Cradle care key to survival
Banner raised for patients’ rights
Tagore tune, as you like it
City teacher missing
The City Diary
A different pitch from politics
University code sparks strike call
State opts for bigger bytes
Fresh lease for challenged inmates
Buddha dares Mamata on blockade bar

 
 
CRADLE CARE KEY TO SURVIVAL 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, Dec. 30: 
Nine-month-old Ishica Banerjee is today growing up at home like any other baby. When she was born in April, her guts were outside her body. Her’s was a rare case of gastroschisis, where the intestines at birth are an appendage instead of being inside the stomach and abdomen.

After a five-month stay at the neonatal intensive care unit and two major surgeries at a city hospital, her digestive system is in its proper place, and she’s eating, drinking and gurgling like any other toddler.

Ten-day-old Baby Sarkar was not so lucky. He developed severe breathing trouble a day after birth at another prominent hospital in south Calcutta and had to be shifted to a nearby institution, which had specialised neo-natal care. But the damage had been done, and the baby died in its 10th day, after a severe infection affected its respiration.

As much as 15 per cent of babies born in the city every year require some form of special attention at birth, while another five per cent need even higher standards of treatment for them to survive, say paediatricians.

Five hospitals in Calcutta have neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs. But only one of them has an accredited level-II status. The NICU at Assembly of God Church Hospital and Research Centre was awarded this recognition a fortnight ago by the National Neonatology Forum.

The forum is the only organisation in the country to have compartmentalised the degree of care required by a new-born.

It has also formed a committee that inspects and awards certification to a hospital once it has achieved a particular level of care. “The status of neonatal care in the country is far from satisfactory,” the forum says in the preface to its norms for accreditation.

“Most of the teaching neonatal units (teaching hospitals are supposed to be tertiary-level health care institutions) are poorly organised, with inadequate patient care facilities.” The forum has found that most hospitals offering specialised baby care have “equated it with incubators, while quality care means having a ventilator.”

But the basic philosophy of specialised neonatal care in the broad areas of supportive care, specific care and administration “is either not appreciated or is ignored.”

The neonatal period — that is, from birth to 28 days — is the most crucial period in an infant’s life. The majority of deaths among year-old infants occur within the first four weeks of birth.

The most common problems arise from respiratory distress, sepsis or infection, pre-term birth, gross underweight or congenital anomalies. “Specialised neonatal care can prevent many deaths and long-term problems,” points out consultant paediatrician Amitava Sen, who heads the neonatal unit at the Assembly of God Church hospital.

The six-bed unit, which commenced operations in April, has treated 101 babies till Saturday. More than half have come from other hospitals in the city and neighbouring districts.

Forum members from Delhi and Chandigarh, including forum president Prof Ashok Dutta, inspected the unit in October before awarding level-II certification. Only two other hospitals in the east — Tata Hospital in Jamshedpur and the Bokaro Steel City Hospital — also have level-II NICUs.

Ishica was the first patient at the AG Hospital NICU. Her mother Arpita has named her baby after paediatric surgeon Ishika Ghose, who performed the surgeries on the baby. The first had to be done the day she was born.

“Without specialised care at a well-equipped NICU, her chances of survival would have been minimal,” said Ghose.

The hospital is now trying to achieve level-III status, which would mean more space per patient, more beds and more specially-trained staff.

   

 
 
BANNER RAISED FOR PATIENTS’ RIGHTS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 30: 
Colonel (retired) B. Ghosh is a broken man today. His daughter, Ria, died a few months ago, a victim of “medical negligence”. On Sunday afternoon, the armyman from Barasat made his way to the Netaji Subhas Institute, Sealdah, to attend the launch of the People For Better Treatment (PBT), an organisation to fight “medical malpractice” in the country.

“The doctor asked me to get my daughter admitted to a nursing home in Lake Town. I admitted Ria on September 8. She lay there without any diagnosis. The doctor finally turned up on September 10 and said there was nothing to worry about. My daughter died the next day. Till this day, I don’t even know what was wrong with her,” lamented Ghosh.

PBT, according to founder Kunal Saha, hopes to give people like Ghosh a forum to take their grievances to and make the medical system more accountable.

The NRI doctor from the US, whose wife Anuradha had died of “wrong treatment by three prominent city doctors” in May 1998, said: “PBT will carry out a crusade against a section of doctors indulging in brutal malpractice. Doctors have no right to take lives. Our goal is to fight against malpractice and get justice and compensation for the victim.”

The function drew a few hundred people, many of whom were victims of the medical system in one form or the other.

Among those who turned up were around half-a-dozen doctors.

Flanked by cops, deployed after he had complained to the police commissioner that he had been threatened over the phone when he had come to the city a few months ago, Saha said he had received word of support from “at least 500” well-wishers over the past few days.

Bablu Sarkar was one of them. The man in a wheelchair had come from Panihati, in North 24-Parganas, to attend the PBT launch. “Fifteen years ago, I had gone to an eminent city doctor for arthritis treatment. I have been pumped with steroids ever since, and today I can’t walk.”

Saha urged Sarkar and the rest to be aware of their “rights” while consulting a doctor or receiving treatment at a hospital.

“If you are being treated, you have the right to know what you are suffering from and what medicines you have taken. Always insist on hospital records listing your disease and medicines,” he said.

One of the demands being raised by the PBT is “the need for an honest medical council, with common people as some of its representatives”.

But official apathy, Saha insisted, would not slow down the PBT struggle. “I will take the fight to the districts of Bengal and then gradually to other states,” he said.

Saha announced that victims of medical malpractice could either e-mail www.pbt.com or dial 564-7727.

   

 
 
TAGORE TUNE, AS YOU LIKE IT 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 30: 
Tagore tapes are no longer tangled in tight control. With the reins taken away from Visva-Bharati, the sole watchdog body protecting the poet’s songs and writings, Rabindrasangeet becomes open to interpretation by artistes, starting January 1, 2002.

Decades ago, Tagore exponent Debabrata Biswas had been hounded by purists for “straying from the prescribed path”. Earlier this year, Kumarjit, a para soiree performer, was prosecuted for a somewhat radical ‘experiment’ with Tagore.

But in the post-control scenario, Bangla rock band Paras Pathar can breathe easy when they release their Rabindra rock album early next year, under the Asha Audio banner.

“We were waiting for this day. Now, there shouldn’t be any technical hitch with the album. In any case, we are not going to distort any of the numbers. We will just set the songs to a rock beat, using keyboards, guitars and drums, instead of the traditional harmonium, tabla and the esraj. A little flexibility doesn’t harm anybody,” smiles lead singer Ayan.

Indranil Sen, the most successful Rabindrasangeet artiste among the present crop, agrees that a certain amount of flexibility is welcome.

“It will allow artistes to make subtle changes in arrangements to make Rabindrasangeet popular among a wider cross-section. In fact, I had suggested this to Visva-Bharati in the past. Decontrol will surely open up the market and enthuse the young audience,” he observes.

But decontrol could well spell distortion, at least in the initial stages. Debraj Dutta, former artiste and repertoire officer (eastern India), HMV, and currently manager, merchandising, MusicWorld, fears there could be “rampant misuse” of freedom in the post-copyright era.

“True, Visva-Bharati was ultra-strict with notations, but, with the copyright lifted, there is now a huge risk of distortion. In the absence of any nodal regulatory agency, the recording labels should now shoulder the added responsibility of doubling as watchdog bodies,” opines Dutta.

   

 
 
CITY TEACHER MISSING 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 30: 
The CID on Sunday launched a probe into the mysterious disappearance of a mathematics teacher, proceeding to attend a seminar in Varanasi.

Susanta Kumar Mondol, 53, maths teacher at Ramakrishna Mission School, Narendrapur, disappeared on December 20 soon after he reached Howrah station to take a train to Varanasi, said V.V. Thambi, special inspector-general, CID.

Described by colleagues as “dynamic and brilliant”, Mondol was to present a paper at the seminar organised by Benares Hindu University on December 21 and December 22. He was also scheduled to attend the Indian Science Congress seminar, beginning January 1 in Lucknow.

“He did not show up at the seminar. Mondol is well-known for his participation in such events,” said the chairman of the BHU-organised session, P.R. Sengupta, of Kalyani University.

His colleagues at Narendrapur are stunned. Mondol teaches Class X and has been with the school for more than two decades. “He was a very good teacher and popular with the students,’’ said Tushar Maharaj of the school.

Mondol left his Sonarpur home on December 20 at 7 pm to take the Amritsar Mail to Varanasi. “But he was caught in a jam and reached the station after the train had left. He called up from the station at 8.45 pm to tell me he was trying for a ticket on the Bombay Mail,’’ son Ashis said.

Mondol was booked to return by the Amritsar Express on December 23. But the railways told Ashis his father had not taken the train. The computer reservation chart showed “he had not turned up’’ at Varanasi station.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Maid held for theft of ornaments

In a late-night swoop on Saturday, Beniapukur police arrested a maid, Sabina, and recovered gold ornaments worth Rs 1 lakh. According to the police, one Nadeem Rehman of Theatre Road lodged a complaint with Beniapukur police station on Saturday, saying that gold ornaments had been stolen from his house. Sabina, who had joined work on December 22, had disappeared from December 25. Police tracked her down to her house and recovered the ornaments.

Wanted man in police net

A criminal was arrested from Muchipara and the police seized arms and ammunition from him on Sunday. Police said they were on the look-out for the criminal.

Illegal connections

CESC, with the police, removed 230 illegal hookings from the Fort Gloster Mill gate, at Uluberia, and at Bhadrakali and Uttarpara, in Hooghly, on Sunday. One person was arrested.

Bimal Roy lecture

Filmmaker Tapan Sinha will inaugurate a seminar and lecture, titled ‘Bimal Roy — the film maker’, on January 8, organised by The Bimal Roy Memorial Committee in association with Anamika Kala Sangam at Rotary Sadan.

Engineers’ meet

A three-day international seminar on ‘Decentralised Energy: Options and Management’ will be organised at the Institute of Engineers between February 22 and 24.

The seminar will provide a forum for dissemination of knowledge and interaction among experts and academics from all over the world.

The participants will also review state-of-the-art-technology within the developing countries of the world and help plan future goals of various industries and organisations through deliberations.

Death panic

Panic gripped residents of Jamir Lane, in south Calcutta, after an 80-year-old man died in his house. Police said the man lived alone and died of a massive heart attack.    

 
 
A DIFFERENT PITCH FROM POLITICS 
 
 
BY DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, Dec. 30: 
Who would have thought that cricket can be stretched to indiscriminating lengths such as political campaigning? A CPM legislator from Jorasanko “used” the game to “infiltrate” into his constituency, still dominated by the Trinamul Congress.

Sudhangshu Sil, the legislator, organised a seven-day (and night) tournament in north Calcutta for the under-14 boys, many of whose parents enabled him to wrest a seat in the last polls, dominated by the Congress and non-Left parties. Sunday saw the finals of the much-hyped tournament that was kicked off by director-general of police Dinesh Vajpai.

The limited-over encounters, which commenced on Christmas eve, got Sil what he desired. On Sunday, Jorabagan Park was packed to capacity, with the erstwhile Trinamul Congress heartland reverberating with cries of “howzatt”, followed by exultation and the crisp clap of high-fives. Teams from Howrah and Siliguri participated as well. Ashok Malhotra and Sambaran Banerjee, reportedly, turned coaches for some of the teams.

An improvised version of the ubiquitous para cricket, the event won the hearts of a population that, since 1977, has voted for non-Left candidates. That is, till last May 10, when Sil won by a comfortable margin, defeating Trinamul Congress youth wing chief Sanjoy Bakshi.

A resident of Jorabagan, Sil appears to have designed his “cricket campaign” much before this year’s Assembly elections. He initiated the move for a grand tournament last year, and took over the arrangements that the Yuba Star Club usually organises.

He got a warm response that helped in eroding Bakshi’s popularity.Having roped in the Shriram group of companies as sponsors, Sil maintains it was “simply cricket” that prompted him to play host. “Politics had nothing to do with it,” he said. The MLA now plans a football match.

   

 
 
UNIVERSITY CODE SPARKS STRIKE CALL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 30: 
Calcutta University Employees Unity Centre, a pro-Naxalite employees’ union, will cease work on Tuesday in protest against introduction of a code of conduct for the employees and officers by the state government.

The new code of conduct will come into effect from Tuesday. However, all university examinations and other important jobs will be kept aside on Tuesday.

On Sunday, an official of the Unity Centre said the university is a self-governed institution and the government had no business issuing orders, bypassing the Syndicate and Senate.

“The university, too, has accepted the government order and asked the employees and officers to go by it from Tuesday. We feel that the university authorities have insulted the elected members of the Senate and Syndicate by agreeing to the order,” he alleged.

As per the new code of conduct, a university employee would have to sign the attendance register twice a day, mentioning the arrival and departure timings. The officers, too, would have to follow suit, like any other employee.

Vice-chancellor Ashis Banerjee said he had received a letter from the union regarding their ceasework threat on Tuesday . However, the call for the ceasework by the pro-Naxalite employees’ union seems to have received a lukewarm response, as the main union is controlled by the CPM.

The second largest union is, however, controlled by the Congress. It is learnt that the Congress has not yet decided whether it will support the protest. “If the Congress lends its support, the protest will be fruitful,” said an university official.

Officials also complained the university employees were not being given dearness allowance and medical benefits at par with the state government employees. “But that did not stop the government from introducing the new code of conduct for the university employees,” said an official.

   

 
 
STATE OPTS FOR BIGGER BYTES 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 30: 
Local out, global in. In what marks a significant shift from the policy of promoting small and medium-scale enterprises, the West Bengal government has decided to dump locally-assembled personal computers (PCs) and source hardware from Indian majors and MNCs only.

The decision has been conveyed to the state’s nodal IT agency, Webel. “The IT department has instructed us to procure hardware for various government departments from major Indian and international brands,” confirmed a senior official. Following the directive, Webel has prepared a comprehensive pricelist of desktops and servers with different configurations and forwarded it to the IT department. Those figuring in the hardware shortlist are Wipro, Compaq, HCL and IBM.

This has come as a blow to hundreds of unorganised assemblers and organised local brands like Supercom, Sun, Oscar and Compax.

Both these segments, with a market share of around 55 to 60 per cent, have relied heavily on government orders. But the directive, coming close on the heels of the price slash by all the branded majors, has cast a shadow on their future.

“Following the government move, local players lost the chance to pitch for the Rs 2-crore tender floated by the sales tax department. If this continues, the small-scale sector will be driven out of the market, resulting in a great number of skilled unemployed youth in the state,” pointed out Arun Jalan, president, Compass.

There seems to be no let-up in sight for the small-scale sector, with local players not figuring in the list for hardware supply in the second phase of computerisation of schools. A couple of local suppliers had been involved in the first phase.

Compass officials have requested the government to review its decision. “We have discussed our case with IT minister Manab Mukherjee. We are not against multinational brands, but what we demand is a fair chance to compete. We will be submitting a memorandum to the government highlighting our concerns,” added Jalan.

Why the sudden switch, asks the forum representing small-scale computer organisations? “The quality of assembled PCs has been a major cause for concern at times. There were complaints about after-sales service, too. Earlier, the local PCs were price competitive in comparison to the branded ones. But now, with branded PCs available at low prices, it makes sense to opt for them,” explained a government official.

The local players, who have played a big role in the state’s computerisation drive till date, are not willing to buy the argument. “Around 60 to 70 per cent of the government’s hardware requirements have been met by players like us and there has hardly been any complaint regarding the quality of our products,” said V.K. Bhandari of Supertronic Electronics Ltd.

“For the mother board, hard disc and CPU, we use components made by companies like Intel, Seagate or Samsung, just like the major brands do. So, what’s the problem?” he asks.

   

 
 
FRESH LEASE FOR CHALLENGED INMATES 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 30: 
Following a Supreme Court directive, the state government has begun the process of shifting non-criminal lunatics (NCLs), lodged in three city prisons -— Dum Dum, Presidency and Alipore Central jail— to welfare homes. According to the apex court judgment, NCLs are not to be prisoned along with hardened criminals.

As part of the move, five NCLs, who have been languishing in the Presidency Jail for over 20 years, were released on Wednesday and sent to a welfare home, run by Missionaries of Charity, at Kanchrapara.

“We cannot detain mentally-challenged prisoners for years in order to comply with the Supreme Court order. They have to be shifted to welfare homes for their mental upkeep,” said deputy inspector-general of prisons, headquarters, P.B. Mondal. He claimed that over 50 NCLs have already been sent to various homes, run by non-government organisations (NGOs), in recent months.

According to Mondal, nearly 200 NCLs are still confined in the three jails . “We cannot release them as their families refuse to take them back,” Mondal said. Sources said the five were being deprived of treatment and even diet. “ Though psychologists and psychiatrists are supposed to attend on them regularly, in reality, it’s hardly ever done,” said a jail official.

   

 
 
BUDDHA DARES MAMATA ON BLOCKADE BAR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Behrampore, Dec. 30: 
Two days after the state government issued an order banning road and rail blockades, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Sunday dared Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee to violate the order.

“Let Mamata and her party resort to road and rail blockades in violation of government order. The police will take appropriate action,” the chief minister said here today.

Yesterday, Mamata had criticised the ban as being against the very norms of democracy. She had even threatened to take to the streets to defy the order.

The chief minister, who was on a day’s visit to Murshidabad, said the government was keen to put an end to the practice of blocking roads and rail traffic. “We feel that agitations in their various forms are necessary to voice protests but that should not be done at the cost of the people who suffer because of the blockades,” he elaborated.

Asked about the BSF’s alleged atrocities on the Indo-Bangla border, Buddha said he had heard about such incidents.

Earlier, the chief minister inaugurated a road bridge over the Bhagirathi.

   
 

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