Get site right in wedding rite
Tech schools under quality scanner
Tannery SOS to state
Beans spilt on bogus brands
Curios go under hammer for charity
The City Diary
Lessons learnt, with a chocolate lollipop
Sealdah sequel to Kalyani clean-up
Anaemia alarm in Howrah
Father Bouche laid to rest

 
 
GET SITE RIGHT IN WEDDING RITE 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
The days of any building, anywhere, doubling as a ‘biye bari’ (marriage venue) anytime, are over.

The high court on Thursday directed owners who rent out their premises for wedding and other ceremonies to register their names and obtain written permission from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) every year.

Justice Barin Ghosh also directed the Corporation to follow the rules framed under the CMC Act while granting such permission to building-owners.

According to the guidelines framed under the Act, permission to host marriages and other social ceremonies can only be granted if a building fulfils certain criteria .

Justice Ghosh also observed that “the CMC has no right to allow building-owners to change the occupation of the buildings and allow them to rent out the buildings, which were made for residential purposes”.

The court dismissed the petition filed by the Star Banquet Private Limited and other owners of ‘ceremony’ buildings, who had challenged a notification of the CMC hiking conservancy charges.

Justice Ghosh said the petitioners had no locus standi, as they had not taken permission from the civic authorities before renting out their houses.

At least 5,000 buildings (including schools and residential buildings) will be affected by the court ruling.

“We welcome the decision of the court,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee. “This vindicates our move to try and bring all such buildings under the civic net. It will boost our revenue and enable us to carry out our civic functions better.”

The CMC, in a notification dated August 2, 2001, had raised conservancy charges from Rs 1,000 to Rs 8,000 for each function being held in buildings renting out 2,500 sq ft of open space and more.

The petitioners had challenged the validity of the CMC notification, with counsel Joyanta Mitra describing the move as “arbitrary and against Corporation rules”.

During the hearing, Justice Ghosh was told by CMC counsel Alok Ghosh that the building-owners were not registering themselves with the civic body before renting out the premises.

“Buildings which were sanctioned for residential purposes are being rented out by the owners for various social programmes,” alleged the counsel.

   

 
 
TECH SCHOOLS UNDER QUALITY SCANNER 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
Suspecting the quality of the newly-set-up private engineering institutions in and outside Calcutta, the All-India Council for Technical Education (Aicte) has ordered an elaborate quality check of the institutions next week onwards by experts from other regions.

Aicte officials said on Thursday that the decision was taken to prevent “suspected manipulation” of inspection reports prepared by its teams after visits to these institutions.

Till recently, the Aicte inspection teams comprised experts mostly from the city, and, on occasion, from certain eastern states. With the implementation of the new system, the inspection teams will consist of experts from the north and south.

“We found that somehow, the lapses in the institutions were being constantly overlooked by the inspection teams. It could be because they have a soft corner for the institutions, as they belonged to the same region,” said B. K. Tosh, Aicte director, here.

According to sources, the Aicte, headquartered in Delhi, decided to take strong measures to ensure quality checks. Many important decisions, like allotment of funds and approval for opening new courses, depend on the inspection reports.

A particular institution may be asked to stop teaching a course if it is found that it has failed to maintain the infrastructure required for running that particular course.

The council, whose main function is to approve the opening of new courses in engineering and technology, and monitor infrastructure and standards of institutions, decided to go in for tougher checks following complaints that most of the new private engineering institutions in and outside Calcutta have low standards.

The council found that most private engineering institutions have failed to upgrade their infrastructure and teaching standards, though they charged Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 per year as tuition fees.

What concerns the council most is the failure of the colleges to maintain a proper student- teacher ratio. According to the Aicte norms, engineering institutions are supposed to maintain a ratio of 1:12. That is, they should have one full-time teacher for every 12 students.

“The ratio is maintained nowhere. By and large, the colleges are maintaining a 1:20 teacher-student ratio,” said the sources.

The council is also worried because the principals of these colleges do not meet the Aicte norms. Only doctorate degree-holders are eligible for a principal’s post in the engineering institutions.

But to avoid paying high salaries to young doctorate degree-holders, most colleges have appointed retired teachers of government-run engineering colleges in the posts.

The laboratory and library facilities are of poor standard, though their workshops were satisfactory, the sources said.

The newly-set-up state technical university, too, is supposed to check the academic standards of these institutions. Mrityunjay Bhattacharya, its vice-chancellor, admitted it lacked the means to keep a constant vigil on the new institutions.

   

 
 
TANNERY SOS TO STATE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
Desperation has driven over 60,000 tannery workers to Writers’ Buildings, with a delegation knocking on the doors of industry minister Nirupam Sen on Thursday.

“We are staring starvation in the face as tanneries have been ordered shut by the Supreme Court and the relocation process has not got underway. This situation has not been created by us, why should we suffer in this manner?” asked Babu Dutta, secretary of the Calcutta Leather Tannery Workmen’s Union.

Dutta handed over a memorandum from workers in Topsia, Tangra and Tiljala, seeking “some form of relief” till the tanneries shift to the Calcutta Leather Complex (CLC) at Bantala.

“Our first demand is that the government draws up a comprehensive list of all workers affected by the apex court order. Then, we would like the government to provide some kind of relief to us,” said a union representative.

With the tannery shutdown entering its second week from Friday, there has been no move by the government to send any positive signal to the hapless workers. Sen had admitted last Tuesday that he was “at a loss” about tackling the crisis that the court order had pushed the workers into.

The worst-hit are tanners in the Tiljala area, who work the fresh skins into unfinished leather. “We ourselves own and operate the lime pits where the raw skins are processed. Our entire families are involved in the work. We have hit a dead-end, with no solutions in sight,” said Bijoy Pan, general secretary of the B.R. Ambedkar Tanners Association.

Tannery-workers in east Calcutta have been left wondering what they did wrong. “We had left the entire matter to the state government to handle and we never once stood before the judges in the Supreme Court,” said a union representative. “Today, the future of an entire industry and so many families is shrouded in fear.”

Experts from the Central Leather Research Institute will be meeting tanners on Friday “to try and work out a formula to make the Supreme Court review its decision to impose a total ban on tanneries in the city”.

   

 
 
BEANS SPILT ON BOGUS BRANDS 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
Is the popular brand of jam you always buy tasting ‘odd’ this time? Is the basmati rice you use every time there’s pulao at home smelling less sweet this week? If that is the case, beware. You might not have bought home the real thing.

Be it basmati rice or jam, tinned food or pulses, complaints have been pouring into Lalbazar about the quality of several popular brands of food items flooding city markets. But the ‘brands’ are not to blame. According to the police, an organised racket in packed food items is flourishing in town. Foodstuff of “inferior quality” is being put into ‘branded’ packets to fool the consumer.

Prodded by a series of such complaints, the cops have decided to crack down on the racket, which is said to have links with similar operations in Mumbai, New Delhi and Lucknow. “We have been successful, despite our meagre resources, in launching an all-out crackdown on the offenders,” claimed police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty.

“Some of the complaints were lodged in our cheating section and some others at individual police stations,” said a senior Calcutta Police official. “The lid on this racket was, however, blown off after an Enforcement Branch (EB) raid two days ago,” he added.

On Tuesday, the EB arrested a Jorabagan trader involved in selling “several varieties of inferior-quality pulses in packets” carrying the fake identification mark of ‘Rumpa’, a city-based firm with a reported annual turnover of around Rs 400 crore. “The company imports quality pulses from Canada and Australia,” an EB official connected with the probe said. “The firm smelt a rat after it discovered that several of its packets sold from retail stores contained poor-quality pulses,” he added.

Investigations revealed that these pulses were making their way into secret godowns in Mumbai and Calcutta, where they were being put into packets bearing popular brand-names and distributed.

Following the arrest of Om Prakash Gupta from the Posta area, several persons were rounded up. They put the police on the dupe trail — involving jam and toothpaste, tinned food and mineral water — stretching from Calcutta to Delhi, Mumbai and Lucknow.

Deputy commissioner of police (enforcement branch) Mihir Bhattacharya said: “There is still a lot of ground to be covered before the racket is busted.” A police team is scheduled to leave for Mumbai soon to carry the probe forward.

   

 
 
CURIOS GO UNDER HAMMER FOR CHARITY 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
An old, high-ceilinged flat in Park Street crammed with bronze dancing girls and warriors, semi-clad beauties and infants in alabaster and marble, Chinese vases more than man height, coy shepherdesses and Venuses — sentimental and semi-erotic ornaments which impoverished old families preserve for a rainy day, and are avidly sought after by the new rich.

Surrounded by this jungle of statuary and porcelain figurines, a plump young man pipes out instructions to his secretary. Schiraaz M. Tanksalwalla is peremptory, though jovial.

His Girl Friday in a long red dress scurries into an adjacent room to carry out his command. It is quite clear that the man, who looks deceptively young (he is 34 but could pass for 28), is used to have his way. Now, he has even more reason for being high-hatted.

Bowring’s Fine Art Auctioneers Private Limited will hold a sale of the 98-lot Tanksalwalla collection along with other curios on March 20 in Mumbai.

These mostly belong to late 19th Century and early 20th Century, and include “Sevres style” vases, Chinese lapis lazuli and malachite carvings and ormolu clocks. They are valued anywhere between Rs 20,000 and Rs 3 lakh.

Tanksalwalla says his father, Medioma Savaksha, who was an advocate and one of the best- known names in the business of European and Chinese objets d’art, had inherited a small collection. “Then the bug bit him,” says Tanksalwalla Jr, and Medioma became big enough to buy up the collections of former rajas, nawabs and zamindars. Which meant that he had to acquire junk along with treasure troves.

The story goes that old Mr Tanksalwalla, who died in August 2000, had drawn up a list of children belonging to stately homes. On their birthdays he would, without fail, send them a jumbo cake. Thereby, he gained access to their homes and fabulous collections. Son says: “My father encouraged them by offering good prices for good things.”

Schiraaz, who joined the family business in 1987, was raised both in Mumbai and Calcutta. He declares: “I never took it as work. I have grown up with it.” Asked about the annual volume of business, he refuses to quote a figure because it will be “blown out of proportion”.

They have business interests in both cities. Now he is concentrating on this city. “Calcutta is good for sourcing goods and Mumbai for selling,” he says. A commerce graduate, Schiraaz did a course at Sotheby’s on china and European art.

Patrick Bowring, who set up the eponymous auction house, knew Medioma. The press release says 10 per cent of the gross proceeds of the sale will be donated to the Calcutta-based Zoroastrian community’s religious and charity fund, and to Future Hope School, a children’s charity. “Why not help an auction house with good intentions?” says junior.

When Bowrings held their first auction in November last year, Tanksalwalla gave them some old pieces.

“The buyers were mainly industrialists, rich business houses who bought antiques for their snob value. That was a test auction,” he says.

Tanksalwalla says he may go in for another auction in the near future. But it all depends on the success of the one on March 20.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Factory gutted in evening blaze

A paint factory was completely gutted on B.L. Saha Road, in Behala, on Thursday after a fire broke out in the evening. Fire brigade sources said 13 engines fought for about three hours from 4 pm to control the blaze. However, there was no report of injury and the cause of the fire was not known. The fire started from a tanker and then spread to a godown of the factory where chemicals were stored. As the factory was situated in a residential area, there was panic among the locals. The residents complained that the fire would not have spread so much if the firemen had reached in time. Police faced a tough time as peak-hour traffic had to be diverted through different routes. Subhas Sen, officer-in-charge of Behala police station, said a search had been launched for the owner of the factory. The police will check whether the owner had a proper licence.

Youth held for Howrah murder

A 22-year-old youth was arrested at Bantra in Howrah for having allegedly murdered a man six months ago. Police said that the arrest was carried out after the recovery of the victim’s skeleton.

Hit by taxi

A woman and her son were injured when they were hit by a taxi at the crossing of Bidhan Sarani and Beadon Street, in the Burtolla area, on Thursday . They were admitted to a local hospital. The driver was arrested and the taxi impounded.

Fire probe

A Corporation probe has revealed that Wednesday night’s fire at Nandaram Market in Burrabazar started from a shop inaugurated recently. The manholes in the basement could not be opened which impeded fire-fighting efforts.

Eye camp

HelpAge India, a national NGO working for the cause and care of the underprivileged elderly, organised the concluding camp on Thursday of ‘Naee Nigah’, a HelpAge India Ophthalmic Care Project. The camp was supported by Pfizer’s Vision Mission, a nationwide project for increasing cataract awareness and restoration of sight. The camp was organised at Susrut Eye Foundation and Research Centre.

Cars from airport

Hertz, the world’s leading car rental company, has started operations in the city with 25 cars operating primarily out of the airport. The cars will make trips to the city for the benefit of visitors. The city franchisee has plans to double the fleet within three months. The fleet will comprise medium size and upper-end luxury cars, not older than three years.

Admission petition

The high court will take up a petition filed against the state education department, the Diocese of Calcutta and the St Thomas’ School by a Kalyani-based social worker and the president of the Association of Anglo-Indians in Eastern India on Friday. The case, which was listed for Tuesday, was referred to the chief justice for clarification.    

 
 
LESSONS LEARNT, WITH A CHOCOLATE LOLLIPOP 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
For most schoolchildren, the very thought of a “surprise test” would cause a panic attack. However, for over 10,000 kids hard at work in the city’s nooks and corners, it carries the promise of not only a much-coveted chocolate lollipop, but of a far more priceless gift: a continued education.

It’s six months into the Shikshalaya Prakalpa project, the joint-sector effort to take education to the urban deprived, involving the Bengal government and NGOs, and it’s time for the first evaluation of how both children and the sevaks and sevikas in charge of 234 centres have progressed. The first phase of the citywide project, which started in August 2001, involves an estimated 11,000 children. The next evaluation, scheduled for June, will gauge the progress of the remaining 175 centres.

To ensure that the kids, in school for the first time, do not get frightened off by the word ‘exam’, they have not been told about the tests. They are handed worksheets, which they are accustomed to filling out, on Bengali and maths. Attendance has been guaranteed with the promise of a lollipop, duly handed out after they finish.

With the inspections at the first batch of centres nearly complete, evaluators could not be happier. Most children are picking up the basics fast, and regular attendance has been higher than expected. “For most of the children, coming to school every day is difficult enough. When evaluators arrived at a Watgunge centre, only 16 of the kids had turned up. According to the teachers, there had been a murder in the area the previous day,” says Eric Rebeiro, computers and accountancy teacher at Loreto Day School, part of the team conducting the evaluation.

The most common problem is not crime but abject poverty. Most of the kids at a Garden Reach centre, where daily classes are held at an abandoned madarsa in a slum off Ramnagar, live in the nearby jhoparpatti. “Their parents are either daily labourers or domestic help,” explains sevika Shabana Khatun. Most are still too young to work.

Ala, around seven years old, is the only one in the batch of 24 regulars who works daily. “One day, he just stopped coming to class,” recalls 19-year-old Shabana. After repeated enquiries, he told friends that he had started work at the local bazaar to help make ends meet at home.

“So I told Ala that he could come in a little late if he had to, but he should make it every day.” That did the trick, and on Thursday, Ala was one of the quickest off the blocks to complete his vowel, consonant and spelling exercises.

Teachers of Loreto Day School, Sealdah, visit each centre, carrying the papers with them, and bringing them back for evaluation. “This is to ensure that the children are working on their own, because it is essential to their progress to find out how much they have actually learned,” explains Sister Cyril, principal, Loreto Day School, and chairperson of the State Resource Group heading the project.

According to the findings, the instructors — two to every 50 children — will commence multi-grade teaching. For this, the sevaks and sevikas will be given a further round of training. “For example, ‘conversation sheets’ can be used to teach the whole batch of kids at the same time. A sheet about the Bengali letter ‘jhaw’ can be used, with pictures of two boys fighting (jhogra) and a waterfall (jharna). One group of kids could be asked to identify all the words starting with ‘jhaw’, while an advanced section writes a story about why the children are fighting,” adds Sister.

   

 
 
SEALDAH SEQUEL TO KALYANI CLEAN-UP 
 
 
BY A CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
Sealdah station is next on the eviction agenda of the railway authorities, in the wake of a successful drive at Kalyani on Wednesday.

Dulal Chandra Mitra, divisional manager, Sealdah, said: “We will continue our endeavour to get rid of encroachers at various stations to facilitate the free movement of passengers, particularly during the peak hours. The railways will not succumb to any kind of pressure — political or otherwise. Passengers have long been complaining of their mobility discomfort and it was high time that we did something.”

Mitra was all praise for the district administration during the Kalyani drive. “We had informed the district magistrate of Nadia, Arnab Roy, at least a month ago and he made all possible arrangements. With assistance from the district police, the Railway Protection Force (RPF) razed at least 60 structures without any resistance.”

The railway authorities, however, regretted the obstruction of train tracks on the Sealdah division on Thursday. Commuters had to face a trying time as trains were stalled for more than seven hours.

Mitra said: “We were forced to cancel at least 200 local trains on various sections due to obstructions at Chakdah, Kalyani, Ranaghat, Kanchrapara, Naihati and Birati on the North section and at Sealdah (South) and Jadavpur, on the Sealdah (South) section.”

According to state home secretary Amit Kiran Deb, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had been informed of the incident and is reported to be peeved with the authorities.

Divisional manager Mitra has also sought state assistance in removing the Sealdah encroachers. He warned of severe action against those who try to stall the eviction drive.

   

 
 
ANAEMIA ALARM IN HOWRAH 
 
 
BY A CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
Alarmed over the high incidence of anaemia among pregnant women in the district, the Howrah health administration has drawn up plans to combat the condition.

A recent survey shows that more than one-third of the district’s expecting mothers suffer from various types of anaemia. Many of them are victims of pernicious anaemia, which could prove fatal to the mother and child, the survey added.

M.K. Ghosh, Howrah’s chief medical officer of health, said: “The haemoglobin level in most women are below seven (the normal is around 14) and that is our main cause of worry. Malnutrition and iron deficiency are also important causes of anaemia. Besides, massive discharge of blood during the menstrual cycle and other factors are also taking their toll on such patients.”

Ghosh said the problem is compounded by the blood loss during labour (known as intra-natal in medical parlance) and post-partum haemorrhage due to deliveries by untrained persons. “In some cases, placentas remain inside even after the delivery,” he added.

Experts feel that it will lead to heart diseases, kidney failure, oedema and enlarged spleen and will wreak havoc on the health policy if immediate steps are not taken.

According to the district authorities, 200 iron pills for four months after delivery (post-natal) are not enough for those suffering from anaemia. “Family members must know that good food and regular check-ups can curb this tendency and will go a long way in the reduction of infant and maternal mortality rates,” the said.

In another development, the district health authorities found that most schoolchildren suffered from malnutrition, worm manifestation, dental cavities and scabies.

   

 
 
FATHER BOUCHE LAID TO REST 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
“Three cheers for Father Bouche, hip hip hurray… Long live, Father Bouche”. Slogans such as these reverberated across the grounds of St Xavier’s as former and present teachers and students bid adieu to Rev Fr Camille Bouche on Thursday morning. Fr Bouche died in his sleep on Tuesday. He was 79.

Members of Alumnorum Societas (St Xavier’s School Old Boys’ Association) lifted Fr Bouche’s body into the hearse to the strains of the school anthem — Proud of our school and happy are we, Proud to belong to SXC — after a touching funeral mass conducted on the school ground.

The body of Father Bouche — whom generations of students at St Xavier’s, and later, St Lawrence High School, remember as a teacher, father-figure and a guiding force — was taken to Dhyanashram, on Diamond Harbour Road, near Joka, for burial around 12.45 pm. A large number of ex-students accompanied the hearse.

Fr Bouche who, since 1957, was associated with St Xavier’s School in various capacities, was appointed headmaster in 1988. In 1990, he joined St Lawrence as the Prefect of the primary section, returning to St Xavier’s in 2000.

At the St Xavier’s grounds on Thursday, a few hundred ex-students, students and teachers joined priests from the Society of Jesus and nuns from the Missionaries of Charity at the funeral mass, which began at 9 am with the introductory rites and hymns.

Rabindrasangeet, which Fr Bouche was fond of, was also sung. After a holy communion, the body, which lay in a coffin, was sprinkled with holy water and smeared with incense.

Recalling his association with Fr Bouche for nearly 54 years, Father Boris D’Santos, also an ex-student, said he had been more of a friend than a teacher. “I was 14 and he was 26 and my teacher. He was more a friend to me than a teacher. There was something in this man…. Old boys present here are aware of the special charisma that was Fr Bouche. We are here to pay homage to a person who continues to live in each one of us. The students were his second family, whom he looked after with care and concern,” said Fr D’Santos.

Members of the Alumnorum Societas, of which Fr Bouche was a founding-member, also recounted their days with him. According to Kalyan Choudhury, past secretary of the Alsoc, “There will be a void in our hearts, as it is difficult to imagine St Xavier’s without Fr Bouche and his ubiquitous strap… We will always feel Fr Bouche in our midst, as he will always remain an integral part of all that we think and do for our loved ones. He symbolised love and affection that is so rare in our lives today; that is also why he will be sorely missed in our lives today.”

Said Neil O’Brien, educationist and chairman of the ICSE Council: “Fr Bouche was a person who meant a lot to us. Can you think of someone who teaches Bengali and French with equal elan… Turn beetroot-red with anger at a student and, the next moment, clasp him with fatherly affection? That was Fr Bouche. There is none who did not love him.”

   
 

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