Student suicide spurs rethink
Petrol pump cafes spark fire hazard row
‘Last of the Mohicans’ heads for hills
Parking ban rollback ball in Buddha court
3 Apollo clinics ahead
US experts keen on homoeo cancer antidote
Mahanta jibes at Ulfa for helping ‘enemies’
Two killed in Cachar raid
Tourist village on Majuli map
Extinction spectre over rhinos

Calcutta, July 26: 
“Baba, please try and get my English answer script reviewed.” These were the last words penned by 18-year-old Mallika Halder.

The Higher Secondary examinee, unable to bear the humiliation of failing her English paper, committed suicide the day after the results were announced. Mallika hanged herself from the ceiling of her room in the Halders’ Canning home.

“She had passed in all other subjects, and just could not accept the fact that she would have to repeat a year only because she had not managed to pass in English,” said her family members.

“Mallika lost her life to the state government’s faulty education policy. How can they expect students to cope with such a tough HS syllabus after coming through the elementary level of English at the Madhyamik level?” demanded a neighbour.

Mallika, a student of Tangrakhali College, was among the 1.05-lakh HS examinees out of 351,668 who failed this year.

This does threaten to open up a can of worms. Sources in the state higher education department said there are a few hundred students who will not be able to seek admission to the state’s engineering and medical degree colleges this year, even though they have qualified in the Joint Entrance Examinations, because they have failed to clear their English HS exams.

According to senior teachers of various HS schools in Calcutta, the number of failures in English has been “rising every year”, and this year has been particularly bad.

Prithwis Basu, general secretary of the West Bengal Headmasters’ Association, said: “Normally, schools in the rural belts record more failures in English than those in the urban areas. But this time, heads of many city schools have complained of large number of failures in the subject.”

The trend of high percentage of failures in English, began from the early nineties. But this has failed to spur the state government into action. It has been sitting on a scheme to revise the Madhyamik and Higher Secondary syllabi since 1995.

Five years ago, the state government had realised that the main cause behind the large number of failures in English was that the HS English syllabus was “far tougher” than that at the Madhyamik level.

On the basis of this finding, the government had set up a committee to to review the syllabi and devise methods to strike a balance between the HS and Madhyamik courses.

The committee was asked to submit its report within a year of its formation. It has, however, failed to do so till date.

Sudin Chattopadhay, president, West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education, said that the HS syllabus would be revised after the committee submitted its report to the state government.

Madhyamik board president A K Chakraborty said that a seminar will be organised in the city next week to discuss revision of the Madhyamik syllabus.

While the administrators dither, the guardians are growing impatient.

They have urged the HS Council authorities to take “immediate steps” to bring parity to the Class-X and Class-XII syllabi, especially in English.

“The switch from Madhyamik to HS English is so sudden and dramatic that a lot of students struggle to adjust. Why should our children be made to suffer for such faulty planning?” demanded Suchitra Banerjee, whose son studies at Ashutosh College.    

Calcutta, July 26: 
Licences issued to four popular restaurants located on petrol station premises will be reviewed by the civic authorities, the police and the fire department, as they have suddenly woken up to the fact that they are “fire hazards”, being so close to the fuel tanks.

However, none of these departments is willing to take the responsibility for issuing the licences in the first place. Sources said the issue has triggered off a battle of attrition among the three departments.

The three restaurants are: Corner Cafe, at the crossing of Lee Road and AJC Bose Road; Drive Inn snack bar and Garden Café on Alipore Road; and Teenmurti at the AJC Bose Road-Theatre Road intersection.

The newly-elected member, mayor-in council (health) of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), Javed Ahmed Khan, has shot off letters to fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee and director-general of fire services R.K. Handa, accusing their departments of ignoring fire safety norms and issuing licences for “other considerations”.

He alleged that the previous Left Front-controlled board at the CMC had indulged in corrupt practices by allowing these restaurants to set up shop on the petrol station premises.

The CMC will be the first to review the licences it had issued to these restaurants, all of which have kitchens with gas stoves.

“I fail to understand how the fire services department and police could issue such licences in a potentially explosive area,’’ Khan said.

These restaurants have no-objection certificates from the fire brigade and the health department ,and trade licences from the CMC and police licences as well.

However, R.K. Handa is in agreement with Khan and, on Wednesday, directed officers to investigate how restaurants can operate from petrol stations.

“It is very unsafe and in case of a fire the entire neighbourhood could go up in flames,’’ Handa said, after presiding over a high level meeting of senior firemen in his office on Free School Street.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Nazrul Islam, defended his department and said the police issued the licences only after the restaurants obtained the mandatory permissions from the CMC’s health department and the fire brigade.

“In the application form the restaurant owners had mentioned that they will only sell dry food and will not make any provision for cooking on the premises,’’ deputy commissioner of police (detective department), Narayan Ghosh said.

The restaurant-owners brushed aside this claim, saying that they had full permission to cook within the restaurant kitchens. “We have been operating for the past 10 years. We have obtained permission from the state government,’’ said Netai Roy, manager of Drive Inn snacks bar on Alipore Road.

M.K. Pandey, manager of Garden Café said, “We have done nothing wrong and we have been operating legally with the consent and written permission of the authorities. In no way is our restaurant a fire hazard to the neighbourhood.”

The president of the West Bengal Petroleum Dealers Association, Kalyan Bhadra, said that neither the police nor the state government can take any action against the restaurant or the petrol station owners ,as they had obtained licences from the state government.

“How can the authorities do anything now after granting permission?” he asked. “They can be taken to court if they try to take any action.”    

Calcutta, July 26: 
On November 12, 1949, six young men arrived by ship from Belgium at the Gateway of India to begin their careers as teachers. Over 50 years later, one of the last of these educators is set to take a well-earned rest.

‘The Last of the Mohicans’ is how Father André Bruylants describes himself. After 10 years as the headmaster of St Xavier’s Collegiate School, the popular Father retires for the hills on July 31.

“Jesuits never retire. After handing over charge to Father Fohshow, I shall be going to St Joseph’s College in North Point, Darjeeling, for a few months. I will have to recuperate a little after this long and trying stint here,” says the 75-year-old but still very lively priest.

He may have been able to continue for a few more years, but the norms of the Provincial of Calcutta Jesuits must be adhered to. Seniors must make room for younger ones. Plus, by his own admission, he says, “I don’t think I am on the same wavelength as today’s young people any more...they are in many ways ahead of me.”

But for the boys that he taught and counselled over the last decade, the majority of whom are now well-placed alumni of one of Calcutta’s leading institutions, he will remain a source of wisdom and farsight, no matter what changes science, technology and the times bring about.

How were the remaining 40 years in India spent? Father Bruylants took up his first teaching assignment in 1953 after some initial training in Kodaikanal.

“I began teaching at the very institution I am leaving now, St Xavier’s. I then went to St Lawrence School on Ballygunge Circular Road...those were three beautiful years.

“Then, in 1956, I joined St Mary’s College in Kurseong to pursue my theological studies and completed my masters in this. I was ordained a priest when I was 33 at the Cathedral Church on Brabourne Road.”

Father Bruylants’ name was almost synonymous with another city institution for quite some time. Between 1961 and 1969, he was first a teacher and then headmaster of St Lawrence High School.

He was chosen Provincial Superior of the Calcutta Jesuits soon after, and held this office till 1981. “This work took me to New Delhi where I had to coordinate all the schedules for the Jesuits in India.”

Before resuming as headmaster at St Lawrence, Father Bruylants spent 18 months at St Xavier’s School, Durgapur. “Then, in 1990, I became headmaster of St Xavier’s, Calcutta.”

He leaves with a bagful of memories, associations and anecdotes. One of those that touches him the most was when he was at St Lawrence.

“A boy of Class X came up to me and confessed that he had copied from a book during the exams. He apologised. It was a first and rare instance. I patted him on his back and deducted marks appropriately. But I took no further action, for I knew he would not do it again.”    

Calcutta, July 26: 
The CPM government is under severe pressure from the Trinamul-BJP Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to roll back last week’s notification making it mandatory to park vehicles parallel to the kerb on city streets.

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya told the CMC member, mayor-in-council, parking, Pradip Ghosh, on Wednesday that he will discuss the order with police commissioner D.C. Vajpai. Bhattacharya, however, did not give Ghosh any assurance that the police will slacken the drive against vehicles parked perpendicular to the kerb.

The deputy chief minister has called a meeting of senior police officers at his chamber on Thursday. The police banned back-to-the-kerb parking on Friday. The civic body is now under pressure from the 12 co-operatives which collect parking fees on its behalf . Members of the associations, accompanied by councillor Iqbal Ahmed, submitted a memorandum to the CMC top brass, demanding withdrawal of the ban.

“Hundreds of parking lot attendants will lose their means of livelihood if the government goes ahead with its plan to enforce parallel-to-the-kerb parking,’’ said Mohammed Hanif of Park Street Fee Car Parking Society. The society pays Rs 4,620 per vehicle to the CMC every year, earning around Rs 6,000 in turn.

The deputy commissioner of police, traffic, K. Harirajan, said his officers have been directed to implement the new parking rule on the roads. “We will continue the drive against back-to-the-kerb parking, since there has been no directive from the government to discontinue it,’’ he said, adding that the “new rule will facilitate smooth traffic movement.”

Police officers said more than nine lakh vehicles ply on the roads on weekdays and six lakh vehicles are parked during peak office hours. “Parking perpendicular to the main road creates traffic congestion,’’ said Harirajan.

According to sources at Lalbazar traffic control, 23 vehicles were prosecuted for parking perpendicular to the road on Wednesday. Both Harirajan and joint commissioner of police, traffic, Anup Chatterjee, said the drive will continue on Thursday.    

Calcutta, July 26: 
The Chennai-based Apollo Hospitals group is coming to Calcutta in a big way. The group will soon launch three clinics in the city, according to John Punnoose, chief executive officer (CEO) of the group. Punnoose said on Wednesday that the clinics will be opened at prominent locations in north, central and south Calcutta. “We are looking for venues,” he added.

The group, which had tied up with the Advanced Medicare and Research Institute (AMRI), will now start providing medical expertise to the latter. “The AMRI will be known as AMRI-Apollo Hospital from the first week of August. This will in fact be the first Apollo hospital in the city”, said the Apollo CEO.

Punnoose said since their Chennai unit treated a huge number of patients from Calcutta, they were contemplating setting up a hospital in the city. Apart from the existing 160-bed hospital in Dhakuria, Apollo has plans to open a 200-bed oncology and neurology hospital in the building adjacent to AMRI.

The group also proposes to set up two 100-bed hospitals in Siliguri and Haldia. “We have signed an agreement with the Shrachi group and the Emami group, the private promoters of AMRI, for setting up the hospitals”, he added.    

Calcutta, July 26: 
It’s technology transfer with a difference. According to homoeopath Prasanta Banerjee, a team of experts from the National Cancer Institute of USA is expected to visit his Elgin Road clinic in September to study his methods of “treating cancer” and to forge a partnership.

“I hope to take my method of cancer therapy to an advanced stage with assistance from US experts,” Banerjee said on Wednesday. The homoeopath said he had presented 10 cases of “cancer cure” before the Cancer Advisory Panel on Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institute of Health in the US last July.

“The presentations were supported by documentary evidence in the form of X-ray plates, CT scan films and pathological reports. The 17-member panel unanimously accepted the efficacy of my treatment of cancer patients,” Banerjee said.

“It was an extremely valuable presentation. The panel of cancer experts found the results very promising... Four cases were identified as having cancers that benefitted greatly from your therapy,” wrote back William R. Harlan, acting director of National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Banerjee, who says he has achieved “over 70 per cent success” in curing brain cancer, first caught the attention of US cancer researchers at the Fifth International Oncological Conference in Corfu, Greece, in 1995, where he had submitted a paper on 16 cases of brain tumour cured by him by homoeopathy within six to eight months.

Banerjee was then invited by the US Department of Alternative Medicine to visit the M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston in October 1995, where laboratory trials were conducted using homoeopathic medicine on cancer cells.

Now, the US team is coming down to ascertain how “Banerjee and his team can be enlisted as active collaborators” in the attempt to cure cancer.    

Calcutta, July 26: 
Kargil Vijay Divas, honouring the martyrs who laid down their lives a year ago at Kargil to stamp victory over Pakistan, was observed today at the Parade ground in Dispur here.

An Indian Air Force helicopter showered rose petals. Those gathered for the occasion were filled with nostalgia during those few poignant moments.

Chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, his senior Cabinet colleagues, Speaker Ganesh Kutum and senior officials were present on the occasion.

Chief minister Mahanta, Speaker Kutum, senior ministers, government officials including chief secretary P.K. Bora, director-general of police P.V. Sumant, a host of freedom fighters, representatives of political parties and senior Army and Indian Air Force officials laid floral wreath at the makeshift martyrs’ memorial at the Parade ground.

The Army displayed some of their latest weapons, including anti-mine vehicle Casper and latest artillery guns at the function.

Security was very tight in and around the ground. In addition to police and paramilitary forces, Army jawans maintained strict vigil.

Lashing out at the different rebel outfits, Mahanta said in a statement, “While the whole nation had stood unitedly to fight the enemy, a few of our youth had extended support to the enemies. They also volunteered to fight against the country.”

“It has been established now that they are doing an anti-India propaganda with support from foreign agencies,” the chief minister said. That people have understood the evil design of these forces is a positive sign, he added. Mahanta urged the people to stand unitedly to foil any attempt by the outside forces to disturb the integrity and sovereignty of the country.

In Agartala, apart from the Army’s ceremony, another programme at was held at Raj Bhavan in which Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) K.M. Seth paid rich tributes to the martyrs. He said, “We had to pay a very heavy price but the nation once again got together and stood behind the soldiers as one entity”

In Orissa’s Berhampur town, Kargil Vijay Divas was also observed at the Army Air Defence College, Golabandha, near Gopalpur, today.

Wreaths were laid by Maj. Gen. Naresh Chand, commandant, Army Air Defence College, B.N. Hota, deputy inspector-general of police (southern range), Berhampur superintendent of police V.T. Mishra, vice-chancellor of Berhampur University Prof. A.P. Padhy and other dignitaries.

Hundreds of ex-servicemen, NCC cadets and schoolchildren attended the ceremony. Candles and diyas were lit at homes in the military cantonment of the defence college. An sit-and-draw painting competition was also held as part of the ceremony among school students.    

Guwahati, July 26: 
Dima Halam Daoga (DHD) militants today gunned down two persons at Harangajao in Assam’s North Cachar Hills district.

Police sources said the Dimasa militants, armed with sophisticated weapons, raided the Harangajao market at 6 am and opened fire indiscriminately. Two persons were killed on the spot, while six were injured, three of them seriously.

The two victims have been identified as 38-year-old Niru Dey, owner of a sweetmeat shop, and 40-year-old Bhudan Sahani, a labourer. Of the six injured, three have been shifted to the Silchar Medical College Hospital.

Police and paramilitary personnel, who rushed to the area within half-an-hour of the incident, have launched an operation to apprehend the militants.

Deputy inspector-general of police (southern range) R.C. Tayal and North Cachar Hills superintendent of police B.B. Chetri are camping in the area to supervise the operation.

Additional security personnel have also been deployed in villages inhabited by non-tribals to foil further militant attacks.

However, sources said Harangajao, 15 km from the district headquarters town of Haflong, was already witnessing an exodus of non-tribals.

The DHD, fighting for an “independent homeland” for the Dimasas, possibly raided Harangajao today as non-tribals throng the market there on Wednesdays.

Dimasa militants gunned down over three dozen non-tribals in the district last year. The rebels had earlier asked all non-tribals to vacate their area.

The DHD, groomed by the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), has been carrying out hit-and-run operations in North Cachar Hills district since the past two years.

The Dimasa outfit has also been extorting money from businessmen, farmers and government employees in the district.    

Jorhat, July 26: 
Majuli, the world’s largest river island, may soon become a major tourist attraction if things go according to plan.

An ambitious project report of Rs 43 lakh has been prepared to set up a tourist village at Kamalabari, the commercial hub of the island.

“The ambience will be that of a traditional Mising village, but facilities will be no less than in any good hotel,” additional deputy commissioner, R.K. Majumdar told The Telegraph. The Mising tribe dominates the island’s population.

The ministry of tourism has been contacted and work on the project is likely to start soon. For the benefit of foreign tourists, local youth will learn English, French and Japanese, the official said.

Arun Sharma, Rajya Sabha MP, has also released Rs 5 lakh for setting up a tourist lodge in the island. The work on the lodge is estimated to cost Rs 17 lakh, the official said.

“The building already exists, but renovations are required,” he said. Apart from a rickety government circuit house and a guest house at the Kamalabari satra, there are no accommodation facilities on the island.

The Centre has also released Rs 7.5 lakh out of a total sum of 15 lakh for setting up of three museums at Majuli. The three museums will be set up at the Dakhinpat, Kamalabari and Aouniti satras, where manuscripts and artefacts dating back to 500 years will be preserved.

The entire project is part of the proposal of the Majuli Island Protection and Development Council, an NGO which has taken up the cause of the world’s largest riverine island.

Constant erosion by the Brahmaputra over the years has had a telling effect on the island. Majuli has been reduced from 1,200 square km in 1950 to about 800 square km at present.

The council, under the presidentship Sharma, had proposed that the island be accorded the status of a world heritage site. The proposal, which was made on two grounds — natural and cultural — was sent to Unesco through the Centre and is under “active consideration”.

The 65 satras, set up by the 15th century saint Sankerdev on the island, house precious manuscripts and artefacts which are on the verge of being lost due to the annual flood ravage.

“The Rs 7.5-lakh fund has been divided among the three satras,” the official said. He said other satras on the island have been asked to contact the department of culture, Government of India, directly for funds to preserve the museums.

The official said two experts from the department of archives are currently camping in the island to microfilm the age old manuscripts.

As far as protection of the island from the fury of the Brahmaputra is concerned, the forest department has been contacted to prevent erosion through afforestation measures.    

Guwahati, July 26: 
Fifty-one rhinos have been killed by poachers in Orang national park in less than a decade.

After the rhino population was wiped out at Laokhowa wildlife sanctuary and Manas national park, rhinos at Orang are now facing extinction.

According to available figures, the rhino population has plummeted from 97 in 1991 to 46 in 1999. This year, five rhinos have been killed till July.

Unabated poaching has also reduced the rhino sites in Assam from five to three. Earlier, rhinos were found in five protected sites — Kaziranga, Pobitora, Manas, Laokhowa and Orang. With the rhino population at Laokhowa and Manas totally decimated, the species is found at Kaziranga, Pobitora and Orang.

The issue of rhino poaching in Orang came up for discussion during the latest meeting of the state wildlife advisory board on July 10 at the state zoo under the chairmanship of Aminul Islam, state minister for forest.

“Though the members expressed concern, there was no concrete action plan drawn up to curb poaching at Orang national park,” an official present at the meeting said. The commissioner of forests has asked the chief wildlife warden of the state to look into the matter and draw up a plan to tackle poaching.

In 1990, no incident of poaching was reported from Orang. But in the past nine years, the situation has deteriorated with an average of five rhinos being killed by poachers every year in the park. “If something is not done immediately, the park will meet the same fate as Laokhowa and Manas,” a senior forest official said.

The Gauhati High Court has also asked the government to reply within three months on the steps being taken to stop the incidence of poaching. A public interest litigation has been filed by the Aranya Suraksha Samiti, an NGO working for wildlife conservation.

“The poachers come from Morigaon district and are armed with .303 rifles and double-barrelled guns. Some also come from the char areas of Mangaldoi. They usually cross the river to reach the park and escape by boat,” a forest official said.

The park is also hamstrung by lack of manpower. “If one forest staff joins Orang, three existing personnel are withdrawn and transferred,” alleged Bihab Kumar Talukdar of the Aranyak Nature Club, another NGO working for wildlife conservation.

The environment activist said though poaching could not be curbed at Laokhowa and Manas because of a raging political movement and ethnic disturbances at that time, no such excuse exist for the situation at Orang.

“At Laokhowa and Manas, poachers took advantage of the government’s preoccupation with the Assam agitation and ethnic unrest. But that does not apply for Orang,” Talukdar said. While Laokhowa was home to 70 rhinos, Manas had 80.

“Largescale encroachment and neglect by the government are the reasons behind the present state of affairs in Orang,” alleged Haricharan Das of the Aranya Suraksha Samiti which had filed the public interest litigation.

The Kaziranga national park had faced a similar situation in the past. But effective action by the park authorities had helped restore normalcy. As a result, the number of rhinos also went up to nearly 1,500.    


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