Software shop in shift mode
Airport force flicks dollars
Oil major quits high-speed
High court pushes liquor shops 1000 ft away
The City Diary
Fair weather for little Shivas
BA hints at flight rise
Mosquito-net drive hit by space crunch
Too cramped for criminals
Intensive-care support for critical neonates

Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
Goodbye, Calcutta; hello, Bangalore. A Rs 120-crore software company headquartered at Shakespeare Sarani, a solution-provider for telecom majors like Bharti Mobitel, Vertec, Malaysia Telecom Company and Puerto Rico Telecom Company, is now on its marks, getting set to take the most important part of its business out of Calcutta.

Usha Communications Technology, the Jhawar Group flagship, has decided to shift its “entire product development and management” wing to Bangalore. “We consider ourselves a global company. We have set a revenue target of over Rs 200 crore this year. For us, keeping our development centre in Calcutta is a risky proposition,” said a senior Usha Comm official on Thursday. The pullout will be carried out in a phased manner with the city office – cut down to size through lay-off and transfer – being left with product engineering and other administrative functions.

The reason for the software shop seeking southern comfort resembles an action replay on Bengal’s business beam. As an official put it:

The technical workforce, which is of paramount importance for us, is reluctant to either come to or stay put in a ‘backward’ place like Calcutta

All major third-party vendors are based in Bangalore, facilitating development and testing

Bandhs have made a comeback and we cannot keep explaining to our international clients that we regularly lose mandays through strikes and bandhs

Contrary to government claims, political interference for settling in-house disputes is not a thing of the past. We had a tough time a few months ago when all our Group-IV staff went on strike, supported by a government-backed union.

Industry circles are quick to see this as a “setback to the state government’s McKinsey-led initiative to lure IT investments”. But reacting to Usha Comm’s move, state IT minister Manab Mukherjee said: “They are not shifting their base. As per our information, they are setting up a new development centre in Bangalore, which is quite common in the IT industry.”

Mukherjee, who has anchored the state government’s initiative to bring IT major Wipro to Calcutta, brushed aside the problem points raised by Usha Comm: “Lots of new IT companies have shown interest in setting up shops in the city. That is proof enough that Calcutta remains a favoured destination for IT companies”.

Usha Comm sources, however, described the June 2002 decision to be Bangalore-bound as “strategic” and confirmed that by March 2003, the entire development activity will be moved out of Calcutta. The firm already has around 15,000 sq ft of office space in Bangalore.

Besides drawing up shift plans, the Usha Comm management is also in the midst of “reorienting” its workforce. “Last week, the management laid off around 25 software professionals, without giving a single day’s notice. Some of the employees have been asked to prepare themselves for shifting to Bangalore within the next three to six months,” said an employee.

At present, Usha Comm employs around 460 people. “But we are surely on a growth path and plan to hire around 100 to 150 people in the next three months. Most of them will be based in Bangalore and we are looking at a workforce of around 350 people in that office,” said an official.

IT industry-watchers expressed the fear that there was more bad news to come. “The Usha Comm shift can’t be seen as an isolated incident. The government must address basic political and business issues at the ground level, as Usha Comm is not the only IT company in Calcutta eyeing the exit door,” warned one.


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
Rocked by complaints that the men supposed to provide security at the city airport are pinching dollars and mobile phones from passengers, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) has launched a “clean-up operation” to punish the guilty and salvage the image of the airport.

Two men have already been suspended and several others are likely to face similar treatment after three thefts, within the space of a few weeks, caused much embarrassment to the CISF high command. With barely a day to go before the arrival of civil aviation minister Md Shahnawaz Hussain in the city on Saturday to inaugurate an aerobridge, the airport authorities are in a tearing hurry to remove the “black sheep”.

On Tuesday, a passenger, identified as V.P. Chadakh, travelling to New Delhi by Air Sahara, charged a sub-inspector with snatching some dollars from his bag and “swallowing the receipt” of the place from where the passenger had obtained the dollars to remove evidence. The incident was reported to the Airports Authority of India as well and the CISF has initiated an “internal inquiry” into the matter.

A week earlier, a CISF constable was charged with lifting a mobile phone from the handbag of a passenger travelling on the domestic circuit.

When the passenger could not find one of his two phones and searched in vain for it, another securityman brought it to the notice of the airport authorities that the constable, who conducted the security check, had lifted the handset from the bag and later slipped it into the toilet. Top CISF officers found the handset on the constable.

On June 26, a chairman of a private company alleged that a CISF inspector had lifted a mobile phone from his handbag.

Following complaints lodged by the passenger and the subsequent inquiry, the inspector not only returned the mobile phone on July 23, but also apologised to the passenger for his behaviour.

CISF commanding officer at the airport, Bal Kishen, said: “We have already dismissed or suspended several persons and are conducting an internal probe into these cases. These are just stray incidents.”

At a recent meeting held at the airport, airport director Roshan Lal requested the CISF to start a clean-up operation.


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
The lights have suddenly turned red in what was meant to be a green corridor. And traffic on what was touted to be an IBP-powered high-speed stretch on Central Avenue, between Esplanade and Shyambazar, has come to a crawl.

The state government’s much-hyped Rs 60-lakh plan of “synchronised traffic signals” at 13 intersections to enable vehicles free passage on Central Avenue has hit a roadblock, with IBP withdrawing from the project. IBP had “planned, funded and organised’’ the project, involving all 13 signals turning green at one go, which then home (police) minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had dedicated to Calcuttans on September 23, 1998.

In a letter to deputy commissioner (traffic) M.K. Singh this week, IBP’s eastern region deputy general manager S.K. Sengupta has expressed the oil major’s “inability to continue to maintain the traffic signals’’. Although Sengupta has not mentioned any reason for the sudden decision, IBP officials cited two important points that prompted the pullout:

The maintenance cost had escalated since IBP had taken up the project in April 1998. According to IBP sources, the cost of maintaining each signal on the five-km stretch had risen from Rs 3 lakh a year in 1998 to Rs 8 lakh a year now. The oil major had put up signals at 11 intersections initially and added two more to the list later in 1999. “We are losing a lot of money in this project at a time when oil companies are going through a recession,” officials said.

IBP sources said the green corridor had always been something of a non-starter, with 11 small intersections along the stretch, some with no traffic signals or traffic police. “It does not appear to be a feasible project. The green corridor has, in fact, become a joke, with even the traffic police not taking it seriously, and traffic snarls are a common sight on Central Avenue.

IBP’s eastern region general manager V.R. Gokhale said: “Our main task was to set up the infrastructure and maintain it. The task of implementing the traffic rule was that of the police. But now, we have decided to diversify into other things and have also handed over the responsibility of maintenance to the police. We are pulling out.”

M.K. Singh, while admitting it was not possible to create a green corridor on Central Avenue, said he had urged IBP to continue with the arrangement “till we hand over maintenance to another agency’’.


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
One thousand feet. That’s how close, or far, a liquor shop can be from schools, colleges, hospitals, places of worship and bathing ghats, says Calcutta High Court.

A petition filed by Pijush Kanti Das, resident of Maniktala Assembly constituency, said a liquor shop on the ground floor of his building has been vitiating the neighbourhood, which has two hospitals.

Justice A.K. Ganguly, after hearing Das’ plea and having the neighbourhood inspected by a special officer, decreed that no liquor shop should exist within 1,000 feet of educational institutions, places of worship, hospitals and bathing ghats.

“The obvious purpose (of the existing ‘close-proximity’ rule) is to keep liquor shops at a reasonable distance from educational institutions, places of worship, hospitals, bathings ghats, etc.,” the court said in its ruling, adding that “ our socio-cultural set-up” did not allow liquor shops and such institutions to “happily co-exist”.

The order has prompted frenetic activity from off-shop owners and the excise department.

The owners of the Maniktala shop (Arabinda Basu and Pabitra Kumar Sau) have appealed to the division bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice J. Biswas. The excise department has also become a party to the suit.

Das said he was “more concerned” about the larger social implications of the case. “My client is not worried about the specific import of the case to his locality alone,” his lawyer, Biswajit Basu, said.

The case, however, he admitted, started with the problems faced by his client and the neighbourhood. The co-owners, according to the petition, got a no-objection certificate from Beleghata MLA Manab Mukherjee (also a member of the state Cabinet) to set up shop within Beleghata constituency. However, the shop was set up on the other side of Hem Chandra Naskar Road, that falls within Maniktala, Trinamul Congressman Paresh Pal’s territory.

Justice Ganguly immediately despatched a special officer to the area who found that two hospitals (B.C. Roy Polyclinic and Beleghata Infectious Diseases Hospital) existed within 510 feet of the liquor shop.

Referring to an earlier verdict, in which the Supreme Court said an “error or irregularity” that left an “indelible stamp of infirmity or vice” could prompt courts to “issue their pregorative writ”, the court took cognisance of the fact the petitioner (Das) had no vested interests. The final verdict will be delivered “shortly”.



Woman falls to death from highrise

Sanchita Deb, 35, died after she fell from the 11th floor of a highrise on Ballygunge Circular Road on Wednesday night. Police said Deb had planned to go to Mumbai via Assam on August 6. But she missed the flight and came to visit her cousin N.R. Deb. On Wednesday night, while she was talking on a cordless phone on the verandah, the power went off. Later her relatives found the phone there but she was missing. She had toppled over. The body was found on the ground floor in a pool of blood. Sanchita was taken to hospital where she was declared “brought dead”.

Bail refused in Dum Dum case

A division bench of Justice N.A. Chowdhury and Justice S.K. Gupta on Thursday rejected the bail prayer of Dulal Banerjee, expelled CPM member who was arrested for his alleged involvement in a twin-murder case at Dum Dum. Advocate-general Balai Ray opposed the bail prayer, claiming that the murder probe might be hampered if the bail prayer was granted as Banerjee was “very influential” in his area.

Keoratala crisis

People coming to Keoratala crematorium for the last rites of departed relatives have been facing problems for about a week due to a leaky anti-pollution device in a furnace and shortage of drinking water. CPM councillor Faiyaz Khan submitted a memorandum about this to member, mayor-in-council, health, Javed Ahmed Khan on Thursday. Khan assured him that the water crisis would be resolved soon with the repair of a deep tubewell nearby.

Barasat bandh

Normal life in Duttapukur, of the Barasat sub-division, was paralysed on Thursday following a bandh called by the Congress to protest the murder of party leader Arun Ghosh. Another bandh was called at Nabapalli, in Barasat, by the DYFI to protest the murder of Citu leader Haricharan Das. Both demanded the arrest of the assailants.

Diagnostic tool

An endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), an advanced diagnostic tool, will be inaugurated at the Kothari Medical Centre during the two-day GI Therapeutic Endoscopy workshop starting on Saturday. The gadget will be used to treat difficult gastro-intestinal (GI) diseases like pancreatic and hepatic disorders. Eminent gastro-enterologists from various parts of the country, including Dr D. Nagi Reddy, Dr C.S. Chandraskehar and Dr Amit Maydeo, will join specialists of the city in conducting different endoscopic procedures at the workshop.

JU admission

Members of the Jadavpur University court, teachers’ representatives and students’ unions on Thursday approached the university authorities separately to take appropriate action to rectify the alleged irregularities in the admission of a senior engineering and technology department official’s son to the computer science department. The report published in Metro on August 7, ‘Chess ticket to computer class’, wrongly mentioned SP (full name withheld) to be the son of a teacher. He is the son of an university official.

Book release

Poet Joy Goswami on Thursday paid homage to Rabindranath Tagore with the first copy of his new book of verse published by Ananda Publishers, Hariner Janya Ekok, in the room at the Jorasanko building where Tagore had breathed his last in 1941.

Confectioner feted

City-based confectioner The Sugar and Spice has been selected for the National Award to Small Scale Entrepreneurs for the year 2000. The company will receive the award, instituted by the ministry of small-scale industries, Government of India, at a programme in Delhi on August 28. Finance minister Jaswant Singh will give away the awards.

Andhra tourism

Andhra Pradesh won the award for best new destination, print material and stall decor at the recently-concluded Travel and Tourism Fair held at Netaji Indoor Stadium in Calcutta from August 2 to 4. Interesting new destinations highlighted by Andhra Pradesh include the Belum Caves, the longest in south India.

Protest play

Kosaikhanar Itikatha, a play based on the Gujarat communal riots, will be staged at the Academy of Fine Arts on Friday evening. The play has been written and directed by Satya Bandyopadhyay.    

Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
They are ‘living gods’ — walking, talking and blessing believers. Clad in full gear of the deity they ‘are’, the divine beings march across the mela grounds on major religious occasions, sometimes going solo, sometimes accompanied by their consorts.

On the hallowed soil of Tarakeshwar, Lord Shiva is the presiding deity, both within the temple and outside. And during the month-long Shravan Mela, which draws hordes of pilgrims from all over the state, the number of Shivas doing the rounds outside the temple multiplies.

At age 10, Mithun Das is a ‘veteran’ of six fairs. “I know all about the trade,” the savvy lad declares, adjusting the plastic snake around his neck. His charge, Ropa ‘Krishna’ Ruidas, is just two years younger, but the wide-eyed innocence is apparent on the blue-painted face of the debutant. Both are residents of nearby Loknath and report to “guru” Kali Pal, who has made a name for himself by impersonating the goddess of the outstretched tongue.

It is an organised business and all the ‘gods’ need a licence from the fair authorities. The daily earnings hover around Rs 70, informs 15-year-old Chitta Pal, the oldest of the ‘pantheon’. From this, the dresswallah claims hiring charges — Rs 25 for the gods and up to Rs 50 for the more elaborate gear of the goddesses.

Local boys all, they set out around eight in the morning and stay on till lunchtime or beyond, depending on the crowd. It is quite a sight watching them deal with devotees. Elderly people even touch their feet. “Sukhey thako (be happy) I tell them. But this one still cringes and moves away,” Mithun says, pointing to Ropa with a condescending look. “He’ll learn,” he adds philosophically.

Playing god imposes a strict diet regimen upon the boys. “Once we are in costume, non-vegetarian fare and rice are taboo. After the day’s work, we take a bath and have prasad. Only then are we free,” Chitta says.

But being booked at the fair means giving school a miss. Many try to do a balancing act. Sanjay Adhikari puts on his ‘third eye’ only on Sundays and Mondays, when the crowd is the biggest. On other days, ‘Parbati’ is a student of Class VI at Tarakeshwar Uchcha Bidyalaya. “My widowed mother is a jatra artiste. She didn’t qualify for the theatres as she is illiterate. I don’t want that to happen to me,” the boy says.

Whole-timers like Mithun, however, are too busy to think about school. “We are constantly on tour. During the lean season, we are posted in the markets of Seoraphuli, Serampore and Singoor,” he says. Mithun has even been to Calcutta “lots of times”. The big offers come from puja organisers. “We put up song-and-dance routines. A week’s stay fetches a tidy sum of around Rs 700.” But he has one regret. He has never gone sight-seeing in the city.

As another batch of baank-bearers arrive, renting the air with shouts of Bhole baba paar karega, the little lords look restless. It’s time to return to work.


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
The British Airways (BA) may increase its flight operations in Calcutta soon.

After paying a courtesy visit to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, regional director of British Airways in charge of Africa, west, central and south Asia Alan Burnett said at Writers’ Buildings that Bhattacharjee requested him to increase the number of flights between Calcutta and London and elsewhere.

“We are hopeful about increasing the frequency of flights. But first we will have to review the present situation,” said Burnett.

Denying any possibility of withdrawing BA operations from Calcutta, Burnett said BA was the only western carrier to serve the London-Calcutta sector and its connection with the city was over 70 years old. “We came to thank the chief minister for his support.” He said BA had been hit by the recession in the airline industry post September 11.

Burnett also met Governor Viren J. Shah and representatives of the chambers of commerce.


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
The massive campaign by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to check the spread of malaria in the city has suffered a major setback. A recent survey has revealed that most Calcuttans do not have adequate space at home to put up mosquito nets.

The study held architects and planners, besides the civic building rules, responsible for the spread of malaria in the city.

The CMC, this year, through billboards at most major intersections, has passed the buck of checking the disease to citizens, asking them to use mosquito nets and store clean water.

The pilot project on micro area malaria control strategy (MAMCS), funded by the state government, reveals that the per capita space available at night for sleeping is an important contributor to the scourge of malaria.

Under the MAMCS area-based study on the status of malaria-related factors in four wards — nos. 43, 66, 85 and 87— conducted by an NGO, Environment-Governed Integrated Organisation (EnGIO), in collaboration with the CMC, the space constraint was further confirmed. The state environment department had funded the study.

“The areas covered by the study included central Calcutta, Topsia, Peyarabagan and Southern Avenue,” said Jayanta Basu of EnGIO. The study revealed that those living in slums have hardly 10-15 sq feet to move about and more than 75 per cent have no space at all to put up mosquito nets.

“I don’t know who has coined the slogans for the anti-malaria campaigns, but it has had no effect on people. I think advising people to use mosquito nets in the city means nothing but the civic health department’s failure to check the spread of malaria,” said member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan, on Thursday.

“It is the CMC’s prime duty to ensure safe slumber for citizens,” Khan stressed. After its temporary eradication, malaria made a comeback with a pre-dominant urban character from the 70s. Now, 50 per cent of the incidence of malaria in the state is reported from Calcutta alone,” said Khan.

There were no deaths till the 80s. But in the 90s, the toll rose to 236, he added. According to him, malignant malaria — caused by plasmodium falciparum — was 0.1 per cent of the total malaria cases in the 70s. It shot up to 10 per cent of the total in the 90s. In the 70s, the annual incidence of malaria was 1,400; now, it has escalated to 28,900.

“As part of our strategies to combat malaria effectively, we have suggested in our preliminary report that the target audience should be the women in educationally-backward areas. We also plan to supply low-cost mosquito-repellent mats or coils as an alternative to nets,” added Basu.


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
Stung by the Malda lock-up tragedy, the state government has decided to construct a few more lock-ups in Alipore court. South 24-Parganas district magistrate Alapan Bandopadhyay inspected the lock-ups on Wednesday and found them too cramped.

Police said on Tuesday, a fight had broken out between two groups of criminals in the Calcutta Police lock-up at Alipore court over a jug of drinking water. Three criminals had asked the police for water but another group snatched the jug away when the constables delivered it inside the lock-up. Fisticuffs were exchanged and policemen had to break up the fight before it spun out of control.

Later, one of the groups had to be shifted to the female lock-up. “The female lock-up was empty and because the situation was very volatile, we decided to separate the groups,’’ said a sentry on duty at the lock-up.

The court inspector sent a report to deputy commissioner (south) Kuldeep Singh and district magistrate Alapan Bandopadhyay. During Wednesday’s inspection, the officials found the lock-up toilet was broken and the roof was leaking.

Bandopadhyay later held a meeting with the deputy commissioner (south) and other officers of the court and police. Sources said the meeting decided to direct the Public Works Department to construct two more lock-ups on the court premises.

“We are looking for space and work on the lock-ups will begin shortly,’’ a PWD officer said. At Alipore court, there is one lock-up only for Calcutta Police and another for South 24-Parganas police. The Calcutta Police lock-up is 200 square feet, but South 24-Parganas has a 529-sq-ft lock-up.

Court sources said under-trials from 16 police stations are brought to Alipore court every day and kept in the lock-up till the cases against them are disposed of. The South 24-Parganas lock-up houses criminals from 38 police stations.

“On an average, 250 criminals are brought to court every day and it is not possible to lodge them all in that small space. So, we are forced to keep a large number of criminals outside the lock-up,’’ said officer-in-charge Pinaki Mandal of Alipore thana. “It’s a big risk,’’ he added.

The South 24-Parganas police said 350 criminals are brought to court every day. “We are forced to keep most of them in prison vans,’’ an officer said.


Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
She was 25, expecting twins and suffering from pre-eclamptic toxaemia, a condition when the blood pressure soars to dangerously high levels. Four different types of anti-hypertensives administered at a leading city nursing home failed to control the BP and the young mother-to-be, suffering premature contractions and complaining of a shooting headache, ran the risk of brain haemorrhage.

She needed to deliver as soon as possible, but the babies, equally at risk, required a special support system to survive.

The woman in high distress was transferred “in-utero” to the Bhagirathi Neotia Woman & Child Care Centre, where an emergency Caesarean section was carried out. The twins, “extremely premature” and grossly underweight girls, were treated at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of the speciality hospital, the “first of its kind” in the city, and both are now doing fine, alongside their mother.

“An NICU is required to treat pre-term babies and ill or underweight term babies. Most of the facilities in Calcutta have only level-I facilities, which can provide basic care like treating intolerance to feeding, antibiotic therapy or phototherapy for jaundice. But for more serious conditions, like respiratory distress, septicaemia or meningitis, or any post-surgery case, level-II and level-III are musts, which are not available anywhere else,” says Sushmita Choudhury, consultant paediatrician and neonatalogist with the centre.

The NICU at the woman and child hospital on Rawdon Street, which opened its doors in February, has plugged a gaping hole in the city’s healthcare delivery system, believe doctors, having already treated 52 critical emergencies, ranging from pneumothorax or lung-rupture to multiple or high-risk pregnancies.

The 13-bed neonatal unit is equipped with microprocessor-based thermostat sensor-control incubators, baby warmers, a resuscitating workstation with each operation theatre and precise volumetric and syringe infusion pump to calculate delivery of fluid and medicine with precision. Besides, dual-calibrated oxygen flow meters deliver only as much oxygen as a neonate requires, to prevent brain or retina damage, often caused by overflow.

“In Calcutta, the incidence of septicaemia (a blood infection), meningitis and respiratory distress in neonates is very high. These are all killer diseases, demanding sophisticated intensive care with incubators, ventilator care, blood-gas machine, multi-parameter monitors and dedicated neonatal suction,” explains Choudhury

Every bed at the NICU has an eight-channel, high-end monitor which records heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen level, blood pressure, ECG, invasive blood pressure and external and peripheral temperatures, “another first”, confirms C.G. Muthana, chief administrator.

“We get a lot of referrals, thanks to our state-of-the-art NICU, and at Rs 1,000 for a four-bed ward and Rs 1,500 for a two-bed unit, the cost is anything but prohibitive,” stresses Madhu Neotia, director.


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