Board grades miss the mark
3 suspended for custody getaway
Gariahat goodbye to trams
Eternal lover gets a new voice
The City Diary
Mini-plants for pleasure and profit
Homoeo hope for brain cancer
Monsoon debut for New Town
Howrah alert on TB relapse
Class-end bells at Behala school

Calcutta, Feb. 26: 
Students appearing for Madhyamik and Higher Secondary 2003 may be hoping to say �hello, grades; good riddance, marks�. But as things stand, the state government looks in no position to meet the Central deadline for introducing the new evaluation system and easing the pressure-cooker situation students find themselves in.

Five months after the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) laid down guidelines for various state governments to introduce the new system for the school-leaving exams, the Bengal government is struggling to make the grade.

�We have accepted the NCERT�s proposal in principle. I admit that evaluation of students by grades is much more scientific than the present system of marking. But a lot of ground has to be covered by the respective boards before the changeover takes place. We will start the process soon,� school education minister Kanti Biswas said on Tuesday.

Teachers and academicians have been urging the state government to take immediate steps to ensure that Madhyamik and Higher Secondary examinees are evaluated by grades from 2003, as many of the other states are ready to effect the switch.

�It�s about time we began the process. We should have had a few workshops by now to discuss the issue. Our students will have to suffer if other boards implement the system before us,� said Sudin Chattopadhay, former president of the West Bengal Board of Higher Secondary Council and member of the team of officials that visited New Delhi last year to discuss the matter with the NCERT.

According to sources, before effecting the change, the matter needs to be discussed at all levels, involving teachers, guardians and students.

A large number of workshops, seminars and teachers� meetings need to be organised to make the transition as smooth as possible. But till now, the state government has made no move to pave the path for the evaluation exercise.

�The state government has not even introduced the grade system on a trial basis in internal examinations at schools. This clearly shows that it is in no position to effect the change in 2003,� said a senior official.

The need to switch from marks to grades has been felt at almost every level, with the number of examinees increasing every year and the competition proving to be a killer. It has often been found that a difference of a single mark can affect the career of a student. Also, the divide between marks obtained by arts students with those studying science was growing too wide.

�These defects can be ironed out and students spared the heartbreak of missing out on marks once grades are introduced,� said Chattopadhyay.


Calcutta, Feb. 26: 
A day after undertrial Ajay Shaw escaped from Jorabagan thana, the city police, in a desperate attempt to boost their sagging image, suspended three policemen on charges of dereliction of duty. Included among the suspended men is the duty officer of the police station.

Preliminary investigations revealed that duty officer K.C. Mullick and two constables, who were on night duty, had dozed off. This allowed Ajay Shaw, alias Munna, to walk out of the front door of the police station on the road to freedom.

Investigators are still not sure whether Ajay Shaw was handcuffed to the lock-up bars or not, as claimed by Jorabagan police station in the case registered against the undertrial.

�The officers have maintained that Shaw was handcuffed to the bars, and that he managed to wriggle out his hands through them. But this version seems incorrect. A thorough probe only will reveal whether he was at all handcuffed,� said a senior officer connected with the probe.

A fresh case under Section 224 (escape from custody) of the IPC has been registered against Shaw. A series of raids in various pockets of north and central Calcutta failed to locate the missing undertrial.

�We have found a Bihar address where he may have gone. We are checking that out,� said an officer of Jorabagan police station.

Ajay Shaw, 19, was arrested on February 16 in connection with a motorcycle theft racket and remanded in police custody. He was to have been produced before court on Monday.

�Shaw was an important arrest for us. He gave us a lot of names and had thrown light on the racket of smuggling motor cars and bikes to Bangladesh,� said a detective department officer who had interrogated Shaw.

Assistant commissioner of police-III (North) Samir Ganguly paid a visit to the police station on Tuesday and conducted an inquiry before submitting his report to deputy commissioner of police (North) K.L. Tamta.

Based on Ganguly�s findings, which revealed �serious lapses� on the part of the duty officer, the lock-up guard and the sentry, Tamta issued the suspension orders. Investigations revealed that an undertrial, arrested on the basis of a complaint made by Ajay Shaw, picked a quarrel with the latter.

Officer in-charge (OC) Dulal Chakraborty ordered the duty officer to lead Shaw out of the cell and keep him outside, handcuffed to the lock-up bars.

�The OC had asked the lock-up constable to keep an eye on Shaw, while the sentry was asked to stay alert. But it seems that they did not follow the orders,� an officer added. The OC, in his explanation, said that since Shaw was in mortal danger, the decision was taken to shift him from the lock-up and keep him outside.

Investigations further revealed that on several occasions, undertrials were led out of the lock-up and kept confined in the duty officer�s room. DC (North) K.L. Tamta has asked the officials to refrain from doing so.

Meanwhile, in an effort to enforce discipline among the force, all officers-in-charge of police stations have been asked not to keep undertrials out of the lock-up, unless the person concerned is seriously ill. �The person can be easily accommodated in the central lock-up, if needed,� Tamta said.


Calcutta, Feb. 26: 
After carrying passengers for 60 years between Park Circus and Gariahat and areas connected to the two points, trams will make an exit from this stretch forever.

The Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC), executing the Gariahat flyover project, said on Tuesday that it had decided against resuming the suspended tram operations either on or below the upcoming flyover.

However, earlier, it had planned to restore the service after commissioning the flyover.

A.K. Pal, vice-chairman of HRBC, also said on Tuesday that it had rejected the Calcutta civic authorities� proposal to lay tram tracks along Swinhoe Street and Cornfield Road, connecting the Ballygunge turn-around and the Gariahat depot as an alternative to the Gariahat Road route.

The HRBC has decided to reject the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC)�s proposal on much the same grounds as it had accepted mayor Subrata Mukherjee�s suggestion to stop plying trams on Gariahat Road.

�We have decided not to restore the link up to Ballygunge as the CMC urged the government to terminate tram services along Gariahat Road. Tram service along Rashbehari Avenue will be controlled from the Kalighat depot instead of the Gariahat depot�, said HRBC vice-chairman A.K. Pal.

Tram services on the two routes (nos. 25 and 26), which used to carry 30,000 passengers daily, were temporarily suspended seven months ago to facilitate the construction of the Gariahat flyover. Forty metres of tram tracks between Gariahat junction and Gariahat tram depot were within the flyover construction zone.

Whereas route no. 25 used to connect the Ballygunge and Kasba areas with Esplanade via Gariahat Road-Park Street-Royd Street, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road and Lenin Sarani; route no. 26 provided a direct link-up to Rabindra Setu (Howrah bridge) and Burrabazar, and Sealdah via Gariahat Road-Park Street- AJC Bose Road and MG Road.

Recently, the HRBC notified the Calcutta Tramways Company that it would not restore the missing link between Gariahat crossing and the Gariahat depot.

Mayor Mukherjee has come down heavily on trams, ascribing all of Calcutta�s traffic problems to these vehicles on tracks.


Calcutta, Feb. 26: 
It was a call completely out of the blue. But it was like music to singer Raghav Chatterjee�s ears. He had just sat down to lunch at his Naihati home, earlier this month, when the phone rang. He was being summoned to Mumbai to sing the title track of Sanjay Leela Bhansali�s Devdas.

�It was unbelievable. To tell you the truth, it hasn�t sunk in yet,�says Raghav, back home after lending his voice to Shah Rukh Khan, no less. �I was given an air ticket, asked to reach Spectral Harmony Studios in Mumbai and deliver the goods,� says the young singer, who trained under Pandit Amiya Ranjan Bandopadhyay and Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty.

Initially, Sanjay made him sing �all possible folk combinations of Bengal�, before deciding on a haunting composition on the lines of Nirmalendu Chaudhury�s Naiya Re. The 10-minute title track will be featured on Shah Rukh Khan.

�Sanjay has a keen ear for music. He wouldn�t settle for anything less than perfect. We worked through the night to get the right flavour� But when I sang the lines, Sanjay was clearly moved. So were Ismail Darbaar, the music director, and background score recordist Monty,� recounts Raghav.

The boy from North 24-Parganas has also sung small bandishes (classical pieces) that will weave together Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay�s epic love story, featuring Devdas (Khan), Paro (Aishwariya Rai) and Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit). His rendering of the songs has driven the Devdas team closer to Calcutta.

Now, feelers have been sent to thumri queen Girija Devi�s Calcutta-based disciple Jayeeta Pandey to render some classical pieces for Madhuri. Pandey�s recording is slated in March. �I am superstitious about such things but, yes, I have been recommended by Pandit Birju Maharaj to Darbaar. But till I reach Mumbai, I do not know how much I will be singing,� said Jayeeta, still in her early-20s.

For Raghav, who has churned out private albums Bhorer Alo, Ke Bojhe and Aath Rong, has sung in Bengali films, jingles and stage shows, the big break promises to catapult him into the big league.

�I always wanted to be a guitarist,� says the student of Naihati Boys School and Hrishi Bankimchandra College, who �never needed an excuse to start strumming�.

The guitar was abandoned for the mike after friends heard him singing a Suman Chattopadhyay score. �Then, my gurujis (Pandit Amiya Ranjan Bandopadhyay and Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty), worked hard on me, for which I will be ever grateful. For my commercial success, I have to thank music director Debojyoti Mishra for whom I have sung countless jingles and done the playback for films like Mayaar Badhan,� says Raghav, who won a five-year Sangeet Research Academy scholarship.

When a well-wisher happened to pass on a demo-tape of Raghav to the Devdas team, things suddenly fell into place. Bhansali, apparently, wasn�t getting the feel that he wanted for the title track of the epic from Bengal. The hunt was on when Raghav�s name came up.

Singer Babul Supriyo from Uttarpara who has made his mark in Bollywood said: �I know Raghav and his abilities. I am happy that the jinx from Bengal as far as playback-singing in Mumbai is concerned, has been broken.�



State plea to SC in tannery shift case

The state government has decided to seek more time to shift the tanneries from the heart of the city to the new leather complex coming up at Bantala, six km away from the Bypass. State advocate-general Balai Rai left for New Delhi on Wednesday to file a special appeal before the Supreme Court, praying for another four months. The apex court, in its verdict on February 22, had asked the government to close down the tanneries of Tiljala, Topsia and Tangra from February 28. The court observed that the tanneries were causing health hazards in the area. Kalimoy Mitra, secretary to the advocate-general, said that the government was ready to shift the tanneries to the leather complex at Bantala and the owners of the tanneries had also agreed to the government proposal. �But the Dutch firm, which has been appointed to arrange the disposal of effluents, has failed to complete work on time,� he said.

1 dead, 3 hurt in road mishap

A 35-year-old man died and three others were injured when an Ambassador in which they were travelling collided with a lorry at the intersection of Raja Dinendra Street and Aurobindo Sarani on Tuesday afternoon. The lorry driver fled with the vehicle. The dead was later identified as Naresh Singh. The condition of the three injured was stated to be serious.

Grace marks case

Calcutta University on Wednesday appealed before the division bench, presided over by Chief Justice A.K. Mathur, challenging an earlier order. Sambhunath Chakraborty was declared an �honours graduate� in 1972 by the university, even though he obtained four marks less than the required aggregate. He got a job to teach in a government-aided school. When he retired this year, the education department asked him to furnish the graduation certificate for claiming his retirement benefits. When he filed for a copy, Calcutta University refused to issue him one, with the allegation that he had not received pass marks. Chakraborty has filed a case in Calcutta High Court. Justice S.B. Sinha has directed the university to issue the certificate to the petitioner. But the university is unwilling to do so. The university authorities claim that if Chakraborty was granted the certificate, it would set a precedent for every candidate to claim a grace of four marks.

Held for cell theft

Debashis Ketua was arrested on charges of stealing a mobile phone and then trying to extort money from the owner, Samir Sikdar, who tried to trace the handset. Police said Ketua stole Sikdar�s cellular phone while travelling on a bus. When Sikdar realised that his handset was missing, he called the mobile number. Ketua answered the call and demanded Rs 35,000. Sikdar reported the matter to Phoolbagan police station. An officer, pretending to be Sikdar, met Ketua at the appointed place and arrested him.

Three arrested

lTiljala police picked up three persons on charges of rioting and extortion on Tuesday. Acting on a tip-off, a three-member team raided G.G. Khan Road to arrest the criminals.    

Mini-plants for pleasure and profit 
With a few confident snips of his shears Peter Chan prunes the foliage of a one-foot-nothing banyan tree. He partially scrapes off the bark of another tiny tree.

Bonsai master Peter Chan is back in the city from his Surrey home, and he was holding a demonstration on the upkeep and grooming of these miniatures on Tuesday morning.

Chan, 61, had left Calcutta with a heavy heart in 1963. But since 1993, he has been coming almost every year to the city of his birth like a �homing pigeon.� He still considers his alma mater, IIT Kharagpur, his �spiritual home.� In spite of all those years in the UK, Chan speaks English with a pucca Anglo Indian school accent � Calcutta Boys, in his case. He says it leaves his acquaintances in UK mystified. But surprises never cease, and Chan hasn�t forgotten his Hindi or Bengali either.

Chan says he is a third generation Calcuttan. In 1890 his grandfather came to the city from Guangdong. He started a carpentry and light engineeering firm in Chandni Chowk.

In 1928, Chan�s father went to study electrical engineering in Winconsin University. A stray bullet killed him during the 1947 riots and he lies in an unmarked grave. So Chan returns to visit his grandfather�s grave in Tangra.

Unfortunately, Chan passed out from IIT when China invaded India, and local Chinese people were being interned in Rajasthan. He couldn�t land a job and on the strength of his mother�s British passport migrated to Britain in 1963. At peace with himself, Chan speaks of his past without a hint of bitterness or rancour.

For the first 12 years, he worked as an electrical engineer, but he admits with a smile that he hated his job. So he joined the British Civil Service as energy policy analyst and speech writer, when his command over the Queen�s language stood him in good stead.

Those were the days of Margaret Thatcher. He took the speeches he wrote for her ministers seriously, �chucked everything and turned my hobby (bonsai) into business�. Not only does he enjoy this job but he finds it very fulfilling because it gives people pleasure. Chan admits a weakness for plants. He used to buy them at the Sealdah mela and was gardening secretary at IIT.

In the mid-60s, studio pottery was all the rage in the UK and following pictures of old Chinese pots, he began to make them. He started growing potted plants in his veranda. But there was little information on bonsai. China was a closed country then and the Japanese were secretive. So he taught himself the art of bonsai by trial and error. By 1980, he was chairman of the British Bonsai Association, and from nothing he created his seven-and-a-half acre nursery. He has branched off to Japanese landscape. The average price of these plants is �100-200 but �living relics�, like the 150-year-old maples in his collection, cost �30,000 each. �It is niche business. The turnover is low but profit is very high,� he says.

But Chan warns that he should not be mistaken for a laidback man. �I am at the top of my field. There is no one to touch me,� he says, smiling with justifiable pride.


Calcutta, Feb. 26: 
�I saw my mother undergo chemotherapy� That�s the last thing I will go through.� Driven by this fear, a young nurse at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, insisted on a �precautionary mastectomy� to shut out the possibility of suffering breast cancer like her mother�

�He is like a vegetable� The entire family used to revolve around him, but now we�ve lost everything. We don�t know where the next meal will come from.� That�s how the 14-year-old son in a south Calcutta home summed up the fate of a family, where the sole bread-earner is afflicted with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy�

These images of deep despair � �caused as much by the nature of the disease as that of the prescribed cure� � have haunted two doctors in two parts of the world. Prasanta Banerji, a third-generation homoeopath, who has been treating cancer patients in his south Calcutta chamber for the past four decades. Sen Pathak, a geneticist and professor of cancer biology and laboratory medicine in the US, has been working with the �largest cancer centre in the world� for the past 30 years.

Now, the two are ready to make public �a novel treatment for human brain cancer�, with the �homoeopathic means� used by Banerji having been given a �scientific method� by Sen Pathak and his team, led by Dr Asha S. Multani at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. The conclusion, after extensive laboratory research over two years covering 15 case-studies, is that �unlike the popular chemotherapy, which induces death of both cancerous and normal cells, the homoeopathic medicine induces cell deaths in brain cancer cells and proliferation in normal peripheral blood lymphocytes�.

The summation of the work to be published this summer � either in a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research or the British Journal of Cancer � is that �Ruta 6� (isolated from the perennial plant Ruta graveolens) has been found to show regression in brain cancers while not causing damage to live and normal cells�.

�Dr Banerji�s treatment, which has now found a scientific mechanism, could well present us with the first real alternative to chemotherapy that we all have been waiting for. This could have a tremendous impact� I have seen the effect of chemotherapy for years. It�s so painful for a doctor to put a patient through all that,� says Sen Pathak.

Going by the yet-to-be-publicised findings, of the seven patients with glioma treated by Dr Banerji, �six showed complete regression and the other showed partial regression; of two patients with astrocytoma, both showed complete regression; of three patients with meningioma, two showed prolonged arrest of their tumours and the third, complete regression. One patient each with crainiopharyngioma and pituitary tumours showed complete regression and the only patient with neurinoma is in prolonged arrest of her tumour�.

Although the number of cases chosen for the laboratory tests was relatively small, the �outcome of homoeopathic treatment was highly significant�, says Sen Pathak, who met the homoeopath from Calcutta in 1995 at the Fifth International Oncological Conference in Corfu, Greece, where Banerji presented a paper on brain cancer. �I was inspired by his work and realised that what this alternative method of medicine required was a scientific method which we were happy to provide,� recounts Sen Pathak.

Banerji, backed by son Pratip, feels this could be a defining moment in the growth of �homoeopathic science�. �We have been treating around 200 cases of brain cancer every year, for the past 30 years. Now, with laboratory tests at MD Anderson vindicating our clinical results and the National Cancer Institute and the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the US expressing keen interest, the use of homoeopathy in cancer cure should spread far and wide.�

The point, says the doctor duo, is giving a cancer patient �the legitimate choice to lead a normal life�.


Calcutta, Feb. 26: 
New Town Calcutta in Rajarhat is finally on its way, with three major joint-sector housing projects being flagged off by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Tuesday.

�I receive letters almost every day from residents and NRIs asking for land to build homes. I ask them to contact the state housing board and move to New Town,� Bhattacharjee said after inaugurating the projects.

The housing companies � Bengal Peerless Housing Development Corporation, Bengal Ambuja and Bengal Srachi � will deliver a total of 1,258 apartments in projects named Animikha, Utsa and Greenwood Park, in a little over two years.

Housing minister Gautam Deb promised that the projects would be completed in just over two years. �Before the rains, we will be handing over plots to 45,000 people, who can begin construction of their homes,� Deb added.

The chief minister stressed the need for modern townships around the city to encourage investment in the industry. �Rajarhat is important, as it will help save Calcutta from the pressure of housing,� he said.

Fifty per cent of the apartments in the three projects have been earmarked for the high-income-group buyers and the rest for the middle and lower-income groups.

According to representatives of the three companies, the rates for the flats will be made public soon. In tune with the policy of �social� housing, all three projects have facilities such as shopping arcades, playing grounds, clinics, healthclubs and even jogging tracks.

Former chief minister Jyoti Basu, who was present at a Rajarhat function for the fourth time, insisted that there should be �no politics in development�.

Both former and present chief ministers handed over contracts to three cooperatives formed by former Rajarhat land-owners for work in the projects. �I am glad that we can provide employment to the same families from whom we had acquired land,� Bhattacharjee said.


Calcutta, Feb. 26: 
Concerned over the alarming rate of relapse in tuberculosis patients in Howrah district, CARE, an America-based organisation, in collaboration with the Howrah health administration, has embarked on a project to spread awareness about the disease.

According to a CARE spokesperson, the internationally-accepted rate of relapse is five per cent, while local statistics show the figure to be around 15-16 per cent. Corroborating the statement, Howrah chief medical officer of health (CMOH) M.K. Ghosh said: �The rate of relapse in the area will spin out of control if steps are not taken immediately. Migrant labourers from Bihar, Orissa and other states form a major chunk of Howrah�s population. The infection is mostly spread through droplet infection. We are deeply concerned over the relapse rate.�

Of the three categories of tuberculosis patients, type-II patients, comprising those who desert the Direct Observed Treatment (DOT) after two to three months, pose the greatest threat. �Howrah has a large number of type-II patients and, consequently, the relapse rate, too, is high. Such patients can be cured in eight months but why they abandon treatment midway remains a mystery,� Ghosh added.

As part of the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme, CARE will help the health administration identify the tuberculosis-prone areas and type-II patients, and disseminate information. The other two categories of patients will also be brought under the purview.

�Under DOT, Isoniazid, Rifampicin, Pyrazynamide and Ethambutol are administered to the patients for permanent cure. The success rate is almost 100 per cent, but ignorance, coupled with a mental block, stands in the way of proper treatment. We will be able to check the rate considerably once we receive detailed information,� said a doctor associated with the project.

The CARE project is the first of its kind in Howrah and will continue for three years.

Collision: An army vehicle rammed into a scooter on Park Street on Tuesday evening, injuring the pillion-rider, Shyamal Roy. He was taken to SSKM Hospital. The vehicle was impounded.


Calcutta, Feb. 26: 
The fate of 250 students of a school, run on railway land in Behala, is uncertain, following a tussle between the railways and the managing committee.

The Eastern Railway authorities have issued notices on the school authorities to close down the institution from May 1. The decision forced the students and guardians to rally on Monday in the presence of the local MLA and councillor, requesting them to take up the cause with the railway authorities. �We do not want the children to suffer,� said a parent.

Adyasakti Mahamaya Vidyamandir, a primary school set up in 1973, was initially run by the Eastern Railway Women�s Welfare Organisation. But in 1982, the organisation decided to hand over the administration to a private body. �Since then, the school is being looked after by Mrityunjoy Roychowdhury, a retired railway employee,� sources said.

Presently, it has about a dozen staff to look after the academic activities. But for the past year, power and water lines to the school have been disconnected. �Now, the railways have even asked the school to shut down,� sources added.

Partha Chatterjee, Trinamul Congress MLA, said: �We shall fight for the school till we can. However, I have told Roychowdhury that he will have to pay the essential services arrears to the railways. I shall then talk to the railway officials, so that they do not close down the school.�

Local Trinamul Congress councillor Ashok Mondal, who was present during the protest, said that complaints about the school were piling up for quite some time. He said: �Roychowdhury never consulted anybody. The school is in an unhygienic state. Whenever he (Roychowdhury) had been pulled up on this account, he evaded a concrete reply.�

According to Sunil Mukherjee, a guardian, Roychowdhury never gave a clear picture about the fate of the school. �Whenever we asked him, he gave us confusing answers. Had he told us that the school was in the doldrums, we would have shifted our wards elsewhere,� he added.

The teachers, too, are a worried lot. �Students might get admission elsewhere but who will provide us with jobs,� one of them asked.

D.C. Mitra, divisional railway manager, (Sealdah) said: �Officially, we have closed down the school. It had neither any accreditation from the government nor any managing committee to look after it. Hardly any railway employees� children study there.�

Roychowdhury, however, is confident. He said: �I have been running the school quite efficiently but you cannot satisfy everybody. Some guardians always complain.�

He said that he had informed the railway authorities about the functioning of the school from time to time. Recently, a team from the Women�s Welfare Organisation visited the school. �I have an appointment with the chairperson of the organisation and I shall discuss the entire matter with her, so that the school can still be run,� he added.


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