Schools beyond strikes
Steer-clear signal on Southern Avenue
Patients forge twin-city bond
Special classes, lessons unlearnt
The City Diary
Census focus on houseless households
City sewers ship-shape but...
Clean-air tech option
Businessman hostage freed
A sinking feeling in Howrah

Calcutta, June 4: 
When the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) calls a strike, not one of the 5,000-odd schools in Calcutta and the 70,000 elsewhere in Bengal can afford to remain open. When it approaches a school headmaster to send out his boys and girls to the students’ rally, not one can dare say no…

Things, however, may change soon — from the shut gates of schools on a “students’ strike” or the fresh faces in a protest march — if the soul-searching within the SFI reaches its logical end.

Taking a reformist cue from its parent party, the CPM, the SFI is moving towards “exempting school-goers” in Calcutta and elsewhere from the purview of strikes and rallies.

An influential lobby within the SFI is hardly keen to see this through, but the current tilt is towards the pro-changers. “Students cannot be pulled away from classrooms on issues that, perhaps, don’t affect them at all, given the intense competition among school-goers and the lack of opportunity for students with even average results,” said state SFI secretary Partha Mukherjee.

The proposal to keep students out of strikes and rallies will be formally presented for discussion at the SFI’s 30th state conference, scheduled to be held in Bankura from June 13 to 16.

The proposal, however, will leave the CPM’s students’ wing some room to manoeuvre. School-goers can still be expected to respond to the “call of duty”, but only in the case of “very serious issues, like the demolition of Babri Masjid”, says the SFI think-tank. But the days of classes being disrupted by issues divorced from a student’s world are over, assure SFI leaders.

Though schools do not have a students’ union, the SFI — controlling 301 college unions and most universities — and by virtue of being the students’ arm of the party-in-power for 25 years, wields enormous clout on campus. Any students’ strike called by the SFI immediately provokes almost all school managements to declare holidays for “security reasons”. This results in loss of school days, making it difficult to finish the syllabus within the stipulated time.

The SFI thinking, admitted Mukherjee, was influenced by the result of a yet-to-be-publicised survey, which revealed that most school-goers treated strikes called by students’ unions as “mere holidays”. The survey also shows that schools declare holidays on strike-days irrespective of issues involved or the parties calling the strikes. “So, the very purpose of the strike is defeated, as school-goers cannot be expected to realise the importance of the issues involved,” said the state SFI secretary.

It is clear that the SFI decision should be viewed in the current context of the Left Front government trying to improve work culture among all sections of society, including teachers, doctors and even farmers, said Mukherjee. “We, as students, must also chip in to make the government’s efforts successful,” he added.

Besides, the SFI leadership is increasingly veering to the view that students’ organisations need to change the forms of agitation to conform to the changes in society. “The kind of agitation that took centrestage in the 1960s and 1970s have no place in student politics now,” asserted Mukherjee.

Though sections within the SFI say the Bankura session will be a stormy one, the authorities of city schools have welcomed the move to end mandatory student participation in strikes and rallies. South Point High School vice-president N.G. Khaitan, for one, is convinced that this is a step in the right direction.


Calcutta, June 4: 
The message from the police to south Calcutta is clear — steer clear of Southern Avenue for a year. The execution of a civic project, starting Wednesday, threatens to throw traffic in the Gol Park-Gariahat-Dhakuria Lakes belt out of gear.

Deputy commissioner of police (traffic) M.K. Singh said on Tuesday that long stretches of Southern Avenue will be closed to traffic as the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) starts excavation for its storm-water drainage system. According to information available with the police, the work will take “about a year”.

As long as the CMC work goes on, parking will not be allowed on either side of Southern Avenue. “There won’t be enough road space for normal traffic. We will have to regulate movement of vehicles and traffic could slow down to a crawl,’’ warned Singh.

One of the hardest to be hit by the new road rules will be Nazrul Manch, a popular venue for soirees, from the Dover Lane Music Conference to rock shows. “I have written to the CMC commissioner, urging him to restrict programmes at Nazrul Manch till the completion of the project,’’ said Singh.

The effect of the slowdown on Southern Avenue will be felt at Gol Park and Gariahat at one end and on S.P. Mukherjee Road at another. “We do fear a bottleneck at Gol Park during peak hours but are trying our best to ease the situation,’’ Singh concluded.


Calcutta, June 4: 
From Calcutta to Mumbai, from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea, what unites them is their grievance against doctors and their quest for medical justice.

Buoyed by the verdict against two reputed doctors in the Anuradha Saha death case, the Mumbai-based Association for Consumer Action on Safety and Health (Acash) has tied up with the Calcutta-based Consumers’ Unity and Guidance Forum (CUGF).

The two-city tie-up to give teeth to patients’ peeve against doctors has been described by members of the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission as a step in the right direction.

“Legal representatives of every aggrieved consumer cannot be expected to know the nitty-gritties of the field of medicine,” said commission president S.C. Datta. “So, honest and knowledgeable medical advice can help clients and their legal representatives.”

Acash has a team of medical experts that is given the case reports submitted by aggrieved patients. “This team studies the medical history of the complainant and the treatment he or she received from the doctor,” said CUGF spokesperson Dikshabrata Chaudhuri. “It then gets back to the consumer, with advice about the merit of the case and what to do next.” The Forum, added Chaudhuri, will take complaints from Calcuttans and forward them to Acash. The findings and the suggestions will be conveyed to the consumer.

“We will employ our own legal and medical experts, who will study the history of cases involving doctors in courts other than the consumer forum as well,” said Anjan Datta, another senior CUGF member. “This will act as an effective back-up for the consumer.”

Some “frivolous” cases against doctors are finding their way to consumer courts, along with genuine cases. “The legal-medical advice given by Acash and CUGF will show consumers the merit of their case before they approach a court of law,” said a member of the Forum.

“Many cases against physicians are not given due importance in courts because of the lawyers’ lack of medical expertise. Such expert advice can be of great help to consumers,” said Debrabata Karforma, a member of the three-man state consumer disputes redressal commission.


Calcutta, June 4: 
April 10, 2002. Sohini Sinha was happily attending a special school, run by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) at Golf Green. But on April 11, the seven-year-old, suffering from mental retardation and epilepsy, was refused entry. Things stayed that way till Calcutta High Court came into the picture in the third week of May and asked the NGO to take back the girl.

Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh, after hearing both the contending parties (the girl’s parents and the NGO, called REACH), felt it would be “proper”of him, at this stage, “to direct the petitioners to allow Sohini to attend school”.

According to the complaint filed by the girl’s parents in court and with the West Bengal Disability Commission, things went wrong after they — along with parents of some other mentally-retarded and autistic children attending the same school — formed a self-help group, Atmapratyay.

They organised a free health check-up camp, attended by senior government officials like West Bengal Mental Board chairperson Malati Ghosh, state deputy disability commissioner K.S. Adhikari and Jadavpur University vice-chancellor Ashok Nath Bose.

The NGO then called Sohini’s parents — father Tamal Sinha is secretary of Atmapratyay — in April and “accused them” of working against the interests of the school. “The guardians of some children are creating a vicious atmosphere,” REACH’s legal representatives told the court. The guardians were also accused of staging unruly demonstrations on the school premises and bringing in the police to force the issue after Sohini was asked to stay away.

Sohini’s parents, besides lodging an FIR with the police, also filed a complaint with the West Bengal Disability Commission. “The school has refused to serve any written order regarding Sohini’s expulsion,” they told the commission, expressing apprehension that children of other Atmapratyay members would be singled out and victimised similarly in future.

The commission asked both parties to appear before it on May 21, but the case was first taken up by the high court, after it was petitioned by REACH, before that. Justice Ghosh, after hearing the legal representatives of both parties, gave his interim order. He made it clear that Sohini could not be allowed to become a victim of the allegations and counter-allegations among adults. The ruling specifically asked REACH to “look after the girl”.

During the course of the hearing, REACH also questioned some aspects of the Persons with Disability (Equal Opportunity, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. For the moment, both REACH and Atmapratyay have been asked not to interfere in each other’s functioning. “None of the parties will interfere with one another,” the order stated. Other aspects of the case will be taken up on July 8.



Monsoon on time, says Met office

Hot, sultry days are likely to be over in a week. According to the Alipore Met office, prevailing weather conditions in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh will ensure the arrival of monsoon by June 8, the official date for the onset of monsoon in Calcutta. Deputy director-general, meteorology R.N. Goldar said a trough of low pressure has been located over East UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and the coastal areas of Gangetic Bengal. The maximum temperature recorded at 2.30 pm was 36.4 degree Celsius and it was just one degree above normal. But the heat was oppressive because of the high relative humidity of 60 per cent. Around 5 pm, thunderclouds shrouded the sky, followed shortly by a welcome shower. The rain resulted in traffic congestion in large parts of the city, from Park Circus in the east to College Street in the north.

‘Angry’ cop under scanner

City police decided on Tuesday to take disciplinary action against Raghunath Sadhukhan, who fired five rounds in the air at the police headquarters in Lalbazar on Sunday morning. Deputy commissioner (headquarters) Shivaji Ghosh said interrogation and medical examination revealed that Sadhukhan was “frustrated and angry” at his seniors for not releasing him from duty on time. So he fired from his .303 rifle.

Hurt in gunfire

Barely hours after being released from prison, Anarul Haque shot a 26-year-old man at Ekbalpore on Monday evening. Police said Haque, who was arrested on April 5 in connection with an Arms Act case, demanded Rs 600 from Mohammed Qayyum, a local youth. When Qayyum refused to pay, Haque fired at him from a revolver, injuring him seriously. A raid has been launched in search of Haque.

Sleeping policemen

The city police expressed concern over the recent construction of three speed bumps on Cornfield Road. “The speed bumps, constructed by the CMC in the wake of the death of a schoolgirl, would increase the possibility of accidents,” said deputy commissioner, traffic, M.K.Singh. He has written to the CMC commissioner in this regard.

Run over

An unidentified man in his mid-50s was run over by a minibus on the Shyambazar-BBD Bag route on Bhupen Bose Avenue on Tuesday afternoon near the Shyambazar five-point crossing. He was taken to RG Kar Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.

Patriot dies

Freedom-fighter Sudhir Kumar Kanungo died at his Salt Lake residence at 6.30 am on Tuesday. He was 86. Kanungo is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.    

Calcutta, June 4: 
The census department has launched a survey on pavement dwellers of Calcutta — the first of its kind in this region. Director, census operations, West Bengal, Vikram Sen, said the decision was sparked by “some interesting observations” during the last general census in 2001.

During the general census last year, very little additional information could be gathered on pavement-dwellers as the process had to be completed in a day. But there was enough to ascertain a sharp increase in the number of pavement dwellers (“houseless households” in census parlance) — around 70,000 in 2001, against 38,000 in 1991.

“During the last census, enumerators found several pavement-dwellers who have come from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They are earning their livelihood through small-scale business ventures and are, at the same time, studying in schools and colleges. We felt a detailed survey was required,” said Sen.

He mentioned two brothers from Bihar in the Burrabazar area selling rolls and running a small business dealing in tyres. They were from well-to-do homes and had arrived in the city after passing their school-leaving exams. They are now studying in a north Calcutta college.

“We wrote to our headquarters in Delhi informing them about the findings and seeking an exclusive survey. The census commissioner has approved it,” said Sen.

Census officials said work has already started and it will take about a year to complete. “We are consulting the economics department of Calcutta University while preparing a questionnaire on pavement-dwellers. Help of NGOs and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) will be sought at a later stage when the field work begins,” said an official.

The questionnaire will cover the reason behind people arriving here from outside, how long they propose to stay, the facilities available to a pavement- dweller and their immediate requirements.

“The purpose behind the survey is to find out how the government can help the pavement-dwellers. We have very little knowledge about them and the survey will provide us with more details,” said Sen.

During the previous census, three categories of pavement-dwellers were identified. The first is the permanent settler. Then, there are groups belonging to ‘nomadic tribes’ who arrive here for two to three months to sell herbs and roots, and labourers who come to Calcutta in search of work from other states. A third category unearthed last year included young people from Bihar and UP who have come to Calcutta to earn a livelihood and study.

“The Union ministry of urban development has a number of schemes to provide night shelters to the homeless. This survey will help the government expand such schemes and frame better policies for pavement-dwellers,” census officials said.


Calcutta, June 4: 
Good news ahead for the Calcuttan this monsoon. The chances are that waterlogging may not be as major a headache as it used to be in earlier years.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) conducted a survey of the Palmer Bazaar pumping station on Friday and announced that initial findings had not thrown up anything alarming. “We haven’t found anything serious. We can say something conclusive only after viewing the tapes on which the survey was recorded,” said Dilip Kumar Sanyal, senior civic official.

The survey was led by Rajib Deb, member, mayor-in-council (sewerage and drainage), Sovan Chatterjee, member, mayor-in-council (water) and a host of civic officials.

The Palmer Bazaar unit is the oldest and biggest pumping station in Calcutta. Water from three areas — Dharamtala, Shyambazar and Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road/Race Course — is pumped out through this station through a brick tunnel, 20 feet deep, that runs from Moulali to Palmer Bazaar, a distance of a kilometre. The water is then pumped out to the Town Head Cut channel, and eventually drains into the Bay of Bengal.

Since water from large parts of north and central Calcutta are pumped out through Palmer Bazaar, the CMC deemed it imperative to start a survey of this station. The purpose was to ascertain if there is any block in the sewerage line. The pumping station, which started operations in 1876, has become prone to silting and blockages due to crumbling bricks over time.

Last week, boats were hired from the CMDA and divers lowered into the sewer at the asphaltum department’s garage at Palmer Bazaar. The pumping station has 13 pumps, with an installed capacity of 1,740 cusecs. Nine of the 13 are of the dry weather flow (DWF) type, and the pumps were last upgraded from steam to electric in 1956. The storm water flow (SWF) facility has four pumps, operated only during the monsoon. An advanced German pump was installed in 2000. “This pump has a capacity of 240 cusecs and is capable of pumping out 6,666 litres of water every second,” said Sanyal. Another newly-acquired pump has yet to be installed.

The CMC has 10 jetting-cum-suction machines for desilting sewers. A desilting drive was undertaken last winter, said Deb.

This survey will be followed by similar ones at other pumping stations, including the Cossipore station. “This board wants to take permanent steps to improve civic life in Calcutta. Therefore, we will conduct such surveys regularly,” said Deb.

Work on the pumping station at Southern Avenue has started. Once ready, this will relieve the Ballygunge station immensely. This project will cost approximately Rs 18 lakh, said Sanyal.

Calcutta will continue to suffer waterlogged streets, but Deb holds out hope that this time, the water will recede quickly.


Calcutta, June 4: 
Calcutta will soon breathe easy, with an Indo-Canadian endeavour allowing highly-polluting industries converting their boiler fuel from coal to oil being launched by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on World Environment Day on Wednesday.

A state pollution control board (PCB) survey holds industrial pollution responsible for about 43 per cent of the air pollution load in the city.

It is estimated that every day, 14 tonnes of particles are spewed out of chimneys in 141 wards of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation area.

The Indo-Canadian Environment Facility aims at providing 25 per cent subsidy to every industry going in for the technology transfer. The PCB, too, has pitched in, with a contribution of another quarter of the cost.

“The units can raise the rest of the funds required from the market,” a senior PCB official said. Already, about 178 such units have applied for the subsidy. They will be reimbursed the subsidy amount only after PCB engineers inspect the new system. The scheme will be available to technology costing not more than Rs 5 lakh.

According to a survey carried out by the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) at the behest of the PCB, about 10,000 industrial units exist in the city. This list includes units with a turnover of more than Rs 50,000 a year.

The errant units include boiler-fired rubber manufacturing units, ceramic factories, dyeing and bleaching units and plywood factories. These, along with the CESC’s Cossipore power plant, contribute to nearly half the air pollution load in the city. The Cossipore plant, when in operation, emits 16 tonnes of particles a day.

Calcutta is the only Indian megacity where industries using coal-fired boilers for their manufacturing processes thrive. “Legally, these boilers have no business to be located here,” a senior PCB official said.

An estimated 85 tonnes of coal is burnt daily within the city limits, emitting particles that cause respiratory problems.

However, instead of cracking down on these units and sparking off an industrial recession, the state government has sought means that will not create “other problems.” The chief minister is all for tackling pollution “without tears.”

While some action is being taken to ensure that the industries switch over to cleaner technology, there is no indication of tackling automobile pollution.

Old cars and buses, as well as two-stroke engines of two and three-wheelers, contribute to over 50 per cent of the air pollution load in the city.

June 5, 2002, will be the third year running when on World Environment Day, Bhattacharjee is expected to make his routine announcement on the government’s policy on old automobiles. He will formally release a study on the effects of air pollution on the city’s adults and children.


Calcutta, June 4: 
A Salt Lake-based businessman, abducted on Saturday morning by armed men, returned home after being released early on Tuesday. The CID and the state police initiated a high-level probe after family members of Shiv Kumar Kanoi reported that armed men forced him into a car and drove him away to an unknown destination. The police carried out a series of raids on the city outskirts but drew a blank.

On Tuesday morning, special inspector-general of police (CID) V.V. Thambi came to know that Kanoi had returned and was staying at a relative’s place in Kankurgachhi. The Kanoi family confirmed his release and denied rumours of paying a hefty ransom. “They, somehow, released him today. He has been taken to a nursing home for treatment,” said a person claiming to be Kanoi’s cousin.

The state police picked up vital clues about the abduction after they discovered an abandoned car at Bally, in Howrah district. Family members recognised the car as being the one in which Kanoi was abducted.

Later, the police picked up a person, named as a suspect in the FIR by the family. Senior CID officers spoke to Kanoi at Kankurgachhi for an hour.


Calcutta, June 4: 
Bad news for residents of Howrah and its adjacent areas. Come monsoon this time, and they will have to wade through knee-deep water to reach their destinations. Thanks to age-old drainage system and poor track record in maintenance.

Samar Singh, leader of the Opposition in Howrah Municipal Corporation, has already warned the mayor and deputy mayor on this score and sought immediate action.

“The indifferent attitude of this civic body is to blame if Howrah is submerged. We have requested the authorities time and again to check waterlogging during the rains but they are least bothered and give lame excuses for their poor performance,” said Singh.

Chanchal Bandopadhyay, civic commissioner, also fears that waterlogging will recur this year. The entire system needs to be revamped and discussions were imperative among the municipal corporation, Howrah Improvement Trust, CMDA, Eastern Railway and South Eastern Railway.

“We have to work out a permanent solution if we want to save residents from this menace. The old drain pipes need to be replaced, the open drains covered and the canal at Motijheel and others need to be desilted at the earliest,” said Bandopadhyay.

A senior civic official said the garbage of the railways is dumped in the canals, choking them. “The railways must take the initiative to remove their garbage for the sake of the people of Howrah. They have dumped their garbage over the years and it is high time it was cleared,” he added.

Contractors of the Ganga Action Plan are not working regularly and the situation is deteriorating by the day. Even the top brass of the civic body admit this. The condition is worst in the added areas, as the drains are ’kutcha’and the corporation has done nothing to remedy the situation.

“If the civic body does not invite experienced engineers and architects to review the situation and take steps immediately, life is doomed,” said Basudeb Mukherjee, chief architect and the city planner.

Dilip Sen, deputy mayor, admitted that there were problems with waterlogging but efforts were on to resolve it at the earliest. “We are trying our best but we have financial constraints too. We need more funds from the government,” said Sen.


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