Bandh blocks mega meet
Services test forms elude aspirants
Bomb test unit for cops
Lessons lost in crossroad rush
Bidding adieu to basic science
The city diary
UK varsity mulls masters courses
Protests mar open-market shutdown
All for the alma mater
Cadre on toes, cops on call

Calcutta, Jan. 9: 
The India-UK Science Festival, inaugurated by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Delhi and touted as a mega show spread over 11 Indian cities, has been all but rendered a no-show in Calcutta. All thanks to Thursday’s bandh called by the SUCI and “morally backed” by the Trinamul Congress.

The lectures scheduled for January 10, at the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology and the Indian Institute of Management, have been scrapped. The cancellation, spanning Jadavpur to Joka, has denied city scientists a date with two of their foremost British peers, Sue Mayer and Crispin Tickell.

British Council sources underlined that both Tickell and Mayer were “very keen” to address the “knowledgeable Calcutta audience” as part of the science festival.

“Calcutta has built up a negative image due to years of disruptive policies… The cancellation of these important lectures comes just when we in Calcutta were telling ourselves and the world that things here were changing for the better,” said a senior official connected with the city leg of the fest.

Tickell’s lecture (‘Is economic growth compatible with sustainability?’) was scheduled for IIM-C at 11.30 am on Thursday. The chancellor of the University of Kent at Canterbury, who has served in the United Nations and the European Commission and has contributed to several books on environmental issues, human population and bio-diversity, will now spend Thursday, Calcutta’s bandh day, in Mumbai.

The British Council, as well as the IIM authorities, unsure how the city would respond to the bandh and how many would actually be able to make it to Joka for the lecture, thought it best to advise him to give Calcutta the skip.

“He (Tickell) is scheduled to head straight for Delhi, without the Calcutta detour,” East India council manager (programmes and communications) Sujata Sen told Metro. “He was also keen to explore the city’s wetlands but now that, too, stands cancelled.”

Mayer, director of Genewatch (a science policy research group studying the implications of new genetic technology) and attached to Sussex and Lancaster universities, will, however, have a more direct experience of Calcutta’s ‘bandh-culture’. She will spend Thursday in the city, though her lecture at Jadavpur has been called off, waiting to escape to Kharagpur, where she has more work lined up for Friday.

Papiya Nandy, director, Jagadish Bose National Science Talents Search, seems to sum up the disappointment of city scientists: “This is most unfortunate. Young scientists of the city will be the worst sufferers, as they hardly get a chance to attend lectures of scientists as eminent as Sue Mayer.”

JU exams deferred

Calcutta University (CU) and Jadavpur University (JU) have taken differing positions on Thursday’s bandh. CU officials confirmed on Wednesday that all examinations slated for January 10 would be conducted on schedule. JU, however, has decided to postpone all examinations from Thursday to January 28.


Calcutta, Jan. 9: 
Ajay, a 24-year-old employee with a private bank in Calcutta, has been slogging hard for the past three months. Despite the busy schedule in office, he enrolled with a training institute and was putting in six to eight hours a day to prepare for the UPSC prelims, scheduled for May 26.

But now, desperately seeking an application form, he’s not sure whether he’ll be able to appear for the civil services exams at all.

Ajay’s first stop was the GPO, where he was told that all the forms were sold out. There was no sign of the Rs-20 form at the Burrabazar, Park Street and Cossipore post offices, either. The last date for submission of forms, January 14, looms large…

Several UPSC aspirants like Ajay have drawn a blank on their ‘form’ trail as the exams hit career centre-stage once more. “This year, there seems to be a mad rush to sit for the civil services,” says Tilak De, director, GPO, Calcutta. “Like other years, we had an initial stock of 1,000 forms. After they ran out, we got another lot of 500 forms, which were exhausted last week. We have requested UPSC to send us 2,000 forms more.”

It’s much the same story in the other post offices of Calcutta. A senior official in the P&T department of West Bengal circle confirmed the shortage of forms in the circle’s 26 post office headquarters. “As per our information, all of them had last year’s unsold stocks, ranging from 400 to 800 forms. But this year, not only have they been sold out, they have even sent requisitions to the UPSC for more forms. But most of them are yet to receive the forms from Dholpur House, Delhi, spreading confusion among candidates,” he added.

The rise in demand and the consequent shortage of forms for UPSC’s civil service examination is not restricted to Calcutta alone. “We have received information from various parts of the country that post offices are struggling to meet the demand for forms,” said a UPSC official.

He, however, added that the Commission has been quick to replenish stocks by despatching additional forms “within 24 hours of receiving the information.” In Calcutta, however, several post offices complained of not receiving extra forms, even “three weeks after” SOS messages to Delhi.

While the official circles are busy bridging the demand-supply mismatch, the rise in interest for civil services is emerging as the clear career trend in Calcutta this year.

According to Joyobroto, working in a computer-training firm, the rush for UPSC is a clear indication of students and young professionals opting for security. “I have been working in the IT industry for over a year and I know the home truths. Given the present uncertainties in the corporate sector, I would prefer the security of the civil services over the roller-coaster MBA ride.”


Calcutta, Jan. 9: 
The state government has allotted around three acres near Mominpore to Calcutta Police for setting up an explosive-testing centre. The centre will also train personnel in detecting the nature of a crime and the motive of the criminals.

The land has been allotted to the police in the wake of their repeated failure to furnish chargesheets in recent cases.

The problems regarding framing of cases were also conveyed to the government by the newly-appointed advocate-general of the state, Balai Ray.

Two days ago, a meeting between the advocate-general and police is reported to have been held. The advocate-general agreed that the police would have to be well-equipped to cope with criminal strategies.

The government has also asked the police to provide assistance to chemical laboratories in Calcutta University and Jadavpur University for conducting adulteration tests.


Calcutta, Jan. 9: 
Lekha-pora korey je, gari chapa porey shey (He who is educated, gets crushed under the wheels). The common childhood joke has turned tragically prophetic, says a recent survey by the Calcutta Police traffic department.

The latest report, prepared during the Road Safety Week that started from Monday, reveals how nearly 75 per cent of those killed in road mishaps are literate. “We were surprised after going through the figures of the past two years. Those who are expected to be aware of basic traffic norms often flout road rules and are run over,” said M.K. Singh, deputy commissioner of police, traffic. According to the report, 325 out of 440 victims of road mishaps in 2001 were literate. The 2000 figures show 291 among 452 victims as literate.

According to traffic department records, at least 3.5 lakh people tread the city streets every day. The number of pedestrians who died in road mishaps last year was 376, while the figure was 407 in 2000.

The report also pins the blame for most accidents on the pedestrians’ tendency to flout basic traffic rules, rather than on reckless driving. “People often refuse to wait for the lights to change and, instead, try and cut through moving traffic. Sometimes, it leaves drivers with no time to slam the brakes,” said Singh.

Sandhi Mukherjee, special additional commissioner, traffic department, said: “We cannot blame bus-drivers until we provide them with the basic infrastructure. They face a lot of problems negotiating city streets.”

Despite their failure to make pedestrians conscious of basic traffic norms, the city police have launched yet another awareness campaign drive to mark Road Safety Week.

“We have renewed efforts to remind pedestrians that the slightest fault may result in a life being lost. But if educated people don’t pay any heed, what can we do?” demanded an official of the traffic department.

During the weeklong awareness campaign, city police have set up 18 traffic booths at various points. Around 850 students from 34 city schools have joined hands with the cops to make it a success. A sit-and-draw contest and a traffic awareness slogan competition have also been organised to encourage popular participation in the programme.

The emphasis this time is also on advising bus-drivers about “how to drive in accident-prone zones”.


Calcutta, Jan. 9: 
The future of the Jagadish Bose National Science Talent Search, a corpus set up 42 years ago to help students of basic and applied sciences, is at stake. The cause: The trend to opt for courses in information technology, engineering and business management.

Senior officials feel the trend, unless reversed, will threaten the aim of the Talent Search — to identify, motivate and nurture talented students. The drift away from Bose’s perception — that the promotion of basic science was more important in nation-building — is spurred by the lure of fatter pay packets, they say.

The figures speak for themselves. Compared with the large number of aspirants for the joint entrance examinations (between 50,000 and 75,000 write the annual tests), the number that turned up for the Talent Search scholarship examination this year was insignificant. “The number, only 295, was ridiculously low,” admitted Search director Papiya Nandy. “We are worried with the way students are showing an apathy for the scholarship. Even our efforts to offer attractive supplementary schemes for the winners have not yielded any result,” Nandy said.

What is causing even more concern is the dwindling number of basic science students in the list of Talent Search award-winners. “The number of students from the basic science subjects, like physics and chemistry, is dropping by the year,” Nandy said.

The scholarship exam is held exclusively for students of Bengal and most aspirants still come from the better schools of Calcutta. First-year students of science, engineering and medicine are also eligible for the scholarship. According to Talent Search officials, most of those increasingly qualifying for the scholarships are from the engineering colleges.

Officials say almost 60 per cent of the winners are budding engineers. “This has frustrated the basic aim of the scholarship, as those studying to be engineers will never return to the basic science subjects,” Nandy said. The best 24 candidates are selected for scholarships and win allowances for buying books and travelling. The top 12 get a monthly stipend of Rs 500. Last year, 12 of the top 24 were from the engineering faculty. The Talent Search has sought the government’s help in reversing the trend. “We will also approach eminent scientists and seek their advice on wooing students back to mainstream science,” said Nandy.



Woman run over near Kalighat

A 50-year-old woman was run over by a vehicle near the crossing of SP Mukherjee Road and Rashbehari Avenue on Wednesday evening. Police said the woman, probably a beggar, was crossing the road when the accident occurred. She was taken to a local nursing home, where she was pronounced dead.

Bomb scare at airport

An unclaimed baggage lying in a corner of the departure wing of the domestic terminal created panic at the airport on Wednesday evening. Police removed the bag, fearing a bomb inside. The bag was later opened in the presence of experts, but only several pieces of clothing were found in it.

Fraud alert

Alarmed at the increasing number of complaints about touts cheating people, the CESC authorities announced that customers had the right to check the identity card of an employee before allowing him to render any service on the power utility’s premises. The CESC further alerted the consumers that imposters were collecting money with false promises of quick connection, restoration of disconnected supply and quick rectification of faults.

Road accident

Two passengers in an auto-rickshaw sustained serious injuries in an accident involving a private bus, two cars and an auto-rickshaw on Bijon Setu, near Kasba, on Wednesday morning. The two injured, Chhatu Sen, 33, and Achintya Datta, 40, were admitted to hospital. As the bus came to a halt after hitting the auto, two Marutis, coming behind the bus, rammed into it.

Tuition ban

The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) said the imposition of a ban on private tuition by school teachers without publishing a question bank might jeopardise the interest of students who were appearing for the final examination in 2002. However, the SFI extended moral support to the decision of the government and demanded its early implementation at the university and college levels.

Tagore release

Punascha Publications released five volumes of Rabindranath Tagore’s works in the city on Wednesday, following the expiry of Visva-Bharati’s copyright on the Nobel laureate’s works. The books released include Geetanjali, Geetabitan, Galpoguchha, Sanchayita and Upanyas Samagra. Nirendranath Chakraborty, Pabitra Sarkar, Paritosh Sen and Surabhi Banerjee were present on the occasion. The publishers plan to release more of Tagore works, sources said.

Film festival opens

Clapstick 2002, the first International Students’ Film Festival organised by Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute, was inaugurated on the institute premises on Wednesday. It will continue till January 13. Eighteen film schools of international repute from the US, Canada, UK, Germany, Egypt and Israel, apart from India, are participating. The entries include around 20 international award-winners.    

Calcutta, Jan. 9: 
Oxford Brookes University, which is offering a BSc honours degree in hotel and restaurant management at the Institute for International Management and Technology (IIMT) campuses in Gurgaon and now Raichak, is contemplating introducing post-graduate degree courses in hospitality in India.

“Considering India’s perennial thirst for knowledge and the kind of value families here attach to education in the West, we might consider bringing in our BSc and MBA degrees in hospitality here at a later date,” Grant Clendining, director of Recruitment and Collaborative Provision in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, Oxford Brookes University (OBU), said on Wednesday.

Clendining was in town for the formal announcement of IIMT’s Raichak campus which will start its curriculum in July. The UK university has entered into a strategic alliance with IIMT, GGL Hotel & Resort Co Ltd, a fully-owned subsidiary of Gujrat Ambuja Cement Ltd, Carlson Hospitality Worldwide, Edwardian Group (UK) and Unitech India for the Raichak school.

“We are quite confident about the success of this undergraduate programme which will be absolutely on par with its counterparts in the UK. Considering that a large number of Indian students are keen to pursue their masters studies in the UK, we are also looking at introducing our one-year MSc degree courses in ‘International Hotel and Tourism Management’ and ‘Travel and Tourism’ and the open-learning ‘MBA Hospitality’ degree here subsequently,” Clendining said.

The MBA open-learning course is likely to take up “around three years” and the eligibility would be five years’ management experience. “OBU is very proud of its partnership with IIMT and the commitment shown by the financial backers. This programme will provide our graduates with excellent career opportunities since their qualification has international recognition and has met the requirements of the UK government’s Higher Education Quality Standards Agency,” Clendining said.

IIMT director Kamlesh Misra stressed on the need for different kind of personnel considering the “new benchmarks” in the industry. “We are trying to create thinkers at this school, not mere chefs. It’s education of western standards in the system of Indian gurukul,” Misra explained. He made it clear it is a business degree and expected “at least 20 per cent of the pass-outs” to branch out into finance-related sectors. Each student will have to dish out Rs 45,000 per term over three semesters, plus a £-267 registration fee to be paid to the UK university per year.

K.B. Kachru, senior vice-president, Carlson Hospitality India, Inc. said: “Industry-education partnerships are a means of meeting the management manpower skills shortages in the region. We are proud to associate Carlson Group with the school. This programme will be different, as unlike the existing diploma schools which are too focused on industry skills, this school will concentrate on producing managers and entrepreneurs.”

OBU, which runs similar programmes in Malaysia, Mallorca and Switzerland, has cleared the infrastructure of the Raichak campus in principle, although the final validation will be done on February 26 and 27.

“Partnering Oxford Brookes is like a dream fulfilled and goes a long way towards making Raichak the dream destination we want it to be. Academics has always been close to my heart and this school reinforces our commitment to Bengal by bringing to our state world-class educational infrastructure,” said Harshavardhan Neotia, chairman, GGL Hotel & Resort Co Ltd.


Calcutta, Jan. 9: 
In a bid to avoid incurring Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee’s wrath, the civic conservancy department started a ‘camouflaged’ drive against hawkers from Wednesday.

According to the department’s estimate, the number of hawkers on 21 major thoroughfares has doubled during Trinamul rule in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).

On Wednesday, local CPM leaders in Beleghata came along with their banners to help the traders and prevent member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), Mala Roy, undertake the eviction drive near Ragini cinema.

The conservancy officials demolished more than a dozen structures in Beleghata, before conducting similar drives at Muchibazar, in Ultadanga. At both places, the hawkers and the local CPM leadership protested the eviction without rehabilitation.

In Maniktala, eight chicken stalls were razed by the conservancy officials in front of Central Blood Bank. More than 500 fowls were seized in the drive. Choppers, weights and scales have also been impounded.


Calcutta, Jan. 9: 
More than 1,000 former students are expected to turn up at the 24th annual reunion of Alumnorum Societas, St Xaviers Old Boys’ Association, on January 12. The reunion will be held on the senior school lawns.

Convener Amitava Kejriwal said the evening would begin with an address by Raghu N. Mody, chairman, Rasoi Group, and president of Assocham. “We will also felicitate one of our most popular teachers, Thomas Vianna, with the Alsoc award,” he added.

Association spokesperson Amitava Sinha expected a turnout of 1,000-plus ex-students, including R.S. Lodha, president, FICCI, Sanjeev Goenka, president, CII, and Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly.

The reunion will cement plans for the silver jubilee celebrations of the association, due in 2003. “For now, we have decided on a human rights panel debate and the Nihil Ultra Debate,” said Kejriwal.

The silver jubilee will coincide with the World Congress of Jesuit Alumni, that will be held in the city for the first time.


Calcutta, Jan. 9: 
On the eve of Thursday’s statewide bandh called by the SUCI and backed by the Trinamul Congress, CPM state secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas today asked the CPM cadre to be “vigilant” and “collaborate” with the administration to foil 2002’s first bandh in Bengal.

“Partymen will not take the law into their hands but appeal to the people to reject tomorrow’s unjust bandh,” Biswas said, adding that Left Front workers will be camping on the streets to inform the police on duty in the event of any trouble between pro- and anti-bandh supporters.

CPM sources claimed the increases effected in hospital charges and education fees do not tax the poor while the rise in electricity tariffs had nothing to do with the state government as it was structured by an independent regulatory authority.

“But we are confident that the people will respond to the call which we have morally supported,” Mamata Banerjee said.

Tomorrow, the police are expected to be aggressive in handling the bandh now that they have been empowered by the government to take drastic action against those blocking roads and railway tracks. The threat of “punitive action” against picketers is expected to minimise the impact of the bandh on the people.

For Mamata, what is worrying is that a section of Trinamul workers is unwilling to associate itself with the bandh programme because it feels that Trinamul will be seen as a “stooge” of an otherwise insignificant SUCI if it backs the bandh call.

With the Opposition Congress and the BJP openly siding with the ruling communists in deriding the bandh call, the SUCI appears to be in a tricky situation because it realises that it cannot achieve success on the strength of support from only the Naxalites.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee announced at Writers’ Buildings that the administration was determined to maintain normal life throughout the state tomorrow.

Officials later said government employees have been asked to attend office as usual without fail. Transport department has been asked to ply adequate number of trams and state buses to facilitate their trouble-free journey to different government offices.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty also requested private and minibus owners to ply their vehicles. Train services are also expected to be normal tomorrow.


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