Parent takes on school
Level track for car space
Tuition fee protest snowballs
A day out with the dinosaurs
Trains stopped to block eviction
The City Diary
Freedom, fetters and faceless memories
Unique cell for special needs
Police-mob battle over cadre arrest
No vaccine, only service

Calcutta, April 30: 
When the Calcutta District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum sits down to hear a case filed by the father of a school-going daughter, it will handle much more than a single consumer’s complaint.

The forum, instead, will be hearing a Calcuttan who will plead with it to consider the school his daughter goes to as a service-provider that has levied “unfair” charges on him, the consumer.

The crux of Dinesh Chandra Rawat’s case is something like this: how much can a school charge a student’s guardian for a day’s delay in paying tuition fees?

Not Rs 1,500, he has argued, calling the charge just another example of “fleecing and blatant arm-twisting” by schools which know that a Class XII student has nowhere to go if pushed out of the school.

Though M.P. Birla Foundation principal H. George told Metro that the school had only levied a “re-admission charge”, Rawat said the fee-book clearly showed that the authorities had imposed a ‘late fee’ of Rs 1,500.

“The fee-book does not have any provision for a re-admission charge,” Rawat said, explaining his decision to drag the school to a consumer forum.

The school’s rule-book says the authorities can levy Rs 5 as fine for each day’s delay in paying tuition fees. April 3 was the last day for paying the fees for the months of April and May.

One of Rawat’s secretarial staff, N. Das, went to the school a day later — on April 4 — to pay the fees and was expecting a fine of Rs 5. “But he came back to me that day, saying the authorities had demanded a fine of Rs 2,500,” Rawat said on Monday.

“I sent him back again and asked him to not to pay without an explanation,” Rawat said. “But, when he tried to do so, he was threatened that my daughter would lose her place in class,” he added. Das finally managed to convince the authorities to accept Rs 1,500. “He said he would lose his job if he was forced to pay Rs 2,500,” Rawat claimed.

“There has to be a limit to everything,” Rawat said, explaining why he was fighting a case over an issue that most parents would not dare to. “I am doing this even if that means difficulties for my daughter in school,” he added.

School principal George clarified that the school did not charge any late fee at all. “We have just charged a re-admission fee as the guardian/s concerned did not inform us that their children would be studying in our institution for another academic year,” he said.

There were other cases like Rawat’s, he added, but they had not lodged any complaint.

“There are always some guardians who delay paying fees as they are busy trying to get their children admitted to a more reputed school,” he said. “This makes it difficult it for us to know the exact number of vacancies in a class and we cannot admit the number of children we want to,” he added, explaining the school’s decision to slap a re-admission fee.

Rawat countered this allegation. “In Calcutta, where would I be able to get my daughter admitted to Class XII?” he exclaimed.

The fact that the fee-books did not have any column for re-admission charges and continued to show them as late fees was a “matter of technicality”, another school official explained. “The school does not gain much by levying this charge, but we want to ensure that students’ guardians do not cause any problems for us,” he added.


Calcutta, April 30: 
The Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC) and the city police have put their heads together to avoid the traffic snarls that have become a regular feature at both ends of the Gariahat flyover, after it was opened to the public on April 15.

On the northern side, traffic planners have decided to flatten the raised two-track tram boulevard between Gariahat crossing and Ballygunge Phari.

Deputy commissioner of police, traffic, M.K. Singh, said this would widen the road and provide more space for the cars.

“The transport core committee monitoring the flyover construction had inspected the area and decided to flatten the 300-metre stretch, from Ballygunge Phari to the Gariahat end of the flyover, to facilitate smooth movement of traffic,’’ he said.

Singh said police would not allow south-bound vehicles to turn right into Garcha Lane from Gariahat Road once the tram tracks are flattened. “This will stop vehicles from cutting into each other’s lanes,’’ he said.

The HRBC, which implemented the flyover project, has also decided to reduce the size of Gol Park to create a 30-foot-wide road for traffic coming from the north and bound for Purna Das Road or areas under the flyover.

Chief secretary Sourin Roy has convened a meeting on May 6 to discuss the traffic problems, which have cropped up since the inauguration of the flyover and re-designing of Gol Park to create more road space.

HRBC vice-chairman A.K. Pal said re-designing of Gol Park and pruning of the adjoining roads would cost about Rs 1 crore. Traffic police officials said a pedestrian island will also be constructed near the petrol pump at the corner, where Purna Das Road merges with Gariahat Road, at Gol Park. “This will ensure that traffic coming from Purna Das Road does not clash with the traffic flowing from Dhakuria bridge,” Pal said.

Meanwhile, the government has suffered a setback regarding the proposed construction of the second flyover at Ballygunge Phari, at a cost of Rs 40 crore.

Pal said the Japanese Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC), which funded the Gariahat flyover, has refused to provide funds for the Ballygunge Phari flyover. The JBIC is already funding three other flyovers in the city.

Transport department sources, however, said that the flyover will definitely be constructed and they are on the lookout for funding agencies. “We were disappointed after the JBIC refused to provide funds for the proposed flyover. Nonetheless, we are looking for other possible funding agencies, like Hudco,” an official said.


Calcutta, April 30: 
After a weeklong closure, St Thomas Church School, Howrah, finally reopened on Monday. The school was shut after an agitation by guardians over a fee hike.

But, the guardians say, the battle is far from over. On Thursday, they plan to block a road in Howrah. Schools in the city and the rest of the state which fall under the jurisdiction of the Church of North India had raised fees recently, after the government informed all Anglo-Indian schools that it would reduce its contribution to the teachers’ dearness allowance.

But the agitation is not confined to this school alone. It has spilled over to two other branches — St Thomas Boys’ and St Thomas Girls’ schools in Kidderpore. A large number of guardians of these two schools assembled in Gopal Ghosh Lane on Tuesday morning to plan ways of intensifying their agitation. They met officers of Watgunge police station and sought their help to ensure that no untoward incident occurred during their agitation.

The authorities of the two schools lodged a report with the police for proper security, in case the guardians’ agitation took a turn for the worse.

The officer-in-charge of Watgunge police station, Nasim Ali, said: “We are looking into their grievances and keeping a close watch on the situation.”

Guardians said they had received the fee-hike notices on April 6 and had submitted a memorandum to the school authorities on April 22, asking them to reconsider their decision. On an average, the monthly fees from Class IV to Class VIII were raised from Rs 520 to Rs 905.


Calcutta, April 30: 
Away from dirty dishes and dusty floors, some 90 domestic helps, some as young as four or five years, shed their frowns in favour of bright smiles on Anti-Child Labour Day 2002. And as escorts for the daylong fun fest, they had 60 children of the city’s Loreto schools, who have embarked on a project to identify hidden child labour in their own localities.

Birla Industrial and Technological Museum was the destination for these young girls and boys on Tuesday, most of whom are domestic labourers, accompanied by girls from Loreto Day School, Sealdah, Loreto Dharamtala and Loreto Elliot Road.

The Bowbazar, Entally and Middleton Row schools have also recently joined this project, sponsored by Save the Children Fund and conceived by Sister Cyril, principal Loreto Day School, explains coordinator Christine Gupta.

Twelve-year-old Samantha D’Rozario, of Loreto Day School, is a regular volunteer. She takes time out for weekly sessions to teach the domestic labourers discovered in homes, after breaking the ice with a few play sessions.

The schoolgirls have formed clubs of 20, where four students are the designated “sisters” of 16 domestic labourers.

“We have to beg and plead with the employers to let us spend time with the kids, and to allow them some time off for cultural events of this kind,” explains Samantha, a Class VII student. “These kids have no holidays, no fun. From morning to night, all they do is work.”

Preeti, a student of Loreto Dharamtala, has been involved with the project since last year. “I teach, or sometimes play with the kids,” smiles the 12-year-old, who is trying to convince the child who works in her own home to join a school.

Rekha, 15, spends her mornings washing dishes and wiping floors, and then returns to her own house, where she does more of the same. She has never had the opportunity to go to school. Accompanied by her sister Rakhi, aged 9, this was their first visit to any museum. “We saw the birds, tigers and big machines… It was very nice,” says the shy girl, as her sister smears ice-cream (mishti, as she called it) all over her face.

It hasn’t been easy persuading all employers to let their helpers go. These girls often get doors slammed in their faces, and flat refusals to allow any interaction. The students fear they are trying to hide the fact that they “torture” the labourers, many of whom are not even paid, as they do not want “to ruin their good name”.


Calcutta, April 30: 
Train services were disrupted for over two hours on Eastern Railway’s Sealdah-Budge Budge section on Tuesday morning when a group of squatters put up an obstruction at the Lake Gardens railway station to protest a proposed eviction drive by the railway authorities.

Commuters got stranded at various stations between Sealdah and Dhakuria in the peak hours between 9 am and 11 am. Although the blockade was removed after 11 am, it took some time for the services to resume.

According to railway officials, people settled illegally along both sides of the tracks between Dhakuria and Lake Gardens started assembling at different stations. Tuesday was the last date for the encroachers to shift.

Dulal Mitra, divisional railway manager, Sealdah, said the demonstrators sat on the tracks at the Kankulia level-crossing, near the Ballygunge south cabin. Seven pairs of trains were cancelled and six trains delayed for over an hour on an average owing to a string of demonstrations on the railway tracks. No one has so far been arrested.

The obstruction was spearheaded by leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Pankaj Banerjee and his fellow party legislator Saugata Roy. The SUCI joined forces with the Trinamul Congress in Tuesday’s protest.

Justifying the rail-roko drive, Banerjee later said thousands of poor people would be affected if the railway authorities undertook the eviction drive without making arrangements for their rehabilitatilon. “The people have been living along the tracks for over 50 years and they cannot be evicted overnight,” he said.

Banerjee has also written to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, urging him not to provide any police assistance to the railway authorities to carry out the drive.

The authorities have fixed May 4 to carry out the eviction. A notice has already been served on all the encroachers to vacate the area. It is learnt that the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and Calcutta police will jointly undertake the drive from 7 am on Saturday. Altogether 300 policemen and 250 engineering personnel will be deployed.

Kuldeep Singh, deputy commissioner, south division, will lead the police team. He said all adjoining telephone and electric lines would be disconnected before bulldozers were pressed into service.



CMC sacks three for corruption

The civic authorities dismised three CMC employees, including one assistant collector, from service on charges of corruption on Tuesday. Assistant collector Shyamalendu Sarkar was found guilty of allowing the mutation of 8A, Bosepukur Road in favour of Md. Amir Hossain on the basis of fake documents submitted by a Salt Lake-based promoter. The mutation was granted by clubbing together seven premises with different addresses and showing they were all at 8A, Bosepukur Road. The two others dismissed were an orderly, Birat Chandra Halder, and a bailiff, Sashthi Mukherjee. Halder was found guilty of manipulating birth registration records. The value of Mukherjee’s landed property did not match his income. He had purchased three buildings in the city.

Woman murdered

A 50-year-old woman was murdered at Barrackpore on Tuesday with sharp weapons. Police said the woman was attacked while she was talking to her daughter-in-law in the courtyard. No one was arrested, police said.

Uttam Kumar

Moira Street, where Uttam Kumar lived for a good part of his life, will be named after the matinee idol. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said Albert Street had already been named after him. Now the Moira Street extension of Albert Road will also be dedicated to his memory.

Biggest taxpayer

On the last date of paying up outstanding taxes under the waiver of interest scheme, the Poddars, owner of Poddar Court, paid more than Rs 7 crore to the CMC to clear their property tax dues. The Poddars are reportedly the biggest taxpayer on a single bill in the CMC’s record.

Gujarat rally

Nearly 42 organisations of school, college and universities teachers will organise a rally on May 4 protesting the Gujarat carnage. Teachers will assemble in College Street in front of Calcutta University and march to the Rani Rashmoni statue. They will meet Governor Viren J Shah and submit a memorandam.

Illegal power links

The CESC and the local police in a drive to against illegal connections in the Maheshtala area on Saturday cut off 75 such links and arrested eight persons. All the arrested persons were produced at Alipore court and remanded in jail custody till May 3 by the sub-divisional judicial magistrate on Tuesday, CESC sources said.

Ship on view

INS Kora, INS Kuthar, INS Kirch and INS Savitri will be docked in Calcutta from May 1 to 4. Among them, the ship, INS Kirch, will remain open to visitors at the Man-O’-War jetty from 9 am to 4 pm on May 3.

School contests

An inter-school quiz competition and one-act play competition for the M.P. Birla Trophy will be held at Madhusudan Mancha. The quiz will begin at 5 pm on May 2 while the play competition will start at 1 pm on May 5. The events will be organised by South Point School under the auspices of M.P. Birla Smarak Kosh.    

Calcutta, April 30: 
Jyotish Mazumder, 24, on an espionage mission, skulked through the darkness of the night with only a hand-crafted revolver and bombs to fend off an enemy armed to the teeth. At about the same time, Dinesh Dasgupta and his peer were giving final touches to a plan for eliminating an oppressor.

This was in the late 1920s, when fearless youngsters took up the cudgels against British rule. Mazumder was a spy with the Anushilan Samity, then led by Pulin Das ‘lathial’, and Dasgupta walked shoulder-to-shoulder with ‘Masterda’ Surya Sen. They formed just a fraction of the countless, nameless revolutionaries who were ready to lay down their lives for their country.

Today at age 95 and 93 — living off a government pension of Rs 5,000 a month granted for “Andaman prisoners-of-war”, single (“how can you think of marriage when your mother needs you 24 hours of the day”), and forgotten by all except by a handful of peers and a few in their localities — these heroes, who still don’t find a walking stick necessary, live on memories that invade them in sudden bouts.

Only one memory has embossed itself indelibly on their minds — “of enduring unthinkable atrocities and the torture that we were subjected to”.

Apprehended by the British in 1931 and accused of espionage and the murder of an English Captain (which he proudly accepts), Mazumder was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment in the infamous Andaman Cellular Jail. Dasgupta followed soon after, accused of being a part of the 1930 ‘astragaar loonthan’ at Chattagram (Chittagong), where he helped his comrades fly the Tricolour.

“An excited Masterda had shouted” ‘I am the first president of the Indian republic’,” Dasgupta reminisces.

Being third-class prisoners, they remember the capsule cells, the filthy living conditions, the unpalatable food, the hard physical labour and the brutal flogging. And coming from them, it did not seem like the boring history curriculum back in school.

“But we had each other, and the bonds were cemented for a lifetime”. In the event of the release of a fellow inmate, they would send news to their respective families, until in 1938, when the duo was released. This contact even after release on a personal plane or for resistance purposes was what brought 38 of them to form the ‘Ex-Andaman Freedom Fighters Fraternity Circle’, at Mazumder’s residence at Moulali, in 1969.

Only a weathered sign gives away its existence today, and Dasgupta remains the sole visitor. “Many have lost out to age” says Mazumder controlling his tears, “and Bhobesh (Guha), Kartik (Sarkar) and Monmon (Saha) haven’t come in the past three months.” Having lost their addresses, and too old to go hunting for them, he shrugs helplessly.

But ask them how they feel after 50 years of independence and Mazumder lashes out: “Do you think thousands sacrificed their lives so we could have a partition at the end of it all?” Dasgupta, however is more restrained. “Who needs the British any more, now that we are gladly killing each other,” he says. “Nothing that is handed over on a silver platter is respected, freedom is no exception.”


Calcutta, April 30: 
A helping hand for the handicapped. In a pioneering effort in the state, Jadavpur University is setting up a facilitation cell for disabled students. The cell aims to take care of educational, infrastructural, financial as well as medical needs of challenged persons.

“We had submitted a proposal to the University Grants Commission under its Higher Education for Persons with Special Needs scheme in 2001. This has been ratified and financial assistance for five years has been sanctioned,” informs Ashok Ranjan Thakur, pro vice-chancellor, Jadavpur University.

The following will be the primary functions of the cell:

Procure and store books in Braille

Buy computer, scanner, and suitable software and printer for transcribing regular textbooks in Braille

Transcribe frequently-used books to audio cassettes

Provide monetary allowance to students for hiring readers and writers

Arrange for medical check-ups in collaboration with the University Health Centre

Says secretary, faculty of arts, Nandita Bhattacharya: “We have a three per cent reservation for disabled candidates. Many of them are extremely meritorious and score almost as highly as general category students in the admission tests. We have long felt the need to do something for them.”

The visually challenged, she points out, comprises the majority of the university’s 70-plus disabled student strength. While the major problem is lack of study material, the financial constraints of those coming from less-privileged backgrounds are also a hindering factor. Some students have had to quit as they could not afford readers round the year. The cell will look into these problems, she says.

The university has an atmosphere of concern for challenged students, Prof Thakur points out. Work has long been underway in departments like English and computer science by teachers who have taken personal interest in the problems of the disabled.

According to Dr Sajni Mukherjee, professor, department of English, who has been involved in a resource procurement scheme for the blind, a basic training in computers allows challenged people to surf the Net, operate ‘talking computers’, scan books and take print-outs in Braille — all on their own.

“Technology has made interactive learning possible at places like the Royal National Institute for the Blind in London and the Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped. We hope to procure such gadgets for our students,” she says.

The cell will act in collaboration with the university placement office to provide employment to disabled students, as well as give information about and access to potential employers. There are plans to hold seminars and workshops on social and technological opportunities available to students with special needs. A helpline to guide them is also in the offing.

The immediate stress is on upgrading infrastructure — special toilets, ramps for wheelchairs beside staircases, soundproof corners in libraries, etc — to allow students access to all parts of the university.

Though the cell will start with students, its outreach activities will increase gradually. “We have made a beginning which, hopefully, will inspire similar projects in other educational institutions. Students from outside are also welcome to approach us,” the pro vice-chancellor concludes.


Calcutta, April 30: 
At least 20 people, including a commissioner of Sonarpur-Rajpur municipality and his brother, were injured when residents of the area fought a pitched battle with the police late on Monday. The injured were admitted to a local hospital.

The police had gone to arrest a CPM activist, Sushil Mistri, wanted in connection with a number of cases in 1998 at Sripur, near Sonarpur. The situation turned ugly when CPM cadre put up blockades in different parts of Sonarpur to protest police harassment.

A bandh-like situation prevailed, with shops and business establishments downing their shutters till noon. Many educational institutions, too, announced the day off, fearing fresh trouble.

According to residents, as soon as the policemen raided Mistri’s house at 2.30 am on Tuesday, his neighbours, including commissioner Nanda Saha and his brother, Santu, came out to foil the police move.

Later, they tried to free Mistri from custody by pelting stones at the convoy. The police resorted to a lathicharge.

Irked by the arrest, the CPM leadership said it would lodge a complaint with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee about the “high-handedness” of the policemen. Prasanta Dutta, secretary, Sonarpur (West) local committee, said the party would soon convene a meeting to condemn the violence.

“Party workers are upset at the way the police had lathicharged them,” he added.

Sahabul Hossain, officer-in-charge, Sonarpur police station, said the force had to resort to the lathicharge in self-defence. “There would have been casualties if the police had not lathicharged the 300-strong mob,” he said, adding: “We are not aware whether the local CPM commissioner or his brother were present during the violence.”

Hossain also claimed that at least seven policemen, including a sub-inspector, were injured when the mob pelted stones at them. “We have every right to arrest a man like Mistri, irrespective of his political affiliation,” he added.

Kamal Ganguly, local CPM leader and chairman of the municipality, said: “Agreed, Mistri was wanted in several cases but when negotiations were going on, there was no need for a midnight swoop on him. If the residents had protested, they were not in the wrong,” he maintained.

Ganguly also suggested a discussion with the local police to defuse the prevailing tension.


Calcutta, April 30: 
It’s a youth for youth’s sake operation, and it’s being carried out in most wards of the city.

Under a national-level programme, called ‘Villages talk AIDS’, the Nehru Yuva Kendra (NYK) has roped in about 100 youths and senior college students, trained them through three-day workshops, and sent them out in various localities. Their mission is to tell the people, especially those between 18 to 40, about a fatal disease that has no cure or vaccine.

Collaborating with various voluntary organisations and neighbourhood clubs, the NYK has divided the city into two regions. In the first phase, leadership training programmes have been conducted in north and south Calcutta since April 20, and teams with five youths each formed.

The resource group at the training programmes comprised specialists from the West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society, psychiatrists, doctors and social workers. They told the chosen youth leaders about the basics of the disease, how HIV can be contracted, preventions and several other socio-economic aspects related to it.

“Based on the results of HIV incidence in urban settings, the youth leaders were told that most infections spread through the sexual route. Therefore, stress must be given on single partners and use of condoms,” said NYK’s district youth co-ordinator Mohanlal Jana.

Emphasis was also laid on the importance of safe blood and blood products and the use of new syringes. State AIDS Society deputy director Sachidananda Sarkar explained that HIV and AIDS were contracted by those between 20 and 40.

In the north, NYK has teamed up with Medical Bank, an NGO, which itself has a number of volunteers and an extensive network of neighbourhood clubs. “An open discussion forum was held on our premises on Tuesday, at which local people interacted with the youth teams as part of the exercise,” said D. Ashis, Medical Bank secretary.

In the second phase of the operation, more youth teams will be formed after similar workshops, beginning Thursday. The Bowbazar area in central Calcutta has been chosen. Similarly, work has already begun in south Calcutta. “Teams have already spread out in the Garia cluster, comprising Azadpur, Gandhi Colony and Bijoygarh,” said Nandita Bhattacharya, NYK co-ordinator.

The youths, most of whom are graduates, will get an allowance to cover their travel and food expenses. “Other than that, their only motivation is service for a cause,” Jana added.


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