paise.

The House also rejected a motion, tabled by the Trinamul Congress, seeking a rollback of the recent tuition fee hike in colleges and universities.

Higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty underlined that poor students need not pay the increased fees. He said students coming from families that have a monthly income of less than Rs 6,000 need not pay the increased fees.

The state government has earmarked Rs 4,000 crore for the education budget which is the highest in the country, he added.

Replying to a calling attention motion, industry minister Nirupam Sen said negotiations were on between the employees’ unions and BCJ group regarding reopening of the New Central Jute Mill in Budge Budge.

   
 

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