Reality report bites the dust
Cricket over, power cuts in action replay
Govt lines up lawman rap
Price and peril trip tanneries
Just a gesture is enough to grasp an artist
Youth beaten to death
The City Diary
Party hue in trader murder
Travel now to tunes on tracks
Basu signals highrise start

Calcutta, Jan. 20: 
Lack of planning, rather than poverty; inadequacy in the delivery system, rather than illiteracy of parents; paucity of political will, rather than socio-economic constraints… These are some of the real roadblocks to the spread of education in the city and the rest of Bengal.

That’s what has emerged from a myth-and-reality report on the Status of Primary Education in West Bengal, commissioned by the government in 1995 and submitted by a team of academicians from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIM-C) in 1998.

Nearly four years have passed, but the Unicef-funded study remains under wraps. Plans to publish the findings of one of the more comprehensive studies on the subject in recent times have also been shelved, with the ruling Left Front, according to an economist, “refusing to make public the existence of a document that punches holes into many a government-fed theory”.

School education minister Kanti Biswas said on Sunday: “I am yet to receive the report and so, would rather not comment on it.” The report, prepared by project co-ordinator Raghabendra Chattopadhyay, Sudip Chaudhuri, Saila K. Ghosh, Anup K. Sen and V.N. Reddy, however, mentions in Chapter I how Biswas had “taken particular interest in the matter” before the government approached IIM.

The IIM faculty team collated and analysed existing data to indicate the gaps, besides providing scientific estimates of different characteristics related to the spread of education, or the lack of it. All households and schools situated in 72 urban frame survey blocks and 106 villages were studied.

The report spells out that the actual enrolment in schools is “lower than” what the official statistics show. In Calcutta, enrolment was found to be 50.7 per cent at the primary level and 25.7 per cent at the pre-primary level. The primary reason for non-enrolment in the city was “the scarcity of schools or seats”. In the age-group of 10-14 years, the literacy figure touched 91.2%, while in the 5-8 year bracket, it was just 54.4 per cent.

The available data also presented a very high rate of dropouts from schools, which is blamed on poverty and illiteracy of parents. “We, on the other hand, strongly believe on the basis of our field experience, that once the parents put their children to schools, seldom do they withdraw the wards before completing at least Class IV. There is a substantial dropout between Class IV and V because of non-availability of schools with Class V onwards in the vicinity,” states the report. As far as dropouts go, Calcutta findings could broadly be bracketed into “failure in class” and “denial of admission”.

The planning process for expansion of schools network has been questioned in the absence of any school mapping and non-recognition of the physical existence of the private primary schools. “In the city of Calcutta, for example, there may be Corporation-run schools in middle-class areas, where the children are sent to nearby private schools leaving the government-funded ones empty.”

According to the academics, the District Primary School Councils, set up by the government to decentralise primary education, have done little to fulfil the announced objectives.

To plan an effective delivery system, the report calls for an extensive school-mapping all over the state, with a proper management of the information system for primary education. Inadequacy in the delivery system is at the heart of the dropouts and non-enrolment, says the report, while attacking “the mal-distribution” of facilities.

“We find that schools fail to attract the children and their parents, both in terms of infrastructure and the teaching-learning process within the classrooms,” say the researchers.

With no word forthcoming from the school education department, the team of academics can draw small consolation from the fact that Nobel laureate Amartya Sen went through the report carefully, drew on some relevant points for his research and project work on primary education, and discussed it with fellow-economists at a recent two-day workshop in the city.


Calcutta, Jan. 20: 
The weekend’s respite, thanks to the cricket match, over, power cuts are expected to be back with a vengeance from Monday.

Power department sources said on Sunday that the state electricity board (SEB), which withdrew its restriction on supply of electricity to the CESC grid because of the India-England One-Day International at Eden Gardens, reimposed it from midnight on Saturday.

On Sunday evening, there was a shortfall of 60 mw in the CESC-served areas and brief spells of power cuts were reported from the city and its adjoining areas.

The SEB has restricted supply of power to the CESC after the private power utility failed to pay up its purchase arrears.

CESC sources, however, maintained that the utility had not defaulted in payment against purchase of power between January and December last year.

“We have also sent in a cheque to the SEB for the power purchased in January this year. We have informed the SEB authorities that we are ready to pay arrears from February onwards, in addition to the ongoing power purchase bill,” a CESC official said.

Last Thursday, power minister Mrinal Banerjee had asked CESC to hand over its territory in Howrah if it failed to clear the dues which, the SEB claims, have touched Rs 800 crore.

“The impact of the SEB restriction was not felt today as it was a Sunday, with offices and commercial establishments closed. On Monday, power cuts will be back and the city and its adjoining areas will reel under blackouts, spread over three to four hours, if not more,” the CESC official warned.

The SEB supplied 120 mw to the CESC system on Sunday evening, while the DVC contributed around 22 mw. CESC’s own units generated about 700 mw.

Sources said that the power situation in the city will remain grim until the CESC authorities are able to bring back on stream the 250-mw unit at its Budge Budge plant, which is now being overhauled.


Calcutta, Jan. 20: 
The government indicated on Sunday evening that it would order remedial measures once it received reports next week from its agencies on controversial IPS officer B.N. Ramesh, who was a part of the special investigating team that probed the kidnap of Khadim’s vice-chairman Partha Pratim Roy Burman last year.

Officials said the government was looking at various options, including replacing Ramesh, currently superintendent of police in Burdwan.

Last week, one of his sub-ordinate officers, Anirban Roy, charged Ramesh with having links with the coal mafia.

“My report is ready. It will reach the government soon,” said J.R. Bhagat, inspector-general of police, western zone.

The police vigilance department is also investigating the Ramesh affair, at the instance of the government. Highly-placed officials said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has directed home secretary Amit Kiran Deb to take “strong measures in the Ramesh case.”

Sources close to the director-general of police D.C.Vajpai also confirmed the government’s resolve to take a hard stand on the basis of the probe reports. Ramesh met the DGP at Writers’ Buildings last week.

The vigilance wing of the state police is believed to have submitted a report to the government on Sunday. But no confirmation was available.

Ramesh was shifted out of Calcutta Police in 1999 after the railway authorities found him guilty of misusing a railway pass. The vigilance commission of Eastern Railway submitted a chargesheet against him for “misuse of railway passes while on leave” and also found him guilty of forgery.

Ramesh, however, protested his innocence. “I am being framed. The truth will come out one day,’’ he told Metro.


Calcutta, Jan. 20: 
Over 30 per cent of the 800 tanneries of Tiljala, Tangra and Chinatown plan to move to Maharashtra, Orissa and Bihar because of a variety of factors — ranging from extortion by local goons to the steep price of land — at the proposed leather complex at Karaidanga, better known as Bantala.

According to a Supreme Court order, all tanneries in the city will have to shift to the sprawling 3,000-bigha leather complex by February 28.

Two tannery owners at Tiljala, who have applied for land at Jalgaon, in Maharashtra, said: “It will be impossible to carry on business at Bantala. We are in no position to construct even a boundary wall around the plot because of extortion by goons, patronised by the ruling CPM.”

They said: “As soon as one attempts to construct a boundary wall, some self-styled leaders appear and demand money. Then they force us to sign an agreement that their men will be provided with jobs. Thereafter, these leaders force us to take men and material from them to erect the boundary wall. How can we employ local youth? Where will our existing employees and workers go?”

One such leader they name is Swadesh Bagdi, who claims to be a local CPM leader. “Some of us lodged complaints at Sonarpur police station 10 days ago, but the force has not taken any action,” they added.

“We have received a complaint from some people and we are looking into it,” said Ranjit Chakravorty, an officer at Sonarpur police station.

Another factor forcing tannery-owners out of the complex is the high price of the land.

“Whereas plots at the Bantala complex are being offered at Rs 600 per sq m to tannery-owners and Rs 1,800 per sq m to newcomers in the industry, in Jalgaon, it is only Rs 300. Besides, there were single-window loan facilities on offer,” said Jamil Ahmed, owner of one of the biggest tanneries in the city.

Offers bettering Jalgaon have started pouring in from Bihar and Orissa. “A competition is on among the states to lure away the leather industry from Calcutta,” said S.S. Kumar, chairman of the Indian Leather Products Association.

“I have received an offer of developed land in Bihar for Rs 75 per sq m and at Rs 200 in Orissa,” said Jamirul Hasan, of Continental Leather Corporation.

“The offers are tempting, since leather units run on a small profit margin of 50 paise a sq ft,” said Kumar also eastern region’s chairman of the Leather Export Promotion Council.


Calcutta, Jan. 20: 
Was Bob and Roberta Smith a measure of the success of the Sidewinder project? The eccentric way he was togged up at the opening of the exhibition at CIMA Gallery on January 14 could be interpreted as such. His colleagues from Britain and India were formally attired. Smith, who sports a pseudonym (which is a combo of his own and his sister’s), wore a suit locally tailored from Orissa fabric. His slippers were Rajasthani. His socks British. He had employed a local sign painter to write out slogans used playfully as red herrings on pieces of cloth.

The Indian and British artists, who participated in Sidewinder, organised by the British Council, Goldsmiths College, London, and CIMA, did not create any new works at their fortnight-long workshop in Calcutta. Instead, there were slideshows, where participants introduced their work, and intense no-holds-barred discussions. And this did manage to “break down ignorance and misconceptions” the London artists had about their Indian counterparts. That was Bob and Roberta Smith speaking.

Gerard Hemsworth of Goldsmiths, who curated the show, was delighted that everything worked splendidly. Museums in the West have approached him to find out if the same could be done there, too.

Enlightenment could come as a shock. David Mabb was horrified to discover that the syllabus at the Government Art College hadn’t progressed beyond the 30s. But he was “much better informed” after the workshop.

Jogen Chowdhury admitted: “We have always looked to the West for new impetus. We needn’t necessarily imitate them. We want to be creative and not just be labelled ‘Indian’.”

For Atul Dodiya, Sidewinder brought together “diverse sensibilities” which “existed together”. “Sometimes a nod, a gesture is enough to grasp an artist.” If bridges were built, they were intangible. Ravinder Reddy said: “You can’t pinpoint the exchange. Once you know their premises, you could see them in context.”

At least one artist discovered a kindred spirit. Jemima Stehli raises “issues of what it meant to expose yourself”. But she ended up realising that she was closer to some Indian artists than those in UK. In spite of ideological differences, both she and Jogen Chowdhury ended up exhibiting reclining nudes.


Calcutta, Jan. 20: 
A 25-year-old youth, Sami-ul Islam, was beaten to death by local goons at Kohinoor market, in Topsia, on Sunday. Police said Islam had objected to their pestering a chicken pecking grain by the roadside.

Neighbours said Islam was known to protest cruelty against animals. He sustained serious head injuries in the assault and the hospital he was taken to later by residents of the area declared him “brought dead”.



Body recovered from hospital pond

The body of a 32-year-old woman was recovered from a pond on the Vidyasagar Hospital premises, in Behala, on Sunday evening. Police said the woman is yet to be identified. The body did not bear any external injuries. Policemen have not ruled out chances of foul play.

Lalbazar wall collapses

Policemen on duty at the Lalbazar police headquarters had a miraculous escape around 5 pm on Sunday when a portion of the first-floor wall of the control room collapsed. “I ran towards the road on hearing a thud. Later, I noticed pieces of glasspanes and bits of wood strewn all over the place,” a sentry said. The building has been neglected for years and needs extensive renovation.

Medical poll

Dr Subir Ganguly has been re-elected president of Indian Medical Association’s state chapter for 2002-03. Dr Malay Patra and Dr Swapan Nag have been elected state secretary and treasurer, respectively, sources said.

Hunt for agent

Jadavpur police launched a manhunt for an agent of Furore Investments, a non-banking financial company, after complaints poured in from investors.

The officer in-charge of Jadavpur thana said the search did not prove fruitful. “We could not trace the agent, but his sisters assured us that the entire outstanding amount would be repaid to the investors,” he added.

Jamboree for kids

Over 60 children, aged between three and 12, of Langolberia village, 14 km off Calcutta, participated in a day-long jamboree organised by Srija, a city-based voluntary organisation, on Sunday. Srija has adopted the village and is extending basic amenities, like health and education, to the children.

Death anniversary

The 15th death anniversary of freedom fighter Sailendra Kumar Chaudhury was recently observed with a seminar.    

Calcutta, Jan. 20: 
The murder of a businessman on Saturday night has left residents of Thakurpukur shaky and terrified. Till Sunday, four persons were arrested in connection with the killing.

The murder was committed near the local market. The victim, Gorachand Kayal, 45, a resident of Hanspukur, was chatting with a friend at a tea-stall. Both had parked their motorcycles a little distance away.

Suddenly, two young men arrived on a scooter and let loose a volley of bullets. Kayal was shot at close range, but the friend was unharmed. The killers disappeared in the darkness of the night.

Residents deserted the road in terror, while shop-keepers downed their shutters. Kayal was rushed to a local hospital, where he was declared dead.

Local Trinamul Congress leader Tapas Basu said: “Kayal was a supplier of building materials. He was plying his trade independently and making a profit. He was also an active supporter of our party. But some local youths, with tacit support from the CPM, were pressuring him to donate to the party fund, which he refused to. Some of them threatened Kayal with dire consequences.”

Local CPM leaders refuted the charge. They said their cadre was not involved in the murder.

“We do not know who the police have rounded up. Why don’t they hunt out the youth who was chatting with Kayal at the time of the murder? Things will fall in place then,” said a local leader.

Additional superintendent of police (Industrial) Rajesh Kumar Singh said: “We are not aware of the political affiliation of the victim. We have arrested four persons, whom we are interrogating. More arrests are likely and then the mystery behind the murder can be solved.”


Calcutta, Jan. 20: 
When 60-year-old Jyotirmoy Chatterjee pushed himself into a compartment and and managed a toehold on the Chandanpur local from Howrah on Sunday, he felt something amiss.

Strains of a popular Rabindrasangeet — Eki labanyey punya pran, pranesho hey — greeted his ears. He looked up to see where the song was coming from. It was being played over a loudspeaker fitted in one corner of the ceiling.

Like Chatterjee, passengers on local trains over the weekend were subjected to the same surprise. Seeking to provide relief to harried commuters, the railway authorities have introduced piped music in the compartments from Saturday. The numbers range from Rabindrasangeet to popular adhuniks by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Manna Dey and Shyamal Mitra, as also the latest Jibanmukhi genre of Kabir Suman and Nachiketa.

Another big surprise was the the announcements — a la Metro — of the approaching station and the direction of the platform.

Divisional railway manager of Howrah, Swapan Chowdhury, said apart from songs, announcements of the names of the approaching stations and the side the platform will fall on are also being made on the public address system installed in compartments of local trains on the Howrah-Burdwan Main and Chord sections. Part of the inspiration was derived from the announcements and advertisement jingles on the Metro Railway trains, he said.

“It is our duty to improve passenger amenities and minimise their grievances. So, we decided on the new mode of entertainment. Besides, the announcements on stations and platform numbers will work towards reducing the tension of commuters who are not daily passengers,” said Chowdhury.

Gradually, the music and announcements will be introduced on all sections. “We are also thinking in terms of installing framed paintings in local train compartments for better visuals during a tiresome and monotonous journey,” said Chowdhury.


Calcutta, Jan. 20: 
Former chief minister Jyoti Basu on Sunday laid the foundation stone for the Millennium Towers housing complex at Rajarhat New Town. The highrise, to be constructed by the West Bengal Housing Board, is spread over 2.84 acres.

New Town will be three times as big as Salt Lake and house nearly 5 lakh people, Basu said. He has asked the housing board to expedite work and meet the deadline.

Work on about 900 apartments in the township, taken up by the housing board in the first phase, is nearing completion. The flats are likely to be handed over to the purchasers within this year.

Housing minister Gautam Deb said a few thousand plots will also be distributed within April among applicants who got them through lottery.

Referring to the land taken from farmers for New Town, Deb said the plot-owners have been adequately compensated.


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