Grades, not marks, in finals
Govt bulldozers hit Mamata stonewall
Tech tips for engineers
Net through cable so near, yet so far
The City Diary
Trade body asks for real estate rules revision
Bottler to pay for water
Urban work monitor panel
Mayor buys peace with eviction pause
Expulsion broom for hospital clean-up

Calcutta, Sept. 23: 
Forget about the mad scramble for marks; gear up for grades.

Acting on a Central proposal, the state government is all set to introduce grades, instead of marks, for the Madhyamik and Higher Secondary examinations. If things go according to plan, students appearing for Madhyamik 2003 and HS 2005 could be evaluated by the new system .

�We welcome the proposal, as the existing method has become obsolete throughout the world. The system of grades will definitely help students. But this is a sensitive issue and consensus is important to bring about this change,� said Sudin Chattopadhyay, president, West Bengal Council for Higher SecondaryEducation.

Haraprasad Samaddar, president, West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, too, warned against haste. �Awareness must first be created about the benefit of the new method. A sudden imposition of this rule will only cause confusion among students, parents and institutions,� he said.

At a recent National Council for Educational Training and Research (NCERT) conference in Delhi, attended by heads of secondary and higher secondary boards across the country, it was proposed that all states consider introduction of grades at school-leaving exams. The Left Front government in Bengal was, incidentally, the first to introduce grades at the primary level in the late 1980s.

The Centre has already introduced grades for students appearing for the Class X and Class XII exams conducted by the CBSE.

Education department officials explained that the grade system will benefit students of humanities and commerce the most. �Once the new system is introduced, a brilliant student of history can get the same grades as a student of mathematics, instead of scoring 20-25 marks less, as is the case now,� an official said.

There are three important steps to be taken before the proposed system can be introduced. First, a wide range of programmes will have to be conducted to get a feedback on the proposal and make people aware about the advantages of grades over marks.

Next, the government has urged the Centre to provide �necessary funds� to undertake schemes to train secondary and higher-secondary teachers to evaluate students by grades, not marks.

Finally, before the system is introduced at the Madhyamik and HS levels, a �trial run� will be conducted in Classes VII and VIII. �This will allow teachers, students, parents and the schools a feel of the system and enable them to fine-tune it,� an official said.


Calcutta, Sept. 23: 
The bulldozers and payloaders were at work full-tilt on the banks of Tolly�s Nullah till about 10.30 on Sunday morning. Then, they ran into a Trinamul Congress stonewall.

Bringing the demolition drive to a halt with her followers, Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee declared that the eviction won�t resume till mayor Subrata Mukherjee meets chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Monday.

After razing a 2.5-km stretch to the ground on Saturday, a couple of bulldozers demolished 67 structures between Bunty cinema, near Naktala, and Rathtala, along Tolly�s Nullah, virtually without resistance on Sunday morning. Then, Mamata and her brigade swung into the act.

South 24-Parganas district magistrate Alapan Bandopadhyay later confirmed that the administration was pulling out of the eviction drive for the day. �We will take up eviction at Baker Bazar or some other place after the chief minister�s meeting with the mayor,� he said.

For the second consecutive day, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation stayed away and the drive was carried out mostly with the help of the CMDA, with bulldozers and payloaders hired from private agencies.

After having made his pro-eviction stand public, the past 48 hours have witnessed a dramatic turnaround from Mukherjee. The mayor being forced to toe the Mamata line is being dubbed a tactical triumph for the Trinamul leader. On the one hand, she has used the mayor to bring the eviction issue back to the government�s table. On the other, she has marginalised Mukherjee by making a majority of her councillors rally behind her on the canal count. Realising that �wrong signals� were being sent out due to the tiff, Mamata persuaded Mukherjee to be by her side on Sunday.

Mamata, who sat in a night-long dharna at Garia More on Saturday, held a public meeting on Sunday morning with Mukherjee and party MLAs Pankaj Banerjee, Saugata Roy, Partho Chatterjee and Sobhandev Chattopadhyay.

�I am not against the cleaning up of Tolly�s Nullah. But the state government has adopted a Draconian stand on this. The settlers are being removed without any rehabilitation plan. Moreover, to mislead the people, they are talking about a rift between Subratada and me, but nothing like that has happened,� Mamata said at the public meeting.

The mayor, on his part, said there will be �no more eviction� until the rehabilitation package is finalised. �In the CMC area, eviction cannot be carried out without my permission. Moreover, there is a case pending in Supreme Court and we will have to wait till October 1, when it will be heard,� he added.

�We will call a 12-hour bandh and extend it indefinitely if the eviction drive is continued without any rehabilitation package,� threatened Mamata.

The bandh threat blew over by evening when Mukherjee clarified: �There won�t be any bandh, as the meeting with the chief minister is coming up on Monday.� Mamata, too, called off her dharna, claiming that the eviction had stopped and that it was a �people�s victory�.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said there is no question of the eviction drive being called off. �We have already said that the drive will be conducted in phases and I hope the party (Trinamul) will co-operate with the government in removing the encroachments,� he added.


Calcutta, Sept. 23: 
Webel, the government�s nodal IT agency, is expanding its coverage in infotech education. After introducing computer literacy programmes in schools and career courses in colleges, it�s now targeting engineering students.

On the click: Networking courses in both private and government engineering colleges, with help from US major Cisco.

�Earlier this year, we had signed an MoU with networking major Cisco Systems, USA, to conduct courses for Cisco Certified Networking Associates (CCNA) in West Bengal,� said Professor S.K. Majumdar, head of IT education in Webel Informatics Ltd (WIL). �Networking is the backbone of the IT industry. The demand for professionals hasn�t gone down.�

According to the WIL education chief: �It�s a four-semester course, with 280 hours of extensive training. Interested students will be given the option of completing it in a year. After the training, the students will have to appear for an on-line examination conducted from the US for the certificate.�

Though engineering students constitute the target group, WIL authorities want to keep it open to �logical thinkers� and are working on an �objective screening process�.

The classes at the Salt Lake academy of WIL are scheduled to start by November. The course will also be launched in local academies at five engineering colleges by December.

The infrastructure is now being put in place, following Cisco guidelines. Faculty from engineering colleges will conduct the course.

To give deserving students a chance to learn the �best of technologies� at affordable prices, the course fee is pegged at Rs 12,000 with equal monthly instalments. Placement assistance will be provided to candidates for which authorities at WIL are busy creating a database of companies.

�Though we have plans to increase the number of local academies, we will restrict the course to only 10 colleges for the next two to three years. Along with Cisco, we will also constantly monitor the local academies to maintain quality of training input and infrastructure,� added Majumdar.

IT aspirants are upbeat about the new avenue. �There are many software training institutes in the city. Now, Calcutta students interested in networking will also have an option,� said final-year engineering student Sukanta Sen.

Students are also hopeful that Cisco�s brand value will attract prospective employers as well.


Calcutta, Sept. 23: 
Want to �chat�, e-mail your friend in the US or surf for news without running up a phenomenal phone bill? Contact your cableman.

Watch it, your neighbourhood cable operator is ready to go hi-tech. The only rider: Don�t go into the technicalities, please.

Lining up a Puja special for Calcuttans, some cable-operators in town have tied up with a Bangalore-based software firm to offer Internet services. The first locality to click on a cable line will be New Alipore. �This will be a Durga Puja gift to cable-users in our area,� confirms Inder Raj Singh of Satellite Vision. Next to be wired will be Kasba, Salt Lake, Bangur and Lake Town.

The installation charges at the customer�s end will be Rs 3,000, if the cable modem is shared with four to six others. For a dedicated cable modem, the subscriber will have to fork out between Rs 12,000 and Rs 15,000. The Internet connection will come through �a separate cable-feed�, for a monthly rent of around Rs 1,500.

There remains a big question mark over connectivity. Cable operators are dropping tech terms like �bigger bandwidth� and �optic fibre�. But the �how, when, where� questions remain unanswered. �Connectivity will be five times faster than local phone lines if the modem is shared and 10 times faster in case of a dedicated modem,� claims Singh.

A networking expert dismisses this: �Without the use of optical fibre and independent gateways, connectivity will be awfully slow, making the whole exercise pointless. Connectivity through cable, with proper infrastructure, should be 60 to 70 times faster than phone lines.�

Joe Silva, CEO of Caltiger, concurs: �There is no move towards optical fibre yet and cable operators will have to go through either VSNL or Caltiger gateways. So, it will be difficult to convince people about switching from ISPs to cable lines. The Calcutta ISP market is roughly around 1.5 lakh and on an average, a Net-user is on-line for five hours per month. I don�t see any reason for such a user to cough up a monthly rental of Rs 1,500 besides installation charges.� Silva, though, will keep a close eye on the cable-click move to gauge whether it will help expand an �already-saturated market to some extent�, where the ISPs� �access model� has flopped.

The start-up cost of the project has been pegged at Rs 6 crore. �Initially, the viewer will have the option of plugging into a PC leased against a deposit. By the end of the year, the subscriber can opt for a converting device against a deposit to surf the Net on TV. We are designing the device to make it compatible with all sets in the market,� explains Singh. Subrata Saha, general-secretary of the Forum of Cable Operators (FCO), is ready to �support the move�. According to a SitiCable spokesperson, similar projects in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and New Delhi have started catching on.

RPG Netcom, which controls over 70 per cent of the cable pie in town, is more cautious on the Net count. While confirming that they are �gearing up for the big leap�, CEO Probir Bose adds that �end of the year, rather than the Pujas�, is the time-frame they are looking at.



Official found dead

The decomposed body of Naresh Singh, 56, assistant director of the Central Public Works Department, was recovered from his eighth-floor residence in Nizam Palace early on Sunday. Singh, who had recently moved to the city from New Delhi, lived alone. �He probably had a heart attack,� said a Bhowanipore police station official. Singh had complained of a severe chest pain on Wednesday night to one of his relatives in Belghoria. �He possibly died that night. We have not found any external injuries,� police said.

Teenager drowns

Biswajit Das, 14, was drowned in the Hooghly at Sutanati ghat, in the North Port police station area, on Sunday morning while trying to save a friend, deputy commissioner of police, port, H.P. Singh said. Das and his friend had gone for a swim when the latter slipped into the river. Das swam to his friend and pushed him towards the shore, but was drowned in the process, sources said.


An all-India workshop on �State participation in the annual survey of industries� will be conducted on September 26 at the Bangla Akademi Sabhaghar, in the Nandan complex. The workshop, organised to estimate the various industrial parameters in the state, will be inaugurated by minister for youth affairs Mohammad Salim.    

Calcutta, Sept. 23: 
The Bharat Chamber of Commerce has urged finance minister Asim Dasgupta to probe the �bottlenecks� which have inhibited growth in the housing and real estate development sector. In a meeting with the minister at the Writers� recently, the chamber made a presentation identifying �multiplicity of legislations, the Indian Stamp (West Bengal Amendment ) Act and complicated procedures� as the main hindrances to development in the sector.

�Housing and real estate are very important catalysts in creating demand and consequently, may play a vital role in reversing the slowdown in our economy. Not only would we achieve a social need of providing shelter, but greater investment in this sector shall create a multiplier effect on demand for goods,� chamber vice-president Santosh Rungta told Dasgupta.

The chamber pointed out that the provisions which delay the growth of housing should be immediately amended and those legislations which are redundant, repealed. �It is of prime importance to involve the chamber in identifying the grey areas and suggest remedies,� said Rungta.

Singling out the need to amend the Stamp Act, the chamber said the practice of payment of stamp duty on agreement is �grossly unfair� on the buyer and should be discontinued immediately. Currently, all agreements for sale/development of any immovable property is required to be registered along with payment of requisite stamp duty. The actual transaction may not at all materialise or may be delayed for years because of litigation.

�This is like paying income-tax before the income is generated. The stamp duty, if paid at the agreement stage, creates an additional burden of interest for the purchaser who has already borrowed heavily from financial institutions and doesn�t even know if the flat would actually be constructed,� said Rungta.

The chamber has suggested that all agreements should be registered on payment of registration fees of 1.1 per cent only and that possession should not be granted without the payment of stamp duty.

�This would ensure that there is no loss of revenue to the state exchequer and registration of agreement will create a data base and ensure compliance,� explained Sushil Mohta, member, urban development committee, Bharat Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber has also prescribed a uniform system for valuation in all registering offices and an annual ready reckoner to be published, giving prevailing valuations in different areas, as is done in states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. �The minister has been most receptive to our suggestions and has agreed to arrange regular interface between developers and the urban development and housing departments,� said Rungta.

Bail granted: Three persons were arrested and, later, granted interim bail till October 6, for assaulting the owner of Capital Electronics, Sanjeev Agarwal. On Friday, unidentified men stormed Agarwal�s residence and beat him up. Agarwal, taken to Sambhunath Pandit Hospital with serious head injuries, was later shifted to a city nursing home. The victim�s uncle, R.S. Agarwal, was also arrested. Investigations revealed the assault was the fallout of a property dispute.


Calcutta, Sept. 23: 
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and the Central Municipal Water and Sanitation authority (CMWSA) have decided to levy a per-bottle charge on Diamond Beverage, the authorised bottlers of Coca-Cola in town. The bottlers will also not be allowed to use deep tubewells in its plant at P-41 Taratala Road. They have, instead, been advised to use and pay for treated surface water from the Garden Reach waterworks.

Member, mayor-in-council, water supply, Sovan Chatterjee said the firm will be served a notice soon. Chief engineer (water supply) Dibyendu Roychaudhury said the company ran four deep tubewells to meet their requirement for water. They had installed their own treatment plant to make the water bacteria-free and soft.

�We have decided not to renew their licence for deep tubewells as drawing of huge quantities of underground water for commercial purposes is adversely affecting the underground water table.�

The Diamond Beverage management refused to comment on the developments. But, a company spokesperson said more than 3 lakh soft drink bottles (13,000 crates) rolled out of the Taratala pipeline every day.

He also asked if the CMC was at all eligible to collect drainage tax from the Taratala unit as the used water was poured into the drainage artery of Maheshtala municipality.

He said the CMC had no ground for charging 80 per cent of water tax as drainage tax from this bottling unit, as most of the water was poured into bottles and not into the drain as run-off water.

Roychaudhury said if 3 lakh bottles a day was taken as the base line, then the company would have to pay Rs 1.35 lakh to the CMWSA as water tax and Rs 1.08 lakh to the CMC as drainage tax.

Refuting the allegation levelled by a representative of Diamond Beverage that it would affect the financial soundness of the company, Roychaudhury said if the total amount of water tax and drainage tax was distributed over the daily production of over 3 lakh bottles, the total share of CMC and CMWSA on the sale of each 300 ml bottle would be less than one paisa.

The CMWSA charges Rs 15 per kilo litre (1,000 litres) of treated water consumption from commercial users.

The CMC�s rate for commercial users is Rs 10 per kilo litre. Besides, the CMC charges drainage and sewerage tax on commercial users at a rate of 80 per cent of the water tax paid.

This gives Coca-Cola�s multinational rival Pepsi a built-in advantage, as its plant is located outside CMC limits, according to trade observers.


Calcutta, Sept. 23: 
In a move fraught with political and economic implications, the ruling Communists have initiated the process of unveiling the first urban development council for monitoring development activities of the various official agencies in the Calcutta Metropolitan Area (CMA).

Officials said on Sunday the council, to be elected on October 7, will be modelled on the district planning board and will monitor the functioning of the development agencies, including the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and the Howrah Municipal Corporation in the CMA on either side of the Hooghly between Bansberia and Budge Budge.

Behind the move for setting up the council is the growing realisation that only �sustained, co-ordinated and comparable development� in the CMA areas can help lessen the crushing load of population on Calcutta and, to some extent, Howrah, the officials said.

�If we are really serious about changing Bengal from being a single city-state to a multi-city one, we must consciously encourage comparable development in the CMA,� said an official. The election will take place at the CMC headquarters.

Though the CMA does not relate to Calcutta proper, the importance of the proposed council lies in the fact that the CMA is home to an estimated 1.20 crore people who are denied drinking water, healthcare, roads, transportation and drainage.

The 40-member council, to be elected by people�s representatives in the civic bodies, municipalities and panchayats located within the CMA, will work towards bringing about a parity in the development of civic infrastructure in Calcutta and its suburbs, including five panchayat areas. In Calcutta too, according to the municipal affairs department, there are some areas within the city proper like Tiljala, Topsia, Tangra, Dhapa, Gobra, Chingrihata and Kasba which require special attention.

In the CMC, there will be one member in the council for every 10 councillors. The chairman will be elected by members through a single transferable proportionate voting system.And the first preference vote of a CMC member in the council will carry a weight of 10.


Calcutta, Sept. 23: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee�s overnight climbdown on eviction along Tolly�s Nullah has brought into focus his growing isolation within the party as well as the civic body.

Toeing Mamata Banerjee�s anti-eviction line has brought the mayor on a collision course with the state government, on which the Calcutta Municipal Corporation has to depend for the pay packet of its 45,000 employees.

Mukherjee�s credibility as mayor received a body blow after he failed to live up to his assurance to urban development minister Ashoke Bhattacharya that he was supporting the government�s move to evict the encroachers.

It seems that Mukherjee was left with no option but to toe the party line as all the members in the mayor�s council except for two started rallying round Mamata after CMC chairman Anil Mukherjee�s resignation.

�After Anilda resigned, many of us began to feel insecure. We thought it was the beginning of a major split in the organisation. If we were unable to make Subratada understand the looming crisis, it could have proved a disaster,� observed a mayor-in-council member.

He felt that the situation would have been exploited by the Left Front councillors if the mayor had not joined forces with Mamata.

Cornered in the party, a desperate Mukherjee convened an emergency meeting of his council in a last-ditch effort to muster support. But none gave any hope, save Rajiv Deb and Pradip Ghosh.

After promising to back Mukherjee, Mala Roy promptly went on to share a platform with Mamata at Garia, where she staged a dharna against the eviction, Trinamul sources said.

They said Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhyay finally brought together the sulking mayor and an aggressive Mamata at a hurriedly-convened meeting at party MLA Partho Chatterjee�s south Calcutta residence late last night and brokered peace. �I am much relieved that both Subrata and Mamata have realised the necessity of coming to an understanding,� Bandopadhyay said.

Mamata tried to convince Mukherjee that the CPM was trying to make an issue out of their differences. �Don�t you see that the Left Front ministers are saying everywhere that they have the full backing of the mayor in carrying out the eviction. They are trying to show that the corporation is spearheading the drive against encroachers. So, Subratada let us bury the hatchet and work in unison,� Mamata is said to have told her one-time mentor.

Bandopadhyay hinted that Mamata, flush with the success of taming Mukherjee, will have greater control over the functioning of the civic body.


Behrampore, Sept. 23: 
As part of the government�s drive to clear hospital premises across the state of encroachers, the Murshidabad district administration today demolished many illegal structures inside the Behrampore Sadar hospital complex.

A team of senior policemen and administrative officials, led by sub-divisional officer Ashis Mukherjee, conducted the drive. The officer said many outsiders, who had been illegally occupying hospital staff quarters, were evicted. No untoward incident was reported during the eviction drive.

A large contingent of policemen virtually laid siege at the hospital premises since early this morning. Officials of the public works department assisted the police with payloaders and other equipment.

Before the operation started, officials requested encroachers over a megaphone to leave with their belongings. Many people left their shanties long before the police arrived.

Hospital superintendent Panchu Gopal Roy welcomed the drive and said this would help the administration clear the premises. He admitted that some doctors had even made makeshift garages inside the campus without the administration�s knowledge.

�The police today demolished nearly a dozen illegal garages belonging to doctors. However, nobody had sought our permission for constructing any structure,� the superintendent said.

Roy added that some outsiders, who were running makeshift eating-houses on the hospital premises, were also evicted.

Hospital sources said some doctors hit by the demolition drive have decided to take up the matter with senior administration officials.


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