Clout for Council to police HS examiners
Calcutta hardsell for US plot sale
At fault, never brought to book
Geared up to combat terror
Court relief for Firpo’s traders
The City Diary
Promoter escapes gun attack
Blockade over fee hike
Formula for retail takeoff
Eviction clash

 
 
CLOUT FOR COUNCIL TO POLICE HS EXAMINERS 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, May 2: 
After putting a stop to private tuition by teachers, the government is likely to police examiners, especially the negligent ones, who also teach in the state-run or aided Higher Secondary (HS) schools in and outside Calcutta.

Determined to improve the quality of assessment, the government is planning to make the examiners more responsive and to punish harshly the ones found guilty of careless marking, under-assessment of scripts, or of losing them — almost a regular occurrence after a major school-leaving examination.

Officers said on Tuesday that the main objective of the upcoming government initiative was to neutralise the managements of about 2,400 state-aided Higher Secondary schools (400 of them in Calcutta), which often turn a blind eye to the quality of assessment and the irresponsible examiner. It will also strengthen the Higher Secondary Council for effective policing.

“We, in the Council can make a serious attempt at checking the assessment-related irregularities and lapses only when we have powers to take strong action against errant examiners. We can wield such powers only when the existing rules are amended,” said Jyotirmoy Mukherjee, president, West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education. The HS Council engages nearly 18,000 teachers every year to assess 48 lakh answer scripts written by about 400,000 lakh examinees.

The government’s current thinking in terms of reforms coincides with a proposal from the Higher Secondary Council calling for an immediate amendment of rules for effective policing and punishment of examiners found guilty of wrong marking, delayed evaluation and loss of scripts.

A stronger Council means that teachers engaged in state-aided HS schools in the city and elsewhere will not only be accountable to their own employers — the managing committees of their respective institutions — but they will also have to face action if recommended by the Council.

The Council has begun to press the government for more powers for taking action against examiners, as under the existing rules, only the managing committee of a school is the sole authority to punish a teacher even if he is found to have neglected his duties as an examiner.

As far as the present system goes, the Council can only blacklist an errant examiner and not appoint him for assessment of scripts in future. Such a measure does not act as a deterrent, as most teachers are reluctant to perform as examiners owing to low financial gains.

A group of Trinamul Congress activists had recently ransacked the Council office at Salt Lake last week, protesting the recovery of at least six answerscripts of the current year’s HS exam in Naihati.

Though the CPM-controlled All Bengal Teachers’ Association (ABTA) has supported the Council’s move, those belonging to anti-Left teachers’ bodies have opposed it.

According to Adhikram Sanyal, a senior ABTA leader, the government released an order last November announcing that teachers were liable to face a freeze of increments if they refused to take part in examination duties, invigilation and evaluation of scripts.

“We had fully supported the government when it released the November 2001 order, and we are again ready to extend our support if the government accepts the Council’s proposal,” said Sanyal.

Ratan Laskar, a leader of Secondary Teachers and Employees’ Association (STEA), an anti-Left organisation, however, said that his organisation will launch a movement if the government tried to “victimise” teachers this way.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA HARDSELL FOR US PLOT SALE 
 
 
BY SUVRO ROY
 
Calcutta, May 2: 
Bengal’s ruling communists, working overtime to “correct” the city’s “negative image”, have got a boost from unexpected quarters.

Playing the image-enhancer for the city is the US, even if in its own interests. Central to America’s interest is a large piece of premium real estate it owns in Calcutta, which it wants to sell to the highest bidder.

“A major business centre”, “destination for foreign investments” and “powerhouse of culture” are some of the accolades the US consulate is using to hardsell the city while scouting for a cash-rich buyer for its sprawling three-bigha property at 241/2, AJC Bose Road.

“Calcutta is the major business centre of eastern India and the cultural capital of the country,” says a posting on the US consulate’s website, advertising the property.

The “improved” investment climate in the wake of the Centre’s policy of liberalisation has also been highlighted.

The property consists of an apartment block of 14 units, with a built-up area of 25,735 sq ft. There is also a laundry, generator rooms, storeroom and a pool complex, with a built-up area of 6,723 sq ft. The existing ground coverage is about 1,720 square yards.

According to consulate sources, US marines guarding the consulate and the American Center in Calcutta used to stay at the apartments. “The marines were sent back eight or nine years ago and the property has not been used since then,” said Rex Moser, director, American Center.

For two “small posts” in the city, the consulate found it “too expensive” to maintain the marine guards. “Besides, we found Calcutta quite safe and the hired security guards are doing an excellent job,” consulate sources added.

The website has also given a profile of the area. “The property is situated in an area with a mix of high-end residential and commercial developments. It is easily accessible and is in close proximity to the central business district and prime commercial locations, such as Park Street and Chowringhee. Corporates like ITC, Citibank, HSBC, Stanchart, ICI and Tata Steel have their headquarters here,” it says.

Continuing its aggressive wooing of prospective buyers, the website says: “All types of surface transport serve the locality. The nearest Metro station is just a minute’s walk from the property. Gokhale Road (on which the property has frontage) is a desired residential area and commercial complexes are coming up on AJC Bose Road.”

   

 
 
AT FAULT, NEVER BROUGHT TO BOOK 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, May 2: 
An apathetic administration, a lean staff roster and readers who would have a piece of the book — if not the book itself — at home rather than on the library shelf. Put them together and you have National Library.

Two incidents, which occurred earlier this year, would go to show how the administration has colluded with irresponsible readers to rob the library of its sheen and the books of their pages. The last occurred on February 20 this year. A reader ripped 14 pages off The Census of India 1901 with a blade, but was caught after a check of his bag while he was leaving. Contrary to rules, no FIR was lodged. “We thought the reader would, at least, be given a stern talking-to” said a Group-D library staff, also a colleague of the man who caught the pilfering. But there wasn’t even that. With no senior official present in the reading-room at that time, there was nothing else to do, he said. Officials, however, are not absent only from the reading-rooms, say underlings. A section of the officers’ quarters remains vacant more often than not.

The earlier incident, which occurred on March 21 last year, also had the library treading thin ice on copyright laws. A library member borrowed a book on Sigmund Freud but, when asked to return it, admitted that he had lost it. What followed was “bizarre”, according to reading-room employees. The man, instead of being made to pay the fine, was let off after he agreed to submit a photocopy of the original. He was as good as his word. He returned a few days later with the photocopy of the book, which he had managed to get from a friend. The price of the original: Rs 625. The fine the library would have got, if it enforced the rules: three times the figure, or Rs 1,875. The total expenses for the callous reader: not more than Rs 300. “Not only was no FIR lodged and no fine levied, the library was apparently guilty of encouraging a violation of copyright rules,” a library official admitted. “If this is repeated, National Library may turn into a ‘Photocopy Library’,” he added. National Library director Shyamalkanti Chakraborty refused to comment.

Employees alleged that the administration, directly or indirectly, was to blame for readers not getting the books they order for months on end. The late-fine, of only 20 paise a day, is no deterrent for the job-holding reader, employees said. However, the management was yet to take any step towards increasing the fine. “Irresponsible readers take advantage of this and, ultimately, result in the distribution system going awry,” said a National Library Staff Association-affiliated library employee.

The government, too, seems to be doing its bit to push the library — with a collection of three million books — deeper into the morass. There are 154 vacancies now, including several in important posts , which hold the key to the efficient functioning of the book-distribution system. Library director Shyamalkanti Chakraborty hopes for an early end to the vacancy blues. Recruitment rules were recently finalised, after a decade, and things will look up soon, he added.

   

 
 
GEARED UP TO COMBAT TERROR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 2: 
The Eastern Fleet of the Indian Navy has drawn up contingency plans in consultation with the Calcutta Port Trust to counter any possible terrorist activity in the port and off-shore areas.

Rear Admiral Pradeep Kaushiva, flag officer commanding, Eastern Fleet, on Thursday said strategies had been “changed and updated” after September 11. “In addition to the usual military roles, we are prepared to tackle low-intensity conflicts, including terrorist movements.”

Admiral Kaushiva is in Calcutta accompanying four vessels of the Eastern Fleet, which are on a routine visit to the port. Three of the ships, INS Kora, INS Kuthar and INS Savitri have anchored at the Kidderpore Docks, while the fourth, INS Kirch, is berthed at the Man-O-War jetty.

Of the four, INS Savitri is an off-shore patrol vessel, while the others are Khukri/Kora class missile corvettes, each equipped with four surface-to-surface missile launchers capable of firing 16 missiles at one go. The missiles have a range of up to 120 km and are guided by sophisticated radar and homing devices.

In addition, the corvettes have a 70-mm gun and two 30-mm anti-aircraft guns. INS Kirch will be open for public viewing for a day at the jetty between 9.30 am and 4.30 pm on Friday. The corvettes are manned by 12 officers and between 100 and 130 sailors each.

The Eastern Fleet, which is the “sword arm” of the Indian Navy on the eastern seaboard, is based at Vishakhapatnam. It was founded in June 1971 and within a few months became involved in the Indo-Pak conflict.

It now has powerful Rajput class destroyers, which provide the bulwark behind the fleet, and submarines, besides the corvettes and off-shore vessels. “We also serve as goodwill ambassadors,” Kaushiva said. INS Kuthar, commissioned in 1990, served in the UN peace-keeping force, off Somalia, during Operation Restore Hope.

Two other warships and submarines are berthed at Paradip and will rendezvous with these four vessels at the Sandheads on Saturday for a naval exercise in the north Bay of Bengal.

   

 
 
COURT RELIEF FOR FIRPO’S TRADERS 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 2: 
Shop-owners at Firpo’s got a breather on Thursday after Calcutta High Court passed an interim order staying the implementation of two notifications of Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) till May 7.

The CMC had directed the shop-owners whose premises had been gutted to vacate in three days, while those with partially-affected shops were asked to demolish the damaged part and rebuild it under the supervision of Corporation engineers.

The Firpo’s Market Shopkeepers and Traders Association filed a writ in this matter before the high court. The market had caught fire last Tuesday.

Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya also directed the CMC to file a report on the damages suffered by the building on Tuesday when the matter would come up for hearing again. Police said forensic experts would visit the spot next week to collect samples.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Twin fires in shop, gunny godown

A fire broke out in a gunny bag godown on Strand Road around 1.30 pm on Thursday. Police said four fire-tenders were pressed into service. The blaze was put out after an hour. Another small fire broke out at a dry fruit-seller’s shop in New Market, early on Thursday. Firemen brought the blaze under control after an hour. According to initial investigation, a short-circuit might have caused the fire. No casualties were reported from either place.

Jewellery shop heist

Robbers broke into a goldsmith’s shop on Ballygunge Station Road and escaped with ornaments worth Rs 80,000 on Thursday. The robbers broke a wooden door and a collapsible gate to get to the shop’s vault, sources said. No arrests were made.

Jump from bridge

A 45-year-old man escaped with multiple injuries after he jumped off the Tallah overbridge, near Paikpara, around 8.30 am on Thursday. Police said Ramesh Sharma, the injured, was admitted to RG Kar Medical College and Hospital, where he is undergoing treatment. Police said he had been suffering from depression for a long time.

Suicide

A 16-year-old schoolgirl, Paramita Banerjee, committed suicide by hanging herself in the bathroom of her residence in the Cossipore area. Police said Paramita, a student of Class IX, had failed in her terminal examinations and was suffering from depression.

Fisheries campaign

The National Fish Workers Forum has launched campaigns in West Bengal and Gujarat, along the 7,000-km coastline of the country, from Wednesday. According to Pradip Chatterjee, spokesperson for the forum, the campaign would highlight issues related to coastal ecology, marine bio-diversity and livelihood of fishermen, alongwith other problems confronting the sector. The campaign would also mobilise support for a nationwide indefinite agitation, scheduled for July 25, added Chatterjee.

Fast for Gujarat

Octogenarian economist Amlan Dutta has started a 72-hour fast to protest the recent riots in Gujarat and a “war-like situation” in the sub-continent. He is carrying on the protest from his Salt Lake residence.

Man shot

A 30-year-old man was shot at Titagarh, on the northern fringes of the city, on Thursday. Police said the injured man lodged a complaint but could not identify the assailants. A search is on for the culprits.    

 
 
PROMOTER ESCAPES GUN ATTACK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 2: 
Another promoter was under attack within a few weeks of the murder of one of their rank in the Taratala area. Some young men, involved in an extortion racket, tried to shoot and kill a promoter in the Regent Park area of Garia on Wednesday night. The attackers fired at least three rounds at him, but he escaped with only minor injuries.

The promoter, Piyush De, alias Kalu, a resident of Nehru Colony, near Ranikuthi, was returning home at 10 pm. He had gone to Garia to visit a site where he is constructing a building. When he came near a tea-stall at the Steam Laundry crossing, three armed youths on a motorcycle approached him and asked for money.

An altercation followed. One of the gangsters whipped out a revolver and started to fire. De said: “After visiting the construction site, I had gone to my uncle’s house, which is close by. I had not realised that the young men had revolvers on them. They fired at least three rounds and I narrowly escaped.”

De said that as soon as the gangsters started to fire from their revolvers, he jumped into a passing taxi and drove to a safer place.

“I was saved only by the fraction of a second. Or else, one of the bullets would have pierced my heart and I would have been dead. But I escaped with only minor injuries on my shoulder. I had complained to the police several times about them but they never took any action. I used to get threat calls too, and they demanded money every time. But the police maintained a studied silence,” he said.

De has lodged a complaint with Regent Park police station. Police confirmed that De had for some time been complaining that the gangsters were demanding money from him. They were shadowing him, too.

Officer-in-charge of Regent Park police station Kamal Chowdhury said that the gang had already been identified and arrests would be made soon.

Chowdury said: “We are looking for Bachha, whose gang is involved in the extortion racket. We are carrying out raids in different areas and hope to make the arrests soon.”

Police are worried at this sudden spurt in attacks on promoters. Recently, a promoter, Mahesh Agarwal, was shot dead by his rivals in Alipore.

Investigations have revealed that he was exterminated because he had managed to corner a bulk of the construction work in the area.

A few arrests were made, but the police were unable to crack the case. “We are working on the case and the arrested men are being grilled,” an officer of the Alipore police station said. “But the lynchpins have been eluding the police net.”

   

 
 
BLOCKADE OVER FEE HIKE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 2: 
Work at St Thomas Church School, Howrah, was affected on Thursday, after students and guardians, protesting the authorities’ move to hike tuition and other fees, put up roadblocks near the school.

Classes were disrupted since the middle of April, after the guardians began a movement, protesting the steep hike in fees from the current academic session.

On Thursday morning, some of the guardians assembled at Phansitola More, M.G. Road and near Bankim Setu to stop vehicles that were ferrying the school’s students.

Sources in the school said while many students returned home, some of them attended classes, disregarding the appeal. The protest, which began at 7.30 am, continued for an hour.

“Our protest programme was held almost 100 metres from the school premises, as the local administration had promulgated Section 144 in front of the school. We are happy that most of the guardians responded to our appeal and did not send their wards to school,” said one of the protesters.

According to sources, the members of a local voluntary organisation, Ganatantrik Nagarik Samity, also joined the guardians during their agitation on Thursday. Samity sources, however, added that they supported the agitation following a letter from the guardians’ association, requesting them to join hands in fighting the school authorities. The guardians have also written to some local political parties, seeking their intervention in the deadlock.

Expressing concern over the manner in which the school raised tuition fees so suddenly, Subhas Dutta, general secretary of the Samity, said: “I am surprised to find that the authorities have also decided to charge Rs 50 a month from students for electricity. This is like selling electricity. The school will earn lakhs in this manner.”

The guardians of St Thomas schools for boys and girls, Kidderpore, meanwhile, hoped that the impasse would end on a positive note. A meeting is scheduled on Friday to resolve the differences. “We are sure that the school authorities will understand our plight and change their stand,” said one of the guardians.

On Thursday evening, some of the guardians met the officer-in-charge, Watgunge police station, and requested him to ensure that the meeting for Friday was held as scheduled. The group had earlier assured the police that their demonstrations would be peaceful.

   

 
 
FORMULA FOR RETAIL TAKEOFF 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 2: 
The West Bengal government is contemplating changing the Shops and Establishment Act to include retail services as a public utility service and allow shops to remain open round-the-clock.

The change was proposed by McKinsey and Co, which submitted a preliminary report to the government today about investment opportunities in retailing services and 11 other agricultural sectors, according to Bengal industries minister Nirupam Sen.

It took five months for McKinsey to submit its preliminary report and the final report — detailing the investment prospects in the state — is expected next month, said the minister.

Sen pointed out that Maharashtra has already enacted legislation to allow shops and establishments to remain open round-the-clock. Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are going to introduce similarly legislation, the minister said, adding that the Bengal government could consider such a move.

On the agriculture front, McKinsey had proposed a corporate farming system, the minister said. However, the state government favoured contract farming, under which investors would supply seeds and fertilisers and buy back their produce.

This would be “ideal for small and marginal farmers” the minister observed. If contract farming is adopted, no change would be required in the state’s land ceiling Act, Sen pointed out.

Many companies, including Hindustan Lever Ltd and Rallis, have shown interest in investing in the state’s agriculture and retailing sectors, he said.

Agriculture minister Kamal Guha, however, objected to McKinsey’s proposal, saying the entry of rural based agro-industry would violate the government’s declared policy. Guha demanded that the proposal be discussed by the Left Front before any decision is taken by the government. “The investors are mostly multinational companies and their entry in our rural sector may have political consequences,” he reportedly warned.

Urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya, agriculture marketing minister Chhaya Ghosh, fisheries minister Kiranmay Nanda, land reforms minister Rezzac Mollah, and food processing minister Sailen Sarkar were also present at the meeting with Sen where McKinsey gave its presentation.

The companies likely to invest include Food World, a large retailer with operations across several Indian cities. Food World plans to set up three to four supermarkets in Calcutta.

Subhikshha, India’s first discount-store chain, is considering expansion in Calcutta. NDDB is exploring the setting up of an auction-based terminal wholesale market.

Dole, one of the world’s largest fruit companies, plans contracts with pineapple farmers in North Bengal.

Rallis, an extension services company, is exploring setting up food retail outlets.

Hindustan Lever Limited wants to source tomato pulp for making Kissan ketchup. Cargill is interested in exporting scented and non-scented rice.

Dabur and Pepsi are interested in sourcing pineapple concentrate and lichee pulp, while Buchler AG would source Ciunchona bark from the state. ITC and HLL plan to source shrimps.

   

 
 
EVICTION CLASH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 2: 
Three policemen were injured, one seriously, in a pitched battle with encroachers on rail tracks at Govindopur, in the Lake police station area, on Thursday afternoon. The encroachers are to be removed from the area on May 4.

   
 

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