All Net and no sport for kids
Four-lane facelift for Jessore Road stretch
Hecklers beat up couple
Not a shine to be taken lightly
The City Diary
Razed route for new road
Clash rocks Visva-Bharati
CM vows to uphold harmony
Storm ravages Malda villages
Tribal terrain awaits Buddha

Calcutta, April 21: 
Indoor is in; outdoors is out. Cybercafes are in; the playground is out.

More and more teenagers are fighting shy of physical activity and choosing to spend time within four walls, mostly glued to a small screen. This trend has emerged from a study in Calcutta and elsewhere in the state conducted by the West Bengal Voluntary Health Association (WBVHA).

The city-based NGO, involved in various health-related programmes, has studied this trend over the past two years, a period that has witnessed a spurt in neighbourhood cyber cafes and sale of personal computers. The study has come up with some disturbing findings.

“For one, we have found that quite a few students are skipping classes and spending time at Internet parlours,” says Papiya Sen of the WBVHA. “They do this as their parents would otherwise disallow or restrict their visits to such parlours. But the point of concern is the increasing trend among the youth to spend their leisure time in front of computers and television,” she adds.

The association is carrying out a detailed “knowledge-attitude-practice” survey among students from Class IX till college to understand the why and wherefore of this trend. “Preliminary findings indicate that more and more students visit cyber cafes mostly as a leisure time activity, though a few use the Internet because of the pressures of competition in studies,” Sen said.

Those who run cyber cafes corroborate the findings to a large extent. “Over 50 per cent of our clients are school and college students,” says Sumit Rawat, centre head of Junction 96, Chittaranjan Avenue branch. “Our branches on Park Street, Lansdowne Road, Rabindra Sarani and in Ballygunge have a larger turnout of students as they are nearer educational institutions.”

A student, on an average, spends more than an hour after school or college at a cyber cafe. “Half of them are regulars and spend most of their time on the Net chatting after they have checked their mail,” says Rawat. Some come in with all types of website addresses, given to them by a friend in class. Quite a few of the sites are Bollywood-related.

Five years ago, the trend was different. Students would spend an hour on the school or college grounds after school. Where the institution did not have its own grounds, the Maidan or parks would suffice. “Nowadays, the number of students found on the fields after school is becoming less and less,” admits the physical training teacher of a prominent south Calcutta school.

Even among youngsters, cricket is preferred over football, not just because of the dreams to become a Sourav or a Sachin but because the sport involves “less running”. Former Olympian and football coach P.K. Banerjee is “disturbed” by the fact that today’s teenager is refusing to sweat it out.

“Government policies, programmes and proper infrastructure can have a positive impact on health. Well-maintained parks and obstacle-free footpaths can encourage youngsters to go for daily exercise. Even 30 minutes of brisk walking every day is very useful,” said Banerjee, speaking at a symposium organised by the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute and the WHO on World Health Day.

“The less time parents share with their children nowadays has contributed to the youth landing up at cyber cafes to chat with Net friends across the world,” feels Anuradha Mukherjee, president of the Asian Youth Centre. The 15-year-old NGO, involved in the development of the youth, is starting a counselling programme for children and their parents stressing on the need for exercise for mental and physical well-being.

The theme for the day this year was, in fact, “move for health.” According to WHO statistics, physical inactivity contributes to the death of two million people globally every year. Sedentary lifestyles can result in cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and hypertension. The fact that a growing number of persons below 30 are falling prey to such diseases is a reflection of a changed lifestyle from an early age.


Calcutta, April 21: 
The government has taken up a Rs 15-crore project to widen and develop a six-km stretch of the arterial Jessore Road, between Patipukur, near Lake Town, and the city airport.

At a meeting held by Public Works Department (PWD) officials with the authorities of Dum Dum and South Dum Dum municipalities and the police last week, it was decided that work will begin in June and end by February 2004.

Jessore Road connects north Calcutta and its suburbs with the airport and fast-developing pockets like Barasat and Madhyamgram. The road leads to Jessore, and trucks carrying merchandise to Bangladesh travel by this road.

The authorities of the two municipalities and additional superintendent of police (Barasat) Rahul Srivastav were consulted about the demolition of 200-odd makeshift structures. They assured the PWD officers of all help during the drive to evict squatters. The PWD has also asked the CESC and the Calcutta Telephones authorities to shift several poles coming in the way.

Executive engineer of PWD Gautam Dasgupta said Jessore Road was very congested along this six-km stretch, and the present nine-metre-wide road will be turned into a four-lane, 15-metre road, with one-and-half metre sidewalks on either side.

Over the past two decades, the road had become particularly congested, with rapid urbanisation of Lake Town, Kalindi, Bangur Avenue, Dum Dum Park, Shyamnagar and Nagerbazar.

Forest department representatives, too, were present at the meeting. “About 150 trees will be felled, but arrangements will be made to replace them,” said a PWD officer. “Police will help us remove encroachments,” said Srihir Bhattacharya, chairman of South Dum Dum municipality.

The authorities are worried about the major traffic diversions that will be needed while work is in progress. The massive flow of vehicles along Jessore Road will have to be regulated and diverted through Kalyani Expressway and B.T. Road.

Trucks may be allowed to ply on VIP Road after 10 pm, said an officer. Jessore Road may become one-way and buses can be diverted through Dum Dum Road. A large number of encroachments will have to be removed from Dum Dum Road.


Calcutta, April 21: 
A man and his wife were beaten up on Sunday morning, when they protested the heckling of three women by youths playing cricket at the crossing of Vivekananda Road and Duff Street.

Instead of going down to the spot, the Amherst Street police station insisted that the man, who tried to help the three women, “name” his assailants to “facilitate a proper probe.” Only then could he proceed to Medical College and Hospital for treatment.

Megha Lohariwala, 15, and her mother, Madhu, came out of the 133, Vivekananda Road residence of Anita Bhimaniwala, a relative.

Some youths playing cricket chucked pebbles at them and made lewd comments. When Anita came down to their rescue, all three were chased into the courtyard of the house from which they had emerged. One of their neighbours, Saumitra Saha, and his wife, Jayanti, who came down to help them, were beaten up for their “crime”.

The youths, from either Goabagan or Kelutala, fled after other neighbours joined the protest, but not before they had sent shock waves through a city still recovering from the recent murder of a 40-year-old man, who had protested the molestation of women inside a bus near Barrackpore.

City police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty directed Amherst Street officer-in-charge Utpal Bhattacharyya to launch a thorough investigation. He said the culprits “should be taught a proper lesson”.


Calcutta, April 21: 
Required: 25,000 bulbs. Bought: 1.5 lakh bulbs. Bottomline: Spotlight on a scam.

Most lampposts today are fitted with sodium vapour lamps or fluorescent tubes, instead of incandescent lamps. But that is not stopping the civic authorities from buying incandescent lamps worth Rs 15 lakh every year.

“The actual annual requirement can never be more than 25,000 bulbs,” adds an officer in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) central stores. The rest, allegedly, is being sold in the open market by a section of civic employees in the lighting department.

“It is an abnormal situation. How can the purchase of sodium vapour lamps and fluorescent tubes increase steadily and yet the procurement of incandescent lamps remain steady?” demanded member, mayor-in-council, Pradip Ghosh, who looks after slum development and CMC’s central stores.

Ghosh’s colleague Samsuzzaman Ansari, however, justifies the expenditure. “The expenditure on incandescent lamps is not going down as more and more alleys in the slum areas are being lit up,” said the mayor-in-council member.

Ghosh had demanded an audit to ascertain the exact number of lampposts fitted with sodium vapour, fluorescent and incandescent lamps. “There are over 50,000 lamp posts in the city and those fitted with incandescent lamps is the lowest in the city,” said director-general (lighting) N.C. Halder.

According to civic estimates, there are 48 per cent lamp posts with fluorescent lamps, while another 44 per cent are fitted with sodium vapour lamps. “There are hardly 5,000 lamp posts in the city with incandescent lamps. And even if the bulb has to be replaced five times in a year, the annual requirement can never exceed 25,000,” explained a senior engineer with the civic lighting department.

Besides incandescent lamps, the demand for ballasts (‘choke’) of sodium vapour lamps has been growing much faster than that for the sodium vapour lamp itself. A ballast costs about Rs 1,000, raising suspicion about a nexus between a section of civic employees and traders engaged in selling the ballast in the market.

“I have recently requested manufacturers of lamps and ballasts to emboss ‘CMC’ on them in such a manner that they can be easily spotted if used elsewhere,” said Ghosh.



Infant death sparks protest in hospital

The death of a nine-month-old girl at B.C. Roy Hospital for Children, in Phoolbagan, drew protests from relatives on Sunday morning. They gheraoed hospital superintendent Anup Mandal, demanding a probe into the incident.

Police said Payel Sardar, who was admitted with fever on Saturday evening, died around noon on Sunday after she was administered an injection.

Irked over this, her relatives wanted to call on Mandal to lodge a protest against the doctors concerned. But being denied a hearing, they demonstrated in front of Mandal’s office, alleging that the girl had died due to negligence. They also demanded action against the doctors attending to her.

Hospital sources said the situation flared up as two other babies brought in for treatment also died during the day.

Later, deputy commissioner of police Sanjoy Mukherjee said he was not yet aware of the demonstration at the hospital. “However, I shall ask the Phoolbagan police to look into the matter,” he added.

Fire breaks out in locked flat

A fire broke out in an apartment on Sundari Mohan Avenue on Sunday afternoon. Seven fire engines fought the blaze for nearly three hours. Fire brigade sources said the blaze might have been caused by a short circuit. Firemen had to break open the main door to enter the flat, as it was locked from inside. However, no casualties have been reported.

Signals installed

Local MP Swadesh Ranjan Chakraborty inaugurated an automatic traffic signal system on Kona Expressway at the Unsani crossing, in Howrah, on Sunday. Motorists should follow traffic signals to avert accidents, he said at the inauguration.


The West Bengal Pollution Control Board and the Indian Chamber of Commerce will jointly felicitate a select group of industrial units for their environmental performance during 2000-2001 on Tuesday at Paribesh Bhawan. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and environment minister Manab Mukherjee will attend.    

Calcutta, April 21: 
The decks were cleared for a road connecting Calcutta airport with the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass with the administration conducting the first phase of its eviction drive on Sunday. The drive, off Nicco Park, along the Eastern Drainage Channel, began around 7 am and met with no resistance. Around 500 illegal shanties and 100 other structures were demolished.

But fissures within the local CPM unit came to the fore during the drive, with leaders of the anti-eviction faction asking the squatters to go away for “a few days and live in houses being built in the area”.

The fate of over 75 hawkers in front of Nicco Park is another cause for concern for the Citu-affiliated Nicco Park Hawkers’ Union. Its president and CPM councillor of ward 22, Ramesh Bar, while supporting the drive “for the sake of development”, said the families could not be allowed to starve. Trinamul Congress councillor of ward 10 Sabyasachi Dutta, too, joined the chorus of anti-eviction protests. The drive had “unnecessarily” included areas along the Keshtopur canal, he claimed.

The administration, in anticipation of the protests, had deployed a large contingent of police and Rapid Action Force personnel. However, the encroachers packed their goods and left without much of a fuss.

Salt Lake SDO Debashish Bose said Sunday’s drive cleared the area from Nicco Park to Nayapatti and included stretches within Sectors II, III, IV and V. Besides residences, several fast-food stalls, shops and garages were demolished, he added. North 24-Parganas district magistrate H.K. Dwivedi, superintendent of police M.H. Verma, officials of the urban development and irrigation and waterways departments, CMDA and West Bengal State Electricity Board were present during the drive.

In a departure from earlier demolition drives, the urban department erected fences around the area cleared of encroachers. “We want to prevent them from returning,” SDO Bose said.

“This is the first phase of the drive and by May 15, we will evict settlers from both sides of the Keshtopur canal on the stretch between the sluice gate and Baisakhi Abasan,” he added.

The evicted families had been under notice to vacate since the first week of April. Most of them were angry with the CPM. “It was the CPM that had allowed us to set up homes here,” a slum-dweller said. His neighbours agreed. Most of them are labourers in construction sites or maids in Salt Lake homes. The first batch of settlers moved in around four decades ago. Most of them are from Bihar or erstwhile East Pakistan, officials said.


Santiniketan, April 21: 
Two members of the Trinamul Congress students’ wing were attacked in Visva-Bharati last evening, allegedly by Students’ Federation of India activists, escalating tension on the varsity campus.

Police arrested three students belonging to the SFI, on the basis of FIRs filed by the Trinamul body. Four students belonging to the Trinamul wing were also arrested, following a complaint lodged with the police by the SFI that they had attacked a member of the Left organisation on the eve of the students’ union elections and broken his leg.

Security was tightened on the campus today to prevent the situation from spinning out of control. A large contingent of security personnel had been deployed at the varsity on the day of the elections to prevent an untoward incident.

Tension has been mounting on the Visva-Bharati campus since Friday after the Trinamul Chhatra Praishad bagged all the seats in the elections to the 15 representatives and six office bearers. The Trinamul body won all 10 seats of class representatives without any contest.

According to the president of the newly-elected students’ union, Anupam Mukherjee, games secretary Wasim Iftikar and another student, Subir Das, had gone to buy sports equipment at a shop in Bolpur located beside the local CPM office.

“Suddenly, some youths rushed out of the CPM party office and attacked the two students. Iftikar and Subir were injured. However, the students managed to escape,” Mukherjee said.

“After they returned to campus, they were admitted to the Visva-Bharati Pearson Memorial Hospital in a serious condition. We have lodged an FIR with subdivisional police officer Milan Kanti Das,” he added.

In the complaint lodged with the police, the Trinamul wing also alleged that when a student of the Trinamul body and a Visva-Bharati employee, Rajib Jha, went to the hospital to visit the injured students around 10.30 pm, they were attacked by SFI activists. Jha sustained knife wounds and had to be admitted to hospital.

The Trinamul-controlled union of the university called a strike in all the departments on Sunday, a full working day in Visva-Bharati, where Wednesday is a holiday. The strike was a success, with students boycotting classes in all the departments of the varsity.

Union members demanded that security in the university campus should be stepped up and threatened to go on an indefinite strike if the demand is not met.

University authorities met with the police and representatives of the union this afternoon. Visva-Bharati registrar Dwijadas Bandopadhyay attended the meeting along with the principals of all the Bhavans, Das and circle inspector K.B. Ali. The union called off its stir after Das and Ali promised to strengthen security measures on the varsity campus.

“Police pickets have been set up in front of the students’ hostels, as well as at strategic spots and intersections on the campus. Police patrol jeeps are also doing the rounds of the university. The situation now is under control,” said superintendent of police Jayanta Basu.


Behrampore, April 21: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has asserted that his government was committed to maintaining communal harmony in Bengal.

“Ours is a state where communal harmony is best maintained with Hindus and Muslims living together. We are determined to uphold this, come what may,” Bhattacharjee said at a rally in Behrampore town this morning.

Only a fortnight ago, in South 24-Parganas, Bhattacharjee had said the government would “firmly” deal with forces trying to foment communal tension.

The Trinamul Congress and the Congress, however, lashed out at the CPM, saying it had done nothing to improve the quality of life in the panchayats controlled by Opposition parties.

They boycotted the inauguration of the five-day Panchayati Raj Utsav at Barracksquare by the chief minister, organised by the Murshidabad zilla parishad, alleging that a lot of public money was being wasted in the name of the utsav.

“The amount earmarked for the five-day function could have been utilised for development,” said Behrampore Congress MP Adhir Chowdhury who issued a leaflet asking party leaders not to attend the programme.

Bhattacharjee said the Left Front government has undertaken many development projects for the uplift of Muslims, who constitute 24.6 per cent of the population. “Things are changing. More Muslims are being involved in various self-employment schemes on the basis of loans provided by the West Bengal Minority Development Council,” he added at Rabindra Bhavan rally.

The chief minister also distributed loans of Rs 1.13 crore among 224 unemployed Muslim youths to help them start businesses. “I have asked minority affairs minister Mohammed Salim to disburse more loans to unemployed Muslim youths in Murshidabad and Malda, which have the largest concentration of the community,” he said.

The CPM leader refused to comment on Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s threat to launch a movement for three months to highlight the “reign of terror unleashed by the CPM on innocent” Trinamul workers. “Don’t ask me such irrelevant questions,” Bhattacharjee said.


Malda, April 21: 
A storm ripped through seven villages in the Habibpur area of Malda last night, injuring about a dozen people and razing 300 houses. Two persons were reported missing and about 2,000 rendered homeless.

The storm also uprooted a large number of electric poles, disrupting power supply in major parts of the area. Initial reports of the extent of damage indicate that it will take several days for normal supply of electricity to be restored in the area. The areas worst affected by the storm are Kantuka and Akhtoilo gram panchayat regions.

District magistrate Ashok Bala said he has sent a team led by subdivisional officer Samir Bhattacharya for a detailed assessment of the damage. A team from Habibpur police station also left for the affected villages to take a stock of the situation.

Around 10 pm, villagers woke up to the deafening noise of uprooted tin roofs crashing against trees and branches breaking under the sheer force of the wind. “The fury continued unabated for about half-an-hour, after which not a single tree or a roof was intact in Lakshmipur village in the Mangalpura gram panchayat area,” said a villager this morning at the Bulbulchandi health centre.

A palm tree fell on the house of Sonali Tudu, a member of the gram panchayat, crushing the tin roof and injuring Tudu and five of her family members, the villager added. The concrete wall of a dugwell also collapsed under the force of the storm.

All the shishu trees planted by the panchayat in the area several years ago were flattened by the storm. Fearing that the trees might get stolen, the panchayat authorities have auctioned them off this morning.

Police sources said villagers had lodged a complaint that two persons were missing from the area after the storm. “We are trying to find out whether the two persons were in the area last night,” said an official.

The relief department of the district has already swung into action and sent dry food and tarpaulin sheets to the affected areas. The district magistrate will send a report to Writers’ Buildings tomorrow.

Local Congress and CPM workers have rushed relief teams to the area with dry foods like puffed rice and gur. Attempts are on to open community kitchens.


Midnapore, April 21: 
The state government has sanctioned a development scheme for tribals of the Naxalite-infested areas of Paschim Midnapore district.

Under the scheme, to be inaugurated by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee during his visit to the district, nearly 5,000 acres of land will be distributed among 15,000 tribal families for multi-crop cultivation.

The chief minister, who will arrive here on May 4, will also assess progress of the development work being done by the district administration for the tribals.

District magistrate M.V. Rao said the government has already sanctioned Rs 3 crore for carrying out development work in the district. The project envisages a monthly income of Rs 5,000 for each tribal family from multi-crop cultivation once they get land and other assistance from the government.

“We have identified areas where many tribal youths are jobless and are trying to engage them in some work,” said Rao.

The subdivision of Jhargram and the Garbeta and Salboni blocks in Midnapore Sadar subdivision have been identified as drought-prone regions dominated by tribals, most of whom live below the poverty line.

Officials admitted that the development scheme had been drawn up in an effort to isolate extremist forces like the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre, which are gradually expanding their organisational base by exploiting the poverty of the tribals.

A recent study by the district administration suggested that the PWG and MCC had made “steady” inroads into tribal regions by cashing in on their poverty and unemployment.

“Policing in these areas will not solve the problem. We will need to start more and more development schemes for tribals rather than open new police stations to keep vigil on the inhabitants here,” officials added.

Residents, mostly tribals, feel there has been little development here since Independence. The poverty of the local tribals was ideal for political parties like the Jharkhand Party, which had successfully established its dominance in the region.

Of late, political equations have undergone a change and the Jharkhand Party is fast losing ground in this zone.


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