Fee hike opens door for more
Swoop on sleaze dens nets ‘dirty’ dozen
NRI plan for bone clinic
Night to remember on Cloud No. 9
The City Diary
Partners in preservation push
Bid to erase plastic slur
Criminals on the click for city cops
CMC gets tough on jobs
Buddha okays staff audit

 
 
FEE HIKE OPENS DOOR FOR MORE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
Thwarting Mamata Banerjee’s plans to tap student anger on the issue, all the million-odd candidates appearing for Madhyamik and Higher Secondary 2002 have paid the newly-hiked fees, without seeking a waiver on grounds of economic disadvantage.

Happy with the overwhelming acceptance of the new fee structure, the West Bengal Madhyamik and Higher Secondary Boards have all but decided to review the fee structures for the two examinations every three years, education officials said on Thursday.

“The enhanced fee is still insufficient, because even after the hike, the government has to fork out a huge subsidy. So, we have to go for a review, and if necessary, an upward revision,” said Haraprasad Samaddar, president, West Bengal Board of Secondary Education.

With the government — especially school education minister Kanti Biswas — pushing all its agencies in the field of education towards self-reliance, the two boards have decided to offset the per capita cost of holding the examinations by increasing fees.

“We will tap popular opinion before increasing the fees further, even though there is an immediate need to charge more from the students,” said Jyotirmoy Mukherjee, president, West Bengal Council for Higher Secondary Education.

The two Boards’ plans for a further hike in fees are interpreted as a government-programmed snub to the challengers of the reforms programme. One pointer to such a challenge is the statewide strike the SUCI has lined up for January 10 against hiked fees in the education and health sectors.

When the two Boards, under pressure from the government, raised the fees some time ago, they were unsure about the possible public reaction, which the Opposition parties warned would be severe.

The Boards were quick to incorporate provisions for the economically-disadvantaged, promising to help needy students through their schools.

Not a single candidate among the million-odd examinees, including approximately six lakh appearing for Madhyamik 2002, has approached the authorities for such assistance.

“We are ready to offer all possible help to poor students. But, surprisingly, no one has approached us for a waiver,” said Mukherjee. “If students do not approach the Board in future, the next round of fee hike can be expected in another two to three years,” officials said.

   

 
 
SWOOP ON SLEAZE DENS NETS ‘DIRTY’ DOZEN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
A twin trail of sleaze took sleuths from Kalyani Expressway, on the city’s fringes, to Vivekananda Road, in the city centre, on Thursday. At the end of it, two rackets had been busted and a dozen people rounded up. Those in the net included a state excise officer and a constable from the same department.

“The interrogation of Gabbar has blown the lid off various parlours which act as fronts for dens of vice. According to Gabbar, these sleaze centres stretch from the city’s fringes to posh localities,” said a police officer, warning of “more such raids to follow”.

The crackdown at Barrackpore began late on Wednesday and carried on till early Thursday. A team, led by SDPO Kanad Mukherjee, acting on complaints from residents of the area, launched the clean-up drive.

“For some time now, residents of Barrackpore, bordering the Kalyani Expressway, have been complaining about the disturbance caused by sleaze centres that have sprung up there,” said M. Harisen Verma, SP, North 24-Parganas.

A “hand-picked” team reached the spot before midnight and threw a tight security ring around a dubious den. The door was smashed open and the ‘massage parlour’ raided. “The owner of the parlour tried to stop us, and even threatened to work her political and police contacts,” one of the officers recounted.

“Among those rounded up, two men claimed to be cops on official assignment. They were later identified as employees of the state excise department. While one of them happens to be an officer of the department, the other is a constable. They were arrested along with the others,” confirmed Verma.

Among those picked up were two local promoters and three women employees of the ‘parlour’. Three vehicles parked outside the centre were also impounded.

Around the time of the Barrackpore bust, a team from Burtola police station was launching a similar operation in north Calcutta. Led by officer-in-charge Asim Ghosh, the team raided a “gents only” beauty parlour on Vivekananda Road, early on Thursday. “We had received complaints about this den of vice from local residents,” said deputy commissioner of police (north) K.L. Tamta.

“Two women employees and a few men were arrested,” said an officer of Burtola police station. “The owner of the parlour, who is also a bank employee, has revealed links with several important clients, which we are following up,” he added.

Fog delays flights

Dense fog over the Capital delayed flights between Delhi and Calcutta on Thursday morning.

The Indian Airlines flight left Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport at 8.45 am, instead of 7 am. The flight from Delhi arrived in Calcutta two hours behind schedule.

As a result, the Guwahati-bound Airbus was delayed by over four hours. Jet Airways flights in the sector were also held up for two hours. “With temperatures dipping further, there seems little chance of early morning visibility improving in the near future,” said an airport official.

   

 
 
NRI PLAN FOR BONE CLINIC 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
Bengalis are prone to low-bone density and more frequent victims of fracture compared with people of other Indian states, according to evidence gathered by a UK-based team of doctors.

These doctors met health minister Surya Kanta Mishra at Writers’ Buildings on Thursday with a proposal to set up a clinic to study bone-mineral density at SSKM Hospital. “Bengalis have a calcium intake that is a third of the required level and so, there are many cases of low-bone density, or what is medically known as osteoporosis,” said Kuntal Chakravarty, who practises at Haroldwood-Oldchurch Hospital, Essex.

Chakravarty was satisfied with the talks. “The minister was supportive and asked us for a detailed report on the project budget,” Chakravarty said.

Alokendu Ghosh, head of the department of medicine, SSKM Hospital, said there was enough space on the premises to set up the DEXA scanner, which measures bone-mineral density.

The project will involve 5,000 people of all age-groups. “We want to provide treatment, too, as I believe we cannot conduct research without service,” said Chakravarty, an SSKM alumnus.

   

 
 
NIGHT TO REMEMBER ON CLOUD NO. 9 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
Calcutta’s rock fans may hit Cloud No. 9 yet. Bryan “Everything I do…”Adams is coming back with more in store for his fans in India, and Calcutta is high on the rocker’s “to-do” list.

The Canadian had “postponed” his visit to the city, originally scheduled for October 2001, after the World Trade Center attacks. But now, he’s “reworking his schedule” to bring back his Summer of ‘69 magic to town, “mid-2002”.

Pepsi, sponsor of the show, is “optimistic” that things will work out this time round. “As long as no further calamities occur, he’ll be touring a couple of cities in India. Calcutta looks set to be on the agenda,” Deepak Jolly, executive vice-president, corporate communications, Pepsi Foods Limited, confirmed on Thursday.

The reason for targeting Calcutta as a travel stop for Bryan Adams is clear: The fan following that the singer enjoys in this part of the world is “quite phenomenal”. Bryan is as big as they get here, with hysterical hordes travelling from Calcutta colleges to Bangalore last May, to catch the concert. Kanak Gupta from St Xavier’s, who made the trip down south, recalls the “madness” of “40,000 people” packed into the Palace Grounds. “All of my friends wanted to go… I’m sure everyone will turn up for the Calcutta concert. The Victoria Memorial grounds or Eden Gardens just might be large enough to accommodate the crowd,” feels the 21-year-old.

City CD and cassette sales reflect the same fervour for the 18 Till I Die man. “In his genre, Bryan Adams figures consistently on top of the charts. Best of Me was Number 1 for weeks together. He has a huge fan following in Calcutta and any gig here is sure to be a sellout,” says Dipra Jha, store head, MusicWorld.

The soft-drink major, which brought European pop stars Vengaboys to Calcutta last year, is furthering its brand association with music. It is planning a series of “big-name” concerts and roadshows in India over the next couple of years.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Bombs and bullets near Sealdah

Geetashri Sandhya Mukherjee recording her new album, Bhajanamrita, at HMV’s Dum Dum studio on Thursday. The album, containing 10 Hindi bhajans, will be available from Christmas Eve. Picture by Rajib Basu Violence broke out at Narkeldanga, near Sealdah, late on Wednesday when local residents resisted eve-teasing in the neighbourhood. The goons retaliated with bombs and bullets. When they tried to ransack the area, the residents fought back. A police contingent, led by deputy commissioners Sanjoy Mukherjee and K.L. Tamta, chased away criminals Jhumman and Pappu, who had masterminded the violence. The residents on Thursday decided to lodge a complaint with police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

CMC scraps inheritance

The CMC has taken away inheritance rights of traders in the 28 civic markets in the city. Directed by mayor Subrata Mukherjee, municipal commissioner Debashis Som issued a circular on Tuesday, limiting the right of a stall-owner to his lifetime only. After the death of a licensee, his stall will revert to the CMC and the civic authorities will re-allot it by inviting tenders. The order prohibits all types of transfer of a stall in the civic markets.

Rights seminar

A seminar on ‘Exploring the Universality of Human Rights Discourses’ at Ramakrishna Sarada Mission Vivekananda Vidyabhavan, Nayapatti Road, will be inaugurated by Calcutta University vice-chancellor Ashish Banerjee at 10.30 am.

Fest postponed

Xavotsav, the annual fest of St Xavier’s College, scheduled for December 21 to 23, has been postponed due to unavoidable circumstances.

Tannery complex

The state government will ask Jagmohan Dalmiya, developer of the Bantala tannery complex, to reduce the price of land in the complex. Dalmiya is charging Rs 1,800 and Rs 1,200 per square metre, depending on the location of the plot. The government wants a price between Rs 750 and Rs 800 per square metre. State cottage and small-scale industry minister Bansogopal Chowdhury said on Thursday that all the tanneries were expected to shift to the Bantala complex by February 2002. Over 550 tannery owners have deposited money, while about 120 have made preliminary investments for the land at the existing rate. Once the price is reduced, all the tannery-owners will make their move, Chowdhury said.

Writers’ security

New security norms for the state Secretariat were set in place on Thursday even as police stopped minister of state for scheduled castes and tribes Bilasibala Sahis from using the VIP lift. The state home department on Thursday issued an order restricting the entry of cars into the two front porticos of Writers’ Buildings. All employees, as well as MLAs, have been requested to carry their identity cards. The order follows increased vigilance in government offices in the aftermath of the December 13 attack on Parliament.

Bowling results

The following are the winners of TTIS Inter-school Bowling Championship on Days III and IV. (Wednesday): La Martiniere for Boys A, B and C, Assembly of God Church A, B and D, St Thomas B, Don Bosco Liluah B, Sunrise English Medium A and B, Don Bosco Park Circus F, Lakshmipat Singhania C and St Xaviers A. (Thursday): Don Bosco Liluah B, St Xaviers B and C, Calcutta International School A, Don Bosco Park Circus B, Laksmipat Singhania B, St James A, St Thomas A and B, Don Bosco Park Circus F, La Martinere for Boys C and St Xaviers B. Both the semi-finals and the final are scheduled for Sunday, with the prize distribution to follow immediately afterwards.    

 
 
PARTNERS IN PRESERVATION PUSH 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
Action Research in Conservation of Heritage (ARCH) has expressed willingness to undertake documentation of the heritage buildings in Calcutta in association with Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Calcutta Circle and/or INTACH.

ARCH secretary Manish Chakraborti, himself a practising conservation architect, has written to ASI director-general Kasturi Gupta Menon about this proposal. Menon, who was in the city last week to speak at the inauguration of a four-day seminar-cum-workshop on ‘Conservation of historic brick buildings’ of north Calcutta, had mentioned about ASI’s plan of documenting Calcutta’s heritage buildings in tandem with NGOs.

The workshop, hosted by Max Mueller Bhavan from December 13 to 16 and organised by ARCH in association with the German Centre for Crafts and Protection of Monuments and ASI, had two objectives: To increase the capacity and skills of professionals through lectures, presentations, site visits and demonstrations towards conservation of historic brick buildings and to prepare simple practical guidelines for owners of heritage buildings.

German building conservation specialist Manfred Gerner was aided by his compatriots Sabine Freyburg, Uwe Rodiger and Bernhard Gaul. From the Indian side, there was participation from the PWD, CPWD, CMDA, CMC, State Archaeology, besides architects and engineers from private firms and architecture students. “The lectures presented at the workshop, both by the German experts and their Indian counterparts, were very relevant to the subject,” said Chakraborti.

The guidelines for brick building owners listing simple repair methods, will be published within a month and will also include a list of conservators empanelled with the CMC and a list of vendors selling materials for conservation. Answers to frequently asked questions with regard to planning permission and listing of heritage buildings in Calcutta, will also be there in the published checklist.

Participants at the workshop also felt the need to prepare a schedule of work for conservation which exists for new buildings prepared by the PWD for the state and by the CPWD for the Centre. They recommended the constitution of a committee of experts by the PWD to work towards this.

   

 
 
BID TO ERASE PLASTIC SLUR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
The government is ready to take steps to cull negative awareness and promote use of plastics, said Manab Mukherjee, minister, IT and environment, a seminar, on Thursday. “Despite plastic being a globally-chosen material, it has earned a bad name due to misinformation,” said Shyam Tibrewal, president, Plastindia foundation.

According to Mukherjee, the government is also contemplating making it mandatory for municipalities to maintain recycling plants and tying up with kabariwallahs to sell off the waste.

Calcutta generates around 80 tonnes of plastic waste a day, which makes up for four per cent of the total waste dumped. “Roughly 98 per cent of this plastic can be recycled,” said R. A. Lohia, president, India Plastic Federation, and it would yield an annual revenue of Rs 70 crore.

Plans were afoot to categorise waste and educate the public and civic authorities at large, Ashok Chawla, CMD, Indian Petrochemicals Corporation, said.

   

 
 
CRIMINALS ON THE CLICK FOR CITY COPS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
The police will instal Intranet, a software that will connect 42 police stations and 40 other units with the main computer control room. The installation is scheduled for Friday.

“The software will carry details on criminals, their lifestyle, arrests, cases pending against them, their area of operation and even their suspected political affiliations,’’ a senior police officer said.

Police said they were also trying to record the voices of the criminals and store the same for identification. “From now, photographs and fingerprints of criminals will be just a click away,’’ the officer said.

The computers have already been installed at police stations across the city.

Policemen have been trained in batches over the past few months. The software has been tested over a period of time to ensure its authenticity.

But outsiders will not be able to access the data. “We have designed the software in such a manner that hackers will not be able to access it nor will the information be leaked to the public,’’ a senior officer said.

The Intranet will be inaugurated by commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty.

   

 
 
CMC GETS TOUGH ON JOBS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
Taking a cue from the state government, the Calcutta civic authorities said on Thursday they would be less generous in providing employment henceforth.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) would “consciously” restrict the current practice of providing employment to dependents of employees who die in harness.

“The way things are, the CMC can no longer be known as an employment-generating institution,” said Mukherjee. From now, a dependent will be provided employment only if a review committee recommends him, he said. The committee, after receiving an application, will probe the actual financial status of the bereaved family and then decide.

The state government has recently implemented the same policy. “I will follow it too,” the mayor said. The deceased’s wife would get first priority, he said, adding that later, other family members’ prospects would be reviewed.

According to deputy municipal commissioner (personnel) Samiresh Chatterjee, the decision would benefit the CMC doubly, since it would save the lifelong pension amount and the widow, provided employment, would perhaps have much less span of service life, unless she is young.

The CMC, reportedly, was forced to come up with the scheme since it is bordering on bankruptcy, having to pay 43,000 employees and 15,000 pensioners. “The CMC earns only Rs 170 crore by way of revenue every year,” said chief of municipal finance and accounts Shekhar Dutta. “If we can save a few crores, it can easily be channelised for city development projects,” he added, ruing that the CMC spends Rs 236 crore every year on pay-packets and Rs 50 crore on pension.

Rampant irregularities in birth proof have often resulted in people working long after retirement, burdening CMC’s already weakened condition.

All this, however, may change if the CMC has its way; it has made periodical presence of pensioners at the civic headquarters a must, following widespread complaints of “ghosts” picking up pension. Over the past few years, only three cheques have come back from genuine parties, who have acknowledged that the pensioner is dead. According to Mukherjee: “If one goes through CMC records, it would seem that our staff had been successful in stretching longevity to superhuman levels. Soon, they will be almost immortal.”

   

 
 
BUDDHA OKAYS STAFF AUDIT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
The state government is going to appoint Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to ensure optimum utilisation of its “idle” manpower in different departments.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has given the green signal and the file is lying with finance minister Asim Dasgupta. By engaging TCS, the government aims to prevent recruitment and ensure proper manpower utilisation.

TCS’ primary job will be to identify departments with flab and those with a staff shortage. Surplus employees would be placed in a “common pool” and re-deployed in departments that are short-staffed, an official spokesman said.

Writers’ Buildings has stopped recruitment for the last one year in view of the surplus staff. But there are no plans to offer voluntary retirement schemes.

Bhattacharjee assumed office on November 6, 2000, and on December 11, then chief secretary Manish Gupta issued a circular stopping all non-Public Service Commission recruitment.

At the instance of the chief minister, Gupta had formed a committee to find out about surplus staff. It had found that there were many employees who had not been allotted specific work. The report was, however, considered inadequate as the heads of several departments were reluctant to reveal the actual position.

The government believes that the findings of a private firm would be more accurate as it can work dispassionately, secretary to the administrative reforms department, Dilip Chakraborty, said. “The truth will never come out if the job is not done dispassionately. That is the prime reason for appointing TCS,” Chakraborty added.

TCS had earlier undertaken similar assignments from the Andhra Pradesh and Maharastra governments.

“The government has no mechanism to declare the quantum of its excess employees. Neither is it prepared to offer golden handshake to such employees because of financial constraints,” explained a senior official.

The consultancy firm will work in five phases. First, it will undertake a survey in the secretariats, then in the directorates and down the line in three other phases.

   
 

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