Board caught in cards crunch
Official ‘cover’ for contraband
All ears and tuned to terror
The City Diary
Closure cloud as dry taps ail hospital
Marriage mela draws in the hopeful hordes
Stricken by the scourge and shunned by kin
Durgapur REC set for Shibpur status
Students protest Madhyamik miss
Monitor hope for girl death riddle

Calcutta, Feb. 24: 
Hundreds of examinees will have to present provisional admit cards for appearing in Madhyamik 2002, scheduled to begin on Monday, as the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education has not been able to issue original cards to them.

The Board’s failure follows the refusal by a city-based computer firm, engaged for conducting all examination-related jobs, to hand over data relating to the preparation of admit cards, registration certificates and results of students.

The Board and the firm locked horns after the former found some gross errors in the results of last year’s examinations. Two students complained that they had received results showing they had passed Madhyamik 2001, though they had not appeared for the examination.

The Board pulled up the firm and warned that if such “gross errors” were repeated, it would be forced to engage some other firm for the job.

Sources in the Board alleged that after the rebuke, the company “suddenly slowed down” the process of preparing admit cards.

“We were taken aback when, in the first week of January, the firm refused to send us details of the admit cards. We requested them repeatedly to send us the details by January 10. But they refused to do so. It was then that we had to start collecting the data all over again,” said an official.

The owner of the firm could not be contacted but a senior official said on Sunday: “We have been forced to take recourse to legal action as the Board has violated certain clauses of the agreement with us. We cannot disclose anything else at the moment.”

According to the system followed last year, the Board collected the data on examinees from the respective schools. They were then sent to the computer firm for preparation of admit cards and results.

Sources in the Board said that the company’s refusal to hand over the data had even jeopardised the holding of Madhyamik 2002 on schedule. The Board had to collect the data all over again last month from 6,000 schools spread across the state.

“In January, when we realised what the firm was up to, we almost called off the examinations. Had the teachers’ bodies not come to our rescue, we would never have managed to gather all that information all over again. We are grateful to the teachers for helping us and the examinees by collecting the data afresh,” said Haraprasad Samaddar, president, West Bengal Board of Secondary Education.

The Board spends about Rs 4 crore every year for conducting the examinations. Of this, Rs 1 crore goes towards preparing admit cards and results.

Private computer firms have been engaged for examination-related jobs since the past few years. According to government rules, the Board cannot use its internal infrastructure for certain confidential jobs related to examinations. Sources in the state education department said the state government is planning to allot funds to the Board for setting up its own computer division to monitor the process.


Calcutta, Feb. 24: 
There was no grand interception plan in place. It was a routine nakabandi by the police near the Jaguli army base, in North 24-Parganas, last month. A jeep with Railway Protection Force stickers approached the checkpost and before the policemen could realise what was happening, the driver and a co-passenger, both in khaki, jumped out of the jeep. The vehicle was stuffed with drugs and ivory.

After weeks of “top secret” investigation, the police have unearthed “a huge racket”, prompting the CID to pick up the narco-ivory smuggling trail.

“The relevant papers have reached us and we are studying the details of the case and the seized documents,” DIG (CID) V.V. Thambi said on Sunday.

“It (the Jaguli haul) was one of the biggest in recent times. We have now confirmed that for several years, these men in fake uniforms, using vehicles identical to the one used by the police, have been carrying out illegal activities without raising any suspicion whatsoever,” said additional superintendent of police (north) Rahul Srivastava.

After preliminary investigations, the police have identified a Howrah-based businessman as the kingpin. Documents seized from subsequent raids indicated that the money earned from selling narcotics and ivory might have been diverted to “militant outfits” for the procurement of arms and ammunition.

A surprise raid conducted by the police in Howrah failed last week. “We, however, got hold of several incriminating documents which proved that the gang was skilled in forging government documents and police car papers. We have alerted the Narcotics Control Bureau,” said a senior officer associated with the probe.

“The Howrah man in question has links with many people in Pakistan, Bangladesh and West Asia. So far, we have confirmed the involvement of at least 15-20 persons in the racket, stretching from Calcutta to the Northeast and West Asia, where the consignment of ivory was possibly headed for. We, however, have failed to find out the exact base camps for these operations,” the official added.

According to sources, preliminary investigations have revealed that the network spreads to Nagaland, Manipur and Assam. “The commercial value of the drugs and ivory smuggled out of the country through this route must be several crores of rupees. It is now up to the CID to blow the lid off the network and put an end to this,” a police officer said.


Calcutta, Feb. 24: 
This Big Brother will be ‘hearing’ you. And even if thought-control is out of the question, there may definitely be some amount of talk-control — on the phone.

With the city now on the terror map, Calcutta Police is “actively considering” ways to monitor telephonic conversation without alerting the speakers. Four major international software giants are in the race to help cops monitor what the city — or at least the section under suspicion — is saying on the phone, say Calcutta Police officials. Two of them have, apparently, already demonstrated their products to the top brass at Lalbazar. Two other firms will be checked out before a final decision is made.

The official position on this “sensitive” issue, however, is one of wait-and-watch. “The court of law has to be informed before we finalise plans on this issue,” commissioner of police Sujoy Chakraborty said. “All moves we make in this direction have to be under the supervision of the legal system.”

The Big-Brother role, says BSNL officials, is “expensive”, but relies on technology that is not very complicated. The software converts the voice under scanner into bytes for storage, which are re-converted to voice when the need arises. The basic tool is the “dialogic card” which, when working in tandem with a personal computer and the voice-monitoring software, can take care of a certain number of land-lines according to its “port-value”.

But Calcutta Police will first have to ensure that the lines it wants to monitor are connected to the software which, in all probability, will be installed at the Lalbazar headquarters.

Private mobile-phone service-providers have had this voice-monitoring system for quite some time now; Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, too, loaded the particular software to keep an ear on its mobile-users very recently.

But the land-lines — there are approximately 1.2 million Calcutta Telephones subscribers — are still off-limits for this voice-monitoring system.

BSNL officials say the system, if implemented, will revolutionise the way police keeps tabs on phone-users. The age-old method of tapping lines distorts the voice, alerts the speakers and requires “extra wiring”.

Officials warn that budget constraints may limit the number of lines that will be monitored. “The specialised software does not come cheap, but the Calcutta Police top brass has decided this must be implemented in a phased manner to stay a step ahead of the terror merchants,” said an official.



Husband, 4 others held for suicide

Sunita Shaw, 35, committed suicide by hanging herself from a ceiling fan at her APC Road residence on Sunday morning. Five persons, including her husband, have been arrested under Section 498A of the IPC. In a complaint lodged with the Burtola police, Sunita’s relatives have alleged that she was tortured for the past two years. Sunita has three children.

MLA knocked down by train

Basari Mohan Kanji, a CPM MLA from Mograhat (East), in South 24-Parganas, was critically injured on Sunday after a train knocked him down while he was crossing the rail tracks. Bystanders took him to the Diamond Harbour sub-divisional hospital. He was shifted to SSKM Hospital later as his condition took a turn for the worse.

Heritage tracks

The state tourism department, in collaboration with Calcutta Tramways Company and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), launched the heritage tramcar ride from Esplanade tram depot on Sunday.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty flagged off the tram, which will traverse several heritage spots in the city every Sunday.

Housing project

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will lay the foundation stone for a housing project undertaken jointly by the West Bengal Housing Board, Bengal Ambuja, Bengal Peerless Housing and Bengal Shrachi at New Town, in North 24-Parganas, on Tuesday. Former chief minister Jyoti Basu will preside over the function.

Passenger rush

South Eastern Railways has decided to increase the frequency of Howrah-Yashwantpur Express to meet the rush of passengers.

Science awards

The Science Association of Bengal has announced the names of the recipients of the National Science Day awards. The awards will be given away on February 27 at the Institute of Chemical Engineers, Jadavpur University.    

Calcutta, Feb. 24: 
In the grip of an acute water crisis for the past three weeks, the authorities of Balananda Brahmachari Hospital and Research Centre, in Behala, said on Sunday that the facility may have to be closed down if the problem persisted. Water is being brought in tankers to meet the hospital’s needs.

Officials said they had approached the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), but with no effect. The trouble started after the old and over-used mains got choked and was unable to carry water to the hospital reservoir.

“The CMC officials, after repeated pleas, advised us to repair the mains. But when we started work after depositing the necessary fee, some local people blocked the repairs and drove away the CMC men,” said hospital superintendent Dr Deepankar Roy.

The hospital has about 180 beds in two separate buildings. The building worst hit by the dry spell is the one that houses the operation theatre, departments like ENT, eye, fertility and outpatients’ and the nurses’ training centres. Some doctors and nurses also have their quarters in it.

“So, you can imagine what an ordeal we have been going through. At present, our daily requirement is being met by water supplied by CMC and Kashi Vishwanath Seva Samity tankers. Some water is also being drawn from an adjacent building. But this cannot continue. Summer has already set in,” superintendent Roy added.

Residents of neighbouring houses appeared determined to stall any efforts by the hospital authorities to draw water from the existing waterpipe.

Randhir Singh, a local resident, said: “ We cannot allow the hospital to draw water from the existing pipe. If they do so, in future we will not get water even for drinking. Let them instal a separate line,” said Singh.

Moloy Das, who looks after the maintenance of the hospital, said: “Even yesterday, we met the executive engineer, who told us bluntly that without police protection, no work could be carried out on the mains.”

On the other hand, Susanta Ghosh, borough chairman, said: “We have given necessary permission for doing the work. Now, it is the responsibility of the hospital authorities to see that the repairs are carried out.”

Hospital employees have turned hostile. Shakti Mondal, secretary of the Karmachari Congress of the hospital, said: “We don’t want to know why the work cannot be done. We feel that no hospital can function without a regular supply of water.”


Calcutta, Feb. 24: 
Dr Saswati Mitra (name changed on request) had selected her life-partner while in the third year of her medicine course in Calcutta Medical College — a classmate whom she married a few years later. Today, Mitra, 61, is a mother of two daughters and an established doctor. Her elder daughter, 29, is a doctor; her younger daughter, 25, a graduate in arts. Both have given their mother the mandate to find suitable boys for them. That’s what brought Mitra to the engagement fair on Sunday.

Organised by Relations, a matrimonial consultant, the event brought together some 300 men and women, mostly parents of prospective brides and grooms. “I don’t understand why these bright young men and women do not manage to find suitable matches for themselves. I guess they are too focussed on their careers or they are just too fussy,” said Mitra.

Burdened with the task of finding partners for their children, a large number of elderly men and women assembled at the banquet of a south Calcutta hotel, done up with flowers, rangoli and earthen pots. Shehnai was played during the breaks as anchors Madhumanti Maitra and Satinath Mukhopadhyay introduced some 100 men and 150 women, all seeking alliances.

Most of these youngsters have brilliant track records. A large number of them are employed abroad, with the likes of Wipro and Infosys, some even with IBM and Microsoft. Most of them are in the age group of 30-35. There was, however, one girl who was barely 18.

Anindya Sanyal, owner of the firm Relations, said: “The objective is to expedite the process of negotiation. The conventional way of advertising through newspapers, drawing up a shortlist of candidates and then meeting them individually not only takes up time, but often leads to uncomfortable situations.”

The programme was divided into a number of sessions, punctuated by tea and lunch. Brief profiles were read out, accompanied by pictures displayed on giant screens. It ran for close to four hours, starting with high-pitched anticipation, but then meandering towards the monotonous.

Among those looking for a life partner was Paromita Chanda (name changed), who was married at 20 and divorced soon after. Today, she is 25, and trying to start life afresh. “An event like this promises to make the process of finding a suitable partner less tedious, but it’s all about destiny at the end of the day,” she summed up.


Calcutta, Feb. 24: 
Despite government efforts to neutralise the situation, relatives and neighbours of two Mumbai goldsmiths have ostracised them at Uttarpara, in Hooghly district, nearly 15 km from Calcutta, because they have AIDS.

Deepanjan and Jayprakash (not their real names), both between 35 and 40 years, are changed men ever since people in their joint family homes and neighbourhood got to know of their HIV-positive status. For the past month, they have been living in fear and mental torture because of the boycott.

This, coming on the heels of a similar incident in Howrah, has vexed the state administration. State health department officials said at Writers’ Buildings during the day that reports have been sought from the chief medical officers of the districts concerned.

The detection of HIV infection in two persons at Kotrung came to the notice of the district health administration recently, after the two men had undergone a series of tests by specialists at the School of Tropical Medicine (STM). Doctors from the STM confirmed that the two patients tested positive in both Enzyme-Linked Immuno Solvent Assay (Elisa) and Western Blot tests.

“We are more concerned as both men are married and their wives do not want to take the necessary tests for detection of the disease. Their relatives and neighbours have already ostracised them and launched a smear campaign. Even their children are being shunned,” said M.A. Mannan, chief medical officer of health (CMOH), Hooghly.

What is even more pathetic is that while health department and social welfare officials are trying to save the patients from isolation, their relatives have already ostracised them. “AIDS is an infectious disease. If you associate with them, you run the risk of being affected. Treatment is not available and you are destined to die,” asserted a neighbour of one of the men at Kotrung.

However, the district health administration has asked the superintendent of Uttarpara State General Hospital to admit one of the patients and disseminate information that “AIDS is not at all contagious. The patient can be treated with other patients in the same ward with proper medical attention.”

Another patient is undergoing treatment at home, as he turned down the offer of admission in the state-run hospital. “Both men have already been afflicted with tuberculosis. They are under Direct Observation Treatment (DOT) and our doctors are treating them on the basis of clinical symptoms,” said Mannan.

The patients were given counselling to cope with the situation arising from their ostracism. What is perplexing the health authorities is who leaked the news in the locality about the infection.


Burdwan, Feb. 24: 
The Regional Engineering College at Durgapur will be soon declared a Deemed University.

After Bengal Engineering College at Shibpur, Howrah, the REC will be second engineering college in the state to get the status. BE College was bestowed that honour by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in the early 90s.

The UGC had inspected the infrastructure and other facilities of the Durgapur REC last year. In a report submitted recently to the college, the UGC has recommended that the institution had fulfilled all the requirements to get the status of Deemed University.

Once upgraded, the REC will be able to award degrees to its students. The institution now is affiliated to Burdwan University. However, the institution would not be able to grant affiliation to any private engineering college on getting the special status.

After the green signal from the UGC, the engineering college’s executive council, its highest policy-making body, held a meeting and accepted the UGC recommendation.

Principal Shaktipada Ghosh said that on the basis of the UGC recommendation, the college will seek permission from the registrar of society in Calcutta to change its name to National Institute of Technology. “We hope to start functioning as a Deemed University from the next academic session,” said Ghosh.

At present, there are about 1,400 students enrolled with the institution. The number of enrolment is likely to increase to 5,000 once the college starts functioning as a Deemed University.

Several new under-graduate and post-graduate courses are likely to be introduced after the upgrading of the college. The new courses would cover a number of modern subjects like bio-medical engineering, bio-chemistry, medical electronics and environmental engineering.

The college has sought 80 acres from the state government to expand its campus. At present, the institution is spread over 170 acres. Sources said the government has given its nod for the handing over of the plot adjacent to its present campus.


Chinsurah (Hooghly), Feb. 24: 
A day before the Madhyamik examination, at least 34 students of a high school in Rishra took to the streets to protest against the inability of the management of the Hindi-medium Rishra Vivekananda Valika Vidyalaya to arrange for their admit cards.

The unaffiliated school used to make it possible for its students to take the board examination in exchange for a fat fee by entering into an illegal agreement with an affiliated institution.

Guardians of the students, who were demonstrating in front of Rishra police station, complained that the school management had taken Rs 2,300 from each student, but did not arrange for the admit cards. “This is nothing, but a racket to dupe unsuspecting students,” alleged a guardian, adding that the girls stood to lose one academic year for no fault of theirs.

They later met Serampore sub-divisional officer Tapan Adhikari and urged him to take up the matter with the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. When Adhikari pleaded that the board could not do anything at the eleventh hour, the agitating students went to their school and ransacked classrooms.

The headmistress, who lives on the school campus, is absconding.

Superintendent of police N. Rameshbabu washed his hands of the matter, saying the police could not register a case as the students had not lodged a formal complaint. “We can’t do anything as the school is not affiliated,” he added.

Madhyamik board president Haraprasad Samaddar later said the authorities had issued provisional admit cards to all candidates. “We are not concerned about the fate of the students of this particular school as the school is not affiliated to the board,” he added.

Two convicts serving life sentences in the Behrampore central jail, too, would not be able to take the tests due to the jail authorities’ negligence in getting them registered with the Madhyamik board. Raban Murmu and Mamtaz Ali, in jail since 1991, were disappointed as they had prepared for the examination. “We could have fared well had we been allowed to sit for the examination,” they cribbed.

Foreigner assaulted

Villagers assaulted Rose Mary Treck, an NGO worker, and ransacked her office at Markanda Chawk village under Sabang police station in Paschim Midnapore last night, demanding compensation for an employee who had committed suicide last week.

Treck, director of a British community health project, had come to the village to supervise a project of Child Development Welfare Society when she was assaulted. She was rescued by the police.


Calcutta, Feb. 24: 
Rita Banerjee died in 1999.

Since then, her father, a fruit-seller from Beltola village in Purba Midnapore’s Daspur police station area, has been running from one official to another, seeking a probe into the “inexplicable and inhuman” death of her daughter, allegedly due to wrong diagnosis and treatment at a nursing home.

Hope dawned for a hopeless Ashim Banerjee when he landed at the office of the People for Better Treatment (PBT), a forum started in December by NRI doctor Kunal Saha, who has slapped a case on some doctors after his wife died allegedly due to wrong treatment.

On the morning of August 29, 1999, Banerjee had taken 15-year-old Rita to the Arogya Niketan Nursing Home after she complained of abdominal pain. Rita was apparently having problems with her menstrual cycle.

Nursing home owner Tapan Baur said she would have to be operated on immediately. He diagnosed that she had “acute appendicitis” and any delay could be fatal. Baur is not a doctor.

“She started having convulsions soon after a nurse gave her an injection,” Banerjee recalled. “The nursing home staff then made me sign some papers and said she would be taken to the operation theatre.” Rita was wheeled away at 8 pm. The staff told Banerjee it would take around 30 minutes.

That was the last time Banerjee saw his daughter alive.

After some time, the surgeon who was operating on Rita came out and said her condition had deteriorated and she would have to be taken to the sub-divisional hospital in Ghatal. “I touched her, she was cold,” Banerjee said, tears rolling down. “Around midnight, the doctors at Ghatal said she was dead.”

Till date, the father has no idea what actually happened. A post-mortem the next day was “inconclusive” as the “chemical analysis was yet to arrive”, a report by Ghatal medical officer N.M. Biswas said. Banerjee approached the human rights commission and the police on November 15.

Banerjee hopes his case will move faster now than it had through the human rights commission and the consumer redressal forum.


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