Data bank on diseases, deaths
Law harks back to the books in Kalibari row
Bar takes fast track to justice
Join-up offer with pay-and-use pitch
In The City
Did you know the Parsis had a Parthian connection?
Project office makes debut
Headmasters after 6 yrs
Lenses, magnifiers to see better with
Dinosaurs that won’t die out

Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
It takes a database to battle a disease better. With this in mind, a disease-mapping project for the entire state, with Calcutta as its focal point, is ready to inject a vital combat drug — information — into the health sector.

While this mapping will list which disease accounts for the death of how many Calcuttans, death certificates, as we know them, will also be rewritten. Gone will be the days when a death certificate simply stated that the patient died because of “cardio-respiratory failure”. Very soon, doctors will have to write down the exact cause of the disease, be it gastro-enteritis, malaria or jaundice.

“The disease profile obtained after such screening will be authentic and provide an insight into the various disease patterns in our state,” said Prabhakar Chatterjee, director of health services. The state health department, admitted Chatterjee, was “alarmed” at an absolute lack of proper documentation of deaths caused by diseases, their pattern and the lackadaisical attitude of hospital staff in keeping records of diseases and deaths. The new “Medical Certificate of Cause of Death”, besides helping in documentation and the mapping project, will come in handy when the government gets down to planning its annual budgetary allocation for different areas, say officials.

The disease-mapping project will start with Calcutta. “Most of the state’s teaching hospitals are in Calcutta,” said Chittaranjan Maiti, director of medical education. Also, Calcutta has the best infrastructure among the institutions within the government healthcare system, greater accessibility and a concentration of general physicians and specialists. “We have already held several rounds of meetings with the principals and superintendents of medical colleges, including SSKM Hospital,” added Maiti.

The disease-mapping project and detailed death certificates were necessities, said health department principal secretary Asim Barman. “The project is expected to start any day now,” he added. The new-look death certificates will now have, besides the person’s sex and age and exact cause of death, his/her occupation, social status and even habits like smoking and drinking that could have led to an early death, say officials.

This information will help doctors and researchers of the health intelligence wing build up a vital data bank.

At present, the government does not have any proper technique to obtain the correct figures of deaths caused by diseases like malaria, jaundice or gastro-enteritis, which often spark health scares, admit officials.

“The new death certificate will definitely help the government not only map diseases but also boost research,” superintendent of Medical College and Hospital K.K. Adhikari said.

This project, say officials, will require coordination between the health department on the one hand and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and other municipalities and panchayats on the other. “The state government, accordingly, has finalised plans to instal state-of-the-art software to store all the data from the various wards of the civic bodies,” they said.


Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
It is not usual for a court of law to take the help of Taranatha Tarkavachaspati’s Vachaspaatyam (A Comprehensive Sanskrit Dictionary) or Nagendra Nath Basu’s Bangla Vishwakosh. But, then, it is also not usual for a court of law to be called upon to arbitrate in matters that, at least apparently, verge on the spiritual.

Calcutta High Court, however, recently found itself being called upon to do exactly that: choosing between the sebayet and the tantradharak as the deity’s representative, or “next friend”.

After going through the arguments and the counter-arguments of the legal representatives of both the sebayet and the tantradharak — and the voluminous texts in Devanagari script — Justice Pratap Kumar Ray decreed that the tantradharak had “no locus standi to be the next friend of the deity”. He was, the court concluded, an employee under the sebayet, who was the controlling authority according to the will. So, the suit filed by the tantradharak was “not maintainable”.

Though the matter first came to Alipore court and then to the high court in the form of a sebayet-versus-tantradharak case, legal opinion says the matter concerns something “less spiritual”. The legal battle is actually over the control of Lake Kalibari, now being rebuilt on a grand scale on Southern Avenue.

Advocate Srikanta Bhattacharya filed the petition first in Alipore on behalf of temple tantradharak Ramkanai Chattopadhyay, claiming that the property was a “public debottor” one. He alleged that one Netai Chandra Bose had established himself as the sebayet and was mismanaging the property, in collusion with others, “by handling cash for personal gain, thereby causing injury to the frame of the deity in the mind of the devotees”.

Alipore court, however, ruled in Bose’s favour, prompting Chattopadhyay to appeal to the high court, where Bose’s counsel Ajay Mitra contended that it was Chattopadhyay who, along with his brother Haradhan, was trying to “grab the pranami, dakshina and ornaments offered to the deity”.

The legal battle prompted Calcutta High Court to get to the root of the word tantradharak. “The word tantra is a composition of two words (tan and tra, the former meaning vistar or expansion),” the court explained, adding that it was the tantradharak’s duty to “create the environment and make the correct sound waves by reciting the mantra”.

His status was equivalent to that of pujari, archak and purohit, “or a little bit higher”, the court said, but never equal to that of the sebayet.


Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Alarmed at the number of cases piling up in Calcutta High Court and the subordinate courts, the West Bengal Bar Council is moving out of the courtroom to “settle” some of the disputes.

This ‘out-of-court’ settlement move has the full sanction of the legal machinery. “We have already discussed the measures with Chief Justice A.K. Mathur,” former Bar Council chairman Saradindu Biswas said. “This is an effective way to reduce the number of pending cases.”

No such settlement, however, can be reached without the formal nod of the judge hearing the case. Lawyers of both plaintiff and respondent first sit together outside the courtroom to settle the matter. After arriving at a consensus, they report it to the judge. “The case is formally disposed of as soon as the settlement is approved by the judge,” said Biswas.

This method of disposing of cases is serving a twin purpose. “First, expenses will be nominal if the cases are settled outside court,” said Uttam Mazumder, West Bengal’s representative in the Bar Council of India. Second, the settlement will be swift, sparing clients the harassment of endless hearings.

Initially, there was some opposition to this route to fast-track justice, as a section of lawyers feared that the courtroom would be bypassed. “We have tried to impress upon our colleagues that a short-term sacrifice is necessary to restore people’s confidence in the system and bring them back to the courts,” said a senior West Bengal Bar Council member said.

To popularise the new system, the Bar Council has published a journal highlighting its merits. “Most pending cases are being settled outside the courts to help people get justice in many European countries,” observed Ashok Deb, executive member of the Bar Council.

At the high court, too, the importance of justice not being delayed is being stressed, with Chief Justice Mathur directing judges to reserve Tuesdays and Thursdays as “old-matter” days. The aim is to bring down the number of pending cases, pegged at 237,000 in June.


Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
Wanted: the corporate crowd on the fast track, keen to club it out. With operating costs spiralling and hardly any room to add to their ‘permanent’ rosters, Calcutta’s clubs are looking at short-term bailout options.

Temporary or ‘associate’ membership is the name of the game, as the traditional institutions in the country’s club capital try to grapple with the cash crunch by targeting those who can pay-and-use. Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC), the second oldest golf club in the world outside the British Isles, was first off the blocks, putting the associate membership scheme — at Rs 75,000 for five years — in place.

The club, which has put a cap of 300 on such temporary members, claims “encouraging response”, having already given 37 the right of use. These members won’t have voting rights and can’t hit the greens on weekends. “We can’t take in more permanent members because the course is choc-a-bloc during weekends. The principal idea behind the associate membership drive is to spread usage of the course through the week and give more people the chance to play the game,” explains RCGC captain V.K. Singh. But it will, of course, help in Royal’s upgradation plans.

Across Deshapran Sashmal Road, Tollygunge Club is ready to roll out a similar red carpet for associate members, but not without a bump or two. One EGM to discuss the issue had to be postponed after the proposal met with resistance from old-timers. But recognising it as a viable instrument to garner much-needed resources, Tolly officials are keen to reschedule the EGM for taking in associate members.

“We are looking at 200 new entrants, who can get in for Rs 75,000 and stay on for five years,” says K.B. Menon, chief executive and managing member, Tollygunge Club Ltd. Besides the cash in hand, this scheme also helps the club “optimise usage” of facilities, boosting monthly returns.

Saturday Club is keen to follow the same model, but with a difference. “We will put the money (accruing from associate members) aside for contingencies,” says Prem Nayar, ex-officio of the club. The club, which has put a Rs 1.5-lakh tag on temporary members for five years, has called an EGM on September 3. Club officials admit there is a sense of “unease” over a possible shift in member profile, but are hopeful the resolution to rope in young professionals will be passed. “We will be careful not to dilute membership norms, but this is the only way for clubs to survive,” says president T.P. Ray.

The Circle, one of the two new-age clubs of the Sanjeevani Group, has also floated a temporary membership scheme. One can use all the facilities of the club by paying Rs 1,500 per month, and in the first month itself, 50 have signed up. “It’s a worldwide trend with corporate executives often on the move to seek greener pastures. Clubs have to factor this in and cater to transitory members who help generate revenue,” observes Michael Robertson, CEO, lifestyle division, Sanjeevani Group.



Fake railway ticket examiner held

The Government Railway Police (GRP) picked up Goutam Mondal from a Diamond Harbour local on charges of posing as a ticket-examiner on Sunday night. Mondal, 28, was challenged by two Railway Protection Force jawans at Baruipur when he asked them for tickets. Police said that such a gang has been operating from Baruipur to Mograhat for a long time.

Twin mishaps take toll of one

One person was killed and another injured in twin accidents in the city on Sunday. Police said Rajab Ali Molla, 40, died after he was run over by a minibus near Alipore zoo. The driver fled. In another accident, an unidentified man was injured when a taxi hit him in front of Islamia Hospital, in central Calcutta. The driver fled with the vehicle.

Vendors robbed

Four miscreants robbed Rs 30,000 from newspaper hawkers at gun-point in central Calcutta on Sunday morning, police said.

Writers’ alarm

A short-circuit at Writers’ Buildings put securitymen on alert on Sunday. Around 4.15 pm, smoke from a telephone box on the ground floor set off the fire alarm, fire brigade sources said. Two fire tenders reached the spot immediately. The local telephone circuit was switched off.

Hall jubilee

A number of events have been lined up for August 19 to mark the 64th foundation day of Mahajati Sadan.

Cardiac camp

United Bank of India Staff Welfare and Cultural Society organised a medical camp at the Park Street branch of the bank on Sunday. Cardiac problems were detected in 90 per cent of the 500 people tested, in the age group of 11 to 47 years.

Airport pilferage

Two youths were arrested at the airport early on Sunday for pilfering cables from the electrical maintenance office of the Airports Authority office.    

Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
The Parsis are like a drop in the ocean of humanity. All over the world, 135,000 of them exist. Of them, 55,000 live in Mumbai, and 20,000 in the rest of India. That includes the 700 in Calcutta. So tiny a community has inspired a 761-page tome so heavy that it can easily give a severe case of spondylitis to any reader who tries to handle it. It comes with a price tag to match.

Asked why they felt the need to bring out so large a volume, Pheroza J. Godrej and Firoza Punthakey Mistree, the two editors of A Zoroastrian Tapestry, Art Religion & Culture, who were in Calcutta on Sunday for its launch, said they were keen that it would portray Zoroastrianism in all its “richness, variety and vastness” through words and pictures.

Godrej specialises in British artists who recorded the topography of India. Mistree works for Zoroastrian Studies, an organisation that promotes the study of religion among all sections of society. Both the editors are Mumbai-based and are perfectly groomed like the book itself, which is published by Mapin.

Besides essays by writers who are specialists in their particular fields from all over the world, the book is profusely illustrated with rarely-seen photographs and prints, which the editors culled from archives and museums to which they gained access only in the recent past — after the disintegration of the USSR, and after Iran began to open to the world. The region where their story is set has attracted unprecedented media attention post-9/11.

The essays cover the entire gamut of topics conceivable on Zoroastrianism, from the teachings of the prophet, its literary treasures, mythology and art, interface with religions such as Hinduism and Christianity, as well as the condition of the faithful in 20th Century Iran, and extended discussions on Parsi lifestyles. To the lay reader, the articles on the Parthians, Parsi portraits of western India, and the comparison between the Rig Veda and the Avesta should come as revelations.

Written in a heavy and largely academic style, these are leavened with lighter pieces on the evolution of Parsi costume and cuisine and a wealth of illustrations.

The scholars who contributed, however, were initially “a little apprehensive” about the latter. But after locating them, the editors ensured that every single illustration was vetted by the scholars, who were quite pleased with the results. For, they afford glimpses of forbidden territory, such as the towers of silence and the fire temples.

Some of the pictures will, perhaps, be seen for the first time. Godrej says for her article on Parsi portraits, she had to ferret out paintings in the private collections and those with fire temples, which are privately endowed. The photographs of Iran in late 19th Century, taken by Adersher Edulji Reporter, who was sent by Parsis in Mumbai, too, will be seen for the first time. Each picture has an extended caption that is meant to lure readers with a short attention span.

The book ends with 1947, as both editors admit that “neither is trained to chronicle contemporary history”. It is also “Bombay-centric” because no research has been done on Calcutta, they say.

Both Godrej and Mistree regret that Parsis have been “over-secularised”. But they feel their book has enough visual and textual baits and the new generation will rise to them.


Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
A new office, funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to monitor a Rs 1275-crore environment improvement project for the city, will soon come up on AJC Bose Road, near the Park Circus intersection.

“We will take possession of the premises on Monday to furnish it as the ADB’s project office. Work on the scheme is likely to start from December,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Sunday. According to an agreement, the project will have to be completed by 2008.

The steering committee of the ADB project, led by municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya, decided at a meeting on Saturday to include four wards on the city’s eastern fringes and a revamp of Bagjola canal under the scheme.

“We have decided to include east Calcutta following a demand by the mayor, councillors and MLAs of the area,” said Bhattacharya. The four wards — 57, 58, 66 and 67 — extend from Ballygunge Place (East) to Topsia, Tiljala, Kasba’s Picnic Garden, Dhakuria and Kalikapur. The ADB-funded infrastructure development schemes were initially drawn up for six wards in north Calcutta, up to Cossipore, and 41 wards in the added areas of Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur. The resolution will be sent to the ADB headquarters in Manila for approval.

The Rs 150-crore surplus, to be generated following a Central government decision to slash the rate of interest from six per cent to two per cent on the loan, will be ploughed in as additional funds for the extended areas. The loan will be realised as drainage charges from households. The development scheme will focus on laying an underground sewer network in the city.

However, mayor Mukherjee is doubtful about the realisation of the cost of the ADB scheme. He pointed out that in the 1970s, several thousand crores were spent on laying underground sewer lines in the CMDA area, from Bansberia to Budge Budge, but not a single sewer connection could be given to date. “The only beneficiaries were the contractors and some corrupt officials,” Mukherjee added.

The steering committee of the development scheme is finalising the appointments of four consultants in project management, design, construction, NGOs and public relations. A high-power committee, headed by the chief secretary, will monitor the scheme. The committee laid stress on greater involvement of NGOs and members of the ward committees in carrying out the project.


Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
For nearly 1,100 secondary and Higher Secondary schools in the state that have functioned without a full-time headmaster for the past six years, the wait is finally over.

The West Bengal School Service Commission (SSC), which prepares the panel for recruitment, has drawn up a list of schools that do not have a full-time headmaster and conducted a selection test to fill the vacancies.

Attributing the reason for the delay to the dearth of funds, education department officials said on Saturday that the teachers-in-charge of the schools were doubling up as headmasters.

Officials admitted that many of the teachers-in-charge had already expressed their inability to continue with the dual responsibilities.

According to them, the absence of full-time headmasters in the schools was hampering academic work. As heads of the institutions, the teachers-in-charge have to perform administrative duties as well as take their quota of classes.

“We are likely to finalise our panel for recruitment in the 1,100 schools before the Pujas,” SSC chairman Arun Kiran Chakraborty said on Saturday.

Sources in the school education department said the actual number might be even higher, as a number of district inspectors of schools had failed to submit data regarding vacancies on time.

Following a directive from the school education department regarding filling all the vacant posts of headmasters, these district inspectors were asked to “speed up” the submission of their reports.

“We have recently received some more information regarding the vacancies in schools and are planning to hold another round of interviews soon after the Pujas,” Chakraborty added.

Even if the six-year wait ends for the vacant seats of headmasters, it is learnt that the state government is not keen to recruit assistant teachers. There are plans to appoint teachers on a contract basis, instead.

Recently, the government has upgraded 148 secondary schools to Higher Secondary institutions and accorded secondary status to 205 primary schools. Many of the institutions reportedly lack an adequate number of teachers, and the school authorities have written to the government, urging it to fill up the vacant posts.


Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
For five-year-old Sargam Chhetri, the right to a mainstream education has been swiftly slipping away. When Sudeshna Chhetri was five months pregnant, she contracted rubella, which resulted in her daughter being born severely underweight and with cataracts in both eyes.

Six operations later, little Sargam’s power has come down from +24 to +4 in the right eye, while she can only sense light through the left. But with both her lenses removed, the Class I student of G.D. Birla Centre for Education cannot see very far and cannot read the blackboard at all. “Till now, her teachers have been very cooperative,” says Sudeshna. “But as pressures are increasing, teachers don’t always have the time and her classmates are not always ready to help.”

Around a month ago, the Chhetris heard of a Low Vision Aids Clinic. Set up at Himalaya Opticals’ Bowbazar showroom, this small centre has just opened its doors to the public. It specialises in aids for those who have partially lost their vision, for whom normal glasses are not fully effective.

In-depth sessions made clear Sargam’s problem. “She also suffers from a sort of tunnel vision,” explains Avijit Das, in charge of the centre. He gave her a “telescope”. No longer than two inches, the imported instrument has a prism lens, which enhances the images.

Now Sargam will be able to read the board on her own. “Amar mon bolchhe amar etate subidhe hobe (My heart tells me that this will make things easier for me),” nods the bubbly young girl.

There are numerous kinds of aids — ranging from practical to hi-tech — for those with similar problems. Simple hand-held magnifiers may do the trick for some, but others, like the elderly, often can’t use these. So they are given a cup-shaped glass instrument with a lens attached. Glasses with prismatic lenses are also available. Then there is a hand-held mouse-like magnifier, which can be rested on reading material, line-by-line. This connects to any TV set and displays the enlarged image on screen.

The Himalaya clinic has received “overwhelming” response. “We have examined around 90 patients in a month, 35 of whom have been given some kind of aid,” says Sarat Binani, of the B.B. Ganguly Street centre. There are plans to set up one in south Calcutta. “No one is providing specialised treatment of this kind in eastern India, so there is a definite demand for this technology,” adds Binani.


Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
The august gathering at the packed International Congress Centre hall in Berlin erupted in unstinting applause as Unmesh Kirtikar finished reading his paper on ‘Future perspectives of Asian urban societies’. Kirtikar, a Calcutta-based architect, was the sole Indian speaker at the 21st World Congress of Architecture held in the German capital from July 22 to 26. Balbir Verma, president of Indian Institute of Architects, was there as an invited delegate.

The paper, penned by Kirtikar along with veteran architect and town planner Santosh Ghosh, was a vital step forward for the Centre for Built Environment (CBE), a city-based “think-tank” of professional architects, city planners and environmentalists. The voluntary, non-profit society has grown into an internationally-recognised institution with linkages to similar organisations in 50 countries.

“It was the greatest moment of my life when German guru Albert Speer (whose father was Hitler’s architect) embraced me after my reading and the audience gave me a standing ovation,” recounts Kirtikar. “It was a rare honour and a wonderful experience to share the same stage with such respected architects like Lord Norman Foster, Frank Gerry, Ken Yeang, Georgi Stoilov, Klaus Unger and Bernd Zimmerman.”

Kirtikar was among the 70-plus speakers at the congress and his paper was part of the session ‘Limits of mega-cities’ chaired by Heinrich Weifing. The poster he used as backdrop depicted the twin Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur superimposed on a huge dinosaur. He argues that the 21st Century will be an urban century and Asia will be a continent of mega-cities. In 1990, there were only 12 cities in the world with population of more than 10 million and Asia had seven such cities. It is projected that by 2010, there will be 21 such cities and Asia will have at least 12 of them.

“European cities will disappear from this list, except Paris, and only New York and Los Angeles from North America will be included. Such mega-cities are like dinosaurs. But unlike dinosaurs, they will not be extinct. The mega-cities will live with poverty and pollution, health and hygiene problems and increasing deficits in services and infrastructure,” he writes.

Kirtikar feels there is a lot in common between Berlin and Calcutta in the eye of an architect and there are lessons in urban renewal to be learnt from the German capital. Berlin has already incorporated in its masterplan the concept of urban agriculture, which CBE had put on the agenda of UN Habitat II in Istanbul.

“Apart from urban rejuvenation, German experts are keen to share with Calcutta their best practices in riverfront development, mass housing and pedestrianisation of city centres,” says the architect.


Maintained by Web Development Company