Tram tracks on Hiroshima high
Blood test push in tragedy wake
Doctor defends drug dose
Zee signals beam boycott
The City Diary
Minister steers bus demand in Salt Lake
Five-day varsity week from July
HS exams made easy for Bengali students
Police failure triggers private security shield
Fact, fiction and faces in between

Calcutta, Feb. 19: 
A 14.5-km-long ‘high-rise’ tram-track — with half-a-dozen crests and troughs — connecting the city-centre with Joka. That’s one thing Calcuttans can look forward to before the turn of the decade.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, inspired by the ‘high-rise’ tracks of Hiroshima, has given the go-ahead to the state transport department. The result: The dust being wiped off a feasibility report financed by the Union government and prepared and submitted by US firm ICF Kaiser in 1998. The entire Esplanade-Joka tram project is likely to cost over Rs 350 crore.

The Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners — which will have no major project in hand following the commissioning of sundry flyovers — has been selected to act as the nodal agency to implement the scheme, say officials.

“The HRBC is set to float a global tender to appoint a consultant for the scheme,” a transport department official disclosed, adding that a corpus of Rs 2 crore — to be shared by the Centre and the state government on a 60:40 basis — had been allotted for the purpose.

The two specific terms of reference of the consultancy service, said sources in the HRBC, would be to prepare the technical drawing and identify the financing and implementing agencies from abroad for the proposed track. The project will be undertaken on either a built-operate-transfer (BOT) or built-owned-operate-transfer (BOOT) basis.

“It will be a new-generation track which will not cause that ear-splitting grating sound that characterises the movement of trams now,” officials said. “Special rubber bands will be used on the wheels as a muffler,” they added.

There was a reason for selecting the Esplanade-Joka route for the track, they explained. “This route has more reserve tracks than others,” an official said, explaining that Calcutta’s 68-km tram-tracks had only 18 km of reserve tracks now.

The track, however, will not be an entirely elevated affair. At places, the 20-foot-high track will come down to ground level before rising again, say officials. The on-surface track from Joka to Behala will rise near Majherhat, bypassing the existing bridge there. It is expected to descend at Mominpur before one branch veers off towards the Kidderpore tram depot.

CTC now runs 432 trams carrying over two lakh passengers every day. “It is the cheapest and the most pollution-free mode of transport in the country,” CTC general manager Mihir Das said. “It is unbelievable that a Calcuttan can traverse a 2-km distance for Rs 1.50,” he said, adding that trams — at an accident-rate of 3.85 for every lakh km travelled — were the safest as well.

“Trams are not slow either,” he said. “It just depends on getting the right of way.” That’s one thing the high-rise trams will enjoy.


Calcutta, Feb. 19: 
Several non-government organisations are renewing their appeal to the state law and health departments for the formulation and introduction of a legislation or ordinance that would make blood tests for thalassaemia compulsory before marriage.

The death of Bappaditya Ghosh, a victim of the disease, after a road accident and the subsequent suicides by his mother and sister on Sunday have spurred these organisations.

The Thalassaemia Society of India, the Thalassaemia Guardians’ Forum, the Thalassaemia Foundation and the Thalassaemia and AIDS Prevention Society point out that this was not the first instance of suicide in a family stricken by this genetic and usually-fatal blood disorder.

On May 8, 1995, the mother of five-year-old Dayanand Sau killed herself at her Taltola home, unable to cope with the costly treatment for her son.

On November 13, 1997, Moloy Bhattacharya killed his daughter Ria, a thalassaemic patient, and his wife Gita, before committing suicide in Kasba. The bus conductor could not afford the frequent blood transfusion.

And now the disasters in the Ghosh family of Ghosh Lane. When Bappaditya’s father Krishnadhan Ghosh got married, some 27 years ago, he was not aware that being a thalassaemia minor (or carrier of the disease) himself, he should not marry a person with a similar trait. Even if they did, they should not bear children. Studies have indicated that every third child born to carrier parents turns out to be thalassaemia majors.

Today, quite a few people are turning up for high performance lipid chromatography, or HPLC. Only three centres in the city offer this test: Lion’s Blood Bank on Waterloo Street, the Thalassaemia Foundation-run hospital on Chetla Hat Road, and the haematology department of NRS Medical College and Hospital.

About 10.5 per cent of the population in the state and 14 per cent of population in eastern India (east Bihar, Bengal, Assam and Tripura) are carriers of the thalassaemia gene. Epidemiologists point out that if tests before marriage are not conducted, this population could rise to 25 per cent in the next 10 years. Bengal already has about 60,000 children detected with the disease.

Director of medical education C.R. Maity warned: “We have to build the infrastructure before passing such a legislation. The centre at NRS Medical College is swamped with people wanting to undergo the test.” With the Indian Council of Medical Research, haematology centres similar to the one at NRS could be set up at all medical colleges and district hospitals, he added.


Calcutta, Feb. 19: 
Violation of the drug manufacturer’s instructions is not always dangerous for the patient, Sukumar Mukherjee, said on Tuesday. The senior consultant in medicine was deposing for the first time before chief judicial magistrate (CJM) Ananda Raha at the Alipore court.

The principal accused in the Anuradha Saha death due to alleged negligence case, Mukherjee answered the first set of questions prepared on the basis of submissions by the prosecution witnesses. The two other leading city physicians charged in the case, consultant dermatologist Baidyanath Haldar and consultant in medicine Abani Roy Chowdhury, have already deposed before the CJM.

Asked whether the physician should follow the manufacturer’s product literature before using any drug, he replied: “The dose of the drug is guided by the clinical and biological status of the patient, therapeutic response and clinical judgment and discretion of the physician. Hence it is not a violation.”

Anuradha’s husband, NRI doctor Kunal Saha, and brother Moloy Ganguly, have initiated criminal cases against the three doctors after her death in May 1998, allegedly due to medical negligence and a wrong dosage of cortico-steroid drugs.

Most of the questions that CJM Raha asked Mukherjee on Tuesday were based on submissions made by Salil Bhattacharya, professor of pharmacology at the Benares Hindu University’s Institute of Medicine.

He did not agree that clear disregard of the manufacturer’s recommendations on the use of any drug should be considered medical negligence. “Specific instructions are not laid out for depomedrol. Moreover, cortico-steroid drugs are life-saving drugs which are known to have individualisation of therapy, and dose variability according to the clinical situation (of the patient). I believe it does not necessarily mean medical negligence.”

On whether the choice of a drug is entirely the prerogative of the physician, and whether the physician had to follow the therapeutic norms of the drug he had chosen, he said: “My answer to the first part is yes. To the second part, unfortunately, pharmaco-therapeutic norms do not always completely cover all clinical aspects and circumstances of the patient.”

To whether depomedrol could be used for acute conditions like TEN (toxic epidermal necrolysis, which is a severe drug allergy resulting in rashes and eruptions), he replied: “I want to emphasise that I did not use depomedrol for TEN. I want to reiterate that I did not diagnose TEN on the late Anuradha Saha and hence I did not use the drug on the patient in a case of TEN.”

The deposition had to be curtailed as Mukherjee was due to appear before the state medical council for the third day. The hearing was again inconclusive. The CJM will ask the remaining questions on Wednesday.


Calcutta, Feb. 19: 
Let’s dump them before they drop us. That’s the game broadcaster bouquets and service providers are playing, as the cable wars take a new turn in Calcutta.

Following signals from operators, via the cable and satellite (C&S) homes, that the Zee-Turner channels are “less favoured” than the STAR and Sony packages, the conglomerate has threatened to cry off the RPG beam that serves more than 80 per cent of Calcutta’s cable homes.

Seventeen channels — including Zee Cinema, Zee News, HBO and Cartoon Network (the channel powered by Popeye and Tom and Jerry which remains the most popular in the bouquet) — are what the conglomerate can deny RPG-connected C&S homes. “We cannot wait indefinitely for the cable-operators and RPG Netcom to take a decision on paying the new rates,” Zee-Turner CEO Sunil Khanna said on Tuesday. “We are still willing to negotiate but refuse to be arm-twisted any more.”

According to Khanna, the cry from Calcutta’s operators that Zee had hiked its price was “logically untenable”. Zee, with 14 channels, was earlier priced at Rs 30 and Turner with three channels came to operators at Rs 12.75 a subscriber till January, making the 17 channels cost Rs 42.75 for every subscriber. “Now, the two have merged and the 17 channels cost Rs 42. So, where is the question of acting pricey?” demanded the CEO.

A senior Zee-Turner executive is expected to come down to the city on Thursday for another round of talks with the operators under the RPG umbrella before finalising the beam boycott.

Both the Forum of Cable Operators (FCO) and the Cable Television Operators Association (CTOA), which met on Tuesday to review the situation, termed Zee-Turner’s stand as “confrontationist”. As one senior member put it: “They are demanding both a rate hike and a rise in subscriber figures. That is not possible in a price-sensitive market like Calcutta. How many homes would be willing to cough up Rs 350 to 400 a month for their cable connections?” The two cable bodies have decided to call a one-day token strike in the first week of March to protest “indiscriminate rate hike by pay channels”.



Five students hurt in varsity clash

Five students were injured after a clash broke out between Chhatra Parishad and Students Federation of India (SFI) activists at Calcutta University on Tuesday. Deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan said the students fought over the immersion of Saraswati images. The activists lobbed soda bottles and bricks at each other. Injured students were taken to Calcuta Medical College and Hospital. They were later released after first aid. A police picket was posted in the area.

Group messaging

Cellphone service provider Command has introduced the ‘Group Messaging’ facility for its post-paid subscribers. The facility, which will be effective from February 20, will allow a subscriber to send one message to a group of people simultaneously. Five groups — friends, family, office, business, VIP — can be created and the messages sent to the groups by dialing 444. Each group can have up to 25 members, who can be mobile subscribers anywhere in India.

Cop compensation

The National Insurance on Tuesday gave away five cheques for Rs 100,000 each to the families of policemen killed in the January 22 strike on the American Center. The cheques were handed over to deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Banibrata Basu.

Belur eviction

Eastern Railways on Tuesday launched a drive against illegal settlers at Belur station, identified by the railway officials as a ‘heritage station’. The drive against encroachers at Bally station will begin on March 3, said an official. The settlers will be given notices before the eviction.

Animal care

Compassionate Crusaders Trust (CCT), a city-based NGO, has received the Venu Menon Special Organisation Award for 2002, instituted by the Venu Menon Animal Allies Foundation. CCT runs a shelter for destitute cats and dogs and rescued birds in Sanjua village, in South 24-Parganas, called Karuna Kunj. The shelter houses Asia’s largest cattery with over 100 cats. It has also curbed illegal cattle trade to Bangladesh and animal sacrifice in temples.

Awareness meet

The Bengal chapter of National Safety Council, in collaboration with the directorate of factories, will observe the 31st National Safety Day on March 4. Labour minister Mohammad Amin will inaugurate a programme at Sisir Mancha to mark the event. An exhibition on safety equipment and instruments to monitor work environment will be put up at Gaganendra Pradarshashala.

Jadavpur protest

Councillors from Jadavpur on Tuesday submitted a deputation to mayor Subrata Mukherjee protesting the lack of development in the area. Cutting across party lines, the councillors told Mukherjee that no development work had been taken up in the past one-and-a-half years.

Clean-up drive

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation will soon clean up major roads and places of historical import, said mayor-in-council, conservancy, Mala Roy on Tuesday.    

Calcutta, Feb. 19: 
If Arun Ganguly, an advocate living in BD block, Sector-I, of Salt Lake, wants to reach Sector-III, he trudges nearly a kilometre to the Punjab National Bank to catch S-19, which is the only bus connecting the two sectors.

Dilip Sarkar, a retired government employee in Purbachal, in Sector III, has to visit Lake Town frequently to meet his relatives. But he rarely finds direct transport to Tank number-4, near the pedestrian bridge, connecting Lake Town.

Those who do not own cars in this 16 square-kilometre plann-ed township, travelling between sectors and blocks is a pain.

Realising the problem, finance minister Asim Dasgupta, a resident of FD block, has requested the people of Salt Lake to seek a meeting with his neighbour, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, who is also the local MLA.

“While passing through different areas of Salt Lake, I find people waiting for hours at bus stands, particularly during the evening and office hours. Commuting inter-block is really a problem,” said Dasgupta, voicing the woes of residents.

The township has a population of about 1.8 lakh and about 25,000 people visit it daily either to attend office or on other business. “The number of routes and buses has increased in the township. But, the population, including those who work in Salt Lake, has increased significantly over the past five years. Something has to be done about it,” said Dasgupta.

According to Asim Guha, convener of the special committee on transport at the Salt Lake Municipality, faulty planning was responsible for this.

When Sector-I was developing in the mid-1970s, it was planned that most buses and minibuses would enter Salt Lake via Ultadanga.

Later, when Sectors II and III came up and a number of entrances to Salt Lake from the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass were thrown open, no provision was made to evenly distribute the volume of traffic across the three sectors.

“We at the transport committee of the municipality are trying to find out a solution,” Guha explained.

The transport minister, however, claimed the situation was not so bad as about 600 buses on 63 routes plied in the township. These touch various parts of Calcutta, but it is not profitable to ply buses all over Salt Lake.

“When we introduced the battery-operated bus to ply through all the three sectors of Salt Lake, we hardly got any passengers. I had seen only five passengers in it. When we wanted to introduce 20 new routes for private buses, we received applications for only five because the other routes are not profitable,” said Chakraborty.

He said that when the township was conceived, the initial plan was drawn up with the thought that all residents would own cars.

“In the initial plan, the township did not have pavements as it was taken for granted that every resident will travel in cars and buses won’t be required. The sidewalks were carved out later,” said the transport minister.

Guha said about 50 autorickshaws, which ply in Salt Lake, operate between Ultadanga and the township’s central business district where various government offices are located. Cycle-rickshaws still remain the main mode of inter-block transport.


Calcutta, Feb. 19: 
Jadavpur University has recently issued a circular announcing the introduction of a five-day week from July 1.

Teachers and students of the university had earlier opposed the move to introduce the new system as they felt it would hamper academic activities.

Registrar Rajat Banerjee said he had conveyed to all heads of the departments, the executive council’s resolution to introduce the new leave rule, which will follow the five-day week system.

Secretary of Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA), Tarun Naskar, alleged that as per the new rule, the university will be closed every Saturday.

“We have calculated that the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) directive to hold a minimum of 180 working days a year will be reduced to 160. We consider it a clear violation of the UGC directive and have decided to draw the attention of the chief minister and higher education minister,” Naskar said.

JUTA also feels that the university has violated the state government’s decision of excluding teachers from the five-day week system.

A senior university official, however, said they had tried their best to abide by the UGC directive. “For this, we have decided to adjust the class timings. A 50-minute class will now be held for 45 minutes to make up for the Saturday classes,” the official added.


Calcutta, Feb. 19: 
The West Bengal Higher Secondary Education Council wants to make things easy for examinees. On Tuesday it released its first edition of a new journal in Bengali containing ideal answers to questions of the ensuing Higher Secondary examinations.

The answers will also include detailed opinions of expert examiners and their suggestions on how to tackle difficult questions. The Council’s move is aimed at helping nearly four lakh HS examinees who will appear in the examinations scheduled to begin on March 20. A large number of examinees from English and Hindi medium schools are aggrieved as they said they will not be able to make use of the facility available only in Bengali.

Nearly 10 per cent of the total examinees who appear in the HS examinations every year belong to schools other than Bengali medium.

“A bulk of the examinees who score high marks in the HS are from the well-known English medium schools in Calcutta. We are surprised that the Council does not want to help them,” said Sourav Pal, an examinee from South Point.

Students of other English medium HS institutions like Loreto, Gokhale and Shree Shikshayatan demanded that an English version of the journal be published. The journal will be available at the four regional centres of the Council from Friday.

Teachers of English medium schools said they had approached the Council and demanded an English version of the journal.

Jyotirmoy Mukhopadhay, president, West Bengal Higher Secondary Education Council, said: “We are considering the proposal to publish the English version of the journal. But we are sorry that we will not be able to provide the facility for the English and Hindi medium students from this year.”

However, he said the Council has made a temporary arrangement to shortly release copies of the English version of the answers to questions in two subjects — history and chemistry, which, he felt, will be of help to the nearly 40,000 examinees from the English and Hindi medium schools.


Calcutta, Feb. 19: 
The Rabindra Sarobar Lakes will soon have private security cover. Fed up with police inaction despite regular vandalisation of its properties, the Calcutta Improvement Trust(CIT) has decided to engage a private security agency. The CIT manages the south Calcutta Lakes, in addition to Subhas Sarobar, in east Calcutta.

“Deploying a private security agency is the only option left with us to stop constant theft of CIT properties from the Lakes. Unfortunately, the police have done precious little to restore law and order in the area,” said chief engineer Anil Das, adding that the CIT would soon float tenders for the purpose.

According to Das, the Lakes turn into “a haven for criminals” after dark as policemen from the Lake thana steer clear of the area. “Criminals from Panchanantala and the adjoining areas take over the Lakes in the absence of police pickets. Repeated complaints to the police on theft of properties have not yielded results,” Das said. According to him, CIT properties worth around Rs 50,000 are stolen every month.

Satyabrata Chakraborty, officer on special duty (OSD) in CIT, later said the authorities will have to bear a recurring expense every month if a private security agency is engaged.

But it can’t be helped, he said, as the police have failed to coordinate with the CIT for setting up a permanent outpost at the Lakes despite the Trust offering land for the purpose.

Police officials, however, claimed that all possible steps were being taken to intensify surveillance at the Lakes. “Policemen are on duty by rotation, though we have no permanent outpost there,” said officer-in-charge of Lake police station, Bikash Roy.

Denying allegations that complaints of theft of CIT properties were not being looked into, Roy said a joint survey with CIT officials had been carried out last month to monitor security arrangements at the Lakes.

“We are even toying with the idea of putting up at least 10 watch-towers at different points to make the Lakes crime-free,” Roy added.

In a move to fund the maintenance of the Lakes, the CIT is considering a proposal for imposing entry tax on morning walkers. “We have already prepared a theme paper on how to construct a 9-km joggers’ path exclusively for morning walkers and collect entry taxes from them,” said Chakraborty.

According to the OSD, CIT representatives will discuss the matter with morning walkers and local representatives before finalising the entry fees.

“We have a plan to impose various types of entry fees, starting with Re 1. A morning walker will have to shell out Re 1 for a four-km stretch of the joggers’ path and pay extra if he or she has to walk more. We shall put up gates at different points along the joggers’ path and fix the entry fees accordingly,” he said, adding that there would be a properly designed fencing along either side of the path.


Calcutta, Feb. 19: 
Bhupen Khakhar never gets perturbed. While he was in Calcutta last week, yours truly nearly stood him up on two successive days. On the third, I kept him waiting for three hours, thanks to clogged roads. I finally made it well after 10 pm to the art camp organised by Tunty Chauhan, who runs Gallery Threshold in Visakhapatnam.

Soft-spoken, smiling and courteous even at that hour, Khakhar was quite chatty and friendly. No question of ruffled feathers. But why should he allow himself to be perturbed over a reporter who is never on time, when his own illness can’t get the better of him?

The artist, who has lived in Baroda for years, has prostate cancer. He makes light of it. “If you have to have cancer it should be prostate cancer,” he says, because it takes about 10 years before it really gets to you.

He has undergone surgery. He looks frail. Radiation treatment notwithstanding, he still sports a head of neatly-brushed white hair. I had decided to focus on his writing, of which little is known because he writes in Gujarati. Last year, Katha brought out a translation of some of his short fiction and his play Maujila Manilal has been staged in Mumbai. Khakhar had himself painted the sets for that production.

But as I discovered in the course of the interview, his art and his fiction are not two separate entities. Both are inextricably linked. Khakhar says he began writing from his days in Mumbai in the early 50s. He was interested in painting, too, so he had to choose between the two. “I thought painting is more objective. Writing becomes autobiographical. That is why I stuck to painting. I didn’t think I could write what I wanted to,” he says.

He resumed writing in the 60s, but “I did not have the courage even then to write what I wanted to. It was camouflaged. Somewhere around the end of the 70s I decided I will paint exactly what I like.” His paintings were openly homoerotic. Initially, there was resistance from galleries but gradually people have accepted that.

In the mid-80s he started writing gay subjects. He elaborates: “I realised writing is not necessarily autobiographical. I have written plays, too. There is an undercurrent of gay subjects. But humour, I think, is the main thing that holds them together.”

Khakhar mentions Maganbhai nu gundar (Maganbhai’s glue) about a man who keeps changing his profession and always gets excited about his new job. “The humour lies in the whole belief that you want to become rich and so you change from one profession to another,” he says.

A P.D. James fan, he talks about his novelette, Jasbhai nu Khun. This detective novel is about an artist who lives opposite an old man’s house. The old man gets murdered. “As an artist I am doing his portrait from memory. When the portrait is finished, the murder is solved. Though he has no physical relationship with Jasbhai, and though they do not ever converse there is an undercurrent of sexual attraction. Something like Death in Venice,” adds Khakhar reflectively.

In Maujila Manilal a man flirts with two women, sells them a dream and makes love to them by reciting English nursery rhymes.

“Wit and humour are part of me. I am particularly fascinated by Gujarati middle-class morality. What they say and how they behave are two totally different things,” says Khakhar. Most of these characters are not really fictitious, he explains. At some point in life he had relationships with them.

“I may start with real characters but that does not necessarily mean that I end with real life. Then it transforms,” he says. This is something his art has in common with his fiction. “Sometimes I use photographs I take. They get transformed or remain recognisable.” He admits there is a streak of romanticism in his work.

Since his illness, his paintings have “quite a lot of violence and blood”. When he was in Mumbai getting his radiation treatment, he was so physically weak he started writing about characters he knew in the 50s —lawyers, typesetters, carpenters. Fiction begins where facts end.


Maintained by Web Development Company