Poison air scars children�s lungs
Warning of Blackout II
CMC honour for Amartya�s house
Face-to-face with Feluda
Army to crack down in Karbi hills
Manipur bans function at martyrs� memorial
Sinha to look into NEC fund misuse
Tripura child labour survey raises doubts

They have never smoked a cigarette in their lives. But the lungs of these six-seven-year-olds look just like those of �cigarette smokers with a regular habit�.

According to a yet-undisclosed research, sponsored by the state pollution control board (PCB), schoolchildren in the city are showing alarming pulmonary symptoms, not unlike those of �adult smokers�. The study has been undertaken to determine the effects of the city�s air pollution on its inhabitants.

The investigation, undertaken by a team comprising scientists from the National Cancer Research Centre and Calcutta University, has found enough evidence to suggest that children are facing severe �respiratory strain� due to the �poor air quality� of the megacity.

A chemical analysis of the sputum of 153 children, aged between six and seven, showed it to be similar to that of �regular smokers�.

Even the quantity of sputum which the sampled children produced was disproportionately high for their age. Medical experts said that just as smokers, whose lungs are constantly filled with tobacco smoke, produce high quantities of deep sputum, the children�s systems have also started reacting in a similar manner. This is because their air passages are clogged with pollutants.

The tests revealed high levels of neutrophils, indicating inflammation of the respiratory system in the children.

Also, high levels of eosinophils showed that the children were undergoing allergic attacks from the toxins they inhaled. The presence of alveolar macrophage, or cells in the lung tissues that engulf foreign particles, verified that their lungs were under severe stress, not unlike that of smokers.

Another alarming factor was the presence of iron in the alveolar macrophage, which meant that the children were subject to covert pulmonary haemorrhage and even lung damage.

City paediatricians confirm that they do encounter symptoms that the investigation threw up.

The high suspended matter in the city air was affecting the children with coughs, colds, and infections of the respiratory tract, including bronchitis, asthma and tonsillitis.

Though the Union environment ministry has fixed the quantity of suspended particulate matter (spm) in the ambient air for healthy living at 140 micrograms per cubic metre, Calcutta�s spm levels climb to over 800 micrograms per cubic metre, especially during winter.

�Children travel along highly-polluted streets, to and from school, five days a week and are exposed to factors that cause the illness,� said Tapan Ghosh, child specialist.

�The situation is so alarming that unless something is done to improve matters immediately, almost all city children will be vulnerable to respiratory diseases and asthma,� warned paediatrician Tridib Banerjee.

Working with a control group of 116 children tested in rural areas, the PCB-funded research found adverse respiratory symptoms among 43 per cent of the children in Calcutta and only 14 per cent in those living in villages.

Children are more vulnerable to airborne pollution than adults due to a number of factors. Their air passages are narrower, resulting in potentially severe obstruction that would have otherwise caused just a slight irritation in a grown-up.

Children have significantly higher oxygen demands relative to their size. They breathe more rapidly and inhale more toxins per kilo of body weight than do adults. Also, more often than not, they are engaged in vigorous outdoor activity, as compared to adults.    

Giving a new twist to the power crisis in Calcutta, power minister Mrinal Banerjee said on Sunday the overall situation may worsen in the days to come if CESC did not immediately settle its huge outstandings to the state electricity board.

The power crisis in the city owing to low coal stocks was under control for now with fresh stocks arriving from the Eastern Coalfields and the BCCL at CESC�s Budge Budge and New Cossipore generating stations.

But, as Banerjee said, the situation could deteriorate as part of a chain reaction of the CESC�s outstandings pegged at Rs 775 crore.

Banerjee implied that CESC�s outstandings, on account of the supplies it purchased from the state electricity board in the recent past, was forcing the SEB (read government) to slip on its programmed payments for supplies from the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC).

Chances are that the SEB�s critical supply to Calcutta through the CESC during the summer would be disrupted if it failed to square off its dues to the NTPC on account of the CESC�s outstanding.

Informed sources said the power minister was particularly unhappy about the CESC�s huge dues. The NTPC has on earlier occasions threatened to discontinue supply to the SEB grid because its outstandings add up to nearly Rs 800 crore.

On one occasion, the NTPC did terminate supplies for about three weeks a few years ago, leading to a power crisis in the state. Then power minister Sankar Sen, an electrical engineer himself, promptly increased generation by the state-owned power plants to tide over the situation.

Apart from coal shortage, CESC said supply of �A� and �B� grade coal to its plants increased power production costs. �C� and �D� grade coal was generally used.

�I don�t understand why CESC is facing a problem with coal supply. We are not facing any such problem. There should not be any problem with coal grade either as coal sampling is done jointly by CESC and coal sector officers,� said Banerjee.

Since power is an emergency sector, the state government has discussed the problem with ECL and BCCL authorities.

�The situation has improved with supplies coming in,� said power secretary R.S. Bandopadhyay.    

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has decided to confer heritage status on a building in Block P of New Alipore, where Amartya Sen used to stay during his visits to Calcutta in the Sixties.

From now on, it will be a punishable offence to deface or demolish the building, in which the Nobel laureate�s parents, Ashutosh and Amita Sen, used to reside. And if the owners of the building fail to maintain it properly, the CMC would be in a position to take over the management and control of the building.

Mayor Prasanta Chatterjee is scheduled to place a special road sign, designating the building, at a function on Tuesday. This building had not been included in the list of 827 buildings ratified by the CMC heritage committee �for preservation� during its last meeting on April 17. �It will be included in the list before long,� assured municipal commissioner Asim Barman.

But local councillor Tulsi Mukherjee of the Congress dismissed the �function�, on the eve of the civic polls, as a �political gimmick� of the CPM. �This is nothing but a joke. The entire area is shrouded in darkness. The civic authorities, who have not been able to provide adequate street lighting in the block for years, have suddenly woken up to the status of this building because the Nobel laureate�s name is attached to it and the CPM feels it will give them some mileage,� alleged Mukherjee.

In another important development at the heritage meeting last week, the residence of the Bishop of Calcutta on 51, Chowringhee Road, has been included in the list of 327 heritage structures prepared by the CMC. This move was being vehemently opposed by the diocese, which was keen to demolish the building and turn it into a commercial centre.

Also, the proposals for �modification� of heritage status of the building on 7, Hazra Road and �dropping� of a godown at Sovabazar from the list of 83 �preserved structures� prepared by the CMDA under its land used and development control plan were passed.

The godown at Sovabazar was found to have �nothing to do with heritage�. And municipal architect and town planner Anindya Karforma explained that the Hazra Road building had been included in the list of preserved buildings as a residence of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, but a subsequent survey revealed that the legendary leader never resided there. But the building will continue to be in the list for its neo-classical architectural style, and not as the residence of C.R.Das.    

Exams over and summer holidays stretching ahead. What better time to invite senior students on a trip to Shimla in the company of two favourite detectives to solve a mystery?

That is precisely what a Calcutta-based NGO, Prayasam, has offered 350 fortunate schoolgirls on Wednesday. Accompanied by Satyajit Ray creations Feluda (or ace detective Pradosh Mitter) and his teenaged cousin Topshe (Tapesh, the chronicler of the adventures), the children will first watch a screening of Sandip Ray�s Baksha Rahasya and then interact with the protagonists.

The first instalment of the project, entitled �Without Sermons,� has generated a great deal of enthusiasm both among the participating schools and Ray�s �characters� � Feluda (Sabyasachi Chakraborty) and Topshe, played by Saswata Chattopadhyay.

Taking a breather from a hectic shooting session of the latest Feluda series over the weekend, Feluda and his young �Watson� said they were really looking forward to interacting with the students. �Children are so observant,� said Topshe, recounting a recent incident when a head injury had forced him to alter his �parting� to the right side.

�One youngster wrote to me after the screening, saying Satyajit Ray had mentioned in one of the Feluda novellas that Topshe was suspicious of people who parted their hair on the right side. I reverted to my original hairstyle immediately.�

Feluda agrees: �There is a lot of inquisitiveness among children about the making of the Feluda series. In fact, we are willing to meet and interact with them not just this once, but on a regular basis, if such programmes are organised.�

The organisers are overwhelmed by the response. �We had planned to approach the schools alphabetically. But the very first institution we approached, Ashok Hall, jumped at the offer and bought all the tickets.

Now that Feluda�s team is so willing, we�ll try and host more such programmes,� says Kajori Biswas, Prayasam�s public relations co-ordinator.

�Without Sermons� has been planned as a �programme of story-telling sessions, sheer fun and frolic, to give children a break from the deadly monotony of books and exams. With A Mysterious Case, we hope to give each child a different paradigm of adventure,� Biswas adds.

Sandip Ray, who will also be present at the session, said this was indeed an �encouraging� venture which would do the children a world of good.

It would also provide them a forum, not only to meet the reel-life heroes but also pose relevant queries about the drought in children�s films and the lack of full-length features of popular detective serials.    

Umroi (Meghalaya), April 23: 
The Army will launch operations against Karbi militants in �select areas� of Assam�s Karbi Anglong district soon, according to 4 Corps general-officer-commanding Lt. Gen. D.B. Shekatkar.

The decision to deploy Army units in the district comes in the wake of two massacres by the United People�s Democratic Solidarity, a joint front of the Karbi National Volunteers (KNV) and the Karbi People�s Front.

The militants killed 11 people inside the Dhansiri reserve forest on April 9 and an equal number in east and west Umlapher villages on Wednesday. Lt. Gen. Shekatkar told The Telegraph here that the KNV, groomed by the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), was trying to come out of the shadow of the Naga outfit by indulging in a killing spree.

�The tribal population in Karbi Anglong is worried over largescale infiltration by non-tribals. Taking advantage of the tribals� new-found hatred for outsiders, the militants are targeting non-tribals,� he said. The 4 Corps chief said the Karbi outfit should be banned immediately to enable the security forces to book the militants under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the National Security Act.

Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has already urged the Centre to ban the outfit.

Gen. Shekatkar said the Army could restore peace in the area only with the people�s cooperation.

�A military operation is not the solution to the problem. Killings will end only if the people realise that violence will not achieve anything, but push them back by several years,� he said.

Assam Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha, who is on a two-day visit to Meghalaya, corroborated Gen. Shekatkar�s announcement that the Army would be deployed in Karbi Anglong soon.

�Small Army columns have already been sent to the district,� he told The Telegraph in Shillong today. Gen. Sinha said the spurt in violence in Karbi Anglong had nothing to do with insurgency.

�I would not like to term the violence in Karbi Anglong as insurgency-related. It is just a form of ethnic cleansing,� he said.

Claiming that insurgency in Assam was on its last legs, the Governor said consistent pressure from the security forces and the people�s refusal to take things lying down had demoralised the Ulfa.

He said the surrender of 532 militants, including 436 from the Ulfa, at the Rang Ghar (an ancient Ahom amphitheatre) in Upper Assam�s Sivsagar district early this month was a �major blow� to the underground movement.

�Unlike in previous years, people spilled onto the streets on April 7 � Ulfa�s �raising day� � to protest against violence. It was a very positive development,� Gen. Sinha said.    

Imphal, April 23: 
In a move aimed at stemming a potential mass revolt, the Manipur government today prevented people from congregating at the martyrs� memorial on Cheiraoching Hills to commemorate the 108th anniversary of the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891.

An official function was organised at the Khongjom war memorial on Kheba Hills, but police and Army personnel kept vigil on the newly-constructed martyrs� memorial here to prevent people from gathering at the site for a parallel event. The Imphal West district magistrate clamped prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC yesterday as a precautionary step.

�Khongjom Day�, as the anniversary of the Anglo-Manipur war is referred to by locals, got its name from the village where Manipuri troops led by one Paona Brajabashi fought a British Army column advancing from Myanmar. The village is located south-east of Imphal along the Indo-Burma road. The Manipur Martyrs� Memorial Committee, which is at the epicentre of a controversy involving propagation of allegedly anti-national sentiments, had sought the district magistrate�s permission to organise a function at the Cheiraoching Hills complex. However, it was turned down.

Condemning the �ban� on functions at the complex, Manipur People�s Party leader and martyrs� memorial committee chief Khaidem Mani said the government�s move was tantamount to insulting the Manipuri soldiers who valiantly fought the British in 1891.

�The government should be held responsible if the people do begin to have anti-national feelings. A state-level function has been banned for the first time in Manipur and the people just might revolt against the government,� he said. Naorem Sanajaoba, a professor of Law at Gauhati University, told newspersons that the W. Nipamacha Singh government was trying to �erase Manipur�s history in collusion with the Centre�. He said today�s incident was illustrative of the government�s indifference towards the people.

Eighty-four-year-old Thounoujam Iboyaima, a social worker and chief advisor to the All-Manipur United Clubs� Organisation, was arrested on April 14 on charges of making seditious statements during the inauguration of the martyrs� memorial. Editor of the Naharolgi Thoudang, N. Biren Singh, was also taken into custody for publishing the speech.

In a letter to the Prime Minister�s Office, the chief minister even accused Union minister of state for youth affairs and sports Thounoujam Chaoba Singh of being involved in the construction of the martyrs� memorial.

He said one of the sons-in-law of Chaoba Singh was the vice-president of the martyrs� memorial committee, which oversaw construction of the complex.

Nipamacha Singh also said former police chief L. Jugeswar Singh and chief secretary H. Jel Shyam turned a blind eye to construction of the memorial.    

Shillong, April 23: 
Chairman of the Northeastern Council (NEC) and Assam Governor Lt. Gen. (retd.) S.K. Sinha said he would look into the alleged �misutilisation�� of funds by the council.

The comptroller and auditor-general (CAG) of India, in a recent report, pulled up the NEC for not utilising its development funds in the right manner and directed officials to �closely monitor�� the progress of schemes before releasing money to the department.

Gen. Sinha, who was in the city to attend the Raising day ceremony of the Army�s 101 area, told The Telegraph this morning that he would take up the matter with NEC officials. The chairman held a brief discussion with NEC officials at the Raj Bhawan today before leaving for Guwahati.

�The activities of the council had suffered as the secretary�s post has been lying vacant for a long time,�� Gen. Sinha said. Former secretary Takap Ringu was suspended for alleged �mismanagement�� of NEC funds.

The Governor said corruption was a national menace but felt it could be reduced through people�s participation.

�Decentralisation of power and better governance can play a better role in bringing down corruption level,�� the Governor said. The Assam government was trying to hold �early panchayat elections�� in the state, he added.

Stressing the need for agricultural development in the region, Gen. Sinha said corruption could be stemmed in the shallow tubewell scheme because of people�s participation.

�We did not engage any contractor to supply the tubewells. The people were asked to specify the brand of tubewells they wanted and paid one-third of the installation cost,�� the Governor said.

Expressing concern over the deteriorating law and order situation, Gen. Sinha said whenever any project was sanctioned by the government, the insurgent outfits got a wind of it and served �extortion�� notices to officials.

�If people are involved in the development projects, the outfits would not try to extort them,�� Gen. Sinha said.

Gohpur tense: Tension prevailed in Gohpur sub division in Sonitpur district following the killing of a person by the jawans of the 15 Grenadiers last night in an encounter. According to the police, the Army raided the Sensoa area and fired at five people killing one Baikuntha Isalry on the spot. Four others escaped, reports UNI.    

Agartala, April 23: 
They are everywhere � from tea stalls and brick kilns to factories and construction sites. However, official statistics would have everyone believe that the number of child labourers in Tripura has come down drastically.

A 1991 survey found 24,204 child labourers in the state, but the figure was revised to 263 following another study conducted by the offices of district magistrates in 1997.

However, according to unofficial estimates, there are no less than 50,000 child labourers working in hazardous conditions.

Congress legislator Sudip Roy Barman, who plans to raise the issue in the Assembly, said, �I do not know what the surveys conducted by the government and various non-government organisations say. What I see are hundreds of child labourers everywhere in the state capital.�

Roy Barman said it was difficult to eradicate child labour, but that should not stop the government from making a beginning.    


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