Airport take-off into world class
Class boycott over fees
Light after 18 dark years
The City Diary
Car park plan on Salt Lake sites
Sunday gigs for smarter kids
Poverty drives man to suicide
More arrests in trader abduction
Give them a patient ‘hearing’
Tagore still tops sales charts

Calcutta, May 6: 
Wresting the opportunity of the upcoming privatisation of major airports across the country, Calcutta airport, currently a least-favoured destination for international airlines, will develop into a world class entity in the near future, the civil aviation minister said on Sunday.

Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said the makeover of Calcutta airport was only “a matter of time” considering the government’s current exercise of structuring the financial and operational packages for the execution of the airports privatisation programme.

After two successive roadshows organised by the Indian aviation authorities in Delhi and London in mid-April, offers came from different corners of the world, prompting the government to club the airports and offer them for privatisation as combines.

Apparently, bidders like the authorities of Amsterdam, Zurich or Heathrow airports showing interest in “cherry pickings” are being told to make offers for combines, each consisting of a high-volume and a low-volume airport. “Financial bids will be known very shortly,” Hussain said, “ but no party will be allowed to have two profitable airports together. Nobody will be allowed to monopolise the Indian skies.”

Hussain said Calcutta airport will most probably be clubbed with Delhi airport to form a package, while Mumbai and Chennai will be put together as part of another package.

If offered singly, Calcutta airport will not be able to evoke any international response because neither the city nor the state is a tourist attraction, Hussain said, adding that the international airlines at present were only nominally interested in the airport.

“Our stated objective is to make Calcutta a part of the open sky policy. But it is very difficult to hardsell Calcutta airport to takers abroad because the requisite linkage between aviation and tourism is just not there, even though the city boasts a number of good hotels and a few more are coming up.”

Hussain said Calcutta airport in particular and the city in general will find themselves on the fast track once the government and the private party work out the investment size in the modernisation of the airport. It has recently evoked strong interest from Sri Lankan airlines.

Indications are that the Sri Lankan airline, Air Lanka, will begin to operate a flight from the city within the next few months. Now it is busy finalising the details of flights scheduled to operate through Bangalore and Bodh Gaya, Bihar. Discussions on starting Calcutta-Colombo flights will begin “very soon.”

Malaysian, Japan and Thai airlines, too, are showing interest in operating flights to and from Calcutta on the strength of its locational advantage. A clearer picture will emerge only after a decision has been reached with regard to Air Lanka.

The civil aviation ministry, Hussain said, was emphasising on development of Bagdogra airport, in view of the substantial tourist movement through places along North Bengal-Bihar border and Sikkim. As part of the new thrust, at least five new aircraft will be introduced on different routes of the region shortly.

“No matter how much we try, ultimately, everything will depend on the growth of domestic tourism in the eastern region, where Calcutta will have to play a pivotal role,” the minister said.

Muzaffar Khan, a spokesman for the state BJP, said the party has written to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, asking him to take an initiative in developing tourism and the scope of aviation in Bengal. “Despite our ideological differences, we will support the government if it approaches the Centre in this respect,” Khan said.

The BJP has also proposed that all airports be renamed after national heroes.


Calcutta, May 6: 
From St Thomas Church School, Howrah, the action has shifted to the St Thomas schools in Kidderpore. Guardians of students at the twin schools on Diamond Harbour Road have resorted to a protest movement against the massive fee hike being imposed by the authorities.

At a meeting on Monday morning, a large segment of guardians decided not to send their wards to school from Tuesday. “We will stick to our stand until the schools roll back the fee increase, or scale down the amount after providing a logical explanation,” said a spokesperson for the guardians.

Over 500 guardians attended the meeting, with the agenda to persuade the schools to “roll back” the fee hike. “A nominal increase of 20 to 25 per cent, that too, with sufficient explanation, could have been taken in stride. But the hikes range from 60 to over 100 per cent in various categories,” the spokesperson said.

The guardians are especially agitated over the fact that the schools’ authorities have not cited a cause for the hike in fees.

“The move reportedly follows a state government proposal to reduce the aid it provides to these schools for DA payments. How can the schools take such drastic action on something that is only being contemplated?” he asked.

According to the spokesperson, a majority of the guardians of both the schools’ students have voiced support for the decision. “We will post pickets in front of the schools’ gates to inform and persuade those who are not yet aware of our movement. If required, the pickets will be set up some distance away, as Section 144 has been imposed in areas surrounding the gates at the behest of the principals,” he added. The parents have also apprised the local police station of their decision.

Apart from the St Thomas schools, several other institutions in the city and districts, affiliated to the Church of North India, have raised tuition and other fees, as well as introduced new categories of charges from this year. These schools include St James, La Martiniere for Boys and Girls, Pratt Memorial, St Paul’s and St John’s Diocesan School for Girls.

“Some of the schools did not even have the courtesy to inform the guardians of the hikes through a letter or circular,” said a parent. “They have just distributed the new fee books with the revised charges. No explanation has been provided. It is high time the school authorities stopped taking the guardians for granted. They should become more transparent by showing their balance sheets. Where is all this revenue going?” the parent asked.

Last Thursday, guardians of St Thomas Church School, Howrah, blocked roads to force the authorities to rescind the fee hike.


Calcutta, May 6: 
For 18 long years, Puspa Maity could only perceive the world through her sense of touch and through the soundscape that surrounded her. She did not know what her parents looked like, and the world at large was literally a vale of darkness. Puspa was blind from birth. Sightless though she was all these years, Puspa can see now.

The authorities of Calcutta Blind School organised free treatment for Puspa. She appeared in Madhyamik 2002, the results of which are expected to be declared by this month-end.

Both Puspa’s eyes were operated upon at the Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratisthan on April 26. “Last Saturday was a memorable day not only for Puspa, but also for each and every one of us in our school. The doctors opened the bandage and confirmed that Puspa could see,” said Ashoke Choudhury, principal, Calcutta Blind School. “In fact, this is one of our biggest achievements, as such a miracle has never happened before in the 108-year-old history of the institution,” said Choudhury.

The school, aided by the government, also runs a home for blind children where Puspa has been staying for the past three years.

Puspa, the youngest of her five brothers and sisters, was exultant. “I cannot believe that I can see. It is a dream come true. I am so happy that I am no longer a burden to my family and society,” said Puspa. She said her parents are so poor they could not even think of taking her to a good doctor. “But now that I can see, I hope I will be able to continue my studies and become a teacher,” she added.

She was released from hospital on Sunday. “It will take time for Puspa to gain normal vision. But she is fast improving,” said Avijit Das, head of a low-vision clinic run by the school on the campus. Puspa had first undergone treatment there.

“Till now, I could only hear the ceiling fan whirring. Now, I know what it looks like,” Puspa said. “It is wonderful, learning which colour is which,” she beamed, as she was offered a glass of soft drink. “Is this red?” she promptly inquired.

She wants to pick up the Bengali and English alphabets fast, as she has learnt by the Braille method all along.

Born to abject poverty at Isabpur, a remote village in West Midnapore, Puspa joined the school three years ago. Her parents could not afford treatment. Teachers in her school noticed her academic excellence and her keen interest in doing well in studies. This prompted the Calcutta Blind School authorities to consult the doctors of the low-vision clinic.

“After examining her, we found Puspa was suffering from congenital cataract, an eye disease common among children from poor families. It is generally caused by malnutrition in pregnant women,” said Das.

“We immediately contacted the authorities of the Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratisthan. They assured us that she will treated free. The operation, too, was free,” said Choudhury.

Choudhury expects Puspa to do well in the Madhyamik exams and score first-division marks. She scored 561 out of 800 in the selection tests.



Enteric outbreak near Dhapa

More than 20 people, including a child, were affected in an enteric attack in the areas adjacent to the Dhapa dumping grounds under ward 58 on Monday. According to member, mayor-in-council, water supply, Sovan Chatterjee, a local pond has been contaminated by the garbage dumped around it, leading to the outbreak of the disease. The civic health department has sent a medical team to the area.

Jail remand in Dum Dum case

Dulal Banerjee, alleged mastermind of the twin murders in Dum Dum, was remanded in judicial custody till May 20. Banerjee was produced in court on Monday.

Seven hurt

Seven persons were injured when anti-socials hurled bombs in the Amtala area, on Kankulia Road. Police said local goons clashed over ‘control’ of the area. All the injured persons were reportedly passersby. No arrests were made till Monday night. Police denied any political link to the incident.

Theft on taxi

Three youths robbed passengers on a taxi late on Sunday on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. Police said the youths boarded a shuttle taxi posing as passengers. On reaching the Bypass, they forced the driver off the vehicle. The youths then snatched money and ornaments from the other passengers. Later, police recovered the taxi from Salt Lake. No arrest has so far been made.

Driver killed

A 35-year-old truck driver was murdered at Rajarhat New Township late on Sunday. Police said the driver, Omprakash Mishra, hailing from Uttar Pradesh, was killed by another driver, Paramanand Yadav. Yadav fled soon after the incident. According to preliminary investigations, Mishra and Yadav were engaged by the township authorities for carrying construction materials. At least seven drivers went on a drinking spree on Sunday night when a brawl ensued between Mishra and Yadav, in course of which Yadav attacked Mishra.

Woman kills self

A 32-year-old housewife hanged herself early on Monday at her Domjur residence, in Howrah district. The victim was identified as Matini Begum. The victim’s family members found her dead when they woke up. Police said a quarrel in the family might have led to the incident.

Run over

A 40-year-old unidentified man was killed when a private bus on route 47/1 knocked him down Rashbehari Avenue late on Sunday. Police said the incident took place while the victim was crossing the road. He was crushed under the wheels of the bus heading towards Tollygunge from Salt Lake. However, the driver managed to flee. Police impounded the vehicle.

Doped and robbed

Miscreants snatched the belongings of two army jawans by offering them biscuits laced with drugs on a Bongaon local on Monday morning. According to railway police authorities, the jawans were returning home from Ahmedabad. The other commuters noticed the duo lying unconscious in the compartment. They took them for treatment at Machlandapur station, on the Sealdah-Bongaon section, and handed them over to the GRP.    

Calcutta, May 6: 
The Salt Lake civic authorities have taken a leaf out of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) book and embarked on the job of identifying locations to set up parking lots.

The township already has two categories — A and B — of parking lots, the first around commercial complexes and the other around two markets. The A-category parking zones are in front of Nicco Park, Nalban, Suraksha Nursing Home and Charnock City, while the B-category lots are located at CA and CK markets. The authorities have decided to extend such facilities to other commercial complexes, markets, local centres and schools.

According to Bidhannagar Municipality officials, preliminary work on the parking lots will start in May.

“We will invite tenders once the report is submitted by the executive engineer. We expect the report by next week,” said Ashim Guha, convener of the transport sub-committee, Bidhannagar Municipality.

Executive engineer S.K. Dutta, entrusted with the job of locating parking lots, said another zone in front of the Salt Lake swimming pool is lying unused for a long time. “We plan to revamp it,” he added.

The municipality expects an annual revenue of Rs 10 lakh from the parking lots. Debashish Bose, sub-divisional officer, Salt Lake, said: “Profit-earning, however, is not our motive. We are interested in extending facilities to Salt Lake residents.”

Dutta said a prominent parking zone in the A-category is being planned near Banabitan. Other possible parking lots are being planned at IA, AE, AB, AC and GD markets where, according to officials, the car population is on the rise.

The job of collecting parking fees in front of Suraksha and Charnock City has been entrusted to a private company on an ad hoc basis for three months from April. According to Guha, the company has submitted Rs 1.2 lakh as annual fee to the municipality. “If their performance is satisfactory, we will let them carry on. Or else, we will return their money after three months and look for a new operator,” he said.

Guha said although the parking fee for the A-category parking lots have been fixed, the rates for the other category will be decided once the zones are selected. The Opposition Trinamul Congress feels that the Salt Lake Municipality is dragging its feet over identifying the parking lots. “The delay in making the parking lots operational will lead to a revenue loss,” said Anupam Dutta, leader of the Opposition, at the municipality.

Residents, however, feel that setting up of parking lots in market places and schools will not solve the traffic problem completely.


Calcutta, May 6: 
Take a magical mystery tour of Hogwarts School with Harry Potter and the gang. Share your scientific ideas with friends on Inventor’s Afternoon. Wade into the yummy delights of a Chocolate Sunday, or explore job options with a career counsellor at ‘A Beautiful Mind’.

This summer, the fun never stops for kids at Oxford Bookstore-Gallery. Starting May 12 and flowing through the scorching months till July 28, the Park Street bookstore will witness a string of theme Sundays, inviting “kidlings, kids, teens and young adults” to “evolve” and use their imagination.

“We want to give them the power of information. The idea is to let the kids just be themselves inside the store and to encourage them to read. It’s also a strong message going out to the parents: Bring your children in and help them grow a habit of reading,” says Sanjeev Mehra, chief operating officer, Oxfordbookstore .com. Mehra is confident the summer series at Oxford can be the stepping stone to all-round development. “We don’t need just textbookworms, do we?” he exclaims.

The party begins on May 12 when J.K. Rowling’s characters cast a spell. Maneka Sorcar will be guest magician and Usha Uthup is expected to inaugurate the first Summer Sunday. Next stop, Inventor’s Afternoon, where kids from 11 to 14 will be encouraged to “discover the Einstein” in themselves.

The Sunday before Japan-Korea 2002 kicks off, sports-crazy youngsters will get to debate on who will tuck away the first goal in the World Cup or who will lift the trophy on June 30, besides taking part in a sports quiz. Chocolate Sunday, besides spreading out a lip-smacking assortment of goodies, will also tell parents and kids all they ever wanted to know about chocolates.

Mehra, who launched Kamasutra, a sex education and awareness-building programme on the Net last year with “tremendous response”, has this to say about ‘A Beautiful Mind’: “Besides getting valuable tips on career options, the young adults can speak their mind out to a psychoanalyst, who will be there just to help them cope with adolescence.”

Local stars of sports and the performing arts will take time off with kids six to 10 to project “positive role models”. A day of magic and hypnotism is followed by a Sunday of fancy dressing, when kids can come attired as Tagore, Donald Duck or Pinocchio.


Calcutta, May 6: 
Driven by poverty, a 32-year-old man committed suicide by consuming poison at Shyampukur, north Calcutta, on Monday, the police said. The dead man was identified as Kabi Pal, a resident of Kashi Mitra Ghat Street.

Detective department sources said Pal, a tea-stall owner on the R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital premises, found it difficult to sustain his three-member family, comprising his wife and a four-year-old son, on his meagre earnings. “He would borrow from friends, family and local money-lenders but failed to square off his debts,” said an officer of Shyampukur police station. Family sources said there were frequent quarrels between Pal and his wife over household expenses.


Calcutta, May 6: 
Three criminals were arrested early on Monday in connection with the abduction of Dinesh Singhania, a Salt Lake-based businessman. Sleuths picked up the trio from Khardah and Agarpara. This takes the number of arrests to four.

Two days ago, the 45-year-old astrologer of the Singhania family, Anjan Chatterjee, was arrested on charges of masterminding the abduction.

Dinesh and his wife were travelling to Agarpara to negotiate a property deal when Chatterjee boarded the car near Bidhannagar railway station. Later, two more people, posing as agents, got in and held the couple at gunpoint.

After interrogating Chatterjee, the police picked up Gopal Modak, one of the accused, from Agarpara. Later, two others, Dinesh Goswami and Kesto Bairagi, were netted from their Khardah homes.


Calcutta, May 6: 
Hope for the stone deaf was raised last week when the first cochlear implant surgery in the eastern region was carried out at the Peerless Hospital and B.K. Roy Research Centre.

The patient, a former MP from Tamluk, Satyagopal Misra, started losing his hearing seven years ago. Various hearing aids were tried out, from the basic to the most sophisticated digital technology. But nothing worked. The 62-year-old former CPM parliamentarian continued to lose hearing till he was totally impaired.

His family got to know about the new project Peerless Hospital was taking up to help people like him.

The Nucleus Cochlear Implant facility, led by consultant surgeon Dulal Bose, head of the hospital’s ENT department, was conceived about seven months ago.

Since then, a team from the Cooperative Research Centre for Cochlear Implants in Melbourne visited the hospital and, satisfied with its infrastructure, selected it for a collaborative project.

Bose and a speech therapist from the hospital then underwent training in Australia on cochlear implant surgery and follow-up rehabilitation.

“The implant is the answer for severe to profoundly-hearing impaired individuals on whom all types of hearing aids have failed to help,” Bose said.

“The procedure involves the permanent implantation of a 24-channel electrode in the cochlea, which is in the inner ear. The cochlea is a conch-shell shaped spiral organ, which receives and analyses sound.

“Impulses through the electrode stimulate the hearing nerves cells, which then transmits sound to the brain. An external device with a microphone and an electronic processing unit passes information to the electrode using radio frequency waves. This device is fixed to the skull right above and behind the ear.”

The operation on April 25 took Bose and his team about four hours. Well-known Delhi-based surgeon A.K. Lahiri, who had conducted a few implants earlier, provided guidance.

Though the procedure was first carried out in the world in 1980, with one or two channel electrodes, only 32,000 implants have been achieved globally. The first cochlear implant in India was conducted in Mumbai about seven years ago.

“Since then, around 70 patients have undergone the procedure in country, 30 of them in the past year alone,” Bose said.


Calcutta, May 6: 
Even as the 147th birth anniversary of Tagore draws close, the clamour to buy Rabindrasangeet albums is evident from the crowd at music stores of the city. Sales figures at MusicWorld on Park Street are reaching an all-time high, especially in the Rabindrasangeet category. Besides an innate passion for Tagore songs, efforts by enterprising people to convert such songs to MP3s or upload it on the Net has created a worldwide market for Tagore songs.

Another reason why Rabindrasangeet album sales have been encouraging this year is possibly the price of CDs and cassettes being suitably reduced. A premium cassette costs around Rs 30 to Rs 45, while CD prices have come down to Rs 95. A number of new albums by singers of present and yore and compilations under different music labels have increased the variety and choice for buyers.

Whatever the reason is, a MusicWorld survey reveals that the market for Hindi film music is presently down, while Rabindrasangeet is the buyer’s choice. The ruling sentiment is: old is gold, and nothing can beat the melody of Bengal.

This sentiment is echoed by the fact that Debabrata Biswas is still the numero uno choice of Rabindrasangeet buyers, 21 years after his death. Of the 300-plus recordings he made, only a few had been retrieved and yet, compilations of his songs are up for grabs.

Other favourites are Srikanto Acharya, Indranil Sen, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Suchitra Mitra and Indrani Sen. This apart, the demand for songs of Bangladeshi singers, too, is on the rise.

While Mone Rekho by Indranil Sen tops the buyers’ list, other albums such as Hriday Amaar by Srikanto Acharya, Biral Rabindrasangeetby Debabrata Biswas and Bhaber Khela by Pijushkanti Sarkar are quickly disappearing from the shelves.


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