Smoke on teen will-do list
Parking lot sop for highrises
Of cops and the evil eye
Extortion bid foiled, one held
The City Diary
Ban on roadside fruit auction
Bed problem for healthcare
A shelter for special children
Drug racket busted with arrest of duo
Buddha dares extremists to fight

 
 
SMOKE ON TEEN WILL-DO LIST 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, April 28: 
Generations past have puffed. And so will GeneratioNext. But what is causing concern is that as many as 40 per cent of Calcutta’s students in the Class IX and XI age-group say they intend to take up smoking when they grow up.

As it is, the city has a very big population in the grip of the life-threatening habit. Of every 100 men, 40 are regular smokers, according to surveys carried out by the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI), making Calcutta a prime target of the tobacco companies. But the finding, coupled with high atmospheric pollution levels, possibly explains why the city has the highest incidence of lung cancer.

When the report on the survey on tobacco use among the city’s students was submitted to the Union health ministry by the institute, what drew attention was not the finding that 18 per cent male and 4 per cent female students were occasional or regular smokers.

The fact that a large section of youth in the 14 to 16 age-group admitted that they would take up smoking when older has put the ministry and WHO representatives on an alert.

As part of its ‘Tobacco or Health’ campaign, the world health body is guiding and funding programmes beginning this year in 10 cities across the country. But the stress is on Calcutta, because of its population’s predilection for puffing.

The CNCI’s department of Epidemiology and Bio-statistics, which carried out the surveys in 1999-2000, has been entrusted with the task of initiating and implementing HRIDAY, or “health-related information dissemination among youth,” programme.

“For starters, we will approach students of 20 city schools, half of them in the government sector,” says Urmi Sen, head of the department.

Though the broad outline of the project will follow the HRIDAY-Delhi model, four specific key areas have been identified for the intervention project in the city. “An analysis of our survey has shown that the reason for students to take up smoking primarily lies in peer pressure,” Sen says.

“Considering all other influences, a student is 8.5 times more likely to start smoking because of his strong association with other students who already smoke. This is why one of the key areas in the tobacco avoidance component is counteracting peer pressure.” The other areas of the project are diet, emphasis on physical activity and stress management.

A student in the city is 4.5 times more likely to start “puppy-puffing” if a sibling is in the habit, 2.4 times if he already chews pan masala (which is also harmful), and 1.23 times more likely if a parent is a smoker, the analysis has found.

The survey has also found that 17.4 per cent students in government schools smoke, while 12.5 per cent do so in private schools of the city.

“The focus of HRIDAY will be more on enhancing tobacco-related health awareness and will have both school, home and community outreach activities,” Sen says.

CNCI personnel, with help from a team from Delhi, will select teachers in the schools and train them as teacher co-ordinators, who will carry on the programme throughout the year. “We plan to start by July-August.”

Health officers say that parents can play an important role in curbing this tendency among children to take up smoking when they grow up. “If the son sees the father smoking, then naturally he does not think that there is anything wrong with it,” a health official said. “This is what is really worrying.”

Officials have also appealed to parents not to lead their children in the wrong direction by setting a bad example for them.

   

 
 
PARKING LOT SOP FOR HIGHRISES 
 
 
BY SUVRO ROY
 
Calcutta, April 28: 
In a desperate bid to find parking solutions, the government has decided to offer a scheme to builders of highrises in Calcutta and its adjoining areas, by which they can build and operate public car-parking lots on the ground floor for at least 10 years.

The developer will be allowed to construct additional floors to compensate for the space eaten up by the parking lot, which should accommodate at least 25 cars.

“We realised there will be very little response if we only seek space to construct a parking lot. So we want them to build it themselves and operate it on a BOT basis for at least 10 years, so that they can earn from the project,” said a senior CMDA official. He added that floor area equivalent to space utilised for parking can be added in the upper storeys by relaxing the existing building rules of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

The scheme, suggested in a recent master-plan for traffic and transportation, has been taken up by the government, struggling to unearth parking space in a congested city. “We must find out avenues to increase areas for public car-parking lots,” said urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya. The modalities of the scheme will be discussed shortly by the sector committee on traffic and transportation, set up by the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC).

“On-street car-parking is a major traffic problem in the metro core area, particularly in the central business district. It restricts the width of carriageways and is a major cause of traffic bottlenecks,” said T. Mitra, director, project planning, CMDA, and a prominent member of the traffic and transportation sector committee of the MPC.

A survey by city planners has revealed that more than 25 per cent of the carriageways is being utilised as parking space. It also indicated that there is demand for space to park 2,800 cars in the BBD Bag and adjoining areas, up to Bidhan Sarani. In the Esplanade and Park Street area, there is demand for space for at least 1,600 cars.

Traffic planners said space to park at least 2,000 cars could be created in the BBD Bag area if a number of vacant plots could be utilised. A tentative list of vacant spaces on Strand Road, Mangoe Lane, the southern side of Curzon Park, Lenin Sarani, Chandni Chowk, B.B. Ganguly Street, Phears Lane and around the Gariahat area has been prepared.

“There is enough space belonging to the Calcutta Port Trust north of Millennium Park and on Strand Road, where a lot of cars can be parked. The space on the western strip of Jawaharlal Nehru Road between Birla Planetarium and The Oberoi Grand, can also be converted into a parking plaza,” said B.K. Sadhu, chief traffic planner.

The CMC, however, is sceptical, citing the growing number of cars. “A strong initiative should immediately be taken to decrease the number of cars plying the streets every day,” said Pradip Ghosh, member, mayor’s council in charge of parking lots.

   

 
 
OF COPS AND THE EVIL EYE 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, April 28: 
Nilratan Samanta, a constable of the Reserve Force, was posted at a road crossing. Suddenly, his lathi slipped and fell on the road. Along with colleagues in the barracks, he “purified” the lathi with Ganga water. Policemen are superstitious about a lathi slipping from their hands. They believe it portends a situation when they will be compelled to rain blows with their baton.

This is not an isolated case. Certain superstitions have such a strong hold on policemen that these dictate the manner in which they go about their daily business. “We follow certain rules to ward off the influence of the evil eye,” said Ananta Karmakar, another constable of the Lalbazar headquarters force.

Citing an example, Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner (headquarters) said: “In almost every police station, the General Diary (GD) book is never allowed to come in contact with the FIR book. Because policemen believe that if a GD book touches the FIR book, all the complaints lodged in the former will get a place in the FIR book, where the police will perforce have to start specific cases. That is a difficult prospect.”

Another senior police officer said: “Policemen are pleased if the first case lodged with their police station is that of a murder. They believe it is a good sign, because this particular crime won’t recur that year.” An officer feels he is in for a bounty if his first assignment is that of murder.

Policemen dread a zero. “Agar siphar likhenge, to case ka hal kabhi nahin hoga (If you write a zero, the case will never be solved),” was what constable Ram Kanwar said. So, that explains why most entries are made at either 9.33 am or 10.41 am or 11.41 pm, and not 11.40 pm.

The place where the picture of goddess Kali is hung is of utmost importance in a police station. Her picture is hung in all sections of the detective department. “When things don’t go well, officers change the position of Kali’s picture,” said Basu.

When they are on the beat, sleuths prefer to wear clothes they consider lucky. “We are reluctant to carry firearms that misfired at a previous encounter,” said an officer of detective department.

Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner,detective department, said: “Superstitions do not seem to have much hold on the new lot of policemen.”

   

 
 
EXTORTION BID FOILED, ONE HELD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 28: 
Police foiled an extortion bid on a gold merchant of the Posta area and nabbed the kingpin of the three-member gang. The goons had been sending the trader threat letters for the past 15 days, said deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan. “We cannot divulge the businessman’s name for security reasons,” he added.

The incident has perturbed the Burrabazar trading community and a section of businessmen has called a meeting next week to discuss the issue.

According to officials of Posta thana, the criminals were aware that the police would install a Caller Line Identification (CLI) gadget on the businessman’s telephone. So, they stated their demands on paper and sent it across to him.

In one of the letters, the goons asked the trader to shell out Rs 5 lakh and gave him a week’s deadline to rustle up the amount. They threatened to abduct him if he failed to pay up and also instructed him to destroy the letters, sources said.

Last Monday, four youth met the businessman in his office, posing as customers, and ordered him to follow the directives laid down in the letters, or else face dire consequences. When the businessman informed the Posta police of the matter, senior officers asked him to follow the gang’s instructions.

On Friday, the gang directed the businessman to stuff the money in a bag and leave it near a letter box in Posta on Saturday evening. A team of plainclothes police accompanied the businessman to the spot. The policemen started trailing a boy who had come to pick up the bag and reached a two-storeyed house.

The team surrounded the ringleader, Kalu, but two others, who had spotted the police from a distance, managed to flee.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Delayed seminar sparks civic row

Controversy brewed in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) over the belated observance of Anti-TB Day by the civic health department. The Opposition in the CMC has decided to raise a point of order in the House meeting on Monday, as the seminar was held in the Council House after the office was declared closed following member, mayor-in-council, Chanchal Ghose’s death on April 23. CPM leader Sudhanshu Sil will raise the point of order. Member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan, said he was not consulted by the officer-in-charge (health) before holding the seminar a month behind schedule (March 24). “I could not postpone it as the order for food packets had already been placed,” said OSD (health) Atanu Mukherjee.

Peace rally

Residents of Behala and Thakurpukur took out a silent procession for peace, organised by Sanhati Mancha, on Saturday. More than a thousand people participated in the procession.

Father relents

Protima Samanta, the three-year-old girl, who was pulled back from the brink of brain-death at a Moulali nursing home, will now receive further treatment at the same facility. Protima’s parents have left her behind with the nursing home staff after the district administration in east Midnapore was moved to convince them. The father had earlier accused the centre of forcibly detaining his daughter and wife.

Tiljala arrests

Three criminals were arrested from Tiljala on Sunday. Police said the goons were wanted for two murders and three dacoities.    

 
 
BAN ON ROADSIDE FRUIT AUCTION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 28: 
Alarmed at the deteriorating conservancy services in the city, mayor Subrata Mukherjee has decided to impose a ban on the auctioning of mangoes, litchis and other fruit on the road in the Sealdah and Mechhua areas.

This is the first time that the mayor has directly intervened in the functioning of the conservancy department, in the absence of member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), Mala Roy.

The decision was taken last week in the presence of municipal commissioner Debasis Som, member, mayor-in-council (slum development), Pradip Ghosh, and officer-on-special duty (OSD) to mayor Shaktibrata Ghosh.

“It is strange that in exchange for a paltry Rs 2 lakh or so, the conservancy department has allowed business hubs to be mucked up. I won’t allow it any more”, the mayor said, while putting his signature to a relevant file. Echoing the mayor, Ghosh, mayor-in-council (slums) said after auctioneering on the road in the Sealdah Baithakkhana-Kolay market area, tonnes of refuse smother roads, pavements and gully-pits.

Mala Roy, aggrieved over the mayor’s decision, said on Sunday she was seized of the matter. “The issue has not been discussed with me and no such file has reached my table to date. I have no idea of any such decision”, she said.

According to a senior conservancy officer, the department was allowing fruit auctions on the road itself in the Sealdah area, in exchange for Rs 2 lakh a year as cleaning charges.

In Mechhua, too, fruit is auctioned on the road and the Corporation is paid Rs 4 lakh as clearing charges.

The fruit market has practically rendered a sprawling area close to Burrabazar and Jorasanko police station totally uninhabitable and unhygienic. It was originally started as a wholesale market only in two buildings — 10 A and 10 B, Madan Mohan Burman Street, on the northern flank of Mahatma Gandhi Road, between C.R. Avenue and Rabindra Sarani.

   

 
 
BED PROBLEM FOR HEALTHCARE 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, April 28: 
With folded hands, Ajoy Modak (name changed) begged the surgeon superintendent of SSKM Hospital for a bed for his ailing wife last Friday. “Sir, please admit her. Even a bed on the verandah will do. She has been suffering for months and needs specialised treatment. Please save her,” he sobbed.

But superintendent D.D. Chatterjee’s hands were tied. His enquiries on the telephone with the department concerned revealed that no bed was vacant, even the extra spaces were full. “Come back next week. I assure you I will arrange something.”

He then told Metro that as much as 60 per cent of the beds at his hospital were occupied by cases that could have been treated at any other government hospital. “If other hospitals can take care of day-to-day surgery, like appendicitis or tonsils or gall stones, then our specially set up teams can treat complicated cases like this one,” he said.

Modak’s wife has problems with her oesophagus, and preliminary examinations indicate malignancy. She would have been a perfect candidate for treatment by the team that runs the oesphageal clinic set up nearly two years ago. But the department had no vacant bed.

Likewise, several other super-speciality clinics and their departments are mostly busy pursuing ordinary cases. They include a breast cancer clinic, a geriatric centre, a clinic for diabetes and hypertension, one for rheumatoid arthritis, and a clinic for patients suffering from arsenic poisoning, which is the only one of its kind in the state.

“We have tried to begin a new chapter in healthcare delivery, with support from the health minister and his department.” Teams of young, enthusiastic doctors wanting to specialise are being given opportunities and scope here to prove their skills.

These teams comprise doctors who would have been otherwise wasted in smaller hospitals that have no provision or infrastructure for super-speciality treatment, Chatterjee says.

“The moment a doctor is transferred here, I ask him what more can he do and what he needs. Recognising the potential, I team him up with other doctors connected with that field of speciality. And it has worked well. These teams are doing a good job,” he says.

But if a majority of the beds are taken up by patients needing simple interventions, the objectives of these teams are stifled. More important, those requiring speciality treatment cannot get admitted. As far as SSKM Hospital is concerned, the elaborate case referral system drawn up by the government and being implemented through the Health Systems Development Project is not being followed, though put to effect almost two years ago.

In fact, the referral manual does not even include SSKM. “It is only when the authorities at the tertiary medical college hospitals see the need that cases should be referred here.”

A large number of patients are admitted on requests from the higher-ups. “Who understands logic when influence talks and works?” pointed out an official in the super’s office.

   

 
 
A SHELTER FOR SPECIAL CHILDREN 
 
 
BY NISHA LAHIRI
 
Calcutta, April 28: 
Gargi Pal is 21 years old. She loves to laugh, listen to music and go on long drives. She loves people and hates being alone. She can’t talk and is bound to the wheelchair.

Bhaiu Ghosal, 26, has his hands bound for his own safety. He bites them till they bleed. He has bitten his lower lip to extinction. He has, however, recently learnt to move his wheelchair by himself, despite continual jerking fits that rattle his body. They both have cerebral palsy.

Prasanta Pal and his wife, Ranu, were both bankers who gave up their jobs to dedicate themselves to improving the quality of life of their daughter and others similarly afflicted. They started a respite centre for parents with cerebral palsied children at their home.

The membership of Paras for the Cerebral Palsied at the moment is five families, with the afflicted themselves ranging in age from 21 to 37. Most of them can’t perform the most basic functions of life without help. The aim of the parents is to provide help for them.

Pal says: “Our worry is what will happen to our children after we are gone. Who will look after them then? What will be their future? Also, what happens to these children when their parents are sick? My wife cannot lift my daughter, so I have to do everything for her, from bathing her to putting her to bed. I am not going to remain healthy forever. I’m getting older.”

The five families have decided to start a night respite centre, temporarily at Pal’s home, where the parents can leave their children overnight during an emergency. Then, the other parents will look after them.

Paras’ ultimate purpose is to build a multi-purpose complex with 24-hour professional care, where the afflicted will be able to live with a degree of autonomy. Their parents, too, will be nearby. The idea is to enable the children to help themselves, so that they are not totally lost when their parents and relatives are incapable of looking after them any more. “Each child has some special ability. We want to help them develop it,” adds Pal. “Sharmistha Roy, for example, is exceptionally good at art. Maybe we can use that skill to help her.”

These parents have all given up their jobs and, to a large extent, their lives, to build a better tomorrow for these “special children”.

   

 
 
DRUG RACKET BUSTED WITH ARREST OF DUO 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 28: 
The Muchipara police claimed to have busted a racket in the sale of tidigesic injections to addicts with the arrest of two persons early on Sunday.

Investigations revealed that Md Munna and Vijay Valmiki would sell the injections, costing Rs 15 each, to addicts for anything ranging between Rs 50 and Rs 300, depending on the customer’s buying power.

An officer of Muchipara police station said they were tipped off late on Saturday night that a huge consignment of drugs was to be taken out of a godown behind Medical College and Hospital. A police team surrounded the godown in Pratap Chatterjee Lane and caught Munna and Valmiki red-handed.

They found 84 injections in a bag, which were apparently meant for a single party. The police are trying to find out whether the duo is linked in any way with the hospital staff.

The arrested did admit they knew some members of the staff of the hospital but that is yet to be established. They were produced in Bankshal court and remanded in custody.

   

 
 
BUDDHA DARES EXTREMISTS TO FIGHT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, April 28: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today dared the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation and the United Liberation Front of Asom to come out into the open and face security forces.

There has been a marked rise in the militant activities of the KLO and the Ulfa in North Bengal, particularly in the districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar, Bhattacharjee admitted this afternoon at the end of his two-day tour of the region. He, however, asserted that the state government would no longer tolerate this menace.

“The KLO and the Ulfa have recently stepped up their violent activities. This can no longer be tolerated. We will eliminate these militants at any cost. These people are mostly engaged in extortion, kidnapping, murder and sabotage of railway tracks within in North Bengal and neighbouring Assam,” he said.

“The activities of the two insurgent groups have become more pronounced in the districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar. I met senior police officials in North Bengal to take stock of the situation,” the chief minister added.

“Additional security personnel have already been mobilised in the militant-infested region and patrolling has been intensified along the Indo-Bhutan and Nepal borders,” Bhattacharjee said.

The chief minister said district police have been provided with sophisticated weapons to match militants’ firepower. “We have upgraded the weapons of the district police force to match the firepower of militants. We have also strengthened the district intelligence network,” he disclosed.

“Instead of engaging in cowardly acts of extorting money and abducting and terrorising innocent people, I dare the KLO-Ulfa combine to engage security forces face-to-face,” Bhattacharjee challenged. He added that a new batch of KLO activists are alleged to be receiving arms training from the Ulfa in their jungle camps in southern Bhutan.

The CPM leader accused the Kamtapur Peoples’ Party of covertly or overtly funding the KLO. “The government is ready to sit for talks with the Rajbongshis on land development and language issue. But they will first have to severe all links with the KLO activists. Funding or helping any terrorist organisation is an anti-national activity and cannot be tolerated,” the chief asserted.

Bhattacharjee said a special Indo-Nepal border task force is being planned. “Once this special force is raised it will be deployed along the Indo-Nepal border in the state,” he said.

The chief minister described the Trinamul Congress’ decision to move a motion in Parliament under Rule 184 to discuss the law and order problem in West Bengal as an “insult” to the people of the state.

“West Bengal is the best example in the country in terms of law and order situation and communal harmony. It is just absurd,” said Bhattacharjee.

   
 

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