‘Brain-drain’ train rush dips
Heritage tag, fewer the better
Cell-shocked behind bars
Homoeo bar on use of injections
The City Diary
In focus: Budding lensmen with butterfly dreams
Levy levers high-ride boon
Driver cooks up terror tale for dues
Campus entry via agencies
Second college debut in Salt Lake

 
 
‘BRAIN-DRAIN’ TRAIN RUSH DIPS 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, July 26: 
First, the bifurcation battle. And now, the brain-drain train tussle.

The ‘examination special’ to Bangalore, flagged off with much fanfare by Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee in 1999, is in danger of being derailed. The ruling CPM has blamed part of the “brain-drain from Bengal” on the annual train to Bangalore and is now determined, as part of its education policy, to halt it in its tracks.

The train, introduced at Banerjee’s behest during her tenure as railway minister, had enabled thousands of students from Calcutta and elsewhere in the state to attend the engineering entrance tests in Karnataka for three consecutive years.

The government’s intent was signalled by state higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty in the Assembly recently, while discussing the current year’s budget for his department. “There is no need for examination specials, as the number of students using them has dropped,” he claimed.

The Trinamul Congress, however, lashed out at the government move. “Mamata Banerjee had introduced the train to help students who, despite good results, could not hope to pursue quality education in a Bengal where the education system has been reduced to a farce by the ruling communists,” said MLA Partha Chattopadhyay.

“The train to Bangalore had become a metaphor for the anarchy in education in this state. The government should concentrate on improving the system, rather than stopping trains that help our youth,” added the Trinamul leader closely associated with the party’s educational initiatives.

Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Board chairman and vice-chancellor of Bengal Engineering College Amal Jyoti Sengupta corroborated the higher education minister’s claim that the “the rush on the Bangalore train” was “much less” this year.

“We have taken a string of measures to stop students from leaving the state. For instance, we held the JEE a week early and also announced the results in a hurry. This has stopped many students from leaving for Bangalore,” claimed Sengupta, hoping to see a “further drop” in demand for the train to Bangalore next year.

The Board, he confirmed, was working on strategies to make the examination more “student-friendly”, under instructions from the state government. This includes splitting the syllabi into different sections.

The results are already starting to show, confirm education department officials conducting the counselling for students figuring on the JEE merit list. According to data available till Thursday, “nearly 8,000 of a total of 9,960 seats in the state’s 41 engineering colleges” have been taken up. Candidates ranking one to 14,000 on the merit list were called, which means about 6,000 candidates did not turn up at the Ashutosh Centenary Hall of the Indian Museum, where the counselling session is on.

“We can assume that most of these 6,000 students have left the state,” said P.K. Ray, convener of the state-controlled Central Selection Committee. “The number of absentees at the counselling sessions, however, is much less this year. Till 2001, the ratio of candidates attending the counselling was quite disturbing. For every 10-odd students called for counselling, only one would attend. But this year, the attendance ratio has shot up to 4:1,” added Ray.

The drop in the number of Bangalore-bound students has been put down to the proliferation of private engineering colleges in Bengal. “Now, students here have plenty of choice at affordable prices,” said the owner of a number of private engineering colleges in Calcutta and the districts.

Officials in private engineering colleges down South are, however, in wait-and-watch mode before labelling the dip in student figures from Bengal a trend. “More than 30 per cent of our 390 seats in engineering are filled by students from Calcutta. We’ve been noticing the trend for the past five years. This year, there has been a marginal fall in the numbers from Bengal. But we will be able to give a clearer picture when the admission process is complete,” said Rubina Yunus, of M.V.J. College of Engineering, in Bangalore.

   

 
 
HERITAGE TAG, FEWER THE BETTER 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, July 26: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee had, last September, rubbished the concept of preserving old buildings, claming that a Third World city like Calcutta could ill-afford to be bothered by such ‘heritage-feritage’. Earlier this month, he formed a heritage sub-committee.

Mukherjee, however, sees no contradiction in his September-2001 and July 2002 positions on heritage. “What I said last year did not mean that I was against preserving heritage buildings,” the mayor claimed. “What I actually meant was that we should try and bring down the number of buildings to which we give the heritage tag, as Calcutta cannot afford a heritage craze like some cities in Europe.”

The heritage sub-committee, formed recently, the mayor said, had been given a simple brief: to scale down the number of heritage structures within the the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) area, from 1,300 at present to 300. “The inclusion of a building in the heritage list curbs the powers of the owner to reconstruct or modify the building. So, the fewer the better,” added the mayor.

The heritage sub-committee, with municipal commissioner Debasis Som as chairman, has been given certain guidelines to declare a building ‘heritage’:

architectural significance;

historical significance;

environmental significance; cultural significance;

fabric.

According to the mayor, most Calcuttans are not heritage-conscious. “Not only the mechanism for preservation but the process of building up awareness about the concept itself is government-sponsored here,” he claimed. “Who would have bothered about the preservation of heritage unless the state government had conferred the status on 76 structures through an enactment in the late 1990s?” asked Mukherjee, referring to the enactment of the Land Use and Development Control Plan.

The CPM-led CMC authorities, however, thought the list too sketchy and, therefore, launched a scheme to save heritage buildings in May 1999. A permanent heritage committee was formed to draw up a list of heritage structures that were not included in the list of 76.

The committee has, till date, identified 1,300-odd buildings and notices have been served on the owners of 400 of these structures. The mayor’s shift of stance on the heritage issue, say officials, comes in the wake of the controversial demolition of the 180-year-old arched gateway to the former residence of the bishop at 5, Russel Street, and the move to shield the business interests of a Trinamul Congress councillor running a hotel at 10, Sudder Street, where Rabindranath Tagore had written Nirjharer Swapnabhanga, one in a series of poems called Suprobhat, in 1881-82.

   

 
 
CELL-SHOCKED BEHIND BARS 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, July 26: 
Bapi Das has been languishing in jail for five-and-a-half years. Arrested on charges of possession of heroin in 1997, his trial has dragged on — with only five of the eight witnesses being produced in court by the prosecution in the past five years.

Despite the chargesheet being filed on time, the wheels of justice have turned agonisingly slow for Das, who has recently lost his mother and, now, say doctors, his mind, as well. It is uncertain if Das will be fit to appear in court for the next hearing.

Officials of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) had arrested Das, a resident of Ranaghat, on September 26 in 1997 from the Sodepur area on charges of possession of heroin and booked him under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, a non-bailable offence.

Protesting the “unnecessary delay by the public prosecutor”, Nimai Ray, an advocate of Barasat court, filed a petition last Thursday on behalf of Das before the special judge under the NDPS Act. “I learnt of Bapi’s plight from his friend in prison, who wrote to me about the situation. I prayed before the judge for the medical attention he required and for a report on the case from jail officials. Judge Samya Sett, hearing the case, said the jail authorities should have informed the court about it earlier,” said Ray.

Jail officials said they would send a report only after being directed to do so by the court. However, a doctor at Dum Dum Central Jail, where Das is confined, has kept the youth under observation. “He has been shifted from his cell to the medical unit, where doctors and a psychiatrist are examining him,” said a jail official.

Das lost his mother a few weeks ago (his father died a few years before the arrest), leaving his sister Madhabi all alone. “Das would always worry about his sister. Sometimes, we would find him crying in a corner of his cell,” said his fellow-inmates.

Jail officials also noticed the change: “After his mother passed away, Das stopped talking. He would mutter to himself all day. He started behaving strangely, saying he would soon join his mother,” they said.

Public prosecutor Hiralal Bhattacharya, representing the NCB, said he was “trying his best” to produce the rest of the witnesses. “But this is how the system works sometimes. It is unfortunate, but there is nothing I can do,” said Bhattacharya.

   

 
 
HOMOEO BAR ON USE OF INJECTIONS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 26: 
The Howrah police on Friday urged homoeopaths and other practitioners of “alternative therapy” to desist from using allopathic drugs and injections. This follows the death of Priyanka Hela, 4, who fell to two injections administered by a homoeopath on Thursday.

Rajeev Mishra, additional superintendent of police, Howrah, said all police stations across the district, especially the ones in Bantra, Shibpur, Golabari, Howrah, Malipanchghora, Bally, Belur and Liluah, have been asked to ensure that such a tragedy does not recur.

At Writers’ Buildings, director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee sought a report on the incident from the district chief medical officer. “The homoeopath should have sent the patient to hospital instead of trying to treat her,’’ observed Chatterjee. “It appears he does not have much knowledge of pharmacology,’’ he added.

The homoeopath, Gopal Chakraborty, who had been arrested, returned to his Panchanantala residence on Friday after obtaining bail from Howrah court. “We had charged him under Section 304A of the IPC for a negligent act causing death. He has been asked to re-appear in court on August 8,’’ said Mishra, adding that preliminary reports suggested that the Helas often consulted Chakraborty, who was almost their family physician.”

“The homoeopath does enjoy a good reputation in the area, but we have asked him not to reopen his chamber for the next few days, as tension is running high,’’ added Nizam Hussein Sarkar, officer-in-charge of Bantra thana.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Youth survives fall on Metro tracks

A youth was injured when he fell on the tracks even as a Dum Dum-bound train was pulling into Netaji Bhavan Metro station on Friday. Arnab Banerjee, 22, survived as the driver slammed the brakes in time. The student of Asutosh College was taken to SSKM Hospital with a knee injury. Metro services were disrupted from 5.48 pm to 6.10 p.m.

Rights plea turned down

The high court on Friday rejected a petition filed by the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights demanding action against the police, for flouting the apex court’s ruling during the arrest of Rajabazar Science College lecturer Kaushik Ganguly and two others, accused of having links with the People’s War. The petition demanded adequate compensation for the three. The division bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice J. Biswas, dismissed the petition, observing that Ganguly and the others had the right to file a petition themselves.

Bleach hearing

The appeal of Peter Bleach, accused in the Purulia armsdrop case, came up for hearing before Justice Ashok Ganguly on Friday. Bleach, appearing in person, argued that the Indian government had “discriminated” against him. D. Sengupta, counsel for the Union of India, argued that the President had the power to release convicts and that power could not be challenged. But Justice Ganguly asked the counsel to produce the Presidential order rejecting Bleach’s plea for equal remission as granted to the five Latvians, co-accused and co-sentenced in the case. The next date for the hearing of the case has been fixed on August 2.

Body found

A man’s body was found in the railway quarters at Dakshindari, in the Ultadanga police station area, early on Friday. The body of Benarasi Jaiswal, 33, was discovered by local residents by a pond. His throat had been slit. Jaiswal had, allegedly, quarrelled with family members and was spending the last few nights away from home, police said.

Road mishap

A 40-year-old man was killed when a minibus on the Howrah-Metiabruz route knocked him down near Garden Reach on Friday. The victim was identified as Atik Khan, a resident of Iron Gate Road. The driver was arrested and the vehicle impounded.

Encephalitis attack

Umashankar Das, 30, a resident of Jorabagan, was admitted to SSKM Hospital on Tuesday with encephalitis. This prompted a special meeting in the office of the director of medical education at Writers’ Buildings on Friday. Later, surgeon superintendent of SSKM Hospital D.D. Chattopadhyay said this was the first case of encephalitis reported this year.

Armed heist

Armed criminals robbed Rs 4.17 lakh on Friday from a private money exchange office on Rupchand Roy Road, in the Burrabazar police station area. Five miscreants stormed into the office and took Rs 1 lakh from the cash-box at gunpoint, police said. They also snatched Rs 3.17 lakh from a customer before fleeing. No one has so far been arrested.

Factory gutted

A garment-manufacturing unit in Topsia was gutted on Friday morning. Five fire-tenders were pressed into service. No one was injured. Fire brigade officials said a short-circuit might have caused the blaze.

Cancer-cure fraud

The Enforcement Branch arrested one person and closed down an ayurvedic company on MG Road for claiming to produce drugs to cure cancer. Police said the arrest was made on the basis of a complaint from the drug controller’s office. The company did not have a licence, the police added.

Official dead

Vice-chairman of West Bengal Minorities’ Commission and former president of the Iran Society A.B. Rabadi died on Wednesday. Rabadi, who was also the city’s first Parsee marriage registrar, is survived by his wife, daughter and son.

Election funds

A high court division bench on Friday admitted a petition seeking the court’s intervention in the alleged misappropriation of funds, allotted for election expenditure, by seven police superintendents in the districts. Thumbs Up TO kothari medical centre for organising a free workshop for doctors and nurses on central venous catheter insertion on Sunday morning    

 
 
IN FOCUS: BUDDING LENSMEN WITH BUTTERFLY DREAMS 
 
 
BY SANKAR SRIDHAR
 
Calcutta, July 26: 
It all began nine months ago, with 110 children capturing “life as we see it” with their Pentax PC 33 cameras. “Their photographs froze moments of hard-hitting reality that people from ordered society often ignore,” says Sudhendu Chatterjee, a photojournalist guiding the kids in their pursuit.

Today, however, having graduated to SLRs, the hopefuls, hailing from sex-workers’ families in Bowbazar, Sethbagan, Tollygunge and Titagarh, see life in a new light. If their latest piece of work, photographs from a three-day trip to Shankarpur, is any indication, Chatterjee’s efforts have not gone waste.

Chatterjee and Kushal Roy, an artist, with a lot of help from the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee and Unicef, floated an ambitious enterprise nine months ago — to impart knowledge of child rights and offer visual literacy through photography and lay the foundation for young talent. Forty of the most promising youngsters under the tutelage of Chatterjee and Roy, in the 10-14 age bracket, returned from their Shankarpur sojourn, having polished their “compose-and-click” skills.

In the crowd were Rabeya Sarkar Rima, 16, first Asian to be part of the World Press children’s jury, and Hamida Akhtar Brishti, 18, chosen one at the Medilab Boston summit, both from Bangladesh’s Out of Focus, an institution that works towards imparting “visual literacy to the financially challenged”.

Back home, fortified with words of wisdom and technical know-how from the Bangladeshi duo, the budding photographers are bubbling with enthusiasm. “But there is more to this visit,” says Snigdha Jaman, in-charge, Out of Focus. Having risen from squalor themselves, Brishti and Rima can relate better. The little ones, in turn, find a receptive ear to their problems and accept the solutions offered by the duo more readily.

“There were quite a few children whose photographs we liked. “With some honest support, they can shine in this arena,” says Brishti and Rima.

“We felt as if we were chasing rainbows but when I came to know of the problems didi (Brishti and Rima) faced to carve a niche among photographers, I knew we could work towards something concrete,” says Ashis Das, one of the short-listed 40.

As they got together at Nandan’s Charukala Bhavan on Friday, they were ready for the next step — an interactive session with the youth and a slide show on legends like Eugene Richards, Bruce Davidson and Salgado, and other entries from the World Press Photo awards.

“What began as a project has turned into a dream to be realised,” says Roy. Trying to continue the project even after its term of 15 months, Chatterjee has already visited the Unicef office in Nepal. “We plan to open a regional institute on the lines of Out of Focus,” he explains.

Dreams, however, are for later. For now, there is a lot to do — another exhibition, a book of the photographs, publication of select photographs in the Stern and, for some, a place in the children’s jury for the World Press Photo Awards.

   

 
 
LEVY LEVERS HIGH-RIDE BOON 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, July 26: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee plans to erect two footbridges, fitted with escalators, at Esplanade and Dhakuria, to mark the success of his property tax waiver-of-interest scheme.

“The footbridges will remind tax-payers of the success of the scheme and will be financed by funds collected from the scheme,” the mayor said on Friday.

The Esplanade footbridge will be erected in front of the K.C. Das sweet shop and the Dhakuria one will be in front of the Dakshinapan shopping complex. Sources said the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) will commission the Esplanade footbridge before the Pujas. It will have twin flanks, connecting Dacres Lane with Lenin Sarani. Indian Oil Corporation has agreed to join hands with the CMC in constructing the Dhakuria footbridge.

On Friday, borough chairman Arup Biswas raised a proposal for another escalator-fitted footbridge at the Buroshibtala-Tollygunge Circular Road intersection, in the New Alipore area. “You can go ahead with the scheme if your sponsors are ready to bear the cost,” Mukherjee told Biswas.

The mayor has directed municipal commissioner Debasis Som to contact the manufacturers for the supply of heavy-duty escalators. “I have spoken to Otis, which will supply the escalators at Rs 2 crore each,” confirmed Som.

Sources said there are several footbridges in the city at Sealdah, Ultadanga and in front of Bidhan Sishu Udyan, off Salt Lake, but most of them are unused, as pedestrians prefer to walk on the road.

“Without an escalator, an overhead footbridge is useless. People will use them only if they want to avoid physical exhaustion,” said Mukherjee. Som added that pedestrians would, however, have to use the stairs while climbing down.

The mayor said that initially, miscreants misused the footbridges or beggars sought shelter on them at night. “But now, even they avoid it, for the sheer thought of climbing several flights of stairs. An escalator will make a world of difference for commuters,” he said.

The CMC coffers are richer by Rs 120 crore after the one-time benefit scheme for defaultee landlords, who paid their long-standing property tax dues without interest or penalty.

   

 
 
DRIVER COOKS UP TERROR TALE FOR DUES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 26: 
Police detained the driver of a well-known south Calcutta architect and promoter on Thursday for fabricating a story about criminals planning to abduct his employer.

Special superintendent of police, CID, Manoj Malaviya, said the driver confessed that he had planted the story with a few associates to extort money from the architect.

“We have not arrested him, since he has been cooperative during interrogation and is helping us track down his associates. Later, we might take some action against him,’’ said the police. The sleuths are unwilling to reveal the name of the architect for fear that it will impede investigations.

“Badal, the driver, claimed that the architect owed him a few months’ salary and was not paying up, despite several reminders,’’ Malaviya said.

“Since he was in need of money, he spun a tale of terror to scare the architect. In the process, he got involved with criminals, who are now absconding,” he added.

According to CID officials, the architect, who stays near the Lakes in south Calcutta, received a call last Wednesday, asking him to shell out Rs 5 lakh as “protection money.’’

Initially, the promoter ignored the threat, but after the callers rang again on Thursday and Friday, he lodged a complaint with Lake police station on Saturday.

On Monday, Badal returned home in the evening and narrated his “tale of terror” to the architect’s family. He said four people had accosted him near Joka, while he was driving back home, and told him to remind his employer about the payment of Rs 5 lakh.

The architect and the driver filed an FIR at Bishnupur police station, in South 24-Parganas.

From Monday, the architect started receiving the threat calls. “We noticed that Badal hung around whenever the threat calls were coming. That made us suspicious. In fact, Badal took one of the calls and told the architect that the criminals were threatening him,’’ said an officer.

Detectives traced the calls to phone booths in Behala and Tollygunge. “We realised that Badal knew more than he was telling us. During sustained interrogation, he broke down and confessed to having cooked up the story to scare the architect,” Malaviya said.

Police said they would raid a few places in Behala and Tollygunge over the weekend. “We hope to arrest the other criminals within the next few days,’’ Malaviya added.

   

 
 
CAMPUS ENTRY VIA AGENCIES 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, July 26: 
Calcutta University (CU) plans to engage private and government agencies to conduct the admission of students to various post-graduate courses in its arts faculty. The move follows complaints of irregularities in the admission process.

University officials said the move will bring “transparency” in the admission process. It has, however, sparked resentment among the students, who have demanded withdrawal of the decision. They claimed that such a measure is “not acceptable”, as it would raise doubts on the university’s administrative set-up and “tarnish its image.”

The students claim that the agencies, to be appointed for conducting the admission tests, will charge high fees, which the aspiring students will have to bear. “This will lead to an extra burden on the students seeking admission,” they pointed out.

The university introduced on a temporary basis the new system of appointing outsiders for conducting admissions of students last year, when it engaged a Central government-controlled institution to enrol students in MA (journalism).

Sources said the agencies would not just conduct the admission tests. They will be looking after the entire process of admission, carrying out interviews, preparing the lists and short-listing them till all the seats are filled.

Officials in the university, however, claimed that apart from bringing “transparency”, the new measure would redeem the acute staff crisis in some of the departments. The university plans to engage other agencies for conducting admissions to MA (journalism), MA (English and Bengali), Ll.B and B.Ed courses.

However, bowing to pressure from the SFI-controlled students’ union, the authorities this year have temporarily shelved plans to appoint an agency for conducting the current year’s entrance tests for external candidates in MA (English) and MA (Bengali).

Ram Prohlad Choudhury, member of state committee of the SFI and leader of the SFI, CU unit, said his organisation has urged the authorities to withdraw the decision. According to him, his union would have supported the move if it guaranteed that the agencies conducting the admissions followed a “fool-proof” method. “Who will ensure that there are no irregularities in the admissions conducted by the agencies?” he asked.

Sources in the university said students who wrote the admission tests for journalism last year had to pay Rs 200 each. The agency which conducted the test charged Rs 80 per student. A survey has found that the real cost is not more than Rs 30 per student.

   

 
 
SECOND COLLEGE DEBUT IN SALT LAKE 
 
 
BY SANJAY MANDAL
 
Calcutta, July 26: 
Salt Lake municipality is moving towards acquiring a 53-cottah plot for the second under-graduate college in the township. The municipality is holding talks with the state higher education department for setting up a college at Sukantanagar, in Sector IV. “Residents of Sukantanagar have been demanding a college. I have discussed the issue with the minister in charge of higher education. Another meeting is scheduled next week,” said Dilip Gupta, chairman of the municipality.

The land earmarked for the college is now in possession of the urban development department. “We will request the government to transfer the plot to us at the earliest, so we can start construction. I hope after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee returns from his foreign tour, the decks will be cleared,” Gupta told Metro on Friday. Salt Lake has just a lone college — Bidhannagar College in EB Block — and the need was felt for another, Gupta said.

The plot, which originally belonged to Lutheran World Service, was handed over to the urban development department five years ago. Ramesh Bar, CPM councillor of Ward 22, said: “The initiative was taken by us in 2001. The land was vacant for a long time. So we thought we could start a college on it.”

According to Bar, the college site is strategic, located near Nicco Park and Nalban, on the road connecting the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass with Rajarhat. A mass petition, signed by more than 5,000 people, was submitted to the chief minister, with copies to the higher education minister, urban development minister and other officials, in January this year. Subsequently, the higher education department wrote to Ward committee 22, asking it to get in touch with the urban development authorities for transfer of the land.

Anupam Dutta, Opposition leader in Bidhannagar Municipality, has welcomed the move. “Bidhannagar College does not have a commerce stream. Moreover, since only honours subjects are taught there, students opting for a pass course have to join colleges far from Salt Lake,” Dutta said. He added that the authorities must be sincere about the college project, “unlike some other projects taken up by the Left Front government”.

Narayan Basu, president, Bidhannagar (Salt Lake) Welfare Association, a residents’ body with representatives from various blocks, said it would have been better if the site for the proposed college was chosen in the heart of Salt Lake, instead of the added area.

“This is a political move,” he alleged. “There are so many vacant plots in Salt Lake that the site for a college could have been easily chosen at a central location. That would have helped the people of Salt Lake, as well as outsiders.”

The authorities have also drawn up plans for two more high schools in the township. Gupta said one would be located in IA Block and the other at Naobhanga. “The plot in IA Block has already been purchased from the urban development department. There was a dispute between the municipality and the irrigation and waterways department over ownership of the Naobhanga plot. However, the dispute has been settled and we hope to acquire the plot soon,” Gupta added.

   
 

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