Death taint in gift of life
Deaf-mute rape victim missing
Buddha smiles back at Bengal
Probe script for answer paper loss
Calcutta �47 shot by mystery GI
The City Diary
They can�t come cheaper than �disc�
Rot runs riot at library
State lakh big boost for folk fare
Route canal from Chitpur to Rajarhat

Calcutta, March 12: 
A �competitive trend� among neighbourhood clubs and police stations in the city to draw a greater number of blood donors at voluntary camps has left the door open for �bad blood� to enter blood banks.

In a bid to draw crowds to the camps, quite a few of the organisers are offering incentives, like bags and wall clocks, to the donors after they gift the 300 ml that each unit comprises.

Debabrata Ray, a senior member of the Association of Voluntary Blood Donors, West Bengal, which has spearheaded the NGO role in the state�s blood donation movement, labels this an alarming trend. �Other than Rs 10 worth of nourishment, a donor card and a badge, a person should not be given any incentive to donate blood,� he says. �We have urged officials at the Central Blood Bank to ensure that camp organisers do not encourage incentives for donors.�

The practice can give rise to two problems. One, the rush of donors forces the technicians and volunteers attending the camps to overlook the mandatory procedure of asking the donor whether he has been involved in �risky� behaviour in a two-month period preceding the donation. Two, the gifts lure more low-income group people to the camps.

Sociologists and NGOs point out that the likelihood of an HIV or a Hepatitis B or C infection is more among this group than among the middle and higher-income groups, who are apparently more aware of how viruses spread. �A number of clubs and police stations offer gifts which draw people who are more likely to have an infection,� says D. Ashis, secretary of Medical Bank.

Findings at the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine corroborate this. �The majority of HIV detections so far have been among people from low to lower-middle income groups,� a counsellor at the school pointed out. It was to avoid this risk that West Bengal became the first state in the country to ban professional blood donors.

These incorrect practices are leading to the collection of potentially-infected blood by banks, which are tranfused to patients later. The report that 20 children requiring frequent transfusion have been detected with HIV, an increase from eight about six months earlier, has caused concern and raised several questions.

Blood banks, both government and private, vouch that they are strictly following the 1995 Supreme Court orders on screening and storing of blood.

Then how are the viruses getting past the tests, which are �99 per cent accurate and carried out according to the stipulated guidelines?�

�Zero risk transfusion is non-existent throughout the world, no matter how advanced the techniques are or how much a country may be spending on the tests,� points out a senior haematologist at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital.

�Good blood turning out to be bad is mainly due to the window period that a donated unit goes through. If a person unknowingly infected with a hepatitis virus or HIV today donates blood any day eight weeks hence, the ELISA and spot tests that blood banks carry out will miss detecting whether the unit is infected or not. This is because it takes that much time for the antibodies to develop in the blood.�

The blood units, along with the �dormant� virus, thus get past the lab screening that the banks carry out. Experts have known about the possibility of window-period blood collection. One way out is adopting more efficient but extremely costly techniques that detect an infection earlier, reducing the window period to 10 days. But the P-24 antigen test costs about Rs 2,000 per sample, while a polymerised chain reaction (PCR) test is as much as Rs 22,000.


Calcutta, March 12: 
Deaf-mute Agnes Rose Gambiar, who was allegedly raped in a police van by three policemen two years ago and subsequently gave birth to a child, disappeared from her Ekbalpore Lane home on Tuesday morning.

With CID investigations into the rape case at a critical stage, the police are struggling to explain the girl�s disappearance. The case is in Calcutta High Court and is expected to come up for hearing on Friday

According to deputy commissioner of police, port, Harman Preet Singh, Agnes� father, George Gambiar, filed a complaint at Ekbalpore police station on Tuesday morning. George said Agnes had left her Ekbalpore Lane home at 11 am on Tuesday.

Agnes would usually visit some friends in the neighbourhood before returning home. But when she did not return by the evening, the father launched a search for her, with some friends. With no sign of Agnes, George turned to the police.

Singh said the Ekbalpore police alerted all police stations in the city with details about the missing girl. �Plainclothesmen have spread out in several places to trace the girl,�� he added.

�She had also wandered off on December 13, 2001,� an officer of Ekbalpore police station said. �Two days later, she was found loitering at the Kalighat temple, from where the police took her home.�

The police claimed that the Gambiar family was �in the dark� over her sudden disappearance then and could not explain why she had wandered off and how she had reached Kalighat. They also did not know where she had been for the two days.

�She was in a state of shock. The birth of her child added to her depression. She kept wondering how she was going to rear the child,�� a relative said, on condition of anonymity. �We fear for Agnes� safety. How will the deaf and mute girl manage to come back home on her own?�

According to CID sleuths, Agnes� disappearance needs to be probed thoroughly. �The Ekbalpore police should investigate why she has disappeared and where she has gone. It is very mysterious,�� said a senior CID officer, who is a part of the probe team.

CID sources said the probe into the rape case is almost complete. �We have sent blood samples of the accused for DNA tests to the Central Forensic Laboratory and are awaiting the report,�� said a senior CID officer.

Dacoits on bus: Two persons, suspected to be dacoits, were rounded up on a private bus in Burrabazar on Tuesday. Police recovered a revolver from them.


Calcutta, March 12: 
First, a consul-general�s office; then, a passenger liner. First, official presence; then, tourist inflow. That is the order of things on the Myanmarese government�s Calcutta wishlist.

The city, with an international airport and a sea port nearest to the Buddhist shrines at Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Lumbini, will soon have �a full-fledged Myanmarese consulate� � the first in India � which is expected to cater mainly to the tourist traffic headed for these pilgrim spots. Kyaw Thu, Myanmarese ambassador to India, is now busy house-hunting in Calcutta. �Our office will be opened within months,� said Thu, looking for a place fit to house the consul-general�s office.

Officials expect the consulate to give a fillip to tourism in the eastern sector. More than 90 per cent of Myanmar�s population is Buddhist and a formal government office is likely to lure pilgrims to the three important places on the Buddhists� itinerary, via Calcutta, they explain.

To supplement the soon-to-be-launched consulate, Myanmarese officials are pushing for a passenger liner between Yangon and Calcutta. �Indian Airlines operates two flights a week to Yangon right now,� Thu said on Tuesday. But a sea-service, which would definitely be less expensive, would really boost tourist flow among �the largely-poor� Myanmarese populace.

�Once the link by ship is established, you will be seeing a lot of Myanmar in Calcutta,� the ambassador said. And the group of industrialists and entrepreneurs Thu met on Monday was equally enthusiastic about the idea.

There are other plans as well, in which Myanmar figures as the link between India and Thailand � another country having a sizeable Buddhist following � by rail and road.

�A joint survey, by Myanmar and India, is on to establish rail and road links between Yangon and Calcutta through Manipur,� Thu said. �There is also a plan to link Thailand by rail and road, making Calcutta the gateway to the east,� he added.

Beside tourist traffic, the Myanmarese government is interested in joint ventures to develop agriculture, trade and commerce. Another priority project is the ongoing joint survey to tap natural gas along the Kaladan river.

�Talks have already been held between the two countries and, once the gas is discovered, it will be brought through pipes via Bangladesh to Calcutta for further distribution,� said Thu, also eager to expand the trade net to Burma teak and less-expensive timber, extend technology transfer to agriculture and the power sector, and encourage a joint venture in the processing and crafting of jewellery.


Calcutta, March 12: 
Bowing to pressure from the Trinamul Congress in the state Assembly, the government on Tuesday directed the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education to conduct an inquiry into how a part of a Madhyamik 2002 mathematics answerscript was found near a Tollygunge exam centre.

The Board authorities indicated on Tuesday that �stern action� might be taken against the invigilator and the headmaster of Bapujinagar High School, in Tollygunge, where the answer paper was recovered by Jugal Saha, a resident of Bansdroni, on March 6.

Preliminary findings suggest that the script, which Saha submitted to the Board along with a letter describing how he found it, was �misplaced due to negligence of the invigilator and centre-in-charge�, Board officials said.

The government has decided to �deal firmly with the matter�, following Trinamul protests. �The current batch is paying an enhanced examination fee of Rs 150 per student, a hike of Rs 100. The least they can expect is for their answerscripts to be handled more carefully,� was the cry from the Opposition benches.

�I have asked the Board�s disciplinary committee to probe the matter. It is the duty of the invigilator and the headmaster to ensure the safety of every answerscript,� said Board president Haraprasad Samaddar.

The headmaster of Bapujinagar High School was summoned to the Board office and asked to show cause for the misplacement of the script on Tuesday.

Officials are also probing the possibility of the examinee having taken the answerscript out of the examination centre.


Calcutta, March 12: 
During World War II, the Allied Forces had descended on Calcutta to protect the eastern frontier, and the city decked itself up to greet and entertain them. Among the troops were the American GIs, who were a godsend alike for tradespeople and pandhandlers. The war ended in 1945, but some of these rowdy young men must have stayed on.

Armed with a camera, one of them has left a fascinating visual record of life in Calcutta in the form of a portfolio of 60 photographs along with very interesting captions. Presumably taken in 1947, by which time they ought to have been homeward bound, the South Asia Section of the Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania, has recently acquired the album from a bookdealer called McBlain.

The mystery deepens as there is no mention anywhere in the album of who had snapped them.

The photographs are unique, because, perhaps, no such visual document exists of Calcutta of those supposedly more orderly times before things spiralled out of hand. Only the vintage photographs of Bourne & Shepherd and Johnston Hoffman are comparable in the systematic manner in which they preserve on bromide life in the city just before hordes of refugees from East Bengal appropriated it.

The series begins with several long shots of Calcutta and the captions present �a `typical� American impression of India at this time.�

The aerial views of the central district of the city and the docks show how dramatically the skyline has changed following the mad scramble to build and build more. But when the camera zooms in on life in the streets, it becomes clear that ground realities remain the same.

There may be less evidence of garbage on the streets, and the crowds were certainly of a far more manageable size, but even then we were remarkably apathetic, never sparing a look at either destitutes or poor people dying on the streets.

Photo 31 shows babus in trousers and solar topi, and dhotis hurrying unmindfully past a living skeleton. A naked mad man begs for alms as cars whiz past. And, of course, civic sense is not a word that existed in our lexicon then as it does not now. A group of young men wolf cucumbers in �officepara�, as the peels pile up on the sidewalk.

The most intriguing element about the pictures is that many of the views and buildings look so tantalisingly familiar but are yet difficult to identify. Hindustan Building, which was occupied upon completion by the US army and was the �nervecentre of all its business�, has not changed a whit. But Karnani Estates, the �mammoth apartment hotel for US Army officers�, which is badly in need of repairs today, could not have looked more spick and span. Park Street appears almost rustic early in the morning.

Surprisingly, the only concession to exoticism the photographs make are the snaps of snakecharmers. Otherwise, they are very down to earth. Buffalo herds impede traffic on Old Court House Street, pyres burn in Nimtala, people queue up for kerosene in an alley, and hordes of people sleep on the floor of Howrah Station and pavements.

There is no representation of the city�s legendary night life, but there is a candid shot of prostitutes in short dresses, before mini-skirts were even thought of, and a distant view of a brothel at night.

Some things have changed forever. Tolly�s Nullah was a runnel even then but not the sewerage canal it is today. The showroom of the renowned jewellers, Hamilton, has disappeared from Dalhousie. As has Firpo�s. Calcutta Improvement Trust has demolished Chinatown as well as its notorious opium dens. And neither Binota Roy (Bose then) nor playback singer Rekha Mullick are alive today.

Those interested can look up



College students clash with cops

Eight persons, including two policemen, were injured when two groups of students of Heramba Chandra College clashed on Tuesday afternoon. Students also squatted on Gariahat Road, blocking traffic movement for hours, to protest �police atrocities�. Police said trouble started around 3 pm when SFI supporters organised a victory rally after winning the students� union election. Activists of the Trinamul Congress-affiliated students� union began brick-batting them. When policemen rushed to the spot, supporters of both groups turned violent and attacked the police with bricks. Two policemen, including a traffic sergeant, were injured and had to be hospitalised. Police resorted to a lathicharge in which six students were injured. Meanwhile, Trinamul Congress supporters put up a roadblock on Gariahat Road, demanding that the SFI supporters be arrested. The police wielded the baton again, forcing the demonstrators to disperse around 5 pm. Eight persons were arrested.

Free hand in recruitment

Calcutta High Court on Tuesday ruled that the state government had the right to cancel recommendations by the Public Service Commission (PSC) for any post. According to a division bench, comprising Justice A.K. Kabir and Justice A.K. Basu, the government also had the right to impose certain guidelines for candidates in any of the key posts of its departments. The state health department had created the directorate of ayurvedic in 1979. The post remained vacant till 1992, when the PSC recommended Paresh Tripathy, a lecturer of Ayurvedic College. But at a meeting presided over by the then chief minister Jyoti Basu, it was decided that Tripathy would not be appointed as he had �no administrative experience�. Tripathy filed a case challenging the Cabinet�s decision. With the rejection of Tripathy�s appeal, the post of the directorate has remained vacant for 23 years.

Man killed

Sujoy Basu, 30, an employee of Ichhapur Rifle Factory, was murdered by unidentified miscreants late on Monday. Police recovered his body from Palta on Tuesday morning. Basu, a resident of Naihati, was also engaged in the pharmaceutical business. Police said he was strangled with a rope. The miscreants fled with his motorcycle and gold rings.

Negligence charge

The state government has initiated an inquiry into the allegations of medical negligence against three doctors treating former labour minister Shanti Ghatak at SSKM Hospital. The probe has been ordered following a recent complaint to state health minister Suryakanta Mishra. The minister confirmed that an inquiry was on but did not clarify who had lodged the complaint. Health department sources said Ghatak was in pain on the night of March 8, but none of the supervising doctors was available for hours. A three-member panel, which includes director of medical education C.R. Maity and cardiologist Manotosh Panja, will determine whether there was any case of negligence on the part of the three doctors, sources said. Ghatak is also a member of the CPM�s state committee.

Saha death case

There was a split among the members of the Medical Council over a recorded conversation between Kunal Saha, the NRI doctor fighting the Anuradha Saha death case, and state medical council president Ashok Chowdhury, at Tuesday�s hearing. The conversation, which took place over telephone between the two after Saha returned to the US in 1998, was sought to be placed as evidence at the hearing. After prolonged arguments, the council could not reach a decision. The hearing was adjourned till April 2.

Bus stand

A bus stand, named after freedom-fighter Titumir, will come up at Barasat. Finance minister Asim Dasgupta laid the foundation stone on Sunday. The stand will have parking space for 50 buses and will offer other facilities like a bank, a tourist lodge and stands for autos and rickshaws.    

Calcutta, March 12: 
As Lagaan awaits its tryst with the Oscars in faraway Los Angeles, the soundtrack of the Aamir Khan-Gracy Singh starrer has become pocket-friendly back home, with Sony Music slashing the price of the CD from Rs 295 to Rs 195. The same stable had launched K3G at an MRP of Rs 295 and the soundtrack, boasting a galaxy of superstars, is now selling at Rs 195. Saregama (erstwhile HMV) responded with a launch pricing of its Hrithik Roshan-Esha Deol blockbuster, Na Tum Jaano Na Hum, at an astonishing low of Rs 99.

CDs are getting pocket-friendly by the day, and not just in the new Hindi film (NHF) category. The phenomenon, which struck a chord towards the end of last year, is now sweeping across all genres, triggering a paradigm shift in music sales. And those seeking to boost their compact disc collection, have never had it so good.

NHF, which drives the market in terms of sheer volumes, is the category that has seen this price war at its fiercest. T-Series has whittled down the MRP of its winning product, the soundtrack of Dil Chahta Hai, from Rs 275 to Rs 90 and Tips, which was among the first few to take the plunge in this segment, scaled down the price of Fiza from Rs 275 to Rs 95.

Saregama regional manager J.S. Gupta feels the trend is here to stay. �Till last year, CDs made up merely 2-3 per cent of the music sales in volume. I expect this figure to go up to 8-10 per cent by the year-end,� he says. So, what has prompted this huge price revision by most companies?

Gupta is of the opinion that deeper penetration of hardware is one of the prime reasons for CDs becoming cheaper. �CD and MP3 players are now readily available at very attractive prices, thanks to the proliferation of Chinese products and also a growing national market to cater to the B and C category consumers. We have also had to re-draw our marketing plans to address these segments of buyers,� he says.

The results of the new pricing policy have already started showing. More than 60,000 CDs of Na Tum Jaano� have disappeared from the shelves in just five days and Saregama has rushed to supply repeat orders. In the international section too, CD sales have soared, thanks to the attractive price tags. Pink Floyd�s classic two-CD set The Wall (EMI-Virgin), which has seen its MRP revised from Rs 1,000 to Rs 625, is being �lapped up like hot cakes�, says a MusicWorld representative.

The Bengali repertoire was, surprisingly, left out of this price revolution, till Saregama took the plunge with Nachiketa�s new release, Ekla Cholte Hoi, pricing it at Rs 130, as opposed to the normal Rs 250-plus tag. Anupam Gan of Sagarika, which boasts a number of winning artistes like Indranil Sen and Srikanta Acharya, but hasn�t revised prices till now, also admits that rolling back prices is an inevitability. �Consumers these days are aware of the manufacturing cost of a CD. Besides, the excise department has become extra-vigilant and hardware is cheaper,� he says.

Saregama, which has been forced to re-draw strategy following strong rumours that Universal is set to acquire Tips and Magnasound, is prepared to take the CD price war further. Although new prices will be announced only in April, it is learnt that the company is planning to slash catalogue prices for all old Hindi films to Rs 125, and its Golden Collection series to Rs 150.


Calcutta, March 12: 
The library of Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine (STM) lies in a state of utter neglect in the past couple of years. Sources said the management of the STM and the state government have failed to preserve the books and journals in the library.

The institution was founded in 1921 with a view to promote research and to cater to the needs of the medical fraternity. Of late, however, there has been no effort to modernise the premises.

�Leonard Rogers was the man behind the rich collection of books and journals. He brought the entire collection on medical science to this institute. Unfortunately, proper utilisation has not been made of the facilities offered,� said D. K. Neogi, head of the department of virology, STM.

Most of the rare books are now gathering dust and turning brittle due to neglect. As a result, research students are deprived of sourcing their knowledge through these books.

�Research students will be the worst affected, as several important books and rare theses are torn beyond repair. When we were students, we were lucky to have such books at hand, since they were still intact. Many international personalities, too, visited the library and lauded the collection,� said a senior professor of parasitology.

Some of the journals hark back to the Raj, as they were purchased in 1802. Even Lancet journals, journals of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Dermatology and several on infectious diseases are available here.

�Journals like Drugs, JAMA and Lancet are very expensive � between Rs 25,000 and Rs 100,000. Unfortunately, senior physicians are not taking a serious interest in the collection, resulting in students not being aware of the stock. We have to highlight this aspect so that it proves beneficial to students and doctors,� said a retired professor of international repute, who preferred anonymity. �We lack the basics, like naphthalene, insecticide and binding facilities to save these books for posterity,� he added.

STM director Dr P.K. Sarkar cited a �shortage of funds� as the primary reason for the sorry state of the library. �We are floating a tender to find a suitable binder for the books, besides computerising the records in our library. But things like naphthalene and insecticide are available at the library. I do not know who is spreading such silly rumours,� he asserted.

The institute has recently purchased books like The AIDS Knowledge by Cohen and Manual of HIV Therapeutics by Powderly. �But they must be preserved with care to cater to the students,� say professors.

�If the authorities continue to neglect the library, books on bacteriology and virology by Topley and Wilson, a 13-volume series on Advances on Parasitology and a thesis by dermatologist Ranjit Panja, apart from research work on malaria and kala-azar, will be destroyed. The director must take personal initiative to preserve this rare and rich collection,� added a student.

Facilities demand: Members of West Bengal General Library Association submitted a memorandum to the district administration on Tuesday. They alleged of being deprived of facilities which other employees of the state government enjoy. Their demands included introduction of life insurance, payment on the first day of the month, earned leave for 300 days (instead of 240) and a change of name for the designation �cycle peon�.


Calcutta, March 12: 
An intimate study of rural folk music and theatre remains largely untapped in the state. Pedestrian knowledge and sketchy performances have often thwarted the purpose behind reviving the tradition.

However, a former All India Radio senior programme officer Sunil Saha and a few like-minded friends have taken up the cause to develop the genre and give shape to the project.

What has made a world of difference to Saha�s project is government funds for the research and the subsequent production that�s likely to raise curtains in early 2003. �The department of culture has been extremely responsive to a concept like this and has readily provided funds to the tune of a lakh,� said Saha.

Saha, who also ran a series of rural programmes on Akashvani, has titled this project Metho Surer Arshi, underlining the Krishna cult, the Shiva cult and the modern cult through ritual songs, sensitive relationship depictions and traditional dialogue. �To discover the ethos of Krishna Leela and its language, I had to travel to little-known places like Domni, in Malda, and some places near Cooch Behar. Often, I would stumble upon facts � like how Radha is Laksmi reincarnate � and then would have to re-route the course of my research,� says Saha. The search for traditional music will also take Saha to Dhamail, in Sylhet, and other parts of Bangladesh.

His previous efforts on such grounds have been Matta Makkhan (the struggle of the working class through folk interaction), Manasa Mangal Pala (contemporary interpretation of medieval folklore of Bengal) and Bonbibi (popular folk tales of theSunderbans).

The project will see contributions from people like musicologist Krishna Sammader. �Since she is an expert in folk music and trends, I have sought her assistance,� says Saha.

The 90-minute production, budgeted at Rs 1.70 lakh, will feature artistes from the folk belt of Bengal in an effort to provide them with some exposure.


Calcutta, March 12: 
From old-world Chitpur to new town Rajarhat at Rs 5, without the rush-hour snarl-up. An impossible thought? Not for long.

There�ll be halts near R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital, Ultadanga and Keshtopur, before one proceeds beyond old � and new � Calcutta to Bhangar and Kulti Gang. Fourteen points, in all, where one can disembark

All this, if things go according to plan, is expected to turn a reality in two years. With work for the proposed North Calcutta Canal System scheduled to start soon, harried commuters may look forward to an end to their jam-stalled plight.

The 43-km canal system, linking the Hooghly with Kulti Gang, is expected to be ready in two years from the date of commencement. And the cost of making the dream come true: Rs 60 crore.

�A Rs 9-crore loan has already been allotted by Housing and Urban Development Corporation (Hudco) for the first part of the project,� an official said.

�The government is looking into various options, including private finance, for the rest of the amount,� he said, adding that the �formalities were almost complete� and work would �start soon�.

The status report for the project has confirmed the system�s ability to carry 28,000 passengers every day � with 150 people on a vessel � on the urban stretch between Rajarhat and Chitpur and 14,600 passengers in the rural belt beyond Rajarhat, besides handling 257,500 tonnes of cargo every year. The average fare per passenger has been pegged at Rs 5.

The canal, besides easing pressure on roads, will reduce environmental pollution and open up the Sunderbans, the report states.

A shorter inland route between Calcutta and Bangladesh is another project off-shoot, it adds. And regular navigation will, of course, help in preventing the canal from becoming a storehouse of polluted and stagnant water, say officials.

The first part of the project, according to the status report, will cost Rs 32 crore and will include dredging, restoration of lock-gates, widening of bends, bank-protection and construction of footbridges. This part of the project is to be implemented by the state irrigation department with the Hudco loan.

For Phase II, which includes construction of terminals, the cost has been estimated at Rs 28 crore and is likely to be implemented by the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation on a build-operate-transfer basis. Tenders seeking a private partner will be floated soon, say officials.

According to the plans, passenger-cum-freight terminals will be constructed at Chitpur, near R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital, Ultadanga, Keshtopur, Rajarhat, Bhangar and Kulti Gang. �The spots have already been identified,� a transport official told Metro.

The system comprises the Circular Canal from Chitpur to Ghaznavi Bridge (1.5 km), the New-Cut Canal from Ghaznavi Bridge to Ultadanga (2 km), the Keshtopur canal from Ultadanga to Tarulia (16.5 km) and the Bhangar Kata Khal from Tarulia to Kulti (2.3 km).

This route was extensively used for navigation to the Sunderbans and Bangladesh during pre-Independence. It, however, gradually fell into disuse because of heavy siltation and competition from the road-corridor. The Central Inland Water Transport Corporation prepared the pre-feasibility report for the project and submitted it in February 1997.


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