Court fuels switchover scurry
Quota suit on church schools
Cycle-van curbs spark cooking gas supply fears
Gold Card loses glitter
CMC turns off taps at hotels
The City Diary
It’s new, it’s cool and it’s a school
The arts step forward with Gujarat balm
Legal cell lapse slur on mayor
Pet-lover puts police on dog-hunt trail

Calcutta, May 10: 
With the Supreme Court directing the Centre to submit a plan to make switchover to compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) compulsory in all metros, the state government on Friday began the exercise of taking a “serious look” at the options before it.

It has drawn up a two-pronged strategy, one to tackle diesel-driven vehicles, the other for those using petrol.

Of the two, the simpler task for the authorities is to deal with petrol-driven vehicles, which will soon have the option of switching to the cleaner and cheaper LPG engines.

“We have already set in motion an action plan to reduce air pollution in the city through the use of LPG,” said Manab Mukherjee, state environment minister, on Friday. Talks with Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and other agencies, like the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, on clean fuel are in progress, he added.

The IOC is setting up its first LPG vending centre in south Calcutta, while a private company has approached the government with a proposal to set up about 50 LPG vending stations in the city. “There is no shortage of LPG for use as fuel in cars,” said N.K. Moitra, general manager, IOC, eastern region.

The Union ministry for surface transport has already given the clearance to the state public vehicles department to register LPG-driven cars in the city. Also, LPG conversion kits for petrol-driven engines are available from Indian manufacturers for as little as Rs 9,000.

With an initial investment of about Rs 12,000, petrol vehicle-owners tend to gain in the long run by converting to LPG.

However, the problem lies with the huge diesel-run fleet of buses, cars and taxis, which cannot be converted for LPG use. For these vehicles to reduce pollution, they have to switch to CNG. But with the closest source of natural gas lying in the Northeast — the transportation of which would involve laying pipelines across Bangladesh — a ready remedy for diesel vehicles is not in sight.

“There is no technical solution in sight for us,” confessed Mukherjee. But he suggested a viable alternative to the CNG: a “thinner” version of diesel, with minimal sulphur content, that is in use in some other countries. This would make emissions from vehicles using this variety of diesel almost as clean as those from the CNG-driven ones.

“We can produce this variety of diesel in our country, provided the IOC refineries are upgraded with the appropriate technology,” Mukherjee said.

“But the supply of diesel that has less than 0.05 mg of sulphur per litre is solely in the hands of the Centre,” Mukherjee said. He, however, refused to comment on the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Though the Supreme Court has not set a deadline, there is apprehension in government circles. “The court might set a deadline soon,” said K.S. Ramasubban, state environment secretary.

Another stumbling block for the state government is the pressure being mounted both by the private transport lobby and also the CPM itself on the phasing-out of old buses and taxis. At present, there are about 7,500 buses, 2,500 minibuses and about 32,000 taxis that ply in the city, emitting diesel fumes. Government moves to phase out “old and polluting vehicles” have met with stiff opposition, including a strike by private operators.


Calcutta, May 10: 
Calcutta High Court on Friday directed a total of 69 schools run by different churches to file affidavits and state the procedure followed for admission of students.

Responding to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed during the day, Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice Jayanta Biswas, sitting on a division bench, asked the institutions, also known as Anglo-Indian schools, to file the affidavits within two weeks.

The PIL was filed by Max Galstaun, on behalf of Beatrix D’Souza, nominated member of Parliament representing the Anglo-Indian community in eastern India. According to Galstaun, most Anglo-Indian schools do not conform to procedure while admitting students.

As the petitioner made all 69 Anglo-Indian schools of the state respondents to the case, the judges admitted the petition for hearing, made all the schools party to the case and asked them to file the affidavits.

Jayanta Mitra and Atish Ghosh, counsel for the petitioners, said according to rules framed by the authorities of the Anglo-Indian schools, 55 per cent of seats are earmarked for Anglo-Indian applicants. Five per cent of these seats are set aside for applicants from financially-backward families.

“But the schools are deliberately violating the rules by admitting students of other communities, against huge donations, ” said the lawyers. They quoted a provision that says an Anglo-Indian school could be de-recognised by the West Bengal Secondary Board of Education if it failed to fulfil the quota rule.

The petitioner urged the court to order the state government to derecognise the schools if the charges were proved true. He named two schools, St Thomas and St James, that had denied entry to a number of qualified students. “The schools filled up seats with students of other communities and illegal exchange of money cannot be ruled out,” he said.

The PIL also targets schools run by the Church of North India, which has assumed the responsibility of overseeing admissions through a chosen committee, instead of the authorities of the schools concerned.


Calcutta, May 10: 
Distributors of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) threatened to suspend supplies all over the city on Friday, after the Calcutta Police cracked down on cycle-vans carrying cylinders and restricted their hours of plying on main roads.

Officials of the hackney carriage section of the traffic department at Lalbazar fanned out across the city on Friday and stopped all cycle-vans carrying LPG cylinders on the throughfares. According to traffic department sources, 112 such vans were impounded during the day.

“We will not allow LPG distributors to deliver cylinders on cycle-vans along the main roads during office hours,’’ said deputy commissioner of police, traffic, M.K. Singh. “We can only allow them to use the thoroughfares between 12 noon and 4 pm,’’ he added.

According to Singh, the likes of Tollygunge Circular Road, Diamond Harbour Road, Rashbehari Avenue, Hazra Road, AJC Bose Road, APC Road, SP Mukherjee Road, Ballygunge Circular Road, Park Street, Central Avenue and BB Ganguly Street are out of bounds for cycle-vans carrying LPG cylinders.

“This is Draconian. The LPG cooking gas supply starts from early morning and is over by 10 am. It has been going on since ages and it is not possible for us to change the schedule,’’ said Kalyan Bhadra, president of the Eastern India LPG Distributors’ Association.

He threatened to “stop the supply of cooking gas” if the police imposed the restrictions. “People will then have to come to the godown to collect their cooking gas,” warned Bhadra.

A meeting of 130-odd LPG distributors has been called by Bhadra to chalk out their course of action.

“These cycle-vans have to take the main road at various points in order to reach the people... Even IPS officers living on Park Street and Alipore Road receive their cooking gas via cycle-vans in the morning,” said assistant secretary of the association R.C. Gupta.


Calcutta, May 10: 
Samarbijoy Bhattacharjee came all the way from Jalpaiguri to recover his investment in the Gold Card scheme of Medinova Diagnostic Services Ltd. This was not his first visit. After his policy matured in January 13, 2000, he has come several times to recover the money. However, each time he was asked to return later but no definite payment date was given to him. He has invested Rs 11,500 for a period of three years in the scheme.

Late Sachindranath Ghosh had invested Rs 5,000 in the same scheme, which matured on January 31, 2001. His son, Soumen, has been running from pillar to post to recover the investment. He has written to the Medinova head office in Hyderabad about six months ago. To date, he has not received any reply. Ghosh is not the only one. Others, too, have suffered the silence of the head office.

Medinova Diagnostic Services Ltd is a Hyderabad-based company in the business of providing diagnostic services. The company had floated an investment scheme — Gold Card — in 1991-92. The investor was required to invest Rs 5,000 for three years at 19 per cent simple interest per annum. Apart from this, the investor would receive 65 per cent discount on all diagnostic services during this period. He could put up one nominee, who would receive 20 per cent discount on all Medinova services. The scheme was renewable.

However, over a period of time, the company found it difficult to service the high rate of interest as well as the discount on its services. According to B.R. Dutt, general manager at Medinova’s city office: “The auditors pointed out that since the company is not in the business of financial services, it is not wise for it to continue such investment schemes. They also said it is not viable for the company to service such a high rate of interest as well as the burden of discount provided on diagnostic services. Hence, Medinova discontinued the scheme last fiscal.”

Investors allege that the company is failing its repayment commitment. The Calcutta office is not able to give any concrete reply to the investors’ queries. “All they tell us is that everything is controlled from Hyderabad, so the Calcutta office cannot make any repayment commitment. They also say that since the company’s finances are not in good shape, there is a delay in repayment,” says Bhattacharjee.

Angry investors on Wednesday created a fracas on the Medinova premises in Calcutta, fearing they would not get their money back. Some of them said they were even told that they might get back only the principal and not the interest amount.

“I was told by an official that I will not receive the interest; the company will only rustle up the principal. He also asked me to give it in writing that I want only the principal. I refused to give such a letter,” said another investor. Her husband had invested Rs 9,000 each in both their names and the policy matured on December 4, 2000. Dutt, asked to comment on the incident, said it was “unfortunate”.

He admitted to some delay in repayment. “However, the company has been continuously servicing the scheme since its inception,” he added. It has cleared most of the dues and is now clearing policies that matured in 2001. When it was pointed out that there are investors whose policies matured in 2000 but have not yet been paid, he expressed “surprise”.

“We have been clearing policies worth Rs 4 lakh every month since January 2001. Every fortnight, we send a list of matured policies to Hyderabad and the cheques are disbursed from there,” he said. Currently, the company has issued post-dated cheques till January next year, he added.

Medinova is yet to pay 1,200 investors from Calcutta and the total outstanding is Rs 1.2 crore, informed N. Ravikumar, general manager, Hyderabad office.


Calcutta, May 10: 
The above caption would have been the correct caption for the legal report published by the newspaper on April 4, 2002, in the Metro section, but instead of ‘CMC’, the word “Court” was printed.

The legal reporter and the editor of the newspaper tender their unqualified apology to the Hon’ble High Court, Calcutta. It is also clarified for the benefit of all readers that this related to a report of the proceedings before the Hon’ble High Court, Calcutta, arising out of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation having cut off the water supply to the Oberoi Grand, which applied to the Hon’ble High Court, Calcutta, for restoration. Water connection was already disconnected when the application was moved before the Hon’ble High Court, Calcutta. Hence, there was no question of the Court order directing disconnection of the supply of water.

The mistake was inadvertent and it had never been the intention of the newspaper, the editor or the legal reporter to suggest that the court had disconnected water supply, which will also be evident from what was reported under the caption.



Rule respite for clinics on the cards

Three provisions in the Clinics and Establishment Rules, implemented in January 2002, may be changed. A seven-member delegation of the Indian Medical Association (Calcutta branch) met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Writers’ Buildings on Friday, seeking waiver of the conditions on setting up of chambers by private practitioners. The delegation, led by the IMA president and secretary, also sought exemption on licence fee for charitable nursing homes. Health minister Suryakanta Mishra was present during the 45-minute meeting.

Convicts flee Barasat court

Two convicts escaped from the Barasat court on Friday. Police said the incident occurred when the two were being produced in court. The duo fled after getting down from the prison van and disappeared in the crowd. They had been arrested for drug-trafficking.

Graveyard PIL

A PIL filed by Max Galstaun was admitted in the high court on Friday. According to the PIL, a graveyard in Howrah had been handed over to the promoters by the civic authorities. On the basis of the complaint, the Bench, presided by Chief Justice A.K. Mathur, directed the Howrah Municipal Corporation to produce all documents on the graveyard. According to the petitioner, the burial ground, belonging to Diocesan Trust, had been leased out to different promoters.

Summer specials

Eastern Railway will run six pairs of summer specials between Howrah and Gorakhpur via Barauni from May 12 to 30. The Howrah-Gorakhpur bi-weekly will leave Howrah at 10.25 pm every Sunday and Wednesday from May 12 to 29. The Gorakhpur-Howrah bi-weekly will leave Gorakhpur at 2.35 pm every Monday and Thursday from May 13 to 30. In addition, ER will run 99 pairs of summer special trains this year. Among them, 61 pairs will run between Howrah and New Delhi, 18 pairs between Howrah and Bikaner-Jodhpur, 10 pairs between Howrah and Dehra Dun and 10 pairs between Howrah and Lucknow.

Market mishap

Fifteen people were hurt when a truck carrying fish snapped an overhead electric wire, at Munshibazar near Baguiati on Friday morning. Four of them had to be admitted to hospital and were stated to be in a critical condition. Local Trinamul Congress MLA Tanmay Mandal visited the spot and met state electricity board officials to discuss an improvement in the infrastructure of the market.

Teachers’ protest

lThe Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association protested the new University Grants Commission directive on college and university teachers’ career-advancement scheme. Once the scheme is implemented, such appointments will “depend heavily” on the government’s, or the ruling party’s, whims, teachers said on Friday.

Jalan meets Buddha

The governor of Reserve Bank of India, Bimal Jalan, called on chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at the Writers’ Buildings on Friday. Issues relating to self-employment schemes, food procurement and lower credit ratio were discussed at the meeting.

Fraud arrests

Four people were picked up in Howrah for cheating rural banks of lakhs. Superintendent of police, Howrah, Rajesh Kumar, said that the gang-leader could not be traced. Raids are being conducted in various places.

Road accident

Two persons were killed and three injured in separate incidents in Howrah in the past 24 hours. Police said that one person was killed when a van ran him over in Ichhapur while the second person was hit by a Matador in Bali.

Death by lightning

A 65-year-old woman, Ata Bari Dhali, was killed and her two sons injured when they were struck by a lightning at Canning in South 24-Parganas, on Thursday, police said.

Contract bus strike

West Bengal Contract Carriage Owners and Operators Association observed a token strike on Friday, demanding a ban on illegal plying of car-pool services. Around 80,000 students and 50,000 office-goers were affected.    

Calcutta, May 10: 
A cool learning atmosphere. That’s what a school coming up off Anwar Shah Road promises to provide students. If plans work out, BVM High School will open its doors in April 2003 with four storeys of air-conditioned space.

The school will be run by Saptarishi Welfare Trust. A five-and-a-half-cottah plot on Prince Ghulam Mohammad Shah Road is lying ready for bhoomi puja.

“We are working on the feasibility of the air-conditioning scheme,” says Ashok Sood, one of the trustees.

The school, which will gradually add classes till the Plus-II stage, will impart “value-based education”, aimed at “total character development”.

Says Sood: “Our guiding philosophy will be total quality management. Initially, admission will be offered to Classes I to V. Once the first batch reaches Class VIII, affiliation will be sought from the Indian Council for Secondary Education.”

The Montessori wing of the school has started functioning in April. The classrooms at the Lake Gardens premises are also air-conditioned, with a “swimming tub” being an added attraction for tots to beat the heat.

“Students will stay with us for 13-14 years. So, we need to develop a good relationship with the guardians. There will be regular interaction with them to know their views and suggestions, to help us modify accordingly,” says Anasuya Basu, directress of the Montessori section.

Sood feels that schools need to improve on customer care. “From Day I itself, guardians are made to queue up in the open when they collect admission forms. Why can’t the forms be posted on the Net and made available at prominent shops in various corners of the city?” he asks. To add to this atmosphere of care, the school will also arrange for psychological counselling and quarterly health check-ups.

There are plans to instal CCTV sets in the classrooms to monitor activities, as well as provide audio-visual aid to teaching. When students put up a performance or conduct an experiment, it might even be telecast.

Seeing themselves on screen will act as a morale-booster. This facility will also allow the authorities to make important announcements, without getting the entire school to assemble.

Stress will be laid on developing a sense of commitment to the community. Excursions will be arranged on a regular basis to a 10-acre farm the school owns near Kalyani.

“These trips will give the students a chance to mingle with residents of nearby villages. They will be encouraged to share their food and toys with local children while the older students can teach them. Games will be organised, in which all can take part. This will also give them a feel of nature and make them aware of the benefits of organic farming,” Sood adds.

The authorities are intent on curbing private tuition. “If a child needs help in a particular subject, we will provide the guidance in school itself,” Basu says.

There are also plans to introduce specialised coaching for competitive exams like the IIT entrance test and JEE.


Calcutta, May 10: 
While riot victims in Gujarat spend sleepless nights in temporary camps and politicians engage in a war of words, city-based intellectuals are finally trying to do their bit.

“Initially, we were under the impression that with time, things would get back to normal in Gujarat. But the death toll kept on rising and we decided to do something for the people out there,” said Debes Ray, secretary of the one-month-old The Committee of Solidarity with Gujarat against Communalism.

The committee, formed on April 11, is headed by film-maker Mrinal Sen. Its presidential council comprises the who’s who of Calcutta — from economist Asok Mitra to footballer P.K. Banerjee, painter Paritosh Sen to poet Sankha Ghosh, theatre personality Rudraprasad Sengupta to ENT specialist Dr Abirlal Mukherjee.

“We started organising peace rallies and street-corner meetings in various parts of the city. Our first effort at Dharamtala to raise funds for the riot victims yielded over Rs 3,000,” said Ray.

City-based theatre groups then proposed to donate the proceeds of their shows. “Groups like Nandikar, Chetana, Bohurupee, Sayak, Rangakarmee, Ganakrishti and Anya Theatre have performed in various parts of the state for the past month to collect funds for the riot victims,” added Ray.

Programmes with the likes of Amjad Ali Khan and Ajoy Chakraborty have been organised. Next month, an exhibition-cum-sale of paintings of famous artists will be organised in Calcutta. “The proceeds will be handed over to a voluntary organisation working for the victims in Gujarat,” said Ray.


Calcutta, May 10: 
The Trinamul Congress may have been in power for two years in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), but it has not had time to form a panel of lawyers.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee continues to depend on lawyers engaged by the previous Left Front-run board. The delay in forming the panel has irked Trinamul functionaries.

Kalyan Banerjee, Trinamul MLA from Asansol and a lawyer in the high court, said: “I had requested the mayor several times to form the panel but he has not reacted at all.” Banerjee said just after the new board was formed, the names of at least 15 lawyers were sent to the mayor for his approval. “The BJP, too, had suggested a few names, but the mayor chose to ignore them,” he added.

The Left Front board had imposed its full strength in the panel. Experts like Tapan Dutta and Alok Ghosh were inducted. According to advocate-general Balai Ray, the panel had been productive and in several cases, the judgments were delivered in favour of the CMC.

Banerjee argued that the party in power should have its own strategies and planning. “The Opposition gets to know our secrets through their lawyers.” Ghosh refuted Banerjee’s charge. “Lawyers cannot be disloyal. In many cases, including the removal of casual staff and problems related to Star Theatre, the existing panel had done a great job for the present board.”


Calcutta, May 10: 
The Lake Town police have started an investigation into the disappearance of Manu, a three-year-old female Doberman, missing from the Patipukur area since May 1.

Police raided several places in the area and interrogated some people to trace Manu, but are still in the dark over the canine’s disappearance.

“We are not sure whether the dog is alive or not,” said an official on Friday.

Srita Das, Manu’s owner and a resident of Patipukur, lodged an FIR at Lake Town police station, alleging that some people had kidnapped Manu and killed her. Srita has even hinted that one of her relatives could be behind the act.

“On April 26, my mother and I left for Gangtok on a vacation, leaving Manu in the custody of our domestic help. When we returned on May 1, I found Manu missing. Later, our tenants told us they had seen two people taking Manu out for a walk on April 28. I rushed to a relative’s house at Hatiara, near Baguiati, hoping Manu might be there. On reaching there, I was told that Manu was dead and buried, but my relatives are not telling me where she has been laid to rest. I am not ready to accept their story, because Manu was healthy when we left for Gangtok,’’ Srita said.

She has already approached an animal lovers’ society, seeking its intervention, in her search for her pet. “I have sought help from both the police and an animal lovers’ association, either to locate Manu or, if she has died, locate the body. If she has been killed, I will see to it that the guilty are punished,” Srita added.

Officer-in-charge of Lake Town police station, S.N. Das, said one of Srita’s relatives has already been interrogated and a vigil kept on his whereabouts. The name of the relative is not being disclosed for the sake of investigations.

“I have never faced a situation where people come to a police station, seeking justice for an animal. However, we are not taking the case lightly. Killing an animal is a punishable offence. I hope to be able to solve the case,’’ said the officer in-charge, adding that he is also an animal lover. He hinted that someone may have killed the pet to take revenge on Srita.


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