Shutters down over fee hike
Probe signal for bonfire of books
Feeder snag sparks power crisis
Hecklers wanted ‘fun’
Pay block to curb tuitions
Back from brain death, left in lurch by father
The City Diary
A priceless collection for public use
Net loss for cyber surfers
Big hope on the Home Front

Calcutta, April 22: 
As protests over a fee hike spiralled across the city, St Thomas Church School, Howrah, became the first institution to down its shutters — if only for two days — as parents of students refused to pay the enchanced fees.

As students turned up for class on Monday, they were informally told that the school would remain closed as negotiations with parents over the fee hike had “failed to take off”.

“We were told by our class teacher to check on Wednesday whether school would reopen that day,” a student said. “She said unless our parents agreed to the new fee structure, the school would have no option but to remain shut.”

Recently, the government had sent letters to all 69 Anglo-Indian schools in the city and the rest of the state, informing them that it would cut down on its contribution towards teachers’ dearness allowance. These schools comprise not only those which fall under the Church of North India (CNI), but also those belonging to the Roman Catholic and Methodist denominations. But it is only the CNI schools that immediately decided to hike their fees.

This had led to protests from guardians in a number of schools, starting with La Martiniere and St James a fortnight ago. In fact, the functioning of two schools — St Paul’s Mission School in Sealdah and St Thomas’ Boys School in Kidderpore -— have been affected for the past few days because of agitations launched by guardians.

But nowhere did the crisis precipitate as much as it did at Howrah’s St Thomas. Principal Loren Mirza refused to comment on the school’s closure. She neither took calls nor met mediapersons. But students maintained that their teachers had informed them on Monday — the fourth day of the new academic session — that the school would reopen once their parents accepted the fee hike.

The situation was tense at the school on Monday morning, as guardians held a demonstration. Said Howrah’s additional superintendent of police (town) Rajiv Mishra: “We have posted a picket in front of the school. I have asked the local police to guard against untoward incidents there in the next two days.”

A section of guardians met district magistrate Vivek Kumar, on Monday evening and sought his intervention. However, heads of some institutions feel that the CNI may have been a “bit too hasty” in hiking its fees.

Said Gillian D’Costa Hart, principal of Welland Gouldsmith School: “Most schools have not raised fees. As for my institution, I have urged the government not to cut its funding. Only after I get a reply will I decide.”


Calcutta, April 22: 
The National Library authorities on Monday set up a three-member committee to probe a case of arson on Sunday, when several books, some of them invaluable and rare titles, were set on fire in the grounds near the recently-constructed annexe building.

Library director Shyamal Kanti Chakraborty on Monday asked officers to lodge an FIR with Alipore police station, giving detailed information about the incident. “I have informed the Union human resources development ministry’s department of culture of the incident and told them of the action taken by us,” he added.

Chakraborty, who is also director of the Indian Museum, rushed to the library on Monday morning to meet senior officers and to get an idea about the case that was reported by The Telegraph in its issue of that day. It was at this meeting that the decision to form a probe committee was made.

The agenda of the committee, as decided on Monday, will be to try and identify the members of the staff who brought the books outside the library building to the ground, and then set them on fire.

Sternest possible action will be taken against those found guilty in this case, the first of its kind in the library’s century-old history, officers said.

“It has never been the tradition of this library to consign old and moth-eaten books to flames,” the director said on Monday. “To say that I was shocked by today’s report would be an understatement,” he admitted, adding that he “now wanted to find out what exactly happened on Sunday afternoon”.

While admitting that the probe committee was necessary to find out the details, he said he was certain that what happened was an inside job. “It was definitely the handiwork of a section of the library staff,” Chakraborty added.

Officers of the library said at present, there was no committee to identify the books that were to be rejected. It was, therefore, quite unusual for an ordinary library employee to take upon himself the responsibility of identifying the books that are to be scored out of the catalogue, they added. So, someone may have made a bonfire of the books inadvertently, some of them feel.

The other line of thinking — which is more plausible — however, rubbished this theory. Sunday’s arson was a deliberate act by a section of unionised employees, who wanted to throw some senior officers in a difficult situation.

The unions have been up in arms against the extensions given to security officer S.P. Singh and assistant librarian Mazharul Islam.

“We will take stern action against any employee involved in the incident if it is found that this was done with the intent of putting senior officers in a tight spot,” said Chakraborty.

The unions warned the authorities against launching a witch-hunt to reduce the number of employees. There has been no recruitment of employees since 1993 and about 154 posts are now lying vacant, they say. They added that the government was trying to reduce staff-strength even further.

“This issue should not be used by the administration as an excuse to further its misdeeds,” they said.

It was because of this dearth of employees that the library was not being able to categorise books into two groups — those which can be lent out once again, and those which are no longer fit for circulation, they explained.


Calcutta, April 22: 
Large areas of the city suffered power cuts on Monday, following a technical snag in the CESC’s feeders in central and south Calcutta. The power cuts in north and east Calcutta were extensive and from early in the morning, after a 132-KV feeder line of the CESC tripped at Prinsep Street around 5 am.

CESC sources said as soon as the feeder tripped, the New Cossipore and Titagarh plants, in the northern suburbs, were cut off the grid. Later, the two plants were reconnected to the system through an alternative route.

This led to an immediate shortfall of 30 mw and power cuts enveloped large pockets of north Calcutta, like Shyambazar, Bagbazar, Belgachhia, Lake Town, S.K. Deb Road, Bangur Avenue, Phoolbagan and Beleghata.

CESC engineers rushed to repair the fault at Prinsep Street, while the private power utility resorted to rotational power cuts. With the mercury touching the 36 degree Celsius mark in the afternoon, the stilled fans and inoperative water pumps made life miserable for Calcuttans.

Power cuts also plagued wide areas of south Calcutta, including Ritchie Road, Ballygunge Circular Road and Sarat Bose Road, after a snag developed at a high-tension cable feeder near Ritchie Road around 1.20 pm.

There was no power at Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratisthan for about 40 minutes from 1.20 pm. The sudden power failure brought to a halt all operations. “We were put to great inconvenience. Surgeries were on and five patients were undergoing dialysis. Emergency lights had to be switched on to conclude the operations,” said a hospital official. Supply was restored around 2 pm.

Power department sources said that supply in the city and the districts was disrupted on Sunday too due to an imbalance in the eastern grid, following unscheduled drawing of power by Orissa’s Gridco.


Calcutta, April 22: 
The police are in a fix over registering a case against the five teenagers who allegedly harassed three women on Sunday.

Reason: the victims’ family had developed cold feet on Monday and refused to press charges. The boys had assaulted Saumitra Saha at the crossing of Vivekananda Road and Duff Street, in north Calcutta, on Sunday morning.

Saha and his wife, Jayanti, had challenged the five — Ajay, Tarak, Anil, Dinesh and Rajesh — while they were passing lewd remarks and throwing pebbles at the three women, who had come out of a house on Duff Street.

Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Soumen Mitra said the police couldn’t book the teenagers on eve-teasing charges, as the women have refused to corroborate the allegations to the detectives, when they visited their Vivekananda Road house. “We cannot clamp Section 354 IPC, pertaining to an offence against women, as the victims are not cooperating,’’ he said. “As of now, we have booked them for assaulting Saumitra,’’ he added.

On Monday, officer-in-charge of Amherst Street police station, Utpal Bhattacharya, led a team to the Kolupara and Goabagan areas to arrest the teenagers.

The five, who were rounded up, told the police that they simply wanted to have “some fun at the girls’ expense.’’ One of the youths told the police the assault on Saumitra was not intended. “It happened just by chance,” he said.

The arrested were produced in court and remanded in custody.

Residents alleged that they had often complained to the police but till Sunday, no action had been taken. Amherst Street police admitted that they had received complaints against the boys earlier.

The officer-in charge claimed that he had directed the second officer to put an end to the menace but the second officer apparently had allowed the boys to carry on playing on “humanitarian grounds’’. Deputy commissioner (North) K.L. Tamta on Monday directed his officers to crack down on street cricket.


Calcutta, April 22: 
The state administration is talking tough on tuitions. On Monday, it issued an ultimatum to government and government-aided schoolteachers that salaries for May would be held back if they failed to submit an undertaking, affirming that they were not giving lessons in private, by April 30.

“Months have passed since the government implemented its decision to ban private tuitions. Even though the undertaking was required right after the announcement, teachers were allowed to draw salaries till March without signing it. Now, they have time till the month-end. Those who fail to submit the declaration by then will not get paid for May,” said Kanti Biswas, state school education minister.

The government had made it mandatory for teachers to sign the undertaking in January, but deferred the date following a demand that private tuitions be allowed till the Higher Secondary and Madhyamik exams were over. “The exams are over and there is no reason why the teachers cannot sign the undertaking now,” the minister said.

He said a large number of teachers had already submitted the forms to their schools’ managing committees.

The ultimatum follows the expiry last Wednesday of a 15-day court stay on the implementation of the ban. Two petitions against the ban, moved on behalf of the teachers, are pending disposal at Calcutta High Court. In an interim order, the court had stayed the implementation of the order and any other related move.

When the government announced the ban in December 2001, teachers’ bodies launched protests, demanding its withdrawal. But the ultimatum has put the teachers’ bodies, especially those controlled by the Left parties, in a fix. Even though some of them were opposed to the signing of the undertaking, they are trying to avoid a dispute on the issue.

“Our organisation was initially opposed to the signing of any undertaking. But we will not prevent our members from filling the forms because it is not possible for our organisation to guarantee financial security to those who do not,” said Amiya Basu, leader of the CPI-controlled Association of Secondary School Teachers.

Teachers’ organisations controlled by the anti-Left lobbies are also uncomfortable with the government’s warning.

“The directive curbs the right to teach. But under the circumstances, we are unable to stop our members from signing the undertaking in view of the financial problems they might face if the government stopped their salaries. We will, however, continue to urge the government to withdraw the decision,” said Prithwis Basu, general secretary, West Bengal Headmasters’ Association.


Calcutta, April 22: 
For little Protima, back from the brink of brain death, hope has quickly turned into heartbreak. The three-year-old — rescued from multiple intra-cerebral abscesses through a “rare procedure” — has been abandoned by her father. Protima and her 25-year-old mother, Sumita Samanta, a domestic help, are huddled together on bed no. 39 of Saviour Clinic at Moulali, waiting in vain for Lakshman, a daily labourer, to return and take them back home.

When Protima was brought to Saviour by her parents from their village Amritbera, in Tamluk, on March 29, she was “close to coma, deeply unconscious, with no limb movement”, recounts paediatric surgeon Dr Debasish Mitra, who has treated the child. Since the usual symptoms of multiple abscesses were absent, there was considerable diagnostic delay and her condition worsened by the day. “The treatment of choice in such a case is aspiration and open drainage of the abscesses, but Protima was in no condition to be operated upon. So I consulted the nursing home authorities and opted for USG-guided aspiration, with the help of CT scan,” says Dr Mitra. “Although it is difficult to aspirate multiple abscesses, we took up the task as a challenge, since this was the only way to revive the child.”

Protima responded well to the two sittings of USG-guided aspiration, done a week apart, and is now “stable, ambulatory and can feed”. Dr Mitra and his support team feel she is well on the road to recovery. “We are two-thirds of our way to the finish line, with the final lap still to run. If another CT scan, which should ideally be carried out in two weeks’ time, confirms that the abscess cavities have shrunk further, we will know the path of minimum invasion was a success, a rare one at that,” he says.

But nobody knows if little Protima will be lucky enough to get that vital CT scan done. Father Lakshman has pleaded “bankruptcy” and fled. “We can’t refuse any emergency patient and can’t withhold discharge even if dues are not cleared. But where will the mother and child go?” asked clinic administrator Sujata Mukherjee. “We have incurred an expenditure of more than Rs 60,000 on Protima’s treatment to date, even after the doctors have waived their fees. Her father has paid us Rs 12,000 and vanished. How long can we go on supporting the mother and child from our own accounts?”

Dr Mitra says Protima will need regular follow-up aspiration and anti-epileptic therapy to sustain the process of recovery. But who will foot the bill? The clinic is struggling to put together a basic corpus to ensure that the treatment is carried forward. But officials there are the first to admit that this can only be a “temporary measure”.

Sumita is a wreck. “I don’t know what will happen to my child now. She is so near to recovery, yet so far from safety. My husband has deserted us and I have no money,” she sobs, clutching on to a wailing Protima.



CM okays parking lot under flyover

The space under the newly-opened Gariahat flyover will be turned into a garden, along with a pay-and-use toilet and a parking zone. The decision was finalised on Monday following a meeting between chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and mayor Subrata Mukherjee at Writers’ Buildings. The chief minister also cleared the mayor’s proposal to set up a permanent fair ground and an art gallery on a 20-acre plot near Science City, in a CMC-state government joint venture. The Corporation recently decided to take back the land from a chamber of commerce which was supposed to set up a crafts village there.

Saha case trial hearing ends

The trial hearings of the Anuradha Saha death case ended at the Alipore court on Monday with the summing up by the prosecution. Chief judicial magistrate Ananda Raha announced that judgment will be delivered on May 22. Anuradha’s husband Dr Kunal Saha and brother-in-law Moloy Ganguly had initiated criminal proceedings against three city doctors, holding their “negligence” responsible for her death in May 1998. Though the case was initiated in November 1998, the hearings have been held in quick succession since January this year after a Supreme Court directive to complete the trial. Saha had also lodged a complaint with the West Bengal Medical Council. The hearing of which is scheduled for Tuesday.

Imam drowns

Shamim Ahmed Rizvi, a 60-year-old Imam of a Kidderpore mosque, drowned in the Hooghly while bathing near the Netaji Subhas dock on Monday. Police said Rizvi had left home to take his bath around 6 am, but did not return. Locals said they had seen a man drown in the river.

Prison term

Two thieves, Mohammad Ghulam, alias Raja, and Zhulan Shaw, who had decamped with jewellery and cash worth Rs 10,000 from a house on Zakaria Street on April 24, 1998, were convicted to two years’ rigorous imprisonment. An additional chief metropolitan magistrate awarded the sentence on Monday.

Museum opening

Calcutta Panorama, the museum located in the Town Hall, will be open to the public from May 9. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will inaugurate it, said mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Monday.

Pirated cassettes

The city police seized over 2000 pirated cassettes and a recorder from Jadunath Dey Road in the Bowbazar area on Monday. Police said one Bharat Raghunath was arrested in this connection. The value of the seized items was estimated at over Rs 70,000.

Immersion ramps

The Calcutta Port Trust has allowed the Corporation to construct ramps for immersion of images in the Hooghly at four ghats — Sovabazar, Nimtola, Ahiritollah and Baja Kadamtala.

Clash at Kasba

Two groups clashed at Kasba on Sunday night over non-payment of dues. Both groups blamed each other for starting the fight. Two persons were injured while the others are absconding.    

Calcutta, April 22: 
Now that priceless books are for burning, the little-heard-of Goethals India Library stands as a bright example of how a vast and rich collection of 17,663 volumes of books and periodicals ought to be preserved for posterity. A thousand of these titles belong to the pre-1799 period. Above the main chapel, in an obscure section of St Xavier’s College, the library, till recently, was a huge, dark hall lined with countless almirahs crammed with books, beautiful statues of Buddha and a set of chairs and a table of ornately carved wood. A thin layer of dust covered all the furniture, as few human beings ever stepped inside. Its inaccessibility intensified the atmosphere of sepulchral gloom.

But things have changed for the better in the past few years. Goethals library has been transformed into a modern research and reference centre, where all bona fide scholars are welcome. It has the advantage of being spacious and naturally well-lit. Scientific cataloguing of the books, periodicals and plates has been accomplished. It even has a homepage.

In 1908, the Jesuit fathers had inherited this treasure trove from then Archbishop of Calcutta (1886-1901), Paul Goethals, S.J. The Archbishop expected a separate library to be set up with this enormous collection. He had brought out the catalogue in 1898 and it ran into 160 foolscap-length pages, along with a three-page addendum. It testifies to the diversity of the owners’ interests. These ranged from archaeology, the arts, Indology, religions, the Portuguese in India and the other foreigners who wanted a piece of the cake that was India.

We can get an overview of the 17th Century through the travel and travellers section in various languages. A separate section is devoted to Sanskrit. The mysterious and exotic Orient is present in a catalogue dating back to 1931. It includes tomes on Tibet, Mongolia, Persia, Egypt and China. The Archbishop also took a scientific interest in subjects such as economics, education, the census and the administration.

The Goethals collection has some invaluable art treasures. The uncle and nephew team of Thomas and William Daniell present the breathtaking views of India, its monuments and its fabulous many-armed divinities. The library has six large volumes of their colour engravings, each containing 24 views from March 1, 1795 to June 1, 1803.

It is also a repository of hard-bound Eastern periodicals, like Bengal Past and Present (Beginning 1907), the Calcutta Review (158 volumes), Modern Review (1907-1978). It includes about 50 manuscripts of Bengal Mission historian Father H. Hosten and those of the pioneering educationist Brahmabandhav Upadhyay. These treasures can be seen without much fuss.

The condition of the books had deteriorated over the years and it took two years from March 1995 to complete the conservation process. It attracts about 15 scholars a month and publishes a periodical named Goethals News. And now the library is IT savvy.


Calcutta, April 22: 
Sushil Gupta of Salt Lake had subscribed to an Internet account from VSNL last week. He had barely logged in for a couple of hours, over the weekend, when he discovered to his shock that he had already “used” 10 hours.

“I was foxed, as I could not have possibly logged in for more than two hours. In fact, I keep a check on my log-in timings. I am sure hackers have stolen my Net hours,’’ Sushil said.

Anindita Majumdar of Southern Avenue sensed something amiss when a recorded message of “access denied’’ flashed on the screen every time she tried to log in. “I re-checked my password but was denied access. Ultimately, when I was able to connect, I checked my account status to find that I was almost three hours short,’’ she said.

The police have recently begun to investigate the manner in which hackers have busted the passwords of subscribers, stealing Internet hours.

The chief general manager of VSNL, P.D. Gupta, admitted that hackers are, indeed, stealing Internet hours from subscribers, “but there is very little we service providers can do about it. We have about 60,000 subscribers. The only thing we can tell them now is to be careful with their passwords and change it frequently. Passwords should be cryptic and alphanumeric. Subscribers should complete 16 characters instead of keeping it short,” he suggested.

According to initial investigations, customers who subscribed to Internet service providers (ISP) suddenly noticed that their Net hours have diminished considerably, although they had not logged in for long.

City police chief Sujoy Chakraborty said the cyber cell of the detective department was investigating the case.

“I have heard about the malpractice, but it is impossible to detect the hackers,’’ he said.

Chakraborty claimed that the cyber cell had recently tracked down a hacker, who was sending hate mail to subscribers, using a woman’s e-mail address.

According to chief executive officer of Navneet Information Technology, Dinesh Garodia, hackers can bust passwords when they feed viruses, such as Trojan.

“These viruses can track down keyboard and mouse movements. This way, they can easily bust the password and get access to stored information on the Net. Even information on the hard disk is easily available to them,’’ Garodia said.

Investigations also revealed that hackers, seeking to crack the password of ISP subscribers, are using programmes like Diablokey and software like Deep Throat and Trojan Horse.


Calcutta, April 22: 
More than Rs 100 crore worth of business has been generated at Home Front 2002, eastern India’s “biggest exhibition” on housing, real estate and interiors, according to officials of City Developers’ Forum, which presented the show.

The four-day exposition, which concluded at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Monday, saw a footfall of more than 40,000, among them “about 8,000 serious visitors”, said CDF secretary Sushil Mohta.

“This year, we had laid greater emphasis on customer interface. The idea was to enable the participants and visitors to come face-to-face and interact on everything about good living — transparently and freely— and we feel we have been successful on that count,” he said.

Though confirmed figures are yet to come in, Forum officials expect home loan approvals “in the region of Rs 50-75 crore” at the show. “The handsome business generated at Home Front 2002 will automatically yield spin-off benefits to the 300-odd allied industries,” smiled CDF president A.N. Shroff.

Developers agree that business outlook has brightened over the past few years, thanks to the active participation of the finance institutions. Debashish Sarkar, assistant general manager (ATM), State Bank of India, explained: “There is a growing need in this sector and there is buying power among the middle-class now. The industry only required a catalyst to tap the potential. Banks and finance companies have stepped in to provide that catalytic spark.”

The SBI official felt Home Front was a “step in the right direction”, but stressed the need to introduce more best-practices and weed out corruption completely. “Although the perception is changing, there’s still a certain stigma of malpractice which sticks to the developers’ fraternity. The CDF must work even harder to become a brand equity by itself, something like a small chamber of commerce, with stricter enforcement of its code of conduct,” Sarkar observed.

CDF chief executive Amitava Sen said the Forum has planned a string of workshops, in collaboration with Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), in the near future. “These workshops will deal with such subjects of immediate import like foreign direct investment, land ceiling Act and stamp duty,” he said. The Forum hopes these workshops will infuse greater professionalism in the trade and create a climate of “mutual trust” between customers and property developers.

Arunava Mondal, CEO of home-marketing major MMG, stressed the need for a product-rating system. “It is vital to have some customer-driven controls and regulation in place. Technical guidance on the products is absolutely important and at the present growth rate, these controls should be in place in Calcutta in another four-five years,” he said.


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