Clean, green city plan in 21 years
Beauty bug bleeds schoolgirls dry
BJP ready to bite Mamata Cong bullet
SC moved on green bench
Historical research council in dire straits
Child �helpers� in buses
Mechanic gives up hope on kin
ASTC chief resigns over salary arrears
Meghalaya Opp. lambasts �lazy� ministers
Uncertainty dogs tenure of Mawlong govt

The government has asked the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority to prepare a perspective plan for development of Calcutta over the next 21 years, provoking critics to point their finger at political motives behind the initiative. Cleaner air and cleaner looks are the broad objectives of the plan, preparatory work on which will get off the blocks at an urban development department-organised workshop on April 10. It will be attended by experts in town and country planning, transport and anti-pollution engineering and officials of public utilities like the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, Calcutta Metropolitan Water and Sanitation Authority and CESC Ltd. Urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya and environment minister Manab Mukherjee will brief the agencies at the workshop on the government�s plans for the city.

A special cell in the CMDA has already been set up to prepare the plan, which, officials claim, no government has dared make an attempt at in the past.

It has the following components:

Check unplanned growth of concrete jungles

Relocate all industrial units outside human habitation

Identify the business districts in the heart of Calcutta and shift them to Howrah

Intensify development of slums and check future growth

Thorough road-planning and construction of flyovers.

Manab Mukherjee said the business district located in Esplanade is likely to be relocated on the massive strips of Calcutta Port Trust land lying unused on the bank of the Hooghly on the Howrah side. �We have plans to develop these land strips after discussions with the CPT to shift business centres from the Esplanade area,� he said.

Mukherjee claimed communication will not be a problem, since commuters can use the Vidyasagar Setu and the Howrah Bridge. �This new complex will be set up in such a position so that people can use both the bridges. The riverfronts on both Howrah and Calcutta sides will be developed and beautified. Already, we have started beautifying the riverfront on the Calcutta side. This will also help us prevent unauthorised encroachment on these lands in the future,� he added.

The perspective plan will also have provision to set up complexes outside Calcutta to make space for the 20,000-odd industrial units that exist in the city. These will be relocated over the next eight years.

A special greening and beautification drive on the Esplanade-Maidan stretch will continue till the proposed business complexes in Howrah are completed. The CMC will be instructed to cement all the pavements or beautify them with green patches to provide relief from pollution. Instead of encouraging construction of multi-storeyed buildings in the municipal area, the plan will lay stress on satellite townships, like the one coming up at New Town in Rajarhat. A detailed plan will be chalked out for five more satellite townships around Calcutta, which will come up in the next 21 years.

A rehaul of the traffic system will shift the emphasis from buses. More taxis and autos � which are more polluting and will, therefore, defeat the cleaner-air objective of the plan � will be put into service. These will ply short distances within traffic zones that will be created to reduce the possibility of congestion.

Political observers see multiple motives of the ruling CPM behind the plan. After two decades of neglect, the Left Front appears to have woken up to the city�s long-term development needs, now that its Bengal bastion is under serious threat.    

Thin is definitely In.

Several schoolgirls, bitten by the beauty pageant bug, are on a drastic diet trip, flattening their tummies and falling sick in the bargain.

Principals and teachers of several girls� schools blame it all on the beauty business. �

The hype over pageants and ramp shows has created a craze for having the perfect figure and taking up modelling as a career,� says Arundhati Mukherjee, teacher of Gokhale Memorial Girls� School. With stars in their eyes, these girls are on a fanatical slimming trip by taking the easy way out � skipping meals. Prema Kapoor, mother of a Class IX student at Shree Shikshayatan, said her daughter has fainted in school twice in three months. �She refuses to eat proper meals. She wants to become a model and has been dieting for a year.� �Mothers of many students often request me to tell their daughters not to skip breakfast or lunch. The problem has emerged over the last year or so,� says G.R. D�Costa Hart, principal, Welland Gouldsmith School, in central Calcutta. Kajari Mukherjee, principal of Rajasthan Vidya Mandir School, in north Calcutta, said that students of her school, failing to cope with the academic pressure on an empty stomach, fall ill quite frequently.

For some it�s a fad, for others, it�s furtherance of their career goals, for the rest it�s plain peer pressure. �Modelling is not my aim. But I definitely want to maintain a good figure,� giggles 16-year-old Moon Moon Agarwal, of Shri Shikshayatan. But Rakhi Sharma has already hit the beauty trail by bagging a crown at a school pageant. �I come from a family of doctors, but I want to become a model and for that, I have to take extra care of my body,� says the 16-year-old. �I do not really enjoy dieting. But if I put on weight, I will become the object of ridicule in my group,� complains a 14-year-old of Modern High School. The desperation to conform to the present norms of looking good is robbing many girls of their pleasures of growing up. �We find it surprising to see even girls of Class V, who are not even into their teens, refusing to eat chocolates out for fear that they might put on weight,� says D. Roy, teacher of a central Calcutta school. Gaurangi Jhunjhunwala, a Class VI student at Mahadevi Birla Girls� Higher Secondary School, corroborates: �I love chocolates. But I hardly eat them as they contain a lot of fat. If I get fat I will not look tall, and if I don�t look tall, I will not look beautiful like the models.� The toll it is taking on their bodies is not funny. Dr Shova Ghosh, eminent gynaecologist, says: �Two groups of young girls come to me � one overweight and the other underweight. Both are bad for the development of a child, but not having a minimum intake of food is most harmful. Their systems will not mature properly.� Parents, especially mothers, have a large role to play by �guiding their daughters and guarding against excess�. Alarmed that slimming through diet and not proper exercise may lead to severe health problems for the girls, several schools in Calcutta are introducing serious extra-curricular activities. Those which do not have large playgrounds are encouraging girls to take up physical exercise at home. M Goyal, principal of Mahadevi Birla School, says: �Now that the girls are becoming figure- conscious, it is extremely essential for the school authorities to make them understand that it is ideal to maintain one�s figure by means of physical exercise and not dieting.� So, swimming, yoga and gymnastics have been made compulsory for students. Says Sister Cyril, principal of Loreto Day School, Sealdah: �I strongly oppose children dieting. We have introduced yoga classes and we take the girls to the villages every Thursday and make them walk for long distances. This helps them keep fit.�    

Fearing that Mamata Banerjee�s Trinamul Congress may suddenly choose to become oblivious of their alliance during the coming civic polls, the state BJP said on Monday that it was open to the idea of joining forces with the state Congress as part of Mamata�s proposed Mahajot (grand alliance) of non-left parties.

�We were once against joining hands with the state Congress in Bengal. But the coming civic elections have prompted us to collaborate with the party,� said state BJP president Asim Ghosh.

He felt a conglomerate of non-left parties in Bengal will emerge within a couple of days� time to ensure the defeat of the ruling leftists in the upcoming elections.

�We will not even mind sharing a platform in the city with Congress workers, if they come with tricolours,� observed party spokesman Tathagatha Roy.

Insiders say the shift in the BJP�s stand follows a directive from the party�s central leadership. �State leaders have been asked to put up with the Congress to keep Mamata in good humour,� they added.

It also appears that, spurred by Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha�s announcement at a press conference in Calcutta on Sunday that the Congress was not �untouchable�, the BJP has begun the fresh move on aligning with Congress-Trinamul Mahajot.

�The Congress may be the main Opposition in the country but, at the same time, we must realise that the proposed Mahajot is the only alternative that can avert a split in non-left votes during the civic polls,� said state BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan.

However, a section of party functionaries and ordinary workers have reacted strongly to the BJP stand. Sources said dissidents were gearing up for a showdown at the ensuing state committee meeting of the party.

The BJP leadership is worried at the steady exodus of BJP workers into the Trinamul for the past couple of months. State BJP chief Ghosh admitted that a sizeable section of party workers from five major zones in the city had switched over to the Trinamul Congress in recent months.

A confidential report prepared by the party on its current membership reveals that it has considerably shrunk in the city and greater Calcutta areas. The membership has come down in north-east and north-west Calcutta, including Burrabazar, Jorasanko, Jorabagan; in Behala, Jadavpur, Rashbehari, Ballygunge in south Calcutta; and in the sprawling Tiljala-Kasba-Topsia belt on the city�s eastern fringe.    

A case has been filed with the Supreme Court against Calcutta High Court for not ensuring regular sittings of the green bench, in violation of the apex court�s directives. The petition, filed by the Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Samiti, has alleged that quite a few public interest cases are pending before the court as environment cases have not been heard for the past 45 days. The apex court has admitted the petition and hearing of the case is expected in a few days.

Due to the cases pending before the green bench, a good number of development projects, including the Rajarhat township, renovation of morgues, beautification of Rabindra Sarobar and desiltation of Tolly�s Nullah, have been suspended, the petition says. It says the green bench at Calcutta High Court had been constituted in 1995 on the basis of a petition by the Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Samiti filed before the Supreme Court. �

When a case was filed regarding pollution problems in Howrah, the apex court had ordered Calcutta High Court to create a green bench to hear matters relating to environment,� said Samiti general secretary Subhas Dutta. He said Calcutta High Court was told to ensure the sitting of such a bench at least twice a week, �but instead, it is sitting only once a week�. But after the retirement of Justice Bhagabati Prosad Banerjee, only half a day was fixed for the bench. Dutta said in his petition: �

It is unfortunate that no case has been heard by the bench for at least 45 days.�

The petitioner demanded a fresh directive from the Supreme Court in this regard. Meanwhile, a section of lawyers of Calcutta High Court has criticised the neglect of the green bench.

Kallol Guha Thakurta, an advocate, said: �

It is the green bench which has expedited many development projects in our city. The condition of the Mominpur morgue has improved dramatically. The Calcuttans are also getting pure drinking water due to the intervention of the bench.� Subrata Mukherjee, a lawyer and resident of Howrah, agreed: �The verdicts of the green bench have changed the atmosphere of the paan bazar and the fish market in Howrah.� Another environment activist said: �The administration had to pull up its socks after the judiciary intervened in development issues.�

Gangrape alleged:

A 17-year-old girl has allegedly been gangraped by three drunken youth at Madhyamgram, in North 24-Parganas. The news filtered through two days after the incident, when the girl fell ill on Monday. A complaint has been lodged with the Madhyamgram police station.    

Guwahati, April 3 
The future of the city-based regional centre of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) seems to be in the dark because of the Northeastern states� reluctance to contribute to its corpus fund.

Though the centre, which operates from Guwahati University has a building, its functioning has been affected because of the financial crunch. The ICHR had decided to open a regional centre for the Northeast as it was getting increasingly difficult to give proper representation to the region. The idea was mooted by former human resources development minister Muhiram Saikia.

J.N. Phukan, in-charge of the regional centre of the Indian Council of Historical Research, said work was progressing in a �very slow manner� and it would be difficult to foresee the future. The centre has not even been formally inaugurated as yet.

Each Northeastern state was asked to pay Rs 25 lakh for setting up a corpus fund for the centre. Phukan said, �There has been no progress in this matter as no state government of the region has done anything.� He said the ICHR should put pressure on the governments to contribute to the corpus fund. They could pay the money in instalments, he added.

Sources said the failure in setting up the corpus fund would hamper the centre�s functioning in the long run. Apart from the extensive research work to be undertaken by the centre, it would also affect infrastructural work.

The regional centre�s objectives, as enshrined in its constitution, are promotion and research of historical work in the region. However, advertisements for undertaking research work have not received much response as yet, the sources said.

The sources said the ICHR should delegate powers to the regional centre to strengthen it.

The national council is headed by a 18-member body having representatives from all over the country.

Funds sanctioned: The North Eastern Development Finance Corporation has sanctioned Rs 888.39 lakh in 22 projects spread over the seven states of the region. The sanctions have increased by 25 per cent over last year.    

Guwahati, April 3 
It is a perennial sight at city bus stops � barefoot boys, mostly below 14, standing on the footboard of the Assam State Transport Corporation (ASTC) buses, unmindful of the dangers it poses.

The ASTC management, however, denies any knowledge of the appointment of these �helpers� to bus conductors. �It is a private and personal arrangement between the conductor and his handyman. The corporation has nothing to do with this.�

Conductor Ramen Kalita said, �We employ them for Rs 15-25 to help us in our job as it is impossible for us to look after the entire bus. They help us get passengers by standing on the footboards and calling out destinations. Most of them are children who do not have any family,� he added.

Besides the perils of the job, it also violates the law which prohibits children below 14 from being employed. General secretary of the state transport workers� union Pradip Kumar Sharma said: �It is a crime and we have told the conductors not to employ anybody below the age of 14.�

But all this holds no meaning for 13-year-old Abdul who regularly shuttles between Ganeshguri and Adabari for a mere pittance. �I just jumped into a bus and asked the conductor to help me get work. He asked me to help him get passengers by standing on the footboard,� he said.

Most of the boys engaged as �helpers� are orphans and are often lured into antisocial activities. Confirming this, a union member said the boys often took up the job, despite the dangers, in order to earn a decent living.

Most of the boys cannot afford to be choosy. Says Samir, �I work in all sorts of buses. To me it does not make any difference. My objective is to get some money and this job helps me to get it,� he gushed.

Conductor Mohan Burman felt that since they paid the �helpers� from their pockets, the matter was no one else�s concern.

�They have been doing a decent job by helping us in the rush hours. We know it is a dangerous job, but then nothing can be done about it. The boys just beg for a small amount in order to earn a living� he added.

However, following union instructions forbidding conductors from employing children below the age of 14, the trend is now on the decline. But chances of its vanishing completely are unlikely.

Neither are they likely to have any impact on a corporation which does not have any monitoring system and is in the red. A top ASTC official said, �Since we have not employed them and they are not regular employees, we cannot do anything.�    

Guwahati, April 3 
Not everyone is as lucky as Abhishek Verma, who was reunited with his family five years after his abduction.

Sunil Adhikary, a city-based scooter mechanic, was separated from his family members 23-and-a-half years ago, but is yet to be reunited with them. Married and the father of a son, he has given up hopes of ever meeting his kin again.

Sunil says his family �lost� him somewhere in Dhubri when he was �very young�. A tax official spotted him and brought him home. �I do not know how old I was, but the family which brought me up feels I was about two-and-a-half years old,� says Sunil, who got the surname �Adhikary� from his foster parents.

Sunil, who works at a scooter garage near the G.R. Kalita commercial complex at Ulubari, says he grew up in Dhubri and studied till class VIII before moving to Guwahati in search of a job.

Ask him if he would like to be reunited with his family like Abhishek was, Sunil finds himself at a loss for words. �I do not know,� he says, adding, �I am 26 years old now and have a wife and a son. They comprise the only family I know.�

Sunil has married twice. His first wife passed away in Dhubri two years back. �I do not know what happened to her because I was here. The doctors failed to diagnose her illness,� he says.

Last year, the scooter mechanic re-married at the Basistha temple here.

�I am quite happy with my wife and son. I do not know how I will react if my long-lost parents or siblings if I have any � suddenly come into my life,� he says.

�All I can do now is to ensure that my son does not get lost,� Sunil adds.    

Guwahati, April 3 
Acting managing director of the Assam State Transport Corporation (ASTC) Paresh Saikia resigned today as he failed to keep his commitment regarding payment of salaries to the employees.

The employees had asked Saikia, who assumed office on March 24, to clear their salary dues by March 31. The employees have not been getting salaries for the past seven months. Sources said they met him today and asked him to tender his resignation.

The employees have asked the management to take action against corporation lease defaulters. A union spokesman also said the management had failed to give a satisfactory reply to their queries regarding buying of spare parts and tyres.

Though Rs 14 lakh has been spent on buying the spare parts and tyres, there has been no perceptible increase in the number of ASTC buses. Not even 200 ASTC buses are seen on the city roads.    

Shillong, April 3 
The Meghalaya Opposition today lashed out at �lazy ministers� who did not do their �homework� and ended up giving misleading answers to queries in the Assembly.

Ministers, who had earlier spent the Question Hour wise-cracking or waiting for officials to pass on answers slips through the ward boys, now have to catch up with the latest.

�This system of passing of slips from the officers� gallery to ministers indicates how empty their minds are,� said leader of Opposition D.D. Lapang. This is the first time that any representative has taken cognisance of the embarrassing habit of �passing slips� in the House.

The ward boys run back and forth from the ministers� seat to the bureaucrats in the officers� gallery. The bureaucrats hand out slips with answers to supplementary questions posed by the legislators.

Sometimes, the answers are wide off the mark. Public health engineering minister Sing Mulieh today came out with an answer that had nothing to do with the Opposition�s query. He apparently mixed up the slips. Lapang urged the chief minister to �speak to his ministers about this.��

Lapang hit out at the ministers while discussing the censure motion moved against industries minister Simon Siangshai for giving misleading replies to questions raised by Independent member Pynshai Manik Syiem and Congress member Robert G. Lyndoh earlier.

The censure motion was dropped after the minister apologised and withdrew his offending statements. Siangshai is the second minister against whom a censure motion was moved.

�Information should be forthcoming.Unless the ministers do their homework and reply seriously, it is meaningless to talk in the Assembly,� said Robert G. Lyngdoh.

He urged the chief minister to tell his ministers to �give proper information� to the Opposition as they were the �watch-dogs of the society.�

Reply to Jacob�s speech: The Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), a Khasi militant outfit, will respond to the state government�s call for peace and negotiations within the next few days, said chief minister E.K. Mawlong replying to the debate on the Governor�s address. Mawlong said he was concerned about the law and order situation in the state. �Things are so bad that development schemes cannot be implemented in some parts of the state as the officials are insecure,� the chief minister admitted.

Corroborating reports in a section of the Press, he said the Achik National Volunteers Council (ANVC), a Garo outfit, has welcomed the offer for talks.

He hoped that the HNLC would take a cue from the ANVC and agree to negotiate. Mawlong said he would convene an all-party meeting to find out a lasting solution to the insurgency problem. �We have to discuss the issue threadbare and see what can be done to discourage people from taking up arms,� he said.

Forest conservation: The chief minister said an official resolution would be introduced in the House calling on the Centre to exempt Meghalaya from the purview of the Forest Conservation Act, 1986. According to him, the Act clashed with the traditional system of forest management and the Autonomous District Councils provisions under the Sixth Schedule.    

Shillong, April 3 
The question doing the rounds here is how long chief minister E.K. Mawlong will last. And it is not an idle one, considering his is the fifth government in two years.

No legislator is willing to bet on his chances of completing the full term, ending February 2003. The ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) members could only hope that the legislators remain stable and satisfied.

Mawlong�s leadership equations seem to be somewhat different as they hinge on factors outside his partyfold. According to a senior legislator, Mawlong�s leadership is dependent on the cohesion in his rival party, the Congress, and not on his own group which comprises 20 UDP legislators, 16 Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) members, three BJP MLAs and some Independents.

The calculation is that as long as the Congress stands united and in the Opposition, Mawlong�s leadership remains unchallenged. If the Congress splits, the breakaway group will join the NCP, making it a bigger group than the UDP. As a bigger group, the NCP is bound to make a claim for the leader�s post, the legislator said.

The senior politician also said the Speaker�s post, which Mawlong vacated when he became the chief minister, was crucial to his remaining in leadership. But the NCP had already staked claim to the post, indicating a split in the ruling party over the issue. Little wonder election to the post was not held during this session of the Assembly. It was kept in abeyance till Mawlong could work out a strategy to get his �loyalist� elected, observers said.

However, legislators said this would be a tough task for Mawlong as he does not have any �loyalist� in the sense that B.B. Lyngdoh did. �He became chief minister by default only,� the senior legislator said, adding that most of the UDP MLAs would rather have Lyngdoh at the helm, but for his overbearing kitchen Cabinet led by his daughter. The Speaker�s election in June is expected to be marked by massive cross voting, indicating the cross currents in the various political parties. Observers said Mawlong was taking Lyngdoh everywhere with him to dispel any doubts of animosity.

Mawlong�s lack of experience as an administrator is another factor which raises doubts about the government�s chances of a full term. He only served one-and-a-half years as a minister since 1990 and a term-and-a-half as a Speaker. Moreover, as a Speaker he left the Assembly in a mess, the legislators said. �Running a coalition with so many groups is a tough task especially for one who has no experience,�� a minister said.    


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