George’s turn to welcome Mamata
Govt issues 10 commandments to colleges
Meet to hasten fuel switchover
Funds blocked for errant civic bodies
Go for the best with Double M
Tone-up to clear Delhi route
Humming Hemanta for a living
CPM sack notice to pre-poll rebels

Calcutta, June 16: 
NDA convenor and Samata Party president George Fernandes on Saturday endorsed railway minister Nitish Kumar’s readiness to give up his berth in favour of Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee if she decides to rejoin the BJP-led coalition at the Centre.

Kumar, who also is the Union agriculture minister, had made a public offer at a function in Midnapore on Thursday to give up the berth in Mamata’s favour. He also made it clear that he would be happy to be relieved of the additional charge he has been holding since Mamata left the NDA.

Mamata, however, declined to comment on Fernandes’ remarks. “I have nothing to say on the views expressed by him, nor have I any plan to meet him. I am now busy with my party’s organisational work,” she said.

Fernandes said he endorsed what Nitish Kumar had said about Mamata. “She is very much welcome to the NDA,” the NDA convenor said at the Calcutta airport on Saturday afternoon. The former defence minister arrived in the city on his way from Silchar to Delhi. He is expected to leave for the capital on Sunday morning.

The NDA convenor said he had yet to receive any communication from the Trinamul Congress on its possible re-entry into the NDA. “But going through newspapers, I have come to the conclusion that many Trinamul MPs, including Mamata, are willing to return at the earliest. Let her make up her mind first and we will not hesitate to re-admit her,” he added.

Asked if he had any plan to call on Mamata, Fernandes replied in the negative. However, Trinamul sources said he called up Mamata to exchange pleasantries. Fernandes had met the Trinamul chief in Delhi in early June to discuss a wide range of issues, including her possible return to the NDA. He refused to divulge details of the meeting. “I cannot tell you everything. We are old friends and discussed many things,” he said.

The Samata Party leader said views of all NDA partners would be considered before a formal decision on Mamata’s re-entry was taken. “Our party alone does not constitute the NDA. There are other parties which need to be consulted,” he said.

Fernandes also described as “very good” Trinamul MP Ajit Panja’s efforts for the party’s return to the NDA. He, however, said he had no plan to meet Panja during his stay in Calcutta.

Fernandes’ contention on Mamata’s re-entry into the NDA, however, is in sharp contrast to objections raised by his party MPs Prabhunath Singh and Raghunath Jha. Singh had written to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee opposing the Trinamul chief’s re-induction and Jha has charged her with “changing sides to suit her convenience”.

While both Vajpayee and Union home minister L.K. Advani have kept quiet on the matter, state BJP leaders are practically on the warpath, saying Mamata’s re-induction to the NDA would ruin the party in Bengal. State BJP chief Asim Ghosh said in Malda on Saturday that he would have no other option but to relinquish office if Mamata was taken back into the NDA.


Calcutta, June 16: 
Continuing the process of streamlining the functioning of universities, the state higher education council has issued 10 commandments to improve the standard of education and increase accountability of the teachers and the institution authorities.

The list has been passed on to the state government, which, in turn, has sent it to the state universities. The commandments are as follows:

The colleges cannot admit a single student beyond the permitted capacity. Prior permission is essential to increase the number of seats.

Attendance records of both teachers and students will have to be strictly maintained and these have to be sent to the higher authorities.

All the teachers will have to take classes in accordance with the schedule which will have to be drawn up before the session starts. Courses will have to be completed within the stipulated period and the teacher concerned will be responsible for that. If necessary, special classes will have to be taken.

It is mandatory for all teachers to examine answer scripts at both the undergraduate and post-graduate levels.

Parity will have to be maintained in the undergraduate syllabi of all the universities.

All the universities will prepare a roster of examiners specifying who will examine which paper. The roster will have to be drawn up soon after the academic session starts.

Efforts will have to be made to make spot evaluation of the colleges and students.

Universities will have to make arrangements for examining answer scripts in special camps.

Discipline must be maintained in institutions and accountability of teachers will have to be ensured.

More caution should be exercised in setting questions and all chapters of the text will have to be covered.

“We have drawn up the commandments for the betterment of the students and the institutions. We expect all the universities to follow them,’’ said Pabitra Sarkar, deputy chairman of the higher education council.

From his first day in office, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been advocating improvement of the quality of education and increasing accountability of the teachers.

Bhattacharjee has recently written to higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty to take steps in this regard.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, who also looks after the party’s education cell, made it clear in a meeting with the party-controlled West Bengal College and University Teachers Association (WBCUTA) that they will have to run the extra mile to improve the quality of education in the state.

“The teachers also have some problems but they must be more attentive to their duties as they are building the future of the students. We are at one with the government’s move and shall abide by the commandments,’’ said Manindranath Ray, a WBCUTA spokesperson.


Calcutta, June 16: 
The signal for the switchover to vehicles run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) has been sounded by transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and environment minister Manab Mukherjee. The ministers have jointly called a meeting with the owners of transport associations at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Sunday to give shape to the government policy, aimed at reducing pollution in the city.

The message for the transporters is clear: Replace old engines with Bharat II-compliant ones or switch over to LPG.

Experts from the Society of Automobile Manufacturers and oil companies will be present at the meeting to answer queries from transporters.

The decision to hold an interface comes in the wake of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s firm stand on implementing strict automobile emission norms.

However, the call for the meeting has evoked mixed reactions among transport associations. “Let us see what the government has to offer and how and what it proposes to do,” said Ajit Saha of Bengal Bus Syndicate.

Kalyan Bhadra of the Bengal Taxi Association, who favoured the shift to LPG, said: “Old engines can be modified by installing exhaust filters in them. But scrapping old engines and replacing them with new ones will be of no use. The government should ensure that the infrastructure is ready before orders for the conversion are issued.” Besides, the new engines should be subsidised by providing tax benefits to transporters, he added.

Studies conducted recently by the state pollution control board show that the automobile sector contributes to 50 per cent of air pollution in the city. Of this, a significant portion of suspended particles in the air is emitted by diesel-run buses and taxis.

Old engines, specially those running on diesel, emit a high quantity of toxins and suspended particulate matter. This, despite improvement of the quality of diesel by reducing the sulphur content.

The state government’s earlier effort to introduce automobile emission norms in 1999 was shelved, following strong opposition from the transporters.

Death sentence: Additional district sessions judge Mahadev Ghosh on Saturday sentenced Nausad Seikh of Gushkara to death for murdering Uday Chand Samanta, a bank officer of Burdwan, on August 14, 1996.


Calcutta, June 16: 
Civic bodies will be declared ineligible for receiving state funds for development projects if found guilty on any of the following counts: Issuance of illegal appointments, failure to utilise funds or conduct audit and misappropriation of funds.

Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya has instructed his department officials not to release funds to ‘guilty’ civic bodies. “Certain municipalities flout rules despite repeated warnings. Though people will suffer if development funds are blocked, this is the only way to discipline errant civic authorities,” Bhattacharya said. According to Writers’ Buildings sources, at least 20 municipalities, including those run by the Left Front, have been charged with corruption and violation of rules.

The urban development minister has asked all the municipal chairmen to prepare a status report on the development projects. The report will have to be submitted to the municipal affairs secretary within July 31. “I shall discuss the status report with all the chairmen in phases. If there is a bottleneck in any project or in administrative functioning, I shall try to remove it,” said Bhattacharya.


Calcutta, June 16: 
To the Marxist catalogue of M-words, add Microsoft and McKinsey. And to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s “do-it-now” slogan, add one more: Go for the best.

In an evidence of the government’s eagerness to associate much-maligned Bengal with the best names in business, the New Left Front is going full-throttle to enlist the services of Microsoft for its ambitious e-governance project. The Bill Gates-owned company will cost a hefty pile ($2,000 per manday) but Bengal wants Microsoft, no less.

The chief minister is equally keen on appointing consultancy firm McKinsey, which, too, does not come cheap, to advise the government on how to go about getting private investment to the state.

The attitude marks a qualitative change in the way the Left Front thinks — go for the best has not been on its radar screen so far — but doubts remain about the ability to carry good intentions through to fruition.

“We have been hearing for two years McKinsey will be appointed. When will we see it happen?” asked an industrialist.

There are reasons to believe that there is more to the delay than the official explanation that the government was waiting for the elections to be over. For instance, a few days before the meeting with McKinsey head Rajat Gupta on April 7, the chief minister had asked for the file but did not get to see it.

It is now expected that Gupta will come visiting again towards the end of this month. Bhattacharjee, in the meantime, is likely to start an internal process to widen McKinsey’s brief to include a one-year plan to draw investments.

Until now, the consultant’s agenda was to simplify the investment procedure, prepare a guidebook for bureaucrats and identify priority sectors along with a strategy to pull in investors, particularly multinationals.

Possible addition of a short-term plan will signal the government’s eagerness for quick results.

Its ambitious e-governance project has now reached the stage of hard bargaining over price. A series of negotiations has been held with Microsoft, which will customise for the states a system that will provide fast and easy web-based solutions to carry out a wide range of daily activities like creating documents, forms and clearance certificates.

Chief secretary Manish Gupta, who had visited the Seattle headquarters of Microsoft in March, is confident that despite the delay the deal will go through. “We will sign the MoU very soon,” he said.

The e-governance project consists of two parts. In the first, the entire state will be connected through a network. The second involves developing applications software for different departments where, too, price has become a stumbling block.

In this instance it is looking beyond Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), engaged in similar e-governance projects in Andhra Pradesh. The government appears to think that TCS’s rate is too high.

Industry sources, however, see the reason for the delay lying elsewhere. “It seems TCS wants the government to share responsibility. The government, which is used to awarding projects and then blaming the agency for any failure, does not like the accountability clause. That’s why they’re looking at other companies,” said an industry observer.

Only a part of the Rs 65 crore set aside for e-governance projects last year has been spent. This year, the outlay is certain to increase. Price, then, is not seen as an impediment if the government is serious about going for the best.


Calcutta, June 16: 
Mamata Banerjee has decided to revamp the organisation with greater involvement of party MPs and legislators so that she can meet the CPM’s challenge in the panchayat polls.

The tone-up, she feels, will not only keep workers busy at the grassroots but also make them adhere to the party’s policies and programmes as well as maintain discipline.

Mamata believes that MPs and legislators, once they have sufficient organisational responsibilities, will not dare challenge the partyline on crucial issues like returning to the National Democratic Alliance.

The Trinamul leader’s new strategy is to appoint MPs and legislators chiefs of district units. She has already made two MPs — Akbar Ali Khondekar and Ranjit Panja — heads of the Hooghly and the North 24-Parganas district units, respectively. Dipak Ghosh, legislator from Mahishadal, has been appointed chief of the Midnapore panel.

Mamata feels MPs and legislators are in a better position to interact with people and party workers as they are elected representatives. She has plans to allocate specific organisational work to other MPs and MLAs before she leaves for Delhi to attend the monsoon session of the Lok Sabha, beginning on July 23.

Mamata, who has been meeting district leaders to get a first-hand knowledge of organisational lapses that led to the Assembly poll debacle, is trying to identify local issues the party had failed to exploit in the poll.

She has also sought the opinion of district leaders on whether the economic policies of the Vajpayee government had an adverse impact on the electorate.

The Trinamul chief is particularly keen on reviving the party’s youth wing, the Trinamul Youth Congress. She has asked it to make elaborate preparations for observing July 21 as Martyrs’ Day. “Go with the youth” will be the new slogan of the youth wing, which has been asked to hold workers’ meetings in different districts to ensure a large turnout for the July 21 rally at Sahid Minar.

Mamata has already appointed two young legislators, Tamonash Ghosh and Jyotipriya Mullick, working presidents of the Trinamul Youth Congress.

She has also formed a new advisory committee under the leadership of youth wing chief Sanjoy Buxi to carry out a concerted campaign in the districts for the rally’s success.


Chinsurah (Hooghly), June 16: 
A passenger stopped. Then another. Their ears pricked, they heard distinctly the old song, the clear melody, the haunting voice of Hemanta.

Poth harabo bolei ebar pothey nemechhi...

No, this was not some recorded stuff out of a boombox. No. This was so lifelike that it could only be a man singing. Who? Hemanta? His ghost?

Even Hemanta might have frozen on his tracks hearing his voice in another man singing his songs.

The daily passengers of Chinsurah are no longer surprised when, on evenings, by the station booking counter, they hear Hemanta live. They have all seen 62-year-old Shankar Bairagi before.

On evenings, they have heard Bairagi sing. Surer akashey tumi je go shuktara...

The train chugs out of the station, the song fades in the bustle of the compartment, but Bairagi lives in the conversation.

Beggar, is he, the passengers ask. No, not quite, not in that sense. He sings and if someone gives him money, he takes it, and later shares it with beggars, because they need the money more than he does.

He dropped out of school in class IX and joined Mohini Mills in Belghoria, but that closed down some 30 years ago. He didn’t try to get another job. “I learnt classical music from Sunil Neogy and later took lessons from Sanat Banerjee and Atin Roy,” says Bairagi.

He sang with Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, Manabendra Mukherjee, Sibaji Chatterjee and Madhuri Chatterjee at a function in the canteen hall of Writers’ Buildings. He was invited to the Kolkata Yuba Kendra on Uttam Kumar’s death anniversary and stood second in a competition organised by the Sagar-Hemanta Musical Conference at Kabitirtha in 1961. He remembers the day actress Kanan Devi handed over the prize to him.

So, why doesn’t he do something about his talent, go to Doordarshan, All India Radio, do something, asks a Calcutta girl, his instant admirer, handing over a Rs 10 note. He stares at her for a while, and then Hemanta comes alive: Surer akashey tumi je go shuktara.Seven months ago, he left his home in Surbazar in Ichhapur. Now, he living with a friend at Manaspur in Bandel.

It was a big family, he says, and they didn’t want Hemanta to haunt them. So, Bairagi left home, to come to the station in the evenings to borrow the legend’s voice to pour his soul out.


Asansol, June 16: 
The CPM Burdwan district committee has agreed to accept the recommendation of the Barakar Zonal Committee that nearly a dozen party workers be expelled for their alleged involvement in “anti-party activities”.

The Barakar zonal committee had recommended the expulsions of the members during the end of April.

The district leadership, however, did not take any action in view of the Assembly poll prospects.

“Large-scale expulsion of party members immediately before the polls, could have hampered the poll prospects of CPM candidates in the district. But we have gone by the zonal committee’s recommendation to expel their members and approved the decision”, a senior district committee leader said.

The zonal committee had recommended the expulsions of Sukhen Dasgupta, Parthasarathi Sengupta, Dharmadas Maji, Gouranga Chowdhury, Rudhir Chatterjee, Arabinda Ghosh, Sunil Bose, Bimal Dutta, Subhasis Bose, Santimoy Bhattacharjee and Lata Goswami — 11 members of the committee.

All these party members had refused to go by the party decision to nominate an RJD candidate for the Hirapur Assembly seat. They had supported Dilip Ghosh, a local CPM leader, to contest the polls against the CPM-backed RJD candidate.

Ghosh was expelled from the party on April 26, immediately after he filed his nomination against the CPM-backed RJD candidate.

Madan Ghosh, secretary of the Burdwan district committee, reaffirmed the party’s decision.

Apart from the 11 CPM members in the Barakar zonal committee, two mayor-in-council members of the Asansol municipality, Krishnendu Ghosh and Jaladhar Maji, have also been removed for their involvement in anti-party activities.

Asansol Mayor Shyamal Mukherjee said though the two had been removed from their posts, they still remained councillors of the municipality.


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