Testing time for maths marks
After hotels, the landlords
Longer hours for bars, more outlets for beer
Murder rage clogs roads
Wet or dry, round or high — it’s fun
The City Diary
Funds boost to tourism in feline land
Waste watch for infection check
Calcutta experience for body & soul
Bridging the gap in medicare

 
 
TESTING TIME FOR MATHS MARKS 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
When the mathematics paper gets tough, the tough get going. To separate the best from the good, the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education has decided to raise the standard of questions in the mathematics paper of Madhyamik 2003.

This follows a concerted campaign over the past two years by mathematics teachers of various city schools to persuade the Board not to set such simple problems in mathematics. “This enables mediocre students to do as well as the brilliant ones,” a senior maths teacher complained.

“We have already started the process of including some questions in the mathematics paper which all examinees might not find easy to answer,” Board president Haraprasad Samaddar said on Tuesday.

However, he hastened to add that the question papers would not be unfair to the average student. “There will be enough easy questions to ensure that the majority of students can score a minimum of 60 to 70 per cent marks,” he added.

Teachers have been upset ever since the Board cancelled the Madhyamik maths paper in 1994, following statewide complaints against “difficult questions”, and started setting “extremely simple questions”. The teachers felt the system was introduced to ensure that even a mediocre student could score as high as 90 per cent marks in maths and there was no trouble from examinees or guardians.

Teachers at Gokhale Memorial, South Point and St John’s Diocesan opposed the move and approached the Board to include “some uncommon” questions to test the students. According to them, the present system was faulty because:

The problems are copied ‘in toto’ from prescribed books of the Board. This allows students to learn them by heart and reproduce them

The same problems are repeated every alternate year, making it all too simple for students

Students are allowed to carry out selective studies, which can never encourage excellence in mathematics

“There are thousands of students who put in a lot of effort to solve even the most difficult of problems. All the effort is wasted when they find problems that any ordinary student can tackle,” said Arundhuti Mukherjee, a teacher of Gokhale and a member of the Association for Improving Mathematics Teaching, an organisation promoting the subject.

According to Prithwis Basu, senior mathematics teacher and general secretary of the West Bengal Headmasters’ Association, the present system can be misleading. “Students scoring high marks in Madhyamik feel confident of pursuing mathematics at the Higher Secondary level and fail miserably,” said Basu.

Amal Bhowmik, maths teacher of South Point, said: “For the past six years, students have been fed on predictable problems and simple questions. At least one section of the paper should be challenging and stimulating.”

   

 
 
AFTER HOTELS, THE LANDLORDS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
Pay your civic dues or prepare for dry days this summer. The message from mayor Subrata Mukherjee to houseowners evading the tax net is anything but watered down.

Buoyed by his success in bulldozing The Oberoi Grand and Hotel Hindustan International into paying unrealised dues after turning off their taps, Mukherjee has lined up a similar plan of action against all those responsible for illegal constructions in town. “I want to make it clear to every house-owner in the city that he will have to cough up property tax regularly to enjoy the status of landlord,” said the mayor.

Errant landlords will be allowed “a last chance” to get on the right side of the law. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) will soon announce a “voluntary disclosure scheme” for illegal constructions to rope in all Calcuttans who have carried out constructions without necessary civic permission. They will be given a “grace period” of around six months to come clean and pay up.

Owners of the city’s two lakh-odd illegal constructions who do not avail of this opportunity will then be punished — their water-supply lines will be snapped and connections to the underground sewer lines blocked.

The CMC, according to the mayor, spends more than Rs 400 crore every year on these illegal constructions. The services provided include water, drainage, roads and streetlights. The returns for the CMC: nothing. “This can’t go on,” said Mukherjee. “They will have to respond to the CMC offer for regularisation of their property or face action.”

The announcement of the disclosure scheme is likely to be made in the first week of May. The application will include the area of the land, the number of storeys in the building, the total covered area, the nature of use the property is being put to (residential or commercial) and the year of construction, along with a sketch of the construction plan.

“On the basis of the information provided, officials will calculate the regularisation fee and the property tax,” added Mukherjee.

   

 
 
LONGER HOURS FOR BARS, MORE OUTLETS FOR BEER 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
In a recent move, the state government has decided to allow departmental stores to sell beer. Come May, beer crates will share the shelf with household goods in major departmental stores.

In another move, the working hours of the foreign liquor shops and bars in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation area have been increased by an hour. “Shops will close at 10 pm, instead of 9 pm, and bars and clubs will remain open till 11 pm,” said an official.

Sources said that following pressure from various lobbies, especially the tourism sector, the Marxist government in West Bengal has decided to provide more outlets and time for tipplers. “Senior officers of the finance department convinced the government that massive revenue could be collected if licences are issued for off and on-shops,” they added.

“We have already obtained the approval of the state government and completed the formalities. We shall soon issue a notification in this regard. Hopefully, the new schedule will start from May 1,’’ said excise commissioner Arun Mishra. “Initially, we shall issue licences to departmental stores to sell beer. Later, the facility will be extended to some other prominent shops in the city,’’ he added.

At present, the excise department collects taxes on liquor sale but in case of beer at departmental stores, the outlet will pay a fixed amount, which will soon be finalised. “The shop-owner will have to pay the amount, irrespective of the volume of beer sold,” officials added.

“We are very particular about our policy. Since we cannot prevent people from drinking, we have to ensure that everything is in order. We are issuing new licences to foreign and country liquor off-shops in a bid to stop people from consuming illicit liquor. I hope no one takes advantage of the facilities,’’ said excise minister Prabodh Sinha.

   

 
 
MURDER RAGE CLOGS ROADS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
Traffic in south Calcutta was crippled on Tuesday afternoon after local residents hit the streets on receiving the death news of Mahesh Agarwal. The 40-year-old promoter was shot from point-blank range in his office on Sunday. He was taken to Calcutta Medical Research Institute, where he succumbed to his injuries around 1.30 pm on Tuesday.

About 1,000 residents, led by Trinamul Congress councillor Arup Biswas, disrupted traffic for over six hours, demanding immediate arrest of the assassins. They prevented buses from plying in the area and blocked Diamond Harbour Road and Tollygunge Circular Road by lining up private buses across the thoroughfares. Traders downed shutters, fearing rampage by the mob.

Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner, detective department, said the men who stormed Agarwal’s office have been identified. “They were accomplices of gangster Jishu, now in jail.”

   

 
 
WET OR DRY, ROUND OR HIGH — IT’S FUN 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
Chill out at Magic Planet with pool, or ski-ball, shake a leg on Crazy Floors, the cosy disco, get wet ‘n’ wild at The Splash, the multiple-slide water kingdom, or just have a ball at the rain-dance corner, while the DJ spins your favourite tracks. If you are still high on adrenaline, just go go-karting or hit the break-dance carousel. In other words, ‘just think fun’.

That’s precisely what Gagan, Anurag, Rajesh, Jitu and Sanjay would like Calcuttans to do. The five men, in their early thirties — three of them college mates from St Xavier’s — have gifted south Calcutta their “dream project”, a family entertainment park. Citizenship to Fun City, a “rare blend of both wet and dry amusement park concepts”, located over 10 bighas on Bakrahat Road, near Thakurpukur, opens in early May.

“For a huge metropolis like Calcutta, there are too few quality fun hangouts. All five of us have felt strongly about this for long, and Fun City is the culmination of years of research, toil and hard-earned money. We have tried to create a fun destination with something in it for each member of the family,” says Gagan Sachdev, one of the five directors of A5 Amusement Park Pvt Ltd.

The product-mix at Fun City, a 20-minute drive from New Alipore, has factored in all age groups. Thus, while the teenagers play it cool at the pool tables and video games consoles, the not-so-young can relax with a cup of coffee and a round of snacks at Palm Court, the “quiet courtyard”.

Baby’s Day Out will cater to non-school-going children (one to four), with educational, multi-activity, creative and play items. Older children can have a blast in Kids’ Kingdom and Playtown.

A member of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) of the US, Fun City has been completed in less than a year, with funds privately raised by the five friends.

The inflatable tumble tossers, the Chhuk Chhuk toy train, the dashing cars and ‘adult’ rides — like Jumping Frog, Break-dance and Fun Trooper — are billed to be among the big draws. But the promoters are banking a lot on the water park. “Apart from five fun slides and a toddlers’ pool with a mini-slide, there is the multi-purpose play system with water drums and mushroom showers, where 20-50 children can freak out together,” explains Jitendra Narwani.

The go-karting track is meant for a “fun drive”, with a speed limit of 60 kph. “Apart from eight regular single-seaters, we are introducing two double-seaters, as well as two-wheelers and three-wheelers, for the first time in Calcutta, with foreign technology tie-up,” says Gagan, who is into manufacturing children’s park equipment.

During weekdays (Monday through Friday), Fun City will have “special packages” for schools and institutions, besides arrangements with clubs for seminars or get-togethers.

Over the weekends, the five partners have planned music concerts, theatre shows, dance recitals and the like. “We want to offer a window of opportunity to budding artistes and musicians, besides providing a platform for performing arts centres,” says Jitu. Fun City will have a parking lot for 150 vehicles, plus a sprawling, landscaped food court, Big Bites.

The park, also a member of Indian Association of Amusement Parks and Industries, has received “full cooperation” from the local authorities. The five friends are now looking at replicating the model in Orissa and Assam, besides branching into consultancy. “We can provide one-stop solution for setting up amusement parks. It’s a virgin industry with vast potential,” signs off Anurag Chirimar.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Qualification must for quota admission

A roadblock put up by residents in New Alipore on Tuesday to protest the death of Mahesh Agarwal. Picture by Kishor Roy Chowdhury Justice Dilip Seth of Calcutta High Court on Tuesday observed that to gain admission in any course, SC and ST candidates would have to obtain qualifying marks fixed by an institution. The additional government pleader, who appeared on behalf of Kalyani University, said two unsuccessful SC candidates for the physical education course at the university had filed a case alleging that they had been deprived of admission even though two seats were lying vacant. According to the petitioners, the university authorities had declared that 20 students would be admitted to the physical education course. But 18 candidates were admitted even though there was a standing rule reserving 22 per cent seats for SC-ST candidates. The pleader informed the court that the petitioners had obtained 16 and 22 per cent marks respectively in the admission test while the authorities had fixed 30 per cent as the qualifying marks.

Teen actor traced

The father of missing child actor Preetam Sarkar on Tuesday rang up his wife from Nagpur to say that he had located Preetam and that both of them would return by Wednesday. Additional superintendent of police (industrial) R.K. Singh said Preetam’s mother Rupa told the police that the call came in around noon. The line, however, was not clear. But she could make out that her son was safe and they were on their way back. Preetam, 14, went missing on the evening of April 2 from his house at Vivekananda Park in Ajoynagar, in the Jadavpur east area. On the basis of a complaint lodged by the boy’s father Pradip, a local businessman had been detained for interrogation.

Saha hearing

A recording of the telephonic conversations between NRI doctor Kunal Saha and president of the Medical Council Ashok Chowdhury over the death of Anuradha Saha was played before the council on Tuesday. The council is hearing a complaint lodged by Saha against three doctors alleging that wrong treatment had led to his wife’s death. The next hearing will be held next week.

Run over

Two persons, including an unidentified woman, were run over in the city on Tuesday. Two persons on a motorcycle, Mahananda Basu and Swasthi Das, were hit by a private bus around 9.30 am on Diamond Harbour Road. Both the injured were taken to SSKM Hospital where Das, the pillion-rider, succumbed to his injuries. The driver of the bus managed to flee with the vehicle. A 35-year-old woman died after being hit by a private bus on route 217 on Ultadanga Main Road. The woman was declared dead when she was taken to RG Kar Hospital. The driver fled, leaving the vehicle behind.

Woman hangs self

A 20-year-old housewife, Srimati Kundu, hanged herself at her Rabindranagar residence, in Behala, on Monday. Police said on Tuesday that Kundu’s parents had complained that she was being tortured by her in-laws. Six persons, including her husband, were arrested.

Up in flames

Fire destroyed 12 shops at Lake Gardens on Tuesday morning. Twelve fire engines fought for about four hours to douse the flames. No one was injured. On Tuesday evening, the air-conditioner plant of the computer room in the General Post Office caught fire. Two houses also caught fire on Rajabazar Canal East Road. Local residents brought the blaze under control. Another fire had broken out in a private firm on Brabourne Road on Monday night.

Dacoity, arrests

Dacoits looted goods worth Rs 4 lakh from a factory in Thakurpur on Monday night. Police said five persons were inside the factory at the time but they claimed to have been asleep. In another case, three criminals were arrested from AJC Bose Road, in the Munchipara police station area, on Tuesday morning.    

 
 
FUNDS BOOST TO TOURISM IN FELINE LAND 
 
 
BY SANKAR SRIDHAR
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
With the Sunderbans being declared a world heritage site by Unesco, the government has set its sights on developing it as the ‘next big tourist destination’. Though this has been on their list of priorities for quite some time, the funds set aside for tourism (Rs 11 crore annually) has been a serious impediment.

At present, there are watchtowers only at Netidhopani, Jhingekhali, Jharkhali and Pakiraloy. With accommodation limited to only a handful of rooms, many tourists have to be turned away every year. But all that may well change now.

The Sunderbans Development Board (SDB), the umbrella organisation monitoring the work done by various agencies in the region, has been promised technical assistance and funds by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Though talks have been going on for more than a year now, the negotiations were completed only in January this year.

To ensure that such results are actually achieved, the SDB is in talks with Calcutta Police to provide “special tourist police” to ensure “foolproof security.”

The survey to precede the actual field work will have a three-fold motive — to assess the infrastructural needs, requirements of alternative sources of employment for the residents of the villages and eco-conservation, to rediscover the mangrove forest as a composite tourist spot, said Saurabh Das, project director, SDB.

“The agenda of the survey, commencing on June 15, has already been drawn up by ADB-appointed consultants and it is expected to take seven months,” said P.N. Dasgupta, joint project director, SDB. The budget estimate is pegged at Rs 2.8 crore, with around US $4,50,000 being shouldered by ADB. The fund gap will be bridged by the state government.

“With the venture showing signs of success, private agencies have already started quoting offers to take control of transport and accommodation at the proposed spots,” Dasgupta added.

A recent feasibility study estimated a 70 per cent rise in the inflow of tourists over the present figure of 60,000 every year. “We will then be catering to the domestic budget tourist as well as tourists from the international circuit,” Das said.

Help from the forest department has also been sought to construct new watchtowers and tourist bungalows from where tourists can catch a glimpse of the elusive feline.

Some NGOs and forest department officials have, however, expressed concern over the ambitious enterprise, which could “destroy the sanctity of the fragile ecosystem”. But according to Das, laws would be enforced stringently to ensure that the rise in tourist traffic does not harm the Sunderbans.

   

 
 
WASTE WATCH FOR INFECTION CHECK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
Safe and effective waste management in hospitals is the key to curb the spread of infections. That was the focus of US-based environmental specialist Keshava Murthy’s workshop with health professionals on Tuesday.

Administrators from hospitals, civic medical units and NGOs attended the medical waste management workshop. Part of a World Bank Health Project, the interface was organised by the US Asia Environmental Partnership, managing the medical waste module of the Project’s $170 million investment in West Bengal.

“There are two aspects to hospital waste. The bulk of it is normal municipal waste, while around 15 per cent is infectious waste from medical procedures. If the non-hazardous waste is segregated and disposed, much of the problem is tackled,” said the waste-management expert.

With much new technology being developed, clinics have to decide which technology is the most economical, easily available and environmentally-friendly, he added.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA EXPERIENCE FOR BODY & SOUL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
Mother Teresa’s beneficence gave Calcutta the international image of a city which breeds abject poverty that can yet be ameliorated by individual acts of charity. Such an idea had inspired both S.K. Brahmochary, director of the Institute for Indian Mother & Child (IIMC), and artist Tony Jackson, who is holding an exhibition of his paintings at the Academy of Fine Arts.

After passing out of medical school in Calcutta, Brahmochary went off to do his post-graduation in paediatrics in Belgium. But he felt that though he could easily make a fortune abroad, as a doctor he would be of more use in his own city. Then Mother Teresa called and she put him in charge of all medical services.

But Brahmochary says: “As a doctor, I was not very useful.” Mother Teresa asked him to open his own hospital. So, in 1989, he started his own clinic in a cowshed in Sonarpur. Now IIMC can boast a 20-bed indoor hospital with 12 doctors in attendance, five outdoor clinics in 24-Parganas and several outcentres for health education. Even the Sunderbans are within IIMC’s reach. This was followed by a health education programme.

After the body, it was the turn of the soul. Brahmochary’s wife, a teacher, helped him launch the education programme for the poorest of poor children. Now, IIMC runs 12 schools. Two of these are high schools and the rest are primary level. Twelve hundred children are sponsored.

Next came a programme for the empowerment of women. Cooperatives were formed and women given vocational training. A gramin bank was set up, in the Bangladeshi mould. It introduced a micro-credit system that enabled 2,600 mothers to become self-reliant.

On one of his promotional visits abroad, Brahmochary had met Tony Jackson’s wife Jackie, who is a health education specialist. The Jacksons became IIMC’s UK coordinators. Tony, who lives in Hemel Hempstead, in the north of London, studied at the Bath Academy of Art in 1963-66. For 30 years, he taught art at various schools, retired early, and in 1996, developed his own paintings. The same year he raised $1000 for IIMC by selling his works.

Since he represented the charity, he decided to make a trip to Calcutta this time, though earlier, he had visited India. He makes no profit from the sale of his paintings based on the Calcutta experience being exhibited now. When he sells them in England, he donates 10 per cent of the proceeds to IIMC. His buyers are mostly from the large Asian community in the UK.

   

 
 
BRIDGING THE GAP IN MEDICARE 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, April 9: 
One is the cradle of technological excellence in the state. The other is the nodal Infotech agency of the state. Now, the two have joined hands to “revolutionise the delivery of medical services in the state”.

An Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur-Webel partnership funded by the Union ministry of information and communication technology proposes to connect hospitals in remote areas with centres of medical expertise in Calcutta and other district towns.

In the first phase, the School of Tropical Medicine, in central Calcutta, has been connected by a click with government hospitals in Habra and Cooch Behar. Patients with various skin-related problems are the first to benefit from expert advice for the past month and a half. In the next phase, NRS Medical College and Hospital will be linked to government hospitals in Behrampore and Midnapore. And the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital will be linked up with hospitals in Suri and Purulia.

“It has always been felt that villagers don’t get the required medical attention due to inadequate infrastructure in remote hospitals. We, in association with IIT, are working towards bridging the gap by using information technology and offer medical advice at the patient’s doorsteps,” said S.K. Mitra, managing director, West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corporation (WBEIDC).

As per the plan, low-speed telephone lines are used to transfer patient’s history and disease-specific information, like X-Ray, ECG, blood slide etc, to doctors in city and district hospitals, who will suggest — rather than prescribe — the course of treatment. “Success of the telemedicine project will not only ensure better delivery of medical benefits, but will also reduce the burden on government-run centres of expertise in Calcutta and the district towns,” said Mitra.

But transfer of clinical information through low-speed lines and ‘live’ examination of patients is easier said than done, and IIT-K has been roped in to put the technology in place.

“We have worked on the software requirements for data scanning, data compression and image reconstruction,” said Prof A.K. Majumdar of the computer sciences department at Kharagpur.

As the telemedicine plan involves linking more such remote hospitals with centres of expertise, the IIT team is now working on a system that will help transfer these data by using the West Bengal Statewide Area Network (WBSWAN). “We can deliver the system within two to three months,” promised Majumdar.

While the IIT is working on the software side, Webel is responsible for the hardware requirements of the project. Training doctors at both ends of the system is also being looked after by Webel, which has set up a team of technical experts to carry out the project.

   
 

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