Record hike on cable cards
Driver lynched for teen death
Mobile brake on crime watch
Schools set talks date with Biswas
The City Diary
Sale does not augur well for tomorrow
CPM factions fish in troubled waters
Dropouts shut down schools
Work as usual at Peerless
Take the plunge, it’s safe with scuba

Calcutta, May 26: 
What about a uniform rate of Rs 300?

No way, people in most areas will surrender their cable connections.

But we must try and arrive at a flat rate. How can people pay Rs 100 in one part of town and Rs 275 in another?

There is no way we can impose the same rates at say, Alipore and Beleghata. But neither can we survive at less than Rs 250 per point…

Can’t do without cable television? Be prepared to dig deeper into your pockets this summer and pay the price for 24-hour entertainment. In a dramatic departure from the conflict over connections, operators under the umbrellas of both RPG Netcom and SitiCable have come to the discussion table to arrive at revised — and uniform — subscription rates. Locked in a string of hush-hush, closed-door discussions, they are working out a rate hike to beat all others.

The hike, say insiders, will come into effect from June 1, but the actual implementation could take a while. While a SitiCable member of the joint action committee of cablemen hints at a possible spectrum of Rs 225-325, an RPG operator puts the emerging figure at Rs 300-350.

“The outgo for an operator towards pay channel rates and service charge to RPG Netcom works out to Rs 205.50. Add to that the basic service charge and there’s no way one can do business below Rs 300. Perhaps, an independent operator can bring it down to Rs 250 at the most,” says a spokesperson for the joint action panel.

An industry insider maintains that an operator with 700-800 connections can fix a service charge of Rs 80, of which, he spends Rs 55-60 towards maintenance, power, telephone, rent and labour. The rest is his profit.

Justifying the need to hike basic service charge, a SitiCable operator adds: “Costs have gone up on all fronts. Earlier, we could do with 200-mega hertz amplifiers. Now, 550-mega hertz amplifiers are the order of the day. Besides, costlier cable is required to transmit the increased number of channels and maintain signal strength.”

Through all this, the vital issue of under-declaration is yet to be addressed. Broadcasters allege that cable operators here declare only 20 per cent of their actual connections.

“If all points were declared, there would have been no need for us to increase channel fees every year,” is how a STAR spokesperson puts it. This, in turn, prompts the cableman to pass on the beam burden to the consumer and “justify a hike”.

From the consumer’s point of view, it’s a no-win situation. “We agree with the cable operators that the system of channel packages is not right as it affects the consumer,” says Mala Banerjee, president of the Federation of Consumer Associations, West Bengal. “But under-declaration and lack of transparency remain the biggest ills plaguing this industry. The operators often resort to arbitrary rate hikes, which can easily be avoided if they declared all their points.”

Every time a hike is slapped, the viewer has little choice but to pay up — even for channels he will never switch on. This is where the conditional access system (CAS) — if and when it is cleared — can enable the viewer to pick his flick, by investing in set-top boxes.

Now, with the final countdown to World Cup 2002 bringing RPG operators and Ten Sports representatives to the talks table on Monday, the two rival cable camps in town are engaged in unity moves. “At the moment, cable subscription fluctuates wildly from Rs 100 at Topsia to Rs 275 on Park Street. Our effort is to try and bridge this gap,” explained a SitiCable operator. “But the socio-economic conditions vary sharply from one area to another, making it impossible to bring the entire city under one uniform rate.”


Calcutta, May 26: 
A teenager was run over by a truck and its driver was lynched in Howrah early on Sunday. The mob also clashed with the police and set up roadblocks in a few crowded neighbourhoods to protest the boy’s death.

While crossing a narrow road at Sapuipara, Bally, Pankaj Kumar Deb, 13, died a gruesome death at six in the morning when a goods-laden truck, coming at high speed from the opposite direction, crushed him under its wheels.

Eyewitnesses said Pankaj, son of a local vegetable vendor, had checked both sides of the road before deciding to cross it. However, the truck appeared suddenly and knocked him down. “We see Pankaj every day at the same hour. He goes to help his father sort out the vegetables before the market opens,” a neighbour told the police during investigations.

The situation spun out of control after a group of local youth ran after the truck and managed to stop it near a crossing at Sapuipara. The helper fled, but the driver was pulled out of the vehicle and beaten up.

A few other local youths picked up Pankaj’s body from the accident spot and took it to a local hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead on arrival. As soon as news of the death spread, the mob that was holding on to the driver of the killer vehicle started raining blows on him with renewed vigour. The driver, identified as Lagan Deb Prasad, pleaded: “Brake fail ho gaya achanak, main kya karta (The brakes failed suddenly, what could I do)?”

The mob was joined by residents of Sapuipara, who knew Pankaj and had just heard the news of his death. All of them pinned Prasad down and rained on him a flurry of punches and kicks in the abdomen and head.

A small posse from the Bally police station arrived on the spot and tried to persuade the mob to hand over the driver. “We will ensure that he gets a proper trial. Hand him over to us,” the officials told the mob.

By then, Prasad had lost consciousness and the mob turned its ire on the cops. After a mild scuffle with the police, the mob let go of Prasad, who was rushed to hospital for treatment.

“The driver died, despite our best efforts, but we have decided to round up the leaders of the mob. No one deserves to die in the manner they killed Prasad,” said superintendent of police (Howrah) Rajesh Kumar.

Under his direction, a strong police force then rushed to the spot and conducted house searches and picked up three people involved in lynching Prasad.

A picket was also posted in the area after a section of local residents held demonstrations to protest the arrests.


Calcutta, May 26: 
“The Command number you have called is currently not available…” This was the digital dead-end that a police informer hit while trying to alert the officer-in-charge of a thana that three ‘wanted’ men were holed up in a Tiljala house. The cellphone refused to respond and the police lost their chance.

And this will not be the only chance that the cops lose in their crackdown on crime. For they have suddenly been robbed of a vital weapon — the cellphone — simply because the government “forgot” to renew the contract with the operator before the one-year agreement expired a few days ago.

Over a hundred police officers, from SDPOs to DSPs and officers-in-charge of several police stations in Howrah, North and South 24-Parganas districts, have been forced to surrender their mobile phones — an “indispensable” tool to counter contemporary, hi-tech crime. A spokesperson for Command confirmed that the connections had been snapped at the end of the contract.

The mass surrender of mobile phones has put the police department in an embarrassing position, forcing Prasun Mukherjee, IG (south Bengal), to take up the matter with the home (police) department. “If the government agrees to renew the contract, the connections will be restored,” said Mukherjee.

About a year ago, the state home (police) department, worried over the rising crime graph in the city and its fringe areas, decided to provide “group mobile phones” to about 100 senior officers. The handsets were handed over to them at a formal function and the importance of using mobile phones to counter new-age crime was explained in detail. The select officers were also trained to use these phones in coordinating raids, planning secret operations and accessing information from personal contacts.

“The cellphones were a great help as normally, sources like to interact with individual officers directly. But the government’s lackadaisical attitude has deprived us of an important link,” said an officer-in-charge of a police station in north Calcutta.

In fact, had not the West Bengal State Transport Corporation agreed to pick up the tabs for three superintendents of police, they too would have been forced to surrender their cellphones. A police superintendent, who has been flooded with requests from senior officers in his district for renewing their cellphones, summed up the frustration in the ranks: “They want us to tackle crime like the FBI, but with age-old methods and obsolete equipment.”


Calcutta, May 26: 
Worried by guardians on the warpath over the hike in fees in some city schools run by the Church of North India (CNI), principals of some non-CNI Anglo-Indian schools in Calcutta will meet the state school education minister on Monday to demand withdrawal of the proposal to slash funds to Anglo-Indian institutions.

The heads of such schools fear that the implementation of the proposal will force them to increase tuition fees of their students which, in turn, may lead to serious protests from guardians.

Guardians’ protests have led to the closure of some CNI schools, where the authorities hiked fees immediately on receiving the government circular informing them about plans to curtail funds. “Unlike the CNI schools, we did not take a hasty decision and hike our fees. But now we are worried over the silence the government is maintaining on the issue,” said a member of the association of principals of Anglo-Indian schools.

“We met government officials dealing with the affairs of Anglo-Indian schools. Since we did not get a positive response from them, we have made an appointment with school education minister Kanti Biswas tomorrow,” said L.W. Hartnett, principal of Assembly of God Church School and head of the association on Sunday.

Minister Biswas, however, said his government was studying the demands of the heads of the Anglo-Indian schools. “We will be in a position to arrive at a final decision after Monday’s meeting with the principals,” he added.



Nine-year-old’s body found in ditch

The body of nine-year-old Sabir Ali Sardar was found in a ditch at Keyatala, in Baruipur, on Sunday. Police said Sabir was murdered on Saturday night. A rope was fastened around his neck and the body bore marks of multiple injuries. No one has been arrested.

Stove burst kills man

Nayak Din Prasad, 45 and mentally challenged, died after his clothes caught fire when a gas stove exploded in his house on Raja Rajkrishna Street, in the Burtola police station area, on Sunday evening. He died on way to hospital. Police have not ruled out foul play in the death.

Henchman held

Raju Anadkar, a key accomplice of arrested Dubai-based don Aftab Ansari, was taken into custody by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the city on Saturday. Anadkar had stayed with Ansari in Dubai.

Clinic ransacked

A mob ransacked a private nursing home in Dum Dum on Sunday afternoon after a woman undergoing an abortion died. Police said trouble broke out after the 28-year-old victim Jhuma Majumder’s husband complained that the nursing home authorities did not contact him when his wife’s condition deteriorated. Several persons were rounded up for the attack on the nursing home.


Ananda Marga Pracharaka Samgha observed the 82nd birth anniversary of Anandamurti, the founder-preceptor of the Ananda Marga, on Sunday on its Tiljala premises. More than 2,000 followers attended the programme. An album of devotional songs was released on the occasion.

Instant phones

Calcutta Telephones provided 300 instant telephone connections at six road-shows last week. Telecom sources said documents were scrutinised and payment was made on the spot for the connections. Two roadshows in Burrabazar and Chowbhaga drew the maximum number of applicants.    

Calcutta, May 26: 
Rarely do workshops beget great art. At least in our country, artists, mostly the established ones, treat them in a cavalier fashion. The organisers provide them with creature comforts for a couple of days, and in exchange for the hospitality, the invited artists are expected to produce a couple of works whose only worth is that they bear the signature of their begetter.

The four-day workshop, organised by Art Tomorrow, which climaxed on Sunday evening with an auction of the works produced, was not any different, despite the grandiose plans of the organisers. Subir Hati, who was one of the participating artists and who helped organise the workshop, said about a year ago, an architect friend of his named Samir Banik had shown a willingness to promote experimental art.

The original idea was to promote art and peripheral crafts, including jewellery, textiles and furniture. But because of logistical problems they stuck to contemporary art. Hati says he could vouch for the fact that Bengal is “isolated” from the rest of India, and he and his friends wanted to change that situation and mindset.

But Samir Banik had no idea how to go about it and sought Hati’s help. The latter called a number of artists whose works he loved. Of them — Apurba Sengupta, Anirban Chatterjee, Goutam Das, Jayashree Chakravarty, Partha Pratim Deb, Samit Dey, Sushen Ghosh and Tapan Biswas — finally joined the workshop.

Two senior artists, Sushen Ghosh and Partha Pratim Deb, had positive things to say about the workshop. Ghosh hoped that it would help yield an alternative art that would not be concerned about the market. Deb felt such friendly exchanges helped artists step down from the ivory tower and made them more aware.

The organisers want to launch an art magazine that would help laypersons understand art better. The first issue of Art Tomorrow was handed out to guests. This edition, apart from carrying thumbnail sketches of the participants, mysteriously enough, included milestones in the history of Calcutta. Banik had no clear idea why it had been included. They also want to start lectures on art along with slide shows in schools.

Next on their agenda are exhibitions, seminars and more workshops. The exhibition, in all probability, will be held in Mumbai in September. Banik says he wants to develop the art market in Calcutta, and he will even invite collectors from other metros. How is he going to lure them? He says that’s a mystery. Part of the money realised by the auction is meant for promising yet financially unstable artists.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee visited the workshop on Saturday and he has promised to offer the organisers space to start a sculpture park soon. Banik is all enthusiasm, but the auction itself was a dismal failure. Only two paintings went under the hammer because there weren’t enough takers.

The painters who sold were Arindam Chatterjee for Rs 40,000 and Samit Dey for Rs 20,000. The rest will be auctioned once again soon. Does that augur well for Art Tomorrow?


Calcutta, May 26: 
A pond in Behala, which fisheries minister Kironmoy Nanda and mayor Subrata Mukherjee stopped from being filled up on Friday, has brought to the surface a conflict between two CPM factions operating in the area. Both groups are led by former party MLAs of Behala East and West.

The trouble started a few months ago when the operation to fill up a pond in ward number 120 began quietly. The entire pond was fenced off with aluminium sheets so that people could not see what was going on behind it. But the operation failed, as members of the rival CPM faction stopped work.

Ever since, the group brought low had been waiting to take it out on its rival.

So, on Friday, they informed the fisheries department and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) about another pond in ward 119 — owned by local resident Chunilal Mukherjee — which was being filled up by their rival group.

The CMC had objected earlier, but those filling up the pond had not taken heed of the complaint. Local councillor and borough chairman Susanta Ghosh took the initiative to mobilise public opinion against it.

Ghosh also got active support from the local Trinamul Congress MLA Partha Chatterjee and former CPM MLA from Behala East, Kum Kum Chakraborty. Together, they contacted fisheries minister Kironmoy Nanda and ultimately stopped the filling-up work on Friday.

Chatterjee said: “On Friday, when we went to the pond that was being filled up, some CPM cadre raised slogans in support of the work. But they could not remain there for long, as local people were absolutely against the pond being filled up.” He said that in the Behala area, political parties help fill up ponds as a means of making a quick buck.

“Recently, a pond measuring about four-and-a-half bighas was being filled up at Aurobindo Pally, near Sabuj Sangha, by some local youths who are patronised by the CPM. I have asked my party workers to investigate the matter and submit a report to me.”

When he gets the report, Chatterjee will submit it to the fisheries minister and try his best to turn it into a pisciculture centre so that local youths get employment.

Chatterjee will ask the mayor to produce a list of ponds in Behala and they will check how many of these have been filled up and how many have survived. They will find out if the ones which have been filled up but are still free of constructions can be re-excavated. They will ask the mayor to take punitive measures against those responsible for filling them up.


Calcutta, May 26: 
At a time when English-medium schools and kindergartens are mushrooming in the city, at least five primary schools in central and north Calcutta, run by the state education department, have been closed down due to non-availability of students.

All the schools are controlled and aided by the West Bengal Board of Primary Education.

Officials admitted on Sunday that the rise in dropout rates was a major reason for the closure. In some cases, the government’s decision not to appoint teachers to replace those retired also contributed to the closure.

Ashutosh Adarsha Vidyamandir, in Madan Dutta Lane, near Bowbazar, was closed down about a year and a half ago as students stopped attending classes. The school had 60 students when it was opened about 18 months ago. A primary education board official said the school authorities were left with no option but to close the school, as there was not a single student. Sandhya Acharya was the only teacher when the school closed down. However, she had put in her retirement papers earlier.

Nagendra Vidyamandir, on SN Banerjee Road, in central Calcutta, was the second to be closed down by the government for non-availability of students. Located in a narrow bylane, the school failed to get students for the past two years.

Baburam Institution, in Serpantine Lane, central Calcutta, was closed down for dearth of students. Uma Smriti Vidyalaya, in Ultadanga, went without any student for the past three years and had to be shut down recently.

The Central Institute for Girls on Sashibhusan Dey Street in central Calcutta also met the same fate but for another reason. The authorities had to close down the school since the government did not recruit new teachers to replace those who retired from service.

President of the primary education board, Jyotiprakash Ghosh, said he had heard about some primary schools in the city winding up. “But I have not yet received any official report from the primary district council in Calcutta. I am expecting a report soon”, he added.

Most of these government primary schools are not getting students because they do not teach English, in keeping with the state government’s education policy, which abolished the teaching of English at the primary level.

Moreover, these schools did not have the infrastructure, like a strong building or drinking water facilities for the students. The schools are mostly housed in dilapidated buildings and the government did not take any initiatives in getting them repaired.

Kartik Saha, general secretary of the Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association (BPTA), alleged that the government was not very keen on running primary schools in the city and never tried to attract students to these schools.

In fact, he added, the government had become bankrupt and was not in a position to pay teachers their salaries. With these closures, Saha claimed, the government was indirectly discouraging parents from admitting their wards in primary schools aided by it.


Calcutta, May 26: 
Work in all the departments of Peerless Hospital resumed on Sunday, a day after a section of employees struck work for six hours to demand the reinstatement of five discharged staff. Hospital officials said all the employees reported for duty and the essential departments were functional, too.

The five employees were sacked last Monday after they had discharged a patient on March 9 without following the procedure. An inquiry revealed that the gross negligence was “intentional” and, accordingly, the management decided to sack the five.

The CITU-affiliated majority union intensified its agitation after the employees were discharged on Monday. This led to the impasse on Saturday, in which a significant section of the staff abstained from work for six hours. As a result, admissions were held up, patients already admitted were not attended to, operations were stalled and the outpatient departments were closed. Several sick people were inconvenienced by the agitation. “But everything is normal now and we will reach a permanent solution at Tuesday’s meeting,” said hospital chairman T.K. Chakraborty.

But in the heart of the city, the Citu is intensifying its agitation at Belle Vue Clinic, demanding the reinstatement of eight sacked employees. The union has plastered red banners on the hospital gates. Sources said the management had written to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, apprising him of the developments. It was at this clinic that Bhattacharjee had called for an end to workers’ agitation at health centres.


Calcutta, May 26: 
With the waterbody taking centre-stage in clubs and institutes offering training in swimming, rowing, water polo and kayaking, water sports is now set to plumb new depths in town. Thanks mainly to the initiative of the Sea Explorers Institute (SEI), Calcutta will soon have a scuba-diving training school, not run by the navy, open to civilians.

One of the immediate ‘pluses’ slated to emerge out of the SEI plans is the creation of a full-fledged search-and-rescue squad. For a city by the river, this has been an aspect long-neglected. And the results have been there for all to see in the number of “disappearances”, followed by “bodies found floating” in the river.

Shiuli Chatterjee, secretary-general, SEI, feels that this venture of the centre for maritime exploration, research and training will open up new avenues for “adventure and employment” in years to come. Scuba — or self-contained underwater breathing apparatus — has always had its band of loyal followers in other countries.

The wife of Dr Pinaki Ranjan Chatterjee, founder of SEI, admits that the battle for a scuba training school in town has been a long, hard one. From 1987, she’s been trying to convince government officials about the importance of having such a school. “But the government is loath to try out new ideas, and is closed to logical explanations,” she says. Her perseverance finally paid off when she was allotted five cottahs at Subhash Sarobar in 1994.

With the government agreeing to bear the estimated construction cost of Rs 38 lakh, Mackintosh Burn began work. But work progressed at a snail’s pace, recounts Chatterjee. Though the deadline for completion was the first week of May 2002, the opening has now been pushed back till end-June.

The school, apparently, conforms to all international standards and will boast a water-treatment plant, a well-stocked library, state-of-the-art equipment and fully functional medical units.

“There are no professional divers in the country, except the handful in the navy. They are hard to track down and call in during an emergency,” says Chatterjee, adding that “this will also open up possibilities in the untapped fields of aquaculture, underwater photography and exploration”.

The specialised course at the institute will be an “expensive proposition”. But the support of various agencies will make it well worth it for the trainees, assures Chatterjee.

With most students who have completed their diving course from Cochin — which has a school run by the navy — having secured jobs in the country and abroad over the past few years, Chatterjee is confident about a demand for good divers, from near and far. “But in a city with a riverfront, and no proper diving team, the priority will be to form a search-and-rescue squad.”

The school has already applied for an ISO certification, and talks are on with the navy to monitor its activities and, if possible, give trainees a certificate that will carry some weight.


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