Big-screen ball for big match
King stirs up storm with goat sacrifice
Blame game in sports beam
ABC over ADB for Subrata
Security scurry for Ansari
In the City
CMC taxed with added areas
Inspection fee slapped on colleges
Pay freeze at IT centres
Call centre giant comes calling

 
 
BIG-SCREEN BALL FOR BIG MATCH 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, June 28: 
It’s what politicians have called ‘the people’s sport’. It’s what Pele calls ‘the beautiful game’. With the countdown to the big match of World Cup ‘02 underway, what matters is ‘the big picture’.

The sports department of the Left Front government has taken the lead to make the World Cup final on Sunday evening a larger-than-life experience for football fans.

At four strategic points in the city, ‘giant screens’ will be put up to ‘project’ the Brazil- Germany showdown.

The largest turnout is expected at Netaji Indoor Stadium, where ‘hosting’ the sporting extravaganza will cost the government “close to Rs 60,000”.

Another Rs 30,000-odd will be spent on screening the big match, with projectors, on the East Calcutta district sports council grounds by the Beleghata lake; at Rabindra Kanan and near R.G. Kar Medical College.

Sports secretary S.B. Mondal said on Friday that “a large white screen will be hung up with two poles” at the Beleghata venue. Similar arrangements are being made at the other two vantage spots.

The process of choosing these four venues for the final saw hectic lobbying by local MLAs and functionaries of various political parties, determined to earn popularity points by bringing the big screen to their para. But sports minister Subhas Chakraborty and some senior sports department officials had the final say.

Swapan Chakraborty, a senior official of the sports department, said the decision to screen these matches ‘live’ was taken in response to the demand from local clubs, organisations and institutions for such shows.

Big-screen arrangements are also being made at Baranagar, Barasat, Chandannagar, Halisahar, Naihati and even Malda.

The Cup final fever has invaded para clubs and top schools alike. The Don Bosco auditorium at Park Circus will come alive to soccer magic on a full-size screen.

The hall, accommodating 700 students, will be split down the middle — one side backing Brazil, and the other rooting for Germany.

And though the German bench looks a little thin, no one is complaining. The ‘tickets’ have been ‘sold out’ and the school principal, vice-principal and teachers invited to the bash organised by the Interact Club and House Council.

The Ronaldo vs Kahn face-off has also added fizz to the cola war, with Pepsi organising a show at Navina cinema in south Calcutta, and Coke going ‘live and exclusive’ at Bosepukur Club, Raipur Club and Salt Lake Municipal Hall — each accommodating between 600 and 800 viewers — and Howrah Indoor Stadium, with seating for another 1,500. Clubs, hotels and restaurants across the city have also hopped on to the ‘beam it on the big TV’ or ‘project it on the big screen’ bandwagon.

Clearly, for Cup-crazed Calcutta, size does matter.

   

 
 
KING STIRS UP STORM WITH GOAT SACRIFICE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 28: 
“There is nothing wrong in offering a goat to the goddess,” says the ‘personal’ purohit of the Nepal king, at Kalighat temple.

“This is a heinous act. It must be universally condemned,” counters an animal rights activist in Calcutta.

The visit of Nepal’s King Gyanendra to Kalighat on Friday did more than upset devotees debarred from entering the temple since morning “for security reasons”. It kicked up an animal rights storm.

The furore in Guwahati over the Kamakhya temple animal sacrifice on Thursday did not stop the Nepal king from offering a goat to the goddess at Kalighat temple on Friday morning. “He offered prayers to the goddess and went round the temple. He stopped near the altar where goats are sacrificed and dedicated a goat, which his aides had specially brought for the day, to the purohit,’’ said Dilip Banerjee, one of the trustees of the Kalighat temple committee. “The goat was sacrificed in the presence of senior Nepali delegates, minutes after the King left the temple.’’

As word spread, animal rights activists reacted sharply. Leading the charge was Debashis Chakravarty, managing trustee of the People for Animals. “King Gyanendra is the leader of a society and we certainly didn’t expect him to promote such medieval practices in the name of tradition,’’ he said.

Purnima Toolsidass of Compassionate Crusaders Trust was furious: “In the Hindu tradition, there is a ritual of human sacrifice. Why didn’t he offer a human being to the goddess? Why kill a poor animal?’’

But Khokababu, the Nepal King’s personal purohit for over two decades at the temple, defended him: “There is nothing wrong in sacrificing a goat. It is a ritual that should be kept out of any controversy.’’

Kalighat Temple committee officials said police took over the temple from 5 am on Friday. “The gates were closed to devotees and securitymen with sniffer dogs patrolled surrounding areas. Shops inside and outside the temple were asked to down shutters till the King and his delegates left the area,’’ said deputy commissioner of police, south, Kuldip Singh.

When King Gyanendra and Queen Komal Rajya Laxmi, accompanied by their daughter, and 25-odd delegates reached the temple, only Khokababu and temple committee members were allowed to stay inside. The King went inside the Garbha Griha to offer prayers before proceeding to the adjoining Shani Mandir . He then headed for the sacrificial altar, where he “dedicated a goat to his purohit” for sacrifice. The goat was sacrificed soon after the King left the temple at around 10.15 am. Police opened the temple doors for ‘common’ devotees at 11 am.

   

 
 
BLAME GAME IN SPORTS BEAM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 28: 
With hours to go for Sourav Ganguly to lead out the Indians against Nasser Hussain’s boys at Lord’s, the blame game between the broadcaster and the two multi-system operators (MSOs) in town took a bitter turn on Friday. ESPN Software India accused RPG Netcom and SitiCable of “blackmail” by switching off ESPN and Star Sports.

ESPN also accused SitiCable of joining hands with RPG Netcom, despite a valid service agreement with it. “The two MSOs are simply trying to create a monopoly, ignoring the interest of sports lovers in the city,” said Sricharan Iyengar, vice-president, affiliate sales, ESPN Software India. “This clearly points to an unholy nexus between the two MSOs to deny Calcuttans access to quality sports content (read the Wimbledon and the triangular one-day cricket series in England).”

But RPG Netcom and SitiCable have decided not to “give in” to ESPN’s “arbitrary” demand for more connectivity, depriving cricket and tennis lovers.

   

 
 
ABC OVER ADB FOR SUBRATA 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, June 28: 
Ignoring the advice of international funding agencies, such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB), to cry off educational projects, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has now decided to play a bigger role in the field of secondary education. The ADB had advised the CMC to take off the “extra load”, save Rs 19 crore a year and pump the money into projects such as water supply, streetlights, conservancy services and drainage.

The state government, unmindful of the fact that the CMC sinks crores into unprofitable and increasingly-unpopular primary schools, has given the go-ahead to mayor Subrata Mukherjee to start three Corporation-funded schools. The additional burden on the CMC coffers is likely to be around Rs 50 lakh a year.

Of the three schools, one will be Bengali-medium and will function from the Rajrajeshwari building on Sashibhushan De Street; another will be a Hindi-medium school in Burrabazar, while the third, an Urdu-medium school, will function from Nazrul Academy, at 140, Circular Garden Reach Road.

Mukherjee had recently sought the state government’s approval to start the three schools as the CMC Act, 1980, limits the civic authorities’ jurisdiction to primary education only and, contrary to the logic promoted by the funding agencies, got an immediate go-ahead.

The only condition that the Left Front government has set for the Trinamul Congress-run CMC is it is not to be approached for any grant in the future. “The state government, however, has promised to recognise the three schools,” Mukherjee said on Friday. “Children studying up to Class IV in the CMC-run primary schools often do not get admission to other schools, as the CMC schools are not perceived to be good enough,” he said.

Mukherjee admitted that the rulebooks had deleted even primary education from the list of duties of civic bodies (the 74th Amendment to the Constitution). He said he was inspired by Netaji, once the mayor of Calcutta, who mooted the idea of the CMC diversifying into the field of education and setting up schools during the 1930s.

Officials, however, say the situation has changed. There are enough schools to take care of the city children, they claim, adding that the quality of education the CMC is providing is “looked down upon” by almost every other institution.

That is the reason, they add, why a decent percentage of the 300 CMC-run primary schools are counting their days, with admissions coming down to almost zero. Officially, the CMC schools have 35,428 students and 868 teachers on their payroll.

   

 
 
SECURITY SCURRY FOR ANSARI 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, June 28: 
Three warders at beck and call; dry fruits and diabetic sandesh; glossy film magazines and ‘star’ tantrums — it’s all happening at cell no. 9 of Presidency jail. Lodged behind bars is Aftab Ansari, the Dubai-based don said to have masterminded the terror strike on the American Center on January 22. He has been there since June 12, remanded in judicial custody for eight cases. His next appearance in court is scheduled for July 2.

“Unlike other prisoners, Ansari has to be dealt with cautiously because of the international ramifications of the cases he is involved in,” admitted a senior jail official. Jail sources said on Wednesday that “senior officials” have been regularly visiting Ansari’s cell. At least three warders are on vigil outside Ansari’s cell, round-the-clock, to keep the don quiet. Last week, Ansari had thrown a tantrum, demanding that he be allowed “free movement outside the cell for at least an hour a day”. When the jail authorities turned down the plea “for security reasons”, Ansari threatened to move the Human Rights Commission. Senior officials were forced to step in and “placate the don”.

A diabetic, Ansari is also under the watchful gaze of jail doctors. Last Sunday, when they attended on him, Ansari started complaining of “suffocation in the dingy cell”. But the jail authorities refused to allow him his share of “fresh air”. As additional inspector-general of prisons Dilip Chowdhury put it: “Ansari is free to walk around in his cell during the day. But we cannot take the risk of letting him out of the cell.”

Jail authorities are “paranoid” about Ansari mingling with local crimelords Gabbar, Guddu and the six accused in the Khadim’s abduction case in Presidency jail. “We have been under enormous pressure ever since Ansari was lodged here and the last thing we can afford is the don striking up a friendship with some other notorious prisoners here,” they said.

Sources said a regular supply of film glossies, clothes and cologne is keeping Ansari in good humour. The diet, too, is different. “He is very fussy about food and is being served special stuff, like dry fruits and diabetic sandesh,” admitted a jail staff.

In a move to step up security, the jail authorities have urged the government to get its five close-circuit televisions repaired by early next week.

   

 
 
IN THE CITY 
 
 
 
 

Career guidance cell at varsity

The central library of Calcutta University will soon introduce a career guidance centre to help candidates prepare for competitive examinations. The centre will provide the syllabus, course materials and books for these competitive tests like IAS, WBCS, SLET, NET and CAT, said a Calcutta University spokesperson.

School service results

The final list of candidates selected by the West Bengal Central School Service Commission for 2002 will be published on Saturday. According to commission office sources, the test for selecting the candidates was conducted on October 14, 2001. The results of the written test were published on March 27. The personality test was conducted on June 19.

Armsdrop case

The case relating to the appeal of Purulia armsdrop accused Peter Bleach came up for hearing on Friday before Justice A. Ganguly of Calcutta High Court. Bleach, who has been suffering from tuberculosis and viral fever, prayed for “a brief adjournment on medical grounds”. The court fixed July 12 as the next date of hearing.

Rickshaw drive

Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) will conduct a drive against illegal rickshaws plying in the Behala, Jadavpur and Garden Reach areas. The CMC will seek the help of the district police, the spokesperson said. He said there are about 10,000 rickshaws plying without licences in these areas.

Lawyers’ journal

The West Bengal Bar Council released the inaugural issue of its journal on Friday. Justice T. Chatterjee formally released the journal at a brief function where state law minister Nitish Adhikari and council president Saradindu Biswas were present.

Trinamul rally

Trinamul Congress organised a rally at Esplanade on Friday protesting the hike in electricity charges and demanding action against the offenders in the wakf scandal, as reported in the findings by Justice G. Bhattacharya.

Chartered bus strike

Police on Friday claimed that the West Bengal Contract Carriage Owners and Operators Association had withdrawn its strike after the traffic department conceded one of its major demands and prosecuted 10 private cars illegally ferrying schoolchildren in the past couple of days. “They have told me that the strike was withdrawn,’’ said deputy commissioner of police, traffic, M.K. Singh. But association general secretary Himadri Ganguly said on Friday that the strike would not be withdrawn without an assurance from transport minister Subhas Chakraborty. “We will meet him at 4 pm on Sunday,’’ Ganguly said.

Women’s meet

A discussion on ‘We stand against war and communalism’ will be held at Sarala Roy Memorial Hall, on Harish Mukherjee Road, on Saturday. The event has been organised by West Bengal Women’s Commission and the state unit of the National Alliance of Women.    

 
 
CMC TAXED WITH ADDED AREAS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 28: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee feels that in the absence of the World Bank loan, injection of the entire Asian Development Bank loan for civic infrastructure development in the added areas will further increase the imbalance in development between the city proper and the added areas of Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur.

“I will take up the matter with the state government to make an arrangement for an alternative source of funding for projects in the under-developed pockets of Calcutta proper,” the mayor said.

Two loan proposals — Rs 1,475 crore from the ADB and Rs 1,000 crore from the World Bank — had been considered simultaneously to revamp the city’s basic infrastructure, so that it is capable of bearing the burden of the population and economic growth till 2025, said Mukherjee.

The ADB loan will be utilised for the development of areas included in Calcutta at different points of time. Hence, the stretch in north Calcutta from Sinthee to Cossipore (wards 1 to 6) and Behala, Garden and Jadavpur (wards: 101-141) in the extreme south of the city were brought under the loan benefit schemes.

Similarly, for the development of the city proper (wards: 7 to 100), with particular emphasis on its under-developed pockets, it was decided to invest the Rs 1000-crore loan from the World Bank.

Unfortunately, even after sanctioning the $10-million loan and appointing a US consultancy agency to conduct a survey and to prepare a pilot project on the city’s development, the World Bank scrapped its Rs 1000-crore loan offer to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), following the finance department’s refusal to submit financial details to the bank .

The bank authorities told the CMC that the government’s refusal stood in the way of considering the loan proposal further, said director-general (projects) Raghabendra Das. Hence, if the under-developed added areas take a loan for developing basic civic infrastructure with ADB’s fund assistance, the under-developed pockets of the city proper will continue to lag in respect of civic amenities.

The sudden withdrawal of the World Bank put an extra burden on the CMC coffers and on the people living in the city proper to finance the water supply schemes for Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur.

“The Rs 120-crore earnings collected from house-owners of the city proper under the waiver of interest scheme, and the Rs 50 crore raised by issuing bonds will be invested in the water supply projects in the added areas,” the mayor added. The CMC would not have to invest if the World Bank schemes were alive.

   

 
 
INSPECTION FEE SLAPPED ON COLLEGES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 28: 
Calcutta University (CU), for the first time, has decided to impose on its affiliated colleges a fee for carrying out inspections before granting them permission to introduce new subjects.

According to the decision, the 200-odd under-graduate colleges affiliated to the university will have to pay Rs 1,000 per subject as inspection fee. So, if a college seeks permission to introduce 10 new subjects, it will have to fork out Rs 10,000. The colleges will have to pay the fees at the time of submitting the applications to the university, irrespective of whether the subjects are given the go-ahead or not.

Shyamapada Pal, member, CU Syndicate, said the decision was aimed at increasing the university’s revenue, in view of the funds crunch prevailing in all state-funded universities across the country. But, according to Pal, the move also intends to encourage colleges to introduce subjects, only if it has the infrastructure. University sources on Friday said colleges often send applications, requesting the authorities to grant permission for introducing new subjects.

“We have often detected that the colleges are not serious when they send in their applications. Most of them want to start teaching eight to 10 new subjects at the same time. When we visit the colleges and conduct an inspection, we find they have the infrastructure to run not more than one or two subjects,” said an official.

According to CU officials, for conducting inspection of a single subject, the university has to send across a team of experts, which causes a dent in its finances. So, from now, the colleges will have to bear the transport expenses of the university team.

“It is, however, mandatory for the university to respond to all applications from affliated colleges. It cannot avoid the inspection call. With the cost of organising visits for inspection teams increasing, we had go in for the new system,” said an official.

The university’s Syndicate has already okayed the move.

The fee, however, has sparked resentment among the colleges, especially those located near the university. They have demanded a “rational” policy on the transport bill. “Since our colleges are located nearby, we should not have to pay the same sum as colleges located far away,” said an official.

   

 
 
PAY FREEZE AT IT CENTRES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 28: 
She was not getting her salary for two months from her employers — a software training institute. She went to the Bhowanipore police station and lodged a formal complaint. The officer-in-charge called up the company officials to inquire about the case. The next day, she received her dues.

The 24-year-old is one among hundreds of young Calcuttans in the software training industry not getting their dues from employers. Plagued by an all-time low enrolment rate, the companies have slashed salary levels and, in certain cases, stopped disbursement of pay.

“The woman in question is lucky and the case must be seen as an isolated one,” said a ‘victim’ of the software training institute slump, who quit LCC Infotech earlier this month.

“The company hadn’t paid us salaries for the past three months. Initially, I tried to reconcile it with the slump in the IT market. But even after two months, there was no effort from the management to clear our dues and I had to quit. Recently, LCC Infotech has returned the 33-cottah plot that they took from Webel to set up a full-fledged campus. Such events have even forced a director to resign from the board,” he added.

Topping the list of salary defaulters, say industry sources, are LCC Infotech Ltd and Pentasoft. Non-payment of salaries has forced around 70 to 80 employees to put in their papers in the past two months, say industry sources.

Some LCC employees have even lodged a formal complaint with the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation, accusing the management of not abiding by the statutory regulations.

But Satish Lakhotia, executive director, LCC Infotech, which has over 900 centres in the country, is unfazed by the charges. “It’s true that at times, we have failed to make timely payments. But the delay has never been more than 15 days. No one has left the company for non-payment of salaries. Besides, we have always complied with the guidelines laid down by provident fund authorities,” he said.

Things are no less murky at Pentasoft. A senior faculty with Pentasoft for over two years put in her papers last month. “I was not even getting my salary, forget other incentives, for the past four months,” she alleged. A Pentasoft official of the Chowringhee office, however, denied all charges of non-payment of salaries. “We are clearing the dues in time,” he stressed.

   

 
 
CALL CENTRE GIANT COMES CALLING 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 28: 
Gurgaon-based call centre solutions company Parsec Technologies Ltd is all set to intensify its operations in Calcutta. The Rs 25-crore market leader will soon sign up with five firms here to provide “complete turnkey solutions” to five international call centres in the city.

“Calcutta has become the hotspot for call centres following the government’s decision to include IT-enabled services under essential services. This has enthused software companies and even software training institutes to venture into call centre operations,” said Yugal Sharma, general manager, sales, in the Asia Pacific region of the company.

To date, the company — a 1994 start-up by four IIT Delhi graduates — has provided call centre technology solutions to 25 companies and 75 per cent of the company revenues come from call centres. Parsec’s list of clients includes names like Hindustan Lever, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Citibank, Whirlpool and the Indian Navy. To offer integrated solutions to the clients, the company has invested over $5 million in research and development. Besides providing technology solutions to domestic companies, Parsec caters to international clients and has a presence in south-east Asian countries too.

“The past few years have seen a proliferation of call centres in Kochi, Chandigarh and Chennai. Calcutta’s potential is yet untapped and we expect a lot of activity taking place in the region. Right now, we have a small servicing set-up in the city, but we will increase our presence significantly by the end of this year, " Sharma added.

According to him, international call centres will be the major driver of growth in the IT-enabled services sector in the state. “The investment requirements for call centres is not very high and in most of the cases, companies break even within the first year of their operations,” explained Sharma.

But sustaining the income stream is easier said than done, reveals a study jointly conducted by Parsec and Nasscom. “We have found that among 130 such outfits in the country, over 50 centres are bleeding. The prime reason behind the poor show is faulty project management,” explained Sharma.

Besides providing technology solutions, Parsec also conducts feasibility studies and scouts for business and funding opportunities for its clients. “The call centres have specific HR requirements and we even help our clients get the right people,” he said.

   
 

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