Scourge spectre at girls’ home
Telecom lab boost for Bengal
Muzzle move on oral exams
Seven residents, 604 voters
The City Diary
Hospital returns baby to mother
HMC in tax trap
Rate slash for talk time
Anil speaks up for Buddha
Miffed Mamata lets cadre loose on cops

 
 
SCOURGE SPECTRE AT GIRLS’ HOME 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Feb. 11: 
The spotlight has swung back on the Liluah Home for Destitute Women, with the first blood test on one of the inmates proving HIV-positive. The test, conducted at the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine, has to be followed by a second before the 20-year-old inmate can be confirmed to be infected with the virus that causes AIDS. Reba Das, superintendent of the home, confirming the development, said: “The first test report was positive. The inmate’s blood sample has been sent for the second test.”

This is the second HIV detection among the home inmates in the past year. Another inmate tested positive around the Pujas last year. She was handed over to Sanlaap, an NGO which houses HIV-positive women. The home authorities collected blood samples of four girls who arrived from Mumbai after being rescued there early in January.

When the test reports came in last week, the home authorities got to know that one of them was positive. Home sources said the girl, who hails from south Bengal, was rescued from a brothel.

“The blood samples were sent for testing after the girls had been in the home for a month,” said an official.

Superintendent Das said: “The girl may have been infected quite some time ago. We have just detected her condition and are awaiting confirmation.”

Sources said home staff noticed the girl looking ill on arrival at the home. “She was looking tired and pale. She could not even walk properly,” said an employee. “We realised something was wrong with her.”

Inmates who repeatedly fall ill and do not respond to medication are recommended for HIV tests after they are counselled about the disease. Sanlaap volunteers take care of this.

On a directive from the Juvenile Welfare Board, the home authorities decided to carry out the blood tests on all the women rescued from Mumbai. The blood samples were sent for testing after a couple of weeks.

The home, however, is not taking precautions to screen other inmates, experts said. Though the second test results are awaited, the girl should have been advised on certain precautions, they added.

Meanwhile, a move is on to conduct a DNA test on the baby born to a deaf-mute inmate. The inmate tested pregnant last year and the needle of fatherhood points to an employee of the home.

   

 
 
TELECOM LAB BOOST FOR BENGAL 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 11: 
It’s all in the name. If Bangalore can be Silicon Valley and Hyderabad Genome Valley, why can’t Calcutta shed its tag of ‘rosogolla-and-rally town’ to “reposition” itself as the Telecom Corridor?

Recognising the need for “proper branding”, the Calcutta chapter of The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TIE) — a global, non-profit network of entrepreneurs and professionals promoting new-age entrepreneurship — has joined hands with the Left Front government to promote Bengal as The Destination for knowledge companies.

TIE has already submitted a proposal to the state government to set up a “centre of excellence” in Calcutta, catering to the “various needs” of the telecom industry, from training to technology.

The proposed ‘telecom lab’ will consist of full-fledged telecom switches, necessary for testing and developing specialised software in the field. The centre will also have training facilities “tailor-made” to meet the human resources requirement of the telecom industry.

Though TIE officials are tightlipped about the move, government sources have confirmed receiving “the proposal”. Webel, the state’s nodal IT agency, has already got into the act. S.K. Mitra, managing director, West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corporation, said: “We have extended our support for setting up the infrastructure on our premises at STP II (software technology park-II). We are keen to incubate the project.”

According to government sources, TIE — which is also providing inputs to consultancy major McKinsey to draw up a road map for success in Bengal’s IT sector — is sounding out “two telecom majors” to set up this infrastructure in Calcutta. The response, they say, has been “extremely positive”.

Referring to the TIE plan, a government official said: “It’s going to complement our efforts to lure investment in the IT and telecom sectors. There is already an incentive scheme for telecom players and the branding of Telecom Corridor for Calcutta could be a real boon for Bengal.”

   

 
 
MUZZLE MOVE ON ORAL EXAMS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 11: 
Oral tests for Madhyamik students look set to be silenced.

On Monday, participating in a workshop, school education minister Kanti Biswas, Madhyamik board officials and representatives from teachers’ bodies signalled the scrapping of the tests after blaming the teachers for the unreliability tag on the tests.

Haraprasad Samaddar, Madhyamik Board president, said oral tests were modern, scientific and gave students the opportunity to be assessed by teachers known to them.

“We have not reached any decision on the fate of the tests, but the fact that we are constrained to think in terms of scrapping them shows that we are not happy at the way a large chunk of teachers assess their students,” said Samaddar.

The state Board of Secondary Education organised the workshop for state-aided secondary schoolteachers to discuss reforms in the examination system, the key proposal being to scrap oral tests.

A teacher himself, minister Biswas did not offer a direct comment on the issue, but admitted that there has been “a decline in the social system, of which the teaching community is a part.”

Other Board officials felt that the oral tests were not being conducted properly by a section of teachers. “There are instances where a student who has got zero out of 90 in the written test has scored 10 on 10 in the orals,” said Samaddar.

Inaugurating the workshop, present and former heads of state education boards, director of the State Council of Education and Research — all former teachers of schools and colleges — came down heavily against a “section of errant teachers” who failed to “ perform their duty in an appropriate manner and maintain discipline” in schools.

According to the Board’s rule, unlike the written exams, the oral tests are held internally and marks are awarded by teachers of the schools themselves.

   

 
 
SEVEN RESIDENTS, 604 VOTERS 
 
 
BY DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, Feb. 11: 
How many people can a moderate, double-storeyed house hold? Six hundred and four, if the Election Commission has its way.

House no. 371 of Block G, New Alipore, once played host to Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi — several sequences from films they starred in were shot at this address.

But February 11, 2002, has given this house a dubious distinction. On Monday, seven residents of the house received a slip of paper from the Election Commission, delivered by local Trinamul Congress councillor and chairman of borough X Arup Biswas. The slip told them they share the house with 597 other voters. According to the Election Commission, the house has 604 voters.

The Sens say they are surprised. The two brothers — Timir and Samir — who have lived there with their families since the 1970s say they have never hosted so many people, leave alone share the ancestral property with 597 others.

Gorachand Agarwal, Vimala Devi Agarwal, Ganga Prasad Jha, Sanjay Thakur, Kapil Arya, Vijay Kumar… the list of their ‘extended’ family on the poll rolls is quite frightening, they add.

Timir’s family comprises three members — he, his wife Chandra and daughter Sanjukta. Brother Samir’s family has his wife Shubhalakshmi, son Parthapratim and daughter Srirupa.

The list reached councillor Biswas on Friday. “There were several anomalies... I, too, have been shifted to another address,” he said.

But it was the long list of names alongside house no. 371 that drew Biswas’ attention. “I checked and re-checked the list for a misprint,” he said.

“I was left with little choice but to bring it to the attention of the residents of the house,” Biswas added.

The Sens, too, were equally surprised. Samir returned home on Monday and learnt about the list from his wife. “If needed, we will write to the Election Commission,” he said.

Timir has given councillor Biswas the names of the bona fide residents. Biswas said he had already faxed a message to the Chief Election Commissioner’s office in Delhi.

State chief election officer Sabyasachi Sen said the family needed to fill up form no. 7 to rectify the error. “I am happy that the local councillor has already taken up the matter. But we will conduct an independent inquiry to find out how such a mistake occurred,” he added.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Rs 6 lakh snatched from man in minibus

Armed criminals fled with around Rs 6 lakh from a man travelling in a crowded bus on Monday morning. Police said Deepak Dwivedi, a resident of Uttarpara in Hooghly district, working for a rolling mill company in Posta, was asked by his employers to deposit the money in a non-banking financial institution. Dwivedi put the money in a cotton bag and boarded a minibus at Burrabazar. “Within minutes, he was surrounded by six armed men, who snatched the bag and jumped out of the running bus,” said a police officer. On hearing Dwivedi cry for help, a traffic constable and local youths chased the criminals and managed to catch one of them. The arrested youth was identified as Zakir Hussain, a burglar operating in central Calcutta. Rs 2,700 was also recovered from him.

Protest against liquor shop

Trouble broke out on Hem Chandra Naskar Road in the Beleghata police station area, after residents opposed the opening of a foreign liquor shop in the locality. Police said the owner had a court order in his favour. Six persons, including two women, were arrested.

Car thief caught

The Beniapukur police on Monday arrested Ashis Gupta on charges of stealing cars from central and east Calcutta. Police said a mobile patrol team noticed Gupta replacing the licence plate of a car and took him in custody. Investigations revealed that he had stolen two other cars. The vehicles have been recovered.

Run over

Rupak Chattopadhyay, 32, was run over by a lorry in south Garia on Monday evening. The driver fled with the vehicle. A mob tried to set fire to passing vehicles and blocked roads for two hours in protest.

Eatery trouble

The police rounded up several persons on Monday in connection with trouble at a central Calcutta eatery on Sunday night. Police said the management of the eatery had refused to serve a gang of criminals. Around 11 pm, they returned with country-made revolvers and swords, and surrounded the hotel. Bombs were hurled and a hotel employee sustained splinter injuries.

Oil for the heart

A new supplement made from salmon fish oil is beneficial in preventing coronary artery diseases, cardiologists said at a seminar recently. Omega-3 is an oil that contains two essential fatty acids that the body cannot produce or acquire from other food items. The product was released in Calcutta and is available in the form of gelatin capsules.

Sleeping tiger

A tiger, which had entered a Gosaba household, had to be tranquilised on Monday morning. Police said the tiger’s frequent appearances caused panic among the residents of the village, prompting forest officials to send an expert to their aid. A tranquiliser dart was used to allow forest officials take the tiger to Sajnekhali, where it was released.    

 
 
HOSPITAL RETURNS BABY TO MOTHER 
 
 
BY TARAK NATH DE
 
Calcutta, Feb. 11: 
Roop is no longer Roop. He is Anirban. The mystery of the abandoned Roop, named so by a sister-in-charge, was solved on Monday with the boy’s mother taking him back from Howrah General Hospital. She later renamed him Anirban.

Roop was handed over to his mother on the basis of a certificate she brought along from the local councillor and her identification by the doctor who had assisted during the baby’s birth in the last week of January.

A few days after his birth, Roop’s mother and grandmother had come to claim him. But the hospital authorities asked them to return with identification papers, signed by a councillor or an MLA. Meanwhile, many NGOS and local organisations read about the abandoned baby, and came to stake their claim.

Armed with the requisite papers, signed by local councillor K.K. Ta, the duo returned on Monday to claim Roop. The gynaecologist, the nurses and the special attendants identified the mother and backed her claim.

“After interrogating the mother and the grandmother, we were sure that their claim was genuine. It was only then that we decided to hand over the baby,” said hospital superintendent H.K. Chanda.

Roop’s unwed mother, still in her teens, said she was overwhelmed at getting her son back. “I had escaped from the hospital because of the stigma attached to unwed mothers,” she said. Later, her family assured her that they would help her look after the baby.

The teenager was promised marriage by a man who deserted her once she conceived. “I was assured by my boyfriend that he would marry me. Later, when I got into a spot, my family went to the address near Botanical Gardens given by him. But it turned out to be a hoax,” she said. “I want my son to become a police officer and punish those who dupe women,” she added.

When the formalities were settled around 3.30 pm, hospital superintendent Chanda, doctors and nurses bid the reunited family a sentimental adieu.

“We are happy that Roop has found his mother, but we will miss him. I am grateful to the child specialists and the nurses who took care of the baby while he was here,” said Chanda.

Baby food, feeding bottles, spoons and mosquito nets gifted by the staff of the maternity ward were given away to Roop’s mother.

   

 
 
HMC IN TAX TRAP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 11: 
Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) is in trouble with the income-tax authorities over building plans sanctioned and trade licences issued over the past two years. Most of the buildings and highrises in the town have reportedly come up without sanctioned plans.

The income-tax authorities on Monday asked the HMC to submit the past two years’ returns, disclosing the number of building plans sanctioned, trade licences issued and payment made to the civic contractors.

“We can only account for payments made to the civic contractors over the past two years,” said HMC commissioner Chanchal Banerjee. Data on the number of building plans sanctioned and trade licences issued might be incomplete, he added

According to HMC revenue department sources, there are over 67,000 buildings and 1,100 highrises, but the property tax bill is only Rs 4 crore. The figure should be Rs 50 crore.

The difference is because most of the buildings and highrises have come up illegally and, hence, remain outside the dragnet of property tax. “The state government is also losing revenue, as transactions in real estate go unregistered in most of the cases,” said an officer in the Howrah sub-registry office.

However, Howrah will cease to be a tax haven, as mayor Gopal Mukherjee has asked the central valuation board to take up the tax revision process in the HMC. “There has been no revision of property tax since 1984, though according to the HMC Act, it ought to have been revised every six years,” said the commissioner.

   

 
 
RATE SLASH FOR TALK TIME 
 
 
BY ALOKANANDA GHOSH
 
Calcutta, Feb. 11: 
Call more to pay less. That’s the latest strategy adopted by AirTel. The cellular service provided by Bharti Mobitel has introduced ‘Wonder Plan’, formulated in keeping with the slab-rate structure of ‘landline phones’.

“The new plan follows a volume-based structure. Subscribers will pay less as the airtime usage increases,” says chief executive officer of Bharti Mobitel, Deepak Gulati.

The airtime rates for the new plan will depend on usage time — for a monthly usage of 0-175 minutes, the customer pays Rs 1.95 for both incoming and outgoing calls; for airtime usage above 175 minutes, the subscriber pays just Re 1 for both incoming and outgoing calls. The pulse rates for the calls have been increased from 30 seconds to 60 seconds. The monthly rental remains at Rs 295.

Sanjoy Mukerji, chief executive officer of Command, agrees that the concept of tariff slabs based on call-time is an “interesting” one. “Calcutta is an extremely price-sensitive market. The cost factor needs to be constantly highlighted. The new plan will definitely attract attention. We are, however, waiting for customer reaction before we take any decision to revise our tariff,” adds Mukerji.

AirTel will continue with the Listener and All-Rounder tariff plans, though subscribers to these plans comprise only 30 per cent of the total post-paid customer base. For the Listener plan, the subscriber pays Rs 450 as monthly rental and 50 paise for incoming and Re 1 for outgoing calls. For the All-Rounder plan, one has to pay a monthly rental of Rs 599 and 50 paise for both incoming and outgoing calls. Both these plans are charged at a 30-second pulse.

Bharti Mobitel also plans to introduce segmented tariff for its pre-paid ‘Magic’ cards by February-end. “The multiple tariff plan for pre-paid cards will target different user groups. For example, a teenager will use the cellphone in the evenings and night. The rates for this segment will be lower at night,” says Gulati. Other segments to be targeted with the pre-paid multiple-tariff schemes include “housewives, elderly people, tourists and young executives”.

   

 
 
ANIL SPEAKS UP FOR BUDDHA 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 11: 
The state CPM leadership today sought to strengthen chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s position by emphasising that minority fundamentalism was as much a problem as majority fundamentalism and the government should be alert to it.

Articulating the leadership’s position, state CPM secretary Anil Biswas said contrary to perception, Bhattacharjee had successfully highlighted certain issues like minority fundamentalism when he made his controversial remarks a fortnight ago.

Biswas, however, took extra care not to mention the madarsa issue by name and chose to describe it in vague terms.

Asked whether Bhattacharjee had backtracked on his earlier observations that some madarsas were fomenting anti-national activities following pressure from his party, Biswas replied in the negative.

“He (Bhattacharjee) had raised certain issues and explained them. The CPM did not put any pressure on him in this regard. So, there is no question of any backtracking. He is a senior leader of our party and both the CPM and the Left Front have full confidence in him,” Biswas added.

Echoing Bhattacharjee, he said Bengal, like other states, also faced a threat from Muslim fundamentalists.

“Even though 98 per cent of both Hindus and Muslims in Bengal are secular, the remaining two per cent are not. We should remain alert to the smaller percentage,” Biswas said.

He also trained his gun on the VHP. “On March 15, the VHP is going ahead with its plan to construct the Ram temple in Ayodhya. The Centre, instead of initiating immediate action against the VHP, is encouraging it,” Biswas said.

Party insiders said the state CPM leadership, which was initially cut up with Bhattacharjee, later sought to protect him after the politburo meeting in Delhi last weekend reportedly backed the chief minister.

   

 
 
MIFFED MAMATA LETS CADRE LOOSE ON COPS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Tamluk, Feb. 11: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said it was “just vandalism”.

For Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee, it was a lesson taught to the “corrupt administration”.

The end-result: 36 injured policemen and a ransacked bungalow. Among the injured were Purba Midnapore superintendent of police Anuj Sharma and additional superintendent of police Abhijit Sengupta.

Egged on by Mamata, Trinamul supporters on a jail-bharo andolan here, attacked district magistrate Anil Verma’s bungalow which also housed his office, damaged vehicles and brickbatted even the superintendent of police and the sub-divisional police officer of Tamluk, Kalyan Banerjee. Police had to burst teargas shells and fire in the air to disperse the mob.

“Trinamul demanded that the police announce that they have arrested a lakh of their supporters, when we gave clear instructions to the district administration that the number of persons arrested will not be revealed,” the chief minister told reporters at Writers’ Buildings.

He added that over 3,000 people were still squatting on the road there.

Asked if the police would act against the picketers, Bhattacharjee said: “Let us see what we can do.” On Mamata’s role in the incident, the chief minister said: “Why don’t you find out if she is there?”

Mamata arrived here to take part in the jail-bharo programme this afternoon. A dais was set up in the ground near the district magistrate’s bungalow. The police claim between 5,000 and 6,000 people turned up.

Trouble began after Mamata demanded that either the district magistrate or the superintendent of police come to the dais and announce that one lakh of her supporters had been arrested. Instructed by her, Dipak Ghosh, an MLA from the district, and some party supporters went to the superintendent of police who was standing near the dais and told him about Mamata’s demand. But the superintendent shrugged it off.

Furious at being let down, Mamata asked senior party leaders to meet the district magistrate, but he also refused.

After that all hell broke loose.

“The police proved to have immense patience and resilience and for that so many of them were badly hurt,” Verma said.

   
 

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