Voters outnumber residents
Private push for lab tests in hospitals
Rain-check rule to relish your ilish
Twin mishaps leave one dead
The city Diary
Life in letters beyond hours of labour
AIDS patient attempts suicide
After the challenge, celebrations
Chess ticket to computer class
Swift papers, incentive spurt

 
 
VOTERS OUTNUMBER RESIDENTS 
 
 
JAYANTA BASU
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
How many people live in your ward? If you live in ward 87, the mayor’s ward, Census of India 2001 says 13,277.

How many people vote from your ward? If you live in ward 87, the mayor’s ward, the voter list for the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) 2000 election says 14,994!

For once, the figures tell the facts. In 13 wards of Calcutta, voters outnumber residents. In another 65, the non-voting population (0 to 18) is negligible. Factor in the “two to five per cent rise in voters every year” and the Census of India 2001 vs CMC 2000 election list figures are nothing short of incredulous. It is only in 54 wards — mostly in the added areas — that the figures fall into the realm of possibility.

What all this adds up to is a numbers game with the scent of a scam. When this was pointed out to the agencies involved, the reaction was sharp.

“There is nothing wrong with our data. Why don’t you go and ask the Election Commission about its quality of data collection?” demanded state census director Vikram Sen.

State election commissioner Sabyasachi Sen admitted he had “never thought of comparing” the two lists based on household surveys. “Both methods are error-prone, but I feel the margin of error in the voting list has been minimised after the special intensive revision throughout the state, which resulted in the deletion of nearly seven million names,” said Sen.

Experts in the field expressed concern over the findings. “We normally expect the non-voting population to be about one-third of the total population,” said Dr Partha Chatterjee, director, Centre for Social Studies. “Both modes of survey have their inherent problems, but the sanctity of census data is very important, as all the planning and funding depends on this.”

B. Sengupta, a senior demographer with CMDA, treats the census data as The Bible but warns that even The Bible can make a mistake. “I found it difficult even to explain the census trends in my own municipality, South Dum Dum… Greater coordination is required in the preparation of the two lists to minimise errors.”

Municipal councillors said they were “shocked” at the obvious data dichotomy between the two lists. “This is a joke. According to these figures, there are 28,153 voters and 31,218 residents in my ward,” said Debasish Kumar, councillor of ward 85.

Javed Ahmed Khan, councillor of ward 66, alleged that “no proper survey was carried out for the census”. He termed the census figure of 70,710 “ridiculous” in the context of a municipal list comprising 57,765 voters. “If my ward has about 60,000 voters, the population must at least be 120,000,” claimed Khan.

Some municipal councillors have now decided to put their heads together, pore over the figures and approach the “appropriate authorities to get to the bottom of the matter”.

   

 
 
PRIVATE PUSH FOR LAB TESTS IN HOSPITALS 
 
 
BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
The message from the government is clear — health reform has to hit the fast track, with a private push at every critical point.

After overhauling the emergency services in government hospitals, the health department is working on a proposal to make reports of various pathological and diagnostic tests available to patients within 24 hours, all thanks to outsourcing.

Officials unveiled on Tuesday government plans to invite “established private agencies” to set up full-fledged laboratories in city-based government hospitals for carrying out various pathological investigations on patients admitted there.

“An inordinate delay in getting reports of in-house investigations is slowing down the healthcare system. So, we have decided to rope in well-known private agencies to expedite investigations and complete the process within 24 hours,” said C.R. Maity, director of medical education (DME).

According to Maity, health minister Surya Kanta Mishra has already okayed the proposal.

Hospital superintendents and principals of medical colleges across the city have been apprised of the proposal, officials said, and tenders for the purpose will soon be floated.

Maity said the government initiative had been sparked by the successful experiment of engaging private agencies to conduct CT scans on patients admitted to SSKM, Medical College and R.G. Kar hospitals.

“Though we have laboratories in our hospitals, it takes a long time for our patients to get their pathological and diagnostic test results. This is due to the pressure on doctors in the hospitals. If private agencies are assigned to conduct the tests, the process will be swifter and patients will definitely benefit,” said Maity.

Medical College superintendent Kusum Kumar Adhikari said the private facility in the hospital conducts 615 CT scans a month at government rates and 35 for free. The rest of the tests are conducted at “market rates”. The agency concerned also gives 25 per cent of its profits to the hospital authorities.

Officials at Writers’ Buildings confirmed on Tuesday that the health department will enter into an agreement with private agencies to provide a certain percentage of their profits to the hospital authorities.

They maintained that the private agencies would be asked to charge the “usual” rates from “affluent patients” and follow government rates for the poor.

Several private clinics have welcomed the government move, describing it as a “step towards improving healthcare facilities” in the city. Dr Subhendu Roy of Roy and Trivedi, on Park Street, said the proposal was “worth considering ”, as this would give private clinics “total control” over pathological tests conducted on patients admitted in government hospitals.

“The fact remains that the government’s health-delivery system is not satisfactory and that is why privatisation is essential to introduce efficiency in healthcare management,” said Roy.

   

 
 
RAIN-CHECK RULE TO RELISH YOUR ILISH 
 
 
KUNAL SENGUPTA AND DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
There’s something fishy about hilsa these days. With the Bengali’s favourite fish either missing from the marketplace or failing to make the culinary cut, the government has decided to step in.

Blaming the drying up — and decline — of the hilsa on rampant round-the-year fishing, plus a poor monsoon, the state fisheries department has decided to slap an off-season ban on hilsa catch.

“We have to announce a five-month ban on fishing of the young hilsa, between Bijoya Dashami and Saraswati Puja, so that they have time to grow,” state fisheries minister Kiranmoy Nanda said on Tuesday. What he referred to as “time to grow” would be, for the hilsa connoisseur, “time to grow tastier”.

Market after market — from Shyambazar to Jadubabur Bazar, from Lake Market to New Market — has been hit by the hilsa’s disappearing act. Where the fish is to be found, it’s often leaving a bad taste in the mouth. “I have received several complaints that the hilsa bought from city markets have turned out to be salty,” said Nanda. The fisheries minister is writing to all civic bodies, urging them to keep an eye on markets in order to find out whether ‘small’ hilsa, of inferior quality, was being sold. “My department does not have any jurisdiction on these markets,” admitted Nanda.

With the catch in the Hooghly falling rapidly, the price of the ‘real’ hilsa has soared, with the two-kg variety touching Rs 350. Some of the large fish being sold were probably last season’s catch coming not from the river, but the cold storage, officials warned.

There’s no hope in sight from across the border either. The Padma hilsa from Bangladesh continues to remain elusive in markets this year, just as it has over the past 10 years. “The Padma ilish has fallen prey to the pollution in the river,” said Abhay Bhotika, one of the leading fish importers in town.

Most of the hilsa from Bangladesh now comes from the Meghna, say traders. But even that has been overshadowed by the Myanmarese variety, weighing a little more than a kg and just not tasting right.There’s one silver lining, though. The indigenous Kolaghat hilsa is making a comeback. The annual catch between Diamond Harbour and Kolaghat now varies between 40,000 and 50,000 tonnes, say traders.

   

 
 
TWIN MISHAPS LEAVE ONE DEAD 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
Two accidents in the past 24 hours claimed a life and left three persons injured. The first road mishap occurred late on Monday at Ashokenagar, in the Regent Park area, when a truck rammed into a scooter and then a motorcycle. In the other accident on Tuesday morning, an Ambassador overturned on the EM Bypass near Tiljala.

The victim in the Ashokenagar accident was identified as Dulal Karmakar, 50, who was returning home on his scooter. He was rushed to SSKM Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries. The same truck later hit a motorcycle, injuring Paltu De. The truck driver was beaten up by residents of the area and handed over to the police.

On Tuesday morning, two persons in an Ambassador were injured when the vehicle overturned near Tiljala. They were admitted to a local hospital.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Water line restored after tax pay-up

After Moulin Rouge, a restaurant on Park Street, paid pending property taxes to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) amounting to over Rs 1 lakh, Justice B. Bhattacharjee of Calcutta High Court on Tuesday asked the CMC to restore the eatery’s water connection. The payment was made in the court during the hearing of the case on Tuesday. On the same day, the court directed the CMC to restore water connections to two more tenants of Karnani Mansion (premises no. 23) who had informed the court that they would pay up the taxes. The court also directed the CMC not to snap the water connection of New Cinema, which prayed for time on Tuesday. The CMC has filed six appeals against the orders passed by the trial court in connection with the cases of snapping the water connection for not paying property taxes.

Police stop Kasba puja

Police stopped members of a club in Kasba from erecting a Durga Puja pandal on last year’s site, after they started construction on Monday. They were asked to shift their puja to a nearby site, which can accommodate a bigger crowd. Superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly said although the officer-in-charge of the local police station was discussing the matter with the organisers, they started work without permission. Moreover, the land belongs to the CIT, and permission is required from them too, he added.

Armed men held

Three men were arrested in Bansdroni on Monday night. Arms and ammunition were seized from them. Police were tipped off about a gathering of eight armed men in the area. A team surrounded the place, but five of them escaped. All eight were from Sonarpur and Regent Park areas, an officer added.

Bride burning

Residents ransacked a house in Khardah, on the northern fringes of the city, after a woman died of burns at SSKM Hospital, on Monday. Inspector-in-charge of Khardah police station Ajitananda Bhattacharya said the victim was identified as Dolan Dutta, 27. Neighbours demonstrated in front of the police station. Later, four persons were arrested this in connection. Police are now looking for Jayanta Dutta, the victim’s absconding husband.

Heritage marathon

Representatives of The Calcutta Hash met senior officers at the Lalbazar police headquarters to discuss the route of a race being organised on September 15. The race will be held under the banner of Make-A-Wish Foundation to increase heritage awareness.

Tram bandh call

Tram services will be hit on Wednesday with members of the Tram Workers and Employees Union calling a one-day bandh in support of their seven-point charter of demands. They demand protection of the tram industry.

Lathicharge

Supporters of SUCI were lathicharged when they demonstrated at Esplanade to mark Hiroshima Day on Monday. Police said 50 supporters were later arrested.

Rights demand

Trinamul Congress will move the state human rights commission to protest the arrest of party activists during Monday’s bandh.    

 
 
LIFE IN LETTERS BEYOND HOURS OF LABOUR 
 
 
MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
The lights are a glaring green as the sun goes down on Galiff Street. Hindi songs are blaring as preparations are on for journey to Tarakeshwar. Mothers are breast-feeding, children playing and babies crying on the sidewalk. In the midst of it all, 10 boys and girls try to block out the sights and sounds, with noses determinedly stuck to their books and slates.

It is hard, though, because their school is a 4-ft-by-12-ft gap between two blocks of the deserted Hawkers Market. A tube light and fan mark the “investment” made by the local “club” who make a “tidy” living by catching worms from the Baghbazar canal and selling them as fish bait. This is Jibon, a school for child labourers in the area.

The effort was to provide them with basic education in their own environments. It is a year since the Medical Bank-run centre was given a name and funds for books and ‘tiffin’ for the kids by The Telegraph Education Foundation. Over the year, the headcount has gone up from around 10 to 16. Kids have come forward and the teacher, Tarak Dhar, has roped in some more eligible candidates.

Like Durga and Purnima Das, two of the six children of a local ragpicker. Purnima, a tiny seven-year-old, bursts into tears whenever she sees someone wearing kajal. “She watches those awful horror shows on TV and is scared because all of them wear that black stuff,” explains Durga, who, as the eldest, is entrusted with the responsibility of looking after her four sisters and brother.

These boys and girls all slave away by day. Rupa and Gauri work with their mother, house to house, and still do not have enough money for even a jhupri, living under a plastic sheet on the sidewalk. But they are squeaky clean in their light-and-dark blue uniforms, and bubbling with enthusiasm at all times. They volunteer to sing and dance in the blue confines, the size of a cupboard.

That is just before a pitched battle breaks out over a stray packet of khaini that has been found lying around. Left by some of the “club” boys, there are traces still remaining, which Gauri has got hold of. The older boys descend, then ‘Sir’ descends, in an effective effort to restore order.

“It has been hard disciplining them, given the kind of things they deal with through the day, and even the environment around here,” laments Dhar. “But we have to try our best, and many of them are very good learners. We have to try and accommodate as many students as possible.”

But as Mampi, teased by all as the ‘shorty’ of the group, puts it: “These people give me the energy to carry on. I get my strength to learn by coming here.” So even if Jibon may not promise a new lease of life, the slow-and-steady progress these girls and boys are making is worth it, for them.

   

 
 
AIDS PATIENT ATTEMPTS SUICIDE 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
A 32-year-old AIDS patient jumped from the second floor of Calcutta Medical College and Hospital on Tuesday morning. He was later readmitted with severe injuries and kept under observation.

According to police, Joseph Adhikary, a resident of Topsia, was under treatment for the past one month at the newly-constructed MCH building of the hospital. “Acute depression led the man to attempt suicide,” said Amalendu Biswas, deputy superintendent of the hospital. The health department has sent for Adhikary’s medical file.

Officials deployed at the outpost on the hospital premises said Adhikary survived as he fell on a heap of garbage.

Tuesday’s incident was the second suicide attempt in the past seven days. “Another patient of the same building tried to kill himself four days ago. He, too, survived,” said a police officer.

Hospital sources blamed the Group D staff and nurses for not keeping an eye on patients. The authorities denied the allegation.

   

 
 
AFTER THE CHALLENGE, CELEBRATIONS 
 
 
NISHA LAHIRI
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
Not only is she the first Indian, but also the first woman to win the Commonwealth Photographic Award. And it is “the ultimate honour” for Soma Mallik. “Everyone who enters a competition definitely does so with some expectations, but when I was told that I had actually won the first prize, my initial reaction was disbelief. I was convinced my father, who informed me over the telephone, was mistaken,” she says.

An amateur photographer since 1999, Soma was taught by her husband, Abhijit Dey. Both full-time medical representatives of Sarabhai Piramal, they describe themselves as “amateur, but serious” photographers. “It’s a hobby,” says the 28-year-old, “but we love it. We are members of a photography club and we enter all kinds of contests, anywhere, whenever we hear about them.”

The Commonwealth Photographic Award is held annually, with a different theme each time and one entry allowed per person. The 2002-03 contest was titled ‘Challenges’. Soma’s photograph, which she describes as a portrayal of “the challenge for survival”, convinced the three judges — Paul Vincente, a Sunday Times photographer, Tim Page, a veteran English war photographer, and Ray Lowe, president of the British Institute of Professional Photography.

“The picture was taken when we were bathing on the Puri beach. We suddenly saw these two men taking their boat out to sea in a storm, and she immediately picked up her camera and just clicked once,” Abhijit proudly proclaimed. “I too, entered the competition, just like both of us did last year as well, but didn’t win anything. After all, it’s the age of women now!”

Soma has previously won competitions like the one organised by a Bengali daily and a Jadavpur University Photography Club contest. Her interest in photography is mainly in black-and-white, “because it is more expressive”.

Colin Lloyd, Photo Awards director of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, said at a felicitation ceremony at the British Council on Tuesday that he was “not surprised that an Indian had won, but impressed that it was woman, because 90 per cent of the entrants are male. I think Soma will encourage a lot more women in the coming years.”

Soma and Abhijit are already setting their sights on next year’s competition, entitled ‘Celebrations’. “I haven’t got anything prepared for it,” admits Soma, “but I have definitely started thinking about it.” Although sure she will never take up photography as a profession, winning the award has made her take the craft more seriously. What will she do with the prize money of £2,000? “I think I will buy myself a new camera with at least some of the money.” The rest, she’s not telling.

The contest attracted 450 entries from 35 countries. Of the 26 awardees this time, six were Indian, and two others in the Highly Commended category were also Calcuttans. Bijoy Chowdhury impressed with his depiction of child labour and S. Mukerjee was lauded for his “eternal hands of time” photograph. They each received prize money of £100.

The winning photographs will be exhibited at several venues in the Commonwealth countries till June next year, and a programme on them will be screened on Doordarshan.

   

 
 
CHESS TICKET TO COMPUTER CLASS 
 
 
SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
Can you buy a sports certificate that ensures you a prized computer science seat in a top-bracket engineering institute? Jadavpur University (JU), at least, seems to have no qualms about the idea.

A probe committee, set up to inquire into the admission of an under-ranked student, also the son of a senior university teacher, into one of its most-sought-after departments (computer science), has given a clean chit to the entire procedure.

Earlier, the sports body had declared that the student managed to compete in a front-ranking tournament by “donating” his way into the meet.

University Grants Commission (UGC) rules are clear: One has to represent one’s state or country in national or international meets to qualify for a sports-quota seat at the under-graduate level.

SP (name withheld) secured a rank of 1302 in the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), but still managed to find a place in the computer science class of JU’s engineering and technology faculty. The department takes in around 40 students from the general category and, usually, the seats are filled by students who have got two-digit rankings in the JEE.

Sources said SP submitted a certificate that said he had competed in a tournament organised by the South 24-Parganas Chess Association. The tournament, they admitted, fell much below even by the university’s standards for a sports-quota seat: a candidate has to compete in an inter-district meet, the rules say.

Faced with such queries, SP produced another certificate that he had competed in a selection trial organised by the West Bengal Chess Association. And the one-man probe committee, comprising engineering and technology faculty dean Manoj Mitra (a colleague of SP’s father), latched on to this certificate to give a clean chit to the entire admission procedure.

The screening committee for monitoring admission of students through sports quotas felt the selection trial was enough to send SP to the computer science class, “in the absence of any recognised inter-district competition in chess”, Mitra said.

But West Bengal Chess Association (WBCA) organising secretary Udayan Kanti Ghosh said SP was allowed to participate in the meet because he had paid a sum of Rs 800 to the body.

University officials said the WBCA’s declaration that SP had played in the meet by paying Rs 800 could go against the entire admission procedure.

“This statement clearly proves that this particular admission violated the UGC’s norms both in letter and spirit,” a senior official admitted.

   

 
 
SWIFT PAPERS, INCENTIVE SPURT 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) is pruning the process of incentive disbursal to industrial enterprises and the results are starting to show.

The first four months of 2002–03 have seen an off-take of Rs 20 crore as incentive from the state government’s nodal agency, compared with just Rs 13 crore last year. Over 40 medium and large-scale enterprises — from iron and steel to plastics and tea processing to IT — have reaped the incentive benefit this year.

“This is, indeed, a positive sign for the industry in the state. Achieving such figures at a time of industrial depression throughout the country is quite commendable,” says Atri Bhattacharya, executive director, WBIDC.

According to government officials, the increased off-take of incentives is the result of attractive packages and simplified procedures. “The government has made it clear that disbursal of incentives to industrial units is a priority. We have started taking help from the directorate of industries to process the applications faster and minimise the time-gap between incentive sought and disbursed. The entire process of getting an eligibility certificate and then applying to WBIDC has been simplified,” they say.

The government’s nodal industrial agency is working towards bringing down the processing time on incentive applications to 120 days. Besides, WBIDC is also planning to disburse incentives — under various heads, like capital investment subsidy, interest subsidy and sales tax deferral — to the tune of Rs 60 crore in the current fiscal.

“The incentive package offered in the state is probably among the best in the country. We offer capital incentive subsidy up to Rs 2.5 crore, against Rs 40 lakh in Andhra Pradesh, which comes next. The government also keeps the option open for discussion and further raising it as and when required. We want more and more industrial units to get the benefits and are now trying our best to make life easier for those who apply for incentives,” said Bhattacharya.

He added that the government was also incorporating proper checks and balances in the system.

   
 

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