Blood test for a suitable boy
Buddha prod sends power players to talks table
Neglect axe on nursing home
Students shun exam fee favour
The City Diary
Dedicated to healthcare, a celebration of life
Green light for blood disease research centre
Empty coffers swallow civic retirement dues
Watch out for the helping hand
On wheels to tackle leprosy

Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
From north to south and east to west of the city, 12 prospective grooms have come for her hand in marriage over the past two years. But her resolution has forced all of them to beat a retreat.

Meet Sulekha Bose, 26. She has no time for matching horoscopes. A blood test report is what she wants.

Sulekha has set a rare example by refusing to accept proposals of marriage if the prospective groom does not test himself for thalassaemia, HIV and hepatitis B, all fatal diseases which can be transmitted to the spouse or offspring.

The dozen patrapaksha (suitors� families) have found her hard to please as she sticks to her stand.

Her parents are residents of Halisahar, on the city�s northern fringe, but Sulekha has spent much of her time with relatives in Birati. Now, for the past two years, she has been on her silent crusade after completing her graduation.

She is yet to meet a boy or his parents who welcome her stand, reflecting the lack of understanding of an important medical issue.

Sitting on a rickety bed with a bunch of Bengali novels dumped in one corner, Sulekha says confidently: �I don�t have any horoscope or any astrological predictions of my future. I don�t believe in these things. I even refused an astrologer who offered to get my horoscope done when he heard that a dozen prospective grooms had turned away as I did not have my horoscope.�

Whenever Sulekha raises the issue with the prospective groom�s parents, they reply: �Blood test reports do not have any role here. Forget it, first show us your kushti (horoscope) so we can find out whether your astrological signs match our son�s.�

Sulekha�s mother Jayanti and her two brothers have stood by her. After her father died two years ago, the brothers run the family�s bedding store.

�My sister-in-law�s marriage was settled in Birbhum after a thorough analysis of horoscopes of both sides. An astrologer predicted that the groom would outlive her. But my sister-in-law became a widow after a few years of marriage. How can I believe all these things?� asks Jayanti.

Sulekha recounted that a young man from Nimtala, in north Calcutta, had come to meet her. �Initially, we liked each other. But when I produced my blood test reports and asked for his, he turned hesitant. He and his family wanted to check my horoscope. I was shocked when the same man returned and told me that he was ready to produce his blood reports if we pay Rs 70,000 as dowry. I refused.�

Her family decided to stand by her despite the death of Narendra Narayan Basu, Sulekha�s father. �My father succumbed to cancer two years ago. His ailment can strike anyone. But what I am concerned with are diseases that can be scientifically foreseen. I want to be sure that the person who will become my husband and the father of my children is not suffering from any fatal disease,� said Sulekha.

�She is right. Two countries in the world, including nearby Malaysia, have made it compulsory to have blood tests done before marriage to prevent transmittable diseases like AIDS,� points out Prof. D.K. Neogi.

The head of the department of virology at the School of Tropical Medicine says there are cases in Calcutta and neighbouring areas where the husband has infected the wife with the deadly virus. In one instance, the man and his family knew that he was infected before he got married. �This should be treated as a criminal offence. Why should innocent spouses suffer for no fault of theirs?�

Money robbed: Two men on a motorcycle snatched Rs 1.7 lakh from two employees of a bakery on Orient Row, in Beniapukur, on Monday afternoon. The employees were on their way to a nearby branch of UBI to deposit the money. The motorcyclists sped away before the employees could raise an alarm, police said.


Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
With power cuts continuing to plague the city, Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC) found itself in chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee�s line of fire on Monday.

Bhattacharjee, who reviewed the situation, asked power minister Mrinal Banerjee to take up issue with the power utility. �I am not ready to listen to excuses. The CESC must generate power at its optimum,� said Bhattacharjee at Writers� Buildings.

The government had asked CESC on Thursday to hand over its demarcated command area in Howrah if it was unable to repay its dues, which have run into nearly Rs 800 crore.

Bhattacharjee said the state electricity board (SEB) would continue its restriction on supply to the CESC grid until its power-purchase dues were met.

According to CESC managing director Sumantra Banerjee, the utility was trying to reach an agreement with the SEB. On Monday, Mrinal Banerjee held a meeting with power secretary Kalyan Bagchi and SEB chairman G.D. Gautama. �We have not made any headway yet,� he admitted.

Meanwhile, power cuts continued through Monday. The shortfall in the CESC-served areas touched 225 mw in the morning and 165 mw in the evening. The SEB continued to impose a 120-mw and 170-mw restriction on its supply to the CESC system in the morning and evening, respectively.

CESC�s generation is not expected to improve till January 30, when a 250-mw unit at its Budge Budge plant, now being overhauled, is expected to be brought back on stream.

�But then, the demand for electricity will rise, as by the end of this month, winter will be on its way out. So, ultimately, the Budge Budge unit will not be able to ensure uniterrupted supply in summer, when the demand hovers around 1200 mw. If the SEB does not lift its restriction, the power situation will be far worse from March,� said a power department official.

The power cuts are worrying the Madhyamik Board authorities. Board president Haraprasad Samaddar said of 600,000 examinees, more than 200,000 are from Calcutta. �Preparations have been hit by the power cuts. If this continues, I will take up the matter with the school education minister,� he said.

Bypass mishap: Rabin Poddar, 40, and son Soham, 12, residents of Prince Anwar Shah Road, were killed when the Maruti they were travelling in early on Monday fell into a ditch on E.M. By-pass. Two others, Keya Das, 30, and her son Abhirup, 5, were critically injured and rushed to SSKM Hospital. The four were returning from Salt Lake.


Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
In a significant judgment, Calcutta High Court on Monday upheld the decision of the state health department not to renew the licence of a nursing home in North 24-Parganas and suspend its activities.

The department had cancelled the licence of the nursing home after a detailed inquiry by the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) revealed that gross negligence on the part of the nursing home staff, as well as the doctor who conducted an operation, had caused the death of a woman patient.

The court�s ruling will help the government curb the activities of illegal nursing homes throughout the state, particularly in Calcutta and Howrah.

According to health ministry sources, the department will wield the court order to take measures against more than 800 nursing homes in Calcutta and Howrah, many of which operate without meeting the requirements of the Clinical Establishment Act, 1950.

On July 28 last year, Usharani Debnath was admitted to Sankhachil Nursing Home in Habra, North 24-Parganas, with gall bladder problems. She was operated on the next day but developed post-operation complications, which went unattended.

When her condition took a turn for the worse on July 30 morning, she was transferred to a city hospital. But she died on the way. A criminal case was initiated at Habra police station against the owner of the nursing home, Dr Amulya Ratan Biswas, and the doctor who carried out the operation, Dr M.A. Kader. Both the doctors were arrested.

Debabrata Debnath, Usharani�s son, had also lodged a complaint with the chief medical officer of health of the district against the nursing home authorities.

On the basis of that complaint, the CMOH refused to renew its licence. Challenging the official�s order, the nursing home authorities filed a case before the vacation bench during the Christmas vacation of Calcutta High Court.

The vacation bench passed an interim order staying the CMOH order on the ground that local patients would suffer if the nursing home was closed.

On Monday, when the case came up for final hearing, additional government pleader Tarun Roy told the court that the nursing home had not renewed its licence since August 10, 2001.

Dr Kader, who is also a professor of surgery at Burdwan Medical College, had violated government norms by carrying out private practice at nursing homes, despite being a Medical Education Service member.


Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
When the Madhyamik Board hiked examination fees, from Rs 50 to Rs 155 for the first time in 50 years, the Opposition went to town about the fee revision hurting a large number of students. The Board said it would set aside funds to help such students. To create the fund, it appealed to many companies and organisations.

Going by early signs, the campaign is a non-starter. Not because the fund isn�t being created, but because no student seems to be interested in availing of the aid.

Responding to the Board appeal, ACES Infotech had promised to provide the examination fees of 100 needy students. �Understanding the Board�s problem, we approached the authorities last month and submitted a proposal. Even though we wanted to start with 100 students, we had plans to increase the number in the years ahead. We were surprised to find the Board approaching us to pay just a nominal amount of Rs 155, as only one student had come forward to avail of the facility offered by us,� said Subhashis Auddy, general manager, ACES Infotech.

According to sources in the Board, the candidate in question is a student of a state-aided school in Lalgola, in Murshidabad district. Another student from Raipur, in Birbhum district, had expressed his inability to pay the test fees. But his appeal was not reported to the Board headquarters in Calcutta as one of the teachers in his school had paid the amount.

Apart from the assurance from ACES Infotech, members of Rotary Club have promised necessary help to the poor students. The club officials recently met the Board members and promised to help at least two students from each district in the state, said Haraprasad Samaddar, Board president.

The Board authorities are planning to increase the Madhyamik fees further next year. �The cost of holding the exam is increasing by the day. The state government has warned us to raise our revenue,� said Samaddar.

However, Anjanava Chakraboty, leader of Democratic Students� Organisation, which had protested the fee hike, said that there had been a poor response as the Board had failed to convey its assistance scheme to students in the rural belts.



Inter-state car theft racket busted

A car-theft racket was busted with the arrest of six persons, including the ring leader. They were picked up from Orissa and Hooghly. Seven cars were recovered from different parts of the neighbouring state. According to investigators, the thieves would transport the stolen cars to Puri and Pipli in Orissa. The police netted Anil Naskar from Uttarpara on Saturday night. Naskar put the sleuths on the Orissa trail. A team was despatched to Puri in search of the other gang-members. Police said the arrested persons have confessed to stealing about 15 cars every month.

Domestic help in cop net

Gopal Shaw, a domestic help in the residence of Ghanashyam Das of Phoolbagan, was arrested on charges of burglary. Police said Shaw had made off with gold jewellery worth Rs 25,000 on January 16, when the owners were away. On the basis of a complaint lodged with the police on Sunday, Shaw�s house on Narkeldanga Main Road was raided and the ornaments were found hidden inside socks. Shaw was taken into custody.

Sari shop gutted

A silk sari outlet in Behala was razed on Monday afternoon. Police said the fire broke out around 1.45 pm in the shop located near the Behala tram depot. Five fire tenders were pressed into service, which took an hour to bring the blaze under control.

Stalled by settlers

Thalassaemia Foundation is unable to start functioning from the Chetla maternity home building handed over to it by the CMC as the civic authorities have yet to clear the premises of encroachers. The building was used as staff quarters for civic employees. Trinamul Congress trade union leader Sovandeb Chattopadhyay wrote to municipal commissioner Debasis Som, asking him not to evict former civic employee Pankaj Mondol from the building as the CMC had not cleared his retirement benefit dues since April 2001.

2 held, arms seized

Two brothers, Dilip and Dipak Mallik, were arrested late on Sunday when they were �moving about in a suspicious manner� on Beadon Street, in the Burtolla police station area. Police recovered two firearms from them. Officials patrolling the area at night noticed the duo. They started running when the policemen approached them.

CMC official fined

Justice K.J. Sengupta of Calcutta High Court on Monday fined the CMC deputy city architect Probir Chowdhury Rs 3,400 for making a false statement before the court. The court had directed the CMC to demolish an unauthorised construction at 9, Mandir Lane, in the Bowbazar police station area, and remove the debris. The architect informed the court that the debris had been removed. The court appointed an officer to visit the spot, who filed a report to the contrary.

Public sector talk

Banking ombudsman, West Bengal and Sikkim, Dipak Rudra will speak on �Accountability and the public sector� at Calcutta Management Association auditorium at 5.45 pm.    

Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
Bright motifs on the walls of children�s rooms and the play arena, blown-ups of the human gene everywhere, exploding in a kaleidoscope of colours to depict the thread of life� A hospital with a difference. That�s what the Bhagirathi Neotia Woman & Child Care Centre, �the first modern, holistic centre for women and children�, opening its doors to Calcuttans next month, promises to be. It will also be plugging a gaping hole in healthcare services in relation to infants and females in the eastern region.

Promoted by the Neotia family, the facility has been designed to cater to the physical and psychological needs of critically-ill children, as also of expectant mothers and ailing women. The need for a dedicated hospital like this has been felt for a long time, according to city doctors. As gynaecological endoscopic surgeon Ranjit Chakraborti put it: �This centre can provide vital ventilatory support to critically-ill premature babies and also treat high-risk pregnancies under the same roof. Very often, a sick baby is lost during shifting to a speciality hospital after a critical delivery. Chances of a mishap in transit will now be minimised. This is a real boon for critical mothers and babies alike.�

The 70-bed hospital, set up on an investment of Rs 18 crore, will have 13 beds in the neonatal intensive care unit, nine beds in the paediatric intensive care unit, a medicine shop and sophisticated medicare equipment from Germany. An indoor treatment facility, a speciality clinic, a diagnostic centre and support infrastructure form the axis of the ultra-modern centre.

�This super-speciality hospital is a tribute to my departed grandmother and has been funded from family assets,� says Harshavardhan Neotia, making it clear that the centre on Rawdon Street is not a business diversification by the Ambuja group. The indoor-treatment facility will comprise a unit for neonatal care, an intensive care unit, a woman�s care centre and operation theatres. The neonatal care unit will be equipped with incubators, monitors, ventilators, photo-therapy unit and baby warmers. It will accommodate 13 neonates who are critically ill. The intensive child-care unit will have another five beds earmarked for critically-ill paediatric cases between one month and 14 years. The woman-care centre comprises a first-stage room, two delivery rooms and a central nursery to house 15 healthy new-borns. Two state-of-the-art OTs complete the indoor facilities.

�There are quite a few nurseries in the city which can take care of healthy children or those with mild problems. But they are not equipped to cope with an emergency if anything goes seriously wrong. This is the area where a huge gap will be bridged by the hospital,� observes Susmita Choudhury, clinical director, department of paediatrics and neonatology, Bhagirathi Neotia Woman & Child Care Centre. �Common problems among newborns are difficulty in resuscitation, delivery-associated trauma, severe infection and an undiagnosed major congenital abnormality, which we will be able to treat without interfering with the mothers� original line of therapy.�

Diagnostic investigations have been franchised out to Pulse Diagnostic, in collaboration with Vijaya Diagnostics of Hyderabad. Apart from routine tests, lab services will offer specialised investigations such as infectious disease profiles, tumour markers, drug assays and immunology. Radiology will include CT scan, mammography, colour Doppler studies and bone densitometry. There will be six free beds for the needy.

Explaining the recurring images of the human gene � real, magnified photographs of which adorn all the walls of the hospital � Neotia says: �The gene is the natural umbilical cord of life and the riot of colours in the photographs is a celebration of life itself.�


Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
The fairly high incidence of thalassaemia and other blood disorders in the state has prompted the government to decide on the setting up of a specialised institute of haematology.

The location of the institute, to be established in the city, is yet to be finalised. But senior health department officials said it could either be situated on the NRS Medical College campus or at the Calcutta Medical College. �The institute will be a high-end research centre for blood disorders, like haemophilia and anaemia, and will lay special emphasis on the blood-related problems,� an official said.

In addition, dedicated haematology centres will also come up at all the teaching and district hospitals in the state, in a replication of the centre already existing at NRS Medical College, health secretary Asim Barman said.

During a recent visit to Calcutta, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) director-general Prof N.K. Ganguly had announced that the council was ready to provide various types of assistance in this and six other disciplines that required attention in Bengal. They are: Gastro-enterology, nephrology, neurology, cardiology, paediatric medicine and neonatology, and endocrinology (diabetic disorders).

Barman said a core group, comprising two specialists from within the state (government and non-government) and one from outside (from institutions like AIIMS and Christian Medical College, Vellore), would be set up for each of these disciplines. �The core groups will be responsible for seeing that the centres are set within the stipulated timeframe. They will also submit monthly reports to the health department,� he said.

The ICMR will provide Rs 1 crore for setting up the institute of haematology, director of medical education Prof C.R. Maity told Metro. A little over a year ago, the country�s apex medical research organisation had assisted in the setting up of a haematology unit at NRS Hospital. �Its performance has been good,� he claimed. A large number of patients have been screened for thalassaemia at the centre.

�But more detection centres are required throughout the state, considering the growing number of children being born with this genetic blood disorder. In fact, we have already sanctioned plans to set up a special haematology unit at Calcutta Medical College,� Maity said.

NGOs, which have been seeking government cooperation and intervention in tackling thalassaemia for years, also hope that the suffering of the terminally-ill patients will be reduced with the setting up of the institute. But the key solution to the problem is to get blood tests done by one or both partners before a marriage to find out whether either is a carrier of the thalassaemia minor gene. If both test positive, then the children have high chances of being born thalassaemia major.


Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
Thanks to the financial mess at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), 1,000 civic employees, who were superannuated last year, are yet to receive their retirement benefits.

Besides, the list of the next of kin of those who died in harness but are still being deprived of their benefits gets longer daily. And employees in service are being denied loans from their provident fund accounts.

Consequently, all trade union leaders at the CMC, irrespective of political allegiance, have started discussions to finalise their decision to call a joint strike soon at the civic body.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee was fortunate that CPM municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya rose to his defence.

He said at Writers� Building on Monday that though the CMC received massive development funds during the past 18 months, the mayor failed to achieve anything for the city because of the hostility he faced within the Trinamul Congress.

Citu leader Amalendu Bhattacharya said: �We are worried about the financial security of the 43,000 civic employees.�

On the other hand, Trinamul trade union leader Sovandeb Chattopadhyay said: �It is unfortunate that the present board is encroaching on the customary privileges of civic employees.�

Both of them alleged that thousands of staff members were not getting loans from their PF accounts, as these have not been updated.

Mayor Mukherjee announced that because of the financial crisis, the practice of giving employment to the next of kin of civic employees who died in harness would be discontinued.

Senior accounts officers said the fund-strapped CMC was perpetually in the red and had taken a Rs 10-crore bank loan at 2.5 per cent interest per annum to pay salaries and bonus to its 46,000-odd employees before the Pujas.

Besides, the CMC�s outstanding to contractors had already crossed the Rs 150-crore mark.

�We are in immediate need of Rs 100 crore,� said chief of municipal finance and accounts Shankar Datta. The CMC�s annual tax revenue being Rs 170 crore, there is a perpetual annual shortfall of Rs 66 crore, as it spends Rs 236 crore to pay salaries every year. Add the electricity bill and the minimum annual defict of the CMC grows to Rs126 crore. The civic authorities pay Rs 60 crore to the CESC every year as power bill.

Website loss: The CMC is losing Rs 25 lakh a year on its website, Calmanac, in the absence of data updates. For the past two years, no department has updated its data on the website, though the CMC is paying the agencies as per contract.


Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
While a beacon at Howrah station invites visitors to the city, the police say at least 3,000 passengers are duped daily by racketeers, operating on the station premises.

Two people approached Pinaki Mitra, a Delhi University student and a resident of Dhakuria, when he alighted from Rajdhani Express recently. �There is no need to go to the taxi stand. Don�t worry, we will charge you the right fare,� the duo assured Pinaki. �As the taxi reached the Tea Board office on Brabourne Road, the duo demanded Rs 75 and asked me to get off. When I protested, they brandished a pipe-gun and threatened me with dire consequences,� said Pinaki.

Dilip Biswas, a daily passenger from Bandel, bought apples from outside the station last Friday. When he reached home, he discovered that the fresh stuff he had bought had been replaced by stale ones and even the quantity looked less.

Unsuspecting passengers are often gheraoed by people selling shirt and trouser lengths and forced to buy inferior material at a premium.

Admitting the existence of such rackets, superintendent of railway police, Howrah, Benoy Chakraborty, and superintendent of police, Howrah, C.V. Murlidhar, said that several drives were conducted in the past and culprits arrested.

�But somehow, these criminals are bailed out. One of our main problems in tackling the taxi-drivers� racket at Howrah station is the absence of written complaints. Whenever we receive a written complaint, we take action,� said Chakraborty.

As for the cheats outside the station, the Howrah superintendent said that the police have conducted raids whenever there have been specific complaints.

Police officials from Golabari police station pass the buck to the Government Railway Police for lack of co-operation. They also allege a police-tout nexus in the rackets.

�Besides, unemployment is also another cause of such rackets thriving in the station,� they added.


Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
A 24-member British team on Monday began a weeklong Riders for Recovery trip in the state.

V.V. Thambi, DIG (CID), flagged off the cycle expedition from Dankuni. Organised by the Leprosy Mission of England and Wales, alongwith its Indian counterpart, the team, also including three young Calcuttans, will cycle to Arambagh, Jhalda, Bankura and end the tour at the leprosy hospital in Purulia.

Led by Nigel Slater, who helps raise funds in the UK for leprosy patients, the team hopes to collect around � 60,000 for treatment of the disease in West Bengal. �When we requested friends to pool in money for the expedition, they were reluctant, since the event was being held so far away,� said Sarah Wrightson, a team member.

The members also visited the Premananda Leprosy Mission Hospital. According to James Patterson, a team member, it was a �humbling experience to see doctors working in such demoralising conditions�.

For some, the idea of cycling in a strange land was the driving point. �It�s like a working holiday,� smiled Andrew Groham, one of the youngest members of the expedition.

The cyclists are funding the expedition from their own pockets. Asked what drives them to cycle for a little-known cause, Sally Patterson said: �When we heard leprosy is curable, we thought let�s do something that would help fight the disease.�

A.E. Jacob of the Leprosy Mission Trust India hopes to host a cricket match next year in aid of leprosy patients.

Actors Victor Banerjee and Moon Moon Sen were present during the flag-off ceremony.


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