Mastermind maps terror trail
College mulls fee rollback request
Fly over, park below
Prison democracy, convict king
Ther City Diary
Helping hand for healthcare
Testing times for BE College
Pension pinch pushes retired army docs to court
Hospital phone lines cut
Focus on students, not numbers

 
 
MASTERMIND MAPS TERROR TRAIL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 10: 
The bright yellow shirt, the designer stubble and the stoic look were all in place — from the CID headquarters to the court to the lock-up — as Aftab Ansari spent his first day in the city where he had, allegedly, masterminded the Khadim’s kidnap last year and the American Center attack on January 22.

And within hours of his arrival in Calcutta from Rajkot early on Sunday, Ansari gave CID officials in Alipore what they were waiting for — names of 12 suspected ISI agents operating from Bengal, with links to the Dubai-based terror network.

For Ansari — in yellow shirt and blue trousers — the Alipore headquarters of the CID was the first stop. A heavy security blanket was cast over every move made by him, from the airport to Alipore court.

In the afternoon, he was produced before a magistrate of the Alipore court for his alleged involvement in the abduction of Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman, and remanded in CID custody for 13 days.

It was during the brief interrogation session at Bhawani Bhavan — said to be target number one for the gang before it zeroed in on the American Center — that Ansari disclosed the names of associates still on the loose in the city and others parts of the state. IG (CID) Partha Bhattacharya led the grilling, following a medical check-up of Ansari.

“We have already got in touch with several law-enforcing agencies to assist us in our search for these men,” a CID official said, late on Sunday. Ansari has also set sleuths on the trail of a “diary” which, he claims, contains these names and other details.

During interrogation, Ansari is said to have recognised most of the accused arrested by the CID and Calcutta Police in connection with Roy Burman’s abduction. “At times, he seems very cooperative, but whenever you ask him a tricky question, he tends to clam up,” said a senior CID official.

Ansari arrived at Alipore court around 2.25 pm and was whisked way to a lock-up inside the newly-constructed building.

Then, four others arrested in connection with the American Center attack and the Khadim’s abduction case were brought in. Jamaluddin Nasir, chief facilitator in the American Center attack case along with Sakir Akhtar, alias Rohit, Abdul Naushad and Md Khalique, alias Rahul, were all there to give “confessional statements”. Their prayer for recording the statement was admitted by the magistrate.

Due to security reasons, Ansari and the four others were all kept confined to court lock-up, while sub-divisional judicial magistrate (SDJM), Q.A.M. Feroze, heard the two cases in a separate courtroom.

Public prosecutor Taj Mohammed, pleading his case before the magistrate, said: “After Aftab Ansari was handed over to the CBI in New Delhi, he was produced before two separate courts in connection with two cases… An arrest warrant had been issued against him for his involvement in the Khadim’s abduction case, recorded in Tiljala police station.”

According to the public prosecutor, Ansari had arrived in Calcutta before Roy Burman’s abduction and had planned the entire operation, step by step.

“It is important that he (Ansari) be remanded in police custody to learn more about his network in the city and his involvement in acts of terror here,” added Mohammed.

With the SDJM remanding Ansari in CID custody till March 22, he was taken away to Bhawani Bhavan. A fresh round of interrogation will get underway on Monday morning, officials said.

   

 
 
COLLEGE MULLS FEE ROLLBACK REQUEST 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, March 10: 
It was the first instance of a college “rationalising” its fee-structure in response to the demand of the times. But Bhawanipur Education Society, the crucible of a ‘laissez-faire’ experiment’ being followed closely even by the state government, is under pressure from a section of students’ guardians to revise the fee-structure.

“With an all-round increase in prices and lowering of interest-rates on individual savings, requests from guardians to slash fees have mounted,” admitted a senior official of the Society. “The management has taken note of the appeals and is mulling a review of the fee-structure,” he added.

A final decision on this count is expected before the start of the next academic session.

The message from Society officials is clear: “We are going to keep a close watch on the overall economic situation. If it does not improve and guardians continue to request us for a revision, we’ll soon take a decision about the rollback.”

The college has over 7,000 students, most of whom study in the commerce section, and charges an annual fee of Rs 9,000. Though a large section of students — especially in the commerce section — comes from middle or high-income-group families, there is a significant section for which the fees are “too high”.

Dipti Dugar (name changed on request) is one such student whose parents are feeling the pinch. With small-savings rates going down and her father — the only earning member — having to take care of the family of six, Dipti says it is becoming “very difficult” for him to pay for her education.

“I will, of course, not change my college even if the fees don’t come down,” she said. “But it’s definitely going to help if the administration considers the request.”

Officials admit the problem but say with most students coming from privately-run English-medium schools, an average monthly fee of Rs 750 is not “unaffordable”. The Society also offers scholarships to around 500 meritorious students from lesser-privileged backgrounds.

Value-added services on offer include free Net facilities from around 35 computers, free driving lessons, free career-counselling and — to be introduced shortly — air-conditioned classrooms, says society secretary Heena Gorsia.

“We have already paid the sum required to make 18 classrooms air-conditioned. All paper-work is complete,” adds college principal Dipak Sarkar.

But, with the passage of time, requests for a rollback – from even guardians who paid for their wards’ education – have been growing, officials admit, prompting the rethink by the administration.

   

 
 
FLY OVER, PARK BELOW 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, March 10: 
As a spin-off of the four flyovers being constructed in the city, mayor Subrata Mukherjee will enjoy gratis the benefit of using the road stretch under them as parking lots for 1,200 cars. Constructing them would have cost his kitty Rs 32 crore, and besides, it would have been impossible to find space for them in these prime locations.

The four flyovers in Gariahat, Beckbagan, Chowringhee and Lockgate Road in the Cossipore-Chitpur area will be ready by November 2003. In terms of Parkomat investment, setting aside the cost of land, it would require Rs 32 crore to create parking space to accommodate 1,200 cars.

To begin with, a parking bay for 400 cars will be ready under the Gariahat flyover opening in April. The four flyovers are being constructed with Japanese financial aid at a total expenditure of Rs 400 crore.

Subrata Mukherjee made it clear on Saturday that he will not allow the space below the flyovers to turn into a jungle of stalls.

“We have given them roads for constructing flyovers. Once the work is over CMC will again take over the space under them,” he said.

“We have already requested Calcutta Police to study the prospect and feasibility of building a parking lot under the Gariahat flyover from the traffic aspect,” said vice-chairman of Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners Binoy Krishna Pal. “After getting a clearance from the police, the CMC will study it,” he added.

Pal thinks the space under the Gariahat flyover may accommodate less than 400 cars since fencing will eat up some of the space. Besides, parking space requires at least two-metre head-room which is not available at all the points under an arch-shaped flyover.

The flyover between Beckbagan and Rabindra Sadan will be complete by August 2003. Two more flyovers between Park Street-Chowringhee and on Lockgate Road will be complete by November 2003.

More parking space may be generated in the near future when the proposed flyover between Girish Park and Strand Bank Road is constructed under the built-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme. According to transport department sources, HRBC will act as the nodal agency on behalf of the government to construct it.

Mayor Mukherjee has already reached an agreement with the government on using the space under the flyover for parking. With this, space will be generated for parking 1,800 cars by 2005.

   

 
 
PRISON DEMOCRACY, CONVICT KING 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, March 10: 
Shyamal Sinha (name changed on request), 33, is a man shunned by society for allegedly raping a minor girl. But at Alipore’s Presidency jail, he has suddenly attained ‘star’ status after sweeping the ‘prison panchayat’ polls held through a secret ballot. Sinha, on Saturday, bagged a “record” 163 votes when 290-odd convicts met to elect a six-member body empowered to oversee prisoners’ welfare for the next six months. Others booking a berth on the panchayat panel — under ‘chief’ Sinha — include two dacoits, serving short prison terms, and three murderers, languishing in jail for nearly 20 years.

Jail sources said some of Sinha’s supporters had roped in warders to arrange for garlands, packets of sweets and green abir for their victory ‘lap’ on Saturday. A grand feast was also organised.

From early on Sunday, officials and inmates started flocking to Sinha’s ward — some to congratulate him, others to reaffirm their support. “We must pay obeisance to Sinha since he has been elected chief panchayat and will supervise the upkeep of convicts for six months now,” explained an inmate. Sinha has already delegated authority — covering medical diet, food, uniforms and entertainment for convicts — to the other panchayat members.

On Saturday, convicts started queuing up early to cast their votes from 10 am. After an almost ‘routine’ round of booth jamming, the polling got underway. “We managed to disperse the troublemakers by deploying watch-and-ward staff. Though the counting ended at 5 pm, the tabulation went on till late in the evening,” said an official. The number of voters had dropped suddenly, with around 10 ‘short-term convicts’, lodged in the jail for travelling without tickets, being released on Saturday afternoon.

Jail welfare officer Nandini Ghosh, one of the presiding officers during Saturday’s poll, later recounted: “The atmosphere resembled any other election as the convicts were extremely serious about casting their votes and electing the panchayat.”

Inspector-general of prisons, Anil Kumar, termed “the democratic system” a “vital part of the process towards transparent prison administration”. According to him, the six-member prison panchayat will “co-ordinate with the jail authorities on all matters relating to the prisoners’ welfare”.

   

 
 
THER CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Resolution for Muharram rally

The Calcutta Khilafat committee has appealed to the Muslim community to observe Muharram on March 24-25 without displaying swords and daggers on the streets of Calcutta and the districts. “We have passed a resolution on Saturday condemning the Godhra and Ahmedabad incidents, and the Central government’s failure in containing the agitations. The resolution also includes an appeal to Muslim youths to refrain from taking out Muharram rallies with swords and daggers,” said the committee’s working president Javed Ahmed Khan and secretary Syed Md. Sayeed. The committee has also urged people not to be swayed by rumours.

Library plea on vacant posts

The National Library Staff Association has written to the Centre, alleging that the increasing number of vacancies at the library was triggering a crisis in the maintenance of books and affecting the normal functioning of the library. More than 150 posts are lying vacant, association secretary Saibal Chakraborty said on Sunday.

Doctor dies

Eminent gynaecologist Dr Kripananda Mitra died on Saturday at his Salt Lake residence. He was 87. Dr Mitra served as Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Medical College, Calcutta, from 1955-61. Later, he was appointed Honorary Director and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Medical College. Mitra was also senior consultant with the Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratishthan. He is survived by a son.

Cellphone shop

Cellphone service provider Command launched the Command Shop in Howrah on Saturday. The outlet will serve as a one-stop shop for all Command products and services.

Peace campaign

The West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association (WBCUTA) will launch an awareness campaign on communal harmony in the state on Monday. In the first phase of the movement, teachers will organise a rally at College Street on Monday where members of 40 organisations will participate.    

 
 
HELPING HAND FOR HEALTHCARE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 10: 
The state administration will welcome any help from the non-government sector to develop centres of excellence in medicine and tertiary healthcare projects in West Bengal, state health and family welfare minister Suryakanta Mishra reaffirmed on Sunday.

The health minister was speaking at the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Armenian Church Trauma Centre in Mukundapur, off the EM Bypass. “The government, with its limited resources, can’t set up centres of excellence on its own. So, we are urging the private sector and other non-government agencies to come forward in a joint effort to improve healthcare,” said Mishra.

Earlier, laying the foundation stone for the centre — being set up by Asia Heart Foundation (AHF) with seed money from the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth — chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “A huge metropolis like Calcutta, where road accidents are commonplace, badly needs a trauma-care centre like this. The state government is ready to provide all help and co-operation to make the project a success.”

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Devi Shetty, chairman of AHF, thanked the Armenian Church for “lending a helping hand”. He said the trauma centre will be able to do “any modern procedure” in the areas of neuro-surgery, vascular surgery and orthopaedics.

“When we set out to build the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences (RTIICS), this was a marshland and many people were sceptical about the project. Today, we need to expand to cater to the growing demand,” Dr Shetty said, adding that the trauma centre will gradually become an institute of medical sciences.

Describing Dr Shetty as a “doctor with a difference” and as someone who “believes in elemental human values”, the chief minister said that RTIICS has set “an example” in quality cardiac care in the city. “I strongly believe that the trauma unit will follow in the footsteps of the heart hospital and plug a significant gap in the healthcare sector of the state,” he added.

The hospital will start with 80 in-patient beds and will have 300 beds on completion.

Armenian ambassador in the city Armen Baibourtian described the trauma centre as a “manifestation of Indo-Armenian friendship”. The Armenian Church had earlier contributed towards setting up a coronary care unit in the memory of Sir Catchick Paul Chater and the entire operation theatre complex at RTIICS. Church chairperson Sonia John thanked the chief minister for having allotted the plot of land to AHF and expressed satisfaction at being able to “contribute” to the expansion of the Foundation’s projects.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee hoped that such initiatives with non-government agencies will help West Bengal “catch up” with other states which have “marched ahead” in medical excellence. “It’s a pity so many patients rush out of Calcutta for medical treatment at the drop of a hat. Facilities like this can stem this exodus to a great extent,” he said.

   

 
 
TESTING TIMES FOR BE COLLEGE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 10: 
The government is in a fix over a Central directive asking the Shibpur Bengal Engineering College Deemed University to admit students through an entrance test controlled by the Centre.

The government has temporarily turned down the Central proposal as it fears that many deserving candidates in the city and in the districts may be deprived of the chance to study in the college.

The government fears that local students may not fare well in the Central entrance test as they would have to answer the papers in English and may also have to sit for a separate English paper which does not exist in the state-controlled Joint Entrance Examinations.

“After consulting the government we have informed the Centre that we are going to admit students through our old system — that is the state-controlled Joint Entrance Examinations,” said Amal Jyoti Sengupta, vice-chancellor of the deemed university.

Sources in the state higher education department, however, said no matter how firmly it opposed it, the government will have to capitulate, or else the Centre may stop funds to the state for running institutions.

The Centre has taken strong exception to the institution’s refusal to come under the purview of the Central entrance examinations. It has not yet decided whether the institution will be allowed to remain under the control of the state joint entrance board or not.

The Centre’s directive follows its decision to bring all the government-funded (state and Centre) engineering colleges across the country under a single entrance test scheme. The Centre is planning to set up a national level board for conducting entrance examinations for engineering colleges.

Engineering institutions like Jadavpur University, which teach courses in more than one faculty, have been exempted.

After implementing its no-English policy at the primary level in 53,000 state-funded schools, the government scrapped English tests from its Joint Entrance Examinations.

Students seeking admission to the Bengal Engineering College sit for the state-controlled Joint Entrance Examinations based on the syllabi followed by the West Bengal Madhyamik and Higher Secondary Boards. More than 75 per cent of the students who qualify the JEE are from the districts.

   

 
 
PENSION PINCH PUSHES RETIRED ARMY DOCS TO COURT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 10: 
General S.C. Ghosh retired from the armed forces as a medico in the early 1980s. A few days ago, he received a ministry of defence (finance) letter, telling him that his pension was going to be cut by more than Rs 4,000.

Salt Lake resident Anjali Pal is the widow of Lt Col (Retd) A.K. Pal who died five years ago. Her family pension now faces a reduction of more than Rs 3,000.

Brig. (Retd) B.C. Deb is a cancer patient who retired in the early 1990s. He, too, faces the prospect of going for expensive medical treatment with a similar drop in income.

Ghosh, Pal and Deb are not alone. More than 15,000 medicos who retired from the armed forces prior to January 1996 have been handed over similar notices over the past few days, telling them that one component of their pay and pension — the non-practising allowance — is going.

The result: All these doctors, who gave up the lure of easy money through practice to serve the country, face a cut in income at an age when most of them are not in a position to make up the financial loss from any other source.

Around 175 such retired medicos have now come together to take the ministry to court. “We will go to Calcutta High Court some time this week,” one of their representatives, Samiran Banerjee, told Metro.

Worse may follow, they apprehend. The notification which informed them of the cut in pensionary benefits also threatened to give this decision retrospective effect from the date of retirement, Banerjee said. “There will be many who will have to pay back several lakhs to the government in that case,” another aggrieved former Army doctor, K.C. Roy, said. “Our letters to the government have gone unreplied,” he added.

The retired doctors are pinning their hopes on an Andhra Pradesh High Court interim order which asked the ministry of defence to go on paying the old rate of pension.

   

 
 
HOSPITAL PHONE LINES CUT 
 
 
BY A CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 10: 
All telephone lines at the Howrah General Hospital, including those at the Emergency ward, have been cut off for the last three weeks due to non-payment of bills.

Things have come to such a pass that the superintendent of the hospital, H.K. Chanda, personally requested the district treasury officers to pay the dues without delay so that the lines can be restored at the earliest.

“We have been cut off from the rest of the world following the collapse of the telecommunications system. Doctors and patients are, of course, the worst sufferers,” Chanda said, adding, “The telecommunications department could have given us some more time for payment of the pending bills before disconnecting the lines.”

Relatives and friends of patients are furious as they cannot contact attending doctors at the emergency and other wards, including vital ones like surgery, medicine, paediatrics and gynaecology and obstetrics. Same is the case with doctors as they cannot contact senior physicians and the superintendent at night.

“My uncle was admitted to the emergency ward two days ago. A doctor tried to contact a senior physician only to find that the telephone connection was cut off. We requested him to use a public booth,” said a relative of the patient.

Doctors complained that they cannot communicate with each other for essential advice when a patient is in a critical condition. “All of us do not have mobiles. We have to make calls from public booths. But at night we don’t dare to go out alone,” observed a woman doctor.

They blamed the district administration for the situation as additional district magistrate (general) M. Alam, who looks after the treasury department, has so far failed to solve the problem.

   

 
 
FOCUS ON STUDENTS, NOT NUMBERS 
 
 
BY SUDESHNA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, March 10: 
The search for the site is over. Former principal of South Point High School Indranath Guha’s new school is ready to come up off the Rashbehari connector to the EM Bypass.

Guha had been on the look-out for land ever since he started off in a small way in a three-storeyed building in Lake Gardens. The present institution — Garden High School — now houses 70 students till Class III. “The response from the guardians has been so encouraging that we were committed to provide them a full-fledged institution,” he says.

A year-and-a-half was spent scouting for a suitable plot. Since legal complications cropped up in the title deeds of the plots under consideration, the Guhas approached the CMDA earlier this year. The chosen plot — 36 cottahs — is located beside the Siemens factory. It has been leased out for 99 years to the Satikanta Guha Foundation, a registered educational trust. “We want to shift to the new premises by April 2004,” says Guha. Affiliation will be sought from the Central Board of Secondary Education once the first batch reaches Class VI.

Guha received the mutation papers from the Corporation on Friday. With an estimated building area of 60,000 sq feet over six floors, space will not be a constraint. But the educationist is unwilling to match his former school in terms of numbers.

“We don’t want to repeat the South Point experience,” he comments. (South Point was in the Guinness Book of World Records for over a decade as the school with the highest number of students enrolled for one academic year.) So, there will be “a maximum of 30 students” to a section, and four-five sections to a class. That way, he points out, it will be possible to take care of every child and keep in touch with the guardians.

Another positive of the limited-number experiment will be better control over the teachers. Even in the present set-up, no corrected exercise book goes back to the guardians without either the rector himself, or academic advisor Kavita Guha or teacher consultant Mahua Dasgupta taking a second look. Guha wants to continue with this system of cross-checking.

One point Guha is emphatic about is the importance of academic excellence. “We don’t want to dazzle guardians with extra-curricular activities. They will be kept at a rational level and not be allowed to usurp our primary objective. We will not teach our students how to ride or swim,” he smiles.

   
 

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