Schools petition party on pay cut
Two boys on football field fall to lightning
Rifle ring around Writers’
Patently, the pride of Bengal
The City Diary
Soccer stars score over matinee idols
Twin fires amidst morning rain
Howrah hits pothole hurdle
Dhapa plot for pets to rest in peace
Mamata in civic fray

 
 
SCHOOLS PETITION PARTY ON PAY CUT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
The dispute over dearness allowance (DA) has taken yet another dramatic turn. In a departure from last month’s promise, the government has sent a fresh circular to Anglo-Indian schools in and outside Calcutta reiterating plans to slash DA funds paid by the institutions to teachers and non-teaching staff.

The circular, received last week, was contrary to school education minister Kanti Biswas’ assurance to a delegation of Anglo-Indian school principals late in May that the slash-DA plans would be shelved for two years. This had sparked a debate over whether institutions should roll back tuition fee hikes effected to bridge the fund-flow gap.

The circular has brought the contentious DA issue back on centrestage. “It has got us flummoxed,” said the principal of a prominent south Calcutta-based school. “The minister had appeared to understand our concern when we urged him to defer plans to cut DAs. Now, we have got this circular from the education department which talks about payment of DA at the rate of 41 per cent of the basic salary, as opposed to 132 per cent which we used to receive.”

At the meeting with Biswas on May 27, the schools had been assured of continual underwriting by the government of the DA at the old rate of 132 per cent for the next two years till they found ways to generate revenue internally without sparking a steep hike in tuition fees.

A sub-plot of the DA drama was unveiled last Wednesday when the school principals met to discuss the fresh circular, which announces the slashing of DA to 41 per cent. They decided, among other things, to approach state CPM secretary Anil Biswas, the education czar of Bengal, for arbitration.

On the condition of anonymity, some of the principals said on Sunday that they had already contacted Biswas and warned him that a slash in DA would force the non-Church of North India (CNI) schools to hike their tuition fees as well.

The reason that prompted school principals to turn to Biswas is not difficult to find. The CPM secretary had on two recent occasions set aside Left Front opposition to promote English-medium schools and mitigate problems in some institutions run by missionaries.

“I understand that most of the Anglo-Indian schools in Calcutta are very old and impart quality education. I strongly feel that proper measures are needed to ensure their smooth functioning,” said Biswas.

The schools, mostly located in Calcutta, are yet to take the CNI school route of fee-hike, fearing a backlash from guardians. Protests by parents over fee hikes effected in select schools have already sparked trouble and even disrupted classes. A few groups have even moved court against school managements, challenging the hike.

School officials said the institutions would also meet education minister Kanti Biswas next week to urge him to reconsider plans to curtail the DA assistance. Biswas had assured the principals that he would discuss the matter with finance minister Asim Dasgupta and work out a feasible solution.

   

 
 
TWO BOYS ON FOOTBALL FIELD FALL TO LIGHTNING 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
A round of football in the rain, hours before the Mexico-Ecuador kick-off, cost two boys their lives and left another seriously injured at the Tala Circus Maidan, on Sunday morning. Noor Alam, 9, and Sarfaraz Alam, 10, were killed on the spot after being struck by lightning. And Jahangir Alam, 10, was fighting for his life at the RG Kar Medical College and Hospital.

Around 10 am, a dozen boys decided to play a quick game of football. They were in a hurry to finish before the first World Cup match of the day. About 15 minutes into their game, the skies opened up. The blinding rain forced most of the boys to abandon the game.

But Noor, Sarfaraz, Jahangir and a few others decided to stay on the slushy grounds and have some football fun in the rain.

At around 10.30 am, a peal of lightning convinced Asif Alam, 13, that it was time to take cover. He ran for shelter amidst a deafening roll of thunder.

“I turned back to see my three friends lying on the ground. We were all laughing and splashing around. Suddenly, the laughter was cut short by a loud noise... I am lucky to be alive,” said Asif.

Some local youths rushed to the Tala Circus Maidan, picked up the three boys and took them to RG Kar Medical College and Hospital. Noor and Sarfaraz were declared “brought dead” and Jahangir was admitted in a critical condition.

Noor’s parents, numb with shock and waiting for their son’s body, told a police officer: “We had warned our son not to play in the rain. His school was closed and he would sit glued to the television for hours, watching the football matches ‘live’. He wanted to play like his heroes… But God had other designs.”

The tragedy cast a pall of gloom over the Tala Maidan area and a shadow over a day of pre-monsoon showers. Heavy rains accompanied by gusty winds lashed the city and its adjoining areas on Sunday morning, even as the weatherman confirmed that the monsoon was “inching towards Calcutta”.

The Alipore Meteorological Office chief R.N. Goldar said: “The monsoon had already reached north Bengal and it is highly possible it will arrive in Calcutta and the other south Bengal districts on Monday.”

Officials in the weather office said the monsoon reached Guwahati last Friday and shifted to sub-Himalayan West Bengal and Sikkim on Saturday. “We can’t say that Sunday’s rains were the first monsoon showers of this season because they were accompanied by thunder and lightning. It was more like a fierce Nor’wester,” they said.

The rains since late on Saturday brought relief from the muggy June heat of the past few days. The weather office had recorded 40.8 mm of rain till 5.30 pm on Sunday. The morning showers inundated many low-lying areas throughout the city.

   

 
 
RIFLE RING AROUND WRITERS’ 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
On January 22, 2002, he was toting a .303 rifle while on duty at the American Center. But he became the terrorists’ sitting duck.

On June 10, 2002, he is ‘on alert’ at Writers’ Buildings and now he holds a self-loading rifle. The .303 was replaced a few hours earlier, following Central intelligence reports that terrorists were planning to strike at Writers’ and the other government edifices within a 1.5-km radius.

The countdown to the June 10-15 time-frame provided by the intelligence agencies has begun.

Presumed to be much more secure than other Calcutta areas because of the concentration of personnel from law-enforcing agencies, any successful strike on Writers’ will definitely send out a signal that no part of Calcutta, or the rest of the state, is safe. Hence the extra precaution, explain senior government officers. What complicates matters is that the Central intelligence warning covers all buildings in the area.

The situation is far from comforting. Writers’ Buildings alone boasts 60 bunches of keys for the 250-plus rooms, making error-free surveillance very difficult. Add to that the 13,000 daily visitors on an average, who enter the buildings through the six gates, and the 2.5 lakh people using the pavements around Writers’, and one has a situation that even two mobile patrols, two foot-patrol teams and two radio flying squads may find too much to handle.

Though the area outside the chief minister’s office on the first floor is adequately guarded, officers are in a tizzy over the large number of visitors that other ministers receive every day. A traffic department estimate modestly puts the number of vehicles using the BBD Bag area at over six lakh. On an average day, the area attracts 30 lakh pedestrians.

“Looking out for one or two mischief-makers among three million visitors is more difficult than searching for a needle in a haystack,” a senior Calcutta Police official said.

The Calcutta Police brass has decided against increasing manpower in and around Writers’ —around 100 now. Instead, the firepower at their disposal has been increased considerably. Most armed policemen have been given self-loading rifles.

“No law-enforcing agency can make the entire city terror-free. But we will be trying our best to make this all-important area as secure as possible,” said Calcutta Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty.

Reserve Force deputy commissioner Debashis Ray said: “We are alive to the dangers but there is no point in being alarmist.”

The security ring for the other important government buildings, however, has not been tightened further. A sentry outpost has come up near the eastern gate of Calcutta High Court, but the rear section of the Calcutta Police headquarters at Lalbazar remains as vulnerable ever.

   

 
 
PATENTLY, THE PRIDE OF BENGAL 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
Begumpuri, Jamdani, Dhaniakhali, Tangail, Shantipuri, Koriyal, Baluchari, Bishnupuri — not just poetic names of saris peculiar to the regions of undivided Bengal where they were woven. They are the woof and weft of the tradition of this state, whose soft and malleable textiles have evolved from its riverine culture.

Over the years, however, these saris exist only in name. Once they had designs as distinctive and as easily identifiable as their names, which, by a process of osmosis, they had absorbed from the villages where they were produced. But blame it on fickle public taste, if you will, or market demands, their exclusive weave, colour and design are being replicated all over West Bengal and the country with disastrous effect. Only their bastardised forms exist today.

The heavy Dhaniakhalis from a hamlet in Hooghly don’t come in solid colours and simple borders any longer. The Shantipuri has lost its airiness. Taant saris have degenerated into a mishmash of designs to suit the tastes of a clientele that can’t tell a churipaar from a churidaar.

Calendar pictures of Krishna and Arjuna at Kurukshetra or something equally banal have replaced the intricate motifs of mulberry silk Balucharis. Tracing their origin to an eponymous village in Murshidabad district, where they were first woven during the reign of Nawab Murshidkuli Khan, they are now being mass produced in Bishnupur, in Bankura district.

Even its name Baluchari has been appropriated and recently patented by a Mumbai-based manufacturer of printed saris. And there are more takers for saris printed with Baluchari and Jamdani motifs priced at not more than Rs 250, than the real thing. Government agencies like the Electronic Test and Development Centre, West Bengal, are making a last-ditch effort to protect their identity.

To put a stop to the extinction of traditional designs, the government has begun, if only too late, the process of identification and fixing the parameters for patenting them under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Projection) Act, 1999, says Gopal Basak, joint director, technical, Directorate of Handloom and Textiles.

Weavers Service Centre, on Central Avenue is, as its name indicates, meant to help weavers cope with new technology. Now, the centre, which once created a taant wave, has fallen on hard times. It has, nonetheless, decided to initiate the process of patenting sari designs and vegetable dyes it develops, says its deputy director, S.K. Ghosh. It has started collecting documentary evidence on sari origins.

How far that is possible is questionable. Tangail and Jamdani, for example, hark back to Bangladesh. Although their Hindu weavers have resettled here, can we claim they are of Indian origin, asks Ruby Palchoudhuri, honorary general secretary of the Crafts Council of West Bengal.

The Electronic Test and Development Centre, West Bengal, is equipped to take out large printouts for bedcovers and has sophisticated design software capable of 22 lakh colour matchings. It has created an online corpus of traditional designs woven and printed.

But Tilak Mandal, assistant director, design, CAD in-charge, complains that the enormous potential of the set-up is not being exploited because of the “bureaucratic system.” There is no scope for R&D, and although wholesalers, weavers and exporters seek designs, the centre enjoys no promotion and has no website. Gopal Basak agrees that there is no “dissemination”.

Basak also admits that today, agencies such as Tantuja, Tantusree and Manjusha have cut down on “the quantum of procurement straight from weavers”. Thanks to market demands, if “realisation” reduces, weavers can’t possibly be repaid in time. With reduced government patronage, the pride of Bengal suffers.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Local CPM leader commits suicide

Dilip Ghosh, a CPM leader of the Hatibagan area and assistant manager of a city cinema hall, committed suicide at his residence in Sikdar Bagan, in the Shyampukur police station area, on Sunday morning. Ghosh, 52, locked his room from inside and hanged himself from the ceiling fan. Police said he had been suffering from depression for some time over a dispute with his colleagues.

Dual blaze in Entally

A fire broke out at Dr Suresh Sarkar Street, in Entally, on Sunday. Fire brigade officers said the blaze was caused by a short circuit in a 315-kv transformer around 9.30 am. Another fire broke out in a nearby generator room around 11.30 am. Both fires were brought under control by the afternoon.

Words of harmony

A meeting on communal harmony was organised by the Association of Health Service of National Medical College and Hospital on Saturday. Senior government officials and doctors attended the meeting.

Infertility meet

A conference to mark the first annual World Infertility Month was inaugurated on Saturday by health minister Surya Kanta Mishra. Stage personality Saoli Mitra, physician Baidyanath Chakravarty and In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) parents and children attended the meet, organised by pharmaceutical major Infar India Ltd.

A free patient guidebook titled Your Guide to Understanding Infertility Management was released on the occasion. The booklet will be available in eight Indian languages. As part of the month-long event, Samir Ray, medical advisor to Organon, will be available for free consultations at 7, Wood Street from Monday to Friday between 2 pm and 5.30 pm.

Cultural show

Singer Haimanti Shukla and dancer Amala Shankar participated in a cultural show on Sunday to mark the birth anniversary of Anandamurthi, the founder-preceptor of the Ananda Marga. A drama, Banchar Adhikar, was also staged.    

 
 
SOCCER STARS SCORE OVER MATINEE IDOLS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
Ronaldo is towering over the Big B. And Beckham’s benders are more appealing than Ash’s curves...

Soccer gods score over matinee idols — that seems to be the verdict of the Calcutta movie-goer these days, as World Cup ‘02 hots up with one surprise result after another.

And cinema owners and distributors of films are not amused. Reeling under a prolonged bad-weather spell that has forced one out of three hall-owners to shut down, the industry could definitely have done without the Cup craze engulfing the noon, matinee and evening shows.

With the first of the three matches during a day coinciding with the noon show and the last ending well into the evening show, the timing for the already-ailing industry is disastrous.

“The noon and matinee shows and the non-AC halls have been the worst hit,” says Eastern India Motion Pictures Association spokesperson Shree Panchanan. “And things aren’t looking up even with two major releases, both on Bhagat Singh, this week,” he adds.

The industry, still starved of a hit in 2002, was pinning a lot of hope on David Dhawan’s Hum Kissise Kum Nahin. The film’s distributors, S.S. Films, were expecting to ride on Amitabh Bachchan’s — and Sanjay Dutt’s, Ajay Devgan’s and Aishwarya Rai’s — shoulders, besides the David Dhawan stamp, to a good initial.

Instead, according to trade sources, HKKN is one of Bachchan’s ‘poorest-initial’ films. Releasing at Elite, Orient, Menoka, Navina and more than 20 other halls in the state, the film has hardly registered a house-full even in Week One.

Krishna Daga of S.S. Films blames this squarely on the World Cup. And for S.S. Films, HKKN has not been the only woe of the week. The Bengali Debdas — directed by Shakti Samanta and starring Prasenjit, Indrani Haldar and Arpita Pal — has had a poor opening at Minar, Bijoli and Chhabighar. This, despite considerable Tollywood tom-tomming over this Debdas being “more true” to the Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay classic than Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s hugely-hyped Devdas.

“With two major releases which hit Calcutta on May 31, the day the World Cup began, we are in a no-win situation,” says Daga. That HKKN is far from a good film does not stop the distributor from identifying the Cup fever as culprit number one.

Amitabh, say industry veterans, continues to be one of the few stars who guarantee a bumper initial, whatever be the film’s ultimate gross. “But even the Big B has failed to beat the afternoon World Cup bogey,” they add.

Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam, with a star cast comprising Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit, which released at Jyoti and around 15 other halls, has also been felled by football.

“The second-week earnings have fallen by 50 per cent, to Rs 4 lakh,” admits Jyoti owner Surya Mansata, referring to the wide gap in ticket sales post-World Cup. Again, the quality of the film has hardly helped draw in the crowds.

“Interestingly, most of the viewers for the noon and matinee shows have been women,” says Mansata, explaining how soccer — perceived to be a sport with more ‘male’ following — did HTSH in.

Hall-owners and distributors do not expect the lean phase for the city’s cinemas to end soon. At least not before the World Cup is lost and won.

   

 
 
TWIN FIRES AMIDST MORNING RAIN 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
Twin fires broke out in and around the city on Sunday morning keeping firemen on their toes. A godown, housing packing boxes, and a number of shops selling dry foodstuff, like puffed and parched rice, were gutted.

The bigger fire broke out at the Balaji godown at Narayantala, near Dum Dum airport, at 10.30 am. Soon the fire spread to the adjoining areas, engulfing several shops.

Fire tenders were pressed into action, but a wind helped the blaze to fan out and made it difficult for fire-fighters. Officials said nine fire engines were pressed into service for more than six hours to control the blaze because the shops contained inflammable material, like paper and plastic. Three fire engines continued the operation inside the rubble of packing boxes in search of embers.

“The area was cordoned off. No one was injured. We are investigating the cause of the blaze,” said a senior fire brigade official.

The second fire broke out in the East Bengal market near Mullickghat pumping station around 10.30 am. Several shops, to the left of the Howrah flyover approach, were gutted. Three persons were injured. The fire spread rapidly following the explosion of a gas cylinder.

Ten fire engines from the C.R. Avenue fire station rushed to the spot to control the blaze.

H.P. Singh, deputy commissioner (port), supervised the fire-fighting operation.

Later in the day, Singh said: “It appears that an electrical short circuit caused the fire. Fire brigade officials will conduct a thorough inquiry to ascertain the extent of damage.”

   

 
 
HOWRAH HITS POTHOLE HURDLE 
 
 
BY A CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
Potholes, poor illumination, littering of garbage... The roadmap of Howrah is lined by many hurdles that residents suffer. The situation, they say, is “particularly pathetic” in the central business district, thanks to the apathy of the civic body over the past few years.

Residents alleged that they cannot drive two-wheelers due to poor road conditions. “The Corporation is collecting road tax from us but it does not pay any attention to our needs,” alleged Amlan Mukherjee of central Howrah.

Samar Singh, leader of the Opposition in the Howrah civic body, was critical of the authorities for being “callous”. Repeated requests to the mayor and the deputy mayor had fallen on deaf ears, he said.

Basudeb Mukherjee, chief architect of the civic body, also expressed concern at the situation and said repairs must start on a war footing. “GT Road, the main link to the city, handles heavy traffic and its condition is worsening. The civic body needs to seek a permanent solution instead of going in for patch repairs. Otherwise, the monsoon will throw life completely out of gear,” warned Mukherjee.

Dilip Sen, deputy mayor of Howrah, said although efforts are on to improve the situation, work is suffering due to a funds crunch. “The government must provide us with money to carry out the repairs and extend the network of metalled roads,” said Sen. According to him, the added areas needed “special attention”.

   

 
 
DHAPA PLOT FOR PETS TO REST IN PEACE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
Calcutta may have countless animal-lovers who own pets but what the city lacks is a place where these objects of their affection can rest in peace after their death. But this week, mayor Subrata Mukherjee is going to open a burial ground where pet lovers can inter their dear departed. This canine Valhalla for their beloved Tommies, Tigers and Victors is situated at Dhapa off Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.

“A crematorium for pets will be constructed there in due course,” said Mukherjee last Friday. A three-bigha plot adjacent to the crematorium for unclaimed bodies at Dhapa will be commissioned for use as a graveyard for dead pets, Calcutta municipal commissioner Debasis Som said. The area is being fenced off and a perimeter wall will be constructed later.

Besides dogs, the burial ground — and later the crematorium — is meant for cats, birds, deer, peacock, parrots and even monkeys. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) will monitor the functioning of the new set-up at Dhapa through NGOs.

It has also been decided that if any pet lover wishes to preserve the memory of the animal he or she used to dote on when it was alive, a portion of the wall will be leased out for installing a plaque. But the size of the plaque will be have to meet specifications set by the CMC.

Since the city lacks a place where pets can be given a decent burial, after their death their sentimental owners have a hard time looking around for someone enterprising enough to undertake the responsibility of burying the carcass in a deserted place — which is hard to come by in the city. Even if one is found, the pet owner will have to part with a handsome amount as a fee for what passes for a burial service. But callous owners don’t mind disposing of the dead animals into a roadside ditch or water body.

If records with the civic authorities are to be believed, there are only 550 pet dogs in Calcutta. The average rate of registration is hardly one or two dogs a day. “But the actual number of pet dogs in the city will be more than two lakh,” said an officer of the licence department. “It is strange that I am being flooded with requests for setting up a burial ground for pets from a larger number of pet-owners than there are pet licences issued by the CMC,” Subrata Mukherjee said. The civic authorities at present earn a paltry sum of Rs 33,000 a year as pet licence fees.

Officers of the licence department at a recent meeting with member, mayor-in-council, Swapan Samaddar, pointed out that the CMC’s earning will go up by more than Rs 10 lakh if licensing a pet is made mandatory in the city.

The civic authorities charge licence fees for pets at the rate of Rs 60 for a dog whatever its breed, Rs 32 for a horse, Rs 800 for a race horse, Rs 7 for a goat or sheep, and Rs 13 for every 10 hens or chickens.

Even the Calcutta Police would not register the horses used by the mounted police. Last Tuesday, they submitted a list of 65 horses to the municipal commissioner with a request to issue licences for them.

   

 
 
MAMATA IN CIVIC FRAY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee is ready to step in and resolve the dispute between mayor Subrata Mukherjee and many of his council members, when she returns from Delhi later this week.

Didi (Mamata) has decided to meet the mayor-in-council members as around four out of 10 have threatened to resign from the civic board to protest the mayor’s autocratic manner,” said a Trinamul leader.

“The mayor has stopped all maintenance activities of the Corporation to tarnish the image of the party. So, she (Mamata) must heed what the mayor-in-council members have to say,” said Anup Chatterjee, a Subrata-baiter.

Another council member, Samsuzzaman Ansari, added: “It is better for us to quit than to be humiliated here ever day. What can be more insulting than having to hear about a policy decision of my department from the civic employees?”

Javed Khan said he had “nothing to lose” by quitting the civic board.

The mayor, meanwhile, refused to attach too much significance to the meeting. “ I am not bothered whether she (Mamata) sits with the mayor-in-council members or not. I, too, have submitted records about the activities of some of my council members to her,” he said.

   
 

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