Labs lack safety stamp for tests
Crew ‘hijack’ grounds craft
Sing Tagore true to tune
The City Diary
Unicef study sounds slum health alert
Data drought trips drive against crime
Legal loop delays autopsy
Demolition blow to blood care unit
Garbage paves park path to peril
Indian art for Piccadilly

 
 
LABS LACK SAFETY STAMP FOR TESTS 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, April 16: 
Only one of the 200-plus diagnostic laboratories in the city is accredited to the National Accreditation Board for (testing & calibration of) Laboratories (NABL), an autonomous organisation under the ministry of science and technology. This implies that “up to 96 per cent of Calcuttans” get tested at laboratories that can give no recognised guarantee of accuracy and standardisation.

NABL, which sets standards and specifications for all types of clinical testing in accordance with international bodies, like the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control, was set up about three years ago, to introduce basic standards of clinical testing. The government is yet to make this accreditation mandatory, and the onus lies on the diagnostic centre.

After all, it’s a matter of life and death. A mistake could lead to wrong diagnosis and inappropriate treatment. With the availability of new and speciality tests and doctors’ increased reliance on them before writing out a prescription, diagnostic laboratories play a critical role in the medical process. But how accurate are these centres?

The only “rules” a new or existing testing lab has to follow are possession of a trade licence issued by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and a licence from the health department. After an amendment in the Clinics and Establishment Rules, implemented since January 2002, several requirements have been imposed. These, however, remain on paper. “We will start surprise inspections on the clinics and enforce the new rules,” warns health secretary Asim Barman.

The earlier requirements were not difficult to fulfil. And with very few inspections being carried out to check whether the norms were being adhered to, diagnostic laboratories have mushroomed in every neighbourhood.

The formation of the NABL is bringing about a change. In January this year, Tribedi & Roy became the first centre in eastern India to get accreditation from the Board. The Scientific & Clinical Research Laboratories in Taltala and two other centres from the city have applied for affiliation.

“The process is quite elaborate and rigorous,” says Dr Subhendu Roy of Tribedi & Roy. “Once you apply, specifying the areas of testing, the NABL sends a team to inspect the lab’s set-up. They go through every detail. The shortcomings are pointed out and, once the lab takes adequate action, an NABL team makes a second visit. If it is satisfied, the accreditation is awarded.” This entitles the diagnostic centre to use the NABL logo on its test reports. The process is costly, as the lab has to bear the transport and accommodation of the NABL team, besides its fees.

Most diagnostic centres in the city are even not aware of the accreditation Board. “All of them must have NABL accreditation and conduct continuous quality maintenance studies,” stressed Sudipto Roy, president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), Calcutta branch.

Speciality Ranbaxy Ltd, the first clinical laboratory in India to get NABL affiliation, raised the issue in the city last week. It has tied up with the IMA to spread awareness through its branches about the need for standardisation and accuracy of diagnostic testing. Speciality Ranbaxy chief Vidur Kaushik has also approached the Union health minister with a set of proposals, including taking up the role of a reference centre and serving as a nodal lab for external quality assurance surveys.

He also met state health minister Suryakanta Mishra, offering to provide assistance to the labs in the state to gain accreditation. “We are considering the proposal,” said Barman.

   

 
 
CREW ‘HIJACK’ GROUNDS CRAFT 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, April 16: 
The aircraft were ready; the passengers had arrived; the airport ground staff all there. But where were the pilots?

Early-morning flight schedules, modified to beat the bandh, were grounded on Tuesday, with supporters of the industrial strike swinging into action as early as 4 am. They stopped the crew of the first Indian Airlines (IA) flight, scheduled to leave Calcutta for Port Blair, from reaching the airport. Lying in wait for the crew near the airport approach, the protesters ordered them out of the car before damaging it.

As a result, the Indian Airlines schedule, revised to find a way round the 24-hour bandh from 6 am, went haywire. The national carrier ended up cancelling 13 of the 16 scheduled flights for the day. Only three flights — Air Sahara to Delhi and Mumbai, carrying around 50 passengers each, and a Druk Air to Paro and Bangkok — left the airport on Tuesday.

Around 300 passengers, scheduled to take Indian Airlines, Alliance Air and Jet Airways flights out of Calcutta, were left stranded at the airport. Several passengers were to take rescheduled flights out of the city to various destinations and had been put up at a nearby hotel on Monday night. Some had left home early on Tuesday to be at the airport well before the bandh started. They all spent Tuesday at the airport lounge and had to make do with whatever little food there was at the airport restaurant. Most, in fact, ended up sharing whatever food they were carrying.

“We will accommodate the Port Blair passengers in a special flight at 4.30 am on Wednesday,” said an IA spokesperson, adding that all necessary arrangements have been made to clear the backlog by Wednesday evening. In addition to scheduled flights, Indian Airlines will also operate an additional flight on the Calcutta-Agartala-Dibrugarh-Calcutta sector at 9.30 am on Wednesday.

Air Sahara cancelled four flights and Jet Airways, too, ended up cancelling its flights to and from the city.

Bangladesh Biman scrapped both flights to Calcutta for the trade union strike.

   

 
 
SING TAGORE TRUE TO TUNE 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, April 16: 
Copyright or no copyright, even Debabrata Biswas would not be allowed to perform at Rabindra Sadan today if he sang the poet’s songs to tunes composed by any other than the poet himself.

Visva-Bharati’s copyright on Tagore’s creations terminated in 2001-end, but the state information and cultural affairs department has laid down the rule that all singers who render Rabindrasangeet at Rabindra Sadan will have to abide by the poet’s tunes. “Any singer using Tagore’s lyrics must also take care to stay on the right side of Tagore’s scales and follow the style of rendition as set down by Tagore if they want to use the Rabindra Sadan auditorium,” the department’s director (culture), Tapan Bandyopadhyay, said on Tuesday.

“Had Debabrata Biswas been alive, and if he had deviated significantly from Tagore’s original rendering, the same ban would have applied to him as well, as far as performing at Rabindra Sadan is concerned,” he added.

But the government’s culture police, he admitted, was powerless outside the government-run auditorium.

The government decision has created a sensation because this year’s Rabindra Jayanti celebration is round the corner. More than 300 artistes are expected to perform at the May 9 programme at Rabindra Sadan. The decision was indirectly influenced by this event, senior officers said.

One of the participants, Dipankar Chatterjee, recently wrote to the information and cultural affairs department seeking permission to sing two Tagore lyrics set to tunes by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay and Salil Chowdhury. Soon after, Chatterjee received a call at his residence from the information and cultural affairs department, and he was told of the new diktat.

Put off, Chatterjee said: “I can’t understand what’s wrong if artistes sing to tunes composed by Mukhopadhyay and Chowdhury. The termination of copyright becomes meaningless if the government continues to impose such restrictions.”

Senior information and cultural affairs department officers said a meeting was being organised, at which a decision would be taken on sending a written directive warning artistes invited to the programme on May 9 not to “distort” the original tunes. Maya Sen, member of the committee set up to make the Rabindra Sadan soiree a success, supported the diktat. So did veteran Rabindrasangeet exponent Dwijen Mukherjee.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

One killed, another injured in mishaps

One person died and another was seriously injured in two separate accidents in the city early on Tuesday. Around 7.20 am, a car knocked down a 75-year-old woman at the crossing of Jatindra Mohan Avenue and Bhupen Bose Avenue. Eyewitnesses told the police that the car, travelling at a high speed from south to north, knocked down the woman while she was crossing the road. She was rushed to RG Kar Medical College and Hospital, where she was pronounced “brought dead”. She was identified as Maneka Hazra. The police could not trace the vehicle.

About an hour-and-a-half later, 62-year-old S.K. Biswas was hit by an unidentified vehicle in front of the Bagmari market. Biswas was admitted to Nilratan Sirkar Hospital with serious injuries. The vehicle could not be traced. Local residents complained that poor traffic vigil on bandh day was the cause of the accident. A police picket was posted near the market.

Three drown in Hooghly

Three youths were drowned in the Hooghly at Barrackpore Mistry ghat on Tuesday afternoon. Police said the boys were playing near the river when one of them slipped and fell. According to the police, two of his friends jumped into the river to rescue him, but neither knew how to swim.

Cops hurt

Three policemen were injured when a minibus in which they were travelling rammed against a wall on Red Road early on Tuesday. Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel were travelling in the minibus, police said. The accident occurred when the driver swerved to avoid collision with a bus coming from the opposite direction.

RPF probe

The Railway Protection Force has ordered a high-level inquiry into Monday’s theft of goods worth several lakhs of rupees from a Howrah-bound long distance train. Police said the theft was the fifth in the past five months.

Road cave-in

Two persons sustained injuries after a section of the road between Deshapran Sashmal Road and Golf Green caved in on Tuesday afternoon. Officials from the Jadavpur police station rushed to the spot and cordoned off the area.

Criminals in net

Six criminals were arrested on charges of extortion from Tiljala on Tuesday morning. Officials said a police team conducted night-long raids at different hideouts in the Topsia-Tiljala area to arrest the criminals. The Tiljala police said they were wanted on charges of extorting money from businessmen and traders.

Held for murder

The police detained three more people in connection with the murder of Sanjoy Das in Titagarh on Sunday. Das was shot dead after he protested an incident of eve-teasing. Three suspects had earlier been arrested in Khardah.

Birth anniversary

Dr B.R. Ambedkar Mission will commemorate his 111th birth anniversary at CMC Park on Mayurbhanj Road. Justice K.M.Yusuf, chairman, West Bengal Minorities Commission will be the chief guest at the April 20 programme.    

 
 
UNICEF STUDY SOUNDS SLUM HEALTH ALERT 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, April 16: 
A Unicef-commissioned study to assess the maternal and child-health status of Calcutta’s homeless poor or “ecological refugees” has revealed that they are “more susceptible to risk and vulnerable to infectious diseases” like acute respiratory infections (48 per cent) and diarrhoea (24 per cent) than most other metros.

‘Risk of Infection — Kolkata case study’, a cross-sectional and observational community-based study carried out by the Indian Public Health Association (IPHA), Calcutta has thrown up disturbing trends.

“To study the risk and susceptibility to disease, our team selected 2,315 people in 573 families, through a stratified random sample from five geographical sectors across Calcutta,” explains S.K. Ray, secretary of the city-based organisation and professor in a leading teaching hospital, who piloted the project.

The team studied a set of parameters characterising the domestic environment and morbidity profile, using observational and interview (with clinical examination) techniques. The aim of the study is to facilitate rational decision-making in the ongoing “health and environmental development” and “urban basic service for poor” programmes in Calcutta.

From the morbidity pattern of fewer than five children within a two-week recall period, a high burden of infectious diseases like TB, skin infection (16 per cent) and worm infection (12 per cent) were observed.

The IPHA team feels migration of Indian villagers and people from smaller townships to large metros is “perhaps best witnessed in Calcutta, home to the poorest of poor”. The study observes that the city has, in the past two decades, continuously witnessed the generation and persistence of pavement-dwellers. “The ‘ecological refugees’ in Calcutta have migrated mostly due to the rural-urban differential in economy. Dwelling on pavements is the initial stage in their search for low-cost urban housing. Most of the migrants end up as squatters who merge into the mainstream of ‘urban poor’ in the slum areas,” observes Ray.

The pavement-dwellers, who don’t have legal status and ration cards, are wary of using public services in healthcare. “Girls are often married off at a tender age for fear of sexual assault. There is no awareness on immunisation. More than 16 per cent suffer from malnutrition and 1.3 per cent from sexually-transmitted diseases,” adds Ray.

The ecological profiles revealed that most pavement dwellers (59 per cent) originated from the rural areas of West Bengal, 24 per cent from the neighbouring states, and 16 per cent even from neighbouring countries. Cooking within the living space was available in only 21 per cent of the shelters. Meagre incomes, sub-standard housing and almost non-existent sanitation facilities add to their misery.

Ray has conducted sensitisation workshops in five zones of the city to tell ‘street people’ where they can have access to public service. “To sustain this, we should have more such awareness programmes, particularly on vaccine-preventable diseases, besides setting up afternoon free clinics and community toilets,” he says.

The study identifies proper shelter as the basic health need. Capacity to earn a livelihood and to improve domestic environment must be addressed together. Constant guidance, counselling and information are needed to promote health through better hygiene behaviour.

   

 
 
DATA DROUGHT TRIPS DRIVE AGAINST CRIME 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 16: 
New faces in the city’s crime world has put the detective department in a spot. According to sources, the existing information with Calcutta Police is inadequate to cope with the present underworld scenario.

“In the absence of criminal records and photographs, it is becoming tough for the police to arrest them,” sources added.

Admitting the fact, Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner, detective department, said most of the wanted criminals are now behind bars. “But what is alarming is that youths, in their early 20s, are being drawn into the crime world. Some of them have committed murders, but yet we have not been able to identify them. These new faces have to be identified before we can swoop down on them,” Mitra added.

Following the arrests of Gabbar, Nadeem, Gudda and Vinod, new faces have taken control of their territories. “A temporary vacuum was created following the arrest of these criminals. But what has happened is that either criminals from other states have taken over or some fresh faces are ruling the roost, which is making it difficult for us to identify them,” said a senior police official.

Citing an example, Mitra said a gang of extortionists, led by one Shantu from Panditiya Place, had been collecting “protection fees” from a car showroom-owner on Hazra Road for the past few months. “We had no information on Shantu and his associates. We identified him only after the shootout at the showroom last week. Even then, he is at large,” Mitra added.

Another reason for no updates on new criminals, he said, was the lack of initiative by the businessmen in informing the police of those who threaten them.

The officials of Anti-Rowdy Section (ARS) have been asked by their superiors to overhaul their source bank. “Such things take time. One gets to know about these freshers only after they have committed a crime. At the moment, we are counting on that,” said an official.

The city police will also contact their counterparts in South 24-Parganas for an update on the criminals in the districts. “Often, many criminals from Baruipur, Sonarpur, Behala and Thakurpukur commit a crime in the city and flee to the districts. It becomes difficult locating them,” Mitra said.

Detective department officials will hold a meeting with the officers-in-charge of neighbouring districts of North and South 24-Parganas and Howrah. “Tiljala and Kasba officials have been asked to send the list of the criminals from their areas at the earliest. These are the mushrooming grounds for new criminals,” said an official.

   

 
 
LEGAL LOOP DELAYS AUTOPSY 
 
 
BY TARAKNATH DE
 
Calcutta, April 16: 
Paritosh Mitra’s 18-year-old son Swapan was injured in a road accident near Chandernagore, in Hooghly, last month. Swapan later died at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital (MCH). The death was treated as “unnatural” and the body sent to Calcutta Police Morgue, on Nilmadhab Sen Street, for autopsy. Mitra had to wait for about seven hours for the post-mortem report, as an executive magistrate was not available to carry out the mandatory coroner’s inquest.

Similarly, when the teenaged daughter of Sheikh Shaukat Ali of Rajabazar consumed poison and died at the MCH early this month, her post-mortem took around six hours to conduct. A relative of a doctor at the MCH died of burns at Visuddhanand Hospital on Saturday. But since Saturday and Sunday were holidays, no executive magistrate turned out to carry out the coroner’s inquest. The post-mortem had to wait till Monday afternoon.

Post-mortem at the Calcutta Police Morgue after a coroner’s inquest is a 19th Century law. Drawn up in 1871, the Coroner’s Act is applicable only for unnatural deaths taking place within the “presidency” region of the city. But, point out senior health department officials, the law is dated and it becomes difficult to trace a willing executive magistrate, who is free and can devote time for the coroner’s inquest.

“The Act needs a review. We understand the problems posed to the relatives of the deceased, who have to wait for hours at the morgue. We plan to take it up for discussion soon,” said C.R. Maity, director of medical education.

Senior professors at the MCH forensic science department described the inquest as “irrelevant” and said that the 130-year-old Act should be repealed immediately to expedite post-mortem tests at the morgue. “We feel that the Act has no relevance today,” they said.

“The police are the competent authority to examine an unnatural death,” said an MCH official. The authorities, however, felt that since the law has existed all along, it had to be followed.

“It is up to the government to decide whether the law will be repealed or amended. Experts should be consulted before a conclusion is reached,” said Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner of police, headquarters.

   

 
 
DEMOLITION BLOW TO BLOOD CARE UNIT 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, April 16: 
The care centre of The Haemophilia Society Calcutta Chapter, the oldest association of haemophiliacs in the country, is under threat of demolition. The day-care centre and blood bank, in Singhabari, on the E.M. Bypass, now finds itself in the way of the recently-expanded road (beyond Peerless Hospital). With no government hospital in the city offering specialised treatment for haemophiliacs, the 400 sufferers affiliated with the Society may have nowhere else to go.

Absence of the clotting factor in blood makes the sufferers of this genetic disease vulnerable to external or internal bleeding. Males suffer from the disease, of which females are the carriers.

Around two years ago, the CMDA served notice to the Society, asking it to vacate the premises. “We have appealed to them a number of times, but they have not been able to provide us with alternative accommodation,” says secretary of the chapter N.K. Chadha.

There is no other place in the city that administers cryo (extracted from blood plasma) and anti-haemophilic factor (AHF) treatment. With the threat of HIV transmission through the use of blood products, the heat-treated AHF is the safest option for those suffering from a bleed. It is also necessary for the care centre to be centrally located, because early treatment is essential to reduce damage. Continuous bleeding in the joints is painful and may lead to permanent damage.

The centre is funded by private donors, and a blood bank run by the Society is its main source of income. Not only does it supply blood units to government hospitals, it also provides free blood to those who need it, including thalassaemia patients. “Around 90 per cent of our patients are treated free, and the others can avail of medication at a discount,” explains Chadha.

The Society, set up in 1983, began with 42 members. The number has shot up to 450. The largest chapter of the international society in India, the Calcutta numbers have “almost doubled in two years”, following an awareness campaign with district doctors funded by the Dutch government. “The disease was often not detected due to ignorance of symptoms,” adds Chadha.

The care centre faces a severe space crunch, with only five beds for the 20-odd patients coming in every day. There are often three patients to a bed. The centre is now looking for premises of around 15,000 sq ft. Following World Haemophilia Day on April 17, the Society is planning an awareness week. “We want the health minister and the mayor to see the kind of services we are providing, which may convince them to find us an alternative premises,” says Chadha.

   

 
 
GARBAGE PAVES PARK PATH TO PERIL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 16: 
The century-old Bellilious Park has turned into a dumping ground, thanks to a lack of initiative by the Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC).

The park, spread over 100 bighas, in which flowers of various varieties would bloom, has now become a haven for goons.

“Due to constant dumping, the 25-bigha waterbody has been reduced to almost one bigha. The civic body has done virtually nothing to restore the park to its past glory,” complained a resident of Howrah.

Another resident, Indira Chakraborty, hoped the civic body would clear the garbage from the waterbody and cleanse its unhygienic state.

HMC commissioner Chanchal Bandopadhyay could not come up with an explanation on the state of the park. “It is unfortunate that we are unable to preserve the park. We shall look into the matter and take steps to beautify it,” he said, adding that he would discuss the matter with senior officials.

District magistrate Vivek Kumar said he was ready to provide assistance to the civic body if it lined up a detailed programme for the park’s beautification. He added that he would look into the allegations of criminal activities inside the park.

The garden, originally owned by I.R. Bellilious, was transferred to the Howrah municipality through a deed in 1913, with the aim of making it a tourist spot. Unfortunately, the civic body had taken no steps over the years to maintain the park. In 1984, the civic body had reportedly assured the residents that it would undertake a beautification scheme with the money collected from a commercial complex built on the park’s eastern fringe. Sources said the promise remains to be fulfilled.

In 1987, the HMC had proposed the construction of another commercial complex on the park, but the area’s residents thwarted the move as the civic body had failed to keep its earlier promise.

   

 
 
INDIAN ART FOR PICCADILLY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 16: 
London has a thriving Asian community, a good part of which is just rolling in it. Though they are not famous either for their refined tastes or their knowledge of aesthetics, they have what matters.

London, with its rich and super-rich NRIs and Brits of Indian origin, is, therefore, justly regarded as one of the largest markets of Indian contemporary art outside India. It has the added advantage of yet remaining untapped. So its potential is tremendous.

The much-publicised art auctions in recent times by mainly Christie’s and Sotheby’s delude us into thinking that our contemporary art has caught on in the West. We forget that most buyers are of Indian origin and there is no institutional buying of our art. And not to forget the fact that even our acknowledged masters sell for a song by the standards of London and New York.

Galerie 88, on Theatre Road, together with the Union Bank of Switzerland, will soon test this community’s response to the art of this country. It is taking an exhibition of works by young and senior Indian artists to Piccadilly in London. Galerie 88 has chosen to display these works at Rossi & Rossi Gallery, on St Jermyn Street, from April 29 to May 5.

Twenty-one artists will be represented, many of whom are big names on the national scene. Some of them are doing very exciting work and their paintings will be there.

But it is only a token presence. These four are Chittrovanu Mazumdar and Jayashree Chakravarty from Calcutta, and Atul Dodiya and Jitish Kallat from Mumbai. With the exception of Kallat, who is very young, the other three are in their mid-40s.

Only Jayashree presents two paintings. The other three have only one each to their credit. One would certainly have expected more since this exhibition purports to be representative of the art of India of today. So while one’s expectations are raised, they are sadly belied at the same tine.

However, one has to admit that the works of all four represent the best in art of India today. Atul Dodiya, using incongruous images picked up from advertising and calendar art displays a tongue-in-cheek humour.

Chittrovanu Mazumdar seems to have begun a new phase but from the evidence of a single painting it is difficult to surmise what this trend is. Jayashree Chakravarty’s paintings are in keeping with her large paper works. The rest are well-established artists like the inevitable Husain, Ganesh Pyne, Ganesh Haloi, Ram Kumar, K.G. Subramanyan, Anjolie Ela Menon and the recently-departed Souza, to name a few. To be truly representative of Indian art, it should have been of a different dimension and magnitude.

   
 

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