Pink-slip panic grips Saltlec
Cables crossed on cost
Ache charade cons the cops
Peace parleys after campus closure
The City Diary
Pension woes dog teachers
Bardhan seeks communist unity against BJP-led front
Buddha plea for forces
Court closed for want of head

 
 
PINK-SLIP PANIC GRIPS SALTLEC 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 28: 
For Sandeep Agarwal (name changed on request), the year that had begun on an IT high is ending on an abysmal low. Having been asked not to return to his Saltlec software firm in the New Year, the 28-year-old techie has been forced to push back marriage plans and pick up the pieces of a crumbling IT dream.

Sandeep is not alone. Billed as boom town not so long ago, Sector V of Salt Lake has suddenly turned into bleak house for tons of techies. Pink-slip panic has gripped employees at leading software firms, with Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTS) and R.S. Software leading the way.

According to sources, CTS, with a workforce of over 500 in four offices in Saltlec, “has shown around 100 employees the door in the past 10 days”. R.S. Software, which employs around 450 people in Calcutta, has told 60 of its staff to “look elsewhere”. Some other major firms in Saltlec have also cracked the whip, ordering a number of employees to “improve their performance” or have their names struck off the payroll.

The CTS top-brass, while admitting the downsizing of the workforce, protested that it was not a reflection of the company’s growth graph. Siddhartha Mukherjee, vice-president, CTS, said: “We have an annual performance appraisal to evaluate our employees. Those on the lower end of the performance matrix are given time to improve and then asked to leave only if they fail to improve their standards.”

Mukherjee added that the firm had warned those who’ve been shown the door to improve their performances. “But there is no change in our campus recruitment plans this year,” he clarified. CTS has, in fact, logged US $134.3 million in the first three quarters this year, against last year’s revenue figure of $ 137 million.

According to a CTS software professional losing some major accounts, like Northwest Airlines in the post-WTC scenario, may have sparked off the trimming process. He added that the process of sacking was not as transparent and phased as company officials claim. “Everything was so sudden. Some of us were even pulled out of on-going projects and handed pink slips. It’s true that a few had been pulled up by the HR department for poor performance, but most were asked to leave as the company wants to restructure its expansion plans,” he alleged, adding that CTS has already deferred the joining dates of some fresh recruits from campus interviews carried out in Jadavpur University.

R.S. Software, meanwhile, has made official its decision to “reduce professional strength in response to continued technology meltdown in the marketplace”. A company spokesperson claimed on Friday they were in the midst of a “realignment exercise”, which would “impact its global workforce by 12 to 15 per cent”.

The sudden CTS slash, in particular, has shaken up Saltlec. “Two months ago, CA-TCG laid off 16 employees in a single day. R.S. Software has also been cutting its workforce for some time, But what happened in a conservative company like CTS is, indeed, unprecedented,” said a software professional working for a reputed company in Saltlec.

“People have pushed the panic button. Now, it’s time to review the ground reality in the government’s dream IT town,” said the CEO of a start-up company in Saltlec.

   

 
 
CABLES CROSSED ON COST 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 28: 
Cable and satellite (C and S) homes in Calcutta are bracing for the big New Year bash-up — between broadcasters and operators, of course. With January 1, 2002, being the official deadline for the new, hiked rates of popular channels like STAR Plus and ESPN to come into play, the stage is being set for yet another stand-off.

As things stand now, a cable connection could cost the consumer around Rs 25 to 30 more per month. Failing which, it could cost the viewer one or more of his favourite pay channels. With cable operators going into a huddle trying to work a way out, there is even talk of a “one-day token strike” to take the fight to the broadcaster. If matters come to a head, there is also the danger of “runaway” channels, like ESPN and STAR Sports, being blacked out by disgruntled operators.

Broadcasters blame the “under-declaration of connectivity” on the part of the operators for jacking up rates. As STAR Network CEO Peter Mukerjea said after the recent rate hike: “It is sad that just six million subscribers in the country share the cost of 38 million cable homes! If cable operators declared their true connectivity, we would be in a position to reduce our monthly charges in the long run.”

Operators, however, have a different take. “It’s a scientific declaration, not under-declaration, and if we declared our true connectivity, we would never be able to provide so many channels for as little as Rs 150. The broadcasters always want to ride their weaker products piggyback on the popular channels,” says Supratim Halder, secretary, Cable Television Operators’ Association.

More often than not, Calcutta is where the maximum heat is generated and the cable viewer is caught in the crossfire. So what’s the way out? “Worldwide, conditional access system (CAS) has been the proven solution,” says an industry watcher. CAS, or addressability, enables the viewer to pick and choose the channels he wants to watch.

“The unscrambled signals received by the multi-system operator (MSO) or the individual operator is encrypted again and transmitted to the viewer. The viewer has a set-top box which enables him to decode the channels of his choice,” explains an RPG Netcom official.

CAS should be a win-win situation for all players. The viewer gains by getting to pick the channels of his choice; the broadcaster benefits by the subscriber base becoming transparent; cable operators do not have to hard-sell so many pay channels.

“We don’t have any problems with addressability. The operators won’t be termed cheats any longer and there will be less bitterness,” says Tarak Saha, secretary, Forum of Cable Operators.

The broadcasters, though seem a touch guarded on the issue. “We will welcome CAS, provided there is total transparency and a standardised system to be laid down by the government,” says Yashpal Khanna of STAR.

But with addressability a distance away, so is a solution to the cable viewers’ problems.

   

 
 
ACHE CHARADE CONS THE COPS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 28: 
She had her world — a group of woman criminals of central Calcutta — at her command, till she fell into a police trap and found herself behind bars. But Taheera Bibi had no plans to stay in the slammer. Early on Friday, she feigned illness to walk away to freedom, past a posse of policemen posted to guard her.

Acting was never new to Taheera. This was what she used to best effect to climb the rungs of the criminal world ever since she left her village in Burdwan and took up a room in Bowbazar. Separated from her husband at an early age, and living alone with her mother in Katwa, she was spotted by a local criminal as a “recruit with great potential”. Soon, the 25-year-old woman was learning the tricks of the trade in the bylanes of Bowbazar, Hare Street and other parts of central Calcutta. Her USP: Make friends with young men and either blackmail them or pick their pockets.

Within months, she was into bigger business — planning robberies and recruiting aides. “She is evil, but few got a hint of this because of her acting skills,” said deputy commissioner (central), Zulfiquar Hasan. “Which is why it was a bit of a problem netting her.”

On December 11, the law caught up with Taheera. After committing a robbery in Bowbazar, she fled to her Burdwan village. But, acting on a tip-off, the police followed her and arrested her from home.

“The moment she was arrested, she began her play-acting,” Hasan said on Friday. She complained of a severe stomach ache on the journey in a police van to Calcutta. By the time she was lodged in lock-up, the police were certain her appendix had ruptured. They rushed her to Medical College and Hospital. The doctors there said her appendix was fine but advised that she be admitted. “She even managed to fool them,” a policeman said.

Once admitted in a general ward — with two lady constables posted by her bed and a few policemen at the door — Taheera began plotting her escape. “For the first few days, her behaviour was exemplary,” an officer said. “She even struck up a friendship with her guards.” Early on Friday, about 4 am, when she started complaining of a severe stomach ache, one of them untied her hands and took her to the toilet. Once inside, Taheera locked the door and pretended to slump to the floor. The constable rushed to fetch her colleague. Taheera opened the door and walked out.

The constables have been suspended but till late on Friday, there was no trace of Taheera.

   

 
 
PEACE PARLEYS AFTER CAMPUS CLOSURE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 28: 
An inquiry began on Friday into the violence at Bengal Engineering College (Deemed University), Shibpur, with the authorities still uncertain about when the institution would reopen. The campus was closed “indefinitely” last Monday.

The authorities are firm about not reopening the college until “peace returns” to the campus. “We cannot take any more risks. The incident has already tainted the image of the institution,” said an official. The post-graduate section is open, but sources in the college said none of the students turned up for classes on Friday.

A series of clashes between students and a section of employees last Monday had prompted the authorities to shut down the college indefinitely. The authorities have convened an emergency meeting of the board of governors on Saturday to discuss reopening the campus.

Vice-chancellor Amal Jyoti Sengupta on Friday met heads of all the departments to discuss rescheduling of the postponed examinations. Sources in the college, however, said Saturday’s examinations to the state School Service Commission would be conducted as scheduled.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Pak businessmen stranded in city

Confusion prevails among the six Pakistani businessmen in the city to attend the Industrial India Trade Fair on the Maidan. With the BJP-led Centre deciding to snap road, rail and air links with Pakistan, from January 1, 2002, the Pakistani traders are waiting to take the first flight out after the fare gives over on December 31. “Our family members back home are urging us to return as fast as possible. We are planning to take alternate flights, via Kathmandu, for which we will have to pay around Rs 30,000 more,” said Rehan Kapoor, of Kapoor Sons, dealing in handwoven fabric. They are at present busy arranging warehouses to store the goods that they have brought for the fair.

Youth clicking Writers’ held

Two youths were arrested while taking photographs of Writers’ Buildings on Friday. Police said the youths were rounded up for security violation, particularly in the wake of the terrorist attack on Parliament. Later, it was revealed that the youths were visitors from Aligarh, in Uttar Pradesh. They are being interrogated, the police said.

Sealdah eviction

Citu leader Chittabrata Majumdar on Friday met the hawkers of Sealdah and discussed their eviction. The Citu leader will talk to the hawkers again on Sunday. Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya will be present at the meeting, Citu sources said.

Somen return

State Congress leader and MLA Somen Mitra will return to the city in mid-January after a bypass surgery in Delhi. Mitra suffered a heart attack in November. His party observed its foundation day on Friday.

Theft-by-maid case

A racket in theft by domestics has been unearthed with the arrest of Dhananjoy on Southern Avenue on Friday. Dhananjoy is known to supply domestic help to families in the neighbourhood. Recently, the police picked up two maids on charges of theft in the area. One of them, Gauri, was released on bail on Friday. Dhananjoy, too, was released on bail as he had turned “approver”. The ring leaders, Mithun and Kalpana, are expected to be netted soon.

Resort protest

Residents of Amtala and Pailan, on the southern fringes of Calcutta, have moved court, alleging that the neighbourhood is being vitiated by a string of resorts, which are plying their trade despite an injunction.

Three run over

Three people were injured when a private bus mounted a pavement at Fariapukur, in north Calcutta, on Friday morning. Police said the injured were sleeping on the pavement when the bus ran them over. The driver fled but the vehicle was seized.

Professor dead

Psychologist and former head of department of applied psychology, Calcutta University, Dr Sarojendra Nath Roy, died on Monday. He was 85. Roy was a member of the Calcutta University Senate.

JU reunion

A reunion of former students of Jadavpur University will be held on Sunday. The programme will continue from 9 am to 7.40 pm.    

 
 
PENSION WOES DOG TEACHERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 28: 
The proverbial delay of the state government is threatening to bring teachers out onto the streets again. Retired teachers of state-aided schools are up in arms and plan to start an agitation if their pensions are not cleared by March 2002, within the date announced by state finance minister Asim Dasgupta.

In September, the minister had announced that pension and other retirement benefits of all retired teachers of state-aided schools would be cleared by March 2002. The assurance followed a movement in the city by some teacher’s bodies against the delay in clearing pensions. But Dasgupta’s deadline is unlikely to be met, say the teachers.

Amaresh Jha, a teacher at a school in Entally in central Calcutta, had retired in February. All documents required for clearing Jha’s post-retirement financial benefits had reached the state pension cell at Salt Lake a couple of months ago and he believed he would soon be “rich”.

However, when the teacher enquired today when he would receive his pension, officers of the cell told him to enquire again on June 3, 2002. Only then would they be able to tell him when the pension payment order would be released, they said.

Arati Ghosh, who retired in 1999 from a school in Dhakuria in south Calcutta, fared no better. She, too, was told by officials of the pension cell not to contact them before June. The officials are not even ready to meet Purabi Mitra, who used to teach at a school in Beltala in south Calcutta till 1998, before July.

It is not just the teachers of Calcutta who are suffering. Aruna Ghosh and Biswanath Kar, who had retired from district schools a couple of years ago, had journeyed all the way to Salt Lake only to be told to come back in June and July.

Now, many teachers’ organisations are preparing to start another agitation if the bulk of the cases are not cleared by March. “We will start a movement if our demand is not met. This time, we will not listen to false promises and will continue our movement till every case is cleared,” said Kartick Saha of the Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association.

According to Saha, 80,000 retired teachers — 30,000 of who are in Calcutta — are yet to receive their pensions.

Pension cell director Kalyan Chakraborty, while admitting to a delay in releasing the pensions, said the government had already taken steps to clear the pensions as fast as possible.

   

 
 
BARDHAN SEEKS COMMUNIST UNITY AGAINST BJP-LED FRONT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 28: 
CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan today advocated the merger of the CPI and the CPM to fight the BJP-led coalition in Delhi.

The unification of the two parties will also strengthen the Left Front in Bengal because the Front grew under the leadership of the communist parties, Bardhan said while inaugurating the 21st state conference of the CPI in Barasat.

Bardhan said though unification of the two communist parties is not easy, it is time they addressed the issue. “It is not easy for the communist parties to be united like bourgeois parties. But I want to ask the CPM what prevents them from thinking about reunion of the two communist parties as both of us think about socialism and believe in the same Marxism-Leninism,” he said.

“I know it is difficult for both the parties to unite without sorting out the ideological differences between the two. But serious discussion should be initiated immediately,” Bardhan said. The CPI has decided to discuss the issue during the conference.

Bardhan said the separate existence of the two parties would help its enemies grow. “If there are two communist parties, there will be rivalry between the two and it will continue till both are united. The supporters of both parties will be forced to think which party is greater or more powerful. Both parties will have to consider who will fight which seat in any election,” he argued.

“Several mass organisations affiliated to the parties will find it difficult to work together. It will be difficult for both the parties to reach their goal of social reforms without support from the mass organisations affiliated to them,” said the veteran communist leader.

   

 
 
BUDDHA PLEA FOR FORCES 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Dec. 28: 
Concerned over increasing infiltration from across the Indo-Bangla border, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has urged the Centre to deploy adequate BSF personnel.

Though the state had repeatedly demanded the deployment of additional forces along the border, the demand had fallen on deaf ears, Bhattacharjee said at a news conference in Malda yesterday.

“The Central government is busy protecting the border in the western parts of the country but does not think of the east. As such, infiltration is continuing rapidly because of the lack of guards. Besides, activists of various extremist groups are also entering the state from Bangladesh, which is a major concern for us,” the chief minister said.

According to home department officials, of the 1,161 km-long Indo-Bangla border spread over nine districts, 700 km is marked with rivers. “We need at least 32 BSF battalions to guard the Bangla border, but have only 20. It is, thus, impossible to check border crime and infiltration,” Deb said today at Writers’ Buildings.

Bangladeshi national shot

A Bangladeshi national was gunned down by the BSF at Goalpukur in Uttar Dinajpur in the wee hours of Friday. According to district police, BSF jawans opened fire on a group of seven Bangladeshis suspected to be smugglers, who were found cutting the barbed-wire fencing along the Indo-Bangla border. However, the rest of the miscreants managed to escape.

   

 
 
COURT CLOSED FOR WANT OF HEAD 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Asansol, Dec. 28: 
The Workmen Compensation Court at Durgapur has been closed for more than 14 months for want of a commissioner.

The court covers four districts, including Burdwan, Bankura, Purulia and Birbhum.

Durgapur Bar Association assistant secretary Anupam Mukherjee said: “Litigants and lawyers are facing major problems as there is no hearing for any compensation litigation.”

District magistrate Manoj Agarwal said no one had been appointed after the previous commissioner retired. He, however, said a new commissioner was likely to be named soon.

   
 

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