Varsity of a death too many
Healing touch with hand of God
Squalor shuts Sealdah subway
Lawmen line up for law school lessons
41 rowdies rounded up at the Eden
Sewer system to boost IT infrastructure
Abstract moves with poetic purpose
Myriad moulds of the mind cast in bronze
Extra water to tide over summer
Manipur tightens road vigil

Calcutta, March 12: 
The writing is on the insurance wall — Calcutta University is a dying institution. Following a recent survey, the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) has refused to hike group insurance benefits for CU employees as the number of deaths in the 144-year-old university is “the highest” among educational institutions availing of the scheme.

Sources said CU’s annual insurance claims amounted to no less than Rs 15 lakh, as opposed to the Rs 3 lakh or less claims from Jadavpur and other state-aided universities.

The last upward revision in group insurance was granted to CU in 1996. “The scheme is definitely aimed at providing financial benefits to employees, especially those in the low-income group. But, at the same time, we cannot afford to incur such huge losses,” said B.B. Biswas, divisional manager, pension and group savings scheme department, LIC. “We have already enhanced the benefits for Jadavpur University and many other institutions,” he added.

On an average, around 17 employees of CU die every year. In other universities, the annual mortality count is pegged at three. Sources said, out of the 87 employees of CU who have died in the past four years, 51 were from the Group-D category.

At present, CU employees can deposit a minimum of Rs 25 per month against which they are entitled to an insurance cover of Rs 25,000. Employees in the higher grades can deposit Rs 100 per month for a Rs 1-lakh scheme. After the last LIC revision, the maximum benefit for employees of JU and other institutions has been raised to Rs 2 lakh, sources said.

This has sparked a controversy on campus, with CU staffers divided over the high-death-rate dilemma. Those owing allegiance to the non-CPM-controlled union attributed the trend to “undue stress” and “poor medical facilities”. They further alleged that in the late Seventies, the ruling party had appointed a large number of employees flouting the age bar. “The present mortality rate in the university is a fallout of the CPM’s move to bend appointment rules in a bid to fill up posts with party sympathisers.”

The CPM-backed union, on the other hand, said the university was “not at fault” and blamed the LIC for not enhancing group-insurance benefits on such “flimsy” grounds. “The scheme is meant for the welfare of the employees. How can the company refuse to enhance our benefits in this arbitrary and unjust manner? We shall take up the matter with the university authorities and the government,” said Siddheswar Ghosal, leader of the CPM-controlled union.

Hiron Kumar Banerjee, CU pro-vice chancellor (finance), said he would soon contact LIC officials and request them to review and resolve the matter.


Calcutta, March 12: 
He was paralysed hip downwards on the right side after a car accident in 1978. He was diagnosed and operated on for cancer of the larynx in 1982. He had a triple bypass surgery in 1994. And yet, Dr Sharad Kumar Dicksheet is undeterred. For the past 32 years, the New York-based plastic surgeon has been coming to India to spend five months conducting free camps for the needy.

On Tuesday, Calcutta will become the first city in eastern India to host one of his free camps, in association with local doctors and five charitable organisations. The beneficiaries will include those with cleft lips, squints, drooping eyelids (ptosis), facial scars and disfigured noses, in that order of priority.

Since 1968, Dicksheet has performed 56,000 such operations in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. He has not charged any of these patients for his services. “This is the way I have decided to pay back my motherland,” he said, on the eve of starting his maiden camp here, a three-day affair at the S.V.S. Marwari Hospital on Amherst Street.

His work has not gone unnoticed. Dicksheet was awarded the Padma Shree on Republic Day this year; he has been nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize by US Congressmen; his efforts have been lauded by Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, and he has been chosen man of the year in 1999 by a prominent national magazine.

But his most valuable reward is “the expression of gratitude” on the faces of hundreds of young women after he removed scars and other deformities. “They come and meet me on my subsequent visits and tell me that because of the corrective surgery, they are now married.” A large number of children born with cleft lips are now able to eat, drink and speak properly after his intervention.

“Cleft lips are a fairly common birth defect but the least treated, as only 20 per cent of these people in India can afford the surgery.”

In the US, the total charges could go up to $10,000, he said. “The need is greater in India, which is why I spend from end-October to March every year here.”

The Bhagwan Ram Charitable Trust, the S.T. Saraf Charitable Trust, the Prerna Ladies’ Club and the Lions Club have contacted other NGOs like Cini-Asha, the Missionaries of Charityand Spastics Society, distributing posters about the camp in three languages. “Over the past five days, we have received over 600 calls inquiring about how to register and where to go,” said Ashok Saraf, a trustee of one of the organisations. Calls have come in from Ranchi, Orissa and Siliguri as well. It was Saraf who saw the surgeon at work at a camp in Mumbai in January and requested him to come down to Calcutta.

Registration and screening will be conducted till 3 pm on Tuesday. Said Dicksheet: “After that, I’ll operate on as many people as I can. But with my heart functioning at 18 per cent of its capacity, doctors say I could drop dead any time. They say I’m a medical miracle; I say it’s God’s grace.”


Calcutta, March 12: 
Four days after it was inaugurated by railway minister Mamata Banerjee, the Sealdah subway, connecting Sealdah with Bowbazar, had to be shut down on Friday after hawkers, pimps and sex workers were found jostling for business inside the premises.

Besides, pedestrians have been dirtying the place by spitting and chucking garbage, forcing the Eastern Railway authorities to think of imposing a penalty as deterrent.

Even though railway authorities had banned vendors inside the subway, a section of hawkers, belonging to neither Citu nor Intuc, wanted to do business inside the subway on Tuesday and Wednesday. They were stopped by RPF jawans patrolling the entrance. A few sex workers were also spotted loitering inside the subway and railway sources maintain that the place has become a happy hunting ground for prostitutes.

The authorities closed down the subway on Friday to clean up the place and also to prevent people from playing holi inside it. “We were shocked to see the condition inside. The floors and walls are all sullied by spit,” said Tapan Das, station manager of Sealdah, entrusted with the job of maintenance of the subway.

“The subway at the Howrah station has been completely taken over by hawkers. But we won’t let that happen to Sealdah. So, we have decided not to allow hawkers inside the subway. To keep away sex workers, we have decided to close it after 10 pm,” Das added.

He said it was impossible for the railway authorities or the police alone to stop people from dirtying the subway. “Through a survey, we have found out that about 8,500 pedestrians use the subway in the morning peak hours. This number will go up everyday and it’s simply not possible for us to keep an eye on so many people throughout the day,” he said.

Eastern Railway authorities are planning to slap a penalty on those caught red-handed while spitting inside the subway, a senior railway official said. The railways have held a number of meetings with the hawkers’ unions controlled by Citu and Intuc, seeking their co-operation in keeping the subway clean.

“We have assured the railway authorities of our co-operation although they have rejected our request to provide us a place for business inside,” said Probhat Chatterjee, secretary of the Citu-controlled hawkers’ union at Sealdah.

Pramathesh Sen, Trinamul Congress leader and Intuc functionary, said they will not allow their member-hawkers inside the subway.

Despite such assurances, the railway authorities fear encroachment of the subway by hawkers.


Calcutta, March 12: 
“How can we enforce law in a country where 90 per cent of the population isn’t even aware of it?”

“How can we carry out orders from politicians, which are arbitrary, unfair and unjust?”

“Police officers are punished for taking wrong decisions, but why not the high court or Supreme Court judges?”

These were some of the questions thrown up as lawmen lined up for lectures at law school. It was the first day of a training programme on Democratic Imperatives in Policing, organised on the premises of West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (WBNUJS).

The training programme, the first of its kind to be organised in eastern India, is part of the “vertical interaction course” run by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD), Government of India, in different institutes like TISS and the IITs. For the WBNUJS programme, BPRD has roped in the School of Criminal Justice and Administration (SCJA), a research, training and teaching unit of the one-year-old law school. Around 30 high-ranking IPS officers from different parts of the country have enlisted for the six-day session.

“Policing in a democratic framework is a tough task as it involves an entire gamut of challenges. The course aims to help officers update their knowledge of their constitutional obligations, sharpen administrative skills and enable them to meet the challenges of maintaining law and order,” explained N.R. Madhava Menon, vice chancellor, WBNUJS.

The course material for the programme has been prepared by SCJA. Headed by Menon, a team of trainers, comprising faculty members from WBNUJS, senior police officers and judges, is conducting the various sessions.

“To give the senior officers a real-life simulation of events and invite their observations, we have prepared case studies on different topics,” explained Menon. According to him, the experience of Day I is a pointer the fact that the lawmen have a lot to say.

The cops at the workshop strongly advocated narrowing scope of discretionary powers of officers to curb corruption, drawing a line between tenets of the law and unfair orders from superiors and politicians, and raising the minimum academic requirement for recruitment at lower levels.

“These programmes are important as they provide a platform to exchange views and enable better understanding of the issues,” observed Nazrul Islam, DIG, modernisation, a participant.

During the next five days, case study method will be used to discuss maintenance of law and order during communal riots, student turbulence, labour trouble and political demonstrations.

“Policing during elections, counter-insurgency, human rights issues and code of conduct will also be covered,” said D Banerjee, course co-ordinator.


Calcutta, March 12: 
Forty-one persons were arrested at Eden Gardens on Monday for violating the code of conduct set for spectators by the city police. One among the arrested was caught smuggling alcohol into the ground, while a group of youngsters, moving suspiciously in front of Gate 4, had to be chased away.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Raj Kanojia, said around 1,000 police personnel and 14 officers of deputy commissioner rank were deployed to keep Eden Gardens and its adjoining areas under control. “We had to post policemen on Red Road, too, in case there was trouble,” he added.

The policemen on duty at the entry points to the stadium were given instructions to check bags so that no one could carry alcohol inside. “We have already announced that bottles are not allowed inside the stadium. People can buy pouch-packs of drinking water for Rs 1.50 instead,” said Kanojia.


Calcutta, March 12: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), inspired by the Japanese example, is exploring the possibility of letting out its century-old underground sewerage arteries to improve the information technology infrastructure.

A number of companies have already approached the CMC, seeking permission to lay optical fibre cables under city roads.

CMC is ready to offer relatively easy terms to the IT business if it uses underground sewerage tunnels to lay cables.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said there would be no need to excavate roads extensively if these companies utilised CMC’s existing network of 180 km of brick sewer and about 1200 km of pipe sewer to lay optical-fibre cables.

The funds generated by way of rent or royalty will help CMC repair the broken portions of brick sewers, which add up to 60 km.

Mukherjee has directed member mayor-in-council (drainage and sewerage) Rajiv Deb to prepare schemes for letting out the tunnels.

All main roads, like Park Street, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, AJC Bose Road, APC Road and Rashbehari Avenue, in the city core area, have the brick sewer network under them. Manholes on road surfaces at intervals of every 50 metres, will offer easier consumer access to cable operators.

Meanwhile, after months of indecision, CMC has decided to sign an agreement with the Reliance Group to lay optical-fibre underground once municipal commissioner Debashis Som returns from abroad.

Reliance Group will not use the tunnels to lay optical fibre cables, said member mayor-in-council (roads) Anup Chatterjee.

A Reliance Group spokesman said: “We will use pipelines of our own to lay optical fibre cables. There will be a bunch of 16 cables inside the pipe”.

After laying cables they will repair roads at their own cost and give a bank guarantee at a rate of Rs 25 per metre to CMC for a one-year period, said Chatterjee.

Besides, they will pay 2.5 per cent of the total repair cost to CMC as supervision charges. It will cost more than Rs 100 crore to lay 1200 km of cable.

“Reliance Group will share 2.5 per cent of its turnover with CMC,” he said.


Calcutta, March 12: 
Five men and women in a row, one screaming, another crawling on the ground, as a third crouches, head in hands. Their words are indecipherable, their actions disjointed, hysterical laughter meets shouts of despair...

“What we’re doing is so abstract that it’s very difficult to find a home for it... But it may just come to some poetic purpose,” says writer-director David Gales. Touring the country with I am Dandy, David and actor Gareth Brierly brought a bit of their “experimental theatre” techniques to Calcutta’s drama professionals and enthusiasts at a workshop at the British Council on Sunday morning.

Saturday evening’s production of the show raised both eyebrows and questions with its unique exploration of the western man’s state of being. But the “voyage of discovery, not choreography”, very much a part of the group’s style, was what the 30-odd men and women, young and old, assembled to learn at the workshop. David and Gareth teamed up to demonstrate how to achieve the physical fluidity crucial to their own play, which involves “no sets, no characters, no props and no narrative”.

“Deg and Reg”, or ‘degenerate and regenerate” is one such exercise. Asking the students to “morph from one persona to the next”, they explain: “Pretend you are made of wax. As you gradually melt, you form a soup of potential. Slowly, you become Character No. 2.” The developments are not only physical, but psychological as well. As Tina Ray Chaudhury, a student of Jadavpur University, tries her hand at Deg and Reg, she moves from an Oscar-winning actress to a troubled child-like being who wants to be a pilot.

“This style of acting is very hard,” admits Gareth. “You have to be aware of everything your body does.” And though Calcutta has not seen anything like it for a while, the response to such innovation was positive. Ratnabali Bhattacharjee of Presidency College feels the group ventures into “the bizarre part of acting”. But the young actress’s excitement is clear. “I would love to act in a play using such body language. It is dramatic, but it’s not over the edge,” she explains.

“We call these ‘useless exercises’ because they don’t get you a job,” grins David, in between sessions. “But once you get a job, they might be of some use.”

And though professional actor and teacher Rajesh Rao does not feel that Calcutta audiences are ready for radical techniques, he does not agree that they are useless. “These actors just let go of their bodies, and communicate with every available inch, without any external aids,” he gushes. Having worked with Rangakarmee and Padatik, he feels that their is still scope for innovation. For Professor Dilip Shah, who dabbles in theatre as well, the workshop was an excellent opportunity to loosen up. “Once you have mastered this exaggerated form of acting, all other styles will come naturally,” says Shah.

For the playwright, absurd drama is a means of “seducing the audience into an accepting frame of mind”. David’s inspiration lies in the culture around him. And the feeling of “purposelessness” he feels western society is absorbed in, is, to him, a positive sign for the arts, leading to new form, content and style.


Calcutta, March 12: 
A studio in the Lalit Kala Akademi compound buzzed with activity last week when a group of artists came from the northeast to participate in a workshop on bronze casting. Colourful umbrellas from Orissa were put up in front of the kiln and sculptors, some Calcutta-based, worked on the forms they were trying to give shape to. Senior sculptors from the city, Niranjan Pradhan and Biman Das, too, were among them.

The participants came all the way from Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Tripura, and at the end of it all they put their works on display last Saturday. Most of the participants were thirtyish and some were experimenting with bronze casting for the first time. Neivotuo Keyho, 26, from Kohima in Nagaland, has done a course in sculpture in Guwahati. But wood and bamboo were the materials he used most. He joined the workshop to learn the technique of bronze casting. He produced an elongated Christ-like torso.

Kajal Deb, 35, is from Tripura and has passed out from the government art college there. Though he is familiar with the technique of casting, his forte is terracotta. His work is mainly figurative and here he has produced a torso.

Ratul Gogoi, 30, is from Shibsagar in Assam but he has been trained in art at Guwahati. He has created a form that carries suggestions of drying leaves with ants and other creepies and crawlies marching amidst them. He uses a sheet of bronze the same way that Somenath Hore does so tellingly in his famine sculptures. Ratul introduces folk elements in these forms.

From Manipur came Banamali Sharma. Bronze is the material he mostly uses for his works, and sometimes it is mixed media too. He has produced a figure playing the bow instrument pena in front of an umbrella.

Like Sharma, S. Nimai Singh, too, is from Imphal and both have been trained at Benaras Hindu University. A meditating figure and a cluster of bats are his creations.

Rita Khanikar and Sanchita Gogoi were from Shibsagar in Assam. Impressions of faces in gunny bags is what Rita has produced. Turtles riding on each other and fishes in a net were produced by Sanchita.

Jyotirmoy Roychoudhury from the city has not had any formal training in casting. He had kept his form unfinished to demonstrate the technique of pouring metal.

Mukulendu Pathak was trained at Baroda. Pathak too is from the city and he has produced a country boat.

Soma from Santiniketan was the only woman to participate from the city. She has done two installations — she has taken the impression of corrugated paper and juxtaposed them with currency notes. In the second work a portion of a baby’s dress has been torn off, cast in metal and tied to red soft cords perhaps to symbolise the umbilical cord.

Arun Kumar Chakrabarty, better known as Aku, conducted the nine-day workshop which ended last Saturday. Although the spirit of camaraderie was infectious and everything went off smoothly enough, at the end of the day there was nothing much to show for all this effort. The quality of the works was not of a high standard. If these artists want to make a mark, professionalism is what they require first and foremost.


Calcutta, March 11: 
Calcuttans will get an extra two hours’ supply of water daily from Wednesday. An additional five million gallons of water would be supplied to the city, said urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya at Writers’ Buildings on Monday.

The second phase of Garden Reach water treatment plant (60 MGD), which is nearing completion, will start supply from Wednesday, Bhattacharya said. Construction of reservoirs at Jadavpur, Bansdroni, Behala and Ranikuthi is also in progress. The installation of a new pipeline from Tallah to Auckland Square is also underway.

“The city will get an additional 100 million gallons of water daily from next year,’’ Bhattacharya said.

Anticipating water scarcity during the summer, mayor Subrata Mukherjee had met Bhattacharya last week and urged him to take steps to meet the increased demand. “The drinking water crisis in the city is likely to worsen. Projects to boost water supply are underway and the situation will improve soon,’’ Mukherjee said.

A four-member committee has been formed to assess all aspects, including production, distribution and demand of water. The committee, led by CMDA chief engineer Bashistha Sengupta, would submit its report within three weeks, Bhattacharya said.


Imphal, March 12: 
The top brass of Manipur police is drawing up an elaborate national highway security plan following the torching of 25 oil tankers by militants on National Highway 39 over the past three months.

Director-general of state police D.S. Grewal told The Telegraph today that police officials will meet Army commanders on March 15 to discuss the situation arising out of the March 8 incident in which militants set ablaze 15 oil tankers in Senapati district. One handyman was killed and 13 truckers injured in the attack.

The police will seek the Army’s help in maintaining security on the highways till an “effective” policy was drawn up. Grewal said the number of Manipur Rifles personnel escorting oil tankers would also be increased.

The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) has denied involvement in the March 8 attack on the oil tankers. In a signed statement, deputy secretary of NSCN(I-M)’s information and publicity department Wabang termed the incident as “unfortunate” and said the outfit had nothing to do with it.

The NSCN(I-M) said Manipur chief minister Radhabinod Koijam and the director-general of police have blamed the outfit without “substantiating any evidence.” Sources said the owners of the 15 oil tankers have demanded compensation of Rs 2 lakh for every vehicle. The state government had earlier paid compensation to the owners of the 10 oil tankers torched by militants on December 31 last year and January 23 this year.

An acute oil scarcity has hit the state with petroleum product transporters refusing to ply on along highway. Though there is enough stock at the Indian Oil depot here, the tankers have refused to ferry oil from the depot to various pumps in the city.

Almost all the petrol pumps in the state have exhausted their stock and petrol prices have reached Rs 50 per litre in the black market. Most long-distance buses are off the road because of the non-availability of petrol and diesel.

Chief minister Radhabinod Koijam was summoned to New Delhi yesterday to discuss the prevailing law and order situation following the attack on oil tankers. Koijam is expected to return tomorrow, sources said.


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