Leave leash on teachers
48-hour strike at markets
Man shot in loot spree
Cash no bar for call of the bar
The City Diary
BE College students seek IIT link
Long route on right track
Buddha hymn for Hindutva, Mission-style
Cartel plan to slash Net cost
Marriage halls thrive despite court curbs

 
 
LEAVE LEASH ON TEACHERS 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
After enforcing a ban on private tuition and extracting undertakings from teachers, the ruling Left Front appears determined to slash annual holidays in educational institutions in the city and elsewhere in Bengal.

Pushing aside protests against the impending measure from the various Left and non-Left teachers’ lobbies, the government has begun an exercise in slashing the long list of holidays on the grounds that the students need to be given expanded study hours.

State school education minister Kanti Biswas has already discussed the matter with president of West Bengal Board of Secondary Education Haraprasad Samaddar and suggested that holidays in educational institutions be trimmed to increase study time for students.

“We think 80-day annual holidays have to be slashed to increase working hours in schools,” Samaddar told Metro.

He felt only banning private tuition would not help the administration stem the rot in the education system. “Barring summer and Puja vacations, a teacher should not be allowed to enjoy any other lengthy vacation. So, if we scrap the week-long Christmas holiday in government-aided schools, the number of holidays can be reduced to 72,” he observed.

Samaddar will initiate a dialogue with members from various teachers’ lobbies on May 20. “We will have to bring home the point that slashing vacations is the need of the hour to improve the quality of education,” he added.

Kanti Biswas said on Wednesday that he will soon meet teachers representing various organisations to discuss the issue.

According to Samaddar, plans are afoot to impose more restrictions on arrival and departure of teachers and their presence in classes. “A teacher will have to take 29 classes every week and has to be present for five hours in school,” he added.

Officials said the proposed cut in holidays will affect over three lakh teachers in nearly 12,500 secondary schools and 50,000 primary institutions.

Though the CPM-controlled All Bengal Teachers’ Association (ABTA) hailed the government’s decision on annual holidays, other non-CPM teachers’ bodies were up in arms.

Dubbing the move “fascist” , members of the Secondary Teachers’ and Employees’ Association (STEA) said they would launch a statewide agitation to pressure the government. ‘The 80-day annual leave for teachers is justified. It allows students to make a fresh start after the vacation,” observed STEA president Ratan Laskar.

He warned that any effort to slash annual holidays would be scuttled. “We had annual leave for 87 days earlier, but this was slashed to 80 when the new academic session came into effect in 1989. Any further attempt to reduce our holidays will be opposed,” Laskar said.

Taking a cue from Laskar, Kartick Saha, general secretary of the SUCI-controlled Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association, said a cut in holidays would not help improve the quality of education. “We want the government to reintroduce the old academic session, beginning January every year to get in more working days,” he said.

   

 
 
48-HOUR STRIKE AT MARKETS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
All municipal markets in the city, supplying vegetables, fish, poultry and other provisions, will be closed for 48 hours from Thursday morning.

A large number of traders and shopkeepers decided on a bazaar bandh to press the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to lower various charges and change its newly-introduced policy that disallows a trader operating out of a CMC stall to pass it on to his heirs.

As talks with the civic authorities on averting the two-day strike collapsed on Wednesday, the traders and shopkeepers said they would launch a larger protest programme in the days ahead if the CMC did not change its inheritance policy.

The Traders Federation of Calcutta Municipal Markets claimed that nearly 27,000 traders of CMC markets will take part in the strike.

On May 17, the bazaar bandh will be on a wider scale, as the bulk of an estimated 500,000 traders and shopkeepers are expected to down shutters to express solidarity with their counterparts in municipal markets.

The Confederation of Traders Association, an umbrella body of 40 trade organisations, will also take part in the strike.

   

 
 
MAN SHOT IN LOOT SPREE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
A gang of six armed youths shot dead a shopkeeper while on a looting spree in the S.K. Deb Road-Dakshindari area of Lake Town on Wednesday evening.

The gang, comprising mostly teenagers, looted a medicine shop, a jewellery shop and a hardware store around 5.15 pm.

Aurobindo Chakraborty, a resident of Salt Lake and owner of Jagabandhu Medical Hall, was shot twice in the chest and abdomen with an improvised revolver twice from point-blank range. Chakraborty, who died on the spot, had opened his shop on Wednesday morning itself, after Akshay Tritiya celebrations.

Sub-divisional police officer (Salt Lake) Sujoy Chanda said Chakraborty was shot when he tried to resist the dacoits. “We have three names and we are looking for them,” said Chanda.

The string of dacoities sparked tension in the area. Hundreds of angry residents hit the streets in protest.

Around 5.15 pm, the dacoits arrived in a taxi on Dakshindari Road. They beat up the driver after an altercation and fired a shot in the air to keep bystanders at bay. Then they stormed the adjacent S.K. Deb Road and raided Chakraborty’s medicine shop.

From there, they entered a jeweller’s shop and grabbed gold and silver ornaments at gun-point. Next stop, a hardware store, from where they looted about Rs 2,000 from the cash box.

There was no resistance, and the gang walked away with the booty. Angry residents of the area alleged that the blood-splattered body of Chakraborty lay for about 40 minutes till the police arrived.

“I informed the Lake Town police. The officer who answered the phone said that he was a newcomer and a team would only visit the spot when someone familiar with the area arrived,” said G. Kundu, a resident.

Sonali Mondal, who had come to fill up a pitcher from the municipality tap, was close to the spot of the killing. “I heard the shots and ran scared to my house. When I came out again after some time, I found the shop-owner lying on the road, with blood streaming from his wounds. No one dared to go near him,” said Mondal.

Dakshindari’s residents said that criminal activities were on the rise in the area, with the police loath to take action. “Dealings in drugs and illicit liquor and anti-social activities are the order of the day. Criminals from here frequent the residential areas of Lake Town and create trouble,” said a resident.

Police pickets have been posted in the area to defuse tension.

On Wednesday morning at Entally, in east Calcutta, Chunna, a criminal, fired at random at members of a rival gang. No one was injured.

   

 
 
CASH NO BAR FOR CALL OF THE BAR 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
If you have the talent and the diligence, but lack the means to pursue a legal career, then it is our duty to help you reach the goal: this slogan has been coined by N.R. Madhava Menon, vice-chancellor of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS).

Menon has initiated a drive to set up a welfare fund for meritorious students with donations from a vast network of friends and associates. “Instead of going and bothering the government, I appealed to my friends, former students and legal luminaries to contribute generously to the fund I have decided to set up for the benefit of the poor but meritorious students. I am delighted at the response,’’Menon told Metro.

At NUJS, a student has to shell out Rs 1.25 lakh a year on tuition fees, hostel, books and other expenses. It adds up to Rs 6.25 lakh for the five-year course.

“I know of some guardians who had to take hefty bank loans or sell property to put their children in the university. I do not want to see anyone from my institution flounder for want of money, so I have decided to set up the fund,” he said. Menon aims to collect Rs 1 crore within this year. “We have already received donations worth Rs 26 lakh from lawyers, trusts and individuals in Bangalore, Calcutta and Delhi.’’

Donors include legal personalities Venugopal, Gautam Mitra, S.N. Mukherjee and Jayanta Mitra, owner of Bharat Battery Gouri Saha, the Kalidas Mullick Trust and some veteran lawyers from Delhi and Bangalore. All the donations have been deposited in a separate bank account to provide for scholarships.

According to registrar Gangotri Chakraborty, 17 students have applied for scholarship. “At the moment, we shall not be able to provide scholarships to all who apply but we are trying our best to accommodate as many as possible. We shall shortlist the applicants on the basis of the family income and the number of students the guardians are supporting,’’ Chakraborty said.

Vice-chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University Bharati Mukherjee said Menon has set an example. “This how an institution creates goodwill. We may like to replicate the idea,’’ she said.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

B-School students protest fee hike

Students of the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management (IISWBM) staged a daylong dharna and gheraoed officials on Wednesday to protest the decision to hike fees for various management courses. Demanding immediate rollback of the proposed hike, the agitating students submitted a memorandum to Dr K.K. Roy, head, MBA programmes. “The hike is significant as we have to pay Rs 30,000 more in the next two sessions. We are also surprised as the authorities didn’t consult us before announcing the hike,” said a second-year student of the evening MBA programme. Besides complaining about the “arbitrary” rise in fees, the students are also questioning the timing of the announcement. “For most of us, the examinations are round the corner. We are in a fix as we do not know whether to protest or to prepare for the tests,” said a student.

The authorities claim the decision to hike fees was prompted by the need to tide over financial problems. “The past two years have seen a negative balance to the tune of Rs 30 to 35 lakh. An internal task force suggested the hike and the board of governors approved it. But we will look into the students’ demand,” said U.K. Bandyopadhyay, registrar, IISWBM.

Governor prod to varsity

Expressing concern over the delayed publication of results, Governor Viren J. Shah, chancellor of Calcutta University, has written to vice-chancellor A.K. Banerjee to expedite the process. Shah has urged the university authorities to hold this year’s examinations for under-graduate courses in several subjects early and publish their results in time.

Body found

Barasat police recovered the decomposed body of a teenaged girl on Wednesday. The body was found near a canal at Rohanda, in the Airport police station area. No arrest has been made.

Inoculation scheme

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation has undertaken a scheme to inoculate infants, living in slums, with Hepatitis-B vaccine for free, said member, mayor-in-council, health, on Wednesday.

Waterbody Bill

The housing department will table a Bill in the state Assembly session, beginning June 7, to stop indiscriminate filling of wetlands and waterbodies by promoters and real-estate dealers, said minister for parliamentary affairs Probodh Sinha on Wednesday.

Mayor walk-out

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Wednesday walked out of the mayor-in-council meeting when two council members Anup Chatterjee and Shamsuzzaman Ansari told him that the minutes of the meeting should be maintained for future reference.

Website for Ria

Sub-divisional officer, Alipore Sadar, Dibyendu Sarkar, said on Wednesday that those who want to adopt the orphan Ria should log on to the website www.sdoali.org. Those seeking details about the girl whose parents died in an accident on Kona Expressway can send an e-mail to [email protected]

Cave-in death

Ambar Ali Lashkar, 40, a labourer working in a building under construction in Tiljala, died after a cave-in on Wednesday evening. Two other workers were injured in the accident and hospitalised, police said.    

 
 
BE COLLEGE STUDENTS SEEK IIT LINK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
The state government’s failure to respond to a Central government proposal to bring the admission tests to the Shibpur Bengal Engineering College, Deemed University, under the purview of the IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) entrance examinations has upset some teachers and students.

They have urged the state government to accept the offer as they feel this would give the college an opportunity to upgrade itself to the standards of the seven existing IITs. This, in turn, will enhance the prestige of the institution and give students the chance to land better jobs.

At present, admission to the undergraduate courses of the Bengal Engineering College are held through the joint entrance examinations conducted by a state-controlled autonomous board.

“We cannot understand how the government is sitting on such an important issue. It should accept the Centre’s offer without any delay as the matter affects the career prospects of so many students,” said some members of the faculty at BE College.

Acting on the Centre’s decision, the University Grants Commission (UGC) had recently written to the state government as well as the vice-chancellor of Bengal Engineering College that they would no longer be allowed to admit students through the state joint entrance examinations.

The UGC directive said the college would have to admit students either through the IIT entrance test or come under the purview of the proposed All India Engineering Entrance Examination to be conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).

The college was told to make a choice from the current academic session. But later, the Centre allowed the college to continue with the old system following a state government appeal. Nonetheless, the Centre’s decision to bring Bengal Engineering College out of the purview of the state joint entrance examination was final.

Sources in the state higher education department say the government was procrastinating out of concern for students from Bengal as the proposed examinations will be based on the syllabi followed by the CBSE. The state joint entrance tests strictly follow the Madhyamik and Higher Secondary courses.

The state government also fears that the new private engineering institutions may want to opt out of the state joint entrance examinations if Bengal Engineering College is excluded.

Ambar Ghosh, principal, MCKV College of Engineering, a private instution in Howrah, admitted that the present system of admitting students through the state joint entrance examination posed a lot of problems in running the courses.

   

 
 
LONG ROUTE ON RIGHT TRACK 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
At a time when the tramcar as a mode of public transport is facing a possible phase-out from the city, the Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC) plans to operate a services from Belgachhia, in north Calcutta, to Joka, in the south, traversing a 22-km route.

Transport department officials said on Wednesday that the CTC’s success in running heritage tramcars on weekdays could have prompted the company to go ahead with the project.

“We have already introduced the service on this route on weekends,” said CTC chairman-cum-managing director Sudhir Kumar De. He said a strategy is being worked out to introduce the service on weekdays too.

“We are happy with the commuters’ response to the trial run. There is 100 per cent sale of tickets on weekends. If we get a similar response on weekdays, we can extend the service as well,” he said on Wednesday. Those who had taken the trial run had asked him to introduce the service on weekdays also, De added.

On the fare structure, he said a passenger travelling by first class is being charged Rs 4, while the second-class fare is only Rs 3.50, for a “two-and-a-half-hour, pollution-free journey”.

At present, trams running from Joka or Belgachhia terminate either at Esplanade or at BBD Bag.

“With a few breaks at Shyambazar, College Street and other places, the intended services will help commuters reach their destination faster,” De said.

CTC chief operating manager Sheikh Salim said plans are afoot to repair the 22-km stretch between Belgachhia and Joka before launching the operation on weekdays.

Asked if this would add to traffic congestion, Salim replied in the negative. “If we are allowed exclusive use of our reserved tracks, then there will be no more traffic snarls,” he added.

CPM MLA from Belgachhia (West) Rajdeo Goala, also president of the Citu-controlled Calcutta Tramway Workers’ and Employees’ Union, felt the proposed run between Belgachhia and Joka on weekdays might add to the traffic chaos.

   

 
 
BUDDHA HYMN FOR HINDUTVA, MISSION-STYLE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Wednesday voiced support for Hindutva, provided it was followed Ramakrishna Mission-style.

“At a time when we are facing a national problem, when wrongs are being committed by some people in the name of Hindutva, it is the secular nature of the Ramakrishna Mission order that can show us the true consciousness, practices and the holy path,” he said, addressing a meeting to mark the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture’s extension building.

“This is not the right place or occasion to raise and discuss politics. But the Mission’s role in serving mankind must be lauded,” said Bhattacharjee.

Earlier, he said the Gol Park institute had “contributed a lot to the education and culture” of the city and the state. “Every day, over 1,000 students use the large library; as many as 11 languages are taught here; and it is one of the most important centres for the study of Indology. The institute needs to expand, and the adjacent plot has been acquired after a prolonged litigation.”

The extension, to be built in the same mould as the existing building (declared heritage in 1996), will be constructed on 40 cottahs on which the now-derelict Bedi Bhavan stood. Of the Rs 10.4 crore required, the Planning Commission has sanctioned Rs 2 crore.

“It is hoped that corporate houses and other donors will help in the construction of the extension,” Institute secretary Swami Prabhananda said.

Swami Ranganathananda Maharaj, president of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, laid the foundation stone of the new building before the address.

   

 
 
CARTEL PLAN TO SLASH NET COST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
If everything goes as planned, Calcutta Telephones will be able to bring down the cost of Internet connections by a quarter.

Explaining the technology, S.P. Chakravarty, chief general manager, Calcutta Telephones, said subscribers would be connected through Local Area Network (LAN) with the help of lease-line facilities.

“Subscribers need not have a telephone connection,’’ Chakravarty said.

The finance department of Calcutta Telephones said that a subscriber, who is on the Net for at least four hours a day, ends up paying Rs 3,000 as the telephone bill every month.

The new facility, however, can be reached only to a group of subscribers within a 500-metre radius. “We need to have a minimum of 10 and maximum of 23 subscribers to introduce the services,’’ Chakravarty said.

Telecom authorities said they have extended the services to Internet users in offices on Park Street last week.

“Though the users have expressed satisfaction with the present services, we need more time for a commercial launch,’’ Chakravarty said.

The authorities said they would extend the facility to offices, residences and group users in the same complex. Telecom sources said they would not extend the facility to Internet cafeterias, as they are already using lease lines.

According to statistics available with Calcutta Telephones, there are currently more than a lakh Internet connections, with almost two lakh users.

The telecom authorities said 80 per cent of Internet users remain connected for more than four hours. “It might not be at a stretch, but at varied intervals,’’ a CalTel official said.

Elaborating on the technology, Chakravarty said: “Our engineers will instal an ethernet card in the computer of the subscriber. We will also need a space in the building to put up micro-chips, cables and other equipment. That will be the base point, from where cables will be linked to each Internet user,’’ Chakravarty said.

   

 
 
MARRIAGE HALLS THRIVE DESPITE COURT CURBS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 15: 
Despite a court order restricting their functioning, thousands of marriage halls continue to carry on business, causing inconvenience to citizens. Turning their back on a court ruling that advocates effective control over them, the owners of these halls, that are let out against a hefty but under-reported fee, are carrying on business taking advantage of the civic authorities’ failure to implement the ruling.

In response to a petition, the high court had directed the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) in March to lay down norms for such premises, get the existing ones registered, close down the ones that inhibit traffic movement in densely-populated neighbourhoods and supervise standards of hygiene.

Officially, the health department is to oversee Calcutta’s forest of marriage halls, but it has not made any move in this direction since no clear-cut directive had been issued from the mayor’s office. As a result, civic officials keep away from the halls they are expected to supervise.

Sources said mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s compulsions in the CMC are prompting him to keep the health department on a tight leash but, to be fair, he did order a survey of the halls. Officials, however, say his heart was not into it, so nothing tangible came off the survey. All district conservancy officers were asked to submit a report but none has, so far, complied with it.

After a reminder from the mayor, municipal commissioner Debasis Som had at last convened a meeting of the conservancy officers on Tuesday. But the meeting was deferred without notice. “I admit no progress has been made on the issue,” said Mukherjee on Wednesday.

The city’s marriage halls are let out at rates ranging between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 5,000 a day. At present, the CMC collects licence fees and conservancy charges from them. Halls have been divided into five categories for realisation of conservancy charges. Though the CMC has fixed clearing charges on the number of functions to be held in a hall, the civic authorities have no record-books to calculate how many days in a year or month a particular hall is to be let out.

Besides, in most marriage halls, essential facilities such as dish-washing space, trash disposal, storage of food, ventilation and toilet facilities are lacking. Sources said the civic health department should ensure that such facilities are provided at marriage halls. But after learning a bitter lesson from their raids on hotel kitchens, health officials are in no mood to show their zeal.

   
 

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